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.

modern regency shirt dress

my latest hand sewing project was a shirt dress made the way men’s shirts were made around the 1800s. i wanted to use the same construction with a modern fabric to make an everyday wearable garment.

the original plan was to make this shirt dress from linen, but as i didn’t have a fitting weight of vintage linen at home, instead of buying new fabric, i searched for something else instead. i found a set of vintage cotton bed linens, most likely weaved in austria, that looked like it could work and i could imagine myself wearing it.

what intrigued me about the shirt construction is that these shirts are made entirely out of square pieces of fabric. this means that there are no or almost no off-cuts, so no fabric waste is left. nowadays we would call this zero waste, but not so long ago, fabric was so valuable and expensive, people would natrually construct their clothes in a way to not waste any of the fabric. this was no fashion trend or anything, it was just sensible.

the way these shirts were made also meant they would adapt their fit quite easily for differently shaped bodies. they were not exactly one size, but a body was definitely allowed to change its shape and the garment would still fit.

and they were incredibly sturdy, so a shirt could take a lot of wear and still be intact or mendable. the parts that take the most strain are strengthened in various ways.

all in all, a very clever and sensible approach to making clothing, even though today’s fashion industry wants us to believe differently.

i shared most of the steps of how to make a shirt like this over at instagram in a highlight: -> regency shirt

oh, and a bee came to visit when we were taking photos:

it’s a really comfortable piece to wear, either with jeans or leggins/tights, or once it’s warmer simply as dress. i might make another one at some point, now that i have an idea about the general construction. also, if anyone has questions and wants to make their own, i’m always happy to answer questions and support to the best of my abilities.

the whole piece is entirely hand stitched.

all photos by @orcoyoyo

dyeing with onion skins

what you will need:
– onion skins (i used yellow ones here, but of course red ones or a mix of red and brown work just fine); i ususally collect all onion skins when cooking and store them in a paper bag. only use the dry, yellow/red parts, no fleshy bits, as they would start to rot and smell.
– a cooking pot large enough to hold your fabric or thread to be able to move around freely
– a colander or strainer of some sorts to strain off the onion skins once the dye has been extracted
– a muslin cloth or any other cloth to strain out fine particles – a tea towel works fine. just make sure it’s okay to dye/discolour that piece of fabric.
– wooden spoon or something else to stir – may also discolour in the process
– gloves – not really necessary; but if you want to make 100% sure not any tiny bit of yellowish colour stays on your skin, use gloves. i never do with onion dye, though.
– fabric or thread for dyeing (any animal fiber or natural fiber will work; i usually dye cotton or linen or a cotton/linen mix and don’t have much experience with animal fiber like wool and silk; they take colour beautifully, though). in this example i’m dyeing cotton embroidery thread.

to prepare beforehand – scouring your fabric/thread (speaking about cotton and linen here, this guide is not for silk or wool!!!)
in order to prepare the fiber to take up the dye as best as possible, you need to remove all possible dirt, dust, grease, … even newly bought fabric or thread has residue from spinning and weaving that you need to remove.
for fabric, wash accordingly, and then there are two options:
– either machine wash at 95° celsius with baking soda
– or (especially small pieces or small amounts) put in a pot with water and baking soda and bring to a boil, then simmer for appr. one hour. strain off the water (you will now see how much residue will have come out by the colour of the water) and rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear.

for scouring thread i always use the “simmer in a pot” method. roll the thread into a loose loop and secure it losely so it doesn’t fall apart and tangles up. tie up in one or more places, but keep it lose enough, so you don’t accidentally create a part that can’t take up the dye (this would be called a resist dye technique, which in case you want to create unevenly dyed thread is a nice technique; just don’t do this by accident). when stirring, do so very gently and try not to tangle up the thread too much.

if you dry your material after scouring and before dyeing, make sure to pre-wet it before it goes into the dye pot.

extracting the dye:
put all the collected onion skins into your pot and cover with water.

put the pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. once it has heated up, keep it simmering for at least half an hour. depending on what you want to achieve, use more or less onion skins and let it simmer a bit longer or shorter. the more skins, the more intense your dye will get. keeping the heat below a boil will bring out more of the yellow tones, boiling it will shift the colour more towards orange/rust in brown onion skins. you’ll see the colour of your dye bath change pretty quickly, the skins give off colour quite easily.

once you have extracted the dye, strain off the skins by using a colander/sieve/strainer lined with muslin cloth. make sure to squeeze out all the dye still left in the skins. pour your dye back into the pot.

dyeing:
now you’re ready to dye your fabric or thread. for dyeing with onion skin you don’t need to mordant your fabric beforehand, which makes it really easy and quick. take your previously scoured fabric or thread (make sure it’s wet before it goes into the dye pot – soaking longer is better, wetting it quickly is better than dry) and put it into the dye. now start heating the dye up and bring it to a simmer. let it simmer for half an hour or hour – check the colour of your fabric or thread. stir gently to move the material around so the dye can spread more evenly. you can let the material sit in the dye bath over night after it has cooled down. or take it out earlier, if you like the colour. just take into account that the colour looks more intense when it’s still wet and not yet rinsed. once you like the colour, take out your material and wring it out. hang to dry. i usually wait a few days up to two weeks before i rinse out excess dye. it helps the dye stick to the fiber a bit better. but if you’re too curious to wait, rinse right away until the water runs clear and hang up to dry.

you can use the dye bath more than once, until you have used up all colour. if i want to re-use it, but not right away, i pour it into strage jars with a screw lid when it’s still hot (put a wet towel under the glass container, so they don’t break from the heat; and best put them into your sink when pouring, so even if they break you don’t mess up your whole kitchen), screw the lid on and the jars will seal themselves shut when cooling down. this way you can store your dye for a few weeks before re-using.

here is a skein of onion dyed embroidery thread – already dried, but not yet rinsed. look at those wonderful orange-red-rusty tones!

it is a very straightforward dye made out of food waste, so give it a go – it’s fun and really easy. the tones you get are always beautiful.

i’m happy to answer questions, just leave me a message right here. and also do let me know if you tried out dyeing with onion skins, i’d be happy to see your results!

antique linen scarf

usually i do work on several projects at the same time. i have always worked like this, it’s the same with books – never just one.

so, one of my current long term projects is an antique linen scarf. it used to be a pillow case which i took apart. the linen is of a beautiful quality, handwoven, a wonderful linen sheen, drapes really nicely. it is has also thinned out a lot, it’s around 100 years old after all.

originally i wanted to keep it white and visibly mend all the worn out areas with vintage buttonhole silk. i did do a few of those mends. then, in summer 2020 i took a workshop in plant dyeing and dyed the whole piece with indigo.

then it sat for a while, as i wasn’t sure how to progress. the next idea was then to cover it with sashiko stitched geometric patterns, thus strengthening the fabric and keeping it from wearing out more. turns out, the fabric did only want to be stitched along the grain. so, i decided to listen and cover the whole piece in rows and rows of parallel sashiko stitching. this will take a while, but i’m not in a hurry. i stitch a few rows whenever i feel like it. whenever i come across another thinned out area, i mend it, patch it, and stitch on. i kept all the prior ideas in terms of stitching – taking out would have made the fabric deteriorate even more, and somehow i found it nice to have all stages of this project visible in some way; also visualising the way my stiching has already changed over time, and i’m sure it will keep doing so. and that’s just what learning is – practicing and having the practice change you and your work.

this is how thin the fabric is, it’s almost see-through.

a patched area:

and some mended areas that pre-date me, they already existed when i bought the pillow case; plus a hand stitched monogram. i really like finding mended areas in vintage or antique fabrics. they are traces of the textile’s story.

and a close up of the layers of sashiko stitching. the white ones were my first attempt. now the whole piece will be covered in stitches like the blue ones, in different shades of indigo dyed thread by Sashi.Co. on another note, if you want to know more about sashiko and hear the voices of japanese people who have been practicing sashiko throughout several generations, check out the instagram and youtube of atsushi from Sashi.Co (or Upcycle Stitches, which is their us website). sashiko is much more than just running stitches on fabric. there is a deep history and culture attached to sashiko, and i really recommend to get a glimpse into this world by listening and learning and not just copying a style.

yellow

recently i was gifted with a few tagetes flowers that were left since summer and still out in the winter cold. dried up and frozen over several times, i wondered if there was still any dye left in them.

tagetes erecta plant in winter

i picked the dried flower heads and took them home. to use them for dyeing, i put them in a pot with water, heated everything up and let it simmer for a while. you’re basically making tea, a very concentrated one. every once in a while i dip a piece of fabric to get an idea of the dye colour and strength.

tagetes flower head soaked in water to be heated up

once the dye is to my liking, i strain out the flower heads and let it cool down over night. as i mainly work with linen and cotton, for a dye like tagetes the fiber needs to be mordanted before dyeing, otherwise the colour will not stick to the fabric and wash out. for this i currently use an aluminium formate (aluminium triformiat, C3H3AlO6) cold mordant, which i keep in a bucket and throw threads or fabric to be dyed in there. it is really practical, as it works at room temperature, and you can leave fiber in there for a long time if you don’t want to or can’t dye them immediately.

the next step is the actual dyeing. for this i slowly heat the dye up and add the threads/fabric after taking them out of the mordant and removing any excess mordanting liquid.

threads in tagetes dye

leave the fabric or thread in the dye until the colour pleases you. it will get a little less intense after drying, so keep that in mind.

thread in tagetes dye

once you like the colour, take out your fabric or threads, squeeze excess dye (careful – hot!!!) and hang up to dry.

sashiko thread freshout of the dye bath
freshly dyed vintage cotton/linen handkerchief fabric
sashiko & cotton embroidery thread

after a while the dye bath loses its power – it will stilly dye, but the colours will be much gentler.

embroidery thread – dye bath already less intense

after your fabrics and threads are dry, wait approximately two weeks before rinsing them for the first time, this helps the colour settle and really stick to the fibers.

these are all fabrics and thread dyed with tagetes flowers from @westspacevienna roof top garden. first dye bath:

sashiko and embroidery thread
linen, cotton & cotton/linen fabric

second dye bath:

embroidery thread
embroidery thread

i’m still amazed at how much colour and vibrancy was left in these dried up, shrivelled flower heads. will definitely go hunting for dyestuff in nature in the next weeks. i guess there could be a few more happy surprises out there.

and i look very much forward to work with these materials. it’s really special to know where the plants come from and who grew them (thank you jana @netzwerkdachbesetzung & lilly @wiener_dachfarm for your generous gift of these flowers. ❤ and sandra @vermilio.vienna for helping me out with all my dyeing questions and troubleshooting). combined with vintage and antique fabric and thread i’m constantly hunting for, these will hopefully become nice and slow textile works in the near future.

plant dye

a few recent plant dyeing experiments.

purple/violet – avocado kernels with iron mordant (iron (II) acetate (basically rust in vinegar) on linen fabric and cotton embroidery floss

pink – avocado kernel on linen and cotton embroidery floss

dark brown – walnut husks on linen fabric and cotton embroidery floss

lighter brown – yellow onion skins with iron mordant on linen fabric and cotton embroidery floss

yellow – two different batches of tagetes flowers, collected in january (dried out, frozen over a few times, still on the stalks, and they still had so much colour!) on vintage handkerchiefs (cotton and linen/cotton), linen fabric, cotton embroidery floss and cotton sashiko thread

plant dyed fabrics and thread

#VisibleMending or How to Slow Down Fashion

My Mum always bought high quality tights for us kids. She used to hate those itchy-scratchy thick, uncomfortable, cheap tights she was made to wear when she was a kid, so she made a point of sparing us this experience. I had two pairs of wonderful cotton tights – a yellow and a white one. They must have been quite expensive, and my parents never had a lot of money anyway. None of this was on my mind when I decided, about 8 or 9 years old, it would be a good idea to take off my shoes, wearing those aforementioned tights, to win my games of Chinese jump rope (or Gummitwist in German, or Gummihupfen in Austrian). Of course, jumping around in the street didn’t exactly help to make my tights last; I completely ripped them open.

So my Mum made me mend the holes in my tights. I hated it back then, but that’s how I learned basic mending skills. She always mended clothes, that was normal. Every kid in my class wore clothes handed down from older siblings, clothes that were mended and amended to last longer, fit someone else. The idea of buying a piece of clothing to only throw it away after a few times of wearing it didn’t exist in my world. And I never got comfortable with it, even before I learned about fast fashion and how it is even possible to produce clothes so cheap people would rather throw them away than repair them and wear them to death.

Fast forward 30 years. Approximately. I’m back to mending my clothes. For different reasons. It is an act of resisting fast fashion and mindless consumerism. It is also an act of slowing down, being mindful and present. Moving my hands. Creating, being creative. Enjoying the concept of wabi-sabi – seeing beauty in something imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It also means I get to keep clothes I have worn so long they now carry memories and feel like a second skin.

I especially enjoy mending jeans, and mending them visibly, so the mending itself stands out. Jeans fit best and feel best once they are worn in, start to fade. Their indigo dye ages so gracefully and carries the imprint of their aging and fading away. This combines so well with the japanese art of sashiko and boro. Sashiko is a kind of reinforcement stitching or functional embroidery that was used to reinforce worn parts of clothes or other textiles. Boro means textiles that were patched and repaired, often over and over again.

To me, using these old techniques on my clothes, most of them fast fashion, but worn over years and years, feels like slowing these pieces down by making them last much longer than was ever intended. It means also slowing them down by not needing to buy something to replace them, thus buying less clothes and also slowing down the cycle of fast fashion.

Here are a few examples of mendings on jeans I did over the last year:

cc7b3006-6e49-4b82-9b8a-26e83d8cfca3

This was my first go at sashiko. The stitches are quite irregular, but I liked the look of it.

bdca633a-8a43-4dc4-9ad6-84c6b3b0665f

Blown-out bottom; you can see added signs of wear and tear on the stitched up part. The original textile will continue to wear out and the patch underneath will eventually surface. Once the sashiko stitches will wear out, I will add to the mending and reinforce it again.

ea2446a5-515d-4de4-95bf-a1df52b00fbf

Small and easy repair on the bottom of a leg. I used vintage denim to patch the hole, a tiny scrap of jeans I got from my partner’s Mum, who is a seamstress and happily passed on some collected pieces of denim scrap for me to reuse.

a60830f8-c9c0-44cf-b2ab-24115a654b63

Reinforcement of a whole area that had become really thin and worn. It will also continue to wear out and the patch I stitched on on the inside will show eventually.

5fe2f6a5-8b42-4986-a206-ff97cf552ba2

Another blown-out bottom, also the mending itself has added some wear and tear over time and more and more of the patch underneath is showing.

64c22c06-9cdc-4813-83d0-13a59e82f23e

My latest piece of mending with quite minimal stitching. Don’t know if it keeps up, but if not, more stitching will be added.

50b7ac13-2d97-40bd-9322-a97650ad7429

Not classical sashiko mending, but a classical embroidery stitch to cover up some worn out areas.

01bfd390-2396-4b77-afc0-f4b427be4046

Same here, the pocket seam was frayed and I reinforced it with a variation on buttonhole stitch, plus herringbone stitch for the other worn out areas. The whole bottom will need some fixing up soon, before it blows out completely. It’s easier to mend before there are actual holes.

If you have questions or thoughts about mending clothes or repairing your jeans, just let me know. Also, there are a lot of ressources out there all over the web. Check out these hashtags for inspiration: #denimrepair, #visiblemending, #sashikodenim, #repairdontreplace to name just a few.