This is my church. This is where I heal my hurt. God is a sewing machine.

I am, as ever, hugely lucky in my friends.  In times of difficulty (and this is such a time), people have rallied around and supported me, and I feel very loved.  My hugely wonderful friend Penny (who runs Rats as Big as Cats here, and here) invited me to visit her family in Hereford.  Last time I spent more than a day with them was when I began quilting the Japanese quilt.  Which, as it turns out, was over 5 years ago.  On that occasion, I ran out of time to finish the quilting, and so hastily basted what hadn’t been done and brought it home to do in my machine.

Only, that never happened.

So I took the quilt back to Hereford with me, and spent a wonderful (frustrating) day in Penny’s studio, finishing the quilting.  Wonderful, because I finished it.  Frustrating because…. oh, the thread wouldn’t run through the machine without fraying and snagging.  So we went to Doughty’s, who are conveniently just down the road, to get more thread.  I had originally been working in a Gutterman Sulky variegated thread, which worked with the whole colour scheme.  But Penny had offered a Gutterman plain embroidery thread, which worked with the sewing machine (I think I was using Penny’s own machine, five years ago).  And that had run out.  So we went to get more.  I took the empty thread bobbin with me, and they didn’t have *quite* enough.  I needed to change colour.  My eye got distracted by a lovely variegated thread.  Penny very gently suggested it was the same as the one I’d already given up on, but I was insistent.  Magpie-drawn to the pretty colours, I wouldn’t listen.  I spoke to a lady who’d never seen my quilt, or my thread, or my sewing machine.  She was a very nice lady.  She assured me the thread would work perfectly.  So I bought a lot of it.  And we took it back to the studio, and I unrolled the back roller of the quilting frame, manoeuvred the machine out of it, wound some bobbins, threaded up, manoeuvred it all back in again, rolled up the back roller and…. it was exactly the same as the thread I’d already rejected, and frayed and snapped in (predictably) exactly the same way.

I did what any rational adult human would do, and gave serious consideration to burning the whole fucking thing.  With fire.

Luckily, snuggles with Baby A are very soothing, and Penny is very gentle, and the quilt survived my stupidity.

So I got up early(ish – this is a relative concept) in the morning and headed back to Doughty’s to exchange the wrong thread for the right thread.  And whizzed back to Penny’s and repeated the whole unrolling and manoeuvring shenanigans, and set off again.  Bingo!  The right thread worked perfectly!  Within two (maybe three) hours, the quilting was done.

There were some pre-existing challenges with quilting in Penny’s frame.  I had originally, five years ago, made the quilt as a full-size double.  The frame is a queen-size.  So there was always a fit issue.  Over the past five years, the quilt has not shrunk and the frame has not grown.  So I was only able to quilt *most* of the surface.  The original plan was to finish the quilting in my machine, but I had, in the intervening years, made a couple of attempts to manoeuvre this beast by hand, and it was just too heavy to be able to do the density of free machine quilting I’d achieved in the frame.

So yesterday, when I’d done as much as I possibly could in the frame, I simply chopped off the bits the frame hadn’t reached.  So it’s a cut-down quilt.  Apart from the link above, I don’t have any images of its pre-cut-down state.  The link above has images before the borders went on.  And the borders have come off again, now.

When I got home, last night, I whizzed up some binding from the chopped-off borders, and stitched them on in front of the TV.  Then I threw the whole thing in the washing machine.  It’s not perfect – and it was once going to be a technically astounding piece (that’s how I planned it, anyway).  The backing has wrinkled by dint of being taken off the frame and then stored and then put back on the frame in a fairly approximate way.  It’s shorter and narrower than I planned it.  It’s a different quilt in practice than it was in my head.

But this is part of my healing.  Much of my life is suddenly not as I’ve been planning it, in the five years it’s taken me to finish this quilt.  It was all going to be one thing, and now it’s going to be another thing entirely.  I’m sad about the lost borders and different dimensions of my quilt, and I’m quietly devastated about the wider changes.  But the lesson this quilt delivers is twofold: first, a change of plan doesn’t render everything else useless or redundant.  You can work successfully with what’s left, and still end up with something lovely.  Secondly, the love and support of friends makes pretty much anything possible.

 

Sewaholics Cordova

Earlier this week, I took Josh to the local sewing shop and pulled out some fabrics to make up a bundle of patterns I’d ordered online.  I was going to combine new fabrics with stash fabrics and whip my way through a little capsule wardrobe. 

I got a bit carried away (as one does) and bought quite a lot of fabric – just shy of £100 worth, actually.  Josh was horrified: “I thought you said sewing your own stuff was cheaper??” So on the way home, I took him into a fairly standard boutique.  I explained that I was going to make one cotton dress, one jersey dress, one wool skirt and one jacket.  I made him walk around the shop, and price those things up – his choice of garment, so he had control of the bill.  It came to just over £300.

Today, I made the jacket.  This is the Sewaholics Cordova jacket pattern, which I got from the Village Haberdashery.  I didn’t intend to make it today; I was just going to cut it out – it’s fully lined so with main fabric, lining and interfacing I figured cutting it would be enough faff for one mildly hungover Friday. 

But then I looked at the pattern, and realised there were only 16 steps.  Nothing, really!  So I got started.  Again, this is an unaltered pattern.  I measured 8 for boobs and hips and 10 for waist.  I decided to take the risk and go with the 8.  The back of this jacket is in four pieces, and each half of the front is in two, and then there’s a peplum.

The fabric I’d got is a heavyweight linen stripe.  I wasn’t really paying attention when I bought it – the stripe runs horizontally across the fabric. Not what I wanted, at all.  So I thought I’d just have a little see if I could cut it vertically across the grain, rather than along it. I was confident I could get the grain right, by being careful about running down the stripe, and matching stripes would be much easier with vertical stripes – not to mention that horizontal stripes are notoriously unflattering (see t shirt for confirmation – I was meant to be flashing you the jazzy lining, rather than my boob, in this photo but whatevs).

Anyway, by the time I’d put the jacket back and fronts together and stuck the peplum on, there was little point stopping for the day, so I soldiered on.  I’ve always found it difficult to fit linings without buggering up the overall fit of the garment, but this one went in easily enough.  And I managed the stripe matching pretty well, I thought.

So, in all, another pleasing make.  The arms are possibly a shade long, because I’m only short, but it’s a reasonably well fitted jacket which, with no requirement for effort at all from me, looks well tailored.  This is another one I will make again.  This particular version may well get worn to my thing.  

Now.  While fiddling around my sewing room this afternoon, I’ve found three lengths of rather gorgeous silk.  It so happens I need a new cocktail dress.  Can anyone recommend a pattern?!

Colette Moneta

I’m turning into a bit of a Colette groupie.  This latest make is the Moneta – a pattern designed for jersey.  I had a large piece of purple jersey that I’d bought in Sew Me Something the last time I was there, and I thought it would do this dress just nicely.

Beautiful fit!

I traced this off on Sunday evening, before I went out to a party (in my Zinnia skirt).  It’s a very straightforward pattern – two bodice pieces, two skirt pieces and a sleeve.  And a pocket if you wanted one, but it’s quite a lightweight jersey I was using, so I didn’t. 

Making it was incredibly easy, and gave me an excuse to dust off my overlocker – a piece of kit I use so rarely that 10 years down the line, I still need to refer to the threading diagrams!

The only thing I’ve never got the hang of is using elastic to shir (?) a waist seam.  All my elastic seems to lose its give once it’s been stretched into place.  I had a couple of goes before I lost my rag and simply shirred the skirt waist using shirring elastic in the bobbin of my standard machine.

Not looking like a loon

This pattern is designed with negative ease, and narrower than normal seam allowances (to compensate for the give in the jersey), so I made a small bodice and a medium skirt, to allow for my childbearing hips issue.  I made no adjustments to the bodice – lesson learnt from the Hawthorn dress, then! 

Cover hem detail

I couldn’t be more delighted with this dress.  It fits like an absolute glove.  I struggled a bit with the cover hem on my overlocker – but that’s a lack of practice issue, rather than any problem with the pattern or the fabric.  I suspect this will get worn *to death*, and will certainly be made again… and again…  Oh.  I made version 3 🙂

Photos this time are taken by Josh, whose one instruction was “don’t make me look like a loon”.  Good, then! As ever, you can click to embiggen for full lunatic effect.

Still not looking like a loon

Beat me to it!

One of my oldest friends became a grandmother, in the wee small hours of this morning.  She will be the best granny! [edit: I’d just like to point out that ‘oldest’, in this context, refers to the longevity of the friendship, NOT the age of the friend! Erk…]

I thought the occasion marked a quick and dirty tiny person quilt.  I happen to have bought a jelly roll of rainbow coloured strips from Doughtys, the last time I was visiting Penny in Hereford, and it was just perfect for a baby sized knock-up.  I used up some of the background fabric left over from the wedding quilt‘s early drafts, and backed it with a piece of flannel that’s been in my stash roughly forever.  In fact, it may well have come from a co-op organised by the new granny, since that tends to be where I bought flannel from in the olden days…

Anyway, since I don’t think the recipient will be reading this, I’m putting up photos before the parcel has been received.  Here’s my rainy Sunday, “You Beat Me To It, Granny” quilt for the new little person in that family.  I hope they all enjoy it.

Colette Zinnia

So, you remember I had a pile of fabric to work through, and needed some patterns?  I wrote about it in the Washi Dress post.

Yesterday, Josh and I happened to find ourselves in Witney.  Almost entirely by accident…. almost.  And I happened to stumble into the fabric shop.  Almost entirely by accident.  Which inevitably led to a bit more fabric – a wool mix (or at least, I thought it was a lightweight wool.  More on that later) for the Zinnia skirt pattern, and a heavyweight striped linen for the jacket I might need for a thing.

I bought the Zinnia pattern because it looked flexible, quick to make and easy to wear.  It was indeed quick to make – I can see myself making it again and again.

I made version 2 – the one with little pleats.  I did a very quick and dirty voile, and knew that it would fit me straight off the pattern.  No need for alterations, which is always a bonus, so I traced it off and began sewing.   As you can see, Freya didn’t take these photos – they’re all selfies.  Please excuse the unmade bed in the background.  Housekeeping is not my forte!

The fabric I chose is soft and swishy, but not terribly drapey.  So it became obvious that if I left the pleats as designed all they would do would be to considerably enhance my childbearing hips.  And nobody wants to look like Kirsty Allsop, right?!  So I extended the pleats from the 2″ affair drawn on the pattern to 8″.  The pleats are edge-stitched down, so there’s quite a flare from the bottom of them.  I was a little nervous this would mess with the fit, but actually it worked really well.

My other small, niggly criticism with this pattern is the belt loops.  As written, they’re a real fiddle – they require you to sew and turn through a tube of fabric not much wider than 3/8″.  Hideous.  Instead, I pressed the seam allowances in to the middle, folded the fabric strip in half and pressed again, and edgestitched down the open edge.  Much simpler to make.  Next time, I’ll make the strip a little longer, so that the individual loops can be a tad bit bigger, and sew them into the bottom of the waistband, so that only the top edge needs top stitching down – I think this will make for a less fiddly process, as well as a neater finish.

In all, I’m pleased with this skirt.  It reminds me a lot of things my mother used to wear in the 70s – I think she called them dirndl skirts?  And it’s reasonably flattering.  I need to find something to wear on top of it – I don’t really want to re-create the whole 70s vibe, but I do need some skirty-type tops.  Maybe that’s a task for more of my stash-busting activity!!

The fabric, as well as being not particularly drapey, creases up a storm! So I’m going to go back to the fabric shop and see what the composition actually is.  It smells and feels like wool, but creases like linen.  I wonder if it’s a wool/linen mix, therefore?? 

Washi Dress

I’m on holiday, and the sunshine’s stopped, which means I can’t do the outdoor DIY jobs I had planned.  So instead, I am working my way through a pile of fabric, but had run out of patterns.  Also, I need a jacket for a thing.

Front view

I like the look of the Deer & Doe patterns, but didn’t want to wait for one to arrive from France.  And so by a process of clicking and looping back and clicking some more, I found myself browsing the fabrics and patterns at The Village Haberdashery.

One of the bits of fabric I need to use up is a lovely, rich purple jersey which I wanted to turn into a t-shirt dress.  But I lost heart at drafting a pattern myself, and so after my success with the Hawthorn dress, I’ve ordered Colette’s Moneta pattern.  I’ve also ordered the Zinnia skirt and the Sewaholic Cordova jacket, which is for my thing.  Perhaps.  And then, just as I was about to check out, my finger slipped on the mouse and a Washi Dress pattern fell into my basket.  Along with the fabric to make it up.

The postman looked slightly askance, this morning, as he handed me my beautifully wrapped spotty package (which included three free fat quarters! Bliss!!) and I tore into the sewing room, and then the packet, and chose to make the Washi dress first.

I did something virtually unheard of, for me, and made a toile of the bodice out of some cheesecloth that’s been lying around for a bit. It fitted beautifully, straight out the packet.  So I made the whole thing.  It was beautifully easy to put together, and fits like a dream. 

Pretty neckline

The bodice is very simple – darted, with a U-cut in the neckline.  The instructions for putting it together were really clear, and you could easily make it round necked if the U gave you the shivers.  I added some topstitch detail, too, which I hope will help keep the corners in line (though I suspect the success of this strategy will depend somewhat on which bra I choose to put underneath it!).

Back view, with shirring

The back is a single, largely unshaped piece, with 6 rows of shirring to give it shape.  It’s the first time I’ve used shirring for years, and the first time ever in this machine, but it was unproblematic.  I stopped following the instructions about half way through when I decided not to face the neck, but to use my voile as a lining for the bodice.  Even with that adaptation, it was a lovely smooth make.

Topstitch detail

I suspect this pattern will get a lot of use – I really like the fit; it’s a quick and easy make, and I think fairly flattering.  I can see it working well in needle cord and brushed cotton for the winter – I might try and draft some 3/4 length sleeves for it, to make it a bit more cold weather friendly.  But even as it is, with a long sleeved T shirt, tights, and boots I think it’s a winner!

Oh.  Freya wants me to mention that she took some of the pictures (which you can embiggen by clicking on them, incidentally).  And I totally would give her the credit, apart from this conversation which happened just after the optician had declared her eyesight perfect, this afternoon:

Freya: Josh….. MUM! I mean Mum!! Bwahahahahaha!! I called you Josh!!!
Me: Is it because of my slim, boyish figure?
F:……..
Me: No. It’s because of my youthful good looks, isn’t it?
F: ……….
Me: It’s because I’m young and gorgeous, isn’t it?!
F:  No, it’s because of your beard.

So she can go whistle for her photo credits.

Beating the deadline…

When I say beating the deadline, you have to understand I mean it very much in the “deadline passed, this is the new deadline” kind of way…. But I have finished the wedding quilt!!

This quilt is my sister’s wedding present.  My sister’s wedding is 3rd July, so you see how the deadline reference creeps in.  However, I am not blogging the quilt from the wedding reception. Oh no, that would be rude!  My sister’s wedding is (was) 3rd July 2004.  (Not that I behaved entirely impeccably at her wedding reception anyway, but that’s a *whole* other story….)  So I’ve beaten the 10 year deadline.  Just…

There is, of course, a story which explains perfectly why this quilt has taken so long.  In fact, there are several stories.  May I give you some tasters?  No spoilers.  Just snippets.

Sissy and her lovely husband got engaged in New York.  So when I set out to make the quilt, I thought it would be good to make one which combined a double wedding ring design with a New York Beauty design.  In 2004, this wasn’t an *entirely* stupid idea.  Mostly, but not entirely.  I had spent the last 4 years being a stay at home mummy, and I was used to having the time to implement my technically complex, ambitious ideas.  However, in January of 2004 my marriage had ended, and in May I began working full time again.  Which made the idea *almost* entirely stupid.  Because these are both technically difficult, time consuming blocks.

Not one to acknowledge my own stupidity, I ploughed on for a couple of years, trying to get New York Beauties to work.  Trying to integrate them with Double Wedding Rings.  I must have cut up, stitched together, and thrown away about £200 worth of fabric, trying to get my almost entirely stupid idea to work.  Eventually, my then boyfriend went to work and made me some templates.  It just so happened that my then boyfriend worked at Bentley.  So the templates were cut from steel left over from making Bentleys.  Kind of the Rolls Royce of quilt templates, then.  Except, more the Bentley of quilt templates.  And so, eventually, I made a successful New York Beauty.  And there it is, on the right.

Unfortunately, by this time, I had done two things.  The first was to run out of the fabrics I had intended to make the quilt out of.  Still… I’ve never been one to let a small thing like that defeat me! So I spent almost the entire holiday one Christmas, tracking down the world’s last remaining fat quarter of one particular Michael Millar grape coloured fabric.  It was in some remote and Christian part of the US, and it wouldn’t ship for almost eleventy billion weeks, but it meant I could carry on with my New York Beauties.  So I bought it, and paid over a kidney and two small children in shipping, and waited…

The second thing I had achieved in all this time (about 4 years) was to recognise that I would never have the time in my new life to make a quilt out of New York Beauties and Double Wedding Rings.  Still, I thought I could use the NYBs I had already made.  Singular.  NYB.  I wasn’t sure how, but I knew I could.

So I thought about it for a couple of years.
 
And a bit longer.

I might even have made another couple of New York Beauties.  Maybe.

But they wouldn’t ever fit together quite right, and I couldn’t make a coherent narrative out of them.  So eventually I abandoned that plan, rare fabrics and all.

Then I decided to return to triangles.  I hadn’t made a triangle quilt since the decidedly leary quilt I made my mother, right at the beginning.  So I made the granny quilt, and then thought I’d try a traditional triangle block.  I wondered about flying geese, and I began experimenting.  If you scroll back to 1 January 2013, you can see the story unfolding…

Anyway, I came up with a flying geese design, and built it around a theme of cream on white roses which echoed Sissy’s wedding theme quite well.  And piece by piece, block by block, it began to take shape.

Once I’d finished the top, I needed to get some backing fabric.  I found some in Hereford, on a visit to my lovely friend Penny.  And then I had no more excuses, so I basted the quilt.  And then it sat around for a month or two.  Which, in the great scheme of the journey this quilt has been on, was virtually no time at all!

This weekend, conscious of the looming deadline, I sat down to quilt it.  This quilt is 8′ long by 7′ wide.  Ish.  It’s big and it’s heavy and it was bastard hard to manipulate through the throat of a sewing machine.  But goddamit! I had a deadline!

I wanted to free machine an excerpt from the reading I read at the wedding.  It’s a beautiful reading – an American Indian blessing – which, because of my own recent separation, I found ridiculously hard to read, on the day.  The whole blessing reads:

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May happiness be your companion and may your days be good and long upon the earth.”

Obviously, I couldn’t get all of that on the face of the quilt, so I chose selectively…

After I’d wrangled that through the machine, my back and shoulders and hands were tense and sore, and I wasn’t wild about the idea of doing much creative wrangling, so I finished the quilting in a stitch in the ditch grid, across the sashings of the flying geese blocks.

And then, dear reader, THEN I discovered I’d run out of that lovely Everton blue, and couldn’t do the binding.

Buggery bollocks.

So I traipsed all the way round Oxford (via Google) and I found Masons in Abingdon (which I had found before via said famous Penny) and I found a blue fabric of very nearly the same shade and type.  Very nearly, but NOT BLOODY QUITE.  So I bought an elegant sufficiency and took it home, to work out what in the name of all that was holy I was going to do next.

I hit upon a very elegant solution, if I say so myself.  A very elegant solution indeed.  I bound the quilt entirely on the reverse, as you can see here if you squint very carefully.  Here I am, demonstrating the reverse of the quilt in the grounds of my very lovely workplace, and coincidentally pointing to the reverse binding.  And the New York Beauty.  Both of which are worthy of your attention.

So I took an emergency afternoon off work, and I stitched the binding on, on the 1st July.  And here I am, still in the very elegant grounds of my very lovely workplace, showing you the front, with it’s eternity-pool style, unbound edges (and I shoe-horned the ‘eternity’ word in there because although you can’t see him, the quilt is being held aloft by an extremely accommodating Professor of Mathematics who is the tallest person in the world and who doesn’t believe in numbers.  Particularly big ones, and double particularly eternity).  If you look carefully, you can just see his red shoe poking out from the bottom of the quilt.

Then, on 2nd July, I bundled quilt, children and all into my car and I drove like a demon to my sister’s house, and I handed over the wedding quilt.  And Sissy duly shed a tear, and the children played football with their small cousins in the garden, and we went to Wagamama for dinner, and later in the evening, my sister sent me a picture of her wedding present, in its new home.  (I say she sent it to me.  Really, she posted it on her Facebook and I have stolen it from there…)

And that, dear readers, is the gripping tale of how I delivered my sister’s wedding present in less than 10 years.  Comprehensively beating the deadline, as I’m sure you’ll agree. 

The moral of this story is: never let over-ambition and the unattainability of your goals prevent you from spinning a good yarn to explain away your own persistent crapness.  It’ll all come right in the end!

The brutality of basting…

So. Today I have basted the wedding quilt.  This, you remember, is the quilt I’m making my sister as a wedding present.  It’s taken a little while to do, but I’m confident of having it finished by her tenth anniversary.  Which is in June…

Basting is a brutal exercise on many levels.  For one thing, you need a space that’s big enough.  This is part of the wedding quilt’s problem.  It’s 8ft x 6ft, so it’s really quite big, and in the old house there wasn’t a bit of floor large enough to spread it flat.  Here, I could do it in the living room.  I had to take the rug up and move half of the furniture, though, so it had to be done in a day.

The back, all taped down

Once you’ve got the space, it’s quite physical work.  First, you spread the back of the quilt, right side to the floor and smooth it flat.  Then you tape it down at the edges so it stays put.  Then you lay the batting (quilt wadding) on top, so that the edges more or less match, and then you smooth that out.  On such a large surface, the smoothing is quite difficult to achieve, as you have to crawl over the piece in order to make sure there are no wrinkles or crinkles. Wrinkles will be exaggerated in the quilting process, so it’s worth taking some time to get this right.

When you have the first two layers laid out, and flat, you need to put the quilt top on.  Because (as usual in my quilts) the back of this quilt is partly pieced, I needed to match the centres and make sure the top edges were aligned.  Centres were simply pin more-or-less matched, and the top laid on top of the other two layers, and smoothed out.  Again, this is difficult to do while crawling over the assembled layers, and so it’s best to start from the middle and gently smooth towards the corners and outer edges.

Pushing the needle in and catching it – surprisingly physical

Then you begin to sew.  Basting works from the centre of the quilt, with a very large needle taking huge running stitches through all three layers.  You work from the middle out, so you only sew half a horizontal or vertical length at a time.  The needle needs to be sharp, to get through all layers, and thin, and you rock it through the fabric, against the floor, and up again.  Obviously, your bottom layer is taped down, so you can’t get any lift on the fabric at all, so getting the needle back to the top layer really does depend on the rocking motion.

The problem is, the needle is sharp and thin, and specially designed to pierce multiple layers of things.  And *it* doesn’t know the difference between quilts and skin.  So it’s a good idea to wear a thimble on your pushing finger, because the eye end is almost as sharp as the piercing end.  For me, the pushing finger is the middle finger of my right hand.  But then as you rock the needle up, you need to ‘catch’ the sharp end with the forefinger of your other hand, so it’s a good idea to have some kind of protection on this finger, too.  For me, a thimble on the ‘catching’ finger is too clumsy.  It gets in the way, and on those occasions when I have to grip the needle between finger and thumb and pull it through, the thimble prohibits that.  So I have a little metal circle that I glue to the very tip of my ‘catching’ forefinger, just over the top end of the nail.  So that’s a thimble on the middle finger of one hand, and metal disc on the forefinger of the other hand.  Once the needle is ‘caught’ on the metal disc, you grip it between thumb and forefinger of the pushing hand, and pull it through. You can use a rubber disc to help you get a better grip of the needle here but, while I always have a couple of discs handy, I prefer just to use my fingers. 

Getting to the end of the grid

Working from the centre, you stitch enormous, rocking stitches up the vertical and across the horizontal centre lines.  From the middle to the top edge.  Back to the middle, down to the bottom edge.  Back to the middle, over to the left.  Back to the middle, out to the right.  You work from the middle because you’re pushing the layers in the direction your needle travels, and you want to smooth out any wrinkles you create, not work them *in*.   Having made a big cross through the centre of the quilt, you go back to the middle and begin working the diagonals – from the middle and up to each corner in turn.  And that’s your basic foundation baste: a big union jack shaped star across the front of your quilt.  You can just make it out in the photo below – radiating out from all the little knots of thread in the centre of the blue square.

Working from the middle

Once the foundation baste is in, you begin to work a 6″ grid vertically and horizontally across the quilt, working from the mid-point of whatever line you’re stitching, out to the edges.  This quilt top is conveniently organised into a grid, so I simply quilted through the centre of each sashing strip.  Then, once that’s done, you work the edges of the quilt, from the middle of each edge to the corner.

In total, it’s difficult to get this job done in much less than four hours, and often it takes more like six. It’s physically hard work – despite the thimbles and the accoutrements designed to make it easier, this method takes it out of your fingers.  The forefinger on my pushing hand is blistered and tender, and I won’t be able to put pressure on it for a day or two.  The forefinger on my catching hand, despite the metal disc, is stabbed and a bit raw, and missing a layer of skin from where the glue patch pulled off.  I’ve snagged and torn a couple of fingernails on the thread.  My knees are bruised, and my back is hunched and aching.  I feel about 20 years older than my actual age…

Once the basting’s done, you need to trim the backing and batting to about 1″ outside the quilt top – you don’t want to trim them even with the top’s edges – you might find that the actual quilting “shrinks” them in a bit, and you need the play; particularly if you’re planning to quilt densely.  Then remove the tape from the back, pick the whole thing up and you’re DONE!

Here it is – slightly blurry, but all ready for quilting.  Finally!

If you can cope with triumph and disaster…

Something had to give, after the lavender dotty sewing disaster.  And it had to give fast…

On the Monday, I had an appointment to view a house, and I wanted a quick squizz around the nearest town, too.  Well.  It turns out the town had a fabric shop.  So I was late for the house viewing, but armed with 5m of yellow flowery loveliness, which I intended to turn into a dress.  And I did.  That very night.  And it worked a treat. 

An absolute dream.  Fitted like a glove.  First time.  And I wore it to work the next day, 

The dog loves it

Heading to the audition
Arse like a hippo

and to my audition that very Friday. And many, many days since.
Including the day when there was a security drama at work and the world’s press photographed me waltzing down the road, accompanied by police and sniffer dogs, wearing my fabulous homemade new dress.  With an arse like a hippo.  But still. You can’t have everything, eh?!

 Sadly, there appears to have been a glut of middle class, middle aged women at the audition, and so I didn’t get through.  Although they were very complimentary about my sewing, and said they’d be delighted to see me back next year.

The weekend after the audition, my lovely cousin, @CamSlates came over to volunteer his body to me.  So that I could sew him a shirt – what else??

He had selected some fabric – a lawn cotton with a busy brown flowery print, which he loves because it reminds him of formica.  I’d cut it on the Friday evening, and it was a bit slippery so I was, to be perfectly honest, intimidated.  To fuck.  And most of the way back again.  Still, when he arrived, I began sewing and followed the instructions very closely (it’s a Vogue pattern.  I really don’t think I can find it again now, but you know.  Current season.  Men’s shirt.  Go figure), and it went together like a dream.  Every seam is a flat fell – where you sew the seam, trim one side, fold the other side over the trimmed edge, and topstitch it down, close to the folded edge. It means every seam takes roughly twice as long to sew as a standard seam, but it means there is absolutely no danger of a stray, fraying edge irritating the wearer’s delicate skin.  None at all.  Not one.  They were tricky to do, on such a light fabric, but it kind of worked.

I’ve never made a man’s shirt before.  There’s lots of technical stuff.  Collar stands.  Button plackets.  Cuff plackets.  Double cuffs.  Lots and lots and lots of buttonholes.  By the time the day was over, I hadn’t got very far:

 but Cam looks reasonably happy with it, I think.  And he’d make a good one armed scarecrow, you have to admit!

It took me a week to get back to it, after he’d left.  You know.  Life got in the way.  But I’ve done it.  And here it is – photos with captions.  Click to embiggen!

Cuff placket – seriously! This was scary stuff.

Finished

Buttons. Behind a hidey thing.
A buttonhole!
A Collar!! With stand!!

A flat fell seam!

He seems pleased 🙂

A yoke. Cut horizontally. Not that you can tell.

And by the time I’d finished it, I’d reflected on my audition. One of the things they’d asked about was how I felt about sewing with difficult fabrics.  Which I haven’t done for a while – barring the cotton lawn shirt.  So I ordered some crepe de chine, and whipped up a dress this evening.
This was a real return to Betty Bodge days, for me.  I used a pattern to cut the dress (a German one I’ve had for years, and made several times), but I didn’t bother to trouble myself with detail.  So I cut the back in two pieces, for zip insertion and then discovered I didn’t have a zip.  So I seamed the back, and decided to put a zip under the arm.  Of course, if I’d been trying harder, I’d have re-cut the back in single pieces, but no.  It has a seam and I defy anyone to call me out on it.  But then I had to re-cut the neck (after I’d sewn the shoulder seams) to fit over my head.  Which was fine, but I had to draft a neck facing pattern against the sewn-up bodice.  Which was also fine, actually, but not technically ideal…
Then I decided to bind the armholes rather than face them, and finally, I threw in a machined hem, rather than a hand stitched one.
I wanted a light weight, maxi length, everyday dress.  And I have one.  I will wear it like a rag.  And maybe tomorrow I will show you a photo of it.  If I can get Freya to take one that looks halfway decent.  So it’s not technically perfect.  But equally, it’s not made by Primark, and it allowed me an evening or two of decompression.  I win!

Drying after a quick wash
Smiley selfie

Litany of total fucking disaster. In lavender. Or possibly heather. (Warning: this post contains harsh language from the start)

So.  I have an audition on Friday, for which I want to make a good impression.  And last weekend, I happened to be in Sew Me Something where they had just 2.5m left of a gorgeous heathery purple polka dot which had caught my eye last time I was there.  Well 2.5m is a usable amount, right?  So I decided to snaffle it, and make a dress for my audition.

I shopped online, and stumbled upon a Burda pattern for a fifties retro dress, with a v-back and cowl collar.  Cool.  It’d look lovely in heathery purple polka dot, so I clicked and bought.

I started on Thursday.  I got Mr P to help me take my measurements.  I was a 16 waist and hips, a 12 bust and an 8 for back waist length.  OK.  So that was going to take some re-drafting, then.

Only, I didn’t really have time to re-draft.  Still, good impressions count, right?  So I fettled out the tracing paper.  Bugger.  Not enough tracing paper.  I drew my bust/waist line on the pattern directly, and figured I’d wing it for the back waist length.  Only when I’d cut the pattern, it looked OK.  You know, the piece of paper held up against my shoulder and floating down my back.  That.  That looked OK.  Over my shoulder, in the hall mirror.  Fine. What could possibly go wrong?

I’d thought I’d make the lining with French seams, just to show off my French seam prowess.  I went to the shed, to fettle out my roll of lining fabric.  No lining fabric.  Jesus.  Really??  No matter.  I stomped off into town, to our funny, inadequate habby shop, and bought some lilac lining.  And 3m of fusible lightweight interfacing, since that roll was mysteriously empty, too.  No problem.

With hindsight, I really should have realised that the Universe was telling me to put my feet up this weekend, and not sew.  But no.  I was set on making a good impression.

I got home, and cut out, and retreated into the shed.  The dress went together really quickly.  I say the dress went together really quickly, but really what I mean is that the bust and waist darts went in really quickly, and the back darts went in really quickly, and the back seam was pretty quick, too.  Then it was time to put in the zip.

I fucking hate zips.  If I never fasten another garment with a zip again as long as I live, I’ll be a happy woman.  From now on, I am all about the buttons and the elastic waists and I don’t care who says it’s not fashionable.  The pattern said “insert zipper”.  That’s it.  “insert zipper”.  No pictures, no instructions.  Just “insert zipper”.  Well.  That’s fine, actually, because I’ve been inserting zippers since Noah was in nappies.  I have inserted zippers up the wazoo.  Not literally, obviously, but you know…. But I *haven’t* inserted a zipper in over 10 years.  Still, no matter.  It’ll be like riding a bike, right?

I inserted zipper.  It gaped, hideously.  I took zipper out.  I basted seam, and pressed it open.  I reinserted zipper.  I edge stitched.  I took the basting out.  The zipper looked like one of the dogs had sewn it in.  I took the zipper out.  I repressed the fabric.  I basted the zipper.  I stitched it carefully.  I took it out.  I must have taken that bloody zip out and put it back in again half a dozen times, before I was satisfied.  But no matter.  I *was* satisfied in the end, so I stitched the shoulder seams and the side seams, and threw together the lining.  And then I remembered that I wanted the lining to have French seams, so I unpicked it and threw it together again, with French seams. And then I pressed the lining.  And melted it with the iron.  Well.  Not *actually* melted it.  Not to holeyness.  More just done that shrinkle effect on it.  Which ironed out, kind of, with the application of some water spray.  And then I basted the dress and lining together at neck and arm holes.  And I tried the dress on.

 Try to ignore the photo-bombing dog, behaving like a media whore… Also, you can click on the photos to embiggen them.

The front was OK – a bit high at the neck, but the pattern’s a bit high at the neck.  What was mostly wrong with this view was the bit you can’t see – the lining.  In Frenching my seams, I’d forgotten to add additional seam allowance for french seams, so the lining was *way* too tight across my hips.  Oh well.  What the eye don’t see, and all…

What’s mostly wrong with this view is my size 16 waist.  Or fucking big fat tummy, as the tabloid press would most likely put it.  Not a good look in a sheath dress…  But still.  I could buy some tummy control pants, right?  Spanx’d fix it?!

But blow me, look at that bloody zipper!!! It’s AWFUL.

So I gave up holding my tummy in, and cracked a smile at the photo bombing dog.

And I put the dress back in the shed, and poured a rather large gin.  And another.  And another.  And I watched Ewan McGregor in Ghost, and I went to bed.

I woke up at 6 o’clock this morning, thinking I KNOW WHAT I’LL DO!! I know how to make the dress right!

I will:

  • Take out the zipper
  • Sew up the centre back seam
  • Put an invisible zipper in the side seam
  • Release the back waist darts in the lining
  • Think about re-cutting the neck

So I went back to the shed, and I took out the zipper.  My nemesis.  My Achilles’ heel.  The accursed zipper.  I took it out.  And, out of sheer blind spite, I threw it away.  Catharsis!!

And I found a 7″ invisible zip in my stash, and I unpicked the side seams, of dress and lining, and I sewed in that invisible zip like a professional tailoring BOSS.  And it was beautiful.  And I took out the basting, and pressed it, and it gaped like a motherfucker.  Still, I wasn’t taking it out again.  No, no no.  I’d done with that.  So I hand basted the seam back shut again, and I hand stitched the zip in place, taking tiny, invisible (ish) prick stitches through the dress, to keep the seams in place.  And I took out my basting, and IT WORKED! It was a beautiful, invisible zip.  So I hand stitched the lining to the zipper tape, and it was beautiful and all was good.  Until I tried it on, and realised I’d misplaced the lining.  But still.  It’s under my armpit.  Who’s ever going to look there, right? Well you are, you lucky people, because I’m going to show you.

See that wrinkle at the top? That’s what I’m talking about.  It’s beautiful.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful zipper.  Apart from that wrinkle where I’ve fastened the lining down in the wrong bloody place.

Still, moving on…. I released the back waist darts in the lining.  Still too tight.  So I did what any reasonable woman would do.  I lost my temper and cut the lining at the bottom of my waist.  Cut it out.  Lost it altogether.  Rolled a quick hem around the cut edge and decided they’d have to take my word for prowess with French seams.  It’s now a half lined dress.  Too bad!

And then I tried it on.  And, you know what?  Better.  Much better.

Less tight across the hips, without the lining.  Still needing tummy control pants, but you know.  Whatever.

There’s an invisible zip in that armpit, if you know where to look!

And that’s *so* much better without a zip straining to be released into the wild. Isn’t it??  I say better.  It’s still too long but you know.  Apart from that.  Better.

Encouraged, I retreated back to my shed, to put the facings in.  The interlined facings.  All cut and neatly stacked on the work top in the shed.

I ironed the first piece of interfacing into place, down a strip of back facing.  Bada bing! Turned my attention to the front facing.  Iron on it.  Fizzle.  Fizzle??? That’s not supposed to happen.  Pick up iron.  Facing comes with.  A melted, black, sticky mess of interfacing, all over the sole plate of my iron.  Arse.  So I re-cut the front interfacing, and tried again.  This time with a tea towel over the top.  And so on.  The facings went together, I trimmed seam allowances, clipped seams, pressed (with tea towel), and understitched.  Perfect.  Looking good.

Hang on.  This dress is supposed to have a collar, isn’t it?  Where’s the instructions for the collar???

Arse, buggeration and fuckety fuck.  I’ve missed out the collar.  Which was supposed to be sewn into the neckline with the facings.

And breathe, Vicki.  BREATHE!!

Actually, thinking about it, sewing the collar into the facings would make an *extremely* bulky neckline.  So I came up with a plan B.  I couldn’t unpick the facings because they were trimmed, clipped and understitched.  So I ironed the interfacing onto one collar piece, sewed the collar pieces together, clipped corners, turned out, pressed.  I’d left the top (neck) edge unstitched, and instead I turned in a small seam allowance on both sides.  I was going to *bind* the collar in place, like a quilt binding.  I pinned, and *very* carefully understitched the underside of the collar to the right side of the neck, and then hand stitched the top side to the top edge of the facing, hiding all the various edges in a very small, very tidy lapped edge.  It worked.  It was beautiful.

I went to press.  I pressed.  I remembered (too late!!) the need for a tea towel.  The iron had smeared burnt black goo all over my beautifully improvised collar.  Oh, for fuck’s sake!!!!

I let go of the last shred of my sense of humour.  I didn’t even miss it, if I’m honest.  I roared, and I rampaged, and I sewed in the armhole facings. The wrong way round.  OF COURSE I DID!!! OF BLOODY COURSE.  I did it on purpose!!! Why wouldn’t you want your armhole facings the wrong way round??? Anyone who puts armhole facings in the *right* way round is a BLOODY IDIOT!!!!!!!

And all that remained was the hem, which was uneventful. Pressed up (with tea towel) and hand stitched, invisibly.  Done.

Tried on.

And here’s the finished article.

You can barely tell, from the expression on my face, how pissed off I am, can you???

I should’ve gone with my plan to re-cut the neck.  To be honest, I should’ve abandoned this project last night and taken more time over it at some other date, but still.  Failing that, I should’ve re-cut the neck.

Yup.  Still too long in the back, and my improvised collar method creates a wrinkle that Josh and I just couldn’t get rid of…

Still, I’ll say this for it: it still looks better without that bloody enormous zip straining to get out of the back!

So.  I’m unlikely to wear this to my audition on Friday.  Very unlikely.  But it’s not *entirely* unwearable.  And if I lost half a stone it’d probably be fine.  In fact, if I could lose half a stone and grow a foot it’d be gorgeous.
Positives?  Well.  Nobody died.  At this point, I’m counting that as a bloody triumph.  As are the children.
This was a remarkably technical piece.  I should’ve paused at the point I didn’t have the tracing paper to make a pattern which would’ve fit me better.  But I didn’t.  However, I *did* make a well made, technical dress in two days.  That’s quick.  And I improvised well on the collar.  And I sewed a bloody amazing invisible zip.
So it’s not a disaster…
Oh, who am I kidding??? It’s a total fucking disaster.
Still.  Nice fabric, right??