Playing with Digital Printing

Last year I had the odd fancy that maybe it would be fun to go back to uni to do postgraduate studies – Masters in Design and Art at Curtin University.

Well, I knew it would be a challenge, but I wasn’t prepared for what would be the most overwhelming part – words. There’s just so many, and a lot of the time they are complex, academic words, used to make the statement that this is Important Stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love words, I read a lot of them, and I pass every Facebook vocabulary test with flying colours. But sometimes they are used to obfuscate (confuse or conceal meaning) rather than elucidate (explain clearly).

So, I decided to engage with the words themselves, taking them out of the essay’s context, but leaving them in written order, to see what happened.

The very first essay became a list, which I’ve been embroidering onto a secondhand shirt. The essay was about the process of researching one’s own art practice, and the value of walking as a way to process ideas. So I used my treadle machine. And sure enough, I learnt something about process – repetitive circular movements, engaging with a word for longer than if it was merely read and passed over, struggling with composition on the fly. Well worth doing.

However, it is slow. As much as I love my treadle, it isn’t set up very well for extended periods of time sewing, and I have a dodgy hip that aches after 15 minutes. I’m still getting through the words from the first essay. I think the entire shirt will take until graduation.


So I decided to write the words. I grabbed some scraps of heavy paper my printmaking husband had discarded – handmade Magnani hot pressed paper – and my Copic markers. I wrote dense textures, filling the page and then crossing them to make them almost unreadable. They didn’t need to be readable, the purpose was the process, not the result.

The result, though, was beautiful.


So when Spoonflower invited me to part of their blog roundup of Australian makers, I was ready to go. I used a bunch of the digital skills I learnt in my photoshop class to turn my single pages into a repeat pattern. I chose to print two variations of the print onto two completely different base fabrics – cotton lycra and polyester velvet. I received my order shortly afterwards and got to work sewing.

img_8143 I decided to make a fairly simple Ottobre coat, as I knew I didn’t have a lot of time with my final essays due. I also wanted as little fuss as possible.


The next stage was to sort out a lining. I knew when I saw the fabric that it had to be hot pink silk. The only thing in my collection that was suitable was my wedding dress, lol. I wrestled with this for a bit – weighing up sentimentality against the desire to make this jacket awesome. I realised that there actually wasn’t any conflict – if any garment is going to be rich and meaningful, one made from personal artwork and love is probably it.

So I got my scissors out and cut.

I was pretty frugal. I think I probably managed less than 10% waste of the printed fabric, and I have a plan for the scraps. I had to shorten the body and sleeves to get it out of my fabric, but I quite like it. There’s a lot of green otherwise. I used some of the silk to make cuffs, initially because I thought the sleeves would be too short. As it turned out, the width of the shoulder being so huge on me added length I didn’t need. I love the cuffs though – they add rather startling punctuation and break up all the green.

The fabric was lovely to sew, but I felt that maybe it wasn’t the best choice for a garment, as it has quite a firm hand. Or maybe I just needed a style that was narrower at the shoulder – I feel a bit overwhelmed by the bulk. But I am rather pleased at the luxurious feel of using such a glossy fabric. This is a garment that I need to live up to – it needs proper hair, a well cut pair of trousers, a slick of lipstick and good shoes. No throwing it over a tracksuit for a quick milk-and-bread run.


The tee shirt is a pattern I’ve developed for voiles and other soft woven fabrics. I thought I’d see how it worked up in a knit, but although I like it – and will probably wear it constantly when summer rolls around again – I don’t think it’s the best use of the stretch and drape that cotton lycra has.


All in all, this was a fun project. Huge thanks to Spoonflower for inviting me to be part of the fun!

And, if you want to try Spooonflower’s fabrics, you can use my code, sewanista10, to get a discount. Hurry though, there’s a time limit!



A Tale of Two Skirts

I’d like to introduce you to a little idea i call Forensic Frockery. It’s a bit of a habit of mine, I love working out the secrets behind the design and construction of clothing, and I love a little serendipity.  Today’s post has a bit of both.

When my family was young, we lived like so many in our situation do. The casual affluence I had enjoyed as a single employed woman was severely curtailed as I got used to my new circumstances – babies, mortgage, a husband studying.  I didn’t have the time, or, it must be said, the sewjo, for making my own clothes, so I bought carefully from chain stores such as KMart.  I found a particularly pretty skirt, and based my limited wardrobe around its colour palette. I think it was probably the most stylish time of my life, and it was certainly easy to dress in the morning! I’ve never been able to get rid of the skirt I loved so much, even when I put on weight and there was no chance of it fitting.

It was with great delight that I found the same skirt in an opshop a few years later, one size larger! Or so I thought.

When I got the skirts together, I realised that I had found a perfect example of the trickle down effect in fashion. In other words, my KMart beauty was in fact a cheap knock-off!

Opshop skirt

Opshop skirt

Kmart skirt

Kmart skirt

The clues begin with the quality of the fabric and trimmings.  Both are stretch cotton sateen, with a floral print in the same shades of brown, pale pink and aqua, with grey/brown tracery and foliage. At first I assumed from the style of print and the colours that they were identical, and it wasn’t until I laid them both out that I realised they weren’t.  The better quality skirt has a sophisticated grace to the artwork, with complex leaf shapes that lead the eye around the repeat and unusual 3 petalled flowers.  The KMart skirt has larger motifs and a more conventional flower style, with less variation in flower size throughout the design. The line work in the tracery is quite different in feel as well, as the Kmart skirt’s leaf sprays look quite flat compared to the greater three dimensionality of the nicer skirt.

The quality of the fabric itself is substantially different.  The opshop skirt is a heavier weight of sateen, and it has more stretch with better recovery.  It would appear that to different printing methods have been used, as the inside of the opshop skirt is white with very little shadowing of the print, whereas the kmart skirt is brown with considerable shadowing.  I don’t know much about fabric printing methods, but I presume there was a cost saving reason for the different methods being used.  The Kmart skirt hasn’t held up well in laundering, with quite a lot of fading. Having said that, I prefer to dry my clothes on a washing line in the sun, the fading may be my fault!

reverse of fabric

reverse of fabric

There is a band of grosgrain ribbon trimming the waistband on each skirt, with the opshop skirt having a wider ribbon of a fairly substantial weight while the KMart’s ribbon is thinner and narrower, and hasn’t held up well in laundering. The KMart skirt also has a small bow made from the ribbon, but this detail has become limp and tired looking.  To be fair, I have no idea how the opshop skirt was treated before it came to me, but I suspect it hasn’t had as much hard wear as my Kmart one, which was a staple of my wardrobe for 18 months or more.

The construction of the two skirts is another indicator of their relative quality, and quite instructive for those sewers amongst us. As can be seen from the above photo, the seam and hem allowances are larger on the opshop skirt, and the seam has been sewn in two passes, a straight stitch and an overlock. This is a more secure seam than the 5 thread overlock used to sew and neaten the seam simultaneously on the KMart skirt, but it also takes twice as long to sew, with a move to another machine. The hem also shows more expense as it is wider, thus using more fabric, and it is overlocked then blind hemmed. The blind hem gives a nicer look and doesnt roll like the narrow topstitched hem, but it does have a tendency to unravel due to the nature of how the stitch is formed.

yokes and zips

yokes and zips

interior showing yoke interfacing

interior showing yoke interfacing

opshop skirt interior

opshop skirt interior

The yoke and zip insertion are another area where the quality difference is evident. Both have been sewn with an offset facing, but the zip is set more neatly in the opshop skirt, and the button and loop at the top is a more secure finish than the hook and eye of the KMart skirt, as well as being more functional.  The construction of the yoke is interesting.  The KMart skirt has a non-woven fusible interfacing on both yoke pieces, as does the opshop skirt, but it’s quality differs. The lower edge of the KMart skirt yoke facing is bias bound, and then left free apart from a small catch stitch at the side seams and centre back seam.  The opshop skirt has the zip in the side seam and has no centre back seam, which is a nicer look as the pattern isn’t disrupted, but it also means that the facing needed to be sewn securely all the way round the lower edge of the yoke, a process requiring more time and a much higher level of sewing skill.  And while the centre back seam on the KMart skirt takes more sewing time, the trade off is that it also uses less fabric when laying up the pattern pieces on the fabric.

difference in length

difference in length

This lead me to my final point, which is the cost savings in the fabric usage.  Although the opshop skirt is a size larger, it is also considerably longer.  This isn’t a grading change, as skirts don’t grade 5cm or more in length per size! The Kmart skirt has used a lot less fabric than the opshop skirt. By designing it to be a shorter skirt, patternmaking it to have a centre back seam and constructing it using smaller seam allowances, the fabric saving over thousands of skirts would be considerable.

In conclusion, although I don’t know who designed the opshop skirt, or when, I’m pretty sure that this is an example of a successful, attractive design being copied at a lower price point for the mass market. Which raises quite a few questions, some of which I will ponder in a future post.  Please feel free to ask any of your own as well, in the comments, and I’ll see how I go answering them.


the first post.

Photo 21-07-11 11 35 01 PMHello,

That seems like a good place to start.

It’s hard to know where to begin with a new blog – to be honest, blog posts 2 and 3 are easier than the first one.

But this is a sewing blog. At least that’s my intention. Probably sewing, and patternmaking, and rants about consumerism and pretty pictures of beautiful clothes, made by either my students or myself. And when the pictures aren’t particularly beautiful, in the way that calico is not particularly beautiful, I hope they can be interesting and informative. I’m a 3D kind of girl, and while I can admire a beautiful decoration, I swoon over a cleverly cut pattern. I find a lot of the most interestingly cut garments are vintage ones, so my fascination with vintage and antique garments will probably shine through. (Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any clever designers doing amazing things with fabric these days – quite the contrary. I’d like to think I might be one of them). Hopefully it will be a thinking sort of blog, because I do a lot of that. But mostly I hope that it is fun, both for my readers and myself. Because if all fashion had to do was cover us from the elements, we wouldn’t go to quite this much trouble.

That seems to cover it. Enjoy!