Monday, 28 October 2013

First steps in knitting - my knitted dress

I've taken quite a break from my blog, which I think is inevitable at times. It's not been the easiest of years, and I've not had much free time at all. But I've started something I wanted to blog about! My knitted dress.

I've been wanting to learn new skills for a while. Twenty years ago I fell in love with a hand knitted dress, which I saw worn at a party. I've always had it in mind, but felt the skills involved would be way beyond me. I have knitted in the past, but not much, and I've achieved the sum total of one and a half jumpers (half was finished off for me by a kindly aunt after I'd sat on it for 10 years). But I went to the knitting and stitching show at Alexandra Palace earlier in October and fell in love with this dress from PurlAlpacaDesigns.

The Icon dress. I'd never cabled before, but I didn't think it could be that hard. I also had some alpaca wool tucked away from a while back - the dress is for 100% alpaca wool, which is incredibly soft and lovely to work with. I thought it would be the perfect project both for teaching myself new skills and relaxing over the winter. So I went ahead and bought the pattern.

I have to admit, this is not an easy pattern for a beginner. I struggled so much to get going and finally had help from a kind fellow blogger and from a friend. I had to unpick several times. The cables turned out to be very easy, and I used youtube to find out techniques for those. But the pattern is written with a lot of prior assumptions, and it's not a pattern someone like me could have interpreted without help. This was one of my test cable sections.

And I do mean beginner. A classic example... I didn't know about stitch markers! I really didn't. After the advice about popping in stitch markers (these aren't mentioned on the pattern, but it's been an enormous help to have them and be directed as to where they go), I first used safety pins. I couldn't understand how anybody had the patience to keep undoing the pins and popping them onto another stitch. I was absolutely clueless about just popping a stitch marker over the end of the needle! That's a true beginner for you. But, now I'm finally on my way, I'm so pleased with how it's going. It's fun. It's challenging. And it's ever so relaxing.

I've set myself a year, as I wanted to be realistic. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Fun in Cornwall Part 1 - River Fal

I love Cornwall. It's a fabulous place to spend some time, and I thought I'd do a few posts about our summer holiday here, as it was a perfect place for a family. We spent a few days on the Fal River, a beautiful place at dawn, when I was lucky enough to see the ship above leaving. And at sunset the light is just as good, this picture looking up towards the Pandora Inn.

We were lucky enough to borrow a friend's kayak - perfect for making the most of the River.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Simplicity 2886

This is the first dress I chose to make. I absolutely love it, but it's been a long time in the making. As soon as I have a bit of sun, and it's warm enough to wear (fabric sample shown), I'll show you. It was fiddly, but it's a lovely pattern.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Dressmaking - a beginner - but 'Vintage Vogue Very Easy'!?

I've fallen in love with dressmaking... and this is my 2nd dress (I haven't a picture of my first yet, as first was finished slightly after 2nd!). It's shown here pre-hemming and zip insertion, but I'm really pleased with it. The dress started a few weeks back when I found a Vogue pattern from the 1970s and thought it looked 
a.) simple (it said 'easy Vogue'), and 
b.) a lovely design for the fabric I had in mind and I'd picked up the day or so before.
Haha, now little I knew.

I've since found that 'Very Easy Vogue' doesn't mean that at all. This was a bit of a mare as a first project, and I'm so glad I thought to make a muslin. The fabric was taken from a pair of 1950s curtains, which were in pretty good condition, and I was lucky to find. They shouted dress at me immediately. But I didn't want to risk the fabric, so decided to make a muslin first. Thank goodness I did as I had to change the pattern quite a bit, especially under the arms. I also dropped the collar, but that was straightforward.

The first problem was princess seams. Until a few weeks back, I didn't know what princess seams were. The instructions were basic, but even I knew this wasn't right. Princess seams run up to the armhole and are curved to help the dress sit right at the breast. Pointing up into the armhole isn't the right way. But all my notches and dots and spots and bits and bobs and all those fancy dressmaking terms were sitting together.

No matter how many times I tried, how much easing I tried to do, there was no way these were going to sit against each other. I found a solution after speaking with somebody who's been dressmaking since the dinosaurs, and has been invaluable, and mentioned she'd come across one other pattern many years ago where this problem had happened. The online tutorials make princess seams look a doddle. They aren't and this one certainly wasn't - but please don't despair if you find the same. It's not you and there are ways around it. I ended up easing the extra into the armhole. This isn't considered good practise, but frankly, it worked. I defy anybody to have made it work another way. You cannot tell from the finished dress that this is what happened, and I'm very proud of the way my princess seams sit.

Then the armholes were too tight. I hate a dress sitting tight under the arms. So I had to mark up and cut to allow for this.

which eventually worked.

One thing that has been invaluable in all this is the tailors ham I made. These help with all sorts of ironing, but especially those tricky bits. I didn't find any others on a web search, so have put a make to order one in my Folksy and Etsy shops, here and here.

They are brilliant, and I can't rave highly enough. I used some of my lovely button print and a fabulous Cotswold wool, both of which seem totally appropriate.

So, the birth of my second dress. I've now finished the zip and almost done the hem. Already planning my next dress!

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Making a quilt for my son

Seeing the wonderful quilt Jane made for her son, here, reminded me I haven't blogged about the quilt I made for mine recently. My 12 year old asked if I could make him a quilt, having watched my earlier efforts here. I was so pleased, as it's rare for him to ask for me to sew him something. He chose a nautical theme, and had a good rummage through my fabrics. I then cut them into strips, using my rotary cutter (I'm so glad that was an early purchase when I started sewing again) and cutting mat.

We then played around quite a bit with the design.

More photos to come as I seem to have lost all the photos of the finished quilt. It was lovely to work on this with him.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Three easy skirts - first steps in dressmaking

I'm so hooked on dressmaking now. Well, skirt making, but my first dress is coming along. I've finished off three in the past couple of days. The tops and hems were waiting on getting done, and a zip here or there. I'm pleased I've actually got these things tidied up. The stamp print was a fabric I bought from America. The pattern is taken from Tanya Whelan's brilliant book Sew what you Love, which I really would recommend. There are things I don't like about this skirt, but it's an simple introduction to making a skirt, as there's no waistband to worry about, and the zip insertion is easy.

I also finished the hem for the skirt I made for the Abakhan blog challenge in my post here. I love this pattern, and will definitely be using it again, but will practise getting the yoke the right size first. I love the fact it's got a yoke, belt loops (I chose not to make up the belt, as I wanted to wear a contrast belt), a zip, and pockets. And it's easy too.

And I then half used a pattern and half did my own thing. I wanted to try a lined skirt, so lined this one, which has given it a much better feel. I decided to make a waistband, in a contrast red, and I'm pleased with how it's turned out. 

Best of all is getting to use some of my lovely fabrics on clothing where I can look at them.  :) 


Friday, 19 April 2013

Simplicity 2226 skirt - such a fabulous skirt

So, the lovely people at Abakhan asked me to do another project, and without realizing its fame, I chose to try a skirt pattern, Simplicity 2226 to be precise. This is for their blog challenge on a budget, which I started last year, and for it I received the above: a pattern, fabric, zip, and interfacing. I thought this looked a great pattern, with its four variations, pockets, and even a belt, and belt casings. I've since found this was part of a Sewalong by Noodlehead (which was a lovely way to discover a wonderful new blog) and is a very popular pattern. As the Sewalong was some time ago, I didn't refer to it. I suggest you do if you, like me, are new to dressmaking, as she makes each stage very clear. When I was ploughing through the pattern, I had to backtrack and rectify a couple of mistakes, and in the end fitted a smaller skirt to a larger yoke. But I'm really pleased with the resulting skirt, and that's one of the beauties of the pattern - it really is very adaptable and forgiving. I especially loved the fabric I chose - this one, which I thought was excellent value at £6.25 a metre. So, on to a look at what I did.

I first traced the size I thought I'd be. This turned out to be not such a good move as I ignored the pattern sizing instructions (in my defence, I was coming up a lot larger than I've ever been!). This was my first mistake. Follow the packet advice! :) Anyway, because I traced the size I thought I was, I still have my original intact, to retrace when I next make this skirt.

Once that was done I cut the pattern pieces. I then had to recut the pockets as I cut them the wrong way. :) Told you I made a couple of silly mistakes. This is the way they should be cut if you have a definite print (here lying in place right side down on the skirt front):

I don't know how others do it, but I marked the dots like this, putting a pin through the spot on the pattern, and circling where the pin was on the wrong side of the fabric with a pencil:

It worked for me, though I kind of lost the plot with the dots. I haven't the patience to go matching dots. But the finished skirt still works. :) Popping the pockets in place was simple, and I then overstitched in a contrasting thread.

This pattern is lovely, and comes together so quickly. Even adding the yoke (one of my other mistakes - do have patience (lacking in my approach to dressmaking) and cut a test piece from cheap cotton first, as mine was too small and I had to recut) was simple:

I'm thrilled with my skirt. It fits. It has pockets. It has belt loops. I've just the hem to do now.

I'll post a final picture once that's done.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Happy pigs in mud cake

So, when we saw the internet cake masterpiece of the happy bunch of pigs in mud recently, my daughter knew exactly what she wanted for her birthday cake, as no doubt countless others have wanted since the original was posted. So I made this for her today. Our very own pigs in mud. :)

Here's a link to the original pigs in mud cake. And here's the English translation from the original Dutch.

Regular visitors to my blog may recognize the pigs from a previous cake (I tend to reuse some of the iced makes) but I needed more pigs. Specifically some piggy bottoms. It was really fun putting these together.

I couldn't use the previous pigs on the top, though they tried it out before the delicious ganache went on (boy, I could eat so much of that stuff)...

... so they went on the side, as they didn't want to be left out. This was such an easy cake to make, and it's a really fun one. The party's tomorrow.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

A book for a reluctant teen

My 15 year old rarely reads - she's always found reading 'boring' and I rarely find a book that she will get absorbed in. I love books, and I'm lost without a book, so this has been hard for me to accept. Especially a few weeks back when she told me she wasn't interested in trying anymore... which made me determined to find her a book.

I spent ages choosing and settled on Louise Rennison's Withering Tights!

She loved it! Read it in a day. She's not an avid reader by far, but I've persuaded her there are books out there for her. She's now gone on to Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, which I think is a brilliant, easy read, with lots of issues to discuss. So far so good.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Tips for a happy canal boat / narrowboat holiday

We've just returned from another week on a narrowboat. I love these weeks. Unfortunately, it was icy cold this past week, but we still enjoyed ourselves. There's something very relaxing about life on a narrowboat. I've been on a few of these holidays now (the picture above was from a brilliant week in 2010), and there's certainly a few tips I've picked up. Things to avoid big time are:

1. Aim not to call your loved one a 'stupid man' (or woman... or worse). Everybody on the bank hears you, stops their stroll, and turns to look at said 'stupid man' who then stares daggers at you for the next hour or so.

2. "But muuuuummm, he looks hungry"... ! Try to avoid feeding a 'lovely looking', 'hungry looking' swan at dusk. That swan will begin tapping on your boat at 2 am in the morning, looking for another snack. And somehow, it knows where your bedroom is - it will not wake the children!

3. It looks faster, but don't cut corners - it's a sure way to get grounded. Everyone gets grounded, but it is certainly avoidable on corners.

Meanwhile, good things to do are:

Check the boatyard maintains the boats well. Most boatyards we've used have been excellent, but there are some things to look out for. If, for example, the sills on the windows are wood and left to rot, they let in a bad draught at night. If the engine alternators aren't maintained, they stop working the day after you take them out and that involves mooring and waiting for someone to come and mend it all. Or going without power all week if not running the engine. And it may sound silly, but ask how old the double mattress is. Most of ours have been fine. The one we had that should have been replaced years ago resulted in a very bad week of sleep (I'm talking feeling the springs had sprung!). The above boat was one of the best we've had, so much so we've used the company twice, but there have been a couple of boatyards I wouldn't hire from again. And I certainly now know the questions to ask before hiring (it's not cheap after all).

I hope that helps if you're considering booking a canal boat for the first time. It's a great holiday, I'd really recommend it, and there's a fabulous selection of waterways to go on in the UK, all lovely in different ways.

Friday, 15 February 2013

No-Sew fleece tutorial for Abakhan

One of the few times my son loves to help with my fabric obsession is if I'm making a novelty quilt or blanket, and so making a no-sew fleece blanket was right up his street. I did this as part of the Abakhan blog challenge, to choose and make items from their store of goodies for under £15. This one was great fun.
We chose a little over a metre of two fleeces - Abakhan have a huge selection here, and we took some time, but fell for the moss sheep and the bright striped fleece. So my fleece choice was kindly supplied by Abakhan.
Fleece comes in wide measures, and the size was perfect for what I needed - a small oblong blanket/wrap but obviously you might want a bigger piece. The beauty of this blanket, is it's easily flexible in terms of making it to your own requirements.
First of all, we laid the two fleeces right sides together:

and I then did some trimming to straighten up the edges and remove the selvedge:
After that, you need to cut a square from each corner. I did this more or less by eye, using my quilting rule, and took a 4 1/2 inch square out. You could alternatively make a template out of card or paper to do this. Again, there's no set rule here - if you want a longer fringe, make the square 5 or 6 inches. It's not set in stone!
So we were left with the corner cut out
And we did this to each of the four corners:
Then we begun cutting the fringe around the edge, cutting in the same amount as the square and making the cuts roughly 1 inch wide.
I used my cutting mat as a rough guide, but didn't worry too much about this, as small variations really won't show on the finished blanket.
Then we knotted. We tried two methods. We double knotted each strand on the long side - so knotting the two ends, one from the sheep and one from the stripe fleece together. Pull the first knot gently to the cut, then tighten with a second knot. We did these knots on the longer side. We tried a looping the double strand over its neighbour and pulling through the resulting gap for the short side. Both methods work, so again, no set rule here. Just a case of the look you prefer.
And we ended up with a lovely warm blanket. All my children love this one. You can see the effect of the different type of knotting we did on the long and short edges. I quite like having the edges defined differently in this way.
This was good fun, and definitely a good activity for boys as well as girls! I hope this has helped if you want to try it out.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Recovering a mannequin - Part 1

So, it's time for another mannequin makeover. This is one I've had for sometime. I love the shape and the stand - it's a metal stand, though you can't really see it here, but it's had a horrible stretch silver fabric.

I had to take off lots of tacks, which were holding the fabric cover in place:

Then it was easy to remove the cover, which I reversed and used as a pattern...
I'd chosen a stretch jersey, with a pretty red flower on cream design. I folded it, smoothed it out and pinned in place
and cut, then sewed around it.
I'll be back with more pictures as the light is pretty awful at the moment, but I'm so pleased with the way it's working out.