Thursday, 27 September 2012

A bag for my daughter

I took this photo just a few hours before a new carpet was laid in my daughter's room. The man who we bought our house from was a perfectionist: every time he painted a room he took up all the carpet so he wouldn't ruin them with splashes of paint. We wish he hadn't as the boards would have been stunning. The carpets he left we loved less and over the last five years we have replaced all but the claret-coloured beast that still covers our own bedroom floor. I've become so allergic to everything recently that we're considering taking this up altogether and seeing if the boards beneath are salvageable. Has anyone tried this and found that sleeping in a carpetless room has cured their indoor allergies?

For a long time now my daughter has been asking if I'd make a bag for her. It always amazes me slightly that she wants to wear and use the things I make - not because I have any esteem issues around these things, but more because as a child myself I was very ready to disassociate myself from anything to do with my parents and to set about defining my own identity, so I'm incredibly touched that she doesn't feel this way. I was a strumpetty, wilful sort of child though, where my daughter is just about one of the sweetest people I've ever met, who maybe feels the need to assert her independence less: she just is who she is. Perhaps that's the difference. Interestingly, this was the first year that my little boy requested a shop-bought pencil case for school. Over the holidays he tentatively said: I think I might just try one this year and then maybe next year have one made by you again' - I appreciated that he was trying to soften the blow for me so kindly and so tried very hard not to let any amusement show on my face. I loved seeing what he chose when left to his own devices and was quite surprised that we'd made it as far as 8 years old before he felt less happy to embrace the idea of a homemade pencil case.

When it came to the bag I asked for input on fabrics even though it was intended to be given as a birthday gift, as I didn't want to make my daughter one which she secretly loathed but felt obliged to use. Katy's cushion (which I frequently return to drool over in a semi-stalkery way) happened to be on my screen when we began our search and she instantly pointed to the photo and said that those were exactly the kind of fabrics she'd love for her bag. Initially, I was going to create one central round Dresden plate in the centre of the flap, but I realised that I probably wouldn't wear anything myself with such overt decoration and my daughter is also a creature with minimalist tastes, so quarter plates peeping in from the corners seemed a more reserved use of colour. If you don't recognise the fabric already, the Dresdens are made from Liberty's Bloomsbury prints. They're all from the Rich Red/Blue colourway, which are being stocked at Patch (you can find other colourways now in stock here, here and here), while the rest of the bag is sewn from Robert Kaufman's Essex yarn dyed linen.

I've been wanting to make something from this linen/cotton mix for a while and when it arrived it was even more wonderful than I'd imagined. My thoughts instantly turned to dressmaking as it has the loveliest drape and is incredibly soft. I can imagine a Negroni shirt for my husband or perhaps a smock top for me. It would be perfect for winter clothing as the fabric has a cosiness and warmth to it. It's available in a choice of three colours (black, blue and flax, all from the lovely Eternal Maker), which are all feel exactly right (I sent for colour swatches of the other two) and as though if it has to come in such a limited colour range, then at least it's one that covers all bases.

She requested that she could wear the bag across her body (it comes up a bit short on me in this photo), that it not be overwhelming large, but still big enough to fit her lunch box and books in and also that it have several different kind of pocket within the lining. It also has an exterior pocket for her drink. We've found that the messenger bags available in the shops can sometimes be lacking in elegance, so we decided on rounded corners, gentle gathers and contrast piping to try and soften the edges of this utilitarian style of bag.

Inside are more zippered pockets and divided compartments than a girl could find uses for. I made this bag last Sunday while it poured with rain all day. My husband read Micheal Morpurgo's wonderful Long Way Home to us while I sewed and the children lolloped around. In one of his reading breaks my children discussed bag interiors and my little boy came up with the idea of secret zippered pocket within a zippered pocket. I thought this idea was adorable, and so secretly set about making his bonkers idea a reality and my daughter was delighted by it when she discovered it on her birthday morning.

I'll save showing you the rest of the details as I'm currently writing the bag up as a pattern as I really enjoyed making it. The pattern possibly won't include the quarter Dresden plates as I'm guessing they may be an acquired taste, but it will hopefully include everything else.

Florence x

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Pinning fabrics

While sewing together the hundreds of tiny squares in my daughter's Liberty quilt, I've had the opportunity to experiment with what I find to be the best techniques for ensuring the squares align perfectly, without the need for a seam ripper and cursing. As well as the obvious ones, such as cutting accurately in the first place and sewing with a precise 1/4" seam allowance, I've come to realise that it has a lot to do with pinning.

When I'm dressmaking, I'll often pin whilst holding the fabric pieces up in mid-air, perhaps instinctively trying to raise the fabrics toward a light source. However, I've found that with a long run of tiny patchwork pieces to pin, I'm far more accurate when I rest the pieces on my knee. The cord or denim of my trousers is less slippery than a table and naturally holds the bottom layer in place, whilst I align the upper seam to it.

I then place a pin through each side of the opened seam allowances to ensure that there's no movement at the central seam. Placing the pins perpendicular to the edge of the fabric, rather than slightly angled, also seems to help.

Finally, I do something that I know I shouldn't do. I sew straight over the pins. I found that if I removed them half an inch before the presser foot reached them, the fabric would often move a fraction, meaning my seams became slightly misaligned. Leaving the pins in place means that the fabric stays exactly where I intend it to be.  I'm aware that if you hit a pin at speed you can not only seriously damage your machine, but also risk snapping the needle and having it catapult into your eye, so I have certain safety precautions that I take. Firstly, I sew fast for an inch in between pins and then slow to snail's pace while travelling over the pins - at this speed my needle never actually hits a pin as it tends to gently slide to one side or the other, meaning that the two never meet head on. Additionally, because my needles are placed at right angles to the fabric edge, the needle finds it easier to slide to one side or the other. And finally, I try to remember to wear sunglasses. They're just one step away from a pair of safety goggles and make me feel as though I'm 'Sewing Responsibly' while being foolish.

The needle rubbing the side of the pins inevitably dulls it a little sooner than would usually happen, but that seems a small price to pay for happily aligned seams and minimal intervention from the seam ripper.

Ironing the seams open seems to take almost as long as the sewing itself and I eventually developed tricks to minimise finger burning as I pressed open each of the tiny squares' seam allowances. I begin by ironing the strip of pieced squares on the right side to ensure the front of the seam is fully opened (this will often mean that the seam allowances are pressed to one side, but that's rectified in the next step. I then turn it over and finger-pressing each of the seams open. They tend to flap back into place, but it makes enough of an inroad to allow the nose of the iron to be nudged between the seam allowances without having to use your fingers to pull them into place. I have wondered if the wrong end of a spoon would make a good finger subsitute when one's needed in close proximity to the iron.

Have you any tricks for keeping intersecting seams aligned or pressing open seams easily?

Florence x

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Four-leafed Clover pants

I actually made these trousers in the week before the summer holidays began, but somehow I didn't end up finding time to write about them until now. I suspected Colette's Clover pants would be wonderful as their patterns always seems to be perfectly cut for my more curvy bottom half, but somehow it's taken months to finish a pair that I'm happy with. These were the fourth pair I'd made and they are finally a Clover of the four-leafed variety. The first I made in a black non-stretch fabric several months ago - they were a super fit in the early spring before it was warm enough to actually wear them but, unlike most people, I tend to eat more in the summer than the winter and so by the time the temperature warmed up I realised I would welcome the stretch that the pattern suggests is necessary in the fabric requirements.

The second pair was much more successful in terms of fit, but an unfortunate blueberry shade that I wouldn't actually wear outside the house (or even in it, actually. "Mummy, do you like that colour? It doesn't look like something you'd normally wear". You can see it on the pair of trousers that I made several years ago, which I never actually wore due to the odd colour). However, it the blueberry fabric had the most perfect amount of stretch and a good weight to the fabric and finding an alternative proved elusive. Eventually I settled upon a wool fabric with 2% stretch, which had I had any foresight at all then I would have realised required lining were it not to be insufferably itchy and hot against my skin. Unfortunately, I was not in possession of any foresight, so they remain in a drawer and just looking at them makes me feel insufferably itchy and hot. I try not to look at them.

Finally, I spoke to Dylon and asked if I could successfully dye a fabric containing 3% spandex. Surprisingly they said yes, so I bought a few metres more of the hideous blueberry fabric, put it in the washing machine with some dark blue dye and it came out transformed into the most perfect shade of French navy. It's this that I used for the Clover trousers photographed in this post.

I cut the size 0 and with the extra stretch they're really comfortable but, my mother noted, more loosely styled than anything I'd normally wear and next time I'll shave the shaping on the hips away as it makes them stand a little proud of my actual hips in a way that they didn't with the less stretchy fabric. They're a perfect fit on the waist, but more roomy on the leg, even though I've narrowed them on the calf somewhat. I'm not entirely opposed to this - sometimes it's nice and perhaps more flattering to have clothes that feel more forgiving. I've been enjoying wearing them and they were my choice of clothing to travel in when we went to Italy (that's not meant to imply they are trousers for slobbing around in as I've never quite got my head around the mentality of dressing down for plane travel). The side zip and flat front makes these my ideal trouser and I think it would be easy enough to adjust the cut of the leg to make them longer, flared or bootcut. It's a wonderfully versatile pattern.

In terms of changes, like all Colette patterns, the instruction is brilliant. The only thing I think is worth noting is that if you leave the 5/8" seam allowance as it is, the zip will be very difficult to pull up and down. It slides along the zip teeth much more smoothly if you trim the seam allowance of the waist band and facing back to 1/4" to reduce the bulk that it has to pass by.

I've seen a few people saying that the cut of these trousers is odd as the back waist band can sit lower than the front. You can see it a little in this photo above, but it's actually quite noticeable. The back isn't actually lower than the front - when you hold the trousers up the back and front waist lines are identical in height and this is what causes the problem - I've looked at nearly every single pair of trousers I own and when I hold them up the back waistline always sits about an inch higher than the front at the centre, no matter what the style of the trouser. Put a bottom that isn't totally flat into a pair of these trousers and it will pull the waistline down at the back, unless your stomach sticks out at the front by an identical amount. I discussed this with my mother one day as I was trying them on and she said that she actually thought it was a rather ingenious design as it eliminates that annoying pouch of excess material that is so often found at the back of the waist on trousers and I think she's right. Indeed, it does fit flat to my back and when I sit down it seems to stay in place, rather than jutting away from my body. So for me, it's something that I quite like, but I'm not entirely sure it looks right visually, however, as I tend to wear clothing that covers the waistband, it's not an issue.

I shortened the trousers to be the same length as some narrow-fitting trousers with turn ups that I love wearing, however, if I was doing this again, then I think I'd find a length that's appropriate to the more tailored, sophisticated styling of these trousers - they're a little too short and make me feel school-boyish at times - just 1/2" longer would make all the difference.

I think autumnal Clover pants in stretch corduroy could be a good thing too. However, last week Colette Patterns released another trouser pattern. It's a wide-legged beauty with gorgeous angled pockets, pictured above. While the line-drawing illustration pictures of Clover showed a level waistline back and front, the Juniper drawing shows a deeper rise at the back, so I'm guessing the pull down issue at the back waist won't be an issue with this pattern. Alice will be stocking the Juniper pattern when it arrives in England, and if you click on her link you can sign up to be told when it arrives.

Florence x

Monday, 17 September 2012

Stained glass quilt top & some blog changes

This morning when I held this half-finished quilt top up to carry it across the room, I happened to pass by the window and was delighted by how the light shone through and made the tiny fabric pieces look like glassy boiled sweets. I pinned the quilt top to the curtain so that I could admire the effect from a distance. I love how the central medallion looks like a stained glass church window.

It seems pressing open the seams and lining up the points for the outer segments is more time-hungry than I'd anticipated and each quarter seems to take me a whole day to complete (perhaps because I allow myself to go on flights of fancy about church windows...). I have three outer segments done and just one to go.

Last week I was something of a night owl. My husband and I had been discussing at what time of day we are most productive and I said that unfortunately I felt for me this was the middle of the night. Serendipitously, only a few nights later I found myself awake in the early hours of the morning and so took it as an opportunity to do a few blog-maintenance things that I'd been meaning to do for the last year, firstly adding to the pages which you can see listed across the top of my blog, beneath the header bar. I created a gallery page of my dressmaking exploits, where you can click on any picture and be taken straight to the relevant post, as well as a quilt making gallery. Neither is complete, but they both hold a substantial chunk of my work. Although many of the things which I've made don't fall into the dress or quilt making categories, scrolling through all my blog posts made me realise how much I talk around the things which I make - there were so many posts of works in progress, discussions about technique or pattern drafting, book reviews and excitement over new fabric lines or patterns.

The other thing that I'd been meaning to do was split my list of blogs that I read into categories as I'm aware that most seamstresses tend to either quilt, dress-make or focus on more general sewing and that there are relatively few who spread themselves over all three, so it may be nicer to be able to click straight through to the types of blog you'd be interested in reading. So, I now have four new categories, which you can find in my sidebar if you scroll quite a way down and keep your eyes on the left (the fourth, is for blogs I like that aren't necessarily concerned with sewing...because occasionally it's good to think about other things too). As has happened to me before, in the process of updating this list, I deleted the entire thing first, so there are, as well as many old favourites which I was able to recall, plenty of new ones which have been added to that, especially in the quilty department where my sewing enthusiasm currently seems to lie. There are actually a great many more blogs than this in my Google Reader, but unfortunately to list them all may create a page of eye-bogglingly scary length. Each category only shows the five most recently updated blogs, but you can see all the ones on my lists by clicking on the tiny 'show all' buttons. Do go and take a look - there are some goodies in there!

If you have any recommendations of blogs you think I may love I'd love to hear of them.

Florence x

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Children's books and magazines...

Thank you so much for all your feedback and enthusiasm about my husband's educational apps which I talked about in my last post - I was touched and delighted by your response.

I'd said at the end of that post that if you were interested I'd share some of our other favourite education-based things - not designed by my husband - and it seems some of you were. I have so many I'd love to write about, but I'll try to cram them all into one post so that it doesn't feel as though you've unwittingly subscribed to a parenting blog if you came here hoping only to find sewing (for those that did, the cat in the photo above is dreaming about birds made out of Tana lawn Liberty prints and if you return soon, I may be thinking along similar lines).

To give this post some context my children are 10 and 8. My daughter has been a bookworm since a very young age and my eight year old boy is dyslexic, but also adores reading - it's been a struggle to find things that aren't so text heavy that they overwhelm, but which don't patronise his intellect or wonderful vocabulary by using overly simplified text and storyline. I think many of the books below walk this thin line perfectly (although, I should say that over the summer, happily, something clicked for him and so although spelling is still a big issue, on a good day he can now enjoy tearing through a book as thick and text-heavy as my daughter - the books mentioned here don't necessarily reflect that).

So let's begin with magazines. Magazines, especially compared to books, feel expensive, so both children have requested many of these subscriptions from grandparents for birthdays and Christmases and it seems to be a gift that they really enjoy giving as it's appreciated throughout the year. These are our current favourites: Aquila magazine pictured above is a thought-provoking magazine which explores a different topic in each issue. Its content is pleasingly grown-up and covers everything from world issues to encouraging moral debate and its themes have often coincided with ones the children happen to be covering at school - this seems to cause a great deal of delight as they can bring their own knowledge and familiarity to it, whilst gathering new ideas at the same time, making it feel very relevant. It's more suited to an older child, perhaps 9-12.

Anorak and Puffin Post magazines
We're relatively new to Puffin Post. It produces two magazines to cover different age groups and we subscribe to both. Its focus, coming from Puffin, is very much on books and includes exerts, interviews, reviews and competitions, as well as opening itself up to its literary young readership who contribute with their own work and letters. It's a small, but densely packed magazine. A subscription also entitles you to choose 6 free books a year and the welcome pack includes a stuffed puffin, a pencil, lovely notepad and some other goodies which all arrive in a nice brown box. Puffin Post can't be bought in newsagents, you'd need to order it online.

Puffin Post page spread
Anorak magazine appeals to both children and they often sit reading it together. It has a home-produced feeling, but is printed on matt creamy paper that makes it feel very good quality. It's a melange of eccentric photo stories, bright artwork and amusing tit bits. It's doesn't feel overtly educational which I don't mind (although they claim to follow the national curriculum), but some of their phrasing of things jars with me slightly, but it's a wholesome version of a more throw-away magazine and we like it a lot. My children have saved, and still read, every issue we've bought for them. Anorak have a wonderful back-issues archive and I tend to hand-pick ones which I think will appeal from there or pick them up in the independent shops where we occasionally see it being stocked. They say on their website that it's intended for children aged 6-12.

Anorak Magazine
For an animal fix that's available from WH Smiths without the commitment of a subscription (although we do have one), National Geographic for Kids is wonderful and we've had this delivered for the last two years and it's still greeted with delight. Initially, it was my daughter's magazine, but it's now very much my son's, so I think it's probably aged at children age 6-10.

I've also been meaning to mention Aramazu for absolutely ages. My little boy had spent over two years struggling to learn to tell the time by the time we found Aramazu when he was aged 7. I ordered the book, not really expecting much and expecting even less when I began reading it. The book tells a story about time that turns conventional methods for learning it on their head and leaves any seasoned time-teller feeling slightly perplexed as they read through the first pages. However, by the middle of the book one begins to feel that the man who wrote it may just be a genius. I can still remember that the morning after the book arrived, my little boy woke very early and so I took the opportunity to take him downstairs and read through the Aramazu book together. It was amazing to both of us that after an hour of painless work using the Aramazu method he could read most times on the clock and by the end of the day, he could even tell the trickiest of times, such as 'seventeen minutes to three'. My little boy is not a willing card-writer, but that morning he asked if we could write to the Aramazu man and thank him for creating the book. For a child with dyslexia learning something with ease is an empowering and unaccustomed feeling and I still credit this book with kick-starting a more positive attitude toward his own abilities, but it's suitable for all as learning to tell the time seems to be a universal struggle for young children. The book requires that your child can count to 60, but if they can't yet do that, then there's a different book that can help them master some of the more basic times, provided they can count to 12. We bought the watch too, but really it's not necessary as after a week or two my son was happy reading the time on regular clock faces (there's a clock for practising with moveable hands within the book) and wanted something more grown-up looking.

I think I've mentioned the wonderfulness of Ed Emberley and his learn-to-draw books many times, but if you haven't read about them, I go ino more detail here. They're wonderful and suitable for ages 3 to adulthood!

Have you seen or read The Invention of Hugo Cabret? While there's probably several hundred books that I could tell you about that we've loved (you can read my review of Wonder here, for instance), it's this one that feels worth mentioning in this post and which stands out. It's a totally unique book - hugely thick, deliciously heavy and filled with hundreds of hand-drawn pictures which at times take over from the writing in telling the story. The mixture of picture and written text allows your child's imagination to take on the role of storyteller and become completely imersed in Hugo's world. If you haven't seen the film, that too is wonderful. It is so beautifully and uniquely shot that it feels completely in keeping with how special the book is. My guess is that the book would be appreciated by children from age 8 onward, but that there is no upper age limit. I don't know anyone who has read this and not loved it.

Over the last few years, while I've been searching for books for my son to read, I've found the following to be really good. I mention them not because they are the most outstanding works of fiction out there, but because they are so suited to a child who finds reading challenging, but who still wishes to become immersed in a complex storyline without feeling as though they are confined to reading material intended for much younger children.

We have always loved Allan Ahlberg and these stories, pictured above, are a demonstration of his genius at writing books for an older audience. They are quirky, without being affectedly so; have story lines full of adventure and intrigue; and make us howl with laughter as my son reads them out loud. The text, which is rich and varied, is broken into manageable chunks by the wonderful illustrations which help a slower reader retain a sense of the twists and turns in the storyline as they go.

Over the years we have built up a huge collection of Usborne's See Inside series of lift the flap books for older children, pictured above (I haven't put Amazon links as it feels too exhausting for so many titles). These books have intricate, detailed pictures and there is often an element of humour beneath the flaps. They really made up the core of my little boy's favoured independent reading material between the ages of five and seven. They cover subjects which he felt naturally interested in and the snippets of writing are factual and appealed to his sense of wanting to know minute details about castles, pirate ships, sea life and all the other subjects they cover. What made them so accessible for him is that when the writing appears it's just a few words at a time, so not overwhelming in any way, and once the words had been deciphered there was the reward of opening a tiny flap to reveal more pictures beneath.

Finally, my mother bought my son Michael Rosen's Poetry Anthology last Christmas and it is one of his most well-thumbed books. It is full of the most perfectly selected offerings that are both humourous and poignant and my little boy will suddenly give me a recital of one of them while I'm brushing my teeth or making the bed. He seems to very much enjoy getting just the right intonation and inflection in his voice. It's always a surprisingly sweet contrast to the side of him that is so utterly obsessed with football. Our favourites are Marbles by Michael Kavanagh and The Art Lesson by Trevor Harvey.

I would love to hear what your own children have loved or found useful, or even what you enjoyed yourself as a child, whether it's a book, magazine or even an app.

Florence x

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Children and educational apps

Last week, Lynne of Lily's Quilts was asking on Twitter for recommendations for educational apps and it occurred to me then that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to take a rare deviation from incessant sewing talk to tell you a little more about the ones made by my husband, and in a less instrumental way, by me too. It will soon be a year since my husband took a massive leap and gave up his job of nearly ten years as the Director of a web design agency and came to work here at home, with me, creating educational apps for iPhones and iPads. I haven't really written about them on my blog as I'd worried that it could look like biased promotion, but in this first year his work has received praise in The Telegraph, The Observer, The Guardian and on BBC radio, so although my views are indeed entirely biased, I think they also coincide with a positive view held by those more objective, which I hope validates them in some way!

Several years ago, when my husband's job shifted from being one where he was involved in the hands-on programming aspect of web design and game programming, to one where he was managing people, he began designing an iPhone app in the evenings purely to keep his brain active by learning a new programming language and to help our daughter, who at that time was beginning to learn her times tables. He had always taken a home-made approach to their education - when our little boy struggled to learn to spell, he made Star Wars Top Trumps featuring basic words that needed to be read in order to win the game - and using technology  just seemed a natural step for him, rather than one that we made a conscious decision about.

We noticed that both our children loved collecting things, so my husband designed a set of characters that could be earned, each with a their own idiosyncratic list of likes and dislikes, that once won through answering times tables correctly, were then displayed in a gallery. He told me he needed a collective name for the group of characters and I suggested Squeebles. It's this collection of characters, Squeebles, that are now featured in all of his games.

Our children come from opposite ends of the spectrum: while most things have come with relative ease to our daughter, our son's dyslexia has meant his achievements are harder-won, so when my husband has designed games he does it with an awareness of meeting the needs of children with very diverse abilities: gently stretching a more able child, whilst providing enough frequent reward to encourage those who struggle with learning.

The games cover Times Tables; Addition and Subtraction; Fractions; Division; and Spelling, and the game play for each is different. In some apps turns can be won on games racing 'Squeeblecarts' through answering questions correctly, while in others children win new toppings, fillings and various flavours of sponge with each turn in order to make an amazing array of cakes that can be put before a panel of Squeebles for judging in a cake show (this is my favourite, obviously).

In my husband's apps he has attempted to create a compelling reason to return to the learning element, rather than simply playing with the rewards already earned; he's created multi-aptitude games so that children come away feeling positive about what they've achieved, rather than demoralised over what they couldn't do; he's also tried to create apps where parents don't feel divorced from their children's learning.

Neither of us feel comfortable with the idea of plugging a child into a device and handing education over to an inanimate object. So while in some apps you can access your child's learning stats and see which aspects they've struggled with, in others, such as the spelling app, it really is an extension of yourself. The spellings app is completely customisable: you type in the words you want your child to learn; you record the words in your own voice (with room to explain the meaning of the word vocally if you wish) and there's even a place to record your own congratulations or reward message that can be played on their successful completion of a spelling test (on top of all this, children also win turns on a game by spelling words correctly).

Every app is a self-contained, child-safe area - once you've downloaded one it requires no Internet access, has no in-app advertising, there are no communal areas and your children's details can't be seen or accessed by anyone but you. In many ways I feel these apps are an extension of our approach to parenting - they've come out hours of discussion - as well as being a product of our children: when the game is in its design stages, my little boy has often sat for an hour each morning before school drawing cakes, squeeblecarts or whatever else is being worked on, hoping some of his work will be incorporated into the games (and much of it has been).

Runner-up competition entry by Poppy, aged 6
On that note, I wanted to mention the design-a-Squeeble competition that my husband's running at the moment. He ran a similar contest earlier in the year and three of the winning designs which we chose from the adorable entries (you can see the top ten here) were transformed into computerised versions of the children's drawings and have since appeared in subsequent Squeebles games. If you think your own child might enjoy this, then you can find details here - the entry deadline is 30th September.

Several years ago our children lived in something of a technology vacuum. When they were small the tiny playroom in the house where they were born was filled with wooden toys and as they grew we made an active decision that we didn't want them to use hand-held consoles or to play on the computer (aside from when my husband programmed games from scratch with them where they hand-drew and voiced all the characters). However, when they went to school, after a few years we realised our aversion to child-technology meant that in laptop lessons they were far less computer savvy than any of their peers. Why does it matter? I said, I don't want them to use a computer. But actually, it did matter. Today's world is so technology-based, that the ability to use it confidently is now as essential as many other elements of the curriculum and my overly-wholesome approach was meaning they felt anxious and out of their depth in laptop lessons. It's taken a while to find a way of using technology with them that doesn't feel like a compromise of the initial values we set out with, but happily, my husband's games are a big part of that solution.

If the games seem like they may be of any interest to you and your children, you can find them in the app store by searching for 'Squeebles'. Prices start at 69p/$0.99.

Let me know if this kind of thing is of interest to you, and if it is then I'll write a post about some of our favourite magazines, books and other resources (not designed by my husband!).

Florence x

Monday, 10 September 2012


Those squares I'd shown all neatly cut a few posts ago? When I finally began arranging them I decided they were awful: too big and clumsy to go with the hand-pieced medallion of tiny shapes at the centre of the quilt. So I reduced every single one of them to be a 1½" square. The fabric wastage of doing so was hideous, but it felt like more of a waste to ruin a quilt with my badly thought out design. The above photo shows some of the new miniature squares sewn in place and I'm really happy with the scale of them - they feel jewel-like where my bigger squares felt clumsy. They're a random mix of whole squares, half-square triangles, plain Oakshott fabrics and Liberty Tana lawn prints, but given some order by being arranged by colour and divided by plain white squares. All of the squares are set on point.

I took the photo above this morning and it shows all my things set up ready for a day of sewing. When I posted the photo on Instagram, Deb asked what the little plastic templates are that seem to feature in a lot of my photos. I'd never thought to write about them as I've had them for several years and they're just a part of my everyday sewing paraphernalia, but actually they really do deserve a mention as I use them all the time and they're really very wonderful.

They're made by Clover, whose products I find to be consistently innovative, well-made and inexpensive. You can use these templates just like you would with a perspex template, although you perhaps need to show them a little more care as if you're rotary cutting in the manner of wild beast, as one is occasionally prone to do, you can cut off slithers of the plastic. However, I like that the border is exactly 1/4" and not transparent, so you can see exactly what the piece you've centred beneath it will look like with the seam allowance obscured from view - they're great for fussy cutting. I use a 1/4" foot on my machine when I sew, so I never need to mark on seam allowances, but these templates are fantastic for those who do.

Each pack features several shapes - this one contains squares, diamonds, triangles and an octagon, but you can also get more hexagon-centric sets. I bought mine locally, but I was fairly sure that The Eclectic Maker might sell them too (as they offer a good selection of Clover products) and they did.

In an impressive display of multi-tasking, as I've written this post I've also bought the hexagon set and while I was there I replaced my favourite ever seam ripper (also by Clover) which I broke last year. It's got a wonderfully ergonomic-feeling handle and feels sturdy and good quality (it only broke because I moved my chair onto it and then sat on was a Goldilocks moment, but without the blond hair...or the stealing...I may have internally wept in a fashion akin to Baby Bear when I witnessed the broken quick-unpick though). I also popped a 28mm Clover rotary cutter into my basket as I'm finding that I'm working with increasingly small pieces and running a 45mm cutter over the fabric can feel like I'm ploughing through the fabric with a combine harvester when a lawn-mower would have sufficed*. I usually use an Omnigrid cutter, so I'm excited to see what the Clover version is like: I'll report back. Lawks, what an unexpected haberdashery spree.

And now a question for you, quilters. When you're marking out a quilt design of intricate twists and turns and a Hera marker won't do the job, what do you use for marking your quilt? This quilt will have a lot of white areas, so I'm looking for something that won't permanently mark the fabric, but will keep the lines I've traced reliably in place until I'm ready for them to go. Any suggestions?

Florence x

* I may be mixing agricultural terms horribly there, but I never claimed to be a farm girl, so I'm fine with that. Can one plough with a combine harvester? I'm thinking possibly not.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Dear Stella's double Gilt Trip

Yesterday an unexpected parcel, seemingly from Johnnie Boden, arrived on my doormat. I looked at the familiar spotty packaging and felt mystified by what it was that I might have ordered. Then I felt guilt. Do I really place so many Boden orders that I can't even remember what I've ordered? I didn't think so, but I decided to leave it on my desk while cutting fabric and not to open it until I could recall what might be inside. Four hours passed and I still couldn't think what it might be so I eventually allowed myself to peep inside. It was not a Peter Pan collared blouse, a pintucked shirt or even some of Johnnie's love wrapped up in tissue paper and placed in an envelope especially for me (I'm still waiting patiently for the latter), but some Gilt Trip fabric by Dear Stella, sent from Annie's Village Haberdashery who uses similar (but not identical) spotted bags to Boden for posting. Released from my own guilt trip I could swoon over the metallic fabric with glee. Annie had sweetly sent me a few fat quarters so that I could see what I thought of it. And it's glorious.

My initial thoughts had mainly been around how fantastic it might be for a sunglasses case, a tote bag or something similar. But something odd happened on opening up this fabric package: I started thinking about how amazing Gilt Trip would look as a skirt. Using quilting cotton for garment construction is a much-discussed topic amongst dressmakers and my own feelings fall heavily on the side of never using it. I'd go so far as to say that I'd sooner where a Lycra catsuit than wear a garment that I'd made from quilting cotton. It's a matter that seems to provoke extreme feelings in people. It's very subjective, but for me, the weave, drape and texture just isn't right for clothing. So it was a surprise and shock to my internal compass to suddenly be thinking that a quilting cotton may just make a perfect skirt!

The image of the skirt was so vivid in my mind that I took a pot of pins and began stabbing pleats to the waistline of Evangeline (who, due to her location in the dining room, doubles as my husband's imaginary work colleague and who he insists upon calling Derek!) and then folding the striped fabric to create a waist band.

Look how the gold shimmers in different lights. The picture above was taken first thing this morning when my daughter discovered the previous night's pinning frenzy and shouted upstairs to me that she adored the skirt that the mannequin was wearing, at which point I went down to reassess matters as my children rarely notice any of the fabric creations going on around them now as it's just one of life's backdrops for them. The one below was taken a few hours later once the sunlight was less of a warm glow.

The golden buds and gilt stripes of Dear Stella's Gilt Trip seem to elevate it from a workaday fabric into something more refined and wearable, making it a highly versatile range of fabric. While I wouldn't make a drapey smock top from it, for a structured skirt or dress with a fitted bodice (and very possibly a twirly 1950s skirt) it feels just right. I can imagine wearing a skirt like this on Christmas can my daughter.

If you're interested in seeing Gilt Trip in quilty form, you can find it on Dear Stella's website here. If you're England or Europe-based and thinking of buying some you can find it at the Village Haberdashery here.

Florence x
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