Friday 27 November 2015

Two Hour Top

I came across some beautiful lightweight teal coloured jersey fabric which has metallic thread stripes punctuated with flat sequins. I really liked it and bought some, and then I also received some for my birthday, so I have plenty to use and have been looking for something to make out of it since April. I was worried about the stretch of the fabric and I wanted quite a simple design as the stripes would not work with a lot of piecing together. I came across a pattern on Pinterest and realised it would work really well, so I ignored my 'to do' list and got on with it.

Sew Different is a fantastic site and it gives well illustrated step by step instructions. The pattern is in two formats as well as providing all of the measurements to draw your own. She gives a lovely breakdown of techniques and instruction on how to alter the pattern to fit. It is all free which is a bonus, although there is a Paypal button where you can buy her a cappuccino for £2. I think this is a fantastic idea as it allows you to 'try before you buy'. I appreciate this approach as I have bought patterns in the past and really struggled with the quality and lack of instructions.

The top is a '2 Hour Top' so I got everything ready and took a photo which included a clock. It was my intention to time how long it took and do it in one sitting, however I got distracted and had a tea break when it got to the "tricky" bits.

Set up and ready to go 
I decided to draw my own pattern as it stopped me arguing with a printer and I find that by the time I have lined up all the bits of paper and stuck them together I could have just drawn it. I went with the size that the pattern was for; I normally would have gone a little bigger but the fabric has the stretch in it. It took a little while to draw because I kept checking my measurements. There are only two pattern pieces which makes life easier and once I had them drawn and cut I positioned them on my fabric. The embroidered lines helped me to line everything up and make sure that it was centred nicely. I cut the main body so that the lines were vertical and the sleeves so that the lines were horizontal. The fabric was difficult to cut due to the sequins and the stretch but for once I actually used enough pins.

Cutting the fabric
I lined up the sleeve pieces and managed to line up the embroidered lines so that the they created a nice 90 degree angle on the join between the main body and sleeve of the top. Sewing it all together was very straight forward with the only difficulty being to trim the neck at the sleeve insertion.

Join between main body and sleeve
The last bit was to do the hem, I have written about hems before in my skirt blog. It has always been something I have found difficult and this top uses a technique that I was aware of but had never used. Bias binding is sewn face down to the right side of the fabric and then tucked under and top stitched. This is a great method and I will be using it again. Following the curve at the bottom is tricky and takes a lot of pinning. I think my neck line is a little more square than the pattern but I really like it. If I made it again I think I would make it a little bit longer but this is a purely personal choice. In the end because I checked my pattern a lot and had to get my head around the hem so it took just under 2 and a half hours however if I made it again I am confident I could get it under 2 hours.

I love the site and if I can find the right fabric I will also be making the batwing top. I will be watching for new patterns and I hope she enjoys the coffee I paid for through Paypal.

Monday 16 November 2015

A Lobster for Pudsey

BBC Radio Shetland organise, co-ordinate and support Children in Need fundraisers every year which also includes a phone-in auction and I decided that it would be a nice idea to donate something. I knew that I could not compete with the big prizes, such as weekends away and wedding car hire, but I wanted to give something fun and affordable and in keeping with the spirit of Children in Need so I decided to donate my lobster hat. I thought it would appeal to both boys and girls, and more importantly their parents. I have made a lot of fleece hats now and will post a blog about them soon.

They are double lined fleece hats, designed by Mary Rasch who kindly allowed me to sell some, and they are really warm (and the lobster has ear flaps with claws on the bottom!). I contacted Radio Shetland to see if they would want it and I have to say I got the kindest response which gave me some confidence for the hats I was hoping to sell at the craft fair.

Having donated the hat and watched it appear on their Facebook page, and displayed in a shop window in Lerwick, I started to worry that it would not sell. I did not want to think that I had taken up airtime for something that did not make any money for the charity. The programme aired during the first night of the craft fair so my husband listened at home. The first update had no bids and I think he was starting to worry but by the end it had sold, and for only slightly less than my craft fair ones. I think a lot of the credit goes to the excellent publicity and use of puns during the auction ("shell out"... "in a pinch").

I am happy to have helped raise just a small amount towards their total that somebody out there enjoys the hat. I am already thinking about what they might like next year..

Sunday 8 November 2015

Craft Fair : Trading Standards

As well as all of the fun I have had making stock I have come across a few more serious aspects relating to the Craft Fair. The main three things to think about have been have been Trading Standards, copyright issues and costing. This blog looks at my experience with complying to trading standards.

I have two products that classify as 'toys' because they are aimed at babies and children under the age of 14. This means that I cannot sell them without a "CE" label and the work that goes into proving it is safe. I was told this initially by the volunteers that are running the fair, one of the many instances in which their help and guidance has been amazing. I contacted Trading Standards as advised and I had two meetings with an incredibly helpful officer. From what I have seen online the amount of advice and support varies by location and I have been really lucky with the input I received. I would advise that if anyone is considering selling toys, cosmetics or jewellery that they should be the first point of contact.

Because I am selling on a small scale I am able to put together a self-declaration file that I keep, and if needs be update, for 10 years. This blog is far from a definitive guide and I am not going to add in a lot of complicated legislation but I wanted to simply write about the things I had to think about. I found that a LOT of the things that you have to consider are common sense and I would hope that people making items for children would consider them anyway; for example I would never send a toy without pulling and tugging and shaking it for example, but the difference when doing things commercially is to be able to show that you have procedures in place.

The first toy I made my daughter had very cute little antennae and I swung it round by them just to make sure they were secure. She has now had it for almost 3 years and has never been as rough with it as I was! When looking at the legislation this comes under "forces applied". If you live elsewhere then you can go to test centres with your creations but as that is not possible up here I described how I carried out each test. I also wrote about the flammability of the fabrics I used. Thankfully all of the fabrics took quite a lot of effort to catch fire when I attempted to burn them. This was reassuring as there has been a lot in the press about flammable Halloween outfits recently.

In the past I have made juggling balls, using rice to fill them, which was fine for family, but to sell them it was suggested that I use plastic pellets designed for toy filling instead as the rice could harbour nasty bacteria if it got damp. For added strength I had already designed the juggling balls to have a double bag and in my CE report I wrote about stitch length and strength as well as how I make sure all pins have been removed. There needs to be batch traceability so I have marked these ones so I know which pellet filling they have. I do not use any stuffing but if I did it would need to be traced as well. The report also contained dimensions and descriptions of my product along with photographs. It is obviously important that the fabric is clean and the stuffing is new. I used all new fabrics, although up-cycling of fabric would be fine as long as it is adequately cleaned.

Thankfully my toys contained no mechanical or moving parts and I decided to use felt eyes so nothing could come loose. Neither would any of my toys fit into the test cylinder that is used to check if there are any choking hazards. As a parent I find it reassuring that all of these regulations are in place. I know that I check the seams on all toys and those that are made on a larger scale will also wear down with time. I have seen people claim that this is "health and safety gone mad" but I think it is just about making sure people consider all of the factors that are needed. I do, however, find it frustrating that the regulation is written in a far more convoluted way than I think it needs to be.

Monday 26 October 2015

Craft Fair: Identity Crisis

I have been awful at posting recently partly because I have been really busy making things for my first craft fair stall.

I am not sure exactly when I decided that I wanted to sell things at the Christmas Craft Fair. It was a notion that grew and took over. It is not that I am desperate to sell things, or even sure that people will buy them, but more that I really want to be a part of what the craft fair is all about.

I have been going for the last few years and it may sound clichéd but the atmosphere is amazing and I started to think that it would be fun to be a part of it. Things I make and send as gifts are always very well received and I get some lovely compliments on the things I make my daughter. This simply means one of two things; either people like them or they are all just being really nice. We will soon see! I also wanted to showcase this blog, as awful as I am at keeping my posts regular I love the thought of people reading it and the idea of somebody seeing something I have made and wanting to make it too is really quite special.

This leaves me in a very odd position that I want to use a stall to promote a blog and not use my blog to promote things to sell. I know this seems the wrong way around but it makes sense to me.

I then needed to decide what to actually sell, which I found quite tough. When making something for a specific person I can make it to fit their personality and needs, but to make for "people" in general I need to make something that appeals to a wide group of people but without it being so mainstream that you can find it in a supermarket.

I needed patterns that I could make to sell, that wouldn't take too much time and that I didn't mind making lots of. The first pattern that fitted these requirements were for children's fleece hats. These plans then grew to include things for adults and babies. I suddenly found myself with an array of things I could imagine buying as small presents and stocking fillers. This was all going well and I had fabric and a clear idea of what I needed to do.

I applied to the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association for my membership and received a form to fill out that asked what my stall would be about. It was then that I started to struggle. I was very tempted to write

"It is.. errr a mix of things that... errr make sense in my head.... I errr... well I dismissed lots of things that didn't fit with a vision that only I understand".

I did worry however that this might not help with getting people to want to see my work! So I took a step back and thought about the words I would choose to describe my products and style. That is when I realised that despite an eclectic range of products they were all held together by my fabric choices. I have opted for bright and fun fabrics. A lot of my products are quirky and different. Most of them have a fun practicality. So I deleted the "errrs" and wrote: "A fun collection of bags, gifts, accessories, toys and children’s hats using brightly coloured fleece and quirky fabrics".

It felt great to have written down where I was and where I was heading. As I said before I wanted to promote my blog and I felt I really needed a business card so this was my next mission. I knew what I didn't want from a business card more than what I did want, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money on it either as that would force me to put prices up on the things I had made. I also didn't want to have a sewing machine or needles on the card as I felt that I could possibly get mixed up with a tailor. I liked some of the button designs but they just did not sit right. Then I found a wonderfully pretty card with a simple "appliqué effect" flower and I decided that was the one I needed. On a side note the original design of the card is actually for parents to hand out their contact details to other parents! Is this a thing that really happens?!

My business card.

The result of this is I feel like I have a 'brand identity' and a hope of communicating what my crafting is all about. Now all I need is enough stock....

Thursday 6 August 2015

Quilt a Little Birdhouse For Your Soul

Sometimes when you see a pattern that you like it sits in the back of your mind until the right occasion comes up for it. Sometimes, as in this case, you see a pattern and know instantly who it must be made for. 

Batik Birdhouse Wall Hanging - design by Sue Belleli

This design was by Sue Belleli and I found it in the May 2014 issue of Australian Homespun Magazine. This is the same magazine that I got the panda puppet pattern from which shows the variety of projects that the magazine has. The original design was in bright and vivid colours and worked really well. This would be a perfect "stash busting" project as it uses so many bits and bobs. The pattern is really easy to follow, there were photos to help with putting the bird houses together, and the whole thing was divided into sections, which I find makes it easier to get my head around the steps involved. There were also some really helpful tips.

For the recipient I had in mind I really wanted it to be made from batik fabric. She loves batik fabric and she loves colour. It needed to be bright and bold and fun! The joy of using the batik fabric is that despite all of the different colours of fabric the use of the same style ties it all together, so I had no concerns about clashing textures or patterns. The downside of using batik fabric was going to be the expense. In using batiks instead of raiding my existing fabric stash I would have had to purchase all of the fabric new. In the end I used 44 different fabrics so even just buying fat quarters was going to cost a significant amount. On top of that I was then going to be left with a mountain of batik fabric to add to my stash. I did consider buying fat quarters as then I would have had a stockpile for future presents but in reality the cost and space involved in buying all that fabric was getting ridiculous.

I then started thinking about getting an assorted pack of smaller 5” by 5” squares. I could then just purchase a larger piece of black, sky blue and purple for the edge.  The problem with this idea was that 5” by 5” squares were not going to be quite big enough, although when I looked at the pattern and overall dimensions I realised that it would work if I made it slightly smaller. There is a risk that if you shrink a pattern like this then you make life a lot harder for yourself as smaller pieces can sometimes be a bit “fiddly”. It is a trade-off with quilted projects that the larger they are the more difficult they are to control in the machine, however if they are made too small the details can be difficult to sew and can get lost in the pattern. I shrunk the pattern pieces to 80% of the original size and then pieced it together. I was happy at this size that it was still a substantial piece and that I was keeping the smaller details, like the wings, at a workable size. This meant I could order a Moda dream catcher batik charm pack which contained forty-two 5" by 5" squares.

The fun then really began. It became like a giant puzzle trying to get the right shades together and making sure that I didn’t end up with purple leaves, pink birds and brown flowers. There was a lot of time spent trying to get the colour palettes right on the birdhouses. I chose more neutral tones on one and brighter shades on the other. I actually found this part really fun. With it all finally laid out I started construction of the bird houses...  and I then started unpicking the bird houses!  This was because I had completely underestimated the difference that the smallest mistake with the angles around the centre pentagon could make to the overall shape. It magnifies any error with each strip that you add, so I went back and did it again with a lot more pins. It is a common theme when things go wrong with my sewing that I tend to need to use more pins. I am aware of this fact, and it is a work in progress.

Having got the bird houses sorted I then started putting the pieces together. I ironed them on with Bondaweb. I do not have a sewing machine with blanket stitch on it so I tend to hand stitch some types of applique. I do enjoy hand stitching and I find that it is easier to match fabric to embroidery thread as there are more colours available. The blanket stitch by hand was difficult as you are sewing through quite a lot of layers of fabric as well as the Bondaweb, which can make it quite tough. I have since invested in a leather thimble to help with my hand applique! With the flowers, birds and bird houses all attached I edged it with some pretty fabric and then attached the webbing and a brushed cotton for the back. Instead of using separate binding I folded the rest of the fabric from the back and used that to bind the front as shown here.

I did some very basic light quilting as I did not want to make it look too fussy but it helped lift it further. I attached tabs to the top by hand and it was complete. I thought the size worked well despite being smaller and the batik worked well with the design, however I would happily do the project again at full size as a fabric "stash-buster"

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Penguin playset

I am always looking for ideas for projects for children. My little girl loves penguins so when I found a portable penguin play-set in Sew Quick Sew Cute by Fiona Goble I thought it would be perfect to make for Christmas. I also thought that it would be a good  thing to make for my friends little boy.

The base is an iceberg with igloo, this is constructed of two really thick pieces of felt with the top piece folded back to form the igloo, a small pool is then added.The design uses a strong zigzag around the edge with a straight stitch inside, this gives a good strong finish and looks really neat. You then make three felt penguins.  I chose to make them in 3 slightly different colours, black, grey and navy just to give variation and allow them to be named. The penguins are about 6cm high so perfect for little hands. I used a blanket stitch and a backstitch to secure the seams to make them child proof. It is a well designed pattern with a lot of helpful illustrations. The only change I made was to embroider the beak on as opposed to using felt as this was less fiddly. The step by step instructions are easy to follow. You also make 2 little fish for the pond which is a really lovely touch. These are sewn on a square of felt and then cut it out as trying to sew round something so small is rather tricky.

One of the things I like best about this design is that it is a good balance between machine sewing for strength and hand sewing for precision and detail. They were a lot of fun to make, my little girl has played with hers a lot and included other small toys in the games. They would be great for travelling as it all folds into itself and does not take a lot of space. 

Antarctic playset - design by Fiona Goble

Friday 15 May 2015

Fox Hot Water Bottle Cover

I came across this pattern in Your Handmade Home (Issue 8) at the perfect time as my sisters and I were planning a big Christmas stocking for my Mum, full of fox themed gifts. It also came at the start of my love affair with fleece as discussed in my panda puppet blog. I love the fact it is fun and bold but also really practical.

The pattern is by Vicky Craxton and is beautifully written and well laid out, the diagrams are really helpful. The appliqué is applied using a standard zigzag stitch so you do not need a machine with any fancy stitches. The appliqué pieces are all quite "chunky" which prevents it from being fiddly and difficult. It took me a while initially to work out how it all went together and twisted round. Once I had gotten my head around the fact that the bottom of the face is essentially the turning gap it made a lot more sense. I also made the mistake of putting the first ear on back to front ... It's always important to understand which way around and which way up it all goes. The other thing that required a little extra care was sewing through a lot of layers but like all fleece projects this just needs a little extra time taken.

Fox hot water bottle cover - Design by Vicky Craxton

I was really pleased with how it all came together. My Mum was pleased too, it took a while for her to realise that I had made it which is as big a compliment as I could ask for! She also said that the fleece means that it stays warm for a while after the hot water bottle has gone cold.

Monday 27 April 2015

Taggy Turtle Tutorial

I love making my Taggy owls but I felt I should branch out into different "taggy toys". I needed a toy to go with the big brother backpack for my friend's boys. I found this lovely example of a taggy turtle on Pinterest and it soon became my most re-pinned pin when I added it to the "My dream list of things to make" board. The blog did not provide a pattern or a tutorial so I made something similar. It took some head scratching to decide which way I was going to put it all together, I am not saying that I am right but it was the method that I was most comfortable with. As I started to write this blog I realised what I needed was to write a small tutorial of how I made it, that way I can explain my decisions. I was planning to make one as a gift and some for the craft fair so this is just the motivation I need. This is my first tutorial so any feedback is welcome.

My First Taggy Turtle.

The first step is to draw a template or, if like me you cannot draw them, download the free template from here. It is important to think about the size as you do not want it big enough for the baby to use as a blanket, however a bigger design will be less "fiddly" and generally easier for you to sew. Cut out your template, trace the shell and cut this out as well.

Templates ready

Next select your fabric.

On the "one I made earlier" I used blue and green spotty fabric as I thought it was fun. The shells on the ones I am planning will all be 'sea' themed.  My gift turtle is for a little girl so I am using beautiful turquoise fabric with pink and purple seahorses. I adore the fabric as although "girly" it is very different. If anybody is wondering why I choose to make girly toys instead of just unisex toys I explain it here.  You need a top shell fabric and a bottom shell fabric. The bottom shell fabric can be plain. I choose to match one colour just because a thin strip of the colour may be visible.

Fabric for my shell

The top body fabric is a soft fleece and the underside is green with spots. Young babies love contrast when it comes to colour so the white spots are perfect.

Turtle body fabric

Now it is the fun bit - choose your ribbon. I opt for slightly wider ribbon so it can't get wrapped tightly around little fingers. I like to use different textures and ribbons with bumpy patterns as I think this lifts it to being a good sensory toy. I try and mix up the colours as well. I decided on 8 pieces although you could easily add more or less.

Ribbon selection

The next step is where I did quite a lot of head scratching and had multiple options in front of me. I have written here how I decided to do it and given the other options at the bottom. I chose to make the shell out of two pieces of fabric. I pinned on the ribbons where I wanted them on the right side of the top fabric. It helps at this point to place it on the body of the turtle so you don't have them going over the head or anything. This is also where you choose the ribbon length. Remember you are going to add a seam in which will make the ribbon slightly shorter. You can cut the ribbon, but you would need to seal the end to stop it from fraying. I find this can make the end a little hard or rough so I fold my ribbon instead. As a child I loved to rub two bits of fabric together so folded ribbon is perfect for this.

Pinned ribbons

Having placed my ribbon  I then pinned the bottom shell fabric right sides together on top. This traps the ribbon in between. I used different pins to make this clear.

Pinned and ready to go.

With everything pinned in place I then sewed a seam all the way around.  This was intentional as I made a conscious decision not to leave a turning gap in the seam. The main thing at this point is to move slowly around the curves. I find if the turn is too tight I leave the needle down, lift the foot and turn the fabric. I added a zigzag stitch around the shell to improve the strength and make sure all the ribbons were secure.

Seams sewn all the way around

The next step is to trim the thread and excess ribbon and cut notches around the edge, taking care not to cut the stitches. This seems like an extra step but is really important when it comes to turning it the right way round and gives a much smoother finish. Then make a small cut in the middle of the bottom of the shell and in the middle of the top of the turtle.

Center slit put in and edges notched

Turn them both the right way out and close the turning gap using a ladder stitch. This is a method I came across using the Tilda pattern for my puffins and oystercatchers.

Center turning gap closed

Sew the shell onto the top of the turtle, this will conceal both of the closed up turning gaps. I am not a big fan of top stitch so this method suits me. I am very happy with my ladder stitch and I took it around twice in small tight stitches. There is a great guide to ladder stitch here. I have used it a few times to attach parts to soft toys and always found it to be strong.  I always give baby and children's toys a good tug and shake and stretch to see if they can handle wear and tear and I feel it is an important test; I made my daughter a caterpillar for her first birthday and the main thing I remember of the process was swinging it around by it's antenna - she has always been very gentle with it...

My ladder stitching

The final step is to add on eyes, I used small pieces of felt blanket stitched on. I purposefully do this at the end as I feel it enables you to position them better as with the panda puppet. The position of the pupil brings a surprising amount of expression. Eyes are a great chance to have a play with something like this. You could easily add eyelashes or back stitched eyebrows if you wanted.

Complete turtle

As I said before this is simply my way of putting it together and there are other options. You could make the shell the same way as I did but machine topstitch it straight on to the top of the turtle before sewing the top and the bottom of the turtle together. You would then have to pin the ribbons to the centre and remember to leave a turning gap in the turtle. I am happier doing ladder stitch than top stitching an oval and I also manage to get the stitching closer the edge of the shell this way. I also worry about pinning a ribbon too much as they can snag.

I was pleased with the result it worked really well and the ribbons had a lot of different textures and it was a lovely tactile toy.

If anybody is curious the toys head and children's drawing at the edge of the original picture is not artistic but simply the result of living with a 3 year old.

Monday 13 April 2015

Panda Puppet

Last year I started sewing with fleece, it is a fantastic and versatile fabric. I love how it doesn't fray, has a little bit of stretch to it and it is lovely and warm. I have blogs to share in the future about a hot water bottle cover and some cosy hats but today's post is about a puppet I made as a Christmas present. The gift was for one of the recipients of the taggy owl which shows just how much time flies!

I like puppets as they make fun gifts and my daughter always likes to receive them. She now uses them on her own hand and they are a great way for little ones to tell stories and use their imaginations. I like puppets with shaped heads, in the past I have made them with flat faces and they were not as effective, I found a fantastic pattern by Pauline McArthur in October's Australian Homespun magazine. I subscribed to Australian Homespun last year and found a lot of lovely projects and inspiration. I was unsure about it at first as it was an e-subscription through Zinio but I really enjoyed getting the e-mail every month. I also found that the patterns were easy to download when needed, and it means you only have to store the patterns you use. The October Issue was my favourite as it was the annual kids' special issue.

Panda Puppet - Pauline McArthur design from Australian Homespun.

The puppet design I used was for a family of puppets with their own accessories although I chose to just do one, The design is great, it is fully lined and has a padded head. It is easy to follow with loads of photographs and a really clear cutting layout. The pieces come together really well and it is easy to line up seams to give a better finish. It took me a little while to get my head around how to insert the lining and leave the gaps for fingers. The padded head works really well and helps give the face an expression. As with the puffins and oystercatchers adding the eyes after the head is padded gives a better position and finish. Having the blue eyes is a lovely feature and makes them look really friendly. I love the idea of accessorising the pandas but decided to give mine a bow tie instead of a tie or a bag. I am unsure about who liked it more, the little boy I sent it too or his parents who got to demonstrate.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Milkmaid Skirts and Pattern Matching!

For Christmas my middle niece requested a skirt - she sent me this photograph for inspiration (I am not sure where she found it). I set about searching for fabric but found this a really difficult task. There was quite a few tribal print designs in clothes shops but not a lot of fabric around. I consulted my oldest niece A LOT as to which fabric would be the best to get. After much searching and many conversations I was convinced that tribal/Aztec neon was the way forward and ordered some very bright jersey fabric. I felt the stretch would help it sit well. I was by no means a fan of the fabric but then I had to admit I am no longer a teenager!

One of the things that frustrates me when looking for shop bought skirts is that quite often the pattern on the fabric is not matched at the side seam. It is one of those things that as soon as you start to notice it then it is all you can see. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, I saw a beautifully matched Harris Tweed skirt last week that was a perfect example. I was determined to get a good pattern match at the side seam. I wanted to minimise the number of pattern pieces to make the matching more straightforward. I did a lot of reading about matching seams and the advice was to take your time and plan each piece. Making sure that each piece starts on the same row and lining up the pattern pieces is important, Thinking about where the centre of your skirt is and making sure that section of the pattern lines up is also crucial. I used greaseproof paper for the pattern so I could see through it to make sure that the fabric was straight and put the pins in the same sections of the fabric. I used a lot of pins while sewing the seams together and I made sure to pin through the same "line" of fabric pattern.

Milkmaid skirt - Design by Adrianna of Crafterhours

The pattern I used was for a "milkmaid skirt". There were a lot of features that I liked about the skirt, I liked the simplicity of having two main pieces, and I loved the pockets. The waistband is elasticated so it would not be "too fitted" to do without the recipient in front of me to fit it. I liked the attention to detail with the trimmed pockets and changing the fabric direction inside the pockets to give a contrast, The thing I liked even more than the design was the tutorial. It makes pattern drafting incredibly easy and straightforward to follow. You take your measurements and apply the formula. The measurements are then applied to colour coded diagrams. I love colour coding as I find it helps me get my head around how something goes together. I love all of the photos in the tutorial and the honesty with which she writes. I worry about waistbands on my fat too and it is nice to know I am not alone! I also love her advice on choosing fabric and leaving the cupcake fabrics for children.

Spot the seam - My first attempt at seam matching.
The cutting took a lot of time and trimming the pockets was fiddly but the rest came together really quickly. I used my double needle to hem the skirt and it gave a really good finish like the circle skirt. As bold as the neon fabric was my niece seemed pleased and it fitted well.

A few months after making it I came across a beautiful blue textured bobble fabric with an embroidered trim. I fell in love with it and was given some so I decided to make a milkmaid skirt out of it. It was a lot more subtle than the first one and slightly straighter on the hem due to the embroidery. I also had to line the skirt. It worked well and is very comfortable. I centred the embroidery on the front and back panel and matched the embroidery on the side seam. This was only possible with the horizontal pattern but kept it neat. It is a really comfortable skirt although I feel I should have pressed it more before taking photos.

 Milkmaid Skirt - Design by Adrianna of Crafterhours
The embroidery on my amazing fabric

Saturday 4 April 2015

Don't Shoot the Messenger bags...

I have two sisters, one older and one younger (and a brother, but he doesn't want any bags). We are all very different, we look different and have very different tastes and hobbies. When we were growing up it was not unusual to receive presents that were the same thing but in a different colour or pattern. This was not always appreciated but as we have become adults we have adopted this tradition. Every year we find things that are the "same but different" and send them as 'Sister presents'. This could be anything from socks to earrings, where the colour or the character fit with the personality of the sister.

Last summer I took my shiny new pattern book "Sew Cute to Carry by Melanie McNeice" (of Melly and Me fame) when I went to visit them. They both really liked the same bag and the thing was, so did I. This got me thinking that I could take the idea one step further and make a really big sister present. This also gave me an excellent excuse to make something for myself. I get told off a lot by a friend about how I make less for me than for anybody else. The bag in question is a messenger bag with a nice big flap in a feature fabric.

Sister Bags - Melly and Me Messenger bag design
As soon as I started to think it through I knew the fabric that I wanted to use. I had come across fantastic black and white TIDNY  fabric at IKEA. I have a history of stitching with IKEA fabric, My first ever bag was made out of blue and orange IKEA fabric and I love the fact that you cut your own fabric and weigh it. It is also thick, hard wearing and good quality. The TIDNY fabric looks like somebody got a big piece of fabric and had fun doodling on it. As soon as I saw it I wanted to colour parts of it in with embroidery. I decided that I wanted it to be classy as well as fun. This is not a common combination for me but that just made the challenge more fun.

Embroidered teapot of TIDNY fabric
The bag uses three fabrics, I knew I wanted the TIDNY as my flap fabric, I paired it with black to keep it simple and decided on a textured but plain coloured accent fabric for each bag. I chose a section of the TIDNY that reflected each of us and matched the colour to the design and the colours we like. For my little sister I chose a design with an owl holding an umbrella. I embroidered the umbrella using a simple satin stitch in purple and used a dark purple cord. For my big sister's wedding she had a tea party in the afternoon and everything was blue and white. I chose a section with tea pot and tea cup and stitched in blue and I used a blue cord fabric. For myself I used red textured fabric and embroidered a crab - because everybody knows crabs are cool. As well as embroidering the colours I added in the outline in black backstitch to make the animal or teapot stand out.

Embroidered crab on TIDNY fabric
The pattern itself was really interesting, I started sewing by making bags. It fascinates me how they can go together so many different ways. This design was not like Amy Butler or Kath Kidson. If you look at the design you assume that the pieces are attached to the sides of the contrast base. In reality the base is sewn over the top and tucked in with the sides. This makes it incredibly strong. The inside is well thought out with a lovely divider - I used the colour fabrics for this and a big pocket where I used more TIDNY. The pocket did not have additional embroidery but did have buildings on each one. The clasp caused me some issues as I struggled to get the cummerbund clasp in the UK. I decided to replace it with a lovely nurses belt clasp and I feel the replacement worked well.

Embroidered Umbrella on TIDNY fabric  
The book is beautifully laid out just like Sewn Toy Tales by Melly and Me, Each pattern has a difficulty rating, which is handy, and full size patterns which makes life a lot easier. The instructions are broken down into what you need, cutting, preparation and construction. This is a logical and easy layout to follow. There are loads of photos from different angles which I love as it helps me get my head around the construction. There are also a lot of helpful diagrams to keep you on track. I loved using this book and have plans for many more bags from it. My sisters seemed pleased too.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Three Very Different Owl Cards

As I have mentioned before a lot of people I know love owls and I am always on the look out for owl designs. I like to use different styles in my cards to reflect the recipient. Last year I made three very different owl cards.

The first was a lovely blackwork owl, I love the simple effectiveness of blackwork. It was a really easy design to follow. I used this kit from x-calibre designs. It only has 3 basic fill designs which prevents it from being overcrowded and fussy. The shape is lovely and makes the design quite cute. I would highly recommend this design for a beginner. I backed it on card with no other embellishments as I felt this allowed the design to be shown off.

X-calibre Designs Blackwork Owl

The second card design came as part of the free gift with The World of Cross Stitch magazine issue 216. There was a small booklet of 'luxury designs' and two medeira threads. The design was really clever as it used different thread thickness to create the shading. At first glance you assume that they use 4 threads as opposed to one strand and two strands of the two colours they give you. They also use stitch free areas well to include white in the design. I chose to sew on evenweave as I feel it gives a better finish. Once again I kept things simple when making the card up and just used an aperture card. It is a lovely design although it did take quite a bit of stitching as there is a lot of solid colour. They are all full stitches with no fractional stitches and the backstitch is only used for the tummy. The simplicity of the design and pattern combined with few colour changes make it another pattern that would be good for somebody starting out.

The World of Cross Stitch - Issue 216  - Pink and Turquoise Owl

My third owl card was made with felt and I found the pattern on a great site full of ideas and felt birds. This design was incredibly simple and took even less work than my Felt Triceretops. The feathers are only attached at the tops which gives good texture and doesn't take a lot of sewing. I opted for button eyes and I felt the shine on the buttons was nice as it made me think of seeing the flash of an owls eyes at night. The tutorial is really helpful and the pattern pieces are all there to download. The feathers were attached with a simple slip stitch in the co-ordinating colour, the face was blanket stitched on and the beak was backstitched in brown thread. I wanted it to be quite bold and used the burgundy to lift the grey and brown. I loved the co-ordination with the burgundy aperture card. 

Felt Owl using Downeast Thunder Farm Pattern

Monday 23 March 2015

Oystercatchers and Puffins

Following some dithering I decided to buy the Tilda collection . Although I only wanted 2 out of the 4 books it still seemed worth the investment for those two. They arrived and were beautifully presented in a little box with good quality paper and hard backs. The design and layout was very stylised. They are a thing of beauty. I decided I wanted to make four sets of puffins and oystercatchers. These were for birdy friends who would appreciate them for being fun and different.

I had read in reviews of the books that the small pages made photocopying the patterns difficult. This did not really bother me – enlarging them was not too difficult and it is something that I have to do a lot with patterns anyway. What did strike me was the lack of instructions. I have made quite a lot of soft toys by different designers so I am lucky that I know roughly what I am doing but I had to read the instructions a few times before starting. If somebody was new to toy making I would send them away to practice on a lot of other projects first. I would recommend Sewn Toy Tales by Melly and Me or Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman. If you were a confident sewer but had never made toys I would possibly use Google for some of the specific terms.

I didn't want to make 4 identical pairs of birds, and so I had good fun finding different black fabrics. I used some batik, some spotty and some that had a small floral pattern on them. I used white fabric with white patterns on, again in spots or flowers. I love white patterned fabric as it lifts a design and adds texture. After my initial reservations I was pleased with the design. One of the nicest  features is  that you piece fabric together before sewing, giving a good seam match. I also liked the slits for turning the wings as it was effective and easy to hide when it was all put together. Putting the bird bodies and wings together happened quite quickly. I changed the oystercatcher's eyes as the white would not show on my fabric and I wanted them to be black and orange like in real life. I had my reservations about adding in the sticks for the legs and beaks. Just stabbing wood into fabric to make a hole seemed a little unrefined although I cannot deny that it was effective. With tiny buckets filled with oasis and a pile of local pebbles and stones I glued on the bits with a hot glue gun and my oystercatchers looked good. Finishing the puffins was a harder task. 

Painting sticks was nice and easy but painting on fabric scared me. I will admit that I put it off for a while! My problem was three-fold 1) I wanted more than just an orange bill so needed to change the pattern, 2) I have no artistic skill when it comes to drawing/painting bits on and 3) I knew if I went wrong it would be "start again time". I also had a small issue with the book as it said craft paint which I initially took to mean general poster type paint. After much discussion with friends I became less sure about using this. I carried out some test pieces and found that the paint worked ok but was bleeding out a bit on the thinner fabric. In the end I decided that I needed fabric paint. After a chat with my local art shop I found out that you can add it to acrylic paint to make fabric paint. This was really useful as it allowed me to choose from a lot of colours and the left over can be used by my husband for any art projects rather than being fabric specific.

The results were really effective, like most soft toy creations they seem to get different expressions just by eye placement and small differences in seam allowance make all the difference in shape and proportions. I felt each pair worked well and the recipients were very happy - albeit one had a very confused cat!

Close up of Tilda design Puffin and Oystercatcher

Four sets of Tilda design Oystercatchers and Puffins 

Friday 20 March 2015

Sock Owls

My little sister, her best friend and my niece all love owls, they all love socks and they all have birthdays in October. My sister had shared a link to this site on Facebook so I could not resist trying it. A friend had made me a sock monkey in the past which is amazing so it was something I was tempted to have a go at and was inspired by the variety of creations.

I stocked up on nice thick socks intending to make a few different animals for a lot of different recipients. The tutorial is really well put together with a lot of photos and step by step instructions. In fact it is so well laid out that it makes them look simple, although they felt far from simple when putting them together. There is a lot of judgement in the shaping and placing of features, and there is no way of making a standard pattern as each sock will be a slightly different shape and/or size so it is logical that you translate the shapes onto your own sock. The other thing I found out is that "sock fabric" has a mind of its own. It stretches where it wants to stretch; if you use thick socks, as I did, the weave on the inside makes it hard to get the machine foot over without it snagging. Some of my owls had stripes so I used a lot of pins to match the stripes at the seam.

One of the nicest features of the design is the small weighted bag inside, made out of the end of the plain sock. This allowed the owls to "sit up" and not fall over. After a couple of attempts I got the eyebrow/ears in. At first I was too hesitant to use a  big section of the head fabric to make the ears, but I would say the main thing with this tutorial is to get stuck in and just be confident following the design. I found the wings easy to do and attach as long as the pattern was well matched on the seam. The eyes were also easy to attach but the beak was very very tricky. I used some orange t shirt fabric as I could not find any orange socks (I have since found lots of orange socks!). It took a lot of fiddling to get one side on and then a lot of stuffing and tucking to get the other side on. As the picture shows some of the beaks are more central than others, though I think this just adds to the personality! I love the way that the expressions develop while you are occupied with actually getting the beak on. You look up and all of a sudden they are done!

I was pleased with the result and everybody seemed pleased/amused by it. I would recommend the tutorial and it was good fun to make. I got quicker as I went through all three and even the beaks got easier. It is definitely correctly tagged as an "Intermediate tutorial" but worth the perseverance in the end.

My little sock owls - Craft Passion design.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Felt Triceratops

My friend's little boy turned one (even though I have no idea where the time went!). When he was born I made him a dinosaur using a Melly and Me pattern so I decided that it would be quite nice to stick to this theme when it came to his card. Also my husband and little girl are quick to remind me that "dinosaurs are cool!". I was working on quite a time consuming gift (blog to follow at some point) so I needed a simple card.

I found a lovely, and quite simple, colouring pattern here. I traced the whole picture and then traced all of the parts/features separately. I tend to use baking paper to trace as it is cheap and quite hard wearing. I then cut templates from my tracing and pinned it to the felt that matched each part. This was a really simple design so I only had three colours to work with.

If I am doing a more complicated appliqué pattern I sometimes colour in the original to make sure I am happy with the combination. With all the parts in place I simply pinned them together and blanket stitched round the base piece to secure it to my plain backing fabric. I used calico for the backing as it is hard wearing and easy to work with. I then blanket stitched on the body, head and legs. The "toes" I added with satin stitch. The eyes and horns were quite small so I used a running stitch and the nostrils were French knots. I think it is important to keep an open mind about the stitches you use in this kind of piece. Although blanket stitch gives a great finish, especially on felt, it does not work as well if it is cramped together on a small detail like the eyes. The toes were too small to use felt so the satin stitch allowed great coverage. French knots were my nemesis for a long time but after a lot of practice I managed to get consistency. I now love French knots as by altering the number of strands of thread and the number of times it is wrapped around the needles you can create a lot of variation. I used an aperture card to mount my appliqué and in the end I was very happy with my cheeky looking Triceratops.

Felt appliqué Triceratops 

Thursday 12 March 2015

Turtle Doorstop

During a conversation with my niece about her wanting an Avengers bag, and my younger sister wanting a sock owl (blogs to come) it was revealed that my big sister wanted a turtle doorstop. I decided that she should be careful what she wished for and that I would make her one. Turtles unfortunately do not really lend themselves to door stop designs. They are quite flat and the way their limbs stick out they become a trip hazard. A tortoise could almost work as a doorstop,  if you tuck the feet in a bit and add the weight to the bigger domed shell, but a turtle was not going to work.

I decided that what I needed instead was a doorstop decorated with turtles. If I am looking for a good durable fabric I tend to use calico, I find it a reasonable price and hard wearing and it is easy to work with. Initially I thought about dying it and then I realised that it was the colour of light sand. This made me decide that it would be a pretty design to put small turtles onto it as if they are making their way to the sea across the sand. I also made a conscious decision to omit any predators as that would make less of a pretty present! I used coordinating light green fabric for the sides just to add a contrast.

Before constructing my doorstop I stitched my design for my front sand-coloured panel. I drew some turtles using this guide. I then cut the whole shape out of light green mottled  fabric followed by the shell in dark green fabric. I then attached the shell using iron on interfacing. I blanket stitched the body onto the panel followed by blanket stitching on the shell. This meant that the top blanket stitch went through 3 layers of fabric. It did make it harder to stitch but also made it all more secure. I embroidered the shell details on using back stitch.

For the base of the doorstop I used a cube design that I found here, keeping the dimensions the same. I adore this tutorial; not only is it helpful with a lot of pictures but it has a very chatty style and feels personal, and it turns out I also think she is funny when she's over tired! I made a couple of small changes. Instead of Velcro I used a zip at the bottom and instead of a zip-lock bag I made two pouches to go inside; the top one was filled with stuffing and the bottom filled with rice. This made it lighter to post and means that she can still take them both out and then squish them back in after washing. I was pleased with the result - it was about as classy as a turtle doorstop could be and she seemed happy with it too.

Turtle doorstop.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Skirts of Round and Square

What is easier than making a dress? Making half a dress! What is half a dress? A skirt - Hurrah! Skirts are wonderful - they are, generally, not as fitted as a dress and after the success of the skipping skirt I decided to try some of the wonderful free patterns I found online. I was intrigued by the idea of a pattern that only requires the length of the skirt and the waist measurement. I found a simple circle skirt pattern for myself - when I was little I loved full circle skirts, there was something magical about spinning and the skirt fluttering.

I wanted a knee length circle skirt but as I am only 5ft 1" it was nice to be able to get it to sit where I wanted it to. I found a pattern on J and O fabrics through Pinterest. I chose a very pretty teal Jersey fabric as I felt it would sit nicely, and spin well, and I had drawn up the pattern, cut the fabric and attached the waistband all in under an hour. I have learnt that I get the best fit of a waistband by sewing the top of the waistband to the seam created by attaching the base of the waistband. This leaves all the stitches hidden. With a skirt put together in no time at all I was very proud of myself. Then came the hem. I have no love for hems and I spent a LOT of time trying to figure out the best way to do it from the following options;

1) A roll hem - this didn't work as the fabric stretched and rippled too much.
2) Hand sew, this didn't work because I did not have all the time in the world to sew that much hem and I struggled with the tension of the slippy fabric .
3) To do a really thick hem with the sewing machine; this didn't work as there was still stretch and it weighted it down too much.
4) Stretch needle - this helped but didn't give the best finish
 5) Twin stretch needle - this was the first time I used a twin needle. I consulted the manual and the internet and found it surprisingly easy to set up.

Getting the tension right with the twin stretch needle was another matter. I wanted the lovely zig-zag behind the two lines and I just could not get it right. In the end I played with adjusting tensions using some standard cotton fabric, instead of the jersey, and putting different colours on the needles and bobbin. This allowed me to see the problems clearly and adjust accordingly. The weave of the jersey was so tight that it was not showing up. With this issue sorted I started to sew the hem, there is a definite trick to getting it just on the fold with the zig-zag incorporating the hem but I loved the effect. It was not too heavy, and the double hem looks really neat.  It took a really long time, most of which was spent with my head in my hands, but in the end I learned a lot. If I made another I could do it a lot quicker. I am quite happy with my skirt after it all... and it turns out spinning is still fun!

Me in my circle Skirt - J&O Fabrics design

My circle skirt in a spin.

I applied the same design for my daughter using some pretty pink cotton and finished it using bias binding. I love using bias binding to finish a child's skirt after it worked with the skipping skirts. It worked really well and took no time at all. I then made a handkerchief skirt for her following a tutorial I found here. I used a basic rolled hem on the squares before attaching them. I did an enclosed waistband as opposed to the plain elastic one. I felt this gave a better finish. The points sit really nicely and it is a versatile piece as it looks fab with leggings or bare legs.

Toddler circle skirt - J&O Fabrics design

Toddler handkerchief skirt - belle bebes design

Pretty Makower Ripples sands Fabric

Thursday 5 March 2015

A Vision in Purple

As I may have mentioned I was bridesmaid for my friend; this meant that I had a beautiful dress made for me and saved me the worry of finding something to wear. I did still need to come up with something for my little girl. After making the 80s style dress for the hen I was full of confidence that I could make a simple children's dress.

I went to a lovely pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee - Sew Your Own Wardrobe book. The design  is pretty with a lined top attached to a skirt, the seam is covered with ribbon and there is a zip in the back. The instructions were clear although I got a little frustrated that there are not 'front' and 'back' views of all the garments in the book. I went shopping for fabric at Nimble Fingers in Lerwick and found some really pretty purple-shot crepe. From some angles it looks blue whereas from others it looks pink. It had a lovely weave and no stretch. The pattern used two different fabrics but I was looking for a party dress, not an everyday dress, so I used one.

Child's party dress using Sewing Bee pattern.
I cut the top of the dress with the weave running horizontal and the skirt with the weave running vertical. This only worked because there was no stretch to the fabric. This helped show the two different colours off. I had no problem with the pattern layout as I don't mind it all being colour coded on a large sheet. I did, however, have two issues with the pattern; the first was that the sizes on the pattern piece were incorrect, which was confusing, and the second was that there is no size chart for the children's garments in the book. There are men and women's charts and they explain clearly that these differ from the sizes in shops, but I had no way of knowing if the dress I was making would fit my daughter. I found this incredibly infuriating and an avoidable oversight.

The dress is lined and embellished before it is sewn together at the side seams. I did not trust myself judging the pattern by eye and I was not sure it would fit as I did not have a chart to check the measurements. I decided to put the zip in and tack the rest, I put together the basic dress with no lining and no embellishments in order to fit it. As it happened the 3 year old dress size fitted fine (she was 2 and a half at this point). I then took apart the tacking stitch and put it back together as instructed with the lining and embellishments. Even though it fitted fine I was pleased that I did it that way as there is no point in going to the effort to make something if you don't make it actually fit. I was just pleased it was for my little girl as she was there for fittings, but if I had been making it for a child who I only had the measurements for then I would have had no hope.

I know some people would say that you could make up a pattern after taking measurements but if I was that skilled I would not have got a book full of patterns. I was pleased with the way the dress came together - the most problematic part for me was getting the ribbon on straight and matching at the side. The ribbon I chose was different and quite pretty as it had sequins and silver embroidery on it. It was a bit more "bling" than normal but I felt this added a party dress feel to the outfit by being something special, and I used purple buttons on the shoulders. I loved the finishing touches and embellishments to this design and I feel this made it special.

To co-ordinate with the dress I made her a little bag. the fabric I chose was lilac with purple fairies, castles, frogs and toadstools. It was "girly" but not over the top and I loved it when I bought it a year ago. I lined the bag with some of the left over fabric from her dress and made it reversible. I found the pattern and tutorial online. It was the perfect size for a few small toys to keep her occupied during various parts of the day.

Coordinating "book tote" bag

My final piece of coordinating clothing for the wedding was a tie for my husband. I had never made a tie before but I found the process straightforward. Unlike most ties the one I made was fully lined. I used black lining left over from the hen dress to go with the purple. I found a pattern and great tutorial. The main thing was getting the grain of the fabric to line up correctly with the pattern. It also took a huge amount of fabric for something that seemed so small. The main difficulty was keeping it straight and getting a good point at the tip. I was pleased with it and would happily make more ties in the future should there ever be a need.

Our daughter was also chuffed to be matching her Daddy!

Purple Tie.

Monday 2 March 2015

Big Brother backpack

My friend announced that she was expecting a second baby and as usual I got very excited about sewing for a new baby. I then decided that I also needed to sew a big brother present for her 3 year old. I was 4 and a half when my little sister was born so I always think it is important to point out what an important job being an older sibling is and a small gift seemed a great way of doing this.

I followed a fantastic tutorial which I had used once before. When I made it last time I scaled it up for an older child which worked really well. This time I made it the size it was in the tutorial. I love the shape, practicality and finish of the bag. The main pocket and the two side pockets both have elasticated tops which make them easy to get into without any tricky clasps for little hands. The tutorial itself is fantastic - it has lots of really helpful photos at each stage and is very clear about all of the equipment you need from the start.

 It is lifted from an ordinary backpack to something a bit more special with the use of the piping round the edges. I felt this gave it a more professional finish. The one thing that I did change was the straps, as both times I made it was for a child that I did not have in front of me to measure, so I added in adjustable straps. The bag itself was very easy to put together and the only part that was a little tricky was making sure that it all went together smoothly at the top where the elastic casing went in. This was mainly because I was sewing through a lot of layers.

I used Makower pirate fish fabric that I had bought from my local fabric shop. I used both the cream and navy version as I felt it made it more fun and chose a bright orange that I had in my stash. I chose to trim the flap of the bag in red piping and sides in yellow to compliment the different fabrics. The last I heard it was full of toys and packed lunches so I think it was a hit.

Fishy Toddler backpack.