Monday, 28 April 2014

A stolen day of dressmaking

With an arm-length list of things I needed to work on for our apps last week, my plan was foiled when we lost our phone and Internet connections mid-week. Thursday found me with little else to do other than sew (which was obviously devastating, especially when it involved the prospect of a Peter Pan collar), so I decided to whip up a blouse as it's been so long since I've done any dressmaking and Springtime always seems to reawaken the desire to do this for me.

I bought this light-weight rayon feather-strewn print from Sew Over It last year. It has THE most amazing drape. I would go so far as to say that it has the best drape of any fabric I've ever owned. Although you pay for that by it being a little slippery to sew with, although not in a totally maddening way, just in a 'oh for goodness sake, sit still' sort of way. If it were a child it would be the one who wiggles around like it's got ants in its pants at story time, rather than the one who wilfully blocks up the cloakroom sinks and then turns the taps on at full force, so don't be put off welcoming a metre or two of it into your home; it will probably behave.

I drafted the pattern based on a much-loved shop bought blouse I have in my wardrobe, but have never tried to recreate previously as I knew it would need super-drapey fabric to work as it's not especially fitted, but remains flattering because the drape allows it to follow the lines of the body, rather than standing like a tent around it. I dispensed with making a muslin version because I felt I was on borrowed time in which to indulge my Spring dressmaking fancies and because I was feeling impatient after months of slow English paper piecing and just wanted to MAKE SOMETHING. And amazingly, it just worked: drape - perfect; fit - perfect; ability to blend in with the rest of my wardrobe - perfect; wearability - huge!

But do you remember those 'You Choose' books that we had when we were younger, where if you choose to confront the shadowy figure behind the curtain you should turn to page 78 and if you decide to run away you should go to Page 22? I think I had a You Choose moment when I was making this top, but the person authoring my day hadn't made me fully aware of how critical it was...and I chose the wrong thing. When I raided my stash for interfacing for the collar, I realised the black iron-on fusible I had was a little heavy, so instead I chose the lighter weight one, which was white. I realised that white interfacing wasn't ideal on a dark top, but decided I'd go with it as it didn't show through the fabric at all when placed beneath it. When I finally tried the finished top on, I was so pleased with its right-first-timeness that I chose to respect this with one more press before hanging it in my wardrobe. However, in between that time, I'd used the iron for something else and had forgotten that I'd turned the heat up above three dots to 'flatten that fabric like a steamroller' temperature. When I ironed the collar, white flecks of glue melted through the thin fabric and I was left with white dots all over the centre front of the collar. I'll leave it to the colourfulness of your own imagination to insert the expletive I may have used.

I followed a video on YouTube that showed me how to steam the fabric without pressure, then to soak it in boiling water, before scraping the glue off (I can't find it now, but the girl doing the tutorial had the most incredibly calm and reassuring voice that it did much to restore my equilibrium). It did remove most of the glue, but it's no longer perfect. It looks fine in the photos and I wore the blouse the day after and (curiously for me) didn't feel self-conscious about the slight dotting, but I'd really love to remake it, this time taking longer over everything: french seams, rather than overlocked edges; soft black interfacing; maybe putting in a keyhole opening at the back of the collar.

Those who know my dressmaking habits well will appreciate the freakishness of my wearing this top the very day after it was made! Despite daubing it in glue, it really was a success in Florence Land for I normally put just-made clothing in my wardrobe for at least a fortnight to percolate in my head as to whether it is suitable for wearing outside or whether it's a 'bless my heart' garment. Camille from Queen Bee Fabrics recently taught me this saying - apparently it's a southern expression meaning 'Well, you tried your best. Bless your heart!'. I think that's the most positive, optimistic and adorable way of embracing your own shortcomings! (I love Camille's posts on Instagram, even though she seemingly has no 'bless her heart' moments of her own, despite claiming to - do follow her if you don't already!)

Anyway, I must say that I feel totally energised by a day spent driving not only the sewing machine, but also the overlocker. There are few things quite so happiness-inducing than the sight of a desk crammed with machinery after a sabbatical from it (because I mostly choose to hand-sew, but every now and then it feels so refreshing to return to a machine and experience what a 1,000 stitches per minute feels like again).

Returning to the quilt that featured in the last post (a full 18 days ago - how did that happen?!) - thank you so, so much for all your comments - they were funny, helpful, empathetic, insightful, and at times, understandably stern ( you know who you are!), but they gave me so many good ideas and also made me feel incredibly lucky to have so many lovelies to share things like that with. Many of you suggested that I put it back under the bed until I have the will to unpick the stitches and make it right, so, as by that point it was already back under the bed awaiting the outcome of its fate, it felt like good advice and hopefully at some point in the future, you'll read a post where it's been finished in a way that I'm happy with and can then go and find a home somewhere where it will be loved.

Florence x

Ps. The photos for this post were a no-head sort of day. My husband declared that I looked mad in all of them! Sometimes it's best not to smile; there's an excellent reason why so many dressmaking bloggers go for photos where they're looking down at a particularly interesting point on the floor - it's a much more reliable stance for photographs! x

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Quilt Under the Bed

While this post has a working title of 'The Quilt Under the Bed', you should know that its actual title is something more akin to the 'The Red Devil Under the Bed that Causes Much Hand-Wringing and the Kittens with a Strong Sense of Irony', but I decided that it may seem a little dark and so decided to offer up a palatable, succinct alternative. This quilt, which lives, unfinished, beneath our bed, has become a source of shame for me. A few summers ago I worked on it feverishly, hand piecing together hexagons at every opportunity…it went on car journeys, days out, trips to the park, parts of it even came along to Italy with me. By Christmas time I'd finished the English paper pieced section and I'd begun chain piecing half-square triangles to go around its borders.

Eventually, I hand-quilted the large central section and then, for one reason or another, I put it away for a while. I had really, really loved this fabric at the time; whenever I looked at it, it gave me such delight. But when I got it out again it had lost a little of its magic for me, so when I came to machine quilt the outer borders, rather than fussing over my stitches being perfectly hidden in the ditches where seams join, I hastily dragged it around beneath the foot of the machine, letting tiny puckers sit, where they would usually be unpicked. It felt like I was wielding an elephant; nothing has ever felt more like sewing through treacle than this quilt did. I put it away again hoping it would disappear, but every time I went to get something out from under the bed I'd see that, curses, the damn thing was still there.

It has gone on festering beneath our bed, gathering resentment whenever I've thought of it, for a further year. Occasionally, I've pulled it out and thought: gosh, I really must finish it, it's just the binding to go now…but then I've thought what a horrific waste of time that would be and put it away again as I can't bring myself to spend the time binding something which I know I won't want to use. I've thought about giving it to a charity shop if I could finish it, but I feel too embarrassed by the puckers in the quilting to let it go out alone in public (they are not big puckers, but I'm a perfectionist and so they actually make my skin crawl). And so I thought I'd ask what you do when you've spent hundreds of hours working on something only to find that your taste has changed and its shine has gone dull?* I'm considering the community textile recycling bins under cover of darkness…

As if to confirm its horror, today when I decided to photograph it for this post, my cats appeared from nowhere and sat looking stately in front of the quilt as though attempting to add to its fusty appearance. When I showed these photos to my daughter this afternoon, she couldn't stop laughing. You may have to know the personalities of our cats a little to find this funny, but view these with the knowledge that: they never choose to spend time in the same room as one another; they rarely willingly come near anyone other than my daughter; if someone moves they usually run away; they are not cats that like to work the camera; they have only ventured into the room where this quilt was temporarily hanging a handful of times in the seven years since they came to live with us. I am delighted by the belief that they collaborated for one time only with the express purpose of providing an ironic foreground for my quilt. There is no other explanation as to why else they would suddenly flock around me and my quilt, confidently jumping on and off the chair (which had only been placed there so I could hang the quilt up from the picture rails), swapping places with one another, and doing their best impersonation of serious show-cats from the 1800s in order to make my quilt look even more fusty whenever I pressed the camera's shutter. I love them for it - they played it perfectly. They have now gone back to their separate beds and recovered their impish spirits with jumpy rescue cat expressions.

So anyway, I'd love to hear if you have any similar things hiding beneath your own bed and how you deal with them. The lesson that I'm taking from this is not one which I can imagine actually learning from (because I love labour-intensive projects), but it's an awareness that the longer something takes to complete, the more time there is for you to fall out of love with it before you've even had the chance to use it. However, again, it's also brought home to me that most of the enjoyment comes from the process rather than the completion, because joking aside, I'm not actually at all devastated by how many hours I've lost to this quilt, more just the waste of fabric involved.

Florence x

Ps. If you want to read any of the posts written when I still loved this fabric, the English paper piecing post is here; more EPP here; The nine million hours I spent over getting the quilt wadding for this just right can be found here; making the half-square triangles using Thangles has been documented here.

* You may tell me that has never happened to you and that this now unloved quilt has arisen from a fundamental personality flaw, namely being a changeling, flibbertigibbet in need of some constancy, but please attempt to do so while sitting on a Shetland Pony, rather than astride a high horse, or I may be forced to crawl under the bed with the retched quilt! (And yes, 'high horse' - it's an expression that makes me think of the delectable Gilbert Blythe too) x

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Owl and the Pussycat

Firstly, outrageously late due to being unwell and then taking a brief blog break to enjoy the start of the Easter holidays with my children, a winner to the Christine Haynes Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction book giveaway. Thank you so much for all the wonderful entries. The winner*, Emma Made, wrote:  I posted a chocolate bar once. I bought a chocolate bar and a stamp in the post office. I had the letter in one hand and the chocolate in the other and I posted the chocolate! Happy day for the postman! X PS great giveaway Florence. I felt slightly fascinated by what happened next: if you were a postman would you eat an unopened chocolate bar that you found in the postbox? Did Emma have enough change to buy another chocolate bar? Did she walk coolly away after posting it or did she spend a few minutes desperately peering into the black mouth of the letterbox wondering if there was a way of retrieving the chocolate? Do mice ever venture inside postboxes? Do rats ever venture into postboxes? Do postmen ever open up the postbox to find wildlife leaping into their arms? Emma, please do send me your address and I'll send the book to you with all good wishes that no rodents nibble the envelope while it's awaiting collection from the letterbox. And if anyone happens to be married to a postman, please do pose my questions to him and report back! Or maybe there is a sewing postlady reading?

In my last post, I mentioned that while I was in bed with tonsillitis and a fever well over 100ºF my daughter sprang upon us the need to be transformed into an owl in approximately 48 hours time. My husband said that he was happy to tackle a mask with her, but would be clueless as to the rest of the costume.

If I had to sew anything while feeling that ill, it would have been this curious be-feathered t-shirt. I found the colours incredibly calming, loved cutting something out with no need for the pieces to be identically sized and enjoyed building up rows of feathers, not worrying too much about quite where they went.

I hadn't imagined using most of my treasured Sketch or Architextures on an owl costume, but my desire not to leave the house to buy alternative fabric insisted upon it. Nor had I ever imagined putting these fabrics together, but all I could think of while I was sewing the feathers on, was what a gorgeous quilt they would make.

My daughter and her friend were attending an evening event together as The Owl and the Pussycat. As the actual pussycat wasn't here when I photographed our owl, our real cat acted as a stand-in. She was slightly disgusted by our attempts at recreating a bird and no attempt to flatter our artistic efforts by savaging it and leaving it splattered over the floor of the utility room was made on this occasion.

In other thoughts, I've noticed that more and more often I'm using square photos on my blog as I frequently rely on my iPhone camera which tends to be set to take them in this way (this is an especially good option for when you find the lens of your favourite proper camera with several deep scratches running over it). As so many people take square photos to upload to Instagram and other sites that favour squarism now, I often wonder when the first proper square cameras will appear, whether most photo frames will eventually feature square apertures and whether our children will look back on our 4"x 6" photos as things of quaint curiosity. 

Florence x

* Emma was picked as the winner purely on the grounds that there are few things worse than losing chocolate when you'd been imagining eating it.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Books in bed

Firstly, I'm so sorry that it's taken so much longer than promised to announce a winner for Christine's book giveaway - I'll do that in my next post once I've got organised again - your stories were a complete, and very comforting, delight. I've been in bed with the worst bout of tonsillitis that I've ever experienced (and as someone who has form for getting tonsillitis several times a year, I have a substantial history on which to base comparisons). I don't usually stop for illness (which is something that infuriates my husband and causes him to adopt a Basil Fawlty voice and bluster around saying things like 'Just dying, dear, but must press on! Important things to do!' whenever he passes me), but in this case I felt so dreadful that I actually just lay in bed and slept for hours on end and when I woke up the only thing I had the energy to do was to devour books and actually listen to my husband's orders (a very rare occurrence) to do absolutely nothing. Although with a temperature over 100, I was required one day to take a brief authorised break from resting to rustle up a fancy dress costume, but more on that for another post.

I borrowed my husband's Kindle several years ago and at the time really didn't enjoy the experience of digital reading, but I stole it back last week and found myself unexpectedly falling in love with it. As I'd worked my way through all 629 pages of the beautiful cloth-bound copy of Wilkie Collin's epic novel 'The Woman in White', I'd found myself exhausted by having to keep the pages open and hold such a weighty book (yes, that feeble) and would invariably fall asleep over it, drifting in and out of consciousness with an awareness that the cover was jabbing me in the cheek, but without the presence of mind to actually move the book before falling back to sleep. So, on finishing that, when I moved on to Kindlised versions of books, I experienced a sensation of 'Oh my goodness: so light; so little page turning; so uninjurious while I sleep; such instant acquisitions of new reading fodder; so wonderful to not have the room littered with teetering towers of books; so refreshing not to have to try and make room for new books on our already overflowing bookshelves'. I've found myself feeling quite attached to it.

I have read more books in the last two weeks than I've read in the whole of the previous year. Here was my rather random choice of reading material.

1) The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier - my best friend bought this for me and, happily, in amongst the wonderful story, it features quilting quite heavily and most deliciously. I love that it does this without having been penned for a freaky sub-genre entitled 'Novels Written Specifically for Quilters' (Quilt Lit? Quilt Fiction?). There's an assumption within in it that regular people will enjoy hearing the details of constructing an English paper pieced quilt; there's nothing quite as lovely as having your obsession normalised. (You can read Tracy's blog, which features some quilts as well her writing news, here).

2) Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier - having fallen in love with Tracy Chevalier's writing style in the previous book, I went straight onto my (husband's) Kindle and downloaded this. No quilts, this time it's painting, but wonderful all the same.

3) The Homecoming, by Anna Smith - I really enjoyed this book - it's a story set over a hazy summer in Scotland, within a small rural farming community, where a secret lies at the heart of it. Gripping, but a very easy and enjoyable read.

4) The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins - I feel like my life would be richer for this having been edited down from 629 pages to 300, but it was so compelling that I couldn't abandon it without finishing it. My father, sister and friends all love this book; I enjoyed it but felt as though I'd missed something as I wasn't quite as delighted by it as they were. Perhaps it had something to do with the jabby book cover that attacked me in my feverish state.

5) Narrow Margins, by Marie Browne - this is the true story of a family who, facing financial ruin during the recession, left their conventional life to live on a near derelict Narrow Boat with their young family. I'm unsure quite why this tale of the gruelling reality of such a thing thrilled me so much, but when I finally felt well enough to turn my laptop on, the first thing I did was book a summer holiday for my own family aboard a narrow boat. I'm so looking forward to this (luckily, it's of the not-at-all-derelict-and-actually-ridiculously-luxurious variety).

6) The obsession continued. Next I read the sequel, Narrow Minds, also by Marie Browne.

7) A Street Cat Named Bob, by James Bowen - I downloaded this having remembered seeing it mentioned in the press and on virtually every book table in every bookshop I've been in recently. This is a true story about a recovering drug addict whose life is totally transformed when he takes in a stray ginger Tom cat who ends up busking with him each day in Covent Garden and later, sitting by James' side as he sells copies of The Big Issue. Giving a thankfully wide-berth to the voyeuristic real-life stories genre, it is wonderfully honest, without a hint of self-pity and just incredibly upbeat, endearing, hopeful and lovely. I've bought the abridged version he's released for teenagers to give to my daughter as I think she will adore Bob and James and also because it discusses drug addiction and homelessness in a way that feels completely right).

8) A Fault in Our Stars, by John Green - I discovered this on a list of '25 Books to Read Before You're Thirty'. Having missed the age deadline, but wanting to fill in the gaps anyway, I bought it. It has had rave reviews and was number 1 on The New York Times bestseller list. Written for teenagers, but seemingly enjoyed by adults in equal measure, it's a beautifully written novel, which I wept and laughed my way through in much the same way as I did through R J Palacio's Wonder a few years earlier.

9) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce - I got less than half way through this before abandoning it, as I was finding Harold too irritating. It's possibly unfair to review a book that you haven't actually finished as some novels are all about the ending, so I'm biting my tongue (and typing fingers) and not detailing the many reasons why I found Harold such a loathsome creature, which is incredibly difficult as just thinking about him makes me feel like ranting. Out of 2753 reviewers on Amazon, only fifty other people felt the same as I did about Harold…most found him eminently likable. I don't know quite what to make of that, other than questioning whether I was in a bad temper when I read this book and so failed to warm to him.

10) My impatience for Harold shelved, I risked choosing another book with a male character at the heart of the book, but this time I'm finding him much more endearing and likable. I'm half way through The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion which I'd avoided initially, wrongly assuming from the title that it was chick-lit (which I do occasionally read, but it's just not what I was in the mood for this week). However, it's wonderful and when I've been reading it in bed late at night I've risked choking by inhaling my own laughter in an attempt to not wake my husband.

I'm considering moving on to the Light Between Oceans, by L M Stedman after this. Do you have any recommendations?

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.