Tag Archives: Clothing

Adventures in over-dyeing

Variations on a tweed.  Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut.  Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Variations on a tweed. Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut. Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Over-dyeing is a good way to have a new wardrobe without spending a lot of money, but it is fraught with peril and potential for ruin, much like life, and I’ve found it’s best if I have no preconceived notions about the results, also, much like life.  

I discovered that a large part of my wardrobe was all wrong, grey, black and fuchsia should have been rust, brown and salmon.  I started my forays into over-dyeing last summer.   At first I mostly dyed cellulose fibres and some silks using fibre reactive dyes.  There is a lot of guesswork: taking into account the original colour in whatever mix for a hoped for end result.

 I started keeping a dye journal with notes about the mix of colours, how much salt I used, length of time in the dye bath and then the end results.  With fibre reactive dyes the water stays coloured and there is a lot of rinsing out of excess colour.  It would seem like a waste so I sometimes threw things in the dye bath well after the mordant had been added and the original garments removed.

One happy result was a bright, jewel-toned, silk scarf that I originally bought at an artisan store in Victoria.  I used antique gold.  The fuchsia became a muted coral, the royal blue a soft marine blue, turquoise became teal and the purple muted to blend with the others.  That same dye bath turned a piece of bright pink velvet  to orange.  I re-dyed the velvet with more warm black to get a yummy rust that I was looking for to trim a vest I was repairing.

My experiments were all leading up to dyeing my wool garments.  Wool is a protein fibre and is best dyed with acid dyes.  My method is to use a pot of hot water on the stove which can be tricky because too hot and agitated and wool will felt and shrink.

Wool is a fantastic fibre.  It is strong even when wet and maintains its ability to provide warmth even when 50% wet.  It’s resistant to moisture and to dirt and if cared for well can last for years.  I have a heavy tweed jacket I made in 1993.  It was one of a three fabulous pieces of wool I bought at a surprisingly great fabric store I discovered in Cranbrook, BC when I was there visiting the in-laws with the husband.  I made the jacket in a Japanese hapi style with modified kimono sleeves.  The original lining was a dark purply blue, iridescent acetate with two welt and two patch inside pockets besides the two welt pockets on the outside.

The jacket has been re-lined twice since I made it and I had recently replaced the bottom parts of the sleeves and faced the lining edge to delay the next change of lining.  Meanwhile the discovery of the new, improved palette meant that the black, grey, white and thread of blue tweed was not in my preferred colours.  I changed out the black velvet trim for olive green velvet and changed the dark grey  knit I-cord ties to green as well to give myself some time to feel more confident with dyeing.

I put a scrap of the tweed in with some grey wool jersey garments and a TBS of kelly green because I was trepidatious about how the tweed would behave.  Unbeknownst to me, I now think that the jersey was not 100% wool because when I added the acid to discharge the dye it all went into the one scrap of tweed and no change to the grey skirt and shirt.  That’s why the scrap is nearly black.  It has enough dye for a couple of garments.  That didn’t make me feel any more confident.

The discharge with acids dyes if very cool.  Fabric is first pre-soaked with synthrapol, that releases any excess dye and thoroughly wets the garment.  Then into the dye bath for 45 minutes, swishing around and bringing up to a simmer.  Then, I add citric acid mixed in water and continue to stir.  Within minutes all the dye in the water has gone into the fabric and the water is clear.  A gradual cool down so that the wool is not shocked, spin in the washing machine and voila!

There is a fine line of how much dye to use.  Conservatively, less dye and possibly several times of over-dyeing would be most prudent, but I am impatient with that methodical process so I guess what would be best.

Over-dued and re-lined.  Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey.  THe velvet trim was hot pink.

Over-dyed and re-lined. Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey. THe velvet trim was hot pink.

My first acid dye bath was teal and I dyed two soft light grey wool garments i’d made in 1989, a tunic and a vest.  I like the result; the colour is dark and mottled.  I could have used less for a more even look.  The vest originally had a fuchsia quilted flannel lining that was finally looking shabby so I replaced it with a soft moss green flannel (overdyed, originally grey) and trimmed with the rust cotton velvet.

Finally I felt confident enough to attempt over-dyeing my tweed jacket.  I removed the lining and partially  removed the collar, soaked the fabric in warm water and Synthrapol, then immersed in a dye bath with 1 TBS of chestnut.  The result was way better than I expected.  The white threads became chestnut, the grey a dark brown and even the black threads toned down to be more espresso than real black.  The overall feel is that the jacket is now a brown tweed.  Success! What a surprise.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

I then dyed a black and white Harris tweed vest and some assorted wool scraps with spruce (sort of a greenish blue, unlike teal, which is a blue-ish green) and re-lined that vest as well.

I was on a roll so I thought, why not try to dye some of my knit garments?

I had a heavy pullover made of two ply worsted yarn from Briggs and Little in New Brunswick that I made in the 70’s.  It originally had a turtleneck that I changed to a mock turtle that was not good looking.  It looked like it would accommodate the neck of a gridiron linebacker.  I unraveled the bad neck treatment and decreased the stitches and converted to a crew neck then did a dye-bath with kelly green and some gunmetal to tone down the brightness.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

My guessing turned out well.  I didn’t want the lighter, natural strand of yarn to be bright kelly green and the amount of gunmetal ( a purple-ish, blue/grey) was enough to darken but keep the overall colour green.  I  hanked up a couple of small balls and dyed them as well as a matching toque.

Then I dyed a variegated mohair shrug that had a bit of fuchsia that I didn’t want and a dark cranberry sleeveless cardigan.  I used spruce and gunmetal on them, maybe a bit too much gunmetal but I still like the result, especially the cardigan that is a very dark grape and seems to have lengthened a bit.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal.  THe yarn ball is the original colour, sort of.  The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal. The yarn ball is the original colour, sort of. The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

It’s a learning process.  I make notes in my little book and maybe next time I’ll try the gradual dye thing and not go for the finished colour in one go.  I DO like the vest but I think it’s a bit dark.  Still I can wear it now and it was all wrong colour-wise before.  so the adventure continues and the future is uncertain from this perspective but I have a lovely renewed brown tweed jacket that ought to last another 20 years and should not need a new lining for at least five.  I hope.

It's roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm.  I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.

It’s roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm. I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.


MY chaotic studio; in response to’ I’ll show you mine’ by Pattern Pandemonium

I dream of a warehouse space with lofty ceilings and huge cutting tables, bins for fabric sorted by colour, type…….


What I have is less space than the house I sold several years ago;  the back of the garage.  Skirt in progress is on the near chair.  Pieces for a vest are on the big sewing machine table and possible blouse fabrics on the far chair in sight so I can think of them, subliminally.

Yet another view of the surfaces, disappeared under fabric.  I admit I have a fabric addiction.  I could sew for years without ever buying another yard…… except that there is always another interesting design or texture that suggests something wonderful.

It’s hard to tell, but I recently did a re-sort of my attic storage area.  This is just what can be seen from the door.  Visible floor is an improvement.  One of my interior lights is broken so I will have to get an electrician here soon……

So, back to the machine and the gypsy/steampunk  skirt I’m working on.  Then I will dare to cut fabric; always the hardest part.

Altering, transforming, and thoughts on ease and self-image

Poaching Coat transformed into Mandarin Swing Jacket

Note to self: Remember to take before pictures prior to beginning any major alteration/transformation project.  Really, you’d think I’d have that down, but, noooooooo.  I’m usually well into the deconstruction part of the process with an increasingly good idea of how a transformation will take place and only then do I think that I would benefit from a before picture.

Ten or twelve years ago I made what I thought was a really cool jacket: reversible, kimono-style, one side a lovely, soft, heavily pre-washed, purple linen, and the other a slub-weave cotton upholstery fabric with big cabbage roses, hydrangeas, soft green leaves and ripe fruit on an ivory background, reminiscent of a 1950’s slipcovered, over-upholstered chair suitable for a slouched reading demeanour.  The shawl collar front overlapped with bound buttonholes. The sleeves were open under the arm, kimono-style and tapered to the wrist, long enough to fold back and show the reverse side.  Side panels had pockets on both views in addition to the capacious pockets in the fronts.  Those side panel pockets could hold litre bottles of water.  It was a perfect weight for Victoria, my home at the time, because of the nearly perpetual spring and fall climate there. I wore it that spring on tour in The Rockies and one of my British peeps called it my Poaching Coat because the pockets were big enough to hold a couple of brace of rabbits, at least.  I liked it because when I was out and about in Vancouver I was wearing my shopping bag.  I could put bags of coffee beans and kilos of produce in my pockets.  Really, I think the pockets in the original version equalled two shopping totes.  Also, it was fabulous for the long dog walks; good for holding treats, leash and other needful items.  What can I say?  I have a penchant for pockets and I detest carrying bags.

My problem with the jacket centres around my self-image.  I’m not saying that I have a bad self-image, just an erroneous one.  Despite the fact that I was always the smallest in my classes in school ( my bus driver called me Little Lynn even when I was in high school, much to my chagrin) I have always felt normally sized and it’s only been in the last third of my life that it’s come to my attention that I am on the petite side of the body-type scale.  Coupled to that is that I only recently realized that commercial garment patterns are all sized for women four inches taller than I.

Ease is the difference between the garment size and the body it’s meant to fit.  Most garments have some ease, so we aren’t splitting our seams every time we move (wearing ease) and some garments are really form-fitting (bathing suits and leotards have negative ease).  Then, there is design ease, which can be four to six or even more inches extra built in to the design to create a particular effect.  I really started making most of my clothes in the 80’s when I needed a decent wardrobe for the road and everything was a bit over-sized then anyway; think David Byrne’s line, ‘Why the big suit?’ an exaggeration of 80’s style.  I was attracted to design ease as a concept and occasionally overdid the idea.

As a short person, and newly realized one, I know that jackets that look best on me have a length just at my hip or higher, definitely not below. The original version of the jacket came to below my butt and had a pleat in the back.  The pockets on the purple side were oversized and gathered and were big enough to each hold two pounds of coffee.   (Or the brace of rabbits each.)  Several years ago I removed the pleat and sewed a tuck in the bag pockets so they didn’t hang down below the hem of the jacket.  Even so, I was not wearing it as much, in spite of its good for dog walking aspect. Recently I hauled it out of my coat closet and considered it again.

What was I thinking?!  Way too long, I thought, and immediately cut four inches off the length, figuring I could just hem it and it would be good to go again.  But I put it on and realized there was more to do.   The shoulders dropped to half-way between my actual shoulders and elbows, then the four inch side panels added to that meant that I had sixteen inches of design ease.  I could have worn that jacket if I was three hundred pounds heavier.  A major alteration was in order.

Originally only sashimo quilted, I emphasized the design with fabric crayons

I first removed the sleeves, sewn on by hand like a proper kimono.  I really liked that I could carry duelling litre bottles of water but realized that width had to go, so I opened the side seams and removed the side panels all together.  Then I lay the body of the jacket on my cutting pad surface and considered.  I wanted to retain the open underarm and  I decided to move the shoulder seam closer to my actual shoulder but if I cut the fronts and back even with my new shoulder seam I would lose ALL of my design ease and probably the wearing ease as well (and half of the front pockets).  With no side panels I was down eight inches in circumference and if I just made healthy side seams the resulting ease would be a more rational six inches, perfect for an outer kimono-esque jacket.

I measured four inches in at the shoulder and drew a line down the fronts and back, then an angle from the base of the intended sleeve seams to the side seams for the new opening on the jacket body.  Meanwhile, the tuck in the bag pockets no longer worked with the new length so I removed the pockets at the bottom, cut four inches off them and re-stitched to allow for a 1.5 inch bagged hem.  I turned the jacket so that I could sew the hems together through a sleeve opening then considered the sleeves.

Now the sleeves in their original form would be too short and were a bit worn at the edge anyway so I used the pieces cut from the shoulders for bands and the material from the side panels for deep, interfaced cuffs that can be folded back or worn down, over-long, like a wealthy Chinese mandarin who has no need for access to hands.  It’s still a bit long but now it’s a fusion, Mandarin Swing Jacket and has a whole new life.  I think I don’t take before pictures because it’s a bit embarrassing but I must remember, the next time I do a major transformation, because the difference is really something to be seen.

Victorian Sitting Room camouflage

A change agent lamenting change….

From: saflters.com

Change, oddly enough may be the one constant in life as we know it.  Many people resist change, hang on to what they know, sometimes when what they are clinging to has long ago lost its usefulness.  The familiar has a degree of comfort and requires less active participation.

I’ve always embraced change, different experiences, places to see or live, new foods to try and things to learn.  There are often ways to improve how things are or how they are done.  I go places and change comes with.  I push for the new experience whatever that may be.  Change is challenging and requires paying attention and some effort.  I tweak and tinker and fix and am most at home when there is movement.  I’m from Earth,  where many places can feel like home and I yearn for the stars.

With all that, I am here to report, with sadness, the end of an era.  My first fabric store, the one all others must be compared with, is closing and with its closing a fabric mecca is gone.

Saflter’s in Whitman, Massachusetts, was a family-run fabric store that came into being in 1919.  It was housed in a large building on one corner of a major intersection, across the street from the famous Toll House Restaurant (home of the original Toll House cookie.)  Saftler’s was dedicated to all things fabric and as such had no space for the aisles of crappy craft stuff you see dominating so-called fabric stores these days.  They did have a wonderful corner of yarn with knitting and crochet pattern books but the bulk of the store was fabric and notions and trims.

My first memories of Saftler’s, in the 1950’s, was accompanying my mother as she wandered around the store fingering the fabrics or leafing through the pattern books.   When I was really young, I was bored, hanging around, but the Saftler men, likely the second generation, were jovial and entertaining and most helpful in all things related to sewing.  Most of my clothes were hand-made, an economy for the times, and one I secretly lamented at the time because my clothes were always different from the clothes of my classmates.

I bought yarn for my first sweater at Saftler’s.  I was eleven and the yarn was a beautiful dark brown heather acrylic.  I knitted a plain stockinette pullover that I still wear sometimes in the fall when I’m working outside stacking wood for the winter.

By the time I was entering junior high, I began to learn to sew for myself and discovered the pleasure of walking down aisle after aisle of fabrics, attracted by colour and moved to touch, to feel the texture, then test the drape.  Only then do you check the price.  It’s all about the feel.

The summer after I graduated from high school, grounded for the summer and told I must have constant adult supervision, I went to Saftler’s with my godmother and purchased an array of embroidery floss and for the first time began to embellish my clothes, something to do in my captivity.  My canvas was my bellbottom jeans.  I stitched a snake wrapping up one leg and the Cheshire Cat in a tree on the other ( I still have those too.  It’s a Leo, hang on to things trait, I’m told.)

Through my twenties it was my go to place for fabric and so much  more than that.  A fabric store is  a store of potential, a place of dreams.  You wander the aisles, deep in thought with hand out-stretched, touching the bolts and imagining what could be made from the fabric at hand.  Consider a place where creative thought dominated the energy of the place for more than ninety years.  Everyone who came through that store had a project or an idea, to make something where nothing had been before. All that creative energy permeates the walls.  As I think about that I realize, no wonder they were always so jovial.  What a lovely atmosphere.

This past week I was passing through the South Shore on my way back to Maine from Martha’s Vineyard and for a change decided to spend a night or two enroute.   I moved to the west coast in the early eighties and only four years ago came back to New England and I wondered how my old stomping grounds had fared.

My friend and I headed to Saftler’s in the evening.  Even in the dark and rain I remembered the way but my mouth dropped open when I saw the sign that said, ‘Closing, 25-50% off.  Everything must go.’

Saftler’s is open for one more month and there’s not much left, alas.  We arrived with less than an hour to check it all out but that was not too hard because much of the space was empty, little yarn, no fabulous silks, hardly any cottons other than quilting cotton, some wool, notions, trims.  I bought a few things I needed like elastic and twill tape and we left.

The next morning I decided to go back, make a big loop through my old stomping grounds, even though I really don’t need any more fabric.  There were more people there in the morning and with the reduced inventory it was easier to see.  We are the same tribe, the sewing tribe, wandering slowly through the fabrics, fingering the textures, checking the drape, imagining the potential.

I spent close to two hours imagining what I could do with the fabrics there.  Last chance to buy fabric from Saftler’s and great deals to be had.  I bought a 3¾ yard piece of black melton wool with a soft, smooth feel for less than $5 a yard; all that was on a bolt of heavy woven cotton, 12 yards of indigo with tiny dots of white, a dollar a yard; ten yards of  a finely woven indigo and white rayon; some linen and a piece of rayon for a shirt maybe; a couple of yards of blaze orange fabric that oddly enough is hard to find in Maine; and  not enough of an amazing black wool, heavy coating with one face having a vague herringbone pattern.   There were bins of buttons by the pound  to sift through like big, colourful grains of sand, so I bought  enough for two double-breasted long coats and an assortment of others that caught my eye.

I could have purchased more, canvas or soft denim or velvet but I have lots of fabric already that wants to be something and being there that morning wasn’t so much about buying fabric for a project as it was adding a last bit of creative energy to the mix and paying homage to the end of an era.  Good fabric stores are hard to find these days.  In Maine where I live the pickings are slim and the one big chain nearest to me (40 minutes drive) has me fuming more times than not with the lack of quality fabrics and the junk wasting half the square footage.

I know where there are good places to buy fabric in Vancouver and Victoria and even in Ontario but I know for sure there will be one less,most fabulous place for imagining wonderful garments into the world.  Saftler’s  will be gone at the end of June and will live on only in the memories of those who like me were raised in that creative environment.  That’s a change I lament.


garb(e) \ gärb\ noun  1. obsolete: fashion, manner  2. a: a style of apparel  b: outward form : appearance Origin:  Middle French or Old Italian; Middle French garbe graceful contour, grace, from Old Italian garbo grace. First use: 1599 garb transitive verb: to cover with or as if with … Continue reading