Hemp-Cotton Denim Torture Test (& New Worksheet!)

Denim Fabric Twill

This is a piece of Hemp-Cotton blend denim sent to me by Cake Retailer Stromming Designs. Susanna runs Stromming and also participates in Sewalongs.  After my first denim Hummingbird, Susanna sent me this sturdy piece of fabric to play with (she may carry it if we find it handles well!).  Thank you, Susanna.

Denim Fabric 2

I like hemp fabric because industrial hemp plant rejuvenate exhausted farmland, require little water and no pesticides to grow and also because I know it wears and washes well.  It’s like linen, but tougher and with more body.  Hemp fabric can be very stiff at first, but wears in soft and basically indestructable- perfect for a casual staple skirt.  This particular fabric is also rather heavy.  It weighs in at 475 g/m² or 14 oz/yd².

click for source- fabric still in stock

click for source- fabric still in stock

Fabrics are often sold online by weight.  Sometimes the listing will just say “7 oz.” instead of “7 oz/yd²,” but it means the same thing.  This is the organic cotton twill I used to make a Hummingbird Skirt, the one you’ve seen all over my internets:

Hummingbird Orange in organic cotton twill

The 7 oz twill is fine for this skirt, though definitely toward the lighter-weight end of the fabric suitability spectrum.  The Hemp-Cotton Denim is about twice as heavy as this fabric, toward the heavier end of that spectrum.  I’m making it from the same pattern, I’ll be interested to check out the differences between the two finished skirts.

Picture 21For more on calculating fabric weight (and handy worksheet in imperial and metric), visit sewingcake.com.

Torture Testing

Often, before I work with a “new” fabric, I’ll see what it takes to destroy it.  I wash swatches to check for shrinkage (Susanna pre-shrank this fabric for me!), I crush it (this fabric doesn’t crush), and sometimes take sandpaper to it.  This fabric withstood a medium grit sandpaper pretty well.  These tests are rather fun, but they also help me understand what I can expect of the finished garment.

My favorite test is the burn test.  This is handy when the fabric is an “unknown,” or if your fingertips disagree with a fabric label.   The fabric ignited reluctantly, probably due both to the hemp-cotton fibers and the tight weave.  I like to check for tell-tale “beads” in the ash, which is an indication of synthetic fibers.*  This checks out as hemp-cotton with the scent of burning leaves/hay and the soft gray ash.

Threads and Sample Stitching

Denim Threads

For a convincingly “jeansy” denim skirt, special attention should be paid to the top-stitching.  Denim topstitching thread is readily available (here) from a variety of makers.  I grabbed a Gutermann (darker) and a Mettler top-stitch thread for my sample stitching.  I think I like the darker one better.  The blue shows a regular thread weight for comparison.  I’ll use a darker thread for my own construction, but it doesn’t photograph well.

Picture 22

Denim needles help create smooth and tidy lines of top-stitching.  They’re heavier than average needles, with a sharper point to help power through tough denim fabric.   In my own sewing, I find the overall stitch quality is improved when I use a denim needle for denim fabric.  Just be sure to use a brand that works with your machine! (Schmetz works well with most modern machines, or use the needles from your machine brand.)


After I cut the skirt, I saved a small swatch of fabric for sample stitching!  If I stitch a few different thread weights and stitch lengths on a scrap of fabric before I start sewing, then I know what works best.  It prevents potentially nasty surprises later on in the process and I think it’s a great way to improve the sewing.

Topstitching Alignment Tiplet for Beginners

A Top-Stitching Tip-let

While we’re on the topic, I thought I’d mention how I create even lines of topstitching- either an equal small distance from an edge/seamline or as a double line of top stitching.  See the first line of stitching?  The scalpel is pointing to a little “crack” in my foot, and as I sew the second line of stitching I keep my eye on that crack.  I watch my first line of topstitching and feed it into that crack.


It’s a simple way to align the stitches, but effective.

Can you see the difference in the stitch lengths here?  I like to use a longer than usual stitch length for top stitching (left) because to my eye it looks more like “clothes.”


Tomorrow: The big reveal, and also sewing with hammers!  I love sewing with hammers- rivets, snaps, jeans buttons, grommets, all of it.

Oh- and I thought I’d show you how my newly drafted lower skirt and back yoke look before sewing:

Side Dart

It really shows how the yoke seam functions as a dart, doesn’t it?  The wider seam allowances and my waist to hip ratio exaggerate the dart effect.

What do you think?

I know there’s newer sewists out there reading this, and also some who are extremely knowledgeable in the field of denim wrangling.  What are your favorite denim sewing resources?  How do you line up your topstitching?  Has anyone found a decent source of denim?  (I’m working on it…)

*I do work with synthetics sometimes, they’re alright but I generally stay away from them. 

Finished Object: Crinkle Linen Pavlova

Burbank Forest Reserve QLD | Pavlova

I’ve been sick with a sinus infection since last Friday.  Today was the first day I was feeling myself.  Stephen needed to run a work errand this afternoon(Koala Bushland Reserves), so Lila and I tagged along for a nature walk and a photoshoot in the forest.

Crinkle Linen Pavlova | Cake Patterns

This is the Pavlova Wrap Top made in the crinkled linen gauze I showed you a few weeks ago.   It’s a woven fabric, not jersey as per the pattern.  My measurements fall between 35 and 40, so I used a 35.  I hear Cake Patterns is relatively generous with their wearing ease, so I went for the smaller size.

She’s tied at the back because I did not compensate for the woven fabric when I cut the tie.  It does not prefer to stretch around my waist.

Crinkle Linen Pavlova

This is a fresh make, and it’s linen.  Experience tells me the linen will relax over time, so it’s likely that eventually the ties will go round the front.  I don’t mind either way, to be honest.

Pavlova Wrap Top in Crinkle Linen Gauze

wearing my sturdier shoes while climbing down an embankment. The stick is a useful driftwood souvenir from beach combing a few weeks ago.

The 35 is a wee bit (2″) short for my waist length, which I can get away with in a jersey.  I like this top and have worn it several times, but if I make this again in a woven I will lengthen the front.

Pavlova Crinkle Linen | 3 Hours Past

I don’t make many sheer tops, but I like this. I like it enough to make a few nice camis to go underneath. Apologies for the VBS.

I found the fabric surprisingly easy to cut and handle once I decided to ignore the texture.   I just plopped down the pieces and cut.

I used a lace motif as a tag

I used a lace motif as a tag

The handling required a little finesse and fusible webbing, and when I overlocked the raw edges in Step 12 the fabric shrank from the cutting blade.  Where the overlocking didn’t catch the edge, I simply made an old-fashioned double fold hem.

Lila photobomb on the mossy log...

Lila photobomb on the mossy log…

This fabric was an experiment, it’s just so different but I love it and had to play a little.  The Pavlova Wrap Top can be made in a woven, though I’d recommend sticking to very soft or drapey ones.  It needn’t be sheer, but I think a denser or crisper fabric won’t look right.  This particular fabric will become very soft and drapey with wear.

I posted more photos and just the facts over at sewingcake.com.

Nature Walk

The air is cool and soft, a light rain fell while we were out and it raised the fresh scent of damp trees.


What do you think?  It’s unlike me to wear a sheer top, but I do like it and think I may play with that more later.  After I make some nice camis!  Do you wear sheer fabrics?  What do you wear underneath?

I’ll be scarce around here during the rest of the Sewalong.  (Draped cardi from Pavlova later this week.) We’re up to day 6!  Then, next week, we have the Hummingbird presale!

Finished Object: Position 5 Pavlova!

Pavlova Position 5

Here she is, all finished!  I meant to post this last night, but the internet at our house ground to a halt and refused to be revived.  Next morning after some fiddling, it’s back.  Whew.


This skirt was originally my Position 2 skirt– the one where I abused the horsehair braid hem. I’ve had a few emails since then letting me know I was doing it wrong.  Yes, I know.

The thing is, it would be weird to make a series of posts about circle skirts without mentioning horsehair braid.  There’s plenty of information in the internet about application of horsehair, and I made a brief visual reference, too.  I wanted to do something else- to show precisely how the braid reacted to continual wash and wear, a clear visual warning.

Worn In Pavlova Back

It’s not pretty, but that’s not the fault of the braid.

When I needed it, I couldn’t find any horsehair braid in Brisbane or Australia so MrsC who owns and runs Made Marion in Wellington sent me some.  She’s so good.


I couldn’t leave the hem looking so terrible, so before I appliqued and embellished my skirt, I ripped out the braid and re-stitched the hem.

Pavlova Position 5

I think it was the right choice.

One of the things I find curious about embellished circle skirts is how easily the ripples can hide applique motifs.  There’s a little pink bird somewhere on the back of my skirt…

Pavlova Position 5

Oh!  There she is!

Pavlova Position 5

And another one!  Who knew candy pink birds could be so subtle?


There’s nothing subtle about the satin ribbon birdcage, though.  I built it over an existing pocket but it would be workable (and saner) to mount it on a plain rectangle of fabric which then becomes the pocket.  I positioned the bird cage near the top of the skirt as per the inspiration photo, but given my druthers I think I’d like it better near the hem.  But this is fine, too!


The Position 5 skirt felt more like arts and crafts than a sewing project.  It was really fun.   I kept messing with the ribbon birdcage, adding and removing pieces of ribbon.  Can you see the little bird swing I snuck into the cage?   I also removed a “bar” so we have an open door.

And Lila the photo-bomber came back!   We couldn’t get out somewhere cool to do photos, but she kept me laughing and we had fun in the yard.


Downloadable bird and cage templates and construction details at sewingcake.com.

Meanwhile, The Pavlova Wrap Top & Skirt pdf patterns will be released on Craftsy tomorrow!

Why Kawaii- Cute Fabric Picks

(no post yesterday, in my quest for a little balance and sanity in my life I decided Sunday is an official day of rest. no blogging or emails.)

click for source

click for source

Kawaii” is a Japanese term meaning “cute,” “loveable” and charming in a non-threatening way.  I’ve been throwing that word around a bit lately without talking about what it is, so I thought we could chat about my latest favorite fabrics from Voodoo Rabbit.  Ever since I started teaching there regularly, I keep bringing home irresistible kawaii fabrics…

my cake roll.  Loving it.  click to view Etsy listing...

my cake roll. Loving it. click to view Etsy listing…

These silly little animals came home with me to line my Cake Roll and to make sewing room accessories recently.  Every time I look at this fabric, I can’t help but smile!   Cake!  Little creatures baking!


Last week, I knew I’d be sewing pockets in the near future (I’m in production mode!) so I picked up another kawaii print.  It’s fairytales!  Like many imaginative people, I love fairy stories and folk tales.


I’m not impressed with the “Disney-fication” of fairy tales.  Disney’s renderings seemed bland to me even as a child.  I read and imagined those stories myself.   I sought them out in the library and enjoyed those “real” stories that housed hard truths and wisdom passed down through time.

the Frog Prince

Now that I have a kid myself, I can appreciate how difficult it is to find clothes/bedding/plates/etc that isn’t some bland mass-produced character “product.”  Why is that?

Tiger Lily! (?)

Tiger Lily! (?)

At any rate, it means I’ve learned to love and appreciate distinctive little prints like this and to incorporate them into my sewing.


While I wait for Pavlova to finish printing and ship (more on that this week), I’m madly sewing samples for upcoming releases.  Today I cut the first of several pocket bags from this fabric.  How many different references can you spot in one pocket?

What’s your favorite kind of print to use for pocket bags and facings?  What’s your favorite fairytale?

Aqua Linen Gauze – Macro View

Textured Linen Gauze

A few days ago, I featured this little beauty in the changing banner of loveliness (I’ll find a way to keep doing that, I liked it too).  It’s a bit of aqua open weave linen I prepared for a Pavlova Wrap Top.

Linen Before Washing

I found this linen gauze at The Fabric Store.  I resisted its lure for the better part of a year, unsure what I could possibly make with diaphanous linen.  When it went on sale recently I snapped up a piece to play with.  This is the fabric before I washed it- flat, open, and a bit stiff.  Linen fabric always begins life a bit stiffly, it’s the nature of bast fibers but over time the fibers soften and mature into a truly lovely and nearly indestructible fabric.

Linen After the Wash

I overlocked the raw cut ends together.   The machine didn’t want to handle a single layer and I didn’t feel like arguing.  I shoved this piece of fabric into a load of blues and went about my business. I knew the texture would change, though I couldn’t tell how it might turn out.

Regular rippling

After washing, this beautiful texture came out in the fabric.

The Sea- Byron Bay, Australia

It reminds me of the sea- Byron Bay shown here.


Once washed, I left the length of fabric outside on the clothesline for several days to age the fabric.  Linen fibers are tough– regardless of the weave used.  Leaving the linen outside exposed to the sun and dew speeds up the softening process, it’s now Pavlova-ready.

I can’t wait to cut this up and stitch together a woven Pavlova Wrap Top to show you during the Shipping Season!  It’s on my to-do list this week, lucky it’s a quick-to-sew pattern.

Have you ever completely transformed a piece of fabric before sewing?  Purposefully or otherwise?  Do tell!

Today’s winner is:

Picture 10

Finished Object: Seersucker Negroni Shirt

A few weeks ago, Stephen asked me to make him some shirts for summer.  I was startled.  I made him a pair of tough and hardy linen work shirts two years ago and he wears them all the time for field work.  They’re still holding up well, and the linen has softened beautifully- no need to replace them!  He also wears light, short-sleeved cotton shirts to his academic/office days but I never thought to try making one of these tropical-business-casual shirts for him.

It’s tricky to sew for another person, and I’ve learned that to avoid wadders or other sewing disasters I should proceed with caution when accepting commissions (I pretty much only accept commissions for people I really, really like.).  First, I asked him to pick his two favorite shirts from the wardrobe.  One was quite dead, a light green plaid from a mid-range-expensive men’s brand.  The other was an extremely smart pinstriped shirt I bought to go with his graduation suit.

The trick is to find out why he likes the shirts, so I can incorporate those elements in the new shirts.  I noted the fabric (plaid, stripe, blue, green) and he agreed he liked those, and very helpfully added that the striped one was his favorite fit.

Aha!  Out came the measuring tape and I noted the finished chest measurement on his “best fit” shirt.  Then I added a few shirts to a Pinterest board and he told me which ones he hated so I removed them, leaving me with the colors and styles that appeal to him.

I’ve been wanting an excuse to sew Colette’s Negroni shirt pattern since it came out, but I didn’t want to press the “sewing-for-the-husband” thing.  Before he could change his mind about summer shirts, I bought the Negroni pattern and went shopping for shirting.

I was attracted to this seersucker immediately. It’s from Spotlight of all places, and is a really great quality.  I like the exaggerated seersucker texture, it’s at the same time easy to sew, easy to launder (no pressing needed!) and very comfortable to wear.  Besides, I’ve seen several “smart casual” shirts in shop windows made from a similar material lately and wanted to try it out.

His finished chest measurement fell between the S and M sizes on the Negroni pattern, so I cut M.  The shirt he likes so well features shallow double tipped darts in the back, so I thought if he wanted me to take it in, I could make darts.

I doubt I can say much about this pattern that hasn’t already been said!  It’s definitely more of a casual shirt than a “fine” shirt, but I like the shape of the pockets, the collar, and the little button loop is a great detail.  Every time I open a Colette pattern I think to myself “What will Sarai show me this time?”  I always, always pick up something new.

This time I learned a “new” way to set in a camp/convertible collar.  I don’t know how many collars I’ve sewn or how many different methods I’ve tested but this was new to me.  Rather than go off on my own, I stitched it the way the instructions dictated.  It wasn’t bad, but also didn’t change the way I’ll sew collars in the future.

terrible indoor lighting…

I really have no complaints about the pattern at all.   The fabric would not tolerate flat-fell seams, so I finished them with my overlocker and then top-stitched through the seam allowance near the seam for durability.  I left off the pocket flaps, it seemed incompatible with the nature of the fabric.  Can you spot my pockets?

We planned a family outing to Cylinder Beach at Lord Stradbroke Island the weekend I made this shirt.  It’s a gorgeous island off the east coast of Australia, easily accessible via a ferry.  We swam, made sandcastles and had a picnic.  This time of year, the breeze smells of salt and jasmine.  It’s dreamy, I love the beaches here and wish I could live nearer the sea.

I hurried to finish the shirt before we left because- photo-op.  Unfortunately, in my haste I made a mistake in the finishing.

Can you spot my mistake?

Oh that’s right… Women’s buttonholes go on the right, men’s go on the left!  I suppose subconsciously I fell in love with the fabric and wanted it for my own.  After his initial surprise, he decided he doesn’t care and wears the shirt anyway.

Next time, the buttons will go on the left.  I also want to try adding a placket.  I have two more such shirts planned for the summer- one of plain tencel, and another of the finest Italian shirting I can lay my hands on.

In keeping with my personal “Value The Sewing” project, I put together the costings/value for this shirt.   This time I didn’t count my sewing time in the “value” because as many have pointed out, I enjoy sewing.  It was pleasant to sit and turn off my brain and let Sarai tell me how to put this together.  Relaxing.

Factoring in my time would put the “value” of the shirt at around $110, on the more expensive end of his shirt-buying budget.  He spends moderately on shirts because nicer shirts use fabric that lasts and looks nice much longer than cheaper shirts.  They are also better made than the cheapest shirts.  I encourage this.  Each shirt costs a little more, but we buy fewer shirts in the long run.

At ~$38, it’s one of my more expensive makes but the quality is comparable to the type of shirt he might buy (improperly gendered buttons notwithstanding).  I counted the entire price of the pattern in the cost; the fabric and notions cost a snivelling ~$15.

I have enough seersucker left over to make Lila a dress, I may use this new pattern from One Girl Circus:

Click for source

How cute is that?  Also- I know mommy/daughter dressing alike is a “thing,” but what about daddy/girlie dressing?  I think it would be sweet, and they don’t mind…

Exhausted on the ferry home at sunset. We spotted a dolphin in Moreton Bay between the island and the mainland.

Do you like seersucker?  Sometimes I find older people think I’m insane for using it for clothing.  The woman who cut this fabric asked me if I was making tablecloths.  Uhm.  No.

How do you approach sewing for another person?  Do you include them in the “thought” work?  Any tips?

Don’t forget- Frosting Fortnight starts on the 18th, head over to Mari’s blog for a cute little button you can add to your sidebar!

More Reading:

Fine Shirtmaking from Off the Cuff Style

Sewing with Seersucker from Coletterie

Free Downloadable Negroni Shirt Pocket Options

Technical Diagrams illustrating “enclosed seams on the shirt yoke” trickery

Sexy, Sexy Polar Fleece

Click for source

I decided to challenge myself and make the next hack out of polar fleece- or rather, out of an Ikea Polarvide throw.  Before I started researching, I thought of polar fleece as boxy, boring zip front activewear.  They take abuse, keep you warm and wash easily.  Those are all excellent qualities- so why are polar fleece jackets all cut this way?

click for source

I’m making mine using this cut, by popular suggestion.  I haven’t decided whether to use a separating zipper or buttons, I may embellish with some sporty grosgrain ribbon and I’ll make 3/4 sleeves.   A zipper will allow me to fit the polarfleece closely; buttons may gape with movement.  I hate that.

What is Polar Fleece?

Malden Mills developed Polar Fleece in 1979 as a synthetic wool alternative.  It’s lighter than wool, vegan-friendly and easier to care for than wool was in the 70’s.  (Though we merino lovers know that’s changed since then!)  It’s a stretchy, plushy fabric that washes easily, made from PET (basically plastic).   This nifty page dissects the differences between wool, polar fleece and other high-performance fibers from the point of view of a horse.

Here’s the part about polar fleece I find fascinating: the developer of Polar Fleece, Aaron Feuerstein, decided not to patent the process to aid the spread of the new fabric technology.  This accounts for the wide range of qualities available on the market.  His gutsy decision didn’t hurt the company, either.  Malden Mills still produces polar fleece fabric today- Polartec.

(Fabric Nerds: This is how they make polar fleece!  Neat!)

A little digging on the company website showed me they’re still leading the industry in polar fleece production and innovation.  They’ve turned their attention to creating fleece from recycled bottles.  I remember hearing about that a few years back.  Apparently it takes 25 plastic bottles to make enough fabric for an adult’s jacket.

Polartec doesn’t just offer recycled bottle fleece as a novelty for the green-guilty- all of their fabrics use at least 50% recycled fibers.  Some of it comes from plastic, some of it is fabric scraps discarded while making those boxy zip-front jackts.  Rad!

And even RAD-der: they offer all of their fabrics online by the roll or by the yard.  And it’s not hideously expensive.  What?

I really had no idea polar fleece was so sexy.

Click for source- A really awesome tutorial on making creative and simple stuffed monsters using polar fleece!

Sewing Advice for Polar Fleece:

I have never sewn with polar fleece, to the best of my memory.  Before I work with a new fabric, I always do some research.  Here’s what I turned up:

  • Fleece has a right side and a wrong side: “On prints the right side is usually clearer or the colors are more vivid than the wrong side. On solids, the right side is smoother than the wrong side which looks more like felt. If your not sure, ask the fabric store personnel before you purchase it. If you have some already in your stash and are not sure which is the right side, wash the fabric a couple of times. The side that looks the best is the right side.”

Excellent.  I love this kind of practical advice.

  • Easy to sew
  • Use a cool iron or finger press
  • Flat fell seams look good
  • Use sharps, a medium to slightly heavy weight needle
  • Use a narrow zig-zag stitch
  • “Select a simple sewing pattern with few design features.  Loose-fitting styles work best. Eliminate as many seams as possible because bulk is your biggest challenge.  Consider a custom closure such as a separating zipper… instead of buttons and buttonholes.”

The last bit of advice comes from a nifty little pdf from the University of Kentucky Extension service.  I’m old-fashioned so I’ll print this little gem and stick it in my fabrics notebook…   They fail to mention why I should keep the cut simple, aside from the bulk issue.

“On paper” I’m pretty excited to be working with fleece.  Granted, my little Ikea throw isn’t made from recycled anything, but if I like the results of my hack I can always make the pattern from something greener and more durable.  I wonder how much shaping I can introduce before my little jacket implodes and melts?  I assume there must be some practical reason no one sews fleece garments in any shape other than “box”.  Do you know why?  What can you tell me about your own experience working with fleece?

Finished Object: 9 Lines Sweater, Tee and Hack

May’s Hack of the Blank Canvas Tee- the 9 Lines Sweater and Tee- is complete!  Sure, it’s June 10, but I’m getting better with the dates.  I always seem to sew up the hack during the month and forget all the work that goes into writing it.  I’ll try to be more punctual.  This is the hemp-rayon jersey version.

I added three lines of pintucking to the back neck, I like the effect.  It takes so little effort to embellish a plain layering tee, and I think it’s well worth it.  This tee features a regular knit neck binding, underarm gussets for mobility (and to reduce bulk), and pintucked embellishments made with twin needles.

Though I intended the hack as a sweater, I made this one first to check if my gusset drafting would work on a knit.  It does!  I know gussets are kind of scary, but I over-explain them in the hack and I hope it’s useful to someone.  I know that some hiking and activewear uses gussets, and they’re especially wonderful for sweater weight fabrics.

The Hemp Rayon was not terribly difficult to sew with, even on the fiddly places. I still don’t see any pilling, I’ll be sure to update at the end of the winter.  So far, so good!

I re-watched Charade with Audrey Hepburn last week and this collar on “Reggie” caught my eye.  It’s one of those curious little standaway collars so popular in the 60’s.  I also have several standaway collars on my Hack Inspiration pinboard.  I wanted to try my hand at a collar like this, combined with my other inspiration (though on closer inspection, it looks like this is a standaway collar, too):

I used a very plushy merino jersey and felted it gently in the washing machine.  The result is like polar fleece, but sooooo soft and warm and magical.  Really.  I found the fabric as a second at The Fabric Store.  I’m not sure why it was a second, I couldn’t find a flaw on the fabric.  (In fact, before I cut the hack I wore the length of merino as a pashmina on a night out and was sorely tempted to leave it as a pashmina.)

You can see the seamlines. Buttons are glass and metal ones I re-discovered while digging through my stash. I love special surprises like that!  I like the shape of the collar, but I could easily add a hook and eye to keep it closed tighter.

Sewing in the button loops

Close-up of embellishment. I made 3 lines of pintucking on each line I marked, very effective for this fabric.

back neck embellishment- I hadn’t washed out the chalk lines yet, in case they were needed to help show the embellishments in photos…

This picture shows range of motion. It’s important to me that my clothes allow me to pursue a double life as Spiderman.

I really must blog this skirt… I wear it all the time.

Click image to download hack + sewing notes .pdf. It’s different from my previous hacks.

When I was about halfway through writing this hack, I had an idea about how to best present the information.  I’ve been struggling with this since I started publishing the hacks.  I’d like them to be as visually pleasing and useful as possible, to present drafting as a delightful creative exercise rather than some secret and scary skill.  I divided up the various design elements on this top and present them separately- both in the hacking and the sewing instructions.  I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts on the hack.

More shots from the mobility testing.  Clothes should be able to move, even the really lovely ones with glass buttons and pretty collars.

I’m really happy with this hack- both the garments I made and the pdf.  Time to turn around and work on June, maybe I’ll get it out before July!

Up Next: Altering the Clovers and also Welt Pocket Testing.  I’ve stumbled across several interesting welt pocket tutorials lately so I thought I’d try a few of them and pick a favorite.

Research on Rayon: Pulp, Hemp, and Bamboo

I thought I’d bring together a few scattered thoughts and links on rayon production and processes in one post, but beware, this is an overview and not an in-depth study of rayon production.  When I mentioned working with rayon-made-from-hemp the other day, I started digging around for information on rayon production.  Whew- what a lot of information to wade through!   I don’t want to embarrass myself by trying to talk about physics or chemistry.  If you’re interested in those aspects of rayon production, then please do follow the links.

I’ll break Rayon into three parts: Definition, Manufacturing/Sustainability, and Practical Use.

Definition: A Man-Made Natural Fiber

Rayon was discovered by Count Hilarie de Chardonnet in the 1884. (Some sources claim it’s much earlier.)   He and Louie Pasteur (yes, that Pastuer) were looking for a cheap alternative to silk when France’s silk moths were under threat from disease.

Rayon derives from natural fibers, usually wood pulp or cotton, and is processed and chemically re-arranged to form strands of fiber which produce a soft, absorbent, drapey fabric.

Click for source, and for a detailed description of the chemical process

The process varies, and has changed over the decades but most of my sources agree it goes like this:

To make rayon, sheets of purified cellulose are steeped in caustic soda, dried, shredded into crumbs, and then aged in metal containers for 2 to 3 days. The temperature and humidity in the metal containers are carefully controlled.
After ageing, the crumbs are combined and churned with liquid carbon disulfide, which turns the mix into orange-colored crumbs known as sodium cellulose xanthate. The cellulose xanthate is bathed in caustic soda, resulting in a viscose solution that looks and feels much like honey.

Caustic soda is the same thing as lye used in soap making, and is also found in Drano.

Click for short article on industrial synthetic fiber creation…

Once the honey colored viscose solution has aged a few days (it varies), the solution is forced through “spinnerets” which look like shower heads.  Rayon is “wet processed” which means the viscose is exposed to sulfuric acid, sodium sulfate, and zinc sulfate to turn the liquid viscose into useable fiber.  The gases (CS2 and H2S) released during this process also find their way into the environment.

Manufacturing and Sustainability:

Since the roughly the mid-90’s, (judging by the literature I found) manufacturers searched for a cheaper way to produce rayon with fewer toxic by-products.  One way way is electronic beam processing:

Electron processing renders the cellulose more
accessible to chemicals and reduces the amount of alkali,
carbon disulfide, and acid used in the process. In addition
to potential savings of about US $3 million per annum
for a typical plant, the lower chemical demand translates
into reduced emissions of polluting chemicals. Electron
processing may allow a plant to stay in operation under
current emission standards, or expand its operation
without the need for further pollution control.

–“Electronic Beam Processing: A New Business and a New Industry

Tencel is another type of rayon, made from Euclyptus pulp.  The process sets Tencel/Lyocell apart from other rayons because it is a closed-loop system.  That means that it reuses the waste created in the process.  That’s nifty.

Another aspect of rayon and textile sustainability involves the fibers used to make the rayon in the first place.  Most of the time, bamboo sold for clothing is actually rayon.  The material began life as a bamboo shoot, but went through one of the processes outlined above to become a fabric.

Hemp, too.  Hemp is my favorite fiber because of its sustainability cred, but I admit I’m a little conflicted about wearing hemp rayon jersey.  Is hemp or bamboo jersey more or less sustainable than cotton or other rayon?  Probably.  Both hemp and bamboo grow much more quickly with fewer chemicals and less water usage than cotton.  Both bamboo and hemp grow exponentially quicker than wood.

Practical Use (subjective opinion!):

Click to view the Sailor Sweetheart Top, made of rayon and already a victim of pilling and stinkage.

I don’t like sewing with rayon jersey.  There, I said it.  In my experience, rayon jersey pills if I look at it sideways and begins to stink after the first sweat.  It’s maddening to sew- much more wiggly than regular t-shirting fabrics.  The bindings and design details tend to crumple in the wash, even when I’m careful to take everything out and dry it immediately.

Made of bamboo- not quite dead, but longer than it was at the beginning of its life and not the greatest t-shirt ever.

Plus- I noticed that bamboo jerseys tend to “grow” just like knitted garments made with bamboo yarn.  Any knitters out there notice that?  It’s the same, the hem creeps slowly downwards.  I have yet to find any bamboo fabric that doesn’t pill (some are better than others), it grows, and it is extra wiggly compared to regular rayon.

The hemp-rayon jersey may be different.  I have a swatch that has gone through six loads of washing thus far without pilling.  I’m impressed.  It’s not as “wiggly” either, and has a nice lightweight but firm hand.  The hemp rayon differs from hemp jersey- I used some of that last year for a dress and two shirts- plain hemp jersey(mixed with organic cotton and a whiff of lycra) is somewhat heavy and curiously “nubbly.”  This hemp rayon is smooth and extremely lightweight.  I have some purple I’ll use later this month for June’s hack…

I found this delightful old video on rayon production while researching the topic- check it out for some lovely mid-century optimism and a look at the process of making rayon.
Do you sew with rayon?  How do you like it?  (You don’t have to agree with me!)

May’s Hack: Design Inspiration and Twin-Needle Tucks

Click for source

Last month, I asked for heaps of input for the 40’s Charm hack.  (Click here to find out more about my free t-shirt pattern and the hacks I’m doing all year.)  That was fun, we’ll have to do something more like that later.  From the second I pinned her on my Hack Board, I knew I wanted a crack at translating this vaguely Asian-inspired 1950’s dress into a knit turtleneck.  Or a sweater.  Or a layering piece.  I just had to wait for cooler weather.

Cooler weather has arrived in Queensland!  I find I need a few long-sleeved tops since most of my clothing suits an “endless summer” climate.  In approaching this hack, I decided to make the same top from two very different jerseys.  The first one is a layering tee, made from a fluttery, clingy Hemp Rayon.  It’s not a blend, but rayon made from hemp.  Check it out.I feel a rayon jersey post coming on, there’s so much to say, and only so much room in a single post.

I toyed with a few ideas for how to make the tucks on the neck- darts, pleats, pintucks?  Then I remembered a simple embellishment technique- Twin Needle Tucks.  Have you ever tried this?  These tucks work well on lighter weight fabrics, and lend a little texture to an otherwise flat piece of fabric. They also “take up” very little fabric, so I don’t need to do anything special to the pattern in order to use these tucks.  Really, they can go anywhere on a garment.

Most machines support twin-needle action- be sure to check the instructions.  Basically, two threads sit on top of the machine…

…and feed down through a double needle.  It’s important not to twist the threads, which is why the top of the needle shaft area has these two little clips.  That helps prevent tangling.

Before I jumped into embellishing my top, I played with stitch length and tension on a scrap of the fashion fabric- better to work out the kinks now than deal with surprises later.  The bottom row of stitching is the regular machine tension- 4.  I loosened it right up and stitched another row next to it.  Neither were exactly what I was looking for- too flat.  When I tightened the tension, I found the delicate ridges I wanted.  (Also- a smaller stitch length makes them even more pronounced.)

The difference in tension really shows on the back- when the top threads are tight, the bobbin thread pulls the two lines closer together.  Takeaway lesson: tighter tension for ridges, looser tension for a simple double-stitch (often used on hems).

I marked the embellishment lines on my pattern, then the fabric, then held the fabric up to me and decided to play with the spacing of the lines.  The new embellishment line are in green.  May’s Hack (no clever name yet!) will also have long fitted sleeves and a diamond shaped underarm gusset to reduce bulk for layering (and enhance mobility).

Once I marked the shirt, I stitched along the lines.  The center of the line lies between the needles- too easy.

At the neck edge of each twin-needle tuck, I simply tied the threads together to secure them.  At the other end, I pulled up the bobbin thread gently- both to increase the “ridged” effect, and to pull the top threads to the back.  Then I tied them off securely and trimmed the threads.

Once I finished that, I immediately rinsed out the marker.  After my whites disaster, I’m a little jumpy about that kind of thing.  It’s still wet, the dry fabric isn’t so transparent.  I like this effect- so much so that I kind of want to make more little tucks all around the neckline.  And the back neck.  Everywhere!  I plan to finish the neck edge in my usual way.

But what about the plushy black merino?  The hemp jersey is far too slinky to support a collar, but I figure my merino has the body for it.  I have had the image of a stand-up collar in my mind for months now, but I find myself distracted by this little beauty:

Click for source

Hey!  Those neck dart things look familiar, this time teamed with a teeny Peter Pan collar.  Now I’m torn- Side closing Mandarin with shoulder buttons, or Peter Pan collar?  You know I’m susceptible to persuasion…

Personal Stuff: About a month ago, I spilled something on my laptop.  And kept typing after wiping it up.  BIG MISTAKE.  Then I spent a week on tenterhooks- would she or wouldn’t she survive?  How many of my files could I salvage?  How am I going to work on my Pants Blocks and patterns?  It was a disaster.  For a few weeks, I used a dinosaur desktop we keep for watching movies (and won’t support my imaging software or scanner).  Then my FIL was so consumed with grief over my laptop’s demise he bought himself a new one and passed his old one on to me.  Today I had a full work day to actually set up my “digital workspace” once more- files, imaging programs, everything is now on my FIL’s old laptop.  It took more time than I thought it would to import all that stuff…  I’m really, really grateful.  I didn’t want to whine about it much, but not being able to work on patterns was really getting me down.  So now I have four patterns that were all ready to go except for the computer work- expect to see some new stuff over the next month!!  Thank you, FIL.  I’ll shut up about Santa…