Fabric Focus – Liberty Tana Lawn

Fabric Focus Liberty Tana Lawn

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Tana Lawn is named after the Lake Tana in Sudan.
  • It’s constructed from the long, stable fibres of Egyptian cotton.
  • There are over 43,000 Liberty prints in existence and…
  • 120 new designs are released each year.

Liberty lawn fabric

There’s no denying how much the sewing community loves Liberty Tana Lawn. With good reason; it comes from a rich heritage. The shop on Regents Street opened in 1875 and began importing fabrics from Japan, China and India.  A dyer and printer in Staffordshire was employed to choose colour ranges, celebrated designers (including Walthamstow’s local lad, William Morris) were commissioned to design prints, Lancashire mills were used in the production … and in the 1920s a Liberty buyer, William Haynes Dorell, hit on the idea of marketing their cotton lawn as Tana Lawn. So a whole generation of sewing bloggers owe it all to a man named Will!

Liberty lawn fabrics

Okay, okay, you’re saying. What’s really so great about Tana Lawn? Well, from my sewing experience, here are the highlights:

It’s lightweight but fine in thread count, which makes it perfect for cool summer makes. It barely feels as though this silken (yet 100% cotton) fabric is touching your skin.

There’s no fear of a harsh ray of sunlight revealing your undies.

The quality of the fabric means that it behaves fantastically during construction. Cotton is always well-behaved, but Tana Lawn is particularly obedient.

Despite how light it is, it retains shape extremely well.

The high quality also means that creases quickly fall out. I have taken my Liberty Lilou dress to a music festival, rolling it up in a rucksack and then shaking it out to wear for a day of lolling around. You’d barely have known it hadn’t seen an iron.

Which brings me to my next point. This fabric is extremely durable. How many vintage Liberty fabrics or makes have you spied?

Those prints. They’re just to die for – or dye for. Liberty pride themselves on their colour palette, quality control and designer commissions. You’re not just wearing a dress; you’re wearing a piece of art.

And if you care about such things, you’re wearing a brand that’s almost a hundred years old and iconic around the world.

ongping-sewing

Are there any disadvantages to working with Liberty Tana Lawn?

It’s on a narrow roll width of 136cm / 54 inches wide – so you need to keep an eye on that when estimating how much fabric you’ll need for a make.

It’s expensive. All that quality comes at a price – £22.50 a metre. Unless you’re able to find alternative sources. It’s likely that these alternative sources are selling seconds, but I’ve never had reason to be unhappy with my purchases. My recommended places to shop for Tana Lawn are:

  • Liberty store, Regents Street – check out for their pre cut lengths in sales. If, like me, you adore all things Liberty it’s definitely worth following their Instagram feed. Just lock up your purse first. I also recommend getting a Liberty loyalty card. Every now and then they’ll send you £5 vouchers to spend. It all adds up, peeps!
  • Birmingham rag market, near the Bull Ring. Don’t ask me which stall seller, I only get up there once a year if I’m lucky.
  • Ebay – I recently bought some gorgeous Tana Lawn from this seller. I did notice a small fault in the print, but no one else ever would.
  • Shaukat. Not known for their customer friendliness or innovative web design, but a good source of relatively affordable Liberty fabrics.

Don’t allow the lightweight nature of the fabric to fool you into making any type of garment that relies on drape. Liberty Tana Lawn is crisp and won’t drape in soft folds.

Not a disadvantage, but you might want to remember to change your sewing machine needle to one of the finer ones.

If you mess up a make with Liberty Tana Lawn, you’re probably going to cry. Probably.

Other than that, I really can’t think of any disadvantages to working with this beautiful fabric. It took me years of sewing to pluck up the courage to spend this amount of money on cotton. Then I sewed with Tana Lawn, and finally understood what all the fuss was about. This is the real deal.

Any tips to add, readers?

Dip in! There are five other Fabric Focus posts to enjoy.

Liberty Book of Home Sewing

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How To Sew With Beeswax

Beeswax

When I first started sewing, I remember being bemused by beeswax. No, scratch that and rewind. Specifically, I remember being bemused by the knots that would appear in my thread whenever I tried hand sewing. So I did some research, and learnt that beeswax would help. I just didn’t know how!

I thought I’d write a blog post about something that may appear obvious to some. To others who may be similairly bemused, I hope this helps!

So, beeswax. You can buy it in most haberdasheries. If you don’t know what it looks like, check out the above. Or ask for a shop assistant’s help. Or just wander around looking for something that resembles a giant’s gobbet of dried up snot. (Too much information?)

Here are my tips for working with beeswax.

Cut a length of thread for hand sewing. My rule of thumb is that it shouldn’t be longer than about 80 cm/ 31 inches. Any longer and it will knot, even with the help of beeswax. To guesstimate this length, I hold the end of the thread between forefinger and thumb. I stretch my arm out horizontally from my body. I then pull the spool back in my other hand until it’s pressing against my collar bone, thread extended between both hands. I imagine I’m Katniss in The Hunger Games, pulling back the string on my bow before releasing an arrow straight into the heart of an enemy. Because sewing is just like The Hunger Games.

Thread cut, I run it through my beeswax…

beeswax and thread

Very Important Next Step. I then seal my beeswax into my thread by running a moderately hot iron over it. I’ve heard people say this should only be done between two layers of absorbent cloth. Never bothered, myself. But, I have found that this step really helps strengthen and smooth the thread.

iron and threadIf I have quite a lot of hand sewing to do, I’ll cut three lengths of thread and prep them. Then I’ll gather my thread in a small container – an espresso cup does just the job! – and take it with my thimble, needles, pins, and embroidery scissors and settle on the sofa for a good, long session of hand sewing. I come from the camp that loves hand sewing. So meditative, so satisfying, so easy to do in front of the telly.

espresso cup

I use the Sunny Gal Patented Method for tying a knot in my thread. (Do click through on the link for a very detailed explanation of this small but useful technique.)

Knotting thread CollageThen I thread my needle (thoughts on needles here) and am all set for some knot free hand sewing. Thank you, bees of the world. I salute you!

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A Tale Of Two Fabrics

fabric Collage

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness

This weekend I had two very different experiences with two very different fabrics. The first was a black and gold striped loose weave knit. I bought this crazy stuff from New Trimmings (my new-to-me favourite shop, tucked away behind Oxford Street) because it reminded me of Debbie Harry, Kim Wilde and my youth.

Crazy Fabric_edited-1

Fortunately, I’d only bought a metre of the black and gold knit to experiment with. Emphasis on experiment. It was all going so well! I’d had the sense to stabilise the shoulder seams with some ribbon. I’d had the sense to use a thick ponte for the neckband.

Then it came to overlocking the shoulder seams together and … that knit fabric did what knitting does when sliced by a blade. It unravelled. Horribly. There was no saving this and it went into the bin. (If you have any advice for avoiding future similair disasters, answers on a postcard, please!)

Liberty lawn

By contrast, my second fabric was a Liberty lawn. It behaved beautifully as I cut it out. No nasty surprises. No wayward behaviour. No unsightly unravelling. It made me wonder – should I avoid the ‘crazy’ in my fabric choices and stick with the known?

My grungy knit had behaved just like my teenage self – atrociously. I kind of liked it. My pretty Liberty lawn had been the good kid, sat at the front of the class. I wasn’t going to complain about that, either. All part of the rich tapestry of sewing, right? I know, I sound so zen. Don’t be fooled. There may have been a glass of wine poured after that little experience.

Would you buy a black and gold loose weave knit? Could you forgive it for behaving abominably? And should I get round to reading A Tale Of Two Cities?

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Simplicity 1801 – My Winter Summer Dress

Simplicity 1801

Are you the same as me right now? Wrapping up in layers and then peeling them off? At this time of year I need what I call a Winter Summer dress – otherwise known as the Simplicity 1801. The print suits winter, but the fabric is cool enough so that when I sit in an airless, overheated office I’m not fanning my face.

I used a viscose twill, bought from eBay. (If you want to read all about viscose, check out my Fabric Focus here.) My fabric choice isn’t available any more, but this is from the same supplier.

Simplicity 1801 iii

The success or failure of this dress is all in the fitting. It relies on fabric with drape and there are lots of gathers at the bust, waist and back. So, it’s a good job I remembered some advice given to me years ago: Always make Simplicity dresses two sizes smaller than the pattern measurements tell you.

According to the pattern’s body measurements, I should have cut out a size 18. I cut out a size 14, and had few fitting adjustments. I shaved a bit of depth off the shoulder width (common for me), took an inch off the sleeve length, shortened the skirt by 3.5 inches and took 3/4 inch off the depth of the back bodice. It’s worth knowing that there’s a very handy back yoke seam that allows you to adjust the back fit with no tears – as long as you address this before sleeve insertion.

Simplicty 1801 back view

There are pockets included in the pattern, but I didn’t use them. I thought they’d bag out with a fabric this full of drape. One other adjustment I must mention. I raised the V neckline by about 1.5 inches. Otherwise, I wouldn’t want to bend over in this dress. Not without revealing my bra!

The sleeves are voluminous, so I’d pause to consider if that’s a look you’re going to like. There’s a side seam invisible zip and … that’s about it.

I am very happy with this dress! I’d happily continue wearing it beyond winter months. Do you have to negotiate temperature chaos at this time of year? My house is freezing right now!

Simplicity 1801 iv

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Pinning It Down

pin cushion Collage

I recently chose to take an inventory of the pin cushions in my house. My mum visited and said, ‘I could find loads of pins, Karen, but not a single needle.’ What are you saying? Then I looked closer…

  • Three – ahem! – pin cushions in reaching distance of my sewing machine.
  • A pin cushion on a side table beside my dressmaker’s dummy.
  • Pins in the head of my dressmaker’s dummy, but they don’t count.
  • Three more pin cushions on my office desk. Because you never know when you might need to pierce a laptop with a pin.
  • Two pin cushions atop a fireplace. I don’t think I’ve touched either of them in six months.
  • A pin cushion in my bedroom. Like, obviously.

I’m not even going to touch on the pins that I have found in my dressing gown, bra, bathroom, behind the sofa, bed and carpets. I shall give special mention to the pin I found on my front path. And I’m desperately trying not to think about the pin I recently spotted on the pavement outside our house. I have a creeping suspicion it might belong to me…

Sound familiar, anyone?

Pin

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Building Your Sewing Station – Pressing Tools

Sewing Station

If you think the sewing machine is the most important piece of your arsenal, you’re wrong. The iron and ironing board come a close second. We’re always told to press, press and press again. Listen! Here’s a stroll around my set up.

ironing board

Mine is one of the wider than average boards. I have never regretted a single penny spent on this longlife cover. It’s indestructible, and even makes a nice, neutral background for blog photos.

Iron

Can you believe my iron died on me just before Christmas? I had to run down to my local DIY store and buy what was admittedly a pretty expensive new iron. The good news is that it pumps out steam like nobody’s business. The bad news is that if it’s left standing for longer than ten minutes it emits a recurring beep to let you know it’s still switched on. I don’t need that nagging noise when I’m in the middle of a delicate operation at the sewing machine! I am seriously thinking of disabling the alarm. I just need to figure out how.

ham and sleeve boardI love my ham. The deeper you get into sewing the more you understand that pressing over a curved surface can be so much more helpful than pressing flat. Necklines, sleeve inserts, facings… You name it, I’m pressing over a ham. A nice, hard ham – no soft pillowy nonsense for me.

I snapped up the sleeve board from a charity shop. I try to remember the days when I didn’t have a sleeve board in my life, but it’s a struggle. How did I survive?

I also keep a press cloth (organza), butter knife (for turning corners), clapper (for pressing woollen seams) and beeswax (for hand stitching) close to my ironing board.

pressing equipment

Anything I’ve forgotten here?

Of course, you know what the really big irony is? I hate ironing…

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Are You A Planner Or A Splurger?

Blog

In five years of blogging at Didyoumakethat, I’ve never had a blog schedule. But I’m beginning to wonder if I should.

The aspects of blogging that I have always really loved are spontaneity and independence. I’ll write about what I want to, when I want to, if I want to. I do enjoy regularity of blogging – staying in contact with my readers. But this winter I’ve sometimes had to dig deep to support the hobby I love. And I do love blogging.

With about 30 minutes of natural light per winter day, the options for taking blog photos can be really limited. Plus, with a full-time job and a dog to walk, my midweek sewing time often contracts to zero. Which means that both blogging and sewing end up being weekend pursuits. As does having a life, seeing my friends, getting out of the house and sleeping in! So, you know.

I’m not alone in this dilemma. There has to be a solution, surely!

I’ve dragged a monthly planner home from the office. I’m going to attempt to use it to think ahead and plan a bit more. Within reason. I’m sure there’ll still be the spontaneous blog post written propped up in bed at 5am or 10pm. I just can’t help myself. I’m a splurger.

What about you? Are you a planner or a splurger? And do you have any tips for someone who’d like to be both?

Blog ii

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Je Suis Charlie – Sew Your Support

Je Suis Charlie Bag

Today people take to the streets of Paris to protest about the killings that have taken place there this week. I couldn’t ignore what had happened to a city I have visited and loved, or the fact that it was creatives who were attacked.

I know from reading blogs how many Sewists have been inspired by their visits to Paris, buying fabric in Montmartre and carrying it home to make dresses. I’ve done the same.

I had to show some solidarity.

When the slogan, Je Suis Charlie, trended on social media, I found my way forwards. For those of you who don’t know, this phrase has been adopted since the massacre of cartoonists, by people who want to show their support for freedom of expression. It’s beautifully simple and dramatic – all the best slogans are.

After witnessing the raging success of the Books Are My Bag campaign last year, I knew that the best way to get my message across was … by carrying my message. A bag it was!

Je Suis Charlie

I had plans to whip up a simple tote that people could easily duplicate. As is my way, the project became more complex the deeper I got into it. You could still whip up a simple tote, or anything else. A T-shirt? There are endless options.

I hope this tutorial helps – and not just people sewing bags. I would truly love it if you felt inspired to sew your own solidarity and support. Blogs are a bastion of freedom of speech and creativity. Please indulge me as I embrace both of these today. I’m lucky that I can.

This blog post was written in memory of Vanessa Cabban.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

Canvas fabrics

  • A printer
  • Letter applique templates
  • 2 pieces of 20.5 x 15 inch canvas
  • 2 pieces of 20.5 x 15 inch lining fabric
  • 2 pieces of 20.5 x 15 inch sew-in batting
  • 1 piece of 11.5 x 7 inch lining fabric
  • Pieces of canvas for the lettering. Here is your opportunity to customise!
  • 4 25 x 3 inch strips of canvas for the handles
  • 225 x 3 inch strips of fusible interfacing for the handles
  • Wundaweb or fuse web
  • A sewing machine and walking foot
  • Thread and topstitching thread
  • Topstitching needle

CONSTRUCTION STEPS

At 60% size, print off the free letter applique templates from Simplicity.

Trace your reversed letters onto the paper back of your Wundaweb. Roughly cut out the letters.

Lettering

Place the letters onto the wrong side of your canvas. The rough, glued side of the Wundaweb should face down onto the fabric.  Press over the paper with lots of steam, sealing the glue onto the fabric.

Don’t peel away the paper yet.

Accurately cut out your letters. I used my least favourite pair of sewing shears as the paper may slightly blunt blades.

Cutting Out

Position your letters onto the right side of your bag canvas.

Positioning letters

Once you’re happy with the positioning, peel away the paper back on each of your letters. Place them back into position and press with your iron, sealing into place.

Sealing letters

Baste batting to the wrong side of each piece of outer fabric.

Batting basted

Now, stitch each of your characters into place. Go on, do it! This will add to the longevitity of your make, with no fear of letters peeling away. I reduced the stitch length to facilitate going around corners and tricky details. Take your time. Have loo breaks. It took me about 25 minutes to stitch the entire phrase.

Letter L

Pin together the two pieces of the outer fabric, wrong sides together and sew along three edges (two short edges and one long edge).

PinningNow, you are going to box the two bottom corners of your bag. Fold the corners so that the bottom seam and side seam meet.

Place a pin through both seams to ensure they meet. Measure in 1.5 inches in from the tip of the point.

Sew along this marked line and snip off the corner. Turn the bag right side out. You have just made a neat boxed corner. Feel proud of yourself!

Bag corner CollageConstruct the two pieces of the lining fabric in exactly the same way. I added some neat pockets for iphone, Oyster card and house keys.

pockets

To make your straps, cut four lengths of canvas and fuse heavyweight interfacing to one pair of them.

straps

Sew these together along one long edge, right sides together. Press in a 10mm seam allowance on each of the opposite long edges, fold over to meet and top stitch down. Add a matching row of top stitching down your first long seam.

Baste your handles to the top of the main bag canvas, with the handles facing down the bag. I placed each handle 3 inches in from the side seams.

Place the main bag with handles hanging downwards, inside the inside out lining fabric. Right sides of fabric should be matching. Pin around the top edge and sew, leaving a gap, so that you can turn your bag right side out.

gap

Hand sew up the gap. Give everything a good press. You can topstitch around the mouth of the bag. You can. I did a terrible job.

You’re done! Next time someone tells you that sewing is just about silly dresses, you can reply, ‘Oh, it’s definitely about the dresses. But it’s about so much more as well…’

Je Suis Charlie Bag DidyoumakethatJe Suis Charlie Bag ii_edited-1

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Giveaway Winner

January Giveaway

The winner of my latest giveaway is Tereza of Sewing For Me!, who lives in Brazil. I am stupidly thrilled that a package is going from Walthamstow to Brazil.

Thank you all so much for your tips. We garnered over 150 of them! I’m going to settle down with a cup of coffee and re-read Alex‘s tip for using freezer bags and how Suzanne rescues wood from the scrap pile to use as a clapper.

There were tips I still struggle to follow, such as changing the needle after every project and reading all the pattern instructions before starting a project. Always too impatient and lazy!

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Three Items I Have Found Useful – and a giveaway

Desk lamp copy

A Habitat desk lamp. Short and squat, light enough to easily move about my sewing table, I can drag it really close to the machine bed on my sewing machine. No more winter nights spent squinting at dark fabrics.

Silk shears

My Gingher micro serrated shears have really proved their worth, cutting out all those drapey fabrics for my Pussy Bow blouses. The blades have tiny teeth, which prevents slippery fabric from billowing away as you cut. If you have a bit of money to spare, I’d definitely spend it on decent sewing scissors. They make all the difference.

Finger Pressing

This has been a recent and revolutionary discovery. The importance of my own hands! A tip I picked up from Couture Finishing Techniques. After pressing a seam or fold, lightly finger press. (Ensuring the fabric isn’t too hot. Obligatory health and safety message done.) Press your hands lightly against the fold, holding the steam in the fabric. This makes a real difference. In the photo above, the top swatch hasn’t been finger pressed; the bottom swatch has.

Do you have any tips of your own for useful sewing or knitting aids? Which part of your body has proved most useful? (Don’t answer that!) Supply a tip for my readers, and you automatically become eligible for my January busting giveaway:

January Giveaway

The giveaway is open worldwide and closes on Wednesday 7 January, midnight GMT.

Posted in knitting, sewing, sewing and knitting | 186 Comments