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

28 comments:

  1. I know I say this every time but your latest creation is simply stunning! I enjoyed reading about the very best of shelves too, it does sound like a particularly lovely shelf!

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  2. I have been following you for awhile, but this wee quilt is one of the prettiest things I've ever seen! It makes me want to pull out the papers and try my hand again at EPP, which never did engage me the way I hoped it would. As for your questions, no suggestions on the paper for piecing, wish I could help. I'm lucky to keep moisturizer on my hands and the only ring I wear on a regular basis is my wedding ring (which is one of several I have, my husband gave me a simple silver engraved band a few years ago, which I haven't taken off except to polish it). I only polish my nails for special events and occasionally when my nails get very brittle and I need to strengthen them. My joints are the same in both hands though...although I do vary my crafts with knitting, crochet, hand quilting, machine quilting and hand applique. Next on the list is machine applique, which I haven't done in years and when I last did it, wasn't very good at! Now I'm off to look at the other small projects that you linked!

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    1. Oh, thank you so much - you totally should. Yes, I imagine knitting is probably a really even-handed activity, isn't it.

      If you're going to give machine applique another go, try using a tear-away stabiliser beneath your work - it makes a huge difference to the results :)

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  3. I love reading about your sewing and patch-working adventures. I really would love to see a photo of your very best shelf!

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    1. Thank you, Caroline - I'm currently writing a post inspired by your request! x

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  4. I haven't tried this but you could consider using a heavy weight iron on interfacing instead of papers. You might now get a sharp edge, not sure, but you certainly wouldn't have problems ironing as they would just become part of the piece. x

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    1. That's such a good idea, but I recently ruined a piece of work with iron-on interfacing and it's made me quite fearful of it. Having used it hundreds of times without a problem, I recently pressed something and all the tiny glue dots became visible on the front of the fabric (detailed in this post: http://flossieteacakes.blogspot.com/2019/01/adventures-in-tiny-english-paper-piecing.html). Thank you so much for taking the time to suggest something though.

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  5. Hi, you might have thought of this or even tried them but what about tyvek paper or polymer paper (like our new banknotes) for your paper piecing. They won’t tear or crease but they are a form of plastic so maybe you wouldn’t want that, although they also wouldn’t rot away which could be a plus point. I think you can get them in various weights. I’d be interessed to know if you’ve tried them and what the results were. Thanks for sharing your creations and I love the shelf, I too have precious tiny things that each have their own story, what a good idea to give them a shelf of their own.

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    1. I loved this idea, but when I researched it, I discovered Tyvek crinkles under heat. Again, with polymer, I've since watched a few YouTube videos of what happens if you iron a new £5 note... but I've enjoyed learning more about all these materials, so thank you for the suggestions :)

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  6. Years ago I read that you could tell whether a person is right or left handed by looking at their thumbs - the thumb of the dominant hand will be wider, generally more spread out. Definitely true in my case (right hand), and my fingers and joints are all slightly bigger on that hand too. I can't get my wedding ring on my right hand. I also have a very slight lump on the side of my middle finger on this hand where a pen rests when writing - it was much bigger when I was at school and doing lots of writing. Wouldn't it be interesting to examine the hands of today's younger generation....!! All that texting.... I also generally have rougher and harder ends to my right thumb and middle finger from hand sewing.

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    1. Ooh, really interesting - thank you. Yes, but it's quite disturbing to think how quickly hands could evolve because of phone use, isn't it. x

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  7. That is a work of art, so exquisite - I admire your creations so much - your patience must know no bounds. Seeing this makes me want to dash to my sewing cupboard and begin.

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  8. I love your "very best shelf" idea and your "Broken China" piece is stunning!

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    1. There is a whole post dedicated to the very best shelf coming up! And thank you re: my Broken China. x

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  9. I live in France and read with translate. I love your Broken china, thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading along! I read a few blogs using translate too and get some very odd sentences thrown in!

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  10. Kay's heavy interfacing idea strikes me as excellent. Broken China is gorgeous. I've never been a nail polish wearer, either, but my daughter gave me Sally Hansen Miracle Nail Thickener for Christmas and it really works!

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  11. Your insight about hand sewing being bodybuilding for the fingers - I think it is true now that I look at my hands and can now blame the difficulty I have getting my rings off on this muscle building effect, rather than on mid-life weight shifting, my previous explanation.

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    1. Yes, definitely body-building rather than mid-life shift! x

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  12. Broken dishes is just exquisite, congratulations!

    As to leaving the papers in the work, unless the papers are acid free, there's a risk of having them discolor the fabric over time, turn ing the fabric brownish and brittle and hastening it's deteriation. This effect can be seen in antique quilts which still have their papers. I'm

    Thank you for the Superb job you did with covering all aspects on how to in your book, it has taught me a great deal and answered numerous questions.

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    1. A few people have mentioned acidity to me over the years - your comment finally led me to actually ordering some acid-free card - thank you.

      Also, thank you so much for buying a copy of my book - I'm really delighted you enjoyed it. x

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  13. Hi Florence...I bought your book last weekend and I just love it. Re the paper for your EPP, I have never used this stuff but I know that it's a paper product that behaves like fabric. You can cut it, iron it, write on it etc, of course sew it too...I think it is called Kraft-tex. As I said, haven't used it before, maybe it is too thick for very tiny pieces but thought I would throw it out there. Love your Broken Dishes. Best wishes from snowy Quebec!

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    1. Oh, I'm so delighted! Thank you.

      I actually had some of it, but gave it away as I didn't end up using it - I may have to investigate again - thank you so much for the idea. x

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  14. Hi Florence, your Broken China is absolutely lovely.
    Would you kindly let me know what fabric lines you've used for it?
    Reading your blog and following your line of thought always bring to my mind what specific outcomes happen around me and makes me ponder along.
    Thank you very much.
    Corinne

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  15. Thank you so much :) All the fabrics used are Liberty Tana Lawn prints.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

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.