Category: Pattern review

Mar 01

Mimi’s Fresh Fish

I’ve been itching to make Mimi Kirchner‘s Fresh Fish pattern since I bought it from her Etsy store in January. I finally got a chance to play with it at the weekend, prompted by a Piscean member of the family’s birthday this week.

Fresh Fish pattern

100% upcycled fish from Mimi Kirchner's pattern

Mimi fully deserves your custom so I won’t divulge too much about the making. I’ll just say that it’s a thorough pattern. And Mimi’s experience of using recycled elements (pre-felted woolen garments etc) fundamentally informs her approach, so if you’re motivated to recycle old materials in a way that exploits their full creative potential, you should get right over to Doll, Mimi’s blog, without delay. I first became aware of Mimi’s work when I saw one of her kitty series and was blown away by what she managed to make from a straightforward old sweater. Her latest series of  tattoed ladies, made with dyed-over old toile de Jouy (of all things), is a triumph. She invests such personality into all of them.

I can divulge that you actually get two sets of pattern pieces for the price of one with Fresh Fish: one for stretchy materials, one for regular woven fabric (furnishing fabrics or medium-weight cottons). Both types of fish are well featured on the Flickr Fresh Fish group. I was going for the stretchy version; the fins are the things that need a lot of give, and my merino wool sweater met that brief perfectly. I worried that I might have picked something too stretchy for the main body section, but my choice worked out just fine.

Tail close-up

Fish tail

Something went awry when I cut out the bottom fins – they ended up angled in the wrong direction. I also slipped into auto-pilot part way through and forgot to read the instructions somewhere around the fins, so I didn’t sew the edges together as I think I should have done. This has made them a bit more fluffy and feathery, but I like that. Just as with cooking, the real art of sewing is knowing how to rescue a project when it starts to go pear-shaped.

I cheated right at the end as I didn’t use the recommended felt backing for the eye. Nor did I stitch on a mouth. I could say that I didn’t want to gild the lily, but in truth I simply felt I could get away without adding them. Now that I’ve looked through the Flickr group of fish made using Mimi’s pattern, I wonder if the pale blue cloudy eye on this one doesn’t make him look like he’s a lot less fresh than he might be. He definitely has a distracted, otherworldly, head-in-the-clouds quality which happens to suit the recipient right down to the ground.

Fishy reading

Fish head

What really pleases me is that this fish is entirely upcycled and/or vintage. 100%. Even the stuffing was an old synthetic pillow which had wadded into an unpromising non-pillowish lump in the wash (I know,  I know, the things I hang onto…). I’ve mentioned the fabric (old sweaters) already. The buttons were old (they don’t actually match – poor fish has one eye a little bigger than the other, but don’t we all, and you only see one at a time anyway). All the threads used are at least 20 years old too.

And here is our cat, oblivious to her potential catch. I’ll bet she has this video and song running in her dreams. [Song itself kicks in about 2 minutes in; it’s worth wading through all the preliminary surreality, even if you’ll be humming the tune for days. Sorry!]

The one that got away...

The one that got away

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Jan 14

Scrap of the week #9

I keep forgetting to post a Scrap of the Week. I usually do this on a Monday, but as the weather is just as miserable as Monday’s was (grey and drizzly) I’m sure nobody will notice the difference. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to present… [cue drumroll] my first scrap of 2011!

C&A sweater label

C&A felted sweater

This is from the bag of felted sweaters given to me by the very generous Becky Button.

Its particulars:-

Item: gent’s v-neck long-sleeved sweater

Fibre: 100% lambswool

Colour: marled grey

Make: C&A [By the way, this label looks like the old C&A to me, but I’m no expert. Anyone have any insight?]

Size: originally large, but now substantially smaller

You can see the slippers I made with this in my last post. I used this sweater because it was about the thickness of felt recommended in the Martha Stewart pattern: 1/8 of an inch. That pattern is one that’s freely available on her site. Given that it’s offered free, it would be unreasonable to expect a huge amount of detail or hand-holding. I’ve made some observations on how best to approach this pattern later on.

Working with felted garments. It can be tricky, when working with reclaimed garments, to assess whether you have enough material to meet your pattern’s requirements. This started out as a large gent’s sweater, and I was surprised that it took most of the front and back to make these size 8 slippers. The arms and some useful scraps – including the ribbed edging – are left to use on other projects. Something else to bear in mind is that some felted garments have a radically different appearance on the right and wrong sides, so it’s wise to be consistent in using one side or the other. In this case, I decided that there was a nicer texture to the inside.

Sweater to slipper

Deconstructing the old garment

My notes on the pattern:-

Enlarging. First you have to enlarge the little templates of the two pattern pieces to the required shoe size. Helpful enlargement guidelines are given on the pattern. Bear in mind that it’s in US sizes. Another word of caution: don’t take the enlargements listed as gospel; I found that they came up very small. It could be that my photocopier isn’t as good at maths as Martha’s is. Fortunately, I had a proxy for the slipper recipient at home (with same shoe size) so was able to test it before committing to cutting out. I had to enlarge by 400% in the end to achieve a size 8; that’s the biggest enlargement my photocopier extends to, by the way. But I’d recommend drawing around the slipper-wearer’s feet, just to double-check for errors. Remember to factor in a small seam allowance of 3/16 of an inch all round the sole.

Cutting out the side

Cutting out an instep

Pattern adjustments. In terms of the shapes of the pattern pieces, I thought they could do with some light revising. I liked the shape of the sole, but the instep curve (that seam on the top of the foot) could be just a little more shapely and have a more graceful sweep. I’d also like to try lowering the cut of the entire instep to make the slippers easier to get into, allow a snugger fit, and maybe a prettier shape for a female foot. But I’m not really complaining. Martha offers another slipper pattern, made from a single upper, which seems to check the boxes on the prettier girl shape.

On to the sole, the instructions advise using two layers of felt for the sole, and that worked fine. You could try using a single layer of really thick felted garment instead. Or maybe put some padding between the two felt layers of sole; Vintage Violet had a very precise product suggestion to that effect in the comments of my last post (Thanks, VV!).  I’d also like to try making it with other materials: a suede or leather sole, perhaps, as this slipper is really a house-with- immaculate-carpets slipper, not a cold-stone-floors slipper (which is really what I need).

Cutting out. There’s something very pleasing about cutting out felt with a nice sharp pair of scissors. I’d liken it to walking on fresh snow. Do keep your wits about you as you cut, though. If you have felt with a pronounced right side, pinning little paper labels to that side of the fabric leaves nothing to chance. Otherwise, it’s so easy to get confused.

Compiling pieces

Most of a slipper, ready to go

Bear in mind that you need two right side insteps, two left side insteps (one for each slipper). You also need 4 soles (and possibly an inner sole for added padding, though two nice thick layers of felt weren’t bad). Do check and check again during construction that you are doing a pair, not two identical shoes. It’s an easy mistake to make; halfway through tacking on the 2nd sole I realised I’d done two left feet… Nyarg!

Attaching the sole

Pinning on the sole

Making up. Remember that the seams are on the outside; I know it sounds obvious, but some of us start sewing on auto and then get into trouble. The two top pieces go together easily; you can just pin them together at the back and instep and sew them straight off on your machine, leaving the recommended 3/16th of an inch seam allowance. Despite what you may have been told, you can usually sew right over pins on your machine, though you must have the pins lying perpendicular to your seam, and try to have the tips of the pins poking through the upper side of the fabric so that they don’t scratch your machine bed. When I stitched these, I removed each pin as my presser foot approached it as my machine just wouldn’t have made it over all that thick felt plus a pin too. The soles, though, were a little more fiddly and required careful easing, pinning (beginning at the centre of the heel) and tacking (at which point pins could be removed) to prevent the pieces sliding apart during sewing. I set my machine for a fairly big stitch (approximately 9 stitches per inch), and used vintage Sylko Dark Elephant thread on Josephine (a vintage Singer 99k). The use of vintage materials and tools is not obligatory, but I would obviously contend that it enhances the sewing experience. [winks]

Pinning the sole

Eased and pinned

Embellishments. I left these slippers plain. The instructions recommend embroidering a big “X” on each slipper, but the embroidery opportunities are endless. I’d like to try constructing the sole seams with hand-stitched blanket stitch instead of machine stitching, for a different effect. A pattern of punched holes around the top edge would also be a fun. You could add a label to the inner sole before construction (machine- or hand-sewing it in), or a loop of ribbon to the back of the heel at the end. Oh, the possibilities!

Sole close-up

Finished slipper sole

These were very quick and satisfying to work, even with all the fiddly pinning and tacking, so I hope you’ll give them a go. Just to remind you that there are more pictures of the finished slippers – which were a gift to my brother – over here. I can’t wait to make more. Little Scraplet has already ordered an orange pair, which should be quick and easy  to do as he has such little feet. Off to rootle through my stash…

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