Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cone Thread Nets From Upcycled Produce Netting

I love garlic and buy it fresh at my local grocery store. The heads come packed three in a sleeve. It's not because I am OCD that I cannot throw anything away, it is that I often see something as a resource instead of a liability. Many things that begin with a particular purpose can be adapted to serve another. 

So it was no surprise to me that when I removed the garlic from these sleeves that I knew immediately how I would put them to use. I have purchased thread nets and though not expensive, these garlic sleeves were essentially free!

These sleeves are finely webbed with just enough elasticity to cover standard thread cones as well as these larger commercial cones. 

Just slip them over the top, pull the thread through and tuck in the excess on the bottom. Easy! And the best part is that you have just saved another piece of plastic from the landfill.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pattern Weights - A DIY Tutorial for Covering Metal Washers

Whoever discovered using weights instead of pins for layout and cutting was a genius. Though it does not allow the pattern tissue to "stick" with the fabric after cutting, the ease of cutting alone warrants great praise. I have seen pretty weights at fabric stores and have seen tutorials for wrapping with fabric strips or Washi tape. Is there anything you cannot cover with Washi tape? It's the new duct tape. 

I found myself wandering the aisles of Ace Hardware one Winter day admiring the ingenuity of so many varieties of wing nuts and washers and happened upon these large washers and thought, aha! I have found my pattern weights. But the smooth side slides on the tissue and the edges on the perimeter and in the opening are rough and can tear the tissues. This is why they are normally covered. As I wandered down the aisles I came across Plasti-Dip, a liquid plastic that you dip the handles of tools into to get a better no slip grip. Light bulb moment.

They had red and black. It would have been fun to have more colors to play with but this would have to do. I lined a box with newspaper and placed a dowel through the handles.

I dipped the washers into the coating. It was kind of thick and there are directions for thinning it which I may try next time. 

These hang to dry for a couple of hours.

Dip again and allow to dry for about 4 hours and Voila! You have no slip sure grip covered pattern weights. Hmmm. I wonder what else I could dip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Storing Vintage Sewing Patterns

The first time that a pattern is pulled from it's envelope, unfolded and cut to create a garment is easy. Putting it all back together is the tricky part. Some seamstresses neatly press the tissues and slip them back into their envelopes. It's not always a perfect fit and often the envelope will tear in the process. So seamstresses have searched for alternative storage methods for their used but precious patterns.

I have in my collection, numerous patterns where the seamstress has split the envelope and pasted the front and back onto a manilla envelope with the contents inside.

The flat envelopes card shops slide greeting cards into are fairly common for pattern storage. But storing patterns in waxed paper folders was a surprise for me. I had never seen these flat sheets of waxed paper before. But what a clever storage idea for the 1930's seamstress.

On the back cover of the Perkins "Sanigenic" folder they have imprinted a space for a letter to identify the contents when filed and even suggests filing patterns in the folders. These envelopes are constructed from a lightweight chip board with sturdy folds glued at the back and a wide flap.

The folders preserve the pattern envelopes nicely with no tears and help keep the tissues in good condition. This extra effort by the waxed paper manufacturers reminds me of how the feed and seed companies aided the rural homemaker by printing pretty patterns on what would have been plain white muslin. By offering another purpose for the folder they extend it's usefulness and ensure it's longevity. What a great idea!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Twin Sisters - Vintage Toy Sewing Machines

If you have ever passed by one of these toy sewing machines at a garage sale or thrift shop, you may want to rethink this. Manufactured in the 1960's, Sister electric sewing machines were made in Japan. That's about all the history I know about them. There are, of course, many other brands of toy sewing machines that date much further back than my two little sisters. But many of them, though certainly not all, function primarily the same way ... they sew a straight stitch but have no bobbin. 

These little machines are made of fairly durable plastic housing and have an electric motor with a foot pedal and a light, just like mom's. The electric foot pedal is notorious for failing though the motor seems to hum softly. Not to worry! There is a hand crank that works without electricity that will get the job done. I wrap the cords up to keep them out of the way.

Though these are a breeze to thread, I have two so I keep one threaded with white thread and another with black. They are small so they take up very little space and lightweight so they can be moved quickly and easily should I require that space. 

The hand crank moves easily but the machine is a little jumpy. It handles various fabrics and thicknesses well and uses common 24 X 1 needles. I only use my Sisters for basting.

Because these machines have no bobbins they do not produce a lock stitch. They produce a chain stitch. I am a firm believer in basting before sewing and the ability to simply pull out the basting stitch with such ease has saved me both time and frustration.

There is a tension control but no stitch length control. The top of the fabric looks just like a lock stitch while the bottom is a chain. Just a little toy machine that does one thing really well. I picked these up at thrift shops some years ago for a few dollars. They have been trusty companions in my sewing studio for many years.

Do you baste before you sew and like the idea of a stitch and pull basting stitch? Look around, these little machines are out there for reasonable prices. And you can always let your own little one sew right next to you and get hooked on the fabulous art of sewing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chunky Yarn - Repurposing Waste Yarn by Plying

My mother dabbled at weaving for a brief period of time, as many often do. The term "Handwoven" conjures images of a quieter, more peaceful time when quality ruled the day. That imagery is not a fiction. Hand weaving is an art and hand woven textiles are precious. But weaving is a slow art and one that takes a good deal of planning and a lot of tedious work before you ever sit at your loom to actually weave. My mother skipped most of those early steps and because of her back problems I was called upon to warp her loom, a process that I found much more enjoyable than weaving. 

My mother has been gone for almost 9 years and hadn't done any weaving since 1995, when my father died and she moved into an apartment. So imagine my surprise and delight when I opened this tub of yarn and found hanks of wool right off the warping board but never woven. Why, I wondered. Well, like I said, weaving takes a lot of planning and my mother was not very good at envisioning the process from raw material to finished product. She chose yarn that was simply not strong enough to use as a warp. So there it sat.

The yarn she purchased is wool and the colors are beautiful. Such a shame it was never used. I have been a spinner for about 25 years, a process that to my mind is as meditative as it is productive. I decided to join the 16 yard lengths and then ply them into a chunky yarn for my sister who is just starting on her knitting journey (and loving it!). 

I began by separating the strands and tying them together and winding them into balls. There were warm and cools in the tub. I began with the cools - the blues and greys because I just like blue and grey more than pink and orange.

This process took a couple of days, working when my little grey tiger Saskia was sleeping to avoid excessive tangles from her irrepressible need to play. 

Then to dust off my Schacht wheel. I honestly had not spun anything since I spun paper for the collaborative paper wearable project with Julie McLaughlin that I mentioned HERE

I packed the balls of wound yarn into a small enough box to keep the tension tight as I pulled the strands. In hindsight I might have been wiser to have wound the strands directly onto spools but I was going to be plying 2 each of the blue and 3 of the grey and only have one spool holder with tension adjustment for 3 spools. So this box would have to do.

After the plying was complete I wound the yarn onto a niddy noddy, an amazing little tool that winds your yarn into a hank in one yard lengths. 

The hanks are secured with string woven between the strands and removed from the niddy noddy. The hanks are washed and hung to dry with weights to straighten out the crimping, a result of the twisting while plying.

The result was 10 full pull skeins of my mothers yarn being used to make Christmas hats and scarves for her grandchildren. I think she would be pleased.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tests of Time - Sustainability and the Vintage Sewing Pattern

In an era when "Green" is the new consumer mantra, sustainability takes on a broader definition. What does it mean to be "Green"? Organic cotton, imported from halfway across the world, has a carbon footprint that surely negates any benefit its "Green" label boasts. Is Ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, a greener product than petroleum if the chemicals applied or engineered into the plant destroy the Monarch population? Do lower carbon emissions justify the vast amounts of propane used to dry the prematurely harvested corn, depleting a fuel supply that rural and remote homes depend on for heat? Is it ethical that Ethanol diverts a major human food source to fuel our vehicles? What defines something as "Green" or sustainable? 

Sustainability is not a new concept, just a forgotten one. There was a time when all you could buy or barter was local or seasonal, and when something needed mending you didn't throw it away and buy a new one... you repaired it. In our global economy, "Buy Local" seems like an antiquated notion and one that is difficult to implement. So how do we assess a thing as sustainable? There are entire institutions that dedicate their energies to this topic, but to my mind, sustainability is about something that endures.

Why does something endure? In Tests of Time by William H. Gass, he asserts that the "Test of Time" is not a test at all. Enduring is a result of the conscious effort to preserve something that is valued. That is not to say that all beautiful or wonderful things escape oblivion. It also does not imply that all that endure are worthy of their longevity. A thing may have been tucked away and forgotten. Perhaps a thing is preserved for it's sentimental value or because it is still useful. Or perhaps because it is beautiful. These attributions of value are not set by the marketplace.

As a collector and seller of vintage sewing patterns, I have witnessed time and again, a 100 year old paper sewing pattern, the most fragile and ephemeral material on the planet, used once, twice or many times, carefully folded and placed back into the envelope and saved. These patterns continue to be collected and used and saved. They have withstood the test of time through a kind of stewardship. For a thing to require nothing, be non-polluting and yet be useful for 100 years or more is the most sustainable of things.

When the consumer computer revolution began the thought was that it would lead to a paperless society and thus eliminate, or at least minimize the rampant deforestation occurring throughout the world to feed the need for paper. Computers = Green. It was a good theory but that really didn't happen judging by the sales of personal ink-jet and laser printers not to mention cartons of paper. Fortunately paper is one of the easier materials to recycle. Unfortunately, it doesn't account for the vast resources it requires to process, like water. 

The computer and the internet have made the exchange of information fast and fairly effortless. The Portable Data File, or PDF, is a file that compresses data to allow for easy travel through cyberspace. Medical records and legal documents can be sent and received quickly. They are read on tablets and computers and not necessarily printed onto paper. This is not true of the PDF sewing pattern industry. Independent designers and vintage reproduction companies, as well as the major pattern manufacturers now offer "instant download" patterns. They are instant only inasmuch as the download will appear on your desktop within minutes. The delivery imposes almost zero carbon footprint. But now the task of printing out several to sometimes hundreds of sheets of 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper (that come from trees), laying them out, taping them together and cutting them out... the "instant" factor and the sustainability quotient has dropped significantly. If they are used once, discarded and printed again...

The vintage sewing pattern, that has endured the test of time will usually be my first choice when I set my sights on a sewing project. But I also see so many wonderful designs from fabulous up and coming independent designers that I would love to try but won't because they only offer them as PDF's. A printed pattern, in a beautifully designed package is a pattern worth using once, twice or many times, keeping and treasuring. A Colette Pattern is a perfect example of a pattern that will endure. Her thoughtful attention to detail and the sturdy spiral bound instructions are attributes that will contribute to it's longevity and the legacy of Colette Patterns.

Albion by Colette


No doubt there are many contemporary independent designers with equally useful and beautiful = sustainable pattern designs and packaging. I encourage all sewists to choose vintage or contemporary printed patterns... real patterns. My CynicalGirl shops on Etsy, Goodsmiths, Zibbet and Bonanza carry a huge variety of vintage and contemporary patterns - all of them real, physical patterns that have endured. They remain both useful and beautiful.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Simplicity Pattern Catalog - October 1964

Simplicity Fall Pattern Catalog October 1964

The time is 50 years ago and I am only 7 but I remember my mother wearing some of these fall fashions. Just on the brink of the new Mod era, the fashions in this fall catalog emphasize necklines and capes. 50 years past and we are embracing some of these same designs once again. Shop vintage patterns for an authentic retro look. Visit my Cynical Girl shops on Etsy, Goodsmiths, Bonanza and Zibbet to find fabulous 1960's dress and accessories sewing patterns.

Find this 1960's catalog and others to download HERE.