Tag Archives: silk thread

Needle books

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A while back, I managed to find second hand woolen blankets, many of which were partly felted and sold for the warmth of dogs.  I am in favour of the warmth of dogs, but was delighted to take some home.  A couple have gone to the dye table where they insulate dye vats (today there is an indigo vat wrapped up in wool out there in the chilly morning).  This one, though, was a perfectly good blanket, if a little threadbare and dating back at least to the 1960s.  I can’t fit a whole blanket in any of my dye pots, so I had to take scissors to it in order to dye it, and this seems to have been a high barrier to clear.  Clear it, I now have.

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This piece dyed with E Cinerea leaves, (and a little of something else I don’t remember) has become needle books.  I left the edge stitching in position because I like it, then added my own blanket stitches in plant dyed threads. The string is hand twined silk fabric dyed with madder root.  I learned string making from Basketry SA and applying it to fabric rather than leaves from India Flint. She recently posted a video of stringmaking 101 here.  I know someone will ask, and the video is beautiful: it manages to convey the peacefulness of stringmaking somehow.

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One went to my mother.  She is on her way north for some months of warmth and adventure with my Dad (in Australia we call people such as my folks ‘grey nomads’). When they were over for dinner last week, Mum said she would like to take a project.

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She liked one of the projects I have underway and she soon had a version for herself!  I have a little stack of tins I have been saving to make mending kits.  She chose one, chose a needle book, and then I gifted her an indigo dyed bag to stitch on and some embroidery thread to stitch with, and some needles.  I hope she uses her little kit, but even if it was a passing whim, she will enjoy having it with her.  I’ll be keeping her company in some small way. Another needle book and mending kit went to my daughter when she was passing through recently and turned out not to have amending kit (!!)  The other needle books are destined for mending kits.  Their time is sure to come.

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Filed under Basketry, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Needle books on the Murray River

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We went for a birthday holiday on a house boat on the Mighty Murray River.  I’ve never been on a house boat before and it was pretty funny to be in something with six bedrooms, but on the water!  We set out on a sunny day and it was just lovely.  And then, hours before sunset, the sky turned dark.  The river was anything but calm.  My capable companions decided it was time to find a mooring, and that the green tinge in the distant clouds was a sign of hail even though it is November.  And we moored just in time for powerful winds, amazing rain… the whole thing.

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Eventually things calmed down and for those feeling nauseous, that part subsided, and the sun set over beautiful river red gums.

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Last week I finally stitched these two little eucalyptus dyed needle books together with madder-dyed thread and they were in my sewing tin along with everything else, so they found new homes among my companions.  Here they sit on the obligatory holiday puzzle.

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It wasn’t all wild weather… there were naps and songs and stories and birthday cake and lots of delicious food and company, and beautiful views.  There were so many birds… cormorants, pelicans, ducks and ducklings, superb blue wrens, raptors of various kinds… fabulous!

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On our return we discovered that every single car (and a lot of houseboats) had been hit by hail the size of golf balls.  In November.  We’d had a summary phoned in on our first night out, but it was quite a sight in person.  After a safety check, we drove home slowly, with the light dancing off all the cracks from 17 major hits on the windscreen. Too many dents in the car to count! Just as well there were needle books to keep things a little bit sensible in between times.  A person needs evidence of the ordinary in these challenging times.

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With words and without words

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I regret to say that this is a report on an exhibition that has since closed.  The wonderful (and local-to-me) Isobel McGarry exhibited during winter at Gallery M in Marion.   Isobel is a dyer who uses eco-prints in her works.

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However, the thing that strikes me as really central to her work is her embroidery.  She uses an extraordinary number of tiny stitches.  She often embroiders on silk, and her work shows a fascination with Japanese textile traditions and culture.  I loved the combination of these gorgeous works with Japanese poetry.

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As always in these techniques, the splendour of lovely details is part of the pleasure.

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Every little detail has been attended to and embellished.

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Isobel’s longing for peace seems to me to be accompanied by meditations on all that war has caused us to lose… and so the themes of fallen leaves and of the crucifix evident in so many cemeteries in this part of the world are persistent.

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A small posse of us who are admirers of Isobel’s work were privileged to go and admire the exhibit together one winter’s weekend, and it was good to spend time appreciating all that detail.

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I am sorry that you can’t go and see this lovely exhibit… but here is our departing view…

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Mending in July

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Because mending never stops… I have not restricted mine to May.  This is a little light darning on some underwear. I know, this is pansy dyed green thread… but this top already has indigo dyed darning (top right) and lots of other mends in all kinds of colours… so when the pansy green took my fancy I didn’t resist.

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This, on the other hand, is  a pair of jeans. I love seeing people’s glorious sashiko style mending on jeans, but these people have the physique and luck to wear their jeans through on the knees.  Not me. And, I think it would be an overstatement of my mending to call it sashiko as well as doing injustice to Japanese sewing traditions…

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Anyway… on the outside this is not too obtrusive.

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Hopefully good enough to hang together in gardening use, in any case!

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Woad in winter

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I realised a little late that I should have picked my woad earlier. But decided I had nothing to lose by picking it now.

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Then the chopping…

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Then the vat. How blue should the froth be, to be blue enough? These are the questions that plague my blue-dyeing!

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Eventually, I had a vat. The wool came out the same colour it was when it went in. The second vat had a lot more leaf to the same volume of water.

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I ended up with some blue-pale blue-bluish wool.

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And some silk thread that is more of a silver grey.  I swear it was blue after the second vat, but either subsequent re-dips stripped the colour back out, or it was fugitive.  Or I dreamed it. Well, they do say that woad doesn’t bear much indigotin, and harvesting in winter is not ideal.  But, am I allowed to be a bit disappointed anyway?

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Madder: the growing and the dyeing

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I have been growing madder for some years now without having enough to use for dye. It had to be transplanted when we moved house.  Then, I heard so much about how invasive it can be, I planted it in a half wine barrel and it really hasn’t enjoyed this spot.  I think people who find it invasive must have more rainfall or better watering practices, or perhaps all of the above and better soil. Then, it is amazing how many critters want to eat it despite the leaves being the texture of rough sandpaper!  I decided to divide and transplant finally.

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Here is the crop. Not too bad, but really, not a huge mass of roots.

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My beloved put three new garden beds in that will get dependable summer watering and generously agreed to one of them being a dye bed. When I had divided one of the rhubarb plants, re planted the resulting crowns and set out the new madder bed, I had a few roots left. I consulted my various manuals and washed the roots.

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Then, out with the dye blender (my parents scored this for me in their travels through second hand shops)!

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It went into the dye bath looking orange, but as I heated it, it became a deeper and deeper shade.

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At this stage, I put some silk embroidery thread in, in a zippered mesh pouch that has seen a lot of dye baths since it left the Body Shop and ended up empty in an op shop (and thence came home with me). This turned out not to be enough to keep out all the particles of madder!

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My goodness! I think this is the red I have been promised from madder!

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One skein dyed quite evenly and one streakily and both will be gorgeous in their own ways.

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After this point, I strained the dye bath through two layers of nylon next curtain, added mordanted grey fleece and got the kind of orange that madder often gives in an exhaust (to me, at any rate).  And now, I can’t wait to see if I can really get this madder thriving!  For other bloggers whose madder growing and dyeing is inspirational I suggest An Impartation of Colour and Jenny Dean and Deb McClintock (so many posts to read from Deb!).

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#MenditMay: Beyond darning

I have a dear friend whose entire family are facing some very tough times.  I’d been wondering what I could do that might bring some comfort to her, and then I had an idea.  I knew she had a cardigan that had belonged to someone she treasured, and that it was showing signs of long wear and lots of love.  So I offered to mend it for her.  She chose some yarn and on some quiet nights last week I set to work.

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Darning is always possible, but sometimes it seems barely adequate to the task, and the result is unlikely to be pleasing.  I have darned holes bigger than this, but I did cover some of them with leather elbow patches afterward!

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In the end I decided knitting in patches was a better idea.  I used needle and yarn to stabilise runaway live stitches.  Then I picked up some stitches, as you can see above.

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In a couple of spots I darned first and then picked up stitches.  See the woven section above the knitting needle?  Then it is really a process of knitting along and purling back, knitting two together at each side with a patch-stitch and a picked up strand from the garment.  There were some places where I added extra stitches or cast some off as I passed.

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One sleeve got several patches.  I tried different ways of casting off (binding off) and decided hand sewing the stitches down was the smoothest finish.

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There were smaller places where I did small darns or just trapped live stitches so that ladders could not spread further.

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On the cuffs, I considered a few options before settling on using some of the silk thread I dyed with Japanese indigo.  The grey was pretty much perfect here and I was able to use a fine enough needle to stop the stitches that are unravelling going further.

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There were four buttonholes but one button.  I couldn’t match it, so I sewed on four that have come off some other garment.

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Because a cardigan can be worn open, I concealed the ends of the stitching, with the initial knot and the tie off under the button rather than on the ‘wrong’ side, where I would happily tie them off on a shirt.

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And here it is.  Visibly mended but in a way I hope will mean this treasured cardigan will have an extended life providing comfort and warmth to my friend through times good and bad.

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I know my friend is surrounded by the love and care of many friends and her family too.  I’m lucky to be among them.

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#MenditMay Mending sewing machines and more

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This sewing machine was found in a shed.  It was unwanted by the new resident, so it came to me for cleaning, oiling and a look over.  You see it here with some of the upper casing removed to allow lubrication. It is now on its way to new users in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yangkunytjatjara lands. Meanwhile at our place, the threadbare flourbag shirt got some more patches added.  Here, the glue stitching I mentioned in my last post holding them in position.

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Here, the inside view.

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And here, the finished–for now–view of the back.

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Threads dyed with pansy, dyer’s chamomile and eucalyptus.

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I took up my friend’s jeans.  I feel like I have almost got top stitching denim sorted!

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Top tips: use a jeans needle.  If using top stitching thread, thread the needle by hand (should you have any other options, don’t use them); and leave ordinary thread in the bobbin. Use a 4mm stitch at least.

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Buttons replaced in position and stitched down so they don’t get away. I had to laugh when one button fell off at work the day of the second mending workshop!

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And another sewing machine cleaned, oiled, tested and ready to go to its new owners.  My grandmother lived in a country town where getting your machine serviced was not easy to arrange (cost may have been an issue too).  She was a fearless tender to her own machine and those of all her friends and told me many times that cleaning and oiling fixed most troubles.  So I am in her footsteps here, but in this case with a manual to guide me.  I took this machine apart and oiled all. the. places.  It really whirs along! It is now headed to asylum seekers who have been released from increasingly notorious conditions in detention on Nauru, who were tailors in their country of origin and will make great use of this well maintained machine.  It came to me because I was working on the mending kits and a lovely volunteer in an op shop asked if I could re-home a machine she knew needed to find a new home. I feel sure its new use would please the original owner very much.

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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.

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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!

 

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