Monthly Archives: April 2016

Crafting time: How to make trousers

The question I hear more often than anything other, about this blog or my life in general, is ‘how do you fit it all in?’  There are a lot of ways I could answer, but one of the big ones is: slowly, in many small steps.  I started this post as a way of demonstrating the point, but quite early on decided this post might be much too long, even though I left out all the days when nothing happened on this project!  This is the story of how I made enough time to make a pair of trousers.

Day 1: drop in at the public library and find David Page Coffin has written a book on making trousers.  Borrow it. In Week 1, read this book in various states of understanding and misunderstanding and failing to follow.  Feel my confidence in attempting double welt pockets begin to rise. This has been the barrier to the creation of some new summer work pants for some years now.  So this is progress!

Day 2: Iron fabric from the stash.

Day 3: Cut out.  Mostly remembering adjustments (I think) and deciding to try cutting on the fly facing.  I am surprised to find a zipper in the pattern envelope. Clearly I have had good intentions before, so long ago I can’t figure out what they were.  Black pants, I assume!

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Day 4: Choose one of my grandma’s scarves for the pocket bags.  Silk pockets!! I have looked up Clifford Bond online and found him listed alongside vintage silk scarves.  This one is vintage, certainly.  It is also stained and well loved.  To my surprise, when I ironed it, a faint waft of my beloved, stylish grandmother’s cosmetic choices wafted up, even after so many years.  The silk is beautiful quality to my way of thinking, and the hand rolled hem is exquisitely stitched.  The tiny tag says it was made in Japan.  I do not know how Merle would have come to have this scarf.  She had many, and they were a style statement of hers so well recognised she received many as gifts.

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Day 5: Read two more ways of creating  welt pockets, beginning with a lovely illustrated tutorial on Male Pattern Boldness.  The lead post was on welt pockets when I happened past his blog.  At this stage, I am beginning to feel the universe telling me to make those pants.  Well, I confess, I don’t think the universe troubles itself about me personally very much.  Really, I am experiencing recognition that I am scared of making the welt pockets, and that this is irrational.  Perhaps I should get over it and get on with it.  The blog post makes me think of an article in Threads magazine which I copied years ago and had used to create two sets of pockets with success and (relative) ease.  I dig that out and consider.  I pull out the two pairs of wool pants I made using this approach.  The pocket openings look great.  Much better than those I made using the method in the pattern–albeit in a fabric better suited to the pocket style.

Day 6: carry out an extensive search for organza, required by the Threads article method. This inspires plans for about seven other projects.  I find some organza that probably isn’t silk (silk is proposed by the authors in question).  I also find an op shopped silk scarf that leads to reconsideration of the pocket bags.  Ahem.

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Day 7: It is a weekend.  I have at least two hours.  I could sew the pockets.  Nerve fails me.  I make a soothing patchwork square.

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One turns out not to be enough (the cupboard-by-cupboard search for organza has uncovered yet more scraps, needless to say).  Well.  There’s the end of the time that could have been used to create the dreaded pockets, but some of the scraps from this pair of pants have been used up! I have also given up the chance to go to the Farmer’s Market, for good or ill.

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Day 8.  Return book on sewing trousers to the library. This should be a clue that considerable time has passed between some of the days listed here.

Day 9.  After much deferring, stitch the organza to the trouser fronts.

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Next, baste the welts together and iron ready for insertion.  Done!  Having deferred so long, it is now time to have dinner.  So, you know, a day of high trouser sewing achievement.

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Day 10: turn the facings, create the pocket mouths, pin the welts in place.

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Smoking speed, I’d say!

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I did all that before work, and then took the trouser fronts to my spinning group at Guild and stab stitched them into position while supporting a new spinner (or at least trying to be friendly–she is lovely); listening to several conversations; debriefing someone about a recent difficult situation; fielding jokes about how I would spin this when I was finished and responding to queries about my embroidery (yes, stitching the pocket welts in).  These pictures are a bit watching-paint-dry, I think.  Apologies.  And here ends the first ten days, with the pockets almost finished…

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Day 11: Day 11 was, for once, the next day after day 10.  Not spaced out by a week or so as some have been.  I machine stitched the welts into position and problem solved my pocket bags, the part of this method that seems to me a bit problematic.  Because I’ve done it before and washed and worn many times, I understand that nothing catastrophic happens despite my worries.  Finally, the part that has been really putting me off, the welt pockets, is done.  The pockets are imperfect but this is to be expected (I made them) they are pockets (hooray, pants without pockets are not for me) and they will not attract attention from passersby (imperfect but not astonishingly awful).  Now I only have to manage the fly and much of the rest will be plain sailing, sewing wise.  I hope.  I make a start on the fly facing.

Day 12: The next day.  I decide against going out in the evening for no really good reason and instead have a lovely chat with friends who give me eggs and cake as well as the pleasure of their company, and insert most of the fly for good measure before bed.

Day 13: I am on a roll!  Finish zipper insertion before work.  Come across some bias binding I made from ties and select some I might use on the hems for fun.

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Day 14: it’s a long weekend.  Stitch the darts, stitch the main seams, figure out what to do about interfacing (cut pieces from a recycled black linen shirt sleeve.  Stitch to pattern pieces. Realise later that this would mean lots of stitching showing on the main pattern pieces. Decide I can live with it).  Decide to finish the waist facing with more recycled tie bias binding.  Stitch one side on with the machine, then hand stitch the inside edge into position in front of the TV.  This looks really neat and lovely, so it’s a shame about my interfacing stitching being so random. As you can see.

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Day 15: Stitch on the waist facing.  Tack some seams so I can find my way through making the front edges look good.  Machine a buttonhole into the fly facing so there can be a button on the inside top edge–thank you to Page Coffin’s book.  Hand stitch on a small button for it.  Hand stitch on a hook and slide.  Create the belt loops.  Fail to find the loop turner.  I love that thing.  Room to room search.  No joy. Much time passes, I clean some drawers out, eventually turn belt loops without the loop turner.

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Day 16: Stitch belt loops in place; try on (they are roomy and will require a belt!  Better than being too small which was my concern)…

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Take up hems with tie bias binding and use a quilt binding trick to do this in the neatest way I have ever managed.  Feel so proud I have learned something. Rip out the tacking holding the welts together so Merle’s scarf can peep out.  DONE!

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I love the hem finish on these.  I have done this before and enjoyed looking at this tiny, loving detail at odd moments while wearing them, for years.  Here’s hoping this pair will have a long and cheerful life in my work wardrobe.







Filed under Sewing

Just mend it: Getting started

In preparation for the upcoming mending workshops, I’ve created a directory of mending tutorials.  I’ve also been beetling away creating mending kits. Friends have been handing over their spare unwanted haberdashery and tins.  I have raided local op shops.  At one of them I was offered a motherlode of  unwanted notions that were seeking a new home. Here’s a partial view.

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Such treasures.  Including a lifetime’s collection of travelling mending kits from hotels and airlines the like of which I have never seen.  Now, it is going to new homes. I’ve even sewed little covers for thread snips from lino samples I seem to somehow have acquired.

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There are pincushions and measuring tapes, thimbles and safety pins and many reels of thread.  Amazing collections of needles, pins and such.

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The creation of the needle case gallery has been ongoing. Scraps of fabric with a lovely button and all manner of little bits of ribbon, string and cord I have saved for a special occasion (or just a use) have been converted into needle books.

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Lovely little bits of hand embroidery on fabric that has gone well past original use, now adorn a few.  Beautiful Australian print remnants have been  turned to use too.  Some have buttonholes and some have loop closures. Some are plant dyed and some are tied with cord too short to form a drawstring on a bag.

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I am very fond of my own needle case, so eventually I made some just like it.  Well, sort of like it. We started here (mine on the left, and pieces of dyed blanket on the right).

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Eventually, there were about eight.  I stitched at triathlons and in front of the TV and on the train.  I finished some with fancy buttons, beads or little bells saved from Easter bunnies.  I tied some with cotton string that has also seen the dye bath, and others with some hand twined silk string, with a thankyou to India Flint for allowing me to see this was possible and that string was not only to be made from plants.  I was thinking about the fact that I had saved all these improbable things, while others had been handed on to me by relatives and friends with similar habits–

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It brought to mind my mother’s parents, two people who lived in poverty their entire lives, scaling up to indoor plumbing and heated water during my lifetime.  My grandfather left countless pieces of recycled string, pre-loved screws and straightened out nails when he died. My grandmother had a drawer where special treasures lived that I was allowed to admire as a child.   There was a special safety pin in there she used to pierce a hole in the filter of her rare cigarettes for some supposed health reason.  There was also a little black cat made of plastic.  I knew it had come from a box of Black Magic chocolates.  I had seen the boxes for sale but never had any.  Like her, I thought this little creature was a treasure worth saving when the cardboard box and the rather amazing papers surrounding each chocolate might have passed on.

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My life is utterly unlike Millie’s.  But it is good to have things in common with her. It warms me to carry these memories of her along and hold them in my mind as I craft these little books for future menders who will share some fraction of the skills she had.


Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

Walnut, weld and purple fountain grass

I went out to help with the local organic food co-op recently and came home with walnuts from the local food forest produce swap, with the nuts soon ready for eating and the hulls ready for dyeing:

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In the bucket, ready for their three week soak/fermentation:

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Post soaking and ready for the heat:

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With the application of heat, the dye bath grew darker still.  So in went my remaining suffolk fleece. It was with deep relief that I assessed the (acceptable though not delectable) smell of the dye bath.  It was a walnut dye bath that almost had me excommunicated from my Guild for cooking it up in the dye room when the Little Glory Gallery was open.  Ahem!

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Here is weld growing in the vegie patch:

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One of my plants wilted and fell over for no obvious reason, so I cut it out and set it to dry. I wondered if something has nibbled on its roots from below ground. Some days later I went out and found that the rest of the plant had died.  This time it is obvious that the main root has been chewed on or rotted away.  Curious.  I followed Jenny Dean’s instructions (more or less…) and due to lack of time, left the dye bath to sit for some days.

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Mum saved me her purple fountain grass–a whole wheelbarrow load.  I saw a post on Ravelry where a lovely green came from this plant just about when she was planning to cut hers back.  This was exciting!  For me, however–it gave only a fawn colour.  Sadly!

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Here is the walnut dye on the left and the fountain grass on the right.  It is a little more yellow-brown in life, but nothing exciting.  It went into the walnut exhaust.

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I now have two shades of brown Suffolk and some weld-yellow crossbred fleece ready to join a future colour knitting project.  May the rinsing begin!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Adventures in woad

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Woad has been one of the success stories in our summer garden.  Until two years ago I had no success at all growing a seedling. This summer, it has really grown and thrived.  So I have decided I can try a few things out.  I started with India Flint’s ice flower method.  She describes using it with with Japanese Indigo on silk here. It seemed logical to me that if it worked with Japanese Indigo, it should work with woad.  But logic requires consideration of all the facts, and I know for sure I don’t understand all the chemistry and plant magic involved.  So who knew what might happen? The last time I tried this, with some Japanese Indigo leaves, nothing obvious happened and I decided I just didn’t have enough leaf matter (and the leaves were tired and sad in any case).

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This time I was rich in leaves, though woad is a low-indigo plant. I followed the instructions.  After a night in the freezer, here are my woad leaves in filtered rainwater, with a little pre-loved raw silk and some silk embroidery thread.

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A while later, there were exciting signs of success.  A couple of hours later, the colour was deeper still and the embroidery thread was looking good too. Definitely deep turquoise–tending to green rather than blue, but that would be a happy outcome. I added more thread! That looked good too, so I added some more fabric and went to bed.  The next morning the woad leaves were very green, but the silk was not!

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I haven’t had a lot of luck catching the colours exactly, but…. grey is close enough!  The thread is a sheeny steely grey that I have obtained from Austral Indigo in the past by a similar method.  I really enjoyed stitching with it and now I have a new supply.  The smaller fabric that went in first is a darker colour and slightly green-grey.  the larger piece is a rosy-grey, perhaps.

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I forgot to alkanise as India suggests, which would have been a good idea: that might be the issue.  The silk is much worn and washed.  Contaminants?  The woad has had a hard summer? I have chosen a plant in its second year without much indigotin: that is entirely possible.  This method doesn’t suit woad?  I should have pulled the fabric and thread out sooner, when I liked the colour?  Further oversights on my part?  I just don’t know!



Filed under Natural dyeing

Socks, some more, again, still

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These socks arose from my holiday gift of sock yarn.  Here I am casting on, on the train.

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Clearly I didn’t consider sock in progress shots too often.  This one seems to be another train shot on a sunny day.  The design is Jaywalker, by Grumperina.  One of the designs I can hold in my tiny mind even on public transport.

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And here they are, done and ready to be rolled, tied and delivered to their new owner, a dear friend who I think will enjoy them… the next pair have been cast on from the handspun sock yarn I’ve made recently.  I have had them with me on busy public transport a few times already and in between the people who are surprised to find that anyone can still knit, there was an eye-and-gesture-conversation with some tourists who seemed to be Chinese and who were clearly intrigued, and another conversation with an out of practice knitter who had never seen socks knit on two circulars and who had been planing to cast on a tea cosy for some years without actually managing to do it.  So, my friends, if you are unable to start conversations on public transport, I have a strategy for you…





Filed under Knitting

Just Mend It!

Exciting news!  I will be spreading the joy of mending (and some skills for mending) in two workshops at The Joinery (a lovely, central, public transport accessible venue) coming up in May and organised by the good folk at the Adelaide Sustainability Centre. Should you be local and keen…

Just Mend It - jpeg

So–bring along holey socks, dropped hems, missing buttons, evidence that clothes moths have left their babies to feed in your drawers and whatever else is plaguing your wardrobe and we’ll see what we can do!

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In preparation for the big event, I am constructing mending kits.  No doubt some people who come will be dedicated menders.  Others may not be so well equipped, and these kits are for all comers. I began with a leftover scrap of woolen blanket dyed with pohutukawa leaves. Soon, I had a little pile of hand-stitched needle books complete with pins and needles and suchlike. Meanwhile, the call has gone out for boxes and tins for the kits to go into and tins formerly full of tea or chocolate and all manner of other good things are trickling in.

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Then I started on needle books made from fabric scraps, and since I found some woolen felt of unknown origin rolled up in the cupboard, I tried some with scrap leather and vinyl samples as covers with felt pages within. My grandmother’s pinking shears were pulled out for use rather than wonderment for the first time in ten years, at least!

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Soon it led to a wish for more woollen blanket and as it happens I have a few blankets acquired at the op shops of Adelaide on a previous occasion.  I walked out to my favourite Eucalyptus Scoparia as the sun went down after work, and set the dye bath to heat by the light of a moon though cloud (this is a picturesque way of saying this photo is dark…)

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Next day, things were looking promising…

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And it may be this is enough to make needle books for everyone I know.

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Tram stop plantings

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This time, I went out ready to plant seaberry saltbush (rhagodia candolleana) as well as ruby saltbush (enchylaena tomentosa).  I decided to take the benefit of a long weekend and go further afield than usual.  There is a local tram stop where most of the understorey plantings that might ever have gone in have died.  And, there is a plan afoot to upgrade the tram fencing which might well result in plantings along the tram line being dug out.  The evidence that digging is imminent was parked by the tram stop, actually!

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Here is the best part of the site.  Some things are holding on for dear life.

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There are some trees still here too.  And plenty of empty space where native plants could be growing.  I planted the larger seaberry saltbush toward the platform.  Some of the soil is very sandy so this plant might be happy here!

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I weeded, collected rubbish, and had a chat with a few passersby, one of whom is clearly a regular tram user who said he’d keep his eye on the plantings, bless him!  He wanted to know where the water I was using had come from and was clearly very surprised to think I had brought it with me. But needs must, and I have a bike trailer.

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You can see all the little disturbed and damp spots where new plants have gone in, about 20 in all.  Homeward bound, I collected all this from the site itself and then, since I had gloves on and a receptacle to hand, I picked up all I could manage or stow in a nearby bin on my way home .  To care for land is a special thing, I’ve decided.

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Scrap patchwork

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Top #64 turned out to have been rolled up unsewn together with some scrap fabric.  Once I had finished it, I made another crazy log cabin. Of course.

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Then there’s this one, with offcuts from batik pants, leftovers from sewing handkerchieves, scraps from fabrics turned into bags in the last bag frenzy, and a little upholstery fabric.

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This has pieces of fabric left from making shirts for myself and three friends, oddments of my lovely hand woven pants (may they rest in peace), quilting and bag making oddments… and the very last bits and pieces from op shop scores of old.  I am acquiring a little stack of these squares and will eventually have to decide what to do with them.  For the interim, it has proved a happy thing to use up all the little bits and pieces, strips and triangles.

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Filed under Sewing


There is a very large patch of dyers’ chamomile beside the Torrens River in a public park in the city.  I was going that way recently and decided I would deadhead the chamomile.  So I packed my secateurs and bags when I was headed that way again (en route to a day at WOMAD with friends) and took a detour. The summer has not been kind to this patch and some of it has turned black.  But there is so much of it, there was no way I could cut all the dead flowers.

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I had a lot of company.  Regular ducks and maned wood ducks and a coot and a top knot pigeon and some moor hens came to chat.  Most departed when I didn’t offer any morning tea.

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This young one was persistent, chatting on to me as I worked away.  Eventually quite a few of its relatives came along to make sure everything was OK and watch carefully from the other side of the path.

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I kept snipping out dead flowers as passersby stared or ignored me or hurried past in case my strangeness was contagious, and maintained a bit of a conversation with the young moorhen. Next day I had this to set out to dry in the heat.

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I can feel future dye baths coming on.  It has been a great summer of harvest.  We have had so many cucumbers!

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The rhubarb kept coming even though the summer has been hard on it.

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I have been out in the neighbourhood collecting saltbush seed.

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I even found a new kind of saltbush that the council has planted a little way away from my house.

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Friends had an open garden where they sold plants for an excellent cause.  I donated my collection of divided succulents, and they all sold.

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In March, we continued to enjoy local strawberries and bought the big box of seconds for the sheer delight of them.

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And now autumn has begun, the quince harvest has come in too, lest the possums eat them all… and the new season’s harvest is begun already.






Filed under Dye Plants, Neighbourhood pleasures