tooling around: awl you really need

Did an entire month really pass since we last talked tools?  Geez!  Well, then we have some catching up to do! First, I ran out and bought my very own magnetic pin cushion after my interview with Suzannah. That girl told no lies – this sucker is amazing! Next, I climbed Suzannah’s family tree!

You may remember her casually mentioning that her mother is a professional seamstress. Well, if you’ve stopped by Kay Demlow’s website, you’ll know that “professional seamstress” barely covers it.  Kay is a recreating, designing, draping, researching sew-a-magician. Not only that, but she is a delight to speak with.  Her passion for 19th century fashion just flows out of her. I had to know what was in her tool box.

Kay Demlow:

Since I read your email I have been thinking about my tools.  My favorite is an antique, adjustable awl.  I found it in a box of antique lace that my aunt gave me. I estimate it was made in the 1920s.

I use it every day!  It’s good for marking dart points that match up through multiple layers of fabric, turning pointed corners, pushing fabric through under the presser foot, and even helping to pull out stitches. The point actually telescopes so I can adjust it to make just the right-sized hole. Most importantly, it feels good to hold – the weight of it, the shape of the handle.  But I have never seen one like it in a sewing notions catalog, so a modern sewist couldn’t replicate it.

Modern bookbinder's awl from Hollander's. Click image for more information.

I think the modern tool I rely on most is my iron.  It’s nothing special.  I need to buy a new one every couple of years because the old ones stop heating correctly.  I usually spend $50 – $80 on an iron, and just plan to discard it when it gives out. (Turns out, Kay uses a Rowenta! That’s makes for two professional thumbs up.)

The reason it’s so important is the way it helps me handle the fabric. It’s part of my sewing process from the first pass with the interlining to the final touch-up before I ship the dress to the customer. When I first started sewing I thought pressing the fabric again and again was just silly. I guess I thought I somehow knew better, but now I know how vital pressing can be when trying to tame and shape fabric. I had to learn by doing it the wrong way. Now, I press as I sew and then I only have to do a bit of touch up before the final piece goes to the customer. (Kay mentioned that she also regularly uses a tailor’s ham, sleeve roll, velvet board, and a press cloth.)

Kay in an 1870s three-piece dress. Photo by Melissa Mills-Koffel. Click the image for more information.

I also use my tape measures a lot, to make sure those 19th century fashions will fit my 21st century customers. I actually have two dual-sided and plastic coated measuring tapes. One has inches on one side and flips to centimeters.  I prefer my tape with both sides marked in inches.  It lets me work so much faster.

Photo via Adventures in Dressmaking

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Oh, you guys, I could have listened to Kay talk forever about her tools and Lavender’s Green.  She really loves to share the history of her creations and her journey as a seamstress.

Thank you so much, Kay, for, well, everything!

Now it is your turn, Internet. What old tools have you stumbled across?  Are there any you prefer to more modern versions?

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