Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A pure and supreme lard box

Before I get to the excitement of the lard box, I wanted to show you these tiles. When we took the carpets up recently to have our floors sanded, the original hearth tiles were too cracked to use and so I had to find an alternative. I loved these ones above as soon as I saw them and when I arranged them on the floor I realised that the hearts and feeling of symmetry mirrored that of the wall hanging above. A totally happiness inducing coincidence.

Last night I finally stripped back the footstool below which I'd bought a few years ago. The fabrics were horribly stained and frayed (I bought it at an antiques fair), but I loved them so much that it's taken me a long time to bring myself to strip the fabrics off and reupholster it.

When I finally got through the many layers of fabric down to the inner layer of wood I was stunned to find that this very sturdy little lidded foot stool was actually...a wooden crate for lard. Not only was it a curious and unexpected discovery, but I found it very amusing that this lard container had found its way by stealth into the home of vegetarians. The upholstered box has always felt so proper and well made that seeing it in its stripped back state reminded me of how easy it actually is to create loveliness out of what is essentially rubbish. In the last two years this stool has flitted between being a laundry bin, a foot stool and is soon to go by the front door for an interesting new purpose (more on that next week). I could happily have several of them around the house and now that I've realised how simply made it is, I'm intending to recreate it many times over. I can already foresee myself becoming whipped up into making what will be considered by everyone else in the house an overabundance of a strange collection of china figurines...only larger, more utilitarian and harder to hide from onlookers as they eventually find their way through the front door barred by rows of footstools. I need more lard boxes. Does anyone know of a good source for such a thing?

I felt compelled to research the lard box and found that it appears that it may have come from around 1890 and found its way over to England from America. (And yes, I realised afterwards that it's best not to strip a very old box over a pale rug, but luckily the sawdust and lint did all come up. Avert your eyes, Mama).

Because this box has had uses in so many different rooms in the house and blended in well in all of them, I wanted to find a similar fabric. I chose a woven material that has a cross-stitched look to it and shares the pinky cream tones of the original.

And here it is in its last week as a foot stool.

Oddly, when I went to find a picture of the footstool as it had originally looked when I'd bought it in May 2011, I came across a photo of this room before the colour red had infiltrated it. I couldn't believe quite how different it has become without my really noticing. I think I am now officially a person whose whole house is not cream.

For the last few months the bowl in the alcove has been filled with satsumas and clementines and I've enjoyed the cheerful orange every time I've looked at it, but unfortunately my family have now turned their attention to other fruits and so the bowl sits empty again. I wish the bowl had some strippable layers as I've always wondered what might be inside that. My husband and I bought it from one of our favourite shops when we lived in Islington over a decade again. Every now and then it makes strange clicking and crackling noises as though the pottery is alive. After the lard box surprise I'm now waiting for it to reveal itself as a semi-dormant magic porridge pot. Or perhaps a beef stew.

Florence x

Thursday, 21 February 2013

My other blog

It seems like such a long time since I've visited my own blog...and indeed it is nearly three weeks! It also feels like weeks since I've sewn anything, but in reality I spent several days turning one of the Squeebles (the characters in the educational apps my husband designs for children) into three-dimensional form. I'm not naturally drawn to making stuffed creatures, so somehow it doesn't satisfy my desire to sew in the same way that working on a quilt, a dress or a bag might, however, I did enjoy the challenge of doing this. And it was a challenge.

You would not believe quite how many versions of this character lie abandoned in various stages of construction on my desk, but finally I came up with something that met with my husband's approval and, more importantly, that my children finally declared did actually look like Whizz.

To get his nice rounded bottom, I was able to transfer some of my dress pattern drafting knowledge to drafting the pattern - there's something satisfying about finding an area where skills from different disciplines of sewing can cross over!

Anyway, Whizz is now the prize in a competition where we're asking children to create a picture of the house that they imagine their favourite Squeeble may live in. In case you're interested, as I know several readers whose children do use the Squeebles apps, the competition is here...which brings me neatly around to mentioning the other blog which I started writing several weeks ago. A Squeebles blog is an idea my husband and I have been talking about for the last year or so, and last month I finally sat down to write the first post in the voice of Whizz, the little red character you can see above. I have to admit that whenever my own children have asked me to tell them stories made up from my head, my heart always sank a little. My imagination seemed to instantly go into a state of paralysis and my inclination was to wrap things up with 'and they all lived happily ever after' three sentences into the story. So it has come as a complete surprise to me that when I'm writing the story down, rather than attempting to tell it directly from my head, it's actually something I love doing and ideas seem to pop into my head in a surprisingly free-flowing way!

Having two blogs shouldn't mean I'm here any less - I've increasingly been splitting my time between sewing and working for husband for several months now and the two seem to co-exist quite happily (not least because a lot of our work involves planning out game play and discussing ideas, which seems almost an invitation to sit hand-sewing). My absence recently has been more because a third element of having a stream of workmen in our house has thrown everything into chaos slightly and when they finally left, half-term began.

There will be more upheaval and change in exactly nine days time (we're counting...some of us more nervously than others, but it's currently like the countdown to Christmas day in our house, only possibly more exciting), but I'll tell you about that in my next post.

Florence x

Monday, 4 February 2013

On quilting wadding

I think everyone eventually finds their favourite wadding that they automatically turn to buy when they're working on something special. Mine is Quilter's Dream Puff. I'd never realised until this weekend though, quite how much wadding choice can make or break a quilt, or how differently it can make the quilting stitches appear.

When it came to quilting my Rouenneries quilt my first thought was simply that I would use my favourite batting. Quilter's Dream Puff is light and warm but with an exceptionally high loft - giving a quilt the lightweight feel of an eiderdown but without quite so much bulk. It arrived speedily from here and I went to work creating a quilt sandwich.

Something about the quilt top is a little off and it isn't one of those well behaved tops that just lies flat. It seemed to take hours of smoothing and chasing a small wrinkle of surplus fabric around trying to smooth it out to the edges. When it was finally perfectly smooth I began hand quilting it. The medallions stood proud like large bulbous little mushroom tops, so satisfying to touch. I stayed up until 1am hand-quilting and eventually went to bed feeling that something wasn't quite right, even though I couldn't stop stroking those tactile mushrooms of fabric.

My overwhelming feeling was that although I normally aspire to puffiness, for this quilt it wasn't quite right. The very centre of this quilt is based on a pattern in Brigitte Giblin's beautiful book, Feathering the Nest and I kept returning to thought that she'd written that in her quilts she often used no batting at all. I hadn't actually liked this idea, as I tend to make quilts for comfort, but it started playing on my mind that perhaps her reasoning for this was because it suited the quilts better. The quilts in Brigitte's book are mostly based on very old quilts and  I wonder now if the reason it didn't look right is because when one attempts to emulate an antique quilt with an obviously traditional style, one also needs to stay sympathetic to the batting that would have been available at the time to create a reproduction that feels entirely right to the eye. So I unpicked all my stitches and removed the batting. Painful.

I wanted to use flannel sheeting inside the quilt to give a lovely, soft drape, however, that wasn't available locally in the width I needed, so instead I went for Quilter's Dream Cotton batting in the 'request weight' which is their thinnest, lowest loft batting. It works well, although I still would have preferred it a little thinner. I think the stitching and lack of puff (in the photos below and the one above) are more the look I was hoping for.

I repeated the trauma of achieving a perfectly smooth quilt sandwich, but omitted to spray baste the top layer and stuck to pins to make it easier to reposition while I was smoothing out the wrinkles. This was a mistake...I've now done several hours of hand quilting fitted in here and there and am coming to the conclusion that I want to take all the stitches out as pin basting alone (I usually do both) just doesn't give quite the flat, smooth work surface I'm used to. I'm unsure if I'm fustulating over small things, but I wonder if you have a sense of the fabric not having been pulled quite smooth and taut enough in the photo above? Once washed this lack of smoothness would normally be absorbed by fabric shrinkage...but with that comes the antiqued wrinkly look...again, something I'm not sure suits this quilt. I'm wondering how those very old quilts didn't seem to have shrinkage wrinkles in them after washing. Perhaps they were never washed?

Previously I've always quilted things in the way that pleases me and which suits my own idea of what a quilt should be...with reproduction quilting it feels like the ground shifts a little and I have a feeling of wanting it to look 'right' that means I can't necessarily follow my usual paths.I'm feeling slightly irritated by my own fussiness over this - I think in part it's because I've really loved this quilt up until this point (pictured unquilted below) and now feel I could quite easily ruin all that work.

Anyway, lovelies, if you've made it through all that you may be feeling as tired by this quilt as I do. Or just tired by me...I actually still love the quilt, I think its myself that's infuriating me here.

Florence x

Ps. From Danielle's comment I don't think I'd been clear in my post, but if you have any to offer, then I would welcome advice or suggestions. x
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