Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Designing your own fabrics

There haven't been many posts lately, as most of my sewing time has been spent working on projects for a forthcoming issue of Love Patchwork & Quilting magazine and so I can't share any of the in-progress photos here yet, but I'm having a lot of fun - I can tell you that it involves some English paper piecing, some appliqué, and a lot of hand-quilting (the latter isn't actually integral to the design of the quilt, but why do something in a day when you can take three weeks over it? There are actually many reasons not to do that, and I often question my logic once I've started on something, but even though it's taking forever, I'm enjoying every moment of it). Anyway, with a lack of any photos of current sewing projects that I can share, I offer instead my daughter's bookshelf, which I think may almost be better! At the weekend when we were tidying her room she asked if we could order her books by colour - I'm not sure if she could have uttered a more perfect question at that moment. She is a creature motivated by such similar things to me - I actually did this to our bookshelves before we had children nearly thirteen years ago, but it was a short-lived arrangement (precisely one hour) as when my boyfriend, now husband, came in, he was aghast and insisted that I randomise them immediately. Have you ever tried deliberately randomising something? The effect that we ended up with was more of a staggered rainbow: pink, green, blue, white, black, pink, green, blue, white black. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't quite 'unrainbow' them and when friends visited in the following months they would look at the bookshelves askance and ask if we'd deliberately colour-ordered them and I'd sense my husband dying inside a little - it was a problem that was only entirely solved by moving house.

I also wanted to introduce my lovely new sponsor, Woven Monkey. Woven Monkey are an English fabric printing company, and for those familiar with America-based Spoonflower, it's a similar concept. Woven Monkey will print your own designs onto fabric for you and you can order as little as a fat quarter! It's not only fantastic for its potential for general sewing and quilting-making, but also for dressmaking as, aside from regular cotton, their other substrates include cotton sateen and cotton drill.

Woven Monkey aim to have your fabric delivered to your door within 7 or 8 days of your order being placed, which seems fairly impressive even to me, who suffers with a fundamental problem with delayed gratification.

You can submit designs from paintings, drawing or computer generated artwork. Woven Monkey have very kindly offered to print some fabric for me and I'll share the results with you once I've got myself together and created a design. I'm actually really excited by that element of it; I think I'd mentioned when I designed my new blog header at the start of January, that one of my aspirations for this year (absolutely not a new year's resolution) was to become more proficient using design packages - I've dabbled with Fireworks and Illustrator a little over the past few years, but I've been really yearning for total immersion. I actually decided to challenge myself by designing all the steps for the quilt pattern I've been working on for Love Patchwork & Quilting with Illustrator and ended up finding it almost as much fun as the sewing part, so I'm looking forward to trying to design something that I'd want on a piece of fabric using Illustrator, although I'm relieved that Woven Monkey have software that creates the repeat for you (even if it means challenging a lifelong banana phobia).

I think it's so exciting that a service which I've always envied America for having within a week's post away, is now available here in England (they also deliver within the E.U). If you use Woven Monkey, please do leave me a comment or a link to your blog - I'd love to see what fabrics you're having printed. In the meantime, if you'd like to read more about how Woven Monkey was born, you can find out here and if you'd like to put in a request for which other fabric bases you'd like to see them offering printing on next, you can add your suggestions here (personally, I'd like a silk crepe de Chine, as this is my favourite fabric for dressmaking and I find it's for dressmaking fabrics that I most struggle to find prints that I want to wear). Oh and one final thing, for those who like to know the details, Woven Monkey adapted their machines to use water-based pigment inks, so that your fabrics don't arrive laden with nasty chemicals.

Florence x

UPDATE: Following Sophie's question in the comments to this post, I clarified with Woven Monkey that you really don't need any fancy pants software at all to design your own fabric - you can simply submit a scan of your own original artwork! Here's what Ed said when I asked him about how to go about doing this:

Yes, we can print directly from someone's scanned image. With most scanners you can increase the image resolution (in essence the quality), in order to meet our minimum requirements for DPI.
If you're uploading an image directly from a scan, it may be advisable to put it through a free photo editor, like before using our service. This gives you the option to make alterations like brightening the image.

Just to clarify, in case you missed any of the points in the comments - you'd need to save your scan as a jpeg (which is fairly standard and probably what you'd save it as anyway). The DPI that Ed refers to means 'dots per inch' - this is basically how many dots will print out per inch of fabric - the more dots there are per inch, the more detail and definition is given to your image. Ideally, you'd want your image to be between 150 - 300dpi. You can order a test swatch of your fabric for £2.50 to check the colours and print quality of your image, so that may be worth doing before committing to ordering larger cuts of your fabric. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Year of the dog

I'm not a huge fan of traditional portraits, but when I spotted Letter Fest's modern take on this in November, I decided to commission them to draw a picture of Nell, for my husband's birthday. Now that I'm writing it, I'm wondering if that's a really odd present, but it does feel as though this has been my husband's very own Year of the Dog, so it seemed a good way to mark this year in his life.

Finding a photo for Letterfest to draw from wasn't quite as easy as I'd imagined. I knew that my husband would want a portrait of her looking like a proper grown-up dog, so any of the younger, puppyish photos were out of the question, but when you begin imagining how a photo might look once its drawn in pencil, you begin to agonise over whether a photo will be just right once rendered in a different format.

After three weeks of trying to take a nice photo of her (and worrying over lolling tongues - would it look cute or gormless in a picture? Smiling, wolfish teeth - would they look cheerful or just weirdly vicious? Would the angle of her body look odd and disembodied once she'd been removed from her surroundings and placed on a plain background?), I finally took this photo and decided that I was almost happy with it. The one thing that I didn't love was that the photo cropped the top of Nell's head off but, without my asking, the artist at Letterfest drafted in a perfect head for her. I was so pleased by this!

Anyway, I thought I might share this here in case you're having your very own Year of the Dog/Cat/House and want to mark it in some way. You can find Letter Fest here and they also have a shop on Not on the Highstreet.

Florence x

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The circle of fabric buying indecision

Just before Christmas, a box of fabric goodness arrived from Dear Stella containing some fabrics for a few pieces that I'm currently working on for a magazine (I'm so looking forward to sharing those with you once it's out in a few months time), but there were also some unexpected extra treats in there, namely this Vanity Fair fat quarter bundle, which was serendipitous as I've been putting this collection in and out of an online shopping basket ever since I first saw it on Instagram. I'm usually a painfully indecisive shopper when I'm making purchases anyway, so making an overseas purchase (which also involves extended delayed gratification and potential customs charges) is normally precipitated by weeks of strokey beard moments before finally taking the plunge.

My thought process went something like this: It's so beautiful, soft and elegant; but what if it is insipid and too pale when it arrives? I will cure my worries by searching for every photo of the collection on the entire internet to assess whether the colours are as perfect as I think they are; I have found some, I think it really is perfect - every photo of it makes me love it more; but it's so new that I cannot find anything to look at that's actually finished - I want to see lots of examples in lots of different lights of it all sewn together, maybe I should wait until I can see more of its loveliness in action….and on and on and on. Thankfully, I only enter The Circle of Fabric Buying Indecision very rarely, because most of the time I just avoid looking. When my husband notices that I'm browsing online fabric shops with a glazed, slightly pained expression he says simplistic things like: I can't understand why you procrastinate when you're so lucky to be able to buy something that you love that only costs £30…to get the equivalent amount of joy in guitar terms I would have to spend over £2000. He doesn't see that if I bought all the fabric that I wanted on that basis, it would amount to far in excess of £2000, so this kind of mental torment is entirely necessary to hone the list of wantiness to an acceptable level.

Serendipity, freaky intuition on the part of the lovelies at Dear Stella, whatever, a fat quarter stack of this found its way to me before my research consumed me further. And it is so perfect. My first thought was a wall hanging, because the prints in this would work so well on a small scale and the lace print would look fantastic being fussy cut. However, I happened to put the bundle down on our bed and realised that I'd finally found something that I've been looking for for over five years. I love white bed linen so much that, apart from the very boring white quilt I made several years ago (which I now feel doesn't actually count as a quilt because it is so dull), we don't have a made-by-me quilt for our room. The idea of introducing colours and prints into a space that I enjoy being completely neutral and calm has never appealed…but Vanity Fair offers colour and print in a way that feels as though it doesn't detract from the feeling of calm at all. I am in love.

The sewing I'd planned to do over Christmas was delayed by another package I'd needed to go with it not arriving, which meant that I was free to cut into the Vanity Fair straight away. I wanted to make something simple, where the main focus was the quilting - partly, because I liked how I imagined that would look and partly because I wanted to spend Christmas with my family rather than my sewing machine, so setting up a quick project that was then ready for hours of sociable hand-quilting really appealed (a non-sewing Christmas wasn't an option that occurred to me. There are times when I don't sew, but it actually makes my fingers itch to think of watching a film without sewing at the same time). I used all the prints in the bundle apart from the yellow stripe - I've no idea why, as it works with the rest of the collection perfectly, but I just preferred the colours without it. For reference, if you've arrived here in your own Circle of Fabric Buying Indecision, I'd say that the top two photos in this post show the colours in a truer light - it rained all day, every day over the holidays, so the other photos are mostly taken in artificial light, which gives the colours a tone that is less fresh than the reality.

This was also an excuse to get out the completely dreamy compass that my husband gave me as a birthday gift a few years ago. I love this compass as it feels so beautifully designed and I can draw absolutely enormous circles with it as it has an extension arm. To make a quilting guide for this, I used some clear template plastic and drew curves on it an inch apart, before slicing them open with a scalpel to allow me to run a disappearing-ink marker pen through it onto the fabric.

I'm now half-way through hand-quilting this king-sized beast and have had to put it to one side as I have a few other projects that I need to finish, but I am so excited to get time to work on it again, as I can't wait to have it on our bed.

I'd love to know if any of you go through similar indecision and dilemma when buying fabric or if you have a fabric buying strategy to work around it…and if you shop on impulse how do you not just buy everything?

Florence x

P.s. If you're interested in putting some Vanity Fair in and out of your own shopping basket, you can find it here. However, I can wholeheartedly attest to its loveliness.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A cushion that was curiously received

I made this cushion a few days before Christmas as a gift for my father. It's a very unfancy cushion, with simple black piping. It uses a print from Charley Harper's beautiful bird-themed collection of fabric, which was released by Birch Fabrics last month. I love this print and I knew that my father would like it too as it takes in all his favourite colours. Before putting it together, I quilted it with simple lines that follow the vertical pillars in the print and was momentarily delighted when my family saw this and mistakenly thought I'd done all sorts of clever things piecing the actual birds together to peep out from behind it, as the quilting creates the illusion of a seam.

I'd like to add that the fact that this cushion matches its surroundings so perfectly in the photo at the top of this post is actually a freaky co-incidence, especially as grey and red are not common colours in my house! I rearranged the bookshelves to keep my favourite Persephone books out of Nell's reach a while ago and there was a cushion shaped space next to them when pondering where I could photograph it. (I'm not against making photos look lovelier by the way, I just didn't set out to do that here).

I don't know of anywhere in the UK that sells this particular Upside Downside print, but if you want to see more from the Charley Harper range, you can find some of it at M is for Make and other prints over at Ray-Stitch. I imported my Upside Downside from Fabric Worm in the US, as I thought no other print from the range would have suited my father quite so well, although, exhaustingly, he proved himself unworthy of having fabric imported specially for him when he cheerfully announced on unwrapping it: there's a bird's head coming out of the other bird's bottom! What? Even after staring at this print for the entire time it took me to make the cushion I had not seen it like that! I swallowed the wish to throttle him beside the Christmas tree and inwardly muttered apologies to the late Charley Harper. Next year he's going to be getting a golfing mug and some argyle socks*. Upside Downside is still my favourite print from the entire range. Fabric Worm have the whole collection, I think, just be careful about who you gift it to!

In other news, a winner for Issue 3 of the wonderful Love Patchwork & Quilting Magazine. I asked my husband to randomly pick someone from the giveaway comments here on my blog and over on Instagram and he chose Karyn. Karyn, Issue 3 will hopefully make its way through the Canadian snow to you before Spring arrives!

Issue 4 of Love Patchwork & Quilting has just come out and I'm excited to snaffle one out at the newsagents (look at the beautiful quilt above!). However, for future issues, I've taken out an annual subscription as this is the first English quilting magazine I've enjoyed enough to not want to miss an issue - you can find out more here (and even if you don't want to commit to a year, a trial subscription of 3 issues for £5 is insanely good value).

I'd mentioned this on Instagram, but thought I'd mention it here too, as I'm not sure I've ever posted about this before. I'm not a fan of chunky pins for sewing, however, if you happen to have some of the pins shown below (there was also a free pack of similar flower-headed pins on the cover of LP&Q last month) and have wondered about uses for them, I've always found them indispensable for pinning a quilt backing to the carpet when making a quilt sandwich. They're so strong that the fabric won't move even a tiny bit and you can drive them at an angle straight through the carpet's underlay for a completely secure fix - I have tried the more conventional masking tape approach to basting a quilt and found it refuses to hold the bottom layer as taut as I'd like. I've never seen any visible sign of post-pinning carpet trauma, so I don't feel too concerned about what it might be doing to the underlay. In the photo below, the green pin is holding the fabric in place. Sorry about the grainy photo - it was taken in artificial light on my iPhone to post to Instagram a few weeks ago.

Right, I think that's it for now. Wishing you a lovely end to the week,

Florence x

* My father has never played golf.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Love Patchwork & Quilting Magazine Giveaway

I'm guessing many of you may have already bought a copy of Love Patchwork and Quilting magazine, which is just three issues old (perhaps four in the last day or so) - I've seen so many copies popping up on Instagram. If not, and you haven't yet seen it, it comes from the same publishing house as Mollie Makes, so expectations of loveliness are set high, and it doesn't disappoint - it is truly very lovely indeed.

The photography and layout are beautiful and it's this that makes you feel you're reading something part life-style magazine, part quilting magazine, which is wonderful and feels more in keeping with the style of modern quilting books than quilting magazines often go for. There are also quite a few pages of things that aren't necessarily directly quilt related, but which seem perfectly pitched for a quilt-type personality, if my own response to them was anything to go by - I found some of my children's Christmas presents on these pages and also discovered some new-to-me shops (notably, I Feel Smug) that sell delicious stationery and other unnecessary but beautiful items.

But down to the actual quiltyness. I completely fell in love with Brioni's quilt which featured in issue 2 and which is pictured at the top of this post. There was also an amazing supplement (I can't remember which issue this came with as they've all become separated from one another) by Tula Pink, created with Love Patchwork and Quilting. I was delighted by this as I've become quite obsessed by looking at blocks on Instagram made using Tula Pink's fabrics - especially the blocks featuring racoons - using patterns from one of her books, where each page has a block of an identical size to the one being made, so that you can actually store your blocks between the pages as you make the sampler quilt - I don't know why, but the idea of having quilt blocks perfectly matching up with those in the pages of a book is a really pleasing one. Other highlights of the magazine are the pages which cover new fabric ranges, interviews with fabric designers and shop owners and then regular features, such as Block of the Month, which not only shows you how to make the block, but shows you how it would look as a wallhanging or quilt if you repeated the same block, rather than incorporating it into a sampler quilt. The techniques section, which covers basics like how to bind a quilt in every issue, means that the magazine will appeal to new quilters, without making more experienced ones feel bogged down by instructions they may not need.

Overall, it just feels so crisp, clean and modern. I'm so delighted that there's such a wonderful home-grown English quilting magazine on the shelves of WH Smiths, that holds the same lure for me as the wonderful American, Australian, French and Japanese quilt magazines have done in the past, but without the disappointment of them being full of non-local advertisers or even written in languages which I can't actually read. I have a few pieces coming up in future issues of the magazine, so I'll let you know when they come out.

If you haven't already laid your hands on a copy, Love Patchwork & Quilting kindly sent me two copies of Issue 3 - one for me, one for you! Just comment on this post for a chance to win it - I'm happy to post internationally.

And have you noticed that I've had a bit of a blog overhaul? I've been meaning to do this for a long time as I've had the same colours (various shades of pink) since I first started writing my blog seven years ago. It feels so nice to start the new year with the blogging equivalent of a new notepad. I had fun creating a Pinterest board of potential colour palettes and then mocking up blog pages in Fireworks seeing how things looked before setting them live on my blog. The first design I settled on was actually a very dark teal and a sober olive colour, which I loved, but which looked a bit too heavy with the photos I tend to post and with my sponsors' logos, so I changed it to something lighter instead. It did make me realise though, that there may be a reason why I'd stayed with pink for so long - it's one of those rare colours that goes with nearly everything other than mustard and navy blue.

Florence x

PS. The photos throughout this post are taken from the pages of Love Quilting & Patchwork Magazine - they're created by the nimble fingers of Brioni Greenberg, Lynne Goldsworthy and Jeni Baker.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A new year

Happy new year! I'd intended to write before now, but time has overtaken me in a delicious blur of sitting around with my family and friends doing very little other than playing board games and being becoming immersed in craft and sewing projects. When not playing board games, my daughter and I have been doing Zentangle doodles (more on those another time), making bracelets (and those) and sewing away on our own individual projects (that's another blog post too), often to a background of chatter (or the distinctive noise of Lego being searched through) with my husband and son, or cosy television watching my and my daughter's viewing tastes meet (the BBC drama of Death Comes to Pemberley - which is the murder mystery follow up to Pride and Prejudice - along with regular doses of Downton and we've even revisited The Waltons, which I can remember watching with my grandmother as a child, as well as watching David Walliams' new film of the book,  Gangsta Granny). It feels like the first Christmas we've had for many years where it has been nothing but total relaxation. The only thing of any event that has happened was a frantic rush to the vets when Nell unexpectedly ate a glass bauble from the Christmas tree, confirming herself as both incredibly silly and very much loved, as we spent the next twenty four hours trailing her around the house and on night-watch waiting to see whether the glass would cause any internal injury - it didn't and she's fine, but I think we all now stroke her floppy, velvety ears with renewed appreciation for her. In my brain-based book of 'Gosh, Dogs are SO Different from Cats', this incident has been recorded in evidence at number 4,379. It seems the list is never-ending and as though I will never cease being amazed by the cat/dog difference.

I have so much to write about, but in the brain-fug created by spending days mainlining Prosecco and chocolate, shorter seems better. The photos throughout this post are of my daughter's pre-Christmas sewing. On the weekend before school broke for the holidays, she decided that she wanted to sew little Liberty print purses for a few of her friends to give as Christmas gifts. It took several hours for her just to select the fabrics, cut, iron, and interface them, as well as to embroider her friends' names on each one by hand, so I was beginning to wonder whether I'd let her take on too much. However, I can now really see the wonderful benefit of bulk sewing when learning new skills, as when I went downstairs to make her some food (she was too busy to stop for lunch), on my return, she'd installed the final zip from start to finish, including under-stitching the lining, without any instruction at all - I think it's only by repeating the same process over and over on the previous bags that she had the confidence to do this and a proper understanding of why each step was needed.

I wanted to avoid any points in making these bags where my daughter would feel the need to ask me to actually sew bits of them for her to get the kind of finish she'd be happy with, so to avoid negotiating the bulk of the zip ends when it came to sewing up the sides of the bags (which I know from feedback to tutorials I've written, can be the bit that people find trickiest), I suggested we make the zips much shorter than I normally would. This worked perfectly and the covered zip ends sit a few millimetres in from each end of the bag, but not so far in that you could actually lose things through the gaps.

My daughter filled the bags with Quality Street chocolates and took them off to school having spent most of the weekend making them. The photographs aren't terribly good, as she finished them after dark and had to wrap them up before it had got fully light the next morning.

It would feel all wrong to not mention the lovely things my son has made in a start-of-year-post that features my daughter so prominently, so here's the Christmas gift he made for me and my husband this year: a book of Beasts, including lift-the-flap beast stats. This was possibly my favourite present. We loved Eletrea best, purely for the fact that he lives in Germany near power stations, a fact which made us both roar with laughter as we read it on Christmas morning.

I hope you've had a wonderful break too and want to wish you a very happy new year. I'm not really a new year's resolutions type of person - the moment I impose a rule or public aspiration on myself, I feel so overwhelmed by the idea that I might not live up to it that I set about wilfully sabotaging it. So, the only thing that I'm actively setting out to do as I head into 2014, is the rather vacuous pursuit of remembering to moisturise my hands more. Anyone who has taken step photos for a pattern or tutorial involving some hand-sewing and therefore their own hands, will know that this is a stark reminder of the truism that you can tell a person's age by the hands…but that for those who really ignore them you can add twenty years onto that figure.

Do you have any aspirations for the new year?

Florence x
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