Thursday, 28 May 2009

Through the letterbox

Half-term has been whizzing by and after the sunshiny loveliness of last weekend which saw us going butterfly hunting (hunting to see them, not actually eat them), we have had a rain-soaked couple of days of pottering, setting up a cinema in the living room (we watched Two Brothers which is about the hunting of tigers and was absolutely amazing - even the littlest Teacake thought it was wonderful, although very sad in places). With child-filled daytimes I have been sewing a lot in the evenings: below are some of the make-up bags that I was stitching earlier in the week - two for a custom order...and an extra one that will go into my shop (Updated: now in shop).

I've also made this co-ordinating tissue holder and herb teabag holder that are heading off to New York soon. Once finished I happened to put them down next to the new bag that you may remember I'd blogged about making in my last post...I love it when one stumbles quite unintentionally across matchyness! It would be very pleasing if I could keep them all like that, weirdly assembled on the shelf. (Updated: this bag is now finally in my shop!)

I have also had exciting things arriving through my letterbox: some of you may already know of a new sewing magazine launching this month called Sew. Well, the first issue arrived with me a couple of days ago and it was such a treat to flick through its pages, for not only did it contain excellent interviews With Amy Butler and Eithne Farry, but it also had more obscure things like an insight piece into the traditional tailoring processes at Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row, which I found myself strangely fascinated by...I love hearing about how people with traditional, more formal training work for I feel like they must be in possession of a kind of magical expertise, possibly handed down though a long line of descendants from the Elves & the Shoemakers. The little Teacakes were unusually eager to leaf through the magazine the minute it arrived on the doorstep to play a game of 'spot our mummy' as they knew that there was to be a small piece featuring my blog in there...and horay! It really was there.
On my second read-through, once the small ones were safely tucked up in bed that evening, I quickly realised that I couldn't possibly relax without my laptop next to me to follow up all the links to the previously unexplored fabric shops that were scattered throughout its pages. I was truly amazed - I'd thought my own internet trawls for UK stockists of my favourite fabrics had been truly exhaustive...but it seems as though I had only scratched the surface, for there is much loveliness to be found closer to home than I had first thought.

Monday, 18 May 2009


Last week I spent much of my time working on a new bag design. I recently sat down in a shop next to Joanne (we were there for the long haul, so it seemed a sensible thing to do) when I noticed that she had a wonderful tote bag with a central split in the middle revealing the most scrumptious green Amy Butler print. Joanne summed its loveliness up perfectly when she said: well, you don't always want a bag that's got colour and pattern all over it. And with all the suggestibility of a Stepford Wife, I found myself nodding my head and thinking: Damn it, she's right. I don't always want a bag that has a pattern all over it (although, sometimes I do...for there's fun to be had in being a changeling). The bag I eventually came up with has the same outline shape as my Melly bag, but with a different arrangement making up the inline (is that a word?) shape.

My lovely Mama popped round while I was mid-make. She has become so used to the constant production line that dominates my room that she has long since ceased to notice whatever it is that I'm working on and gets down to the happy business of tea-drinking and chatting while I cut things out and scuttle round trying to de-thread the carpet so that she doesn't go home with an extra coat. But most pleasingly, she set upon my new bag, ooohed and ahhhed in the most gratifying way and declared that she must have it, despite the fact that doesn't actually need another bag...which was perfect as it was at just the right point in production that I was able to make the handle a little shorter than usual for her, which is just the way she likes them. Here I am with it in one of those weirdy self-portrait photos that one occasionally feels compelled to take...yeah, that's me...just lounging against the wall...oh and I just happened to press the self-timer button before I began lounging. There's something so silly about it.

I created a narrow horizontal flap of material to visually tie up the two pleats of colour on either side, and have done the same thing inside to give the internal pockets a little more interest and detail.

I enjoyed making it so much that the minute I'd finished I started on this creamy lemony version, which is destined for my shop once I've taken some proper photographs of it.

Here's the inside purse and phone pockets:

I really want to make one of these bags for myself, but feel utterly indecisive as to what colour will go best with all my summer'd think that I might just make them up in every colour...but somehow I find that I feel guilty making things for myself when I should be putting them in my shop.

Anyway, I have an appointment with a box of shoes now, so must go. Wishing you happy Mondays. x

Friday, 15 May 2009

Lined, zippered pouch / make up bag tutorial

This morning I was in a rush to make a simple lined make-up bag and had a quick look on the internet to see if I could easily find any dimensions for such a thing. I could find instructions on how to make a pouch, but none with dimensions and none with covered ends to the zips, which is how I like my zips to be finished. It now seems quite illogical to me that I decided that I simply must write a tutorial for such a thing when I was meant to be 'rushing'...but it seems that most things can wait. So here we have a lined, covered zip ends make up bag / coin purse tutorial (for personal use only, see tutorial end for other terms). Photos are plentiful and instructions (hopefully) basic, in the hope that a beginner will be able to make this easily.

This make-up bag will end up measuring: 7.5" x 5".

Here are the ingredients you will need:

1 x zip (it can start off at any size, but should be cut down to measure 8" exactly)
2 x lining - 8" x 5.5"
2 x fancy fabric for outer - 8" x 5.5"
2 x fancy fabric zip end covers- 3" x 1.5"
4 x sew-in interfacing - 8" x 5.5"

The interfacing is optional...but I think that as this will probably be used in a handbag (rather than on a dresser) it should have some substance to it and not be prone to wobbling around like a blancmange...don't say I didn't warn you!

Yay! You decided to use the interfacing - you won't regret it! Take a piece of the interfacing and attach it to one of your 8" x 5.5" rectangular pieces by zigzagging all the way around the edges. The do the same for your other 3 rectangle pieces. This makes them more manageable and less flappy to work with later on. Now set these to one side.

Take one of the 3" x 1.5" pieces of material. Fold it in half across the length and then fold back by a 1/4" at each end as above.

Place your zip so that it butts up to the half way fold that you made.

And then pin the ends down just like this. Then do exactly the same for the other end.

Now make two neat rows of stitching (it will show at the end so make it pretty) across the zip to secure your zip cover in place.

So the ends should now look like this.

Now it's time to make a tasty fabric sandwich. Put your outer fabric face up. Place your zip on top of this face down. Now place your lining on top of this face down. Pin it so that the top of the zip and the top of your fabrics are all perfectly aligned...don't worry, your zip end covers will be higher than the rest of this...just pretend they're not there!

Pull the zip open halfway. Put on your zipper foot and start at one end and begin to sew. With you finger gently feel for the zipper teeth and make sure your zipper foot presses up alongside these. When you reach the zip fastener keep your needle down and raise the presser foot and gently slide the zip backward a little before carrying one sewing.

Once you've finished, flip the fabrics over so that they're the right way round. It should look like this. Your outer fabric and lining will now be touching wrong side to wrong side.

Now it's time to attach the fabric to the other side of the zip. Make your sandwich exactly the same as before, aligning the top of the zip with the lining and outer fabric and pretending that the first sandwich isn't there (almost as if you've eaten it). If you think you've got it sussed, don't look at the below picture as it can make your head hurt if you think about it too much...if you're struggling, eyes down:

So remember: Main fabric face up. Zipper facing down. Lining face down. Now sew! After you've flipped the fabrics round the right way it should look like this:

It makes sense to do some top-stitching on each side of the zip so that you're never faced with the horror of catching your fabric in the zip teeth and being left unable to reach any of the makeup or contents inside. Gently hold the lining and outer fabrics taut as you do this.

Mmmm...see how lovely this makes it look. Afterwards, when laid out flat, the lining side should look like this:

And the outer side should look like this. Scrumptious.

Now, it's time to stop faffing around with zips and start making your fabric into a make-up bag or pouch (eugh, such an unpleasant word).

Pull your zip open half way and leave it right there. Don't touch it, really, don't touch it! Now hang onto the two pieces of outer fabric and put them so that the pretty sides are facing one another. The do the same with the lining: make the right sides of the lining face one another. Pin the outer fabric sides first, making sure that the edges of the fabric all match up nicely. Now pin the linings together, making sure that the zip ends are pointing downwards into the lining side and not into the outer fabrics side. Can you see on the picture above - my outer fabric is on the left and sits completely flat. My blue lining is on the right and has the zippy bits pushed to that side.

If you have a 1/4 inch foot then use this as your seam allowance guide...if you don't, then mark a 1/4" seam allowance all the way around the edge.

Sew right around the perimeter of the material (above, I'm halfway through), leaving a 2" turning gap in the bottom of the lining.

Nearly there now. Now it's time to de-bulk your zipper-end covers so that when it's all turned the right way out you don't get horrid lumpy bits. Take a fine pair of scissors (this is not the time for large shears) and snip carefully outside any lines of stitching to de-bulk wherever you can. Then make a little snip on each of the four corners of the square - again, being careful not to cut through any of your stitches.

Next turn it all the right way out through that 2" gap in the bottom of the lining that you left.

What a mess! Will this ever look right? Keep aren't you so pleased that you didn't touch that zip and that you left it half-way open? Not doing so can cause the most undignified amount of expletives at this point, so it's really much better this way.

So now you're all turned out the right way out, but your corners look a little puckered, no (see below)? With your hand inside, between the lining and the outer fabric, use your fingers to poke it until it sits more neatly (I think a turning point is too pointy for this task and should only be used on the outer corners).

Keep poking....ahh, there, that looks much better, no?

Pull the lining out a little, fold the turning gap in the lining inwards and sew up neatly. You're nearly finished, but the time for waltzing around the room, holding your beautiful new make-up bag aloft and singing is not yet upon us. Don't you remember how scrunched up all the fabric got when you were turning it the right way out? Delay the gratification and get thee behind the ironing board for you still have work to do!

With the lining out (because if you leave it in it will get ironed into horrible creases), first iron the outer of the case and then the inner.

Then put the lining back into the bag and relax. If my pattern has gone according to plan and I haven't omitted a vital instruction, you should now be in possession of some pouchy loveliness (no, these two words will never really go together will they).

Now it's time for some chocolate...mine are some deliciously indulgent champagne truffles that someone lovely bought for me last week... but really any old thing will do on this occasion. Remember to wouldn't do to have a choking fit all over your nice new bag.

Yes...I do seem to have come over all bossy when in tutorial mode. Forgive me. And if you use this pattern, I'd love to hear how you got on and I'd love it even more if you have the time to drop a picture of your lovely new make-up bag into my Flickr group here.

Happy sewing. x

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Paws from sewing...

Well, the pause from sewing is only in the form of this blog post actually, as my machine has barely been turned off as I have been busy designing a new bag, but I suddenly felt more like doing a cat report than anything else. When we got our lovely cats in January I knew that we were primarily getting them for the little Teacakes and that there would be many sacrifices on my part...the copious hairs, closed sewing room door and hours of extra housework I have got used to...but the one thing I couldn't get used to was coming downstairs to find mice and other creatures racing around the kitchen when I was least expecting them. I tried to think positively and view them as the thoughtfully caught catty gifts that I knew they were, but I'm just not that good around nature and so in the end I avoided going downstairs during the day as I was too terrified by what I might find. I also began to obsessively remove any potential creature hiding places...the recycling trug was removed, my plastic bag carrier was hung elsewhere, the coat rack was re-homed, stationary pots were thrown out in favour of tins with lids on and the children's lunchboxes were carefully hung up to air upside down each night...I was turning into a mad woman.

And then one day Joanne said to me that she didn't think the cats would mind if I just closed the cat flap for a couple of hours to give myself a respite each day when I knew I wasn't going to be faced with rodenty surprises. And suddenly I felt very much better because, with this suggestion in mind, the cats and I struck a deal (I talked, they listened and then blinked at me in that way that is meant to communicate that they love you and I also took to me that they recognise that I am neurotic and are accepting of this). The deal is this: they can get out through the cat flap whenever they want, but re-entry is only permitted once I've seen that they are not secreting extra house guests about their persons. I check regularly to see if they want to come back in and I was so happy because this system was working wonderfully and the cats seemed completely happy. But then a couple of days after this new arrangement began, it started to rain while I had popped out to the shops. I came home to find soggy cats sheltering under the garden furniture and felt utterly distraught that my plan was so fundamentally flawed and that the poor cats must have felt so unloved.

So imagine my delight when I dreamt up the idea of a cat house for those times when I'm not there to let them in...and then my even greater delight when I discovered that this was not an original idea and that there were already whole companies in existence dedicated to creating lovely cat houses. And even better, one that would agree to paint their usually brown cat house a nice shade of willow green before they posted it off to me. It even has a window that Bella & Honey can peep through, space for a water bowl and some bedding and a general feel of home from home when the need arises. And best of all a properly felted roof, so that they never need to get wet again.

Above is a picture of Honey peeping out through the cat flap.

I finally feel that the cats aren't just here for the smaller Teacakes and it actually makes my heart do somersaults when I call for Bella and she bounds excitedly back from several gardens away, leaping over flowerbeds, and then making a lovely little chirruping noise when she performs an emergency stop next to my legs. In the same way that one does with a newborn baby, so much time can be lost just watching cats and admiring their lovely features. These photos were taken last Sunday when I was meant to be getting everything ready for the start of the week, but found that it was actually far more fun to laze on the grass with Mrs Belushi.

Which given that, following a lovely day of fabric and shoes shopping, I had been up until 2am chatting to Helen & Lisa the night before (Joanne should have been there too, but she left early due to a more pressing prior engagement with a pregnancy-related pillow and a bottle of Gaviscon) was just what was needed. Ahhh. Cats.

PS. At the risk of reducing my odds of winning horribly, my lovely friend Charlotte is having a giveaway here. x

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Cakes, icecreams and hobnobs...

I write this post with all the joy of a person who has just unexpectedly found an unopened packet of chocolate covered hobnobs at the back of the cupboard, when only moments earlier she had thought that the house was entirely lacking in anything nice to nibble upon. There is double excitement to be had from realising that for perhaps the first time in my life I had actually put something nice in the cupboard and then forgotten about it for several I have always longed to be the sort of person that does that and to be able to nonchalantly say 'no, I've never really been a great lover of sweet things, I much prefer savoury'. The celebration cannot be entirely joyful though for this oversight can only be put down to a worrying forgetfulness, rather than the lack of a sweet tooth.

So it is all rather thematic that for this blog post I have surrounded myself with fairy cakes and ice creams of the stitched variety. Ever since my children were tiny I have made them appliqued t-shirts using whatever plain ones happened to be in their drawers (the one above is an old Boden t-shirt modelled by Zebra-girl). So how excited I have been to finally take the leap, after a couple of years of research (this is no over-exaggeration, it is something I have looked into on and off since Dinosaur-boy was around four months old), with an ethical supplier of scrumptiously soft organic cotton bibs and t-shirts that I might applique my designs onto.
Here is the finished version of the bib that is being stitched a the top of this post.

I was very tempted to put my labels beneath the applique pictures...just because I found the colours so pleasing and matchy, but after refusing to buy Dinosaur-boy a cap that he liked at the weekend because it had the shop's branding across the forehead, I was swayed away from doing this and sewed them onto the ends of the ties instead. I am still on the trail for a cap (why can't he be happy with the bucket hats that he's always worn and in which he looks so very lovely and little boyish?) that meets our now mutually agreed terms of not being branded or printed with army camouflage. I am having to stop myself from purposely buying one with a legionnaires flap on the back in the hope that this might prevent him from wearing it backwards as I know he would end up disliking me for it or insisting on walking around with the flap hanging down over his face. Oddly, I know that once I have found a cap and he undoubtedly starts wearing it backwards I will (grudgingly) adore seeing him in it, because I will know how much enjoyment he will be taking from wearing it and because it is so lovely when children decide what they think is 'cool'. I can't tell whether it is a good or a bad thing about motherhood that it allows one to take leave of one's previous likes and dislikes in the face of one's delighted offspring.

Anyway, ice creams....stripey, beachy...

The brown one is an ancient design from when Dinosaur-boy was about 12 months old, but his was originally appliqued by hand, rather than by machine.
He has asked me to make him a t-shirt with a large black bat on it. I love that he thinks up what he would like and puts requests in...and it makes me realise how far off the mark I normally am with trying to second-guess what they might like. I never would have thought of that.

Anyway, today the heating is on, the hobnobs are being eaten and a feeling of cosiness of drifting over me and making me feel most happy that I don't have to leave the house until school pick up time. Enjoy your day. x
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