Sunday, 29 April 2007

Virtuous scrap usage

I expect we all have one of these - a bag or bags (or boxes) where we chuck all the might-be-useful leftover strips and scraps. I stopped saving anything smaller than my hand about 10 years ago when I discovered the cat had made a lovely hairy dirty nest in my scrap box (I tried throwing them in the washing machine, which produced a load of hairy screwed up useless frayed balls that I had to throw out) but I still save actual strips and larger pieces.

Yesterday was my Saturday quilting club so I decided that I was going to be very virtuous and take along my scrap collection (in two very large bags) and make a scrap quilt modelled on the Heartstrings block that ForestJane worked out. I measured up my son's favourite quilt and worked out that I needed 9.5 inch finished blocks, and cut a bunch of foundation fabric squares from some leftover backing strips. When I got to club, I started out with the strips on my table but found they kept falling off so in the end I just heaped them on the floor behind my chair and started sewing.

The really funny thing was how the other quilters just could not keep away from this pile of crumpled jewels. Several of them were circling like sharks around blood in the water, cooing 'oh, it's lovely' and 'look at that, oh it's beautiful' and one lady came back about 6 times looking for fabric for an applique she is doing. I was generous and gave away some of it but I wanted to make sure I kept enough to do the quilt! The sewing was rather enjoyable as it is completely brain-dead, just put the pedal to the metal and sew down the strips. I was making heavy use of my built-in automatic thread-cutter at the end of each seam. It was also nice to visit again with several old fabric friends from projects I have completed over the last few years. Anyway, this is the middle of the quilt so far:

Let me hasten to say that I wasn't trying to match up the middle of the quilt - I was not measuring these blocks at all precisely, just slapping on strips and trusting it would work out. I thought the middle would look close enough to be alright, but now that I've got it home, the lower right hand centre block is bugging me because it is so far out of whack. I may see if I have enough of those strips to make a replacement and move that original one into the border.

So I'm sewing away at top speed, which is pretty fast on my Janome 6500, and feeling pretty good that my machine is finally back and appears to be working fine. After an hour or so, my bobbin runs out, so I wind a new one and start sewing again. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK - I froze - and so did everyone around me (particularly the two other ladies who have the same machine and who are terrified that this problem is going to happen to theirs). There was a pregnant pause - and someone said "oh, you'll have to stop again" which is what I did last time this happened. And I thought, to heck with it, it's under warranty, let's see what happens. So I kept sewing and found that the noise faded in and out the rest of the day. I am suspecting it is linked to the threadcutter - because when that operates there is a complicated series of clunks within the upper body of the machine - and I found that when the noise was particularly loud, if I paused and operated the threadcutting mechanism, then the noise would change (get louder/softer/stop altogether). And I bet Repair Guy did not test the threadcutter at all, but only the sewing operation.

So I phoned up the shop to let them hear what the machine is doing again, but got some Saturday substitute who took a message to leave for Repair Guy on Monday. And I bet he is going to be sooooo pleased to see my name again - not.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Baby Houses and Tank Tops

Spring in the garden - I love it. This is the best time of year for our garden (pictured above) when everything is lush and green and blooming - and before the diseases and black spot and various pests take hold, and before the lawn dies in the heat. This is my machine knitting shed, an object of beauty at this time of year.

I've finally sat down and painted the rest of the metal 144th scale miniatures that I bought at Miniatura, and basically finished the Baby House (although you can always add more). For you non-miniaturists, this is a standard dollshouse size cabinet about six inches high (1/12th scale) and I have decorated the inside as a 'dollhouse's dollhouse' in 144th scale. This is a historical tradition - before dollhouses came about as we know them, the wealthy in the 18th century used to commission showcases of furnished rooms inside furniture cabinets to display their collections, and they were known as Baby Houses. Each of these rooms is a little over one inch high.

These are the garden drawers at the bottom of the cabinet, the idea and creation of my very talented embroideress/quilter friend Pauline B. She took the drawers home and brought them back as you see them, exquisitely decorated with 3-D stumpwork embroidery and paint decoration. She is so clever! This house is so cute, I just love it.

Last night I also finished the second tank top I was knitting. This one is in a ribbon yarn by Colinette called 'Giotto' and I just fell in love with the colours. I have used the same pattern as the blue cotton one I knit a few weeks ago, except that I knit two fronts instead of a racer back, to create a more conventional top. I also crocheted a simple loopy finish along the bottom. I might wear this to work this summer with dressy trousers and a light cardigan. I've started knitting a cushion cover in Rowan Big Wool which I scored half price at the local scrapbooking/wool shop - it uses 12mm needles which just feel ridiculously clumsy compared to my tank tops on 5mm needles. The wool itself though is like knitting with a cloud, beautifully soft and fluffy. I am copying the cushion cover I saw at the shop 'Loop' in Islington at Easter, just a simple wrap-around with some ribbing as detail. I've got three balls of Big Wool which hopefully will be enough for at least one cover.
My sewing machine is supposed to be arriving back home today. It has now been to Chester more times than I have. I spoke to Assistant Repair Guy who admitted under interrogation that the intermittent knocking noise had not appeared while the machine was in their hands, but they have been over the machine with a fine-tooth comb and it is running smoothly for them. At least they believe me, because of the time I held the phone up to the machine as it made the terrible noise, so one of them heard the noise over the phone. I just hope the problem has now been resolved, this whole thing has been a complete pain although I have had time for lots of hand applique. Assuming it does turn up today, and is working, I've got my quilt club tomorrow so will have to think what project to take along. I have a Lone Star top in vintage 40/50s fabrics that I bought at Paducah from a dealer, which is set with the most hideous pale pink background fabric. I plan to remove that and reset it against butter yellow, so I might take that along.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Painting with Fabric

This is the picture which my friend Eileen chose for the challenge, which is like a Monet painting in an impressionistic style, of a group of buildings (farm?) under a heavy fall of snow. My pattern segment was the one to the left. This picture was even more challenging than Pauline’s portrait, for a few reasons. First of all, all the colour is broken, and made up of many other colours – for example, the ‘white’ snow is in fact built up from many different colours. The brush strokes of the painting are quite rough, so there are few solid lines even on window frames or chimneys. And lastly, Eileen scaled up the picture to our agreed size by the old-fashioned method of drawing a grid and sketching the larger size by freehand. This meant that her pattern was not exactly the same as the original painting, which I found surprisingly disconcerting. I am very much a ‘copyist’ and I wanted my picture to look like the original painting, but if I used Eileen’s pattern the proportions were not the same – for example, her chimney on the pattern is considerably longer and in a different place than the chimney on the portrait, she drew the windows on the house at a similar level instead of staggered like in the painting, and she had simplified all the lines to omit shadows etc. On the other hand, if I did not match Eileen’s pattern at key points on the right hand side, then my segment is not going to match up with the next person’s segment. So my version is a bit of a compromise – it matches Eileen’s pattern at the key points, but I tried to put in more of the original painting’s detail on my actual appliqué.

Here you can see Eileen’s pattern on the right, my fabric version in the middle, and the original painting segment to the left. I’ve used three different oranges on the house to try to convey some of the original shadowing, and I chose a mottled yellow batik for the windows and trim to refer to the original jagged brush strokes. The clouds and shadows behind the house are the wrong side of fabric, to match the faded appearance of the painting. The ‘white’ snow on the roof and around the rocks is a great hand-dye I found in my stash, which is dirty white with lots of faint grey smudges.
This is what my segment will look like, approximately,without the seam allowances (although the rotation of the image isn't quite correct which is why the house looks slightly slanted). All the fabrics are batiks or tonal prints, the only solid colour is the lavender shadow under one of the rocks/logs. This piece is entiredly done in hand applique.
This was like painting with fabric to create my interpretation of the original. I'll be giving it back to Eileen at club on Saturday, so I hope she likes it. Again, I think it is going to be fascinating to see what this picture looks like when all four segments are reassembled.

Monday, 23 April 2007

April Applique Block

We've just acquired a new digital camera, so it has taken me about an hour to upload this image as first of all I had install the CD that came with the camera, then do a Restart, then read the manual to figure out how to upload images, and then fumble my way through the process. The original intention was to buy my son a cheap camera to take on his school trip - I spent about an hour surfing the internet and moaning to myself that every site only sold digital cameras now (Amazon UK doesn't even seem to have a category for 'normal' cameras ) and how was I going to find him a cheap camera. I suddenly had one of those 'duh' moments where I realised that our old camera WAS the cheap camera, and that really we should be joining the 21st century and getting a digital. So now I don't have to illicitly use my office camera at home, which is good, because I was always afraid I would forget to take it in to the office when I needed it for a meeting. It will also be great for my trip to the Sisters quilt show this summer. And for once my son's trip pictures didn't look like he was photographing everything through a blizzard which was the case when we bought him disposable cameras.

Anyway, this is the first of my two April applique blocks - this is my continuing series of 17-inch blocks from "Grandma's Last Quilt" hand applique blocks in vintage double-pinks and acid greens. I am trying to do two a month but already seem to have slipped by three weeks. I have managed to turn this one around in a week by dint of doing lots of sewing in front of the telly, but the next one has a zillion pieces so will likely be finished into May.

I am also working on the next picture challenge segment - this one is for my friend Eileen who chose a Monet impressionistic picture of farm buildings in a snowfall (perhaps Monet used a disposable camera as well). This is even more difficult than the portrait was, because all the colour is very broken and jagged in outline, and when you really look at the snow you find that it is in almost every colour except white, even though the overall impression is white. I will post a picture when I finish, I am about halfway through at the moment and it is looking good. Although rather alarmingly I have developed a muscle twitch at the corner of my right eye, the result I suspect of too much applique this week.

Repair Guy left a message on the answerphone - apparently my sewing machine is ready to send back and he promises he has checked it out thoroughly and run it extensively. However he did not actually say "and it did make that knocking noise but don't worry because we have now fixed it completely", leaving me worried that his Engineer Vibes soothed the intermittent fault so that it did not actually occur in his presence. I feel certain that I am now labelled on his files with the Repair Guy equivalent to "hypochondriac" (which no doubt already appears on my medical files).

I had a wonderful moment today when reading my e-mail - I have been invited to join a swap by some chatters (Hi, T!) who have seen my work on this blog and think that I am up to the challenge. I am immensely flattered and very tempted, it is an applique swap where you need to make one block (between 6 inches and 12 inches) a month for a year, if they get 12 participants. The only problem is time, there already are not enough hours in the week to tackle everything I have purchased / want to do, so I am thinking about it. I found a great acronym in a knitting book ("At Knit's End" by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) which is SABLE = Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy, and I am certainly a SABLE sufferer for my quilting stash, dollshouse miniatures stash, knitting stash, cross-stitch stash, book library, as well as an impulse acquirer of various projects in tatting, doll-making, jewellery, and other shiny things that catch my jackdaw eye. Too many projects, not enough time, even though I have given up almost completely on housework, only work part-time, never go out and rarely spend time with my family :) I will have to think where else I can cut down - personal grooming perhaps, if I stop visiting the salon for hair colouring that would save me two hours every six weeks, but that's likely not enough time for a new swap. hmmmm, will have to think on this, lol...

Saturday, 21 April 2007


As I mentioned in a previous post, I am running a challenge for a small sub-group of four ladies (including me) that attend my monthly Saturday quilting group. The rest of the group are doing a more conventional brown bag challenge (which I am doing as well) because they thought that this Picture challenge sounded too hard. I got the idea from some Group quilts which I saw at Houston and Paducah, where a group took a picture and divided it into several pieces and each person made one piece, then they assembled it back into a Group quilt. For my challenge, I asked each participant to choose a photograph, and draft a pattern at A2 size (about four letter-sized pieces of paper together). They then had to divide the pattern into four pieces and give one piece to each participant (keeping one themselves) and also give them a copy of the colour photograph. At the end of the challenge, they will receive back a fabric version of the pattern piece from each participant, which they can reassemble into a fragmented version of their photograph. The challenge is designed to stretch us, and to inspire us, and to give us something a bit different to attempt.

Today I tackled the first one of these, which is a portrait of one of the early black visitors to Britain. This is my friend Pauline's choice, and the moment I saw it I knew that this was going to be challenging to both my stash and my skills because of all the low lights and highlights, and because all of the colour is broken up in some way.

In this photo you can see at right is the pattern segment that Pauline gave to me, and at left is the photograph - I have applied some masking tape so that only my own segment is revealed, to help me make colour choices. In the middle is my fabric version of the portrait, which includes seam allowance to the right as Pauline will be joining my segment to the next segment. You can see that the black skin tones were quite a challenge to represent - you can see a close up of my version in the next photo.

Here is a close up of the face, and I have cropped it to remove the seam allowance. This is a mixture of hand applique plus fusible applique for the finer detail. I am quite pleased with my batik background piece which closely mimics the aged appearance of the original painting's background. The highlights of the face look a bit cruder when you are this close to it, the effect is better from a slight distance. I haven't yet finished the edges of the fusible applique as I am waiting for Pauline to clarify what she will accept - normally I would zig-zag over in the edges in invisible thread, but Pauline had ticked the 'no invisible thread' box on her instruction sheet.

This was a great project, it required a lot of concentration but I feel very satisfied with the end result and I can't wait to see what the final portrait will look like when Pauline assembles all four segments. I hope she is pleased with what I've done.

Oh, and in a postscript to the last post, I did press the heck out of the Sisters block and managed to grow it out to the correct size on three corners, and to 12 3/8th on the final corner - so, as my old stage band teacher used to say when we were trying to tune up the instruments, "close enough for jazz", and it has now been sent off.

Friday, 20 April 2007


This is my completed Spiderweb block, made with the challenge fabrics from the block kit that arrived from the Sisters quilt show in Oregon. First of all, I have to say that I think this block looks like something that somebody threw up (perhaps after a breakfast of cheerios and blackcurrant juice). I don't really think these fabrics go together at all - but obviously somebody does, and it is all a matter of personal taste, yada yada. But working on this block gave me a headache if I looked at it too long. Secondly, I seem to have been jinxed on this one. I started out pretty blithely -what can go wrong on a 12 1/2" block? I chose a pattern that would use all five challenge fabrics, I printed off the Spiderweb foundations from Blockbase on the computer in a 12 inch finished size, the block kit came with loads of fabric - childs play. I think it all started to go wrong when I was cutting the final strips for the outermost/widest bands on the triangles, and I remember feeling slightly smug that I was actually going to have fabric left over. Of course, two seconds later when I sat down at my sewing machine, I realised that because these were the widest ends of the triangles, I was actually going to need one more strip from two of the fabrics - and, of course, what I had left was not wide enough on one fabric and not long enough on either of them. Cue much muttering and piecing together - on the orange fabric I only had to piece one seam, but on the piles-of-jellybeans fabric I actually had to piece together four scraps. Bang go any hopes of winning the competition - but as the winners will receive quilt tops made out of these fabrics, I am not exactly gutted. I just wanted to get through it and submit the block and it will not win and will get used for a charity quilt. So I finished, having a bit of trouble with my centre matching up, but making sure to cut the corner triangles plenty big, so I would have at least a quarter inch of excess fabric all around to square up the block. Final blow -the block is exactly 12 and 1/4 inches square. The rules very specifically say 12 1/2 inches square. Contemplate falling onto rotary cutter in ritual suicide.

So I don't know what happened there. Perhaps my printer is not printing off exactly 100% correct size? It can't really be seam allowances because it was pieced on foundations. I don't know whether to play dumb and just send it off as it is, or perhaps try pressing the h**l out of it with steam to see if I can grow it 1/8th of an inch all around, or perhaps take it apart vertically and horizontally and reduce the seam allowance between wedges to 1/8".

So there you go - beaten by a 12 and a half inch block. I'm so ashamed...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Quilt Shops

The Stashbuster question this week is about our favourite quilt shops. Well, at risk of seeming a little controversial here, I do not have a favourite local quilt shop and in fact I rarely shop in quilt shops at all here in the UK. I occasionally buy from traders at quilt shows, but 95% of my fabric is ordered online, most of it from The reason is because I have been to the States several times and seen their glorious, enormous quilt shops, full of wonderful affordable fabric and all sorts of books and accessories. Most UK shops are but a pale shadow, one or two small rooms with a limited selection of fabric which is all amazingly expensive, $20 a metre or more. The vast majority of their fabric, books and accessories are imported from America and by the time the import duties, VAT (tax) and mark-up is added on, it is just ridiculous - although a quilt shop owner did explain to me once that she was actually making very little profit, the majority of the add-on is all going to the government. When I order online I go for shops that send by Global Priority envelopes, which are cheap and come airmail, and even with shipping the fabric still works out considerably cheaper than buying in the UK. I also have a vast choice, and access to the latest collections, which I wouldn't have in most UK shops and certainly not in the small ones near to me west of London.

I do sometimes order haberdashery from Cotton Patch in Birmingham, they have a wider selection than many UK shops, so if I need Steam-A-Seam or similar I will order from them online. But I love equilter, their service is excellent and prompt, with a personal touch (wrapped up in tissue paper with a nice sticker and a handwritten note), I find their online pictures are very true to life so I am almost always pleased with what I have ordered, and their website is easy to navigate. Plus they send a newsletter every week to tell you about new arrivals and sales! And of course every time I go to America, I post loads of fabric back to myself and also fill up my suitcase. I've even brought back rolls of batting - but that was before they started restricting the luggage on flights. I know not everyone is happy to shop online but I probably do more shopping online now than I do in shops, not just for quilting but for everything else as well - books, holidays, cameras and printers, gifts, toys, appliances, miniatures. It is just much more convenient for me, it is usually cheaper, it's easy to access reviews and compare prices, and it arrives at my door (most of the time).

Monday, 16 April 2007

How I started Quilting

Better late than never I hope, but the Stashbuster topic for last week was "How did you come to start quilting? Was it passed down in the family? What was your first project and is it finished? Where does it live now?".

I actually started twice - once in about about 1985, and again in about 1992.

In 1985 I lived in Canada on the next block to a public library, where I spent a lot of time as I have always been a reader. One day I found a book in the Craft section on making quilts. Ah Ha, thought I, smug in the knowledge of my innate craftiness, and being the proud possessor of my mother's Singer sewing machine (sadly no longer with me). It looked very easy, all that you had to do was to tear up your old clothes into 2 1/2 inch strips, then sew them into strip sets, cut across with scissors, and sew again and Voila! a single Irish Chain queen size quilt. Well, out came my Laura Ashley charity shop buys, and some old skirts, and lots of tearing up later I realised I had nowhere near enough fabric. So I went to the fabric store, and not having much money I purchased some sale fabric, and a big white bedsheet to tear into strips for the background. Lots of tearing later and I started to sew them together into strip sets, in blissful ignorance of consistent seam allowances, but cursing all the tangled threads hanging off of the strips and suddenly realising how difficult it is to sew strips of all different lengths that came off of blouses, skirts etc. When it came time to cut up the strip sets, I realised I had no tool with which to measure these easily, so I spent a little more of my money on a plastic quilting ruler but found it did not work well at all when cutting with scissors (I had never heard of a rotary cutter and they didn't use one in the library book). I think I ended up drawing lines in pencil then cutting with scissors. And of course when I tried to reassemble, that's when the reality of inconsistent seam allowances hit home and I realised there was no way this mess was ever going to look like the picture. So I put it in a bag, and it stayed there for many years. Every time I moved apartments, and then when my stuff went into storage, and came out of storage, and then when I moved to the UK, I would find this bag and look in it and think "Oh, that quilt" but I never quite reached the point where I could give up on it.

In about 1992, when my new husband and I were on a visit from the UK back to Canada, I was once again browsing the Craft section but this time in a magazine store, when I found a copy of the much lamented Miniature Quilts Magazine. Suddenly something clicked, and it all fell into place. Here was a manageable way to start, and it tied into my other longstanding hobby of Dollshouse Miniatures. I immediately dragged my husband to a quilting store and bought a rotary cutter (wonder of wonders), a small ruler, a small cutting mat, and about 5 fabrics in tiny prints. I started cutting out that night at my sister-in-law's, and promptly cut my hand with the rotary cutter (I was terrified that I had nearly severed my finger, and when my s-i-l finally prised my deathgrip off of the wound to reveal a fairly shallow cut, the look of contempt on her face for my cowardice has stayed with me for 15 years. Luckily I hadn't bled on the fabric). Following the directions in the magazine, I started assembling my 'miniature' quilt. Of course, I hadn't read the instructions through (I almost never do) to realise that 'miniature' in the quilt world is often something about 15" square or larger and not the 6 inch square quilt that I needed. Luckily I realised halfway through the Trip Round the World and was able to truncate the edges and stop at the halfway point. And this first completed quilt has lived in my dollshouse ever since (with the abrupt finish carefully concealed underneath a crocheted afghan).

And what happened to the 1985 Single Irish Chain? Well, it arrived in the UK still in its bag, and lived in the corner of my sewing room for some years until about 1997. By then I had an overlocker (serger) and had already used it to make a Trip Round the World quilt following some instructions from Eleanor Burn's book. I had several quilts under my belt and felt much more confident, so I pulled that crumpled mess of fabric out of the bag (for a wonder it hadn't mildewed or anything) and sorted it out. The overlocker/serger cut off all those terrible threads, and by then I knew about easing fabric and bodging seam allowances (see, all those mistakes do pay off in the end...) and I FINISHED THE QUILT (top). Still very new to machine quilting (and with an inadequate machine) I sent the top out for utility quilting, and I still own it to this day and am very proud of it. Would never make one out of old clothes again though. This is a photo of it in our last house - the quilt on the bed. My bedroom did not normally look like this, I was amusing myself styling my quilt collection a la Laura Ashley on that day. Add back in about 50% clutter and you will form a more normal picture - and anyway we've moved since then.

As to whether quilting was passed down in the family - my mother always made a big deal out of how she couldn't even thread a sewing machine, and I never saw her sew anything, but apparently her grandmother was a major quilter. Sadly my only proof of this is a tattered scrap of my old cot quilt which she pieced for me, my mother doesn't know what happened to all the quilts her grandmother made.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Finished a block!

I finished my second March applique block. Yes, I know it is April 15th. That leaves me two weeks to get through my two April applique blocks so I had better get cracking. For some reason the pic has come out really dark, even with flash, so I have also included a detail shot which shows the real colours. These are acid greens and double pinks, really vintage colours, that I bought in Paducah in 2000. Most of the patterns are from 'Grandmother's Last Quilt'. I have about 8 different pinks and about 5 different greens.

My block packet arrived from the Sisters Outdoor Quilt show in Oregon. I am going in July and I asked to participate in the block contest. It is five psychedelic fabrics from Westminster Fibres, and you have to use them to make a 12 inch finished block of your choice. They will be judged and the winner gets a quilt made out of some of the blocks. Unused and unreturned blocks will go into a charity quilt, which is where I hope mine will go, so it is going to a good cause. I think I am going to do a spiderweb block.

Feedsack Knitting Bag - Instructions

The weather has been absolutely glorious here, so we went off for two nights of camping at our local campground. I took my knitting, the other tank top that I am knitting in the Colinette Giotto ribbon yarn, and decided that I am tired of keeping my knitting in a plastic bag (even if it is a lovely little Cath Kidston plastic bag that my new brolly came in). Inspired by the bags I saw in her shop in Covent Garden last weekend, I picked some really pretty Feedsack prints and made up my own knitting bag, sort of a riff on the Eleanor Burns vintage tote bag that I made a few weeks ago.

I plan to replace the cords, that was just some cotton yarn left over from my tank top which I could put my hands on quickly - would rather have some white cotton cord, like piping cord, will have to go to our local sewing shop to see if they have any. My one rather inspired idea was to sew a tape measure on the inside of the handle, for all those times when your knitting instructions say something like "knit four inches then bind off for neckline".

If you would like to make your own knitting bag, then here are some instructions. I am kicking myself for not taking pics as I was putting it together, but I was in a rush and also distracted because my sewing machine is making that d**n knocking noise again so I am going to have words with Repair Guy tomorrow. Oh, and the third box from my delivery turned up the next day, so we were really pleased and opened them all up yesterday (it was a set of garden furniture) and the table top is damaged and needs to be returned....and they aren't open on Saturdays so I couldn't complain to them. Never buy anything mail order from Robert Dyas.

Cutting List:

2 x outer sides - 15 1/2 " x 10 1/2"
1 bottom - 4 1/2" x 10 1/2"
1 handle - 2 1/2" x 15"
2 x lining pieces - 10 1/2" x 17"

To stiffen the bag, fuse medium fusible interfacing on all pieces except lining as follows:

Handle - fuse a one-inch wide strip of interfacing down the centre of the handle all along its length on wrong side.

Bottom - cut interfacing to same size and fuse on wrong side

Outer Sides - cut two pieces of interfacing 10 1/2" x 13" and fuse to wrong sides, so that two and a half inches of each side is left as bare fabric (this will form the cord casing and top frill of bag).


1) Handle. Fold handle in half lengthwise, right sides together, and sew 1/4-inch seam along long side. Centering seam on one side, sew across one end. Turn through and press, with seam centred on wrong side. Edge stitch along both long sides. Stitch a tape measure to the wrong side, over the seam, if desired, but leave about one inch free at the closed end for attaching later.

2) Button holes: On the 10 1/2" sides of Outer Sides, mark centres. You are going to make button holes 1/2" above where the fusible interfacing stops, centred on each side, parallel to the 10 1/2 inch edges of your outer side. I also fused a scrap of interfacing behind where my button hole was going to go. Your buttonhole has to be wide enough for your doubled cord to slide through easily.

3) Attaching handle: On one of the Outer Sides, pin the closed end of your handle, centred, level with the top of the fusible interfacing (so this will be about 1/2" below your buttonhole). Pin the raw end of the handle at the opposite end of the side piece, centred, and baste in position 1/8th from edge (so basting will be hidden in seam). Firmly stitch the closed end to the Outer Side - I sewed a little box and then sewed diagonally across the box.

4) Optional rick-rack: The unfused edge of your outer sides, above the button hole, will be the top of your bag. If desired, stitch rick-rack along this edge by stitching down the middle of the rick-rack so that your stitch line is 1/4" from edge.

5) Adding Sides to Bottom: Stitch outer sides to bottom piece with 1/4 inch seam, one to either side of bottom piece, catching in the raw end of the handle. I reinforced the stitching over the handle. Press seams.

6) Place a piece of lining right sides together over outer side, and stitch 1/4 inch seam along rick-rack edge of bag. Repeat on other outer side. You now have a long strip of fabric seamed together in this sequence: lining, outer side, bottom, outer side with handle, lining. Wouldn't this be easier to understand if I had taken a picture at this point?

7) To form the bag, fold your long strip in half, with the bottom as the half-way point, right sides together. Pin where seams match, e.g. the two bottom seams, and the two top seams (where the rick-rack is). Starting from bottom piece, stitch down one long side (using 1/4 inch seam), along the end of the two lining pieces, and back up the other long side finishing at the botton piece again, BUT (very important) leave a gap for turning in one long side of the lining pieces.

8) Before turning through, form the corners of your bag and lining by folding the side seam towards the bottom piece to make a triangle, and stitching across one and three-quarters inches above the corner. Repeat on lining. Do not trim until you have turned bag through and checked that you are happy.

9) Turn bag through the gap you left in lining, and push lining down into bag. If my instructions have made any sense, you now have a long cylinder which is closed at the bottom and lined inside. Check if you are happy with the corners you have sewn, then turn the bag inside out again and trim off the 'dog ears' of the triangles to reduce bulk. Turn right side out again, and stitch the gap in the lining closed (I just machined along the folded edge).

10) The last step is to form the casing for your cording. Press your bag, especially the top edge where your rick-rack should now be peeping out of your top seam. Find your button holes, and imagine that they are centred in a casing approximately 1/2 inch wide. A casing is basically a channel of stitching, so you will need to stitch all the way around your bag above the button hole, and all the way around your bag below the buttonhole, and the lines should be about 1/2 inch apart.

11) Insert your cord with a bodkin or safety pin. Go in one button hole, all the way around and out through the same button hole. Cut and knot. Repeat on opposite buttonhole. To close bag, pull on cords. Leave the cords long enough so that you can knot them together to lock the bag closed.

If I were going to make this bag again, I think it would look better if the top frill were longer, which would just be a case of making the 15 1/2 inch measurement a few inches longer, and leaving more than 2 1/2 inches unfused. Keep the buttonhole and casing in the same place, but you would have more 'frill' above the casing.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Delivery Hell

I spent most of today in Delivery Hell - you know, the terrible limbo where you think a delivery is coming but you have no idea when, so you don't dare stray out of earshot of the doorbell because you know the moment you set foot into the garden, or the attic, or the shower, will be the millisecond that they knock on the door before deciding you aren't home and leaving.

To compound my delivery hell, I also had two workmen in the house - they were supposed to arrive at 8:00 a.m. and actually showed up at 7:30 a.m. while I was still eating my breakfast. They didn't finish until 1:00 pm, during which time I felt I had to stay with earshot. I couldn't even go and sew, because I had to pack up most of my sewing room to clear the area in front of the bedroom windows, because that's what the workmen needed to get at. To pass the time, I tried to get through to the company who were supposed to be making the delivery, and found myself in a subsidiary annexe of delivery hell, which is automated telephone answering service hell. Press '2' if you are calling about a delivery, we're sorry all our operators are currently busy, press '1' if you want to hold (line goes dead) or '2' if you want to leave a message ("we're sorry, that mailbox is currently full and we can not take any more messages"). By 2:00 p.m. I was beginning to wonder if the delivery was even booked for today, when suddenly I was through to a Human Being! I was so shocked that I actually forgot how to speak for a moment and must have sounded like a right idiot. The Human Being was also surprised because she had been speaking to another customer when suddenly she lost them and got me instead. However, she was happy to look up my order number (I wonder how happy the other customer was though) and confirm that my delivery was booked for today, and would arrive sometime before 6:00 p.m. Yippee. Well, they finally turned up at 4:00 p.m., but just to show that they weren't giving in entirely, the delivery guy only brought two of the three boxes. When queried as to the whereabouts of the third box, he just looked at me cluelessly and suggested that it might turn up another day.

Meanwhile, I was making cheese. Yes, faced with interminable hours stuck in my own kitchen, I thought this was as good a time as any to tackle the cheese board Fimo kit that we received at the last dollshouse club meeting, the one with the really complicated instructions. Three hours later, after much mixing, baking, painting and varnishing, I have a 1/12th scale cheeseboard that I am rather pleased with.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Miss Lydia Pickett - dresser

This is the second of the monthly kits I am receiving as a member of the Miss Lydia Pickett Club being run by Judith of In Some Small Way (my first kit was the bed featured in my very first post). I am doing the kits in 1/24th scale (half an inch equals one foot in real life). I don’t know why, but I had a lot more trouble with this than with the bed kit.

The main part of it went together ok, but when I got to the drawers it all started to go wrong. I was using wood glue as an experiment because I thought it might be a stronger bond than tacky glue, but for some reason it just wasn’t ‘grabbing’ on the drawers, possibly because they go together with loads of notches around the edges (a bit unnecessary I think) so there isn’t much surface that is simply bonding together. The two big drawers went together ok, but the smaller drawers were a nightmare. The two sides look identical, but in fact there is a tiny difference in how the tabs are placed on the sides, so if you don’t get it right then the side protrudes slightly over and the end piece won’t go on. And of course I got it wrong almost every time. And the ends, which look identical – one is of slightly thinner wood than the other, and the notches in the sides seem to echo this difference in depth, so if you accidentally put the thick end into the thin notches, it protrudes as well. Meanwhile, as the glue wasn’t grabbing, the sides kept falling off… lots of frustration and glue going everywhere because the drawers are less than half an inch wide so really hard to get a grip on them. The final disaster was the picture frame which is included as an extra in the kit. You are supposed to glue the smaller frame onto the larger frame, using the alignment lines on the larger frame as a guide. Well I don’t know what happened, but when I lined up the smaller frame with the alignment lines at one end, it was nowhere near the alignment lines at the other end. And when I tried to scootch it along, the frame promptly snapped in about 5 different places because it is solid wood (not plywood) and incredibly fragile and thin, so it snapped across the grain. I glued it all back together but it looked pretty distorted - lots of sanding and painting later and it is passable.

The art work comes with the kit - I gave it one coat of sealer as recommended in the kit and then glued it on with a thin skim of tacky glue. I finished the dresser by 'antiquing' with a thin wash of Games Workshop Brown Ink, diluted with water, along all the crevices. I also had to do a fair amount of fiddling with the drawers to get them to slide in and out - I think they must have been a pretty exact fit before the paint went on, and even though I used a diluted coat of paint, it was enough to bring the grain up and make the drawers to large for the openings. I feel I didn't do a really great job on this dresser, and would say the level of difficulty for the kit is medium, certainly higher than for the bed. But it looks ok now, and I will keep my eyes open for a nice 1/24th boudoir set (hair brushes, mirrors, perfume bottles etc.) to finish it off with.

How to make a scalloped border

This is my finished tablerunner which started life as a Dresden Plate UFO cut from Liberty Lawn fabrics about 8 years ago. I have used the Easy Scallop tool by Darlene Zimmerman (made by EZ Quilting) to create the scalloped border. This is the second time I've used the tool, and I like the vintage look which it gives to the item.

Step one: trim the border to a consistent width - I have trimmed the flower fabric to 3.5 inches wide. Measure the length of the borders and decide how many scallops you want. My side length was 32.25 inches, and I decided on 5 scallops. Rounding up gives a scallop of 6.5 inches. My end borders are 13.5 inches, so I think I will get away with the 6.5 inch scallop on the ends as well.

Step two) Use the tool to mark the scallops along the border. The tool comes with instructions on how to mark. I find it helpful to run a line of marking tape from point to point across the scallop (just visible in photo) to give me a visual reference on whether I am holding the tool parallel to the border (otherwise I find it easy to start getting crooked). In the picture I am using the tool to round off the corner. Do not cut on the line you have marked - instead, run a line of hand-basting along the line to stabilise the edge.

Step three) using a quarter-inch seam, sew on your bias binding, aligning the raw edge with your marked line. Note that it must be bias binding, straight-of-grain binding will not work on the curved edges. At each inner point, pivot the work under the machine and stitch out of the point, ensuring that you don't stitch in any puckers. Ease the binding around the curves, don't stretch it or your quilt will not lie flat. I am using a commercial binding here as I found a bucket of forgotten binding at the back of my cupboard. The tool recommends starting the binding by pressing under 1/4 inch, then ending by overlapping the starting point by one inch and trimming at a diagonal. I find this does make a noticeable bump - on a bigger quilt I would join the conventional way with a diagonal seam.

Step four) Trim the border to the edge of your binding, ensuring that your inner points have a scant 1/4 inch seam allowance (no need to clip). I like to lightly steam press the binding outward from the quilt, I find this helps it to turn over the edge more easily. Turn the binding to the back, and hand-stitch it down. Finally, I give another light steam press to encourage the edge to lie flat. You are finished.!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Tank Top Pics

This is the tank top I've been working on, in Phildar Aviso which is a cotton/acrylic yarn. It fits pretty well, and I like the front detail where the ribbing on the armholes turns into the shoulder strap. This was a free pattern I found on the internet.

I am not so convinced by the back shaping, the ribbing makes it go a bit 'gathered' in the middle and I think the top part looks a bit like a super-hero costume. The original pattern was knit in ribbon yarn, so I suppose all of this detailing would have been less defined / more blurry than in this cotton yarn.

Anyway, it is quite cool and comfortable and I wore it around the house this afternoon. I took it off when I was working on my Miss Lydia Pickett 1/24th scale dresser kit, and put on old clothes in case I spilled glue/paint. The kit is looking pretty good, but I've had a few problems, will post a pic and commentary when I get it done. I've also been sewing the binding on my scalloped Dresden Plate tablerunner, and will post pics when that's done also. I've sewed a few more holly leaves on my second March applique block (guilt, guilt) and am very conscious that it's already the second week of April and I haven't even looked at the two applique blocks for April yet.

Tomorrow I need to find a box (will have to dump something out in the attic) to post my two quilt entries off to the Malvern quilt show - they have to arrive by 20th April. And I need to sew the entry labels on the back of them, then try to remove some of the cat hair and bearding to make them look a bit more presentable. I still don't know if I am going to get up to the show to see them hanging or not, it is about 3.5 hours away by train and I don't have a hotel booked or anything. I would like to go, haven't been back to that show for years. I don't enter shows very often, but when I do, I like to lurk around my quilt and eavesdrop on what people are saying about them, if anything. I probably look very suspicious, like some kind of stalker.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

144th scale Seaside Room Box

This is a picture of my finished 144th scale room box (about one inch high). This was a challenge on the MicroMinis group, and I purchased the box and kits from SDK Miniatures and really enjoyed putting them together. Gluing the skirt on the 144th scale chair was a bit fiddly to say the least, as I was glueing the skirt and the chair to everything in sight but not to each other. Fingers are just too big for this scale sometimes. The spider plant on the table is made from laser-cut individual leaves, which you paint, and then hold your breath while you cut the leaf (about the size of a small eyelash) away from the backing paper, then pick it up with tweezers and dip it into glue and stick into a bead. I managed to get a quilt on the bed even if only of printed paper.

We went up to London for a few nights as ds is off on a school trip. I took my new ball of Giotto ribbon yarn and managed to squeeze in several knitting episodes, even one where we were waiting for a delayed Underground train. It was so gorgeous on Good Friday that we went over to Regent's Park and hired a couple of deckchairs, and just sat in the sun in the late afternoon for a few hours, and I was knitting away watching the families in their hired rowboats out on the lake. We went to Borders (big American bookstore in London) where I drooled over the craft magazines, and spotted an ad for another London knitting shop called Loop at 41 Cross Street in Islington. So when my husband wanted to do a walking tour from his guidebook on Saturday, we went to....Islington!! It's another one-room knitting shop but with loads more stock and some really cool yarns, including several of the Blue Sky yarns from America. I fell in love with some knitted cushion covers done in chunky gorgeously soft yarn, quite simple, just stockinette stitch with a band of 1x1 ribbing across the pillow and a single button closure. I can do that! (like I need another new project).

The big treat for me was stopping into the Cath Kidston shop near Covent Garden - she specialises in flowery retro/vintage repro fabrics made up into all sorts of luscious must-have things like tote bags and potpourri sachets and pillow cases and towels and washcloths and handbags and table linens and I just wander around the shop with the drool running down my chin wishing I could win the lottery and buy every single thing she sells. I also feel guilty about wanting it, because I have lovely fabric in my stash and I could sew myself lovely shoe bags and laundry bags and totes and carry-ons and on and on (or I could just buy hers....) I did buy myself a lovely tiny little umbrella in a great red print to carry to work.

And when we got home, my new issue of Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting magazine had arrived, so I took that out into the garden and had a lovely lounge on the cushion set I sewed up last week while dh mowed the lawn [work, garden slave, faster! bring me grapes!]

Before we left, I placed an online order for 30 plastic magazine files from an office supply store. So when those arrive, I will be able to sort out the rest of my magazines in the attic, and also the considerable store of knitting magazines out in the machine knitting shed in the garden. The knitting magazines (mostly machine knitting) are in a terrible state as they have been hanging half out of deteriorating Ikea cardboard magazine holders for three years. I want to organise them more by category as well, like all the Baby stuff in one holder, and all the Garter Carriage stuff in another holder.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

How to get a reaction from your husband

In the normal way of things, my dh is supportive in a rather uninvolved way, I will show him things that I am making and he is usually politely complimentary, he likes that I make things but in general they are things that are not of much interest to him. Well, I safety-pinned together my blue cotton racer-back tank top that I have finished knitting, to check the fit, and being rather pleased with it, I showed it off to dh when he got home. I was gratified to see his eyes bulge out slightly and to win an entirely sincere and enthusiastic shower of compliments - however, this was not in tribute to my growing skill as a hand-knitter but rather his male appreciation of the fact that I must go bra-less because of the cut of the top. Hmm. Anyway, once I get it sewn together properly (sans the Elizabeth Hurley safety-pins) then I will post a [modest] pic. I think I may have to line the strategic areas - or start wearing pasties....

On the way home from work I went to visit a knitting shop in Vauxhall (London) called 'I Knit', which I had read about in the papers because they host pub-knitting events and 'knit-ins' on the London Underground trains. I didn't know what to expect, craft shops over here are generally much smaller than their American equivalents. This was a one-room shop, about the size of a living room, with limited stock of several yummy yarns. They do classes but all in the evenings so I can't go as I am out of London by then. I couldn't resist buying two hanks of this wonderful hand-dyed ribbon yarn called 'Giotto' from Colinette yarns, with the idea that I am going to re-knit the tank top pattern again. The gauge is quite different though, so I may run into problems trying to shape the back. As you can see I knit up a bit to see what the tension was like, I've never used ribbon yarn before and found it has more friction than the cotton or wool I've used before, which made it a bit more of an effort to form the stitches.

I'm almost finished my 144th scale room box. I've left the hardest thing for last - making a tiny spiderplant from a laser-cut kit to go on the table. I will take a better picture when it is all done. This room, furnished with laser-cut kits from SDK Miniatures, has been so much fun to do. It is about one-inch high. I love putting kits together and improving on them where I can.

I have been putting off testing out my Janome 6500 sewing machine to see if Repair Guy is right about the needle threader causing the knocking noise, I think because I have lost my confidence in the machine. It is going to take me a while to get over the worry that it is going to go wrong again. But I sat down today and finished off the quilting on the Dresden Plate Liberty Lawn UFO, and this picture shows it before it was washed (I always wash my quilts before binding, to let them 'wrinkle' up a bit and scootch up the quilting lines). The edges will be scalloped which is why the outside border is so wide.

I thought this was going to be another miniature quilt, like its sister Tumbler Quilt shown in a previous post, but when I laid out the four plates in a four-square set-up, it just looked so boring. I realised that what I really wanted was a tablerunner, as I would like to have several tablerunners to see me through the seasons. So I re-arranged the plates and it was much better and I was off. I love rootling through the stash trying out various fabrics - these are all Liberty Lawn fabrics and the backing is Liberty Lawn in a peacock feather print. I use a door-viewer (like what you look through to see who is knocking on your door) to distance myself from my project when I want to decide on fabric choices. The machine behaved itself fairly well, it started making the knocking noise once and jiggling the needlethreader seemed to have no effect, but then it stopped. This is going to get tiresome very quickly - I am not going to be stopping every 10 minutes to jiggle the needlethreader - if this keeps up, it is going back to the shop again. Lucky I paid for a five year extended warranty.

Instead of doing useful and practical things today, like paying bills, I have been distracted several times by such temptations as my next Miss Lydia Pickett 1/24th scale kit (for a dresser this time) arriving in the post, and also by assembling this Mother Goose book kit. It is just so sweet, and has full coloured pages with readable text and the original illustrations. It is a kit by Paper Minis and was the kit-of-the-month for my local dollshouse club that I went to last night. Well, it was actually the kit from last month, but I didn't want to do the kit for this month at club because it was for making a selection of cheese with Fimo (an oven-hardening modelling clay) and they didn't actually have an oven available so it was all a bit pointless. So I started the book instead and finished it off today.
Best wishes to all for a very happy Easter and hope your weather is as fantastic as ours here in London - 21 degrees Celsius today and all the spring flowers are out.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Repair Guy

Well, I spent some time on the phone today with Repair Guy at the sewing machine shop, who has now had my machine to work on twice, and I am expecting a third time as I describe to him the loud knocking noise that has once again stopped me from sewing on my Janome 6500. "Oh!", he says in a tone of mild surprise, "when it came up here last time I didn't have to do any work on it, it was only that the needle threader hadn't sprung back up to its highest position. I just pushed the threader up and it was fine, no more noise." Through gritted teeth I suggested that if he had put a note in with the machine to that effect, then I wouldn't have lost a weekend of sewing time. He agreed with me quite pleasantly, but Repair Guy obviously did not really care whether my sewing time had been interrupted. I have noticed this syndrome before, in other Repair Guys, they really don't get it how we sewers are emotionally bonded with our machines and how having them out of action is like losing an arm or something. Their other annoying tendency is, under close questioning as to why some problem is occurring, to suddenly reveal some previously unknown information about the machine in a voice like "this is completely obvious and I am bored to have to tell you something that everyone knows", then they come out with something that is nowhere to be found in the manual nor on any website. Like with a Husqvarna machine I owned once, no matter how I threaded it, it just kept making big loops like the tension disks were malfunctioning, and Husqvarna Repair Guy released the information to me that I needed to give a VERY firm tug to the thread after I had put it into the tension disks, to seat the thread in properly. Today, Janome Repair Guy, when questioned as to why my thread keeps catching inside the take-up lever area and snapping, reluctantly divulged that these high-speed semi-industrial machines have a little spring in the take-up lever to keep the thread in the arm of the lever, and if you don't tug firmly on the thread to snap it into that little spring, then you might have problems. Well thank you very much, why couldn't you have told me that after the first service when I reported the take-up lever issue as one of my problems? Of course I did not say this out loud, because you never know when you will need to be on the good side of Repair Guy.

And when I got home, pushing my needlethreader up or down seems to have no effect on the knocking noise although it did stop and start a few times. I reserve judgement. I need to do some proper sewing to test it out and I don't have time today.

I did have time, however, to strain my eyes making a tiny pillow for my tiny little bed for my 144th scale roombox, with a tiny little scrap of lace on it, and a tiny chair with a tiny ruffle - and there went another hour and a half. For an end product which would vanish instantly if I happened to sneeze. Maybe crafters are all mad... (It was so fun though!)

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Getting ready for summer

This is what I have sewn today, a set of bench cushions for our garden swing. Had to use the alternate sewing machine, which is ok for this kind of work. We went to a new place to get the foam cut, turned out it was in a really grotty industrial park, the kind that looks like it used to be an old auto yard in the 30s. DH didn't even want to drive into it, it looked so unappealing. But sure enough, around the corner was 'Fabric Warehouse', which turned out to be an absolute Aladdin's Cave on two floors of the most incredible upholstery and drapery fabrics. They had lots on sale for £2 per metre, so I chose this fabric as suitable for the garden and not likely to show the dirt. They also had a big bin of the most marvelous scraps from which you could help yourself in return for a donation to charity, so I bagged several pieces of velvet which will make ideal dollshouse carpeting. I will share with my two dollshouse friends who come round and do dollshouse work at my house once a month.

I've started building the teeny tiny furniture for the room box I finished (in last posting). Because of putting in the extra window, I don't have so much room for arranging furniture, will have to think on this one. I don't want to put anything in the way visually to block the view of the French doors because they are the real feature in this box, but that pretty much removes the whole corner of the room from use.

I've finished tidying the attic, and feel very proud of myself because I even went out and tidied up my machine knitting shed and got rid of loads of part-cones of yarn I am never going to use, plus several books and a bunch of rubbish, so it all looks a lot better out there now. I am giving a bag of mixed mohair/synthetic to the charity shop because I will never use it, but also found a bag of lovely sky blue mohair that I had forgotten about so now I am happy.

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