Tuesday, 5 February 2019

The Very Best of Shelves

In my last post, I briefly mentioned 'the very best of shelves' and, probably lured by the mention of plastic golden retrievers, there was a request from Caroline to see it. So, here it is, along with a full inventory of the area, and a backstory for each item. Note that some of the items I consider to be an integral part of the shelf's contents, are too big to fit on the actual shelf.
  • Beginning at the very left of the above photo, there's a black Rifle Paper tin, full of recipe cards. Only one of those recipe cards has ever been filled in, but I like to keep it on my desk as one day I might add to them and it's good to have some untapped potential sitting in front of me. Also, I like the pattern on the outside, so there's really no pressure over whether my potential in this department is ever unleashed. Win win. 
  • Resting on top is a pink rag-paper envelope, complete with gold hand-printed patterning and glorious tassel. I bought this in a shop in Rye nearly a decade ago (I think the shop was called The Paper Place and it was a real treasure trove). I'd intended to give it to someone in the form of gift packaging, but several years on I still haven't been able to part with it, so I think we can probably call this mine now. 
  • In front of the tin is a Liberty print postcard. I rarely buy fabric online from Liberty as they only sell it in hard-to-afford one metre cuts (they sell in 1/2 metres in-store), but just occasionally there's a need for it, and I'm always excited imagining which postcard might be included with my parcel, although last time there wasn't one and I was crestfallen. This one (above) was a real joy though as it's one of my favourite prints.
  • Moving onto the actual shelf, this section is like a miniature memorial garden of EPP rosettes that didn't make the cut. Front left is a rejected centre to this piece, while back right is the sun-bleached rosette that didn't make it into this piece
  • The wooden doll was a gift from my mum a few years ago - it has a slot cut in it so bias binding can be wrapped around it for storage, but I don't actually have any binding that needs storing due to being an ill-prepared sort of creature who makes binding up several days after I first needed it, but I love the doll all the same so it lives on the shelf. If you do have binding that needs storing, then you have admiration and you can find your own Binding Baby storage here
  • Behind that is the stretch limo of postcards (fitting for the very best of shelves) featuring dresses on lovely ladies, from the Orla Kiely exhibition at The Fashion & Textiles Museum. A friend and I took our daughters there for an afternoon and the postcard is a memory of a lovely day and a souvenir too, as Orla Kiely has sadly since gone into administration. 
  • My children created this Lego sewing machine for me as a Christmas gift back in 2010. It came in a handmade box with step-by-step instructions on how to put it together and nearly made me cry with its loveliness. It is one of my most treasured possessions. 
  • The tiny wooden pig has kept me company since I was four years old. I was, and still am, quite crazy for pigs and it's their lovely faces that caused me to stop eating sausages (and all other meat) in my first year at primary school. I decorated the walls of the bedroom I shared with my sister with pig posters and cards, and on outings wore a woollen cross-body handbag with a piglet knitted onto the front. The tiny wooden pig was nestled inside that bag, amongst a collection of boiled sweets that slid out of their wrappers during a holiday in Greece - I can still remember the trauma of realising the wool had been made sticky and sugary; the bag never felt as nice after that and I always dreaded putting my hand in to get something, when once it had been such a delight...but either way, the wooden pig survived its time in the woollen pigsty unscathed). 

The plastic golden retrievers are now in view, but I'm working up to them in order, so don't skip ahead in the excitement! 
  • This is just one of the many conkers my son has given me over the years, usually with a characterful face drawn on. This one has the wondrous addition of small fangs and is probably about six years old now. My very favourite one, which looked like a small baby, I carried around in my handbag for years until it disintegrated, so I'm enjoying this conker while I still can.
  • I bought the EPP printing blocks as a photo prop for my book and liked them so much they made their way onto the shelf. And as I've linked to everything else I've mentioned, here's a link to my book šŸ¤—!
  • The small blue business card bearing a rabbit (just in view) was sent with an order from Chloe Giordano's lovely shop - do go and have a look - her embroideries are divine. I've bought several of her cards and they always feel like a real treat to send to people. I also had one framed as a Christmas gift for my mum. (I love beautiful business cards - the one on display changes fairly frequently, but this one is a favourite). 
  • Finally, yes finally, we arrive at the plastic golden retrievers! The items that truly make this the very best of shelves. My husband bought the larger one for me while passing through Fenwicks' toy department. I don't think he really expected me to treasure it in the way that I have, but I loved this curious gift and liked imaging what might have been going through his head when he chose it for me. I still haven't quite worked that one out, but noting its success, a few years later he bought me a golden retriever puppy to go alongside it. His mission is now to buy curiosities that will be considered special enough to go on the the shelf. I'm not sure how he could beat this offering though. If Marie Kondo were to put this plastic duo in front of me and say 'Florence, do these dogs spark joy in you?', I would say 'Yes, Marie, joy by the bucketload,' and put them straight back on the shelf. 
  • You may have noticed the die-cast Mini just peeping into shot. Cars don't feature heavily in my thoughts, but I do love very small ones with beautiful design features - pastel-coloured Nissan Figaro, tiny Fiat 500s, old Morris Minors (we had two in succession when I was growing up - one of which had a rusty hole in the floor covered with a mat to stop the air rushing in around my father's feet as he drove, and both of which made a cosy whining noise as they turned into our drive, which we called its 'home-time noise' as it never happened at any other time - it must have been something about the speed of the engine and the angle of the turn that produced the sound. We then got our first modern car, an Alfa Sud, another awesome small car, which I remember us all being astounded by because it had a push up sunroof and went a LOT faster than the Morris). As an adult, I've always loved Minis for the position of the headlamps, which look like eyes, and the beautiful round dials inside, so this die-cast one was a gift from my husband a few birthdays ago (I think he always buys this type of gift as a little extra or a stocking filler, not realising that they're actually the main event). 
  • The other printer's block letters were a gift from my sister and they can be a bit of a mystery as most people think they read if, which I quite like as 'if' is a word that has so much possibility, but actually its our initials: Ian and Florence. 
  • Moving along the shelf, we come to this appliquĆ©d version of me, beside the doll version of me, which is all very me-centric. I first bought one of these handmade dolls as a gift for my sister - her one looked just like her, in that it had blonde hair instead of brown - and I liked it so much that my husband bought a dark-haired version for my birthday. It arrived with this gorgeous little panel with my name stitched on! They're made by Just So Sara - do take a look at her shop if you'd like your own me-centric doll. 
  • Hidden behind the doll (who is clearly far more adventurous when it comes to hair accessories and spends longer in the gym...which wouldn't be hard as I don't spend any time in it), is what my daughter and I like to call 'the stolen tin'. This was a gift given to my daughter by my mum years ago, but we later agreed that I appreciated it far more than she did, so would become its caretaker. Here was the conversation we had while tidying her room together one day that enabled the theft: Do you really love that tin? - Erm, yeah, it's nice - Just nice? - Mmm, yeah, it's okay - Oh, because I actually reeeealllly love it - Do you? - Yes, I think I like it a lot more than you do. Do you want me to have it for you? - Okay, you can look after it then). It's now filled with carefully cut fabric flowers ready to appliquĆ© in an emergency, which makes me sound like the kind of person who would have pre-made bias binding to hand after all, doesn't it! Also the kind of person who shamelessly steals things from her daughter's bedroom...don't worry, I think badly of me too.
  • Moving onto the desk, we have a beautiful turquoise tin that, when turned, plays music and the horses go around the merry-go-round - a gift from my mum. I really love music boxes and this one feels extra special as she bought a matching one for my sister, who is my merry-go-round riding companion in life (literally - as adults we've leapt on them together in Spain, France, Russia, and around the UK)
  • Below that, a Diptique candle with a scent called Baies, a gift from my sister after we'd been to one of her scans while she was pregnant. It's entirely coincidental that the name of the candle is one letter short of the word 'babies', but I always read it that way as it felt so in keeping with the day. It smells amazing, by the way, although nothing like babies.
  • On top of the candle sits a tiny swatch of Liberty silk that Alice Caroline included with an order. It shows barely any of the print, but the exquisite turquoise background and the tiniest bit of petal creeping in make this one of my favourite fabrics ever, so the swatch lives in the shelf-overflow area (sadly, they didn't have a larger piece for me to buy). 
You may have noticed one limitation with the shelf, and that's that it's just below the point where the roof begins to slope, so all shelf items are limited to being about 5" tall, but I quite like the challenge of that. The items on the shelf get shuffled and edited quite frequently, but I'm actually going to put a second shelf up next to it to make one long shelf, and although bigger isn't always better, I have hopes that it may become the very best of the very best of shelves.

Thanks so much to Caroline for inspiring this post. 

Florence x

Monday, 28 January 2019

Broken China

I started this project in August 2017, when I made just one pink flower rosette. At that time, I had vague plans to turn it into something, but only in the way that I also have vague plans to build my own house one day; really I was happy to keep it on my shelf of small things, which contains the gift of two plastic golden retrievers from my husband; a Lego sewing machine; several printer's block letters; a tiny wooden pig I've had since I was four; a die-cast model of a Mini; a shrivelled conker with a face drawn on it that my son gave me several years ago; and a few postcards - it is the very best of shelves (how could it not be with two plastic golden retrievers on it!?).

Anyway, last year when my sewing room was being photographed for a magazine, I decided I should actually have something, anything, on my design wall and the flower rosette got taken off the very best of shelves and put on the very worst of design walls, where two skylight windows directly opposite aggressively bleach the colours from anything that's placed on it (there was a reason it had been empty before the photoshoot). But afterwards, I so enjoyed having all my works-in-progress pinned up on the wall, that I decided to take a risk and leave them there - it was October and heading towards a dark English winter and I thought the damage was likely to be minimal.

This was the result - the rosette at the bottom of this photo is the one that I made in 2017...the top three are the ones I made in 2019. Sadly, the difference in colour meant that 'Rosette Mark I' has had to be returned to the very best of shelves and couldn't be incorporated into this piece. This doesn't really explain how I have gone from having only vague plans for this, to re-sewing it and then making many more until I had an actual 'thing'. I'm not sure I actually have an explanation for it, so I'm looking forward to a built-by-me house also magically appearing some time soon too.

All I can say is that I have enjoyed making all the little components for this piece immensely! It's a project that's seemed to have a wonderful rhythm to it and hasn't been in danger of stalling at any point once it go going again, even if at times I have become distracted by photographing the various components hanging on teacups...

...and resting on my palm. For me, a project is only really worthy of the label Extreme Fun, if it has been as much fun to photograph as it has to sew. This one was.

I wrote in my book about particular fabrics having a habit of reappearing over the lifetime of a stitcher's work, and the ones here are favourites that often seem to creep into mine. There is something about these china blues, alongside my very favourite shade of pink, that I can't get enough of. A few people on Instagram commented on it looking like pieces of broken china and that's what it reminded me off too - both in colour and in how fractured the pattern looks, hence the name.

Moving onto the vital statistics: in total, the finished piece measures just less than 8.5" square and contains 408 pieces. The pieces don't feel anything like as small as those in my Miniature Ripple Effect (which crams 200 pieces into a circle measuring 5.5"), but a few were still challenging - most especially those pesky little plain blue triangles. The pattern for the main pink rosettes is from my Eight Dials English paper piecing pattern, but I designed a different block to link them all together, so the end result looks very different.

I have really small hands (and badly-maintained nails, I now see), but this maybe gives a vague sense of scale. Random question: are the joints on the hand that you sew and write with far bigger than those on your other hand? I haven't worn rings for years*, but on the rare occasions when I try them on, I've realised I can no longer get them over the finger joints on my right hand, although they still fit loosely on my left. It's odd to think that all those little stitches may be like body-building for fingers! If you're wearing one, do let me know (although please forgive me if this results in you having the ring sawn from your finger in Casualty).

As if the first wasn't enough (the fun just keeps on rolling), I have a second random question I've been pondering and would like to consult with you on. I like to leave the papers in place when my English paper piecing will be framed (rather than used as a quilt) - it gives the finished piece stability and avoids the shadow and indent of seam allowances being visible through the fine fabric. I use medium-weight card for my pieces when they're this small, but even with that extra density, the card sometimes wrinkles and start to show wear under the heat of an iron (having already been stressed by gently folding it while sewing the pieces together), which is frustrating when my piecing itself has been painstakingly done, but the end result is impacted by the paper within failing and causing an uneven finish.

For this project, I've focused on flattening it beneath a big hardback book more often than pressing it with an iron, but it feels a real compromise - I LOVE pressing things with an iron! I thought of making the paper pieces from thin, heat-proof plastic (templar), but I know the points would end up damaging the fabric once it was wrapped around it - lawn is fine and plastic is just that bit more spiky than card and it would be a disaster. And sanding the plastic first isn't an option at this scale - the smallest amount of sanding would alter the shape. So, my question is: do you have any other ideas of things I could use to wrap my papers around? I need to be able to iron it, bend it, wrap it, and preferably print on it too. I don't think there's a viable alternative, but I'm so often surprised by the ingenious suggestions I receive when I ask a question here or Instagram, that I thought I'd ask anyway.

I feel set up for the week after watching nearly five hours of TEDx talks with my parents on Saturday - I'd thought I'd struggle with so many hours sat with still hands, but it was the most incredible event, full of stories and ideas. We laughed, were inspired, and even cried a little too - admittedly, we're an easy-to-cry family, but I can't imagine many people in the 1000-seater theatre hall who didn't sit in the dark with tears silently streaming down their face as they listened to Sophie Sabbage, who lives with terminal cancer, talk about the way we handle grief and loss - not just in relation to death, but also lost friendships, lost hopes etc - it was one of the most moving and impactful talks I've heard - I'll share a link when it comes online, but in the meantime, if you're interested, Sophie's book, Life Shocks, looks excellent.

The rest of the weekend was spent with my son listening to episodes of The Moth, the podcast of The Moth's live storytelling events, while I sewed and he did his GCSE Art coursework, and playing board games with my husband and a friend. My weekend activities feel serendipitously appropriate given that National Storytelling Week began on Saturday (TED and The Moth, not the board games), although I didn't realise until this morning.

I hope you're having a wonderful start to the week. It is crisp and chilly here, and I have all my fingers crossed for snow (the type that is a foot thick, stays for weeks, and then disappears overnight without any slush or ice, at exactly the moment when everyone has had enough of it - some would say, the very best of snow).

Florence x

* There are so many times when the other thoughts around the thought I'm writing about, end up being too cumbersome to fit neatly in brackets and so have to either be lost or moved to the end of a post. But the * is to say that, mostly, I like my hands to feel entirely utilitarian, and don't even enjoy wearing nail polish. This feels quite odd when I'm a ridiculously sentimental creature - so should enjoy wearing rings - and also love all other forms of make-up, so should enjoy wearing polish...but both just feel irritating when I'm trying to bake/sew/type/clean etc. Any ring/polish preferences of your own? That makes this a post of three questions! Feel free to answer any of them, or just make up your own if you want to chat about something entirely different in the comments. x

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

5am Life Wave

Today I'm belatedly sharing a project I started in December 2017 and finished in October 2018. On Instagram, I've referred to it as Rainbow Soup, while the Illustrator file where I originally planned it out was named '5am' (an obvious choice when you open a new document with no idea what you're going to do in there, but it is indeed 5 o'clock in the morning), and in my head its working title was Life Wave.

In early June 2017, my grandmother, who had made relatively regular appearances on my blog since I began writing it, passed away. I've gone to post about it several times in the last 18 months, but somehow found myself unable to, although it's been an odd feeling to leave her death unacknowledged here.

Over the last decade, my husband and I have lost friends and family far too early, so when my grandmother died peacefully in her late 80s, I initially felt comforted to finally be experiencing a natural, age-appropriate death - it offered a feeling of, Ah, so this is how it's supposed to be - sad, full of memories, but not unjust. I had thought that would make it 'the easy one'.

But despite what I'd initially imagined, my grandmother's death didn't end up being 'the easy one' and it took me the rest of 2017 and a good portion of early 2018, not to find my eyes streaming at the thought of her or the mention of her name - it wasn't that I wanted for her to have lived for longer, just that I had a huge ball of weepy sadness inside me over her no longer being here.

So, when I came to designing this piece,  my grandmother was at the forefront of my thoughts and, initially, the great big undulating wave of colour that runs diagonally through the centre of the piece represented her, in all her wonderful vibrancy, the world receding around her. But at some point while I was sewing it together, I gradually began to view the piece differently, and eventually that central swoop of colour began to represent a wider life force - humanity, all of us - and reluctantly, the smaller bits of warmth falling away from it - those three lone orange pieces in the bottom right quarter - came to represent my grandmother (and all the other good ones), like the light left radiating from a star that's already died.

Above is the design I created it in my graphics programme and below is the finished piece.

I much prefer for the creative part to take place on my laptop, and for the making part to be more about following a map - in this case, each individual colour was carefully matched up to my plan - it's fun (for me at least!) to try and spot the pieces where I went off track and, accidentally or intentionally, used a different colour. 

As larger pieces are so expensive to frame, for now it lives in a ready-made one found in the garage that doesn't match its dimensions perfectly (it's too big by one frustrating centimetre...although I'm not about to sew an extra row on to make it work), and it hangs in this room at the back of the house where the light never quite makes it sparkle as it did when it was in my sewing room at the front of the house, so it's a rather temporary resting place, but despite that it feels like a happy, joyful thing.

My grandmother didn't have an easy life, but she was one of the most vivacious and radiant people I've known. She had the ability to make the mundane feel magical, whether that was something as simple as choosing the shiniest fruit in a greengrocers, or racing us to collect a hundred weeds from the garden each evening in our nightdresses, waking us at midnight for feasts (where she would open out the bathroom and airing cupboard doors to create a secret compartment on the landing for us to hide away in), searching gravestones for the loveliest names, telling us stories from her imagination*, floating around her local lake in a rowing boat for hours, where she would regale us with tales of lost loves or the great many ghosts who'd haunted her houses (if she misplaced something, she found it more comforting to blame a ghost than herself and had many furious meetings with them as a result), helping us to create miniature worlds from things she'd saved up in the weeks before our visits, or mainly, just talking in her beautiful voice, which seemed to curl around words as though she was hugging each one of them - she had worked a telephonist connecting calls, which always seemed a perfect job for her.

She created a bubble around the three of us (her, my sister and me; the members of The Magic Circle, who could communicate telepathically by placing a tiny rose button against a circle of card), and when we were together, I always felt anything was possible and and as though the whole world was full of magic; if a little streak of madness lived within her, in grand-mothering she triumphed in using it for good.

(I want to draw your attention to the rosemary plant covered in little flowers from the 5am Life Wave while it was a work-in-progress - she would have loved this photo and it was created in her honour).

Here are a few links to posts where I talked about my grandmother while she was still alive - in this post, I discussed an interview I'd taken part in for a friend's dissertation on special places - I chose my grandmother's house and talked about my childhood memories; a few Christmases ago, I wrote a post where I mention knitting together and how she made me feel whenever she was teaching me; here, I write about her wonderful baking and how she used to greet us when we arrived at her house as children; at the end of this post, I share her (and my own) frank opinions on my neglecting to buy school photographs of my children; in this post about the EU referendum, she plays just a bit part, but her comment made me so proud as she bucked the trend of how many in their late 80s were reported to have voted; in this post my grandmother makes a pertinent assessment on the contents of my brain (it also happens to be one of my favourite posts, although most of it doesn't relate to her); this post shares a photo of my diminutive grandmother (she was well under 5ft) nestled amongst a densely-planted bed of cornflowers; this post shares a story from my childhood where she taught me that small things are just as good as big ones - it is one of my favourite memories of her and it still delights me that rather than simply reassuring me that my tiny gift was just as lovely as the bigger parcel my sister had given her, she stopped to use an illustration I could truly understand, asking if she was not as special as my other, much taller, grandma. She kept the little creatures that were wrapped inside the package I'd given her for the next thirty-five years, and now they live on my dressing table where I see them each morning - it should be an odd thing to have your own gift back, but somehow they feel more like her gift to me.

And finally, at the end of this post, I talked about her move to a care home, nearer to the area where my mum and I live - I was sewing name tapes into her clothing and feeling nervous anticipation for her as she set about putting down new roots ( totally unnecessarily; she had a wonderful way of magnetising people to her, even when addled by dementia).

Although we held vigil all week, none of us were with her when she died just after midnight, but my mum and I arrived separately shortly afterwards. One of her carers, who knew her well, put bright pink flowers in her hair. We asked if that was a tradition in Hungary, where she was from, and she laughed and said 'No, I did it because I knew Jeannie would have liked it', and she would have done. After the undertakers had gone, my mum and I lay on her bed not wanting to leave her room and chatted until 5am, watching the light change and hearing the very first bird make a sound to begin the dawn chorus. We held hands and laughed, cried and celebrated what a wonderful life she'd led and how few regrets we had for her - she'd had a marvellous ability to make lemonade from lemons and had been loved for it.

Later, as we drove home in convoy along empty roads, a bird swooped directly in front of my windscreen, loop-the looped, then dived playfully back at the glass once more before flying off - it was so curious that my immediate thought was that it was my grandmother playing with me and when we reached the place where we'd agreed to meet for an early morning walk, my mother asked if I'd noticed the bird in front of my car and said she'd felt sure it was Nannie - I was so pleased she'd witnessed its peculiar movements too. So many friends who've lost loved ones have had odd experiences with birds just before or after death...it makes me wonder if our spirits briefly inhabit them.

I was sad to learn that the poet, Mary Oliver, died last week. It's impossible for me to pick a favourite poem or line - there are too many that I love (a bit like Liberty prints), but a line taken from The Summer Day that always resonates with me for its feeling of immense possibility, is this one: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Thinking of this in relation to my grandmother, I know she will have felt she spent it well.

Florence x

** It was too much to add in brackets in the middle of that paragraph, but those stories she made up usually involved a boy and a girl entering another world through a tree trunk, where they would come across miniature woodland people, sparkly lights, and a banquet of party food. At the end of the adventure they would have to return to the real world, but would usually take some kind of treasure with them...somehow my brain never linked up the dots as a child to notice that the boy and girl who starred in those stories actually shared our parents names! My grandmother had a lightning quick wit - unaffected by dementia - and would have been amused to find I only discovered the link after she'd died when I was talking about it with my sister. As a random aside to that, while I didn't inherit her nimble mind (or, seemingly, even a mid-paced one), what I've realised while writing this post, is that she did impress upon me a love of all things miniature and that I've never really known where that's come from until now.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Templates and Precut Papers for EPP (and, as always, some random thoughts)

Just a quick post to let you know that there are now acrylic templates and precut paper pieces available from Paper Pieces for all the patterns in my book! Although I've always seen scissor-cutting paper pieces and creating my own templates as part of the process, I know for many this is a deal breaker with English paper piecing, so I'm really happy that these are out there. And actually, now I've experienced the ease of having them ready-made, I can see myself becoming a convert too.

I found the process of these pieces being created really interesting and when the samples arrived for approval, as someone new to using templates, I suddenly had lots of questions. I thought I might share a few of them with you here, just because I found it really interesting to discover the answers, and also because it may help you when it comes to using the templates if you're new to them too.

Q1. Does there have to be a brown backing on the templates? I'd find them easier to use if they were clear. This question ended up being a marginally embarrassing one to have asked, as the backings are actually really easily removable to leave beautiful clear templates like the ones at the top of this post - they're just there to protect the templates during transportation (this is similar to the time I was left not feeling overly enamoured by our new bath's lack of shininess, only to discover it had a fine plastic protective coating on it). If you don't fussy-cut fabrics and like a delicious surprise with each cut, you can leave the backing on as they probably give the templates a little more grip, but otherwise, just peel them off (yet to be peeled off in the photo below. Fully peeled in the top photo).

Q2. Why are the ends of some of the acrylic templates squared off, as with the kite shape above? Apparently some templates that go to a point can be really sharp, so PaperPieces cut them off to stop them from poking at people and also to stop them from sneakily cutting free of their packaging! As the squared off bit is so small, it doesn't interfere with using them as you would if they were still there when it comes to rotary cutting around them :)

Q3. Why do the paper pieces have to be on brown paper?  Several years ago, I'd looked into getting paper pieces cut, but I found when the company who cut those pieces for me sent some samples over, the laser had left unsightly burn marks on them and they looked really grubby as a consequence. It turns out Paper Pieces use brown paper for that very reason - although the laser burns are still there, they don't look or feel grubby on brown paper. Such a brilliant solution. (Nb. more standard shapes are die-cut, avoiding burn marks entirely, which is why you'll sometimes see shapes on clean white paper).

Interesting other points of note: 
  • Having never looked into templates properly before, I was amazed to find that you can choose whether to buy acrylic templates with a 1/4" or 3/8" seam allowance on the PaperPieces website. As someone who glue bastes (for English paper piecing, you temporarily wrap the papers with fabric and this requires some way of securing them - this is called 'basting'), I've always preferred a trim 1/4" seam allowance, but on the rare occasions when I've thread-basted, I've found I preferred a more generous seam allowance. 
  • You can also buy the acrylic templates with a viewing window (again with a 1/4" or 3/8" seam allowance); no viewing window (as pictured above); or with no seam allowance at all - useful if you want to hand piece with a running stitch, rather than EPP. 
  • For the three small rosettes from my book, you can buy papers for each block in packs of 1, 6 or 12. Buying in larger packs will allow you to sew lots of blocks together to make an entire quilt. In my book, two of the blocks are the same size and one is a little larger, but here, the three blocks have been made the same size, so that you can sew any combination of them together. 
  • PaperPieces don't breach designer's copyright by providing piecing instructions or diagrams, so you'll need the book to go alongside the paper pieces. 

When my samples arrived a few months ago, seeing the templates unexpectedly etched with Flossie Teacakes was quite a lovely moment. Similar to getting Moo cards delivered, it just feels nice to have your name printed neatly on anything that's one-step removed from yourself, as though you exist in another form, neatly packaged, more professional, and almost certainly more well-coordinated in an aerobics class than the creature that exists in reality (for the record, I no longer attend aerobics classes as it presented a hazard to the other participants to have someone who constantly interrupted the flow of movement from left to right and introduced an unfortunate 'human pinball' element to the workout). If you've never had your own Moo cards printed by the way, I'd advise you to do so, even if you only ever keep them in your own desk drawer and take them out to look at them from time to time - they're the best stationery you'll ever own and that little box full of cards seems to represent so much potential. Whether that potential ever becomes a reality isn't necessarily the important part - it's the possibility that matters. I last got some mini cards printed in 2012 when I ran my little shop site, Made by Florence, and I think I may have just have unexpectedly talked myself into getting another set made (blog posts are always meandering things...who knows where they'll end up).

Doubly exciting for me with my templates was that this was my very first non-paper item I've ever had my name on - it actually says Flossie Teacakes on them, rather than Florence, but it represents the same thing to my mind. If you grew up with a less obscure name than mine, you may have been lucky to regularly find your name on items in gift shops, but I was disappointed at every stand of key-rings, bookmarks and door signs I ever came across. We spent a lot of time adventuring with family friends when I was young, and I was always left feeling wobbly-lipped and covetous whenever the other children emerged from a shop or museum with a named item. If only I'd known that, aged 41, I'd finally get my name printed on a useful product related to my favourite-most EPP, I may have borne it with more grace. As it was, aged 6, I scowled and muttered dark thoughts to the small pig I kept in my bag. I modelled myself on Lotta at that point, so every pig I owned (and as a passionate vegetarian, I kept several) was named Bamsy, just like hers. The Lotta books were the less-well-known series of books written by Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking, and I still adore them now in a way that I never really have with Pippi. Pippi was a different kind of character altogether and I found her slightly baffling, while Lotta's angry-at-the-world, youngest-in-the-family wilfulness was entirely relatable. I often wonder how much influence books have in forming a child's character at that age and if I identified with Lotta and Josie (from The Bossing of Josie by Ronda and David Armitage) because I saw myself reflected in them or, more worryingly, if I grew more like them because I admired them and their bold ways! Later, it was Flossie Teacakes who made an impression on me (that probably goes without saying), followed by Anne of Green Gables, who ultimately proved to be a more levelling influence. Were there any book characters who had a particular impact on you when you were growing up? Or even as an adult?

Florence x

Ps. I've often wondered how I used to write blog posts so often. Now I know: they were shorter. Sorry to anyone who'd braced themselves for reading this with a fresh cup of tea and then found themselves left with a half-full cup.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Adventures in tiny English paper piecing

I'd mentioned in my last post that 2018 was a year for letting finished projects go undocumented and you can probably see from the unseasonal flowers that these photos haven't been taken today. This project was the tiniest piece of English paper piecing I'd ever undertaken - there are exactly 200 pieces squashed into this medallion that has a diameter of 5.5" (just under 14cm).

The pattern for the medallion is based on The Ripple Effect quilt in my book, scaled down by 70%, with a few modifications to allow for the tiny pieces. Unusually for me, I took a lot of photos while I was piecing it together, possibly because it's much easier to photograph things when you only need a tiny portion of your desk to be tidy!


This was where I started. You can see that the tiny pink diamonds in the photo above were little bigger than the centre of one of the bobbins that sit next to them. They presented various problems...mainly that my usually diminutive glue pen suddenly felt large and unwieldy, but I found that if I could wrap something, then I could definitely sew it. Someone on Instagram later suggested cutting a little moon from one side of the glue, which is a super idea for reducing its girth.

miniature english paper piecing

These triangles are a bit bigger than the tiny diamonds, but you can still get a flavour of the glue pen issue - I wish someone would invent a miniature one.  

miniature english paper piecing1

I used a 1/8" seam allowance throughout, but even that seems quite bulky around these pieces. 

miniature english paper piecing4

For cutting the fabrics, I used an 18mm rotary cutter (the standard ones are 45mm), which makes a huge difference to how easy it is to cut tiny pieces. 

miniature english paper piecing5

Working at such a small scale meant that the production line felt fairly manageable in size - one can sit on a chair with everything nicely in arm's reach, which lends itself worryingly well to watching a boxset. I remember watching Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace while I wrapped the pieces and was totally mesmerised by the unexpected shots of beautiful quilts that cropped up throughout. Although disturbing, it's not nearly as unsettling as The Handmaid's Tale and I'd heartily recommend it (my 17 year old also watched and loved it - I think at the time finishing her GCSE art and textiles coursework, which now seems a long time ago as she's now started her A Levels). 

miniature english paper piecing6

miniature english paper piecing9

I like having everything in one easy-to-haul pot. This was the one I used for this project (although I now have another one that's even better - to be shared at a later date). 

miniature english paper pieicng 11

For the piecing, I used Superior Threads' Bottom Line thread in tiny bobbins colour-coordinated to my project - it's fine and strong. The wrong colour thread seems to show up more at this scale because each stitch is a larger part of the whole, so I found it's worth taking the time to blend them a little more carefully. 

With miniature piecing I've found an appropriate home for my usually irritatingly-dense number of stitches - here, it was actually welcome and worked well. Really dense stitches don't work so well on larger pieces because it takes forever to sew and because it causes an unnecessary nightmare if you need to unpick anything, but for tiny piecing, a greater number of stitches ensures your pieces aren't held together by just one or two stitches, which is a bonus (although no less traumatic to unpick). 

miniature english paper piecing rosette

The photo above and the one at the top of the post show the finished medallion. I thought you might also like to see the back - it's so thick with seam allonwance that it feels a bit like a little mat, but somehow very little of the bulk transfers to the face of the medallion - the main place is where those eight seams join right at the centre. 

reverse of miniature english paper piecing

I'd originally planned for the finished piece to go on this peachy coloured backing, but once I'd spent several hours carefully appliquĆ©ing everything in place and it was ready to be framed, I stood back and realised the colours of the medallion no longer seemed as vibrant as they had against the pink flowers in our garden...and so I very carefully unpicked it all! With the distance of time, I'm now unsure what I disliked about it, but maybe it looks better in the photo thank it did in person. 

I spent days returning to trial different backgrounds and eventually decided on this blue one. I ironed a very fine, soft layer of black iron-on interfacing to give the fabric a little more stability and all was well...

...until at some point, I pressed it again and tiny black glue dots from the interfacing appeared all over the front of backing fabric. I was devastated, especially as I've used iron-on interfacing hundreds of times and never experienced anything like this. 

If you tap on the image, you'll be able to see the dots in all their vile bespeckled glory! For a while, I tried to live with it and tell myself the dots didn't bother me too much, but when I took it to my sewing group and chatted about it with them, I realised it really did bother me. And also that I wasn't convinced the blue backing fabric even worked anyway. In fact, I found it horrid and the square blue border, which worked so well with the peach background, just faded away against the blue. So all in all, it was an abomination that needed to be hacked at AGAIN with a seam ripper. I'd worried doing such a thing TWICE may leave me calling my sanity into question, but I felt so relieved once it was done that I realised the task heralded the preservation of sanity rather than its destruction. I talked it over a bit more with Carolyn, and she suggested that if I was going to choose a different backing fabric, I could go for something non-directional, which suddenly felt like it made a lot of sense as the circular piecing means the block is non-directional.

After weeks of quibbling over backgrounds, suddenly a choice of two presented themselves and after more consultation, I went with the green. I have no good photos of the final thing - the shade of green seems to change in photos - but I'm actually really happy with it in real life. It sits on a shelf and every evening during dinner my eye catches on it and I realise the combination of colours and piecing just make me feel happy, and even more so beside this beautiful green dish. (The dish was given to me by the editor of a Japanese sewing magazine when she and her photographer came over for lunch one day last year. It brings back memories of a really lovely day and the two greens look deliciously satisfying together - I'm not sure when the photos from that day will appear in the wild, but hopefully at some point during 2019).

One Saturday, when Sussex Sewing Group met up at Pincushion (which, contrarily, is in Kent...it was something of a field day out of Sussex, although closer to home for me), I was talking with Nicky while we shopped and said that I'd changed out the background and it was now finished; she asked if I was happy with it and when I said I was, she spontaneously gave me a huge hug. I was really touched that she instantly understood how much I'd wrestled with this project and saw finally finding the right background as something worthy of such a celebration. 

Even though it sits on the Favourite Things I've Made list in my head, it's a highly flawed item with one shape in particular proving a visible challenge to piece (if you want to see which, it's the outermost round of pale pink diamonds, every one of which is slightly misshapen). I was so sure the piecing could be improved upon, that over Christmas (in between board games and eating chocolate), I started a second version, which I'll share with you just as soon as I get over the obstacle of taking a photo of it finished (I already have a lot of in progress photos to share)! 

Wishing you a happy week, 
Florence x

Monday, 31 December 2018

Goodbye 2018...and my favourite books of the year


I wanted to write one final post to end the year, mainly sharing the books I've most enjoyed reading, but also a brief sewing-related round up, as I've sewn a lot this year, but have somehow failed to document a lot of my finishes. I often put off sharing a finished photo on Instagram until I've posted about it here on my blog, but with just 21 blog posts written in 2018, there's quite a backlog...I possibly need to find a different system for 2019. 

Anyway, my year began with English paper piecing and has come full circle to end with it, via a detour into piecing with a running stitch. Over the holidays, I've been working on a second miniature version (you're yet to see the first here; to follow, I promise!) of The Ripple Effect pattern from my book and have enjoyed getting up early and coming down to the living room to work on it before anyone else gets up for the day, hence the artificial light in this taken-while-it-was-still-dark photo. 


In many ways, 2018 has been a wonderful year for me - my book on English paper piecing was released, and I also had my first piece of fiction published in an anthology after making the shortlist, and then winning the Acorn Award given to an unpublished writer of fiction in the Bath Short Story Award. It has been my longest-held dream (pretty much since childhood) to write and have that writing published, so both of those things felt magical to me.

But despite lots of wonderful things, 2018 has also been a hard, bleak year for me, dealing with things that were, and still are, largely beyond my control. I'm trying to muster that 'fresh new sheet of paper' feeling about the coming year, but my experience of the last one is that sometimes you don't get a choice about the paper laid out before you...the only thing you have any control over is your response to the inkblots and trying to salvage the space that remains between them for joyfulness. That's not a new experience, but I think my optimism for laying out a fresh sheet of paper is somehow feeling more dented this year. Either way, that old adage of Jane Brocket's about preferring to leave personal things to be discussed around the kitchen table, rather than on a blog, is one that has always felt very true for me, but in the interests of authenticity, it feels important to acknowledge, albeit vaguely, that life has felt far from shiny this year. 

Reading and listening to audiobooks have been a source of much joyfulness though, and so I thought I'd share some of my favourites from 2018 here, just in case you'd like some bookshelf inspiration. I set myself a Goodreads Reading Challenge of reading 40 books this year and surpassed that by reading 44, which delighted me, even though I'm not quite sure why. Here are my best of the best: 

Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman - This came recommended to me by Kerry at the start of the year and it's a book that I've carried with me and is still a favourite nearly twelve months later. It's a story that manages to be simultaneously both funny and heartbreaking with a deliciously eccentric heroine. 
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett - Given me last Christmas by my father, a fellow Patchett fan, this is a collection of her essays. which have previously appeared in newspapers and magazines. All wonderful. 
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler - I adore Anne Tyler's writing - she has a way of creating very ordinary, almost dull, characters and then making the reader care deeply about what happens to them. I think I've read five or six of her books and this is by far my favourite. Despite the title, there's no sewing involved. 
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou - How had I got to 41 without reading any Maya Angelou? She is a magician with words, writing about the most gruelling subjects with a lyricism that blows me away. 
The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris - This book was inspired by a Holocaust survivor's story relayed directly to the author, and it's perhaps a will to stay faithful to his account that means it's a story told with little to soften the very factual, sparse writing style, despite it being marketed as fiction. It is gruelling and horrifying, but the central character has a relentless optimism that made it feel easier to read than it might have done otherwise. 
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry - I'd implore you not to be put off by how thick this book is - it's a magnificent read filled with wonderful characters set in 1970s India (and for dressmakers, tailoring work features quite heavily in it). It's not a happy book in terms of what happens to those characters, but there's a joyfulness to their experience of life all the same and I loved it completely. This would make it not only into my favourite books of 2018, but of all time.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng - I also read Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You this year, but it's Little Fires that makes it into my favourites list. Celeste Ng is one of my favourite writers - I love the way she draws characters, the way she writes about their creativity, and the insights she gives about the way families work.
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones - This comes near the top of my list of favourites, with wonderfully complex, likeable characters and a compelling storyline. 
A Place For Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza - I love books that follow the same family through several decades giving you a sense of why people become who they are and how their experiences shape them, and this does that wonderfully. 
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd - I only discovered Sue Monk Kidd this year and then read two of her books back to back and loved both. Set in the deep south of America, it's a story of both slavery and humanity. The next book I read by her, The Secret Life of Bees, I loved even more - the writing was delicious and, even though it tackles difficult subjects, I found there's a warmth and glow to the characters and sense of place that made me feel as though I'd been transported into a honeyish cocoon.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini - Khaled paints a wonderfully vivid picture of the landscape and culture of Afghanistan - I felt completely immersed in it as I read. It's a beautiful and painful story of regret, brutality and, ultimately, redemption. 
Becoming, Michelle Obama - I listened to this as an audiobook and am so pleased I did. Michelle reads it herself and I loved her voice almost as much as I loved her and her story.
Educated, Tara Westover - The memoir of a highly unconventional, at times abusive, upbringing and Tara's incredible determination to get herself out of the situation and ultimately become educated. I enjoyed it hugely, although found some bits of it tricky; although I have little sympathy for them, it feels a very exposing book for her family when the events within took place relatively recently. 
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue - The story of a couple from Cameroon trying to build a better life in America. The characters are all wonderful and highly believable and the story raised some interesting ethical dilemmas. 
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro - I really surprised myself by enjoying this as a large element of it is dystopian (I don't usually like anything not set entirely within the bounds of reality), but Kazuo writes about things with such realism and somehow dances around the dystopian elements without going into too much detail to explain them, that I found I loved it. I then read his Booker prize-winning novel, The Remains of the Day, which I also enjoyed, but not quite so heartily. 

If you have any recommendations that you think I'd enjoy, do let me know. In the meantime, I'm wishing you a year of contented stitches, good books, and moments of joy dotted as liberally throughout your days as possible, 

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.