Sunday, 16 October 2016

And the bride Wears Wool

Doris, Knit Vintage

Last month I got married. And, what did the bride wear? Why, wool of course - a homemade outfit made in Scottish and Welsh wool. Those who know me well would not be the least bit surprised.

Why wool? The simple answer would be that I've been a longterm lover of wool. I've been a knitter since childhood, and more recently, since learning to spin, a picture of a breed of sheep can turn my eye!

When I first thought about what to wear I was bedazzled by the possibilities. My Pinterest board expanded; I scratched my head over it a lot. A couple of friends offered to accompany me to bridal boutiques, but somehow I couldn't see myself in the silk and lace or silk and organza gowns in the shop windows. Not that I don't think they would look lovely on other brides - I do.  They're just not me, and I have no idea why. Perhaps it's my age. Afterall, I'm not 25 any more, and and the question of  'what does the more mature bride wear?' did cross my mind. So, I decided early on that I wanted to make my own outfit, and never even entered a bridal outfitters. After chasing my own tail for a while ( I do this), it seemed like the best thing to do would be to limit the possibilities. Fewer possibilities would mean fewer circles to turn in.

A few principles occurred to me along the way, and making a list of these cleared my head of extraneous clutter and gave me a way forward. My principles were that my outfit should be:
  • Made from all natural fibres
  • Made from British fabrics and fibres
  • Be wearable again, in its original form or altered
  • Be figure flattering (as far as possible for a less than ideal figure)
The older I get, the more principles I accumulate. They seem to home in and stick themselves to me. So I thought why not work with them?

Wool bridal suit
Walking to the reception - in the rain! The sun did come out.
Having copious quantities of unspun Ryeland fleece bought from a Welsh smallholder, it seemed a good idea to make a dent in this supply and knit a top. The top is knitted from a design called 'Doris' from Knit Vintage: More than 20 patterns for starlet sweaters & other knitwear from the 1930s,1940s & 1950s. We have so many ancient British breeds of sheep, and this is one of them.

Fabric production in the UK has declined greatly in the past few decades, but we can still buy some quality wool fabric, made in Britain from wool sourced from British sheep. For my suit, I bought a wool fabric from Ardalanish Mill on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. I gather that the the wool comes from Hebridean, Shetland and Manx Loaghtan wool from across the Highlands & Islands of Scotland and occasionally from further South - I like that. I designed the skirt and jacket myself using mostly freehand pattern drafting mentioned in Freehand pattern drafting versus standard pattern drafting. It took me some time (longer than I expected) but I got there in the end, and had a happy day wearing it.

I intend that it will see the light of day again in various combinations. The top and jacket with a 50s print skirt? The skirt needs some thinking about. Full length or shortened? That's the next question...

Wool bridal suit

Saturday, 17 September 2016

No Nylon Socks

Socks aren't an article of clothing that I would most associate with nylon. Sportswear, yes, but socks?   However, sometime ago, I saw a link to a No Nylon Sock KAL Project (a KAL, or Knit-a-Long, run by Joeli Creates) promoted in a Woolsack newsletter. I wasn't in a position to join in with the project at the time, and it is now over, but I made a mental note about why the project was set up. It seems the project involved trialling how well different fibres used in a handknit sock stand up to wear and tear, compared to a yarn that includes nylon. The project was a response to research into synthetic fibres and other plastics in our oceans, and the problems they are causing. See this article in The Guardian about synthetic fibres and microbeads in the food chain.

Now, I've come back round to thinking about sock knitting as I'm planning ahead what I might like to knit over the autumn and winter. I'd also bought a discounted Rowan book of mainly sock patterns bought at the haberdashery closing down sale that I mentioned in Ode to the haberdashery department, so my thoughts turned to.... socks.

I like the look of the Fine Art Sock yarn in the Rowan book but noticed that it contains 25% polyamide. Despite how pleasing it is in the eye,  I couldn't help but think of the tiny little nylon fibres escaping from the washing machine or down the plug hole, and from my house,  swirling down the River Severn,  past the trendy bars along Bristol waterfront,  into the Severn Estuary,  then the Atlantic ocean. How long before they wash up on a palm-fringed Caribbean shore,  or get sucked up by a turtle? That's about 25g per pair of socks on a long journey, wash by wash. 

'Perhaps I'm being too purist?' I thought. Some may think I've lost my marbles. After all, a little nylon from the socks emerging from the needles of knitters around the country,  or even the world, must be infinitesimally small compared to all the synthetic fibres wearing off the clothes people wear. Where do you draw the line between significant and not significant?

We've managed,  though,  without nylon in our socks for centuries.  Having parked that thought in my mind, intending to return to it, I rummaged in the yarn stash, pulled out some 4ply yarn and colour matched it with some, as yet, unspun wool tops waiting to be spun into, potentially, 4ply sock yarn? I know that there are several techniques that make handknit socks more durable, or more easily mended. I returned to the idea of exploring these, so I've researched a little online and present here a list of 

No Nylon Sock Knitting tricks:
  • Knit with a tighter ply yarn or spin yarn for sock knitting with more plies (3 ply rather than 2ply) 
  • Knit tighter than the regular tension 
  • Knit the heel with a stitch pattern that pads and elasticises the heel. Try a slip stitch heel
  • Use a sock pattern where the sole of the sock is knitted separately to the rest of the foot – a moccasin sock 
  • Use a yarn with some mohair or silk for strength and durability to take the place of nylon
  • Darn the heel and toe when new to reinforce from the start 
  • Avoid merino wool – it's a soft, not very durable wool 
And, a Low Nylon option:
  • Knit with a regular yarn but knit in nylon thread just to reinforce the heel and the toes 
I have previously knit a pair of moccasin socks from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. The upper part of the foot is knitted, then stitches picked up, and the sole of the foot knitted in. The sole of the foot can then be unravelled and re-knitted when holes appear. I knitted these for Mr L, who unfortunately put them in the washing machine on a non-wool cycle which shrunk and felted them. To a size that fit me perfectly. Who shot himself in the foot then? I have an unexpected pair of socks, but I can't test the unravelling of the sole now that they have felted. I need to knit another pair. Elizabeth Zimmermann did recommend knitting in nylon at the heel and toe, which I did, but I want to also test a slip stitch heel and maybe a moss stitch toe for durability?

How much do mohair or silk fibres take the place of nylon in adding strength to the yarn? Does anyone know?

Whilst thinking about writing this post, I came across a thought-provoking video called Forget Shorter Showers. A somewhat apocalyptic view of the destruction being wrought upon the earth. The author, Derrick Jenson argues that retreating into our own personal little acts of eco-consiousness (that would probably include me avoiding nylon in socks) will not do much to save the earth, so for instance, forget taking shorter showers. 

We need to tackle the big polluters  - the industrial giants and agri-industry. I agree, but there's a sneaky little feeling that it misses a point. After all, who are the people who are most likely to petition against the big polluters or for changing national and inter-national laws? Those very people who try to recycle more, save water and eschew plastic. The ban on free plastic bags in shops probably started with a few people who started taking their own bags whilst shopping, made a bit of a noise about it, and it grew from there. So, these things are rarely straight forward, and from little acorns bigger things do grow.

What if a few sock knitters returned to the old fashioned socks knitting ways,  then in response to their desperate search for no-nylon sock yarn (with tighter twist and/or with natural strengthening fibres), more yarn producers obliged? Such yarn is hard to get hold of in the UK,  for instance. Patterns for tighter knit socks and slip stitch heels might become more common. You never know, you might even find socks  like that to buy (yes, even cotton - knit socks usually include nylon - I just checked). It's just a thought.... 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

No new clothes: The Seamless Pledge

I've joined the Seamless Pledge, and this is the pledge:

I, Liz Pearson, take the Seamless pledge for a year. I will abstain from buying any new clothes until the end of my pledge. I will find ways to be fashionable without breaking the bank and without contributing to the cycle of fast fashion consuming the high street. I will trawl through charity shops, I will attend clothes swaps, I will look for second-hand items on eBay and I will craft my own clothes with my own two hands.

I've been thinking of joining this pledge for some time, and in fact, I haven't bought any new clothes since November 2015. It's mostly been prompted by the fact that I have copious quantities of yarn and fabric - to the point that I often say to friends that I have enough materials to make myself a whole new wardrobe, and really, I don't need to set foot in a clothes shop. Much as the idea of a whole new wardrobe sounds appealing, what I actually need is just to add clothes to it occasionally. Why spend money on more clothes (fueling the fast fashion industry) when I have the material to hand in my loft? If I don't use more of my stash soon, I may need to reinforce the loft floor. An extra prompt came from a book I have called My Little Black Book of Fashion Sewing: Hints, tips and resources for sewing a stylish wardrobe by Cheryl Watson. A little known book, I think, but I've found it very useful.

There's a chapter in the book about motivation strategies to get, or keep yourself working on something. Little tips, like if you feel that you're short of time, try sewing/knitting/making in 25 minute bursts, say while waiting for something to cook in the oven. Aim to sew a couple of seams - take it in bite-size chunks. The chapter ends with some aspirational pledges, and this was one that I thought I could achieve.

I'm intending to make (knit/sew/crochet), make do and mend, buy from charity shops (I've a nose for clothes in good condition that look like they've barely been worn), alter and re-purpose.

I've been make-do-and-mending a little of late because I've found a batch of clothes wearing and becoming tatty. I mentioned mending a pair of jeans for #MenditMay: re-mend it, and I have more than one pair of jeans to mend. I've taken some some clothes to charity shops that don't really suit me and swapped them for something more suitable. They often need altering to fit, but that's ok. Here's a nice Laura Ashley tweedy jacket from a charity shop that's a little too large but I can see a way of taking in seams to make it fit. This and the dark jeans I found are in very good condition.

re-purposing clothes
Charity Shop Make-over
So far so good. I've been doing this for years - it's just a matter of cutting out the buying new and getting more enthusiastic about mending.

My next challenge (not included in the Seamless pledge) is to stop adding to my stash. That really is my problem area. I just can't seem to help myself. Recently my neighbour told me that she was de-cluttering her loft and was getting rid of some dressmaking and upholstery fabrics. Would I like to take any of this? I started off saying 'no I've too much fabric of my own, but I have friends who might be interested'. After posting a message on Facebook to friends, I helped get rid of a small number of pieces to a good home, but then I couldn't resist a few pieces myself. A gremlin wriggled in my brain. It said 'Free fabric, needs a good home - yours!'. So here we are:

Three pieces of wool fabric, some denim and a pretty print. My argument goes that I intended to make a new winter coat this year as the last one I made (years ago) is looking worse for wear. I have no plain wool fabric. One of these fabrics might make a hip-length coat. The pretty print would make a lovely top. The denim - eh, I have some dark denim. Now, I must stop or the ceiling below the loft is going to sag....

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ode to the haberdashery department


The haberdashery department in a local store has signs up saying '50% off everything'. I should be rushing in with glee, but instead, I'm sad. It's closing down. I even had a vague feeling of panic - how ridiculous! But those last minute (or I-can-finish-this-today) haberdashery bits and bobs may be harder to find now, and I may reduced to waiting until something ordered online appears through the letterbox, or driving out of town.

Buttons, ribbons, zips, Dylon dye, needles, reels of thread, bias binding, crochet hooks, knitting needles: you name it; the haberdashery department is an emporium of useful stuff. A treasure trove for crafters with magpie-like tendencies. I'm lucky - I live close to the shops and have been able to take the spontaneous approach for so long, but the small and larger boltholes for haberdashery, fabrics and yarns have been whittled away. This winter, the sizeable furnishing fabric shop, where I bought piles of very useful curtain remnants, closed down. Sigh. There goes another one.

It's a sign of the times. Businesses need turnover and perhaps there aren't enough of us out there making, or make-do-and mending 'stuff'. Internet shopping too comes into play here.

Even I might seem as if I've been idle as my blog has been sorely neglected, but though blog post thoughts accumulate, I have been busy and somewhat distracted. I have been making my own wedding outfit, and because there's a deadline (fast approaching) I've been tightly focused on this one project. But the trot into town for buttons, and the '50% OFF EVERYTHING' sign stopped me in my tracks.

So what can we do? Get out there and buy from our local shops. Encourage our non-crafting friends to join us. I'm part of a group of friends called Crafty Creatures who get together once a month at each other's houses to craft the evening away, sup wine and munch on nibbles. Friends have said 'It sounds fun, but I'm not very crafty', but we say to come along anyway. We have a small contingent who aren't very crafty but come along, absorb the atmosphere and occasionally join in when someone runs a tutorial session. Little by little they're dipping their toes in the water., They're the future visitors to the haberdashery shop or store (as are their children). An environmental centre near to me is running Make Do and Mend sessions. You never know, the tide might turn!

Monday, 30 May 2016

#MenditMay: re-mend it

On the last day of Mend It May I'm reviewing what's on my mend-it pile. It occurred to me that I have some re-mends to do and some mending that I know will eventually turn into re-mend projects, simply because there are weak spots where you put more wear and tear on your clothes.

elbow patch

A couple of years ago I decided to mend a jacket that suited visible patching because it is 'grungy' in style. It's comfortable and I like it. I patched up worn parts on the elbows and cuffs (the places where most of us find wear and tear). I used curtain fabric scraps that I had to hand. I knew the fabrics were prone to fraying, but as I liked them I figured a little needlework in time would fix the problem.

A trimming of frayed fibres and over-stitching with embroidery cotton, and it'll be ready to wear again. More wear further round the cuffs means additional patches too.

A pair of jeans has a large rip in the derrière. My jeans always rip here first so I thought that as this was rather a big mend and they'll wear here again I might as well consign them to the rags pile. Mending and re-mending, patching and over-patching is a foreign concept in our throw-away society, but there is a backlash, and one sign of that is that Boro mending has been gaining popularity on Pinterest. Boro is a Japanese textile that has been repeatedly patched, often to such an extent that the original textile is hard to discern. See an image I have on my  Not a patch on patchwork Pinterest board.

They might be gardening/DIY jeans but they'll still be a surviving favourite pair, and if it prays on my mind that I am short of time for mending at the moment (that's a perennial feeling) then I can always remember that it would probably take more time to search for a new pair of jeans that fit well than it would to make the repair. It looks like, in time, I will have a Boro patched behind.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Freehand pattern drafting versus standard pattern drafting

I've been comparing pattern drafting by the freehand method (drafting directly on to fabric) and standard drafting of paper pattern pieces. I wore an outfit to a friend's wedding recently that I made by using both methods.

Some time ago I made a pattern for a skirt block - a straight, knee length skirt which can be used as a template for other styles. I made this using the standard pattern drafting method. It worked well, and I was happy with the fit, but somehow I didn't progress further and it languished amongst my fabric stash. Out it came recently, and seeing as the fabric had a nice feel and texture to it, I decided to finish it, line it and wear it. Leafing through my newly acquired Freehand Fashion: Learn to sew the perfect wardrobe - no patterns required! I saw the top I wanted to make to go with it: a batwing jersey knit top.

This meant drafting straight on to the fabric using measurements from the bodice block described in the book. Having made all my measurements, I made up the bodice block with calico before making the batwing top. I have also since made flare and full flare skirt blocks using this technique.

Having got this far, I think the freehand sewing method, once you're familiar with it, could prove to be quicker and bypasses some irksome tasks. Here are some comparisons of the two techniques:

Drafting and cutting
Standard drafting on to paper involves drafting out separate back and front pieces for bodice or dress/skirt/trousers then sleeves, collar and pockets etc if needed, which are then pinned onto one long length of fabric along the fold or on the straight grain, in the same way as you would if using a commercial sewing pattern. Using the freehand method, the fabric for each part (say, the bodice) is usually folded in half, then in half again with a fold overlying a cut edge, along which a seam allowance is pressed under... like so.

Fabric folded for freehand sewing
The measurements for the front and back are then marked together onto the quadruple-folded fabric, starting on the right-hand side at the folded edge overlying the cut edge (as on the image above). Some measurements for front and back are the same, and some diverge, making two outlines. The top two layers are usually cut along the outline for the front, and the bottom two layers along the outline for the back. Hey presto - your two pattern pieces. A single front folding out, and two back pieces with pressed in seam allowances. Clever, and it's all the folding.

I've flipped it round this time (cut edges uppermost) to make a jacket.

Freehand drafting in progress
Making multiple patterns
So, if you have paper patterns and want to make multiple garments from the same pattern, simply pin the paper pieces on to new fabric and off you go. If you want to customise, trace the pattern pieces and make your alterations. With freehand sewing you do need to mark out measurements each time from scratch. But, there's no pinning, no twisting paper pieces to lie on a straight grain, and it's quicker to cut out.

An aspect of freehand sewing I like is that for each main part (bodice, skirt, sleeves etc) a piece of fabric is cut to a sufficient width and length which is usually small enough to lay out on a table and mark up. No moving around a long length of fabric on the floor on my hands and knees - this is not my favourite task!

A disadvantage could be slightly less economy in fabric use, but maybe that's a small price to pay. Have you tried any of these methods? What do you think?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Is it worth making your own sewing patterns?

Old and new books on pattern drafting
Have you wondered if it might be worthwhile to draw up (or draft) your own sewing patterns? Whilst shop bought sewing patterns have a lot of flexibility built in to allow you to fit to your height and shape, there are some reasons why you might want to DIY your own. This post is less of a 'how to' and more of a 'why?' - not only in practical terms, but those less tangible too. Perhaps I'm also getting somewhat philosophical here.

Is it difficult, particularly for a sewer with their 'L' plates on? I think not, especially if you start simple. Isn't that the case with everything? After all, Chinelo Bally, runner up in the  The Great British Sewing Bee 2014, had never used a commercial sewing pattern, and hadn't been making her own clothes for long when she started the show. She used a 'freehand sewing' technique (meaning pattern drafting directly on to fabric), and she stole the show with her designs.

Could pattern drafting be for you? That depends on you and how you like to work, but here are 5 circumstances that might sway you:
  • If your not so standard height and figure have you making repeat adjustments to each new shop-bought sewing pattern. Some of us swiftly make the odd adjustment here and there, some of us need to make more....
  • When you can't find what you're looking for in the pattern books. Perhaps you have an eclectic taste, or a liking for a varied range of vintage style
  • If you want to cut the cost of each sewing project
  • If you want to be the creator from start to finish, to be self-sufficient and freed from 'buying a style' or 'buying the fit'
  • When curiosity reigns (getting back to first principles appeals)
Pattern drafting doesn't mean getting your paper, pens, ruler and measuring tape out and starting from scratch each time with a blank piece of paper (or fabric) for each new design, staring into space and waiting for inspiration. That would be frustrating, and if that were the case I wouldn't blame you for turning away right now. However, by taking some detailed body measurements and creating basic patterns for a straight skirt, a close fitting, round-neck bodice and straight-leg, close fitting trousers to fit you exactly, you have your basic patterns, called 'block's or 'slopers'. They incorporate all your idiosyncrasies which are wrapped up and revealed by your body measurements, and from there all manner of styles can materialise with a few changes to the original block pattern. An extra couple of darts here, a cut and splaying of the pattern there, an additional seam, an additional pocket. The world is your oyster.

It occurred to me, some time ago after I'd spent time cutting out pattern pieces, shortening at several points to fit the 4' 11' me and adjusting for a less than standard figure, that this might be worth a go. How many of us fit what is accepted as a normal figure?

I happen to be so short that even petite clothes in the shops can be too long, and hence, I shorten sewing patterns at several points (so for instance at armhole level, between bust and waist, between waist and hips) every time I start a new pattern. I'm in repeat mode. Most patterns have lengthening and shortening lines as a guide, which helps, but it involves a certain amount of fiddling around each time. I chanced upon Make your own patterns by Rene Burgh several years ago, and whilst flicking through, realised that if I made the basic body blocks to my height, all other designs resulting from these would have my just-shy-of-5' figure built in.

I've always had less waist definition than most shop-bought clothes and sewing patterns allow for, and another fitting issue to deal with. You probably have your own versions of 'wonkiness' too, but in effect, you could account for these once in making your building blocks, then concentrate on changing the design: the fun part!

There is plenty of choice in sewing patterns, but you can still find yourself stuck looking for a particular shape and style, despite the choice, or find yourself bamboozled by all the choice. Two opposite extremes. There is something about going back to basic building blocks which can focus the mind. You might decide to take the basic bodice and widen the neckline. Then next time you add a round, flat collar, and next time you convert from darts to princess seams with little pocket flaps at the hips. You're taking yourself on a journey - there's progression.

make your own sewing patterns

I like the self-sufficiency involved. If I'm looking for something new to make and the shops are closed, I could get my thinking hat on, draft up a new pattern, and be started on a new project before the shops open again, or an online-bought pattern drops through the letter box. And, I haven't touched the bank account.

That said, I am somewhat fixated these days on going back to first principles. So, if I'm assembling clothes from a pattern, then I wonder 'how did someone design that?', 'how did we manage before commercial sewing patterns appeared?' It's like disappearing down a rabbit hole. How was that fabric made? There's another rabbit hole to disappear down. You just have to decide which rabbit hole is the one for you.

My choice at the moment is between pattern drafting on to paper (brown paper or baking paper) to make paper patterns or directly on to fabric, following my recent purchase of Chinelo Bally's  Freehand Fashion: Learnt to sew the perfect wardrobe - no patterns required!. I'm comparing the two approaches.

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