Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Giveaway winner

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

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

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

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

Florence x

Thursday, 5 March 2015

An English paper piecing giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

Florence x

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Miscellany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence x

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

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Tessellations or a plate of noseless brie...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence x

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

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

How to frame English paper piecing and other sewn things

Recently, Agnes, who'd purchased a copy of my Ring-a-Roses English paper piecing pattern (below), wrote to me and asked if I'd write a blog post giving advice on how to frame things like this. I've now framed quite a few of my sewn designs and so I'm happy to share what I've learnt along the way. Before beginning, it's worth saying that this is the more expensive route to hanging your work on the wall - it's possible to bind the edges or sew on a hidden binding (that's another post) and simply hang it from a wooden batten or pins at very little cost. This post doesn't cover either of those options, but there's a wealth of tutorials on the Internet showing you how.

For several different reasons - aesthetics, preservation of the piecing, protection from sunlight and dust, and protection when being placed in the middle of a busy home - I like to frame the things I make for the wall in a glass frame, even though the first time I did it, it felt like a complete self-indulgence. However, after that initial time, it's something that I realised I feel it's worth spending the money on, not only for the practical reasons I listed above, but in part because it feels like it's saying something to myself about the value of the work that I make, as when I buy someone else's artwork, I tend to frame it, so why not my own? Knowing that I will invest in a frame, has also made me much more careful in thinking through exactly what I'm making. As my production rate is slow, it's an affordable approach as I think it tends to work out at about two frameable pieces per year. It's a very different mindset to the one which I have for my quilts, where mostly, no matter how much time and care has been poured into them, I'd rather they were used, loved and treated without too much care or thought, than be preserved carefully in a cupboard. I'm unsure why this differentiation has formed in my head between the two things, but it's a dichotomy that sits comfortably with me. I'd love to know your thoughts on these things and whether you've also created any of your own mental partitions around things like this. And I realise that I've made the assumption of aligning 'quilting' with 'art' in one of my earlier sentences - that again is a whole other blog post!

Anyway, on to some framing tips.
  • All of the framed pieces in this post have been created using English paper piecing (EPP). I always leave my papers in place when hanging a piece of EPP. It adds stability, allows the piece to sit very evenly within the frame, and prevents the seam allowances from being visible if the fabric is light coloured. And it also saves me the job of taking all those tiny papers out! When you know that your fabrics are stabilised in this way, it also gives you carte blanche to ignore whether you're piecing on the grain/bias or whatever, as any rule breaking is unlikely to have a detrimental effect. I'm imagining that there may be a case for leaving papers in place when creating a piece for the wall using the foundation paper piecing (FPP) method too, but I'm less familiar with that technique, so wouldn't say that's a definite. 
  • For the very first piece that I framed, above, I used light card for my EPP templates. In retrospect this was a mistake: if you're going to leave the card in place it can create a slight tension within the piece that paper is malleable enough to avoid. While with the Oakshott Rubies this was fine, because it created a very slight undulation which allowed the fabrics, which have different thread colours for the warp and weft, to hit the light at slightly different angles and added to the iridescence this creates, generally, not sitting completely flat would be rather maddening. I really advise using paper, not card, if you're planning to frame something. 

  • With any patchwork piece, at the point where several seams meet, you can end up with quite a chunk of seam allowances gathered behind your work. This can mean that when you come to frame it, some areas will bulge out toward the glass more than others. To solve this problem, simply line the back of the entire piece with quilt batting (you may want to lightly spray baste it), carefully cutting little holes away where you can feel any bumps beneath. This allows the entire piece to sit flush against the back board of the frame and sit at an even level from the glass. (Nb. You need to be really careful not to accidentally cut your work when cutting blind through the quilt batting)

  • You'll notice that on many of my framed pieces, there is a border of fabric running around the outside of the main design. This is a really handy thing to add to any piece which you're intending to frame as it gives you some wiggle room when getting it to sit nicely behind the mount. Additionally, if you look at the Rubies piece above, if I hadn't added the line of dark red around the outside of the piece, the mount would have cut off the tips of my triangles on each side. It's easy to create a border, even for English paper piecing - simply cut mitred pieces of paper to the right size, wrap them in fabric and attach in the same way as you would for any shape in an EPP project. 

  • If you don't want to create a mitred border, if the design allows it, you can choose a mount that overlaps the finished edges by just a fraction of an inch, so that you lose barely any of your sewn work. I did this for my most recent piece, Ring-a-Roses, but be aware that even if your piecing has been absolutely precise, very slight inconsistencies can add up across a piece of sewn work leaving your work of varying height and width at different points. If this is the case, get your mount cut by a picture framers to your exact dimensions.

  • Sometimes getting a frame custom made for your finished piece of work can be the simplest option when it comes to framing, just because unless you're working with simple squares, it's very difficult to design a pattern that has an exact finished size that happens to match a standard frame size. I'd rather design exactly the pattern I want, than work to the constraints of a predetermined frame size. I usually get my frames made at the local picture framers if I'm going for this option. Never get your frame made up until you've finished your sewing - sewn work often comes out at a slightly different size than you're anticipating and it would be an expensive mistake. Both of the largest pieces in this post (the Oakshott Rubies and the large blue one) have had custom frames and mounts made. 
  • For my latest piece, I happened to have a square oak frame from Habitat in the house. So, I used this pre-bought frame, but got my mount cut to my specifications - this is by far the cheapest option. The frame cost around £25 in the sale and the mount cost around £6 and was cut in an hour while I pottered around town one morning. I took my work in with me, so that the man was able to make sure the mount would overlap the edges by just a fraction and he did an absolutely perfect job - I'm really happy with this more budget route to framing.

  • If you don't have a local framing shop, you can also get frames and mounts made online to your exact specifications. Often these come with acrylic 'glass', rather than real glass, for safer posting. This is the option I went for for the piece above. Because of the postage costs, it's possibly a slightly more expensive route to framing, but you possibly may have access to more choice.

  • When it comes to glass there are a couple of different options. There's the acrylic which I talked about above. This apparently looks identical to glass, but when I 'know' it's not glass, I find it hard to make the mental shift over to this alternative, however, it's now widely used in museums and galleries and it's incredibly light to hang on the wall, which you may be grateful for if you're as poor at drilling heavy-duty screws into walls as I am. For both acrylic and glass you can also choose add-on higher-priced options, such as anti-reflective, UV protective, anti-glare. I'm interested to try the anti-reflective glass at some point, but I've gone for regular glass in all the frames that you see here. 
  • The nice thing about framing your work is that you don't need to worry about the tiny dog's ears that you can sometimes be left with from English paper piecing. If you were framing the piece above without any borders, all these tiny protruding pieces of fabric could be left in place for framing (even borders will produce tiny dog's ears). I prefer not to trim any of the seam allowances away as the bigger the piece of fabric, the less likely it is to unravel and work its way through to the fabric that sits on the front your your work. 

  • When it comes to actually setting the finished piece of work into the frame, I find giving the piece one final press with the iron is essential. However, people vary on whether they press English paper pieced work and how hot and hard they'll press and some make special consideration to what type of thread they've used (for a poly thread, they may reduce the heat). Personally, my iron is scorching hot at all times, but pressed down quick and sharp to avoid shine or scorch marks. You really have to be led by your own feelings on this - it is your precious work that you are dealing with, so proceed however you feel most confident. 

  • I use masking tape (the easy peel-off cream stuff, not the brown shiny parcel tape) to tape the finished piece to the reverse of the mount board. Sometimes this will involve a bit of jiggery-poke and repositioning. If there is a fair distance between the glass and the work and it's very large, sometimes it can help to very lightly spray baste the piece to the back board of the frame, to avoid the middle flopping forward. 
I think I've covered everything I can think of sharing with you there. If you know anything else which you think might be helpful, please feel free to add it in the comments, as well as any questions if you think I've missed something.

Florence x

Friday, 6 February 2015

Carrying cutlery

I've been working in solids a little more over the last few weeks as I find that I can become slightly obsessed by fussy-cutting patterned fabrics and stop enjoying them for what they are, looking only to whether they can be cut with a pleasing repeat, so it feels liberating to occasionally peep out of the rabbit hole and just focus purely on colour (before inevitably diving back in, because I do love the opportunity to create kaleidoscopes, which fussy cutting gives). Anyway, I'm really enjoying it, although I'm keeping the scale miniature, so that I'm not entirely out of my comfort zone!

This is Alison Glass' Tessellation pattern and I've scaled it down to about 20% of its original size. You can see the cutting mat behind the paper template for scale. I think it's only about the fifth time I've done any foundation paper piecing, but it grows on me more and more as a technique and I'm really enjoying how it allows one to sew at a really small scale but with incredible accuracy. Once I'd printed all my templates and got started, I realised that I could have gone far smaller than this without it being a problem. The completed blocks are pinned to the board below and I'm hoping once I've finished and all the blocks are sewn together, it will look more pleasingly miniature with the seam allowances swallowed up.

I'm unsure why I'm drawn to things being at a small scale, but it's what really appeals to me when I'm sewing and what I'm captured by when looking through books. And possibly always have been: I vividly remember studying the drawings of the elves' work in my Ladybird copy of The Elves and The Shoemaker for longer than any other picture book as a five year old (the advantage of moving around a lot when you're very young, is that you can normally place exactly what age you must have been when things happened, just by virtue of what house or country the memory is set in!)

Sorry if the colours in the photos are a little screamy as most of them were taken later in the day under artificial light. Tessellations is a lovely pattern, because right up until the last moment you can play around with the colours and positioning of everything, completely altering the look of the finished piece. All the completed blocks are identically sized triangles, with different interior piecing options to create the triangle. Alison encourages you to design your own layout, although I've been quite unadventurous in mine so far as I really loved the original version that has a star hidden within it. However, it's a really good pattern for people that don't usually enjoy following patterns, because you really can do what you want with it.

The finished piece is intended to go in a frame in our hallway - we painted it white over the summer and are regretting our move away from a much warmer, creamier white, as it's incredibly stark. So, rather than spend four days painting it a warmer shade of white, we decided to try and add warmth with what we hang on the wall instead.

I did most of this piecing one day last weekend, when my daughter was out with a friend all day and my husband and son had gone up to London to visit a museum and go on a pilgrimage to Homeslice. You may remember from my husband's pizza oven adventures (free build-your-own guide produced by my husband, here, if you'd like one in your own garden), that we have something of a pizza obsession in our family and whenever we go anywhere here or abroad we often look for tips online to find out where exceptionally tasty pizza is being made. We recently found Homeslice when my husband and I were staying in London for work for a few days and had decided to use some of our free time to continue our research. The results of our intensive sampling to date are unequivocal: Homeslice make the best pizza that we've ever tasted and it's conveniently situated in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, London! If you're in London and love pizza, I must implore you to visit. The only thing that I love slightly less about it is that there's no cutlery and I really enjoy pizza most when eaten with a knife and fork (which my husband finds hilarious, but particularly when it's a thin crust pizza I find trying to wrestle with a large flappy thing, while trying to keep one's paws and chin vaguely clean, slightly exhausting - the whole thing just feels uncomfortably animalistic). I'm tempted to take my own next time. Or perhaps not*. Homeslice make up for the lack of cutlery with craft beer, fantastic Prosecco, a brilliant atmosphere, and really friendly, warm service though.

What will you be sewing or eating this weekend?

Florence x

* As a teenager, my friends and I would always meet the same group of people on our way out for the night and one of those people, I've always remembered because wherever he went, he carried a spoon in his pocket. When we got off the train at the end of a night out, we would swarm to the new convenience store, which stayed open until 1am (that really was exciting at the time, as shops in our village had never previously opened past 5.30pm or at all on Sundays), and this boy would buy a pot noodle and heat it in their microwave or add boiled water to it - whatever needed to be done to make it edible - and then bring out his spoon. He loved Pot Noodles so much that he said he felt it was always best to be prepared and not risk getting caught out, as had happened to him once on a particularly unfortunate night when the shop had run out of plastic cutlery. I love this memory of him with his spoon. But I cannot be the 37 year old who carries around a knife and fork.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Bustle & Sew!

I'm really pleased to introduce you to my newest sponsors, Bustle & Sew, a mother and daughter team with an adorable, flower-framed rabbit face to front their business. As you can imagine, I am more than a little delighted to have this exquisite creature in my sidebar!

Bustle & Sew mainly sell their own brand PDF patterns and magazines (both digital and regular format magazines, the latter available through Amazon), as well as offering many free patterns and tutorials. Their patterns cover embroidery, softies, appliqué and quilting, with a very cohesive feel to them - animal themed, minutely-scaled, carefully made, detailed lovelies that often have a slight sense of humour to them: I love Party Animal especially, in part because of his name as he looks so sweet and docile sitting politely in his hat and like he would be the last creature to cause any mayhem. There is something about dogs that makes you want to put hats on them.

For someone who lives life with a crippling fear of all things rodent, I have a perverse love of them in sewn form (I've lost count of the number of times I've made the mousey-in-a-bed mouslings since 2007). Anyway, Bustle & Sew seem to have a pleasingly high mouse quotient to their patterns, which I love, and I adore these matrimonial mouslings - wouldn't that be an adorable wedding gift for the right people (I say right people, because there are some people I would make things by hand for and others who I just wouldn't, not because the latter are any less special, more just because I feel they may find the whole idea a bit curious and I then I might risk forever be referred to by a friend's husband as 'the odd one who gave us the mice for our wedding'...although actually, that would really make to laugh to think of being referred to in that way)

My daughter was two-and-a-half when my son was born and the mother of one of my husband's school friends sent my daughter a tiny cardboard box with some bedding and two of the tiniest, most detailed little mouse creatures I've ever seen, lying inside, each about an inch tall, perfect in miniature costume. They were to represent her and her new brother. They were just so incredibly special. Anyway, these mice really remind me of those lovely mice and I love all the detail and tiny pieces of clothing.

If you don't find yourself quite as enamoured with mice as I do, then you might enjoy looking at the menagerie of other creatures that Bustle and Sew have fabricated!

Finally, I have an interesting collective noun to leave you with that I hadn't heard before: my daughter told me this afternoon that a group of pug dogs is known as a 'grumble of pugs', which we both thought was endearingly lovely! We looked up the collective noun for Nell and our favourite option was a 'halo of golden retrievers', which seems amusingly ironic when you consider the Christmas bauble eating incident and all the other illegal activities that Nell gets up to, but also very fitting because her intentions are always so lovely and kind. Turning my own imaginings to other breeds this evening, I quite like 'a domino of dalmatians', however, I think the real skill in collective nouns for dog breeds comes in being able to capture both the character and appearance in one word and I don't think I actually know the personality traits of many dog breeds, so it's a frustratingly limited game for me.

Florence x

Ps. There is even a Florence the Flamingo!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Sprouting facial hair for Comic Relief's Crafternoon

Several months ago I was contacted by Emma Mitchell and Jane Toft who had, under the lovely  umbrella of Mollie Makes, decided to create a bookazine of crafty goodness in aid of Comic Relief. For those in other countries who may not be familiar with it, Comic Relief is an annual event that's held in the UK where money is raised with the aim of reducing poverty, to a backdrop of general silliness and comedy. Comic Relief began in 1985 and later, in 1988, Red Nose Day became a part of that fundraising. I think I was in my first year at secondary school when this event launched and I can still vividly remember the utter excitement of wearing a large plastic red nose to school - there weren't the regular dressing up or own-clothes days at that time, so this seemed like a very unorthodox addition to our school uniform, the wearing of which gave me butterflies in my stomach. Although in that first year, Comic Relief were yet to refine the comfort of the fake nose, so I remember it being a slightly painful excitement, which left deep red imprints where the plastic had squeezed my nose!

Anyway, back to 2015 (where I am 37 and no longer in secondary school) the bookazine is called The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon and it's packed full of wonderful projects and tutorials from lots of talented craft, crochet, knitting and sewing people. From memory, I think that Jane Brocket, Tif Russell and Lynda Lewis are just a few of the contributors.

I was delighted when Emma invited me to contribute a pattern design that built upon the theme of Red Nose Day, to include some more hirsute facial enhancements, which people might be able to wear on the day. Knee-deep in a paper piecing project that was giving me more stroky beard moments than any sewing project really should, the idea of sewing something completely frivolous, but for a seriously good cause, appealed hugely and I plumped immediately for some mustachioed goodness because they are such a delight, as are most things that come in many varieties - is it just me, or does anything that that could be feasibly displayed on a tea-towel depicting the various guises it may appear in seem instantly appealing?

I learned many new moustache names when researching shapes and also happened upon some interesting beard names - I particularly liked the shapely French Fork. If you live with a bearded beauty (or if you happen to be actually be one, reading my blog), you may enjoy perusing this chart that I came across, where you can discover just how trustworthy he's perceived to be. I'm delighted to find that my own father, newly sporting a beard for 2015, remains at the highest level of trustworthiness with his Full Beard and hasn't turned into a good-for-nothing scoundrel who would sell his own grandchildren for a shiny new paperclip). But anyway, back to moustaches: my tutorial features the classic Handlebar Moustache, my favourite style, but it's very adaptable, so you could easily convert it to suit your own preferences.

The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon, a special edition of Mollie Makes, will be on sale in Sainsburys and via iTunes and GooglePlay from this Thursday, January 29th. It costs £7.99, with £5 of that going straight to Comic Relief. Please do go and buy a copy if you have the money to spare - you will be rewarded handsomely with patterns for knitted beards, crocheted red noses (so much easier to breath through I'd imagine), wrist warmers, small creatures (who can also be enhanced with miniature facial hair!), and even knickers (for you, not for the small creatures). The magazine also gives you a guide as to how to run your own Comic Relief craft fair if you're interested in selling your own forest of moustaches or luxuriant jungle of knitted beards to furnish the faces of people within your local area.

From just the communications that I've been party to, I can tell that, despite their jolly tones and amusing emails, it has undoubtedly taken a gargantuan effort on the part of Emma Mitchell (who some of you may know as Silver Pebble on Twitter), Jane Toft and the Mollie Makes team to make this bookazine happen - so I'd like to say a huge thank you to them for finding such a fun way for craft to become a part of Comic Relief - I feel privileged that my moustache is a small part of that. To make The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon the fundraising success that it deserves to be, I know that Mollie Makes would be delighted if you could share news of this special edition with others. You can follow The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon magazine on Twitter here (@CRCrafts - so worth doing and it's not at all sell, sell, sell, but more, look at this adorable crocheted guinea pig that's actually the size of a baked bean! Yes, literally, a baked bean) or follow them on Facebook.

Yours, at the ready to sprout temporary facial hair and hoping you are too,
Florence x

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ring-a-Roses English Paper Piecing Pattern

The pattern for this English paper piecing design is finally available! I've chosen to name this pattern after the nursery rhyme, Ring-A-Roses, despite the urban legends linking it to the plague! To me, this design has a strong feel of circularity, both in some of the individual blocks within it, and the circle that appears at the centre when viewed from a distance. So the playground rhyme - where children would join hands and dance around in a circle - has been whirling around in my head the whole time I've been writing this pattern up.

Down to the details, my Ring-a-Roses PDF pattern comes with:
  • Full-size pattern pieces that can be printed on regular printer paper
  • A colouring sheet so that you can plan out your colour scheme
  • Simple construction illustrations that show how best to assemble the blocks
  • Helpful tips for newer EPPers 
  • The pattern pieces produce a finished design that measures 17¼" x 17¼", but the pieces can easily be scaled up
  • It's instantly downloadable for you to save and print out from your own computer 
  • It costs just £4 (that's around $6USD, $7.50AUD, $7.40 CAD). 
  • You can buy a copy, here!

I chose to fussy-cut my fabrics for this pattern (due to my slightly unhealthy fussy-cutting addiction), but I think it would look fantastic made up in solids or randomly cut patterned fabrics too. However, if you want any advice on fussy-cutting for your own version, you can find a tutorial on my blog here

I chose to frame my version of Ring-a-Roses, but it's an easy-to-adapt pattern. You could add a border and make a cushion, super-size the pattern pieces and make a large, square quilt or, as the pattern pieces tessellate, you could easily continue the design to make something bigger and more elaborate. However, if you're looking for something that won't take you too long to finish, this size is perfect. 

Because the design is slightly more involved than basic hexagons and has some quite tiny pieces, it's aimed at people who already have one small EPP project up their sleeve (or more likely, on their bed or holding their pins in cushion-form), so I haven't included instructions as to how to do things like the standard EPP whip-stitch which you would have almost certainly mastered during your first project, because that felt like it would be a waste of your printer ink. However, because English paper piecing is a relatively easy skill to learn, I am assuming that relative newcomers may want to give this pattern a try, so I have included brief details about my favourite needles and threads, different methods of basting and other information that I thought might be more useful.

If you buy the pattern, I would love to see how you get on with it, so please do feel free to tag a photo with #RingARosesEPP on Twitter or Instagram or email me a photo at flossieteacakes (at) gmail (dot) com.

Florence x

Ps. If you're looking to read more around EPP, you can find a post on fussy-cutting here; a post on the best threads for EPP here; a guide to framing your work here; or a post written for complete beginners when I myself was one too, here (note, I tend to use good quality paper, rather than card now!). 

Briefcase bears and imposter parcels

Just after Christmas my oldest, and very dear, school friend, who now lives in Canada, came over to visit with her husband and children. I spent a few days mulling over what I could give them and then when I was looking for something with my son in a cupboard and caught sight of one of his bears' sleeping bags (pattern here), I suddenly realised that I should make some for my friend's children. My son chose the creatures to go in them - we lined one of each possibility out on the shop floor to try and decide - they're lovely Jellycat animals, our favourite brand of soft toy.

I'm slightly lacking in overtly boyish fabrics now that my own son is older, having sold all my dinosaur and train fabrics a few years ago. I put together a few possible combinations from my stash and when I asked for my husband's opinion he told me that it was as though I were fashioning a sleeping bag for a business man or politician who wanted to keep his bear privately nestled in his briefcase, but in tasteful colours just in case it was discovered. Sometimes you can't quite see something until someone points it out, but in retrospect, David Cameron would indeed have been delighted with my understated choices, my friend's young son probably less so. So I revisited my fabric drawers and found some of Cotton and Steel's arrows with sparkly gold bits and some contrasting orange with more spangly bits from the same range. I still think it could safely nestle in the briefcase of a more mature bear-carrier if required…but now it's maybe more Richard Branson or James Dyson in style...

And onto the other sleeping bag, for my friend's daughter. The rabbit is resting in a bed of Jeni Baker's lovely 'Geometric Bliss' line by AGF. It's a gorgeous line, that's bright and vibrant, but also has a distinct pastel feel to the colours (you can find the whole collection over at The Village Haberdashery). The creature's new owner was possibly the most gratifying recipient of any gift I've ever given, so I felt pleased with my choices there! It's a few years since I've seen a child playing with one of these sleeping bags for the first time and it made me realise anew what a cosy toy it is - it made me feel so happy to have made them (but not quite as happy as seeing my friend and her lovely family).

Geometric Bliss came from my ever-growing stash of fabrics that Jacqui from Hantex surprises me with every now and then. I love these little parcels as they always seem to have an uncanny knack of arriving on a miserable day of mishaps when an envelope stuffed thick with fabric is just what's needed to make everything feel better on some level. Often, they're not things that I would have necessarily bought myself, so I always feel a slight sense of fascination when they work their way into my projects - there are now several of these prints in my Passacaglia cogwheels and their inclusion has subsequently led me to view certain print styles differently and reassess the way that I buy fabric. When I'm buying fabrics myself, I tend to cherry pick my favourite designs from different collections and so rarely get to appreciate how a designer puts together a cohesive collection, with some lead prints that sing and shout and others that work as a choir, singing harmonies in the background.  I tend to go for the ones that beg to be fussy-cut or combine my favourite colours - often aqua/green and pink - and completely forget to buy the more subtle prints, which give a piece room to breathe and a chance for the eye to take in the more intense prints, so I've found there's something that stretches me slightly about someone else adding to my stash. It's helped me realise why shops' stash clubs or Block of the Month fabric schemes are so popular, because through experimenting with someone else's choices, you naturally learn more about combining colour and pattern - I find I have a tendency to become entrenched in using only what my eyes are naturally drawn to.

Tuesday is my day to sew, so today I'm writing up the pattern for this English paper pieced wall-hanging and also listening out (slightly obsessively) for the doorbell. Last week my husband gave me the USPS tracking number of some fabric that he'd ordered for me from overseas (yay - I know what's inside the box, so I'm super-excited!). We followed its progress to customs in the UK, where it seemed to stop for a while. Then DHL Global texted me to say that they had my parcel. I did wonder how they had got my mobile number, but we assumed that USPS must hand over to DHL Global for the final leg of delivery, so over the weekend I happily received notifications as my DHL package went to Docklands and various other places with the guaranteed result of arriving at my door on Monday. On Monday, after what seemed an interminable wait, the doorbell eventually rang in the late afternoon. The driver on the doorstep held a very, very tiny package in his hands that was clearly not fabric. I think my sinking heart may have actually been visible on the outside of my jumper (I am so sorry, lovely DHL man, that I must have looked so visibly disappointed, and forgotten to smile, when I opened the door to you. I know that you almost certainly don't read my blog, but it feels better to have written a formal apology to you). Once inside, I unwrapped the package and found that DHL Global had actually been delivering some Squeebles business cards for us from Moo, based in England. To us, also based in England. I'm unsure why the deceptive use of the word Global ever needed to enter into matters. I am really pleased with the business cards - they have lovely rounded corners and a very tactile surface, but they are not a large delivery of fabric from America. So the waiting continues and although I really want for it to be over, I do think the waiting bit can be even more exciting than the actual having bit!

Finally, for the reader who, in the comments to my last post, wrote that she prefers seeing photos of our cats, to photos of Nell, here's a photo that I've taken especially for you, of Honey, mid morning stretch on my daughter's bed just now.

Florence x

Friday, 9 January 2015

Making cushions

I had a really lovely time doing some fairly basic sewing over Christmas. With flu that went around our family for over five weeks, I either didn't feel I had the mental agility for any complex sewing projects or didn't have the expanses of time to immerse myself in them. But there's a lot to be said for some quick finishes occasionally!

My parents bought me some gorgeous Abigail Borg fabric for Christmas and out of the three half-metres they gave me, I managed to make six cushion cover fronts. Abigail Borg is an English, independent surface pattern designer based in Worcestershire and I'm more than a little in love with her beautiful fabrics (she does amazing wallpapers too!). I love her drawing style and the way she uses colour. It feels totally unique. The fabrics, which are a linen/cotton mix, are all printed in the north of England. They felt a little stiff when I first opened them (in the way that fabric can when you can almost feel a sheen of dye fixative fresh from being printed). The selvedge says that the fabrics are dry clean only, but I blasted them with a steam iron and afterwards they felt lovely and soft and not at all starchy. The quality is beautiful and the colour wasn't affected at all by my doing this.  Do go and have a look in Abigail's shop - she has many more designs and also ready-made cushions (although if you can sew, I suspect you may be like me in finding it almost impossible to buy something when you could make it yourself).

When cushion-making, I like to line the cushion front with some quilt wadding to make it extra comfy; prefer a generous cushion cover so that the cushion pad has room to fold around the contours of the person resting against it; and I love an invisible zipper closure because it's so easy to put in and doesn't interfere with the line of the cushion (conversely, they're my least favourite zipper to install when dressmaking). I made a total of six cushions - some 40cm, 45cm or 50cm square, depending on which chair they were destined to live on.

I do have a tendency to fall in love with whatever area of sewing I'm working in at the time, so it's fairly predictable that I remember thinking that there may be no greater joy in life than sewing simple cushions that are two squares of fabric and an invisible zipper (I tend to think the same thing when fussy-cutting things for some English paper piecing, when hand-quilting, when sewing a Peter Pan collar, creating a sleeve placket, appliquéing a pencil case or installing a magnetic snap on a bag. I think essentially it just means that I love all sewing, but I somehow find myself surprised by this with each new task that I start on. This is what my family and I would refer to as 'being a creature'. I feel like this is a phrase that others will probably just understand instantly, but just in case that's a completely false assumption, being 'a creature' means that there's an element of Creature Comforts about a person and that it's slightly amusing that they actually have fully-formed thoughts going on in their head when they seem so much more like a creature than a proper person). I rarely make quick-to-make things and my children are so used to seeing something come to a finish over the course of months, that when I emerged from my sewing room after an hour with two finished cushions they seemed shocked that this could actually happen and appeared more impressed by these simple cushions than anything else I've ever made!

Here some of them are in the sunshine one day. I love that they have added some colour into our front room in a way that doesn't overwhelm me. 

I think I discovered Abigail Borg through Katy, who I follow on Instagram. I find that I have freakily similar taste to Katy and she rarely mentions something that I don't absolutely love (we even have identical dogs - Otto looks just like Nell, our golden retriever) and Katy has been the source of my buying clocks, blankets and all sorts of other loveliness that I've had on a mental wish list for years, but never found quite the right one of until now - I'm afraid I think that I now secretly view Katy as a my own personal shopper! If you haven't already discovered her blog, Apartment Apothecary, do go and have a look - it's a delicious mix of interior design, small-scale gardening, simple but unique craft projects, inspiring finds and other good things…and photos of Otto, which makes it entirely wonderful all by itself.

So just in case I have any of my own readers who are actually here for the occasional dog photo, here's a recent photo of Nell. My husband and I got up really early one morning to go frost-hunting and left our lovely teenager in charge (supervising from her bed). It was the most perfect mix of frost and crisp sunshine and we had the most magical hour before it began to melt.

Someone on Instagram told me that this kind of thick frost is called a 'hoar frost' and it feels pleasing to know the right name for it now. Nell was completely delighted by it and skitted about seeming to enjoy the loud crunching under her paws and occasionally eating great mouthfuls of it. She also, as with mud patches and puddles, enjoyed lying down in it, embracing her inner piglet.

Finally, as this is my first post of 2015, I wanted to wish you a belated happy new year - I hope it's a really happy one for you.

Florence x
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