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2013-12-05 17.46.45

Dawson Street bespoke Jacket – and it has a matching skirt!

Inspired by two recent thrifting vintage finds – both of them tweed. The first is a bespoke (made from scratch) lady’s tweed suit maybe from the 50’s or 60’s made in Ireland by a shop on Dawson street which is no longer in existence. Some lovely West Van matron surely must have had it custom made for her on a visit to the ‘auld country.

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Detail – Irish Cottage Industries, 18, Dawson Street Ltd. Notice the flecks of red and green in this stunning twill tweed.

The second is a man’s British Austin Reed ‘Cue’ tailored jacket made with the classic Scottish Outer Hebrides Harris Tweed fabric.  I think this jacket is also from the 70’s or thereabouts although it’s not bespoke. The man’s jacket is very heavy weight fabric with pretty square shoulders – I imagine a rugged young man sporting it as he climbed up a mountain in a sturdy pair of shoes! No MEC gortex or fleece to be found. The jacket is mine now and with some strategic re-seaming and additional darts – I turned it into a lady’s beach walking jacket.

Deconstructed Austin Reed Jacket ...Reconstructed into a lady's beach walking Jacket

Deconstructed Austin Reed Jacket …reconstructed into a lady’s beach walking Jacket. I’m the lady. Oops, forgot to take a ‘before’ shot – suffix to say I removed almost a 2-inch width of fabric from the shoulders (and removed the shoulder pads).

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Detail – Pristine leather button – no signs of wear at all. See the gorgeous colours involved with the tweed?

The fabric (100% wool woven in a ’twill’ diagonal weave) and design is completely classic although I couldn’t find exact design references that matched them online. The Harris Tweed Authority doesn’t actually publish the trade mark numbers online… mine is No. 319214 which I think is one of their more popular twills.

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Harris Tweed ‘Orb’ label. Check out the Harris Tweed Authority – so so interesting http://www.harristweed.org/harris-tweed/love-harris-tweed.php

It would be hard to place both jacket’s exact provenance without time consuming research – suffice to say I was thrilled to find them as both garments are in pristine condition. The top button on the man’s jacket was actually hard to insert into the button hole which indicates it was rarely worn. A wonderful feature of tweed – is that both fabrics come across as neutral at first glance but the closer you look reveals the myriad of colours that are incorporated into the fabric, blues, greens, yellows, grays, etc. So subtle and elegant.

sheep-shearing-harris-tweed

Sheep Shearing for Harris Tweed

The fabric in the man’s jacket is made up of wool that is firstly dyed and spun in a island mill and every yard is handwoven in the home of a Harris Tweed weaver. I would expect the Irish tweed has a similar pedigree. The lady’s jacket has beautiful tortoiseshell buttons and the Harris Tweed man’s jacket has leather woven buttons.

2013-12-04 18.05.04It’s so appropriate that I happened upon both these treasures at the thrift store just as I’m reading an interesting book “The Coat Route’ (Meg Lukens Noonan) which is about bespoke tailoring and ‘slow’ clothing. I had to deconstruct both of my finds and tailor them to my measurements. I used tools originally from my mother’s stash… the Savile Row measuring tape, and her tailor’s chalk.

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Wow, the inside of the lady’s jacket and skirt showed the incredible workmanship that goes into bespoke construction. All the classic techniques were in evidence… wide generous seaming (for potential alterations if ‘yer measurements expanded), beautiful interfacing and underlining and hand sewing on some of the seaming. The man’s jacket even had horsehair interfacing! I managed to get away with only partial deconstruction by undoing the lining only at the bottom of the jackets and at the shoulder seams. Still, it was a lot of work as I had to recut the shoulders and reset the sleeves on both jackets to make them much smaller – but because the fabric is of such high quality the alterations worked out beautifully. I also narrowed the sleeves on both jackets to give proportion and balance.

2013-12-05 17.41.03Wearing the tweed is fabulous – especially in this December cold weather. I feel like I’m right out of Downton Abbey. I definitely prefer the style and function of tweed over our West Coast gortex and fleece.  The design will never go out of style… gets better with age… is ecologically sound because it’s biodegradable, VOC absorbent, non-allergenic, energy efficient manufactured…in other words it’s a fabric for the 21st century.  There is nothing like wearing a garment of this quality – I feel like a million bucks in both of them! My dear mother would be proud of my finds and my commitment to bespoke alterations.

Results of the walnut dye from my 100-mile sourced (Kelowna Lake) walnut husks. This first dye bath was the walnut husks boiled up right away for a few hours and then the fabric bundles, some with rose and eucalyptus leaf additions – simmered for a few hours. Silk and wool fabrics used in this dye bath.

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Over-dyed silk dupioni – stripe down the middle exposed fabric walnut dye. Fabric had been previously dyed with other natural plant dyes.

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Silk organza fabric (undyed) with shibori resist (folded fabric and clamped rectangle) in walnut dye bath.

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Previously plant dyed silk sateen fabric – shibori folded fabric to create resist – added rose and eucalyptus leaves – in walnut dye bath.

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Silk Sateen – Detail. Rose leave imprint.

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Silk and Metal fabric over dyed in walnut dye bath (fabric was previously dyed in other plant dyes which left a subtle colour). Applied random shibori resist ties with yarn leaving lighter coloured circles. The metal in the fabric creates a heavily textured surface after emerging from hot dye bath.

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Wool jersey fabric, shibori folded, bundled with eucalyptus and rose leaves with rusted rebar before partially emerging in walnut dye bath. The 100% wool imparts a mahogany rich brown.

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Well protected hands… mushing up the walnut husks before boiling. One whole in tact walnut trapped inside the mush.

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Bounty. Roasted walnuts (best tasting walnuts I have ever tasted), walnut tree leaves, walnut husks.

Luckily the fall weather here has been wonderful – so on a sunny day I was hoping to collect some walnut husks to use for dyeing some lengths of silk. I had previously tried a walnut dye on one of my shibori  sleeve designs and loved the rich brown colour that the walnut dye gave on the silk and linen fabric:

Silk and Linen shibori (hand stitched resist technique) sleeve design - black walnut dye -

Silk and Linen shibori (hand stitched resist technique) sleeve design 2012 – black walnut dye.

I wasn’t sure where our urban walnut trees were so I did a google search and came across a local blog called the ‘Urban Huntress’ http://www.urbanhuntress.com/resources/foraging/ which is about foraging for food in Vancouver. There was a reference to an international ‘falling fruit’ map ( http://fallingfruit.org ) which showed me the location of a variety of trees including 2 Black Walnut trees just down the road from me.  I was so excited…unfortunately, the map is not completely accurate as it turned out that the said trees were Chestnut trees. Wah.

However, the notion that if you put an idea out there in the world and it will happen for you came true, lo and behold a client of my partner David happened to mention her black walnut tree in Kelowna! He alerted her to my wish and she just happened to be coming down to Vancouver and today I received my black walnut husks along with a bag of delicious roasted walnuts. Now that’s serendipity.

Walnut Tree

My walnut tree source – near a lake in Kelowna

Walnut pic

Detail of my source – walnuts enclosed in their green husks – popping out all over

Ok, must get to work processing my found walnut bounty some of which I will air dry for future use over the dark days of winter. My plan is to immediately dye linen, cotton and silk fabric that has been prepared both with and without a mordant. The advantage of walnut dye is that it is known for being colour and lightfast with or without a mordant – but typically using a mordant (like alum) will make the colour richer and more saturated. In my case I will be using the HUSKS only that were collected a few days ago which are already oozing and gooey so it will be interesting to see the results which I will publish in a separate post. M.U.S.T. remember to wear gloves!

I was privileged to experience the slow art of tapestry with a wonderful instructor (Anthea Mallison) when I studied textile art at Capilano University. Although I was never really any good at it in the short span of time we had with our projects – it was a great experience to understand the art of hand weaving. I feel like if I wove using this technique for years and years (which is how long it takes to complete a large hand woven tapestry) perhaps I would improve my skills – not that I’m going to do that!. I believe I will stick to my somewhat automated Louet floor loom.

The Unicorn - detail - like a painting

Detail – The Unicorn’s hoof

On a recent trip to New York City I was privileged to see the beautiful Unicorn tapestries that are hanging in the The Cloisters in New York City – part of The Met museum. It was quite something to see this series of 7 hangings showing the plight of the Unicorn in this incredible medieval setting.

The Unicorn tapestries - wee rabbit detail

Detail – this little guy is an iconic motif used on the Met’s marketing materials for The Cloisters! No wonder – he is wonderful.

The Unicorn - silver wrapped yarn in collar - to see is to appreciate

Detail – the collar features the silver and gilt wrapped yarn and is so lovely and sparkly.

the Unicorn Taps - Gorgeous sleeve

Detail – gorgeous sleeve showing the visual folds made possible by the skill of the weaver

I just learned that the Unicorn tapestries are being re-created and starting in October are on show at Stirling Castle in the U.K. This link gives all the details and has some great information about the beauty and techniques involved with the slow art of tapestry:

The Slow slow art of Tapestries – check out the wonderful video at the bottom of the link where one of the tapestry weavers is interviewed. The weaver talks about her experience and some of the techniques used to create this art. Hope to be able to see these modern interpretations of The Unicorn one day.


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Some draping images showing the work I did this week – silk jersey and silk organza fabric eco dyed in an onion skin dye bath (with rust). The plant materials used from my urban dye garden were eucalyptus leaves, purple sage leaves, cosmos flower blossoms and wild geranium. The dominant print motif is from the eucalyptus leaves which turned out a lovely purple colour in my dye bath.

2013-10-15 17.41.47 2013-10-15 17.54.29 2013-10-15 15.09.46 2013-10-15 17.49.12 2013-10-15 15.17.06 2013-10-15 15.21.00 2013-10-15 13.59.43At a recent workshop with Nicola Brown a group of us created nuno felted wearables. Nuno felting is a wet felting technique where you incorporate unspun wool into a piece of silk fabric. It produces a lovely airy and light fabric if done right! Besides being re-inspired to try my hand at nuno felting thanks to Nicola’s expertise,  (I had been introduced to nuno felting during my Capilano University Textile Arts days), the workshop was a great reminder that onion skins are a gratifying and reliable natural dye. Particularly in combination with rust.  And particularly on the natural fibres of wool and silk. Other than a bit of a vinegar soak – no pre-mordanting (preparing the fabric to accept the dye colour) is required.

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Nuno Felted length (silk & wool) – eco printed with tea, eucalyptus leaves and buds using onion/rust dye bath from Nicola Brown’s workshop

After my past few months of a lot of experimentation with different natural plant materials from my urban dye garden – some successful and some not – it was wonderful to get back to basics using the onion skins in the dye pot. Not only do the onion skins produce a lovely chocolate brown dye (when combined with rust) you are also assured that the dye on the fabric is resistant to fading because of the substantive qualities of onion skin.

Thanks for the great technical learning experience and the inspiration to get back to it Nicola!  http://clasheen.wordpress.com Can’t wait to try some more nuno felting.

Super felt and prints at the second Vancouver workshop!.

Crazy symmetrical pattern left on the dupioni silk yardage - from the rusty rebar and plant resists. This pattern repeats down both edge lengths of the fabric.

Crazy symmetrical pattern left on the dupioni silk yardage – from the rusty rebar and plant resists. This pattern repeats down both edge lengths of the fabric.

Some images from my latest August dye batches. I used a selection of botanticals from the garden including my muse – the fennel. The plant material was laid out on the fabrics that had been previously dyed with natural dyes and indigo (silk dupioni, silk chiffon, cotton mull) then securely rolled and wrapped around rusty rebar from my rust stash… tied very tightly with a very strong cotton yarn I save for shibori work.

Some previously dyed fabrics that needed over dyeing to add interest

Some previously dyed natural fabrics that needed over dyeing to add interest (silks and cottons)

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Dupioni silk – oyster coloured – mordanted with alum – Catnip  & rusty rebar resist

Fennel

Fennel resist – placed on silk and tightly bound prior to dye bath

I used last year’s freezer stash of dahlia blossoms – with an addition of one huge fresh dahlia blossom from this year…brought to a simmer and placed my wrapped and secured bundles into the dye pot. I simmered for 1 hour then let cool and sit for 4 days. Because I used rusty rebar in all the wraps as well as a shibori dye resist (two rusty squares) – the dye left a rich dark brown on the cotton mull – verging towards black on the silks. The rust definitely produces a deeper colour effect the longer you leave it. The silks were undamaged (you have to be cautious using rust as it can stress natural fibres) but one section of the cotton mull had a couple of holes which I think was more in how I unwrapped the package. Imprints from the plants were left in varying colours even some red spots!

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relatively clean imprint left by the fennel resist – on silk chiffon

Bundles from dahlia dye bath. Prior to unwrapping

Bundles from dahlia dye bath. Prior to unwrapping

Some people are concerned about the mold that forms (depending on how long the bundles are left to cure) but mold is also a legitimate mordant that helps bind the colour to the fabric. Safety first though. I always wear my mask when unwrapping and rinsing and my lovely dog Biscuit (miniature poodle) is out of harms way. With these fabrics (as in all my dyeing work) I unwrap and hand rinse first using Synthrapol soap. With these fabrics most of which were large pieces of fabric (yardage) I also soaked them for a 1/2 day in salted water to neutralize the rust, then washed in the washing machine with Ivory snow. The fabric still retains a lovely botanical smell or if you wanna be fancy- a scent.

Sage leaves (purple sage) left imprints in different colours including this bright yellow on silk

Sage leaves (purple sage) left imprints in different colours including this bright yellow on silk

Cotton mull previously arashi shibori with blue indigo - overdyed in dahlia dye batch with a rusty square resist

Cotton mull previously arashi shibori (angled blue indigo stripes) – which was then overdyed in fresh dahlia dye batch using an acrylic square as the resist  (left original white repetitive squares like the middle one in the image), then finally overdyed in dahlia dye batch with a rusty square resist with a hole in the middle – which left the stronger repeated squares. Need to use this yardage!

This image shows off the fine quality of cotton mull fabric - you can see the garden behind it. It's lovely and drapey.

This image shows off the fine quality of cotton mull fabric – you can see the garden behind it. It’s lovely and drapey.

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