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.

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….

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!

Asterix

A friend of mine is moving into his own house, for the first time.  It’s – y’know – one of those complicated situations.  It’s a lovely house, but he’s renting for a while and it won’t be his forever home. I don’t think.  Anyway.  I decided to make a housewarming gift.  Some time ago, my friend was helping his mother clear her attic, prior to selling her own house.  Amidst much excitement, he came across his childhood collection of Asterix books.

When I was in Brussels, fairly recently, I went to the Asterix museum.  I have to admit that, up to that point, I had rather forgotten that Asterix was even a thing.  He’s never been my particular hero of choice.  As a youngster, I was more a Tintin person.  These days, I’d take Lucas North over almost any other.  But when I was wondering what to make my friend, Asterix came to mind.

I had a number of bits of jumper left over from Josh’s quilt and I decided to use the same technique.  Only, I’m not an Asterix expert.  Did I mention?  So I wasn’t sure whether there was/is a definitive image of the snotty little upstart. gallic superstar.  I did what any sensible layabout would do.  I asked Twitter.  Well.  You know what they say about opinions, right?  They’re like ***holes – everyone has one.  I got lots of definitive pictures.  This is the one I went with (or my interpretation, anyway), found by Kitty (@TheCatsDaughter).

He’s quite big.  And none of the jumper pieces *were* all that big.  So I had to improvise. There was a grey cashmere sleeve left.   If I cut the seam out of it (carefully) and opened it out, there was just enough room to fit Asterix onto it.  Well, it was that or draw him again, but smaller.  And that wasn’t going to happen.  So careful snipping of sleeve seams it is.

Then I traced Asterix onto some Sulky Solvy, laid that on top of the Cashmere and pinned it carefully in place.  And then I stuck a couple of old nappy liners behind the cashmere, for proper stabilisation.

Some outlining, some infill.

And off we went.  I like this technique.  It’s reasonably technical, but provided you manage to remember to breathe (and that really is the key!) and keep your shoulders from tensing up, once you get into a rhythm it’s relatively straightforward.  You simply drop the feed dogs on your machine, take the presser foot off so you’re working with a bare needle (mind your fingers!); thread up the bobbin *and* spool with embroidery thread, and use the needle like a colouring pencil.  Two things: first, I use machine embroidery thread in the bobbin as well as the top thread – most books will tell you to use a plain thread or a clear monofil in the bobbin.  I don’t recommend either – plain (white) thread will show through unless you have your tension *precisely* right.  Once you’re free machining, it’s almost impossible to get your tension right, because you’re manually moving the fabric under the needle, and keeping an even pace and direction is not only very nearly impossible; but also rather not the point.  The beauty of the finished effect comes from the variation in texture brought about by changing speed and direction.  So inevitably, your bobbin thread will show through.  And if it’s plain white, that’s going to look pretty horrid.  Monofil isn’t a good substitute because it’s hideously stiff, and rather like sewing with barbed wire. Use embroidery thread. Ideally matching the top thread. The second thing is that you are manually moving the fabric under the needle. You are in total control.  You’re using the needle like a colouring pencil, but instead of moving the pencil, you’re moving the paper.  You need to remember to keep moving it, or nothing happens!   Seems obvious now, sitting here reading this, doesn’t it??  Go experiment: you’ll see exactly what I mean!

Density, texture and ‘subtle’ feathers

You’ll see from the picture above that I did some outlining before I began the infill.  This was a mistake, in retrospect.  It led to some pretty hideous bobbling of fabric in the cheek (and tip of nose in picture, right). Luckily, the embroidery was sufficiently stiff to cover this, but it would have been easier without the outlining.  If you don’t outline, work from the centre outwards, to prevent this kind of bobbling.

This is a cartoon, so it relied on block colour rather than subtlety of shading, but there was plenty of opportunity to vary density and texture – and the feathers of his helmet, in particular, gave me an interesting opportunity for subtlety (which I’m not entirely sure I achieved!)

Shading and the impression of movement of fabric across his body was just achieved by increasing the density and length of the stitch.  You can increase length by moving the fabric faster and/or decreasing acceleration on the presser foot.  Combinations of both allow you to achieve some shaping of – in this case – the belly area (left).

There was a *lot* of flesh in this piece, and I have to admit there were a couple of points when I was so bored I thought I might just leave the rest in outline only.  But I’m pleased I persevered.  It looks better for actually being finished, I think!

So, at the end, I tore off the exposed nappy liner and gave the finished piece a good soak to dissolve the Solvy.  And then I had a slightly misshapen sleeve to make my final cushion cover out of.  Did I mention this was going to be a cushion cover?   Then I needed to find something with which to make a back… fortunately there were two bits of another jumper which just about did the job.  So here’s the finished thing.

Of course, that’s not the size of any pre-made cushion pad known to humankind, so I’ve had to order a custom made pad to fill it.  Which I hope might even arrive, some day soon… but in the meantime, here’s a woolly Asterix cushion cover to feast your eyes on and keep a bachelor pad kind of homey.

Silent night…

The problem with this time of year is that there are so many calls on my time, and so many secret projects, that it becomes difficult to find time to make anything that it’s safe to show you!

My father came to stay for the weekend, which was the first time he’s visited this house for a long time, and we’ve changed a good deal of it since last he was here, so it was nice to show him the new things – and to put him in the spare room, which has the crochet zigzag blanket in it.  It’s his favourite of the blankets I’ve made, so I wanted him to have the opportunity to use it (this isn’t entirely an open-spirited or generous gesture, since what *he* really wants is to take it home with him!!)

One thing I *can* show you is this monster, which I made for my nephew’s birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I also gave him some story blocks, painted by my friend Siobhan, who is not only an award winning journalist for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, but is also a very talented artist.  She makes things under the name Matilda’s Mum, and really ought to have a website of her own, to link to.  Anyway, she made the story blocks (which I foolishly didn’t photograph) and I made the story monster.  The deal is, when my nephew can persuade the story monster to sit down and be quiet (with his mouth zipped, see?) then Mummy or Daddy will make up a story for them… The monster was a huge success.  Mummy and Daddy weren’t so sure about their ability to spin a yarn on demand, but there you go!

The monster is standing on a box of tissues in my workroom.  I took a couple of pictures of that, too, for a friend on twitter.  It’s a custom built work room, in my garden.  It’s effectively a *really* smart shed – with fully plastered and decorated walls, two double glazed windows and a front door!  It has full electricity (obviously) but no water.  I dye indoors!  It looks like chaos, but it is, in fact, quite tightly organised.  The cutting/design table is just visible (under a cutting mat) in the lower lefthand corner.  That’s at waist height, and has storage boxes underneath for fabric and some yarn.  It also has drawers with all my dye stuff – chemicals, fixatives, and salt.  In front of the cutting mat is a miniature ironing board, with a big bundle of felt on it.  The hanging basket to the left of the zigzag shelf is full of zips, elastic of various types, and binding tapes.  The sewing machine sits on a Horn cabinet which also has storage for thread and various notions.  The zigzag shelf contains boxes of thread, dressmaking patterns, and my own design patterns all filed away.  It also has dyed wool tops and a felting block for needle felting.  The walls are stuck all over with postcards, favourite pictures and various design inspirations, which I refresh from time to time!

This is the other end of the shed.  The  net bag in the lower left hand corner hangs from a bookcase, above the end of the Horn cabinet.  It is stuffed with usable sized scraps of fabric from several years’ worth of projects.  My friends delight in raiding the scrap bag – and Penny (from Rats as Big as Cats) has made beautiful things using my scraps!  There are two bookcases, in an L configuration.  They hold quilting books, surface design books, dressmaking books, various art and textile magazines I’ve subscribed to over the years, drawers of fat quarters (quilting fabric), drawers of buttons and beads and embellishments, index cards of dressmaking notes dating right back to my youth and all sorts of useful oddments – freezer paper, dissolvable stabiliser, tracing paper, and so on.  They also hold some of my art equipment.  The blue bag is a roll of interfacing.  The back of the door has a hanger of pockets which hold any number of embellishments – ricrac, chord, braid, ribbon, decorative yarns, and so on.  And then we’re back to the cutting table.

So that’s where I work.

And the final thing to show you this post is actually not my work, at all.  This wall hanging was made by Pat Nicholls. I bought it at an exhibition in 2002, or 2003.  It’s a lovely redwork angel surrounded by a variety of red and blue borders.  I love it.