Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Tessellations or a plate of noseless brie...

This tiny project - scaled down to be more than 75% smaller than the original pattern - has been sewn together with fragile stitches, fraying seams and fragments of fabric that have been left tattered and feeling out of sorts from the battle they went through under the foot of my sewing machine, but from a distance, at least, it seems to shine.

These are some of the great wodges of seam allowance that went beneath my sewing machine foot. I think it comes down to inexperience that I even attempted to make the pattern at this scale, as while foundation piecing is fantastic for sewing really tiny pieces, I've learnt from this project that I need to study a pattern to make sure that not too many seam allowances are converging at the same point in order for things to end happily. At some points, 14 seams met. It was horrible. (For those confused about the different types of paper piecing - this is foundation paper piecing (FPP) all done by machine and very different from the English paper piecing (EPP), sewn by hand, which I normally do. I've done very little FPP. As is probably apparent).

The photo at the top of this post gives you some sense of scale, but here's a photo of the nail on my ring finger on top of one of the blocks, which might convey its tinyness more clearly.

The actual piecing of the individual blocks went really smoothly - I enjoyed it hugely and loved seeing a pile of precision-pieced blocks gathering on my desk.

And then playing around with possible arrangements on my pin board.

Piecing the blocks into rows was relatively successful...but piecing the rows to one another was quite disastrous and at this point everything began to go horribly wrong. If I was reading this blog post, I'd really want to see close-up photos of the finished piece, because as sewists, it's the details and finish that we really want to see and study so that we can learn I'm going to have to ask you to look on this piecing with kind eyes, because technically, it's an absolute eyesore and I feel slightly like I'm sharing photos of myself wearing just my underwear by posting these photos! Brace yourself.

The blocks which had once been so crisp and precise, quickly became quite the opposite. The fans of graduating colour distorted into swirls with such definition that it began to look as though it were an intentional design feature (note especially the ones at the bottom of the photo below!).

Blocks refused to meet up politely, stitches bulged under the tension of trying to hold so many layers together and points became blunted, as though I were wielding a cheeseboard laden with brie where the nose had been cut from each.

And yet, I find myself drawn to looking at it. Despite its obvious flaws, it feels as though it is more textural and tactile than anything I've ever made. Although it is so very far from the result I was hoping for, I don't feel traumatised by the ruination of so many carefully constructed blocks, but oddly fascinated by them. When it comes to sewing, I am a perfectionist, so faced with having produced this I find myself slightly stunned by its blatant flouting of this type of aspiration...but not stunned in a negative way necessarily. More like a surprised: Oh my goodness! So the world really doesn't end if the points don't meet!

I'd originally intended to hang it in our hallway, but instead it now hangs in my sewing room. It makes me happy to look at it: a cosy and joyful-looking testament to how things can still look overall okay, even if the details aren't all lined up looking present and correct. I'm enjoying the contrast of looking at it from a distance where I feel really quite thrilled by all the colour and sparkle and then sidling by for a close-up of the true horror of it and just thinking: Wow! That's really terrible!

I always assume that most sewists are perfectionists, as I imagine one of the things that pushes us to constantly start new projects is the wish to learn, progress, to become better and more skilled at what we do, so I'd love to hear how you felt if you've ever had to face a project ending so differently from your own expectations in terms of a complete technique fail. Do you find a way to embrace it or do you squirrel it away quietly in a drawer...which you don't open very often? My normal response is the latter, so I've surprised myself in my reaction to this one!

Florence x

Ps. Please don't be put off buying this incredibly lovely pattern by reading about my own misadventures - my only difficulty with it came from down-scaling it so heavily.
Pps. I know foundation piecing is perfect for sewing really minuscule pieces, but I've no idea if dealing with this many converging seams at such a small scale is all in day's work for a really competent foundation piecer - I'd love to know if it would be possible to get really amazing pinpoint results with this pattern with more practise or whether it just wasn't the right pattern to scale down in this way.
Pps. And have you seen these incredible miniature quilts?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

How to frame English paper piecing and other sewn things

Recently, Agnes, who'd purchased a copy of my Ring-a-Roses English paper piecing pattern (below), wrote to me and asked if I'd write a blog post giving advice on how to frame things like this. I've now framed quite a few of my sewn designs and so I'm happy to share what I've learnt along the way. Before beginning, it's worth saying that this is the more expensive route to hanging your work on the wall - it's possible to bind the edges or sew on a hidden binding (that's another post) and simply hang it from a wooden batten or pins at very little cost. This post doesn't cover either of those options, but there's a wealth of tutorials on the Internet showing you how.

For several different reasons - aesthetics, preservation of the piecing, protection from sunlight and dust, and protection when being placed in the middle of a busy home - I like to frame the things I make for the wall in a glass frame, even though the first time I did it, it felt like a complete self-indulgence. However, after that initial time, it's something that I realised I feel it's worth spending the money on, not only for the practical reasons I listed above, but in part because it feels like it's saying something to myself about the value of the work that I make, as when I buy someone else's artwork, I tend to frame it, so why not my own? Knowing that I will invest in a frame, has also made me much more careful in thinking through exactly what I'm making. As my production rate is slow, it's an affordable approach as I think it tends to work out at about two frameable pieces per year. It's a very different mindset to the one which I have for my quilts, where mostly, no matter how much time and care has been poured into them, I'd rather they were used, loved and treated without too much care or thought, than be preserved carefully in a cupboard. I'm unsure why this differentiation has formed in my head between the two things, but it's a dichotomy that sits comfortably with me. I'd love to know your thoughts on these things and whether you've also created any of your own mental partitions around things like this. And I realise that I've made the assumption of aligning 'quilting' with 'art' in one of my earlier sentences - that again is a whole other blog post!

Anyway, on to some framing tips.
  • All of the framed pieces in this post have been created using English paper piecing (EPP). I always leave my papers in place when hanging a piece of EPP. It adds stability, allows the piece to sit very evenly within the frame, and prevents the seam allowances from being visible if the fabric is light coloured. And it also saves me the job of taking all those tiny papers out! When you know that your fabrics are stabilised in this way, it also gives you carte blanche to ignore whether you're piecing on the grain/bias or whatever, as any rule breaking is unlikely to have a detrimental effect. I'm imagining that there may be a case for leaving papers in place when creating a piece for the wall using the foundation paper piecing (FPP) method too, but I'm less familiar with that technique, so wouldn't say that's a definite. 
  • For the very first piece that I framed, above, I used light card for my EPP templates. In retrospect this was a mistake: if you're going to leave the card in place it can create a slight tension within the piece that paper is malleable enough to avoid. While with the Oakshott Rubies this was fine, because it created a very slight undulation which allowed the fabrics, which have different thread colours for the warp and weft, to hit the light at slightly different angles and added to the iridescence this creates, generally, not sitting completely flat would be rather maddening. I really advise using paper, not card, if you're planning to frame something. 

  • With any patchwork piece, at the point where several seams meet, you can end up with quite a chunk of seam allowances gathered behind your work. This can mean that when you come to frame it, some areas will bulge out toward the glass more than others. To solve this problem, simply line the back of the entire piece with quilt batting (you may want to lightly spray baste it), carefully cutting little holes away where you can feel any bumps beneath. This allows the entire piece to sit flush against the back board of the frame and sit at an even level from the glass. (Nb. You need to be really careful not to accidentally cut your work when cutting blind through the quilt batting)

  • You'll notice that on many of my framed pieces, there is a border of fabric running around the outside of the main design. This is a really handy thing to add to any piece which you're intending to frame as it gives you some wiggle room when getting it to sit nicely behind the mount. Additionally, if you look at the Rubies piece above, if I hadn't added the line of dark red around the outside of the piece, the mount would have cut off the tips of my triangles on each side. It's easy to create a border, even for English paper piecing - simply cut mitred pieces of paper to the right size, wrap them in fabric and attach in the same way as you would for any shape in an EPP project. 

  • If you don't want to create a mitred border, if the design allows it, you can choose a mount that overlaps the finished edges by just a fraction of an inch, so that you lose barely any of your sewn work. I did this for my most recent piece, Ring-a-Roses, but be aware that even if your piecing has been absolutely precise, very slight inconsistencies can add up across a piece of sewn work leaving your work of varying height and width at different points. If this is the case, get your mount cut by a picture framers to your exact dimensions.

  • Sometimes getting a frame custom made for your finished piece of work can be the simplest option when it comes to framing, just because unless you're working with simple squares, it's very difficult to design a pattern that has an exact finished size that happens to match a standard frame size. I'd rather design exactly the pattern I want, than work to the constraints of a predetermined frame size. I usually get my frames made at the local picture framers if I'm going for this option. Never get your frame made up until you've finished your sewing - sewn work often comes out at a slightly different size than you're anticipating and it would be an expensive mistake. Both of the largest pieces in this post (the Oakshott Rubies and the large blue one) have had custom frames and mounts made. 
  • For my latest piece, I happened to have a square oak frame from Habitat in the house. So, I used this pre-bought frame, but got my mount cut to my specifications - this is by far the cheapest option. The frame cost around £25 in the sale and the mount cost around £6 and was cut in an hour while I pottered around town one morning. I took my work in with me, so that the man was able to make sure the mount would overlap the edges by just a fraction and he did an absolutely perfect job - I'm really happy with this more budget route to framing.

  • If you don't have a local framing shop, you can also get frames and mounts made online to your exact specifications. Often these come with acrylic 'glass', rather than real glass, for safer posting. This is the option I went for for the piece above. Because of the postage costs, it's possibly a slightly more expensive route to framing, but you possibly may have access to more choice.

  • When it comes to glass there are a couple of different options. There's the acrylic which I talked about above. This apparently looks identical to glass, but when I 'know' it's not glass, I find it hard to make the mental shift over to this alternative, however, it's now widely used in museums and galleries and it's incredibly light to hang on the wall, which you may be grateful for if you're as poor at drilling heavy-duty screws into walls as I am. For both acrylic and glass you can also choose add-on higher-priced options, such as anti-reflective, UV protective, anti-glare. I'm interested to try the anti-reflective glass at some point, but I've gone for regular glass in all the frames that you see here. 
  • The nice thing about framing your work is that you don't need to worry about the tiny dog's ears that you can sometimes be left with from English paper piecing. If you were framing the piece above without any borders, all these tiny protruding pieces of fabric could be left in place for framing (even borders will produce tiny dog's ears). I prefer not to trim any of the seam allowances away as the bigger the piece of fabric, the less likely it is to unravel and work its way through to the fabric that sits on the front your your work. 

  • When it comes to actually setting the finished piece of work into the frame, I find giving the piece one final press with the iron is essential. However, people vary on whether they press English paper pieced work and how hot and hard they'll press and some make special consideration to what type of thread they've used (for a poly thread, they may reduce the heat). Personally, my iron is scorching hot at all times, but pressed down quick and sharp to avoid shine or scorch marks. You really have to be led by your own feelings on this - it is your precious work that you are dealing with, so proceed however you feel most confident. 

  • I use masking tape (the easy peel-off cream stuff, not the brown shiny parcel tape) to tape the finished piece to the reverse of the mount board. Sometimes this will involve a bit of jiggery-poke and repositioning. If there is a fair distance between the glass and the work and it's very large, sometimes it can help to very lightly spray baste the piece to the back board of the frame, to avoid the middle flopping forward. 
I think I've covered everything I can think of sharing with you there. If you know anything else which you think might be helpful, please feel free to add it in the comments, as well as any questions if you think I've missed something.

Florence x

Friday, 6 February 2015

Carrying cutlery

I've been working in solids a little more over the last few weeks as I find that I can become slightly obsessed by fussy-cutting patterned fabrics and stop enjoying them for what they are, looking only to whether they can be cut with a pleasing repeat, so it feels liberating to occasionally peep out of the rabbit hole and just focus purely on colour (before inevitably diving back in, because I do love the opportunity to create kaleidoscopes, which fussy cutting gives). Anyway, I'm really enjoying it, although I'm keeping the scale miniature, so that I'm not entirely out of my comfort zone!

This is Alison Glass' Tessellation pattern and I've scaled it down to about 20% of its original size. You can see the cutting mat behind the paper template for scale. I think it's only about the fifth time I've done any foundation paper piecing, but it grows on me more and more as a technique and I'm really enjoying how it allows one to sew at a really small scale but with incredible accuracy. Once I'd printed all my templates and got started, I realised that I could have gone far smaller than this without it being a problem. The completed blocks are pinned to the board below and I'm hoping once I've finished and all the blocks are sewn together, it will look more pleasingly miniature with the seam allowances swallowed up.

I'm unsure why I'm drawn to things being at a small scale, but it's what really appeals to me when I'm sewing and what I'm captured by when looking through books. And possibly always have been: I vividly remember studying the drawings of the elves' work in my Ladybird copy of The Elves and The Shoemaker for longer than any other picture book as a five year old (the advantage of moving around a lot when you're very young, is that you can normally place exactly what age you must have been when things happened, just by virtue of what house or country the memory is set in!)

Sorry if the colours in the photos are a little screamy as most of them were taken later in the day under artificial light. Tessellations is a lovely pattern, because right up until the last moment you can play around with the colours and positioning of everything, completely altering the look of the finished piece. All the completed blocks are identically sized triangles, with different interior piecing options to create the triangle. Alison encourages you to design your own layout, although I've been quite unadventurous in mine so far as I really loved the original version that has a star hidden within it. However, it's a really good pattern for people that don't usually enjoy following patterns, because you really can do what you want with it.

The finished piece is intended to go in a frame in our hallway - we painted it white over the summer and are regretting our move away from a much warmer, creamier white, as it's incredibly stark. So, rather than spend four days painting it a warmer shade of white, we decided to try and add warmth with what we hang on the wall instead.

I did most of this piecing one day last weekend, when my daughter was out with a friend all day and my husband and son had gone up to London to visit a museum and go on a pilgrimage to Homeslice. You may remember from my husband's pizza oven adventures (free build-your-own guide produced by my husband, here, if you'd like one in your own garden), that we have something of a pizza obsession in our family and whenever we go anywhere here or abroad we often look for tips online to find out where exceptionally tasty pizza is being made. We recently found Homeslice when my husband and I were staying in London for work for a few days and had decided to use some of our free time to continue our research. The results of our intensive sampling to date are unequivocal: Homeslice make the best pizza that we've ever tasted and it's conveniently situated in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, London! If you're in London and love pizza, I must implore you to visit. The only thing that I love slightly less about it is that there's no cutlery and I really enjoy pizza most when eaten with a knife and fork (which my husband finds hilarious, but particularly when it's a thin crust pizza I find trying to wrestle with a large flappy thing, while trying to keep one's paws and chin vaguely clean, slightly exhausting - the whole thing just feels uncomfortably animalistic). I'm tempted to take my own next time. Or perhaps not*. Homeslice make up for the lack of cutlery with craft beer, fantastic Prosecco, a brilliant atmosphere, and really friendly, warm service though.

What will you be sewing or eating this weekend?

Florence x

* As a teenager, my friends and I would always meet the same group of people on our way out for the night and one of those people, I've always remembered because wherever he went, he carried a spoon in his pocket. When we got off the train at the end of a night out, we would swarm to the new convenience store, which stayed open until 1am (that really was exciting at the time, as shops in our village had never previously opened past 5.30pm or at all on Sundays), and this boy would buy a pot noodle and heat it in their microwave or add boiled water to it - whatever needed to be done to make it edible - and then bring out his spoon. He loved Pot Noodles so much that he said he felt it was always best to be prepared and not risk getting caught out, as had happened to him once on a particularly unfortunate night when the shop had run out of plastic cutlery. I love this memory of him with his spoon. But I cannot be the 37 year old who carries around a knife and fork.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Bustle & Sew!

I'm really pleased to introduce you to my newest sponsors, Bustle & Sew, a mother and daughter team with an adorable, flower-framed rabbit face to front their business. As you can imagine, I am more than a little delighted to have this exquisite creature in my sidebar!

Bustle & Sew mainly sell their own brand PDF patterns and magazines (both digital and regular format magazines, the latter available through Amazon), as well as offering many free patterns and tutorials. Their patterns cover embroidery, softies, appliqué and quilting, with a very cohesive feel to them - animal themed, minutely-scaled, carefully made, detailed lovelies that often have a slight sense of humour to them: I love Party Animal especially, in part because of his name as he looks so sweet and docile sitting politely in his hat and like he would be the last creature to cause any mayhem. There is something about dogs that makes you want to put hats on them.

For someone who lives life with a crippling fear of all things rodent, I have a perverse love of them in sewn form (I've lost count of the number of times I've made the mousey-in-a-bed mouslings since 2007). Anyway, Bustle & Sew seem to have a pleasingly high mouse quotient to their patterns, which I love, and I adore these matrimonial mouslings - wouldn't that be an adorable wedding gift for the right people (I say right people, because there are some people I would make things by hand for and others who I just wouldn't, not because the latter are any less special, more just because I feel they may find the whole idea a bit curious and I then I might risk forever be referred to by a friend's husband as 'the odd one who gave us the mice for our wedding'...although actually, that would really make to laugh to think of being referred to in that way)

My daughter was two-and-a-half when my son was born and the mother of one of my husband's school friends sent my daughter a tiny cardboard box with some bedding and two of the tiniest, most detailed little mouse creatures I've ever seen, lying inside, each about an inch tall, perfect in miniature costume. They were to represent her and her new brother. They were just so incredibly special. Anyway, these mice really remind me of those lovely mice and I love all the detail and tiny pieces of clothing.

If you don't find yourself quite as enamoured with mice as I do, then you might enjoy looking at the menagerie of other creatures that Bustle and Sew have fabricated!

Finally, I have an interesting collective noun to leave you with that I hadn't heard before: my daughter told me this afternoon that a group of pug dogs is known as a 'grumble of pugs', which we both thought was endearingly lovely! We looked up the collective noun for Nell and our favourite option was a 'halo of golden retrievers', which seems amusingly ironic when you consider the Christmas bauble eating incident and all the other illegal activities that Nell gets up to, but also very fitting because her intentions are always so lovely and kind. Turning my own imaginings to other breeds this evening, I quite like 'a domino of dalmatians', however, I think the real skill in collective nouns for dog breeds comes in being able to capture both the character and appearance in one word and I don't think I actually know the personality traits of many dog breeds, so it's a frustratingly limited game for me.

Florence x

Ps. There is even a Florence the Flamingo!
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.