Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vintage Strawberry Pincushion Ebay Treasure!

This gorgeous bunch of white strawberries is up on ebay and I dearly wish I could afford them! I'm not sure if they're intended as decoration or as a functioning pincushion, but either way, wouldn't they look great on your sewing table? Here's the link to the listing, which is almost over, so go quick!

Now, since I really can't buy them right now, but of course I just have to have them anyway, I came up with my own version.

Turns out a strawberry is a pretty easy thing to make. Just a half circle of fabric sewn up the side and gathered at the top. The original used white velvet, but naturally I don't have any on hand so I used this cotton print.

First thing to do is cut out 2 circles 3 1/2" in diameter. Fold one in half and cut along the fold. Take one of those halves and trim it down to about a 2 1/2"
diameter. Take the other circle and trim it down to a 3" diameter, then fold it in half and cut it along the fold too. Okay, I cut mine wrong. Creative license! Each half circle makes one berry, and you want 1 large one, 2 medium ones and a small one.

Next you'll fold each piece in half again (right sides together) and sew along the straight open edge with a 1/4" seam. (I used black thread so you could see). If you want rounded tips on your berries instead of the pointy ones shown, round off the end of your seam. You want to use a fairly small stitch length on your machine, or a small backstitch if you're doing this by hand.

Turn them all right sides out and run a small gathering stitch around the open tops. Use a fairly long length of thread. Stuff VERY firmly. You can always get a little more in! Draw up the gathering stitches and shape your berry as you go. When each one is stuffed, sew the top closed and knot the thread, but don't cut it.

Now, take the tail of thread and a bunch of seed beads and sew seeds all over your berries. I always seem to sew things in straight lines, but you want to make them as random as possible. Sew on as many or few as you want. When you're happy with it, run the thread to the top of the berry, knot it off and cut it. Do this with all of your berries.

The calyx on the original is just a square of velvet ribbon. Another thing I don't have on hand, so I used felt. You need a 1/2" square for the smallest berry, 3/4" for the largest berry and 5/8" for the medium berry. Cut 4 12" lengths of embroidery floss and tie a big knot in one end of each one. Using a needle, run the other end through the center of each calyx, then sew the calyx on the berry. When they're all done, hang the berries from one hand and adjust the lengths of the embroidery floss until you're happy with how they hang. Tie a knot on the other end to keep them in place while you make a bow.

Still no velvet ribbon so I used some 7/8" satin ribbon in a really pretty shade of apple green. Cut 2 pieces each about 9" long. Take one piece of ribbon, overlap the ends about 1/2" and sew together. Bring the center of the loop to the sewn join and wrap the thread around it several times. Knot the thread but don't cut it. Take the other piece of ribbon and, with the same thread, do a running stitch up the center going across the short width. Push this up to the loops, draw up and wrap the thread around the whole thing a few time. Then knot securely and cut the thread.

Being really sure not to lose your spacing, carefully untie the knot in the embroidery floss on the strawberries. Keeping the strands of floss parallel, lay the bunch of strawberries on top of your ribbon bow and wrap the floss over the thread wrappings. I went once on each side of the bunch, then once between the outer most berry and the next in, again, on both sides. This seems to keep them from tangling with each other quite so much. Carefully lay the whole thing down, back side up.

With an embroidery needle, knot off each strand of embroidery floss. Trim the ends of the ribbon and treat with fray check or something to prevent fraying. Right about now I suddenly realized that this would make an awesome pin for quilting or embroidery get togethers. Sure enough, no pinbacks in the stash, so I'm using a safety pin for now.

This and other great vintage patterns can be found at PatternsAlaCarte on Etsy, click on one of the little samples at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birth of a Pattern

Birth of a Pattern

So last Christmas a customer contacted me with a sad story. Seems that she had made a felt applique Christmas wall hanging years ago and it had eventually wound up at her sister’s home. Well, I’ve made a few of those Bucilla felt ornaments over the years and it turns out that eventually they just disintegrate. I myself actually just tossed a couple of very cute little Christmas mice I had made back in 1998. Things were just falling apart. Turns out the sister felt the same way about the
wall hanging, so off to the trash it went. Not her fault really, most non-needleworkers just don’t see the value in keeping something that tattered - how was she to know it was still valuable as a template for a new pattern? So this nice lady contacted me to see if just maybe I had the pattern in my stash.

I spent a couple of days looking through all my old magazine, then a couple of weeks searching the internet, all with no luck. I did finally run across a Christmas tree skirt that looked like it might match the description and she said it was remarkably close. More hunting on the internet and darn if I can’t find the thing anywhere. The picture I found was for an item that had sold and was actually regular applique, not the felt. I finally just took a deep breath and decided to recreate the pattern from the (distorted) picture. Lots and lots of fiddling and I finally came up with line drawings for each of the 12 Days of Christmas based on that old tree skirt.

Now, 1970 was not my favorite decade at the time, and let’s face it, bell bottom hip huggers (aka low rise) jeans look good on remarkably few people. The colors for the period are all wrong for me. I do think lime and apricot go well together, just not as MY clothing! I’m still not sure about red and pink, but hey, it actually seems to work for these little birds. It’s good for me to work in a different palette though, or else I’d make everything in blue, grey, black and pastel pink. And even though the original picture was fuzzy on the details it did provide good color direction. I figured out how to cut out all the little felt pieces using the Heat n Bond after doing the first Day. Those little pears just about drove me nuts! The bonus with Heat n Bond is that you also get to do away with pinning anything and get right to the embroidery.

I’m looking forward to putting this one up on Patterns ala Carte just to see how many people tell me it reminds them of the old one. And I can almost guarantee that someone somewhere has that old magazine pattern, so maybe it’ll come to light too. I’d love to see how close I got to the original!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The American Silk Bubble

What Happened to Silk Production in America?

Although the manufacture of silk as a commodity started in America as early as 1603 when King James of England sent both mulberry tree seeds and silkworm eggs to Virginia it didn’t really take off until 1830. At that time a new species of mulberry tree was brought from China. The Chinese Mulberry grew quickly and was easier to propagate than the White Mulberry, and to make it even more attractive, worms fed on Chinese Mulberry leaves were said to produce a better quality of silk.

In 1830 the new mulberry tree also got an additional PR boost from congress. The result? Similar to the housing speculation of our own time. People rushed out to buy trees, saplings, cuttings and seeds. Naturally prices rose as demand outstripped supply. Pretty soon the price of the trees surpassed reason. In the space of just 4 years the cost of a hundred trees went from about $5.00 to $500.00. There is also the tale of just two trees that were sold for $100.00!

Obviously such outrageous prices couldn’t sustain themselves and the market for mulberry trees crashed around 1840. People lost fortunes and farmers tore out the trees to use the land for more profitable crops. I imagine people went around muttering dark things about tree sellers the same way we currently grumble about mortgage brokers and banks. Even so, silk production hung on for a few more years until, around 1844, when a blight struck down the remaining trees. And so ended the manufacture of silk in America as a cottage or home industry.

But what of the big silk mills? Names like Belding Brothers, Richardson and Corticelli? Although the local farmers couldn’t compete with overseas prices for raw silk and labor, the mills could still make a profit using raw silk imported from overseas. Another interesting parallel to our times. Although the raw materials come from overseas and America’s workforce faces increasingly fewer jobs, the large companies stay in business.

By the early 1900s the American silk industry was the largest in the word, despite having to rely on imported raw silk from Japan. In 1920 there were more than 1000 silk mills, although most were small operations with less than 300 employees.

America had succeeded in bringing within reach a product formerly considered a luxury. Unfortunately this achievement was short lived and silk gradually returned to being a luxury item. In the 1920s with the growth of rayon (the first of the synthetic imitators) contributed to that return to luxury status anlong with unstable prices for raw silk and over production . Towards the end many companies merged in an effort to remain viable. You can see evidence of this on old thread spools; the names of Belding Brothers and Corticelli can be found sharing the same spool end. Eventually space was made on the same spool for Richardson as well.