Thursday, 18 December 2014

Goodbye for now, PDF patterns

I've been avoiding mentioning this on my blog as I was hoping that it would resolve itself before January 1st, but that's now looking increasingly unlikely. I think that most digital sellers are now aware of the changes in EU law that make it virtually impossible for small businesses to continue to sell their eBooks, patterns and digital products as of January, but for everyone else, I wanted to let you know that my patterns and eBooks will be taken off sale in the next week or so, so if there are any that you know you'd definitely like to own, now is a good time to buy them. You can find all the relevant links in my left-hand sidebar or on my Patterns page (I feel compelled to mention my favourite pattern here, as if you have a small person in your life, a bear or doll's sleeping bag makes a really wonderful Christmas gift - you can find the pattern here…and if you have any concerns about the correct sizing for your particular bear or doll you can find a post entitled Unwieldy Antlers and Other Sizing Issues, here! You will get to see a reindeer, guinea pig, sausage dog and other creatures being stuffed into a sleeping bag to trial sizing…it's every bit as fun as it sounds.)

To give you some background on this, EU legislation around VAT is changing from 1st January, but this doesn't just affect EU sellers, it affects all digital sellers worldwide. Currently, when you buy a digital product, the VAT is paid in seller's country - this means that big businesses can base themselves in tax havens and avoid paying VAT on their sales. To try and stop this kind of sneakiness, the EU have altered things so that VAT is now payable in the buyer's country too. While we have a very high VAT threshold in England (you'd have to earn around £81,000 before you started paying VAT here), in other countries it's set at all different rates, many of them at 0. This means that if I sell even one product to an EU country, I would require two pieces of evidence to ascertain the buyer's location (PayPal doesn't currently give me this kind of information about my buyers) and I would then need to submit a quarterly VAT return to every single country that I sold to. As a small business this is prohibitive in terms of both time and cost.

My e-book: A Practical Guide to Machine Appliqué 
HMRC and the EU seem to have had no awareness until very recently as to how these changes would cripple small businesses  - this, of course, was never their intention, but it is now impossible to sell digital products directly through your own website or blog, as I do, without exposing yourself to this VAT nightmare…just selling one pattern for 1p or 1 cent to an EU country would legally require a VAT return to be submitted there. Initially, HMRC made over-simplified assurances that if you sold through a third party platform, such as Etsy, Folksy or Craftsy,  it was the platform's responsibility to do all this paperwork, rather than yours. However, HMRC had misunderstood how platforms like these work - we are paid directly by the customer on these platforms and then pay Etsy a monthly bill, giving them a cut of our sales profits, so this no longer stands as it's a scenario where no one pays the VAT.

Unfortunately, whether they're part of the EU or not, this change affects ALL digital sellers worldwide. This will mean that from January it may be really difficult to buy many of the digital products that you usually buy.

The hope is that platforms like Craftsy, Etsy and Folksy, with their larger infrastructures and finance departments full of people who wouldn't be reduced to snivelling heaps attempting to put the structures in place to handle all these VAT payments, will step up and offer a solution - they have a vested interest in doing so as they stand to lose a huge amount of money if all their digital sellers withdraw their products from sale. If they aren't able to do this, it will mean the demise of literally thousands of small businesses. I'm really hopeful that they will make this happen, which is why I've held off mentioning this here on my blog, as I was hoping it would be a simple case of just transferring the location of my patterns. But it's now December 18th…and it's looking like this may not happen as we'd hoped, at least not in time for a smooth transition on January 1st.

There has been some talk that the changes affect online advertising too. While this might be the case, all of my sponsors are based within the UK only, so for this reason, I'm happy that this side of my business will survive, at least.

I'm really lucky that my main source of income - the business I run with my husband, making our educational Squeebles apps for children - isn't going to be affected by these change, as the VAT is paid at the point of sale. For that I'm hugely grateful, but I'm feeling sad that my own little pattern business is coming to an end for now. Even if I'm able to sell again through an online marketplace like Etsy at some point in the future, it feels a great shame that this change in VAT legislation means it will be very difficult to sell independently through our own websites or blogs - that feels like a step backwards. One of the incredible things about the internet has been the ability for cottage industries to spring up and for it to become viable for so many people to run their own businesses from home, working independently in their own niche areas. This doesn't just affect craftspeople - it affects everyone from people selling eBooks on how to do your own accountancy, to people producing paid-for webinars teaching people how to use Photoshop or Illustrator.

What I want to say more than anything at this point, is how incredibly grateful I am to everyone who has bought patterns from me over the last five years - I have really appreciated your support and it's a real delight to see what you've made with them. It was my blog readers who encouraged me to write my very first pattern and without your faith in me, I don't think it's something I ever would have ventured into. I can still remember the first time a confirmation email from PayPal landed in my inbox saying that I'd made a sale…it was the most incredible feeling and since that point, as I've added more patterns to my site, those emails have continued to land in my inbox daily. I am so grateful. Thank you.

If the situation doesn't look like it will be resolvable, my intention is to make my existing patterns available free of charge, as I'd much rather they were out there for people to enjoy than sitting unsewn on my laptop, but I hope you'll understand my need to hold off on that for a little longer to see how this unfolds, as financially it's not an easy prospect to suddenly lose this source of income.

Patterns aside, I have been doing a great deal of Christmas sewing and I'm looking forward to sharing some of it with you in my next post.

Florence x

Friday, 12 December 2014

A winner

This is a very brief post just to thank you so much for all your comments on my giveaway post sharing your foodie memories and associations  -  I loved reading them all, and what was sadly striking was how so many of our foods are associated with memories of parents or grandparents who are no longer here…and how impossible it is to recreate something in exactly the way they made it.

Salamanda is our winner who had her own recollection:

I remember my dad making us French Toast when we were little and it was delicious. I think it was the only thing he could make then. Sadly he died almost 10 years ago and I recently was thinking abou him and tried to recreate it but it just did not taste how I remembered it.

Salamanda, do send me your address either here or via DM on Instagram and I'll get the fabrics posted off to you. Thanks so much to Elephant in my Handbag for providing the gorgeous fabric bundle - remember, you can get 10% off anything that you buy in the EimH shop using the code 'FLOSSIE' at the checkout.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Brambleberry Ridge Giveaway!

I rarely run giveaways on my blog, but with one in October and one in December, it may seem as though all the buses have arrived here at once. I know you probably would have actually withered away to a sad little heap if you were actually stood waiting at a bus stop for two months…but it's relative. Anyway, the Number 8 bus has arrived. (Say what?! There's 8 fat quarters in the stack I'm about to give away and it's quite a nice bulbous-looking number, so if a bus has to stop at my blog, then I'd have a preference for it being the Number 8).

This is a glorious little stack of Violet Craft's Brambleberry Ridge, that Elephant in my Handbag, one of my blog sponsors, are offering up to you. Stephanie and Jo were kind enough to let me take my pick of what I wanted to share with you and I was really keen to see this fabric collection in strokeable proximity (but don't let that put you off!) and thought you might love it too.

Brambleberry Ridge is actually several hundred times nicer than I even imagined it to be and I'm feeling slightly pained by having to give it away. It's partly a tactile thing. I'd anticipated a fabric with so much gold printing to feel a little crispier than regular quilting cotton (the golds I've come into contact with in the past often have), but it's actually entirely the opposite. To me, this cotton feels slightly more silky and fine than standard quilting cotton (I can't determine whether it is actually a different base cloth or not and I'm not familiar enough with Micheal Miller fabrics generally to be able to compare it against their other lines - this may just be how their fabrics feel, or it could be the effect of the gold - either way, it's lovely and my husband agrees that I'm not imagining it and that it's curiously softer than my other quilting cottons in his period of brief enforced fabric stroking). It's just really quite divine.

And then there's the colours…these two above are my favourite. I just think they're perfection. They remind me of peppermint creams (which are also perfection).

I remember my mother giving me my first peppermint cream when I was about four years old on the long journey north to see relatives. She passed it through the gap in the front seats to where I was sitting in the dark with my sister in the back of our little Alfa Sud and when I put it in my mouth and it melted on my tongue, my little four-year-old tastebuds and mind may have actually imploded. Even now, handmade peppermint creams are one of my favourite foods on earth, although I don't think I've ever tasted any as good as the ones that I ate on that late night journey. My mother had bought them at a school fate or cake sale earlier that day and I've never been able to recreate a peppermint cream that tastes quite as perfect, but if you'd like my almost perfect recipe for the ones above, you can find it in my archives here. They are delicious (she said, immodestly).

Anyway, these gorgeous fabrics are currently sitting on the back of my chair (in a non-leant-upon way - I'm slightly clueless as to why I chose a chair with a back, as I never actually sit back when I'm typing or sewing, but I really adore this chair, so it possibly earned its place for aesthetic reasons) until I post them off to one of you.

Here's what you have to do to enter: just tell me one of your own memories - adult or childhood - of an amazing meal or food that you still long to recreate exactly or can still almost taste when you think of it. Or indeed, if there's a certain fabric collection that reminds you of a certain food I'd love to hear about that too.

Florence x

Ps. The latter suggestion makes me think that's some odd variation of colour synesthesia (where names and words are linked in the person's mind by colour - I have this and I'm guessing a lot of visual thinkers do too). Fabric Eatesthesia?

Pps. You can currently get 10% off at Elephant in my Handbag using the code 'FLOSSIE'.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Another Charlotte Bartlett quilt

Over the last week I've been hopping between working on this English paper piecing project and an enormous Charlotte Bartlett quilt that I'm making as a Christmas gift for my parents. You might remember my first Charlotte quilt, which I named after a character in an E.M. Forster novel for the reasons shared in this post, when I found the piecing for the original snowball quilt (intended as a huge quilt for our back garden) that I was making so stultifyingly dull, that I decided to make it far smaller…perhaps not allowing all the members of the family to sit on it at the same time! Anyone who's read the book or watched the film of A Room with a View, may instantly understand why a quilt that was too small for everyone to sit on may take on such a name, but for those that haven't, do go and read my original post and you can add the phrase 'For goodness sake, don't be such a Charlotte Bartlett about it' to your own lexicon, for times when you're faced with a whiff of martyrdom!

Anyway, the name now seems doubly appropriate in its nod to martyrdom, as I decided to make this quilt in full knowledge of how much I'd not enjoyed the piecing work involved in its creation last time and it's just as unpleasant as I'd remembered it to be! I know some people find chain piecing soothing and meditative. I wish I was like them, but even with episode after episode of The Good Wife playing on my laptop in the background (it's an American legal drama and truly wonderful), I still don't find it restful. However, I'm spurred on by the fact that over the last few years, whenever my father has caught sight of my Charlotte Bartlett garden quilt, he's said how much he loves it, so I really have wanted to make him a similar one. My mother also adores the colour blue and I think will really love how exuberant Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs prints tend to be, so I'm hoping it will be a perfect joint present. These are the blues that I chose for the quilt.

This is the original quilt. It's traditionally called a 'snowball quilt' because of the tiny pieces sewn to the corner of each square, which, when sewn together, create a sense of a quilt full of round balls, although my version doesn't make this so apparent, as I haven't chosen to use a particularly contrasting print.

You can see a photo of it in its early stages, below. This is the first time I've used my new design wall properly - I've had an EPP stuck up there with pins until now as, with the papers still in place, English paper piecing projects don't cling to the design wall in the same way that fabric does. But goodness, it's exciting stuff to see fabric just 'sticking' to the wall unsecured by anything other than its own desire to cling to a piece of flannelette!

This was my paltry dusting of completed snowballs last week…I now have a pile akin to Helvellyn, which is moderately satisfying, but I will be aiming for Everest proportions over the coming week, before sewing them all together. I have a tendency to over-cautiousness and in the past when I've chain pieced things, I've still felt the need to take back-stitches at the start and end of each line of stitching, even though the seams will be secured properly later by sewing across them. However, a quick discussion on Instagram about this gave the confidence to dispense with this, although I've still decreased my stitch length a little to make the stitches harder to work their own way out…just in case some of them are particularly wilful in wanting to make a bid for freedom.

I did look through a big pile of quilting books before deciding to torture myself with the Charlotte Bartlett quilt again, but nothing else offered quite the flow and wildness that I think my father really loved about the original quilt. I could possibly have done just simple patchwork square but, quite inexplicably, I felt mean to take away the tiny corner stubs, just in case that was the thing he'd liked about it. I had an idea that it may have actually been the occasional snippets of black that he loved, so I've been careful to pick some blue prints that also have a bit of black in them.

And because I know that some of you come here just for the dog photos (that may not actually be true, I just like posting them), here's a photo from a few weeks ago when we went for our annual walk with some of Nell's brother's and sisters.

After a dry summer, everywhere suddenly seems to have turned to mud. A week after this photo was taken, my husband injured his leg playing football and so I've been in charge of all of her walks each week (I usually only did three or four, either with friends or with my husband or children). It's been an odd experience to suddenly be on full-time dog-walking duty when, until getting Nell, I was something of a mud-phobic creature. I've been for lots of lovely walks with friends and my father and, for the first time ever, I found myself walking through the woods alone (not out of a newfound braveness, but rather sheer frustration at how dull it is to be confined to walks in more public places). I know lots of women who do this, but I wasn't one of them, so I'm happy to add it to my mental list of 'trying new things', which I started over the summer when I climbed up some high scaffolding (with a really awful fear of heights) and sewed with some purple fabric after years of avoiding the colour.

What are you working on this week? And have you added anything to your own list of 'trying new things'?

Florence x

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Our evening meals

This is a slight detour from sewing, but as all sewists have to eat, I thought you might be interested in hearing about something we've been enjoying for much of this year. Up until April, we were in one of those slumps where I found myself cooking a rotation of the same meals every evening, either because I hadn't had the time to go out and buy any interesting ingredients or because I didn't have the time to research recipes in advance of actually cooking the meal. It went something like: pasta with tomato sauce with vegetables; gnocchi with a blue cheese sauce and asparagus; pasta with pesto and vegetables; jacket potatoes with grated cheese and vegetables…and over…and over. Everyone in our house quite likes these things, but it wasn't particularly exciting to be eating them in rotation every week. I actually really love cooking things from scratch…there's just a slight planning issue sometimes. Anyway, eight months ago, that changed when we discovered Hello Fresh. Each week they deliver all the ingredients I'll need to make three meals with full colour recipe cards for each. The quality of the ingredients is fantastic and the recipes are wholesome, hearty, unpretentious, but really, really good. 

The recipes are often quite involved, but it's this that means that somehow on a Wednesday evening when I've worked all day, got soaked on the school run, helped with homework and am trying to work my way through a washing mountain and would normally decide that some pasta, a jar of sauce and vegetables would suffice, instead I find myself whipping up something like a huge cauliflower and lentil dahl or Lebanese sweet potato wraps, without all the stress of planning or shopping for it. 

The recipes usually take between 35 to 50 minutes to make and I tend to put on a podcast while I'm cooking - it's a really lovely way to relax at the end of the day. It's completely transformed our week and I no longer have the guilt that I was beginning to suffer in feeling that my children would grow up not remembering me cooking particularly varied or interesting things for them (because a few years ago I did used to seem to have time and inclination to cook a lot more) or ceasing to being willing to try new things because they'd got out of the habit of it - I really minded about that idea. 

I have to confess that I don't actually eat many of the Hello Fresh meals myself as I have so many allergies and food intolerances - everything from gluten, to onions and garlic and a myriad of other common ingredients - that it's really rare that a recipe excludes all the things that I can't eat, but it's reignited my joy in cooking for others and the other three members of the family are really enjoying sampling all these new dishes each week. 

Hello Fresh don't really give you a huge amount of autonomy over what you cook each week. We order the vegetarian box for four people, but other than that, we don't get a say in what arrives. I quite like the surprise factor of this, although it does mean that I occasionally have to substitute something - for example, my daughter feels smoked paprika gives things a meaty flavour so I'll switch it for regular paprika from my own spice drawer and we always substitute any rare tofu appearances with some halloumi from our own fridge. 

I'd initially thought I'd want more than three meals a week, but actually it's perfect. We have one night a week where too many people are out to justify using one of the recipes and we also have an amazing local pizza restaurant that we tend to collect pizzas from on Friday nights and then the weekends tend to offer more time for planning out my own recipes anyway. I'd also thought it would be too expensive, but actually, what used to happen was that we'd dash out to the shops constantly to buy a few random bits and pieces and come back with far more than we'd intended to buy (often disparate items, that didn't really make a meal). I think our overall food bill is actually far lower now than it used to be. 

I really love how excited everyone is when the week's recipe cards are unpacked. At the sight of an enormous salad there are often sighs of disappointment, but it's been these dishes where everyone has usually said: I really wasn't looking forward to this one, but it's amazing! 

The fact that we've been getting Hello Fresh boxes each week for eight months now should be a good indication that I think it's a brilliant service, however, just to maintain balance, I thought I should also share the things I'm less keen on: very occasionally, an ingredient has been missing from our box - it's never caused a big problem as I've normally found something in the cupboard that I can substitute it for; you need absolutely massive pans and serving dishes to carry off Hello Fresh recipes with ease - the portions are invariably huge and often provide leftovers for the next day, which is brilliant, but you will need big pans; over the summer they changed over to new eco-insulation bags for the cold items (if you're out, the delivery company will leave the box somewhere safe for you, so the food really needs to stay cold all day in the summer). The eco bags drive me slightly loopy as they're huge and sometimes it feels as though they've wrapped one block of cheese up in the wool of an entire sheep to protect it properly, which even though it's an eco bag, feels slightly wasteful - I'm hoping this is a seasonal thing and that they'll go back to standard insulation now the weather has cooled. 

Anyway, if you'd like to try your own Hello Fresh box, you can get £20 off your first order by quoting my referral code GALEFS. When you get £20 off your order, Hello Fresh give me £12 off my next box as a thank you for referring someone (this is standard for all their customers - this isn't anything related to my blog and this isn't a sponsored post - I'm writing it because I love their service and after eight months of using it every week I feel really happy to recommend them here), so if you'd rather this didn't happen, but still want to try a box, just omit the code. 
    Florence x

    Ps. And if you do use the code: Cheers! We might end up cooking the very same thing one night next week. Freaky. 

    Tuesday, 11 November 2014

    Links to good things

    Last week, in the midst of painting the hall, stairs and landing, I also filled in a small chunk of missing plaster that was knocked out when we had a new kitchen installed about six years ago. The hole was about two inches square, half an inch deep and sat just above the wooden worktop upstand. Sometimes I would put things in front of it, so that I could pretend it wasn't there, but mostly those things got moved by my family, not realising that the recycling pot had been strategically placed, and so most days when I cooked, I noticed it and minded about it. At first, when I was happily pottering around in a new kitchen, my thought was optimistically always, I must fill in that hole tomorrow…but gradually, over six years, that thought turned to wondering what would propel me into action to fill it and whether it would always be like that, until perhaps we were struck by a mad flurry of efficiency if we came to sell the house. I felt slightly envious of the people who would live here next who would never have to see the bit of missing plaster. It's odd how these things which would take five minutes to fix, can sit there for years, making you feel guilty and slightly exhausted on a low-level each time you catch sight of them. Anyway, now that it's finally done, I can report that there are seemingly few things that could make you feel quite so victorious and jubilant than checking something off a mental To Do list that's been nagging at you each time you've caught sight of it for over half a decade…I'm not sure quite why I'm sharing this with you, other than to say that if you have your own metaphorical missing chunk of plaster that will take five minutes to put right, I'd implore you to stop reading and go and tend to it (and then report back once it's done - I'd love to hear what yours was. Next on my own list of 'Things that I am Really Going to Do this Week!' is gluing the small air vent grill, that sits at the bottom of our chimney breast, onto the wall, so that it doesn't fall out every time we open or close our bedroom door!)

    Anyway, I thought you might enjoy a bullet-pointed list of interesting things from around the internet. Bullet-pointed, because that seems an appropriate medium of conveying information for someone who is so ultra efficient…or at least the best course of action for one who still has slightly painty fingers and needs to go and declog them at the earliest opportunity, rather than think about breaking up paragraphs nicely.

    • I've been meaning to tell you about Lysa Flower since May, so the fact that she's appearing in this blog post now, whilst belated, at least means that I can say that I'm sharing her work quicker than I can fill a hole in the kitchen wall. If you haven't discovered Lysa Flower's work yourself already, I think you'll love it. Lysa creates beautiful drawings of people's fabric stashes or favourite pieces of haberdashery. Rendered in coloured pencil on a plywood base, there's something I find just incredibly lovely about Lysa's drawings.

      When I asked Lysa why she first decided to draw on wood, here's what she said: Hmm, why did I settle on wood? All this started with drawing dresses but they were on paper. It seemed no matter how I framed them they wouldn't lay flat. I had seen these wood canvases at the art supply store and thought I'd give it a go. I was really happy with the results and felt it kept everything fresh and clean looking. However my main goal was for it to look modern. Lysa is happy to take on commissions, so do get in touch if you fancy having a part of your own stash captured on wood before you cut into it. Lysa also collaborates with Warp and Weft, where she's been sharing a free downloadable calendar image for each month this year. I adore October, featuring Elizabeth Olwen's Wild Wood line for Cloud9.
    • Co-incidentally, fabric distributors, Hantex, sent a delicious bundle of Wild Wood to me recently, which was very lovely as it's been one of the collections that I've been most excited about this year - you can find their list of UK stockists for this line here and scroll up and down admiring the real fabric and the Lysa's drawing of the real fabric as many times as you'd like (that's exactly what I've been doing while writing this post, anyway).
    • I have no idea what the recipe details are, as they're in Japanese, but I've fallen in love with these adorable biscuits and the step photos look easy enough to follow to achieve the same thing with your own recipe. 
    • If you love seeing all the photos from Quilt Market where designers unveil their much anticipated new fabric collections to the industry and retailers, Abby Glassenberg has written a well-researched and eye-opening article about how this works from a designer's point of view and just how little money, and quite how much hard work, can be involved in the process. It's a really interesting post and the comments are well worth reading too. 
    • One of my lovely sponsors, Elephant in my Handbag, is offering a 10% discount on your first order with them, using the code 'Flossie' at the checkout. You can find the code on their button in my right hand sidebar too, if you ever want to click directly through. 
    • Have you watched this wonderful three-minute video about how the thousands of ceramic poppies were made which have been placed around the Tower of London to remember each soldier who died? It's really worth watching. 
    • I've really enjoyed reading the Motherhood Around the World series on the Cup of Jo blog. Each post featured an in-depth interview with an American mother who had emigrated to a different country and shared her thoughts on the cultural differences that exist in raising children in her new home. In the final post, the tables were turned and Joanna interviewed nine mums who'd moved to the States from elsewhere to hear what their take on the differences were too. The interviews are fascinating reading - I loved every single one of them. 
    As always, if you have any interesting links of your own, please do share them in the comments. And thanks to my sister, Laura, who prompted this post - after an unplanned three week hiatus - with the text: When the devil are you going to blog again? I miss you! xxx. (We had actually been speaking on the phone, texting and even seen each other in person the week before, so it was a doubly sweet text).

    Florence x

    Tuesday, 21 October 2014

    A new English paper piecing project

    Thank you so much for all your lovely comments on the last post - I hugely enjoyed reading what you're reading and listening to.

    Kim B is our winner who wrote: Oooh, love to discover new UK fabric shops! As for what I'm reading, after finishing your recommendation of "Love, Nina" by Nina Stibbe, I moved on to Alan Bennett's journals! (well, the two books of his collected writings, which include his journals). I kept waiting for him to refer to Mary-Kay's nanny Nina, but it never happened. But he did talk about Mary-kay and Sam! in paper book fashion, I'm finally indulging in my first John-Banville-as-Benjamin-Black murder mystery and wondering what took me so long!!

    Kim's comment may make very little sense to anyone who hasn't read 'Love, Nina', but I loved it as I know that I would have read Alan Bennett's journals waiting for him to mention Nina too. Kim, please do send me your address and I'll pass it on to Fabric HQ who will despatch your goodies.

    This is what I'm currently working on - it's some english paper piecing, which I'm also intending to write up a pattern for, if anyone might be interested. It's not quite finished yet though as it's taking a frustratingly long time for me to decide on just the right colours for the next round of shapes. It uses some Liberty prints and some solid Oakshotts. 

    You wouldn't believe quite how many things I cut out or even sew together and then realise that I'm not happy with the colours. All of the rosettes below (I actually made three of the patterned rosettes in the first photo, before deciding I wasn't happy with them!), won't actually be used. I think by the time it's finished I may have enough rejects to create a whole 'B-side' version though! 

    Despite being so indecisive, I'm enjoying it hugely though and it's fun to be working with some shapes that are different from those in my Passacaglia quilt, as they've been my sole focus for the last six months and I decided I needed a brief break from them. My new project still involves a little bit of fussy-cutting, but isn't dominated by it, which again, I'm finding feels refreshing.

    Wishing you a lovely week,
    Florence x

    Friday, 10 October 2014

    An unapologetically Christmassy giveaway!

    This is just a really quick post to invite you to leave a comment to have the chance to win these gorgeous fabrics from my sponsor, Fabric HQ, who have recently launched a shiny new website, as well as opening up a real-life, you-can-actually-touch-it shop in Buckinghamshire.

    I know many people are hideously offended by thinking about Christmas in October, but for me, the moment three family birthdays are over at the end of September, my thoughts turn to how excited I feel about Christmas, so these bundles are unapologetically seasonal! However, I've already seen some people beginning Christmas sewing over on Instagram, so I do wonder whether sewists are naturally willing to embrace the whole thing earlier, just because we sometimes need longer to prepare our gifts if we're making them!

    There's a fairly well-padded Christmas section, but I also love this 'Autumnal Woods' panel, which actually looks deliciously wintry to me.

    But when not thinking about Christmas, Fabric HQ do offer a fantastic selection of fabrics. From memory, most of the prints in this stack are ones that I bought there when I first started on my Passacaglia quilt six months ago. But they also do some amazing dressmaking fabrics (rabbits and hares, and leaves!). If you want to keep track of what's coming and going at Fabric HQ you can sign up to their newsletter by clicking on the button that's right at the bottom of every page on their website

    Anyway, how to enter - I'd love it if you'd leave me a comment telling me what you're enjoying reading, listening to or looking at, recently. 

    Personally, I'm currently reading the newly published 'Us' by David Nicholls, author of the book (and now film), One Day. My sister actually sent me an Amazon gift voucher (with an incredible dancing dogs animation and a 'happy birthday' message even though it's not my birthday until March. It was quite thrilling - she knows just what's going to delight me) for this book so that I could download it to my Kindle and read it at the same time as her. We're both unsure of how much we love the characters yet, but we're both huge fans of David Nicholls' writing. I'm also reading-by-proxy, Bounce: the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed (by proxy as I bought it for my husband, but he's relaying it to me chapter-by-chapter as he reads and we've discussed the ideas in it so much that I feel like I've read it myself - it's a sports psychology book and a really inspiring, empowering and fascinating read, irrespective of whether you have a direct interest in sport - so much of what's written in it is applicable to wider life). 

    I'll announce a winner next week. Rae is happy to post the fabric to anywhere in Europe. Really looking forward to reading what you're enjoying at the moment.

    Florence x

    Thursday, 2 October 2014

    A tiny piece of Liberty Jack

    I made this a few weeks ago at my daughter's request, as she said that she'd really love something with a Liberty print Union Jack on it for her birthday. Coincidentally, it was around the time of the Scottish independence referendum when there was a lot of discussion about how the Union Jack would change if the Scottish St Andrew's element were to be removed, so while I was sewing I realised that it may be a last opportunity to sew it while it was still in circulation as our current flag. However, as a fairly unpatriotic person, I don't feel any real attachment to the Union Jack for what it represents, but I do feel a huge affection for it from a sewist's perspective. The way the pieces interconnect, the potential for using different fabrics, the variation in thickness of lines - they all combine to make it a perfect focus for patchwork. 

    Several years ago, like many others, I fell in love with Janey Forgan's Liberty Jack quilt, which was shown as part of the V&A's Exhibition, 'Quilts 1700 - 2010'. You can see a little corner of it in the book I had out while I was sewing here (the book doesn't give a pattern for the quilt as it's a book discussing the pieces at the exhibition, rather than a pattern book) or see it in full in this old post.

    My finished Union Jack measured, from memory, just less than 5" x 2.5", so I decided to foundation piece it as some of the strips were too small for English paper piecing. I've done foundation paper piecing a few times in the past and never really enjoyed it as the whole process feels so counter-intuitive, but this time I felt quite delighted by it - perhaps because it was enabling me to do something that I couldn't do at that scale any other way - I'm normally a fan of anything that facilitates me working in miniature or with fiddly pieces. [If you're not sure of the difference between foundation paper piecing and English paper piecing: the former is where you machine sew fabrics onto a printed paper template, whereas English paper piecing is where you wrap fabrics around paper templates and then sew them together by hand - the method I use most of the time in my sewing].

    It was very much trial and error as it was my own Union Jack print out and my own learn-as-you-go methods. However, afterwards Kerry gave me lots of helpful tips which I'll try out next time I do some foundation piecing. If you're new to FPP too or thinking of dabbling with it, you can find all Kerry's foundation paper piecing tips and tutorials here and one that particularly helps with dealing with templates for diagonals, which feature heavily in a Union Jack, here. Kerry also has patterns in the shop which she co-runs, Sew Ichigo, which look to come with full instructions so are probably perfect for beginners as well as experienced FPPers.

    I used the Union Jack panel to make a little zippered p-o-u-c-h (There. And breathe. Such a hideous word) for my daughter. I'm really tempted to make a whole mini-quilt of them though. Since having more plain white walls of my own to decorate, I feel much more taken with the idea of making some mini-quilts and my husband has also requested some, for practical purposes, for his own walls. When we had the extra layer of rooms added to our house, he turned our daughter's old bedroom into an office/music room. Even though it's tiny, with no soft furnishings in there it has dreadful acoustics for recording any music - it seems that a wall of quilts would be the perfect thing for dampening the sound down, although they'll need to be Manly Quilts, which I'm not sure are so much about pastel Liberty prints and possibly more about some Parson Gray. Have you seen any quilt patterns that have an Esher feel to them maybe?

    Florence x

    Sunday, 14 September 2014

    My new sewing room!

    Finally, some photos of my sewing room! I can only put the delay down to an initial flurry of it feeling more urgent to use it than it was to photograph it! I've always loved seeing how people set up their work spaces, whether it's a huge studio or a corner of a dining room, so this is a very photo-heavy post with all the tiny details included! If you're also interested in seeing how I made a multi-tasking room work for me, you can read about it in this post as, until a few weeks ago, I've spent the last eight years sewing in our bedroom.

    At the outset, I should say that everything apart from my desk chair is from Ikea, as it's relatively inexpensive, they do a huge range of white furniture (which is what I wanted) and it's flat-pack, which meant we could get it up the stairs easily. I've had Ikea furniture in the past and developed an allergy to the fibre particle-board (which sits inside the white outer casing), when it became exposed when I broke part of it during construction! This time, I decided to go down the allergy prevention route of asking someone more adept than me to construct it - that is a winning solution in so many ways!

    Above, shows a bit of my design wall with some Passacaglia cogs in progress, the making of which I blogged about in more detail here. It also shows my cutting table. I spent much of the time that our loft was being converted agonising over how big the cutting table should be. It's not a big room, but in the end I decided to go for something that was a super-sized beast of a table, on the grounds that often sewing projects take just as long to cut as they do to sew. I also knew that I didn't want an ironing board in the room. I'm terribly accident prone and have lost several irons when I've knocked them onto the floor. I've also spent the last eight years alerting my children to the iron whenever they've walked into the room - so I wanted the cutting table to be large enough to also house a pressing pad, so that we'd all be safe, including the iron!

    The cutting table is made up from four Ikea Kallax units, with a huge white desk top (also from Ikea) placed on top. I've used sticky-back velcro to keep the table top in place as I didn't want to drill it onto the units. The cutting table has a huge amount of storage under it. I've kept the most frequently used things in the more easily accessible storage boxes and the rarely used items sit in pull-out boxes behind the books.

    I've left a gap in between the two sets of Kallax units, where cutting mats and perspex grid rulers are stored for easy access. At my father's suggestion (always surprisingly practical!), I chose to omit one of the shelves to make space for my knees, so that I can stand comfortably when I'm cutting. There are small pre-drilled holes exposed by doing this, but they're easily covered with little white sticky labels. I also wanted to raise the whole thing up to make it the right height for me to cut at, and also to leave room for my feet to tuck under the units, so there are legs attached to each of the Kallax units. The cutting table is about 33"/86cm tall by the time the top and legs have been added - it's perfect for my height and I've already spent many happy hours cutting there without backache - that feels like a huge luxury.

    I keep my work-in-progress items stored in the open part of the unit…the coral and navy stripes are a jersey top that I've nearly finished.

    I made the pressing pad from a large piece of wood, cut to size at the DIY shop. I then covered it in a thin layer of cotton and a layer of linen. I read quite a lot about making ironing pads before I did it and what I discovered I found really interesting. Have you ever had that thing where you make a quilt block perfectly and then you press it and it suddenly looks slightly distorted? Apparently, it's because regular ironing board covers have too much padding and 'give' in them, which can lead to the fabric distorting slightly. When I first pressed something on this board I could instantly feel the difference and understand why this would hold true.

    I have no idea why, but one of the things that's always really bothered me when I'm sewing is having to bend down and turn the iron on and off constantly in between stitching seams, as it feels like a task that disrupts work flow (and may in part be the reason for my knocking the iron on the floor so frequently). So I planned out my space around this. There's an extension lead that comes up behind the cutting table and sits on top of it. As each switch can be controlled individually it means that I can just flick the switch on and off without having to unplug it and it's right next to my pressing pad. It's such a small thing, but it makes me disproportionately happy!

    My rotary cutters and scissors are all stored right below the cutting table in the little drawer unit I've put inside one of the Kallax cubbies.

    Finally, above the cutting table are the tiny framed Liberty Tana lawn swatches, which I posted about here.

    On the other side of my room is my sewing desk. I wanted this to be fairly long for several reasons: I wanted to be able to leave my sewing machines out (although most of the time, I actually store the overlocker in one of the cubby boxes under the cutting table - it's just out in these photos as I've been using it this week); my sewing room also needs to double as my office for when I'm working on the app business that I run with my husband, so I need space to have my laptop and all the paraphernalia that entails spread out; my daughter had said she'd quite like me to have a desk where she could use my second sewing machine and sew alongside me if she felt like it (we haven't done this yet, but it's nice to know we could if we wanted to).

    I wanted to pack in as much storage as possible, so I've got two different types of Alex drawer units beneath the desk, but one of them is on castors, so that I can move it easily if I want more leg space to flit between two sewing machines. The photo above shows the desk when the larger set of drawers has been wheeled out of the way to make more space for sewing one evening last week! I only tend to store work things in that unit, so all my sewing paraphernalia is still to hand in the right-hand drawers.

    The other thing that I really wanted in the room was something that would be a really comfy place to do some hand stitching; a tempting place to lure my husband upstairs to chat to me during the day; somewhere for the children to lounge around while I'm sewing; and perhaps most importantly, somewhere for my mother-in-law to sleep when she comes to visit; and something that offered flexibility in terms of how much space it took up depending on what I was using the room for. We put a huge amount of thought into this bit and we even went to Ikea for the first time in over a decade to test out the options for comfort! In the end we chose the one-seat section of the Kivik sofa and a footstool to go with it (for reference, it is a much firmer seat than the chaise longue from the same range, which felt too squashy to sleep on). This means that if I want to baste a quilt on the floor, I can move the footstool to the other side of the room, but the rest of the time, it stays where it is, as in the photo below. When my mother-in-law visits we add another footstool to this and then cover the whole thing in an obscenely well-padded mattress cover that somehow fits and makes the whole thing feel really quite lovely. She told me it was really comfortable and luckily she doesn't mind being surrounded by sewing paraphernalia as she's an obsessive quilter herself. 

    Above with footstool. Below, with footstool moved aside to make a bigger floor space.

    The chest of drawers as I come into the room holds all my fabric. The bottom two drawers have all my quilting fabrics inside.

    I've sorted the fabrics into rough colour order as I find it easiest to work that way. 

    On top of the chest of drawers are some treasures: favourite books, most given to me by my parents (spines rapidly fading, so perhaps it's not the best place for them); the lego sewing machine my husband and children gave to me nearly five years ago; printing blocks from sister showing an old Singer sewing machine, along with mine and my husband's initials; a special teacup and saucer (a gift bought with money from my father); a terrarium made by daughter the summer before last; a framed segment of the patchwork Liberty dog bed that I made for Nell.

    There's also quite a big, but oddly sized cupboard built into the corner of the room to the left of the drawers. I'd quite like to store a vacuum cleaner in there at some point when funds allow the buying of a second one, as it suddenly feels that the one in the utility room two floors down is a very long way away.

    Finally, here's the room in action. The thing that I appreciate most of all perhaps, is not having to tidy up a mess like the one below before I can go to bed at night…but also how much more quickly it can all be cleared away when I do tidy it all up. As you can see though, a cutting table can never actually be too big!

    Sorry for the extreme photo overload - it's rare for photos to outweigh words on my blog, but I think I've actually managed it here! I hope you enjoyed it though. I feel like I've spent eight years designing and planning this room in my head and even when it was being built (just five weeks from start to finish!), I couldn't actually believe that one day it would be finished and that I'd really have a sewing room of my own - it feels slightly unreal. My favourite thing about the whole room isn't really anything to do with sewing at all though - it's the light. I'm now wishing we could balance all the rooms of our house on the roof so that every room could have skylight windows in it - they offer dramatic sunsets that must have always been there, but that I've been missing; the racket of pounding rain; and a feeling of complete privacy and not being overlooked.

    Florence x