Sometimes, it just won’t do…

Well, spot the sometimes-blogger who completely lost her blogging mojo… I don’t know why , I just felt that I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Or, for that matter, do… But having just annoyed myself intensely, please forgive me if I give myself an online talking-to!

So I decided to make a rag rug for our eldest son and his lovely partner, who are about to move into their own first-bought home. I know that they will be choosing their furniture & decor carefully, and of course it’s hard to gauge what might “fit” until you can see how their plans are working out – and if they’re anything like us, things don’t so much go according to the masterplan as just fall into place. They’ll do… I thought I’d just go along with something completely practical, which can be used anywhere – a bathmat, a door mat, a sleeping mat for their adorable dachshund, a boot-liner for the car. There was already a warp on the loom; I’d intended to make a mat for the back seat of my van, but kind of lost my way over winter with that as well. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the warp was made from leftover bits of an old sheet that had been cut into strips for a completely different project, several years ago.

I should have known that a cut warp was never going to be as satisfactory as a torn warp for a twined-weave project; it hadn’t been cut completely straight on the “grain”, so the warp was constantly “shedding” threads, which stick up in the finished weaving. And enough came away as I went along that I became slightly anxious that it wouldn’t be as strong in the middle as it needs to be, to take the ferocious tension. Luckily – it sufficed.

A very tangly warp…

The weft strips were a few bits of my husband’s old, torn jeans, an old, frayed turquoise seersucker tablecloth and two-and-a-half reclaimed duvet covers from the recycling warehouse. Total expenditure, £2; 50p each for the 4 bought items, with half of one duvet cover and a few strips left over.

So they picked up the keys today. And I really wanted there to be a parcel for them on the doorstep, so I carried on “over, under, twist!”-ing ’til late at night on Tuesday. I was aware I’d made a bit of an error at one point, but thought, it’s never going to be completely symmetrical, it’s in the nature of the beast to be a little bit chaotic – it’s a rag-rug, it’ll do. So I carried on.

I came down on Wednesday morning, took one look, and oh my goodness – NO!!! It would NOT do. The error shrieked and glared at me; I knew I’d have to undo half of what I’d done the evening before and put it right. If it was anywhere in my sight, the wrongness would just leap out at me, even though I’m no perfectionist. So I spent a merry couple of hours twisting backwards.

No, no, no, no, no! 4+ rows of turquoise where 3 would be enough…7 rows+ to unpick, half-done when pictured.

The moral of this story being – STOP when you’re tired, and start making mistakes! I have known this for many years – go off & do something else, sleep on it, come back to your project when you’re refreshed and not before! But once again, I carried on long past the point where I should have stopped… Despite the setback, I still got it finished and posted in time, and it arrived today – the day they picked up the keys for their own first lovely home. Phew…

About to go off to make itself useful…

Just asking – has anyone else out there struggled to get going with projects lately? In the unforgettable words of a dear friend – are you feeling, like I was, somewhat oomph-lacking?

A stitch in time…

Mending is a thing right now, and that makes me very happy! For a very long time I haven’t wanted to support the fast-fashion industry, partly because of the horrendous level of waste engendered, partly because of the chemicals and processes used, and partly because of their exploitation of desperate workers . Yes, I know, those workers do need to support themselves & their families, but our addiction to cheap “disposable” clothing has forced their employers to push prices, and therefore wages, down to the minimum, and their hours up to the maximum, leading to people becoming economically enslaved & working in dangerous & demeaning situations. There has to be a better way, for all concerned.

I do try to buy well, when I have to buy at all, but I don’t have the kind of money to buy the clothes I’d ethically approve of, and, to be fair, they’re probably not designed for people like me anyway. (What looks good on a 6′ size 6 model drifting through a field of sunlit daisies looks quite silly on a short, round lady of a certain age trudging up a muddy allotment path.) So when I do invest in something I like and that suits me, I want it to last. Especially when I’ve bought it secondhand; chances are I won’t be able to find a replacement easily.

So mending has been part of my way of life for a long time (I grew up in the 60s & 70s, when it was quite mainstream, if not something to be proud of) and I’m beginning to see it not as a chore, but as a creative process. I learnt early in life how to do more-or-less invisible mends, but thanks to those indefatigable engines of creativity, the Japanese, and the public’s growing awareness of our looming environmental predicaments, “visible mends” have caught people’s imaginations lately and have even become saleable. My skills are suddenly in demand, with the added twist that I can start to have some fun with the idea now!

So I thought I’d share the process of retrieving a rather nice polo-necked jumper; not a top-notch “designer” garment, but a respectable make and made from cashmere, a rightly-expensive fibre that I’d struggle to justify buying new for myself. I found this one at the recycling warehouse, for 50p, well-nibbled; one of the main problems with cashmere is that clothes moths simply adore it. (The other is its tendency to shrink & felt if not treated with the utmost respect.) Luckily they’re not good at surviving very low temperatures, so it spent a month in my freezer before being assessed for mending or upcycling; if I’d judged it too hard to mend, it could have become fingerless gloves, or possibly leg-warmers, or any number of smaller, useful items.

Moth-nibbled cashmere jumper

There were lots of holes around the hem, and on one cuff. Apart from that, there were very few holes on the body, arms or neck, just a few tiny nibbles. So I machine-stitched around the ribbing (thank you to my friends on the Fashion-on-the-Ration thread on the MSE forums for the idea!) above the worst of the damage, and cut the lower bits away, then stabilised the few mostly-tiny holes left by stitching all round them with cotton, tightening & tying-off. Both cuffs were stitched & cut off, for symmetry’s sake, even though one had been undamaged.

The worst of the damage cut away

Luckily I had some tiny sample skeins of cashmere in sympathetic colours, so I crocheted round the cut edges (straightforward double-crochet, or single for our American friends, basing each stitch just above the machine-stitched line) in one direction in a lighter blue, then the opposite way in a darker one. The last step was to felt round the edges slightly to bond the different yarns, by dipping them in hot water & soap & rubbing them gently between my fingers for a few minutes. Then it was washed & dried.

A bit more wearable…

I’m going to wear this one myself, mostly underneath other garments, and am perfectly happy that it now has what looks like a little lacy trim!

Just right for trudging up allotment paths!

As a “vintage” market trader, I’ve always mended worthwhile items to sell on, as well as for my own use, and have never considered wearing mended clothes to be a sign of moral deficiency. We have to stop shopping ’til we drop & throwing or giving stuff away after a couple of uses. Instead we need to buy carefully & consciously, and take proper care of what we have, wherever it come from. Part of taking care is mending when necessary, visibly or otherwise. Learning to mend could save you lots of money, or make it possible to buy things of a quality that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s a better use of precious time than endless binge-watching TV, and can even be combined with it once it becomes automatic.

Darned vintage cardi by Susan Duckworth, visibly-patched 5 y.o. Levis & crochet-hemmed Johnstons of Elgin cashmere jumper.

And when things go beyond the point of mend-abilty – upcycle. Felted jumpers make wonderful cushion covers!

A favourite jumper, shrunk & felted way past wearable, makes a cosy cushion…

Doing the math…

A long time ago, in the early days of the WWW, I was a member of an inspirational American website & online community, Frugal Moms. There didn’t seem to be anything like it UK-based, although that, of course, has changed since. Everyone’s favourite book was Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette, and our battlecry rapidly became her iconic phrase “Do the math!” Just as appropriate here in the UK, even though we’d need an extra “s” – meaning, always sit down & work out whether it is actually worthwhile to do or buy something.

That doesn’t simply mean, “Can we afford it?” That’s a sensible question in its own right, but this goes further; I’d interpret it as, “Is it worthwhile affording it?” whatever it may be? As a very simple example, when we were looking for a new cooker, I insisted on quite an expensive make, rather than just one that fitted the space, did what we needed (to be fair, given a larger family, most modern cookers don’t) and looked the part. I put my foot down & insisted on a make that’s known for reliability and ease of acquiring & fitting spare parts, supplied by a firm with a good reputation for customer service. Which we’ve never needed so far, touch wood. We’re about 10 years down the line now and it continues to do the job well and without fuss; previously, no cooker had lasted us more than 5 years, and most had had engineers called out several times during their stint with us. Time is an important element in deciding whether something is worthwhile; your own time surrendered in paying for it, but also saved in using it, plus the length of time it’s likely to last you set against the initial cost.

Two more examples have come into focus lately. The question has been asked, post-Covid, whether it’s worthwhile for me to continue with my market & emporium stalls; after all, we “coped” without the extra income during lockdown. And they do take up some of my time & energy, and of course, there are costs involved. But as far as I’m concerned, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” – psychologically I need to have a little independent income, and I enjoy what I do, despite the hauling round of heavy stuff and inevitable mess while I clean and restore it. As far as I’m concerned, reclaiming worthwhile tools and materials is an excellent use of time, and I have lots of lovely, creative customers who I very much enjoy meeting. We couldn’t live on what I bring in, but it has for some years paid for extras. There will come a time when it’s no longer practical or possible, but – that day is not this day, to paraphrase a well-known fantasy film.

And is the allotment worthwhile, in purely financial terms? This has not been the most productive of years, thanks to a very dry spring, a mud-bath in May leading to a weed explosion which I’m still battling, and a cold grey August which led to stalled growth for the leeks and cabbages, the dreaded tomato blight, and an almost total lack of female flowers on my squash plants. However, quoting from a post I made on MSE’s forums:

“Another 850g of raspberries brought home this morning, along with a bag of just-popped-up spuds, enough beans for a meal for 5 and a courgette, plus a load of cabbage outer-leaves for the Girls (the chickens, rather than my daughters) from my neighbour, who’s clearing his plot for the winter – he will be rewarded with half a dozen eggs! I keep my plot producing over winter where possible, feeding the soil with mulches rather then resting it, and am currently planting mooli, overwintering onions and broad beans, with garlic yet to go; the kale, leeks (if they ever get any bigger!) and chard will keep producing right through. 

In response to a question from my Other Half, I was also working out whether allotmenteering is financially worthwhile; the plot rental is £50 per annum. But I don’t think a single week has gone by over the last year without me bringing home at least £5 worth of produce, at normal prices, and actually I’m growing without chemicals, so organic prices might be a better comparison. I’ve brought home over 5Kg of raspberries over the last few weeks; at W8rose prices of £3 for 300g, i.e. £10 per kilo, that’s the rent paid even if I hadn’t grown anything else! Of course there are some other expenses; I’ve bought some netting, some secondhand water pipes & a few seeds this year, but most of the tools & equipment I need have been sourced secondhand or free.”

Well worthwhile, in my view. Add in fresh air and exercise, meaning I don’t have to pay gym fees to stay active & relaxed, and for me, it’s a winner, though I’d still rather be growing it all in my own garden! (But sadly, that isn’t big or sunny enough.) I know I’m very lucky to be capable of maintaining it, albeit not all that well or quite as the site managers would like to see it (i.e. bare earth, neat rows) but I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity & the time to take one on to get stuck in & give it a whirl.

I’d also urge them to “do the math” – everyone’s situation is different. What pays off for me might not pay off for you, if you paid the plot rental but then weren’t able to keep it going. (Or if you bought lots of expensive tools and equipment, then gave up after a couple of years, which does seem to happen quite a lot.) The right cooker for our reasonably-sized kitchen and more-than-reasonably-sized family wouldn’t be the right choice for a singleton, or for someone producing food for sale. Some tools pay for themselves very quickly, in financial terms like a sewing machine can, or in terms of time saved, and some add so much to your quality of life that they’re worth every penny spent, but others – don’t. I’m reminded of the expensive food processor that just moved the work from before the meal to afterwards, because it was such nightmare to clean!

Anyway, enough rambling. I’ll leave you with some pictures taken at the allotment today…

A bee enjoying one of my daughter Sarah’s sunflowers.

The Great Shirt Project strikes again…

For several years now, I’ve been working on a one-woman challenge: to find as many uses for old shirts as I can! Every quilter knows there’s a whole lot of good, still-useful fabric in a decent gent’s shirt, often in lovely colours and nicely understated patterns, and so many of them just get chucked away when something frays, or a button falls off, or the owner gets larger or just goes off that colour. I’ve been paying 50p for superb quality cotton or linen shirts down at the recycler’s warehouse-shop, chopping them up and using the fabric in little quilts, and weaving the side-seams into bags and rugs, and making hanging “pockets”, needle books, mending kits and laptop covers, to name just a few of the ideas that have occurred to me. A few of the resulting items have even been sold.

Yesterday I experimented with some cuffs; I’ve been steadily selling lavender hearts made from the embroidered bits of old stained table linen, but they are delightfully feminine when all’s said & done. I wanted to make something that a guy would be happy to hang in his wardrobe to make his clothes smell fresh & deter moths, too. So now I’ve invented the Lavender Cuff! Time will tell whether anyone will ever actually buy one, but it’s got to be worth a try…

Lavender-stuffed cuffs!

But the thing that I really, really wanted to make was a hat. It struck me some time ago that the stiffened bits of a formal shirt, i.e. the collars and cuffs, would be ideal for making a hat, if I could just get them joined together somehow. But before I had my big Pfaff machine serviced, all my attempts came to nothing; I broke a number of needles and wrecked several collars trying. It could always have been done by hand, but that might have taken rather a long time, so it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I tried again yesterday, and to my delight & surprise, I succeeded. The machine ran perfectly, I squared the collars & cuffs off to make even joins, and found an elegantly simple pattern to try (pattern & instructions here) and – it worked! I am now the proud possessor of a shirt-collar-and-cuff hat… This one’s a bit big; I made the bigger size because lots of hats feel too tight for me, so there’s another, slightly smaller, version in the making, but I’m actually really rather proud of it and will certainly wear it!

Collar-and-cuff hat!

Something I learnt as a child…

So, a couple of days ago, I started idly twisting a couple of old cut-off shirt seams round my fingers, and before I knew it I was twining & stitching a tiny basket, which is ideal for keeping odds & ends of thread in… I was ridiculously pleased with myself, although I know perfectly well that in days gone by, or on this day in other places in the world, any child can make these; it’s definitely not rocket science!

Tiny basket made from cut-off shirt seams…

But it brought a long-forgotten memory to mind; I was probably about 8, and had made something very similar at school. I trotted home fairly bursting with creative pride, and handed it to my mother. “Very nice, dear,” she said, distracted, as mothers-of-many so often are. “But what did you learn today?”

So, making stuff isn’t learning; that’s what I learnt that day. Learning is words and numbers, facts, and figures. Learning is ideas and abstractions; making stuff is just – child’s play. Something to be put behind us so that we can enter the glorious adult world of using those ideas & abstractions to earn money & buy stuff, playing our rightful part in The Economy. Making stuff, if you really have to, should just be a hobby, involving buying lots of new stuff to make it with, in your “spare” time, or perhaps it should be monetised, if you’re more than competent; you could sell those! But what’s the point in bothering, if you can’t do it cheaper than a oriental wage-slave & churn out enough to supply the high street giants…? Not many of us crafters could support a family on what we could earn, any more then I can feed my family solely on what I can grow on my allotment. Yet somehow we are still driven by something inside to do it anyway.

I know I’m not the only one to be dismayed by how creativity has just fallen out of our educational system; it’s simply not valued in any way by those who make the decisions unless they can see it as a way of gaining a competitive edge in the world. Music, drama & textiles are hanging on by a thread, but very few adults follow through with their interest once they realise they’re not going to be the next superstar or “designer” name. And children only have a basis to explore their potential talents if one of the adults around them happen to be interested in & actually doing such things, and is willing to help that child learn. You won’t do something if you think you might get it wrong or look a bit silly, but especially not if you don’t even know that it can be done.

There are massive commercial pressures to keep people a little bit helpless, a little bit stressed and anxious, because then they’ll keep right on buying stuff, which keeps The Economy ticking over. Also, why put sweat and effort into learning to make something when you could just buy one, or 3D print it? So gradually, our collective competence is dwindling away…

Making or growing stuff, actually manipulating matter with developing skill, applying and combining ideas, and ending up with something genuinely useful and quite possibly beautiful too, is deeply satisfying, even on the level of a tiny basket made from rags. It doesn’t have to win a Turner prize to be worth doing. Why are we allowing future generations to be deprived of this delight?

Home-grown turnips & home-made jam…

Stashbuster 6, for a real baby this time!

One of my auction “job lot of fabric” buys recently included a part-made cot quilt top; straightforward squares in shades of blue & white with ditsy prints, it was nice enough that I kept it, thinking I’d do something with it soon. So when I heard that a young friend was expecting a baby boy, it sprang to mind, although I’ve never believed that it has to be blue for a boy or pink for a girl. I hauled it out, and yes, it was just the right size.

On closer inspection, it was a bit – curious. The squares had been beautifully hand-stitched together, very neatly. But the maker had evidently heard that quilts need binding, so they had carefully hand-stitched two rows of commercial bias binding, one blue and one red, round the edge. But they hadn’t been able to decide what to do with the corners, which were all different. One had been overlapped, the next one mitred, and the other two hadn’t been finished at all, with random bits of binding left flapping, one of them much too short. I think at that point, they’d got frustrated, put it aside, and never returned to it. We’ve all had projects like that… but what a waste of all that careful stitching!

What to do? I sandwiched a piece of cotton batting between the top & a chunk of soft old candy-striped flanelette sheet, and hand-stitched the red edge down over the edge, then machine-stitched the “border” to give it some stability. One corner was almost bare, though. So I found some reds in my fabric cupboard; I tried folding rectangles over to make squares to cover the corners, but nothing looked quite right until I though of appliqé-ing little hearts over them, which somehow brought the whole thing “alive”.

Little hearts hiding some rather random corners

So that’s another bit of stash busted; not all my own work, but I hope I’ve done the original maker justice, and that my young friend’s baby will snuggle happily into it or play on it for some years to come. Now I think I might do some experimenting; there’s still – rather a lot – of stash, not to mention lockdown, left to go…

Everyday cot quilt for a young friend’s baby…

In the spirit of Thrift…

A long time ago, I discovered that the word “Thrift” doesn’t quite mean what people generally think. (Although there is an element of words eventually coming to mean what people think they mean, rather than what they originally meant. Just don’t tell Humpty Dumpty.) It didn’t, and shouldn’t, mean penny-pinching miserliness; it came from the same root as “thrive”, just as “frugal” originally meant much the same as “fruitful”. Once I’d wrapped my head around the idea of thrift as something positive, it put a different slant on my attempts to live within our means as we raised our biggish family on one-and-a-little-bit incomes whilst paying a fairly hefty mortgage to afford a home big enough for us not to actually fall over each other. It became a challenge to get the very best out of the resources actually available to us, rather than to become bitter & envious, and strive after ever more money and ever more stuff.

There are all sorts of interesting thoughts hovering around this; why are we continually encouraged to buy, buy, buy; to upgrade things that aren’t broken, to cook with fresh ingredients from the other side of the planet, to constantly change our clothes & decor at the whim of fashion editors & celebrities, to replace rather than repair? Is this a sane way to try to run the world? Why is our own time rarely recognised as an important resource, only time that someone else pays you for? However, the central fact is that, given that you actually do have enough (a key concept) of everything vital, it’s an interesting challenge to see what more you can do with the resources, of any sort, that do come your way.

Hence my determination not to just throw away (and where exactly is away?) the little strips of not-so-usable fabric that resulted from demolishing 20-something shirts, some old jeans, and a couple of skirts for free or very-inexpensive fabric. The hems, side-seams & plackets, mostly; I have another project or two in mind for the collars and cuffs. And thanks to lockdown 3 here in the UK, I have plenty of time to put my plans into action for a while. So, here’s the finished hem-and-seam rug:

Rug in twined-weave, made from seams, hems & plackets of old shirts, jeans & skirts, plus an old duvet cover.

I do know how very lucky I am, to have the time and the space to make things, but something inside me won’t let me not make things, and of course there are plenty of other things I should probably be doing, like housework. The things I make may be simple & easy, and I really don’t need another rug, but it’s given me great pleasure to turn some things that under other circumstances could be seen as “waste” into something genuinely useful and colourful.

For the next few days, I need to concentrate on getting a few seeds started, and a part-done cot quilt that needs finishing before the “user” arrives! But then – where next with my massive “to do” pile and my random assortment of “resources”…?

Sooo – Christmas has gone away…

… the family have eaten leftovers for a week, my allotment’s a weedy mess, the house is a tip, we’re back in lockdown again, I have 101 half-done or not-even-started projects lying around, and what am I doing?

Shirt, pyjama & skirt seams

Weaving shirt-seams, of course! I have 3 big bags of little strips of fabric cluttering up my sewing room, from dismantling lots of shirts/jeans/pyjamas/tablecloths & tea-towels for quilt fabric & other projects, and there’s only so many you can use as plant-ties. I’d been keeping them for a course on Weaving with Waste that I’d booked onto last September, which sadly couldn’t take place. There’ll be another one, of course, Once All This Has Blown Over (OATHBO in certain online quarters) but just imagine how much more I’ll have accumulated by then. Though my New Year’s resolutions, as usual, include putting myself on a Fabric Diet ; no more fabric will be acquired (new or otherwise) until at least half of what I currently have as been used up or sold on.

Slightly less of a tangle now

I have done some things: my Other Half has a second pair of cosy PJ bottoms made from an old flannelette sheet. They were cut out months ago when I made the first pair, and put aside in my enormous “to do” pile. DD2 has mended PJs and a new pair too, from some soft but sturdy brushed cotton found in a charity shop last spring at £3 for about 4m of 60″ wide fabric in a cheery red & white plaid. And I’ve finally managed to make a pair of what my great-aunt would have called, in a breathless whisper, “Underthings” (i.e. knickers) from an old t-shirt; not rocket science, I know, and of course I could just buy a pack of new ones, but it pleases me to re-use pretty & still-decent fabric & keep my money safe from those who peddle poor-quality “underthings” that fall apart in a few weeks. I’m pleased to report that they fit well and are very comfortable!

Poppy assisting with pyjama-making

I’ve also cut out & attempted to sew a warm top from blanket-type fabric acquired new, as a treat, a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I struggled with this. My overlocker didn’t seem to “like” the fabric & kept breaking one specific thread. At first I thought the thread must be weak, so changed it, but the next reel also broke every few stitches. Then I thought I must somehow have bent the needle, so changed that. But now I’ve realised that it was “pilot error”; the loopers & needles need to be threaded in a specific order, and once one thread had broken & been replaced, that order was undone and the machine was struggling to form stitches correctly. I’m hoping I still have enough fabric to sort it out, as I may need to re-make the sleeves entirely, I’d chewed so much off them before stopping to read the instructions… oh dear. You can’t cure stupid, as they say, by changing the needle!

So yes, plenty going on here, and there are still about 98 projects in the “to-do” pile, so I’m looking on lockdown 3 as a chance to clear as much from that pile as possible. Let’s see if I can end up with a chance to see the floor of the sewing room/spare bedroom once more…

Not the most “helpful” of assistants, really…

Take 3 discarded shirts and an old tablecloth…

… add an Ikea cushion cover and a strip of old duvet cover, mix well, and :-

Lockdown stashbuster 5

I had a gorgeous, but sadly very stained, 1950s embroidered tablecloth sitting in my stash, and I’ve been determined to do something lovely with it since I first found it. It was so bright and cheery, yet it would never have been put for sale at a charity shop; thanks to those stains, it would just have gone into the rag-bag. I could have made umpteen cards from the motifs – and have made a few – but didn’t want to dissipate the prettiness too much. So it seemed a good idea to base the last little lockdown stashbuster quilt on what was left of it.

I also wanted to do a little bit of actual piecing, rather than haphazard flinging together of strips. As you can probably tell, it’s not my natural medium; far too painstaking, but it suited the subject matter! I’m a LOT happier with this one, though it’s a tad undersized at 2½’ x 3’2″; this was dictated by the size & number of motifs available. Perhaps a crib, pram or pushchair quilt?

Oh, and the batting’s a bit – different. Cotton “Bump” interlining extracted from some fabulous but badly light-damaged old curtains; it’s been washed before re-use, to control any shrinkage, but it still seems soft, fluffy, & lightweight, not unlike the “official” batting I used in the others. Just a tad less inclined to pull apart, so now the hunt will be on for old interlined curtains…

Anyway, time for a break from the sewing machines now! As lockdown comes to an end, and we gear up for the festive season – well, as festive as it can be in these socially-distanced days – I need to concentrate on sorting the house, the presents and the food out for a while. Time enough for stitching, or spinning, or weaving, when the excitement, and the workload, have simmered down…

Washed and ready to roll…

Not doing that again in a hurry…

How to mangle denim… but Poppy approves!

Well. Lockdown Stashbuster 4 is finally here, but I’m not exactly pleased with it. Best, I think, to describe it as a learning process!

For a long time I’ve wanted to do something with denim; I suppose I have, but never anything I’ve been proud of. The idea I had in my head for my “quick & dirty” use-it-up cot quilt no. 4 was a variation on denim “bricks in a wall” – basically 2½” wide strips, cut in random shortish lengths, joined seams-up & chenilled, with a few contrast stripes. (The eagle-eyed who know us well will spot the edges of our old kitchen curtains playing the part of the contrast stripes.) I didn’t think it would take very long…

1st lesson: most modern jeans are woven with a degree of stretch. I thought I’d specifically excluded any stretch denim when choosing the old jeans to chop up, but it turns out that most of them stretched a little in one direction or the other. Which caused the finished top to skew frantically, though I’d have sworn all my seams were straight whilst I was stitching them. In the end I had to cut about 3″ off each side, one at the “top” and the other at the “bottom”, to make it look remotely rectangular but there was no way I could get rid of a marked “bowing” effect in the middle.

Lesson 2: some jeans are fairly lightweight, others are – not. The difference in fabric weights means some “bricks” are “dominant” when it comes to chenilling, and look bigger in the finished article. And the heavier-weight fabrics are just that – heavier – and my shoulders were aching like mad with all the pushing & pulling by the time I’d finished quilting it very roughly. Next time I have an urge to use denim in an actual quilt, it’ll be lightweight, non-stretch shirt & skirt fabric only!

Lesson 3: choosing a fairly heavy calico for the backing wasn’t a particularly sane move either, though at least it “balances” the top. This quilt would work well for a restless toddler; it’s too heavy for an actual baby.

However, it’s not all bad news, because lesson 4 is that I’m no longer terrified of appliqué. I wanted some brighter splashes, and kites somehow floated into my mind (as they often do!) so I just ironed some double-sided interfacing onto some scrap red cotton, cut out some little kite shapes, ironed them on and using a very tiny zig-zag, stitched them down. The tails are just a double line of red lockstitch, going over some red frayed selvedge scraps.

Teeny tiny kites…

The centre contrast stripe has a strip of old hand-woven braid stitched on, rescued from an old sewing box that came in on an auction-won job lot. I had no idea whether it would wash well; it might have shrunk or bled colours, but I thought it had probably been washed many times before, & luckily it had & it didn’t.

At this point, the big Pfaff decided it had had enough for now and wanted to go off to see its friends at the repair shop for a service. Fair enough, we can cope without it for a month, and to be honest, it’s high time; having your sewing machine properly serviced every now & then is worth every penny, in my estimation. So Stashbuster 4 was bound with strips cut from an old shirt-back, then quilted on the old treadle. Very badly; I was getting rather fed up with it by then. I spent the next few days snipping the seams in every spare moment. Take it from me, denim is tough stuff. As well as hurting my hands & defeating my little chenilling scissors, forcing me to resort to spring-loaded shears, this caused a lot of fluff on the floor and knackered one of the heads of our hoover. Hopefully mended now!

So today I snipped the last seam with a sigh of relief & popped it into the washing machine. Needless to say, it wasn’t done with us yet; the washing machine pump blocked, so it failed to drain. But luckily I managed to clear the filter, which mysteriously contained 9 hair grips, a large scrunchy, and rather a lot of tiny fragments of denim. This seems to have put it right, thank heavens. We could do without having to call the engineers, just now.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the landing curtains finished. They really should be the next project, if only because that will clear a LOT of space in there, and make the landing look a bit less 1995. And we are getting close to the end of Lockdown II, though like most people in England we’ll be moving into Tier 2, so still fairly constrained, although the incidence of Covid-19 here is actually pretty low. But so is the hospital provision…

Anyway, end of lockdown notwithstanding, I have another idea; not sure if this one will be Lockdown 5, or Tier-2:1, but I’ve hardly made a dent in my stash yet…