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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My mother's stash

“Your mum must have thought she would live forever”, was what mum’s neighbour said to me. Hazel  belonged to a Church Women’s Guild and I had offered her some of the material, wool, notions that didn’t make it into the suitcases my daughters and I were packing to take home, interstate, after my mother’s sudden and premature death.

We were sorting her belongings, coming to terms, as daughters and granddaughters do throughout the world, with our grief and loss through the handling and respecting of  the things a woman had chosen, made and dreamed of creating for her family, friends and herself.

A craftswoman of necessity in the first half of her life, Sylvia’s decade of retirement from paid work was packed with projects of possibility, desire and hope.

In the weeks following her funeral I finished two cushion covers I didn’t much like, finished knitting a jumper that had been intended for one of my university-student daughters when she was about two years old and advanced some embroidery I remember my mother starting when I was around eight years old. I was obsessed with finishing her work. The sadness of a life cut short and my obligations overwhelmed me.

I bought a camphor wood chest to store the most precious things – the ones valued by my mother and those made and used by her over the years.

Into that chest also went the things I had inherited  a decade before, from my mother’s mother, Nell;
crocheted hankies, milk-jug covers, knitted bedsocks, a bag of knitting needles, a tin of buttons, a needle book , thimbles - remnants of the life of a migrant woman who arrived in Australia withthe Great Depression.    

The fabric, wools, threads and patterns I brought home from my mother's stash – went into the cupboards  with my own similar supplies.  

A couple of pieces I used immediately – made into shirts I knew I would wear for years, feeling good and nurturing memory and gratitude.

There were many times when, tempted to buy more fabric (cotton might become scarce, silk is so cheap in Vietnam) I stepped away, reminding myself of my now expanded stash and of the words of my mother’s neighbour.

It is now 17 years since my mother died. I have four grandchildren and a bit more time to spend with needles of various kinds. I have used quite a bit of my mother’s stash and had time to reflect on the role it has played in the continuity of our lives.

The Divine Dropwaist AS&E37
I used a piece of white broderie anglais to smock a dress for my eldest granddaughter to wear to her twin sisters’ baptism. 

 I used some lace to make the second christening dress for the twins.

I used thread in  embroidering a dragon on my grandson's jeans


and a piece of viyella for a between-season dress for a granddaughter.

Pattern from The Worlds Most Beautiful Bishops

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Just recently I have made a peasant blouse from some hail-spot voile, a smocked skirt from a butterfly cotton print,

and smocked a dress with stars from a stripped cotton, with tiny stars in the stripes.
from Fruit Tingle, AS&E 80

I've also adorned more jeans with picture smocking using threads from the stash.

So some of her great-grandchildren's clothing is connected in some way to my mother, whom they never met, but whose choices and inspiration contribute to their well-being. We all have glimpses of my mother in the fabric of our everyday lives.

Slowly, her stash has merged into mine. I can't always identify the origin of a component. While I try to keep my stash to manageable proportions, it doesn’t seem to diminish. I often remember Hazel’s words and ask myself, “Do you think you will live forever?”  My mother’s early death is a constant reminder of the need to make the most of every day.

I am a great finisher, but now, it seems to me, less an issue that my mother died with so many projects still in the pipeline. 

Perhaps that is the way of women’s lives, always creating, always conceiving, always seeing the possibilities and taking opportunities to prepare for the future, touching with our hands the raw materials of future possibilities.

I’m glad my mother had that pleasure. I’m glad to be able to pick up some of the ingredients of her dreams, add to them, and use them to create things for yet another generation.  I’m glad, too, to have those worn knitting needles, thimbles and precious humble tools of my grandmother’s, testimony to what she needed to keep building her family’s future. 

I try to use my stash to do justice to their legacy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Christmas smocking and embroidery collection

I have now made some progress on my Christmas smocking. Looking at the timeline to Christmas, this may end up being the Australia Day collection, but we shall see!

One dress is finished. This one used a kit from Australian Smocking and Embroidery Issue 86 .The dress is called Gypsy Dance and in a lovely bright sun-coloured batik. The pattern caters up to size 10 and I made size 8.

The smocking creates a variegated effect by a two-needle technique that loops one row over the thread from the row above. 

I also made a bag to go with it from left-over fabric. The basic pattern for this is from the book Fabulous Bags to Stitch and Make  by Jenny Rolfe . I didn't, in this instance, quilt the bag, but hope to do so with my next effort from this book. It has very clear instructions and good diagrams.

A second dress is now underway. This one is an adaptation of Shisha from AS&E Issue 43 from 1998 . I wanted to make this one in a plain, strong green cotton with cotton thread rather than the printed fabric and silk thread of the original. Samela, at Country Bumpkin, helped me find the equivalent cotton threads. I also adapted the pattern upwards from 3 years to 4 years.

This project uses the multiple needle technique to smock the dense bands that imitate shisha mirrored embroidery. I haven't used this technique before. It is taking quite a bit of concentration and so far I have found it a bit easier to work in sections rather than right across the bodice. I got a bit of help from the A-Z of Smocking. It will look good, I think.

The other challenge is the use of silver metallic thread for circles imitating shishas. I find this thread really horrible to work with. Fortunately, the circles are relatively small and contained, so it is manageable. There is an embroidered border to go around them. This is not a project for doing with my mind on something else!

I managed to finish the first 'shisha block' over the weekend. I did it in two halves, not being able to face 26 threaded needles. By the second half I had begun to get the rhythm of working 13 needles. It is still quite hard to stick to a single row at a time, especially when the red goes around  the silver circles. However, I think I might have a go at using 26 needles and doing the whole strip across when I come to the repeat band.

The other adjustment I made was in using the horrible silver metalic thread. Instead of three strands I used two strands doubled over, making four strands. I found threading two strands with a needle threader a lot easier than trying to thread three strands. I had to thread the one strand at a time. Threading three is difficult and the ends wear and fray. Having two doubled over also means there are no ends to fray and get caught.

Monday 22 November. Finished the smocking on this one over the weekend and blocked it.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I used 24 needles  right across the second band . It worked well until the red divided: then it was harder to stay even and I worked in sections. It is far from perfect, but effective.

I have now begun smocking the third Christmas dress. It is an adaptation of Texas Rose from AS&E 52. I didn't get the pleating completely straight, so I'm hoping the effect is interesting rather than ugly (the funny light band in the photo isn't in the original).
I have quite a bit of construction to do this week!
Monday 29 November
Considerable progress this week. Shisha is finished and looking good.

Texas Rose is smocked and blocked.

The photos need lightening to show the effect of the green leaves on the black smocking - quite effective.


I have about 6 french knots to go to finish the embroidery, then I can begin the construction.

Tuesday 30 November
Texas Rose is now complete.

 Yes, it is the same dress - different light . I am amazed that the double checks worked and the piping has blended nicely. I had to select on tone and shade rather than colour match, and wasn't confident.

Now I only need to embroider a rocket on a pair of jeans. The collection WILL be finished for Christmas!

Monday 6 December
The rocket jeans are now finished. I had some difficulty getting a perspective that enabled the rocket to be large enough to be seen. It doesn't bear much scientific scrutiny, but works artistically, I think. I enlarged the earth when the rest was finished. The moon is a little odd - that was a request!  I'm pleased I persevered with the horrible silver metallic thread for the rocket - awful to work with, but looks good. Hope it wears OK!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Appliqued calico bags

This week I have been using a roll of unbleached calico I bought some years ago to make drawstring bags for larger presents, using some of the smaller pieces from the remnants I bought at the Gilles St Market a couple of weeks ago as appliqued decoration. Most, but not all, have a Christmassy theme.

I washed and ironed the calico before making the bags. Although a very humble fabric, it washes well and looks softer and whiter each time it is washed. The appliques should be colourfast.

Here is the week's product draped over a tree!

I tried out a number of new techniques in making these bags. First, I tried out the applique stitch function on my Janome sewing machine. It gave a very nice finish.

However, for the most part I used the zigzag stitch, which, although less decorative, was much faster. In a batch like this I went for speed, but would use the applique stitch for more one-off work.

I also used applique glue for the first time, in liquid droplet form, to position the pieces before stitching. It was brilliant, making the job much easier, especially since I did a bit of piecing together to use up as much of the fabric as I could. I do like the challenge of recycling and 'making do'.

In addition to raiding my ribbon stash, I also used up some ropey cord I had left from a project now forgotten.
Finally, I discovered that Mettler polysheen no. 40  thread gave a much smoother coverage with fewer thread breakages than cotton or ordinary polyester thread. This was particularly useful in making the last two bags. These are fairy bags, outside the Christmas theme, and very pink.

All these bags have space to applique a name or initial once I have chosen a present to go in them. I am happy that I can quickly make these bags to accommodate larger presents and will have my eye out for other remnants for other occasions.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Knitted bags

Over winter I knitted a number of bags using patterns from the book Andean Folk Knits by Marcia Lewandowsky.It has very clear instructions, assumes you will improvise and the pictures are inspiring. I purchased my copy online from Melbourne-based Can Do Books which has an excellent range of craft books and send out monthly news of new titles. They are also usually at the craft fairs in Australian cities.

I used up wool and acrylic left over from other projects. They are knitted on four or five needles - the shorter the better I found.

This little Chilean mountain coca bag was made from alpaca that I bought in a charity auction in Washington DC, raising funds for advocacy for technology in schools.The wool was donated to the auction by Winterberry Farm Alpacas in Ashland Virginia.

Below is another bag made from their wool, a bolsa de zapatilla (slipper bag) from Argentina. Alpaca is soft to work with.It shapes and blends beautifully. Many of the Andean bags, like this one, are designed for alpaca.

I also made a few from acrylic. It gives a sharper line for patterns like the cactus and dog below and the characteristic pompoms tease out like fairyfloss.  I love the gaudy colours.

Bolsa de carawata (cactus bag) from chile

Bolsa de perro (dog motif bag) from Ecuador.

These bags are designed to carry valuables on your person - money mostly, but also cocoa and herbs. They are great fun to knit, and I expect to knit many more of them. I hope to work my way through all the patterns in the book, including the figures of both men and women, and to knit a number of them in different versions.