Monthly Archives: October 2018

Sewing jeans, and imperfection

So, when my best jeans went through in the knee, I decided it was a sign from the universe–make some new jeans!  I had decided a while back to try the Morgan Jeans from Closet Case Patterns.  I settled on using up some topstitching thread I had from taking up Dad’s jeans (I needed to buy a second reel part way through), some traditional style Japanese cotton bought in Kyoto for the pocket linings and waistband facing, and part of a dead shirt for interfacing.  The denim came from The Drapery (yes, a local bricks and mortar store!) and as they had Closet Case jeans hardware kits, I invested in one of those too. The staff were kind and gave sensible though understated advice, like confirming my sense of which size to make. I like that place and the fine women who run it very much, even though in my heart of hearts I think I should just STAY AWAY and never buy fabric again.  Well.  I’m not going to be free of contradictions anytime soon.

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I made these while I was quite unwell.  Pattern assembly and cutting out took me 4 hours!  However I discovered that the extremely slow pace of my progress did result in some good looking topstitching and a lot of close attention to the pattern, and ill as I was, switching between threads for seams and topstitching did not trouble me like it often would.

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They came together really well.  I have made jeans before (with mixed success) and I have made button fly pants before, so that was a help too. I decided on washing the fabric three times prior to cutting, ten degrees hotter than I usually would–as my most successful previous pairs of jeans shrank to impossibly small after being made, despite pre-shrinking.

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Now, there are some things that I notice I am prone to when I make my own clothes, and I believe other people who sew might be prone to them as well.

It’s easy to notice all the things you did badly when you are the maker.  News flash: while some clothes are made in a factory far, far away by someone you have never met, mistakes do happen and imperfection results.  I have had plenty of purchased clothes that have defects, including some that required mending I could easily accomplish, and some that had a defect that became apparent after one or two washes that was not really capable of mending without wholesale reconstruction.  Needless to say, I’ve had loads of secondhand clothes that require mending as soon as they get to my place. Well, sometimes I make clothes that are imperfect.  And sometimes I do something stupid that requires mending soon after they are completed–in this pair I machine tacked the front pockets closed during making to prevent wiggling, and then managed to rip out the tacking and the top stitching.  Oh, joy.  But you know?  Imperfection is part of life and there is really no reason clothes you make yourself will or should be perfect.

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Then there is the question of fit.  I doubt I am alone in finding that jeans sold in stores don’t fit me all that well.  One fine reason to make your own is skipping the bit where you try on 20 pairs and hate them all, and maybe also notice you don’t like yourself much.  Oh, sexism, you make appearance the measure of a woman in a way my mind refuses to accept but that evidently has a grip on my feelings, and consequently you make self-kindness so challenging to accomplish. Oh, sexism, you make it seem that a woman should care more about how she looks than how healthy she is, and that alone makes me hate and resist you.

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The pairs of jeans I’ve bought over the years new and secondhand often don’t fit all that well, but for some reason they get a pass and my handmade clothing doesn’t. Nothing rational about that.  I measured myself up, selected my size and resisted the urge to make a size larger.  I made just one adjustment, right at centre back just below the waistband, where jeans normally stick out a whole lot, requiring a belt. I have been told by my mother that this is because I have a sway back, whatever that is, and by sales assistants it’s because I have a big butt.  Whatever, this minor adjustment meant these jeans were the right shape for my particular body, three cheers!  They did wrinkle under the seat, which my pants fitting book tells me is due to “thighus giganticus”.  Oh, internalised sexism, that has women talking to one another this way! I don’t like you much. If feeling bad about ourselves could make us better people, more confident sewers, or even slimmer, the world would be a different place.

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I was so happy about the fact these fit me better than any pair I’ve bought in years (that’s the test, right?) that I made another pair, very slowly and over several weeks.  This time, I decided on more ease, provided by making the same adjustment at CB but stitching the main outer seams with 0.5 cm seam allowance rather than the 1.5 cm allowed in the pattern.  They are even better, as I seem to have come home from Japan smaller than usual and returned to my customary more generous size since. I also decided on a different colour of topstitching thread.

And by this time I knew that I’d had a user fail on the hardware kit the first time and noticed another thing: why had I bought this (admittedly lovely and functional) hardware rather than using what I already had?  Still invested in consumption and overlooking the fact I never show my waistband off and I’m the only one who sees these fastenings?  On the second pair I used a hammer-on jeans button from the op shop (more in the pack if I have done a bad job of installing it) and some almost matching buttons for the fly, from stash.  And there we have it, the top end of my regular-wear wardrobe restored!

 

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A short stop in Tokyo + Fast Train to Kyoto

I have belatedly realised that I didn’t start my account of our trip to Japan at the beginning.  We began with a day, just one, in Tokyo. Of course, we could see little in this time, but how amazing to be in Tokyo at all! My beloved’s internet hivemind of global travellers had said that the fish market was the place to see.  So we were booked into a hotel right on the edge of the market.  I didn’t realise my beloved had cunningly planned this, so was delighted and surprised when we came out of the hotel right onto the edge of the part of the fish market that was out on the nearby streets.

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Crowds of people, cooking on the street, and stalls with all manner of things from vegetables and pre-cooked food to knives and dishes.  And fish, of course. I even saw dried, smoked fish being shaved into bonito flakes.

I can see from my photos that I was taken by Japanese-style cuteness right from the start… and that I felt I couldn’t take pictures of all. the. things.  So many amazingnesses!!  I know what it’s like to have people photographing everything in the central markets in my home city. And a friend who grew up in Taiwan has since informed me that for any person from China, a fish market would be the obvious place to see in a new city.

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Eventually, we left the fish market and I followed my bold beloved onto the train system.  Needless to say, unfamiliar plants and places and things were everywhere.  I couldn’t get over these capsule stations, full of weird and wonderful things. This display was in a department store, in a stairwell or corridor.

After some wandering about in a shopping district, we took a break in a beautiful park.

We had to investigate what “pachinko and slot” was (as it is advertised all over the place and in very big buildings).  I have since read Pachinko by Min Jee Lee, which is more of a multi generational account of Korean immigration in Japan than it is an account of pachinko–but pachinko is a low-end form of gambling that is a little like pinball.  It is very loud and accompanied by the smell of cigarette smoke, so far as we could tell at first sight, and apparently a predominantly a male occupation.

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We had a very funny experience of being in a shop in the geek district of Tokyo and being hailed by an Australian friend of my beloved.  Just so we’re clear–Tokyo itself has a population almost the size of the entire country of Australia.  And–the pictorial signs of Japan were gratefully received by me with my pitiful Japanese, but they also have a very different aesthetic to Australian signage.  This one I especially enjoyed. I held onto my hat.

And then we had to travel to Kyoto. There had just been major flooding in Japan, not far from Kyoto, so we were lucky to be able to catch the train at all.  Some of my beloved’s students had arrived early and been evacuated along with locals, and others had struggled through travel rearrangements made necessary by damaged rail lines and roads.  While we didn’t catch the fastest train Japan has to offer, it was still very fast by Australian standards.  And very clean and lovely too.  All the signage inside the carriage (about the next stations and such) was in at least three languages–more gratitude from me.

I spent the time taken to travel out of Tokyo marvelling over its size and density. Oh, and knitting a sock.

Once we left Tokyo and were in more rural areas, I was amazed to see rice growing all the way up to the train line.  I don’t know why, exactly, as wheat grows up to the train line in Australia.  But even seeing rice growing is pretty amazing to a person from such a dry place.  People live right up against the major inter city train lines too, and there were market gardens all the way to the train line that we passed.  We passed Mount Fuji in the distance too.

Even just being on the train made vivid why so many lives and homes are lost in floods, typhoons and mudslides in Japan–people live very densely by comparison with Australia.  The heartbreak and trauma of the flooding just before we arrived was plain even through the language barrier on Japanese TV news each night. And for the train buffs, here is a view of the train from the front, most unlike any Australian locomotive I’ve encountered. Much faster and much quieter too!

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Eucalyptus-dyed Frankensocks

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

These socks may look a little familiar.  L: cast on at a train station; R: cast on, on a train, backdrop of my new jeans–post soon about making them!   I had part of a hank of commercial merino/silk yarn and the first part went on an earlier set of Frankensocks. This time I weighed out and divided the remainder with a view to knitting it all into sock legs and then added handspun Suffolk feet also dyed in eucalyptus, to a stunning shade of orange that can only mean I had cleaned my dye pot assiduously (I refer to washing soda and boiling water).

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Grafting a toe any minute, on a different train.  These socks felt like they went on forever, because I’ve had an illness that went on and on, and darlings–I didn’t feel up to knitting!  There is no point saying this at work, but seriously–no counting, no cabling and mostly just no knitting. And, they are quite large as socks go.

The legs are long, so I went with calf shaping.  Women have calf muscles, my friends!

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I began the reinforcing stitch for the heel toward the bottom of the leg.

The foot is decidedly rugged by comparison with the leg (and I do enjoy the variegation in the dye).  And there you have them, in all their glory. This morning they went to the post office and on to their new home!

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Last of the spring guerilla gardening?

The last of autumn’s cuttings went into one of my favourite patches. I now have only correa alba cuttings left and I am not convinced they have established good enough roots to set them out into the wild yet.

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This patch was my first, and it looks great.  But, there is an invasive grass coming up there that is seeding. So I pulled as much as I could and tried to rogue the rest (yanking off the flowering heads to reduce the seeds that will be produced).  One of the large saltbushes had died so I took that out too, and started to wonder how to remove my pile of green material! I planted rock roses here–cistus–and now I ave looked them up I find they are not actually native (well, they are native to the Mediterranean!)  There were cistus growing here when I first moved into the area but they died long ago.

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My friends close by couldn’t help me out with my pile of weeds this time.  Along came a couple of women, one farewelling the other to a nearby train.  I asked if the fareweller if she lived nearby and if so, whether she would mind if I filled her green waste bin.  I must have been having a bold morning.

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She told me where she lived–not that close!  And then offered to come and pick it up in her car if I’d pull it into a pile.  I checked whether she really wanted to do that and she said she appreciated what I was doing and we are both part of one community.  I love meeting people who feel this way, while I’m out and about doing guerilla gardening.  It helps my hopefulness a good deal.  Twenty minutes later I had broken all the saltbush into small sticks and finished panting, and she arrived in her car and we filled up the back with weeds and dead bush.

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Here is some of the bigger picture–everything apart from the tree planted by my friends and I. And of course, this isn’t really the end of the spring planting, because I’m putting seeds into pots as soon as I can free them up.  A friend gifted me two containers of seed she saved over and above whet she could use to add to my own collection.  So I made some tags from a yoghurt tub… and wrote on them with a pencil, and put some more seed in ready for autumn planting-out…

 

 

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Silk cot quilt

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Back before March, maybe even last year!  I took out a silk cot quilt kit I bought from Beautiful Silks remnants section and dyed the silk cover.  I’ll be honest with you, Marian (the fabulous proprietor at Beautiful Silks) persuaded me to buy this kit and I didn’t know where it would go.  Then the moment for me to give it to one pregnant friend passed without it being finished.

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I was very happy with how the dyeing turned out.

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I was intimidated by the next steps.  It was just too beautiful.  Silk is just a bit too precious for me to relax about. In about March, still not sure where it would go, I decided to add the silk batting and stitch the quilt edges together.  Then I safety–pinned and tacked the quilt layers together before losing my nerve again.

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Then it emerged that my daughter was expecting!  She wanted to wait until after the third month before being really confident that it would, as she put it, “stick”.  And when that date passed and all was well with the foetus, I started to think about this quilt again.  I didn’t know how to quilt it, and to be honest, I like the patchwork part of making quilts but not the quilting part.  I’ve never made a whole cloth quilt. Finally I decided to stop waiting for it to be perfect and just stitch.

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Suddenly I made my peace with this cone of thread that really wasn’t what I had thought I was buying on some previous mail order, and chose a needle. I finished the stitching after we arrived to visit my daughter, now visibly pregnant and beginning to multiply plans for her life as a parent.  She did rather seem to love it, wonky stitching and all, to judge by all the stroking and patting and cheek-placing–and we’ll have to see how it stands up to the rigours of an actual baby.  Or perhaps it will end up as a new mother’s comforter!

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Yet more spring guerilla gardening

Last week I went out and planted in a space where the council has planted and even put in a watering system, but some plants have died and not been replaced. I filled in some gaps…

Earlier in the week I went out and planted these little treasures in a spot where the conditions are harder both because there are still a few big eucalypts–hooray!  and because the train authority is responsible for this patch and clearly doesn’t invest as much as the Council in setting up plants for success. Many of the original plantings could not manage and died so I’ve been planting into the gaps.

While I was working here in a light drizzle, a man came out with his dog and had a chat–there seems to be an artists’ co-operative in an old industrial building here.  He’d been putting on a play at a Burning Man festival (in Australia though–news to me) and spoke enthusiastically about the festival’s gift economy, building community and such.  He clearly approved of my efforts and offered the plants in the raised bed that is the entire front garden of their place as a resource.  There is a plant in there that I’d like to try dyeing with so at last I got to ask about it….

These new plantings are tiny.  But last year’s are coming along…

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And those that have had even more years are growing well, protecting the bigger plants from being parked on and working with the mulch to keep weeds (and poison) down.

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A bit of weeding and rubbish picking, and home again…

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Handspinning

There has been a return of my Royal Show entries. I was so unwell when I spun some of them, and had no option but to submit things already dyed rather than dye to purpose, that I was surprised to win any prize at all on these grounds–and then, there are much better spinners than me!

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I applied cochineal to some of the Suffolk previously dyed with indigo in places, and to the Ryeland. The hen is a Royal Show reference–and the colour in the photo above and right is a better reflection of the cochineal than the one below…

Some time back, I decided to use up of some fibres that had been purchased years ago with specific uses in mind that no longer seem interesting to me. First, Perendale curls that I had used to create lockspun yarns.  After all the sock yarn spinning I’ve done in the last six months, this was massive!  I also spun up small quantities of commercially dyed merino roving but don’t seem to have taken pictures of it.

I found I also had some eucalyptus dyed batts and some carded local wool I’d prepared some time ago, and as serious fibre prep has felt beyond me in the last while, I spun them too.

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I progressed on through roving in the stash to some oatmeal BFL dyed by The Thylacine and acquired from a destash a few years ago.  The braids were so spectacular!  I tried to maintain some of the colour changes.  And I also discovered I had some Australian grown Cormo from the Tonne of Wool–most of mine went to a fine spinning competition at my Guild, but I found a little bag of odds and ends of Cormo roving and it was buttery, velvety, exquisitely soft.  Also, so white I didn’t get a great photo of it!

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Drawing down the stash, or, more Boomerang Bags

The stash of fabrics that will never become clothing has dwindled very much in the Boomerang Bags period, my friends–this time, some metres of an open weave black fabric became many handles and a few bags. The little ?indigo? patch featured here appeared on the Guild trading table the other night with a little label about how it had been resist dyed with pegs.  Cute as a button!

This fabric was a gift from a person I used to work with many, many years ago.  It had years of use covering a small table and hanging on the wall, but had been tucked away for some years. Now it will be out in the world again in all its glory.

I had evidently patched together leftovers of my last Boomerang Bags episode, (and not only for linings–lots of these bags have jeans pockets from jeans that are no more, patched together with other scraps into linings).  So there are some bags with a black front and a patchwork back, or vice versa.

And then–the motherlode of wide wale corduroy.  This had a $2 tag on it from the Salvos.  I think I had a long period of wistfully looking back to a specific pair of corduroy pants I had near the end of High School and beyond–I remember them as chocolate brown and with a paperbag waist.  I felt like a sensation in them for some years. Eventually someone told me how bold she thought I was I was to wear them–or perhaps the green pair that replaced them in the early 1980s, with, ahem, secondhand suede winklepickers–on a first date with a mutual friend who was stylish and, well, judgmental. At first I was surprised and delighted, if puzzled, to be judged bold. Then I realised I was really being told that I had worn a very unflattering outfit to a first date, and with a style queen.  Sigh.  As it happens the outfit did not kill the date and we went on to have a relationship in which I received quite some instruction on how to dress!

Anyway–I am entirely unsure how I come to have so much wide wale corduroy in my possession, unless it was a wistful longing for my younger self feeling like a million dollars and able even to consider a corduroy paperbag waist as a style statement. But now it is all gone–all the maroon and two different shades of black of it. I do wish I hadn’t given away those suede winklepickers though!

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Nijojo Castle, Kyoto

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Nijojo Mae (Castle) is a World Heritage Site in Kyoto.  As it happened, it was walking distance from the place we were staying, so it was my first stop in my walking tour of Kyoto. I live in a country where people have been living for thousands and thousands of years. Yet they lived lightly on the land, and in ways that shared resources far more equally than the historical powers of Asia and Europe.  So, to me, it is always amazing to be in a bus travelling along a big street in a modern city and encounter a massive monument dating back hundreds of years (in this case, to the 1600s). This watchtower (above) stands on one corner of the Nijojo Mae.

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The Castle has a long and complex history both in terms of the flows of power that led to its creation and subsequent modifications, and of the nature of its buildings. It has two immense circles of fortification–two moats, two circles of earthen walls with supporting structures of wood and stone.

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In addition, it has beautiful and extensive gardens, some of which would have been for practical use–cherry groves and other fruiting trees–as well as pleasure- and beauty-gardens.

Even the gates were astonishing and beautiful. I spent hours wandering around the outer area of the mae and then more time inside, and being a little lost at times.  As usual, I founds myself fascinated by the scenery and the buildings but also focused on the very small things. Trees sprouting with other plants.  Gingko trees hundreds of years old–and vast in size, much bigger than an I had ever seen. Roof end-tiles. Staking and rope-typing strategies for coaxing wisteria into becoming tree-shaped. Moss and lichens and fungi.

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Even buildings with apparently everyday uses were beautiful to my eye–this is an earthen rice storehouse.

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How important it must have been to keep rice safe in any year, let alone one in which a siege was possible.

The inner moat had a sloping wall and there were koi (carp) swimming in the moat. Carp are a pest species in Australia.  It was so interesting to see them where they belong, have profound cultural and aesthetic meaning and are venerated.

Eventually I decided I needed some downtime and found a teahouse in one of the very splendid formal gardens, where I had an extraordinary dish of fruit with ice cream and bean paste and saw other people eating ‘snow mountain’, which seemed to be shaved ice with syrup poured over it, served in a  bowl with a bamboo grate in the bottom, to prevent the whole thing descending into a puddle. There were at least fans in the tea house on this 39C day!

While I was wandering, to my surprise my phone rang, and it was my sister-out-law.  I’d posted her a bag I made before we left Australia and it had arrived on her birthday (which I have to admit was a complete accident, and had I tried to arrange it, surely it would have arrived a day before or a day after!)

I was entirely struck, looking at these gardens–by their beauty and by the care that had been lavished on them, in some cases over hundreds of years.  There were explanatory signs about specific trees and their lineages.  There were accounts of the restoration of buildings and gardens after natural disaster, fire or conflict.  But I was also struck by the evidence that they were organised by principles that I have read about but do not understand in any deep way.  That they arise from a different attitude to nature and plants, to history and scenery, than any I have ever inhabited. So–a place of mystery in the company of others’ cultures and traditions.

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I kept finding myself checking my own assumptions about the cultures from which I’ve arisen.  In a place that is so fully fortified it speaks to an expectation of conflict and even war everywhere you turn, there were carvings of peacocks and butterflies that seemed to me so different to anything that might have been associated with warriors in Anglo Australian history. That had me remembering the Wars of the Roses and the association of warring families or tribes in English history with plants and even with flowers.

Near the end of my journey around Nijojo Mae, after I spent a lot of time watching an eagle or hawk gliding over the castle right in the heart of Kyoto, I came upon a tree that had descended from those exposed to the atom bomb, planted here so that it might be remembered in hope of peace.

 

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