Saturday, 27 October 2012


I'm busily updating the shop this weekend with a new batch of purses and pencil cases in an array of cute Japanese fabrics.  I think these would make a nice gift - with maybe some spending money or some lovely pens or pencils inside (I am a big fan of nice pens and pencils!). Clearing the way now to start work properly on some new *whispers* festive projects.

Don't forget you still have a few days left to enter my giveaway for one of these purses, pencil cases, or make up bags, just leave a comment on my last post.

Cute purses and pencil cases

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Half a decade - giveaway anyone?

 This week marks my five-year blog anniversary. It was only when Tess posted about her own five year anniversary, and then Lina too, that I took stock and did a bit of mental maths (2012-2007= 5 years) and worked out that I'd clocked up half a decade without even noticing. Quite terrifying.

A lot has happened in that five years.

Isle of Wight 2012 193

My gruesome twosome has become a threesome. My dinky four and almost-two year old are now a nine and almost-seven year old, with a little baby sister of two-and-a-bit trailing after them and ordering them around. There have been many chocolate smartie birthday cakes, interspersed with the odd over-ambitious effort.

We have moved - from Burnham, Slough (right on the Buckinghamshire/Berkshire border) to Chepstow in my native Wales. Still within a stone's throw of England though (well, not for me as I'm more of a stitcher than a thrower but I could put the husband on to it).

I have clocked up more than 200 sales over on Etsy.

5 years of blogging

I have made a lot of stuff.

06/07/2011 moving chaos

I have bought a lot of fabric (as was abundantly clear when the day came to send our things into storage for the big move West ... a whole 3 tea-chests full of my things even after a ruthless clearout!).

I have had a couple of large blogging hiatuses (when morning sickness and new baby exhaustion meant I just couldn't summon up the energy). But I missed it. And blogging definitely makes me a saner person, probably because it feels like I'm actually accomplishing something as the weeks go whizzing by. And so I came back.  

I have noticed more, and am really happy that I have a record of some of the little things that I might otherwise have forgotten. I mean, I can barely remember what happened last week, so the blog is a genuinely useful aide-memoire

I've made some really really good friends.
Which really is the best reason for blogging.

And so I wondered if anyone who is (still) reading would be interested in winning one of my make up bags, coin purses or pencil cases. If so, please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear about your crafting mishaps after Annie's comment on my last post set me thinking about the injuries I've sustained over the years.  To start the ball rolling, my own funniest mishap was an injury I sustained whilst at school when I fell off a chair and impaled myself on a knitting machine when putting boxes of fabric away on the top shelf of the textiles cupboard. I ended up with a row of 8 neat holes just under my knee and have a lovely big scar to show for it a full 20 years later.  It doesn't have to be an injury, any kind of crafting gone wrong will do, and if you are a blessed soul who has never had any kind of crafting mishap, then you can just leave a comment telling me what you had for dinner if you like. I'll choose a winner at the end of the month with the good old random number selector.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Tools for hand-quilting

Scrap vomit hand quilted
scrap vomit in progress

My mission to hand quilt my scrap vomit quilt continues. I'm enjoying the slow burn of this project. Something to pick up when I have some spare time in the evening, or for a half hour after lunch on a weekend at home. I've had many a happy afternoon quilting in the sunshine, but now Autumn is upon us, it's even more tempting to sit and quilt of an evening. Sitting under a voluminous quilt is a really good way of not having to put the central heating on. My cat seems to agree with the sentiment and wherever scrap vomit and I go, she's sure to follow.

There's a cat in mi quiltin what am I gonna do?
There's a cat in mi quiltin' what am I gonna do?*
This cat should win a prize for nonchalance, she has totally perfected the '...and?' look.

It's been a real learning curve for me taking on a quilt of this size as my only experience of quilting by hand has been on a baby quilt. Needless to say, working on a larger scale presents its own problems.

I've so far experimented with two kinds of needle. I tried the Clover Gold Eye quilting needles first, which were much tinier than I had imagined they would be, indeed, the eyes are almost too small to see, let alone thread! I followed a helpful tip in Last-minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts and threaded all fourteen needles onto the spool of thread at once, just pulling a new length of thread through one of the needles and cutting when I ran out of thread. This definitely lessened the pain of threading, getting it all over and done with in one go. Though very fine and very sharp, I did find I broke 3 needles in my first few quilting sessions.  I think the key with the Clover needles is not letting the needle take too much of the stress, but manipulating the quilt as you rock the needle. I also bought some John James Pebble needles (after worrying about the snappability of the Clover needles) but, being thicker, I found them much harder to push through the fabric and much less flexible. The Gutermann hand quilting thread I've been using gives a nice stitch definition and it travels well through the fabric, especially after a few passes through my trusty paraffin wax, though it is hard to thread through those teeny tiny clover needles ... I wonder whether anyone has found a better pairing?

hand quilting tools

The other problem I have encountered on occasion is finding I can't physically grip the needle to pull it through the quilt when loaded up with a row of stitches. In extremis, I have found that grabbing an eraser from one of the children's pencil cases and  pressing it into the needle with my right hand whilst pulling the needle through with my left works quite well, but it's hardly the most efficient technique. I had been on a quest to source some of those rubber thimbles used by bank tellers until Florence enlightened me as to the existence of something called a 'needle grabber', which I have duly ordered and look forward to putting to use.

Of course one of the hazards of quilting with 2.5" squares is that when you press all those tiny seams to one side you end up with a huge bulk of fabric to quilt through in places. This is the one place where my clover needles fail me, and I have to abandon the rocking motion and take slow stitches from front to back until I've negotiated the bulk. Is it anathema to quilters to press seams open? I'm thinking this could have saved me a lot of grief and snapped needles! Likewise, I haven't used a frame or hoop at all when quilting and wonder whether this is going to turn out to be a huge mistake later. My feeling was that I would struggle to have enough give in the fabric to rock the needle through so many layers if it was held taught in a hoop.

Hand quilting tools

The one tool I really couldn't do without is my no-slip thimble, worn on the middle finger of my right hand. It has a recessed ridged top which is perfect for holding the end of the needle to push it through the fabric. However, the fingers of my left hand are definitely suffering from those evenings spent stitching. Even though I already have a hard layer of skin on the tips of my fingers from playing the violin, I've found that they're a mess of little grazes from the needle coming through the underside of the fabric. My first thought as an erstwhile harpist (well, I'm Welsh, it goes with the territory), was surgical spirit (which I think is known as 'rubbing alcohol' in the US). This was something used to harden your fingertips so that they didn't blister. I still have a bottle stashed in the medicine cupboard so I'm going to experiment to see if this affords any protection. I have also ordered some Thimble-its sticky patches; I'm hoping they'll still allow me to feel the needle underneath the fabric without shredding my finger tips to smithereens. 

Do you have any favourite tools that you can't do without? Is there anything else I need to complete my hand-quilter's toolkit? I would love to hear your tips and advice to someone who is new to quilting by hand.

*I'm sad enough to think this is really funny, but the husband suggests I link here by way of explanation.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A bag for a little girl

bag plans afootOne of my projects for the the Summer holidays this year was to make a new bag for my eldest. There's a real gap in the market out there - what we wanted was neither a school bag or messenger bag, nor a purse or handbag, but a mid-sized bag, small enough not to be a burden but big enough to house the essentials.

The plan
  • A bag. A bag with a gusset. And a divider. And a zipped inner pocket.
  • A bag with an adjustable across-the-body shoulder strap.
  • A bag small enough to carry around on a day out, big enough to hold a purse, medical bag and other little girl paraphernalia (today's contents include: a bag of humbugs, some small pebbles collected on the beach and a notebook and pencil for jottings).
It  was just the excuse I needed to use these super-shiny nickel rectangle rings and slider* which I have had, unused, for the best part of four years (I am very skilled at long-term bag project planning). And the fabric was one I had chosen especially for the little girl who just happens to have a much-loved black cat from Battersea dogs and cats home, a pretty Japanese linen/cotton mix fabric from Fabrics Galore on etsy. I am a huge fan of these Japanese woven fabrics, which have quite a bit more natural structure to them than quilting cottons but come in the sweetest prints rather than being a straight 'utility' fabric.

* you can find similar ones over at u-handbag

Little girl satchel
I sketched the bag pattern around the medical bag, factoring in a gusset for extra storage capacity and a satchel shape. An elasticated pocket/divider was added, along with a little zipped compartment for precious things. The strap is long enough that my daughter can wear it across her body without the strap being at full length, but so that she could also shorten it to use it as a shoulder bag. I've carried it for her myself without feeling in the slightest bit ridiculous - I think this is one of the virtues of the Japanese fabric which is cute without being cutesy, if you see what I mean.

bag interior: zipped pocket and divider

little girl's satchel

So far the bag has proved to be very versatile.

Climbing the rigging  
a bag for climbing the rigging

Regal eagle bag atop a castle turret  
a bag for feeling regal atop a 128foot-high turret

Llechwedd mine
a bag for going down a mine (trust me, it's there, just moving too swiftly for my phone to capture) 

Views over Tintern Abbey from England 
 a bag for playing half-English, half-Welsh on a cross-country walk along Offa's dyke to view Tintern Abbey in all its glory back in Wales.

And the nicest thing for me is how genuinely pleased my girl was with her new bag. I'm glad they don't feel I'm palming them off with things handmade. Well, not yet, anyway!

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