Category: Scrap of the week

Feb 23

Scrap of the week #36

 

Here are several scraps sneaking in together as #36.

I was delighted to have a huge bagful of fabric scraps donated recently for use by the Big Mend. Here are just a few, washed and pressed and ready to go. There’s a ’70s duvet cover (purple flowers), ’70s pillow case (yellow flowers) and an old tablecloth (brown flowers). All of these had been carved up for the upcycling exploits of the previous owner. Underneath that is a length of late ’60s/early ’70s furnishing fabric. They will all be available to use for patching at our skills-sharing repair socials (or sewcials, if you like a cutesy handle).

The Big Mend sessions are open to everyone and anyone to come along with their mending pile and get guidance on how to work repairs. I give my time and skills freely (as do all the generous people who help me run the events). We see all sorts of people turning up to do everything from sewing on a button to repairing the seat of their favourite jeans. Tools and materials are mostly laid on gratis, again by yours truly. Which is why it’s particularly lovely to receive supportive gifts such as these. All we ask of attenders is a very small donation.

Did you know that you should always pre-wash fabrics* before using them to patch clothes or linens? At least, for anything that you intend to wash once it’s repaired. If not, the patch will likely shrink and detach from the garment it has been applied to. Such textile-repair wisdom was once commonplace, so much so that Jesus used it as an analogy in a parable to explain how he saw the meeting point of the old and new kingdoms:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

So, pre-wash your patching fabrics. You heard it here last.

 

*at least, when using natural fabrics – polyester, nylon etc won’t be so prone to shrinkage

 

The next Big Mend session at the Museum of Bath at Work takes place on Wednesday 26th February, 7-9pm. Besides these fabrics, there will be various materials to try your hand at working golden mends

We could always do with more sewing materials and tools, so if you happen to have anything you can donate to continue our skill-sharing in the community, please get in touch. Thank you.

 

Scraps for patching repairs

Patch-worthy scraps for the Big Mend

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Jan 14

Scrap of the week #35

 

Boussac fabric samples

1993 Boussac fabric samples

Boussac furnishing sample, ‘Tsunami’, 1993, New York

 

I have a stylist friend in New York who understands my passion for fabric scraps. When I visited her in 1993, she presented me with a huge stack of rectangular home furnishing samples jettisoned from the Third Avenue offices of French textile company, Boussac. Such treasures! I had to buy an extra case to get them home.

 

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Third Avenue scraps – nothing but the best!

 

Poignant to think that I hadn’t even heard of the word ‘Tsunami’ when I was given these beautiful fabrics.

It can take me a while to find just the right use for a scrap. 21 years later, one of these Boussacs finally assumes its role as a patch for my student son’s jeans. He basically lives in jeans these days, and all his pairs are showing signs of wear. Here’s a typically shredded knee.

 

Jeans for repair

Jeans before

 

Jeans repaired

Jeans after

 

I love the rich shot effect of the red warp and teal weft of this fabric. And the 50% linen, 50% cotton feels great with the denim as it’s robust, yet yielding. I worked quite a traditional kind of reverse appliqué patch which should be super-secure (with 4 rows of stitching, though only 2 are visible). I hoped it would do justice to the Japanese influence of the fabric, with just a whisper of boro, the Japanese art of repair. What do you think? 

Jeans repaired plus Boussac samples

Jeans repaired plus Boussac samples

 

Jeans patch.

Four rows of stitching (two invisible) make this a really strong patch

 

And here are those jeans alongside another pair, patched with raw-edged scraps from my husband’s worn-out pyjamas. Both pairs had been in my mending pile (well, it’s more of a spreading mending cairn) for a while but were finally completed and delivered to the diligent student yesterday. He’s very happy  with them, despite their ostentatious repairs (which I suspect would be a little full-on for most blokes).  Their new wearer just told me that the patch is really comfy, hugging his kneecap and actually feeling much nicer than the non-repaired knee. So, a great result!

Two pairs patched

Two pairs patched

Would you like help repairing your jeans?

I’ll be teaching jeans makeovers to small groups in Bath this spring; Jean Genie sessions will show you several patching techniques (some very visible, some not) to re-knee your favourite jeans, plus the best way to shorten hems, narrow legs etc. Do get in touch if you’d like further details.

Patch-ology: I also teach a comprehensive selection of patching techniques for your whole wardrobe in small workshops. Do get in touch with me for more information.

 

 

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Nov 06

Scrap of the week #34

 

Is there such a thing as a scrap too far?

I finally began to deconstruct Scrap of the Week #19 in order to re-use the ’70s* hexagon patchwork portions which were desperately ill-served by the backing fabric.

The border of the quilt was odd. It looked like some kind of trim had been cut off, because all that was left was an unattractive wadge of frayed edges in a shade of beigey-pink that you’ll recognise if your cat has ever reintroduced you to his/her dry breakfast. Somebody had already attacked this edging with scissors, it seemed, so I felt less bad about doing the same to the entire quilt.

 

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Odd edge

 

But when I began to unpick it, I had a surprise. The edging was actually constructed of multiple folded square ‘frames’ of fabric.

 

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Mystery squares

 

The burning question is why? The end result was, at best, underwhelming. So what was going on here? Did some other craft project create all these little frames as a by-product which the quilter then felt compelled to re-use? If so, what on earth…? The most probable explanation is that the border began life as a series of folded-square triangles which someone thought better of and hacked off. Got any other ideas? Anyway, I leave you with the thought that not all reuse projects are worth the effort. Perhaps this one hasn’t been – I wonder how many unpicking hours have I dedicated to it thus far?

I’ll be putting some of the liberated patchwork pieces up in my Etsy shop shortly. Some pieces are small 7-hex rosettes (as shown in Scrap of the week #19) and would  make great pincushions, some are bigger, cushion-ready segments. The patchwork has been carefully hand-pieced, then machine-zigzagged onto the ground fabric.  Some of the pattern placement is really nicely done. And if you should have a use for hundreds of little frames of pinky-beige fabric, please do get in touch. They’re yours.

 

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Blue hex blocks

 

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Orange hex blocks

 

* This could conceivably date from the early ’80s, but my hunch is late ’70s. What do you think? Do you recognise any of the fabrics shown?

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Oct 22

Scrap of the week #33

 

 

This week, the bling’s the thing!

I’m on a leather roll, and my scrap of the week is another offcut of upholstery leather, this time in bright banana yellow. With it, I’ve made a blingy version of the insta-bag for a very young and stylish friend celebrating her 40th recently. She happens to like very bright yellow.

I revisited the simple curtain ring as a cheap (sorry, affordable) bag fixture. This time, I used the widely available shiny new brass rings which happened to be on hand here at the homestead. These are just a fraction of the cost of antiqued brass D-rings.

 

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To make the most of these budget-friendly fixtures, I ensured that the metal seam (the line around the ring where the wrapped metal joins itself) was on the inside when the two rings were laid together – metal seam against metal seam – which you can just about see in the pictures. Because it’s nicer not to feel this seam or see it, but putting it on the inside adds a little helpful friction and grip to the rings when they are holding the fabric-square corners of your eventual bag.

 

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For tips on cutting the leather, and finishing off the handle, see my previous post. This time, I made a rather fetching cross-stitch in grey vintage linen thread. If you happen to want any of that lustrous grey thread (a very nice stocking filler for the keen sewist!), I’ve just listed some in my Etsy shop, alongside Merry Christmas sew-in labels.

The yellow leather set off both these Liberty fabrics very nicely, but I went for the shoe print in the end.  And here’s the eventual insta-bag, made up. Note that it hangs better when something is actually inside it. The beauty of this design is that you can carry it with you — fabric folded, handle folded — just in case you need it. It’s quickly deployed, and can be carried in your hand or on your shoulder.

 

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I realise that I promised to show you how to hand-hem a square of fabric (as above) to make the bag itself. But, dear friend, life has been so hectic of late that it will just have to wait until another time. However, you will need a square of fabric measuring roughly 75 cms in a fine, lawn-like fabric (preferably Liberty Tana Lawn). If you can get that cut and ready, please sew along with me next time. I’ll be back soon.

 

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Oct 09

Liberty bias binding

 

Reporting back on the progress of my various Scraps of the Week (or should that be Scrap of the Weeks?) has been a little erratic. Sorry about that.

Here’s what happened to Scrap #13, a Liberty Tana Lawn skirt in shell-pink Glenjade pattern (one of my favourites) with an intractable black stain.

Some of it became a length of beautiful bias binding which I’ve just sold. I periodically sell this kind of thing in my Etsy store, along with other vintage-y, haberdasher-ish (mostly) loveliness. Liberty Tana Lawn makes gorgeously soft and flexible bias binding; it smooths itself beautifully around curved edges and is a real joy to work. And small amounts of this densely patterned, colour-saturated fabric go a long way, so you don’t need a lot.

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Upcycled Liberty bias binding

 

Making bias-binding isn’t as difficult as you might think and is really satisfying. You must start with a reasonable quantity of fabric; much less than a metre can be counterproductive as you’ll find yourself creating endless joins. And you must cut your strips diagonally to the straight grain of the fabric (‘on the bias’, or ‘on the cross’) in order for it to have the desired elasticity. What would you say to a little tutorial? OK. If I get more than 20 requests in the comments, I’ll post one.

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Liberty bias binding

 

Back to the upcycled skirt, some became buttons (now sold too). And the rest I still have. So many projects, so little time! I might eventually try my hand at a Tumbling Blocks quilt, inspired by Deirdre Amsden‘s Liberty one in this 1970s patchwork book.

 

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Sep 19

Insta-bag handle

 

This is an update on Scrap of the Week #32. That scrap was a little offcut of brown upholstery leather and I wanted to create an insta-bag (instant-bag) handle, rather like the fabulous Hiromi’s. Here’s how I got on.

 

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Insta-bag handle

 

Cutting out

I first marked up my strip (measuring 24 cms x 2 cms) with ruler and my pen-of-choice, the Pilot Frixion*: a really great tool for crafters which I first heard about via Julie‘s embroidery and knitting blog, Button Button. The pen, which you should be able to find quite easily in your local stationery shop, is marketed as erasable and just happens to work brilliantly for marking up non-washable surfaces such as leather as it will simply rub away afterwards.  Wonderfully, Julie discovered that it also seems to disappear with the slightest application of heat – a light iron removes it just like magic – so it’s extremely useful for embroidery purposes. Do try it, but please test it first on a teeny scrap of your precious antique textiles before scribbling with gusto! [NB Please see addendum below]

Having marked up my strip, I cut it out with a good sharp pair of craft scissors – no need for blade cutters or fancy cutting tools.

 

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Cutting out

 

Constructing the strap

I grabbed 4 old curtain rings (I didn’t have any nice enough D-rings) and some linen twine. The curtain rings worked well as a D-ring substitute, though it makes the handle look slightly like a horses’s bit (which, personally, I don’t mind). Being strong enough to hold up curtains, they’re also guaranteed to be strong enough to hold your groceries without buckling. Which is reassuring.

Now, the metal riveting on Hiromi’s original had foxed me. I didn’t want to invest in more hardware but to use up what I already had. And I couldn’t bring myself to use clashing rings and rivets, so I thought I’d play with some thread instead. When stitching leather, it’s important not to use cotton as the leather will rot it. Linen is perfect, however. I rootled through my vintage threads and found some likely candidates, including a reel of heavy gauge Barbour twine.

Turning over my handle ends about 2.5 cms, and with the two rings tucked in place, it was time to punch a couple of holes in my strap with a small leather punch (a useful piece of kit which I use routinely to construct my hanging tags, by the way).

 

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Making the stitching holes

 

I eyeballed my measurements, but you might like to mark up first to get the positioning just right.

 

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Leather punch

 

To sew it, I folded my ends over my curtain rings.

 

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Attaching the rings

 

Then I threaded my rather bulky linen thread through a tapestry needle and passed it out through one of the holes from inside the folded end. I left a few inches of unknotted thread  behind, enough to tie a good strong knot later. I worked the thread through the holes several times before bringing the thread out where I’d begun, tying a knot (reef, not granny) to secure it and snipping the ends so that nothing showed on the outside of the strap. Incidentally, you can buy little cards of bookbinder’s linen thread for about £1.50, or reels of fine linen thread from about £1.60.

 

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Done!

 

And that was it.

I’ve modelled it (badly, and in artificial light too) with a classic old hanky/neckerchief, just to show you how well it will hold a piece of relatively light cotton fabric. I intend to make a Liberty square for this one from the fabric shown, but I rather like the rustic Little-Red-Riding-Hood look, perfect for toting cookies to Grandma’s. I’ll show you my preferred methods for hemming a Liberty lawn square (for use as a hanky, scarf or insta-bag) another time soon. 

 

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Finished insta-bag strap in use

 

*A note on the Pilot Frixion. Thanks so much to Mimi Kirchner for sending me this review of the pen’s performance at low temperatures subsequent to ironing. In summary, be careful if you’re thinking of using this pen for art purposes and don’t intend to wash your finished creation: the markings may reappear!  21/9/13

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Sep 11

Scrap of the week #32

 

 

I don’t think I’ve covered the subject of leather scraps before, so this is a happy first. I had an inspiring encounter at the Bath Artisan Market on Sunday and wanted to share.

A wonderful lady named Hiromi came to say hello. Hiromi doesn’t speak much English, but thankfully her daughter (who does) was on hand to translate. Hiromi quietly emptied various beautifully made Liberty (yes, I know, I am a woman obsessed!) bags out of her handmade linen shoulder bag, finally producing a large powdery blue square of Liberty lawn from one. If you don’t recognise the fabric, it’s Glenjade, the classic pattern which first appeared on Liberty Tana lawn way back in 1955.

She also extracted a short leather strap with two D-shackles on each end.

I watched, entranced, as she fed two adjacent corners of the fine lawn square through one set of D-rings (securing them with a half-knot, just to stop them slipping back through).

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Two corners in this side…

 

Then she did the same with the remaining two corners and the other set of D-rings.

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Two corners in that side…

 

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A half-knot…

 

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Insta-bag!

 

Hey presto! She’d created an instant bag! So chic!

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A capacious, stylish bag with a comfortable grip

 

By this time, I was almost fainting with excitement at this wonderful idea. To cap it all, Hiromi had made the leather strap herself, and (Oh still my beating heart!) she wanted to give it to me. Did I accept? Do bears sashay in the woods?! Yes, I accepted (probably just a little too eagerly), offering a couple of little Liberty button/patch items in return. Now I’m singling out a Liberty fabric from my stash to create my own impromptu carry-everywhere bag. How much more pleasurable to use than an old plastic shopper! Or a bulkier fabric one (assuming I remember to carry it, which I tend not to). All it needs is a simple turned hem each side. Supposing I remember to tote it with me, it could double as a impromptu scarf. Or table-cloth. Or napkin. The list goes on. Isn’t that just the BEST THING EVER? Thank you, dear Hiromi!

 

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Hiromi’s strap

 

Next, I want to figure out how to construct my own bag strap, so I’m eyeing several discarded scraps of upholstery leather with intent. Hiromi used a strong strip of leather about 2cms wide by 24cms long. This upholstery leather scrap isn’t quite as thick, but seems strong and unstretchy. It handles nicely. 

 

Leather scrap

Leather scrap for bag strap

 

My riveting experience is pretty limited, so I’m going to need some advice. It seems that what’s needed is a double-ended riveting kit. I’d like to make do with what I already have, and I bought an antique packet of rivets on one of my (very dangerous!) boot-sale outings with Ruth Singer this summer. Not double-ended, but they might just do the trick.

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Bifurcated rivets

 

Ideally I’d like them to match the rings, though. And I don’t have any copper rings of any type – D or otherwise. Do you happen to know where some might be found? Actually, I prefer Hiromi’s choice of antiqued brass for this colour leather, so I guess I’ll have to scout around and find some.

Copper rivets

Copper rivets, with tool

 

So, I have my work cut out. I’ll let you know how I get on. My apologies, in advance, if you receive one of these insta-bags as a birthday/Christmas/other special occasion gift in due course. The bug has really bitten!

Final thought: do you think these might possibly ever appeal to men? I’m wondering here about heterosexual men? Seems to me that the leather strap could look quite masculine, so maybe teamed with a fine lawn shirting of this, or this, or even a Liberty pattern like this, it just might work. Or plain black? Are premeditated fabric convenience bags a place Average Hetero Male will never go? I suppose you’d have to remember to pop it inside your man-bag… Do give me your honest opinion, and feel free to suggest fine, strong fabrics that you could use for this project, besides (very expensive!) Liberty lawn. The next year of family gifts might well hang on it.

 

 

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Aug 06

Scrap of the week #31

 

These mid-1970s Laura Ashley scraps were the first materials I handled, shaped and stitched when learning to sew as a girl. I pulled them out of the Scrapiana archive after seeing the wonderful Laura Ashley The Romantic Heroine exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath recently. The exhibition made me feel deeply nostalgic for 1970s Laura Ashley fabrics and dress designs, which is ironic because Laura Ashley traded heavily on nostalgia herself, so I effectively entered a state of meta-nostalgia (nostalgia for nostalgia) from which I fear I may never emerge back into the 21st century.

I seem to specialise in unlikely survivals, and these Laura Ashley scraps really shouldn’t be hanging about intact still, 40 years on. There is no decent explanation for it. I may as well tell you that Peter Capaldi swung by in the tardis and dropped them off. But, for whatever unlikely reason, they remain with me still. Mostly unused. And I’m very happy to be able to show them to you.

Early 1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

 

They were probably bought in the Bath shop which opened its doors in 1971. This was the first Laura Ashley shop outside of London, and it soon acquired a legendary status.

Bath was a fairly frequent destination for family outings when I was a girl; sometimes we’d go to the American Museum or the Museum of Costume, the previous incarnation of the Fashion Museum, then just a few years old. Bath was not quite the tourist hub it is today, and it actually looked pretty shabby back then, though one couldn’t help but be struck by its elegant (if very blackened) stone architecture.

Looking at these scraps still fills me with a kind of feverish excitement, depositing me right back circa 1973. Laura Ashley had such an exhilarating aura of  elegance, sophistication and wholesome escapism, so unlike anything else I can remember from the period, though I didn’t get out much in middle childhood. Anyone under thirty might find it hard to imagine, looking at these little brown fragments, how they excited such admiration and longing. Maybe you just had to be there, with rocketing inflation, the 3-day week, the sexual revolution, the perennial fear of Soviet invasion (not to mention nuclear annihilation), doing your best to block it all out with your tranny tuned to Radio Luxembourg under your brushed polyester bedclothes. No wonder we were so ready to lap up The Forsyte SagaWar & Peace, The Onedin Line, and Upstairs Downstairs on the TV.

Laura Ashley fabric, early 1970s

Laura Ashley print of mythical beasts

 

I still love almost everything about these Laura Ashley pieces. The sturdy texture of the 100% cotton, a world away from my purple manmade sheets of the time (which crackled with static and snagged against my toenails when I rolled over). I love the earthy, hippy hues, giving the impression that they’ve been dyed with the products of a hedgerow, though I’m very sure they weren’t. I love the small-repeat designs in just two restrained tones, the pseudo-medieval, mock-oriental and Victorian-style motifs. These fabrics seemed so sophisticated, so opulent, yet incredibly safe and modest too. It was a compelling mix for a young girl.

But possibly most of all, I love the fact that Laura Ashley was selling these as genuine manufacturing offcuts: pieces culled from dresses made in the Welsh factory. No pre-cut patchwork squares from virgin metres of cloth in those days. I wish there could be more conspicuous selling of designer wastage today. Shall we start a campaign?

The dresses themselves would have been beyond the budget at the time, so scraps were all I could reasonably aspire to. These scraps date from when the company was still very much Laura’s baby, and I can easily imagine (though it’s purely my fantasy) that every piece of cloth still passed under Laura’s gaze for a final quality check. I’m sure it didn’t really, but her spirit is very much here. 

1970s Laura Ashley pansy design close-up

Print S105 featuring a triangular pansy motif

 

Laura had a keen sense of thrift and strove to avoid waste when pattern-cutting. One of her early designs was an oven glove, made from the wastage created by the scooped neck of a gardening smock. And it’s easy to imagine how her unwillingness to see such offcuts go to waste, plus her love of patchwork (notably sparked by a WI exhibition in the early ’50s) informed the decision to package them up and sell them.

Any pattern-cutters out there care to tell me which garment pieces you think these were cut from? Is that plum ‘C’-shape from a neckline, the comma-shaped piece from an armscye?

1970s Laura Ashley fabrics

1970s Laura Ashley factory offcuts

 

There’s a great story related by Meirion, one of the Welsh factory stalwarts, in Anne Sebba’s biography Laura Ashley: A Life By Design published in 1990 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson:

Once I cut the neckline wrong on three hundred dresses and I thought at first I’d just keep quiet and fill the gap with lace. But, of course, she would have noticed so I told her and we turned the scoop to our advantage. In future that style always carried the “wrong” neckline. All she said to me, very calmly, was, “Remember, you can always learn from your mistakes”.

And speaking of mistakes, here’s some of the patchwork I made from these offcuts, way back in my very earliest needle-plying days. Don’t look too closely at the stitching.  And how many shades of brown can you include in one piece, anyway? The cushion was well loved, but this wasn’t my finest hour. The item with the smaller piecing is a bag, with every hexagon stuffed. Not sure why I thought that was a good idea.

Laura Ashley patchwork items

My early Laura Ashley patchwork

Laura Ashley and me

Don’t look too closely at the stitching

 

Hexagon patchwork also features in the current exhibition. There’s a cover pieced by Rosemary Harden, the director of the Fashion Museum, and a vibrant patchwork skirt made by Beverly Peach. Now, I don’t remember Laura Ashley producing particularly bright fabrics, but I realised how wrong I was when I visited the exhibition. More about that (and some surprisingly psychedelic offerings from Mrs Ashley) very soon. 

1970s Laura Ashley patchwork

Spare hexagons

 

In my next post: a report on Laura Ashley A Romantic Heroine which celebrates 60 years of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition is currently on display at the Fashion Museum, Bath, until 26th August 2013, then at the Bowes Museum, County Durham, from 21st September 2013 to 5th January 2014.

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Jul 29

Scrap of the week #30

 

I’m cheating here as this isn’t a scrap of fabric, as such. But it could be. One day.

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Raw fleece after a couple of washes

 

There’s an #onlyinBath hashtag on Twitter. It usually describes the quaint and curious things which could only occur in this rarified, picturesque location. And the subject of this post qualifies. Because there can be few cities where sheep are still grazed within spitting distance of the most splendid stone crescents (I know at least two such locations within the city). And possibly even fewer where the owners of said sheep can’t find takers for the resulting fleeces, even when giving them away. We live in a crazy mixed-up world, folks!

The prospect of a shedload of free Bath fleeces proved too much of a lure for me this week. My gain is yours, however, because I’m giving most of them away, in turn, to the first people who come forward.

These fleeces were sheared from their sheep at the end of June. Some are black (-ish), some white (-ish). They are raw, so you’ll have to clean them up, which is messy and requires a washing space the size of a bathtub (in fact, a bathtub will do nicely) and an alarming quantity of washing-up liquid. But I think it’ll probably be worth it, especially if you want to try your hand at spinning. I’m aiming to create the most wonderful natural stuffing imaginable. That’s the plan, anyway. So far I’ve washed a small portion (see image above) to get a feel for it. My hands are lovely and soft from the lanolin, but the fleece is still full of foreign bodies – mostly of vegetable origin, but some of sheep origin, if you get my drift. It’s obviously a long game.

Sheep and their wool have a long history in this city, of course. From the 13th century, Bath was renowned for its fine woollen cloth, and wool wealth built the early city. You can find out more about this history at the Museum of Bath at Work. Here is one of their displays.

 

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Wool display at the Museum of Bath at Work

 

The Museum of Bath at Work also kindly hosts the Big Mend, a free monthly mending social which you’ve probably heard me mention before. If you live in/near Bath and ever find yourself with more holes in your favourite garments than you know how to handle, bring them along on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm, and we can help you sort them out. The next meet-up is this Wednesday 31st July. This is the room we work in. It’s light and spacious. Do join us!

 

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The mezzanine level at the Museum of Bath at Work

And if you’re interested in a FREE raw fleece, do leave a comment below or email me. I can’t mail it, so am requesting only local takers, please. First come, first served.

 

 

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Mar 11

Scrap of the week #29

 

After a relative dearth of scraps, here’s a whole slew to make up for it. I hope you can handle  all the excitement!

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Rail fence quilt top

This exuberant patchwork quilt-top was made by my Pennsylvanian grandmother. It’s a simple machine-pieced single quilt top which was not completed.

It isn’t fancy: a thrown-together-fast strip pattern called ‘rail fence’. Each little strip measures about three inches by one.

To make rail fence, three strips are joined to make one square block. The blocks are then arranged (one vertical, one horizontal, etc) and joined into strips, the strips then joined to build up the entire quilt top. Simple, but lively. It seems to me that the  placing and piecing haven’t been sweated over too much: this is a hap quilt, the pieces falling pretty much where they will. The lines of stitching are a little rough-and-ready too. But Nana had plenty of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and didn’t have time to spare on perfectionism.

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Rail fence patchwork

The workmanship and provenance may not be grand, but these scraps are like little jewels to me. I know that some of them came from humble feedsacks. Others were cut from plain fabrics bought by the yard. I’m sure Nana would have kept precious scraps a long while. She grew up on a farm, one of fourteen children, and resources were scarce. I think she’d have been conservative, therefore, so maybe some of these fabrics date to way back whenever. She worked in a shirt factory for a while (in the 1910s, I think) so I wonder if any of these could be shirt offcuts.

My mother used to tell me that some of these prints featured in her childhood clothes from the late 1920s and 1930s. Other scraps are a little later. I don’t know exactly when Nana made it; it could possibly date any time up to the late ’70s. I’m not sure precisely when she stopped sewing; she had bad arthritis in her hands and I think she’d stopped for a while before she died in the 1980s.

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Rail fence close-up

A few people have suggested I complete this quilt. But I’m reluctant to. I feel that the WIP tells its own special story and has its own value; I’m reluctant to meddle with this time-capsule. But I’d love to ask you: if it were your grandmother’s handiwork, what would you do? Finish? Or leave it as is? And why? Have you finished off your own grandmother’s (or your mother’s) quilt? Did you feel you owed that to her? All valid points! Please do take just a moment to share your thoughts. I love to hear them. Thank you!

 

 

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