Monday, 30 September 2013

A quilt patch

When I was writing the post about my daughter's Liberty Print birthday quilt, I realised that I'd forgotten to make a quilt patch for it, so here it is, finished just in time for her birthday. I actually made it last weekend, when everyone was out of the house and I had several hours of pure, unadulterated sewing time. There was music*, the heating was turned on and there was a wonderful feeling of being back in my sewing cocoon, which I don't find time to retreat into as often as I'd like at the moment.

I made a border of tiny, tiny squares of Tana lawn, which felt like ridiculously good fun, as it fulfilled my favourite project criteria of being both miniature and utilising Liberty fabric. These tiny squares make me think of Tutti Frutti sweets, before they started making them using more natural colourings.

It felt such a long time since I'd done any appliqué and writing with my sewing machine that I had to remind myself how it all worked (I've just noticed that my daughter's name is covered with two different seam rippers in these photos...tip-of-the-iceberg-evidence of my library of mistake-unpickers). [Amended to say after Kate's comment: This isn't actually an embroidery machine and the in-built letter stitches are, sadly, too ugly and badly-formed to use. You can write like this on the most basic of machines by using a closed satin stitch, lowering the top tension, sewing at a snail's pace and raising the foot to turn the fabric very, very frequently. It took me around two hours to write the words on this quilt patch, so it's not a fast option, but quite satisfying if you like fiddly things].

My husband made my daughter a birthday cake that had a similar feel to the quilt patch, or at least half of it did. 

This photo was taken from above, but the sides were entirely covered too. Two days later when she had friends over for dinner, he made her another cake, this time entirely covered in chocolate sweets. My daughter had been given an extraordinary cake decoration by her Great Aunt and Uncle, which we jokingly put on the top, but were then wowed by quite how incredible it was. It was made from lurid pink plastic and when we first lit it a firework of sparkles shot directly up into the air. The flower then began to spin, the petals unfurled until they were spread out as they are in the photo below and a very tinny rendition of Happy Birthday could be heard coming from somewhere inside the flower. Despite it being neither tasteful nor stylish, I'm considering buying one for all our future birthdays as it made everyone squeal with laughter and had an odd synthetic magic to it - I think the unveiling of the annual flower decoration could be a family tradition that we'd all welcome. Just in case you're keen to get your paws on your own singing flower decoration, you can find one here. It will make your cheeks ache with laughter.

Florence x

* I was listening to Passenger, whom I love. However, my husband loathes them on the basis that they rhyme the word 'rocket' with 'pocket' in two different songs. This causes ranting and contempt not only on the grounds that he believes it a staggering display of songwriting laziness to not think up a new rhyme, but also that he adds insult to injury by using, what my husband believes to be, an affected cockney accent when saying the words rocket and pocket. It's easier to overlook these misdemeanours when my husband is out of the house, so not only was it a good morning for sewing, but it was a good morning for Passenger songs.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A jacket for Dame Judi

The opportunities for hand-sewing just keep on coming. At the weekend I got the chance to cut into the beautiful boiled wool that Dorte sent me for my jacket (my mother-in-law swept in and took care of the children, as well as doing all their homework with them, leaving me with some much-needed time to sew. Sewing while hearing all the things you should be doing, being done, is even better than just sewing. In the same way that lying in bed is made even nicer by hearing someone vacuuming downstairs (which has only happened once, but the memory of it has stayed with me as it was such a good one).

This is going to be a, hopefully unbroken, version of the broken jacket. While in retrospect I'm not convinced that the boiled wool needs any lining as it's actually thick enough to keep you toasty on its own, I plumped for underlining, rather than lining this jacket. If you're not sure of the difference, a lining is where you make up a replica of the garment and then sew the two together with all the seams hidden away neatly inside, while underlining means that you sew the lining fabric to the outer fabric at the outset and then treat the two fabrics as one.

I've worked with this lining fabric many times before, but using it as an underlining made me unexpectedly aware of quite what a slippery customer it is. When I attempted to sew it to the boiled wool, not only did it move around all over the place no matter how well I'd pinned it, but the wool began to distort its shape as I manhandled it through the sewing machine: it was an ugly situation that caused much cursing.

Eventually, the way around it was to gas myself as I directed huge amounts of starch spray in the direction of the lining fabric, leaving it feeling as crisp as a piece of paper and myself feeling delightfully intoxicated by the overpowering scent of fresh bedlinen (only without the benefit of actually having any freshly starched sheets). From there, I used quilt batting spray (more intoxication) to adhere it to the wool fabric. I then stood at the table and hand-basted the two layers together using a large tacking stitch, being careful to leave the fabrics lying flat so that I didn't distort the shapes. Once basted, I could cut them out and overlocked the edges so that the fray-prone lining had a neat edge to it.

I'd decided to underline the jacket as I thought it would be quicker and less problematic when it came to dealing with the tricksy collar area. However, this tactic leads to a number of exposed seams which need to be dealt with by hand, so that the stitches aren't visible on the jacket outer.

To do this I cut down the seam allowances and then hand-sewed a binding over the top of them. It's actually so satisfying finishing clothing by hand and allows for all sorts of imaginings...primarily that one is a seamstress at The House of Elliot or even a highly skilled couturier, hand-stitching something for Judi Dench to wear to the Oscars. I have no idea quite why Judi Dench is my wearer of choice, other than that I think she might actually hang it up properly when she takes it off at the end of the evening, rather than leaving it in a pile on the bathroom floor.

I'm now not too far off finishing...with just the hemming and buttonholes to go. The buttonholes are proving problematic though as the automatic buttonhole on my machine is misbehaving and seems unable to cope with the different thicknesses of fabric which surround the area where the buttonhole is to be made. More cursing. More spraying of starch in order to produce the stiff upper lip needed to face attempt number 977 of creating a buttonhole. It's not so much Florence and the Machine, more Florence Against the Machine. I'm not sure my lip is well primed enough to finish the battle though, as I'm considering avoiding machined buttonholes altogether and creating bound buttonholes instead.

Florence x

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Finally, a finished quilt

Darlings, I've finished it. I started this quilt in July 2012 when the Olympics were on. Three months later I'd pieced together the quilt top and had moved on to hand-quilting it...and then I got horribly stuck. When I'd started the hand-quilting I'd made my rows of stitching less than 1/4" apart and it gradually dawned on me that it would take me hundreds of hours to be able to finish it.

While I'd found the white borders around the central medallion fun to quilt, my enthusiasm wained when I began quilting the borders which frame the piecing and I felt overwhelmed by how much work it would require to finish I left it carefully folded away in a bag under our bed for nearly around ten months. It was only when my daughter asked if I'd mind finishing it for her 12th birthday (having missed her last birthday with it) that I knew I had to start work on it again. I considered unpicking all my stitches and re-quilting it with lines of quilting spaced further apart so that it would be a quicker process. The fact that I didn't do this is in no small part thanks to the encouragement not to do so that I received here on my blog and over on Instagram (most especially, Helen, who was particularly forceful - I'm grateful for this as it would have felt like a compromise after I'd done it). Once I'd started hand-quilting it for the second time, I actually fell in love with the process all over again and it's been a totally enjoyable experience. With a birthday deadline to meet, I've stitched it nearly every evening and every weekend for the last month, staying up many nights until the early hours of the morning watching films on Netflix in order to get it finished. Such fun - I'm bereft now it's all over.

I find it an impossible task to photograph something as big as a quilt (and have much admiration for others who do it so well) and pictures that show what it looks like as a whole seem to lose the feel of the quilt as the moment I photograph it from a distance the beautiful Liberty prints are lost. My husband tried to help me to photograph it outside, but the colours got lost in the light, which is strange when it's gloomy today. Any tips for photographing whole quilts?

If you're interested in seeing any of the stages this quilt went through to make it you can find them here:

Cutting the squares which make up the rest of the quilt
Deciding the squares were too big and so resizing them all (!)

But really, a finished quilt is not finished until it has been photographed with a cat on it.

I could just gobble up her tiny cuteness. This cat has the most alarming ability to make fabric, or maybe it's just my sewing, look an awful lot more lovely. I may start getting her to sit next to me when I'm modelling any dressmaking in the future.

The danger of taking so long to finish a quilt is that you can fall out of love with the fabrics. I feel grateful that my daughter still adores these Liberty prints, because there's another quilt beneath my bed that's still waiting to be finished and I'm sad to say that I don't love the fabrics in the same way that I did when I first started the project. Maybe if I leave it there for twenty years I'll come full circle?

I'm now looking forward to wrapping this up, ready for my daughter's birthday. Although I've just realised I still have to make a quilt patch for it.

I have several things stacked up to be worked on next: one is to start my next paper piecing wall hanging, which some of you recently helped me choose the colours for; another is a jacket made from the delicious boiled wool from Dragonfly fabrics which featured in my last post; and then there's the reality knit from Miss Matatabi, which I'm still trying to decide whether to make into a blanket or a dress.

Thank you for all your encouragement with this quilt. I'm ashamed to say that, without it, I may have taken the easier route and machine quilted it.

Florence x

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Autumn dressmaking

Making plans for October I happened to peep at what the next page on my calendar would be. My calendar has been a disappointment this year - rather than pictures, it's snippets of poetry or book extracts, which are lovely, but I'm guilty of not really noticing them in the way that I would a picture as I pass it by in a hurry each day. However, I love the George Elliot quote that's coming up next:

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it and if I were a bird, I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

While I love summer and how much freer the children can be, how much happier my husband is and how the world seems to become a bigger place, it also makes me feel claustrophobic. I feel stifled by the heat and tired by how heavy and cumbersome it feels to have a body, in a way that I don't at any other time of the year (yes, I realise that makes me sound like a freak). When the first signs of autumn appear, for me, they are met every year (especially when we have had a proper, hot summer) with a sigh of relief and a feeling of being ready to embrace the plummeting temperatures and a return to full energy. Shallow beast that I am, I am also inordinately delighted by being able to put away my summer clothes and revel in exploring forgotten favourites that I put away in April or May. I love the fine knitted jumpers, cosy scarves, the fitted jackets or thick cardigans that are perfect for this time of year before it gets too cold, and I adore putting on my favourite boots again. 

I'd mentioned that I wanted to make a non-broken version of this summer-weight broken jacket in one of Dorte's cosy boiled wool fabrics and I now have the fabric samples and thought you might like to see them too. I think I'm going to go for the navy boiled wool. It will go with everything but black jeans. The photos don't do justice to the depth of the navy colour - it's beautiful - a perfect, saturated, rich navy. 

The colours are stunning. The only colour I'd be wary of is the dark grey - it's a slightly khaki grey that I don't love as much as the others (although it's perfect if you favour a grey that leans more toward green than blue). The 'Deep Heather', I think, is actually a more easily wearable grey, even though it's a little lighter.

But there's also another option, which is the perfect shade of grey. This is a knitted jacquard wool. It's the oddest thing - it doesn't feel boiled and the knit is still relatively loose...but somehow it cuts like a boiled wool with absolutely no unravelling edge - it's miraculously stable. 

I think this would be perfect for a dress or skirt (it would be a really happy dress to make as the zip could be omitted because it has a little stretch to it and the seams could be left as they're sewn because it won't fray). I'm just waiting for inspiration to strike as to what would be the perfect pattern for this fabric.

And talking of patterns, my gorgeous friend, Christine Haynes, has just announced her latest pattern, The Emery Dress, and it's a beauty. It has perfect non-puffy sleeves (no matter how much I love puff in theory, it looks all wrong on me) and a delicious collar. Last summer I tried on this very similar sleeveless dress, which surprised me by making me feel rather twirling-doll-in-a jewellery-box (in a good way, I think) and at the time Christine and others encouraged me to buy it, but I didn't (due to it being too expensive to justify buying in a year where winter stayed for the whole of the summer). The addition of sleeves in Christine's pattern makes it feel slightly less scary to wear something so overtly girly and twirly-skirted and I can imagine it making a fantastic winter dress in a ponte roma fabric. However, I have a black tie party to go to in November and I'm considering making a more fancy-pants (hopefully no pants actually on display, unless this dress has unexpected amounts of twirl. I'll have to test it out at home first) version to wear to that. I'm having trouble imagining what fabric would be right for that - any ideas for someone who doesn't like shiny fabrics, but wishes the fabric to convey that I have actually got out of my day clothes? I may enjoy attempting to copy the hair of the cutie on the left from Christine's pattern envelope illustration.

You can see an amazing version made by Adey, of The Sew Convert, who was one of the pattern testers, here. If my bodice fits like that I will be unutterably happy.

Christine is taking pre-orders for the pattern now, although if you're based outside the US you may want to wait 24 hours as she's making some adjustments so that the international postage doesn't come in higher than the actual pattern. If you know of a UK shop that's intending to stock it, do let me know and I'll update this post with it.  Yay! Sewbox will be stocking the pattern, so we can look out for it there. 

Right, I think I'm done for now thinking about Autumn dresses. Actually, I'm not at all. I have a lot more head space for that, but I think I should stop now as it's turning into a rather lengthy blog post...and well, again, every time I write a long one I'm still cast back to being 21 and sitting in a recruitment agency opposite dishy Giles and being told my CV was verbose...crushing.

Florence x

Monday, 9 September 2013

My Sewing: on an iPhone Case!

Hurrah! It's some of my patchwork on an iPhone cover! I decided to join my friend, Christine, on Society6, offering up some of my work ready to be made into cards, prints or, most excitingly, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy cases. I've done this for no other real reason than for the happiness of seeing fabrics I love, or things I've enjoyed making so much, in some kind of 3D format.

The thing that delights me most is seeing the sides of the cases...they look so proper and grown up and like an actual, real iPhone case! 

Here's some of my Liberty stash sampled on a cover...

The paper pieced wall hanging I made for my parents from Oakshotts:

I currently have fourteen case designs on Society6.

Shockingly, Nell, who is neither fabric nor something I've sewn, appears in there too. After my daughter spent some time trying to find a case with a dog on it, but feeling that none of them were quite as cute as her own dog, she asked me to include some of Nell and let her choose one as a birthday gift to use on the phone she's recently inherited from her father. This is the one she chose.

If you're interested in buying an iPhone cover for yourself, you can find mine here or you can look through the absolutely huge (really huge and completely wonderful!) selection on offer and lose yourself on there, as I did, for an hour or two.

It's an American company, but if you order a certain amount (I think one iPhone case and a t-shirt would probably do it) then the postage to the UK is completely free!

Speaking of the dawg...I posted this photo on Instagram over the weekend (after I'd sent it to my husband with the words: look what you've done to me!). Unbelievably, I found myself trying on a jumper with a picture of a dog on it. I didn't see that coming at all. Nell is increasingly turning me into someone who actively likes dogs...and worse, a person who looks at a jumper with a picture of a dog on it and thinks 'Oh, how cute! I would totally wear that!' (especially curious when I don't own a single item of clothing with a picture on it!). Which leaves me with the question of whether it is a little denim-on-denim to wear a jumper with a picture of a dog on it when you're in the same room as a dog? Or worse, out walking the dog? You can answer frankly. I did not buy the jumper.

Florence x

Friday, 6 September 2013

Your design & colour opinions

One thing I'd been meaning to do all summer was start on a new English paper piecing wall hanging, but as I spent every morning in front of the computer working, I couldn't justify taking time away from my children in the afternoon to do it (and the evenings have been dominated by hand-quilting my daughter's birthday gift...that's still ongoing). So now my children are back at school and I have had an afternoon to play around with some potential patterns. 

This is the design I've come up with. What do you think? Is it okay, or is the chequerboardish bit behind the rose too busy?

 I'd initially been thinking of doing the design in greens, pinks and golds....

But I'm wondering whether creams, golds and a little bit of duck egg might be nicer and blend together more harmoniously. 

Or maybe just gold (this photo sparkles a bit more as it was taken on a different day. When there was sun).

I would love your input. If you're finding it difficult to visualise how those black and white line drawings end up as a wall hanging, these are the last two that I've made using that process. This one is made from Oakshott rubies and hangs in our dining room. 

While this one now lives at my parents' house. 

I would so appreciate your input on both the design and colours. A new EPP project feels like the perfect thing now that September has begun. My children's holidays ended this week and my son returned to primary school, while my daughter went off for her first year at secondary school. I tried to write a post about the oddness of the latter, but I'm not sure my thoughts are in an ordered place quite yet. Maybe next week. 

Wishing you a lovely weekend, 
Florence x

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Family bake-off

With a new season of the Great British Bake-of now on our television screens, my children devised a way to take part in some competitive baking at home. Last Saturday, in spite of the good weather, we all spent the day baking bread. My husband made up a large batch of plain dough and then we each added our own flavours, worked them into the dough and then shaped them once they'd been proved.

I took a risk with my own entry as my children don't usually like Marmite (similar to Vegemite, for those abroad), but I thought that once baked it may be a more acceptable flavour. So I made marmite and cheese hedgehogs.  Against my husband's advice I decided to glaze them with egg yolk as I would when making scones. This was an error - despite it not affecting the taste, I was marked down for the strange appearance and I felt slightly deflated to have ruined my hedgehogs needlessly.

My son chose to make the Spelling Snake that features in some of the Squeebles educational apps that we make. He flavoured it with chili, olive and basil. I love the little red tongue that he made from a sliver of red chili.

My husband made this fish-shaped tomato bread.

While my daughter made a soft tomato and basil bread that looked like roses once they were cooked and laid out on the cooling rack. Hers was the most experimental, but also the most delicious. She simmered the tomato and basil sauce for nearly 40 minutes before spreading it on her enormous rectangle of flattened dough, rolling it up and then cutting it into rounds.

It was so much fun tasting them all (although I paid for it with a swollen face and muscles that felt like lead the next day and remembered why I've avoided bread for over two years. Next weekend we're planning to make cakes, which my body seems far more welcoming of!).

It was also a fantastic way to learn quite a lot about bread-baking in just a few hours - dealing with so many different sizes and flavours, coming from the same dough base left us more able to see what may or may not work next time.

My daughter was the overall winner with her tomato and basil bread, which she'll definitely make again in the future. There were no tears from those with less successful breads as our judging was more Mary-style than Paul's - I often feel slightly like hiding behind the sofa when Paul fixes his steely eyes on a contestant and expresses his disappointment with a pithy summary of their bake's failings (Did you know that Paul Hollywood dresses up as Father Christmas each year in the village where he lives? When he's not fixing someone with a steely gaze, his eyes are noticeably twinkly. When I read this I felt quite delighted by it as I think he must make a wonderful and very convincing Father Christmas).  

We're feeling slightly worried about how we may work our way through such a large volume of cakes next week...we may have to reduce the challenge to be an entry of a single cupcake.

Florence x
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