Saturday, 28 February 2009

Thoughts on bulk sewing and other things....

This week I have sewed all day, every day. On Friday morning as I sat down at my sewing machine, with a lovely clear blue sky at the window, my iPod playing favourite songs, a cup of tea on my desk and pattern pieces ready to sew I realised how very happy I felt. I have been making up orders of make-up bags, tissue holders and pin cushions. All things that don't require the stroky beard moments that I get when making something with applique pieces and I found the opportunity to have a week in front of the machine, rather than on the floor surrounded by strangely shaped scraps of material, to be completely restful.

I am never keen on the pattern cutting aspect, but I now tend to spend about five hours once a week in an evening cutting out pattern pieces to sew during the week, and this way it seems quicker and gets the boring bit out of the way. Whenever I have an order to make something, I find it hard not to feel compelled to make several more for my shop at the same time, and so gradually summer stock has built up without any real conscious effort (although none of it is yet photographed for my website as that is another job which feels slightly tiresome, so I'm waiting to do it all on one day).

The other good thing about sewing in bulk in this way is that where something has been unpicked and put right on the first item, the next is quicker to make as what I've learnt is able to put into practice straightaway with the next set of pattern pieces (and not forgotten, as would be in my usual way!). When a friend asked me to make her a make-up bag like this one, to give as a gift, my heart sank a little for zips scare me, particularly when I haven't put one in for a while. However, the following week she placed an order for two more, and with those I made another two for my shop...and finally I felt I knew exactly how the zip should be put in and completely confident about doing it. My sister, Laura, read here that to be completely proficient and successful at something one must have spent something approximating 10,000 hours practicing I still have 9,970 hours to go, but I'm feeling positive because I can already see the rightness in this and can only imagine how dreamy my zips are going to look at the end of this learning curve.

I, on the other hand, will look anything other than dreamy. I have realised that sewing is not good for general health. My sewing desk has always been in the same place and the small clock that I always glance at (for even at 10am I worry that time may have run away with me and that I might have missed picking the children up from school) has always been about 2 metres away across the room. Two years ago, I used to look up from my desk and would see the numbers on the clock perfectly. Now when I look up my eyes take a couple of seconds to focus before I can make out the figures on the clock. My mother says that this is because I am spending too much time staring without blinking at short range and that I must exercise my eyes by glancing out of the window every minute to give my eyes more opportunity to change between short and long distance focus. I am now doing this religiously - I have always had perfect eyesight and it terrifies me to feel this deteriorating by something so obviously measurable as the clock that I have always looked at.

And the two pictures of linings in this post? I use this range all the time. They are beautiful quality, have a low, subtle sheen to them, the colours are gorgeous and appear to change slightly depending on what angle you are looking at them from. And I have just learnt that they are no longer being imported into this country for what I can only assume are reasons of credit crunchery. Oh lawks...whatever next?! On a gravely serious side so many people are losing their jobs, but on a more superficial side, our high streets do seem to be being depleted of so many of the bits of loveliness that I'd previously always assumed would be available. It's a shock to find this happening and I feel distressed by the idea that potentially we could lose some of our favourite fabric houses, designers, or shops to this...arg...there's never been a time when it's so virtuous to spend large in this area! x

Monday, 23 February 2009

Mary, Mary quite contrary has storage issues...

Bloggers, Bloggers, beyond compare(y).
How is your fabric stored?
In drawers and boxes, in cupboards and trunks,
Or on lovely shelves all in a row?

For no apparent reason that nursery rhyme popped into my head while thinking on storage issues, so it seemed an appropriate means of asking you how you store your fabrics and ribbons. I think I may be in the market for some new storage soon as my fabric is becoming cramped in its current house.

It is kept in these cupboards in small plastic baskets ordered by colour. I like that once the basket is out I can pick out a fat quarter easily without disrupting a whole pile in the way that imagine it might with shelves...but it's annoying to have everything out on the floor while I'm trying to maybe shelves are the best thing afterall.

I would love to know whether you have cupboards or drawers, deep drawers or shallow drawers, open or closed shelving and what things irk and please you about your chosen storage method.

Ian is opposing the need for new storage on the grounds that he would miss seeing all the things hung up around and on the mirror when he walks into our room...but it's just too small to keep it the way it is.

Here's the inside. Yes, it looks utterly chaotic, I know. The piles of fabric on the top level go back two deep...which makes getting to anything at the back very frustrating and impossible to keep tidy.

Really I would like something antique to store things in...but in the absence of just the right thing being out there I have been looking at the Ikea website. I quite like these drawers, perhaps with different handles on them, but wish it was a little bit wider to make more use of the space. I love these shelves with sliding doors, but they are too wide for my alcove, or perhaps this tall dresser with a mixture of open and closed shelving...that I would be too short to reach easily...

I would love to hear your fabric storage issues, thoughts or suggestions...happy or glum. I dream of having a dedicated sewing room...but know that storage is probably still a troublesome issue even when in possession of a whole room, as it's all relative. Hmmm.

Oh and the ribbons: the pastel coloured edge-stitched grossgrain was a Christmas present from my sister-in-law, while the velvet and sari-style ribbons came from my sister. Aahhhh. Ribbony perfection.


p.s. In case you find yourself in a similar quandary I thought I would share the Flickr groups that I've just found: Operation: Sewing Room Organisation, as well as this group called Fabric Stash & would seem that most people have more than 141cm of storage space to work with...but as it's completely dreamy to look at the fabric stashes of people who make the time to fold their materials so beautifully...well, one can only feel happiness, rather than envy. Swoon!

p.p.s. I typed too soon. I now see that true beauty can exist in far less than 141cm...have you ever seen an arrangment more lovely!

Friday, 20 February 2009

A cushion...and an unplanned rant...

On the last day before half-term I finally managed to finish the front to a cushion that I've been making as a birthday gift for someone who loves all things Wizard of Oz. With an awareness that what delights a child at 4, might not hold the same appeal at 7, I tried to suggest at Toto and red slipper loveliness, without the references being so overt that it will have to be relegated to the loft once the Dorothy obsession has passed - although does it ever really pass? I know my sister & I still feel that a pair of red shoes has a magic about them that even a pair of more neutral-coloured Emma Hope's can't touch.

So Toto has been reincarnated in flowers and spots with a different collar and fabric colour combination for each dog. I imagined that choosing a favourite could be a relaxing pastime when sleep is elusive.

It was a little brighter than I expected...but actually, when I laid it on Zebra-girl's bed mid-construction I realised that it would have fitted in perfectly in her room (so removed it before she noticed this and asked to keep it for herself).

On the dog theme, we went to see Hotel for Dogs yesterday (despite it opening to reviews that suggest it's a little dull). I thought that the Teacakes might like it as the trailer reminded me of a film called Benji that I loved as a small child. It was actually quite good, which is saying something as on the whole I have issues with modern day children's films (which is why my children have a rather pre-historic dvd collection based around The Railway Children, Morph, Button Moon & Peppa Pig) in that the makers have created animated characters that tend to all talk to each other in an aggressive way laden with 'attitude'. As well as this, they tend to be splattered with inappropriate references (The Magic Roundabout would suggest that isn't a new thing...and yes, we do have a copy in our collection of permitted viewing!) but they've actually allowed the references to seep into the characters' behaviour, which while it may not be understood, may well be mimicked by those watching. We were amazed on putting on Toy Story a year ago, which I'd always assumed was a DVD aimed solely at children to find two of the characters acting in the most nauseatingly flirtatious way (and that is an understatement) toward one another. The meaning of the behaviour might go over the audiences' heads...but I certainly wouldn't want to see my children impersonating it.

Hmmm, now where did that rant come from? Perhaps I need to have an extra half-hour in bed and wake with less of a chip against Disney on my shoulder. Oh dear. Sorry. Climbing down from the soapbox that seems to have unexpectedly been erected, I hope that you all have lovely weekends. x

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Crimes against the handmade

As with fabrics and clothes, sometimes I come across something - in this case a colour - that I love so much that I feel a burning desire to buy up vast amounts of it so that my supplies of it might never be depleted. In this case it was some olivey-green tissue paper from Paperchase. I seem to remember that as I stood in front of the racks of paper, Sensible Florence and Loopy Florence had a conversation about stockpiling (there have been jumpers...there have been well as numerous other undisclosed obsessions), and unfortunately I managed to convince myself that bulk-buying was not necessary in this case and that I must have faith that lovely things will always be on the shelves. So imagine my frustration, with only half a sheet left in my possession, on arriving at the shop only to be told that they were having problems with their supplier and they didn't know whether they would EVER have any of the beautiful green tissue paper in again! Thank goodness I thought to photograph some in action. I would really love one of the memo boards that I've made so many times for other people, as it would be nice to have snippets of things up that please me, without the commitment of putting it in a frame (which in this case would just be quite odd)....but somehow I never seem to get around to making things for me.

I seem to remember that someone made a comment about cat beds needing to be washable. When I'd made them I'd been in such a rush to provide bedding for the new cats that I'd been rather lax and not pre-washed any of the fabric or even checked the fillings for laundering instructions. However, due to a cat doing something utterly unmentionable in one of their beds yesterday (Why?! Could she possibly have chosen an act that would offend me more than to wee on her handmade bed?! I have no idea what could have prompted such a thing from a perfectly litter-trained cat who is normally so fastidiously tidy and clean) the washing of one of them was necessitated. I am delighted to report that the bed was washed and then tumble-dried in less than two hours, seemingly with no ill effects or shrinkage, which thankfully went some way towards alleviating my desire to throttle the cat (for despite being a committed vegetarian for the past 27 years, my thoughts toward the perpetrator were most uncharitable and a roasting pan was a temporary consideration).

Thank you for all your well wishes for my tonsillitis...which is improving, but sinusitis seems to be taking its place - I had avoided taking the antibiotics that I'd been given, but as I would like to be able to move my head without the need to suppress yelps of pain, I may just open them tonight. However, despite the pain, somehow I don't feel too bad in myself and we have managed trips to the swimming pool and lots of time with friends. My only regret is that we have arranged to catch up with so many people that we no longer have a day reserved for pajamas and baking...I am looking forward to the Easter holidays already. I hope you are having fun if you have your babes off this week...or fun even if you don't. x

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Pictures and chairs

I was recently asked if I would make a picture for a little girl's birthday. I was so pleased as it allowed all the fun of creating a picture, with none of the jiggery-pokery (more technical sewing) needed to then turn it into something useful or practical. I had recently bought some of the blue polka dot material shown in the background and enjoyed using it as I love the shade of blue.

Here it is framed. To mount it I used a spray adhesive that you'd usually use to baste quilt batting in place, which made the job of stretching the fabric smooth and holding it in place much easier. Her mother also wanted a memo board making for her.

I love making these - as a staple gun bares a close resemblance to a power tool. It makes me long to do an upholstery course...but a friend tells me that you need to also be skilled with woodwork (and real power tools) to do that. Years ago I found an enormous and very old Parker Knoll armchair in a skip and managed to get a passing black cab to drive us both to my office, where the flea-ridden chair sat next to me all day while I worked. Once home that evening I disposed of all the padding and coverings and spent hours sanding and polishing it (with an electric sander, because that is one that even I can use successfully) and later chose some beautiful thick upholstery-weight chenille from John Lewis, which I hammered on with antique upholstery pins. The padding was my downfall though...I didn't get it quite right and it ended up being the chair in the corner that looked lovely, but felt slightly dangerous to sit on. It moved with us to four different houses over the space of ten years. But now it is in the garage, stripped back to its wooden frame again. I'm having a big think about whether I should see if I have any better ideas for giving it spring and padding a decade later. I tried to find a picture of it, which meant going back through the photographs taken at our old house...which meant looking at lots of pictures of when the children were small and watching silent jerky videos taken on our first digital camera that didn't have any sound. I didn't find the chair, but two hours have passed and I have done nothing but think back to how lovely it was to have small ones around the house and how I wish that time would slow down...or even go backwards. Very unproductive...but that's okay as the doctor told me this morning that I have tonsillitis...which I'm thinking justifies an afternoon of bed rest and time-wasting.

Monday, 9 February 2009

For the love of Rod

This is one of my favourite desserts photographed mid-construction. From The Ivy cookbook, it's also the dessert that Ian and I chose to have at our winter wedding eight years ago. Frozen berries covered in a hot white chocolate sauce...the sensation of eating the sweet hot liquid and the cold, thawing berries is quite magical.

I have also been enjoying baking these heart-shaped shortbread sandwich biscuits with a lime flavoured cream filling. And trying to recreate the loveliness of my sister's spicy cheese stars as a treat for Ian's birthday...but we both agreed that she makes them much better...and that I need to go back to the classroom next time my sister is home.

And just when you thought I might have had all the doorstop fun I could take (or just when you were hoping for a post that didn't involve sand-filled stitchery), I have one more to share. This is the final contestant in my quartet of recent adventures with anti-door-banging-devices. The applique for these takes so long that when I recently made a grown-up, non-appliqued doorstop I realised that at my starting point of assembling the actual doorstop, for the applique version I had begun to think of this stage of construction as the home-straight. This one is actually an order from just before Christmas for a sea-creature obsessed little boy who loves orange.

This week I have been making bags...after my last post where I'd been thinking about doing a large applique picture for the playroom I started it, but nothing felt right. Then I realised that guilt was stopping me from enjoying it and that I'd feel much better if I made a few summer bags for my shop first. And actually, after the tiresomeness of bulk pattern-cutting I've really enjoyed spending whole days with uninterrupted time in front of the sewing machine. Rainy and cold, the perfect weather for cosy stitching.

I used to turn my laptop on so that I could listen to music while I was sewing, but it's been so nice to be able to leave it turned off since Mr Teacakes treated me to an Ipod. I have realised that I am a one-dimensional user sits firmly in its docking station after my few trips out with it left me suffering from a strange paranoia that I might be breathing too loudly as I walked along with the headphones in. No amount of temporary earphone removal to check that, yes, breathing was normal and not audible to passersby left me only got worse and I found that I was holding my breath to try and solve the problem altogether. It seemed I had to choose between killing myself or confining use to speakers in my own I chose the latter, but with an awareness that I am decidedly uncool and with a new admiration for those that swagger nonchalantly down the street with their earphones in with a complete lack of concern as to whether they might be loudly hyperventilating unbeknown to themselves. My friend, the lovely Miss L, tells me that she thinks this is a deep-seated wish to apologise for my very existence. I don't think it is that though...I just think I'm a little odd at times.

Poor Mr Teacakes now wishes the docking station would spontaneously combust. On several occasions he arrived home from work and asked worriedly if I was listening to Rod Stewart. No, I replied, it must just be someone who sounds like him. Eventually though, I wondered whether all these people I like who sound so similar to Rod Stewart might actually mean that I would like Rod Stewart himself. A quick iTunes session revealed that I knew more of Mr Stewart's songs than I'd ever imagined and that, actually, I loved them all! I think Mr Teacakes may be plotting the removal of the docking station so that his ears aren't polluted by such things. An event which would mean that I would then have to choose between a life without Rod or potentially killing myself by risking using the earphones again. It would be a difficult choice. But while I decide, in Ian's presence I am listening to a play list which I have entitled 'Songs That Ian Will Like Too'.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Party food in pink...

Well, my last post may have held promise that I was about to break down my own colour barriers and go completely wild and make something in lilac or green...but alas, a girl can only handle so much change at a time...and I had said previously that due to my lack of blogging recently, that the stitchery that I wanted to share would be from the archives: before the enlightenment. Although I do think it is possible to be colour enlightened and to still love a pinkish hue too.

I was commissioned to make this doorstop just before Christmas for some little girls with a new house and a bedroom door that wouldn't stay open, and I think it's one of the things that I've most enjoyed making. Ever. I took inspiration from the chocolatey ice cream cone that I'd made made to go on one of Dinosaur-boy's t-shirts years ago when he was very small - that original one is hand-appliqued with a blanket stitch as my one attempt at machine applique had left me feeling weepy and confused as to why the machine had been so intent on actually trying to eat the t-shirt and suck it down into the bobbin case - the machine was put away for a few months before I felt strong enough to try again. But actually, I really love the old ice-cream cone as I didn't have a clue what I was doing and it took me four days - yes four days! - to complete it and I had a ridiculously huge sense of achievement once it was finished). Anyway, four years on I attempted to reincarnate it in pink and, to me, it was one of the most delicious things imaginable to pick the colours for and it was so lovely to be able to cram all my favourite fabrics into one creation.

Words can't quite convey how happy I was when I found a floral print that featured a flower with a centre that was so obviously destined to be repurposed and transformed into a cherry on top of a fairy cake. It would seem that I have found that true happiness lies in replicating party food in pink.

For the rest of my family happiness has been found in making a snowman called Freddie and watching him stand smiling as all around him begins to melt.

My head is feeling a little flibbertygibberty as to what to do now. I have bought lovely fabrics to start making up spring and summer bags with...but I feel strangely drawn to first being completely self-indulgent and instead starting on an idea that has been crystallising in my head recently. I'm longing to make for the children's playroom a huge applique picture filled with different places to live. I have really strong recollections of a book I had as child where a whole double page was filled with everything from houseboats to bungalows (the illustrations were reminiscent of the wonderful and eccentric Richard Scarry...but over the years I've tried to hunt the page out in his books and doesn't seem to be there, so I've no idea what book the pages were actually from) and I remember spending hours pouring over all the different styles of doors and windows and trying to decide which house would be the most perfect home. My children love this same element in a modern book called You Choose!, where the readers can pick not just houses, but who they'd have for their family and friends, what would be inside their house and what their job would be. It's an amazing book which fascinates them, although I've never felt drawn to the style of illustration used in it. Anyway, I discussed my idea with them last night and I was really surprised by just how enthusiastic they were and, guessing that there was going to be no school today, they were still busily drawing pictures and diagrams for me and making suggestions as to what details they wanted included an hour and a half after their bedtime. Decisions, decisions. It just feels far too wintry to be making summer bags yet.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Bits & bobs

It may seem untimely to be talking as though it's still the start of the year, but as I only managed three posts in January and they were largely cat-related, then needs must! One of the things that I'd spent 2008 resolving to do was to make a new ironing board cover (not the main house ironing board, but my miniature sewing room one) and I felt utterly depressed to find myself hurrying to make up orders before the last post on the 21st December using non-stick plastic sheets to protect the materials from the horrors of the ironing board cover beneath, knowing that the year would end with an ugly ironing board still in my possession. I've found that there is simply no neat way to applique and the use of the sticky web to join the tiny applique pieces to the main fabrics means that the ironing board bears extra grub as testament to every new project undertaken. So, one of my first happy tasks for 2009, having bought a special fold up mat to which I will confine future ventures with applique web, was to make a new ironing board cover that will remain pristine, for use only when pressing.

I was quite shocked by just how easy it was to make and also that it is one of the few projects that truly can be completed in less than an hour. Ironing has become quite wonderful.

After the ironing board cover, one of my first commissions this year was to make an appliqued doorstop for a little girl. Which would have been really quite simple, if I hadn't been expressly told that I was not to use pink. I was also told that a donkey and a tractor were to be the subject matter. After my brain had finished imploding I realised that, when it comes to sewing, it has become entrenched in my thinking that things for girls require baskets of pink and red fabrics to be brought out, and boys will require tubs of brown & blues from the cupboard. By a strange coincidence that same morning I had read some of my backlog of weekend newspapers as I'd dressed and had happened to look over an article in the Guardian entitled Hurrah for Tomboys!, which talked about the way that our girls have become saturated in pinkness over the last 15 years and mourning the loss of the more universal colours that characterised the childhoods of previous generations, where tomboys could more happily exist. I felt quite horrified as I read on and realised that even though my own daughter's favourite colours at 2 years old were purple and orange, it hadn't even occurred to me to decorate her room in those colours. I had gone straight for pink and perhaps she learned to love it, or perhaps she conformed to what was subconsciously expected of her, but at some point purple and orange stopped being mentioned. So when, only hours after reading the article, I was faced with the proposition of not only creating something for a girl that wasn't pink, but that was also to feature themes that to my jaded thinking were more typically male, it dawned on me that I should sew with admiration that there was still a child who, tomboy or not, had avoided being whitewashed by pinkness and princesses. So after much deliberation and more than one consultation call to my mother, I chose yellows & greens, greys & a small amount of red, and oddly, with its lack of saccharine, it has really grown on me and I found myself feeling temporarily nostalgic for the time when a whole generation of children, boys & girls alike, were dressed in generic brown or navy dungarees from Mothercare (is there anyone is didn't have a pair of those?!). Here's a photo of the doorstop mid-construction, included only because I've realised that I really love looking at the half-finished sewing of others.

Doing this project made me very aware that my stash is slightly limited in what better excuse to go out and purchase some more greens and yellows once it was finished.

And as a postscript, an apology. It would seem that I am one of life's poor emailers and although I seem to have achieved little this month apart from making large unwanted holes in the wall with powertools, it seems emailing time has eluded me. But as you can imagine from the length of my infrequent posts, my emails tend to also be very long...which does put a limit on how productive one can be! I know that concise & frequent is better than profuse & rare...but it just never seems to happen that way.

As to the holes: Mr Teacakes turned white when he arrived home to see the resultant devastation of my attempts at further cat-proofing. I claimed I had been trying to be helpful, but really we both know it was that I was too impatient to wait for him to get home from work. As penance I am on polyfilla duty for the next two weeks! And no, I am not permitted to apply a large wodge in one day, which would have been my first approach. Apparently it has to be layered gradually. You may wonder how my cat-proofing has become so elaborate that drills are now required. Well, once the cats are allowed outside they will come back into the house through the utility room, where our coats live. One of my biggest fears in life is rodents and amphibians, especially half-dead ones, so I decided that the only way that I will never have to suffer the uncertainty of putting on my coat not knowing whether I might find that a sleeve has been deemed a good hiding place for a one-legged mouse on the run, was to rehome the coats on new coat racks near the front door. On Saturday morning the coat racks were put up for a second time. This time perfectly aligned and attached firmly to the wall. Well done Mr Teacakes!

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