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Thursday, 25 June 2020

Finishes and beginnings…

The hotchpotch lap quilt, took longer than intended to complete. I always underestimate how much time hand quilting takes! Even random wonky lines can't be dashed off in a couple of evenings. Nevertheless, I'm happy with the finished result—it's just the right side of homespun. While not exactly what's needed for a June heatwave, the brushed cottons and woven fabrics will be comfortingly cosy when winter comes around.

With so much time to spare, I've been able to start two new projects. The first is a traditional quilt made of half square triangles. I've wanted something like this for as long as I can remember, and although there's nothing remarkable about it, it needs to be just right, with points properly matched and devoid of any wonkiness. I've chosen some suitably prim fabrics to reflect the 'correctness' of the quilt.

As usual, I've tried to use fabrics from stash, rather than go out and buy more (I did purchase a couple though). However, I was surprised to find how many Liberty tana lawns I already owned. Despite sniffily claiming that I prefer woven to printed fabrics, it turns out I'm a Liberty girl with a hoard of ditzy prints in my drawers! In my defence, tana lawns do have the most glorious feel. They handle like silk rather than cotton, and when cut into, they sound wonderfully crisp—like boots crunching through snow. (How a fabric sounds and behaves when cut into is strangely important to me; stitching is therapy, but cutting fabric has to be pleasurable too).

I intend to use the wedding rings pattern for the quilting, but that's a little way off yet.

Also new is some pojagi, or bojagi if you prefer.* I've done a little in the past for magazines etc, but these have usually been to a brief where colours, or the item itself, were determined by a commissioning editor. This time I'll do what I like. I've made a start but as yet, am undecided if it will be a shawl or a blind. I guess the drape will determine which it is to be. For the construction, I'm using French seams rather than pojagi seams. Other than the seams the only decoration will be pojagi bats (imagine a tiny double scroll of fabric turned back against itself). Any light, fairly translucent fabric will do for pojagi. Linens are popular, so is silk, which is what I'm using. The problem with silk is that it is as slippery as wet fish. One way to stabilise silk is to layer it with a thin sheet of tissue when sewing but then you have to peel away the tissue and pick out all the little bits that get trapped in the stitiches. Too much faff for me. Instead, I use spray starch. The fabric then behaves itself and the starch can be simply rinsed away.

And just for fun a little hand stitching. I used to do a lot of bits and pieces like this, particularly when making penny mats. It's nice to get back to this sort of thing again. I always think it's like doodling with a needle and thread, and generally leads to something else.


* I'm never sure which is correct, and why, so if you know please let me know.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Ribbon roses and sporting endeavours…

If you're bored of making Dorset buttons, although I don't see how that could ever be possible, here's something else you might like to try. If you didn't manage to get to a haberdashery before lockdown use strips of fabric instead of ribbon. The frayed edges of torn and worn fabrics will add a charming shabby-chic look to your rose.

When not eating, making or reading, Patrick and I have been making the most of our daily allowance of outside exercise.* Now, I've never been sporty and have terrible hand eye co-ordination. I lack competitive spirit and if someone is eager to run faster than me so they can catch a ball, or be first to cross a finishing line, I'm happy for them to do so.

At school, I was hopeless at tennis, netball, rounders and lacrosse. There was a brief period when I was vaguely decent at throwing things (javelin, shot put and discus). However, as a young teenager back in the seventies, beefy female shot putters weren't the role models I aspired to become (I wanted to be Farah Fawcett-Majors) so I gave up throwing things as soon as I could.

Lockdown makes us behave strangely though. There are so many more joggers around now. People who look as if they've never jogged in their lives are suddenly taking up the activity with gusto.

Likewise, encouraged by Patrick, I've been running around a field trying to throw and catch a ball (actually a rolled up shopping bag). We've set up a Swingball in the garden, and in my eagerness to hit the ball, I've sliced the heads of most of the giant alliums. I'm covered in cuts and bruises from landing on the ground as I overstretch and fail to reach the ball, when playing catch. Because I don't own sensible sportswear, my clothes are covered in grass stains. And I find that sport gives me a headache (falling sends shockwaves to my brain).

At my age, I really should know better although I have to admit, running about can be good fun. I'm now trying to beat my personal best of catching a ball four times in a row. Woohoo: Ian Botham watch out!

Have you tried anything new during lockdown?


*Since originally writing this (I'm always slow to post!) the instruction has changed. Rather than stay home, we are encouraged to go out but told to be alert which reminds me of the old joke 'Be alert: your country needs lerts'.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Dorset buttons…


I hope you're all bearing up and managing to stay sane.

As a freelancer who works from home, lockdown for me, wasn't so unusual to begin with. Isolation goes with the territory. But with work going from a trickle to a drip to a drought, I have plenty of time on my hands. Hands that I can now occupy with making things.

Shirtwaist buttons: a step up from
Dorset buttons but just as compulsive to make.
Photo taken from my next book, Lace Reimagined
(available to pre-order on Amazon).

Dad always impressed upon me the importance of having hobbies. Dad sniffed at that word however, as he considered it undermined the status of his 'passion', and the hours spent every night practising classical guitar*. I feel much the same about the word 'craft'. It often lumps together everyone from exceptionally skilled and creative amateur textiles practitioners through to classroom activities for five year olds. When life or work isn't going to plan, craft is an area of life I can control and make progress in. And I think we all need that right now. It doesn't have to be a big project either. Sometimes, something as small as making a Dorset button brings me a sense of achievement. While the act of making takes me to another place.

If you know about Dorset buttons already you'll appreciate the pieces of joy that they are. In case you don't and want to find out more, or are looking for a small craft project to stave off lockdown boredom, I hope you'll find this worksheet useful.

This usually forms part of a pack that I hand out at workshops and includes curtain rings and thread. If you don't have a curtain ring use a coil of wire, cross section of a card or plastic tube, or wrap some yarn around your finger a few times to form the foundation ring. If doing the latter, sew the first few blanket stitches while thread is still wrapped around your finger (or even the spongey part of a hair roller) to stabilise threads and stop them unravelling. If buttons are too dainty for your taste, why not try a supersized version by working thick cord, or rags, around an embroidery hoop? Dorset buttons can be all about experimentation and the rules are there to be broken. Perfect if you didn't get the chance to stock up on craft supplies before lockdown.


*As a child it used to drive me mad, but the thing I missed most when I left home was the sound of Spanish guitar music. Dad was a fine guitarist and I never quite appreciated this at the time. Isn't that always the way!

Friday, 27 March 2020

A stew of a quilt…

Left: an overview. Top right: the backing.
Bottom right: in the quilting hoop, with a little more stitching.

Crazy times call for cozy comforts.

We've been eating plenty of stews lately. The sort you can add to and make last for several days by throwing in extra morsels of this and that. Not that we're short of provisions, but a bunker mentality has set in and we've become more conscious of the need not to waste food.

I looked at my fabric stash and realised that that too is a kind of waste, if it's not being used, So the impulse took hold to make a quilt and put the stash to use. A cosy one made from brush cottons, Japanese taupes and some fabulous Paul Smith cashmere suiting fabric for the backing.*

There is very little plan to the quilt, just random squares and rectangles mis-matched and patched together then quilted by hand. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is the most higgledy-piggledy, hotch-potch, messy stew of a quilt I've ever made. It doesn't even have batting as I've run out of the stuff and there are only so many online purchases I can justify at times like these. Fortunately, the natural softness of cashmere and brush cotton means that the quilt is quite warm and squidgy enough, even without batting.

In the near future, I will do some patchwork that has more of a plan to it; definitely some bojagi and a star quilt made from Patrick's old shirts (hurry up and wear them out Patrick!). But after months of producing projects and techniques for a book that have to be spot on, it's a pleasure to just stitch aimlessly.

Since putting my book to bed, I've also got back into dressmaking. It's not the sort of thing I show here as what I make is usually very plain and a repeat of something made several times already. But, with more time on my hands, I've been adding to what I'm darkly calling my 'Corona wardrobe'. So far, I've made one pair of trousers, a pinafore dress and a kagool (all Merchant & Mills patterns) Next up, are more trousers and a trio of tops.

I hope you're all managing to stay cheerful, healthy, solvent and sane.

And rather randomly, here's a pic of a soppy white cat. She's looking less solemn than usual in a bid to cheer everyone up.


* Discount fabric shops often seem to have plenty of Paul Smith end of line fabrics, and I'm never sure why. Is it because too much fabric is produced in the first place? If so, how does this affect the price of Paul Smith's clothes?

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Rag dolls…

My first proper finish of the year, or should that be two?

Two rag dolls for twin girls. It's a pity when twins are dressed identically, it's as if they're not allowed to have separate identities. So I didn't want these rag dolls to be exactly the same. Instead, they are similar but different. Both have bloomers made from embroidered hankies. Both have lacy stockings, lace-up booties, worn and mended dresses that they protect with aprons. But while one has untameable hair, the other has a neat little bun. They may look similar but they have very different personalities, as I'm sure the twins will have too.