1770s sacque dress

Pearl in 1770s sacque
Pearl in 1770s sacque

I found the missing stomacher so here is a picture of Pearl (Our Generation doll) in the finished dress with buttons and a new petticoat. The old cream petticoat is underneath. It think it drapes much better now, but the added thickness around the waist has pushed the bodice up a little. I may have to modify future under-petticoats so that they are shorter and can tie around the hips rather than the waist.

Even with the pushed-up bodice, it still looks much better than the original finish:

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) front view
1770 Sacque dress version 1

I’m still working on the 1850s day dress. I’ve had awful problems with the sleeves and trimmings, which I’ll discuss when I eventually get it finished.

I’m also working on some masks, using various patterns and seeing which modifications add value and which are not worth the effort. I am going to have to get more 100% cotton thread — I usually use 100% polyester, which is fine for most things but can’t be sterilised at 165°C as cotton can.

Retrospective: 2005 Cuddle Quilt

Welcome to the eighth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

2005 Cuddle Quilt
2005 Cuddle Quilt

Size: 80″ square
Design: traditional
Fabric: cotton flannel
Batting: 100% wool
Backing: cotton flannel
Pieced and quilted by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) July 2005

In July 2005 I wanted a quilt to wrap around myself when watching TV or reading. I was back in Canberra full-time by then and the cold winters required warm covers. While I had several quilts in the cupboard, they were all fairly smooth cottons, which feels cold to the touch, and they didn’t drape well. I decided I was going to make a quilt out of flannel instead (technically it’s flannelette, flannel being a wool fabric, but the term cotton flannel is used more and more these days).

The choice of patterns in flannel is much more limited than in quilting cottons, but I found six that coordinated reasonably well in pink, purple and turquoise (even if the patterns themselves were nauseatingly cutesy) with a plain pink flannel to use as sashing. I cut out 8″ squares, put sashing around them and assembled the top. I chose wool batting for its warmth, and used another flannel print as the backing. It was machine-quilted around the sashing, leaving the squares themselves open and fluffy. All told it was finished in a week.

Even though it is not a beautiful quilt by any means, it’s the one I’ve used the most since it was made. It sits on the sofa and gets pulled around me any time I get cold — it’s soft, it drapes well and it’s very warm. I’m not afraid to pull it or twist it, or to eat or drank near it. It will probably wear out fastest (some of the fabrics are of a loose weave and now, 15 years later, are pilling badly and pulling at the seams), but I can always make another one.

Lessons learned:
1. It’s a good idea to build a small flannel stash because good quality and decent patterns may not be available when you want them.
2. Pre-washing flannel at high temperature to shrink it would be a good idea to combat the loose weave.
3. Flannel cotton + wool batting is heaven.

2019 Finish-A-Long Q4 finish

As usual, I am linking up through Sandra of Sew Of Course.

Well, after last quarter’s dismal failure I am pleased to say that I’ve completed this quarter’s project. In October I nominated this 1770s sacque gown as adpated for an 18″ doll from Thimbles and Acorns:

Doll sacque pattern
Doll sacque pattern

Here’s my finished version, as modelled by Caroline from American Girl:

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) side view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Caroline (American Girl) side view

I actually made two versions of this pattern, and I’ll probably make a few more before I’m happy with it.

The first version was done in cheap cotton homespun, just to see how the pattern came together without any adjustments or alterations. It wasn’t as difficult as I had expected, except for the sleeves (part of which was my own fault because I read “cuffs” as “ruffles”). Once I got my head around the back pleats they were easy to do; the side pleats were a little harder.

1770 sacque trial version modelled by Addy (American Girl)
1770 sacque trial version modelled by Addy (American Girl)
1770 sacque trial version modelled by Felicity (American Girl)
1770 sacque trial version modelled by Felicity (American Girl)

There were several issues with the test garment (ignore the petticoat length, that was me being ridiculously stupid).

1. One thing I wasn’t actually prepared for was that this pattern isn’t fitted as loosely as the commercial doll patterns (Butterick / McCalls / Simplicity). Even with the modifications this dress is too tight for my very early Pleasant Company dolls (Addy is the largest I have). It may not even fit early Mattel dolls, but anything after 2011-ish should be OK.

2. Even on a later AG doll (Felicity is from 2013 and is my thinnest AG doll) the front edges didn’t drape properly — this may be a function of the variation that is inevitable in soft-body dolls, but it’s still annoying.

3. The pattern included pockets and pocket slits — they may be authentic but with dolls they are also useless.

For my second version I made several changes.

I wasn’t all that happy with how the test gown draped at the front so I made a couple of minor changes to the armscye (I added 1/8″ to the back just behind the side seam and 1/8″ to the front at the shoulder) and the front edge (added 1/4″ to the front edge; reduced the angle of the seam at the yoke) and it fits better now.

I altered the back pleats so that there was one central box pleat and then three knife pleats on each side. It looks OK but I think I’ll fiddle around with it some more — maybe two box pleats either side.

1770 sacque dress 1 waist detail
1770 sacque dress 1 waist detail

I also replaced the box pleats at the waist with gathers. This wasn’t very successful, as you can see, because the gathers went right up to the bodice side seam. If I do gathers again (and I probably will). I’ll sew a straight seam out about half an inch and then gather to the edge – the gathers are only needed to allow the skirt to curve over the extended hip.

I made the stomacher a little narrower — the original version was too wide and looked out of proportion with the dress. I embroidered the front with a decorative stitch on my Janome 9400 — unfortunately I didn’t align the starting points as precisely as I had hoped, so that is something to work on in future. It’s pinned in these photos because I want to fasten it with 5 pearl buttons and thread loops on each side, and I only have 6 buttons. I could use hooks and eyes, but in my experience they never fit as well as you think they will, especially at this scale.

I wasn’t happy with the sleeve length on Caroline, so I tried the dress on two other dolls that have longer arms: Pearl from Our Generation and Galina (unnamed ballet doll) from My Sweet Friend.

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) side view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Pearl (Our Generation) side view

I really liked the sleeve length on Pearl but the button on the back (to control the hair extensions) made the dress drape really badly so when I make a sacque for her I’ll put an opening in the back of the bodice lining so that the button is between the lining and the outer back.

1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) front view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) side view
1770 Sacque dress 1 modelled by Galina (My Sweet Friend) side view

Unfortunately Galina’s torso is a fair bit slimmer than any American Girl doll, so the extra centimetre in her arm length was counteracted by the looseness of the bodice – you can see it bulging outward under the arms.

Overall, though, I am fairly happy with this project.

Things I will change for future versions:
— the sleeves themselves are a little too long for AG dolls — by the time the ruffle is added the sleeves reach to the wrists, which is a little long. Next time I make this I’ll take out about 1 cm from the sleeve. I’m also going to reduce the sleeve cap a little (just a little) so that it’s eased in rather than gathered in.
— I really need to consider handstitching the sleeves to the bodice. Between the tight curves and the gathers it’s extremely difficult to sew an accurate seam on the machine, and that doesn’t help with the fitting issues.
— It may be worthwhile to make two stomachers (one narrow, one wide) to allow the dress to fit more than one doll.
— I also want to make a hoop skirt to go under this gown. It’s always a mistake to make a dress without making the relevant underwear and I should have remembered that.

Lessons learned:
1. Doll dresses need fitting and tweaking just as much as human dresses do.
2. Doll seam allowances are not at all forgiving. Be better!
3. Period dresses need period underpinnings.
4. I need to practice decorative stitches more so that I can align them more precisely.

Retrospective: 2002 Scrap Baskets

Welcome to the seventh in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

2002 Scrap Baskets
2002 Scrap Baskets

Size: 235 x 280 cm (93″ x 110″)
Design: traditional basket block
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think)
Pieced: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) 1998-2000 (blocks) August 2002 (top)
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) September-October 2002
Completed: November 2002

In my early years of quiltmaking (the late 80s, early 90s) I purchased various packs of fat quarters and fat eighths in order to build my stash. Many of these were “ditsy” prints (small floral sprigs) which I found I didn’t care for very much, so they languished in the cupboard.

In 1998 I decided to use up as many of these fabrics as I could by making a scrap quilt. In order to have as little waste as possible I chose a very simple basket pattern (basically a half-square triangle with a bias-curve handle). Over the next two years I made hundreds of blocks … literally, hundreds of them. I had so many blocks I had no idea what to do with them.

In 2002 I was posted to Sydney. I was living in a furnished apartment close to work during the week and commuting back to Canberra at the weekends. I wanted a quilt to use as a bedspread (it being too warm there for a doona) so I picked out around 260 of the basket blocks to assemble into what I hoped would be a colourful and cheery quilt. I quilted it in the ditch by machine (which took a fair amount of effort and a lot of rolling and clipping to get it through the small harp space) and bound it in a yellow print similar to those in the top.

When I put it on the bed, I discovered that while it was, indeed, colourful and cheery, I just didn’t like it. The fabrics were not to my taste and in all honesty I hadn’t arranged them as carefully as I might have done with a little more effort. Still, it did the job intended and saw me through another two years in a city I dislike. The silver lining is that I wasn’t terribly upset when I spilled a cup of tea on it (some of the stain remains to this day).

Apart from two baby quilts I made for my mother’s church fête, I never did anything with the rest of the blocks (approximately 500) which remain in a bag in the cupboard. From time to time I play around with ideas on sashing and embellishments, but I suspect that they’ll probably end up as a charity donation one day.

Lessons learned:
1. If you don’t like the fabric, you won’t like the quilt.
2. It’s hard to quilt in a small harp space.
3. An ugly quilt is still a useful quilt.
4. Tea stains add character.

Retrospective: 1998 Castle Wall

Welcome to the sixth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

Castle Wall Hanging
Castle Wall Hanging

Size: 90 cm / 36″ square (approx)
Design: traditional blocks, in my own arrangement
Batting: unknown, low loft
Pieced: by hand (blocks) and machine (sashing and borders) July 1988
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) August 1998

In 1998 I underwent an operation that I knew would entail several weeks’ convalescence, during which time I would not be able to do anything that required upper body strength, incudling lifting or machine sewing. I decided to embark on a hand-piecing project, which resulted in this wall quilt.

The centre is a Castle Wall variation in burgundy, green and gold, with the colour placement emphasising the star shape. Sewing this together took me only a few days, so I did the Kaleidscope blocks as well. By the time I had finished the blocks I had recovered enough for light machine work (that is, capable of sewing, not of lifting the machine), so I got one of my friends to set up the machine and then I sewed the border strips and set the top together.

It was machine quilted by me, mostly in the ditch but with a star in the centre octagon (formed by extending the seam lines) and some free-motion work in the strips. The binding is attached by machine and sewn down by hand.

I never did get around to putting a tube on the back, so the Castle Wall wall hanging has never been hung. (!)

Lessons learned:
1. Plain strips are plain.
2. Free-motion quilting is difficult and I need to practise more.
3. Hand piecing is much more fun than I had anticipated.

Retrospective: 1998 Four Ts in a Maze

Welcome to the fifth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

1998 Four Ts in a Maze
1998 Four Ts in a Maze

Size: 160 x 220 cm (63″ x 87″)
Design: Traditional blocks in an arrangement by Mary Ellen Hopkins
Fabric: all cotton
Batting: Hobbs Heirloom 100% Cotton
Backing: plain muslin
Pieced: 1998 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: 1998 by machine in monofilament

In 1998 I did a workshop at Truly Lois (a quilt shop in Canberra, now defunct) on quick-piecing techniques by Mary Ellen Hopkins, one of which was the “Four Ts in a Maze” pattern. The instructions said to bring two sets of three coordinating fabrics, so I made my choices in burgundy and green.

The block itself is a very simple rail fence with three fabrics per unit — the T pattern arises from the way the units are arranged. The blocks were cut and stitched together in only a few hours.

Once I had finished the maze section I had to work out how to finish the top — the maze is only 36″ x 60″ so borders were required. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on a detailed pieced border and my original plan was to use the dark burgundy print, of which I had about a metre and a half left. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to bring the top up to the size I wanted, so I bought an unrelated print that didn’t clash too badly and used it for a 3″ inner border and binding, and the burgundy as a 9″ outer border. It was machine-quilted by me using invisible thread — in-the-ditch for the centre section and parallel lines in the borders. It was bound in yet another multicoloured fabric.

When I had finished, I found that I really didn’t like it (I still don’t). In the maze section some of the fabrics blend too well, others are jarring. The border is far too plain in comparison with the central section and that one extra fabric sticks out like a sore thumb. Until I got my cats it was only ever used under something else, and most of the time it sat in the linen cupboard. Since the cats arrived, though, it sits on top of a box beside a window and has become one of Verya’s favourite spots.

Lessons learned:
1. I don’t have a problem with colour, I have a problem with contrast (I ought to try a colourwash quilt one day, I think I’d do well).
2. Don’t let your desire to finish quickly lead you into bad border choices.
3. Cats love ugly quilts.

En Bourgogne — Glamour Shots

Today the weather was back to Canberra-normal (cold but sunny), which is a lot better than it was earlier in the week, so I took En Bourgogne out to Lake Burley Griffin for some glamour shots. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the lake itself — you’ll just have to accept that it was there behind me.

First, the obligatory flat shot. I held the camera as high as I could but it’s still at a bit of an angle:

En Bourgogne quilt on grass
En Bourgogne

If you look closely you can spot the two out-of-place blocks. If you can’t spot them, I’ve circled them in the next shot:

En Bourgogne quilt showing misplaced blocks
Misplaced blocks

I tried to take a couple of “artsy” pictures but it was pretty windy and the corners kept turning. This one was nice, though:

En Bourgogne on a park bench, with blossoming trees behind.
En Bourgogne Bench

You can see the blossom on the trees in the background — and it’s only half-way through winter! I couldn’t resist taking another couple of close-up photos as it was so beautiful:

Pink Blossom
Pink Blossom
White Blossom
White Blossom

I also caught a couple of black swans who came out of the lake and wandered across the grass. I didn’t want to get too close (they can be aggressive) but I got a couple of zoom shots:

Two swans at Lake Burley Griffin
One swan at Lake Burley Griffin

It was too cold to stay out for long so I packed up and came home. It was lovely to get a little sunshine, though, and it was a pretty good place to take photos so I’ll go back there later in the year.

2019 Finish-A-Long Q2 Finish: En Bourgogne

finishalong logo 125px

Here is my second FAL finish for the year. As usual I’m linking through Sandra of Sew Of Course in Ireland.

En Bourgogne top
En Bourgogne top

My nomination for this quarter was “En Bourgogne”, my version of Bonnie Hunter’s En Provence, done in caramel, brown, green and burgundy. I pieced and assembled the blocks in late 2017 but never got any further.

The main stumbling block between then and now was the difficulty in choosing fabrics for borders. I was a little concerned that creams and caramels would blend too much with the outer edges of the blocks, but I didn’t want to go much darker as it would be too heavy. Bonnie had added a border of neutral four-patches, so eventually I decided to stick with a light inner border but to use a fabric that hadn’t been in the blocks. I chose to cut up an old cream-on-cream pillow case which had been part of a Sheridan 100% cotton set I had given to my parents in the early 2000s. After they died and we were cleaning out the house, I couldn’t find the sheets but I did find the pillow cases. One portion of the fabric is slightly stained from hair oils and sweat but to me that’s a bonus, since it means a little part of my parents will be in the quilt forever — the fabric is perfectly clean and sound, and the stain gives the border an subtle ombre effect.

I auditioned about 25 brown and green fabrics for the second border:

En Bourgogne border tryouts
En Bourgogne border tryouts

I chose the medium green eucalyptus leaves fabric as it picked up on the greens in the quarter square triangles and was neither too bland nor too overwhelming. I think it came out well.

En Bourgogne borders
En Bourgogne borders

My big mistake for this quilt was misplacing two of the B blocks, which had centre and edge variations — I still don’t know how I managed to miss it but I put a centre block on the edge and an edge block in the centre. What’s more, I even photographed one of the errant blocks after doing the borders and still I didn’t pick it up. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the quilting that I noticed it, and by that time it would have been far too much work to fix it, so there it stays.

I had run out of Matilda’s Own cotton batting when the time came to baste this and my usual shop was out of stock so I opted for SewEasy 100% cotton instead. Unfortunately this is a much denser batting than Matilda’s Own and made the quilt a lot heavier than I had anticipated. It’s a sturdy batting and it certainly held up well to being pushed through the machine but the sheer weight of it means I probably won’t buy it again. It also has a polyester scrim, which I discovered when I came to iron out the creases on basting day — if I’d realised that beforehand I’d have thrown it in my tumble dryer with a couple of wet flannels. Ah well, I’ll know better next time.

Given the complexity of the pattern, I knew that there was no point in trying anything fancy for the quilting. The additional weight meant that it was going to be difficult to manoeuvre, even given the Janome 9400’s large harp space and my sewing table, so whatever I chose to do had to be simple and could not require frequent turning. With that in mind, I opted for a diagonal grid down the four-patches and the cream squares with additional FMQ.

For the tall triangle stars in block A I drew a 6.5″ circle and went around it with the feed dogs down (which is why the circles are a bit wobbly). I would much have preferred to do this with the walking foot, but the quilt is much too heavy for all that shifting.

As I wrote a few weeks ago I tried some ruler work on the B blocks but it was an abject failure. Instead I did FMQ diagonal lines through the corner units and a vague oval / leaf shape in the hourglass units for blocks B and C. I’m a firm believer in the adage “every piece needs a quilting line”, especially for quilts that will be used all the time.

Borders were quilted with the walking foot. I did my customary serpentine stitch in the first border and diamonds in the outer border.

Delhi by Jinny Beyer
Delhi by Jinny Beyer

Since the border was green, I chose brown for the binding. After auditioning several fabrics, I chose a Jinny Beyer fabric I’ve had for a couple of years — it’s mainly a pinky brown but there are subtle patches of yellow-green that pick up the border colours beautifully. I stitched it down using the HP2 walking foot, which produces a great edge.

Running out of thread
Running out of thread

Of course, things couldn’t go smoothly even for that very last step — I ran out of thread with a side and half to go. I had the same thread in a bobbin, but you can’t use a bobbin as a spool because the thread comes out backwards and is much more likely to shred. Instead, I wound the thread onto a second bobbin so that it was right way around and then finished the binding.

Bobbin re-winding
Bobbin re-winding

So, the quilt is finished. Well, actually, I still need to bury a few thread ends and sew the label on, but it’s quilted, bound and photographed. I don’t have room to lay it out and it’s too big for the curtain rail but I’ll try and get an outdoor photo sometime in the next few days, weather permitting.

En Bourgogne finished
En Bourgogne finished

Size: 230 x 230 cm (about 90″) square
Design: “En Provence” by Bonnie K Hunter
Fabric: scraps from the stash, all cotton
Batting: Sew Easy 100% cotton
Pieced: by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP) October -November 2017 (blocks); April 2019 (borders)
Quilted: by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP), April-July 2019
Bound: July 2019

Lessons learned:
1. Pressing to one side may make it easier to create quarter-square triangles, but it produces very bulky seam allowances.
2. It would be a good idea to take a photo of a layout before you stitch it together so you can pick up silly mistakes like swapping edge and middle blocks.
3. SewEasy cotton batting is denser than Matilda’s Own

Retrospective – 1994 Queen Anne Star

Welcome to the fourth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

1994 Queen Anne Star
1994 Queen Anne Star

Size: 228 x 275 cm (90″ x 108″)
Design: Queen Anne Star by Holice Turnbow
Fabric: Pre-printed wholecloth top
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think it was Fairfield but I’m not sure)
Quilted: by hand, April 1993 to November 1994
Bound: by machine & hand 1994
Valuation: $1745 (1995)

While in San Diego in 1992 I purchased a 29″ Hinterberg maple wood quilting hoop. On being posted to Canberra in 1993 I wanted to do a hand-quilting project but the prospect of either drawing my own wholecloth or piecing something that had plenty of room for quilting didn’t appeal to me. Instead I bought a pre-printed wholecloth kit from the US. I used the lowest-loft polyester batting I could find (to facilitate small stitches) and a plain cream cotton backing.

I started in April 1993 and it took me approximately eighteen months to do the quilting, finishing in November 1994. I remember working on it during the evenings and weekends, listening to audiobooks or music as I sewed. I was living in a ground floor flat at the time, and it was cool enough to quilt even in the summer (it was frigid in the winter and I was very glad that my legs were covered while quilting!).

1994 Queen Anne Star centre detail
1994 Queen Anne Star centre detail

In this early progress shot (scanned from a film print) you can see that I altered the pattern a little — I left out some small embellishments in the centre and added a second row of lines to the plain diagonal grid.

1994 Queen Anne Star border detail
1994 Queen Anne Star border detail

As I neared the finish, I embroidered my name and date in the border cable at bottom right, though I’ve redacted it in this photo. I couldn’t find the strip of the top fabric that had been supplied for binding, so I used a similar fabric which has, unfortunately, become darker with time.

The quilt was exhibited at my local guild show in 1995. It was valued, as part of the submission process, at $1745.

Although it was a kit, I like the design and I like the quilt. I have used it as a bedspread or light summer cover from time to time and it’s very comfortable. Unfortunately the supplied top fabric is of a slightly poorer quality than the backing, and has started to pill.

Lessons learned:
1. If purchasing another pre-printed top, use a light box to transfer the design to a better quality fabric to use as the top (my stitching isn’t good enough to use the backing as the front).
2. When hand-quilting a large project, turn up or wrap the edges to protect the fabric and batting.
3. Use the same fabric for top and binding when doing a wholecloth quilt.

May Achievements and June goals

May goals:

1. AHQ: Four laundry bags for Townsville. Done. I just have to add the cords and print the letters and they’ll be ready to post on Monday. They are being posted directly to Townsville and won’t be on the AHQ blog, so here are the photos:

Laundry Bags for Townsville 1
Laundry Bags for Townsville 1

Laundry Bags for Townsville 2
Laundry Bags for Townsville 2

I’m especially pleased that I was able to sew the linings shut by hand without any thumb or wrist pain, so I should be able to resume hand-sewing in the evenings.

Memo to self: never sew by hand for more than three hours a day in future.

2. Personal: Assemble the Oriental Stained Glass top. Not done. When I started to lay out the top I found that I had managed to make some of the A blocks incorrectly, which was annoying and a little upsetting, so I set them aside to let me think about what to do. Having thought about it, I’d have to disassemble the blocks almost completely to fix the errors but I’m way too lazy for that, so I’ll have to work out a layout that minimises the errors. If anyone asks, it’s a design variation *wink*.

3. FAL: finish the quilting on EB. I’ve made progress but the quilting isn’t finished. I have another five weeks or so before the FAL due date so there’s plenty of time yet (and at least three more Stanley Cup Final games to go).

No additional work this month — partly because of my hands, partly because I was very disappointed that neither of my ice hockey teams made it further than the second round.

June goals:
1. AHQ: I’m not setting one this month — I need a break from deadlines.
2. Personal: Finish the last two Hawaiian blocks. The fabric is stiffened already, so as soon as I trace around the pattern I can cut it, glue it down and stitch it. They are both being done by machine so it’s two days’ work at most. [If I manage that early in the month, I’ll have another crack at the Oriental Stained Glass layout.]
3. FAL: finish the quilting on EB and bind it. No difficulties anticipated.