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.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

'Easy' Quilts

In the last few weeks, a couple of friends have asked me about making their first quilt. Is it complicated? Is it going to be too advanced for their sewing? And how long will it take?

They don't tend to believe me when I tell them that a quilt is only as hard as you make it. Most people think of a quilt as lots of little squares sewn together and yes, that kind of quilt can take a while. But a quilt top can really be quite simple and still be very effective.

This is a quilt I made from a single piece of flannel with appliqued flowers and birds. Didn't take too long to make, although (as with most quilts) the most time consuming part was the cutting out.

The principles of this 'quilt in an hour' can be applied to any fabric, and you can make a quilt with just single pieces of fabric for the front and the back. For these, more elaborate quilting can really make the quilt something impressive - but elaborate quilting is beyond me!

I recently saw a quilt that was simply a plain white piece of fabric and a contrasting backing. What made it special was that the quilter had used a huge variety of stitches and threads to quilt an elaborate bird on the fabric, and thus turn a plain piece of cloth into an amazing quilt.

A quilt is really just a sandwich of layers: top, wadding, and backing. It doesn't have to be squares, and it doesn't have to take months. A few examples:

This is the quilt I made last week. I started on Monday night, and finished it on Wednesday. The actual quilt top construction took a few hours; the rest was the binding. It was made with fabric from Africa, bought and given to me by my mother-in-law, and the quilt was a gift for her.

To make it, I simply cut strips of the dark blue fabric and strips of the same width from the unbleached cotton. I varied the width of the strips so they ranged from about 4-10 inches. Then, I joined them together at an angle, again varying the length of the blue pieces. I wanted to bring out the green in the blue pattern, so I appliqued the green rectangles over top of the strips once they'd been sewn together. It was backed with another yellow fabric she'd given me, and I used the green for the binding. Simple simple, but it looks smart!

Try buying 20cm strips of 6-8 different, complementary fabrics and sewing them together for a super easy baby quilt - have a look at this blog for inspiration! Make your quilting as simple or as complicated as you can handle, finish off the edges, and you're done. It looks like a serious amount of work, and no one has to know that it wasn't.

And finally, if you're new to quilting, you can have a look back at this post which will cover the basics of it all. So don't be intimidated by quilts. It's really just a sandwich. And anyone can make a sandwich!

Stick Man tutorial

We love all things Julia Donaldson and The Gruffalo here, but my kids are equally fond of Stick Man. He's a bit of an unsung hero, is Stick Man, but he's surprisingly easy to make. Here's a project that can be done in about 20-30 minutes, and sewn by hand if you don't have a machine. Easy, cheap, and fun - does it get any better? 

You will need:

-brown felt (I used two squares and had plenty left over)
-brown thread
-3 pipe cleaners
-a black fabric pen, or black thread
-green felt and thread

Step 1: Draw a Stick man

Thankfully, my drawing skills are just about able to cope with this task. I'm sure yours are, too. I used a sheet of A4 paper, and made sure that he wasn't too skinny at any point. Once you're happy with your pattern, cut two out of the brown felt.

Step 2: Fashion a Stick man from pipe cleaners

Fold one pipe cleaner in half for your head and body. Twist another one across the middle for the arms, and join the legs on at the bottom. Be sure to fold the ends of the pipe cleaner back so that the sharp, pointy edges aren't going to stick through your felt and poke any small people.

Pipe cleaner stick man, with the ends of the pipe cleaner folded up so as not to be pointy

Step 3: Give Stick Man a face

Take a scrap of your brown felt, and cut an isosceles triangle that is quite long along the bottom and the right height for Stick Man's nose. 

Stick Man's nose

Position the triangle on Stick Man's head, and sew straight down the middle of it, like so:

Now fold the triangle in half and sew up the sides, like this:

Voila! You have Stick Man's nose. I then used a fabric pen to draw a very simple face on him, but you can embroider yours in black thread if you'd rather.

Step 4: Cut some leaves

Using your green felt, cut out a couple of leaf shapes. These will stick out of the top of Stick Man's head, so don't make them too big. I cut 2 of each of my leaf shapes and sewed them together with the green thread, for extra durability, but you don't have to.

Step 5: Sew him up! 

Starting at the left arm, sew up the side, across the top of the arm, and up the side of the head. Stop to tuck your leaves in, and sew over them twice. Sew down the other side of the head, top of the right arm, and the side edge of the right arm. Stop and tuck your pipe cleaner man inside of your felt Stick Man, and slowly start sewing the pipe cleaner inside.

** Just to be clear: on this project, we're not sewing on the reverse side and then turning Stick Man inside out at the end. All the stitches are visible. **

Continue sewing stick man until all the edges are closed and the pipe cleaner form is completely tucked in. And... You're done! You now have a bendy, functional Stick Man, ready for all sorts of adventures. Just don't forget to always bring him home to the family tree.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Dora the Explorer Backpack and Map Tutorial

Here's the second part of the Go Diego Go rescue pack tutorial: for my soon to be 2-year-old, a Dora the Explorer backpack.

This project also relies on the excellent Indietutes tutorial for a toddler size backpack. Because the Dora backpack is much closer to this pattern, it only required a few additions to make it work and is a much easier project than the Diego rescue pack. Probably do-able in a nap, especially if you don't bother with the iron-on interfacing (I didn't).

You will need:

- 1/2 metre of purple cotton
- yellow, black, white, and pink felt
- small pieces of fabric to use for the map: I used two 7" squares of unbleached cotton but really anything would work.
- small piece of velcro (optional)
- fabric pens (optional)
- thread to match the above
- this template for the map's face
- bondaweb (optional)

** Before you start: read through the tutorial instructions. I won't replicate them here: just use these two tutorials side by side.

Step 1: Cutting out

Cut out the pattern from the Indietutes tutorial, plus two additional 3"x7" pieces.

Step 2: Assembling the face

Using the template above as a guide, cut out pieces from the felt to make the backpack's face. I didn't use bondaweb, but you could if you wanted. Sew them onto the backpack: eyebrows onto the top flap, eyes and mouth on the bottom section. Attach velcro if you are using it.

Step 3: Attaching the sides

Dora's backpack needs a side pocket to hold the map, so make sure you add one before you attach the sides. I put one on each side. Take each 3"x7" piece and press down and sew across the top. Now turn it over so that it's wrong side up, position it on the strip of fabric that will be the sides, and sew across the bottom.
Pocket, attached at the bottom.
Fold over and press. You should now have the makings of a pocket, with both sides left unsewn. Do the same on the other side, then attach the side piece following the original tutorial instructions.

Both pockets attached

Step 4: Sew the backpack together

Assemble the rest of the backpack!

Step 5: Make the Map

The Map is vital to Dora's backpack, and a chance to let your creativity go! I used these fabric pens to make mine, although I thought about applique-ing, or doing a combination of both.

Cut two equal size squares of fabric. On the top corner of one, trace the Map's face (or applique it on). On the other, draw a map.

Put the right sides together and sew around the edges, leaving a gap to turn the map right way out. Clip the corners, turn right side out, press, and top-stitch (catching the gap that you left). Roll up the map and tuck it in the side pocket.

And you're done! I stuffed mine with a little Boots sidekick and some binoculars (every explorer needs them). Can't wait to see the pair in action!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Go Diego Go Rescue Pack Tutorial

My son's latest obsession is Go Diego Go, and he has been asking for a rescue pack. Although I can't deliver his original request - a pack that actually turns into a hang-glider/kayak/snowmobile/etc - I did my best for his upcoming 4th birthday. And I'm actually quite pleased with the result! This is a few naps worth of work, but can be divided nicely into two stages: nap 1 for making the face, and nap 2 for putting the bag together.

I went back to this wonderful toddler backpack tutorial for the basic shapes and measurements but because the rescue pack has a front pocket, zipper, and one strap instead of two, it needed a little modification.

I still haven't figured out how to make downloadable patterns, so this will take a bit of piecing together and figuring out, but here's how I did it.

You will need:

- about 60cm of orange cotton
- one 12 inch orange zipper
- a small piece of velcro
- black, white, yellow, red, and pink fabrics (felt is easiest)
- a small piece of elastic (about 5 inches)
- thread
- bondaweb (optional)
- a printer to print out this template for the face as well as the backpack patter linked above

Step 1: cutting out

From the backpack pattern above, cut out TWO backs. You could make the backpack just as it is in the pattern but my son is a stickler for detail and definitely wanted a front pocket and zip. So, cut two of the back pieces. Then cut a 6" x approx 20" strip for the shoulder strap (you will want to surreptitiously measure your child to make sure the strap will fit over his head and body, and then make it a bit bigger!). Instead of cutting one 3" by 34" piece for the sides, cut one 3"x approx. 24" piece, and one 4" by approx. 14" inch piece. I also cut a small strip to make a loop at the top of the rescue pack, to hang it up, and a slightly rounded square for the front pocket.

Now using the face template as a guide, cut out pieces from your felt for the eyes, eyebrows and mouth.

Step 2: assembling the front

Applique the pupils onto the eyes, and the tongue onto the mouth. Fold the top of your pocket piece down and sew across, then sew on to the top centre one piece of the velcro. Clip along the edge of the pocket to make it easier to turn under, and then press the edges underneath.

Depending on where your Rescue Pack face is going to sit, you might want to sew some of it onto the pocket before you attach the pocket to the bag. On mine, the eyes sit on the pocket, the eyebrows just above, and the mouth below. So, in whatever order you need to do it, sew the face and pocket on, and the second piece of velcro to keep the pocket closed.

(The real rescue pack has a top flap over the pocket, but given the dimensions of this backpack and the need to get the face on, I couldn't make the flap fit as well. However, if you were making a bigger version of this and wanted to be really authentic, then you'd want to add a top half to the pocket too.)

Face on, pocket and velcro attached

Step 3: attaching the side

Cut your 4" wide strip into two 2" wide strips, and attach one to each side of the zipper. Then sew one of your 3" pieces to each end and press flat. You should now have one solid piece of fabric followed by a piece with the zip and then another solid piece. You may need to do a bit of trimming to make sure they are all approximately the same width.
Side strip, before trimming to a consistent 3 inches width

Follow the tutorial instructions for attaching the sides and topstitching.

Step 4: making the shoulder strap

Sew your shoulder strap pieces together to make a tube. Turn right way out and press flat. Because I like my things to have a bit of give but fit closely, I added a bit of elastic to the bottom of the strap. This is entirely optional! To do it, cut a piece of elastic about 5 or 6 inches long and feed it into the bottom of the strap so that it sits about 10" up. Sew the elastic in place. Then pull the end of the elastic down and sew it in place at the opening of the strap. Your strap should now be a bit bunchy at the bottom, and have a bit of stretch.

Step 5: final assembly

If you are making a little loop to hang your bag, do it now. Follow the instructions from the tutorial to sew the back of the bag in place, remembering to pin your strap and the loop in place so that they are on the inside of the bag (which is turned inside out) as you sew. It also helps to leave the zipper a little bit open so that you can turn the bag right way out when finished - I say this from experience...

And, you're finished! I stuffed my Diego bag with a note pad for his animal journal, this book for his Click the camera, and a little Baby Jaguar stuffed toy. I hope he likes it, and isn't too upset that it doesn't turn into a helicopter or jeep...

Click here for the Dora the Explorer backpack tutorial!