Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hillary's Craft Competition

I got a new sewing machine about six months ago. It's lovely, and yet I've not spent anywhere near enough time getting to know it. I've been in a bit of a sewing rut. My New Year's resolution was to work through my fabric stash, and so I've been sewing quilt tops like there's no tomorrow and doing little else. I needed something to break me out of my mould and into my new machine.

And along came an email from my lovely friend J at QuiltyKitty. She'd found this brilliant craft competition run by Hillary's . They send you a metre of fabric of your choice (of four patterns) and you make something with it. Blog it, and you could win a big prize. Sold!

I've had a look at some of the other entries (google them if you're interested - search for 'hillary's craft competiton' entries) and they are amazing. So amazing I felt a little embarrassed by my effort. But prizes aside, this was the most fun I've had sewing in a long time. I was challenged to be creative and come up with something original. I used loads of new tricks on my sewing machine. I ended up with three things that I love. How can you go wrong?

If any of you are in a sewing rut, set yourself a challenge. Buy a fat quarter of something and see what, and how much, you can make from it. And go on and drop me a comment and let me know what you made!

Project Number 1: the houndstooth skirt

As soon as I saw my fabric, I knew I wanted a skirt. If this hadn't been a competition, I'd have made a simple pencil skirt with a zip, but given I was drafting my own pattern - and I HATE zips - I decided to take a different approach. The idea for the sailor skirt was born: a straight skirt, a few darts for shaping in the back, and a button panel in the front with contrasting lime green pieces. I tried my hand at piping for the first time, inspired by the episode of the Great British Sewing Bee I'd just seen.

Piping was actually pretty easy. I used a zipper foot and bought cotton bias binding which saved some time. Give it a bash if you haven't already - I was really impressed with how nice and neat it makes things look. I lined the skirt, and used the roll-hem foot on my machine for the lining - another first! Maybe not as easy as the piping, but still quite good.

Blurry self-photo showing the piping, button panel, and mess on my bedroom floor.

Voila! One sailor skirt, no zipper required, easily made with a metre square and fabric left over. So, onto...

Project Number 2: the handbag

I was surfing eBay (dangerous habit) when I saw some green leather handles and thought they would be perfect for using up my extra fabric. Highly recommend this seller, by the way - very fast shipping and I love the handles! I used my leftover green to line it, and basically just cut out one piece for the outside and one for the inside in this shape:

Sew up the sides, leaving an opening in the lining large enough to turn the bag right-side out. Fit the outside inside the lining, right sides together. Sew around the top, then turn it out through the opening you left. Sew that up, and top stitch around the top of the bag. I invested in some magnetic closures (super fun!) and popped one on for a closure. Sewed on the handles and ta-da!

Bag and lining, right sides together, sewn and about to be turned

Turned right-side out and top-stitched

But there was still a bit leftover, and I had a lot of magnetic closures left, so we have...

Project 3: the sunglass case

This was even simpler than the handbag, and yet (because of that?) it's maybe my favourite of the three. It took about five minutes to make and I use it every day. Same process as above: two rectangles of fabric. Sew up the sides, leaving a gap in the lining. Put together, sew up the tops, turn through the lining, sew up the hole, top stitch, magnetic closure, done. Almost as quick as writing that sentence!

Measure to fit your glasses

Lining and outer piece sewn up, not yet joined together

My lovely friend Jon the Photographer came over to take a photo of the finished result, so here I am in my meter of Hillary's fabric. Thank you to the lovely people there who gave me so much fun this month!


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mittens for kittens...or gloves for small people

So, it's been a while. I've been working full time, naps are no more, and I've neglected my blogging if not my sewing. I have been busy making things, and even bough a new sewing machine! Here are a few highlights:

A friend and I made this quilt for a charity we both support - MUMs, which stands for Malawi Underprivileged Mothers. It was raffled off in September, making almost £4000. It was the definitely the most high-profile bit of sewing either of us had done, and got us a few media hits in quilting magazines (see below). The quilt even spent a week in the Scottish Parliament (here it is with one of the charity workers). It was a huge amount of energy and time, but an amazing experience.

Another big project finished was my second baby clothes quilt. This one had been ready to sew for about a year, but I waited until I got my new machine in August to put it together. Like its companion, it has flannel borders and is very cuddly. It's now at home on my little girl's bed, but I think I love it more than she does.

Then there was this quilt for a friend's grandchild:

And this one for a nephew's wedding:

I made a skirt from a pattern:

I finally framed a sampler I started when I was 12:

And of course there were various appliqued t-shirts (including this one, for an Edinburgh friend's wee boy):

And always costumes, like this dragon hoodie:

And some cushions, and Christmas ornaments.

There! Consider yourselves caught up. If you want details on how to do any of the above, just drop me a line. And I really should update more often.

But I came up with this tonight and wanted to share.  It ticks all my boxes: definitely do-able in even the shortest of naps, practical and fun. Almost no sewing skills and materials required. And it solves the ever-present problem: how to keep hold of gloves when the small people insist that they are too old for the string through their coats sleeves but haven't managed to remember about putting them in their pockets/hoods/etc.

The solution came in the form of the button box. A happy half hour spent sorting buttons and younger child selected two Peter Rabbit ones. A £1 pack of gloves from Tesco, some thread and a needle and you are ready to go. Oh - and you need a Winter coat that has button holes somewhere on it.

Simply sew your buttons onto the gloves (one on each). They don't have to be as big as the button-holes, but big enough to get some kind of a grip. And voila - when the gloves come off, hook them through a button-hole. Magic, and a fun way of spicing up some otherwise rather dull gloves.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

"Bye, baby bunting..."

It's been a while, for which I apologise. I have two excuses. First, I've mostly been making the same thing. I'm in a bunting stage. First it was some Special Leaving Bunting (see below). Then it was name bunting for a friend's new baby and new baby's big sister, and then it was my favourite bunting of all (again, see below). So, not much to report. I've already shared my bunting making instructions, and these are really variations on a theme.

The second excuse is better. My sewing machine broke. It started to skip the odd stitch in the middle of making Special Leaving Bunting, and when I went to make the name bunting it became totally unusable. Into the shop it went, for what was meant to be 3 days and ended up being nearly two weeks. I missed it. A lot.

However, it is back and I finally managed to finish off a few projects, clear the desk a bit, and realise I need something new. And so, I found this site which offers PDF patterns WITH TUTORIALS at quite bargainous prices. This is big for me, because up to now my inability to follow pattern instructions has meant that most the things I make are designed through trial and error. I've just bought the very cute hoodie pattern, and I'm hoping to whip a few up this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

But back to the bunting. This Special Leaving Bunting was a collaborative effort, made for a friend who at short notice told us she was moving to the other end of Britain. No time to make a quilt or something more elaborate, but there was time enough to rally the troops to make a triangle of fabric which was then strung together to make bunting. Of course, they all outdid themselves. I'd been expecting plain bits of cotton but they crocheted, appliqued, painted, embroidered, and adorned with style. In the end, we had a massive string of bunting with lovely messages written on the backs of the flags, and I think she did like it. If you are after a group project, this is a good one - how nice would it be for a wedding/christening/birthday/anything?

That finished, it was time to tackle my Favourite Bunting of All Time, aka Alphabet Bunting. It is, really, as it sounds. It involved a lot of applique and some dictionary searching (J and N were very tricky!) but in the end, I'm really pleased with it.

If you want to make something similar, here are my tips and lessons learned.

1. I made rectangles rather than triangles just so I could fit everything in. If you wanted triangles, I'm sure it could be done if you used just upper or lower case letters.

2. I bought the cheapest white cotton I could find - 2 metres of it - for making the flags. It ended up being curtain lining and £4/metre for 100% cotton - not bad. However, if I made this again I would buy a slightly higher quality. This stuff ravelled like mad.

3. I used black felt for the letters. Felt is very forgiving when you applique, and it meant if my stitches weren't exactly on the edge it didn't show up, and if I missed a bit I didn't have to worry about it fraying.

4. Use an assembly line approach to the applique. Do all the pinks/reds/yellows/blues at once so that you don't have to thread and rethread your machine more than needed.

5. Cheat. In the end, I used fabric pens for a lot of small details. It saved me from going completely crazy.

6. Think about your images. As well as being easy to applique, it helps to have things that are relevant to your kids. I struggled most with the letter N, thinking nappies, nose, and finally Nessie which I thought would be great - but then the kids might see it as a snake, monster, serpent... We were just back from New York so in the end that won. I also wanted things that made the sound of the letter, so as much as I wanted Owl for O, Octopus won.

Once the bunting started to come together, I realised it really would have made a fabulous quilt. Only the low quality cotton and felt letters kept it from becoming a blanket, but I may well make this again as a present. For someone I really, really like. It was a really fun project, though - one I was almost sorry to finish.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Summer Sewing

Yesterday was spent working on my little girl's summer wardrobe. We're going somewhere hot and humid for a week, and she'll need - well, summer clothes! Since little dresses are always my favourite thing to make, I tried a few different ones out (there's one more to come).

First off, this wrap dress. It was ridiculously fast and easy, once I got the pattern pieces sorted. The pattern template on this tutorial worked really well for the front two pieces, but not for the back. What I ended up doing was cutting out the two front pieces, positioning them as I wanted them to look, and then laying them on top of the fabric and tracing out the back piece to match. I also gave my pattern a bit more of an a-line to the skirt, because I think little girls need a bit of room to kick! I used two versions of the same cotton patterned fabric, and this dress took 1/2 a metre. Wrap dresses are dead easy and super forgiving - loads of fun combinations to be made with these!

And on!

Next up, this peasant dress. This was a breeze, and took no time at all. I had the fabric already, reclaimed from something else, so it already had the pink stitching on. Super cute dress, and I'll make more for sure!

And finally, the piece de resistance. I love this fox fabric (by Moda) and wanted to make a gorgeous short sleeved shirt with it. I made a combination of the peasant dress above and this gorgeous tutorial. I pleated the sleeves and front, and in the end added a few to the back to size it properly. I love it.


Back, with red buttons
Sadly, my daughter's response hasn't been the same. She was most excited about the wrap dress, and wore it happily - for fifteen minutes. Then she demanded I take it off. When she woke this morning and saw her fox shirt, she was again very excited - but screamed until I took it off of her. And she wouldn't wear the peasant dress. I still have one more dress to make, from a beautiful creme broderie anglaise... But I may well be giving these away! Still, some fun patterns and good tutorials. Happy summer sewing!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Babushka Quilt

This project was definitely not made in an hour. It's been months in the making. So while I'm not suggesting you try it while your children nap, I wanted to document it anyway.

My grandmother died last September, on my 31st birthday. There was no funeral; instead, we are getting together next month for an interment of her ashes. This quilt, in a way, was my grieving. I started planning it in October, when my mother gave me two of Nana's scarves. They had been well chewed by the moths, and the cream one in particular was almost paper thin. But I decided it could be salvaged for a quilt, if I could bring myself to cut it up.

So I started mulling this over. At first, I thought the quilt would have a colour theme, just reds and greys. But then I decided I wanted it to reflect different aspects of my grandmother. She was a musician - a violinist. She loved birds, and I remember watching cardinals from her Long Island home. She was crafty, and she was Russian*. She loved cats, and bright and bold things.

I set out to find fabrics that reflected this, and eBay was a godsend for quickly finding various themed fat quarters. Russian FQ. Violin FQ. Cardinal FQ. Cat FQ. Moscow FQ, and so on! Over a few months, I collected about 18 different fabrics that I thought would work - and then I had to decide what to do with them.

The original idea had been a Log Cabin quilt, as Nana had always said she wanted to live in a little log cabin surrounded by cats. But I soon realised that most of my patterns were too large to work in narrow strips, and so I wavered between two or three other patterns before finally deciding on a Moda one which now seems to have disappeared from the website - sorry no link! (The site is fantastic, though, for free quilting patterns.)

So I cut out the fabrics, carefully deciding which parts of the patterns to use. I got up the nerve to cut one shawl; the other stayed intact. I also had to learn how to darn, and fix the tiny holes in the shawl (which I then backed with cotton to give it a bit of strength). I ran into endless nightmares with running out of fabric, cutting pieces the wrong size, and so on. Only once I had cut everything out and laid it out on the floor to start sewing did I realise I should have cut all my pieces as diamonds rather than squares to avoid the squint look that the quilt now has... But after two weeks of dithering I decided to forget about it and sew on.

I backed it in dark red flannel, and did my usual terrible quilting job. But I am happy with it. It is as I wanted it to be.

Last week I finished it and posted it, recorded delivery, mistakes and all, to my mum for her Mother's Day present (Canadian Mother's Day is in May - I'm not just really late here!). She got it today, and so I can now show the photos:

Here it is, pieced, before I started quilting it (aka messing it up)

Close up

Backed with red flannel. And unfortunately, I decided to take this photo just where my worse quilting mistake was! Oops.

My grandmother's shawl as the corner piece

*or so she thought. Turns out her family came from an area of what is now Belarus, but has been Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian as well.