Saturday, 24 May 2008

A happy accident

I should know better by now than to start a new project after a week of sleepless nights with a small boy who's cutting his molars, but I really wanted to play around with this velvet damask I bought from U-handbag a little while ago that's been sitting idle in my stash. I drew up a pattern for a clutch with a pleated front which I thought suited the velvet fabric as it's a bit more dressy than my usual cotton prints.

So just as I'm feeling really pleased with how it's turned out, and how the front pleated panel and the non-pleated interior actually match up, I realise that I've totally forgotten to insert the magnetic snap closure. There was no way I was going to rip the whole thing up after basting through 2 layers (and I never normally baste anything!), sewing, then topstitching! So after about 30 minutes trying to track down sew-in magnetic fasteners on the internet, then realising they wouldn't quite work either, I remembered this chocolate brown ribbon I had sitting in a box upstairs. Ta da! A pretty floppy bow closure, which I think fits in really well with the slightly puffy pleated front of the bag.

I've now got 2 more of these cut out in a pretty lilac embroidered fabric, but I need to shop for some ribbon to match before I can sew them! Isn't there always just one more thing that's needed before you can complete a project? I dare say it's a good thing though - after the knock on effect of the magnetic snap/ribbon saga, I didn't get to bed till gone midnight last night. Probably best I stay away from the machine this evening!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

My sewing library

I seem to have accumulated a good library of sewing books over the last couple of years since getting my very own sewing machine for the first time. Although I sewed as a hobby before that, I never really realised that books like these existed and just worked from paper patterns, calling on my mother and her amazing skills as a seamstress for help when I got stuck. Having my own machine for the first time made me resolve to stop winging it so much and to learn how to do some of the basics properly!

So here's a quick overview of the books currently on my shelves:

Simple Sewing with a French Twist by Celine Dupuy

Simple Sewing with a French Twist made me want to go to France to buy fabric immediately (I've never been to Paris on a fabric shopping spree in spite of living in Northern France for a whole year, which is shameful really). The styling in this book is beautiful and a real feeling of Parisian chic (or maybe I'm just falling for the project titles like 'rive gauche carryall'!). There are more than 50 projects in the book, from a flower corsage to a shopping trolley make over, with a bias towards items for the home in the main. The back of the book has several pages of pattern pieces which you'll need to enlarge on a photocopier. All in all, I think this is a beautiful book for inspiration, and has lots of nice projects and ideas, especially if you like vintage style.

The Complete Book of Sewing: a practical step-by-step guide to every technique (published by Dorling Kindersley)

This is really first and foremost a reference book and my first port of call when I get stuck with a technique. As with every Dorling Kindersley book I've come across, the book is superbly illustrated with clear photographs (the image on the left shows how encyclopedic the book is with a lovely clear photo of the various feet you might find with your machine). There are no projects to sew here, but a tonne of useful instructions, especially for anyone who intends to do a lot of dressmaking.

Amy Butler's In Stitches and Lotta Jansdotter's Simple Sewing

Both these books have the same format - spiral bound books with a pocket for pattern pieces at the front (hooray for pattern pieces and no photocopying!). The spiral binding is a fantastic idea as you can lay the book flat on a table and keep it by your side as you sew - I think you'd want to do this with the Amy Butler book in particular, as there are often a lot of detailed steps and diagrams in her instructions which I think is what gives the projects in In Stitches a really 'finished' quality. I also love the projects in the Lotta Jansdotter book which have a much simpler feel and style, really reminiscent of Japanese craft books with lots of natural linens and cottons in evidence. I've put a link on each of the titles above to where you can search inside both these books.

Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp

This is a really great manual and project book for anyone starting out in sewing, and I know I would have loved to have received this as a teenager as there are so many do-able clothing projects and gift ideas inside. The author teaches sewing for a living, and this is really evident throughout as you're taken through all the necessary techniques and equipment at the beginning of the book (it's not nearly as exhaustive as the Dorling Kindersley book, but still includes all the basics and a bit more), with a separate section for the projects. Like In Stitches and Simple Sewing, this book has a spiral binding and pattern pieces in the front pocket, which is great. The book includes 25 designs (like this lovely cape!), as well as a couple of things you could make as gifts for men (a tie and some boxer shorts) which sets it apart from most of the sewing books I've come across!

Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson

I really love the way this book is organised by how long the projects take to complete - this really is the perfect book for last-minute crafters like me! There's a flickr group on this book, which I've been browsing since receiving this book, with lots of photos of the finished projects. There are some pattern pieces on separate sheets at the back of the book and a section of basic instructions for quilting and patchwork to get you through the projects at the back. I could see myself making lots of the projects from this book to give as gifts. I've been looking through lots of quilting books lately, and this one is the perfect level for me, concentrating on projects rather than overviews of different quilting styles and techniques.

Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol

This book is aimed at beginners in the main, with lots of corner cutting, creative ideas such as printing on fabric, and unusual projects like the children's foldaway puppet theatre, which is on my (lengthy) to-make list. Great for someone with their first machine who wants to tackle some straightforward projects, but there are also lots of ideas for people who already know their way around a machine.

... and have I actually made any of the projects from any of these books to date ... well, not as such! I've mostly used them like coffee table books browsing for ideas and techniques, though I do have a shortlist of projects in my to-sew queue. I'm looking forward to spending some time making more gifts and things for our home over the Summer after my frenzy of sewing for the WeMake craft fair is over!

Friday, 16 May 2008

The postman brought these ...

Okay, so the sunshine we've been enjoying here in the UK seems to have well and truly disappeared, and it's feeling rather wintry at the moment, but who cares when the postman brings packages like this:

This is what I received in an impromptu swap with Florence after we met up the other day. She had been asking about the minkee I'd blogged about recently, so I sent her a small offcut to play around with. In return, she very kindly sent me the goodies pictured above - a pretty pink pack of Cath Kidston tissues (I will not be wasting these on my children's runny noses!), a trio of dishcloths so lovely I will save them for best, a piece of a gorgeous Amy Butler fabric that I've never seen in these colours before, and last but not least, a handy new sewing gadget. Thanks so much, Florence!

Also delivered by my postman last week was a package from Sew, Mama, Sew. I put my prize money towards three Amy Butler prints in blue and grey from the Lotus collection. They're even more beautiful in the flesh than they looked on the website, and I really can't wait to cut into these.
I'm going to use them to make the Emmeline apron which I purchased the pattern for a little while ago. I had an email conversation with Jo about my reluctance to use up large quantities of fabric on a single item, and my consequent tendency to eke out my stash on small projects; this has decided me to take up Jo's suggestion of joining in the Emmeline sew-along as therapy for my fabric-hoarding tendencies!

And there's more - I got another parcel yesterday, in the shape of this book, Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp, the third book my mother-in-law had ordered for my birthday.

I thought I might devote a separate blog post to a mini review of my sewing books, as I've been asked a few times lately about book and tutorial recommendations, and tips for how to go about basic sewing tasks, so I'll get on to that in the coming week.

I'll leave you with a photo of the cake I baked this week to take to a friend's house. I suddenly realised it had been ages since I'd done any baking of the non-child-assisted variety, so I thought I'd cook something a bit more grown up. This is a traybake with apricot halves topping each piece from Bill's Open Kitchen by Bill Granger. It turned out really well and I'll definitely cook this one again as it's really very easy. It's lucky I took it to my friend's, really, or I'd probably have scoffed the lot!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

And the winner is ....

Using the tried and tested bribe-a-toddler approach, we have drawn the winner in my clutch purse giveaway. There were 31 names in the bowl in all, and the winner is ...

Congratulations, bunny! You can email me your address at angharad44 (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk and I'll get the purse posted out to you. Thanks for all the entries and comments - it's been great hearing about everyone's ideal crafty days out!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Birthday books and weekend sewing

Look! I've just received a most exciting belated birthday gift from my mother-in-law. I've had these two on my Amazon wishlist for some time, and have seen some lovely projects made up from both on flickr and in blog posts. They're my new bedtime reading (time during the day to browse books is rare with my 4 and 2 year old around!). What a great gift - my mother-in-law obviously knows me very well. What's more, apparently there's another book still to come, so I am going to be on the lookout for the postman over the coming days!

It's been gloriously sunny here over the past week. This weekend was spent outdoors - our patio doors are flung open and the children have just been roaming happily in the back garden. Yesterday saw the paddling pool being brought out for the first time this year, and two very excited children leaping around in it. Needless to say, we all got very wet! I also managed to do a bit of sewing here and there during the day and evening. More bits and pieces for the WeMake craft fair I'm taking part in, in Covent Garden on Sunday June 21st.

More pencil cases and coin purses in cute Japanese fabrics. All done, just in need of a press! I'm finding it a little alarming how quickly the weeks are passing, with so much sewing left to do. I have a sort of waking nightmare where I'm standing in front of a table with just two items on it and everyone walking straight past! Luckily, I am sharing with the lovely Clothcat, so hopefully between us we can fill a table.

Off now to water the plants with my little boy. There's still time to enter my giveaway for a clutch bag made in Amy Butler prints, for anyone who's interested! You have until midnight tonight, UK time.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Weekend sewing

My first effort at sewing with stretch fabrics (that's if you discount - and I certainly do - the Josie Jump-esque tracksuit I made for my daughter before I knew you needed a special needle to sew stretch fabrics). This is a little top for my daughter from Ottobre 1/2008. It wasn't an altogether successful project. The instructions said I needed to stretch the fabric slightly on the curves, but apparently I was a little overzealous as the front wrap panels were gaping when I'd sewn it all together and I had to take in the sides to compensate. Also, I don't have a serger, so I winged it, stretching both the sleeves and the hem of the top and zig-zagging them to try and create a slightly ruffled edge. Luckily stretch fabrics are quite forgiving!

The word from my little girl is that the top looks very 'pyjamary', which is fine, and it's probably quite comfortable for nightwear! She's wearing it with a skirt I made for her last weekend in 20 minutes (she was utterly unimpressed by the speed, though I was very pleased with myself!). Officially the world's easiest skirt using a patchwork fabric (from John Lewis). One side seam, a hem, a turned waistband and some elastic - finished!

I also cut into the lovely brown pindot fabric I'd bought at the weekend on Monday to make this top.

The pattern is Simplicity 3887, which I've seen here, there and everywhere in blogland. I added it to my pattern stash last Summer and thought it was high time I did something with it! You really have to ignore the pictures on the pattern envelope, though, which do little to recommend the pattern.

I really like the finished top, though it is a bit gapey - too gapey to be honest - at the back of the neck. I probably should have made a smaller size, but my measurements came up a size (bordering on two) larger than the size I'd take in a shop. Is this normal with sewing patterns? Or am I just kidding myself that I'm two sizes smaller than I really am? Maybe learning to draft/adapt patterns properly is the way to go. Or maybe I should just stick to sewing clothes for my children as they move around a lot so it's harder to see the botched bits!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Crafty London meet and giveaway!

I've had a most exciting weekend! On Saturday, I went to London, not to see the queen, but some infinitely more important (and more fun too, I suspect!) ladies - Florence of Flossie Teacakes, Jo from Today we are and Lisa from U-handbag. Plan for the day: eating cake, chatting and fabric shopping - definitely a day out with my name on it!

We started out with coffee and pastries (sorry I ate the evidence before I'd thought to photograph it :D), then off to Liberty for a long browse and some button-buying.

After Liberty, my first visit to The Cloth House in Soho. What a beautiful shop - full of gorgeous linens and cottons and trims.

It was all so lovely and inviting, I just couldn't help buying a gauzy brown cotton fabric with a cream pindot print and this lilac linen offcut.

We also made our way down to the other end of Berwick Street where the Cloth House have another store devoted to knits, jersey, wool and silks. I have never seen so much jersey, felt and wool in one place. The place really is an Aladdin's cave of lovely fabrics.

Naturally, after such a huge fabric hit we were all in need of a sit down and some cake, so we made our way to Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street.

I think we must have stayed here for several hours (overcome by the heady scent of chocolate, no doubt!) having such a great chat about crafting and life in general. I think the staff there had probably given up on us ever leaving by the time we finally vacated out table!

And how best to end such a lovely day out? With mocktails in tall glasses in the 5th floor bar of Waterstone's in Piccadilly, and more chatting, naturally! And the beauty of going to a bar in a bookshop is that you can go and have a nice browse through the bag-making books on the way out.

Thanks, Florence, Jo and Lisa for a lovely day!

And finally, I haven't forgotten (miraculously!) that I promised a small giveaway at the end of my last post. If you'd like to be put in to a draw to win this clutch bag made from Amy Butler prints, just leave a comment on this post telling me about your ideal crafting/crafter's day out. Everyone's welcome, including lurkers and new visitors, and I'm happy to post internationally. You have until midnight (UK time) on Monday 12th May to enter, and I'll chose the winner at random on Tuesday. Sorry blogger doesn't provide me with your email addresses, so you'll need to check back to see if you've won.

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 1 May 2008


It was my 32nd birthday yesterday. Scary how quickly that year has gone! Getting a year older never seems to bother me too much, though I will admit to a momentary flash of anxiety that I would suddenly have to be a proper grown up when I turned 30!

As you can see, my husband and children chose a very delicious chocolate birthday cake, in spite of my little boy's insistence that he wanted a Thomas the Tank cake! I had a lovely day, with cards, presents and the children on extra special best behaviour. All in all it's been a great birthday!

Later in the afternoon I had a most exciting bonus birthday surprise in an email from Sew Mama Sew to say that my napkin set tutorial had been chosen as one of the winners in their Tutorial Contest. I was so thrilled about this - I've never won anything like this before! Thanks very much for all the lovely comments. The Sew Mama Sew blog has links to all the winning tutorials, as well as all the other entries, with lots of fantastic ideas for things to sew, so it's well worth having a look. Now I have a $25 gift certificate in my pocket and I'm looking forward to spending some money on some of the gorgeous fabrics in the Sew, Mama, Sew shop!

I'm thinking some kind of small blog giveaway would be in order as I've just had a birthday and a competition win. Of course, I haven't been organised enough yet to think of what I'll give away, so it will have to wait until my next post! Watch this space!
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