Sunday, 31 May 2009


I have a ridiculous amount of vintage white linens in my linen cupboard, mainly due to having inherited a large collection from my grandma a few years ago.

Earlier this year I used some of them to make cushion covers. I cut them up and made patchwork out of the best bits. Dh suggested I should submit the design to Sew Hip magazine as consistent with their re-use, recycle ethos.

I'm very glad I took his advice, as I am now a published designer, in Sew Hip magazine issue 8. Which I consider not at all bad for someone with hardly any formal textiles education!

I'm also mentioned on p3, right next to the illustrious Heather Bailey (gasp!).

I made those patchwork cushions from white linens for a white-on-white look, but I think they would look pretty good in some bright coloured prints too.

I can feel more stitching coming on, but first I have to knit a few more rows on my stole, which is coming along nicely now I've got the hang of the laceweight yarn, and secured the provisional cast-on #2 with a safety pin. Sigh. I had to do a lot of re-knitting.

Monday, 25 May 2009

An untangled web

I bought this lovely yarn off Yarnaddictanni on Etsy. It's Supreme Lace, a mix of merino and mulberry silk. Shortly after I took that photo, the first skein turned into 700m of laceweight yarn to untangle :-(

I do know you have to wind a skein into a ball before working with it, only I haven't done much ball-winding previously, and I don't have any equipment to assist. I had to spend hours de-tangling; I daren't touch the second skein now! I have since been recommended a swift (not really, given the number of times I'd actually use it), or a well-trained dh (probably not. I've got one, but the training may be an issue) or even the backs of two chairs (feasible.)

Anyway, I cast on for the Regatta stole in Yarn Forward issue 11. The white yarn at the edge is just provisional cast-on. This is the first time I ever worked with laceweight yarn and it is very fine; it's like knitting with cobwebs.

I worked this piece out in the garden as it was a lovely weekend. Someone else liked it out there too:

We shared that bowl of cherries between us.

[Yes, yes, I know I still have the aran weight cardigan to finish. But this is hoped to be something to wear in the summer.]

Friday, 22 May 2009

What do they teach them in these schools?

This post is about the textiles curriculum and teaching in the UK, or at least in some Nottinghamshire schools.

Back in the dark ages when I was at primary school (that'd be the 1970s), infants (age 5-7) sewed mats and bookmarks using low-count aida fabric, and juniors (age 8-11) tackled "proper" sewing such as aprons and patchwork cushions. Nowadays all this seems to have vanished. In six years at primary school, my daughter sewed only one thing - a christmas stocking decoration in Year 1.

For Key Stage 3 (age 11 - 14) the UK national curriculum takes a modular approach to design & technology. Previously in textiles modules my daughter made a drawstring back pack and a pocketed wall-organiser. As much attention has been paid to the creation of suitable fabric as to the sewing itself, through the use of techniques like tie-dye, fabric painting and batik.

In last half-term's textiles unit, my daughter made a patchwork cushion, and as this was her first patchwork attempt, asked the teacher for advice.

"Cut out pieces roughly the same size" the teacher advised. Roughly?!! Although I'm not the patchwork queen, everything I've read insists that precision is essential, hence the sale of quilting rulers, rotary cutters and pre-cut paper templates.

"Sew them together one by one," the teacher instructed. No, no! sew them in rows first, and then join the rows!

I do understand about exploration and experiential learning, heck, I previously trained in teaching adults myself. But there is a difference between allowing free learning and giving the wrong advice when asked.

My daughter has opted for textiles as her KS4 design specialism, so I'll be watching with interest.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Springtime Table Mats - tutorial

Since Imagingermonkey sent me the cotton batting, I'd been toying with the idea of making some table mats to match my table runner.

I'd had enough of hexagons for a while, so instead, I decided to use the leftover fabrics to make table mats with stripes in coordinating colours - both vertical and horizontal stripe versions.
I devised my own instructions and I'm posting them here in case anyone else wants to have a go.

Quilted table mats

Finished size of each mat: 30 x 42 cm

The amounts stated will be sufficient for 4 mats, assuming the yardage fabrics are 115 cms wide. If you want to make 6, you'll need to buy 35 cms extra batting and yardage - you should have enough for the front pieces though, providing you are not wasteful when cutting out.

  • 70 cm of cotton batting (Note: cotton batting, not polyester or anything fluffy. The batting I used was Warm and Natural batting, and looks like a thick flannelette sheet. It needs pre-washing as it has some shrinkage. Do not substitute felt if you want to be able to machine-wash your table mats!)

  • 70 cm of yardage for reverses (I used Fresh Squeezed by Sandy Gervais for Moda)

  • About 50 cm of washable linen or linen-blend fabric.

  • For the stripes: 2 or 3 FQs in coordinating fabrics (I used 2 FQs in different fabrics from the Fresh Squeezed range, plus some of the reverse yardage)

  • Matching thread

Seam allowances are 1 cm throughout unless otherwise stated.

Cutting list for each mat:
  • 32 x 44 cm rectangle from batting

  • 32 x 44cm rectangle from backing fabric

  • Front pieces: either

For vertical stripes cut -

  • 3 strips each 7 x 32 cm out of three different coordinating fabrics

  • 2 linen pieces each 17 x 32 cm
For horizontal stripes cut -
  • 2 strips each 7 x 44 cm out of two different coordinating fabrics

  • 2 linen pieces each 13 x 44 cm

Step 1: Make the front pieces first.

For Vertical stripes:
Pin two of the three strips of patterned fabric together along one long side with right sides facing. Machine-stitch with a 1 cm seam allowance. Pin the third strip of patterned fabric to one side of the joined pair, again with right sides facing. Machine stitch. Press the seams open.

Pin the long side of one linen piece to one side of the joined pieces, with right sides facing. Machine stitch with a 1 cm seam allowance. Repeat for the other side. Press the seams open.

For Horizontal stripes:
Pin two strips of patterned fabric together along one long side with right sides facing. Machine-stitch. Press the seam open.

Pin one linen piece to one side of the joined stripes, with right sides facing. Stitch. Repeat for the other side.
Press the seams open.

For both versions: you should now have a rectangle the same size as the batting and reverse piece. If the front pieces are slightly larger ( I erred on the side of generosity in the cutting instructions, just in case) you can trim them to the same size as the back pieces before the next step.

Step 2: Layer and stitch together
Lay the batting piece on a flat surface. Lay the backing fabric on top of the batting with the right side up. Lay the top piece on top of that with the right side down (so the two right sides are facing). The correct order is shown in the photo below:

Pin the three layers together.

Starting in the middle of one linen side, machine stitch round all four sides, pivoting at the corners and leaving a 6 cms gap for turning. Clip the corners and turn right side out. Use a chopstick to push the corners right out. Press, making sure the hems are turned neatly to the inside along the turning gap.

Step 3: Quilting

Quilt the mat by stitching on the linen panels close to the edge of the patterned stripes on both sides where the linen and striped panel join (about 2 mm from the join). The photo below shows this being done for the horizontal stripes version.

Step 4: Finishing
Top-stitch round all four outer edges close to the edge, taking care that the hems are lying smoothly at the turning gap, as the top-stitching will also secure the edges of the gap. The photo below shows the completed version, with vertical stripes.

Repeat for the number of mats you want to make. I made six altogether, three with horizontal stripes and three with vertical.

Enjoy your new dining experience!

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Deep Freeze

On Ravelry, you can mark your incomplete projects as "hibernating". I always find this funny.

Let me show you some of my hibernating projects, some of which are practically deep frozen by now!

I started this embroidered tablecloth back in 1990. When I bought it, the shop assistant asked me if it was for a christmas present and I remarked I would probably not have finished it by then. What a joke, because 19 years later, it's still unfinished.

Maybe one day.

Then there is this Counted Cross Stitch Kit, which has been on the go for about 5 years:

Finally there is this, the apple strudel cardigan from Yarn Forward issue 7:

I cast on and knitted 70% of it in February, before encountering pattern errors in the sleeves. Despondency set in, and it's still not finished.

But this one has a better chance of being finished than the others, because:

  1. An aran weight cardigan is more of a winter thing
  2. I have listed it in my Ravelry notebook, which is itself an incentive to finish it
  3. It would be useful and practical next winter (which is more than you can say for an embroidered tablecloth too small to fit our current table, or for a piece of counted cross stitch which has no obvious function).
  4. I have previous form in finishing long-term knitting WIPs. E.g last year I completed a slipover for ds I'd first started when he was three. Admittedly I had to frog it and rework it in a bigger size, but I did end up with the planned FO.

Anyway, having three unfinished projects (not counting the ones I consider "current"!) is not going to stop me starting another one. I just bought some more yarn off etsy... :-)

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Kirstie's Homemade Home

After reading about this UK TV series in this month's Sew Hip magazine, I've watched the first four episodes - the first three on Channel 4 OD and then Thursday night's episode on the telly.

How funny to see Kirstie Allsop declare she is on a budget! After watching her spend £250 on a vintage quilt (very nice though) and seeing her parents' and other family friends' homes, I can see budget means something quite different to her than it does to me. Although, I quite like Kirstie. She is posh and she knows it, but she doesn't try to hide it, and so comes across as quite unpretentious.

I found the finished rooms to have far too much clutter for my tastes. And sighed to think of the poor cleaner with all those knick-knacks to dust - especially in the bathrooms.

I was eager to see Kirstie promote crafting, but thought she could not reasonably claim to have made things herself. Crafting is about sustained effort, not knitting a couple of rows, sewing half a cushion or a couple of patchwork squares, and then getting someone else to finish an item off for you.

Still, I can see "real" crafting might not make good TV. Imagine this: here is episode 44, in which Kirstie reaches square 54 out of 78 for her knitted throw and sews together another 2 columns of hexagons for her 27-column table runner.

Nevertheless, anything which brings crafting into the public eye, and perhaps helps non-crafters appreciate its value, is a Good Thing IMO.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Frilled apron

This weekend I sewed a frilly and flowery full-size apron. I've been wanting a feminine apron for a while and on this pattern, the frills remind me of flamenco dresses. My son says it's an apron for a lady!!

I was working from the Flirty Florence pattern by Audrey and Maude, published in Sew Hip magazine issue 2. My fabric came from John Lewis.

I was confused when I first looked at the template. But it turned out I was stupidly looking at it the wrong way round! The designer herself tactfully pointed this out to me, when I asked her for clarification. She also gave me some other advice, which was a big help, so thank you, Louise!

I previously reported my inability to cut out efficiently: I cut out the main apron piece and then flipped the fabric round to access the other side, and cut out the ties, forgetting it was the other way up and I needed a piece the whole width of the fabric for one of the frills. I had to go back to the shop for more fabric.

What I learned from this, which I will now give as advice to all other improver sewists, is to mark all the pieces before starting to cut any of them.

All the steps in the instructions were well explained. There were a couple of errors in the magazine, in conversions to imperial measurements. 86cms for the length of the lining piece is 34 ins, not 44 as stated in the magazine; seam allowances stated as 1 cm and 1.5cms have both have been translated to 1/2 ins which cannot be right for both. But all the measurements worked correctly in metric, which is what I prefer to work in. I mention it just in case anyone else is reading this, who is planning on making this apron.

If I ever get tired of feeling like I'm at a Spanish Fiesta, I can turn the apron round and have a plain reverse with no frills. The fabric on that is the pink with dots and yellow roses as on the bottom frill. And the neckstrap and ties are both pink with dots and roses on one side, and striped like the top frill on the other.

I'll have to do some more cooking now to test the functionality of the apron. Actually, I think this apron lends itself particularly to chocolate recipes, I don't know why.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Spot the difference?

This entry owes a little to the Yarn Harlot, and a lot to Imagingermonkey!

A while ago I told the Internet about the difficulties I was having with batting (wadding) for a table runner. After that, a kind person (that would be Imagingermonkey!) undertook to send me a sample of the batting you can use for a table runner.

What a difference there is between this:

(which is lightweight polyester batting as purchased in John Lewis, kind of fluffy)

and this:

(which is cotton batting sent to me in elucidation, like a thick flannelette sheet.)

If only I had known, I would never have tried to stitch the first one into my runner! And I would have waited till I had some of the second one before finishing my runner (now nicely top-stitched, but not quilted at all).

Still, it's only partly my fault. Impatience is my fault. But Sew Hip magazine, being aimed at beginner and improver sewists, could have defined more exactly what was meant by "natural batting". And also, the staff in John Lewis haberdashery dept should really have known what was meant when I asked for "natural batting". Especially because I did explain, to two sales-ladies, what I wanted to use it for.

Earlier this year I laughed and laughed my way through Things I Learned from Knitting (whether I wanted to or not) I particularly smiled at the section on assuming a new knitter knows absolutely nothing, as I had myself once tried to knit from a skein without first winding it into a ball. (Oi! Stop sniggering over there!)

Obviously the same applies to sewing. I am a new-ish sewist when it comes to producing a quilted item, and therefore there is no such thing as too much information.