Monday, 30 July 2012
This weekend I created a virtual sewing map. I think that when I'm using the English paper piecing method, more complicated layouts will be easier if I have a map to follow as I sew: something that tells me what goes where and which way I'd intended the flower on each piece to be rotated. Being able to see the whole thing laid out so that I can make these decisions before I begin sewing means less time with the seam ripper later. I find it hard to keep a visualisation of the overview in my mind, so creating a mock-up which I can photograph and then print out and keep by my side means that I don't lose my way. I have been accused of over-planning and craziness by my Instagram friends...but I've had so much fun doing and am entirely happy in my lunacy.
This photo is of the very centre of my block as I was just beginning. I bought a large 10mm thick piece of foam board to pin my pieces to and used silver tiny-headed pins, which when viewed from above are invisible, allowing me to see just the design. I've fussy cut each piece as I want to maximise the kaleidoscopic effect of the finished block. I've been following a quilt pattern called Tessellations from the much talked about Brigitte Giblin book, but at a greatly reduced scale. This block will be a fraction of the size of the lovely quilt in her book, as the scale of the Liberty prints is so tiny, that if I'd have used them with the full-size pieces any fussy-cutting would have been lost.
I eventually ran out of pins and had to leave the house to buy more, but when I could finally see the finished block I was really pleased with it. And the pins...they have strangely reminded me of the overview of the Olympic stadium, which has been my viewing backdrop as I've planned this. I'd intended to create a cushion for my daughter's room using this block, but I've enjoyed it too much to leave it at that and so am planning a quilt around the block.
I finally started sewing a few of the pieces together in bed this morning. It makes waking up at 6am a complete pleasure - it's so lovely to sit quietly stitching in bed while my husband sleeps.
Friday, 27 July 2012
Shall we have another gratuitous cat photo to accompany announcing the winner of the fox fabric giveaway? Unfortunately, as you can only answer that in the comments section by which time it'll be too late, I'm going to have to imagine you all enthusiastically nodding your heads to that question. Isn't she lovely? I named this photo Catball when I uploaded it. I love the shapes cats lie in.
Although there can only be one winner of the fabric stack, happily, Annie has told me that any readers who would like to make some of the Fox Hollow fabric their own can buy any print or bundle from the range with a foxy 10% off by typing in the discount code FOXY10 at the checkout. The code is valid until next Friday, 3rd August.
I actually let my daughter pick the winner of this competition as I thought she'd enjoy the animal-themed comments. She chose this comment below from Joanne because she too liked the idea of having tasty morsels delivered, although she did say that she didn't understand what Joanne meant by the aloof bit as she's never met a cat like that (clearly my daughter has never been deemed one of the 'stupid people'. I felt more familiar with the meaning though. Oh dear).
Oh lordy I too go mad for anything foxy-like fabric-wise. Much as I love foxes I think I'm more of a cat - I would happily lie in bed all day and be brought delicious morsels and have my back scratched and be aloof with stupid people. I draw the line at licking my bottom though. That is not acceptable.
Congratulations, Joanne and thank you so much to Annie for such generosity with the foxes.
In other news, after some peer group encouragement, I've joined Instagram. If you'd like to see random photos from my day (mostly sewing related with the occasional cat thrown in for good measure) my username on there is flossieteacakes - I haven't used it a huge amount as I've only just signed up and it's the summer holidays...but I can see now why people love it.
Thank you so much to everyone who bought things from my pop-up fabric shop a few weeks ago. There are now only a few bundles left. In the hope of gaining more drawer space, if you're interested you can now purchase the few remaining items with 20% off using the code DESTASH at the checkout.
1. Colette Hazel Dress by Lucky Lucille, 2. Hazel by Ginger Makes, 3. Hazel by Looking at Stars 4. Hazel by Sarai
The surprise appearance of summery weather in England has been accompanied by a sudden burst of energy around my sewing machine for me and I've fitted in lots of sewing in the evenings this week - dresses, quilts and trousers have all been finished: I have so much to share with you and only wish this inspiring weather had arrived earlier as I'd still love to make a Hazel dress...but somehow the end of July feels too late to begin making such things. What do you think? I love these versions above.
By the way I'm so sorry to Ginger for making her look so very tiny in this line-up of Hazel wearers, due to her photo being taken from slightly further away, but her version was too lovely to leave out!
Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
The Charlotte Bartlett quilt was finally completed a few weeks ago when England was still being rained upon and temperatures remained distinctly chilly. The quilt sat beside my wardrobe like a large red reminder of the summer that never arrived, making all who saw it feel bullish annoyance at what should have been. But this week, quite without warning, we are being slowly cooked each time we step outside into the garden and the fiery red quilt is finally allowed to be an appropriate backdrop to the scorching temperatures.
The tiny triangles which replace the corner of every square are barely perceptible, other than when the quilt is viewed as a whole and you suddenly see that it looks as though it has been made from circles rather than patchwork squares (meaning it's technically called a 'snowball' quilt, I believe). I am happy with the amount of blur and lack of structure overall - in this I wanted something that would be a vibrant floral backdrop, but which wouldn't impose its own structure or geometric hardness on the garden.
While I didn't overly enjoy the actual sewing of this quilt (the piecing was easy, but dull and I complained frequently), I adored working with the fabrics. They are mostly Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs and they delight every part of my brain. Sometimes I worry that I may be fusing vital wires and connections when I like something so much.
Those following the Charlotte Bartlett and her Mackintosh squares tale may be interested in how many people this quilt can comfortably seat. I think it can comfortably accommodate four people and a very laden picnic...or two people lying down with limbs thrown out at odd angles. So while no-one in my immediate family will be forced to sit martyred on damp grass, it's not quite as big as I'd hoped it might be, but I did use every single scrap of fabric up that I'd bought for it. It's so gratifying when that happens.
If you're interested in following in my dragging-my-heels-and-complaining-a-lot footsteps with this quilt (you'll have such fun), you can find a very similar quilt pattern in Kaffe Fassett's absolutely stunning V&A Quilts book - I think I may or may not have talked about it before, but it really is wonderful. Most of my fabrics came from overseas at Quilt Home due to their having an absolutely vast selection of Kaffe Fassett prints all in one place.
I've been thinking a lot about quilt making recently and how the need to make a particular quilt can suddenly burn through me. I think often it's not that I want to possess a fabric, more that I want to sew with it and that just the act of working with it relieves the hunger to have certain prints for myself. In every other area of sewing I'm a perfectionist, but there's something about quilt-making that, mostly, feels like sheer, unbridled delight, so consequently it feels right to allow it to remain untempered by perfect point-matching (my inner Monika requires that I clarify: I do make a huge effort to match points, I just don't torture myself over it if, despite my efforts, they steadfastly remain a millimetre or two off). I am also guilty of enjoying rather random quilt backings. I tend to hurriedly pull together all the remaining offcuts of fabric and sew them haphazardly into a backing. You can see a little bit of this jumble visible as my husband carried it across the lawn. The only time throughout the entire process when my perfectionist streak momentarily returns is when I stretch out the fabrics to make the quilt sandwich, ready to be quilted. Here I become obsessive about having everything perfectly smooth and flat, so that there are no unwanted lumps or bumps in the finished quilt. How do you make quilts? Are there areas of sewing where you'll permit mistakes? Or will you relentlessly wield a seam ripper until you have perfection?
You are still most welcome to enter my foxy give-away, kindly provided by the wonderful Village Haberdashery. I'll be announcing a winner later tomorrow (Friday).
Monday, 23 July 2012
Several years ago my sister's boyfriend at that time delightedly told me, while defending his brand of jumper, that Marks and Spencer were synonymous with good quality. For some reason this comment stuck in my mind and every time I go into a branch of Marks and Spencer I think of him and am sure to take time to stop and admire the fine quality of their double chocolate eclairs, amongst other things. It would seem that I, Florence, have also finally found my own level of synonymity...with the fox! Although unfortunately I think it's limited to my use of and frequent lustings over fox-dotted sewing fabric, rather than my own foxiness. Damn.
When Annie recently took delivery of a skulk of foxes* at the Village Haberdashery, I was delighted that she immediately thought of me. And you. Annie has kindly allowed me to give away this beautiful selection of new fabrics from Monaluna's new Fox Hollow fabric line and she has carefully chosen some Kona solids to go with them too.
Fox hollow includes a recoloured print of the much-loved fox print from the Anika range (I used it on the tiniest size of my Three Bears' Sleeping Bag pattern, which you can see pictured at the end of this post), but other than that the prints are all new and I love the introduction of a more subtly coloured grey fox.
But actually the print that I love most of all in this range includes only a small helping of fox. I am utterly, ridiculously, giddy-chestedly - that's on the inside, near my heart, not some peculiarly jaunty movement on the outside (that feels worth clarifying) - in love with this alphabet print named 'A is for Apple'. I love the way that the woodland animals and foliage spell out the alphabet. Look at the way the letter B is formed from butterfly wings and the M comes from two leaning red mushrooms! I can think of so many uses for this fabric. Not only would it look fantastic in a frame, but I think it would be wonderful to cut out some of the letters and applique them into picture or wall hanging to spell out a child's name.
Anyway, after making a claim as audacious as being synonymous with the fox, I feel compelled to share a small smattering of supporting evidence to defend my synonimity, just in case you have been left thinking: Florence...fox....why?
But I have noted whenever I've mentioned the fox that others seem equally enthused...so here is your chance to add to your own portfolio of fox-themed sewing. To enter, just leave a comment beneath this post telling me what creature you are most like (people saying they're highly fox-like will not gain double entries, so you may speak freely without harming your chances of winning). Animals can be ascribed on the basis of looks, characteristics or behaviour. We often discuss which animal we most embody when assembled around a dinner table with family or friends. My own family members include at times a slow loris, a lion, a Dalmatian, and an otter amongst others. It may be of interest that I am not a fox at all, but a white duck.
On this occasion the foxes must go to a home in Europe or the UK due to quarantine (and postal) issues. Sorry to my lovely internationalers. I'll announce a winner later in the week and Annie will be in charge of posting the fabric bundle to you. As this fabric range is wonderfully unisex, Annie has agreed that she's very happy to swap over the pink solid within the give-away bundle if the winner will be sewing for a boy.
* I had to look up on Google what the collective noun for a group of foxes might be. Finding out that it's a 'skulk' very nearly sent me into delight overload. I love the term 'to skulk' and even more so 'skulking'. The appeal of the fox just gets greater and greater.
Saturday, 21 July 2012
This week two people (one of whom was Kate, so expect to see goodies from her in the near future!) wrote to me about English paper piecing (EPP) asking for some quick-start tips about where to begin, so I thought I may write a whole post about it. The summer holidays are here and EPP is a deliciously sociable and portable way to fit in some sewing while still spending time with family and friends. I'm relatively new to English paper piecing, but my learning curve has been made shorter and less painful by the kindness of people like Ruth, Katy, Lynne and Kerry, so I hope that they won't mind that some of their guidance is bound up within this post and being passed on. I write not as an expert, but someone who is relatively new to this and so remembers all the tiny things I had questions about myself.
What is English Paper Piecing?
English paper piecing is basically the process of wrapping fabric around paper to make crisply formed shapes to be sewn together by hand. Once sewn, the papers can be removed and a beautifully pieced patchwork is left from which to make cushions, quilts or anything else you can think of. Because it's hand sewn it is more fragile than patchwork produced on a machine, but with that fragility comes beauty and an intrinsic look of love and care apparent within the tiny just-visible stitches.
Fabric choice is important. Ruth talked to me about certain fabrics 'needling better'. Because of the open weave of a quilting cotton your needle is able to enter the fabric easily making it a perfect choice for EPP. Ruth said Liberty Tana Lawn (which I used in the cushion seen in some of the photos) was the rare alternative fabric that she'd found to quilting cotton that is also relatively easy to needle.
Having now worked with both, I'd say that quilting cotton definitely has the edge and the needle travels in and out with noticeable ease making your work faster, but the Tana Lawn is so beautiful that the results are definitely worth pursuing and I'll happily choose to use it again
Books and patterns and doing your own thing
|Picture from Feathering the Nest by Brigitte Giblin|
If you want to follow a pattern from a book, then I'd recommend Tacha Bruecher's Hexa-Go-Go: English Paper Piecing 16 Quilt Projects for a modern look or Brigitte Giblin's wonderful Feathering the Nest for a more traditional look. I won't talk about either in more depth here, as I'm intending to review them both at length very soon. Alternatively, you could sew along with Katy using her Hexy MF pattern. However, if you want to do your own thing, this is a really easy option with EPP. For my stars and hexagons cushion, I simply downloaded the outline of a repeating pattern from the free library at Connecting Threads. You can use this to see how the shapes go together and you can also print a copy out and colour it in to give yourself an idea of how you want to use colour and pattern (I didn't do this for my cushion and wish that I had). The free downloads in the library don't come with printable shape templates, so you'll need to go to a shape generator site to create printable sheets of the correct shape (I'll give you the link to this a little later in the post). It's up to you to decide on scale - you can paper piece with shapes as small or as big as you like. To give you an idea, 1" pieces are displayed on the projects seen throughout this post - these are slow but enjoyable to piece together: a more quickly finished project may use pieces of 2.5".
With English paper piecing it's also easy to freestyle and create your own patterns...you can just cut out shapes and see how they look and fit together.
Please excuse these gloomy photographs - I hadn't intended to share them here, so I was making no attempt to photograph them nicely at the time.
Paper choice: you can buy pre-cut papers for your project (I think I remember Katy often recommending this shop: http://www.paperpieces.com/ ) or you can print them out on your own paper at home to save money. I chose to do the latter and found that using a relatively sturdy paper/card of about 220gsm has meant that I can use the papers several times over. Because you'll keep the papers in place until large sections have been pieced together, you'll need many, many paper pieces. Be prepared to spend a while cutting paper and, for new sewists, remember never to use your fabric scissors on paper as it will blunt them horribly.
Creating shape templates
You can use this fantastic site to create most shapes you'd need to your exact specifications. When EPP quilters talk about the size of a paper piece they generally refer to the length of one of the sides of the shape and not its diameter. So if I use 1" hexagons, then the length of the each side of the hexagon will measure 1".
When you're choosing sizes for EPP you don't need to think about seam allowances - those pieces of paper will slot together and butt up against one another exactly as they are. So obviously that means that if, as I did for my cushion where I chose to put 6-point stars made from diamonds interspersed with hexagons, then the edges of both the diamonds and hexagons used would both need to measure the same length for them to butt up to one another perfectly. Once you've printed your shapes, cutting with accuracy is really important - it will affect the ease with which you piece together your shapes.
Making the template for cutting fabrics
So, the paper pieces you've just cut will go inside your fabric, but your fabric needs to be cut a little bigger so as to wrap around the shape. You'll need to create one larger template from which to cut your fabrics. I use clear plastic to make my template - this means you can use it with a rotary cutter more easily and also see through it better if you wish to place part of the fabric's design in the centre of your shape (this is called fussy cutting). However, if you don't have any template plastic to hand, you can just as easily use a sturdy bit of card.
To make the template, simply make one of your paper pieces 1/4" bigger on all sides. You can happily use a ruler to do this, although if you have a perspex grid ruler it's even easier. Use this single template to cut your fabric from.
Cutting the fabrics
You can use scissors or a rotary cutter to cut your shapes. Unless you're fussy cutting fabric, you can cut many at time. With a fresh blade, my rotary cutter will happily make it's way through over a dozen hexagons at a time, making quick work of cutting hundreds of hexagons.
Basting the fabrics around the papers
Before you can begin sewing shapes together, you'll need to secure the fabrics to the paper shapes. To do this you can either use large basting stitches (front view, back view) which can be removed afterwards or you can use fabric glue. I use Sewline fabric glue which Kerry recommended to me, as it's a quick option that allows you to get on with the fun of sewing proper.
However, some people (such as Katy) feel that basting is actually part of the fun of the slow, meditative process that is EPP, so don't discount it just because it takes longer. It's also better in certain situations. On a rare, hot day I took my EPP outside and found that in the intensity of the sun my glue began to melt and a few of my papers fell out before I hastily retreated inside, so if you're taking your sewing with you on holiday you may wish to think about this.
Wrapping the fabric around the paper
To wrap the fabric around the paper, place a paper template in the centre on the wrong side of your fabric shape. Then neatly fold the edges inward. When I'm glue basting a hexagon I tend to glue one side and then glue its opposite side, until all are stuck down, whereas if I'm thread basting I tend to work around the shape one side at a time.
A hexagon is an easy shape to create - all sides are simply stuck down. Whereas when covering the diamonds to be used in my 6-point stars, Katy memorably told me to 'let the dog's ears wag' meaning that I should leave the ears of the fabric unstuck.
Thinking about thread
This is an area where I'm still trying to decide on my preferences. I began using a regular polyester thread, which I was happy with. However, I later bought a dual duty hand quilting thread by Coats intended for piecing and quilting, which seems stronger, but is possibly a little thicker than I'd like. I'm still not entirely satisfied. Lynne recommended using a light 50-weight thread for piecing and her favourite brand is Aurifil. I wonder what others use?
Your stitches will be very slightly visible, so you'll need to pick a colour that will blend well with your fabric choices.
Thinking about needles
In my hurry to begin I started piecing with a regular hand-sewing needle. However, I soon invested in shorter, finer needles. I buy mine locally and they're called Gold Eye Quilting Needles Between (no.9) made by Clover. However, Kerry and many others rave about Clover's Black Gold needles, so I believe if you want the deluxe option that may be what you should buy and I'm intending to try them myself at some point.
Types of stitches
You can use either a ladder stitch or a whip stitch for piecing (you'll find tutorials or videos demonstrating both via Google). I've tried both and although the ladder stitch will mean that your stitches aren't visible, I found it to be slower, less enjoyable, and most importantly, substantially weaker. For this reason I use a whip stitch.
When I first started EPP I became slightly obsessed with how many stitches per inch one should be making 'to do things properly'. Actually, there is no 'properly' and it's all about personal preference and what feels good to you. But just in case there are any control freaks out there who, like me, still want a rough guide, I use about 20 - 25 stitches per inch. I now think this is at the higher end of what's necessary and I know others who use about 15 per inch and their piecing is perfectly sturdy.
How to sew it together
To sew, simply place the pieces face-to-face and stitch along the edge, stitching through the fabric that runs along the edge of the paper piece, being careful not to sew through the paper itself. It's careful work and the more care you take the less visible your stitches will be. However, it's also meant to be relaxing and enjoyable and when I went to the quilting exhibition at the V&A museum a few years ago one of the things that made me feel slightly weepy was seeing the visible, fragile stitches; the imperfections; and the sign of human hand within the stunning quilts - so don't ruin your enjoyment striving for perfection - English paper piecing creates work with an heirloom feel where there's little wrong with leaving tiny traces of your own presence.
If you're not following a pattern, where it will advise you on this, bear in mind that it's easier for you to avoid having to sew together deep 'v' seams. Often, you can avoid them simply by breaking your work into oddly shaped sections that keep the seam lines to be sewn relatively gentle (this will only make sense once you begin working on larger areas, so don't feel stressed if you can't comprehend quite what I'm saying here).
If you feel stuck with how to piece two shapes together, butt them up against one another in the way you wish for them to look and work backwards. Often you'll sew one seam and then twist it into another place to sew the other side of the shape - you don't need to tackle both sides at the same time (as you often would when you're working on a machine, pinning everything into place beforehand. In fact no pins are needed - you can hold it in place with your fingers as you sew). Know that you can bend and gently fold your shapes and sometimes this will be necessary to be able to sew the seam needed.
Ruth (who, as well as creating her own lovely work, is also a technical editor on many of Kaffe Fassett's books) has kindly passed on many clever tricks while I've been beginning my adventure with EPP and I hope that she won't mind me sharing some of her insight here. As a new English paper piecer, when it came to sewing diamonds together to make the star below, I began by stitching each diamond together in turn. This meant that by the time I reached the sixth diamond I had a deep 'V' seam to negotiate (I don't actually mind these, but it's easier if you don't have to tackle them) and it also meant that I was left with a very tiny, but irksome, hole at the centre of the star.
Ruth showed me that by assembling the star first as two halves, using three diamonds on each side, I could avoid the deep 'V' seam and simply place the two halves of the star together and join them sewing along one straight, easy-to-sew seam running across the centre of the star, eliminating that irksome hole that formed in the middle.
Not only was this an invaluable trick, it also taught me a lot about English paper piecing in general. That is, to look for the way of piecing things together which keeps the seam lines simple, even though it may not feel intuitive at first sight.
You'll quickly find that you need somewhere to store it all. I don't like tins as they're hard to store and rattle in my handbag, but if I'm piecing in the garden then I do put everything in a tin to prevent it from blowing away.
However, most of the time it's stored in a series of small bags and if certain fabrics have been paired with one another then I hold them together with paper clips.
I'm currently working on making something to store it all in that will slot into my handbag easily and keep all the different bits of paraphernalia and different stages of piecing in contained areas.
Removing the papers
Don't remove a paper until it has something surrounding it on all sides - the papers are there because it makes it easy to sew a seam together. When it comes to removing them, simply take out your basting stitches and gently pull the paper out, or if you've used glue, you can ease the papers out by warming the glue with an iron. Either way, they tend to come out easily and without damaging your work.
Over to the experts
These are my thoughts as a beginner. I know from some of my regular readers' responses to previous posts about my own adventures with English Paper Piecing that many of you are long-time paper piecers, so if you have your own tips and tricks or links to tutorials and techniques that you think may be useful or could expand on this, then please do share them in the comments.
I've always loathed the expression about skinning cats, so will just say that I love that there's more than one way to peel a satsuma and I'd love to hear about ways other that my own and Kate and other EPP newcomers may too.
Ps. I'm really sorry to write one post before responding to the comments to the last - totally the wrong way around, especially when they were so very lovely. I will reply as soon I'm home this evening and thank you for all your kindness - which was so much appreciated. xxxx...xxx...xx...x
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
My English paper pieced stars and hexagons have finally been made into something. Smaller and more humble than the fragile, but sizeable, quilt I'd been hoping for. After creating the middle panel of stars and hexagons, I'd intended to create several borders in hexagons, but somehow I couldn't get my colours and the visual symmetry I wanted to work for me...at which point my husband said he felt there were several things wrong with what I'd already created anyway, and that maybe I should consider starting again. Mmm. It's really, really difficult having your work criticised when you've already spent so much time on it. Even though I always want him to tell the truth about things, sometimes it's not what I want to hear. But basically, he felt that if I was going to bother with the stars I needed to have made them stand out more. He said he had trouble even identifying them as a shape and that it looked more like a blur of very lovely fabric.
I think in some ways this was the look I was going for. I find quilts with a lot of solid white bordering shapes often feel too modern for my own home (even though they look stunning). However, then he started pulling out my quilting books and showing me how I could achieve this kind of definition without using stark fabrics. And he was right. I agreed and appreciated everything he said and I know I will make a better quilt for listening to his advice. But I also felt a little deflated.
So I squared up what I had, quilted it with swirls and loops of free-motion stitches and made a wide border with mitred corners from a beautiful rose print that I'd bought from Aneela recently. And I fell in love with it all over again because the roses set off my stars and hexagons so perfectly. And then I made an error. At 6am on Sunday morning I was blearily listening to my children reading comic books to me as I installed the concealed zip. They were being very funny and amusing and I needed to make a calculation about where to install the zip and it seemed easier just to slice some of the edges off the rose border, than to do the sums while trying to talk to them. So I sliced. I don't know what possessed me not to think through the visual implications, but suddenly my rose border was half the width on all sides and instead of a luxurious frame it looked a rather mean, weedy border to the cushion.
At some point, when I've sourced some more of the rose fabric, I will take the cushion apart and re-do the border, but for now I feel too exhausted by it to do anything else. But my daughter, who was the recipient of the cushion is delighted with it and it sets off the cat nicely, who looks especially adorable when photographed on a Liberty print background. Please forgive me for posting far too many photos displaying the delectable tabbyness of her.
In this last photo she is gazing up at my daughter who was calling to her from above. She is a funny, easily startled cat whose levels of nervousness around people have barely dissipated since we brought her home from the rescue centre. However, my daughter can turn cartwheels right next to her, sing at the top of the voice and still the cat just gazes fondly at her without a hint of the frightened creature who will sometimes dart under a piece of furniture if you clear your throat unexpectedly.
Happily, after a few days to think things over, I've decided on both the fabrics and a pattern (yes, I will be using a pattern, which I rarely do, but I think it will be good for me) for my next English paper piecing project. Not having something to piece by hand and throw into my bag when we go to to the park over the summer holidays had been making me feel a bit stressed, so to have these things in place in my mind is a good thing indeed. I'll let you know more about the pattern and fabric in another post.
Monday, 16 July 2012
When I came downstairs rather bleary-eyed very early on Sunday morning, I had the sensation that one might have on walking into the kitchen the morning after a particularly good party: an array of unwashed wine glasses and empty bottles littering every surface, the memories of late night antics washing over your senses: happiness, tinged with an exhausted feeling of knowing you should have stopped drinking a few hours earlier than you actually did. Except this Sunday morning, scraps of fabric replaced the half-drained glasses and spent cotton reels took the place of wine bottles.
On Saturday I had brought my sewing machine downstairs to the dining room table which is far bigger than my work desk and so better for accommodating a large, unwieldy quilt sandwich. Throughout the day we did different things - in the morning, I dashed into town to post the fabric parcels I'd sold in my pop-up fabric shop (a few items are still left if you're interested) and went and bought the fabric needed for a present I'm working on for a friend; when my children had their friends over to play in the morning, I basted the Charlotte Bartlett quilt on the floor of my son's bedroom; after lunch when we went to a reading that my daughter was involved in I packed my English paper piecing into my bag so that I could stitch if we had to wait around; as my husband made dinner I cut out the pieces needed for making another pair of Clover trousers; when we watched Mr Bean Goes On Holiday in the evening with the children I pieced together the last few pieces of patchwork needed for a cushion I was working on; and in the evening I free-motion quilted the Charlotte Bartlett quilt late into the night (if you're wondering why it's called the Charlotte Bartlett quilt, you can find an explanation in this post).
On Sunday I woke up at the crack of dawn and crept back downstairs to bind the Charlotte Bartlett quilt; quilt the paper-pieced cushion cover and turn it into a cushion; and begin drawing out a quilt design.
The reason for this frenetic level of activity? The summer holidays are a week away. Every year at this time I begin to feel a little panic-stricken. I feel that sewing time is running out and a list begins to form in my head of things I must have done before my children are home for the summer. Several years ago, when I ran my little shop, I felt torn when I took on too many custom orders and needed to work every day until lunch, leaving my children to amuse themselves - they didn't seem to mind, but I felt pained by it all the same. Since then, I've determined never to repeat the guilt-inducing experience and I always try to begin the holidays with little or nothing left to do, other than the agreed hour each morning in which I write a blog post, answer emails or do anything else needed (or wanted...sometimes they can feel like the same thing, such is the power of wish to sew). What follows tends to be a much more organic series of things made that fits in around what we're doing. I still have the evenings in which to sew, as well as the unplanned times when they have friends over, go out to clubs, or simply don't actually want or need me to be around, but these unplanned times feel slightly pressured because of their fleetingness. I'm hoping that this year, with the more portable and sociable activity of English paper piecing to keep me occupied, it will feel like less of a balancing act.
Before my children started school I often used to stay up sewing until past midnight and bounce out of bed happily the next morning...this doesn't seem such a good option now. After two years of doing that I lost my propensity for morning bounce and it's never returned: now I just feel groggy and awful if I do that and like I've been to the aforementioned party.
On Saturday night I said on Twitter that the empty cotton reels indicated I had sewn over 1500 metres. I realised later that this was warped logic as half of that thread would have been used in the bobbin, so in reality the distance covered was a mere 750 metres (as Kerry amusingly said: I would have had to have been sewing 'like a mentalist' to have gone that far). But actually, by the end of the weekend I think I had passed the 1000 mark and, once again, I felt the inexplicable desire to have a mileometer on my sewing machine - there's something satisfying about knowing how far you've sewn. I like to imagine the places I could have stitched my way to: to the end of my road, to the seaside, or 'oh look, it's taken two years but I'm finally in Paris!' Just think of the fun that could be had.
How does your sewing work out when you try to balance it around your own holidays, or children at home full-time, a full time job, or even children at home full-time and a full-time job?