Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fat Quarter De-stash

I started re-arranging my sewing stuff a couple of days ago, initially because it's high time I did a de-clutter, but also because over a short period of time I have swallowed up far more space in this house than is my lot. I want to retract and compact.

And in the process, I have determined that I have far more fabric than I will ever use in my lifetime. Row upon row of beautiful fat quarters sit within wire drawers, untouched and unregarded for the most part. I am so often now a slow worker. Once upon a time I would wield the rotary cutter across swathes of folded cloth, whiping up quickie quilts in the wink of an eye. But no more.

I prefer slow stitches now. Hand piecing little hexagons, or turning applique pieces with a fine needle. And then there is the knitting to consider.

In turning my attention to the surplus patchwork pieces I found that there was much that I could spare. And much that I would be happy to part with, especially to aid an amiable cause.

I have bundled up little packets of fabric and tied them with string. There are also a few lengths suitable for backings, a stack of charm squares and a pile of orphan blocks.

Two cardboard fruit boxes sit stacked in the corner ready to deliver to the Springwood Winmalee Bushfire Quilt Appeal. I also found two finished quilt tops that I can happily donate as well.

I have reserved a couple of unfinished projects that I will attempt to finish and hand over by the end of the year. The fabric will help of course, but finished quilt tops would be even more welcome.

It feels good to part with previously-coveted stuff; I think I feel lighter already. :)


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bushfire (and bushfire quilts)

This last week has been a sombre one. Bush fire, normally the scourge of summer, has ravaged much of the Blue Mountains in an untimely, unseasonal, and very unexpected way. Australians in general, and mountains folk in particular, understand the threat posed by the dense and rugged landscape that we choose to call home. But the weather conditions in past weeks, and indeed months, have been hotter, drier, windier than normal. On Thursday 17 October an almost perfect storm of soaring temperatures and strong, gusting winds conspired to spark a fire that rapidly bore down upon residential streets in North Springwood and Winmalee. It did not take long for row upon row of houses to be gutted, for street upon street to be consumed.

Photo Blue Mountains Gazette on facebook, 18 October 2013
Bushfires are unpredictable monsters; directed by the whims of prevailing winds and atmospheric conditions. With temperatures in the mid to high-thirties, low humidity, and a dense accumulation of fuel on the ground, the Springwood fire burned and threatened and burned its way from street to street, from ridge to ridge, through interconnecting valleys, leaving nothing but a blackened footprint in its wake.

At the end of the first few days over 200 homes had been lost and around 109 properties had been damaged. It is numbing stuff, unbelievable and inconceivable.

We have been on the periphery of this fire; it was in the valley beyond, and in the bushland at the end of our road. In one day it had raced from Springwood, following the line of the creek to the river at the foot of the mountains. On Friday night we stood watching the flames from across the road, watching and waiting and hoping.

Thanks to the firies, we were kept safe. Blessed be the firies.

But this was not the only fire to burn in the mountains this week. A massive fire has been burning from Lithgow and across the north-western edge of the mountains. Yet another fire cropped up at Mt Victoria, the little township right at the top of the range. Homes have been destroyed in these fires also, but amazingly (truly amazingly), no lives have been lost. We are so very thankful for the efforts of thousands of fire-fighters, the home-grown ones and those from interstate, for the gutsy hard-slogging hours of work they have put in to protect so many.

It's been an exhausting time for all. I can't convey the intensity of constantly watching the television footage, of monitoring the updates on facebook and Twitter, of witnessing the unfolding devastation again and again, and hearing stories of friends, and friends of friends who have lost everything.

The outpouring of love, practical help and financial support has been just as overwhelming. We have lived through bushfire time and time again, but never before has our community been so "connected", so immediately responsive to the immediate need arising from crisis.

There has been no sewing here, and little or no space devoted to creative pursuit. It has been enough to put food on the table, to keep family close, to pack clothes and memorabilia in case of evacuation, and to send thoughts of consolation and hope out into the universe.

This is not a comprehensive narrative of the enormity of this fire event - it is bigger, wider and deeper than I care to describe. Fire continues to burn away and beyond containment lines. It will burn in the wilderness for weeks, perhaps months. We hope and we pray that the weather will be kind, that soaking rain will come, that towns and communities still under threat will be spared.

Those most affected now face the enormity of rebuilding what they have lost, of replacing that which cannot entirely be replaced. So many people, individuals, groups and organisations have rallied to try and ease the pain as much as possible. One of these is Tracey Greenaway from the local branch of the Salvation Army. She has initiated an appeal for quilts for fire victims, and she would love to hear from anybody who is in a position to help. Donations of fabric, wadding, thread, finished quilt tops, time or money would be most welcome, but you don't have to be a quilter to make a contribution.

You can read about the Bushfire Quilt Appeal on Tracey's blog, and please do get in contact with her if you think you might be able to assist. I imagine it would be a wonderful, healing thing to receive a quilt purposefully made-with-love at a time like this.

I have pulled out several unfinished quilt tops from my cupboard tonight and over the next few weeks I will see what can be done to pull them into shape.

It is times like these that serve to remind us that we have much to be thankful for.

Evie xxx

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lizette, the vintage French mannequin

Let me introduce you to my darling Lizette, the newest addition to the House of StitchityBits. She is a vintage French mannequin (apparently), or that is what the seller told me. I'm happy to go with that. Hey, she even came with free pins stuck into her neck.

She is going to help me with future Regency gown-making efforts, but rather than leave her naked just now, I thought I would drape her with my beautiful antique Honiton Tape Lace Collar, thereby showing both to good advantage.

Honiton lace making has a long history, originating in the East Devon district in England during the 17th century. The majority of this style of lace was produced by hand in the town of Honiton, and it was highly sought after by the titled and wealthy. It was even worn by Queen Victoria. You can read more about Honiton lace on A Textile Lovers Diary or on The Textile Blog.

Mr P procured this piece for me some years ago from Bernadette Thomas of Needlewitch, and it forms a treasured part of my *small* antique sewing and textile collection.

But back to my mannequin. Having checked out her fittings and fixtures, I would think she is post-1950s. The three-pronged metal stand is somewhat pedestrian, and the metal cap atop the neck makes her more industrial than her wooden-peg top counterparts. There are a few minor stains around one side of the chest and shoulder region, but other than that she is in quite good condition. I will have to pad out her out a bit here and there to bring her up to my dress size, but her main purpose will be to make it easier to drape and pin the sheer muslins, organzas and lace trims used in reproduction costuming.

Here, Lizette wears the Regency petticoat with boned bodice, one of the garments included in the La Mode Bagatelle pattern range. It is a simple lawn under-dress, devoid of any embellishment. But the gowns that go over the top can be anything from sheer muslin for day wear, through to extravagant silk and lace for evening or ball gowns. I have been adding some Regency gown inspiration on Pinterest lately (and some garments for the gentlemen also), and I now have a head literally swarming with grand designs:

"Oh! my dear," continued Mrs. Bennet, "I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! and his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw any thing more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst's gown——". [Pride and Prejudice: A novel in three volumes., Austen, Jane. Published by T. Egerton, London, 1813.]

I seriously wish that I didn't have to sleep, such is the width and depth and breadth of all that I want to create. Lace, or no lace!

Which I have started collecting ...

... in anticipation of stitching gowns, and petticoats ...

and trimming bonnets ...

with feathers ...
and brightly coloured things.

I never did grow out of dressing-up and playing with dolls. :)

I believe that Lizette has taken on a persona of her own. When she arrived in the back of the car, I flung open the door and ran out to hug her. It was love at first sight. She has taken up residence in the spare room for now, and I occasionally peek in at the door to relive the feeling of delight.

Bienvenue sur votre nouveau Lizette maison.

x  x  x 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

More baby socks

More baby socks. Knitted over the last week or so; while spectating at doggie training, waiting outside music lessons, during the 15 minutes sitting in bed before lights out.

The Shepherd Merino 4-ply baby yarn knits up really well, and is perfect for little socks. This is an adaptation of my Perfect Baby Sock pattern; casting on 40 stitches instead of 32, and using 3.0mm DPNS. In fact, I didn't follow the pattern strictly at all, just because it's so stuck in my head. I carried K2, P2 ribbing all the way down the leg and front of the foot, reverting to stocking stitch when decreasing for the toe.

The foot length is 4 1/2" or 12cm, so they should fit 6-12 month old baby and will be just about right for baby R at Christmas!

Red Red and the Fair Ground Cushions

Were there any colour that I could be
I think it would be red for me.

I have given up hope of ever having beautiful, expensive furnishings in my living room. Boys will be boys, and dogs will be dogs, and cushions will be thrown on the floor for watching TV, lounging about and rumbling with said dog. So I have come up with a workable solution: European pillows! Covered with sturdy red and white stripey cotton drill, they remind me of  childhood fair grounds; the laughing clowns, pony rides, fairy floss and ice cream cones! 

French seam: 
n. a seam in which the edges are not visible [Collins English Dictionary]

I don't think that really explains it ...
French seam:
n. a seam stitched on both sides of the cloth.
 [Websters College Dictionary]

And that's just ambiguous ...
French seam:
n. A seam stitched first on the right side and then turned in and stitched on the wrong side so that the raw edges are enclosed in the seam. [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language]

Now that makes more sense.

French seams are a wonderful way to finish off even simple, homely things. I love French seams. Raw edges are fully enclosed, meaning that they not only be hard-wearing and durable, but they will look neat and tidy forever.

And while we're talking neat-and-tidy, I thought I'd try the covered zipper end tutorial, posted by Julia on the Craftsy Blog last week. I've stitched in lots of zippers before, but it's still something that I usually dread. However, this method was super-easy, and it certainly is very neat and tidy. I only needed to hand stitch the covered zip end to the side seam to finish it properly :)

I've made a couple of these now. They're nice and comfy, easy to whip into the wash, and I reckon they look pretty snappy. I can't explain why, but red just seems to make me happy. :)

Evie :)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Antique Hungarian Applique - A serendipitous find

Oh, what raptures of delight have eminated from atop my staircase this evening! I had planned on getting to my sewing all day, but the seasonal changing of the clocks to daylight-savings time has thrown me out of sorts and ruined all my good intentions. Being too restless to stitch this evening I started ratting about the chaos that is my sewing space, intending on imposing some order.

When I hauled the large brown carry bag of fabric oddments that my house-moving daughter passed to me several weeks ago I was looking forward to fondling the lovely squishy contents while working them into my stash.

But then my hand touched on this. At first appearing as a homely vintage second-hand shop find, it wasn't until I opened it out that I realised that I had stumbled upon something quite exquisite and extraordinary.
It is old (very old); the net foundation is small and fine, and the cloth is likewise soft and light. It is all hand-stitched, including the buttonholed scalloped border.

I headed straight to Encyclopaedia-de-Google in a quest to find some source information about this style of work. It appeared to my eye to be of Eastern-European influence, and it took almost half an hour of searching and re-searching using different string words to finally hit upon just the thing.

It would appear to be Hungarian Buszak (or Buszaki) work, circa 19th century. The auction site that I found states that examples of this sort of work are rare, but that aside, it really is very lovely indeed. But what has really struck me, is how "now" the design feels. I have been assiduously working on Baltimore sampler blocks for the past (I've lost count of how many) years, and this design fits right in. I could easily incorporate it into my American applique sampler and it would look right at home.

Hungarian Buszak Linen Cocktail Napkins Hand Applique Net Lace - source eBay

Antique Lace Hungarian Buszak Applique Set Deer - WorthPoint 2009
According to Google (vaguely), Buszak is either a village or a small region in Hungary (I'm having trouble sorting that one out), and there are various styles of embroidery and stitching techniques attributed to Buszak. I found a super-interesting blog at Kate & Rose, where she/they have been busy in the reproduction of traditional Buszak samplers; entirely different to the work above, and yet the influences of one upon the other are similar.

I doubt my vintage-loving daughter had any notion of the historical or intrinsic value of this lovely old textile, but it has excited me to such a great height, and I will now endeavour to see if I can more properly date it. In the meantime, I will honour it's probably long-ago passage from one side of the world to the other; a treasured heirloom, perhaps even a bride-gift. And I would give a fingernail or two to know it's true provenance.

I am all inspired, despite the clock now reading 11:35pm (although my body tells me that it is an hour earlier). If I were not so bodily tired I would go and pick up my needle again. But probably best not.

Let me know what you think of my exciting find!

Evie x x x

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Yarn Cakes

Yeow! How lucky am I to be loved by my friends!! One of my work buddies gifted her dear old Mum's wool winder to me a couple of weeks ago. And so I just had to try it out to make sure that it works ... 

I have spent just a few hours re-winding half-balls, and ends-of-balls of wool into happy yarn cakes. These pretties had presented as long and floppy half-balls of 3-ply baby yarn; much more satisfactory, and who would recognise them now! So very neat and compact, and stackable.

 And the other half a ball of sock yarn, re-wound into a lovely centre-pull rolly-polly. This is my first entrelac sock by the way. :)

This alpaca yarn came in soft and loopy bundles, and re-rolled they take up much less room, and sit one on top of the other without falling out on to the floor.

 I never knew how much happiness this wool-winder gadget could bring. :)

Yarn storage is one of those tricky things that plagues every knitter/hoarder of wool. Apart from tidying up messy odds and ends, this is a fabulous way to introduce some uniformity into your stash, especially seeing as balls of wool aren't particularly stable items. These yarn cakes have a lovely flat bottom, and so they do sit and stack quite nicely upon the shelf.

But more than that, there is something mesmerising in the blurring-whirring of twirling yarn; in turning the handle and seeing the dancing-jumping messy tangle on the floor rapidly taking on ordered form. It speaks to that corner of my being that strives for perfection. It's a small enjoyment in the scheme of things, but I am finding it oddly satisfying.

If you're a knitter, and you don't have one, I'd suggest you go and see if you can forage out one of these for yourself. Yarn winders away!

Evie :)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Regency Regalia (going to the Ball)

It’s been such a busy month here, and with my sewing sphere on the ascendant in the house of Stitchitybits, I haven’t had headspace to even think about documenting the chaos. But now that the rush is over I am finally sitting down to make a retrospective list of achievements. In the midst of juggling family commitments and the interspersed peckings at housework-never-done, I so often feel like a big fat underachiever (aspirations consistently unfulfilled). But this month my list is BIG, and the state of my household tangle well demonstrates the magnitude of my makings! The thing that has really pushed me off my comfy chair and into the sewing room has been the production of Regency era garments for the inaugural Regency Subscription Ball, held at the iconic Paragon in Katoomba. This was (I think) the first of many events oganised by my very talented friend, Lorna McKenzie from TheTailor’s Apprentice.

The females of my establishment, and many of my significant-others, are all Jane-ites [Austen, that is]. Many a school holiday was spent tucked up on the sofa consuming Lizzy and Mr Darcy et al, drinking pots of tea, and quietly stitching. And our affections have not been limited to the iconic P&P. Not only have the Austen classics been read and re-read with fervor, but works by the sisters Bronte, Mrs Gaskill and others have been well-thumbed by the bonnet-drama damsels. From time to time we have toyed with the notion of attending the Jane Austen Festival events that are held throughout the year in Canberra, but have generally been prevented by, among other things, the lack of a suitable wardrobe!

It was in a moment of excited whimsy that I pounced on tickets for Lorna’s Regency Ball, knowing that there is nothing like a deadline for producing results.  As with most things, I had good and great intentions of starting this body of work in a timely way. It turns out that I obviously work better under pressure. Thus, the latter part of the month of September was [quite delightfully] fraught and frenzied in the pursuit of something to wear. 

In anticipation of one day making it to the aforementioned Jane Austen Festival, my dear Pollyanna had procured a set of La Mode Bagatelle Regency dress patterns (she is a Jane-ite also). The patterns include several different styles of dress, including a bodiced petticoat, a gown with two bodice options and optional train, chemisette, false sleeves, spencer, beret, muff and reticule. Sounds good . . . The work of deciphering which styles were most suitable, and the configuration of undergarments and underpinnings and the difference between fabrics for day-dresses vs those used for evening gowns was the work of an entire day.  Polly undertook much of the prep work herself; tracing off pattern pieces and working out what went with what. I actually found it a bit hard to dive back in to dressmaking, having to challenge my left brain to talk to the right and vice-versa.  The ease with which I could once understand the ins and outs of a pattern, and conceptualise all of the steps involved seems to have diminished just a *little*, whether through something-to-do-with-my-age, or just plain old lack of use! 

But I got there in the end. The first garment off the production line was the Regency petticoat; a bodice top with drawstring neckline, sporting several rows of boning to (hopefully) support the bust, and a shaped skirt with front, back and side panels. Sizing for the bodice was a bit tricky (the DD isn't included in the smaller sizes), and despite being hopeful, yet not entirely confident, that my ample bits would fit inside, I pressed on. But I was right. My ample bits were overly-ample in the end. But it was perfect for my Anna-Lou, and made a welcome beginning for her own Regency garb.

So I went back to work and re-drafted the bodice front, adding an extra inch and a half to the depth across the bust and grading it up to meet the back section. I had a good length of pretty hail-spot voile tucked away in the cupboard (serendipity), and I teamed this with a lovely, soft self-stripe cotton to complete petticoat v.2.  Which actually looks good enough to wear as a day dress.

Starting to taste the success, I then moved on to the main course; a Regency ball gown. Again, I re-drafted the front bodice pieces to add *ample* depth to the bust sections. And then I was into swathes of delustered satin and the (slightly) expensive trimmed net lace.  The dress consists of a cross-over bodice with inset sleeves. I used a lace overlay on the front and back sections, and cut the sleeves just using the satin. The shaping on the sleeves appears very strange at first, and not at all like modern garment designs. Most of the ease is allowed in the back portion of the sleeve, which does allow for some exaggeration of arm movement in the finished garment. The sleeve that I chose to use has pleats from just below the shoulder and running around the back edge. There are also a number of pleats around the mid-section of the arm, covered by a separate arm band. The main skirt uses the shaped-skirt pattern pieces from the petticoat, but the lace overlay is cut using the round-gown pattern. I cut the lace in one straight piece, placing the hem of the skirt along the scalloped lace edge. This was then gathered and placed over the completed satin skirt. The skirt and bodice are then joined together, and the back opening is closed using hooks and eyes. And it was a perfect fit. :)

Time was really ticking by this point, and I still had a flouncy shirt and a gentleman’s vest to make (two days to *And I still hadn’t worked out what to do with my hair!!* The shirt is cut from off-white voile, giving it an ever-so-slightly-aged look. It did turn out beautifully, but is absolutely voluminous, and not a pleasant garment to iron, what with all its gathers and frilly bits. Love these gargoyle buttons by the way.

I used a very basic long vest pattern instead of the more tailored and shaped Regency style. Mostly, because I knew I would be running out of hours to do much more. This $5 piece of remnant furnishing fabric was just the ticket, and my Mister and me were inadvertently so very nicely matchy-matchy.  

In the middle of all the shirt and vest sewing I also re-worked the hail-spot petticoat to make it into a suitable gown for Anna-Lou. She did conceive high hopes of sewing a gown herself, but time, the eternal enemy, and the fact that I was hogging the sewing machine, prevented any such scheme. So I cut simple sleeves from one of the pattern’s sleeve options, and stitched them into the already completed petticoat. The skirt was embellished with several rows of pin-tucks, and sweet little grosgrain bows were placed on the waist band in line with the front bodice seams. Then it was hooks and eyes, and eyes and hooks all of Saturday morning and into the early afternoon.

In my final frenzied flurry I cut a strip of russet crushed silk and sewed it into a long band. Using my trusty foam head, I wrapped it around and pinned it together, shaping the remainder into ruched pleats. Then it was quickly hand-stitched to hold it all in place and finished with some remnant feathers from my old feather-duster and embellished with a pretty pearl brooch. I think I have encased more than one pin within the folds, which just made me brave in wearing it.

Another piece of silk, quickly cut into a bag-like shape, was whizzed around on the sewing machine, threaded through with a cord and prettied-up with a flower and a bow.

All this by 4:15pm on Saturday. I’m sure that no Regency lady headed for a ball would ever have managed a hasty 20-minute stint in the dressing room, but there we were, dressed and primped and powdered, and ready for stepping out (though I had lost my petticoat in pursuit of Anna's gown *blush*). 
It was certainly a night to remember. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (Mrs Bennett would be proud); the assembly rooms were resplendent, our dance cards were full, the dinner was excellent, and the company unsurpassed!
There are some wonderful photos and a description of the event on Lorna's blog  - Head on over and have a read (and see if you can spot me and mine). 
And now it's back to my socks!
Evie xxx