Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bed Sheets and Circle Skirts

Linen loom - Getty Images

There was a time in living memory when Northern Ireland was a place that made things - manufacturing, engineering and weaving. But, like so many places today, the factories and looms have closed down and are lying silent. One such example of this decline is just down the road from where I work - The Ulster Weaving Company was originally founded in 1880 and throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, they continued to spin, weave, bleach and finish high quality Irish linen. But alas no more. The company is still in operation but production has moved across the world to cheaper employee markets and the company specialises in small items such as linen and cotton tea towels, aprons and oven gloves. Lovely stuff but not the large king size bedsheets and bolts of fine shirt linen that I used to buy in their factory shop on the way home from work. You can see the products here and by royal appointment too no less.

Anyway, things change.

When the company was still operating I bought all our linen bed sheets and pillow cases. I think they were woven and produced for a posh hotel chain and what was sold in the factory shop were either over-runs or slight seconds, though I've never found a fault. Even in the factory shop the sheets were not cheap, if memory serves me right. StephC wrote a great article earlier this week all about linen - its wonderful properties and heritage, ecology, care and sewing. I have to contradict her on one small point however, she said linen goes on and on and on and never wears out - without going into too much detail, 18 years of marital bliss have most definitely taken their toil on one of my linen sheets. A huge hole just about foot level appeared along with a distinct wearing thin of the fabric in the same general area. I'd thought of repairing the sheet but to remove the worn section and sew the two halves together would have resulted in a too short sheet and us lying on a seam - not comfortable. Much better that I take it into the sewing room and make some clothes!

The sheet has a beautiful edge to the top that I would like to incorporate into a garment somehow.


Sew Weekly was setting a full circle skirt challenge that I didn't participate in but it did set me thinking. Take a moment to go look at all those swirling skirts - fab! I don't think I'd suit a full circle - too much hanging around the hip area and somewhat limited in length too, but I do like a partial circle :)

I reached for TNT Paco's half circle skirt. Designed for knits and jersey like fabrics, I've had relative success with this pattern made up  in cotton, so figured the linen would drape even better. Wrapped around Doris for a test run - you can see the folds from DH's perfect ironing. Why iron a sheet with a whacking great hole in it? Who knows?  But I was grateful that he did and I was encouraged by the freshness and simplicity that this skirt was already promising me.

I cut the longer length of the skirt and I added a white cotton satin lining cut to the shorter length that is included in the pattern. The lining was attached as per Paco's instructions.

The picture of summertime - white linen and bright red and white stripes.

Blinded by the bright April sun, but the temperature was low - hence the boots and not open toed sandals; my white linen skirt was surprisingly insulating. I'd heard that linen (and silk) keep you cool when it's hot and keep you warm, when it's cold. I can testify to that statement.

Worn with StephC's kimono wrap top: this time made in the red & white stripe same as the Three Bears T. And just look at those chevrons down the back - impressed? More pics soon. I think I might be turning into StephC - stripes, linen and her wrap top pattern! Could do a lot worse mind you.

There's enough linen left for a pair of trousers, if I can manage to cut around the hole. Now all I need are tanned and shaved legs, open toe strappy sandals and about another 15 degrees C on the temperature and I'm nearly set for summer.

Finally, yes it does wrinkle.

Thanks for reading. Ruth

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Silk Workers Respect

There are some sewing projects that can go either way - this one went the other way. 
Simplicity 3596
I picked up some pure silk chiffon at a bargain price £2.99 instead of £18 p/m. Took what was left on the roll, about 2.2m and went home smiling. I liked the muted colours of the olive green shot with turquoise blue and gold. Another perfect top to wear with jeans. The Simplicity Stepford top pattern was still hanging around the sewing room so I made another one.

I love silk, who doesn't? Floaty, soft, expensive - what's not to like?

For those of you who work with silk chiffon - RESPECT!

For me- absolute nightmare. Slippy, flimsy, bias cut stretchy, fraying, so thin I could hardly hold it or even know which side I was working on.  Having to do French seams 'cause it's expected and is better than zig-zagging such fine fabric. Machine stitches were too heavy for the hem and I had to hand-stitch it all the way round with teeny tiny stitches. Ripping out was a scary business too as one slip of the ripper and the silk would be ruined. Anyway, to prove how tenacious I am, I completed it. But wayward project that it was the jinx was not finished yet....(or else the daemons are following me).

Then went outside to take the photos:

Self timer - too much to the right

 Self timer, too much to the left

And then there was the one of just the fence (not published).  Ended up needing help. DH stepped up to the mark.

All the advice I read said: DO NOT insert an invisible zip in silk chiffon. Did I heed it? Did I heck?
I inserted the full length 22' zip then had a bustle thing happening at the rear end and so ripped out the lower bit and shortened the zip by 6" to just below the band and still there's some weird ruching thing going on back there. And straight?

I got so fed up with the slippy silk that I abandoned the underskirt hanging down as I just couldn't get it even all round - it's cut on bias just to make life doubley difficult. It's still there but cut to fall inside the overskirt.

I had to hand stitch the front wrap bodice too to keep it from gaping and to keep some pleats in place. There are a few areas of the sleeves that are puckered too, but you're not going to see them close up as I'm embarrassed enough.

 So, to make myself absolutely clear - anyone who sews with fine silk, chiffon, georgette and other such ethereal fabrics - my admiration and esteem knows no bounds. You are my heroes!

What I'm listening to - Karl Orff's Carmina Burana, specifically O Fortuna, or otherwise known as the theme tune from the Omen (1976)

Thanks for reading. Ruth

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Daemons, elves and black holes

 I have irrefutable proof that all these things inhabit my sewing room - and I have concerns that there might also be many otherworldly creatures that lurk under the table and behind the curtains that may not even have earthly names yet.

The elves or leprechauns or faeries, or whatever they may be are NOT Disney-like or cute - they are malicious wee gits whose sole purpose is to cause chaos and wreak havoc.

I am a relatively sane human being; I approve of  the progress and advancements made by science; evolution makes sense to me, but somewhere deep down in my psyche there exists the apprehension and belief of Little People. It could be my Irish ancestry and all the mythology that surrounds these emerald isles, but too much has happened recently for it all to be coincidence or accident. What's worse, I harbour fears that these wretched creatures live in YOUR sewing room too.

Let me explain......

When I bought this box of extra-long flat-headed pins it was full, maybe 100 pins - now look at it! I know we all drop pins and needles and that could explain the loss of a few, but more than half a box has vanished. And where are all the blue and green ones? The elves only stole those colours and left the reds and oranges.



Whenever I buy, am given or otherwise acquire ribbons, tapes, braids and trims I roll them up neatly in little tubes and secure with bent pins. They look like this.

This makes me feel very pious and homely because I have a use for bent pins and I make little rolls of happy, colourful, Little House on the Prairie sort of things, that look beautiful all curled up together.

However, whenever I go to locate the trim I know is in the drawer - look what has happened!

I didn't do this - someone (or something) else must have!

I'm not even going to show you the thread box - it's poltergeist stuff - but I'm sure you can picture it. You just know I wrap all the thread ends neatly back on the spool and place it in colour coordinated dividers.

And it doesn't stop there: the machine itself is definitely possessed.

Blown bulbs on the sewing machine
Needles in the machine BACK TO FRONT
The machine threaded the wrong way
The tension loosening as I sew

Dear readers, you have no idea what evil spirits I'm up against. And it's not over yet.....

This is my fabric box. It's an old Lloyd Loom blanket box that my mother was given at a house clearance.  I love the 1950s fabric and the whole originality of the thing. Many people think it's ugly (DH to be precise) but tough, I like it and it is incredibly useful especially since the bad Americans made me buy so much fabric - now I have somewhere to keep it.

 When new fabric arrives in the sewing room it is welcomed warmly and made to feel at home. It is stroked and draped and talked to, especially if it has had a long and arduous journey from the other side of the world and is feeling a little jet lagged. Sometimes it is given a warm, soapy wash and dried in the sun if it needs it but if not required immediately it is folded neatly like this and put to bed in the blanket box with all its other friends.

After a while as I have thought about the best pattern as the best partner for the fabric (hopefully) I go to select the little bundle and this is what greets me........

 Not a fold in sight! Needless to say I didn't create this mess - and it's getting harder to say "It just happened" and actually believe it - there have to be dark forces at work here.

Stephen Hawkins should do his research into the Big Bang in my sewing room because it has a black hole, along with all the other stuff. The black hole moves around because I haven't actually located it yet, but I've narrowed it down to floor level.

The other day I dropped my yellow tailor's chalk and it has vanished! No where to be seen. Dropped bobbins similarly disappear, small pieces of tissue pattern float off the table downwards and evaporate into thin air.

Unfortunately the black hole does not suck in threads, dust or scraps of cut fabric - it seems to be particularly fussy when it comes to that sort of thing.

 If you, or know of someone, who is suffering this sort of malignant possession maybe we could get a global exorcism organised to send these spirits back to wherever they came from and let us in the mortal world just get on with our sewing without the distress and torment of dealing with creatures from the other side.

Thanks for reading and may your sewing space be filled with sweetness and light. Ruth

Friday, 20 April 2012

Best Ever Boyfriend

The next pair of jeans were a combination of all that's been learned so far: crotch fitting, leg width, facings and waistband, pockets and the properties of denim.  I managed to acquire some selvedge denim, not easy and not cheap, for this pair. Made on 36" wide weaving looms the selvedge edge has a smooth finish with a little red stripe that marks it out as being special. Selvedge jeans are some of the most expensive RTW because the fabric is so narrow, you need at least 3 yards and there is a lot of wastage in commercial terms. 

The word selvedge comes from"self-edge", the natural edge of a roll of fabric. The looms weave fabric with one continuous cross thread (the weft) that is passed back and forth all the way down the length of the bolt. As the weft loops back into the edge of the cloth it creates this “self-edge” or selvedge. The selvedge does not fray like cloth made on a modern, projectile loom that has separate wefts, that leave an open edge. Selvedge denim is made on old-style shuttle looms that are limited to 31" - 36" wide.  During the weaving process, the weft shuttle goes back and forth as one continuous thread, rather than as individual threads. As a result, selvedge denim has a clean edge. Modern, single thread weaving has a frayed edge.  The selvedge edge is usually stitched with a coloured thread. 

My denim is 14oz weight, which is quite heavy and stiff, even after three hot washes. I chalked up the pieces just to make sure I had enough to do. I bought 3 yds and the only thing you have to straighten are the outside legs along the selvedge -then you don't have to finish the outside seam later.          

It's de rigour darling to fold up the hemline to show off that selvedge while wearing.

Top stitching on the back pockets, yoke and just partly down the outside seams to hold them all together while under pressure of wearing.

The inside facings were made of the scrap from the Stepford top.
I put some rivets in too. I love using tools for dressmaking: you need a hammer and an awl and it's a wee bit scary because you're putting holes in a finished garment!

OK -  the money shots!

And you know, looking back over this mini adventure in jeans construction I'm not really sure this style is for me. I like tight, boot-cut / flared type jeans. I think they make legs look longer and the flare at the hem balances out the flare at the hips (if you know what I mean?). So I signed up for Craftsy's Jean-ius lessons with Kenneth D King. This is reverse engineering - or in technical terms a rub-off - from an existing garment to get a pattern. I happen to have a pair of Armani jeans that I'm going to try and replicate but you need tools for this project and I don't have any. So I'm off to buy the pattern drafting bits and pieces and then we'll see..........

Thanks for reading. Ruth

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Three bears T

There's a lot of self drafting going on out there and once again, inspired (manipulated) by what I read from other blogs, I thought I'd have a go too. Due to mega purchases from FabricMart (USA) where they either feel grateful to me or sorry for me (I don't know which) they send me "free" stuff. It's usually fabric I wouldn't purchase out of choice but it comes in very handy for test garments. One of the freebies was this rather thin, bright orange knit with a slight kink throughout the weave. I wouldn't wear it out in daylight but good to muck about with - nothing to lose really.

  Scorpioninblue drafted this sweatshirt (right) based on the image of Babe Paley. He aims to produce men's clothing with as few pieces as possible while still keeping them stylish and wearable.  As he says - I've always been fascinated by seamless garments and the way they contour to the body.  So much of men's clothing involves lots of construction and I'm trying to get away from that and create a more relaxed, easy look, while still maintaining that classic masculine edge. This one is for himself but I thought I'd try it out for me. I did e-mail asking for permission.

The sweatshirt is made from two pieces - sleeves and yoke cut on the fold at the neckline; the body, also cut on the fold, so only one straight seam placed at centre back. Looking carefully at Scorpion's pics, I came up with this draft. I measured from shoulder to mid-boob (I'm almost positive that they don't use that terminology in rue Cambon) for the front depth and just mucked about with the scoop for the neckline - making the front a little lower than the back. I also aimed for a bell shaped sleeve rather like the genuine Brittany fisherman's sweater.

The results were rather like the three bears:

first one was too big....

second one was too small......

but the third was just right.....

I used a navy and white striped jersey - pretty obvious really - and instead of colour blocking changed the direction of the stripes to show off those two pattern pieces.

You can just about see the centre back seam for the lower part of the T-shirt - the other other joining seam is around the bra-strap at back and mid-boob* at front. Elsewhere, the sleeves are sewn up with an inside arm seam, and a simple roll hem at neck edge, hem and wrist.
*Would someone please tell me the correct word for this measurement please!!

 The best thing about using this design is that there really is not much matching up of stripes required - just that centre back seam - and using jersey, you just stretch it to match as you sew. I like that when the arms are down the stripes are going horizontal - the same direction on sleeves and body.

But I couldn't do just one now could I?

I mean all that drafting and testing and three bears adventure, so made it again in red. This time I changed the direction of the stripes - horizontal across the yoke and sleeves and vertical on the body. And still the stripes on the sleeves match the body when the arms are down - wow - the mystery of stripes.

 They say vertical stripes are slimming while horizontal stripes widen - here's two direct comparisons - which is more slimming - up and down, or left to right?

Well another few tops to wear with the jeans stash and here worn with the most recent boyfriend jeans.

Thanks for reading. Ruth