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Friday, 23 June 2017

A technicolour dreamcoat…

I'm the kind of person who normally wouldn't dream of asking a stranger where they got a shirt/bag/pair of shoes. Something inside me thinks it's just plain rude. But I was sitting behind a woman on a bus a few months ago who was wearing the most amazing coat—Joseph's very own would have paled into insignificance beside it.

I tried to sketch the coat in my notebook, however, my solitary black marker couldn't capture its beautiful embroidery and colours, so eventually I plucked up the courage and nervously asked where it was from. The woman wasn't the friendliest of sorts (this is another reason I don't ask strangers where they shop—fear of refusal or general snarkiness) but she brusquely informed me she'd bought it from the V&A museum shop. This told me, as if I didn't already know by the woman's tone, that I couldn't afford it, besides, as I later found out, it was no longer for sale.

I managed to track down an image of the coat, but it really doesn't do it justice. Each circle appliqué is a different fabric, and the blanket stitching holding them in place is a rich multitude of coloured threads. The over all effect is one that carefully tows the line of looking both rustic and expert at the same time—something I absolute love and aspire to emulate. The increase of size in the circles as you scan down the coat creates the illusion of flare, when in fact, it is quite a fitted garment—so you get the impression of swishiness without the bulk.

I briefly thought about making a similar coat for myself but as I limit clothes making to basics I don't think my seamstress skills would have been up to the job—not to do it justice anyway. Maybe one day I'll make a simple skirt that incorporates some similar embroidery around its hem, but for now I've made do with a project bag. I cut out scraps of patterned silk that I had in my stash and sewed them to a raw silk background with blanket stitch. I used lots of layers of blanket stitch, a) for a homespun look, and b) to stop the edges from fraying. Then I added seed stitch between the appliqués. As you can see, the bag itself  is a simple drawstring affair with printed cotton on its reverse side.

The dumpling work bag has since fallen to bits.

It may not be a technicolour dreamcoat but I am quite fond of my new work bag, it is also extremely useful as it holds more than my dumpling bag which is sadly falling apart.

Patrick doesn't always comment on my sewing, but he said this reminds him of William Scott paintings. Perhaps he's right, we spend a fair bit of time in Hastings and usually visit the Jerwood Gallery when there. Scott's paintings are among the Jerwood's collection and they held a major retrospective of his work a few years ago, which featured many of his pots and pans canvases.

So be it pots, pans, or a fabulous coat, inspiration can be found anywhere.

Where do you stand on asking strangers where they shop?


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A blue and white flimsy*…

Oh dear, look at all those creases! Still, at least I've finally managed to get my quilt top photographed. For several weeks blue and white quilt top has been folded away in my WIP bag, patiently waiting for its close up, and a sunny day. And what a difference having a garden fence makes to taking photographs of quilts! No more moving furniture out of rooms to create space for photography, no more traipsing over to the park and self-conscious snapping while I try to ignore the puzzled or curious looks of passers by. (Youths on bicycles and parents with ice-cream wielding toddlers have to be the worst). Instead, peg flimsy on the fence, snap snap, and I'm done. Just one of many unexpected reasons to appreciate having a much longed for garden.


* The name was new to me until I read it on Carin's blog but it perfectly describes this stage of quilt making. I think I may have to use it from now on, even if 'pegging flimsy on the fence' does sound as if I'm doing something cruel to a fellow human being.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Twenty-five blocks…

I have made the 25 blocks for my quilt and it feels like a real milestone. Whenever I get to this point, I feel as if the quilt is really going to happen, and, not just be an idea that never gets realised. Having said that, my white quilt never did get finished even though it was 90% complete, it languishes in a drawer, occasionally seeing the light of day when I need to look at it for reference.

So now I need to sew the blocks together, although it will take a month of Sundays to settle on which order they should go. Then I have to make the quilt sandwich, my least favourite part of quilt-making, before I can get onto the best bit—hand quilting.

Most of the blocks are very…blockish and reflect the simple linear style of the houses. The roofs are flat and the exteriors plain, a central column of bricks, a horizontal banner of cladding and ceiling to floor windows. Although the design of the houses is simple, there is variation within it, some have the kitchens at the front, some at the back (those crazy architects) some have the biggest windows on the left, some on the right (totally radical) so I haven't been overly regimental with how the blocks should look. Or, to put it another way, a little inconsistency is just fine. Big windows are taking some getting used to! While it is blissful to live somewhere suffused with light, it does dampen one's keenness for walking around in pyjamas and general states of undress, especially if you want to remain on good terms with the neighbours, and not frighten them to death.

I slashed the corners off a few blocks and added contrasting colours to represent the paths. I used texturally different fabrics for these areas too–pieces of vintage kimono silk and some hand-dyed, red muslin and scraps of poplin. So these areas should look and feel different to the rest of the quilt.

I hope to have the quilt top assembled in a couple of weeks but with a constant programme of DIY on the go, this could be pushing it. Time will tell.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Needle lace appliqué…

In between slowly putting my quilt blocks together, I've been doing a lot of needle lace. I think it's the flitting between differing scales that appeals, my quilt is quite a beast so is reserved for Sunday sewing when I can play with all my toys and spread out for hours on end. On the other hand, these little appliqués are just a few centimetres high and are therefore perfect sewing projects to carry around with me.

I start by drawing an image on lightweight card, preferably an enclosed shape—an open motif won't hold its shape as well. Then I pierce the outline and use those holes to couch a piece of string to the front of the card. Next, I cover the couched thread with buttonhole stitch, it is important only to sew onto the couched thread on the top of the card and not through the card itself. Then I work into the loops of the buttonhole stitch to form a lace pattern. At the moment, I'm experimenting with a combination of random stitches and more regular patterns.

Finally, turn the card over and cut the couching stitches. As long as you haven't sewn through the card the appliqué should peel away quite easily, without too much fuss. All that's left to do is to remove any rogue couching stitches, a pair of tweezers can be useful when doing this.

I love the simplicity of this technique although I'm not sure what to do with all these appliqués I'm amassing. However, my real dilemma with needle lace appliqué is choosing whether to have toning or contrasting couching stitches. Do I use contrasting thread, which is easier to see, but which can get trapped and remain visible forever, or, do I use toning thread and run the risk of cutting the appliqué threads when I mean to cut the couching stitches. What would you do?


Friday, 24 February 2017


A few years ago I made this boro inspired cushion.

As it has worn, instead of offloading to a charity shop, or worse, simply binning, I've patched and re-patched my cushion cover whenever new holes appeared. Each time I've mended my cushion, I've become fonder of, and more attached to it.

I've used mainly running stitch with just the tiniest amount of needle weaving but the resulting texture is pleasingly intricate and hopefully belies the simplicity of the techniques used. In some places the cushion is three or four layers thick. Although I haven't been completely true to boro aesthetics—I've used scraps of silk, as well as the traditional cotton—the act of preserving rather than discarding has been well and truly embraced. My cushion also includes fabrics that have history or sentiment for me, such as a vintage silk scarf from Patrick that, although it could no longer be worn because it was shredded at one end was still too lovely to throw away.

The change in my cushion just crept up on me. It never occurred to me how different the cushion cover might look now from when it was first made. But while going through some old photos and blog posts, I saw the picture at the top of this post and was amazed at how basic the original cover looks. At the time I thought it was so detailed. No doubt, in a few years I'll think this current reincarnation looks plain.

It just goes to show how textiles develop and take on a life of their own, if we let them.