November 2022 Studio Hours Recap: Josiane Richer dit Laflèche on Hand Sewing

30 November 2022

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For our November Studio Hours, we were treated to a discussion of hand sewing with Josiane Richer dit Laflèche, author of several D&T pieces.

Josiane shared delightful stories from her childhood visits with her paternal grandmother, an amazing sewist and creator of intricate tailored garments. Josiane was immersed in sewing during these visits and learned many machine techniques. However, her grandmother kept the fine finishing work for quiet moments when her grandchild was not visiting. At the time, Josiane didn’t mind missing the “tedious” parts and was only interested in the machine work. She now regrets not learning hand sewing from her talented grandmother. Josiane showed us a simple woven fabric T-shirt sewn by her grandmother and pointed out the couture finishing techniques such as the herringbone stitches to finish the facings. Josiane still wears this shirt, thirty years after it was created.

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She shared an anecdote that shows how little she knew of hand sewing: She didn’t know which hand to wear her thimble on. She originally thought the thimble was to protect the finger you were sewing towards, rather than to protect the finger pushing the needle through the fabric.

In her words, the beginning of her journey to sewing by hand was to avoid it completely.

Recently, she became inspired to learn hand-sewing techniques. She watched as friends began sewing and sharing videos and tutorials. She missed sewing but was intimidated by the complexity of the machinery. After inheriting a 1951 Pfaff sewing machine (that had been used to sew her father’s diapers!), she realized she wasn’t brave enough to deal with machine adjustments and tension issues. She already did other textile arts (knitting and spinning) and, upon trying hand sewing, was thrilled to find that not only could she do it but she also enjoyed it.

Josiane went on to share stories of her friend Virginia who encouraged and inspired her in many ways. Virginia would make garment series, including a series of Bernadette Banner’s pirate shirts, and would often work without patterns. Josiane’s grandmother always worked with patterns and had taught Josiane how and where to make adjustments, but Virginia emboldened Josiane to embrace new possibilities. Virginia died recently and Josiane wears her sashiko thimble in her memory.

Josiane then shared some current projects. She is working on an infinity scarf in an open-weave grey linen fabric and embellishing it with embroidery. Her next project will be a zero-waste Lillypilly dress in a drapey, green wool fabric.

We talked about her article series for D&T Members which started with a personal reflection piece and, more recently, her first technique piece, which was inspired by the desire to provide the fundamental sewing knowledge that many of us haven’t had passed down to us. She demonstrated how to prepare thread for hand sewing by running it though beeswax and explained why this is important: In machine sewing, the thread does not have to pass through the fabric multiple times, but in hand sewing, the entire length of the thread is drawn through the fabric, causing more wear on the thread, and the beeswax serves to protect it.

After Josiane’s presentation, we moved into a group discussion and chuckled at our continuing efforts to learn “apocalypse skills.” We discussed the meditative nature of hand sewing and how we become more connected to the work when we do it by hand. We have more control and tend to do less un-sewing. It’s not that we don’t make mistakes, but we generally notice them earlier.

Kate shared her challenges with inserting zippers into a knit garment and her realization that hand sewing is often more appropriate than machine sewing on handknits, given the stretchiness of the fabric.

A member shared her appreciation for the talk, especially noting the fundamental nature of learning how to use a thimble and shared that she loves those last moments of a piece, finishing a collar or hem. She mentioned enjoying watching the quilting scenes in the TV adaptation of Alias Grace.

Kim shared that she damaged a quilt by forcing it through her machine and has realized now that hand sewing, while slower in the moment, would have worked better for the project.

A member recommended the Alabama Chanin scarf hand-sewing kits available from the MDK store.

Josiane’s talk was a beautiful meditation on the emotional relationship between her stitching and the people in her life who she’s loved and sadly lost, and we expressed our thanks for her encouragement and support as we learn new skills.

Show and Tell

A member shared the results of an impulse kit purchase, the hand knit blue wool Framework Mittens embellished with embroidered flowers. The kit came from Canadian dyer Emily C. Gillies.

Another member shared a sleeveless version of the Rocha cowl-neck tunic pattern (by Rowan), knit in grey Tynn Silk Mohair. This garment is “magical” in that the sample looked good on everyone who tried it on.

Kim shared her weaving progress and her hope to start a weaving program at her synagogue.

A member attending her first Studio Hours session showed us her first sock knitting project which she unfortunately can’t wear in the house as she just got a new puppy.

We then saw a Tuku sweater (by the petite knitter) knit in an indigo-dyed yarn (inspired by a previous Studio Hours sessions with Caitlin ffrench). The knitter suggested making the sleeves first when working with a limited quantity of yarn as too-short sleeves are frustrating.

Another member shared a hand-pieced quilt that she is making for a class offered by Carolanne Graham through the Making app.

And finally, Kate shared her newest shawl, knit in a gentle orange (dyed with madder and cosmos) Rambouillet yarn from Long Way Homestead. The yarn is “soft but not too soft” and beautifully lofty. Kate posted the free pattern on social media (link) for others to try.

We closed another enjoyable Studio Hours session by looking forward to our December social meeting and future “Sew-and-Tell” sessions.

Featured image by Josiane Richer dit Laflèche.

Copyright © Sarah Thornton except as indicated.
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About Sarah Thornton

Sarah Thornton is a connector - she loves bringing people and ideas together, especially over local fibres and foods. When not teaching college Biology labs, she knits, spins, designs, teaches, and occasionally weaves in her new studio space on Vancouver Island. She's also a cyclist, skier, hiker, and gardener! Find her patterns and classes at sarahthornton.ca and @sarsbarknits on Instagram.

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