Tuesday, 17 December 2013

English paper piecing in grey and mustard

This finished wall hanging has been sitting around waiting for its frame to arrive for over a week now, but I haven't had time to write a blog post about it and the frame still hasn't arrived. I think out of all the things I've ever made, this is the only one where I don't look at it and feel distracted by seeing what I could have done better or differently (I'm not saying those things don't exist, just that I'm not preoccupied by seeing them). I'm finally happy with something I've created just the way it is. And oddly, it's also one of the most simple English paper pieced designs I've ever made. What I really love about it is how it looks quite intense close-up, but morphs into something pale and tranquil when I stand farther away.

However, it took quite a long time to get to this point. This small wall-hanging has been taken apart so many times and the border, it has had so many different borders. Luckily hand stitches are much quicker to unpick than machine stitches, even though they take longer to make. I tend to consult my husband and daughter a lot in terms of colour as I often find I get so close to what I'm doing that I lose any sense of perspective or objectivity about how something looks. The problem with doing this is that it's sometimes difficult for others to imagine exactly how something will look once it's pieced together…I lost count of the times I pieced a new round (and as there are only really four rounds before you reach the border, you can assume that was the same round many times over!), and my husband would wrinkle his nose and tell me it somehow wasn't quite right. It was maddening, although I think because we work together, we've fallen into this brutally honest approach to assessing whatever the other is doing, as I frequently do exactly the same to him when he's mocking up graphics for our Squeebles apps. At the time, it's always painful to hear when you've put so many hours of work into something, but ultimately I think it makes it more likely that we'll be pleased with the end result.

I use a large piece of foam board to trial out new colours and shapes, sticking the pieces on with pins. It's not the perfect way to mock something up as the dog's ears and overhangs, but it does cut out some of the trial and error, although the room does become littered with a confetti of tiny fabric-covered paper shapes.

What I learnt making this was that I as someone who loves fabric, I have an innate desire to work as many different prints into something as I possibly can. This was an exercise in peeling back print usage for me, which I found difficult as it made me feel anxious that the finished design would look dull. I've recently become fixated with studying why I find certain designs really appealing to look at though, and it's invariably because they repeat just two or three colours over and over, so I kept reminding myself of this, every time I trialled a new print. Orla Kiely's book, Pattern, which includes most of her designs up until the date of publication, has so many examples of limited colour and pattern use that I love.

I used white and grey Architextures for the plainer bits to give some texture without making things too busy. I love these prints. In her fabric round-ups (exciting weekend UK and US posts on what new fabrics are available) Katy has always said how useful prints like these were and I'd never really quite understood why, but now I can see exactly what she was talking about. 

Those who follow me on Instagram, will have already seen this photo, but for those who don't, this photo below is one my favourites taken while making this. My husband and I took a week off a few weeks ago as we were working so hard on Squeebles over the summer that we didn't make time to go away for a holiday and later really regretted it. So, completely unplanned, for a week in November or December (I can't remember which now, as time seems to be going so quickly in the run up to Christmas) we sat around watching films, going out for meals and taking Nell for long walks and I also did a lot of hand-sewing. It was so lovely to recharge our batteries in this way. One day I sat on the floor with my back to the radiator and Nell came and fell asleep with her half of her body draped over my legs: the solid weight of a warm dog is a very cosy blanket indeed. 

It feels like a real breakthrough to get to the point where I can finally sew around her (although I'm completely paranoid about putting needles down in safe places now) as for a while it became an upstairs-only activity, which I felt quite sad and limited by as part of the joy of hand-sewing is what a sociable activity it can be. In the whole of the time I was sewing this together she only ate two of the pieces, which felt like quite an achievement as it was only a few months ago that she would have attempted to eat the entire in-progress wall-hanging, as well as my box of supplies. This weekend my husband and son even managed to spend a few hours building a ship, with the entire contents of my son's Lego collection spread over the floor, with Nell lying beside them and watching peacefully without attempting to nibble vital components. She has to be in the right mood for this, but we're getting more and more frequent glimpses of what a calm and easy dog she will become once she's lost her puppyish bounce (which also means that I'm no longer wishing her puppyish bounce away, as she is so amusing at this stage, even while being frustrating). I think for my son, this with-Nell-in-attendance Lego session had a similar feeling of breakthrough as I'd had with my hand-sewing as, for the first nine months of her life, our lives changed quite substantially to try and accommodate this wild creature that had come to live with us who seemed to need constant supervision.

The wall-hanging will end up downstairs once it's frame, which is making me want to make another one (not exactly the same!) for our bedroom as I shall miss it once it's gone and my daughter has also said that she'd like something similar for her room. It's so nice to begin planning these out in my head

Florence x

Ps. If you like any of the fabrics you've seen in this wall-hanging, for the most part they came from Kate's shop.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A cushion, new sponsors and Venezia lining

This is one of my daughter's Christmas presents. She asked me to make her a cushion that was predominantly blue, felt fresh, went well with her quilt and possibly involved Liberty fabrics. I had a look on Flickr for inspiration, but found something so perfectly perfect that it's actually a 'direct copy', rather than an 'inspired by' creation - I hope it's creator doesn't mind. You can see the original design that this is based on here - it's by Ruth Eglinton. After I'd made it, several days later I was trying to track down a particular Liberty print and ended up on Sunflower Fabrics, where I happened to see that Ruth actually has a pattern for this cushion for sale there. Do go and have a look if you'd like to make something similar, but would appreciate having all the maths done for you. 

In other news, I've had a few new sponsors joining my blog in the last few months and wanted to introduce them to you. Firstly, Elephant in my Handbag, which is run by Stephanie. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie in real life a few weeks ago as, as well as running a fabric shop, she also co-owns the events company Apple Ducks, which showcases the handmade at events in the south-east (if you're an independent craftsperson creating anything, from handmade chocolates to jewellery to sewn goods, you should definitely have a look at Apple Ducks - Jo and Stephanie put amazing, professional events together and make a phenomenal effort to promote and support the people they work with. Jo is an old friend who I've known for nearly a decade since we took our children to toddler group, and she is one of life's lovelies, so I feel no hesitation in saying that she would be wonderful to work with (as undoubtedly, is Stephanie). You can follow them on Twitter or Facebook). Anyway, back to Stephanie's fabric shop. 

Elephant in my Handbag is packed with delicious fabric and offers tiny cuts of things for patchworkers, as well as jelly rolls and layer cakes, and a vast selection of quilting fabric by the metre. The selection is huge with an emphasis on fabrics that would appeal to children - do go and have a look. However, I want to mention something non-sewing related, as I know that many of you possess a talent for wielding a hook in a way that I don't. Many years ago I came across some crocheted Daschund dogs. I completely fell in love with these dogs and even though we really couldn't easily afford them at the time, I made a rare extravagant purchase and bought one for each of my children, partly so that I could enjoy looking at them myself (my son, who was three at the time, curiously named his Sammylotion). I was sure that they'd actually featured a lot on my blog, but the only place I can unearth Sammylotion making a guest appearance is when I'm stuffing oddly shaped animals into sleeping bags to demonstrate how my Three Bear's Sleeping Bag pattern could work for other animals. Anyway, Stephanie has kits for the clever crochet people to make one of their very own of these gorgeous creatures, including all the supplies needed and the pattern. I'm clearly biased in thinking that this is a wonderful self-gift, but when I attempt to wear my objectivity hat, I still think it is rather fabulous…and possibly even nice to selflessly give to others as a finished dog or for them to have the fun of making it themselves. Elephant in my Handbag also offers rabbits and bears, but I'm all about the sausage dog.

You know my love of foxes. There is also a no-hook-required fox kit. My children would think this was fantastic as they seem to share my unfathomable love of foxes (unfathomable, as I'm not actually overly fond of the real creatures, just the image of them).

The shop currently has a large Christmas section that sells everything from Christmassy fabric and ribbons, to very sweet kits that you can make up alone or with any passing children who have a desire to do some stitching. They include everything from baubles to peg doll nativity scenes.

When I met Stephanie her handbag remained out of sight, so I can't report on whether she does keep an elephant secreted in it.

I'd also like to introduce Blonde Design, run by Karen, whose lovely sewing blog you may already be familiar with. Blonde Design's home page is currently awash with red, green and white buttons, fabrics and trimmings and they're offering free postage for the whole of December.

On the fabric front, Blonde Design currently specialises in basics, with a large selection of plain quilting cottons and every dotted and spotted fabric you could wish for. Printed fabrics are offered as charm packs and bundles. I have been swooning over the Vanessa Christenson prints from V&Co ever since I saw them a few weeks ago. You can find them in sweet mini-charm size here. Above is my favourite print.

Finally, I wanted to tell you about something wonderful that one of my other sponsors, Dragonfly Fabrics, is now offering. For many years I've used Venezia lining fabric in pretty much everything that I've made that requires lining from small accessories to clothing. It has an iridescence and loveliness to it that no other lining fabric that I've seen comes close to. As far as I'm aware the only place in the UK that sells this is the bricks and mortar shop, C&H Fabric, and I've never previously found it anywhere online. However, I'm excited to share with you that Dragonfly Fabrics are now offering a limited range of colours, but I'm sure if it sells well then more will undoubtedly follow. I've included some images of places I've used the linings in the past, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg. I have these in so many colours and use them often. They are expensive, but worth every penny if you are a person who appreciates the lining of a garment or make-up bag as much as the outside.

You can find them at the bottom of this page - they're the bottom five fabrics - make sure you double-check that it says Venezia in the description if that's what you'd like to buy. 

Florence x

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Two ways

This is a small part of the English paper piecing project that I've been working on recently. Following on from my last post about making mistakes, this began in much the same vein in that I made the initial part of the design twice. Yes. Arrggggg! I began by piecing the 1" diamonds on my sewing machine. It was actually not as fiddly or as troublesome as I'd imagined it might be as I'd marked on all the seam allowances and they came together surprisingly quickly.

I was actually quite pleased with how they were turning out, but once I'd sewn them all together, I could see that seeing the seam allowances through a white fabric would drive me potty when it was hung on the wall (in a way that it wouldn't if it was a quilt, where I'd expect to see these) and my husband said he'd feel the same too. And it didn't work to attempt to press all the seam allowances toward the darker fabrics in this case, which was my first thought in solving this problem.  It's difficult to see in a photograph, but the top photo of the two that follow shows the diamonds machine pieced and the bottom photograph shows exactly the same pattern pieces sewn together using the English paper piecing method. To go on the wall, the pieces in the second photo look far crisper to me.

And just for the more geeky amongst you, you might like to see the contrast in a close up. The top photo is machine sewn, the lower one English paper pieced:

The thing that I found the most challenging about making this was to try and reign myself in when it came to introducing new fabric prints for each round of hexagons. I trialled out so many different grey and mustard prints, but my husband kept steering me back to the fact that it actually just looked better when I allowed more repetition. 

I'll hopefully show you the finished thing later in the week. While I don't intend to continue making things twice in future, I actually quite enjoyed seeing the same thing made up in two different ways on this occasion, so I have decided not to eat my own head for the time being.

Florence x

Monday, 2 December 2013


What follows was actually written a month ago, but I didn't post it straight away, as I actually felt I needed something to go right before I could bear to post about all the things that had gone wrong. I now have three lucky things that have gone right (one of them was the croc-in-a-swamp bed made by my son, but at the time even helping with something that went right felt like an achievement; the other two are yet to be blogged about), so I can now post this from the standpoint of not feeling too broken-hearted.

A few years ago a lady wrote to me asking how I manage to go on sewing when things go wrong, because she was struggling with this. I knew what she meant - that awful feeling when you realise that you've just spent hours working on something that doesn't fit or when your overlocker has unexpectedly sliced through the centre of the sleeve that you'd nearly finished setting in and you just want to throw your sewing machine out of the window. However, generally, no matter what the frustration is, my wish to make things doesn't really leave me for very long - my compunction to sew overwhelms the frustration I feel when things don't go right. So generally, it's a case of taking a deep breath and moving on to the next project. This last project I found harder to do that with though when it meant abandoning weeks of hand-sewing...not once, but twice.

In the past, when I've created a wall-hanging, I've always previously left the thin card glued in place - it stabilises the piece and there's no need for it to come out when it's being placed in a frame. So I'm not sure what possessed me to start taking pieces out when I was nearly finished with this...but I did. However, the silk was so fragile and the pieces were so tiny that almost as soon as I'd begun I knew it was a mistake...to give you an idea as to why, this standard pin gives a sense of scale of each piece...

...and this picture (yes, really) gives you an idea of just how little card is even exposed once the tiny pieces are wrapped in fabric - on some the seam allowances overlap each other entirely. Only a crazy person would go messing around in there! But I did and quickly realised it was a mistake, but by then the pieces wouldn't go back in and the tension of the piece was completely ruined. Without the card, there was a visible softness that didn't sit well next to pieces that still held their card and those pieces were too small and the silk too fragile to have the card removed.

So, with this finished piece ruined, I decided to start all over again...only this time with the intention to redesign the piece slightly (which is why there are pen lines at the centre of the rose - my husband drew those on as I was trying to explain how I wanted the centre to be). As I was making the first wall hanging I'd become increasingly aware that the centre of the piece reminded me of the generic black and yellow danger symbol for radioactivity! Once I'd seen this I couldn't un-see it and so in many ways the wall hanging was already ruined for me. So, I redesigned the centre of the rose, to have a more spiralling effect and set off again, feeling slightly weary, but optimistic that I knew all the pitfalls this time...

But what looked fine to me close-up, once all pieced together and viewed from a distance just looked fairly awful...the pale colours in the centre just disappeared to nothing once I was standing any distance away from it (the piece on the left in the photo below - the piece on the right is the finished, but ruined, wall-hanging) and instead of the soft furls of the inside of a rose, the dark gold pieces look spiky and angular.

So back to the question at the start of the original post. What do I do in this situation? Probably what any normal person would do - I sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I felt like the most talentless sewer ever to be in possession of a needle and thread and wondered whether I'd be better off spending my evenings reading books, going out more and drinking more wine (I develop a rather carefree attitude to getting the stitches in the right place after a glass of wine, so I mostly avoid it), rather than wasting hundreds of hours optimistically stitching mistakes.

Anyway, once this initial stage of snottering miserably into a hanky was over, my husband convinced me that I didn't actually need to tackle the same project for a third time...that I really could just put it in a drawer (or bin) and forget about it. What a novel idea. When I'd spent the last seven weeks imagining this (beast) on my living room wall and had even written up much of the pattern for it as I went, this hadn't even occurred to me. I'd just imagined myself having to sew the damn thing ALL OVER AGAIN...possibly forever, like the Miller's daughter forced to attempt to spin straw into gold night after night, but without Rumpelstiltskin to come and take over.

So I've left it. And here is what I did: I made the croc-in-a-swap-bed with my son, which was possibly the most restorative-to-the-spirits thing I could have done; I cleared out all my drawers and cupboards (thank you for your help with that, fabric-buyers); I went to a Josh Ritter gig with my husband (and more recently The Lumineers); I went to a friend's house for dinner; I went for a very muddy walk in the countryside with my family and Nell and a dozen of her golden retriever brothers and sisters (I realised half way around that I had my wellingtons on the wrong feet, but they were too muddy to attempt to right this imbalance). I basically did a lot of other things that weren't sewing… for about a week. And then I started sewing again, because I can't actually stay away from it.

Happily, I'm looking at the photos in this post and not feeling sad. I've nearly finished a new fabricy piece for one of our walls using much more modern fabrics and a simpler design that I like much more and, as always, I'm reminded that sewing for me is essentially about the process and not the outcome, so even though this gold and duck-egg beast will never hang on our walls, I can still remember all the lovely things that I did while sewing it and how optimistically enthusiastic I felt about it at the outset!

How do you handle setbacks?

Florence x

Ps. In case you're wondering - with pieces this small and with such delicate fabric you'd need to baste the papers in by hand with needle and thread if you were intending to use it as a quilt and wanted to remove the papers - I used fabric glue because, when I was sane at the beginning of the project, I anticipated that I'd be leaving the card in. Using fabric glue doesn't seem to be an issue with quilting cottons as they're robust enough not to fray when the glued papers are removed.
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