The sewing groove

I’m getting into a bit of sewing at the moment – new job, new wardrobe.  Woohoo! I’ll have an update on the patterns and fabrics I’m using in the next day or so, once I’m over my shivery head cold.

In the mean time, I thought I might let you know about a couple of things I’ve come across on the intertron over the last few days.

It’s free pattern month over at Grosgrain and I can say the half slip tutorial is fabulous in its detail and description. That tutorial’s from Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing which I’ve been enjoying after discovering it recently. Gertie’s also over at BurdaStyle and her blog is great for her commentary on dresses, how-to, fabric selection, almost anything to do with sewing. Gertie’s particularly strong on vintage fashion and can have me drooling on a regular basis.

Another project I’ve come across is the IOU Project which seeks to bring together artisan weavers from India, designers from Europe and consumers from everywhere. Apart from the intrinsically wonderful idea of supporting the craft and employment of the weavers, I love that it is a promising new business model that show what can be done with the internet. You can find out more about it here.

I’ll shuffle over now and try not to drip on my sewing or the keyboard.


Colours from our backyard

Eucalyptus wool

These are the results of my eucalyptus and brown onion skin dyeing. From top to bottom: eucalyptus overdyed with 50/50 eucalyptus & brown onion skin; eucalyptus overdyed with 100% brown onion skin; eucalyptus only. I’m very pleased with how it turned out – the eucalyptus only I thought a little disappointing at first since I was hoping for more intense colour but I have come to appreciate its delicacy.

I’m looking at natural dyeing processes and came across the work of Sophie Cantie via whipup. I think it’s fascinating to look at the colours produced in different environments. I purchased Sophie’s Earth Palette and it is beautiful and inspirational.

For my next dye batch I hope to include different fibres – cotton or linen – and produce different shades. Cellulose fibres like these require a mordant for colour pick up and fastness. I tried out rhubarb leaves. Don’t. Simmering rhubarb leaves smell utterly foul. I have the stockpot out on the deck now and I’m not sure that I have the stomach to use it.


In exciting developments ’round our place, the recipe for home-made deoderant (Hayley at Sew Green, via soozs) is an instant hit for me. I don’t like aluminium-based anti-perspirants but I do very much want something that works and this combination of cornflour, arrowroot powder, bicarb soda, coconut oil and essential oil is very definitely working. The Bloke has been gently puzzled by my insistence on trying this out and has delicately said that he has never noticed a problem before.

The recipe makes approximately 175ml which should be sufficient for 4-5 months (I suspect that might vary considerably depending on personal use and the season). Coconut oil is shelf stable for two years, so there’s no concern that it might go rancid. I did have some problems tracking down an Australian supplier of pure coconut oil and eventually found some here at Heirloom Body Care.

One last thing: the recipe calls for ‘several drops’ of an essential oil. Of a 12ml bottle of bergamot oil, I used 3ml and believe me, that’s a lot more than several drops. If you’re concerned about how much essential oil you’ll need for scenting and not keen to find out that you’ve used most of an expensive bottle, I’d recommend ti-tree, lavender or eucalyptus oils as strongly scented and cheaper oils.

A small glimpse of my other eureka moment last weekend:

From left to right: eucalyptus overdyed with 50/50 eucalyptus and brown onion skin; eucalyptus overdyed with 100% brown onion; eucalyptus only. The wool – New Zealand merino acquired from a destash a few years ago – has retained a soft hand and a delicate eucalyptus scent. I have about 350gm of the palest shade and about 50gm of the other two shades. I’m planning a stole, beret and perhaps some wristwarmers, each with some fair isle detail to bring out the different shades.

It was only after the skeins had been placed in the dye bath that I remembered a small but clearly important piece of advice: tie the skeins in at least eight places and not the standard four. Believe me, that shot does not convey the full tangled spaghettiness of all those skeins.

The last bit of eureka is Agence Eureka, a treasure trove of vintage French book and paper goodness. I particularly liked the old school book illustrations of ugly little Englishmen being soundly defeated by upright, tall, good-looking Frenchmen at a 1:4 ratio.

Looking for the unseen things

The architecture in Leiden and Amsterdam is mostly 17th-19th century and has a Protestant, northern European restraint about. The 20th century stuff is out of the city centre as you’d expect but I did begin to wonder where the Dutch hid their art deco.

I mean, they know rather a bit about early 20th century architecture, what with the Amsterdam School and all. After hearing about the different gable styles it occurred to me to simply look up. If the buildings didn’t have the room to be obviously deco maybe the windows did.


It makes me think that there are quite a few quilt ideas in there.

Vintage style

All of the pieces I chose to sew for this trip come from vintage patterns, in one way or another. I really try to get something that’s my ‘style’ when I sew – beyond fit and flattery – and out to ‘this is me’. It’s not dramatic, outrageous or the height of fashion but it is me. And in searching for that style I’ve found out a few things: the 1930s are very kind to me, the 1950s shirts and blouses are great but not with the skirts; the 1960s and early 1970s love me. Not only do the lines look good on me, I don’t have to alter the patterns.

I’ve also been referring to the Fit to Flatter series over here at stashknitrepeat. Although intended for knitting, it’s a really informative discussion of why particular garment features flatter certain body types, guides you through determining your body shape in a positive way (and going beyond the simplistic straight, hourglass, pear descriptions) and takes a look at a selection of garments and comments on why they flatter the model or how they might be modified to flatter other body shapes.

Getting back to the traveling exoskeleton, I present a wrap blouse from the 1950s (republished from Pattern Retrospective) and a shift dress from 1971 (original, op shop) for your inspection:

I have an hourglass figure with thighs that tend to ‘flare out’ and I’m average height. Based on reading Fit to Flatter and what I’ve learned from experience, I think these pieces will serve me well. The wrap blouse has a high structured collar and neckline which draws the eye up toward the face. The wrap around the waist is something to be careful about because if it’s too full it turns my hourglass into a wide rectangle. Attention to folding and the line of crossover should make it OK. It’s helped by the fact the front hem is 15cm higher than the back hem – the shorter front won’t confuse the line of the blouse.

The shift dress is a fairly standard style but there are little features about this one that I like. The shoulder straps are closer to the edge of the shoulder than to the collarbone and that helps keep the hourglass balanced. It has a princess line construction so that the vertical fit gives a subtle long line to the dress while keeping the hourglass shape (not so evident in this photo). I loved making this. The Japanese cotton is soft and I could make the dress without the instructions (which I found later under the cutting table). It was blissful. Even when I found out I should do armhole facings before the neckline facing. Live and learn.

The next garment to finish is a 1930s long skirt with a structured front seam. I’ve made it before as an evening skirt and it’s flattering and comfortable. I’ll be making it in a chocolate brown linen (how I love the remnant table at Tessuti!) and it has a beautiful hand and drape. I think that tone-on-tone embroidery may eventually make it’s way onto that one.

And then I have to sort out which knitting or crochet project I’ll take on the plane. Ah, the travails of travel.

Travel bag

I decided that I needed a dedicated travel bag for this trip. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of conveniently sized sturdy bags but I decided they weren’t quite right. Perhaps one lacked an internal pocket while the other was too dark inside and difficult to find things. The real reason for making a new one was to go with the traveling exoskeleton. It called for practical construction, a design that suited me, and use of precious, stashed vintage fabric.

The pattern I used was the Wasp Bag from machen|machen and I’m very happy with the result. I added an internal zipped pocket by attaching a zip to two ends of a rectangle, creating a cylinder.

The zipper itself is from an op shop – I figure it’s probably thirty years old or more. The contrast fabric I used for the pocket and band of the of bag was a chartruese rubber(?)-backed drapery fabric. I picked up two squares of it from another op, in Brisbane I think. I’m picky about getting fabric remnants from op shops and Savers because it’s rarely good quality stuff that I would enjoy using. But when I came across this colour, I had to have it. It was always going to be just right for an accent piece. But a word of advice on the rubber backed drapery fabric – it’s a bugger to sew with because it tends to stick to the metal throat plate of the machine.

The main fabric was a heavy polished cotton of 1950s vintage. I loved the leaf print and the colours are exactly the ones I often wear. I think this one was an ebay purchase a few years ago. I’m really happy to have used it with this project.

I wasn’t able to get the strap standing up for this shot mainly because I had to walk out the door in three minutes. I’ll do another shot later which better shows off the bag.

It’s not a huge, carry everything kind of travel bag. I needed something smart, able to match most of my travel outfits, big enough to hold things I’ll need on the plane and during the conference. I’ve learned one thing about conference attendance: coffee breaks, lunches, spur of the moment let’s all go out to dinner, here’s a bunch of papers, are much more easily handled with an over the shoulder bag rather than a satchel or briefcase.

And if nothing else, I’ll probably be easier to spot in a conference crowd.

The tea towel, she is done

I have finally, finally finished my tea towels. I’m glad I signed up – I learned new skills, received fabulous towels that show just how talented these crafty women are, and had fun. It just took a long time with all that other overwhelming stuff happening. This is a little peep of what’s been going on.

Over the next few days I’ll post photos of the amazing tea towels I received. It was exciting to unfold each one and find out just a little bit about the maker of each one. Huge thanks to sooz and Kate for their work in organising this.

In other completion news, I whipped up this cloche for my lass. I used Justine’s ‘Poppy’ pattern (Ravelled here) and fiddled with the size and went for a crocheted band and flower detail. To get the bulk for guage, I used two strands of 8ply. One is a purple Jo Sharp Aran and the other is a deep pink Phildar yarn I used to make a wrap cardi for the lass (more on that later). Since the lass has a short bob at the moment, it’s looking very 1920s lovely on her. Tres chic!

Dyeing for a cuppa

When I was given birthday money as a kid or a teenager, I used to agonise over it. It wasn’t a problem of what to buy but precisely which item in my mental list of ‘I want it, I want it, I want’ came first. This year it wasn’t really a problem.

I bought myself a copy of India Flint’s ‘Eco Colour: beautiful dyes for beautiful textiles’. It’s all about dyeing using natural material and with minimal environmental impact. Hugely informative, practical and with so many photographs of her work as examples of different dyes and techniques. But the best thing by far is that she writes about Australian plants.

So I was able to walk out to the garden, snip a few samples from shrubs and trees and try out her ‘dye tea’ technique. Boil water, place a small amount of material in the cup and cover with water. After ten minutes, the tint of the water will give you a reliable indication of the dye colour.

What I had forgotten is that for flowers, India recommends freezing them first then immersing them in lukewarm water to gain a dye solution. So most of the flowers didn’t really show anything except for the banksia (top left). After I remembered to consult the book, I found that the banksia seems to be the only flower that is used in a hot extraction process.

I like the techniques – bundling flower or leaf material and then using cold water or steaming to extract colour directly to the textile; multiple extractions or either the dye stuff or fabric to give different shades and tones; shibori using clips, tin cans and all sorts of other stuff; the advice on alternative mordants.

So, there’s a storm brewing outside and afterwards I’ll be out there gathering windfall for dyeing. It makes me feel a little bit witchy.

Blowin’ in the wind

I’ve been really busy with sewing, studio organising, knitting and planning. I’m busting to show you (now that I’m back at work and have a computer with decent processing speed) but I’ll start off slowly.

This is fabric purchased from Ikea. It’s destined to be cushion covers – the orange toned fabrics will liven up a beige slipcovered couch while the blue tones will replace covers nibbled out by Misty the class rabbit.

I love these large, graphic prints. The oversize delicacy of the bird and branch print on the right makes me happy. The floral on the left seemed so much fun that I bought an extra long piece as our outside tablecloth.

I’m not a huge fan of blue but I’ve ended up with a 3-seater couch in dark blue. I think the combo of pale blue, white and black should lift the dark blue and break up the splodge of darkness. I think that’s why I didn’t yell when I found out which cushion covers had been chewed. At least I had an excuse to replace them.

News of summer adventures will be forthcoming: sooz’s shoulder bag kit (delightfully received by my mum), op shop scores on the Mornington Peninsula and tales of just how much sewing you can get done when things are tidy and slightly organised.

Arashi shibori


This is what was on the end of the pole – a light shimmery blue silk scarf waiting to unfurl itself.


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