Monday, 24 November 2014

30 Totes and Bags to Sew - my new book!

30 Totes and Bags to Sew

Well finally, and undeniably, it seems I have written a book! Not being a great counter of chickens, I haven't particularly announced this to anyone beyond close friends and family -  those who were close enough to spot the eye bags, and the trail of loose threads I left in my wake over those frantic months of stitching and writing. And having sent off those final drafts and stitched samples back in February of this year, all of a sudden I am a bona fide published author! It started to feel a bit more real when I took delivery of my author samples, then came the extra copies I had ordered to sell in my shop. Today though, reality really hit home when I popped into Waterstone's in Cardiff and found my book on the shelves (I used to work for Waterstone's, so it's particularly nice to find my book there)!

my new book
I didn't realise when my husband was taking this photo that I had positioned myself right next to Gyles Brandreth in his novelty jumper.
Obviously, this is entirely the kind of authorial image I aim to project.

The book focuses on the Tote bag, that's to say a bag with two handles, and I really wanted to include as broad a range of designs as possible, so inside you'll find projects ranging from a teddy bed tote for young children, to an oilcloth car caddy, to a velveteen evening bag. There are also lots of techniques covered such as reverse appliqué, kanzashi flowers, embroidery and freezer-paper stencilling. I'm so pleased with the final appearance of the book; the team at Quintet and my editor Julie Brooke have done an amazing job with beautiful photography and layouts - it has a spiral binding with hardback cover which has to be my favourite thing as a consumer of craft books as it means you can have the book open flat in front of you whilst working through a pattern. There are also plentiful colour photographs to illustrate the steps, as well as full-size pattern pieces in an envelope at the front of the book.

projects from my book, 30 Totes and Bags to Sew

a few snaps of the projects from the book

I am selling the book through my new online shop over at (thanks to my talented web-designer brother, the brains behind Rootsy) and signed copies are available on request (I find it frankly hilarious to be saying that!). You can also buy from the usual places like Amazon: 30 Totes & Bags to Sew: Quick & Easy Bags for All Occasions (this is an affiliate link so I will be paid a 5% commission for any orders made by clicking here), and Waterstone's, as well as independent bookshops.

There is also a US edition of the book for any readers who live across the pond - it's called Tote-ally Amazing Bags in its American incarnation, and is published by St Martin's Press, who have kindly featured me as their author of the month over on the SMP blog.

For a sneak preview of the book, I've posted a video thumb-through on youtube, and you can also see a few images of the inside in my online shop.

I would love to see any photos of anything anyone makes using the patterns from my book, so please do get in touch if you have any to share and I'll put together a blog feature in due course!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tiny paper pieces

I was in need of a nice evening sewing project for all those blanket-on-knees evenings now that it's getting a bit more Autumnal, so this ferris wheel mini quilt tutorial from Sew Scatterbrained was just the thing. It's an English paper piecing project, which is my favourite kind of hand-sewing, with truly tiny pieces, triangles, hexagons and squares with each face measuring only 1". I've been tempted to do a ferris wheel quilt before after seeing Katy's Spring Carnival quilt, and love her take on this traditional block with the fractured pieces falling away at the bottom. It's a really versatile design with plenty of potential for changing the pattern the eye focuses on by bringing different pieces into the background and foreground with contrasting solids and prints.

I've always fancied making a mini quilt, and goodness knows the study-o could do with a bit of brightening up! The Sew Scatterbrained tutorial is made up of 'circles' in 7 different colours on a backdrop of neutral hexagons in low-volume prints.

patchwork pieces

The best thing about this project for me is that it has been an opportunity to rummage through my scraps bin and actually use some of the tiniest of offcuts I've been saving for a rainy day. There is something very pleasing about those multi-coloured stacks of squares and triangles.

English paper piecing

It's taking shape pretty quickly, even though I'm only spending half an hour stitching here and there. I do like to have a project that I can just pick up and put down when time allows without any setting up or clearing away needed.

paper piecing

The cat is my constant companion; she loves it when I'm working on hand-stitching as it offers her an opportunity to cosy herself up in the lovely Welsh wool blanket my sister gave me. She hasn't made herself particularly useful as yet, other than keeping my feet warm and enabling me to stave off putting the heating on for that little bit longer.

black cat in a blanket

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Back to school and then some

Boat from Caldey Island

Well the Summer has been and gone, and everyone's back at school - including the resident small person, who now joins her brother and sister at the same primary school in Reception class. For one year only, I shall have all three in the same place between 9am and 3.30pm - daughters at each end of the school, with eldest off to comp next year, and boy-in-the-middle only a year behind her. It'll be a relief to despatch them all to the same place every day after a very busy year last year, which involved practically ejecting the elders from a moving car in order to get the youngest to her nursery school 5 1/2 miles away 15 minutes later. It also happened to be an exceptionally busy year for me (isn't it always the way when life is already frantic), taking on a new part-time job as well as a soon-to-be-revealed project which consumed several months of my life.

I must admit it's been a bit of a shock to the system to be the one going out to work whilst the husband was at home with the children this Summer. With him being a teacher, I normally look forward to the long holidays as a time when we can all revert to a lovely chaotic existence with days out on the hop, and an extra person to share in the parenting and housekeeping. It feels a bit as if the Summer has slipped through my fingers, so I'm already looking forward to half term. Even the husband told me he knows exactly how many days teaching are left till the holiday - perils of being a mathematician, I think he sees all life in digits!

I'm more the type who sees life in pictures, and if there's one good reason why I love to blog, it's for having a record of all those moments which would otherwise be forgotten. So with that said, here's a snapshot or two of Summer 2014.

George's Marellous Medicine

Tower of London poppies

Beach Cricket in Tenby

Caldey Island

Monday, 4 August 2014

Winner of Lisa Lam's sewing pattern giveaway

Thanks for all the entries into the giveaway. The winner was commenter number 10, Miss Cut n Sew - your patterns will be winging their way to you very soon! I hope you enjoy using the patterns. If you didn't win but would like to purchase a copy, head on over to Stitch Craft Create where you'll find the patterns available in booklet form, as pdf files, or as a set of both patterns together.

Now I'm back to sorting out the study-o - it's been a busy six months or so, and my sewing room is in desperate need of a clear out, so expect to see some fabric destashing over in my etsy shop very soon as I clear the decks and try to restore a bit of order!

Monday, 21 July 2014

New dressmaking patterns by Lisa Lam - blog hop and giveaway

I'm delighted to be taking part in a blog hop showcasing Lisa Lam's new dressmaking pattern booklets as not only is Lisa a talented designer/maker but she also happens to be a good blogging friend of mine. There was also an added incentive in having my own little miss to stitch for!
Lisa Lam new dressmaking patterns
back cover dance with me dress

Lisa has designed two booklets featuring Summery designs for girls - the Happiness Halter Playsuit and Dance with Me Dress. Each booklet includes 3 simple variations to sew - a playsuit, dress and top in the Happiness Halter booklet,  and dress, tunic top and bag in the Dance with Me Dress booklet.

The format is very user-friendly - a magazine-sized booklet with a sturdy card cover and the instructions inside over several pages - no need to open out unwieldy sheets of paper. A pattern envelope on the back cover contains the pattern pieces on a sheet of dressmakers' tissue. Beautiful photography and  details like the showcasing of designer fabrics on the pattern sleeve make the booklets a pleasure to leaf through.

pattern envelope

If you've ever tried your hand at sewing any of Lisa's bag designs, you'll be familiar with her clearly written style and fantastic step-by-step photography, and the patterns certainly don't disappoint on this front.

step-by-step photography
I'm a big fan of photography rather than diagrams for illustrating unfamiliar techniques as seeing the actual fabric and pattern placement makes more complex steps so much easier to follow! The patterns don't assume any prior dressmaking knowledge, and Lisa walks you through each step of the process with helpful tips along the way.

The patterns have clever little touches and attention to detail which makes the designs very wearable - I particularly like the wide elastic casing waistband on the happiness halter dress, comfortable and practical for little ones. Finishing techniques like the binding on the pocket opening edge also give the finished items a high-end look.
happiness halter dress variation

It just so happens that I have a ready made little mannequin of my own to stitch for, so I decided to stitch up the happiness halter top, as who can resist a nice ruffle?

happiness halter top ruffle detail

happiness halter top

happiness halter top back detail
The size 4 happiness halter top was a perfect fit for my diminutive little miss, with the elastic channel in the back making for a nice neat finish, with no gaping. The length is great for wearing with a pair of shorts, though I would probably cut the pieces a bit longer to make a tunic-length top for wearing with leggings.

My littlest was thrilled with her new top, and eldest, who is just in to double-figures, has actually said she fancies one of her own, so how's that for versatility? Whilst the patterns are for ages 2-6, this style lends itself well to being sized up for older children, so my eldest might just get one stitched up for her.

If you fancy trying your hand at any of the patterns, I have both pattern booklets up for grabs - just leave a comment on this post by the end of the month to let me know what Summer stitching projects you are planning for a chance to win! I'll draw a winner on Friday 1st August, so do check back to see if you have won as blogger doesn't always provide me with email addresses to contact winners directly.

To follow the rest of the blog hop, click on the links below, or pop over to Stitch Craft Create for more details or to purchase Lisa's patterns.

Fri 27th – A Spoonful of Sugar
Tue 1st – Pistons and Polish
Mon 7th – Kitchen Table Sewing
Wed 9th – Kitchen Table Sewing
Mon 14th – Sew Maris
Tue 15th – A Stitching Odyssey
Fri 18th – Scruffy Badger Time
Sun 20th Sew Mama Sew
Monday 21st Angharad Handmade
TBC  House of Pinheiro

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Anyone for lemon tart?

My children have developed an obsession with lemon tart. Even the boy, who considers most other desserts and cakes to be frankly inedible. I have been in search of a good recipe for lemon tart for a while, but was finally spurred into baking by a surfeit of lemons in the fruit bowl and a small unopened tub of crème fraiche in the fridge nearing its use by date. It's surprisingly hard to find a recipe for lemon tart that doesn't involve real cream (something which we never have in the fridge as none of us like it), but as ever, the BBC Good Food site came up trumps, with this recipe for The ultimate makeover: lemon tart, which purports to be both low fat and delicious.

Lemon tart
short-lived lemon tart
The only change I made to the recipe was to make the sweet shortcrust pastry by rubbing 60g of unsalted butter into 140g of flour, stirring through the 1tbsp of icing sugar, then binding together with the leftover egg yolk (from the filling) and a bit of cold water. Otherwise I followed the recipe as on the website.

Mine doesn't look as immaculate as the one on the website, but it was speedily demolished by the children, which is as good a vote of confidence as any; they're pretty particular when it comes to their lemon tarts.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The scrap quilt reveal

Brace yourselves ... I've only gone and finished something!

scrap quilt

Project name: Scrap Vomit (or Technicolour Yawn if you're going for the sanitised version)
Size: 70" square (big enough for me to be completely hidden behind it when holding it up to be photographed!)
Started: May 2011
Finished: May 2014
Batting: Warm and Natural
Backing: Moda extra wide Dottie quilt backing in grey
Quilted: By hand with Gutermann hand-quilting thread in dark grey and Clover gold-eye quilting needles

I signed up to a quilt-along for this scrappy quilt, led on by the enthusiasm of Katy over at imagingermonkey. That was almost 3 years ago - I think Katy has actually completed around 90 scrap vomit quilts during the time I've taken to make my single one, which shows me up somewhat, but then, she is a superhuman quilting machine. This quilt was begun in England and completed in Wales, so has dual heritage just like my 3 children. I was sneakily stitching blocks in between house viewings, which may not have been the best way to ensure the house was tidy, but it was a welcome distraction.

The blocks themselves came together really quickly. I kept the A-blocks as 7 x 7 blocks of random scrappy 2.5" squares but adapted the B-block for a single colour of contrast (dark grey) in a diamond pattern which would criss-cross over the whole quilt.

B blocks handquilting

(oops, missed trimming some threads!)

A blocks handquilting
I started quilting it by hand in May 2012 (aren't blogs terrible for providing incontrovertible proof of how long you've been working on something!), with diagonal lines following the diamonds on the B blocks and segmented circles on the A blocks. I think it was the quilting really which did for the prompt completion of this quilt - all those overlapping seam allowances to stitch through! And so I let it sit, for around a year, only to pick it up again this Spring and realise there wasn't much left to do. So with only 6 circles left to quilt, I picked it up in the evenings and after work and found it came together really quickly. I was saved from procrastinating and deferring decisions over the binding by the fact that I had bought an extra metre of the dark grey solid fabric - I didn't really want anything that would compete with the scrappiness of the quilt, and it also helps to draw the eye to the diamond pattern and save it from getting lost in the multicolour madness.

backing and binding
I've gone as far as removing the erasable pen markings for the quilting, and trimming away (most of) the loose threads, but the quilt hasn't even managed to make it into the washing machine yet and is currently residing on the arm of the settee in the living room, ready to be appropriated by whoever comes along and wants to make a den or a bed for their teddies.

I feel a bit bereft at the completion of such a long-term project - I definitely need to get stuck in to another quilt!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Five go to the Legoland Hotel

Legoland hotel

If you asked me to name my favourite childhood toy, it would be Lego every time. Even though I had the usual 80s suspects like Tiny Tears and Sindy dolls, I definitely spent the most hours playing with my lego sets. So when I managed to book a super cheap deal to stay a night in the LEGOLAND resort hotel in Windsor, I was just as excited as the children. The trick is to book when the park is closed, when the rooms plummet in price - for us, the park being closed wasn't a problem at all, as we used to live just a few miles down the road, so the children have been several times over the years. In any case, had we been visiting the park too, I'm not sure we would have got nearly as much enjoyment out of the hotel itself.

legoland hotel frog prince safe

We stayed in a standard Kingdom-themed room, having thought about a pirate room until the 3-year old developed a sudden fear of the swashbucklers a few weeks ago. The theming in the room was so effective - from the shields 'carved' into the children's bunks to the lego crown by the bathroom mirror. Most exciting of all was the locked safe with a huge frog perched on top and a note directing the children to solve the clues within the room to find the combination to unlock it. This was definitely one of the highlights for my brood, especially when they found a little lego set each inside on opening the safe.

legoland hotel children's bedroom

The layout of the room itself was ideal - a separate bunk bed area for the children, with a pull-out trundle bed for the third child, along with a tv playing various lego-themed programs. Next came the bathroom with its lego toiletries, including a lego brick soap. Then there was the main bedroom with the usual tea and coffee making bits and pieces, as well as a second tv. There was so much attention to detail, with the theme even carried through into the carpeting. This continued outside the room too, with each floor having a separate theme.

legoland hotel kingdom room
legoland hotel bathroom
legoland hotel bathroom

Elsewhere in the hotel, there were chatting lifts, bathroom mirrors which told you how nice you were looking today, and a whoopee cushion carpet. The children were likewise thrilled with the indoor and outdoor play areas, as well as the brilliant swimming pool and splash playing area with slides, see-saw and water jets to soak your family. There is so much to see in every area of the hotel, from a huge display of minifigures behind the reception desk to giant lego people and a model skyline in the bar. It's all been so well thought-out, we were completely won over! And apart from anything else, the room was pretty good value. With a buffet-style breakfast included, the children made the most of the opportunity to fill their tummies - Littlest came away with a babybel cheese, mango, pineapple, mini croissant and mini muffin, Middlest went for crunchy-nut cornflakes, followed by a full English breakfast including around 6 eggs-worth of scramble and a dessert of raisins and peaches, whilst Eldest went for a more continental style with a plate filled with pastries, and a token offering of fruit.  I can't think of anywhere else in the area where we could get a family room to genuinely sleep five for under £100 (the usual 'chain' hotels tend to offer family rooms for 4 only); I would thoroughly recommend it.

legoland hotel indoor play area

This is not a sponsored post, just a genuinely enthusiastic one. We came away singing 'Everything is Awesome' in the car, and resolved to keep our eyes peeled for the next bargain deal!

With apologies for the interruption to normal service - posts about unfinished sewing projects, things I might be thinking about sewing but haven't quite started yet, and aspirations to be a generally more productive maker will soon resume.

Monday, 21 April 2014

UnFinished Objects

My study-o has been in drastic need of a sort-out for a while now. There are more UFOs in there than in area 51. Poor old scrap vomit has been sitting in there for almost 3 whole years (more chronic heartburn than projectile vomit). Then there's the quilt my sister commissioned for my nephew around 6 months ago. And a baby quilt top, finished but in need of backing and binding. Before starting anything new, I resolved to embark on a Spring quiltathon to get these three finished, buoyed on by the arrival on the weekend of a newborn niece, for whom the baby quilt top is destined, and the necessity of first finishing the big boy bed quilt for her big brother.

scrap vomit quilt
scrap vomit

baby girl quilt top
baby quilt top
So first up, the big boy bed quilt. This one was all but finished, but I'd been procrastinating over binding choices. Polka dots, my go-to binding choice, had been ruled out, so what to do? Solids, stripes, checks or patterns? I'm not good when faced with too much choice. But then I stumbled upon this lovely denim-coloured narrow stripe fabric by Makower over at the Village Haberdashery, and bought a metre with a view to cutting it on the bias for a candy-stripe effect.

binding fabric
pinstripe binding fabric
It really is an ideal fabric choice for binding a child's quilt as it's super soft - much more so than usual with quilting cottons. Annie has it in 6 different colourways, so I might just have to add a few more to my stash (especially coveting the lime green and red pinstripes).

I cut 2 1/4" binding strips as I find 2 1/2" just a bit too wide usually, cutting on the bias. Having machined the binding in place to the right side, I spent a few hours later that evening handstitching the binding to the reverse of the quilt whilst watching some recorded episodes of the Great British Sewing Bee with my eldest girl. Binding and mother-daughter sewing-bee viewing was a great bit of distraction while waiting for my husband to return from the hospital with my son, who needed his chin gluing back together after an argument involving a bike, a boy, and a subway wall.

Sewing Bee binding evening
Great British Sewing Bee bindathon
By 4am, I had a fully repaired boy, a finished quilt binding, and an urgent appointment with my duvet. All finished just in time to drive up to visit my sister and her partner in London the next day and meet my lovely new niece! Luckily she's not quite old enough to realise her aunt has been too remiss to finish her new baby quilt yet.
big boy bed quilt
finished quilt and robot
Robot softie stowed away in the package and elicited a very excited 'wow' from my nephew.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Great British Sewing Bee

Oh Great British Sewing Bee, you have a lot to answer for. In showing those contestants artfully draping fabric and stitching seams week after week, you have made me think I might be able to make an actual wearable item of clothing for myself.

We have been down this path before. I've made plenty of clothes for the children, but never seem to pull-off adult sized garments. I think the problem lies in the fact that basically everything looks cute on a small child, whereas on a full-grown adult, handmade can easily translate into twee or homespun.

Still, I'm throwing caution to the wind yet again, and armed with a few metres of this pretty green cotton floral from Ditto Fabrics, as well as Wendy Mullin's Built by Wendy Dresses, I'm all set to stitch up a Summer frock. Or a floral smock for the children's dressing up box, depending on how it all works out!

Dress fabric
Built by Wendy Dresses 
If you have any dressmaking resources to share, please leave a comment - I need all the help I can get. I'm really enjoying The Sewing Directory's week by week guides to the Great British Sewing Bee, which provide everything from links to fabrics used to sewing skills tutorials.

Do you have a favourite online supplier of dressmaking fabrics in the UK? I'm not so keen on using quilters cottons for dressmaking as I don't find them drapey enough, but I really struggle to find a decent selection of lighter-weight cottons online. My current shortlist of online stores includes:

The holy grail, of course, would be a bricks and mortar fabric emporium close to home in South East Wales, Gloucestershire or Bristol. Had we still been living in Slough, Fabrics Galore would have been top of the list, but having moved back to the South Wales marches, I'm not really sure what's on my doorstep.

I'm deeply saddened that the Sewing Bee is now over and done with for this year, just as I'm getting up my enthusiasm for dressmaking. On the whole, I think the challenges were a lot harder this year! What did you make of last night's verdict?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Spring forward

I like a bit of rain, me - after all, hailing from the South Wales valleys, I am semi-amphibian. I must admit, though, that this Winter has been a bit of a long (and wet) haul. But now, at the tail end of March, it feels like Spring has finally sprung, the clocks have gone forward, the sun has been shining, and we've blown away the cobwebs in the great outdoors.

The winks taking in the blossom on our way out to lunch today

It's mother's day today, and the google doodle seems especially apposite as we've been out cycling the past two weekends.

It's been so lovely to get out on two wheels again. Last weekend saw us cycling along the Wales coast path through the Newport wetlands. Next weekend, we hope to try the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. Hopefully sticking to the towpath rather than the waterway, obviously.

Lighthouse in the distance at the Newport wetlands
Hope you have been enjoying a bit of Springtime sunshine too!


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Ok, so it's already 11 January and I'm a bit tardy with the new year post. The truth is, things are incredibly busy around here. I'm even more covered in bits of stray thread than usual, my long-suffering parents have been drafted in to help with school runs and such, and the study-o is heaped with partially sewn projects and general haberdashery. I've produced more finished objects in a shorter time than ever before, none of which I'm able to show here as they're all relating to a top secret project for 2014.

I am so much looking forward to getting everything done and dusted come mid-February, and becoming a normal functioning human being again. Well, as near to normal as I'll ever be anyway.

Still, at least in the meantime the cat is on hand to help with the laundry.

cat in a tumble drier

See you on the other side.

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