Thursday, 9 June 2016

Stolen sewing moments

It's been months, okay years, since there was a proper sewing or crafting post on here. This has been due to a total regime change in the Homespun household - yep, a child. One of these days now I'm going to get my act together and be able to balance parenting and sewing and working and wearing two shoes that actually match. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that post though.

It's an infuriating dichotomy that when there is a new child in your life, you simultaneously have a billion things you want to make them, and absolutely no time to do it. So, the making opportunities have been few and far between since the last post on here, but I am going to try and creep a few back. In the meantime, when I was able to get some snatched moments with Marvin the Machine, here's what I've made while I've been away:

1. Christmas decorations

We had a small workshop/sewing bee afternoon to make decorations ready for Christmas, and raise some money for the hospital. A bit of backstitch and some french knots later, and a lot of cake crumbs, and we had some lovely linen and redwork tree decorations.

 2. Everyone needs a reindeer

Rudy arrived - the only thing I managed to make in advance of the child's arrival, and he has since been so loved he's needed a series of running repairs. He still looks pretty happy about life though!

 3. Weddings and dresses

I was honoured to be asked to be a "best woman" last summer, and opted to make dresses for myself and the child. Mine was a McCalls pattern, adapted slightly to give a deeper square neck that fitted me better. It fits to knee-length, hangs beautifully and has plenty of room in it to sprint after escaping small people.

 So then there was only the matter of the child's dress. I used the Oliver + S fairytale dress pattern. The photo below is before the armholes have been bound, but I think I took it in weary triumph after quite a battle with my first ever collar. It has a detachable net underskirt, which needed to be detachable as it would be too scratchy for little legs during a car journey.


4. Colin the Snail

I made this last week from the lovely Tilda designs. I had previously made the cats from the same book, but for some reason the tight curves of the snail shell put me off trying it earlier. I should have ignored my misgivings; it was nice and simple, and came together smoothly, with the possible exception of stuffing the antennae/eyes. I really should give him away, but I like him, so he's having a little holiday here first.

Although time has been tight, the making has been all the more precious. The current project is wedding-related again, entrusted with making some of the accessories for my sister's upcoming celebration. I am going to be pleased if the delicate natural linen manages to remain clear of playdough...

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Making Year

2013 was a crafty year. Which stuns me slightly, given how busy it was with other happenings. I can only conclude that the crafting was excellent therapy to get me through all the other changes. Here are a few of the things I enjoyed making the most. And one that was not a delight, but I felt like I'd conquered the world when it was finally finished (clue: it's the one I didn't sew. I don't see me becoming a keen knitter in the near future...).

1. My First Home-made Piece of Clothing
This is the first time I've tackled dress-making. I learned a lot (not least that for some skills, I could really use a class. Adding in a sleeve, you almost killed me). I'm hoping to improve my techniques, or start having any technique at all, by a class in February at the rather wonderful Clothkits.

I copied the pattern from a Finnish top that fits me really well.
And I realise this sounds utterly unfeasible, but I wore this to work in London, and met Kirstie Allsopp coming out of my building! Unfortunately I was too starstruck to mumble anything except "hello, love your craft programmes" but I was very pleased to have been wearing home-made during the encounter!

2. Marvin and his Mat
This was the year of a new sewing machine. He's orange. He's called Marvin. I love him (in a humble, respectful sort of way). He's called Marvin because he has a brain the size of a planet. Sometimes when I do something stupid with a seam, I can hear him sigh. So to appease him, I thought he should have a mat of his own. And to try and stop the pin-stabbing injuries from un-pinning while sewing, and shoving the pins into my sweater/jeans/watch strap, I thought the mat should have its own pin cushion. I cut some simple binding from the same fabric for the edges, and made the underside from felt to protect the table.

I already had the remnant of Ikea fabric, but the colours were a gift!
3. Chair and Footstool
For my birthday, I bought the chair from Ikea that pretty much everyone has in their home. I didn't like the cushions though (and I especially didn't like that the cost of the cushions was pretty much the same again as the chair). So, I had my local fabric shop cut some pieces of foam to the right size, and I made some simple box covers. I even wrestled in some zips so the covers can be washed.

The chair frame has a velcro strip on the back, so the cover has a matching strip to keep it all in place.
There wasn't quite enough fabric (bought as a remnant) so I used some linen to make up the difference.
4. Getting Organised
After all the making, and the impulse buying of fabric, throughout the year: it was crafting chaos. I had a lovely felt bucket from John Lewis that I use to chuck any "live" projects in. I tended to tuck items like knitting needles, rulers and scissors around the edges. Then they would fall over, and I would end up tipping the whole bucket onto the floor in a tantrum when I needed the pinking shears. A solution was required.

I measured out the sections based on the items I needed.
5. And finally...the end of the yarn
Sure it looks pretty but the double-pointed needles nearly made me lose my mind. By comparison, handling the pattern and the two colours was a breeze!

Reindeer and snowflakes! Once I've calmed down, I will love this hat.
So, those were some of my making highlights. Lots more plans for 2014 though, of course!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Endings and Beginnings

I like it when I sit down to make a project for someone or something specific, rather than just pootling around for my own pleasure. Of course, it adds to the pressure (and the tantrums, and lip-biting, and frantic scrubbing at any bloodspots), but generally I like it. Possibly it make the whole thing feel less self-indulgent. Who knows?

Anyway, two projects to update you about, and a hefty new addition to the kit here at Homespun Towers. Homepun Oxford started several years ago as a hook on which to hang regular tea-drinking and aspiration sessions with my dear friend H. Somehow or other we actually made a substantial amount of stock, including the ever-popular sock monkeys, and just about every type of bag or purse we could imagine (within the limits of our skills/patience). We had stalls at craft fairs - only the first one of those was outdoors. In December. We may have lacked foresight, but we learned fast! We sold things, we made friends, we had happy stitching times together. And now...for the paltry reason of a dream job and her personal happiness, she's re-locating to the other end of the country.

So, attempting to be a grown-up about the whole thing, it was time to make her a leaving present. What to make the woman who can make anything? From mosaic tiles to sponge cakes, she's a hard act to follow. I was sorely tempted to make something bearing the slogan "We hate beads". We do. With a passion. Ever since that first crafting session when we thought we'd make bead Christmas ornaments, and ended up pinging the beads all over the room for three hours. I expect the people who bought my house three years ago are still finding them. But (again attempting to be a grown-up) I thought this might not be the ideal message for her new friends, at least when they first meet her. So I settled on a cushion, because what brings comfort to a new home more than a cushion? A large bottle of gin, you say? Well, possibly, but then it's as well to have the cushion to hand when you slump over sideways anyway.

Regular readers will have spotted the application of my newly honed skills at applique, and you'll just have to trust me when I tell you there's a rather smart lapped zip in the cover too. I hope this will remind her of all the happy times, and prompt her to bring her sewing machine with her when she comes to visit.

All of which brings us neatly to the new kit. I would like to introduce you to: Marvin.
 As we all know, names have to be chosen early on, in any successful relationship between user and machine. After a few hours with the manual, I knew there could only be one name for him: Marvin. Who, as you'll be rumbling round the back corners of your brain to remember, was the robot with the "brain the size of a planet" in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (thank you Douglas Adams). He was perpetually depressed because there was no-one intelligent enough to ask him a stimulating question. I think this is probably how mine and Marvin's relationship is going to play out. But I love him.*

The first project I made with Marvin was for Katherine House Hospice. A friend of mine works there, and mentioned they have a need to toy cats. The cats are used in a semi-therapeutic way, with a very clever workbook, to help support and teach children adjust when a person they love is in the hospice. The cat needed to be stripy but I was out of striped material in my stash (improbable, given the scale of the hoard, I know) so I decided to applique on the stripes, in roughly the same position as the illustrations in the workbook. Marvin behaved beautifully, blanket-stitching away, then racing up the straights to assemble Katie the cat. Here she is at play:
Flying Katie

Katie figuring out the cat flap
Katie waiting to play
Katie's bath-time

And finally to bed...
Another clever friend of mine who knows a thing or two about children (being a headmistress) tipped me off that it would be good to fill the cat with beans, because it makes it more cuddly, and more fun to arrange in different positions. As you can see, I got a bit carried away with Katie round the house, so I would definitely do it this way again, even if I did have to vacuum twice afterwards. Hopefully Katie will soon be on her way to the hospice, to bring hugs and friendship to someone who needs her. Marvin has probably memorised how to make her, and will be running more up on his own while I'm sleeping.

*For anyone concerned, Old Faithful has been serviced and safely stored in the cupboard, for other people to play with or for me to use if Marvin sulks.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Slowing down and learning a thing or two

Almost four hours in the car yesterday were entirely worthwhile. Venturing into the wilds of, erm, Hampshire, took me to a day's course with the divine Alice and Ginny. In only six(ish) hours we covered curved seams, buttonholes, lapped zips, and machine applique. In our spare moments we finished* three projects using those skills.

* by "finished", I mean that one of mine isn't quite ready for public consumption, but I'm ready to share the other two!

First though, I want to share with you the glory of my first ever buttonhole: behold. It may be a bit scruffy round the edges, but who cares? It took three of us to persuade my sewing machine that it remembered how to do anything fancier than a straight stitch, but with some sweet talking and begging, it gave in. Only one other person in the class had a "not new" machine; I worked out mine is about 15 years old. Hers was properly vintage and rather beautiful. Everyone else had something that came with buttons that beeped, and an attachment only slightly smaller than a microwave, that not only nonchalantly whipped through a buttonhole while you made a cup of tea, it also popped the button on for you just to show off. Pah. While our lovely tutors were hard at the task of making seamstresses of us, they also showed us the Proper way to sew on a button. Life. Changing. (Nope, not telling - you'll have to go on the course!)

So, the next challenge was a lapped zip (no, apparently this does not mean a zip so slow it gets over-taken). Well, actually the next challenge was the amusement of watching eight grown women try and pretend they weren't all frantic about getting hold of their preferred pattern of fabric, instead all being terribly English and "no, no, after you, I don't mind" about it all. Utterly charming to witness. So anyway, two triumphant pieces of black and white Ikea fabric and only three broken fingernails later, we were off. It turns out zips need tacking. Lots and lots of tacking. And if you get that right, it's almost easy. Almost.

No sooner had we toasted ourselves with a delicate teacup of, well, tea, than it was on to the next project. Machine applique. I have tried this before, luckily in the privacy of my own home, so the tears and damage were kept away from others. I took a big gulp and watched the demonstration as if my life depended on it. Or the lives of others, depending on the scale of today's tantrum. 
Lesson 1: straight lines are much easier than curves. 
Lesson 2: use the hand wheel. It is your friend.

I thought hard about these two instructions, and this is what I came up with (we don't talk about how long it took to execute):

Isn't it lucky that beach huts are all straight lines?! It looks almost as pleasing from the reverse:

We had the chance to combine our applique "skills" (I only use quotation marks about my own work here; others in the group were annoyingly prodigious) and our buttonholing, with learning how to do French seams. The end result was an appliqued calico bag each. I should confess that I finished mine off at home today, but that's OK, because apparently the most important lesson I had to learn was to take my foot off the pedal and slow down!

And finally, no post is complete without a little glimpse of my companion, whether gardening or sewing or sneaking a few hours on the sofa with a book. Whenever I am sewing, this is my view (and bad luck if I want to use the tape measure!):

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Hiding Inside

It's hot again. We had a few blissful days of rain and cloud, but they were just teasing. So I am hiding inside this afternoon, waiting for it to be cool enough to go for a walk. In the meantime, a lovely crafty magazine arrived in this morning's post, so in a break with tradition, I started actually making something from it. The usual practice in this house is to turn down lots of pages as reminders to start those new projects, then file the magazine somewhere in the cupboard beside the overflowing stash of lovely fabrics. Neither will generally be touched until the recurrent hallucination that I'm a domestic goddess / there's a desperate cash shortage pre-Christmas gift season / there's a power-cut.

So, today's project - a tiny cross-stitch kit that was delivered with the magazine. When the envelope even includes the needle, it's pretty hard to get distracted. Although I did have to go and find a pair of scissors, which risked burning a whole calorie. Don't say you weren't warned.

Because if there were a letter before "A" I would be "Type Pre-A", first I had to sort out the threads. Even though there are only five colours, and the lengths are pretty short, so tangles are unlikely... That matters not. But I was too lazy to go and find the hole-punch (and exhausted after getting the scissors, naturally), so the holes here are, erm, rustic and hand-torn.

There, lovely and tidy. And it also sort of reminds me of a jelly-fish, which is a bonus.

I don't do very much cross-stitch, because it involves counting and concentrating, which makes me a very cross stitcher (some puns are too lame to resist). But this is very teeny, so I'm hoping I will get through it without encountering too much of the rage. This is how far I've got:

Usually I prefer free-hand embroidery, but this Saturday I'm heading off on a course that will introduce me to where I've been going wrong with machine embroidery. Actually, I hope it will teach me how to go right, because I think I've pretty much put the hours in and nailed the going wrong part already. Anyway, I am very excited about heading into the wilds of south-east England, trusty sewing machine strapped into the car's passenger seat, to meet the talented and sweet Alice and Ginny. If you haven't already bought their books, or booked their classes, what have you been doing? Sitting on the sofa talking about it just like me? Well, OK. But there comes a time for action, you know, and for me that time is Saturday. Yippeee! (Assuming all goes at least moderately well, I will post photos of the class and my creations. Alternatively, I will post photos of other people's creations and try not to snarl. Whichever.)

Saturday, 13 July 2013

When life gives you baby strawberries...

... you scoop them up with both hands (or more accurately, with one finger and one thumb because they're teeny and they squish easily).

They are so sweet and delicious, but there are loads of them and a fair few of them were, losing their structural integrity, shall we say. What to do? I decided to try apple and strawberry muffins:

They look pretty, and they were cake, so that's always better than no cake, but I have to say the strawberry flavour didn't survive the baking process as well as I'd hoped. But I still felt very home-makery and as though for a few brief minutes I was living off my land. Well, snacking off it.

Lots of other things in the garden are delighting in the warm weather - this is I think about day 9 of proper heat, sunshine and no rain. Did somebody move England while I was sleeping? All very strange. Anyway, it can't be a bad thing when it does this to the clematis:
This deep purple is the first thing I see when I come home each night, and it lifts my heart every time. I take no credit for it - it was planted by the couple who lived here before me, and who tended this garden right from when the house was built. It's a responsibility, but a lovely one, to continue to look after their plants. 

Lilies, yellow and orange, surprise me when they open in the darkest corners of the garden, adding spots of light. 
This paeony doesn't bloom for long before the petals are too heavy and fall, but I treasure it all the more for its short season and dense velvet furls. And now for today's special treat, spotted as I sat in the garden with my breakfast - the first water lily flower of this year: bliss. 

Whenever I'm in the garden, I have a helper. She's doing an especially good job of collecting all the soil from the base of the bean plants, and transferring it onto the hall rug and my bed. But who can resist this face? Here she's just about to try and get a death-grip on my shadow.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Looking around

I hate to do that British thing of starting off talking about the weather, but the long cold "Spring" has made all the flowers run a little late this year. A certain angle of light this evening made me realise that everything is suddenly blooming, bursting into fruit and flower; you can almost hear the leaves uncurling in the sun. It's probably no coincidence that other events today have also prompted me to look around and be grateful for what I have. I know when we're hurting then signs of life can almost seem like another insult, an unwelcome reminder of passing time, and that the cycles of the world continue regardless of our human heartbreak. But slowly, slowly, these same rhythms bring comfort and hope.

I walk down my driveway many times each day, and only today noticed all the tiny strawberry bushes by my ankles had been very busy. I picked enough to give some to my mother, who lives just down the hill, and have enough left over to adapt one of Nigella's recipes to make strawberry and lemon zest muffins. Everything I needed was in my garden or my cupboard already - am I labouring this metaphor enough yet?!

Once I got down on my knees to pick the strawberries, I couldn't resist taking more pictures, seeing the lovely plants from a new angle. Further along the driveway I've been growing David Austin's Iceberg roses. They've had a slow start (I like to think they were putting down deep roots) but some of them are having a tremendous year, and they are doing just what I'd hoped, spreading along wires and tumbling into the lavender.

My trusty swing-seat is weathering into the garden and providing me with the perfect spot for morning coffee, watching the light warm the colours, and seeing the bees climb inside the foxgloves.

And my view from the swing, as my feet brush the soft damp grass, is the statue that reminds me of the man who always rested his head on my shoulder and made the whole world alright. The way the roses and snapdragons are growing this year, they may soon wrap themselves all the way round:

The irises to the left are over now, but the water-lilies are just about to begin. And so it goes on, quietly, thankfully, even if all we have the strength to do is watch.