The quilted, naturally dyed jacket #sewfrosting

Haori 1

This autumn the #sewfrosting challenge was taking the sewing community by storm. Initiated by Heather Lou from Closet Case Patterns and Kelli from True Bias, the premise of the challenge was to sew something that wasn’t “cake” (a wardrobe basic) but to sew “frosting” (something frivolous, fun). I loved the idea and immediately started scheming when the challenge was announced. Very quickly I decided I wanted to make a quilted coat. I’ve been loving Natalie Ebaugh’s and Hannah Miley’s quilted coats. And when I saw this stunning quilt from Salt + Still it was clear that I wanted it to be a quilted coat using naturally dyed fabric.

My original inspiration. From left to right: Natalie Ebaugh, Hannah Miley, Salt + Still

As the base pattern for the jacket I decided to use the Wiksten Haori, a pattern that I’ve been meaning to make for ages. Due to it’s simplicity and oversized nature it was perfect for the quilting that I was planning. If you are wondering what an Haori is, I recommend reading Jenny’s blog post on why the name of the Wiksten Kimono was changed to Wiksten Haori.

The ones that follow me on Instagram know that in November I spent a few days doing a lot of natural dyeing. I started with a cotton table cloth and a cotton/linen curtain; both old and stained / with some holes, which luckily wasn’t a problem for the project I was planning with it. Then I dyed pieces of the fabric in all the colours that I could find.

The starting point: an unassuming stack of white fabric

I don’t have a lot of experience with natural dyeing, apart from some indigo and avocado dyeing (like my Blaire Shirt), but I was keen to experiment a little. The whole dyeing process was very intuitive. I basically just used what I could find in my parents house and garden. Once a year they have a little natural dyeing festival, so they actually have some dye plants in the garden. I even was able to save some Madder root, that my mother was getting rid of, since it is growing like weeds. If you want more details on the whole process, I have saved everything in my story highlights section on Instagram.

I won’t go through the whole process, but basically I used soy milk on all the fabric as a mordant and prepared the dye bath in either cold or hot water. I played around with the temperature to figure out what worked best for each colour. Except for some iron liquor (home made) on eucalyptus (from our France holiday) I didn’t use any agents to change the colour. I also didn’t use any fixatives, since I found with my avocado dyed clothes that the colour keeps surprisingly well. We’ll see how well the other colours hold up.

My dye charts, these are so satisfying to make. I only changed the temperature and dye intensity to achieve the different colours for each dye material.

The whole dyeing process was super fun and I loved creating a whole rainbow of colours. I’m by no means an expert in natural dyeing but I learned a few things along the way:

  • Make sure to spin out the soy milk/water mixture in the washing machine and don’t wring it out by hand, otherwise you’ll end up with uneven dye patterns.
  • Be patient. Some colours take more time to extract than others. Avocado skins and pits for example take a while to release the colour.
  • Start with low temperatures. Some colours (e.g. from the sunflower seeds) change colour when they come to a boil. In most cases the colours turn into a grey/brown, which you might want to avoid.
  • Start with little fabric swatches to get a feel for how potent the dye is. Once you know the dye is potent enough start adding bigger pieces. This obviously works best when you are doing a quilt rather than trying to dye lengths of fabric for a garment.
  • Accept that the colours might change with exposure to sun and that the colours will fade quicker than chemically dyed fabric. My avocado dyed shirt has shifted into a slightly warmer colour over time. I love the fact that the colours change, in exchange the natural colours have a lot more depth than anything chemically dyed.
  • Natural dye keeps very well if stored in a plastic container. I had some left-over avocado dye that I made in September, and two month later it still worked perfectly. Just make sure to strain it properly before storing, to ensure that no plant pieces are left in the liquid that could start molding.
  • Experiment! I was in such a dyeing frenzy that I just tried random stuff that I could find. For example with the bay leaves, I didn’t know that you could dye with them, and even less that they would give a beautiful pink, such a lovely surprise!

There is definitely a lot more that I can learn about natural dyeing and I can’t attest to the longevity of the colours yet, since I have only hand washed them in water so far. For this project though I’m not that concerned, since I won’t be washing it a lot. For anyone interested in getting into natural dyeing, I can highly recommend the book “The Modern Natural Dyer” by Kristine Vejar , Rebecca Desnos’ blog and the Skillshare Course “Natural Dyeing: Transform Cloth Using Food Dyes” with The Dogwood Dyer.

A rainbow of natural colours

Once I had my stack of fabrics, I had to decide on how I would want to use them on the jacket. Originally I had planned to stick to a limited colour palette but then I got carried away in the dyeing process. Once I was done, I had grown attached to each colour and was unable to narrow it down. I was afraid I would end up with a crazy jacket if I used all of them, so I consulted Instagram. In the end most people supported the colourful jacket idea and I decided to go for it, it was for #sewfrosting after all!

Trying to figure out the design

Once I had roughly decided on a design (one front in cool colours, the other in warm and the back with a colour gradient) I started piecing the quilt. To make it all manageable to quilt and to avoid wasting precious fabric I decided to assemble and quilt each jacket piece individually. For that I cut the pieces in a lining fabric (a beautiful block printed cotton that my husband brought back from India a few years back) and the cotton batting. Then I arranged the dyed fabric pieces on top to roughly work out the design. For the piecing I worked with a mixture of machine quilting (for the larger pieces) and hand stitching (for the smaller accent pieces). Already in the dyeing process I had cut all the swatches on grain, so that I decided to fringe some of the smaller pieces and applique them on top. Finally I hand-quilted everything using a vintage linen thread that I had picked up at a flea market this summer.

Vintage linen thread from the flea market. This design is to beautiful!
Quilting on the train with my trusty Field bag and Sashiko needles from Fringe Supply Co.

I really enjoyed the whole quilting process; especially because I was working on it while the jacket was in pieces ,which meant that it was the perfect project to work on while travelling or in front of the television. In terms of quilting pattern, I decided to follow all the joining seam lines and add additional Boro stitching in different places. The linen fabric had a few little holes, so I focused first on adding reinforcing stitches there. The rest of the quilting didn’t follow a strict pattern, my only aim was to create a balanced design overall.

Once the individual pieces were quilted I assembled the Haori. First the fronts, back and the sleeves. The collar I slimmed down to remove the fold-over detail, which would have been too bulky in the quilted fabric. To finish the seams and the sleeve hems I cut strips of left over fabric and bound them by hand. For the bottom hem I decided to just fold both the outer and the inner fabric to the inside and close the seam with a blind stitch. You may notice, that I left off the big patch pockets of the original pattern. I thought they would have made the pattern too busy with all the quilting going on. Instead I decided to add one pocket to the inside.

The pattern is super straight-forward to assemble, though I had to change the order of construction quite a few times. I chose to make a size M (which corresponds to my hip measurements) and I’m happy I did. While it is designed as quite an oversized jacket, I need the room to be able to move around in this thick fabric.

Phew, what a long post! For everyone making it that far, congrats!

This project definitely was a labour of love, and I’m not sure if I would have ever tackled such a big and crazy project if it wasn’t for #sewfrosting. So thanks Heather Lou and Kelli for initiating such a fun challenge! During the process it often felt more like working on a piece of art rather than sewing a garment, since it was so intuitive and the outcome so unpredictable. And I have to say, it was such a satisfying experience! I also decided to take it really slow and hand sew the majority of it. That meant my fingers had blisters at the end and I missed the deadline of the challenge by a month. But it was so worth it!

The first outing for this Wiksten Haori was my uncle’s birthday last weekend. He is an artist, so it was the perfect setting and such a great conversation starter too!

In my uncle’s atelier, the perfect environment for this Haori

The one thing that I have taken away from this project is that I love working on projects where the fabrics and colours guide me and I don’t have to strictly follow instructions. I’ve never really identified as an artist (more as a crafter/maker) but this project really felt like art and I had so much fun! And yes, I do feel a little bit like a crazy lady in this jacket; and I don’t think I will wear it out a ton. But I love it nonetheless!

So here is to the new year, to taking risks, to making art and creating something crazy once in a while. Happy 2019 everyone!

Top 5 Highlights of 2017

I’ve been loving all the end year reflection posts, so I decided to join Crafting Rainbow’s Sewing Top 5 again. As usual I don’t have that much sewing output for 5 hits and 5 misses so I’ll just focus on my 5 hits of 2017.This dress has become such a wardrobe staple. It’s perfect for any occasion, which is all down to the fabric. It’s made in a medium weight sand-washed raw silk that is amazing to wear. The fabric barely wrinkles so it’s perfect for travel and has been on all my work trips this year, even to Colombia. The shape is simple but works in summer as well as in winter layered over tights and under a cardigan. Now I just need to get back to Goldhawk Road to pick up some more of this fabric.This linen Blaire Shirt was my absolute summer favourite. I was lucky enough to spend some time in Venice this summer and three weeks in Germany, which meant that I had a proper summer for a change. To cope with the high temperatures (especially in Venice) this shirt was ideal. On top of that I had so much fun trying out natural dyeing with avocado for the first time. It was much simpler than I expected and I love the final colour. I can’t wait for next summer to dig this shirt out again.Some more linen…This Highlands Wrap Dress was a surprise favourite this year. While I’ve been wanting to make the pattern for a while, originally I had another fabric earmarked for it. Then I changed my mind and made it up in this linen twill on a whim. The original colour was a weird off-white which I knew I wanted to dye. With some dye getting lost in the post, the colour turned out a lot weaker than intended and more of an orange than the intended terracotta brown. After some initial doubts I’m now loving the colour. I wore the dress to a beautiful autumn wedding and to our company’s Christmas party this week and both times felt great in it.This coat has been such a long time in the making (read all about the odyssey here). There are so many firsts with this one: first winter coat, first time using proper tailoring techniques on wool, first time attending a sewing class. I thoroughly enjoyed the slow process and taking my time with each step. The final coat is a perfect winter staple, I’ve been wearing it non-stop. And the lining just makes me smile. Also, if you really want to impress someone with your sewing skills, make a coat. I’ve gotten so many comments on this one already.

Last, but definitely not least, I have to, of course, mention my wedding dress. This was a slightly challenging project, as we had a secret wedding and I didn’t have anyone to fit me. To get around fitting challenges I decided to work with simple shapes, and it worked out quite nicely. I decided to go for separates because the thought of having a white dress hanging in my closet unworn made me sad. These pieces I can wear separately in day to day life. The lace top I’ve worn since with a leather mini skirt and the skirt is now pink thanks to an Avocado dye bath, though still waiting for a second outing. The silk slip underneath comes in handy for my many unlined dresses. The wedding also gave me a good excuse to splurge on nice fabrics and I really enjoyed working with the silks as well as with lace for the first time. And of course the pieces bring back memories of a perfect day down in Cornwall.

So looking back at all this, what have I learned?

  • I love high quality natural fibres. Many of these pieces are on my favourites list because the fabric is hard wearing, versatile and lovely to wear.
  • I enjoy taking my time on bigger projects. I really enjoyed making that coat and practising proper tailoring techniques.
  • Sewing classes are fun and there is so much to learn. Next on my list is a pattern cutting class.

I hope you all had a successful sewing year! Enjoy your Christmas break!

My first winter coat

Hello everyone, I made a winter coat!

(Just a quick warning, this post is super long, so feel free to skip to the end if you are not interested in all the coat making details.)

I’ve been planning this coat for a long time. If you’ve been following me over at Instagram for a while, you will know that I started planning this coat last autumn. I’ve been wanting to make a coat for years now, but could never find the right pattern. I was looking for just a simple, classic design but it was surprisingly difficult to find a coat pattern that I liked (see my sketch below for what I envisioned). I even submitted my design to The Fold Line when they had a pattern competition last autumn. I didn’t win, but just after I had submitted my design, Waffle Patterns came out with the Bamboo Coat which was relatively close to my inspiration sketch. Knowing that it would have thorough instructions, I decided to go for it and just change some of the elements.

The next hurdle I had was finding the right fabric. Of course I would have loved to make the coat in this pink colour from the sketch (because I am still obsessed), but in the end I wanted to make a more versatile coat that could become a staple for any occasion. However, even after having decided to go for a more classic colour, I just couldn’t find a fabric that I was passionate about, and wool coating is quite expensive after all. In the end I ordered some inexpensive Melton wool from this ebay seller. The fabric was good value and very easy to work with, however, it really attracts lint. Then again, that’s probably always the case with navy fabric. For the lining the decision was a bit easier. Since I was using a rather boring outer fabric, I decided to go for a fun lining and settled on the gorgeous Liberty Print called Manning Green on silk satin (I got it from Ray Stitch though they don’t seem to carry it anymore). Unfortunately, the whole process of finding pattern and fabrics took forever and winter was basically over by the time I had everything together. So the project was set aside until the next winter.

The good thing this time round was that I had all the material and the pattern ready to get sewing. The reason why it still took me two months to finish the coat was my decision to make most of it in sewing class. For the first time in my adult life, I took a sewing class, with a wonderful teacher here in Oxford. She is a trained dressmaker with decades of experience and her class was perfect for such an involved project. I’m so glad I decided to do this coat in this class because I learned so many great tailoring techniques.

So let’s talk about this pattern. The Bamboo coat is quite a simple shape and was relatively close to what I wanted, nevertheless, after sewing a muslin with the pattern as intended (of view A, the longer version) I made some changes to match my inspiration more closely: I slimmed down the collar by 2.5 cm and went with a two-button closure instead the drafted three. I also omitted the hidden button stand. Finally we drafted a two-piece sleeve from my measurements, as the original one piece sleeve looked too boxy. In terms of sizing, I graded between a 38 at the bust and a 42 at the hip. I added some width across the back and slimmed the shoulders slightly. Finally I added 4 cm to the hem.

Once the fitting issues were sorted out, I moved on to the actual fabric, starting with the welt pockets. They were actually quite fun to make. I made a test version with some scrap fabric and then my teacher made me two additional samples using other techniques. In the end we deviated slightly from the pattern to ensure a cleaner finish. Next up the bound button holes. Again we made some samples and decided to make the lips of the bound button holes out of navy twill fabric instead of the wool for a cleaner finish and more durability. They involved quite a bit of hand sewing and turned out really pretty. The pictures below don’t really do them justice, in real life they actually are even.

Other techniques that I tried for the first time: a notched collar (surprisingly simple), the full shoulder treatment (including adding a wedge of felt as sleeve heading and some small shoulder pads) and a lined vent.

When it came to the lining, I decided that the coat as was would be too thin and I used some thinsulate to quilt the lining for the bodice. I love the look of the quilted silk and it’s made the coat a lot more winter proof .

Once I had attached the lining, I realised that the outer fabric was too thin and that where the fabric was not interfaced the quilted lining was showing. To resolve the issue I interfaced the rest of the bodice with some medium weight interfacing. On a side note, good quality interfacing makes such a difference! While I have always tried to buy good brands for interfacing I’ve only worked with webbed interfacing in the past and I used to hate to apply interfacing because I either would melt it or it wouldn’t stick properly. Then my teacher introduced me to iron-on interfacing that is literally a layer of thin fabric that irons on. It’s amazing and definitely worth the investment! I picked mine up at a local fabric shop, but I was told that The English Couture Company sells this type of interfacing online.

Back to the coat. The instructions don’t include a hanger loop but I knew I would need one so I added a loop out of braided waxed cotton cord that I had lying around. I love this little feature.

I attached the the lining to the shell at the underarm with a short ribbon, another added tailoring technique. Then it was time to sew the hem. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s always the hem that gives it away on homemade coats. They often don’t look as sharp as store bought ones, and I really wanted to avoid that. So I asked my expert for the best tailoring technique for hems and she suggested to add a strip of linen to the hem (the full 4 cm of the fold-up). Attached to the raw edge it was held in place temporarily with some wide stitches and then the shell hem was stitched in place with a blind catchstitch (i.e. instead of on the edge, the stitch runs just slightly inside the edge). The lining was then attached falling over the stitch line in a soft fold to allow for body movement. For the front facing to lie completely flat I attached the facing with invisible stitches to the shell.

To finish the coat off, I added two buttons (just simple navy plastic buttons) with small purple buttons on the other side for reinforcement.

And, simple as that I was done with my coat. But jokes aside, this was such a lovely project to work on! Since I mainly worked on it during my weekly sewing classes I worked in smaller chunks, which really helped me focus on the individual tasks. The class setting also motivated me to practice certain techniques until I felt comfortable to move on to the real thing, which is different to my usual approach to sewing where I tend to jump right in. Even though I’ve changed up the pattern quite a bit and added some more tailoring details, the pattern is actually really detailed and the steps are well explained. The bones of the pattern are great, especially the slight cocoon shape through the body, which feels really modern.

So what about the final garment? I have to say I’m really proud of how it turned out. It looks pretty neat and doesn’t give away that it was my first winter coat. Since the thinsulate was added as an afterthought the coat is a little bit more snug than originally planned but it doesn’t affect the wearability. I’m still undecided on the length of the sleeves, I might drop the hem a little bit. Also the collar around the neck turned out a little bit too slim and the undercollar shows a little bit. When I trimmed the collar along the front lapels I had to take some width off the neck collar too in order to keep the proportions right.

All in all though it’s a great coat which fills a massive hole in my wardrobe. I’ve been living in heavy winter parkas over the last five years and it’s nice to finally have a sleeker winter coat option.

I hope you are prepared for a lot of pictures. We had such a gorgeous winter weekend here in Oxford and enjoyed playing tourists in front of the Radcliffe Camera.