Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Part B

Exactly three years ago we were in Sweden. When we came home I wrote a post about the first part of our adventure (which included being lost in the wilderness after dark on a snowmobile, beautiful ice sculptures and making house-sized hearts in the snow, you can read about it here), but by the time I came to write the second bit a week later, I found that I somehow couldn't do it; the months beforehand had been so stressful that after the relief of such an incredible holiday I just wanted to pick myself up and carry on without looking back.

However, it's an adventure that we talk about often - images from it float into my mind frequently and so, when I stumbled across some photos of it earlier today, and realised that freakily they had been taken exactly three years earlier, it felt like a good time to finally do the Part B blog post that I'd always intended to do.

I mentioned in the original post that we'd stayed at the Ice Hotel for a few days. It's hard to capture what it's actually like in photographs: quite how skillful the artwork that has gone into every room is; how every single element of it really is made entirely from ice; how enormous it is; how incredibly beautiful. This is the central atrium. On the end wall, there's a kind of futuristic alter with a chandelier made entirely from ice hanging above it.

Each bedroom has its own theme, each created by different artists.

I love this one where polar bears would overlook a sleeping couple. The bed is entirely made from ice, the only exception being the animal skins that are draped over them, which are essential, being both waterproof and warm. It's perfectly possible to stay for the night in the actual ice hotel, but we stayed in one their 'warm rooms' instead (simply because my daughter had looked utterly distressed at the idea of sleeping on an animal hide - we're vegetarian, so proper animal skins felt a little too 'real' to her - and we didn't want to risk having to decamp in the middle of the night).

The food was amazing. Warm lingonberry juice (and actually Lingonberry Crumble even more so) goes into my top ten favourite comestibles. This is an internal window in the breakfast rooms. I love how you can see such different wallpapers.

A few days later we went up to Abisko National Park. We stayed at the Abisko Turistation, which was possibly one of the strangest places I've ever been - part youth hostel, part halls of residence, part dream luxury location, due to the incredible views that surrounded it. When the bus finally arrives there it feels like you've reached the edge of the world. The photo below was taken from one of its windows.

On our last morning we went out walking. The views were unlike anything I'd ever seen before - so many layers of blue. 

In Jukkasjärvi it had been -40 degrees at times (somewhere between 0 and -40 degrees your eyelashes freeze - it was very exciting!), so when we reached Abisko and it had warmed up to -4, we felt so well thawed that I remember we walked around with our coats open and no gloves on. In the headiness of such unexpected warmth, when we came back from our walk, we found an abandoned plastic sledge and spent an hour taking it in turns to whizz down an enormous hill, delighting in attempting to avoid, but mostly sled-jumping over or crashing into, a large rock at the bottom, until our brain-freeze cleared and we suddenly realised that it was an activity that carried a potential death risk.

It seems a little odd to be sharing some holiday photos from three years ago, but it's always felt odder to have had a Part B post that I'd intended to write hanging off the edge of the Internet (there are actually many posts that never get written, but most of them get forgotten about - this one didn't), and there were so many amazing sights, that for posterity it feels right to have some of them recorded here. I hope you don't mind the quick detour; normal sewing service will resume shortly. 

Florence x

Monday, 17 February 2014

Threads for EPP

Recently I've been experimenting with what thread I use when I'm hand-sewing, specifically English paper piecing. The thread I'd been using for the last few years had been snapping easily, perhaps because I like to give a tiny tug after each stitch, and I was looking for a change. Some of the lovelies over on Instagram suggested I try Superior Thread's The Bottom Line. This thread was originally developed as a bobbin thread for machinists as it's incredibly thin, virtually invisible and unbelievably strong. Cotton purists will dislike it because it's a poly thread, but I personally don't have a problem with this myself.

Anyway, this thread is amazing - it allows you to create hand-stitches that are virtually invisible and I've been sewing with it for several weeks now and I haven't had a single strand snap, which is refreshing after the frequent thread changes I was getting up to with my old thread. I thought you might like to see the difference in finish it can give. In the two images below, I used Superior's Bottom Line thread in a very pale silver (colour no. 623). The only sign of the stitches is the little pull in the fabric, where I've pulled it taut, rather than the actual stitch. It's a 60 weight thread, lint-free and feels like silk when it glides through the fabric.

In the photos below, I've used a regular thread that's widely used for hand piecing.

This morning, I took these photos of old projects I've worked on, for the purpose of illustrating this post. It's an odd thing, because while I love the option of being able to sew with less visibly intrusive stitches (and I really, really love being able to sew with a thread that doesn't snap repeatedly), I realised as I took these photos that I also still embrace the sign of a human hand having been there and I'm not entirely sure that I want to rid my hand-sewing of that. That's a really curious realisation for someone whose aspirations normally hover around the Made by Robots level.

This is a close up photo of the Liberty print quilt that I made for my daughter a while ago (it also shows some of my first ever hand-quilting stitches, as well as the English paper piecing stitches). The quilt has now been washed a few times and so the cottons have shrunk, straining the stitches a little, as well as warping the once clean lines of the piecing. The quilt now looks more like something akin to those fragile pieces from the V&A Quilts 1700 - 2010 exhibition, where the visible stitches in the antique quilts made my heart ache slightly. One of the things on my 'Life's To-Do List' (as opposed to the weekly, or even annual list) was the give my daughter a hand-made quilt; if the stitches weren't visible I'm not sure I would have actually created a quilt that served the purpose I wanted (that being to leave a visible sign of care and comfort in a medium that feels like a second voice: hand quilt-making).

This no longer looks as neat as it did when I first sewed it together, but I love what it's becoming. Here's a photo of when it was a work in progress a few summers ago. 

Either way, I can see a place for both types of thread. I think there are some projects where you might want your sewing to feel personal and very much an extension of yourself, and others where you want your work to have a finish that's more crisp and precise. The two photos at the top of the post show snippets of an English paper pieced cushion I'm making for a magazine, where I'm happy for the finish to be less personal. I also think it would be the thread I'd use if I was working on a framed EPP project for the wall, so I thought I'd share the different thread options and the finishes they give in case you have times when you too aspire for less visible stitches and don't already know about The Bottom Line thread. 

I'm going to look into whether Superior make a thread for times when I want my stitches to be a little more visible, but without the dreaded thread-snapping problem (I use their King Tut thread for hand-quilting and it's excellent, so they seem to be becoming my go-to thread brand). I'd love to hear about what finish you aspire to with your own sewing: whether you feel attempting to sew too perfectly irons out the soul of a hand-made piece; or whether you view perfectionism as a sign of skill that makes you love your work - or that of others - even more; when you  EPP do you see your visible stitches as part of the intrinsic appeal and 'tactileness' of the piece; or do you attempt to sew, elf-like, enjoying the challenge of attempting to leave only the slightest sign of your handiwork? 

Florence x

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Finishing something

I've finally finished a quilt that I've been working on, in tandem with a few other things, since Christmas. Unfortunately, I can't show you all of it quite yet, as it's going to appear in a future issue of Love Patchwork & Quilting magazine, but I thought I might share a few photos of the borders and binding.

This quilt is entirely made by hand - it combines English paper piecing, appliqué and a complete self-indulgence of hand-quilting! A self-indulgence because I could have quilted this in a day on the machine, but since I hand-quilted my daughter's quilt I find it hard to forgo the bobbly puffiness that quilting by hand gives - it's just so incredibly tactile, irrespective of imperfect stitches and wonky lines.

Every time I embark on a project like this, half way through I begin to question (and chastise myself for) my curious compulsion to take the long road, but it's such a good feeling when it's finally finished. I was talking to my husband about this last night: he says that when he gets to the end of coding one of our educational Squeebles apps, he looks over his work and the realisation that he's written over ten thousand lines of code brings an odd sense of detachment. I know what he means - it's as though an alter-ego has been working on your behalf, because by the end, you can't quite believe that you have possessed the perseverance to return to chipping away at the same thing each day.

Perseverance is an odd thing. When I see those people who occasionally appear on Grand Designs, who literally build or rebuild their own houses, repointing the bricks of an entire water tower the size of an aircraft hanger, in a blizzard in the middle of winter with a broken arm and seemingly only their chest hair for warmth, I've often wondered where they find the inner strength not to be crushed by the enormity of the task. It feels like a really good lesson in perseverance to undertake long-term projects every now and then (although obviously on a much smaller scale than the aforementioned water tower) that reinforce the idea that chipping away at something really does eventually mean something will be finished. I think I have to pick my lessons though, as it only feels like a good lesson if it's enjoyable - I've realised recently that same-block quilts are almost an impossibility for me - whereas I find the chipping of hand-quilting a quilt really enjoyable, chipping away at this snowball quilt very nearly made me throw the quilt out of the window - I'm really not sure that I enjoyed it at all as I didn't find the repetitive sew, cut, press actions peaceful in the way that many others seem to. Which makes me think that a sampler quilt, which involves putting together lots of different blocks, may be the perfect thing for me. I'd quite like to start on one of those at some point soon. Do you have any recommendations? Jen Kingwell's Green Tea and Sweet Beans is a pattern that seems to have a pull, not least because so much of it can be done by hand.

Finally, let's talk about lavendery colours. I mentioned this on Instagram last week. For the last ten years I've just loathed any shade of purple, to the point where I haven't even acknowledged its existence because it's just not even on my radar as being part of the usable colour spectrum, so I've found it slightly unnerving that I'm suddenly starting to look at lavender-hued fabrics and feeling all wanty. When I saw Oh Fransson's Love Triangle quilt last week on Instagram I actually had palpitations I loved it so much - do go and have a look - it's an amazing quilt and the photos of it are stunning (you can find the pattern for it here, if it has a similar effect on you).

I actually even ordered a few fabrics in this shade. I had to remove two of them (not pictured) on arrival as they made me feel slightly cringeful, so I'm not sure I'm yet entirely accepting of it, however, I'm wondering whether that's because it needs some really bright pinks and fresh whites mixing in, as with the Oh Fransson quilt, to make it palatable. What are your thoughts on this colour? I'm wondering if it's a generational thing, as I think so many people of my age had either lilac or peach decorated bedrooms as teenagers, that it's perhaps difficult to easily reintroduce these colours that seem like throwback-to-the-nineties shades…however, looking at my blog header I seem to have managed to re-embrace peachy tones, so perhaps it will happen with purpley ones too.

Florence x

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

LP&Q :: Issue 5

I'm so delighted to have something in Issue 5 of Love Patchwork & Quilting magazine as, like all the issues that have gone before it, it's a goodie. If you don't subscribe, you can try to track it down by looking out for Karen's beautiful quilt, which is the cover star - I really adore quilts that play with triangles to create a sense of light and this does it perfectly.

Back in November, the editor, Jenny, asked if I'd like to contribute a make-up/washbag duo involving some English paper piecing. 

This is what I came up with - it features hexagons, but with curved outer edges…which means it brings some curves into the piecing without the difficult bit of having to sew them together. It also presents the opportunity for some fussy-cutting, which you know I will jump upon at any opportunity. The fabric featured here is Bluebird Park by Kate & Birdie. 

I love the way that Love Patchwork & Quilting have photographed the velvet zip pulls at jaunty angles to follow the stitch line that runs across the top of the page. Bonkersly lovely.

I thought you might like to see a few other incarnations of this using the same pattern pieces, but different fabrics and placements. I happened to have seen the Orla Kiely print, below, around the time I started drafting a pattern for this piece, so I started planning out something that reinterpreted it in English paper pieced form.

However, it was a colour scheme which was met with universal disapproval from my family, so I decided to abandon it, although I still really quite like it myself - if you fancy a little bit of self-made Orla in your life, you can use the same template pieces that are given in issue 5, to create something similar.

I gave this one, made from Liberty prints, as part of my grandmother's Christmas gift - I love seeing how different you can make things look by using very different styles of fabric (unfortunately, the light was so gloomy back in November that it was difficult to take any nice photos). 

So anyway, there are so many other things that I think you'll love in issue 5 -

There's also this wonderful pixel sewing scissors quilt, created by Katy. I've slightly fallen in love with the idea of moving the chair to the right and then sitting my little boy on the chair, looking very serious, as though he is poised for a haircut. I think this quilt would be wonderful hung in a hallway, so that different people would sit there as they were putting their shoes on and off - I think I'd request a photograph of each person and then turn the series of photographs into a collage of subjects. If you look at this close-up in the magazine, the creamy areas have a delicious mother-of-pearl effect, as there are some mirrorball dots in there.

Anyway, Issue 5 of Love Patchwork & Quilting goes on sale tomorrow, Wednesday 5th February - do try and hunt one out - it's an issue full of new fabrics, interesting books, inspiring quilts and some fantastic features.

Florence x
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