Thursday, 26 August 2010

I'm not mad about saffron...

I have been working on Zebra-girl's quilt top again and it was almost finished...but then I realised that perhaps the reason that it was taking me so long was because I didn't actually like it. So last night I took it apart, removed all traces of saffron yellow from it, and replaced it with this palest buttermilk yellow, named Froth, pictured above (yes, also from the Anna Maria Horner voiles range - you can find it here). Calmer, more tranquil and making me feel happy.

Zebra-girl agreed that such a bright colour (see photo above) was probably better used on cushions for her room, that were more easily changed when she tired of the colour. The saffron has a Mediterranean feel to it that seems at odds with the colours in the rest of our house. And seemed at odds with the weather last night too....but what a perfect activity sewing can be when there is a rainstorm lashing down outside. I opened the window to hear it better and thought how incredibly cosy quilt-making is.

Florence x

Ps. I apologise for the Donovan inspired title...but the song has been going round and round in my head as I have written this post.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Three ways with walnuts

We've been wanting to make Walnut Babies and their Mamas for the last two years, ever since we saw them in the Green Crafts for Children...but this book is filled with so many tempting projects that it has taken us a while to work our way around to them.

I have a love-hate relationship with this book: I love the inspiring pictures and amazing crafts...but I really dislike the way that once you embark upon them you realise that the perfect creations pictured in the book, despite having children's hands artfully placed around them, cannot possibly have been made by children alone and that a high level of parental input is necessary...which is fine, because we wanted to make these together, but less fine in that I dislike there being so many stages where they have to defer to an adult and sit looking hopefully at me, dependent on someone else making it work for them (have you ever tried tying a ribbon around a small wooden ball...a tricky business even for an adult). Ditto trying to crack a walnut into two perfectly intact halves...the book says this is easy, but we spent an amusing half hour tapping the walnuts against the utility room floor in an attempt to get them to split into two unblemished halves (which was actually huge amounts of fun and the children loved it).

The walnut cribs have stuffing glued inside, a layer of fabric stuck on top for the bedding, ric-rac glued around the edge and then a ribbon tied at the head, with eyes and mouth drawn on below. We ended up supergluing the heads onto the cribs, as the repetitive decapitation was becoming upsetting. The Mama walnuts use whole walnuts, with aprons and apron ties glued around their middles, and a head scarf glued on above the face. Drawing on a ball is tricky...I love the expressions on the faces of Dinosaur-boy's family though.

Again, the book shows the cribs presumably blue-tacked to the spot, as once the weight of the head is in place the crib will no longer balance...I minded about this alot (inside my head) and they are propped against each other and the wall for the photographs you see here. Happily, the children didn't seem to notice their lopsidedness and in the evening spent several hours acting out stories with them and creating flower gardens for the cribs to rest in.

After we'd finished making the walnut babies, we decided to use the half-shells to make boats. I googled Walnut Boats and found a site called Made by Joel, which details how you can go about making them. In the course of the afternoon they sailed and sank a great many boats and enjoyed the process of making a sail, setting the boat afloat, sinking the boat, watching the colour run into the water from the sail and then...making a new sail again. Over and over.

And finally...Dinosaur-boy noticed that the walnut looked a little mousey when upturned:

And so walnut creatures were born.

While the children were creating flower gardens for the Walnut babies I returned to the Made by Joel site and practically passed out at the goodness I found there....this man is some kind of child entertainment machine (and I mean that in a completely complimentary way...I cannot imagine quite how wonderful it must be to be of this man's children and seeing how he makes something out of nothing for them nearly every day...magic before their eyes...he actually reminds me a little of my husband's father who has always invented things to amuse both his children and his grandchildren). Anyway, having crossed the walnut boats off the list, we can't wait to make these Made by Joel May Day flower baskets, a cereal box marble run and this amazing zip line toy, created from a paperclip, a bobbin and a button! And I found that we have already made freakishly similar dressed up people to those on his site (he made his back in February, so I'm guessing that we weren't the inspiration here!).

My American blogging friends seem to have already waved goodbye to their children...but for those of us in England, we have just one more week of the holidays's gone so quickly...and as I've named new school shoes and sewn on name tapes it has begun to feel like the week is just one big wobbly bottom lip (again, I'm keeping this one inside my head).

Florence x

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sewing with knits

There have been so many fantastic blog posts about sewing with knits lately, that there's really very little to I'll keep this brief (yes, a concept that usually appears foreign to me). However, I want to share some of the things that I've learnt from them and what I've found works for me.

Firstly, I wanted to share my twin needle love - two needles that come off one shank and can be inserted into your machine just like a regular single needle - you only need a spare spool holder to accomodate the second reel of thread - mine slots into a hole in the top of the machine.

Just as you would with a single needle, you need to make sure that the twin needle is the correct type for the fabric underfoot- so when sewing with knits it should be a stretch or jersey ballpoint needle - mine is a Schmetz Stretch Twin. I always lengthen my stitch length to about three when sewing with a twin needle.

When sewing with knits I use a regular polyester thread in the spool holders (I always use polyester for dressmaking as it's stronger and has a tiny bit more give in it) and wooly nylon in the bobbin case. You can wind this easily by hand. The wooly nylon thread has a little more elasticity, is incredibly soft and strong and helps to create happy looking stitches on your knit fabric.

I also use Wooly Nylon thread in the upper looper of my overlocker (I know some people use it on both loopers on their overlockers - I don't, as it's incredibly expensive and using it in just the upper looper, for me, produced the same result as using it in both).

Visible proof that using the right needle, settings and thread for your fabric type can make a huge difference: these two pieces of fabric were run through the machine one after the other with a stretch needle, Wooly Nylon thread, and with the settings adjusted for a knit fabric. The blue fabric on the left is a regular quilting weight cotton - you'll see that the stitches don't sit nicely on the fabric and that it is pulling over and looking generally ugly. The knit fabric on the right looks perfect though, hurrah!

You should know that Wooly Nylon will melt under the heat of an iron and it is not recommended that you iron over the seams at all. However, as I'm not actually capable of making something without ironing it at nearly every stage, I conducted my own experiements and found that it remains perfectly in tact under a brief, but firm press with the temperature of the iron set to 2 (or whatever temperature your iron recommends for wool). I think the theory is that one shouldn't need to iron knit fabrics, so the fact that the Wooly Nylon thread has a low melting point is irrelevant. I completely disagree with this - I think that every fabric, particularly during construction, can benefit from being ironed and would rather risk melting my threads than omitting this stage. Pressing feels almost as intrinsic an element to garment construction as creating the stitches with the sewing machine or overlocker.

Oh and one more thing...Kate asked after my last post about shrinkage - yes, the Patty Young knits do shrink by about 15%, so it's worth buying more fabric than you think you need and always remembering to pre-wash. I don't know whether this is peculiar to Micheal Miller knits or a universal thing with knit fabrics as I always pre-wash fabric for dressmaking and only noted the shrinkage on this occassion because I knew to look out for it.

Finally, I leave you with some knitty links to YouTube videos created by Queen of Knits, Patty Young, that give so much wonderful information about sewing with knits.

Hemming Techniques for Knits 1 - Coverstitch (possibly the least useful as it's only really relevant if you have a coverstitch machine...but worth watching for the geeky fun of it and for adding a coverstitch machine to the long wish-list of sewing paraphernalia)
Hemming Techniques for Knits 2 - Rolled Hem (this shows you how to create a rolled hem with knits using an again, only relevant if you own an overlocker).
Hemming Techniques for Knits 3 - Lettuce Edge (again, for overlocker owners only).
Hemming Techniques for Knits 4 - Faux Coverstitch (Something for sewing machine owners - this shows you how to recreate on your sewing machine something resembling the finish that the coverstitch machine produces).
Hemming Techniques for Knits 5 - Zig Zag (Again, tips for sewing machine users sewing with knits).

Florence x

Monday, 23 August 2010

Making children's clothes

Last week some gorgeous fabrics arrived from Melanie of Above All Fabric - one of my prizes for winning the A-line skirt category in Crafterhours' Skirt Week. I chose some of the Patty Young knits, as I've been coveting them and they are so expensive to buy in England. They are gorgeous. Thick, stretchy and soft, in beautiful colours. I love them. I chose half a yard of the lime and half a yard of the flower print and managed to make a twirly skirt and vest top from them...I had a 1/2" square of fabric left at the really did use every last snippet in making them - I can't believe how perfectly these two projects fitted into one yard of fabric! Thank you so much, Melanie!

The skirt is just like the last one that I made, which has been worn and worn, and is made from the Patty Young Yoga Skirt tutorial on Sew, Mama, Sew! Zebra-girl declares it to be her comfiest skirt ever.

It has huge twirl appeal.

Unfortunately the tank top is a little big - here it is from the back - I've tied a little knot at each shoulder to bring it up to a better height, but I think it will be a better fit for next year as it's huge. I should have made a muslin and I should also have paid attention to the pattern calling for a knit fabric with a 20% stretch as the Patty Young fabric has something more like a 50% stretch. However, it was my first attempt at using a knit binding and I was surprised at just how easy it is to apply - I also love that you don't have to use lots of material by cutting the binding on the bias.

Despite not being happy with the vest top that I made, I am completely enamoured with the book that the pattern came from. It's called Sewing Clothes Kids Love and is worth buying just for the inspirational pictures and excellent text alone. However, the patterns are wonderful - the vest is in theory a simple garment, but I was struck by the beautiful curve on the bottom of the pattern pieces and how nicely the underarms were shaped. I found the instruction as simple as a Japanese pattern (in that I didn't look at the text, just the pictures).

My only reservation is that most of the photos that I've chosen to show here are the more accessible looking ones from the book...but many of the fabric choices are really quite extreme and some have frills and bodicing that I think make the child look trussed up, rather than dressed for fun (see below).

I looked through the book with Zebra-girl - we both loved many of the projects, but disagreed somewhat with the author's statement that with children's clothes more is always better: Zebra-girl looked like she'd wish to sink into the pavement if I actually made any of these clothes up combining quite so many brightly coloured fabric prints and motifs in one garment. However, I'm excited about the idea of making some of these clothes up in more subdued fabric choices (and by subdued I only mean comparatively - they will still be brightly coloured).

The book has a comprehensive introduction, that is so well and interestingly written that I read every word of it, and by the time I came to the patterns I had complete confidence that they would be perfectly drafted and come together well (the vest top did come together really well - it was my fabric choice that was at fault...or at least not thinking to compensate for the extra stretch) the book feels like it's written by an expert in childrens' garment construction, which is reassuring. I loved some of her logic behind fabric choice - even though I don't have a child who would wear such a bright mixture of colour and pattern, I can see that the pieces in the book do work visually - and I loved her rule that any motif on a fabric should be no bigger than 3" wide to avoid the pattern overwhelming the wearer - this makes perfect sense to me. The book instructs you on some really useful things, such as making a duct tape mannequin, and sewing with knits. And just like Japanese patterns, these come without the seam allowances included, which I find makes things so much easier.

It also includes many unisex patterns for jackets, t-shirts and hoodies and I'm planning on making this jacket for Zebra-girl, and possibly for Dinosaur-boy too, for the autumn...and what delights me most is that it's lined. So many pattern books don't include a lining for clothing, relying on beautiful-looking pictures to delight the reader, rather than the pattern being truly versatile and wearable. This book is very different in that respect - many of these patterns are quite involved and none of them feel like page fillers or as though the simplest option has been taken. Additionally, where an item is unisex the pattern nearly always includes an option for more feminine shaping at the waist, or for added gathers at the sleeve.

So despite my reservations about a few of the patterns, the book is really wonderful. Yes, the fabric combinations are outlandish at times, but it is never dull and will certainly inspire me to be just a little more adventurous than I might otherwise be. So brace yourselves...things could get wild.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Our family in fabric

The Little Teacakes and I decided to have an arts & crafts day today...which basically involved us sitting on my bedroom floor for several hours with fabric, glue and colouring pens and making a mess. I love what they came up with. Above is Dinosaur-boy's version of our family...he created himself on the right first...which meant that to keep to scale, Daddy had to be given super long legs. I am wearing the pink dress, and Zebra-girl is in a yellow skirt, a Cake Hat atop her head.

After the people came cats and kittens in baskets and owner's wearing rainbow tights, the one below was created by Dinosaur-boy.

While Zebra-girl added mice and wool to tempt her cat out of its basket.

At this point Zebra-girl pottered off, but Dinosaur-boy surprised me by showing no waning in his enthusiasm and he began drawing dinosaurs for a prehistoric scene. At this point he enlisted me to be his cutter, as his drawings became so fiddly that it was impossible for him to cut them with my enormous fabric shears.

I love the mother and babies that he created.

I wasted no time in updating their picture frames with their new artwork. If you fancy having a go, we found it worked best to draw the shapes on the reverse of the fabric with disappearing ink (t-shirts, trousers, dresses) and to stick them on to the paper and then draw all the body parts on after, once the glue had dried. We used Uhu fabric glue, but you could easily do this with scrapbook paper if you don't have any fabric glue around.

This entertained us for several hours...and as it wasn't sunny outside I felt quite happy to have a day inside pottering with them.

Wishing you a happy Friday,
Florence x

(ps. I have no idea why the pictures have become so blurry and hideous today once uploaded to Blogger...sorry!).

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Japanese confusion

I'd said in my last post that I'd share some more information about the lovely book that the pattern for my jacket came from. It's the Couture Dress and Smock Book that I purchased from M is for Make... I'd bought it on the basis of the pattern for this lovely jacket (below) being included (see here for my version), but hadn't been overly enamoured with the other patterns that I'd seen from it as they all looked a little floaty.

However, when it arrived I felt completely delighted by it...the non-floaty numbers just hadn't appeared in the photos I'd seen from the book, but they were definitely in there.

I love the somewhat kooky styling in this book. One girl holds a white jug aloft...

While another proffers an apple:

The dress above I'd love to make for a wedding or special occasion.

There were some incredibly helfpul sheets of A4, listing translations for some of the more common Japanese sewing terms that 'M is for Make...' put in with the book...and for some reason I became slightly obsessed by these sheets. Do you remember the scene in the book of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,where the boy walks into a field and has to count all the fence posts he can see before he can do anything (I think it was fence posts...or was it cows? Whatever, it was something that there were a lot of)? Well, that was slightly like me with the pattern sheet (I am not normally prone to such fixations, so can only assume that some code-cracking was just the fun that I needed that evening). I found that I lost nearly five hours translating symbols...for no other reason than I found it completely fascinating. Up until now, just recognising the Japanese for 'back' and 'front' has sufficed, but suddenly being able to translate all the other words felt imperative. I can now recognise terms such as 'on the fold' and 'rightside', 'inside', 'lining', 'width' and even 'fusible interfacing'...and I have also printed off even more translations that I found on the internet to add to my dictionary. The best resource has to be Label-Free though - amazing!

Knowing that this jacket was the first thing that I wanted to make from the book, I set about attempting to do an in depth took some time, and was not altogether enlightening.

A great many things were labelled, but there were some symbols that I couldn't translate and I became a little fixated with trying to work out what they might be. Eventually, I texted my dear friend, Joanne, with a sewing SOS and a photo of some of the characters that were driving me to distraction. Joanne spent four years learning Japanese 'just for fun' (proving perhaps that there is something addictive about the translating of the symbols) and so I knew that she would be just the right person to help. But the reply that came back was curious.

Two of the characters in conjunction with one another suggest that it's a foundation or pedestal skirt, Florence...are you sure that you're looking at a pattern for a jacket?

I blithely decided that this must be referring to the bit of the jacket that flares out beneath the yoke, but did wonder how one jacket could have so many pieces to it...half an hour later I turned the page and realised that this book doesn't follow the same format of one-pattern-per-page-spread that my other Japanese books have seemed that the pattern pieces for the dress on the next page had been put next to the jacket pieces (The format always goes: illustration, instructions, pattern pieces....never pattern pieces first! This should be against the law! See the picture below where the two right hand boxes are for the dress on the following page).

Happily this means that I have something akin to two birds in the hand and only one left in the bush, as the dress pattern has now been fully translated for if and when I want to use it and seems so much more comprehensible for no longer masquerading as a jacket.

I have decided not to translate the Japanese any longer. Firstly, because I think that it may lead to certain madness and secondly because I think that what I've always loved about Japanese patterns is that they're very visual - I've always found that looking at the pieces and working out how they fit together has felt easier than following a conventional pattern. After my initial spell of pointlessly tying myself up in knots over the sewing terms, the actual jacket was incredibly simple to make and came together easily (this isn't to say that you should ignore the translation sheet - it's incredibly useful...but it probably doesn't require to be learnt off-by-heart, and poured over as though one is about to sit an exam on sewing technicalities in Japanese).

So I shall leave you with two interesting links, relating to the two lovelies that feature in my Japanese conundrum.

Firstly, Joanne has started a second non-sewing-related blog called Practice Writing to get her back into the habit of daily writing, because as well as studying Japanese, she also did a creative writing degree...and got a First. Anyway, her writing is good. I could think up lots of adjectives to apply to this, but actually, as I over-adjective every sentence then I'm hoping that my minimalism will convey just how very good I think it is. I don't really do verbal or written minimalism, but sometimes I think it's most effective. My husband once sent a CD of his music to an American DJ with the words 'This is good' on the accompanying note...four weeks later he was being flown over to Seattle, being interviewed and performing a live set on the radio and playing a gig with Kristin Hersh later that evening...I stayed at home in England with a toddler and a small baby and couldn't believe quite how far those three words had got him as I sat listening to the show streaming over the Internet...four weeks later he was being flown to LA...then on to Nashville...and then, thankfully, back home again where I told him, with lots of adjectives, how pleased I was to have him here). Anyway, back to Joanne. Four posts in and already it's one of my new favourite blogs...she serves up bite-sized literary feasts that slot into my day perfectly. Occasionally it's nice to read something unrelated to sewing on the internet...but I never know where to look for that thing. Now I've found it. And it's refreshing. You might like it too. This is my favourite post so far.

Secondly, Kate, provider of fascinating lists and proprietor of 'M is for Make...' sent out her newsletter as I was writing this blog post (and, being easily distracted, I read it) and is celebrating her shop's first birthday with a sew-along and gift vouchers as the pot of gold at the end of it. You can find the details for it here

Florence x

(That meant Happy Wednesday...I think!)

Monday, 16 August 2010

An autumn jacket

I'd said here that I was going to have a four-day sewing hiatus...but it actually only lasted for 24 hours...I'm not sure why, but something to do with feeling like it was just very wrong. Also that I was granted one hour to go into town alone between the hours of 9 and 10am in which to get some sewing thread before we all went off visiting for the day. Having not really been into town for several weeks for any of my own shopping*, I also took it as an opportunity to carry out some fabric research for various projects that I knew I'd want to start on over the next couple of weeks. My local fabric shops have a reasonable quilting selection, but a truly magnificent line in suiting, wool fabrics and other more obscure things, so finding material to make an autumn jacket was no problem. My heart was won by some amazing boiled wool fabric...but at £25 per metre, I decided to go for this very similar, but much more reasonably priced fabric (£7.45 per meter...meaning that the whole jacket ended up costing around £12 for me to make).

I actually made the muslin and then sewed up the majority of this jacket in one evening. The pattern for the jacket comes from a Japanese Pattern book that I bought from Kate's lovely shop. But I'll share more of the details of the book in my next post, as I've forgotten to take any pictures of it. However, original inspiration came from this beautiful jacket, first seen several months ago and it's been in my head ever since.

I lengthened the sleeves by 2", added a button and fastening tab at the neck and chose to bind the facings and create a hook to hang the jacket by.  Other than that the pattern needed no changes. I made the size 7**, and I'm completely falling in love with how Japanese patterns just seem to fit me without my spending several days feeling incompetent because of how horrendously my new garment fits (Honey, You Look Like a Blancmange post here). The Japanese seem to draft patterns without ridiculous amounts of ease in them, so even with the more drapey garments like this jacket, the shoulders are still cut nice and small.

I finished off the jacket the following morning on Sunday (a 7am start...I practically leapt out of bed and as the finishing was all done by hand it was a sociable affair that could be carried out while chatting with Mr Teacakes as he spent over an hour practicing different egg poaching techniques) and I realised that I was enjoying making the jacket more than anything that I'd made for a very long time. Normally when I'm sewing I love making the last stitch and the feeling of something being finished...but with this I enjoyed making it so much that I looked to protract things by adding in details that I might normally skip over, such as adding in a coat hook and hand-finishing all the binding and then stitching the facings down by hand.

...and even hand stitching a label onto the bottom edge of one of the facings inside the jacket...this is so unlike me - I normally dislike hand-sewing:

I'm really happy with the finished coat and I love the balloon sleeves. They are lined with a grey silky material that I found in my fabric drawers. Yes, it's August, this jacket is currently unwearable...but it's always good to be prepared for inclement weather. However, the project that I want to start on next has an altogether summery feel....does this make me a sewing changeling?

Pictures from the Japanese Pattern book to follow tomorrow.

Florence x

* I try to avoid going into the town with the Teacakes during the holidays for the complaints I would receive - they tend to be so reasonable in their complaining that it's all the more guilt-inducing - and ruins all enjoyment, instead leaving me feeling like a consumeristic beast who drags her poor children around the shops, when really they should be doing something wholesome like being taught to knit underpants from clematis tendrils.

** I put this in as when I was researching this pattern and looking at how other people had made theirs I found it really helpful when people said what size they'd made - it gave a better idea of how large or small the pattern was coming up and helped me decide between using the 7 or the 9.
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.