Tagged: beeswax

Dec 04

Gifts for stitchers

 

Spanish lace pins from Merchant & Mills

 

I’ve been collecting stocking-filler ideas to delight the enthusiastic stitcher in your life. What you choose will depend on the nature of the recipient’s stitching and crafting interests, the size of their stocking, plus the depth of your pocket. But I hope there’s something in here for everyone.

I won’t apologise for piling in with suggestions for buying new things (though not everything on this list is) because a) I always find these lists interesting when other people put them together, and b) I would argue that good sewing tools are a worthwhile investment and will make any creative efforts more effective – which can’t be a bad thing.

 

 

Under £5

 

  • Superior needles, such as these presented in a John James needle pebblehandy little ergonomic cases with needles geared for particular craft purposes and made by one of the best needle manufacturers in the world, established way back in 1840. They sell at a very reasonable £1.39 a pop too. Or you could break the bank, relatively, with these Merchant & Mills betweens that are packaged quaintly in a little stoppered bottle at £4 and are ideal for quilters.

 

 

Merchant & Mills betweens

 

Upcycled crockery buttons by SisterZart on Etsy

 

  • I reckon that a vintage darning mushroom, preferably showing the needle-scratched patina of years of previous repairs, will slip happily into the toe (or heel) of any stitcher’s Christmas stocking – though I may be biased. I have several to choose from for an unbeatably modest £5 each, so please get in touch with me if you’re interested and I’ll send you details of what’s available. I also have some choice, collectable specimen for a little more.

 

Darning mushrooms

 

  • Or how about these pretty Laine St. Pierre darning yarns by Sajou? Just £2.75 per card here from Loop, and such a wide and sumptuous colour choice makes moth-holes almost a pleasure to repair. Or they can simply be used for embroidery projects. 

Laine St Pierre from Loop

 

  • Beeswax is an effective traditional thread conditioner meriting a place in any sewing box, and it’s especially good to have some in a pretty shape like this, though you should be able to find a no-frills, inexpensive bar of the stuff in your local hardware shop which will do the job just as well. For more details on how it’s used, read my old blog post (‘Waxing Lyrical’) over here.
  • Special pins. High quality pins, such as these extra-long glass-headed ones, should do down a treat (glass-headed ones are so much nicer to use and don’t melt when the iron accidentally touches them), or go for just about anything from the Merchant & Mills selection, though be warned that all but the black safety pins come in above the £5 mark. If your stitcher works with light, fine fabrics, some fine brass pins (which won’t mark the fabric) would be an excellent choice too.
  • Unusual stuffing materials, such as natural wool noil (there’s a UK supplier here) or ground walnut shells – with which to stuff pincushions etc – would make a thoughtful gift for someone who likes making those small items, or might want to make a pincushion for their own use. OK, so they are sotto voce gifts which might not elicit actual squeals of delight, but they’ll definitely be appreciated further down the road. Both of these fillings make excellent conditioners for needles and pins, gently cleaning, sharpening, and oiling them to keep them functioning optimally. If you want ground walnut shells, I can provide you with a packet for just £2.50 – please get in touch.
  • And finally, pretty Liberty lawn bias binding always comes in very handy for dressmakers etc. The one below is currently selling at £2.60 per metre.

Liberty bias binding from sewingbox.co.uk

 

Under £10

 

English Stamp Company

 

  • Medical forceps. Yes, this might seem like quite an odd one, but these medical/laboratory implements can be really handy for makers. This little pair of moschito forceps will hold something tight – rather like an extra hand – while you use your original two to sew.
  • Merchant & Mills‘ long and slender black entomology pins (£6) make a real statement (and work well for those fine fabrics too), as do their short, fiery, red-headed Spanish lace  pins (£8) shown at the top of this article, all the way from the oldest pin factory in Spain.
  • if you’re buying for someone who works on fiendishly small stuff, or whose eyes are going (like mine), these rather sinister steampunk magnifiers would make an unusual gift, and they’re currently selling at less than half price.

Above £10 (and all the way up to ouch…)

 

  • Ernest Wright scissorsthese stork embroidery ones are like stitcher’s catnip and will probably win you undying gratitude, if there is sufficient delivery time before Christmas (and be warned that leads on these can be long). But such is Ernest Wright’s exalted reputation that a promissory note might just do the trick (but make it decent pen and ink, for goodness’ sake!).  At £27.50, the price is admittedly ouchy, but these are fantastic implements by the last traditional scissor cutlers in Britain (based in Sheffield, of course) and should genuinely last a lifetime – they can be repaired and sharpened later down the road. I’d be absolutely thrilled with any of the Ernest Wright range, and am confident that any other stitcher would too. Ernest Wright will also give you old pair of scissors a complete overhaul for just £10. The scissors obviously have to be of a sufficient quality to begin with to make the expense and effort of a revamp worthwhile. I have been collecting together my shabby antique and vintage pairs for future renovation. Note that pinking shears are beyond their scope.

Ernest Wright stork embroidery scissors

 

  • A bespoke rubber maker’s stamp at £24 from the English Stamp Company in Dorset (along with a stamp pad plus some really nice labels) would make a very welcome gift indeed. The English Stamp Co is a family business which has been making high-quality bespoke rubber stamps from its Dorset base since 1992.

English Stamp Company’s bespoke stamps

 

 

Silk threads from the Silk Mill

 

 

Silver pig pincushion from the Silk Mill

 

  • Or this Wallace Sewell mending kit from Ray Stitch.
  • Softtouch spring-loaded pinking shears. If your giftee likes making things that require an awful lot of cutting out (bunting, for example) then they should really appreciate these by Fiskars at about £22 – they’re extremely helpful for avoiding painful blisters and RSI, and they work equally well if you’re left-handed.
  • For something really unusual and purely decorative, Becca of Alterknitive makes gorgeous little maker’s sterling silver charm bracelets to order – just look at the crochet-hook closure, and the wee darning mushroom! If you want to spoil someone rotten, email Becca (beccaATalterknitiveDOTcoDOTuk) for further details.

 

Charms sold separately and include tiny darning mushroom

Individually crafted sterling silver maker’s charm bracelet from Alterknitive

 

So, that’s the end of my sewing eye-candy. I have not received any payment at all (in money or in kind) to mention any of these products – I place them in front of you out of honest admiration. In the end, you can’t beat the straightforward pleasure of using really good sewing tools, and listed above are some of the very best. If you have further suggestions to add to this list, I’d be delighted if you’d leave a comment. And may you, and the stitcher that you love, have a very merry and joyful Christmas and a highly creative 2016!

 

 

 

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Sep 07

Waxing lyrical

Welcome back to the new autumn term here at Scrapiana Towers! My pencils are freshly sharpened, my needles have become almost dangerously pointy (OK, I won’t mention strawberry needle emeries again for at least 24 hours, promise), and I’m wearing big pockets, eagerly anticipating a crop of shiny new conkers.

Having apparently spent so much time since my last post in the company of bees (I haven’t actually been sitting on that bench quite all this time), it seemed right to return with one of my favourite topics: beeswax.

The application of beeswax is a time-honoured thread-improving technique. I often wax lyrical about it (most recently when asked to list my sewing essentials for Cross Stitcher magazine – out soon, I think) because it’s such a beautifully simple and thrifty idea. Drawing cotton or linen thread along the edge of a block of beeswax before hand-sewing renders it stronger and more resilient, less inclined to twist, knot or fray, and more likely to run smoothly through the fabric. Sewing guru Ruth Singer recommends it in her excellent manual Sew It Up, mentioning its history as a traditional tailor’s aid, and that it’s particularly helpful with long hand-sewn seams; she suggests running over the thread with a warm iron to melt the wax into the fibres slightly before use, though I must admit I haven’t tried that. Dollmaker extraordinaire Mimi Kirchner says that beeswax turns an ordinary thread into super-thread, and is fantastic for the sturdy attachment of coat buttons. And so it is.

Cobblers and sail-makers of old would have routinely coated their thread with beeswax, its waterproof qualities an added advantage. Up the social scale among the leisured classes, Georgian ladies could obtain cakes of wax decorated with gold-paper stars and other motifs. A Georgian lady’s sewing box might also contain a natty little device aptlycalled a thread waxer, designed to hold a small cake of wax on a pin between two protective ends of ivory or mother-of-pearl: think of wafers round an ice-cream sandwich and you get the idea. These were sometimes incorporated into another device, such as a tape-measure. The Victorians favoured a wooden wax box, sometimes carved in the form of fruit. And presumably these were perfectly suited to house the balls of white and yellow beeswax mentioned in an 1869 domestic guide by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe and her less famous sister Catherine. The extra refinement of white (‘bleached’) beeswax was often preferred as it was less likely to stain the palest of fabrics.

But beeswax isn’t the only product that has been used for thread-conditioning. Once upon a time, especially if you didn’t happen to have access to a hive, it was de rigeur to use your own earwax for the job, harvested with the aid of a device called an ear-spoon. I’m guessing I just exceeded your “Eeuww!” threshold, and if you now have beverage-splatter all over your screen, I apologise. Our stitching forebears may have been resourceful, but I confidently predict no comeback any time soon for earwax-based sewing aids. Double-dip or no, the trusty Q-tip is here to stay. Though, on behalf of ENT specialists everywhere, I feel beholden to add that you really shouldn’t put anything in your ear that’s smaller than your elbow.

If you can overcome your squeamishness, the notion of the pre-cotton-bud era is intriguing. Ear-spoons – or ear-scoops as they were also known – were essentially just a tiny bowl on a disproportionately long handle. They were made from a variety of materials: silver or gold, ivory or bone. They cropped up in ancient Roman beauty-sets (presumably just for personal grooming, but who knows?) as well as Georgian sewing etuis. In the seventeenth century, they were often incorporated into the end of a silver bodkin, that indispensable status symbol required to lace a lady into her wardrobe; if there had been such a thing as a Stuart Swiss army knife, I like to think that it would have featured a flip-out ear-spoon among its crop of bespoke blades.

A silver bodkin-cum-ear-spoon makes a surprisingly attractive item, but happily you don’t have to acquaint yourself with one intimately (at least, not for sewing purposes) because beeswax isn’t hard to come by. It’s best to use 100% beeswax as paraffin wax can misbehave. I happen to offer prettily shaped and packaged morceaux of stitcher’s beeswax over here on Etsy. And, for the rest of September, I’m offering them on a BOGOF basis – buy one, get one free! They make great stocking fillers for keen needle-persons, I’m told. Here’s what someone said about them a little while back.

How do you feel about beeswax? I confess to being heavily biased. That honeyed tang just can’t be beaten, and I love it in almost any product, from lip-balm to soap to furniture polish. Do you use beeswax for sewing, or for other purposes? Perhaps you can’t abide the stuff. Whatever the case, do tell!

Scrapiana beeswax

Stitcher's beeswax

 

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Dec 10

This is not a cupcake

It looks a lot like a cupcake, or maybe a petit four, but ceci n’est pas un cupcake. It’s actually a useful little stitching aid called Stitcher’s Beeswax. When you’re hand-sewing,  run your length of thread through this beforehand and you’ll find it won’t be so prone to knotting, twisting or fraying.

Eat me not

Ceci n'est pas un cupcake

You can buy more utilitarian lumps of beeswax which will do the job fine. But I wanted to sex them up a bit. And what, now, could be more sexy than a cupcake? So, I formed these 100% beeswax amuses-mains in little chocolate moulds. Both beautiful and practical – what a joy!

This is not a cupcake

Stitcher's beeswax

In my compulsion to recycle everything, I made the first ones from used candle ends (really!) which happened to be green. But most of them are actually natural beeswax colour, as I’ve made the majority from new beeswax. You could probably eat them without much harm, but I’d recommend reserving them for their intended function. I think they’d make a cracking little stocking filler for a favourite stitcher. As with all my items, they’ll be on sale at It’s Darling! this weekend. The excitement is mounting, and the fair has  even been recommended by BBC Homes & Antiques  Magazine as one of the 5 great festive shopping treats nationwide. Woot! Hope to see you there.

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Jul 10

Minding my own beeswax

I’ve been minding a lot of beeswax lately, mostly my own. It began with some gorgeous beeswax candles which were a gift from my sister; they were green sheets of hexagonally imprinted beeswax (presumably made by green bees) rolled around a wick. When burned they left these honey-smelling trails of silky wax.  Of course, I couldn’t throw them away (nor the candle ends) before thinking hard about a potential re-use. After all, if bees are in short supply, we should be careful to conserve all their precious beeswax too, right?

Several experiments later and I came up with this: stitcher’s beeswax in various cupcakey shapes. Well, more petit-fours shapes, really. Aren’t they pretty? They look good enough to eat – though please don’t! Instead, run your thread along the edge of one before hand-sewing and your thread will be more robust, last longer and not twist.

Well, I’m giving away one of these little beauties with every purchase over £10 on my stall at the It’s Darling! fair on 17th July. I’ll also be selling them in my forthcoming Etsy shop.

Beeswax cupcakes

Little cupcakes of repurposed beeswax stitcherly goodness

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