Monday 8 August 2016

Cat Dress and Rainbow Bag

I have three wedding parties this summer and I really wanted a different outfit and style for each one. People put so much effort into weddings that I wanted to reflect that and work with their themes and style. This blog is about a fun dress I made for wedding I went to. When I spoke to the bride about the plans it became clear she wanted lots of colour (but no pink) and she was aiming for a fun gathering without too much formality.

I came across the most amazing Floral Green Cat Jersey fabric by Swafing, I loved the fact that it is floral without being old fashioned or fussy. I do not normally wear green at all which made it feel different and the hidden doodle cats just made me smile. I love fabric (and jewellery) that look like one thing from a distance and another close up. I bought all of the fabric I could get, it was extra wide which gave me a lot but I realised I did not have enough to make a Kate Jersey Dress from Simpy Sew Magzine. I thought about making the  Kate top that came with the dress pattern and putting it with a skirt but I could not visualise it at all - I wanted the top but with a pair of jeans and that was not going to be good enough a wedding party.

I went through my patterns and came across the Rosie Dress by Cotton and Chalk which came with Simply Sewing Issue 17. The style of the dress and the feature waistband at the front made me think that I could mix two fabrics together. I really liked the idea of mixing a 1940s inspired pattern with a modern fabric. Also I felt a little warm and fuzzy as the bride had introduced me to the Rosie Project by Graeme Simison which is a fantastic book - although probably not an omen. For the second fabric I didn't want a plain green as I felt that might be over the top and "red and green should never be seen" - though in all honesty I can not find the origin of that saying. Pink was a no go for this wedding, I look awful in yellow and both black and white seemed too stark. The detail in the stems and some leaves is in a nice petrol blue which I thought would be a really good complimentary colour. My main concern was finding a colour that matched while shopping online - I also wanted the same weight of fabric so the bodice was not pulled out of shape by the skirt. I managed to find blue fabric the right weight on Elephant in my Handbag - this seemed like a good place to try as they had also stocked the cat fabric. I was delighted when it came through and was a perfect match. I wanted to do the band and the back of the bodice in the blue and the rest in the cat meadow fabric. I could have done the whole bodice blue but I wanted to showcase as much cat fabric as I could.

With my fabric sorted I cut out my pattern and made up a muslin/toile. I knew it would not be perfect as I was making it up in spare cotton and not jersey. I got it to fit and it was feeling good - albeit long and with a very off neckline - I put the neckline down to the fact that I had not put in the interfacing for the neck or sleeves. Happy with my fit and style I took a deep breath and cut the magical jersey. As I followed the instructions again but put the top together I realised that the reason my neckline was all over the place on the muslin was because it was sewn the wrong way with armholes creating the neckline! On the plus side I had made the massive mistake on the practice dress and not the lovely lovely fabric.

Rosie Dress made using Cotton and Chalk Pattern

The two main challenges were dealing with sewing jersey and getting a good gather. I have sewn jersey before in a milkmaid skirt, round skirt and 2 hour top and I find that using a ball point needle helps a lot. I also learned a new technique in Issue 17 of Simply Sewing which was to sew a zig zag over dental floss and then pulling one end of the floss to get a good gather. The dress came together well but was still too big as the jersey had more give than the cotton, and I had been very cautious when cutting it out. I have a bad habit of thinking it is better to cut things too big and take in than accidently cut it too small. Although this is true it means that there was little point in making the muslin and can cause issues matching the seams. I had to cut quite a bit out of the seams. The jersey had the advantage of having enough stretch that I didn't need to fit a zip.

The interfacing was a challenge to get into the neck and keep it from stretching. I managed to get the armholes finished but there was too much fabric at the back - I am not sure if this was stretched during the facing or just too big from the start, but they were at least evenly 'out', so I added in a small dart on each side. I hemmed the skirt using bias binding and it was all done.

It is a very comfy dress and it looks jut how I imagined it. It also moved well and was god to dance in. I love the fabric even more and the whole thing makes me smile.

Rainboe Clutch - origional design by Magdalena Gabrielova
Along with each dress I wanted a handbag. I had come across an amazing purse pattern in issue 64 of Mollie Makes and I realised it would not take a lot to scale it up to a clutch bag size. It was a really straightforward pattern to put together with a well written tutorial and a really quirky feel. I made a few changes (other than the size) to personalise it. Instead of rainbow stitched raindrops I used small (6mm) buttons. In the original design the lining was made using multi-coloured stripe fabric but I decided to make my own striped patchwork using fabric left over from previous projects. This made it extra special as each fabric is associated with the person I made the project for. This included the first fabric I ever bought a metre of. Getting the top flap with the umbrella edge to sit right took a bit of poking and pressing but I am really pleased with it and I can see it coming on holiday with me.

Rainbow Lining and Chain Stitch Handle.

Friday 13 May 2016

Pipsqueaks... I've never 'felt' like this before....

I received 'Pipsqueaks: Itsy-Bitsy Felt Creations to Stitch and Love' by Sally Dixon at Christmas. It was a book I had been looking into buying as I'd hoped it would help my hand stitching skills. I have enjoyed working with felt before as it does not fray, it is easy to sew and it gives a lovely finish. 16 years ago I was making felt puppets designed by a friend for a school project, I made baubles a few years ago for Christmas cards and I have used it for basic applique, but what I still hadn't done was make anything 3D and I hoped this book would help.

I instantly made a list of things to make and then found Sally as one of the designers to follow when I joined Twitter. I was very excited when she said she was looking for bloggers to join her blog tour and even more excited when I was accepted. I am very lucky to be on a list of such lovely blogs and to be able to offer a copy of Pipsqueaks as a *competition prize*. Details of the other blogs on the tour and the competition can be found below. I did receive a review copy of the ebook for taking part and would like to thank CT Publishing for providing the competition prize as well.

The other benefit of being part of the tour is that I got to talk to the lovely Sally Dixon who told me all about her Shetland connections. Her Great Great Grandparents lived in Yell and her Great Grandad was Daniel Mouat, born in Aywick, Yell, before moving to Australia (via the Glasgow police force). I have not found my connection yet but I am pretty sure I could despite the 130 year gap. Aywick has today found its place on the Shetland map for being the best stocked rural shop in Shetland - and they sell sewing supplies too! Thanks to this information I have named my little mouse "Danny O' Yell".

Danny was created especially for this post as I feel the tour deserved something a little different.... I had a lot of fun doing it and learned a lot. I have to thank my lovely patient husband for helping me set up the lighting and teaching me about the settings on my two year old camera - he also introduced me to the free Monkeyjam software to make the magic happen.

Danny O' Yell Stop Motion Mouse

The mouse was one of the more complicated projects with a surprising number of pieces - I didn't help myself either as I put it together in a slightly different order to make a better video (Sorry Sally...). I adore the whiskers and that fantastic little jacket is an inspired way to add arms without creating complicated and potentially messy joins. The shape of the head is also very clever. I think I made his arms a bit long (again working with the video) but his namesake Daniel was known for weight lifting in Glasgow so I will just pretend it is intentional - felt does stretch after all.

My first project from the book were these the elephants - I just made the biggest size for three little girls in their favourite colours. I think the beauty of the patterns is that they have so much detail despite their size. I love the little hearts on the back and the use of some patterned cotton to make the ears. The gusset inserted in the underside allows them to stand and gave me my first fully 3D felt project. I did not have any ribbon small enough so I finger crocheted some co-ordinating embroidery thread for the tails which worked well as it gave a little tassel at the end. They went down very well and I got requests for more.

Three Elephants For Three Little Ladies

As the book was a gift from my Mum I decided to make her something out of it. For reasons I am not entirely sure of I decided it was a great idea to make the Duck billed platypus for her Mother's Day card. It was fun and different and probably not what she expected (although after years of my crafting creations she is hard to shock!) The design for the platypus is inspired and the way the feet are inserted is very clever. I did not make the sleeping bag for this one but I am sure I will in the future.

Duck Billed Platypus

I had gained the confidence to experiment a little and add to the designs. My niece loves dogs so I decided to make her the two brooches out of the book. I then decided to add my own little Scotty dog design using the same process. Again the detail makes it, as I had not considered using little hearts to cover my badge backs. I love the expressions that form as you sew a face - it is always as much of a surprise to me as it is to the recipient. It made a really fun card and I hope that my niece has found places for all of the brooches. I will attempt a husky next (watch this space!).

Dachshund brooch
Scottie Dog Brooch
Bull Terrier Brooch

I couldn't resist making some of the earrings, as the smallest projects in the book it seemed like a challenge I should embrace and I love them. They are so much fun and have a lot of detail - I sat for most of an evening beading and embroidering pips, criss-cross waffle patterns and ice cream sauce. If I am honest I had to re-do a waffle cone and cut another strawberry top but with pieces so small it really doesn't matter. I spent the following evening at the craft group I go to entertaining the lovely ladies with my tiny projects. They are fun, colourful and hopefully popular accessories - my only regret is that I haven't get round to making myself a pair yet.

Utterly Pipsqueaks earings

The book is beautifully laid out, it has detailed information on felt selection and technique and an array of wonderful little projects. They do not take a long time to make and can be done in an evening with a big mug of tea (optional). They can take quite a bit of concentration but that is all part of the fun. The steps have clear photos and well written instructions. Each project has different challenges from gusset insertion to cutting tiny pieces which adds to the variety in the book. It is a fantastic way to explore hand sewing as it takes very little investment. Even if you did not have a well stocked craft room, or even a craft room at all (!?), then a multi pack of felt, thread and beads with a sharp pair of scissors would get you quite far. If I was using this book for an older child I would be tempted to enlarge the patterns slightly as suggested.

Here are the scheduled blog stops for the tour:

11 th May 2016: C&T Publishing (Concord, California, U.S.A.)

11 th May 2016: We Bloom Here - Margaret Bloom (San Francisco Bay, California, U.S.A.)

12 th May 2016: My Handmade Adventure - Karen Wasson (Melbourne, Australia)

13 th May 2016: 60 Degrees of Inspiration - Joanne Riley (Shetland Isles, Scotland, UK):

14 th May 2016: Buttonsy - Anna Day (London, England, UK)

15 th May 2016: Madeit (Lennox Head, Australia)

16 th May 2016: Sally Dixon Creations - Sally Dixon (Adelaide, Australia)

To enter the competition just leave me a comment on this blog post and a winner will be selected at random on the 23rd May 2016. You can enter on each stop of the blog tour so it is worth visiting all of the other blogs too. If you are in America you will receive a paper copy of the book, if you live elsewhere then it will be an e-book.

Happy stitching


Thursday 14 April 2016

A New Meaning to One Directional Print.

I have read quite a few sewing blogs written by people that are happy with their size and shape and that is great. I however am less happy with mine and I can change that and I am working on that but I appreciate it will take time. This blog is about making something pretty with beautiful fabric to boost my own confidence when wearing it and that being ok too. I feel that making a few fun pieces that could be adjusted in the future as I change shape would be a good thing to do. It also allows me to learn more about alterations. Although I accept that I wont look the way I want to in them, I hope it still beats badly fitted jeans and over sized jumpers.

I have dabbled with making clothes in the past I started with transforming a tee shirt and then moved to making  skirts, a dress for my daughter and a fancy dress outfit for my friend. I liked the idea of a shift dress, something simple, not too challenging that can show off nice fabric. I got a free pattern with issue thirteen of Simply Sewing magazine. It was just what I was looking for, it has no zip or fasteners and just two darts to fit it. It is a really versatile pattern and can be used with a lot of different fabrics. In terms of the fabric I was looking for something light weight. I started looking for a pretty silk and came across an online shop that sells vintage saris from India. I loved the idea of sewing with sari fabric - it is light and there were some stunning colours and patterns. Although second hand, the shop started that any imperfections would be advertised. It was also not very expensive which gave me the confidence to have a play with the pattern. I could not decide between two designs so I the end I chose both. One purple and blue, the second green and peach. This gave me 7 yards of each beautiful fabric at a good price. It arrived in under 2 weeks and was perfectly packaged. I opened it to find it was even prettier than the photographs online. A sari tends to have one end with a more elaborate patterned section and then a slightly simpler pattern for the rest. I chose to cut the front out of the complicated pattern section and the simpler pattern on the back. I have a lot of the simpler pattern fabric left so I am planning more projects with that.

As pointed out on the shop I bought it from if it is held up to the light it is slightly opaque, so I decided that I would need to line it. This meant that the pattern I had would need to be changed. I looked up a lot of different ways to line a shift dress and the one that made most sense came from this excellent tutorial. I think this is because a colour coded picture tutorial is a good way to explain things and that the turning out reminds me of bag making.

Practise fabric
Although my beautiful sari was not expensive it is one of a kind and would be practically impossible to replace so I had similar cutting anxiety as with spoonflower fabric. I was eager to get the dress fitted and size sorted using practise fabric. A lot of people use muslin for this, my Mum always used an old sheet or whatever was to hand. I went in search or the cheapest thinnest fabric I could find and ended up with a One Direction bed spread. It worked really well although if I am honest it was very distracting wearing a giant head....

The pattern was easy to follow and all of the pieces clear. I measured myself and found my bust to be one size and my hips another which is not unusual so I went for the larger size accepting that  would need to adjust. I had to divide the back section into two as it meant that I could use the lining method I liked and, more importantly, understood. I found the mock dress far too big so I cut it again the size smaller and then gradually took in the sides. It was starting to look better, however the back was not sitting right so I took some off the back seam that I had inserted for the lining process. This helped it sit better. In the end I was making a dress 3 sizes smaller than the measurements indicated.

Mock dress making

Despite the pattern being taken in significantly the darts were sitting where I wanted them to. I didn't want to cut the pattern smaller and move the darts. I decided to put it together in an unconventional way but one that made sense to me. I made the dress the same as my pattern had been cut and put the darts in the same place - I then took it in the same amount as the mock up. This worked well. I liked the lining process and had no issues with it. I also liked the finish it gave the neck and arm holes.

My Sari shift dress

The dress making itself came together quickly with just the hem to put in. I decided to use the same hem method I have used in my 2 hour top. I hemmed the dress itself with no problems, I hemmed the lining with fun spotty bias binding only to realise the binding was facing out towards the dress and not in towards my legs. I contemplated unpicking it but decided not to as it was fun and I liked "flashing my binding".

Cheeky spotty bias binding on lining
Overall I was pleased with my dress I love the colours and the simple design really allowed me to show off the design on the fabric. The pattern did need taking in a lot, however, and I worry if you were inexperienced and starting on the smallest size it would be difficult to keep taking in. I have worn it twice so far, once with purple heels for a night out and the other with thick tights and ankle boots for lunch. I love that it is versatile in that respect. It is fun and comfortable and I am pleased I decided not to hold off any longer.

Showing off  my sleeves - and my concentrating face...
A casual approach to my sari dress

Thursday 7 April 2016

Trials and tribulations of playing Easter Bunny

For Christmas I got A year in crafts 52 seasonal projects by Clare Youngs this is a beautiful hard back, ring bound book, packed full of lovely ideas, some of which went straight onto my "to do list" and others made me keep an eye out for supplies. The book is essentially divided into seasons with a really handy pocket for each section so you can add your own ideas or inspiration, which is a really lovely touch. Although season-led it doesn't rely too heavily on religious holidays and merely takes the essence of the time of year.  On my first look through I instantly fell in love with the bunny bag. It is such a simple yet effective design, I was drawn to the embroidery on the face and the fact there was no elaborate clasps or fastening . I like Easter gifts, nobody expects an Easter gift so it does not carry the pressure of a Christmas gift. I adore spring with the days getting lighter and for me my sewing took off with surprise Easter gifts. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of using it to make an Easter themed goodie bag that could be personalised with the lining fabric. In all honesty I could have made one for every child in the village but I decided to stick to the children whose parents knew me well enough to know that this is not an 'out of character' thing to do... I had 13 children on my list, which did not seem like a good number, so I added in my friend as well.

Bunny bags with embroidered faces and pom pom tails.

I had a look through the instructions, which seemed straight forward, and then found the pattern in the back of the book. I enlarged the pattern by 400%. Some people get annoyed at having to photocopy patterns but I don't mind it and our library is really helpful for that kind of thing. I used calico for the outsides which I enjoy working with so I pressed it and cut out 14 bunny bag fronts. I traced the eyes and nose using a light pencil and embroidered them on. In the book she uses red but I chose to go with dark grey for the eyes and pink for the noses. I also chose to use back stitch instead of slip stitch as I personally prefer the cleaner line you get with backstitch. I then got to match the lining fabric with the recipient, I loved sorting through my fabric stash for this. Some were obvious, I had a really soft blue fabric for the youngest as it turned the bag into a more sensory toy and I used pretty and more abstract fabric for the older ones; my daughter got Paw Patrol fabric and I had some amazing DC Comics fabric. Soon I had a pile of different fabrics reflecting favourite colours, personalities or popular cartoon characters and I then cut out 14 bunny bag linings.

Fun lining fabric
The following step was the dreaded 'pressing' so out came my iron. By this stage I was very much in mass production mode so I sewed the top seam on all of them, clipped my seams and turned the ears. This is when things started to go wrong... I read through the instructions again and my pattern did not match the diagram in the book at all. It was straight at the bottom in the book and had notches in the pattern. I went back to the pattern and I had copied and cut it correctly (I have no idea how I would not have done so, but I checked all the same). At this point I was feeling very stressed and, in all honesty, a bit frantic. I was mostly annoyed at myself; How had I not noticed? Why didn't I make a mock up first? - at what point did I get cocky enough to jump into making 14 of anything, especially with hand embroidery?.... I was annoyed because in my head the pattern had made sense and I felt it was right and I could not sew it together despite a few panicked efforts. At this point I didn't think things could get much worse so I cut a giant chunk of the bottom to straighten it up. I then followed the instructions. Unsurprisingly this looked awful as all of the dimensions were wrong. I had angry, frustrated tears in my eyes as I unpicked the latest mess, and as I looked at it I began to laugh... It looked just like the pattern I had cut. What appears to have happened in the book is that the process was written as the original was made up, but then the pattern was made up by taking the finished bag apart. There is a stage where you fold sew and cut. If you follow the cut pattern you just fold and sew...... A few hours later over a nice cup of tea I realised it was familiar when I started as it was a lot like a Cath Kidston bag I made a few years ago. With this sorted I cut and embroidered a new front and salvaged the lining piece and put it back together.

Having figured this out I made up the 14 bags quickly and turned them the right way out, I closed the turning gaps and they looked good. I did feel they needed little tails so I decided to make pom poms. In the past I have always used the cardboard rings method but I decided to try using a fork. It took a few attempts to get them tight enough, and some extra trimming, but they looked fun. Twelve of the recipients were aged between 3-10 but one is just 1 so I was very aware that the pom pom tail would probably get shredded and bits of wool may get eaten so instead of a pom pom I made a fleece tail, using a strip of fleece with slits in either side which is then rolled up. This was a lot more secure and ''one year old friendly''.
Fleece tail for smaller child

I didn't want to send other peoples children lots of chocolate as it seemed irresponsible so for the 12 over 3's I put together colour your own book marks, chicks, scratch Easter magnets, a chick bouncy ball and a little bit of chocolate. The craft bits came from Baker Ross.  For the over 30 year old it was just chocolate and the one year old got a wow toy and a little bit of white chocolate. I popped them into bags and my husband added some balloon modelled bunnies for good measure. My daughter loved helping deliver them to her friends and she was then very excited to come home and find one of her own.
Filled with Easter goodies

I made a lot of mistakes during this, I should have compared my pattern and the diagrams in the instructions, I should have made up a test using scrap and when it all want wrong and I should have walked away, drank some tea and thought it through. The information I needed was in my memory I was just too stressed to figure it out. It is also a fault in the book and I am sure others could be caught out by it too. Despite all of the drama - I love the bags, had a lot of fun making them and they seemed well received. I like the fact despite being Easter gifts they can be used all year round and like the idea of them holding hair bobbles, toy cars or, most likely, in our house stones and shells.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Purple presents

This blog is about the gifts I have been making for my daughter. I love making things for children and I always like to include something handmade with my little girls presents. In the past I have made her a quilt with mini blanket and a caterpillar and a cooker. The quilt and blanket are loved and the caterpillar gets an occasional hug. She is often very enthusiastic about the things I make but she seems to think they take a few minutes when she goes to bed. She will see me looking at a pattern book and a couple of days later it is there. She once told me that she thought other Mummies spent a lot of time buying presents whereas I "just" make them.

I made toys for other children in the lead up to Christmas, I was hoping that she would fall in love with something and I could just make her one of those.... The problem was that she didn't fall in love with any of the things I made. She gave them all a little hug and helped me wrap them. I like to think that this is because they were already for somebody else in her mind. The alternative is that no child will love them and I couldn't think like that! I was stuck for ideas and getting increasingly frustrated then I remembered the thing that she had been commenting on over and over again.

My daughter loves Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child (spoiler warning) and one of them is all about looking after a dog. The dog gets lost and when they find it they find two identical dogs. In the end they are told you can identify the correct dog by the tag on his collar. One of my daughters favourite toys is a dog with no collar. Every time we read the book she mentions this (about 30 times) so I realised all I needed to do was make a collar for the dog.

I took the measurements and played about with the design in my head. I could make a tube out of fleece (yes I love fleece) and top-stitch it or I could use cotton fabric and interfacing to keep its shape? How to make the ends neat and what kind of fastening mechanism were also causing me problems. Her favourite colour is purple, I decided to use left over faux leather from covering our dining chairs. I was worried that it would be too thick to sew right sides together and turn but I was not sure about the white underside showing, I then realised I was over thinking the whole thing. I took two strips of the faux leather and sewed it together using a small white top stitch which tied in the white that was showing making it look intentional. I crimped the ends using crimping shears and I added poppers using my Kam popper tool. I cut two circles of felt and hand stitched "Kindle" (the dogs name...) on one circle. I blanket stitched the felt circles together and attached it to a stitch in the collar. It was simple but looked rather effective and I was quite pleased.

I felt a pang of guilt that other children had more complicated and elaborate toys made by me while my little girl had upholstery scraps. My husband was chuffed with it and assured me it would be fine. I got on with the rest of the Christmas preparation and I had just turned the craft room into the spare room when my daughter handed me a bit of paper. I asked what she had drawn and she said "a hippo I thought you could make it one day". I will be honest, I was tempted to get the machine out and sew through the night keeping our visitor awake but it did not seem very festive. On Christmas morning amongst the gifts sent from friends and relatives - she opened the little parcel and gave the biggest grin. She went to show Kindle and they played in the hall together. Admittedly she never actually told me she liked it but she did tell me Kindle loved it. It felt like such a risk at the time but children don't see the time taken or the cost of fabric they just see something they love or something that is forgettable. It was an important lesson in keeping it simple.

Toy dog collar

Unsurprisingly though for her birthday I made her a hippo. I made it using a pattern from Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman. I adore her designs and I used them for Mollie and the Wedding Tortoise. The diagrams and descriptions as always are really clear. One of the best things is that she shows the finished toy from all angles so you know what all of the parts have to look like.

I chose to make it using purple fleece, obviously! I have now made enough toys to see where I feel the pattern will be challenging. I knew that I would have to be careful with the darts in the body in order to get a good shape and I was a little concerned about inserting the feet as it looked tricky. The darts went in with no problem and the construction was fine. I found that the feet were as tricky as I imagined, sewing one half and then the other is a great tip, as otherwise I would have probably tried to do it as a continuous circle which would have made it more difficult to move the bulk of the fabric around the machine.

To make the hippo you construct the body and the head separately and then put them together, I was really nervous about putting the two together as I had visions of mismatched seams but it actually came together perfectly and I was pleased that the seams lined up. It says in the book that she is a rather large hippo and I would second that, it took a bag and a half of toy stuffing to fill her. I will admit it felt slightly odd to spend my Sunday evening with my hand stuck up a purple hippo's bum. I decided to use fleece eyes and add on small buttons for the pupils. As she gets older my daughter is increasingly fascinated by my button box and certainly has her favourites and she noticed them quite quickly and was excited about them. The hippo has proven to be very popular and is so big that half of the time my daughter uses it as a cushion. It is definitly more loved than the caterpillar I made for her first birthday.

Hippo - design by Mariska Vos- Bolman

Friday 19 February 2016

How I do "it"?

I am hoping that this post is not as egotistical as it sounds. I get asked the question "How do you find the time/ How do you do it?" a lot. It was the most frequent comment at the craft fair and it got me thinking. There are quite a few ways to take the question so I have tried to look at it from all approaches. I am busy, and I do feel busy, as I work full time and have a little girl so craft time gets arranged mostly in the evening as a time to relax.

The most important thing is "wanting" to do it and this is the key. I find the time because I enjoy it and I love seeing people appreciating things I have made. When I think about it I realise that I am actually doing no more than those people who ask me how I do it. I am just really lucky that I get to show off a pile of stock on a fun display, or photograph an "army" of turtle egg cosies. If, at craft fair time, everybody that I know had stalls of how they spend their spare time then I know I would be amazed at the mountains of books read, the miles ran, the music learned (and perfected), the baking done and the food made, as well as broods of Children raised and well loved pets. I never know how to respond to the  "How do you do it?" question because my answer is normally I just do it because it is fun . It is flattering to be asked but I never feel like "it" is anything special because everybody has an "it". I hope that most people are lucky enough to have found one they love as much as I love mine.

To answer the question in a more practical way when it comes to getting things done I find three things have been helpful:

First of all I do not do it alone, I have my Mum on speed-dial for advice, I have fantastic friends , the local makkin and yakkin group and my husband is incredibly understanding and supportive of the things I feel I "need" to do. It sounds cliché that we do things as a team but it is true.

Secondly sometimes I just don't get things done. My blog posts can be sporadic and I phone people sometimes to tell them gifts will be late or that cards will be bought. It has taken a long time and some effort to accept that this is okay. I am terrible at finishing projects for myself, I still have a quilt to finish, and I have a friend that threatened not to accept gifts until I made something for myself. Sometimes we just get ill or caught up in something else and cannot do the things that we planned to. I am slowly learning to not be too tough on myself which is easily the most difficult part.

The third part is planning, I write lists and have 'post it' notes everywhere. I break each project down into smaller tasks and tick them off as I go. If I write something down I no longer have to worry about it as I know it will be there when I go back. This helps me keep track of where I am. I also try and schedule in a catch up day where I can finish things. This is helpful if I have underestimated how long they will take or had to unpick seams. This is really important when I have Christmas presents or craft fair stock to make as I am producing quite a large volume.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

From dining chair to play cooker...

The idea for my daughters third birthday present came in the form of a Facebook share from a friend who had spotted a kitchen chair cover on "the artful parent" Facebook page. It was a link to a German product. I used the picture to design my own as I could not find a pattern and I wanted it to fit my chairs. We don't really have space for a full kitchen play-set but my daughter was playing with her pans more and more so it seemed like the perfect idea. I have outlined the way I went about making it, it is very dependent on the chairs you have so I have not provided measurements and the number and position of pockets is optional as is the opening of the oven and the way you finish it off. It is such an easy project to personalise and there is nothing too complicated in terms of sewing as long as you measure well take your time.

Step One : Measurements, cutting and fabric.

I measured the seat of my chair A-B, B-D, D-C, C-A, I measured from the seat to the top of the back rest A-E, E-F, F-B, B-A, from the top of the backrest to the floor E-F,F-H, H-G, G-E. I then added up the measurements from the front of the seat A-C+ C-D + D-B to get the width for the bottom of the chair below the seat and measured  B-J for the length.. I added 2cm onto all of the measurements for seam allowance. I cut all of the pieces out of calico. Calico is a really good fabric to use for this sort of thing as it is hard wearing and versatile and also not very expensive.

My little girl has always liked ladybirds so I decided to use ladybird fabric and ladybird print fabric to add on the contrasting details. I wanted it to be bright and fun and vibrant. I used some spare red fabric as well. Pocket one is measured A-B with double the height I needed it to be and pocket two was designed as a strip that goes part way across again double the height I wanted it. Pockets three and four are the length of A-C/B-D and twice the height I  wanted them to be when finished. I cut 4 circles out black fleece, fleece is fantastic as it is inexpensive and wont fray. To get the right size I used card circles of different sizes until the spacing looked correct. Tea plates/saucers would work instead of card.

Pattern plan for cooker chair cover, red is for the contrast fabric.

With all of my pieces cut out I set about putting it together.

Cooker chair cover
Step Two: Contrast pockets: 

I folded pocket one right sides together along the horizontal edge, I then stitched the two vertical sides together and turned the right way round. I top stitched the folded edge. I then pinned it to the base of the seat back (A-B). I decided to divide it into two pockets - I marked these out and stitched them in. I then stitched the edges on. I left the bottom with a raw edge. I then folded pocket two along the horizontal edge with the right sides together and sewed one long and one short edge to make a tube, I turned the tube and folded the raw edges in hand sewing the gap closed. I chose to divide the pockets into 6 so that her utensil handles would fit into them. I then made pockets three and four, again I folded on the horizontal with right sides together and stitched the short seams. I positioned them on the bottom of the chair section lined up with I on one side and J on the other. I decided to divide these into 3 pockets for general storage and play.

Step Three: Hobs and oven:

Cooker chair cover with open oven door.
I pinned the fleece hobs onto the seat piece making sure that I had left plenty of space around the edge to join the pieces together and for the buttons. The next step is to make the oven - my dining chars have legs and space under the chair so I made a oven door that opens so she could put things in the space below. If you have a solid chair this would be pointless and you could just stitch the door on without cutting a hole. I cut two "oven door" squares and attached a strip of Velcro to the right side of one piece. I then stitched the two pieces right sides together leaving a small turning gap. I turned it the right way round and ladder stitched the gap closed. I decided to make the door out of plain red fabric as I did not have enough ladybird although it looks intentional. I edged it with black bias binding to give it a good contrast. I then cut out a square 4 cm smaller than the "oven door". I trimmed the hole with red bias binding and attached the opposite strip of Velcro above the hole. I stuck the Velcro together and pinned the sides in place, I then stitched the base of the door on over the bias binding using a small strong zig zag.

Step Four: Construction:

 I started by pinning A - B on the seat to A - B on the seat back with right sides together. I then stitched this seam making sure the raw edges of the pockets were trapped between the pieces. I  pinned E-F and F-E  right sides together and stitched this seam. I then pinned the bottom of the chair onto the seat with right sides together matching A to A right round to B. This is the trickiest part I found and take time to get the curve correct. I then stitched along and the cooker was constructed. I put it on the chair at this point to make sure I was happy with the fit, seam adjustments or trimming the edges could still be done here.

Step Five: Edging:

In the original picture there appeared to just be an over-locked seam. I decided to use bias binding, I have loved using bias binding since the skipping skirts and I felt it gave the opportunity to add another level of co-ordination. I ironed the bias binding in half and pinned it to the edges and then top stitched it. The amount of bias binding is a lot and will depend on your chair. If you want to calculate it then it will be J-B + B-F + E-G + G-H + H-F + E-A + A-I + I-J or simply measure round it with a tape measure. I added 4 large black buttons with red thread for the cooker knobs. I placed these on the seat in front of the hobs but they could easily go on the front just above the oven. I then added two ties made out of cotton ribbon on each side at position A and B and then in line with the top of pocket one. If you didn't want it to tie on then you could sew the back panel to the front panel and B-J and A-I of the bottom section. This would mean just hemming or adding biased binding round G-H-I-J. I decided to tie mine as it will just on other chairs just not quite as well.  After checking the oven door worked and it fit well I had one last look over the top stitching and I was happy it was done.

It really is convenient and fun, she has had many hours playing with it and I am really pleased with how the fabrics worked together. It has a lot of scope for adaptation with different colours or pocket arrangements and could work on most chairs.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Sock Penguins

Having completed the challenge of the sock owls, I had plenty of enthusiasm (and socks) to try the sock penguins. I decided to make the penguins for three sisters, as with my own sisters I made them using the same template but with differences to make them unique. I found the tutorials on Craft Passion as I had with the owls. I adore this site, the photos are really helpful and the descriptions very clear.  I loved making the feet, it was such a simple method to make them look webbed as well as giving a good base.

Sock Penguins

Once again the challenge came in matching the stripes on the socks and trying to get the faces to look right. The stripes took a lot of pinning on both the body and the flippers to get a pattern match.I found the faces shape very challenging, I used thin white socks, which in hindsight were more difficult than the thick socks as they moved more when I was trying to pin them. Despite being difficult to handle the white socks worked really well when padded lightly for the tummies. The beaks were easier to make than with the owls as they were a simple cone shape. I would be tempted to use felt in the future to get more detail in the eyes. As with many toys I make the expression comes as I sew the face which resulted in a slightly evil/stern looking penguin in a red scarf and a blue scarfed penguin with a larger forehead. The weighted bag inside was a great touch as it helps them sit nicely.

I had been working on arm knitted scarves as gifts so I decided to take it a step further and finger knitted the scarf using this tutorial. This is really simple to do but I felt that the wool gave a good finish.

Monday 18 January 2016

Gimmie a M A S C O T

I was trying to think of an idea for my niece's 13th Birthday. I find this a difficult age to make things for. I had made her brother a ninja and her sister a husky so I was eager to go down the "soft toy with a twist" route. When she was little I bought her a fairy rag doll called Mary. At that point I would never have dreamed of sewing things like this for her, but I wanted something reminiscent of Mary, but personal and a bit different, and it needed to be quirky enough for her to like it.

For the past couple of years she has been part of a cheer and dance group based in the Midlands called ACES. She seems to be loving the mix of dance and gymnastics and is having a lot of fun with the group. I remembered seeing a photo of their mascot Molly and started wondering if I could make a mini Mollie. I realised I had a pattern in Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman (Fluffels) that I could possibly adjust to make it look like Mollie. I loved making the tortoise by Mariska Vos-Bolman  and I was eager to make something out of this book.

                 Mollie the Aces Mascot
Mini Mollie - design modified from "Sew cute to cuddle" 

The pattern to make the doll is really well laid out and explained. The book has full size pattern pages to trace which is helpful and it is beautifully illustrated. As with the Melly and Me toys I used felt as I find it gives a lovely finish and comes in bright solid colours. I changed the dress colours which was easy and then all I needed to do was make the hair bigger and change the facial features. I found the doll easier to put together than the wedding Tortoise. The most complicated bits were as a result of my modifications. By making the bunches much bigger they are far more difficult to fit inside the head to sew it up which resulted in me ladder stitching part of the head closed. The face took quite a lot of time and rearranging as even the slightest change and it all looked 'wrong'. Mollie has very distinctive eyes ( I started to refer to them as "Pacman eyes" by the end of it).  There was a lot of pinning before I was happy enough to sew it, I layered the complicated eyes using felt. I was very pleased with the bows in her hair as they are made in the way that real "cheer bows" are.

Although she looks unusual without the context behind her design I was pleased with the outcome, I think next to Mollie she looks how I was hoping she would. My niece certainly knew who she was when she opened her which I was really happy about. I now have more characters from the book planned including some with more modifications.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

For the Love of Spoonflower - Avengers and Oystercatchers

I find it challenging to come up with new and different ideas for gifts. This means that I am always open for requests. The requests are normally for a particular design or function, but unusually this request from my niece was for a specific fabric. The fabric she had found was perfect for her, it contained her favourite colours and was based on "The Avengers". She found the fabric on spoonflower. I love using spoonflower it is a fantastic website which allows designers and artists to post their designs and if enough people are interested in it then it can be printed. When my niece found the fabric it had not yet made it into production but it was obviously popular as within a month you could order it. One of the downsides of using spoonflower is that it is an American site so delivery does take longer than UK sites or local shops. I find that I only use it when I am being VERY organised. They do sometimes have 'Free Delivery' offers so if you are keeping your eye on something you can get a deal that way too. I find the quality is really good and the price is good as well. It also makes you very careful how you cut as you know a mistake can lead to a long wait for a replacement!

Avengers Satchel - bag design Rebecca Tuffnell

I knew she wanted a bag, and she had liked a satchel style bag I had made my sister the year before. I wanted to make something that showed the pattern fully, I didn't want pockets on the outside as I was worried that it would look too busy. I chose a pattern from issue 21 of Craftseller. The design is based around using a fat quater as the flap. This is a lovely idea and it is good that it takes into consideration shopping within a budget. The pattern itself was straightforward and I found the instructions clear with all measurements given. I have had difficulties in the past with Craftseller patterns but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I adjusted the pattern slightly to make it a bit bigger as I wanted to avoid cutting up the squares on the pattern as much as possible. The bag is a basic pattern with modifications suggested and I inserted a large pocket into the one for my niece.

I chose to use a turquoise complementary fabric to line the bag as I thought that using purple might be a bit much, and the turquoise would set it off nicely. The pattern uses antique effect clasps however using quite modern fabric made me feel that it would be better to use something more "abstract". I found a lovely set of interlocking bell clasps on Minerva Crafts. They do look a bit like a puzzle out of a Christmas cracker but it gave the effect I wanted. The site itself is excellent with a huge array of clasps and closures and it is now where I go for anything like that.

It is not just Avengers fabric I bought from Spoonflower this year; when trying to find the perfect fabric for a friends apron I found myself back on the site. I found beautiful Oystercatcher fabric and unsurprisingly it was for one of the recipients of my oystercatchers last year. The fabric has a bold and modern design, it uses block colour on a beautiful light turquoise background. I adore the simplicity of the pattern.

Oystercatcher apron - Design by Fiona Goble

The apron design is the "Sew Quick Sew Cute" pattern I used before, I made a small change as I wanted the pattern on the pocket to match the apron so I cut it to line up and positioned it off centre to match. This looked a little "wonky" so I added a strip of 1" wide cotton tape to the side of it to be used as a tea towel holder. I came across this on a previous design, I think it is a great addition as it is very handy.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Melly and Me Toys

I know I have said it before but I love making things for children; here are some of this years gifts that have been made from Melly and Me, although I have blogged before about my love of Melly and Me patterns in general with my quilt, bags and mice.

Judo inspired Ninja
Sky Blue Ninja

This pattern was bought as an individual pattern from the website which I had e-mailed to me as a pdf. I first made ninjas back in the summer for my nephew and his Dad. My nephew is learning Judo so I had a lot of fun using the blue of his training suit and making an orange belt with the correct amount of yellow tabs. I then made his Dad one in blue and white as he is a Coventry City supporter. I enjoyed making these so much that I decided to make them for our cousins for Christmas. I have written before about making the "same but different" for sisters. For the sisters I made one pink and purple and one claret and blue as one of them is a big Villa supporter. Thankfully I do not follow football otherwise I would be in trouble with one or even both. The ninjas are really fun and they do not have over complicated features. The patterns are very easy to follow and the most difficult aspect is getting the arms to look the same. I have a constant battle with pairs of things as one always seem to look different. In the original pattern the bands are added in sections, this makes sense if you are trying to line up cotton, although having chosen to use felt I decided to just hand sew the felt strips on after the toy was constructed. This is easy with felt as the stitches are hidden by the texture of the fabric. The main difference in the Christmas ninjas is that I decided to use beads instead of felt for the eyes. The beads I used were 7mm and I was pleased with the result. I would opt for felt still for a younger child in the future. They are lovely to put together and as long as you take your time to straighten up the bands then it would be a good project for a beginner.
Christmas "Sister Ninjas"


The first toy I ever made was a caterpillar for my little girl from "Sewn Toy Tales" by Melly and Me. It is a fantastic pattern mixing hand sewn yo-yos and machine sewn leg sections. The yo-yos and leg sections are held together with 5mm cotton tape. I adore this design as it allows the body to move in a really fluid way, it is also great for popping them on things. The book itself is excellent with a comprehensive stitch guide and some fantastic advice on fabric selection. The face details and antenna give a lovely personality and character. There are 15 yo yo's in the caterpillar which are all made of different coloured cotton fabrics. In my Christmas caterpillars I used some soft brushed cotton for the body pieces. I made one with green body sections and brown, red and orange yo-yo's and the second with a purple body, pink, purple and turquoise yo-yo's. I found just enough of my brown mushroom fabric to make the antenna and nose for the green one, which made me incredibly happy as this fabric was left over from the recipients parent's wedding present that I also made. One of the things I learned doing the first caterpillar is that you do not need all the fabrics to match, you just each each fabric to match one other, which is a tip I use a lot! This is a great way to use up your fabric stash.

Super- Hero 

This is another toy  designed by Melly and Me, it comes from her latest book "Sew Fantasy Toys". I fell in love with this design straight away. I love how bold and bright and fun the pattern is. I have a soft spot for super heroes anyway so I was excited to make one. I used fleece as I love the finish and it made him nice and soft. The pattern is well explained and illustrated with the most difficult part being the piecing in the bottom. Because I was using fleece and not cotton I hand stitched the features on instead of using the machine. This is simply because I think the fleece hides the hand stitching well. I also decided to sew on the mask. I liked the idea of it coming off but as the recipient has a one year old brother I decided that an elasticated mask was not the best idea. The pattern overall was more difficult than the ninja and caterpillars. The way the feet are sewn and matched reminded me of the oyster-catchers I made last year. This gives a nice match on the foot seams. I still struggle with getting the arms and feet the same size and shape.


This pattern also came from "Sew Fantasy Toys". The construction of the mermaid is a lot more like the ninja than the superhero. Again I used fleece to make it nice and soft and fun. I chose to change the hair style and colour. Instead of using ric rac bunches I used the two buns that were used in the fairy pattern. I was a little worried that this was the Star Wars hype taking over and it would look a little like Princess Leia, but I think I got away with it. Like most toys I make the mermaid got her personality when I added the eyes and mouth. I know that if I made lots of these they would all have different expressions and personalities which makes it such an individual gift. I love the finishing touches like the starfish in the hair and the fact that the designs are not overly complicated.