New threads

Today I went out for some supplies.

Threads and beads to be used in the project

Almost inevitably, the colours don’t reproduce perfectly, but you do at least get the idea.  From left to right, we have:

  • Anchor 939, denim blue – same shade as the fabric, just a bit lighter.
  • Anchor 119, dark purple – tones reasonably well with the purple cord, but again a bit lighter.
  • Anchor 337, dark salmon.
  • Anchor 336, salmon.  (These two colours are really not as vivid as they look here.)
  • Anchor 292, cream.
  • Anchor 874, light antique gold.
  • Anchor 844, olive green.
  • Anchor 845, dark olive green.

Then we have a reel of purple thread for couching the cord (and that is a good colour match); a reel of Coats Diadem, which is a thin flat gilt braid; and a packet of seed beads which, at any rate in daylight, tone beautifully with the fabric.  I’m looking at them now under artificial light and they look almost black.  Not that this will be a problem, because they will be there to provide a bit of very subtle glitter.  They are Gütermann seed beads, size 11, colour 6635.  I bought two packs because John Lewis have recently rather drastically downsized their range of beads and I wanted to be sure I didn’t run out in mid-project.

I’ve also ordered some gilt purl from Sarah Homfray (see links on the right); won’t need it just yet, but I want it so I can get an idea of where and how I’m going to use it.  If all goes well, this weekend I am actually going to be able to make a start on the embroidery at long last.

Oh yes.  Hallo, Canadian friends.  Happy Canada Day! 🙂


Framing the problem

Whew.  This weekend I’ve been working like a Trojan on the waistcoat.

If you remember from the last waistcoat post, I levelled off the fabric by running a tacking thread along the grainline:

Using a running thread to show the grain

Then I folded the fabric down the middle and pinned the line of tacking so that it matched on either side of the fold, and when I’d done that I pinned the selvedges together:

The perfectly matched fabric

Once I’d done that, I first of all cut out the front facing pieces using the same clear plastic pattern piece I used for the mock-up.

The front facing piece ready to be cut out

Yesterday, I got a friend to help me prepare the frames.  The pieces are too big to fit on one of my artists’ canvases (remember those?), so I had to join two together for each piece.  First of all I glued the canvases together at the edge, then my friend cut a piece of hardboard that fitted over the edges of the frames and nailed it in place with short tacks.  Note the piece of parcel tape – that’s where I repaired the rip in one of the canvases.

Showing how the frames are joined together

Once I had a usable frame, I laid a long ruler along one of the edges and pinned one side of the fabric to the canvas along the ruler, stretching it along the length as far as I could while I was doing this.

Lining up the fabric on the frame

Once all the pins were in place, I then stitched it to the canvas with small spaced back stitches.

Stitching in place

Then I stretched the fabric widthways across the frame and pinned the opposite side into place.

Pinning the opposite side

At this point I thought it might be a good idea to make a more substantial repair on that tear, so it didn’t get any worse when I removed the canvas under the linen fabric.

Stitching the tear to prevent further damage

I then did the same for the short sides, and here’s the finished result:

Fabric stretched on frame

The next job was to remove the canvas underneath the fabric to allow it to be stitched.

Removing the canvas


To match the pattern piece to the grain, I started by putting a pin at one end of the grainline on the pattern and wiggling it slightly to make a small but visible hole in the fabric.

Using a pin to match the grain

I removed the pattern piece, put the pin back into the hole, and laid a ruler along one of the warp threads.

Marking the grain with a ruler

Then I laid the pattern piece back on top of the ruler, pinned the ends of the grainline along it, and checked it was still right by folding the pattern tissue back to look.  I anchored the grain marker in place with two pins.

The grain marker is anchored along a warp thread

Then I pinned the rest of the piece in place.

The pattern piece in position, ready for pouncing

Now for the pounce powder!  I had never tried this before in my life, so I must admit I was a little nervous about how it would work.  However…

The design pounced onto the fabric

…as you see, I really needn’t have worried.  The results were superb.  Here’s a closer view:

Closer view of pounced design

I permanently marked the cutting line with white acrylic paint.

Marking the cutting line

Then it was time to start painting in the design, using the same purple and gold acrylic paints I used for the pattern and a very fine brush.

The design with some of the purple lines marked in

The purple lines had to be done first because the gold lines will cross over them.  Here I have added in some gold lines.

The upper part of the design completed

And here’s what it looked like when it was all finished:

The finished pattern piece, ready to embroider

Of course I’ve now got it all to do again for the other front piece; the frame is ready and the piece of fabric has had the edges turned over and tacked to stop them fraying, and that’s as far as I’ve got with it.  Nonetheless, I’m delighted.  That is an excellent day’s work.

An angle on the Doctor’s fez

And now for a little diversion from the waistcoat.

Last weekend, a friend asked me if I could make a Dr Who fez for his cuddly orang-utan.  (Yes, I know.  I have some really interesting friends!)  I said that would be no problem, but I would need to know what it looked like, as I’m not a Whovian myself.  He obligingly linked me to some screencaps, and told me that the hat needed to be about 6 cm in diameter at the base to fit the orang-utan.  From the pictures, that suggested it needed to be about 5 cm in diameter at the top and 5 cm high along the slope (not vertically).

Now this requires a little bit of maths, but for the sake of the maths-phobic I won’t go into the details here.  Suffice it to say that what you need is a cone with the top cut off (the fancy mathematical word for this is a frustum of a cone), and with some fairly basic algebra and geometry – you don’t even need any trigonometry – it’s possible to work out how to construct it.  The best thing, though, is that the same basic drawing works for a fez of any size, up to and including a large adult.  In this post I’m going to show you how.

The first thing you need is a very large sheet of paper, or, ideally, thin card.  I’m using thin card here because it just so happened that I had bought a large polythene artist’s bag for the purpose of carrying my embroidery around, and it had a large piece of card inside it that was perfect for what I needed.  A piece of paper 110 x 80 cm will be large enough for a fez to fit any adult human being I’ve ever seen; for a child, you can get away with a smaller piece.  If you need to stick two pieces together to get the right size, start working from one of the sides opposite the join – the aim is, if possible, to avoid any joins on the finished pattern piece.

Take your piece of paper and measure halfway along one of the shorter edges, and then draw a point just inside the edge from there.  If it helps, draw a short line perpendicular to the edge through that point, though depending on what sort of protractor you’re using, you may not need to.  Now draw a line on either side of the point angled at 18 degrees from the vertical, so that the total angle between the lines is 36 degrees.  Measure this as carefully as you can, because any error in the angle will alter the size of the hat and may cause it to fit badly.  You should end up with something that looks like this:

Two lines drawn at an angle of 36 degrees

The next thing to do is to find a hat that fits you well and measure the internal diameter.  If it’s not quite circular, pull it gently into as circular a shape as possible before you measure.

Measuring the internal diameter of a hat

This is just an example, since I’m making the fez for the orang-utan here and I already know that the diameter I need is 6 cm.  However, if I had wanted to make one for myself, the diameter of my hat is 18 cm, so I will also give the figures that I would use to make a fez that fitted me.  If you don’t have a hat, or you do but it’s stretchy and can’t be measured, then measure around your head, get your calculator, and divide by pi.  If you’re not quite sure about that, you can do this instead: tie a piece of string round your head so it fits snugly but not too tightly, lift the loop off your head, arrange it into the best circle you can make, and then measure the distance across it.

Once you’ve got your diameter, then all you do is multiply it by 5.  It doesn’t matter whether you work in centimetres, inches, or for that matter Gallifreyan… er… what do they have on Gallifrey again?, provided you’re consistent.  For the orang-utan’s fez, that gives me 30 cm, and if I were making one for myself it would be 90 cm.  Using the point where the lines meet as the centre, draw an arc of a circle at that distance.  You can do this either by measuring a series of points between the two lines at the same distance from the point where they meet and then connecting those points up into an arc, or by tying a piece of sewing thread to a pencil at one end and a pin at the other, adjusting till you have the right length, putting the pin through the point where the lines meet, and using this arrangement like a very large pair of compasses.  This gives you the line which will form the base of the side piece.

The first arc (shown here at 30 cm from the origin)

Now you want to draw the arc for the top of the pattern piece.  Do this in exactly the same way as before, but this time the distance from the point where the lines meet is 5/6 of the distance you used for the first arc.  For the orang-utan, that is 5/6 of 30 cm, which is 25 cm.  For my hat, it would be 5/6 of 90 cm, which is 75 cm.  Here’s what it looks like for the orang-utan, and I’ve airbrushed the photograph so you can clearly see the area between the two arcs, which we are going to be using as the side piece.

The side piece is the area between the two arcs.

Trace this pattern on a piece of greaseproof paper.  Also draw two circles with diameter equal to the length of one of the straight sides; for the orang-utan that is 5 cm, and for me it would be 15 cm.  Draw seam allowances round the pieces.  You’ll see that the seam allowance I have used for one of the circles is smaller than the one I have used for the other two pieces.  That is because felt doesn’t fray, so you don’t need so much seam allowance on it as you do for the lining.  The pieces with the wider seam allowances are for the lining, so you may be wondering why I haven’t bothered to trace a piece for the felt side of the hat.  The reason is simple: I’m going to use the original cardboard pattern for that in a few moments.

The pattern pieces on greaseproof paper

Just like this, in fact.  Cut out the pattern piece that you constructed; if you used paper rather than card, stick it onto thin card now.  It will make it easier to draw round it, and you will need it to be fairly stiff in order to firm up the fez.

The cardboard pattern used to construct the side piece from felt

Remember to draw a seam allowance round it, as you see in the photo.  Cut out this piece and the circle with the smaller seam allowance from felt.

The felt pieces that make the outer shell of the fez

Fold the side piece so that the short edges match and the marked side faces outwards, and then stitch the side seam.  (Sorry about the blurred picture, and one or two others that follow.)

The side seam

Now open it out, press the seam open, and pin the circle into place at the top with the marked side facing out.  Stitch the top of the fez into position and clip notches along the seam to stop it from bunching up when you turn it the right way out.  When you have finished, you should have something like this:

The shell of the fez, still inside out

Turn it the right way out, and, behold, you have the shell of your fez!

The shell of the fez, the right way out

Take the two pieces with the wider seam allowances, and pin them to the lining fabric.  The centre line of the side piece should run along the grain of the fabric.  Cut them out.

The lining pieces

Make up the lining exactly as you did for the shell of the fez, but don’t turn it the right way out when it’s finished.  Instead, take the original cardboard side piece and tape it together at the edges (you can see I’ve gone a little bit wild with the parcel tape here), and push the lining up through the middle so that the seam meets the top of the cardboard, like this:

The lining inside the cardboard stiffener

Turn the edge of the lining up over the bottom of the cardboard – you will need to do this carefully to avoid pulling down the lining inside the  card – and tape it in place.  If you’re not sure you can do this easily, you can always put a few small stitches in to hold the top seam to the upper edge of the cardboard before you start.

Now push the whole arrangement inside the felt shell, matching the seams, and stitch together at the edge.  There are various ways of doing this, and the one you choose will depend on the size of your hat as well as your sewing skill.  I’m just oversewing here – nothing fancy.  Make sure you pull the felt firmly over the cardboard and lining so that there is a little bit of overlap at the bottom, so that you can keep your stitching on the inside rather than right on the edge.

Stitching the fez together at the lower edge

Congratulations – you have now very nearly finished!  All you need to do now for complete authenticity is to cut a short strip of felt and sew one end of it to the centre of the top of the hat so that it sticks up.  If you find this difficult, cut two identical short strips, sew them together down the centre line with just a little bit left over at one end, open out these short ends like an angled bracket, and sew each of them to the top of the hat close to the join between the pieces.

Here is my glamorous assistant, Wilfred the penguin, who kindly agreed to model the finished fez before it went off to its new owner.

Wilfred the penguin models the finished fez

All he needs now is a TARDIS, and he’s hot to trot. 😀


Two lengths of blue linen

Apologies in advance for the fact that there are no photos this time.  I’ve taken a couple, but I’m rapidly running out of evening, so I will put them in a future post.

I have some exciting news, though… well, I’m excited, at least. 😀  After all this time spent designing and preparing, yesterday I actually cut the main fabric – a surprisingly tough job.  You would think that a fairly coarsely-woven linen would be easy work with a rotary cutter.  Not so much.

Usually I line up the grain on a piece of fabric by eye, moving one selvedge back and forth along the other until the fold hangs straight.  For this one, however, it had to be exactly right, and besides the ends of the fabric were cut rather more than usually skew, which is the sort of thing that can make things difficult.  So this time, what I did was actually to tack across the fabric between two of the weft threads to give me a visible line.  I then folded it lengthwise, matching up the two halves of this line and holding them in place with pins.  Then I pinned the selvedges together.  Once I’d done that, it was a simple matter to flatten out the fabric and pin the other end in place, enabling me to move it around freely without fear of the grain going wonky.

The pieces which have to be cut in the main fabric are the fronts and the front facings.  I cut out the facings first so that I would have as much fabric as possible left to use for the front pieces, then I squared off the edges of the fabric and cut it into two large rectangles, each of which would comfortably accommodate one of the fronts.  I’m making the frames by fastening two of my artists’ canvases (remember those?) together into a larger rectangle; I’ve glued them, and a friend who can do DIY has promised to add a more substantial join.  (I would do this myself, but I have a problem with my wrists and can’t use power tools.)  The fabric rectangles will be stitched to the canvas, since it’s already stretched, and then I’ll remove as much of the canvas as possible from underneath.  This should be a great deal easier than trying to stretch a piece of fairly heavy linen over the frame with my limited physical strength.

Expect more on this at the weekend, with photos. 🙂

A painted tale

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet lately.  I haven’t been well since I got back from the concert, so, although I’ve been able to do a little bit of work on the waistcoat, it hasn’t been as much as I would have liked.  Fortunately I am now on the mend and have a long-term diagnosis, so now I know why I keep getting these respiratory infections that floor me flat for ages.  Hopefully that means the next one shouldn’t, because the underlying problem can be addressed.  I believe it also qualifies me for a ‘flu vaccination, and that’s probably not a bad thing.

Anyway, you remember what the pattern looked like last time you saw it?  This is what it looked like when I’d finished all the pencilling.  Due to my complete lack of artistic talent, it’s basically a pixellated grid.

The finished pencilled design

The next job was to colour it in with acrylic paint, smoothing (and in some cases joining up) the curves in the process.  This is the result:

The finished design, coloured in

Here’s a close-up

Close-up of coloured design
When colouring the pattern, I tried to get a balance between the two separate inspirations.  The Victorian waistcoat pattern on which this is based is paisley, and I wanted to keep some elements of that, so I have emphasised the hook at the top of the original paisley motif (which you can see clearly at the top of each of the gold parts).  I’ll also be filling in the curve at the bottom of the original motif in a consistent way throughout the design – haven’t decided exactly how yet, but I have plenty of time to do that, as I need to lay down this basic ground before I add anything else to it.  17th-century embroidery is typically more flowing, with a lot of disparate motifs unified by a vine-like base, and that’s why I’ve got the purple lines connecting the motifs and running through them.  This is obviously just a base for the rest of the embroidery, but I am really happy with the way it turned out.

Now the exciting bit can start!  First of all I taped a sheet of tissue paper to the front pattern block and traced it.  This was the right front, so I marked where the buttons are going to go.  Then I untaped it,  laid it over the pattern sheet, matched up the grainline to the direction of the grid, and shuffled it about until I got all four of the button spots on unembroidered fabric, so I don’t have to re-jig the embroidery for the sake of the buttons.  (I will for the buttonholes – that’s unavoidable – but at least not having to do it for the buttons is something.)  I taped it in place and traced the embroidery pattern, and this is what I’ve ended up with:

Pattern piece for right waistcoat front

Somewhat unconventionally, the grainline is not on the pattern piece itself.  I put it in the armscye, like this:

Close-up of right front pattern piece

This will make it a lot easier to line up the piece with the grain of the fabric.  I’m thinking of stitching in a contrasting thread to mark the grain, just to ensure it’s absolutely spot on.

This pattern piece isn’t quite finished, because I’m going to go over the pencil lines in ink to make them easier to see (and transfer).  Then, of course, I have to make the left-hand piece, which will either be a mirror image of this one or match at the centre front so that the pattern continues smoothly across the garment.  I haven’t yet decided which.

Ready to pounce

If you are incredibly observant – or possibly have nothing better to do 😉 – you may have noticed I’ve added a new link to the list of suppliers.  I’ve been giving a fair bit of thought to how I’m going to transfer the embroidery design to the fabric, and I eventually settled on the old-fashioned method of using pounce powder.  I have to admit I hesitated over it for a while because I thought it would be very messy, but then, as it happened, Mary Corbet chose that particular moment to publish an online tutorial on using it.  This made me realise that it shouldn’t make too much of a mess after all, because you use a thing like a powder puff rather than scattering the powder broadcast all over your pattern.  It also looked like by far the most accurate technique for transferring an all-over design like this, possibly even better than the other technique I had been seriously considering, which was to stitch along all the pattern lines through the tissue with running stitches and then pull away the tissue.  I’d have done that if I had to, but there’s also the fact that it is a lot more work.

Of course, I’d never seen pounce powder anywhere, but that was all right – some helpful commenter posted a link direct to the product on Sarah Homfray’s site.  Sarah Homfray is a freelance embroiderer who also sells various supplies, including (imitation) gold purl, which I wish I’d known about earlier, though perhaps I would have been tempted to spend rather too much on this piece if I had!  It seems she’s doing a brisk trade in these pounce powder kits; the item was sold out when I looked, so I bookmarked it and kept coming back to the page.  I finally saw it today and ordered it, and by the time I linked it here, she’d sold out again.  So if you want it, be prepared to be patient.

I’m now waiting for that to arrive.  In the meantime, I have plenty of work to keep me going; I need to trace left and right front pieces from the pattern blocks, trace the embroidery design onto those, and then – if I can find some way of doing it without wrinkling up the tissue – fixing the pieces securely to brown kraft paper to make it easier to prick the holes for the pattern through them without the danger of tearing.  We may be looking at a lot of double-sided sticky tape here, because glue is not going to do it.

Another day, another interesting technical problem!

The button dance

OK, how’s this?  All that educated guessing, careful resizing and frantic stitching have paid off.  Just look at this for a fit.  Very many thanks to the excellent Charles Daniels – who may now be identified – for giving me his permission to post this photo publicly.  I assure you he doesn’t normally look as worried as this, but he’s a little camera-shy. 🙂

And now I’ve got you looking at him, do go and hear him as well if you can.  He has the most amazing voice.  I particularly like listening to him sing Purcell and Bach, but he’s pretty versatile.

Technical notes for further reference:

  1. I really needn’t have worried about the armscye.  That’s a nice line, though I do say so myself.
  2. Remember the little shoulder problem?  It’s clear from the picture that the front shoulder is the right length.  He doesn’t need darts in the back shoulder, so I’ll just pull it in slightly.
  3. The real thing is not having removable buttons.  This is because the buttons on this one, having behaved themselves perfectly well up to this point, went all fangirly on being introduced to Charles and promptly removed themselves.  All over the floor.  Charles and I, plus two very bemused Belgian ladies, ended up chasing these buttons around a table leg for about thirty seconds.  It was incredibly surreal and very funny, but we don’t want it happening with the actual waistcoat. 🙂
  4. Charles observed, “I’d better not put on a single ounce.”  He was right, actually.  It really is that good a fit.  I’m tempted to allow just a little more because I know his weight fluctuates a bit, but I’m going to resist that temptation… not because he couldn’t stand to be carrying a few more pounds, because he has got room for it, but because I’m not going to alter something that fits him so well now to allow for a theoretical maximum.  However, I might just make the vent up the side a little deeper.  Just in case of, well, the odd ounce.

And isn’t it fortunate that he had to wear a black shirt for the concert?  You could hardly get a better contrast for mock-up appraisal purposes. 😀