I love when something considered women’s arts (for lack of a better term) is used to subvert those stereotypes in an unexpected way. It’s even better when the woman in question did so well over a hundred years ago!

Sarah Baker’s Solar System quilt, 1876 (image from Wikipedia)

This quilt really caught my fancy – and it’s for science! A teacher, Sarah Baker, completed it in 1876 to use as an Astronomy teaching aid. And it’s beautiful! The level of hand work is really stunning. I’m not a huge fan of quilts generally as physical objects (through the stories that go with some of them can definitely sway me), but this one is stunning on its own visual merit with it’s starting black background and delicate contrasting hand stitching. It even depicts, most likely, Halley’s Comet, which was a huge topic of conversation when I was a kid in 1986 (maybe around the same age as Sarah’s students) and could be visible a second time in my life (next sighting should be 2061).

The quilt is rather large at 89″ x 106″ and is made of a wool top section with appliques, silk and wool embroidery threads, wool braid and cotton back. It took 7 years to complete!

You can read more about Sarah and the quilt on Wikipedia. The quilt is currently in the Smithsonian collection.

If you’re interested in historic quilts for science, Sarah’s was not an anomaly. Such quilts were entered into country and state fair completions and likely adorned other classroom walls. Thought perhaps not with quite as much style! There are also modern art/science quilts.


My first complete test project in Tunisian crochet! Tunisian Simple Stitch with half double crochet edge to make it lay flat.

I also tried Tunisian Stockingette stitch (knit stitch). I can see where it can be used to make ribbing, but in general it’s very thick, which is the opposite of what attracted me to Tunisian Simple Stitch.

I was thinking about upcoming holiday gifts recently when I saw a post on Ever the Crafter where they used crochet linen stitch. How lovely and dense looking, I thought. Then I remembered various random sightings of Tunisian or Afghan crochet and these unique bamboo hooks I bought several years back at MalWart. They were cheaper and had some instruction. This was back when I still didn’t have crochet figured out. Thanks left handedness! But then S stepped in with a simple and clear how-to book with left and right hand versions and everything clicked!

But I digress. The MalWart purchase is supposedly some crochet/knit combo thing (as if they came up with something new and special), but I now believe that it exclusively shows Tunisian Stockingette stitch (while making it slightly more complicated than necessary). But I do love the bamboo hooks. They have a little hole in the far end where you thread a cord through, thereby extending the length of the hook. Perfect for Tunisian crochet!

And I was off to the interwebs. I happened onto Purlsoho.com, where they have a great basic explainer for Tunisian crochet with free patterns for washcloths, a scarf and a pointed hat.

After a couple fumbling starts, where I got used to holding the starting chain (I use foundation half double crochet for most projects, which is easier to handle) and preparation row comfortably, I was off!

First try on Tunisian simple stitch, front

First try on Tunisian simple stitch, back

I’m pretty pleased that it comes together so easily. Tension almost isn’t even an issue except at the start/end of rows and holding onto stitches as they move on the hook. The biggest challenge for me seems to be getting used to holding the work on the hook and moving it smoothly. Once I decided to let half of a 42 stitch piece fall off the hook into the cord and to not try to put it back until I’d done the return on the first half, things went much more smoothly.

I dislike knitting, but have always disliked the holes you get in crochet for things like washcloths. I think Tunisian crochet is going to be an excellent substitute and that will be my first small project.

Did I figure out what I’m doing for Christmas gifts? Did I get back to the 90% complete pineapple pattern crochet blanket I almost finished making my mom last Christmas? That’s no and no. But I did find a fun new project!

Look what I just got!

Sugar Skulls for Ashley, Seahorses and Starfish, and Octopus and Sea Turtles

Seahorses and Starfish, Octopus and Sea Turtles and a cheater quilt with a third smaller scale fabric with seaweed

At some point I heard about Spoonflower and started occasionally designing my own fabric, mostly for holiday projects. Getting a Spoonflower package in the mail is always a great way to end the day! If you are unfamiliar, I suggest you check them out. They have thousands of unique designs available on a number of different fabrics and even wallpaper. Should you happen to purchase any of my designs I receive a designer percentage credit (and if you do, thank you!).

Sugar Skulls for Ashley is a variety of hot pinks and red on a pale pink background. I designed it for my friends Ashley, who is into dia de los muertos and loves pink. The face in the heart is basically her. Each framed face is about 2″ wide in this version, though I printed the sample at a smaller scale. This fabric will be a dirndil skirt.

There are three Sea Creatures fabrics designed to go together. They are intended for some baby items, so I wanted to keep them pale overall with the animals in navy blue. There are also pale blue, bright and pale green and a little bit of gray detail in the fabrics.

The main sea creatures item is a cheater quilt featuring groups of three to six continuous squares of each fabric. The back will be the version with the white background and I’ll be doing a wide boarder of the version with the sea stars, which is the brightest one. I’ve never made a quilt, so I figured a cheater version was the way to go, especially if I want to get it to my cousin before his son is no longer a baby!

Now that’s a wide pant. About 62″ around each hem.

This is a mock up for the 1930s beach pajama project, so they aren’t hemmed at the moment. I’m pleased to report that they for the client’s waist/hips nicely and the length is pretty good, though a bit long in the front. Of course she’ll need to wear the appropriate shoes for the final hem.

Wiiide leg pants, sans waistband

Frankenpattern 30s beach pajama pants

We’ve decided to do the pants in navy linen. The top (third image down, on the right) will be bi-colored in navy and the natural linen of Nick’s cowl. I’ll be looking for a period belt buckle and hopefully matching buttons for the top.

The beautiful linen used for Nick’s cowl

As someone who makes things I’m hugely aware of all the waste I personally generate. The end of a project finds my floor covered in multiple dustpan-fulls of thread and scrap fabric, depending on the project size, and that’s after putting the bigger scraps into the scrap bin. Unless you are using zero waste patterns you will generate scraps.

Enter a company like Avrin Goods, who buys scrap fabric from the floors of production sewing operations and turns it into new yarns and eventually socks and underwear. Kudos to them and I sincerely hope this is telling of the future.

I’m a little dubious of their claims. They say to grind down the scraps and create new yarn without using any liquids: “The yarn we use for our products does not need to be re-dyed, and there’s no chemicals or water used to produce it,” per Winegardner, one of the company partners. I’m not sure how you make yarn from what must be short fibers (which can’t be done in a low-tech manner) without some sort of liquid process. It’s possible the quote was misused or misleading; they may have been referring to not using liquids because they don’t dye. I also assume they (or their supplier) cleans the materials before use, which would involve liquids.

I hope they are as sustainable as the story implies. I’d like to think that is a future consumers and makers can look forward to.

Find the whole story on Fast Company.

The over-dyeing of the Vicar’s Cassock



Meet the “Reverend Vicar Theodocius Playfaire”. His cassock and other accouterments, were made for him with the same fabric as the first pirate costumes we made, back in 2010. We  got a really good deal on this fabric. We found it at a discount store where all fabric was $.99 a yard. Not knowing how much we needed, and we ended up taking about 70 yards of the grey heather fabric, of unknown fiber content, alone.

The fabric was dyed over with Black RIT dye, for used with natural fibers. The faire it debuted, we had an unexpected deluge at our home faire.  Everything got soaked in a warm summer rain, which is almost unheard of on California’s, Central Coast. The dye bled out into the Vicar’s smock a blueish purple, and the band of his ruff to fuchsia. The robe and accessories faded to a dark grey. You could also see the heather effect through the over dye. At the end of our home event, this year, I offered to re-dye the pieces of the costume that needed it.41rjpAE9nYL

When we purchased the fabric, I think we did a burn test we, and we thought it was all cotton. With that in mind, I ordered 2 packets of  Black iDye. I then used the Washing Machine Method, to dye the vestments.

imag1039I used both packets, and doubled up the salt to the the dye into the fiber. I then set my timer to go off to in 7 minutes to reset the washer.  The pieces I was dyeing needed to turn black. After an hour in the dye bath, they had turned a Dark Brown instead, and you could still see the heather effect through the dye.

After discussing with A and others, who also make their own costumes, we determined that I should try again, using 2 more packets of Dye, and the Stove Top Method of Dying. As a test to see if this would work better I also lessened the amount of fabric. I left out the Cassock, and dyed just the Scholars Cap and Stole. Less Fabric and more concentrated dye solution should equal better results. Right?? Well, I got a darker a darker brown, so better yes, but not what the client payed for, nor what is required to be, as historically accurate as possible.

The discussions began again. I was frustrated, and ready to light things on fire. (My go to


My garden

thought when a deadline is looming, and things are not going the way they should.) I did not burn anything, Instead I took a day to do dirt therapy. My garden, or part of it, (image to the right). It has saved several projects and my sanity on more than one occasion.


After a day off from all things fabric related, the discussions began again. We came to the conclusion that, the fabric must be mostly synthetic. The heather effect of the original fabric showing through the multiple dye baths was a clue, I should have payed more attention to.

41L07knYNGLAs time was running out, I ended up going to our local Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, and bought all but one of their black iDye Poly.I think it was 3 out of the 4 available. As mentioned in, Adventures in Dying 2017 Part 1, iDye Poly must be done by the Stove Top Method.

I first tried with just the Stole and the Scholar’s cap.  Using my Tamale Pot used only for dyeing. I followed the directions on the packet, and worked in the kitchen so I could stir the pot. Shakespearean comments like, “Bubble, bubble toil and trouble” were appropriately made. Once done, I poured the garments out of the pot into the washer to cool. I then ran the garments, in a cold water cycle.


Result of 3rd dye bath, 1st time with dye for synthetics.

The good news is, the heather effect  was no longer visible. But the fabric was another even darker brown. Once again the expletives flew…


On the left, my tamale pot, to the right A’s largest cooking pot

I decided that I needed more dye than I had used at one time, up to this point. I went to our local Jo-Ann and bout 3 bottles of Graphite RIT DyeMore Synthetic Dye. I also bought a bottle of RIT Fixative.  I asked A, if I could use her largest cooking pot, for one more attempt to dye the all of the vestment pieces. I was ready to be done.  

For this attempt I went to the web site ritdye.com. I read the directions all the way through, then set up to dye the garments on my front porch.

Step one was to gather all the Items I needed onto the porch. I grabbed one of my plant imag1045benches, a few marble tiles we had on the porch, the camping stove, and a few small tanks of propane, salt and the water hose, 3 bottles of  dye, metal tongs we were never going to use in cooking again, rubber gloves, and dish soap. I also grabbed a cooking/candy thermometer.

It takes a lot of water to fill the pot i was using. I poured in 3 imag1046cups of salt as it is used in dying cotton and linen fabric, it also helps to get the water boiling. I also added 1 teaspoon of dish soap to the water. The water needs to be 200 F° or greater. This took a very long time, about 2 hours, with both burners going full boar.

I lost patience and added the dye to the water at 180 F°.  Shortly after putting in the dye the water did come to a boil. The dye bath does have to be at almost a boil for the whole process. The instructions on the page state that the first 10 minute are critical to a an even dye process. The vat and its contents have to be continuously stirred for that 10 min. It also states that the fabric imag1047could be in the dye from 10 min to 1 hour. The color is black I used 3 bottles of dye, and the full hour. I sat in my chair on the porch an read a chapter at a time in a short book. Between each chapter I stirred for a few minutes. I even broke the wooden spoon I’ve been using for the last 5 years to dye fabric. I then got a 1 inch dowel from the garage.

In addition to breaking the spoon I went through 3 canisters of propane. 1 canister per hour with both burners fully open. The rubber gloves saved my fingers from some serious burns. The solution was very hot and and my finger got into the bath as I stirred.

Once the hour was up. I turned off the stove and disconnected the canisters. The instruction stated, that you let the dye solution and the garments cool slowly. I left it to cool over night, with the pot lid on. I stirred it periodically, until I went to bed. (It was still warm at midnight, when I stirred it for the last time.

In the morning, after 2 cups of coffee, I used a glass bowl and a plastic measuring cup I keep in the garage, to remove some of the excess dye solution. Then my husband poured out the rest, without dumping the garments.

I ran the garments through a warm rinse cycle and and them through a cold wash cycle. I hung them up to air dry. Once dry, the vestments were BLACK.