Tagged: Sylko

May 11

The Bath Brocante returns



The new season of Bath Brocantes in Alice Park is upon us! You may remember that I paid a visit to the French-style market last summer and blogged about it, taking alarmingly intrusive pictures of charming organiser Katherine Gilmore‘s jacket in the process. I think she’s forgiven me.

The first brocante is tomorrow, 10am-4pm. I will be there! Do come and say hello!

Here is an action snap of me compiling Jubilympic-themed haberdashery and props (props are mostly also for sale).

Bath Brocante bits

Ric-rac & reels

You will note that no cotton reel is being left unturned in my quest for haberdashery relevance, such that the Sylko cotton reels above carry names like ‘Royal Gleam’, and (a nod to the Gallic nature of the event), ‘Napoleon’; this last one is a rare Sylko shade, btw, and I have three pristine reels to offer. I also have a slew of Cartier-Bresson cards of mending thread (repriser brillanté); funny that the famous photographer came from a family once even more famous for producing thread.

I’m unaccustomed to taking stalls at outdoor events. This one will be interesting because my would-be events table has been deployed by Scrapling Esquire as his AS revision desk. I can’t possibly deprive him of it now that he’s embarked on study leave and begins the dreaded exams next week. Therefore I’m resorting to other prop/display elements, with varying degrees of success. So far I have hauled out a lovely old French iron-framed cot (perfect for displaying vintage textiles) and I am currently blu-tacking haberdashery containers to the rungs of an old stepladder. Can’t decide whether I”m trying too hard or not enough; please come along and grade me (preferably in French) on my efforts. We will be located right next to the cafe.


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



Jun 13

scrap of the week #14

I haven’t posted any scraps lately, so here’s a nice one for you.

If you’ve seen this month’s Mollie Makes, you may recognise this fabric.

Strawberry floral

Fabric fit for a strawberry

It’s a lightweight cotton I used for one of my favourite strawberries. This is an unmarked oddment: there’s no text on the selvedge. I used most of it for a dress I made c.1980. The dress pattern was high Laura Ashley (by McCall’s, I think) with square neckline, buttoned leg-o-mutton sleeves, gathered slightly drop-waisted skirt (ending mid-calf length) and sash, though I wore it loose-fitting without. That dress was the first piece of clothing I remember making and actually enjoying wearing. I was so proud of myself, but what was I thinking? Must have watched too much Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. However, it was comfortable, washable, and easy to wear. I think this fabric has finally found its true destiny in strawberries, though. I love the ruby shade of red. If you happen to have any old Sylko cotton reels, it matches D.46 Ruby very well. On the purplish berry end of the red spectrum.

I may still have that Laura Ashley pattern somewhere, though I can’t immediately lay my hands on it [phew!]. Nor do I have any pictures of myself wearing it [phew again]. A quick trawl of  the Vintage Patterns Wiki hasn’t located the pattern either, so if you think you know the one I mean — and maybe have it still — I’d love to hear from you!

And now I’m making up Vintage Strawberry Kits, some of which will include pieces of this fabric. I can tell you’re excited…




Jun 06

My first sewing machine #5: Ginny Farquhar

Ginny Farquhar

Ginny Farquhar, aka Sweet Myrtle

Ginny Farquhar is half of the collaborative sewing team Alice & Ginny. She has co-authored a couple of charming sewing books, Sew Fabulous Fabric (2008) and Home Sweet Sewn (2009), both published by David & Charles. Ginny and Alice, who first met while at secondary school, are both after my own heart, being passionate thrifters, recyclers and textile upcyclers. They also offer sewing workshops (details below). Ginny blogs and tweets as Sweet Myrtle, and it was on Twitter that I first became aware of her. I can’t wait to delve into Ginny’s sewing-machine history, so let’s begin.

Ginny's brooches

Upcycled brooches. See Ginny's shop for details.

Scrapiana: Tell me about your first sewing machine, Ginny. What was its make, model and
colour? Did it have any distinguishing features?

Ginny: Strangely, I remember the actual day in 1984 when I got my very first sewing machine though not the actual choosing or purchasing of it. My mother had driven me into town and with us we had £160 to spend. This amount was the life insurance money that my dad had saved from my birth and which he gave to me when I became 16. I believe my sisters had saved theirs but I decided that I wanted to use it to buy my very own sewing machine as I had been using the family machine up to that point; my grandmother’s classic old hand wheeled Singer.

We stopped at the post office first and I remember being mortified as my mum in her vague Wendy Craig way (remember Butterflies), joined the queue at the front! Sadly I don’t remember anything else about the day other than my teenage embarrassment of my mother!

Peony wreath

Peony wreath, featured in Home Sweet Sewn Photo: Sian Irvine

The machine I chose was a Frister and Rossman Beaver 3. On reflection it was an unattractive creamy colour and it had a brown vinyl dust cover which slipped over it completely except for the small metal spool pin which poked out the top in a rather pleasing fashion. I was as delighted with it. It was pretty sturdy except for the wee table attachment whose saving grave was a one drop down metal leg which created a little more stability and stopped it wobbling.

Scrapiana: Do you still have it?

Ginny: Sadly I no longer have the machine as I passed it on to as friend when I upgraded on my 30th birthday. My friend had been itching to start sewing and I am so pleased that my machine helped her on her journey. Years later she has joined an embroidery group in St Ives and passed the Beaver onto her daughter who used it through her art and fashion studies. I am unsure if it is still going now but delighted that it has been in continual use since 1984.

Scrapiana: How lovely to have helped two stitchers with one cast-off machine! Who taught you to sew? Were they a good teacher?

GinnyI cannot remember being taught to sew prior to secondary school needlework lessons, though I probably picked up a lot from my elder sisters whilst making clothes for our Pippa dolls and creating costumes from clothes and fabrics in our dressing up box. I took O-level ‘Dress’ at school so learned good sewing and dressmaking skills there. The teacher was strict and the approach was traditional and formal, but it was taught well and I am extremely grateful to her (can’t remember her name now) as it was a very good grounding in the subject.


Handmade ochre necklace: paper, wool felt & bead

Scrapiana: Pippa dolls! Happy memories! I still have my bungled attempts at making clothes for my Pippa: fiddly work as she was so small. What’s your earliest memory of using your first machine? What did you make? Do you still have any of your early creations?

Ginny: When I first got the Beaver it was in my final year of school so I must have used it to complete my O-level Dress pieces; a brown wool skirt and a very attractive (note the sarcasm) peachy asymmetrical blouse. I also used it to make a dress for my school  leavers do, which by today’s prom standard was nothing but a simple dress, although I do remember attaching the bodice to the skirt late in the evening at the dining room table, only to discover the next morning that I had attached the skirt with the seams on the outside!

At college I was into tie-dyeing sheets and whizzing them up into wrap skirts. I also used it to stitch detail onto paper fish for a mermaid costume I made whilst on my art foundation course. Thinking about it this machine had such heavy usage through its life with me as during my costume course and freelance costume making days it must have stitched through many different fabrics and created many costumes; the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe  for the D’Oyly Carte Opera company to a rubber condom costume for a female comedians sketch show in the 90’s.  I have also just realised that part of my wedding dress was stitched on the Beaver!

More flower brooches

More flower brooches

Scrapiana: Do you regret parting with it?

GinnyI sometimes feel it would have been nice to have kept the machine and been able to pass it on to my daughters though I am happy that  my friend and her daughter have made great use of it and I do believe that a machine is never happy stuck away in a loft!

Scrapiana: Very wise.What machine did you get next? And can you run us through your subsequent machines and their merits?

Sew Fabulous Fabric

Sew Fabulous Fabric

GinnyMy 30th birthday present, partially paid for by my husband, was my current machine, a Pfaff Tipmatic 6122. I especially like it as it has an integral walking foot, is of solid construction and it has stretch stitch options which at time of purchase was a real selling point as during this period I was making a lot of  lycra dance costumes. It has also become my workhorse these past 13 years firstly used for costumes and then for making products for the retail market from recycled and vintage fabrics for the small business called folkydokee handmade that I ran with Alice Butcher for 7 years.  All the projects that were created for our two subsequent craft books, ‘Sew fabulous Fabric’ and ‘Home Sweet Sewn‘ were sewn on either the Pfaff or Alice’s fantastic ‘vintage’ Bernina. I still use the Pfaff and my most recent sewn project is a kimono style top.

Ginny's Pfaff Tipmatic 6122: no pfaffing about with this baby

Scrapiana:  What machine(s) do you have now?

Ginny: In addition to the Pfaff, I own the following machines; a wonderful ‘vintage’ Bernina Minimatic (in a classic red case), inherited from my mother in-law, a domestic Bernina Bernette overlocker, which I have recently dusted off to complete a viscose jersey hem for a friend and a very inexpensive  Singer which has been useful for teaching purposes. My youngest daughter has a half sized Janome in her room and my mother has just passed on her modern basic Singer to us too.

Bernina Minimatic in its classic red case

I also have an industrial Bernina 950, which Alice and I bought when we had our joint studio space and were creating for folkydokee’ and exhibiting at Country Living and House & Garden fairs.  We purchased it from a local guy who dealt in industrials and also hired them out for films. He told us that it had been hired out and used on one of the early Harry Potter films, and this may have been true as it does seem to have a mind of its own! It gets little use these days but they is something comforting about having it, probably as it reminds me of my early working in days in theatre costume departments.

Bernina Bernette overlocker

Scrapiana: What an impressive array! Do you have your dream machine? If not, what would that be, if money were no object?

Ginny: I would be interested to try one of the all-singing, all-dancing modern stitch regulator embroidery machines. Also one which would enable me to design my own embroideries would be good. Having said that though, I do still love the honesty of a basic traditional machine, well made, solid and with great tension.

Small apron, photo by Sian Irvine

Small apron, featured in Home Sweet Sewn Photo: Sian Irvine

Scrapiana:  And finally, are you more likely to *give* your sewing machine a name or *call* it a name? – i.e. curse at it? My machines are named after deceased family matriarchs!

Ginny: I do not name my machines though I do feel it is essential to stroke them from time to time, so that they feel loved and will ultimately behave well for me.

Scrapiana: Thank you for your patience  in answering all these questions, Ginny. We’ve travelled with you all the way from the fairy queen to Harry Potter, so I can honestly say that it’s been magical!

Ginny's Sylko shot - typical of her beautiful photographic eye

Vintage stitch: an example of Ginny's photography

If you’d like the look of Ginny’s brooches and necklaces, do take a moment to look at the tempting selection available to buy on the Sweet Myrtle site. You can also view galleries of her other work there, including her beautiful and rather ethereal photographs.

You can book Ginny (and Alice too) for family, community and adult courses, workshops and demonstrations. One of their most popular, Kick Start to Sewing, happily focuses on using and getting to know your sewing machine and is really useful both for newbies and those wishing to refresh their skills. If you’re within striking distance of Surrey/Hampshire, here are Alice & Ginny’s upcoming workshop dates:-

West End Centre Aldershot – 01252 33004 www.westendcentre.co.uk

Forever Young Sock Puppets Sat 18th June 10.30 – 12.30 £4/ person – family fun workshop

Textile fun Fri 12 August 10.30 – 4.30 ages  8 – 16yrs £25  – a day exploring decorative textile techniques

Farnham Maltings – 01252 745444 www.farnhammaltings.com

Learn to love your sewing machine Sat 11th June  10am – 4pm £45 – a sewing day for beginner sewers

Introduction to dressmaking patterns Sat 9th July 10am – 1pm £20 – a morning introduction to dressmaking


Mar 23

Mum’s the word

If you still haven’t found any goodies for Mother’s Day on 3rd April, I can help.

Ribbon reels

Little ribbon reels in china cup on vintage scarf

Besides these little reels of ribbon oddments, I have others with vintage ric-rac and baker’s twine (that lovely and oh-so-useful striped string from the US). There are vintage brooches, hankies, buttons,  sewing books, Sylko (and other) cotton reels, handmade stitcher’s beeswax, gorgeous textiles and scarves – just to name a few – and pretty Mother’s Day labels to sew into anything you buy. Or not. You could just leave one in the bag with her pretty gift(s) and she’ll get the message. All will be available from my vintage haberdashery stall this Saturday 26th March at the It’s Darling! Spring Fair, Friends’ Meeting House, Bath, 9.30am-5.30pm. Hope to see you there!

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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!


Feb 22

A frog he would a-wooing go

British Reptiles & Amphibia

Frog Green

One of our local thoroughfares has just closed to vehicular traffic. This isn’t because of resurfacing work – unless you count a greeny brown mass of springing bodies as a new surface (which arguably it is), and ‘work’ as the job of migrating from the a place of hibernation uphill to a place of copulation cohabitation downhill.

As if this weren’t enough of a spectacle, the local community can be seen of an evening forming what they call the ‘Toad Patrol’, ferrying love-hungry and risk-blind amphibia [I’m being very careful to use the correct plural] across the road to safety in buckets, dustpans etc – whatever garden vessel comes to hand – by torchlight. It’s all rather romantic, and gives me a great excuse to show you this fantastic 1949 King Penguin book entitled British Reptiles and Amphibia (thrifted, of course) and an aptly named vintage Sylko cotton reel.

This book is a classic. It has beautifully clear colour plates and not too much information to swamp the would-be naturalist. Here’s some of what it has to say about the common toad, Bufo bufo:

Pairing in England takes place at the end of March or beginning of April. Males predominate and when large colonies are gathered together, fierce struggles take place among them for the possession of the females.

Good luck, lads!


Jan 28

Scrap map garland

Had a sleepless night this week, so it seemed as good an idea as any to start cutting out map circles at 4am, rather than pacing the floor. Very therapeutic, I must say, along with the two hot chocolates.

Oxfordshire map garland

Oxford scrap map garland, folded

I didn’t butcher any ‘real’ maps for these, you may be relieved to hear, just a pad of writing paper from around 1990, when buying stationery cut from redundant otherwise-to-be-pulped map stock was all the rage. This has been sitting at the back of a drawer for long enough. Heck, it even qualifies as vintage on Etsy! – 20 years plus – so it’s high time I used it. I didn’t like it as letter-writing paper (the ink didn’t quite soak into the paper enough: smudge city) so it needed another use, and the map showed through distractingly.

Oxford circuses

Map garland

My template was a 9cm scone cutter (the smooth top end, not the crinkly cutting end) and, yes, I laboriously drew round them all, then cut them out with scissors, then erased the pencil marks. As an anti-hair-tearing exercise, I’ve done a lot worse.

Map garland

Map garland, draped

It took 44 dots to make an approximately 4m garland. Sewing them together was fun; the crunch of the needle going through the paper was strangely satisfying. I decided to go for what felt like a cartographic red thread (actually Sylko D 45, Turkey Red), rather than subtle white.  Consequently, I think I may have added a curiously straight (Roman?) bridleway to Oxfordshire; maybe I should tell the Ramblers Association.

By the way, these are destined for a male relative with a big birthday to celebrate soon. I hope they’ll lend a certain restrained masculine joy to his big day. If he’s reading this, I’m sorry I spoiled your surprise…

Map garland

Map dots draped over pictures


Jan 14

Scrap of the week #9

I keep forgetting to post a Scrap of the Week. I usually do this on a Monday, but as the weather is just as miserable as Monday’s was (grey and drizzly) I’m sure nobody will notice the difference. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to present… [cue drumroll] my first scrap of 2011!

C&A sweater label

C&A felted sweater

This is from the bag of felted sweaters given to me by the very generous Becky Button.

Its particulars:-

Item: gent’s v-neck long-sleeved sweater

Fibre: 100% lambswool

Colour: marled grey

Make: C&A [By the way, this label looks like the old C&A to me, but I’m no expert. Anyone have any insight?]

Size: originally large, but now substantially smaller

You can see the slippers I made with this in my last post. I used this sweater because it was about the thickness of felt recommended in the Martha Stewart pattern: 1/8 of an inch. That pattern is one that’s freely available on her site. Given that it’s offered free, it would be unreasonable to expect a huge amount of detail or hand-holding. I’ve made some observations on how best to approach this pattern later on.

Working with felted garments. It can be tricky, when working with reclaimed garments, to assess whether you have enough material to meet your pattern’s requirements. This started out as a large gent’s sweater, and I was surprised that it took most of the front and back to make these size 8 slippers. The arms and some useful scraps – including the ribbed edging – are left to use on other projects. Something else to bear in mind is that some felted garments have a radically different appearance on the right and wrong sides, so it’s wise to be consistent in using one side or the other. In this case, I decided that there was a nicer texture to the inside.

Sweater to slipper

Deconstructing the old garment

My notes on the pattern:-

Enlarging. First you have to enlarge the little templates of the two pattern pieces to the required shoe size. Helpful enlargement guidelines are given on the pattern. Bear in mind that it’s in US sizes. Another word of caution: don’t take the enlargements listed as gospel; I found that they came up very small. It could be that my photocopier isn’t as good at maths as Martha’s is. Fortunately, I had a proxy for the slipper recipient at home (with same shoe size) so was able to test it before committing to cutting out. I had to enlarge by 400% in the end to achieve a size 8; that’s the biggest enlargement my photocopier extends to, by the way. But I’d recommend drawing around the slipper-wearer’s feet, just to double-check for errors. Remember to factor in a small seam allowance of 3/16 of an inch all round the sole.

Cutting out the side

Cutting out an instep

Pattern adjustments. In terms of the shapes of the pattern pieces, I thought they could do with some light revising. I liked the shape of the sole, but the instep curve (that seam on the top of the foot) could be just a little more shapely and have a more graceful sweep. I’d also like to try lowering the cut of the entire instep to make the slippers easier to get into, allow a snugger fit, and maybe a prettier shape for a female foot. But I’m not really complaining. Martha offers another slipper pattern, made from a single upper, which seems to check the boxes on the prettier girl shape.

On to the sole, the instructions advise using two layers of felt for the sole, and that worked fine. You could try using a single layer of really thick felted garment instead. Or maybe put some padding between the two felt layers of sole; Vintage Violet had a very precise product suggestion to that effect in the comments of my last post (Thanks, VV!).  I’d also like to try making it with other materials: a suede or leather sole, perhaps, as this slipper is really a house-with- immaculate-carpets slipper, not a cold-stone-floors slipper (which is really what I need).

Cutting out. There’s something very pleasing about cutting out felt with a nice sharp pair of scissors. I’d liken it to walking on fresh snow. Do keep your wits about you as you cut, though. If you have felt with a pronounced right side, pinning little paper labels to that side of the fabric leaves nothing to chance. Otherwise, it’s so easy to get confused.

Compiling pieces

Most of a slipper, ready to go

Bear in mind that you need two right side insteps, two left side insteps (one for each slipper). You also need 4 soles (and possibly an inner sole for added padding, though two nice thick layers of felt weren’t bad). Do check and check again during construction that you are doing a pair, not two identical shoes. It’s an easy mistake to make; halfway through tacking on the 2nd sole I realised I’d done two left feet… Nyarg!

Attaching the sole

Pinning on the sole

Making up. Remember that the seams are on the outside; I know it sounds obvious, but some of us start sewing on auto and then get into trouble. The two top pieces go together easily; you can just pin them together at the back and instep and sew them straight off on your machine, leaving the recommended 3/16th of an inch seam allowance. Despite what you may have been told, you can usually sew right over pins on your machine, though you must have the pins lying perpendicular to your seam, and try to have the tips of the pins poking through the upper side of the fabric so that they don’t scratch your machine bed. When I stitched these, I removed each pin as my presser foot approached it as my machine just wouldn’t have made it over all that thick felt plus a pin too. The soles, though, were a little more fiddly and required careful easing, pinning (beginning at the centre of the heel) and tacking (at which point pins could be removed) to prevent the pieces sliding apart during sewing. I set my machine for a fairly big stitch (approximately 9 stitches per inch), and used vintage Sylko Dark Elephant thread on Josephine (a vintage Singer 99k). The use of vintage materials and tools is not obligatory, but I would obviously contend that it enhances the sewing experience. [winks]

Pinning the sole

Eased and pinned

Embellishments. I left these slippers plain. The instructions recommend embroidering a big “X” on each slipper, but the embroidery opportunities are endless. I’d like to try constructing the sole seams with hand-stitched blanket stitch instead of machine stitching, for a different effect. A pattern of punched holes around the top edge would also be a fun. You could add a label to the inner sole before construction (machine- or hand-sewing it in), or a loop of ribbon to the back of the heel at the end. Oh, the possibilities!

Sole close-up

Finished slipper sole

These were very quick and satisfying to work, even with all the fiddly pinning and tacking, so I hope you’ll give them a go. Just to remind you that there are more pictures of the finished slippers – which were a gift to my brother – over here. I can’t wait to make more. Little Scraplet has already ordered an orange pair, which should be quick and easy  to do as he has such little feet. Off to rootle through my stash…


Nov 21

My first sewing machine

Singer 99k, 1946

Josephine, a 1946 Singer 99k

Meet Josephine. She was my mother’s sewing machine, the one I learned to sew on. I was nudged to dig her out of the basement and dust her off by this blog post.

Poor old Josephine has seen better days. Second-hand by the time my mother got her in the 1970s, she never struck me as especially pretty. In fact, quite the opposite. She’s led a hard life (witness scratches and scars), and was converted from treadle or hand-crank to electricity some years after manufacture; that’s when she acquired her clunky housing and cardboard case. I imagine some cowboy sewing-machine repairman performing this atrocity, a cigarette butt clamped ruthlessly between his teeth throughout the ordeal. Piling insult onto injury, I’ve neglected her and half meant to get shot of her for years – well, her charms aren’t immediately apparent, unlike her petite cousin, the 221k – but I’m beginning to change my tune. Especially as I know a little more about her now. I’ve even discovered her birthday.

Singer 99k 1950s case

1950s cardboard case

The joy of today’s internet is that you can look up serial numbers of yesterday’s Singers and discover when and where your machine was made, and the model type. The model type is very handy if  you don’t have the sewing machine’s original instruction booklet. Free pdf downloads of instructions can be found out there, so it’s worth searching a little. Otherwise, they can be had for a small fee. It’s useful to know how your machine is supposed to be oiled, how tension can be adjusted etc.

99k register number

Singer serial number

From a quick dip into the Singer site I’ve learned that Josephine was one of 30,000 99k machines registered on May 20th 1946 in Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland.  That date was when the entire batch was assigned, so I imagine she was still a lump of metal at that point and didn’t gain her final gleaming-gold-decal form for days, weeks or months. Anyway, it’s nice to have an anchoring date. Maybe next year I’ll bake her a cake and Singer happy birthday (ouch).

Singer 99k

Singer lettering

By the time Josephine came to us, she already bore the marks of a hard grafting life, the scratches of myriad pins passing by on miles of fabric, a thousand scissor-nicks from hurriedly clipped curves.  Her motor bears the installation date of February 1956. When we first got her, she had to be plugged into a light socket. This meant that every sewing experience was preceded by a perilous clambering above the dining room table to extract the bulb and insert her lead into the pendant fitting. I’m amazed that no-one was electrocuted in the process.

Singer 99k with Sylko spool

Hand wheel, bobbin-winder and the odd decorative flourish

The absence of ceiling  light made it pretty hard to see what you were doing, and eventually someone in the family changed her plug to a regular three-pin wall variety. It was slightly annoying that she had no light source of her own, but my fresh eyesight didn’t seem to mind that at the time, and I enthusiastically made up a lot of patchwork and a number of Laura Ashley dresses on this machine.  She worked reliably, until I got her out a couple of years ago and found, to my horror, that she ran manically without her foot control being activated; this seems to have been a simple case of ‘sticky pedal’, and I’m happy to report that she’s fine now.

99k decal

The scratches of hard use

My mother wasn’t an enthusiastic needlewoman, just a utilitarian one. Same with all handicrafts. It was my maternal grandmother who’d been the real crafter of the family, and perhaps my mother naturally rejected that role as one generation tends to react to the previous one. She’d gone to college and pursued more academic pursuits. She typed fast, played piano well, but the sewing-machine isn’t something I can picture her at. It was at school that I was instructed in how to operate a sewing-machine. Home Economics hadn’t been chased off the curriculum in those days, and we learned from rather joyless, stern teachers (“unpick that again”) on rows of hand-cranked machines. But that’s another story.

99k face plate close-up

Surprisingly fancy face plate

I’m seeing Josephine in a slightly different light now. A no-nonsense post-war workhorse from an age of austerity, her few redeeming features (such as her surprisingly decorative face plate, the pleasingly robust bobbin-winding facility, and the houndstooth-patterned paper inside her case) stand out all the more. One last detail: in the spirit of make do and mend, she still carries a piece of masking tape on her needle plate, marking some long-forgotten seam-allowance I once used. No fancy screw-on seam guide for her.

Now I’m wondering where all of Josephine’s 29,999 siblings are. These 99ks strike me as real survivors. How many are still sewing? How many have been melted down for scrap? Where are they now? If you happen to have one, I’d love to hear about it. I”m also wondering what your first sewing machine was like? Was it basic or luxurious? Do you still have it? What did you make on it? Show and tell.

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