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. . . . . . A place to contribute, exchange tips and ideas and find further info on the LDC group on Meetup.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur- Part 3 The Balotra ghaggra.


While in Jaipur, visiting the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, I was introduced to the means of divining the status of a native of the area of Balotra by the fabric of the traditional clothes that they wore.
Anokhi are a company who aim to promote, support and encourage traditional means of creating fabric designs, both in historical and contemporary styles.   At the Museum there were fascinating displays of fabrics, both old and new, shown as lengths of cloth or made up into clothing.  Craftsmen demonstrated the making of printing blocks and the printing of fabric.  Exhibits explained the often very complex techniques used to create multi-coloured fabrics.
Of course there is a museum shop selling fabric, clothes and the beautiful paperback books that Anokhi produce about various aspects of traditional fabric.  I bought "Balotra, the complex language of print".  All these books have marvellous photographs and actual fabric samples in them.

 Included  in the book were instructions on exactly how to cut a ghaggra skirt.

And, amongst the hand-printed fabric in the shop, was the very design illustrated.  Immediately I knew that  I wanted to make this skirt.  Traditionally the skirt is full length and requires at least 5 metres of fabric but I knew that this was not practical for me so I decided on just below the knee.  With the help of the shop staff  we worked out that I needed 3 metres.

The various fabric designs convey different messages about the status of the wearer.  Some can only be worn by young unmarried girls, some only by married women, some only by widows, others are worn only by natives of a particular tribe of the region and some only by people of a certain trade- potters, iron workers etc.  Thus you could look at the clothes worn by a woman and see that she was a widow of a particular tribe.
The fabric shown above can be worn by any woman but it is the decorative edging that conveys their marital status, the wide red border with yellow piping means that the wearer is a married woman whereas a very thin red border meant a widow.  I am not married but do have a long term partner but there appeared to be no traditional way of communicating this via fabric.
The way the fabric is cut gives very little wastage, needs no pattern and only requires cutting in straight lines.  First the fabric is cut into sections the length you want the skirt to be, this is the stage shown in the picture above. Each section is folded in half selvedge to selvedge and you make a diagonal fold across the fabric a short distance in from the corner.  Then you cut down that fold- see below.

  From this folded section of cloth you will get 4 kalis (panels) as you see below.

These are then sewn together with the narrowest sections at the top.  Below are the four joined kalis from one section of cloth. You can see that an interesting chevron pattern is formed at certain points.
In total I had 16 kalis to join, below you can see 8 of them shown from the wrong side.  The carpet was the only place I could find where there was enough room to spread it out.

The waist is formed by creating a channel through which a cord can be threaded, drawn up and tied at the side of the ghaggra.  Traditionally this is red and I found a lovely bright red at Wimbledon Sewing and Craft Superstore- thank goodness I live not far from this shop.  I simply stitched a length around the waist, folded it over and stitched it again to create a tube.  The drawcord was made from some yellow, red and black striped ribbon in my stash.  To stop the ribbon disappearing into the channel when not tied I created loops of beads and red dyed bamboo from my stash and knotted these to the ends of the ribbon.  I had seen examples of the end ties of such skirts being embellished with beads in some of the museums that I visited in India.

I pondered as to how I should indicate my status and decided to create my own symbol, which was to put 3 lines of red top stitching just above the hemline.  This also saved me hours of hand stitching the hem.
So here are some more photos of the finished result.

You can get carried away with twirling!
If anyone would like to make a skirt in this manner I can send a better copy of the brief instructions, just ask in the comments section below.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur... Part 2. Making the jacket.

While in India I had seen slim jackets, made from block printed fabric, that had been quilted with closely spaced parallel lines of machine stitching.  I liked the look but wanted something softer to wear as the close stitching made these jackets a bit stiff.  I decided to make an edge to edge jacket with no fastening and with more widely spaced quilting lines on the body but none on the sleeves, which I wanted to be very flexible.
 For my jacket pattern I needed only three of the eight pieces copied from my Myanmar top (see Part 1).  As I intended to bind the edges I ignored the seam allowances to the front edges and neck I had added to the copy.  The original garment had facing but I intended to fully line my garment and did not require these.  Here are the three pieces; as you can see (just about about as the photo is dark) the shape is very simple and has no darts.

I had printed three pieces on the short, narrow lengths of cloth we were given but, unfortunately, when I went to collect my washed and dried fabric only two of the three pieces could be found.  However, the back and front pieces of my copied pattern just fitted on one of those pieces and the sleeves, extended to reach wrist level as they were only three quarter length on the original garment, on the other piece.  It was a real squeeze, any less fabric and I would have had to have a shorter jacket and sleeves and not the lengths I really wanted.  This back piece is only a little smaller in width than the width of the fabric.

Had the third piece come to light I would have used this to create the edge binding.  However a trip to the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycraft show at Excel in April provided the extras I need. At the Lili Fabrics stall I found a cotton print with toning shades of blue.  Now the jacket is finished I think this looks better than the dabu print would have done and it is a thicker cotton so will make a harder wearing edge.  At another stall I found the thin wadding I needed.  I could not decide between the polyester type, which the stall holder advised, and the cotton wadding, which seemed to me to be more flexible, so I bought both. After pre-washing them I realised the stall holder was right.
For the lining I raided my stash and used some supple polyester in dark blue with a small white motif, a cheap buy from Walthamstow Market a couple of years ago. The lining was cut out using the same pattern as for the outside of the jacket.
I quilted the outer fabric body pieces before stitching the front and back pieces together at shoulder and side seams. When I bought my sewing machine it came with a walking foot and a quilt guide that can be attached to it.  I had not used the guide before and was delighted to discover that it made stitching parallel lines so easy.

Once you have stitched the first line you set the quilt guide at the width apart that you wish your next stitching line to be and place it on your first line of stitching.  If you make sure the guide follows that line as you machine then you will have a perfectly parallel line of stitching next to it.  Without this I would have had to measure out and mark each of the lines so it was a time saver as well as an accuracy aid.


  The original top had two pockets but I did not want to disrupt the pattern on the exterior front so I put a pocket on the inside lining instead.  Once the lining was made up I secured it on the inside to the inside of the jacket at the shoulder and side seams and then pinned and tacked lining, wadding and outer fabric together all round the outer edge to keep it in position when applying the binding. I played about with various widths for the edging and decided the effect that I liked best was to have the edging of the hems broader than that of the neck and front edgings.  The edging was first machine stitched to the outer side of the jacket and then folded over to the right side and hand stitched to the lining.
I am so pleased with the end result.  Here's the back view.



And the side view- (go back to Part 1 for the finished front view).

Someone made a comment to me that "It looks as comfortable as a cardigan but smarter" and it is.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur ... A Dabu jacket- Part 1.

This is the story of how this jacket came into being.

Actually the tale begins four years ago in Myanmar in this weaving shed.

Having been trekking in the hills in the North where there was no time or opportunity to wash my clothes- any water requirements meant a trek to the village pump-


so my rucksack contained only dirty laundry and I longed for something clean to wear.  Hence my purchase there of this rather boring looking hand woven top.

It has been my constant travelling companion ever since.  It can be worn as a blouse (loose and cool in hot countries) or layered over a t-shirt or wool sweater (depending on how cold the weather gets), has pockets and doesn't show the dirt.  I have been meaning to copy it for some time and the recent Club "Trace your favourite garment" Sewalong gave me the impetus to do so.  I used tips from this video  by Ana of CocoWawa Crafts on Youtube.  Watching it really helped me to approach copying in an organised manner, especially the advice to make a list of all the pieces you need to trace before you start.  I used my current favourite tracing material, horticultural fleece, to trace off the pieces; I describe my method on this blog previously here .  Using this method I could pin the pattern pieces together after tracing and check the fit and whether the seams were true.  Right first time!- Thanks Ana.
The story now moves to Jaipur, March 2017, where I joined a delightful group on one of the textile holidays organised by Jamie Malden of Colouricious
This holiday focused on Block Printing using traditional carved wooden pattern blocks.

 We enjoyed a number of workshops at different venues trying out block printing methods.  One of these was dabu, a mud-resist form of printing that has been in existence since at least the 7th century A.D.  A thin paste is made from a mixture of mud, gum, lime and wheat chaff and the wooden pattern block dipped into this and applied to the prepared fabric- just like this:

Next sawdust, of which there is plenty from the making of the wooden printing blocks, is sprinkled over the printed fabric and it adheres to the wet sticky paste.

The fabric is then left to dry in the sun.

Once dry it is taken to the indigo vat for dyeing.

 The area covered by paste and sawdust resists the indigo dye.  You can see the areas of resist clearly on these cloths that have just been removed from the vat and spread to dry.  The dabu still remains on the cloth.

Subsequently the cloth is washed to remove the paste and reveal the lighter design.  This is a simplified explanation of the technique (much more complicated designs can be achieved with multiple dyeing) but this is exactly how I made the cloth for my jacket.

Coming in Part 2- the making of the jacket.  In the meantime I leave you with some pictures of fellow sewists in the village where we went to do this type of printing.
A tailor making a shirt :


A woman stitching a quilt:


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Getting to grips with an unfamiliar sewing foot

Do you use more than a couple of the sewing feet that come with  your machine? I must admit that I didn't.

The walking foot on a Janome sewing machine

I swapped the standard foot with the walking foot (also known as a even feed foot or dual feed foot) for most of my straight stitching: preventing slippage of one fabric layer is a wonderful thing!  I don't miss the standard foot at all.

I also use my zip foot for sewing in zips, obviously, - this tends to be the only thing that I remove my walking foot for.


But I didn't use all these other sewing feet except for trying out the blind hem foot (which works fabulously!) - the other day I was thinking about why.  I have a feeling that I somehow thought that I should be able to do all kinds of things with just these two feet, almost as if that was some kind of challenge.  How silly!

The other reason is likely a fear of a bad experience, that trying would make me feel very dejected (yes, call me chicken).  Just ask me about my experiences sewing in invisible zips because I didn't realise that I had the wrong foot. Yah, that one.

But the thing is that a specialised sewing foot can make your sewing much easier, if you give yourself enough time to experiment with it and learn how to use it without wanting to throw your machine out of the window...  You know, when things go really badly.

It is very easy to get discouraged when sewing isn't going well and you don't know why.  One of the more horrible feelings that could make you feel so wretched that you stop sewing. Let's not do that!

So how can you get to grips with a different foot without feeling like a right fool?


Sewing machine feet come in two different kinds on the main: those you screw on and those that snap on. Your machine will only take one rather than the other.  Make sure that the manufacturer of the foot lists it as suitable for your specific machine model - if you're not sure that you want to spend the money on the genuine part, maybe you can borrow it from a friend or try it out at their place?  It'll give you the best idea of whether it's a good investment. A generic foot may sound good but if it doesn't work then it's wasted money.

But let's say that you have the right foot and you installed it - that alone can take quite a while!  I try to do something unfamiliar only when I have lots of time and there's no pressure.

My very best tip is to check that a) you picked the right machine setting for your purpose, and b) that the machine needle will not hit the foot itself.

To do this safely: hold on to the sewing thread at the back (or use a starter patch) and then move your machine needle by turning the wheel by hand.  If the foot or the setting is wrong then the needle could hit the foot itself on any downward motion that make up the stitch.

Some feet work with a straight stitch and others with a zigzag stitch - that's why it is important to manually move the needle through a whole repeat of the stitch.

Use a test patch of fabric because it is much easier to manoeuvre a small piece.  Check for tips for using your specific foot online and on YouTube - there may be a trick or hint that's not obvious, e.g. that the fabric needs to touch the guide's side of the narrow hem foot when you guide it into the roll-over bit.  A rolled hem foot may behave similarly, please check.

Use your slowest sewing speed if you can adjust it and then play around some. Use a different kind of fabric if your first sample fabric turns out as stubborn and non-userfriendly, see what works for you.  Once you get to grips with another fabric, you can go back to the one you'll want to use.

If the foot isn't doing what you thought it would - there is a chance that it is a different foot or that the fabric needs to lie a different way to feed under the needle. YouTube videos can be particularly helpful for that.

For example a blind hem foot works by catching just a couple of threads of a fabric fold - so the fabric has to lie the right way.  I find it quite counter-intuitive and tend to try it the wrong way round first. Ugh.

The way you pin a seam can make a difference: a narrow hem foot won't work with pins put in perpendicular to the edge, you need to start off with just the one pin placed parallel to the edge, - any additional pins are in the way because you need to hold the fabric to guide it. I think this probably applies to a rolled hem as well.

There is a good article on the Threads website about the narrow foot:

The start of the three page article, and here is the link to all the pages. I think the first link has a bit more information.


What sewing feet have you tried and do you have any advice on how best to use them? Please share!

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Tracing the pattern from a RTW garment

Have you traced the pattern of a ready to wear garment, one you bought in the shops?

It can be a great way to get a sewing pattern because it is a clothing item that you know fits well enough to want another one just like it.  Or at least with as few adjustments as needed. Preferrably the ones you know how to do.

I bought a lovely short-sleeved blouse with intriguing double layer ruffles from a charity shop.  I did realise at the time that I keep going for this very pale blue, chalky looking shade and then end up not wearing it because it makes me look pasty, to be brutally honest.  Do I learn from this and stop buying clothes or knitting yarn this colour?  Heck no, course not.


So it seems that I bought a pattern instead.

It took me a while to start taking this blouse apart.  I saw the great tip of leaving half the blouse intact so I can see how it goes back together - I only need one set of pattern pieces after all.  I'm glad I read that on a helpful blog somewhere, I'm not confident that I would have realised.  Start wielding a seam ripper and I keep on going...

This blouse fits fairly well.  The dart is not quite in the right place and I need to suppress a wedge of fabric in the underarm area, I am optimistic that I know how to adjust the underarm seams as well as the sleeve width. Fingers crossed.

I flattened each piece carefully, straightened what edges need to be straight (e.g. the centre back that will be cut on the fold), and weighed the whole down with my trusty pattern weights.  Also known as glass coasters in another life - I use them with the felt feet pointing up, they work fabulously.

I drew around each piece making sure that the shapes make sense: an armhole needs to look scooped and not jagged, no corner should look too sharp or seamlines lie in an undulating S-shape.  So far so good!  The test will come when I sew this up in a toile fabric.  I haven't got that far yet.

I did add more generous seam allowances because these were very narrow (the blouse was industrially made after all) and I may have to re-do the flounces. These are a circular shape that looks a bit like a Viennese whirl. Mine have an element of squashed doughnut to them, so I may compare to a commercial pattern I have in my collection. Just to sense-check.

I also traced some stretch fabric leggings that I loved but nasty moths had left a gaping hole near the knee, damn them.  I'm delighted that this worked really well too.  The pieces look astoundingly legging-like, just like a commercial pattern!  At least I like to think so.

I ripped apart most seams on one half only.  I ended up with the back piece and also a flat front piece that I left whole even though there is an internal seam that dissects it in a very intriguing style line.  That's the reason why I wanted to trace off this pattern.  I'd be looking for a pattern like it till the cows come home and not find it.

If I had ripped these pieces apart I'd end up with a very thin strip for the side panel. I think it would be very tough to lay this out straight.  A piece as narrow as this would go wonky as soon as you look at it.  Instead I traced the entire front piece, and then started to roll it back gently and marked the internal seam every couple of centimeters. That was a great way to prevent problems.

Have a look at the photo:


I reckon I've done well for not having traced off patterns in a pretty long time.  I haven't yet put these pattern pieces through their paces, but I live in hope that it'll go well too.

You may be able to trace a simple garment off without having to take it apart, as long as you can get each piece to lie flat.  But shapes would get distorted too easily if trying to trace off a complex item with multiple seams like my blouse.  I am lucky, I can't wear either of them so I didn't have to worry about it.

Have you sewn anything from a traced off pattern, how did the whole process work out for you? It would be really useful to hear of people's experiences - always good to learn from others. Please share in the comments!

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