Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fabric-induced memories

Alexander Henry Googoo Socks fabric

When I saw this fabric at Seamstar earlier in the week it made me think fondly of Allan Ahlberg illustrations. One of my daughter's favourite books when she was very small was The Baby's Catalogue
- a wonderful book for older babies in which they can choose their favourite cup, highchair or other piece of paraphernalia from a line-up of wonderfully drawn items...a sort of Boden catalogue for babies. We both loved it.

Alexander Henry Googoo* Gear fabric
Seeing these fabrics makes me think of sunny afternoons spent on the sofa at our old house, with my chubby-wristed daughter on my knee. She is no less of a book worm now...but her wrists are more slender. The excitement of seeing this fabric was quickly followed by the odd 'ohhhh' feeling of an internal balloon of fabric-buying happiness being rapidly deflated: I don't think this is a fabric that would appeal to my children now. So I wanted to share it with you...just in case you are still at the stage where you might like to weave this lovely fabric into your stash and make the pictures it shows part of your own children's childhood memories. Allan Ahlberg is very much in the consciousness of my own children... Alexander Henry just arrived a little too late for us with his contribution to such cuteness.

Wishing you a sunshiney weekend,
Florence x

* The only thing that is less lovely about this fabric is the name. Just typing 'googoo' made me shudder, which I think means that I can be found in the loathing-babytalk-camp (other than when it comes directly from the mouth of a delicious baby).

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

After Easter

Hello lovelies, it would seem that I unintentionally disappeared from my blog for the whole of the Easter holidays. While I had tonsillitis I pre-wrote enough posts to cover the first week of the holidays...but then somehow the weather was so lovely, the children so much fun and my laptop so broken that the second week passed me by too. I realised when the end of the holidays came that despite my tonsillitis loitering with me for much of it, it had felt incredibly relaxing and restorative: it was the first school holiday for over a year where someone in our family hadn't either died or been seriously ill...the relief of pottering about with the children with less to pull at our minds and without such an undercurrent of sadness and worry was immeasurable. 

There was only a little sewing...a quilt patch to embroider for a waiting quilt, a hem shortened, a few tiny felt mice made for the children. Other than that it was all about eating outside in the sunshine, visiting swing parks, long walks, bike rides and playing in the garden. And a fair few pub lunches. After a two hour walk can you imagine how happy we were to find a pub that serves its risotto strewn with pink flowers? Does anyone know what they are? I'd love to grow* some.

The supercharge of a generally happy Easter holiday found me in an unusual state of efficacy yesterday and I decided to leave my blog and any sewing for one more day in the hope that I might achieve something that I've always aspired to do for the last few years: I completed my tax return before the end of April. Stultifyingly dull, but such a good feeling to have my receipts stash now filed away, my accounts up to date for the last year and a message in my inbox from the Inland Revenue saying that my tax submission is complete.

However, despite there being very little sewing that's gone on over the last two weeks, as soon as I've taken some photos I have lots to show you from before the holidays...

I hope you had a lovely Easter break too,
Florence x

 * One evening Mr Teacakes and I sat on the patio potting new plants and both marvelled at how every year we are both filled with a baseless optimism that we will not somehow kill them. So when I say I'd like to 'grow' some of this risotto beautifier, I use the term loosely but hopefully!  

Monday, 18 April 2011

Marie Claire Idées

Eggshell planters from Marie Claire Idées
A few weeks ago my friend Jenny arrived at my house carrying a magazine file filled with her old copies of Marie Claire Idées. I'd been longing (unbeknown to Jenny) to see this magazine ever since Helen (who like Jenny, is also fluent in French) had raved about it to me a few years ago. Stuck in bed with tonsillitis last weekend I spent several hours looking through Marie Claire. It is stunning. The ideas, the colours, the presentation - everything about it is perfection and it has none of the cringe-worthiness about it that so many craft magazines struggle, but occasionally fail, to avoid. There is no sense of there being any kind of budget to this magazine - it feels saturated with ideas and attention to detail, even the header on the contents page has not been left untouched:

So I wanted to share with you some of my favourite images from the magazines:

I love the idea of a garden table being painted ready for games of backgammon. I think this is one that might appeal to my husband too.

Mice made from radishes and cloves, and adorable lemon boat place settings. This made me want to leap from my bed and start carving right away.

Lemon mice and rabbits, so simple, but so very lovely.

More fruit goodness - I fell completely in love with these.

Jenny drew my attention to these little picture frame boxes when she brought the magazines around. She has made her own more colourful version of one of these as a gift to welcome a new baby and my own head is already buzzing with ideas too.

Doesn't this egg carton make the most wonderful sewing box? I think a child would love this too.

On a grander scale, perhaps this folding screen is a good storage solution - it has room for cotton reels, colour charts and lots of other paraphernalia...and importantly could be used to hide a thready, fabric strewn mess from impromptu visitors (who would have to be warned that on no circumstances should they venture beyond the screen).

And for those who knit, I like this idea for needle storage. Some of the pockets have the needle sizes marked on too.

Even the embroidery, which isn't always quite my thing, looks utterly wonderful. With all these ideas, at the back of the magazine full instructions and patterns are provided (in French, obviously, although like Japanese sewing patterns, it all seems fairly self-explanatory).

I love how much an attention to colour presides over the magazine. The magazine must be edited by the most divine creature as absolutely nothing is left to chance on this front: everything is premeditated. I love how the colours of the bicycle and roses are echoed in the background in the clothes of the girl walking away.

Flowers feature hugely throughout the magazine - some in the most exquisite arrangements, others in more accidental, casual settings.

There is also a lot of focus on the way that rooms are decorated and the details that pull them together.

In the absence of you having your own Jenny to arrive on the doorstep with a bundle of this kind of goodness for you to peruse (she is indeed a rare and lovely bean) then you can order copies or subscribe directly from their website here (if you can't read french, then I recommend installing Google Translate and it will all become clear). It's the kind of magazine that you don't just read once and then throw out, so definitely worth the investment. If you haven't already done so you may also like to discover the Marie Claire Idées blog here. The photos in this post are from six different issues, so really just the tip of a very beautiful iceberg.

Florence x

Please note: all photos in this post belong to Marie Claire Idées.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Bedsheet chic: not an effective toile

A toile made from an old bedsheet
Readers, I have a problem. Those who have less inclination or sewing time may think, if pressed to think about it, that I am a reasonably prolific dressmaker, but actually I feel permanently stunted in what I would like to make. I pore over my Japanese sewing books several times a week and think through what I'd like to sew, what changes I might add in, what fabrics I might choose. I sketch dresses and tops and then draft full-size patterns for them. And then I do nothing. Because I am always so worried about wasting or ruining fabric: about not making the right choices. A sensible person would suggest that this dressmaking paralysis could be cured by making a toile.

Crumpled bedsheet chic - I don't think the top half is quite as fitted as I might like it to be
Well, I do have an awful lot of toiles. I thought I was being incredibly thrifty by using old bedsheets as my toiles, but actually I think this may be a large part of the problem. It's so hard to tell whether you have landed on a wearable pattern when you find a strange creature staring back at you decked out in something rumpled that once covered your bed as a student fifteen years ago. It's not a look that inspires you to take out the precious lawn or voile from your stash and cut into it with confidence.

French-sleeved dress from Simple Chic
Let's focus on this most recent one. Its a toile for the above 'french-sleeved dress' from the beautiful book Simple Chic, This dress is one that I have particularly fallen in love with. But bedsheet toile made, I still have no idea whether I have a wearable dress in the offing or not. Instinct tells me that it's a little too baggy across the bust and stomach area, but almost perfect across the bottom and thighs (I have jeans on underneath in these photos which adds a little bulk in this area, but still, I think it's a good fit there)...but I can't actually be sure of this because the unaligned crumpled checks and stripes that come in from all angles obscure the view. I don't want to end up with a body-hugging dress, but equally, I don't want to make a potato sack.

The belt is made from the duvet closure strip...I haven't been sewing decorative buttons onto my toile.
So last week I bought five metres of inexpensive thin voile-weight bleached calico in the hope that it might liberate me and pave the way for more dressmaking. I think if nothing else it would undoubtedly make me feel happy if I eventually end up with a rail like this:

Toiles from the Japanese pattern book 'Sewing Recipe'
There's something so deliciously crisp about a calico toile that I find it almost as lovely to look at as the real thing. I love the way that in Simple Recipe they show the garments both as a toile and as a finished item (although, I'm not sure I'd recommend buying this book for a beginner as the make-up instructions aren't shown from beginning to end, but instead are placed throughout the book in non-consecutive order as a series of techniques).

You can find Simple Chic here at M is for Make... by the way - and if you're still feeling hesitant about dipping your toe into dressmaking in another language, Kate's Japanese sew-along posts can all be found here and will tell you everything you need to know about the process.

Too busy to sew yourself (I know, not an option I usually entertain)? I did a quick Google search for a photo of toiles, before remembering that there was one on the front of Sewing Recipes. However, I happened across Susie Stone who makes bespoke women's clothing and then mislaid several happy minutes getting lost in her beautiful site. I love the ethos of her dressmaking and can only imagine that one would feel entirely wonderful wearing one of her custom-made dresses. It all looks so serene.

Florence x

* The responses to my last post have really made me think - thank you. I don't think I hold quite the same stance on things now, and I'd really like to write a whole post about it, so perhaps after Easter (this post was pre-written before the holidays...that's organisation for you, no? I know, most out of character...but that's how strange a bad bout of tonsillitis can make a girl feel).

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Brand implosion?

Photo courtesy of Liberty
A few weeks ago I was left feeling discombobulated about something. I can pinpoint it back to the moment when I heard that Liberty had teamed up with Nike to give the world Liberty print running shoes. Apparently this had already happened several months earlier (Updated: Katy tells me it was several years earlier. I don't miss a thing!), but I'd missed that and so this release of shoes was the first I'd seen or heard of it.

Photo courtesy of Nike

The idea sounded like a curious one: a mismatched partnership that could only have its root in profit. When I saw the actual shoe, the visual reality made me think there may well be some truth in that idea.
Photo courtesy of Nike

Liberty have previously taken part in several carefully chosen and successful collaborations that have seemed entirely appropriate. Their beautiful prints have adorned Hermes silk scarves, which seemed like a marriage of refinement and quality. They allowed the creative director of super-cool Parisian charity boutique, Merci, to design a range of products to be adorned with their prints - a match which seemed entirely fitting when, as shops, both Liberty and Merci share a fabulously refined eccentric and quirky feel. They also lent their patterns to Bensimon, makers of understated tennis pumps, which have a charm and loyal following all of their own, with or without Liberty prints.
Photo courtesy of Bensimon

But their collaboration with Nike feels to me to be an odd venture. Previous collaborations have appeared to be the fleeting partnership of two niche companies to produce one beautiful product: something that makes sense, looks and feels right, and is a natural extension of each company's commercial direction. When it comes to Nike, it seems as though it is a union of two high-profile brands coming together to watch sales sky-rocket, without a thought for whether the ethos and products of the individual companies compliment one another.

I would have previously said that it's almost impossible to make liberty prints look ugly. They seem unique, in that just like nature, you can put Liberty colours and prints next to one another that in theory should clash and yet somehow they don't. I thought that their floral prints had the strange ability to transcend their synthetic roots and behave just like real flowers. This illusion has been shattered. To my eyes, there's something horribly jarring about seeing the delicate floral prints on clompy Nike trainers. But why am I bothered? Why not decide that it's just a collaboration that didn't appeal to me and forget about it? I've thought about that and I think it's because of what it represents. When Liberty slap their prints over any product that passes them by, rather than enriching the brand, it cheapens it. With collaborations such as this their prints become a moment in time, in fashion. And when the moment passes you know that a fallow period must follow when they will inevitably fall from grace. In tainting their brand with blatant commercialism, I worry that they may be unwittingly deconstructing the indefinable quality that makes Liberty feel so quintessentially English - something which I think is a huge part of their appeal both here and overseas. I feel sad that the treasured quilt made by a grandmother full of faded Liberty prints, that might otherwise have remained timelessly beautiful, will come to look outdated, over-done and tasteless.

Photo courtesy of Merci

Apparently these Liberty print trainers have been a runaway best seller, selling out completely online in a very short time and flying off the shelves instore. Which has left me feeling as though I may be very much alone in my horror over these shoes. Is this the seamstress in me greedily wanting to preserve Liberty prints solely for the sanctity of needlework. What do you think?

Florence x

Monday, 11 April 2011

Things on the internet...

Stunning quilt photo borrowed with kind permission from  Nova of A Cuppa and a Catchup

Before I dive into this post, I just wanted to thank you for all your entries to win Jennifer's Paganelli's goodies in the last post. I'm delighted to announce that Amy of During Quiet Time loveliness is the commenter who will hopefully be orbited into dressmaking happiness by her win - Judith Norman of RickRack should soon be in touch to arrange getting your prize to you. I can't wait to see any things you might make from the book. For the rest of us, should you be interested, you can purchase the entire package that was offered for the giveaway here, or if you would just like the book, then Girl's World can be found on Amazon here.

I've seen so many fantastic things on my travels around the Internet recently that I thought I'd start the week with a round-up post sharing some of them with you (I say 'start the week' but actually this post is being written from my infirmary over the weekend. Struck down with tonsillitis and a fever, I thought I'd be fiendishly cunning and pre-write some posts now, so that, once recovered, the Easter holidays will be freed up. I have been told I have been a little delirious though, so please make allowances when reading.

This photo and quilt is the work of Nova of A Cuppa and a Catchup

  • I'd already fallen in love with Nova's Magical Lands quilt made from Saffron Craig fabrics, but then she posted a tutorial on the way that she'd pieced together her strip quilt and I was wowed all over again! This has to be the quickest, most time efficient way to make a quilt and involves piecing it together directly onto the batting and backing fabric. You can find the full low-down on the cleverness here.  I love the way that Nova has photographed this quilt too, with the forest of trees on the quilt being echoed in the real-life backdrop.
  • While we're on the subject of quilting, Angela, from Cut to Pieces has written a fantastic tutorial on making a set in circle, that I hope I'll find an opportunity to make use of at some point soon. It's odd how much I've always loathed maths, but the moment it's within a sewing context it all feels instantly understandable...and even exciting. You can find the maths, inspiration and happily set-in circle over here.
  • At my friend Jenny's house earlier this week I nearly passed out at the loveliness of a patchwork quilt that she'd made for her daughter. The weight and puffiness of it were just perfect and it apparently made use of a very thin Ikea quilt, rather than batting (yes, Pipany, the delight in knowing what produced this effect was immeasurable, and Jenny, if you're reading, it did take all my restraint not to invade your privacy by whipping my camera out and asking to photograph it).
Created by The Materialists from fabric and yarn
  • Can you believe that the piece above is actually created using a mixture of crochet, knitting, quilting and applique? When I first saw it, it looked so similar to the original (Klimt's 'The Kiss') that it didn't quite register that this was a version rendered in fabric and yarn. It was created by a large amateur knitting group called The Materialistics based in South Tyneside, England. You can read more about the group here on The Customs House website. At the moment I'm really enjoying quilting that depicts scenes - you can find a few other things that I've fallen in love with recently on my Pinterest boards here. And just in case you hadn't already discovered it, Pinterest is a place where you can 'pin' things you've seen on your way around the Internet and curate your own mini art gallery of personal inspiration and even more thrillingly, discover the pin boards created by others (thanks to Amy and Kate for introducing me to it).
Moving on to things that might delight the fashionista in you:

Photo courtesy of Adore Vintage
  • Have you happened across Adore Vintage? Their stock is every-changing and of the one-off variety. I fell in love with the now-sold dress, above. I'm not sure I could imagine anything more perfect. I'd like to have it hanging from the picture rail in our bedroom. I'd also like to wear it to garden parties on summer evenings and then try and fit myself and the dress into the passenger seat of a pistachio coloured convertible Nissan Figaro for the journey home.
Photo courtesy of The Purl Bee
  • The Purl Bee have a wonderful and recently updated tutorial for making a tie for any men you might find nearby. My own husband has never worn a tie, but my father does and I love the idea of making him one of these at some point. Purl have used beautiful Liberty fabrics, making them extra specially lovely to look at.
  • For those who feel that they have a tendency to 'play it safe' with their dressmaking, you may be as awe-struck as I was to find that Susan of Crafterhours is pushing new frontiers with her avant garde approach to upcycling. You can find full details of how to make your child a puffer jacket out of just eight disposable nappies here. I'm guessing that with a little imagination and a few more nappies this is a pattern that could easily be graded up for adult sizes. Many years ago I worked for Felix Dennis, who was described to me by my direct boss as 'a wonderful maverick'. It's so often said that as one door closes another opens and I've realised that it's true because those Crafterhours girls have stepped straight into Felix's shoes.*
  • And finally, sewing aside, I have fallen hopelessly in love with these clogs from Boden. I visit and drool over them frequently. Sometimes I even put them in and out of my virtual shopping basket. They look so outrageously wearable and I think they would go with every single thing in my entire wardrobe. Apart from the peachy number above which, like the clogs, I only own in my imagination. When we lived in London I had some clogs very similar to this, but without the ankle strap at the back. Unfortunately, one of them ended up on the tube line when I was on my way to work one day. I don't remember walking in a reckless or jaunty way, but to my horror, one of them escaped from my foot and hurtled itself on to the tube line. Luckily, at the time we lived in a flat that was almost on top of the tube station, so it was only a short hop home to pick up a fresh pair and, delightfully, it was perhaps the only occasion in our year of living there when the resident beggars refrained from asking me for money (I'd consoled myself that I was temporarily working the Cinderella look...but perhaps not as I'm sure they'd have asked her for a little something). Who knows what adventures this Boden pair could hold.... so yes, I leave you on something of a cliff-hanger. The will she/won't she clog-buying dilemma. Breathe, readers, I promise to keep you updated.
Florence x

*This analogy is a slightly flawed one: I don't actually work for Adrianna and Susan and as far as I know, unlike Felix Dennis, neither of the Crafterhours girls has ever been incarcerated. But you get my drift: we're talking about movers and shakers.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A very lovely giveaway

When I was offered the opportunity to give away a little package of SisBoom loveliness to you earlier this week I was most delighted. Partly because the actual things to be given away are fantastic, but also because it's all a product of the wonderful Jennifer Paganelli. Jennifer may not know it but she's down in my head as one of life's smile-inducing people after she once told me: 'I love the way you work it'. Americans reading this may not understand why this was so delightful, as I'm imagining that it's a phrase that is sprinkled around liberally throughout their day, but this isn't a phrase that pops up in England, because rather than sounding cool, our accents would just make this expression sound a little stilted and...uncool. It's the kind of phrase that perhaps inspired my now-husband, when he was an angsty young teenager stuck in suburbia at public school with a half-broken electric guitar for company, to pen a song entitled "You and I, we should have been American" (I think the 'you' bit of the title was referring to his fellow also too-cool-for-England school friend, Will). Twenty years on, miraculously, he has still not gained an accent that allows him to utter cool Americanisms, but I think he's now more than okay with that. But still, it means that when a real life American lovely tells you that they 'like the way you work it' you can spend your entire day feeling cool by association. Jennifer, your words have power!

Anyway, onto the giveaway (if it hasn't been retracted due to my weird ramblings). At the top of this post is the cover of Jennifer's new book, Girl's World. It's full of wearable, classic dress patterns for girls, all beautifully photographed with a sprinkling of SisBoom fabrics over many of the pages. And I love that this book isn't just for toddling girls: it has much-needed older-girl patterns in too, so it's been on my own Amazon wish-list since it first appeared on Amazon (it's not released until May 1st in the UK). But the giveaway, isn't just for a signed copy of the book, which would be wonderful on its own, but also if you win you'll also have access to an online one-hour video tutorial created with Jennifer by Rick-Rack (thread therapy for sewers) that will talk you through all aspects of making one of the dresses from the book. This means it would be perfect for a sewing beginner or someone new to dressmaking - with a video to access in your own time there will be no strokey-beard moments as you ponder what an instruction might really be trying to tell you to do. Not only that, but if you don't already have your own supply of fabrics to hand, you'll be given a discount code so that you can buy fabrics from with a whopping 25% off, as well as later getting the chance to speak to Jennifer herself in a live chat if you run into any sewing problems while making the dress.

To enter, just leave a comment saying hello (or if you're American please feel free to also say cool things that you know I'd sound ridiculous saying myself with my English accent). The giveaway is open internationally. I'll pick the winner in my own (fair and) random way and the prize will come to you directly from Jennifer and her team.

Florence x

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Another bed for another bear

It's my not-so-little boy's birthday this week. Last week I realised that all his gifts had a theme to them: they are all plastic and they all spin in one way or another. It is a source of some delight to me that for all its mass-produced awfulness, when it comes to boys, much of the toy market is basically a yearly advance on what can be done to diversify a traditional wooden spinning top. The same fun is still being had, it's just dressed up to look a little cooler. But despite my almost-successful attempts to soothe myself with the idea that Beyblades, Battle Strikers and Ninjago are essentially just a modern spinning top, I still wanted to make him something myself. And it dawned on me that his sister's bear has a sleeping bag, two of his sister's friend's bears also have sleeping bags...but that his own bear was rather cold when he wasn't around to cuddle it at night.

So he now has a sleeping bag of his own, in Monaluna prints to match his quilt. You might be wondering why the bear has been made to lie on his side for these photographs...

...Bear has a tendency to look a little haughty with his nose in the air when placed on his back.

Wishing you a lovely week,
Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.