Monday, 21 July 2014

More Passacaglia cogs


I have a few more cogs for my Passacaglia Quilt to share with you. This one is my favourite of the two as aqua and pink feel such easy colours to work with. When I make a cog with these colours I have a restful sense of being at home, in an unchallenged, slopping-about-in-my-pyjamas sort of way. Although, the dash of very dark green in the star points did feel like a brave venture to finish with.



By contrast, this apricot and aqua cog felt like more of a challenge, but was perhaps entirely appropriate as it's so sympathetic to the bare plaster which I photographed it on and which was monopolising our days at the time it was being made. 


We've now moved on from plastering to actually getting our hands dirty ourselves! Since Friday, I've spent pretty much the entire time painting the loft and daubing myself in paint. This photo was taken at the start of day 3. I'm such a chaotic painter that the only way to try and contain the mess normally is to also don a shower cap and plastic gloves along with these old summer pyjamas…unfortunately, England's current humidity levels meant that the wish to remain unsplattered by wrapping myself in plastic was overwhelmed by the desire not to actually cook myself, even though I think if I had chosen that route it could have passed as an all-weekend Bikram yoga session, as the combination of heat and the bendiness required to paint sloping walls would almost certainly qualify - they are, unexpectedly, far worse than ceilings with a higher frequency of paint-in-eye.


I have just one wall left to do before we're ready for carpeting tomorrow, shortly followed next week by the arrival of much of the Ikea catalogue. After promising myself several years ago that I would avoid Ikea in the future, I have found myself magnetised by the simple, clean-lined whiteness of it all and how incredibly affordable it is when you find yourself faced with the need to buy several items of furniture at one time.


This photo was taken during the final week of work, when we had six or seven workmen from different trades in everyday - it was incredible quite how much they got done each day. I've never had building work before that didn't involve several days' wait as different trades came and went or those frustrating days where for no apparent reason suddenly no one arrives at all…but somehow the man in charge of our loft seemed to have everything planned like a well-choreographed ballet performance and less than six weeks after it was put up, our scaffolding is gone, along with the men who seem to have broken my fear of heights by imploring me to climb it. This week, I stood on a bar stool to change a light bulb - a task which normally induces vertiginous sickness and requests that the children don't ask me questions incase multi-tasking causes me to fall - and realised afterwards that I'd done it without any sense of panic at all.


This week I will have to delay any more English paper piecing until I've made a roman blind for my daughter's new room. I really dread making any sort of window covering and it's at these times that I temporarily wish I didn't know how to sew so that I'd be able to justify outsourcing the task; I find the maths for roman blinds and getting all the folds to cascade in just the right way to be a real headache, but I'm keeping in mind what a good feeling it is to sometimes put my sewing to such practical use. I've made some before, but it feels curiously like starting afresh - my mind is a blank slate when it comes to remembering how on earth I did it. Luckily, after several hours of staring at paper, YouTube tutorials and feeling disbelief at the numbers I was churning out for the folds, I found The Roman Blind Wizard and used a free credit to let it calculate the measurements needed. There's a brilliant YouTube video which talks you through how to fill in the slightly complicated-looking form and I've decided to trust that the measurements it's come up with are right, on the basis that the woman who did the demonstration video for the calculator had a kind, reassuring voice and spoke as though it would definitely work. I'll report back on whether this was good rationale.

Florence x

Friday, 11 July 2014

Cogwheels and loft rooms


Despite the blog silence over such matters, I've been beavering away on the cogwheels for my Passacaglia Quilt in the evenings, finding that fun can be had in purple horses' heads as well as pink!


The purple cog was a real challenge for me - it's not a colour that I'm naturally drawn to. Someone said to me that you should try to do one thing each day that scares you: so I've been working with purple and climbing up to the top of scaffolding for our loft conversion, even though I found the colour initially difficult and even though I have the kind of fear of heights where I feel so convinced I'm going to fall that I want to just jump off to get the inevitable over and done with. Reader, I actually like the purple cogwheel and I've been up and down the scaffolding several times and am not writing this from a hospital bed. I'd call that success all round, although I don't feel scaring myself in these ways is truly necessary every day.



I think this fresh aqua and pink cog is my favourite so far. 


I find the  intensity of the midnight blue fabric completely thrilling. Here it is when it was still a work in progress. 


I'm now starting work on a grey, coral and aqua cogwheel. I feel slightly nervous about this one as my daughter really doesn't like the colours and I usually find that she has a knack of being right about things when it comes to colour. I'm persevering for now on the basis of scaring yourself apparently being good for you (was it you that said that, Kerry?)…but I'm willing to let it go if it turns out not to be quite right and just reap the terror benefits instead. What I really do love about it though is that the Anna Maria Horner print looks like the the swimming hats of synchronised swimmers when cut like this - it's actually echinacea. 


Because my daughter and I have a slightly guilty habit of absolutely LOVING studying the house renovation details of others, I'm going to assume that others might too and share some of our own loft progress, also known in my own head as 'Dreams can come true as part of this is a sewing room' and possibly in my daughter's head known as 'Dreams can come true as my new room will actually have space for a full-size single bed!' (the latter, while true, reminds me of Monty Python's wonderful Four Yorkshiremen sketch - if somehow you've missed this - although I've never knowingly met anyone in England, at least, who has - please do watch it as it's utterly brilliant. And I defy anyone not to adopt a simple Yorkshire-accented 'Luxury!' as part of their lexicon after seeing it. One word that can convey so much). Anyway, back to our loft. It's all slightly curious as, while I've no idea how long the finishing-off aspects will take, so far everything has been far faster than my wildest expectations allowed me to hope for. In less than three weeks the dormer window was built, the building was watertight again, all the windows went in and a staircase was finally installed last week, which means that I can stop going up and down the scaffolding entirely. This week it's all being plastered, and at the weekend I'll actually be painting walls. Next week will be about bathrooms, radiators, lights and plug sockets and possibly having some doors hung. The staircase going in feels like a real landmark, as even though in reality there's a lot to do still, in my head it feels like it's nearly finished. The photos below are from several days ago now. The side with the sloping roof will be home to my sewing room, while the flat roof side will be my daughter's room. 


On the night the staircase was installed, we took a snackish dinner up there and sat and ate it surrounded by power tools and piles of plasterboard, just because we could (as scaling scaffolding really only lends itself to stashing the odd toffee in your pocket and is less conducive to transporting a feast of houmous and crudité). The smallest cat is equally excited and has been sighted on several occasions testing the stairs out for stability and frequently wearing a veil of dust as a mark of her adventuring. I am convinced that she has been smiling, which is unprecedented in one who normally wears a small, anxious face at all times. My son has even taken to doing his homework sitting on the unfinished stairs because it's apparently more peaceful than the rest of the house.


In non-loft-related news, my lovely friend, Lisa (also known as 'the bag lady'), has recently brought out some children's sewing patterns. You can find them here. They are EXACTLY the type of thing that I would have wanted to dress my own daughter in when she was younger - I'd be tempted to try and wedge her little legs into them now if she wasn't already taller than me. The patterns are graded to fit 2-6 year olds.


Right. I'm now going to return to the job of nursing my hangover, which is the result of an evening of giggling on the sofa with my best friend while drinking something lovely. So far an early morning walk in the rain and a large plate of scrambled eggs and spinach haven't quite returned me to my normal self. I think it may require some chocolate.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Magazines and apps


Just a very quick (edited: it didn't end up being so very quick after all) post to say that the new issue of Love Patchwork and Quilting is out now. I'm so pleased to have my fussy cutting featured in their Love Life pages as these are always the pages I turn to first, so it feels incredibly lovely to have my own work in there! Admittedly, these pages are actually right near the front of the magazine, but if they were near the back, they'd still be my first port of call! I've discovered so many good things in those pages.


As always it's a really good issue. I've fallen in love with Jo Avery's cushions and I'm tempted to make some for my sewing room once it's finished, which doesn't seem so very far away! We have now have a fully waterproof roof, shiny new windows and finally, today, a staircase, which feels hugely exciting! More on that in my next post…but I can't believe quite how much has been achieved in less than three weeks! In the time it's taken our carpenters to build the shell of an entire loft and install a new central heating system, I've managed to sew just one more cogwheel for my Passacaglia Quilt (more on that next time too!)…I'm not sure what to make of that apart from: Goodness, I am SLOW!

Although in fairness, we've worked so hard over the last few weeks, that by the time the evening has come, some nights I've just fallen in to bed, unable to do another thing. We've just released a new Squeebles app! If you have primary school aged children, you might like to read more about our latest educational app, Squeebles Maths Race, here or watch a demo video of the app here (listening to your own voice is always a traumatic experience, isn't it. I asked my daughter whether I actually sound like me. Disturbingly, she said that I do).


Anyway, the fact that I sound like a boy aside, it's an app that I feel really proud of. With all of our apps we agonise over how to get it just right so that it challenges more able children, yet encourages younger or less able children. To date, we've always avoided any element of competition in our apps because, in general, learning feels like something that should be done at a child's own pace to be enjoyable. However, a lot of teachers and parents have told us that for some children competition is actually hugely motivating. So, in the background to the other apps we've been creating over the past year, we've also been discussing how to make this happen. We finally came up with what is now Squeebles Maths Race. It's a one or two player game and in two-player mode, the app allows two children of very different ability levels or ages to have a fair race against one another, because each child races to the finish line answering maths questions tailored to just the right level for them. In this way, two siblings can have a completely fair race where they both have an equal chance of winning. We've played this a lot with our own children while we were trialling the app and so I can also say it's great for parents to play against their own children too…although speedy mental arithmetic has never been my forte, so the disparity between our playing levels isn't quite as great as it could be! It's our first app that allows two children to use one device at the same time - touch screen technology is perfect for this! As always, our apps are entirely self-contained: they have no in app purchases, no public leader boards, third party advertising or links off to the app store.

While we're on the subject of apps, the non-Squeebles app that features most predominantly in my own life is Apple's own podcast app. I subscribe to everything from Radio 4's Woman's Hour and Desert Island Discs podcasts to Richard & Judy's Book Club discussions; TED talks to Thread Cult (the latter offers wonderful podcasts about sewing and textiles). It's revolutionised those days when I seem to spend all afternoon walking to and from different places to drop the children off or when I repeatedly forget to buy things from the supermarket - I now relish the idea of a walk alone. They're also great to sew to though as they're completely engaging, yet don't require you to watch anything. I love that I can now listen to all my favourite programmes at a time that's convenient to me. Do you listen to podcasts? Do you have any on your list that you'd recommend?

Florence x

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sewing with knits: books, patterns & fabrics


Last month, Colette Patterns sent me a copy of their new book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, to have a look at. I have a few books about sewing with knits, but nothing quite like this: it not only covers how to sew with knits, but also features incredibly in-depth instruction on how to use your overlocker, cover-stitch machine or even a regular sewing machine when sewing knits.


When I bought my overlocker, I was given an entire day's lesson on how to use it by an elderly lady at my local sewing shop. She was one of life's absolute treasures and her calm guidance was just what was needed when first learning to thread up a machine that uses four reels of thread, two needles, has an inbuilt butcher's knife and seems to overlock faster than the speed of light. She spent the day getting me to sew up and label samples where the looper tension was set wrongly, or the needle tensions were off, so that once I was at home without her by my side, I'd be able to look at my sample and work out what was wrong. She also showed me how to overlock with regular fabrics or with knits and what the best settings on my machine to cope with these different fabrics might be; how to negotiate an armhole so that the blade doesn't cut through the fabric; how to change the thread without re-threading the entire machine; and how to clean the whole machine when the inside looks like small furry animals have taken up residence. When I read through the Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, which is written by knitty expert, Alyson Clair, my first thought was that it was the next best thing to having my lovely teacher sitting next to me. It's also a blessing to have all the essential notes written down and laid out clearly on fully-formed, bound pages…rather than the scribblings on dog-eared bits of paper that I made myself during that lesson.


When I first heard about the book I must admit that I did think: how is this the 'Colette Guide', if it's written by Alison Clair? Well, the photography is all done by Colette and is very much in keeping with their style - for title pages and garment photos, it fits in with their usual dreamy, slightly sensual pastel palette, while the technique steps follow the clear, uncluttered style of photography and illustration that you find on the Colette Patterns blog. The book is actually edited by Sarai Mitnik (founder of Colette), so again, it feels just like one of their garment patterns, in that it covers all the small details, doesn't assume any knowledge, but also stretches a more experienced seamstress by going into the kind of detail that gives you the tools to aspire for perfection in your sewing. It's actually a brilliant combination of the expertise of someone who has worked with knits for years and understands everything about them, and the trustworthy, clear style of instruction that you'd expect from Colette Patterns.


The book doesn't include any garment patterns, it's very much an instruction manual for the practice of sewing with knits. It will tell you everything from how to shop for knits, from what thread and needles to use; how to cut knit fabrics to how to stabilise a waistband. Really nothing is left to chance - it's the only book you'd ever need on sewing with knits, no matter what type of machine you're sewing with. And those trouble-shooting samples my sewing teacher got me to make up so that I could find out what was wrong when my overlocker was having a tantrum? They're all in there!

If you're interested in buying a copy you can find it on Amazon or direct from Colette Patterns. I highly recommend it.


I thought that while I was reviewing the Sewing Knits book it might be a good time to share some suitable knit fabrics and patterns with you. The Monetta pattern, above, is still on my long list of things I'd like to sew. The way my weeks are panning out at the moment, I'm thinking it may be a winter version though, in which case I'd possibly raise the neckline at the back a little.


I love boatneck tops. V-necks have a habit of making me look and feel inexplicably hideous the moment I put them on (not from a body perspective, more because I think my face somehow doesn't suit that neckline). I find boat necks seem to be much more flattering, so this new pattern, the Brigitte top, from Tessutti, which is available as a paper pattern or a PDF has also been added to my mental list of 'must makes'.


There's also Tilly's Coco pattern, which also has a delicious boatneck, but offers a slightly less figure-hugging fit than the Brigitte. Again, it's available in paper or PDF form. Tilly's pattern has the added bonus of a dress pattern and a funnel neck top too - both specifically designed for knit fabrics.

So, on to some knit fabric choices. My sponsor, Dragonfly Fabrics has a fairly extensive range of knits in stock at the moment, with lots of different weights and drapes to choose from. These stripes would be perfect for any of the patterns above. The top four are Campan, while the bottom two are organic cotton interlock. The Campan feels like a better choice for summer - it feels slightly lighter and as though it has better stretch recovery, although either option would work well for autumn/winter (but even then, my preference would be for the campan). Dragonfly fabrics has these stripes in a huge range of colours in addition to the ones shown here. You can see the Campan in action in combination with Tilly's Coco pattern over on Jane's blog.


The next two photos are a mixture of viscose jersey and bamboo jersey (see labels). They all have a really similar feel: fluid, drapey, incredibly soft to touch. The viscose feels very slightly thicker and more stable to sew with than the bamboo, but it's only a slight difference. I've sewn with bamboo jersey before when I made this dress. It's an amazing fabric - it feels incredibly luxurious and always reminds me of the feel of those really lovely pyjamas made with cotton modal. However, while it flows over your curves and doesn't cling to them, because it's quite a thin fabric, it does tend to show every lump and bump, so if that's something that bothers you, consider your pattern choice carefully or plan strategic use of underwear without visible seams to give a smooth silhouette.  



I think that's probably enough knitted fun for one day.

Florence x

Ps. I'm really sorry to write another post before responding to all your really lovely comments to my last post. I'm struggling to juggle things at the moment and not quite managing to get to everything - it feels like it might be a bit like that over the next few months as we have quite a lot on. Please forgive me. x 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sewing in a bedroom...



A few months ago, when I mentioned on Instagram that our bedroom doubled as my sewing room, a few people said they'd love to read a blog post about how that works. I've kept meaning to gather together some photos for such a post, and have finally been pushed into action by not wanting to leave it too late, as I enter my last month or two of using our bedroom in this way. For nearly seven years, we've sacrificed clothing space; I've vacuumed and cleared up from the fabric explosion before going to bed at night; and my husband has accepted he may sleep at risk of being jabbed by a forgotten pin. Finally though, due to a re-jig to move our educational apps business away from our dining room table (another multi-purpose room - in October it will be three years ago since I wrote this post!) and into a more self-contained home office, I'm also going to be getting my very own sewing room up in the loft once it's been converted.

However, while I'm completely excited by the idea (to the point of not being able to sleep entirely well some nights!), I have occasionally come across people saying that they'd love to sew more, but they don't have anywhere to do it, so I feel enthusiastic to share how entirely possible it is to sew without the luxury of a dedicated sewing room. (Although I'm aware that if you live with someone, then you may need a ridiculously indulgent partner to sanction all that you're about to read…).


I should preface this by saying that my husband really dislikes mess and clutter and that I'm a surface neat freak (surface, because I'm far less fussy when it comes to the inside of cupboards!). Although small piles of clutter occasionally form on my desk, it would be illegal in both of our minds for us to go to bed in a room strewn with fabric, so I've tried to store things in a way that's relatively easy to pack up from - I think this is the only way a multi-purpose room could have worked for us long-term.


First, the fabric. My storage for this has changed frequently, but it currently lives in two plastic boxes on wheels beneath our bed. I have one box for quilting fabrics and another for dressmaking fabrics.


Quilting needs a large amount of floor space, so the bed is placed against a wall, beneath a window to maximise floor space. I quite like sleeping next to a wall (it's cosy and perhaps because at some level, I feel further away from any potential burglars!) and the window sill is fine for a glass of water and a book.


This is my version of a design wall. It causes problems when my husband needs to walk across it to get to his sports clothes (that seems to be the main thing he'd come in here for, other than actually going to bed!), but otherwise it's fairly effective. If I need to pack it away to get back out again another day, I just gather the pieces back up and label the different rows with pieces of paper.



My cutting mats and perspex grid rulers all live standing inside the wardrobe next to my husband's shirts and my Hasbeens. 


I tend to put the ironing board up in the corner of the room when I'm about to start work, as I usually leave it out for the whole of the time I'm sewing. I used to have a miniature ironing board, but it's not ideal when you start to work on anything bigger than a 6" block.


When it's not in use it lives in the very messy airing cupboard. This has possibly been the most frustrating part of the bedroom-sewing arrangement. Nearly every day it falls out at us when we open the door to turn the heating on or off, hitting pipes, causing my husband to rant, and me to pointlessly defend the obstreperous ironing board. But if you look to the left of the ironing board, you can also see one of the saviours of the bedroom-sewing arrangement standing next to it.


Until I bought a floor sweeper, I used to have to bring the vacuum cleaner upstairs from the other end of the house every time I'd been on a fabric-cutting spree. This floor sweeper isn't quite the dust guzzling monster that a Miele is, but it's wonderful for making the floor look superficially clean at midnight when you're desperate to just get into bed.


I've had a few different sewing desks, but never any bigger than this and it's absolutely tiny. However, it's fine for using both the sewing machine and the overlocker at the same time, which is what really matters.


The only frustration is if I'm using my laptop up here - there's not really a space on the desk where the mouse can sit. The cotton reel storage is kindly overlooked as some sort of sewing-related art-form by my husband, which is very lucky as it's the most convenient way to store thread. Very occasionally, he actually tells me that I've ordered them incorrectly and takes it upon himself to better the colour arrangement.


Some of these drawers really do have normal clothing occupancy, but the whole of the top drawer is dedicated to sewing paraphernalia…and the my clothing drawers may have tailor's hams nestled amongst the jumpers.


Because my only real work space is the floor in this room, when I take my rotary cutters out, they come out with the plastic box, so that they're never left unprotected on the floor where they could cut my husband or children's feet.



In my desk drawers, I keep tiny boxes filled with sewing machine needles and feet.  These are both old Liberty gift coin boxes.


Very occasionally, mid-project, I'll need to store something assembled in groups. In this case, under my desk seems like a good place…or in the throat of my sewing machine.


My English paper piecing is usually stored in these series of open boxes which get carted around the house with me most days. If there's ever a point in our work when we're discussing something, the EPP will invariably come out, and at the weekend, it appears the moment anyone starts watching a film.


I'd say that the biggest problem of working in this way has been not having a cutting space. I find cutting out - whether it's dressmaking or quilting - takes hours and is often more time consuming than the actual sewing. For years I felt entirely happy spending hours sitting cross-legged on the floor, but since December, the moment I sit down in this way, my back is in pain and starts to complain. Due to the extent of my obsession, this doesn't actually stop me from doing it, it just isn't quite as enjoyable and involves the use of painkillers to facilitate it. My parents were actually going to have a bespoke cutting table made for my birthday which would flip down from the wall and fold back up again when not in use, which seems like a really good option for a multi-purpose room (they didn't do this in the end, as we decided to convert our loft shortly after they'd suggested it). I'd also considered one of those fold out  wall-papering tables that people use at craft fairs, but you'd need somewhere more cavernous than our airing cupboard to store it.

I'm always really fascinated to see how other sewers set up their work spaces, so I hope you've enjoyed this post, despite the fact that it includes the inside of my wardrobe and airing cupboard! Our builders and carpenters arrive on Monday, so for the next few months, my sewing storage may be more about dust protection, but hopefully it will be worth it.

Florence x