Ham.

I made a ham.

Photo Oct 26, 7 26 38 PM

Not the kind that you eat, but it does look like one (hence the name). A tailor’s ham is used for pressing curved seams, like darts. It’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you’ve used one. If you’re an occasional sewer, a rolled-up towel or washcloth will do, and that’s what I’ve been using for the last few months. But a ham is so very easy to make, there’s really no reason not to.

I used instructions from the ever-fantastic Make magazine, though I couldn’t get the pattern to print properly and ended up crafting my own. (Hint: it’s basically a big egg). I was able to make my ham completely out of supplies I already had: a piece of heavy weight printed cotton, a scrap of white velour, polyester batting, and a pair of old wool socks.

Both they polyester batting and wool socks got cut into little pieces to be used for stuffing the ham.

And that, my friends, is why I save things like old wool socks. I don’t hoard every piece of clothing that is no longer wearable, but I’m  careful to save things made out of high-quality materials like wool. Denim is another one: it’s such a durable fabric, even if a few parts wear out, the rest can be used for something else. If you don’t have the tools, skill, or time to reuse things, you can donate them to a creative reuse center like The Scrap Exchange or find a textile recycling program (NYC’s is the absolute best).

Learning to Weave on a Rigid Heddle Loom

loom

Sometime last year I got the notion that I’d like to learn to weave. Really, I was less interested in what I could make by weaving and more in learning what it feels like to create the woven cloth. A big part of fashion design is understanding different fabrics, and what distinguishes a sateen from muslin from velvet is the different methods of weaving each kind of fabric. Even relatively similar looking fabrics, like cotton shirting, have subtle but important differences in the weave. I read and read about the differences, but they were hard to grasp mentally. So I decided to grasp them, manually, by doing some actual weaving.

Not long after I moved to North Carolina my mom and I made a trip to a local yarn store, Warm ‘n Fuzzy. They have an incredible selection of yarns, mostly from small companies, and offer many classes. I saw Beginning Weaving on their upcoming class list; at $85 for about 8 hours of class time, it seemed like an affordable way to learn about weaving without committing too much time or money.

The class teaches weaving using knitting yarn to create a scarf on a portable rigid heddle loom. This fantastic contraption separates the warp threads (the ones running longways) in such a way that you pass the shuttle with the weft thread (the ones running crossways) straight through, rather than doing the over-under-over-under weaving action. It’s a little hard to describe, and this video has a good demo:

For the warp I chose a multicolored wool yarn in a red and orange colorway that I seem to have lost the label for; the weft is Jagger Spun’s Zephyr Wool-Silk in Copper. Most of the first class was spent setting up the yarn on the loom, which means measuring out each warp thread to the right length by wrapping it around a peg placed at a distance from the loom, pulling each thread through the heddle, and tying it to the spindles on either end. (Not necessarily in that order – the exact process escapes me, but don’t worry, I have written instructions.)

The weaving itself was pleasurable in a way similar to knitting: a meditative process that required paying close attention to the performance of the same action over and over again, made pleasant by the sensual qualities of the working material. The different colors and textures came together in a process as slow and delightful as the progression of a sunset; the gradual assembly of a grid from round looping yarn balls gave endless satisfaction to my systematic brain.

weavingcloseup

I have to admit, I wasn’t the most fastidious beginning weaver. But then, I’m not the most fastidious anything. When trying something for the first time I like to jump in, get a feel for it the process, and screw up a bit. I can appreciate how things work by seeing them not work. So my selvages (the self-finished edges where the weft wraps around) are a bit sloppy, and the weave is hopelessly uneven. Even so, the result is beautiful: the yarn colors are like a fall-toned rainbow, and the cloth is surprisingly light and drapey. I don’t usually add fringe to scarves when I knit them, but for this scarf I did a twisted fringe, and I love it.

wovenscarf

Finished woven scarf

The experience of weaving had its intended educational outcome: I now have a feel for what it means to weave cloth, even if I’ve only scratched the surface of different weaving patterns and techniques that are possible. I’m pretty swamped with sewing responsibilities right now, so I’m going to hold onto my new weaving skills, if you could call them that, for a later date when I can practice and experiment with materials. I really like the idea of weaving with scrap yarn, fabric strips, or non-traditional materials like used bicycle tubes.

First Dyeing Project: Yellow iDye on Flax/Silk Fabric

This week I did my first fabric dyeing. A few years ago my sister and I dyed some alpaca yarn with Kool-Aid (which I later knit into a rather adorable hat), but otherwise I’m a dyeing newbie. I plan to dye, print, or paint the clothing items I’m designing, and this is my first attempt with a flax/silk blend fabric I recently purchased from Organic Cotton Plus.

Hand-dyed yellow flax/silk fabric

Dyed yellow fabric drying in the sun.

For the dye, I used a packet of Jacquard’s iDye in Bright Yellow. I’m actually planning to do most of my dyeing, at least as I start my business, with low-impact fiber reactive dyes, and then hopefully learn to work with natural dyes when I’m done with the initial clothing design and production (for reasons I’ll have to discuss in a future post). I had a couple of packets of iDye on hand, though, and it’s supposed to be relatively low in toxicity and easy to use for immersion dyeing, so that’s what I chose for my first dyeing attempt.

Basically, the process involves heating a giant pot of water, dissolving the dye, adding the fabric, adding salt or vinegar to fix the dye into the textile fibers, and then heating and stirring for 30 minutes. After the dye has set, you rinse the fabric in water and then wash in the washing machine.

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The finished fabric was an incredibly deep, bright yellow with a hint of green in it. I have a trench-style rain jacket in almost the same color, and friends have said they can pick me out in a crowd 150 feet away. Yellow is one of my favorite colors, but this one is unusually bold and stunning.

Done Dyeing

Fabric, done dyeing in the pot. The photo looks over-saturated, but I assure you, the yellow is nearly that bright in real life.

However, I found the near-constant stirring over heat and copious amounts of water usage a bit annoying, beside the fact that I’m not too keen on messing around with permanent dyestuffs in my parents’ impeccable kitchen. Fiber reactive dyes (like these from Dharma Trading) apparently don’t require heat and so don’t have to be used in a kitchen, which is just one of the reasons I’m choosing them over something like iDye.

I think I’m going to use the finished yellow fabric to try out a new dress design I’m working on, and then probably keep it for myself. In the meantime, it’s just lovely to look at.