Last weekend I began experimenting with natural dyes, and had mixed success. I hoped to try onion skins next because I wanted a bright orange, but haven’t had time to gather together enough onion skins. Nevertheless I’ve got the bit between the teeth now, dying with natural dyes from plant materials is like alchemy.
I love that lavender blue colour I call Eeyore blue. I once saw a picture of some lace which had been dyed using black beans which was just that glorious colour and decided I was going to experiment with it myself. Black beans can be found with the chick peas and kidney beans on supermarket shelves.
The black beans were soaked in cold water for 24 hours, they produce a rather gloomy, murky mauve coloured liquid. Not very promising I admit. But then comes the alchemy.
I drained off the soaking liquid from the beans, added a length of fabric which had previously soaked in Alum mordanted water and presto, the magic began… not mauve but a lovely purply blue began to develop.
Just to test how strong the dye stuff was I put the beans back in another jar, topped up with more water and added more fabric. I left both jars soaking for a couple of days. The result was a lovely purply blue fabric, and a paler version with a rather more tie dye effect, caused by the lack of space in the jar for the beans, the liquid and the fabric.
This is such an easy process, no heat, no chemicals, and if I hadn’t reused the beans as a dye stuff, I could have cooked and eaten the beans, so no waste either, and the colour is divine. I love it, love it, love it.
Lately I’ve been thinking about trying to dye my own fabrics, but I wanted subtle shades, from natural dyes. I was drawn to the idea of solar dying but I was unsure if I wanted to invest time in a method which requires lengthy periods in the sunshine, a commodity not to be relied upon in the North of England, even in a good summer. I imagined a summer of hope followed by an autumn of disappointment as the solar dying technique failed to develop the results I hoped for. Nevertheless I fancied having a go at dyeing from natural materials.
I found a recipe for dyeing using dandelion heads, well they are plentiful enough at this time of year, so on a Sunday morning stroll with my sister I gathered a bag full of dandelion heads from the hedgerows near the local University. That afternoon I picked the petals from their heads and put them in a jar, added boiling water and letting them steep.
I was really hopeful that I would get a good clear yellow. The strands of bright yellow made me think of saffron and stained my fingers bright yellow, surely this was going to work.
Meanwhile I soaked some plain white cotton chintz (I just happened to have a whole bolt of it which had been hanging around in my studio for years) in warm water with a little Alum added, as a mordant ( to fix the dye).
The instructions were to strain off the steeping liquid, add the fabric and microwave, in 2 minute bursts.
I did as I was instructed, 2 minutes, stir… 2 minutes, stir… 2 minutes… ad infinitum it seemed, but there was no discernible change in colour, well, what I had is not even the palest lemon yellow, a complete fail in my estimation.
Undeterred I turned to an old favourite amongst natural dyes, Turmeric and white Vinegar. In a pan of boiling water I emptied half a jar of Turmeric, and a good glugg of white vinegar, and dropped on a metre of the same Chintz. The glorious yellow colour is what I had hoped for with only a fraction of the effort I’d already expended on the dandelions to no avail.
So what to do with the very disappointing length of dandelion yellow? I threw it down on the lawn, and while still hot and wet I sprinkled over it the rest of the jar of turmeric in the hope of achieving a two tone and speckled effect. My plan was to leave it out all night, hoping it wouldn’t rain, but not too concerned if it did, to see what the outcome would be.
I was quite pleased with the result, a subtle speckling of yellow on a pale lemony background. Next stop-Orange, onion skins are the best natural option, only one slight problem, my Dearest hates onions, so we never buy them. Anyone spare their onion skins please?
What do you do with your unfinished projects, I don’t remember making these scrappy hearts blocks, who knows how long they have a lain unloved in the bottom of a box? While searching for some star templates to finish another project I found another UFO (Un-finished Object) four little red hearts foundation pieced from scraps of red fabric on cream calico. Well what can I do with those? Looking at the fabrics I don’t think I have any left, I don’t recognise them at all, but no matter, I think I can finish them into a usable size by introducing another red fabric.
Co-incidentally, my quilting group’s annual challenge this year is “call it red“. I just have to use these little squares, waste not want not. My first thought was to just put them together as in the picture, on a red background.
Or… I could add some applique hearts in Calico on red, with red stitchery… perhaps some more foundation pieced hearts in different reds… perhaps… anyway I have till July to figure it out.
I love red and white quilts and I had been planning to begin a red and white quilt for Cecily’s challenge , a feathered star in white on a red background, but if I’m honest it’s not likely to happen, not unless I find an eighth day in the week, or am in the happy position of being able to retire before July. So I’m really pleased to have found these Hearts, I can get them made into something before July… surely.
I have recently redecorated and re-carpeted my Studio and am back in and free to sew again, but for one small problem, now the room is clean and warm and bright, a certain 15 year old who had denied any designs upon the space, now thinks his own room is way too small for him and perhaps my playroom will suit him better. In the summer when I have redecorated the living room, I will have to think about decamping to what is currently the dining room, so hopefully I can get my little red hearts quilt completed before then.
I’m celebrating finally finishing two Christmas stockings I began 8 years ago. The children for whom I began making them were 7 and 11, are now 15 and 19. If you want the whole story check out my archive for December 2012and January 2013. Suffice to say Christmas is always a busy time and sometimes you just have to prioritise, Sewing takes second place to shopping, cooking and cleaning only once a year, at Christmas.
So beginning where I left off, one of the stockings was quilted and ready to be made up, the other was not. I wanted them to be the same and I had lost the quilting templates, 5 little cardboard stars in graduated sizes which I created using cookie cutters, which I had also subsequently lost, and to this day have not turned up… I suspect foul play.
Thankfully the templates did turn up, and this Christmas I was determined to finish what I’d started. I used a disappearing pen, (which for some reason isn’t disappearing) and drew the stars on the lining of the stocking, then putting the gold thread in the spool and a transparent thread on the top I quilted from the back stars in different sizes to fill the spaces round the motif in the centre of the stocking leg, and in the foot of the stocking.
Putting the right sides together I stitched the two halves around the edge with a generous 3/8ths seam allowance to make it easier to neaten the edges. To finish the seams on the inside I cut away the wadding, and hand stitched the lining closed over the raw edges down to the bottom of the leg. Beyond there the foot still has raw edges showing, well not showing, but that’s the point, you can’t see it so I’m not going to worry about it, I may overlock the raw edges with a machine stitch…when I have a minute.
Next, I had to make the swing tags for each stocking, cutting two squares of fabric for each tag, and applying a gold letter to the green side of each. I worried that the gold letter might eventually peel off having been applied with Bondaweb, so I used my gold thread again and stitched around the edge with a machine blanket stitch, not very accurately I have to say, but I wasn’t about to unpick and start again.
Right sides together again, with a little wadding on the back, I made another mistake; if you leave the hole to turn the fabric at a corner you’ll never achieve a neat closure… unpicked and did it again, this time with the turning gap amidships.
Having snipped the corners and turned each tag right ways out, I neatly closed the open edge by hand. Then I topstitched a gold border using another fancy machine stitch like the one I used on the stocking motifs.
Finally a loop of ribbon was attached to the back of each tag, these ribbons tend to get ragged over time so rather than stitch it into the seam I’ve just tacked it to the back. The 15 year old is a Millennium baby, born in 2000, and when I first knew him at 7 he couldn’t say Millennium, he would a say Millellium, or Minnellium, it has always been a thing I could tease him with, so I used some ribbon I had tucked away since the Millennium, it has “Marking the Millennium” printed on it. Maybe if he keeps and treasures his stocking, it may make him smile every Christmas…long after my day.
And so they are completed and hung up ready for Christmas… now all I have to do is help the 19 year old make a wall hanging, and start the wrapping, with only 3 days left till Christmas.
In the middle of developing an idea about making a beanbag support for my camera I visited my sister and whilst telling her all about it she showed me her new make. She had been to the wonderful factory shop we have locally which sells designer furnishing and dress weight fabrics, and bought a small amount of Ralph Lauren Home fabric. She had made cushions and a table cloth to spruce up her porch, to make it into somewhere she could sit when the sun is shining but not quite warmly enough to be outside. She had a small amount left which she gave to me, because it was just the size I needed for my project. I’m such a lucky sister.
So I made a beanbag, by turning the fabric into a tube and then stitching the end seams at 180 degrees to one another to create a little humbug shaped beanbag cushion, leaving a gap at one end for the filling.
I turned the beanbag right sides out, and made a paper funnel out of some scrap paper to fill the bag with.
The beanbag is filled with polystyrene beads, which I have recycled from an old beanbag seat that was bought for the 15 year old to sit on when he has a little lad, and which has lain forlorn and unused in my studio for longer than I care to admit (my excuse is I always knew it would come in handy one day). l could have used rice or beans but I wanted it to be as light as possible, because my camera kit is already heavy enough.
I scooped a glassful of beads from the old beanbag seat, then holding the funnel inside the bag with one hand it was really easy to pour the polystyrene beads into the bag, encountering very little problem with static cling. There were a few beads left in the bottom of the glass, probably because I didn’t dry it properly, but no little beads clinging to every surface, my hands, my clothes… if you’ve ever had dealings with polystyrene beads you’ll know what I mean.
It just needed a machine stitched closure, to make sure it won’t bleed little beads all over the place and it’s done.
and what’s the point of all this I hear you wondering? It’s my own take on beanbag camera kit. At the time I had just bought a telephoto lens for my camera, and at 300mm you can’t really hand hold without getting camera shake. I have a tripod but don’t really want to hump it about with me, it’s rather heavy and my hips and knees are getting arthritic so the weight is a problem. This light as air little cushion allows me to set up my camera on a wall or fence post and take pictures without camera shake… if there is a handy wall at the right height.
Subsequently I bought myself to a monopod but I still carry the beanbag, it weighs nothing at all and cost me nothing but a little time and ingenuity. My sister is also a keen photographer, I wonder if she might like one…and then my niece… but then I have an idea for a slight design adaptation… watch this space.
This year’s challenge from my Quilt group, was Crazy, put simply anything made from crazy patchwork, fill your boots. My plan was to collect silk ties to cut up, and I did buy a few from my favourite charity shop, but I soon realised that I would need a lot of ties, to have enough variety of colours and patterns, so back to the stash.
I found a bag of scraps, (well three actually), sorted it into three piles, blue and white Laura Ashley scraps dating back to 1977, (of which more later), a pile of pastels some Laura Ashley of the same vintage and some from the 80’s, and a reject pile the colours of which would not meet the criteria for my piece, brown orange, cream etc.
I wanted to work on small pieces which could be joined together in a larger piece, and had seen a number of crazy patchwork studies created as large hexagons, all I needed was a large hexie pattern. So out came the cereal packet, compass and ruler, not difficult, simply draw a circle, divide into 6 equal parts (60 degrees), and draw a line from radius to radius, where the circle intersects, to create a hexagon. The size of the hexagon was determined by the size of the cereal packet.
Initially I followed the advice in my only Crazy patchwork book, (big mistake, but excellent lessons) I cut and laid the pieces on a backing fabric cut from cotton calico (lesson one backing layer too thick). I overlaid the pieces by a eighth of an inch and then stitched them down with a fine zig-zag stitch using transparent filament, (mistake two, this is nasty scratchy stuff and leaves a ridge of stitching which then causes drag when using machine embroidery stitching on top).
Running out of time (72 hours and counting) I realised using differing coloured threads to embroider the patches would take time I didn’t have and possibly require threads I didn’t have, so I decided I could pull the whole thing together and achieve balance by using one colour for the embroidery throughout, white.
As I picked the embroidery stitches to decorate my scraps I made my next mistake (number three), I didn’t try out every stitch on scrap before I began, and there’s no unpicking it afterwards! Had I tried them out first I could have adjusted the length and width of stitch to get the optimum look of the embroidery stitch. I would have also realised that the thread I was using would not work well with some of the more open, spidery stitches leaving a barely visible embroidery, a bold thread would have worked better (mistake number four).
Now comes the fiddly bit, piecing the hexagons by machine, stitching into acute corners requires some skill, the trick is not to stitch right to the edge , leave yourself a quarter inch of wiggle room, it doesn’t matter if you leave a little hole at the corner, you will be embroidering over it anyway.
It’s at this time I discovered mistake number five, for some reason I can’t fathom I had only made 6 hexagons, and of course I needed 7, with only 48 hrs to go I didn’t have time to fiddle about with my previous method so I cut another hexagon in calico, grabbed some spray tack, sprayed liberally, cut up some scraps and dabbed them on in a haphazard way, forgot the filament zig-zag and completed with white embroidery. No mistakes and it turned out the best of the 7 hexies. Finally mistake number six , I then decided to piece the edge to create a square, all the blue sashing is made of part hexagons cut to fit around the edge, and pieced in. It would have been so much easier and quicker to applique to a straight piece of sashing. I dread to think how many times I pieced and unpicked that border, and every time it was wonky.
Consequently I ran out of time to finish it properly, I should have put a zip into the back but I didn’t have one, nor time to buy one so I made an envelope back, which I don’t like and will replace, I stitched the final edge seam with a big stitch so I can unpick it easily, and the pieced sash edge has not been embroidered where it joins the crazy patches, so when I unpick it I’ll add more embroidery.
At least I managed to produce a “finished” piece of work to submit for the challenge, it didn’t win a prize. That’s ok ,I wouldn’t have quibbled with the judges decision and loved the crazy bag made by Anne Thistlethwaite which won. Well done Anne.
Look what I found on Pinterest! Having been asked to make something to put in the gift raffle for my quilt group’s exhibition I needed an idea, something simple to make that most folks would have a use for. This little sewing companion is ideal, small enough to tuck in a drawer, so it’s always to hand for quick repair jobs, and or to pack in suitcase so you have the essentials for hand sewing when travelling. So much better than those awful sewing kits found in hotels. (see http://www.popularpatchwork.com/news/article/simple-sewing-companion/210/ for the original article and Pattern)
Despite looking complicated it was incredibly easy to make. First download your pattern and print it, on to card if you have it, it makes it easier to draw round. Put the pattern on to some light weight fusible interfacing, and draw round it, this line becomes the stitching line so cut the pattern out with a tad more than 1/4 ” seam allowance and iron to the wrong side of the fabric you have chosen for the outside of the sewing companion; cut out with a generous seam allowance, and place right side to right side of the second fabric for the lining.
Stitch round along the stitching line leaving one side open so that you can turn it out, cut the seam allowance to a scant 1/4 “, and snip the corners before turning out. finally tuck the raw edges in and catch them in with a running stitch, it won’t show in the finished piece. I pressed the whole thing at this point, and considered top stitching to hold the edge firm but decided against, it wasn’t recommended in the Original.
Using the pattern to guide me I folded the flap from the left, and top stitched a V shape the left hand corner of the flap, to the bottom and up to the top and inch and a half from the right edge this makes a scissor pocket, and a small pocket to the side for a measuring tape or marking pencil.
The second fold and then the third fold are completed together and then stitched down one side along the bottom and up the other side to hold the whole thing in place.
A needle case to match is made very neatly using a two piece lining which is not stitched completely accross the inner seam so you can stitch it inside out and turn it. the pattern recommends using flannel for the inner pages of the needle case, I had some lining from a silk tie that I had bought and deconstructed to use for crazy patchwork, but it was bulky so I only used one “page” and stitched the open seam closed under the spine of the “page”.
As I plan to make these into gifts I can hardly give them with all the tools missing, so I ordered a pair of needle work scissors on line, green handles to match the fabric, a set of 3 chalk pencils one for each and a spare; I ordered 3 tape measures, but when they came they were too bulky and pulled the sewing companion out of shape, so I rejected them. the original pattern showed embroidery silks tucked into the pockets, instead I downloaded some sweet little thread holders which can just be seen poking out, so that each owner can use threads colours which are most likely to be required. Into the needle case I put from my own stash, a needle, a safety pin, 3 pins, and a shirt button. I’m still waiting for the needle threaders to arrive. All I need to do now is add a press stud fastener and they are ready to go.
If you’d like to make one yourself the pattern and instructions are copyrighted; the intellectual property of Brenda Dean and can be found at http://www.quiltersinternational.co.uk/, Many thanks Brenda I really enjoyed making these and will be making more, for myself and as gifts for quilty friends.
So what do you do when you have bought things for Christmas which turn out to be the wrong size? I recently had two such mistakes to solve, I bought my Dad a pair of soft jersey pants, which he finds comfortable to wear at leisure, but they had cuffs at the ankle and were too long, not a good look. Saggy grey cotton jersey doesn’t really suit anyone, no matter how old. I cut the cuffs off and finished the raw edge with an overlock stitch and double stitched hem. Problem solved, pants no longer sagging in the legs.
The next problem was a bit more difficult to solve, a pair of soft fleece slippers for the 14 year old. To me he’s still a boy, I keep forgetting how big he has grown, he is taller than me and his feet are larger than his dad’s, so how I managed to think Medium sized slippers would fit I don’t know! He likes his slippers, and wants to wear them but they are a tad too small, and although stretchy, not quite stretchy enough, so what to do? Make bigger slippers. Yes but what with? I was considering what I had which I could use to build an extension for the 14 year old’s toes, when I saw the cuffs I’d cut off Dad’s pants sitting on my sewing table, perfect colour, now how?
I cut one cuff along the seam and then cut it in half, each half was stitched along the two short edges to create a little pocket, then I opened up the toe of the slipper peeled back the fluffy faux lamb’s wool lining and stitched the little grey jersey pockets to the outside fabric. The lining was then hand stitched back into place covering the seam allowance so the lining is held in place and the seam hopefully will sit under the toes, where the toes meet the ball of the foot, and won’t be too uncomfortable.
They may look rather silly, but it worked, it solved the problem and the 14 year old tells me they are comfortable and a much better fit, of course the acid test is, does he wear his Bigger Slippers? Yes he does. I thought asking him to model them was pushing my luck too far, he would probably have a fit if he saw this post, so Sshh.
I love sewing, I love being able to mend and customise, fix my mistakes, and make something usable out of left over scraps from another project, retrieve the torn and damaged, create something usable out of what otherwise would be thrown away.