Tag Archives: sewing

Woolly and ragged

… or I could call this a right old Rag Bag. I remember we had a rag bag at home, in the 1960s. I think it was an old pillow case, but gigantic,  filled with bits of material, ripped sleeves and worn out clothes. It was a great big bundling thing that lived at the bottom of the airing cupboard and never really delivered anything useful. My mum dragged it out sometimes, no doubt with a task in mind, and the contents were all pulled out, sorted through, recognised and remembered again, and then stuffed back in. Great game.

So think of this post as a pillow case, a sort of eclectic blogging which is another way of saying – hey, anyone wanna look at my holiday pics?

First up – a quick visit to the Alhambra in Granada. Amidst all the splendours of palace and garden we stumbled upon what was probably the mop and bucket cupboard, a small space leading nowhere. The ordered blues and greens of the wall tiles have that beautiful random quality which gardeners and designers always strive for, but is actually really hard to achieve. The patched area in the middle is intriguing, done by an apprentice or a renegade labourer?

I love the regularity of these geometric patterns. And yet both surfaces, with their subtle blend of colours and soft textures, manage to transcend the colouring book mentality. There is order, but there is also an artisan’s personal selection, a decision maker who has stamped these places with his mark.

And then, as if imbued with Moorish magic, wondering about life in the 15th Century and wandering the cobbled streets of the Albaicin, we have indeed tumbled back in time, to a quasi medieval Europe where the men wear very warm woollen gear and sport large cosy hats – and the market doth sell quantities of vintage fabric and old tin baths. Only joking – it’s a scene from Game of Thrones

Next stop Oxford for a few days, lots of culture and colleges and celebrations – and cycling in the heat to the Tandem Festival

This was such a lovely festival and we were blessed by the wonderful hot weather, pints of local cider, wonderful vegan food, great music and an atmosphere that was utterly relaxing.

I have never experienced such a blissful night under canvas, snoozing in a wild flower meadow while the bands played on, my only challenge during the night being a couple of trips to the long-drop toilets.

There were lots of other people there too. And bikes of course.

Back in Oxford we headed out to Wolvercote Cemetery where our cousin Bridget Crampton is buried. What does one do at a cemetery – say hello, remember happy times, think of family? All of those of course, but it’s also helpful if one can recall where the burial took place. We meandered about for an hour and decided a return trip was in order preferably when the sexton was around, then waved goodbye and set off for the pub.

Enough of this gallivanting and back home the weld crop is taking over the garden. Coincidentally weld is a medieval plant – and has been used for centuries to obtain a yellow dye for fabric and cloth.

It’s all very well growing plants that have been around for hundreds of years but I am clueless here. Reading up about dyeing online has been intriguing but confusing.

What I want to make is this bodice as presented by the Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex. The museum has a great film about dyeing with madder. And there is a link here with another excellent film made by the historic clothing project  which is all about researching and making historically accurate working clothes. Loads of sewing in this clip too! It’s so interesting to hear about working clothing of the poor rather than silken finery of the privileged few. The Weald and Downland is such a wonderful museum and is well worth a detour if you’re ever in the Sussex area.

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Really I want to go back in time, to be this woman dressed in yards of linen and live hand to mouth from the garden. So after too much deliberation I decided to chop up some of the multitudinous plants and see what happened. It was a bit like making soup but without the appetising smell. I don’t think it is toxic.

I simmered tons of this stuff for a couple of hours then after it had cooled I dropped in two pieces of cloth, one cotton, one linen, and left it overnight. In the garden. I think the technical term might be ‘steeping’.

The result is definitely yellow.

Here are the pieces after drying and ironing. Indoor and outdoor shots. The outdoor one, on the right, is most accurate; the fabric is the colour of chamois leather.

Finally back to the sewing room with my trusty Friday group. They were very polite about the furniture rearrangement.

Right that’s it. Time to put these scraps back into the sack in the airing cupboard and publish this post. And I am reminded of a strange poem I wrote, when I was struggling with some writing, and felt it would be so much easier to be sewing instead.

 

Writing a Shirt

Shake out instead a length of linen

cut from a cumbersome roll

 

spread it smooth along the table,

the print arrows of tissue pattern

 

lying with the straight grain of fabric

and then stitch together order

 

planned like maths in a gingham apron.

That would surely be easier –

 

yet any garment sewn by these hands

betrays the mark of maker,

 

bespoke dropped shoulder, discrete

lengthening of body and sleeves;

 

even so, I would rather write a shirt

and stitch a hidden label tight into its nape.

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Scattered jewels

“I want it to look as if someone has just scattered the bed with gorgeous jewels!”

This was the design brief for the latest quilt to roll of the production line and it was referring to a colour palette of course, not that a bag of glitzy beads be strewn and then sewn on individually. The customer wanted warm tones, autumnal shades, rich red colours to evoke a sense of luxury I think. Finding and selecting the first batch of fabrics seems to take ages – especially if they are sourced from existing stock and lovely old clothes that either carry memories or somehow resonate with the right shades.

Next step – slice it all up. This always seems a rather privileged and indulgent activity – chopping up fabric just to join it all together again. But I can assure you that much of this pile of rag picker’s delight was unwearable. At this stage calculation is involved – how many square do I actually need? So I make towers of quantities – these are twenties I think. Then rather like a pudding it is stirred in an attempt to mix it up. This quilt is all about the colour and the pieces are going to be randomly placed – a scattering of patches of course – but it’s a difficult look to achieve. My only rule is that two the same must not sit next to each other.

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This is turning into a sort of recipe. the next task was to join pairs. The pairs were nice to do – radio on, select two pieces that work well together for some reason, 0.5 cm seam.

And lo, not a bunting lover, I have yards of the stuff!

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I think they look like Christmas cards or decorations or even a Christmas tree.  It was a bit sad to cut the strings.

Oh well – move on. Now join the pairs to make fours. Then join the fours  …   to make a coat?

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No. You are not playing at dressing up. Get on with it.

So then with the great stole joined up to form a square, it all became a large floor based activity. This part is difficult I think, involving much crawling around on the knees and trying not to pucker and wrinkle – the quilt that is. There are three layers now. The patches, a filling of quilter’s cotton wadding and a cotton backing – which also had to be patched in part, due to there not being enough of anything. And at this point I put a label on the back – with the date and a message.

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Feeling reasonably happy with the fabric sandwich I then trimmed the edges and put on a bias edging. And because I don’t have a gigantic quilting machine I stitched the layers together here and there, by hand with some little embroidery bits. It sounds a bit naff but at least the layers will hold together. I also had a last minute idea – to machine on some silken jewels, from iridescent scraps. I wish I’d thought of this earlier.

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Finished.

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Next request is for a quilt that looks like …   a Scottish rock pool.

Time to start collecting.

 

 

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May Selfies

Selfies and the approach of Sixty do not make good bedfellows. This is not one.

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Throughout the month of May I wore something cobbled, made, made years ago, repaired, knitted, knitted twice, darned and altered … every day. Next year I should probably stick with Mend it May. To begin with I put the ‘outfit’ on the stand to record some form of evidence. But sorting out the iPhone first thing in the morning, running late, indecision about which horrid clothes to wear and the paucity of sartorial options became a reason to stay in bed.

There was some fine weather at the beginning of the month and in a feeble attempt to fool the passing blog reader I pegged the laundry of same clothes on the line. No amount of rearranging, turning upside down or catching a better gust of wind made any difference.

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So although I met the challenge May flagged up for me what a dreary old wardrobe I have. Wardrobe? Let me rephrase that – it’s a heap on a chair, half-empty drawers containing the unwearables and a pile of ironing.

I love sewing. I teach sewing. I love the construction of clothes, especially those that celebrate the simplicity of the craft and require a few good tools – a sewing machine that does zig-zag, sharp scissors, sharp pins, needles and cotton thread. I love the geometry of pattern cutting. But I don’t think I like fashion on me.

Years ago, as an apprentice costume maker at the wonderful Cosprop, that was my sewing – putting fascinating  clothes together to be displayed by a confident actress.

What’s the next challenge on the list? Hah – The Big Vintage Sew Along. I’m halfway through that one, trying to remember to take pics along the way. I love the skirt I’m making

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– but I know I won’t wear it.

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Getting a Badge

Hopefully when you read this there will be two new badges in the right hand margin. I was a Brownie once but only managed to get the Hostess badge.

This involved doing some pretend washing up, in coldish water, in the back room of a church hall that smelt of gas. The secret was to wash glassware first because it’s the cleanest, then one steadily moves through the crumby plates and onto the grease and gravy, slopping the grey water around with a disgusting mop, and it’s all done in a jiffy. As a result of this rigorous training my dinner parties have been memorable – and few and far between.

Me-Made-May

This is an initiative  set up by Zoe who writes the sewing blog ‘So, Zo … What do you know?’  I think the idea is to try to wear more of one’s home sewn clothes, or hand knitted jumpers, throughout the month of May. You can take part – visit Me-Made-May for more details. I have decided to join in because I love making clothes and have heaps of them strewn all around the place, gathering dust and generally getting too small for me as the years pass. But in reality I wear the same old stuff all the time. For me sewing is about the process and making, not the wearing. So this will certainly be a challenge and will involve 31 days of skirts or dresses. I might have to make some trousers, pantaloons or slacks quickly, for emergencies.

The Big Vintage Sew-along

This is a promotion from the McCall’s pattern company aimed at getting us all sewing archive patterns – not the frail originals picked up in a charity shop, only in a size 10 and with one or two pieces missing – these are brand new multi-sized reproductions. There is plenty of information and a downloadable leaflet at Big Vintage Sew-along

I rather fancy this sturdy skirt – McCall’s 6993. But not with those shoes. Muddied gardening brogues might work better – particularly with the May challenge coming up. The fabric is a fine stripe but quite robust.

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I like the complicated waist area and the two inverted pleats.

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I want more badges now!

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Furniture Gymnastics

There is a certain type of therapy to be gained from moving the furniture around. Some of us love this relentless shifting and dragging and heaving, others, quite sensibly, are loathe to play the chaos game. It’s an activity that involves the whole family, by which I mean the mum and a couple of reluctant, moaning children. We share many happy memories of laughing hysterically as we manoeuvred galumphing sofas and huge tables through narrow doors, around awkward corners, up the stairs and into another room. The fun is endless. Just think of Ross and the couch in Friends“Pivot!” 

A simpler version, rather like one-day cricket, is a straightforward rearrangement of everything in the same room! This also brings into play some rarely used but thrilling gymnastic skills – table standing, sofa vaulting, back-of-the-TV stretches and hoovering lunges due to unearthed fluff mountains.

In 1985 a dear friend gave me an old sofa – she was upgrading with a smart Edwardian three piece that hadn’t yet been jumped on by toddlers or shredded by feline claws. The old one has since has been professionally reupholstered, moved house once or twice and had a loose cover made for it which must be thirty years old now. This is a bit like having a dress made for you in your twenties with strict instructions to make it last a lifetime. The cover has been washed umpteen times, shrinking more each time I’m sure, and ten years ago the patching started.

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Oh, and by the way, it only has one leg, chocked up at one end with a long block of oak and at the other with Dan Brown. What a great book.

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In an effort to give it a new lease of life I recently bought two enormous feather cushions for the seat. Unfortunately they are flat, unlike the original boxed ones.

After a nudge from my daughter, “Cover those cushions, they’ll get ruined,” I started on a patchwork plan. I did some maths, selected ten half-yard pieces that were hanging around and chopped them with the rotary cutter into one hundred 11 cm squares.

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Arranging the squares randomly is never as easy as one thinks.

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Then I had doubts about my maths and added a narrow strip around the edge. And decided to pipe the edge with some robust stripy stuff.

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Things at Sewing at Damgate have been busy lately – the workroom has expanded to accommodate more sewers and we are now holding regular all day workshops. This has called into play my trusty old Bernina Nova which is forty years old now and still going strong.

I love this machine!

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This is an old piping foot in action.

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And I think this is a quarter inch patchwork foot ploughing through the patches, some wadding and a lining.

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I think the seat cushions look a bit weird actually, like two square mushrooms with tablecloths on them. And as soon as anyone sits on this they will be like pancakes, Dan Brown will probably give up the ghost and it will be time to play the furniture game again – for therapeutic reasons.

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March 26, 2016 · 6:15 pm

Recipe for a Skirt

Ingredients

One piece of fabric, 1.5 to 2 metres should cover it easily, depending on what decade you are living in

Some poppers – root around in the button box to find a few

One button, any colour

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Rip off a narrow strip of fabric long enough to go round your waist, with an extra 10cm to be the overlap for a button and buttonhole. Fold it in half lengthways, press.

Take the rest of the fabric, pleat or gather it along its long edge and join it to the narrow strip.

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Test for length and stitch it all together. I thought I would make a small sample skirt to illustrate this. Note to self – never go into the dolls’ clothes-making business. Now I’m worried that it will look like a weird Borrowers costume, with giant pins and a huge button. For a more normal version of this skirt see 195o’s Dirndl Skirt Remake

I tend not to put zips in things – preferring the placket. This is such a lovely opening, ideal for a full, unstructured skirt.The waistband joins with a button and the placket closes with a few press-studs. I have sewn these in red, to make them show up, using waxed double thread and buttonhole stitch. No strain is put on the poppers so they don’t come undone.

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Alternatively you could use buttons and buttonholes – like a button fly on a pair of Levi’s, the buttons obscured from view under a margin of fabric. At the base of the opening there is a small bar tack, also reinforced with buttonhole stitch, the idea being that this small piece of stitching will prevent any accidental ripping.

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Here is how to do it with an illustration from Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework 1939-ish

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I have made versions of this skirt many times over the last 40 years – even got married in a couple – on separate occasions you understand. The earliest one I clearly remember was in dark green cotton, with a lurex thread running through it – which sounds hideous and tasteless, but it was actually lovely and subtle. It had a slight check to it as well. It was 1979, Polanski’s Tess was on at the cinema and clothes were all about the romantic arts of scrubbing and lighting fires and pulling turnips. In fact, in this still from the film, I think Nastassja Kinski is actually wearing my skirt!

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I remember sporting it with a huge viscose scarf wrapped and folded and tied and twizzled around my hair. And some flat suede boots in grey, which may have been men’s but at least they fitted me. The skirt was long, mid-calf, and the lower foot of the hem area had about ten very small tucks, running parallel. I wore it until it fell apart. We lived in a freezing cold flat in Muswell Hill, and I seem to remember wearing some sort of underskirt with it, to add another layer and be more like Tess. And tights of course. And socks and leg warmers. It really was cold. We all wanted to live in Hardy’s farmyard mud and look beautiful and sleep in the attic over the barn.

I must also confess to making a perfectly monstrous version of it, and wearing it just once, to a posh party. I must have looked like a visiting court jester. I had bought some jumbo corduroy – a yard of blue and a yard of red. For some reason I liked the fabric but had skimped on the purchase, so made the skirt in wide red and blue stripes.

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This is probably the look I was going for, a dress of beautiful  slender stripes and the exquisite bohemian style of Egon Schiele’s wife. Mine was an embarrassing travesty.

 

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Saturday afternoon dilemma

It is a wet afternoon in Norfolk. The house is quiet, apart from the slosh of the dishwasher. And here’s the dilemma. It concerns choices.

Option 1 – a bloody great stack of ironing which, with something decent on Radio 4, wouldn’t be too bad I suppose. But just look at it! I have tried to capture in the photograph the hugeness and irksomeness of the task but I’m not certain I’ve done it full justice.

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Option 2 – this is the triangular scarf thing I started a couple of months ago. The intention was to finish up lots of small amounts of Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. I began to run out of the brighter shades so I decided the left hand side would be intentionally dark. It has seen me through the whole of Bake Off, a full season of Gardener’s World (even the trips to arboretums and gravel gardens), Lady Chatterley and The Go Between. And now it’s finished – sort of. And I am bereft without knitting. There are a few ends to sew in. Then the edge to sort out, which is going to be crocheted, but I don’t really know what I’m doing with a crochet hook beyond cat blankets, so …

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Option 3 – finish off this long top which so far I quite like. It is made up in some lovely soft cotton from Merchant and Mills using Vogue V1177 pattern that I found at The Knit and Stitch about four years ago. The picture on the envelope is not quite the look I’m going for. I shall be wearing it with sturdy leg coverings, some sort of liberty bodice and probably the aforementioned scarf. The task is a nice one though – sew on the buttons and slipstitch the hem. But you see I’m not being honest because …

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vogue

Option 4 has just arrived in the post!

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This is 800 grams of beautifully packaged Double Knitting wool from Blacker Yarns who are based in Cornwall. It is still wrapped in its grey tissue paper, tied with matching wool – I can’t bear to spoil it! It’s just the colour I wanted, a serviceable navy blue, and I’m sure nobody will notice if I put on an old film or boxed set and get started!

 

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