Decluttering and a Short History of Zac Designs

The clothing care and size label giveaway was a feeble attempt to reduce the contents of a bursting cupboard.

But why did I have them in the first place?

Swing Tag logo

Years ago (so many in fact that the small children pictured below are finished school) I had a market stall where I sold baby and toddler hats and clothes I’d sewn. This was in the days before the burgeoning ‘babies’ markets full of cute pinafores. I’d found it tricky to find decent boys clothes that were interesting, and also thanks to an inspirational outfit with hat from a dear friend bought in Germany and a subsequent trip to Europe ourselves six months later, I knew it was possible to find nicely designed clothes, just not locally. Another element to that was living on student allowances which covered rent and lentils but certainly not the upper end of nice kids clothes. Looking around, there’s still way more nice clothes for girls than boys.

Thus Zac Designs was born.

Babies from Mother’s group all lined up with hats on, albeit temporarily.

Starting out with baby hats, we enjoyed early success in a Hobart winter which made hats essential. I quickly expanded the line to include clothes like trousers, overalls, jumpers, dresses and long sleeved tshirts, all made from good quality fabric and including room for growth with extra buttons, elastic and adjustable straps. Does anyone else remember the Top Kids (ebay link) magazines? Ottobre Design would be an equivalent now and I eagerly awaited the new issues. I also pored over Studio Bambini magazines for inspiration.

Overalls on our chief model, Zac

Each Saturday we would set up our stall at Salamanca Market, thanks to transport from my parents as we did not have our own car at that stage. We quickly learnt that a cool but sunny day was optimal for sales, Easter was better than Christmas, and that while some patterns and fabrics caught people’s eyes they weren’t necessarily the best sellers. Some hats and clothes languished on the stall for weeks at a time, while others would disappear as soon as I could make them. I learnt to only make a small number up in a new fabric to see how it sold first. I was very excited a month or so ago when I found I still had the pattern for “French Style Cardigans” under the house. Surprisingly similar to a red merino one I made for me this winter!

Each week we’d wait to see what we sold – the first dollars were put aside for fabric, then the next portion for basic veggies, then fruit, then bread and cheese and finally local wine. We’d make our sales then send one of us off with Zac in a backpack to gather food supplies from the other stallholders. In our last summer we were perilously close to the Elsewhere vineyard stall. Some days we’d sit there behind the stall enjoying a nice Chardonnay or Pinot Noir as the market moved past lunchtime.

Back of the market stall.

A graphic design student designed us a rubber stamp to make our own swing tags, and I had woven labels made to sew onto the clothes. Quilting fabrics were a good source of interesting prints and I also bought some basics like cotton drill and fleecy (to line trousers and jackets) in the smallest wholesale quantities I could. I set up a sewing table in our wide hallway of the flat and sewed in the evenings or during the day if Zac slept.

Mother’s Group baby

This time taught me a lot about production line techniques through trial and error, customer service and sales, and managing being self employed with a young baby. It also made me realise that I wanted to try work outside the home – not knowing how much we’d earn each week was tricky to manage for cash flow as any small business operator will tell you. But we earnt enough to help get us to Europe for 3-4 weeks on a student budget (babies got you a room to yourself in youth hostels back then!) and then enough to buy my own sewing machine and an overlocker. Mum’s Elna Lotus sewing machine really did a lot of work for Zac Designs. Poor thing. It is still going strong, and one day I’d like one of my own to add to the Elna retirement home I seem to be establishing.

Summer Hat

I’ve had a ball looking back through boxes of photos to find the images for this post. Occasionally I see a ZacHat with one of myfabrics out and about and want to mug the poor parents to say “I made that” and when people see something I’ve sewn and say ‘you could make these for money’ I simply reply, ‘been there, done that, I’d rather sew for fun not full-time’. And, it’s still a time I look back on with great fondness.

My BA Graduation and Zac’s Inspirational Outfit (PS I made that purple jacket too!)

Small People Clothing Label Giveaway

Clothing Labels

Does anyone out there have a genuine use for these? Or know someone who makes small people clothes for market stalls etc?

They are a remnant from my long-past small business and I’d like to see them put to use rather than loitering in my cupboard.

The labels are sew in, and on rolls. You cut off the labels one by one. I used to snip the ‘polyester’ line off the care labels where appropriate and use a marker to add in other materials (eg rayon, wool) or cross out if some lines didn’t apply. Seriously though, all clothing of this size should be machine washable and tumble-dry-able.

Leave a comment below by midnight Friday 31st August and I’ll randomly draw a winner if there’s more than one person interested. I will post worldwide.

Melbourne Sewers Meetup

On the weekend I joined a lovely group of Melbourne sewers. I finally got to put voices to blog names and faces. Kudos to Rachel of Boodog for organising us, and look who came:

Kat  All the whimsical things
Robyn: Sew love red
Rachel: Boo dog and me
Rachel: My messings
Kirsty (Me!): Rocket Sews
Leith: Sew Brunswick
Lara: Thornberry
Melanie: PoppyKettle
Helen: Funkbunnys kitchen garden
Christy Little Betty
Rachel: The two windmills
Sarah: Sewsquirrel
TJ: The Perfect Nose
Belle: Bella’s Collectanea of Sewing

Fabulous ladies who are blog-less.
Sue A

Kat of All the Whimsical Things collated this list from the side of a Tessuti carrier bag. How appropriate!

I didn’t take a camera so I’ve borrowed these photos from TJ and  Kat


L – R – Robyn (background), Melanie, Me, TJ

While it felt extravagant to visit Melbourne for a day, meeting everyone was like a breath of fresh air. There was much inspection of each others’ garments, fondling of fabric, and general sewing talk. It was like meeting old friends.

In the morning I went in search of buttons for the woolen jacket/coat I am making for Robin and found them at Jimmy’s Buttons in Fitzroy. While I was in the area I dropped by The Fabric Store armed with a printed ‘inspiration board’ from my son for shirt fabric. I did a once around the shop coming up with nothing much so showed the printout to one of the assistants who laid her hands on 4 options within moments. I’m glad to report he likes the two I brought home and is keen to get involved in making them. He’s already done some work both on the sewing machine and overlocker so knows the basics.

The next morning I was up at 5.30am working on the pad stitching of hair canvas to the collar. Inspiration is a great thing!

I’ll be back in late October – pencil in October 25-27th for a repeat!

Pattern Pyramid Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is Marie from GMarieSews. Check out the humungous knitted quilt wrap she has just posted. Such persistence and fabulous colours! I wonder which pattern Marie will choose.

Marie, I’ll be in contact for your postal details and I can’t wait to see where the parcel goes after that!

We rather jokingly put the bowl’o'names in front of Milly, aka Participation Cat, and joked she could choose one as she is a keen sewing helper. Given that she’s such a food scrounger she promptly put her paw out and snared Marie’s name. It had to be rescued before it got too chewed. I had to run for the camera.

A forest of elnas

Reminder: The Pattern Pyramid giveaway here closes this Thursday night. Add a comment for your chance to join the fun and the stalkers.

A few weekends ago we stopped by the Evandale Market on a Sunday morning as we travelled back home from the north of the state. We were travelling with a friend, and at one point my husband Robin wandered off and then was back telling me about an old green Elna sewing machine in a case. The three of us made a beeline over to the stall to find an old Elna Supermatic in amongst antiquey stuff and tools.

I turned the flywheel a bit and it gradually loosened up. I also toyed with the idea of taking it inside the hall and seeing if I could plug it in and see if the motor worked. It looked clean inside the bits I could open. I faffed about, umming and ahhing and generally over thinking it, until my dear sewing enabler friend Jenny pointed out that the guy was asking the price of a nice bottle of wine and I wouldn’t think twice about that. So wise!


We lugged it back to the car and then drove the 2.5 hours home. About halfway I said, ‘it didn’t have a foot pedal!’ but resisted stopping at the side of the highway to double check. I thought that was a shame but perhaps I could find one. When we got home we opened up the case and set it up on the dining table. The weird metal lever on the front revealed itself to be a knee control – first one I’d ever seen or used. I plugged it in and turned it on. Apart from sounding like a tractor it ran ok, the light even worked. I then unplugged it, opened it up and oiled all the important moving parts.

Gradually it ran more freely, you could hear the oil doing it good. It became a slightly quieter tractor.

It is a solid zigzag machine, that can also have decorative stitch cams inserted. There were no accessories at all with the machine, just one lone bobbin and the zig zag cam. Being an Elna, I tested the feet from my modern machine, and they are all interchangeable! Note to self: do not do stitch samples on stretchy drill material. It took me a while to figure out what was happening.

You see, a large part of the attraction was that I learnt to sew on an Elna Lotus SP, my mum’s machine, which she still uses. It was easy to use, precise and worked everytime you needed it. When I went shopping for my own machine in the early nineties, I gravitated towards an Elna then too. My modern Elna has been a very reliable machine which has done a lot of sewing.

Confession time: after bringing home the Supermatic I spent some time on Google and discovered a whole ‘nother world out there. Aren’t they pretty in a post-war mechanical pseudo industrial way?


And the most useful find? The Yahoo Elna Heirloom Sewing Machine group. A wealth of information and sharing. I was able to diagnose the tractor sound effect, remove, clean and replace the bobbin mechanism, learn how to disengage the main motor to wind bobbins, and more from this helpful group of people. Beautiful!

A gentle word of warning. Don’t google Elna and look at the pictures of an earlier model – the No#1 aka Grasshopper. Because you might just find one for sale at the price of two reasonable bottles of wine. Oh dear. You can be sure I’ll let you know when it arrives.

Pattern Pyramid Giveaway lands in Tasmania!

I squealed out loud when I heard I’d won a Pattern Pyramid giveaway round hosted by Jennifer at The Musings of a Dedicated Housefiancee! And today the parcel arrived daintily wrapped with pink ribbon. Originally I’d eyed up the KwikSew dress, but further examination of the Women’s Weekly pattern meant I changed my mind. I fell in love with the pocket flaps and figure I can grade it up a bit with my slopers.

Check out the patterns:

  • McCalls 2085 is a shift dress and jacket
  • KwikSew 3380 is a dress with two waist options – dropped and regular
  • Simplicity 5931 is a vest, shirt and skirt pattern.
  • I’m also tossing in a bonus Burda Easy Autumn/Winter 2011. Check out this assortment of photos from the mag.

Fancy a shot at winning the three remaining patterns, an extra Burda Easy and some of the special labels?

Leave a comment below by 9pm AEST Thursday 16th August, making sure I can find your email address pretty easily :-)

  • Anyone, anywhere with postal service can enter the giveaway by posting a comment below  BUT you must have an active blog. (Reasons to become obvious.)
  • I will randomly select a winner.
  • I will post the remaining three patterns & magazine to the winner, along with a generous number of hand woven labels to be sewn into anything made from one of these patterns.

Original rules as decreed by Karen of  didyoumakethat?, the origin of the Pattern Pyramid.

The winner will pick a pattern to keep for themselves, then host their own giveaway. They will randomly select a winner, post the remaining patterns to that Person C. Person C will pick a pattern for themselves, host their own giveaway and post the remaining patterns to the winner, Person D. Person D will…

and hey, if you’re at the Aussie Sewer’s Meetup in Melbourne on the following Saturday I’ll deliver in person!

Waiting for photos

I finished several projects last week:

  • Grey Coat from Patrones Joven #10
  • Navy elephant Cambie dress
  • Red machine knit jumper for Zac

and a new-to-me machine came to live in our house.

Here’s a coat lining shot for TJ

Coat Lining

But I need photos of the rest. Because it is not a good idea to take photos of the new overcoat and dress AFTER tasting about 20 wines at the annual Tasmanian Pinot Noir Showcase. Well, not if you want to share the photos …