Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Coming home

It feels like a long time since I last posted after something of an unintended blogging break...being poorly for what felt like forever and then a holiday have kept me away. We have been staying in the most wonderful cottage with my parents which was perfect in every way (except for a strange abundance of blown light bulbs) near West Wittering in East Sussex. We spent chilly days wrapped up on the beach, collecting seashells, walking, talking, watching a strange sea sport involving a board and a kite. We had lovely food, lots of wine and sat watching utterly addictive DVDs of the BBC drama State of Play around a toasty fire in the evenings. We had a lovely lunch at The Foresters Arms in Graffham, and a happy afternoon wandering around the harbour and church at Bosham. The beach huts above were photographed at West Wittering...I think you might be able to guess which one I would like to store my sandy towels in...and the photograph below of some shells stuck together reminded me a little of my stripy meringues!

But down to business....in the weeks before our holiday I had suddenly realised that we would be in striking distance of one of my favourite shops for internet browsing. I broke this news to Ian in the car on the way to our holiday cottage (I was driving, which prevented any possibility of u-turns or erratic lane changes in response) and negotiated a ten minute pitstop in The Eternal Maker for the following day...but somehow our watches tick to a different time and Ian is adamant that this bite-size piece of fun overran by 17 minutes (but when he saw how pleased I was with my fabrics he did offer to take me back again the next day... somehow I managed to muster the good grace to decline). The shop was even more lovely than I had imagined it might be and had bolt upon bolt of gorgeous fabrics, and I was even asked whether I wanted my fat quarter cuts with or without wonderful colourful selvedges...a small thing, but one that made me wish that I could shop there every day...for they seem to understand the love of fabric in a way that (surprisingly!) so many shops don't.

I was also pleased with this ribbon...I have no idea what I might use it for, but I love the colours.

I came home to two lovely custom orders (one of which is large and requires research into previously unchartered territory regarding strange fabrics and supplies...creating the requested items will involve my first attempt at sewing with stretch fabrics which I have managed to studiously avoid so far, I will post pictures when they are finished - and no, Jo, Lisa & Helen...this has absolutely nothing to do with making knickers). I also finally put some items onto Etsy last night, so I now have my own shop and a slightly less well stocked shop on Etsy too, which can be found here. I was really impressed by how easy it is to upload everything and set it all up...and now I'm wondering why I put off doing it for so long.

The bedrest (of the darkened room variety, rather than the laptop in bed variety) and my holiday means that I have 2,500 posts in my bloglines, which is both lovely and daunting...my head tells me that the sensible thing is to mark all as 'read' and start again, but somehow I can't do this just in case I miss something lovely (and with that many posts I know that I definitely would), but as it is still half-term and I have small ones wanting to do things other than watch their mummy gazing at the computer screen, I think I may have to let that number climb a little higher before I can begin a prolonged reading session. Wishing you all a lovely week in the crisp sunshineyness...perfect half-term weather. x

Monday, 13 October 2008

The one where I follow a pattern!

I know that some of you may find this shocking...but I have followed a pattern for something! Back in September, which is 'month of birthdays' for our family, I made this crochet hook roll for Ian's mother, as she seemed to quickly develop something of an obsession for crocheting after we went on a one day course together, but was keeping all the paraphernalia in a plastic bag...which I thought must have been displeasing her, being a creature that enjoys organising her supplies as much as I do.

I'd seen Joanne's tutorial a long time ago and told her how wonderful it looked at the time (do go and peep, it is impressively clear) but I'm sure that she thought I was just being sycophantic as she knows how foolish I become when faced with a pattern. But, reader, I followed it and it was such a lovely feeling to be able to just cut and sew knowing that someone else had done all the tiresome work of measuring crochet hooks, pocket sizes and seam allowances. I made a small variation to Jo's lovely pattern (only because it just felt too downright freaky to be following someone else's every word in such a way!) and turned the pocket, that was used to store the embroidery needles for threading in ends, into a small padded pin cushion instead.

I can't tell you quite how many hours it took me to track down a pair of pink scissors the same shade as the fabric...but putting anything else in there would have felt quite wrong (I know sometimes I even irritate myself with how matchy-matchy I can become!). The birthday girl came and visited us on her the day and Ian had made her a cake depicting a Boggle grid, which is our game of choice whenever we holiday together.

Oh, and shop news...poor weary Ian has now upgraded my website so that it links directly to PayPal for payment (which I'm reliably informed you don't need a Paypal account to use), rather than back to me so that I could raise an invoice...it was simply too long-winded and troublesome that way. Whoooppeeee! It feels like a proper grown-up shop now...although I know that I have just undone its new-found maturity in saying that....

x

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Loveliness

Firstly, thank you so much for all your lovely comments, emails and kind wishes you sent about my shop site (and even purchases!). Also, thank you to Lynsey (who has her own lovely shop here - best known for her wonderful trademark chicken doorstops, I've spotted that she also makes egg-box sewing kits...which I think is such a fantastic idea) who featured my site on Cuteable within a couple of hours of my announcing that my shop was open - what better start could I have possibly asked for? Ian was flattered to hear all your positive feedback about his design...and I am so grateful to him that he spent so many hours perfecting all that pink and red girlishness for me....he will be rebalancing by being generally butch and mannish this week.

Anyway, onto things delightful: last week Julia had very kindly offered to send me some soap nuts as she knew that I'd wanted to try some (for those of you that haven't investigated them already...they are a strange sort of nut that produces a natural soap making them a perfect environmentally-friendly substitute to washing powders - I will be trying them on my next wash). But goodness, what unexpected goodies arrived with them. I am slightly ashamed to say that despite having always taught my children that it is polite to open a card before a parcel or present, I quite forgot myself (I think it was the sight of the 'let's sew' badge on the outside of the fabric packaging that did it!) and they both crowded round and together we unwrapped the little parcels. Inside we found this collection of buttons (shown at the top). Zebra-girl gasped as I poured them out on to the bed (for she was having a day off due to being poorly), and studied them one by one, unable to believe her eyes at so much sparkly, shiny loveliness. The little stars and a packet of tiny necklace beads made me a little suspicious that I may not be their intended recipient and on opening Julia's card I was able to tell Zebra that all the things that she could see, that she was so breathlessly coveting and wishing to possess, had actually all been sent for her. Words can't quite convey her delight on hearing this, as well as her surprise and happiness that someone whom she has never met chose to hand-pick such treasures.

Julia has somehow surmised from my posts exactly what would appeal to my little Zebra and so there were tactile pieces of softest, drapiest velvet, as well as satin specially picked for its colour being identical to that of a ballet shoe.

After lunch (attended by Zebra with one of Julia's lovely hair clips in her hair) Zebra-girl was inspired to sew and as Dinosaur-boy was home I felt torn by my wish to always say yes when she makes such a request, but also not wanting to spend hours doing something that would exclude her brother...which is why we ended up making squid. After reading this excellent book, both children have become completely captivated by the mystery that surrounds the Giant Squid and the dark inky blue of one of the velvets that Julia had sent seemed perfect for such a project. Dinosaur-boy picked out his own fabrics and was emphatic that this old Amy Butler print was what was needed, accented with some turquoise velvet for squiddy tentacles...he even hand-sewed some buttons on for eyes (with a little help), but unfortunately the little Teacakes ran away to have squid battles before I could photograph the finished creatures.

And look, Julia sent something for me too! This beautiful Cloth Store piece of loveliness...it is exactly what I would have been unable to resist buying if I had seen it myself.

We felt utterly spoiled...but the resounding sense that I have been left with is happiness at the idea that someone could have been quite so kind, generous, thoughtful and sweet. Thank you, Julia, we will treasure the things that you sent.

And finally, after having friends over for dinner last night, I woke with the wish to spring clean (a little too much wine can do that to a girl, I find) and every cupboard in the entire house has now been restructured and re-ordered...but what I really wanted to tell you about is my new partner in cleanliness. Our old vacuum cleaner had a habit of overheating, sports a plug held together with sellotape after being suctioned back into its storage port a little too enthusiastically and hitting furniture on its way, and finally Ian threw an essential part of it in the bin on his only venture into bag-emptying, which meant that I was recently given the task of buying a new one. Hours of research (but no PowerPoint presentations...which signifies that I was some way from melt-down) happily left me with only one option. I had no idea that a vacuum cleaner could be such a delight, and had never dreamt that something could gobble up stray threads from a carpet in the way that I have since witnessed...my sewing sessions were normally ended by a lengthy combination session of vacuuming, picking individual threads up and cursing the fact that someone was yet to invent a giant Velcro pad that would more easily grapple the threads from their tangle with the carpet (that sounds alarming like a Giant Squid, I know)...but no more, it appears as though I've just laid a new carpet after vaguely waving the nozzle in the direction of the room for less than two minutes. Amazing!

x

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Not a rocket...

After months of procrastination and general dilly dallying on my part (and chivvying on Ian's) my very small shop site is finally finished. I can't believe it has taken seven months to get to this point, which is how long ago Ian and I first started designing a logo for it, but in many ways I'm so glad that it has. It is only now that Dinosaur-boy is at school part-time that I finally feel ready to embark on something of my own that is completely separate from the the loveliness of being a stay-at-home-mummy that has filled my days for the last seven years (well, not completely separate for they influence everything I do with their lovely ways, so perhaps I shouldn't see the two things as being entirely divorced).

Last weekend I was chatting to Pipany about my site nearly being ready and discussing the 'launching' of it when I realised how very uncomfortable using that term in relation to my website made me - for it suggests something grand and rocket-sized. So instead I shall just say that Made by Florence is open for business and I would love any feedback if you choose to go and look around...or just to hear what you did once you'd recovered should you have gone into shock over the uncharacteristic brevity of this post.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Don't mention the horses

Recently my friend Charlotte emailed me and asked if I would create some Christmas stockings for her and her family in Canada, kindly giving me a free reign on just about everything to do with their design. I was excited about this project for lots of reasons, but mostly because I loved the idea of creating something that would become a part of their family Christmas traditions. Charlotte is a natural home-maker and I remember her and her now-husband's flat in England as being cosy, homely, quirky and very much essence of Charlotte, so even though she feels very far away and I still haven't managed to make the flight to visit her new home in person, I feel that I can imagine exactly what her house might be like at Christmas time; delicious cinnamony smells, lovely decorations and wrappings, warm candlelight and twinkly white fairy lights that I know she coils around her veranda in December. And it is these imaginings that floated in and out of my head as I designed her stockings and I really hope that I've created something that fits in suitably with the reality of their Christmas, rather than just my imagined version of it.

I made the grown-up's stockings first, because I couldn't decide what direction to go in for their baby, Ella's. For Charlotte's stocking I used four of my favourite fabrics, one of which featured heavily in Zebra-girl's room scheme when she was small. When I started on Kevin's though I was slightly more indecisive about the fabrics as I wanted it to be manly, without being gloomy and dull for him next to the girlier stockings. In the end I laid out some fabric combinations, photographed them and then emailed them to Ian at work to ask him which he thought I should choose. When he didn't reply immediately I rang him (for these midday school pick-ups make morning sewing a pressured business)...but he was in a meeting. 'I'm in a meeting' he said tersely when he answered the telephone. I always think meetings where you are still able to answer the phone are probably fairly informal. And horay for meetings where they end up crowding around the computer screen and providing me with more than one opinion...it was almost like a special stocking conference call summit had been called. They chose the colours above and Kevin has them to thank for saving him from other more dubious colour schemes.

For Ella's I wanted a design that she might like while she's very small, but that might also be acceptable if it is still in existence when she's a teenager. I have no idea why I have such a strong association between rocking horses and Christmas, but we had a wooden one on our tree when I was a child...so perhaps it comes from that or perhaps because in my mind a rocking horse is the most perfect gift that a child could possibly be given...my father found a beautiful antique one for my mother and smuggled it into the house on Christmas Day a couple of years ago - her reaction suggested that it may well be the most perfect gift for a girl of any age. Below is one of my favourite photos; Zebra-girl two years ago at the height of her love affair with Disney Princesses resting on the head of Christmas, my mother's just-received horse. What a digression that turned out to be...I shall refrain from mentioning anything equestrian in the future for fear of taking myself off on tangents further still...and all this from a girl who dislikes horses after being kicked to the ground by a wild pony on an adventure in the New Forest!).

So here is the little family of stockings and they are now safely in Canada. I almost felt like I was there as they unwrapped them as Charlotte's lovely parents were visiting and thoughtfully photographed the unwrapping. Charlotte's photos often make me feel a little tearful, but in a good way, just because she is so lovely and I miss her and I'm so proud of how brave she has been in setting up a whole new life in a different country. I enjoyed making these stockings so much that I have now made another three which will soon be appearing in my shop.

I think I'd said in my last post that I would share some photographs of the curtains that I'd made for Zebra-girl. After hacking the old ones down with some shears so that I might use them as quilting material, my mother said that she would love to buy the fabrics for me to make some new ones so that she could give them as a birthday present. We picked this pink flowery loveliness together, discussed the merits of many of the colours on my velvet swatch chart (a prized possession) and then did some stressful shop-based research into which lining should be used (actually a new one that has a fleece thermal layer on one side - it faces inwards so you don't ever see that bit of unsightly furriness - and looks like normal curtain lining on the other side).

The pictures have a strange gloominess to them, so please imagine them with lovely streams of dappled evening sunlight on them and they will look much more appealing. Zebra-girl has the largest room in our house and her bay-window measures four metres long. I believe it is quite possible that I may still be suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of the battles I had just attempting to move such a volume of fabric from the floor to my sewing machine (18 metres of fabric when combining the print with the lining and 18 metres of velvet to be stitched on), so I am yet to look at them without feeling slightly exhausted. I think that making excessively large curtains may be one of the few things that doesn't carry the same trick as childbirth of instantly forgetting the horrors - I haven't forgotten and I don't ever want to do it again...so if we ever move house again I shall have tiny windows on my wish list.

When we first moved in we put Zebra-girl's bed in the length of the bay window and painted the ceiling of the bay in a warm pink to create a cocoon-like feel, in an otherwise cream-coloured room. I loved how cosy this felt...but sadly Zebra-girl has the bug that I too suffered from as a child: she loves to change her room around as often as I will allow it...

I have yet to tell her that these are the curtains she will have until she leaves home...I do hope they have long-lasting appeal.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Zebra's quilt

These are the toes of Zebra-girl poking out from beneath her birthday quilt. In the months preceding her birthday I had spent several hours playing with fabric, looking through online shops at possible prints and in my darkest moments of confusion putting together PowerPoint slides with swatches of various fabrics combinations for Ian's consideration (Ian always knows that I have reached crisis-point in the decision making process when I start using PowerPoint as an aid...he is filled with dread at the very idea of one of these displays which he knows must be followed by hours of careful analysis on his part...and he also pokes fun, because he says that I may be the only person left in the world who still uses PowerPoint). And finally, paralysed by indecision I decided that if the fabrics weren't perfect; if they didn't say the things that I wanted them to say to her, then I should leave doing it for now.

But then one day a couple of weeks ago my mother and I were sitting in Zebra-girl's room while she was at school and we were looking at all the loveliness of the fabrics in her curtaining hung at the window that has been altered and added to with each house move, and my mother suggested that as they was slightly ill-fitting anyway, then perhaps I could make a quilt from Zebra's curtains...this proved to be somewhat like a red rag to a bull (in the best possible way) and moments later I was standing on a chair hacking the precious fabric free from the lining with a large pair of shears, for she had stumbled upon the perfect thing. The fabric is faded and aged by the sun, holds so many memories from Zebra-girl's toddlerhood and beyond and was something that I had been loathe to take down and replace because I find the prints so lovely and nostalgic to look at.

The binding is a mixture of old and new fabrics and this combination is actually the bit that gives me the most pleasure to look at. The quilt is a very simple design: a strip of floral paisley at each end with red polka dots in the centre, and a strip of powdery blue velvet ribbon (again, salvaged from the original curtains) to cover the joins...so on that front it was a simple quilt to construct, but in terms of the actual quilting part, which I had never done before, I felt like I learned a lot (which for other new quilters I thought it may be worth sharing). Firstly, that I had never realised what a physical thing quilting is; the sheer weight of the materials and the effort of holding it taut as it goes through the machine was quite unexpected. I had always thought that quilting gloves were a rather precious affectation...now I realise that are an essential to avoid being in agony after keeping your shoulders hunched for hour upon hour as you try to keep your hold on the material steadily without the grip that a quilter's glove would provide. As it was a Sunday and the shops were closed and I am impatient I beavered on without them...but it was not a comfortable experience. Other things that I learnt (and this is from my own very limited experience...more experienced quilters may have better ways of doing things) is that one should always work from the centre on a quilt - meaning that when you begin to pin your top fabric to your wadding and backing fabric you should start pinning outwards in circles from the centre, and likewise, when marking out your quilting lines you should start from the centre too (your backing fabric should always be a little bigger than your front fabric as this allowance gives you room for the fabric shifting). I used a very light layer of basting spray to fuse the layers before pinning them with special quilting safety pins.

To bind, I machined the top side and then hand-stitched the underside. I had a friend round for one of the mornings that I was doing the hand-sewing and when she asked why I didn't just machine-stitch the whole thing I realised that as well as thinking it would be neater this way, I also felt that for it to be the quilt I wanted it to be, some of it must be done by hand. I hardly ever hand sew things and I realised what a lovely and relaxing (and more sociable!) occupation it is. I also wanted to make a patch for it and I'd read about amazing printable cotton for quilt patches, the look of which I love, but when I investigated further I realised that the printer inks don't seem to be fade or wash resistant and that the message may disappear over time - the idea of which saddened me. So instead I appliqued some roses onto my my patch and then embroidered my message and the date of giving.

I chose not to preshrink the cotton or the batting and waited to wash it until after I'd finished, so that it might gain a more antiqued look. It feels so nice to have so many favourite fabrics contained in one, hopefully long lasting, piece...the only thing I was less pleased by was that I had hoped that the batting would have a little more loft to it...and be a little more puffy once washed. I quilted it as far apart as I was instructed I could for the type of batting that I had chosen...but now I'm wondering if I should have ignored this and gone a little further apart, or if I should have chosen a different batting to start with (I went for Hobbs Heirloom).

I bought a book called The Quilt Story, now out of print (in the UK), to put with my gift. It is the most lovely story about a mother who makes a quilt for her daughter, which is used in her camps, tea parties, in the winter and on sick days and every other part of life, eventually accompanying her on a house move where it holds the comfort of being the only thing that smells like home. Eventually the quilt becomes so tattered that it is put in the loft, until years later, after it has become a home for some passing mice, a raccoon and other animals, the girl finds it and asks her mother to mend it, which she does....the messages in the book are lovely and both me and my mother were not entirely dry-eyed after first reading it.

Zebra-girl was delighted with her quilt, pleased to see her old curtains again (albeit in a different form) and has snuggled beneath it often. The canny amongst you may already have guessed that my next post may hold some mention of the making of new curtains, which for a bay window measuring 4 metres wide suddenly made the previous week's adventures with a single quilt's worth of material seem rather paltry by comparison.

I was quite sad once the quilt was finished as I had so enjoyed making it (in an aching shoulder sort of way), so it was uncannily wonderful for me that on Zebra-girl's birthday I had a note saying that there was a package waiting for me at the post office. I opened it to find that my dear friend Charlotte (whom I met at primary school, aged 8, when we were the only two girls in our entire school who had no desire to attend recorder club in our lunch hour...a mutual dislike of wind instruments that has proved to be a sound basis for a friendship spanning 23 years) had sent the most lovely and unexpected 'just because' present of a book about quilting, which she'd apparently bought for me several months earlier, but had kept for herself after it had an impromptu meeting with some small baby hands. But now we both have a copy, which makes it even more special. The book has some fantastic projects so I am now thinking about what kind of quilt I might make next (something for Dinosaur-boy I'm thinking...and I'm quite intrigued by the idea of what a hand-tied quilt might be like to make).