Tag Archives: cotton

Of Aprons and Alchemy

Some years ago, I made an apron at an India Flint workshop.  It’s an ingenious design India has created which starts with a shirt with a collar and ends with a coverall with straps that cross over at the back.  This model also has some stitched-on panels creating a generous length at the back.

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I brought this garment home to dye it, and it would be fair to say that I never loved the outcome (friends who were consulted recently liked it more than I did).  And, it had some large holes for which I was responsible and which I had a lot of [bad] feelings about having created.  In short, this garment has been in the naughty corner (the place garments go to wait when I have been naughty) for some extended time.  But then, India put up an online course called The Alchemist’s Apron.   It is further supported by an online community of eager stitchers and dyers from all round the world on facebook.  I was lucky enough to be gifted an enrolment (Thank you India!)–and this turned out to be the trigger for getting the apron out of the naughty corner and into my hands again.

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First step, give it a wash and soften it up a bit (soy mordant no doubt was responsible for starching it a little).  Second step, mending. Mending is an evening occupation for me, thus the mood lighting… I have learned some things about mending since these holes appeared and decided to use several different strategies.

Some mends went over the hem (they were the most discouraging). These round-ish mends I especially like.

Once that was done, a second pass through the soy mordanting process, a wander around my neighbourhood by bicycle collecting leaves, and a bundle up with home made string (hems and seams left from cutting up and recycling clothing, in this case).

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I do love eucalyptus.

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The mends still stand out but I think that is OK, because #visiblemending!  I had chosen linen patching and cotton thread, which did rather guarantee they would stand out as the patches are mostly in the added border at the back of the apron which is cut from a recycled op shop raw silk pant suit a friend gave me.

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I like the new apron much more!

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And here is the back view… with the button placket still sporting buttons.  It’s a bit glorious now, I think. Do you have things waiting in the naughty corner?  How do they get there, and more importantly, what motivates you to get them out again?

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

It seems so long since I went to Beautiful Silks in Allansford for Summer Dye Camp and yet–no post.  The tutor once again was Jenai Hooke, full of expertise and inspiration, and dye camp was wonderful!

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We dyed with fresh woad from the garden and ice.

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My fellow dyers did all kinds of amazing things with indigo and leaves. The crowd at Beautiful Silks never fails to be full of inspiring and interesting humans.

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Critters dropped in!

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This is a strategy for dyeing yarn that would never have occurred to me.  Stunning in the skein (and all multi coloured skeins have their challenges).

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I dyed with indigo and with eucalypts.

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I learned a new-to-me and very effective way of mordanting with soy, and was re-educated about the importance of scouring.

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I made indigo circles for later use, inspired by Jude Hill’s indigo moons on Spirit Cloth.

There was so much more!  Madder, cochineal, walnut, tannins, mud, indigo painting… what a fabulous way to spend a holiday, plus the glorious time spent in Warrnambool and surrounds.  Highly recommended.

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Beloved trees

As so often happens in my case, one project leads to the next.  The scraps left from converting unwanted trousers into bags were the biggest scraps sitting on the small scraps pile when I felt the pull to make “beloved tree” banners.  I decided that this might be a fun Womadelaide project–there I would be over a long weekend, sitting under beautiful trees listening to music.  What could be better? It was going to be way too hot for substantial knitting projects.  I decided if I took needle, thread and some calico or sheet offcuts–that would be a good start, and that is how I began.   Before I went on day 2 I made some “frames”.

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You can see how this goes.  It’s simple but it gives a sense of framing the words that I like.  It somehow draws in the idea of that-which-is-framed being important, precious in some way.

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And there I sat–I have inherited a small embroidery hoop.  I usually don’t use one, but it seemed like it might help and it caused several conversations with smaller people interested in the whys and mechanics of things, which were also fun.

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Afterward, I found more calico/scraps/leftover bits of ancient sheets or tablecloths and stitched them on to create a backing and a neat edge around the frame.

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There are six in all, some with linen frames.

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Some framed with offcuts of denim jeans that have passed into new incarnations as bags. And now they are ready to be applied to trees.  I do feel as though a tree needs no adornment.  However, I feel all too conscious that trees are not universally beloved.  After the last big storm in which trees came down on cars and the tram line in our neighbourhood, I put up two earlier banners, and one was removed almost immediately.  I don’t know whether it was souvenir-ed or whether it was taken down by someone who didn’t accept the message.  But I do know that at such times trees around me face higher degrees of threat, and this is one thing I can do.  Maybe this weekend of earth hour is the time for some to go out into the world?

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Culling the cupboards, AKA Upcycling

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As people who read this blog regularly already know, I make a lot of bags, and I almost always give them away.  So when Boomerang Bags started up in Adelaide (and it wasn’t started by me–woot!) it seemed entirely logical to join their end single use plastics interventions by making bags for them.  I made an initial 6 and gave 5 away.  This time I committed to making bags for a stall on World Environment Day and one of the sweethearts from the local group dropped 12 labels at my place.

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Some of the labels were apple green (hard to colour co-ordinate), and I’ve noticed that many of the bags the group creates are made in floral prints.  I’m going out on a limb assuming there are other folk like me who would prefer a not-so-floral bag.  So–I checked to see what relatively plain fabrics I might have and decided the time had come for some unloved trousers made by me over ten years ago.  I’ve worn them a lot over about a decade, even though I had to face the hash I made of the welt pockets every single time.  Never again! Here they are cut into their constituent parts, and below–as bags.

A pair of hemp pants that have never really fit, and are so badly made I’ve mended them several times in a life of few washes and wears.  A couple more pairs of trousers that I won’t wear again.  Two pairs of op shop jeans saved for a day I need denim, and a pair of op shop linen pants, ditto.  Orange linen picked up at the tip shop outside Hobart for a song (because who wouldn’t take their mates to the tip shop if you were passing?) Some repurposed canvas cushion backing dyed with eucalypts.

Oh, the pockets!  It’s a shame to let a well constructed pocket go, so these are now features!

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Needless to say there was constructive piecing on the outside, and where the outsides were pieced together, there are linings (often pieced too).

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So now my thirteen bags have gone to Boomerang Bags, and I have more labels.  I inherit fabric and have fabric dropped off at my place faster than I can re-home it.  I still have unloved wardrobe items and clothing past use by date.  I have clothing that is upwards of 20 years old, some parts reclaimable and op shop items salvaged for repurposing.  So, I believe I can keep at this project for the foreseeable future without concern for supplies and with benefits for my cupboards.

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Bags 2

Did you really think I could stop at… oh… ten or twelve bags (especially as I was on holiday)?  Naturally, I could not.  I went to the Guild and there was a pile of denim offcuts.  You know how it is.

They all turned out to be different denims, each one reasonably narrow but the width of the bolt.  No concern to me.  I paired some with a yellow open weave linen (I think) I have inherited.  I made several of these and they look quite elegant.

This patch was found on the footpath in Melbourne in December. It seemed wrong to leave it there to the wind, rain, mud and passing shoes and dogs, until it found its way into the stormwater drain.

And this bag is made from a piece of fabric my mother-out-law passed on to me in the last year.

On the inside, all manner of scraps and bits and pieces, and of course–more pockets!

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Bags 1

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One day at Guild, one of my friends gifted me two pairs of worn out cargo pants, in case I’d like to find a way to reuse them. Some people really know you!  They were made of tencel or some similar wood pulp based fibre.  They had been much worn, like a favourite garment.  And they had so many pockets!  Ones with zips, some that were more of a welt pocket… some that were stitched shut and had never been ripped open for use–lots to play with.  So I cut them up, extracted the cotton drawstring cords for later use, and began piecing the intact fabric into bag linings and likewise, the pockets.

There was an entire series of bark cloth curtain fabric bags.  I used up the boomerang bags patches I was given by one of the Adelaide organisers a while back pretty quickly.  Then I did a series with the remaining secondhand IKEA fabric my daughter gave me a while back (the orange and white stripes).  They match my ironing board cover and they are extra large.

Finally, I converted some fabric I remember buying at Paddy’s market in Melbourne at least 20 years ago (cough, maybe it was 30 years ago) into about 4 more bags.  I must have been reliving my childhood as an admirer of ancient Egypt when I bought this, I think.  I vaguely remember feeling obliged to buy something even though I couldn’t spare the cash at that time (it must have been the nature of the interaction with the stallholder).  The print gestures in that direction, but I really can’t see it as a garment.  Some of these bags have already gone to friends, and others await their ultimate destination.

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Finnish tough socks naturally?

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It all began when I finally managed to pick up a parcel that a friend who now lives in Denmark had left for me when she had passed through our town while we were away.  The contents were truly astonishing. Better than Christmas.  She had chosen some lovely wool, a book and a chocolate treat, all wrapped up in a bag! She delivered another Danish knitting kit as well. The yarn is Finnish wool dyed with plants and cochineal.  I couldn’t wait. I’d just finished a rather plain coloured sock and I wasn’t finished preparing my next Suffolk sock yarn.  I cast on!

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Here, a sock poses above Port Willunga beach on a summer outing. Is it just my imagination, or was this shot so peculiar my beloved took a snap of me taking it to preserve for posterity?

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Here, it graces a completed summer holiday puzzle.  My daughter brought Christmas gifts that were all second hand, wrapped in newspaper and tied with binder twine, designed to entertain us while in Melbourne.  One of the puzzles was unpacked immediately!

 

Here we have the second sock with many extremely ripe strawberries after a heat wave visit to the Farmer’s market.  And, on the side of a triathlon where I was cheering on my very fit beloved.  And now we have the frivolous images out of the way, here”s the lowdown.  I loved this yarn so much I wanted to knit it right away.  It’s the right weight for socks (4 ply/fingering) but I have no reason to think it is especially sock-worthy in terms of the breed or construction of the yarn.  On the other hand, my experience is increasingly telling me that adding silk into sock yarn is not an especially winning strategy.  As a beginner spinner I was so surprised to be told that silk was strong.  I had always thought of it as a rather fragile fibre.  But here’s the thing.  It’s both.  Silk has a high tensile strength.  If you try to snap a silk thread, it is really strong.  But I don’t think that tensile strength is matched by its capacity for abrasion resistance.  I’ve tested this by mending high abrasion areas of clothing with silk thread sashiko style–with lots of running stitches across the area of the patch.  The silk thread rubbed right off, and quite quickly.  I think that the high wear areas of a sock require a lot of abrasion resistance, and perhaps silk is not the best choice.  This was an experiment with doing all the engineering I know about to strengthen this pure wool sock.

I knit these socks cuff down, and I decided not to rib the leg.  I am not sure whether this wool will be a good match with the wearer’s skin.  It isn’t merino soft or silk soft, so I decided not to add any texture that might create unwanted friction.  Instead, I created a shaped calf.  These socks are for a woman who walks a lot.  So, since I made them quite long, some room for walking muscle.  As I reached the end of the leg, I started heel reinforcing stitch above the heel.  I notice this is a place where socks can wear through and there is nothing technically difficult about reinforcing the section of the leg immediately above the heel proper, where some boots and shoes rub.

When I reached the heel, I used heel reinforcing stitch as I usually would, and added some (ecru–offwhite) cotton/silk stitching thread in for reinforcement.  You can see the stitch and colour changes in the image above. The last time I received feedback on a pair of socks for this specific person, I saw she’d worn through the sole under her heel first.  So when I got to the heel turn and began the sole, I continued the reinforcing thread, through the heel turn and then running it across the sole and snipping it off when I came to knitting across the gusset and top of the foot.

I think the idea for treating reinforcing thread in this way came from something the wonderful Elizabeth Zimmermann (wise and ingenious fairy godmother of English speaking knitters) wrote, though I think she was using woolly nylon.  She wrote in a period when nylon blend sock yarn was not available or widespread as it is today, and she was needless to say, interested in a hard wearing sock.  I think she wrote a pattern for a re-footable sock, which I read once and found beyond me.  It might be time to look it up, because perhaps by now my knitting skills will meet it.  Here is how this strategy looks on the inside of the sock. Lots oof loose ends.  But they will be barely detectable to the wearer’s heel and will not work their way out of the knitting.

I changed down a needle size for the sole to give it more durability without impinging on the wearer.  That might be one of EZ’s ideas too.  The toe also received reinforcement.

And there we are.  I purled the recipient’s initials into the back of the calf for my own amusement and hopefully hers!

And there you have it.  A sock of unknown toughness, engineered for better wear, gloriously coloured and gleefully received.  When I am listening to the former knitters I meet on public transport, in cafes, at bus stops, in meetings, I am often saddened that they know no one who would welcome a hand knit and especially not a hand knit requiring hand washing.  That is the most common reason I hear for their abandoning knitting (followed by arthritis, scourge of knitters).  My goodness!  I am blessed by many lovers of hand knits, and while for me, knitting is its own reward in some respects… it is also like cooking someone a delicious dinner.  People who enjoy and appreciate are those for whom I’d cheerfully cook or knit again given the chance.  There is nothing like being really confident that someone loves that meal or sock or slipper or jumper so much that if you made another, they’d love that too… and I am especially blessed to know folk who will happily wear experimental garments.

 

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A new ironing board cover

The old ironing board cover was made from a lovely but pre-loved piece of bark cloth that had begun to wear right through to the previous cover.  It was time.  I might be taking this ironing board to a workshop, so I want it to be in good shape! I had a big piece of stout orange and white striped cotton fabric my daughter gave me for a birthday.  It bears an IKEA label but she has begun to give me only second hand gifts, which I just love!  It makes me feel… that she sees me somehow.  So this item, perhaps a table cloth, has passed from hand to hand a few times in its lifetime with apparently little use, and in the right hand image I’m tracing around the ironing board before cutting out.

Next steps: finishing the edge and creating a casing, discovering a tool for threading cord through a very long casing in my sewing table, and inserting recycled cotton yarn into the casing.

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Then, fitting damp cover over ironing board, tightening cord, and massaging into position.  Ta-da!

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A little light mending

In our house, one of us likes to hang onto things as long as possible and mend them as needed.  The other one is less enthusiastic about mending and naturally holds different opinions about which things are so special they should be mended rather than thrown away or repurposed.  This towel had lots of pile left on it but the selvedges had given way and frayed.  A lot. That was good enough for me!  I happened to have some binding left over from a previous such project and it was just the right amount for the job.  And now–no more frayed edges… and quite a pretty edge.

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Small projects, big plans

A while ago I went to The Drapery to buy zippers, and The Drapery is far more tempting to me than the chain alternatives, so I came away with a fat quarter (or something like that) of Liberty lawn.  My Mother-Out-Law loves Liberty prints, so I tried to inhabit her aesthetic and chose this one.  She is a rather petite woman, so I made four small handkerchieves and I am reliably informed that she loves them! Naturally (in her case–the other gift she enjoys is stationery) she sent me a lovely card, and observed that only another sewer would recognise the rolled hems as a special achievement.  I feel so lucky to have out-laws who are so kind and lovely.

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Then there was the very last of these bags.

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This time I chose madder and indigo dyed threads.

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The madder dyed silk in the centre of this circle was dyed at my house, (the madder and indigo purple by Beautiful Silks), and it is SO red!

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There have been other small projects piling up, but there has also been a development.  We went to the Royal Show again this year and Suffolks were the featured sheep breed.  This beauty evidently didn’t stand still (or perhaps it was me who did the wriggling).

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I tried to speak with breeders in hopes of acquiring a fleece and discovered again that I’m really quite shy.  My beloved was much better at it.  We spoke to breeders from WA and Tasmania who did not bring fleece, and then found one from Kangaroo Island who was happy enough to sell me a fleece if I was sure I wanted to spin from a meat sheep and did I realise this is sold as carpet wool? It’s so sad to think that the long history of this breed as a source of wool for specific uses such as socks, has been all but lost even among lovers of the breed.

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Malcolm called me on the weekend and we had a chat.  We agreed on one fleece and a price that I thought was too low, and what do you know?  I put one and a half times the price in an envelope and he delivered two fleeces, or is it three?  He threw in a “black” fleece because these sell for even less than the $3 or $4 per kilo that Malcolm gets for white Suffolk fleece.  Last night I skirted it at the Guild Hall and it is grey and dark brown, cream and white (I suspect, under the dirt).  I can only confirm that I won’t need another delivery in October: this is a LOT of wool.  I’ve never raised a sheep, and it’s entirely possible Malcolm doesn’t know how long it takes to spin sock yarn!  However, the fleece I skirted last night is lovely. I’ve had little access to Suffolk to date and spun what I had suspected was poor quality fleece with a very short staple.  This has a high crimp staple of at least 8-10 cm in places, and while the coloration lowers its value for industrial processing, for me it is a real asset.  I washed a small quantity before work this morning, I’m so keen to get spinning…

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