Sew Craft: Research Reading List

I have spent the last year on research for Sew Craft.  I’ve made liberal use of the interlibrary loan department of my local library to get a hold of various books on two main topics: sewing and magic.  As much as I love research, though, there comes a time when you need to put butt in chair and write (or sew).

Below is an incomplete list of the books I’ve read over the last year.  I left off the books on gardening, fashion and pattern-making that weren’t being used for research. They’re presented in no particular order, and mostly just as a demonstration of what is involved in writing a book.

  1. The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook by Karen Harrison
  2. By Spellbook & Candle by Mélusine Draco
  3. The Point of the Needle by Dorothy Bromiley Phelan
  4. The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida & Alexandra Kim
  5. Old World Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi
  6. The Book of English Magic by Phillip Carr-Gromm & Richard Heygate
  7. The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude LeCouteaux
  8. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch by Lora O’Brien
  9. The devil’s Cloth by Michel Pastoureau
  10. Trolldom by Johannes Björn Gardbäck
  11. Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth by Jean Zimmerman
  12. Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
  13. Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert
  14. The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker
  15. A Grimoire for Modern Cunningfolk by Peter Paddon
  16. Nomadic Felts by Stephanie Bunn
  17. Printed Textiles by Linda Eaton
  18. The Good Witch’s Guide by Shawn Robbins & Charity Bedell
  19. A History of Witchcraft by Jeffrey B. Russell & Brooks Alexander
  20. The Hearth Witch’s Compendium by Anna Franklin
  21. Farmhouse Witchcraft by Penny Parker
  22. The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff
  23. A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy
  24. Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch by Rachel Patterson
  25. A Witch’s World of Magick by Melanie Marquis
  26. Hedgewitch by Silver Ravenwolf
  27. The Flame and the Cauldron by Orion Foxwood
  28. A Witch’s Halloween by Gerina Dunwich
  29. Earth Power by Scott Cunningham
  30. Cunning-folk: Popular Magic in English History by Owen davies
  31. Cunningfolk & Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby
  32. The Cunningman’s Handbook by Jim Baker
  33. Green Witchcraft by Ann Moura
  34. Muslin by Sonia Ashmore
  35. Textiles: The Whole Story by Beverly Gordon
  36. Forgotten Ways for Modern Days by Rachelle Blondel
  37. Natural Color by Sasha Duerr
  38. Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
  39. Practical Sigil Magic by Frater U.D.
  40. A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard
  41. Homemade Magic by Lon Milo DuQuette
  42. The Book of Forgotten Crafts by Paul Felix, Siân Ellis & Tom Quinn
  43. Witchy Crafts: 60 Enchanted Projects for the Creative Witch by Lexa Olick

 

Plarn: It’s Crafting and Magical Uses

I’ve written before on the magical correspondences of various fabrics.  My focus there was on natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool and silk).  Not all crafters and sewists limit themselves to natural materials, though.  In fact I’d hazard to guess that very few do.  One could, I suppose, use only silk or cotton thread, eschew plastic buttons for only metal, wood, bone or horn, leave out zippers or plastic snaps, as well as iron on interfacing, etc.

There is an emphasis on only using natural materials in ritual and magic crafts.  While I can understand the reasoning behind it, I find the insistence to border on classism and elitism.  Not everyone can afford or has access only natural materials.  And, when we get down to it, everything comes from the earth in one form or another.  Everything is ultimately natural when it’s roots are traced back to its beginnings.  Even plastic.

Magick in the Plastic

Our witch ancestors didn’t use colored candles, or have access to the array of crystals and herbs available online.  And some might have turned their noses up at colored ribbons, grocery store herbs and store bought besoms as not “traditional” tools.  I think it behooves modern witches to see how the practice of witchcraft and magick have changed over the centuries, adapting as new technologies and products have come available, and be open to using materials that might strike us at first as non-magickal.

I’d go even farther to argue that plastic is decidedly magical.  It is alchemy at its most refined.  Taking the remains of dinosaurs and creating a material which is named after its defining characteristic: its shapeshifting ability.

Yes, plastic does have its drawbacks, its production and longevity make it a serious hazard for the environment.  This doesn’t exclude it from being considered a natural material, though.  The elements have their destructive aspects.  Sheep rearing, silk making, cotton farming and linen production all have their affects on the environment as well.

So, how do we approach plastic as a magical tool?  One way is through making and using plarn: yarn made from plastic bags.  Many crafters have found clever and practical uses for plarn, from making lightweight and rugged bedrolls for the homeless to arts and crafts to sell to support their families.  Plarn has the added benefit of removing plastic bags—one of the hardest items to recycle–from the system.

Plarn Correspondences

Let’s start with a few correspondences.  These are associations I have made on my own through study and meditation.  They are not meant to be set in stone, and if they don’t ring true to you, feel free to form your own correspondences.

  • Deities: Cerridwen, Janus, Kali, Oya (deities of change and transformation)
  • Element: Air
  • Color: White
  • Themes/uses: transformation, durability, flexibility, change

Making plarn is a straightforward process that lends itself to a meditative practice.  Use it just as you would yarn to crochet or finger weave a variety of items, or spin it into thread.  You can make tote bags, mats, jewelry, and baskets.

Client Spotlight: Moira

While sewing, for me, is mostly a commercial pursuit, I have long associated it with love, not money.  I don’t mean that in the sense of I’m not getting rich as a sewist.  I mean that the first sewing I was exposed to were the stuffed animals and doll clothes my grandmother made for me and my cousins.  My mother sews clothes for my children.  My aunts sew quilts for their families.  Sewing has always been an expression of love in my family.  And though the majority of my sewing goes to items for sale, that doesn’t mean I don’t also sew for love.

The dress I made for my friend Moira is no exception.  When she approached me to make her wedding dress, I was so happy and excited to do it.  And though my entry here is listed as “client spotlight” and though Moira paid me, that doesn’t negate the love I put into making her gown.  I wouldn’t be at her nuptials in body, so my joy and well wishes for her and her beau would travel along in the dress.

Frida Esperanza by Alexander Henry
The fabric features cartoon renderings of several of Frida Kahlo’s self portraits.

Moira is an artist of the beautifully macabre.  This of course means she wasn’t looking for a white satin gown for her wedding.  What she came to me with was the idea for a 1960s cocktail dress that she could wear to other events.  We took measurements and she went on the hunt for fabric.  That fabric happened to be a cotton print by Alexander Henry called Frida Esperanza.

My first order of business was to do a tissue fitting.  Moira is a tall, curvy gal which made a couple fittings necessary to make sure everything fit perfectly.  I use the method I learned from the book Fit for Real People which involves pinning the tissue pattern together, trying it on, and marking any changes directly onto the paper.  For Moira we had to take into account that her bust apex was lower than in the pattern, widening the back and waist, and making sure the kimono cut sleeves allowed her ample movement.

After the tissue fitting I put together a muslin.  When you are altering a pattern there are so many adjustments that need to be made, a muslin is the only way to make sure you don’t miss something.  And since Moira had brought me just enough of the fabric to make the dress, I didn’t want to make a mistake that would put me in danger of running out.

Moira's Muslin
I have no clever reason for using two different colors of muslin here. I just grabbed what was closest and had enough yardage from my stash.

The muslin fitting brought to light other fit issues.  I had dropped the bust darts down, and had made the waist darts in the bodice narrower.  I had also added an inch to the center back.  Even so, there was still a large gap at the midsection.  This seems to be a common problem for those of us with larger busts.  Unless we are employing bras that also double as rigging for a sloop, the weight of larger breasts pulls them lower than those of our perkier, smaller busted sisters.  This means that the point of largest width ends up lower than patterns take into account.  By adding the extra inch to the back, I ended up with a gap that overlapped at the neck, but couldn’t close the rest of the way down.

I marked a bunch of notes right onto the fabric as Moira patiently waited, turning right and left, lifting her arms or sitting as I made my notes.  I kept telling her not to suck in, as I wanted the dress to fit her, not try to fit her body to the dress.

Now it was time to commit to cutting out the adjusted pattern from the final fabric.  Even here I had to make some more changes.  The original pattern calls for cutting the front bodice in two pieces and then sewing the center seam together.  Doing that with the print would cause a headache of trying to make sure I didn’t have Franken-Fridas on my friend’s bust.  Instead I cut the bodice on the fold.  Eliminating the center seam gave me a little extra room, too.

I dropped the back waist darts, which gave me the room I needed to make sure the fit was right, and there wasn’t going to be any tightness.  For the extra fabric at the top of the bodice, I put a box pleat in each shoulder.  This kept my center back straight.  Sometimes a tuck or a fold is just what you need to make things fit, then it becomes a design element!

I will be honest that when Moira showed up to pick up the dress I held my breath while I zipped her up into it.  I wanted so very much for the dress to fit like a hug from a friend.  And it did!  She looked so lovely twirling around in my workshop, staid Frida’s looking on in approval.

Moira Wedding Dress

And here is the bride in her dress at her wedding at a mini-golf course / wedding chapel.  I can’t express how much it meant to me that Moira asked me to make her wedding dress.  Again, I never thought I would work on bridal gowns, and I really am not.  Instead, I am adding my love for my friend to her wedding, helping to amplify the happiness of the day.