Thursday, 28 February 2013

Unique Waistcoat Ref: 132 - size 10.

Unique Waistcoat Ref:  132 - Size 8.  

This is a such a cute waistcoat and it seems a shame that it rarely sees the light of day.   My friend was staying with me recently and I asked her to try it on.   It looked absolutely fabulous on her, so I took some photos.   Unfortunately the light was not good, so the accurate colours in this garment can be seen on the images that are not modelled.

The denim is jeans weight 14oz and has been colour discharged randomly to very pale effect.  I no longer practice this method as I do not like flushing lots of chemicals down the drain.  Does not do the environment any good.  Also, after many years of using household bleach it began to affect my eyes, and inhaling it made me feel quite poorly sometimes.  So bleaching denim is not recommended practice.      

Before rushing on, my observations using household bleach is that it varies greatly, depending on what brand used.  I once bought some bleach in a high street shop, when the cap was opened I had to stand back and close my eyes as the fumes were so strong. It was scary.  Different brands of bleach react differently by way of discharging, depending on how much used and how you cover fabric with it.   Some bleach brands are quite mild.  Best results occurred when the denim was washed in a washing machine immediately after bleaching.  I have not experimented with environmentally friendly bleaches.

I have in my possession samples that were bleached to this extent over 20 years ago.  The fabric does change, the bleach may weaken it after many washes.  The samples I have show little deterioration.  I cannot guarantee this will be the case for all though.   In my opinion if it frays a bit, then thats what denim does.  It frays. It looks good.

Getting back to Waistcoat 132:   The Indigo denim was bleached almost white, with some traces of blue visable in random places.   I used one of my constant designs, Robinia or Gum Tree leaves painted in lilac, along with a few random clematis leaves from the same pallette.   Some blue embroidery was introduced to balance the blue peeps of denim.

Using Husqvarna Lily embroidery stitches I created the almost symmetrical lapels.   Not creating lapels but sewing directly onto the denim.  No opportunity for mistakes on this occasion, as unpicking would be visible.  I enhanced the embroidery using a couching method and in my opinion it worked really well.

The image on the right has been scanned so colours are pretty accurate.

I tend to work in a random fashion.  Not planning, just painting, then sewing directly onto the prepared fabric.   Thinking too much about placement takes the edge of for me.   I know this method does not suit everyone.

Embroidered detail of lapel.

The waistcoat back has a tie belt.  For the back and the lining, I have used glazed cotton chintz.   The glaze may loose its lustre after time but I loved the colour so used it.

Further images of this garment can be seen following links from this blog.

This waistcoat is currently for sale £80.00 plus post and packing.  Please contact me for details.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Tatting (Frivolite) Vintage samples from my collection.

 A short post script from previous blog:

Sorting through the boxes in my collection, I discovered these fine works of Tatting with a Tatting Shuttle. 

For those who remember Fleet Street, Torquay in the early 1960's, Mrs Tregale had a needlework/haberdashery shop on The Terrace (now occupied by a Pattiserie).  
It was a treasure trove of haberdashery curiosity.

As a child I remember being in awe of the stacked cardboard boxes from floor to ceiling.    This fragile agile aged lady with white hair and a gentle smile would slide a  a wooden ladder into position, then climb to slowly reach the top,  delve into a box and remove the exact contents requested.  The boxes looked identical with small labels. 

The tatting shuttle shown was purchased from Mrs Tregale. I begged my mother to teach me. Unfortunately my patience did not take to this fine art of needlework. 

The perfectly created Tatted collar has a price label of 10 shillings.  

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Tatting, foolish error with Square Patchwork

1" square patchwork and a foolish trimming error.

Over the last few months I put together a piece of patchwork comprising of random 1" solid colour squares (also known as Postage Stamp Patchwork).   The squares covered with fabric, then placed in a bag and sewn together in the order that they were drawn.  No cheating.  Think scrabble letters, bingo, or tombola.   Its the only way to be truly random.   See video clip:

This is an excellent way to use your precious small remnants of fabric to create a useful article.  The benefit is there is no size restriction.  Just keep going until required.   The image on the right shows partial progress with some tackings still in place.  Most the squares are glazed cotton chintz, but some are craft cotton solid colours too.   Adds to the texture and interest.

For the border I kept to the same random bag method, this time using a solid black, cream and white.  No cheating.  Its best to use matching thread to join squares together.  Generally the rule is to use a black thread to sew a black square to a white/cream square.  The smaller the stitch the neater your work.   I then added a black strip of fabric for a border and mitred the corners.

Not happy with this result decided to add a further layer to the border.  From my collection of lace and trimmings I found a long length that pleased me and machine sewed it to the border.   I felt that the contrast of strong colour would be softened by the gentle delicate trimming.

The reverse of the cushion I chose trimmings whose length matched the width of the cushion, and machine sewed them vertically across the fabric.  Another twist was the use of some peach coloured corset binding which I added to lift the black and white/cream   A black zipper was concealed by the last length of trimming used on the front of the cushion.  

Next day showed the cushion to my Mother who loves to scrutinise every stitch.

She picked it up, looked closely and was clearly horrified.  Surely the cushion is not that awful to look at.    "What have you done,  Jackie, just look at this hand made tatting you have casually used as a border, and  not only that you machined it to the fabric.  It takes  about one hour to create one inch".   I think it escaped me as unlike other tatting pieces I have, this has not been made from traditional tatting cotton, its more of a fleecy cotton.

Will I ever be forgiven.

It could be argued what is the point of it being "lost" away from view.  It has been given a new lease of life.  It will share our evenings on a leather chair with vanilla scented candles, listen to the TV and conversations.   No regrets.

I have been collecting textiles, trimmings and anything haberdashery for over 30 years and this piece escaped my  "My Best Bits Box".  Goodness knows where it came from, must have picked it up in a car boot sale somewhere.  It is quite flawed, definitely very old, and parts of it need repair.

Having tried Tatting and lasted about two hours, it is a slow and exacting process.  I have so much respect for the creator.   Creator thank you.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Sewing Machines: Bernina 730 Record versus Husqvarna Lily 555

Bernina 730 Record versus Husqvarna Lily 555

This blog is my personal view.  It concentrates on a couple of pros and cons of the above sewing machines. If I had to choose one to use as my constant it would be a very difficult decision.  Based on reliability and the fact the tension rarely fails, the Husqvarna would win by a hairline margin.  Based pleasure of using, the Bernina wins hands down.

They are both workhorses and have both been truly hammered over the last 15/20 years.   I can honestly say, apart from a seasonal service neither of them have visited the sewing machine hospital.  Considering how much fabric has passed under those feet, and thread through the spools and loops.

It was love at first sight when the Bernina, called out to me from the shelf at the Exeter Sewing Machine Shop.  The intention was to purchase latest Bernina model but when I saw the Record 730 it took me just two seconds to change my mind.  The Husqvarna was purchased as a spare  but it is now my primary machine.

The two embroidered samples below show machine embroidery by Jackie Wills.  See more 

Bernina 730 Record


The Swiss build is superb, a real looker, no square corners. The latches click, hinges strong, by sound it purrs.

Personal to me:

Bernina Embroidered Horse Mane 
The tapering embroidery stitches, the lever manoeuvre allows for long tapering effect from wide to narrow to nil and back again, creating a graceful uninterrupted line of stitching.

Freehand embroidery using a foot and lowering of the feet is second to none.  I dont need to use an embroidery hoop on thicker fabrics.  I can whizz back, forward and around and around at great speed without the thread breaking.  Effortless and easy.

Removing lint and dust from the inside of the machine is helped by the design of the machine.


Occasionally stitches skip which is annoying when perfect stitching is paramount.  Unpicking is frustrating.  Replacing the needle helps.
As always the case when you need to demonstrate to the sewing machine doctor it sews perfectly!

Husqvarna Lily 555


Heavy, strong, endless variations of stitch can be created by the computerised system.  In my experience very reliable.

Husqvarna embroidered.

Personal to me:  

Freehand embroidery works but is limited, lower the feed teeth does not give fluidity to manoeuvre fabric around and around.   Stitches are neat and reliable.  Many features which make it a joy to use, as a general all rounder.  Stitch memory is particularly useful.


Removing lint and dust from inside machine is limited.

Its great to open the casing to clean the lint, dust and occasional broken threads from the machine.  Also there are points to oil the machine.  Its important not to over lubricate your machine.

Opening this machine makes you appreciate how well it has been designed.

Husqvarna Lily.  Cleaning is limited to removing the spool casing.  The manual says no lubrication (oil) is needed.   Must admit I find this strange with so much use.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

1000 Waistcoats later..................

Going to write this blog about once a week.   Last week wrote about my first commission.  This week spring forward 25 years, nearly 1000 waistcoats later to present day.   Its overwhelming to think the first waistcoat could lead to nearly a thousand unique waistcoats.  On reflection it seems like a mammoth waistcoat breeding programme.   One lead to another, lead to meeting another person, lead to a change in style, lead to change in direction, lead to another boundary, to a new fabric, a new technique, lead to tears but most of all lead to personal fulfilment and happiness.

Glancing through my unorganised galleries of work

I can recall the creation of each garment, and definitely have favourites. Waistcoat 71 is one of them.   Since 1991 denim has been one of my favourite fabrics after a chance experiment with a pair of old jeans.  More about that in a future blog.

Waistcoat 71 was born in about 1997 when Gordon and I were renovating a Mervyn Seal 1960's style house S'Argamassa (renamed "Sailing Free") on the Marine Drive area of Torquay.   It was a wonderful place to have a studio, despite all the noise of the re-build.

The abstract design of five leaves on a stem was sort of inspired by this house,  I found a chestnut leaf in the garden, of which I created an abstract version.     The embroidery is courtesy of my beloved Bernina 701 sewing machine (circa 1960's) purchased from the Exeter Sewing Machine Company.

Like all my work, the machine stitching is random,  not planned and not marked onto the fabric in advance.  The love hearts can be seen in a number of my garments of that time, a quirky abstract heart, different on each garment applied, with a flume of embroidery cascading until it felt "right" to stop the machine.

The black denim  colour randomly discharged with bleach to create the animal hide effect.   The hand painted designs were applied where the fabric distress is paler for maximum impact.   The leaves have been machine embroidered using satin stitch.  Then turquoise stitching sewn between the leaves.  The garment as one front pocket.   In total there are eight leaf stems and eight hearts.   Strange as I normally work in threes or sixes.

At that time created many garments with "Chestnut Leaf"  theme.  This and another wacky blue denim is still in my collection (waistcoat 47).

Next blog will be about my beloved Bernina 730 Record and Husqvarna Lily sewing machines.  They are both brilliant to use, but both have pros and cons for certain types of work.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

First Waistcoat Commission

Ah, the blog I can proceed.  Thinking about a good place to start, knowing me I will probably jump around the years as I recall some good waistcoats.   Today I will start at the beginning.  Strange that my first waistcoat commission was the first machine sewn waistcoat I created.   The year was about 1988 and I was in Tampa, Florida with my then boyfriend.   A friend of his had seen my hand sewn work and wanted a present for her boyfriend.   Pencil case holder, no.  Patchwork bag, no.  How about a waistcoat.   Yes, yes she replied.

There were a few minor issues that needed to be resolved.  She had a sewing machine, a broken sewing machine that needed mending.  No time to take it to the sewing machine shop as we were about to drive 3000 miles to Maine.   Optimistically I hoped we would find a mender en route.   We stopped at a few shopping malls without success.   Great success with the fabric though, Walmart supplied the chintz cotton fabric in bright colours.   So I had a pattern, basic sewing kit and a great idea.

We arrived at Northeast Harbor (Acadia National Park) and the dinghy was waiting to take us to Suttons Island.  Off loaded all the gear including the sewing machine into the boat and enjoyed the sea air whilst sewing at sea.

The main road on Suttons is a gangway of planks which a small tractor can travel.   Arriving at the house which had been closed up over the winter months was quite an experience, but we soon got organised and I was itching to start the waistcoat commission.  In hindsight should have paid more attention to taking photographic progress.   Made myself at home by hanging up some of my hand sewn work near the front door.

The plan for the waistcoat was to incorporate pine trees, sea, colour and I set about forthwith.  I remember the iron not getting very hot, which was a bit of a problem, and of course the sewing machine was not fixed.   I spent time working on the tension, replaced the needle and gave it a good oil and clean.  The old machine cranked back into life, I wanted to kiss it.  Miraculously the result was good enough to work with so I cut and appliqu├ęd onto a blue chintz background.  The happy outcome is below and I would love to know if it is still in existence.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Ok, so the situation is.........decided to write a blog about waistcoats.   My waistcoats, or to put correctly  75 waistcoats that I have in my studio and about 850 waistcoats that are circulating somewhere around the world.

I would love to know how many still exist, how many still hang in wardrobes, how many are worn with the passion in which they were purchased.  How many where purchased as thoughtful gifts, wrapped beautifully in tissue paper, boxed with colourful ribbons then presented to a beloved with great expectation of pleasure.  In some instances perhaps opening the box was a moment of sheer joy, a genuine trill of "love it" "love it", the waistcoat fits, it works with my black jeans and its just what I need to wear to the music recital.    In other moments,  oh, my god........ private thought "what was she/he thinking of", and the wretched garment was confined to under the Crombie in the wardrobe.


Will be adding more to this "Blog" shortly.  Need to test to see if it works when published.   This is my first attempt!