Friday, 30 November 2012

What comes next

So it is finally framed. The feeling of having something completely finished is such a lovely one and what's finally here delights me. The fiery iridescence of the fabrics, the thick creamy white mount and the lovely walnut frame all feel as though they work well with the kaleidoscope and each brings me back to look at it and makes me feel happy when I walk into the room and see it on the wall.

I decided to have the frame made separately and to leave mounting the paper-piecing for the privacy of my own home where I could weep over my own uselessness unwatched if the stitches popped when it was being stretched or if I had to grimly accept that this was not a piece, with all its intersecting seams, that would ever lie flat enough for framing. However, Ruth mentioned that I may be best lining the piece with quilt batting and then, at places where seams meeting had created bulk, I should cut holes in the batting and allow the bulk to rest through, so that the wall hanging was an even thickness throughout. This turned out to be such good advice and was exactly what I did.

I then tried taping the whole thing to the back board of the frame, but it allowed for too much movement and the wine coloured border wouldn't sit evenly inside the white mount, so eventually I used 505 basting spray to glue it to the board and that worked perfectly. I now wish I'd taken photos to show you how Ruth's technique worked, but it was actually too fraught an experience to think of cameras at the time.

The walnut frame feels just right and shares the same warmth as the Oakshott fabrics. Oddly, now it is in the frame it no longer feels like my work, nor does it have any of the familiarity that it held over the weeks in which I was sewing it together, so when I look at it it's a surprisingly objective, detached experience. There are a few places where the stitches became more visible when it was stretched over the frame, but rather than feeling distressed by these I think I rather like them. When I look at the work of others it's often the signs of a human hand that I like the most - in the same way that a person may loathe their own slightly crooked teeth or unsymmetrical face, it's these bits that add character for an objective onlooker and that, similarly, I find myself focusing on in the sewn work of others - there's warmth in slight imperfection. Being able to look at this more objectively and separate it from myself means, thankfully, that I can enjoy those aspects of the wall hanging, rather than wanting to tear it from the frame and stamp on it. That's a good thing. 

The intricate piecing of this wall hanging has triggered something in me that wishes to be in possession of smaller fingers than I am currently. Only hours after the Oakshott rubies had been hung on the wall I cut into the three shades of Oakshott Liparis I'd bought in order to make my parents their Christmas gift. I've finally come up with a design that I think I feel happy with (but do feel free to wade in as you were so helpful in pointing out things I hadn't seen in the early stages of plotting my rubies wall hanging). To me, the flowers echo the art deco style that my parents are often drawn to when choosing furniture and I think the limited colour palette is minimal enough to please my monochromatic-loving father and please my mother who delights in shades of blue.

The picture above shows the half-finished pieces I was working on last night - it's hard to get a sense of the scale of this, but the silver squares are smaller than one of my fingernails. This hasn't been made with the English paper piecing method, which I used for the rubies, but is simply hand stitched with the tiniest running stitch I could manage. There is something thrilling about reducing your stitch length down to a fraction of an inch - one momentarily feels like one of the shoemaker's elves. However, I'm yet to decide whether to carry on in this vein or whether to increase the size a little. The rubies wall hanging ended up being 32" square and if I continue at this size, the wall hanging for my parents will be 26" square. I cut the size down by 6" as it seems like a very large wall hanging to impose on someone else's home unasked for, but I'm unsure if I'm actually capable of stitching at this miniature level and creating something lovely - without the paper pieces in place the work will be more prone to stretch and pull out of shape and it's a difficult thing to remedy when working at this scale.

This is what the reverse of such a piece so small and densely pieced looks like: chaos. It wouldn't be an easy thing to go in and remedy an area where I felt in retrospect it needed to have a sharper point or had been sewn a little wide - the seam allowances are invariably larger than the shape being formed. I was intending to work on it again today, but have reached a point of paralysis - there's the wish to challenge myself and the enjoyment of the tiny running stitch, put against a Christmas deadline and a worry that hours of work and fabric will have to be abandoned if I can't make the thing hold its shape - it has never been one of my strong points to know where on the grain to place an oddly shaped piece of fabric in order to reduce the bias it will have.

How are your own Christmas projects going? Have you used an of the Rubies or Lipari yourself? I'm finding that working with it is becoming rather addictive.

Florence x

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Bloomsbury Bag Pattern

Finally, The Bloomsbury Bag pattern is ready for sale as an instantly downloadable PDF! I know many of you know all about this bag, having seen the bag I originally created back in September and also, many of you having kindly offered yourself up as pattern testers, but for those coming to it anew, here are some details.

The bag is suitable for children and grown-ups and the pattern can be made in a small or large size, with a strap length to suit the height of the wearer (and can even be made as a shoulder bag if you prefer that to an across-body bag). I initially designed this bag for my eleven year old daughter to be a more feminine take on a traditional utilitarian messenger bag. It hopefully retains all the practicality of the classic bag, but with curved edges, contrast piping, a gathered pocket and optional Dresden petals, the overtly functional look is softened.

Both bag sizes feature an elasticated side pocket suitable for holding a phone or, on the larger sized bag, a drinks bottle or compact umbrella.

Inside, the larger bag size includes an internal zippered pocket...with a secret internal zippered pocket within that one! For children it's a delightful detail of the bag and for adults it's a practical place to store small things, such as a ring or watch if you take them off to go swimming. It also includes an open interior pocket and a key holder.  The smaller sized bag has been parred down to include only the interior open pocket and key holder (although my pattern tester for the smaller bag size decided to follow the instructions for the larger bag and include some internal zippered pockets anyway!).

As the pictures show, the bag can be made with or without the Dresden petals. All template pieces needed for the petals are included in the pattern, scaled perfectly for each bag size.

I designed the bag to have quite a bit of structure so that it won't sag when loaded with books and still retains its shape when empty. The pattern instructs on how to create a structured base for the bag, however, if you prefer a more slouchy look or are new to sewing, then this step can be omitted.

Because the pattern includes so many different skills - sewing curves, appliqué, installing zippers, creating piping - it will be a very challenging pattern for a novice sewer. However, if you really love the design and are keen to leap in anyway, I've included a section in the pattern notes as to how you could simplify the design to make it more manageable (such as buying ready-made piping or omitting certain features) - these may also be helpful if you're keen to make the bag but are running short on time. 

So, here's a brief run-down that will hopefully answer any questions you may have:
  • The pattern costs £5 (which is around $8 US dollars or just under €6 Euros)
  • All pattern pieces are full-size and don't require enlarging on a photocopier.
  • It has full instructions and clear step-by-step photographs (small, to be easy on the printer ink)
  • The pattern comes in two sizes: the larger bag measures 12" high x 10½ "wide x 3½" deep. The smaller bag measures approximately 9½" high x 9" wide x 2½" deep.
  • Small businesses and independent online shops are welcome to sell any Bloomsbury bags that they make from this pattern, but please give pattern credit in your selling description.
  • You can download the pattern and print it out at home straight away.
  • Payment is completely secure through PayPal. As ever, you don't need a PayPal account to pay for this pattern - PayPal accepts credit and debit cards. Once you've paid, PayPal will take you to a page where you can download the pattern instantly, by clicking on the link provided. You will also receive an email containing the same link. 

Next week I'll hopefully share with you the beautiful bags that my pattern testers made when they were trialling the pattern for me. If you make a Bloomsbury Bag from this pattern yourself, then I'd love it if you wanted to email me a photo of the finished bag or you can drop it into the Flickr pool here.

Florence x

Monday, 26 November 2012


So finally, the piecing is over. Just a simple 1" straight border of dark red is to be added to each side and then it will be ready for its frame. I scoured my favourite junk shops with my husband after breakfast on Friday morning and drew a blank, so I'm having a square frame made up in walnut wood, with a creamy white mount inside. It all seemed surprisingly affordable until the shop rang this morning to let me know that the boy I'd dealt with had neglected to write down whether the frame was to be 36" or 36cm when I was in the shop. When I told them it was actually inches we realised he may have misquoted me substantially. However, the shop were happy to honour their original price and I've offered to meet them halfway on the extra as I don't want to constantly look at the frame and feel awful that the shop lost money on making it. 

To give you sense of scale (so far demonstrated against cats, mannequins and now, me) this is the size of it. I'm so looking forward to finally having it framed. Nina asked why have it behind glass and not just have it as a wall hanging, but while I'm fairly relaxed about seeing my quilts dragged around the house and repurposed for camp-making material, I feel much more stressy about something on the wall being handled and then hanging rumpled. It's the kind of thing where I'd be sitting chatting to people over dinner, desperately wanting only to straighten it on the wall behind them. It's just better for all of us if it's behind glass and stays where it's meant to!

I decided to commission the frame being made and then to set it in myself as I'm worrying over whether it will lie perfectly flat and taut. In some places there are 12 intersecting seams, so there's quite a bit of bulk behind the scenes and I'm currently trying to think through what will be the best way to secure it to the frame base so that it stays flat. I've considered de-bulking some areas, but worry over the fraying fibres of the Oakshott unravelling faster than I can seal them in place with clear nail varnish!

This week though, I will enjoy having it sit in the corner of our bedroom. No, we still haven't sanded, filled in or oiled the floorboards. I've temporarily wedged balls of foil down the largest holes to avoid potentially losing expensive things, such as machine feet or wedding rings down them. This seemed like a cunning plan until I realised that the vacuum cleaner sucks them straight out the moment it runs over them, so vacuuming is now a tentative business. It's amazing how quickly these things can become familiar when you live with them though - a mixture of wood and foil as flooring now looks perfectly normal! But I'm looking forward to a time when this isn't so.

Florence x

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Paper pieced kaleidoscope update

The paper pieced kaleidoscope wall-hanging is growing again. For a brief moment it was squared up and could have been framed and left there, but I decided to carry on and it morphed again, this time into a shallow-pointed star.

It is a complete delight to work on something that takes on a different and interesting new guise each time a new round of pieces is added. It provides a form of instant gratification that belies the reality that this piece is taking a horribly long time to complete (I started the sewing on this three weeks ago).

And here you can see a little more growth of a round yet to be completed. It will measure just over 32" when it's finally completed and the end is now feeling so near that I'm starting to think about a trip to my favourite local antique shop to source a frame. My only worry is that frames this big tend to be quite difficult to find and they also tend to be rectangular, rather than square. I'm wondering whether I will have to compromise and create wider panels at the top and bottom to fit it to the right frame. I think for this I'd prefer something old, rather than having a frame made especially for it.

Thank you so much for all the lovely entries to the Christmas fabric giveaway in the last post - it was so lovely to read through all your Christmas traditions. The winner is Rachel of Contented who said: What gorgeous fabrics! This will be our first Christmas since we started homeschooling our son, so I am looking forward to doing lots of Christmassy crafts and activities with him this year! Congratulations, Rachel. Just let me know your address and which bundle of fabrics you'd most like and Dragonfly will be in touch.

I decided it was best to wrap this giveaway up quite quickly as I suspected that whoever won the fabric would probably appreciate receiving it in November and having a little more time to put it to use  - all apart from Jane, who (shockingly, but delightfully!) admitted to not having taken her tree down from last year and so who would have surely been the best candidate to have made use of the fabric all year round! Jane is an inspiring example of what can be achieved with this curiously unflinching attitude to what really does and doesn't need doing, as she is a prolific maker of very beautiful quilts. However, ultimtely, I felt that as Jane has had the fun of bucking social norms and conventions for the last eleven months of the year, the joy of free fabric ought to go to someone else, even though my initial inclination was to stop comments the moment hers came in and declare her the winner. Just think how quickly I could have done this damn paper pieced kaleidoscope if I were Jane. Today I am not going to vacuum the house in her honour. Thank you for the inspiration, Jane :).

Florence x

Ps. I feel compelled to say that this is not meant to imply Jane's house isn't spotlessly clean or that Jane doesn't use a vacuum cleaner herself. My lack of hoovering is simply my own rather insipid take on her carefree attitdue to freestyling with expectations.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A giveaway: Christmas fabric bundles

Darlings, it's taken some restraint not to mention Christmas until now, but the excitement has been bubbling away in me since the end of September. Christmas seems to divide people into two camps - those who prefer to pretend it's not happening until the last minute and are given to scurrying around on the eve before Christmas frantically collecting nuts, and those whose cheek pouches are already full by the time November is upon us and savour as long run-up as possible to pole-vaulting over the Christmas tree. I'm the latter sort of creature, but it wasn't always this way - my husband has gradually infected me with his zeal for the season and I think I have now surpassed even his enthusiasm (when he hears me discussing Christmas with the children in September he is aghast at the yuletide monster he has created).

I love the feeling of family drawing in and coming together; the potential for snow (and the building of igloos); the licence to bake almost constantly; the creating of new traditions on old; the making of Christmassy crafts; the wearing of layers; the decorating of the tree; the lack of justification needed for having the heating turned up high; that my sister comes home for nearly two whole weeks; that every year my husband creates a two hour long Christmas quiz which is held at my parents' house and which causes the most enjoyable kind of bickering and bad feeling (enjoyable because I love high levels of competition over inconsequential things); that my husband and I were married just after Christmas several years ago. And I do love the presents.
Which is why I can think of nothing nicer than being given permission to share Christmas fabric with you. Dorte from Dragonfly fabrics has rustled up the most beautiful bundles which completely stoke the Christmas furnace which burns happily and slightly uncontrollably in my heart. The moment I saw them they reminded me of the fabrics I used in the advent calendar I made for my parents a few years ago.
To me these bundles are perfection - they manage to be thoroughly celebratory of the season without the need for snowmen to be prancing across them. Dorte's fabrics have ducks on them, which feels entirely Christmassy and wonderful! (and while they're not included in any of the bundles, I've noticed she also has hens, which makes me instantly think of the three French hens and the partridge in the pear tree).

Anyway, I can think of about a hundred different things that one could do with these fabrics (other than making an Advent calendar on December 1st, as I did). There's the ubiquitous fabric Christmas wreath, bunting, napkins, place mats, ornaments. It is good for so many things (although, amusingly, Dorte's husband tells me it is not good for making gifts for men. He clearly hasn't seen the delightful Kwik Sew envelope in this post, so don't let yourself be limited!)

If you'd like to win a bundle of your choice from Dragonfly fabrics just leave me a comment imparting me with a little of your own Christmas loveliness: a memory from childhood; one of your own family's traditions; how soon you put the tree up; what you might be making as a gift or decoration; or even what you really don't like about Christmas (really, you can! Don't worry about popping my balloon. It's already been attempted with a large fork and has been found to be totally just sags a little sadly).

Florence x

Ps. The giveaway is open internationally, although Dragonfly are based in England.

Pps. In the meantime, if you need fabric right now then bundles are here, if you're looking for yardage you can find many of the prints here. And if red and white is too overtly Christmassy for you, I adore these blue and white forest prints from Westfalenstoffe.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A call for pattern testers

My new bag pattern is nearly ready and I wondered whether anyone might very kindly be willing to offer their sewing services up as a pattern tester for me?

As a pattern tester you'd need to be willing to make the bag and give me some very brief feedback to let me know if there are any bits where you found the instruction unclear or difficult to follow and also be happy to send me a photo of the finished bag. In return, once you've made the bag, by way of thanks I'd love to send you a £25 gift voucher to spend in one of my favourite online fabric shops (or an Amazon voucher if you'd rather put it toward some Christmas shopping).

My main requirement is that you are able to find time to have the bag made and feedback given by the end of next week at the latest (25th November), so please only offer up your services if you can commit to that.

If you have access to a drawer full of bag making supplies in your home or they're easily available locally, then I'm really happy for it to be tested anywhere in the world as the pattern is digital so can be emailed to you ready to print out. However, I'm equally happy to send you the bag snaps, piping and interfacing you'll need for the project to save you a shopping trip (in which case you'd need to be based in the UK and I would hopefully get them out to you today or tomorrow) and the only thing you'll need to provide yourself will be your choices of fabrics.

The bag comes in two sizes. The larger bag is the same size as the one I originally made for my eleven year old daughter, but the length of the bag strap can be altered to fit someone smaller or larger- so is suitable for both adults and younger children. The smaller bag is perfect for days when you just want a book, wallet and phone in your bag or for younger children who may be dwarfed by the size of the larger version. The only difference other than size between the two is that the smaller bag omits the internal zippered pockets. The larger bag measures approximately 12" high x 10½" wide, 3½ deep. The smaller bag measures 9½" high, 9" wide x 2½" deep.

If you're interested, just send me an email - flossieteacakes (at) gmail (dot) com - letting me know your sewing skill level (i.e. have you made a bag before?), which size of bag you'd be likely to make, where in the world you're based and, if you have a blog or a Flickr account, a link to that would be lovely. Also a quick confirmation that you've read the bit about it needing to be finished by the end of next week (25th November) would reassure my anxious mind!

Florence x

*** UPDATED *** Thank you for such a wonderful response and for filling my inbox within minutes! I'm amazed and delighted by your willingness to give up your time and pattern test for me. I've now contacted the few who will hopefully sew for me, but thank you all - I really appreciate it. x

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Thoughts on fabric

When, a few months ago, I was creating the gallery pages just beneath my header bar I had the odd experience of realising that my fabric choices are far more limited than I'd imagined. As I scrolled through the pages of my blog, I realised that most of my projects (because there is a great deal that doesn't come under the clothing or quilting umbrella and so remains ungalleried), if not using an anonymously unpatterned solid fabric, tends to come from just a few designers.

Anna Maria Horner crops up repeatedly and because she prints on so many substrates her fabrics can be used for every conceivable sewing purpose - they're fabrics that I've used almost constantly for the last five or six years and her designs still seem to please me in the way that they did on first seeing them - they are not outgrown easily and they don't seem to have anything that ties them to use for a certain age group (so many of my fabrics were unexpectedly outgrown as my children moved into a different phase in life). I've noticed that with each new range, while they work as completely cohesive collections, they contain a diverse range of colours and prints, so her fabrics may mean different things to different people, depending upon what you choose from the ranges. I tend to opt for the smaller-scaled, limited colour palette prints for myself, but I realised when I made Sam and Leanne's quilt and chose fabrics to suit their personalities that within the same collection one can also find lively, joyful and more free-spirited prints.

Others, I am often drawn back to, but they tend only to appear in a very particular type of project - if I'm making something Christmassy or for an older relative or a younger girl, then I appear to be drawn to Tilda fabrics - I love working with these and I adore the prints, but as they don't really fit in with our own home (nor are they printed on base cloths suitable for dressmaking) so the times when I can use them tend to be frustratingly infrequent.

I realised that in many ways my fabric choices are a reflection of my personality. I tend to choose small-print, reserved, self-contained fabrics. The exuberant swoops of colour and uncompromisingly large scale prints that ran through the Kaffe Fassett quilt I made over the summer felt thoroughly adventurous to me and I think, in retrospect, felt slightly like I was dressing up and pretending to be someone else when I sewed with it - not altogether a bad thing as sometimes it's nice to try on different hats - but not necessarily a reflection of my true self. It's an attention seeking quilt that seems to demand comment from all who pass it by and I often find myself looking at it feeling as though it's an impertinent third child who doesn't feel quite like part of our family and begins a mortifying display of showing off and throwing cartwheels just inches away from people's faces the moment visitors arrive. I feel I have to explain that it's actually the garden quilt and not really meant for indoors because it feels as though it needs explanation and some apology for its bad behaviour...but I can't quite bring myself to put it away. Where does one store a garden quilt? I don't want to put it in the garage where it will feel uninvitingly chilled and spidery when it's first brought out and laid on the grass. Reader, you may be very logically thinking: a cupboard. Unfortunately, there is currently no room at the inn in any of the downstairs cupboards.

Badly behaved Kaffe Fassett quilt
So it seems, for me at least, there's a dichotomy between what one wishes to experience sewing with and what one actually wants to be surrounded by. But I think it's a short-lived struggle - it's a dispiriting feeling to utterly enjoy the process of making something, but then to have little enthusiasm for using the final result.  A lack of space and an increasing feeling that one shouldn't acquire fabric unless it fulfils both sides of the equation means I now rarely indulge the desire to sew with fabrics that don't fit (I feel I must point out that the garden quilt didn't actually break this - it's just the issue of where to put it when it's not in use in the garden that is problematical).

And then there are Liberty prints - which feature in the photographs throughout this post. In theory these prints, other than for my daughter's tiny room, are too pastel-based to work for anything other, but actually they are some of the few pastels that I'd be happy to wear and, as bindings and small snippets, they seems to blend chameleon-like with whatever surroundings they're placed in around the house. They even seem to work perfectly for men's clothing. Their small-scale print has a similar draw as a button collection might and my eight-year old boy enjoys picking out favourites and left me feeling speechless one day when he told me that he would welcome a blue Liberty print cushion into his bedroom if I were to make one.

French General quilt in progress
Finally, I think my most recent favourite ranges added to my list of go-to's would be anything by French General (yes, that quilt is still in progress). They are the fabrics which seem to blend most seamlessly with my own home and I currently dream of making floor-length patchwork curtains from one of their ranges.

But it's all so subjective. Just as my Kaffe Fassett quilt feels badly behaved and boisterous in my house in yours it may fit in perfectly, while a quilt of small-print reserved fabrics may feel like the prissy head-girl sitting censoriously in the corner asking if everyone could please just be quiet because she's trying to work.

I don't tend to think fabric choices through this consciously - it's far more instinctive than I've made it sound here. But sometimes it's interesting to mull over choices that are normally made without thinking about whether they form a bigger picture. What fabrics are you drawn to? Do the colours and scale have any reflection on your personality? Does it make you feel like an imposter or just full of delight when you sew with fabrics outside your comfort zone? Are there any designers or collections that you can't ever imagine falling out of love with?

Florence x

Monday, 12 November 2012


The paper pieced kaleidoscope project has grown substantially over the last week - the moment everything has been done for the day, this is the thing I turn to. As eight o'clock approaches I suspect I become almost as fixated on the moment at which I can thread my needle as others may be about reaching the hour at which they can respectably uncork a bottle of wine (someone once memorably told me that 17.59 was normally an accurate timing of when this happened in her house and ever since I've had an image of her clock-watching as she went about cooking dinner for her children. It's worth clarifying that she was not an alcoholic, just possibly enjoyed that this glass of wine was a tangible thing which signified it was time to relax, just as I find with hand-sewing!).

Half way through the week the half-formed piece was substantially larger than our small tabby cat and finally, by the weekend, it had grown to the size of a Labrador puppy if it were curled and strangely hexagonal.

I still have several more rounds to go until it is completed, but finally the kaleidoscopic effect is beginning to emerge and it's this which makes me tingle with excitement. I have become rather obsessed with kaleidoscopes - both the way in which they can be created by rotating patterned fabrics (which this project doesn't allow for) and the way in which they can be formed by tessellating shapes together. I find the techniques involved in the former fascinating and I look at the prints on fabric in a different way now - thinking about their potential to be cut and turned to create new, unique patterns. I remember it wasn't so long ago that I liked very simple quilts which allowed the fabric to do the talking. I don't feel quite this way now - it's difficult to separate out whether this is because my tastes have changed visually or if I'm so drawn to thinking about the creative processes involved in more complex piecing that an appreciation of these has taken precedence over all else.

The weave of these fabrics is rather thrilling - because each colour is shot through with red, the colours look a totally different colour depending on what side you view them from. If you focus on the top left side of the heart at the top left of the photo above you can see that one side of the heart looks red while the other looks a bluey-purple. Photographs fail to capture it properly, but this is happening constantly as you shift the angle of the piece slightly; change your own position while viewing it; or if the sun suddenly shines over it. Often it will momentarily look as though I have used the wrong fabric colour for a particular piece, only to move and suddenly a different piece looks mismatched. It tends to look uniform only when viewed from straight on. It's a completely fascinating effect of the fabric.

However, the fabric is as frustrating as it is lovely and as many of the tinier pieces are over-handled due to the slow process of piecing by hand it frays maddeningly even when glued to the card beneath. It's worth saying, just in case you're considering using them yourself, I didn't experience any of these problems when using the Oakshotts for a machine pieced quilt where the fabrics were handled less and this isn't stopping me swooning over the new Lipari bundle. However, I think next time I would buy the fabrics individually, rather than as a stack - many of the oranges from the bundle of rubies I bought have gone unused, but I've now run out of the colours from which I'd wanted to form the larger outer rounds...I fear it may come to a halt while I decide how to continue and whether to spend more money replenishing the colours I need or to accept that it will have to be a smaller wall hanging than I'd first intended. I'm even considering mixing in a little of a dark red Liberty print I have as unfortunately Oakshott only sell the individual fabrics in metre lengths, which makes them prohibitively expensive for merely finishing of a project.

I love the blues and greys and blacks from the Lipari range and am considering these for my next project. Recently Cathy has been working on an eye-poppingly beautiful Museum Medallion quilt, which she's been piecing by hand, but without any papers involved. It's a completely different way of sewing to English paper piecing and apparently much quicker, so I'm eager to learn. Cathy kindly sent me some links over the weekend to get me started and I'm now eager to finish this piece so that I can begin experimenting.

If you have a favourite book or tutorial on the type of hand-sewing that I've talked of above, please do let me know - I'd love to hear.

Florence x

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Finally, after the lovely half-term break, there is time to get back on with writing up the bag pattern which I was working on before the holidays - it seems to be taking an inordinately long time.

When I initially make something as a one-off I tend to construct it in the way which feels intuitive to me at the time, but I find turning it into a pattern normally involves a total rethink of the best ways in which to construct something: where to interface and reinforce; how to keep the layers to be sewn through to a minimum for machines which may not enjoy sewing through bulk; and ironing out the little idiosyncrasies in making something that feel fine if I'm making it for myself, but aren't necessarily how it feels right to instruct other people to work.

Once I've digitised (a curiously modern word, which I feel slightly odd using) the pattern pieces I always make up a pattern several (million) times before getting to the point where I'm happy with the instructions and feel ready to take the relevant photographs to illustrate each step. Really, it's like watching a tortoise work. Every element produces a strokey beard moment, the humming of my brain threatens to drown out the sound of my husband's music downstairs and just laying my head next to the iron-on interfacing may at times provide enough heat to fuse it to the fabric. But I feel oddly happy and cocoon-like in my tortoistry.

Finally, today I worked on the bag which will appear in the pattern's photographs, which makes the end feel a little closer. Happily, it was beautiful sunshine all day, so there was no English gloom to contend with.

When I've finally finished the bag pattern I'm planning a little spate of dressmaking. Having bought the Wiksten Tova PDF earlier in the year, last week I actually printed it out - it's sitting neatly in a pile and occasionally I catch sight of it and feel an excited sense of anticipation at the prospect of making it - I have never seen a bad or ill-fitting Tova, so I feel almost entirely optimistic about it (although I find dressmaking does require the spirit of an excited puppy at the outset of every new project - there's no way I'd be able to invest all those hours in making something if I thought it wouldn't look wonderful. A selective memory is required to blank out the times when things don't go to plan!). You may be interested to know - if you don't like downloads - that Alice has started stocking the Tova pattern at her online English shop. It's horribly expensive but I believe it is beautifully packaged and having seen that several people have made numerous versions, I think it probably ends up being good value for money if you're a smock top kind of girl.

Following that I'd like to make a wool jacket (Raystitch have some beautiful reversible wool which has caught my eye) to go with a grey and orange throat warmer my sister bought for me from Brora several years ago. Each year they produce a colour chart (several of which decorate the walls of our downstairs cloakroom) and that year they called their orange 'Pumpkin' which delights me almost as much as the Becca concealer in the colourway 'Praline' - the psychology of this is wonderful as it actually makes you feel quite lovely as you daub it over any blemishes.

I think often a name can very much influence how I feel about something - it took me a long time to accept that the 'Baked Cherry' on the Little Greene paint chart wasn't actually the right shade of red for our walls, I'd just fallen in love with the name. I'm still pondering on what to call my bag pattern.

Florence x

Friday, 2 November 2012


This week we went away with my parents. We never really plan to spend every October half term together, it just happens that way because we're not quite organised enough to get ourselves together for a summer break with them. But this time of year is actually perfect for an English holiday - our expectations for sunshine are low and so we dress for warmth, brace ourselves for inclement weather and plan a delivery of wine, chocolate and other essential food items to be delivered soon after our arrival to allow for complete hibernation. Even though we often walked for miles each day, it really did feel like a hibernation holiday, with the nearest town eight miles away and no mobile phone signal (although there was wifi). Our days were punctuated by walking, a pub lunch, the making of a fire, the carving of a pumpkin or the watching of a film. The weather was a mixture of torrential rain and sudden bursts of sunshine lighting up the fields which together formed an undulating patchwork of green, breathtakingly lovely and different from the brow of each new hill we climbed.

My daughter unwittingly brought along a bug which had been circulating around her class before half-term, and which gradually spread around our holiday party, but it was a deliciously cosy setting in which to be ill and it meant that a different group of walkers set out each day, while a varying collection of patients were left curled up on sofas in front of the fire at home. On one day I stayed home to administer the paracetamol and managed several hours of hand sewing: true hardship. I sewed together some of the paper pieces from the finalised design which I'd been discussing over the last few posts. The pieces seen here will eventually form part of the inner ring of hearts, before the pattern radiates out to bigger-scale, more floral piecing. Yes, it's a slightly different pattern to the one which I showed you in the last post - it underwent one final change before I consulted friends on Instagram for a quick verdict on which I should cut the pieces for. This simpler design won.

In between packing our bags I put together what, in retrospect, amounts to several weeks' worth of paper pieces, wrapped and ready to be sewn. I love to see the chaos of the tiny pieces with a sense of the promise which they hold: knowing they will eventually transform into something ordered once joined together.
I am less enamoured by dealing with the centre point of each square where twelve seams intersect. Luckily the barn we stayed in was complete with a steam iron, which was a necessary companion in flattening the tails of the pieces into submission. As this piece is intended to be a framed wall hanging there is no need to worry over how it will be quilted or to think of bulky areas in a quilt: as long as it sits perfectly flat at the front then it's fine.

I have used a glue pen to secure the fabrics, rather than basting stitches. This worked better for the tiniest pieces. It also seemed the best option as I intend to leave the card in place so that there's no worry about it pulling out of shape while being framed. I also took along the Liberty quilt, which I continued to hand-quilt in the evening...having finished the quilting around the central medallion and between the tiny squares relatively quickly, I haven't even finished one of the four outer borders yet. I am berating myself for making the stitching so dense as I think I will be lucky to finish it by Christmas...possibly even Easter. I love how it looks, but it is moving at too slow a pace even for one who appreciates the joy in hand sewing pieces coming together at a snail's pace. I am tempted to unpick it and quilt it again using bands of stitching spaced further apart.

However, I love that there's now a holiday stitched into it as well as so many other things. Favourite memories from this week are: singing on the drive there and back to the holiday compilation CDs my husband had made; carving a pumpkin with the children; charging up the hill like a bull toward my father; hearing of how my little boy had cared for my daughter during the night when she first became ill; having human crab races across the large living area; seeing the children's glee at swinging on a rope swing found in the woods; watching from the window as my father took the children off for an early morning walk; lying in bed reading Monty Don's autobiography; adding logs to the wood burner while all the other adults were out (previously uncharted water as I'm not terribly confident with fire); seeing my mother reading to the children in the evening with them all piled into the bed; watching my father attempt to rescue my little boy from some mud which threatened to swallow him up like quicksand only for him to swing him round and deposit him barefooted in more mud, minus his wellingtons.
Finally, a realisation. I have always believed that living in less urban surroundings I would be the sort of creature who feels invigorated to go running. I have realised that I am not. I will happily run up a hill on a walk, but this week allowed me to pinpoint that I will not be a runner in any setting due to an intense dislike of putting on alternative footwear for exercise. Does anyone else suffer in this way? Or has anyone overcome such a dislike?
Florence x
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