It’s rag time! No, not the kind that involves Scott Joplin, striped jackets with boaters, or barbershop quartets. We’re keeping things literal around here; it’s time to make some rags. My J-cloths seem to have tip-toed out of the apartment while I slept, and I needed replacements for such exciting tasks as polishing my shoes and wiping out the sink. Truly, the scope of my imagination and ambition in sewing dazzles.
This big pile of leftover partly seersucker plaid has been with me since around 2010. I think I made a failure of a shirt from it, featuring a baggy elastic neckline and giant unflattering raglan sleeves. For washcloths*, I just cut whatever size rectangle or square seemed to fit on the fabric, then serged the edges.
Once I started sewing with it, I realized that the quality of this fabric is pretty bad. It’s loosely woven and very thin. It doesn’t matter much, but all those cloths, which could easily cover half of my bed, amount to a teeny-weeny pile of washcloths.
I immediately used one to wipe out the microwave, and it performed adequately. No pictures of that, obviously, because nobody needs to see the spillover from when I tried to make rice in the microwave.
Anyway, some more exciting sewing has been happening, so I’ll share that soon!
*What do you call this kind of cloth? To me, “washcloth” refers to small terrycloth squares for washing your face; I’d call these J-cloths, but that’s a brand name. And it’s not really a rag, I think, because the edges are finished. Maybe I should just go Yiddish and call them shmattes…also, how on Earth do you make rice in the microwave without it boiling over? Do enlighten me!
I was recently on a placement about 140 km north-east of where I live. I brought with me the sweater I was knitting, my sewing machine, a small bag of notions, four cuts of knit fabric, and a pair of pants to hem.
Unfortunately, the above picture is what it looked like when I left and when I brought it back. I had pictured myself cheerfully sewing in the little house I rented, while the weather raged outside. Well, the weather did rage, but there wasn’t a table that worked with a sewing machine, I didn’t want to disturb my roommates with noise and mess, and there was no full-length mirror. On top of it (and let’s be honest, the real reason), I was exhausted all the time. But you know what can be done while lying on a couch, watching an hour-and-a-half long video essay about why the Hobbit movies weren’t as good as the Lord of the Rings movies*? Knitting. Knitting and then fixing the mistakes I made while engrossed in said video essay.
That was quite the series of mistakes!
I had a pile of pink aran-weight wool that I’d bought in PEI in the summer, and back in December, I started making a sweater. I knew I wanted something 1910s-ish in style, so I went on a historical cardigan research spree (and by “research,” I mean “I spent a lot of time on Pinterest“) and found the following:
Look how cute she is, with her hat and tie! This is a 1918 knitting pattern called “A Serviceable Sweater.” Isn’t it great? From reading the pattern, this sweater is made from worsted or aran weight yarn in a rib stitch, knitted in pieces from the bottom up and then sewn together. It’s completely straight in shape, but some sweaters from this era were a little more flared. The sleeves are inset; I’m not sure when raglan sleeves came into style.
Now, let us jump forward in time, to early 2017, when I knitted a cardigan for my friend’s baby boy.
Somewhat similar, no? I love the nubbly texture of the body. It’s called “rice stitch.” It’s a simple two-row pattern: one row of alternating knits and purls, and then one row of knit stitches. For the sweater itself, though, I had to come up with the pattern myself, because the above sweater only goes up to age 8, and I am just a wee bit bigger than that!
My guide was the truly excellent book Knitting from the Top, by Barbara G. Walker. You have to take some of the suggestions with a grain of salt, because she’s writing from a time when sweaters had strangulating crew necks and enormously loose bodies, but I think it’s an invaluable part of a knitter’s library. Plus, the cover’s funny.
Yeah, that’s totally how I knit. Anyway, my next out of town placement is nearly over, and while the sweater’s coming along, I still haven’t hemmed those pants! One leg is pinned though. That counts as progress, right?
*It’s by Lindsay Ellis and it’s fantastic. I’d recommend it to anyone who misses English class.
Every medical student in Canada gets a free backpack when they start their program, all in a single colour per year. They’re high quality bags, with thick padding and extra clips to help distribute the weight of your computer, the charger, your little notebook, your big notebook, your pocket-sized reference book, the smaller bag you carry around with you all day, your stethoscope, your lunch, your dinner, your water bottle, and your travel mug. Some people attach badges or pins to mark theirs as their own, but someone in my class embroidered her name on hers, and it got me thinking.
I liked the idea of coming up with a modern-looking monogram. It would be nice to have something to embroider in some of my larger projects, à la JuebeJue.
My initials are symmetrical letters which I think is kind of cool, so I sketched out a quick doodle, cut off that square promotional patch on the front pocket, and (very apropos) used the diaphragm of my stethoscope to get a perfectly round circle.
I used black embroidery thread because I left the cream at my parents’ house when I was finishing my hot water bottle cover. It was really hard to pull six strands of thread through the fabric of the bag–I think that the diamond texture might be some kind of rip-stop, because it’s insanely durable!
I do think the middle point of the M should be lower, but overall, I’m really pleased with how it turned out. It’s not as much of a distinguishing feature as I would have liked, though, because the black thread blends in with the general look of the bag.
After staring at it for a few days I realized that it reminds me vaguely of the Deathly Hallows symbol.
Both are shapes-within-shapes, with a circle, a central vertical line, and a bunch of acute angles. I was going to say, “Great minds think alike,” but like a lot of people who loved Harry Potter as children and then have watched it be heavily retcon-ed and squeezed for more and more profit as adults, I have heavy sighs and ambivalence about J.K. Rowling. Still though, I think the Deathly Hallows symbol looks good.
Well, that got a bit sad. Let’s end with a fun snapshot of my lecture notes from my most recent academic half-day. See if you can tell when in the lecture on pediatric heart murmurs I fell asleep:
This was my last project of 2018, completed the evening before my whole family left on a trip. For the December Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge of “Neglected Challenge,” I decided make a hot water bottle cover, on November’s theme of “Purses and Bags.” If you have not yet discovered the pleasure, the joy, the sheer bliss of sliding into bed and having a gorgeously warm place to tuck your feet, I recommend you run to your nearest pharmacy and prepare to have your chilly nights changed forever.
This early 20th century hot water bottle cover is made of wool and silk, and a shaped for a slightly more square-shaped bottle than the ones we have now. Mine was to be longer, skinnier, and entirely polyester.
I had a fleece blanket that had been a wedding favour, scraps of the thrift store satin that I’d dyed for my dress, some cream embroidery thread leftover from a shirt, and some covered button kits hanging around, so this project was nearly free. All I had to buy was one little skein of green embroidery thread. Well, two. I bought one, lost it, then had to go buy another one. Um, I guess it’s time to clean the apartment.
I opted for the early 20th century pattern above, instead of my initials. I dislike my monogram in older fonts. Too many flourishes! Instead, I found an early 20th century pattern (originally engraved on a locket) on Needle’n Thread, and simplified it a bit. I used a double-line of back stitch on the stem, satin stitch on the leaves, and…I can’t really explain what happened with the flowers.
The construction was fairly straightforward. The bag is folded from one piece of fleece, with the flat edge and outline bound by hand with 2.5 inch bias tape cut from the satin. You can’t see it because the lighting is so terrible, but I had to sew the side seams on the fleece about half a centimeter in from the edge. If I’d used the binding edges as the side seams, the whole thing would have been way too narrow.
Folded, with the top edge bound.
The binding being attached.
The ruched binding presented a challenge, which I solved by…not doing it. My satin was heavy-weight springy polyester; trying get it to lie in artfully crushed gathers was going to be a nightmare, so I just kept it smooth. I did have to fudge it a bit over the curved edge, because the binding was too wide to lie smooth. I shoved the excess under and it turned out ok, I think.
I always enjoy making covered buttons. They look especially candy-like in satin. Since fleece doesn’t fray, I didn’t bother to stitch around the buttonholes. I just cut slits. I left off the bow because I ran out of time and there wasn’t much room for it anyway.
So there we go! A fairly painless project. Is it historically accurate? Excepting my beginner-level embroidery, I think it looks great! I used polyester felt and polyester satin instead of wool felt and silk satin, but I think the construction method is accurate. This shade of pale minty green was popular in the early 20th century, too. But in terms of the Historical Sew Fortnightly goal of pursuing greater historical understanding, I didn’t succeed. I don’t have the context to look at the museum specimen and understand what kind of person would have owned this cover. Was it purchased by a wealthy woman ? Wool trimmed with silk and a custom monogram in silk thread seems extravagant to me, but I could also imagine it being something that someone made for herself from scraps, as I did–a private, minor luxury. If you have ideas, please let me know!
*Fair warning, this is going to be a long and boring post, unless, like me, you’re very nosy curious about how other people buy and stash fabric. If you feel like being judgmental, I promise that this post has plenty of fodder! I’m certainly judging myself.
As 2018 ended, I came to realize that I have too much fabric. It takes up too much space. It represents too much money. It’s stressing me out. I need to open up all my boxes, take stock, set some goals, and get it all written down and photographed to serve as a reference. After all, what’s the point of having this as a hobby if I just buy fabric without pushing myself to sew? Moreover, how can I justify spending money on fabric instead of on clothes if I’m not, you know, making the fabric into clothes?
I’d really like to use all of the fabric that’s in my possession right now by summer 2020. That’s when I (hopefully) graduate from medical school and (hopefully) move cities for residency. If I can’t find a use for the fabric I have by then, I think I need to acknowledge that it doesn’t have a place in my stash and give it away, instead of continuing to drag around scraps from projects I made when I was sixteen.
Let’s get started with my knit fabrics, with information and a plan from top-bottom, left-right. Estimated prices are in Canadian dollars.
2 m green rayon, $12 from Fabricland: Two t-shirts, possibly overdyed with grey or black, possibly collared, based on the free Tonic Tee pattern.
1.5 m peony print cotton/spandex, $30 from Fabric.com: A short-sleeved t-shirt, maybe with a partial button placket and collar.
2 m coral rayon/spandex, $10 from Fabricland: A swing dress copied from a ridiculously comfortable one I have from Old Navy.
1 m heart print cotton/spandex, $20 from Fabric.com (Art Gallery Fabrics): Tank top and/or underwear.
1 m blue rayon/spandex, $4 from Fabricland: A t-shirt.
1 m rusty orange rayon/spandex, $7 from Fabricland: A t-shirt.
1.5 m black rayon/polyester ponte, $12 from Fabricland: A cardigan with pockets, maybe a Cabernet Cardigan.
1 m white cotton/spandex, $7 from Fabricland: TBD…maybe just a plain white t-shirt?
2 m Greek key print cotton/spandex, $45 from Fabric.com (Art Gallery Fabrics): A dress with short sleeves, maybe a Tiramisu dress–I have one already and it’s pretty great.
1 m light grey rayon/spandex, $4 from Fabricland: Another t-shirt.
1 m woodland print cotton/spandex, $20 from Fabric.com (Birch Organic Fabrics): A t-shirt, if there’s enough fabric, a tank top if not.
1.2 x 1.5 m dark grey rayon/polyester ponte, $12 from Fabricland: Either another cardigan or a Jade skirt.
Subtotal: $195…oof, that’s a lot. More than I expected. I have a bad feeling about this.
Now some wovens:
1.5 m black and white embroidered rayon, $15 from Fabricland: A simple raglan-sleeved dress with elastic waist, which I’ll try to draft myself.
1.2 m embroidered rayon twill, $15 from Fabricland: Either a skirt or a simple short sleeved dress, which I’ll try to draft myself.
1.3 m geometric print rayon challis, $8 from Fabricland: Some kind of top with darts and short sleeves which will be a very intimidating drafting exercise.
1.5 m lime green unicorn print fabric, $30 from SewStitchingHappy (Heather Ross): A sleeveless top and shorts for summer pyjamas, probably in conjunction with other fabric.
1.5 m muted floral cotton flannel, $35 from Miss Matatabi: Some kind of collared top.
1.5 m pale blue/silver polka dot cotton, $25 from Miss Matatabi (Nani Iro): I don’t know. I loved this fabric when I got it, but it’s not a great colour on me and feels surprisingly flimsy.
3 m floral print rayon, $40 from Nachalat Binyamin, in Tel Aviv: Linings for pants and dresses? I love the blue roses but greyish beige is awful with my skin and the fabric is translucent; I can’t think of what else to do with it. It’s the oldest fabric in my stash, from 2010/11. I bought it to be Vogue 1152, but I don’t think that pattern with this fabric would suit me.
1 m beige/purple/pink goose print linen blend, $9 from Miss Matatabi: An apron.
1.5 m greenish rayon lining, $8 from Fabricland: Sigh. More lining.
3 m pale blue silk charmeuse, $30 from a shed in Prince Edward County: I have no idea. Turns out, I’m not living a silk gown life.
1.5 m cream rayon challis, $15 from Fabricland: A short-sleeved top.
1.5 m blue/white origami bird print cotton, $35 from Atelier Brunette: A short-sleeved shirt.
3 m dark grey pansy print cotton, $24 from Fabricland: A pair of nice pyjamas, either Carolyn Pajamas or B6296.
2.5 m deep blue cotton/silk voile, $36 from Fabricland: Lining, I guess. It’s so fine that it needs to be in three layers to be opaque. It’s the second oldest fabric in my stash. Apparently I had a thing for long lengths of transparent fabric. What the heck was I planning on making?!
2.5 m grey plaid, $24 from Fabricland: A shirt dress.
1.5 m woven black/white dot, $18 from Fabricland: A short-sleeved Granville Shirt.
1.5 m grey/white gingham, $30 from Fabric.com (Cotton + Steel): A short-sleeved collared shirt.
1.9 m brown floral rayon, $5 from Fabricland: A shirt dress.
Subtotal: $387 for 29.4 m of fabric. That’s HORRIFYING. I’m HORRIFIED. That’s SO MUCH MONEY.
More wovens, this time from left-right, top row first:
2 m dark green corduroy, $24 from Fabricland: A shirt dress, copied from a corduroy dress I bought at Gap a few years ago.
1.5 m red polyester/wool twill coating, $12 from Fabricland: This was a particularly stupid impulse buy. I love the colour, but it’s itchy and very heavy. I’m not going to make a coat with it, because a) I don’t need a coat, b) I don’t want to make a coat, c) If I did, I wouldn’t use 70% poly fabric, because it will pill too quickly and be unsuited to the weather here, besides. Maybe a winter midi skirt or jumper dress.
2 m x 1.5 m brown plaid mystery wool blend, $6 from Value Village: Pants! Probably Thurlow Trousers, since I have the pattern and have made a pair.
2.5 m dark grey mystery wool blend, $8 from Value Village: More pants!
1.6 m gold wool, $50 from Edinburgh Fabrics: A skirt. It’s really nice quality, so I want something that will fit me over a longer period of time. You know, you gain or lose a couple pounds and suddenly your pants don’t fit, but I find that a knee-length skirt with a yoke just sits a bit higher or lower depending on my size and can be worn basically forever.
2 m purple wool crepe, $15 from the aforementioned shed in Prince Edward County: I don’t know. Maybe a skirt. Or a shift dress? Or pants? I know I’d like this fabric better if it was less aggressively purple, but I’ve never dyed wool and I’m nervous to try, but overdyed with red it might be a nice maroon for pants. To be decided later.
2.7 m navy rayon/linen, $25 from Fabricland: A split skirt drafted with this tutorial.
3.5 m very lightweight blue cotton, $3 from Value Village: I bought it to make an Ionian chiton for the Historical Sew Monthly, and I still want to try to make one, which should double as a summer maxi dress.
1.5 m brown stretch cotton twill, $5 from Fabricland: A paneled skirt with pockets.
Four grey cotton curtains amounting to about 10 m, but since they were bought and actually used as curtains at my last apartment, I’m considering them free: Some combination of pants, Vogue 1152, Granville shirt, a jumpsuit, and/or a split skirt. I can dye some of this stuff if I get tired of so much of the same fabric.
Four white polyester lace curtains, also 10 m and same provenance as above: Hmm. Not sure. I don’t have much use for white lace dresses, and I don’t know how much I feel like dyeing polyester, now that I know it needs to be boiled and stirred for half an hour. I guess I could make another version of my formal dress, maybe with the pale blue silk as the under-fabric, but I sure don’t feel like it right now.
Subtotal: $151 for 39.3 m of fabric.
Total: $748.00 CAD for 83.9 m of fabric *FAINTS*
And as a bonus, my scraps: I’m hoping a lot of this can be used as muslins, facings, pocket linings, and small projects like bags, tights, and underwear. I might also use some of the less useful pieces for stuffing a ridiculous, impractical project I have percolating in the back of my mind, and barring that, I’ll make an ottoman and use this all as stuffing. I also have a unwieldy “to be altered” pile and an unfinished slipcover somewhere in my bedroom.
*Deep breath* Oh, dear. This has wound up being more upsetting than lighthearted and fun. I honestly thought that the total would in the neighbourhood of $250, which is a lot but seemed a more manageable sum than SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS.
I’m no longer sure that my initial idea of getting through all of this by mid-2020 is realistic. I’d have to complete at least two or three projects a month. I’ve never in my life had output like that. My plans fortunately include a lot of repetition, but medical school has a way of taking over one’s life. On top of that, sewing isn’t my only crafting hobby! And on top of that, this list doesn’t even represent the sum total of what I wanted to make!
This post took a while to photograph and write. Since the initial, “I’ve spent HOW much?!” I’ve talked it over with some friends and calmed down. The average price per meter of my stash is about $9.00 CAD, or $6.80 USD. That’s well below retail prices, especially considering how much of what I have is cotton, rayon, silk, and wool. It also represents eight years of stashing, so we’re talking about spending-but-not-using about $90 per year.
To put that into perspective, it’s roughly equal to going to the movie theatre once every other month. If seeing a movie six times a year was something I’d been doing over the last eight years, I wouldn’t begrudge myself the cost. What bothers me is that I spent the money but never got what I wanted from it–it’s like I bought a movie ticket and just turned around and went home!
I do think it’s worth acknowledging that there’s a danger here of falling into a sunk-cost fallacy. Just because I spent x amount of money on a piece of fabric doesn’t mean I owe anyone an obligation to use it–the money is already gone, and given how short I am on time, there’s no good in throwing that away as well. For the most part, though, I feel excited about working my way through this mountain, and I don’t plan on restricting purchases of notions and patterns. I don’t even plan to forbid myself from buying more fabric, provided it’s for a project that gets done right away. This is a hobby after all, and I intend to enjoy it.
This turned out to be a valuable exercise for me. I can see that sometimes, instead of actually freeing up the time and mental space to sew, I’ve been buying fabric instead, because the gratification is quicker and there’s no risk of spending hours on something and then balling up your project and throwing it in the corner. Ultimately, though, it’s much less satisfying. Time to get sewing!
Sometimes people ask me if sewing clothes saves money. The shortest answer is no. There’s a bit of nuance to it, but between the cost of good materials and the time it takes and the mistakes made and projects thrown out, there are few to no savings of time or money. It’s a pleasure and a hobby more than a habit of frugality.
However. Mending and alterations absolutely do save money, because I can make items last much longer with a very small investment. I’m going to bunch these little fixes together as I work through my mending pile.
October 27: A cardigan. I bought it from Joe Fresh around 2012 or 2013. It’s been demoted over time, from a synagogue/holiday sweater, to a nice school sweater, to a casual-only sweater as it’s gotten more faded and ever-so-slightly pilled. It’s got plenty of life yet, but I wanted to stop it from gaping. My grandma taught me to sew up my cardigans to keep them from gaping; it makes it function like a plain t-shirt while looking nicer. I just did two invisible lines of hand-stitching, one on either side of the button-band, to keep the front shut.
Terrible photos, but you get the idea. No gaping!
October 29: I put on my socks and noticed a hole. I took the same needle that I used two days ago, still with a tail of red thread, and took about 30 seconds to do ladder-stitch it shut. Ladder stitch is stretchy, but only in one direction; I worked the hole shut horizontally to maintain the stretch of the sock.
November 7: Darned a sock! Since there wasn’t actually a hole yet, I stitched perpendicular lines, kind of weaving them in and out over the area with a single strand of embroidery floss. We’ll see if it holds up. It doesn’t seem to have made the area less comfortable, which is good. These are just wool socks from Costco, but I love them and if I can get a few more months’ use, I’ll be happy.
November 9: Stitched shut a hole in the armpit of a cotton waterfall cardigan. This one’s OLD. It’s from Jacob, well before they shut down in 2014. It’s really not in good condition, but this fix took about 30 seconds so it’s worth it, in my mind.
Well, this didn’t reduce the mending/alterations pile by much, but off to a good start! Next in line are such thrilling things as hemming pants and machine-darning jeans. In addition to being virtually free, it’s probably still faster than driving to a tailor.
*Edited Dec. 8 2018 to change the title from “Can She Fix It? Yes she can!” to “A Stitch in Time” because originally I was absolutely sure that there was a proverb about mending but I couldn’t remember what it was, so I went with Bob the Builder’s catch phrase, but once the saying, “A stitch in time saves nine” came crashing back into by head, I decided to go with that, instead.
Here is my new alpaca hat! As in, made from alpaca fleece, not alpaca-themed. Over the summer, I was in the petite and lovely province of Prince Edward Island. In addition to seeing the famous red beaches and Green Gables, I also visited an alpaca farm.
These ladies were recently shorn when we met them, and you can see that they’re fairly small animals. They’re docile and were curious about us, but to my disappointment, don’t like to be petted. Instead of cuddling a camelid, I splurged for a skein of their worsted-weight yarn, and tucked it away for the making of a hat.
Enter, the Historical Sew Monthly theme for October: fabric manipulation. My original plan was to make a pair of crocheted slippers decorated with pleated ribbon (these) but the yarn I used wasn’t right and my attempts to make it work…didn’t work. I realized I was on my way to making a pair of ugly, ill-fitting slippers, so I scrapped the project.
I decided that since knitting generates fabric that has been manipulated seamlessly into the exact shape one wants, with the exact grain lines one wants, I could justify a nice historical hat. With a pom-pom, of course.
I knew I wanted something round, like a beret or tam, but not the perky little berets perched jauntily on the heads of the ’30s and ’40s gals. No, I wanted something the size of a dinner plate, with a drape suggestive either of an elegantly droopy Gibson girl coif, or perhaps of a cephalopod trying to eat my head. I want to be engulfed by my hats, people; It’s cold outside.
I looked at some 1910s historicalpatterns on Ravelry but, feeling that I’d already spent enough money, used a free pattern as my guide. I didn’t want ribbing, so I just started the brim with stocking stitch. I reduced the length of the body of the hat by an inch because I was running out of yarn, but when I was done I had enough to knit down an inch at the brim to create a deeper fold. I sewed the fold in place to keep it from curling, which stocking stitch always does if there isn’t something like ribbing to keep it flat.
I actually used a wool blend from another project for the pom-pom, because I used all but a meter of the alpaca on the hat itself. It was an old gauge swatch and the yarn was a bit wrinkly, so I soaked it and hung it from my laundry rack before giving it a haircut.
Knitting with alpaca was a new experience. It’s very different from sheep’s wool. It has virtually no stretch or springiness, and was oddly reminiscent of good-quality acrylic in that regard. It’s also insanely slippery; the stitches would just slide off the needles and drop three rows down the second I turned my head! This particular yarn also shed a lot, covering my pants in white fluff, and seemed quite delicate. I don’t know if that’s characteristic of alpaca or just this specific yarn. I found that pulling out stitches even once was enough for the yarn to start to look ragged. On the plus side, though, it’s incredibly soft and silky.
Pattern: Based on the Persephone Slouchy Beret pattern from shinyhappyworld.
Materials: Approx. 250 m alpaca yarn, knit with 3.75 mm bamboo double-pointed-needles. And a toilet paper tube for making the pom-pom.
Approximate Cost: $40 CAD. This was definitely a “fancy souvenir” purchase. It was challenging-but-lovely to work with, and I love the softness of the final product.
What didn’t go well: Not much! I didn’t achieve nearly the level of slouch I was aiming for, but as you can see in the catalogue pictures below (see the green hat on the upper left), mine is not inaccurate for the mid-to-late 1910s.
What went well: I got a warm, silky soft, slouchy, reasonably historically plausible hat. I don’t think alpaca would have been used in Canada in the mid 1910s, but if this exact hat were made in sheep’s wool, it would pass as historical. It’s always nice to have a project go fairly smoothly!