talisman/object of comfort

a first (hopefully in a series of more to come) talisman or object of comfort made after an idea and pattern by victoria gertenbach, whose work i find really inspiring.
if i remember correctly, i picked up the stone on the shore of lake constance. i covered it with bits and pieces of linen and cotton scraps; stitched with vintage buttonhole silk.

i find this way of embellishing and interacting with an object from nature a very calming process, and it adds another layer of meaning and memories on collected materials. i do have a habit of picking up things when going on walks, they may be visually attractive in some way, or i like the touch, feel and texture of them and playing with them while the are in my pockets, or just holding them; it’s a comforting thing to do. over the years, even though i only keep special ones, i have built up a small collection of various of these stones, pieces of wood, shells, sea glass pieces or other things, and i look forward to work a few more of them into a collaboration with nature and memory.

“afternoon sunshine” quilt

my second quilt. hand pieced from vintage fabric and merchand & mills linen (purple & green/yellow). i dyed the vintage fabric pieces myself, two of which are vintage handkerchief fabric from france (mouchoirs de cholet), and the third is vintage austrian linen (schneeberg webe, pottendorfer spinnerei und felixdorfer weberei aktiengesellschaft). the dye was made from sequoia cones and a mix of pine cones. the quilting thread is vintage embroidery thread, also plant dyed by me (tagetes, onion, pine and sequoia cones).

measurements are approx. 100cm x 100 cm.

more tiny quilts

two more tiny quilts have been added to the collection – one i made and forgot to share previously, and one i started in august and only finished now (in november). sometimes my open projects stay open for a long time until i feel the urge to finish them. but they are completed eventually.

both are hand pieced from scraps or second hand fabric, both have a flanell batting from an old bedsheet.

here’s the whole bunch of them. i suspect, the gang will keep growing…

array top

at the moment it feels like i’m slowly working through all the things i made and collected during summer time – my finished projects i never came around to share, my dyed fabrics and threads, the plants collected and dried for dyeing, all the summer memories stowed away for darker times with less sunlight and time outside.

summer felt quiet and peaceful, and only in looking back i realise how productive (not in a neo-liberal/capitalist sense) i really was. i spent so much time with the indigo vat, started and finished hand sewing and stitching projects, collected flowers and other dye materials, a regular creative practice, and i think that is also why the summer did feel so peaceful and bright. my focus was where it needed to be, my creative work was woven through my days and the rhythm of it all felt very right and natural. i think i need to remember that…

one of my hand sewing projects was a hand sewn version of the array top by papercut made from vintage/antique fabric. the fabric dates to some time between 1920 and 1950 according to the old lady i bought it from and a hidden away stock take note i found inside the bolt. it feels like a linen/cotton mix and sewed up really nicely.

it wears really nicely with leggins or jeans, and i like how the fabric seems to shift colour depending on how the light hits it. my arms are really long, so for a version with puffed up sleeves i’d need to cut the arms a bit longer, but that’s an easy alteration to make to the pattern. maybe a shirt version with puff sleeves in a cosy winter-y fabric at some point?

all photos taken and (c) by H. Oesterle

twining/cording with natural fibers

last winter i came across a short tutorial by zak foster on instagram on how to twine fibers into a cord, which, curious as i am, i needed to try right away. it’s an easy way to keep your fingers busy basically anywhere. i find it a very calming practice, as my fingers tend to search for things to fiddle around with (anything in my pockets, stuff i find an keep in my hands, surfaces i like the feel of,…). now i seem to have developed a habit of finding out if fibers cord well or not, and it somehow also feeds my foraging habit, not only trying to collect plants that yield dye, but also fibers that may or may not cord. my recent discovery are spider plant leaves (chlorophytum comosum) – i have several pots of them in my flat, and it turns out the dried leaves that i usually just throw away make a nice material for twining. foraging at home, how nice is that?!

my first experiments looked like this…

after learning that dandelion stems also make nice material for cording, i collected a bunch to dry them at home once they had bloomed and grown long stems.

turns out our clothes rack works really well for drying plant fibers

other fibers i have tried are rhubarb, rush, various grass species, of course it also works with thread

here’s some dried rush waiting to be rehydreted and corded

i don’t know where this will lead me, but it’s a nice way to play around with ideas, texture, materials, being present in nature, it sharpens my view of plants. and i also find it a very practical skill – making rope, twine, quickly tying something together, a bunch of flowers, closing a bag, wrapping a present…

if you want to have a try yourself, here’s a short tutorial i recorded in summer. let me know if you give it a go!

and a few more random inages of cordage experiments

and one quick last word on foraging – make sure you wait until the plants had a chance to let go of their seeds, don’t take too many from the same place, make sure the plants are not under any kind of protection or conservation status, make sure they are not harmful or toxic, and give thanks to nature when you take plants with you.

“lines & waves” quilt

a finished small quilt. i wanted to try a few things while working on a slightly larger quilted piece to see how a bigger pieces behaves. i needed to change my quilting technique a bit compared to the tiny quilts, and also when sandwiching the layers together, getting everything flat and even is a bigger challenge. but overall i was surprised how the quilting itself didn’t take as long as i had imagined. only working on apiece this size on my lap while it’s over 30 degrees celsius maybe wasn’t the best idea ever. 😀

materials used are vintage cotton bed linens for top, backing and binding. the batting is cotton and the whole piece is hand stitched with vintage embroidery thread hand dyed with madder.

measurements are 100cm x 110cm.

modern shift/chemise

one of my recent hand sewing projects was a modern version of a women’s chemise or shift. shifts or chemises were a kind of undergarment worn by women probably since the middle ages or even earlier. they ususally were made from linen, hand sewn (of course) and the piece of clothing that was worn directly on the skin. it was the piece of clothing that could be washed easily, much easier than all the layers worn over a chemise, like stays, petticoats, bedgowns/shortgowns, aprons, etc.

construction-wise they were ususally quite simple, often made from triangles and rectangles of fabric. i own a hand sewn chemise that was made sometime in the 1920ies, which i had bought because of the many parts that had been mended. i don’t know how this piece came to be in the 1920ies, as women’s underwear had already changed by then and chemises fell out of fashion. this is an image (taken by johanna of la grosse toile who i bought this piece from) of my chemise, meant to be used in workshops to showcase mending techniques through the ages:

because i meant to use it as a demonstration piece, i never actually had tried it on or worn it. recently though, i tried it on and found out it did not only fit really well, it was also really comfortable. i was out of a sewing project at that time and my fingers were badly in need of something to sew, so i though why not make the female counterpart to my modern regency shirt; a chemise made from a modern fabric to be worn as a comfortable summer dress.

i roughly took the pattern from the historic chemise and also followed most of the original construction. just like in the orginal, all seams are felled. the things i changed are the neck drawstring tunnel (the original has a tape sewn on on the wrong side as drawstring tunnel) – i hemmed the neck opening and used the hem as drawstring tunnel with a line of top stitching added for more stability – plus i added pockets.

this was really a quick and easy sewing project, especially as no translation from a machine sewing pattern to hand sewing was needed. two triangular pieces for the chemise, plus the sleeves, two pockets (i copied the rough shape off of pockets of another skirt), done. i used merchant & mills hand woven ikat fabric.

now really all i need are some warm days, so i can finally wear this dress.

tiny quilts

i’ve been intrigued by quilting for quite a while. mostly it was the technique of using even the tiniest scrap of fabric and work it into something new. but then there is also the tactile quality of quilts – i love running my fingers over the crinkly, wavy structures of fabric and thread, it’s just a very pleasant feeling. the design possibilities are endless. and then there’s also the element of heirloom quilts that have been passed on from generations to generations, keeping people warm and hugged, being mended and changed and reused over and over again. so many layers of meaning and making that have kept me curious.

recently i came across the idea of tiny quilts and took part in a community quilting exercise on creativity and newness organised by zak foster and amanda nadig, which was a great way to start playing with quilting on a small scale.

out of this came three tiny quilts in total. i also revisited an old project of mine from two or three years ago where i mended/reconstructed an old pillowcase of mine into something that i would now also consider a tiny quilt.

tea cup for size reference

all of these are completely stitched by hand – both the piecing and the quilting. they are playful little projects for one or two afternoons and i really enjoy making them. somehow it’s helpful to make things that don’t need to be useful and only exist because i enjoy the process of making them. i’ll probably do a few more every now and then, in between larger projects or whenever i need some headspace.

materials are mostly antique/vintage/second hand, apart from very few scraps that are store bought.

abstract embroidery – untitled

another abstract piece, designed as wall hanging, that emerged from working on my first piece, topography. march 2021.

plant dyed vintage cotton embroidery thread (tagetes, onion skin, tagetes/onionskn mix, sequoia cones, pine cone mix) on antique, hand woven linen from austria.

mount hand turned by @orcoyoyo from willow wood (salix); string hand twined from leftover thread i used during the dyeing process to secure the skeins of thread in the dyepot.

iron mordant

iron mordant or iron water, or more precisely iron(II) acetate, is a very versatile and easy to make substance to use in dyeing and woodworking. it reacts with tannin-rich wood and turns it darker. for fabric and thread dyeing it turns dyes into a greenish direction or makes dyes darker and more dull. with some dyes, like avocado, it creates a different colour even. it’s a pretty fascinating and useful thing to have.

here’s how to make your own iron mordant:

you need:
– some scrap iron (rusty nails, steel wire, washers, etc…); i often pick up small rusty things whenever i find them, especially aras near construction sites often have little bits of rusty iron lying around. or when you’re out litter picking, keep anything rusty. steel wool works as well, if you can’t get hold of rusty stuff.
– vinegar or vinegar essence
– water
– two glass jars

put your rusty bits and pieces into the jar and cover with vinegar. if you work with vinegar essence, dilute first in order to get to a concetration of vinegar. follow the instruction on the bottle lable to do that; the vinegar essence we ususally have in supermarkets here needs to be diluted in a 1:4 ratio (1 part essence, 4 parts water).

cover with a lid, but don’t screw on tightly!!! the chemical reaction between acetic acid and rusty iron produces hydrogen. the amounts are small and safe to just dissolve in the air, but it needs to be able to escape the jar. a tight lid might have pressure adding up inside the jar and make it explode – you don’t want that!!! just remember – loose lid, and it’s a perfectly safe thing to make at home.

after one day, pour your solution into the second jar, leaving the rusty bits exposed to air; best to put no lid on. on the next day, pour your solution back on the rusty parts. alternate every day between having the rusty iron exposed to air and covered in liquid.

the liquid should turn a lovely rusty colour quite soon, a sign that it’s ready to use.

if you use it for woodworking, it’s good to go directly from the jar. if you use it for mordanting textile fibers, you need to dilute it with water, in a ratio of 1:2 (1 part iron mordant solution, 2 parts water).

or, leave it as is and only add a small amount to your dye if you want to modify your dye. this works well with avocado. iron mordant turns the pink shades of avocado into a lovely purple. to do this, you would use your avocado dye process, take out your dyed fiber, add iron solution to your dye pot (you should see the colour change immediately), stir and add the dyed fiber back into the pot and let it sit until the colour looks like you want it to.

here is an example of iron mordant solution on oak wood (also notice the bristles of the brush; they are animal fiber and also react with the solution):

iron solution on an oak wood frame:

photo (c) harald oesterle
photo (c) harald oesterle

iron solution on oak wood frame (hand plained and brushed, treated with iron mordant solution, finished with danish oil; made by @orcoyoyo):

and here is an example of avocado dyed thread and fabric, the pink ones are avocado only, the purple ones were modified with iron(II) acetate:

there are so many more variations with different plant dyes and iron mordant solution, and i’ll keep exploring and experimenting.