HSM #9: Colour Challenge Brown

Because I finished my project for the HSM August challenge so early, on account of an urgent deadline, I’ve been able to start on HSM #9. And because I have so much time until the end of the month, I’ve upped the ante for myself by throwing in a lot of handwork that doesn’t have to happen. But I want it the way I want it, so what can I say?

The Challenge for September is to use the color brown, an unsung hero of the neutral palette. Luck for me, I happen to like brown so I won’t be adding frown lines as I sew.

For this Challenge I’m making a Traveler’s Safety Pocket using Ageless Patterns #1572 – 1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling.

1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling (image by Ageless Patterns)

1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling (image by Ageless Patterns)

The best description of how it is intended to work comes from the pattern itself: “This pocket will be found very convenient by ladies for the safe-keeping of money or jewels in traveling. The under part of the pocket is confined by an elastic band, thus forming a receptacle for valuables into which it would be impossible for a pickpocket to pass his hand without attracting the attention of the wearer.”

The author of this period text had obviously never tangled with hoards of gypsy children in Rome, let alone rush hour on the Paris Metro, however the concept is sound. The pocket is suspended from a belt so it can be worn with any number of period skirts or dresses. In addition, the elastic forms a good-sized pouch at the bottom so it’s ideal for keeping such period-incorrect items as cell phones and car keys secure. And, since it’s hidden when worn, I don’t have to mess about with making one in different fabrics to match different eras. This is going to be a “one-pocket-fits-all” kind of project.

However, even though the pattern is ridiculously simple and extremely straightforward, I don’t want a plain pocket. Neither, though, do I want to spend time with embroidery as is found on 18th century pockets. Beautiful as they are, I’m saving my embroidery time for something that’s going to be seen.

My compromise is to fancy up the pocket front with some English paper piecing. Normally used in quilting, it has also been used to make clothing and other household things. The basic hexagonal pattern for paper piecing was published in women’s magazines as early as the 1840’s, so historically it’s spot on.

Hand Stitched Quilt from 1840 (eBay seller tgkgardner)

Hand Stitched Quilt from 1840 (eBay seller tgkgardner)

A lot of people are familiar with historic quilts made in this method, particularly Mosaic Star pattern quilts and Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilts.

Mosaic Star quilt, detail from quiltindex.org

Antique Mosaic Star quilt, detail from quiltindex.org

Vintage quilt from eBay using hexagon shaped piecing

Vintage quilt from eBay using hexagon shaped piecing

For those unfamiliar with this most Zen of piecing methods, here’s how it works. You start with a template. Traditionally, women these templates by hand from any paper available, often pages from newspapers or magazines. In my case, I’m using 1-inch hexagons cut from heavy paper and I’m using commercially made templates because 1) I want them to all be the same size, and 2) I’m lazy.

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Then you cut a piece of fabric, fold the edges down around the edges of the template and sew around the edges, stitching the fabric through the template.

english paper piecing (from thezenofmaking.com)

english paper piecing (from thezenofmaking.com)

And when you have a kazillion, or so, fabric-covered templates you stitch them together one by one along the edge – invisibly – either randomly or, more commonly, in patterns.

Newspaper clipping from The Kansas City Star with The French Bouquet pattern.

Newspaper clipping from The Kansas City Star with The French Bouquet pattern.

Fortunately, the pocket is large enough to be useful but not so large that paper piecing the front is a pain. In fact, I’m really enjoying it. I decided to raid my stash of reproduction fabric fat quarters and half yards for a little variety. In that stash are some patterns which, while historically correct, I absolutely despise. This is a great way to use them without having to look at them, at least not very often.

This is the fabric I’m using as backing for the pocket front. I hate dislike despise absolutely loathe it. I thought it would be a nice pink on a rich brown background. Instead it’s kinda salmon-y-ish on a khaki-green-brown background. The photograph does not do it justice – it is hideous (in my eyes, at least). Good thing I only ordered a fat quarter.

Yukcy, but hidden so OK.

Yucky, but hidden so OK to use for this.

Here it is as the backing to the full size pocket front.

A whole lotta yucky.

A whole lotta yucky.

I began by basting a strip of fabric down the center of the pocket front. From there I’ll add stripes of paper-pieced hexagons running the length of the pocket from top to bottom. I finished the right hand side last night. I haven’t stitched around the edge yet and it hasn’t been pressed, so please forgive the pins and the wrinkly bits.

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Twenty years ago I would have thought this kind of piece work insane and boring-with-a-capital-B. I thought it was nuts to take the time to hand sew down all the pieces to the template, then hand sew the templates together, then go back and pick out the original stitches that held the fabric to the templates, and then hand quilt the thing. I guess I’m softening up a bit because now I find it relaxing, almost meditative. Very Zen indeed.

Tonight I’m starting the left hand side of the front. When that’s done so is the fussy handwork. But it will be fun to have something that looks nice hidden underneath the everyday clothing. I can understand the appeal of lavishly embroidered garters and pockets…special little somethings for the wearer to enjoy all to herself.

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