Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

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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 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.


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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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Super felt and prints at the second Vancouver workshop!.

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My cousin Anita and her partner Ian recently gave me a vintage sewing machine – the Singer Featherweight – that had belonged to Ian’s mother, an accomplished quilter.

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The Singer Featherweight is the ultimate blend of simplicity, elegance and performance.

Featherweight in the 50’s had a different meaning than today – it’s a solid little machine that is lovely and heavy with gorgeous design features. It comes in a small case and when I opened it up it still has the original Singer lubricant on hand and an attachment called the ‘ruffler’ which I can’t wait to try out. It even came with it’s own sturdy little fold up table. It’s so straight forward to thread and use – and is so pretty. Mind you it only has one stitch – straight! Others may like the myriad of functions and stitches available on modern machines but this one is for me. Besides if I do need the occasional zig-zag I’ll pull out my also vintage 70’s Bernina which I guess would be considered high tech compared to the Featherweight.

After threading it up (so simple) my first stitches were perfect even though I suspect it has been a long long time since it was used or serviced. Apparently this little machine is coveted by quilters because the stitches it gives are so even.  A quick google search listed a ton of links and sites dedicated to the Featherweight – there is even a Featherweight Fanatics List.

Beautiful celtic designs on the machine…

Singer Featherweight in action

Gorgeous deco plate

My first project using the ‘Featherweight’  is a memory textile that I’m doing for my father-in-law’s family – R.I.P. Rupert Gomes. The fabric has been eco-dyed and printed using plants from my garden. I’m doing some hand embroidery and incorporating an interactive element with text of all the funny things that Rupert used to say… how about this one…

“If an egg and a half costs a cent and a half, how many hens does it take to shingle a roof with pancakes?’ Whaaaaa? Will post some pictures of the textile when it’s complete.

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Cornflowers & rust

Along with dye experiments using plants and flowers from my garden – my other obsession is keeping an eye open for interesting rusty things. I have always loved the colour, variation and textures of rust but never before thought about it’s possibilities on fabric until I was in my textile course. I’m still in the neophyte stage of my rust printing but it seems to me that it always works. I think the patina and sense of history is what has always appealed to me about rust…the notion that texture, imperfection and patina acquired over time (naturally) is beautiful. Both in objects, fabric and especially in people! (This blog is a Botox-free zone).

Biscuit on the beach helping me collect rust

It is amazing how many interesting rusty things I’m finding (and not necessarily taking) by setting an intention – lovely rusty crusty things wherever I go! I was lucky enough to be at Robert’s Creek recently and I found some interesting pieces on the beach. Just today down at my local beach walking the dog, I said to myself, “I know there is a piece of rust here for me” and at the very last minute lo and behold there was a perfect rather large pipe peeking out at me by the steps up from the beach – which I managed to lug home. It will be perfect for wrapping yardage. It’s super crusty – salty beach rust is the best. Here in Vancouver some of us natural dyers have started up a group meeting – and it must have been good rust karma because on my way home in the summer evening light I spotted a lovely rusted gate on the “freebie corner” in my neighbourhood…that I managed to heft into my car! My partner was thrilled with my new acquisition – ha ha. It’s living on the deck right now waiting to be used.

Rusty Garden Angel – this was a gift from my Mom many years ago – it is in my garden next to a bench I put in the garden in memory of my Mom. I can’t always explain in words why rust is so appealing and comforting.

The rusty rebar wrapping I’m doing is working out really well – and it’s nice to know that this particular rusty implement is readily available from my local construction crews and sometimes even washed up on the beach. So far I have wrapped bundles using the rebar with sage, fern, allium, peony and rose petals with alum mordanted fabric. You don’t have to mordant for rust, but I’m trying out a bunch of different combo’s. Not to state the obvious, but the iron rust acts as a mordant as well…

Eco wrap using rusty rebar, peony & rose blossoms

Fabric that has been rusted with rebar – rolled up purple sage & red hollyhock – I pretty happy with the clarity of the prints. Magic.

I’m wondering if it’s going too far to cut out the gorgeous rusty bedsprings from the mattress that someone has left out in the alleyway behind my apartment? I think they would make a great print as well as good for shibori binding. I just need to buy some wire cutters! (Update) Since I drafted this blog I got some wire cutters and now I have a lovely collection of rusted springs to use.

Rusty bed springs in situ

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Walking in my bare feet in the garden this evening… it’s warm, overcast and rainy… good for taking pictures. I have so many blossoms to experiment with now – I need more space for my flower stash along with my fibre stash. Most of the spring flowers are going to seed now and there is that little bit of a lull before everything explodes. I think of early spring as the blue period because of the profusion of blue bells, crocuses and then the iris… and then later in the spring it seems to move into the reds, pinks and purples with all the peonies, roses and foxgloves. This inclement weather is making the iris last which I believe has been the most successful blossom so far for dyeing and pounding… and the smell is wonderful on the fabric. Will post my shamples in a later post.

Lots of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) this year

Lupins – going to seed already


Alliums… also going to seed now

I was able to get some good prints from the alliums by both the pounding method and also bundle wrapping. The lupins also gave an interesting print but not as defined.

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I named my blog ‘Secret Garden Textiles’ because one of the best memories I have is visiting my Grandma and taking the Secret Garden book (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) off the book shelf before crawling into my cozy bed, made up on the couch by my Grandma, and drifting off to sleep as I tried to stay awake and read yet another chapter. When I read that book as a child, it left a lasting impression of entering a romantic magical world that has never left me. Now, my focus on documenting my garden and surrounds on fabric is sort of like these amazing secrets of my immediate world being revealed to me through the choices I’m making to make the lasting impressions on the fabric.

Trug – with iris and pansies from the garden

Peony, lady’s mantle, rose blossoms – after unfurling a wrap sample (I stuffed these partially exhausted blossoms into another fabric sample – which I now don’t remember where I left it to cure – oops – I guess a smell will eventually reveal it’s location).

Because I’m not a huge meticulous planner, I’m sort of randomly trying things out by using different mordants, different ways of wrapping up the plant materials that I have collected and playing with how long I leave things to ‘cure’. Although it’s still technically spring (well uh maybe winter with our cold and rainy June) the results I’m getting are so inspiring. Here are a few shots of my experiments on silk, cotton and linen… continuing my ‘Kitsilano One Mile Dyers Palette’ that I started in my time at Capilano University. Oh, that is a picture of the inside of my Secret Garden book given to me by my Grandma – that is still on my bookshelf…

Linen sample that I had wrapped with Lupin’s (below) and lady’s mantle leaves – the fabric shibori’d around a rusty rebar rod. Goldenrod dye spritzed…

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