Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Welsh quilt inspired sampler

I think it is nice, sometimes, to not really know where I am going until I get there.  That is how it was with this piece of work.  I cannot bring myself to refer to it as a project as that might imply that I had some sort of plan.  At some point I had been loaned a Kaffe Fasset book that included a quilt top pieced from a variety of striped shirtings in four triangle squares.

Well I messed about with some triangles and came up with some less than delightful squares one of which just about looked like it might be a distant relative of something from a Kaffe Fasset quilt (see above top left corner.  This was where direction changed both literally and notionally.  The nasty squares became the back of a tiny sampler for some quilting

I had been reading about the wonderful quilts produced in Wales between the first and second world wars.  What really fascinated me about these was reading how quilts were marked out by professionals who sometimes stamped the designs onto whole cloth quilt tops which would be sold and sometimes they were marked out by drawing around ordinary house hold objects like tea cups, plates and irons.  I was rather captivated by the idea but doubtful that I would find myself marking out and hand quilting a double sized bedspread.  Instead I made up a small quilt sandwich and grabbed a tea plate and pencil.  I marked out this simple motif of circles leaves and chevrons.

Traditionally this type of quilting would be done by hand but I quilted this sampler on my Singer 15K hand crank machine making up the infill as I went along.  It's a bit wonky here and there but I find the slightly naive effect pleasing.  I ended up thinking of the technique as a sort of straight-line-semi-free-motion quilting.  I doubt it will catch on but I felt I had spent enough time on this to add a binding.  I did a bit of hand ladder stitching on the binding - way too tight just look at all those puckers!  I've hung this little oddity, from one corner, on a nail that was in the wall of the sewing room.  I don't think anyone really knows what to make of it but yellow and white always makes me think of fried egg and somehow my interest in and appetite for Welsh and Durham whole cloth quilts has been whetted.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Three little Dicky birds

I can't claim this as my own.  It's a vintage item that The Much Belovéd's mother sent from the US.  I think it is such fun I wanted to share it with you all.  I think it is the cutest tea towel I have ever seen and in some ways it's too good to use.  I guess this dates from 
the late 1950s or early 60s.

A closer look reveals how deceptively simple this appliqué is.  Each bird is made up of two contrasting strips of bias with the twig made of brown bias.  the eyes, beaks and legs are back stitched with embroidery thread.  Anyone feeling inspired to make a copy?

Also from the 1950s I leave you with some other singing birds - British ones this time though.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

An apron and lots of bias binding (again)

Alright I promise that, during my sabbatical from blogging, I did sew something other than aprons but for the time being that is what I a bringing us all up to date on.  No more aprons for a while after today.  At least for a little while.

I have already blogged about Sewing Machine Basics by Jane Bolsover.   The pattern for this full length apron comes from that.  The pattern pieces for this and the other projects in the book are included on large sheets at the back of the book for you to trace off yourself.

The book is neatly arranged for the sewing novice.  Each chapter takes the form of a 'Workshop' which teaches the reader a new technique.  This is then followed by a project which makes use of the newly acquired skill.  The 'Bound-edged apron' project tests -guess what? - the use of binding and patch pockets.

I decided that the usefully sized pocket should not pattern match with main apron piece.  I did however try to centre the pattern piece on a motif so that over all the pocket ended up looking balanced.

I was very much in Singer 15K80 mode when I was making aprons during the late spring of 2014.  Hardly surprising I got a bit smitten with that machine once I got it sewing well.  Just look at those stitches!  I am rather proud of the triangles strengthening the corners.  Remember, after all, I was able to achieve those on a hand cranked machine which lacks a reverse feed - lots of needle down, presser foot up, action going on and I actually counted the stitches while I was sewing.

I am slightly less proud of the above nonsense.  The method of attaching the binding involved sewing through all layers at the same time - it looks a lot better from the right side.  This being me I was able to include, even on an apron with only two very simple pattern pieces, a flat felled seam, albeit a very short one at the nape of the neck.  There is no way I could "press open and finish seam allowance with a zig zag" given the machine I was using to sew this project - what's a boy to do?

I cut out the ties using a ruler and rotary cutter on the long grain of the fabric.  They are stitched along their long edge, turned through and then the open ends turned in and topstitched to the apron edges with a square and cross thingy.

All the raw edges are encased with home made bias binding.  Lots of measuring and fun!  Recognise the green fabric from the second apron with a ruffle?  I told you my stitching looked more even from the right side didn't I?

Here is the finished apron all ready to be sent off it's new owner - ignore all those work shirts that needed ironing!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Another apron with a gathered ruffle

This ruffled apron is separated from the first by about eighteen months of time.  The first was such a hit with the ladies of the family that a second was needed to prevent a charge of favouritism on my part.  I was able to take more detailed pictures of the second apron before I gave it away to my Mam.

This apron is made of printed cotton poplin and lined with some plain white poly-cotton so that the raw edge of the ruffle is fully enclosed and the apron has a nice amount of heft, or body, or whatever you want to call it.

 The curved patch pocket is edge-stitched in place.  The side seams are angled slightly toward the top so that the pocket forms an open bag.

This being apron mkII I knew that I wanted to make sure to match the bobbin thread to the white lining fabric rather than to the green pocket.  Sewing with two different colours of thread is a dead giveaway for uneven tensions so full marks to the Singer 15K80 I sewed this with!

The ruffle is gathered at a ratio of 2:1.  When I first used this pattern I sewed the running stitch for the gathering by hand.  This time I was bold, I was brave, I was fearless and used a vintage Singer ruffler attachment.  I had to mess about with scraps a bit to get the fullness of the gathers as I wanted them.  I wasn't quite brave enough to use the ruffler to gather and sew the ruffle onto the apron in one operation as the old manuals suggest is possible - one step at a time!  I probably didn't save much time but using the ruffler was a lot of fun and the results are a pleasing firm even gather.

The instructions on finishing the ties are pretty nifty too.  The square ends are folded in on themselves at 45 degrees to produce neat points that are pressed and edge-stitched in place.

And one last close up of the hemmed edge of the ruffle in case any one is any doubt over how tasty the stitches produced by a 56 year old machine really are!

An apron with a gathered ruffle

Dear readers and follows I am sorry not to have written sooner.  I really don't know where the time has gone.  More responsibility at work plus regular weekend working, a new home with, for the first time, a garden?  Big changes seem to have left little time for blogging and sewing during 2014.  The choice: sew or blog so I sewed and left the blog in free fall.  Similar to not getting in touch with a friend or relative the longer you leave it the harder it gets.  Time for an update?  Past time!

The pattern for this apron came from the Liberty Book of Home Sewing.  My version, pictured below, was one of the first things I made on the Singer 401G - months before I wrote my first blog entry.  It's modelled beautifully by my gorgeous and glamorous sister.  The apron was a birthday present for her.

 I really enjoyed putting this project together.  It was one of the first things I shopped for specific fabric for.  It's made of Liberty Tana Lawn in the Carline and Glenjade patterns.  It really is lovely stuff to work with as I am sure many of you will know.  The pattern requires only two pieces which I drew on squared paper following the instructions from the book.  The waistband, ties and frill are all straight cut across the width of the fabric using a rotary cutter.

The apron was fun to make and allowed me to develop a couple of new to me, at the time, skills

  1. Patch pockets
  2. Gathering
  3. Bagging a lining
I followed the book instructions for gathering the ruffle which involved hand sewing a running stitch the length of it.  This must have added quite a bit of time to the making.  I didn't know at the time that I could just have easily sewn a long machine stitch with a loose top tension in much less time and achieved the same effect.  Thank goodness I have read some more books since then.  The next step was marking both the apron and the ruffle with pins at different spacings and gathering the latter down to the same spacing as the former.  The result was pricking even gathers!

The one other thing I would have done differently in hind sight was to make sure I matched the bobbin thread to the apron lining when I attached the patch pocket.  I never thought - experience (or lack there of) once again.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

It's curtains… for the sewing room

I moved house twice in 2013.  I have been lucky in that both of the dwellings allow for a designated sewing room.  Some of you will remember the first one from the blog entry last Summer.  The second has seen more service as a spare bedroom than for sewing.  I think this is because it is equipped with a futon rather than a decent cutting table.  It does however have a fantastic 1930s sideboard in which to store fabric, haberdashery and patterns and the room has enough floorspace for the Singer 201K in its cabinet.

The previous owners left behind a black-out roller blind and an empty curtain track so I thought I would have a go at curtains.

I was inspired, in part by one of my Christmas presents [am I really blogging about Christmas presents in April?] Sewing Machine Basics by Jane Bolsover...

… which contains instructions on how to make sheer curtains…

...and partly by a pair of poly chiffon curtains that came from one of The Much Belovéd's previous residences.  The curtains would not typically be my first choice of fabric but they were unlikely to be used again elsewhere, sheer and would therefore work well with the existing blind, free and available and therefore of no consequence should I happen to ruin them.

I laid a curtain out on the floor which was the only place big enough to do so.  The top of the curtain was finished with a tab top and the bottom partially finished with an overlocker.  I suppose the idea was to hem them yourself to the required length.  I rather suspect that this pair of curtains may have been supplied with their own packed of fusible webbing for just that purpose.

The tab top wasn't going to be much use to me because the type of curtain track I had inherited so the first thing to do was to get rid of it.  I set about it with my sharp shears.  The nasty plasticky label also disappeared along with the top hem.  Imagine putting a great heavy label like that on an item made of transparent fabric!

This operation left me with a long piece of cloth, hemmed on two sides, overlocked across the bottom width, with raw across the top.  Each curtain was more or less the width of my window and, from what I had read, using both would give me a nice fullness when gathered over the window.

The next step was to turn my attention to that overlocked bottom edge.  I decided to look upon that partial finishing as a gift on this slippery sliding shifting fabric and use it to help me produce my hem.
I began by turning up 1½ inches.  I turn the folded edge up again so that the line of overlocking was enclosed by my first fold.  This gave the bottom hem a triple thickness and a nice bit of heft which should help with the hang of the finished curtains.   I felt the need to use a great many pins to hold this turning in place.  The fabric handled something like a cross between a crisp packet and a bin liner.

The instructions in the book are to pin and then hand baste (tack) every bit of sewing you do.  I am sure that this approach produces fantastically neat results… … eventually.  A big apology to the purists but I just couldn't face that kind of investment of time in a piece of second hand polyester.  I managed to produce a decent hem using plenty of pins and the 1936 Singer 99K hand crank.  The machine handled a fabric which would not be invented until five years after it was built pretty well I thought.  I was sure to use a light tension to avoid puckering though.  I used a cool iron to press the hem because I was terrified the fabric might melt.  It just about holds a crease but not for very long.  More on how things went at the other end of the curtain next time!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bonding with Singer 15K80

One day early last autumn I got out the Singer 15K80 to do a quick job sewing some furnishing weight chintz.  The cotton thread I used was pretty old, it came from a wooden spool that arrived with the machine, and thicker than the usual polyester I buy.  I really struggled to get the '15' to produce anything like the kind of stitched vintage Singers usually make.  The stitches were loose at the beginning of the seams then would improve - a bit.  The best I could do was to back the top tension right off to get the top and bottom threads balanced but then the overall impression that the stitches gave was somehow sloppy.  It was hard to distinguish neat individual stitches making up the line.  Hard to explain and I didn't take any pictures at the time.

The poor quality of these stitches in spite of many rethreadings and much adjustment of the top tension were rapidly making me fall out of love with this machine.  I have often thought of the 15 as a bit of an odd ball in the Singer stable with its odd man out bobbin and bobbin case.  Three of my machines take class 66 bobbins so why did I even need the hassle of yet another type of bobbin?  For a few minutes I even considered throwing in my lot with the 15k80 and selling it.

Instead I did some thinking and research and came to the conclusion that my problems were, more than likely, related to bottom tension.

It took me quite some time before I could find some really useful practical advice on how to set up from scratch a class 15 bobbin case.  One method I watched on You Tube relied on buying a new bobbin case set up at the factory and then pulling yards and yards of thread through the tension until you develop a 'feel' for what should be the right tension - er there must be a more scientific way than that…!

And of course there is.  A big thank you to Charles Day who submitted these instructions to singersewinginfo.co.uk helping people like me (and you?) to improve the performance of their vintage Singers.

Step 1: weigh out just under one and a half ounces of sugar

Step 2:  put the sugar inside a tiny ziplock back.  The one I used came with spare buttons for one of The Much Beloved's shirts and was just the right size.

Step 3:  Tie the bobbin thread to the bag of sugar.  My bag happened to have a small hole punched in it for just that job.

Step 4:  Load the bobbin into the bobbin case.  The first time I did this I discovered that the tension on this bobbin case was so light that the bag of sugar quickly dropped to the floor sending the bobbin spinning in its case.  Ah-Ha!  So there's the cause of my sloppy stitches and inconsistent tension.

Step 5:  Using the small screwdriver; little by little I tweaked up the tension until it was sufficient to just hold the bag swinging in mid air.  A sharp upward motion should allow one to two inches of thread to be pulled off the bobbin before it comes to rest in mid air again.

Step 6:  Load the bobbin and case into the machine; check the thread path of the top thread;  adjust top tension to balance the top and bottom threads; admire the beautiful even straight stitches produced by class 15 Singers.  I think I may have just found a new favourite.