The colourful chemistry of artificial dyes

Detail of fringing and sleeve on a purple dress dyed with Perkin's mauveine dye c.1862

My first post of 2021 is to pass on an interesting article about the history of dyes.

There are some fabulous pictures in this post.

As usual, my favourites are the sample cards showing the range of colours.

But as you would expect from the Science Museum, there are also lots of interesting facts to read.

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Rainbow cushions

Every now and then, when it happens to catch my eye, I pick up a copy of Quilting magazine when I go to Tesco. Not long before the first lockdown, I got a copy with a couple of rainbow coloured designs on it. Inside, I found a fabulous design for a Somerset folded patchwork cushion.

Now I’m never very good at Origami. It requires a certain level of precision that I can’t maintain for very long. My attention tends to wander, and mistakes creep in. But this one had to be worth the effort.

The only other time I have attempted anything like this was in 1/12 scale, using tiddly bits of 1/4 inch wide ribbon. Every time I tried to sew anything down on that project, something moved ever so slightly and messed everything up. Once bitten, twice shy.

So it took me a long time to get round to it. I knew that once I started sorting my stash, I would get to a certain stage where there was mess everywhere. Inevitably, I wasn’t going to have all the colours I needed in my stash, and this isn’t the year for keeping an eye open for extras when out and about.

But a few weeks ago, I made a list of what I needed, and started the hunt for candidates. I needed 4 squares in various sizes of each of 8 colours. Well, there are four courners, and you need to join them along the sides with 4 more. To make that work with seven colours of the rainbow, indigo has been dropped, and turquoise and pink have been added.

As it turned out, I had almost all I needed. I needed a turquoise and a yellow, but as I didn’t need a specific match that was easy enough to rectify online.

Some of my squares are rectangles, but by using a bit of paper I worked out that as long as I had the correct measurement one way and more than half the measurement the other, it would work. The idea is to fold the square in half, then fold the top corners to the bottom edge to form a flying goose style triangle, and then layer them up to make the pattern. That means if one measurement is correct, and the other is long enough to hide the raw edge, you are in business.

Mostly, I’m very pleased with the way this turned out. I had a little trouble with the last two rounds of triangles. I have a feeling that the geometry wasn’t quite right, and it would have been better to cut the fabric a little larger. But it could easily be me not being accurate enough. It doesn’t matter, because I can live with the result. I have to look quite hard to see the problem.

I was particularly pleased with the way this random selection of fabrics worked together. I thought while I had them all out, I might do another of the designs. But the only one that would work with a cushion I’d got was 25 different half square triangles. I’m not keen on sewing bias cut edges together, so I like the various methods of making multiple half square triangle blocks at once. That would mean both sides of the cover being the same, which I wasn’t sure I wanted.

I’ve been looking at the hunters’star block for a while, and I thought I’d see if I could make it work for this. There are all sorts of methods for doing this block, including using a special ruler, and another that involves long bias cuts. Then I found this post about combining half square triangles and squares. I cut 3 coloured 3.5 inch squares and 3 white squares for each block, and ended up with a square of about 18 inches. The half square triangles were made four at a time, sewing all round the squares, and then cutting across both diagonals.

So what else can I do with these fabrics? I’ve been meaning to try wonky log cabin for a long time, so I did a block of that, and quilted it in a spiral.

I decided this one shouldn’t have a plain back, so I’ve sewn together some 2 1/2 inch strips, quilted with random lines. I think the two sides of this cushion work well together.

I briefly considered making another using a house block. I’ve seen one on Pinterest that just uses red and white fabrics, in 4 blocks.

I can’t quite get my head round translating this idea into many colours.

So for now, I’m quitting while I’m ahead. I’m now running out of boring cushions that came with the sofa!

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Roubaix – a textile town

Now, here is an idea for a trip when we get back to normal.

Perhaps next summer, or the one after that.

Roubaix was famous for its textiles from 18th century onwards. These days it is a suburb of Lille, which must make it possible via Eurostar.

I’ve been on Eurostar a few times, and driven through Lille as well, and thought it looked an interesting place. May be that is what I shgould do with my stash of euros.

Read more about Roubaix here.

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National Trust sewing machines

I haven’t done one of these for a while. Today’s link takes you to a collection of old sewing machines.

Hours of fun to be had…

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Take-up, shrinkage, and elasticity

I’m a bit out of my depth here.

But this is important stuff that I need to learn.

Here is the techy stuff you need to know if you need to substitute yarns, especially when you are weaving.  All about take-up, shrinkage, and elasticity.

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Making rope baskets

A while ago, I say something on YouTube about making rope baskets by sewing coils together on a sewing machine. Many years ago, I made a rag rug from plaited scraps of fabric. I sewed it by hand, and it was a very long and tedious job. It was hard to get the needle through the plaited fabric, and every time I put it down to check, the edges had started to curl upwards, so I had to undo some. That made me cautious, but the baskets do look nice.

I’ve got one of those Yorkshire Airers, that haul up into the ceiling out of the way. Owing to a lack of planning, the pulleys were in the wrong place, causing the rope to wear out in a couple of places. Once that problem was fixed, I’d got about 15 metres of suitable rope, most of which was sound. So I thought I would give it a try. I didn’t bother to cut out the frayed sections, as I thought it might add some character.

The result was this fruit bowl size piece. I wasn’t really planning to make anything in particular, I just wanted to know whether I could do it, and how far the rope would go. I like the basket, but it occurred to me that what I could do with was a yarn bowl, to keep balls under control while I’m warping the loom.

So I got some more rope, and built up the sides. I made the openings by finishing off the stitching, then leaving a small loop before starting to stitch again about an inch or two further on.  To try to keep the top edge level, once I had sewn round to the hole again, I cut the rope, and restarted again on the other side of the hole. That worked nicely. The addition to the original basket took 20 meteres of washing line. The whole thing is about 8 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches high.

Then I decided that it would be useful to have a really big basket, to hold all the bits and pieces for a project. This one is made from 100 metres of jute sash cord. I made the base about 16 inches in diameter, and then started moving upwards. When I thought I may get to the end fairly soon. I made some handles. This time, before I finished off sewing, I wrapped a piece of calico under the rope to give the handle some strength, rather than just relying on the thread. I left a loop of rope again, before starting to sew on the other side, with more calico to support the join. This enlarges the circumference of the top by the amount of the two handles. I went round the whole of the top again, including the handle loops, before repeating the gap procedure to return the top to the previous circumference. This makes handles that stick outwards, rather than the upwards ones shown on the video. I then carried on up the sides of the basket until I had used up all the sash cord. The result was about 16 inches high.

So what have I learned? For one thing, you need a lot of thread to zig zag these baskets together. And you have to be in the right mood. The work is either pleasantly absorbing or mind numbingly boring, depending on how you look at it. The hardest part was placing the handles. I didn’t manage to get mine opposite eachother, in spite of measuring several times. Oh well. I wanted a working item rather than something for display.

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I have finally finished my peacock fire screen. He isn’t quite as I had planned, but then I didn’t think it through properly before I started.

The feathers are sewn to a backing piece of felt, because they tended to move sideways, and to swivel in their sockets. That piece is braced with dowelling and covered with another piece of felt, to keep it tidy.

His name is Pugin, and he has featured in the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s blog post, Crafty Editors.

You wouldn’t believe how many people have asked me why I don’t call him Penelope. Because he is a peacock. Ah!

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Sewing box

I found an old sewing box in a second hand shop a while ago. It was a bit battered, and in need of some tlc. The fabric covered top seemed the obvious place to put pins, but it was very hard, and not easy to push pins in. So I took it apart to see what happened.

The fabric turned out to be wrapped round a piece of polystyrene, stuck to some corrigated card, which had been glued and pinned to a bit of plywood, then stuck to the top of the box.

So I could have used the top for pin cushions, but it wouldn’t have been long before the polystyrene disintergrated, so it was no bad think to get it sorted. Anyway, I was past the point of no return.

Having got everything apart, I went off to buy some chalk paint. Actually, that is an oversimplification. There were several occasions when I was in the right sort of shop, buying something sensible, trying to remember what else I needed. But eventually, I got some sage paint.

I wondered about drawing a paper pattern for the new cushions, but I decided that was too hard and fiddly. I used the cardboard, and turned the edges of a piece of calico round the edges to make the base. Then I wrapped another piece round the polysyrene and oversewed the two shapes together round three sides. Then I slipped the polystyrene out, stuffed it with lentils, and oversewed up the last side. That made the cushions the right shape, but a little too small, and the sides curled up a bit, leasving a gap. Probably too much stuffing, but it is better to get it firm.

I don’t know why it is that whenever I need a small piece of fabric I can never find one that is the right thickness, or the right colour, or the pattern is the right scale. Eventually, I found some left over from some old bedroom curtains. Laura Ashley ones from the 90s. I stretched this over the cushions, and stuck the edges down on the original plywood shape, using hot glue.

And here is the result:

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Don’t match your thread

Were you taught to match your thread to the fabric you were making up? Perhaps to use a shade slightly darker, so it blended in?

Well, according to this theory, you only need to keep a supply of neutral colours, which you can use with all sorts of projects.

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The mystery of Gunnister Man

Here is an interesting post about Gunnister Man, a discovery in Shetland in 1951. There is an article to read and a half hour discussion to listen to as well. It is interesting to find out how much you can discover from one set of clothes.

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