dye job

I’ve been rather uninspired by some of my clothes in part because the colour of them doesn’t quite work for me. I figure I’m a soft summer meaning that colours should generally be cool and soft, but some of my items are too bright/clear to be especially flattering.

Rit powder dye 30 Navy Blue, which I would call "indigo"
Rit powder dye 30 Navy Blue, which I would call “indigo”

I finally decided to try dyeing some items. I’ve done very little dyeing so far, so it took me a while to psych myself up. I used Rit powder in Navy Blue.

What I started with:

before; shirts 3 & 4 are wet in this photo
Before: shirts 2 & 3 are (were) essentially the same shade; shirts 3 & 4 are damp here

1. 100% cotton, somewhere between sky blue and cornflower blue (electric indigo?)

2. 100% cotton, purple verging slightly toward red (mulberry?)

3. 51% lyocell, 44% cotton, 5% spandex, purple verging slightly toward red (mulberry?) (almost exactly same colour as the previous shirt, maybe slightly less red; looks darker in the photo mostly because it’s damp and #2 isn’t)

4. 60% cotton, 40% modal, bright red with a touch of pink (watermelon, carmine? this one is also damp in the photo)

Method: The dye packet (32g) was enough to dye 500g of fabric, and each shirt  is about 250g. For dark colours, they advised to double the dye amount. I used the whole packet, stove-top method, and added 250g salt per the instructions for cotton. So this was the correct amount to dye one shirt dark, or to tint two shirts.

After: shirts 1 & 3 have been dyed, 2 & 4 have not
After: shirts 1 & 3 have been dyed, 2 & 4 have not

I started with shirt #3, one of the purples. It became a lovely dark eggplant/aubergine (it has the darkness and slight muddiness of navy, but reads as purple), which is darker than I had in mind but I’m quite happy with it anyway.

Then I threw in shirt #1, the blue. It was in the pot for about 20 min and I was less attentive to it than the first shirt but the colour came out even. My goal was to dull the colour somewhat without making it terribly dark. It became light navy blue (if that isn’t an oxymoron), which is 2-3 shades darker than before and basically what I had hoped for.

I didn’t dye shirt #2 – I wanted to see how the other purple shirt turned out first. I also didn’t do #4, the red one; since the original colour is so different from the dye and I lack dyeing experience, I figured it would be wise at this point to try a colour closer to the original.

While putting together this post, I found a handy website that allows you to search for colours using a colour chart rather than text: encycolorpedia.com.

Japanese old man trousers

There have been a few changes around BST since my last post:

  • I bought a new point-and-shoot camera (this might have happened shortly before the last post)
  • I bought a remote to use with said camera
  • the snow melted
  • *** my husband is back from the UK over the summer ***
  • I got a new laptop

The problem with the old laptop was that the monitor crapped out. I’m told that I can plug in an external monitor and do what I need to do, but I haven’t gotten to that yet, so my data move (including photos) is still incomplete. Nonetheless, I feel like I have what I need for blogging that is slightly less infrequent than it was.

I haven’t been completely idle sewing-wise in the interim. For one thing, I rediscovered my samue (a.k.a. samui) from my days of teaching in Japan. This is very much like a martial arts uniform with a few differences. Most obviously, the fabric is indigo rather than white. Mine also has a fine waffle weave, but I suspect this is not the norm. The jacket has a patch pocket on the front (which I imagine to be used most often for a pack of ciggies). The trousers have elastic at the waist (the uniforms traditionally tie but they seem mostly to be elastic too these days) and at the ankles, and side slant pockets. They also have an odd sort of fly: there is a front opening that doesn’t go all the way to the top, because the elastic goes all the way around, and the opening closes with a single button on a hidden button placket. (Kind of like men’s underwear with the escape hatch. Which, I am told, no one actually uses, so why do they even bother? Anyway.) The trousers actually rather resemble sweatpants (tracksuit bottoms) but made of a woven rather than a knit.

I associate this outfit with old Japanese men on the basis of a sample size of one: my former landlord. Who smokes.

Around the time that it ceased to be winter this year, I started wearing the jacket as a light housecoat in the mornings. One day when doing some gardening, I figured that the pants would be an improvement over anything else in the closet in terms of protecting me from mosquitoes. The only problem was that the rise was so long (low-rise these ain’t) that either the crotch dragged around my knees or I had to roll the waistband three times. I figured I would get more wear out of it if I altered it. Rather surprisingly, the inseam length was fine, so alterations were only required at the top.

samue pants before
samue pants before

(Fit photos reveal posture issues that are otherwise much less obvious.)

samue pants before: note super-long crotch length
samue pants before, with the waist about where I’d want it: note super-long crotch length

First I opened up the waist casing and removed the elastic. Then I stitched up the fly; I had considered removing some of the layers (all interfaced) but decided to leave it as is because I would have had to engage in significant surgery. I also stitched up the pockets and cut off the pocket bags, since not much of an opening would be left and they’d be unusable anyway. Then I put on the pants, held up with a length of elastic tied around my waist, to see about marking the new waistline. I ended up whacking off quite a lot; my waist is lower in the front, so it was about 5″ at the front and 4″ at the back.

One odd thing that I noticed was that, in addition to the elastic, there were also small pleats at the front: one on each side, with a depth of 1/2″ (take-up of 1″). If one can put pleats in an elastic waist, surely darts are no worse? And if you can do it on the front, why not the back?

Because of my shape (slim with booty), when I tried on the pants with the elastic, the back was a wrinkly mess. I decided to try putting in a couple of darts on each side, like regular dress pants. The waffle weave made it easy to follow the grain to transfer the darts on one side to the other side, which I did meticulously. But when I tried them on again, they didn’t look right. I had assumed that the pants were cut on grain. Uh, no. I made the darts relatively even by eyeballing them and called it good.

Rather than just fold over the bulky fabric to make the casing, I cut a separate piece from scrap broadcloth for the inside.

samue pants after
samue pants after

While taking the photos, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before, which is that I probably took too much width out in the back darts to be in proportion to the bagginess of the rest of it, so the volume kinda puffs out at the bottom of the darts. I can live with the pants the way they are and am not going to make any further adjustments: they’re slouchy work/lounge pants that I don’t intend to wear anywhere more public than my front yard. However, I think I can use this darting technique on other drawstring pants, so I’ll file this bit of info for later. I also think I may have shortened the CB a smidge more than would have been ideal.

samue pants after: awkward amounts of volume
samue pants after: awkward treatment of volume in the back

The pants are great for gardening, sitting on the couch with a book on the weekend, and at some point when the weather gets cold again, I will probably try them out as thermal pantaloons (under a skirt) for dance.

I can’t say I’m big on mending, alteration and refashioning, but when confronted with an item that is unwearable because of fit or being worn out, it becomes a very low-risk project to my mind. If I had made these pants from scratch, I suspect I would have been rather disappointed by the final fit that I achieved. But I took an item that was unwearable and made it quite serviceable. (This attitude would probably serve me well for from-scratch sewing too – will have to try to remember this.)

new process and forward motion

It’s been almost two months now since I instituted my new approach to finding time for sewing. Because there are always lots of little decisions to make when sewing, and I’m generally tired and indecisive in the evening, I prefer to sew with “morning brain”. That means that weekday evenings are out. Also, I always feel like there’s something else I should be doing on a Saturday morning, like cleaning or provisioning. So I’ve assigned sewing to a three-hour slot on Sunday morning (I give myself 3 hours from whenever I get started, even if it’s after 10).

I’ve assigned other weekend tasks to other time slots, so not only do I allow myself to sew during sewing time, but I also don’t permit myself to do the other stuff. I don’t have to worry about spending too much time on sewing either, since I have a “budget”; if I want to come back sewing after I’ve done my other tasks, I can, though I haven’t yet.

This system has been working well for me so far. One thing I’ve noticed is that once I start sewing, I don’t want to stop. I originally assigned the slot to sewing and laundry, but I’ve been noticing that I haven’t wanted to count laundry time against the total. It’s is a bit of a surprise for me, since my prior routine was: think about sewing, decide I was too tired, don’t bother starting.

I’m also getting a better idea of how much time I spend on projects. (A lot.) Research often takes a lot of time, and I take my sweet time cutting too. I could speed up if I wanted to, but I don’t think I want to. This isn’t a race, and it isn’t an attempt to create a vast, teetering pile of stuff. I have no desire to transform the stash (which is by definition essentially unusable as is) into a pile of garments that I don’t like enough to actually use. Why waste my time? Sometimes my research crosses the line into agonizing, but as long as I’m learning and moving forward I think it’s all good. If I keep working on a particular fit or skill, eventually I’ll get there and I won’t agonise any more.

Actually, a nice side effect that I wasn’t anticipating is that when I have three hours to fill with sewing, I agonise a little bit then get bored with it, which seems to push me to make a decision faster than I would have if I’d completely changed gears. This is good.

I have two current projects. One doesn’t look like anything yet. The other one is almost there so I think I’ll wait for the big reveal. However, to pique your interest, here are the fabrics I’m working with.

Top: medium weight linen in “wisteria”. Bottom: polyester knit, background is plum.

mending: winter coat

My winter coat isn’t perfect, but I really like it. It’s wearing out but I would rather mend it than try to replace it. (Someday I’ll make myself a new winter coat, but that day is not today.) This is a Swiss army surplus coat, probably for a cadet.

The cuffs fold back deeply, which is one of the details I like about it.

This puts a fold at the wrist, which is subject to a lot of wear. The left cuff had some holes but the right was worn all the way through along almost half of the cuff. I don’t usually continue to wear items that are this damaged, but it’s my only coat and in this climate I wear it daily about 5 months of the year, most of the time with mitts, which helps explain the wear pattern.

I decided to put a long strip of fabric on the inside of the fold and stitch it to the cuff using a triple-zigzag stitch. I had two pieces of wool fabric that would work colour-wise. One was heavier – a melton I think. The other was a flannel. When I put the melton along the inside of the fold, it seemed too thick, so I used the flannel. Although the colour of the patch looks quite different, it’s actually very similar, just more saturated.

The thread was a reasonable match for the coat (though still far from perfect), and it helps the patch blend in the places where it shows.

(The dark grey visible inside the sleeve in this last photo is the evidence of the patch to the lining that was done in 2006 ago. I got someone to do this for me when I was overseas and away from my sewing machine. Must be polyester because there’s hardly any wear. The same can’t be said for the cotton lining that it’s patching.)

(This is the best I can do for an action shot with my current photography situation.)

it’s curtains for you!

My husband asked me to make him some sheer curtains for his south-facing dorm room in the UK. He has black-out curtains, but nothing to both allow light in and block direct sun. (Yes, they do get direct sun occasionally.)

He brought me some measurements and I made two curtains out of thin linen-cotton that’s been in the stash for ages (the same stuff that I used for the garment bags). I figured that two selvage-to-selvage pieces would be wide enough, and that way there’s no finishing required on the sides. Top and bottom were folded twice and stitched.

He doesn’t want to tie the sheers directly to the existing curtain rod, because he’d have to untie them every time he wanted to close the black-out curtains. Instead, he wants to attach the sheers to the brackets supporting the rod, so hopefully he can continue to open and close the curtains as usual. I made ties using my tape maker and placed them where we figure the brackets are.

Here’s the pair of curtains. Super boring photo, right?


So we decided to spice it up a bit.


By the way, that one item in the foreground is NOT REAL! Cannot stress this enough!

stash -3.0 m

garment bags, round 2: for long, full skirts

I have two very full, ankle-length tiered skirts for dance. In my current group, black is verboten, so my black skirt gets very little use and has been starting literally to collect dust. My red skirt gets used regularly, but that still means a maximum of about once a month. I rarely wash them: I always have an under layer, which keeps the skirt away from skin; they’re linen and washing changes the finish; and they’re rather a bother to dry (definitely not going in the dryer!). Also, packing them in my trunk with my other (cotton) costume skirts would leave me with a wrinkled mess.

A garment bag like the ones I made recently (edges straight down from the ends of the hanger) wouldn’t work because of the fullness at the bottom of the skirt. They’re both 12m around the hem. I wanted the minimum of fabric around the hanger, but I needed more at the bottom so as not to squash the hem. I measured loosely around the hem of the skirt as it hangs on the hanger and came up with a measurement of roughly 45″/115cm. Around the top of the hanger plus a bit of ease worked out to 30″/76cm.

How then should I go about widening from 30″ to 45″? I took inspiration from my own skirts. I did a yoke piece with the smaller measurement and sewed on the bottom piece, controlling the (limited) fullness with pleats. Although I used knife pleats in these skirts, my non-costume skirts use inverted box pleats. I pinned the pieces and found that the fullness was easily controlled by a single set of inverted box pleats.


The length of the bag was again dictated by the width of the fabric. I put one selvage at the hem. Because of the yoke piece, I had a choice of whether to put the other selvage at the top edge or the yoke seam. I chose the latter, then used the selvage to self-bind the yoke seam.


stash -2.3 m

organic, free range, cruelty-free, artisanal mending

This mending project must be all those things to explain why I didn’t finish until more than two years after I started!

I had darning needles and cotton yarn that was a good colour match for the sweater, but I stalled because I couldn’t quite see what I was doing where the threads were thinnest. (Also, I didn’t really know what I was doing.) I tried to work on it during the sunlit hours in the winter, when the sun was shining straight in and onto my work. However, sunlit hours in the winter are few. (But not far between – they actually tend to rather clump up.) I eventually put it away and forgot about it.

Then Carolyn posted about darning with her darning mushroom. Someone commented that you could use a lightbulb in a pinch. These days, non-curly lightbulbs are becoming somewhat rare so it took me a while to procure one.

Then, on a trip to Oxford, I found a shop called Objects of Use, which is filled with retro-styled, practical items, mostly made of wood, glass, enamelled metal, horn, ceramic etc. Imagine my delight to spot what appeared to be a darning mushroom! They billed it as a sieving mushroom, but mentioned you could darn with it too. (The wood is a bit rough, unlike the proper darning mushrooms I’ve seen online.)

During a recent purge of my sewing space, I rediscovered (for about the 12th time) my sweater in need of mending on one elbow and gave it a go. The mushroom holds everything even and stable. It’s much easier to see the stitches, see where to put the needle and keep good tension. Once I got going, it probably only took me about 15 minutes to finish up. Woo! (My technique looks nothing like the darning I’ve seen by people who know what they’re doing. Rather than take sewing-type stitches, I just tried to follow the twisting path of the original knit stitches. I like how it looks and I think it will work just fine this time, so whatever. In future I might try it the right way. See Carolyn’s darning mushroom post for instructions.)




boot bag

Last Christmas, I gave my sister a pair of shoe bags. She mentioned that a bag that would fit a pair of boots would not go amiss.

I dug out the remaining scraps of the fabric I had used for the shoe bags last year. There wasn’t much, so I considered using some other fabric that wouldn’t require piecing. Nothing jumped out at me though, so I went with plan A.

I figured that the biggest piece (Luna Moth in turquoise) would make a bag that was too short and probably too wide, but I had a strip of Hive in raspberry that would make up the required length. There was a strip of Luna Moth in raspberry that would do for the drawstring. The colours all go together nicely as they’re all from the same manufacturer (Michael Miller) in complementary colour schemes.




I have a pair of boots that I guessed were about the height of the ones meant to go in the bag, so I measured them up to figure out good dimensions for the bag. As it turned out, the numbers I came up with pretty much matched the dimensions of the scraps I had. Here’s what was left after all was said and done:



Final dimension of the bag: 15.5″ x 23.75″ / 40 cm x 60 cm
Final dimensions of drawstring: 3/8″ x 37″ / 1 cm x 94 cm (I used an 18 mm tape maker)

sorry for all the crappy photos

Problem #1


When I get home after work, it’s already dark. No outdoor photos. We can have snow for about 5 months of the year.

Problem #1a
No landscaping

Even in the summer, outdoor photos are a bit of a no go. The back yard is a bunch of dirt, a space where a deck used to be, and aged, falling-down fences on three sides. Not pretty. The front yard is small, just grass, with the only view being neighbours’ houses.

Problem #2
Dark interior

I like my house, but it’s quite dark inside. It’s pleasant for being in but crappy for photos.

Problem #3
Computer issues

My laptop isn’t working. (I’ve done precisely nothing about it, yet it’s still broken.) I’m stuck using the camera on the iPad.

Problem #4

No comment.

So yes, I’m aware of the issue, but no, it’s not likely to change any time soon!

garment bags

I have a few items in my closet that don’t get much use, so I thought I’d make some garment bags to keep the dust off.

I traced a hanger, straightened the lines, and added “ease” and seam allowance. (Note for next time – could have used a bit more ease.) for fabric, I used a white linen-cotton blend from the stash. I had bought quite a quantity of this, thinking that it would be perfect for SCA undertunics; I made 2 and then started working with 100% linen, leaving me with metres of the linen-cotton to get through.


Selvage to selvage makes a good length. Having a selvage at the bottom means no hemming.


stash -2.0 m