Washed Away

Life has been somewhat difficult for the last while. For over a week I was pretty much trapped inside with all the doors and windows closed and the HEPA air purifier blasting away. Several days in a row my city beat all other cities in the world (except maybe Portland, Oregon) for polluted air. Yikes! The sky was yellow with an orange sun – when the sun could be seen at all.

Orange sun peeking through smoky tree branches.

I’m super sensitive to smoke and getting worse as I get older. It smelled worse outside than a busy campground on a holiday long weekend! The air temps were quite high too so it was hot in the house without the windows open especially at night even with the fan blowing on us. Ugh. And all we could do was to feel so absolutely sorry for those who lost their homes and businesses and lives in the wildfires. What a horrible year, eh?

Meanwhile, I wasn’t in a very good headspace for creating though I did finish one project. I’m calling this my Popped Collar Vest. Yes, I was too lazy to take photos wearing it myself so you’ll have to make do with these wonky hanger shots! Better than nothing, I say. Bonus: you can actually see the inner bias binding and my nametag!

Popped Collar Vest – front
Popped Collar Vest – back

This is a fairly major hack of Katherine Tilton’s sadly out of print Butterick 5891 which is one of my TNT patterns with not one but two quite different but very wearable and hackable garments in it. After several makes I’ve got both versions fitting just the way I prefer.

B5891 View B from the original pattern

The fabric is a mid-weight denim in a faded black leftover after I cut out a pair of pants for Thom. I had just a little over a metre of 52″ width and managed to squeeze this vest/sleeveless jacket out of it with some fancy Tetris work. I used one front piece and mirrored and lengthened it a lot. The back kept the asymmetrical back seam which left me enough room on the fabric to just cut out the front facings. I skipped the peplum and used the under collar pieces as a collar facing instead. The pockets are the original inseam pieces but used as two patch pockets, basically to cover a large flaw on the front piece. All raw seams were either reverse flat-felled or bias bound with striped bias strips and I used some to make the rouleau loops for the buttons. I didn’t really have any suitable buttons but Thom had some wooden button slices left from another project so I painted them with liquid acrylic and finished with a polymer wax. I don’t know how durable they’ll be but they can always be replaced with something better when I can get back into Dressew. Some day. Soon. Meanwhile it’s been good to use up stash!

I still haven’t sewn the pants for Thom yet but they’re all cut out and ready to go. The pockets are going to be wildly contrasting with the faded black denim (aka dark grey). More on this project when it’s done.

So now the air is fresh again thanks to the rain. The windows are all wide open again and I can breathe! Today was very nice so we were able to get out for a walk which felt really good after all that sitting about indoors reading endless books and perusing Pinterest. Tomorrow I finally get to mask up and go pick up my new glasses! Yeah, it took 3 whole weeks. My optometrist is not fast or cheap but they are good. Anyway I’ll be particularly happy to have my distance sunglasses back for walking. It’s hard to see where my feet are going with progressive lenses. The ground nearby is blurry unless I walk with my head down awkwardly. I use only my distance prescription for my sunglasses which works very well.

Hope everyone is staying well! Wear your mask…blah, blah, blah…

Autumn Is Flying In

All my best efforts at posting more often have obviously not worked at all! I give up worrying about it. It is what it is. I seem to do a little better with Instagram. Sorry, not sorry. Though I do ramble on more than most on that platform. Which is why I don’t give up entirely on blogging. Words matter as much to me as images. Each reflects and expands on the other.

Anyway, here I am. Another month and it’s already cooled down outside and it’s starting to have that “back-to-school” smell in the mornings. So nostalgic. This was a generally cooler and wetter summer than usual. I can tell because the grass is still mostly green. We don’t water it and it’s usually pretty browned by August. Plus I don’t feel that I’ve been enslaved to the hoses and watering can trying to keep my veggies and flowers alive like I usually am in summer! A couple of soakings a week and they’re good. With this weather, some things survived much longer than they usually do (peas, cabbages and last year’s kale, for instance) and some things didn’t do as well (tomatoes, bush beans). Though every year is somewhat different I guess. I didn’t have a chance to donate some of my produce to my kids so I’m struggling to use up stuff before it goes squishy. It’s a yummy challenge: winners get eaten and losers get composted! Win-win. Heh.

As everyone keeps saying, it’s been a very strange last 6 months! Our lives are being impacted in ways that we’re only just starting to get a handle on. It’s possibly more subtle for me as a senior who owns her own home with a yard to get outside in, kids who are grown up and living their own lives with their families, and no job or lost income to worry about. But I can still feel others’ frustrations. I keep hoping for some systemic changes in how society works now that people have had time to stop and reflect, to give up old unsustainable ways and learn new better habits. But I keep being disappointed. So many people want things to improve but they can’t seem to make sane choices. And we won’t even discuss the political scene. Ugh. Okay, I’ll quit now. Before I get into a rant about insane people having way too much power and how nobody seems to be able to stop them! Isn’t that how Hitler and Mussolini and Lenin and Idi Amin and Mugabe and Pol Pot and so many other evil dictators got loose? Quitting now…

Let’s talk about what I’ve been up to in the past month, shall we? I showed you the next project I was planning, the Lac Button-Up Dress. It turned out just the way I wanted.

Looking smugly pleased with myself!
Back View

If you recall the fabric is a viscose/linen blend that I dyed in July. It’s a bit blotchy but in a good way. Plus I conveniently had 10 perfectly matching buttons in the stash. What are the odds? I quite like this slightly longer length, just below the knee. I think I added about 5″ to the original pattern and I’m only 5’3-1/2″ tall so the original is pretty short. I cut self-bias binding for all the edges which lies much flatter and nicer than the dreaded facings. I also re-drafted my inseam pockets (there’s no pockets in the pattern) to be wide enough to tack to the front princess seams so they don’t flop around. That worked really well! The bodice fits just a little too loose to be comfortable without a t-shirt underneath but that makes it better as a layering piece. Here I’m wearing it with a vintage undershirt dyed in my Japanese indigo.

Next I got stuck into making the new Muna and Broad Banksia Bralette pattern. I used scraps of leftover knits and raided my bra-making supplies for fold-over elastics and powernet lining. This pattern is unique in that it includes optional “slings” from powernet that keep the girls separated and cooler. The first two efforts were a little frustrating because I felt as if I was too compressed.

Three Banksia Bralettes

I decided to cut the third version with a size larger for the front and no slings. That one fits very nicely and gave me more coverage under the arms. However, in an effort to rescue the first two bralettes I decided to do some surgery on the slings.

Top: charcoal bralette before; bottom: brown bralette after.

Yes, I crossed the slings the opposite way on these two! And the brown version has no powernet lining because it was a very firm knit all by itself. You might hopefully be able to see how I reduced the coverage of the slings in the brown one. I just kept snipping a sliver at a time as symmetrically as possible along the top and bottom of each sling and trying it on until the girls sighed in relief! Now they are comfortable bralettes with a surprising amount of support. If you’ve seen the Banksia pattern you might also note that my underbust band is narrower than the pattern since I only had 1″ elastic, not 1-1/4″ or 1-1/2″. I think this is quite wide enough for me because I’m on the smaller end (!) of this pattern I don’t have a lot of room on my torso for a wide band. I angle right out from my narrow underbust (aka “the shelf”) and wide bands just tend to curl up. So I have enough bralettes for now but I think this is going to be a handy pattern in future, especially if I expand it to a tank with a built-in bra. Muna and Broad already have released an expansion pattern like this but I’m not going to bother purchasing since I’d have to do some re-drafting anyway and I don’t need the included swim bottoms. Not hard to just work with what I’ve already got.

Next, I went with another Muna and Broad pattern, the Glebe Pants. I’ve wanted wide-legged pants for awhile now but I didn’t think I quite fit into this one’s size range. Just. Barely. On the smallest end! I love that. I printed out size iii and it fit perfectly. No changes at all except that I shortened the cuffs by an inch and narrowed the waistband because again, I only have 1″ wide non-roll elastic.

Glebe Pants and Kalle Shirt

Notice how nicely they pair with my cropped Kalle?

Glebe Pants back view

The fabric is a brown stretch linen in a fairly heavy weight. I lined the pockets with batik quilting cotton scraps because I also managed to get another garment out of these 3 yards of 52″ wide fabric. I’m very good at Pattern Tetris!

Self-drafted Pinafore

I wear this type of pinny all the time. I couldn’t quite fit a York so I went with my own pattern that I usually make in a knit but it works fine in a woven too. The inseam pockets are only one layer topstitched in place. You can barely see the topstitching and the pockets can’t move around at all. Also takes less fabric! I used a cotton quilting fabric as bias binding on all the edges. The V-back was a little tricky but I managed to get it to fold under smoothly.

Pinny back view

I realised later that everything I’m wearing here was self-drafted. The brown linen pants and the black lightweight linen top were made a couple of years ago. This outfit is very Me!

For the next project I’m attempting some casual pants for Thom. I’m having some fitting issues. Which may be all in my mind. Hmmm… These are more slim-fitting than his usual style but I want him to actually wear them. So I’m dithering. Just cut out the damn pants already, Damselfly! It’s only fabric.

Stay well, my dears! Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your safe distance. Everyone is counting on you! And it’s the absolute least you can do to help the world get over this obviously extremely lethal pandemic.

Kalle Take Two

I wasn’t especially happy with the fit of my first Closet Core Kalle, the cropped version that I showed in the last post. I decided more work was necessary at the shoulders as well as going up one size in the upper chest area front and back for just a wee bit more wiggle room. It was quite an involved process since I was combining several adjustments at the same time: sloped shoulder, forward shoulder and high round back. All this changed the shape of the back yoke quite a lot and also took a large wedge out of the front shoulder seam. I took a little more from the back armhole by nibbling another wedge out of the back bodice at the armhole edge. In order to counteract some of the narrowing that all this caused on the sleeve, I lowered the underarm where it curves from the sleeve into the body of the garment. All this in turn necessitated remeasuring the cuff pieces. I had to add to the back cuff and take a little bit away from the front one. Whew! In the end though, the fit is a whole lot better.

Kalle Dress Version
Kalle Dress Back

This time I decided to make the dress version of the pattern with the pop-over button placket, collar and inverted pleat. I used the narrower band collar piece for the collar stand and shaved 3/8″ off the collar to match because I thought the original collar was a bit too oversized. I also added 2 pockets instead of one because otherwise this dress has no pockets. Should have put inseam pockets in, shouldn’t I? Next time for sure. The fabric is a narrow handwoven, tie-dyed and batiked cotton from deepest stash. Must have been lurking there for at least 25 years! Bright and cheerful enough for you? Even though the patterning is completely funky and there was no matching anything anyhow, the fabric was quite lovely to work with and pressed and sewed like a champ. The buttons were little turquoise plastic ones salvaged off something ages ago and they matched very nicely.

The fit on this second Kalle is very much improved! As well as the shoulder changes, it grades from a size 12 at the neck to a 14 at the bust, 16 at the waist and 18 at the hip. Four sizes is quite a large range, eh? Also this is the dress pattern as drafted for 5’6″ and I’m only 5’3-1/2″ and it’s still quite short, although I suspect some of the extreme hi-lo hem curve has been removed since the pattern photos. Anyhow, all my adjustments worked like a dream even though they had me scratching my head whether or not I did it all correctly. Yay! Now I have another good pattern to add to my collection. I may succumb to a tunic version yet! I wouldn’t mind experimenting with long sleeves as well but don’t think I’ll be buying the expansion pack that Closet Core has available. A simple sleeve, tower placket and cuff shouldn’t be hard to draft myself and save the cost (which comes to over $9 CAD) to put towards something else. I’d still have to adjust the upper edge for my revised sleeve opening and shorten the length as usual for my T-rex arms anyway plus I already have a tower placket pattern so why not DIY?

So then there were about 2 yards left of the fabric so I decided to make another wearable muslin, this time for Thom. I tried out the Wardrobe By Me Tropical Shirt. The only fit adjustment that I made was to straighten out the waist curve because he’s pretty much the same measurement at chest, waist and hip. (Unlike me!) I did debate with Christina from WBM about her pattern sizing for men which I have found rather confusing but haven’t really gotten a satisfactory answer apart from “European sizing is different” and “Euro men are smaller”. Uh-huh. Thom’s 40″ chest which is a size M practically everywhere else is an XL in WBM sizing. The largest size offered, 3XL, is only a 45″ chest which seems a rather limited range to me, at least on the top end, whatever you label it. Anyway the finished measurements were what he expected so that’s what I made. And was just able to squeeze it out of the remnant piece.

Tropical Shirt
Tropical Shirt Back

There was no way to choose where the patterns ended up since there was so little fabric to work with. My friend Melanie says he has owl eyes! Hah. Now you can’t unsee that, can you? Instead of the pocket pattern I used a spare one that I’d cut out for the Kalle and decided that it wasn’t looking right there. It works fine here. There’s only tiny fabric scraps left, which is what you want, right? Thom is quite happy with his new shirt and it’s now dubbed the Aloha Shirt. He says he will wear it while holidaying in Las Livingroom and Puerta Backyarda! There will be more, especially as his collection of short-sleeved summer shirts start to wear out. Some are upwards of 15-20 years old now and the best ones are linen, ramie or a linen/cotton blend. He wears them all the time when it’s warmer, preferring them over t-shirts because not only are shirts cooler, he can keep his glasses in the pocket.

One change I might make to this pattern in future is to add to the 1cm (3/8″) seam allowances at the side-seams and the top of the sleeve so I can sew flat-fell seams instead of having to overlock them. So much nicer inside and more durable for shirts. I used flat-fells on my Kalle which was easy because it started with 5/8″ seam allowances. On the dress the seam finish was even flexible enough to accommodate the curve under the arm where the body morphs into the sleeve but I did have to clip a little into the seam allowances underneath the top of the folded layer before stitching it down to get it to lie flat.

So what’s next? I seem to be on a bit of a sewing roll! I suddenly decided to use my lac-dyed linen/rayon for a longer version of the Peppermint/In The Folds Button-Up Dress. More on this one soon. I’ve made a few changes to it since I made the first version (which does look suspiciously like a copy of the pattern photo). I wear it a lot but it’s short and I hate the facings. I hate ALL facings! They never cooperate and lie flat or stay put. Give me bias binding over facings any day. There will be bias. Okay, I’m done!

Next Project

Take good care, everyone! Wash your hands, stay 6 feet/2 metres apart and wear your damn mask! It’s the least we can do.


Summer has finally smacked us upside the head! Happily it’s still cool enough at night to enable us to sleep well but the days are quite hot, at least for here in Vancouver. Obviously this is a lesson in “be careful what you wish for”, right? I’m alternating my time picking produce, watering everything in sight and working up in the Sweat Shop (aka my upstairs studio). Oh, and dyeing fabrics on the deck with dyeplants from my garden and older dyes, mordants and assists from the dye studio. It’s been an adventure!

I started by chopping off my Japanese indigo plants.

Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria aka Polygonum tinctorium)

I decided to try a new-to-me technique for dyeing with some of this bounty as explained in John Marshall’s “Singing the Blues” book (p.29), dyeing cellulose fibres with fresh indigo. I had a 2-metre length of a lightweight hemp fabric, scoured in Synthrapol and soda ash. After stripping the leaves carefully from the stems I weighed them so they were pretty much equal to the wof. I dissolved thiourea dioxide in hot water and left it to cool. In the craft blender I lightly packed leaves and covered them in ice water and blended them into slurry which went into a stainless steel pan. Repeated until all the leaves are blended and added calx and the thiox to the last blending. The results looked pretty weird, all curdled and frothy, but it properly turned green in about 10 minutes.

Fresh indigo bath

Then I added the damp fabric and carefully squooshed it around in the vat for about 10 minutes. The fabric turned blue when I pulled it out, rinsed in clear water and hung it up for awhile but I didn’t think it was very dark so I repeated the whole procedure since I had plenty of indigo leaves. I know that it gets a lot lighter after the fabric is finally finished. Also this year’s indigo isn’t very intense with the indigo precursors because it was such a cloudy/rainy spring and early summer. Less sun means less blue!

Final results, fresh Japanese indigo on hemp

The blue is quite light and blotchy (and nearly impossible to photograph accurately!) but I think the fresh process has possibilities. I had lots of leaves left over afterward so I dried them. One day I’ll combine several years’ worth of dried leaves and see what I can get from them. There should also be at least one or two more harvests before cold weather kills the plants.

There was still plenty more plants in the dye garden to play with so I chopped down the weld plant that was more than 2 metres tall and Thom buzzed it through his chipper/shredder for me. I decided to dye a second 2 metre piece of the hemp fabric and mordanted it in tannin and then alum/soda ash using instructions from “The Art and Science of Natural Dyes” by Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis. The weld was simmered for an hour and the plant matter sieved out before adding the fabric and a small amount of chalk (calcium carbonate) since our water is very soft. Again the fabric didn’t turn out as dark as I expected but it’s quite a pretty soft yellow. I’m beginning to think it’s the hemp which was unbleached that didn’t take a strong dye colour even though it was well scoured at a simmer.

Weld on natural speckled hemp

Of course I couldn’t quit there! I’d been saving up the marigolds that I had deadheaded off the plants for about a week but even after stealing a bunch of fresher blossoms didn’t have quite enough for a couple of yards of heavy cotton doubleknit that was next on the list. So I added some spent heads of the dyers’ chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) to make up the weight of flowers. My plants are not yellow as is the usual variety but white with yellow centres like regular chamomile. Even so they still dye quite well.

Dyer’s chamomile (var. Sauce Hollandaise)

I wasn’t picky and left in the stems and the sepals and likely a few aphids and ants as well! I simmered the lot for at least an hour. Meanwhile the cotton knit was mordanted in myrobalan and alum acetate (in separate steps) and then into the pot after the flower heads had been sieved out. Now I got a really strong colour of slightly greenish yellow even though I hadn’t heavily scoured this fabric but just ran it through a couple of laundry loads because it was a freebie from a neighbour and slightly grubby.

Marigold and dyer’s chamomile on cotton knit

Lastly instead of using dye plants from the garden I decided to use up as much of a jar of lac extract as I could. Even though this insect dye gives great colours of raspberry reds to purples, it absolutely stinks! I can’t dye it indoors at all or it gives me a sore throat. It’s that bad. It also is a PITA to wash out because it stains everything: rubber gloves, pails, washpan, sink, and even my best stainless steel dyepot is currently pink. Hopefully it will lose that eventually because I hesitate to dye anything that will pick up the colour from the pot. Anyway, I used most of it up and dyed 3 metres of a natural linen/rayon blend which was first mordanted in gallnut and alum acetate. This fabric (of which I have quite a lot left from a 50 yard bolt) dyes beautifully.

Lac dye on linen/rayon blend fabric

I left it for a day or so after dyeing before rinsing it in cold water over and over and over (8 times!) outdoors in the gravel driveway before running it through a machine wash with Synthrapol and then dried in the dryer. I’m still planning to be careful when I wash any garment I sew out of this in case it still has the power to stain anything. I don’t trust it! But isn’t it gorgeous? And no longer stinky. Yay.

I haven’t exactly decided what I’m going to make out of these fabrics yet, apart from the indigo one which will be a shirt for Thom, but they certainly coordinate nicely together.

Naturally dyed fabrics

Wait! That’s not all. I finished sewing a tester version of Closet Core Patterns Kalle Shirt that became an actual wearable garment. I used a bleached muslin from deepest stash and sewed the cropped version with cotton thread on purpose so it could be dyed. I have more to say about this pattern but I think I’ll leave it until I make the actual tunic version that I originally had in mind. But here’s the wearable muslin before I scrunched it up.

Kalle shirt before dyeing, minus buttons
Prepared for dyeing

I had saved my myrobalan mordant bath so I heated it up and used that to soak the scrunched shirt. Then I squeezed it out and put it into an iron modifier bath (2% WOF dissolved in hot tap water). It immediately turned grey but not as dark a colour as I had hoped. Perhaps there wasn’t enough myro in the pot or it didn’t stay in long enough since it was probably a lot more diluted than I needed. Or the muslin wasn’t scoured well enough? I quite like the results though.

Kalle crop front
Kalle crop back

At least it’s not white. Heh. Yes, I know it needs ironing but it still smells like rusty nails so needs another wash before I’m going to wear it. I’m a bit hesitant about this style on me and how to incorporate it into my wardrobe but we shall see. It only cost me some time and I learned a lot. It’s not a bad fit I think but I’ll be making a few fit adjustments anyway before making the tunic. More on that when I get to it.

Stay well and stay cool (or warm depending on where you live)! And WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK!!!