Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inspired by a rip

Remember the ripped jeans fad in the 80s? I hated it. I thought it was crazy to buy something new and then put holes in it for fashion. Of course now you can buy jeans already ripped, and that may be even a bit crazier. I bucked the trend and kept my jeans nice, although I stopped short at ironing them.


One day, I was at my best friend's house and had to get something outside. She and her cousin watched out the window as I ran down the driveway and were still watching when my feet slipped out from under me. I fell hard. I bravely completed my task, but the pain was awful. I bent over, thinking to roll up my pant leg to look at the damage, but a brand new rip right across my knee had opened up. I peaked through at the wound, which was worse than I thought, and limped back into the house.


As soon as I made it inside, my friend exclaimed, "How convenient that your jeans were ripped right there!" I was mortified. After cleaning myself up, we went out, and the whole time I felt ashamed about my tattered jeans, even though I knew they were cool.


Later that weekend, I decided that I just couldn't cope with torn clothing. Out came the sewing machine and several fabrics, including one with lounging Tahitian ladies, out of which I had already made a dress. I had very little idea of what I was doing, but eventually I had a large crazy-quilt type patch, which I sewed over the rip. It was not at all fashionable, but I loved it.


I kept that patch long after the jeans finally wore out. I still love the idea of embellishing ready made clothing, but like the bulky patch, my attempts at doing so generally have not been as sucessful in reality as in my imagination. In one case, the beaded embroidery I did was fantastic, but the ready-made dress faded in big patches in the sun and the bugle beads kept cutting through the thread and falling off. Once, however, I cross stitched some irises on a jean jacket and the result was better than I expected. I wore it for years. Recently, I found a small square cross stitch pattern featuring daffodils that would look great on a pocket. I'll have to look for the right garment, unless I have another accident....


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Back when we were learning to sew clothes

When we were in Junior High, my friends and I were expanding our sewing skills. By that time we could all follow a pattern and make a garment more or less fit, but I never even thought about actual tailoring. That is why I found my best friend's sewing so impressive.


She used her grandmother's Singer. It didn't have a zig zag. It didn't even stitch backwards, but she made great clothing. I'm still impressed by a cropped, cotton shirt and matching capris that she made. They were her favorite color (green) and she designed the top herself. She started with a V-neck pattern that she adapted into a double-breasted front with four large buttons. Thinking back, it was relatively simple, but I still have never tried to alter a pattern like that. I was very impressed--especially since it looked so great!


The clothes that I made in Junior High and High School often had something wrong with them. I wasn't a careful sewer and my seams wiggled. Because I didn't alter patterns, the waists were too high, and my fabric choice was sometime disastrous. For example, I made a pretty sundress with quilting cotton. It wrinkled like crazy every time I sat down.


I had some successes, however. One was a pink, silky, sleeveless blouse with a wrap around flap. The handkerchief seam around the flap was sewn on the bias and the fabric was slippery, but it came out well. It was my favorite blouse--until I was getting ready for a school concert one evening and dropped my mascara brush down the front. I had a second blouse that I had made from the same pattern, but the seam wiggled and the fabric was a dull grey. It just didn't compare.


I don't sew many clothes any more, and I don't know if my friend does either, but she has a daughter of her own in Junior High who is sewing costumes for her school play. Her daughter uses a newer model sewing machine, but Pam still has the Singer. Her grandmother would be proud.

Pam's daughter is certain to be a fearless sewer with the legacy of generations of sewing women supporting her.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

A pretty, prickly pincushion--cactus

Not long ago I was reading an article in Inspirations Magazine (Issue 71, 2011) about the Japanese Festival of Broken Needles, when I was truly inspired. An inset described a call for Stichin Fingers members (a social networking site for embroiderers) to provide photos of their needle keepers. Next to the inset was a photo of a pin cushion by Michele English that looked exactly like a live cactus. I found it so humorous that I HAD to figure out how to make one for myself.


Michele is a real artist specializing in felting. You can browse some of her work, including some felted cacti, on her blog's gallery. Her artistry was beyond me, so I developed my own cactus using craft felt and buttonhole stitches to shape it. Because mine didn't look nearly as realistic, I added a flower as a flourish.


I've made several cacti for family and friends during the last few months, and recently was asked for the pattern. It is available here as a PDF. It is my very first attempt at drawing a pattern and writing up instructions, so if you decide to make one up for yourself, let me know how it works!



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Needlework Fiction--When We Were Strangers


When We Were Strangers Pamela Schoenewaldt (2011)

**** 4/5 stars Check out GoodReads for more reviews of this novel.


This lovely novel follows a young Italian girl in a small mountain village in the 1880s who is urged by her aunt and parish priest to go to America. There is little in the town for her. The young men, including her own brother, have all left to find their fortunes, but she is frightened. She remembers her mother's words, that if you leave Opi you will die with strangers. Having never been further away than the next town, she embarks alone with just her needle and thread and an embroidered map of her hometown.


On her journey, Irma meets many interesting people, with whom she barters works from her needle for knowledge, companionship, and a livelihood. The immigrant experience described in this novel is not all friendly, however. She is cheated in a collar-making factory in Cleveland, and robbed on her way to Chicago, but through it all, her needle and her memory of her loved ones keeps her strong.


Some people may not like the focus of the second half of the novel, during which Irma befriends a woman doctor and abortionist, but the novel starkly outlines some of the realities of life for women in a dangerous time. And in the end, by being true to herself, it is clear, that far from dying among strangers, Irma has built a life of love that she could never have had at home.


Resources about places and things featured in this novel.

The town of Opi is a real mountain town. Located within Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, between Rome and Naples, about 450 people live there. This photo shows how picturesque, yet remote, the town is even today.


When Irma first arrives in America, she works in a collar factory. It was fascinating to read about the hand work that went into making detachable men's and women's shirt collars, but I had never seen one. Costumer's Manifesto, provides good information, photos, and even patterns for the types of collars that Irma would have been making.


Here is a fantastic Pinterest collection of 1880s fashion plates showing the types of clothing Irma longed to sew.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brazilian embroidery--threads

One of the characteristics of Brazilian embroidery is the use of rayon embroidery threads in different weights and textures. Rayon gives the embroidery a fantastic sheen and also makes those complicated knots and bullions a lot easier to make.


Rayon is derived from plant material, but then is highly processed to make threads and yarns. Its complicated manufacturing process was first developed in the 1880s in France. From what I've read, Brazilian women first started home-dying the threads to use in Brazilian embroidery. You can still find people dying and selling small batches of rayon threads, but EdMar has the corner on commercially produced threads specifically for Brazilian embroidery.


EdMar produces seven different threads in over 240 different color combinations, including many unusual varigated combinations. The threads vary in both weight and texture. They are non-divisible and have an Z twist rather than the S twist of most floss, such as DMC cotton floss. This means that when you use Brazilian threads, you need to stitch somewhat backwards to get the same look. For example, threads are always wrapped clockwise around the needle and the thread is thrown to the top rather than the bottom when doing stem stitch. Mary Corbet provides a good example of the difference between S and Z twist stitching on her blog Needle 'N Thread.

Glory is the finest thread. It is about the same thickness as a single strand of DMC cotton floss.

Iris is the most commonly used thread in Brazilian embroidery. It is the same thickness as 2-3 strands of DMC.

Lola, about the thickness of 4 strands of DMC, is used for making bigger knots and flowers. It is a 3-ply thread, although the threads are not divisible.

Nova is the thickest of the threads, equaling 6 stands of DMC floss.

Except for their weight, each of these threads works up similarly. They have great sheen and are easy to knot. If you wrap them the wrong way on your needle though, you may notice some unravelling, especially with the thicker threads. These are tough, heavy duty threads. They have to be because you tend to have to tug pretty hard on some of the heavily wrapped knots.


EdMar also produces three threads that differ in texture from those above.

Frost is similar in weight to Lola, but it is more tightly wrapped. This gives your stitches a more defined look--almost frosty!

Cire is the same weight as Frost and Lola, but less tightly wrapped. This thread shreds easily, but looks glossy and has a very silky sheen when it is used for satin stitch. I don't use it often, but I love how it looks when I do.

Finally, Boucle is crinkly. It is usually used for flowers and other objects that are wrapped and tacked rather than with stitches that pass through the fabric. It is so much fun to use!

EdMar threads come in skeins that must be prepped before using.

1. Find the knot under the tag and clip through just the knotted length of thread. Unravel the skein, but don't take it out of the paper tag.

2. Use a bent wire, bent cardboard or plastic or even a small crochet hook to pull one length of thread through the paper tab.
3. Hang the threads on a round clip or piece of wire.
4. Steam the threads over a boiling pot of water or with a clothes steamer or iron (don't actually iron the threads) for 2-3 minutes. I usually steam over a pot of water because I can do multiple threads at once. Do not get the threads wet! I bounce them a little and comb them with my fingers, sometimes holding the threads parallel to the stove top to be sure the top of the threads are steamed as well. The kinks straighten out in just a few minutes.
5. Pack the threads for use, either in individual plastic bags or specialized thread holders. I like packing my threads in bags because then I can put the threads for an entire project on a ring to keep them organized.

Next time I revisit this short series on Brazilian embroidery I will show a few different stitches made up in each of the threads so you can better see the differences between them.

Here is the whole range of EdMar colors hanging on the wall at The Stitching Shop in Denver, CO.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Great expectations and unfortunate cancellations

The last few weeks have been tough. It seems things are being cancelled left and right, which sure does hamper my stitching. I'm still accomplishing things, but not much on my major projects.


First, there have been six babies born to friends and family and one more expected between January and May of this year. Such a lot of joy! But my sewing machine has been working overtime.


This weekend was the last baby shower back in Massachusetts. It was for my step daughter-in-law. But was I there? No. A last minute change in my husband's work plans meant that he is out of town on a two week business trip during the same two weeks I was going to be home. The trip was cancelled, but the presents made it in time.


Rather than a baby blanket, I decided to use my blanket technique to make practical burp cloths. I made a total of 6, using Carol's Cats for patterns. They are about 1 x 2 feet and a triple layer of flannel. Here are just a few with the cats on the front, and some wary mice hiding out over the shoulder


Since my perception of babies is that they are pretty messy, I also made some cute bibs. The pattern is from the blog site "Craftiness is not Optional." They were easy and so cute. I used a 1/2 yard of flannel and three packages of binding to make 3 bibs.

My step son and daughter-in-law are both martial artists, hence the Lucky Cat theme for these bibs.


Keeping with the cat theme, I also made this cute stuffed cat from McCall pattern 4893. But beware! The pattern calls for gluing on the head, ears and feet. It made me laugh. I figured that wouldn't even last the trip home, let alone a baby's grip, so I altered the pattern to be able to securely machine sew the feet and ears and then hand sew on the head--all of my experience making Cabbage Patch dolls when I was in Junior High paid off there!


My mom plunged into baby mode too. Isn't this the most precious sweater? She mailed it from New York to Colorado and then I mailed it back to Massachusetts. What a whirlwind! But I know that many homemade knits have been coming in for that lucky baby from all over the country. Babies just bring out the best in everyone.

Sadly, the fact that I am not back in Massachusetts means that there will be no progress on the WELCOME until I go home in June. I am going to start a small Brazilian kit in the meantime.


If missing my step daughter-in-law's shower wasn't bad enough, March's Pumpkin class was cancelled because of snow! Of course, this being Colorado, the day after Pumpkin class was almost 60 degrees. I made progress despite the cancellation, but not as much as I would have if I were stitching with the group. I WILL finish this panel by the end of April--I have to if there is any hope of finishing the project in June.

The coffee beans are woven detached chain stitch from Sharon B's TAST (Take a Stitch Tuesday) challenge.


So snow, work, and baby bumps have slowed progress on my major projects. But honestly, it has also been a lot of fun working on those baby gifts!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Needlework Fiction--The Lacemakers of Glenmara

The Lacemakers of Glenmara Heather Barbieri (2009)
***** 5/5 stars Check out GoodReads for more reviews of this book.
This book had me laughing out loud and shedding tears, even though I was sitting in the middle seat of a plane as I read. I loved it. The dialog was especially good--some of the best I've ever read.

The story, about an aspiring fashion designer who goes to Ireland on a trip she was supposed to take with her mother who recently passed, is sad and wonderful. During her travels, she meets a group of middle-aged lace makers in a dying Irish town and together they transform each other's lives. I hope it will be made into a movie, because the friendship of the women, the beauty of the Irish landscape, and the tension in the lace would be fully realized on the big screen.

Barbieri is a short-story writer and her first chapters use short story techniques to set mood. Her short sentences composed of descriptive phrases were particularly good in depicting the mind set of someone who had just lost her mother and been left by her fiancé. It made for difficult reading, but as the story progressed, the book was much smoother.

I give this book 5 stars not for the touching story, but for the beauty of the dialog and the light touch the author gives to a sad, funny and ultimately hopeful story.

Resources about the lace featured in this novel.
A Renascence of the Art of the Irish Lace-Making is a pdf of a book originally published in 1888. Chock full of beautiful photographs of Irish Lace and descriptions of lace types, it helps

The website for the Irish Lace Museum is slow to upload, but the photos are breathtaking. Specializing in antique Irish lace from the last half of the 19th-century, it may be worth a stop if you visit Northern Ireland