Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ink and Stylus

I'm not sure I've seen anything quite so lovely as this print from Ink & Stylus. Louise pointed me in the direction of it on Twitter at the beginning of December and my heart started beating a little faster the moment I saw it. Happily, my sister-in-law bought me a copy as a gift, but I haven't been able to tell you about it until now, as I also bought a copy to give to a friend for her birthday (which as she reads my blog sometimes necessitated secrecy here).

I was quite delighted to see that the two copies are actually different and that the gold inking that appears on many of the Ink & Stylus prints is actually done after printing, meaning that each is slightly unique. There were also discrepancies in the ink colours between the two prints.

I love how vibrant the fabric is in contrast to the quiet serenity of the rest of the scene.

Shortly after Christmas, my husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary (and sixteen years of being together). He completely surprised me by giving me this print of an embracing couple, also by Ink & Stylus - I love it when he secretly takes notes.

I especially love the butterflies flying through the open door of the golden cage. I have to admit that I always prefer the suggestion of facial features and wouldn't normal drawn to masked figures, but there's something so enchanting about the colours, detail and subject matter that this fades into the background and ceases to matter (although my children initially found it odd, the highly detailed drawing style is actually very similar to that which my daughter has loved ever since discovering Sally Gardner books as a small child, so I think that she too loves gazing at these prints).

I adore Tamara's work: all of it. Do go and have a look at her shop on Folksy (and for those not based in England, she does offer very reasonably priced international postage). The Dressmaker series of prints is particularly wonderful.

My dear Mama popped around with some anniversary gifts too - a wonderful paper cut card and a proper oil burner. It's intended for the garden, but we've been lighting it inside during January.

And these old print maker's stamps bearing our initials that she and my sister bought for us in Brighton. I'd never realised before that together we spell 'if', but I am quite pleased to find that we do - it feels like a hopeful word, full of possibilities.

This morning those possibilities found us getting out of bed at 4am when neither of us could sleep and creeping down to the kitchen to bake flapjack (my husband's idea: he is always thinking of food). It seemed just the right activity to send him straight back to sleep the moment they were out of oven, happy that there would be something tasty for him to eat mid-morning. I lay awake having to resist the urge to go back downstairs and sample one. Luckily, it was too cold to risk getting out of bed for a second time.

Florence x

Monday, 30 January 2012

Threaded comments (& how to enable)

Those of you that commented on my last post may have noticed something a little different when you came to comment. Blogger have now introduced 'threaded comments' and I discovered this halfway through my replies to the comments on the last post, so you'll need to scroll down a little to see how they appear.

I'd rather hoped that threaded comments meant that the commenter was also emailed with my reply - it doesn't. However, after my initial disappointment with this, I quickly came to realise why they're still a very good thing. It makes things feel entirely more conversational than simply replying to several comments in a great long line and seems to allow several threads of conversation to develop simultaneously.

If you use Blogger yourself, I've included instructions below as to how you can enable threaded comments on your own blog, as it isn't instantly apparent.

1. Go to 'Settings' on your dashboard.
2. Click on the 'comments' tab.
3. Change 'comment form placement' to be 'embedded below post'.
4. Next go to the 'Site Feed' tab.
5. Where it says 'Allow blog feeds', change this to 'full'.

Bizarrely, those two things should mean that threaded comments are now enabled on your blog. If you've heavily customised your template, this may not work, but for everyone else it should.

The photo at the top of this post is one taken of my daughter last summer. The relevance of it was the way in which the threaded comments allow things to float off in different directions, much like the seeds of the dandelion head as they're blown away (that was the thinking in my head when I picked it anyway, it now seems a very dubious association). She has grubby little finger nails as she'd spent the day climbing trees and building dams in a stream, which seems almost entirely unimaginable in the grey of January. Much as I love winter, I'm now ready for Spring: not only because I'm longing for a little colour and warmth, but - I'm ashamed to admit - mostly due to wanting the excitement of rediscovering old clothes that were packed away at the end of the summer and the opportunity to start afresh on some lighter-weight garment making. Does anyone else begin to tire of rotating the same clothes at this point in the year?

Florence x

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My version of the Colette Beignet skirt

Some things you eventually accept might never happen and making the finishing belt loops or belt for this skirt may just be one of them. It almost goes without saying that this skirt has been made using the Colette Beignet pattern - I think it may be one of the most instantly recognisable and well-used sewing patterns ever produced - and every single version of it that I've seen fits wonderfully and looks fantastic.

I loved making this skirt - it's made up from about six (or is it eight?) highly shaped panels and seeing them come together is really quite magical; it's pattern-cutting awe in action. If there was ever a pattern that didn't just sing, but shouted, that the female form is not a two-dimensional shape it's this one. Its design is just so incredibly clever and feminine that it was worth making to witness that alone - every pattern piece depicts a nipped in waist and a curvy hip and bottom area.

When I made it last summer I was a little heavier and it was a perfect fit, it's slightly less so now, but still perfectly wearable and it remains the only item in my entire wardrobe that makes me feel a little Joan Holloway when I put it on (no, the resemblance isn't instantly apparent...but it's there in my head, damn it).

The good things: I like the style; it's a sartorial statement of my ability to line twelve buttons up in a row (yes, this does require celebration - I may hang the skirt from a flagpole outside my house despite the fact that only other obsessive stitching types would understand the point of it); it fits wonderfully with room to spare for a chocolate orange, so what's not to love? Mmm, actually quite a lot.

I think that most of my height (or what little there is of it) is in my legs. For someone not much taller than an eleven year old with little torso to speak of, I worry that a high-waisted skirt has the unfortunate effect of accentuating this uneven distribution of height and makes me appear to be a tube of leg with a head stuck on to the top of a couple of inches of body, which has only been added in for connective purposes and to save the inhabitant of the said body from having to carry her heart and other essential organs around in a rucksack. I'm not sure that could ever be a good look. Circumnavigating this by not tucking in one's top, thus lengthening the appearance of the torso and ability to house internal organs, feels like too great a crime to commit. I've tried it and my inner Joan Holloway flows straight out of my body and is replaced by a feeling that can only be described as 'unhappy grapefruit' (visually and mentally). With this in mind, I think it's more of a wearing around the house kind of skirt, but I still feel pleased that I've made it, particularly as I now harbour hopes (having studied the promo photos for the pattern once again just now) that if I had the belt loops and the self-fabric belt in the same colour as the skirt (rather than the brown plait belt in the photos) it would be an altogether more unbroken look and may work...what do you think?

Florence x

Friday, 20 January 2012

I made a winter coat

I actually made this coat in October, but somehow it's taken me nearly three months to photograph it. It's based on a coat that I bought from Jigsaw Junior several years ago (that's one of the perks of being only 5ft1). The original coat is made from a cotton drill and it's one of my favourite garments, but it's never been especially warm, and so is more suited for Spring and Autumn wear. For the last few years I've longed for a warmer winter version and, finally, here it is.

It has a small funnel collar, princess seams back and front and a double breasted fastening. It only took an afternoon to draft the pattern, as I followed the dimensions of my beloved Jigsaw coat very closely, then a day and an evening to make the coat and around two months to finish hemming the lining...how can a person lose their momentum like that?

I quibbled over what to line it with, and in the end decided to steer clear of my usual sartorial conservatism and went for a bright cornflower blue.

Here it is on Miss Evangeline - I think she wears it well. And, unlike me, she does not have to be photographed without her head for fear of revealing what very strange expressions she wears upon her chops, due to her having only a faceless stump.

To me, making a coat feels similar to learning free-motion quilting. It's been an elephant in my sewing room that I've wished to surmount (yes, there's a possibility I could end up in the loft with my head through the ceiling if we think about that too literally). I'm not sure it's possible to get rid of the elephant in its entirety, for it's always there with new challenges - and I love that - I love that one can never really master sewing, because there's always some area left in which I feel incompetant or which needs retreading in different ways (both making a coat and free-motion quilting both very definitely still needing retreading).

There's every chance that I may go around inappropriately flashing my coat lining at people now. Once you've added in a colour like that, the temptation is to wear it inside out, rather than to appreciate that a part of its loveliness comes in the not-quite-enough glimpses of it, or just knowing it's there when no one else does. But you know now too!

In retrospect, the thing that I wish that I'd done differently was to make this coat in black wool suiting, instead of navy. Almost as soon as I'd finished it (but unrelated to the finishing of it; I'm not intentionally contrary) I suddenly only wished to wear black,with a few bits of grey around the edges. In more flighty moments I've considered piling it into the washing machine with a box of black Dylon...but as this coat is dry-clean only I've refrained.

On the subject of dye and colour. I tend to re-dye my black jeans every few months (as you can see...they are ready for this). Despite washing them insideout, at 30 degrees and with non-biological detergent they still seem to lose their colour. However, this morning a link to an article showed up in my Twitter feed in which Jean Touitou (founder of APC jeans) recommends washing jeans in Woolite Extra Dark to retain the colour. Do you use this? Can it be found in England?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend. Our own will be a contrast of digging mud by day and going to a party by night. I love it when a Friday holds the promise of a weekend of good things.

Florence x

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Thinking about handmade clothes

Have you seen the new patterns that Figgy's have launched since rebranding themselves? I'm quite in love. The promotion photos have a feeling of Japanese pattern book about them, with their stylish prints and minimalist backdrops.

The garments themselves are full of crisp, clean lines and subtle styling details that give them a very modern feel. I love the the little shoulder puffs on the dress, and the curve that sweeps down either side, ending in slanted pockets.

To me, they feel like big-girl patterns and as though they've been drafted to produce the perfect garments to fill in the chasm that I worry may open as my children grow older: that of a mama who still wishes to make a few garments for her children; and her children who wish to look fashionable and may feel self-conscious wearing designs where the styling may make them appear overtly homemade.  These are exactly the kind of clothes I can imagine my daughter wishing to swoop up in Zara.

You can find these patterns from Figgy's new range for sale here in Alice's lovely shop, Backstitch.

Thinking about children growing up and minding their clothing appearing homemade: is this an issue for those with children older than mine? Or is this simply a perceived issue that's come from my growing up in a generation that, for a time, rejected the handmade to the extent that it was seen as a symbol of poverty, rather than creativity? I wonder whether this generation of children has entirely cast off these negative connotations?

I remember as a young teenager going to a school disco where one of the girls wore a dress that she'd made herself. I can't recall what the dress looked like, but I do remember that the boys ridiculed the dress loudly in the corridors, while many of the girls whispered and giggled over it in the cloakrooms. Shamefully, I wasn't so filled with confidence at that age that I felt able to defend her bold move, or even to let her know that I thought she looked rather super, so I said nothing and just wondered at why anyone would intentionally put themselves in such a vulnerable position (she was clearly a year or two ahead of me in watching Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, where her character arrives at the highschoool prom in a homemade pink dress and went on to serve as a fiesty independent-spirited role model for every young girl growing up in the late 80s. If I'd already seen this myself I may have had more awareness that she'd just outfoxed the entire school with her own coolness). Instead, I remember lying in bed that night feeling guilty and worrying over whether she might be lying in her own bed crying. My school was large with several classes in each year group and I barely knew this girl -I now wonder at how much I probably would have loved her as a friend if our paths had ever properly crossed...I may have branched out earlier from my undercover knitted glove-puppet making, which was my speciality aged 13. My memory of these creatures is of them being rather fine...which leaves me wondering at what point in time the ability to knit proficiently decided to leave me.

Florence x

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Company style blogger awards 2012

It is with rather a large gulp of surprise that I've found myself on the list of nominees for Company magazine's Style Blogger Awards 2012. Company actually wrote to let me know last week, but the email ended up in quarantine and it was only when a reader (Joelle) very sweetly left a comment on my last blog post saying that she hoped I won, that I looked into it and first saw the nominations page and a few days later discovered the original email letting me know about it.

For those not based in England, Company isn't actually a sewing magazine at all, but rather a magazine predominantly based around fashion and beauty. However, it's interesting to find that they have a small craft section in their nominations (entitled Best Blog for Crafty Girls)...something that would have seemed unimaginable in a mainstream magazine five years ago, but now signifies quite how wonderfully popular sewing has become.

If you'd like to vote, you can find the online voting form here...where my own blog name sits alongside a few of my favourite reads (Hurrah! You'll find Marmalade Kiss in the 'We love Vintage' section) and lots of others that are completely new to me and will no doubt be added to my overflowing list of blogs to read once I've had a chance to take a proper look around. 

Category winners will appear in the April issue (out in March) of the magazine, but I'm very happy indeed just to be on the nominations list.

Florence x

Thursday, 12 January 2012

On the bookshelf

For Christmas several people gave me books: one of my very favourite gifts to receive. For the last few years my sister has given me cloth-bound copies of Penguin's classics and this year my Mama continued with this loveliness. These books are such a wonderful gift, not only for the obvious reason of them being the type of book that leaves you reading late into the night, but also because they look so lovely on a bookshelf: they are almost like a double present.

On the fiction and poetry pile I have: The Woman in White, Persuasion, Wuthering Heights, Tender is the Night, The Bees, Happenstance and The Apothecary. I can't speak for the Apothecary yet, but if you haven't yet discovered Maile Meloy's books then she's most definitely worth reading. I read Liars and Saintsseveral years ago and have loved her ever since, devouring every book she has to offer. I lent her book of short stories to my father when he took my little boy swimming each week thinking that they were the perfect length for such an interval...unfortunately one of them wasn't so perfectly sized and he only remembered to pick his grandchild up when the last word had been read - testament to what an engrossing storyteller Maile Meloy is, I think, although the reader was thoroughly reprimanded for good measure anyway!

In sewing related literature there is Kaffe Fassett's V&A Quilts, the wonderful Colette Sewing Handbook, Sarah Fielke's Quilting: from little things..., a fiction book entitled Knitting and The Colette Clover pattern so that I might make some of my very own trousers. Not strictly a book, but it seems to have ended up with them anyway. I first dabbled in trouser-making here, but I love the look of these slim-leg cropped trousers and can't wait to try the pattern out - they remind me of the ones below from EmersonMade, which I've fallen hopelessly in love with.  Unlike the top halves, past evidence tells me that the bottom half of Colette Patterns tend to be a perfect fit for me, so I'm even thinking that I may go totally wild and leap in without making a muslin).

Did you get any wonderful books for Christmas? I'd love to hear what you've been enjoying recently.

Florence x

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Pants interrupted

This cushion should have been a pair of boxer shorts. I'd bought the fabric from Liberty months ago when the Edwyn Collins Ornithology line first appeared - I fell in love with the china blue background, the stunning bird sketches and the story behind the fabric. In December I bought Kwik Sew 1672 as I had too little time to draft my own pattern. The envelope showed the kind of fit I was imagining might make for a good pair of cotton boxer shorts, but when I came to cut out my fabric I discovered that boxer shorts require more fabric than I'd envisaged. A short is not a mere slip of a garment, but more a hungry, fabric gobbling item that rendered me lacking a rather vital 1.5" of fabric...so near, yet so very far from pant production. My husband was able to console me when he glanced at the pattern envelope: was it really safe to transform my dear Papa into something akin to the image on the packet?

Perhaps not. And so my father unexpectedly became the recipient of a cushion, rather than the long-planned boxer shorts.

I made piping to border the cushion edge.

And for the cushion back I used my favourite midnight blue Venezia fabric that I have been hoarding greedily because I love it so much.

To leave two of my most favourite fabrics uninterrupted on both sides an invisible zip in one of the seams was called for. I've never installed an invisible zipper in the same seam as piping before...it wasn't an installation entirely without error, but it was,at least, easier than I'd anticipated it might be.

I gave my father a little sheet detailing the story behind the bird sketches and a copy of Edwyn Collins' biography, Falling and Laughing: The Restoration of Edwyn Collins, which I'm planning to borrow back after he's read it. In case you didn't read about it at the time, here's a little background for you. You may remember Edwyn Collins from the 90s - he had a hit single with 'Never Met a Girl Like you Before'. Seven years ago, still a young man, he suffered a series of strokes which left him with brain damage; unable to feed himself, walk, talk, read or write, and paralysed down one side. He was forced to relearn all these tasks with the added complication of having to master holding a pencil in his left hand, having been right-handed all his life. As part of his later rehabilitation he drew a sketch of a bird each day: it's these sketches that feature in his Ornithology fabric prints for the Liberty Rocks collection.  That story leaves me completely moved, particularly when you consider how incredibly beautiful the fabric is in its own right. I think my father thought so too.

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.