Friday, January 30, 2015

A Draft from the Past - Toddler's Romper and Bonnet

This size 2 years, McCall's romper is made in one piece and has a matching sun bonnet.  It also has a matching doll and doll outfit.  Be still my desiccating ovaries!
McCalls 2322, vintage pattern for toddler's romper, bonnet and matching stuffed doll
In these days of sun awareness, the bonnet is perhaps ironic in contrast to the bare legs, arms and back of the romper. 

It is an impractical garment on so many levels.  Ties in the front because you totally trust a toddler with a self tie in front - yeah, right.  Solution - knot the buggery ties so hard that you lose all traction on that toilet training when the "Mummy, I need to gooooooo!" moment comes, as it so inevitably does.  That tie would definitely have to be extended to wrap around to the back.

The pattern instructions suggest lining the romper but state that it is optional.  It therefore gives no  instructions for how to go about lining the garment which is quite at odds with the over-engineering of the doll pattern.

Transfer for decorative stitching on doll

The doll pattern comes complete with original transfer to mark the decorative stitching.

This pattern is completely intact down to the transfer paper. It was never made by the original owner.

I am tempted to make this in a bright gingham or sweet Liberty print just because I can and not because it would be useful to anyone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Draft from the Past - half circle skirt

Madame Weigel does it again. 

This pattern is for a half circle (in one piece) skirt with faced waistband. 

It adorable but not even the slimmest of my adult friends, has a 24 inch waist.

The instructions and pieces are intact and I doubt the pattern has been used.

It would look so cute in a print with a crisp shirt and cardie or matching bolero.

As much as I love it, this one will be going on eBay - or speak up in the comments and we can do a deal if you'd like it.  That might keep me in pattern money for a little while.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Improvised thread cone holder

So I thought I needed one of these which cost about $80 and have to be mail ordered.

commercially available thread cone holder with heavy base

What I really needed was to identify the function of the item I desired and look around me.

So I made this, for nothing, and don't have to add another unitask object to our home.

Lazy Kate threaded through the loop of a safety pin on the sewing machine's reel holder

Large sewing projects just became more efficient by not having to change the thread.  And this weekend I have half a house of curtains to make and then there are 14 or so tablecloths and several hundred metres of bunting for the wedding to sew soon, too.

Here I was winding bobbins and taking photos.  It sews better when the Kate is on the floor.

The old Husky has been serviced and is such a work horse for jobs like this.

Another improvised thread cone holder is documented here.  May give it a go as well.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Fig at the Gate

"I used to love nightclubs, now I love nurseries."

That quotation from Kate Llewellyn's "A Fig at the Gate", is a good summary of the book.

Published in 2014, it is subtitled "The joys of friendship, gardening and the gaining of wisdom".  The memoir documents a several years in Kate's life in the creation of a new garden, spending time with the oldest of friends and gaining new ones, and the consolations of age.

I wavered between enjoying very much being directly addressed by Llewellyn and reading her personal diary and having an uncomfortable feeling of TMI.  I suspect it is because I am starting to feel my age as well.  And while I am considerably younger than Kate, I am past the half-way mark by a few years now.

"It may be that gardening creeps up on one when some of the fury of youth falls away."

Some of my discomfort I experienced initially with this work is not the writing or the format (a series of diary entries), but that we see the joys of gardening differently. Llewellyn, initially, sees gardening as a subsitute for sex, I see it more a channelling of the nurturing impulse.

I became less uncomfortable as the years pass (she chronicles 2009-2012).  Perhaps the because really we have a simile for a relationship.  The initial obsessive and physical joy gives way to the creation and nurturing of new life and the grief of death.

Llewellyn explores the joys of the flesh through her garden as well as the more emotional connection of the company of her family, her oldest friends, creating new life, and making new friends.

I loved that this book made me think and address some of my own assumptions and it gives me hope for my own future.

My third book of 2015 and number 3 in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge.  Earlier reviews here and here.

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Draft from the Past - Overall or Sunsuit

I suspect that most of the patterns I bought in the bargain bundle were from the same family.  If I could put them in date order, I might be able to work out how many children and of which gender.  There's a lot of supposition in that sentence.

The second pattern I opened was another Madame Weigel's pattern.  This one for a child's overall or sunsuit (for Boy or Girl), 1 year.

Madame Weigel's pattern for child's overall or sun suit, age 1 year

There was no instruction sheet or illustrated list of pattern pieces for this one, but the instructions are on the back of the envelope and the pieces listed.  The only bit missing is the trouser patch pocket.

The pattern advises creating a waistband facing but provides no instruction.  A lot more assumed knowledge than on modern patterns.

My mother made us similar overalls as children, usually cut down from men's suits or corduroy trousers bought at op shops (yes, this apple didn't fall far from that tree).  She would have sewn down the straps to the back of the garment so there weren't buttons sticking into baby's back.  She would also have added length to the straps and sewn three or four button holes along the strap to allow for growth.

The bonus in this pattern is a redraft of the shoulder strap, or it could be a for a different garment.  The original shoulder strap is only an inch wide.  The sewer redrafted the piece on newsprint at half the length and double the width or the original.  I tend to agree with her - a useful strap for kids is quite wide.

Madame Weigel's pattern for child's overall or sun suit, age 1 year with hand-drafted pattern piece
The sewer used a pencil to write her cutting instructions:


Pencilled instructions on hand-drafted and altered pattern piece

The newspaper used is The Herald Sun, dated 1950.  That's as close as I can get and there are tantalising bits of advertisements on the paper.  On the side with the annotation is an advertisement for Ovaltine and on the reverse, part of a shop ad for New Look styled winter coats.

I wonder if the sewer attempted her own New Look coat?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A draft from the past - Carrying Coat

We were at a charity sale on the weekend (I know, how unusual!) where I found a small pile of vintage sewing patterns.

a selection of vintage sewing patterns from the bargain bundle

The price was low for the bundle, so they all came home with me.

I adore vintage textiles and their patterns, and thought I might have a go at sewing some of the children's patterns.

Vintage garments often have such beautiful details which I would love to be better at. Practicing on child sized garments seams a good way of acquiring skills while not investing in a large-woman sized garment's worth of fabric and time.

These old ones are single-sized, so it doesn't matter too much if they are cut.  With more modern multi-sized patterns, I'm less likely to buy cut patterns unless they are cut to the largest size.

The  first task when dealing with vintage or other second hand sewing patterns is to check that all the pieces are there.  This can be challenging as very old patterns do not have the pieces marked, you have to check them against the instruction sheet, if there is an instruction sheet.

This first one, an infant's carrying coat, is incomplete.  It is missing the sleeve which I may or may not choose to attempt to draft.

The pattern illustration gives two suggestions for construction - a smocked front and back below the bodice or a simple gather.  There is no for smocking design provided.  The instruction sheet says "Smock or shirr as desired".  Madame Weigel assumes a lot of skill.  The instructions for the hemming are "Turn hem on collar ... and spoke-stitch, - or it may be a faggoted band of rouleau."

Madame Weigel's pattern for and infant's carrying coat

The illustration also suggests either a peter pan collar or a pointed one, but there is only one pattern piece provided, the peter pan.

Now these patterns are delightful remnants of the past in themselves, but sometimes there are added joys.

There was, though, an added bonus - a pattern piece drafted on brown paper with hand notation.

Madame Weigel's pattern for and infant's carrying coat with hand drafted pattern piece

The piece does not belong to this pattern.  I could tell that by it's size, and by the shape of the piece which did not match the schema on the instruction sheet.  I could also tell by reading the notation:

Handwritten instructions on hand-drafted pattern piece

Bodice for pleated shirt
for Melva 4 years opening down back
1" 2" pleats face right to left
stitch down back of pleat

I get a thrill when I find these whispers from past sewers.  Was it Melva's mother who drafted this piece and wrote these instructions in fountain pen?  The paper from which the piece is cut has been crumpled ironed flat before drafting.  What did the paper wrap before it became Melva's bodice pattern?  There are only a few pinholes in the paper.  Was Melva growing so fast she only had one or two blouses from this pattern? Was the new baby so demanding Mum didn't have as much time to sew?

Yes, I can let my imagination get away with me at times.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reality check

While I would love my life to be all about reading wonderful, transportive and transformative books, and making useful and beautiful textile creations, sometimes the reality is this.

Table linens, fabrics for new creations and some clothing overflow engulf the ancient Elna Press


A couple of weeks of external commitments and the ironing has rather got away from me.  These photos were 10.30am Sunday and there is also another basketful lurking under the racks.  By 2pm, when we had to go out, one rack and the basket were clear.  There may be less creating and more ironing this week to gain some control.

At least it is organised and prioritised.  That helps. As do podcasts.  I am so grateful to podcasters for helping me through the necessary evils of domestic life.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Crafting from Stash - Christmas Edition

At Christmas, I like to give small gifts to the volunteers and staff teams I work with.  Usually about 20 gifts.  This year, I also had about that number of people in the medical and care teams who have been treating me.

40-ish is a lot of small gifts to buy and the cost certainly adds up.

This year I found a use for several stashes of second-hand and reclaimed supplies to create lavender sachets.

I made about 40 tea-bag sachets from Christmas print fabric that I'd picked up at op-shops during the year.  Each was trimmed with a reclaimed shirt button and a piece of thin ribbon rescued from purchased tops and dresses.  You know - the bits of ribbon that make the item secure on a coat hanger.

The only element I had to buy was lavender, because our lavender is the ornamental French variety rather than useful English. Each bag only needs a decent teaspoon full, so it wasn't a huge cost.

I modified this tutorial by Mademoiselle Chaos.  My teabags are only one sachet, not a folded piece to make two, and I changed the hanging system to create a ribbon loop and lost the silly tag piece.

I figured these are a sweet, seasonal token.  They fit neatly into a small Christmas card making giving them easy as well.  The investment of time is about 10 minutes a piece (not the 5 quoted in the tutorial) and the money invested minimal.  If the recipient threw it away within seconds I wouldn't loose any sleep over it as I would with a knitted item.  Some of my colleagues have hung them in their cars, and others over coat hangers to ward off moths in the cupboard.

Be warned, though - these are addictive, and I have MANY ready to be filled with lavender and finished as little gifts during the year.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Engagement

No, not ours, although that progresses well, thanks.

Chloe Hooper's second novel, The Engagement is my second Australian Women's Writers Challenge read of 2015.

It is a modern gothic novel of psychological suspense.

The premise is that Liese Campbell, deeply in debt and working in her uncle's real estate business, begins charging loaded Gippsland farmer Alexander Colquhoun for sex.  When Liese announces her return to England, Alexander invites her to his property for a final weekend.

The novel is not about sex, and certainly isn't erotic, but there are sexual passages.  The novel is about power and control and desire and fear.

The set up is a bit clunky and belief must be suspended, but go with it - the psychological thriller bit is worth it.  And it certainly does prompt thought. 

I read Chloe's first novel, A Child's True Book of Crime (2002), last year and this is, in my opinion, the better of the two. 4 stars from me, and would be a good book for a reading group.

Finishing this presented me with a dilemma, though.  It seems I have become a monogamous reader sometime in the last few years.  I forgot to bring a new library book home - there are two waiting for me - and I finished this book early in the evening. I am reluctant to have more than one novel on the go at a time.  Just as I was about to download a magazine from the library, I found a literary solution with a volume of short stories.  I can read a couple of short stories without fear of cheating on my next book. 

While I try to borrow from the library where I can, in this instance a small number of unread books at home is a blessing.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I think I am the last person to read this book.  It is justifiably well-regarded and has won 9 literary awards and been shortlisted for as many again.

TOF and I listened to most of the audio-book borrowed from Libraries ACT on a recent journey and I finished it yesterday.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book - it is a "speculative biography" of the last woman executed in Iceland.  Firmly based on historical research, the book reproduces a number of translated documents of the period, which appealed to me as an archivist.

Another appealing factor - the historical detail of women's work, in particular their textile work.  Knitting, spinning and weaving are inherent elements of the text and I thrilled at each mention.  I could imagine a pattern book based on traditional Icelandic patterns for socks and mittens based on this book, just as we have seen other "inspired" pattern books.

The book is a satisfying, fresh, feminist reading of a moment of Icelandic history and you don't need to be a knitter to enjoy it.

If this wasn't enough to make me just a little bit in love with Hannah Kent, this quotation from a recent blog post sealed our relationship.

"If you can't afford new books, buy second-hand books. If you can't afford second-hand books, get a library card. Get a library card anyway." Hannah Kent's Rules for Writing, blogged 26 November 2014

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Friday, January 02, 2015


For the last two years I have joined the Australian Women Writers' Challenge.  The Challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women and encourages readers and bloggers to read and review writing by Australian women.

In 2014 I pledged to read 4 books by Australian women writers.  This is the Stella level.  Circumstances were such that, I read 20 books by Australian women writers.

Some were brilliant, others were meh, but it was very much worth the time.

So I'm signing up again this year.  I can't guarantee another few weeks of of bath rest (yes, bath rest - long story), so I will sign up to the Miles level - 6 books read.
Want to join me? The details are on the AWW blog.

Don't know where to start?  The Stella Prize long lists are a very good place to start. 2013 is here and 2014 here.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Resolutions 2015

  1. Marry the love of my life
  2. Kill no-one

These resolutions may or may not be related.