Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Greetings Cards

It's a week away from Christmas and the year seems to have disappeared in a flurry of university visits with my daughter and then returning for interviews - it's been a really delicious whistle-stop* tour of the UK that's left me with lots of time to wander around new places, although sometimes I have also just chosen to sit - on one occasion, looking out to sea from the window of our B&B (totally dreamy), and on another in a cafe eating toast, wondering how she was getting on and feeling she'd found the perfect city to live in, too heavy-shouldered to continue exploring because of my new coat, which is lovely and warm, but so weighty that after a few hours of walking, I begin to feel like I'm giving a toddler a piggyback...I find it almost impossible to believe this is actually a thing, but people, think about the weight of your coat before you buy). The year has also disappeared in writing, reading, sewing, cutting fabric, working. And eating scrambled eggs in my favourite coffee shop should probably have a category all of its own too. Blog posts not so much...I'm not sure what's happened there...

Anyway, one of my favourite pieces I worked on this year was a re-creation of Liberty London's shopfront (hopefully more details on that in another post) and it had such a lovely response on Instagram, I decided to get that, and a few of my miniature hand-sewn designs, printed up as greetings cards. After a lot of sampling, my cards are finally here, just in time to catch the Christmas post (at least in the UK if you place your order by midday on Thursday 19th...overseas, orders will most likely arrive to welcome in January after the start of the new year). You can find them on Etsy, here.

Each design is printed onto gorgeously thick vellum card stock, with a border that makes it as suitable for framing, as for sending. The cards come with a recycled-paper envelope, packaged in compostable cellophane (or naked if you prefer).

And then on the reverse, there are a few construction details and a tiny version of the image on the front. If you have an eagle-eye when it comes to fonts, you might notice I'm using the same ones Pamela Norman chose for my book - her work on designing my book's cover and inside still delights me, and I like that it's now finding its way into my other projects - thank you, Pamela :).

These cards were a bit of an experiment for me, but after mentioning them on Instagram last night, I've had a few orders on Etsy today and have felt my heart bob at the sight of each one (thank you if you're one of the lovely orderers). I've also been delighted to have a few shops offer to stock them - if you're local to Tunbridge Wells, you can find them at Pincushion Pantiles, which is so worth a visit as Jenny's shop is just bursting with good things - Tana lawn, Merchant & Mills linens, handmade goodies, and a huge range of fabrics, books and patterns. I also have a stack of cards wending their way to a new shop in America that I'll tell you more about in new year, once they've arrived.

Anyway, I hope to be around here more in 2020, but for now, I'm wishing you a most lovely end to the year,

Florence x

* I realised on typing this I had only a vague idea about the whistle-stop's origin, but having researched it, have found that at a little-used station, a train would sound its whistle to signal its approach, so the station master could wave it down if needed. On that basis, I now see it really works best in a political context, which seems to be how the expression was first used...although how much you'd want the politician to stop depends on your may actually just prefer to stand on the platform waving particular ones through as quickly as possible...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Fabric Destash

I'm posting here a little belatedly, so quite a bit has already flown the nest, but I'm doing a little fabric de-stashing over on Etsy. To give you a taster, above is a collection of beautiful Tula Pinks (some quite rare), and below some prints by Rifle Paper for Cotton + Steel. 

There are also some lots that are sorted entirely by colour, which are good for putting straight into a quilt top, or bulking out a stash that's lacking in that colour department. 

I'll be posting things out on Monday and will refund any excess postage paid then :) 

Wishing you a lovely weekend, 
Florence x

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Your Own Exceptional Talent

Last week, I finally remade a top that fell at the last hurdle two years ago when I realised I'd forgotten to interface the button placket. I don't really know how I forgot, but I do remember that when I came to slice those button holes open they inevitably looked like wild beasts had mauled them. I'm grateful that my 2019 version, above, was more of a success.

On the subject of failure and subsequent success (a tenuous link as I have way bigger failures up my sleeve than ruined buttonholes),  I've been working my way through the archives of Elizabeth Day's How to Fail podcast recently, which is all about embracing failure and looking at how it helps to shape people's subsequent successes. The interviews, which are vulnerable, funny, and often moving, are like overhearing a discussion between two friends, in part because the interviewees often are Elizabeth's friends, but also because most talk with startling honesty. In theory, it's obvious that failure is a normal and inescapable part of being human (as opposed to a unique sign of uselessness), but I'm not sure I truly believed it until listening to all these interviews. 

My favourites so far have been Jessie Burton (novelist), Dolly Alderton (journalist), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (creator of Fleabag and Killing Eve), Gina Miller (the political activist who successfully took the government to court on Brexit-related maters), David Baddiel (comedian), and David Nicholls (novelist), but they're all amazing.

This would be good listening at any time, but particularly heartening in a week where I wondered if maybe the ONLY thing I was any good at was doing buttonholes second-time around. This was later upped to perhaps I'm good at doing buttonholes second time around AND naming songs, when my husband and I were sitting around the table working, and took a few minutes' break to play Name the Song. That makes it sound like a game where we take turns, but we don't - it's one-sided game where my husband goes through his iTunes library and plays the first note of a song and I have to name both the title and the artist. We are both always delighted by how awesome I am at this and I would say it's one of my exceptional talents. The only downside is the realisation I can't actually use this talent out in the world in any meaningful way. I would love to know what you'd consider your own exceptional talent to be!

On Saturday morning, my sister texted me with the words, 'Regretting your colour choice?' and a photo she'd taken of a car, just like my own, but in the most startling shiny gold (it looked exactly like these - do click through because it's hard to believe a car could be so shiny or so golden until you see it with your own eyes). A few years ago, my son showed me some YouTube videos about cars being shrink-wrapped in coloured vinyl (he always seems to know the ones that will suck me in - it was mesmerising!) and I'm pretty sure that's how it was done, as it was way too shiny to be spray paint. 

Anyway, when my sister's text came in, I just happened to be sitting with this fabric on my knee, so was able to tell her that I can actually cope with my car not being so fancy (fyi: it's black), because I'm about to make a sparkly gold leopard print jumpsuit - consolation in anyone's eyes, surely? Those are not words I ever thought I'd find myself typing, but I feel oddly remorseless. 

Florence x

Fabric notes: The top photo is a lovely drapey viscose by Atelier Brunette, called Moonstone. The gold-car-substitute fabric in the bottom photo is a cotton jersey from Guthrie & Ghani, found here.  

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Pattern Drafting Failure

Several years ago, as I walked out through the door after my final lesson on pattern cutting at The London College of Fashion, our lovely teacher called after us, 'Use it or lose it, ladies'.

Her voice comes into my head now, when I realise I haven't used it and now the hundreds of hours of pattern cutting knowledge I'd once accumulated seem to have fallen out of my head while writing my book and madly English paper piecing everything in sight. I can now see there would have been real merit in taking some time out from those things occasionally to do some maintenance pattern drafting, but I'd thought it would be like riding a bike. It's come as a shock to find my bike feels so rusty I can barely turn the pedals, and that as I've stood with my old tools to hand - french curve, tracing wheel, flexible ruler - it's taken me a while to remember even the basic principle of drawing a vertical line to denote the centre front or centre back of my pattern.

I recently bought a jumpsuit (this is only my second jumpsuit, but I think if you find a nice one, they're such good things I can imagine never wanting to wear anything else again), but I knew even before I wore it that they'd used the wrong kind of jersey with no stretch recovery, and that it would seat horribly. And it does.

You might question why I've kept it if I could see the fault before wearing it, but there are three reasons: before sitting, it's basically the best jumpsuit I think I'm ever likely to find in terms of fit; I can wear it judiciously on days when I will mainly be standing up or am with good friends who tell me how great it looks from the front and accept my wish to move through their house with my back to the wall, but also subsequently of the sight of my behind when I stop bothering to use the 'wall cover method of movement' after a few glasses of wine (this one has already happened and I had a thoroughly lovely time wearing it); finally, because I want to use it as a basis for recreating the pattern so that I could make many more versions. It's actually the third reason that was the deciding factor in keeping it.

Rubbing off the patterns from garments already in my wardrobe used to be something I could do with relative ease, so it's come as a shock to find myself struggling with this now. The trouser part of the jumpsuit was fairly plain-sailing after various forgotten drafting principles had slowly come back to me, the arms too, but the bodice has proven to be something of a disaster and has sat on my cutting table threatening to be abandoned entirely. But I so don't want it to be, because it would be so good to have a version to wear on sitting-down days, which in truth are far more a part of my life than standing up days.

Just in case there are any dressmakers out there who can help, here's my problem: when I rub off a pattern like this, I end up with a completely dartless bodice block. I transfer the points were any sewn darts sit and then study the inside of the original garment to work out how big they should be. The darts in this garment are quite big - totalling 4" each along the side seams and 2" each at the waist, and although I'm finding it easy enough to put one dart into my dartless block, two is presenting something of a nightmare for me as it then upsets with the line of the first dart. I think I could fudge this if the darts were smaller, but they're massive and refuse to be fudged. If anyone has come across a tutorial for putting both a waist and bust dart into a dartless block, I'd be eternally grateful if you could tell me where, as I can only find one or the other.

My only other option seems to be to take the jumpsuit apart and then literally trace the pattern pieces off (literally is in italics as my sister always teases me when I use this word, so it delights me to highlight it for her, even though she may not read this far as she prefers non-technical posts), but I'm loathe to do this as I don't want to take a perfectly good-but-with-saggy-bottom garment apart and risk it not going back together again quite as perfectly.

It feels like I'm ending this post on with a depressingly unexciting dressmaking cliffhanger and I can't think of a way to dressing it up as anything more, so I'll just sidle away from this blog post, back against the wall style...

Florence x

Monday, 15 April 2019

Pierre Bonnard and Other Things...

Last week, I went to the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern in London. It was gorgeous and the paintings featuring wallpapers and fabrics doubly so - I'm unsure how a painting of a floral wallpaper should be so much more captivating than one of an actual flowering landscape, but somehow it is (to me, at least). We played our own game of Where's Wally, spotting Bonnard's wife and companion Marthe, who featured in many of his paintings, although not always prominently. Often we'd think it was a painting where Marthe hadn't snuck in, only to find her out on the balcony visible through a window, or hiding in the wilderness of the garden. The postcard (below left) was one of my favourites. Note the less captivating outdoor scene on the programme...or do you find it more so? Is it only me who could happily pass by the outdoor scenes?

Yesterday I spent a delicious afternoon with my husband reading the Sunday papers in total silence, lying at opposite ends of sofa. We fell asleep covered in papers and woke several hours later, and I realised there are few things I love more than lazing an entire day away like this. We used to do this all the time before having children. Now we tend to fill our spare time with doing things - sewing, board games, cooking, chatting, sport...although the sport belongs to other family members, not me - but actually there's a lot to be said for doing absolutely nothing occasionally. Regular readers may be horrified by the outrageous hypocrisy of my lying beneath the red quilt while doing nothing...but what can I was warm. And maddeningly, I now see my husband's point - it's somehow cosier than any other quilt. And the lovely Dog Face, of course, does a lot to improve the eye-stabbyness of the colour.

I'm making spectacularly slow progress on the quilt that will eventually replace (in location, if not favour) the red one above, although it's relatively fast for the small number of hours spent sewing so far. This is the one thing I love about hand-piecing over EPP - it's quicker, although still slightly less enjoyable for me. While I've been sewing, I've been listening to archived interviews from the Hay Festival via their web-based HayPlayer, which from memory, I think costs about £10 per year to subscribe to. A few favourites have been Rose Tremain, Gina Miller, and Meg Wolitzer, along with Kishwar Desai and Ann Patchett, who made a joint appearance. I think I love the Hay Festival archives more than any other podcast...I just wish it existed in podcast form, rather than through the web as it seems to have a habit of signing me out in the middle of listening, which is frustrating, but shouldn't allow you to be put off - it's totally worth the small frustration.

I'm currently reading a collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's tricky to find short story collections by a single author that I like as much as a novel, but this is an exception (the last one was Maile Meloy's Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, which I read years ago. I then lent it to my dad each week so he had something to read while he waited for my son to come out of a swimming lesson (which means that too must have been years ago as my son is now a giant teenager with a very deep voice). We had to confiscate that book in the end, as the stories were so good that my father kept being late to collect my son at the end of the lesson - that's really the best recommendation for a book, as he is not prone to forgetting grandchildren). Jhumpa's stories that I'm reading right now have the common thread of Indian immigrants living in America, but that's really the only similarity - each new cast of characters feels distinct and memorable. I feel like I know the characters well despite the shortness of the stories, and she has a wonderful way of saying a lot about a person in a single line:
Her father’s penmanship was small, precise, slightly feminine; her mother’s had been a jumble of capital and lowercase, as though she’d learned to make only one version of each letter.
and later:
It was her voice that appealed to him most, well modulated, her words always measured, as if there were only a limited supply of things she was willing to say on any given day.

I hope, if you have any time off around Easter, that you have a lovely break and find time to do absolutely nothing (non eye-stabby quilt preferable, but not essential). Also, do tell me what you're reading or watching. We've recently watched The Bodyguard series (yes, months after everyone else), and found it absolutely gripping. We're now casting about for something else that bridges the  gaping crevasse between our polar-opposite viewing preferences. Previous successes are: Goliath; Unabomber; Handmaid's Tale; Friday Night Lights; Designated Survivor...

Florence x

Monday, 1 April 2019

Nani Iro Cotton Sateen Quilt

Nani Iro Fuccra Rakuen Cotton Sateen Diamond Quilt

This is what's on my design wall at the moment (it should be noted that I do always feel faintly ridiculous when I refer to this as a 'design wall' - it makes me feel as though great and serious things should be going on up there. A 'quilt planning wall' sits more comfortably for me, but rejecting a widely understood term in favour of one that lacks any finesse feels just as ridiculous, so the upshot seems to be that, whichever way I turn, I am destined to feel ridiculous around one of these fabric-grabbing walls. Thankfully, I only think about it when I go to write the word down, so it's not a lasting affliction).

My quilt features two colourways of Nani Iro's beautiful Fuccra Rakuen design, one of my very favourite prints. It's cotton sateen, which I'd been nervous about making a quilt from, but when it arrived I found it lacks the sheen that sateen can sometimes have and feels a perfectly acceptable quilt fabric (although if you're a dressmaker, this would make the most amazing dress/skirt/blouse). The cream colourway is from this Etsy shop in Germany and the teal blue is from this one in Japan.

Nani Iro Fuccra Rakuen Cotton Sateen

Ideally, I would have gathered a few more prints together, but I couldn't find anything else in cotton sateen that went well with these, so I stuck at two. Whenever I'm lacking inspiration and want to make a quilt that showcases a particular fabric, I often turn to Jane Brocket's Gentle Art of Quilt-Making and did just that here. I'd already been considering diamonds as their shape would allow the two fabrics to intermingle, softening the contrast between the two colours (rather than forming into geometric blocks, which is what would more likely happen using squares) and Jane happens to have a really beautiful diamond quilt in her book (top right in the photo below). Even though it uses several prints, it confirmed my feeling that it could be a good option. The hardback is now out of print by the way, but worth buying second-hand for the beautiful cover hiding beneath the dust jacket, although the paperback looks very lovely too. Either way, I think it's one of those books that it's an essential in any quilt book library.

Jane Brocket's Gentle Art of Quilt-Making book

It actually took me all day to cut the diamonds at the top of this post - and that's just half a quilt's worth. I find the cutting and drawing of lines onto the fabric for hand-piecing far less engaging than the cutting and wrapping process of English paper piecing. However, I've since had lots of suggestions as to how to make this bit go more quickly, including the idea of using stamps and ink pads in future, which Helen discusses in this blog post (including links for where to buy them). Sadly, the stamps are at too small a scale for this project - a complaint I never thought I'd be able to make given my love of miniature - but I'll definitely look into these for my next hand-piecing project.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Monday, 25 March 2019

A Miscellaneous Assortment

When my children were small they used to call a fruit salad a 'fruit medley', which they'd pronounce med-el-eee in deliciously lispy voices. There's something lovely about that stage when children are trying on words that are too big for them - I always remember my son's first time using the word 'actually' in conversation when he was about two and just wanting to gobble him up because it sounded so ridiculously oversized coming from his mouth.

I probably prefer the word 'assortment' to medley now...medley is a sharper sounding word, while assortment has connotations of liquorice allsorts and a cosy feeling of oddment. Miscellany is a good one too - that makes me think of tiny boxes with curiosities inside. But whatever the term, this blog post is pure medley/ assortment/ miscellany/ jumble, so I hope you have a good root around and find something you like in here.

I recently read Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova - it's about a concert pianist's descent into ALS, a condition that takes away the power of movement over one body part at a time, eventually leaving the sufferer locked in. I'm not sure how the novel managed to avoid being thoroughly depressing, but somehow it did, even though I cried my way through many parts of it. It did a brilliant job of exploring the relationships of the dying man and his estranged family in a way that felt real and unsentimental, as well as giving insight into a condition I knew little about. I'd recommend it.

A friend recently recommended the series After Life with Ricky Gervais and my husband and I started watching it with our children last night. The language is quite shocking (including that very worst of words beginning with C, so be warned as that may mean it's not for everyone), but if you can get over that, it's painfully funny and also incredibly touching. I cried my way through the first four episodes (there's a theme here), interrupted only by clutching my stomach because I was laughing so much. It's about a man (played by Ricky Gervais), whose wife has recently died, and explores his cantankerous interactions with the world in the aftermath. His relationship with his dog is really touching, and the humour is dark, but quite delicious (for want of another photo to illustrate this post with, the mention of the word dog has prompted a photo of Nell).

We have frequent board game afternoons/evenings/entire days, sometimes as a family, often with friends. The mainstay is Settlers of Catan (with several extension packs), a brilliant strategy game that I think I've mentioned here before, but more recently we've discovered Azul, which is very different, but also good, and we've also added Arboretum to the games library too, which has beautifully illustrated cards. Settlers is still the ultimate, but it's nice to have some new ones in rotation.

After Life notwithstanding, it can be hard to find things to watch as a family (my children are 17 and 14) when everyone wants different things. I mostly watch things with my daughter as we tend to like the same things, but we recently all watched Free Solo, a documentary film set around a man's mission to climb El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes and it was gripping and universally enjoyed (although I don't like heights and had to watch through my hands in places, so universally enjoyed with a side of nausea for some).

My friend Jenny (hello, PW!), recently recommended a podcast called Love Stories with Dolly Alderton, where people share stories about all the different kinds of love they've experienced throughout their lives. I'd recommend listening to Emma Freud's interview, which was wickedly funny, although I winced for poor Cousin Charlotte. The link will take you to iTunes, although it should be available wherever you listen to your podcasts.

On Saturday, with a million others, I went into London with my parents and daughter for the People's Vote march, possibly a last opportunity to convey our feelings about Brexit to the government. The banners and signs we saw were amazing - people showed their anger with such wit and good humour. My three favourites were simple ones though:
 I'm really cross.
British and on a march - things must be bad.
Things are so bad, even the introverts are here. 
The latter summed up my own attendance, which was more about putting my feet on the street, than entering into any uncharacteristic outbursts of chanting and I enjoyed an afternoon chatting to my dad while we walked. In case you haven't already heard, there's currently a petition on the government website (sadly, only open to UK residents/British citizens - at home or abroad - aged over 18) requesting Article 50 be revoked. At the time of writing it has 5.5 million signatures on it, which are apparently unlikely to be bots as you have to click a link in an email to confirm your vote, and each email address can only be used once. There is something joyful about seeing that number flicker upwards every thirty seconds. Worth adding your name to if it aligns with your views and you haven't already.

En route to the march, we passed a small market selling an eclectic mix of antiques and handmade. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation for me trying to guess at whether my obsession with EPP is partly borne out of a love of kaleidoscopes or vice versa (see my blog banner if you're wondering where the similarity is), but either way, the love is real and when I saw what this one was capable of, I found it impossible to leave behind - by changing the position of the kaleidoscope the beads float down and the image appears to fall towards you. 

I made a video of it in action, although it only shows half the wonder as it's even more incredible if you also rotate the kaleidoscope at the same time, something I wasn't capable of doing while also filming (I tried. And failed).

I'm not sure I've ever loaded a video onto Blogger before so I hope it works for you.

I'd love to hear what you're watching/reading/doing.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Monday, 11 March 2019

Mud Wall

Let's begin with a random photo of Bella, just because she's nicer than any of the photos that follow - you can really see her age in this photo as although her fur looks quite plentiful, it also like that of an older, shaggier cat, which I find endearing. She's been acting quite strangely since Honey died and I think she may suspect Nell of having eaten her (a not unreasonable assumption from one who saw Honey was there one moment and then gone the next. Although they never actually spent much time together, so it would be a belated loyalty on Bella's part), as the dynamic between them seems to have changed and now when Nell walks past, Bella has begun punching at her with a curled paw, or worse, swiping with claws out. Nell is terrified and we have twice discovered her whimpering in the utility room, too scared to walk past Bella, who seems to enjoy blocking her way like a school bully (as well as drinking from Nell's water bowl, which is like a great lake compared to Bella's own and so is quite a funny sight). It's odd how utterly defenceless Nell seems in the face of an animal that's less than a quarter of her size - there must be much animal messaging between them goes undetected by humans. This is the problem with starting with a random photo...this post was actually meant to be about paint colours.

Finally fully recovered from flu, last weekend I decided to repaint a wall in the kitchen I've always disliked. Most of our walls are very light, but that one was a curious colour I'd mixed up from odds and ends of paint in our garage. Once I'd created my special shade, I enthusiastically daubed it on without waiting around between coats for things to dry, deciding that was probably just one of those tedious things manufacturers like to tell you to do unnecessarily. I was rewarded with a colour that was curiously patchy and later, the effect of two coats of paint drying at different rates meant it actually began to splinter into tiny cracks like baked mud in summer. Essentially, my painting style is the exact opposite to that of my approach to English paper's as though the EPP has gobbled up all the patience and care and left me with nothing to offer to a paintbrush. For this reason, I've always left most of the painting to my husband as he is awesome at it, although he refuses to be drawn into anything that doesn't involve cream paint on the grounds that I could change my mind once the colour is on the wall*.

I imagine without evidence you may feel I am hamming up my wall for dramatic effect, so I thought I'd share a photo, even though it pains me. When I showed it to the man in the paint shop he said, 'Oh, I see! You're painting on wood - I'd misunderstood and thought it was a wall,' to which I had to confess that it was actually a wall and that I'd somehow created a cracked woodgrain effect on it. Do feel free to click to enlarge it if you'd like to admire it in its full glory.

Whenever I pondered the problem of the patchy, cracked wall in my head - about once a week for 18 months - I could only see four options: get the wall freshly plastered, tile over the wall, knock the wall down, or move house. But should you ever find yourself in a similar situation (I can't imagine the person who would, but it would be so nice to know of a kindred spirit if that's you), there's a fifth option that costs barely anything: you can sand the entire wall by hand with some 120-grit sandpaper wrapped around a woodblock and you'll end up with the something similar to a freshly plastered wall and feel immeasurably proud of yourself. It took me three hours of intensive sanding and an unbelievable amount of dust to smooth the wall back, but it worked. I was so grateful much of the wall is covered by cupboards, reducing the area that needed sanding.

The other suggestion my paint shop made to me is that you can get a really smooth line between colours if you use non-bleed masking tape, rather than just regular masking tape - it's much more expensive, but I can now see definitely worth it. I also watched a wonderful YouTube video that said sometimes you can get a little channel where two walls meet (we have one of those) and if you paint along that it will stop you from achieving a crisp wall (very true - the cracked mud was far from crisp in this area), so the trick is to actually paint an 1/8" onto the adjoining wall and paint a little way around the corner, in this case onto the cream wall (see the below photo). Anyway, after all that preparation and study, I found myself turning over a brand new leaf and took extreme care with my painting and even enjoyed it. My entire family offered surprised congratulations on its successful completion.

With the relative triumph of the green wall still fresh in his mind, my husband felt it was safe to risk buying me two thick Farrow & Ball books all about painting and decorating for my birthday last week and they are things of wonder. I actually read both of them cover to cover, rather than just looking at the pictures, and learnt so much. They are really nicely written - not prescriptive or rule-based, but full of inspiration and encouragement. I liked also that although they take their paints seriously, they don't seem to take the act of decorating itself seriously and see it more as grounds to have fun and play with colour, confessing to pretty much redecorating their own homes once a month.

While I really loved neutral colours like the ones above and use them pretty much everywhere, my heart does do a little leap every time I see a photo of a room with intense, saturated colour or a beautiful wallpaper and what I learnt while reading these books is that if you have a really tiny room, painting it in neutrals may only draw attention to its smallness or make it feel a bit nothingy, where using a lot of delicious colour and pattern will make that the thing that people notice. This really reminded me of the way my mum decorated when I was growing up, where a small downstairs loo was always an excuse for her to use some crazy riotous wallpaper - I particularly remember her using this red Laura Ashley Floribunda wallpaper when I was a teenager (curiously, my parents now live in a house where every wall is painted white as it suits their architecture best that way, although my mum is still quite dramatic with upholstery and fabrics). But anyway, my thoughts have turned to decorating my own downstairs loo and possibly my husband's small office too, which feel like contained areas to unleash some colour, so I've been having fun ordering wallpaper samples and thinking about paint colours.

For the last fifteen years, I've always used Little Greene's paints - they're deliciously thick and have a nice chalky finish, but after reading Farrow & Ball's books about their use of pigment and the explanation of why their paint is necessarily so thin, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone who has used them has noticed the difference? Is it discernibly more lovely? Does it seem to magically change in different lights in a way that other paints don't?

In the photo above, bottom is Little Greene's paint chart, on top is Farrow & Ball's. I want them all.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a photo of the birthday card made by my daughter - my family always make me handmade cards and its become something of a one-horse competition between them, where every year when my daughter's card is unveiled (it's always made in complete secrecy to increase her chances of winning and avoid any copying, which did happen one year), my husband and son end up laughing as they realise that yet again she has blown them both out of the water.

This year, she'd made a pop up card, where inside a heart sprang out of a 3D I love you. All the colours are hand-painted and the words and heart create beautiful shadows. Their cards are always my favourite part of my birthday and I love that I now have so many years' worth of them. The weather was foul on the actual day, so we met my dad for breakfast, pottered around the old bit of town (the bit you'd go to if you're not buying practical things) and then the garden centre, and later that afternoon, my parents came over for cake once our children were home from school. It was a really lovely day and made me feel sometimes the simplest birthdays can be nicest. Also, my husband asked a local cafe to make a birthday mocha cake that's both gluten-free (me) and vegan (daughter) and it was one of the best I've ever tasted - the effect of a cake to make a day perfect can't be underestimated. Which reminds me of the time several years ago when we were considering moving to Winchelsea, only to return to find the village shop had stopped serving fresh cake and, despite it still being the most glorious place to live, we realised the cake had been the main pull for us and neither of us wanted to move anymore.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

* Frustratingly true - when repainting the mud wall I first used Little Greene's Pearl Colour Dark and that was too minty in the afternoon sun for my purposes, so I then had to tape everything up again and repaint it in Little Greene's Normandy Grey, which is the sage green you can see in the photos above. What's troublesome about that, is that my painting had been perfect the first time and a little less so the next time (not much, but enough to make me feel like I want a framed picture of the first attempt even though the colour wasn't right).

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

An Uncertain Trip Around the World

The last time I used the Scrappy Trip Around the World Pattern was in 2013 when I made a Liberty print dog bed for Nell (do click through if you want to see the extreme testing process she subjected that bed to. Oddly, it ended up being the only bed that was truly indestructible when she was a puppy and, despite her best efforts, all those lines of quilting made it freakishly strong. Looking back at this makes me realised what a semi-civilised little creature she's become - she would never try to eat her own bed now).

The eagle-eyed will be relieved to know these finished blocks aren't actually sewn together yet, but it gives you an idea of the World Tour I'm on right now. If I were to send you a postcard at this point, it would probably say that I'm not entirely sure I like the place I've ended up in - I've struggled with this palette a lot, which is a mixture of linens, striped linens and Tana lawn. I chose them because I thought they'd work in the room where I want the quilt to live, which has lots of different shades of yellow and mustard in it but somehow doesn't feel like a room with lots of colour (the colours seem to register as neutrals), so when I chose the fabrics for this I went for far plainer things than I'd ever usually choose for a quilt...which I'm now finding rather dull to sew with. I'd imagined the texture of the linens would soften it all and make it feel like fun to work with, but I'm not sure they've actually had that effect on me.

I'm finding it hard to separate the dullness of the sewing process with whether I actually like it as a quilt. My husband and daughter love it, but I'm finding it more masculine than I'd intended and I'm not sure how to soften it - here a few blocks laid out on the sofa where it will live. 

Despite my making a quilt for this room, it isn't currently's just full of the wrong quilt. I think I've talked before about how my husband favours using the bright red Charlotte Barlett quilt (ignoring that it was made as a garden quilt) claiming it's more comfortable to lie under than any other quilt, but its brightness has the effect of making me feel I've had the colour equivalent of a slap around the face with a wet kipper every time I walk into the room and, even after a few years of seeing it on the sofa, my eyes never seem to adjust to how garish it looks against cream walls.

In the planning stages of this quilt, I realised if my husband were to accept a replacement, it would have to be so irresistibly snuggly that the red quilt would begin to seem almost unbearably scratchy and cold by comparison. Installing a layer sandpaper and ice packs would be one strategy, but ideally I wanted to achieve this feat without causing him discomfort or sabotaging the red quilt for garden use (although the ice packs could totally work in the event of a heatwave).

Just before Christmas, I was ordering some things from Billow Fabrics and decided to put a fat quarter of sherpa fleece in my bag, wondering if it might be suitable as a quilt backing. When it arrived, I found that it wasn't just suitable, but was actually the fabric of dreams. It's incredibly soft and fluid, with very little bulk, but somehow feels spectacularly sumptuous. I feel almost certain that if there is a fabric that can tempt my husband into abandoning the red quilt, it is this one.

But when I went order some more I found it had all gone and didn't seem to exist elsewhere in the UK - if you wish to create a visual image to represent the inner workings of my head on discovering that, just picture The Scream and you're pretty much there. I got in touch with Jenny and found she hadn't been intending to get any more in stock until next Christmas (more Edvard!), but she very kindly offered to order a roll in for me so I could buy some without waiting all year. In case you're wondering, she did this without my relaying the tale of my husband's improper use of the garden quilt or my conveying any profound desperation in the email - it was just exceptional customer service - I was so happy!

I'm imagining using it without any batting, as I think the sherpa will fulfil the purposes of batting and backing in one, which makes it extremely cost-effective. I'm not sure what it's going to be like to work with in terms of quilting - I worry it may be a little eel-like, but I'll report back. Either way, at this point, I'm very excited about it! Does anyone know how much cuddle fabrics shrink? Should I wash it beforehand, or will it be fine to wash afterwards with just a normal amount of welcome quiltcrinkle occurring?

If you haven't come across Billow Fabrics before, do go and take a look - they have lots of lovely linens (including Liberty linen, which I've only just noticed!), a wide variety of cuddle fabrics, gloriously coloured wool felts, and Liberty fabrics (which was probably what I was ordering when I spotted the sherpa).

So, this is currently what's on my design wall. Just getting to this point has taken me forever...but maybe that's because I had the remains of flu while sewing these blocks, so was sewing a line and then resting, sewing a line and then resting - I didn't remember this being a pattern that takes long to come together. I can't decide if I love it or am just a bit meh about it...if it ends up being the latter then I may be posting about it in a few years time and, as with the red quilt, trying to make a replacement for it, but finding nothing can compete with the softness of the sherpa fleece and therefore being stuck with it forever...

Finishing all the uncertainty with a flu update: nearly three and a half weeks later, I still have a cough, but I think I may finally be nearly better! I started the new week feeling really quite perky, evidenced by cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming before 9am! Extraordinary scenes with or without the remains of flu in my case.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Public Quilt Photography

I rarely venture into public places to photograph quilts for my blog - I've always tended to be more of a covert, indoor sort of quilt photographer; my own back garden or my parents' house reserved for those times when I've wanted to go wild and step my location up a level (I wonder if you realised you were experiencing the deluxe option on those occasions?).

Writing my book forced me to venture outside, and I found my eyes started to hone in on possible photoshoot locations: old barn doors with peeling paint work, drystone walls, or weathered gate posts, the sight of one appearing like a mirage in the distance causing me to up my pace and race toward it (some would say scuttle, but it's not the style of the dash that's important). I hadn't imagined venturing out with a quilt after my book was finished though, yet it seems a switch has flipped within me, and I've unwittingly joined the league of quilters who take their quilts out into the wild to photograph them. On country walks, I now notice an attractive wall and feel a yearning to bring a quilt back next time to drape over it - possibly a relatively normal thing within our community, but I suspect a distinctly odd thing within the context of the wider world.

Despite my husband being a relaxed accomplice in this activity and our route being largely unpopulated except for sheep, I felt oddly self-conscious - as though I were a burglar stealing photos. If someone was sighted in the distance, I felt compelled to stuff the quilt hastily back into the rucksack and then loiter until the person had passed (possibly worse than just being the oddball taking photos of a quilt - when you're waiting to do something until someone has gone, it is almost impossible not to look shifty).

I suspect it may all feel more normal in summer when a picnic blanket is a legitimate thing to take on a walk, but as there was still snow on the ground in the more shaded places on this walk in January, it would have been hard to carry off...

The photo below is from the same walk - unlike the quilt, Nell could not be packed away into a rucksack and her love of wallowing in mud means people often actually gasp when they see her. It's lovely though, as people only ever seem to gasp in delight, rather than revulsion, and I love seeing how much people love dogs and accept their odd ways. I sometimes wonder where the people are who don't like dogs (so essentially, where was I, pre-Nell? For newer readers, I haven't always loved dogs - you can read about how Nell ended up coming to live with us here). Maybe they're not on muddy walks in the country, but are more pavement-dwelling...

Below is a photo from another walk that feels worth including while on the subject. She is like a hybrid animal, halfway between a dog and a pig, dropping to her stomach to commando crawl through mud the moment she sees it. Initially, I feel the pain of knowing how hard it's going to be to clean her when we get home, but once I've resigned myself to that, it's the most joyful thing to watch. 

For reference, this is what she looks like before she's found a patch of mud. I didn't know it was possible to feel so much love for a creature's jowls, but this photo fills me with fondness for her saggy cheeks.

One day, I might undertake some less covert quilt photography as a social experiment to discover if quilts could actually cause strangers to come and chat in the same way that Nell does...I don't imagine the world loves quilts quite as much as dogs, but who knows what surprises might be in store. Anyway, back to the quilt.

You might remember that I hand-pieced the quilt and wrote a tutorial for making one here. At that point, I hadn't quilted it though. Quilting has never been my strong-point - while I feel like a confident piecer, when it comes to quilting I still feel like a beginner. I'd always imagined my quilting skills would improve with each quilt, but if anything they seem to get worse - I fail to see the quilting pattern that will take the piecing to a new level and lack the skills to execute my quilting with any kind of style, so I consulted Instagram to see if people who have more prowess in this area could help me.

Imagine putting such a question out there and being told by a friend who lives a few streets away that she's written a book exclusively about hexagons, including ways to quilt them, and that she'll pop over the next day to drop it in for you? That actually happened to me, in the form of Carolyn, who has actually written over a dozen books, which is possibly why I'm not familiar with all of them.

This quilting pattern from her book, Hexagon Happenings, was the one that jumped out at us. I don't have any interspersing triangles in my quilt, but we decided I could use the pattern on the hexagons alone.

While Carolyn was here, I asked which thread colour she'd use for the quilting. I'd been expecting her to say something like grey or dark blue, which were the only colours I could imagine sinking in to so many differently coloured prints, but she surprised me by taking an olive green from my thread rack. The minute she laid the thread across the fabrics though, I could see how well it went with them. It didn't blend away, but it seemed to stand out in a way that made the fabrics look even more lovely. For me, it was a fairly mind-blowing moment and it's caused me to look at thread colour slightly differently since, feeling that these details are all things that can be lovely and celebrated in their own right - they don't have to be something that blends away (if you ever get the chance to take a class with Carolyn, leap at it!I feel sure it's these tiny things that are actually the game changers).

With a quilting pattern and a thread colour decided, Carolyn left me to my own devices, and I had the rare experience of diving into something decisively, feeling sure of my choices. The template in Carolyn's book was for a different size of hexagon, so I redrew it on my computer (it would probably be quicker to just mess around with scaling up by different percentages on a photocopier, but I love that kind of laptop work, so was happy to redraw them) and then made a template using a sheet of plastic - it was painstaking work and took a few hours, during which time I variously felt like a surgeon and a psychopath to be brandishing a scalpel so intensely. It turned my head inside-out deciding which bits of plastic to leave joined so that the template would hold together even once the quilting lines had been cut out, but I eventually got there and was pretty pleased with my work!

I transferred the lines onto the quilt about three columns at a time using a Sewline pencil filled with ceramic leads. I switched between leads to mark the fabric, using a mixture of pink, white and green - whichever showed up best on the fabric. The action of the quilt rubbing against itself seemed to remove the lines at just the right moment and I needed to do very little work to remove them, but equally they stayed long enough for me to quilt over them. They don't rub off everything though, so it's worth exercising some caution and testing them on your fabric first if you're going to use them.

I then played around with free-motioning the design on some offcuts, which was fairly disastrous, so in the end I kept the feed dogs raised and used a regular foot (my machine has integrated dual feed, so I don't need a separate walking foot). For such a twisty-turny pattern, it actually worked surprisingly well and, incredibly, I also really enjoyed doing it (incredibly because I often find machine sewing quite dull, as I don't like the way it ties me to one location).

I'm now going to put on my boasting hat, so brace yourself. I think such a thing is meant to be reserved for the arrival of grandchildren, but I feel compelled to put it on for my first-born nicely quilted quilt, and say that I think I might have gone from utterly useless to pro in one quilt under Carolyn's expert tuition. If I never manage to quilt anything as nicely again, I'm fine with that, because this can be my one shining example of Quilting That Actually Looked Good. I love everything about it - I like how it's softened the columns of hexagons; how it's more complex than anything I've done before; how there aren't too many obvious mistakes; and how the olive green thread looks like a perfect but unexpected choice.

Here's another photo of it from a different angle.

It should be said at this point that I somehow messed up my binding - I don't know how, as I've never done this before, but it's slightly wider on the back than the front, which drives me nuts and I think I may have to unpick it and redo it - you'll note that the boasting hat has now been taken off: pride, fall. Whatever. (As an aside, isn't pride comes before the fall the most loathsome expression - it's the kind of saying that sucks the joy out of life. I'm pretty sure I can remember Rachel Lynde saying it in Anne of Green Gables and it feeling like a prime example of what a sourpuss she was, although I think she eventually redeemed herself. I would never think of that expression in relation to anyone else, so I'm unsure why I allowed Rachel Lyndeishness to pop into my head for myself just then).

This is my favourite photo of my quilt, taken as a gust of wind made it billow out, but thankfully it was spared from the mud patch below.

On flu-recovery update: I was off the sofa and had two days where I returned to normal day-to-day activities, which was really lovely, but I now have an annoying cough and feel out of breath doing even the simplest things, as well as looking like someone has sucked all the colour out of my cheeks and replaced it with something grey. Will I ever be well and look normal again, I wonder? A friend left a stash of treats on my doorstep to aid recovery and thankfully I've found I've been able to nibble on them without having to use a nebuliser though. Phew.

Do let me know your thoughts on public quilt photography, and also dogs vs quilts if you have any insight with the general non-quilting public, or your own thoughts on the matter.

Florence x
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