linen dishcloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Keeping a stack of sturdy, beautiful cloths around for that purpose makes me feel a little more calm. I once hand-stitched a linen cloth and four years later it is still in excellent condition. Linen is stronger when wet, so it is ideal for the task. 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 beautiful. Now I make them for the tried & true series in the shop. Useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloth-natural

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths I can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much.

linen-cloth-natural

To care for these linen cloths, I just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or medium, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. You can throw them in a medium dryer too, though it’s best to take them out while still damp, lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like the top of the dryer, and block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simple 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

Like the candlesticks, each one is unique, each one a variation in pattern. A little bit simple, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

One bright day soon I’ll have the fine folks from Flax-to-Linen round to the lake to demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold. Stay tuned. There’s a wonderful old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

The linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to the natural sponge, my trusty stiff brush, and a stack of colourful tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think.

linen-cloths-stacked

If you’re in Vancouver, pick out your favourite handmade linen cloths on Main Street at the fabulous shop, Nineteen Ten. They have appleturnover’s handthrown candlesticks too!

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