Monday, 29 November 2010

Thoughts on solid cottons

Upsidedown, but no less beautiful.
This Kona pastel jelly roll is a cheering sight. A while ago I had pondered whether there was much difference between Moda Bella solids and Kona cottons for quilting...one quilt down with this in mind and I am a Kona convert. The colour range appeals to me so much more and the cotton washes beautifully, so despite the fact that nearly the entire range of Moda solids is available in a shop less than 2 miles from my front door, I am willing to sit by the letterbox waiting for the postman to come calling with deliveries of Kona. You can find Kona in the UK at Simply Solids and The Fabric Loft. (This jelly roll came from Cottonpatch - which has an amazing range of pretty much everything, but they took six whole days to even dispatch this lone jelly roll and as this seems to be standard practice, it puts me off shopping there...but perhaps it's a much-needed lesson in patience).


This jelly roll's purpose isn't entirely decided - I wanted some of it for a specific project but I've got a feeling it may end up appearing piecemeal in various other things.

Florence x

Ps. Sorry, I'm behind with replying to some of the lovely emails I've received - I've only had my laptop on for sending out patterns over the weekend - later in the week, hopefully. One of our lovelies is in hospital and so time is more scarce at the moment.  

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The wrong coloured tissue paper and a book review


Yesterday I finally got around to trying out something that I'd wanted to have a go at the moment that I'd seen it in The Homemade Home (by Sania Pell, not Kirstie), a book that arrived with me nearly a month ago.

The Christmas that my little girl was 6, my father gave my mother a beautiful antique rocking horse called Christmas. That same day my daughter received a very pink and very princessy dress (the desire to dress up, as well as the princess obsession, left her shortly afterwards). At some point during the afternoon I walked into the room and found her with her cheek resting against Christmas' mane and her dress swept out behind her over the horse's body: it was a composition that looked almost impossibly lovely and fairytale-like and the subsequent dash to get my camera was both fast and stealthy in an effort not to distract the subject matter.

The actual photo is straight and her head is not chopped off - hurrah!
Anyway, this seemed like a good photo to experiment with. So having created a little sandwich of tissue and watercolour paper, I began to sew over some of the main lines in the photo.


Once I'd finished stitching I started tearing away the paper using scissors and eventually tweezers as it's incredibly fiddly to remove the bits from the more heavily stitched areas.


For the dress I only wanted to remove the upper sheet of paper, leaving the tissue paper in place, which made things a little trickier...


I used two different shades of tissue paper, so that I could remove the upper layer over certain areas of the dress to reveal a contrasting shade of pink.


I now wish I'd veered away from the original photo a little and used more subtle colours of tissue though...I'm not sure I actually enjoy looking at this shade of pink.


I love this project idea and The Handmade Home is full of similarly inventive mixed media ideas like the china transfers pictured above. And the blackboard plant pots below:


Beautifully decorated glass bottles:


An appliqued throw - I love the colours and flower print used here - so minimal.



Latexed vases with a beautiful chalky finish. You can also see on the right of this photo one of the stitched pictures that inspired me to sew my own rocking horse picture. The book is printed on thick, matt pages, with beautifully shot images and an absolute mass of projects that I'd like to try out, all with very simple explanations given in a way that allows lots of room for going off-piste and incorporating your own ideas.

I love that so many of the projects mix different media - this is something that really appeals to me in a book, as it feels a little more out of my sewing comfort zone. It says that there are 50 projects in this book, but because many of the projects are shown with possible design variations it feels like a lot more. The only two projects that I was less keen on were the lamps - they seemed to go against how tasteful the rest of the book felt...looking distinctly home-spun and odd. But perhaps that's just me.

But with 190 other pages in the book there was a lot left to like
When my grandmother enquired last week as to why there were no recent school photos of my children I reasoned that buying these photos of my children looking slightly stuffed against hideous faux-cloud backgrounds in a cardboard frame felt a little odd when I was perfectly capable of taking nice photos of them myself. I was told quite vehemently that my children would want these photos when they were older and that my neglecting to buy them was tantamount to my giving them a childhood spent eating lumps of coal in a dark room. Mmmm. I've never sought out my own hideous school photos, even though my mother has a whole drawer full of them. Is this just me? Am I odd? Do you want a lamp shade with insects dangling off it? The school photo issue has thrown my sense of my own sense of judgement right off...(although I'm almost certain that my children would love the insect lampshade actually).

Either way, insect lamp shade or not, I feel absolutely sure that this is a jolly nice book (and I think my grandmother would agree). You can find it on Amazon here.

Wishing you a happy Tuesday,
Florence x

Monday, 22 November 2010

Housekeeping


My children had some friends round for tea today, which meant that my company wasn't needed - this might seem like the perfect opportunity to fit in a few extra hours of sewing, but such is the absorbing nature of stitching that I don't feel as though I remain a responsible adult with a sewing machine pedal underfoot. There's every possibility that I might delay feeding the children until they are lain strewn about the house light-headed with hunger or distractedly agree to them playing cricket indoors, oblivious to the sound of shattering glass. So instead I cleaned out my kitchen cupboards: happily re-ordering my bulging collection of herb teas and making the pans sit nicely in their drawers, temporarily reunited with their lids.


This impromptu fit of housekeeping seems to have overflown out of the kitchen and on to the computer, for this evening I have found myself overhauling my 'I like to read...' list in my sidebar (eyes right and then scroll down a little). I still like to read all the blogs that were on there, but I've recently discovered so many new ones - or never listed some of my favourites - that I thought I might change things round a little and share some new lovelies (There are so many things that I want to put in my sidebar, that I try to limit myself to 30...which is why I don't just keep on adding to it...even though it pains me to have to edit it).

If you have a few minutes to spare then do go visiting - they are mostly quilting and dressmaking blogs, with one or two foodie blogs thrown in there too (because one has to eat in between the stitches).

I would love it if you would share some of your own favourites too - it's always a treat to discover new ones.

Florence x

Friday, 19 November 2010

Book review: Paper Scissors Glue by Catherine Woram


A few weeks ago at 8.20am, a Royal Mail van delivered a thick package (deliveries usually come much later, so it felt like a very happy thing indeed). When we opened it up and looked inside, the contents were enough to still the bottom lips that had been beginning to tremble in first-morning-back-at-school-after-half-term wobbliness and the three of us sat at the bottom of the stairs pouring over the pictures and declaring that we wanted to make nearly every single thing in the entire book.  The book in question is Paper Scissors Glueby Catherine Woram. A few days earlier Ryland Peters & Small (the book's publisher) had contacted me and asked if there were any books on their list that I'd be interested in taking a look at....mmmm...where to start! This one was one of my first choices as I'd already fallen in love with it on the basis of the few images available on Amazon. It also appealed hugely that all the projects could be made solely from paper, scissors and glue - the most obscure supplies called for are probably a pipe cleaner or a paper plate, which is refreshing. I decided to hold off writing a review until we'd road-tested it a little...so here is our tried-and-tested review:


It's rare to love every project in a book. There's normally something that feels like a page filler and then a great many things that feel just 'not quite for you'. But I knew after one look through that it may just be my favourite activity book for children ever and the moment I picked my children up from school that afternoon we began discussing which thing we should make when we got home.


We sat on the sofa and tried to mark the pages of most interest with our fingers...but then we ran out of fingers and then the doorbell rang and we realised that we had chosen a flawed method of page markmanship. Door dealt with, we looked through all 45 projects again and eventually decided upon the birds with the beautiful concertinaed wings.


A couple of birds down, Dinosaur-boy was playing with their lovely wings and suddenly declared that the same techniques could be used to create a beautiful peacock and began some large-scale folding, while I sketched out a more peacocky-shaped body for him to trace around.


We hung the peacock and the other birds up in a window.


After the cat had finished playing with them...


Here are a few more of the projects - I've included the section divider pages as they show more of the projects on one page, but really they're just the tip of a very lovely iceberg:




We have fallen utterly in love with these egg carton ants.


This rocket is on Dinosaur-boy's Must Make list:


While Zebra-girl and I are tempted by making these bells when it gets nearer to Christmas.


In an attempt to give a balanced review, here are the things that we found less happiness-inducing: the first is that the templates needed for some projects require enlarging on a photocopier - this may be fine for a more organised sort of mummy who thinks to do this in advance, but in the absence of one of those (I've been trying for 9 years and show no signs of morphing into one), we found it frustrating.

As I've found with other children's craft books, sometimes the presentation can be a little misleading. One Sunday afternoon Mr Teacakes and Dinosaur-boy made the origami whales which feature on the front cover of the book (first picture) - on their project page, several are shown standing on a shimmery sea of blue...so it was disappointing to find that it would be an absolute impossibility for these whales to stay up unaided and that they must have been nailed into place for photography. We wondered whether it might not have been better to show them hanging as a whale mobile or some other way that showed them as they really are. They valiantly tried to salvage the situation by attempting to fly the whales across the room, but alas the aerodynamics were all wrong and so they were re-folded and turned into paper aeroplanes instead.

But these are small gripes - the pictures speak for themselves - this is an incredibly beautiful and inspiring book that I know we will use often. I wouldn't hesitate to urge you to go and buy a copy of this book for your own children or any other children that you might know - the latter of which we certainly will be doing: several of the Teacakes' friends may find themselves receiving a copy of this on their birthday.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sesame Doorstop Pattern PDF


Sometimes it's easy to think up names for patterns...but this one proved a little more difficult. I thought literally and laterally, and then thought a little longer, until suddenly the 'Open Sesame!' exclamation as a door is finally opened popped into my mind...so this is the Sesame Doorstop Pattern.


I first started making doorstops several years ago and have given them countless times to friends and family as gifts (they make a perfect present for someone who seems to have everything...and I've always enjoyed picking out colours and fabrics that I think might fit into the person's home), as well as selling them in my own shop.


When I first sewed the square and cross that attaches the handle to the top of the doorstop, I can remember the tingle of delight I felt at this little detail, which I'd seen on a doorstop in a shop several months earlier. It's a detail that still delights me, having made over forty doorstops since then.

It's a rather elegant, grown-up sort of doorstop that features in my pattern, but there's no reason why you can't use a more playful fabric or applique your own motifs or designs onto the fabric, to make something perfect for a child's bedroom or playroom.

So here's all the information you might need about the pattern:
  • The pattern costs £3.50 (which is around $5 US dollars or €4 Euros)
  • It has full instructions and illustration photographs (small, to be easy on the printer ink)
  • The finished doorstop measures 7" high x 5" wide
  • If you cut carefully, the doorstop can be made from just one skinny quarter of fabric (that's 9" x 44")
  • You can use quilting cotton, home dec, or upholstery-weight fabric to make this doorstop
  • The doorstop can be filled with anything from sand to dried lentils and beans
  • Small businesses and online shops are welcome to sell any doorstops that they make from this pattern
  • You can download the pattern instantly.
  • Payment is completely secure through PayPal - you do not need a PayPal account, as they accept Visa or debit cards too
As ever, you don't need a PayPal account to pay for this pattern - PayPal accepts credit and debit cards. Once you've paid, PayPal will take you to a page where you can download the pattern instantly, by clicking on the link provided. You will also receive an email containing the same link. The pattern must be downloaded within 48 hours of payment - after this time the link expires.

Buy Now

If you want to share any pictures of doorstops that you make then I'd be delighted to see them. You can either email them to me or drop them into my Flickr pool here.

Florence x

Friday, 12 November 2010

Thankful Friday


With the cooler wintry weather my energy and productivity levels have increased proportionately with the thickness of my jumpers. My mind is finally buzzing with ideas again, and I'm not feeling like I'm wading through such thick mud trying to execute them. Which is not to say that everything is going right (yesterday was particularly frustrating and ultimately fruitless), more that I finally have a little vavavoom back. For the whole of September it felt like everything that I tried to start, suddenly seemed insurmountable and I ended up with a pile of half-finished projects and aborted potential patterns and tutorials (you only saw the things that came to fruition - I could have written twice as many blog posts about the things that didn't).

So anyway, wherever this burst of energy has come from (some of it may have come from a bar of chocolate, but I don't think that can be solely accountable), I'm grateful for it, as well as for a couple of other lovely things that have happened over the last couple of weeks:

~ The beautiful fabric at the top of this post? Delivered by Lizzet of The Fabric Loft, whom I'd officially like to name as a One-Woman-Fabric-Emergency-Service (that's the fifth emergency service, she would be the fourth, but we've had to call upon the AA too many times this year to prioritise fabric over the AA's yellow vans*). Having heard me discussing the merits of a certain fabric on Twitter, she contacted me to say that she was fairly sure she could get hold of the colours I needed by the end of the week. When her supplier delivered the wrong fabric to her on Thursday, instead of writing to me and telling me that unfortunately it wasn't going to happen (which would have been completely understandable and what I would have expected her to do), instead she drove over to her supplier's to collect the right fabric and posted it to me to arrive on Saturday. Lawks. That's impressive service. The beautiful fabric shown at the top of this post is Toy Poodle by Kinkame, a treat that Lizzet included with my order - aren't the colours gorgeous - but that wasn't actually what I ordered. Unfortunately I can't show you what I did order until January, but do go and look in her shop. She has some lovely new things, two bolts of which she ordered in specially for me - thank you so much, Lizzet.

~ I wrote to Cal Patch (yes, my dressmaking hero...or should that be heroine - she whose name is uttered with alarming frequency on this blog) earlier this week with a question...or two...and yet again, she amazes me with how generously she gives up her time and how reassuring and inspiring she is in her approach to dressmaking. I don't think anyone would expect an author to provide full follow-up support to a book that they'd written, because really a book is a stand-alone thing and you tend to buy it on that basis, so it's a unique and lovely thing to find someone who makes themself so accessible and whose advice is always so clear, sound and supportive. Thank you, Cal! 


~ To the person who invented the concept of soup. I think it is my favourite food in the entire world. My appetite for it is limitless and nothing is more cheering to me than seeing my deepest pan loaded to the top with vegetables. I believe that there is no other form in which four people could be capable of happily gobbling up two heads of celery, a kilogram of carrots, 4 parsnips, 3 onions, and a lone swede in one sitting without the accompaniment of carbohydrates. Yes, the photograph only shows part of the vegetable feast and I should alert you to the absence of potatoes. Seeing as they're the only vegetable that even the government doesn't count as a vegetable I've now boycotted them from my soups...I've always had my suspicions about them, but now it seems that we have confirmation at the highest level that they have been merely masquerading as vegetables. That doesn't stop me eating them in their Baked Jacket form...but for soup they've been struck of the invitation list. Logic...it's not something I try to concern myself with...

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

* For readers who don't live in England, the AA isn't a mobile branch of Alcoholics Anonymous propelled around by a yellow van, but rather the Automobile Association - those who will come and rescue you from your car when the automatic gearbox goes into a funk...again!).

Monday, 8 November 2010

Guest blogging at M is for Make...


It's is torrentially rainy here in England pretty much wherever you are I think. But for now I'm not where I normally am, instead I'm guest blogging over at M is for Make. It's no less wet, but I'm so delighted to be there as Kate's is one of my favourite blogs. Please do go visiting and you'll find out more about this dress and some other clothes that I've been making....

Wishing that your umbrella stays right-side-out (and that if you're in a non-raining country that you are revelling in your dry feet!),

Florence x

Yes, two posts in one day...unheard of for me and it may appear that I have been hit by some crazy blogging compulsion. This is what blogging here, there and everywhere can do to a girl...and actually, if you include the post over on Kate's blog that makes it three posts in one day. I will now go and lie down. Normal, infrequent service will be resumed shortly.

Bear in a bed


This weekend one of my friend's children had a birthday. When my friend had seen the bed that I'd made for Zebra-girl's birthday, she said how much her own daughter would love something like that for her bear. I filed the comment away in my head and then found it again on Friday afternoon when I was thinking about what the smaller Teacakes could take with them to her birthday party*. Zebra-girl advised me on a suitable bed size (having been surprisingly observant regarding the vital statistics of the bear in question) and when it was finished she drew a paper bear to go in the bed, so that when it was opened her friend would realise that she was in possession of a Bear Bed and not an oven mitt.














For blogging purposes Blue Bear tested it out - he was my husband's bear when he was small. On a sunny day, when the bear is in no need of swaddling, then the bed can be turned over and used without a cover.


You might notice if you look closely that the quilt on which the bear bed is resting has little pin-prick holes in it. This is the quilt that I talked about making here from Anna Maria Horner's voiles. We've found that while the voile is perfectly suited to quilt making, it is less able to withstand the consumer tests that our cats are submitting it to. In the evening when the cats warm Zebra-girl's toes, they are so happy in her company that they tread their paws up and down, retracting their claws in and out as they do so...and making little holes all over her quilt. I'm hoping that if and when she notices this,she'll only think that the cats' signatures adds to the quilt's personality (after giving myself a stern talking to this is the way that I have forced myself to view this anyway).


My friend texted me last night to say that the bag's new owner was safely snuggled inside her bed. Although I'm now wondering whether their kitten might also find a use for it....

Florence x

* And on the basis of your book suggestions a few weeks ago, they also took her a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The best bits...


Today I managed to stay focused for the entire day and get lots of things done (is it just me who finds it so much easier to be productive if I'm working in the evening?), but the productivity was happily punctuated by reading the wonderful comments on my last post. It was so interesting to read about the details of people's days and I loved being told of so much remembered loveliness.

iPhone holder: made by Keely
Which made me think of a website that I stumbled upon recently called My Best Thing Today. It's a site that curates the postcards people send in about...yes...their best thing that day. I love the philosophy of noticing what the best thing about a day was, even on the darkest day, because there is always something even if it's only the way the light falls through a windows and casts shadows on the walls. It's a little like the Post Secret blog, but without that sinking feeling that you can get when you read some of the postcards.


So my own best things, aside from the above, from this week (give or take a few days):
  • Some fabric arriving for making something special and it being even more lovely than I'd hoped.
  • Sharing a Kallo rice cake with the cat* while I worked this afternoon.
  • Waking up to find it was a bright morning - I'd been so hoping it would be, as I wanted to photograph some things for a project that I was working on (more about that in December).
  • Speaking to someone lovely with a broad northern accent when I rang a company up to ask if I could return something.
  • Receiving photos from Keely (who I think is blogless?) of a beautiful iPod holder she'd made from one of my patterns. The colours and the details I found completely thrilling. I am in love with the pinky-red button detail and can only imagine Keely's niece will be too when she receives it.
  • Eating apple crumble at my mother-in-law's house. My crumbles are always virtuous with hardly any sugar and made using wholemeal flour...her's are perfection. So I had two large helpings.   
  • Watching Simon's Cat videos with Mr Teacakes and then showing them to our children the next day. This man has captured essence-of-cat with simple animated line drawings and watching them made us howl with laughter. Too wonderful not to watch them over and over...we have anyway (and if you watch any, then do turn your volume on first as the cat noises are adorable and it's hard to believe they are made by man, not cat).
  • Sitting in my sister's cosy flat drinking tea and coffee after taking the children to a very cold swing park.
  • Everything feels illuminated: I finally fitted a new bulb in my sewing machine after a few dark weeks of sewing without.

 What were your own best bits?

Florence x

 *No, I did not allow the cat to nibble directly from the rice cake...I broke bits off for her...just in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Book reveiw: Alistair Sawday's The Natural Wedding Book


As I'm quite happy with the husband that I already have, it may seem an odd thing indeed to have agreed to review a book about weddings. However, the timing of the request was odd and so this review comes down to happenstance. A few months one of my dearest friends, Leanne, asked me if I'd make her wedding dress for her. I hadn't realised it would be until she'd uttered the words, but as a sewer this has to be one of the most lovely things to ever be asked. Heart-flutteringly, missing-a-breath sort of lovely.


However, after a few seconds of total delight, my mind turned to the possible uncomfortable eventualities:  how would Leanne tell me if she couldn't stand the dress that I made for her, or worse, would she be too polite to tell me and then embark on the most special day of her entire life wearing a dress that for no particular reason made her feel frumpy or just not very beautiful (because some dresses do...I'm no stranger to changing room miseries). Or what would happen if we invested hours of time planning the dress and then half way through (and with acres of white silk in my possession) I realised my dressmaking skills just weren't up to creating something so far removed from everyday wear? If no amount of refittings could make it fit perfectly. So I said no, and often I half wish that I hadn't, but ultimately I think it was probably the right answer.

Sam + Leanne: It's hard to express how great my love for this pair is...but it is huge. In fact, Sam was best man at our own wedding. 
But anyway, as I idly clicked on the link that the publisher had sent me I was instantly reminded of Leanne and Sam as I was greeted by pictures of wedding dresses made by friends, celebrations held under cover of tipi and favours made by hand. As the title suggests, this book has a strong environmental bent and is the antithesis of the Meringue Wedding (glossy and shiny on the outside, but somehow feeling a little empty on the inside). The Natural Wedding is all about the little details that can make the day feel truly special, but that don't cost the earth, literally or metaphorically. It's about understated, haphazard perfection - focusing on the small things, rather than the multi-million pound venue. It's about the candles on each table that have been poured into vintage teacups; the invitations printed from hand-carved woodblocks (what an amazing keepsake the woodblock would be); a pair of wellingtons holding open a door filled with flowers.


This book provides an ecological, budget-friendly alternative to virtually every aspect of wedding planning: alternative venues (from grand historical venues with environmental credentials to an arboretum or wildlife conservation centre); options for invitations using everything from banana paper to home-made seed paper; ideas for greener gift lists; sourcing silkworm-friendly silk for a wedding dress; or perhaps baking your own organic wedding cake.


It lists suppliers throughout and concludes with an exhaustive list of every environmentally friendly supply a bride and her bow could ever need (yes, that's including yurt-hire). All this could make the book sound a bit on the puritan, lentil-driven, holier-than-thou side. But it's not. This opening paragraph gives an idea of the spirit in which these natural options are provided:

"I always say to couples planning their wedding, 'if you can just do one thing...' and by this I mean one natural, eco-friendly or ethical thing. It could be choosing seasonal food, lighting the tables with plant-wax candles, or honeymooning at an eco boutique hotel. If every couple did this, it would make a real difference to the environmental effects of the wedding industry...The Natural Wedding book is here to dispel the myth that an eco-conscious wedding can't be stylish and look exactly like a 'regular' wedding, if that is what you wish for. Similarly, for couples wanting a unique, handmade day, then this is the book to show you how."

Either way it's something worth thinking about when you learn that a wedding puts 14.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is twice your personal yearly carbon footprint.


But really the environmental side of things feels incidental in this book when you look through it - none of the images suggest compromise, an embarrassingly amateur appearance (and by this I mean something akin to the time where I tried to make hedgehogs and it didn't quite come off) or hippies wearing their eco credentials on the sleeve of their wedding kaftan. It just all looks lovely, heartfelt and as though it was a party that was created with a real affection for the guests and themselves as a couple. Which is how it should be.


And so this book feels really worth reviewing: not only because I'd love to pass it on to Leanne afterwards, but because it seems such a reflection of the kind of wedding that writers or readers of a craft blog might hope to create: something understated but perfect in its details.


And for those that might be wondering...Sam and Leanne will be marrying in a field in Devon next summer. I can't wait. Other than a venue, so many of the other details are yet to be planned that I'm hoping Leanne will love looking through this lovely book as much as I have.


The book is written by Louise Moon who runs her own wedding planning company, EcoMoon (it shows...it really feels like she's opened up her entire book of contacts and happily shared every single one with you).You can purchase the book here on Amazon or you can go to the Alistair Sawday website to buy it directly.

What was your own wedding like? I'd love to hear. Mr Teacakes and I married when I was only 23. A chilly January day in the centre of London, cosy beneath the ground in the red brick vaults at the Royal Society of Arts. Almost entirely lit by candles, favours handmade by my mother, a menu planned by my sister, a cake commissioned locally by my father on the basis of my sketches and random descriptions (I still have some of the icing roses from it now), surrounded by so many of our lovelies. In retrospect it was vaguely eco-friendly, although I didn't have that in mind when we were planning it....and all that was undone by flying several thousand miles to go skiing in Lake Louise...but so many wonderful memories.


And to finish off with some sewn goodness from last summer: here's Sam....he always uses a napkin (we never use them, so just seeing them actually being used was a novelty that delighted me for the entire evening). He has tucked nothing less than some Amy Butler in Coriander from the Belle collection into his t-shirt. 

Florence x