Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A post of good things

I don't have any sewing to show today, so I thought I might share some other things. I should clarify that the scene above is completely unrelated - it was taken while I was doing my tax return yesterday. The chocolates were provided by my husband as the perfect fuel for an activity that I've put off doing for the last six months. So good to finally have it done and to have eaten so many delicious chocolates while doing it. So...this post will tell you about (this sentence is written retrospectively, as I had no idea what I was going to tell you about when I sat down to write, but I really love thinking about all the things I've enjoyed recently or are new to me, and assembling them in one place - one of my favourite types of posts to write, so I hope you enjoy reading them just as much): new-to-me fiction and sewing books; a companion book to shopping in London; a fantastic TV series; a site that will help you decide whether something is suitable to watch/read with children; the best salted caramel sauce recipe; a few useful sewing tutorials I've had bookmarked; our latest Squeebles app; sewing your own knitwear; and finally, dressmaking fabric from Paris.

  • Let's start with the books that would be on my bedside table if I had one (I actually have a wardrobe next to my side of the bed so, instead of a table, I have a drawer in that and it pulls out at perfect arm-height when I'm sitting in bed. As I keep all my to-read books and magazines in there, it always feels like quite an exciting treasure trove of a drawer, full of possibilities). You might remember earlier in the year, I fell in love with Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs. Beneath the Bonfire is his follow-up, a collection of short stories that I'm looking forward to diving into. The other fiction picks are both ones that I bought at Waterstones having researched them on Amazon and I don't know much about either, aside from that Room was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and tells the story of a five year old who lives his life in a single room. I initially dismissed it as the premise for the book sounded as though it may be gratuitous and mawkish, but then I read a review by someone who'd had similar fears, which had proved unfounded, so I'm going to risk it. Finally, Jack. I haven't read any A.M. Homes and I think this was her first book, written back in 1989. I picked it purely because it was in the 'Other Readers Bought' recommendations section when I typed in the title of one of my favourite novels - I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've already read any of these. In non-fiction, I finally invested in Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear (I did buy this one on Amazon as it costs substantially less there), it's such a staple that I've always felt slightly guilty about not owning a copy, having put off buying it because it's expensive and I knew it would be very dry. It's still expensive and very dry, but an excellent reference bible if you do any of your own pattern drafting and I've referred to it several times already in the last few weeks.
  • I've just added this book to my wishlist! This looks like a must if you sew or knit and live anywhere near London or intend to visit and have money burning a hole in your pocket (I'm currently missing the latter, having spent it all on the things in this post, but I tick all the other boxes).  
  • A few months ago, my sister emailed me and told me that I had to watch a series called New Girl, as I'd love it. I said I'd watch an episode, but never quite got around to it. Two weeks later, she wrote again saying that she didn't want to pressure me, but each episode was only twenty minutes long and I really should try and fit one in. I think one more request followed and when I finally watched the first episode it was partly to stop her from prodding me further. I'm now so grateful that my sister did apply viewing pressure as an episode of New Girl is one of the most joyful things imaginable and an average month's quota of laughter will be spent in just twenty minutes. It's that good. If I had to describe it, I'd say that it's a little like Friends, but probably a lot ruder, several times funnier and with better developed characters. The show has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and as many Primetime Emmys. For your own viewing reference if you haven't already seen it, I've now watched every episode from the first two series with my fourteen year old daughter, who loves it as much as my sister and I do, but I'm not sure I'd let children any younger than that watch it. Have you heard of a site called Common Sense Media? It's a brilliant resource if you're thinking of watching/reading something with a child and aren't sure it's going to be suitable. Reviews and suggested age ratings are submitted by both parents and children and it will also tell you exactly which aspect of the programme may be inappropriate for certain age groups (for example, while some parents may object to any swearing, others may be more keen to avoid violence than swear words and it's really informative in this way). Here are the reviews for New Girl (the site also suggests 14+ for that). 
  • It was my daughter's birthday a few weeks ago. She'd requested a salted caramel chocolate birthday cake. I used this recipe for a salted caramel sauce to go in the middle of the cake. Tanya had told me it was amazing and she was right - my husband and son both ate spoonfuls of just-cooled sauce and said they'd never tasted anything quite like it. For the cake I used the chocolate mint cupcake recipe from Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (a book that I talk about in this post back in 2009!), but minus the mint flavouring and in layer cake form, rather than cupcake form. I put a regular chocolate buttercream on top and then sprinkled crushed Dime bars over it! The cake was gluten free and my daughter loved it and my husband has already requested an identical cake for his birthday. My son bakes (and actually cooks whole meals too - lucky us - I love seeing how confidently he moves around a kitchen and how intuitive his cooking is. He rarely follows recipes for savoury food, but still manages to teach me new tricks, such as no homemade tomato sauce being complete without a large glug of balsamic added in while simmering) so frequently now, that it's actually a really long time since I've baked anything myself - it was a lovely treat to be filling the air with icing sugar again.
  • I've had some useful tutorials bookmarked for a while and thought I might share them with you now, in case you'd find them useful too. Here's one from True Bias about sewing a side-seam slit and another from Jen of Grainline about how to match plaids/checks
  • Our latest app has just arrived in the app stores after nearly eight months in our office-cum-clockmaking workshop! I know some of you use our Squeebles educational apps with your children already, so I thought I might share the latest addition to the series, Squeebles Tell the Time. I ended up discussing the way that we tell the time with some fellow instagrammers several months ago and it quickly became apparent that everyone has very specific ideas about how children should be taught to read the time and that this varies not only from country to country, but region to region in some parts of the world! So on the basis of that feedback, we've made the app totally customisable - parents or teachers can choose the format - whether that's 2.45/quarter to three/quarter 'til three - that their children will see appearing in the app (thanks so much if you joined in on this discussion!). The app also has interactive audio lessons that teach everything from which way is clockwise, to how to read the minute and hour hands; it has four different game modes for practising; and it's customisable in so many different ways to suit each individual child. Children's work is rewarded with stars that can be traded in for different rockets, for use in a mini-game within the app, called Sky Dash, as well as the usual pull of collecting Squeebles. The app features several Squeebles designed especially for us by children at a fantastic primary school in London as well as three rockets (which feature in the Sky Dash game) that children designed as entries to one of our competitions earlier in the year! It always feels really lovely to launch an app that has so much creative input from children in it. 
  • For those who sew, but can't successfully knit no matter how hard they try (like me), but who would still love to create knitwear, Sonja from Ginger Makes interviewed Olgalyn several months ago about the earthy-coloured non-GMO knitted fabrics she designs, that you can then sew with (fascinating and well-worth reading, even if you don't want to sew with knits yourself)! You can go and drool over the fabrics here, which suddenly seem perfect for this time of year. 
  • I bought some wonderfully drapey rayon/cotton fabric (and non-drapey stationery) from Anna Ka Bazaar in Paris. The whole site can be viewed in French or English, postage to the UK doesn't incur any charges and my package arrived relatively quickly. Irritatingly, I didn't look at the fabric width when I bought this black and white rayon, and it's just 100cm wide, so I'm hoping that I can actually squeeze another one of these skirts (below) out of it without forgoing the pockets (what would I do with my hands? There may be a real risk of them flapping about aimlessly and hitting passersby!). I have worn the skirt below almost constantly since I made it, so am quite desperate to make another. 

Have you read of anything good around the internet? Or discovered something wonderful and new to you? Or do you have a series that you'd recommend? I'm on the look-out for something new. While I'm still watching season 3 of New Girl with my daughter, my husband and I have just finished watching Doctor Foster (the first episode in the five-part series had already gone from iPlayer when we discovered it, so we had to buy that one from iTunes for £2.99) - it was really gripping, if slightly disturbing, although not disturbing in the same vein as the danish drama, The Killing, which was similarly gripping, but I ended up choosing not to watch the third series as it felt too gruesome (Doctor Foster was about the aftermath of adultery), so I'd love to hear recommendations of the non-murderous variety, preferably on Netflix/Amazon Instant Video/iPlayer/4od.

Florence x

Ps. The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you buy something, Amazon share a tiny percentage of their profit with me. Obviously, they don't pass on any of your details to me though. If you'd rather I didn't share in Amazon's profits, you can type the book title directly into Amazon instead. Or buy it at your local bookshop :)

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

An Atelier Brunette Facet Skirt

I'm trying to remember the last time that I sewed something that wasn't a rope bowl and I think it may have been early August. A friend asked me recently what would happen if I didn't sew soon. The very fact that she asked probably suggested I looked close to the edge. But a mixture of work; not feeling quite like being pulled away from time with my family or friends in favour of sewing; and horrendous insomnia, colluded to mean that I just haven't had the time or the energy to sew in the evenings. What eventually propelled me into action was a gap in my winter wardrobe that needed filling. And sewing is a virtuous circle - the moment I started I felt more energised than I had done for months.

I took the photo above just before I began sewing - I think the excitement in the room is almost palpable!

It was a super cosy sewing session as it was pouring down outside, my daughter was doing her homework in the next room and we played our three current-favourite songs on repeat for a few hours. Because the loft is so small, listening to music up there always feels more companionable than it would elsewhere in the house. When she'd finished homeworking, my daughter wondered what we might have for dinner. And I realised how deliciously lovely it is to have a fourteen-year-old, because when I half-jokingly told her that her mother was too busy making skirts to make dinner tonight, she offered to cook something for us both and insisted on delivering it to my sewing room, so that I could have the fun of not stopping to come and eat at the table. I'd thought, with my youngest starting at secondary school, I'd find not having any children left at primary school this year a difficult mental transition, but actually it hasn't been that at all and I'm really enjoying their independence and just how much fun they are to be around.

So, the skirt. I knew that I wanted a light, gathered skirt to wear with winter tights like this one, but with a slightly longer hem line. I considered a simple skirt with an elasticated waist, but they can sometimes make me feel like a strange woman-baby when I wear them (even though the elastic is invariably hidden beneath a jumper), so in the end, I opted to draft a skirt with a curved yoke, side zip and gentle gathers front and back beneath the yoke. I studied the measurements of the waist bands and sweeps (the circumference of the hem) on various skirts that I already own for reference. As it was a fairly inaccurate science that I used for the drafting, I felt really pleased that the fit is pretty much perfect after pinching half an inch out of the waistband. The skirt is an a-line shape, although because of the lovely floppy material, it doesn't announce it's 'A' shape overtly, which I'm pleased about. It also has pockets. Does anyone else suffer from an unwillingness to support the weight of their own hands? I'd quite like a pot to put them in when they're not needed for anything. I think if I don't have pockets, I'm an ideal candidate for a hand muff.

The fabric is an Atelier Brunette Viscose and it feels like the perfect weight and drape for this skirt. It's not completely opaque, but that feels fine with black tights. If you order any, brace yourself for it not to feel very lovely straight off the bolt, however, as soon as it's been washed and dried, it feels like a completely different fabric. This is especially true of the fabric samples to the far left and far right in the photo below, however, the fabric sample in the middle retained its stiffness, I think because there's so much black printing ink used to colour the bluish base-cloth (which is just as soft to touch as the other fabrics on its wrong side). I'm wondering if this may soften with another washing and if it does, I'll report back. If not, I'd possibly still buy some (just because I love the print so much) but brace myself for it being a skirt that stands slightly prouder from the body.

Weirdly, after not wearing a single skirt or dress for the whole of last year, I can think of only three occasions that jeans have made their way out of my cupboard since the start of Autumn and I've even worn dresses for walking the dog (although maybe that will change as the weather becomes wetter). It's funny how differently we feel about clothes from year to year. Consequently, that means that there's room in my life for many more of these skirts. I used just under a metre of fabric, so the total making cost ended up being around £15 (£18 if you include postage costs, which for self-delusion purposes, I don't). It really thrills me how inexpensive dressmaking is when compared to quilting - a handmade quilt will often cost two or three times that of a shop-bought quilt, but clothing invariably costs far less.

While on the topic of quilts, several years ago I made a quilt for my husband, but he's barely used it [waaaahhhh] as the flannel that I backed it with feels stiff and not conducive to wanting to snuggle under. I'd always thought flannel would have perfect snugglability qualities, but for whatever reason, in practice the quilt is surprisingly unyielding, in spite of repeated washing in an attempt to soften it. I'd quite like to attempt Husband Quilt II (aka the usable version) at some point, but I'm stumped by what to back it with. I don't want to use Minky as that doesn't feel quite right for a man-quilt. Any ideas of what fabric might be suitable? Have you made a flannel quilt that does feel snuggly? Maybe with a different brand of flannel?

And back to dressmaking: are you planning to make any clothes for the new season?

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.