Working with Vinyl: Tips for a Beginner

Working with Vinyl: Tips for a Beginner

Imagine a summer day spent by the pool with your sunscreen on, your sunglasses perched on your nose, and a cup of your favorite drink beside you. A cool breeze blows by, and you can’t help but smile from your reclined position on your seat as you casually turn the page on the book you’ve been reading for the last half hour.

Then you set the book aside for the sake of refilling your drink — just when someone decides to do a cannonball into the swimming pool. The water flies upward and outward… and a huge splash lands right on your book. Suddenly, your poolside day of reading deteriorates with the knowledge that the book you were enjoying so very, very much has officially been subjected to the book-disease known as water damage.

This is not a good scenario for a book fan! In fact, it can put a damper on the rest of your poolside visit!

Splish splash

Create a waterproof book cover for relaxing day of reading by the pool.

Create a waterproof book cover for relaxing day of reading by the pool.

So how could this incident have been prevented? Well, you could’ve left the book at home, but there’s another possibility that would allow you that relaxing day of reading by the pool. That option is to create a waterproof book cover. You can find instructions for that concept here, but the step-by-step guide can lead to exploration if you want to properly create this book-protector.

That exploration centers around one important detail, and that’s the best approach for dealing with vinyl in regard to sewing. It is, after all, a much different texture and structure than more common possibilities like cotton and flannel, and if you want the best experience possible for putting together a vinyl-based book cover, looking into how it’s different and what to do about those differences can be beneficial.

Troubleshooting

It’s thick. While it’s not thick enough to be something that seems ridiculous to use, it’s thick enough to come with its own concerns. For instance, you might find that the needle you used to sew that cotton project doesn’t work very well for this vinyl concept. The thicker quality calls for something stronger to easily maneuver through the vinyl to create your book cover. According to one source, “[i]t’s best to use a needle designed for leather or vinyl…[like] Leather Needles from Schmetz” for the task so you don’t have to wrestle with your needle as you go — or maybe even ruin your needle because it bends under the pressure. If this is your first vinyl project, you might want to look for an applicable set of needles for the job!

You may want to add Wonder Clips to your to-buy list for when you’re browsing through the store for your vinyl-sufficient needles.

You may want to add Wonder Clips to your to-buy list for when you’re browsing through the store for your vinyl-sufficient needles.

It’s not pin-cushion friendly. While the tiny holes that pin cushions can leave don’t really make much of a difference in flannel, they can make a very big difference in vinyl since they’re much more pronounced! To combat that issue, you might want to add Wonder Clips to your to-buy list for when you’re browsing through the store for your vinyl-sufficient needles. These things can keep your project on track by holding things in place without forever scarring the vinyl!

“You can’t iron your vinyl flat.” If there’s something that’s a staple in preparing material for sewing, it could be to iron all of the wrinkles out beforehand. Since that strategy doesn’t really work for vinyl (it “could melt” under the iron!), it leaves the question of what a person can do that make sure everything is even before that first stitch happens. A simple solution would be to use your hairdryer on the vinyl, which will cause it to “flatten out nicely.” No bends, no damage, and no worries as you dive into making your stitches for your waterproof book cover!

A simple solution would be to use your hairdryer on the vinyl

A simple solution would be to use your hairdryer on the vinyl

It might not stay in place. One of the things I personally don’t like about using a silk fabric is that it’s so easy for it to slip out of form and throw off your pinning, cutting, and sewing. And, well, vinyl doesn’t seem to want to stay in place either because of its texture. While this might make it perfect for the waterproof detail, it complicates the sewing process just a bit! This complication though is no reason to throw in the towel for this project since painter’s tape can be used to hold the vinyl in place without damaging it at all. It’s an extra purchase for the project, but it can keep things neat and orderly as you go to create a better, easier-made product.

Use tissue paper to preventing sticking.

Use tissue paper to preventing sticking.

It might stick to your sewing machine. To my thinking, few things are more frustrating in the world of sewing than having material that won’t feed through your machine correctly, and since vinyl can stick, this could be a headache waiting to happen! It doesn’t have to ruin the experience though! You could use tissue paper on “the side [of the machine] that is having trouble” while you feed the vinyl through to keep it from touching that part of the machine, thus preventing the sticking. Once you’re finished, this tissue paper “will easily tear off” to become but a memory of a sewing hack you employed!

If you use these tips, tricks, and suggestions, you might find using vinyl is not so difficult that you have to remove it from your list of materials to use. And if you can use it, don’t hesitate in protecting that new paperback from the swimming pool splashes with its own book cover! It’s one step closer to that wonderful possibility of a summer vacation, poolside read!

Carpet Magic from Egypt

Carpet Magic from Egypt

Some of the beautiful silk & cotton rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make.

Some of the beautiful silk & cotton rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make.

I visited a carpet making school while I was in Egypt.

The school, on Sakkara Road in Giza, was called ‘New Egypt for Oriental Carpets’. The building was a vast stone structure, wide stone steps leading up to the second floor showroom and into the main entrance on the ground floor.

Back to school

The front wood doors opened into a vast, high ceilinged, airy room. Looms of varying widths, reaching from floor to ceiling lined the walls. On two sides, children manned the looms. They were of all different ages, the youngest appearing to be around 7 –  all the way up to 16 or 18.

Each child sat a wood bench in a front a loom longer and wider than at least three or four of himself. They were all boys.

The children, along with learning how to make hand tied rugs from wool and silk and cotton, also study reading and writing. Acquiring the skill of carpet making allows them the opportunity to stay in their hometowns and earn a good wage for a trade. They can also continue their education elsewhere if they desire.

My guide and I stopped behind one of the youngest boys. He turned with a toothy grin to wave at me, then turned back to his loom. The speed and dexterity of his fingers as he tied the long strands of wool into knots was mesmerizing.

The oldest group of carpet makers at the school were no longer pupils but artists. They didn’t work from a preconceived mapped out design but from pictures in their own heads.

The youngest pupils work on the simpler designs made predominately of wool. They have long sheets of paper that show the colors required to complete a specific design – kind of like the directions that come with any rug latch-hook kit you can buy at a craft store. But much more complicated and a lot more extensive.

Snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper

Another young man of about 13 years of age was working on a rug made of cotton and silk.

“Slow down,” said my guide, “Slow down so she can see.”

He dutifully slowed his flying fingers. He worked across the loom width-wise, tying strands of silk to a sturdy cotton thread already inserted in the loom. When he finished a row, he used a wired brush to push the knotted strand down tight against its neighbor.

He demonstrated the trimming process that happens at the completion of a rug, using heavy scissors to trim the fuzz like you do to an old sweater when it’s balled and pilled up.

On the backside of the rug, I could see the long threads left where he changed colors of silk. After he’d woven in all the strands, he would go back and cut and tie all the ends so that the back of the rug looked as beautiful and clean as the front.

The student becomes the master

The oldest group of carpet makers at the school were no longer pupils but artists. They didn’t work from a preconceived mapped out design but from pictures in their own heads. They used smaller looms they could stand up at, manipulating the contraption up and down with a lever by their feet, tying and weaving the yarns with their hands.

Some of the rugs can take up to 14 to 16 months to make – truly astounding in this world of mass, quick consumerism. All of the students and artists I encountered at the school seemed to have a genuine pride for what they were doing, and a patience I suspect is increasingly rare in the instant gratification, selfie-taking, googling, internet shopping world of many western civilizations.

Works of art

As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew that you'd be mine.

As soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew that you’d be mine.

The second floor of the school was the showroom filled with all kinds of stunning rugs. Drinking a complimentary cup of tea, I wandered amongst the treasures for a good part of an hour (or maybe two). I finally decided on two carpets I wanted to purchase.

But, since I was in Egypt, the actual buying of things involved a thirty-minute bargaining session. I pretended I hadn’t already decided which rugs I liked the best and asked to see some more similar to my initial selection. I remained undecided for a significant amount of time, especially once price came into question, hemming and hawing and murmuring and looking around.

After settling on a cotton and silk rug, I then asked about the tapestries. I’d spotted the one I wanted quite some time ago. It was one of the artist done ones with yellow and orange flowers, swans, and blue sky and water with pink water lilies. After some more back and forth, we finally agreed upon a price for both the pieces I wanted.

The cherry on top

My freebie tapestry. A nice touch.

My freebie tapestry. A nice touch.

Then, in true Egyptian fashion, the salesman offered me one more tapestry I could choose from a pile as a gift. I suspect this pile consisted of the practice tapestries done by the younger students but they were all alluring in their own right and I choose a long narrow hanging of yellow with camel silhouettes.

I left the school quite happy with my purchases and the opportunity to have seen the young carpet makers at work – and to contribute to the Egyptian economy and the school.

Now, back at home in New York City, my Egyptian carpets have been happily integrated into my home carrying with them the legacy and craftsmanship of centuries.

A Little Bit of History from the Desert

A Little Bit of History from the Desert

Here's a picture from my balcony in Madaba, Jordan. I hope to find some interesting textiles in the bazaars as I travel through the country.

Here’s a picture from my balcony in Madaba, Jordan. I hope to find some interesting textiles in the bazaars as I travel through the country.

I’m in Jordan today. Yes, the Jordan in the Middle East, northeast of Egypt and Israel. I woke up in Madaba to a beautiful sunrise and rose blooms over the desert. I’m here on holiday, to ride my bike and spend the later afternoons looking for textiles in the bazaars.

The Middle East has always been a nexus of textile production. Trade routes commonly known as the Silk Road terminated on their western end in the eastern Mediterranean ports. As a result, these markets were also the centers of textile production.

Textiles of the Middle East during the Middle Ages were highly prized goods. I’d venture to say they still are. Many of the words we use to describe textiles in the English language are derived from Persian, Arabic, and Turkish – terms like damask, taffeta, cotton, muslin, seersucker, and mohair.

Historical value

Long ago, textiles in this region were also often accepted as payment of taxes or other moneys owed. Visiting officials and ambassadors were given gifts of cloth or garments. In a part of the world where much of the population was once primarily nomadic, interiors were furnished with textiles used to cover floors, walls, cushions, and to create beds and storage of all kinds.

Traditionally, gifts of any kind were also presented in a textile wrapper. The more elaborate the wrapper the greater honor was intended. Textiles were thought to be able to hold powers of protection or harm, depending on the symbols and inscriptions incorporated into them.

After the death of Muhammad, representation of living creatures was banned in most cultures of the region. As a result, Islamic design developed a beautiful metaphorical language all its own, utilizing geometry, calligraphy, vegetal, and architectural forms (though in many Persian & Central Asian silks and carpets, human and animal figures do appear).

Silk

Elaborately patterned silks were produced throughout the Middle East in all sorts of complex weaves – such as twills, lampas, and brocades. Silks of a more simple nature, tafta and satin weaves, were also quite numerous. A cloth made from a silk warp and a cotton weft, known as alaca, produced a more “economical” textile.

Tiraz textiles are a silk fabric, particularly important from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, embellished with a border containing inscriptions of religious quotations and often woven in gold thread. Baghdad was the best known source of tiraz but it was produced in many other Middle Eastern locations. The borders appear most commonly on upper sleeve bands. They are were also found on burial shrouds and ceremonial textiles.

Cotton and linen

Both cotton and linen, ranging more heavy canvas to lightweight gauze, were widely produced in the Middle East. Textile printing also existed and, by the sixteenth century, a printing industry existed in Syria, later expanding into Anatolia.

Mohair and wool

Mohair, camel hair, and goat hair – referred to as cashmere or pashima, is used to weave soft and beautifully patterned shawls throughout the region. These shawls became very popular in the west during the nineteenth century.

The patterns, woven in twill tapestry or other complex compound weaves, featured colorful and elaborate designs. One such design was a complex vegetal one known as boteh. In the west this design became to be known as the paisley motif, named after Paisley, Scotland where textile mills produced copies of the design in the latter nineteenth century.

The best known wool textiles of the region are the pile and flat cloths made as rugs, bags, wall coverings, and the like. The oldest surviving example of Islamic carpet weaving is the “Fostat” fragment from the ninth century found in Cairo.

Carpet design can be divided into 3 categories

  1. Tribal carpets, produced by nomadic or village households for their own use, tend to be geometric in design and reflect regional affiliations.
  2. Court carpets, created by the finest artists of the day, are usually the most intricate and finely knotted.
  3. Urban manufactured carpets are the third category. These are often technically fine but most often have less intricate designs.

Adventure time!

I’m excited to see what kinds of things I’ll be able to unearth over the next week as I wander about Jordan. Hopefully, I’ll have some interesting finds to share with you!

Textiles, especially those that are handmade, have such a deep history. I love learning about a design or technique that is unique or specific to a certain village or area. I also enjoy meeting local artisans who still produce works of art in the same way their ancestors always have.

This all ties into one of my previous posts about passing on skilled expertise to younger generations. Its a tradition pretty much as old as human civilization and one very much worth sustaining.

I wish you all a week of amazing discoveries (whether they be ancient or not). Next week I’ll be posting from Cairo. Arak qaribanaan.

Pretty Little Things

Pretty Little Things

I was thinking about all the things you can make with fabric. Depending on your sewing skills and your motivation, you could make just about anything your heart desires.

Let’s see. My first sewn article was a red twill skirt in high school. My efforts had very good intentions, but I remember getting frustrated when I could never use the “best” sewing machine in the classroom. I had to rush to finish it so the teacher gave me a “C” grade on it. I couldn’t believe I put the zipper in the back just perfectly. (I’m still scared of zippers, by the way). But the hem of the skirt was about 3 inches in the back and maybe and 1 inch in the front, and very irregular. That was long before the days of the high-low hem which arrived on the scene by stylish fashion designers in the twenty-first century. Oh my, I’m dating myself now.

I learned it from watching you

I watched my Mom sew clothes for me as child, so when I got off on my own, I asked my Dad for a sewing machine. I picked one out from Sears, a basic machine with a couple of stitches. I made a knit T shirt out of multi-striped material and fell in love with stretch fabrics.

My dad called it my “$150.00 T-shirt.” I knew he was thinking I would be done with sewing after finishing that comfy, wearable T-shirt. I proved him wrong.

I went on to make dresses, suits with vests, skirts with zippers, a strapless bathing suit, and other clothes that were worn with pride when I thought, “I did this- I made this jacket”.

So fast forward today, after several years of non-sewing, I have found my passion again with other types of articles. The last couple years, I have made quilts, bed runners, napkins, baby articles and even Korean Quilting called “Pojagi”.

And now for something completely different

Today, I want to share with you my latest project. First off, I love the Victorian Era.

Laces, satins, silks and velvet. I have accumulated many boxes of vintage lace, ribbons, and trims and struggle to find ways to use them. So, I am trying to bring back something that were used by ladies of old. It is something that is considered vintage, or antique, but I still feel the idea is a good one. Many stores carry things similar like paper envelopes filled with lavender seeds, or other dried herbs, but I wanted to design something that was original to appeal to women who love frilly little things like me.

When I made these, I thought the Mother of the Bride & Groom may need the hankies to wipe away their tears during the wedding ceremony!

When I made these, I thought the Mother of the Bride & Groom may need the hankies to wipe away their tears during the wedding ceremony!

So, I designed a Handkerchief Sachet. The idea is to spray the handmade handkerchief with your favorite cologne or perfume, or fragrance oils. Place it in dresser drawers, on the bath counter top, or even your handbag, so you can enjoy your favorite scent as aromatherapy.

I thought these could be used as a keepsake bag for a special piece of jewelry, a lock of baby’s first haircut, or just a place for a tube of lipstick in your handbag. Just a little frill to enjoy & remember a special time or event.

I thought these could be used as a keepsake bag for a special piece of jewelry, a lock of baby’s first haircut, or just a place for a tube of lipstick in your handbag. Just a little frill to enjoy & remember a special time or event.

The last picture is the third set of sachets I made with 5” squares, lace, silk ribbon, and some metal vintage ornaments. These are stuffed with eco-friendly snow filling and will absorb your desired scent. Just respray when the scent fades and enjoy!

The last picture is the third set of sachets I made with 5” squares, lace, silk ribbon, & some metal vintage ornaments.

The last picture is the third set of sachets I made with 5” squares, lace, silk ribbon, & some metal vintage ornaments.

Whereas, the handkerchief can be washed if necessary if a change of scent is desired, these can also be utilized as a pin cushion in your sewing room. Who knows, you may fall in love with Victorian Vintage as I did.

All seams were sewn by machine except for adding flowers and ribbon, these items can be found at NaturaDomani on Etsy.
Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Fabric Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictWhen I first moved to NYC a lifetime ago, I worked for very little money as an assistant to a crazy hat designer in the heart of the garment district. The only upside to the job was that I spent a good part of every day out on the streets gathering fabric swatches and button and trim samples. There was another assistant who had been there for almost a year already and she took me around with her and introduced me to all the people and stores. The two of us had a great time digging through bins of buttons, wandering deep into the back corner of NY Elegant Fabrics, and convincing the nice people at Mood to let us into their “secret” warehouse (it really does exist).

I only stayed at that job for about a month, though it felt like a year, and the other assistant (who has since moved back to Korea to head up a fashion company there) and I still keep in touch. I don’t go to the garment district as often as I once did but I do have a list of must visit favorite places.

Mood – 225 West 37th Street

I’ll get this one out of the way first since most people at this point have heard of Mood which lucked into some amazing advertising when it became the fabric store featured on Project Runway. One of the coolest things about Mood is the building its in and the old elevator, still manned by an actual man, that you have to take up to the 3rd floor. Once up there, the rows and rows of fabric reach from floor to ceiling. Things are pretty well organized, the selection is large, and most bolts have swatches already cut and attached to the ends that you can take.

One little note about swatching in most all the stores in New York City: If someone asks if you are a student, say no. They’re asking because most stores have specific hours for student swatching and won’t allow you to do so if its not during those hours.

Also of note: Mood has a public restroom in the back right corner. 😉

NY Elegant – 222 West 40th Street

I love NY Elegant for its selection of light weight cottons, organdies, and batistes. NY Elegant is a family run store and is the last standing fabric store on 40th St. They also get a lot novelty fabrics – fake furs and things with glitter and sparkly threads.

Paron Fabrics – 257 West 39th Street

This is one of my absolute favorite family run fabric stores in the city. Sadly, they closed their doors for good just last month. I’m only including it to remind everyone to try and support their local fabric stores and if, you have the chance, come to NYC and shop in the garment district. You really can find almost any kind of fabric there by visiting the larger stores and just wandering down 39th street and stopping in to the small stores that still remain.

B & J Fabrics – 525 7th Ave #2

B & J is your best bet for high end linens, lace, and silks. The store is extremely well organized and always seems extraordinarily well lit in comparison to other garment stores. They are a little pricier than some of the other stores but the quality of the fabrics they stock is superb.

Lou Lou Buttons – 69 West 38th St

Lou Lou Buttons sells only buttons. They have bins and drawers and barrels full of buttons. They have wood buttons, shell buttons, mother of pearl buttons, and every funky, unique kind of button you could imagine. The people who work there are helpful and friendly and don’t seem to mind if you spend hours looking.

M & J Trimming – 1008 6th Ave

There are a lot of small trim stores in the garment district with beautiful things but M & J has by far the largest selection of trims in the city. And, unlike a lot of the garment district stores, they’re open on Sunday (you know, for those weekend trim emergencies.)

Tinsel Trading – 828 Lexington Ave

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictTinsel Trading recently moved out of the garment district to this new location on Lexington. They stock the most amazing unique vintage and new trims you’ll find (unless you’re shopping in India or Southeast Asia). Their stuff is expensive but much of it really is one of a kind. If you like metallic thread, fabrics, and fringes, this is the place to go.

If you’ve never had the chance to shop for fabric in New York City, I encourage you to plan a trip if possible – you won’t regret it. And, if you come during the month of December, you can also go visit the holiday windows at the retail stores along 5th Avenue – Bergdorf’s (always my favorite), Saks, etc.