A brief excursion into sewing

I do sew sometimes, but it tends to be because there’s something I want to make rather than because sewing is something I want to do…

Recently I lent C a Regency frock for her Jane Austen-themed hen day, and she loved it so much she asked me to help her make one herself, and thus an idea for a wedding present was born. However, I’d made several failed attempts to buy fabric for the project and was about to give it up as a dead loss, when I was ambushed outside the Ballroom (a clothes shop catering largely to the college ball market) by a basket of reduced saris on the pavement. I chose a lilac and purple one for myself, and was then struck by inspiration: saris are perfect for Regency dresses. The type of silk and of woven design are both fairly authentic, and it’s a good amount of fabric. I bought a red and silver sari, and over the next couple of weeks I turned it into this:

The pattern is easy – I’ve made it several times before, including once entirely by hand because I’d lost the power cord for my sewing machine. However, easy pattern or not, it’s not straightforward to make a dress for someone when the only idea of their size I had was comments she made about the fit of my dresses when trying them on. It’s also not straightforward to lay out pattern pieces on fabric with vertical columns of woven motifs (as seen in the skirt above). I decided I wanted the top of the frock to be mostly plain, so I had to fit all the pattern pieces in the spaces between lines of motifs; not all of the grain in the top goes the way it should, because fitting the pieces in was difficult. It’s not obvious in the picture, but the shoulders and the cuffs of the top are cut to include a band of the smaller motifs, to visually link the top with the skirt, and I’m really pleased with how that worked out.

To maximise the chances that the frock would fit C with no need for alterations, I added a drawstring to the neckline, but had a problem finding cord – nothing I’ve got would go. I was seriously considering spinning sewing thread into a cord when I was struck with the idea that’s obvious if you’ve read the ‘spinning samples’ post a couple of posts down… I took some plain red scraps left from the cutting out, frayed it into individual threads and attacked them with my hand carders until they became a fluff of silk fibre, then spun it and plied it and turned it into a perfectly decent, and perfectly matching, drawstring cord. (I say ‘perfectly matching’, but it actually looks darker because the carding took away some of the shiniess of the fabric, but it’s still a much better match than anything else I’ve got.)

This is the first sewing project I’ve done in ages, and I had loads of fun and am really happy with how it turned out. More importantly, C loves it, and it fits her perfectly. Now to decide what to do with my purple sari…

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Introducing Bellatrix

Having made my decision, I did not wait to put it into practice. I started knitting Bellatrix as written, but the cast on edge was too tight, even as a tubular cast on, and I wasn’t sure about about the gauge. So since I was frogging anyway, I switched to toe-up, with Cat Bordhi’s beautiful whirlpool toe. I’ve got a different number of stitches, so the dropped stitch sections don’t line up the same way as in the pattern, but I like it anyway :-)

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The sock problem

As I said a couple of posts back, I have at least twelve pairs-worth of sock yarn in my stash. I’ve now resolved to actually knit some of it, but I’m not entirely sure yet where to start – which pattern, which yarn. Part of the point of this post is that I don’t always know what I think until I say type it…

This Cherry Tree Hill (left) was bought to be Clessidra. There are two skeins, so it’s clearly long socks, and it’s still a pattern I want to knit. This is also my only totally solid colour sock yarn, so perfectly suited to cables, I think. I’ve had it for ages, though, so I keep overlooking it in favour of newer and shinier yarn. Also I’m scared of second sock syndrome in long socks.

These bright reds and pinks (right) are already incarnate as a fairly new pair of Coriolis, so knitting up this is probably low down the list of priorities. It’s a good level of variegated, though – enough to be interesting without obscuring a pattern, so I’ll definitely  make more socks with it. Part of it is already in Stranded Sock Project Number Three, but I think this one’s destined for a froggin’ too, so it might be time to think about Number Four…

This Trekking XXL (left) has begun to be a Pomatomus, but I think the pattern is too interesting for me to be able to knit it while doing something else, like watching TV, so I might frog and make it into something else eventually. Or I might resurrect it if I’m in the mood for complicated knitting – the colour is perfect for the idea behind the pattern, and it’s not as if I desparately need more sock yarn available to knit with ;-)

This blue and purple (right) is mostly a clapotis, but it’s sock-weight, and there’s plenty left for one, or possibly even two, pairs of socks. It’s a bit scratchy though, so I’m not sure how much I like it. Also not a high priority.

The Dream in Colour Smooshy was implicated in Stranded Sock Project Number Two, but wasn’t contrasty enough with the black. I originally planned for this to be Embossed Leaves socks, but I now think it’s too dark, and in any case I’m not sure I want to knit them at the moment. Drawing board time, perhaps.

And here (right) we have a suspect from Stranded Sock Project Number One, the Knitwitches purple variegated. Probably too dark and variegated for many patterns, so I’m not sure. I sort of want this to be lacy for some reason, so it’ll take careful thought to pick a pattern that will work.

There’s little debate about this Opal Handpaint (left), because the yarn belongs to friend-R, so the socks will be for her too. I think she wants Coriolis socks, but I made my pair too recently to be ready to knit another yet.

The Trekking XXL (right) is a colourway I am choosing to call starling, because that’s what it reminds me of. It’s too dark and too variegated to be suited to many patterns, so I’ve no real idea what to do with it. It’s very pretty though.

This (left) is of course the yarn I want to knit. It’s new and shiny, and I think might be well-suited to Bellatrix. The problem (there’s always a problem!) is that there are three balls, so they could be long socks, or I could use the leftovers with some of the plain black leftover sock yarn kicking around to make an attempt at Stranded Sock Project Number Five. I’m a sucker for two handed knitting, apparently :-)

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Adventures in spinning alpaca and silk

So this is what I’ve been doing with the alpaca…


The first five pictures are various combinations of dyed lilac-grey alpaca and black alpaca. Sometimes carded, sometimes blended together, sometimes spun as-is.

The fourth picture has some silk noil spun in – someone from the Bucks spinning, weaving and dyeing guild at the local alpaca farm’s open day gave me a little bit of this. I liked spinning the silk noil, but probably not enough to buy more.

The last two pictures relate to the sewing project I haven’t yet blogged about (I’ll do it after I’ve given the gift to its recipient). They’re spun from leftover bits of sari silk – one just shredded, and the others carded; the darker one is carded with some of the black alpaca, which may well be the eventual destination of all the other bits of leftover sari fabric. I’m sufficiently pleased with the way this worked that there’s a piece of drawstring cord in the finished sewing project which I spun from carded bits of leftover fabric. This is probably a bit excessive, except that I didn’t have any other cord or yarn which would go, and I’m pleased that this matches perfectly

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Shopping in Hay and its consequences

Ages ago now, I went to Hay-on-Wye with friend-R. I bought second handbooks, as you do in Hay (it’s a small village in Wales with dozens ofsecond hand book shops), including some vintage knitting books. Ibought them for various combinations of because they’re funny andbecause they’re useful – one has marvellous mini-stories about LittleJohnny and Little Susie* and how they feel about each other, theirclothes, and their mother who knit them. Another, while having deeplyhumourous seventies-ish fashion photography also contains what lookslike good and useful advice about designing and adapting patterns, although I confess I haven’t read it yet.

What I didn’t expect to buy was yarn or fibre, but buy them I did!


The fibre is undyed grey alpaca, the ball of yarn is Trekking XXL sock yarn in a colourway that reminds me of starlings, and the skein is Opal Handpainted sock yarn, bought by R, and intended for socks for her (I think she wants Coriolis socks, but I’m not ready to knit them again yet). I want to use the Trekking for something for me, but I now have serious amounts of sock yarn in the stash, so I should probably get on with knitting some of it. Counting on Ravelry just now, I think I have about twelve pairsworth of sock yarn in my stash, and that’s not counting the leftovers which are probably enough for at least another pair. Although I’ve made good progress on the purple cable cardigan recently, I’m stalled on it again, so maybe I should cast on for some socks in the meantime. The question is which…

The alpaca fibre is still somewhat in limbo, too. I dyed it with two different shades of purple cold water dye, which may have been a mistake because the colour didn’t take very well, hence the pastelly shades it’s turned out. I like it though, and it feels lovely. I’ve also supplemented it with a big bag of natural black alpaca from my local alpaca farm! Yes, I have a local alpaca farm. It’s in Great Milton, about eight miles away, and their natural black actually mostly is black, unlike the natural black shetland I’ve spun before. I’ve been making various sample cards of the two alpacas, which will be the subject of another blog post soon.

*Names may be misremembered.

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A gift!

Yesterday I hosted a crafting evening, at which two friends – K and S – came over, K did her mending, S learnt how to to do the purl stitch, and I knitted, sewed and spun (of which more in a post to come). Excitingly, K came bearing gifts from her and her boyfriend J – the sock yarn to the right :-)

They’ve recently been on holiday – I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember where to, although northern Europe/Scandinavia rings a bell – had seen this and thought of me. K had told me the last time I saw her that they had bought me a present of wool, and although she is a person of good taste, and with an interest in clothes (and therefore fibres), I felt the usual trepidation of a knitter told by a non-knitter about ‘lovely wool’. Would it be acrylic or eyelash yarn?

I should have known better :-) This is lovely sock yarn, 80% merino and 20% nylon, and it’s gorgeous knitted up in the tiny swatch I’ve begun. I explained to K about the deep philosophical problem in sock knitting with the tension between beautifully variegated yarn which is shown to best advantage in simple, boring-to-knit patterns, and intricate, complex sock patterns which are fun and challenging to knit but work best with plain, boring yarn. I think she was slightly disbelieving about the depth of this problem, as well as being amused that knitting has philosophical problems.

However, thanks to Frax’s Ravelry projects list, I think I have solved it. This yarn might be destined to become Bellatrix. Of course, I have lots of sock yarn, and lots of plans, and my plans often change along the way, but this is the current theory!

(Oh, and I had a text message from S today telling me that she’s holding me entirely to blame for her subsequent purchasing of needles and yarn on the internet. Score!)

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