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Car Boot Loot

11 Nov

I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves a good bargain.

And, by the look of the size of the crowd at my local car boot sale last Sunday morning, I’m also not the only one who woke up criminally early that day. By 8am the place was packed!

I, for one, have an excuse. An inability to sleep forced me to decide to go for an early morning walk around the lake by my flat. The weather was perfect: cold, crisp, sunny, with mist rising from the ground. I was surprised to find so many people also enjoying the early morning sun, until I realised they were all walking around the lake, carrying bizarre items. I saw one woman with 5 or 6 shopping bags of fresh vegetables; a man carrying a Scalextric; and a couple carrying what I can only guess were curtains. Not your usual, duck-feeding crowd!

It was not long before my fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain put two and two together, and realised that there must be a car boot sale going on at the stadium behind the lake. A short walk in that direction led me to a spectacle – hundreds of stalls, offering everything from fresh cuts of meat to hair products, childrens’ clothes to vinyl records, door knockers to ukuleles.

I checked my pockets: I had one solitary tenner in my pocket, and was a 15 minute walk away from the nearest ATM. I decided that £10 was enough to bring home a bargain, so I set about searching for treasures.

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I have to say, I did pretty well for my ten English pounds! I picked up a variety of items, including marbles. picture hooks, cheese and vintage shot glasses. But I am most delighted with my final purchase of the day – 4 vintage embroideries.

They are, in fact, two pairs – one pair is of a Flamenco dancer with a bandolero, and the other pair is of a German? Austrian? couple in traditional dress. As soon as I saw the Spanish pair, I fell in love and knew I would need to buy them. The man on the stall was only willing to sell them as a set of four, but at a total cost of £4 (£1 each) then I decided I could stretch to that!

 

The man on the stall wasn’t able to give me any information about them, but I can just about see that the designs were printed onto the material before the embroiderer started work. They are all framed, but some of the works are sagging, so they are going to need reframing when I get a chance.

I especially love the way that the embroiderer has chosen to stitch the sky, as a series of crosses in graduated shades of blue. The finished pieces are such a wonderful, joyous riot of colour!

The other pair are lovely too,and beautifully embroidered, but I don’t think I love them quite as much as the Spanish pair. Therefore, I was wondering if anyone out there in blogland would like them? I’m happy to send them out to whoever thinks they could give them a good home.

Also, does anyone recognise these pictures or have any information about these designs? I’m sure someone out there must know something about where the patterns.

I will certainly make the effort to visit the Lakeside car boot more often – it turns out it takes place every Sunday morning from 6:30am.

In the meantime, I’m going to find the perfect place in my apartment to display this musical couple!

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Souvenir Makes No. 2 – Travel Essentials

5 Nov

I really enjoyed using my Scottish souvenir materials to make cushions for my living room sofa. Every time I sit down, I’m reminded of my lovely adventure North.

As my lovely blog readers will know, I am about to go adventuring again, this time even further North, to Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

This gives me the opportunity to make some travel essentials for my Nordic trip, using the materials from Scotland. How wonderfully well-travelled!

I don’t believe in doing holidays by halves – my trips are usually less than relaxing! On my Nordic adventure, I will be travelling to 6 cities in three countries over 12 days. Therefore, I expect that much of the trip will consist of flights, train journeys and bus rides across the beautiful Scandinavian countryside.

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With that in mind, I have decided to make my very own travel pillow, to allow me to snooze comfortably between locations. After scouring the market for a good travel pillow, I became perplexed by the sheer variety of products on the market: microbeads, memory foam, heated pillows – even pillows that look like exotic animals! In the end, I went back to basics and bought a very cheap, unbranded inflatable pillow, for which I would make a deluxe cover for. This meant I would be able to deflate the pillow to pack away between journeys.

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I still had a stash of gorgeous woven remnants, which I had picked up from Kingcraig fabrics in Dornoch. I love all of the colours and patterns, so I decided to piece together a patchwork design for my cushion. Cue the usual chaotic explosion of materials in my living room!

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I made a rough pattern from a piece of paper by tracing around the deflated pillow, then simply cut out my fabric and stitched it together. I also flat felled the seams, to make the pillow look a bit more finished, and to strengthen the seams.

Either my pattern was too wide, or I stitched my seam allowances too narrow, as the finished pillow cover ended up too wide after stitching together. I stitched a new hem down the centre of the sandy material, to improve the fit.

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I stitched around the outer edge, but left the inner curve unstitched, in order to insert the pillow.

I then measured where the air valve was, and carefully snipped a hole in the material – I tacked it by hand and then used a button hole stitch to create the edging for the valve. I appreciate this is not my neatest stitching! The woven fabric was lovely to use but was fraying really easily, so I found it difficult to get a smooth, even finish.

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Finally, when I was happy with the fit of the cover, I tacked the inner curve closed, and inflated the pillow to admire my handiwork

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I enjoyed using the fabrics so much that I used the final scraps to produce a little bag to store the pillow in.

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I’m naturally quite a clumsy person, so at least with this design, if I manage to puncture the pillow, I can easily untack the cover and replace the inflatable. The only risk I have now is losing it! Air pillows can often feel quite cold against your face, but the cover makes the item feel much warmer and more snuggly. I can’t wait to use it on my adventure.

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My final make before my trip started life as a crochet experiment. One day, whilst timewasting on Pinterest, I found a website by two fabulous crochet designers called Shibaguyz. One of their patterns is for an afghan square which shows a sort of diagonal basket weave design, which really appealed to me. I thought I would have a go at producing the square, and was doing really well until around line 4, at which point I came a little unstuck!

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I loved the idea of cabling, and the effect I was producing, but I seemed to have no success in continuing the pattern, no matter how I tried. I was loath to unravel the strip I had made, and so it sat, neglected, in the bag of yarns for a few weeks, until I started prepping for the holiday.

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It occurred to me that it would make a perfect head band to keep my ears warm, so I evened out the final row of stitches, and tacked the two ends together.

The most stylish traveller on the Swedish and Norwegian highways! Until my return, adjo!

 

Scottish Craft Adventure Part 3 – Orkney

1 Oct

 

Finally, I have found time to tell you all about the last stint of my Scottish road trip – a visit to the Orkney Islands.

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Orkney is an archipelago around 8 miles north of the Scottish mainland, made up of around 70 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited. It is an amazing, mystical place, where it can be seemingly sunny, rainy, windy, overcast and foggy all at the same time. Orkney is popular with fans of ancient history and archaeology because of it’s UNESCO world heritage status for the neolithic structures you can visit there.

I took a ferry from John O Groats, past the Old Man of Hoy, to the town of Stromness on Mainland (the largest island in the Orkneys). The sun was setting as I made the crossing, giving the most amazing light as I took pictures of the Old Man, a huge, ever-changing sea stack which uncannily resembles a figure, stood in the crashing waves, guarding the islands from trouble.

On my first morning on Orkney, I drove out to see the Ring of Brodgar, a 5000 year old stone circle, which I thought would be very much like Stonehenge. Not so! Not only is the Ring of Brodgar the most northerly stone circle, is is also utterly enormous, at over 100 metres in diameter. It is also positioned on a stretch of land between two lochs, which means the light reflecting off the water makes the whole environment feel utterly magical.

The Vikings invaded Orkney around 1000 years ago, and believed that the stones were actually Gods who, after a night of revelling, stayed up too late and were turned to stone as the sun rose. The stones are so large, that as you look up at them, with the clouds moving quickly in the background, you can almost imagine that they are coming back to life.

 

 

I also visited Skara Brae, which is a neolithic village that was completely covered in sand until a freak storm in 1850 ripped the coast line apart, revealing the untouched stone dwellings beneath, perfectly preserved. I’m not even going to try to describe the place – suffice to say, this is Bucket List stuff: one of those sights you simply must see before you die!

I also had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of stepping inside a number of neolithic burial tombs, not least the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay, and the world-famous Maeshowe on Mainland, which pre-dates the Pyramids (!). The experience was certainly something that I will never forget, not least because I was following a long line of visitors to the ancient site – the first people to discover the site were the early Viking warriors, who used Maeshowe as a shelter during their raids. So, amongst the amazing stone carvings almost 5000 years old, you will spot lines of Viking graffiti, written in runic alphabet. Simply amazing.
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Of course, my trip wasn’t just about neolithic adventuring – I also made sure I found time to sample some of the best that the Orkneys had to offer. Not least, ales from the Orkney Brewery, and a wee dram from the acclaimed Highland Park Distillery. Well, it would have been rude not to…

I also, predictably, immersed myself in the arts and crafts heritage of the islands. Orkney makes this super-easy for visitors, by promoting an annual Orkney Craft Trail, which signposts you to artisan workshops, galleries, boutiques and exhibitions.  I found myself on a virtual treasure hunt across the islands, looking for the next Craft Trail sign, leading me towards some of the islands’ hidden treasures.

I spent a lot of time on South Ronaldsay, a large island to the South West of Mainland, which is reachable by road bridge. It was here that I visited the Tomb of the Eagles, and also had the chance to visit the beautiful Italian Chapel, a stunning place of worship built and decorated by Italian POWs during WWII. You can still sense the blood, sweat and tears of the POWs that went into building it – the Chapel was a real labour of love that gave the prisoners something to focus on, and deserves a blog all to itself really!

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Whilst there, I chanced upon a fantastic studio which was a yarn shop, gift boutique and art gallery in one. It was called The Workshop and Loft Gallery, and it was hidden down a street in the village of St Margaret’s Hope. The Workshop is a craft cooperative which was set up 35 years ago by local artisan producers. It stocked knitwear, textiles and yarns, as well as jewellery, ceramics and wonderful art work from local artists.

It will come as no surprise to you that I ended up buying some local yarn as a souvenir of my trip – especially as it was lambing season whilst I was there. Across the islands you could hear the bleat of sheep and watch the gamboling of cute fluffy little creatures as they learned to use their legs for the first time.

 

I bought some skeins of yarn which had been transported down from North Ronaldsay island, of an aran weight. The rare breed, North Ronaldsay sheep are unusual, due to the fact they live on a diet of seaweed. I don’t know if this adds any special quality to the yarn!

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Also on South Ronaldsay was the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, which was filled with the impressive, large scale tapestries of local artist, Leila Thomson. If you are lucky (sadly I wasn’t), you can watch Leila work from the gallery. Her tapestries are moving (emotionally not literally!) depictions of life, death, nature, family, memory and the Universe….pretty big themes! If you make it to Orkney it’s definitely worth seeking out this gallery –  the pictures on her website simply do not do the works justice.

Anyway, with time being short I also spent as much time as possible exploring mainland and some of the other neighbouring islands. Mainland is home to many artists and craftspeople, with one notable one being potter Andrew Appleby, known locally as the ‘Harray Potter’, after the name of the Mainland Parish in which he works. Andrew runs Fursbreck Pottery, which has shops in both Kirkwall and Stromness. I throught the items were beautiful, and I couldn’t resist buying some handmade ceramic buttons to remember my trip by.

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I also visited countless other studios and galleries, but I don’t want to bore you completely! Suffice to say, the heady Orcadian combination of ancient historical sites, wild landscapes, and creative outlets left me fizzing with creativity and ideas.

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I took hundreds of photos of natural textures, which hopefully I would like to recreate in some craft project, using my North Ronaldsay yarn, my Fursbreck ceramic buttons, and a few other things that I picked up along the  way.

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Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some features that remind me of the fascinating layers of history I encountered across the islands – Neolithic burials, Viking graffiti, and WWII buildings.

DSCN3033As we know, all good things must come to an end. Eventually it was time to begin the 14-hour, 580 mile journey South, back to Doncaster which I have always affectionately thought of as ‘The North’. This holiday taught me that it is anything but! Thanks for being patient in waiting for posts from my adventure, I hope they were worth the wait. I promise to be a little quicker in writing up the results of my makes from the items I picked up along the way!

12 days, over 1000 miles, and an unforgettable adventure.

Alex and Kate get Hitched!

19 Sep

It’s been quite an exciting time in the Mau household – my brother Alex married the lovely Kate this Summer, so there has been much crafting and celebration taking place.

The couple wanted a hand-made, vintage  feel to their wedding. Kate and her bridesmaid, her sister Louisa, made all of the beautiful invitations and table decorations, whilst Mother of the Bride, Pat and Grandmother, Nana Flo assisted with the favours. Even one of Kate’s work colleagues, Kathryn, made the amazing wedding cake They all did a fabulous job!

Alex and Kate’s invitations for the wedding had been made using a variety of yellow fabrics, ribbons and buttons,  so the couple asked me if I would make a ring bearers cushion from the leftover scraps.

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I had some white linen conveniently lying around, so I cut out two identical rectangles and got to work. I had an idea to have a wide border on the cushion, so to ensure I left sufficient material around the outsides, I tacked a green line around the fabric where the border started, so that I could space out my embroidery correctly.

DSCN4130DSCN4131I thought that I would use some of the fabric to applique Alex and Kate’s initials onto the cushion, so I made some paper templates to test out the design.  I finally hit on a design that I liked – two simple letters, with some script flowing from top left to bottom right across the front of the cushion.

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I began by using the letter templates to cut out some fusible interfacing. I then ironed the interfacing onto my chosen applique fabric, and cut out the shapes, leaving a 5mm border around each letter.

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I then carefully ironed the fabric edges onto the back of the shapes, and pinned them into place on the linen. I was then able to neatly applique the letters onto the material.

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Once the shapes were attached to the fabric, I then chose a contrasting embroidery silk and decorated the letter edges with blanket stitch. The colour palette for the wedding was lemon and grey, so I chose a lovely, light, silvery thread for this work.

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Onto the back piece of fabric for the cushion, I neatly embroidered the wedding date. It was then time to press both pieces of material and attach them together on the sewing machine.

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I then removed the green tacking and neatly sealed the two sides together with a lemon embroidery silk, leaving a gap to stuff the pillow and attach the ribbon before completing the border. I also made a small incision on the front of the cushion where the rings would be held. Kate had used a lovely natural twine on the invitations, which I thought would look great here. So, I looped a length of the twine onto a flat button, and slid the button into the centre of the cushion stuffing, before pulling the twine out through the incision on the front. This ensures that the rings are held safely and the fabric isn’t strained.

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I attached lemon, heart-shaped beads to the ends of the twine, after first checking that the rings would still slip on and off easily!

The final job was to attach twinkly, transparent seed beads across the front and back of the border. I’m not sure if you can see it from the pictures, but I attached half of them with a lemon thread, and half of them with the silver-grey thread, so that the transparent beads take on some of the theme colours.

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Kate’s nephew Callum was ring bearer, or ‘Official Ring Dude’ on the day, and did a great job of carrying the cushion to the front.

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It was an utterly lovely wedding and all that remains to be said is, congratulations Alex and Kate!

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Scottish Craft Adventure continues…Ballater to John O Groats

13 Sep

Apologies for the delay in posting this blog! I’ve been so busy with other things that I haven’t had a chance. I guess Scotland is very much on everyone’s mind this week, but I’m not going to share my opinions on the referendum here. At the very least, the news this week has given me the kick I needed to get this blog post written.  Although it’s a little late (actually nearly 6 months late!), here is the second installment of my Scottish adventure.

So, following my adventures in Edinburgh and Crieff, I finally arrived in Royal Deeside. My family and I used to spend all of our holidays in this part of the world when I was a kid, so it was really nostalgic to go back now – I’d been away for 15 years!

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The Royal Deeside landscape is utterly beautiful and unspoilt. The added bonus was that the weather was unseasonably warm, dry and sunny during my trip, so I really got to see the region at its best: clean, fresh streams, sparkling in the sun, winding their way through the heathery mountains, interspersed by ancient forests of pine. Bliss.

It was so wonderful to be back in Royal Deeside. I spent my days perusing craft shops and galleries in Braemar, pottering around Ballater village and taking long walks and bike rides in the countryside. I was really lucky to see some red deer on my travels – some a bit closer than others! I had the fortune/misfortune to see one from just a few feet away when it jumped in front of my car! I am happy to report that there were no injuries, although the deer and I both had rather a fright!

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As mentioned, I visited Braemar, which is has its very own, bespoke sporran shop (sorry to be a tourist, but how Scottish!) and is the home of aptly titled Braemar Gallery. If you are visiting this part of the world, you can’t miss it – there is a knit-bombed, giant Haggis called, appropriately, Purl, standing to attention outside.
DSCN2607Purl was created by the Deeside Knitwits, a local community knitting group. How fantastic!DSCN2608Whilst in Braemar, I also had the obligatory hot chocolate in the Fife Arms Hotel, which is certainly ‘the done thing’ whilst visiting. I was also lucky enough to be there on a rare day when Mar Lodge was open to the public – truly spectacular! Braemar has its own Creative Arts Festival, which is taking place in October this year – well worth a visit.
DSCN2757From Braemar, you can go walking in the most amazing scenery. I spent a day in scorching sunshine, walking around the Linn of Dee, which was breathtaking. I also seemed to be quite attractive to this little grouse, who seemed rather insistent in getting in my car at the end of the day – sorry buddy!

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DSC_0096  Whilst I was up in that part of the world, I became utterly obsessed with Harris Tweed. It’s absolutely everywhere and it’s gorgeous! I couldn’t afford much of it, but when I saw these buttons on a stall at a church fete in Blairgowrie, I couldn’t resist. Now I must find something to use them on…
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It seemed too soon, but it was finally time to leave Deeside and continue my trip North. I had a long day ahead of me, so after making an early start, I made it to over the mountails to Culloden for 9am, and spent a few hours walking around the misty battlefields, learning about the Jacobite uprising. It was really moving, and it’s good that the battlefield has beeen preserved by the National Trust for Scotland.

By 11am I was passing Inverness and heading upward, over the Moray Firth and up towards the top of Scotland. I have mentioned Kingcraig Fabrics in my blog before. Kingcraig is a fantastic yarn shop that I found on Ebay, and they are based on the North East coast, at Brora and Dornoch. When I discovered that I would be able to visit the actual shops on my trip, I was so excited!
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I was able to visit both shops, and the staff were really friendly and welcoming. The lovely lady at the Dornoch shop told me that owner Shaun and his wife were up the road at the Dornoch shop that day, so she directed me along the coastal route so that I had the added bonus of seeing the basking seals on the Embo coast! You definitely don’t get that in most yarn shops.

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Kingcraig had a wonderful selection of gorgeous natural yarns and woven materials. I learned that Brora had once been home to famous and very successful woollen mill called Hunters of Brora – the mill employed many people in the town and helped put Brora on the map. The mill has now closed, but some of the yarns sold at Kingcraig are high-quality remnants from the old Hunters mill.

After spending far too long choosing, I came away with some beautiful olive green yarn which was 95% merino, 5% cashmere, and some lovely cornflower blue lambswool. I also picked up a few oddments at 50p each.

As well as gorgeous yarns, Kingcraig also sold woven fabrics by the metre and had remnants to choose from too. Being naturally indecisive, I was unable to choose between all of the fabulous patterns, so I ended up buying a whole bag of remnants, in every colour imaginable!

From Kingcraig, I took a leisurely drive up the East Coast towards John O’Groats, stopping for the obligatory picture at the most northerly point. It was time to leave the Scottish mainland and head for the Orkney Isles, for the final stretch of my adventure!
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Scottish Crafting Adventure – Edinburgh

7 Sep

As mentioned several weeks ago, I spent the Easter break on an epic road trip across Scotland and the Orkney Isles. Unbelievably, I had 10 days of sunshine out of 12 – I was surprised to return with a tan from a holiday so far North.

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I had an utterly fantastic time, going on lots of beautiful mountain walks and bike trails, discovering breathtaking nature and wildlife, and, of course, partaking of a generous helping of arts and crafts.

My adventure started in Scotland’s bright and bustling capital, Edinburgh. The city is full of the most wonderful gift boutiques and yarn shops. I spent a lot of time (and money) in the Grassmarket area of town – in particular, at these two shops:

The Red Door Gallery, 42 Victoria Street, is a fantastic find for handmade items and quirky gifts. The staff in there are really helpful and were able to give me information on the designer of any item I picked up. I finally fell in love with a pair of gem-shaped, laser cut perspex earrings, which had been designed by Orcadian jewellery designer, Kirsteen Stewart.

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Just a few doors down the road from The Red Door was K1 Yarns, a veritable treasure trove for those of us that want high-quality, unusual and locally sourced yarns. I pretty much fell in love with every single skein I picked up in the shop! However, using my superhuman willpower, I managed to resist, as I was hoping to engineer a trip to Kingcraig Fabrics into my holiday.

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Edinburgh is a fascinating city, full of history, mystery and heritage. After touring the Scottish Parliament, walking up to the Observatory on Colton Hill and perusing what felt like a hundred souvenir shops on the Royal Mile, I was in need of a break before tackling the touristic behemoth, Edinburgh Castle.

Right near the top of the hill sits a Tartan Weaving Mill, which was just the sort of crafting break I was looking for! As well as being able to buy every imaginable shade and pattern of tartan, you can actually watch it being made in the basement of the building.

I hadn’t realised there were so many different patterns of tartan! You were able to buy the material by the metre, and there was also a good selection of offcuts to choose from. I really wanted to buy some materials which I could use for a patchwork project when I returned home. Therefore, I chose three offcuts of tartan, each being a different design but similar shades of colour.

During my trip, I also had time to visit the utterly amazing National Museum of Scotland – so inspiring! There was so much to see in there, but of particular interest was the exhibition on traditional Scottish weaving. I also spent quite a lot of time looking at the Pictish and Viking exhibits, in preparation for my sightseeing further North.

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Alas, it was finally time for me to leave this beautiful city and resume my journey North towards Royal Deeside. Of course, there is always time for a little crafting en route, as I had booked in to make a paperweight at Caithness Glass. However, on my way there, I found an absolute gem of a craft shop: Lagom Felt Studio, in Crieff.

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Tracy and her husband run the shop, which is a specialist fibre art shop and craft workshop. They stock a wide range of weaving and felting materials and tools, with a specific emphasis on Scottish alpaca fibre and locally-sourced rare-breed fleeces. The pair were really friendly and were happy to chat about any items I picked up. Tracy also mentioned that she too has a blog, which is here!

Tracy is super talented and runs workshops on wet and dry felting, from absolute beginners to intermediate. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to come to a workshop on my trip, as I was only passing through the area. However, I will try to make a detour on my next Scottish trip!
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As you know, I find it virtually impossible to leave a craft shop without purchasing something. This was bound to happen at Lagom Felt, as all their items were gorgeous. Firstly, I bought a remnant reel of handspun yarn, which I thought matched my Edinburgh tartans quite well. Secondly, I spotted a basket full of gorgeous, unique, hand fired clay buttons, each of which was glazed in lovely colours. As you can see from the picture above, I chose the oak leaf, which, for me, really symbolises Scotland. When I was a child, we regularly visited a place called Craigendarroch, which means ‘Hill of the Oaks’…but more about that in my next post.

I guess this rounds up the first few stops of my trip, so that’s enough for now. Next time, the Scottish Highlands!

No-pattern Chevron Dress

26 May

I’m sure many of you were glued to the recent series of the Great British Sewing Bee. I was rooting for Chinelo since episode one, and was sorry that she didn’t win – although Heather really did deserve the win with that AMAZING couture gown. All three of the finalists were absolutely brilliant, I don’t know how I’ll cope until the next series.

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Anyway, in the semi final, contestants were tasked with copying a favourite item of clothing. Tamara’s yoga outfit was outstanding, and she rightly won ‘Garment of the Week’ for it.

I didn’t plan on doing anything quite so ambitious, but I wanted to recreate one of my favourite dresses.

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The navy blue birdie dress I am wearing in the above picture was given to me by Char, one of my besties, after she spied it in a local charity shop. I absolutely love this dress because it doesn’t crease, it’s really light, and it’s so versatile – I can wear it with leggings and heels; shorts and flip flops, or even use it as a nightie if I have an overnight stay. It doesn’t take up too much space when you are packing, and it’s really comfortable. I think originally it was quite a large dress size, but I like the way the extra fabric gathers when the ties are pulled around the waist.

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As regular readers will know, I purchased a few metres of a striking, green striped polyester on a recent trip to Abakhan with my Mum. This fabric is a little heavier than the material on the original dress, but it seems quite drapey, and it didn’t crease despite my efforts! I thought this would be perfect for this project.P1030114

However, before jumping ahead to the fabric, the first thing I needed to do was to make a pattern. Of course, what every dressmaker needs is a handy roll of flipchart paper! And no, I didn’t nick it from work before you ask – our recent chaotic office move at work meant that lots of surplus or damaged stationery items were being disposed of. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, as they say – the large A1 sheets are really handy for tracing templates.

The dress I am copying from is a simple design – two pieces of fabric, both of which are darted at the waist, and the front piece of fabric is also darted at the bust. The dress also has some simple capped sleeves. After watching the Sewing Bee, I decided to copy Heather’s technique for copying darts onto the pattern – I marked the darts on to the pattern, then folded the paper so that the darts were lying in the place that they would be on the final, stitched item.P1030076

I then traced the outline of the dress onto the folded sheet of paper, removed the fabric, and unfolded the darts, to give myself the paper template. I’ve kept the pattern piece, with construction notes, so that I can make this dress again.

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To give a bit of interest to the dress, I decided to cut the fabric on the bias, so that I had diagonal stripes. Hopefully, with some careful stitching, this should give me fantastic chevrons on the side seams. Once I had cut the first piece, I then used that as the template, rather than the paper, so that I could ensure the stripes were lined up exactly.

 

 

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I have also finally learned the lesson that putting time in before stitching saves you time after! The fabric was quite slippy, so, after stitching the darts, I basted the two pieces of the dress together, remembering to also slip the waist ties in at the correct points, so that the stripes matched up properly. That way, I knew when I put the material under the machine foot, that it would attach together correctly.

The original has sleeves and I planned to duplicate this feature, but when I tried it on (in the selfie below) I liked the way the chevrons looked on the shoulders and decided to dispense with sleeves.

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Another lesson I learned during this project was how to do a rolled hem. I decided to give it a go after working out that one of the included specialist feet on my sewing machine was a rolled hem foot – if I’ve got one, I may as well use it! It took a bit of practice to get right, but I’m happy with the result. To ensure it stitched neatly, I ironed the tiny hem allowance first, to make a crease in the fabric. This then fitted into the curled channel on the foot, so that the fabric was guided under the needle at the correct point. I used this on the armholes, as I was already happy with the look of the dress before hemming it, so using a rolled hem sealed the fabric using the least amount of material.

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When I tried the dress on, I noticed that the neckline gaped slightly – I solved the problem by making a small boxpleat in the centre, and stitching it by hand. It has removed the gaping, and has actually become a bit of a design feature!

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Et voila – my finished chevron dress. I’m really happy with the bright, vibrant look and think the fabric choice is really effective. I also like the way the stripes play against each other when the tabs are tied around the middle (made from some remnant strips of material).

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I’m delighted with how well the chevrons match up at the shoulders and down the sides, and I think the bias cut of the material really shows off the fabric’s drape well.

The dress isn’t an exact replica of the original, as the sleeves are missing and the length is longer, but I think I will find it as useful, versatile and wearable as the first. I will definitely be making more of this one!

 

Satin Dress II – The Rematch! Vogue 8241

20 May

As reported in my post earlier this month, I have not had much success in my mission to make a slinky dress using Vogue pattern 8241. Less ‘Pretty in Purple’, more the ‘Purple Peril’. Or perhaps the ‘Aubergine Horror’. I could go on, but I won’t. ‘Vile in Violet’ – OK, I’ll stop.

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I guessed that much of the bulk was coming from the lining, so once again, I dismantled the skirt. However, the lining seemed to be pretty light, so I wasn’t sure if it was the cause of the bulkiness. Perhaps it’s the stiffness of the fabric which is causing the problem. The crepe-backed satin was gorgeous but didn’t seem to do as it was told! Also, I thought that the elasticated gathers were really unflattering, especially around the hips and over my stomach (which I am self-conscious about).

 

After messing around, I decided to play with pleating the skirt, rather than gathering it. I could make some pretty features, but the drawback may be that the dress would need a zip, as it may not have the flexibility to take on and off that the elastic offered. I logically concluded that I could pleat it if I added fabric to the sides, so that I could still get in and out of the dress – this could ultimately make an interesting pocket feature.

I decided to unpick the sides of the skirt down to an approximate pocket length, and then lined the skirt piece with the lining so that all the raw edges at the waistband and embryonic pockets were hidden.

 

I then played with pleating the front and back, and tinkered with pins until I was happy with it – the elasticated gathering didn’t look so bad on the back, but I felt the front waistband could look really pretty with some big, structural pleats on it.

 

Pleating the fabric into the centre meant that I needed to attach more fabric to the sides, so that the garment would still fit comfortably around my body. I chose to do this using the shiny satin side of the fabric so that it matched the bodice, rather than the matte crepe skirt. I felt that this looked best stylistically.

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I attached a shiny piece of fabric to the skirt piece to fill in the gaps on either side of the pleats. This meant that I could attach the back and the shiny insert part of the skirt to the bodice,  leaving the pleated segment free.  As I had stitched all of the raw edges of the skirt and the lining, I decided to attach the back of the skirt to the outside of the bodice, so that the lovely purple-and-navy skirt edge could be a bit of a feature around the back. As mentioned, I thought the back of the dress looked okay elasticated, so I reattached some elastic, but stopped the stitching approximately 1 inch from each sideseam – I thought this might prevent that unappealing look of having gathers over the hips.

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As with the back of the dress, I decided to have the side seams of the skirt piece visible too – I spent well over an hour trying to evenly line up the seams so that I would have a uniform effect on both pocket sections.

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Once that was attached, I put the dress on and then pinned the pleats whilst wearing the dress – I know this is a terribly bad habit, but I was beginning to brim with ideas for the item so my thoughts were rushing away with me. You will be slightly relieved to know that once I had taken the dress off, I then evened the pleats out with the help of a tape measure.

I arranged the pleats so that they rose incrementally towards the middle of the dress – I liked the way this looked as it was a bit more unusual than what I had planned on. The problem was that, once the pleats were fastened, it was a bit trickier to get out of the garment. Therefore, I decided not to stitch the end pleat on either side of the front panel.
I stitched the front 3 pleats down, backstitching them to make sure they were secure, and then stitched the rest of the front panel flat against the waistline.

After a few cups of tea and some deliberation, I came up with an ingenious solution to securing the final two pleats on the front of the waistband – hooks and loops! These could be used to pull the waistband in once I was wearing the dress. Also, they had the added bonus of creating two lovely pleats in the bodice.

I was happy with the style, and beginning to get excited and optimistic about my project again. Like a good sewist, I eagerly pressed all of the seams, so eagerly in fact that I didn’t check the iron temperature – FAIL! Fortunately the burn was on the wrong side of the fabric, on the section that lies below the front pleats, so it won’t be visible. Phew!

Finally, I had to finish all the various odds and ends of the dress. The multiple stitchings and unpickings had taken its toll on some of the seams, which had begun to unravel – I hand stitched them so secure them. I also remembered to stitch the bottom of the shiny front-skirt section to the lining on the back of the front pleats, so that it formed a spacious, handy pocket under the pleats at the front of the dress :). Stylish AND practical!

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So here we have Satin Dress Mk II – I know my sewing has gone rather off-piste from the original pattern, but I’m happy I didn’t give up. There are lots of things I have learned on this project – understitching and working with slippery satin being the two main ones. This is the 2nd vogue LINK pattern I have been unhappy with during my recent dressmaking extravaganza, so perhaps I will try a few other pattern brands for a while and see how I get on.

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In many ways, this has been a really satisfying make – I followed a pattern and was unsuccessful, but was patient enough to perservere, and was confident enough to try my own solutions without really knowing the answers. The finished result is certainly not perfect, probably won’t get that many compliments and I won’t be using that pattern again. But is the item wearable, flattering, completely unique and all mine? Yes? Am I proud of it? Absolutely.

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Fabric Finds!

14 May

My dressmaking is coming on at a pace, and I seem to be getting through yards of fabric fairly quickly. In the past few weeks, I’ve discovered three very different fabric outlets: one epitomises the height of traditional, classic and timeless British design in the heart of London, one is an online treasure trove based in the Lake District, and one is rather more up my street (geographically and price-wise)!

Liberty London London Olympics 2012: Top Ten Must Visit London Shops

After a recent union conference in London, a friend of mine took me on an outing to the one, the only, Liberty of London.  I could barely contain my excitement! There, right in the middle of bustling London, a street away from Piccadilly Circus, stands a gorgeous, 4 storey, Tudor-style building, and within it contains gorgeous fashions, homewares and, of course, fabrics. A little known fact is that the building itself was constructed out of the timbers from the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan in 1924.

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The entire building was a work of art – I think I spent more time looking at the architecture than I did browsing the fabrics! One of my favourite features was this little chap, eating a banana on the fourth floor.

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It was, quite literally, fabric heaven – cabinet after cabinet of Liberty-printed cottons, linens, georgette. The entire department was full of wide-eyed women (and some men) running their fingertips longingly along rows of  Tana Lawn prints and sighing at the sight of button and ribbon displays. Prices started at around £22 per metre, which was slightly outside of my budget for an impulse purchase, so I used the visit to browse for inspiration, rather than to buy. Somehow, I tore myself away from the dressmaking fabrics to venture up to the fifth floor, where they keep the home furnishing fabrics.

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There was one fabric in particular that caught my eye – exotic, floral and fabulous, I had to have it! Impulse buying mode kicked in with some intensity. I checked the label and it said “Liberty of London 19.50” on the tag. Excitedly, I thought I could probably stretch to buying two metres of the gorgeous stuff, seeing as I would, after all, need a souvenir of my visit! My mind began rushing with ideas for beautiful items I could construct from the fresh, bright material.

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The helpful assistant took the bolt over to a scientific looking machine, and started rolling out the fabric to cut. Just before she did so, I checked “This is £19.50 a metre, right?” She looked at the label and regrettably informed me that 19.50 referred to the number of metres left on the roll, not the price per metre. She went to check the price in the master file, as my heart sank. All my future, imagined cushion covers, wall hangings and coin purses began to recede in my mind. The assistant returned with the eyewatering figure of £79.50 per metre. Per. Metre. I politely explained that I would have a think about buying it and come back later, before making a panicked dash for the exit with my credit card in tact. Oh well, there’s always next time – and there definitely will be a next time, I’m sure!

Upon returning from London, I called Mum to tell her of my adventures. Whilst I had been away, she had found a great sale on one of the fabric websites – Just Sew Penrith. They have some lovely prints and a good variety of fabric types. I consoled myself after my Liberty disappointment by treating myself to a few metres of a pretty blue floral stretch cotton which was on sale at £4.50pm,and a striking geometric poplin, which I think might look great for this pattern. What do you think?

Any confessed fabric addict would know that just two new materials weren’t going to be enough to satisfy my dressmaking habit! And so it happened that I was back in my hometown at the same time as Mummymau was visiting last month. This called for a trip to Abakhan – our very own North West fabric paradise.

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I think Abakhan have quite a few sites across the North West, but in my opinion, the Preston store is head and shoulders above the rest. I always make time for a visit to this store whenever I am back, as there is no equivalent here in Yorkshire. When you walk through the doors, you never know what you might find – but it is a rare day when you leave the store empty handed. There’s always something to tempt.

The store is, essentially, a big warehouse, with all varieties of dressmaking and home furnishing fabrics downstairs, and yarns and habadashery upstairs. Many of the baskets hold fabrics which you buy by the weight, not the length.

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Mum spotted a wonderful, glittering array of African waxed prints, which she thought could look good as bold Summer sundresses or kaftan-style tops. I spotted some fabulous offcuts in a basket marked ‘Dress Prints – £18.99 per kg’ – I am guessing that they are both made of artifical fibres, although the green stripe was a piece around 3m long and it had a good drape; the diamonds piece was around 1.5 m long and was light, airy and prone to creasing. I already had a plan in mind for the green (which you will read about soon) and thought that the diamond print could make a great lightweight blouse for the warmer months.

I asked the cashier to check the weight before I committed to buy them – combined, they came to around £10. Bargainous!

Upstairs I spotted bags of assorted buttons for £1 and a variety of findings and notions which I couldn’t leave behind. As Mum and I were walking towards the queue to pay, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye –

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Nothing was written on the label, but I was 99% sure that this was the classic Liberty print, Wiltshire Berry. There was no producer name on the selvedge, but the fabric was good quality, 60″ wide and a light, lawn weight – perhaps it was a second? Sometimes I have spotted Alexander Henry and Michael Miller prints in there, priced incorrectly as just a few pounds per metre, so it could be possible. I checked the price: £4.99 a metre. There was no doubt we would be taking the lot! There were 5.3 metres left on the roll, so the cashier said she would charge us for 5. I don’t know if it is a Liberty second or not, but I don’t especially care – it will make the most beautiful shirt-waisted dress, in my opinion! Both Mum and I loved the print, so we have decided to share. What a sight we will be in our matching garments!

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In total, we returned home with nearly 18 metres of fabric, 300g of buttons, Gutermann thread and other assorted habadashery for just under £80. Not bad for a morning’s work….wait a minute, what time is it? How on earth did we spend 3 hours in there?! Time flies when you’re having fun I guess!

 

Sultry Green Dress – Vogue 8898

21 Apr

As mentioned in some of my recent posts, the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee has resuscitated my joy of dressmaking. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there is no point me lamenting my woeful lack of skills unless I’m willing to put the time in to improve them.

Vogue Patterns 8898 Misses' Dress and Belt Line Drawing

With this in mind, I spent the weekend before last on the first of my new patterns – Very Easy Vogue 8898. A committed fabric hoarder, I already had a big bundle of heavyweight green jersey stuffed away in the craft room, which I thought would do for the project. I’d impulse bought it at Abakhan over a year ago, and had been itching to get something made out of it.

As this is the first project I’ve done in some time, I tried to go about it properly – I read the whole pattern before cutting anything (which I never do); I took accurate measurements of myself rather than just cutting to my current clothing size (which I rarely do), and cut the pattern neatly (which I sometimes do) before ironing it straight for pinning to the fabric (which I always do). However, despite trying to work neatly and accurately throughout this project, I’m disappointed with the result – it’s too big, the waistline is too high, and the fabric doesn’t drape the way I wanted it to. What a mess!!

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Learning lessons from this, I’ve decided to blog my results anyway. At first I thought I was going to hide this dress away from the watchful eyes of the lovely online blog readers, as I thought I could do better. Then, I remembered that this blog is my personal way to track a route through the items I make, recording both the failures and successes – I’m sure,to some extent, we are all good at showing when we have done well, but rather reluctant to show where we have screwed up. However, we only learn from our mistakes, and we all have them! As some bright spark once said, ‘don’t fall into the trap of comparing your life story with other people’s clip reel’. I suppose, in terms of my endeavour to learn more about dressmaking, from here the only way is up!

 

1) I had cursorily glanced over the reviews on Sewing Pattern Review for this design, but I realise now I should have read them in more detail. I was a size 14 for this pattern, so cut accordingly. However, from the picture you can tell this is quite a loose garment, and several of the previous makers had reported using the size down as the suggested sizes made the whole thing too baggy. My dress is cut to the 14 but I should have used the 12, as the finished garment is more akin to a circus tent than to a sultry dress. Of course, if I constantly walk around, striking a pose, as in the picture below, I could just about get away with it…

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2) I stitched the front and back together, as per the instructions, but the dress utterly swamped me. Also, as you can see from the technical drawing, the arm hole on the left hand side is actually part of the top line of the dress. I found that this felt too bunched up under my arm when I stitched it together, so unpicked the stitching and modified the design so that the dress had one covered sleeve and an arm hole on the left edge. This felt much more comfortable and looked quite appealing too.

I actually quite like this asymmetrical sleeve on the dress, but with hindsight, I would have been best just unpick the stitching and downsize the material!

3) The instructions told me to hem the neckline and the sleeves – I did ok on the sleeves, but the neckline doesn’t lie completely flat after stitching. I guess this means I stretched the fabric slightly when stitching. I guess I should have taken more care!

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4) I originally planned to make the ‘C’ design of this dress, where the belt is tied around the whole circumference of the dress. The finished result looked far too bulky, so I quickly took a needle and some scissors to the garment and added the belt holes, as shown on the ‘B’ design. Why I rushed into this, I’ll never know! My natural waist is a good inch and a half lower than the one specified on the pattern, so I should have adjusted the belt hole accordingly. I guess this error isn’t too apparent on the finished article, but I think it certainly exacerbates the problem of the fabric not hanging nicely around the hips.

5)I also think the dress could have benefitted from a lighter-weight fabric – then perhaps these other points would not have been issues at all.


GreenDress2 I was so disappointed with the finished result, that I left it in a UFO heap in the craft room for over a week, refusing to finish the bottom hem. I eventually finished the hem and tried it on, and it’s not as bad as I was expecting. However, I don’t think this dress will be getting worn that often. Other bloggers have written about this particular pattern and say it’s a really stylish, effective, easy design, so I might try this one again at some point. Has anyone out there made this dress?

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