english girl at home

A Crafty Blog, Made in Birmingham, England

1 Comment

A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe: Store Cupboard Dyeing

As part of #naturallydyedwardrobe, I’ve been making plans for the year; what I’m planning to grow, gather and buy to create natural dyes.

I’m starting today with the ‘store cupboard’ items that I’m thinking about trying.

Some really impressive results can be obtained from easily obtainable food stuffs. They’re also easy to use, as many of the food stuffs are ‘substantive’ dyes which means that it isn’t necessary to prepare the fabric using a mordant (such as alum) to encourage the particles of dye to bond to the fibre (although it can help to create a stronger, longest lasting colour).

I’m particularly interested in trying the following:


TURMERIC: Natural dyes on silk, cotton and wool
Photo source

I want to try using powdered turmeric because it produces a really vivid yellow. Turmeric is a substantive dye, although using a mordant helps to prevent fading. Approximately 40g of turmeric powder is required per 100% of fabric. Fabrics dyed yellow with turmeric are often overdyed with blue dyes (woad, indigo) to produce strong greens, which can be difficult to achieve without overdyeing.

Red Cabbage

Photo source

I’m excited to see what colours I can achieve with red cabbage. Other dyers report achieving purples with wool, rose/lavender with silk, and lilacs with some man made fabrics. The older outer leaves give the strongest colour, although the whole vegetable is chopped up and boiled to create the dye.

Tea / Coffee

COFFEE - Natural dyes on silk, cotton and wool
Photo source

I’m a (obsessive) tea drinker, but I’m keen to try dyeing with coffee. Lots of coffee shops give away bags of their left over coffee grounds for composting and I have a couple of bags in the shed that will be perfect.

Coffee produces a range of gold-browns, and reportedly works well with nylon.

Depending on the tea used, teas can produce a range of browns, greys, khakis and gingers, and work well with silk and nylon. Unsurprisingly, stronger teas produce stronger colours and I’ve seen other dyers reporting good effects from a strong Turkish tea. Portia blogged about using a bargain box of tea bags to dye a shirt only last week.


That’s probably enough to keep me busy, but some of the other interesting options include:

Nut shells/husks

pecan :: silk
Photo source

The shells/husks of nuts – including walnut and pecan – produce brown/pink shades and can be reused (although the dye will get lighter with each use). Most nut shells are substantive dyes, although using a mordant will increase take up of colour. You’ll need to smash the shells and soak them overnight before using them to dye. Use approximately 200g of shells per 100g of fabric. Walnuts are a historic dye, used in recipes for hair dye, and to dye fibres used in the creation of tapestries.

Onion skins

Yarn dyed with onion skins
Photo source

Onion skins (the papery outer skin) produce a substantive dye; white onion skins produce yellow, orange and rust colours, while red onion skins produce greens. The more onion skins used the stronger the colour will be, but a minimum of 30% of the weight of fibre should be used for wool, and 50-60% for cotton.

Carrot tops (the leaf, not the vegetable itself) produce golds and greens with wool, although typically have minimal effect on other fibres.

A range of herbs produce effective dyes. Powdered saffron (as the strand form is likely to work out very expensive) will produce yellow and green shades; a 0.5g pack of powdered saffron should dye 50g of fibres. Paprika, cinnamon and curry powder are also reported to produce strong colours.

Phew, that’s plenty to get on with. I’ll be blogging my plans for growing and gathering sources of natural dyes next!


A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe

#naturallydyedwardrobe Logo

Ok guys, I’ve been busy scheming and I’ve got some plans to share with you today that I’m really excited about.

Lately, I’m really excited about natural dyes. There is some really exciting stuff happening in the knitting community with natural dyes, but I’ve seen less amongst sewists. I think probably because wool takes natural dye more effectively than any other fibre, and also because it’s easier to handspin your own balls of wool/yarn (which then is likely to lead to you wanting to dye that wool) than it is to create fabric.

I’m certainly not going to start making my own fabric, but I am going to start personalising some of the fabric I buy by hand dyeing it.

What are natural dyes?

Natural dyes are dyes produced from organic matter, including flowers, leaves, fruit, vegetables, roots, bark, nuts and seed. Insects are also a common source of natural dye (e.g. cochineal) but won’t be explored by me.

Dyed fabrics dating back thousands of years have been found in Egypt, China, and India; the Romans left written records on the use of natural dyes, dyes still used today: madder, indigo, and weld.

Why natural dyes?

The reason I’m excited to work with natural dyes – as opposed to synthetics – is that there is a real unpredictability and uniqueness to the colours produced. Even if I’ve referred to a book or website in advance to check the colour a dye stuff will produce it will only be a guide, as everything from the condition the plant grew in, my treatment of it, and the fabric I use, will have an impact on the colour of dye produced.

I also love the fact that I will be growing or gathering the substance of some of my dyes, so they’ll be truly home made.

A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe

So, over the course of this year, I’m going to be blogging about my own progress with natural dyes.

It’s my intention to grow a number of sources of dye in my garden, to gather some locally (I’ll only be gathering weeds, so won’t be interfering with any wild plants), and to use a few easily accessible sources of dye that can be purchased from the supermarket.

I’ll be blogging my progress growing and gathering, and showing the results of my experiments using my home made dyes to dye fabrics (as well as the odd ball of wool/yarn), and finally I’ll be blogging some finished garments made with my hand dyed fabrics.


If you’re also excited to try natural dyeing I’d love it if you’d join me.

I’ll be blogging various practical tutorials over the course of the year and be signposting useful books and blogs.

There are no rules. Perhaps you’d like to give natural dyeing a try with an easily obtainable source of dye from the supermarket (such as onion skins), maybe you’d like to join me in introducing a new plant in your garden (or taking advantage of one that’s already there) and using that to create a dye, or maybe you’d like to find a good use for weeds (or an invasive plant like ivy) that you have easy access to.

If you are planning to join in, tell me your plans in a comment below and/or on your own blog. Join me in sharing your plans and progress using #handdyedwardrobe on social media or via email. I’ve made a little blog button if you’d like to shout about participating:)

I’ll be back soon with a post on my more detailed plans for the year. Lots of list making has been taking place here!

Blog button & code


<a href=”http://englishgirlathome.com/”><img src=”https://englishgirlathome.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/naturallydyedbutton1.jpg&#8221; width=”200″ height=”200″ border=”0″ alt=“#naturallydyedwardrobe” /></a>


Balloon Skirt from Stylish Skirts

Balloon Skirt from Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Have you seen the Japan Sew Along (#jsa2015), taking place on Tanoshii? I learned about it on Instagram, courtesy of Sew Busy Lizzy.

Balloon Skirt from Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

This is my contribution to the sew-along, based on the short variation of the Balloon Skirt from Stylish Skirts: 23 Simple Designs to Flatter Every Figure by Sato Watanabe.

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

The premise of Stylish Skirts is that the book provides you with instructions to draft each of the projects included. No paper patterns are included. Given that the premise of the book is to support you to draft skirts yourself, I didn’t worry too much about strictly following the instructions in the book when making this skirt.

Balloon Skirt from Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

The Balloon Skirt in the book has both a zip and a waist tie. I couldn’t really see the point of including both, and as my fabric had a slight stretch I actually did away with any fastening (yay!), as it’s possible to slip the skirt on and off.

The Balloon Skirt in the book is constructed from three panels, brought in using pleats, to create lots of volume. I cut my skirt as one single panel along the full length of my fabric. As a result, my pleats needed to be much narrower so the ‘balloon’ effect isn’t as dramatic. I would like to make another version with greater volume for the full effect – perhaps in the longer length, which I love the look of in the book (although the tops that both versions are styled with don’t do much for me).

Balloon Skirt from Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Construction wise my skirt is two loops of fabric – the outside loop is attached to a shorter loop at the hem to create the balloon effect. The two loops are attached at the top by a waistband. Super simple.

The fabric used is a jacquard from Barry’s. It’s a daisy print in two shades of gold, and has a slight one-way stretch. I bought way too much (as per usual, which is why my stash is full of small, useless lengths of fabric) and have quite a bit left over that I think would make a great pair of shorts.

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Like other Japanese pattern books, minimal written instructions are provided in Stylish Skirts, but each project is accompanied by a number of illustrations. Personally I think this approach (and the premise of the book) suits intermediate sewers more than beginners, as it helps to have an existing knowledge of skirt construction. The book makes some assumptions regarding the reader’s understanding of how to draft the skirts, which a beginner might find confusing; for example, it doesn’t explicitly state in writing how to calculate the skirt measurements (as least for the skirt I made), how to take measurements, etc.

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

The skirts included cover a wide variety of styles. Although the projects are all women’s skirts, it would be fairly easy to create children’s versions by altering the measurements.

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

The skirts are styled on dress forms which doesn’t appeal to me as much as being styled on models; although it does potentially make the book look distinct from other Japanese pattern books, which do admittedly often look quite similar (although It’s a look I love).

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Stylish Skirts, Sato Watanabe

Sew Busy Lizzy has also reviewed Stylish Skirts and sewn two skirts from the book. Make sure you check out her review also.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Stylish Skirts in exchange for a review; all opinions expressed are my own. Post contains an affiliate link


Floral Woven Linden & Snowdrops

It’s time for this week’s Linden! I will be posting makes from some different patterns soon, but still have a few Linden’s from a recent binge to show you. It’s probably a first for me, as I very rarely use patterns multiple times, but this pattern is so quick and easy (and so good) that I couldn’t resist. I normally struggle with OWOP, but I’m ready for this year’s now!

Floral Linden Sweatshirt

Last Sunday I visited a ‘snowdrop weekend’ at a (relatively) local church, St Leonard’s in Beoley, with my family. We walked around the grounds, which are currently scattered with snowdrops, and had tea and cake inside the church.

I wore my latest Linden, made in fabric from Barry’s. I have completely forgotten what the label on the bolt said about the composition of this fabric. It’s a heavy weight woven, with a slight one-way stretch. The right side of the fabric has a slight pile.

Floral Linden Sweatshirt

Construction wise, I actually made Version A with a few tweaks. I left of the bottom band, instead turning and hemming. I originally cut the full-length sleeves, but realised they were very tight and so cut a length off the bottom and hemmed them. I think they’ve ended up slightly longer than the sleeves from Version B. I also had to significantly lengthen the neck band (which is made from the main fabric); I originally cut the neckband one size larger than the body of my Linden (which I have done for all of my versions to prevent pulling at the neckline). However, in this fabric, with limited stretch, I couldn’t actually get the sweatshirt over my head… So I re-cut the neckband, estimating the extra length, and reattached. It now fits fine.

St Leonard’s Church Beoley

The one issue with making the Linen in a very stiff, non or limited stretch, fabric, is that you may have excess fabric sticking up at the back neckline. However, once I’d attached the neck band, I found that it pulled in the fabric effectively and that the neckline lies flat.

St Leonard’s Church Beoley

The fabric used has a large scale floral print. I centred the print on the front, but cut it at an angle on the back. I didn’t attempt print matching (as you can see), partly because I never do, and partly because I didn’t have enough fabric to attempt it with such a large-scale print. I would definitely get told off on Sewing Bee… (I’m loving this series by the way, although it seems to get harder every time).

Floral Linden Sweatshirt

The Linden is worn here with a beloved RTW skirt and shirt from Oasis, both of which I have had for many years (incidentally, both were gifts from my Nan). I take good care of my clothes so they tend to last a looong time.

Floral Linden Sweatshirt

My brother and his fiance’s miniature dachshund, Rupert, was with us at the church for a run around the grounds. Phil snapped him, as well as me, in his new threads.

Rupert the miniature Dachshund

Rupert the miniature Dachshund


Lacy Linden Swap

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

I love a good online event, and I also love the Linden Sweatshirt, so I was really excited to take part in the #lindenswap organised by Carrie and Ingrid.

I was even more excited when I found out that I was paired-up for the swap with Katy of Katy and Laney, as I love Katy and Laney’s blog and have been looking forward to trying out their patterns (Tap Shorts this summer? I think so).

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

This is the stunning Linden that I received from Katy in the swap. It arrived from New York last weekend along with some much appreciated chocolates:)

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

Katy made the Linden in a lovely soft sweatshirt fleece in a pale grey, with a darker grey ribbing for the neckline, cuffs and hem. As you can see, the really cool feature of this Linen is the white floral lace which Katy attached along the front and back sleeve seam.

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

Katy also modified the hem, attaching the front and back hem ribbing separately, which creates a cool v-shape between the two sides.

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

You know what’s even more fun than telling people who admire your jumper that you made it yourself? Telling them that you received it in a handmade jumper swap & it was sent to you from New York! Now that’s a pretty cool ‘how I got my jumper’ story. Thanks Katy!

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

#lindenswap Linden Sweatshirt

Necklace by Working Clasp. I traded this with the designer Rebecca for one of my pandas when we both had stalls at a local craft fair.


Slumberland Fabric Design

Slumberland Fabric Design

Yay, my submission for By Hand London’s second fabric design competition made the shortlist! The competition theme is Once Upon a Dream.

Slumberland Fabric Design

My design was inspired by the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay. It has a central image of a sleeping kid, with various slumberland-inspired images surrounding him.

Slumberland Fabric Design

There are some really cool entries in the competition. I love Hannah’s abstract design and Tor’s fairies. Go check them out here; voting closes Friday 13th February.

Slumberland Fabric Design


Sergery: Common Overlocker / Serger Issues


I can’t remember learning to use a sewing machine. My mom always had a machine at home, and we studied Textiles at my secondary school, in my case up to GCSE level (without wanting to start moaning about UK education I’m not convinced I learned all that much from Textiles class at school. I still have the dress that was my GCSE final project, which received a grade of A*, and the sewing skills displayed are not great…).

Overlockers are different though. My mom never had an overlocker and I don’t remember school having one (if they did, I didn’t use it. Although, to be honest, my main interest in class was using the auto embroidery function to embroider garish coloured seahorses on everything I made). So, the first time I ever used an overlocker was when I received one as a birthday present from my parents last year.

On first attempt, I was pretty stumped. My overlocker wasn’t stitching correctly and the manual that came with it wasn’t particularly helpful. But with repeated attempts, and the aid of the internet, I figured out what I was doing wrong. I’m still no expert, but I’m improving, and I’ve noted a few common issues that I thought it would be worth sharing.


1) Is your thread secured in the tension disks?

When I first unpackaged my new overlocker it was pre-threaded. That seemed like a positive, but it was actually more trouble than it was worth, as, despite it not sewing correctly, I was reluctant to unthread it. After a little while I realised the issue was that the thread wasn’t secured in the tension disks – and so wasn’t running through the machine at the correct tension.

When you pull the thread through the tension disks you should hear a click and/or feel the thread being secured. Make sure this is the case for all 3 or 4 threads you have in use.

2) Tension

One of the most likely causes of any issue with the stitch is that the tension isn’t set correctly for your fabric. Your manual may provide advice, but personally I didn’t find mine of much help. I’d advise starting with a ‘basic’ tension (e.g. 4), sewing a test swatch of your fabric, and then adjusting as required.


3) Thread quality

Using cheap thread has never caused me any trouble with my sewing machine, but with my overlocker buying £1 thread cones has resulted in threads snapping frustratingly easily. If your threads are snapping with any frequency this could be a cause.


4) Correctly threaded – from begining to end

Obviously its important to thread your overlocker correctly. I thought I was, I was following the diagram on the machine to the letter, but realised that the image didn’t show the very last part of the process (how the lower looper thread should be pulled through to the throat plate over the top of the upper looper). This information was included in the more detailed instructions included in the overlocker manual. Make sure you are following the threading process to the letter (including those bits that may not be pictured on your machine).

Happy overlocking!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 625 other followers