Thursday, 21 March 2013

[Belated] Happy Equinox!

Yesterday was the vernal equinox, meaning that the 24 hours were neatly divided into equal parts darkness and wintry gloom. Last year's suspicions about the local ice-cream van were confirmed: it follows the solar calendar and appears for the first time at the spring equinox. (Is this standard practice for ice-cream vans?) I have to say its outing yesterday seemed rather a token one and not quite the triumphal return you'd hope for after 6 months' hibernation; I only heard a 5-second snatch of the tune and I doubt that any children ran out in the freezing, damp dusk to get a Fab (or whatever it is these days). But still, officially spring has sprung! We're into the light half of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And as I type this it's almost threatening to brighten up outside.

Now, remember those pyjama trousers I made for myself? That looked a bit posh? And had that vintage navy ribbon drawstring that finished them off so nicely?
Yes. In the washing machine, the drawstring did pretty much finish the trousers off. Not so nicely. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that this might happen - I'm very careful about pre-washing fabrics, but somehow I just didn't think to pre-wash the cotton ribbon. Obviously some self-kicking has been done but I think it could have been worse: I've got lots of this navy ribbon and I [used to] really like it, so if I hadn't learnt my lesson here, chances are I would have ruined something else later on, and that could easily have been a much more time-consuming project in fabric that I was more attached to. None of the other whites in the wash got stained. Plus, PJs don't go out in public (I've observed some neighbours going down to the mailboxes in their nightwear but I consider it a bit uncouth, and let's not even mention the man spotted visiting the garbage chute in his boxers) so I can still make use of these. I could replace the waistband, but there are also those blue blobs down the front of the trousers. A long soak in oxygen bleach only faded the stains slightly, but I'm loathe to try chlorine bleach - it's the dead-tree-dead-fish symbol that puts me off: like Silent Spring condensed into one simple line drawing. The Internet says Dylon make a colour run remover - has anyone tried it?
To balance out that little catastrophe I had a crafting success too: an improvised hat. I couldn't find quite what I wanted on Ravelry so I made Emily Ocker's Circular Beginning and knitted my hat from the top down. Somehow improvising seemed easier in that direction, and I didn't even have to do a gauge swatch because I just kept knitting until the hat was the size I wanted. We had a few days of lovely mild weather while I was working on this and I thought I might have missed the boat, but as soon as I'd cast off the temperature obligingly plummeted again and the hat's already been very useful.
The yarn is from my favourite wool company, Garthenor (old-school website alert!). It's a Ryeland DK that I've had stashed for years and sadly is no longer produced. Ryeland wool is very springy and amazingly resistant to shrinking. I once knitted up some little sample squares in one of Garthenor's other Ryeland yarns and subjected them to all kinds of abuse in an attempt to felt them, and they bravely withstood it all! They got a bit softer and fluffier but refused to shrink even a millimetre. When I emailed Chris at Garthenor about this he was unsurprised and explained that Ryeland sheep were bred for exactly those qualities - and I thought they'd just been bred to look cute.
I've also been continuing to make slow progress on my epic quilt. I suppose the passing of the equinox means I haven't finished it this winter, but I wasn't really attached to that deadline anyway. Honestly, this quilt has been going on so long that it's transcended the whole concept of deadlines. I've now turned the fourth corner and am on the home straight with the binding. Not much to be done after that...
Is it springlike where you are? Did you manage to finish your winter sewing projects in time to use them? I think I need to work on winter clothing all summer and sew summery dresses and tops through the winter, just to have things ready in time for the right season. Perhaps I should only follow Southern Hemisphere craft blogs??

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A blog post mainly to appease you, Mother

OK, my Main Reader, AKA my mum, has been agitating for a new post for a few weeks. It being two months since my last post, and with Mother's Day coming up this weekend, I thought I'd oblige.

And... I finished something! [waits for trumpet fanfare to die down] Not the epic quilt project that has been in progress for perhaps a decade, although the end of that is perilously close. Just some much-needed pyjama trousers; Boyfriend has three me-made pairs now so this latest one is for me. I started them at the end of last year and they ended up stagnating slightly through a combination of a failed buttonhole and an elastic shortage. I solved both problems yesterday and wore my finished object to bed last night. Isn't "object" a funny word to apply to pyjama trousers? At secondary school I had a particularly horrible sewing teacher who specialised in making students cry, and she banned the word "thing" from her classroom. You couldn't describe what you were making as a thing, you had to call it an artefact. As in, "Miss H is literally going to kill me, I've left my artefact at home". Or, "Quick, somebody distract Miss H, this stupid artefact is jammed in her precious machine". If you had a heat map of usage of the word 'artefact' in Britain, everywhere would be pretty much dark blue, maybe a few little yellow patches for museums, and then that school sewing room would be glowing red-hot. (If there are any sci-fi geeks reading this, no, there wouldn't be hotspots where people were watching Warehouse 13, because those are American artifacts with an i.) [DIGRESSION!]
These are really just bog-standard pyjama trousers, not fancy ones like Anna Noodlehead's. They have elastic and a drawstring, like the cosy People Tree PJs I got for Christmas; it means you can undo the drawstring to go to sleep without losing your trousers completely (TMI?). They look a bit posh (in real life, not so much in the photos) because the fabric is a fine organic cotton damask - not really my usual style at all, I'm more of a flannel girl - that I got for £4 or £5 from the remnants box at the long-gone Texture in Stoke Newington. For me that might be the main downside of shopping for all my fabrics online: no remnants box. The one at Texture was brilliant; they did a lot of made-to-measure curtains and cushions etc so there were often big remnants, and they were priced pretty well. This piece of cream leaf-pattern damask was big enough for these trousers with significant scrappage left over. My drawstring is navy blue cotton ribbon from a bundle of vintage trims I got on Ebay a few years ago. I added a little patch pocket to the back, which didn't go on perfectly and probably isn't very useful, but somehow makes them look a bit more substantial and less home-made. The most recent pair of PJ trousers I made for Boyfriend have in-seam pockets, which he loves, but I felt like they almost doubled the amount of work on that artefact.
I think I might have had the beautiful Stella McCartney bra from this bra-sewing blog post in the back of my mind when I picked out the drawstring - I'm planning to start sewing underwear. I've been thinking a lot recently about why I sew, and wondering whether my sewing is just a cunning disguise for consumerism. (Sarai often writes thoughtfully on this subject on the Coletterie blog, by the way - she's well worth following even if you don't sew her patterns.) Anyway, I won't go into that too much right now because it's complex and I haven't quite got my thoughts in order yet. But it occurred to me that I want my sewing to be of practical use, and one thing I struggle to find from the "ethical" companies I buy from is underwear, especially bras but these days strangely also knickers. At one stage pretty much the only organic and fairly traded clothing available was basic pants, and now everyone seems to have stopped selling them! So I had this kind of minor epiphany (after yet another depressing failure of a trip to M&S - Boyfriend said, "Why don't you just go to M&S like everybody else?" so I did and it reminded me why I don't) and realised that underwear is perhaps the most useful thing I could sew for myself. Useful is Good. Anyone else making their own knickers?