Thursday, 23 April 2015

Thinking about solid fabrics

One of the things I often struggle with once I've embarked on a project is 'what comes next'. For example, when I've been working on my Passacaglia cogwheels, which are pieced in rounds, I will often take several days before deciding on which fabrics should be used for the next round in a cog.

I haven't used a single purely 'solid' fabric in the cog above, so not only did every print have to work in terms of colour and tone, it also had to have the right type of print to be fussy cut. Additionally, if I'd used a particular shade of pink at the centre and wanted to tie the same colour back in further out, finding just the right fabric was often quite problematic - you just need such a vast catalogue of fabrics to draw upon to do this quickly or to sew exclusively from just one range of fabrics, as some have done when working on the Passacaglia (for example using just Cotton & Steel or just Tula Pink prints - I was trying to work more from my stash, so didn't go down either of these routes). There were other places where I wanted to give a bit of space and calm around some of the busier prints; it's surprisingly difficult to find just the right patterned print to fulfil this need sometimes. In some of my later cogs, when I reached an impasse like this, I eventually ordered a single fat quarter of solid fabric that I thought might work, as with the star points below...but somehow it never occurred to me how useful it might be to keep a stash of solid fabrics and to use them in a more positive way than 'last resort'. 

This idea was only clarified for me when, earlier this year, I was working on Alison Glass' Tessellations pattern. I started off trying to do it using patterned fabrics. I don't have a huge collection as fabric stashes go and I was finding it really difficult to graduate the colours in the way that Alison does in her sample photos. The photo below (taken at night, so it's marginally more hideous than it was in reality) shows how that went. I spent hours trialling different fabrics just to make this small section, until I did what I always do when things feel too hard colourwise; I called for my husband to come and dig me out of the hole I'd got myself into. 

He looked at the photos of Alison's original quilt, looked at what I was trying to do, looked through my stash and just said very bluntly: you don't have the fabrics to do this. I was slightly infuriated by what I saw as a defeatist attitude and so felt inclined to beat him out of my sewing room with a broom; I rarely entertain the idea that I can't do something because I don't have the right fabrics, but rather latch onto the idea that it's not working because I just haven't tried hard enough (which is at times like beating myself with a broom). 

But when I eventually put the metaphorical broom down and gave him the chance to explain himself, he said that he felt I could solve this recurring problem on a permanent basis if I invested in a stash of solid fabrics that could be used in any project and fill in all the gaps that I so frequently found when trying to pull prints together. It's so obvious, but not something I'd ever considered before, but he was so right in how well this could work. 

When I first began cutting up solid chunks and sewing them into triangles of graduating colour, I actually thought my mind may be in danger of popping - it was pure delight to sew unencumbered by the delays that numerous strokey beard moments over fabric choices present. I'd intended to mix the solids in with some prints, but found that I just wanted to have the fun of playing around with pure solids for the first time. 

But however much I love the finished thing, all solids isn't the thing that really makes me heart race. I really do love pattern. So I was determined to include a mix in my next project. 

My yellow daffodils include three solids and two fussy-cut prints - a fairly sparse palette, but one which to my eyes feels right. When I'd finally finished designing the pattern, it would normally have taken several sessions to pick out some fabrics to use. I couldn't quite believe it when just half an hour after completing drafting the pattern pieces, I was cutting up fabric and starting to sew; it was so easy. A true Eureka moment for me. Possibly one that most other quilters were born knowing, but new to me. 

So, let's discuss the actual fabric. Investing in a stash of solids is much less expensive than buying the same quantity of printed fabric, but can still feel very, very expensive when done in one fell swoop (until very recently I've always thought that expression was 'one foul swoop'!). As this was his idea and his treat, my husband laid out certain fabric-buying criteria. His argument was that I should avoid a range with only a limited number of colours, as rather than solving the problem permanently, he felt this could just prove to be a semi-fix. He reminded me of when my daughter and I had spent a few days colouring last Christmas and both found that the set of 36 beautiful pencils which had initially felt like a huge array, often still didn't have just the shade of green or blue that we wanted. This was a slightly problematic idea, as the solids that I really love are Art Gallery Fabrics' Pure Elements range - they have a very high thread count, beautiful colours and just feel really quite dreamy and a complete pleasure to sew with. However, there are currently only 60 colours in the range, so this was ruled out with a heavy heart.

Kona Solids were the obvious choice to go for as the range has the biggest number of solid colours available (over 300), but the base cloth used for these doesn't really thrill me - it has quite an open weave and I find it a little scratchy compared to other brands (it softens nicely with washing, but I really enjoy fabrics that feel lovely at the point of sewing them together and I don't pre-wash my quilting fabrics).

I was told that Michael Miller's Cotton Couture range were really lovely and very similar to the Art Gallery Fabrics solids that I loved, but was warned by some that they'd experienced horrific colour run with these, of quilt-ruining proportions. I was so disappointed as these had initially seemed the obvious choice with the perfect blend of quality and colour range. 

Eventually, I settled on Free Spirit's Solids range, which has a softer hand than Kona, a slightly less open weave and a fairly wide range of colours (currently around 170). I usually only order from overseas if I can't actually get something over here, as I feel committed to supporting the UK shops that I very much want to stay open. However, when the fabrics are half the price overseas (half a yard in America is around the same price as a fat quarter over here) and my real-life fabric godfather wanted to buy a bulk order for me as a gift, I felt the need to keep costs down, so we crossed the ocean to Hawthorne Threads

There is so much logic to cultivating a healthy stash of solids, reducing the need to buy so many patterned fabrics, that I'm guessing this is something that many quilters have already done. But in case you've been missing this idea in the same way that I have, and are now thinking of starting a solids stash, there are few other things I'd also consider first if I were doing it again.

Free Spirit doesn't seem to produce a colour card for their range of solids. As computer screens are unreliable for colour-matching, I've since realised that it's virtually impossible for me to order more of one particular colour as I have no idea what the name of each colour is. Working on my Daffodils piece, shown earlier in the post, I'm getting toward the end of the yellows and mustards I've used; this is making me feel edgy as I don't know what colour names/numbers they are. The other issue is that while the UK-based shop, Cotton Patch, stocks some of the Free Spirit Solids range, it doesn't stock all of the colours, which means that I may need to order overseas again if I want to replace particular colours. 

Shockingly, I also found recently that I did not have quite the right yellow when creating the outer section of my daffodils I had to resort to ordering some Kona, which has a wider colour range. Perhaps this means that as you may end up mixing and matching anyway, buying entirely from one brand isn't so important, unless the finish is dramatically different (the difference is much more visible between Art Gallery Fabrics and Kona, for example). 

You might remember that in a recent post I asked what your greatest extravagance was (to which I received 243 answers - I've said it before, but if you have the time, do read through the comments - there's something joyful in reading list after list of things that make people happy!). I asked my husband this question over breakfast one morning. His first answer was the time he gives up to coaching youth football; the amount of emails, preparation and organisation it takes eats into our working week, especially when the summer fiestas are being planned, so he said that it feels like an extravagance that he really appreciates making the time for. His second answer was that it was probably me. At which we both laughed. A lot. Because I'm not sure either of us had ever stopped and thought of his out-of-season Father Christmassing in that way before, but I realised that this is true and dates right back to the first week I met him, aged 18, when he arrived at my door with two goldfish one evening, after I'd mentioned the idea of getting some for my room in our halls of residence. I feel slightly guilty that gifts for him did not naturally make it onto my own list of greatest extravagances, but rather 'having the heating on whenever I'm cold' and other things that make me appear like a selfish wretch by comparison!

I'd love to know how you use solids in your own projects, which range of solids is your favourite and whether you are ever hit by the brick wall of 'what comes next' too and, if you are, whether you have any other routes around it. 

Florence x

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Melanie Colletta

Today, I wanted to tell you about my lovely friend, Melanie Colletta, who has just opened a shop for her beautiful artwork. I've know Mel for over a decade, since her eldest daughter took it upon herself to help my own daughter unbuckle her shoes each day when they arrived at nursery (her daughter was older). The unifying shoestress soon caused us to gather for lunches around our kitchen tables and over the years more babies were added, until eventually there were six children sitting around the table with us. With the busyness of all the children, I didn't actually realise that Mel painted until I'd already known her for nearly five years and I remember being astonished by it, in the way that you can be when you feel you know someone really well and then discover that there are whole other layers there that you didn't know where there, but which are so impressive that you can't imagine quite how they stayed hidden away out of view.

Photos don't capture it to its full extent, but Mel's work just seems to literally glow in a way that, to me, defies having been created with pen, ink and paint; it looks more like she's managed to install some kind of souped-up light-box inside the paper that gives her work an ethereal radiance. However, the paper is of an unsuspicious thickness, but it does have a texture that makes the prints look as tactile and 'real' as the originals. You can click on any of the photos in this post to see them at a larger scale.

I'd actually desperately wanted one of Mel's drawings the moment I first saw them, in part because her style is so entirely in keeping with what I knew my husband would absolutely love, so I was completely delighted when she started selling affordable giclee prints and I was her very first customer. My husband and I chose two prints together (frames yet to arrive, so for now they're pictured in their mounts). Our first choice was the Avenue of Birds.

The second print, Catherine II, shows Catherine from Wuthering Heights enveloped by a tree as she waits for Heathcliff. I love how the two have merged together, leaving no visible boundary as to where one begins and the other finishes. That the tree looks to be swaddling and cocooning her, while at the same time imprisoning her, gives the drawing an intrinsic sadness that I find completely captivating. This is the second of two drawings in the series; the first shows Catherine at an earlier stage, when her arms are less tightly bound within the trunk of the tree. Both leave me not only in awe of Mel's imagination, but also her ability to translate an idea that exists only in her mind's eye onto paper with such incredible skill.

I've never really loved Wuthering Heights and it's possibly my least favourite classic (it's one of my sister's favourites though, so even though I don't love it myself, I have a second-hand fondness for it) and my husband has never read or seen Wuthering Heights, but we both fell in love with this image and the intense pencil strokes it's created with.

Mel's prints start at just £10 (I think that's around $15USD) and she ships worldwide. Please do go and have a look at her beautiful new shop if you have a bare spot on your wall and like what you've seen here - it comes highly (and very fondly) recommended by me!

Florence x

Ps. Mel's shop, The Hallelujah Tree, is named after the Jeff Buckley song, Hallelujah, which happens to be a favourite of mine too - the singing starts around 1m20 in the linked video. I've heard my husband play this song so many times, that I've realised re-listening to this now, that it's ruined the original for me slightly, as I prefer my husband's version (possibly in the way that any happily biased wife might).

Saturday, 4 April 2015


I've wanted to work with some curves in English paper piecing for so long now, and last month, I finally launched into designing something where I could use them and I'm finding these flowers so incredibly joyful to make! They were inspired by some new bed linen.

A few months ago, after over a decade of having completely plain white bed linen, I suddenly craved some colour, quite unexpectedly, triggered by walking past some cushions and throws in John Lewis (which makes me think it is probably not safe for my bank balance to walk past things in future). I've never owned any of these curious bolster cushions before and chose them purely for the colour and then was delighted to find that there's a practical reason for their existence - they are so comfy and supportive to rest against when reading or sewing!

I've read so many research studies over the years saying that changing things - whether it's the route you take to work or the order that you get dressed in - is good for the synapses in the brain and I now feel convinced that a complete change of bed linen colour every decade is the same. Every time I walk into the room I feel surprised and delighted by the splashes of egg-yolky yellowness*, doubly so on realising that my book cover matched the bed linen!

Our bedroom is very plain, even with the newly acquired spatterings of egg yolk and I decided that I wanted to create something in a similar palette to hang on the wall. The duvet cover has a few panels of interlocking flowers embroidered onto it, which you can see below - so I decided to base my design on this.

It hasn't really ended up being the same, but it's definitely a nod to the original inspiration.

I'm planning on releasing this as a pattern, just as soon as I've finished sewing it together myself (which is proving to be very slow, not because the piecing is overly time consuming, but just because I've been working really long hours over the last month), but the Easter holidays have already offered up some time for sociable hand-sewing while watching this wonderful film (no knowledge/love of golf required - it's just wonderful in its own right) with our children and then catching up on the televised election questions and debates in the evening.

Finally,  I feel curiously compelled to talk about emoticons as there are 300 new emoji soon to be released with iOS 8.3 (that's the iPhone operating system, but I'm guessing similar are available on other devices?) and I feel bizarrely excited by this! I was very late in embracing emoticons, mainly for slightly snooty reasons of feeling that they didn't look pleasingly designed and also because whenever I saw those garish yellow faces (pictured below - alarmingly similar in colour to my current sewing project!), it just made me think of the 1980s acid house smiley face and I couldn't quite work out what its relevance was in 2014. And then there's the whole thing of why use a picture when there are so many wonderful words. But regular exposure therapy and stuffing yourself into 140 characters on Twitter on a regular basis changes that slightly. I now love how much a simple picture can convey and there's a whole new satisfaction to be gained in trying to communicate an entire message solely through the use of pictures in a text - it's like a game of Pictionary being thrown into your day at random times.

I would say that I am now a relatively enthusiastic user of them when texting, most especially with my daughter, husband and sister (I have also found that sending my husband a picture of a single smiling poo with no accompanying words after a disagreement is actually far more effective than an apology for quickly restoring equilibrium - pictured above). However, I do have all sorts of inexplicable self-imposed rules for appropriate usage of emoticons stored in my head. I read yesterday that they're likely to become more widely used by businesses in the coming years, which feels like an odd thing. What do you think of emoticons? (nb. I've found that calling them 'emoticons' rather than 'emoji' in front of a young person may elicit much snorted laughter and scoffing. There is nothing like having a teenager in your life to make you feel very, very old). I think they're possibly very much like Marmite (emoticons, not teenagers).

And if you're wondering why a smiling poo exists in the emoji keyboard, I read yesterday that a pile of poo is considered good luck in Japan and that at the time that Apple created the first set of emojis they were trying to break into the Asian marketplace.

Florence x

* Colour link memory: when I was about ten, my aunt bought me an umbrella in exactly this colour and I always remember her saying that she enjoyed the thought of people watching an egg yolk scuttling along the road from an upstairs window. As an adult, I am on the QV** for a sighting of a moving egg yolk out in the street, but am yet to see one. I'd quite like to.

**I know shamefully little French beyond GCSE level, but being 'on the QV' is one of my favourite family expressions for being hyper vigilant at all times, taken from the French words 'qui vive' which translates literally as 'who lives', but which essentially means to be on the lookout and question 'Who goes there?', I think it may be a relatively common term in English language now, but I personally hadn't heard it until my sister jokingly said it in conversation several years ago when posing for a photo where she was peering out at something suspiciously and announced to me that she was on the QV.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Completed: The Charlotte Bartlett Quilt II

I made this quilt as my parents' Christmas gift, but I've only recently photographed it, because when I finally finished this quilt, either me or one of my family had flu (the flu took five weeks to complete a full circle of the family, with each person suffering for nearly three weeks, decimating Christmas with fevers and chills) and just the idea of hauling a quilt up onto the wall to photograph it made me ache, so I didn't bother and gave it to them only having taken a few close up photos.

To recap, I've made this quilt before and loathed every minute of construction due the repetitive machine piecing it requires, but whenever I got that first bright red snowball quilt out, my father admired it with such previously-unheard-of enthusiasm, that it spurred me on to embark on the hateful pattern once more. I called the original quilt The Charlotte Bartlett Quilt - here's an explanation of why, taken from a blog post a few years ago:

It is intended to be a huge quilt, perhaps the largest I've made, to accommodate the whole family and a picnic...however, I'm mentally reducing the amount of food that one really needs for a picnic...and even thinking that some family members may like to sit on the grass, not on the quilt at all. I shall force Charlotte Bartlettism on them to allow for a smaller quilt. 

If you haven't met Charlotte, she's a character from an EM Forster novel who featured highly in our household as I grew up. If anyone was self-sacrificing in a way that inspired guilt in others they would quickly be accused of being Charlotte Bartlett, or if one wished to imply that they themselves were being badly done by, then muttering 'no, no, you sit on the rug' in the manner of Charlotte would convey the extreme level of self-deprivation with no other explanation necessary. Here's a passage from the A Room with a View that particularly delighted my mother and shows Charlotte at her very worst!

With many a smile she produced two of those mackintosh squares that protect the frame of the tourist from damp grass or cold marble steps. She sat on one; who was to sit on the other?

"Lucy; without a moment's doubt, Lucy. The ground will do for me. Really I have not had rheumatism for years. If I do feel it coming on I shall stand. Imagine your mother's feelings if I let you sit in the wet in your white linen." She sat down heavily where the ground looked particularly moist. "Here we are, all settled delightfully. Even if my dress is thinner it will not show so much, being brown. Sit down, dear; you are too unselfish; you don't assert yourself enough." She cleared her throat. "Now don't be alarmed; this isn't a cold. It's the tiniest cough, and I have had it three days. It's nothing to do with sitting here at all."

True to form, my parents' snowball quilt ended up being much smaller than I'd originally planned too, making it a very worthy Charlotte Bartlett Quilt II. However, despite my not enjoying the pattern, I did put large amounts of love into making it, so there is no bad feeling emitted by the quilt - I would say it is positively puffy with love!

While the quilt pattern was chosen for my father, the fabrics were really very focused on my mother's tastes. Ever since I can remember, she has always revelled in rich blues and I chose the fabrics for this really carefully, trying to pinpoint which prints contained the exact shades of blue that I know she is particularly drawn to. Because Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs prints are large in scale, it's actually quite a tricky task doing this via the Internet as often the swatch that you see, doesn't reveal quite how many other unexpected colours appear. I cross-referenced each print with larger samples that I could find around the Internet before ordering, to try and get around this problem and, luckily, I was really thrilled with the colours when they arrived and only omitted a few of the ones I'd ordered.

I went and photographed the quilt in situ one day in February after a dog walk with my mum and the boy child. I had thought it would take two minutes...but we discovered that we don't possess a stylist's skill for artfully draping quilts and ended up laughing over our own poor attempts at a successful this-quilt-just-happened-to-be-draped-nonchalantly-over-the-chair shots. This photo is entirely affected and there was nothing nonchalant about the draping whatsoever. It involved two grown women tweaking, pulling at it and frequently marvelling at our own ability to make a quilt look like it had been 'dolloped' somewhere. But look, at least you can see quite how right the colours are for my parents, when cross-referenced with the print on the wall!

Eventually, we realised that it was far easier to photograph a quilt when draped over a mezzanine wall, which my mother happened to have to hand (over a decade ago, we lived in this house for eight months when our own house was found to be structurally unsafe. The wall hides my parents' bedroom, which meant that they were often woken to the noise of our two-year-old daughter playing with farm animals and having tea parties below! In retrospect, this was possibly the loveliest alarm clark imaginable for them).

The photo below shows you the piecing before it was quilted. I really love the snowy blue print that sits between each snowball. 

I also really love that hidden in amongst all the snowballs, is a picture of my father's moustachioed face (before he grew a beard). I asked my parents if they could find his face in the quilt and apparently they could. 

The quilting for this was something of an experiment. As a graduate from the School of Straight-Line Quilting, as well as that of the University of Seaweed-Shaped Meandering, I felt the need to embark on another course of action that challenged my over-reliance on these two techniques. I sought advice on Instagram as to where I should go next, and someone came up with the clever idea of big, lazy concentric flower petals, that are just (apparently) one step up from the curves of seaweed. 

You can see a close up of some of my flowers here. I would say it took the course of the entire quilt for me to come close to completing a perfect flower - I am awe of people who have the ability to do incredibly intricate quilting, because for me, this took days and extreme amounts of concentration. Every time my husband came up to see me, I was sat in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing, seemingly making very little progress at all. My husband took this photo of me one night at around midnight when he went off to bed (for the uninitiated, the white gloves are quilting paraphernalia, rather than a sartorial homage to Michael Jackson), but a photo taken 24 hours later would have looked almost identical. Quilting does not come naturally to me. 

Right, it's now half-past nine on Saturday morning and I probably ought to get out of bed. 

Wishing you a lovely weekend, 
Florence x

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Giveaway winner

Thank you so much for all the thoughtful comments you left on my give away post. More than any other giveaway I've ever done, seeing these entries flooding into my inbox gave me enormous delight, especially as many of them arrived on my birthday. I truly loved reading about your extravagances, even though I think the word is almost a contradiction of itself, because your answers crystallised what I'd already been thinking when considering my own: an extravagance is rarely a true extravagance to the person appreciating the thing in question, when to them it feels like the most worthwhile use of time or money, rather than a squandering of it, contrary to what the word 'extravagance' implies.

So many of you wrote that your sewing or craft supplies as your extravagance - guiltily, I realised that I hadn't even considered that as one of mine. I think I may have consigned those things as living in the same category as air, water and food. Oops. 

I really loved how similar many of our extravagances are, but also how many odd, curious ones cropped up too (like the ownership of a beautiful red tractor, which doesn't do any useful farming tasks, but which makes a delicious noise putt-putting around the lanes on a summer's afternoon! I really loved that idea). If you ever have half an hour to spare with a cup of coffee (because I now know that coffee is the extravagance of many), do read through the comments - there's something deliciously cheering about reading comment after comment of people savouring the small things - thank you so much to everyone who entered!

The English paper piecing paraphernalia will be sent to Julie of Mack and Mabel, who said: For me it's definitely books. I buy them even when I know I might not have time to read them. I feel comforted having them around me, having them on the coffee table to pick up at odd moments and to be able to share them with family and friends. Julie, please do send your address and I'll get your little package of goodness sent out to you. Thank you so much to Backstitch for offering up the loveliness!

Florence x

Thursday, 5 March 2015

An English paper piecing giveaway

I have a giveaway in the form of some English paper piecing paraphernalia from my lovely sponsor, Backstitch, for you today, which includes my most favourite EPP accessory ever: the Sewline Glue Pen, which dispenses with the need for hand basting. I have three of these glue pens myself and normally like to keep around 20 glue refills in my desk drawer so that a lack of glue or a lost glue pen can never be the cause of a project grinding to a halt (many things can halt a project for me - usually indecision over fabric choices - but to be stopped purely on practical grounds would feel disastrous. Like the time when I was 38 weeks pregnant with our first child, aged 23, and I rang my mother in tears because I was so desperate to bake cakes, but didn't own any of my own baking trays. I still have many of the mixing bowls and trays that she sweetly dug out from her own kitchen cupboards and gave to me from that time, but I think it may test her powers of ingenuity to find an EPP glue pen at the back of her drawers now when she doesn't sew, so I find it's best to stay well-prepared on this front). 

There is also some silver-coloured thread (unless I'm piecing white fabrics, I usually pick silver for EPP because it blends well with most colours); 50 precut 1.5" hexagon paper pieces, an acrylic hexagon template for rotary cutting fabrics; some lovely fabrics and, possibly most lovely of all (I don't know why this part of the whole package delighted me so much when it arrived, but it did as I hadn't noticed that they were selling them) a Backstitch drawstring bag to stow it all away in! It's a fantastic starter kit if you're new to EPP and has some lovely stock items if you're already absorbed by it.

To be in with the chance to win, I was going to throw it open and say that you should pick one question of your choice from the Proust questionnaire and answer it, but, perhaps you might not have time for going off and surveying all the questions and then trying to decide which to answer, so for those on what a friend's husband calls 'a tight schedule!', I thought I'd pick one question from it myself and ask: what is your greatest extravagance? 

I think extravagance is such a subjective thing and what one person sees as a waste of money, another may feel is an almost priceless luxury - I'd love to know what this means to you. I've been discussing this with my husband over lunch and we found it quite difficult to pin down our own extravagances, because often that thing will feel essential to you and your only context for it being extravagant is an awareness that others may view it as such. It's almost easier to see what others' extravagances might be than your own. 

Then there is also the issue of whether extravagance is being viewed in terms of time, money, environmental resources, convenience or the many other ways in which it can manifest itself, so instead of picking just one thing I'm going to put forward a whole list of my own extravagances (omitting the 20 glue stick refills, which if you don't do EPP may appear extravagant, but if you do, you'll very likely understand it's a moderate amount): 
  • Having the heating on whenever I'm cold, irrespective of the time of year. 
  • Going on weekday dog walks out in the countryside, even though it would be quicker to walk close to home. 
  • Having my eyebrows threaded each month by someone lovely, just because it makes me feel nice to have them neat and tidy (rather than any practical reason, such as that my brows are actually draping into my eyes and causing a hazard while driving! To me, getting a haircut feels like far more of an inessential, but I can see that it may appear the other way around to most, which is why eyebrow maintenance is appearing here on my extravagance list). 
  • Buying fresh flowers always feels incredibly extravagant, but when I weigh up the amount of pleasure that £2 worth of daffodils can offer, they feel far better value than many other things. 
  • Collecting pizza every Friday night - an extravagance of both money and, for me, gluten intake, but it's something that the whole family looks forward to, so I'd rather forgo many other things before sacrificing this. 
Over to you! I'm so looking forward to reading what your own greatest extravagances are. 

Florence x

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Miscellany

Today's post is a miscellany of other people's delicious things! I hope you enjoy it.

When I was researching possible fabrics for making up an Amy Butler Gum Drop Pouffe a few weeks ago, I found myself disappearing down a rabbit hole when I discovered Ian Lawson, a photographer who has created an incredibly beautiful book entitled From the Land Comes the Cloth, a photographic and written journal telling the story of crofters and weavers on the Outer Hebrides as they manufacture Harris Tweed. You can look inside the book here and I defy you not to fall in love with the photography, but the words are just as captivating - do save it for a time when you can read as well as look. The book is eye-wateringly expensive, but once I'd looked though it, I found myself thinking that if there comes a point where something needs celebrating in treat-form, then it may be with the Classic Edition of this book, which is cloth bound and, I feel sure, probably worth every penny.

I think I'm a bit closer to deciding which fabric I'm going to use for my Gum Drop and it's nothing to do with Harris Tweed, but it was a welcome detour. I've only heard good things about the Gum Drop pattern and having recently found a new (or new-old, as it's a Victorian dining table with the legs sawn off) coffee table that's big enough to play board games on, we realised we wanted some low-level seating to pull up around it. I'll let you know how construction goes.

When I was gazing at the cloth bound books above, I suddenly realised that, while I'd posted on Instagram over the summer when it arrived with me, I hadn't shared here on my blog, my sister, Laura's, latest in the series of poetry books which she anthologises for Penguin, whose hardback editions have always been bound in delicious cloth (aside from Poems by Heart, which is a smaller book, more suited for tucking into your bag and bringing out when you're stuck on a bus and want to attempt to commit a favourite poem to memory). This is the problem with Instagram - sharing things there too makes it very difficult to remember what I have and haven't written about here, but I now, cunningly, keep a list on my phone of things I want to post about here, so that I should never be outfoxed by this problem again.

I know that many of you have enjoyed Poems for Life and Poems for Love, so I really want to mention Poems for Weddings. The beautiful cover design is again by Coralie Bickford-Smith and inside Laura has divided the poetry up into Proposals; Declarations; Promises; Celebrations; Continuations; and Confetti - a deliciously apt term for fragments and shorter poems, which I'm imagining would be perfect on favours, invitations and place settings. Poems for Weddings would make a wonderfully special gift for anyone who is planning a wedding.  And gulp. As well as being dedicated our parents, this book is also dedicated to me and my husband - a stomach-flip-floppingly lovely surprise when I opened it last year (it also includes one of my favourite poems, Love Adrian Henri).

If you enjoy poetry you can also hear my sister discussing Emily Dickinson's 'I Dwell in Possibility' with Steve Wasserman in his Read Me Something You Love podcast - I love the way this programme is produced with lots of quirky overlaying of clips. I was so pleased to find that my sister also often just reads a difficult-to-pronounce name in a book as a loose, slightly gibberish, interpretation of the word, rather than stopping to properly sound it out. I'd never vocalised that I did this, but I'm now wondering if many people do this? The discussion is also available as a free podcast on iTunes  - episode RMSYL 57. Coincidentally, I noticed today that Juliet Stevenson is reading Emily Dickinson at The Southbank Centre in London this weekend as part of the Women of the World festival - seriously considering going along to learn how to fashion the perfect headwrap, amongst other things).

Moving away from things bound in cloth, I don't read many blogs that aren't sewing-related, but aside from Cup of Jo, a New York-based lifestyle blog, I really enjoy the interiors blog, Apartment Apothecary. Its author, Katy, recently began a feature called 'Ask Apartment Apothecary', where you can write in with your very own house-related conundrums. Being a huge fan of Katy's style, I took no second-bidding and immediately sent Katy a very lengthy email asking her for her advice on what I should put in our empty, blocked-up fireplace, because nothing that I have ever put in there has seemed quite right. Today we have some daffodils sitting in there, but very often we have nothing at all. It is just a hole in the room. You can read her reply here.

Katy's answer was completely unexpected, but just the kind of insightful expert advice I'd been hoping for - as she didn't think the fireplace was the problem at all...but instead an issue with the overall balance of the room (unfortunately, my husband isn't particularly enthused by rebalancing the room when it involves construction work, but it's nice to know what the solution is if he ever does wake up with the curious desire to build some cupboards and shelves or to pay someone else to wield a saw on our behalf!). If you have your own strokey-beard home-related query, do write to Katy - she has a real gift for winkling out what might help, as well as not appearing to discriminate in the face of a slightly insane plea for help, in my case accompanied by a super-long email detailing every sorry thing that has ever been temporarily housed in the fireplace since it was built in 1927 (in reality only since 2006, but it may have felt more like 1927 on reading). You can read other posts in the AAA series, here.

Finally, a few weeks ago, Alice, owner of Backstitch, interviewed me for a new series on her blog called From Where I Sew. I enjoyed answering Alice's thought-provoking questions and you can read her post here (I always love reading articles where the questions have been edited out to make it sound more like a flowing series of thoughts, so I liked reading this as it felt completely new to me! It's also lovely to have someone else edit my thoughts into a more concise package than the sprawling, adjective-strewn form that they normally appear in!). Thank you, Alice. I'm looking forward to reading whatever comes next in the series.

I began writing this post last week and then went away for a few days with my sister, so didn't quite finish it, but I have so much more to tell you now! There simply don't seem to be enough hours in the week for all the blog posts that I want to write at the moment. Me and my husband are currently busy wrapping up a new soon-to-be-released app and a few weeks ago we ran a last minute competition, so that we could include some designs from the children who already use our apps. These competitions are my very favourite thing about our work - if you're interested and love looking at children's artwork as much as I do, you can see a handful of the entries here. I also love seeing just how close to the original artwork we can make the graphics too.

Right, I think that may be about it for today. I have an English paper piecing related give away coming up, so do check back later in the week for that.

Florence x

Ps. The picture of Nell's sweet little snout sniffing the daffodils actually melts my heart. I love that she appreciates so many of the same things as we do.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Tessellations or a plate of noseless brie...

This tiny project - scaled down to be more than 75% smaller than the original pattern - has been sewn together with fragile stitches, fraying seams and fragments of fabric that have been left tattered and feeling out of sorts from the battle they went through under the foot of my sewing machine, but from a distance, at least, it seems to shine.

These are some of the great wodges of seam allowance that went beneath my sewing machine foot. I think it comes down to inexperience that I even attempted to make the pattern at this scale, as while foundation piecing is fantastic for sewing really tiny pieces, I've learnt from this project that I need to study a pattern to make sure that not too many seam allowances are converging at the same point in order for things to end happily. At some points, 14 seams met. It was horrible. (For those confused about the different types of paper piecing - this is foundation paper piecing (FPP) all done by machine and very different from the English paper piecing (EPP), sewn by hand, which I normally do. I've done very little FPP. As is probably apparent).

The photo at the top of this post gives you some sense of scale, but here's a photo of the nail on my ring finger on top of one of the blocks, which might convey its tinyness more clearly.

The actual piecing of the individual blocks went really smoothly - I enjoyed it hugely and loved seeing a pile of precision-pieced blocks gathering on my desk.

And then playing around with possible arrangements on my pin board.

Piecing the blocks into rows was relatively successful...but piecing the rows to one another was quite disastrous and at this point everything began to go horribly wrong. If I was reading this blog post, I'd really want to see close-up photos of the finished piece, because as sewists, it's the details and finish that we really want to see and study so that we can learn I'm going to have to ask you to look on this piecing with kind eyes, because technically, it's an absolute eyesore and I feel slightly like I'm sharing photos of myself wearing just my underwear by posting these photos! Brace yourself.

The blocks which had once been so crisp and precise, quickly became quite the opposite. The fans of graduating colour distorted into swirls with such definition that it began to look as though it were an intentional design feature (note especially the ones at the bottom of the photo below!).

Blocks refused to meet up politely, stitches bulged under the tension of trying to hold so many layers together and points became blunted, as though I were wielding a cheeseboard laden with brie where the nose had been cut from each.

And yet, I find myself drawn to looking at it. Despite its obvious flaws, it feels as though it is more textural and tactile than anything I've ever made. Although it is so very far from the result I was hoping for, I don't feel traumatised by the ruination of so many carefully constructed blocks, but oddly fascinated by them. When it comes to sewing, I am a perfectionist, so faced with having produced this I find myself slightly stunned by its blatant flouting of this type of aspiration...but not stunned in a negative way necessarily. More like a surprised: Oh my goodness! So the world really doesn't end if the points don't meet!

I'd originally intended to hang it in our hallway, but instead it now hangs in my sewing room. It makes me happy to look at it: a cosy and joyful-looking testament to how things can still look overall okay, even if the details aren't all lined up looking present and correct. I'm enjoying the contrast of looking at it from a distance where I feel really quite thrilled by all the colour and sparkle and then sidling by for a close-up of the true horror of it and just thinking: Wow! That's really terrible!

I always assume that most sewists are perfectionists, as I imagine one of the things that pushes us to constantly start new projects is the wish to learn, progress, to become better and more skilled at what we do, so I'd love to hear how you felt if you've ever had to face a project ending so differently from your own expectations in terms of a complete technique fail. Do you find a way to embrace it or do you squirrel it away quietly in a drawer...which you don't open very often? My normal response is the latter, so I've surprised myself in my reaction to this one!

Florence x

Ps. Please don't be put off buying this incredibly lovely pattern by reading about my own misadventures - my only difficulty with it came from down-scaling it so heavily.
Pps. I know foundation piecing is perfect for sewing really minuscule pieces, but I've no idea if dealing with this many converging seams at such a small scale is all in day's work for a really competent foundation piecer - I'd love to know if it would be possible to get really amazing pinpoint results with this pattern with more practise or whether it just wasn't the right pattern to scale down in this way.
Pps. And have you seen these incredible miniature quilts?
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