Tagged: buttons

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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Feb 18

Giving things up

 

 

 

Today is Ash Wednesday and I’m fully embracing the give-something-up for Lent concept this year. As a slightly rusty Anglican, I really appreciate this opportunity afforded by the Church calendar for a period of quiet reflection. So, to cut to the chase, I’ve decided to give up two things: most of my wardrobe, and social media for the next 40-odd days.

Six Items Challenge

From today, I’ll be on Labour Behind the Label‘s Six Items Challenge for the next six weeks. This is a ‘fashion fast’ to draw attention to the perils of fast fashion. I certainly have plenty of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t wear. How much clothing do we all really need anyway? What does ‘fashion’ mean to me? Is the 4-6 week fashion cycle one that I care about or have any relationship at all with? Do I like or care for what’s ‘bang on trend’? Do I want people to live and work in terrible conditions to supply me with cheap, disposable clothing that’s ‘bang on trend’? All these questions are ones that I’ll be thinking about over the next few weeks while on the Six Items Challenge.

Taking part means that I’ll have to stick to a basic wardrobe of just six garments, not including underwear, accessories, or high-performance sportswear. I’ve found simply preparing for the challenge challenging enough; picking out my essential wardrobe has been tricky. I somehow resisted the sartorial advice of my 15-year-old son to purchase myself six onesies and have instead selected:-

  • 3 cashmere tops, one grey, one black, one red (all bought secondhand a while back)
  • 2 wool pinafore-type tunic over-dresses, both black (both sourced secondhand a while back, again), and
  • a wool cardigan (bought new several years ago), grey with giant comedy buttons
My only six garments for the next six weeks

Only six garments for the next six weeks

 

I’ll be going without, but all that cashmere is hardly hair-shirt. It should feel soft and non-irritating against my skin and hopefully keep me warm enough (I was warned by a previous year’s challengee that things can get chilly). The pinafore-type dresses mean that I can layer up, and wear a variety of tights underneath, hopefully allowing me to dress up or down to suit the occasion. I can ring the changes and jazz up a rather neutral palette with various accessories too. And the cardigan will hopefully keep making me smile – those buttons are enormous and very silly. The laundry element of the challenge scares me more than slightly; if you happen to see me IRL over the next few weeks, please approach with caution, and possibly with a fragrant nosegay to hand. I can well imagine quite rapidly resorting to this kind of thing. But let’s hope not.

If you’re intrigued, would like to know more, and possibly join me (which would be wonderful), here’s the link to challenge page. You don’t have to do it for the entire six weeks. Adjust to fit.

If you’re feeling flush, then it would be great if you’d sponsor me. I didn’t realise until I’d already signed up that there’s a sponsorship element to the challenge. I don’t anticipate getting anywhere near my £500 target, but it would be really good to be able to help Labour Behind the Label with their sterling work empowering garment workers around the globe – standing up for the victims of not just Rana Plaza but so many other appallingly exploitative situations. I’m hugely grateful to those who have already stepped up to the mark and helped me to help them. Thank you so much.

I must flag up online friends taking part, particularly Catherine Hopkins who’ll be reporting on her progress throughout.  You can keep tabs on the challenge on social media by looking out for the hashtags #sixitemschallenge and #labourbehindthelabel. You’ll also find things posted on the Six Items Challenge Facebook page.

And Labour Behind the Label’s Fundraising Director, Rebecca Cork, will be joining us at the next meet-up of the Big Mend at the Museum of Bath at Work next week, Wednesday 25th February from 7pm. So if you’re in Bath, please come along to hear a little about what Labour Behind the Label does. Then we’ll be mending, as usual. No need to book and no charge, though a small donation to help towards museum costs is welcomed.

Sponsorship page

My sponsorship page

 

 

Farewell, Social Media

After a discussion with some Christian friends the other night about what we’d all be giving up (or possibly taking up, or doing differently) for Lent, it occurred to me that the thing that would really give me withdrawal symptoms was probably not abstinence from tea, coffee, alcohol or chocolate but social media. And so, with not a little irony (as we are just entering the Chinese Year of the Sheep), I’ve decided that from today I will cease from public bleating. I will not be blogging, micro-blogging, posting, reposting, tweeting, retweeting, sharing, over-sharing, tagging, hashtagging, rehashtagging, artfully filtering photos, liking, linking, commenting, hearting, poking, pinning or replying for the next six weeks. Instead, I’ll be doing everything IRL and one-to-one, mostly in the flesh: meeting up with friends and family in person, catching up on the phone (remember that?), having proper conversations, reading books, doing any necessary shopping in bricks-and-mortar shops, watching movies, attending services, mending (including at the Museum of Bath at Work on 25th February – do join me if you happen to be around), gardening, engaging, exploring, planting, thinking, meditating, walking, contemplating, writing and working very, very hard. But no more of the Penn Broadcasting Company. No more glib narcissism. I hope to be more generally on receive than transmit. In short, I shall be hunkering down and keeping mum. Enjoying the quiet. I’m just sorry that this coincides with when I might be tweeting etc in support of Labour Behind the Label’s challenge, but I’m sure they’ll understand. I’m happy to engage in email correspondence, so if you have reason to get in touch then please do so.

Roll on Saturday 4th April. And wish me luck.

Buttoning up for the foreseeable

Buttoning up for the foreseeable

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Mar 04

Come to a Craft-Tea Party!

 

 

If you’re pushed for a Mother’s Day/Mothering Sunday* gift and live in Bath, I can help.

The Craft-Tea Party happens in Green Park Station this Saturday 9th March, 2-5pm. It’s organised by Oxfam Bath and timed to celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March).

Craft-Tea Party poster

 

I’m running a series of mini-workshops at 2pm, 2.45pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm (half an hour each) to make a gorgeous flower brooch from upcycled felt. The £5 fee will go entirely to Oxfam as I’m donating my time and materials.

Here’s the felt we’ll be using. It’s lovely thick stuff, culled from endless sweaters, cardigans and scarves gleaned in numberless charity shops then boiled in my washing machine and steam pressed. Yes, a complete labour of love!

Felted garments

Part of the Scrapiana upcycled felt library

 

And here are samples of some of the loopy brooches we’ll be making. They can be loosely sprawling, dense and tight, single colour, variegated, buttoned or not buttoned, but each holds a charm.

Loopy corsages

Loopy flower brooches

 

Best of all, these loopy flowers are surprisingly simple and fast to make. They just need a little careful cutting (I have various sizes of scissors for big and little hands) and require a little hand-sewing, though I minimise this for those who find needle-and-thread stressful. I made these (and some other felt flowers) with the Bath WI last week and we had a really fun, highly productive evening. Here’s a write-up from fellow craft blogger and WI member Sue. I’m so glad to have pepped up her week and brought a smile to her face – that means such a lot.

Anyway, £5 isn’t much of an outlay to hit two birds with one stone, donating to the brilliant Oxfam cause and making something for your lovely ma. Better still, bring your mum along and keep her busy close by with some tea and cake (served on vintage crockery, of course) while you make her a surprise. You’ll have to tell her not to peek, but the sumptuous cakes on offer should provide sufficient distraction.  So, here’s how you book a space, to avoid disappointment. Hope to see you there!

 

PS If you don’t have a mum (and so many of us don’t), do please come make a flower for yourself, or for a lovely female relative or friend whose nurturing spirit you appreciate.

 

*which, in the UK, falls on 10th March 2013 this year

 

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Jun 13

Curiously Enough

 

Textile artists’ group Brunel Broderers has an exhibition entitled Curiously Enough running at Ruskin Mill, 1 Mill Bottom, Old Bristol Road, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, GL6 0LA. It finishes tomorrow, Thursday 14th (note: closes 1pm on final day, otherwise 5pm). If there’s any way you can nip along to it, I’d recommend it. Here’s a glimpse from my visit yesterday.

Susi Bancroft patchwork artSusi Bancroft piece from Curiously EnoughFrom Curiously Enough exhibition, Ruskin Mill

 

 

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Mar 22

Mend It Better review and giveaway!

My! We are Giveaway Central at the moment! And this isn’t even the last one, so do stay tuned.

It’s an exciting day when the book you’ve contributed to arrives. You open it at your page to feel a surge of recognition followed by mingled joy and disbelief. Small wonder that authors often refer to books as their children; the parallels with gazing at your own baby for the first time are obvious. Though I’m not really the parent here. More of a distant cousin. Anyway, that happy day came a few weeks ago when my contributor’s copy of Mend it Better (subtitled Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching) by Kristin M. Roach plopped onto the doormat.

I was delighted to be picked for inclusion in Mend it Better back in the spring of 2011 because mending is a subject very close to my heart. There are issues on which the world divides cleanly into two mutually exclusive halves. We have the lovers and the haters of marmite, the watchers and the non-watchers of The Apprentice, and then we have the menders and the non-menders. It seems that you either get the concept of mending, thrift, recycling, conservation etc or you don’t.  Long ago I had a very interesting discussion with a friend who didn’t get it at all; in fact, she found people who upturn their washing-detergent bottles (in order to extract that last little drop) positively repugnant: “cheese-paringly mean” was, I think, the term she used.  As a fairly compulsive bottle-drainer myself, I felt a little jarred by the strength of her feelings on this point. I can’t quite remember how the conversation progressed from there, but there was probably a tumble-weed moment.

The rift between the two camps can be explained (at least partially) by the moral high-ground implicitly adopted by the thrifty, possibly imagined by the non-thrifty and felt by them as an unspoken rebuke. Most of us really don’t like shoulds and musts and uncomfortable being-told- what- to- dos, even if they are not actually uttered. Sometimes the mere presence of people doing-the-right-thing is enough to set off the won’t-do-it-and-you-cant-make-mes. Back in the old days, we used to call this ‘conscience’. Me, I quite like conscience. I think it can be telling us something useful. But I digress.

Into the gaping chasm between the thrifty and resolutely non-thrifty ( I see it rather like the Grand Canyon!) Kristin M. Roach rides, cheerfully a-whistlin’ a tune. Her panniers are full of  jaunty calico iron-on patches, prettily painted darning eggs, shiny skeins of embroidery silk and boundless enthusiasm. With these she can charm the birds from the trees (or do I mean cacti?) and persuade even the most militant non-mender that mending might be OK. Fun even.

The first thing that strikes you about Kristin’s book is how neat and tidy it is. The small scale — just 18.5cms x 21cms — is genuinely handy, perfect to slip into the mending bag. It’s purse-friendly too at just $18.95/£12.99. The book is laid out very appealingly; check out the perky appliqué fabric-letter graphics and the vintage sewing effects peppered throughout. This pretty book functions beautifully as a call-to-mend, with joy and creativity the main flavour and just the subtlest hint of virtue as an after-taste. As Kristin’s site says, ‘With Mend It Better, every garment and fabric repair is a chance for self-expression and fabulous creations.’  Yeah, the creativity card might just win it!

Title page

And now for the nitty gritty:

Who is the author? Kristin M. Roach lives in Ames Iowa, is a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Northern Illinois University) and she started writing her blog Craft Leftovers in 2006 as a way of keeping on top of her craft supplies — using up what she had rather than buying new. It’s a great source of inspiration for making the best of what’s already to hand.

What’s in the book? After a sweet introduction (in which Kristin pays homage to the significant sewing females in her family) there’s a brief foray through the evolution of sewing (which is possibly extra to requirements but enjoyable all the same) before Kristin tackles the basics. How do you assess if a piece is worth saving? What do you need in your essential mending tool kit? This includes instructions for a mending bag and upcycled tool clutch (see below). What basic stitches will you need? – both hand and machine. These can then be practised to make a cute needle book.

Mend it Better contents page

Next come all sorts of inspirational projects, each setting out a particular method or type of repair. As well as showing her own makeovers, Kristin has curated often bold and inspirational mends from other crafters, including Susan Beal, Rachel Beyer, Deb Cory, Carina Envoldsen-Harris, Crispina ffrench, Jennifer Forest, Diane Gilleland, Pam Harris, Marisa Lynch, Francesca Mueller, Cal Patch, Stacie Wick and Sherri Lynn Wood. Additional contributors are Caitlin Stevens Andrews, Maja Blomqvist, Cathie Jo, Ágnes Palkó, Megan PedersonLeah Peterson, Jamie Smith, and Yours Truly. Areas covered include: patchwork (including Leah Peterson’s  gorgeous reverse applique shown below),  seam fixes,  secret pockets, clever ways to adjust hems, waistband repairs, darning (by hand and machine, and an ingenious way to make your own darning egg using a wooden egg and a Shaker-style peg), fasteners, zip replacements, handling fancy fabrics, and decorative embellishments (including applying beads round a moth hole to create a flower motif).

Who will the book work best for? Kristin has clearly worked hard to make this an inclusive book, and I think it will work both for the absolute sewing newbie (who needs guidance through even basic stitches) and the more seasoned sewist (who can flip past that). Because it’s aiming to appeal to a wide audience, it crosses into the territory of some broader sewing manuals (such as this excellent one from Ruth Singer), but mostly includes what is relevant. I fear that it would frustrate someone expecting to find a lot of fancy hand-stitches as the ones included are fairly basic. I love the first few sewing projects which include a bag to hold your mending (upcycled from a damaged tablecloth) and a mending kit to hold your scissors, needles, marking gauges etc (upcycled from a felted sweater). Kristin conceived it as a book you can dip in and out of as necessary, whether you want to sew on a button or fit a hidden pocket.

Most inspiring mends? For me, it’s the reverse appliqué patching. I also liked the machine-darned jeans on the opposite page. Both are beautiful. There are a few other mends featured which go well beyond the purely practical and are aptly described as devotional. I also loved the crocheted sock darning done with oddments of yarn. It looks stunning, appears to be very robust, and I can’t wait to give it a try.

Mends by Leah Peterson and Jamie Smith

I must mention in passing that though I really loved Kristin’s make-your-own darning egg project (using a wooden egg and that Shaker peg) which she includes because she says they’re hard to find in the US, darning mushrooms etc are fairly commonplace  over here in the UK. You can also buy vintage ones at a certain Etsy store.

My contribution to the book was a mended apron (which you can see over on my In Print page). It wasn’t done for the book  – can’t you tell? – but was a favourite of mine I’d fixed. It’s not what I’d call exciting but its mother loves it.  And that’s one of the points Kristin makes; unless very ragged, something is worthy of fixing if you happen to cherish it, for whatever reason.

We may be stuck with a pretty dodgy economy for some time, and I doubt that spending our way out of it will be the answer — wasn’t that what got us all into this mess in the first place? Most of us will have to tighten our belts and take our dose of thrift as palatably as possible. Happily,  Mend it Better helps the medicine slide down.

OK, I’m convinced. Where can I buy it? Look for it at your local bookshop, and please ask, if you can’t find it. If you’re within spitting distance of me, I have a few copies available so email me. If you’re a bookstore or making establishment in the UK and would like to stock copies, get in touch with Melia Publishing Servcies. You can also get a signed copy direct from Kristin.

And finally to the giveaway! I’m really thrilled that the nice people at Storey Publishing (here’s their Facebook page, by the way) have offered to send a FREE copy of Mend it Better to one of my fortunate readers. The offer applies to readers in the US and UK only so if you’re hoping to learn to mend elsewhere, I’m sorry to disappoint. To enter, please leave a comment below. You can tell me what you have that needs mending, if you wish. A detached button? A tear to a precious dress? The knees of your favourite jeans? I’d also love to hear about any encounters you’ve had with the non-mending, thrift-intolerant portion of the population. But there’s no right answer, and a winner will be picked entirely at random. Entries close at midnight on Sunday 1st April, and the winner announced here on the blog on Monday 2nd April. Good luck!

 

 

 

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Jun 16

Button film

My attention span is perfectly suited to short, cute films at the moment — being currently like a small rabbit mesmerized by the media headlights — so what a delight it was to be sent this one by the thoughtful Becky Button (who also mailed me, unasked, this load of strawberry-suitable scraps last week, along with some bespoke Scrapiana lettering she’d made – you star, Becky!). The routine kindness of the crafting community is breathtaking.

Strawberry gift from Becky Button

Gifts from Becky Button

Just before you watch, I must tell you that I’ve posted a new Classes page here. Do check it out for details of the Vintage Strawberry Workshops I’m teaching this summer, and keep returning for news of other upcycling classes going forward.  I now have a dedicated Facebook page for Scrapiana and have foolishly given up tea until my ‘like’ total reaches 100. At time of writing I was stuck at 78, so please take pity on poor uncaffeinated me.

The following short film is a treasure of stop-motion animation. And there are buttons. Lots of them. Enjoy!

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May 17

Sock it to me

The humble sock is a wonderful thing. I’ve appreciated wearing socks for about as long as I’ve stood on my own two feet, but I’ve only just fallen in love with them as a creative medium. This is all thanks to Imogen Harvey-Lewis who was leading a sock creature workshop last weekend at the Stroud International Textiles festival. I still have trouble keeping a straight face when mentioning SIT, because ‘Stroud’ and ‘International’ are strange words to put together, at least for the average English ear. However, Stroud has every reason to be proud of its awesome textile heritage (Cotswold wool), and the festival, now in its 6th year, is garnering a formidable reputation amongst those who know about cloth, fabric and thread-based things.

Sock owls

Imogen Harvey-Lewis's Soon owls

Imogen is an illustrator and one-time stained glass restorer (she worked on some of the windows in Gloucester Cathedral) and her strong sense of line informs the way she approaches sewing. She started making sock creatures a couple of years ago inspired by this enchanting book. Daunted by the ‘correct’ sewist approach to creating 3-D forms, Imogen simply began to draw her creatures, first with a soft pencil, then with a needle (either by hand or using an old treadle  Singer sewing machine) straight onto the sock. She has figured out her own technique by trial and error and the resulting method is inventive, quirky and really refreshing.

Sock cat

Soon sock cat by Imogen Harvey-Lewis

Sewing just as she draws, Imogen’s dogs, elephants and cats, for example, have four legs all in a line rather than two one side, two the other in a more anatomically correct style. What is helpful about working with a knitted sock in this way is that, once stuffed, it yields and stretches – sometimes a little unpredictably but always adding  curves and interest to the simply drawn flat figure.

Soon-making workshop

Soons in progress

Imogen has given her quirky sock creatures the generic name ‘Soon’.  She can’t really explain why: it was just a name that appealed. I suggested to her that they were fairly quick to make, so ‘soon’ was fitting for that reason. It also has a slightly wistful quality which suits (I almost wrote ‘soots’) these characterful creations so well. Many of them do look as if they need to be loved. And soon.

Our workshop group began by making a simple owl from part of a toddler-sized sock. With this we mastered the basics of managing the sewing tension on a stretchy sock, remembering to leave a little hole to turn and stuff our owls (guess which one of the class forgot this [blushes]), filling our creature with beaded pellets (making sure not to over-fill our endlessly stretching socks), selecting and sewing on eyes (4-holed buttons give a wide-awake look, 2-holed ones a sleepy one), and embroidering a beak. This last element was possibly the hardest of all as not pulling the beak too tight was unexpectedly tricky.

A handful of sock owls

Imogen's owls (grey), workshoppers' owls (blue)

Then we moved on to more complex creatures, such as rabbits, cats, dogs and elephants.

Sock dogs

Imogen's mongrel Soon Woofs

We’d been advised to bring along old socks, which I had plenty of. However, once at the workshop I soon (Soon!) realised that it would be a waste of effort to upcycle a really tatty old sock into one of these delightful creatures. Also, the designs often make full feature use of the heel and toe gusseting, so an old sock thinning in the usual areas wouldn’t work well at all. Imogen looks out for interesting new socks everywhere (supermarkets etc), and only uses new for the Soons she sells to the public as she thinks (rightly, I’d guess) that people will not want to buy used ones. Soons made for family members are another thing.

Never one to pass up an upcycling opportunity, I managed to make a Soon dog from one of  my old socks, though frankly I feel he’s a bit of a rough mutt next to Imogen’s fresh-from-the-packet versions (he’s proving camera-shy, by the way – I haven’t managed to take a decent picture of him yet). This leaves me with a bit of an upcycler’s dilemma as I’d really rather not go buying new socks to turn into Soons. Principles can be so inconvenient. Still, it’s nice to add another method to the growing battery of Scrapiana upcycling skills: I could upcycle an old sock into a sock creature even if I choose not to.

Imogen sells her enchanting Soons at Stroud Farmers’ Market plus via a few select outlets in Bristol etc and is currently exploring options to sell online. You can contact Imogen here for further information. Meanwhile, the Stroud International Textiles festival continues until Sunday 22nd May.

Sock elephant

Elephant Soon

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Mar 21

Scrap of the week #13

This week’s scrap started out as a skirt. I found it in a local charity shop where the gorgeous Liberty Tana Lawn Glenjade fabric jumped out at me from twenty paces.

What made it unpromising to wear (dowdy A-line cut) makes it a great candidate for upcycling (that flare means lots of fabric). Most importantly, the fabric still had a huge amount of life in it, with colour that was still very fresh and strong. The chief flaw was a prominent black ink stain,  presumably the reason for it winding up in the charity shop in the first place. This fabric costs upwards of £12 a metre new, by the way (£19.95 if you buy from Liberty) so I snapped this baby up. It’s also an unusual colourway: a slightly salmony pink (brighter than the photo) which I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Indelible stain

Innocent skirt, minding its own business

In case you think it a little unseemly to take apart perfectly good clothing willy-nilly, I feel I should add that I did try to get the stain out first. Dismantling with my trusty seam-ripper only began when the mark wouldn’t budge. Actually, I probably would have taken it apart anyway as I do love Liberty lawn; it’s a silky-soft finely woven cotton printed in tender little patterns (mostly) which is probably my favourite fabric of all time. I have stockpiled several second-hand shirts made from it (like this and this) by Comfy-Cotswold-style clothing retailers. I plan to dissect them without any qualms at all. Just so you know.

As with so many of the Liberty lawn designs, this leaf pattern works really well in small quantities – a little goes a long way – so I’m making various small-scale items with it. To date I’ve made fabric-covered buttons and bias binding (I’ll have some of these for sale at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair on Saturday) and I’ve also made a mystery item. I’m bursting to tell you more about it, but am not allowed. Yet. Do watch this space!

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Mar 14

Green shoots

According to those in the know, we’re hurtling at full tilt towards Bath’s big spring event: the It’s Darling! Spring Fair on Saturday 26th March.

Excitingly, this will be It’s Darling!‘s first spring fair, and it takes place in the midst of the Bath in Fashion festival, though happily no ticket is required to get into ID! If you’ve been to the other It’s Darling! Vintage & Handmade Artisan Fairs (note the re-brand), the venue will be roomier this time: the Friends’ Meeting House, just across from the Abbey, past the benches and buskers –  if you can make it past the SF Fudge Factory.

Yes, I’ll be there all day, toting vintage fabrics, old cotton reels, ric-rac, and Mother’s Day treats galore!

Vintage Fabric

Get your spring greens

I’ll have some particular gems for fashionistas too: vintage silk scarves, brooches, buckles, buttons, as well as the odd eiderdown and… well, you’ll have to come along and see for yourself. If you’re planning a full girl’s day out, don’t forget the Marilyn: Hollywood Icon exhibition, just opened at the American Museum. And you could take a peek at the Behind the Scenes expo at the Fashion Museum. Hope to see you then!

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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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