Saturday, 27 August 2011

On new things that feel odd...

Something incredibly odd happened today. I was in John Lewis (investigating mattresses with my husband, although that wasn't the strange bit) and happened to wander through the displays of bed linen. Out of habit, I headed for the shades of white I'm normally drawn to and found myself bored at the sight of them, but strangely drawn toward the brightly-coloured duvet covers and quilts on display nearby, where I found myself butterfly-stomached at the sight of them (had my pupils been measured at this point, I'm sure they would have been as large as saucers...or possibly even dinner plates!). Mmm.That's the first bit of strange.

Later, in the cushion department (John Lewis is like that: we may have gone there to look at mattresses, but it sucks you in and casts you off in different, unintended directions, until the idea of looking at what you originally intended to look at nags at the corners of your consciousness like an irritating fly that you wish only to swat away so that you wander around trance-like in a consumeristic state of 'wantyness' for all the other things in there)....anyway, back to the cushion department. Here, I suddenly felt desperately claustrophobic at the memory of all the rooms in shades of white and cream that we have at home and I found myself completely transfixed by the beautifully plump, squashy, jewel-coloured cushions that fought for space on the shelves. I started piling up my favourites and found them so delicious that I wanted to take great armfuls of them and run from the store with them (in a non-shop-lifty way, obviously), fill the boot of my car and take them all home so that I could cover every sofa and chair in our house with them....that's the odd bit: I don't like colour in my home.

Away from the strange vortex of John Lewis' home furnishings department, which had threatened to engulf my rational self, I'm left with two thoughts: the first being that I now have some clarity about exactly which cushion colour I really love, for I really would like things to be a little more colourful; the second is an awareness of what a strangely liberating thing it would be to buy cushions from a shop instead of making them myself. I can't think of anything I could do that would feel more ridiculously self-indulgent and foreign. I'm tempted.

Florence x

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Colette Sewing Handbook

Picture courtesy of Colette Patterns
A very brief post today, as sometimes it's hard to fit my usual essay-length posts in during the summer holidays, however, I wanted to share my excitement with you over the news that Sarai of Colette Patterns is going to be having a book published. It's now available to browse through using the 'look inside' feature on Amazon. Not only will it undoubtedly cover all the dressmaking guidance a girl could wish for, but also five patterns from Colette, making it super value.

For me, I think this book may be the most exciting publication of the year and anticipation levels are high. Why? Because every time I use a Colette Pattern I learn something new; because the shapes used in creating the garments mean that they don't just cloak the body, but sculpt around it in a way that leaves me awestruck at her pattern cutting skills; because all the tips and tricks on her blog are so informative; because every time I look through the Colette Flickr pool I feel inspired. The Colette dress and top patterns don't especially suit my figure (without substantial adjustment - they tend to be cut for a much bigger bust), but there's something about them that leaves me feeling fascinated and a little addicted.

The publication date in the UK is set for November 25th, presenting a small reason not to mourn the passing of summer too much.

All this reminds me that I must finish the belt loops on my Colette Beignet skirt so that I can share that with you too....

Florence x

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Firstly, thank you so much for all the comments on my last post - the greyness suggestions were all fantastic and are being thoroughly researched and thought over (I'll report back soon) and it was also really lovely that there were a few requests for the dobby top to be turned into a pattern - it will definitely be added to my To Do list once school has restarted (although, we are all feeling slightly bereft that we only have two weeks left).

The last post aside, the colours in the photo at the top of this post as my daughter raced through the sand dunes captures the seasidey freshness of the last four days for me perfectly - we went for a long weekend away as a family and it feels as though many cobwebs were blown away on the blustery sea air and we've returned feeling completely refreshed, despite it being a somewhat short summer holiday.

With only four days at our disposal, we decided to not use too much of that time up with travelling and so chose to go to Rye, which isn't so very far away, but is somewhere we'd never ventured to before. We stayed at The George, which is the wonderful home of this fantastic bath, along with lots of other lovely things.

Photo courtesy of The George
As well as falling in love with the bath, you can see just beyond the bed that there is a little ladder, which leads to the 'pod' where our children slept. They were delighted by this den of a bed and even more so by the DVD player at the end of it, on which Harry Potter was screened every evening.

Rye, if you haven't been yourself, is a patchwork of cobbled streets, beautiful cottages, interesting antique shops, cream teas and ice creams. We were lucky to see it awash with sunshine for nearly every day of our visit.

When we weren't gooning around in the graveyard of the beautiful St Mary's...

...we were at the beach in Camber building sand castles

Although, I have to admit that my enthusiasm for building sandcastles stretches to the conventional type requiring four buckets of sand, a naive happiness that comes when placing a flag in a crumbling turret and plenty of time left over for biscuit-eating, so I eventually retreated to the picnic blanket to watch the rest of my family beavering away on this 5ft x 5ft extravaganza...and wondered at their endless enthusiasm for coming on holiday to willingly indulge in manual labour.

Although I found it as fascinating as they did to watch how quickly their hours of work could be toppled by the sea as the tide hurried in. We never tired of waiting for this sight each day. In this photo my daughter is standing shivering wearing my husband's jumper after spending too long in the sea.

I took away with me Getchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, billed by the Daily Beast as 'the rare self-help tome that doesn't feel shameful to read', however, the sea air made me too sleepy for bedtime reading and so I am only a few chapters in. However, I love the starting point for Gretchen's book, which is that it isn't necessarily for unhappy people...just happy people who wish to be even happier. Already it's crystallised my thinking into pinpointing exactly which things I could do to make myself happier...and they're so obvious that they feel almost achievable.

Florence x

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A new dobby top and a non-sewing question

You might remember that a while ago I made this top from white cotton dobby. You can never quite tell whether something will become an integral part of your daily wardrobe until some time has elapsed. Sometimes, you initially think something will be as versatile as the butter in your fridge, only to find that it's the equivalent of some rose-scented ginger jelly: a nice idea, but in reality it goes with nothing and festers at the back of the fridge. Well, happily, that top ended up being an essential (buttery) ingredient and has had at least one outing every week. Which made me worry that it might get used up. Or worn away. And that I really might need one in my favourite colour: navy. Unfortunately, no amount of trying turned up some navy blue fabric that was just right (which actually wasn't very much trying at all, as it's the school holidays which meant that I had less than five minutes in the fabric shop), so in the same five minutes as my exhaustive attempts to purchase this fabric took place, inspiration struck and I seized the original roll of white dobby cotton and also added some Dylon fabric dye to my basket (in Jeans Blue, in case you're interested. I've found the Navy dye has a tendency to turn things black) so that I could rustle up some blue fabric of my own at home.

Despite the fact that the white top is still a lovely fit, I made this blue one a little bigger as I am feeling more chunky armed and thicker-waisted than usual this holiday (something to do with not having eaten sugar for the past four does that work? It may have had something to do with becoming the human version of Squirrel Nutkin and developing an almond fixation...I won't be making that mistake again).

I realised while this top was being photographed that it still needs a few loose threads cutting off it. I wonder if they have a loose thread checker in clothing factories?

Anyway, I also wanted to ask you about hair. Grey hair. I keep discovering them and while my feeling about them is now one more of curiosity than distress, I can see that at some point soon I may like to embark upon the process of covering them up. For reasons of thrift, and because I'm not yet convinced it's necessary to go to a colourist when it comes to very dark hair, I'm considering colouring it at home. Do you have any tips about which make to go for? I want something reasonably non-chemically (but not henna). Maybe something that lasts 6 weeks...or even a little longer? When I was very much younger I used to dye my hair black, but coming to it a second time I feel slightly overwhelmed by the choice. I want something that makes my hair just look like my own hair without that scary purplish tinge that I've been warned dark brown colour can sometimes give. I would love to hear your suggestions....

I'm off to the beach now. Wishing you a lovely weekend wherever you find yourself.

Florence x

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Unpoliced baking

I don't think I've shown you this apron that I made for my daughter last year. She picked the fabrics out herself and they're both from very old Anna Maria Horner fabric lines, Chocolate Lollipop, I think, which makes them an appropriate choice for an apron. The design was created as I went along with a heavily gathered bib and a skirt with a large inverted pleat. She loves wearing it and has requested a dress of an identical design,which may or may not happen before summer has ended. I made one for my son too (not photographed here) from Joel Dewberry gathers or pleats.

Last week I typed out very detailed instructions for making a Victoria Sponge cake and then abandoned my children in the kitchen for everything but taking the cake in and out of the oven. I love baking with them, but it tends to bring out the control freak in me, incapable of not hovering helicopter-style over them full of 'helpful suggestions' as they crack eggs and cream butter and sugar together. It suddenly occurred to me that they may really enjoy the sensation of baking entirely under their own steam, making their own mistakes unwatched and uncorrected by me.

So I took myself off to another room and heard giggling, happy baking sounds and cakey aromas drifting through from the kitchen. And when I reappeared after an hour the kitchen was spotless and the mixing bowl had been licked clean (for both of these activities had been itemised on the instruction sheet!). My daughter served us each a slice of cake after tea that evening and my husband declared it to be the best cake he'd ever tasted. When he later found my instruction sheet in the utility room it produced much merriment and teasing though, as he noted a strong tendency to encourage tidying up as they went along...something which I have never managed in the kitchen myself.

Florence x

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A quilt story

This is the quilt that I showed you a few close-ups of in the last post. The moment I saw Anna Maria Horner's Love Emblem quilt pattern I knew that was what I'd like to use as the starting point for a quilt for our friends, Sam and Leanne. Sam is one of my husband's oldest friends and despite the fact that we've only actually known Leanne for three years, she feels like one of our oldest friends too, so I really wanted this quilt, which was to be their wedding gift, to feel as though it was very much from my husband as well as me. With this in mind, I asked for his input in picking out the fabrics for it and we eventually put together a fairly Morrocan-inspired palette taken from a few of Anna Maria's fabric lines, mainly Good Folks and Innocent Crush.

The quilt itself was a real challenge to piece for me and at the time when I made it, back in March and April, it represented my first inroad into more complicated piecing (having mainly stuck to squares and rectangles up until that point). The variously sized triangles met and intersected one another at odd angles and I felt trepidatious for much of the time I was piecing them together, not quite believing I would end up with something usable. 

At this stage, as it was above, the colours really didn't work for me and I only felt happy with it once I'd finally hand stitched the heart in place and pulled it together with the red panels that surround the central square.

On the reverse I used a large piece of one of my favourite ever Anna Maria Horner prints and then to the side, little swatches of each of the fabrics that had appeared on the front of the quilt. The quilt patch reads: "For Samson & Leanne, may your years be filled with happiness. With love from Ian, Florence, ... & ... xxx"

Me standing behind it may give you some idea as to its size - it's smaller than a regular quilt - it's more of an armchair-sized throw. I did consider making it bigger, but felt it might be more handy at this size for trailing around the house, taking out on picnics or even eventually placing babies on.

Anyway, quilty quiltness aside, it was a deliciously lovely wedding. Sam and Leanne are two of the most special people in our lives. What I realised at their wedding was that we weren't alone in feeling this - they are a rare and wonderful couple in that they inspire nothing but love and adoration in everyone they meet.

I love these photos of barefooted happiness on a grassy hillside against a cloudy blue sky. Leanne wore a vintage dress. Sam wore a brand new pair of Converse. We wore smiles that hurt our cheeks.

Florence x

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

From behind the screen

Long-time readers, or those with a very good memory, might remember that I started planning a quilt in March and then never mentioned it again. It didn't get forgotten about. It was pondered over, pieced together, bound in the unseasonably warm April sunshine and then wrapped in tissue and ribbon to wait until August, when our friends were to marry.

Last weekend my husband and I made our way over to Devon a few days early, so that we might potter around while the children stayed at home with grandparents.

We walked, talked, slept, laughed, alternated between drinking tea and champagne and punctuated each of these activities by eating some of the best food we'd ever tasted and by the time the wedding day arrived we had both consumed half the annual produce of Devon. The reason for this eating extravaganza was stumbling upon a vegetarian cafe so amazing that we felt compelled to try and work our way through the entire menu before going home. The cafe itself was unpretentious and welcoming, the food home-cooked and wholesome (in a calorific sort of way...).

Our favourite breakfast: two poached eggs,with chilli tomatoes and pitta breads...homemade seed bread toast and marmalade on the side and a pot of licorice tea to share. I don't eat breakfast, but I made an exception every single day of our little holiday. Vanessa recently wrote a post about the joy of blogging being that one can write a perky,chirpy post whilst sitting behind one's screen feeling bloated. It felt pertinent, reader. I am now trying to muster post-holiday enthusiasm for rising an hour before the rest of the house once more for some Kettlenetics. It's now Wednesday and I'm still thinking about it.

Anyway, finished quilt photos and some weddingy pictures to follow. This is just an intermediary post to quieten the girl who rang me with a fox in her pocket, bemoaning that I hadn't blogged for two days and could I please get back to it. It's nice to be missed.

Florence x

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Making a 'Homage to Johnnie' dress...

Meet my latest dress! It came away for the weekend with me (that's a whole other blog post, but we had a wonderful time), although I only finished binding the neckline in time for it to be rolled up and squashed into my bag at the last minute. Luckily, it's a lovely, soft, drapey jersey that doesn't crease and responded well to this kind of flash bag packing (in which I packed barely any clothes, but five pairs of shoes. In my defence I wore every single pair at some point as the many different things we did could all be accommodated easily by rapid shoe changes).

This bamboo stretch knit arrived from the wonderful Ray-Stitch last week. It's actually the dusky plum colour (labelled as 'mauve' on the website) - it looks to be a deep lavender in the light of these photos, but it's very much plum in reality, which I love. I was tempted to make another Miz Mozelle dress as it would be the perfect fabric for doing so, but I was a little torn as I also wanted to try something different.

This dress is a self-drafted pattern based on a Boden dress already in my wardrobe. The Boden dress is one of my favourites, but it's made from a double-layer of fine, gauzy fabric and the slightest thing causes plucks which puts me off wearing it when I'm around small children, animals...and myself (as I'm more than a little accident prone). So this dress is something of a homage to Johnnie Boden in a more Florence-friendly fabric. It's still incredibly soft, drapey and luxurious, but it doesn't make me feel like I may unravel at any moment.

The dress is identical to look at from the back, save for a higher neckline. It was fairly stress-free to make, although if I was tackling it again I would make it with a bodice facing, rather than binding at the arms and neck as I think a facing would give a simpler, cleaner finish. But as I didn't make a toile for this dress I felt it left my options more open to change if I bound the openings at the end of construction, rather than committing to a particular neckline by facing it at the start.

In the wrong fabric, so much gathering at the waist can cause one to look pregnant, but happily this fabric is so fluid and fine that I think (or hope!) it navigates around the problem completely.

Nina (who I think of as 'just knowing stuff', and is the source of so many interesting new things to me, so it's amazing that in this instance she was asking my opinion) asked after this post if I thought this particular fabric would be suitable for making a Miz Mozelle and I'd say absolutely - I think it would look fantastic and you can get a good idea from how behaves in this dress as to the drape and hand of the fabric. Oh, and there was no need for lining - I found it to be fine with just a single layer. For an absolute beginner (because I know a few were thinking of making a Miz Mozelle as a first attempt at working with knits...or even garment making), I'm surprisingly myself by thinking that the Liberty silk stretch satin fabric that I used for the Miz Mozelle may be slightly easier to handle as it only stretches when pulled at, whereas this fabric is intended to have more give in it - it's a true stretch knit. However, for anyone other than a beginner, I think it's much of a muchness (an expression that confused my little boy no end when I said it to him recently, but which he now, adorably, incorporates into his own conversation) as they're both delicious to sew with and to wear.

In other excitement, did I tell you that last week, having had an unopened pressing cloth in my drawer for three years, I finally opened it? I'm not sure that I will ever be able to go back to ironing without's amazing. So much so, that during my haphazard bag packing for the weekend I decided that, as well as the five pairs of shoes, my pressing cloth would also be essential. And I used it too. Even if the wearer of the just-ironed-with-pressing-cloth shirt then decided that the shirt choices he had packed could all be dispensed with as he'd be happier wearing a t-shirt under his suit jacket to the wedding we were about to go to*. More on all things wedding later in the week...I'm currently saving and sorting all the details in my head first. It was delicious. Heart-warming. Like a bowl of ice cream with hot chocolate sauce drizzled over it...only better.

Florence x

* The blatant non-use of carefully packed items officially means that my bag packing was more efficient, despite the disbelief at the high shoe content! A rare and most pleasing occurrence. Hurrah!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A link laden post for you...

    These are some of my daughter's old pencil cases - we've decided to write the year and her teacher for that time inside them as a keepsake of a school year. I hadn't realised that she'd been saving them when she brought them home at the end of the summer term, but it's lovely that she has. I'm imagining that years later seeing them will transport her back to a particular classroom at a particular time in her life and open up a box of memories of topics taught, projects undertaken and friendships made. Yesterday we went and picked some fabric for her next pencil case. There will be NO PINK this time. She chose small print blues and greens by Tilda...although when we were on our way out of the shop we spotted some Kate Spain and both wished we'd seen that first. However, I love the zip that she chose to go with the Tilda fabrics - in reality its a far more zingy green than it appears to be in these photos.

    Pencil cases aside, a stack of links that I've been wanting to share with you has now built up:
    • I read on the Sew Tessuti blog last week that Stylish Dress Book 1 has now been produced in English. For anyone who's always wanted to try out some Japanese dress patterns, but been intimidated by the lack of instruction this might be exciting news, especially if you live in Australia near Tessuti. I haven't seen in it in England yet, but I'll let you know if I spot it. 
    • Have you seen these amazing leafy table runners, the pattern for is featured in this issue of Fat Quarterly? I've fallen in love with the rich simplicity of both the shapes and colours. I'd added them to my Pinterest boards last week, but hadn't had a chance to look into who they were created by, so it was a lovely surprise this week when Alex of Teaginny Designs contacted me this week to say that she had just finished making a sleeping bag from my Three Bears' Sleeping Bag pattern and on scrolling down her blog I found she was the maker of the much admired leaves.
    • In the last few weeks, it's finally clicked for me with Pinterest - I now understand why others love it so much. When I glanced at my own boards for Style and Dressmaking Inspiration the other day, I was struck by what a true reflection of taste these boards are too. As in life, I have subconsciously homed in on things that are navy or yellow...or a delicious combination of the two. The fullness of the dressmaking and quilting boards also speaks volumes to me about where my interests currently lie when it comes to sewing.
    • Appealing to the aforementioned obsession with the colour navy, Kate now how some delicious Amy Butler wale cord in her shop, which makes me think of cooler weather dressmaking.
    • For those of you who have been following along with my adventures in making several Miz Mozelle dresses and who are considering making their own, then you might be interested to see Vanessa's lovely version and to read her thoughts on its fitting issues.
    • I saw this insanely lovely quilt on A Life in Lists a few weeks ago - couldn't you get lost in the detail of every single hexagon? Jo gives full quilt-along details in the post, but I'll also link here to the quilt's creator, Lizzie Broderie, as her blog is new to me and it's a treat. She is wonderfully talented and the inspiration she provides is overwhelming (both in its loveliness and in its ability to produce envy at her stitching capabilities).
    • Finally, I've just started reading Gertie's sew-along posts for Stitch Magic at Melanie Falick. Have you bought a copy of Stitch Magic: Sculpting Fabric with Stitch or seen between the covers at the bookshop? I'd love to know what you think as I'm considering popping it into my Amazon basket. The Melanie Falick blog is new to me, but it was quickly added to my feedreader as there's lots going on, including an interesting post here about learning to design a fabric with Heather Ross in anticipation of her forthcoming book.
    Right, I'll stop there due to fears that you might get a repetitive mouse-clicking strain injury as a result of reading this post.

    Wishing you a happy Thursday,

    Florence x

    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    Unfoxed: a dressmaking tip

    I've been meaning to share a solution for something that has previously foxed me, and finally rememembered to take photograph it yesterday.

    So often, when I've been working with a fabric that must be gathered to a particular length (such as the cap of a sleeve, or a section of a blouse), I've sewn two rows of large basting stitches, drawn them up to just the right length, but when I've come to sewing these gathered stitches in place on the machine, it has gently pulled at them, meaning the gathered section invariably ends up longer than intended or unevenly gathered. This can partly be worked around by sewing the basted gathers directly to the main garment to stabilise them, but I worry over this method as I prefer to check that the gathers are completely even before committing to this step.

    I finally discovered that by pinning my basted gathers to a thin piece of paper (here I've used pattern drafting paper), I could sew them in place easily. The paper means that the material glides through the machine and the gathers remain undistorted. If you set a small stitch length for this then the paper also pulls away easily without effort or leaving papery deposits in amongst the stitches.

    You can find two more dressmaking-related tips from last summer here. I'd love to hear if you have any of your own - it's always lovely to discover new ways to make things easier.

    Florence x

    Monday, 1 August 2011

    And my point is....?

    Last night at about 9pm, when I had a great many other things that I should have been doing, I decided that, with no intended purpose for it whatsoever, I absolutely had to try out a quilt block that I'd read about here on Fresh Lemons. I've tried paper piecing by hand before when I made a bathmat from hexagons, but I'd never tried piecing by sewing over the lines of a paper template. It was a completely foreign concept to me and one that I was desperate to try and the tutorial demonstrating the technique looked excellent and easy to follow (this turned out to be true - well worth sampling!).

    This is the result. It would have been nice not to have run out of the patterned yellow fabric half way through, forcing me to change for yellow and white polka dots for some of the shapes, but otherwise it was a happy sewing session. I'm puzzled though: do the two techniques (the hexagons used for the bathmat and the templates used for this block) have two different names or are do they both fall under the umbrella of 'paper piecing'?

    The other thing that my mind kept returning to while I worked was the need to have a point for doing something. My husband was puzzled by this, saying that he doesn't try and write a song every time he picks up his guitar...sometimes he just widdles around and sings a bit because it's relaxing and because he loves doing it. However, in an attempt for this not just to be a random quilt block, but to be something that would eventually be a part of a whole, I thought about how much I'd love to make a quilt incorporating a little of every fabric I'd ever owned. It would be a fantastic reference for me as well as calling to mind different projects and memories whenever I snuggled down beneath it. In a rare name-before-quilt occurrence I settled upon calling it 'Every Fabric I have ever Owned' and was quite happy pondering this potential quilt until I realised that I may have stolen the title from Tracey Emin's controversial tent entitled 'Everyone I have ever Slept with'. By the time I'd finished the block I felt tired and as though such a quilt may be too big to fit on the sofa.

    The other thing that I realised while thinking (I did recently say in one of my posts that it was best that I didn't may now be wishing I didn't too from the randomness of this post) about my husband's guitar-playing analogy, was that you might like this song: it's one that my husband plays to me often...the first few times I heard it I would rarely get through it without crying. The original is by Josh Ritter, one of our absolute favourite musicians, and it's entitled 'The Curse' (click on the link to listen) - it's about a museum curator bringing an Egyptian Mummy back to New York and falling in love during nights spent together in the museum as he begins to wake. As the song progresses so too does the Mummy's strength and eventually he gets up from his glass case and takes to the streets of the city, his rags dragging behind him, photographed and celebrated wherever he goes. The curse is that whomever he falls in love with will gradually wither as he returns to life. By the penultimate verse his beloved is greying and using a cane...and the sad perfection of the song's story leaves me feeling as though I've read an entire novel and suffered all the emotions that go with it in the space of five minutes. This perhaps justifies the fact that my husband and I often seem to treat it as something that merits the same kind of dissection you might find taking place over a novel at a book group.

    For me, Josh's version is good...but always a disappointment to me now as I love the way my husband plays it more. But I'm biased. As I should be.

    Florence x

    PS. For those that fall in love with Josh as we have, we found the album that this song belongs to a disappointment. Favourite (and far more rowdy) tracks that you might want to sample on iTunes are 'To the Dogs or Whoever', and 'A Girl in the War'.
    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.