Spring 2019 News

Two issues of Taproot magazine, opened to the articles I wrote.

Hi all! Here are a few fun things in my world happening now and coming up soon:

The info for my spring and summer workshops is up! I have new classes at Textiles West (in Colorado Springs) in May, and at the Intermountain Weavers Conference (in Durango, CO) in July. Plus, screen printing with natural dyes at Flag Wool Festival, embroidery and an introduction to natural dyes at Coconino Center for the Arts, and a return to both John C. Campbell Folk School and North House Folk School later in the summer! Check out all the details over here.

Also, pictured above, I have an article in the current issue (31 :: REVIVE) of Taproot magazine! It’s a tutorial for sewing and embroidering a cloth bag to hold your clothespins. And because (although it seems inconceivable) I don’t think I ever mentioned it here, if you happen to see a copy of issue 28 :: GRAIN anywhere, my favorite method for mending knits is in there.

I have a clear intention of being more present in this space in 2019, and offering more content here. At least in the short term, it’s looking good …

Enoughness, Wardrobe, Mending

 

old silk cami after detail

 

Are you ready for a radical anti-consumerist statement? Here goes: I have enough clothes. Now, this isn’t a terribly original radical idea, even among other makers & sewists (for one, Felicia wrote eloquently about it last summer). But it’s an idea that I’ve been rolling around my head for a year or so now, mulling over where I’m going with it, and I think I’ve made some progress.

Roughly six years ago, without really telling anyone about it, I decided that I would get the clothes I needed in my wardrobe by making them instead of buying them. At the time, I needed quite a bit. For winter wear I remember having a total of two long sleeved knit shirts, both plain cotton not-great-fitting ones from the thrift store. Situations like that were part of the reason I went handmade; I was frustrated looking for ready-made clothes I liked that I could afford, and tired of feeling like most of what I wore didn’t suit my personality or my life. Me-Made-May was also essential in getting me going in this direction. Before we move on, I want to acknowledge that it is a great privilege to be able to choose warmer and better-looking clothes. While I’m not always sure what to do with that knowledge, it seems important to say it, and I do think that just acknowledging it helps me be more grateful and mindful of what I have, and encourages me to take care of things and not take them for granted.

 

old silk cami before

This was an old silk cami with a shelf bra inside, made from a thrifted top. As you can see, it had a lot of wear and had already been patched once. But there was still enough sound fabric between the body and the shelf to reconstruct a different cami (below). It’s certainly arguable that this was too much work, too much hand stitching, for a garment which realistically is made from worn fabric and has a limited life expectancy. And yet, it gave me a lot of freedom to experiment, and a functional garment …

old silk cami after

 

So back then, I just started sewing garments, beginning with what I needed most, and then moving to the next-most-needed thing. It worked—I slowly but surely built a wardrobe of clothes I love, which covers just about any situation in my life. The new things have been mostly me-made, with a few lucky thrifted/gifted pieces mixed in. It certainly helped my progress that I already knew how to to sew (and knit), that I was already thinking about how my style reflects the way I want to be seen, and that I had a fair amount of fabric stashed away (although I certainly acquired more for specific projects).

Because I came into my personal wardrobe sewing revival from a place of making what I really needed, it was unavoidably obvious when I got to the point of not needing much. It’s been a gradual but ultimately fairly profound shift for me; from having a new garment in progress most of the time, to focusing more on slower projects, mending, and keeping my wardrobe in good shape.

 

layers of sock darning

These handknit socks I got from a friend quite a while back are my longest-running mending project. I just can’t give them up. All but one pair are still going.

 

At first, I was a little conflicted about all this. I thought I might miss sewing things from fresh fabric, or maybe more truthfully that I would miss dreaming things up to sew out of fresh fabric. But, as Jess pointed out, there’s no reason not to keep dreaming. After all, just a small percentage of the garments I imagine ever get sewn, no matter how much I’m actually making. Also, it turns out that for me anyway, it’s just as satisfying to dream up ways to re-make things that have been languishing in the back of my closet or in the “try again” basket. And it’s not that I am making nothing new. Right now I am knitting socks (the world’s slowest pair since I’m only working on them when traveling, plus I keep changing my mind and ripping out the heel …), spinning yarn which will become a sweater in its own sweet time, and plotting a new shirt from my natural-dye-printed fabric. And, I’ve just realized that neither my newer purple corduroys nor my blue cotton pants are really presentable for outside wear anymore—there will always be things to make!

But for the most part, my sewing lately has been directed towards keeping my existing wardrobe going, making it better, and adding in the next level of that message I want to send when people see what I’m wearing. At some point it occurred to me that while I know I’m wearing handmade, anyone who sees my clothes (especially if they don’t sew) will just assume that I bought them somewhere, like “everyone” does. In fact, many a sewist’s goal has been to make clothes that look “just as good” as store-bought ones. Well, I’ve decided that I’d actually like people who see me on the street to think to themselves, “Hey, I wonder if she MADE that … or someone did …”—in a good way, of course! I’m interested in adding more hand stitching, more hand-dyed fabrics (and eventually handmade fabrics?!), and definitely interested in wearing visible mending proudly on the outside of my clothes.

 

black handstitched pjs 1

Rather than making a new pair of PJ pants when I needed some recently, I decided it made more sense to revamp a pair that Bryan wasn’t wearing. That meant getting rid of crumbling elastic, and adding enough hand stitching that they felt like “my new comfy beautiful PJs” rather than “this hand-me-down thing I’m stuck with.”

black handstitched pjs 2

 

This downshift in sewing fits in really well with other shifts in my life over the past couple of years. A lot of my creative energy has been and is now going into thinking about natural dyes, fibers, and fabric printing. As I’ve taught those skills more widely, I’ve been working hard to learn all I can and improve my process. (It’s the biggest, deepest, best rabbit hole of research and experiments I’ve ever been in.) I’m teaching mending more too, so it’s been perfect timing for me to take on mending my own wardrobe as more of a deliberate project, seeing how far I can push things and what I will learn by continuing to choose “fix it” over “rag bag.” As much as I am devoted to other textile arts, it pops into my head over and over again that mending is probably the most valuable, most potentially world-changing thing I could do, show, or teach. (Come join me! New classes recently added.)

I think it’s also worth noting that I’m more comfortable in this stage of my evolution as a maker because of the type of maker I am. While I certainly try to master the skills I take on, every textile technique I learn about fascinates me, and I’m always ready to expand my horizons. So spending less time sewing ultimately means I’ll have more time for dyeing, spinning, maybe some weaving, or to try something else entirely new—a bonus in my book.

This blog has evolved with me, and I want it continue to do so. I have plans to start sharing some of what I’ve learned about natural dyeing here, as well as whatever else comes up. So for now, a happy season to you, whatever yours may be. (The monsoon rains just started here, and I am so very grateful!)

 

black handstitched pjs 3

 

 

News March 2018: Teaching and Updates

 

fold dip print 3

 

Hello all!

First, I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be traveling to teach at a new venue this fall; North House Folk School, way up in northern Minnesota! I’m teaching two classes: Fold, Dip, Print: Natural Dye on Fabric and Creative Mending. It would be nearly impossible to say which of these I’m looking forward to more.

I have a new batch of fabric samples for natural dye printing just waiting to test (I’m working with tannin this time, and how it interacts with other mordants) so I should have even more to share in this next workshop. Figuring out things that I can’t just look up in a book keeps pulling me deeper and deeper into natural dye mysteries—I love it! (If you don’t know what a mordant is or why tannin might be one, maybe you would like to come to this workshop …)

I’m equally loving starting to prepare for this next mending workshop; thinking about what I know and have taught before, bringing topics together, trying new ideas, and wanting to integrate as many options from the different crafts I know as possible. We’re going to see how weaving and knitting work, what makes fabric behave how it does, and learn a whole bunch of ways to patch/darn/repair/decorate all kinds of textiles. It’s going to be great!

 

creative mending 1

 

Second, I have been doing some long-overdue website updating (it’s always overdue, right?). You may be surprised to click on one of the tutorial pages (like the mending one, speaking of) and find it reasonably complete and up to date. I am (ever so slowly) learning a little more about html, which will hopefully make it easier to keep up with this stuff as I go. Come look around the site if you haven’t in a while.

That’s all from me for now. If you want to be updated when I have new classes scheduled, the best bet is to follow this blog. No spam, and only occasional posts … you can also check in on the Classes + Workshops page.

Cheers!

 

Fixing Store-Bought Socks

 

fixing blue stripe socks 3

Isn’t the phrase “store-bought” kind of funny when you think about it?  Maybe I should have said mending “factory-made” socks?  Maybe not, that sounds weird too.  Fixing “non-me-made” socks … never mind!

Anyway, I get a little depressed any time our society expects me to get rid of something which is mostly perfectly good, but has one flaw/broken part/hole/mold on just one corner.  Although I do accept that there’s a point at which socks are well and truly worn out and need to go, what happens to most of mine is that they develop one or two really worn places somewhere around the heel first, while the rest of the sock fabric still seems totally intact.

The really tiny gauge which commercial socks (I might like that phrase best so far) are knit in makes it hard to darn them in the traditional needle-and-yarn ways.  I’ve been experimenting with patching them, using compatible knit fabrics, and it’s been working well.  Experimenting over some time now, so please forgive the different lighting in the photos, I’ve been documenting the socks as I fix them.

As most of you reading probably already know, I love the idea of “visible mending”, of showing the world that I fixed something and I’m using it.

 

So, should you have the audacity to mend a store-bought sock, here are some things I’ve worked out:

The fabric for the patches should be similar to the socks: knitted (stretchy) and fairly sturdy.  I’ve been using wool knit fabric swatches, scraps from making these leggings, and parts of other socks.  Although I’ve been seeking out wool patches, I think cotton knits would work too, as long as they are fairly thick/tough.  Check that the care requirements for the patch fabric work with how you wash your socks (I usually machine wash & line dry mine, occasionally they go through the dryer, and the wool patches have worked fine for me).

 

patched purple hobo socks

 

sock under machine It’s totally possible to mend shorter socks with a sewing machine, any time that you can scrunch the rest of the sock out of the way (kind of as if you are turning it inside out), so that just the layers you want are under the foot of the machine. I used an overlock stitch for maximum stretchiness & sturdiness.  As with any knit project, you may need to experiment a bit to figure out which stitch and settings work best.  Expect to do a lot of lifting the foot with the needle down and repositioning things while sewing on the patches.  You can cut down on that somewhat by basting the patches on first (takes about 30 seconds).

 

When the patch is done, I finish by getting all the thread ends to the inside, and burying them before trimming, using a hand sewing needle.  You can also trim the edges of the patch outside the stitching if they come out funky looking.

 

thread ends fixing socks

 

For heels and toes of knee socks, and any time I can’t easily get the part of the sock I want under the machine, I find it just as easy to sew the patches on by hand.  (I like hand sewing, and I don’t like fighting with my machine.)  I’ve been using a catch stitch (explained in more detail here) around the edges, sewing through both the patch and the sock when possible.  An old-fashioned darning egg (or improvise with a small block of wood etc.) inside the sock is so useful here that it’s almost essential, making things much easier by assuring that you only sew through the layers you want.

 

fixing blue stripe socks 2

 

fixing blue stripe socks 1

 

For either method, cut the patch definitely bigger than the worn place/hole, otherwise it will quickly wear right along the edge of the patch.

  For cuffs, you can use a scrap of ribbing to cover worn places and/or make a new cuff.  Make sure the ribbing is long enough to stretch around the widest part of the leg which the sock will go around.  Mark and sew the ribbing together, then stretch it evenly around the sock.  I find it’s easier to sew two seams, one on the inside and the again around the outside edge of the ribbing, than to try to catch both edges perfectly in one seam.

 

fixing sock cuff

 

Both my hand- and machine-sewn patches have worn well, adding a year or more to sock life, and lasting until the rest of the sock fabric gives up the ghost.

 

The socks below I didn’t even mean to fix, but they ended up being some of my favorites.  They’re the ones I wear in the summer when we’re setting up the booth.  I was going to buy new ones, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to spend real money on new socks for such a humble purpose, and I knew cheap socks would wear out super quick under those conditions.

The new short length is perfect for when it’s hot but I still have to wear shoes, and I love seeing my little mended socks during what can be a stressful situation.

 

mending set-up socks 1

 

mending set-up socks 2

 

Finally, just in case you’re thinking that I have a magical house where socks are fixed as soon as they develop holes, let me tell you, it ain’t so.  I’ll admit that I tend to let them pile up until my sock drawer is looking sparse, and I’d forgotten about the very existence of some of these by the time I got around to mending them … when I start to run out of socks that don’t need fixing, then I settle down and do one or two pairs a day until they’re all fixed.

Happy mending!

 

 

A Simple Piece of Mending, and Some Thoughts on Posting

 

potholder front

 

So, here I am.  We’ve been home for the fall for a few weeks now, and it’s lovely to be back.  But ever since we got here, I’ve just felt swamped.  With good things mostly, and some of the best kind of quality time with family, but still swamped.  I have great ideas for posts.  I even have pictures for a lot of them, but I just haven’t been able to put together the time to edit and put in the words.

As I’m sure you know if you’ve been reading for a while, I’ve been shifting more towards posting when I have something I really want to share, and away from a set schedule.  I hope this gives me more time to work on each post, so that each post is better.  Goodness knows we all have enough arriving in our email every day, and I don’t want to be contributing to that just to make something appear in this space, unless it’s something I’m proud of.

And yet, sometimes (like right now) I really do want to connect with my online community, I want to put something out there, and it doesn’t have to be complicated to be worth reading, right?  Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Like this potholder.  I know, I mended a potholder, it’s not exactly Earth-shattering news.  In fact, I didn’t even like this potholder.  Bryan had it when we met (goodness knows where he got it) and I always thought it looked so cheesy—definitely not my favorite kitchen object.  But, the back fabric wore out.  (It was yellow plaid.  I had so little intention of posting about this that it never occurred to me to take a “before” picture.)  The front was still fine, even the binding was in good shape, and I have this stubborn genetic defect which makes me refuse to throw out anything useful, so I just sewed a patch of sturdy black knit over the back.  After I sewed around the edge, I thought it needed a bit more, and I decided to outline the tacky shapes on the front.

 

potholder back

 

Then, the stupidest thing happened: I suddenly loved this potholder.  It’s now cheeky, it’s a little edgy, it’s visibly mended, it’s mine.  Every time I see it I smile.  Sigh …

What about you, ever fixed something and then fallen in love with it?  (The more I think about it, the more I think this happens to me all the time.)  If you blog, how do you balance the number and quality of your posts?

 

How to Mend a Small Hole: Sewing a Patch by Hand

 

 

small hand sewn patch 5

 

Here’s another way to fix a small hole in a shirt or a sweater—especially a hole that’s a little too big to simply sew back together without causing puckers.  No sewing machine required though, it’s more invisible to sew a little patch like this by hand.  These examples are in woven fabric, but this technique also works on knits.  I sewed a patch like this on the front of this sweater, which because of the fuzzy knit fabric is too invisible for pictures!

I’m going to demonstrate on two skirts, which happen to both be made of linen, cut on the bias, and have small holes.  The difference is, the blue one at the top I fixed for keeps—it had a little tear, but the rest of the fabric is still in good shape.  I bought the pink stripey one for a dollar on the sale rack at St. Vinnie’s, and it followed me around the country on our summer travels for years.  I even tried out two different ideas for adding pockets to bias skirts on it.  By now it’s on its way out, the fabric across the back has a few tears, and is super thin and ready to tear in a lot more places.  It’s ready to retire, but I can get one more use out if it by fixing one of the holes with bright green thread so you can see what’s going on.

To start, cut a circular patch, about three times as big across as your hole.  Making it a little bigger will make the sewing easier, and you can trim it later.  If you have a piece of the garment fabric, cut the patch from a section that matches up with where the hole is, in terms of color, pattern, or wear.  If not, just try to find something that matches as well as possible.  Hold the scrap behind the hole to see how it looks.  If your fabric is very loosely woven, you may want to sew around the edges of the patch to keep it from unraveling.  Otherwise, a circular patch should be ok as it is through normal wear and washing.

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge, you can see more detail here than I could while sewing the patches!

 

small hand sewn patch 1

 

Carefully center the patch behind the hole.  Match the grain (the direction of the grid of threads) of the garment and the patch.  This is especially important if the garment is cut on the bias (with the grain at 45°) like this one, because I want to avoid changing the drape of the bias cut.

Pin the patch in place through the front of the garment, sticking each pin in and out of the fabric twice.  Check to see that the patch is centered over the hole, and re-pin if necessary.  If the fabric is slippery, it may be easier to sew a few temporary basting stitches, and pull them out when you’re done, than to get the pins to hold it.

 

 

small hand sewn patch 2

 

Knot your thread, and bring it up from the back.  Sew around the hole a couple of times, sewing through both layers using small backstitches.  Don’t pull the stitches too tight, or the fabric will pucker up.  Try to catch each thread that is cut by the hole on one pass or the other.  If there are intact threads in the center of the hole, tack them down to the patch too.

The goal is to keep the hole from unraveling any further, without adding so many stitches that it makes the patch stand out.

When it’s done, secure the thread with another knot or a couple of backstitches just through the patch on the back.

Here’s the finished patch on the front:

 

small hand sewn patch 4

 

And from the back.  You can trim the patch, but leave some around the edges so that if it unravels slightly, there will still be enough fabric to hold it in place.

 

small hand sewn patch 3

 

Here’s the back of the blue one:

 

small hand sewn patch 6

 

Hopefully this adds another option to your mending toolkit!

How to Fix a Coat with a Ripped Back Vent

 

coat vent mend 1

 

I’ve had this coat for, um, more than a decade now, around 15 years I think (!) . . . I bought it for $5 at a garage sale at my dad’s church, when I was in High School.  It was, without question, one of my best ever thrift finds.  I wear it all winter, every winter, and I still get compliments on it all the time.  I have fixed it so many times, in so many places, which really is the biggest key to its success over all this time, that and the quality fabric. The only clue I have to the coat’s true origins is a little tag inside which says “wolle.”

The other day, as I was finishing up teaching, I looked over at my coat hanging on the back of my chair, and the back vent was completely ripped out.  It’s cold here now, especially at night, so this project jumped right to the head of my line.

Fixing the outside part is actually not too big a deal.  Thanks to interfacing and the aforementioned quality fabric, the stitches have popped but the outside fabric isn’t torn (the lining is another matter which we’ll get to later).

 

coat vent mend 2

(As always, click on any of the pictures to enlarge for a better look.)

I lined up the vent in its original position, twisting the coat around to get a good angle for sewing.  I can tell where the stitching was by the little channel the thread has left in the fabric, and by the bits of leftover thread.  I lined up these clues, pinned things in place, and started sewing, overlapping the place where the original seam is still intact.

I used a double thread and backstiches sewn by hand to replicate the old seam.  I could have done at least some of this on the machine, but by the time I got the thread, stitch length etc. all sorted out, I figured this way was faster and easier.

As near as I can tell, those bits of thick white yarn are for matching a point in the original construction, and weren’t used to hold anything together.  When this coat does finally give up the ghost, I think I’ll take it apart and see what else I can glean from how the inside is put together.  I’d love to make my next winter coat from scratch.

 

coat vent mend 3

 

Back to mending for now; keep following the path of the old vent stitching.  It makes several right angles which seem random, but they were obviously holding everything in the right place before, so just go with it.  I found that right at the turn it was useful to make another pass and add a few more backstitches.  It can be hard to get them as dense as you would like and still get through the thick layers.  Turn the coat right side out and see if everything is held in place the way you would like.  If not, it’s easy to add more stitches.

 

coat vent mend 4

 

So that’s actually about it, just keep backstitching until you get to the end of the old seam.  Since that’s obviously a point of stress, I stitched in a little rectangle all around it to distribute the stress, rather than just following the path of the old thread.

Flip the coat right side out, and if you are satisfied with how the vent looks, it’s time to fix the lining.

 

coat vent mend 5

 

Sigh, the lining.  On the night that the coat vent busted, I described its lining to a sewing friend as “a hot mess” which pretty much sums it up.  Whatever this (I’m guessing acetate) lining stuff is, it’s not nearly as nice or durable as the outside, so that at this point, particularly at areas which get lots of wear (like the vent, and where the sleeves join the coat body), it’s a patchwork of repairs reflecting the techniques, scraps of fabric, and even moods I’ve had over the past decade or so . . . at this stage my goal is just for it to hang together and not look too awful if someone happens to catch a glimpse of the inside.

Since the fabric itself is ripped here, I needed to patch it with something.  I settled on a scrap of grey knit fabric, because 1. I won’t need to finish or turn over the edges, since it won’t ravel 2. The color is a pretty close match and 3. a knit is stretchy, which might work well at an area that’s clearly getting strain.

I sewed the first part of this patch on my machine, using a narrow zigzag stitch.  It proved difficult to go around the top without everything bunching up under the machine foot, so I decided just sew the second side using backstitch again (but only one strand of thread this time).

 

coat vent mend 6

 

After stitching to the top and burying the thread ends, I trimmed the patch for a neater (ha!) look, and there you have it.  I also tacked the bottom of the lining piece to the outside fabric.

This has got me wondering about lining my fantasy next coat in a silk knit.  What do you think?  Could be pretty sweet . . .

 

coat vent mend 7

 

Tada!  Fixed.  I just gave it a good press from the outside (a quick ironing with a lot of steam in the repaired part) and it’s good to go.  Pay no attention to the other small hole, I didn’t even see it until I was editing the photos . . .

I bet after all that you might like to see a picture of me wearing this fabulous, recently fixed, coat, yes?

 

me wearing coat

 

I know, it’s lovely, right?  If you look closely, some of the repairs are more obvious.  I’ve re-sewn the buttonholes multiple times, re-covered and attached I don’t know how many buttons, tacked down the tabs on the back belt every way I could think of, I put a bigger pocket in one side . . . but I’ve been more than paid back for time invested in repairs vs. time wearing coat.  I think it has another season or maybe two left.  The fabric right around the cuffs and front is starting to obviously wear.  When it does go I may just copy it and make a few modifications.  It occurred to me while working on this post that since this is my only real coat, I’d better make the new one while the weather is warm . . .

Here’s to extending the life of the things you love!