Sneaky peeks….jackets and skirts and shawls oh joy!

Today is rainy and miserable so I thought I’d cheer myself up with some crafting updates.

First up – progress on my Victorian walking jacket.

It’s slow going – I’m finding it hard to get the back of the neck to sit right and the problem with pinning something on myself is that every time I reach up to put in a pin I either stab myself or the whole thing moves around and I’m left taking random tucks. My method has been:  *try it on, squint critically, take it off, baste like my life depends on it, try it back on, wince, take it back off, unpick. Repeat from *.

I’m happy with bits of it. My embroidery has improved no end (considering I had zero embroidery skills at the start of the project, that’s not really very hard).  And the sleeves bring me joy. This may not look like very much to you but to me it is the pouffy sleeve of dreams (and of the late 1880s).

Authentic 1880s style

Authentic 1880s style – with a hint of my Mimi blouse by Tilly and the Buttons underneath

If I can persuade someone to take better pictures I’ll post better pictures soon. Once I’ve finished wrestling with the lining anyhow. At the moment, the lining looks like it’s making a mad dash for freedom. I had a mad idea of wearing it to the Roehampton graduation ceremony next week but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen…maybe the elves will finish it if I leave it out overnight?

Next Up: Vintage find of the week is this skirt kit.

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Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds Skirt Kit

That’s right, a skirt kit, complete with lining and a zip and its own little sew-in label.

It cost me the princely sum of eight English pounds in a charity shop in Putney.  It’s a thing of wonder – mostly wondering where the hell it came from.  I haven’t been able to find out when Yorkshire Fine Woollens & Tweeds were producing these sort of kits or if there was a wide range of them.  There’s no company trading under that name now so I’ll have to do a but more investigating.  If anyone has any leads on skirt kits, please let me know!

This is definitely going to become a skirt though – I’m thinking a sort of Miss Jean Brodie style thing. The kind of skirt you can wear on a sit-up-and-beg bicycle with a basket of fresh bread and terriers on the front. Or the kind of skirt that you wear with thick boots and a scowl.

This past month, I’ve been taking part in a Terry Pratchett themed swap organised by Louise Hunt of Caithness Craft Collective and I’ve been busy getting a little package together for my swap partner.  I like listening to podcasts and audiobooks but I find I can’t use the sewing machine if I want to listen at the same time.[1] So over the last few weeks I’ve been doing a fair bit of knitting too – well, designing really. I’ve designed my first ever lace shawl.

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Blocking the shawl…

I’m ridiculously pleased with myself about this – it brings elements of Estonian lace and English mesh lace together and it’s inspired by…well, I can’t reveal that just yet.  This is just a sneaky peek after all. I’m in the process of writing up my scrawls into an actual pattern that I will publish on this blog soon.

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[1] My friend Jess once said my sewing machine makes a sound like a drunk person rearranging furniture – there might be something wrong with it but then again it’s ALWAYS made that noise so it might be OK.

On Doilies

Today I discovered something that changed my life.  The scales have fallen from my eyes.  Mind blown.  Everything is changed, changed utterly.

I found out what doilies are for.

Doilies – [also  doileydoylydoyley, or even erroneously d’Oyleyd’oylie according to the OED] are weird lacy napkins-type things that look like soft tea-saucers.

My childhood was haunted by doilies – specifically by the doilies that adorned my Auntie’s sitting room – every table, every chair, every solid surface had one – one long runner-one along the back of every armchair, one small round one on the arm of each chair, one underneath every ornament on the mahogany shelf, one in every place where you might conceivably put down a cup or rest your hand. Even the lampshade had lacy etched glass that look (to my young and foolish eyes) like a see-through doily. The only thing Auntie hadn’t got was a doily-shaped ceiling-cosy.  I’m pretty sure she would have got one too if she knew where to buy them.

I always thought they were pointless – worse, they were a nuisance.  They were always slipping onto the floor and crinkling up and then they’d have to be taken away and washed and fresh doilies, stiff from the hot press[1] would be laid down.  I hated them.  And the doilies hated me too.  I only had to look at them and they’d get grubby.  Then I’d get blamed.  When it all was the doilies’ fault.  Or, really, let’s be honest, Auntie’s fault.  She bought the doilies in the first place.

But then, today while doing some teaching prep[2]: a revelation. Once upon a time, doilies had a function.

[In the 19th century home] coal residue was omnipresent, both as dust when coals were carried to each fireplace and then, after the fires were lit, as soot thrown out by the fire, blackening whatever it touched.  The most common system of protection was to cover whatever could be cover, and wash the covers regularly. (Judith Flanders, The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed (2004), 10)

Doilies were part of a whole system for fighting against coal dust

 …housekeepers simply had to accept that soot and ‘blacks’ [flecks of coal dust] were part of their daily life.  Latches to doors – both street and inner doors – had a small plate or curtain fitted over the keyhole to keep out dirt.  Plants were kept on window sills to trap the dust as it flew in; or housewives nailed muslin across the windows to stop the soot […] tablecloths were laid just before a meal, as otherwise dust settled from the fire and they became dingy in a matter of hours. (Flanders, The Victorian House, 70-1)

Far from being totally useless, doilies are exactly as useful as houseplants.

Actually, there seems to have been a craze for putting aspidistras and doilies together.

aspidistra

There’s even a doily on the cover of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying

GeorgeOrwellKeepTheAspidistraFlying

I think I’ll do a post about Aspidistras soon.  Flora Klickmann had some very severe opinions about them.  Maybe I’ll even design a doily based on an aspidistra.  Probably not though.

If you do decide to make a doily, there are some really beautiful patterns out there.  As well as crochet patterns for home-decorating doilies like the Crocus Doily from JoAnn and  this giant crochet rug made out of t-shirt yarn, there are lots of patterns for knitted lace shawls like the gorgeous Queen Anne’s Lace Shawl from Men Who Knit, Jared Flood’s lovely Hemlock Ring Blanket, and these doilies from Yarn Over. I’m sure any one of them could be adapted to make a fine ceiling-cosy.

I’m still slightly afraid of doilies so I won’t try making one anytime soon.  Maybe when I buy an aspidistra and need some to stand it on, I’ll give it a go.

This week, I’ve been mostly working on winter scarves  (woo! Layers!)

This one is based on Rose Anne’s Braidheart pattern.  I made one ages ago in a dark charcoal grey and I wear it all the time so I decided to make something of a similar weight and style.  I’ve also started working on a shawl pattern from the book I found in the bin.   It took me a while to decipher the handwriting and make sense of the pattern but I’m getting there…slowly.

 

[1] A hot press is like an airing cupboard but in Ireland.

[2] Real work, I swears it on the precious.