Monday, 25 March 2013

A bed for Nell

Finally, here are some photos of Nell in her bed of Liberty Tana lawn, Oakshott and raspberry-ripple tweed. While I hope that I really have always been conscious that Nell is not a cat, her bed testing processes confirmed this to me in a way where there could be no doubt left in my mind. The initial stage of bed trialling is endearingly human: it involves enthusiastically leaping on to the bed and then repositioning one's self several times, pausing briefly with each turn to assess that it is in fact comfortable whether lying on one's side, back or front. I'm sure I saw her smiling at this stage as she lay and appreciated it for a moment, which did a lot to warm a dog-bed maker's heart.

The next stage was more surprising and the time at which she confirmed that not only was she was a dog, but a direct and discernible descendent of the wolf.

There was rabid clawing at the pillow; a successful attempt to remove the pillow from the bed; enthusiastic and rigorous testing of all the seams of the tweed border to the bed beneath the pillow; chewing, pulling and gnawing of all fabrics; frantic scrabbling at the base of the bed to check if it was possible to tunnel through to the floorboards beneath; and finally playing a hiding game beneath the pillow to see if my worried and confused face was still there when she emerged. The entire process took over two hours of solid and frenzied activity (I didn't watch for the whole of that time, but my husband assured me that the activity was unceasing). However, the bed is still in one piece and has passed all her structural engineering tests for durability and my nerves remain un-frayed because, despite my being slightly startled by just how comprehensive her testing was, I had made it with the attitude that once it was finished it was her bed to treat how she wished. There are so many things in the house that we try to control her behaviour around (books, sofas, cupboards, skirting boards, people's ankles) that I knew it wouldn't be fair to add her own bed to this list.

And now that the testing is over, mainly, she just happily lies on it in a normal - not human or cat, but a sweetly doggish - way and seems to be a calmer presence for being cocooned in Liberty prints as she rests. Although there are differing opinions on this matter, as my husband suggests it's more likely to be the result of having a larger bed to recline on.

The bed is far more girly than I'd intended for it to be. The prints were chosen almost entirely at random and the only criteria was that they were heavy and intense enough to work in our red room. However, when I got to the borders, the only scraps of Oakshott that I had in a large enough quantity and which worked with the existing colours, was this rather bright pink one. And then once that was in place, the only thing I could imagine putting around the edges was a doughnut of pink tweed, which amazingly, I found hidden amongst the bolts of fabric in my local fabric shop exactly as I'd imagined it.

Here you can see the full effect of the Scrappy Trip around the World patchwork - I love the design this creates, which isn't particularly evident close up.

Making a bed that I knew may last as little as a week or as long as a year made me think a lot about why we make things and quite how often creating something may be more about the process than the intended purpose. So many of us spend months working on something and then are happy to give it away almost the moment it's finished, even if we may never see it again. Often, this is because, as well as the enjoyment derived in the process of making it, we're left with the feeling that we have given a tangible piece of 'care' to someone. Other times, whatever I'm thinking about while I'm sewing, in the backdrop is always the recipient - in this case afterwards I wondered whether I'd subconsciously chosen to make something for Nell that would take days to complete so that I could try and slowly untangle my feelings about having this new little creature in our home. And then there are the times when the need to sew is just so overwhelming that I'm not sure whether anything other than pure obsession or a desire to work with particular fabric prints comes into it. What makes you sew? Does any of this ring true for you? I know when I first began sewing I would enjoy the process of making things so much that I would frequently make things in fabrics that looked out of place in their surroundings and that really served no purpose. I quickly changed my tack on this as having a drawer of finished, but ultimately unloved, pieces felt wasteful. William Morris' take of not giving house space to anything that isn't either useful or that I believe to be beautiful is a maxim which I tend to try and sew by.

While this was a rather self-indulgent project, it wasn't a hideously costly way of Nell having a new bed - my stash of Liberty fabrics has mostly been built up buying from places where it's not priced so very differently from a regular quilting cotton (Shaukats and Fabrics Galore price their Tana lawn at around £12 per metre in store) and making this from scraps made only a very small dent in that stash. The tweed and stuffing came to far less than a nice shop-bought bed from the pet shop. The only real expense and extravagance was my time.

Last week my husband and I went up to London for a meeting and before we dashed home he insisted that we pay a visit to the chocolate room in Liberty (this is something of a ritual for him and he does it every time he goes to a meeting in London, irrespective of whether I'm with him). After he'd made his selection I was permitted ten minutes up in the sewing department. We happened to spot some exquisitely beautiful dog beds up there. We stood staring at them in a way that put us in danger of wearing holes in their divine Harris tweed sides and used up at least 2 of my ten minutes. However, at £295, making Nell's dog bed from my beloved Liberty stash seems positively thrifty (although, I do think that these beds are so incredibly beautiful that if you have a life where you can afford to pay £295 for a dog's bed, then it would be worth every penny). I bought nothing from the sewing department as I'm too indecisive to purchase anything in eight minutes, however, my husband did buy me a Liberty print handkerchief (I'm allergic to tissues so I love these), which was my prize for accumulating the most points over the previous week in our tense and fast-paced household game of 'Who Can Spot that Nell Needs to be Taken Out to the Loo First'.

Finally, did you know that Google Reader is closing down? This is the reader that I've always used so I'm sad to see it go. However, after a bit of research I'm now using Bloglovin' as my new reader, which, although it takes a little getting used to, is actually far better (even though I don't warm to the name). If you'd like to follow my blog on Bloglovin' you can click on the link below:

Follow on Bloglovin

And just in case you're not familiar with what a blog reader is, it's a central place where you can keep track of all the blogs you like to read. You simply follow them on the reader (in this case Bloglovin') and it will then update you as soon as there's a new post on one of your favourite blogs.

Florence x

Friday, 22 March 2013

New sewing tools & some links

Having prematurely wished you a good weekend yesterday, I've found myself back here sooner than I'd expected. I wanted to share a few new tools I used when making the patchwork for Nell's bed that I'd talked about in my last post. Even though none of these products are stocked by any of my sponsors, telling you about new supplies that I like always makes me feel as though I'm a door-to-door salesman setting out his wares, because if something is worth writing about then I tend to only have positive things to say about it, which can sound like I'm actually attempting to sell you something! (Perhaps a better comparison may be to a Jehovah Witness - a deviant one who only worships Sewing - where I appear compelled to convert people to see the wonder of something that I've fallen in love with myself and can be found evangelising about it in their feed readers. Oh dear.)

Indeed, I did once buy some bright yellow dusting cloths from a man who appeared on my doorstep selling his wares who was apparently attempting to reform himself after a spell in prison. It was raining, he was smiley and I felt bad for him. When I washed the dusters a few weeks later I found that they had got their vivid yellow colour from being dyed, but not set, with turmeric and the entire load of coloured washing was stained with a vile yellow tint that meant all of it had to go in the bin. That has very little to do with the sewing supplies mentioned below, as no turmeric seems to have been involved in their production, but the memory of it popped into my head with the mention of door-to-door salesmen... and really, these sewing products will make your housework so much easier, love!

The first is the June Tailor Shape Cut Plus - I bought this on a whim last November thinking it may be useful. It is one the best spontaneous purchases I've ever made. It's a cutting grid with a difference: as you can see it has grooves for your rotary cutter to travel down (note the tear drop slots at the bottom, which make it easy to cut and ensure your rotary cutter starts in the right place and doesn't cut the grid itself). I bought a grid that has cutting lines 1/2" apart, but I believe there are others available. Anyway, when you're bulk cutting strips, rather than repositioning a standard grid to make each new cut, you can simply place the Shape Cut Plus at the fabric edge and whizz along making your cuts without ever having to reposition the fabric or grid. I cut this pieced block into 1.5" strips in under 20 seconds. It almost certainly means cutting is quicker and more accurate (you can see some longer stacked strips I was cutting in the photo at the top of this post).  You can see a video of the Shape Cut in action here.

Onwards to see what else I have in my duffle bag! The new sewing machine that my husband put beneath the tree as a Christmas gift came with a stitch-in-the-ditch foot, which I've been excited to try out. I have doubts over the logic of stitching-in-the-ditch (which is basically stitching in the dip where two seams meet), as to me it seems as though over time the new stitch may act like a saw over the original piecing stitch and weaken the seams, however, for an invisible quilting finish it seems like a good thing. Anyway, my priority with Nell's bed was that it sound be very strong (with aspirations to indestructibility), so I decided that every single patch should be quilted just a fraction in from the seam line. I was able to use my stitch-in-the-ditch foot by allowing the guide to travel in the ditch, but shifting my needle position over a little so that the stitches formed just to the edge of the ditch.

You can see the foot above and the guide, which runs in the ditch. It works wonderfully and made the quilting a relatively quick job.

To my mind, if something is this densely quilted (and I put a layer of soft iron-on interfacing behind the patchwork too) it's almost like creating a new solid fabric, rather than a fragile, pieced patchwork...I'd say almost dog-worthy.

I then reinforced the Oakshott around the sides with some straight-line quilting. And next week I will finally show you the finished bed...maybe even with Nell inside it! (this is just the cushion to go inside, it actually has a large donut around it as she seems to prefer this to the flat mattress style beds as she looks for a slightly raised chin rest (normally my husband's feet or shoes) wherever she lies.

While on the subject of new tools, I was given these beautiful extra fine Clover pins in my stocking at Christmas. I love Clover products - they always seem to be so well designed and such good quality. They come in a sweet box and have lovely translucent pin heads. I'd been told Clover pins were superior because they were finer...but actually I didn't notice any difference at all, even when pinning fine Tana lawn...they just look pretty to use. 

Finally, I leave you with a few links: I'd like to introduce my lovely new sponsor, Minerva Crafts; to point you in the direction of Ali's Compound Word Project, where the game has now started (I was delighted to be one of her many photographers tasked with coming up with an image for the project - you can see the diptych my photo features in here); to share the page (above) on which I was featured in Sewing World magazine this month; and to alert you to the amazing competition Colette Patterns are running to celebrate the launch of their new shift dress pattern, Laurel. And finally, some eye candy for the weekend - don't you love this quilt made by Rita's (or Red Pepper Quilts) mother-in-law. I keep returning to look at it, so it feels worth sharing just in case you've missed it yourself. 

Florence x

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Scrappy Trip around the World

Last Friday, when it seemed like everyone else has returned from making their Scrappy Trip around the World quilts and were now staying at home to begin a Marcelle Medallion,  I finally packed my rucksack and embarked on a solo, unfashionably-late trip around the world of my own. I can now see why so many people have made a bee-line for this pattern - it's totally addictive and the end result is stunning...and you really can put it together with scraps, without too much thought about a colour scheme. 

There has been so little sewing going on in my house recently that by last Friday I felt there was an actual need to sew in order for me to be a normal person over the weekend. The moment I began to get my boxes of material out and had constructed a nest around me, that only a mess of fabric seems capable of creating in just the right way, I began to feel my equilibrium return. 

The purpose of my sewing was a dog bed for Nell as she has nearly outgrown the one that Polly gave us for her. It may seem indulgent to give a dog your best Liberty fabric or to spend quite so many hours of your time piecing together something involving 1" squares (I reduced the scale of the pattern, as only fiddly would do that day), but this had very little to do with Nell or what the end product was to be, and everything to do with me having a need to sew with some Tana lawn and to work on something absorbing. 

It was so gloomy outside that to be inside with the lights on was thoroughly cosy. I listened to The Lumineers on repeat (does anyone else love The Lumineers - can you recommend anything similar I might like so that I can alternate them with something else?), cut fabric, sewed strips, cut more fabric, laid strips out ready to be sewn, and then lined up seams in a repetitive whirl of happiness. 

Until finally I had some finished blocks. 

This pattern only comes to life once you start placing the blocks next to one another. The blocks can be put together in a myriad of different ways - below are just two of the combinations I played around with. 

And here they are once they're sewn together. 

The overall colour is insanely intense and I love it. Despite the fact that little Nell is currently like a small feral wolf who will not appreciate either, I decided that the possibility of combining the Tana lawn with some Oakshott was too irresistible to leave untried. Before you despair at this level of impracticality, I think I completely solved all of those issues with the way I quilted it, but that's for another post. 

Mid-construction, here's a photo of our beautiful tabby appreciating Liberty and Oakshott in a quiet, reserved and respectful way. I finally finished the bed today and Nell's reaction was slightly less like a patron in a gallery and more like...well a wild dog in a dog bed. It was highly amusing and she never fails to shock me with quite how un-cat-like she is. But I'd been bracing myself for that - as I said earlier in my post, making this wasn't about the end result, it was all about enjoying the process. 

Wishing you a lovely weekend, 
Florence x

Thursday, 7 March 2013


Thank you so much for your lovely comments on my post about Nell. Yesterday it was my birthday. My sister sent me, along with some other gorgeous things, a bag of shiny Liberty coins to spend in store - isn't this the most amazing form of gift voucher. My son's eyes widened when he saw them as though I'd opened pirates' treasure and declared them too lovely to spend. 

What did I do for my 36th birthday? We bathed Nell so that she'd be sweeter smelling; I bought brownies from our favourite cafe; I made gnocchi with a blue cheese sauce; and I played football with the dog and children in the garden as it was an unseasonably warm day. I also signed up to be a photographer for (Domestic) Ali's compound word project.

It was a low-key birthday as one of us had to be at home at all times with Nell, but my day was already made when I opened this bundle of cards from my daughter in the morning - when I looked inside one of them arms sprang open and I was greeted by a wonderfully designed top too - look at that gorgeous yoke! Her cards go down in my mental list of favourite presents ever (the lego sewing machine remains they made me for Christmas several years ago remains my most treasured).

My husband made his own wrapping paper and tied my presents with string from his greenhouse.

And the cat sat on the bed in her usual place looking gorgeous. Nell has nearly outgrown the Liberty print covered bed that Polly left at our house, so I think it may be necessary to make her something new soon...I am drawn toward using Liberty prints again, but first I must attempt to set it into my mind that I will need to sew with an awareness that my work may be eaten or gnawed upon. That is not the easiest of tasks.

Florence x

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


This is Nell, our 8 week old golden retriever puppy who came to live with us on Saturday. Her presence in our house is something of a surprise to all of us, as I've never liked dogs. When I was younger my grandparents ran a farm in the north of England where my father had grown up and, having bumped our way down the track to the farmhouse, our arrival into the muddy yard was invariably met by their excitable border collies. There were two fundamental problems with this: the first being that I have always had an overwhelming dislike of mud and the second was that one of the dogs had always been referred to as being 'nippy' and so I would attempt to be escorted into the farmhouse clinging to my father's leg in sheer terror, while my father seemed equally determined to loosen my limpet grip, no doubt slightly embarrassed by what his family may make of his rather wet town-dwelling daughters. I often implored him to park as near to the farmhouse as possible, but that rarely happened and running the gauntlet from car to front door (they were outdoor working dogs so once inside we were safe) was so traumatic that, once inside, my sister and I would settle down for the weekend in front of the fire in the sitting room and work our way through my grandmother's large stack of Bella magazines, the pages of which seemed to be filled solely with the sordid details of lives gone wrong (true life stories of murders, affairs and other awful things) that were both shocking and fascinating to young teenagers whose normal reading fodder didn't expand far beyond Judy Blume. We would rarely venture out of the confines of the farmhouse until it was time to dash back to the safety of the car two days later.

I have happily ignored the existence of dogs for most of my life, although, as our children have grown up, over the last five years an increasing number of family friends began getting dogs and I slowly became aware that my husband seemed to have a dog magnet in him and once in the company of a Labrador his whole face and demeanour seemed to change into that of a joyfully happy, grinning lunatic. My daughter was the same. My husband's campaign for a dog has been a long-running, but subtle one, run with low expectations as to the success of the outcome.

But more recently several things happened to change my stance on dog ownership. Firstly, since my husband has worked from home for the last 18 months I've become increasingly aware of how much a dog would benefit his life, both in terms of daytime company and a reason to get out at lunchtime - he is a naturally outdoorsy person and his life-long compromise to me is that we don't, and never will, live in a remote part of Scotland. Then at Christmas, we came home from an afternoon spent with his favourite chocolate Labrador and he mentioned in passing the feeling of having a dog-shaped hole in his heart...he is not normally prone to such sentimental comments and I was left privately mulling how comfortable I felt with being the wife who happily ignores this hole. Finally, some friends with a puppy asked us to look after it for the day. They deposited her in our house and at the start of the day I felt only a detached curiosity about her, but by the end, I could see a unique personality, rather than simply 'dog'. When they came to collect her at teatime, our clever (but devious) friend Polly noticed that I had fallen in love with her puppy's dog bed, which she'd recovered with a Liberty Tana lawn fabric, and insisted that she leave it with us in case we ever got a dog of our own as she claimed that her puppy had nearly outgrown it. Combining Liberty prints with dog paraphernalia is possibly the most underhand ploy I've ever come across and my husband owes a lot to Polly (Nell can be seen in the bed in the photo below).

Anyway, one evening I surprised my husband and myself by agreeing to the idea in principle if we could find a breed that suited all of us. A lot of a dog's nature will be down to the dog as an individual, but I felt if we picked the breed carefully we had a better chance of owning a dog that suited our family. We spent hours every evening researching. Our children just wanted something that was 'sooooo cute', which meant their needs could be relatively easily fulfilled. I wanted something that was not known for showing signs of aggression toward other animals and people and that had a calm nature once the puppy phase was over. I also wanted a dog that was small, didn't moult and wasn't prone to chewing furniture. My husband wanted a dog that was highly intelligent and trainable...and he wanted a dog that felt substantial, like a Labrador. Our research concluded that there is no breed that meets all those criteria, particularly as it would be hard for even the most eager-to-please dog to be both small and yet large at the same time.

Eventually, I compromised on the lack of smallness, the moulting issue and the possibility of having my house eaten, where a golden retriever fails miserably on every count, and my husband compromised on...erm, nothing, because a golden retriever fulfils all the other criteria perfectly and really if you're going to fulfil your dreams then you may as well do it with the dog you really want rather than compromising (initially he would have been equally happy with a Labrador, but that was ruled out by me on the grounds that they tend to be livelier than Golden Retrievers and I am a creature who craves calm). It helps that I had always liked the kind faces of the Golden Retrievers that I saw in the street even in my dog-fearing days.

We eventually found what sounded to be the perfect breeders after a week of phone calls. I happened to ring to enquire if they had any puppies on the morning they were born and I could hear their funny newborn yelping noises in the background and it seemed like serendipity. We met our puppy's mum and all fell in love with her and were able to visit the puppies several times over the next eight weeks until one would be old enough to come home with us. In those eight weeks I sent myself on a crash course intended to leave me understanding and liking dogs more than I ever had before. I watched dog programmes obsessively on iPlayer (The Secret Life of Dogs and the series, Extraordinary Dogs); I began reading my husband's puppy training manuals at bedtime; I spoke to my dog-loathing mother who assured me that it was absolutely the right decision and that she felt we would all fall in love with her; I ran nearly every worry I had in my head past Kate and my other dog-owning friends and to every worry I received reassuring answers; and I began trying to work out which breeds certain dogs might be when I saw them in the street and looking at their faces to try to see what it might be about them that their owners had fallen in love with. And it worked, because I actually began smiling at dogs, in the way that I've always smiled when I've passed a newborn baby in the street!

And now Nell is here and it doesn't feel anything like as foreign as I'd expected it to feel to have her in our home. She is sweet-natured, gentle and mostly (unexpectedly, as she is only 8 weeks old) calm. She runs in such a ridiculous, puppyish way that it's hard not to fall in love with her. Even her awful doggy breath does not deter me from cuddling her. My husband is thoroughly happy. She seems drawn to be by his feet and when he's not here she seeks out a pair of his shoes to lie on. And of course, our children adore her, because she is 'soooooo cute'.

And just in case you were wondering, our cat who lives on our daughter's bed still lives happily on our daughter's bed with little change to her life and our other cat who we had worried may either attempt to eat the puppy or leave home, has actually been nothing but curious, coming and sitting nearby to watch her while she plays and silently padding around her to get a closer look when she sleeps.

I think by nature I am still very much a cat person, but as Jacqui (a fellow cat person, who owns a dog) said to me recently, you don't need to be a dog person, you just need to be a person who loves your dog. It's a relief to find that, just as everyone said I would, I do feel rather smitten with Nell.

Florence x
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