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What's that fabric: Tailor's Daughter

May 8, 2013

The Tailor's Daughter by Janice Graham is a novel that takes place in Victorian England in which a young girl deals with disability, death, her place as a woman in 19th century society and her calling as a tailor following in the footsteps of her father. Janice Graham goes into great detail in the backroom goings-on of a tailo,r throwing out jargon like she, herself, grew up a tailor's daughter. 

Superfine wool: (see red coat above) This is a type or degree of Merino wool. The term Superfine is used to describe diameter of each wool strand and not the quality of the wool itself. Superfine is a thin, soft wool fabric typically used in evening or special occasion gowns which is why Veda decided to use it for Mrs. Truelock's mourning gown.

Crape: (also known as Crepe) is a thin, opaque fabric that resembles gauze but is most often made from wool and silk and lately polyester and blends. In the Victorian period crape was most often made into dresses or formal wear for mourning or feast days. Crape has a great deal of body and had some stretch but also wrinkled very easily which was why it was reserved for special days and the wealthy.

Moire: Although typically linked with silk, Moire is a treatment and not a type of silk like Dupioni. Moire gives a water like effect on the surface of a fabric. It can be applied to cotton, linen, silk, taffeta. There are two methods of achieving a moire. The first, changeable, is not a proper moire but gives a good enough imitation to be called moire. It is the process of weaving the warp one color and the weft another color so that the color changes in the light and the watermark effect is more noticeable in the sheen. The second is called Calendaring and is an actual treatment, not a weaving, in which the fabric is folded in a specific pattern and pressed with ribbed rollers to produce the water streaked effect. Moire silk is highly prized because of this expensive treatment. 

What's that fabric? Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

April 17, 2013

Picture of Calico Day Dress
picture from Dreamstress


Have you ever read a novel that mentioned a fabric that you weren't familiar with and the context was too vague for you to get more than a general ideas (even if that idea is just "oh that's a fabric"). As a fan of historical fiction this happens often, more often than I care to discuss, thank you. So I thought a series was in order to discuss my favorite stories and mysterious fabric references. Our inaugural post will cover Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". This is my favorite novel and I have a dog eared page that mentions three fabrics: Cambric, Muslin and Calico.


Cambric: This is a plain woven, fine cotton or linen fabric with a touch of shine (think cotton sateen). In the time of Pride and Prejudice it is more likely cotton rather than linen. When Mrs. Bennett mentions cambric in relation to planning Lydia's wardrobe for her marriage to Mr. Wickham she is most likely thinking of undergarments, handkerchiefs and shirts. The name is a derivative of the town of origin, Cambrai in France. Of the three fabrics this is the finest.


Muslin: I thought I knew what muslin was before I started writing this post but I was under a misconception. Muslin as we know it today sort of encompasses the three types of fabric, cambric, muslin and calico. What were three plain woven fabrics in Jane's day is one today: muslin. Muslin in the 19th century was a plain, loose woven fabric; today it is a tighter weave. Because it was an undyed, loose fabric it was very inexpensive thus making it perfect for dress makers to use to fit to clients and use as patterns for finished dresses. The loose weave also made muslin ideal for warm weather, especially in the 19th century when dresses became multilayered, beautiful monstrosities. In relation to Mrs. Bennett she most likely would have been planning Lydia's summer wardrobe of muslin dresses.


Calico: This is the low man on the totem pole of plain woven cotton fabric but also the most popular because it was often printed in bright florals. It was also often the least processed with husks still visible in the weave. Calico was often worn as aprons and day dresses which was undoubtedly what Mrs. Bennett was picturing for her youngest daughter. What mother would not dream of a wardrobe full of fashionable dresses for a young bride? You can see a representation of a later 19th century day dress above or a earlier version more akin to one Lydia would wear below. 

picture from


Ask the Expert: My Tips and Tricks

June 20, 2012

I have been asked countless times for my own tips and tricks to make my sewing easier or how I keep it all sane in the sewing room. It is time to share a few of my favorites since there is no way I can remember or document them all.

1)      Pattern weights- I have made my own, several of different shapes and sizes and I use them all the time, everyday. Mine have beans on the bottom and stuffing on top so they also serve as pin cushions. But I don't just use them to keep from pinning my patterns but also to keep my fabric from falling off the table when I have a huge piece and only need to cut a bit. They also keep my fabric, papers and patterns in place since I have a tendency of bumping everything just a bit to knock my perfect alignments out of whack if I didn't have the weights.

2)      I can't keep my tools in drawers; I have to have them out in sight in cups, vases, bowls or plates. I collect these open storage areas from thrift stores and home stores. If I can't see them, I will send half my time looking all over or forget about some really handy tools. My goal with the open storage is to make my tools (scissors, pens, markers, chalk, seam rippers, tape, clips, rulers, etc) easy to see but still pretty to look at.

3)      I start sewing every seam ¾ in. away from the edge to prevent snags and the inevitable bottom fabric getting sucked into the bobbin casing. I take 1-2 forward stitches, then reverse to the edge and then get going forward again. It may seem like a lot of reverse stitches but it is my sure-fire way of avoiding the sucked in fabric (AND I HATE THAT!)

4)      I don't cut my patterns, ever! I copy them onto freezer paper for several reasons. It is easier to fold up and store uncut patterns. If I lose a pattern piece it is not the original and I can trace another. I hate coming up with folding methods and storing cut tissue paper patterns. I also hate tissue paper patterns because they are so delicate and I paid big bucks for this pattern and it just ripped/my dog sat on it/ my kid drew on it/ it blew out the window. I can iron freezer paper. I have more but I should stop before I lose you.

5)      I clip my pattern instruction onto the wall right in front of my work space. Before I did this, I had to use table space to lay out my instructions and they usually were buried under fabric and pattern pieces about 15 min in. No longer. With my instruction hanging, they cannot be buried and no longer take up valuable table real estate.

6)      I don't use soluble markers. They don't last long enough for me and I have had issue with accidentally spraying them away while ironing or leaving an air soluble out overnight when called away to other duties. I use tailors chalk, chalk pencils, ballpoint pens and when no other mark will work sharpies (only for emergencies).

7)      Replace your seam rippers often and I mean often. They dull and you might not realize it. I have had some for years and never put 2+2 together and realized some of my mistakes were from a dull ripper. A sharp seam ripper will work faster and better every time. Once you start to feel resistance or slipping, it is time to change your seam ripper. Stock up with every order. They don't cost much and 2-3 might just be what you need to get free shipping. Plus you can keep them all over so you won't have to look under every bit of fabric to find one ripper. You can collect them all later when you dutifully clean your sewing room!


Ask the Expert: Summer Time edition

May 18, 2012

Terre Downum from Facebook asks: I'm planning to make a tablecloth with oilcloth, what size needle do I need to use

Tara Says: Well, Terra I would recommend your heavy duty needles, a size 16 sharp paired with some poly wrapped cotton thread so it will be durable but won't break when sewing. Be sure to stick a piece of tape to the underside of your sewing foot to help guide the fabric through and prevent hang-ups.

Oilcloth is a great fabric for all kinds of summertime projects like tablecloths. You can also make picnic mats, tote bags, beach bags and aprons.

Hannah Wright Robinson from Facebook asks: how often do I need to oil my machine and do I need any oil in the bobbin area?

Tara says: it really depends on your machine. If you still have your instruction manual, check out the maintenance section for exact instructions on caring and maintaining your sewing machine. If you don't have one, take it to your local sewing machine shop for a tune up and ask them for all the details. However, works on your machine should be able to tell you what at-home car you can give and how often.

My sewing machine is due a yearly check up so I will be taking it in to the shop this week. I have a Brother and my manual state that I do not need to add oil (it comes with enough) and if I think it needs oil to take it in for a tune up. Brother also recommends that I get my machine serviced once a year to get hard to reach lint and debris out as well as check the tension and lube it up. You should never used compressed air to wash out dust from your machine; it can often make a problem worse by sweeping it into hard to clean areas. I use a soft craft paint brush to clean my bobbing case after every project and when my threads get tangled (dust in the bobbin case is the number one cause).


Paula J. Hatmaker from Facebook wants some tips on adding an underwire shelf bra into a swimsuit or where she can find size F foam bra cups?

Tara says: well, after some deep searching I found a link to a link to a link to a store in Germany that sells size F foam cups. There is another in Canada that sells swimwear foam cups in size F as well. You can price shop for the best deal. I also found another link to Dixie DIY's big list of Bra suppliers that you may find very helpful should you need more for your shelf bra. She includes store with supplies as well as patterns. As for instructions on adding a underwire shelf bra to your swimsuit I would advise you to either study a well fitting suit you already have with a bra you like and use it as a pattern or check out the Pattern School for a guide on adding a underwire shelf bra to swimwear. Or you can take the easy way and use a store bought bra and add it in like instructed in this Thread's Magazine forum posting. Both are great options if your pattern instructions are not up to par. 

Ask the Expert: Knitting/Sewing Combo

April 4, 2012

What serger do you recommend?

Tara says: Seeing as how I don't have a serger, though I desperately want one, I can't recommend any specific make or model. But I can recommend an awesome website that you can check out that will provide you will all the details and reviews. Plus if you have even more questions you can ask the members themselves. Try Sewing Pattern Review. It is great in some many more ways than just finding your newest machine.

A close relative was just diagnosed with cancer and I want to knit something for her. What do you recommend?

Tara says: Oh, Great question. If your friend has breast cancer, I am a big fan of Tit Bits: knitted breast prosthesis. These little gems are too cute not to make you smile. Each pair (or just one if that suites your needs) can be customized to any recipient's favorite color, texture or fiber. Plus the designer, Beryl Tsang, recommends using a smooth stone as a weight and she embellishes her stones with good wishes.  

If you friend is going through Chemo, I whole-heartedly recommend knitting up a chemo cap. The patterns for these are hard not to find. If you are a member of Ravelry, try this search for Chemo Caps. If you are not a member, try a Google search for Chemo Cap Knitting Patterns.

I bought some beautiful Home Décor Fabric that I want to wear; what patterns can I use with Home Dec Fabric?

Tara says: Well, it depends on how heavy the fabric is. If it feels light and comparable to any of your other clothing, you can sub it in for any apparel fabric in a pattern. I had some wonderful linen curtains that I found in a vintage store and sewed them into a summer dress. If it is heavier, I would recommend you stick to bottoms, like shorts, pants, skirts, etc. I love using heavy weight linen or cottons for shorts in the summer because they hang so much better than lightweight linen or cotton. Your pants will wear longer too with heavier weights of fabric.

I want to bring my knitting on vacation with me but not sure what to knit at the beach.

Tara says: Anything small, not too complicated and probably knit from cotton or linen. This could include dishcloths, tea towels, tank tops or socks. I love some vacation knitting because the projects are so easy to take to go and I am done in a flash. 

Ask the Expert

February 24, 2012

Samantha Michelle Wisdom asks: I'm trying to make a jacket for a friend of mine. I took all his measurements (chest, waist, shoulders, sleeve length.. any I'm forgetting?) But now I'm not sure how much bigger than the measurements I should actually cut the fabric. (It'll be a denim jacket). 

Tara Says: If you are using a pattern, it will instruct you in which measurements to take and how to incorporate them into the pattern to determine the correct size. If you are working without a pattern, a trusty tailoring or pattern making book is a helpful resource that can help you translate your measurements into the correct cutting size. I love my Reader's Digest Complete New Complete Guide to Sewing. It has everything from how to properly position body parts to obtain the most precise measurements and then how to create a size from those measurements. I also found a great basic website that walks you through the gist of sewing a men's jacket and what you need in terms of measuring to cutting.


Wendy Pollack Rieder I am having an awful time trying to install a zipper into a stretch velvet leotard (it has a mock turtle neck, so it needs the zipper). I tried interfacing the seam allowances with knit interfacing, but the top stitching distorted the fabric very badly, giving it a "unique" twisted appearance. I am thinking about trying again with an invisible zipper, but prefer the look of a regular centered one.

Tara says: I would recommend a top stabilizer. You can try tissue paper or some embroidery stabilizer either water soluble or cut away. It should really help keep your thread tension. Also be sure you are using the correct ballpoint needle but you might want increase the size to accommodate the thickness of the fabric plus zipper.


Laura J. Liles I make purses and love to use micro suede. I don't always find good coordinates though, which fabric types can be paired together and still look good? I also use flannel occasionally too. Thanks

Tara Says: You can't go wrong with Home Dec fabrics for purses and they make a great pairing with Micro suede. If you check in the designer section of our Home Dec page you can find many coordinating collections. If you still need some help finding great coordination fabrics, our customer service is here to help or you can post a picture or a link on out Facebook wall and any of our helpful staff or customers will give you loads of options in no time. 

Ask the Expert: Wooden Needles

January 9, 2012

Our last Ask the Expert I didn't have time to answer a question on wooden needles and I promised to touch on it next time. Well, I decided to dedicate a whole posting to wooden needles since the types of wooden needles are vast and varying. I recommend wooden needles for every level of knitting. If you are a beginner or just getting started wooden needles are a smart "first needle" purchase because they will last your whole knitting career. Wooden needles are great for beginners because they are forgiving. They are smooth but slick like metal needles. This means they will slighty grip the yarn which will be helpful for a beginner. Most beginning kits provide metal needles which is like teaching someone to drive in a Porsche; metal is just too slick for a beginner. Wooden needles have benefits for intermediate and advanced knitters as well. Since intermediate knitters are looking to branch out and try new technique the soft and smooth characteristics will help prevent fatigue and will keep your yarn where you need it, when you need it. Advance users will appreciate that there are no allergies associated with wood. Wooden needles also vary in strength, durability and flexibility which makes it easy for an advanced knitter to find just the right wood for their preference. Below is a list of common wood types for knitting needles and their attributes. Some knitters might even prefer one wood to another based on the aesthetics of the grain alone.

Rosewood- Strong and sturdy better for small gauges, beautiful grain

Birch- tight grain and flexible

Ebony- Hard and durable

Blonde- Strong and warm

Coconut- Very strong (great for those who knit tight)

Surina- Very hard but very light

You could also include bamboo needles in this article because the attributes of bamboo in a knitting needle is so similar to wood: it is light and strong but the most flexible of "wooden" needles. Bamboo is also less expensive than wood so it makes the best beginner needle. Bamboo is a great choice for an eco-conscience person because bamboo is a grass, it grows back very quickly and the environmental impact of its harvest is minimal.  

Ask the Expert: Knitting

December 7, 2011

Beth Ganse Kronlund How to cast on dpns, getting the stitches spread onto the other needles. And -- is there a difference between using 4 or 5 needles? (These questions came up at our knitting group last week.)

Beth: This is surprisingly simple and you will be shocked when you read this. I cast on all my stitches to one DPN and then slip them from the end (starting with the first cast on stitch) onto my other needles, ex: Project calls for 40 sts, cast on 40 sts onto needle #1. Then take needle #2 and slip 14 sts from #1 onto #2. Drop #2. Slip 13 sts from #1 onto needle #3, drop #3. Slip 13 sts from #1 onto needle #4. Take needle #5 to knit with. It is much easier then casting onto 3-4 needles.

The difference between 4 or 5 needles is up to you. If you have a lot of sts you will want to spread them out over 4 needles instead of 3. Some people prefer less DPN because it can get tricky handling them all. Still others only use 4 because they have lost number 5.

Carol Jacobs Which cast on do I use when?

Carol: I am not alone in trusting the Long Tail Cast On for 95% percent of my cast on needs. However, some patterns will ask you to use a specific cast on. There are still those 4.5% of projects that need something special to make the project really come together. You will know when you have one of those projects and here are some examples from my history.

Backward Loop Cast On: I use this when there are over 150 sts because I am not good at estimating how long I need my tail to be for Long Tail Cast On and I find when I try to estimate for over 150 sts I end up casting on more than 3 times and that is no fun. I don't like knitting the first row of Backward Loop Cast On but it is worth it

Provisional Cast On: Use this when you need your cast on to be invisible or to match your bind off. It is easy to pick up stitches from so you can knit match scarf ends starting in the middle. This is also a good substitute for Backwards Loop since you don't need a tail.

Cable Cast On: This is a very flexible cast on well adapted for use with cables because it is not as tight as Long Tail can be. It can also be used mid-project to add additional stitches. Best to use this only when you do need since it doesn't give as nice of a finish as Long Tail.

Em Komiskey What's a good source to learn what all the codes and abbreviations in knitting patterns mean? What the best resources for someone who has never picked up a knitting needle before? Any suggestions on first projects that won't discourage the learner?

Em: Many abbreviations change from source to source but there is always a key. However, once you learn them from one source you can see the subtle changes when used in another source, ex: Knit 2 together might be "k2tg" in one pattern and "k2tog" in another. I would use a trusted source to learn a list of standard abbreviations and codes and work from there. I learned from and Interweave Knits magazine. I find Knitty is easier when I am by a computer because I can access it anywhere and Interweave Knits is good when I am on the go without internet access because one issue can fit in my purse. However, if you find a pattern that has a code that is not referenced and is unfamiliar to you, you can always email the author or message them on Ravelry, email me or try the Coffeeshop (Knitty's forum with swarms of helpful knitters).

I would suggest as the best resource for a new knitter because they have tons of technique articles, the patterns are rated for difficulty and each issue is small so they won't be overwhelmed. When the aforementioned knitter is ready for more, show them Ravelry!

I always recommend dishcloths for first projects because they are completed quickly so the knitter can show off the goods and not be bogged down with a scarf which is LONG. They are easy, make great gifts, usable and can be sewn together to make blankets. Dishcloths are also a great way to practice new techniques.

Patti Linder LOL! How do I keep my daughter's cats from playing with my yarn when I'm knitting at her apartment?

Patti: You have 2 options- either establish dominance early on via staring contest or bribe said cats with hand knit toys. Of course, you can always choose to keep your yarn balls in zip top bags (the bags your yarn from is shipped are my favorite) or you can make a Stash Bag like I use when knitting on the go. 

Ask the Expert- Knitting Episode 1

May 26, 2010

LE Sept 29-08 .jpg

Hi all- Welcome back to "Ask the Expert" where I answer your questions weekly so you can get back to knitting. Side note: No questions are dumb questions. Seriously, if you want to ask it than it can't be dumb. You are probably not the only person to want the answer, just the first to ask it.

Down to business-

This first question comes via email:

I knit English but my mom knits continental; which is better? Should I consider switching?

It is not a question of better- to each her own when it comes to knitting style. It is also not determined by which hand is your dominate hand. I am a righty and knit English (though I can change it up continental style) my mother in law is also a righty but knits continental. It really depends on how you are taught or really just what you feel comfortable with when you first pick up the needles. I have taught beginners both styles and I just ask them to pick which ever they prefer. Some will say that continental is faster than English but the world's fastest knitter knits English style.

Question 2 also via email:

How do I measure my gauge swatch to make sure it is correct?

Knit at least 4 in. by 4 in. in the pattern gauge. Lay down your swatch and try to get the yarn to relax a little. This will vary by yarn but you can try stretching it, smoothing it, shaking it. You will know it when you try it. Sometimes nothing needs to be done. Then using a ruler count the number of stitches that covers 4 in. across and then the number of rows that makes up 4 in. Compare that to your gauge. If you are 1 stitch or row off, I would not recommend adjusting your needle size but anymore than that, I would.

Question 3 from Facebook:

Anna asks: How do you connect different colors into one row?

You can either knit the tail in with the working yarn for about 2 or 3 stitches; this is a very neat option and weaves in the end at the same time. Or you can knot the new color into you knitting but this is not the neatest option. It makes for a messy wrong side and can be uncomfortable if it is a garment. If you are knitting Intarsia make sure you hook your new color around your old color, once, to prevent any holes.

Question 4 is also from Facebook:

Darcie asks: "End on WS" means end after the wrong side or ready to knit the wrong side?

This means you end after knitting a wrong side row, ready to begin on a right side row. It can also go by "End with WS"

Question 5 comes from the Blog

Mayflower 23 asks: Among some of the things that still baffle me are selvedge edges. I am trying to remember to slip that first stitch every time I knit flat but it hasn't become second nature to me just yet. My question is how do I slip the first stitch if I'm knitting garter stitch? Does it change for stockinette? Does my working yarn have to be on one side or the other or just where it should be for the type of stitch I'm about to knit? Perhaps a rundown on this topic would be as much help to others as it would be to me.

Let me start by saying that I do not slip the first stitch unless called for the in pattern. It is too hard to remember and seems unneeded to me. I sometimes like to cut corners, that's how I roll. But if you still really, really, really want to slip stitches, if you are knitting garter, slip is knit wise. Stitch you needle in the loop to knit and then slip it. It can change for stockinette, but doesn't have to. The edge will be the same as with garter but it may be easier to remember and you don't have to throw you yarn around if you slip it knit wise on the knit side and purl wise on the purl side.

Your working yarn should be on the side of the stitch you are using (front on the purl side and back on the knit side) or according to pattern. Some patterns (like lace, eyelets and a combo with ribs. See Barbara Walker's Knitting Treasuries for examples). This is a great topic you bring up and I am putting it on my calendar now for a more intensive rundown. Look for it in July but in the mean time I hope this helps and if not let me know and I can revisit next week.


Keep your questions coming! You can submit them via email, comments on the blog, Facebook and Twitter. I will make sure and do a round up on Facebook and Twitter on Mondays to remind you to ask your knitting questions. 

P.s. The picture features my beginning of the Lady Eleanor Stole from Interweave Knits Scarf Style

Introducing "Ask the Expert"- the Knitter's Edition

May 22, 2010

yarn cake .JPG is new to knitting, so it follows that most of our customers must be as well. But even the more seasoned knitters have questions that need answers. Forums are great but sometimes your questions can go weeks without answer and finding the right forum can be tricky. Maybe you just need a yarn recommendation, or an explanation of a cast-on. Or maybe your question is trickier than that. Ask it.  Every Wed will feature "Ask the Expert" posts here at the blog.

You can submit your question as a comment on the blog. Every Wed. I will pick 5 questions and answer them. I will try to pick the questions that are the most helpful to most of the readers but, of course, I will also pay heed to those who just need specific help. I encourage all forms of flattery and general sucking up. In fact, I would as far as to say that it will greatly improve your chances of having your question answered. However, we all know how gracious and generous we knitters are so I am sure that even if you call me a "fat cow who dresses in plaids and stripes" (I assure you I do not) that if I find merit in your question, I will answer it while secretly hoping it takes you three tries to get gauge. You can vote on comments too.

I will break the ice by answering a few questions that some of my neighbors have thrown my way in the past few weeks.

Q: What are your favorites when it comes to knitting?

A: That is a broad question so I will toss out the first things that come to mind. I love wool. Love it. It is so soft and colorful. It has great stitch definition but is so springy so I consider it forgiving. It doesn't make my hands feel "weird" like cotton can.

I love hats. You can do anything with them. They knit up in hours. Everyone loves getting a hat. You can make the funkiest hat and it will not look weird if you wear it right. Here is one of my fave's, I make one a year (at least).

Wooden needles are my favorite. I am allergic to nickel and most metal needles are nickel plated. They make my joints ache and my fingers feel tired. I get worn out quickly knitting with metal. I like Acrylic too but sometimes they are too slick for me.

Q: What cast-on do you most recommend for a beginner (and I mean a BEGINNER!)

A: I like 2. The backward loop is the easiest to learn and get started but can be a bit tricky for a newbie to knit the first row due to the nature of the loop being so adjustable. The long-tail cast-on takes more practice to get but it is easy to knit the first row and makes a really nice, neat edge. So it depends on you. Do you want to just cast-on and go or do you really want to make it easier in the long run.

Q: I really want to feel the yarn- I can't get over that to buy online.

A: Unless you are new to fiber, you know what it feels like. Merino more or less feels the same.  The prices can't be beat. You are saving the drive and time plus you can shop in your own home. Do you really need to feel wool again to see that is AWESOME? The bottom line is: you have to trust the site you are purchasing from. If they say it is soft, it is. If they say that it is springy or fluffy or smooth, trust them. If you can't trust their opinion of yarn fibers, why in the heck are you giving them your credit card number!?'s merchandisers are pros when it comes to fiber. Every yarn gets put into the store by a real person. They touch it, think about it and write about it. Plus if you need more, you can call their customer service. I am sure they would love a chance to get their hands on it too!

Best of knitting to you: Tara Miller

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