Thursday, February 04, 2016

February is for Finishing: Taking stock

As you have likely noticed, I've finished a whole whack of neglected projects in the past few days. February is for Finishing is a fine tradition here at House of M and something I've done with my two dearest friends, Bekah and Koren, for some years. Usually, it's knitted things, but this year, I wanted to look very honestly at all my soft arts projects and see if I couldn't get some things out of my sizable pile of projects in progress.

The first thing to do is to tidy up.

To the left and below are what my crafting areas looked like a couple of weeks ago. I don't generally like to show my messes, but these are the result of rampant creativity.
I have lots of ideas, lots of inspiration, and it all just kind of physically accumulates in these two spots.

Before February began, I made a concerted effort, not only to clean up, but to list every project in these piles so that I know what, exactly, I have going on.
I found my end table.

I've also discovered that I can actually put my coffee there and I can put my computer there when I want to use my sewing machine (off camera to the right is my desk where both computer and sewing machine sit).

My other desk is a fold-up number, which is super handy for a small space, but not when it's so full of stuff that you can't actually fold it up. 

Once that was done, I had a complete list of every project I'd started or gathered the materials for and ended up with thirty-one. The greater majority of those are only in the planning stage, but I'd gotten as far as collecting the materials for the job. One or two were only in the idea stage. 

Four, as you've likely seen, have been finished since the beginning of the month and two pairs of socks have been frogged to reclaim the needles and to start again at a later date. That leaves me with twenty-five total projects on the pile, approximately half of which are in progress. Following the tradition of the Annual Airing of the WiPs, they are as follows:
  1. A 9-patch pastel quilt that has several blocks sewn, but not enough. 
  2. Stjarna, by Karolina Eckerdal. My goal is an even dozen stars for purposes of Yule ornaments and I have two finished.
  3. Laurelhurst by NW Foraged. This is the second hat in this pattern that I've made, the first was for 25000 tuques and this one is for me. I'm just to the bottom of the color work pattern.
  4. The art jeans. You've seen me work on these off and on. I don't expect to finish any time soon. 
  5. Ballet Bear's steeked cardi. This is an experiment that is no skin off my nose if it fails. It might take a couple of days to finish. I haven't steeked before and a tiny cardigan for a bear seems like the way to go for experimentation. It isn't wool, though, and may be doomed to failure.
  6. Crocheted Bed Scarf, inspired by the architecture of Chicago. I've done a goodly stack of blocks, but have a fair amount of yarn that I want to put into still yet to go. I might make some progress this month, but don't plan to finish.
  7. TARDIS bag, which is a lot of fiddly stitching, but will probably look awesome if I ever finish it. I probably won't get to it this month.
  8. Blackwork Bird Pillow that I started last month during the Month of Mending. I'm well into the snowflake border and the center is sketched out
  9. Two small blackwork samplers, which were started at the same time as the pillow. One is nearly done, the other sketched out.
  10. White silk spinning. All but about an ounce has been spun up into singles. This has a high likelihood of getting finished since I like to spin a little just before bed if I have time.
That's not too bad of a list, really, and some of that is certainly to be worked on this month. I may even finish a couple of those things, but there is one final project that will be the focus of my efforts:


11. Iris' quilt. "I'll finish before she goes to college" is less funny when the child in question is in high school. As it stands, I have 16/81 blocks quilted, which works out to about 20%. 

It was deeply satisfying to knock off several FOs early in the month, but now that I've started back on this behemoth, that's going to slow down considerably. It's harder to take this one to work on during dance class, though, so several of the smaller projects have hope of getting finished before the month is out.

Good luck in your finishing endeavors this month, my fellow makers. By next week, I hope to have whittled down the list of WiPs even more and I'll share some pictoral updates on my progress. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

FO: Plaid Pajama Pants






I've had this pair of pants in my pile for quite a long time. Up until now, they've been mostly, but not quite wearable.

I finished the seams with a zigzag stitch over the edge, fixed a blown seam up one leg, sewed up some slashes I'd made at the side, and installed some elastic to replace the drawstrings.


The observant among you will notice there's a drawstring in them.

The fabric I used is a little heavy and, unfortunately, because of the way I put the elastic in, it doesn't spring back as much as I'd like it to. The drawstring solves that problem and the elastic plus drawstring is much better than just the drawstrings.

I now have twice as many pajama pants and one less project in the pile. I call this one a win.

Monday, February 01, 2016

FO: A bit of jeans mending

I feel like I'm batting a hundred today. 


Here's a sashiko patch in a "woven bamboo" pattern.



And some blackwork just above the patch where the fabric is getting thin. The thread matches pretty closely to the color of the jeans, so it should be mostly invisible. I'll know it's there, though.

Honestly, I'm not sure these are done-done or if they ever will be done. There are some weak spots near the pockets and belt loops that will need attention soon, but they're done enough to go back into the rotation.

FO: Two quick repairs

What better way to wrap up the Month of Mending and to begin February is for Finishing than with a couple of things that had been sitting on my mending pile for too long.

The first is a t-shirt that, by a mistake of manufacture, had a hole in the shoulder.
 Here's the inside, repaired with a blanket stitch and double running stitch to mimic the stitches of a serger.
And here's the outside. There's a slight puckering at either end of the repair, but it will be hardly noticeable when worn.
 The second repair is a pair of dress pants that Husband wears to work. There's a blown out seam at the corner of the pocket...
...and another blown-out seam in a rather more delicate place.

 The pocket was sewn up on the inside using a back stitch.
And the seam of great delicacy was sewn up using invisible stitching (blind stitch), first on the up-and-down seam and then the side-to-side seam.

Dignity now restored, these pants can return to work.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Month of Mending: Darning


We've come to the end of the Month of Mending and I thought I'd leave you with an advanced mending technique: darning. Many of you will have already heard about darning socks and may have even done so.

The darning on the left isn't a terrible mending job, but if I'd used the same color yarn, it would be less visible. On the mending below, which is the foot of the same sock, you have to kind of squint to see where the fabric is different.


But you can darn just about anything made of any kind of fabric and the method is more or less the same. I tend to use it for holes that are about an inch in diameter (2.5cm) or smaller. That's about the size of a US quarter. Any larger than that and I put a patch on it. When you can match the color of the thread to the ground fabric, it's great for places where you want your mending to be as inconspicuous as possible. I drew a little diagram here, but I've also found some very nice drawings from the DMC Encyclopedia of Needlework, which is free via Project Gutenberg and in the public domain.


Darning is just weaving on a teeny tiny scale so that you can replace the missing fabric. The drawing above shows how to lay down the warp threads. Ideally, you can match the weight of the fabric by using the same size thread as what the ground fabric is made from and replace the warp thread-for-thread. That's not always possible or desirable, but I will say that if the darning and the ground fabric are too mismatched, you risk further damage to the garment and/or ruining your darning job.


To the right, you can see how to weave the weft and it can be as easy as under, over, under, over, like when you did paper weaving in grade school, only tiny.

Here's one that I've done in different colors for the warp and weft, which ends up with kind of a neat effect. 



And now it gets fancy. Just like in weaving something larger, you don't have to just do a plain weave, aka tabby weave. When you're mending jeans, you can weave a twill to match the weave of the fabric or, if you want to get super fancy, there's damask darning. The DMC encyclopedia has several examples in the chapter on mending.

You can use any weaving pattern on a darn, which is useful if it's going to be visible and you want to show off your mad darning skills.

This week, I grabbed the left shoe of a pair of canvas shoes that I'd gotten new on sale for less than ten bucks several years ago. The holes were about the right size, so I thought I'd try out damask darning on the bigger hole.


I like these, they're comfy and only the left shoe had worn out in those two places (my shoes always wear out on the left in the same places). The right is in pretty good shape, so I thought it was a good candidate for mending. For most of my darning I use plain ol' DMC stranded cotton embroidery thread. It's cheap and easy to come by in lots of colors and I have a whole heap of it laying around.

Here it is in progress, and you can kind of see the damask pattern shaping up. I didn't manage to keep up the pattern much farther than that, but I'm certain I could manage with some practice and with threads that contrast well.

And here's the finished shoe. I don't know how well it's going to hold up to further abuse, so we'll have to revisit this mend after a while, but it does look much better than it did and I'll be able to get at least a little more wear out of it than if I hadn't darned the holes. A little Gorilla Glue around the top of the soles and they'll be almost as good as new.

And that's it for the Month of Mending this year! I hope you're encouraged to fix it when you can instead of throwing it out so that you can show off your awesome hipster activist art.

Next month in our year-long-along-of-alongs will be February is for Finishing. This year, I'm going to be more honest than usual about all the projects I have going on. We can think of it as therapy for DaVinci Disorder.

Happy mending and see you in February!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Month of Mending: Sashiko patches

Blackwork is really great for reinforcing fabric, but not so great for repairing holes. One of my favorite ways of doing that is with sashiko, a Japanese mending technique that's alternately referred to as embroidery and quilting. Unlike blackwork, sashiko was an art of impoverished people, developed from necessity. A poor farmer or fisherman's wife would recycle old clothes that had been worn to rags by cutting patches from the least worn parts and stitching them to worn parts of newer clothes. This was slow fashion before slow fashion was cool. In the Edo Period, sashiko was used to make protective coats for firemen and on Sado Island during WWII, some pretty hardcore ladies made sashiko coats to protect them as they carried logs down mountains on their backs1.

Sashiko means "little stabs" and is usually done with light thread on dark fabric, generally indigo dyed cotton-- you know, like your jeans.

It really looks complicated, but it's only running stitch. There are a few rules about turning corners2, but the mechanics of sashiko are really not at all difficult.

For these patches, I've used a fabric with a square pattern woven in so that I could "cheat" and make my lines and stitches even and on patterns that I've seen, each stitch is charted out for you. Honestly, I don't have time for all that and, I'd wager, neither did the mothers and wives in Japan. Neater stitches are, of course, more desirable, but that comes with practice.

Here's a pair of little Bu jeans that was torn after a fall on concrete. She had a scraped knee and some tears, but was otherwise fine. Her jeans were not so fine. The hole is about two inches wide and about an inch tall. The fabric on the other knee was week, so I decided to do matching knee patches.


She picked Spider-Man fabric for the patches, so I fussy-cut a couple of patches and found patterns that I thought would work well: Amime (net) and Higaki (cypress fence)3.

Designs were transferred to the patches, then pinned over the holes.

The knee with the hole got a smaller design and the knee with only weak fabric got the larger design, the rule of thumb being that more stitches means more reinforcement. I did my best to follow the rules for tidy corners and since the wrong side wouldn't be seen, I didn't worry about carrying the thread across the back. I worked from the middle to the edge as best as I could.

Instead of turning the edges under as I did with the jeans above, I decided to blanket stitch around the raw edge to keep it from raveling. I don't know how it's usually done, so this is experimental.


I used some bright blue DMC stranded cotton out of my stash and a regular embroidery needle. Sashiko needles are a thing, as is sashiko thread, but in the interest of economy (with a nod to those thrifty Japanese ladies), I used what I had.

The result seems sturdy so far, but we'll see how it holds up after some small person action and a wash or two. If my jeans are any indication, I think they'll be fine.


The best part of this repair was when Bu gasped and said, "You fixed them! Thanks, mom!" The whole operation was the work of two days (not constantly) and a happy girl made every minute worthwhile.

Next week will be darning and I've discovered some super fancy techniques that I haven't tried yet.

1. A little history on sashiko here
2. How to turn neat corners
3. A short tutorial and some patterns

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Month of Mending: Blackwork Embroidery

As it turns out, I really didn't know that much about blackwork embroidery until this week, but I found an excellent history (with citations!) here. The most interesting tidbits that I learned from the aforelinked history were that blackwork likely originated in Egypt and that the painter, Holbein the Younger, depicted royal garments in such detail that the stitches could be seen. His portrait of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife, shows a particularly good example of blackwork on the cuffs of her dress, though Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife, was an accomplished needlework artist and brought blackwork with her from Spain. The double running stitch used in blackwork is called Holbein stitch after the artist.

Those cuffs, tho'
For mending, we break all the rules of blackwork embroidery. Blackwork is generally done as a counted-thread embroidery on evenweave fabric, traditionally in black silk thread on cotton or linen.


I use blackwork designs to reinforce weak fabric, such as the area just below the pocket here. It was used in much the same way in the 16th century, but mainly, it's a decorative art. In mending, it both adds a layer of thread to the front and back of a piece that may see a little bit of abrasion and it binds the ground fabric, preventing raveling or fraying.


Stitching that is denser provides a little more reinforcement, but is difficult to do on fabric that is very weak or thin. Less dense stitching doesn't reinforce as well, but can be used on slightly thinner fabric. Here I've used a blue that closely matches the jeans for a subtler, textured effect.


Since I'm not using an evenweave fabric as a ground fabric, you can see on the right where I've hand-drawn a grid to follow. Mine is a little wonky, but yours doesn't have to be. I'm told there are these things called "rulers," but I think they're a fairy tale.


"Black"work doesn't have to be black, either. You can use any color that pleases you.

Finally, you can add a blackwork pattern to a patch to secure it. If you wanted to be super fancy, you could use an evenweave fabric as your patch to keep your stitches from being quite so wonky.

Here, I've used a heavy twill and the pattern isn't quite as even as I'd like, but I'm pleased with how it turned out.
Now I'm going to try it for real. Now that I've broken all the rules, I'm going to learn how to follow them. The back of the work doesn't look nearly as nice as Jane Seymour's cuffs, but that's something I want to work toward. 

Next week, I'll talk about sashiko and patching holes.


Monday, January 11, 2016

FO: We Own It


"We Own It"
4oz yak/silk/merino blend roving purchased at SAFF 2015, Z-spun and S-plied into a 2-ply, approximately fingering weight. Two balls, 97yds, 1.98oz and 101 yds, 2.01oz.