Sunday, July 1, 2012

Crafting with the Insomniac  - Repurposing Vintage Textiles for your Gothic Mansion

Being a very rainy and cold week, the insomniac  spent a good portion of it in the real third-floor attic getting caught up on some sewing. One finds that sewing, and particularly hand sewing, induces a State of Flow, although in the insomniac's  humble opinion this state really only occurs when all is proceeding as planned and Flow is not being constantly interrupted by the endless reworking of stitches because they don't quite meet one's standards. But it was a good week for Flow, and three out of the five projects attempted were considered a success, which is a pretty decent average when working with vintage fabrics.

And it was a lovely week for spending time in the attic, with the sound of the rain hammering on the roof, the creaking of the weather vane as the wind whipped it around, and the always present background noise of chittering magpies, including their three new offspring who yak-yak-yak incessantly starting around 4:00 a.m., which is roughly the time the insomniac  turns off the computer and heads back to bed in an attempt to catch a few more hours of shut-eye after a sleepless night.

One really does look forward
to the baby magpies every year ...

The first project this week was the repurposing of a vintage table runner which was badly stained on the back and emitted a foul odour. While the insomniac is not particularly fussy about stained textiles (one of her favorites even has what looks to be a dried bloodstain on it), she has a very low tolerance level for textiles of the malodorous variety. And not the lovely musty smell emanating from most vintage textiles (which she loves) but rather the “I've been donated by a household with forty chain-smokers” type of smell (which she loathes). So the first order of business was to attempt to wash the runner; always a gamble with vintage items as the dye generally bleeds like the devil. And bleed it did, but just the rose colour, so some additional imitation dye-bleed in Antique Gold and Olivine was added for good measure. Please don't ask why; the insomniac  just felt it looked better with all the colours bleeding in unison.

Having decided to make a pillow from the runner, the chosen pillow form was measured directly across the middle to determine height and width. One should never measure a pillow form at the edge, in case it isn't perfectly symmetrical - learn from the insomniac's  mistakes, my pretties, learn from her mistakes. Then the two tapestry pieces, plus a lovely piece of faded velvet from another runner, were laid out on a piece of fusible interfacing and ironed on. This helps keeps the pieces from moving around when trying to sew the gold trim back on straight - another lesson learned many years ago and, once again, the hard way. After attaching the trim, the runner was cut down to the correct size for the pillow form; in this case, the form measured 9x13 inches so the runner was cut to 10x14 inches, allowing for a one-half inch seam allowance all the way around.

Top shown with the gold trim pinned and ready to sew.
Bottom shown with the edges of the velvet and tapestry ironed flush together. 

Once the top portion of the pillow was ready, it was time to choose which lucky piece in the Fabric Stash would work well for the bottom. Quite a number of years ago, a remnant of  embossed gold velveteen was purchased, not because one likes the colour gold even slightly, but simply because it was the last remaining piece. One is quite sure you understand the reasoning behind this decision. Such a purchase can always be justified with the phrase “it's bound to come in handy for some future project or other AND it's the Last Piece!”. It was a stroke of luck one actually remembered purchasing the fabric and then was actually able to locate it, but the sad fact is the insomniac  probably knows her Fabric Stash better than she knows her own offspring ...

The gold velveteen was then cut the same size as the front and pinned with wrong sides together, then a one-half inch seam was sewn all the way around, while remembering to leave an opening at the bottom for the insertion of the pillow form. The corner seams were trimmed close to the stitching so as to produce a crisp point when the pillow was turned right side out (might one recommend the use of a point turner rather than the sharp end of a pair of scissors). A nice point at the corners is something the insomniac  is quite particular about, ever since her apron project in Grade Seven Home Economics class was given a failing grade due to improperly turned out corners.

The corners trimmed close to the stitching - not too close, mind ...

Once the pillow case was turned right side out, the open edges were ironed down one-half inch which makes them much easier to sew together. The insomniac  never bothers with zippers in her pillow cases as, once completed, they will never be washed again. Who knows what might happen with the dye the next time ...

Pillow shown with the nicely turned out corners and
the proper tool for getting them that way ...

The original metallic fringe sewn with the braid portion normally concealed inside
left showing, as it was quite decorative ...

Here's a little aside (because seriously, how could the insomniac  possibly make it through an entire post without getting off-topic at least once), this useful item was made from two different sized saucers with a tarnished silver goblet sandwiched between them, all glued together with E-6000. A handy place to store one's sewing implements and an easy ten-minute craft for those days when the State of Flow is just not happening.

Perfect for holding your pins, thimbles and thread ...

Returning to the pillow ... at this point one should always remember to (1) give the pillow case a final pressing before cramming the pillow form inside, and (2) ensure the corners of the pillow form fill the corners of the pillow cover before sewing it closed. The insomniac  prefers finishing her pillows with a whip-stitch, as by the time she attempts to machine sew the opening in a straight line, all the while wrestling with the pillow form to keep it out of the way of the machine's needle, then having to rip out the seam at least three times because it wasn't straight enough, it's generally just easier to hand sew it in the first place. Thereby maintaining the State of Flow.

Pinching the fabric together while whip-stitching is much easier
with the seams already pressed down.

The insomniac  should have used hand lotion before  taking the picture ...

Knot the thread at the edge, pull the needle through the fabric a few inches,
then cut the thread at the base of the needle.
The knot and excess thread will both disappear inside the pillow ...

And finally, the completed pillow. Isn't the faded portion at the bottom left of the rose velvet lovely? Well, perhaps only the insomniac  finds it so ...

Pillow Front

The next project was this vintage tapestry runner, not in perfect shape but extremely beautiful nonetheless. Besides a bit of mending and ironing, the insomniac  decided to leave the runner pretty much as it was. Other than a barely noticeable stain on the front and a few on the back (and who amongst us actually look at the back of a runner once it's down and covered with bric-a-brac anyway), thankfully there were no unsavory odours. And sometimes the best decision one can make regarding vintage textiles is to leave well enough alone.

Doesn't it look like something that would have been displayed
in a French Neo-Gothic Chateau?

The last of the week's projects was the dyeing of two vintage damask runners with black backgrounds but extremely faded gold patterns. Both were dyed scarlet but only one ended up being useable in its original state, as after the vigorous rinsing necessary to eliminate any excess dye, the second revealed a number of worn areas. Never one to admit defeat, the insomniac  will salvage the useable portions and add them to a piece of black cotton velveteen to make a new runner, using one in her collection as an example where another thrifty individual has done exactly that.

The damask runner that worked ...

How the damask runner that didn't work
is going to look after salvaging ...

However, not all of this week's dye experiments could be considered successful. An attempt to dye a stained ivory piano scarf in a scarlet to black ombré effect ended up as a scarlet to burgundy with black splotch effect instead. Although one certainly appreciates the many “happy accidents” that oftentimes occur when dyeing, that particular item will definitely be heading back to the dye-pot. But that is why the insomniac  so enjoys working with vintage textiles - every project is a Crap Shoot, oops, Adventure.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams. And a word of warning to anyone considering sniping the insomniac  on eBay at the last second in an attempt to snag the best antique textiles for themselves - she will  hunt you down. Nah, just kidding! Sort of ...

Goodnight, my pretties.


    Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


  1. Beautiful textile work! I love the pillow and the faded spot on the velvet is just a proof that it's antique ;). By the way, if I will remove odour and bleeding colours on an old piece of textile I put it in a bath with a tiny bit of clorine in it. I got an apron that looked lovely exept with a bleeding red around the red stitches (on white cotton). The clorine bath preserved the colours but removed the bleeding stains :)

  2. Excellent tip! The insomniac had no idea that just a little chlorine would remove the red without ruining the textile completely. Athough she is perhaps a little too heavy-handed with the bleach to attempt it herself... :o)

  3. My these are amazing and a little daunting. Not a project I have the time or money to work on at the moment, but maybe in the future!

    1. Really, the vintage textiles themselves do all the hard work in making it look beautiful. If you can sew a slightly straight line, you'll do just fine - whenever you decide you need a project! :o)