Thursday, 24 April 2014

When Is A Coaster Not A Coaster?

When is a coaster not a coaster? ...

... when it's an appliqué!

Over the last year I've dabbled in several projects that use crochet motifs as appliqués. I'm not talking about crochet appliquéd onto crochet here, (fun though that is), but crochet appliquéd onto fabric.

Before I started experimenting, I thought that perhaps crochet would not "sit" very well on fabric and it might all look a bit lumpy and homespun. Obviously you need to gauge the weight of your crochet vis à vis the weight of your fabric - no good trying to put aran, or worsted, weight crochet on a piece of filmy, Liberty lawn, say; the weight of the crochet will pull the fabric completely out of shape, but I've found that a DK, or sportweight, cotton yarn on reasonably robust, cotton fabric, works like a dream.

Denim is a perfect base. It also makes a good, neutral background to show off the colours of your chosen motifs. But any other heavyish, cotton fabric, I guess, would work well too.

My first foray into this lark was my "Jeans for the Golden Road to Samarkand" last May which you can read about here, if you're interested (Turkish Delight and peppermint tea optional!); next up was my denim apron liberally sprinkled with hooky tulips and I made a couple of little cosmetic purses too, out of denim off-cuts, with single tulips on the side panels.

My most recent effort was in January this year with my "NewYear's Green" jacket embellishment using crochet panels hand-sewn onto the cuffs, collar and bottom edge of a corduroy jacket. For this I used a heavier weight yarn - some leftover Spud and Chloë Sweater, which is an aran weight wool-and-cotton-mix. This has worked very well on the more robust, lined corduroy of the jacket but, I think, would be too heavy on lighter fabric.

The method I use for my appliquéing, (in case you'd like to have a go yourself), is as follows: having hooked up my motifs and finished off all the ends securely - there are plenty! -

I faff about with arranging them on the fabric laid out on the floor, for ages on end, pinning and repinning about a million times. (I find this faffing is unavoidable and definitely not an optional extra!)

Eventually, once the faffing is complete, I tack the motifs in position Carefully, ie not just any-old "cat's teeth" stitches, any-old-how, as quickly as possible, which is Mrs T's usual happy-go-lucky approach to tacking, and then I either hand-sew (my jeans and jacket) or machine-sew (my apron and the little purses) around the edge of each motif in a matching, sewing thread.

The results surprise me every time. The motifs seem magically to have grown onto the fabric and sit beautifully, as if they had never had a separate existence.

Obviously, for practical purposes, you need to use a yarn that is good tempered about being washed, if you're appliquéing to clothing that will go in the washing machine. I used Cascade Ultra Pima DK weight yarn for all the examples above, (apart from the jacket), and it's perfect. Fabulous range of colours, very easy to work with and washes beautifully. My apron, which has probably been washed the most, - I can't stand cooking in yesterday's cooking spills - looks as good as the day I made it. But any other mercerised cotton yarn, whose label confirms that he is laundry-friendly and that he won't blow a gasket in contact with hot water and suds, I am sure, will be fine too.

So.... one thing led to another and I thought I'd use the same technique to pretty up a denim skirt that I thought I'd make as my second Sew-Along skirt in Lazy Daisy Jones' Sew Along. It was going to be a short, plain denim skirt because short, plain, denim skirts are so useful and so versatile, but I decided to sacrifice versatility and usefulness and go off piste. Because. Because you only live once. Because, just as nobody gets to the end of their life and wishes they had spent more time at work, people do get to the end of their life and wish they'd spent more time living colourfully.* They mean this metaphorically, usually, but not always. Also I have to wear black a lot of the time for work, so some happy colour, for when I don't, is particularly welcome. But I digress. Back to the appliqués. I had quite a clear picture in my head of what I wanted. Bold, bright flowers with nice distinct petals, in lots of my favourite colours, dotted over the plain canvas of the denim.

Flicking through various flower patterns, nothing seemed quite right. I wanted something reasonably stylised, quite compact and not too small. Seventies-prints-kind-of-flowers with several colours in each bloom.

While I was humming and hawing about possibilities, Jenn of Color 'n Cream posted about the arrival of her new flower coaster pattern here and suddenly there were my perfect flowers! I experimented a bit with the colour combinations and in the end decided that the centres needed to be the same colour as the petals or it was all a bit too random with the number of colours I wanted to use. And I left out the final round because I liked the petals just as they were, without an edging.

I made sixteen in total and dotted them all over the finished skirt in, what is intended to be, an artfully artless way. It was a bit of a pain, keeping on changing the sewing thread colour to match the petals but it's worth it, because so long as the thread colour matches the crochet, your stitches magically seem to disappear without trace. As you can see in the pics above, I machine-sewed these rather than hand-sewed them on. A lot of turning of the fabric to negotiate all those curvy petals but I thought they'd probably be more secure if machine-sewn.

By the way, is it just me who is wistful for the days when reels of sewing thread had beautiful names instead of numbers? I'd much rather sew with Peacock, Saffron, Fiesta, Lupin, Parma Violet and Monaco Blue, Peppermint, Rose and Coral, Light Kingfisher and Blue Pearl than a load of anonymous numbers. Or is that just me being sentimental?

I added the flowers once I had completed the basic construction of the skirt, ie once I'd sewn the darts and main seams and had inserted the zip, but before I'd added the facing or lining. If you are more canny than me, you could add the flowers onto the cut pieces before any sewing, but you need to take into account where you will lose fabric area in the construction and I knew I'd get that wrong and find I'd sewn a flower where I wanted to put the zip or something. Once the flowers had all been added, I thought I'd add a little crochet border. Because. Because see * above. And because, well why not?! You could crochet a border strip and simply hand-sew or machine-sew that in place at the hem (as I did on my jacket) or you can do what I've done here and use a small, sharp hook to pierce the fabric edge and crochet directly into the fabric. This is what I am doing in the two pics below.

You can get a special "Sharp Hook" for this purpose from here (this is what I'm using) but I guess any fine steel hook would do the job or you could use one of those old-fashioned bodkins, that looks as though they might be more in keeping with the contents of a 19th C cut-throat's pocket, on the back streets of Victorian London, than a domestic sewing basket, to pierce holes in the fabric. A bit more laborious though, probably.

It's a bit fiddly getting the first row of stitches in - my advice is to take your time and do it in manageable stages - but you get into a rhythm and once the first row is done, you simply switch to your normal hook-size and complete the border as you would normally. In the pic below I am on my second row and using my ordinary 4mm hook.

I love the effect this gives.

The border I chose was number 62 from Edie Eckman's "Around The Border Crochet Borders"but with an additional row of single crochet at the base. Not too complicated or fussy, to distract from my flowers but enough to add a final flourish. That was the idea anyway. You could add a line of bought lace or trim, instead of making your own, if you prefer.

This skirt, like my first Sew Along one is also lined -  in a lavender lining fabric this time and without any pesky cutting errors, unlike last time! Ahem!

The crochet makes the skirt feel a bit heavier and I'd want to think carefully before committing myself to appliquéing an ankle length version - might be too much of a good thing - but this short skirt works just fine and I can't tell you how happy I feel, wearing it.

Especially with these bright turquoise tights. How can anyone not feel happy wearing these?!

Thank you to S who kindly took these photos of the skirt on me. I am a most uncooperative photographic model so these are the product of considerable patience and forbearance on the photographer's part - sorry, S! But I thought you'd like to see how the skirt actually looks when worn!

If you don't crochet, but do like the idea of the appliqués, stay with the coaster zeitgeist and buy yourself a set on Etsy like these gorgeous ones that Jenn has in her shop here and just sew 'em on; alternatively beg, browbeat or bribe(!) a crocheting friend to hook you up a bouquet of flowers in your favourite colours and get sewing! And if you do crochet, you don't, of course, have to use a flower that's really a coaster  - browse the Internet or pattern books - there are zillions of crochet flower patterns out there for you to find one that suits your own mood and style and then personalise even further with your own colour choices.

You don't have to make the skirt yourself either. Customise an existing item in your wardrobe or pick up a charity shop version and play around. Cut it shorter if need be and machine-sew a new hem. You can even convert an old pair of jeans to a short skirt following the directions in this book. I haven't tried this yet but I will - just too tempting an idea not to!

Meantime, back at Mrs T's sewing machine, she may now have to run up another denim skirt to cover off the occasions when she feels she can't wear this one covered in bright hooky flowers and trim! But such is life!

Oh, and by the way, I have a spare copy of Edie Eckman's "Around The Border" because for some unknown foolish reason I managed to order two copies at the same time by mistake and never got round to returning the spare one. So if you'd like it and can put it to good use, email me with your address and I'll post it off to you as a little freebie giveaway of hooky happiness which, as we all know, is, at least in part, what makes the world go round! And you will salve my conscience from feeling guilty at not having got round to returning it to Amazon!

E x