Monday, 27 June 2011

Notes from our weekend

I can't reveal this fully yet as it's not for me, but I wanted to show you a little of what I've been working on over the weekend. It was one of those projects that hadn't even been in my mind on Friday morning, but by Friday evening it was well under way and involved two very late night sewing sessions so that I could get to the point of being left with only the more sociable aspect of hand finishing the binding in the garden on the deliciously hot Sunday.

Although marginally less delicious when half your body is covered by a thick quilt in 30 degree heat, but still highly enjoyable.

An entire rainbow isn't my normal style, but I've found it really lovely to work with, constantly exciting my eyes with all the different combinations of colour that can be seen at any one time. Quilting it in colour-appropriate threads was also fun...until I realised that despite owning well over 100 reels of thread, I don't own anything peach coloured, but I managed to work around that.

This section of blues I particularly fell in love with. Fuller pictures to follow later in the week. While I sat sweltering beneath the quilt (quilt talking with my mother-in-law, and later in the day non-quilt-talking with our friend Ben who popped over for dinner), just far enough away for myself and the quilt not to be attacked by flying wood chippings, my husband was busy taking requests for wooden creations. On previous days he has made broomsticks* and wands (there's a Harry Potter theme to this, although they don't seem to understand that he is limited to using the thin branches found in our garden and repeatedly ask: but why can't you make Hogwarts/an owl/a time turner/a spell book?).

Having exhausted all the Harry Potter paraphernalia that can be made from something long and thin, he made each of the children a knife yesterday. We were all delighted to find that they are perfectly usable and they enjoyed eating apples cut up with their new knives. But even more excitingly, the children found that they could do their own wood whittling with their new knives.

Until this year, I'd somehow missed ever seeing something being burnt by using a magnifying glass** to harness the power of the sun. But my husband spent much of his youth killing ants in this way, when there was no other fun to be had, and so is a master at it (Character redemption: he has been a vegetarian for the past 15 years, buries each and every one of the mice that our cats kill and moves errant snails from the centre of the pavement on rainy please don't hold his past ant-murdering ways against him). To my non-scientifically programmed brain, these scorched drawings look like magic as they appear beneath the glass.

How was your weekend?

Florence x

* A Firebolt, for those who want the full broom specification.
** Yes, this magnifying glass is indeed a state of the art plastic one pilfered from the Early Learning Centre doctor's kit...who knew they were providing tools for pyromaniacs?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Hopscotch Skirt

I made this skirt for my daughter a couple of months ago, but somehow never got around to taking any pictures of it at the time or since, because she's only actually worn it once. We'd both forgotten about it until this morning when we saw it in her drawer and I asked if she'd mind putting it on quickly so that I could take a photo of it. The Hopscotch Skirt pattern is from Oliver + S. Over the last few years I've seen so many things made using their patterns, so much written about them, so many pictures of the pattern sheets themselves, that I almost felt like I'd already sewn from them...but actually not, so this skirt was my first dip into the Oliver + S pattern world . The thing that is consistently noticeable with Oliver + S is that when a picture of a garment made using one of their patterns appears, it is always well-made - Liesl's instruction seems to bring out the best in anyone's sewing abilities and slap-dash is not an option.

I'm happy with the skirt, but oddly it's not a garment that I enjoyed making. I found the pockets, which are cleverly based on a takeout carton, a little on the confusing side to construct and once done they didn't have enough wow factor for me to justify the laborious task of making them rather than a more simple, pleated pocket. I think this was largely because of the material I'd chosen - had the pocket been made in a contrast fabric, or the entire skirt in a plainer fabric, then perhaps they would have stood out more and felt more worthwhile.

The cut veers more toward straight than a-line and I think if I'd have clocked this earlier on I would have made it a few inches shorter to give more ease of movement, even though the skirt-wearer reports that it's fine. So in some ways it feels like a skirt of what-I'd-do-differently-next-time. What I do really love about this skirt though is the fabric - again, it's been designed by Oliver + S to go with their patterns and it has a really lovely drape. It's not at all see-through, but feels thinner and more dress-weight than quilting cotton. I bought the fabric from Backstitch and the pattern from M is for make. The envelope also included a pattern for a knit top and knit dress - I haven't made either yet, but hopefully will at some point in the future.

Anyway, the postman has just delivered this foxy fabric that I'd been waiting for, so I must now begin work. He also brought other exciting things, but I'll share those with you another time. Oh, and while discussing post, I currently have something very exciting coming all the way from America and I am enjoying the UPS website that lets you track its hourly progress, so that you can almost imagine it being hauled about by the men in brown and yellow uniforms at every stage of its journey. I can't wait for it to land in England.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A linky sort of post

These fabrics have been sat on my desk, cut and ready to be stitched, for the last few days. However, I've been busy with lots of other things so they've had to wait, lying there looking all Opal Fruit-y and making me feel hungry (I think they're called Starbursts now - I haven't had them for years, but just thinking about them brings their distinctive taste straight onto my tongue somehow - they were just so incredibly juicy!).

It was one of those colour assortments that me feel a little dizzy as I pulled different prints from the drawers and added them to their piles. Despite the avalanche of rain, I have felt somewhat cheerful for the last day or so and have actually been Getting Things Done, a strange thing that I'd almost forgotten the feel of.

Anyway, aside from discussing sweets, I thought that I might share with you a few of the things that I've been noticing around the internet lately:

Photo stolen from Alice's website.
Firstly, but also most recently, I spotted this new dress pattern at Backstitch, called Miz Mozelle. It's by Jamie Christina - not a pattern maker I've heard of before, but whoever she is I think she designs beautiful clothing and I've quite fallen in love with this dress. I'm at the thinking-through-possible-fabrics-for-it stage of purchase. It's suggested that it can be made from jersey, or if you upsize a little, then a dress weight cotton would be fine too. I feel a little fearful about making something that detailed around the neck area in jersey, and like the idea of it in cotton...any thoughts?

Secondly, I discovered while reading this post on A Sewing Journal that Amy Butler is printing some of her Soul Blossoms line onto Corduroy and rayon. I feel especially excited about the corduroy and by the time it arrives it will no doubt be autumn, when the time will be right for thinking about remaking this skirt (even though in reality, I worry that the colours and prints may be a little too bright and boisterous for me to want to make clothing from...I'm so hoping that they've chosen some of the more reserved prints for these new substrates).

And now some older things that I've had favourited for months and been meaning to share:

The Sewing Directory shared a link a while ago to a tutorial from Making magazine about grading a tunic or top pattern up or down (because, it's not as simple as you'd think - you can't just lop a uniform amount off from everywhere) - scroll to page 3 of the PDF - it's so simple and I can't wait to use it to properly size down this dress pattern that I made a toile for a long time ago. I can see this being useful to make envelope patterns smaller (which tend to run very large) or to size up patterns from Japanese pattern books (which tend to stop at around a UK 12/14).

And finally this wonderful tutorial, which will help you to make your child's pictures that you can fit more of them on the wall!

Wishing you a lovely Thursday,
Florence x

Monday, 20 June 2011

Homage to a well-loved apron

My beloved apron - its last outing
I love putting on my apron: it feels like an active, physical signal to my brain that I am about to lose myself in the warmth of some baking or cooking. As the loop goes over my head and the ties are wrapped around my waist, I have come to realise that I feel a sense of relaxation and relief washing over me that for an hour or two I am about to immerse myself in, floury worksurfaces; sugary, vanilla scents; and then, if the children are home, requests to help; or the arrival of a small face beside me asking what I'm making; and then the satisfying feeling of there having been a beginning, middle and an end when the lid is finally pressed down on a tin full of flapjacks or a lasagne is carried over to a table of hungry mouths.

My apron ceases to just be any old apron when I have baked so many memories from the last five years into its fibres.The cotton is soft and old from being washed so frequently and it drapes with so little starchiness that often I'll find that I'm still wearing it several hours after the oven has been turned off and the cooling racks cleared away without having noticed. Its simple geometic black and white print goes with everything and makes me long for some kind of weird apron dress to come into fashion so that I can wear one over my jeans the entire time. 

But there's a flipside to all of this. There's a scene in the film of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' where Bruce Bogtrotter is made to eat a cake the size of large footstool in a school assembly as punishment for stealing a slither of the headmistress's own cake. When the headmistress asks for the cake to be brought in she tells him that 'Cooky' has baked something special for him. The school cook appears stage right with the enormous cake, as the headmistress tells Bruce that Cooky has put her 'sweat and blood into making this cake' for him and that he must eat every last crumb of it. Cooky is an intentionally repulsive character: waddling and greasy, wearing an apron so stained that when the headmistress says that she has put her sweat and blood into making the cake you know that this statement is a literal, rather than a metaphorical, one. Anyway, I had come to feel like Cooky in my beloved black and white apron. No amount of stain removers could hide the evidence of having cooked with wild, splattering abandon on so many occassions. I worried that the children would inexplicably go off their food and only reveal to me months later, wasted and thin, that the apron was just too off-putting; or that my husband would start dreading coming home to find his grubby-looking wife in the kitchen again; and even that it was no longer fit to answer the door in and that a flurry of de-aproning must be carried out as I hurtled down the hall toward the door.

And so I have made a new one. I traced around my old one to make an identical pattern for it. It's made from Amy Butler interior decor weight cotton that I've had in my drawer for a few years and the neck loop is made from some beautifully soft webbing that I found in there too. The first time that I put it on it felt all wrong. But then I realised it was because I had been thinking too much and so tied the straps at the back, like an apron should be. However, I realised that when I don't think, I put the apron over my head and make a double fold in the fabric at the waist, before tying the straps around and fastening them at the front on my left hand side. Does anyone else do this weird fold thing at the waist? I have no idea where I've got it from or why I do it, but it somehow makes the apron feel right and perhaps brings the waist line and straps up to wear they rest most comfortably (so perhaps it's a short person thing? Maybe those with longer torsos wouldn't do this?).

Do you have an apron attachment? Or do you have something of a multiple apron wardrobe that stops this from happening? Does the apron that you're wearing affect the mood or flavour of what you make? I'm wondering whether I would cook in an entirely different way were my apron to be bright red with vibrant flowers.

Florence x

Friday, 17 June 2011

A meandering sort of post...

These beautiful Tilda fabric swatches have sat on my window sill for the past few weeks. Each time I do some washing up I ponder on which one I love the most. We have a slightly strange kitchen window sill. Through choice it is neither tiled, nor lined with wood, simply painted cream to fit in with the walls around it, which means that I have to be very careful about not getting the plaster wet. I'd always somehow managed this until last year when one of the many leaks from above (that eventually forced us into putting in a new bathroom) winkled its way through the ceiling and poured straight down onto the bare plaster sill. Anyway, the plaster is now sanded and repainted, but I've come to feel that it might be nice to have some kind of extended, super-long, sausage dog of a coaster to line the sill with that would protect the plaster from drips a little more, as it's where the washing up liquid lives as well as fabric swatches.

I love how small the prints are on these Tilda fabrics - a small, but detailed print seems to be a rare thing (outside the Liberty collection) and I really enjoy them. The pink and green one would go with many of the colours around it, but is my least favourite print of the three, the turquoise one would go with nothing, but I really love how clean and modern-in-a-retro-kind-of-way the print is, the blue one on the left reminds me of my sister every time I look at it, as she loves these Ming blue colours, and so I've felt happy every time I've seen's always the smallest choices that lead to decision paralysis. Isn't it odd how we will spend only twenty minutes looking around a house before we decide to buy it, and yet a pair of jeans or a fat quarter of fabric can often have whole hours devoted to whether one is spending one's £3.50 wisely (that's the fat jeans cost a little more than that).

On the subject of fat quarters, you might remember this post here (see bullet point 4!) where I said how much I'd fallen in love with Jennifer Moore's foxy prints. After seeing them there, Kate took it upon herself to embark upon the long process of bringing the foxes to English shores where they are now waiting to be re-homed (I say long process because I've known they were coming for a while and had taken to excitedly checking for their arrival every few days...a watched shop never produces foxes though). I shall be re-homing several myself (they're only 3cm long apparently, so I may take quite a few), along with my favourite contrast print, and am currently trying to decide whether to buy an amount that is appropriate for making a doorstop or an apron for my not-so-little-anymore boy. He already has an apron as he cooks a lot, but I actually think I might want to gobble up his cuteness if he wore these foxes rather than just held his door ajar with them.

In something of an inspiration swap I just bought a book for my own daughter that I spotted on the aforementioned Kate's wish list. My little girl has always loved bubble writing, but How to Be the Best Bubble Writer in the World Ever! takes it to a whole new level and is just so wonderfully done. Inspiring, creative, cool and just plain lovely, it feels like the kind of book that she'll remember when she's older. It arrived yesterday and it is so good it actually made my feel slightly dizzy knowing how much she would love it. Which brought with it a problem: I think my little boy may pass out with jealousy, so I have postponed giving it to her and am considering buying a second copy first (it's a book that you can draw in yourself, otherwise they would, of course, be made to share!). 

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


I'd seen a lovely white blouse while I was out shopping a while ago and fallen quite in love with it, but somehow because it was made from such a simple cotton I felt too guilty to part with so much money when I knew that I could at least attempt to replicate it in some way. I never feel that way about buying jeans or knits (thankfully)...but somehow cotton always foxes me into feeling this way now. Happily my local fabric shop had this lovely dobby cotton and so I made this top last month and wore it quite a lot before the weather turned cool again.

The fabric very much dictated the style of the blouse - its sheerness meant that I'd either have to line any top that I made, or create some sort of feature to thicken the fabric over the bust. Lined tops never feel quite as lovely to wear somehow, so I decided to create some pintucks and designed the rest of the top around that. The pintucking ended up working just as I'd hoped and dignity is preserved and the gathering at the front means that no tummy buttons are on display either.

Finished pintucks on the left, lines waiting to tucked on the right.
Pintucks can be troublesome to make and, for me, their success or failure has always been dependent on how visible my markings are on the fabric while I'm working on them. I used the Frixion pen that I mentioned in this post and the thin, clear lines that I was able to make with it helped so much.

Muslin toile
You may be shocked to learn that I actually made a muslin for this top (shocked, because once I've decided to make something I normally just want to get on with it, so this is rare for me). Irritatingly, I made no changes at all, apart from the sleeve length, but it was good to test out my voile weight muslin for future reference and find that it felt very...voiley.

The sleeve is gathered at the cuff and then bound with a strip of dobby bias. I finished the neckline in the same way (although without the gathering).

My favourite thing about this top though is that my husband says that he thinks it's the nicest thing that I've ever made for myself. But alas...I whipped up another late one evening in one of my favourite fabric prints ever and we both agreed that I look like a gargoyle with a mass of pattern near my face. I think that if I de-sleeve it and lower the neckline so that the intensity of the pattern is diluted by some (pasty white) skin then perhaps it can be salvaged...we'll see.

In other news: Susan & Adrianna of Crafterhours very kindly invited me to write a guest blog post for them all about skirts to celebrate the start of their two week skirt fest. You can find my blog post here and you can find rules for entry here - you have until June 15th to make a last minute entry and I should implore you to do so as there are some fabulous prizes to be well as the glory, which is of course the main thing. I will be on their panel of judges too - hurrah and as will become apparent if you read my post for them, have been scouring the Flickr pools for inspiration for my own sewing. I had also meant to blog about Made by Rae's long-gone Spring Tops week too (which I also judged - it's all over now, but there's so much top goodness to be found in the Flickr pools for that) but my blogging ended up being thin on the ground last month and somehow it didn't happen. Ho hum...hopefully my poor attendance rate here will improve for a good end of term report.

Happy mid week to you,
Florence x

Monday, 6 June 2011

St Petersburg with my sister

Inside The Hermitage
Some of you may remember that for my birthday this year, my husband surprised me by arranging for my sister and me to go away for four days to St Petersburg in Russia. This was no random location: it was chosen specifically because eleven years ago I'd fallen in love with a book that was set in Leningrad. One lovely I know actually chose to go and study there solely because of her love for this a four day pilgrimage seems fairly unobsessive by comparison. I packed the book in my bag (all 636 pages of it) for rereading when I left and my sister bought a copy too. I also packed an emergency piece of paper that said: I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian, but I am a vegetarian. Russia uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which I had failed to learn before leaving. When my husband expressed concern that I only knew seven words of Russian, I demonstrated quite how many different ways 'please' (Пожалуйста) could be said to convey different meanings depending upon expression. Aside from the obvious it effectively conveys: a cry for help; an ironic expression of exasperation; an enthusiastic request for more and even begging should the need have arisen. With 'thank you', 'Good day', 'Vegetarian', 'no/yes' and 'fox' in my repertoire and my emergency piece of paper in my pocket, I felt ready for most things.

A view of St Isaacs from our hotel
White Nights were only a week away when we visited, which meant that we could happily wander around at midnight without darkness threatening to disorientate us. It was this discovery that allowed us to breakfast daily at around 11.30am, having spent the morning lying in bed, at times barely able to breath for laughing as we read some of the best (or worst, depending on which way you view it) bits out to each other from The Bronze Horseman*. 

Once we had managed to get ourselves up and out we were surprised to find that contrary to our imaginings, St Petersburg is actually far bigger than anticipated and most days we walked around nine or ten miles.Over the days we spent there we noticed several things: that the skyline is dissected by the crisscrossing of overhead tramline cables, even though very few trams seem to be in use.

Russia seems to have far more Men in Uniforms loitering about than London. We liked this.

The book that I'd fallen in love with was set in 1941 in Leningrad in a time of war. During the siege 2 million of the city's inhabitants perished through starvation, leaving just one million surviving civilians living there. I had expected the streets to have been changed beyond recognition from those described in the book, but somehow, despite the impressive grandeur of many of the buildings, it felt like the vibrancy of the city had been stolen away, the streets seemed underpopulated and many of the buildings looked blank and deserted.

The food was wonderful. Our late breakfast seemed to cover lunch, but in the evenings we shared our time between Botanka in the west of the city and Idiot in the East. Both are vegetarian/vegan restaurants and it was easy to find plenty to eat. We were excited to sample Russian borsch due to our shared love of Prince Charles' Duchy Originals Beetroot soup and it didn't disappoint - utterly delicious. We also developed a new love of vodka when drunk neat with no ice and brought some home with us.

But perhaps the highlight of St Petersburg is its famous art gallery, The Hermitage. Inside, the building is jaw-droppingly impressive (see the photo at the top of this post) and I fell in love with the gathered voile that covered the windows. The artwork on display was wonderful and my sister was overjoyed to find three whole rooms of Matisse. And unlike other galleries, non-flash photography seemed perfectly acceptable and so we were able to photograph all our favourite paintings.

My favourites were these sleeping children by Henry Moore. I also like this sewing lady...I can't remember who it is by.

Our holiday was over far too quickly and we had such fun. I have so many lovely memories for the pot in my head. Not least my sister becoming trapped in the hotel's very large doormat, which seemed to try and swallow her up (or at least her shoes) like quick-sand as she walked over it.

At the airport we spent our last roubles on these tiny dolls. They are meant to represent us. For once I am taller.

I arrived home to a lovely half-term week: the children in the midst of recreating a 3D Hogwarts from the contents of the recycling box, the garden being overhauled by my husband and a flurry of room changes that somehow means that I have donated my sewing desk to my daughter as it was the only desk that would fit in her new (and tiny) room, so now I must try and carve out a new space to work. But before that my priority must be making my little boy some curtains that are not pink. And you know how much I love to make curtains**.

Florence x

* My sister's editorly opinion was that she would have happily wittled away at least 300 pages of this book. My own view was that I love the characters so much that I would have happily had a further 200 pages of poorly written bilge added on to keep them alive in my head for a little longer, however, even I would admit that it's not a literary masterpiece so if that kind of thing bothers you then please don't take my link as a recommendation. After spending many happy hours in St Petersburg playing the who-would-play-the-characters-in-this-book-if-it-were-made-into-a-film game we were delighted to discover on our return that it is actually already being made into a film to be released next year. We settled on absolutely no-one as the result of our game as the lead is impossibly handsome, strong and tall and yet refined at the same time, and we decided that he could only exist as a figment. I can't wait to see who the film makers thought was suitable for this role.

** Not at all. And in my desklessness, this will take place at the dining room table.
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.