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??

Sgt Pepper with a chintzy lining

So.  I admit it.  I have a bit of a girl crush on Amy Butler.  I love her designs.  Generally, I’m not a big fan of the floral chintzy girly type stuff, so it was something of a surprise to me to discover that Amy Butler can do no wrong.  Cath Kidston, on the other hand, you can keep.  She is the Kirsty Allsop of fabric designers.  And I don’t mean that as a compliment (to either of them).

Anyway.  Amy Butler.  I went to a talk by her at the Festival of Quilts in 2011.  And I bought a pattern for a long, fitted jacket.  And I bought the fabric to make it.  I got it home, I read the instructions, I got intimidated by the fact I had to know my bicep measurement – MY BICEP MEASUREMENT! – and I put it all away in a drawer.

But now I need to practise me some skills.  A jacket would be one of them.  Different types of hem would be another.  Linings (that fit) would be another.  And buttonholes yet another.  So I got the Amy Butler out of its drawer, and decided it was just the ticket.

I got Freya, my 13 year old, to help me with my measurements – particularly my bicep.  12″, if you were wondering.  Which is quite big.  I blame cake.

One of the fabrics is a big, swirly, flocked design in acid lime green, on a pale turquoise background.  The other is a pale green background with an oversized pink chintz design.  The first thing I had to do was measure the centre of the big flock design.  It didn’t help that the pattern thought the larger flock was in the centre of the fabric (Amy Butler Sandalwood) with the smaller designs down each side.  In fact, it was the smaller design in the centre.  So I got out my quilting ruler and my tailor’s chalk, and I drew a line down the centre of the small design.  Right down the middle, the whole length of the fabric.  And I resigned myself to the fact that the pattern wasn’t as accurately drafted as I might have liked it to be, and I was going to need to do some making it up as I went along.

The back piece was supposed to have a seam down the middle, to allow it to flare.  I couldn’t see how that would work, so in fact I cut the back as a single piece.  I made sure the centre back and centre front were aligned with the line I’d drawn down the centre of the design.  Effectively, I was using my drawn line as the grain, rather than relying on the actual grain of the fabric. I lined the fronts, back, and sleeve pieces very, very carefully on the fabric to make sure the pattern was completely symmetrical on both sides of both the outer piece and the lining (I wasn’t entirely sure which would be which).

The actual putting together of it was quite straightforward.  It pretty much flew together.  I checked the fit a couple of times, but because Freya was so amazingly accurate with the measurements, the fit was fairly much spot on straight off the table.

I cut the citrus fabric last night, and the paisley this morning.  When I did my first fit, this morning, my son told me the citrus made me look like someone out of Sgt Pepper.  And so Sgt Pepper it became.

 But it was far too nice a day to spend entirely in my shed.  So I allowed Mr P to lure me to Baddesley Clinton for some al fresco dining and newspapers… 

And suitably relaxed, and possibly a little sunburnt, I came home and put the finishing touches to the Sgt Pepper jacket.  I couldn’t decide which fabric should be on the outside and which should be the lining, so I did what any mature, sensible sewist would do.  I asked Twitter.  Twitter voted comprehensively for Sgt Pepper to be outside.  Here, just to show the beauty of a symmetrical, pattern matched cutting scheme, are the photos I gave them, to choose from.

The pattern allows for a tie belt – in the manner of a dressing gown.  I didn’t fancy that.  I decided to put a buttonhole in each side, and give it a chiffon tie.  I had a piece of chiffon knocking around in the shed, and some Gutterman variegated thread for the buttonholes.  And I needed to practice manual buttonholes.  So I whizzed in a couple of buttonholes, and fished out the chiffon.  which was a square.  Inappropriate.  I chopped it in half, slung a rolled hem around it (never used the rolled hem foot on my sewing machine before) and threaded it through one buttonhole.

And here’s the finished article.

Critique?

Well, the cutting is good.  The pattern is entirely symmetrical and the lining is as good as the shell.  Big bonus points there.

The hem (hand stitched) is a little tightly sewn.  You can see the line of it.  I should, really, take it down and do it again looser.  Maybe I will.

The chiffon idea doesn’t work perfectly.  In fact, it barely works at all.  I tied it in a bow to close the jacket at my waist, and Freya told me it looked poncey.  Better hanging loose, apparently – although to me that’s a little bit New Romantic, but there you are. 

 The pattern wanted the lining and shell fabric both to be the same lengths all the way down, which makes for a bulky hem – particularly at the wrist.  If I were ever to make it again, I’d make the linings a little shorter than the exterior to keep the hems finer.

Also. Big bum.  What can I say.  I blame cake.

And Freya asks me to point out that she took all the photos.  And the bicep measurements.

HELP!!! (no, seriously: HELP!!!!!!!!)

So.  Today, A THING happened. 

Well, obviously, quite a few things happened.  But amongst them was A THING.  A thing so unexpected that, even though I dealt with it there and then, I can’t quite believe it happened.  Pinch me!

And as a result, I may need to practise me some sewing skills.  For a start, I’ve never made a man’s shirt.  I might need to know how to do a collar and proper, formal, stiffened cuffs.  Preferably double cuffs.  Mr P has volunteered, and so he will spend a day standing still while I measure, cut, and stick him with pins.  But I probably need another man, just to perfect the technique.  My lovely cousin, @CamSlates has also volunteered (if you’re on Twitter and you don’t follow him, you should: he takes a lovely picture).  So that probably takes care of the shirts.

I could also do to make some fitted stuff.  It’s easier for other people than it is for me.  I mean, it’s easier for me to fit stuff onto other people.  Do you fancy being another person? Leave a comment.

Look, this isn’t a promise.  I’m not promising anything – I’m begging, but I can’t guarantee that everyone who gets in touch will get something, and if you get something, I can’t guarantee it’ll be brilliant (but it will…)

So if you can help me out, by letting me practise my skills on you, please give me a shout…  We’ll agree on what I make, and we’ll find and choose a pattern together. I’ll buy the pattern, and ask you to provide me with the measurements I need.  It would be helpful if you could buy your own fabric (that way, you know you like it, but I’ll tell you how much I think you need).  And then we’ll get to work! I will be able to use the pattern to draft up a pattern that will be tailored to you, and then I’ll actually need you to come and sit around while I make it around you.  From that point of view, it would probably be a good idea if I know you, and you’re happy to sacrifice a day of your life to the West Midlands… And in return I’ll make you a thing.

So things I need to practise:
Invisible zips (in a dress? A pair of trousers?)
Tailored jackets (I’ll be honest. I only want to do one of these at the very most)
Collar/cuff (but probably covered by Mr P and @CamSlates)
Oh. Embellishment. Of garments. Send me your garment to embellish.  Or something…
Um.  I think that’s about it, but if you think of something I need to know how to do, please do shout!

In other (possibly unrelated?) news, I find myself fascinated by beards.  If I was a man, I’d totally grow a beard.  And wax my ‘tache.  And possibly dye it/them.  It’s the first time I’ve thought it might be attractive to be a man.  But, y’know.  With my DNA, perhaps I shouldn’t entirely rule out a late surge on the beard front…

Two-in-one skirt. Dilemma solved. Now with pictures!

So.  I decided not to buy yet more fabric.  Not least because my whole rationale for *not* buying the skirt in White Stuff which was my inspiration was that I could’ve made it for cheaper.

Just for reference, the inspiration was this (but in different fabrics!).

I had several suggestions on Twitter and Facebook for ways to fix the hole in the front of my version.  My favourite was “market the idea to Ann Summers” which, at one point, looked like the most viable solution!  But in the end, I cut a panel from the ‘other skirt’ fabric, and inserted it all the way down the front.  It is assymetrical – the inner edge is parallel to the centre front, which is a plumb line down my body; the outer edge is parallel to the side seam, which is A-line-angled.  I’m sure there’s a better word for that.

I wanted to put some of the grey fabric back on top, to disguise something of the harshness of the colour block  effect.  It’s not, after all, the most sophisticated technique.  I experimented with a bird shape, but it was too complicated to see, what with all the birds on the fabric.  Then I tried a dragonfly, but it just looked a bit odd.  So I stuck to a heart-shaped patch pocket, which is double sided, edge stitched and just top stitched into place, at a slight angle.

Anyway, here’s the inner skirt.  With the applique which caused all the trouble!  The hem of the outer skirt is faced, and that’s what you can see below the hem of the inner skirt…

The outer skirt has something of a colour block effect going on.  Have I mentioned it?

 It fits well (right) – which is a relief because after all that, if it had been a poor fit as well I might have jacked in the whole game for a bad job!

And (left) the fit from the other side.  I must do something about my psoriasis!

The thing I was most worried about going wrong – before I started hacking applique out of my scant fabric, was the button placket.  This had to be reversible, too, and I wanted the contrast fabric to peek through.  I bought some standard buttons, but Mr P was worried they’d be uncomfortable on whichever skirt is on the inside, so I dug out some old beads which would do. If you look *closely* you can see the centre bead has a dragonfly on it.  I knew I’d get one on there, somehow!!

I made little frogs for the button closures.  And there you go! One rather well padded tummy, and one two-in-one skirt.

Dressmaking

The Great British Sewing Bee has started something, and I’m getting my dressmaking mojo back…

This is a little like a return to the seaside resort where you spent all your childhood summers.  You recall it being a fabulous, pretty, exciting, relaxing place.  Lit with the mellow glow of nostalgia and awash with all your favourite ice cream flavours.  Shuffling through the scrapbook of your memory, the mere mention of its name is enough to fill you with warm fuzzies.

But as an adult you daren’t return.  You don’t want to spoil the glow with the discovery that the lanes are overcrowded, the beach is littered with dog dirt and ice cream wrappers, and the real cream dairy ice has been replaced by grainy Mr Whippy with lurid sugary raspberry topping.

So it is with me and dressmaking.  I used to do *a lot*.  I got a sewing machine for my 18th birthday, and used to take myself off to Woolwich Market and buy yards of eyecatchingly inappropriate (often upholstery) fabric, and make basic, blocky clothes for myself.  A square T shirt and 45 degree A Line skirt in zebra print spring easily to mind… And when the children were small, I would adapt patterns or work out of magazines and make all their clothes.

Anyway. Enough of the rose tinted stuff.

We’ve been watching the GBSB.  The other week, Josh asked if I could make a dress in 6 hours, so I went stash diving and found some linen/cotton blend from the John Lewis remnant bin in my shed.  I didn’t have a pattern for a fitted, sleeveless, round-necked dress, so I pulled out a pattern for a V-backed, wrapover evening dress and traced an adaptation on top of its basic block, and made myself a round-necked sleeveless dress.  In 5 1/2 hours, including pattern drafting.  It’s not perfect – I need to practice zip insertions if I’m ever to consider myself accomplished, and the back hem is a bit of a fiddle if you look closely.  But it passes the cavalry test (you wouldn’t notice the mistakes if you rode by on a horse!) and I’ve worn it to work and nobody vomited.

So, this weekend, Mr P and I found ourselves wondering around Stratford (upon Avon), soaking up the sunshine and eating fabulous food in Hobsons.  On the way back to the car, I spotted a sign to a shop called Sew Me Something – not a shop I’ve ever seen before.  I am genetically incapable of walking past a fabric shop, so I persuaded Mr P that a visit would be a good idea.  He’d just spent half an hour perched on the windowsill of White Stuff, while I didn’t buy a flippy, A-Line reversible skirt, so I was pushing my luck, a little….

Half an hour of joyous browsing and nattering later, I left Sew Me Something with 1 1/2 metres each of Art Gallery Fabrics grey, hummingbirdy cotton for one side of my A-Line reversible skirt and green, trellisy cotton for the other side.

On Sunday morning, I drew a quick pattern – curved self waistband, fitted to the hip, gentle A Line with the grey on the outside, about an inch longer than the green on the inside – the longer skirt with a faced hem, so that if the shorter skirt is worn on the outside, you see the grey fabric peeking underneath.  Good.  I whipped up the green skirt, using the grey fabric as a bias trim edging the lower edge of the waistband.  So far, so good.  It worked, and it fitted.

And then I totally messed it up, like a complete NUMPTY.  I decided it would be cool to applique a big rose, and a pink humming bird and a red humming bird from the grey fabric onto the green fabric, over my left knee.  So I grabbed some grey scrap, fussy cut the pieces I wanted, and stitched them down.  Perfect.  Looking good!  Time to make the grey skirt.  I picked up the pieces, stay stitched the top of the front skirt, turned to the back and – guess what!! – I hadn’t cut my applique from scrap fabric – I’d cut it from the back skirt piece!

So now I have a dilemma.  I don’t have enough grey fabric to cut a new back piece.  I don’t have enough grey fabric to pattern match a back piece with a centre back seam.  So, my options are – go back to Stratford and buy more fabric – a perfect, but expensive solution.  Or insert a panel of green down my left thigh into the grey piece.  Maybe stitch a shaped grey patch pocket into it, to further mix up the fabric interaction.  I have some thin red ribbon I could insert into the lower seam of the waistband edge, to break up the grey-green border…  It’s a tricky one, to be sure.

Last night, gin was the only answer! Today, I’m asking you….

Wedding Quilt – progress

 So, just before I went back to work after Christmas, I finished all the wedding quilt blocks.  I had made some amendments to the design, while I was sewing – I always do this.  Sometimes the design only exists in my head, so I don’t have to admit to having changed it.  This one, however, had actually been drawn out.  And I did actually change it on the drawing – by simply over-drawing in a different colour, rather than any more formal, complex, or complete method.  But still…

So the central row of blocks in this picture are the new design, where every corner is made up of four large half square triangle blocks.  At this point, I wasn’t sure if they would be arranged in a diamond, or in a pinwheel to echo the smaller, triangle blocks.  But they were done.

The white half of the corner blocks, if you look carefully, is made of a print of cream roses on a white background.  This quilt is a wedding present for my sister.  I know my sister pretty well, and I can confidently predict that, should she ever get married, she will theme her wedding around cream roses.  I bet they’ll feature on the invitations, the room decoration, her bouquet, the table favours*.  A cream rose wedding would be just her style.  So when I found a fabric featuring cream roses, it seemed ideal to use in a quilt which will, one day, be her wedding gift.  The centre of the quilt is made up of solid squares of the cream rose fabric.

Today, I laid the blocks out, and stitched them into rows.  There’s a number of ways of treating triangle blocks.  If you put them together, edge to edge, you create interesting repetitions, and new shapes in the negatives.  In my design (which is actually drawn out, remember, so I kind of have to stick to it.  Or overdraw it again – which would just look scribbly), I had decided to put a 3″ sash between each block.  Which creates more space, and makes the quilt more of a white quilt – or a shades of cream and white quilt.  In my head, anyway.

Having laid the blocks out, I’ve joined the rows of blocks.  I’ve inserted the vertical 3″ sash between the individual, triangle blocks.


Next, I need to make the horizontal sashing rows.  Each triangle block will have a 3″ sash above and below it.  Where the sashing meets, there will be a 3″ square, in as close to Everton blue as I’ve been able to find.  I predict that, should my sister ever get married, she’ll marry an Everton supporter – so that’d be a good colour to use…**

Once the sashing rows are assembled, they can be inserted between the block rows.  The Everton blue squares will act like a hearth square in a log cabin block.  I like this idea of domesticity in the busyness of the triangles.

If there’s enough of the cream fabric I’m using for sashing left, then I’ll also put a 3″ border all the way round, with a blue hearth square at each corner.

Then I need to make the back.  There is a lot of the sashing fabric, but because I bought it 9 years ago, I can’t remember *how* much there is.  I hope there might be enough of it to make the back.  The centre of the back will have a New York Beauty, which I happen to have made when I first thought of making my sister a wedding quilt.  Because I imagine she’ll probably get engaged in New York.  And so that’d be a kind of cool thing to work into the quilt somewhere, wouldn’t it??  But this is kind of bright and funky, and doesn’t tie in with the front of the quilt, particularly, so the back seems a good place to put it.

I have kind of a cool idea for the quilting, too, but it’s nice to keep a surprise element to a gift, isn’t it? So I’m not going to write about that, in advance.  I’ll show you what it is when I’ve given the quilt to Sissy.  If she ever gets married, that is…

*I’m kind of right.  She got married nine years ago.  She did have the cream roses.  The gift is a little overdue.  We don’t mention it.

** Guess what team my lovely brother in law supports??

Wedding Quilt – dimension distress

It took two days of fettling with calculations to get the triangles right.  Two long, dispiriting days.  My own fault: I know I have my own instructions for measuring and cutting triangles, up in the attic somewhere.  But I couldn’t be arsed to rummage around for them, so I tried to work it out.

First I used a triangle ruler (pictured right), overlaid over the template I drew, to work out what size to cut my triangles to.  At the bottom of the green and white sketch, you can just about make out my original calculations.

I have never found a use for that triangle ruler.  Largely because most of my quilts are based on strips, not triangles.  And when I do use geometric shapes, I free cut them to make assymetrical, rough and ready finished pieces, like the Granny Quilt, where none of the finished triangles are *quite* the same as each other, or the Eye Spy Starz quilt.  I haven’t done a mathematically precise quilt since…. Oh, the Irish Chain, I think! Back in 2003! And that was squares…

Well, I’ve used the triangle ruler now. And probably never will again.  I’m not sure what it’s *for*, but accurate cutting and measurement of triangles doesn’t seem to be it.  Overlaying that on the template, and cutting to the requisite shape provided entirely the wrong sized, mismatched block (see left).  My finished block needs to be 9 1/2″ square.  The triangle template gave me a 10 1/2″ square.  Trimming that down would have meant losing roughly quarter of my beautiful, sharp points…

 After much experimentation, I can confirm that the way to measure right angle triangles is to treat them like half square triangles (which they are) and measure the length of the side either side of the right angle.  Then add 7/8″ for seam allowance, which gives you the central, diagonal seam allowance, and your 1/4″ all round standard quilting seam allowance.  So on that basis, all the small triangles are 3 1/8″ squares.  The big triangles are 5 3/8″ squares.  And the uncut squares are 2 3/4″.

Each patterned block (24 of) is made of 22 pieces of fabric.  Then there are 12 blocks made of two pieces each.  Then 8 plain blocks.  Then 72 sashing pieces, 44 hearth squares, and 4 borders.  That’s 680 pieces of carefully measured, cut, stitched and fitted together fabric to make one layer of a quilt.  Phew! I’ve been making blocks in groups of four, and machining them on a production line basis.  This works for me, as it breaks up the measuring and cutting time (which I don’t particularly enjoy) with the sewing time (which I do, as the logistics of the production line approach are quite complex and need me to concentrate, but the rewards are far greater!)

I’ve made the majority of the blocks, now.  Here’s a selection of entirely correct ones (four in each colour way).   I have 8 more of these to make, and 4 half square triangle blocks.  That’s a mere smear 96 pieces of fabric to measure, cut, and reorder.  Easy.  That should take no more than three hours of tomorrow, then.  And then I simply have to cut my hearth squares, and put the top together.  So there *should* be a photo of the completed quilt top by the end of the week, all other things being equal!

I’m enjoying my accuracy on this project (she says, taking a huge red flag and waving it defiantly in the face of the bull of fate…).  So far, my triangles all have points, which float correctly (there’s one in the top left corner of the left-most blue block pictured which is *slightly* blunted, but that’s the only one).  My pinwheel points match correctly.  The bad news for my sister is that, if this persists, I may feel the need to enter the finished article into the Festival of Quilts, this year.  It’s not as non-traditional a piece as I might have liked to enter (but I may also put in the Japanese Geek Quilt) but it’s a modern setting of a traditional block… or combination of blocks.  I don’t know.  Will consult with my friends at Rats as Big as Cats and nbnq to see what they think.   But if I do submit it, it will mean poor Sissy has to wait an extra month or two for her wedding present.  Still, I’m on track to deliver it within the first 10 years, so I can’t see she has *much* to complain about!!

Home Alone

The children have gone to their father’s for Christmas, and I am seizing the opportunity, greedily, for some ‘me’ time.  I got a rather fabulous new job this year, which has meant a lot more commuting than I did previously, and that in turn has meant that I don’t have a huge amount of time for sewing, knitting, crochet, relaxing.  So my creative synapses are beginning to feel a little furred up.  Underused.  The chance to spend a week by myself, relaxing and crafting seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

So far, I’ve added the border I mentioned to the Japanese Geek Quilt I made in August.  No pictures, yet.  I’ll wait until I’ve basted and quilted, for that.

But the main thing I want to do is a wedding quilt.  My lovely sister got married in 2004, and I promised to make her a wedding quilt.  I intended to do a combination of the classic double wedding ring and New York beauty patterns, but with the benefit of hindsight, that was a bit beyond my technical ability (or ability to concentrate!) back then.  So the quilt was started, but never finished.  I did some more work on it the following year, but by then I’d gone back to work and didn’t have the necessary time to give it.  So – long story short – I’ve never finished my sister’s wedding present quilt.  I intend to put that right.  I have, finally, abandoned the idea of an ambitious quilt, and intend to do something much simpler.  But until last night, I didn’t really know what.  I could knock up a variation on a strippy quilt in the blink of an eye, but I’ve done lots of strippies, recently, and wanted to do something rather different.  The thing I’ve most enjoyed making, recently, was the granny quilt, and so doing something with triangles rather appealed.  Technical enough to be interesting, but quick to put together.


I’ve been watching Homeland, this last few weeks.  Last night was the season two series finale, much of which was set in a cabin in the woods.  Hanging on the living room wall was a quilt.  A flying geese quilt.  And I thought, hmmm…. I could do something like that.  I quite like the idea of flying geese.  But they’re a bit busy, organised the way they are in the link.  Sissy and her husband are more, um, subdued and restful than that.  So I got to thinking.  And then I did a bit of drawing.  And I reckon something built around a 9″ square block like this one might be interesting.  But with lots of plain white.  Or at least, lots of white on white.  Different whites, I think – not all one, plain and calm fabric.

And then I wondered how they might be arranged… because technically this is more like half square triangles than flying geese.  And I wanted to avoid the busy-ness thing.  And, you know, it’s good to have a plan before you start.  So I did some doodling.  I think the squares will be arranged in blocks of 4, separated by a 3″ sashing, at each corner of which will be a (probably single colour across the face of the quilt) 3″ square.  The blocks of 4 triangle squares will be in different fabrics, but follow a muted green/blue/purple colour scheme, and the little squares which, in my head, are anchors, will be bright.  This (on the left) is my design sketch for this.  The shaded big white squares are my triangular blocks, the plain ones are my white on white blocks, and the red squares are my anchors.  Which may or may not be red.  I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a lot of thinking and quite a bit of calculation.  And inevitably, there will be an error in it, somewhere, which will mean the design has to be adapted on the hoof.  But I’ve measured and made templates for my triangles, reminded myself how to make quick and easy flying geese, and will try a test square in the morning.

Tomorrow, I’m planning to take the dogs up to the peak district, whether permitting.  But this should, hopefully, be well under way by the time the kids get home.

I’ll keep you posted!

Japanese geek work

So.  There’s been some stuff in the news and all over Twitter that I wanted to get away from.  And I’m on holiday, and the kids sleep all day on account of being adolescents and overrun with unmanageable hormones.  And the obvious solution to all this is to spend some time in my shed.  Mental health sewing.

There are a number of quilts bumbling around in my head.  I’ve started re-working my sister’s quilt, which has been on the back burner for a number of years.  I originally started it as a wedding gift and for one reason or another – largely due to the technical complexity of the original design idea and the fact I went back to work and didn’t have time to execute it – it’s been languishing.  But I finally have a way of simplifying it, which means unpicking quite a bit of what’s been done, and starting again from scratch.  Which I have now done.  The unpicking part, anyway.  The starting again is for next week!

In the meantime, I’ve been wanting to do something with the Japanese designers.  I love the fabrics produced by Kokka, Echino, Melody Miller.  They are things of utter beauty, and for a long time I’ve wanted to make a quilt wholly out of some of their more graphic pieces.

At the Festival of Quilts, last weekend, I decided to sate this particular ambition.  I told myself that I would spend *all* my FoQ show money on Japanese fabrics.  I would visit the Eternal Maker, and fill my boots.  And so I did.  I intended to sit on the fabrics for a while, and see what happened.

But as I say, there’s been all kinds of stuff that I’ve wanted to hide from.  And there’s been an idea brewing in my head about how to honour these beautiful fabrics.  How to ensure that the prints were *seen* on the face of whatever I made, rather than cut up small and pieced in a traditional way.

So I decided to make a strippy quilt.  I thought if I did stripes of uneven width, I could ensure that the fabrics were represented properly, and the art of them could be admired.

Actually, this did pose some difficulties.  The strippy is easy to put together – no cutting fabric into teeny tiny pieces and re-joining them into bigger blocks, to be joined together to make the quilt top.  But despite this, the overall effect risks looking very busy, and reading incoherently.  But aha! I had thought of that.  I got a plain.  A real, actual plain (where usually, if you scroll through my quilts, you’ll see I normally go for fabrics that ‘read as’ plain).  And I decided to put a bit of plain in every row.

Half a dozen rows in, it became clear that a piece of plain in every row wasn’t going to work – perversely, that just made the plain read as though it was another pattern.  I needed some rows of *mostly* plain, in order to create spaces for your eye to rest as you look at the thing.

Anyway, I cut lots of bits.  Uneven widths.  I didn’t even measure – it was all totally guided by the print on the fabrics.  And I put them together.  And I laid them out on my bed to guage the size, and then I went and made some more strips.

It flew together.  Obviously.  Big pieces, see?  I started it yesterday lunchtime, and by this afternoon Freya and I were laying it on the dining room floor, auditioning rows against each other to determine the final layout.  I find it impossible to look directly at a quilt top and decide whether I like it, at this stage.  I have to work from photos, which means that there are inevitably a lot of photos of potential layouts, and then Freya and I shuffle rows about, and try to make sure there aren’t too many similar pieces too close together.  She usually declares herself satisfied a good while before I do, but I’ve bought her some new Vans this week, so she was obliged to humour me, and persevere!  This is the layout we (I) eventually decided on.

Stitched together, trimmed up and on the bed it looks like this (click on the pictures for a bigger, clearer view)

I love the graphic, stylised nature of these fabrics.  Doing this piece has allowed me to gorge not only on Japanese fabrics (which are coarser than their American counterparts – like a lightweight canvas rather than a dress cotton.  Or perhaps more like a coarse shirt linen…) but it’s given me some 50s gloriousness and speaks to my whole Mad Men obsession. 

I still need to put a border on.  I have an olive green fabric for this, with pale pink polka dots – it’s more in keeping than it sounds.  I think there’s going to be a fairly narrow border at the sides, and a deep one at top and bottom.  The back may well be plain (I’ve never done a plain back before), although I do want to pay a geeky homage to the fabric I’ve used, and work the selvedges into the back.  I’m not sure how to quilt it.  Perhaps I can work out a martini glass design, if I can get access to a longarm machine… not sure I would have the strength to manhandle this through the throat of my machine.  But we’ll see.  Stranger things have happened!

Despite the fact it’s being modelled on a bed (for size) I suspect this might become the living room quilt of choice for this winter. 

In any event, once the border is on, this will go back on hold for a bit I think, while I work on Sissy’s overdue wedding quilt.

In the meantime, can I just pause to point out that this is the first time I have shown you work in progress quilt photos without Buto in them?  Poor little kitty cat.  I do miss her quilt inspection talents!