Cat and rabbits and pink silky cheeks all embroidered by hand…..

grey-bunny

I’ve mentioned my friend Sasha on my blog a few times now, I love her colourful creations and happily pile up empty chairs or sofas around the house with her handmade cats and rabbits…. walking into a room full of these never fails to brighten up my morning and it’s only because our house is quite small that I don’t have more of them…(I’ve even got them in the bedroom and my work room too)……

Each creature is completely unique so is a real treasure as Sasha makes them by hand using vintage fabrics from all over the place, more often than not there’ll be just enough fabric for one lone toy….which was the case with this lovely rabbit, the soft grey corduroy is so fine and she said it was a handful of scraps, but just enough to make a face, paws and feet…..

bunny-close-up

What I’m so excited about is that finally you can contact Sasha online…..she doesn’t have an online shop (yet) but does at least have a facebook page where there are photos of a small selection of some of her amazing makes, and you can contact her directly there….previously it was just a case of finding her at a few random craft fairs throughout the year so I think this will be much easier if you’re interesting in buying one of her beautiful creatures.

This lovely grey bunny is one of her very latest makes and I would happily have given her a home.  I love those delicate doiley cheeks and the hand stitched floral ears…..

Bernard and his friends

Like I say, I already do have a fair few of Sasha’s beautiful creations….and as you can see I’m not the only fan of her work in our house…….this is one of our sofas.  When we have guests I quickly lug all of these upstairs so there is room to sit as it’s a bit rude to expect people to sit on the carpet….the orange cat is huge, he’s about 4ft something tall.  He was one of Sasha’s very early makes but I think he’s great…there are also toys on here that I’ve had since I was right little, and a much loved elderly auntie knitted the bear in the orange dress (she even has lacy edged knickers on)….from time to time Bernard decides to cuddle down amongst them, he’ll throw a few on the floor to make room for himself and then just sprawl out quite happy….and often a good bit of time goes by before I realize where he is.

sashas bunny 004

Another favourite from my personal collection is this gorgeous rabbit, she’s so glamourous.  When Sasha first showed me her I just fell in love…..Her little fur jacket is a vintage dolls coat…I always think she looks like she’s off to a fabulous party where it will be just full of amazing people….she’s quite large, a good two foot as she’s got quite long legs….she also makes me think of music hall girls with those pink silky cheeks.

All the face details are carefully embroidered with antique silk floss and vintage threads, in the past Sasha used to use lovely old buttons for eyes but I think she even embroiders those nowadays too……

sasha toys 002

And these are some other toys she made from a few years back, they all live upstairs and keep me company when I’m sewing….it’s been really amazing seeing Sasha’s style evolve slowly over time, I know she always laughs when she sees some of her earlier toys on display here but I thik they’re brilliant.

All of her creatures are made by hand and more often than not are dressed in vintage doll’s clothes or are wrapped in delicate scraps of antique doileys or cloth.  Sasha doesn’t really do bespoke or custom pieces to order as the fabric she carefully chooses to use to sew the toys is already very unique as it’s been brought from flea markets and brocantes, antiquey type shops and carboots and it’s pretty much impossible to then make doubles of anything made…..sometimes her toys come with beautiful vintage accessories like painted beds or prams but sadly she says these are becoming much harder for her to source.

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My most favourite toy she’s ever made though is my darling Miss Enid……in part because she was a present from my boyfriend but I also know Bernard adores her….if we ever had a fire Bernard would be tucked under one arm and Miss Enid the other….I love it when he  snuggles up with his head in her lap, all purrs and contentment.

I hope you’ll pop over and say hi to Sasha, and have a gander at her beautiful makes.  As well as cats and rabbits she also makes ribbon cloud mobiles and very pretty bunting which would be ideal if you are decorating a nursery or bedroom and want that vintage aesthetic…she also makes the most incredible swan cushions but I’m not sure if she has any of those left for sale.

 

 

 

 

 

time softened and sun faded roly poly needle wraps

wool for autumn scarf

I love old fabric, all time softened and a bit sun faded, it always conjures up memories and stories when it’s hand me downed or even found in a dusty box in a charity shop or car boot when I then get to wondering who did this belong to, what did they do…..some of the most treasured fabric I own is pieces of a pink and white sheet that belonged to our Nanny C, and some fantastic red and white fabric that originally was a chair cover belonging to my dear Joyce’s mum……I’ve bought familiar looking curtains not quite being able to place them, to be told later by my mum they are the same as the ones that hung in my bedroom when I was little…..everytime I look at these fabrics I can’t but help remember moments and times spent with people I’ve loved…

Other special fabric has been gifted by friends old and new, and while I could keep this all stored away and kept for best or fancy, I much prefer to use it, to be able to see and handle it day to day when I’m sewing or knitting….looking up from a sewing a tricksy hem or sighing when I’m having to un-knit a row (or two or three) when I’ve not followed  a pattern properly, my eyes can rest on these familar fabrics and a little wave of reassurance and comfort helps to make me feel calm again.

A few years ago I made some knitting needle rolls for some beautiful wooden Brittany needles from my boyfriend’s mum and dad, the needles are really special and every time I use them I think of Kathy and Phil, and wanted the fabric in the roll to be equally dear to my heart.

inside floral needle wrap

Now I’m knitting with different styles of needle, double pointed ones which look like you could have someone’s eye out with if you’re not careful and ones where you can change the tip size to the length of cable,  I thought it was about time I made some rolls and wraps to keep all these new types of needle safe and in one place.

While I was making the rolls and wraps for myself I was thinking about some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to this year, namely the Shiny bees one…often when Jo aks the people that she interviews who it was taught them to knit they reply it was a granny, nanny, elderly relative or their mum and I began thinking how I love seeing the fabric that is special to me when I’m working….. while Nanny C could knit (she’d knit brightly coloured little squares that a neighbour would sew together into blankets for the local old people’s home….Nanny C was still doing this in her early eighties) I don’t remember her ever showing me how to, or if she did I was pretty bad at it….a great aunt did try to teach me but my hands were always hot and sticky, and the stitches would get tighter and tighter, painfully squeeking as they pulled over the needles and dear Joyce was always out in her garden to bother about knitting or sewing …..so while when I knit and am quiet I’m not quite remembering them teaching me to knit and purl and pass one over, the fabric wraps are familar prints and textures and helps recall the laughter and chat, cups of tea and tins of biscuuits I associate with them.

textured floral needle roll

As well as making wraps for my own ever increasing collection of needles, I’ve also made a few for my Folksy shop….at the moment there are two styles….the first one is designed for those pointy and pokey double tipped needles….they have two rows of pockets inside and are long enough so they’ll fit needles up to 20 cm.  They also have a wide space in front where you can tuck in a needle gauge and the pockets at the other end are sewn shallower so you can store your cable needles in them and they won’t slip all the way down.  These will also fit skinny types of crochet hook such as the Brittany ones.

When you want to store your needle roll away, it rolls up like a jam roly poly and is kept secure with either a length of velvet ribbon or a piece of vintage leather thonging.

long needlewrap b inside detail

The other design is a longer needle wrap and these are made with a front pocket that has been divided into lots of sections where there is room to store your different needle tips as well as a needle gauge. The three far right spaces are a bit shallower and are designed to store your cable needles.  The wrap is deep enough that there is also room for short needles (for lace shawl edgings) or the odd crochet hook.

The two pocket lengths behind are divided into three so there is plenty of room to store loose cables.

long needle wrap b closed

The wraps fold over on themselves and keep all tucked up and secure with either a length of velvet ribbon or a piece of vintage leather thonging.

Both designs of wrap have long flaps inside that cover all the needles so stop anything from flying out or getting lost in your bag.

I’ve really enjoyed making the needle wraps as sewing is very much my first love and it’s been nice to incorporate my interest in knitting with fabric and thread.

long needle wrap a detail

As well as the ones listed in my Folksy shop I’m more than happy to work on bespoke wraps and rolls to fit your own particular needle requirements and with your own fabric if you have some that holds a special place in your heart.

In the past I’ve made memory quilts which were pretty special to sew and I guess these are a bit like that…..

I’m currently working on a few more styles which I hope will be ready to appear in the shop over the next week or so along with a couple of designs for project/workshop bags and pockets.

Vintage sewing reads from the charity shop……

McCalls sewing book

After having both my head and heart proper turned over the past some months by the joys of knitting, the last few days have seen me pottering about in my work room, mostly it’s involved tidying up, sorting out, but there’s also been some sewing…..One area of tidying that needed to be taken in hand were my needlework books, they’d started to spread out around the house, a small pile here, another few there… so I tried to gather them up all into one place…there’s been a couple of new additions to the sewing reference library, they’re all oldies but goldies.

On Friday I saw 3 different editions in just one charity shop of this classic, it’s such a great book and was one of the very first sewing books I ever bought. There’s a few different printings but it’s pretty much the same information inside each time. It’s a really great book for beginners and it also has plenty of information for more confident sewers too.  As well as explaining how to draft (draw up and design) a pattern it then explains how the garment is put together, with chapters covering pockets, collars and a a very thorough easy to follow section on button-holes.

Clothes by Margaret G Butler

A little while back  I bought the More Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray, I’d already bought the Dress Pattern Designing book by her years ago and had been on the look out for the sequel ever since but it’s one of those books that is hard to find or is really expensive…I must confess to a squeal of happy when I spotted it on the shelf of a local charity shop, an absolute bargain at £1.99…….it might seem a bit daunting to a beginner at first look but it’s certainly worth buying it if you see it cheap… all Natalie Bray’s books are so well written and as they were first written in the sixties there’s plenty of “vintage” lines/shapes to the pattern drafting.

Possibly a more easy to follow book for a beginner is Clothes by Margaret G Butler…(this is a 1975 copy) inside it’s full of helpful information about fabrics, threads, patterns, how to cut out, how to lay patterns on fabric….the chapter on zips and buttonholes is especially well written and has plenty of clearly drawn illustrations with easy to follow instructions….it’s handy to have if you’re working from a commercial pattern and aren’t really sure of some of the techniques…there is also a nice section at the back of the book about how to care for your clothes including laundering and repairs.  There’s no photos  so it doesn’t feel dated and the information inside is very sound.

vintage needlecraft books

Another two recent purchases (both bought for less than a posh coffee) was Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book and Complete Needlecraft by Agnes M Miall.

The Mary Thomas book is such a wealth of embroidery know how, it dates from 1936.  The subject headings contain a bit of back ground information including some history and then the instructions on how to work the type of embroidery (it also includes quilting, patchwork and smocking) are very clear and easy to follow….there aren’t many photographs but it has lots of clean and well drawn illustrations.

Complete Needlecraft covers a much wider range of needlecrafts (including dressmaking, repairs, knitting and crochet) and has quite a lot of photographs (including a rather scary looking crochet bra) but no drawn illustrations. The copyright is 1945 and has a Book Production War Economy Standard brand inside, however it doesn’t read as make do and mend book in the slightest as there are suggestions for some rather swishy items inside.

 

Mary Thomas Knitting Patterns

Okay, I know this isn’t a sewing book but it’s another classic by Mary Thomas…..I nearly did a little dance of joy when I found this beautiful 1948 edition of Mary Tomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns…it’s very nicely written, pretty clear and reasonably easy to follow, but I must confess it was the charming illustrations that made me smile so much all the way up to the till with my money….my favourite and there are so many inside I love…( the stocking stitch /garter stitch illustration, the puppy with the un-ravelled knitting, the squirrels popping nuts into a stocking hanging onto a tree,the college professors having a quarrel over their knitting……) has to be this young girl winding her yarn off from the antlers of a reindeer…in real life it probably wouldn’t work but makes for such a sweet image…I’ve seen more modern day printings of the book for sale online but I don’t know if they have the illustrations in or not….

The knitting patterns are written out as well as having a little chart so if the instructions seem a bit complicated then the chart might make things a bit clearer….there’s also a very helpful texture index at the back which suggests some stitches which suit particular garments or knits..

zips and haberdasheries

One of my favourite past-times is having a nose around and poke about in odd corners and dusty boxes in charity shops or bric a brac shops, sometimes I come away all empty handed and that’s fine but other times I manage to pick up a gem, often for very little money and which becomes a much valued addition to my library or hoard of haberdasheries.  The above items were all sourced for very little money and generally I find the quality of older pieces to be a lot better than what I can  afford to buy new.

The zips were a real bargain, although I only bought one at first as I wanted to check for rust (because the zips were all in their original packaging it wasn’t possible to check without  undoing and tearing the cellophane) but it was all fine so the next week I went back and bought a few more….the zips are metal and the teeth are nice and strong.  They also run nice and smooth (which I was a bit concerned about at first)…the colours of the fabric are very nice…peacock, glen green, sage green are just some of the ones I ended up buying.

I prefer to do a lot of my sewing by hand and mostly use vintage Sylko Dewhurst thread as it’s such good quality, it’s brilliant for both hand sewing and machine sewing, the thread slips through the eye of a needle so easily.  While the above threads aren’t that brand, they are all still nice to use, and I’ll often use a finer cotton to use as a tacking thread….I also prefer using vintage needles as I find they are a bit stronger and seem to be finer, and sharper….

I love little packets of vintage bias binding, sometimes it comes with thread in a matching colour (not something companies tend to do nowadays)…depending what I’m sewing I might carefully wash and then press the binding before using it as sometimes it shrinks and then will make the seam it’s sewn to pucker up a bit…if what I’m making isn’t going to be washed then I don’t worry….

butons and trimmings

As well as having umpteen charity shops nearby I’m also lucky enough to have a wide circle of friends and family who’ll gift me bags of buttons, threads and sewing what nots…even my accountant has given me small bags of leather thonging and embroidery silks, bindings and lace trimmings…..I’d like to say everything is tidied away and is in it’s place…hmmm, for the most part that’s probably true but there are still little tins and and suitcases that hold an assortment of haberdasheries from all over….From time to time I like to empty a box of notions and doo dahs out onto my work table, more often than not I’ll find something I’ve forgotten all about and which can get me thinking about who these little treasures used to belong to…inspiring me with thoughts of a new dress or skirt….

 

 

 

Creating a slow wave of wobbling hand sewn stitches….

quilting wrap 018

It seems like a very long time since I’ve wrote anything on here about my quilting…I’m afraid my head has been rather turned by an appreciation of all things woolly.  Bags of sheepy scented wool is tucked to the side of the sofa and the dining table has had to make room for my blocked swatches.  Knitting needles of all sizes and varieties while not quite yet being found in between the sofa cushions do seem to be breeding and I find them in odd places (mainly because I pick them up and then put them down again in a silly place before they are tidied away properly.)…even Bernard has gotten in on the act, half clambeirng into my lap while I knit, he likes to smell the wool as much as I do.

However, quilting and patchwork will always be my first love…taking a little break from sewing has made me appreciate them that much more and I know I’m not alone.  Some of the most looked at/referenced pages on my blog is a little series/tutorial I made showing how to baste a quilt and to mark it up and quilt it using the baptist fan pattern…..it’s a very traditional pattern and while it is a bit more timey to work than just squares or diamonds, I think the finished effect is always worth it.

baptists fan quilting 001

It’s easily my favourite quilting pattern and while I would like to incorporate some feather quilting into a top piece at some point I’m not sure about quilting a whole quilt that way..unless I make a wholepiece quilt, which is made from a one very large piece of fabric, no patchwork is really involved, just quilting. If you live near Bath then I’d suggest a visit to  The American Museum as they have some wonderful quilts, including some very beautiful wholecloth quilts….it’s lovely to go there in the Summer as their gardens are stunning and by all accounts their tea rooms are good too.

When you make a patchwork top, the more pieces that are in your patchwork the more little seams there are, it’s really easy to not take this into account when you then go to quilt it….it’s another reason really why I like the baptist fan pattern so much, it’s very forgiving to little bumps in the fabric created by the folds and seams of the patchwork, and it helps blend the patchwork underneath together….harsh lines of patchwork seem to soften and blur under the gentle curve of the repeating arc.

Even if you’re a beginner to quilting this is such a lovely pattern to sew, any little wobbly stitches (which are what makes hand-made so full of charm and becomes so dear when it’s passed down) are soon lost as your hand grows confident and your stitches become more regular in size.

The brown patchwork is part of a big quilt that I made for my boyfriend’s 40th birthday (though he was 41 when he got it)…the fabric for the patchwork is Japanese linen and cotton, the weave is quite loose and isn’t really ideal for quilting as it frays like the devil. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut the fabric into too many pieces as it would just fray away, so kept the patchwork very simple and kept the cutting of the fabric to a minimum. However, I went to town somewhat on the quilting, each arc is about 1 cm apart so it’s nice and dense.  In all I spent about a year quilting it, and it used nearly a mile of quilting thread……the little ripples in the fabric are formed by all the tiny hand stitches which I think helps to soften the curves….they make me think of water ripples.

baptist fan quilting

I also used a variation of the baptist fan pattern when I made the quilts for Peggy and Pearl. When you’re working with the arc it’s a very natural movement for your hand to make and after a while I sort of drift off while quilting…not falling asleep but I can get completely mesmerized by all those tiny stitches….it’s very relaxing and time can pass by very quickly.

I find it a bit easier to thread up a whole load of little quilting needles before I begin and then as each thread finishes there’s a new one to take it’s place….it stops the “flow” of my quilting from being too interrupted and it also helps me keep track of how much thread I’ve used in any period of time.

As well as looking lovely I really like the feel of the quilting, all those ribs in the arc feel wonderful when you rub your fingertips over them…it’s like the fattest corduroy.  All the tiny gaps between hand sewn stitches pucker and helps your finished quilt top to drape and flopse.

translucent patchwork and quilting

One of what I think has been my nicest photos of my quilts was this view of the quilting and patchwork pinned up on the washing line…Spring sunshine coming through and the seams of the patchwork are more like faint ghosts, like old building lines and earthworks that you can see when you look down from a plane….the gentle lumps and bumps, curves and wobbles become very sensual, a slow wave of stitches rippling out across the quilt.

baptist fan quilting on quilt two

There’s several variations on the design but they can all be worked using the same easy to make plastic guide (I’ve found these before in old sewing boxes where they’d been made from metal and like a fool I’ve put them into charity shops as I didn’t know what they were….) and you use the same back and forth movement with your hand to quilt…..

When I finally get around to quilting my “dear ethel” quilt (she’s just having a rest at the moment, though I’d like to get all the patchwork completed on her this year…as to whether that’s achievable with this new found love of knitting we’ll have to see) I fully intend to quilt her with a baptist fan design……I’d really like to piece together a flying geese border for her and then cable quilt the edge (I’ve done that before in a big quilt that my mum has, it looks really nice and is lovely to run finger tips over and trace the cables.)

ivos finished quilt 008

When our friends in Norway had their little boy Ivo I made him a quilt from scraps that one of my sisters gave me (I say scraps but there was enough fabric to have opened my very own fabric shop….she’s very generous and I was right royally spoilt).  Both the patchwork block and the quilting were very traditional but the colours were bright and modern, a combination I’ve seen a lot in Scandinavian design books.

It’s not a quilting design that works too well on anything very small, I’ve tried it on notebook covers and you couldn’t really see it clearly, but I made a case for my computer (which is what I turned the quilted squares into that I used for the tutorial) and that was about 24 inches by 15 give or take a little…but really it’s a design that works best if it’s allowed a bit of space to spread and ripple out, and a bit of time to allow you to sew it…..as I’ve mentioned before when I’ve written about my hand sewing (and I’m going to repeat myself here from an earlier post so apologies if you’ve read this before)…..for me, the absolute pleasure of hand sewing patchwork and quilting comes in the constant touching,holding and handling of the fabric, and the slowness and time in piecing the pieces together.  The time spent is important, each stage takes time, which is such a precious commodity nowadays but it’s often overlooked when the quilt is all finished…. it’s a very guilty pleasure.

 

A most marvellous year with a somewhat crappy ending….

homemade mincepies

I hope you all had lovely Christmases, most festive Yuletides, Winter celebrations warm and merry, in the company of loved ones be they family,friends or furry and fluffy ones (and by that I mean animals rather than anyone particularly beardy)…

I can’t quite believe it’s the end of another year, this year more than any other I shake my head and wonder where on earth the time has gone….and I think that is one of the really nice things about keeping a blog, you have the chance to look back, not just skimming over notes,scribbles  or entries in a written diary (mine always end up looking like they’ve been written by Prince Charles with his spidery old scrawl), but you also have the picture prompts and straight away I’m remembering how cold we were that day going for a walk, the smell of the horses in the field, the taste of that elderflower cordial….

I always enjoy looking back at what I’ve been up to, not in a maudlin old way but remembering the high points, the happy times, the taste of jam made from hedgerow fruits and finding the kitchen invaded by the kittens from next door…….

So I’ve put the kettle on, made a pot of tea and am happily looking back and remembering the past 12 months……

January was all cold mornings, we had some pretty heavy frosts where the broccoli and herbs looked quite other worldy covered with a delicate silvery frost, and the marshes down the road flooded which was quite exciting when we went out for our Boxing Day walk…..I was determined to sort out the sides of my granny’s paperweight crochet blanket and made umpteen half hexagons to fit in the gaps on the top and bottom, actually I got right carried away making them and had enough to fill all the sides for a scarf I’d also been working on….another walk saw three graceful swans which were making no end of row as they were eating and snuffling about in the river, then bottoms tipped up, one, two then all three at once…

I got into my head to make a couple of cushions using the same crochet pattern and made two fronts….a year later they’re still waiting to be finished so that’s somethng on the New Year’s to do list….I also had a good tidy up in my work room and found some old floral embroidery testers I’d made a couple of years back.

I spent some Christmas money and bought Felicity Ford’s excellent Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook which is a wonderful and inspirational resource, it’s really to help you plan and design stranded colourwork but I found it a great read for patchwork planning too…

The first part of Februarysaw me still tidying up my work room, it never seems to take long to get all pickly and this time tidying I tried to make sure all the tins and boxes were opened to see what treasures were hidden away…and I found more embroidered samplers, some inspired more by beautiful fairisle jumpsers and tank tops than traditional embroidery samplers….the weather was still cold, we had some proper heavy frosts and the marshes seemed constantly half hidden under a low laying mist…baking cakes for Sunday afternoon tea and pack up is always part of my routine of a weekend, and never more so than in the Winter where a fat slice of cup seems much more appreciated with a cup of tea.

I bought a huge bundle of beautiful coloured tapestry wool, the little skeins were 10 pence each and the happiness a huge pile of them turned out on my worktable gives me is priceless., and some new to me vintage sewing needles, these what I prefer to use when I’m hand sewing, they seem to bend less and the points keep sharper……I also un-ravelled a whole load of crochet squares, I’d trimmed them with white originally but I decided I’d rather a blanket to match my granny square crochet scarf….

My boyfriend’s birthday is in February and one of the presents I made him was a tweed cycling hat, the pattern is by The Little Package company and both styles of hat are so nice to make….

For me the most exciting part of February was being asked to design a pair of baby quilts for one of my friends….lovely Darren who has The Little  Red Roaster (Norwich’s best coffee shop) is having twins and he wanted two quilts made for the new arrivals….

 

At the start of March new neighbours moved in next door and within a few days we met their two little cats, Bob and Izzy soon became regular visitors in our garden and although at first Bernard was a bit wary of them, he soon became great chums with Bob…most mornings start with a nose rub greeting, quick bottom sniff then Bernard and Bob wash each other….Izzy gets the odd look in.

The weather is getting nicer, blossoms and catkins seem to be out earlier that usual, and on days when it’s not too cold we head up to Little Tinkers, a small horse and donkey sanctuary which is just up the road, we tend to go the long route which is over the marshes so we’re generally quite out of puff and rather muddy when we get there.  I love the donkey’s and would one day dearly love one of mine own, but for now I’m happy to cuddle this gorgeous one, so friendly and loved being scritched behind the ears.

I found an old copy of Cold Comfort Farm in a local charity shop, it’s been on my must read lists for the longest time…..it’s so funny and very good reading.

Bread gets baked a couple of times a week and I use a natural starter that my friend Daisy gave me, it makes for a good, robust loaf which isn’t heavy and which smells so nice and homey.  I even used the natural starter to make hot cross buns which came out perfectly….the kitchen always smells wonderful on baking day.

Most of the month has been spent working on the quilts, designing the patchwork tops and choosing fabrics…sometimes having free rein is a bit overwhelming so Auntie Ally said Kate (Mrs Darren) liked stars…after that the designing was much easier.  To help me with the patchwork I painted up a series of patterened papers so I was able to make little paper patchworks…..playing really with moving the papers around, but I was able to see the designs much clearer than with just plain coloured shapes.

Spring has most definitely sprung, everywhere in the garden there are bursts and pops of bright colours….the cherry tree is a riot of gaudy pink, the raised beds are edged in soft blue smudges of forget-me-nots and cats eye speedwell….golden dandelions grow up alongside alpine strawberries through the cracks on the the patio paving and garden path….sitting out on the back door step often seems the nicest place to be.

Early morning sunshine is streaming in through my work room window and I pin up some patchwork as I prefer the softer, muted light this gives…I also like the shadows that some crocheted garlands cast.  Work on the quilts is progressing nicely, all the patchwork piecing and quilting is sewn by hand, so these were never going to be weekend makes…..holding the quilted tops up in the sunlight and the pieced fronts show through, all ghostly and reminding me of stained glass.

The bread proves and rises outside now, covered with a tea towel and placed in a warm spot, a few loaves get the odd poke from a curious paw but then cats are curious…..Izzy likes to hide up under our sprouting broccoli, she runs and sits there as soon as I open the back door, some days she lets me tickle her, stroke her face and ears, other days she’s back over the fence in a flash or peeps at me from around flower pots and watering cans.

One of my favourite walks each year is up the road to our local university, the woods that edge it’s grounds are a fair treat for the eye when the bluebells are in flower…the air becomes heavy and fragrant, and the scent of the bluebells soon has me all heavy eyes and sleepy…..I never fail to gasp as we turn the corner and our eyes are just flooded, overwhelmed with the most intense blue…….truly breath taking.

The forget-me-nots fill every spare bit of ground in the garden, huge swaithes of blue cover path and step edges.  Occaisonally a cat darts out from under it’s floral bower, disturbing any bees that may be taking their breakfast.  Flowers in the garden inspire me to embroider  lavender bags, made from an old linen shirt from Anne that I’ve tea dyed and weathered.

The quilts are finished, as the binding is carefully stitched into place, I say my goodbyes, wish good things and so much happiness for the twins…and I can’t help but wonder about how these quilts will journey, become snuggle blankets and sleeping comforts, toy beds for their favourite dolls, maybe be taken away to university, and one day get tucked around their own sleeping babes…….I’m a daft old thing and get very sentimental about my quilts.

I finally find some skinny coat hangers in a “tat” box at a charity shop so I can make dottie angels happy hanger tutorial….it’s nice for my fingers to work now with yarn and a hook rather than a needle and thread…..

Bernard is enjoyng the sunshine and warmer weather, he tends to nap upstairs, snuggling then stretching out on the quilt and blanket we have on our bed…..often you can hear him snoring while he sleeps, from time to tie his paws twitch….what do you dream of little trumpster.

Sadly this month I lost one of my oldest friends, my dear Rupert who was in his eighties and who I’ve known for some thirty odd years…him and his wife have been like grand-parents to me and my sisters and he had the best sense of humour of anyone I’ve ever met….their kitchen all pipe smoke and warm, a place of comfort with the kettle on for tea and a plate full of biscuits produced before your coat is barely off……

June sees the first of the hedgerow harvesting, baskets filled to the brim with billowy white clouds of elderflower blossom to make the sweetest cordial…even Bernard is half intoxicated by the sweet scent (picked while the blossom is all powdery and pollen rich, and before it begins to smell like tom cat pee)…the cordial it makes is so refreshing, and the bottles I make don’t last us 5 minutes.

The sourdough bread swells and grows enormous in the Summer, often looking more like neolithic fertility figurines than a loaf of bread….

The tiny wild strawberries in the garden are growing up everywhere, tiny berries which seem to taste different from plant to plant are scattered over yoghurts or are tumbled over puddings in the evening.

A plate of sausage rolls are made for my pastry fiend with tiny little leaves on top…

The meadows and pastures over the marsh are so abundant and full with flowers, and the colours seem to change from week to week…..one morning the fields are all golden with marsh buttercups and yellow rattle, a few days later a fine spread of ragged robin and rose bay willow herb….the wild flowers I’m seeing continue to inspire me with my botanical embroideries, generally I use vintage silks sourced from a local antique shop which sells all sorts of truck…most days see me head out for a slow amble over the marshes which are now sucha feast for the senses, the colours are glorious, the smell of the blossom is lovely and the sound of bird song and buzzing bees very soft and lulling …..

I also become somewhat obsessed with paper piecing hexagons…no piece of scrap fabric is safe and some thousand odd of tiny fabric wrapped papers are made and are sewn together with a series of small stitches… numerous cushions begin to appear on the sofa.

July was hot, a proper scorcher….. by mid-morning I felt all drowsy and and slow, cold drinks and sitting somewhere shady with Bernard seemed to fill my days.

The chives in the garden all flowered at once, huge purple pompoms of blossom which I used to flavour sandwiches or sprinkle on top of goats cheese pizzas.

Just down the road there are huge marchmallow plants, each year they get taller and talle and this year they were taller than me, huge blossoms of the softest lavender.

I bought a bag of the most brilliant blue threads, shiny silks that sew through linen like butter.

Last month I made hexagons, this month I can’t stop making ice-creams, slowly stiring egg rich custards and mixing in cherries from the wild trees just down the lane, or gooseberries from Jan’s allotment…..I made a lovely raspberry sorbet with last years berries I found lurking in the back of the freezer and even a small handful of the wild strawberries make an ice-cream so good I close my eyes and remember Summers spent down at the beach in Southwold.

We bought some little panibois “tins” to bake smaller loaves of bread in….oh my goodness, these are so nice to use and I felt all “artisan” and proper bakery when I opened the oven door and saw such pretty loaves baking in them.

Everything in the garden is green and growing, the beans almost grow while you watch them, and the lettuces are coming up as fast as I can eat them.

August too was hot and humid, nights were spent feeling all frazzled under a sheet and hoping that Bernard wouldn’t jump and cuddle leaving me feeling all sticky and sweaty when I woke in the mornings…..

The headgerows are fair heaving already with ripening harvests, most saunters out see me return with a basket filled with something to cook with….mirabelle plums and blackberries are picked and slowly covered with sugar and vodka to make warming Winter tipples…..

This was also the year I tried my hand at pickling walnuts …..I picked the walnuts too late so they weren’t a great success but I’ll have another go in 2016…..the Autumn Bliss raspberries in the garden are coming on a treat, already they are swollen and deep red, delicious picked all warm and popped straight into my mouth.

August also saw the start of my dress making obsession…I think I made about 7 dresses in around 3 maybe 4 weeks, I used the dottie angel pattern by Simplicity…..I tinkered a bit with the pattern so it fit me better, I guess I’m a bit of an odd shape as I have quite wide shoulders and a broad back but I’m a bit hollowed chested and the original pattern wasn’t doing me any favours…however post tinker and I’m very happy and every time I wear one of these dresses it gets a compliment.  Where possible I’ve tried to use vintage threads and notions when I’ve made the dresses (my darling boy bought me some vintage dressmaking tools for Christmas 2014 so I got to use those while drafting the pattern) and two dresses have been made from silky feeling sixties prints.

I also was nominated in August for a Liebster award, this was my first blog award and I really was quite chuffed….Zeens and Roger who nominated me probably didn’t expect quite the lengthy old answers that I gave but while writing them I unknowingly planted a seed that would soon come to fruition……

It seemed the sunshine was never going to end, September had some really glorious days, and often I’d start the day with a cup of tea sitting on the back door step with Bernard and Bob from next door keeping me company.

The little crab apple trees just up the road seemed their fullest ever, and I made several trips with my shopping basket in hand to pick the beautiful coral and salmon coloured fruits….where as last year there was such a bounty here of blackberries I wasin danger of turning into one myself, this year hasn’t been no where near as good, but the silver lining has meant I’ve looked elsewhere for fruits to make jam…..the hedgerows round abouts where i live are so laden with wild fruits, rosehips, and haws, rowans, elder berries and wildling apples and crabby ones……all delicious in jams and jellies and syryps.

One of the first jellies I’ve made was an apple one flavoured with vinegar and herbs from the garden…this was used to make the nicest vegetarian gravies I’ve ever tasted…..the jellies using just hedgerow fruit are very citrussy and are ideal as breakfast preserves.

I finally finished two projects which had taken a little while to complete….first up a knititng bag made form no end of hand pieced hexagons….it’s nice and roomy and has pockets inside…..second was a grannnies paperweight crochet scarf which I’ve been working on for ,oh I don’t know how many years…a good few at any rate…..it reminds me of richly embroidered velvet coat collars by Paul Poiret and I love it…..I spent so much of this month secretly wishing for the weather to turn so I could start wearing it.

 

Oh October….you are my most favourite month…partly because my birthday is in October (yep, I’m that shallow) but even when it’s all wet wild and windy I love the changes this month brings…..the man with the roast nuts barrow sets up stall on London Street, the smell wafts all the way down to Jarrolds where you turn the corner and know Autumni s well and truly here…..

More jellies were made, this time using some foraged japonica quinces which I left in a bowl in the parlour to ripen up…opening the door each morning and the sherbety aroma was so uplifting and smile inducing…..I also made some soothing syrups as I always end up with a crocky old throat come Christmas….some of the foraged finds bought home possibly the teeniest weeniest little old snail I think I’ve ever seen…I know he’s just going to eat all our veg but I didn’t have the heart to squish him…but instead allowed him to “run” or slide free behind the compost bin.

Izzy from next door had babies in the Summer and her four kittens have been running amok in the garden…carefully planted seedlings have been upturned, chewed, covered with earth while the kittens themselves have been making most merry…poor old Bernard hasn’t known what to make of them, and often comes running down the path as the tiny tots are in full pursuit.

A little more tinkering with the dottie frock pattern, this time splitting the bodice from the skirt and inserting side pockets…. I’m so happy with this pattern and am finding a pocket to be perfect for my hankies.

The little seed planted back in August began to grow, and I picked up my knitting needles…I’ve been able to knit for a few years but only simple scarves, and dishclothes…nothing more fancy than that….but I kept thinking about wishing I could knit better and decided I didn’t need a fairy godmother ot wave a magic wand.  This was something I could do myself….so I began to practise, small samples/swatches with stitches chosen from an old Harmony guide…suddenly I was knitting, slipping stitches, passing them over, knitting two together…I even dabbled with cables…..and then I fell in love, completely hook line and sinker…I saw this gorgeous gorgeous shawl on Instagram and wanted it so bad…I was on the verge of asking a friend to knit it for me then thought no, I would do it myself……mistakes have been made, stitches un-knitted, full rows un-ravelled but oh how proud I have felt, watching the stitches slowly grow……thank you so much Zeens and Roger and Buttercup and Bee for those original Liebster questions.

Oh, and I got nominated for another blog award, this time by Sharon over at Creativity and Family.

 

November is suddenly upon me and all I can think of is my knitting….at the same time I find out about Wovember and a British Breed KAL over on Ravelry by Louise of Knit British … I’m setting my alarm earlier and earlier to enjoy my quiet time knitting on the sofa with Bernard all snuggled up next to me, often with his head on the wool. I’ve become a wool convert and love the warm scent of my sheepy Shetland wool.

I finished the shawl and when I attempt to fling it around my shoulders half near strangle myself to death…..I re-check the pattern and realize my gauge or tension is way off so if I want to wear the shawl without doing myself a permanent mischief I’ll need to unknit it and start again ……oddly this doesn’t make me sob my heart out, but instead I know I can do it…the feeling of knowing I can do it is just wonderful.

Then it’s a mad flourry as the Christmas fairs are now starting, work days start while the lark is still sleeping and commssions for stockings are posted off…..I start to make a toy for on eof my little nieces birthdays but realize it won’t be ready so will have to be a Chrtstmas gift instead…..

Just down the road there is a beautiful rowan tree with pale pink berries, even when I’m super stressed and have 101 things to do, stopping and looking at it never fails to make me smile and feel a little calmer.

And so the year is nearly over……December started with two busy craft fairs and then a series of commissions, family came to visit, a cat toy needed to be made (complete with teeny dottie angle frock and a green cardigan)and slowly burning the candle both ends began to take it’s toll…a prickly throat soon became a nasty cold and laryngitis but then worse of all our beloved Bernard (the trumpiest and sleepiest cat ever) had a nasty lump come up under his paw……an overnight stay at the vets and an operation has meant it’s all been a very fraught here.  Everyone’s kind comments when I wrote about him being ill has meant so much to me….the kindness of strangers and internet friends never fails to amaze.

Finding time to knit has been my escape from all the worry and fears*….the shawl has been un-ravelled, I did that Christmas Day afternoon, and it’s slowly being re-knitted on rather larger needles….(plenty of swatching for the correct tension was done before hand) the wool smells so sheepy and comforting, and where as in the past Bernard has pinched yarn or tapesty wool, he’s been very respectful of my shawl wool…I think he’s enjoying the scent as much as me and will happily rest the tip of his nose against the ball of wool….I’ve also started making plans for a second shawl, thinking about how I can change the cloverleaf pattern so I don’t have two shawls quite the same….

So I’m wishing you all a very peaceful 2016, with lots of good times and laughter and health and happiness….

*We got the results of the biopsy late Christmas Eve, and I’m afraid to say it wasn’t good news, the lump they removed proved positive and the cancer is the sort that will return…We have to go back to the vets next Thursday to talk over the options on future treatments so for now he’s being spoilt rotten like you wouldn’t believe.

a proper old pickle and a sleepy shawl stealing cat……

it's all a bit of a pickle

This is the current state of play in one corner on my work table….it’s a proper old pickle as I’m on “craft fair countdown” mode…..next Monday there’ll be a quick tidy up then chaos will resume within hours….I always try and be neat and tidy but it never lasts for long…as soon as I start putting things away I always then need them straight away or just forget where I’ve put them.

Little piles of embroidery silks tumble over scraps of wool felt, I try to snip up the smallest pieces as I go along so I always have a ready supply of stuffing to hand….strands of silk I’m using for applique sewing float around everywhere and my footsteps down the stairs have become rather rainbow coloured the past few days…..

There’s a pointy tipped heap of skinny black pins, they were part of a birthday present, they come from Merchant and Mills and are wonderful to use…very sharp and they don’t rumple or bulge the felt as I lay out my applique…they’re also nice to use in finer fabrics as they’re so fine they don’t mark the cloth in the slightest.

work table chaos

I had the devil of a time yesterday trying to buy red velvet ribbon in the city…neither little haberdashery/sewing stall on the market carried it which is fair enough, but then when I went into a larger shop the girl in there looked at me like I’d asked for something really bizarre…to be honest she didn’t actually know what it was and then when I explained, said no she didn’t think they still made it. Sigh…so I ended up trekking down to Anglian Fashion Fabric on Magdalen Street which never lets me down, but was a bit further out then I’d intended to walk….I had a roll of lovely vintagey velvet ribbon from a car boot and now I’ve used it all up, I never thought it would be so hard to replace.

And I found 5 minutes to quickly pop into St Gregory’s Antique Centre as I was nearly all out of cream thread for sewing in the linings of my hot water bottles.  There is a very good haberdashery stall in there run by a lovely lady called Jenny, and it’s a rare old trip that doesn’t see me leave without a few brightly coloured reels of vintage cotton thread in a paper bag…memories of leaving sweet shops with a little bag of penny sweets always come to mind when I step out into the cold air.

detail of hand sewn applique

I’ve been sewing up hot water bottle cosies all week, hand sewing and embroidering little birds made out of pure wool felt onto vintage blanket fabric…at least with a pile of these on my lap I’m not feeling the cold.

detail of red bird applique

They’ve just gone into my Folksy shop as I’m trying to keep that nicely stocked up now til Christmas….

Originally the birds began life as brooches, just a couple of inches across, then slowly they grew a little larger and began to appear on notebook covers before they found their final home on tea cosies and hot water bottle covers.

I really like sewing using wool felt, it costs a bit more than the wool mix which a lot of shops seem to sell instead so I have to buy mine online…Handmade Presents is very good, they also sell wool felt which is plant dyed.  And the other place I buy from is Myriad (I’m also really tempted with their lovely wooden animals….

paws for a kitty toy

This is a bit of a secret sewing share now….between us (that’s me and my boyfriend)  we have five nieces, the ones on my side are all grown up now but in the past when they were all small and chubby of knee I’ve made them fairy dolls and mermaid ones (including one that came out so big she looked like she could have wrestled Moby Dick), but our other two are still pretty wee….I’ve made them both stockings and crochet blankets, but only Maggie has had any dolls made for her.  I ran out of time last year but this year I wanted to make Eliza an animal doll…her mum told me she really likes cats so I’ve started work on what I’m calling “licky paws”…(when I was asked for baby names licky paws was one of my suggestions and thought it would be a good working name for this little kitty).

The body is made from a Llama hair coat I bought years ago in Wells, it’s lovely and soft, yet the fabric is nice and robust and you can stuff it really firmly….the kitty pads are hole punched pieces of wool felt, made from the tiniest of scraps I get left with after cutting out my applique birds.

Turning the arms and legs right ways out always makes me feel like I’m going to bust something and have a hernia pop out…I seriously do not know how Sasha manages to make her dolls without doing herself a proper mischief as she often uses blanket fabric and I can’t turn that for toffee.

For now I’ve sewn the arms and legs, and need to stuff all of them before wedging them in the body but I won’t have time until after the 12th of December which is the date of my last fair.

the sleepiest cat in the world

The weather here has been pretty rotten…Bernard seems to dash out, do the world’s quickest wee then is back and nestled down in my shawl (it’s mine, not his even though he’s covering it in cat licky smell, and the look he gave me the other night when I went to put it round my shoulders was hilarious…puffed out cheeks and whiskers right forward….)

He’s feeling all sorry for himself at the moment, the kittens from next door beat him up…well we think it was them as they don’t seem to get on too well.  Bernard’s face is all scratches and he’s a bit flinchy when we stroke his head…the kittens are like 4/ 5 months old max, so he’s a bit of a wussy really.

He’s still jumping up on the sofa and cuddling alongside me in the early hours though the time is now spent embroidering snowflakes on stockings rather than knitting….but he’s been very good with the knitting wool.  I’ve been knitting up a couple of swatches for the British Breed swatch kal on Ravelry and the wool I used was lovely and sheepy scented so maybe he can smell the animal so leaves the wool alone…he sniffs it, rubs his face on it and there was a bit of licking at first…but he’s not run off with it or thrown it on the floor like he’s done in the past…..anyway, this one is for mon ami Celine….

Falling head over heels for a shawl, the most beautiful blue silk yarn and some second hand haberdashery treasure……

artesano silk robins egg blue

I think the knitting of the past week or so has made me all giddy headed…finally after being really confused by knitting patterns for years, a little light bulb has come on and I’m sort of understanding the instructions (there’s even been a bit of cabling* going on so I’ve been very excited about)….as a wee celebration (and as I had some money for a treat) I’ve bought some wool for shawl…at this point I must say that I’ve never knitted a shawl before and although I have seen many that I love,  I sort of was swept off my feet by this one…..isn’t it lovely….and when I read what Andrea had written about it I thought this would be a good shawl for me to begin with…..so feeling all inspired I’ve purchased the pattern and am all ready with needles aching to start knitting…..

I would never just go into a shop and buy fabric for a dress and just guess how much fabric I’d need but that’s pretty much what I did onThursday at my local yarn shop…(the lady who runs it is very lovely and patient with me and must think I’m a right loon…)…I’ve used Artesano wool before when I edged my grannies paperweight shawl (so I’ve crocheted a shawl just not knitted one) and also last year when I made tif’s lovely warm and woolly scarf….I’ve also got some in a bag upstairs waiting to be knitted in that gorgeous Autumny leaf turning orange……

So never making things easy for myself, I’m going to have a try at knitting this shawl in a completely different weight yarn to the one it advises and am going to try….dah da da dah….(scary horror film music here) to us a pair of circular knitting needles (which I’m fretting about already…I bought some a few years back from Loop in London so they are all fancy, but being metal I’m a bit worried they’re going to make my fingers go all cold…boo hiss for Reynaud’s)…..

The blue wool is Artesano silk and is robin’s egg blue….so while it was a bit of an impulse buy which I try not to do, and wasn’t quite the right weight yarn I’d intended to purchase (actually I had to guess which weight I needed as I’d forgotten to right it down which is why it’s completely different to the one I should have bought)….it made me so happy I was fair skipping out of the shop.  It’s been stroked and cosseted to high heaven and I’m just about to wrap it around my feet to wind into a ball (Bernard is snorring on the bed so I think this is safe to do) and then the knitting will begin…….

fabric and threads and buttons

It’s very rare when I’ve walked into Norwich and don’t manage to find a few minutes to spend pottering about in the St Gregory’s Antique Centre in Pottergate…although I like having a slow amble, looking round all the stalls, quite often I just put my head round the door and see if anything new has appeared in Jenny’s haberdashery which is my favourite stall …..the haberdashery gods must have been smiling indeed as I came away with a proper bundle of loveliness….

First up was this beautiful floral print fabric, I’m pretty sure it’s synthetic but it feels lovely and has such a nice drape…not sure what is going on with my camera as in the picture it looks all coral and apricot but in fact it’s a lovely soft vintagey pink (the palest salmon pink)…there was over 3 metres of it and it’s quite wide, certainly enough for a dottie angle frock (as I’m fast finding I can’t really have enough of those….I’m starting to wonder what on earth I wore before I made mine as I’ve pretty much worn one every day since I’ve started making them…they’re just so comfy)

moss green and light clematis threads

I’d seen the buttons the other week when I’d been looking around her stall and as there were still a few packets left and I’d rather lost my heart to them as were such pretty colours…..decided on a bird’s egg blue and a soft green.

And it’s hard to resist buying a few reels of thread while I’m there…I’ve chosen rather Spring-like colours, light clematis, moss green, cornflower, wedgewood blue and sugar cane…though a couple of greys found their way into the selection including my favourite light slate as I tend to use the greys a lot with my patchwork (and they seem the hardest colour to source)……

coral and apricot coloured soft tapestry wool

Jenny who has the stall is a really nice lady and in the past when I’ve chatted to her I’d told her all about how I crochet with tapestry yarn and so she’d kindly bought in all these hanks (is that the right word) of tapestry wool and wondered if they’d be suitable…..lovely and soft, beautiful colours (a lot of the wool is Rowan so ooohhh proper posh!!)…and as I’ve been practising my knitting I’m thinking they’d probably knit up rather nicely.

Pretty coral and apricot, mustard and some softer beigy tones…..some of the wool is more for crewel embroidery than tapestry but I liked the colours so much and think they’ll be fine if I use them doubled up.birds egg blue tapestry woolsI couldn’t resist these blues, delicate bird’s egg shades (the colour of the day for me I think.)

One of the blues “hanks” is in fact short lengths of crewel wool which is fine, I’ve already got embroidery plans for it and then I’ll just use a few strands together at a time.

*not sure if that is what you call cable knitting…cabling…it sounds right to me anyway.

When it’s raining cats and dogs and picking raspberries by umbrella….

in the nanny chair

Well so much for a Summer heatwave, this week it’s been raining cats and dogs, every time the cat comes in the floor needs wiping over and I’ve been scurrying around the garden lifting water laden pots out of over flowing saucers.

However at least someone isn’t too bothered by the weather, his current favourite spot is snuggled down on his Nanny chair, all curled up with Miss Enid…..soft snoring and gentle puttering and mutterings..interrupted by the occasional trumpety noise and the less than pleasant aroma that accompanies….

gutterman tin

I’ve been trying to have a bit more of a sort out, in part because I was getting a bit cross I couldn’t find some of the the sewing threads that I’d bought recently (I’d put them in a safe place and then couldn’t find them…then only for them to magically appear right under my nose a day or two later…)..although I do most of my sewing by hand, a fair bit still gets done on a sewing machine..after the traumas of last week when my Bernina machine started playing up and needing to bring my beloved Dorothy out of her retirement, I found I was then feeling somewhat fraught trying to lay my hands on thread that I could use in the sewing machine.

I ended up having a bit of an “aagghhh” moment then calmly, took a deep breath and just emptied a shocking amount of thread out on to my work table (and on the floor…) and began sorting out all the Gutterman thread I have.  (I like to use Gutterman in my sewing machine, I find it doesn’t keep snapping like the cheap thread and the cotton comes in a good range of colours.)  It’s quite nice having it all in one place, and I’m trying to be good and not put random threads back in odd places like the window-sill, or behind my computer or in one of the umpteen sewing boxes that seem to accumulate around my room.

inside todays sewing box

Every so often I like to clean out and tidy my current sewing box (it makes me feel like Amelie’s mum cleaning out her handbag or her dad tidying out his work box)…generally what’s in there changes depending on what I’m sewing, although there are always going to be a few old friends and favourites that I like to have close to hand that make my sewing so enjoyable but there are always a few “now how did that get in there”s that surprise….

Favourites emptied out include little red Clover wonder grips (left over from the hexagon piecing a few weeks back), a rel of vintage ribbon (had a present to wrap and tied it with this), beautiful Sajou embroidery scissors and vintage tortoise shell effect ones (presents from my boyfriend), numerous silk threads for hand sewing, beeswax (for making the silk thread stronger), elastic bands for the Bernina (a little trick for the 1008…the wheel on the side that turns the needle tends to stick which is a pain when you need to re-lease it when you want to thread up a bobbin…a fat elastic band placed around the ribbed edge of the wheel helps you get a nice tight grip and the wheel un-screws much easier), an assortment of thimbles (they breed as I don’t often wear one so I don’t know where they are coming from), more un-pickers than you’d think possible..(this is why I don’t sew a lot on a sewing machine, I always end up going too fast and then needing to un-pick what I’ve done.. one of them has a little brush on the end which is handy to regularly dust out under the stitch plate), red strawberry needle sharpener (bought some years ago from The Royal School of Needlework and these are very similar….they seem expensive but they are one of the little things in my sewing box I love more than words and it gets used no end)…..there’s also a pair of Japanese fabric snips (another gift from my Arpette) which are lovely to use, tweezers for stitches that don’t want to come out without a good wiggle, an old embroidery pamphlet and a knitting needle gauge because it has a nice size little ruler along the side.  There’s also a pin cushion ball I bought form a car boot and which when gently and carefully kneaded, produced a shocking amount of needles.

vintage green fabric

And this is one of the reasons there are so many un-pickers in the sewing box…..it’s one of the frocks I’ve been making based on the dottie angel dress pattern.

The fabric is from one of the antique/junk shops in Norwich and actually…all the thread and trimmings are vintagey too……rather than make the tucks in the front, I’ve sewn a fabric band across the front.  The ties are attached at the front, thread through and pull up at the back.  I’ve also not bothered with the pockets, I htink the fabric is a bit light weight for them…It’s quite a slinky number and the fabric feels nice and silky….it was a bit of a “oooh…blast” to sew as it was slippy, so I ended up hand sewing the hem, turning it over a few times with the needle point and though this sounds a right old chore, I found this the easiest part of the dress.  Modeled it last night in front of  the boyfriend and the cat, and it didn’t get the “are you wearing curtains”comment so figure it’s safe to wear out of  the house.

Looking at the picture I’m thinking my sewing does look proper ropey…all I can do is hang my head in shame and say I wasn’t any where near the sloe gin or fruit vodka from last week.

If you’d like to see some nice examples then there is a great Instagram thingy here

raspberry cluster

It’s too wet to go foraging as the rain’s been so hard and I know the blackberries will be all mushed but hopefully if we get some sunshine I can get out over the weekend…in the mean time, we’ve got raspberries all ripe and ready to burst in the garden, so it’s out with a brolly and although a bit of balancing is required when there is both a bowl and a brolly in one hand, any trouble is well worth it, especially if there’s cream in the fridge.

I never used to like raspberries growing up but then I had a warm one, freshly picked and it was a taste epiphany, they’ve become a favourite fruit, and the crop we get between now and October (sometimes even November if it’s mild and sunny) are looked forward to all year round……delicious in jams and syrups poured over ice-cream, I love them just as much eaten straight off the bush, and with the merest sprinkle of sugar and a dollop of thick cream they blow strawberries out of the water…velvety and soft in texture and with a rich, intense fruit taste, they seem so much more luxurious than what they are…..

ripe and ready to burst

The bushes are getting all droopy with the weight of the berries, the fruit hangs down like bunches of fat swollen grapes the colour of deep red rubies….we need a bit more sun and a little less rain if any are to be used in jam.  Most days Bernard and Bob from next door are to be found lurking around them somewhere.  Stretched out napping, finding a little shelter from the rain…they seem to keep pretty dry underneath there.  Every so often wafts of cat fluff drift up and catch on the berries only to be noticed when we’ve drenched the berries in cream …”why is there cat fluff in my pudding” seems to be the catchphrase of the Summer……

grannie chic sewing and a dottie angel frock…..

dottie angel dress trimmings

For some time now I’ve been hoarding nice fabric and vintage trim while waiting for the dottie angel frock pattern to be released, I’ve known this was in the pipeline for a while so have been using it as a bit of an opportunity to squirrel away any interesting haberdashery pieces while I’ve been browsing around Norwich’s many antique and junk shops.

It’s probably just me but I’ve had a few difficulties with it, firstly I got confused with the sizing (it’s in American sizing) so my first dress looked like a tent…even with a belt it was the size of a marquee and I think I could have hired it out for a wedding.  My fault totally as I didn’t check the sizing properly, and normally I like to make a toille or muslin from dressmakers calico so I can make any adjustments…but I just wanted to make it, so after all the first excitement of sewing the first frock I decided to calm down a bit, have a cup of tea and sew the next one a bit slower.

I ended up making 3 short toilles so I’d get a dress shape I found more flattering to my shape, I’m quite tall and if I took more exercise and toned up a bit I’d be quite lean, however sitting around sewing and crocheting doesn’t exactly do wonders for my physique so I’m a bit pear-shaped with a quilter’s bottom…I’ve got quite a short body being all legs, with scrawny old shoulders and collar bones.  I’m quite wide across my back but then don’t have a lot going on in front (man, do I know how to make myself sound attractive)…so I found I was a bit in-between sizes and needed to tweek the pattern a little. (I think this is because I’m super fussy or something, I’ve seen loads and loads of lovely dresses made on Instagram and no-one else seems to have so much trouble as me…so don’t panic and think you’ll have to alter it if you want to buy it…I’m just saying this is what I found I needed to do).

he is a proper granny chic loving kitty

Also it didn’t help that every time I laid out pattern cutting papers and weights on the table my little assistant would suddenly appear, and jump up onto the table, and nest himself down in the middle of everything…..

Reels of tacking threads would be rolled onto the carpet, and anything covered with sewing instructions are pattered and pounced upon….

drawing around a tweaked pattern

Anyway, after three toilles and a few tweeks to the shape of the top section I’ve now got a pattern I’m really really happy with.

I ended up using the small size pattern, and then added a little to the front section and a little to the back (the first small toille wasn’t exactly tight across the boobs but by the time I’d sewn in the tucks underneath my boyfriend just kept staring at them and said they were distracting him)…..when I’d made a medium toille it was too loose across the front, and back waist, plus it was very open at the sides.  Also because I’m not exactly Chesty Morgan, the front neckline was a bit gapey and wasn’t sitting flat.

I found by making the toille and just sewing it together with 1/2 cm size tacking stitches it was easy to un-pick and fold the fabric about a bit so the shoulders would sit better…..on my pattern I raised the front shoulders and dropped the back ones and also curved off the shoulder shaped as I found this then sat better.  I know I make this sound like a lot of work but it wasn’t that bad and I think I’d have to do this for any shop bought pattern.

If you have someone to help you then it makes this a whole lot easier and I really don’t feel the time and cost of calico was in anyway wasted.

Once I was all happy with how the toille was fitting I was able to re-draw my pattern and ended up drafting it out on some old lining wallpaper we had in the garage, to make the sleeve holes and other pattern markings I used a pattern punch from a set of vintage dress makers tools my boyfriend bought me for Christmas but if you’re careful how you fold the paper across under the hole, you could use a regular stationary paper punch.

he says he is helping

See there is definitely something about this pattern that he was going doo-lally over…I’ve said before he’s a granny chic cat as he loves a crochet blanket, but he’s also seeming to be a fan of tiff’s lovely dottie angel frock too……

To hold my pattern pieces down I bought some washers from my local iron monger’s (Thorn’s in Norwich…it’s like a rabbit warren inside and is just brilliant.  The staff are really knowledgeable and friendly, and they’ve often ordered things in especially.)  These were about 20 pence each and are a nice weight, they’ll hold card down, aren’t so big if one falls off the table on to your foot you’ll end up in casualty, and store away really neatly.

The fabric is from John Lewis, it was the last piece of a bolt so was super reduced, I wasn’t 100% there was going to be enough for the dress but with a bit of careful pattern placing I’ve actually got some left over.

sewing with dorothy

So just as I’m starting to start sewing my sewing machine goes loopy…I’ve got no idea what’s happened, it’s something with the tension I think.  One of my friends is coming round tomorrow and she’s an absolute marvel at sewing so I’m hoping she’ll take a look and see what’s happened… (I’m hoping I’ve just done something daft and that it won’t need a service)….however in the mean time I had a choice…I could leave the pieces cut out or I could get this gorgeous lady out of retirement…..

Her name is Dorothy and she belonged to my great aunt Dorothy (her surname was Poppy and that’s what a lot of people who knew her called her..though we called her auntie dora and loved her because when she came and stayed she would always bring with her a bottle of Ribena, and Mr Kipling cakes and the sort of fancy grocery shopping we didn’t have as there were just too many of us for things like that…)

I’ve written about her before when I was sewing some patchwork.

She’s turn of the century and only sews forward, doesn’t do a reverse stitch and don’t even think about zig zag or anything fancy.  But even after 100 years she still sews a nice and neat little stitch, it’s pretty straight, any slight meanderings I’m sure can be allowed after that amount of time.  She comes with a wealth of attachments and fancy feet which I’ve never thought to use and which really I should do, there’s at least two different feet for turning over hems, and various markers for quilting though I don’t think she’d be able to cope with the bulk of a quilt nowadays.

vintage sewing

I hadn’t used her for a while so had to give her a little dust and polish and a good drink of oil…she’s quite thirsty and I was a bit alarmed at how much she was putting away yesterday, however by the end of the day she was running so smoothly that I’m sure Fred Dibnah would have been delighted to hear her.

still beautiful after all these years

And look, no electricity, just arm powered (it is a bit hard going after an hour or so)

It’s so neat, it’s a shuttle bobbin so the bobbin is a tiny little metal spool which fits in to the side when it needs refilling and then you lift the lever up to raise the bobbin platform, and the side wheel then spins against it as you turn the handle…..

I don’t use the pin cushion as it’s so delicate now and the velvet is very threadbare…….

hand powered

She’s still beautiful after all these years, and yesterday she did me proud…my dottie angel frock was all finished.

I love the beautiful enameled paintwork on the body and the gold arrow showing you which way to turn the handle…..

I promise to show more of her soon and I’m hoping to be able to film her in action…..she’s a bit noisy but she never fails to make me smile, and threading up a new bobbin is a proper treat…..she makes me think of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, no nonsense, very brisk…