Vintage embroidered tablecloth to sunhat

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I’ve got a small collection of vintage table linens, some are family items, some I purchased myself.

This one was made by my great aunt in 1950 or earlier.

It’s beautifully bright and colourful, so perfectly embroidered, you can barely tell which is the back and which is the front.

The bright pinks, blues and yellows have been expertly stitched. The scalloped edge has been blanket stitched by hand, the base linen looks and feels silky like cream.

I’ve had it since 1993, the date of a different great aunt’s death and no one else wanted it. Its been in storage in a bag of mine and rarely seen the light of day in 28 years. Prior to that, I don’t ever remember seeing it in use and it was found in a suitcase under the bed, so this beautiful item has not been used and loved for 70 years.

There are stains, and I washed it in my machine on a delicate hand wash cycle, which did not damage the expertly stitched embroidery in any way but also did not remove the stains.

The reason it got washed this week was because there was a plan.

I find these pieces difficult to repurpose because there is not a lot of fabric to make a whole garment and the embroidery is delicate and positioned to suit a tablecloth not clothing.

I had purchased the Brighton bucket hat from sewgirl patterns

This hat has a small and large brim version and is reversible. I had already made a small brim version from a 2nd hand skirt and some vintage Laura Ashley homeware fabric:

It occurred to me that the size and curved shape of the brim pattern piece may fit the curve of embroidery typically sewn into the corner of a vintage tablecloth.

I cut my large brim hat pieces from the vintage tablecloth – fabric and pattern were a match made in heaven.

For the reverse I used a Orla Kiely curtain which had a similar background colour.

As both fabrics were mid weight I only interfaced one of the brim pieces – the instructions suggest more liberal use of interfacing.

What is great about the design of this hat is that the small brim version provides sun protection without being too large, and the large brim version is meant to be turned up so that the alternative fabric shows, and this showcases the flowery embroidery when the alternative fabric is outermost.

I am so pleased with both hats but especially with the large brim version because I have found a way to give the work of my talented ancestor a new life and a new set of viewers, both here online and in real life. A hat doesn’t need washing that often, doesn’t have areas of heavy wear and so should endure. The tablecloth maker died in 1959 so I never got to meet her, I suppose she never would have guessed that the youngest daughter of her husband’s niece would still be appreciating her work more than 60 years later. I am pretty sure none of my own sewing will stand that test of time.

MiY Kelham skirt from vintage Welsh wool

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As a child in the 60’s and 70’s summer holidays were spent in the beautiful Welsh countryside. If it rained we might walk around a small town and there would be some kind of woollen mill shop. Looking round these shops was a part of the holidays I really enjoyed and remember various purses and skirts mum bought over the years. At the time I probably thought these items were a bit naff but when I look back on my teenage choices of clothes a lot of them were of dubious taste too ( and actually my current and previous purses are made from Welsh wool fabric)

This Welsh woollen fabric ‘superior quality tweed’ from Afonwen Woollen Mill in North Wales was in my mum’s things. I estimate it’s at least 40 years old. Sold as a skirt length to make yourself (although there is the option to have it made up) mum never got round to sewing it. The piece is quite small, only 80cm long in a 137 cm width, meant to make a straight, A line or knife pleat skirt. I decided to make the A line Kelham skirt from MiY patterns. The wool packaging claims it’s enough fabric for up to 44 inch hips in this style but with only 1 inch of ease at the hips. My hips are 42 inches and I would consider such a small amount of ease very tight. I have made this skirt pattern before Kelham Skirt with pleat and pockets in a stretch twill but there was only enough wool here for an unpleated version.

Just recently I have been questioning myself about why do I keep adding to my fabric stash when I already have plenty (but most of what I add is second hand and given to me for free) and why do I keep sewing more clothes when I already have plenty to wear. I considered this length of wool to be an exception. It belonged to my mother, I should be the one to sew it up.

The Kelham skirt is a simple A line design with a back zip, optional pleats pockets and length options. I was making the short skirt, which is knee length on me, with front pockets. The available fabric was only enough for the main pieces so I went to my box of small pieces and chose alternative fabric for the pockets and waistband. In this case I had no choice but to do this due to shortage of main fabric, but I’ve already decided to use fabric from my small pieces stash for small pattern pieces in future even if there is enough of the main fabric available. This is because I want to use up small pieces and because I also like pattern mixing.

I was about to start cutting out when it occurred to me that the fabric had not been washed. I’ve washed all kinds of stuff in the machine on my normal cycle before with no harm done, and my proximity to the kitchen during this thought process encouraged me to bung the stuff straight in on a short cycle at low temperature. I wish I hadn’t done this because the shrinkage was like nothing I’ve seen before. If went from 80cm to 64cm, a full 20%, and there was some felting. I was never going to be taking it to the dry cleaner but do wish I had hand washed or not washed instead of rushing to the machine. After a lot of pulling and tugging I managed to stretch it back to 70cm but there it stubbornly stayed, and there was still just enough to cut out the main pieces but no room for error.

The pattern is cut like that at the hem because I thought I would have to shorten it but there was just enough for the main pieces

I have heard several experienced and couture end sewists say that wool is their favourite fabric to work with. When I started cutting out the Welsh wool I began to understand why. It was like cutting into a delicious buttery fudge, with a luscious feel and a thick and perfect edge with no fraying.

This skirt comes together very quickly and was finished in a couple of hours. I used a reclaimed jeans zip and some vintage bias binding for the hem.

Now I know wool should be lined and this does feel scratchy, but I’m going to wear it a couple of times, review the situation, and try and see if I can get away without lining.

Here is the finished skirt:

Vintage fabric and thread purchases

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I recently had 2 sewing shopping experiences that dreams are made of.

Exploring a nearby village with my daughter we saw a few charity shops. I love charity shops and second hand items generally. There’s the thrill of the chase, the bargains and the variety and unpredictable nature of items on offer for sale which appeals to me. Plus, I feel as if I am giving older items the respect they deserve, they get another chance to be useful and avoid landfill for a few more years.

At one particular charity shop there were some sewing notions for sale – a pincushion and some thread, some curtain tape etc. I bought them for a total of £11 asked if they had any fabric for sale. The sales assistant told me that there was some upstairs and she would go and look. I was expecting a few small pieces, not 3 carrier bags full of wonderful vintage fabric. I could see that one of them was suiting which I am unlikely to use, and rejected that one but said I would buy the other 2 bags, suggested price (from her) was £5. I hadn’t properly looked through the bags but could tell that this price was too cheap and gave her £10.

I couldn’t wait to get home and get a proper look at what was there but could not have anticipated how good the contents were, most likely the fabric stash of a lady who had died. I wish I could have known her and heard her sewing stories. There was a good number of larger pieces, 3m seems to have been her go to length, including what I believe is vintage liberty cotton lawn – I bought some Liberty lawn from the shop last year and this fruity fabric has the same look and feel.

There was 3m of this sheerish blue fabric from 1981 – its probably my favourite of the lot but I haven’t got a plan for it yet.

And 5m of monochrome of a narrower width – this ones a bit slippery.

and so much more…… some pieces look like the 1m you sometimes have left over or maybe remnants but the bag also included some Ikea bedding type fabric from 2007. Most of the fabric was woven but there were some smaller sized knits as well.

At the bottom of one of the bags was a box full of threads, notions and trim, some were very old.

There was some rick rack wrapped up in a 1962 newspaper

Some fancy trim

And some India tape, which I had to look up what it actually was, (its a kind of stabilising tape) made in Manchester with very old styling on the package. There is a lot of this India tape and I doubt I can use all of it it but will absolutely keep and cherish it.

There were also a lot of sets of buttons like this

It was the best ever charity shop find possibly never to be repeated. I will treat this find with respect, for me its not about getting a bargain but about enjoying these treasures.

As luck would have it the next day I was browsing face book market place and near to me someone was selling a box of thread. I went to buy it and the box was a very mixed bag.

There were several overlocker spools and again some very old thread.

Some mending wool – didn’t know that was a thing.

Plenty of older wooden spools, although the owner of this box did seem to like winding new thread onto old bobbins as the dark smoke one is actually yellow.

Look at this war Issue thread – I don’t even know if I should use this as its so old.

There was also an assortment of overlocker threads, some of which were dirty at the edges but I’ll still use them.

It’s official, I now have thread beyond life expectancy, but looking through my fabric and thread is almost a hobby in itself, and I know that if similar treasures presented themselves to me tomorrow I would buy them again.

Vintage dressing gown rescue

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I bought this beautiful vintage dressing gown at a market in Bath about 8 years ago for £15. By vintage I mean before clothes even had labels, the only label was this one. The lack of labels and the design make me think it is pre 1960’s.

I loved the unusual curved shape of the patch pocket.

It’s had light but regular wear for 8 years but the fabric is fragile and has deteriorated, holes started to appear, it got to the stage where it was unwearable.

It’s difficult to see here but the seams had been sewn with a very long stitch, maybe even 5 mm, which I would use as a tacking length, and the edges had been overlocked with a much darker thread.

I decided that a lining to take the strain, was the answer, in the form of a man’s shirt. This one was £2 in a Traid sale 53% linen 47% cotton, brand is Reiss.

I cut off the collar, button plackets, and cuffs.

Then sewed the shirt onto the dressing gown like a lining, with zig zag stitch. It was quite a pleasant project, lots of freestyle sewing.

I am now wearing the dressing gown again, and the Reiss label is useful for hanging it up by.