Wednesday, 3 February 2016

St. Louis 16-Patch Quilt

At the start of this year, I decided to finally do something about the fact that we don't have a quilt that's big enough to cover a sofa's-worth of people in our living room. Until now we've invariably snuggled under a patchwork of smaller quilts or more often the beautiful cashmere blanket that my mother gave me for my thirtieth birthday as it's amazingly warm. But after eight years of snuggling, it's starting to show its age and I don't want it to reach a level of wear where I have to part with it, so I'd rather just minimise its use and allow it to go into semi-retirement over the arm of a sofa where I can still see it everyday.

I decided that I wanted something in bright, saturated colours, which automatically makes me think of prints by Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner and Kaffe Fassett. Amy Butler fabrics seem a lot harder to find at many online quilt shops nowadays - I still really love her designs though and really like the more painterly, less geometric prints that feature in her last few collections, Violette and Bright Heart - only Stitch, Craft, Create and Cotton Patch seem to stock a wide selection in the UK. When my fabrics arrived, they really did make me feel completely joyful - I absolutely love these prints and instantly texted photos of them to both my sister and mother as it felt like a great ball of warmth and sunshine worth sharing.

For the piecing, I've kept things completely simple and chose to make the quilt from 16-patch blocks, with two prints per block. Although it's not a complex block, I used a tutorial that I found here as Steffani has done all the hard work in terms of thinking about which way to press seams.

Here's my chair temporarily reupholstered in four inch strips of fabric. The very, very eagle-eyed may notice a curious selection of things appearing on my desk. In addition to sewing paraphernalia, over recent months I have become the proud owner of a replica Mini Cooper (a gift from my husband in lieu of a real one) and a miniature golden retriever in glorious moulded plastic, which my husband thought I might appreciate on the grounds that our loft rooms are a Nell-free zone. I really love these strange little additions and my eyes are yet to become used to them in the way that they can with things I'm expecting to see, so I enjoy looking at them every day!

The repetitiveness of the piecing allowed me to become really obsessive and geeky about the way that I was working (that's a good thing in my eyes!). Building in strict seam matching standards and economies of time in the production line became a really fun part of making up the blocks! I realised that normally whenever I reach for a pin, there's a pause in work flow as I try to avoid being stabbed while finding one that's both straight and is actually a pin (my needles tend to end up in with the pins and because I hand-sew a lot, there are about fifty of them mixed in there!), so I put only the exact number of pins that I needed to sew each seam onto my magnetic pin cushion and loved how much this simple change sped up the sewing!

Although it may look random, I also had a strict fabric pairing criteria for each block: there had to be one lead print and one filler print; the filler print had to contain at least one of the colours contained in the lead print; but the filler print could not have the same background colour as the lead print. I don't think the results of this are obvious, but I always think that details like this make something feel right, even if only in my head.

I loved seeing these mushroom and fill up my design wall. My daughter made the blue and black one at the top left of the wall (and in the photo below) and it's my favourite block so I put it in the centre section of the quilt when I came to laying them out later. I really loved teaching her the clever way that these blocks are made up (as per the tutorial I linked to earlier) so that you don't have to piece 16 individual squares and so that the seams all nest nicely.

I've now completed 36 blocks and I'm at the point of sewing them all together. This quilt is huge and the only room where I could lay it all out was the living room. When I put the blocks down, I realised that it just looked like a giant mess, so I went down the root of trying to give it some order that, again, may not be instantly apparent, but which hopefully helps the whole thing to hang together and look right. I decided that every other block should have either some orange, pink or red in it and that the ones in between would be cooler colours. I felt much happier with this layout even though Nell looks to have grave doubts about it. Please excuse the rumpus of cushions; there is no time for beautifying a room when arranging quilt blocks.

And goodness, did I ever think I could get to the point of arranging a whole quilt top on the floor and Nell just instinctively knowing that she shouldn't trample over it? At three years old she is becoming an incredibly thoughtful little creature who tries really, really hard to control her impulse to bound around willy-nilly and now just bounds when it looks like she won't knock things over or destroy them. Just after this photo was taken she lay down with her chin on the corner block, quietly watching me place the rest of them (I've noticed she will often do this: following my eyes the whole time, she will place just a paw or her nose gently on something that she knows isn't really hers, as if trying to strike a compromise and trying to ascertain that I do love her dearly and so am willing to share a little with her, while simultaneously doing this testing-of-the-waters so carefully that she is reassuring me that if it's permitted then she knows to take care!). Sometimes it really amazes me that we've invited this creature (who at first seemed like a wild animal) to share our home with us and that it's all actually okay and that we all live happily alongside one another and that two entirely different species have formed a family. Do you ever get hit by this sense of how odd it is that there are animals in your house*, but how weirdly fine and normal that feels?

Anyway, back to the quilt. I did quite a lot of batting research and I'll let you know the results of that once I've quilted it, but I'm hoping for super puffiness and softness!

Florence x

* Only applicable if you have pets. If there are uninvited animals in your house then I have everything crossed for you that they leave quickly!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Quilts, Batting, Books and Other Things

Happy New Year! I've taken an unintended month away from my blog, just because life has been deliciously busy, more on that below, but first, I wanted to show you the finished baby quilt that I was working on in my last post of 2015. I'd already shared what the quilt top would look like, so the main details left are those relating to quilting. I usually use Quilter's Dream Puff, which is incredibly warm and thick, but I wanted a batting that was light and soft and which wouldn't overheat a brand new baby, so after some research I chose Quilter's Dream Orient wadding - a mixture of bamboo (which like wool, has the magical property of being cool in the summer and warm in the winter), silk, tencel and cotton - it was really lovely to work with and felt noticeably strokeable before it was turned into a quilt sandwich. This is notable because waddings are rarely tactile, which is fine because they're hidden inside the quilt, but whenever I touch them I'm reminded of an old school friend who had a phobia of The Body Shop's plastic bags, which were some of the first bags made out of recycled materials in the early '90s and had a very odd feel to them. We would usually shop and then I would carry both of our purchases home from town! She would definitely object to touching many quilt battings if she were faced with them). 

Having enjoyed trying out a new batting so much, when I had to place an emergency order for some hand quilting thread from the Cotton Patch this week, I finally decided to also buy something that I've been wanting for the last few years, but which has always seemed too frivolous to actually purchase: wadding sample packs! The Cotton Patch offer 16 wadding samples and it's been really quite dreamy to be able to feel, scrunch and hold them in my very own paws to get a true sense of each sample's quiltability (or more importantly, their snugglability). They are all so different and I have a strong desire to make a brand new quilt, just so that I can try out what I think will be my favourite!

Anyway, the busyness: after a lovely Christmas day with my family, we travelled to Obergurgl in Austria on Boxing Day to welcome in the new year on skis and then returned home to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday, followed by our 15th wedding anniversary and 20th year of being together (I met my husband in our first term at university when I was 18). It's been a fairly magical month, when even getting up at 3.30am for our flight had the reward of seeing sunrise from the air. 

Despite all the amazingly breathtaking views, throughout the holiday my eyes kept being drawn back to a ramshackle hut that we could see from our bedroom window - I really loved it, despite it being a little bleak. When it started snowing again on New Year's Day it looked even lovelier and I felt really pleased to have before and after photos!

I fell asleep ridiculously early each night - a combination of high altitude and skiing for hours every day, but I still tore through three books. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger was a gift from my parents - it's a really painful story in many ways, as it's about several deaths that occurred one summer within a small community, however, it's very much worth reading. The characterisation is rich and the internal battle that each person can be seen to be wrestling with is thought-provoking and brilliantly told.  

Next up, A.M. Homes' Jack. As an author, A.M. Homes seems to provoke a Marmite reaction because at times her subject matter has been controversial, so I was braced for this book to go either way, but I really loved it and enjoyed her writing too, so much so, that I bought May We Be Forgiven as soon as we arrived home. Like Ordinary Grace, the story is told from the point of view of a young boy (I think Jack was actually about 16 or 17, but for most of the book I read him as being a lot younger, so perhaps this is the only part that didn't work so well for me) after his father leaves the family and then reveals himself to be gay. Another book full of really likable, but also flawed and interesting, characters. These two books actually sat really nicely next to one another when reading them back-to-back as sometimes it can be hard to move onto something else when you've enjoyed a novel. 

I've read quite a few of Tracy Chevalier's books and Remarkable Creatures was a recommendation that a reader made to me in the comments to one of my previous posts (Thank you, Suze!). A fictional tale based on true events, it's the story of a female fossil hunter living in the 1820s at a time when men were often credited with her work and the discovery of certain fossils brought an unwelcome challenge to the creationist belief system. I found both of these aspects of the book completely fascinating - we have come so far! - but also, I found the fossil hunting detail completely compelling too. In many ways it's quite a dry book and the female characters lack any traditional sense of charm (I think the title, Remarkable Creatures, is as much a reference to the women as to the fossilised creatures that they dug up), but it's also what makes the book feel so genuine and true. I really loved it. 

Since we've come home, in between celebrations, I've been working on writing up the pattern for my yellow English paper piecing project - I'll share an update on that in my next post.

What are your thoughts on new year's resolutions? Personally, I avoid them - the idea of trying to turn over a new leaf and be a different person at an arbitrary point in time (rather than at a time that arises naturally) has never appealed and I think as a process it can feel inherently self-critical. I'm all for self-analysis and trying to be a better person, but less for raking one's self over the coals just because it's January 1st. I've noticed that more and more people are choosing a word for the year, rather than making a resolution for the year. I really like that idea - it feels less of a measurable goal that one can either succeed or fail at and more of a positive reminder-to-self to just try to seize more of that thing into one's life (whatever the thing may be). I didn't manage to come up with a word, but I did come up with a phrase that feels right and which started to rumble around my head in the latter part of 2015. However, I've read that for many people once you've vocalised something, the brain registers it as having been 'done' because of the positive feeling gained from sharing the idea, and that you're then less likely to actually embrace or do the thing in reality. So for that reason, I am going to be Secretive Sally (although I've suddenly realised that Furtive Florence works just as well and doesn't involve a name change!) and keep the phrase all to myself! But I'd love to hear your thoughts on all things related to the fresh-sheet of a new year and how you approach it. Or more book recommendations. What you're sewing. Or just what you did over Christmas.

Wishing you the happiest of new years (until 2017, when I will obviously go for even happier!),
Florence x

Ps. The book-related links are the kind where Amazon give me a tiny percentage of the proceeds if you buy the book, although obviously they don't pass on any of your details to me. If you'd rather I didn't share in Amazon's profits, just google the book title independently or pop into your local bookshop! x

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

A Flurry of Confetti Dots

I've spent the last few days working on a quilt for a friend's new baby that I'll be meeting over Christmas. I took quite a long time looking through the latest fabrics lines aimed at children, which was really lovely as it's years since I've looked at children-specific fabrics, but eventually I decided that none of them felt just right. In part because before I started looking at child-centric fabric, I thought that Karen Lewis' soon-to-be-released line for Robert Kaufman would be ideal, being both modern and juicily-coloured, and once I'd had that idea nothing else was going to be right. I considered not making a quilt at all, but then one morning I woke up and remembered that I actually had the perfect fabrics, tucked away in some sort of 'to make' / 'abandoned projects' basket at the back of a cupboard.

Nearly two years ago, on my 36th birthday, after going out for lunch, my husband asked what I'd like to do for the rest of the day, and I told him that I'd like him to be my assistant colour arranger. We planned out a quilt using a charm pack of Confetti Dots that I'd been sent by Dear Stella, supplemented with some of Dashwood's Flurry range, which has a similar feel, with randomly placed dots (do you see what I did with the title for this post now!?). Later that evening, my father came over when he got home from work and carried on helping me with the arrangement. This is where we got to (pictured below). I think I can honestly say that was one of my favourite days ever - sitting around chatting and having my family plan out quilts with me was my idea of heaven. The only problem was that at that time I didn't have a sewing room and people needed to walk on my design floor, so the next day I packed the triangles away and they were never made into anything.

So, with the fabrics having such good memories attached to them, I've really enjoyed getting these out again and playing with them all over again, omitting the pinks and purples to give it a more boyish feel. There must be something family-magnetising about these dots, because my daughter came in and started helping me to arrange the central area of blues and greens for an hour or so...

...and later that day my husband helped me plan out the rest. This time the central square is set on point and concentric squares radiate from it, gradually changing colour.

Even a design wall has its limitations though: you can see that we're actually falling off the wall at the right hand side! However, it's an awesome thing to be able to stick fabric onto a wall with no pins and have it just stay there. I'm currently in the process of taking one pair of triangles down at a time and sewing them together before returning them to their place and taking the next pair - it's a laborious process, but feels safer than using numbered piles where I'd worry I might get them out of order or sew them together along the wrong seam.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may spot a new ironing board! Did you know that if on a Monday evening you need a new ironing board and order it at 5.30pm, Argos actually have the capability to be at your door with it just two hours later! I was stunned and anything that stops one having to go into the actual shop is very welcome in my eyes. It's this Brabantia one and I found a 20% discount code which brought the price down a lot. The legs are more orange than the red shown in the stock photo, but I still really like it and it's very stable and the ironing space is huge.

For my mechanical Pfaff I have a straight-stitch plate which stops fabric being pulled down into the feed dogs when piecing begins with just a tiny point (as it does when piecing together two triangles), however, for my newer fancy-pants Pfaff I don't own one and my local shop don't have any in stock. I eventually tracked one down at Cotton Patch, but until it arrives (tomorrow! Thank you, Cotton Patch!), I'm using tiny scraps of Vilene's wonderful Stitch n' Tear, which completely solves the problem of the fabric being gobbled up. You only need the tiniest bit placed just beneath your first stitches. It's more time consuming, but better than mangled fabric.

I hope you're having a happy week in the run up to Christmas - I felt really delighted to have a few days to sew something so brightly-coloured and fun before my children are home for the holidays, although I'm quite a long way from finishing this, so I'm hoping I can actually pull it together in time.

Florence x

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Almost Nearly There

Thank you so much for all your lovely comments on the last post - when it became apparent that I wasn't going to find time to write here properly as soon as I'd intended, I went in and edited the original post to announce winners and all have now had their Three Bears Sleeping Bag patterns emailed to them now. Thanks again if you took part!

I'm just one daffodil trumpet away from finishing my yellow wallhanging, but that last bloom seems to be taking an inordinately long time to complete as I've just checked back and realised that I posted on Instagram that I was one bloom away over a week ago now. But either way, it will happen and I'm excited to see it finished. I reached an impasse with this project half way through when I lost interest for no apparent reason; I even took it away with me on two holidays and it didn't come out of my bag on either. After a few months had passed I forced myself to pick it up again and just a few stitches in I wondered why I'd ever dropped it, because I really enjoyed making the second half of it. It's funny how enthusiasm waxes and wanes (and then thankfully in this case, rewaxes!) like that.

Here are a few pieces mid-sew - they're all stitched together apart from the cream piece, top right, which is just resting there. I really love these curves.

I have a lovely new sponsor, Pelenna Patchworks, who sells freezer paper templates, which I'd never heard of before (see them here!), but which seem like a really good idea for keeping shapes in place while you're basting them (you just iron the freezer paper onto the fabric and then peel it away when you've finished, leaving no residue). They also sell the actual rolls of freezer paper so that you can make your own if you're using non-standard shapes like mine (although I didn't actually know about this when basting the curved pieces for this project).

Annie from The Village Haberdashery is expanding into beautiful new premises and is looking for investors, big and small (you can invest as little as £10 or as much as...well, one investor has put in £25,500!), to help her make it happen. She's produced a really lovely video to share her vision with others that you can see below. You can request a business plan to assess possible returns by clicking on the 'Business Plan' PDF at the left of this screen.

To give you some background, I've watched The Village Haberdashery grow since Annie first started sponsoring my blog in early 2012 and she's always come across as someone who works tirelessly, with enthusiasm and who is very much a part of the sewing community. I imagine that December is possibly the hardest month to crowd fund in and, because of what month it is, my own investment is necessarily small. It's also made on the basis of wanting to support a shop that I love, rather than any financial savvy. However,  I'm fine with that basis for giving as I think with any investment you may lose your money, so in some ways it seems safer to invest with good will than high hopes for riches, although it's a happy thing if it does end up paying off (that attitude possibly explains why I haven't gone into banking). If you're interested, crowdfunding closes in just 11 days and I know Annie would love your support. You can find all the information you need here -  they're currently 60% of the way to their target.

The Village Haberdashery - Seeking Investment Via Crowdcube from Big Hair Films on Vimeo.

I'm going to see a live (broadcast to screens around the country) National Theatre performance of Jane Eyre tonight, which I'm excited about as the novel was one of my A' level texts, which has left me with extra fondness for it, as it's a book that feels like an old friend, even though it's not actually my favourite classic. I'm sure many places probably still have tickets if you're interested.

I'm yet to start feeling Christmassy, which is most unlike me as that feeling normally strikes around the 1st October before the shops have started selling baubles and people can be heard saying, 'But it's not even November!' in outraged tones, but I saved this post today, which shares six classic Christmas films you might not have heard of and I'm looking forward to working my way through them if I can find them on Netflix and hopefully feeling more festive.

Florence x

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Giveaway: The Three Bears Sleeping Bag PDF Pattern

I thought that with Christmas rapidly approaching, I might do a giveaway of my Three Bears Sleeping Bag pattern, just because these beds make such a lovely gift for small (and even not so small) children. Just say hello in the comments to enter (or make a suggestion on the conundrum below if you happen to have any ideas). I'll choose three entries to receive a copy of the PDF pattern, so do make sure you leave a way of my contacting you, if it isn't easily discoverable online. As you'll see further down in this post, these sleeping bags are good for any kind of creature and I've also written a post to help you solve any fitting problems for irregularly shaped animals, entitled Unwieldy Antlers and Other Sizing Issues.

So, to the conundrum I mentioned above: I wondered if you have any memorable gift ideas for marking a big-round-number-birthday? When my husband celebrated his thirtieth birthday, I gave him a box filled with thirty pebbles, each with one of his best qualities, or one my favourite memories of him, written on in silver ink. To celebrate Nell's first birthday, I created a book for him that told the story of her first year with us, which he loved (there is nothing quite so good as giving someone a gift that leaves them watery eyed!). I'd like to do something similarly personal to mark his fortieth birthday which falls just after Christmas, but I don't feel like I've settled on the perfect idea yet. I've been thinking of making a photo book with a few photos taken from each year; making another handmade shirt (just one though, not forty, with a birthday message stitched somewhere inconspicuous inside); asking my children to reshoot spelling out a message throwing body shapes; or doing some other variation around the stitched lined paper theme, but I'd really love to hear any of your own creative ideas that you might have stored up for marking someone's birthday in a special way as I'd love some inspiration.

Anyway, back to the sleeping bags! I thought you might like to see some of the amazing sleeping bags others have made from this pattern. It's so much fun seeing them all lined up together; the same, but also completely unique, each with their own creature nestled inside that's special to someone somewhere in the world. The bag above is made by Nicola Berry (whose child has exactly the same bear as my own daughter, which features in the photo at the top of this post!). Here are some more lovelies from my Flickr pool and sent to me via email:

From left to right, sleeping bags have been made by Julie Bridgeman; Bridgid Todd; Nicola Berry; Chris Best; Elizabeth; Wendy Rabung.

Although it's called the Three Bears sleeping bag pattern, it seems that it's less often bears that reside in the beds; when I was looking through my Flickr pool I noticed that monkeys feature very heavily.

From left to right, sleeping bags have been made by Julie Bridgeman, Katie B, Stacey Pinique, Julie Bridgeman

And here are some other creatures in their bags:

Jamie Seifert, Libby Dillard, Katie Allcorn, Mysedan1, Katie B, Chris Best, Lila James, Sally, Heather, Julie Bridgeman, Stacey Pinique, Jamie Seifert. 

Aren't they all glorious! And below are some close ups of the incredible detail people have added to their sleeping bags - the hedgehog is paper pieced (even though it looks so perfect that it actually seems like it's printed). The embroidered flower on the pillow blows me away - I would love to put my head on that if it was bear-sized.

As per previous roundups, Heather Ross fabric features heavily and rather magnificently (the fabric used on the second photo down in this post, as well as the trio below are all made from Heather Ross designs). I still rue the fact that I've never had any of her designs in my stash - an anomaly that I can't make sense of.

I think that's it for now. Thank you to everyone who has made things from this pattern and shared photos with me (irrespective of whether it's appeared here!) - I absolutely love seeing them all and hope that you don't mind that I've shared your sewing here.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment saying hello or make a suggestion on the conundrum I mentioned earlier in the post and I'll announce a winner soon.

Florence x

UPDATED: This giveaway is now closed. Thank you so much for your lovely comments and ideas. The winners are: Teresa Stanulis, Sarah-Lou and Winter Tree - I'll email your patterns to you today. Thank you so much for taking part. x

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Two Seasonally-Inappropriate Dresses

It's now November, so this post feels more than a little seasonally inappropriate; like eating pumpkin soup in June. But it feels better to record the taste of the pumpkin soup at the wrong time of year, than to never record it at all. Or something like that. 

At the start of the summer, I fell in love with an electric blue dress in Oliver Bonas, above, but it was oddly bulgy under my arms where the curve of the inset panel had been joined, so I decided to try and make something similar myself. I haven't made many fit and flare dresses and for some reason (which now eludes me), I didn't feel like drafting the pattern myself, so I did quite a lot of research trying to find something that exactly resembled the shop's dress, which has darts perpendicular to the princess seam lines as a really lovely design feature (you can only just see it above). I couldn't find anything quite right, so eventually I compromised with princess-seamed Dress No. 9 from the Japanese sewing pattern book by Machiko Kayaki, called Pindot, Coindot, Polkadot. It's quite a few years since I've used a Japanese pattern book and I didn't especially enjoy the experience of returning to trace out a pattern from a spaghetti junction of overlayed pieces, but once it was cut, I was really happy as my bodice toile seemed like it was a perfect fit with no changes (you'll find that by the end of the post I've decided this wasn't entirely the case).

I used the No. 9 skirt pattern, but altered the pleats to replicate those on the Oliver Bonas dress, but I didn't think to go the whole hog, so my skirt is far fuller and my neckline lower. I took these photos in a rush when I was about to go out in the dress for the evening in the middle of a heat-wave that now seems a very distant memory. Unfortunately, because these photos were taken in a rush, there's not really a great photo of how this looks at a distance, apart from this curious, slightly blurred, photo where I look like I'm...well goodness knows what I'm actually doing, but I think I look like a footballer who's about to spit on the floor. I do frequently try on different personalities in my head - Sarah Lund from The Killing while doing the supermarket shopping wearing something similar to her trademark Faroese jumper; Bobbie from the The Railway Children welcoming her father home on a misty station platform while wearing a winter beret (although my friend, Ben, broke it to me that it has more of a Bob Marley vibe than a Bobbie Waterbury one to it. Damn him.), however, I'm absolutely sure that spitty footballer isn't a persona that I recall experimenting with. Apologies.

Anyway, moving on, let's talk construction. This pattern being written in Japanese and the pictures not overly helpful on this occasion (which is rare for a Japanese pattern - they're normally incredibly transparent), I went my own way. I hadn't sewn princess seams since a few summers ago and it seemed that I had left any knowledge I'd gathered firmly in the past. I made four bodices before I was completely happy with my curved seams (although only three are shown here). 

I think it's going to need some bullet points to define the mistakes I made with each bodice! 
  • On the first bodice, I used french seams (this version isn't pictured, but it looked completely normal). Unless the fabric is incredibly fine, this probably isn't the most sensible move. The seams were actually perfectly smooth on the outside, but just felt 'wrong' when I tried the bodice on and I knew it would bother me. 
  • For bodice number 2, I sewed the curves with the regular 5/8" seam allowance and clipped the curves...but I think asking the two curves to fit together with that big a seam allowance was too much and the tiny creases that formed with the strain of doing this were irksome (photo above, bottom left) and having set the initial creases into place with an iron, they couldn't be ironed out later once I'd trimmed back the seam allowance sufficiently. 
  • Weary, but not defeated, for bodice number 3, I trimmed the seams down to 3/8" before joining them. This worked perfectly. But the well-behaved iron was downstairs where my husband was asleep (I think I was past midnight by then), so I took the dysfunctional iron prone to overheating tantrums out of the bin in my sewing room (why? why? why? Why did I keep refusing to believe the iron was actually faulty?) and thought to myself: if I put this on the silk setting, it will surely be fine. But the thermostat was definitely broken. In just a few short presses it had made the fabric shiny and unwearable and puckered it horribly too (above, bottom right). At which point I went to bed. 
  • Finally, success. The next day, I remade the bodice with 3/8" seams, clipped well at the curve, and pressed with a functional iron and all was well with the world (above, top photo). 

I'm really pleased I spent so long over that stage though as I found it was a good brain-refreshing experience both in sewing techniques and my own stupidity. I'd focused on quilting more than dressmaking in the year before and some things seemed to have fallen out of my head, especially in combination with using a 5/8" seam, instead of a quilter's 1/4" seam allowance. The photo below makes the bodice look a little odd and sadly I didn't look at the photos before I left the house so that I could take another one while standing nicely. Additionally, it's amazing what you can sometimes see in a photo that you can't see when standing in front of a mirror, but on seeing it later, I decided I could have done with shortening the bodice a little as well as standing properly. 

The fabric is the organic cotton sateen that I mentioned in my Summer 2015: Fabrics for Dressmaking post, but instead of the navy blue, this is the, now discontinued, airforce blue colour. There are two sides, almost identical, but one with slightly more sheen. As I wanted to wear this dress as a sundress, I chose to use the completely matt side. I wish they still had the fabric in this colour - it's lovely.

Moving on, I made the dress again and did the skirt COMPLETELY differently! Less flare, different styling on the pleats, a shorter bodice and a few other nit-picky things. This time in a Nani Iro double gauze that I've had sitting in my fabric drawers for about two years and which is possibly one of my favourite prints ever. Here it is mid-construction, above. I hadn't yet cut the skirt out and I took at least an hour deciding whether to continue the profusion of flowers down the centre of the dress or whether to just cut the skirt with a more random pattern placement on the lower half. Even months later I am still kicking myself over my decision to continue with intense flower placement, because it was the wrong decision. A horribly wrong decision. And it completely ruins the dress for me, because from a distance, it looks slightly like someone has thrown a can of paint at the dress.

You can see how much nicer it looks from the back (below), where I had cut the pattern completely randomly.

In a slightly gloomy attempt to see 'what could have been', I tried the dress on back-to-front. It was a vast improvement, not only with the print placement, but also with the realisation that the princess seams on the back panel (which are far gentler having been drafted to accommodate shoulder blades), were a much better fit across my chest. If only I hadn't been left with strange ghost breasts on my back, wearing it back-to-front would have been a perfect solution!

At that point, I was two dresses down: one that I wished had a less full skirt and a shorter bodice; the other that looked slightly more paint-splattered than I'd like. Both with a bodice which I could finally see could have been fitted far better (isn't it odd how you often don't see something at all at first and then the moment you notice it you find it intolerably obvious?). As the summer was drawing to a close, I made a third and final version from Robert Kaufman's denim chambray, with a much-adjusted pattern piece for the bodice. That dress had no problems with either paint attacks or gaping bodices, but sadly, I didn't get a photo of it and the idea of wearing anything less than a thermal bodysuit until next June isn't an appealing one. It's one thing to write seasonally inappropriate blog posts in November, quite another to actually take photos for one. So that post will probably have to wait for another year.

In other matters dressmaking related, over on Instagram I'm taking part in @BimbleandPimple's 'Sewing Photo a Day' challenge, which carries the hashtag of #BPsewvember. Amanda has given a theme for each day and anyone taking part just posts a photo based on that theme and hashtags it so that other Sewvemberists can see it. It's a really wonderful way of discovering other dressmakers and seeing some inspirational finishes, but mostly getting to know others in little bite-sized snippets each day. Often stopping to think about the way you do a particular thing can be thought-provoking, so I'm enjoying taking part, even though I'm not always remembering to take a photo for each day while it's still light, so have missed a few. Also, some of the topics make me think more of quilt-making than dressmaking when it comes to my own sewing, so it won't be entirely dressmaking-related for me. Although it's now the 8th, I don't think it's too late to start taking part!

Finally, two questions: is it possible that in one year I could have fallen victim of not one, but two appliances with faulty thermostats? If a new washing machine felts a jumper where the label said it could be washed at 30 degrees and which was definitely set to wash at 30 degrees (I know that because I actually double-checked it at the time), is it more likely that the fibres reacted oddly or that there's a fault with the washing machine's thermostat? I've never felted a jumper that I washed at the right temperature before, so I'm interested to know if impromptu felting can be a freak thing? The composition is 33% viscose, 23% nylon, 20% lambswool, 20% cotton, 4% cashmere (so there's really a bit of everything in there!). It's now small enough to fit a teddy bear.

My second question : does anyone petite/knowledgeable in these matters, have a recommendation for really good 40 or 60 denier tights? Marks & Spencer's 'extra small' seem longer than ever before and result in horribly wrinkly ankles. Although they're hidden by winter boots, it would feel far nicer to have less ankle-wrinkle accompanying me around the house indoors. While last year, I wore nothing but skinny jeans for the entire winter, this year I'm favouring skirts and dresses even for dog walks and the lack of well-fitting tights to go with them is a low-level frustration that it would feel nice to have a solution to.

Florence x

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
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