linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

linen-cloth-natural

The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

linen-cloth-natural

Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

linen-cloth-natural

Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloths-stacked

lavender sachets

Extraordinarily practical, the lavender sachet is quite misunderstood. Relegated to the spinster and her old wives tales, much like potpourri and various folk remedies. No, the lavender sachet is worthy of attention. Let us give it due respect.

sachet

Unlike the vile-smelling mothball, a known carcinogen, and your run-of-the-mill chemical-laden air freshener, lavender is both potent and benign. Like the best remedies, it has multiple purposes, and does no harm. Creatures that would seek to damage linens, yarns, good wool socks and sweaters and your favourite old books alike are repelled from the territory by a bit of dried lavender. We have had our battles with silverfish and wool moths, and lavender fended them off with elegance.

I like to sew a handful of local lavender, dreamily intoxicated as I stitch, into pretty bits of rough linen, with a touch of wool from a friend’s sheep, to make the hearts and stars loftier. I loop a ribbon through so they can be hung off door handles, drawer handles, or tucked between items on shelves, into laundry baskets or my knitting bag. Little guardians of our precious yarns and woollens. A lavender heart under a restless child’s pillow is an instant sleep remedy, too. Functional, beautiful old fashioned solutions, these lavender sachets. Send me a note if you’d like a few of your own – or if you’re in Vancouver look for them at Second Nature..

drawstring frock

Following a pattern for dressmaking is an education in itself. I’m very much a new seamstress, and have only recently started working from patterns instead of improvising. I scoured pages of vintage patterns, searching for a dress that might be casual, elegant, and very simple to construct.

1960's drawstring frock

The 1960’s drawstring frock looked perfect to me. I decided to make the sleeveless variation for a cocktail dress, though I’d love to make another version for everyday wear in the autumn.

drawstring frock

The pattern arrived in the post. I do love Etsy.

drawstring dress

Best to wash the fabric first, to prevent shrinking later. For the smocked dress, a glossy, warm smoky grey cotton. For the drawstring, a very light, pale linen, leaning hazily toward the cooler spectrum. Ecru.

1960's drawstring frock

1960's drawstring frock

Careful measuring and altering, pinning, marking, notching and cutting of the pattern. Half a century on, the sizes are all different, of course, so it is worth measuring and adjusting the pattern as needed! My mother, an experienced seamstress, showed me how. Easy!

drawstring frock

A pattern that was considered easy when many people sewed their clothes, now seems quite complex. When things begin to come together it is pure joy! Such a delight to see how clothes were assembled fifty years ago. I loved learning how to construct the facing around the arms and the neckline.

1960's drawstring frock

I did make one change (I can never resist) and that was to substitute a cord for the flat tie, and a round, eyelet buttonhole to match it. I tell you, handstitching the buttonholes took more time than the entire dress! Next time I will be faster.

1960's drawstring frock

I like to wear the linen drawstring frock with my red wedges. It requires a half slip, which is a vintage turn in and of itself. I think I might be ready to try something more difficult next. A jacket?

1960's drawstring frock

honeycomb smocking

Perhaps the last of my studies in textural sewing with linen, one more toss cushion. (Though now that I think of it, I have a penchant for rosettes that I haven’t yet explored.) This piece uses true smocking, in a honeycomb style, very different from the shirring I’ve used before. The smocking is worked by drawing together even gathers on the reverse, and then on the right side, joining a pair of gathers, slipping invisibly up to the next spot over, sewing it to the gather beside it, and so on, so that a diamond shape begins to appear. Pardon? I’ll let Ginny over at Buttons and Bobbins illustrate this one. The stitched effect echoes my knitted honeycomb handwarmers and pleases me greatly.
honeycomb smocked cushion © elisa rathje 2012

There you are. It isn’t difficult, just perfect for a rainy night watching an old movie that you know well enough to look away from frequently. I find it charming to look at, the soft diamonds with hard edges, cousin of the kissing pleat.

handmade linen cushions © elisa rathje 2012

An education, so far. A variation on the kissing pleat pillow, a quilted and piped piece, this honeycomb smocking project, knife pleats, a second kissing pleat cushion, a ruffled experiment, and the tufted pillow. Someone seems to have made off with the shirred cushion to keep them cosy on the antique sofa, which is next in line for some attention. Tell me, which one do you like?

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tufted pillow

Next in my series of linen pillows, those little textural studies in sewing. I find tufted furniture quite entrancing, much like kissing pleats and smocking. Something about the sculptural qualities of tufting is so appealing, and I made a cushion to try it.

how to cover buttons with fabric

I love the tradition of accentuating tufting with buttons, from early vintage pieces to the Barcelona chair. Time to learn to cover my own buttons. My button jar had odd ones that I wasn’t sure how to use, so I bought a set of four with reassuringly simple directions printed on the back. Cut out the template and use it to cut your fabric. Sew a running stitch round the edge, pop the button in on the wrong side and pull to gather tightly. Smooth out the fabric and press the washer into place. Magic! Suddenly I was transported to my youth, wearing my mother’s 1960’s blue skirt & jacket, with cloth-covered buttons to match, just the same size as these. Very Jacqueline Kennedy.

handmade tufted linen pillow

I marked out four spots on each side of fabric before I began the piece. After covering the pillow in two shades of linen, I used some sturdy thread to sew through a pearly button back and out through the front, fabric-covered button, pulling as tightly as possible. Back and forth between the buttons til securely fastened, much wrestling and squashing of the cushion involved. I think the tufted pillow makes a fine addition to the daybed, quite cosy. Now I have rosettes in mind for the next cushion, though as winter steadily approaches, it must wait its turn til I’ve finished the nine-patch quilts.

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handmade tufted linen pillow