I’ve just put a new zip in a pair of jeans, an incredibly time consuming job. The trouble is, unless you are prepared to unpick virtually every seam, you have to work on the fly while the jeans are in their three dimensional form, not on the flat front part of the garment as you would if you were making it from scratch. After spending most of Good Friday on it, it’s done, and I’ve learned two new skills in the process: how to shorten a metal-toothed zip and, in what is quite possibly a world first, how to tone down overly bright sewing thread using Indian ink. I was driven by the desire not to have to buy any more haberdashery as I already have enough zips and thread to last me the rest of my life.
First, the zip. I found that I already had a blue zip with silver-coloured teeth (the rivets and existing zip on these jeans were silver rather than the more usual copper and brass), but it was an inch too long. OK, it’s not as dark a blue as I’d like, but you don’t see the zip when the jeans are on and, in any case, they will get paler as they wear. I’ve often shortened a nylon zip by applying a blob of superglue (or epoxy glue on heavy duty zips) to the teeth to make a new bottom stopper and then cutting off the excess below it. But how to shorten a metal zip? I turned to YouTube and discovered that they are best shortened from the top instead of the bottom. I used the method in a video called How to remove metal zipper teeth which involves cutting off the unwanted teeth with sidecutter pliers. I also used the sidecutters to detach the top stops carefully, without damaging them, and then squeezed them back on in their new position.
With the zip now the right length, I sorted through my stock of cotton sewing threads and found a light orangey brown that looked about right. But when I held it alongside the topstitching on the jeans it was far too bright. I had a red onion skin dyebath I’d prepared to re-dye cushion cover backs (more on that below), so I poured some of it into a cup and threw in a length of thread before microwaving it several times to hold it near boiling point for 30 minutes or so. When I removed the thread, rinsed it and dried it, it looked exactly the same colour as the rest of the thread on the reel. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, because my previous onion skin dyeing experiments had shown that the red coloured dyebath gives a cream colour on cotton, and clearly that wasn’t a strong enough change to show up on orange/brown. Time for a rethink.
I needed to darken the shade of the thread to make it more brown and less orange, and ink seemed to be a possibility. I didn’t have any brown ink, but I did find an old bottle of Indian ink. This ink is famously bleed-resistant and waterproof once dry, but it can be diluted with water while it is still in liquid form. If it will permanently colour paper – which is made from plant fibre – then there must be a good chance it will colour cotton thread, yes? Nowhere on the internet could I find any reference to using Indian ink on cotton textiles. I diluted a little of the ink and tried it out on a short length of thread, and the result wasn’t bad – brown ink would have been better, but the overdyeing with black certainly toned down the colour. And once it was dry it proved to be colourfast to washing.
It took three goes before I ended up with a suitably dull orange.
The only issue now was the thickness of the thread, because it was a Sylko 50 and I estimate the jeans are topstitched with 30. In all the time I’ve had my sewing machine (decades) I’ve never used the second spindle which is meant for twin needle stitching. I put another two reels of Sylko 50 on the two spindles – I didn’t have enough of the orange for non-essential use – and fed them together through the upper thread path and the eye of the needle. Then, with a single thread in the bobbin as normal, I tried topstitching and found that it not only worked but looked very similar in thickness to the topstitching I was trying to match.
I put the two ends of the overdyed thread together and then hand wound it all, doubled, onto a spare bobbin. I used this as the upper thread with plain, undyed thread on another bobbin for the lower thread. The end result, I think, looks pretty good.
Knitted cushion covers
Back in January I made two cushion fronts using super-chunky yarn and 20mm knitting needles. I tried to dye some plain white cotton fabric a toning colour for the backs, using onion skins. A small sample dyed in a glass bowl in the microwave with red onion skins turned out well, but the bowl wasn’t big enough for the full-sized fabric and the colour changed when I did the dyeing on the hob in an aluminium-based saucepan. The off-colour fabric has lain untouched for two months while I pondered what to do.
Last week, in a kill-or-cure frame of mind, I bleached the length of fabric and was relieved to find that all the colour was removed and I was back to white. (Note to self: onion skin dye is fast to washing, but not sodium hypochlorite.) I hunted around for a larger bowl and found a horrible old plastic thing that we keep under the bath for plumbing emergencies. It’s not as big as it ought to be for dyeing this much cloth, but it is pretty much the maximum size that will fit in the microwave.
I dyed the fabric in this bowl, using the skin of one and a half red onions and stirring it well after every zap of power to try and make up for the inadequate volume of the dyebath. The colour is better than before, a cream that lacks the grey hue which must have come from the aluminium pan. It’s not a perfect match for the yarn, and the colour is not completely even despite all my stirring, but it will do.
As the dyed fabric has quite an open weave, and the knitted fronts are not as stable as a woven fabric, I’m going to back both with some curtain lining. I have two offcuts that are quite different colours and neither is big enough for two fronts and two backs. I will have to use one type of lining for both fronts and the other for both backs. I need a little thinking time first, to decide how best to assemble these four pieces of fabric per cushion cover.