Tailor’s Ham and Sleeve Roll

Apart from my sewing machine, my iron is the most useful item I have when it comes to producing a decent finish in a garment.  Some very strange looking seams suddenly look perfect once ironed and a quick press somehow makes seams match up when they didn’t before.  But sometimes it is just so fiddly to iron curves and sleeves on a flat ironing board and if I had a mind to steam shrink shoulder seams to fit (up to this point I really haven’t felt the need) it would be impossible with only an ironing board.  I used to have a tailor’s ham and a sleeve board which came with an old ironing board but they vanished a long time ago.  No idea what happens to these things.

About a year ago I tried looking for new ones.  Apparently they seem to only be made in tartan which wasn’t really the look I was going for, so I ended up making myself a tailor’s ham and a sleeve roll and they have proved invaluable.  They cost next to nothing.  Actually, they did cost nothing. The inner linings were made from scraps of material (old calico left over from toile making) from my cupboard, the outer covers were left over bits of cushion fabric and the stuffing was some sawdust which I had in my shed for the chickens’ bedding.

So here is a really, really easy way to make a tailor’s ham and a sleeve roll for yourself.

The pattern pieces are at the end of this post.  Apologies for the hand drawn, rustic, faded quality.  Print up the pattern pieces to the size you want, each of my pieces fitted onto an A4 piece of paper.  Glue or tape the pieces together.  There is about a 1 cm seam allowance.  Cut out the fabric and lining and place each lining piece on the corresponding main fabric piece and treat each section as one piece of fabric.

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For the sleeve roll, fold the fabric, which you have backed with lining, in half longways with right sides together.  Sew all along the side leaving about a 10 cm gap in the middle for stuffing.

For the tailor’s ham, place the two main pieces, which you have backed with lining, right sides together and start sewing 1 cm from the bottom corner and continue up to the top and down the other side until you get 1 cm from the bottom corner.  Then pin and sew the bottom piece, which you have backed with lining, to the lower edges of the ham leaving about a 10 cm gap for stuffing.

For both the sleeve roll and the tailor’s ham, stuff very full with sawdust.  It is helpful to have something like the handle of a wooden spoon to push the sawdust down because you need to get as much sawdust in as possible.  When you really can’t get any more in, pin the gaps closed and hand sew together with extra strong thread.  It’s best to sew one way, fasten off the thread, and then sew back the other way as this seam will be put under a lot of pressure.

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Next week I hope to start a series on hemming; two hems a week.  Most of us have one or two hemming techniques that we fall back on time and time again and we never look into other ways that might produce a better result.   I aim to show you a machine hem and a hand stitch hem a week.

Solar Dyeing

I have always been intrigued by using things from the garden and recycling things you would normally just throw away.  My garden is not large enough to live off, a small holding would suit me better – maybe one day.  A couple of years ago I started researching natural dyes and had a few (unsuccessful) attempts at dyeing wool on my stove.  I say unsuccessful but had I been aiming for a dark grey then I could say I achieved my goal but I was not aiming for grey, dark for otherwise!  It was also quite labour intensive and probably used a lot of electricity as well.  So a few weeks ago when we were clearing out the attic I found my old aquarium and thought it would be ideal for a solar oven and while I was online looking for ideas on how to do that, I noticed a lot of people were using old jars, which seemed a lot easier and meant I could get started straight away.   The aquarium will still be useful for larger items.  Further research is called for, but for now it is quite happy sitting on the patio.

From my previous attempts at dyeing wool in a large saucepan on the stove I found the dye material was difficult to remove from the dye and got stuck to the wool.  This time I have chopped up my dye material, put it in a net laundry bag in the jar with hot water and left it in the sun for a few weeks.  When the dye is ready the bag can just be removed and emptied.  I have decided against dyeing wool at the moment (I probably have enough yarn in my stash to last about two years) but thought it would make a nice change to have some naturally dyed fabrics to sew with.  I make my own clothes to have something different to everyone else but then I buy the same commercially dyed fabrics that everyone else has.   Due to the unpredictability of natural dyes each batch will be unique.

I decided to get going with four dyes from things I had in the house and garden.  Spinach leaves for a yellow/green colour, plum skins for a deep pink/purple, avocado skins and stones for a pale pink, and black beans for a blue.

Then a late frost was forecast so I brought them inside for a couple of days.

It has become apparent that the black beans are not producing any dye colour, so I’m going to discard that one and either try again or find a different dye material entirely.

Meanwhile, I have dyed some cotton fabric on my stove top using turmeric for some almost instant results. Turmeric does not require a mordant and is good for dyeing plant material like cotton (apparently).  I soaked the cotton fabric for a few hours.  I mixed the turmeric powder (a whole jar) with a small amount of water to make a paste then added it to a large saucepan with enough water to cover my fabric and simmered it for an hour.  Then I put my fabric in the dye, simmered it for another hour and then left it to stand for the rest of the day.

OK, so this was not a total success.  I could say this was the effect I was going for but I would be lying!

In the pot it looked a lovely deep orange and when I rinsed it out (several times until the water went clear) it still looked a lovely deep orange.

So far, so good.  Except that it did smell very spicy, so I gave it a cool machine wash with my Ecover non bio and…

…not orange!  So, I probably won’t be making a fabulous garment from this, but it might be useful for quilting – or I might just re-dye it!  I’ll probably re-dye it.

I should be able to do this.  People have been dyeing wool and fabric for thousands of years.   After more research, I decided to buy Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles by India Flint as there are many mentions of her work online.  I had looked at it previously but it was more expensive than some others, but I now think I should have bought this one first.

Now I know where I’m going wrong!  I really, really wish I had bought this book earlier.  Apparently, boiling your dye stuff to within an inch of its life and adding fabric that has had a  mordant applied only once the previous night with allum or cream of tartar, boiling some more, and expecting to be able to wash and use a newly dyed fabric immediately just does not provide the best result!  So I’m going to take my time and do repeated mordants of alkaline and protein solutions on several fabrics at a time so that I can store them for later use.

In India Flint’s book she describes the best way to treat various different fabrics.  She shares many new techniques she has devised to print flower and leaf patterns onto fabric using fabric bundles and hammering (with a mallet), how to dye with delicate flowers in a technique she calls ice flowers, even a way of using mud.  She also uses many different mordants which are so different from the traditional ones such as sea water (which we have here in Cornwall in abundance) and soya milk!  She also mentions solar dyeing using jars but she does not see the need to extract the dye first, you just add the (already mordanted) fabric at the beginning.  She says that dyed fabrics need to mature or cure before use and it’s best to let the newly dyed fabric to dry in the shade before even rinsing let alone washing.  That would have been useful to know earlier!

This book is very word heavy and also very beautiful with its muted colour schemes.  I have over simplified the contents of this book.  It is very inspirational.  I’m so excited to get experimenting and I have high expectations of what I will be able to achieve, but I have to remember the keywords: ‘slow’ and ‘time’.  I will update you.

 

 

 

A Simple Quilt Tutorial

I absolutely love quilting.  You can be so creative and imaginative when making quilts and there are so many techniques.  I’m learning new ones all the time.  Mostly, quilting is very time consuming and expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be, you can make a basic quilt in next to no time with very few materials.

I’m going to be making a baby quilt today because it is far easier, you can use fun fabrics and designs, and it is much cheaper.  A full size adult’s quilt generally costs four times the amount a baby’s quilt costs to make.

To make this basic quilt you need about 1.2 m of fabric for the quilt front.  This needs to have some sort of design on such as patchwork or a picture so that when the quilt is completed it looks like you have either spent hours sewing patchwork or applique.  You need about 1.2 m of fabric for the quilt back.  This can either be plain or patterned.  You will also need the same amount in wadding or batting, I use this either 100% cotton or 50% cotton and 50% bamboo (never a synthetic batting), a reel of cotton thread the same colour as your backing and a reel of top stitch thread.   This can match or contrast with your quilt front.  If you want you can use a different colour thread in the bobbin to either match or contrast with your backing fabric to create a different effect on the reverse.

I prewash my fabric and wadding so that it has shrunk as much as it’s going to and, hopefully, every time I wash my completed quilts, they come out the same.  It takes out the uncertainty.  However, if you choose not to do this, when you wash your finished quilt the fabrics and wadding will shrink at different rates creating a slight wrinkled, antique look which can be really effective.  You just have to decide which look you want to go for.

All the quilts I make are made of natural fibres.  I generally prefer to use natural materials anyway, but with baby quilts I never make an exception to this, it’s just not worth it.  There are two reasons for this; firstly, natural fabrics feel nicer against the skin and are breathable.  Secondly, and most importantly, synthetic fibres melt.  You would be unlikely to find a fireman who wears synthetic underwear!  Bamboo, wool and cotton will burn like any other fabric but slower and they won’t melt and weld themselves to your baby.  They do cost slightly more, but not that much more.

The fabrics I have chosen are both cotton poplin which is good for quilting and not as expensive as actual quilting fabric.  The fabric for the front has a patchwork design and the backing fabric is a dark green with small white spots.  The wadding is made from unbleached cotton.

The first thing to do is sandwich the fabric and wadding together.  My quilt back is slightly larger than the quilt front as I am going to use it to bind the quilt as well.  You can pin them together but that takes time.  I use a spray adhesive.  I know this probably seems contradictory to my lecture just now, but this works fantastically well and can be re-positioned as many times as required and then it completely washes out.  I tape my quilt back to the floor so that it is wrinkle free before spraying with adhesive and attaching the wadding and then the quilt front.  I do spend quite a while smoothing out all the wrinkles – another reason I prefer baby quilts.  Full sized quilts take ages to smooth out and I do not enjoy that!

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Next, preferably with a walking foot attached to your machine, WALKING FOOT WILL FIT, BROTHER, JANOME, SINGER, TOYOTA DOMESTIC SEWING MACHINES  (The generic ones are incredibly inexpensive and they make life so much easier.) use a top stitch thread and a long, straight stitch.  Normally, I use a thread which is a very similar colour to my fabric so that the quilting pattern can be seen  but you’re not really aware of the thread itself, however, today I am using a bright pink to contrast with the fabric so that you can see it easily.  Beginning at the centre of the quilt and working out, sew through your quilt sandwich following the outline of your design.  So, if you had a picture of an elephant, sew around the edge of the elephant and it will begin to look like an applique.  As my fabric is a patchwork design I am sewing along every ‘join’ so that it looks like patchwork with stitch in the ditch quilting.  For longevity, your quilt needs as much quilting as possible with only small gaps between.  Your wadding will have information with it suggesting the best spacing for that product.  But always do more rather than less. Whatever stitching you do on the front will be reflected on the back.  Oh yes, and if you are using a patchwork style fabric try to choose one with larger squares than I did because there was a lot of quilting in this one!

When you are happy with the front, trim and square the edges of the quilt front and wadding, BUT DO NOT TRIM THE BACK as this is going to form the binding.

Measure the excess backing fabric around the edge and trim to an equal distance all round.  Mine is 3 cm.

Fold this in half.  You can iron it if you wish.  Then fold it over to the front, mitreing the corners, pin in place and top sew with cotton sewing thread and your walking foot if you have one.  I actually didn’t have the right colour thread for this so used a cream thread instead which, hopefully, stands out slightly less than the bright pink quilting thread.

That’s it, you’re finished.  A very basic, but lovely quilt.

 

 

Harvest Moon Cardigan

I’ve finally finished my aran weight winter cardigan just as summer arrives in Cornwall.  It is a lovely pattern, Harvest Moon by Heidi Kirrmaier.  I had about a fifteen year break from knitting, then about eighteen months ago I discovered Ravelry online and was inspired to start again.  Things have moved on so much.  Circular needles (they were actually invented in the thirties, but I hadn’t heard of them), seamless, top down knitting – what a revelation!  And socks knitted two at a time from the toe up.  Who knew?  Actually, who knew you could knit socks at all? Obviously, thinking about it, at one time everyone would have had to knit their own socks or they wouldn’t have had any.

I just love that the internet has allowed so many independent designers to flourish.  When I ‘need’ a new pattern I just go on to Ravelry, type in what I’m looking for and there they are, hundreds to choose from.  The best thing is (apart from being able to download the pattern instantly) that you can see who else has already knitted the item, look at their photographs and read their comments so you know if it’s really the pattern for you.  I just wish I had discovered that earlier, it would have made me think twice about purchasing the yarn for a certain summer cardigan a while back!

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Anyway, I have been really inspired by knitting designers such as Melissa LaBarre, Carol Feller and Gudrun Johnston.  They all seem to favour the top down seamless method.  It is weird that although I absolutely love sewing and I sew practically every day, I hate sewing up a garment when I’ve finished knitting it and now I don’t have to, ever!

I’ve already started on my next cardigan, Peasy which is also written by Heidi Kirrmaier.  This time I am knitting in an ice blue cotton yarn.  I just need to make sure I finish it before autumn so I can wear it a few times before packing it away for the winter.  It’s so pretty.

My daughter’s make-up bag is finished.  Maybe I could have made it a tad smaller, but she did say she wanted it as big as possible.

 

Disclosure:  This post contains links to products, websites or patterns.  I do not receive any reward for mentioning them.  I only recommend items I use personally and think will be of interest to my readers.

 

 

 

More Daturas

OK, so I have not been very motivated this week.  I had intended to make some more lingerie so that I could put the patterns in my Etsy shop.  The problem is that I have too many projects backed up and this week it seemed a bit overwhelming.  This is entirely my own fault because I see some gorgeous fabric (at least twice a week) and know exactly what I could make with it and then I buy it without thinking about the fact that there are only a certain number of hours in each day and that I already have a whole cupboard (and the top of my desk) full of fabric that I knew just what to do with!

Anyway, this week I did not do what I was going to.  But I did make my youngest daughter a cover for her tablet.

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My oldest daughter has been asking for a new make-up bag which I will now have to get on with or I shall be getting complaints.  I have been dragging my heels a bit on this one as she wants a frame clasp and I’ve not used one before and haven’t even got around to making the pattern although I have seen a tutorial on U-handbag.  I’m just going to have to take the plunge.  I have bought the fabric.  So that’s a start.

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Also, I made another couple of tops in the Deer and Doe Datura style.

The first Datura was in a grey, embroidered cotton voile.  I did the peter pan collar version but lengthened the back and put in a pleat to give some extra room at the bottom.  I attached a lovely diamante button to a bow and sewed it to the front bodice, which doesn’t show up particularly well in the pictures.

Then I made a Datura similar to the original in a really soft floral fabric and added some bright cerise and diamante buttons to the back.  I am beginning to notice a bit of a theme with the diamante buttons!

After the first peach coloured one I shortened the yoke and lengthened the top of the bodice.  I think it works much better like this.

Hopefully, I will be inspired to sew lingerie next week.

 

Pattern Weights

My sewing is really let down by my inability to measure and cut accurately.  This could be because I don’t enjoy it and am always in a rush to get on with the sewing.  It’s never really bothered me, it just means I have to make a few alterations as I go along so that everything matches up.  However, it occurred to me that it might save time in the long run if I did it properly in the first place!

Normally I hold the pattern in place with one hand and then cut with the other (you can probably see the flaw in this method) because it takes so long to draft my patterns I’m not overly keen to put pins in them, and I want to be able to re-use them.

So, I started to look for some pattern weights.  I found some.  They cost about £30 and looked like lumps of plastic. This would be such a waste of money for me.  If they don’t look appealing, I won’t use them.  At this point it still didn’t occur to me to make some, or even to use some pebbles/ stones/ crystals.  But I Googled ‘pattern weights’ images and along with the boring commercial ones were some fabulous handmade ones, including some that someone had made by painting patterns on to pebbles with 3D puff paint.  A really simple idea and so effective. Perhaps I should have done that, it would have saved me some time.  But some of the fabric ones looked so pretty, I just had to make some.  This was my first attempt:

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I bought two large washers for each one and gathered a circular scrap of material around them.  I had planned to put a largish covered button on top of each but then spotted these diamante ones which were left over from making my notice board and I do like sparkly things.  I really like these pattern weights and they will get a lot of use.

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Then I saw some pattern weights that looked like little pyramids and they seemed simple enough to make.  I found the tutorial at Tea Rose Home .  I cut out a triangle of scrap fabric and sewed the sides together so that the tips met at the top and stuffed them with lentils (I would have used rice but I had some lentils that were nearing their sell by date and there was more chance of us eating the rice.)  I’m quite pleased with how they’ve turned out as well.  They could easily be sized up to make a pin cushion or even a door stop.

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Because I never know when to stop I made two owls as well from slightly different patterns.  They were basically a small triangle attached to a larger triangle, folded over at the top for a beak, stuffed with lentils and a covered coin underneath to help them stand up.  The pink gingham one was made from two triangles of the same height whereas the purple and green one had a shorter triangle for his tummy.  This one was slightly trickier to sew but I think the end result is better.  I found the tutorial for one at My DIY Chat and the other one at a site called Moonstitches.

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I wonder if it’s my scissors that’s the real issue.  It could be my scissors, they’re almost definitely not helping the situation.  I have just realized that they are very old, possibly thirty years plus and they’ve never been sharpened.  That could have to be addressed at some point, but for now at least my pattern pieces should stay put.

 

A New Sewing Room

It’s official, I have too much stuff!  My lovely husband has just spent weeks making me a new desk for my sewing and jewellery making things and it’s already full, with things squashed in underneath as well.

The left hand side of the desk is for jewellery making (but soldering will still be done in the kitchen next to the patio doors and sink, and away from my fabric) and the right hand side is for sewing.  I have recycled lots of old jars for storage in my desk (I knew if I just kept hold of them they would come in handy one day), but wanted something slightly more aesthetically pleasing for the things which I use more often and which would be out on display.  So, after much research as I call it, but others might say an enjoyable morning looking online at other people’s brilliant ideas, this is what I came up with.  I bought lots of cheap matching jars from Asda for buttons, threads, elastic, zips, ribbons and embroidery silks.  I have wrapped the ribbon and elastic around lolly pop sticks and secured with diamante pins and I found this brilliant idea for the embroidery silks.  I have wound them around wooden pegs which conveniently have a built in clamp to secure the ends.  I think they are very effective. While I was on a roll, I decided that the plastic pockets I kept my sewing patterns in weren’t up to the job so I ordered lots of plastic document folders with snap fastenings and spent an afternoon sticking labels on them all with a description and a picture of the garment.

This room has had several previous incarnations.  It had been my oldest daughter’s room for about twelve years and I have used it as my yoga studio for the last three years.  I gradually filled it with my sewing bits and pieces as well and then found myself carrying them up and down the corridor to the kitchen where I normally sew.  So it made sense to put a desk in here instead.  It still has to double as a spare bedroom hence the chaise sofa bed and as it is just inside the front door where everyone can see it, I also tried to make it look like a nice reception room.  But it still ‘my sewing room’.  I’ve re-painted my Gran’s old display cabinet and lined the doors with fabric to hide the contents as it is full to the brim with lovely fabrics and a couple of yoga mats.  I’m not sure what she would have made of that as it was a dark mahogany when I inherited it.   Hopefully, she’d be pleased to see it being used.

I have enjoyed sewing in the kitchen as it’s a warm sunny room with lovely views out across the garden and fields, but it will also be really good to be able to use the table for its intended purpose and to not be squashed up at one end of it at dinner time!

All in all I think it’s turned out OK and should be a good base for my sewing.

Next time I will be sharing my efforts at making my version of Deer and Doe’s Datura pattern.