Hemp Glorious Hemp

Just a few lines from my hotel room in Porto to sing the praises of hemp fabric. I have travel-tested it for the last two weeks, either in my suitcase or wearing it, and it is fantastic.

No, you won’t get high when wearing hemp and its association with cannabis has been a misfortune for this fabulous fibre. Australia banned cannabis in the 1922 and other nations did the same in the early and later 20th century. Hemp fibre had been very popular for centuries for all sorts of applications, until nylon hit the market around 1940, ushering in a whole new era of synthetics. Between the new competition and the war on drugs, hemp production was pretty much finished.

But recently hemp has been making a comeback, mostly due to its eco friendly properties. Hemp crops need only a fraction of the water of cotton, don’t need weed killing chemicals and have a short growth cycle from seeding to harvest. A dream crop, one would think.

Nevertheless, hemp fabric is still rare because of the unfortunate link to cannabis, and it is therefore very expensive. There is a cult following prepared to pay the high prices and I know of one shop in my area that sells exclusively hemp textiles. If you are thinking rough fibre ropes or sacks, that is not what devotees are prepared to shell out $$$ for. Hemp fabric is hard to tell apart from linen, except it doesn’t wrinkle nearly as much and becomes soft with wear very quickly, making it beautifully drapey despite its relative thickness, reminiscent of bottom weight tencel.

I was lucky enough to buy some hemp sheets at Aldi, on sale at a good price, with the intentions of using the fabric for garments. This outfit is the StyleArc Bob pants and my TNT (Tried and True) pattern for a summer top, the Tessuti Mandy with cuffs instead of sleeves.

Hemp sews up easily and takes my dye nicely for painting. It is a good alternative to linen, and also very strong and durable, so basic items like white pants will probably be part of my wardrobe for a long time. Anything more trendy like the top has naturally a shorter lifespan, but I can imagine cutting off the sleeves and turning it into a couple of tea towels when the style is no longer current.

This outfit has been in a suitcase for two weeks and then been worn for a couple of days on my trip in Portugal and still looks pretty good.

I have some notes on what not to do when making white pants which are on PatternReview.

And below is a quick video. I am moving my legs a bit to show the drapiness of the hemp fabric. Hope this gives you an idea and doesn’t just look very silly. 🙂

Linked to MMM.


Repurposing a Sari

It has been quite a departure from my usual MO to use fabric I have not printed myself and silk at that. But some time ago I came across an Etsy site in New Zealand that imports amongst other textiles silk saris from India. They are gently used, or at least the one I bought is in perfect condition. The colours that suit Indian sensibilities are not always in tune with my preferences, but after choosing carefully I was delighted with my purchase when it arrived.

I wanted a cocktail dress I could wear for evenings out on our European trip and it seemed a waste of all that lovely silk to make it too short. So I decided on a maxi skirt with 3 inverted box pleats front and back, set into the StyleArc Sydney dress bodice. I like the cut on short sleeves and high empire waist of the Sydney.

There are different weights of silk and the type I chose is semi-transparent, so requires something underneath if you want to wear it as a dress. I have not tested this, but suspect that the tussar silk saris are heavier and more opaque. Tussar silk is wild silk and the tussar fabric I have encountered so far has always been quite sturdy.

I could have lined the skirt of this dress, but I didn’t have a suitable voile on hand, and the cottons I had would have made the dress too heavy. Instead I have a number of cotton voile slips in various colours that I can wear under sheer fabrics. I thought a burgundy version would be nice with the blues. White would be another option.

The sewing details are on PatternReview.

Wearing it with pants doesn’t look quite as good as I imagined., so I probably won’t. Win some lose some!

And just a couple more photos of a dress and two tops I made recently, either painted with dye or stencilled with screen printing ink. These are on linen, as usual.

(If you are wondering what I have in my hand in those photos, it’s the clicker to take the photo remotely.)

Fixing a Dye Disaster

It’s not always easy to judge if it is worthwhile persevering with a project that turned out to be disappointing. Sometimes it is enough to put it out of sight for a while to realise that something that bothered you a lot when you were obsessing about it has somehow disappeared once your mind has moved on (probably to obsess about something else).

On the other hand I have learnt to take the time to fix something that can be fixed, rather than have the garment become a wardrobe flower. That is why I am so excited about the possibility to recover a dyeing disaster with TUD discharge powder. Like the dress below, which definitely ‘does not spark joy’.

What was I thinking? But I like to experiment, so I’m glad I tried this idea and satisfied myself that it doesn’t work. But as the fabric is linen it would have been sad to have to bin it. Then I remembered that I had removed dye once before with this discharge agent called TUD (thio urea dioxide). It only works with fibre-reactive dye such a s Drimarene K or Procion MX, and doesn’t remove all colours perfectly, but it sure gives you another chance. In this case I even removed the dye twice, as my second attempt was better, but still not good enough for my liking.

A big bonus is that I discovered that the particular linen I used will discharge back to a natural linen colour, as I have quite a bit more of it, being part of two pairs of Ikea linen curtains, which is 10m in total. I buy heavily reduced linen curtains and sheets for experimenting when I have the opportunity, sometimes in colours I don’t particularly like.

So this is what it looks like, with the dye removed and then re-dyed, and I will be only too pleased now to wear this dress after its rather drastic ‘colour correction’.


The pattern is a hybrid of the StyleArc Toni designer dress (lower half) joined to the Elizabeth Suzann Georgia top, and the details are on PatternReview.

If you are interested in the dyeing process, here is a short video explaining how to do this:

Dye video

How to use TUD to remove dye from fabric (only works with fibre-reactive dye):

For every 100g of dry fabric weight you need:

  • 2 litres of water
  • Quarter teaspoon TUD
  • one teaspoon soda ash

Boil the water, add the dissolved soda ash and the wet fabric. Add the TUD slowly because it fizzes up. Leave the fabric in the boiling water for about 20 mins, agitating from time to time. Wash out in soapy water or put through your washing machine.

Regarding the restriction to fibre-reactive dye, if you have dyed the fabric yourself you know what you have used, but if it is the original dye in the fabric there is no way of telling. With the linens I have discharged with TUD, one turned into close to the natural colour of linen, and one turned from an original pink that was dyed purple into a warm mid brown. So it’s a bit the luck of the draw.

What I like about this discharging process is that it is quite quick compared to dyeing. If you use hot water out of the tap it does not take long to boil and the 20 mins needed are not much compared to the 80-110 mins it takes to dye mid to dark colours. Let alone all the tedious washing out of the dye.

Discharging also adds to making the linen very soft and wrinkle-resistant. Dyeing has this effect already, even more than a mere soak in soda ash. After three dye baths and two discharges in boiling water, my linen dress is now beautifully soft and won’t need ironing even after washing.

Holiday Sewing

Lots of sewing time and lots of projects!

For this top I used the Georgia top pattern by Elizabeth Suzann Studio. The fabric is linen and the flowers were stencilled with thickened dye for the blue and screenprinting ink for the grey. As a general rule, I use dye only when I must for the vibrant colour and the soft hand of the fabric, because it is a pain to work with. When I can get away with it I prefer the ink.

I used an Ikea curtain for these culottes, a heavier weight cotton with a nice herringbone weave. It was a creamy white originally, now dyed blue. The pattern is a variation of Vogue 8712 and the details are on PetternReview. The top is an older one, hand painted with dye.

Very happy with this grey linen top, love the geckos. Although I am always careful when using animal motifs, trying not to make them too cutesy, I don’t want to look as if I am working in a childrens ward at a hospital. (No offence intended to nurses, we are all very grateful for what they do.) BTW, this is straight off the clothes line, no ironing!

For the next couple of projects I am using a set of linen sheets, bought at a steep discount which worked out at $8/m. Great price and allows for a relaxed approach with my experiments. I do like the colour, a sort of muted pinky greyish mauve, but king size sheets yield a lot of garments and I can’t see myself with a whole wardrobe of this colour. It is also not that easy to combine with another colour either, grey is all that comes to mind, both for outfits and for painting. I tried to think outside the square with using pink, but wasn’t impressed with the result.

Not that great. I am really fussy, if I don’t love it I won’t wear it. I then tried to save this by dyeing the background purple, but let’s say that it was only a very modest improvement. The photo is actually kinder than the reality.

The purple turned out far darker than intended, and again, this is likely to languish at the back of my wardrobe. While it doesn’t look too bad, what do you combine this with? Pink pants? Purple pants? I tried black and didn’t like it much. I think I will continue to experiment with this top, removing the dye with a discharge agent. There is nothing to lose at this point and I might as well get some experience with discharging.

But I did learn something valuable from this disappointment: it seems that this linen, and possibly linen in general, takes the dye much more intensively than cotton. I have not done much immersion dyeing with linen, usually I paint on thickened dye with a brush. But with this immersion dyeing I used 3 teaspoons of dye powder, a third less than recommended in the recipe I have been using for cotton, and it turned out way darker than anticipated.

So I dialled the dye back a lot with my next project and that was sooo much better.

This time I used a plastic baby spoon to measure my dye (repurposing what’s left from when the grandchildren were little rather than throwing more plastic into landfill). The baby spoon is much smaller than a teaspoon and I used only 1 spoonful. That small quantity over-dyed the original colour really quite spectacularly. Dye is transparent, so when you dye you expect the original colour to show through and influence the result. This is why you can’t dye a darker colour lighter. But the fuchsia is really quite clear and untainted from the rather murky original.

I am too traumatised for now to try purple again, but I have already tried light blue and that was successful too, a nice mid blue denim colour.

Good to know as I work my way through many metres of this linen, although for a change I left the original colour intact with my next project.

But surprise, I used a new pattern! Doesn’t happen very often, but the Assembly Line, a Swedish independent pattern maker had a sale and i bought their cuff top. Normally they are too expensive for me and i would have just altered one of my patterns to reproduce the style, but their discount tempted me and I thought that I really need a new style for my tops. The Athina is great as a canvas for painting but we all need a change now and then.

There will be more of these tops and I might even make a skirt to go with this one, the top seems to be asking for it. Maybe a box pleat number? Or an A-line? This is what the pattern maker suggests, looks like a quarter circle with a gathered waist.

The sewing details for the Cuff Top are on PatternReview .

Christmas Dress 2022

2022 hasn’t exactly been the most fabulous year on record and I will be glad to wave it goodbye. Lets just hope the Christmas holidays will be better than the rest of the year.

After all the printing and painting I have been doing I feel I need a little break using a commercial print. This one is particularly nice and it has suffered from the ‘I love this but am too scared to cut into it in case I stuff it up’ syndrome. I finally plucked up the courage, and with an unknown pattern, no less. Unheard of for me! But sheer fabrics can be tricky to design with and this is definitely sheer, a 50:50 silk/cotton voile. I also only had 2m, which made it doubly hard. And I am sick of fluttery tunic stuff for the moment.

So along came the StyleArc Hope dress, at a 50% discount and I actually bought a new pattern!

It is a long time since I last had to make a toile, but because the fabric is precious I bit the bullet and found a couple of old pillow slips, which were just enough for the bodice and sleeves. It really doesn’t take much time to do a toile, as you only need to sew the main pattern pieces together to get an idea of the silhouette and the fit. The finishing is what takes the time and none of that is necessary.

The dress turned out fine, a little shorter than I would have liked but there is only so much even I can eke out of 2m. Otherwise it is perfect for Christmas Day, roomy enough for lunch and with a half sleeve, not too hot and not too cool. The weather has been unbelievable here so far this summer, we have had day after day of winds blasting us with cold air from the Antarctic and I have even had to turn on the heating earlier this week so I wouldn’t freeze completely. I guess a disappointing summer is just like the rest of 2022. Lets hope at least the weather will go back to normal in 2023.

The sewing details are as usual on PatternReview and the photos are huge this time as I can’t figure out how to make them smaller. 🙂

Merry Christmas everybody!

This is linked to MMM where the fabulous German sewists are strutting their stuff. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Da Capo Pelicans

I always wanted to have another go at a top with pelicans. Last time I thought the motifs were too small and the whole thing a bit too pedestrian.

This time a went too the other extreme, large and bold!

The pelicans were stencilled with freezer paper on light grey linen using screen printing inks. I use the freezer paper to get nice clean lines, which would otherwise be slow and painstaking on fabric. With the iron-on paper you get a nice sharp edge with little effort. Plus you can change your drawing on the paper easily until it is right, while a brush stroke with paint on fabric is permanent.

The pattern is the Tessuti Athina, longer length, with side slits.

The composition wasn’t exactly improved when the top went from a flat 2-dimensional canvas to a 3-dimensional garment worn on a round body, but it’s too late to do anything about that now. I will need to get the hang of allowing for that when I paint a garment in the flat and there is always the next project.

This is linked to MMM.

Inspired by Women’s Business

Mavis Marks of Ikuntji Artists has created this brilliant design called Womens Business.

I know I have a lot of readers from the US and Europe who might not have had much exposure to our fabulous indigenous artists and the ikuntji group should be of particular interest to sewists. They don’t only sell paintings and artefacts such as boomerangs, but also fabric by the meter. All the members of the group are women artists, so ‘Womens Business’ is aptly named. Have a look at some of their eye candy fabric for a possible sewing project.

I recently saw an RTW dress using a variation of this design and it inspired the design for my own dress. I hope Mavis sees it as imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. (The dress is purely for my own personal use, I do not monetise either my sewing nor this blog.)

I drew up my design in Photoshop and tried to do a stencil for the whole dress in one go, but that proved to be impractical. So I divided it up into roughly A3-A4 size chunks to transfer to the Cricut software and cut the stencils by machine from freezer paper. You could cut this by hand with a craft knife too.

I usually paint or stencil once I have cut out my garments and before sewing, so I have a nice flat surface without seams getting in the way. I moved the stencils around on the cut out fabric pieces until I was happy with the look, then ironed them down and painted with screen printing ink.

I could have used thickened black dye which leaves the hand of the fabric unchanged, unlike screen printing ink which has a stiffer feel. But the ink is so much easier to work with and on a darkish fabric you only need one coat, which isn’t too bad. If several coats of ink are needed or you have large areas to do, it is worth going through the trouble of using the dye to keep the fabric nice and soft. Dye also mingles with other dye, so if you need a painterly effect with colours blending into each other, screen,printing ink is unsuitable.

The pattern was the Georgia dress from Elizabeth Suzann Studio and the sewing details are on PatternReview.

The fabric is a linen repurposed from the Ikea Dytag curtains I bought on sale a while ago. Beautiful to wear and still plenty left, but I think I will put that colour away now until autumn.

Linked to MMM.

Grey on Aqua

Inspiration is a funny thing, there is no telling what will spark an idea and often the result is quite a long way from the original trigger.

I saw this tea towel on Pinterest and loved the aqua linen with the darker print. It reminded me of a tunic in that same shade of blue I made years ago when my ‘pattern for everything’ was the Tessuti Fave Top. I had stopped wearing it because the style is dated now. I notice Tessuti have taken it off their pattern range.

But the linen was still beautiful and fortunately oversized styles lend themselves quite easily to a remake. So I took it apart and recut it, based as much as possible on my current pattern for everything, the Tessuti Athina. I had to shorten the sleeves due to fabric constraints and I also put some slits in the side seams, as I find this more flattering with tunic length tops.

Of course these days very little escapes my studio without a lick of paint, but unfortunately the original top had a CF and CB seam, which makes it difficult to print. Fortunately I had just made a fold and not cut the front and back in two pieces, so all I had to do to was undo the seam. It still shows a little bit despite my attempts to iron it out, but after a few washes I am sure the CF and CB lines will be well and truly gone.

So once I had a clean slate I thought this stylised coral motif was just the thing to go with the aqua fabric.

I cut a stencil on my Cricut machine out of freezer paper and instead of the khaki green of my inspo I stencilled with a medium grey, which I mixed using black and white screen printing ink.

Screen printing ink is much easier to handle than dye and while it has its limitations, it was perfect for this project. Dye is more luminous and leaves the hand of the fabric soft, but in this case the medium weight linen was quite substantial anyway and with dark ink on a light background you only need a light layer of ink, so it doesn’t end up feeling plasticky. And I challenge anyone to make grey look luminous, whatever dye or ink you use!

Linked to MMM.

Rusted On

Rust might not be everyone’s favourite colour, but I’m sure I will be making lots of lovely rust-coloured garments this summer. All Ikea’s fault, because they specialled off their rust coloured linen curtains for a ridiculous price. Was there a palace revolt of bean counters against the designers or was it just some sort of embarrassing mistake? Whatever the reason, I couldn’t help but go berserk and buy several packets. Each pair of curtains is 5m of linen, which makes …. uhm … let’s not do the maths, too embarrassing! Suffice it to say that I love the colour (which is just as well), and the price of around $8/m allows me so much more freedom to experiment than if I had to shell out the usual $25-40 in the fabric shops. So it’s a win-win, Ikea gets to get rid of stock they clearly don’t want and I get to get rid off my fear of ruining expensive fabric when trying out new ideas.

I started making inroads into my stash of many meters of red-brown linen with a tunic painted with a super simple abstract in black. I really like the colour combo even if it is not particularly spring-like. But with the long sleeves it will be just the right weight for the change of season and in any case, autumn is sure to come again. 🙂

The pattern is the Tessuti Athina, what else, this time in the longer length, meant to be worn over loose pants. The motif was painted on with a brush with screen printing ink and the signature had to be stencilled as such fine lines are hard with a brush on the rough texture of linen. Too easy to spoil the whole thing at the last moment with some gluggy blobs. I used screen printing ink because I was too impatient to wait the 8 hours or overnight you need with dye before being able to sew this up. In all my impatient enthusiasm I forgot to peel away the newspaper under the fabric while the ink was still wet, so now I have bits of newspaper permanently stuck on the inside. Serves me right, but I could always claim that it adds to that ‘artisan look’. 🙂

I modified the Athina slightly by installing slits at sides, to about high hip level. Makes more sense with something this long and allows easy access to my pant pockets.

Next in my line up of rust coloured linen garments is a calf-length tunic with short sleeves, again split at the sides to the waist.

This could be worn over pants or possibly even a skirt. I have tried this look before with a knit and long sleeves in winter, but when you need a jacket over the top to keep warm the super long tunic can look awkward. So short sleeved for summer, when jackets are not necessary, is probably a better idea.

The pattern here, surprise surprise, is not the Athina but the Georgia dress by Elizabeth Suzann Studio. More about the sewing details and modifications are on PatternReview.

The stencilled motif is an old favourite, one of the Matisse cut-outs, stencilled with freezer paper and this time I took my time with thickened dye, to preserve the soft hand of the fabric.

I had a brief flirtation with using these giraffes, but I am a bit wary of animals on my clothes.

Too cutesy? Maybe not if it is sufficiently stylised and the safari theme suits the colour. I might still try it if I find I like wearing this new silhouette of a long tunic with split sides over pants. Apparently we are in for another cool summer on the Australian east coast, so I won’t be wearing sleeveless dresses all that much.

This is linked to MMM.

Stencilled Stuff

This must be a very boring blog for anyone wanting to see different patterns as I am using always the same ones right now, and mostly a modified version of the Tessuti Mandy. My attention is focussed completely on the painting of the fabric, with no real thought other than producing sweatshirts and long sleeve tees. Not all that silly as it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, so sweatshirts and long sleeve tees with a cowl, or skivvies as they are known here, are just right with my pants to keep me warm.

Here is the latest crop. They are all stencilled with freezer paper stencils, using various techniques to produce these.

The stencil for this one was cut on the Cricut at work, because I thought the rectangles needed to be exact for the pattern to work. The middle and sides are on separate stencils, as the whole front or back would not have fitted the maximum cutting width of the machine. The two parts needed to line up exactly. Hard to do manually.

It turned out quite well, but because of the large amount of painted areas the skivvy feels a bit plasticky. Unfortunately on dark colours it is not possible to use lighter dye, and with screen printing ink several coats are needed or alternatively supercover inks, and both options have the same heavy slick feel. At least the jersey is a double weight viscose and there is enough unpainted fabric to let it breathe.

Next is another viscose jersey skivvy, with much thinner fabric this time. At least the screen printing ink stabilised the flimsy stuff a little. The design is good, but I am not really happy with the fabric.

It looks a bit short but goes well with my high waisted Arthur pants.

With randomly scattered motifs like these black tulips I draw a few versions of the motif first on paper or thin cardboard, then cut these out and use them as a template on the freezer paper. This way I can rub off my pencil outlines if I need to rearrange a motif to produce a nice even look of scattered flowers. After I am satisfied with my arrangement I cut out the motifs with a craft knife. Fortunately I like large prints rather than small ones, so this is not too labour intensive. If I ever wanted a Mille Fleur fabric (which I won’t), I would certainly use the cutting machine.

Another skivvy to use up that annoying fabric. With only one motif and using dye instead of screen printing ink, the fabric looks and feels even worse. Not the best purchase I ever made, this is what happens when you buy fabric in a hurry. DH, dear man that he is, can’t understand why three hours are not enough time for me at a fabric market, but we know better, don’t we?

As already mentioned, I also produced some sweatshirts using the same Mandy pattern, which can be worn as a second layer over the skivvies. Nobody takes heating seriously in our part of the country because it doesn’t get that cold, so something warm when I am sitting for hours in my studio either painting or sewing is certainly appreciated.

The rhino shirt is based on a sculpture by Jovan Blat I found and liked on Pinterest. Just the sort of stylised minimalist shape that appeals to me. I used the outline and initially the big rhino was supposed to be white, but the blue just looks better, so blue rhino it is. (Did I mention that I really love blue?) The ink used is screen printing ink and the blue parts are quite thick, but as there is not much of the blue the plastic texture doesn’t bother me as much as with the striped skivvy.

The stencil was freezer paper again as with all the tops shown in this post. I have already gone through a whole roll of the stuff, but even shipping it from the US it is still much cheaper than acetate and getting crisp edges is so much easier with something that actually sticks to the fabric.

More blue here, the shapes are hand drawn on the freezer paper, then cut out with a craft knife, ironed to the fabric and painted with heavily thickened blue dye. The dye leaves the surface of the sweatshirt beautifully soft, much better than if I had used screen-printing ink. Alas, dye is only possible on light coloured fabric.

And last but not least a merino sports knit, an older jumper I refashioned and printed to make it new again. I love the fabric, a sort of French terry with high quality man-made on the outside and merino on the inside. Great for printing and very warm and comfy to wear.

The lighter grey tree silhouette was done with a stencil and once dry I overpainted this with black accents using a small brush. Because the outer surface of the fabric is man-made, dye is not an option despite the relatively light colour. But as I did not need a thick layer of paint to cover a dark background the different hand of the screen printing ink is not very noticeable.

I refashioned the hemline to make it more current but the cowl is still the huge version I liked when I did Lagenlook. These days I am a bit tired of that and have gone to smaller cowls, more a sort of funnel style.

Linked to MMM.