Plastic Not Fantastic

Recently I packed away my summer clothes and brought out the knitwear. Looking through the jumpers, cardigans, jackets and vests, I felt a mix of fondness and weariness. There’s a lot I love in there, but I found myself wishing I could pack it back away for a little longer.

I don’t think it has anything to do with dreading the cold months. I like winter. I’m just a little (dare I say it) bored with wearing the same old thing. Not just the knits, but the skivvies that allow me to wear wool without setting off my allergy to it.

Since I’m not constantly adding hand knits to my wardrobe through knitting any more I have to look for other ways to freshen things up a bit. Because I can’t wear wool against my skin I wear fleecy jackets over short-sleeved shirts on cooler summer days, but overall I prefer natural fibres. I have three cotton jackets, but they’re the same design in three different colours so if you didn’t register a change of colour you’d think I was wearing the same garment. Another kind of cotton jacket sounded like a good addition to my wardrobe.

I figured if I was going shopping I may as well tackle another item of clothing I needed. Too much feasting over the Easter weekend meant I wasn’t comfortable in my jeans and pants. I’d wear skirts instead, but because my cat occasionally swipes my ankles, I have to wear them with leggings instead of tights during cold weather. I have two pairs of leggings, and they’re starting to look a bit tired. Still, leggings shouldn’t be hard to find, right?

So I went shopping. And was aghast. I couldn’t find simple black cotton leggings. They were all made of polyester. And the jackets and knitwear – all acrylic. Even the long-sleeved t-shirts and polo-necks had high levels of plastic content. When did this happen?

Well, I dismissed it as bad luck – I just chose the wrong stores. However, when I went to Ishka a few days later, thinking their aesthetic is usually more ‘natural’, I found lots of 100% polyester fabric masquerading as cotton. Ugh!

A friend put me onto a shop that sells cotton leggings, so I mail-ordered four pairs. When it came to the knitwear and jackets, however, I decided to go second-hand and found a casual corduroy jacket and long cotton cardigan at a charity shop, the latter which I dyed. Problem solved.

However, I do wonder if I’m seeing a worrying trend. On a science program last year researches showed how when modern houses catch fire, the fires burn hotter and spread several times faster than they used to, because most house contents are now, essentially, petroleum products.

And in another program, researchers found that most of the plastic ingested by fish in Australian waterways was fibres from clothing.

Personally, I don’t mind polyester for evening wear and travel clothes. Otherwise, my wardrobe is mainly cotton based. I find polyester unpleasant to wear, even when it doesn’t give me a rash.

But I’m disturbed to see how much poly has crept into my daily wear. I’m not going to toss any of it out, but I am going to be more careful about what I’m buying from now on. I feel more justified in buying and refashioning vintage and second-hand clothing, too.

And I have a stronger urge to change my daily ‘look’ to incorporate much more hand woven and hand sewn clothing. My Saori garment design book is looking very interesting right now.

Cheesecloth Top

This top began life like this:

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At the time I was hand sewing clothing, as I hadn’t got over the aversion to sewing I’d had since my mid 20s. I never wore the top. Earlier this year I made a few adjustments to make this:

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Better, but a little plain. I needed something simple to do while watching tv. Inspired by Rebecca Ringquist’s book and kantha embroidery, I stitched lines of running stitch, using up lots of leftover floss.

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Simple. Fun. Flattering. Only problem is, now I need another easy project to do while watching tv.

Handspun, Handwoven, Handsewn

The olive yarn in this has had quite a journey. I bought it at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild in Christchurch in 2009. In 2013 I used the Bond Sweater Machine to make this:

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Which I didn’t like that much and was eventually frogged. Late last year I wove it on the rigid heddle into lengths of fabric. There was no ultimate plan for them, I just wanted to get it out of the stash and have something easy to weave. I got three strips out of it: two the width of the loom, one a little more than half the width.

Using the book Simple Woven Garments as inspiration, I pinned and unpinned and repinned on the dress model. The two wider pieces were perfect sewn together to make a sleeves-front-back tube. By adding a pleat to the back neckline I got a cowl at the front, which I liked so much I decided that whatever else I did had to build on this. I just had to attaching the narrow strip somehow. My first attempt had it flat at the front…

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… and a pleat at the back to make a peplum. But there wasn’t enough fabric to make it peplum-y enough, and it sat too high.

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Next I moved the darts on the back to the shoulders and pinned the strip flat so I could crossed over the ends at the front. (I don’t have a pic, unfortunately.) While this looked better, but it hid half the fringe, and I like the fringe, so I kept experimenting.

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I tried folding the ends out to form fringed pouch pockets at the front.

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Pockets! Cute! However, with the fronts pinned together I couldn’t get it off the dress model. I rummaged through my sewing box and found a short black open-ende zip. Perfect!

So after a bit of sewing while watching tv and some zip insertion, I have this:

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I may trim the fringe a little more, if it’s annoying at that length. And I may decide in future to cut up the centre front to make it a jacket. For now, however, it’s packed away with the rest of my winter clothing. Far too hot for this right now!

Say Cheese

My recent itch to sew led to me popping around to a friends place for some spontaneous stitching recently. I woke up in a grumpy mood that day, but thanks to having some company with which to create and chat by the end I was in a much better state of mind. I even got some sewing-with-cat time:

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However, I wasn’t exactly sewing at my best. I took four possible projects and thought I’d start on an easy one – a men’s shirt into shorts refashion. But when realised I wasn’t going to get enough fabric so I put it aside and started on another – a cheesecloth tunic top.

I knew I didn’t have much fabric. It was a choice between a short top with long sleeves or a longer top with short sleeves. I went for the latter:

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However, I realised too late that the front was also supposed to be cut on the fold. I had to sew a strip down the middle. And in retrospect, I think I should have eliminated the sleeves altogether. And made it a size smaller, as it has turned out rather wide.

But I’m not too fussed, as I mainly wanted to a) use up the material, b) try out Little Jen, my mini sewing machine, c) just sew.

I want to embellish it, and I’m thinking of using some of my inkle. Trouble is, I can’t decide between three of the tapes.

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Any preferences?

No matter which I choose, I’ll have to weave some more, as I want to put it around the sleeve cuffs as well.

Old Timers

In some felt baskets in the craft room I keep ‘lingerers’ – materials that never became what they were meant to, unfinished projects and items too good to throw away that I’ve not had an idea how to repurpose yet. From time to time I rifle through, consider again what I could make with them, then put them back again if no inspiration strikes.

When I was rifling through them recently I picked out a ball of icord I made ages ago on the EmbellishKnit.

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I’d started crocheting it with my giant wooden hook at some point, and I liked the result and thought it would make a great hat, but I didn’t have enough for one. This time I had the idea to make a headband instead:

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I’m happy with how it turned out. It did hurt my hands a little to crochet it, though, so it’s just as well it was a small project.

A top made of two squares of cheesecloth also caught my eye. I made it back when I hadn’t got over my dislike of sewing with a machine, so it was all hand sewed. There are no pics of the original. It was a bit of a dud, and I don’t think it even made it onto this blog. A bit more hand stitching turned it into a boat neck top. I’m planning to embroider all over the front. Not sure what yet. An idea will come eventually.

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Next I picked out this houndstooth wool fabric I made in 2012.

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I’d never blogged about the finished piece because the I’d intended to sew it into something. But I do like it as a scarf. Later wove a small rectangle of log cabin out of the same yarn, which I was going to make into a clutch, but this time I hit upon the idea of adding pockets to the scarf.

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There’s something very gratifying about finding a use for odd bits and pieces too good to throw away, or an old failed project. There’s a hoarder in me that gets to say ‘I told you it was worth keeping’. Fortunately I also gain satisfaction from the occasional cull, or I really would be drowning in craft materials!

Pattern Recognition

Since I bought the little Jenome (Lil’ Jen?) I’ve had the itch to sew, not helped by thinking a lot about what to embroider. So I went looking in my box of fabric and refashioning project baskets for inspiration.

Early last year I went through my fabric stash and culled it, mostly removing offcuts of fabric from past projects. Out of what I kept, if I had an idea for what it could become, I put a post-it note on it. So I now looked at the post-it notes and selected two projects that appealed: a white cheesecloth tunic that I’ll embroider, and straight grey denim skirt.

I also did a bit of a ‘mix and match’ with some of the smaller pieces of fabric, and hit on the idea of replicating a skirt I have, which is denim at the back and a cotton print at the front.

After that I went through my refashioning baskets. Plenty of projects waiting there, but I was most attracted to a sarong-into-shorts project and, in complete contrast, some thick pieces of woven, felted wool that I might be able to sew into a vest.

But for all but the shorts, which I have made before , I didn’t have any suitable patterns. The half-denim, half-print skirt is very simple, so I’ll just trace a pattern from it. I wasn’t game to try to invent the vest, straight denim skirt and tunic pattern. Fortunately, a while back I bookmarked a few that I liked and found a pattern for a tunic. I couldn’t find any classic straight denim skirt patterns, but I found a vest one that I could adapt for the woven fabric.

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So I bought and downloaded the tunic and vest patterns, then spent most of a morning printing, taping together and cutting them out. The tunic is going to need some careful cutting, as I don’t have a lot of fabric. This is it with the back and front shortened and full length sleeves. I’m thinking now that I’d rather have short sleeves and a longer body.

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Of course, then I had to dig through my sewing notions. I found everything but a skirt zipper and some bias binding. The first I got in my local habby store, and the second I found today, when I went to grab some calico from the stash and found a great big coil of calico binding, the copious leftovers from a quilt I made a few years back.

So with four projects ready to go, I may just need to put aside a whole weekend for sewing. Or two.

Stitchy Gift

While I was crafting around work in Ballarat last month I listened to a few podcasts. One was the Craft Sanity podcast, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with Rebecca Ringquist. So when I saw her book in a shop I suggested Paul get it for me for Christmas.

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I listened to the interview at a point where I was assessing my own interest in embroidery – and craft in general – and a quick look at the book in the shop told me it was something I needed to read, rather than simply for project inspiration and instruction.

You see, while I don’t necessarily want to produce the style of embroidery Rebecca makes in this book, it’s more a book about an approach to embroidery than making the example projects. It says it’s “a ‘bend-the-rules’ primer”, and that’s what I’m after.

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When I look at what I’ve enjoyed and succeeded in making with embroidery so far, a few common elements emerge. When the projects have been small, they’ve been detailed and precise. When they’ve been larger, they’ve been looser and more about texture and colour than representation.

I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not working on something useful. That is, either embellishing a garment or bag, or making jewellery. The few times I’ve made artwork, it’s either been intensely personal (the cats) or I’ve intended to make it into something eventually even if I don’t yet know what. While Rebecca suggests letting go of the notion of the piece having a purpose, I’ve recognised that for me that is a creativity-blocker. I’m the same with colouring books. Only when I turned the pages into greeting cards did I enjoy colouring them.

You see, we have so much artwork already that I freeze in horror at the thought of accumulating more.

Time seems to be an cause of me losing interest, as well. The books I write, the portraits I paint, and the sort of weaving I’m exploring now tend to take a long time, on a scale of months to years. I acknowledged years ago that I need some of the craft I do to provide quick satisfaction. Not necessarily instant, but a scale of days and weeks would be nice. And sometimes I have no energy for thought and planning, and it’s good to be able to pick up something and just stitch.

So I’m looking for embroidery projects that are reasonably fast, that can be done in front of the tv or fit in my handbag for waiting rooms and airport lounges, and that has a use at the end. And aren’t old fashioned or twee.

That pretty much eliminates most designs on the market.

I’m happy to design my own projects, but that does require some thought and planning. However, Rebecca’s approach also appeals because it has a freeform spirit to it. Just take a thing and embellish it. Doodle with stitches. Enjoy texture and colour and accident. I love how she says don’t bother fixing a mistake, just stitch over it. And I love her for saying it’s okay to use knots. Honestly, I’ve been hung up on the whole ‘to knot, or not to knot’ question for ages, because I don’t want to put a whole lot of work into embellishing a garment only to have the ends come loose in the wash. Rebecca even suggests putting the knots on the front of the work. I love that!

So I wrote in my visual diary a list of likes and dislikes:

Likes:
The textural look of kantha and boro
The enhancing of fabric in sashiko and kogin
The simplicity of stitch in tambour and blackwork
The modern look of ‘new’ crewel and the colour in ethnic embroidery
Unconventional materials and scale, as in stitching greeting cards or giant cross stitch.
And, conversely, finer and realistic work if it’s tiny, as in jewellery
Fast projects
Portable projects
Projects with no use
Using no hoop

Dislikes:
Fussy, precise work
Traditional and old fashioned (unless subverted)
Twee
Collage-like overly busy work
Slow projects
Cumbersome projects
Artwork
Worrying about knots

Since then I’ve looked in my wardrobe, gone through my old sketchbook, and peered at my to-do list, considering what I could stitch. I’m looking at long delayed sewing projects with fresh enthusiasm, if they provide opportunity for embellishment. And that’s led to some pattern purchasing, downloading, and printing – and planning a sewing day.

Crafty plans for 2016 are well underway.

Cardy Embellishment I

I finished this project the night before NYE.

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At the beginning of last year I bought two cashmere cardigans to wear while overseas – one purple, one red. I took the purple cardy overseas. It served it’s purpose as a layering garment. But while I love the colour of both cardys, they’re rather boring. I’ve always intended to embellish them.

For the purple one I wanted to do some embroidery, but every time I put needle and thread to it the result was disappointing, or the method was too slow or hard on my hands. Eventually I tried chain stitch with thin grey weaving yarn and liked it.

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For the red one I want to do black roses. I bought gauzy ribbon sewn into roses, black velvet ribbon and other trim, and pinned it to the cardy on the dress model, but didn’t find a design I liked. Now I know chain stitch works well, I think I’ll use it and black wool yarn instead.

Crafty Treat No.2

At the end of my stay in Ballarat Paul came up and joined me for the weekend. We headed drove home via the Daylesford Mill Markets, a huge antiques and collectables market. I saw a little mini sewing machine not much bigger than a hardback novel, but it didn’t have the power cord and food pedal so I didn’t buy it.

It got me thinking. I owned a cute mini Elna sewing machine years ago, but I foolishly gave it to a workmate before moving house, reasoning that the less I owned the easier it would be to move. I really missed that machine.

When I got home I did some googling. I looked up reviews of mini sewing machines and searched for them on eBay and in stores. Only one model was available through an Australian online store, and it had sold out. The ones on eBay looked cheap and tacky and the sellers had bad feedback. I even found a model that IKEA sells, but it wasn’t that small and reviews were bad.

Jenome’s model appealed because I already have a full size one, so bobbins, fittings and tools should be compatible. They had good reviews. However, they were only available overseas (which might mean power adaptor issues?).

But then I found one advertised on Gumtree. Trouble was, it was in Western Australia, and Gumtree works more on a ‘pay for and pick up in person’ format. I emailed the seller asking if they would post it. After a bit of too and fro, we sorted out postage and agreed on a price, and a week later this arrived:

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Next to my full size Jenome for scale:

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It’s much lighter – a greater difference in weight than in size. I tested it and it works, if noisily (though not in a ‘I’m broken’ kind of way). It only does straight stitch and zigzag, but so did my old Elna, and that’s fine for most non-stretch fabrics.

So I have a plan that, at the next Craft Day, instead of lugging a heavy sewing machine, sewing box and project bag into the host’s house, I’ll have one bag containing the mini sewing machine and just what I need for the projects I’m making. Though I’ll still have to carry in the same dress model if I’m making clothing, since there’s no way to miniaturise that!

Sewing/Refashioning Day

A friend hosted a small crafty day on the weekend. I took some refashioning projects. As always, I forgot to take ‘before’ shots, but here are my ‘afters’:

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I picked up this dress at a vintage fair. It fit fine from the waist down (unfortunately, the leglessness of the dress model makes it drape strangely), but the top was too big. Pinching in at the sides was all it needed – and I replaced the rather small press stud side opening with a zip.

It took a lot longer than I expected, so I only got two more smaller refashions done.

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This had a polo neck. I like polo neck tops, but the fabric is very thick and I found it too hot. This was the simplest refashion – all I did was cut the collar off so no sewing required.

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When I bought this is was a bit snug, so it wasn’t long before snug became too tight. The answer was my standard ‘add a side piece’.

It felt a bit weird doing summery refashions when it’s too cold to wear them. I guess I like the instant gratification of being able to put on something I’ve just ‘fixed’. But it was great to be making something and hanging out friends.