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

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.

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.

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

#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:


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.