Friday, 18 August 2017

Festival of Quilts 2017 + Tiny Piecing

Firstly, before moving on to the comfort of quilts, if you're reading from America, I just wanted to say how much I've been thinking of you after the awfulness that took place in Charlottesville last weekend and then Trump sinking to new lows in his response to it. I'm sending so much love your way if you've been left reeling from this. x

I hadn't been so sure whether I'd get to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham this year, but I ended up going over the weekend with the unexpected company of my daughter, who is keen to absorb all the inspiration she can while in the midst of her Textiles GCSE. I usually find the hours of connecting train journeys, the walk through the strange dystopia that is the Birmingham NEC building, and then the sudden joyful overload of inspiration inside the Festival of Quilts to be both thrilling and surreal in equal measure, but it all felt more lovely and less surreal in my daughter's company and we giggled and chatted our way through the day and the journeys seemed too quickly over.

My daughter was more interested in the exhibition side of things than the shops (and I am too, but it's so easy to get side-tracked by the consumeristic imp that lives inside when it comes to sewing supplies!), so we devoted an hour to them at the end of the day and spent the rest of the day carefully combing through the aisles and stands of quilts, trying hard not to miss anything. We'd been so conscientious in this mission that I felt sure we'd left having hoovered up every little bit of inspiration that was there to be had, but on returning home and looking on Instagram, I saw that we'd actually still somehow missed many things. One of which was this portrait by Jenni Dutton. Jenni's work focused on exploring dementia through mixed media pieces and I still feel full of regret that I somehow missed seeing her work in person.


But to the bits that we did see: this princess-cut diamond quilt by Katherine Jones was one of the most extraordinary quilts I've ever seen. It was even more dazzling in real life.

One of the other highlights for both of us was The Egg, which was pieced by Hillary Goodwin and quilted by Rachael Dorr. The texture was fascinating and we found it hard not to touch it. It was difficult to grasp where the piecing ended and the quilting began - they seemed to have morphed deliciously into one.

Kumiko Frydl had a stand all to herself for her miniature quilts and they were so inspiring. All of the samples shared here were less than 30cm/12" square. 

Somehow the machine quilting on these mini quilts feels harder to comprehend that the piecing itself for me. It is just at such a minuscule scale, especially the seaweed quilting that lies in between the main design. I was left feeling fascinated by how Kumiko works and whether she has a vast magnifying glass attached to her machine.

Each year's festival has a slightly different feel, determined by the work that's been submitted and this year felt more weighted toward art quilts and modern quilts. Although the area I'm most drawn to in my quilts is traditional, there's something inspiring about viewing so much work that's not necessarily in my own comfort zone. The thing I took from it was that there's so much potential to make a quilt more wonderful with the quilting and that my own vision often stops when the piecing is completed. It was a slightly uncomfortable realisation to see that in doing so, I'm probably allowing a whole layer of extra interest to go unexplored. I'm slightly frustrated with myself that I didn't take any images to share with you that represent this, but I really loved it when people had envisioned a quilting design that worked like a jigsaw with the piecing - accentuating, complementing or contrasting with it, but never settling for an all-over-design that offered little conversation with the piecing.

I was left feeling it's an area I'd love to explore, but also with an awareness that I lack a natural vision for it - quilting is just never part of what I conjure up in my mind when creating a quilt. My fabric choices and relatively traditional piecing tend to mean that there's very little negative space to fill, but even if there was, I'm not sure I'd see the potential for what could go there. I wonder if you know of any books that you'd be happy to recommend for quilting inspiration? Or maybe a particular quilter's work that it would be good to study? I've been pondering this book by Angela Walters, but I'd love to hear if you have any recommendations. 

Throughout the day, my daughter spotted both Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably (I think she's absorbed their faces from the piles of quilting books around the house and perhaps Kaffe's exhibition of quilts at Standen earlier in the year, if there was a photo of him there). We didn't speak to either, but we were looking at some fabric near Kaffe while he was having a conversation with someone else and we heard an anecdote that made us laugh and that we shall keep in our pockets and which feels somehow more lovely than having spoken to him ourselves. I did have a brief chat with Anna Maria Horner, who was just as lovely as I'd imagined she might be. Seeing the crowds of people around her, my daughter asked me later if Anna Maria was the Beyonce of the quilting world. Pretty much :)

I think the quilt-related highlight of the day for me was seeing this framed tiny piecing. When I caught sight of it, I felt drawn to it with an almost magnetic force (that in retrospect, possible caused me to scuttle toward it, rather than maintaining a dignified walking pace). It was just as magical close up as it had looked from several metres away. The pieces were magnificently tiny and the fussy cutting and piecing quite stunning. The stars are pieced from beautiful silk ribbons, which were apparently popular for this use between 1880 - 1920. I don't feel I have adequate words to convey quite how breathtakingly lovely I find it and how ridiculously exciting it was to see it - giddy and heart-flippy don't quite capture it. I'm intending to have a go at recreating a few blocks at the same scale at some point soon - although probably not from ribbon as that's possibly one challenge too many! (FYI - the owner of this piece is Carolyn Gibbs - I'm so grateful she decided to share it at FoQ).

I've become more fascinated with miniature piecing projects recently (I have one appearing in a book I contributed to recently, that I'm looking forward to sharing with you soon) and when I was in the midst of writing my Eight Dials pattern, I had a go at creating a small version of the main block. This one uses Liberty Tana lawns and I quite like how three-dimensional the penultimate round of bulbous blooms makes it appear to be. I find it hard to show scale in photos, but here are a needle, thread and hand for an idea. There are 24 little pieces tucked into this rosette!

It always surprises me to find just how quickly tiny pieces come together - it's obvious because there are less stitches to be made, but I'd always thought that would be evened out by dealing with the tinier pieces, but somehow it's not, as it's never quite as fiddly as I imagine it to be (unlike making doll clothes, which make my fingers feel itchy with how fiddly it is).

I can't remember now how much I scaled down by, but here it is with the regular sized block. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this little piece, but I've enjoyed having it sitting on my desk for the last few months.

Did you go to FoQ? What was your favourite piece?

Wishing you a happy weekend,
Florence x

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Holidays and handbags

In my last post, I'd written about  our forthcoming holiday to St Paul de Vence, near Nice. It was just as dreamy as we'd hoped - one of those lovely towns that feels totally unspoiled, despite it's popularity. It was a place of winding, cobbled streets, where every turn seemed to offer something new to 'ooh' and 'ahh' over.

We stayed in a beautiful self-catering villa at the bottom of a ridiculously steep hill. When the man who we'd rented the villa from realised we'd come without a car, he said that no one had made it past Day 2 in that location without taking a taxi back to Nice to hire a car. Reader, we broke that record and walked up the wretched hill every day, usually in about 33 degree heat. Although whenever we arrived in the town, we must have looked curiously fuchsia-cheeked and wet of brow, as though we may be a family who relished completing marathons while wearing sundresses and day shorts; everyone else wandered around looking serene having arrived in their cars like civilised people. We couldn't tell if a defibrillator was positioned on the wall near our entrance to the town ironically, but we grimly noted its presence each day.

The road we walked up (not pictured) was private and cars were only permitted to travel down it in one direction, due to how narrow, steep and winding it was. At the top, there was a sign drawing attention to the danger of its 20% incline (although, I feel sure that that was a grave underestimation, and that it was nearer 50%)! Very occasionally, we would see an English person driving down this road, identifiable by their speed not going above 3mph, a look of pure terror worn across their face, and their foot permanently resting the brake pedal. Mostly, it was French drivers though, who would barrel merrily down the hill, appearing around one of the many twists and turns at such speed that no audible sound would announce their presence until they were almost upon us, scattering us in different directions, as they joyfully continued their helter-skelter descent. Getting to the top of the hill alive was a truly challenging experience.

Once we'd reached the summit (St Paul de Vence), we were well-connected to all sorts of lovely places by a wonderfully reliable bus service, that allowed you to go pretty much anywhere for just €1.50 in air-conditioned luxury. We went over to Vence (the next town along) several times, where we winkled out Matisse's Rosary Chapel and his beautiful stained glass windows.

En route to the chapel (which was out of town, up many more hills), we were discussing how pristine and beautifully maintained everything was, when we saw this house, with dreamy blue shutters and doors, which offered evidence that even the local vandals were careful to respect the town's loveliness, having used sympathetic colours when graffitiing expletives.

Back in the centre of Vence, the Museum of Vence proved to be an unexpected treasure, full of more wonderful pieces of Matisse's work and also a long French documentary (with English subtitles) interviewing Sister Jacques-Marie, who was instrumental in making Matisse's vision for the Rosary Chapel a reality. It was an incredibly moving film, discussing both their friendship and the difficulty she'd had in persuading others within her religious community to approve his plans. It was possibly one of the most engaging interviews I've ever watched (I've since found it won Best Documentary at New York Film Festival), so I bought a copy of the DVD to share with my mum and sister, but if you have Amazon Prime in the US, the film is included in your membership! You can watch it here, if you're interested. For some reason, sadly that's not the case if you're in the UK.

By the time we found a day to take the bus over to Nice to visit the Matisse Museum, my expectations were high! By that point we'd seen many of Matisse's sketches, appliqué and paper cuts, and I was ready for some of the beautiful vibrant paintings I'd seen in Russia and which were inspiring my second version of my Eight Dials pattern. My husband and children weren't crazy about the sketches, but I promised them that they would love the paintings. The Matisse Museum was quite a way from the city centre and (predictably) up more hills, so we broke the walk up with a visit to the Marc Chagall gallery, which we all really enjoyed. I realised I knew and liked lots of his work, even though I hadn't necessarily been conscious of it beforehand. What's really noticeable about Chagall's work is that he is absolutely crazy about goats (and often violins too) - they seemed to make their way into so many of his paintings and we enjoyed playing Spot the Goat as we worked our way around the gallery. I felt fairly sure that this must have had some religious relevance, but I wasn't able to ascertain quite what by reading the cards around the museum, which seemed odd as surely that's the thing everyone wants to know (it was only when we got home, I found he was Jewish and the goat was often used as a sacrifice for God in the Old Testament). Above is a Chagall painting where no goat appears...I'm unsure how I've ended up with such an unrepresentative photo for this post!

When we got to the Matisse Gallery, we were feeling quite hot and tired (it was scorching the week we were there), so, it was with a sinking -slightly dehydrated- heart that I walked from room to room and realised that they had barely any of Matisse's more vibrant paintings. My sister and I had truly been spoilt when we visited The Hermitage in Russia - it really was wall-to-wall breathtaking goodness. By contrast, the Matisse Museum seemed to offer a sparse collection that was missing some of its heart. It feels such a shame that more paintings hadn't been able to stay in Matisse's homeland - I felt really heartbroken for the museum itself, as well as its visitors. We walked back down to the old quarter of the city centre feeling really quite disappointed (at that point, my son nobly offered to visit more museums, if there was anywhere that might feel like a consolation to me. Sometimes I want to gobble him up; having teenagers is so much lovelier than I ever imagined. My imaginings were mainly based on how absolutely awful I was myself as a teenager though, which may not be representative)! We were revived, not by more museums, but by an amazing meal in the old part of Nice - we went to Sentimi, where the other three had pizzas which slotted into their Top Five ever. After Sentimi, we visited a wonderful ice-cream parlour that my sister had told me about (if you find yourself in Nice, it's called Oui, Jelato! It has an amazing range of flavours, all beautifully displayed).

As an antidote to all the galleries they'd endured on my behalf, my husband and son took a taxi to watch a football match at Nice's stadium (I think it was Nice vs Ajax), which they both said was a really wonderful experience. My daughter and I stayed at the villa and watched two films, which I think we enjoyed almost as much.

I realised my children had never experienced a pool holiday involving inflatables and I wanted to rectify that before they reached 18, so on our first supermarket trip to Vence, we bought two lilos (St Paul de Vence has no supermarkets - not even a tiny one). The above picture was taken on our first morning, before we'd introduced large pieces of brightly-coloured plastic to the pool. I'd forgotten quite how relaxing drifting around on a lilo can be, having not done it since I was a teenager (also, how much fun it is to tip one another off them and have lilo races). We also bought a few nose pegs before leaving home and spent a substantial amount of time perfecting our syncopated swimming and underwater handstands. And also sitting on the ledge in the pool or lying in a hammock reading books. I tore through these three books while we were away and would recommend all of them.

Our garden came complete with a vegetable patch that we were free to raid during our stay. It rather dwarfed the tomatoes that we'd left growing in our own back garden...

One of the things that always amazes me whenever we go to Europe is how misshapen the fruit and vegetables are in the supermarkets, but how incredibly flavoursome it all is. I feel utterly perplexed by why we have such uniform specimens in England, even when they're imported from Europe. Also, why they taste so bland...I'm imagining that may be something to do with cold storage and picking the fruit and vegetables a little before they're ripe to allow for the transportation time, but that doesn't explain why the obsession with uniform specimens. I wonder at what point our supermarkets decided we would only eat perfectly-shaped offerings? The farmers who grow things to be shipped to Britain must think we're absolutely curious creatures. Back to home-grown, which although misshapen, still doesn't taste as good as the food on the continent, I've suggested to my husband that I think we may be better leaving our tomato plants in the greenhouse for the whole summer, rather than bringing them out to sit on the patio around July to try and bump up the heat - does anyone have any thoughts on this? What do you do with your tomatoes?

I always find myself frantically preparing paper pieces before we leave to go on holiday and this was no exception. Although I tend to do lots of EPP on English holidays, once the plane journey is over, it's rare for me to do any EPP abroad - the heat seems to make it a less appealing activity and I tend to want to use any spare time for reading instead. The daily trauma of the hill caused lengthy family analysis of exactly what I was choosing to haul up and down it each day in my handbag. There was much teasing on discovering that despite having no intention of actually sewing due to the heat, I still felt compelled to carry my EPP everywhere with me like a strange comfort blanket.

I think my mum, sister and daughter all carry a lot around in their bags too, but I'm not really sure what it's not normal to be carrying (EPP that you have no intention of sewing with while on holiday aside - I'm aware that that one is really quite strange, but the idea of wanting to sew and not being able to is so horrible that it feels worth insuring against). As the contents of my bag are all entirely essential in my eyes, I'm not really looking to reduce them, but I'd love to know how it compares to your own handbag and also if you have any odd things that you feel you can't leave home without (or anything that's wonderfully space saving)!

So, here's what I'd usually carry when I'm in England (Keys, phone, plasters etc aren't shown here and if it's sunny, I'd also add in a miniature bottle of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses), in rows from left to right: a cotton bag for carrying shopping home; Liberty print handkerchief; tissues; umbrella; earphones (if I'm going on a long train journey, I actually pack two pairs, just in case one breaks - evidence of a hearty podcast addiction); wallet and chrome Spacepen - these have both been in my handbags since they were given to me by my parents for my 21st birthday. The wallet now desperately needs replacing, but the space pen is still going strong; English paper piecing pouch, which is in frequent use when not abroad; a tiny drawstring bag containing a beautiful white heart and wishbone, bought for me by my mum and sister on a trip to Bath; a mirror (I've only recently started carrying one, so rarely remember to actually use it, but I like the flamingos against the creamy background too much to leave it at home - you can find it here, if you're interested); Nars lip crayon in Dolce Vita (this needs resharpening often, so is ultimately quite irritating, but I love the colour); my husband bought me an iPhone charger at an airport several years ago when I realised my phone was likely to die before we arrived at our destination and it's one of his best ever purchases - it's light, holds its charge and recharges super-quickly; finally, Lanolips Lemonaid Lip balm - this is my absolute favourite lip balm - it moisturises brilliantly and somehow makes the Nars lip pencil colour last for longer when placed over the top. For years, I also carried two tiny drawings by my children, but I finally took them out when they reached a point near disintegration.

How has your summer been so far?
Florence x

Ps. If you like Matisse, this exhibition is now on at the RA in London!

Monday, 17 July 2017

From Brush to Needle

I'd said in my last post about my latest English paper piecing pattern, Eight Dials, that I'd show you some of the blocks for another version that I've been working on - as promised, they are completely different - it doesn't even look like the same pattern. I wanted to explain my thinking behind these blocks, so bear with me - there are lots more images later in the post!

A few months ago, I came downstairs to show my husband the latest block that I'd sewn. It's nice, he said. I think most students who travelled through the English education system will have had it drummed into them that 'nice' is a forbidden adjective, lacking in imagination and permissible only at times when one is totally unenthused by something. Despite, at that point, feeling like a rather reluctant and weary sort of fish, I took the bait and asked him what the problem was. He suggested that the thing I'd just made was similar in colour and style to most of what I'd made over the past year (for a Secret Project, yet to be shared here). But I LOVE those colours, I replied. I use them a lot because to my eyes they are the best of colours; when I open my fabric drawers, they're what I feel drawn to pull out.

My husband put down his laptop and lay back on the sofa - a signal that he was either about to fall asleep or give me his COMPLETE attention. On this occasion, it was the latter. He broke it to me that  the problem with always using similar colours, no matter how much you love them, is that you risk stagnating, becoming bored and eventually failing to move forward creatively. I saw his point, even though it was slightly painful to hear. But I found the idea of using a totally different colour palette uninspiring - why would I use colours that I don't truly love? And also, maybe, a little overwhelming.

Next, he said something wise and then something extremely practical and helpful. Together they made this one of our Favourite Conversations Ever, because it felt like I sat down with one mindset and left shortly after with one that was totally refreshed. He first told me that he thought people were often able to be more creative when they had constraints placed on their work. He explained that when he used to have clients (in a previous life, my husband was a web and games designer), having a brief to stick to was actually a springboard to coming up with an exciting design. Mmmm.

So how do I put constraints on my work, I asked (because why think for yourself when you have your own Wise Man suddenly lying on the sofa)? He suggested that I could base each block for a quilt on the colour palette of a painting that I really loved. The conversation had gone from uncomfortable, to thought-provoking, to finally a level of inspiration that saw me haring off upstairs hungry to wield a rotary cutter and leaving him perfectly positioned for an afternoon nap.

An afternoon looking at Matisse's paintings in The Hermitage, St Petersburg, while in Russia with my sister, planted a seed that has left him as one of my favourite artists and so moments later I was printing out one of his paintings and matching up fabrics. The dilemmas that would normally bring my work to a standstill disappeared, entrusting those decisions on Matisse's magical hands (it helps to pick someone's work who you really love, so that you trust them entirely on these matters). It was possibly one of the most invigorating afternoons of my sewing life to date. It made me look not only at the painting differently, but my whole fabric collection. My Eight Dials pattern allows for four fabrics to be used in each block and it was immensely satisfying to try and find fabrics that each contained a few specific colours so that all of the colours in the painting could be represented. It was also unusually speedy and free-flowing - I decided on my fabrics in less than 1.5 hours...something that has previously been known to take days!

This block is based on The Painting Lesson, 1919. Here, the pink roses and green vase are represented at the centre of the block; the grey of the girl's shirt appears in the next round; the yellow of the artist, canvas, lemons and mirror and the cream of the table cloth are represented in the penultimate round; while the black background, the girl's skin and the highlights in her hair are revealed in the final squares. They're not colours I would have chosen to put together - I have always avoided mixing pink and yellow - but I adore how this block turned out.

Next, Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, 1913. The central blue print represents the backdrop of the painting and also the style of the design that appears both there and in the table cloth; the greens (light and dark) are represented in the next round (although the darkest green not in the qualities that I would have ideally liked); Next, some more blue to bolster the vibrancy of the earlier blues and also to give a smattering of white found in the calla lilies and the yellow found in the mimosa; finally the coral swathe of fabric that appears in the background is picked up in the outer squares.

It's interesting to take a photo that blurs both the block and the painting, as it's here that I can see whether I've achieved what I was hoping for.

I'll post some more blocks once I've had a chance to photograph them - these were taken shortly because the light started to fade this evening. I'll also show you the colours I'm intending to use to connect them together. 

If you'd like to join me in an artist-inspired version of Eight Dials, I'm using the hashtag #frombrushtoneedle over on Instagram. And if you missed it and are interested, you can find the pattern here

Over the summer, I'm visiting the area around Nice in France - Vence is home to some of Matisse's stained glass windows and there's also a new exhibition opening at Musée Matisse in the centre of Nice - super-excited would be an understatement! We stayed in England last summer and although we had some wonderful time away, I'm looking forward to being abroad again. 

I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with the area around Nice and knows of some good fabric shops? Dressmaking or quilt-making? And maybe some vegetarian restaurants? 

Florence x

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Eight Dials English Paper Piecing PDF Pattern

I've been tweaking the pattern for this on-and-off for months and it feels like a lovely thing to finally be at the point of sharing it here. I was going to stop at the size pictured above, but I'm finding making the blocks addictive and now have plans for something as big as the quantities of fabrics that I have will allow for. The design consists of three blocks (one large, two much smaller) that can be replaced in repeat over and over to create enough piecing for whatever project you'd like to make, whether that's a cushion, wall-hanging or full-sized quilt.

The name is taken from a place in London's Covent Garden, called Seven Dials. It's a spot where seven cobbled streets converge at a tiny roundabout, on which a sundial towers. The roundabout makes an unlikely gathering place for people to sit, eat, drink or chat and, when I worked in Covent Garden myself, I'd sometimes take my own lunch there too. There's something relaxing about watching the black cabs and cars circling around and it's too small an area for them to go at any great speed. When I was naming this pattern, seeing how all the pieces seem to lead back to a central point reminded me of Seven Dials. My piecing actually has eight 'dials' though, hence the name change (which actually feels totally in keeping, as Thomas Neal, who designed the area in the 1600s, did similar when he increased the number of streets converging there from six to seven).

The pattern goes together quickly and easily and is suitable for beginners and old-hands alike. Included in the PDF are:

- Basic instructions for English paper piecing
- Easily printable paper pieces
- Fabric-cutting templates with seam allowances included
- A colouring sheet to plan out your design
- Step-by-step assembly diagrams

If you'd like to buy a copy of the PDF pattern, you can do so below. It costs £6 (that's around $7.80 USD/ €6.80 EUR) and is instantly downloadable.

Buy the Pattern!

NB. Be sure to print the pattern at 100% with no page scaling options set, so that the pattern pieces print at the correct size. 

My piecing here uses a very limited collection of fabrics and I'm really enjoying that; once I'd decided on my fabric there's been little to think about other than the repetition of wrapping and stitching, so it's a great project to quickly prep and take along in my handbag.

I've also been working away on an alternate version of Eight Dials though and that one features a riot of colour and print - I'll share that in another post. As each block is different, choosing fabrics takes a little longer, so it's my inbetweeny project that I'm tackling on days when I have more time to ponder. It's interesting to see how that profusion of different fabrics affects the appearance of the underlying pattern - it looks utterly different and the feeling of interlinking, connected blocks is lessened, but it feels quite joyful for its lack of structure.

I owe a a huge thank you to Annah, who generously saved me from days of replanning (and quite possibly weeping and other self-indulgences that may have involved lying in a crumpled heap listening to Morrisey songs), by sending me some of the Elizabeth Olwen fabric seen in the piecing below. It's an older fabric that I was having trouble finding online and not being able to get any more would have brought my piecing to a standstill. I'm so grateful that this was avoided - thank you so much, Annah! x

I'm using the hashtag #eightdials for this pattern over on Instagram, so do have a look if you want to see my other blocks as and when they appear (or if you want to share your own, which I would love!)

If you would like any extra information on English paper piecing, I've written posts about how to fussy-cut fabrics; shared my favourite thread for EPP; done a huge amount of geeky research to discover my favourite needles for EPP; discussed how to frame EPP; and written a beginners guide to EPP back when I was still a beginner myself (I must update that at some point!).

Florence x

Friday, 7 July 2017

Atelier Brunette Moonstone Top

I recently bought some of this beautiful viscose Moonstone Atelier Brunette fabric and it sparked a late-night sewing session the moment it appeared again in the clean pile of washing (approximately four hours after it had been posted through my letterbox - my haste to prewash it, if I'd thought about it, would have told me of the frenzied rush to make something that was likely to follow*). A wondrous thing is the fabric so lovely that it prompts you to push everything else aside to work on it RIGHT NOW!

I watched Miss Potter recently, a film about the life of Beatrix Potter - it's really lovely and currently free to watch on Amazon Video, if you're a Prime member. It's about how her work became published; her relationship with her parents; her female friendships; and the two men she loved during her lifetime - all magically portrayed and utterly captivating. There are a few moments where her illustrations seem to impishly leap off the page while she's doing other things and it's an imagining I recognise in fabric-form - certain fabrics just refuse to be quiet until they've been made into something (although thankfully, I don't hear any voices with this)! This fabric is no exception - it's currently sitting on my cutting table half-made and taking up much needed head-space with its pull to be finished while I'm trying to get on with other things.

Anyway, the fabric. It really has everything: the drapiest drape (I always find Atelier Brunette fabrics tend to wash to be much softer and drapier than when they first arrive and this was no exception); a very wearable print; easy and stable to work. The only thing it doesn't have is a willingness to keep its loose ends in tact - I confess to giving my half-made top a manicure with a pair of tiny scissors before taking this photo and even that has not hidden some of the wandering threads. That's not really a problem, but it does mean seams need to be finished nicely to avoid unravelling - so either french seams or overlocking.  On the colour, I don't have much pink in my wardrobe (it's predominantly navy, grey and black), but I get so much wear out of this top, which happens to be an identical shade, that it persuaded me to buy it.

When I'm craving instant gratification, the quickest route is to draft a pattern based on something I already own. In this case it was an old smock top from French Connection, bought about 13 years ago (I can only pin down a date for this because I remember wearing it almost constantly one summer when my daughter was little). I've realised it's funny how much less I analyse fit when the item is shop bought - it's a top that I've always really liked and felt comfortable in and yet it was only when I tried on my own version of the top that I realised it pulls very slightly along the seam that runs from shoulder to neck. Initially, I assumed that I'd made a mistake while drafting, but when I tried on the original top, I realised there is identical pulling and I'd just replicated the poor fit. Having worn and loved this top for so many years, I've decided to overlook this in my own version too. As I normally irritate myself with my quest for perfection, I'm choosing to celebrate that kind of slapdashery, rather than chastising myself for it!

At some point I'll try and write a post sharing a little more of how I go about rubbing a pattern from a ready-to-wear garment - my methods are self-taught, so possibly quite idiosyncratic, but they seem to work for me. It's often very quick (the pattern for this blouse took about 1.5 hours) and the nice thing about it is that I rarely make a muslin when I've used this method as I usually feel confident that it will be an accurate replica of the original. Drafting pleats, gathers and darts can be tricky as the top I'm referencing obviously can't reveal those things in their original flat state, but there's usually a logical way to working out how much room those things should take up on the pattern piece and then adjusting everything accordingly. Armholes and sleeve caps tend to be the thing that take the most time. For this top, the original had slight gathering at the sleeve cap (it's actually more pronounced than it appears in this photo), which I'm less keen on as I feel it visually unbalances my frame (if you're interested, you can see a demonstration of that in this post where I talk about how to make a dressmaking croquis to draw designs on), so on that basis, I removed the sleeve gathering and will also finish the sleeve slightly differently to give a smoother line beneath a cardigan. But otherwise, having pinned where the buttons will go, the fit seems identical to the original, shoulder pulling and all! I'll hopefully show you the finished top in my next post.

I bought my fabric from M is for Make and when I went back to get some more for a strappy summer top, it was all gone (there is also a beautiful blue version, although Kate tells me that there was a printing error, so it's unlikely to arrive anywhere until September). I'm sure it was only 48 hours since the pink Moonstone arrived on Kate's site, so I think lots of us must be making things from the same fabric this week! I snaffled up this black tote bag - it would totally delight me to see someone else walking down the street with this and to know that at some level they were a kindred spirit. I actually spotted someone wearing an Atelier Brunette fabric in the town where I live a few weeks ago and although I didn't feel I could go and accost her (she looked like she was hurrying), it did make me smile inwardly.

Finally Friday - it's been a long week. I'm so pleased that tomorrow morning will allow for a lie in! What are you up to?

Florence x

* The arrival of fresh dressmaking fabric was an excellent incentive to do some much-needed washing - a daily delivery may just be the ideal way to establish a regular washing routine - I will discuss this later with Mr Teacakes to see if he thinks this may be a good strategy!

Ps. I've now panic-bought a little more of the pink moonstone from Guthrie & Ghani, so it can still be found if you like it. x

Monday, 15 May 2017

Random Things


This post is a bit of random collection of things, but I'll start with the photograph above: titanium sewing machine needles. Last week, I took my daughter's sewing machine in to be repaired (she has my old sewing machine, which I talk about more here, back in 2009 - I loved this machine so much that it's really lovely to now having it living on her desk (rather than in the cupboard) since she began her textiles GCSE last year. Anyway, when I took it in to be repaired, the engineers were horrified by the titanium-coated needle that was in the machine and I thought it might be worth discussing here as I was quite surprised by their reaction. 

The benefit of titanium-plated needles is that they tend to last much longer than regular needles - their coating means that the point stays sharp for eight times as long as a chrome-plated needle! I also don't feel they break nearly as often as regular needles. However, the engineers I was chatting with claimed that sewing machine needles have been developed to break the moment they run into trouble in order to avoid damaging the machine and causing expensive repairs - they felt that this wouldn't be the case with a harder titanium needle. 

In the course of writing this blog post, I've read up on these a bit more and found that the brand I use (Superior Threads) claim that the tensile strength isn't actually increased at all by the titanium now I'm torn. I wondered what other sewers feel about this? Do you use titanium needles in your machine? Would you?

In other thoughts: insanely beautiful Gertrude Made barkcloth fabric. I don't think this has landed in the UK shops yet, but if you've been impatiently stalking the virtual isles for it, then I have some in my Etsy shop from my own stash that I purchased from Australia a few months ago (yes, you can only imagine the import bill on that's always so much worse than I optimistically imagine it might be at the point of purchase). Either way, I think it's going to retail at £28 per metre in the UK, so these cuts offer a hefty saving if you'd like to make a quilt from them and I've set postage at a penny (for some reason, I can't offer it free), as I have no idea quite how much it will be, as the hefty stack of barkcloth is too heavy for my kitchen scales to calculate, so I'll cover the costs of that. You can find them here. And you can see inspiration for how they might work as a quilt here. I may destash some other fabric over the next month to carve some space in my sewing room drawers - I'll let you know when I do! 

I don't think I shared this top with you when I made it last year, but I put it on this morning and took a quick photo of it before going about my day and only realised later that I was clearly brushing an invisible hair out of my eyes at the time, although in reality it looks more like I'm enjoying revisiting a particularly delicious-smelling handwash. Either way, I seem to remember that when I made the top last year, there was something I didn't feel was quite perfect about it, but when I put it on this morning, I couldn't identify what that might have been, so have been happily wearing it, impervious to its flaws. It's made from a navy slub jersey, that I think came from either Guthrie & Ghani or The Village Haberdashery. Neither has it now, but they do have some other slub jerseys in stock. 

It's the same self-drafted pattern that I used for this and this top. I also made my sister one, identical to that of the second of the two 'this' links above. It's definitely my favourite pattern and I have another few versions planned for this summer...which may make for some dull blog posts ahead. Brace yourself! If only blog posts were scratch and sniff and then I could at least make sure to use a variety of delicious hand creams to enliven the accompanying photos (while we're on the subject - this one is currently in my handbag and smells amazing. Hand-cream-borrowing seems to be a regular activity whenever I'm out with friends/daughter/sister/mother-in-law and this one is loved by all who use it).

Finally, I'd like to introduce a new sponsor, ECT Travel, who organise quilting tours around the world, from the UK - I was really tempted to go on their tour to Nantes in April, but had deadlines to meet at the time, so couldn't. But if you're interested in future quilt-related travel (which makes it sound like they wrap customers in quilts and then propel them through the air in a quilty version of a flying carpet, but I think in reality it's probably a bit more conventional than that and involves planes and coaches), do go and take a look. 

Wishing you a happy week, 
Florence x

Friday, 21 April 2017

Kaffe Fassett at Standen

My blog posts are currently like buses...none for an interminably long time and then suddenly a great rush of them, but all with the same destination - that is, sharing news of exhibitions that are soon to end. This one is particularly late in arriving with you, as the exhibition in question closes this Sunday (23rd April), so if you're interested it may be a case of read-and-run.

We missed the two talks that Kaffe Fassett gave at Standen to run alongside the exhibition as the tickets sold out so quickly, but in mid-March, my daughter, mum and I went along to look at the quilts and tapestries on display. These two red quilts in the image above were lit beautifully and really glowed.

This sweetly-coloured Pickle Dish quilt was my favourite. In researching the origin of the pickle dish design, I discovered some alternative names, one being Gypsy Kisses and the other being 'an eyelash quilt'! The latter leaves a pickle dish (which only shares the basic oblong shape that appears within the quilt) feeling a rather tenuous link, when a set of eyelashes is such a perfect literal translation of this design. Albeit rather jauntily-coloured eyelashes.

Because Standen is a popular location in its own right, many of the visitors hadn't come to specifically view the exhibition. It was really lovely hearing how surprised and delighted people were to stumble across this beautiful body of work.

We enjoyed the National Trust's tactful approach to asking visitors to refrain from sitting on the chairs. Such a simple gesture, but it seemed to convey a whole conversation without any need for any ugly signage. Just in case you're wondering, our thought was that the conversation would go something like this: Would you like this fir cone up your bottom? No? Don't sit on the chair then (all said in quite a friendly, smiley voice). Someone on Instagram mentioned that they've seen holly used at some National Trust properties...that seems like a slightly more aggressive conversation.

We were lucky to go on a day when everything was bathed in beautiful Spring light.

Once we'd finished admiring all the quilts, we wandered around the grounds chatting. My mum and I saw the chance to star in our own Rob Ryan paper cut and leapt upon it, captured by my daughter. I am wearing a poncho...not actual bat wings.

We saw this final quilt in the coffee shop. I was quite captivated by it, in part because I wasn't enamoured by the colours overall, but felt the whole thing was transformed by the very small amounts of blue splashed about and it felt really fascinating to see how it worked to lift all the other colours.

There's a lovely video of Kaffe decorating the Standen Christmas tree last year, at the bottom of this page, if you'd like to see.

Over on my Facebook page, I've also listed some podcasts that I've enjoyed over the last week while sewing, if you have some spare listening time. I always love hearing people's recommendations, as I'm always looking out for new things. One thing that I hadn't mentioned on Facebook, that I've been enjoying recently is The Conversation on BBC World Service. In each episode, they get two women together who share the same interest/job/life experience have a conversation and it's invariably fascinating as they discuss the similarities and differences in their experiences.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...