Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Velvet spaghetti and a breaking sort of day

Recently every project that I have in mind seems to involve velveteen ribbon in some shape or form, so this evening I concocted a velvety spaghetti as I am so enjoying gazing at all their lovely colours together.

Well, one must do something to relieve the stress of a day gone wrong. At six o'clock I put in an emergency phone call to Mr Teacakes to let him know that I had broken five things during the course of the day (it later rose to seven as two glasses smashed in separate incidents soon after putting down the phone: I have discovered that it is never wise to place hot glasses straight from the dishwasher under the cold tap in an attempt to try and get them milkshake-ready more quickly...or indeed to store glasses in a stack so that they shatter as you pull them apart). Ian instructed me to sit still, not touch anything and wait like that until he was able to get home when he might relieve me of all childcare duties and allow me to spend the rest of the evening in a box with no objects to keep me company and potentially be broken.

'Don't do any sewing' he said as he raced out of the house later this evening on the way to playing a gig. Oh Mr Teacakes, you fool...that is some kind of red rag, surely! It is too tiresome to try and itemise how many times today I have cut out, interfaced and then sewn the same bag parts only to have to unpick them due to some later scorching accident...or even more improbably a sneezing accident (a sneeze that came out of nowhere just as I was sewing the last seam of a trickily constructed lining...oh wretched sneeze that ruined my work...all of it had to be ripped out and sent to the bin...and then the tedious cycle of construction began again: draw, cut, interface, sew, attach pockets, attach label, run out of cotton.... arrrrggggggggggggggg!) and this evening the situation didn't improve, but I can't face the seam ripper again so I have turned my sewing machine off temporarily defeated, but determined that tomorrow will be different...for I rarely break or burn things and I am wondering where this streak of calamity has come from.

So this month may now necessitate the buying of a new pepper mill, vacuum cleaner, two irreplaceable children's glasses (french and gorgeous bought for us as a gift), greater quantities of lining and interlining and some sort of nose box to prevent future sneezing catastrophe...but I have nice buttons to look at so, ultimately, all is fine!

And isn't this the most scrumptious colour combination...if it ever gets finished....


Yours crashingly, x

Ps. I'm aware one of the pictures in this post might suggest I am about to sew over a pin and risk further mishap...don't worry, that kind of dare-devilishness is so far beyond my limits and the pin was about to whipped out just a stitch before reaching it (because I can now I have my new speed-limited foot pedal! Horay!).

Friday, 11 July 2008

Beauty and the Beast (I mean Bug)...

Earlier this week I took my lovely sewing machine (now known as Beauty...because aesthetically at least I seem to have purchased a replacement approximating the Beast...but in an attempt to be positive I have given it the more affectionate name of 'Bug'...yes, that is as in Ugly Bug) to the shop and traded it in. I had thought about keeping it...just in case I ever need a spare...but largely because I'm not very good at parting with things. But Joanne (now known as Wise One) put the idea into my head that this may not make the best financial sense, especially when the shop were offering me nearly £180 for it as part exchange for my new purchase. So on a very wet and rainy morning this week I took one last picture of Beauty on my desk and then drove guiltily to the sewing shop, feeling slightly like I was transporting one of my own children to an orphanage.

And this is what is now sitting in Beauty's place setting. Gone is the lovely solid cream glossiness of my old machine and those lovely bits of pink on the dial settings, and in its place is this rather sterile plastic box of chunkiness (but all the internal chunks are metal...which is what really matters).

It took me a long time to decide not to go for a computerised machine and to stick with a mechanical one...but ultimately I couldn't bear the idea that if I was unlucky the computer could be fiddly or temperamental and need expensive repairs...and for me that outweighed all the extra bits of loveliness that a computerised machine would have to offer. When I thought about what I actually do with my machine I realised that I didn't feel limited by not having extra stitches (which is good as the stitch package is about as basic as they come), it had more to do with having an add-on walking foot that as it aged was increasingly failing to solve my differential feed problems, a presser foot that didn't lift high enough to accommodate all the layers of fabric that I wanted to put under it and so many other practical problems.

So with this in mind my choice was instantly narrowed down to buying a Pfaff as they currently seem to be the only make with a built in walking foot (blissfully quiet in action...ahhh! I can now sew at midnight without a guilty conscience). The model that I chose has been discontinued and it is one of the last Pfaffs on sale to be made in Europe, as they have now handed their production over to China...just listening to the noise of the European machine sewing next to its Chinese counterpart was enough to convince me that I should buy it immediately before I could no longer get my paws on one.

Playing around with my new machine when I got it home from the shop I wasn't initially impressed (loyalty to Beauty should take a dignified time to recede after all), but the next day I used it while making a bag (linings pictured above...I have fallen in love with the olive colour - each day I see this colour as part of a small flower print on a friend's raincoat and can barely stop myself from staring at it...on her coat it is teamed with mustard which is even more wonderful). When I started to use it to make something with an actual purpose I was very quickly delighted by it. Small things that are currently pleasing me are:
  • The built in walking foot is amazing.
  • It has a thread cutter so I don't have to root around for my scissors any longer.
  • I can wind the bobbin through the needle, which makes everything so much quicker.
  • I can set the machine to not go above a certain speed (this will be fantastic for when my children use it too).
  • I can shift the needle over into 13 different positions which means I can get my top stitching exactly where I want it (I have used this function so many times that I now can't imagine how I managed without it).
  • The presser foot raises so much higher than my old one.
  • The lovely man in the sewing shop swapped over some of my old feet for new ones that will fit this machine...and they are quite wonderful and have a much better design than the ones for my Baby Lock.

Thank you so much for all the advice that you left here and emailed me with - it was really, really useful and I am so pleased with my final decision.

I will leave you with a picture of Dinosaur boy drinking a milkshake today. Clipper make a fantastic organic strawberry powder that is free from E-numbers and tastes delicious. He had a friend over for lunch and they howled with laughter at their pink mustaches....we also discovered that they could say the word 'frothy' more easily than I can.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Manly prints, two Lauras and a question

Mr Teacakes recently became the proud new owner of an ipod Touch...with a wonderfully glossy touch screen and a shiny chrome back...all gorgeous, but easily scratched. He asked me to make a cover for him and now it can sit safely nestled in its pod holder even when he's listening to it.

I find it so hard to find manly fabric, but in the absence of anything that overtly says 'I am MAN' (what would that fabric be like, I wonder...I'm thinking of a print that encompasses Ferraris, tiny Speedos, pumped muscles, with a few dead puppies thrown in for good measure...thank goodness I haven't found it!) I chose some natural linen and a black woven material that I had in my stash, along with some black silk for the lining. I embroidered his initials on the top of the case, which goes some way to making up for him not having the actual ipod engraved.

Each evening Ian puts it on the bedside table on top of one of the books that I bought him for Christmas. I chose Musicophilia ~ Tales of Music and the Brain for him as we'd both so enjoyed reading Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat many years ago as part of our degree courses...but I'm wondering if this book is a little less riveting, as despite its presence on the bedside for the last six months he seems no wiser as to its content, but deceptively, it looks very well-read for the front cover is now even complete with coffee stain....perhaps he's The Man Who Mistook His Book for a Coaster?

A small item equates to only a few hours work always seems to be the thought that I often start out with, but actually I find tiny things are often the most fiddlingly difficult to work with on a machine...this was no exception and the children now have the multiple prototypes in their toy boxes to prove it - I so dislike it when they rescue these botched creations from the bin...it means evidence of projects-gone-wrong unexpectedly leap out at me from in amongst the dinosaurs and Lego bricks.

For the last three years Zebra-girl and I have always spent this particular weekend just gone in London, at my sister Laura's - after a countdown starting many weeks before that normally culminates in such anticipatory excitement in the hours before meeting, that at least one of us exclaims that it feels as though our head might fall off. The focal point of the weekend is always going to the Royal Ballet School's annual matinee performance at Covent Garden's Royal Opera House on Sunday afternoon, but this year we squeezed in so many other treats too: The National Gallery (to see their Picasso, as Zebra-girl has been copying his 'strange faces' paintings recently...unfortunately the example currently on display has a disappointingly normal face with all features in their correct places), a visit to Princess Diana's Playground, late-night dining out, early-morning Strawberry eating (drizzled with the juice of limes for extra yummyness), controlled explosions at the Science Museum and a wonderful treasure hunt around my sister's flat that led to new nightwear for both of us (this too is an annual treat and Zebra-girl now has the most exquisite collection of nightdresses from these weekends - amazingly all of them are still wearable due to the fact that we tend to buy nightdresses so that they are a lovely ankle length for the first year of wearing them). So much fun...and as my sister said, all the nicer for knowing that we have it all to do again next year. Above are the pastels that Zebra girl used for 'pastelling' with (her words) while Laura and I dressed in the morning.

Other lovely treats this week were these goodies that arrived from Laura Baillie (there's a theme developing for good things being given by those named Laura in this post) after I won a giveaway on her blog - such beautiful packaging. Laura's giveaway was a pair of the most beautiful handmade earrings, which I had told her I would love for my grandmother (being without earlobe holes myself)...they are absolutely beautiful and I believe similar can be purchased here in Laura's etsy shop. She very kindly included a little piece of loveliness for me too - thank you, Laura.

Thank you so much for all your sewing machine advice...I have one more thing that I am curious about though (would it be permissible for each blog post to end with a research question this week?)...I would love it if anyone has an opinion on the capability for a machine to do a stitch that resembles a hand-stitched quilting stitch...not having done any quilting (but knowing that it is something that I might like to do in the future), is that actually an advantage in a machine, does anyone quilt this way or is it a feature that will most likely go unused?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Fun with a staple gun...

Last week a friend-of-a-friend rang and asked if I would make some things for her children's bedrooms. One of the things that she was hoping for was some French memo boards...I'd never made these before, so was both apprehensive and delighted to be given a new challenge. By the time I'd bought plywood, 9 metres of ribbon in each colour (!), inch-thick wadding, upholstery tacks, front and backing fabric, interfacing, hanging brackets, and staples they became more costly items to make than I'd first anticipated, but I was so pleased with the result that I may end up making some for Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy's rooms. I sawed the corners off (in a fit of faire du bricolage fabulousness...I even clamped it into some sort of table vice to stop it wackering!) as I was worried about the children catching themselves on them...but I needn't have worried as I was able to sand them so that the points are slightly rounded and the wadding makes them fairly crash-proof.

I have also tested just how firmly one can whack in upholstery pins....making anything for other people's children always sends me into a flurry of panic imagining ingested haberdashery....I may have to write on the back that it contains SMALL PARTS that could be dangerous to SMALL CHILDREN so that I may continue to sleep at night.

Below is the boy's version. When pondering fabrics my friend told me I'd be safe if I drew on Boden and The White Company for colour-palette inspiration....I'm hoping that the pink memo board fulfils the Boden feel, while the blue is a nod to White Company minimalism.

I've also made this doorstop for her little boy who likes dogs....

I could spot Anna Maria Horner's Puppy Love silhouette anywhere...she has captured the puppy's playfulness so perfectly, which is so clever for it is all in the angle of the tail, the lifted paw and the slightly raised head...so as soon as dogs were mentioned my mind went straight to thinking about using the silhouette as an applique and later adding in a ball for him to play with.

On the other side of the doorstop is a kennel, with 'dog' embroidered onto a bone over the doorway and a small flag flying from the roof. Every time I return to applique I am thrilled anew by how much I enjoy doing it...few things are more scrumptious to me or feel more like playing.

And oh, how I enjoy sewing these little criss-cross squares onto the handles...now why is that so satisfying?

....but I am more than a little nervous about her seeing the finished items...it's always so hard to know whether you have managed to create something approximating what the person might have been envisaging...and then more nervous again about whether her children like them - I so hope that they do.

Oh, and a little research question...if buying new would you go for a computerised or mechanical sewing machine? What do you think are the pros & cons of both? I would love your opinions. x