Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chapter 2: The Sewing and Embroidering Machine, Machine Sewing and Embroidering

Thérèse first published her book in 1884, so machines can't have been around all that long. In fact she gives a bit of a history, starting with F. Weisenthal in 1755. He took out a patent for an apparatus provided with a needle pointed at both ends, with an eye in the middle. Others attempted, but it wasn't until about 1850 that E. Howe and I.M Singer introduced (after many vicissitudes) something practical. Thérèse discusses the parts, the accessories, and the uses.

She also talks about Motive power. She means by hand, treadle, or the most convenient, an electric motor, which can be used wherever electric lighting is available. "Machine sewing has become an absolute necessity of everyday life."

Well, um. Motive power = motivation. I've been thinking about this chapter a lot, and while it is only a few pages, I've been avoiding it. I don't really like machine sewing. I don't like getting the machine out, and every time I do it seems I have to re-learn it. Perhaps if I left it out and ready to go, I might use it more, but having to wrestle it out of the cupboard and set it up on the dining room table is not fun.

Thérèse says that "uses for this kind of work are manifold, for besides being a pleasant pastime it enables those whose means are slender to gain a livelihood." Among the manifold uses are the trimming of the inevitable underwear, table and bed linen, curtains, blinds, and for large articles requiring imposing ornamentation.

My machine is a pretty good one, bought in a fit of enthusiasm. It has embroidery stitches, none of which I have used. None.

My mum is a very good seamstress and has made many beautiful garments. She had some black stretchy fabric, so I have claimed that for my next assignment.

Assignment Chapter 2: Machine sewing and embroidery.

My assignment is to make a black top and embellish it with some machine embroidery. Not only that, I am going to bind the neck and maybe the sleeves with the berry galoon. The embroidery will make use of one or more of the embroidery stitches on the machine.

But wait! There's more! While I have been avoiding thinking about the machine project, I have been looking ahead to Projects of the Future. (This is the MOST fun.) Freecycle is a great gift to us all, and I scored bigtime. Mostly I use it to get rid of stuff, but this time I saw an offer of fabric bits. I emailed. Did she have any nice linen pieces? Yes indeed she did. I went out to see Jacky at Croydon Park, and she had some wonderful linens. There were some pieces, both fine and coarser, ready to do all sorts of things with. Forthcoming chapters deal with Embroidery on White Materials, Linen Embroidery, and Openwork on Linen. Oooh, I can hardly wait!

Not only that, but she gave me a beautiful embroidered linen sheet which had belonged to her aunt's third husband's mother. Linen sheets are one of life's great blessing.

And a beautifully embroidered linen pillowslip.

My mother has claimed both of these items and will put them to good use. I didn't want to cut them up, and it is great to see them being used. Thanks Jacky, and thanks Freecycle.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Calloo Callay, Galoon Today!

Thérèse Assignment 1 - Completed

The galoon arrived, and it is beautiful. It is definitely what I expected, a kind of twin row of braid. The Black Pants were taken out of the wardrobe and examined.

Yep, very very frayed. No more wearing velcro sandals with these pants. I think the braid is going to look lovely instead of those raggy threads.

The instructions in The Book say that although this process can be done with a machine it is much easier to get the braid to go into place with the fingers. I am happy about this, because I don't want to get the machine out.

"These should be back stitched onto the right side of the article to be bound, quite close to the edge, then folded in half and hemmed down on the wrong side."

Back stitch is explained in detail earlier in the book. "Working from right to left, take up six threads of the material on the needle and draw it through; then insert the needle two threads back from where is was last drawn out, and bring it through again six threads beyond." This was done, but I confess to not counting my threads absolutely rigorously.

Having done the back stitch on the right side, it was folded over the article being bound, and I knew how to do the hemstitching without further reference. The bit not explained was how to join the ends of the braid into a neat circle, so I just did the best I could. I am quite pleased with the result.

Now for the other leg, and to wonder what I will do with the remainder of the galoon. There are several options. It is such beautiful braid, such a pleasure to work with, I can think of heaps of things that need binding with it. Perhaps I should buy a whole heap more and bind everything?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Therese or Thérèse

There I was on my early morning walk with the dog, wondering whether I should do Thérèse the honour of using her diacritics. I was deep in thought about this important question, and I remembered some news items about our Prime Minister's wife, Thérèse Rein. She copped some flak for insisting on her acute and grave. Thérèse deserves no less.

As I crossed the railway bridge going towards Erskineville thinking about this topic, I stepped on a piece of slippery cardboard on the footpath. My foot slipped, I threw my arms up to grab something, and my keys went flying. Where were they? I looked around, not there. I looked over the side of the railing, and there they were. They had fallen down one of the very few very small gaps in the wire, and were lying on a concrete plinth about two feet below me. Thank goodness they had not fallen all the way through to the railway line, but how was I going to retrieve them? What to do? Hmmm.

The pupster wanted to continue his walk, and I didn't think anyone was going to see the keys, let alone be able to get at them. We continued on our walk around. In the park I spoke to one of the regulars on the park bench (I often speak to her - is she an alcoholic? does she have a mental illness? She never looks happy, she looks very shy, but seems happy to be spoken to) and we both wondered what I would do.

When the walk was done, I went home and got a wire coathanger and returned to the scene. My friend on the park bench was interested in how I was going to cope with this. I could just get my head and arm through the railings, but there was no way the coat hanger was going to reach. Starting home to think about another tool (or calling the council for help), I realised that I could unwind the neck of the coathanger to make one much longer wire with a hook on the end. It was *just* long enough to hook the keys, and I was saved. As I read the newspaper this morning about the increasing amount of litter in the streets, I thought about that damned slippery cardboard on the footpath, and blessed the existence of wire coathangers.

Back to thinking about Therese vs Thérèse. It is easy enough to copy and paste the ampersandeacutesemicolon and ampersandsegravesemicolon each time, and perhaps I owe Thérèse the distinction of her real name. If I had a diacritic on my name, I know I would want it there, just as Thérèse Rein wants hers.

What are the ramifications? How will it print? Is it searchable under just Therese-with-no-accents? Investigations revealed that the search engines know about this problem. See here and here. My decision is to use the accents, in deference to my heroine.

Galoon report: It is on its way!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Therese Assignment 1: the search for galoon

The search for galoon (and what one might do with it) has taken me far and wide. As a librarian and wordlover, I looked first for a definition. After all, if you don't know what it is, how can you buy it? I ranged through all kinds of search engines. If you type define galoon into Google, you do get some hits, although it asks you whether you really mean gallon...

My confession is that I spent an inordinate amount of time typing terms into search engines like Google, Bing, Bing Images, my favourite Kartoo, and Clusty. I used search terms like galoon, galloon, galoon braid, galoon lace, and more. Given that Therese wants to use it as a binding, I'm assuming it is like a braid. Many of the websites I found took me to lingerie and erotic wear sites, where galoon lace seems a common enough term. But I didn't think Therese was talking about this kind of galoon lace, despite all her talk of fancy underlinen. During my ferretting around the web, I also noted that the web version of Therese's Encyclopedia no longers talks about braid or galoon. The image is there, but it is now referred to as 'sewing on flaps.' What happened? Was it too esoteric for more recent editions? Had racy lingerie given the term a bad name?

I found my way to Wordnik, where I found the word, and a chunk of text quoting the word but not really defining it. Of course, I signed up for Wordnik and added some comments of my own. Today's word-of-the-day is bombinate, in case you were wondering. Leading on from there, I found a definition from Webster's Dictionary. That made me feel a little shamefaced, so I got off the computer and went to consult our own copy of Webster, and then the OED. We have about three different versions of the OED on our reference shelves plus a range of other dictionaries. Why hadn't I thought to start there? Am I so internetted that I forgot about print? How embarrassing. Anyway, the Shorter OED lists the word under GALLOON, with an alternative for GALON. It is a French word, defined as a pice of narrow ornamental fabric, esp. close-woven silk braid or a strip of lace, used to trim or finish costume or upholstery.

I wandered down King Street to Bollywood Braids and Trims, a treasure trove of all things braidy. Alas, it being Tuesday, it was closed. I must go back. Surely they would know about galoon. Avanti, the lovely braid and tassel shop on King Street is no longer.

In my web wanderings I found myself at the Italian Ebay site, and found some divine berry coloured galoon trim. This is the current listing, and here is a picture.

Naturally I ordered some. In my exchange with the operator of the Italian ebay store, I also found their US version here, and a glossary of terms here. There is a wonderland of terms out there, arcane terms like dimity and dobby, suzani and tabinet. Who knew?

While I await delivery of the Berry Galoon, I wonder what to do with it. Trim underwear? Cushion covers? Trendy trim on a skirt or top? At the moment the best idea I have is to use it to bind the hems on some fine black pants. (Regular readers will know I have more than one pair of black pants, and they have names. Those in question right now are the Nitya ones.) When I wear velcro-closing sandals, the hems get caught in the velcro, and the hems of these pants are now shredded. A Berry Galoon binding might be just the thing to renovate them, and to practice on.

Our next Therese chapter is Machine Sewing, so stay tuned.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Therese Chapter 1: Plain Sewing

Where better to start than with plain sewing. Therese begins with a kind of apologia for hand sewing, acknowledging that the machine so often takes the place of the hand in sewing, but "in whatever circumstances of fortune one may be placed, the ability to sew well will always be useful."

You just know there is more to plain sewing than meets the eye. Right at the top of this chapter is a picture of a strip worked in running, herringbone and buttonhole stitches. This would hardly be called utilitarian, despite the simplicity of the stitches.

Therese has some useful tips in the first chapter, and some not so useful tips. Perhaps the least useful is the advice to those with damp sweaty hands. She advises those unfortunates to keep a small box of asbestos powder handy, and occasionally dip their fingers into it.

The more useful tips involve posture while sewing. "No kind of plain sewing or embroidery compels one to adopt an awkward attitude."
One must avoid ungraceful and unhealthy positions. One must keep one's work at a height that will render it unnecessary to lower the head, which should be held as straight as possible and at most only slightly bent forward. Perhaps I should modify my twisted posture, curling up on the sofa with legs tucked under, watching TV and sewing at the same time.

Who would think that there are so many different kinds of stitches and seams? She covers them all: flat seams, seam stitch, dressmaking seam, antique, openwork, double or french seam, open hemmed double seam, herringboning, whipping, scalloped gathers. She moves through gathering and smocking (remember we are still under plain sewing), how to sew on tape loops, rounded cords, piping, binding with braid or galoon, and ornamental stitches for underlinens.

As a child I dreamed of coloured underlinens decorated with ribbons inserted using the openwork seam, ornamented with coral stitch, single or double feather stitch, or Russian stitch with interlaced stitches. I wondered what galoon was, and where I could get it. I dreamed of little frocks with smocking, even though I was never the little frock kinda girl. The possibilities seemed endless as I browsed the pictures of delicate disembodied hands with needle and thread, working the stitches.

Coming back from dreamland, the section on how to sew on buttons and how to sew buttonholes is really useful. I refer to this often, as I mostly still work buttonholes by hand even though I know how to do it with my sewing machine. It gives me inordinate pleasure to do them by hand. Buttonhole stitch makes a little knot of each stitch around the edge of the buttonhole.

Plain sewing is so much more than a simple running stitch. This chapter alone earns the Encyclopedia its place on my bookshelf.

Assignment from Chapter 1:

Find out what galoon is, and make something with it.

I blame the books, especially Therese

It is true, I am a craft junkie, a craftaholic. A craft shop is an Aladdin's Cave, and I can hardly wait to try new things. Some people are passionate knitters (like my daughter.) Some people spend their lives doing cross stitch. Not me - I have to try new things.

The title of this blog reveals two major pastimes - knitting and tatting. However it does not cover the episodes of Berlin woolwork, cross-stitch, hardanger, lacework with bobbins, filet lace, macrame and more. I realised a long time ago that I am fascinated by what one can do with a single thread. While I've experimented with sewing clothes (I can do it, but I don't love it) and other hobbies (soapmaking is another story altogether), I love what one can do with a single thread. (That extends to string games/cats cradle, but that too is another story.)

Why am I such a junkie?

It is time to examine the origins, and I have two people to blame. The first is my father, whose mantra was "read the instructions." You can do anything if you have good instructions, and if you read them carefully. The second is Therese de Dillmont. Therese and I are old friends. Her Encyclopedia of Needlwork was first published in 1884, and when I was a child we had an edition - the New Edition, Revised and Enlarged. I still have that copy. You'll find the complete text and some information about the work at

It was a small compact book, with gold edging along the top, and coloured plates. I have no idea where it came from. It is battered, the spine is broken, the gold has worn off, it has a rubber band keeping it together.

Maybe it came from a school fete? My mother sewed clothes but she was not an embroiderer. She was a knitter and had done fine crochet work in her youth, but was not passionate about either. I loved that book, and spent hours poring over the instructions, the line drawings, and the coloured plates.

Not only do I have the original little book, not only do I have web access to the fulltext (I wonder could I download that to my Kindle?), I have a paperback version so I can use it for reference while venerating the little old copy as an object.

The book is a goldmine of technique. Just casting one's eyes over the table of contents is enough to start me rummaging through craft shops for tatting shuttles, old knitting needles, lace making bobbins, whatever.

Having recently watched Julie & Julia, I wondered about doing a series of blogposts taking me through Therese's book, and reporting on my adventures. The idea has festered long enough.

I don't intend making everything in the book, but I do intend looking at it chapter-by-chapter and looking into it in some depth. I will talk about what I have done from it and when, and what I would like to do. Perhaps I will find a new technique in here. Get ready, Katie & Therese are about to begin.