Friday, 25 October 2013

Hoop-la!, a give-away & some thoughts on blog-hops

Today I have a book review for you - a stop on the blog-hop of Kirsty Neale, as she launches her papery new baby, Hoop-la, out into the world.

When Kirsty wrote to me asking if I'd like to be part of her blog-hop to launch her new book, Hoopla, I watched the promotional video (twice! Because it's adorable - scroll to the bottom of the page I've just linked to, to watch it yourself) and then very happily agreed. Hoop-la is a book all about framing your creativity with an embroidery hoop. It's not a new idea, but the book feels fresh and full of inspiration, thanks to Kirsty's wonderful imagination and how ridiculously talented she is when it comes to executing an idea with a crochet hook, a knitting needle and a sewing machine. The video is visually impressive, but it wasn't until I looked through the book that I fully appreciated quite how diverse the projects included are.

This book appeals to me because, as you may have noticed, I have a personal weakness for incorporating sewing into things for the wall (which is why I often favour making an English paper pieced wall hanging over a quilt, which I'm rapidly running out of cupboard space for). While I'd still love to appliqué cushions and PE bags with intricate pictures, now that my children are older, we don't have as much of a place for these things, but the walls feel as though they offer an exception to this. I feel wall-sewing takes up less visual and physical space. Each piece of sewn wall-art is framed, so it doesn't spill out into the rest of the room and overshadow everything; a stand-alone story of its own. The downstairs cloakroom wall takes my feelings about how liberating creating things for the wall is and amplifies it, offering a place where, in England at least, it's perfectly normal for people to hang odd curiosities on the wall. Is it like this in all countries, or is this an English thing, I wonder? In ours, we have a framed hologram of some orange and pink roses, Brora cashmere colour charts, some family photos with hand-written lines from songs or poems beneath them (all, I'm ashamed to say, mounted and hung on the wall in a more ramshackle way than I'd feel happy with anywhere else in the house) and a shelf containing poetry books because we ran out of room on our main bookshelves. I also have my Company magazine award in there too because my husband jokingly suggested I put it in there when I arrived home with it and it's ended up staying! So if I ever want to have a picture of an appliquéd sausage dog on the wall of my downstairs cloakroom then that would feel okay too.

Framing things in the conventional way can be expensive and Kirsty's book reveals the humble embroidery hoop as offering a low-cost alternative that, left bare, has an appealing Scandinavian look, but Hoop-la! is also packed with ideas for decorating it.

A hoop also offers a solution for keeping your work taut and wrinkle free - when I created these pictures I really struggled to keep the background crisp - an embroidery hoop would have been the perfect solution.

The book offers up an incredibly wide variety of ideas and incorporates not only sewing, but also knitting, crochet, embroidery, patchwork, screen printing, cross-stitch, sashiko, photo printing...

There's everything from pictorial hoops (Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, animals, children...); to storage solutions (a place to hang jewellery, a vase, a chalkboard, a stationary holder, key racks, photo holders); children's interactive play hoops (a doll with interchangeable clothing, tooth fairy hoops, noughts and crosses boards, hanging mobiles); to display pieces (such as hoop clocks, hoop mirrors and Christmas wreaths); ways to make a diorama picture scene (a bear in the woods); to using a hoop as a mount for a fully 3D fabric-moose-head! I love the idea of the storage hoop pictured above for keeping scissors and seam rippers to hand near the sewing machine.

The hoops are also used in inventive ways - a picture of a giraffe spans threes vertically placed hoops, while a sausage dog is seen through two horizontal hoops, humorously emphasising its stretch limousine body which couldn't be contained by one hoop alone.

In another, a girl stands in a larger hoop, holding a balloon which floats above her in a tiny hoop, a string running between the two. One of my favourites is the solar system represented through hoops - my son would love this. There are templates for all the images used to create the hoops, although it's worth remembering that they'll need enlarging on a photocopier by 200% to create them at the same size as the hoops in the book. Instructions tend to be limited to one page and are brief, but comprehensive enough to easily complete the project and, for me, a book like this is more about inspiration, so I'd favour more pictures and less text anyway, so I feel this balance works well. I should say that I've shown here the more off-the-wall or for-children ideas, but there's plenty of ideas for more minimal hoops. One of my favourites is a simple, cross-stitched ampersand.

This is a book where it feels as though the author has literally allowed her life to be overrun with hoops and ideas for how they can used - as I looked through the pages I could sense the thrill that she must have had in creating the book and, with such diverse and idiosyncratic hoop uses, I'm imagining that the ideas for more hoops must have suddenly appeared in her head at odd and unexpected times and been such fun to come up with. Hoop-la! feels entirely free of lack-lustre page-fillers, but instead it is a lively, characterful and definitive look at the unassuming embroidery hoop (at least I feel it's definitive, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a 'Let's Hoop-la Again', including another 100 ideas that I'd be equally as surprised and delighted by). Kirsty, you are a hoop genius. I salute you.

If you'd like to win one of Kirsty's original straight-from-the-book hoops to have on your own wall, then just leave a comment on this post - she's offering up the chalkboard embroidery hoop which would be perfect in a kitchen, child's bedroom or office. She's very kindly said that she's happy to send it internationally, so that anyone can enter. I'll announce a winner next week.

If you'd like to buy your own copy you can find it here (this link is an Amazon affiliate link - it means that if you buy the book after clicking on my link they give me a tiny cut of the profits. It doesn't increase the price for the just means Amazon share their profits with me). If you'd rather this didn't happen but would like to buy the book, simply open Amazon in a new tab and type the book title in independently.

Florence x

NB. From a reader's perspective, I'm wary of blog hops. I worry that rather than the review coming from a place of genuine I-bought-this-book-last-week-and-I-love-it! enthusiasm, they may sometimes be written as a part of the mutual support and kindness which is such an intrinsic and wonderful part of our blogging community. This is fantastic in many ways, but less fantastic when you're encouraging people to buy a book that you love more on the basis of who it was written by than what's inside the pages, because very few people are lucky enough to have a huge surplus budget for buying craft books. It feels important to me to share here only what I'm genuinely enthused by and to put enough photos in a review post to give readers an insight into whether it's a book they might like too...because just because I love it, doesn't mean everyone will. I only review books that I've bought myself; that I've been sent on the basis that if I don't love it, I won't review it; or where I've seen enough of a preview to know that I will love it and so can agree to receiving a review copy without that understanding in place. So I wanted to reassure any sceptics (or is just me that's sometimes sceptical about this) that I've reviewed this book because I think it's fun, wonderfully executed and is unique in its focus and because when I watched the promotional video for the book I felt instantly inspired, which is ultimately what I really want out of any craft book. If you buy it, I hope you enjoy it too. x

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

My week

With nothing finished to show you, I thought I'd share with you what I've been up to over the last week. Early one morning, for no apparent reason, I plugged in the microscope that used to belong my father-in-law (and now belongs to my daughter) and looked at some fabrics. It's thrilling to see close up the separate warp and weft strands as they weave in and out of one another. This is an Oakshott, which uses different colours for the warp and weft.

Below is a very narrow striped silk of cream and gold. You can see the paler stripe running at an angle through the centre of this picture. It doesn't matter how many times I do it, looking at things through a microscope is always thrilling, even more so when it's fabric. Only my very basic camera is of a size that allows me to put the lens into the deep eye piece, so these photos don't do justice to the true lustre of the threads, so please imagine them looking much more sparkly.

I brought back some silks from the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace the week before last and I've left them out on my chest of drawers so that I can admire them frequently before they're put away.

I've been sewing up my Emery Dress piecemeal, literally using blocks of twenty minutes here and there. I never usually work on machine-made things in this way, largely because it necessitates leaving things out and, admittedly, while it's been an effective use of time, it's meant that I've felt slightly stabby to be surrounded by so much untidied mess for five whole days! However, my sewing time has been so scarce that it's the only way to go and despite it being messy, it's come together incredibly quickly, with a nice blob of time to make a bit more progress when my husband was out for an evening on Saturday night. It now just needs the second sleeve attaching and the sleeve and skirt hems taking care of and then it will be done.

The bodice part of the pattern has been sewn exactly how it came out of the packet (which means that it gets a big thumbs up from me, as it's incredibly rare to find a fitted bodice that fits well on me first time). It actually fits me slightly better than it does on the mannequin in this photo, whose padding around the chest seems to be flattening with use. However, I've made rather drastic changes to the skirt part of the dress (this is what the main focus of Saturday night was about), not because the pattern wasn't perfect, but because the full skirt just didn't suit me when I tried it on. I'll share the details of that when the dress is finished though.

I've been enjoying using the Clover Chaco Liner Pen that Kristin sent me (along with some other amazing goodies, sent as a thank you for my judging stint on the Sew, Mama, Sew Sewing Bee contest) while putting together my Emery Dress. It produces a very fine chalk line, that brushes away easily when you want to get rid of it. It's very similar to the chalk wheels that you can buy at most haberdashers' shops, but it negotiates corners and curves with much more ease as the wheel is smaller than the traditional chalk wheels. 

So, on the sewing front the rest of the week holds finishing off the Emery dress and trying to make some progress on my English paper piecing project. What are you up to this week? 

In other thoughts, Christmas. I'm unashamed to confess to loving it so much that I like to extend it to take up three quarters of the year and so begin planning gifts in October. I'd like to get my twelve year old (I have to try and type or say this regularly as I can't quite believe that I have a twelve year old) some beading things, so that she can create some necklaces and bracelets. I'm thinking of something a little more advanced than beads on elastic (as I think she would enjoy using wire cutters!), but beading hasn't ever been something that I've dabbled in, other than very briefly as a teenager, so I'm a bit lost by the overwhelming number of books on Amazon. I'd like something stylish and modern-looking - do you happen to have any recommendations? 

As a child, my mother would occasionally take me to a bead shop in London's Covent Garden (and then later in Brighton) to look at the rooms full of sparkly or patterned beads sorted into tiny wooden boxes. I've been delighted to find that I think the shop is still there, so me and my husband are planning to take a day off work and go and choose some beads for her at some point between now and December. 

Florence x

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

On books, drawing and cats

I wanted to tell you about a few books that we've been enjoying lately. I chose 20 Ways to Draw a Tree from the '20 ways to draw...' series for my daughter's birthday and a few weekends ago we finally sat down and got the chance to use it. My husband and son were both out playing football and Nell was sleeping, so the house was deliciously quiet and we lost two happy hours to companionable drawing.

It's the most wonderful book, where each page is filled with twenty ways to draw something - this book  has a nature focus, so it includes, amongst many others, pages of leaves, seed heads, flowers, birds, mushrooms and feathers. We enjoyed opening the book at a random page and each picking which example of a shell or owl we were going to attempt to draw. My daughter's page of random items from nature is above, while mine is below. I chose the book because, as well as being lovely, stylistically the drawings in it are very similar to how my daughter naturally draws: tiny, detailed, careful, so I knew she'd love it. For me, I wished it had a few more examples of things that were drawn with more shading, rather than focusing solely on line drawings, but it's an amazing reference for attempting to get the shape of things right, which is something I usually struggle with.

There are a lot of books in the same series, each by a different illustrator, and we quite want them all. I noticed a new one popping up recently entitled 20 Ways to Draw a Dress, which looks fantastic too, albeit in a slightly more bonkers way than the other books in the series. Do you have any of the other books in this series?

The next book is one that my daughter chose for a friend's birthday - it was a hard one to give away, and I took a few photos of it before it went.

Like the 20 Ways to Draw books, Secret Garden is a colouring book that has the same detailed line-drawing style and the pages are filled with intricate drawings. I think in some ways I can imagine using this book more as drawing inspiration than a colouring book.

While on the subject of drawing, pet artist, Katie, has recently set herself the project of drawing 300 cats from Instagram (the tag is #logacat if you use Instagram and would like to see them all). Last week she was inviting people to tag her with pictures of their cats and in return she'd draw a cat portrait for them. A most exciting prospect, so I tagged her with a picture of our tabby cat and Katie drew this for me: 

I love it. Although one person commented that the cat looks like she's saying: 'Bugger off, human' in this photo. 

It's only in retrospect that I wonder if she was perhaps wishing to console us over our childhood cat's glares, but my mother had always told me and my sister that when a cat narrowed its eyes at you and opened and closed them several times while staring intently at you, that it was their way of conveying fondness - a feline expression of 'I love you!' Has anyone else heard of this? So when I took this photo I had assumed the cat had been telling me that she loved me and I saw it as a really sweet facial came as a surprise that it would look like a malevolent glare to others...but now every time the cats blink at me in this intense way I feel oddly paranoid that they're trying to will me to leave them alone. 

Anyway, Katie is currently working her way through 300 cats of Instagram and I love seeing the drawings appear, but even more how they look as a collective group. You might be able to spot some cats you know in there - some stitcher's pets feel as instantly recognisable to me as my own. If you'd like to follow Katie on Instagram, she goes by the name of @afternoonan or you can visit her Etsy shop.   

Finally, the above drawing is also by my daughter, which she drew just before the summer. As soon as I saw it, it reminded me of the books of zentangles which I'd seen on Amazon - there are so many - does any one have one that they'd recommend?

The house has felt oddly quiet this week as my son has been on holiday with his school, but he's arriving home this evening and the teachers' strike in England will mean that he has a day to recuperate (and I will have a day with him to do cosy things like watching the Brady Bunch box set) before he returns to school. My daughter and I have saved last night's Bake-Off to watch with him on iPlayer and so I'll be spending today studiously trying to avoid seeing who was knocked out (we are really hoping Ruby or Kimberly will win). 

In other news, my husband told me last night that we are about to have the coldest winter in England for over 100 years with massive amounts of snow (I'm assuming that he's heard this from an official source, rather than that he's dabbling in a new hobby of weather prediction). While this will be horribly impractical, in theory it makes me very happy due to it being pre-Christmas, thus making the whole of November and December feel extra specially Christmassy. However, I think that there may be a need to stock up on certain sewing essentials to avoid being snowed in for weeks on end and left with an English paper piecing project being brought to a sudden stop by a shortage of Sewline fabric glue refills (yes, I know that in an emergency one could revert to the traditional method of thread basting, but once you've allowed yourself to try the glue I'm not sure there's any going would feel akin to being forced to wring clothes out in a mangle, rather than using the washing machine's spin cycle). 

Florence x

Ps. Some of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links - it means that if you buy the book after clicking on my link they give me a tiny cut of the profits (it doesn't increase the price for the just means Amazon share their profits with me). If you'd rather this didn't happen, simply open Amazon in a new tab and type the book title in independently.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

With reality: knit skirt

Today's skirt is brought to you from in front of the English paper pieced wall hanging, simply because I'm growing tired of all my photos being taken against a white wall and I thought you might appreciate a change too.

This skirt is made from Miss Matatabi's wonderful With Reality knit fabric. I spoke about it in this post, but basically it's a brushed cotton double gauze fabric that looks like a knit, but feels like flannel. It's a real head-twister and it doesn't get any less confusing once you work with it. When the fabric first arrived I still couldn't quite imagine how it would look once it was made up into a garment and it was only once I'd sewn the waistband and front panel together that I had a sense of what it would be like and began to feel thoroughly enthused by the wonder of this fabric.

This fabric is unlike anything I've ever worked with. One moment it looks so very truly knitted that I can't quite believe the contrast between what I see with my eyes and what I can feel in my hands and the next it looks impishly faux-knit. I had a very pleasing moment when I'd nearly finished this skirt. I was trying it on to work out the hem length and was wearing it with a grey fine-knit jumper. I asked my husband what he thought of it so far and he looked at me with confusion and said: both look really great, but which have you actually made? The look on his face suggested he didn't believe I'd made either. It had totally foxed my husband even when he was only a metre away from it, but what pleased me even more was that he had no idea whether I'd made the jumper or the skirt - my hope is to make things that blend seamlessly with well made shop-bought clothing. Mission, on this occasion, accomplished.

I placed the waistband so that the knit pattern runs in the opposite direction - I love this effect, although I'm not sure how visible it will be normally as I often wear my tops untucked.

I lined the skirt with what I had to hand - some lovely Venezia lining in a minty green. It wouldn't have been my first colour choice to go with this, but it grew on me and the skirt has a deep 2" hem, so it's unlikely anyone other than me will ever see it.

The skirt itself is my own pattern. I'm really happy with the fit of it, although it sits slightly lower on my waist than I'd like, which is the way all my skirts, shop bought or handmade, sit. I always know at the outset that I should draft a smaller waist, but then I get the fear that it may end up unwearably small, so lose my nerve and go for a waist that will fit, but may drop down a little for a being an inch or so too big. However, that is the beauty of skirts - they will usually fit somewhere in the space that lies 2" above or below one's tummy button (there is no nice word for that. The word belly makes me feel slightly unwell and navel feels overly medical).

My children have been fascinated by this fabric - they suggested it would make a great snood (probably triggered by a snood I have in an identical colour and knit pattern, but actually made from real wool), which it would. I actually wore my skirt out this afternoon: straight away, without leaving it to settle for a few weeks. I normally feel slightly self-conscious when wearing my own hand-made clothes - I find it feels something akin to walking down the street naked with my soul on show - does anyone else feel like this? I have so many ill-fitting, badly made shop-bought clothes, but because they're made by someone else I feel detached from this, yet I find even the slightest flaw or thing-I-could-have-done-better hard to let go when I've made it myself. However, this fabric is so curious that I feel somehow more confident to wear it, because my focus is on the fabric, rather than the fit or my sewing. 

You can find other 'with reality' fabrics, including this one, here. I love these faux wool dots fabrics. These fabrics are so warm and cosy to wear, lovely to sew with and fascinating to look at - I highly recommend them. 

Florence x

Monday, 7 October 2013

A finished jacket

Hurrah! I love how quick clothes are to make compared to quilts. This is a jacket based on the same pattern as my jacket that I accidentally ruined, which was based on a jacket that I bought from Gap for Kids over the summer. Also known as a jacket for Dame Judi, but I'm wearing it in the meantime.

It's made from Dorte's delicious boiled wool, which comes in a whole rainbow of colours.

I'd planned to underline this jacket before getting the actual roll of fabric. I was imagining how lovely the contrast of fabrics would be and got totally carried much so that when the fabric arrived and I realised it really didn't need lining, I went ahead and lined it anyway. Instincts are such good things and even better when listened to: it would have been more cosy and casual if I'd omitted the lining, but never mind, I do love my jacket. However, from a sewing point of view I love the realisation that boiled wool really does offer the opportunity to make something in just a few short hours with no need to line it or even finish the edges - it's a perfect fabric.

A few posts ago I'd written that I believed our tabby cat was capable of making any fabric or piece of sewing look more lovely. On this basis, I went and interrupted her all-day sleeping marathon, which was taking place on my daughter's Liberty print quilt, and carted her through for a photo with me, ready for me and my jacket to be made lovely by her presence. She was surprisingly happy to oblige in this unsolicited cuddle and even purred. Which makes me wonder whether this cat is in fact drawn to the handmade, because she normally endures my cuddles with far less audible sign of enjoyment, but on this occasion went as far as nestling her tiny head into my hand for ear scratch. However, I don't feel me or the jacket look noticeably different for being in close proximity to despite her purring, I'm wondering whether my theory only holds true for Liberty prints. I do like the idea of photographing my makes surrounded by the full menagerie of creatures though, so next time I might just pull in the other super-feline and maybe Nell too. They will love it. 

I've just noticed that Dorte now has this boiled wool in even more colours...look....mustard! You may remember that I'd said I wasn't overly enamoured with the dark grey as it was a bit too much on the khaki side of grey for me...but there is now a choice of four greys to pick from and the Grey Melange looks like my idea of a perfect grey. 

On to matters other than New Clothes for Florence...

I wanted to let any of you who use our Squeebles educational apps with your children know that we're running a competition asking children to design a Squeeble to feature in our next app. As well as the winning design featuring in an app, the winner's school or family (you can enter as a school or an individual) will receive a brand new iPad 3. We've run similar competitions in the past, but without the iPad incentive, and it's been one of the highlights of running our business to see the Squeeble designs and the character descriptions arriving in our inbox and then, when the competition is closed, to finally spend a morning eating cake and trying to whittle down which design my husband, Ian, will create a computer-generated Squeeble from. If your children might like to enter you can find details here and children can read a blog post about it here. Below are a few of the winners we've had in the past. On the left are the children's drawings and on the right is the Squeeble we've created, based on their design. (Credit: Raino is designed by Joshua, aged 8, and Bebe is designed by Poppy, aged 6).

Returning to fabric, one of my sponsors, Backstitch has a gorgeous, shiny new website and Alice has asked me to share it with you. She's also offering a 10% discount off any order - just type in WLFLO at the checkout (valid within three days of this blog I guess that takes you up to the 10th October inclusive). Any orders placed in October will automatically enter the purchaser into a prize drawer for the chance to win £50 off your first order and then 20% off all subsequent orders for an entire year. There are also second and third prizes. You can find out more here.

Finally, back to New Clothes for Florence, I've made something else too (don't worry, I haven't suddenly become someone who is able to sew quickly, or super-efficient - I actually finished the jacket in this post nearly two weeks ago, but hadn't had time during daylight to photograph it). This time I've been sewing with the Reality Knit fabric that Frances sent me. I loved the fabric when it arrived, but it's even more lovely when sewn into a garment. I'll hopefully post about that later in the week.

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.