Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A fledgling conquership & a request

As you may be surmising from my lack of posts this month: I am either sewing like a little dervish or have disappeared into a pit of despair that prevents me from even having the will to turn my laptop on. Luckily, it's the former. And despite all the busyness (or perhaps that should be because of) I am having so much fun and have found myself throwing in unnecessary challenges that could make things go very horribly wrong, but seem to be landing sunny side up.

I'm currently writing a quilt pattern - yes, the one that I started over a month ago that has seen me spending days drawing shapes for the applique element of it and more days learning to use Adobe Illustrator properly so that I can digitise all my pieces. It's a pattern for a quilt top, rather than the whole quilt, which means that I won't be instructing on how to quilt or bind it (if you're looking for help with that though, you can see my tutorial about how to make a patchwork quilt from beginning to end). So when I finished the quilt top last week it should have been a case of quilting it in my usual, safe way with lots of straight lines and then getting on with writing the pattern up. But for some reason I decided to potentially ruin the freshly made quilt top by giving free-motion quilting another try (in the past my brief attempts have left me feeling a little like I've been having a conversation with someone in Spanish; a language which I don't speak). I wonder if the need to try again came out of a sense that I had no right to be writing a quilt pattern if I was still shirking the free-motion issue after four years of making quilts. But either way, I know that I've felt constantly frustrated that it wasn't in my repertoire of sewing skills.

So I pre-wound several bobbins worth of thread, decamped to the dining room table where there's more space and began the adventure. To a seasoned free-motion quilter I have little doubt that there will be a hundred visible flaws in the curves and swirls that I've produced...but for me it was something of a fledgling success that I adored doing and can't wait to improve upon it. It made me feel slightly giddy when I stood back and looked at the entire quilt: I had finally conquered something that I'd thought impossible for me.

In between making this quilt and writing the pattern, I've also finally finished my mother's quilt which I'll hopefully show you soon. There has been an awful lot of hand-sewing as I've finished off the bindings for both quilts, which for me means that I get to watch television - something which I very rarely do. Last year, on my father's recommendation I started reading The Slap, but abandoned it half-way through as the characters didn't have enough redeeming features to make reading the rest of the book feel worthwhile. However, when Karen said that it had been serialised for television and that it was actually very good, I suggested this to my husband as the thing that we might watch while I did my sewing in the evenings. We have gobbled up all five episodes on iPlayer and now have a painful wait for each to be aired weekly in real time. The characters are only marginally more likable than those in the novel, but it's somehow very compelling viewing. So lovelies, especially the UK-based contingency...do you have any recommendations for what we can watch on iPlayer or 4od while we wait to keep us going? Every time we watch television we wonder at why we don't do it more often as it's so incredibly relaxing and provides some much-needed mindlessness (and I don't mean that in a derrogatory way or in a way that's a comment on the actual programme - I more mean that being passively entertained is a very good way of switching off). As my husband said to me last week after we'd been pondering over a problem: I'm coming to believe that thinking could be a very overrated thing.

Florence x

Friday, 25 November 2011


It was only when Nina very sweetly emailed to ask if all was well that I realised that I'd taken something of an unintended blog break. Time has galloped away in the way that it so often can in the run-up to Christmas. However, it's a time of year that I love and although I'm a little overwhelmed by the number of things I'm hoping to achieve in the three weeks before the Christmas school holidays begin, there's also something lovely about the cosy chaos of industry, and even the unsightly mound that begins to form on top of my wardrobe as a stash of gifts begins to stack up.

The two pictures above are part of a project that's taken up the vast majority of my time. It is a gift for one of my deliciously lovely nephews, but from the moment I dreamt it up (or half dreamt...actually I woke up one morning at 4am and spent two hours planning it out in my head) I also decided to write it up as a pattern...for that reason it's taking several times as long as it might.

Unbelievably, for it now seems like a lifetime since I began, I am still working on my mother's silk quilt. I've been trying to fit it in around around other things and so last weekend hand-quilting the flowers took place during the visits of two different groups of lovely friends. Obviously, this way of working isn't ideal...it's only in retrospect that I can see that my stitches may not have been quite as neat as they appeared in the cosy fog of good company and a few glasses of wine.

And then there is the advent calendar tutorial that I'd hoped to write after a few requests for it following my handmade calendar from last year. Even though much of the work has been done and templates and pattern pieces have all been completed, somehow I think this may be one for next year as there's little point to an advent calendar tutorial shared on the 1st December. My only hope is that I will at least manage to finish the sample calendar so that it can be used from December 1st. I'll let you know who it's for and what will go inside it if that actually happens.

I have so many things still to do and make over the next three weeks that a few days ago I even found myself looking into buying new aprons for my children, because they have outgrown the ones that I made for them and I don't think that I'm going to find the time (and by this I mean that of course the time does exist, but possibly in a way where in finding it I may also drive myself slightly loopy) to make them myself...this feels quite foreign and most unreal...how can there not be time to run up two little aprons? And then I discovered how difficult it is to find aprons for older children that are over 3ft high. Just in case you find yourself in the same predicament I found some goodies on Not on the Highstreet here and also here (they have a fantastic selection for older children with non-babyish aeroplanes, apples and elephants on). I still haven't ordered them yet as I'm finding the idea of buying something that I should really make a traumatic one...and just in case you're wondering if I couldn't have whipped a few up in the time it took me to search on the internet for them, I've just wondered that myself, but then remembered that the bulk of my searching took place at around 5am one morning. A search that was somewhat more sociable than the roar of my sewing machine springing into action for an early morning wake-up call.

On the apron front, have your children (if you have any) been utterly inspired by the Junior Bake Off? We weren't aware it was airing at the time, but we have since fallen in love with it (as well as the adorable and very accomplished winner, Freya) while watching it on iPlayer. It has set off a flurry of independent baking in our house and my children are currently devising their own in-house bake off for this weekend where parents must try and out-bake their own children and vice versa. Judging by the appearance of the scones that they rustled up earlier this week I would be a very unlikely winner (scones are my weakness: they never rise and rarely look tempting. By contrast, my children's looked golden, delicious and well-risen on their first attempt). Oh and does anyone have Mary Berry's Great British Bake Off: How to Bake? Is it wonderful and full of baking secrets?

Florence x

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Quilts & creaturefying babies...

Hello lovelies, here's a little more of the silk quilt that I'm making for my mother. The quilt is basically squares set on point around a central panel. Some of the squares of silk are interspersed with a delicious Liberty lawn, so I chose to recreate the flower heads from the Liberty print in the central panel.

I recreated the flower heads by cutting up tiny misshapen pieces of silk and then appliquéd them using a closed zigzag stitch.

I never normally put my appliqué work in a hoop, but on my last visit to the local haberdashers I found that they had very inexpensive spring-bound hoops (I think they were priced around £4) and one found its way into my basket. Although it's not strictly necessary, it's nice to have the fabric so well stretched out and it felt like a little less work to move the hoop, rather than the fabric. Unlike an embroidery hoop, this hoop allows the fabric to sit flat against the bed of the machine.

Appliqué has found its way into my projects less and less over recent years, perhaps because my children have become older, but every time I use this technique I remember how very much I love this way of sewing and how incredibly satisfying it is.

While we're on the subject of children, I feel compelled to share with you something I came across on Pinterest last night.

This photo is the property of Wild Things
I find these dresses almost unbearably cute. As I said on Pinterest, when I look at them I find myself wishing for another baby purely for the purpose of being able to squeeze her into one of them. For those of you that have a real life baby to creaturefy, you can find the clever Etsy seller who makes them here. Delightfully, the shop name is Wild Things, which will hold double appeal to any fans of the Maurice Sendak book.

On the subject of children dressing up as animals, this was something that once they reached toddlerhood, both my children delighted in, but as babies, my husband and I took the rather peculiar stance that dressing them up as animals without their agreement was infringing on their dignity...I now wonder at all the fun we missed out on, as I now think they would love looking at photographs of their baby selves dressed as all sorts of forest creatures (we were very young when we had our first child and somewhat earnest in our approach to our new role as parents...just thinking about this now makes me laugh). Are there any things that you decided upon for your babies that you now look back upon with bemusement?

Florence x

Monday, 14 November 2011

Half-finished offerings

Posts were thin on the ground last week as I'm finding it difficult to fit them in around the other things that I'm doing at the moment. I rarely have unfinished projects lying around, but now, added to the coat and skirt that I talked about last week, the time scale of things means that I'm hopping between writing two patterns, a tutorial, making several Christmas presents, and learning to use Adobe Illustrator properly....so you may be seeing a lot of half-finished things appearing here over the next few weeks.

These silks are being used to make my mother a quilt for Christmas. My mother has wanted a quilt for a long time and has taken to stealing my father's in the evenings, while he sweetly freezes next to her (although she says that he is always too warm, so this isn't actually as quilt-greedy as it sounds). When I discussed the idea of making her her very own quilt we decided upon a large, blousey floral scheme that I'd spotted in a stunning quilt made by Jane Brocket, largely drawing on the collections of Kaffe Fassett, Philip Jacobs and Martha Negley. I made several attempts at narrowing down my choices, but became increasingly worried that they might not be quite right once they arrived - the prints tend to be on such a large scale that it's difficult to tell from online swatches what they may be like in reality. Eventually, I decided that I'd rather work with plain silks in varying shades of English sea - mostly brooding and dark with occasional hints of light in amongst them. My mother's always loved the sea and I knew that even though it might not be as bold a quilt, it was a safer option which felt more as though it would properly reflect 'essence of Mama' within the fabrics...and I've realised as I write that it's very similar colours to the velvet ribbon cushion that I made for her a few years ago. I bought these silks several weeks ago at the Knitting and Stitching show....without consulting my mother over this fabric u-turn...which will mean that she may find this a surprising quilt to unwrap on Christmas day.

Having now worked with silk several times I felt I had more of an idea of how I could best work with the slippery eels. These are Indian silk dupioni which give a deliciously crisp rustle, which in the end I decided to retain by not pre-washing them....so it will now be a dry-clean only quilt. I interfaced every piece with ultra-soft interfacing and then bought a pinking blade for my rotary cutter so that the edges would be even less prone to fraying. Finally, I've been sewing with a 1/2" seam.

I love that I have learnt something that felt a little mind-blowing making this quilt. I've always been a pressing-the-seams-to-one-side kind of girl, but for this quilt I chose to press them open. I know that quilters tend to be split on which is the best way...but for me pressing them open was rather a revelation; I couldn't believe how much neater and more perfect everything looked and I actually thought it gave a much nicer finish from the right side too. So I have leapt over to the other side and will never press to the side again (except on especially lazy days, as I do believe that this way requires more frequent pressing).

In my next post I'll show you a little more of this quilt as the quilt top is now finished and I'm busily hand-quilting it with hand-drawn flower motifs whenever I get a spare moment....I can see that I may still be hand-quilting it on Christmas eve.

How is your own Christmas sewing going?

Florence x

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A conversation with Sarai Mitnick

Today, I'm completely delighted to be a stop on Sarai's blog tour to celebrate and publicise the launch of her book the Colette Patterns Sewing Handbook (which I reviewed yesterday). When Sarai asked me if I'd like to be involved, my mind instantly leapt to all the technical pattern drafting questions I'd like to ask her. However, I've realised that they somehow got lost once I'd begun reading her book - partly because it answers so many questions, but also because lots of new, non-technical questions bubbled to the surface in response to her writing. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation. Photos throughout the post are by Colette Patterns.

Hello Sarai, I’m so delighted to be a stop on your book tour. At the time of typing these questions I’ve just finished your book and it’s wonderful! It’s the book that I’d hoped it might be when I learnt that you’d written one, and then so much more. But it’s left me wondering how you managed the last year of keeping your pattern company and blog running without any visible sign of being distracted by writing what is, not only an incredibly comprehensive sewing guide to dressmaking, but also a deliciously lovely handful of new patterns that have been carefully designed to showcase the skills you teach within the book. How did you do it all?

I'll be honest, it's been a challenging year! I tried to approach the whole enterprise in a very organized way. I knew I'd need a lot of limits to keep my sanity in check.

While writing the book, I divided my weeks roughly in half and spent three days a week working on writing or editing or pattern making or illustrating for the book (yep, I did all those things), and three or four days a week on my pattern business. It was a bit grueling at times, but it helped to know that the book was a limited time project and I'd be able to return to a relatively normal life when it was complete. Of course, that hasn't quite happened yet!

I also got more help during the time I was writing. I brought in more guest bloggers, and had an extra pair of hands in the studio to help me write tutorials for the blog. It also helped that I have an extremely supportive partner. That can't be underestimated!

The book feels very different to any other I’ve ever read on dressmaking. Your tutelage is given with an affirming voice that embraces the many different body shapes to be sewn for with kindness, warmth and acceptance and an awareness that body image is (or at least should be, if it’s to be most successful) inextricably intertwined with dressmaking. Has this positive voice grown and come about as a result of your dressmaking journey with Colette Patterns or was this ethic rooted within you even when you were working in an entirely different sector in an earlier life? And if it was, who was the lovely person who taught you to think in this way?

Like most women, I've struggled with body image my whole adult life. Actually, even before I was an adult, which is so sad thinking back on it! I think it was probably when I was about 18 and started reading feminist classics like Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth that my eyes were opened to how women are surrounded by images that reinforce our negative feelings about ourselves.

At one point, I remember thinking, wow, this is the only body I will ever have and I'm wasting my best, healthiest years feeling bad about it! It's just ridiculous.

I think sewing your own clothing forces you to confront your body in a way that can be a little painful, if we're not careful and loving about it. I think it's important to remind ourselves that body variations are normal, healthy, and part of what makes women beautiful! No one looks like the model on the cover of Shape magazine. Not even she does.

I love that throughout the pages, the psychology of dressmaking is touched upon, as well as the skills and techniques needed to make it all happen. For example, as a result of reading your book I rethought the way that I shopped for fabric and realised that I’m often guilty of buying materials that I like to think I’d wear, rather than being honest with myself and admitting that if it’s not minimal, navy (with the occasional hint of mustard) and rather plain, then I probably won’t wear it. For me, the dressmaking psychology aspects ended up being just as essential reading as the more technical chapters. Did you waiver over whether to include the less conventionally covered dressmaking issues, or did you begin writing with a very clear idea of what you wanted your book to be?

I think I had a pretty clear idea. A lot of those topics came from my experiences blogging. With a blog, you have a chance to have a real conversation with other sewists, not just instruct them on techniques. I've found that a lot of us encounter the same types of issues, and that they're just as important to our creativity and pride in sewing as the stuff that's normally covered in books.

Blogging really was essential to coming up with the concept for the book as a whole. It really filled me in on where a lot of us struggle, the questions we have, and the pitfalls we face. I really wanted to address the big issues in sewing, rather than write a straightforward reference book. I think there are a lot of great options for that out there.

I love that the book doesn’t give any illusions that a pattern should just fit without any tweaking, whether it be a Colette pattern or anyone else’s, as such an expectation often leaves one feeling as though the hours of hard work have all been pointless due to ultimately finding that one is in possession of an upsettingly non-standard body shape. The book explains the many fit issues in a clear and simple way, covering everything from full and small bust adjustments, to sway back or large waist. I remember the very first time I made something from a pattern and on discovering that it didn’t flatter me when I’d carefully chosen which measurements would fit me from the back of the packet, I felt a little cheated. Have you felt that this beginner’s naivety is a hurdle that does need some educating or do people generally seem to come at a project suspecting it may take a few toiles or at the very least a seam-ripper to get the fit right?

That's exactly why I included so much information on fitting! Normally, it seems like fitting is considered sort of a big, scary topic that's left for more advanced sewists. But the reality is that most patterns could use a little tweaking here and there to fit properly, and if a beginner recognizes this up front, she'll have a lot more options.

A lot of it just comes down to confidence. I wanted to show that, while fitting can be a complicated business, often you just need to learn to make a few tweaks that you can use over and over! For example, I'm quite short waisted. Shortening bodices before sewing is a really easy fix to make, but it took me years to realize that this was something I should do. I felt "safer" following the pattern somehow.

I just wanted to tell others what I wish I'd learned as a beginner: It's totally fine to play with your pattern until you get it the way you want!

The Colette Patterns brand aesthetic (that sounds terribly corporate – sorry!) is now a very recognisable one: pastel colours, full lipsticked lips, wonderfully feminine and often with a strong feel of vintage boudoir glamour running through the photo shoots. Are these the colours, fabrics and feel that you’re drawn to when putting together your own personal wardrobe or is it an aesthetic that’s come about as you’ve created a brand image for Colette? I suppose what I’m also trying to ask is, is your vision for Colette Patterns a direct extension of your own personal style and taste or are the two things very separate?

That's a really interesting question. I would say that generally, it comes from my own personal style. I love bright pastels (is that an oxymoron?). I think of them as ice cream colors. In my own wardrobe, I tend to temper them with a lot of black and white to cut the sweetness a little, but I can't help but love really pretty, saturated, feminine colors.

I also like clean sort of styles and graphic patterns like stripes and polka dots, so I use a lot of that. I think it would be really hard to create a brand that didn't connect to your own personal aesthetic. But of course, my taste changes a bit, especially with the seasons.

You and your husband have recently moved into a new home together…do you find yourself tempted to dive into making quilts and soft furnishings or is your mind entirely dominated by dressmaking when it comes to sewing?

Oh gosh, yes! I just made my first quilt this year (a baby quilt for my cousin), and recently made a blanket from Pendleton wool. But I have tons of home sewing projects lined up in my mind. I just don't have the time to do them right now!

I think it would be really fun to move into some home sewing and craft topics. I am a really domestic gal at heart. I love most aspects of domestic life, from DIY decorating to cooking. The only thing I'm not so much into is cleaning.

Photograph by Clever Nettle
I only recently discovered that Colette Patterns is named after your cat, Colette, who is named after the writer. I haven’t actually read any of Colette’s writing, but when I did an internet search for her, I found that she was strong, passionate, French, took part in controversial performances at the Moulin Rouge and wore her sexuality on her sleeve. About.com offered me this as an opening line in explanation of who she was: Colette was a writer known for her novels in which women were depicted as full sexual beings. And somehow it all made perfect sense and I could see how your Colette photo shoots give a nod to this spirit. I found little to précis her work in more detail, however, so I’m wondering was it her writing or her person that drew you to name both a cat and a company after this spirited woman?

I adore Colette as a writer. It isn't just her depictions of women, but her recognition of the beauty and pleasure of life in general. When you read Colette, you can't help but remember that there is so much wonder in the world.

Colette was also an animal lover (as I am), and in particular she loved cats (as I do). She said, "There are no ordinary cats." So it was a fitting name for my very elegant, demure black cat.

You write beautifully and clearly have a voice that has much to give outside the parameters of sewing as well as within them. Did writing this book ignite a desire in you to write more widely on other subjects too? Are you able to tell us what might be coming next (aside from a well-deserved rest)?

I've always loved writing, and it's really flattering to hear you say such kind things about my writing style! I've been thinking up other ideas that I may explore more next year, after a break. I am really interested in domestic life, as I said, and sewing has always been connected to that for me. I think creativity in everyday life is such a wonderful antidote to the harried, rushed, money-oriented lives most of us have to lead. I'd love to explore the ideas around creativity and self-sufficiency in different ways.

Finally, while I have this opportunity to ask away, I wonder if you can fathom a fitting issue for me that my covert studies suggest is a problem that many other women struggle with too. The denim (or corduroy) jeans skirt. I love that it can be dressed up or down and look feminine without having made too much effort. However, I am yet to find a skirt that has this conventional jeans fly zip at the front, where it doesn’t cause an odd stomach pouch to form the minute I begin to move. It bulges out over my stomach in a way that jeans never do and it doesn’t matter if the skirt is too big, too small or just right…they all seem to produce a fly that won’t lie flat the minute I start walking. Do you have any idea of why this style so often doesn’t seem to fit and if it can be made or bought in a way that would solve this issue?

I can see why that is. I've had denim skirts that do the same thing.

I think the issue is that, with pants, you have a lot more shaping at the center front seam. That seam really curves around your stomach and between your legs. A skirt can't have that much shaping at the center, though. The seam is meant to go down toward the floor rather than form all the way around your body.

When you bend at the waist in pants, the seam that goes all the way from the center front to center back stays pretty much the same. There's no need for it to bunch up because your legs can move on either side of it. However, in a skirt, the fabric around your legs is connected to the center front seam, so the seam HAS to bunch up when you bend.

This can be an issue with a fly because it adds so much bulkiness. It wants to buckle if it's not held in place. Think about the way a zipper will buckle on a dress sewn in a really lightweight material.

I can't think of a way around it! If it bugs you, I'd say to try eliminating the fly front and using a side or back zipper!

Thank you so much for answering my questions and giving me a sneaky peek at your wonderful book. I hope that you take sewing onto the best-sellers list with it!

Thank you so so much, Florence!

If you'd like to buy a copy of the book you can find it here. You can follow Sarai and her book on the rest of their blog tour below:

Nov 2: Craft Buds – interview and giveaway
Nov. 3: Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing – lace insertion tutorial for the Licorice dress
Nov. 4: Sewaholic – book excerpt
Nov. 8: Flossie Teacakes – Interview with Sarai and book review
Nov. 8: A Fashionable Stitch – book excerpt and review
Nov. 9: Pink Chalk Studio – Book review
Nov. 10: Craft Gossip – Interview with Sarai and giveaway
Nov. 11: Bolt Fabric – book review
Nov. 14: True Up: Fabric Fives with Sarai
Nov. 15: Frolic! – On styling the book’s photos
Nov. 15: Threads Magazine – Giveaway
Nov. 16: Whipstitch – book review
Nov. 16: Honey Kennedy – Styling ideas
Nov. 17: A Dress a Day – Interview with Sarai
Nov. 18: Not Martha – book review
Nov. 28: Casey’s Elegant Musings – Project Planning, book excerpt and Casey’s thoughts
Nov. 29: MADE – giveaway
Nov. 30: Sew Weekly – book review
Nov. 30: Oh! Fransson - Elizabeth’s version of the Taffy pattern
Dec. 1: Sew Mama Sew – Guest post from Sarai on grainlines

I hope you enjoyed reading.

Florence x

Monday, 7 November 2011

A review: The Colette Sewing Handbook

Colette Patterns sewing handbook

This book review will be relatively concise (for one prone to verbosity, at least) as tomorrow the book's author, Sarai Mitnick, founder of the wonderful Colette Patterns, will be visiting as part of her book launch blog tour. I think that in many ways the questions that I put to Sarai are a reflection of my thoughts on the book, so I won't repeat myself too much here and you can look forward to hearing Sarai's take on things tomorrow. So, briefly (ahem!)....

I think the publication of the Colette Sewing Handbook may be one of the sewing-related highlights of a dressmaker's year - I know it has been for me. But it may also become that for those who are at the stage of only nervously contemplating and procrastinating over making their first garment, for as with the individual patterns, this book teaches complex things in an incredibly simple way making turning out beautifully-finished, well-fitting garments a possibility even for the previously uninitiated. It's such a good aid to diving in and giving it a go; the combination of patterns and technique explanation means that you will have someone holding your hand at every step during the making of the five patterns included with the book. I remember as I stood on the precipice of jumping off into the adventure of making my first dress it felt like an oddly terrifying thing and my fears of failure were great. Everything felt overwhelming: even the rustle of that first thin tissue paper pattern that once unfolded could never be squeezed back into its envelope again and seemed to tear with alarming ease left me feeling jittery. I wish this book had existed then.

Colette Patterns sewing handbook

The book is structured around what Sarai pinpoints as the five fundamental elements necessary to produce a successful garment and woven within each of these chapters is all the dressmaking expertise and know-how you might need, illustrating points by using the five sewing patterns that are provided with the book.

The first of the five fundamentals is 'a thoughtful plan'. Here the book explores the psychology of dressing, discussing the chasm that so often exists between what we imagine we'd like to wear and what we actually choose to wear on a daily basis in such an insightful way that since reading it not only have I chosen or drafted patterns and selected fabrics in a different way, I've also kept Sarai's words in mind when buying ready-made garments.

The book also discusses how we feel about our bodies and how this is intertwined with the clothing that we make for ourselves; because the aim should be to make clothes that make you feel fantastic. Sarai's writing in this area is particularly thoughtful and it's an incredibly affirming, embracing book, in keeping with the ethos of the Coletterie blog, but somehow I felt surprised and delighted to find this positivity sprinkled over a book that essentially falls under the blanket of 'text book'. It's done with such a lightness of touch that you find yourself feeling warmed as you read through the pages of the book contemplating new techniques and skills. It is also done with unexpected humour at times - one of my favourite lines in the book was this:

There are many female body types. Yes, sometimes it’s helpful to have the shorthand of saying that you are “pear-shaped” or “apple-shaped.” But when you get down to it, most of our bodies have numerous quirks beyond what a simple fruit metaphor can represent.

The second fundamental given is 'a precise pattern' - here, you're walked through the basics of how to use a dress pattern, from preparing and marking your fabric to finally cutting it out.

The book then moves on to talk about the importance of 'a fantastic fit' as the third fundamental. Sarai is emphatic that for a garment to fit well, any pattern will almost certainly need to be fitted to your shape and I found this to be one of the dominant and more technical themes covered by the book.  It offers an extensive reference to redrafting patterns to accommodate every type of imaginable body quirk you may encounter (my own being a short body and a small bust - thankfully I don't need to factor in my large-for-my-frame bottom as this is already taken care of as Colette patterns are cut to flatter curves). Here, the book doesn't simply instruct you as to what steps should be taken to remedy these pattern issues though - it actually teaches the theory behind the steps too - it's this that fosters a more adept, intuitive seamstress who can think around a problem for herself and it's a complete delight to find a book that does this so well.

Colette Patterns sewing handbook

Finally, 'a beautiful fabric' and 'a fine finish' are covered as the two remaining fundamental elements and you'll find an in depth discussion concerning how to make a successful fabric choice to suit your intended pattern and style, along with a variety of seam finishes,bindings and lining options.

Colette Patterns sewing handbook

On the basis of those that I've already used from the Colette range, I had expected to love the patterns that come with the book (three of the five provided have already left me thinking about which fabrics I'd use to make them up in); to find the instruction clear; to learn new sewing techniques; and to feel delighted to have so much dressmaking expertise all nicely wrapped up in one place on my bookshelf. The book fulfils all of my expectations - what I hadn't anticipated was that it would be a book that I'd fall in love with beyond the confines of sewing. It marries technical teaching with philosophical thinking around the subject of clothes and dressmaking making it a warm, affirming cuddle of a book that is entirely unique within its genre.

As I said at the start of this review, tomorrow Sarai will be visiting here as part of her book launch blog tour, I do hope you'll check back then when you will be able to read some of the questions and answers we exchanged when I interviewed her a few weeks ago.

If you wish to buy the book in the meantime you can find it here. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Florence x

Friday, 4 November 2011

How to build your own pizza oven

If you've arrived here expecting fabric and stitchery, please be reassured that this is just a brief diversion and the needle and thread have only temporarily been usurped by bricks and cement.

It's now several weeks since my husband finished building our pizza oven and you can read more about my take on the whole thing and see our first pizzas here. I'd originally asked my husband if he'd like to step in to do a guest post on the building process as so many of you said you'd be enthusiastic to share such a post with your own husband (or even take up the tools yourself). However, when he started writing about the process he quickly realised that it was something that may not fit into one blog post. Twenty-two pages later, complete with diagrams and measurements, talk of pizza paddles and sourdough starters we've decided that it's really more suited to being offered as a downloadable PDF than a guest post.

I should say that while I consider my husband to be stunningly multi talented, he has never put up a shelf or wielded power tools around our house, so hopefully this will reassure any man (or woman) who lacks a passion for DIY that it's perfectly achievable, as long as you have a strong perfectionist streak and a stomach craving pizza to propel you onward.

As projects go though, there's nothing quite like it to gain the respect of men who do possess this ability. In his building mission we have accompanied my husband to reclamation sites and builders merchants and I began to notice that it's a project that commands instant respect. On our family entering a trade-only builder's yard we were viewed with visible bemusement and curiosity. However, after my husband had requested some materials they enquired what he was building...it was like watching moths to a flame as the men gathered around him and the visible shift in how they viewed this obviously non-trade amateur builder was quite something: every man we've come into contact with declared this to be their own dream project and instantly become animated on the subject of how to retain the necessary heat, potential construction methods and building materials. Which makes me think that this is one of those projects that burns inside a man waiting to get out.

If you follow any part of my husband's how-to, then we'd love to hear how you got on, or if you have any of your own hints and tips for building or pizza making then do feel free to share them in the comments section. Again, you can download the 'How to build your own pizza oven' PDF by clicking on the button below.

Florence x

Ps: I should also add as I don't think my husband has mentioned this in the PDF: our sleepers will weather down to a more aesthetically pleasing driftwood grey over the winter - we decided to buy new sleepers rather than find reclaimed ones as they're something that often will have been creosoted in their past life...it's not a chemical that you might want in your garden or around food.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The joke about the wide-mouthed frog

You might remember my post earlier in the year about Ed Emberley's wonderful drawing books for children. He's now released a line of organic fabric with Cloud 9 and I don't think I've been this excited about fabric designs for children since I first saw Monaluna's foxes (I eventually made the baby bear's sleeping bag from that and am closely guarding the scrap that I have left over).

There's something fresh and vibrant about these prints and they look baby-friendly while maintaining enough dignity to appeal to older children too - and I think that's quite a hard balance to achieve. It's a tricksy task to find a fabric that's suitable for younger children, but that has the longevity not to be cast aside as they grow older.

These wide-mouthed frogs are a complete delight and instantly took me back to my own school days. Do you remember the joke about the wide-mouthed frog? I'm not really a jokey sort of person, but I love this joke. I wonder if Mr Emberley remembered this from his own schooldays when he was designing all those frogs. I showed my daughter the fabric and then performed the joke complete with stretched-mouth and adorable frog voice (it sounded adorable in my head anyway, perhaps partly because when I tell this I'm imagining my boyfriend aged 13 telling it to me....he was quite adorable, especially in frog-mode). My daughter looked bemused and said that she really liked the fabric (Ed's fabric 1: wide-mouthed frog joke 0. Go Ed!).

For those who've forgotten it and wish to impress their own children or friends with it, here's my version (for those that haven't heard this joke, the punch line is in the changing mouth shape at the end of the joke, so it's essential that you tell this joke with a fully-stretched mouth at the relevant places!)

There was once a wide-mouthed frog who decided to venture from his pond and go in search of friendship. He leapt off through the grass until he came across a large black and white stripey animal with a handsome mane and four spindly legs.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Hello, I'm a wide-mouthed frog, who are you and what do you eat?
Zebra: (normal mouth, slightly horsey voice) I'm a zebra and I eat grasses and plants.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Oh, that's nice.

He hopped off hoping to meet someone who would share his enthusiasm for eating insects. Eventually he came across an enormous bird with talons as pointy as knitting needles.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Hello! Who are you and what do you eat?
Eagle: (normal mouth, squawky voice) I'm an eagle and I eat little birds and mice.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Oh that's nice

The wide-mouthed frog wasn't really so sure about that though, so he boinged away and continued to leap until he came across a bearded white animal with kind, curious eyes.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Hello! Who are you and what do you eat?
Goat: (normal mouth, gruff voice) I'm a goat and I'll eat all sorts. I especially like shoes and old car tyres though.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Oh, that's nice!

The frog leapt away feeling slightly puzzled by the goat's food choices, but didn't like to judge. He finally stopped when he came across a large, scaly green animal with lazy eyes and fearsome teeth.
Wide-mouthed frog: (Stretch mouth out with fingers and adopt adorable frog voice) Hello! Who are you and what do you eat?
Alligator: (normal mouth, deep voice) I'm an alligator and I eat wide-mouthed frogs
Wide-mouthed frog: (turn mouth into very small 'o' and adopt high-pitched voice) Oh! How nice, you don't see many of them around here, do you!

Do you love that joke as much as I do?

Oh, and the Cloud 9 goodness doesn't stop with Mr Emberley...do take a look at this post here to see the other collections on the horizon. Fabric tastes are so varied and subjective that not every collection will appeal to every person...which is why I find it so amazing that I love every single one of these collections and from the response on other blogs, that feeling seems to be universal.

So many lovely new lines were launched at quilt market in Houston last week - which new collections have you fallen in love with recently?

Florence x

PS. In other news - have you seen that Colette Patterns are giving away five patterns of your choice and a copy of Sarai's new book to celebrate its launch? You can enter here, where details of the book's blog tour are also shared - I'm so delighted to be a stop on the tour and on the 8th November I'll be sharing an interview with Sarai here (and a book review the day prior to that...too much goodness to cram all into one post).

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Around the world in sleeping bags

From left to right: 1. In a trio of stunning Heather Ross prints, sleeping bags by Hazelnuts
2. Green goodness - decliously soft looking velour pillow for an incredibly beautiful doll from Probably Actually
3. In wonderful strawberry print, seen on Flickr, made by Amy
4. Sleeping bags for lucky triplets by Lila Jo

It's a few months since I released my Three Bears Sleeping Bags pattern and I'm excited to show you some of the gorgeous beds and the lovely creatures who inhabit them that I've seen around the internet and appearing in my Flickr group. For me, almost as delightful as seeing my pattern brought to life in so many wonderful ways, has been seeing the little creatures who inhabit the sleeping bags.

From left to right: 1. I spy some gorgeous fabric by Sarah Jane Studios on this sleeping bag by S.O.T.A.K Handmade
2. Excited Mousling and bed also from S.O.T.A.K Handmade
3. Wild west themed sleeping bag from Handwash Only
4. Embroidered circles bed for a mousling by Probably Actually
5. I've shown it here before...but it's adorable and the quilting is so clever - from Amy of Lots of Pink Here

I love that these photos are a snapshot of a creature who probably only seconds after the shutter has closed will have been reclaimed and continued on its journey accompanying its owner in all sorts of eccentric adventures. There are some adorable photos of owners snuggling their sleeping-bagged bears and dolls, but I didn't feel quite right about borrowing those ones to put here on my blog....but take my word for it, they're truly lovely. Which made me think about the bears in our house...

I feel lucky that my children are yet to pass the stage where they will arrive at the dinner table with a bear or race to get their managerie of animals before we sit down to watch a film together. This photo was actually taken this morning with a sudden awareness of how fleeting this might be. I asked my little boy if I could take a photo of him holding his bear: do you mean like this, how I normally hold him? he asked, holding onto Bear's hand and allowing him to dangle over the floor. I love that this bear will carry the evidence of his being so well loved in having particularly weak armpits!

As you might be able to tell from this post - I love seeing photos of things you've made using my patterns - if you have the time or inclination then do send them to me or drop them into my Flickr pool, which is full of lovely things made by others.

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.