Archive for the 'Sewing' Category

Stage 5 – Coloured stitches

Colour exploration continued in this stage, moving back into stitch. I needed to select two primary colours, work on a black background and experiment with proportions and placement to see the impact on the apparent colour.

I chose yellow and red as my colours. Wanting to continue a mix of hand and machine stitching, I decided to use the machine and to start off with the 10/2 mercerised cotton from Lunatic Fringe (I discovered back here that my sewing machine is quite happy to use these direct from the cone).

photo from Lunatic Fringe site

The set of colours includes two reds (10-Red is marginally towards yellow, 5-Red is marginally towards blue) and two yellows (10-yellow is lemony, 5-yellow is more golden). The top few lines of the sample is just a check of tension settings and a try of cottolin to see if the machine liked it and if it would give a more matt finish. The machine wasn’t keen and the look wasn’t hugely different so I didn’t continue with cottolin.

My comments on the samples are based on looking at the original under a “daylight” lamp (it’s a dull, rainy Sydney afternoon outside). Unfortunately the colour of the photos have shifted a bit.

Using the numbering on the photo, in section 1 I tried the two closer primaries – 10-Red and 5 Yellow. Proportions of each colour remain constant throughout – 50/50 – but the distance between varies. In the wider spaced area to the right the yellow looks slightly more lemony than on the cone and the black around it very faintly greenish. The red looks unchanged from the cone. On the left they combine to give a variegated orange effect. The red is not individually apparent at all – it looks orange. The yellow retains some individuality throughout. The impact varies depending on distance and angle of viewing. Typing at my desk and looking across at the sample lying on the worktable, the background fabric is hidden by the closer stitching. The red and yellow are hard to focus – the effect is a textured orange.

The next experiment was combinations of the slightly different yellows and reds, plus I’d read about long machine jump stitches on Claire’s blog (her post here, describing a class with Pamela Priday) and wanted to see if I could do something similar (I don’t know Pamela’s technique unfortunately). The thread on top covers some of the thread below, changing the visible proportions.

Top Row of cross-hatching:

Combo 2: 10-Red over 5-Yellow. A rich combination. From a distance the colours blend to a textured orange. Closer, the colours enrich each other.

Combo 3: 5-Yellow over 10-Red. From a distance the red is not apparent. The yellow appears shifted towards orange. Closer, the two colours remain distinct but the yellow dominates and seems to have an additional glow.

Combo 4: 5-Yellow over 5-Red. The yellow is fractionally cooler, the red looks slightly dull.

Combo 5: 5-Red over 5-Yellow. The red is shifted slightly to orange, the yellow is shifted slightly green.

Bottom Row of cross-hatching:

Combo 6: 10-Red over 10-Yellow. The red is distinctly shifted towards orange. The yellow isn’t changed.

Combo 7: 10-Yellow over 10-Red. The red is shifted, but looks dull. The yellow is unchanged.

Combo 8: 10-Yellow over 5-Red. Neither colour appears changed.

Combo 9: 5-Red over 10-Yellow. The red has shifted towards orange. The yellow is unchanged.

Overall the differences are slight, but the 10-red and 5-yellow combination looks more harmonious and shows the greatest and richest mixing of colour. The yellows tend to dominate in all combinations, and the 10-yellow shows no impact from either red.

The large scale of the cross-hatching limited the amount of optical colour mixing. I moved to rayon machine threads, red in the needle and yellow in the bobbin. The red is on the orange side, the yellow is golden.

The first run goes from top left, clockwise around the perimeter. I gradually tightened the top tension. At the beginning no bobbin thread is visible. As the stitching progresses first tiny pin-pricks then dots of yellow bobbin thread start showing. I kept going until I reached maximum needle tension, which still wasn’t pulling up much bobbin thread. While at the machine I was disappointed. The lighting there is not good and I couldn’t see any change in the apparent colour. In better light there is a subtle but distinct shift in apparent colour, gradually moving to orange as the yellow bobbin thread takes effect.

The second run starts at the bottom and moves clockwise. I had loosened bobbin tension and was able to get much more yellow bobbin thread to the surface. I had the machine running quickly and the stitches are very small. The rayon looses all sheen and just looks dull. There is actually a sick green tinge, presumably be the influence of the black background with the more open stitching pattern.

Middle left I went into a frenzied zig-zag motion (by moving the frame, not using the machine stitch), trying to get more solid areas of yellow visible. This leads on to the central meandering zig-zag part, which I think is the most interesting, energetic and successful section. I like a line that manages to be jagged and smooth at the same time. I was also able to get some good colour change by modifying the needle tension, effectively changing proportions of yellow and red. The colours mix and work together well, but still retain some individuality which I think adds to the interest.

Stage 6 done

as much as it ever will be.

It’s not pretty (“breathtakingly awful” and “no redeeming qualities” are in my jotted notes), the process wasn’t pretty, the detritus in my work room isn’t pretty – but “done” sounds very pretty.

The yarn wrapping went smoothly. I’ve done lots of wrappings for weaving and it makes sense – expand in direct proportion to wind the warp. Weft and structure as well as sett, skill etc will have a big impact, but the wrapping gives a good general indication.

For stitching I’m not so sure – there are hugely more variables. Still the process was pleasant, I used a mix of made-en and bought-en yarns, and I was generally pleased with the result (although the mid-to-dark section looks a bit flat and dull).

On the left is the stitched end result – you can click on it for large if you really feel the need, but I’m not recommending it! The original photo is on the right.
What went wrong? I started at the top using some of the homemade yarns posted here and just didn’t like the look – colour, texture or shape.  I forced forward, then got to the foreground and started piling things on the fabric to build it up.

At this point I realised I was panicking and walked away for a while, reminded myself that texture and colour proportions were the point, definitely not reproducing an image and not something in deep 3D. The assignment asked for a sample, not a finished piece of work. What I had was just a pile of stuff plonked roughly in a circle. I pulled out the sketchbook and tried to draw lines and shapes that might balance the stitching a bit, treating it as a textured but flat design. Then I slept on it.

This afternoon I did battle again, and declare it enough.

What have I learnt? I already knew I have a long way to go with design, and with stitching if I make that part of my ongoing work, but I have been confirmed in that. The areas with tulle and silk tissue laid over the base fabric helped calm things down and give a place for the eye to rest. Couching with a strip of tulle over the “sewn snippets yarn” I made worked quite well. I don’t like working with strips of pantyhose and don’t like the effect I got from it. Almost the last things I did were the stem stitch around the border on the left, to unify and contain things a bit, and the couched bundle of threads (3-step machine zigzagged) that goes diagonally up from right to left and a few other places. I think both helped pull things together at least a little, although really it’s still just an ugly bunch of stuff.

Finally, my image editing software (gimp) has a colour value histogram function (which I found after all the palaver on values I went through). On the left is a comparison of the original photo and a photo of the stitching, which I think is a decent match.

Next steps are write a review of project 2, write a short reflective commentary on the whole assignment, and package everything up to post to my tutor. That will be my focus the next few evenings after the day job.

Stage 6 – Using threads & yarns to create texture

This stage has a few parts to it: experiment in making my own yarns; select a drawing looking at texture and colour effects/proportion; select yarns and threads and make a wrapping in the same proportion; work a sample.

I seem to have got a bit stuck so have decided to push on through, drawing various lines and saying “good enough”. So this post is progress to date and by the end of the weekend I will post the end.

Rather than using a drawing, I decided to work from a photo taken during my recent Western Australia trip. I’d been very conscious while travelling of building up a library of colour and texture photos in three categories – rust, botanical (especially bark) and rocks – and really wanted to start using them. So far I’ve created new sketchbook pages for rust and botanical.

Initially I looked for dark and intense colours, but couldn’t find a photo that fit – there was just too much light. Eventually I selected this photo of a salt lake near the town of Lake Grace. There is lots of texture, crunchy and jagged. There is also a range of colours, generally earthy (I cropped out the green fields at the top), and values. I thought it could be interesting to develop lots of textured layers with couching, so I planned to use my experimentation in creating yarns to build up a stash of candidates to be couched in the stitch sample.

The next step was figuring out what colours were in the photo, to direct the yarn creation. My first attempt using inktense pencils was disappointing but useful – there was much less yellow and orange than I first thought. I was much happier with my second attempt, shown in the thumbnail, which used water colour and a heavy structure gel.

Still not satisfied, I tried a computer auto-generated palette and manually picking colours to create a little bubble picture. By this stage I was perhaps losing the plot. I decided to investigate proportions – by putting a grid of 100 rectangles over the photo, selecting a “representative” colour from each, putting a rectangle of that in a new image, printing it out, cutting it up, rearranging the colours roughly by value, glueing them onto another page.

Perhaps time for a bad pun about losing and finding proportion. I eventually decided values were roughly 30% light; 30% light-to-mid; 30% mid-to-dark; 10% dark. I later found some functions in the software (gimp) that assist in this sort of analysis. On one hand I feel I need to trust my eyes to do this; on the other, the exercise was probably good training, and why not use the tools you have available? Draw line. Move on.

The next step was experimenting with creating yarns. Given the plan was to sample couching I didn’t have to worry about the practicalities of pulling my creations through fabric.

From top to bottom:

Row 1 – The plastic outer covering of an electrical cable. There’s an interesting ridged texture, but I don’t like the plastic look. Possibly cut into thinner strips it would be more usable.

Row 2 – one of the wires in the cable with parts of the plastic coating cut away to expose the wire. I like the bumps and flashes of colour achieved, but sharp ends scratching and catching got old quickly.

Row 3 – some tissue paper torn into strips then twisted using a spinning wheel. I was thinking of shifu – woven paper – and the work by Wang Lei , knitted “imperial robes” made with yarn spun from Chinese-English dictionaries, that I saw at White Rabbit Gallery earlier this year. Technique-wise I have work to do. For the current purpose I like the crunchiness and angles but the colours didn’t mix up as much as I hoped.

Row 3 – A number of fancy yarns stitched together on the machine. I have a beading foot, which helped keep things together and used a three step zigzag which makes the yarns separate in rather a nice, lively way. I was hoping lighter colours would calm down the pink more. Possibilities include overstitching some more (but losing texture) or possibly knocking back the colour by overlaying with an organza while stitching.

Photo 2, top to bottom.

Row 1 – A bundle of cotolin threads oversewn with (ordinary) zigzag. I was looking at the top part of the salt lake image which looks almost like a light pink stream, and trying to create a lightly textured, lightly coloured yarn. On its own it looks rather bland, but it could work well in the sample.

Row 2 – This was based on the bottom part of the salt lake image where there is a lot of colour variation in the rocky texture. I gathered a pile of snippets and offcuts in the colour range, then machine stitched them onto a strip of tulle. I was thinking of gorilla yarn, where you card a bunch of “stuff” together then spin a lumpy, colourful yarn. I ran out of time to do that and thought this could be a quick substitute. On its own it’s too bitsy, but I think this could work if integrated a bit better while couching, for example by couching with another strip of tulle, or overlaying with layers of tulle or organza before stitching.

Row 3 – cut up pantyhose. I tried to add some texture and interest with knots. It would be interesting to combine this with the stitched snippets idea of the previous sample.

Row 4 – A braid (12-Z-ridged-spiral) made with cotolin. I wanted to try this even though I thought it would be too formal in appearance for the particular application. My highly variable tension makes it less formal, but still not right for the sample. I got the instructions from Makiko Tada’s Comprehensive Treatise of Braids VI and would like to try mixing it up with the Braid-in-Braid idea, where an earlier braid is carried up the middle, then brought out and wrapped around every once in a while. Perhaps one could use individual yarns rather than a braid inside, and swap in and out colours, or try using textured yarns. I do like the way the colours work in the sample.

There were a couple of other little bits, but somehow they missed the photo shoot. Line. Move.

Next steps are the yarn wrapping and actual sample. It’s Friday evening and the clock is ticking.

Machine stitching

A few years ago I did a full week class “Optical Colour Mixing” tutored by Ken Smith. It was my very first Orange Textile Fibre Forum, close to my first free machine stitching, and I remember working very hard! Just before my recent holiday I went to look through some old journals – the very first one I picked up opened at my class notes (23 April 2006).

I haven’t done much since then, so have been trying to refresh my mind and hands and reproduce some of the effects Ken taught. So there was lots of play with both top and bobbin tension, and bits of moss and granite stitch, feather stitch, whip stitch and near the bottom just a little cable with a boucle silk in the bobbin.

My sewing machine behaved beautifully – zero broken threads and needles, little if any tangling or malformed stitches. Mostly I used rayon threads and the result is overall flat and uninteresting – I was very jerky in my movements and possibly that means the threads aren’t lying as smoothly as they could. In particular the ribbon effect on the left doesn’t have the gloss of my 2006 sample.

I think the most interesting parts are where I had 2 threads in the needle (red and orange), blue in the bobbin, all the colours showing and stitches overlapping to give some texture. The feather stitch between 11 and 12 o’clock is the clearest example. The cable stitch (6 to 7 o’clock) using the heavy silk is also effective.

The first sample doesn’t fit neatly into the Project Stages, given I was more interested in reviewing my old notes. There’s some general preparation and familiarisation (stage 1), some mark-making and lines (stage 2) and some texture (stage 5). So I started a second sample, following more closely the Stage 2 suggestions. I used a lime green rayon thread, and in the photo the back of the work is showing because when I came back from holiday I accidentally started working on the other side! Oops.

However that’s the work I find most interesting. A parcel was waiting when I got back from holiday – the complete Tubular Spectrum Plus kit from Lunatic Fringe Yarns. This is 20 colours plus white, black and 5 shades of grey in 10/2 mercerized cotton. Lunatic Fringe focus on weavers and I don’t know how to translate that into stitching terms – it looks to me about half the width of #5 perle cotton.

On the top and right of the sample is the machine stitched 10/2 cotton – used through the needle and the thread coming directly from the cone. I took it fairly slowly and used a 130N needle which has a nice big eye. The needle threader couldn’t cope and the fancy stitch pattern about 2 o’clock was challenging, but apart from that the machine continued to work smoothly. At the top I experimented with stitch length, then lines different widths apart, crossing, and some rayon lines for contrast. The solid area at the right is the 7 tubular spectrum colours from yellow to blue-green. Top and bottom tension is pretty much balanced and just tiny flecks of the lime green rayon in the bobbin show through. Tiny flecks of the 10/2 cotton show on the back too, and there is definite potential there. There is some distortion of the cotton fabric – a heavier cotton could help.

Emboldened by this success at the bottom of the sample I tried Bendigo Mills 2 ply wool in the needle, direct from the cone. Threading was tricky, but achieved with some Thread Heaven. There was some looping at the back, but raising the top tension helped – at the price of losing some of the loft of the yarn. Zigzag was tricky tension-wise, but I think has potential for some interesting effects playing with bobbin colour. I went very slowly to let the stitches form, but there were no actual breaks. I think it has definite potential to provide cover and contrast of texture in the right situation.

This second sample also sits somewhere between stages 1, 2 and 5. I would need to practise a lot if I want to use these techniques in actual work. I found using the hoop very annoying. In Ken Smith’s class we layered up fabrics with interfacing so didn’t need that support. Maybe I could explore some alternatives to escape the hoop without introducing stiffness from a permanent interfacing.

I’m now looking at my weaving yarns with changed eyes. They were already fair game for hand stitching and couching or cabling on the machine, but it opens up a lot of possibilities, flexibility and ease of use if they can also be machine stitched through the needle.


My Bag for All Seasons is done!!!

As you may tell from the profligate use of exclamation marks, I am pleased – with both the bag and that it’s done 🙂

Parts of it have been seen before on the blog. The feature fabric in the centre is “freestyle rosepath”, blogged here. It was initially intended as a very simple bag, similar to one I’ve done before (here). There was a certain amount of languishing and distraction, then I decided to use it in a class.

This meant more fabric was required and it was a fun and fast (for me) weave – read its story here.

The bag class with Helen MacRitchie was a very pleasant weekend. I posted about it here, and you can see some of Helen’s lovely work such as her award-winning bag pictured here and at the moment some in her etsy shop (including one with nunofelted silk georgette in a spiral fabric which I rather covet…).

At this point the bag could pose with others from the class and looked fairly complete – except for the vital detail of handles, plus how was I going to attach the tab closure artfully balanced for the photo shoot? The photo on the right shows some of the sampling done to answer those questions.

None of the commercial handles available worked with the bag so I decided to try braiding some, using the same cottolin that was the warp for both the fabrics used. The first attempt was the flat braid on the left, but it was too flimsy and stretchy. I decided to try a round braid with a commercial cord at the core to provide some extra strength.

This photo shows the setup. I used the warping wheel to wind the warps for the braid, and it also provided a very convenient way to hold the core cord while I was braiding. I wanted mixed colours – version one was too green, but I was happy with version two. (An aside – my original improvised tama seen here used plastic embroidery thread bobbins attached to metal washers. They weren’t really comfortable in the hand, so now I’m trying some door stops with more metal washers inside. A definite improvement).

The next issue was how to attach the braid handle to the bag. First idea was some kind of tab on the bag creating a channel – the braid goes through and is finished with a knot and tassel. Lots of problems with that.  On my bookshelf I found a copy of Stuart Gainger’s Creative ropecraft. In the photo above of samples you might be able to see the Turk’s Head knots on the practice braids. The idea was to sew the braid directly to the bag, working around the knots which would hide the join. I actually started on the bag doing this, but it was harder to do than I expected plus I worried that the weight of the bag on the small sewn area would tear out.

On the right of the sample photo is the final idea – a Prolong Knot, which Mr Grainger informs us is “a method of extending a flat three lead four bight Turk’s Head into a rectangular form”. The “rope” used is three strands of cottolin, twisted together very tightly (using an electric drill with a cuphook instead of a drillbit to hold the threads) then folded in half to form a two ply cord. At the bottom right of the photo is the knot, still loose. Above that is the same knot, with the lead doubled and everything tightened up. I have to admit it took me quite a few attempts to get the hang of this. It was only when I used my “weaver’s eye” to follow the developing interlacement that I got it. At the top of the photo is a version that has been extended by a lengthening/repeating process, which was no trouble at all (really – no sarcasm. By then I knew it followed our familiar over-under).

Here is a closeup of the result. I sewed on the braid, over a wider area than was possible with the earlier attempt. I used a tacky glue to attach the knots, reinforced by sewing around the edges (using more of the cottolin plus thread heaven). I’m hoping the combination of all this will distribute weight in use well enough. As you can see the knots also solved my closure attachment problem. I just kept extending the knot until it was long enough, then used the sew-on/glue-on/sew-on technique.

At one point I was going to wind some more cottolin cord over the central areas of the handles, as extra reinforcement where it will be held and to camouflage dirty/sweaty handmarks. But it didn’t look good, to be honest I’m a bit over the whole thing, and I can always add it later if necessary.

Here’s a final shot of the inside of the bag. Have I mentioned the attention to detail of Helen’s bags? Fully lined of course. A couple of pockets, zippered, open, and nice&tight for a pen. A neat casing to hold a snap-open frame. The tab and magnetic catch closure. And you can’t really see it, but a firm bottom supported by cute little feet.

This has always been intended as a gift – fortunately to someone close so I feel comfortable saying “it’s my first – give it back for me to fix if something doesn’t work out”.  I’m already thinking of a few changes for mine – but there’s quite a queue of things beforehand.

A Bag for all Seasons

I’ve just spent a great weekend doing Helen MacRitchie’s class, run by ATASDA. That’s Helen in the photo, together with some of the results (Kathy G wasn’t able to come the second day, and Jennifer was still madly stitching.)

Helen is an excellent teacher. She provided us with clear notes including lots of photos, so we could focus on watching her demonstrations and just jot down a few extra personal reminders. Helen makes very well engineered bags. We used a a range of interfacings, wadding, various bits of handbag hardware and a wide variety of fabrics. More important were all the techniques and options that Helen taught – for example at least five different methods to make pockets and a huge number of those small details which make all the difference in a final product that is beautiful, functional and hard wearing.

Kathy W's bag

With 2 days of focused work most people finished their bags. We all used Helen’s basic pattern but there was lots of variety in the results – with and without a frame, additional depth, the fabrics of course and all the details of handles, closures etc. I was busy and only took a couple of photos. Kathy used some lovely handwork on her bag front.

Pamela's bag

No details of mine yet. It’s the “hydrangea” coloured one on the left in the back and used the fabric I posted about here. I’ll write more about it once it is finished – I think I was the only one who left today with significant work still to be done (closure and handles). In my own defence, cutting and pieceing together the handwovens took a fair chunk of time yesterday (part of it breathing deeply before engaging the scissors!)


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November 2021

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