Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My first fabric design: Nellington

You might remember that a few months ago, I introduced my new sponsor, Woven Monkey, an English company who will print your own designs onto fabric, much like their American counterpart, Spoonflower. After a lot of revisions, I think that I finally feel happy with what will be my first fabric design: Nellington. I finished these designs at around midnight on Friday, with my feet being gently toasted by Nell's warm body beneath the table, so when I came to save the final files, I found myself naming them as Nellington Pink and Nellington Turquoise (you see the way that dog has snuffled her way into my dog-loathing heart? I actually adore her).

I'm currently waiting for some swatches to come back from Woven Monkey so that I can see how it looks on cotton and whether I'm happy with the colours. I'm still undecided as to what scale I prefer (the photo at the top of this post shows the design at a large and small scale - I'm keeping these papers taped up on my wall, although so far this hasn't helped me come to a decision. Any opinions?). Anyway, I thought I'd share with you how my design progressed, because when I looked back through the different incarnations it had been through, I found it really interesting to see how it had developed.

This isn't the clearest of photos (I've discovered it's incredibly difficult to photograph a screen without strange lines appearing over it, so the rest of the images are screen shots or directly saved images), but here's the central motif I came up with. At the time, I was just thinking of creating one motif that would have a uniform repeat, as you can see below.

I posted the above design to Instagram asking for advice. I knew that I wasn't quite happy with it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Having somewhere where you can get such a quick response from such a wide range of people is amazing; the responses were so helpful. A lot of people suggested adding in an extra colour to bring the blue to life a bit more, while others mentioned that they felt there was too large an expanse of white. Both so helpful - particularly the latter, which I hadn't seen myself, but the moment I read those comments, I knew that was exactly what didn't feel quite right about it.

I spent a while playing around with colours and backgrounds.

My husband then added in that he wasn't so keen on the 'satsuma segments' that dance around the outside of the flowers and that he'd find a petal shape more satisfying to look at. Those have been changed in the bottom left design in the above collage.

At this point I decided to see how it would look if I started to fill in the background with some bubbles of colour. Once I'd started adding in the bubbles, I chose to toss in a few individual flowers and then created a few sprigs to join them and suddenly it felt as though it was turning into something that was entirely different from what I'd initially envisaged, but also something I felt much happier with. I also found it easier to settle on a colour scheme that I liked at that point too. I've created the design in two colourways: what my son sweetly calls 'skin colour' and turquoise.

It took me an inordinately long time to work out how to create a pattern that can repeat seamlessly for a more involved design like this (for a simpler design Woven Monkey's own upload software can actually create the repeat for you in seconds), both from a practical point of view and then trying to learn how to get my software to do what I wanted it to do. Essentially, I had to create a design that wraps around - think of the world mapped out on a globe and you get the picture - but that can then be cut down into a square, to be printed and reprinted across a width of fabric. You can see how this works in the picture below: focus on the main mid-sized flower half-way down the outer right hand side of the square and you'll notice that about a 1/3 of this flower overhangs the parameters of my turquoise background square. You'll see that when it reappears on the left hand side of square, it's this overhanging 1/3 that now appears on the fabric, while the already used 2/3 now hangs over the left-hand edge.

You can see how if you apply this logic to each side of the square, it can then be tiled in any direction to create a seamless repeat.

Here is Nell, with Nellington: the fact that she can barely raise herself from her doggy afternoon coma to feign interest in them would suggest that she's flattered, but that ultimately fabric designs aren't really her thing.

But, that's okay, because I still think she looks lovely with them. It makes my head feel worryingly close to explosion to think that if I wanted to I could actually make an entire dog bed for Nell in this fabric that I've designed using her name. Being able to have a hand in everything from the pattern design to the piecing and construction when making something is such an oddly empowering idea…(but don't worry, Woven Monkey is not akin to Frankenstein setting loose monsters: I promise not to even attempt to have Nellington etched onto grass using weedkiller and a selection of organic dyes…)

Fabric aside, thank you so much for all your wonderful entries to yesterday's giveaway post. You are making me feel so much better by sharing all your own loopyiness! There's still time to enter.

Florence x

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A book review & giveaway

Today is my stop on the book tour of my friend, Christine Haynes, who is celebrating the birth of her new baby, The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction. When I met Christine for lunch in London last year, she'd told me that her forthcoming book would be a part of the same series of books that I'd actually been talking about on my blog around that time, namely The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting.

The Perfect Fitting book was so incredibly clear, helpful and in-depth, that I knew Christine would be given the perfect canvas on which to convey all the tiny details that really need getting across in a book like this to make it genuinely helpful and complete. As a beginner to any new thing, what most visual learners need, is an overdose of photos. It's such a horrible feeling to be being walked through something and to find that the author has suddenly let go of your hand and left you to fall down into a great big hole in the pavement, before merrily proffering her paw once more several steps down the road, oblivious to the fact that you're still stuck down a GREAT BIG HOLE because she started mumbling when discussing the one vital piece of information that you really needed to hear in order to complete the task without being covered in tarmac!

Anyway, back to Miss Christine, who will not let go of your paw; who will not let you fall down the cracks in between her perfectly styled photos; and who, instead, will guide you through each step of every element of clothing construction, like your own grandmother, who really just wants you to know the best way to do things to make life easier for yourself*. Christine teaches sewing in her day job at Sew LA, which I think probably keeps her very much in touch with what someone new to dressmaking might need from a book - it's easy once you can suck eggs to forget what it's like to need every single thing laying out for you and that it really isn't obvious, if you've never been told, what the difference is between a regular zip and a concealed zip or what all the markings on those tissue paper pattern pieces actually mean. So, the fact that Christine starts at the beginning and works methodically from basics, such as cutting out a pattern, to more complex tasks, such as inserting an in-seam pocket, with the same thoroughness throughout is really fantastic.

A book of sewing techniques isn't in any way a new concept, as evident by the cloth bound editions I have on my shelves from the early 1900s, however, the ones which I referred to most at the outset of my journey into dressmaking were from the late 1990s and, while comprehensive, they were illustrated with a line up of painfully ugly fabrics. I know that I should really have had more of an imagination…but sometimes I found it hard to engage with those books. So this is where Christine's book feels unique and as though it has something extra to offer: it's gorgeous.

And the fabrics, patterns and notions throughout all feel thoroughly covetable and as though you're taking advice from someone who relates to your sense of style, as well as your need to learn. I don't know why that should be important, but it just is. William Morris' adage about having nothing in your house that you do not know not to be useful or believe to be beautiful really rings true…but it's even better when something covers both bases!

So, lovelies, Miss Christine has sent me a copy of her shiny new book to give away to you. If you'd like to be in with the chance to win it, just leave me a comment on this post, telling me about something ridiculous that you've done. I know that Christine will totally support me in hijacking this giveaway in the name of post-trauma-therapy, so if you've done anything akin to putting your electric kettle on the gas hob and lighting it in order to boil some water, only noticing your error when your kettle is in flames and the acrid smell of burning plastic is filling the air, please do share it in the comments. If not, I'm tempted to say that only fallible human beings may enter, but I don't want to discriminate against perfection, so just some words of consolation will suffice. Luckily, nothing but my sense of my own sanity, the kettle and two tea towels were injured in this incident, but I will be starting my week with a trip to to the shops to buy a new kettle.

I'm happy to post the to anywhere in the world and I'll pick a winner at random later in the week.

Florence x

 * While Christine gives the kind of advice you'd want and expect from the best kind of grandmother, I feel compelled to say that she is not actually of grandmother age at all. If you'd like to learn more about Christine, you can read her blog here, or discover her sewing patterns, here. You can follow the rest of her book tour in these places if you'd like to see some more from inside the pages:

Friday, February 28 – Sew L.A.
Monday, March 3 – Coletterie
Tuesday, March 4 – Miss Crayola Creepy
Wednesday, March 5 – Whipstitch
Thursday, March 6 – Lucky Lucille
Friday, March 7 – Grainline
Monday, March 10 – Oonaballoona
Tuesday, March 11 – Paunnett
Wednesday, March 12 – Sewaholic
Thursday, March 13 – Lladybird
Friday, March 14 – House of Pinheiro
Monday, March 17 – Flossie Teacakes
Tuesday, March 18 – The Sew Convert
Wednesday, March 19 – Craftsy
Thursday, March 20 – Sublime Stitching
Friday, March 21 – Sew Stylish

Monday, 10 March 2014

Breakfast and a new sponsor

This is the breakfast that started my weekend*. I don't think things really get much lovelier than this. My daughter and I whizzed up to London first thing on Saturday morning to join my sister for card and present opening and to celebrate her birthday with her (hers was on Saturday, mine two days earlier, on Thursday; I've always loved that they are so close together). I adore the colours in this photo and variations on the same aubergine-mint-pinkish hues drew me in as we pottered around Marylebone later in the day (the bookshop below is Daunt Bookshop on Marylebone High Street).

With the colours of my weekend fresh in my mind, when I contemplated introducing my new sponsor this morning, I decided to see if I could colour-match my weekend from the shades of Kona that they stock. I could, so I'm doubly delighted to introduce Plush Addict, who offer Aubergine Place Mat; Daunt's Back Wall; Perfect Teapot Green; and Champagne Truffle Pink within the 278 shades of Kona  Solids that they have on their website.

Plush Addict started off just a few years ago as a relatively small business, stocking soft, plush fabrics from which to make cloth nappy covers, but they've quickly grown and the business now not only keeps Kellie's husband, mother and sister-in-law busy, but also employs several local people and sells everything from quilting fabrics to dressmakers' denim. 

I was especially excited this morning when I realised that they now have in stock the whole range of one of my favourite fabric collections: Meadow by Beth Studley. 

I adore these poppies and the colours are deliciously juicy, while still feeling like a relatively sophisticated print. 

Crazily, you can get fat quarters of all ten prints for just £23.75…which (I know you can work this out for yourself, but it feels worth pointing out anyway, as I find that bundles are rarely actually less expensive than buying the fabrics individually) works out at just 2.37 a fat quarter!

I also wanted to share with you these fabrics from the Mariposa collection, by Blend Fabrics. I love the soft, quiet colours and they remind me of Liberty prints, which are characterised by the same hand-drawn, fine outline to the designs.

Lately, I've been drawn to fabrics where the prints have a certain amount of definition, as it makes them so much more versatile if you want to fussy cut them, as I've done in the piecing above, which is cut from this Dear Stella fabric. I realised recently when I mentioned the term on Instagram that not all sewers (especially non-quilters) know quite what 'fussy cutting' means. I have to confess to loathing the term; it inexplicably conjures up images of large frilly knickers for me, which is a not entirely pleasant experience, but there's nothing that describes it quite so well so, for the uninitiated, it's essentially cutting a fabric so that a particular part of the fabric's design, such as a flower or motif, is centred on the piece of fabric you're cutting. It's a great way to create a completely new design from a print or, used en masse, to create a kaleidoscope effect with your piecing. For this reason I find myself drawn to Helen's Garden, which has some really well-defined designs, as well as some beautiful blender prints. 

Back to Kona, Plush Addict have put together some really unusual colour stacks. This one is called skin tones - isn't that a fantastic idea! 

What they really remind me of though is ballet shoes. I love that shade of peachy skin-colour that children's ballet shoes are traditionally made in. I have to admit that ballet is all about the costumes for me (I still feel like this as an adult when my daughter and I go to the Royal Ballet School's end of term performance every summer with my sister). When my daughter was very small, high on Angelina Ballerina books, we were both terribly excited about her starting ballet lessons. We went to the local dance shop and picked out the most divine pink leotard and skirt; sat in perfect happiness while the peachy little ballet slippers were fitted on to her chubby little toddler feet; and then she practically floated home with the bag of pink frou frou held tightly in her hot little paw. It came as a total shock to us when we arrived at her first lesson to discover that each ballet school chooses its own uniform colour and that our one favoured a hideous shade of claret! It was unfathomable, and after that we arrived at ballet lessons each week feeling slightly crestfallen, pulling on the regulation ballet clothes (having had to exchange the pink uniform) resenting how very un-Angelina they were. Anyway, it wasn't so very long after that, that my daughter shunned pink forever and realised that she preferred climbing rocks to keeping her toes nicely pointed, but 'ballet shoe peach' still makes me feel really happy. This handy feature on the Plush Addict shows the last half-dozen items that you've most recently viewed…you can see that I got sucked in to pouring over peachy coloured interlock and pastel shades of netting that I have absolutely no purpose for…

But Plush Addict's range of dressmaking fabrics does look very good. I can't vouch for the quality of it, as I haven't felt any of it in person, but it certainly looks lovely. You can find an exhaustive range of colours of interlock jersey here; and an incredibly varied collection of denim here.

Although Plush Addict have extended into every conceivable fabric direction, they have also maintained their extensive range of plush fabrics, stocking all the insanely soft and dreamy fabric you could wish for. Their range of minky fabrics (if you haven't felt these, the softness is unimaginable - although it's now known as 'cuddle fabric' in England due to trademarking issues) comes in every possible colour; they have plush printed fabrics; cuddle fabrics embossed with dimples or chevrons; fabrics that look like they have been shorn from a teddy bear…and so many other very good things. 

Oh, and if you're in Kent, Plush Addict hold open days every other month! You can find the dates here and also in-between times by appointment. 

What new fabrics are you coveting at the moment? Did you notice any predominant colours from your own weekend?

Florence x

* My daughter ate a huge sunshine-coloured mango with fresh lime-juice drizzled over it for her breakfast, just in case you were worrying over her becoming intoxicated by the champagne truffle breakfast.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Cutting mats: in other colours!

I wondered this week about why cutting mats are always green. Perhaps manufacturers initially conducted visibility studies and their results determined that nine out of ten cutting mats, for the rest of time, should be made in Oppressive Green. However, personally I'd be willing to live with the struggle to see my fabrics/cutting lines/fingers for a variety of colours to choose from. Generally, when I take my sewing tools from a drawer, I feel warmth, fondness and familiarity, but I realised recently that when I take a cutting mats out I feel slightly heavy-hearted - their dour, singular colouring oppressing my enthusiastic sewing soul. I should say re: the photo above, I've actually unwittingly chosen the one photo from my entire archives where the cutting mat goes amazingly with the fabric.

So, I took it upon myself to do some research this evening, in case you're left feeling a little damp-spirited at the sight of the standard issue cutting mats.

Annie, from the Village Haberdashery, volunteered that she has some limited edition Olfa mats in purple at her shop in London and she loaded them onto her site for us to see. You can snaffle one up here!

I found this mat at Minerva. It's still green, but it's a long way from being Oppressive Green. It's made by Clover, which is a brand that I adore. Everything they make seems to be so perfectly designed (apart from the rotary cutter which you can see in the photo at the top of this post - that's the only one of their products that I've ever disliked). This mat comes in three sizes.

Next is this double-sided mat made by Fiskars (you may be most familiar with them for their orange-handled scissors). I'm imagining this probably looks much better in real life than these images suggest, as I think I've spotted this mat in one of Laurie Wisbrun's photos looking really quite lovely. I like that this mat offers a choice of colour each time you use it. It's available from John Lewis in two sizes.

The next mat I found is a beautiful pink one. It comes in one relatively small size, approximately 12in x 8in. You can find it here for an impressive £4.99

Below is a very small circular mat (picture is my own). It's meant to rotate for easy cutting, but I don't find it much quicker, as it requires too much pressure to move it, so I just use it as a regular cutting mat. However, it's a small mat that's perfect for cutting on the move, on the sofa or, erm, in bed late at night (yes, really), because it has such a solid base that you don't need to place it on a hard surface to use it, so I'm quite delighted by it, despite not using it as intended. Find one here

The next mat is made by Gingher. Sigh. So lovely. This is one of my favourites. Unfortunately, you'd currently need to import it through Amazon UK, and ask for it to be sent over from the States. 

Finally, possibly saving the best for last, aren't these pastel coloured mats gorgeous.

They're made by a Korean company called Iswas and I want the three mats at the front so much that the wantyness manifests itself almost as a physical pain. In my heart. Although ridiculously, it's partly because I like the way they look as a group, I'm not sure they'd be as thrilling in isolation. These mats are actually translucent and I'm sure there's probably a usefulness to that, but it doesn't leap out at me. If you are brave enough to risk the possible customs charges, you can find them here. Do you think it would disturb you a little to cut on a translucent mat directly over a carpet?  (Do you see what I've done there? I've talked myself from wanty heartache, to leave-that-mat-in-Korea, all in the space of two sentences! I think that's my version of will power).

If you know of any other colours, a reason for the predominance of Oppressive Green or just want to squeal with delight that there actually other colours in existence, please do so in the comments. Or maybe you're thinking: No, this is ALL wrong. I am not delighted. Cutting mats should be green.

Florence x

UPDATE: I just wanted to add in this beauty that Lindsey Glew mentioned in the comments. I think this may be my favourite one yet. It's Oppressive Green on one side, but beautiful sky blue on the other. It comes in four sizes and you can find it here. Thank you so much, Lindsey!
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.