Saturday, May 18

Mending a vintage silk blouse

I was recently asked to mend this silk blouse. The owner did not know exactly how old it was, but my guess is 1930s. The amazing thing is that virtually all the stitching is done by hand and as you can see from the photos below, there is an awful lot of it! Every single seam, all the pin tucks, the attaching of the lace......... it must have taken hundreds of hours.The photos are not the best - I'm still having trouble with my camera..... but I hope you get the gist of things.

The pintucks -

The collar -

The under side of the collar, showing the hand stitching -

French seams at the sides - 

There were various parts of seams that needed mending. On the far right of this sleeve seam you can see the original stitching, and to the left is my repair; not quite as neat and small -

This is where someone had mended it before, using backstitch instead of the running stitch that was used originally, and which I used. The backstitch is a bit thick and lumpy - 

Previous repair

An underarm seam, a bit sweat stained........ I did think of asking the owner to wash the blouse before I mended it, as there were other dirty marks on it too, but I refrained, and just got on and did it. I have read that you should mend old garments before washing them but personally I don't like mending grubby things and won't do it again.

Another previous repair

There is a button missing from the bottom of the blouse now as I had to use it to replace one on a cuff. I also had to make a new button loop, seen here at the top, and looking rather white compared to the one at the bottom. That might be due to a different coloured thread or just that the old one is grubby -

New button loop

Here there was a tiny loop attached to the shoulder seam, with a popper fastening, for holding in place the straps of undergarments, and this is a bit of a mystery, because - the stitching you can see is done by machine! The photo is not that clear but I can assure you that that bit of stitching is done by machine. It's the only bit of machine stitching that I found on the whole blouse, and how strange to find it here on this tiny loop! -  

It was a privilege to work on a lovely vintage garment like this.

Monday, May 6

Savoury flapjack recipe

A somewhat different sort of post for me! What inspired it was an episode of Dragon's Den earlier this year, in which the founders of a snack company called Oatein pitched for investment by the Dragons. I have since looked up their bars and have not been impressed with their ingredients.

As I watched the programme, I thought about snack bars generally and in particular the ones that Husband and I keep in the cupboard (from Aldi) and realized that delicious though they are, and very good for bike rides, most of the ingredients are grown abroad. Also, the wrappers are not recyclable. Then I wondered - could I produce something that was based on oats but which would not be very sweet and which would contain ingredients which were grown in this country? Something that even contained vegetables perhaps? So the next day I set to work, and this was what I came up with!

Savoury Flapjack

8 oz oats (I used rolled)
8oz hazelnuts
8 oz grated carrot
4 oz butter
2 oz honey
2 eggs, beaten
A large pinch each of salt and pepper

Melt together the honey and butter and mix it all up. Talk about easy.....

I put it in a tin which is about 9" square I think, and cooked it at 150 degrees C (fan) for 45 minutes.
Cut it up when it has cooled slightly, then leave to cool in the tin completely before turning out.

I kept it in the cupboard when I first made it but it went mouldy after a few days so I now keep it in the fridge. And I think it's delicious!

The only ingredient which was not from this country was the hazelnuts, but I chose them because you can obviously get them in this country in the autumn, as you can walnuts or almonds but I'm not sure that their flavour would go so well with the carrots. It's not unlike a nut roast recipe - in fact you could probably make it as that.

It is excellent for taking on bike rides as it is pretty filling stuff and is very quick to just get out of the fridge and wrap up - in something reusable. I think it is a good balance of carbohydrate, protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals. It is actually a lot more than a "snack" - I have taken it instead of sandwiches and it has kept me going for a long time.

If anyone would like to test this out, do let me know your opinions.

Saturday, April 27

Singer 411g and the mystery problem with the cam stack

I bought this machine last year via Facebook marketplace, recognising the model as one of Singer's best. It's a slant needle model and does chain stitch. In the home of the person I bought it from the machine was ready for me to try out, but it was on the floor; the person was foreign and communication was not all that easy, so after merely pressing the pedal to see if it went, and fiddling with the knobs and levers and presser foot, to check that they moved, I bought it. The only attachments with it were one foot and one special disk. It did have a sticker on it showing that it had been serviced a few years ago.

I then left it for quite a few months as other things had to take priority, plus to be honest I think my doing-up-machines mojo had got up and gone for a while, but once I got it out again the mojo came back. I have since bought two other machines, a Harris Automatic and a Singer 201 treadle in a very nice Enclosed Cabinet No 51, so my case of VSMA (Vintage Sewing Machine Addiction) was clearly just in remission.....

Usual place for machines that I'm cleaning up i.e. the kitchen table - 

I bought a manual from Helen Howes; I know I could have downloaded one for free but this time I wanted a genuine Singer one. I cleaned the machine, oiled it, greased the gears, and tested out the stitches. All was looking good. 

This machine has a stack of cams, which are the metal disks that enable the machine to produce the different stitches. I have a cam stack on the Bernina 801 that I use, but I have never needed to do anything to that, and I have had no experience with working on cam stacks on other machines. I watched this video How to clean the cam stack on Singer 401a - a very similar machine to the 411g but without the ability to do chain stitch, and it seemed a straightforward process so  I went ahead and took mine out and cleaned it. For reasons that will become clear, I just wish I had taken photos of the cam stack before I removed it.

Cam stack in bits before cleaning -

Cam stack after cleaning (we'll come back to the arrows in a minute) -


Cam stack back in the machine -

Now, observe - there is a wiggly spring clip (right hand arrow in pic 1) that should be held in place by that screw (left hand arrow in Pic 2, correctly termed the stud I believe). That screw should  hold down that clip, but on mine it doesn't. It should be sitting right down on it and there shouldn't be that gap under the top of the screw. 

Here is the cam stack from another machine; this is what that screw and clip should look like - 

Someone else's machine

I didn't know this until I went to try out the one special disk that came with it; it worked at first but then popped off the top, meaning the machine was no longer doing that particular stitch.

I asked on the Vintage Singers group on (used to be Yahoo) if anybody could help; someone sent me some photos of the top of the cam stack on her machine so I knew mine wasn't right. I contacted Dan Hopgood (good blogger on vintage sewing machines in the UK) knowing he had one of these machines and he very kindly removed the cam stack from his machine, took it apart, gave me measurements I asked for and sent me photos. Everything on his machine seemed to be identical to mine. I took the cam stack in and out, in and out, and took it to bits again and again, but it seems that it is impossible to get that screw down far enough on my machine in order for it to hold that clip in place. Total mystery.

This is why I wish I'd taken pictures before I took the cam stack out, so that I knew whether or not it was like this to start with.

I plan to sell this machine but don't want to do so until I have sorted this mystery out, as even though the stitches that don't involve the special disk work fine I want to be able to sell it with that disk working properly. There are several other disks that go with this machine (how does this happen -  attachments getting separated from machines?!) and some future buyer may well want to to buy extra disks and use them.

So - I'm rather hoping that somewhere out there is someone who will read this post and solve the mystery for me!!

Monday, April 1

Tensioning my Brooks B67 saddle following severe discomfort!

As an introduction, this was my Brooks B67 when I first got it in May last year. I had bought it for my Koga aluminium touring bike. Once I'd got the height and tilt adjusted correctly for me, it soon became very comfortable. In this photo you can see that the back is fairly level, while the nose tilts up a fair bit, which is how I had read you were supposed to set them up. Tensioning was something I thought I would forget about for the time being, and that I would know when to do it, if at all. 

May 2018

These photos were taken about two months later in July.  As you can see there is still very little sign of sit bone impressions.

July 2018

July 2018

It was so comfortable that on a trip last year (read the first episode here) of 4 days cycling, I only wore padded undershorts on one of those days, riding 35 - 45 miles each day. The only slight soreness I had was under my sit bones. I kept count of the miles I did on it, until September when I reached over 600 miles.

Around about November time I noticed that the bike generally didn't seem quite as comfortable as it had done, although this thought was just a germ of something at the time - you know how you notice something but it hardly registers in your brain? Well, I carried on riding this bike but rather subconsciously chose to ride my steel Trek more often than before, realizing that it was a lot more comfortable going over bumps in the road. I tend to use the Trek for shopping and shorter trips, and use the Koga for longer trips, but as I don't do very long trips in the winter it didn't matter too much that the Koga was becoming uncomfortable. 

The discomfort was in the frontal region.....  I even bought some of these padded knickers - Equetech Dressage Briefs - because you can get them with the padding just at the front. They are actually very comfortable, and I like them because they are mainly cotton. They make a good alternative to cycling shorts/undershorts, although I found the padding to be a bit firmer than my other padded shorts. But to be honest they didn't really help a lot, and as I hadn't needed them before I couldn't see why I needed them now!

However, a couple of  a couple of weeks ago I went out on a ride of about 28 miles on the Koga. I didn't wear any padded undershorts, reasoning that perhaps I had just got too soft! But the discomfort was bad...... too bad to put up with any longer. I couldn't even go over those thickly painted lines on the road designed to reduce your speed without slowing right down and lifting off the saddle. And, although the saddle had always tended to creak slightly (and I know this is a common thing with Brooks saddles) it hadn't bothered me before, but on this day it drove me up the wall! 

Then I thought that perhaps I was running my tyres too hard. I don't pump them up excessively hard but I have always tended to think that harder was better than softer, so I thought they might well be too hard. I investigated the matter.... One of the best articles I read was in the Breton Bikes blog. I read it all and then reduced the pressure in my tyres accordingly. However it still didn't make much difference to my comfort level. But as I was pfaffing around doing the tyres I suddenly noticed that my saddle had now gained very obvious sit bone impressions, and the sides were flaring out a bit. 

Here are some pics -

March 2019, before tensioning

March 2019, before tensioning

It's hard to really get a good photo that shows the difference between when I first got the saddle and now, but believe me there really was quite a big difference! And that's when the penny must be time for tensioning!! 

I was told as a child by one of my sisters, in the teasing way that siblings do, that I was "slow on the uptake" and it has only been in recent years that I have come to realize that that is not because there is something wrong with my brain but just because I think about things a lot, and more often than not that thinking results in my understanding something better than if I had perhaps been quicker on the uptake. So, although it had taken me a long time to realize what the real problem was, I had learnt a lot about tyre pressures along the way.

First I attempted to turn the bolt on the tensioning pin with the saddle still on the bike. I certainly didn't want to remove the saddle having taken so much trouble last year to get the angle right. Then, once again proving my slowness, another penny dropped when I looked at photos on the internet of other people's Brooks saddle and I realized that I could just remove the seat post with the saddle still on it! I made sure I could see the mark on the seat post that I had previously put there to make sure I put it back at the right height. I turned the nut, although thought that the bolt was turning with it (as others have said it sometimes does) but Handy Helpful Husband said it wasn't and I finally succeeded in the tensioning! I rode it around, did it a bit more, and then - rode last Saturday for a very comfortable 48 miles!! With no padding!! Oh the bliss of a comfy bike again! AND - the creaking has largely gone. I don't mind a little creaking....

I meant to take a photo of the tensioning bolt after I had done it, to give the exact position of the nut on it, but in my eagerness to try out the saddle I forgot. I get infuriated sometimes when I am looking at photos of this sort of thing on the internet but can't quite make out exactly what is what, or where something is in relation to something else, so apologies to anyone reading this for whom my photos are not precise enough! I hope you can see in this one that I took afterwards roughly where the nut is. I'm really not sure how much I actually turned that nut in the end, but it was definitely more than just a quarter turn, which is what I have seen recommended as the starting point. By all means start with a quarter turn, but don't be afraid to turn it more.

I also decided, despite having wanted to be sure of keeping the saddle in its original position, that I wanted to tilt the nose down a bit, although  again it's hard to show in the photo below that it's any different to how I had it set up in the first place.  Maybe it isn't much different.....

March 2019, after tensioning, and after altering tilt

And just in case this might offer any further help, here it is with a spirit level on top. Pity I never took a photo like this when I first got it as that would have made for a proper comparison.

March 2019, after tensioning and after altering tilt

I am now a much happier bunny and looking forward to long trips on this bike again!

Thursday, March 7

Re-soling my Saltwater sandals

NOTE; I've decided to start putting links in a list at the bottom of my posts, rather than inserting them in the text.

Ever since the demise of my extremely comfortable Teva sandals (I could walk miles in them) after about 14 years wear, I have looked for something similar to replace them.The newer Teva versions are nothing like as good, and neither are any other "walking" sandals that I've seen. In 2016 I discovered Saltwater sandals and sent off for some; I guessed they wouldn't be quite the Teva equivalent I was looking for, but I very much liked the design. They come in lots of colours, including an olive green that I would love to have.

These are mine, pictured on the cobbler's last that belonged to my grandfather, who died before
I was born -

They are a perfect fit, and very comfortable, and I can cycle in them. However - here are some facts about my right foot, which I'm sure you are very interested in. A few years ago I realized that I was having problems with slight numbness in the toes of said foot, and after a lot of reading up I realized that I had what is called a Morton's toe (on both of my feet actually, but the left foot isn't negatively affected by it) which is where your second toe is longer than your big toe, due to the metatarsal bones in your big toe being shorter than they should be. This was causing the numbness. I knew instinctively that I needed to be able to feel the ground more as I was walking. I then came across "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, a fascinating book to read if you are interested in how we naturally walk, but don't, when we wear (most) shoes. Look at a baby's foot, at how the toes are splayed out, and look at an adult's foot........!!!!!!! It's shoes that are responsible for that change. Many people, when they are diagnosed with some sort of foot problem will be recommended to use orthotics; however this is often exactly what they don't need. What they actually need is to get back to a more natural way of walking, and a change of footwear may well be the answer rather than orthotics.

I have since struggled to get shoes that fit the natural shape of my foot, especially winter ones, and that have thin enough soles to really feel the ground beneath them. The soles on the Saltwater sandals are indeed thin, and are fine on short distances, but I have found they are not so good when walking further, or on hard surfaces. To be honest I suspect it may be the type of sole material used as much as the thickness, but I thought I'd try adding some extra material to the soles to see if this made the difference I was looking for.

So, could I, and should I, Do It Myself?

I thought of looking for a pair of shoes or sandals in a charity shop, cutting off the soles and sticking them on my sandals, as I already had some suitable shoe making/mending glue from a previous (unsuccessful...) project, but I didn't see any. Next step - I thought I might as well find out what the local cobbler would charge, so took the sandals in and asked.

£30!!!! Gulp!!

Apparently it was "the work involved" that made the charge so high. Well, to be fair to all craftsmen and women, I know that people don't always realise what or how much work is involved in a job, but there was no way I was going to spend that amount.

Instead I went home and ordered some stick on soles instead. I actually bought 2 pairs of very large Vibram men's soles - just the top halves, and each pair came with a tube of glue. My intention was to cut two top halves and two bottom halves.

One of the half soles, with glue

First I sandpapered the soles of the sandals, as instructed, to roughen them up. I should also have done the same to the new soles, but I forgot.....but they weren't all that smooth anyway so I thought they'd probably still stick. I then cleaned the sandals' soles with meths.

I put the sandals on top of the sole, and drew round them -

Cutting the material was actually quite difficult. I used a Stanley knife and went very slowly so that the knife wouldn't slip, and then I proceeded to spread glue over the whole of each sandal sole. (I have to admit the glue stinks, and you really do need the window open. This is much more stinky than the other stuff I have.) However, I realized pretty soon that the stuff begins to dry out rapidly and and you need to just put glue on a SMALL area, spread it, and then do another bit. Otherwise you could end up with the whole sole covered in glue but not being able to spread it as most of it would have already half dried.

I then left the soles to almost completely dry for the requisite amount of time, about 15 minutes, and then stuck the soles on. Meanwhile I realized I'd made another mistake by not drawing round the bottom halves of the sandals when I cut out the top halves i.e. before I spread the glue all over the soles...... But I managed to do it all right at this stage anyway without the uncut bottom halves sticking to the sandal. That may not be very clear......but basically the lesson I learned was that you have to think carefully, before you start, about the order you're doing things in!!

Here is the completed job -

As you can see I didn't get the new sole fitted to the sandal on the right quite perfectly - that was mainly due to it being hard to cut exactly on the line I'd drawn. And maybe my inaccurate drawing in the first place....

I've now got about an extra 3 mm.

I'm really pleased with how well the job turned out, although I won't know whether it's made the difference I'm hoping for until I wear them again, which won't be just yet....and the total cost was £11.97, a lot less than the £30 I'd have had to pay the cobbler!

Incidentally, I think that my grandfather would have been using this cobbler's last in the days when everybody had to make do and mend. My dad wrote some notes on life when he was very young in the 1920s, and I think that probably shoe repairing would have been something his parents, and others like them, had to do themselves, along with any other mending - hence having the cobbler's last.

Anyway, that's me "soled" on doing my own shoe pair to do will be my beloved Dr Marten's (the style I have has a more natural foot shape than many shoes, and soles that aren't too thick, although still not completely natural) which have a hole in the leather and a split in the sole. I bought some new ones to replace them but I'm not giving up on the old ones yet.


Saltwater sandals

Very interesting Guardian article on Saltwater sandals

Born to Run

Thursday, February 28

What the second granddaughter got for her birthday.....

Following on from this house money box that Husband made for our elder granddaughter for her birthday, 

 he then made this doll's bed for the younger one -

I made a set of bedding to go with it. This is the mattress -

The feather pillow was made from an old cushion, and the pillow case from a vintage unworn beautiful cotton shirt, and a scrap of blue I got from somewhere -

The sheet, made from an old one of ours, gave me the opportunity to practise mitred corners (not quite perfect but I'm getting there!) -

And last of all this quilt, which has a bit of a story: When I was about 20 and living in my attic flat in Bristol (very nice it was too) I made 6 panels of patchwork, using scraps leftover mostly from things I had made, but also some from things my sister or my mum had made. I had a couple of these panels that I had never made into anything (other panels I did but have since unmade them so they need remaking into something else now!). This little quilt is made from one of those panels. There are pieces of the first blouse I ever made, at 15, and three dresses made in my twenties. The backing is a piece left over from a recent dress.

We have another grandchild due in the spring so now I'd better start planning what I'm going to make for it!

Tuesday, February 5

Replacing zip in lightweight cycling jacket

Elder Son brought me a couple of mending jobs at the New Year when he and his wife came to stay. One was to replace the zip in his lightweight cycling jacket. The pin at the bottom had broken and although sometimes this can be replaced I didn't think it was possible with this zip.

Here's the jacket with the new zip in -

I had to shorten the zip at the top and couldn't manage to replace the metal stop that I'd removed, so I created a stop by stitching over and over each side with thick thread, and then put superglue over the top for good measure!

The story behind my choice of zip.....

I searched and searched the internet (and my local shop) for a lightweight, open end, nylon coil zip, which was what the original zip was. It was also very narrow, with teeth about 2-3mm in size. That measurement gives you the size of zip.

I could have used one of these fairly ordinary YKK zips, but they are a size 5 i.e. 5 mm teeth. They also only have a short pull, although it would have been easy enough to have attached something to it to make it easier to get hold of with gloved hands.

The nearest I found to the original size was -

this one from Kleins in London

but it would have cost £11.40 including postage! It may well have been worth it, as the jacket has probably got years of wear in it yet, but in the end I went for this slightly unusual zip. It was a lot cheaper, had a nice long silver pull, and looked as if it would suit the jacket nicely. I say slightly unusual because the teeth are not fixed individually to the zip tape, as is usual, but instead seem to be fixed to something else which is then stitched to the tape, hence the white stitching which you can see in this photo -

The blue stitching is mine -

Elder Son is pleased with the new zip. I just hope it proves to have been the right choice and lasts a long time. I always enjoy jobs like this as I learn something new every time. Included in my research was trying to find other repairers who do this sort of job, particularly those who deal with outdoor and sports clothing, partly to see if I could glean any information about what zips they used, and partly to see how much they charge (Son is paying me in port though...... a tipple Husband and I enjoy!!). However I couldn't find any that specifically mentioned replacing zips in jackets of this sort. One in the US even specifically said that they did not do this! Maybe I'm onto a winner....

Wednesday, January 23

Never throw away your old socks.....

Just to explain.....

Ever since merino wool underwear came on the scene several years ago, I have been a fan. I'm sure that wool underwear is actually nothing new, but I always thought that wool next to the skin must be very itchy until I tried merino and discovered that it was amazingly comfortable.

I have four merino tops now, one which I bought from Vulpine (before they went bust), one is from Finisterre, one is some unknown Chinese make that Elder son gave me, and one is a heavier weight Smartwool one (also given to me by Elder Son). The problem with the Chinese one and the Finisterre one though is the length of the sleeves - they are not long enough for me. It is only in recent years that I have realized I have long arms, and it drives me nuts when a supposedly long sleeve creeps half way up my forearm underneath the other garments that I wear on top.

So, necessity is the mother of invention, and I thought - how can I lengthen these sleeves? Answer - with old socks. These particular socks are not actually that old, but annoyingly, considering they were not cheap (bamboo ones from Bam Clothing) they have worn out at the heels and would have taken ages to mend (I think a Singer stocking darner, an attachment for a sewing machine that enables you to quickly darn thinner socks, would have come in handy!). I'd hung onto them knowing they'd come in useful for something.

All I did was sew the upper part of the sock to the end of the sleeve -

It does the job perfectly! No more sleeves riding up my arms. I have done it on both the tops where the sleeves were too short. On the other top I used the main body of the sock, hemming one end.

This particular top (it's the Chinese one) was also too short in the body, and would barely stay tucked in. A long back, or just long all round (the Smartwool one is lovely and long) is particularly important when cycling. For this I used the ends of some leggings which I had already chopped off below the knee in order to be able to get them on more easily under my cycling tights, which are not warm enough in the winter without a second layer underneath.

In order to have the knitted grain direction matching that of the top, I had to cut across each leg and re-stitch them together, to make a long strip to go round the top. It's not the neatest of needlework but it does the job and it's not going to be seen anyway!

It's very satisfying doing this kind of job - making something much more wearable.

I always hang on to old socks now...... there's always a use for them!

Saturday, January 19

Doll's bedding set made for Granddaughter

Granddaughter No 1 was 3 just before Christmas. I made her this set of doll's bedding, which was a feather pillow, made from old cushions (feathers everywhere ....) a pillow case, a duvet made from a piece of wool fabric I was given, duvet cover made from calico, and duvet cover. The little doll is made from calico and stuffed with scraps of curtain interlining. 

The first thing to say is that some time ago one of my customers had given me lots of very old baby clothes which her husband (about 75) had worn. She gave them to me because none of her family wanted them and she thought I might appreciate them. I gave them all a hot wash, to see if they would stand up to it without falling apart as much as anything else, and then I wondered what to do with them.....

I know some people might consider it sacrilege to cut such things up, but I did..... The bedding below is made from one of the gowns, and I would guess is probably a cotton/wool mix. When I was doing my 'O' level needlework back in the 1970s, we were taught that the fabric known as Viyella was 80% wool/20% cotton, and that the one called Clydella was the other way round, i.e. 80% cotton/20% wool. I remember some of my school blouses being made from it. I don't know whether you can still get a fabric of this fibre content, but it is, in my opinion, such a sensible fabric - both soft and warm to the touch, ideal for winter shirts and blouses. It was lovely to sew with.

In these old baby garments there is a lot of fabric, as there was much gathering, so there was plenty in one of these gowns to make this set. The applique and embroidery is all from the original garment. I edged the pillow case with a piece of my wedding dress, the fabric for which came from Liberty's in the 1980s.

I made the little doll as I thought that Granddaughter might enjoy putting her in and out of the pocket, and also taking the nappy on and off. Maybe she will do that when her mummy is changing the nappy of little baby brother or sister who is due in the spring. I also thought that she might like trying to undo and do up the buttons on the duvet cover.

The nappy fastens with a popper.

Details of the embroidery - 

The piece of lace was also from the gown -

 Detail of applique -

Making the duvet with layers of wool (wool makes the best duvets! Yes it really does!) 

I sewed the original Harrods label back in and added my own on the back, with the date of Granddaughter's birthday.

And I also have to show you the money box that Husband made her, because it is so lovely!

Money box house
The money goes down the chimney. Husband spent hours getting it to look just right, and making a removable bottom. Now she can start saving for a real house! He also made Granddaughter No 2's present, and I made stuff to go with it - next blog post!