My 2014: Movement and Shaking It Up

Hey!  It’s been almost a year since my last post, and even longer since I lost the habit of regular updates here.  It’s been too long!

I cut my hair, lost weight, and lately I like a pink or berry lip...

I cut my hair, lost weight, and lately I like a pink or berry lip…

I had to step away, blogging became too hard to maintain as I struggled with a physical illness and mental exhaustion.  After surgery, I found it difficult to get up and get better. I opted to take my time to let life settle before poking my head back out into the world of blogging and social media. Thanks so much for your words of support during that difficult time, your notes meant more to me than I can express.  My family and I faced a lot of changes this year, most of them very good!

The biggest change we made was a move from Brisbane to a quiet house in the country, in northern New South Wales.  We were offered a chance to rent/caretake this lovely property and jumped at the opportunity.  It’s been a fantastic move for all of us, we really needed a change.

My husband is working on landcare projects, planting gardens and writing papers.

I have a big, quiet sewing room all to myself, and my daughter loves that we’re just down the road from her beloved Nan and Grandpa.

The furriest change we made this year was adopting our first pet!  This is Arya, found at the RSPCA on Lila’s birthday.  Lila loved her at first sight. Arya turned out to be one of the sweetest kitties I’ve ever known! She creeps into the edges of my sewing pictures and videos, and I’m sure will be a regular around here.

3 Hours Past

Every day now, I wake up and look out over the trees outside my window and think to myself- Stephanie, now you really are 3 hours past the edge of the world!  Get back to blogging!  I did start an Instagram account, and it’s been a really fun way to keep in touch and share a little. I keep wanting to blog the way I used to before Cake Patterns took over my life- random thoughts, experiments, little projects, meditations in a quilt, design inspiration and art/fashion history.  But I wasn’t sure- can I do that?

Last week, I took Cake on the road and worked the Brisbane Quilt & Craft Show with Kylie from Voodoo Rabbit fabrics.  Every day, I talked to people about the sewing and taught hemming, v-neck binding, and buttonholes.  I caught up with friends in the bizz and old students, ooh’d and aaah’d over the Cake clothes proudly worn to the show.  I forgot how amazing it is to interact that way, the pure magic of putting a nifty technique into someone’s head and fingertips!  I missed that.  I missed you.

It’s time to blog again. I want to hear how you are, what you’re thinking about, and open up my creative universe like I used to.  You are all so inspiring and thought-provoking; your input always encourages me to dig deeper, try harder, and to see things from another perspective. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may find that 2014 changed me, but I hope you find it’s for the better.  I’m better.

This is my most recent project!  I brought this fabric home with me from the Show, I had to have it in my life.  I didn’t do anything special- folded the fabric in half with an invisible zip in one side, stitched the rest of it closed, and made tiny gusseted corners so it sits square.  Not too shabby for half an hours’ effort, I reckon.

Well, how are you?! What big things (or small ones) happened in your 2014? What was the last thing you stitched?

Finished Object: The Felted Sweater Tote

It’s fun to make a new thing out of a worthless old thing, in fact sometimes I suspect it’s more fun than starting with new materials for the challenge involved.  While I know better than to try making a silk purse from a pig’s ear (it simply doesn’t work…), I thought I’d try my hand at making a cute tote from a felted sweater like this one I saw a few weeks ago on Pinterest:

Click for source

As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to try it with a hand-knit alpaca sweater I felted several years ago.  I kept it because it hurt too much to let go of the hours spent knitting the fluffy worsted weight yarn into a sweater, not to mention the cost of the yarn.  The Inadvertent Farmer’s tote comes from a smaller gauge knitted sweater- this means the fabric is relatively fine.  This is the type of sweater often found in thrift stores.

Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto says “Are you listening?  The fabric has much to teach us.”  Indeed, as I followed the IF’s excellent construction outline for creating the tote, I realized she and I were working with very different felted sweaters.  While my fabric is thicker, it’s also less densely felted than the sweater used in her tutorial.  The cut edges of the fabric didn’t fray exactly, but they seemed less stable than the example sweater-tote.

I could have tossed the sweater into the washing machine for another round of felting.  Instead, I chose to fold under the raw edges and stitch them in place with some bright embroidery thread.  To me, the fabric looks rather “rustic,” and I thought the simple embroidery echoed that rough element.  Also, while I love the felted roses on IF’s bag, my own felt did not enjoy pretending to be roses.  In fact, it openly rebelled at the idea and I decided it was a battle not worth fighting.

I made two rows of “crafty” embroidery stitches in red before running out of that shade.  I try not to buy new materials for recycled projects, not even new embroidery thread.  The bag laid on my worktable in this state for a few days while I decided where to go next.  I try not to rush a textile recycling project, but wait for the inspiration to come.

Eventually I got sick of waiting around and stabbed another row of pink stitches around the tote’s opening and handles.  I like them, they’re rough and imperfect but not without their charm.  Just like the felted alpaca.  Though decorative, the stitches at these stress points helps stabilize the fabric and prevent it stretching ridiculously.  They reinforce the folded edge of the fabric.

The bag still looked a bit plain, so once again I dug around on Pinterest and turned up a cute felted bow project.  It’s all a bit “crafty” and kind of rough looking, but I don’t think it’s unpleasant.  I like this bow and made a few of them from regular felt, too…

But somehow, despite its charm and my pleasure at making something useful out of a failure, I’m not sure this bag and I belong together.  Look at me!  All bright colors, cool cottons, exposed knees, a bit of a Tropical Lady.  What do I need a fluffy, fuzzy tote for?  For that matter, what possessed me to spend countless hours knitting a worsted alpaca sweater when I live in a place that doesn’t even frost in the winter?

I’ll tell you- I knit this sweater my second summer here.  Yes, summer.  My brain overruled my senses and said “Stephanie!  It’s nearly Christmas- better start knitting something right now!”  So without considering the actual winter weather in my new climate, I knit a virtually unwearable sweater in the middle of the summer.  Yep.  Switching hemispheres is fun.  Even before I felted it, this sweater was doomed.  The winters here are so mild, I had a mid-winter tomato crop this year.

I suppose the sweater is better off as my knitting bag.  Not that I knit as much as I used to…

In case you were like me and the thought of turning a felted sweater into a handy tote never occurred to you, check out a few more nifty felted sweater bags I found:

Click for source.  With applique goodness, and different handle shape.

Click for source- not a tutorial, but nice blog nonetheless.

Click for source. This blogger has many examples, I like this messenger bag.

Click for source- etsy listing for the bag. Great idea though- of course! Use a favorite bag pattern to cut the new bag from the felted sweater. Of course!

Click for source- another way to tackle the re-construction work.

Click for source- one more way to reconstruct

Click for a great resource on selecting and felting sweaters for craft and sewing use.

Wow.  So repurposing felted sweaters as bags is definitely a thing, and doesn’t require sewing wizardry skills.  I like this especially because it seems to me most of us probably have a felted sweater lying around…  Isn’t it amazing that the same source of inspiration (sweater to bag) allows for such a variety of finished projects?

In the lead up to the holidays, I thought I’d work through my hoarded Pinterest craft projects and share my favorites with you.  Simple stuff, easy to make and gift or use as decorations. Christmas is a weird, weird time in Australia if you didn’t grow up with it. (Like the shop windows covered in paper snowflakes when it’s 100 degrees outside…)  Several years of working retail in a shopping mall at Christmas as a teenager forever ruined holiday gift-shopping for me, anyway.  This year I’ll try crafting my way through the Mad Times and we’ll see what happens!

..I’m also experimenting with a couple of ideas for decorating/cooking for a midsummer holiday (have you ever tried roasting a turkey in mid-summer?  It’s so gross, ditto for gingerbread… nuts…), so it’s bound to get a bit strange around here…

I’m also stitching some new things for Lila, finishing the Lonestar Burst quilt, and launching the new Sewing Cake site very very soon!  And I want to start sharing all the 1920’s swimwear ideas I’ve been playing with…

Life Cycle of a T-shirt- Building a Refashion Stash

Recently I set myself the task of clearing out all my worn and semi-worn clothes to decide what to keep and what to cull.  It’s one of those tasks I avoid, preferring to stuff the undesirables into any space they’ll fit and ignoring them.  It’s hard to face an old project that doesn’t work for any of several reasons- wrong color, weird fit, a design experiment gone wrong or an unfortunate fabric choice.  And even worse- the clothes that are just fine but never get worn.  How to let go?  As I worked my way through the pile of unwearables, I couldn’t help but think about Sarai’s post about “Killing Your Darlings.”

I certainly felt like I killed a whole laundry load of darlings when my whites came out of a wash dyed an implacable shade of pepto-bismal pink.  (Yep, I’m still gutted about that and don’t care if it’s silly.)  I stuffed them into a bottom drawer, and every now and then I’d peek at them regretfully.  I tried everything known to man to change them white again, and I can also say without reservation that several months in a drawer will not restore whites to their proper color.

Spurred by the challenge I set myself for Frosting Fortnight to find and cull my “Unworns,” I dyed my ugly whites purple.  Why not?  At least purple is a color, right?

As soon as I pulled the whites-gone-pinks-gone-purples out of the washing machine, I knew there was no way I’d wear them.  Ever.  I’m not saying purple lace insertion is a bad look, it’s just not me.  I gamely squared off the shirts for rags, but before I relegated them to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, Lila expressed her delight in their color.  The monkey liked a bit of lace lying around, too.

What can I make for a little girl from large squares of purple jersey in less than half an hour?  Pillows!  I finished squaring off my ruined favorite tops, put a little pink lining fabric culled from another Unworn behind it, and together Lila and I stitched them into little pillows.  So far they’ve been used for sleeping, as extra walls for her dollhouse, as lilypads, and as weapons in a giggly pillow fight.  I count that as a win.

Once I got honest with myself about what I wear and what I don’t, I had a nice big pile of garments.  The guilt!  Oh, the guilt… I hesitated over this skirt for quite some time.  It’s a plain and simple 6-gore from a 50’s suit pattern, nicely made from a medium weight hemp fabric that shows almost no signs of wear though I wore it constantly for years.  I like the way it looks on my body, the way it feels and the many small and unnecessary details stitched into her.   I like everything about this skirt but my lifestyle does not realistically permit me to wear such things anymore.  I haven’t worn her for over a year.

Once I started ripping out the zipper and findings, I realized something about the magic of sewing.  I’ve always loved the process of taking a length of fabric, some thread and various notions and rendering them into a garment that was more than the sum of its parts.  Yet as I stripped down a favorite skirt, I saw myself doing the same thing in reverse.  Fabric becomes a garment, and a garment becomes fabric.  It’s really easy to look at a skirt and only see the object.  But if I reduce that skirt to a flat piece of fabric and some notions, then I can stitch a new garment from old-but still lively- cloth.

That purple hemp…. Dear me… I’ll find a use for it, the fabric is good. And I’m way, way impressed that my Shisha mirror embroidery stood up to a summer of constant wear, washing, and dyeing. Well done, embroidery.

When I “ripped” this skirt, I only ripped one seam and removed the waistband and notions.  I did this for several skirts I don’t wear- reduced them to a single flat piece of fabric.  Now I have several pieces of linen, hemp, and cotton canvas I can remake into anything I want.  For free.  Completely free- reclaimed fabric is a “pass” in my book.  I have the idea these fabrics will become summer shorts, maybe an industrial seamed skirt or tote bags- we’ll see.  The next project will carry the seams from the previous garment, but I like that.  It’s a history, a reincarnation.

There were so many buttons… And I liked all of them! Imagine that…

Reclaiming my mis-placed sewing materials is definitely not very interesting or sexy, but it didn’t take much time once I started.  When I finished, I had “new” lace and buttons and zippers and hooks and bars to add to my stash.  I can always use more of those things.  And I have more closet space, less clutter, and several pieces of free pass fabric.

I’ve had a few questions from some of you about how to refashion.  I don’t know.  I honestly, really don’t know how to answer that question.  I think the main thing is to remember that a skirt isn’t just a skirt (it’s also a piece of fabric).  Also remember to allow a little serendipity into the process- like making a set of purple lace throw pillows for a little girl.  I doubt I’d come up with that as a project even if I sat and thought for years, but in the moment it seemed like a great idea.  She loves her new pillows and we had a great time sewing and stuffing them.

It’s really satisfying to re-use old projects and I’m challenging myself to continue to re-make, re-fashion or discard Unworns.  In fact, I want to feature little refashioning projects regularly.  Next week’s re-make:

click for “source.” If you know the real source, please let me know so I can update the links.

How great is this little tote made from a felted sweater?  Yeah, I have one of those… Handknit, alpaca… And now I know what to do with it!  I wonder if little bows would be as charming as the roses?

Besides rags, charity donations, and fabric reclamation, what other ways do you deal with Unworns?  Trash?  Do you have a clever or satisfying “life-cycle” story to tell?

Next time: deep, dark wardrobe secrets.  Maybe with zombies or vampires, something nice and festive, anyway…

Sourcing Eco-Knits Online

I found this photo while looking at a Vegan Mattress site. Very interesting.  Click for source.

It’s quite hard to list online fabric stores- there’s so many!  I’m focusing on eco-knits; many of these online shops also offer gorgeous wovens.  You can even get organic cotton quilting cotton these days!  Eco-knits is a somewhat smaller category…

I like green fabrics.  I like them for the appeal of working with sustainable/ethical fabrics, and I like the way they perform.  Many of you ask me where I get my fabrics- especially the knits.  The Fabric Store opened up last year in Brisbane and I’ve hardly bought online since then.  Unfortunately, TFS don’t have an online shop.

However, I’ve been scouring the internet for the best eco-knits I can find!  When I first started working with hemp and organic cotton a few years ago, I could hardly find anything that wasn’t off-white.  Now we have a much greater choice of colors, finishes and prints!  These retailers are scattered over three continents, and wherever applicable I note if I’ve ordered from that company.

Even after a week of digging around, I’m sure I missed something great, so if you know another source for eco-knit fabric, please leave a link in the comments!

Organic Cotton- grown without harsh chemicals, softer fiber

Organic cotton doesn’t wear the same as regular cotton.  They’re almost different fibers altogether!  I find organic cottons become extremely soft with age, and wear well.  I find I don’t mind a whiff of spandex or lycra in the fiber, 5% or less will give the fabric greater recovery and wrinkle resistance.

Edited to Add:

Organic Cotton Knits, Hart’s Fabrics, United States

Organic Cotton, Mood Fabrics, Los Angeles- They also have a large range of organic cotton twills!

Organic Cotton Jersey,, United States.  I have ordered from many times, and while the shipping is steep the service and fabrics leave nothing to be desired.

Organic cotton interlock,, United States

Organic Cotton Sweatshirt Fleece,, United States. has a pretty large range of eco-fabrics, and they’re constantly updating.  I have always been satisfied with their customer service.  Once they sent me the wrong colors of jersey and rather than lump the shipping costs for their mistake, let me keep the wrong colors and sent me what I originally ordered.

Organic Cotton Jersey,, Australia.  These prints are gorgeous, designed and screen-printed in Australia. The price reflects this.  The plains are comparable to what I’d pay in a bricks and mortar shop.

Organic Cotton Interlock,, Australia.

Organic Cotton Stripe, Near Sea Naturals, United States.  I have ordered from them several times in the past and have no complaints.  They’re one of the first online sources of hemp and organic cotton I located, and the variety of fabrics they carry is unparalleled.  I had a hard time choosing just one stripe to feature!  Their prices are quite decent, too. This striped jersey costs $16/yd.

Printed Organic Cotton Interlock, Near Sea Naturals, United States.

Organic Cotton Thermal Knit, Near Sea Naturals, United States

Printed Organic Cotton Interlock, PM Organics, United States

Organic Cotton Sweater Rib Knit, PM Organics, United States

Organic Cotton/Soy, Sew Mama Sew!, United States.

Organic Cotton Interlock, Harmony Art Fabrics, wholesaler.  They have a beautiful site with well-chosen coordinate suggestions, and a great list of retailers who carry their fabrics!

Organic Cotton Plus carries a nice range of undyed organic cotton knits, and is based in the United States.

Hemp- grows quickly, revives tired crop soil

While I enjoy sewing and wearing hemp fabric for a raft of reasons, hemp knit fabric is harder to come by.  I’ve noticed more and more types of hemp knits in recent years, but the colors are usually quite limited.  Also, I find that hemp knits feel curiously “gritty” at first until the fabric softens with washing.

Hemp smells like linen.  Except stronger.  I really like that.

Hemp stretch, Margaret River Hemp Company, Western Australia.  I have ordered from them several times, they’re a great supplier even though the colors are limited.

Various Undyed Hemp Stretch Fabrics (check out the sweater knit!), Hemp Traders, United States.

Hemp and Soy and Milk knits, Hart’s Fabrics, United States.

Hemp/Organic Cotton Printed Jersey, Pickering International, United States.  This is a wholesaler, but their range of knit eco fabrics gives me hopes for some great new fabrics that might show up in shops online and off!

Many, if not most fabric stores want to provide their customers with the fabrics the customer desires.  Don’t be afraid to politely request eco-knits- the shop owner won’t know someone wants these fabrics unless you tell them!

Hemp Fabric UK also stocks a range of undyed hemp and organic cottons.

Linen- Ancient fiber, de facto organic

From what I unearthed when I looked into the linen-making process, as well as from ongoing reading on the topic, I consider linen an “eco” fiber.  Part of this is due to the relatively low-impact method of farming and processing, and part of this is due to linen’s “endurability.”  This fiber ages extremely well and lasts forever.

Linen jersey, Mood Fabrics, Los Angeles.

For your interest, check out a thread on laundering and cutting linen jersey at Artisan’s Square.  This is not an endorsement of the thread, I think they may perhaps be a bit precious about it all.  My own experience with linen jersey is that it does fluff and shed in the wash, but I expected that from the moment I clapped eyes on it.  The jersey I worked with that shed lint looked like it would shed, like a close-cropped angora.

The linen-cotton slub knits I’ve worked with did not shed.

“Skewed” knits are usually caused by bad cutting in the factory, simply open out the fabric and cut the pieces singly.

85% Polyeter, 15% Linen, Fabric Mart, United States.  I only mention this fabric because I simply can’t find any other linen jersey for sale online, and I won’t link.  Why someone would mix this much polyester with linen escapes me.  Linen jersey doesn’t really wrinkle.  Linen fibers are tough and strong.  They take dye and abuse very well.  Adulterating the fibers with polyester would severely alter the nature of the linen, its breathability, its scent, the drape.  Polyester is also not good for our water.

Edited to Add:

100% Linen jersey, Hart’s Fabrics, United States- wow!  They have such a great range!

Ali Baba has a truly maddening variety of wholesale linen jersey, but I just can’t buy 400kg at once!

Tips for Handling Linen Fabric (this is exactly how I prep my linen jerseys, too.  None too gently.)

Tencel- Rayon made in a “closed loop” process

I haven’t had a chance to play with a Tencel knit yet, but I see them more and more when I go to The Fabric Store, often blended with other fibers.  Tencel is basically a rayon that’s produced cleanly and sustainably.

Tencel-Organic Cotton Rib Knit, PM Organics, United States

Peace Silk- Wild silk, violence-free silk.  Carded and spun, not reeled.

Peace silk larvae are permitted to leave their cocoons before the silk fibers are harvested.  Many peace silk operations also support local artisans, organic farming practices, and good labor ethics.  I wrote about peace silk here, and you can read more at Aurora silk.  The silk produced this way is more of a “utility” silk than a “precious, precious” silk, and it wears very tough.

Noil silk knit, Aurora Silks, United States

My Tips for handling Silk Fabric

Bamboo/Soy- Generally inferior for durability

This is not my favorite fiber, but it’s not terrible either.  I find it tends to pill or get “fuzzy,” the fabric likes to grow, and lightweight bamboo can be somewhat tempermental.  That said, it drapes beautifully and feels great against the skin.

Bamboo Jersey, Mood Fabrics, Los Angeles

Bamboo, organic cotton, and soy jerseys, British Made Eco, UK

Bamboo rayon,, United States

Bamboo/organic cotton,, Australia

The Bamboo Fabric Store, Australia

More resources:

List of UK-based Organic/Eco Fabric Stores

German-Based Eco Fabrics

Another German-Based Eco Fabrics Store

Enormous database of fabric stores worldwide

Eco-fabrics have come a long way in the past few years, and I hope in the future we’ll have even greater variety for our sewing!  The way to make that happen is to ask for it.  Most shops, especially fabric shops, want to make their customers very happy.

Whew! Have you ever sewn with any of these fabrics, or ordered from these retailers?  What did you think?  How gorgeous is that last organic cotton print?  Wow.  Am I too hard on polyester?  I think I want to go pick up some of that organic cotton twill for Stephen’s summer workwear now…

Flax, Linen And Sustainability

Strawberry Alarm Clock Trousers- my latest linen project

I like linen.  I really, really like linen.  It’s cool, it’s soft, easy to wash and yes it wrinkles until it’s worn in but I prefer to think of it as genteel rumpling.  It’s a small price to pay for the comfort of wearing linen fabric.  (Pressing?  Why bother, unless I’m dressing for a professional setting?  I see bare chests, bare feet and all kinds of underwear every time I leave my house so I figure my rumples are just fine.)

flax field in bloom

Linen comes from the flax plant, which is one of the oldest crops grown by mankind.  The process of growing flax and turning it into fabric hasn’t changed much in the past several thousand years.  I want to take a quick look at three facets of sustainability- farming, production into fabric, and durability.  Linen has a rich history and social lore, not to mention laundering and sewing quirks but for today I’m focusing only on linen and sustainability.


In general, the flax plant grows best in cool, damp conditions and does well on relatively poor soil.  Worldwide, flax is grown on 12 million acres of farmland.  Russia cultivates the majority of flax, though flax production is gaining in popularity in Asia.

Obviously, farming practices vary greatly from country to country but by and large flax doesn’t need much.  Rust, wilt and fugus used to plague flax crops until disease and fungus resistant strains of flax were developed.  Pests are usually interested in flax, even without pesticides.  Flax requires a small fraction of the water a similar field of cotton would require, and uses very little (if any) fertilizer.

In fact, I discovered this little fact in my wanderings:

“Flax thrives on poor soil…in fact, it reacts to overdoses of fertilizer by producing fibers of reduced quality.”

For farming practices, I give flax a B/B+.  Not too shabby.

Production: Harvesting, Retting, Breaking and Scutching

Click to visit Joybilee Farm, where fiber artists grow their own medium. Neat!

Traditionally, the flax plants were hand-pulled from the field when mature.  Flax is a bast fiber, meaning the threads or fibers used to make fabric run the entire length of the stem.  Pulling ensures the longest possible threads, or staples.  Longer staples mean a stronger, higher-quality fabric.

Some farms mow the flax plants which leaves stubble.  That’s how they do it in South Carolina, but harvesting practices vary wildly.  Pulling machines have mostly replaced hand-pulling when the plant is not mown.

Retting in a Welsh field, c. 1914

Once the plants are pulled, the flax stems must be “retted.”  Again, the process varies somewhat but basically the stems lie on the ground for days or weeks and the tough outer stems rot away.   From what I can find, this is the same process used today to free the linen fibers, though some production methods involve steaming the stems rather than rotting them. 

Once that’s done, we can break, scutch and comb!  That’s when the slimy, softened stems are beaten to release the soft linen fibers.  That’s it.  No complicated chemistry, no chemical mediums.  Just pound it and comb out the fibers.  The modern process is the same, though it’s performed by large machines rather than a human arm.  I found a delightful series of Youtube videos on the process made by a living historian that illustrate the process well.  Rad.

For lack of chemicals used in processing and because every part of the plant is used industrially, I give linen an A for production sustainability.

Durability: Linen Lasts and Lasts

Durability is an important consideration for anyone interested in textile sustainability.  It’s simple- if you make a garment that lasts and lasts, you will need to replace it less often, which reduces consumption.

Linen is the strongest vegetable fiber, 2-3 times stronger than cotton.  I sew with linen find my linen clothes last and last and last through continual washing and wearing.   In four years of sewing with linen, I have yet to retire a linen garment.  For millennium, it was the everyday workhorse fabric from prince to peasant- for a reason.   Linen works hard.

I mean- the linen wrappings of mummies survive to the modern day.  I don’t expect my Strawberry Alarm Clock pants to last for 3000 years, but it does inspire confidence in the fiber.

For durability (not to mention comfort), linen ranks high with me.  Based on my own personal experience with linen’s durability, I rank it an A-/B+.

In my book, linen is second only to hemp for sustainability goodness.

All in all, whether linen carries an “organic” tag or not, it ranks pretty high in terms of sustainability.  In fact, commercially grown linen seems so close to organic that I’m not sure adding the tag “organic” to linen means much except a hike in the pricing.

It also has gorgeous drape, takes dye easily and develops a soft luster over time.  It’s easy to sew, feels delicious next to the skin, and lasts for years and years.  What’s not to love?

Click here to check out a huge range of linen from most online fabric retailers in one place.  I didn’t realize that amazon does that, but it’s way simpler than trotting around all over the internet.

To fill in the details on flax and linen production, follow the links.  You can also check out these other sources:

Agricultural Marketing Resource Center– A very long list of very detailed aspects of flax and linen production.

Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical– With information on a variety of other fibers.

New York Fashion Center

Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute- Detailed overview of flax as a crop.

The Dirty Secret Behind Synthetic Fabrics

Click to see a fairly good, if fabric-advertisement-ridden, assessment of various fibers- how they're produced and their properties.

I’m no fan of synthetic fabrics.  They’re joyless textiles.  I hate the feeling of synthetic fabrics in my hands, and the scent of pressed polyester makes me ill.  Silk, cotton, linen, hemp, wool, cashmere and tencel all have particular pleasant scents but synthetics reek and ruin my sewing experience.  They don’t press reliably, and inhibit the sewing. (tried gathering on polyester wovens, anyone?  Ick.)  Besides, I find synthetics don’t look nice as long as naturals.  They pill and wear more quickly, and many synthetics become “plasticky” over time.

My ears pricked up when I heard about a study on the news that directly links synthetic fabrics to ocean pollution:

“A new study looking at plastic in the marine environment has made a surprising discovery… The scientists found that the water in washing machines…is full of tiny particles of plastic. They calculated that every time you wash a synthetic shirt… around 2,000 microparticles of plastic are released.” 

That’s not a lot per shirt, but it’s constant and unrelenting- I wonder how many shirts of synthetic fibers are washed every day?  The microparticles make their way to bodies of water and eventually the ocean, where they make their way into the food chain.  So what?  The news story doesn’t point out the main problem with (micro)plastic pollution: (quoted from the New York Times)

“PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat.

The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.”

Beach in Romania

So microparticles soaked in whatever toxins they wash through become absorbed into the bloodstreams of marine animals and potentially end up in our own bodies.   That’s the circle of life, folks…

Sometimes when I hear stories like this, I feel overwhelmed.  What can I do?  Why is every aspect of “modern” life excessively poisonous?  Is there any possible way we can reverse or heal the damage that has been done?  Will my daughter be able to eat fish when she’s my age, or will they be too toxic?

I keep my eyes and ears open for stories like these.  If nothing else, it justifies my dislike of synthetic textiles.  I suppose all I can do is continue to stay aware of the world around me, and pay attention to innovative ways of dealing with the toxic plastic pollution curse:

This is a new kind of housing being developed in Nigeria.  Builders pay young men to pick up plastic bottles and fill them with dirt- which keeps the young men out of trouble and cleans the streets.  The buildings are bullet proof, earthquake resistant and the dirt and plastic insulates the houses well and cheaply.  This is the flip side of plastic pollution- innovation, invention, making do with what’s to hand.

Difficult circumstances can bring out latent creativity in people.  How interesting, how curious, to think that in the future people may live in houses made of our parents’, grandparents’ and our own rubbish.  In fact, we may have no other choice.  Make Do and Mend.

At least I won’t be wearing polyester when that happens.

What good, interesting, big and small ways to re-use garbage have you run across lately?  What are your thoughts on the synthetic fabric issue?  It is just one more damaging thing we can’t help, or another reason to eschew synthetic fabrics?  Or both?

(I know I said I’d make a post on necklines, and I will!  I just wanted to share this, I thought it was interesting.)

(Thanks for all your kind words about the Sisters of Edwardia blouse. I’m at work on another one- see my header. I still need a tester in size 50 or 55- so if you’d like to play please email me.)

Pattern Tracing and Composting

Do you trace your patterns?

I do, and figured most other people do, but I’ve seen some anti-tracing chatter lately on discussion boards and wondered…  I trace primarily to preserve vintage patterns and also to preserve a “master” pattern. That said, I use original paper patterns for one-size patterns, craft stuff, and occasionally because I’m too damn lazy to trace it off.

I’ve spent the past several months awash in a sea of polytrace pattern drafting medium.  Sometimes scraps of polytrace collect in drifts on the floor while I’m working.   I use it as frugally as possible, but I still work through a large amount of it.

This is not my compost bin, but mine looks almost identical. It cut our trash output almost in half and sweetens the garden.

I feel guilty.  Green-guilty.  To me, it’s a glaring example of a simple way to reduce waste in my life.  I can’t compost or recycle polytrace- it’s like a very very thin polyester felt.  So I throw it away.  Piles of it.  That gets it off my floor, but it’s still my waste and still “out there.”  I tend not to waste time feeling guilty about these things.  Instead, I look for ways to change my habits.  I’ve spent the past several weeks looking for a more compostable alternative, but so far I’m coming up with very little indeed.

The best alternative I’ve been able to find is something called WhiteTrace, which is a translucent, durable type of tissue paper used by architects, artists, and other drafters.  The widest roll is 36″ wide, and I’m accustomed to 56″ wide.  I suppose it isn’t a huge problem, but it does give me pause.  I also pause because I can only buy it in 50 yd rolls.  It works out cheaper than the polytrace in the long run, but it’s more than I *want* to pay all at once.

Of course, the most “sustainable” option would be to learn to draft electronically, but I don’t have a clue where to start with that.  Besides, I enjoy using paper, pens, ruler and templates.

So I’d like to know- what do you use to make patterns or trace vintage patterns or designs from Burda? Is it translucent?  Is it wide?  Is it cheap?  Where can I get some?

(By the way, until I posted yesterday I had no idea the Lorax movie was coming out so soon.  I had heard about the petition to include the words “I speak for the trees!”  Hooray for being clueless!  Also, it occurs to me now that I should have painted him orange.  Of course.  Right now the fifth layer of lime paint is curing well. )

(Also- I know I promised the Bow Tie Tee Hack today, but class ran a little longer than I expected, I’m exhausted and behind schedule.  I’ll have the hack up tomorrow for sure, and I’ll be looking for a few pattern testers, too.  And I should have time for the lilac-and-pale-blue-dress version tomorrow.  Whee!)

Fabric, Durability and “Home-Made” Garments

I saw a great post by Zoe at “So, Zo…What Do You Know?” on mass-produced vs. home made clothing.  She’s taking back the term “home-made”:

“Many suppliers are fully aware, but do not care, that the garments they produce will not retain anything like their original appearance five or ten washes later. Most home sewers, by contrast, go out of their way to pick good quality fabric to invest their sewing time and effort into for a final garment (as opposed to a toile/muslin).”

Yes!  One of my top reasons for sewing is for economy.  I tend to use high quality fabrics, especially for “staple” garments.An example- Basic Black Skirt

I made this skirt over a year ago.  Aside from routine mending it’s still a wardrobe staple.  I used black bottom weight linen, an invisible zipper and a closely woven cotton voile to line it.

At the time I spent more than usual on fabric.  I knew I was making a basic piece that would work with most of my wardrobe and I knew I would use durable construction techniques so I splashed out.  (Even then, it cost roughly what I would spend on a generic “black skirt” if I could find one.)

The linen lost its “crisp” but aged well.  The fabric has a gentle luster, smooth and cool to the touch.  Rather than creasing sharply, it tends to rumple.  I learned how much I enjoy wearing linen from wearing this skirt.

When picking fabric, I test for a few things:

  • thread count- as a general rule, a tighter woven fabric with a higher thread count works well for shirts and bottoms and some dresses.  Often, it will wear harder than “looser” fabrics with larger threads or more space between the threads.
  • texture- some fabrics have texture woven into them- waffle weave or boucle.  Often, highly textured fabrics don’t wrinkle as much as others.  I like to rub those textures between my fingers before buying.  “Harder” textures that don’t separate tend to last longer than “smooshier,” though not always.
  • weave- Twill wins in my book for durability.  The weave actually hides and repels stains, which is why it’s popular for work clothes and upholstery.  Many types and weights of fabric come in a twill weave.

Bottom Line: The longer I can wear a garment, the less time and money I spend replacing holes in my wardrobe.  Instead, I can focus on a little “slow sewing.”  As I continue to sew for myself, I seek out new ways to extend the life of the garments I create.  That begins with fabric selection.

How do you make your clothes?  Do you have any durability or quality control tips to share?

(I’m trying the salt and lemon on my rust stain after reading Heather’s scientific breakdown.  Many, many thanks for all the tips and advice on what to do about the Jasmine Dress.  I’ll try them all if I have to!)

I found these African White Irises in a corner of an abandoned lot today and wanted to share them.  I never saw irises like these before!

Summer Wardrobe 2011- Phase 1

(Tops to the left, bottoms to the right.)

I assembled the fabrics for my summer wardrobe today.  Some came from my stash.  Earlier this year I decided to quit buying fabric and sew down what I had.  Like any sewist, I had many odd pieces of “What was I thinking?” fabric, as well as basics.  Most of that is gone now.   I did buy some fabric while going through this “de-stash” but it was always for a particular purpose.  That taught me to buy fabric with a precise plan for its use.  That meant I said “no” to more fabrics than I care to count.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

Some of my fabrics were generously cut, so I can use the extras to make “free” simple pants and sun-tops for Lila, though she and I have very different coloring so we can share few fabrics.

That’s a large amount of recalcitrant hemp to the left, from stash.  It’s actually a bright optic white.  I like hemp, both the ethics and the wearing, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this fabric.  It’s a medium weight, rather stiff though I know it will soften over time.

This is the skirt from Vogue 1172.  It’s basically a 4-gore skirt with the CB and CF seams eliminated, and 1/4 circle gores placed at each side front and back area.  I’m working with a client on a dress made from this pattern, and it seems to me the structural cut of the skirt calls for the hemp.  It will require a serious waistband.  I’d like this to be long-ish and I would wear it without a petticoat.  (I think…)  I may also start the gores at my hipline (just above?  just below?) rather than at my waist.

The red fabric above is linen, intended for another pair of Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing trousers.  I’ve been dying to make a red version of them for about a year.  When an idea won’t leave me alone, I know I should acquiesce and be done with it.

The guipure above with some flocked cheesecloth will make a blouse much like the white blouse on the pattern envelope, sans bow.   I’m working out the engineering to cut the yoke all in one piece.  If I cut the guipure carefully, I’ll have a lovely scalloped edge with no loose threads or hemming.   I’m excited to be playing with such a fine piece of lace, which I picked up for a song at a sale.  If you ever see guipure at 1/4 the original price, snap it up.  This is one of the prettiest fabrics I’ve ever handled.

100% cotton seersucker, perfect for steamy summers.  This will be a version of one of my favorite patterns, though I want to alter it to button up the back.

I may also draft a slightly more daring keyhole at the neck.  I own this pattern but lazily borrowed the image from vintage pattern wiki.  Doesn’t the model look like she has a mustache?

The top is a fine batik cotton, don’t you love the print?  The middle is a cotton shirting with woven stripes,  previously intended for a pleated shirt until I changed my mind.   The third is a micro-houndstooth pink and red from the Sophie range. (I bought the last of it.)  I have enough extra to make a sun shirt for my girlie.  I don’t yet have precise plans for these three.  Sleeveless shells most likely (great under my newest sun jacket), taking inspiration from elements of these lovely patterns:

I want to keep them simple, no more than a few hours’ sewing.  Once I sew the “must” pieces, I’ll know better what should be done with these simple tops.  Most likely a lot of back-buttons, and I’d like to have some sort of backwards collar like the third from the left on the bottom.  At the same time, I want the print of the fabrics to do all the talking, rather than fussy details.  We’ll see.

The aqua is a lightweight cotton voile.  I think it will be a simple floaty skirt, perhaps with a scallop hem.  I saw a girl wearing a similar skirt the other day, middie length.  It was both simple and fetching.  The dark blue is a yet-to-be-blogged corduroy pencil skirt with architectural lines that I’m hoping I can still wear over the summer.

What about that Umpire fabric?  It’s a cotton interlock.  The other white woven fabric is a tencel/linen blend.  Together they will (probably) make this, one of my favorite outfits from Casablanca:

I want to use a half-circle skirt for the bottom, though I think hers is a slim 40’s gored skirt.  I’m toying with the idea of making the top button into the waistband of the skirt, so I have the options of pinafore/jumper and skirt.  I think the red shells especially will look well with this.

That’s more white than I usually wear.  Last summer, I made a few white blouses and discovered I like wearing white.  It POPS in the bright summer sun, and it’s relatively easy to care for.  The sun bleaches my whites to dazzling purity without chemicals (or effort).

This type of planning helps my sewing progress, as I know that my pieces (should) all look well together.  If I have a season of sewing this-n-that like I did this past winter, I don’t sew.

I’m a little iffy on the black and white knit, but I figure it will look ok with the bottoms, or at least look interesting.  I’m happy with the red(dish) tops and the red linen pants, and I’m really digging blues and reds together lately.  I’m aiming for clean simplicity while avoiding both boredom and fussiness.  Something like that.

Deadlines are helpful, so let’s shoot for Thanksgiving.

I’d be pleased to hear any thoughts or advice, from those who are facing the beginning of summer (and what to wear) and from those who are just finishing their own hot time of year.

Magical Breakfast Cream- Notes on Self-Experimentation

Magical Breakfast Cream with jars of home made yogurt

I like food.  Cooking and baking from scratch offers the same satisfaction as sewing my own clothing.  I can customize, experiment, tweak, and I constantly look for ways to create more nutritious, delectable foods.  It doesn’t always work out, but my husband is a very understanding man.  He once ate carrot gravy, without a sniffle.

The last few months, however, I’ve found myself listlessly making the same cheap meals repeatedly, bored by the menus and restricted by careful budgeting.  I thought to try going on the Ration- eating the same restricted diets Brits ate during WW2.  I kept close tabs on our food consumption for a few weeks and came to the conclusion we eat less fat, less meat, and more vegetables than those on the Ration.

So much for that idea.

I found Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat at the Library and took it home, expecting a cookbook.  Mireille breaks down traditional French ideas regarding food, and explains how to apply that to your daily cooking/eating.  She expounds portion control, eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, and preparing balanced meals while allowing yourself the pleasure of delicious and sometimes fattening foods. Of course, the book has recipes, but I find the philosophies of food much more inspiring.

One tenet in particular caught my attention- no multi-tasking while eating.  She outlines how to sit at a table and only eat, allowing yourself to savor the textures and flavors of your food.  No standing up, no TV, no blogging.  In the same vein, she discusses the importance of presentation for heightening the enjoyment of your meal.  Mireille asks “Would you rather wash extra dishes or be fat?” and I had to laugh.   While it’s primarily a health/weight-related book, I’m finding I enjoy cooking and eating again.

First, I tried Magical Breakfast Cream.  I don’t usually love plain yogurt, but now look forward to this every morning, and sometimes make it as a snack.


    NUT & CEREAL MIX (enough for 7 days)

  • 1/2 cup (1-1/2 ounces) toasted walnuts
  • 2 cups (4 ounces) Original Shredded Wheat or other sugarless cereal

  • 1/2 cup (3 ounces) 0% or 2% Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • scant 3 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) Nut & Cereal Mix
  • Juice & pulp of half a lemon or orange (my favorite)

In a small food processor, grind the walnuts and cereal. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate.
To serve, spoon the yogurt into an individual serving bowl. Stir in the oil first, then the honey, creating a lighter, slightly sweeter yogurt. Top with the Nut & Cereal Mix, sprinkle the lemon juice over top, then stir it all up. Serve and savor, one small bite at a time.

I use oat bran, walnuts, no oil (though I have a flask of flaxseed oil to use), and oranges.  After three weeks of eating this and cutting down on two “baddies,” I feel lovely.  I’m full until lunch time, too.  My measurements are finally back to pre-holiday (way back before Thanksgiving) and some of my more recently made garments need taking in.  

But mostly, it’s really delicious and I had to share the recipe.   My husband (son of a cheese-maker) learned to make my yogurt from milk.  This means less packaging, and less expense as milk is cheaper than yogurt.  I might persuade him to guest-post on yogurt making…