Newness

For my first garment on the new machines, I decided to make a top out of the striped jersey I’d bought as a test fabric way back when. Since it was supposed to be sacrificial, I decided to also trial changing the skivvy pattern to a top with a scoop neckline.

Referring to a top from my wardrobe, I sketched out the new neckline and made a template for cutting out more fabric rather than cutting into the pattern.

I didn’t do this for the pattern back, which would come back to bite me later, I just trimmed a bit off the back piece after I’d cut it out. Then I got down to sewing.

To get around not having enough cones of thread in the colours I needed (because my old overlocker only takes three) I used black for one thread, which isn’t noticeable. One day, when lockdown is over, I’ll buy not just an extra cone of navy and grey, but an extra five so I don’t have to rethread the overlocker and coverstitch machine at least twice for each project.

(I did try to order more navy and grey cones, but couldn’t find any shops selling the brand and shade of navy I have, and I really need to match the grey in person. Which was probably a good thing, since there was also a big delay in the postal service thanks to Covid exposures and a surge of online orders.)

Some sewing later, I had a new top:

Which went well apart from two things:

First, the coverstitch machine is SO finicky! I went through all of the offcuts of the fabric test sewing, each time adjusting the various settings until the machine stopped skipping stitches. And yet when I came to sewing the actual hems… skipped stitches. Watching videos online helped a bit, but even when I finally got it to work and managed to sew the wrist and bottom hems successfully on this top, the machine then could not handle the neckline. I gave up after unpicking it several times and returned to using a double needle on the sewing machined.

Second, I really should have done more than snip a little bit off the back neckline. It stuck out so far that when I pinched it in to fit snugly, I found it was about 6cm too big. By then I was so over unpicking that neckline that I waited several days before taking a deep breath and redoing it. Fortunately, I only had to unpick the back, trim the back neckline and resew it, and then it was fixed.

I’m not sure what to make of the coverstitch machine. The fabric I used was thin, slippery, and had a very fine and grippy knit structure, so maybe that was the problem. I need to try other fabrics before making any conclusions about it. It’s a whole new thing, so naturally it’s going to take practise and experience to feel confident with using it.

But I am very happy with the sewing machine and overlocker, and keen to tackle the next project.

Test Run Bags

If there’s a down side to refashioning and recycling it is the tendency to keep things because they might come in handy one day. I should have thrown these away two years ago:

They were from the wardrobe of Late Lucy, which had contained several of these folksy tent dresses. I can think of five off the top of my head, all hand made, of different weights from light summery fabric to warm winter wool. The white flecky one was probably a poly cotton mix, and the olive grey one 100% polyester, so while the prints looked nice I wasn’t going to be making clothes out of them. I guess I only kept them on the vague notion of weaving them into rag rugs.

When my new sewing machines arrived I wanted to get familiar with them by making something simple. Drawstring bags, maybe. When I was considering what fabric to use, these dresses happened to be in line of sight, and I had an epiphany. I’ve been wanting to make cloth bags to replace the plastic bags that organise clothing in my suitcase. Something that could be tossed in a hot wash when I got home to kill off any bed bugs or their eggs. The polyester of Lucy’s dresses was the perfect fabric for this.

Zippers were preferable to drawstrings for this purpose, so I hunted through my stash of habby harvested from old garments and op shops, and found that dress zips were the right size for the big bags. Skirt zips were perfect for the smaller bags. Soon I had a pile of them, and a good start on understanding my new Juki.

There’s still more familiarisation to gain before I’ll be fully confident with the new machines, but I did notice this on the packaging from the shop:

They know their customers well.

Grounded

Grounds are a subject I’ve also been thinking about recently. What happens when an artist and photographer live together, accumulating not just our own work but work by friends and people we admire? And neither of us have the energy to try selling our work except to friends? No wall space left and unhung artwork stowed behind doors and on top of shelving.

Portraits are great in that you can just give them to the subject or their family. Pet portraits are similarly practical in that way. But I don’t want to only produce portraits and pets, so how do I work without this problem affecting what I paint and how often?

By changing what I’m painting on. Stretched canvasses are nice and sturdy, necessary when painting large, but they are bulky. Canvas boards take up less room. Even better, canvas ‘paper’ is no thicker than a thin card. If I’m going to get better at painting I need to paint more, and if I paint more I need to go for smaller and thinner grounds.

I remembered, then, that I had a bag full of raw canvas scraps from when I used to stretch my own canvasses. I’ve always meant to make my own boards out of them. After a bit of playing around I concluded that PVA is the best glue, wrapping the fabric around the card rather than trimming at the edges is better, and greyboard is less inclined to warp than mountboard.

Mum’s old flower press proved very useful for keeping the boards flat while the glue dried.

It was a bit of a shock to realise that she painted this at the same age I am now. Which means if I inherit the dementia she suffers I might have only 20 more years of healthy brain function left. And if that isn’t sobering enough, if I inherit her father’s early onset Alzheimers, I may only have 10.

Pa’s slow decline and death taught me to not wait to do anything in life. And I haven’t. And if it turns out I’ve inherit the brain of my Nana, who was pretty sharp into her 90s, all the better!

Two coats of gesso finished off the boards.

I now have a bunch of little canvasses to work on that cost me almost nothing. The unexpected advantage of this is I have some interesting non-standard rectangles.

The oils came out, and I painted this over a few weeks:

There’s plenty more fabric to use up, so I’ll be making more of these boards in future.

Chenille Scarves

When the Venne scarves came off the loom I wasn’t sure what to weave next. I have a few linen projects I’d like to weave, but the heating here is very drying so I’m waiting until spring. I’m not ready to weave another rug yet. I also didn’t want to tackle anything mentally challenging when I was about to launch into the 8-shaft course.

Opening my stash spreadsheet, I looked at the oldest yarns there and found a few potential sparks of inspiration. Maybe I could weave up some of the small batches of interesting yarn I’d been procrastinating over for years. Taking out whatever appealed, I wound up with three batches of indigo blue and white yarn – clearly something about the colour was attracting me. I chose the chenille that was ikat dyed in one of Kay Faulkner’s workshops.

I’ve woven this yarn (undyed) into a scarf before, using it as both warp and weft on a rigid heddle loom. It was hard to beat and the warp was a twisty nightmare, and the scarf came out a little stiff. Then I tried dip dyeing in indigo later, didn’t like the look and dip dyed the white end… and hated the result.

A different approach was needed. I’d seen chenille woven as weft on a 8/2 cotton warp in a project before, so based the sett and structure on that. I chose a simple 4-shaft 2×2 point twill with a straight treadling on a blue warp, which was easy to warp and fast to weave. When the scarf came off the loom it had the perfect drape for such a cushy yarn.

However, I had only used up one of the two balls of chenille. I decided to weave another scarf using a white warp. But then I thought… just one scarf? Wouldn’t it be more economical to warp up for two scarves? But what to use for weft on that second scarf? I could try unweaving that stiff chenille and use the weft to make a new one. Or, if that didn’t work, there was plenty of white slubby cotton in my stash that I could weave – and perhaps dye.

The second chenille scarf is much busier, because the white weft makes the twill more obvious and breaks up the blue.

In the meantime, I tried to unweave the old chenille scarf. It turns out chenille locks in pretty determinedly when woven with itself. I abandoned the task went looking for another yarn to use, but something about the unwoven chenille, which had a speckle effect thanks to being tightly woven then overdyed, kept calling me back to the old scarf. So I gave unweaving another try and found if I trimmed off the warp every 2 cm it was not so laborious that I wasn’t prepared to do it, over a couple of days.

Turns out I was right. It did weave up nicely. This time I wove point twill, which gave it a kind of flowery feel. However, it barely wove up to a cowl length. I added a bit of denim at either end and buttons to make it easily removable.

Which left quite a bit of warp on the loom. Not enough for a scarf, possibly too little for a cowl, but too much to just cut off and ‘waste’. This was an opportunity to play, I decided. I then played around in Fibreworks until I had a pattern I liked, and decided to weave it in black.

I’m thinking maybe fabric for a small bag.

Lengthening

I made this vest/top back in 2006:

The yarn is a particularly soft and luscious cotton. I had just enough to make the vest. My, er, assets were a size smaller back then, and the bottom of the ribbing was at about waist height.

Time passes. Bodies change. The vest has been too short for a while now, and while I can wear it with something beneath, generally I don’t wear fests unless I need warmth, and then I don’t want a chilly gap around my waist.

I haven’t knitted beyond finishing machine knitted garments and the occasional accessory for (yikes!) ten years. A while back I bought some cotton from the Great Ocean Road Woolen Mill that had the same softness, and it occurred to me later that I could use it to lengthen the vest. Recently I finally got around to it.

The process was slow and laborious. I put in a thread just above the ribbing, then one several rows below to reduce the band width, cut and unravelled the yarn. Then I slowly knitted the simple pattern bands. I only dared to knit a few rows at a time, every two or three days, in case my rsi flared up. Even so, my back was not happy with me looking down so much.

After several weeks I had the pattern section complete. I needed to unravel a bit more of the body to end the pattern in a balanced way. Then halfway through Kitchenering the top to the bottom I discovered that there were increases in the extra section I’d unravelled, so I had to pull the stitches out and add the increases before restarting the joining.

So when I finally finished, I was very relieved that the vest still fit, and the ribbing meets the waistband of my jeans and skirts.

Fidget vs Focus

The sewing I’ve done this year has been different to the occasional bunches of projects over the last decade. I’ve taught myself how to sew stretch fabric, done some challenging refashions and sewn more handwoven fabric than ever before.

My aim had been to have well made clothes from organic cloth, but the long-term benefit of that has been getting my sewing mojo back. You see, when I was in my 20s sewing was my main hobby, but I pushed myself too hard and wound up hating and avoiding it. Then in my late 30s I discovered refashioning, which was a great way to get back into sewing because it isn’t making a garment from scratch so there’s often a lot of construction already done.

This renewed enthusiasm is a much quieter thing than the obsession I had as a young sewer. Recently, I judged it enough to upgrade my machines. My Jenome is great, but it isn’t strong enough to sew many layers of fabric. My overlocker is good, but it has only three threads so only sews the edge, not the seam. I’ve also found that the stretch seams sewn with a double needle on the sewing machine keep breaking, and I concluded that the only way to get the quality I want is to use a coverstitch machine.

Of course, being locked down meant ordering without trying, so I did my research and aimed for robust machines. Which meant heavy machines I don’t want to be hauling out of the cupboard when I use them. To set them up permanently, some shuffling of the craft room furniture was required. Which led to a review of all the crafts I do, whether new, current and old.

That inevitably turned my attention to the Passap knitting machine. I searched for the email from the seller and was shocked to discover I’d bought it nearly ten years ago. I probably only used it regularly for the first year. The main reason I bought it was to make socks, of which I made a few then stopped because I already had so many socks.

I’ve used the Bond over and over, and it can be packed away into its carrier, so it’s well worth keeping. But I think the Passap has to go. Ironically, it’s home isn’t in the craft room, so selling it has no bearing on the furniture shuffling except to empty the cupboard of the magazines and parts that came with it.

Of course, selling it will have to wait until after lockdown ends. Even if I found someone willing to hire a courier, I can’t get out to collect the packaging needed.

Maskery

After more than a year of using our washable masks, they were getting a bit tired. Paul has fewer of them than I, and is not as ‘inclined’ to think of washing them, so he tends to run out. So when a friend friend and I went op shopping to celebrate the easing of restrictions, and we found some quilting cotton, I decided it was time to make more.

That fabric print that alluded to weaving was so serendipitous. And the watermelon print was too amusing to resist. Paul got two more masks – both in the same fabrics as two of mine so we now have His and Hers mask sets. I have three new masks. And I replaced the straps on some of Paul’s older masks that had lost their stretch.

I can’t help wondering if one day these will just be souvenirs of a strange, scary time in our past. Or if they’ll become historic objects. Or maybe one day I’ll be refashioning them into something else.

Dyeing to Start

The eight shaft certificate weaving course has begun! Woohoo! The schedule needed to adapt to lockdown, but thanks to Zoom and our adaptable teacher and her assistant, it got underway without a hitch.

The Guild provides yarn for the course, but we couldn’t go there to pick it up. Last year, in anticipation of this course, I bought a range of the yarn we mostly used in the 4-shaft course – Bendigo 3ply classic – but for the first sampler we used the 2ply version, and I only have two colours of that yarn: natural (which I used for the warp) and a red. One weft colour wasn’t going to offer much exciting experimentation, so I dyed ten bobbin’s worth of the natural.

In my limited supply of dye I had the purply blue on the right, red and yellow. Overdying gave me the colours between. I was hoping for a brown using all three, but got dark burgundy-purple shades.

Still, I love how they turn out. Overdyeing creates more harmonious colour schemes. I’d dye more often if I wasn’t too lazy for the set up and clean up.

Venne You Can’t Decide…

… weave a kit!

This is definitely one of those “looks more complicated than it is” projects. I had the treadling sequence memorised within two repeats, and it wove faster than I expected. Avoiding draw-in was a battle. Seems like that’s a thing with shadow weave. I don’t have a temple small enough to fit the scarf, so I laid in the weft in a big angle and left a little bit of a loop at both edges, which kept it getting out of hand.

To be honest, I wasn’t that excited by the design, so for the second scarf I rethreaded the loom to weave a draft from Handweaving.net. I’m a sucker for a weaving pattern that is a weaving pattern. It was a slightly shorter, narrower draft than the kit scarf, and a bit simpler to thread and treadle.

The tie-up had me weaving it back-side-up. I must have missed some clue on the site. But I didn’t mind as I still liked the back more than the original design, and the there was the satisfaction of seeing the front pattern when I took it off the loom.

Funghi Legs

Having successfully made leggings, I looked at the two jersey prints I had, and considered whether to make more or use it for skivvies and tops. I decided the latter, but I did want to make more leggings. The pattern I had traced off an old pair was slimmer at the ankle and lower at the waist than the Style Arc pattern, and I was curious to see how well it would fit. So I went online looking for organic black cotton jersey, and somehow some two other fabrics fell into my cart.

I always wash fabric before sewing it, just in case it stretches or runs or behaves weirdly. When I went to cut out a pattern I found that both new and old fabric was distorted where they had hung on the line, so I stuck all five pieces in the rinse and spin cycle and then into the dryer. Now, we barely ever use the dryer. Call me old fashioned or hipster, but if I can save money and avoid producing carbon by drying on the line or a clothes airer, I will. The only reason we have a dryer is because I adopted Nana’s one when she died in 2009 for emergencies, like the house flooding (which seems every house I own will do at some point) and we have an excess of wet towels to dry. I think Nana’s dryer was bought in the 80s. It worked fine until recently, when it started making a burning smell whenever it was on the warm setting. This meant it took about three days to get all the fabric dry, helped along by me ironing it now and then to speed things along. Cotton sure goes suck up moisture. Anyway, it all dried eventually and…

I sewed up some black leggings first. The pattern worked fine – a teeny bit tight around the legs. When I cut out the next pair I gave them a few mm extra room, but that pair came out a little loose, despite feeling a little less stretchy. That just seems to be the luck of the draw with jersey.

I have another pair of leggings to make, but I’m moving on to skivvies and tops next because they’ll use black thread. No sewer changes the thread on the overlocker until they have to!