Monday, 31 October 2011

Unfinished linings

All that stands between a new skirt and winter coat hanging in my wardrobe are two unfinished linings. As I type this I have to confess to being unable to comprehend how it has happened that I drafted the pattern and made the entire coat in less than 36 hours, yet have spent nearly two weeks procrastinating over hemming it? Sometimes I outfox even myself with my own contrariness.

Foxing my children and husband is whether the use of the arm of a sofa as a pincushion should be permitted. This photo was taken a few weekends ago when I was sewing the lining to the facings and the children were both bemused and outraged by this previously unwitnessed abuse of furniture. The pattern is based on a favourite coat, bought several years ago...I've dreamt of reproducing it in different fabrics and finding a way to ensure that it's loveliness was never used up or worn out's so nice to have finally made this a reality, save for it being unhemmed.

And this is the skirt lining...I'm wondering how many readers will instantly recognise which pattern this skirt has been made from? I love seeing the endless variations of this skirt appear on people's blogs and Flickr. In truth, I also need to make belt loops for it as well as hemming the lining....and this has been on my To Do list since June (I can't think what happened here, as I did manage to complete two dresses and five or six tops during that time). However, I'm hoping that the winter weather will propel me toward finishing it, as I think this skirt may work better for me in winter than it might in summer.

So hopefully more on those over the coming week, however, I thought you might like to see this dress made by someone who has finished something. Isn't it gorgeous? I love both the cut and the fabrics used and wish that it were hanging in my own wardrobe, hemmed or otherwise.

Florence x

Friday, 28 October 2011

Matryoshka Needlecase Tutorial

We've just arrived home from a brief holiday and I'd taken my laptop along so that I could set live this blog post which I'd pre-written last week...but like the best sort of holidays, I forgot to turn my laptop on. For those awaiting the next installment of my husband's guide to how to make your own pizza oven, it's coming, but it's taking a long time as there are diagrams and all sorts to detailed instructions...and he too ended up having a computer-free holiday and so will catch up on that next week. But please find below, what should have appeared earlier in the week.

In 2009 I created this little tutorial for a matryoshka needlecase for the Christmas edition of UK Handmade magazine - since then it's seemed to move around and I've often received emails asking why my link to it is always broken, so I've finally decided to put the pattern into a blog post here. I seem to remember that I created this pattern in something of a hurry and long before I learnt how to draw pattern pieces on a computer, so I hope you'll forgive the somewhat lo-fi pattern production. You can download my very badly drawn and scanned pattern pieces as a PDF file here. Despite their shabby appearance, they are fit for the purpose of drawing around - just remember to print out at 100%.


This sweet Christmassy needle case book is perfect for some well-deserved self-gifting as you stitch your way through December, or as a stocking filler for someone who loves to sew. It’s easy to make and can be sewn while curled up by the fire, entirely by hand, using blanket stitch and embroidery stitches, or, if you’re in a needle-case hurry, on your sewing machine.


Embroidery Floss
Wool – 20cm
Blue felt - 30cm x 17cm
Pretty fabric – 11cm x 9cm
Iron-on interfacing – 11cm x 9cm
Plain pink fabric – 5cm x 5cm
Co-ordinating ribbon – 4cm
Fabric pen (optional)
Marker pen with disappearing ink

First cut out your pattern pieces.

2 x Piece A from felt (these will be used for the inner and outer main body pieces).
2 x Piece B from felt (this is what will be used to hold your needles, so the thicker the better with the felt).
1 x Piece C from pretty fabric with iron-on interfacing (this will make the matryoshka’s shawl).
1 x Piece D from plain pink fabric (this will be your matryoshka’s face).

Cut out the hole for the face to peep through in piece C by folding in half and then cutting around the semi circle.

If you’re going to create your doll’s face with a fabric marker do this now, if you’d prefer to embroider the features on, you might find it easier after the next step.

On the right-hand side of one of the body pieces, pin on the face (piece D) and the shawl (piece C) above it. You can then sew these on using a blanket stitch, or on the sewing machine using a small zigzag stitch. Remember to sew around the face aperture too. Next, fold the ribbon in half, and then splay out the bottom edges. Sew in place at a suitable point on her shawl, leaving the ends free. If you've chosen to embroider the facial features do this now using french knots for eyes and a small running stitch for the mouth.

Finally, with a disappearing-ink marker pen draw an apron and a decorative design onto the body of the matryoshka. Embroider these by hand using 2 strands of coloured floss.

Set this to one side.

Take the other matryoshka body shapes (A) that you cut out earlier. Lay pieces B on in the appropriate places (see photo). These can be stitched into place by hand using a blanket stitch or using a zigzag stitch on the machine.

Now take the piece with the doll’s face and place this on top of the other body piece, wrong side to wrong side. Double check that you can see facing outwards the doll’s face on one side and the needle holder pads on the other side.

Now, pin carefully all the way around the outside edge, tucking in the end of a strand of wool about half way down her body on each outer edge (this isn’t shown in the photo due to my forgetting to do this step until afterwards!).

Now sew the body pieces together by hand using a blanket stitch or on the machine using a zigzag stitch. Fold in half to create a ‘book’.

Trim any messy edges with scissors to give her a crisp, clean silhouette, trim the wool ties to a suitable length and admire your handiwork. She's now ready to hold the needles.

As I said at the start of this post: you can download my very badly drawn and scanned pattern pieces as a PDF file below. Despite their shabby appearance, they are fit for the purpose of drawing around - just remember to print out at 100%.

This is a free-of-charge pattern for personal use. If, however, you are an independent business/Etsy/Folksy seller, I am happy for you to sell items made using this pattern for a small donation of £3, when you download the template - this buys the right to sell items made using this pattern.

I'd love to see any needlecases that you might make if you have the time to send a photo or link, or want to drop it into my Flickr pool.

Florence x

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The summer of the pizza oven

A few posts ago I asked if you'd be happy to take a short detour from sewing so that I could share some photos of the pizza oven that my husband has been working on this summer. I had so many positive comments and emails on the subject that I think it merits a few posts as many of you asked for a technical breakdown as to how you (or actually your husband) could build a pizza oven from scratch, so that's what will follow this post - hopefully in the next day or so, whenever my husband gets a moment to write it all down. In the meantime, here's my own non-technical thoughts on matters. 

I was initially sceptical about the whole idea of building a pizza oven in our back garden - when my husband enthused over how much better stone-baked pizzas would taste I thought he was romanticising it and I questioned what was wrong with the double-width oven we'd had installed in our kitchen especially for large-scale pizza creation.  But the stack of books on the subject by his bedside grew taller, our conversations were more frequently interrupted by his pondering some aspect of construction, and his one-sided discussions over where in our garden would be the best site became more insistent in the need for a decision to be reached so that building could commence. I rejected his plan to monopolise the patio with it and eventually grudgingly agreed that an area alongside our incredibly ugly garage where it would be shrouded by a boisterous buddleia was a permissible site.  I am now eating humble pie alongside my stone-baked pizzas for his pizza oven is a triumph in every way and I wish that I had been more receptive to his initial enthusiasm.

Most of the materials were bought at reclamation yards - we visited many times to pick out just the right sort of bricks. We chose pavers for the oven floor because they're smooth and flat. Elsewhere we used bricks salvaged from a local water company - they bear the name of our town on them, a small detail which we both love. Ideally we would have used old sleepers for the base, but I worried over the creosote that might have been used to treat them in the past and so eventually we decided that it was better to buy these new - the wood at the moment rather ugly, but by the end of the winter it will have dulled to a lovely driftwood grey. Longtime readers might notice from the photos above that, really, my husband has already had a test run at building a pizza oven in ice.

The igloo that he built a few years ago was basically just a giant frozen pizza oven waiting to happen.

It took weeks to build up the layers needed to create a dome so well insulated that it would foster a furnace capable of reaching temperatures of 600 degrees. First there were bricks and cement, then a mixture of clay and wood shavings. Later, came a mix of lime and cement. At each stage a fire had to be lit to dry out the building materials and allow any heat cracks to be filled. We were lucky that my husband had friends who shared his enthusiasm and who were even prepared to take days off work to help him build it. On the day that they finished the clay layer, he and his friend Ben realised that the extra layer had already increased the fire's temperature to the extent that they thought they might be able to cook pizza in it. I quickly made up a batch of dough and that night, without the necessary pizza paddles, they manhandled the floppy uncooked pizzas onto the scorching oven floor using spatulas attached to sticks and a large helping of determination. The cooked pizzas were utterly delicious and it felt like magic. I realised that my husband's extravagant claims that he would be able to cook pizzas in under two minutes weren't so far-fetched after all. The first one was ready to eat in just 90 seconds and tasted better than any pizza I'd ever eaten before.

Just days after it was finished a truck load of wood arrived at our house - a fragrant mixture of applewood and ash, that took an hour for my husband and daughter to carry from the drive to the log store beneath the oven. On the same day a set of pizza peels and brushes arrived - a gift from his lovely mother who was almost as excited by the project as my husband was.

It feels like every weekend for months has revolved around the pizza oven and when it wasn't at the stage of being ready to cook pizzas in we lit fires in it and ate take-away pizzas around it and the children got into the habit of playing black-out football, laughing with delight as they crashed into unseen obstacles. One evening at dusk a flock of geese flew overhead in a perfect 'V' formation, honking joyfully...we stood in the garden stunned and it's been placed in my memory pot as one of the moments from this summer where everything, for a moment, felt quite perfect.

A few weeks before the oven was finished my husband began investigating sourdough recipes. Subsequently, his sourdough starter, which has been named Cecil, has sat on the kitchen work surface fermenting and doing strange things as he's tended to it each day. Yesterday he made bread from it.

And I used the residual heat from the oven to bake root vegetables with rosemary and feta.

Today, he made pizzas again, his first attempt at using a sourdough base for them.

After some of the fire has been removed from the oven and the burning embers pushed to the sides, the pizza is ready to be baked. 

It is flipped from the metal peel onto the oven floor.

And brought out again shortly afterwards, crispy, golden and piping hot.

Favourite flavours are red onion and goats cheese and goats cheese...or just goat's cheese and goat's cheese.

And when the table is full of pizzas....we are ready to eat.

This post is written by a pizza oven convert. A post discussing the laying of hardcore, clay ratios and other vital information is to follow...should you feel the wish to nudge your husband in the direction of brick oven building.

Florence x

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Quilting around the cereal bowl

Firstly, thank you so much for all your lovely comments on my last post. We so appreciated your good leaping wishes!

Last night I finished binding the throw that uses the Robert Kaufman silk/cotton Radiance fabrics that Katy sent to me (blogged about in full here). I couldn't quite decide what to do for the quilt anonymous reader suggested doing something clever playing with the light and dark tones which the bundle would lend itself very well to and on that basis I investigated doing a tumbling blocks quilt that appears to be almost three dimensional because of the use of tone. I've always loved these quilts, but when I thought about what would be right for our own house I knew that this would be too geometric...something more free-flowing and less defined would fit in better...and so I didn't end up doing anything clever with light and dark, but it's on my list of things I'd still like to attempt!

Eventually, I came across Amy Butler's free pattern called Thea's Puzzle. I liked the central panel of this and the way that the strips of colour are wonky, and are alternately placed with a thick end and a narrow end. While I didn't stick to any of Amy's dimensions, it's a fantastic pattern that lays out the cutting process quickly and simply so that you can freestyle away. In retrospect, I wish I'd cut my strips a little more wonkily to accentuate the width difference more.

Being a silk mix this fabric is more prone to fray than cotton. I decided to try interfacing it with some ultra-soft Vilene this time (last time I used silk in a quilt I overlocked the edges). Interfacing three and a half yards of fabric was a long and tiresome process that left me nearly weeping in front of the ironing board...but it does add a little extra soft puffiness to the finished thing too, so ultimately it's worth doing.

I now wonder how I've previously managed without my husband at home as my blogging assistant; today he's attempted to photograph the quilt in use (although that didn't turn out very well as he made me laugh so much that it's mostly just a quilt with my blurry hands waving around), as well as taking pictures of a winter coat that I've just finished making (more on that in another post).

It's an odd thing having my husband at home in the best kind of way and it feels just like a holiday...only he seems to sit in front of his laptop more than he might on a holiday. Yesterday he said to me: I'll be wanting salads for lunch or I'll just end up falling asleep in the afternoon. The idea of me force-feeding him carbs was an amusing was as if he knew that my lunch without him would consist of a bowl of dry cereal so that I wouldn't have to take a break from sewing. The idea of a lunch hour is a foreign concept for me and I've found myself just like I imagine a 'proper person' might be when sitting at a table with him eating spinach, beetroot, apple & grilled halloumi salads.

I've no idea why I took the above photo now, but it was on Monday, pre-leaping (or what I shall now think of as pre-grown-up-lunching). The quilt top is laid out in blocks before being sewn together, my laptop is on, my phone is nearby and an empty cereal bowl is in amongst it all...for some reason these things make me laugh. What do you have for lunch when you're left to your own devices?

Florence x

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Leap, and the net will appear

On this rather nothingish, middle-of-the-week, middle-of-the-month Wednesday, we are leaping, my husband and I. We have always felt incredibly lucky that for over a decade my husband has had a job that has felt utterly safe and secure working as the director of a web design agency. When I was 29 weeks pregnant with our first child, my husband sent his CV to a one-man web design business and this one man decided to take a risk and employ my husband. Together they built and tended to that small company as it grew to be a much bigger and more successful agency with over twenty members of staff. But eventually, rather than this security being liberating, it became smothering. His job was so solid that to do anything other than hold onto it would have seemed madness. And yet, it hasn't made his heart feel happy; as the company has grown and he has been forced to manage, rather than immerse his mind in the mathematical complexities of game design, this feeling of no longer stretching his brain or of solving problems for himself has ebbed away at him.

A few years ago, as a way of keeping his mind active, he taught himself to design iPhone apps and in the evenings began developing a series of educational games. Our children suggested ways in which they'd like to learn and our friends' children gave him positive feedback that suggested his games were actually really enjoyable. I wrote an article about sewing for a local magazine in exchange for some advertising for him and we gained more feedback, this time from the parents of children we didn't know, saying that his games were good.

And in the evenings, after yet another day where he felt he had only managed the work of others and become a medium between his clients and his team rather than doing the work himself, he would say to me: wouldn't it be fantastic if I could be at home all day designing these apps. And I would agree and we would say 'one day', never really knowing when that day would come. For a while, it was nice having that as a dream for the future...but then it became depressing. It was a dream that we talked about often, but one which it became apparent we would never have the chutzpah to risk following.

And then my husband's lovely father died, not long after two of my husband's young friends had also died. At 34 he had sung and spoken at more funerals than he had weddings (and at each I have never known where he found the strength to do any of those things). His, and my, sense of permanence, of our own mortality or what a life is was shaken and everything seemed to fall down like a row of dominoes and we found ourselves plodding through the worst year of our entire lives. I know that blogs can often look somewhat rose-tinted, but that's perhaps because they rarely feel the right place to share the intricacies of sadness; as Jane Brocket once said, that's something that is rightly reserved for sharing around the privacy of the kitchen table. But as we built things back up we began to wonder...should you wait until you have all your building bricks in the right places and the most stable of foundations to make the changes you hope for in your life...or will you never really get to a place where you have built those foundations properly if their stability is based on caution and fear? And so we have decided to leap.

Three months ago my husband handed in his notice at work. And we now look forward to a year where he will become more immersed in our daily lives. He has longed to walk our children to school in the mornings and to be there to help with homework and make the weekday evenings feel more like weekends while they are still young enough to want to sit and play boardgames with us, or listen to stories being read to them.

My mother sent me a quote last week. It was this:

Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

This says it all to me. We have no assurances that our plans will turn out the way that we hope they might...but I have absolutely certainty that to try makes sense.

I also recently came across the quote at the top of this post, about leaping and a net appearing. We have found that this couldn't be more true. Nets have appeared from all around us. My husband has been offered a part-time design role at his work in response to his resignation which minimises our risk hugely, friends have offered him web design work if he'd like it, family have introduced him to wonderful contacts, while other family members have offered their unwavering financial support. And our people have listened, talked through our plans and then most importantly smiled and said 'I think you should do it' or 'of course he would make it work'.

I've often written here that an Anais Nin quote gives me the courage to do many things that I'd otherwise turn away from. This has been true of my husband too - it's a quote that years ago meant little to him, but now is one that he too turns to.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

It may seem that we are basing large decisions on the back of inspiring, but somewhat romantic, quotations. And you'd be right. I'll let you know if this was sane or not at a later date, but for now, I will be enjoying sharing lunch with my husband.

Florence x

Monday, 17 October 2011

On radiance and sewing dresses

When I was in the midst of making quilting errors with my silk and velvet throw last week, I asked Katy a question about batting, as I tend to think she knows everything when it comes to quilts. It turns out that she didn't know the answer to that particular question (although she did make a helpful suggestion), but she did ask if I'd come across Robert Kaufman's silk/cotton range of fabrics called Radiance. And when I said no, she offered to send me a fat quarter stack over, as Robert Kaufman had given her a selection of colour stacks to gaze at. She now says that this was a bribe and that she was just priming me to help her when she begins making her Miz Mozelle dress (more on that later) in November, but I think that's just Katy Talk to cover up the fact that she's extremely kind. When this beauteous bundle arrived on Saturday morning I couldn't quite believe that she'd been able to part with it - it's stunning and so true to its name. You know when occasionally you're talking to someone and you can't help but notice that their skins seems to glow with an ethereal radiance that couldn't possibly have originated from the inside of  a make-up pot?* That's what this fabric seems to do - you can't pin down where it's glowing or radiating seems to come from within, rather than merely sitting on the surface of the fibres. And the colours are stunning - shades that appear to be permanently viewed with a soft-focus setting turned on, even though my eyes don't seem bleary when I test them by averting my gaze to other things in the same room.

Katy had told me that it was a fat quarter stack...but she doesn't know her own generosity, for it's actually a bundle of half-yard cuts! I can't wait to make a quilt from this - it will be perfect for our living room which is various shades of duck egg.

They're so beautiful that Katy has, understandably, been feeling fearful of cutting into them and she sent these to me declaring that if I'd cut into them, then so could she (she'll be using the purple colourway)...but that was before she knew how haphazard my last attempt with silks turned out to be. I'm not sure she would have chosen me as her companion to jump off the cliff with if she'd known this first (although, actually she probably still would have done, because she's nice like that). Thank you, Katy.

Anyway, I mentioned earlier that Katy was planning to make a Miz Mozelle...the dress that I've already made twice and have vowed to make several more times in the future - I think she'll actually end up doing something of an informal sew-along for this dress, so if you've been wondering about this dress, then now is a perfect time to buy the pattern and begin choosing your fabric. I know that Backstitch had sold out of this pattern, but Alice is now fully restocked and you can find it here, and Rachel of Raystitch has also recently started stocking Jamie Christina patterns, so you can now find them here too. I can't wait to see some more finished Mozelles and have a feeling that I won't be able to sit back and watch all the fun without feeling compelled to cut out some fabric and begin sewing along with Katy myself.

I know that Katy is planning to use a Tana lawn for her Miz Mozelle, meaning that she'll have something multi-seasonal, while the dress above, which uses this Liberty stretch silk, suits summer and evening. However, if you're looking for something exclusively wintry for daytime wear then there was a sample that Dorte of Dragonfly Fabrics sent to me last week that I think may be perfect for it - a plain navy viscose stretch priced at £14.90 per doesn't seem to be on her website yet as I'm guessing it may have only  just come in, but if you're interested then it may well be worth contacting her for a sample. It's the upper fabric in this little stack pictured below and it has a nice drape, would be warm and cosy and isn't so insanely stretchy that it would present a challenge to someone unused to working with knits...and look at those neat raw edges on the sample - a good sign that it wouldn't unravel too horribly if you don't own an overlocker. And having looked at the photo again, I've also realised that the inky stretch satin in the middle of this photo would also be a good choice for evening or more formal wear.

I said at the end of my last post that I'd be sharing finished pizza oven photos...but actually, it's still not quite finished as my husband has decided he wants to put a lime colour wash over the lime render outer layer. A few of you mentioned that you've either built an oven this summer or are thinking of doing it. I wondered whether you fancy taking a sewing detour with quick pizza oven guest post from my husband at some point soon?

Florence x

* For the record, I was thinking about my mother's face here. She wears Laura Mercier tinted moisturiser...I've tried it myself and it doesn't make me appear radiant with good health like that though.
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