Thursday, 12 March 2020

Disaster averted

We all have knitworthy friends, don't we?  Those nice people who don't ask for hand knitted things because they think its cheaper to get a scarf or sweater that way or that you love knitting so much you will happily spend all day for a few weeks making something that will be worn a few times then forgotten in a drawer, but friends who are always delighted to receive something and are seen wearing it - often.  Lizzie is one such friend and from time to time she will wear something that I have made that attracts the attention of someone else.  So much so that a scarf or pair of gloves mysteriously disappears from Lizzie's house and reappears at MB's 

A couple of years ago I knitted a brioche shawl for Lizzie, in grey and black cashmere silk mix and was amused to see it appear in a very fine photograph on instagram, by @theodoraw8 

Very much not Lizzie

I was rather pleased, there's nothing I like better than to see my work appreciated. But it is a shame to make these two appreciative friends share, so I decided to make MB something of his own.  After a bit of stash diving I found some wonderful fingering weight alpaca from Triskelion . (The yarn I had was in deep stash but they have something similar here )

A bit of searching on Ravelry and I came up with Celtic Myths by Asita Krebs.  Knitted, blocked and posted - to Lizzie for onwards transmission to MB .  Unfortunately I did not warn her to expect a parcel from me and over enthusuiastically opening a parcel she thought was one expected from her publisher she stabbed it rather too deeply with a sharp pair of scissors. I received a text to ask if I had any left over yarn as she needed to mend the 'teeniest nick' in the scarf - my friend is a writer of fiction...

After much begging for a proper photograph of the damage, and at MB's insistence, the scarf was sent back to me. I took a little time to work out the best way to repair it.  

Damage limitation

Firstly I grabbed as many stitches above and below the cut and parked them on a pair of DPNs and crocheted a chain down the cut sides


Then I created what in plastic surgery terms would be called  a pedicle graft (approximately!)


Matching the stitch pattern of alternating sections of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch I kitchenered the pedicle in place at the top and stitched the sides with a sort of duplicate stitch

But it also seemed right to honour the repair, rather in the style of kintsugi (or knitsugi if you will) 

The structure of the shawl-scarf is such that it can be worn with the repair on view or hidden. I gather it is usually worn on show



Monday, 10 February 2020

This Quilt

Remember this blog post back in December 2015? I wrote it as I contemplated repairing a very precious quilt.  All that remained of the ancient english paper pieced (EPP) quilt (given to my daughter by her godmother) was a large ragged top, full of holes and with its tatters held together by rusty safety pins! The reds were particularly badly worn, in some places nothing left but a thin fringe of the original fabric, in all probability due to the type of dye used.

The task was pretty daunting.  I needed to fill in the gaps, sew down the tatters, put in new batting, a new back, and quilt!  I had a few ideas of my own too. But firstly I had to ensure that I did no further damage, the entire thing was so fragile, and large, that although all the work was going to be by hand I could not risk working on my knee.  

I bought a king-sized, organic cotton sheet, washed (in non-bio detergent) and rinsed it several times  to be sure there were no residual chemicals in it.  I also bought several half metres of Liberty Tana Lawn in similar colours to the quilt pieces and treated them to the same laundering process

Next to lay out the quilt top over the sheet, the sitting room floor is the only space I have that is big enough, but even then it was pretty tricky trying to avoid standing on anything fragile (I must be a conservator's nightmare!!)

Once this was done I attached the assembled quilt to a home-made quilting frame (home-made by JTH). Most of the top is wound around the rollers running along the long sides, leaving a nice flat working space which can be rolled up and down as a section is completed. The assembled frame took up an entire bedroom (thank goodness our children have left home!)

I cut tiny pieces of (near enough) matching lawn and inserted them behind the holes then stitched them down with tiny stitches, through all layers.

In some places I could sew down the rips without patching from behind.  The very edge of the quilt was in such a poor condition, with long rips and some rust marks that I reluctantly decided I needed to cut it off, making the quilt about 4 inches smaller all round.

I don't know a lot about the quilt, I can only trace its existence back 100 years to the 1920s with any certainty, but  then the quilt gave up a secret.  Some of the papers used in the original construction (EPP consists of wrapping small pieces of fabric around paper shapes) had been left behind. I carefully removed them with tweezers.

A mystery. I could see Latin, Greek, Phonetics as well as English - what had been used for the templates? A clever friend did some research and in all probability the papers are from an ancient thesaurus called the Gradus Ad Parnassum, a reference book that would have been part of many household's library (along with a bible, a dictionary and some medical hand book).  It still does not give me a good reference date as the book was in publication from the 18th century for about 200 years, and maybe it would not have been cut up until it was no longer considered to be of any use.  This brings me back to the 1920s

The initial repair work took over a year. Then it was back to the sitting room floor to lay out another sheet, sandwiching unbleached heirloom cotton quilt batting (from Lady Sew and Sew) between it and the repaired quilt top.  Having decided that I would, as far as possible, hand stitch everything and use only natural materials I also decided I would finish the quilt with quite light stitching, using specialist quilting thread in a dark cream for the centre and dark red for the border.

I added my own pieces too (on the back of course) .  A Passacaglia medallion using the left over Tana Lawn

A panel giving some brief details of the quilt's story

A pocket for a little book with more details of the repair and reconstruction

And a little bag with the scraps of that Thesaurus

Finally a bright red border

And so, it's done, I wonder if it will fall to another mother to make repairs to it in another 100 years?



Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Just painting, no distractions (Dorset Painting Retreat)

A little while ago I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen for many years.  So lots of catching up to do ,you would think, but before we even said hello she said

'When did you learn to paint?? You didn't do anything like it at school'

She was absolutely right. Although I always liked making stuff  I was hopeless in art classes and dropped them as soon as I could.  Then a few years ago I found myself looking across the bluest sea  to misty mountains, or up at an amazing sky and wanted to capture what I saw. My photography did not cut it, not the atmosphere or the colours.

So, I bought watercolours, brushes and paper and tried to create that mood and those colours. I had mixed results, watercolour is fickle sometimes my efforts went straight into the bin, sometimes the water and pigment worked its magic on the paper and (if I didn't fiddle too much) something beautiful emerged.

My cousin Sharon Verry - years ahead of me and my friend Vandy Massey, several years ahead helped. But what helped most were two things - a bunch of very good day courses and practice.

Lots and lots of practice

Then in November last year Vandy and I began to talk about how nice it would be to clear our diaries for a few days and do little else but paint.  The more we talked the more we felt we could and also offer the opportunity for others to join us.  And so the Dorset Painting Retreat was born.

Although we will not have a tutor this time Vandy will lead a workshop on creating special effects with different materials, repeating the workshop she gave in the spring at the Exhibition of the  Society of East Anglian Watercolourists where she is currently chair 

Bookings have already begun and there are just three places left (although if two friends are happy to share there could be up to six). The retreat is over four days (three nights B&B with lunch included at the Philbeach B&B in Weymouth). The booking form is here, where you will also find links to obtain further information.



Friday, 11 January 2019

A little tutorial

BUTTONHOLES! Ready-to-wear coats and jackets usually have stitched, not bound, button holes. While I love the neat finish you get with a fine button hole twist, when making my own coats and jackets more often than not I prefer to make bound ones.

My beautiful button comes from Textile Garden, my favourite on-line button shop

Now, there are a few ways of making a bound button hole and the method I always use now, and am going to describe here is not the way I first learned (in O'level Needlework 1969!!!) I believe the way I make them now is almost perfect. The photograph here is about 2x actual size, but I don't think anyone would actually notice the very slight incline and fractional difference in width that you may detect here in real life.

Here is how I do it. Working on the right side, keeping the facing out of the way, but including any interfacing you use,  lay your front pattern piece (or button hole placement tool*) over your garment, lining it up with the front facing seam. Using an erasable marker (I use tailors chalk but always test on spare fabric first) make dots where the centres of the buttons will be. One at a time centre the buttons over the dots and draw a set of vertical parallel lines either side of the button and one horizontal line through the middle of the button. 

Next cut a bias strip of fabric (garment fabric or contrast) 8x the width of your finished button hole edges (6cm will give you a .75 of a cm edge) Fold the long edges to the middle and press firmly (I use a lot of steam)

Cut the strip into sections 2x the diameter of the button.

Thus for a 4 cm button each little folded bias section will measure 8cm x 3cm. 

Place the bias piece over your chalk marks, as shown, centering the folded edge over the parallel lines and the part where the raw edges meet along the horizontal line. Remember you are still working on the right side

Beginning part way along one of the long sides, stitch a rectangle. The long edges should be exactly midway between the folds and the cut edges in the middle and reach the parallel chalk lines at each end. 

Stitch again just inside the first rectangle.

It will look like this (contrasting thread used to make it easy to see!)

Cut open the button hole using the centre cut edges of the facing, stopping just before the end and cutting into the corners.  You will make a    >--------<   shape

Push the bias facing through to the wrong side and pull firmly wiggling it until you get the folded edges to meet and the free ends to lie flat (in a sort of tiny box pleat). Tack the folded edges together and the ends down flat

Press flat with steam if necessary from the back and then the front (be careful with steam on the front that you don't flatten the fabric too much). Make sure you tack the flapping ends of the facing down firmly, this helps keep the facing in a nice straight alignment.

Now bring the front facing back into place and tack a wide rectangle around the button hole.  

Hang up your garment and check that you have the alignment correct and there are no pulls or folds, you are about to cut holes in your facing!

Next cut a slit to match the outer button hole. Using a firm grip with your finger and thumb roll the raw edge of the slit in the fabric under and hem stitch in place. You won't actually be able to roll the ends of the slit, place your stitches here very close together to make sure it is not going to pull out. If your fabric is likely to fray you can machine stitch a small rectangle of some fabric like organza over the slit and turn it to the inside before hemming the facing down.

Finally remove all visible tacking stitches



 * this piece of vintage haberdashery equipment is for ensuring each button hole is placed equidistant from the next. Establish how many buttonholes you want, where the first and last will be and stretch out the gig, mark through the slits with a removable marker. And there you have it!

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Time for a new winter coat

Its getting colder...

So time for a new winter coat.  Last time I made a coat it was all about a fairly conservative fabric given some special interest with fancy buttons and velvet appliqué  But this time its going to be all about the fabric, something Very Special from a new discovery fabric warehouse, it's 100% Cashmere - how could I resist?

Blue/grey fabric at the top is for a dress (more about this another day), Spice coloured below for the coat - both cashmere

When I say a new discovery I only mean new to me - Crescent Trading is in fact one of the oldest businesses in Spitalfields that is still being run by its founders.  The stock is amazing and I shall just have to leave it to readers to visit for themselves to appreciate the suitings, silks and shirting, not to mention the cashmere.  

The coat design is simple, a slightly tulip shape, with raglan sleeves, and one button.  But the lining is something else. The jacquard silk with a multi coloured stripe is in fact a sarong bought in a harbour-side shop on a greek island on my holiday this year. 

The hope of summers without coats, cut into a coat for winter ahead (words stolen from my friend the writer Elizabeth Speller)

It's the Oslo Coat from Tessuti Fabrics.  The pattern is well drafted, the coat fits well and is true to size.  But (and of course this is not a criticism of the pattern) I will never buy a print at home pattern for a full size garment again! I think in the end it felt as though I had cut out the coat four times before I was done, not to mention the paper and ink for my printer!  The instructions were also a bit wordy and over lengthy for me but an inexperienced sewist may find this more a help than a hindrance.

The simple shape went together in just two days, plus a couple of evenings hand sewing

The button came from Textile Garden, my favourite on line button store (They visit yarn and sewing fairs around the country too)

Always beautifully packaged

I was not entirely sure which of the colours would be best so I bought one of each in silver and bronze

I chose Bronze

I always agonise a bit between hand sewn, machined, or bound button holes.  I think there are pros and cons with both hand sewn and bound for coats and practically always make machine sewn ones in lighter fabrics.  You could say that, as tailors always sew the buttonholes, that they look more professional, but if skilfully worked either can look smart. (IMHO)  I'm happy with my choice (and at the request of a friend I will post a tutorial on how I work my bound button holes very soon)

With some very careful piecing the sarong yielded just enough fabric to make the entire lining from it (I had thought I would have to raid my stash for some toning fabric to complete the sleeves).

The simple plain lines of the coat hiding the totally bonkers lining makes me smile.

Temperatures are falling and the coat is finished just in time