Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Monthly Archives: September 2011
September 30, 2011Posted by on
I used to iron backwards… at least according to history.
I once came across a TV documentary partly about British butlers (I think it was on PBS and unfortunately, I don’t know the title). During the little bit I watched, the butlers were talking about pressing the laundry. They claimed that everyone who has not attended butler academy uses their ironing board incorrectly – the tapered end should be on the right, and most ironing should be done on the other, square end. I witnessed a demonstration on how to properly set up and use an ironing board in the traditional way that a butler does, which they said makes it easier to iron (especially when ironing a man’s button-down shirt).
The idea of turning my ironing board around intrigued me – had I gotten stuck in a modern paradigm when there was an old-fashioned, easier way? I decided to find out for myself by experimenting with my own ironing board.
I fully expected to hate my board being turning around. It just looked wrong. The tapered end had always been on my left! How could my perfectionist father have shown me the improper way to set up the board?? (Kidding! Dad, thanks for teaching me to iron so well otherwise!)
After a few ironing sessions, I discovered that I agreed with the butling way! There are many advantages to predominately using the square end of an ironing board:
- It’s faster to iron most button-down shirts because each half of the front fits neatly on the square end (just like they demonstrated in the documentary!).
- Yardage of uncut fabric (and bed sheets) can be ironed easier and the taper will not leave strange diagonal wrinkles in the middle of a large piece of fabric.
- Fewer things fall off the board as you are ironing. (You just have to be a little more careful when putting down your iron on the smaller, tapered end.)
- You add to the size of your ironing board by increasing the surface area of your ironing space. (That pointy end of the board really cuts out a lot of surface!)
Many costume shops I have worked in have custom built ironing “tables” with a tapered board off in a corner as a secondary place to iron. I realized that I never really used the tapered end of an ironing board because I have other more useful ironing tools like a tailor’s ham, sleeve board, seam roll, clapper/point presser, and various items from the hardware store. So now I prefer to iron with my board pointing to the right because I have found it to be faster and easier.
I was curious about how the modern standard of the square end being on the right came to be. After all, most “deluxe” modern ironing boards have the fancy iron rest attached to the square end of the board – meaning that the right-handed person would place the wider end to their right. (Not to mention wall-mounted fold-down boards!)
My curiosity led me to the aptly named website oldandinteresting.com, which is about the “history of housekeeping, household antiques, and domestic objects”. According to the website’s “History of Ironing Boards”, the early versions of ironing boards were just that – boards covered in fabric and often balanced on the backs of chairs.
Apparently, a tapered ironing board was historically called a “skirt board” and made it easier to press the skirt of a dress since a full skirt naturally narrows at the waist while the hem is wider. But for most everything else besides a skirt, the square end of the board was favored. And it seems that even as late as 1940, women were still using their ironing boards in the traditional way – with the square end to the left!
So sometime in the last 70 years, I guess some manufacturer decided it was a good idea to add an iron rest to the square end of an ironing board, call it “deluxe”, and charge extra for the iron rack addition. But then you lose the usefulness of the square end of the board while increasing the price!
I did find this folding ironing board (labeled as a “home ironing table”) with a removable square end and iron rest:
So give it a try and turn your ironing board around. You might find you like it better.
September 23, 2011Posted by on
When we moved into our house years ago, I was faced with the challenge of dressing palladian or half-circle windows. We have 5 of them and the biggest one is in my sewing room. It faces south, so the light is constant and wonderful, but the glare was so bad I almost needed sunglasses while I was sewing!
I quickly bought the paper “accordion” pleated window shades to put in the upper half-circle of the windows (on top of the mini-blinds), just to diffuse the light a little in three of the rooms on the front of my house. The paper shades are great because they are cheap and easy to cut to fit. I had to attach two 36” shades for my sewing room window because the diameter of the arch was almost 72 inches. The other windows were smaller and could be filled with just one shade, folded in half and fanned.
The paper fans look great from the outside of the house, but my sewing room window was a little boring on the inside. It needed a curtain to dress it up.
I scoured my personal library for ideas of how to adorn a curved window because I didn’t want to just hang a rod straight across the top. In the out-of-print book 1001 Ideas for Windows by Anne Justin, I came across this fun design idea:
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include any instructions or how-to’s and most of the best ideas are only sketches. So I needed to engineer a way to rig my curtain to match the sketch.
In another book on my shelf, I found some lovely photographs of simple curtains hanging in arched windows. No curtain rod required! The only problem was that the how-to seemed to be written in code because it called for “touch-and-close tape”. What on earth??
For at least two years, I pondered my window and brooded over what touch-and-close tape could be. Then one day I cracked the code! I remembered that the book was written by a British decorator so… I figured it had to be a lost-in-translation thing.
Then – lightbulb!!! – I knew! “Touch-and-close tape” is British for what Americans call “hook-and-loop tape” or Velcro. It was so stupidly simple, I can’t believe it took me years to figure it out!
I bought a pack of half stick-on and half sew-on velcro and (to save a little money) cut it in half down the entire length, giving myself twice as much since my window circumference was so big. I stuck a continuous line of the hook velcro around the inside of the window frame. (You could also staple the hook side of sew-on velcro to the frame if you don’t have the sticky kind.)
For my curtain, I needed 15 yards of fabric. I chose 34-inch-wide bleached muslin because it would still let a lot of light through, and I wouldn’t need to hem the sides since the selvage edge was hem enough without the fabric being too wide. This way, I only needed to cut the fabric in 4 straight lines. Then I had two panels 10 feet long and two panels 12 feet long. (Make sure to wash and dry your fabric before cutting to allow for any shrinking – this way you can wash & dry your curtain later.)
The same curtain design would be fun in all kinds of fabric combinations, or edged with a colored stripe. I considered adding a black edge around my panels for an added graphic effect, but decided it would detract from my wall decorations and just kept it simple.
I gathered the tops of the 4 long panels and secured the gathers by sewing the edge to the fuzzy strip of velcro, which was cut to fit exactly one quarter of the half circle window frame. (This also makes it easy to wash the curtains because the soft loopy velcro won’t tear the fabric like the hook side.) Then it was as simple as hanging, twisting, attaching loops (or safety-pins) to 4 small nails in the wall, and cutting the hem at the correct angle. I simply serged the bottom hem on each panel, but a rolled hem would work as well.
Now I have an artistically draped curtain that helps filter the light and looks great with my décor.
I know that anyone who has any sort of curved window has been frustrated at some point by the lack of options for window treatments. I had a feeling there was a simple solution out there without spending a fortune on fancy hardware! And when you have a beautifully shaped window, why should you have to cover up the architectural interest?
I hope this – my adventure and eventual solution – will help other owners of unusually shaped windows solve their own decorating dilemmas.
September 13, 2011Posted by on
Today’s post isn’t exactly about sewing or fashion or what I’ve been up to, but about the related topic of laundry – something we all have to do and usually hate doing.
There are two very simple laundry tips I’ve shared with people over and over and over. You can take care of either oil/grease or blood stains almost anywhere you happen to be without rushing home to do laundry as soon as you can. And you won’t need to carry any stain-fighting chemicals in your purse just for emergencies.
First let’s talk about oil and grease stains.
I don’t remember when I first tried this trick, but I remember dripping some Italian dressing onto my pants once. (Somehow drips and spills always seem to miss the napkin that’s on the lap!) After I finished my meal, I reached for the dish soap from my kitchen sink and rubbed some onto the spot.
Since dish soap (the kind like Ivory or Dawn that don’t contain bleach) is scientifically formulated to cut grease and oil, I reasoned it should work just fine on clothing too. After I washed my pants, they were perfectly spot-free. Yay! Who says you can only use laundry products on laundry?
I have also used dish soap on many of the grease stains on my husband’s clothes when he has been working with tools. He also goes to the dish soap at the office if he gets something on his clothes at work. It is a great pretreatment for laundry. And it has occasionally saved me when the moving parts of my serger or sewing machine leave a little machine oil on a project.
You don’t have to wash the clothing (or even pre-treat) immediately – just rub some dish soap into the stain when you can, and it should come out in the wash later. Really horrible spots may take a couple treatments and washes – just remember not to put anything in the dryer that still has a stain! Air-dry and try again.
Onto removing blood stains. (Those of you with weak constitutions, brace yourselves and read on.)
Anyone who sews has probably bled a little on a project at one time or another – it’s just a hazard of working with pins & needles. Nosebleeds and knee scrapes will soil most kids’ clothes at some point. Or you might cut yourself shaving and leave a smear on your colored (therefore un-bleachable) towel when you dry off.
At some point in some costume shop, I learned that blood stains are surprisingly the easiest stains in the world to remove – without any chemicals! (And you don’t even need soap & water!) The only thing you need to know about blood stains is whose blood it is, because the incredible natural blood stain remover is saliva! That’s right – spit. Gross, I know, but it works amazingly even on old stains. Just pre-treat with spit & toss in the washer. It’s almost like magic!
I don’t know the exact science behind it, but apparently, your saliva has enzymes in it that can break down your own blood, essentially dissolving a blood stain. So if you bleed on something, spit on it – because you will be the only person who can easily remove the stain.
Simple dish soap and spit will save you hours of frustration when fighting tough stains compared to commercially marketed chemical stain removers!
If you have any simple & easy stain removal tips, please share in the comments!
September 12, 2011Posted by on
Well, it’s been 9 months, and my niece is still enjoying her tutu. (In case you missed it, here’s the previous post about it.) Her newest penchant is ballet on the trampoline, as she demonstrated for me last time I visited:
I am really shocked at how well the tutu has faired a 3-year-old’s abuse – it’s still holding itself straight out! I’m so glad I used the elastic waistband because she has no problem putting it on by herself. Now that she has a leotard and ballet shoes, it’s her favorite outfit.
I think she puts it on every time someone comes to visit.