watermelons for summer :: a twirly skirt

the beginning

The great wool tidy has revealed many treasures (as well as plenty for recycling) including this summery watermelon fabric and a pretty blue paisley that looks oh so French.  They’re cotton – and that bubbly sort of fabric – oh, what’s it called?  I can never remember, but have loved it ever since my Mum bought me a pair of pink and white stripe tailored shorts in it when I was 11.  Begins with an “s” … it will come to me.

Two metres of each fabric – perfect for a twirly skirt just like this long time favourite.  And perfect for the exceedingly hot summer we are having – lovely and soft and floaty and long – ‘t’will both keep the sun off and a breeze circulating :-)

I’ve made lots of these skirts – they are a little time consuming only in that it’s amazing how long it can take to gather up length after length after length of fabric – but they are so simple and can be dressed up or down to wear anywhere.  The only sizing is in the waist – and that’s elastic.  I’ve made Abby the most over the years – this little Aunt Grace number is still a favourite that she now wears with knee high black lace up boots and a little cropped jacket (I know – how they grow up).

abby's

I made a beautiful red, cream and black one for Mum one Christmas that she wears in winter with black opaque tights and a black turtleneck, and of course the original one I made with Ruth in class – that was such a lovely morning and such a delight to be able to simply wander upstairs to all the beautiful fabrics and trims when I needed something.  Oh if only all our sewing could be done with such treasures at hand :-)

original

You can use as many different fabrics as you like and completely go to town on the trim if you want.  I decided to keep this watermelony one pretty simple – given there was no more than 2 metres of any trim anywhere in Bootville, keeping it simple meant I didn’t have to go to the fabric store and spend money.  Of course, I may do this tomorrow, but for now, simple it is.

And, it occurred to me as I was slicing up the fabric, that you might like to make one too.  So here’s a really simple tutorial for how to make up your own.  Starting with … clear your sewing table.  This is so empowering :-)

ready to start

Then … cut the fabric!  I use a rotary cutter and quilting ruler.  Can you read that below?  Ignore that big 6.01 that’s staring out at you from the middle background.  I don’t know why it won’t go away.  Just choose your fabrics – order them from tiers one to six, fold them like you would your patchwork fabric (i.e. selvedges together, folded once, then twice, place your quilting ruler at the appropriate mark and with your rotary cutter, slice straight across the width of the fabric so you wind up with a piece that is – if we’re talking about tier 1 – 8 long x 42 inches wide.

Now – a word about this tier one piece.  It will be the yoke of the skirt.  When I was first shown how to make the skirt, I was told to cut just one width for the yoke ’cause you don’t want a lot of bulk around your waist.  However, these days (after a massive FAIL at losing weight last year – I have lost 4 kilos this year, but we still have a waaaaaay to go) one width only just makes it around my hips (well, lower stomach really, it’s a very strange thing my lower stomach).  I did cut this watermelony tier one piece just one width but it’s a bit snug.  I would recommend adding an extra bit of fabric just to keep it comfy – and eliminate the “fitted look” – if you find that one width is just a bit too close.  I reckon, measure your widest bit and add an extra 10 inches, don’t you think, in which case you’ll need two widths of 8 inches – one full one and one that you’ll use a bit of.

cutting instructions

Gathering – now that you’ve cut your pieces, the rest is just a repeat of side seams + gathering threads + gathering to size + stitching to previous tier.  Do your side seams first – you stitch each tier piece together so that they form a giant ring – and make sure you don’t twist the pieces or it will be like a piece of knitting joined in the round – an upside down twist that will be impossible to fix without unpicking.  Just be mindful.  And you probably have your gathering completely sorted.  But just in case you don’t, here’s a few strategies I’ve developed over the years …

::  I always do two rows of gathering thread at the longest stitch my machine will do, leaving nice long tails at both ends.  Now when I was a wilful teenager, I didn’t believe my Mum when she told me I needed two rows of gathering thread – I thought that was a waste of bobbin thread and my valuable time.  But she was right – one row makes mincy looking gathers that can’t be spread out as evenly and don’t sit as neatly.   Two rows it is.  Use a colour thread you don’t care about and wonder why you bought it – that way you won’t feel cheated as you race through it.

where to sew the gathering thread

:: It doesn’t matter how many widths of fabric I am gathering, I NEVER use two continuous rows of gathering thread.  You are almost guaranteed to snap the thread somewhere – and will have to start again – and it makes pulling it up a pain in the butt.  I ALWAYS stop and start at the beginning and end of each side seam.  So – in Tier 2 – which has 2 widths of 8 inches – I will start and stop twice.  That way I only have to pull up one width of fabric at a time.  In Tier 6 – which has 5 widths of fabric of 7 inches – I will start and stop 5 times.

:: To evenly distribute my gathers I do a little maths.  How wide is the previous tier – let’s say tier 4 – each width is 122cm wide and I have three pieces  = 366cm.  How many pieces are there in tier 5 which will need to stitch on to tier 4 – 4 pieces.  So I divide the bottom of tier 4 into 4 – 366 divided by 4 = roughly 91.5cm.  So starting at my central side seam (I always line up one side seam on each tier and call this the central side seam) I measure 91.5 and place a pin, then measure 91.5cm again and place a pin, and measure again and place a pin – and of course the last one will be back at your central side seam.  Then I pin tier 5 into place – the side seams of each tier 5 piece will match up to a pin on the tier 4 piece.  You with me ?!  So now you know your gathered pieces need to fit within these spaces.  Which leads me to …

:: Gathering it up!  First – will your fabric fray?  If it is of that persuasion, then please zigzag the edges first – I know, more thread, more time.  But if you’re fussing with the gathers for a while, some fabrics will nastily fray all the way down to your gathering stitches and that isn’t fun.

Second – I always pull from the left side so on the right side I tie a knot with the two ends from my two rows on top.  This way, when I’m cheerfully spreading my gathers out nice and even, they don’t slip off the far end without me noticing.  That may send very silly – but I have done it!  Once that knot is tied, you can spread your gathers evenly right up to the end and they are going nowhere.

Now don’t just yank on the gathering thread at the left- there’s always a bit of resistance at first – start with a gentle pull to loosen the bobbin stitches underneath and then your gathering threads will slide through the fabric nicely.  I don’t worry about doing it all evenly in the beginning – waste of time.  I just pull up as much as I need to to make this width fit my designated space (remember our pins) and then when I have it the right size I tie a knot in the left hand two top threads and then my gathers will not fall out and I can spread the gathers evenly right up to both ends.  Pin, pin, pin and sew …

:: Final word on gathering – I always sew the new tier on with the gathered side up.  The flat side of the previous tier will sit nice and flat on the bottom with minimum supervision – the gathers themselves need a bit more of your attention.  I like to keep the tops of the gathers neatly aligned with the straight edge of the previous tier and make sure there are no strange skewif bits going on – you know, you want your gathers to lay in nice straight lines not go awkwardly sideways.  If they’re on the bottom it’s much harder to see what’s going on and I wind up needing to unpick and straighten.  Keep your gathers on top.

sew with the gathered side up pin both ends then gather in between swathes of fabric

So off you go – sew, sew, sew, gather, gather, gather, sew, sew, sew … I added a tier of green – one always needs a good grove of greenery to survive a hot day, don’t you think.

getting there ric rac

Okay.  All your tiers are on.  Now before you get excited about trim, overlock or zigzag your tier edges.  This uses even more cotton.  You will think the end will never come.  It does, but not til after school pickup.  Then, when your edges are beautifully neat, give the whole skirt a good press so that all those tiers are sitting FLAT.  There’s nothing like a good bash with the iron to make a piece of handmade clothing go from looking slightly clumsy with bumpy bits to being polished and professional :-)  Now you can put on your trim.

done

For the waist, overlock or zig zag the top edge then turn over enough to hold your elastic. Stitch close to the lower edge of your turnover, leaving a gap to thread your elastic through.  Thread your elastic – sew the ends together, making sure you don’t twist your elastic (I can’t count how many times I have twisted the jolly elastic – eternally frustrating).  Sew shut your gap.  Overlock or zig zag the bottom edge of the last tier and hem it, just on the machine – I did about 1cm.  I seriously considered not hemming after overlocking it, but Abby reckoned it looked dorky so I hemmed it.  I’m an obedient mama.  Again – endless stitching – you think you will never get back to the beginning – and you probably won’t before the bobbin runs out!  Argh!

wearing it

It’s ready to wear!  Yay!  It’s taken about 4 hours.  That’s not too bad huh!  I’m rather fond of that red ric rac – will definitely be getting more tomorrow – a nice round of red for each tier, yes?  Yes!  I’ll need about 15 metres just to be safe.

pulled out ballerina poseNow I’m ready to hit the beach on another weekend of temperatures over 40 celsius – in my floaty, twirly watermelon skirt.  And when I’ve lost a few more inches around the waist, I may even tuck in my t-shirt and add a belt :-0

Hope this is all clear – if there’s something I haven’t made easy to follow, send me an email at lily(at)blockaday(dot)com and I’ll do my best to set you straight.  And if you do make a twirly skirt, send me a photo – I’d love to see how YOU put your fabrics together and what kind of trims you find.  Enjoy!

 

a very “down to earth” dress

down to earth

Oh folks,  I had my last exam today.  Fingers crossed, it was the last exam of my degree!  I can’t tell you what a marvellous thought that is.  I really enjoy research and essay writing – I loathe exams and really struggle to revise.  Don’t know why – just a real psychological block.

So, this afternoon, there was a lovely bit of celebration in order.  The guilt free kind.  See – even if I’m not conscientiously studying, I’m fretting with my mind tumbling over all the things I should be doing and all the terrible things that will happen because I am NOT doing them.

I collected Abby from school – 45 minutes late, thank you traffic, and a proper, heartfelt thankyou to Bob our beautiful lollipop man who stayed with Abby until I arrived – we bought iced fruit bun from the bakers, poured big glasses of creamy milk and sat out in the sun under the oak … with the added treat of my freshly arrived copy of Rhonda Hetzel’s “Down to Earth:  A Guide to Simple Living”.  Now, I have to confess, I am a very late arrival to the wise and comforting thoughts Rhonda shares on her blog.  In fact, it has only been since I set up a Feedly account last month that I have started reading her blog regularly.  But the minute her little essays became part of my daily routine, I knew I would love – and get a lot out of – her book.

And here it is in my glad hands on the very afternoon that I had no other commitments other than to enjoy my family’s company, my spring filled garden, and a new book!

As I started reading, one particular part of the introduction struck me straight away – the part sewing and knitting our own clothes plays in simple living.  Folks – as much as you know I adore both sewing and knitting, I do really struggle with it being part of a “simple” approach.

Not because patterns can sometimes be complex and take a lot of time – I completely get what Rhonda says about that “… simple describes the nature of the activities in this kind of life, not the amount of effort involved.”  It’s about becoming “a doer not a buyer” – a concept I adore and subscribe to fully.  I’ve been telling Abby since she was tiny, that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking our time over.  And teaching her and reminding myself of the beauty and benefits of practice, practice, practice, practice.  But Rhonda goes on to describe how once she relearned these skills – along with cooking from scratch, preserving, vegetable gardening etc. – she felt that she had the skills to survive a crisis.

Here’s my dilemma.  In order to knit and sew our clothes, we still need to buy supplies.  Once you visit the fabric store and purchase your pattern and cloth and thread you have easily spent A LOT of money – receipts from fabric shops always add up at an alarming rate and leave me rather breathless.  I could easily BUY the clothing for the cost of making it.  As for wool – well, it is effortless to spend almost $100 on the yarn to knit a lovely cosy cardigan.  This just doesn’t feel simple.  Now I know we could argue – ah! but you’re putting in your own hours, think of the exploitative labour you are avoiding, and you’re probably creating something that will last a lot longer and be so much more meaningful.  Yes, yes I totally agree.  But the fabric is still being produced in a factory somewhere – almost always overseas – then shipped to Australia, transported to the shop, etc. etc.  It’s not like the old days when Australia had its own mills and produced its own good quality, simple cloth.

And if the crisis – that is written about so often these days comes – if we do end up with a crashed economy (hello Australia’s fast-disappearing manufacturing industry!) or an environment that is soooooooo much harder to survive in, are we a) going to have the money to buy that nice fabric and yarn so we can use our very worthy skills, or b) will there even be readily accessible shops selling fabric?  Will we instead, be limited to lots and lots of repurposing?  How will crappy cheap clothes stand up to that!? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that I often feel that gathering all those supplies (and folks, whilst I am very good at gathering supplies, I am also very good at finding the bargains) and making my and my family’s clothes is actually quite indulgent.

I guess the real answer to this dilemma is LESS.  I know this is the honourable answer and one that is oh so much more easily reconciled with simple living.   But it doesn’t quite feed my love of making.  I do look in opshops for supplies where patterns are a dime a dozen, but very rarely do I find any fabric, especially natural fibres.

Then, earlier this year, during the two month period in which a skip was parked outside Mr. Pollack’s house each weekend, I made a lovely discovery – two cotton curtains – in good condition, with a nice weighty hand, and a pretty pattern.  Truly it was a Sound of Music moment.

the pattern

I fished them out of the skip – from amongst the broken china, smashed furniture, moldy books and moth ridden overcoats – gave them a good wash, dried them in the sun and married them off to my 50 cent pattern from the opshop.

Together, they produced the most guilt free, thrifty, down-to-earth, simple dress I have ever produced.  I wear it at least twice a week – with tshirts, button down shirts and turtlenecks under it; cardies over it; and stockings, socks or bare legs, as the weather dictates.

I love it – it is so utterly me.  A bit eccentric I suppose.  A bit flowery.  But very very me.  I feel that it is my Amish dress.  Of course an Amish would have a plain dress, not a flowery one.  But I really do like the reasoning behind their manner of dressing – if they only have a few dresses and they are all the same then they don’t have to worry about what to wear each day – their time and thoughts can be taken up with much more important matters.  Yep, this pinafore could definitely become my go-to, Amish dress.  The ultimate in anti-consumerism.

the skirt looking down the back DSC_3097 reading

So I guess what I’m trying to say in this long ramble is I do LOVE Rhonda’s message.  I DO want to live a simple life.  I AM a huge believer in the value, both mental and physiological, of being a doer not a buyer.  I DO believe that the skills of sewing, knitting, embroidery, cooking, gardening etc. are ESSENTIAl to good living.

But I still need to think outside that box a little more.  Hopefully, one day, we will keep a sheep or alpaca or two for their fleece.  But weaving our own cloth?!?!  I don’t think so.  So my version of clothing my family and supplying my home in a simple manner will include the scavenging of fabric.

As the great Paul Keating said about his French clock collection …

Most people catch antiques when they are tame, in fashionable shops. I catch my clocks while they are still wild, in out-of-the-way places.’

I’m with Paul.  So much more exciting.  So much more satisfying.

 

 

mrs. chamber’s apron

facing me blowing sideways the back

This year’s beloved teachers’ gifts – aprons.  First off the rank – Mrs. Chambers.  Had to be done, she’s leaving early.  I bought the fabric weeks ago, but true to form, only started pulling it together this morning.  Sigh.  I never learn.

Mrs. Chamber’s is Abby’s Japanese teacher – and such a lovely, lovely woman.  Very caring, interested, generous, compassionate, and always excited to do more for our Abby who loves her Japanese classes.  She even gave Abby a beautiful Japanese book she’d seen in a university bookstore earlier this year.  She knew Abby would love it and put it to good use, so she bought it for her and gave it to her.  Yes, Mrs. Chambers is one of several women we have found at Abby’s school to be such gifts.  And we love her.

laying on the chair the flower

Now, my Year 10 music teacher once told me that she truly hated being given presents that were music-themed.  She was a funny woman – sarcastic but very entertaining and her scorn for themed gifts left a deep impression. Thus, each year I try to think of something that reflects each teachers’ interests, but that isn’t corny.  With Mrs. Chambers’ apron, I wanted fabrics that were rich and beautiful and wouldn’t look out of place in a pretty kimono – but weren’t japanese fabrics and were not put together in a traditional Japanese way.

I think this combination of colours is just right.  And the sumptuous flower created by the Dresden plate, is a nod towards the Japanese love of gardens and flowers. I always have a chuckle over the flower beds in Hayao Miyazaki’s films – in his world, everything flowers at once no matter what time of year it is – either a reflection of his yearning for constant beauty or Japan is indeed peculiarly blessed :-)

trying it on

It’s my own design – and I am mostly happy.  I wanted it to be very covering so its wearer could get really stuck into the Christmas cooking without any of their special clothes being splashed.  So I’m pleased with the skirt part of it – but the neck band – oy!  That took 4 lots of unpicking before it was the right length.  As for bodice – I did chop off an inch before attaching the skirt, but I reckon it could almost come up another inch.  Perhaps it also needs to be a little more triangular?  Hmmmmm ….. And the waistband – too wide.  I don’t know what I was thinking when I cut it.  I don’t like mean little narrow waistbands but I think this one could lose at least an inch.  Never mind – there’s three more chances to perfect the pattern.

with the colander on my head

Besides, I like THIS one so very much, I think I may make a dress version – make the skirt meet at the back and button down the middle.  There’s tonnes of the florals left and I only have to walk up the road to Darn Cheap Fabrics for the stripe.

Yes, I think it will make a very fine Christmas Day dress.  And fingers crossed, Mrs. Chambers will be tickled pink by her apron and put it to very fine use.

 

the packing of a wee suitcase

This wee “genuine hide” suitcase came from … you guessed it!  Mr. P’s dumpster.  I love vintage suitcases so had been on the lookout for one each week.  It wasn’t until the very last week (yes, I know, ’tis sad, but it does appear that there will be no more dumpsters outside Mr. P’s home) that this little treasure appeared.  Filled of course.  Mr. P filled everything with everything else.

Now? Why it’s packed with my version of the good things in life and coming to Merimbula with me.  Eeeeee!  I have a WHOLE week with no classes.  So tomorrow morning – with my trusty travelling companion, Fu – I am jumping into the car and heading up to Mum’s for a few days of sun, sand, swimming (serious, I bought new bathers, just ignore the two cold fronts lurking in the Bass Strait), lounging on the front porch, and lots of good quality pottering (aka sewing).

empty suitcase

~ there’s the sweet fabric Abby chose to line the wee suitcase with, so that I may pick Mum’s brain on how best to line it …

fabric for lining

~ some stretchy red cotton and pattern to make my first ever pair of leggings.  Don’t worry, I shan’t be wearing mine with SHORT tops – I have nice long, concealing smocks in mind …

leggings

~ some new white t-shirts for Julian …

tshirt

~ quilt fabric carefully chosen by one of my little girlies who’s moving to Sydney next term (bit sad about this) …

fabric and gloves

~ aha! the long smock to go over the red leggings, already cut out …

smock

~ a pair of trousers, recently thrifted by Jules, which need their cuffed hems taking up (please Mum) …

trousers

~ & my current infatuation … an absolutely gorgeous Danish cross stitch book which the lovely Kristy from #castoncastoff gave me when she came for tea this week  … she went home with Mr. P’s lemon juicer :-) …

cross stitch

There – it all fitted!  Well sort of.  I had to pop the three cross stitch thread boxes and the jar of quilting safety pins into a separate bag.  Now – do you reckon that if all these projects fit into one wee “genuine hide” suitcase, that means they are eminently do-able in the four short days I will be at the beach?

full

Hmmmm … I know.  Possibly a bit hopeful.  But I do thoroughly believe in being prepared :-)  Now I just have to find me a belt to hold this suitcase shut.