Saturday, 24 January 2015

Sprouting facial hair for Comic Relief's Crafternoon

Several months ago I was contacted by Emma Mitchell and Jane Toft who had, under the lovely  umbrella of Mollie Makes, decided to create a bookazine of crafty goodness in aid of Comic Relief. For those in other countries who may not be familiar with it, Comic Relief is an annual event that's held in the UK where money is raised with the aim of reducing poverty, to a backdrop of general silliness and comedy. Comic Relief began in 1985 and later, in 1988, Red Nose Day became a part of that fundraising. I think I was in my first year at secondary school when this event launched and I can still vividly remember the utter excitement of wearing a large plastic red nose to school - there weren't the regular dressing up or own-clothes days at that time, so this seemed like a very unorthodox addition to our school uniform, the wearing of which gave me butterflies in my stomach. Although in that first year, Comic Relief were yet to refine the comfort of the fake nose, so I remember it being a slightly painful excitement, which left deep red imprints where the plastic had squeezed my nose!

Anyway, back to 2015 (where I am 37 and no longer in secondary school) the bookazine is called The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon and it's packed full of wonderful projects and tutorials from lots of talented craft, crochet, knitting and sewing people. From memory, I think that Jane Brocket, Tif Russell and Lynda Lewis are just a few of the contributors.

I was delighted when Emma invited me to contribute a pattern design that built upon the theme of Red Nose Day, to include some more hirsute facial enhancements, which people might be able to wear on the day. Knee-deep in a paper piecing project that was giving me more stroky beard moments than any sewing project really should, the idea of sewing something completely frivolous, but for a seriously good cause, appealed hugely and I plumped immediately for some mustachioed goodness because they are such a delight, as are most things that come in many varieties - is it just me, or does anything that that could be feasibly displayed on a tea-towel depicting the various guises it may appear in seem instantly appealing?

I learned many new moustache names when researching shapes and also happened upon some interesting beard names - I particularly liked the shapely French Fork. If you live with a bearded beauty (or if you happen to be actually be one, reading my blog), you may enjoy perusing this chart that I came across, where you can discover just how trustworthy he's perceived to be. I'm delighted to find that my own father, newly sporting a beard for 2015, remains at the highest level of trustworthiness with his Full Beard and hasn't turned into a good-for-nothing scoundrel who would sell his own grandchildren for a shiny new paperclip). But anyway, back to moustaches: my tutorial features the classic Handlebar Moustache, my favourite style, but it's very adaptable, so you could easily convert it to suit your own preferences.

The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon, a special edition of Mollie Makes, will be on sale in Sainsburys and via iTunes and GooglePlay from this Thursday, January 29th. It costs £7.99, with £5 of that going straight to Comic Relief. Please do go and buy a copy if you have the money to spare - you will be rewarded handsomely with patterns for knitted beards, crocheted red noses (so much easier to breath through I'd imagine), wrist warmers, small creatures (who can also be enhanced with miniature facial hair!), and even knickers (for you, not for the small creatures). The magazine also gives you a guide as to how to run your own Comic Relief craft fair if you're interested in selling your own forest of moustaches or luxuriant jungle of knitted beards to furnish the faces of people within your local area.

From just the communications that I've been party to, I can tell that, despite their jolly tones and amusing emails, it has undoubtedly taken a gargantuan effort on the part of Emma Mitchell (who some of you may know as Silver Pebble on Twitter), Jane Toft and the Mollie Makes team to make this bookazine happen - so I'd like to say a huge thank you to them for finding such a fun way for craft to become a part of Comic Relief - I feel privileged that my moustache is a small part of that. To make The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon the fundraising success that it deserves to be, I know that Mollie Makes would be delighted if you could share news of this special edition with others. You can follow The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon magazine on Twitter here (@CRCrafts - so worth doing and it's not at all sell, sell, sell, but more, look at this adorable crocheted guinea pig that's actually the size of a baked bean! Yes, literally, a baked bean) or follow them on Facebook.

Yours, at the ready to sprout temporary facial hair and hoping you are too,
Florence x

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ring-a-Roses English Paper Piecing Pattern

The pattern for this English paper piecing design is finally available! I've chosen to name this pattern after the nursery rhyme, Ring-A-Roses, despite the urban legends linking it to the plague! To me, this design has a strong feel of circularity, both in some of the individual blocks within it, and the circle that appears at the centre when viewed from a distance. So the playground rhyme - where children would join hands and dance around in a circle - has been whirling around in my head the whole time I've been writing this pattern up.

Down to the details, my Ring-a-Roses PDF pattern comes with:
  • Full-size pattern pieces that can be printed on regular printer paper
  • A colouring sheet so that you can plan out your colour scheme
  • Simple construction illustrations that show how best to assemble the blocks
  • Helpful tips for newer EPPers 
  • The pattern pieces produce a finished design that measures 17¼" x 17¼", but the pieces can easily be scaled up
  • It's instantly downloadable for you to save and print out from your own computer 
  • The pattern costs £6 (which is around $8.50US dollars or just under €7.50 Euros) 
  • You can buy a copy, here!

I chose to fussy-cut my fabrics for this pattern (due to my slightly unhealthy fussy-cutting addiction), but I think it would look fantastic made up in solids or randomly cut patterned fabrics too. However, if you want any advice on fussy-cutting for your own version, you can find a tutorial on my blog here

I chose to frame my version of Ring-a-Roses, but it's an easy-to-adapt pattern. You could add a border and make a cushion, super-size the pattern pieces and make a large, square quilt or, as the pattern pieces tessellate, you could easily continue the design to make something bigger and more elaborate. However, if you're looking for something that won't take you too long to finish, this size is perfect. 

Because the design is slightly more involved than basic hexagons and has some quite tiny pieces, it's aimed at people who already have one small EPP project up their sleeve (or more likely, on their bed or holding their pins in cushion-form), so I haven't included instructions as to how to do things like the standard EPP whip-stitch which you would have almost certainly mastered during your first project, because that felt like it would be a waste of your printer ink. However, because English paper piecing is a relatively easy skill to learn, I am assuming that relative newcomers may want to give this pattern a try, so I have included brief details about my favourite needles and threads, different methods of basting and other information that I thought might be more useful.

If you buy the pattern, I would love to see how you get on with it, so please do feel free to tag a photo with #RingARosesEPP on Twitter or Instagram or email me a photo at flossieteacakes (at) gmail (dot) com.

Florence x

Ps. If you're looking to read more around EPP, you can find a post on fussy-cutting here; a post on the best threads for EPP here; a guide to framing your work here; or a post written for complete beginners when I myself was one too, here (note, I tend to use good quality paper, rather than card now!). 

Briefcase bears and imposter parcels

Just after Christmas my oldest, and very dear, school friend, who now lives in Canada, came over to visit with her husband and children. I spent a few days mulling over what I could give them and then when I was looking for something with my son in a cupboard and caught sight of one of his bears' sleeping bags (pattern here), I suddenly realised that I should make some for my friend's children. My son chose the creatures to go in them - we lined one of each possibility out on the shop floor to try and decide - they're lovely Jellycat animals, our favourite brand of soft toy.

I'm slightly lacking in overtly boyish fabrics now that my own son is older, having sold all my dinosaur and train fabrics a few years ago. I put together a few possible combinations from my stash and when I asked for my husband's opinion he told me that it was as though I were fashioning a sleeping bag for a business man or politician who wanted to keep his bear privately nestled in his briefcase, but in tasteful colours just in case it was discovered. Sometimes you can't quite see something until someone points it out, but in retrospect, David Cameron would indeed have been delighted with my understated choices, my friend's young son probably less so. So I revisited my fabric drawers and found some of Cotton and Steel's arrows with sparkly gold bits and some contrasting orange with more spangly bits from the same range. I still think it could safely nestle in the briefcase of a more mature bear-carrier if required…but now it's maybe more Richard Branson or James Dyson in style...

And onto the other sleeping bag, for my friend's daughter. The rabbit is resting in a bed of Jeni Baker's lovely 'Geometric Bliss' line by AGF. It's a gorgeous line, that's bright and vibrant, but also has a distinct pastel feel to the colours (you can find the whole collection over at The Village Haberdashery). The creature's new owner was possibly the most gratifying recipient of any gift I've ever given, so I felt pleased with my choices there! It's a few years since I've seen a child playing with one of these sleeping bags for the first time and it made me realise anew what a cosy toy it is - it made me feel so happy to have made them (but not quite as happy as seeing my friend and her lovely family).

Geometric Bliss came from my ever-growing stash of fabrics that Jacqui from Hantex surprises me with every now and then. I love these little parcels as they always seem to have an uncanny knack of arriving on a miserable day of mishaps when an envelope stuffed thick with fabric is just what's needed to make everything feel better on some level. Often, they're not things that I would have necessarily bought myself, so I always feel a slight sense of fascination when they work their way into my projects - there are now several of these prints in my Passacaglia cogwheels and their inclusion has subsequently led me to view certain print styles differently and reassess the way that I buy fabric. When I'm buying fabrics myself, I tend to cherry pick my favourite designs from different collections and so rarely get to appreciate how a designer puts together a cohesive collection, with some lead prints that sing and shout and others that work as a choir, singing harmonies in the background.  I tend to go for the ones that beg to be fussy-cut or combine my favourite colours - often aqua/green and pink - and completely forget to buy the more subtle prints, which give a piece room to breathe and a chance for the eye to take in the more intense prints, so I've found there's something that stretches me slightly about someone else adding to my stash. It's helped me realise why shops' stash clubs or Block of the Month fabric schemes are so popular, because through experimenting with someone else's choices, you naturally learn more about combining colour and pattern - I find I have a tendency to become entrenched in using only what my eyes are naturally drawn to.

Tuesday is my day to sew, so today I'm writing up the pattern for this English paper pieced wall-hanging and also listening out (slightly obsessively) for the doorbell. Last week my husband gave me the USPS tracking number of some fabric that he'd ordered for me from overseas (yay - I know what's inside the box, so I'm super-excited!). We followed its progress to customs in the UK, where it seemed to stop for a while. Then DHL Global texted me to say that they had my parcel. I did wonder how they had got my mobile number, but we assumed that USPS must hand over to DHL Global for the final leg of delivery, so over the weekend I happily received notifications as my DHL package went to Docklands and various other places with the guaranteed result of arriving at my door on Monday. On Monday, after what seemed an interminable wait, the doorbell eventually rang in the late afternoon. The driver on the doorstep held a very, very tiny package in his hands that was clearly not fabric. I think my sinking heart may have actually been visible on the outside of my jumper (I am so sorry, lovely DHL man, that I must have looked so visibly disappointed, and forgotten to smile, when I opened the door to you. I know that you almost certainly don't read my blog, but it feels better to have written a formal apology to you). Once inside, I unwrapped the package and found that DHL Global had actually been delivering some Squeebles business cards for us from Moo, based in England. To us, also based in England. I'm unsure why the deceptive use of the word Global ever needed to enter into matters. I am really pleased with the business cards - they have lovely rounded corners and a very tactile surface, but they are not a large delivery of fabric from America. So the waiting continues and although I really want for it to be over, I do think the waiting bit can be even more exciting than the actual having bit!

Finally, for the reader who, in the comments to my last post, wrote that she prefers seeing photos of our cats, to photos of Nell, here's a photo that I've taken especially for you, of Honey, mid morning stretch on my daughter's bed just now.

Florence x

Friday, 9 January 2015

Making cushions

I had a really lovely time doing some fairly basic sewing over Christmas. With flu that went around our family for over five weeks, I either didn't feel I had the mental agility for any complex sewing projects or didn't have the expanses of time to immerse myself in them. But there's a lot to be said for some quick finishes occasionally!

My parents bought me some gorgeous Abigail Borg fabric for Christmas and out of the three half-metres they gave me, I managed to make six cushion cover fronts. Abigail Borg is an English, independent surface pattern designer based in Worcestershire and I'm more than a little in love with her beautiful fabrics (she does amazing wallpapers too!). I love her drawing style and the way she uses colour. It feels totally unique. The fabrics, which are a linen/cotton mix, are all printed in the north of England. They felt a little stiff when I first opened them (in the way that fabric can when you can almost feel a sheen of dye fixative fresh from being printed). The selvedge says that the fabrics are dry clean only, but I blasted them with a steam iron and afterwards they felt lovely and soft and not at all starchy. The quality is beautiful and the colour wasn't affected at all by my doing this.  Do go and have a look in Abigail's shop - she has many more designs and also ready-made cushions (although if you can sew, I suspect you may be like me in finding it almost impossible to buy something when you could make it yourself).

When cushion-making, I like to line the cushion front with some quilt wadding to make it extra comfy; prefer a generous cushion cover so that the cushion pad has room to fold around the contours of the person resting against it; and I love an invisible zipper closure because it's so easy to put in and doesn't interfere with the line of the cushion (conversely, they're my least favourite zipper to install when dressmaking). I made a total of six cushions - some 40cm, 45cm or 50cm square, depending on which chair they were destined to live on.

I do have a tendency to fall in love with whatever area of sewing I'm working in at the time, so it's fairly predictable that I remember thinking that there may be no greater joy in life than sewing simple cushions that are two squares of fabric and an invisible zipper (I tend to think the same thing when fussy-cutting things for some English paper piecing, when hand-quilting, when sewing a Peter Pan collar, creating a sleeve placket, appliquéing a pencil case or installing a magnetic snap on a bag. I think essentially it just means that I love all sewing, but I somehow find myself surprised by this with each new task that I start on. This is what my family and I would refer to as 'being a creature'. I feel like this is a phrase that others will probably just understand instantly, but just in case that's a completely false assumption, being 'a creature' means that there's an element of Creature Comforts about a person and that it's slightly amusing that they actually have fully-formed thoughts going on in their head when they seem so much more like a creature than a proper person). I rarely make quick-to-make things and my children are so used to seeing something come to a finish over the course of months, that when I emerged from my sewing room after an hour with two finished cushions they seemed shocked that this could actually happen and appeared more impressed by these simple cushions than anything else I've ever made!

Here some of them are in the sunshine one day. I love that they have added some colour into our front room in a way that doesn't overwhelm me. 

I think I discovered Abigail Borg through Katy, who I follow on Instagram. I find that I have freakily similar taste to Katy and she rarely mentions something that I don't absolutely love (we even have identical dogs - Otto looks just like Nell, our golden retriever) and Katy has been the source of my buying clocks, blankets and all sorts of other loveliness that I've had on a mental wish list for years, but never found quite the right one of until now - I'm afraid I think that I now secretly view Katy as a my own personal shopper! If you haven't already discovered her blog, Apartment Apothecary, do go and have a look - it's a delicious mix of interior design, small-scale gardening, simple but unique craft projects, inspiring finds and other good things…and photos of Otto, which makes it entirely wonderful all by itself.

So just in case I have any of my own readers who are actually here for the occasional dog photo, here's a recent photo of Nell. My husband and I got up really early one morning to go frost-hunting and left our lovely teenager in charge (supervising from her bed). It was the most perfect mix of frost and crisp sunshine and we had the most magical hour before it began to melt.

Someone on Instagram told me that this kind of thick frost is called a 'hoar frost' and it feels pleasing to know the right name for it now. Nell was completely delighted by it and skitted about seeming to enjoy the loud crunching under her paws and occasionally eating great mouthfuls of it. She also, as with mud patches and puddles, enjoyed lying down in it, embracing her inner piglet.

Finally, as this is my first post of 2015, I wanted to wish you a belated happy new year - I hope it's a really happy one for you.

Florence x
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