Saturday 27 September 2014

Weighted Pin Cushion and Scrap Bag

A friend has just got a sewing machine and completed a dress making course so for her birthday I wanted to make something to go with her new found hobby. I decided to make a weighted pin cushion with a scrap bag. It is a design that I have made once before and I love it because it is well thought out and practical, it can go on the arm of a sofa for hand sewing or next to a machine; I found the pattern for free on Sew mama sew. There is a felt patch to put your needles in to and the scrap bag can be detached. There are also divided pockets to put in scissors, seam rippers, pencils etc.

It takes three different fabrics to make but you use less than a fat quarter of each. I chose some really different Dashwood Studios fabric. My friend loves orange so I chose the 'sienna orange mushrooms' fabric with a complementary red fox and a wildwood leaves designs. I felt these complimented each other really well and if I am mixing fabrics I like to use a range of print sizes. The leaves are very busy, whilst the foxes have a larger pattern that is more spaced out and the mushrooms are a small print close together. The three fabrics also had varying amounts of colour on them with the leaves being multicoloured compared to the orange and white on the mushrooms. There was a fantastic tip in Sewn Toy Tales by Melly and Me which states that if you are matching a lot of fabric they need to have one colour in common with another piece of fabric that you are working with; she also recommends that you experiment with the size of prints.

The pattern is easy to follow with lots of useful pictures. There were two parts that I needed to get my head around - the first was how the scrap bag came together and the second was how to fold the pocket in on itself to assemble the pincushion. Overall it was straightforward. I was pleased with the result and may someday get round to making myself one!

Weighted pin cusion with scrap bag and organiser.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Hama Time (Lord)

My craft obsession really started with cards, mostly cross stitch cards. Now I tend to spend more time on the gift and less on the cards so cross stitch tends to be for when I am only sending a card, or when it is for somebody who has a sense of the work the finsihed card has taken. I find embroidered cards can be as effective but I am always looking for new ways to personalise a card in a quick and fun way. The easiest way for me to do this is to get my husband to draw a card, the other is to go a little bit retro.

I loved Hama beads as a child and often "help" my friend's little ones with theirs. When I started using pinterest a lot I found that there are a lot of patterns out there for Hama bead designs. Some of them are crazy A3 sized works of art complete with shading, but a lot are small quick projects. I had a few birthday cards to make in a short space of time as the presents had taken a little longer than planned and I decided to do a Tardis and a tree frog. Both designs matched the recipient well and both were bold and fun. They probably worked better in Hama than in cross stitch as it made them larger and stand out more.The Tardis pattern was adapted from a pinterest post and the tree frog pattern is originally from the perler website. I had great fun doing them and I believe they both brought a smile to the face of those receiving them. It can be difficult at times wanting to do it all but I think sometimes it's nice to do something a bit different even if it is a bit whimsical.

Tardis Hama Card

Tree Frog Hama Card

Monday 22 September 2014

A Bowl of Unicorns

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of patterns with phrases on them. The most common and abused has been the "Keep Calm..." signs although I don't tend to get the appeal as it seems forced and somewhere between only mildly amusing and very annoying; and certainly not worth the sewing. I have also not been inspired by the "make do and mend" adaptations. Many other saying are too saccharine sweet or cliched. Then, however, I found this fantastic pattern by Alicia Watkins on etsy. Not only did it make me smile I knew straight away who to send it to. I bought the pattern and i was very impressed with the quality and detail. The charts came in black and white and colour for a rainbow option. The instructions were clear and it had been thoughtfully laid out.

It was not the easiest piece to stitch as the unicorns are all over the place. I found it best to do a unicorn at a time even if it was just a series of legs as it kept the tension set for each unicorn. If you had just put all the stitches in a 10 stitch by 10 stitch square in and then moved on I think it would have shown and been disjointed. It was also a good way of keeping the back neat. This was important as I was using even weave so you see more through it than when using Aida.

I was really pleased with the outcome, it was bold, fun and very different.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Wedding Sampler

To go with the wedding tortoises I decided that I should also make something sensible and classy and stylish. This is where I tend to come unstuck though, as bags made out of loud fabric, slightly mad soft toys and ideas that grow and evolve to become more elaborate (to the point where I find myself embroidering a potato sack) is all normal. To try and do something minimalist is hard. I worry that there is not enough on it, that it will look bare or that I have made no effort. Thankfully those that know me know that minimal is the hardest thing for me to do and my husband was determined to keep me true to my aim.

I wanted to put together a sampler. I decided to use blackwork as it is a method of stitching that I love and it can be very stylish. I decided to move away from tradition in that I wanted to add in colour. I was eager to stick to the tartan colours and keep it with the theme. Blackwork lends itself really well to Celtic knots and that seemed perfect for a Scottish wedding. I also played a lot with the idea of blackwork thistles. The problem with this idea was that it took a lot of space to get anything that resembled a thistle. This was throwing the balance off and if I carried on with a thistle border the lettering would need to be about 10cm high. This was moving swiftly away from my ideas of "minimalist" and into the realm of "epic eyesore". So I took a step back and decided that I needed three colours of thread, writing, boarder and something for the middle. I loved the idea of a Celtic knot heart for the centre. I found a lovely design on pinterest and it seemed perfect. It was designed in cross stitch but I just used the outline in backstitch to give it a blackwork feel.

The border was a simple knotted chain which I have seen a lot and used a few times before. The lettering took my husband and I some time with graph paper and getting some inspiration from online alphabets. I chose to do the lettering in the dark green as I felt that too much black would be overpowering. The green was a good match with the tartan and I felt it helped keep to the theme. I used a pale green to mount it just to add another dimension. I also think trying to match card and thread is almost impossible so using a contrast is far better than being a couple of shades out.

I managed to keep it simple but I feel that it was stylish in the end and acted as a good contrast to the tortoise!

Wedding sampler

Friday 19 September 2014

Wedding Tortoises

For my friend's wedding I decided to make wedding Tortoises. There has been a long running joke between them about owning a tortoise to the point where a tortoise made it onto the invitations! I therefore decided that it was appropriate to make a pair of tortoises. I love making things for weddings as you get a theme and a colour range set as soon as you get the invitation. Last year I made my sister and her husband wedding mice to match their blue shabby chic theme. I used a pattern from Sewn Toy Tales by  Melly and Me. They were fun and went down really well.

The wedding mice

The pattern for my tortoises came from Mariska Vos-Bolman on her fluffels website. It was marked as an advanced pattern. I really liked the pattern and the expression on the tortoise's face. I had some experience of making soft toys mainly from 'Melly and Me' and my confidence had grown with each toy so I decided to give it a shot even though I would say I was more 'intermediate' than 'advanced'.

The pattern layout was different as you had to add in your own seam allowance. There were a lot of pattern pieces and some very new techniques to learn. By far the most difficult section was the eye as it involved making an eye socket which had to be turned in on itself leaving a good seam. The eye was made separately out of three fabric pieces and a felt pupil. The eye was then stuffed and stitched into the socket. This required precision which is even harder when sewing a circle. Getting the seams correct on the head was also difficult. Apart from these two stages the main difficulty was constructing it to hide all of the seams initially put in on the band and the base.

The fabric was easily chosen as I knew the groom's tartan and the colour of the bridesmaid dresses. I decided to use the same mottled green fabric on both of the tortoise. For the bride tortoise I used the burgundy to match the bridesmaids in the center and ivory satin backed crepe for the side panels. I decorated it using lace and seed pearls to add texture and lift the design. The ivory and peals were left over from my wedding dress which I thought made it more personal. I ordered a sample of the grooms tartan for the grooms tortoise with the co-ordinating colours for the side panels and I liked that it co-ordinated so well with the theme and colours.

Although it took a little bit of getting used to a different style and method I enjoyed the detail in the pattern and the result had a good finish. I feel it is only a matter of time before I own her new book Sew Cute to Cuddle.

The tortoise went down well with the happy couple and the biggest compliment came from the groom himself who did not realise I had made them until he spotted the tartan!

Mr and Mrs Tortoise - pattern by Mariska Vos-Bolman

Wednesday 17 September 2014

"Blast from the Past" bags.

I was organising a hen party for my friend and decided on an 80s theme and, as well as making her dress, I decided to make tote bags for the hens all with an 80s theme. This was, admittedly, a thinly veiled excuse to trawl through 80s TV reminiscing and coming up with cool icons to add to bags. I love to embroider tote bags, I think it is becasue they are practical, very easy to personalise and you can match the technique to the design. I found images online, in old colouring books or by getting my husband to draw them. I discovered that I am not very good at getting the dates right as I wanted to do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but they were 1990. I filled them with 80s sweets and neon goodies. They seemed to go down well and hopefully will get more use.

Pacman was a 'must do'. This turned out to be one of the larger designs but I loved the hint of colour and how well it fitted accross the top of the bag. 

Pacman tote bag
Smurfs were originally created and published in the 1950s but the cartoon was fully 80's and Smurfette seemed so iconic of the decade that she was also a must. I did a thin black outline and added the lines of colour to lift the design.

Smurfette tote bag

I think Danger Mouse was my favourite design, peaking with Penfold from the bottom corner of the bag. It seemed fun and cheeky and the sketch style was really fun to do. This was using a really dark grey thread. The eyepatch, glasses and nose was filled in using satin stitch.

Danger Mouse tote bag
Ghostbusters celebrated 30 years so I felt it needed a bag. This was all satin stitch with the features added in black. I think this stood out most as it is so bold.
Ghostbuster tote bag
This Walkman is a wild olive design from her old school set. The set was so fun, although I was dissapointed that I could not use the Gameboy as originally intended as that was 1990's. I love the wild olive faces and how fun the designs are, plus they were easy to buy and download. I used backstitch to do the outline.
Walkman tote bag - wild olive design

My little pony needed an outing as I remember my big sister having this exact one and being very envious. Again I used an outline but gave some extra attention to the eye as it was getting lost without it. 

My Little Pony tote bag

Tuesday 16 September 2014

I've got love for you if you were born in the 80s

My friends got married recently (hurrah) and I got to be head bridesmaid (double hurrah). This left me with the task of organising a hen weekend. After much chatting with the other hens we decided on an 80s theme. I started searching for an outfit worthy of an 80s prom and came across some issues.

1) Vintage clothing sizes are all over the place and some sellers adjust to current sizes where as some don't.
2) The price for vintage clothes is crazy when you are looking for fancy dress.
3) My friend is shorter than "average" and has boobs - something a lot of the dress do not account for!

This lead to me scratching my head as to how I could adjust a dress without showing it to her.

At this point I decided to make a dress, this would allow me to make it to fit and select the fabric I wanted and it would be truly unique. I found a fantastic McCall's "Brooke" pattern that had been released in 1983. I loved the idea of an authentic pattern.  This still left me with two problems:

1) I have never made a dress before.
2) She lives 225 miles away.

I decided that I had plenty of transferable skills from bags and toys and after a brief pep talk from my Mum I convinced myself that I could indeed make a dress.

As for the distance I decided that the solution was simply to make a mannequin of her shape. I found a fantastic tutorial on line and followed it step by step. It was very effective and after a bin bag and 3 rolls of duck tape the measurements matched my "live model". I found it sturdier than I expected and used the insides of pillows to stuff it. My only point on this is that it is best done if you know the person well as you do have to spend a lot of time touching them.

The first task was to decide on fabric. I loved the idea of a black velvet bodice as so many of the dresses that I had looked at used it and it seemed very 80's. I had thought about flocked taffeta but I was worried that the fabric would be so heavy it would pull the bodice out of shape. I needed something that was bright and light and screamed 80's so I settled on some fantastic printed chiffon with a rainbow paintbrush effect. To quote my husband "It looked like the 80s had been sick on it". It was perfect. I decided to do a bias binding strip on the layers which half came from the skipping skirt and also meant that I did not have to roll hem such light fabric.

This then came down to the actual making. The pattern itself came in 3 massive sheets and was rather daunting. I knew I had chosen tricky and indeed slippy fabric, plus I had some reservations about inserting the zip and the idea of boning petrified me. I also knew I was going to have to adjust the pattern to fit. With all this in mind and yet more advice from my Mum I decided to make the bodice out of an old sheet to get the size right. Initially I thought that I could just add or subtract a number of cms from each section evenly to get the fit. I soon realised that this was going to send it all out of shape - the front piece sat lovely but the back did not. After some alterations and tacking, and more alterations. I got to a place where I was happy. I used all the adjustments to alter the pattern and cut out the pieces of the real fabric. Oh and the lining fabric. I had never done any lining before but 'hey ho'!

With all of the pieces cut I got on to the bodice which, after making out of a  bed sheet first, came together nicely. The straps went in OK but were quite an odd shape. Inserting the boning was a bit of a pain as it has a mind of its own. It was difficult to leave the right amount of fabric to make the boning cases but it worked fine in the end. I then had the dreaded zip. With yet more advice off Mum (yes I was on the phone A LOT) I went for an invisible zip. I found a you tube tutorial and it was great. I would recommend invisible zips really highly. I liked the ease of putting it in and it gave a really good finish. I put the skirt together with no real issues except the fabric sliding and making the hem a little tricky. The tiered frills took vast amounts of fabric which slipped all over the place and was evil to cut. With some wresting I got them edged with biased binding by tucking the fabric into the fold of the binding. I put the gather stitch in by hand and spent what seemed like hours trying to pin it into place and get the gather correct. It was really difficult due to the movement of the fabric and the amount of it. At the point where it was about even I put it through the sewing machine. The first time I had not used enough pins which resulted in so much movement that it had to be unpicked. Unpicking chiffon is a thankless task as it almost ripped on more than one occasion. I made sure I got it right after that. All that was left to do was add a massive bow and a press stud. The bow was really simple to make but took an amazing amount of fabric.

I was pleased with the result, it was fun and bold and most certainly 80's. Had it been a dress I was making to wear time and time again I would have liked the waist better fitting but the bride to be had lost weight and I was nervous of making it it too tight. As far as a fancy dress piece goes it ticked all the boxes. It was also a fantastic learning curve and improved my confidence. She pulled it off well and may one day forgive me for making her wear it!

80's themed dress modelled by the "Hen"

Fair Isle Sheep

Having done the baa baa blackwork sheep card earlier in the year I was eager to have a play with the design. I have quite a few friends who collect sheep so it was a good opportunity to personalise and adapt the design. For a friend's birthday I decided I should try and make a "Fair Isle" inspired blackwork sheep. I love Fair Isle knitting and it is something I see done with ease at the craft group I attend. As somebody who can barely knit I am envious of this skill. I decided that blackwork has the consistency to give the idea of the pattern.

I realised that the sheep were a little small to get a full pattern in so instead of doing 3 and a caption as in the original design, I decided to make a big one twice the size. I simply doubled the size on some graph paper and then set to work. I wanted quite a bold colour pallet without it being too bright so I started with a burnt orange and autumnal red and took it from there. I opted for simple blackwork rows and boarders as there was not a lot of space for elaborate designs. I managed to design it so there was two rows of each pattern. This helped give the feel of repetition. and enhanced the Fair Isle "feel".

I was worried that using black against it would seem a bit harsh and dramatic so I opted for a very dark grey as not to detract from the sheeps "jumper".

"Fair Isle" Blackwork sheep.

I was really pleased with the result and thought it was a fun way to personalise a card. I loved stitching in multicoloured blackwork and I would be tempted to try more fair Isle inspired stitching in the future. I think the technique would lend itself well to stockings for Christmas cards too.

Monday 15 September 2014

Vagabond Bag

I found a bag pattern in my Simple Sewing with Lola Nova book and after the success of the skipping skirt I decided to give it a go. It is the perfect market bag as it folds away easily and I had a friend's birthday in mind as an excuse to make it. It is a simple design with one continuous piece of fabric for the outside and one piece for the inside, which in theory gives the handles a nice finish; however I chose to use a fabric with a large sheep pattern on it and therefore needed to cut two pieces so that the sheep were not upside-down on one side. This was easily changed by sewing it along where the fold line would be.

I liked the finish on the bag and it was a good size with handles that are comfortable to hold. My main issue with it was the bias binding. The bias binding is used to seal up the bottom of the bag. This does give a nice clean finish but it also means at times you are sewing through 8 layers of fabric and bias binding. This is a lot of layers and makes it harder to get a straight line. It also runs the risk of some of the fabric not being caught in the stitch. Had I been using a thinner cotton or another fabric it may have been easier to sew, but then I would worry about the strength of the bag as it needs to be practical. Overall, despite my frustrations, it looked good and seemed strong. If I did it again I may just use the bias binding for the handles and add a simple panel in the base.

Vagabond sheep bag - Lola Nova pattern

Sheep pocket in vagabond bag