Test pieces, samplers and muddy paw stitches…….

flower embroidery

 

More floral embroidery…..this was a sampler/test stitch piece from the Autumn when I was having a little play around with some old embroidery motifs.  The wool fabric is just an old piece of wool blanket, a left over from cutting out stockings and tea cosies…..

The threads used are just little pieces of tapestry wool left over from making the grannies paperweight blanket (I’m such a hoarder, I really hate throwing things out and try to find uses for every last scrap of fabric or tiny tail of wool)

 

selection of vintage needles

 

Small lengths of wool are folded in half and half again, then gently knotted in the middle and made into tiny skeins, then put in a tin out of the way…they’re often just the right amount to try out a few stitches (depending on the stitch pattern) and it saves me using longer lengths of the vintage wool I prefer to embroider with.

Most of this wool is tapestry wool but I also like to embroider with vintage crewel and Persian wool (that’s the tapestry wool which is 3 strands loosely twiddled together…you can use it as 1, 2, or 3 ply, and it comes in cut lengths or skeins). Both are good for detail work such as adding highlights to a flower petal.

 

tiny wooly skeins

 

Along with preferring the vintage wools I also like to use vintage needles for much of my embroidery, this is just a selection of my needle collection……the needles from way back when just seem to be of a better quality and they keep their sharpness much better then modern day needles. (they also have the prettiest little packets)……I always check needles of this era before I buy them when I can (there’s nothing worse than lovely needles all gone rusty…and if you try to sew with them the rust comes off on your fabric) however if they have just a tiny fleck of rust I find it generally will come off if you gently rub along the rusty bit with some ultra fine black glass paper.  It removes the nice shine but they still sew beautifully.

Often the “sharps” or very fine needles from yesteryear are much skinnier than modern needles and make stitching over papers (when you are patch working in the English way) much easier.  Being so fine they seem to skim over the paper and only catch the fabric.

When I’m embroidering over old blanket fabric with tapestry and crewel wools then my all time favourite needles to use are the crewel embroidery needles made by Kirby’s of London…..they’re quite short and much thinner than a regular tapestry needle….they’re also nice and sharp and just slide through the fabric.

 

floral sampler

 

This is my most recent tester, I was inspired by all the snowdrops that I’m seeing shooting up everywhere, (along with snowdrops I’m seeing tiny purple shoots of crocuses and bright yellow celandine….it may still be proper chilly out but the first signs of Spring are certainly showing) ….I like making little samplers, trying out stitches, if the stitches are wonky or turn out odd then it’s not a problem, I can try out different thickness’s of wool to see which suits a particular stitch better……….

 

flower samples

 

 

The tiny clusters of figure 8 knot (or French knots) are a shared joke between me and Bernard (he’s been coming in with the muddiest little toes you can imagine, and it seems every time I into the kitchen to make a pot of tea then I’m greeted by a set of dirty cat prints across the floor.  A bonus for me when I’m sitting here embroidering is having the boy come up to see me, supervise which wool I’m using, and then he’ll either nest in amongst any on the floor…it all gets tipped out next to where I’m working…or he’ll jump up on my lap and cuddle himself down, often with his chin resting on the edge of my work table.

Whenever I visit a textile collection I’m sure to make a beeline to see any samplers on display, the skill of the little girls who embroidered them always amazes me……I’d like to make my own but I’m really trying very hard to not start any new projects until I’ve caught up and finished any stray wip’s.  But I don’t count these test pieces as something new, instead they help me unwind a bit between projects, and shake out any tangles in design compositions….. (I often find that what looks good on paper or in my head can look quite pants in reality, and then when I’m just playing about, doodling almost, a new idea can happen and it will look fine.)

 

Update….

more often than not this is how I make my French knots….not a true French knot but it’s nice and plump and I don’t think anyone can tell the difference

Sunshine and sparkles in a tin…….

tin and sewing needles

 

Whenever I’m in town I always like to pop into a couple of charity shops.  Norwich is a bit of mecca for Charity shops…..a lot have been overhauled and tarted up so are very different to their Jumble sale pickliness of former days…..and along with Charity shops, there are lots of Junk shops and Antique markets (the sort of place my dad would have said were “full of old truck”….but as I’m an “old truck” loving girl this means I’m often in them having a nose around and seeing what I can find….)

I found these vintage needles in one of the antique markets, the Kirby needles are brilliant, very sharp crewel embroidery needles which are about 4 1/2 cms long so a perfect size and which seem to be impossible to buy new (they all seem far to long for me to work with comfortably….I’ve gotten too used to sewing with tiny quilting needles.) The other packet of needles are a selection of “betweens”, the smallest being just under an inch and impossibly skinny.  Again they are so sharp, and no rust so was very happy.

The other week I found this little tin, I could hear something inside it so opened it really carefully and I’m glad I did….

 

open box of sequins

 

Inside were lots of bright and sparkly sequins, really tiny ones and most look and feel like they are old ones (not so plasticy and flimsy as modern ones)…lifting the lid was like finding the sunshine of Summer in a little tin……not really sure what I’ll do with them yet, I don’t use a lot of sequins in my work but I’ve already been thinking of new things to make for the coming Winter’s Christmas fairs and vintage sequins may well work in with those designs very well.

 

Needle case sets and posting over seas……..

blue sewing set

 

Yesterday I finally listed some needle cases and pin cushions I’ve been sewing over the last few weeks into my Folksy shop.  As well as separate needle cases and pin cushions,  I’ve also listed a few of them as little sets.

 

pink sewing set

 

Some of the cases seemed to compliment the pin cushions particularly well, even thought the fabric choices were all rather random and somewhat higgledy piggledy.  I’ve used fabric from my scrap bags and boxes and so the same prints turn up on a couple of different pieces.

 

group of pin cushions

 

The patchwork pin cushions have been entirely hand sewn, the patchwork is pieced using the traditional paper piecing method, and under the patchwork top I’ve sewn some quilt wadding, this helps give us some support to the the patchwork but also stops the pin cushion looking lumpy and bumpy (or the back of my thighs) once it’s stuffed.  Rather than white fluffy toy stuffing, the pin cushions are filled with tiny cut up scraps of fabric which make for a denser filling, and hopefully prevents the pins from going right through the cushion.

 

inside case of pink sewing set

 

The inners of the needle case are made from vintage wool blanket which has been slightly felted, and then I’ve carefully blanket stitched by hand around the edge of the wool fabric to prevent any possible fraying.  The inners are perfect for all types of needle (skinny sharps and robust darners both stay put) and the covers are made with some quilt wadding.  (when I’m being a bit slap dash i have even used a closed needle case as a make shift pin cushion as they’re nice and fat)

 

floral sewing set

 

 

Along with sewing and embroidering needle cases and pin cushions, I’m also working on some Christmas stocking commissions including a commission from Norway.

And I’ve also had an enquiry asking if I  post items from my Folksy shop overseas…..at the moment I only post in the UK however if you contact me and let me know what you want, I can make a Folksy listing just for you and arrange which postage you prefer.

Basically when I went to the post office yesterday the postage on the order for Norway* was £5 for regular airmail, or £12.00 for International signed for, this service includes compensation if the item doesn’t arrive.  I appreciate it’s a bit of a difference in price and am happy to let you decide which option you prefer.  Both services have a generous weight allowance.

*This is the postage rate on the item weighed to Norway, the price varies from country to country and obviously also on the weight being sent.  If you have any questions or queries then please don’t hesitate to get to in touch.

 

 

Pins and needles….

group of small needlecases

 

Finally I’ve finished sewing the little needle cases, and have just listed them in my Folksy shop.  I’m really pleased with how these have turned out, even if they did seem to take me forever and a day to sew and embroider.

 

blue floral fabric needlecase

 

I’ve sewn the patchwork on one of my sewing machines (a rather elderly darling called Dorothy, however she’s still beautiful and sews a nice neat little stitch) and have then hand embroidered using a selection of vintage silks and threads, a scattering of tiny floral motifs over the patchwork.

The flowers are pretty random where they fall, there isn’t really a pattern to them.  I always find machine sewn patchwork a little harsh, (though appreciate this is just something that is peculiar to me) and thought the embroidery softened those seams and edges.

 

selection of needlecases

 

I’ve tried to use an assortment of fabrics, mixing lovely vintage pieces with small scraps of modern reproduction cottons.

Once the patchwork was all sewn together, I gently soaked the covers in a tea bath to soften off any harsher prints.  (surprisingly some of the vintage silks I have for embroidery are a very intense and bright hue…..I’ve got some incredibly colourful little silk twists of blue,mustard,gold, red, and a green so bright it almost smells of freshly mown grass)

 

cream blanket inner needlecase

 

Inside, the lining cotton is also given a tea bath.  For the needle case inners I like to use a piece of vintage wool blanket.  These have all been slightly felted and then by hand, I’ve carefully blanket stitched around the edge to prevent any fraying that could occur.

These are perfect for all sizes of needle, from those tiny skinny betweens and straights to the more robust and chunkier darning and wool needles.

 

a needle case for me

 

After all my hard work I felt I deserved a treat so this one is for me…. to be honest I wasn’t so happy with the embroidery on it, I thought it was a bit on the heavy side so have given it a new home myself (I have more little needle cases ferreted around my studio than you can shake a stick at)

 

embroidered pin cushions

 

Along with the needle-cases I’ve also gotten round to listing the pin cushions I made a few weeks back.

 

 

 

 

Sylvia’s button tin….

button tin

 

I’ve mentioned my friend Sylvia before, she’s a lovely elderly lady who over the last couple of years, has given me umpteen sewing and fabric treasures. Beautiful fifties and sixties fabrics and ribbons, old lace and sewing notions…one particularly big tin was full of tiny tins..each filled with vintage beads and sequins……

There was also a huge bag of buttons and in the bottom of that was another bag (it’s a bit like opening Russian dolls receiving presents from her) full of buttons carefully sewn on to cards.

Most of these are pretty old, and a lot of the carded ones are vintage glass buttons…. inspiration indeed to start on some fancy frocks for next year.

 

yellow buttons

 

My favourites are these lovely yellow buttons, the ones on the left are flower shaped (I think they are pansies) and are a clear plastic.  They’re a very nice mustardy yellow.

 

apricot and blue buttons

 

Some of my other favourites are these blue buttons, they’re clear plastic,with flower shapes in the centre, and then these apricot pink buttons, the colour is just perfect.

I’ve used loose vintage buttons on things a lot in the past, but I don’t tend to chop up cards of buttons unless it’s to replace some particularly grotty ones on a shop bought item. However these ones are so nice I’d really like to use them and get to wear them (rather than have them sit and a box and not get looked at) so I’m sketching out plans for some frocks where they’d be the stars.

Lavenders blue dilly dilly …….

lavender embroidery up close

 

As much as I like Autumn (sun shining on mustard and orange leaves, the smell of bonfires, buying roast chestnuts and eating them on the way home from town…) I’m not in the least bit keen on grey and dismal days, when the sky is overcast and the light is gloomy……so I’m trying to recapture those warm sunny days that were Summer by embroidering some sprigs of lavender…. reminding myself of those nice mornings when I was sitting on my back door step eating breakfast to the soft drone of bees, and smelling the lavender from the little bush we have growing hear the doorway ………

It’s not quite as relaxing as it would appear though as I have to use a hoop to hold the blanket tight but inevitably the hoop pops up after a few minutes (though in the grand scheme of things this isn’t the end of the world, just a minor grumble)  In the past I’ve tried using a quilting hoop but that was too big…grrr I wish someone would make an embroidery hoop which was as chunky as a quilt hoop but only 6 inches across, it would make my life a whole lot easier.

 

lavender embroidery

 

These were some peg bags that I made for the Glory Days Christmas Fair in Holt last weekend.  I like all the different shades that the lavender comes in, each plant has it’s own subtle variations in colour and hue, and I’ve tried to reflect that in my embroidery.

This embroidery hoop is proper old one, it has a lovely flat ended screw so it’s a lot easier to turn and keep tight around the blanket.  I much prefer to use them than the newer ones, although the ones I have aren’t very wide.

 

lavender peg pag

 

Each peg bag has an array of little sprigs scattered over the front.

In the past I’ve made lavender bags with sprigs embroidered in silks, they felt lovely to run my fingertips over.  The wool embroidery is more bumpy but still textured.

When I was small I’d wrinkle my nose up when elderly relatives made things from lavender, and for many years it’s something I’ve associated with little old ladies…. but then when I was in my twenties I started to really like it…..maybe it’s an age thing…..I’m also a fan of Werther’s Originals and flower centred chocolates*

But it’s not just me, rather than cat nip toys, Bernard has a lavender filled bunny he cuddles when he’s napping on the nana chair (one time he knocked over a huge kilo bag of dried lavender and then rolled in it……he smelt lovely but lavender ended up all over the house).

 

detail of lavender

 

 

Mostly I use vintage wools but every so often I run out of a particular shade and have to replace it with a newly purchased thread.  I’ve used a combination of stem stitch and single chain stitch (also called lazy daisy).

Whenever I’m embroidering Lavender I find myself humming this tune, (this version is by one of my favourite singers Jackie Oates…her voice is so beautiful it makes me tingle in the nicest way)

I’ll be listing some peg bags in my folksy shop in the next few days.

 

Particular pin-cushions sewn by a proper old fusspot

embroidered pin cushions

I’ve been working on some new sewing pieces for my folksy shop in time for Christmas, these are a few of the pin cushions I’ll be listing shortly.  I took some with me to the Glory Days Christmas Fair on Saturday and was receiving lots of compliments on tiny stitches etc….I laugh because I know I’m a proper old fuss pot, and really am the first to admit it, if I’m not happy with what I’ve made then I’ll unpick it until it is just so.  Someone kindly said “oh that’s not being fussy, it’s just being particular”, which I liked very much, so a big thank you to the gentleman who told me that.

pin cushion backs

Anyway, I thought I’d let you decide for yourself whether I’m particular or just an old fuss pot………the yellow and green hexagons were some old pieces of patchwork I bought the other year from an antique shop, to be honest they weren’t sewn together very well, so I unpicked them and then arranged them into yellow flowers and green flowers.  Once the pieces are sewn together I then like to sew in a piece of quilt wadding a little bit smaller than the “flower” formed by the joined hexagons.

joining two halfs

The fronts are embroidered with various vintage threads and silks.  And the I’ve lined them with a piece of quilt wadding.  Basically I hate lumpy bumpy pin-cushions, they remind me far too much of varicose veins and other un-slightly lumps, so sewing the wadding on the back creates a much smoother and rounded pin-cushion.

The little red clips are the perfectly named Wonder Clips” by Clover.  They kindly sent me the hugest box of them you ever did see and they are perfect for fiddly things like this.  They hold the patchwork pieces fantastically tight, and there are no sharp pins to poke your fingers.

The edges are sewn together until there is a little pocket opening, and then it’s time to play “stuffing the Christmas goose”……*

stuffing

This is what I use for stuffing …….every single little snippet of wool blanket that gets left over from Christmas Stockings, hot water bottles, tea cosies gets chopped up small and makes the best filling ever…..I also use pieces of lining fabric, quilt wadding, tiny pieces of cotton that are too small to use in patchwork, woolly tails and strands of cotton…it all goes into the mix.  (it’s a bit like making Christmas mincemeat, or a chutney….) There are even some teeny tiny pieces of Harris Tweed from Ruby’s coat, too small to use but ideal for stuffing.

I use this for all my pin cushions, and I use it for stuffing when I’ve made my nieces and Saski and Hania in Norway bunny toys (huge kisses being blown to you all).  It also makes the best cushion stuffing, because you can plump up your cushion which you can’t do with the synthetic inserts.

hexagon pin cushions

I like to really stuff my pin cushions so they are fat and plump (and also all that stuffing helps stop pins being able to poke all the way through)……finally I just sew up the last couple of sides, and then give them a few squeezes so they form a nice shape.

yeah….I’m fussy.

I love hand piecing hexagons, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it makes me very happy to sit and fold the fabric over and then piece a big box of them together…..one of my favourite pieces I made was this hexagon notebook cover for my eldest sister.

* at Christmas we have a chestnut and mushroom wellington with veggies rather than anything with feathers and a face.

Harris Tweed for Ruby…….

harris tweed for ruby

 

I’m currently in the middle of sewing an Autumn/Winter coat for a beautiful King Charles Spaniel called Ruby.  I’ve already made her a couple of lightweight coats for cooler weather but this is more for proper cold mornings and frosty evening walks.

I’m using some Harris Tweed (it comes with an authenticity label which will be sewn to the lining to show all and sundry how spoilt she is)….  the tweed comes from Butt of Lewis (Ruby’s owners chose Harris Tweed 228…it’s a gorgeous blend of soft grey, cream, orange, chestnut and charcoal…perfect colours for Autumn)…

I sorted through the button box to find some suitably matching vintage buttons, we decided on these lovely brown buttons.  I call them “grand-pa buttons” as they are always on grand-pa cardigans.  It’s going to be a little bit Sherlock Holmes, a little bit Miss Marple.  Finally, a few reels of vintage sewing thread for any hand sewing and top stitching…(rust red, golden cinnamon and harvest)

While I was pinning and tacking it yesterday, I couldn’t believe how warm and cosy my lap felt, I can understand why people in large cold stately houses favoured Harris Tweed for trousers, skirts and jackets.  It’s also lovely and soft to handle.

Once I’ve finished Ruby’s coat I’ve got a huge stack of pieces to finish in time for the Glory Days Christmas Fair in Holt in two Saturdays time…. it’s at Holt Village Hall on the 1st November.  I’ll be bringing lots of hot water bottle cosies, some hand sewn baby quilts and a huge range of Christmas stockings along with some smaller items I’ve been making over the summer and that have been inspired by my marshy meanderings.

 

sewing box

 

Last week when I was having a look round the charity shops I found this little beauty, it was under a fiver and needed a bit of tlc (the lid was hanging off and the braid edging was all unravelling but I knew those were both fixable)  I’ve seen some some sewing boxes that were a lot more money and not half so nice so felt it was a worth while purchase.

 

sewing box bric a brac

 

Also inside was a bounty of sewing treasure…lovely old wooden reels with lots of thread, vintage fasteners, buttons, a box of tiny pins…….

 

darning mushroom

 

And best of all the treasures inside was this marvellous mushroom (I have a particular fondness for darning mushrooms) this one is brilliant, the bottom un-wiggles to reveal a wooden bobbin for your darning wool, and a little mushroom-esque cap which pulled out to reveal a selection of darning needles.  I love little sewing pieces like this which open and reveal tiny compartments to keep things neat and tidy.

 

How to make a big and beefy tailor’s ham….

hammy 041

One of the first things I learnt to sew  when I was at college was a tailor’s ham, they are super easy to make and are a brilliant way to use up tiny scraps of fabric for a sturdy stuffing.

If you sew your own clothes then you’ll find one invaluable for when you are pressing the seams.

I’ve made mine from a piece of vintage wool blanket fabric and an old cotton pillowcase.

hammy 007

Start off by drawing an avocado pear shape on a piece of paper.

hammy 003

It needs to be about 10 inches wide and about 15 inches long.  This includes a half inch seam allowance.  (you can make it smaller if you like but I prefer my hams to be on the big and beefy side)

hammy 011

Using some weights (I bought some large washers from a local iron-mongers.. they were about 20p each and were much cheaper than buying fabric weights), place the pattern on the fabric, trace around with tailors chalk .

Cut one piece from the wool fabric and two shapes from the cotton.  I find having two layers of cotton stops it looking all lumpy once it is stuffed.

hammy 017

Save your fabric offcuts as you will be using these (and more of the same) to stuff your ham.

hammy 018

Lay the pieces of fabric on top of each other and pin them all together.

Allow yourself a half inch seam allowance and sew the three pieces together , leaving a gap large enough to put your hand in along one side.

hammy 026

Snip out tiny pieces all the way around your sewn edge, taking care not to sew through the stitched edge.

I was lucky enough to have a pair of Merchant and Mills button hole scissors as one of my Christmas presents and these are just so brilliant for cutting fabric notches.  (The scissor blades are quite small and help you not to get carried away and accidentally cut through your stitches)

hammy 030

Turn the shape right side out and pin along the two sides of the opening you’ve left.  To stop pricking your hands, tack the sides down with a running stitch.

Then stuff your ham with any cotton or wool  fabric scraps.  Scraps need to be cut quite small and need to be natural fibres (this is a pressing ham and regular toy stuffing will melt when you are using a hot iron).  Stuffing the ham feels a bit like being James Herriot (in reverse).

hammy 034

Once the ham is completely stuffed to the gills (it takes a lot of stuffing, so every so often, give the stuffing a good push and then just keep adding more scraps), bring the two sides together and pin them together.  Using an ivory coloured cotton and a good sharp needle, sew the sides together.

hammy 037

Plump the ham a few times, you can be quite rough with it.  After a few good bashes the stuffing settles nicely and you will have a beautiful, firm tailor’s ham.