Saturday, 10 January 2015

Resolution for 2015 – the dreaded mending pile

I don't know about you, but I have this steadily growing pile of clothes in my wardrobe that makes me feel guilty every time I look at it. It's the mending. Many of the pieces only require small fixes – a hem that needs reattaching, a seam that's come undone, a small tear that needs sewing together. I won't lie to you though, there are some things in the pile that require a mammoth effort – the cardigan with a sleeve that needs to be removed, undone and partially re-knitted is one that comes to mind.
And so I keep putting it off. Mending isn't nearly as exciting as making, and sometimes things sit in the pile so long that the shapes go out of fashion, or the garments that went with it have long gone to the charity bin. There's even one top I've looked at and wondered what I was thinking – it really is beyond help and will be more useful as scrap.

Quitting my job has allowed me to live a slower life, to be more conscious of my purchasing decisions and the waste I create – especially textile waste, given how notoriously unsustainable that industry is. There's also the fact that I have a lot less money coming in, so in 2015 I've decided it's time to look at that mending pile.
I'm starting with something fairly easy, a cuff that's come undone on a knitted jacket. I'm trying not to buy more thread, wool, fabric etc to do these mends, as I feel it defeats the purpose a little. I might buy materials if I do a repurpose, but for mending I'm going to make do.

To mend the jacket, I'm using thread, as it's the closest colour-match I've got. First I threaded through each of the knitted loops on the outside, and then I sewed back in the other direction with back-stitch. I didn't stitch all the way through to the other side of the sleeve as I didn't want the stitches to be visible there. I then did the same on the inside of the sleeve (note for next time: start on the inside as your technique is always better on the second go).
It took probably 10–15 mins in total, and the jacket is now hanging back in my wardrobe ready for winter. Easy-peasy!
This mending caper is going to be a year-long project for me – on the blog, Instagram (tagged with #midmonthmending) and Facebook. I'd love it if you followed along, and even more if you joined in and shared some of your mending each month. I've also started a 'Make Do and Mend' board on Pinterest to share things I find along the way. Hopefully we can all learn some new techniques this year, reduce that mending pile and throw away a few less clothes.

Happy mending!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

My textile year in review – 2014

I've just taken a look back at 2013's year in review, and I'm blown away by all the projects I managed to complete last year. This year I feel like I've done an incredible amount of textile work, but it doesn't seem to have amounted to very many completed projects. One skirt, a couple of surface designs, a knitted baby blanket, a knitted summer cardigan, and a hell of a lot of assignments.

I think I probably took on one too many courses this year. While I've been learning different embroidery stitch techniques in one of them – and it was worth it when I was still working and looking for textile projects to keep me focussed while I waited for that long period of the company sale lock-in to finish, it's probably not something I'll continue in 2015. I'd rather focus on projects of my own design. Anyway, that's something to think about over the next couple of weeks as we head into the new year.

There is one project I've just completed (in time for Christmas) that I can share with you here – a Mexican blouse that I made for my sister. It's a pattern I modified from the one I learnt to do in Mexico. I used a more Autumn-like palette, added a mix of fabrics and designed the floral bodice for the stitching.
I timed myself on the bodice, which took less than 40 hours. It's not too bad considering how long a garment takes to knit, but there's no way you could make a living out of it, and yet that's what I know hundreds of women do in Mexico.

This is what it looked like last weekend. I had done the smocking-type work on the body first, then moved onto the bodice, as I knew everything after that wouldn't take too long. I tell you what though, cutting into that bodice to make the neckline was a nerve-wracking experience!
Then, over these last few days before Christmas I crocheted around the neckline, set the sleeves in and crocheted around the bottom of the blouse. Mum gave me this lovely yarn bowl as an early Christmas present, which was very handy for keeping the thread close by as I worked my way around.
So, there we have it! The last project for 2014 – and probably my favourite – made it just in time for year's end. I hope those of you making gifts for Christmas got them finished in time, without too much stress and panic, and I wish everyone a happy handmade 2015.
Don't forget you can still sign up to learn how to make one of these blouses at the Craft Victoria Summer School!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Making a Mexican blouse – Join me at Craft's Inaugural Summer Workshop Series

A couple of months ago I put in an expression of interest to tutor with Craft Victoria for their summer series of workshops. I thought it might be a bit of a long shot, but you have to put yourself out there sometimes don't you?

First I found out I'd been shortlisted, then I attended an interview, had a few more phone calls with questions, and then, before I knew it, the event was launched (on Thursday), and there was my face on the Craft website as one of nine tutors taking part – what a thrill!

So now that it's all confirmed, I thought it might be useful to have some more detailed information on my blog about what's involved. The classes will go over four weeks and will cover the areas of construction, embroidery, crochet and 'hazme si puedes' (a type of smocking).

Obviously the most striking part of a Mexican blouse is the embroidery. The blouses in my class will be in the style made by the women of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. It's astonishing how each area of Mexico has its own type of fibre art, and the range in stitching styles is equally broad. All the elements that make up the embroidery though, are quite simple, so I've been designing various templates for the class. People can choose a design, or indeed draw their own, based on how much homework they want to do. A full bodice of embroidery can take a number of weeks if done in fine detail, as shown below.
I think the hardest challenge, but the most fun part, is deciding what combination of colours to use! While the Mexican blouses are all pretty bright (see below), I've been experimenting with some less traditional combinations as well.
Blouse embroidery from San Antonino Castillo Velasco.
The next element of decoration on the blouse is crochet. This is done around the bottom of the blouse, the neckline and the sleeves. It can range from a simple stitch that looks like a blanket stitch, through picot stitches, to more complicated scallops.
In terms of construction, the shape of a traditional blouse is very simple – really just four rectangles – and this can make the underarm area quite bulky. I've been drafting patterns to include shaping that makes it a much better fit and will be tailored to each individual.

Lastly, the section that looks like smocking on the blouse below is actually 'Hazme si Puedes' or 'Make me if you can'. I'll have to admit, I was pretty worried about making something with such a daunting name, but if you keep your stitches even and count carefully, it's not too hard.
Maybe it's because I'm from Australia – where much indigenous art is sacred – but I'm thinking a lot about where I should draw the line in working with crafts that are part of another culture's traditions. The weaving that Oaxaca is famous for dates from pre-hispanic times and contains motifs, techniques and designs that are unique to each indigenous community and hold special significance. For these reasons I don't think I'd be comfortable passing that information on.

This is not the case with the most of the embroidery, and certainly not that from San Antonino. The designs (flowers, leaves and birds), colours and indeed even the blouse itself, were introduced by the Spanish in the 1700s, and the stitches for the embroidery and crochet are standard stitches known the world over. I'm sure there will be those that disagree, but I think it gives people a real appreciation of how many women spend their lives when they get the opportunity to make the same item themselves.

Another thing I've been working on, is how I can give back to communities I visit and people who teach me. I have a couple of things in development in regards to this, but in terms of this workshop, 5% of my fee will be donated to En Via, the organisation that provides interest-free micro loans to local women that I wrote about here.

So, I think that's it! If you're interested you can find the link to my Craft page here, and the event's Facebook page here. I'd love to see you there!

And big thanks to the Wagga Stitching Ladies – Meri, Di, Gillian, Susan, Marilyn and Pat for testing various steps in this process for me.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Making, making, making

Since my return from Mexico, it's taken me a little while to get my head around the fact that I don't have to go to work each day. I get a grin from ear to ear when someone asks me whether I had to go back after long service leave – it's such a wonderful thing to be out of there.

I certainly haven't been sitting idle – in fact I'm not sure I'm very good at doing that – and I'm realising that if this working-from-home thing is going to be permanent, then in the long term, a studio is going to be essential so my apartment doesn't look like a fabric store has exploded in it on a daily basis.

The first project I had to get finished was a cardigan for my sister's birthday. I did knit this on and off during my trip so there wasn't a ton to do when I got back... still, it always takes longer than you think it's going to. I'm not super-happy with the lace-patterned edges on this one. They have a tendency to curl and I think I'll have to look at sewing a strip of grosgrain along the inside bottom to keep it flat. All other details for this project are on my Ravelry page.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Textile buying in Oaxaca

Now that I'm home with all my textiles, I thought I'd share my tips on shopping for them in Oaxaca and some of the surrounding villages – particularly for those of you visiting for a limited time and wanting to make the most of it. I make no claims to being an expert and I'm sure there are many shops I will have missed. The following is only based on my experience and preferences. All addresses are listed at the end of the post.

For the absolute best quality weaving, and some truly beautiful pieces you should visit Los Baúles de Juana Cata – owned by local textile legend Remigio Mestas Revilla. Remigio has been an advocate for the local weaving industry for over thirty years and the store is a selection of pieces from the weavers he supports. Most of the textiles are very traditional in shape – scarves, wraps, huipils and belts – but you will find a number in more contemporary colours. I'd say almost all use natural dyes. Be prepared to pay though. I'm by no means travelling on a strict budget, but I baulk at paying the prices here. The small handwoven scarves start at about 1,900 pesos (approx $160 AUD). I've thought about this a bit, as I have indeed paid more for collection pieces in the past, so I wasn't sure why I wasn't prepared to here. I think it's mostly the colour palette. Lots of earthy, muted, dusty tones... Not really my thing.
Next is the Oaxaca Textile Museum gift shop. It's apparently also curated by Remigio Mestas Revilla. It has a smaller, but much more diverse range, still of exceptional quality. Everything from embroidered children's tops, woven scarves, wool embroidered jackets, cushion covers and even skeins of hand-dyed cotton and wool. The stock changes frequently though, so if you see something you love, buy it.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A life dedicated to textiles

The major exhibition showing at the textile museum while we've been here is 'Irmgard Weitlaner Johnson – A Life Dedicated to Textiles'. I think I've been to see it three times!

Irmgard was an American who first travelled to Mexico with her anthropologist and linguist father when she was quite young. While she followed in her father's footsteps, she gradually began to focus her studies and life's work on the traditional textiles of Mexico. She realised the enormous amount of cultural change the country was going through from the time of the 1910 revolution and began to not only collect textiles where the techniques for making them were at risk of being lost, but recorded the method of making them, the materials and dyes used in their construction, and also drew very detailed patterns of the motifs and designs contained in the pieces.
Irmgard's notes accompanied each piece in the exhibition.
Pictured below is the first piece Irmgard ever collected. It's a traditional top that would have been worn with nothing underneath. It had a very practical purpose in that women could still breastfeed without the need to undo or remove the top. What's amazing is that it's woven in a single length. The community known for this type of weaving had a way of turning the warp threads into weft threads – and vice versa – half way through the piece to change the direction. I have no idea how they did this!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Reflections on weaving

My weaving lessons have now come to an end, and I realise, while I've shared a lot about what I've been seeing, I haven't shared much about what I've been learning here.

For me, this time has been a slowing down, a time of accepting that what I'm creating is not going to be perfect and a chance to develop a daily practice.

As it was a new skill I was learning, in a foreign language no less, I decided early on that I was going to keep the weaving pretty simple, leaving the more ambitious or experimental project to the weeks of embroidery. I think this was a good move. It made me less precious about the work. I didn't worry too much when my first attempt had a section of uneven weaving. It's something that I probably could have prevented if my teacher and I spoke the same language, but instead I learned from my mistake and my second attempt is much more consistent.