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.



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.

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 trip is coming up quickly and because I promised not to say this at home, I’ll say it here…this time next week I’ll be in Portugal (insert skip here).

Which means that all that summer sewing I didn’t get done six months ago suddenly needed to get done now. I took full advantage of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend: had Friday off to spend ‘quality time’ with the kids prior to the trip (and slip in some sewing…), invited other people’s children over for three days’ in a row so they could entertain my kids, and then hid in the study.

What did puzzle me was how I could suddenly find the time and incentive to do this sewing when I needed the clothes six months ago and should have done it then.

I figured out that sewing new clothes for an overseas trip was like building myself an exoskeleton.

At home, I don’t need to translate myself to family and friends all the time. If I do, language, shyness and hamburgers aren’t huge barriers. I know who  I am, I’m in context, and for the most part, I am understood by others. If I’m not, I’ve learned to navigate my way through an explanation or how to avoid it. Put me in a strange country on my own and I have just lost every external prop I have ever relied on.

This doesn’t necessarily scare me at all. The feeling of being a stranger in a strange land is quite freeing and since I am seen by others as a tourist or visitor, I am expected to observe, to stand on the sidelines, to wait until I am sure what’s expected of me. And all of that comes naturally to me since it’s the essence of Asperger’s. But I need someway of externally representing who I am since I can’t explain it (language) or it’s incredibly difficult (shyness/hamburgers). And I need to remind myself of who I am since I unconsciously rely on others to reflect me back at myself. Hence the work on the exoskeleton.

I’ll do a slow reveal over the next few days but I’ll give you a sneak peek of some of the fabrics used – a little bit of printed 1950s decorator weight cloth to get the creative juices flowing.

Sewing bliss

I may have mentioned earlier that setting up the sewing room study was a priority when we moved. It’s still a little cramped – unpacking the study section seems less important than unpacking the knitting and sewing section. I took a few shots to give you an idea of how it is now.

A dedicated sewing table has made my life so much easier. The chair was a garage sale find and I have plans to reupholster. The good thing is that it’s still comfortable until that happens.

See all that natural light? It’s amazing! The brown table in the corner is my cutting table and I can’t tell you how grateful my knees are now that I no longer have to scrabble around on floorboards. If you look closely you’ll see the wicker sewing basket I picked up in an op shop in Pambula on the far south coast of New South Wales. It was $20 which made me dither for half an hour but good sense won out in the end. I have fabric remnants of the same era in the same colour combo (white/red/black) and that will replace the ugly floral lining.

This is the 1950s dresser my sister had when she left home and gave to me and the Bloke after we were married.

It’s unbelievable heavy, every male in the family loathes the thing because they’ve had to help move it and I love it with a passion. The little cupboard on the left is actually a meat safe with ventilating wire mesh at the back. And it has something you could only find in white Australia during the 1950s – the maker’s sticker proudly proclaiming ‘only European labour’.

This is my sewing basket that was a leaving home gift from my mother. My older sister got the pale pink version and I got this aqua one. There were no expectations that we’d start making our own clothes it’s just that Mum had a fairly practical view that we knew the sewing basics and the least we could do is mend and repair stuff.

I don’t think it coped well with this move. During the second sewing project the hinges on the left lid gave up the ghost and shattered in my hands. It was only a momentary blow because then I could pull out and properly use this little beauty.

A 1950s, cantilevered, made in Melbourne wonder. It does need a little attention with that brace on the left but that’s it – no damage internally and no scuffing. Another op shop, this time in Sunshine. I walked in after early release from a work seminar and pounced on it immediately. It had only come in that morning.

With all that organisation, I’ve made a top for me, one for the lass, a summer dress for my niece, a little matching skirt for her doll and sooz’s bag (as a gift). Very, very satisfying.

Vintage show and tell

I haven’t blogged properly the results of our trip to The Way We Wear fair because the natural light in our house sucks. So I took along my finds to my mum’s house where it has lots of windows so people can see during the day without turning the lights on. Freaky, I know.

First up is this utterly beautiful spool of silk thread.

It is barely enough for a neckline edging but even if I never use it, it will still look beautiful sitting quietly on a studio shelf.

I found two of Madame Weigel’s patterns. I’m fascinated by such a strong reminder of the roaring rag trade in Melbourne (well, it roared until the 1950s). A brief bio of Johanne Weigel and her family appears here, courtesy of Shirley Joy and the Brighton Cemetorians (thanks to a post by Shula for the tip off).

I particularly love this next one because it may be very nearly my size. The design of the bust shaping is so sleek – shoulder pleats to fullness, nipped back in with three little darts on each side.

Next, two editions of ‘Marion’ a quarterly (?) pattern catalogue from a Dutch patternmaker. The first is 1968 and the second 1970, giving a really good sense of the fashion shift from the 1960s to the 1970s. Each edition carried a few free patterns and these are still with the catalogues. I think you’ll see why I’d prefer to draft my own pattern and it has nothing to do with not knowing Dutch.

Finally, Stitchcraft No. 242 (maybe the late 1950s) with a hint of batwing, berets and bonnets. There is also a stocking cap with contrasting bobbles but I didn’t want to scare people.


I’ve had a good couple of weeks with craft and design. Last weekend I spent a few hours at the Stitches and Craft Show; this weekend the lass and I drove up to Bendigo for the Golden Age of Couture exhibition.

I haven’t been to a Stitches and Craft show before, despite best intentions, and this year’s show was a major revamp of previous shows. It had a definite ‘yoof’ edge to it. Which means it appealed to people under the age of 45. I think this is attributable to the involvement of Living Creatively, an online magazine. They got the indie designers and the bloggers (usually one and the same) and put them together in an area that just felt vibrant and enthusiastic. This part of the main exhibition was noticeably lively, with lots of chatter between exhibitors and visitors. That part of the crowd covered a good age range – 25 to 45 – and that will no doubt warm the cockles of the hearts of the organisers. What is really fabulous about this incubator concept is that there’ll be regional variation between the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney shows. I know that some indie designers are going to two or three shows but there will be a spot for the local designers that have built their own customer base and will be able to meet those customers.

Among the main displays, I really enjoyed Kelani Fabric and Amitie. Kelani had brought in their gorgeous range of Japanese cottons and linens as well as sharing space with Aunty Cookie. We could have a good look at the beautiful, hard-to-find, usually order on-line fabrics and Shannon Lamden had brought new designs to the show. That stall just rocked the whole time I was there.

Amitie had some of its most popular fabric available on bolts but had decided to go for kits and small pieces of fabric. It was a great idea that worked really well. They were selling 30cm x 110cm strips of fabric, arranged by colour, for $6.50. Some of the designer pieces were $8 and you may recall the flap bag I made for the lass – that was a piece I bought at Amitie. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the range of colours and prints – the stall was buzzing and the poor staff had barely any time to scratch themselves.

But what I enjoyed most of all was the two hours I spent as a volunteer in the Wardrobe Refashion area. Nichola Prested (Wardrobe Refashion and BurdaStyle) had set up a reconstruction zone with sewing machines, overlockers, cutting area and tables full of op shop clothes, as well as thread, trims and buttons. It was free to wander in, choose your garments and then let your creative juices flow. During my stint there were two women who had never touched a sewing machine before. One produced a bag out of an old pair of trousers and the other sewed an apron and a baby sheet with applique. There were quite a few mother/daughter combos, one guy and a couple of sets of friends. The average age of the refashionistas would have been 20. I had a ball!

They also had craft bars in the main display area, where you could sit at a bar stool, select your craft cocktail of choice and be served by experienced crafters. There was one each for embroidery, knitting and crochet. These seemed to have a regular turnover of under-30s trying their hand, especially at the embroidery bar where they were serving up Sublime Stitching patterns. I really liked the idea of a craft cocktail bar but I’d suggest a cozier setting next time. It was all white and stark and maybe I’m showing my Melbourne bias but I was thinking of baroque, smoky, hidden in a laneway and up the rickety stairs kind of look.

The Golden Age of Couture finished on the weekend so we made a dash for it on Saturday (after my plans for me and the lass wagging a day on Friday came unstuck). Although I had forgotten to buy my tickets online and therefore condemned us to an hour long wait at the gallery, I had looked up the details of the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s website. This meant I’d read all the stuff beforehand and didn’t have the hassle of trying to read labels in a very crowded space.

It was a great deal of fun. The lass thoroughly enjoyed it and I found it more enjoyable because she was there. We zigzagged across the rooms going from one display to another, pointing out the fabulous and the ridiculous and marveling at the intricacy of some creations. The lass pointed out a number of suits I could wear to work and we tried to pick our favourite dresses. It seems we both like minimalist lines in our frocks but the lass likes more bling on her shoes than I do. I suspect that she was slightly disappointed at the lack of pink but the pale blue cape made up for that loss a little. The choice of colours was interesting – all these dresses had been made for clients, so they reflected the client’s colour preferences. Beige was popular, a few greens, a couple of yellows, and a few dramatic reds. Beading and embroidery were popular and dark blue made a good showing. It seems that I like Dior (the original) quite a lot, followed by Givenchy. In terms of design I thought the suits were the most interesting since it was these that embodied the ‘New Look’. I particularly liked the use of diagonal lines in construction, often in the form of an overlapping collar piece or in the line of the jacket’s front placket.

If you missed the exhibition, tootle around the V&A’s website. It has all the info and a great deal of the costumes.

Edited to add: if you pop over here, scroll down a little until Nikki starts writing about the Stitches and Craft Show. The very happy lady showing off an apron is one and the same lady I’m talking about! And if you hop over to Nikki’s flickr set, you’ll on the second row the apron and bag ladies (!) and on the third row you’ll see the back of me (shoulder length brown hair wearing the yellow safety jacket).

Further edited to add: I’m here!

Buttons galore

A few weeks back, I came across an announcement for a by-the-kilo button sale at Buttonmania. I nipped down to the Nicholas Building in Swanston St, a beautiful European warren of artist’s studios and indie retailers. On sale? A roomful of Brazilian, depression-era buttons. I swooned.

But recovered quickly so I didn’t miss out on choice picks.


I bought in sets – between four and twelve – depending on size and gorgeousness. There are two sets I haven’t photographed yet but they were special enough to be separately packaged. There were four tables’ worth of buttons in trays and a large dish dedicated to the special ones. All up, it cost me $14.

And completely unrelated, this is the finished Asymmetry:


It’s so comfortable and the linen is already softening with wear. It drapes as easily as I hoped and it’s perfect for hot day with a cotton cami underneath. I’m wearing a brown wool cami because it wasn’t hot last evening and you can see the detail better against a dark background. Thanks to the lad for his fashion photography.

Fashion jamming

In an unexplained fit of excitement I put my hand up to host a stall at the kids’ school fair. The theme this year is ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ so I’m going to sell stuff that I’ve made from vintage fabric or repurposed clothes. I also mentioned fashion jamming. Apparently when the fair coordinator read this, she started squealing and had to be provided with mild sedation.

Fashion jamming is refashioning or repurposing clothes – the Craft Cartel in Melbourne staged one last weekend at Fed Square. I figure kids love doing stuff to their clothes, given half a chance, so I’m going to put on two demos during the day. One will be for Cycle 1 (3-6 yrs) and the other for Cycles 2 and 3 (7-12 yrs).  It needs to be simple and still fun for the little kids so fabric paints in the forms of textas or pastels will be the way to go. For the older kids, I’d like to show them photo transfers, sewing accessories, cutting, re-modeling, templates for patches and reverse applique, what to look for in the op shop, that kind of thing. Tip sheets to take away at the end of the demo seem like a good idea.

Once I had the photo transfer idea, I started playing around with some of my images and this is what I came up with. This is the original shot:


This image was a tree silhouette at sunrise. Using an online photo editor, I inverted the image so the black branches became white and then chose different colour rotations to get the background colours.


Then I played around with the fluoro options:



And you can do nightvision as well:


Some of the items I’ll be selling are my own photo transfers; neck pads for guitar and saxophone straps (old t-shirts, quilt batting and velcro); reading cushions from soft, old denim; wristlet bags; simple totes; and fashion jamming kits for the kids – little packets of choose your own template, fusible interfacing, and choose your own remnant fabric; and pick your own buttons and embroidery threads. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, do tell!

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