I collaborate on projects that tell stories of connection, origin and resilience so that we can begin to mend ourselves, our communities and the earth.
#1year1outfit Madder and Silk Dress

Craftivism. It’s a powerful thing.

Last year I introduced a category to the #1year1outfit makers challenge to create an outfit with a completely traceable back story.  When no one else completed the task, I thought I should dive right in and let you know it can be done.  In this messy, complicated textile world there are still glimmers of hope, stories of communities rebuilding and clothing that gives a little more back.   And as a surprise, if you read to the end, I’ve got some extra incentive for you to join me in this little, disruptive craftivism movement…

The Cloth

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This beautiful silk was bought from Trudi Pollard and has a wonderful back story.

As Trudi told me, her daughter Helena traveled to Cambodia to help an orphanage start up a sewing room and to find out about Cambodian silk.   What Helena found was that the prized mulberry plantations and gold silk yarn were all but wiped out during the 30 years of the Khmer Rouge rule which ended in 1979, and were only just starting to get back on their feet.  The Khmer woven silk production is traditionally done by hand, from the reeling to the weaving, but in the 1990’s the only skills left of this beautiful art were in the hands and memories of the “silk grandmothers.”    Helena met and talked to artisans on her visit and felt  that rebuilding the traditional textile knowledge was critical to rebuilding lives for this community.

A year after this first trip, Helena and Trudi worked to develop a sustainable model where women can learn skills, earn money and keep their children instead of needing to send them to the orphanage.  They formed a close relationship with a silk grandmother, who taught weaving to the women.  They then mentored the women in running a business and purchased their handwoven silk to sell direct to customers in Australia.  All money made from the sale of the silk is sent directly back to the women.  Helena describes the project as “the perfect blend between their humanitarian values and love of textiles.”

Trudi and Helen continue to have a wonderful relationship with the weavers and have been back on skill sharing visits.  Here’s a wonderful video from one of those trips.

The Colour

The colour of this dress has two equally inspiring parts.

The first is a story of a dyeing (pun intended) ancient tradition in Japan.   Kitta and Sawa are the custodians of the last ryukyu indigo farm in Okinawa, Japan, using traditional fermentation techniques. From harvesting the indigo crop to hand sewing the finished garments, Kitta and Sawa show care at every stage of the whole process.  They have also reintroduced madder which is no longer farmed in Japan and are advocates for the revitalisation of natural dyeing as an industry.

It is this madder root that they bought to Perth on a special trip to share their skills with our community. The Cambodian silk was dyed in the traditional way  under Kitta’s watchful guidance.

The second, lighter colour, was also from madder root, grown at a Perth school as part of an education program with Trudi Pollard. The madder had been planted at the school 3 years prior and the staff had been waiting patiently to teach the students to dye with it. I was lucky enough to go as an aide on the day that the students dug up the madder and dyed their school flag in rainbow colours.   The kids loved the idea of being witches for the day, brewing up magic potions. As a gift for helping that day , the children gave me some of the madder to take home. It was a small amount but too precious not to use so I dyed my 1ply silk lengths in this next generation Perth madder, and achieved the lighter shade.

 

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The Thread

The thread has a story that is a little mysterious and unfinished. While the back of this reel has metric measurements and is marked “Made in Australia, ”  but what I’ve found so far leads me to wonder if the reel was merely marked with a sticker as opposed to made here.

The reel (and several like it) was found in an op shop inside a sewing basket embroidered with flowers.  All the reels were wooden and of similar origin.  At a guess, the owner liked a number of textile crafts embroidery, crochet and sewing.

What I have found is that Dewhurst cotton was started by a Thomas Dewhurst in Skipton, UK, in 1789.  He converted a corn mill into a cotton mill and for almost a century after that his direct descendants grew the brand, especially this Sylko product,  into a household name across the British Empire.  Here’s where my research skills came up short.  I found the location of several historical cotton spinning mills but could not find whether a mill in Australia produced thread on behalf of the brand. Call me a skeptic, but given the practice of labeling a product as Made in Australia where major production steps are overseas still exists and is even endorsed, wouldn’t I be naive to think that this may actually be an Australian product?

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The Dress

So here you have it, the cloth, the colour, the thread and some vintage buttons found at an estate sale.  Add a bit of Named Patterns  magic and some time behind the machine and you have a dress and a slip with a story.  I saved all of the small scraps and used them in my belt and have put the larger pieces aside for an upcoming felting project.

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madder dress

madder dress

The Incentive

Congratulations!  You made it to the end.   If you’ve been toying with the idea of joining in with a bit of #1year1outfit craftivism, now is the time.  I’ve been working hard behind the scene on some prizes, what kind of prizes you ask?   Here’s a clue, if you like getting your hands blue in a very organic kind of way you might just do a little jig when I make the announcement…  Sign up!!

madder dress

 Gatsby Dreams

I love a good theme party.  My speciality being to err on the side of hilarity.  See selected tame examples below. 

Yes. That is a Power Ranger.

Anyway, I  am here to introduce you to the tamest of dress up in the long history of Nicki dress ups.  The most out of character, beautiful ensemble, such that the dress up purist in me almost feels like I cheated!

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The theme for the party was movie characters and seeing as I had long planned to sew an outfit inspired The Great Gatsby, and even had fabric hoarded for the making of such an thing, I decided that I would use the excuse to make something classy.    Classy, but wearable.   After finding this picture in the book  Art Deco Fashion (Suzanne Lussier) I decided on a cowl necked top and skirt.

I had silk enough to make a silk skirt, but could not see it being worn regularly.  Instead, the skirt is made from wool that has long been in my stash as I ordered it from overseas, thinking it perfect for a winter coat.  On arrival, I realised it was sooooooo sparkly.  Such a rookie error.

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Enter Vogue 1486, a fabric chewing volumptuous model, that I thought would pass as dropped waisted with an untucked shirt.  Pushing it, I know, but do you blame me?  This skirt is everything! It’s got drama, warmth, pockets and I am in love with its sparkle. I’ve been wearing this baby on the school run I like it so much.

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The  top was based on this Drape Drape pattern, altering only the front by removing a wedge from the centre to achieve a higher cowl.

The shirt slides around a little so I added a hook and eye and attached a beaded necklace to the back to hold things in place.  I am thinking I will may use the gold lace headband to make a more permanent tie in the future.

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The party was full of amazing and outrageous costumes and, whilst I felt a little too normal, I was happy to find both Gatsby and Daisy on the dance floor amongst the Ghost Busters, Waynes, Buzz Lightyears, Cleopatras and 2001 Monoliths.

I’d love to know your hilarious dress up stories, anyone else wear Power Ranger suits on the odd occasion?!

Top Details:

Pattern:  Drape Drape, Pattern no 1, size L.  Altered front for higher cowl.

Fabric: Silk satin sourced from a destash blog, secondhand for the win.

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Skirt Details:

Pattern:  Vogue 1486, size 14, no alterations, aside from hand-stitching a hem facing to maximise the length. Lapped zip instead of exposed.

Fabric: Wool tweed with bonus sparkle.  Mood Fabrics circa 2013.  Clearly failing on most environmental fronts, except the fact that the wool is likely to last well.

See also: Saturday Night Stitch, The Fashion Fanatic, and Rachel Boo Dogg who alerted me to the patterns existence and made up an enviable denim version..

Photos by the talented Baker Photography.

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Cover me in wool it’s freezing

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Truth.

I am a consumer.  This wool is brand spanking new, a planned and considered purchase, but a purchase none the less.

Truth.  

I haven’t showered for four days in these photos.

Truth. 

The hat was the only thing I bought camping that could tame my salt, wind and dirt encassed punk style locks.

red wool

Truth.

The wind was so bitter this morning, that we were the sole bodies on the beach.  The kids chasing the willy willies and failing to outrace the wind with their kites. 

red wool

Truth.

I immediately added a snow jacket to this outfit after 2 minutes of photos.  

Truth.

The beauty of this place makes me warmer inside. But wool also helps! 

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Details:

Drape Drape no 2 pattern 11, size L, 8cm added in length. Previously made from a drapier fabric here

My first fabric purchase for the year: Wool double sided knit from The Fabric Store and refashioned velvet from a previous refashion. A refashioned refashion…

The Dark Side

 I have some work to do around panic. 

The last six months for me have been heavily punctuated by a series of medical issues that have troubled me mostly by  the panic.

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 My heart and mind race.  My breathing goes haywire and I am convinced cancer is lurking, ready to take me down. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it. And the tears start rolling. Prematurely mourning. 

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The panic came when a medical professional suggests that “with your history, we had better double check.”  The panic came when the dermatologist told me that the dodgy mole “will be nothing to worry about”. The exact words the doctor who did my breast a biopsy said 3 years ago.  The panic came when I’ve been in bed with a migraine for the 10th day in 6 weeks.  The panic came on days that my fatigue was at its worst.  The panic came when I had chest pain, and the doctor advised me to call the ambulance.  The panic came when they called me back for a second MRI without explanation.  

That’s a lot of panic. 

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I see you panic.  I see your fears.  I see you lurking, ready to pounce.  

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Try me. I dare you.  Next time I’m ready to laugh at your ridiculousness.  To talk back. To tell you to go wait quietly in the corner while I get on with the important job of being well.   

I will not be defined by you today, tomorrow or ever.

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Three simple basics sewn from second hand cloth.   A white linen tank for wearing under all the things, some navy slacks and a navy knit top.

The Dark Side:  Slacks, Oscar de la Renta Vogue Pattern 1721 ,  fabric sourced from an op shop and Pattern Magic knit top, fabric sourced at Sew for Life Destash Market

The Light Side:  Self drafted linen top, fabric sourced from an op shop worn with Tania Culottes

Photography:  Baker Photography 

#1year1outfit West Australian Coatigan

I’ve done it, I have a gigantic oversized West Aussie hug to see me through the winters!

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This coat is West Australian sourced, spun and made.  It has travelled from Roselea the alpaca to local spinning mill, and into to my hands.  The enormity of the task of turning this beautiful fibre into a woven garment was eased by the assistance of my certificate weaving teacher, Ilka White.

1y1o 2016

Whilst exploring the weaving options available to me during the course, I decided to focus on the shapes of eucalypt blossoms given that the natural colour of Roselea and her indigo overdye reminded me so much of the beautiful hues in the bark.  Weaving operates on a grid so I first tamed the shapes into a more rectangular formation.

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This structure is called a double deflected weave and the scale of the pattern I could achieve made it particularly attractive.  The cloth was woven on a large floor loom, and I used the entire width, milking it for all it was worth! Once off the loom, the open weave and drape of the fabric gave me pause.  I had to re-imagine my original concept of a more structured coat to suit the fabric.

1y1o 2016

The coat was hand sewn with the very same alpaca yarn and I have largely left the edges as they came off the loom, as I felt it was a more genuine approach to the piece.  The collar was supported by a piece of merino felt left over from last years project.

1y1o 2016

So there you have it, the first part of my #1year1outfit project for this year.  Entirely West Australian with the small concession of using an imported biodynamic indigo powder as a starter seed to make the organic indigo vat, with local honey and lime.

1y1o 2016

To those of you also making local garments, I hope this gives you a little extra pep to keep at it.   I hope that I have something to wear under the jacket by the end of the year, if not, I am sure I can wrap this around enough…..
Details

Alpaca: Windella Alpaca

Spinning: Fiber of the Gods

Dyeing:  Biodynamic organic indigo vat with local honey and lime

Weaving:  Double Deflected Weave, Self woven with the assistance of Ilka White

Sewing:  Hand sewn with alpaca and felt, self drafted.

Process Posts: #1year1outfit  

Worn with:  Naturally dyed Ginger Jeans and Wenona Bike Shirt

PhotographyBaker Photography

1y1o 2016 1y1o 2016

Slow fashion

I blame Nina Proudman.
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You see, I have a childish sense of style. But as I approach 40 I’ve just made the first white shirt I’ve ever owned.

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The epiphany came a few weeks ago when I was selected to attend a formal work interview with only a couple of days notice.  Having not worked in an office for 5 years my wardrobe didn’t have much to offer and whilst I have a nicely procured little stash of fabrics, making a suit in a hurry isn’t my idea of fun.
mannish shirt

Slow clothing is tricky when you are in a hurry.  As I see it I had a couple of options.  Borrow from a friend or find something secondhand. A friend suggested that I try Penny Lane Clothing Exchange, which sells a curated collection of secondhand clothes on behalf of others.  I haven’t bought clothes from a shop for almost 3 years, and there’s the big glaring problem of having changed shape drastically from the norm in that time, which I usually manage by making my own clothes, so I was nervous.

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I mustered the courage to explain to the owner in a quiet moment my problem.  Interview. Nothing to wear.  No breasts.

She was an angel.  She sought me out a few separates and filled up the change room with new options as I ditched the old.   Despite my nerves I started to enjoy myself and learnt some things about shapes I do and don’t like to wear.

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Many of the clothes that I chose first up made me look like a child, and I realised that I don’t want to look young anymore.  I want to own my age and all the life experience that comes with it.  I needed to channel Nina. Nina owns her age without giving up her sense of fun.

 

Offspring Photo from tenplay.com.au

So here I am in my secondhand suit.  And with my new ethos on hand, I have begun making a few essential pieces that will take me into a new decade without giving up the fun.

mannish shirt

mannish shirt

Details

PatternShe has Mannish Style  shirt 17 (L) no adjustments.

Fabric: Silk cotton from Potters fabrics bought a long while ago.

Notions: Vintage Glass buttons from an estate sale

Techniques different to instructions: French seams, collars as per Andrea’s different order, patience and unpicking

See Also: Meggipeg, Sew busy Lizzie, Sunday Studio

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A new state

Melbourne 16

 

Have you seen the growing list of textile lovers signed up to make locally sourced outfits with me this year?   I am really excited to have you all on board, welcome!

Meanwhile, big changes have happened in my world!  I now live on the opposite side of the country, which means that while my family is now 4 hours flight away (sniff), we have settled back into our home in Melbourne which is full of art, life and memories.

I jumped straight into things feeling it was the best way to feel at home again.  The most exciting of which is an 8 shaft weaving course with Ilka White, which is opening my mind up to the world of possibilities that weaving presents and I will show you more soon.

Amongst the move, and the jumping into new things, I forgot about my other new state. The state of my body.  The fragile and tired state of my body.  In Perth, I had found a quiet rhythm that helped me get through the days without falling into a heap.  But on my return to Melbourne, my mind wants to return to days full of action, but my body just cannot keep up.

I am feeling the loss of the old me, the me pre cancer who lived here, the one who had seemingly boundless energy. I am feeling frustration that I am not back to my old self, as I start to accept for the first time that  the exhaustion I feel may not be a temporary thing, but a permanent state of being.

So my first challenge in my new state is to accept this new state.  To work with it and to ease back into life.

I went for a walk today to snap shots of this merino cowl neck top, as I made it, and two more for the kids, in January but keep failing to get a good shot.  Well, I think the shot doesn’t say too much about the top, but it does tell my story for you…and perhaps that is even better.

 

Merino Cowl Necks 

Patterns:    my knit dress block and kids Ottobre 2012 38 Boys T Size 134 , sewn with larger seam allowances for my youngest.  (I really like this issue of Ottobre and have used it for all my kids knit basics if you find one around.)

Fabric:   2.7m Natural Colour NZ merino knit from the Fabric Store
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Green Notes:   Aside from a tag that says the wool is farmed in the NZ Southern Alps I am unsure at to how it is processed.  I am going to take it on as my first #1year1outfit 2016 mini project to find out!

I dyed the wool in 3 natural dye colours, mine is Gardenia, the kids were solar dyed with purple carrot and a weak indigo honey lime vat (Using this method).
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Tidbits:  These came together easily fairly easily. I used every last scrap of the merino knit but varying the cowls a little on each one.  Construction was done on the over-locker, which I am slowly getting to grips with.

Score: 5/5 natural fibers, natural colours, super useful, super warm, what’s not to love.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme dropped shoulders

I have been cleaning up my sewing room and finishing off a few quick and easy things to make it easier to pack.  At the end of last year, I had to drop all other projects to finish my #1year1outfit and I may have built up quite the stack of unfinished things.

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So here I present the episode where I make more unusually drapey things from pre loved bits and pieces.  Believe it or not, I’ve used this pattern before on this refashioned shirt!  Don’t believe me, read on…

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 Dropped Shoulder Shirt

Pattern: Pattern Magic Stretch , a variation on this pattern below, without the extra seam lines

Fabric: Op shop cotton knit, shirt and ribbing

Tidbits:  It is a bit tricky to see what’s going on when the shirt is worn, so here it is in all of its weirdness on the hanger.  A really simple make , especially when you decide to let the hems roll instead of finishing them more formally!  The neckline is tacked down at the seams only.

dropped shoulders

I made another refashioned shirt version, using just the pattern above the arm hole to just above the shoulders as my friend was keen on an off the shoulder version.  I was a bit worried it would fall off but luckily the thick rib does the trick and it works really well.

dropped shoulders

Lessons:  Those arm holes are so low that you may attempt to put the shirt on upside-down. LIKE ALL THE TIME.

Soak in these beach shots people!  This may well be my last beachy post from Perth, as the sewing machine is about to get put in a box, ready for its move back to Melbourne.

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