english girl at home

A Crafty Blog, Made in Birmingham, England




A few cool things you might enjoy reading about with a cup of tea this weekend:)

♥ I’ve recently backed two fantastic campaigns on Kickstarter. Scarves & Sustainability want to establish a business in Northern Ethiopia to support local women artisans and create two lines of hand-loomed scarves. The scarves are goooorgeous. There is loads of information on their campaign page. I’ve also backed a project to establish a Fair Trade Sewing Center in DR Congo. For this project you pledge to fund a bolt of fabric, an iron, cutting table or sewing machine! Love it:)

♥ Have you seen the Japanese/English language knitting magazine Amirisu? It’s free to read online, with patterns purchased separately. Issue 7 has just been released.

♥ BBC Woman’s Hour Daily Podcast recently interviewed Alexander McQueen’s sister and biographer (episode dated 23/03/15), and aired a ‘craft special’ episode (06/04/15).

♥ Speaking of McQueen, I really fancy the new biography Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the SkinThe price of the Kindle version is pretty reasonable.

♥ I’m looking forward to the release of the documentary film The True Cost on Friday 29th May, about the true cost of the fashion industry.

♥ Fringe Association have picked a gorgeous pattern for their Hatalong. You can download it free from the Hatalong page.

♥ Fair Trade International are planning some really exciting changes to how fabric is certified as fair trade, which will cover the full supply chain – great news.

♥ H&M’s 2014 sustainability report is worth a look.

Have a lovely weekend all. I can’t believe it’s less than a week now until Fashion Revolution Day!

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#SewSolidarity – Missed Stitches

Sewing Mistakes

The coat pictured here is a RTW coat that Phil bought me as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. Once I started wearing it, I noticed a few instances of small ‘mistakes’ made during the coat’s construction. The coat is made from polyurethane (a fabric is laminated with polyurethane to make it waterproof), which – like leather – doesn’t recover when it is sewn or pinned, so every stitch leaves a permanent hole.

Sewing Mistakes

When I first received the coat I was mildly annoyed that my brand new coat, which I didn’t personally consider excessively ‘cheap’ (it cost £100), had sewing errors I would be annoyed if I made myself. However, it didn’t take me long to actually become quite fond of those errors, as they reminded me of the people (in China in this case) who constructed my coat, much more than any perfect stitching ever would have. It’s easy to forget that our RTW garments are sewn by people, not machines. It’s not so easy to forget when you can see evidence that they had to resort to the seam ripper – a feature of pretty much all of my own sewing projects.

Sewing Mistakes

The errors also reminded me of something else; that garment workers are typically expected to work at unrealistic speeds and for long hours, and that fast and cheap, is not compatible with care and attention to detail.


A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe: Making a Start

#naturallydyedwardrobe Dye Garden

Me and Phil are currently on holiday in Copenhagen:) Before we left, I managed to make some progress on my #naturallydyedwardrobe.

The Bee Balm and Woad seeds that I ordered from Etsy arrived, and I’ve planted those along with the seeds I bought from a local garden centre (Bidens, Marigold, Yarrow, Teasel). They’re all planted in pots and placed inside my growhouse for protection. The weather is just starting to warm up here in the UK, so hopefully I should see some growth soon, and the beginnings of a dye plant garden.

I’ve bought a selection of yarns that I’m planning to dye in addition to dyeing fabric for dressmaking. I’m interested in seeing the different colours I achieve with cellulose (plant-based) and protein (animal-based) fibes. Phil bought be a (children’s) loom for Christmas and I’m excited to dye my own yarn and create a weaving that reflects the colours from my dye garden.

I’ve also ordered some Indigo extract from this Etsy shop in India. Indigo isn’t one of the plants I am attempting to grow and it’s going to be some time before my woad is ready (!) so I thought it would be fun to try an extract. The shop also stocks a range of natural fabrics described as perfect for dyeing, so I’ve ordered a couple of metres of fabric to dye.


The latest episode of the Woolful podcast (which is always excellent) has a great interview with natural dyer Kristine Vejar.

Did you spot Portia’s brilliant tutorial for turmeric dyed ombre yarn?

There have been lots of good posts about naturally dyeing eggs for Easter. Here’s a good example from a few years ago.

I’m so impressed by this Solar Dyed Kimono by This is Moonlight; the One Year One Outfit challenge is also really inspiring.

Bee Balm Seeds

Woad Seeds

#naturallydyedwardrobe Dye Garden

#naturallydyedwardrobe Dye Garden

Wool for dyeing

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015


TOFT Alpaca Open Day

Yesterday I visited the open day at TOFT Alpaca. If you live locally (Rugby) I’d recommend a visit, and no need to wait for an open day (which was really busy – they ran out of cake!).

I treated myself to one ball of DK yarn. I went for a light oatmeal colour as I think I’m going to dye it, and then it will probably become a pair of simple socks.

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015

TOFT Alpaca Open Day April 2015


#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt – Made By Me, Cambodian Garment Workers, & Others Unknown

Less than three weeks from the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster (and with the compensation fund still short of money needed for medical bills), this is my first refashion for TRAID’s #SewSolidarity Challenge. I’ve got a skirt to show, and I’ve also got quite a bit to say. I’d recommend you grab a tea, and perhaps a biscuit, before you begin…

This fabric started off as a dress, which I purchased second-hand in a charity shop. The original dress was too small for me, but that was fine as I wanted to use it for fabric.

#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt

All I learnt about how the dress was made from the tag, was that it was a H&M product (H&M were one of the companies who sourced from Rana Plaza), and was ‘made’ in Cambodia. Our clothes (and our textiles) aren’t made by machines, they’re made by people. That ‘made in’ label told me that the ‘cut, make, and trim’ stage of this dresses’ lifecycle (from cutting the fabric to finishing the dress) took place in Cambodia, probably in a garment factory. Given that garment factories typically employ a production line approach for speed, the dress was probably made by a number of people; each focused on sewing a small section of the dress. The majority of garment workers are women, so I can assume the original dress was made by a number of Cambodian women.

Dress for refashioning
The original dress

I took the dress apart, unpicking the original stitches made by garment workers in Cambodia, and used the fabric to make a Marilla Walker Ilsley Skirt. I used almost all of the dress to construct this skirt, with just a few small pieces going into my scraps bin. I spent a lot longer on the Ilsley Skirt than the original garment workers would have had to construct the dress – I hand-stitched the hem while sat watching a movie.

What the tag in the dress didn’t tell me, was what other countries, and people, were involved in the creation of the original dress. The ‘cut, make, and trim’ stage only represents a tiny proportion of the overall process involved in creating a textile – from cotton boll, or sheep’s fleece, or oil – and transforming that textile into an item of clothing. That wider process involves huge amounts of resources (water, chemicals, electricity, etc.), huge numbers of people (approximately 40 million people worldwide in garment construction), and huge numbers of animals (for silk, wool, leather, fur, skins).

#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt

As sewists and crafters, I think we are more aware of the time and labour involved in the production of a garment. As sewists, we’ll feel particular pain at the ‘virtual factory standard’ that companies have used to define the target times for garment workers to produce clothing. You think the time allowed on GBSB is bad, try 15 minutes to produce a pair of five-pocket jeans.

I also think as crafters we become more aware of the processes that underpin our hobbies, because once you become involved with a craft you start thinking about how you can get involved at earlier stages of the production process. So knitters often become spinners, and knitters and sewists become dyers and fabric designers. I think this thought process – this interest in how something is made, from beginning to end – is vital. We need to be more conscious about what it is we are buying – where it was made, who by and how.

#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt

That’s because, currently, the processes used to produce garments – and textiles – have a hugely detrimental impact on people and the environment. This isn’t anything new – cotton production traditionally was underpinned by slavery – but globalisation, fast fashion, and the pressure for ever cheaper prices have increased the scale of production – and the associated risks. Those risks are numerous, including the effect of particles during cotton / fibre production and preparation on the respiratory system, if inadequate protection is provided, or the impact of chemicals used in textile production and dyeing on workers within factories that don’t provide adequate protection, and on the surrounding environment and population if those chemicals are not adequately disposed of and are instead allowed to pollute waterways and the air. There is also the impact on the health of garment workers of working long hours without earning a living wage, possibly in unsafe conditions. Rana Plaza wasn’t an isolated incident, many garment workers have been killed or injured at work; fires are particularly common.

Managing the textile/garment production process, and its associated risks, ethically requires investment and commitment from clothing – and textile – companies. However, the drive to produce huge volumes of textiles and garments quickly and cheaply has led to production systems where companies outsource to middlemen huge portions of the production process. In this way, companies have outsourced a lot of production risks, and costs. They’ve also outsourced a lot of the control, and visibility, of these processes. And they’ve done so in countries where workers, animals, and the environment are subject to much less protection.

#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt

Like many sewists, I buy limited RTW clothes, but I don’t think that makes these issues any less relevant to me, given the huge global impact of these processes. Also, I do buy a lot of fabric – and many of the same issues apply to fabric production.

Each year, the Uzbekistan government transports approximately a million of it’s own citizens, including children, from their homes to serve as forced labour, picking cotton for two months during harvest time (read more here). These people are given mandatory quotas to meet and are punished or fined if they fail to meet them. As a shopper, it isn’t easy to tell if the bolls used to create a bolt of cotton originally came from Uzbekistan, but, if so, forced child labours probably picked those bolls.

#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt

Poorly regulated factories processing and dyeing fabrics are also hugely problematic. Not only for staff provided with inadequate protection from fibres and chemicals, but also for surrounding populations. Treating the water used in dyeing to remove chemicals has a cost associated with it, so factories regularly pump untreated water into waterways. This is a huge issue in India and in China, with 1 in 4 of China’s population drinking contaminated water daily. There have been multiple incidents of rivers taking on the colour of a dye from a nearby factory, including the Caledon river being dyed indigo.

We’ve all become spoilt by cheap prices, and accustomed to spending less but buying more, but the prices are false. It isn’t possible to produce a t-shirt for £3, or a pair of jeans for £6, or probably a metre of fabric for £1, if all aspects of the production process have been managed sustainably and responsibly. Obviously a high price isn’t a guarantee that something has been produced ethically, but I’m adjusting what I expect to pay so that I don’t see £5 for a ball of wool or £10-20 for a metre of fabric as ‘expensive’.

#SewSolidarity Ilsley Skirt

Obviously it isn’t easy when you pick up an item of clothing, or a bolt of fabric, to know how it was produced, but from now on I’m going to at least consider those questions, and think about the resources, people and animals involved.

Otherwise we’re validating those clothing companies who have excused their own practices by stating that consumers don’t care how their products are manufactured.

All facts referred to are courtesy of ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?’ by Lucy Siegle, which I’d hugely recommend.


A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe: Gathering Dye Plants

As part of #naturallydyedwardrobe, I’ve been thinking about the plants I can gather to create natural dyes.

It’s obviously important when gathering plants that you aren’t having a detrimental effect on the environment you are harvesting in. Many dyers work with a 10 – 20% rule, only taking a maximum of 10 – 20% of the plant they are harvesting, and leaving 80 – 90% behind. It’s also important not to harvest in environments with a no-harvest rule.

I’m sticking to plants that are abundant, and so not problematic in terms of gathering.

Currently I’m thinking about…


cupful of acorns

This Autumn, I really want to try dyeing with acorns. They produce lovely light browns, similar to dyeing with nuts. To produce a dye from acorns you need to first smash the acorns and soak them overnight. If iron is used as a post-mordant fibres dyed with acorns become grey-black.

Check out this post from Thicket and Thistle for acorn-dyeing inspiration.

Bramble / Blackberry

second handspun
Photo Source

Both the leaves and fruit of blackberry plants can be used for dyeing. The berries produce a purple, while the leaves and shoots produce a yellow – brown. The fruit can be used from frozen as well as fresh, but like most dyes produced from berries has a tendency to fade. Alternative wild berries are Elderberries (pinks/browns with wool and silk; silver-grey with cottons), Damson (pinks), Blueberries (red-greys).


Photo Source

I certainly won’t have any trouble gathering some nettles, which produce yellow-green colours.


I must know fifty ways to make yarn yellow.
Photo Source

Likewise with dandelions, whose flowers produce golds and khakis.


I don’t know enough about wild mushrooms to feel comfortable gathering them, but great effects can be achieved, as seen in this inspiring post by Folk Fibers.

Any other suggestions? Have you done any foraging for dye plants?


Screenprinted Morrissey Tonic Tee

Screenprinted Morrissey SBCC Tonic Tee

This evening, I’m going to a Morrissey gig in Birmingham, and I made a new tee to wear.

Years ago, I used to regularly customise RTW t-shirts, by appliqueing designs on the front. I made an appliqued Morrissey t-shirt using this exact design about ten years ago (also to wear to a gig). I still had my original sketch of Morrissey’s silhouette stashed away under my bed, which I used to make an acetate stencil. I then used the acetate stencil to screen print the design onto my cut out t-shirt front. Phil occassionally moans about all the old rubbish I keep hidden under our bed; this is proof that very occasionally it turns out to be useful!

Screenprinted Morrissey SBCC Tonic Tee

The pattern used is the Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick Tonic Tee, which is a free pattern. I cut a straight size small and it fits perfectly. The wrinkles you can see in these photos are due to the fabric I used being a VERY drapey and clingy grey t-shirt fabric, purchased from Abakhan in Liverpool. I used a black jersey from my stash to create the contrast neck binding, and the sleeve binding. The sleeve binding was the only alteration I made to the pattern (which suggests turning and top-stitching).

Screenprinted Morrissey SBCC Tonic Tee

I’m posing here with a 12″ single, What Difference does it Make? by The Smiths. The single was originally released featuring a picture of Terrence Stamp, he objected (although he later relented) and this alternative version, featuring a picture of Morrissey, was issued. I’ve wanted a copy of the Morrissey cover version for years and finally treated myself last year.

Screenprinted Morrissey SBCC Tonic Tee

I’m a born and bred Morrissey fan. Growing up, my Dad’s favourite band was the Smiths, and we always listened to them, especially The Queen is Dead as we had a cassette of the album that was kept in the car. The Smiths/Morrissey will always be my favourite band, but my favourite song does change from time to time; currently, I especially love Stretch Out and Wait (the Smiths), and Break Up the Family (Morrissey).

I’ll leave you with Moz, he says it best (at least, when he’s not talking absolute bollocks):

A sad fact widely known, the most impassionate song to a lonely soul is so easily outgrown. But don’t forget the songs that made you smile, and the songs that made you cry. – Rubber Ring

Screenprinted Morrissey SBCC Tonic Tee


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