Sunday, 30 December 2007

Velvety musicy things

In my last post I showed you all the lovely sewing-themed presents that my husband, Ian, had given me for Christmas....well, here are a couple of the things that I'd made for him to give in return. Above is a close-up of an A4 cloth book-cover that I made. Ian's passion (as I'm sure I've mentioned before) is playing the guitar, and he always uses the same rather utilitarian-looking hardback books as his 'lyrical pads'...sometimes having to trade one in before it's come quite to the end of its useful life if its use has been plagued by a lack of inspiration...but always for an identical twin, just with hopefully more good luck in its pages. Anyway, I thought I'd make him a re-usable cover that he could put over each new pad. I had lots of fun doing this...sneaking his guitar out of its case to look at all the little details and then trying to find the right fabrics, threads and beads for it to recreate it.

The top and bottom are edged with a strip of brown velvet. I love the effect of the guitar...but unfortunately the actual cover is a little loose and so doesn't stay quite as taut as I'd like...and actually the velvet was a bit bulky. I may rework it for him at some point.

Ever since Ian bought his vintage guitar he's been rumbling about needing a special cloth to wipe the dust off it (this is not a man who normally worries about dust!)...but one that actually looks and feels as special as the guitar (said in response to my offering him an e-cloth!)....so here's what I made him. It's brown quilted velvet that is quite one of the softest, most luxurious fabrics that I have ever touched, and I put a teal coloured silk on the reverse side. I am planning to buy a larger piece of this fabric in the new year to make some cushions with.

This should have taken only minutes to sew...but somehow it ended up taking forever as the material kept slipping and the thread broke every couple of stitches...I tried new needles, special slippery-eel-material needles, different tensions, sewing the other way up, taking the machine apart, swearing...but actually the culprit ended up being the shiny Gutterman thread that I was using....I'm not going near that again!

And finally, I bought for him this 1930s musical box. It is a little battered, but I think that only adds to its charm. Inside I lined it with some brown velvet (there's a theme here) and put inside a poem that I'd copied out, that reminded me of him.

I don't really know why I bought him this last thing...apart from that we both love old boxes...the tune it plays is completely manic, but hauntingly lovely all the same - and we both love that noise that the mechanism makes just at the point when you close the lid and the music stops. I remember opening and closing my own musical box as a child just to hear that noise over and over.

Anyway, Ian has entertained our family all Christmas by providing the music for our drunken sing-alongs...but tonight he's out playing some of his own music, so my sister and me are going along to watch (but will hopefully refrain from singing along!).

Friday, 28 December 2007

Christmas goodness!

This is my most treasured Christmas present - lovely, because it's old and gnarled and also because it is so very Ian to know that I would have desperately wanted this, had I come across it...or ever known such a thing might be in existence! It is a skipping rope made from old weaving bobbins and threaded with plaited jute rope that would have once been used as window cord in a sash ....and it smells so wonderful that I am attempting to limit the amount of times that I allow myself to put it up to my nose for fear of sniffing its wonderful scent away; oil, old factories, mining towns (which I know smell appalling, but make me feel vaguely nostalgic as my great grandparents used to live in one...and even once the pit had closed, as soon as you got out of the car the air still smelt different there) - yes, these things are all quite grim, but it somehow adds to the skipping rope's loveliness and authenticity that it has real signs of its components being used and of having a history...it smells of itself, rather than a shop or our house (which currently just smells of paint as we are in the process of preparing for the arrival of the new kitchen...why ever did I not think through properly what work on our part might proceed a new kitchen being fitted?!).

And here are some lovely fabrics that Ian spent hours trawling the Internet to find. The ones on the left and in the middle are both french and are date back to the 1930s and the one on the right is from the 1960s. He bought the fabrics from Country House Antique Textiles, previously unknown to me. As the name suggests they specialise in vintage fabrics. Ian said that the women who run it are absolutely lovely, incredibly helpful and that I must implore others to shop there! The buttons were my presents from the children.

And as if that wasn't enough, Ian also gave me one of Flavia Del Pra's gorgeous tiles that is listed as a coveted item in my sidebar. I may use it as a pot stand once our kitchen is finished...

Today we have had tantrums (children's', not ours!), windy and cold bike rides, paint fumes and slightly aching heads (ours, not the children's, very probably alcohol induced from the previous night when we had people over for dinner)...but it had all been made better by teatime with the lovely Red Cross parcel that my sister gave us when she found that she seemed to have cooked rather too much for one sitting: a warming curry, naan breads, a big bowl of fresh spinach and her fantastic beetroot raita....it's so lovely when you can take something out of the fridge and have the most delicious home-cooked meal, without having to cry over a single onion yourself. Thank you, Laura!

Tomorrow we plan to take the children swimming to try and restore them to their usual good natures and are hoping that this will be a suitable antidote to any possible cabin fever that they may be suffering from.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Christmas kimonos...

This is one of the Christmas presents that I made for my sister, Laura, this year. A kimono using Heather Bailey fabric and wide satin ribbon to edge it with. I made it from my own pattern...which currently exists only as a series of measurements and badly drawn pictures on the back of an envelope...in the new year I will try and mark it all out on some pattern paper to make it quicker to remake, as I so enjoyed sewing it together, that I think I may see whether they are something that might sell if I start up a shop on etsy in the new year.

Here she is modelling it for me yesterday. I'm so pleased that it seems to fit so well and I think it looks good with the ribbon tied at the side, but even better, as Laura chooses to wear it, with the tie at the back, creating a lovely flat cummerbund effect across the front.

Laura's kimono has been hanging on our bedroom wall for nearly two months and the room now looks very empty without it. I recently showed it to my mother-in-law and she thought that her daughter, Suzanne (my sister-in-law), would also like one too for Christmas, so you can see her one pictured below on the left. Also made using a Heather Bailey Freshcut fabric, this time with a creamy satin edging.

Below is a close-up of the fabric around the pocket (the belt is draped around the neck...that's what the dangly bit is...just in case you were wondering).

And the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that in my new 'this is me' photo I appear to have stolen my sister's kimono...it is back with it's rightful owner now...but Laura very sweetly let me borrow it for a couple of minutes yesterday and photographed me while wearing it.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Memories from our Christmas day...

Christmas morning: just our family...glitter down the stairs and into the hall leads to all sorts of lovely Christmassy goodness. None of which I photographed at the time...my lovely husband had been very resourceful and imaginative in his presents for me....and all of them were vintage and sewing themed. Horay! More later.

Over to my parents house for lunch where my sister had the whole family making Cheese Stars the minute we walked through the door...and eating them less than 20 minutes later.

Beautiful gift-wrapping by my dear Mama - the outside is always as much of a treat as the inside.

And Ian playing the bongos to get the fire started. Much tribal dancing and shouts of encouragement from all.

A wonderful day...followed by a lovely evening snuggled under a gorgeous new blanket with Ian looking through my new sewing books together.

I hope you all had a lovely day too!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Endearingly wonky

Grandparents are arriving this morning, so yesterday was our last day to get things done, and it was finally Zebra-girl's turn to sit at the sewing machine. She was making little gift bags to hold the peppermint creams that her and Dinosaur Boy had made at teatime.

Her own design: she picked the cotton and then rejected the pink felt that I'd put aside for the hearts...as ever, she has her own mind when it comes to design and it always delights me that she wants to do things her way when it comes to sewing, so she ended up doing the hearts in red. She cut them out herself and then machine-sewed them on using some white thread.

She chose her stitch for sewing the bags together and so enjoyed making the machine race fast and then ease of the foot pedal to slow it down again. She also loves taking the pins out and choosing where on the pin cushion to return them to. It's always the most unexpected things that children love, isn't it. She will tie them up with some red gingham ribbon that she picked out. The stitching on them is endearingly wonky and will hopefully make the recipients love them even more for them being 100% her own work.

Anyway, that's probably it for me until after Christmas day...when I will finally be able to blog about all the things I've been making for the last two months... So I'd really like to wish everyone a very, very wonderful, and sparkling Christmas and to thank you all for visiting me here throughout the year, for your lovely comments, for new friendships (and to welcome anyone who may be visiting here for the first time too!) and the all round loveliness of the crafty bloggerty land. There is never a day when I don't see something on other people's blogs that I find utterly inspiring or read something that gives me that lovely feeling of recognition of 'oh, someone else feels that way too'. Thank you!

With love
Florence x

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Something of a one-trick-pony....

Yes, it may seem well seem as though I have inadvertently republished an old post or dug out old photos and given them the Photoshop treatment to make them look new and interesting, but no, it's actually that I have temporarily become something of a one-trick pony and am just remaking the same things over and over!

After the positive reception the Mousey-in-a-beds got in my own house, I have made some up for Zebra-girl and Dinosaur-boy to give to some of their friends as Christmas presents (there were more, but those were given out before I could photograph them). It took me a whole week to get around to completing this batch and sewing the flowers and hearts onto the bottoms of their duvet covers, as I have been dipping in and out of projects trying to get all my other Christmas presents finished.

And, yes, it's another doorstop...you'd think I'd get bored, but actually I love this fabric and I have enjoyed perfecting the design each time I've re-made one. It is now a smaller, neater shape with a more compact handle too. And this one only devours 1.25kg of rice...a modest reduction, but one that leaves my children with something to eat in the coming days. This doorstop is a present for a friend who we will be visiting tomorrow.

The Christmas holidays have now started for us and Zebra-girl was let out of school early yesterday. We celebrated with a candle-lit tea party on the playroom floor and the fun later reached a pinnacle when I allowed them REAL water in their pretend kitchen...yes, I am appalled myself that I don't permit them to do this all the time...but I find the wood, carpet, and what feels like the entire house, getting drenched too upsetting to do this on a daily (or even monthly) basis and as a result their imaginations have been forced to flourish as they have learnt to make excellent 'swooshing' noises in the absence of the real thing coming out of their pretend tap. I'm sure I'll pay for this control-freakery in counselling bills in years to come...

Monday, 17 December 2007

...A pea in my pocket?

Well, finally I have one Christmas present that I can actually blog about, for the recipient (my 79-year-old grandmother) doesn't actually have an Internet connection. For as long as I can remember I have felt that grandmothers (and in particular my own) are synonymous with a nice half-pinny (along with the flans, jam tarts and crunch-or-sog that she would produce while wearing one). So with some sage green Kaffe Fassett fabric in one hand, some florally Heather Bailey in the other and a copy of Amy Butler's In Stitches open on the relevant page I set to work on making my grandmother's 'uniform'. I have long been a defector when it comes to using anything that resembles a pattern (the two exceptions to this rule being Molly Chicken's Mousey-in-a-bed pattern, and Heather Bailey's Baby Booties pattern), but at the end of a long run of self-patterning all my Christmas presents I decided that maybe I should give them more of a chance...and I'm so pleased I did! For I did my first pleats and found them to be so much fun and so hugely satisfying to create, that I may perhaps go on to develop a full-blown pleating addiction (mmm, deal with that one, Priory! Symptoms could lead to wearing pleated jeans and at that point would call for immediate detention to stop the sickness!). Anyway, this aside, Miss Butler's patterns are remarkably easy to follow and have the most divine little details - such as the little loop that you can put your tea towel through.

So here I am modelling it - all photos taken by me in one of those weird photo shoots where you find yourself without a small, willing child to act as photographer and so are forced instead to leap around the room trying to guess at where you may have pointed the camera when you pressed the self-timer button, while simultaneously trying to look composed and as though you spend your entire life leaning against neutral backgrounds in between popping batches of tartlets into the oven.

I am particularly delighted by the small flower that I machine appliqued onto the waistband, as this is the one place where I deviated from the pattern...call it symbol of my pea-sized rebellion. So everything had been going swimmingly...and then I remembered that actually, my grandmother had said she didn't much care for green...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

My sister Laura

Last year Penguin asked my sister, Laura, if she would put together and edit a poetry anthology for them (she used to be their Classics editor but left a couple of years ago to work at a smaller start-up publishing company). For a whole year Laura immersed herself in poetry; spent weekends in the British Library, scribbled down notes as every person she came into contact with told her of their own best-loved poems, read borrowed and bought poetry books on the bus, in the gym, and lying in the park, and found that she had unwittingly become a poetry advisor to friends or family who were doing a reading at a wedding, a funeral, or who were just having a bad day.

A couple of months ago I was having a really difficult few weeks myself, waiting for the results from a health scare (that thankfully turned out to be fine), I was feeling rather like the ground was about to pulled from under me...and as if she could sense quite how much a visit from her would give me a boost that I so needed, Laura made a four-hour round trip, just to surprise me by popping her face round the door and staying to spend an hour or two with me. That morning in London she had been making up little presenty parcels for me: lovely buttons, a CD with a handmade cover, full of old music that we had danced to when we were young (Tracy Ullman -click the link and prepare to bowled over by the sheer fabulousness of it! We soon had that on at full volume, with the new addition of Zebra-girl joining us in our dance routines)...and finally the most lovely package of all. A copy of her recently published book, Poems for Life. I think I may have cried when I opened it.

As siblings of course I'm insanely proud of everything my sister does, but it really is such a very beautiful and lovely book, that feels so special to hold, and even with all the bias that I know to be mine, I feel I can say with certainty that it is truly wonderful. It is cloth-bound in dark green, with the most beautiful and thoughtful cover design (Coralie Bickford-Smith), its' four corners reflecting the themes inside (life, birth, love and death) and a lovely green ribbon page-marker. It feels substantial and traditional, yet the selection of poems inside is anything but stuffy. It is a sparkling, delightful anthology, and to me, has the very essence of Laura's personality running through each and every page, for in nearly every poem I came to, I could see why it would particularly have appealed to her and made her believe it was perfect for inclusion. So how lovely to find that she had included Spike Milligan's 'My Sister Laura', which feels like a poem put in there specially for me.

Last year my husband wrote the poem out for me to have in a frame on our bathroom wall above this picture of me and Laura, taken when we were small.

There are poems in there that have made me feel sad, made me smile, or sigh with the amazement that comes when someone perfectly captures a familiar feeling in one short sentence. Others that are new to me that I have enjoyed reading and re-reading and then this that chilled me, for so many times I have seen women in the park with their children looking as though they may be feeling this way - this poem will stay with me. The Betjeman and Keats that I studied and loved at A Level I have enjoyed meeting with again and others from childhood, where I can hear my sister's voice in my head, exactly as she would have read it to me. I have also found poets that I'd never heard of before and gone on to seek out more of their work. Here is something by Lemn Sissay that he recently read on Radio 4.

However, my favourite is one that has made us, and many of our friends, laugh out loud on reading it; A Puppy Called Puberty, by Adrian Mitchell.

Last week my sister sent me an email saying that her book was going into it's second print run...I had been sure that it would, but was utterly delighted for her to have it confirmed. Can you tell that I'm just a little proud?

And the winner is....

Unfortunately Zebra-girl isn't particularly fond of wearing her winter hat and couldn't be persuaded to wrap up sensibly at all this morning. The upside of that is that the hat is here for a daytime draw! Dinosaur boy was reticent to do this quickly, and the draw ended up taking over quarter of an hour with all his troublesome antics. First he peered in and thought about it for a while....then he shook the hat...for a long time (as though he were mixing a winning cake)


And just when I thought he might declare that his cake was ready, he put it on his head instead...


After some re-mixing he was finally persuaded to pick out a winner...

And here she is: Ali...of the Domestic Ali variety, I believe.


Do send me an email with your address, Ali, and I will try and get it in the post very soon!

For anyone who wants to buy one of the chalky pens themselves I think you may be able to get them here. They seem to be missing the picture of it from the website, but I'm fairly sure it's the same thing. Unfortunately my local sewing shop where I buy them from don't do mail order.

Thank you to so many of the lurkers and newcomers for coming out of their hiding places - it has been lovely to meet you and to discover some lovely new blogs to read!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

A chalky give away....

...such was the response to the wonderful multi-coloured propelling chalk pen that I had raved about last week, that it would seem unfair not to be responsible for dispensing at least one into the lovely bloggerty online sewing community.

Is it a thank you for all your lovely comments and support and for coming back and reading more? A celebration of my 58th post (because who wants to wait for a round number anyway)? A welcome if this is your first visit?...or a sewing-themed carroty attempt to entice lurkers out of their cosy corners? Well, perhaps all of those.

But do leave a comment if you would like the to win the chalk marker and your name will be entered into Zebra-girl's winter hat....and drawn out by Dinosaur-boy because he can't yet read, and so will be the fairest of invigilators. I am also putting up for grabs with it, a fat quarter of Amy Butler's duck-egg blue Belle French Wallpaper, as it is one of my favourite fabrics and if you like it too, it may prove a wonderful addition to any chalky adventures.

I will announce the winner by the end of the week (or maybe a little before to try and catch the post)...and what a week it will be...I am feeling tired just thinking about it. We are in the middle of ripping our old kitchen out in preparation for a new one being put in straight after Christmas...but unable to find an electrician before the plasterers arrive later this week, we have been forced to venture into the world of electrical faire du bricolage. I have been rooting around inside this box (eyes left!), not because I have any electrical experience at all, or even a desire to gain it, but because without doing so we faced the prospect of no heating and no hot water. So with trusty father-in-law on the other end of my mobile phone I began unscrewing and chopping at the wires with a certain degree of surprise that we actually owned of a pair of wire cutters in the first place...as the level of incompetence became clear, arguments ensued between Ian and me as to who should be doing this: No, I'll do it, you shouldn't be doing this, I love you too much! No, I love you more, I'll do it (I won). Half-way through I got the fear...no, it's all too dangerous, what if I blow the house up? So after getting one of the screws wedged in the wrong place for a worryingly long time, I ended up putting it all back together again, with assurances from the f-i-l that he could be here by breakfast time to return us to 21st century living conditions...only to find that when I turned the electricity back on I had inadvertantly cured the problem just by taking it all out and putting it straight back in again! Mmm, strange....but I have no objection to being called Sparky!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Oh Florence, you absolute fool!

I had a card-making evening last night (that makes it sound like it was a group activity...but no, it was just me) as my mother had asked me to make some up for her to send on birthdays to the vast number of small children that she seems to know. The one above is done using the very recognisable Anna Maria Horner 'puppy love' applique print out.

When I make cards using fabric shapes, I tend to iron on some heavy-weight interfacing first to stop any fraying, cut out my shapes and then stick them on with this fabulous uhu fabric glue (it really is so good - not too runny and it never leaves horrible white marks over the fabric once it's dried).

Above are some of the girlier ones. Do you recognise the cat? It's taken from My Little Mochi's free pattern for her stuffed Chibi Kitty. I've been wanting to see how difficult it is to sew straight onto card for ages....and the verdict is not too bad. The outline of the cat is sewn straight on in pink cotton, and I've filled her face in using silver pen. Her skirt is more of the interfaced fabric glued directly on. I ended up sewing quite a few of them, as it was nice to work with something other than fabric on the machine for a change...mmm, perhaps I'll need a new needle tomorrow though!

Here's another machine stitched one...and below are some cards with a more boysy feel:

Anyway, back to some proper fabric sewing...after tackling my first arm-hole a couple of weeks ago and eventually winning that battle, I've been thinking about recreating my favourite dress, but in another colour. It's a very simple short a-line jersey shift dress...I even went and looked at fabric this morning, but then thought: No, Florence, you must leave it until after Christmas (I hope I didn't mutter this out loud)...my list of presents that I want to make is growing longer and longer....and it feels as though I may well drown under the fabricy weight of things that I want to do. But then this afternoon I made a horrible mistake, which may well put an end to my surprisingly rational thinking of earlier in the day.

And it is this: I made the mistake of keeping my eyes open when I saw something utterly lovely today. I could have stopped reading, not clicked on any of the links, or even tried to click the 'close window' button with my eyes squeezed tightly shut, as in not doing any of the above I was painfully aware that it would only be prolonging the time it may take me to complete my present list. But no...I just kept drooling, barely able to breath, over these dresses on Shim & Sons' blog...and then more drooling as I clicked the link through to the Wiksten Made blog (which has a tutorial for the most divine Peter Pan collar). And now I'm feeling so utterly inspired....I'm just not sure I'm able to put off plunging myself into a dress-making frenzy any longer...thinking of all the little details I might work into the copy of my own favourite dress....would it really be so bad for my family to celebrate Christmas in January instead?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Notes from the duvet....

At the weekend it was Zebra-girl's school fair, where I had been making things with some others to go on the craft stall. The other women are a group of friends with older children at the school who've been running the craft stall at the for the last 6 or 7 years...and somehow experience really does teach you what will sell, because it came as a complete surprise to me that you could expect to sell every single thing on your stall in the space of three hours...but this is what they achieved! When I saw how quickly the peg angels were going I bought one for Zebra-girl that had her name written on the little parchment paper tag (each was labelled with an old-fashioned name), which I gave to her once she arrived. She loves it.

And this is where I was so surprised; left to my own devices I think I would have focused on cushions, bags, make-up bags, pencil roll holders and other larger things (maybe because these are the things I find the most satisfying to make)...but actually the little things sold far quicker than the bigger things. Within the first hour I think we must have sold about 50 peg doll angels and about 20 stuffed gingerbread men. They were displayed on this tree that one of the girls had bought at a Country Living fair.

My mother-in-law (and I dislike that title for her...it has so many negative connotations...none of which suit mine at all, as she is lovely!) made 30 of these cards for us to sell (below), each with a different design, and they too were snaffled up.

However, the fair was far from fun for me...for I felt wretched...but was too worried that if I said how I was ill it would look like I was trying to duck out of 'fair duty'...so for three hours I sat fighting with, what we referred to in our student days as, 'the vom fairy' (such a horrible, horrible term...but I can't think of anything better...). I seem to have that awful bug that is going around and the minute the fair was over I raced home and took to my bed for the rest of the weekend and for a large part of today too.

I also must say a thank you for all the lovely and interesting comments and e-mails I've had over the last week or so. I love reading them and appreciate them all and want to apologise for how neglectful I've been in answering them. A combination of making Christmas presents, the craft fair, planning our new kitchen (which is being done in the second week of January...which sort of means I have to finalise everything now, as two weeks are effectively wiped out over things closing for Christmas) and then feeling very ill, has meant that I have had less time on in front of my computer than I would like.

More on the popular chalk pen in my next post...