Tagged: sewing

Sep 05

Closed for repairs

 

This poor, neglected blog is having its innards looked at. The content is broken, the ideas ragged, and (unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the author is run off her feet doing other work and simply doesn’t have the time to look under the bonnet.

Until it’s up and running again, here is a pretty bundle of mending materials to gaze upon. Thank you for your patience, and could you please pass me that screwdriver… ?

 

Mending bundle

Mending bundle

 

 

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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 17

Persuasive labels

 

In my Etsy shop you’ll find Persuasion labels. These sew-in tags feature a searing line from Jane Austen’s book of the same name, plucked from the love-letter of Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot. He’s explaining how he’s on tenterhooks. His old love for her continues, but is it still reciprocated…? As he waits for her reply, he writes:

I am half agony, half hope. 

If you’ve read the book and not bawled your eyes out at this point, your heart must be stonier than mine. Persuasion isn’t an easy read if you’ve been waiting for fortune (in love or anything else) to turn in your favour. Not to be recommended, possibly, if the powers-that-be appear to be conspiring against you. But do read it. It’s about endurance and stoicism and – eventually – joy. The moral of the story is that the good things in life are worth waiting for, with the stress very much on the waiting; Austen’s working title should have been Delayed Gratification.

So, who would use a label like this? And how? Well, late last year I got an order for some of these labels, all the way from Singapore. A while after I despatched them, a lovely message came in from the buyer, Lala, with a link to her blog, Girl with a Sewing Machine. And there was the label. Looking wonderful. Stitched inside the waistband of a skirt she’d made for the Yellow Skirt Project.

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

Persuasion label stitched inside waistband

 

Doesn’t that red-green-yellow-pink combo just kerpow? And here’s a full-length shot of Lala wearing her cute skirt.

 

Lala in her yellow 'Persuasion' skirt. It persuades me!

Lala in her persuasive skirt

 

Lala calls her skirt ‘The Grapefruit Chardon’, based on the Deer and Doe pattern. She goes on to explain on her blog that she’d heard about the Persuasion labels here on Roobeedoo‘s blog. And here. I’d missed Roobeedoo’s mentions completely, so am really grateful that Lala pointed them out. It gives me a real kick to think that these labels are being worn inside real pieces of clothing, flying an invisible flag for persistence, endurance and (not least) sew-in labels.

At school in the 1970s, my drab grey and bottle-green school uniform was marked with Cash’s name tapes: my mother let me choose the lettering, and I went for the biggest, boldest font available: large red capitals on a white ground. I didn’t want my obscure Welsh name to be indecipherable. These labels were tremendously reassuring: they would be legible; they would withstand the laundry, they would stay on through the forlorn rummage of the lost-property bin. For me, they also signified how much I (as well as my uniform) was cared for. I don’t think there was an option to attend that school without sewn-in labels (that was how things worked back then) so presumably some of my peers had the same feeling. For me, those labels were like a talisman, a St Christopher ferrying me (in my uniquely named me-ness) safely through the world.  Once I had kids of my own, it had to be my guilty secret that I actually enjoyed the chore of sewing their labels into their first school uniforms. It felt as if I was nurturing their specialness too, in the way that mine had been. And, though I could not be with them as they took their first solo steps into the significant places beyond home, my stitches could touch their skin. For me, a Sharpie scrawl on a laundry tag is just not the same. I know, I know! My name is Eirlys and I’m a label purist.

Since then I’ve discovered old laundry marking labels, usually with a couple of elaborate embroidered initials only. These are mostly red thread on white cotton. Intricate. Delicate. Beautiful. Most of us don’t send our clothes out to laundries these days, so don’t have to mark our smalls and detachable collars with these dainty anachronisms. But they are still delightful, and add a touch of elegance to a making project. If you’re wanting antique labels with your own initials, they can be found – with a little persistence. Do drop a comment below if you happen to be an antique textiles dealer who sells them. 

 

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Antique laundry labels

 

If you’d like some of these ultra-romantic Persuasion labels, you can buy them over here. I  also have some I love you labels which you might sew into a homemade garment or wearable vintage find for your beloved (or would-be beloved) on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure it’ll do the trick.

 

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Oct 16

Red Dress – 1946

 

 

1940s jumper dress pattern c/o seller BessyAndMaive on Etsy

 

My mother was making me a dress. All through the month of November I would come home from school and find her in the kitchen, surrounded by cut-up velvet and scraps of tissue-paper pattern. She worked at an old treadle machine pushed up against the window to get the light, and also to let her look out, past the stubble fields and bare vegetable garden, to see who went by on the road. There was seldom anybody to see.

The red velvet material was hard to work with, it pulled and the style my mother had chosen was not easy either. She was not really a good sewer. She liked to make things; that is different. Whenever she could she tried to skip basting and pressing and she took no pride in the finer points of tailoring, the finishing of buttonholes and the overcasting of seams as, for instance, my aunt and grandmother did. Unlike them she started off with an inspiration, a brave and dazzling idea; from that moment on, her pleasure ran downhill.

 from Red Dress–1946 by Alice Munro

 

Red Dress–1946 comes from Alice Munro‘s first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades published in 1968. By chance, I was already reading this before the announcement last week that Munro had won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature; I had no idea that she was even tipped, but she’s a delightful choice.

Munro was an author my mother enjoyed; they were contemporaries, growing up in very similar North American cultural spaces, and some of the stories in this collection centre on girls in small towns during the first half of the twentieth century. Reading Munro seems to bring my mother (rather long gone now) back into reassuring proximity.

This story is one of my favourites, not just because it features sewing (informed by some understanding of the process) but for the way it reveals character so economically through it. It also nails how mortification and extreme fear of social embarrassment are the air an adolescent breathes. If you want to read some Munro – and like sewing – I’d recommend that you head straight for this delicious little volume.

The 1940s jumper pattern from which the image comes is available to buy over to BessyAndMaive‘s Etsy shop.

 

 

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Oct 08

The Napkin Project exhibition

Last month I attended The Napkin Project‘s exhibition of contributions for Saffron Gardens, a new dementia care facility in Bristol. The project embraced the theme of ‘home’, with volunteers across the UK embroidering napkins to reflect what the word means to them. The napkins are destined to be used by people with dementia, hopefully stimulating memories, inspiring interaction, etc. This comment from a contributor helps to explain the impetus behind the project:

My father has dementia and I have often noticed the urge for him, and other residents in the care home, to play with the edges of things – be it fabric or a table edge. In fact, I often leave a cotton hankie (brightly patterned Liberty squares) for him when my visit is over – a sort of textile reminder that I’ve been there. Something physical for him to hold.

It was touching to see the 120 napkins hanging, slightly mournfully, en masse. Their brown-paper hanging tags carried words like ‘comfort’, ‘security’, ‘safety’ and ‘love’. 250 napkins had been sent out to embroiderers of all ages, levels and abilities (no-one was excluded), and the organisers, Willis Newson, were gratified by the relatively high response rate, considering the heavy investment of effort and time required to complete one in the three-month timeframe.

 

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I had stitched one of the napkins, partly inspired to contribute by my own experiences of having close relatives in care. And it wasn’t surprising to me that affecting human stories hover behind many of the napkins. A fellow napkin-embellisher, viewing napkins beside me at the expo, revealed that she had just lost her own mother to dementia a few weeks before; in fact, she had hand-delivered her napkin to the organisers while visiting Bristol for her mother’s funeral. Amidst that turmoil, she valued the experience of embroidering her napkin, she said. It gave her something positive to focus her grieving energies on.

So, what did ‘home’ mean to the contributors? Here are some of the common themes.

Houses.

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Teapots, teacups and cakes.

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Plates, of course, to put them on.

Blue plate napkin

A good read.

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Gardens, trees and flowers.

Napkin for The Napkin Project

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Animals, birds and pets.

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Julia Laing’s contribution

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Creative spaces where much making is done.

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And places we have literally created ourselves.

Paintbrush napkin

Home is the place I have made

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A place of warmth.

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Home as a place we feel safe, where we are free to be ourselves. Ironically, it may be far from our actual home, under canvas, or under no roof at all.

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The Napkin Project has just uploaded an entire set of (much better) pictures of all napkins received to date over on Flickr, so do go and have a browse.

I was so pleased to be involved in this very practical creative project. It has been thought-provoking. In seeking to define an intangible – what creates a real home rather than just a place where we happen to be existing – it hints at crucial ingredients of care. I hope that it succeeds in providing amusement, comfort and stimulation to the residents of Saffron Gardens. And perhaps it will establish, in its small way, a new paradigm for working with dementia patients?

It was clear to me, attending the exhibition, that it has already provided comfort to a lot of relatives of people with dementia. So many contributed, and this appears to have been a positive means of channelling grief, sadness and loss. There’s so much intertwined in the fibres of those napkins.

If you haven’t completed your napkin yet, don’t worry. Finish it in your own time and return it because it will still be very happily and gratefully received, the organisers assure me. Most importantly, it will be used and handled by real people with dementia. If you would like to stitch a napkin but didn’t apply, Willis Newson allowed me to take a couple in the cream shade to give out,  so do get in touch – especially if you can pick one up from Bath. Thank you.

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Oct 01

Jacqmar calling

 

 

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The distinctive Jacqmar mark

 

When this vibrant blouse was brought to the M Shed’s World War 2 day last Saturday, it created a frisson of excitement. Apparently upcycled from a Jacqmar propaganda scarf by the owner’s mother (a primary school teacher in London during the war), the blouse is an eye-popping reminder for us too young to have experienced the war IRL that it wasn’t lived in black-and-white.

 

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Economic cutting

 

The 1942 line drawing by Jacqmar’s company designer Arnold Lever contains a selection of  topical references. Here’s much more about it and them c/o Meg Andrews, a specialist in antique costume and textiles.

 

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Back view

 

The blouse is threadbare here and there, but still very bright and beautiful. It’s noticeable that the green binding is much finer and more flexible than the run-of-the-mill stiff stuff on offer to us nowadays. And it’s still doing the job, though a little worn here and there. The red buttons are not original to the WW2 item.

 

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Binding finish

 

I’m a little puzzled by this piece. Jacqmar propaganda scarves were expensive items when new, so turning one into a blouse would have been a very bold project, in more ways than one. Admittedly, in this form it would have been wearable for a young teacher during her working day, whereas a head-scarf would not. But have I made a false assumption that this was made from a headscarf? It looked to me as if the pieces could just come (if carefully cut) from the square yard of fabric provided by a scarf. But did Jacqmar produce garments too? Or was the fabric ever sold by the metre? My hunch is that this was a homemade item; look at the stitching visible beyond the binding – not a professional finish. And the fact that contrast binding was used, not self, would indicate a paucity of fabric which as being negotiated with the greatest care, so the upcycled scarf theory still holds water. 

 

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The odd hole here and there…

 

I bet this made a real impact on pupils when the young teacher wore it. Do you know of someone who made items from bright scarves during the war? Maybe you’ve inherited a Jacqmar propaganda scarf? Or another item of clothing made by Jacqmar? Perhaps you recognise the vintage blouse pattern this was cut from? If you have any insight at all to offer, I’d be delighted if you’d share it with me below. And if you happen to be in Bristol and have a story about World War 2, or an artefact you’d be willing to loan for an exhibition next year, do get in touch with the M Shed. Thanks.

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered that famed scarf producer Jacqmar did indeed turn out fabrics. In fact, they were doing this before they began to make scarves: the scarves being, ironically, a thrifty way to use up precious silk scraps. There’s a nice story about Arnold Lever’s patriotic fabric over here, used to create a VE party dress.

 

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Sep 10

Patch-ology

 

 

Micro-patching is my current obsession. I’ve made up the term – at least, I think I have. It could already be some kind of hack in the world of software engineering (is it?) but here it succinctly describes using the teeniest textile scraps, usually of Liberty Tana lawn, to cover holes and other faults in a garment etc. Sometimes I apply them as reinforcements: around pocket edges, for example (see my purple granny cardi below). And sometimes I apply them just for the heck of it. To be honest, I need very little excuse to use Liberty fabric, so sometimes I don’t wait for a repair.

This week, my patch of choice has been circular, and my mission has been to cover genuine holes. Moth holes, to be precise.

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Micro-patches

 

If you have a similar woollen garment to repair, be sure to treat it first for moths; I hand-wash with an appropriate wool wash, air-dry flat thoroughly, then freeze for a week or two inside a zip-lock plastic bag. That usually shows the little blighters what for.

To make the tiny round patches, I’ve applied scraps of the lightest iron-on interfacing to my lawn scraps first, just to ensure that my patches are stable. This is my preference and isn’t absolutely essential as lawn is such a closely woven fabric that it won’t fray much (if at all) nor stretch out of shape, though it will get softer and collapse with wash and wear. So, I use interfacing to make them just a little more robust and shape-holding. Then I’ve cut out circles, using whatever round thing happened to be close to hand for a template: cotton-reels, buttons, money, thimbles, etc.

I had a lot of holes to cover, so arranging the patches was my next task. I tried not to draw attention to certain areas by using fabrics which toned with my flamey orange Brora cashmere tank top – a charity shop buy, incidentally, and cheap as chips because of its parlous moth-holed state. Other areas could carry more of a punchy contrast. You might feel a bit like a tattoo artist doing this, trying to figure where best to position a patch to enhance the wearer’s physique. Or not. If you have a really awkward hole (right over a sensitive part of the bosom, for example) you need to think very carefully about your repair. This might not be the right place for a micro-patch.

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Positioning patches

 

Once pinned into position, it’s a question of  tacking (even if you never usually baste or tack, I’d advise not skipping this stage for this type of work – it doesn’t take long and you can try on your garment more easily to decide if you’re happy with the result). Then it’s time for stitching over the patch by hand, getting decorative as the mood takes: spirals, concentric circles, radiating lines etc. I rather like a plain, simple back-stitch a few millimetres from the edge of the patch. Blanket stitch will cover the edges, if raw edges bug you, but it yields a slightly raised effect – fine, if that’s what you want. You could free-machine embroider, if you prefer; a few overlapping freehand circles would look really good. But this is hard (OK, impossible) to do on restricted areas such as sleeves etc.

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Back-stitched micro-patch

 

How small can you go with these micro-patches? Well, if you’re just covering a mark or soiled area, you can go very itsy-bitsy as there’s no repair to effect; so as long as you can secure it well to the background fabric, you can go wild with your teenies. If you’re covering a hole, however, I’d ensure there’s at least a half-inch margin of sound fabric all around the edge of the repair. Now, if you stitch well over your patch, it should hold up well. To be extra secure, you could even try sandwiching it, with one patch on the outside, another of the same size on the inside; this could be done without any interfacing for a softer, more yielding repair. And then you’re spared seeing the raw edges of your repair on the wrong side of the garment. 

 

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Radiating lines of split stitch

 

I get a real buzz from using up even the smallest jewel-like scraps of Liberty fabric. Do you? Seems almost criminal to throw them away. If you have a go, please show me how you get on. There’s a place to share your repairs, by the way, over here at The Big Mend group pool. Jump on in! The water’s lovely. 

I also love the satisfaction of working old-school tradition patching techniques which leave strong, finished edges; I will be teaching these (plus creative ways to repair jeans) in my half-day patching class, Patch-ologyPlease visit my classes page for details: forthcoming dates are Wednesday 18th September, Monday 7th October, and Friday 8th November. But I like to play it dangerously with my lawn, risking raw edges (which aren’t going to fray a whole lot anyway) and going smaller and smaller and smaller. Edgy stuff!

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Send reinforcements!

 

 

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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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Dec 31

Scrap of the week #27

 

This little heart is made from a small scrap of window-cleaner’s scrim, a leftover from a waistcoat I made twenty-something years ago. Yes, a waistcoat; I really, really like utility fabrics: ticking, scrim, hessian, calico, cambric: plain, simple, honest, serviceable (that wonderfully old-fashioned word) fabrics, and I have a habit of trying to use them in unusual ways. I think I pushed the envelope a bit with that waistcoast which sagged and bagged enough to test the sartorial patience of a hobbit. But it’s good to experiment. Anyway, if evidence were needed that I really do cherish all scraps, this little piece of insignificant scrim is it. Remember: there are no worthless scraps, just scraps waiting for the right project to come along.

Love heart

Scrim is a loosely woven light canvas cloth made of cotton, hessian or linen. The only version I’m familiar with is the linen window-cleaning type, held in high esteem by glass cleaners because of its absorbent, lint-free and and non-smearing properties. I bought this way back whenever in John Lewis, but you can also find it sold by the metre at upholstery suppliers or in packets from purveyors of old-fashioned cleaning supplies, and very good value it is too. The handle improves as it is washed and worked. Scrim of a slightly different variety is also used much in the theatre as something onto which or through which to project light for various effects; there seems to be a wonderful product called sharktooth scrim which I’ve yet to encounter, but when I do I’ll count my fingers and toes afterwards.

A word full of chewily onomatopoeic potential, ‘scrim’ sounds like it should be anglo-saxon or medieval but is actually late eighteenth century, and of unknown origin. If there hasn’t been a Dickensian character named Scrim (of spare physique and mean as mustard) there really should have been. Please put me right if there’s a literary creature out there bearing the name and you’ll really make my day.

To create this little heart, I wanted to use counted cross stitch technique, something I’ve only done in small amounts but which I’ve long admired, particularly in the form of classic marking stitches, the day-to-day needlework which would have eaten women’s time a century of two ago. Time for me to have a go. I first embroidered my motif, following an old DMC handbook of marking stitches, carefully counting my threads. Note that I left my small square of scrim intact for the embroidering – didn’t cut out my heart until I’d completed the embroidery part, because I needed all the fabric I could muster to hold well within my tiny embroidery hoop. When cross-stitching, it’s good to place your work in an embroidery hoop to keep it stable and supported, particularly on something as flexible (for that read ‘wayward’) as scrim, or these soft linen scraps featured as my previous Scrap of the Week. It’s also worth lining your hoop in white cotton seam binding or strips of cotton if you’d prefer (as shown below – you can see towards the bottom how it’s been stitched to secure it) to minimise creasing of your work caused by the hard edges of the hoop. It will also help your hoop grip the work securely.

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For the stitching, I used regular skeins of embroidery cotton. And you know what? It was fun. There’s something very satisfying in simply following a chart. All you have to do is crunch the data.

Amongst my most treasured sewing books are copies of these old DMC needlework books: The Embroiderer’s Alphabet is one of my favourites. Just look at this beautiful page picked at random.

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Issues of the books are undated but the first was published around 1910. It was reissued time and again in English, German, French and Italian. Most of the book is cross-stitch charts, running to some 90 pages. The designs are eye-wateringly elaborate.

Imagine monogramming your sheets, towels or hankies like this?

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Maybe adding a suitable crown?

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Or just embroidering a seasonal scene on a cushion, or nightgown case?

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I am listing some DMC cross-stitch books on Etsy. This 8th edition of The Embroiderer’s Alphabet is sadly missing its back cover, but the pages are clean and tight in their binding still. And, wonderfully, all of the glassine transfers are intact.

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Back to my scrim heart, once finished with the embroidering (it didn’t take long), I cut out two heart-shaped pieces (my template was a large cookie-cutter) allowing a small quarter-inch seam allowance. I seamed the two together, remembering to leave a biggish hole down one side of the heart for turning and filling. I clipped the curved edges at the top of the heart to ensure that they would sit nicely, trimmed the point at the bottom of the heart (same reason), then turned my heart right side out and filled it with wadding (but it would have been lovely with lavender). A quick slip-stitch of the opening and it was complete.

Sending you love and cross-stitchy blessings this New Year’s Eve! Roll on 2013!

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Aug 30

Girls’ summer camp 1912, #3

 

Apologies for the hiatus between postings. Summer camp 1912 continues with some al fresco dining…

Cooking dinner

A certain amount of over-clad PE…

Edwardian summer camp - physical culture

And some postprandial embroidery…

A delightful hour doing needlework

A final thrilling instalment tomorrow, campers!

 

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