Monday, 17 July 2017

From Brush to Needle

I'd said in my last post about my latest English paper piecing pattern, Eight Dials, that I'd show you some of the blocks for another version that I've been working on - as promised, they are completely different - it doesn't even look like the same pattern. I wanted to explain my thinking behind these blocks, so bear with me - there are lots more images later in the post!

A few months ago, I came downstairs to show my husband the latest block that I'd sewn. It's nice, he said. I think most students who travelled through the English education system will have had it drummed into them that 'nice' is a forbidden adjective, lacking in imagination and permissible only at times when one is totally unenthused by something. Despite, at that point, feeling like a rather reluctant and weary sort of fish, I took the bait and asked him what the problem was. He suggested that the thing I'd just made was similar in colour and style to most of what I'd made over the past year (for a Secret Project, yet to be shared here). But I LOVE those colours, I replied. I use them a lot because to my eyes they are the best of colours; when I open my fabric drawers, they're what I feel drawn to pull out.

My husband put down his laptop and lay back on the sofa - a signal that he was either about to fall asleep or give me his COMPLETE attention. On this occasion, it was the latter. He broke it to me that  the problem with always using similar colours, no matter how much you love them, is that you risk stagnating, becoming bored and eventually failing to move forward creatively. I saw his point, even though it was slightly painful to hear. But I found the idea of using a totally different colour palette uninspiring - why would I use colours that I don't truly love? And also, maybe, a little overwhelming.

Next, he said something wise and then something extremely practical and helpful. Together they made this one of our Favourite Conversations Ever, because it felt like I sat down with one mindset and left shortly after with one that was totally refreshed. He first told me that he thought people were often able to be more creative when they had constraints placed on their work. He explained that when he used to have clients (in a previous life, my husband was a web and games designer), having a brief to stick to was actually a springboard to coming up with an exciting design. Mmmm.

So how do I put constraints on my work, I asked (because why think for yourself when you have your own Wise Man suddenly lying on the sofa)? He suggested that I could base each block for a quilt on the colour palette of a painting that I really loved. The conversation had gone from uncomfortable, to thought-provoking, to finally a level of inspiration that saw me haring off upstairs hungry to wield a rotary cutter and leaving him perfectly positioned for an afternoon nap.

An afternoon looking at Matisse's paintings in The Hermitage, St Petersburg, while in Russia with my sister, planted a seed that has left him as one of my favourite artists and so moments later I was printing out one of his paintings and matching up fabrics. The dilemmas that would normally bring my work to a standstill disappeared, entrusting those decisions on Matisse's magical hands (it helps to pick someone's work who you really love, so that you trust them entirely on these matters). It was possibly one of the most invigorating afternoons of my sewing life to date. It made me look not only at the painting differently, but my whole fabric collection. My Eight Dials pattern allows for four fabrics to be used in each block and it was immensely satisfying to try and find fabrics that each contained a few specific colours so that all of the colours in the painting could be represented. It was also unusually speedy and free-flowing - I decided on my fabrics in less than 1.5 hours...something that has previously been known to take days!

This block is based on The Painting Lesson, 1919. Here, the pink roses and green vase are represented at the centre of the block; the grey of the girl's shirt appears in the next round; the yellow of the artist, canvas, lemons and mirror and the cream of the table cloth are represented in the penultimate round; while the black background, the girl's skin and the highlights in her hair are revealed in the final squares. They're not colours I would have chosen to put together - I have always avoided mixing pink and yellow - but I adore how this block turned out.

Next, Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, 1913. The central blue print represents the backdrop of the painting and also the style of the design that appears both there and in the table cloth; the greens (light and dark) are represented in the next round (although the darkest green not in the qualities that I would have ideally liked); Next, some more blue to bolster the vibrancy of the earlier blues and also to give a smattering of white found in the calla lilies and the yellow found in the mimosa; finally the coral swathe of fabric that appears in the background is picked up in the outer squares.

It's interesting to take a photo that blurs both the block and the painting, as it's here that I can see whether I've achieved what I was hoping for.

I'll post some more blocks once I've had a chance to photograph them - these were taken shortly because the light started to fade this evening. I'll also show you the colours I'm intending to use to connect them together. 

If you'd like to join me in an artist-inspired version of Eight Dials, I'm using the hashtag #frombrushtoneedle over on Instagram. And if you missed it and are interested, you can find the pattern here

Over the summer, I'm visiting the area around Nice in France - Vence is home to some of Matisse's stained glass windows and there's also a new exhibition opening at Musée Matisse in the centre of Nice - super-excited would be an understatement! We stayed in England last summer and although we had some wonderful time away, I'm looking forward to being abroad again. 

I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with the area around Nice and knows of some good fabric shops? Dressmaking or quilt-making? And maybe some vegetarian restaurants? 

Florence x

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Eight Dials English Paper Piecing PDF Pattern

I've been tweaking the pattern for this on-and-off for months and it feels like a lovely thing to finally be at the point of sharing it here. I was going to stop at the size pictured above, but I'm finding making the blocks addictive and now have plans for something as big as the quantities of fabrics that I have will allow for. The design consists of three blocks (one large, two much smaller) that can be replaced in repeat over and over to create enough piecing for whatever project you'd like to make, whether that's a cushion, wall-hanging or full-sized quilt.

The name is taken from a place in London's Covent Garden, called Seven Dials. It's a spot where seven cobbled streets converge at a tiny roundabout, on which a sundial towers. The roundabout makes an unlikely gathering place for people to sit, eat, drink or chat and, when I worked in Covent Garden myself, I'd sometimes take my own lunch there too. There's something relaxing about watching the black cabs and cars circling around and it's too small an area for them to go at any great speed. When I was naming this pattern, seeing how all the pieces seem to lead back to a central point reminded me of Seven Dials. My piecing actually has eight 'dials' though, hence the name change (which actually feels totally in keeping, as Thomas Neal, who designed the area in the 1600s, did similar when he increased the number of streets converging there from six to seven).

The pattern goes together quickly and easily and is suitable for beginners and old-hands alike. Included in the PDF are:

- Basic instructions for English paper piecing
- Easily printable paper pieces
- Fabric-cutting templates with seam allowances included
- A colouring sheet to plan out your design
- Step-by-step assembly diagrams

If you'd like to buy a copy of the PDF pattern, you can do so below. It costs £6 (that's around $7.80 USD/ €6.80 EUR) and is instantly downloadable.

Buy the Pattern!

NB. Be sure to print the pattern at 100% with no page scaling options set, so that the pattern pieces print at the correct size. 

My piecing here uses a very limited collection of fabrics and I'm really enjoying that; once I'd decided on my fabric there's been little to think about other than the repetition of wrapping and stitching, so it's a great project to quickly prep and take along in my handbag.

I've also been working away on an alternate version of Eight Dials though and that one features a riot of colour and print - I'll share that in another post. As each block is different, choosing fabrics takes a little longer, so it's my inbetweeny project that I'm tackling on days when I have more time to ponder. It's interesting to see how that profusion of different fabrics affects the appearance of the underlying pattern - it looks utterly different and the feeling of interlinking, connected blocks is lessened, but it feels quite joyful for its lack of structure.

I owe a a huge thank you to Annah, who generously saved me from days of replanning (and quite possibly weeping and other self-indulgences that may have involved lying in a crumpled heap listening to Morrisey songs), by sending me some of the Elizabeth Olwen fabric seen in the piecing below. It's an older fabric that I was having trouble finding online and not being able to get any more would have brought my piecing to a standstill. I'm so grateful that this was avoided - thank you so much, Annah! x

I'm using the hashtag #eightdials for this pattern over on Instagram, so do have a look if you want to see my other blocks as and when they appear (or if you want to share your own, which I would love!)

If you would like any extra information on English paper piecing, I've written posts about how to fussy-cut fabrics; shared my favourite thread for EPP; done a huge amount of geeky research to discover my favourite needles for EPP; discussed how to frame EPP; and written a beginners guide to EPP back when I was still a beginner myself (I must update that at some point!).

Florence x

Friday, 7 July 2017

Atelier Brunette Moonstone Top

I recently bought some of this beautiful viscose Moonstone Atelier Brunette fabric and it sparked a late-night sewing session the moment it appeared again in the clean pile of washing (approximately four hours after it had been posted through my letterbox - my haste to prewash it, if I'd thought about it, would have told me of the frenzied rush to make something that was likely to follow*). A wondrous thing is the fabric so lovely that it prompts you to push everything else aside to work on it RIGHT NOW!

I watched Miss Potter recently, a film about the life of Beatrix Potter - it's really lovely and currently free to watch on Amazon Video, if you're a Prime member. It's about how her work became published; her relationship with her parents; her female friendships; and the two men she loved during her lifetime - all magically portrayed and utterly captivating. There are a few moments where her illustrations seem to impishly leap off the page while she's doing other things and it's an imagining I recognise in fabric-form - certain fabrics just refuse to be quiet until they've been made into something (although thankfully, I don't hear any voices with this)! This fabric is no exception - it's currently sitting on my cutting table half-made and taking up much needed head-space with its pull to be finished while I'm trying to get on with other things.

Anyway, the fabric. It really has everything: the drapiest drape (I always find Atelier Brunette fabrics tend to wash to be much softer and drapier than when they first arrive and this was no exception); a very wearable print; easy and stable to work. The only thing it doesn't have is a willingness to keep its loose ends in tact - I confess to giving my half-made top a manicure with a pair of tiny scissors before taking this photo and even that has not hidden some of the wandering threads. That's not really a problem, but it does mean seams need to be finished nicely to avoid unravelling - so either french seams or overlocking.  On the colour, I don't have much pink in my wardrobe (it's predominantly navy, grey and black), but I get so much wear out of this top, which happens to be an identical shade, that it persuaded me to buy it.

When I'm craving instant gratification, the quickest route is to draft a pattern based on something I already own. In this case it was an old smock top from French Connection, bought about 13 years ago (I can only pin down a date for this because I remember wearing it almost constantly one summer when my daughter was little). I've realised it's funny how much less I analyse fit when the item is shop bought - it's a top that I've always really liked and felt comfortable in and yet it was only when I tried on my own version of the top that I realised it pulls very slightly along the seam that runs from shoulder to neck. Initially, I assumed that I'd made a mistake while drafting, but when I tried on the original top, I realised there is identical pulling and I'd just replicated the poor fit. Having worn and loved this top for so many years, I've decided to overlook this in my own version too. As I normally irritate myself with my quest for perfection, I'm choosing to celebrate that kind of slapdashery, rather than chastising myself for it!

At some point I'll try and write a post sharing a little more of how I go about rubbing a pattern from a ready-to-wear garment - my methods are self-taught, so possibly quite idiosyncratic, but they seem to work for me. It's often very quick (the pattern for this blouse took about 1.5 hours) and the nice thing about it is that I rarely make a muslin when I've used this method as I usually feel confident that it will be an accurate replica of the original. Drafting pleats, gathers and darts can be tricky as the top I'm referencing obviously can't reveal those things in their original flat state, but there's usually a logical way to working out how much room those things should take up on the pattern piece and then adjusting everything accordingly. Armholes and sleeve caps tend to be the thing that take the most time. For this top, the original had slight gathering at the sleeve cap (it's actually more pronounced than it appears in this photo), which I'm less keen on as I feel it visually unbalances my frame (if you're interested, you can see a demonstration of that in this post where I talk about how to make a dressmaking croquis to draw designs on), so on that basis, I removed the sleeve gathering and will also finish the sleeve slightly differently to give a smoother line beneath a cardigan. But otherwise, having pinned where the buttons will go, the fit seems identical to the original, shoulder pulling and all! I'll hopefully show you the finished top in my next post.

I bought my fabric from M is for Make and when I went back to get some more for a strappy summer top, it was all gone (there is also a beautiful blue version, although Kate tells me that there was a printing error, so it's unlikely to arrive anywhere until September). I'm sure it was only 48 hours since the pink Moonstone arrived on Kate's site, so I think lots of us must be making things from the same fabric this week! I snaffled up this black tote bag - it would totally delight me to see someone else walking down the street with this and to know that at some level they were a kindred spirit. I actually spotted someone wearing an Atelier Brunette fabric in the town where I live a few weeks ago and although I didn't feel I could go and accost her (she looked like she was hurrying), it did make me smile inwardly.

Finally Friday - it's been a long week. I'm so pleased that tomorrow morning will allow for a lie in! What are you up to?

Florence x

* The arrival of fresh dressmaking fabric was an excellent incentive to do some much-needed washing - a daily delivery may just be the ideal way to establish a regular washing routine - I will discuss this later with Mr Teacakes to see if he thinks this may be a good strategy!

Ps. I've now panic-bought a little more of the pink moonstone from Guthrie & Ghani, so it can still be found if you like it. x
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