Dye!

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!!!

More Pattern Thoughts

Or maybe that should be Mistaken Pattern Thoughts? Last post ended with me assembling the Closet Case Sienna Maker Jacket. I was completely off base thinking that I could frankenpattern the regular and extended (I was incorrect to call them “curvy”) sizes together to get something that would fit me. Wrong! The two size ranges are drafted on completely different blocks and they didn’t correspond well enough to combine parts of them together. So it became a DIY project of massive proportions! In the end there wasn’t much left of the original pattern except the collar, hems, pockets and centre front and back seams.

The pencil lines are mine!

Yes, my body is not a “standard” shape! I have a small frame but carry a lot of extra fat around the middle of me from bust to upper thigh. Unlike most people who have fat distributed more evenly on their bodies, my arms and legs (at least from just above the knee down) are relatively thin. My shoulders are also narrow and quite sloped. I’m short but not petite since my shortness is all in my legs (and arms) not my torso. All this means some pretty complex fitting changes have to be made before I’m happy with any garment’s fit.

So much work but I learned long ago that just going with baggy oversized layers makes me look like I’m wearing my big sister’s clothes. (And I don’t have a big sister.) I hate that! The proportions are completely wrong for me and I feel swamped. I need the upper bust and arms to actually fit me and then widen from the bust to hip to at least skim breezily past the fat parts. With enough ease because I also don’t like feeling squished in the middle.

In the above photo of the front of the Sienna (size 14 in the extended range), you can see I needed the shoulder sloped and narrowed, the underarm raised, the bust narrowed slightly and the waist curve removed and widened down towards the hem (not shown). I also shortened the body at the lengthen/shorten line by an inch which probably isn’t enough to bring the lower pocket markings up to where my short arms can reach properly. I’ll check that when I get there in the sewing steps.

And then I did a similar fix to the back pattern piece.

Again, pencil lines are mine!

I don’t need to slope the back shoulder as much as the front to accommodate my forward shoulder. I left a little extra width in the shoulder seam to be eased into the front which fits my round shoulder much nicer. Another option would be a dart but this is only 1/4″ so easing is better. The upper back width is also not narrowed as much as the front. I left the back curve shaping intact. (Interestingly the “regular” pattern sizes have a straight back seam. And no bust dart.) This jacket is not meant to fit too closely but to be a layer that one wears over one’s regular clothing to protect it from dirt or wear: a work jacket, chore coat, or lab coat. Or to at least look like you were planning to do some work.

So of course after all that fiddling I had to make the sleeve pattern fit the new armhole. And me, hopefully.

Only the hem remains intact!

The Sienna sleeve is a two-piece like a suit jacket. This is a little harder for me to adjust than a simple one-piece sleeve but I figured it out eventually. I had to take some height off the cap, add some to the underarm, narrow the whole sleeve and shorten it. Yikes! So much work. But if there’s anything I cannot abide it’s sleeves that are too large for me. I lived with that issue in the past but no longer. I can make them better. So I can bend my arms comfortably but not dip my cuffs in the soup.

The only other adjustments I had to make were to the shoulder seams on the facings so they would match the slope. Collar and pockets and belt are untouched. Remind me why I keep buying patterns? Seems pointless when I have to do so much to make them fit that it feels like it would be far easier to draft one from scratch! I keep saying I’m quitting buying anything new now that I have a whole suite of basic pattern blocks that I can use. At least for the simpler things. Let’s see how long I can maintain a pattern-buying moratorium. You heard it here first! Counting from NOW……

One comment about Closet Case: Heather Lou has decided to rebrand as Closet Core Patterns. It seems a better fit and less of a subtle unintended slur than “Closet Case”. All her marketing and social media redirect to Closet Core now. However, even though the timing is good I think it’s going to take awhile before it completely catches on. Especially when the original name is all over the patterns that I already own. Maybe I’ll get out the markers and correct them! Heh.

Anyway, I hope you aren’t holding your breath waiting for me to actually cut out and sew the Sienna right away. I’ve been working on a number of sewing ideas and absolutely nothing is getting finished yet! Unfortunately I get just as much pleasure out of planning as I do actually accomplishing. Okay, maybe “unfortunately” is the wrong word. I’m just going along with what works for me right now: preparing patterns, matching them with fabrics, stacking them up, wash, rinse, repeat. Once I eventually get over this phase I will definitely start chopping out garment pieces. After I have at least half-a-dozen ready to go, then I’ll start sewing them together. I know that’s not how most people sew but just working on one project at a time doesn’t make me happy. After all it’s not a contest, is it? I don’t really need anything new. I have plenty of clothes to wear already. It has to be fun or I won’t do it. And right now all I want to do is play with pieces of paper. So I am.

But just so you know, there is fabric for the Sienna.

The colour only showed up properly in the sunshine.

It’s a heavy reddish-brown brushed bull denim that’s been in my stash so long I have no idea where it came from. And I even have the D-rings in the right size for the belt. Progress!

Moving right along. I get to go to the dentist tomorrow for a teeth cleaning and check-up. I adore my hygienist but I don’t relish all the new rules for taking my temperature, distancing, masks, hand sanitizer etc. thanks to The Evil Pandemic. I can’t even wait in the office but have to be called in by phone and then leave before it’s Thom’s turn right after me. Ugh. I know they are just being careful and protecting both themselves and me. It’s important to do so. And I’m sure it’s just as much of a PITA to them too. Anyway to cheer myself up I made a new mask to wear. Obviously I can’t wear it in the chair though! Fun times, people. Fun times.

Thoughts on Patterns

It’s quite interesting how a formerly happy user of Big 4 (Big One?) patterns like me has shifted to almost exclusively using Indie patterns over the last couple of years. Or hacks of Indie patterns. Or rub-offs of beloved old RTW. Or completely self-drafted patterns. Or pretty much anything really besides the “pattern company formerly known as Big 4”. How did that happen?

I know there’s been some…okay, a lot of debate on Big 4 vs. Indie pattern companies on social media. And each will have their fans for whatever reason. I do know that when I learned to sew back in the Dark Ages, there wasn’t any real competition for your pattern dollars. There was Simplicity, Butterick, McCall’s and (if you could afford it) Vogue and that was pretty much all that was available at the fabric store. Anyone remember those big metal drawers? Huge catalogues to flip through on top? Tissue patterns that only came in one size per envelope and they usually were out of yours? Just little old me?

Now there are so many new designers with patterns for sale! Some are actually printed and packaged but by far the vast majority are available in PDF. Instant gratification – except for the part where you have to print and assemble the pages. All sizes in one pattern and if you need a different size or multiple sizes you can just print it again. I’m especially enamoured of the ones with layers so you can print the size(s) you want without all the extra lines getting in your way. Of course that depends on whether they actually include your size. Happily many designers are increasing their size ranges to accommodate more bodies. This response to the demands of the current market is what I believe really puts independent pattern designers far ahead of the Big 4. And we haven’t even discussed diversity which is another whole blog post itself.

Of course there’s still a lot of same-old same-old in the offerings. Nearly everyone has a simple knit tee or woven top, easy skirt, pop-over shift dress, pull-on elastic waist pants, a boxy sweater or robe. Each sewist seems to embrace their own favourite TNTs (tried’n’true) patterns for basics. I think it’s wonderful that some designers have specialised in a certain niche that may have been previously underserved such as lingerie, men’s garments, curvy or larger body sizes, gender neutral styles etc. Better pattern testing and quality control by a range of sewists eliminate a lot of the mistakes that so easily slip by when everything is done in-house. Another advantage of PDFs is that any revised versions can be easily delivered to the original purchasers. Online tutorials and videos as well as more detailed sewing instruction booklets can really help beginners or those for whom a new technique might be confusing. If you learned to sew with Big 4 the Indies’ generally clear and modern sewing instructions are absolutely wonderful in comparison.

However, my very favourite part of sewing isn’t actually sewing at all, though it’s an important part of the process. It’s printing, assembling and fitting the patterns to my body. It’s like a really enjoyable puzzle! And it gets easier as I get more familiar with what works on my body. Sometimes it can be frustrating and takes some chopping and reassembling to get it right especially if it’s a more complicated pattern, an unfamiliar silhouette or a new-to-me designer. Very occasionally I might have to reprint and start over if I really screw it up. I often use my personal basic blocks to trace shoulder slopes, armholes and sleeve caps and to check waist and hip widths so I ‘m pretty sure the finished garment will fit me in the most important areas. I confess I never make a muslin/toile but dive right in to a wearable garment though if I’m not quite sure I got it right, I might use fabric that has been lurking in the stash for a long time instead of something more precious. Often I never get around to making another “better” version!

Right now I’m on a big Pattern Play roll. I just learned a new-to-me technique of just snipping off the corners when assembling PDF sheets and it’s a game-changer. Speeds things up a lot even from when I was using my big paper cutter. Here’s how it works. For me anyway. Itch to Stitch goes in the opposite direction and cuts off all the corners. Johanna of The Last Stitch tests 4 different methods of assembling including this one and gives pros and cons of each.

Cutting corners

This technique only works on the type of patterns that have a border around the pages, not the “no-trim” ones (more about that later). I’m right-handed so you might want to go check out Itch To Stitch’s post if you are left-handed and don’t want to reverse my instructions. Could get confusing! Rows go from left to right and top to bottom and you are just cutting across the corner right at the border using paper scissors. I tried using my rotary cutter with a blunt “for paper only” blade but scissors were actually easier and quicker! The angle of the cut doesn’t have to be perfect but don’t cut off the border at all. You’ll be using those corners as your important match points.

Row One: The first sheet (on the top left) is not trimmed. The second sheet is trimmed on the top left and bottom left corners. The third and subsequent sheets of the first row are trimmed the same as the second sheet. Using a glue stick, glue each page in order one at a time, matching the corners top and bottom. You don’t even need to look at the pattern lines or anything else, just the corners. So easy!

Row Two: The first sheet of the second row (on the left) is trimmed at the top left and top right corners and glued to the bottom of the very first sheet. The second sheet of the second row is trimmed at the top left, bottom left and top right corners. Third and subsequent sheets are trimmed the same as the second sheet and glued on the top and left sides across the row.

Trimming the corners
Applying the glue stick

I match the top left corner first then the top right and lastly the bottom left should just line up nicely where it belongs. The only drawback I’ve found to this method is that sometimes part of the pattern lines are obscured under a layer of paper but unless they are very light or you use a weight of paper heavier than 20-lb you should be able to see them easily through the sheet. Or you can hold the pattern up to the light so the lines show up and pencil them in on the top layer. You also might not like that the patterns are bulkier and don’t fold as easily but I kind of appreciate how sturdy they are.

The wrinkles mostly disappear when the glue dries

This technique uses a little more glue stick because the paper overlap is wider than if you trimmed off the whole length instead of just the corners. I buy mine at the dollar store or office supply store in boxes of 24 or 30 (sometimes marketed for school teachers). I prefer the smaller size sticks because I can manipulate where the glue goes much better. You can actually use a whole stick for just one pattern depending on the number of pages though so it’s worth stocking up! You might find bigger sticks a better value but watch the prices because they are all over the map on every size. I believe it might be cheaper than tape (depending on source and brand) and also makes the patterns more easily recyclable. Plus you can safely iron them if they get crumpled. Just FYI, where I live tissue paper is not accepted in paper recycling so only the envelope on those type of patterns is recyclable.

No-trim pattern pages

As I mentioned, no-trim patterns aren’t amenable to the corner-cutting technique. These are supposed to be easier to stick together because you just overlap pages up to the line. However in practice I’ve found that the edge of the pages varies a little due to the way the sheets are fed into the printer so accuracy can be somewhat off. And the printer can’t print right up to the very edge of the page either. You can’t really tell if the edge of the page is in the right place so you have to go by matching up the pattern lines. It’s not a deal-breaker but it isn’t quite as accurate as cutting corners. As an aside, Love Notions Patterns (of which this is an example) attempts to save you paper by overlapping pattern details, such as two different necklines on the same front or back half-pattern piece, instead of having you print two different pattern pieces. Also sleeves are often just a half-sleeve and you’re directed to place it on the fold. Since my sleeve cap’s front and back edges are not identical and I prefer a whole sleeve pattern in order to place it on the fabric accurately, I end up tracing another sleeve half anyway so nothing is actually saved there. This is just personal preference however and not actually a complaint. It’s just a different way to do it than usual.

So back to it then. Currently I’m trying to franken-pattern two different printouts of the same pattern: Closet Case’s Sienna Maker Jacket. As usual I fall between the two size ranges. Sigh. The smallest curvy size 14 has the better fit for me at the bust especially because it has a dart although I have to grade out to an 18 at the waist and hip which is an easy fix. However the upper chest/armhole/sleeve area is too large so I need to graft on the size 12 from the regular range because the curvy range doesn’t go down that far. I spent a lot of time dithering between the two size ranges and this is the best way I can see to make it fit. I don’t feel like redrafting the upper area which is the hardest part to do and the most important for how a garment looks and hangs. So I printed out both patterns and will probably end up assembling both of them completely before I chop and reassemble parts. It will be interesting to see how much they differ, won’t it? That lesson might be worth the wasting of time and paper. Yeah, I’m weirdly curious like that. Heh.

And Another Month Gone

Again! Is Covid-time faster than normal time? I think so! The weather has been really changeable and although we’ve had a few warm days it’s mostly somewhat cooler than usual for June. I’m even wearing a sweater today! At least I haven’t had to water the garden much. I really don’t feel as if I accomplished much this month at all. I mostly just read more books, pulled a few weeds and picked some produce. What does it say about me when my most exciting day is Laundry Day twice a month? Yeesh. Still no new Finished Objects to show. No knitting and very little sewing happened. I did repair my bug-munched top so I could wear it though.

Visible Mending

It took more time to choose the repair fabric than to actually perform the fix! I finally chopped up a dyed and stamped swatch from the scraps drawer and did some sloppy sashiko stitching on it and I think it looks passable. Hopefully I can get a few more years’ wear now. Loved clothes last!

Wearing it: front view
Wearing it: back view

When this thing finally gives out, I’ll probably make a new version. I still have the pattern I made. Or maybe I won’t wait until it dies to sew it again! It’s a great way to use up fabrics that are too small for a full garment. I think the design has held up well considering I saved the original inspiration photo nearly 10 years ago. Good wearable styles don’t date quickly.

However some things do get dated! I’ve been working on refashioning my indigo hemp jacket from the mid-’90’s. It absolutely did not fit anymore: drop shoulders, deep armholes, too long sleeves and tight waist and hip. Just wait until you see the “before” pics on me! But I absolutely love the funky fabric and the dyeing is a memorial to an epic indigo vat that my friends and I made one year. I’ve never been able to get something this large dyed that evenly since. Here’s a hanger shot just to whet your interest.

Indigo Hemp Jacket (before)

Notice that even the horn buttons dyed beautifully as well. (It was a wonderful vat!) Eventually I ended up picking out nearly every seam except for the collar and front placket. The thread I sewed it with was cotton so it would take the indigo and they are all flat-fell seams too so really sturdily stitched! Took ages, a sharp seam ripper and good light but I couldn’t figure out how else to reshape it. It needed extra fabric under the arms and down the side seams and I don’t have anything remotely similar in stash to piece with this it. I did find some denim that matched the colour pretty closely but wisely decided that it was too heavy and stiff. This hemp is thick and coarsely woven but drapey and fairly soft after being washed many times. So I went with something different but not too contrasting that just felt right. Not finished yet though so you’ll have to wait for the big reveal.

On another topic entirely I just wanted to mention the new Ravelry interface. Have you seen it yet? It’s been a big topic of conversation on my Instagram feed and there is quite a contingent of users who absolutely abhor it! Apparently it’s been an issue for those who suffer migraines and seizures. Personally as a senior and a migraineur, it did give my eyes the collywobbles at first too. However, after I discovered that they had eventually made some of the annoying things optional such as getting rid of the horrible drop shadows and changing the text font (which sort of solved my particular problem) it was passable. Barely. The text, icons and buttons are still too small especially on my iPad screen and there’s no permanent fix for that. I can zoom with the two finger spread of course but have to do that on every. single. page. The stark white background with skinny black type is still there. And yes, you can switch to “classic” Ravelry, which apparently isn’t actually Old Ravelry and is still a problem for some people. It’s not a forever option either. Not that anything is ever permanent on the Internet. (Unless it’s something you don’t actually want to be permanent!) FYI, I’ve been a Ravelry member since October 2007, nearly 13 years. I joined back in the days when you had to request a membership and wait until they issued you one. Yes, I’ve seen quite a few changes on there and most of them were changes for the better. Until now.

I really thought that Ravelry didn’t handle the criticism very well at all. I know change is hard for some people and some push-back is inevitable. But if a significant number of your users are complaining of physical discomfort or actual harm then maybe they have a real concrete reason for it? Brushing it off with a few quick optional or temporary fixes that you have to get on the site to access first is just plain ableism, people! And then patting yourself on the back for how well your site has done with sales and sign-ups since the rollout. Consider one explanation for that could be that everyone is stuck in the house, boredom is setting in and they want to fill the void with a useful craft? Doesn’t really prove that everyone loves it. So Ravelry currently has a questionnaire up. Which again you have to get on the site to access. I filled it out. Who knows if it will help at all? Meanwhile since I have all the patterns I need for the moment, don’t use the forums anymore, and haven’t really been knitting lately anyway, I’ll just leave them to it for now. At least I got my opinion out there. Use your words! My new motto.