Aqua Sewrobics

I took a five day break from sewing before starting on the next stretch fabric projects, and rather than continue making tops I started with a couple of UFOs. The first was to put ribbing cuffs on my painting jacket, which I’ve been meaning to do for, um, over thirty years. The second was to put ribbing cuffs on a jacket I made from woven material some time ago. I’d already changed the collar to ribbing last year, then got distracted by quilts and other things. The old too-narrow collar looked like it was eked of a scrap of fabric – which it was – and the sleeves were too short, so these bomber jacket inspired changes improve both the look and wearability of the garment.

The next day, the Saturday of the Easter long weekend, was a craft and chat day with some friends. I felt familiar enough with the pattern and overlocker to whip up another mock turtleneck.

Then I took the leftovers of aqua and floral fabric and made this colour-blocked top.

However, I wasn’t satisfied with the second one. Something about it felt out of balance. It looked like I was wearing an ill-fitting vest. So I checked what fabric I had left in the stash and did a bit of tweaking on my phone, and eventually settled on adding vertical stripes and a scoop-neck.

Much better!

What’s the Madder?

Last month I went outside to do half an hour’s gardening, and somehow that turned into several hours. Mainly because I decided it was time to dig up the madder.

Having heard that madder could get invasive, I grew it in a cut-down old oil barrel. I’d harvested and dried most of the roots a year and a half ago, but since those roots hadn’t been particularly thick I left a couple in the barrel to see if the plants would come back and grow thicker roots.

Initially I thought they hadn’t. The roots were few and not much bigger than the previous harvest’s. But then I continued emptying the barrel and discovered a whole other layer of roots at the bottom half of the barrel. They were chunkier and more numerous, and I was pleased with that because they’d yield more dye.

Then I reached a layer of polystyrene I’d forgotten I’d lined the bottom with as a barrier to discourage roots to escape out of the holes.

Except it turned out the madder really liked those conditions. The roots had grown really fat, making their way through the polystyrene.

Under this were more big roots. Then I tipped over the empty barrel and wasn’t so pleased any more. The ground beneath was riddled with madder root.

Fortunately, the ground there is chunky gravel on top of a thin layer of clay on top of shale, so it wasn’t too hard to dig it all out. It could have been much worse, especially as the roots have a habit of thinning out to a thread, then after an inch or so thickening up and continuing on. So I’d pull at one and it’d get thinner then break, and look like I’d got the whole root.

Having twigged to this growth habit, I knew that I needed to keep digging to check whether I had truly found the end. Eventually I was done, and to my surprise had a bigger harvest than the first one. I chopped it all up into tiny pieces and spread it on a screen to dry.

One of these days I’m going to get around to dyeing something with the old batch, and maybe this new one as well. But I don’t think I’ll be growing madder again. Or, if I do, I’ll use a pot with holes in the side rather than the bottom so I can see if it’s trying to escape. But I’ll also line it with polystyrene, since the roots growing in and around it were the fattest of all!

Reversed & Reused

With the Mushroom Top done, I was almost ready to change the thread on the overlocker. But there was one more idea I wanted to try.

I had noticed when making the Textured Turtleneck that the back of the fabric was nice too.

I’d also noted that the sleeves on the top that inspired the Gauze-Sleeved T-shirt were still in pretty good shape.

So I spread out the textured fabric to see if I had enough for the body of a top. Yes, I did. Then I unpicked the gauze sleeves and they came off without a hitch. The two fabrics next to each other looked pretty good, so then it was just a matter of cutting out and sewing.

Which, of course, didn’t go as straightforwardly as that. My brain kept insisting that the black hexagon side of the fabric was the wrong side, so there was a lot of unpicking. I tried removing the gauze neckband on the old top but it wasn’t coming off without a fight that would probably destroy it. Fortunately, I had a piece of the black fabric I’d used for the Mushroom Top neckband – the bit I’d trimmed off – and it was big enough to use for the neckband on this new top.

It came out even better than I expected:

At this point, I was definitely in the groove of sewing with stretch fabrics. I had two new gauze-sleeved t-shirts, one freshly made mock turtleneck and one long-sleeved top added to my wardrobe – along with the Cascade Skirt. The to-do list consisted of an aqua mock turtleneck, a long-sleeved colour-blocked top, a navy t-shirt and possibly a navy colour-blocked top, and a batch of fabric that might be big enough to make another wrap dress. So I was not quite half way through.

Scrappy Shrooms

I admit, the next garment I made was influencer influenced. There was a frugal sewing challenge for March happening via YouTube at the time. I didn’t want to join it, and it wouldn’t have qualified because I wasn’t using a free pattern anyway, but it was encouraging sewers to make things out of scraps and there was a lot of talk about colour-blocking.

I had two in mind, one in an aqua and complimentary floral fabric, and another based on a scrap of mushroom printed fabric plus a mix of black, dark green and brown leftover knit fabric.

I intended to make a mock turtleneck out of the aqua fabric, too, so I cut those pieces out first. Then I put it and the aqua and floral fabric aside. Sewing them would mean switching out the thread on the overlocker and it made more sense to tackle all the projects that used the black on the machine. Which did include the mushroom top.

The mushroom fabric was too small for any piece of the Alexi top pattern, but I had an idea to turn this dress pattern, with princess and raglan seams into a top:

I made the righthand version back in the 90s, out of a chocolate brown stretch velvet with a rose pattern. It worked perfectly, but with such a full skirt was very heavy. I was a size 10 back then, and hadn’t learned to trace off a pattern in the size I wanted, but I’d kept all the pattern offcuts.

All I had to do was tape them all back on. I spent half a day tracing and altering the pattern, and doing a test version. I used the skirt fabric from the test version of a wrap dress I made year and a half ago (so using up another ‘scrap’):

The result was a bit too nipped in at the waist, but otherwise fit fine. I made some pattern adjustments, then started designing.

The centre front fit easily on the mushroom fabric, but there wasn’t enough to do a centre back. I examined the black fabric scraps, and the only pieces that fit onto that was the side back. Since I didn’t want any colour of fabric butting up against itself, the rest was pretty much decided for me. The side fronts and centre back would have to be green, and the arms had to be brown. I did a sketch to see if I liked it:

I did, so a few days later I cut out the pieces and got sewing. It all went together well until I got to the neck band. As soon as I put it on I felt uncomfortable. The neck opening was much too big. I’m not sure why I didn’t feel that way with the test version, but then the weather had got a bit chillier. I removed the band, shortened and re-pinned it. Didn’t sit right. I made a wider band and tried that. Really didn’t sit right. Finally I put it on the mannequin, pinched in the raglan seams, pinned on the original band – and that fixed it. So I sewed on the band and altered the pattern.

The Mushroom Top was done:

The back:

Constructing this post and seeing the dress pattern again, I realise that the dress is probably supposed to have shoulder pads, so that would explain the extra roominess there. I’m glad I put the work into making it into a top pattern, because it is a good one for using up smaller pieces of fabric. I might use it for the blue and floral top… or I might do something else.

Getting Into Stretchy

The Cascade Skirt was top of my list of garments to make, and once it was out of the way I wanted to get stuck into sewing up as much stretch fabric as I could. Not because I had an excess of it, but because approaching winter always makes me want to sew the sort of clothes I wear in cooler seasons: skivvies, mock turtlenecks, long-sleeved t-shirt tops and leggings.

I had no fabric earmarked for leggings, but plenty for tops. My wardrobe contains plenty of skivvies and long-sleeved t-shirt tops, but not as many mock turtlenecks. So for my first project I made the Textured Turtleneck, out of some grey textured cotton-synthetic blend offcuts from a destash.

The pattern I used is the Alexi top from StyleArc. I’ve used and adapted it so much that the paper has become very delicate where all the pins holes are, so after I made the grey top I traced a new copy.

The next piece I made was another adapted of Alexi, this time to make a knockoff of a t-shirt I love, but the fabric of the body is so low quality that it has faded and lost elasticity despite not being worn or washed very much.

It only needed some extra width added to the centre of the (shortened) sleeve pattern to create the puff, and a different shape for the neckline. However, the sewing was a challenge because the gauze fabric was slippery to work with. It took two attempts for me to get the neck band looking good. I was pretty chuffed with the resulting Gauze-Sleeved Top.

Then, encouraged by sewing YouTubers advocating for pressing a garment when it’s done, I melted the neckband and had to cut it off and redo it. The up side to that was the neckline looks better a little lower.

Making it Easier – March

What did I do to make life easier in March? Well, mostly small things. The trains to the Melbourne CBD have been partially replaced by buses, so I changed plans and took a friend out for her birthday in the suburbs instead. We cleaned the outdoor furniture and put most of it inside the house so we wouldn’t have to clean it again next Spring. I culled and rearranged my art and ‘wet’ craft supplies (dyeing, printing, etc) so the things I reach for most often were in easier places to access.

Future plans? In the garden, I’m doing the same thing with the vege beds as last autumn – all but the strawberry bed left fallow until Spring returns. I’m over having disappointing results with most winter crops, and doing a big clear out of weeds then covering the beds for half the year means less weeding overall.

Cascade Skirt

I’ve finally started the sewing I meant to do six months ago. First up was a copy of a skirt I love but is getting thin and developing holes. I traced a pattern from it and bought fabric last year, so it was just a matter of cutting and sewing.

The fabric is a touch thicker and stiffer than the original’s, but still nice to wear and, unlike the original, isn’t see through.

Quilted & Bound

The Purple Quilt is done. It’s a cosy couch quilt size.

This one makes me feel competent. The strip sequence came out nicely, and the newer way of binding went well. I like the colour combination.

The back is a brushed cotton plaid.

“Stitch in the ditch” on every second row seems to work just as nicely as every row and takes half the time and thread. If I was to make another quilt, out of those blue leftovers, I’d do another one of these strip quilts.

A Year of SketchBoxes

The last SketchBox was waiting for me when we got home from King Island, and I had mixed feelings when I opened it. An echo of the thrill each box has generated, a touch of wistfulness that this was the last one, and acceptance that it was time to end the subscription. I knew what the contents would be, and I wasn’t excited because it contained mainly markers and “Anime” paper. I’m just not that into markers, it turns out. But I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t signed up.

Receiving a little box of art materials each month has been a wonderful way to try art supplies I would not normally have chosen to buy – or even been able to in Australia. I have some new favourites, and better versions of what were staples. There were a few duds, but they were few. Overall the contents have been good quality and lived up to expectations.

Together, they fill this small caddy. That’s a year’s worth of subscription boxes, and one earlier box I bought separately.

Which is a bit sobering when you consider this is the contents of 13 boxes costing about A$85 (for the box, postage and fees) per month. I don’t regret it, as it has been fun and educational.

Here’s an assessment of all the materials, divided into types rather than box contents:


The most useful aspect of the subscription was being able to test different types of paper, seeing what bled or warped, since to do that normally you have to buy an entire pad or package. I was very impressed with the Magnani 104 Pescia White paper, which did not warp at all despite full coverage with ink. The Hahnemuhle Landscape Watercolour Book was fantastic, taking watercolour and gouache on both sides without warping. I’m thinking that having a collection of sample pads to test out new art supplies on is something I need to have and built upon.


I would have liked to try more kinds of paint. I like everything I received. The little tubes of gouache are lovely and subtle, and the inktense colours are amazingly vivid. The signature paint set for urban sketching is light and slim – practical for urban sketching. Perhaps if I’d continued with the subscription there’d have been a box with oil, acrylic or even casein paint, and maybe little tubes of interesting watercolours like granulating kinds. All of these are keepers.

Ink, Liquid Watercolour & Liquid Graphite

This is the category of art material that was newest to me. The only kind I already had was acrylic ink, and I’d only just bought a set before I subscribed. All of these were fun to play with, though I’m a bit unsure what to do with some of them. The Hero Arts are the strangest, as they appear to be more regularly used for topping up stamp pads. The liquid graphite turned out to be one of my favourite supplies. Especially paired with the gold Hero Arts Glimmer Metallic Ink. I think I’m going to try using most of these as backgrounds under mixed media pieces.

Pastels & Charcoal

Pastels like me but I don’t like them. Whatever I draw seems to come out better than I expect, but dust they create isn’t great for my asthma and my skin doesn’t like the dryness. I did worry that we’d get lots of these kinds of art supply in the boxes, but they were only in two, and were the main supply type in just one. These will probably be given away to other artists.


A good range of types, including graphite, pastel, watersoluble, wax, and plain ol’ drawing pencils. I’ve been drawing with pencils more in recent years, so it was good to try a range of types. These will definitely be absorbed into my growing collection.

Pens & Markers

We seemed to get more of these than other categories, though that might just be because they take up more room than, say, pencils. There certainly was a broad variety of kinds. Two-thirds were alcohol-based, one third water-based. Three were white. Two were brush pens. Only four were fineliners. Several were double-ended. The range of colours skews warm, green-yellow-orange.

The Pantone box was my first subscription one and I did hope I’d got the dud box out of the way early! I was not a fan of the Graphix permanent markers for drawing, but they are excellent Sharpie replacements, especially being double-ended. The dot pens were fun but so peculiarly specific that I have no idea what I’ll do with them. I use black fineliners more than any other kind of pen and while we only got one, it introduced me to the Zebra Sarasa fineliner which may become my new favourite. Also, using pink, grey and olive Copic Multi Liners opened my mind to outlining sketches with something other than black.


We received a good variety over the year, but I would have liked to try more. I like the quality of the SketchBox signature brushes and they’re the one signature supply I’m tempted to order more of. The larger ones were always impractical for the small paper size, and were the supply I was most likely to swap out for something of my own. That said, they’ll be fine for larger pieces, so all the brushes will join my collection.

Other Tools

I like that we got a sharpener, eraser and water brush in different boxes over the year, building a set of practical tools. I was surprised there were no smudge sticks in the pastel themed box, and just used what had come with the Pan Pastel. The coolest tool was the Art Primo Hit-N-Go empty marker, which allowed me to make a custom pen colour. The two biggest duds of the year are in this category, however: the Faber-Castell Eraser Pencil which tore up the paper, and the Koala Tools Mini Ring Ruler which made wonky circles. If the eraser pencil works on wood without scratching, I’ll keep it in the garage. All but the ring ruler are keepers. Dunno what to do with it. Op shop?

I did an overall swatch of the supplies, on cartridge paper, and tried reactivating them with water:

And because I was a bit bored watching tv, I roughly counted up the numbers of items in colour categories:

Red & Pink: 13
Orange: 9
Yellow: 8
Green: 18
Blue: 12
Purple: 5
Grey: 16
Brown & Cream: 11
Black: 6
White: 8
Metallic: 3

Green dominated because the last box added six items to the category. Otherwise red, blue and green would have been close to equal.

Now for the award ceremony…

Most used art supply goes to:

The Hahnemühle Landscape Watercolour Book. It’s been the perfect size for travel sketching. It’s performed brilliantly with different mediums. I’ve nearly filled the sketchbook, which makes it the only supply that I’ve come close to using up.

Best new-to-me art supply goes to:

Liquid Graphite. Colour me surprised, but I made four artworks with this and three turned out really well. Since I don’t like dusty art supplies, having something I’d normally avoid available in a safe, liquid base is always nice. But the extra treat was that it behaves more like a watercolour, and dries shiny.

Most surprising art supply goes to:

Intense paint pans, because it turned out you can paint fabric and the result is permanent when dry!

Best value art supply goes to:

The urban sketching box. The SketchBox Signature watercolour palette is so practical, and the sketchbook such good quality. I’m not a fan of water brushes, but this one performs well. And the Copic Multiliner is a nice shade of grey. I’m using the old meaning for ‘value’ here, judging it on how likely I am to use the contents. Getting something cheap is not good value if you don’t use it.

Supply I most want to find an Australian supplier for goes to:

The Zebra Sarasa fineliner. I’ve heard their brush pens are good, too.

Posted in art

The Blue Quilt – Finished!

It turns out I’ve been doing binding wrong. Well, not the usual way for quilts. I’m supposed to be making a wide strip, ironing it in half, sewing the raw edges to the back of the quilt, then folding it over to to the front and sewing it down. I’ve been making a narrower strip, sewing one raw edge to the back, folding the other edge over then sewing it to the front.

I tried this new method and it is slightly easier. However, I forgot which side of the quilt I was supposed to be sewing it to first, and wound up having to hand stitch it down. Never mind. I do quite enjoy hand stitching, even if it sets my back off.

Here’s the back of the quilt:

Here’s another shot of the front:

It’s far from perfect. On the other side of the galaxy from perfect. But I actually finished it, which I doubted more times than I can count. I’m calling it the ‘learner quilt’.