Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A cautionary tale



My darlings, today, I offer up a cautionary tale about following your instincts and not pressing things like a wild boar when your snout is twitching alarmingly with an unusual sense of vigilance.

For several months, while working on quilt-related projects, I have had a sense that my iron may be overheating and working as a lone agent, blithely disregarding any heat settings that I tried to impress upon it. At times, I had been surprised by how sharply something had been pressed; by the slightly piquant scent that a fabric had produced under its soleplate; or by the brief untouchable heat of some cotton directly after pressing, in my normally asbestos-proof hands. But, for some reason, I chose to remain blind to the extent of my iron's independent spirit, because that would mean buying a new one. Or using the general household iron for my sewing, which is all the way downstairs and which has never come into contact with fusible interfacing or Bondaweb, and so is pristine.

However, right at the start of my most recent dressmaking marathon (which has now come to a halt due to work commitments, but as I was so briefly prolific, I still have many garments to show you that were made during that stint), I made the unfinished top which appears at the top of this post, at which point I was made more fully aware of my iron's behaviour. Whilst for machine quilting, I use cotton thread, for dressmaking, I favour polyester thread, as it's stronger and more willing to give a little under the strain of one throwing impromptu body shapes...or just reaching for a packet of pasta from a high shelf. When I had sewn the pin tucks on this shirt, not wanting to erase my heat-sensitive markings for the placket, I had finger-pressed them into place, before constructing the placket. Placket completed, I had given it a firm pressing, before continuing on with installing the sleeves.

However, just before sewing the binding to the cuffs and neck, I decided to try the garment on. I am, admittedly, often label-intolerant, but even for me, I was surprised to be feeling so princess-and-the-pea about what had appeared to be a simple, soft cotton when handled. While it feels inappropriate to even type this word, I think it's necessary to convey the full extent of my discomfort. There was chafing. It felt like a plain cotton top constructed by own hand was inexplicably chafing and scratching my chest. With claws. And I had no idea why. Even more shockingly, as I took it back off over my head, I could hear the unmistakable sound of stitches splitting.


When I turned the top wrong-side-out to look at what the source of the abrading might be, I saw what you can see in the photo above. For a moment, I couldn't understand quite what had happened, but let's walk through the molten devastation that my iron had left behind on the shirt placket. If you look at the raw edges, you'll see that where there were once fully-formed zig-zag stitches*, there are now just the broken traces of stitches that have been sizzled away. Where stitches had once been neatly locked in place with some careful backwards and forwardsing, there now sits unsightly baubles of smelted polyester. Threads hang loose, where stitches have split. To touch, the remaining stitches are more like brittle staples, than a soft, fine thread. There is devastation inside this top.

I never really believed people when they said that polyester thread can melt at high temperatures. I have spent a lifetime ironing both handmade and shop bought clothing with wild-boar-enthusiasm (to be clear though, because this does need clarifying when making such a statement: I have never pressed creases in my jeans) and nothing has ever come close to melting. But I see now that I was wrong to be so carefree. With an iron that reaches extreme temperatures, all things are possible.

On the positive, this top was the wrong style for this fabric: it didn't drape nicely and between bust and backside created the dreaded lampshade effect, where I really aspired to an egg-timer (of the traditional sand-filled variety). So the trauma of the over-zealous iron feels easy enough to move on from and thank goodness that it revealed its true nature during the making of a top that would ultimately have sat at the back of my wardrobe had it been completed without disintegrating.

Florence x

* I made the top with french seams throughout, so it felt too tiresome to drag the overlocker out of hibernation just for a placket, hence the zig-zags.

23 comments:

  1. I've never even considered that polyester thread might melt, although it makes perfect sense, of course. I wouldn't apply excessive heat to poly fabric but I'm pretty blase about cotton, as I think it can take it, never once thinking about the seams. Thanks for the cautionary tale!

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  2. I've done the exact same thing with polyester thread! Now I am super careful after learning the same lesson the hard way!

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  3. I don't think I'd ever even thought about polyester thread melting but ouch and scratchy is definitely one to avoid! I mostly sew with cotton thread because that's what I have but I shall be wary of the poly from now on when it comes to ironing!

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  4. Ah! The dreaded fiery iron of doom! This is a link to a very frank review of my favourite iron for dressmaking (just on the off-chance that it's helpful to you): http://www.oonaballoona.com/2015/03/yes-this-is-how-this-iron-works_16.html?m=1

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    1. Thank you so much for the link! I think, in theory, I really love my make of iron - I've always bought quite a high spec model from the Philips Azur range and they're the only iron I've ever found that hasn't leaked, so I feel slightly inclined to just buy another as I think it was just a case of a broken thermostat, rather than a design flaw with the iron. x

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  5. You are such a gifted writer; this is delightful. And, um, terrible.

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  6. Whoa, that is crazy! And thanks for the PSA!!

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  7. Yikes! I've occasionally wondered about this, and I once melted the teeth of a nylon zip slightly (making one of your make-up bags!). What a shame about your top, the fabric looks so pretty - will you filet it and use the bits for patchwork? x

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    1. Urg, I've done that too, years ago (very possibly doing the same thing!), but it somehow felt more logical that that would happen with something that looks like plastic. Polyester thread looks so very far away from plastic that I felt more disbelief that it was capable of melting. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it - there's quite a lot of gluiness to it...

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  8. Oh no, I love that fabric, perhaps you can rescue some to become something smaller from the ashes! I too have a tale of caution to tell about dressmaking this week, do not tumble dry a skirt made from non pre tumble dried fabric!

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    1. Oh no! Poor you - that sounds very upsetting. x

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  9. Sorry for the mishap, but love your wit! Thanks for the smile!

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  10. Sorry for the mishap, but love your wit! Thanks for the smile!

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  11. How an such a Cautionary tale of woe and mishap be such a pleasure to read? I have had iron and polyester fabric 'incidents' but thread? That's a new one. Thank you!

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  12. I am so loving these tops....taking a pattern and changing up the fabrics and sleeves makes great use of the pattern!

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  13. Sadness! I've done this and from that day forward I've tried to only use cotton threads in my garments unless it was made with synthetic fibers. Such a bummer!!!

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    1. Have you noticed any difference in strength, or have you just avoiding reaching for things on high shelves ever since the change over?

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  14. A tragic tale, beautifully written. I feel your pain.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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