Tagged: Mimi Kirchner

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



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


Jan 17

Scrap of the week #10

Another scrap so soon? I’m trying to stick to posting these on Mondays in future, so this week begins as I mean to go on.

Here’s is an object lesson in how to shrink a garment before upcycling. Or possibly how not to shrink a garment before upcycling. Let’s just say I was a little vigorous in my approach.

Originally a long 100% lambswool Dorothy Perkins skirt from my local charity shop, this item was bought purely for the pleasure of shrinking to make into something else. I had absolutely no intention of wearing it, and – knowing what wool skirts do to the average backside – I really didn’t think anyone else should be wearing it either. So that’s my excuse for indulging in a little garment genocide. Here it is before I got to work with my evil plan.

Wool skirt - before

Innocent skirt, minding its own business

And here’s a closer shot of its rather nice back-to-front texture (the right side of the garment looked like the wrong side, if you get me).

Wool skirt

Nice texture

And this is what happened when I put it through a hot wash in my unopenable-during-its-wash-cycle front-loading washing machine.

Wool skirt - after

Oh, the horror!

Yes, a little more shrinkage than I’d anticipated; about a third of it just disappeared. Nevermind. Let that be a lesson to you. On the plus side, I have a reasonably big piece of very dense felt to play with.

This textile vandalism happened a while ago but I dug it out when I was looking for something to use for Mimi Kirchner‘s wonderful Fresh Fish pattern. I’m not sure it’s what I’ll use for my first effort, but it’s there in my fish pending tray for now. It’s certainly big enough to make up the body of the fish.  By the way, I’d been toying with getting hold of Mimi’s fish pattern for months and was finally inspired to reel it in by this adorable version made by the reigning queen of garment-felting, Betz White.

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