Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Rose scented tea

After a lifetime of being somewhat unenthusiastic about drinking tea, I have now found my perfect brew.  For a complete pink, rose-scented overload, serve it with these buns.

But disastrously, it's a limited edition.  So you won't be able to find it in the shops, because I am stockpiling it.

Exciting update: I've just read my link properly and happily Twinings now say "Great news - although initially launched as a Limited Edition, Rose Garden is now permanently available, following popular demand." 

Am still stockpiling it though.  Just in case.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

It's too cold to do anything except sit as close to the fire as I can manage, and knit.  We've had no snow here in East London but the temperature has not risen above freezing all weekend.

I'm also testing out the theory that chocolate brownies keep out the cold.  We haven't eaten enough yet to be sure though, so we'll have to report back on this theory at a later date.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Spurred on

Sometimes I find that my mojo's floated off to somewhere with a warmer climate and I'm left feeling a rather flat and indecisive.

The past few weeks have felt a little like that. Maybe I left my mojo behind in Fabrics Galore?  But yesterday I had a day that left me feeling quite restored, and that has spurred me on to put some plans into action.

I met up with Dragonfly at Kew Gardens, on a gloriously cold and sunny morning, and we wandered around for hours, chatting about goodness-knows-what and pausing every now and then to stop and take photos.

Now is the time of year to go and admire the berries at Kew Gardens.  We saw big ones, small ones, red ones, yellow ones, even bright purple ones.  Juicy ones, curranty ones, exotic ones and home-grown ones.

Walking around Kew Gardens I was reminded again of how much I love to walk, and of how little I actually do, unless I am on holiday.  Walking clears my head, sets me thinking, and fills me with endorphins.  I have the time, and I love to do it, so goodness me - why aren't I doing more of it? 

So I have resolved to try and do one long, solitary walk each week for the next few months.  And on the way back home, as the train skirted the Olympic Park and I looked up from my book, I saw this:

The main Olympic stadium - finished outside and now being fitted out with its seats.  And then this:

The Aquatic Centre, where I want to get tickets to see some of the swimming and diving in 2012. 

What better place to do my first walk than around the Olympic Park?  I'm thinking I'll try and walk as much of the local section of The Greenway as I can manage in the school day, and call in at The View Tube on the way for a coffee and to take some more Olympic photos.

I will wear my walking boots next week though - this time of year is muddier than I had realised.

And so I returned home from a really lovely day out with my lungs full of fresh air, plans for a new walk, and also a little paper bag containing this Japanese sewing book.  Because as well as a day out at Kew Gardens, Tracy also introduced me to the delights of Kew's very own fabric shop, Tikki Quilt and Patchwork.  I know.  A newly discovered fabric shop, AND one that sells Japanese craft books. 

Someone who introduces you to a place like that is a friend indeed.  Thank you, Tracy!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Two Clothkits skirts

I finished my week of wardrobe improvements by making two Clothkits skirts, which have been sitting on my shelves ready to make for an embarrasingly long time.

First was this kit for a skirt for me, which my sister gave me last year.  Shame on me.  I wish I hadn't waited so long to make it because it is beautiful, and I know I will wear it constantly this winter.

Yes, more grainy photos - because the light is not good this morning and I am teetering on a chair again.

The skirt is made from a very good quality babycord, in a rich shade of deep purple.  The babycord is lovely to sew with - and behaves so well after the slinkiness of jersey.  The skirt has babycord facings and a beautiful Liberty cotton poplin lining, and it fastens with a zip at the back. 

The best bit about it though is the fit.  I made my usual dress size without spending any time closely checking the exact measurements as I normally would when dressmaking.  And happily my casual enthusiasm did not backfire. 

It fits perfectly on the waist and hips and is exactly the right length.  I wanted it to come just above my knees and because I am very tall I was a little concerned that it may have come out too short.  Although they are easily shortened, there is no way with Clothkits skirts to make them longer, because the cutting lines are pre-printed on them and will show up if you make them longer than they are meant to be.  However, it was not a problem as I made it with the minimum hem possible and it came out exactly right.

Liberty poplin lining with the deep purple babycord - gorgeous

Next up was a skirt for O, who I think has inherited my height and is growing like a weed at the moment.  She loves skirts and is wearing them shorter and shorter as she grows out of everything in her cupboard.  Things were getting indecent, so rather than have any more conversations about what skirt length we agreed was suitable, I thought I should just make her something longer.

Crumpled after being stuffed higgledy-piggledy into her drawer

I made her this doves and cherries skirt, cutting out the age 10 size and adjusting the elastic at the waist to be a bit tighter and fit her properly - she's only just turned 8 and has a 10 year old's height with an 8 year old's waist.  It comes to just below her knees so looks fine now and will still look good (and not too indecent) for another year or two I hope.

The doves and cherries print is charming without being too girly, and again it is made from a very good quality babycord.  Since I bought the kit (last year again - ahem), Clothkits have brought out a purple version which I think I prefer to this blue-green one.  But no matter, because O approves, and it has just the right amount of twirliness to keep an 8 year old happy.

Waistband detail - "very well made in England"

We have a delightfully blank weekend stretching out in front of us, so I am continuing with the sewing (in between cooking up a feast from this fabulous book which O was given for her birthday). 

I have a custom order to make for the shop (very exciting - my first custom order, all the way from Florida!) and more jersey t-shirts to go with both these skirts.  Stay tuned for more outfits next week!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The world's quickest skirt

Normal life got in the way of sewing yesterday, and I didn't get to sit down at my desk until just before 9pm.  The beautiful Clothkits needlecord skirt was still sitting in pieces on my ironing board and I didn't have the energy to deal with zips and facings at that time in the evening.  So completely on the spur of the moment, and with that pile of jersey fabrics from Fabrics Galore still sitting enticingly in a soft pile by my sewing machine I decided I could still make myself a skirt - but a simple jersey one instead.

It is based very loosely on one in the Ottobre Women edition for spring 2010, but in the end heavily modified.  Here's what I did:
  • I measured from my waist down to where I wanted the skirt to fall (just fractionally above my knees), and added on 6cm for waistband and hem.  That came to 66cm.
  • I cut a piece of jersey 66cm long, across the full width of the fabric, from selvedge to selvedge.
  • I stitched the two selvedges of the fabric, right sides together, to create a tube.
  • I pressed down 1.5cm towards the wrong side of the fabric at the top of the skirt, and then folded down a further 2.5cm. 
  • I stitched down the bottom of this fold (leaving a small gap of about 4cm) to create a channel at the top of the skirt and then threaded through some wide elastic (1.5cm wide), before stitching the elastic together and closing the gap in the channel.
  • I pressed under 2cm at the bottom of the skirt and gave it a lettuce hem (again using the Oliver + S tutorial you can find here as I did with my t-shirt the day before).
I remembered to turn off the iron and then went to bed.  The time was about 10:30, so the whole thing had taken barely an hour and a half including measuring, cutting, sewing and finishing.

This morning I took some photos, and was reminded again - as I balanced precariously on a chair in front of the mantelpiece - that I really need to get a full-length mirror.

This sort of simple, elasticated skirt usually only looks good on young girls, and is unflattering for adults with hips and waists because it bunches up and gives a plump, rather frumpy, matronly look.  And that's not a look that I would seek out.  However, the drape in jersey means that it falls beautifully and will skim the waist and hips rather than add (more) bulk where you don't want it.  I hope these photos show that quick, simple skirts are entirely possible for adults - as long as you sew them from jersey.

I am very pleased, and shall now turn off the computer and return to the Clothkits skirt.  Possibly more to show-and-tell tomorrow!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

My Milly-Molly-Mandy top

I am so pleased that I bought plenty of this Milly-Molly-Mandy striped jersey at Fabrics Galore on Monday.  I am quite happy to have several things made from it in my wardrobe.

 Yesterday I made this long sleeved t-shirt, using the Ottobre Creative Workshop 303 pattern (which you can buy direct from Ottobre here).  This is a pattern for nine different versions of a basic women's t-shirts in UK sizes 8 to 26.  It has a wealth of information about sewing with knits and adjusting sizes.  I love its simplicity and usefulness - I just know I will be making tops from this pattern for years to come.

The pattern makes a close fitting t-shirt, perfect for layering or wearing under a cardigan, and mine turned out pretty much how I wanted.  I added 2cm onto the length as I know I have a long body, and many t-shirts I buy come up too short - and I'm pleased with how that turned out.

I didn't add anything to the sleeve length, but next time I would add 2cm there as well.  The sleeves are fine if I keep my arms down, as in the photo below, but if I am waving them around the sleeves creep up a tiny bit, and I'd like them just a touch longer.

The neckline was the fiddliest part of construction.  Purely because the fabric is rather slippery and I didn't pin it adequately.  It is bound - just like a quilt - and I like the way I got the stripes on the binding going the other way to the stripes on the top (purely accidental - I have a feeling if I tried to, I wouldn't be able to do it like this again next time!).  The binding gives a very neat, flat finish to the neckline.

The Ottobre pattern gives a few different suggestions for hemming, but I didn't follow any of them in the end.  Instead I followed the Oliver + S instructions (which you can get here) for making a lettuce hem on a regular sewing machine (no serger required). 

The hems (on the cuffs and the bottom) have ended up being my favourite part of the whole top.  I adore the simple, ruffled effect that you end up with.  And as I always sew hems on skirts and shirts by hand, to make them properly invisible, I love the speed of hemming on the machine!

Both the Ottobre pattern and the Oliver + S website are reassuringly adamant that you can make beautiful jersey clothes on a regular sewing machine, and I would wholeheartedly agree with this.  I'm sure if I had a serger I would use it and love it, but I don't feel any need to get one at all - my Janome machine does everything I need.

I have learnt a few jersey-sewing tips over the past few days, however:
  • Do use a ballpoint needle. A regular needle just chewed up the fabric.
  • Buy LOADS of reels of thread for your project, and wind several bobbins before you start.  The stitches you need to sew jersey fabrics are all very heavy on thread.
  • You really need to pin before you stitch.  I very rarely pin when I sew - preferring to carefully hold the fabric together - but jersey slips about too much for me to be this cavalier with it!
  • Don't be afraid of jersey fabrics - just have a go.  Now I'm wearing my top, I can't believe I've been dithering for so long.
I'm moving onto babycord today - there are two Clothkits skirts (one for me, and one for O) cut out and ready to sew - but I'll be back onto the jersey tomorrow, and am hoping to have several more t-shirts in my wardrobe by the end of the week.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Joyful with jersey

Yesterday Miss Moss Stitch and I dropped the children at school very promptly and whisked ourselves off to Clapham in South London to visit a shop called Fabrics Galore.  It doesn't sell online, so if you want to find out what sort of things it stocks you need to visit in person.  But really I can't imagine any circumstance where that would be a problem, because I have now renamed this shop The Best Fabric Shop In The World Ever

We spent nearly two and a half hours in there, and came away with firm plans to visit again in a couple of weeks' time because we had not really had time to look at everything properly.

I went to buy jersey fabrics, and I came away with loads.  Their selection was incredible - and included several Liberty jerseys - I had no idea that Liberty even made jersey fabrics.

I've never sewn with jersey before, but I now know that there is absolutely no reason to hesitate.  The mock overlock stitch on my sewing machine works brilliantly and I also have settings for twin needle stitches, three-stitch zigzag, knit stitch and honeycomb stitch - all of which are perfect for jersey fabrics.  I am not yearning for a serger at the moment.

I came home from Clapham, unwrapped my wonderful parcel of fabrics, and started cutting right away.  In a couple of hours yesterday evening I traced round a long jersey camisole I have, which fits me really well, cut out the fabric, stitched it all together and wore it to bed last night.  How awesome is that!

I love this Milly-Molly-Mandy style pink-and-white jersey.  It is very soft, bright, cost just £4 per metre, and is glorious to sew with.  I have over a metre of it left, and am planning on making some pyjamas for O with the rest of it. 

And then there are two other jersey fabrics waiting on my desk for me to transform into tops and camisoles.

Oooh, and some brushed cottons....

And some shirt fabrics....

No time to write more now.  There is sewing to be done!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Inheritance :: the war stories

Inheritance :: possession by transmission from past generations
Chambers Concise Dictionary

It is Remembrance Day today.  It is ninety-two years since World War I came to an end, and our opportunity to remember with gratitude those who have served our country in wars and conflicts over the past century.

We will all have inherited war stories from somewhere - relatives, neighbours or friends.  Some stories are amusing - my Granny used to tell me very entertaining and self-deprecating stories about driving an ambulance rather ineptly around the Lake District during World War II.  And some war stories are incredibly moving.

When we were in France this summer we went to the annual village fête.  In rural France the fête is a party for the whole village - it begins with a short speech by the local mayor, and the laying of flowers at the village war memorial, and then moves into a long weekend of pétanque contests, eating, drinking, dancing and socialising.

As we sat with my parents' neighbour, Renée, in the village square at lunchtime on the last day (eating local sausages, drinking red wine and muscat and listening to the band), I asked her what the date carved on a stone in one of the houses meant.

It puzzled me, because I thought that France declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939, the same day that Britain did, following the German invasion of Poland on 1st September.  And yet here was a stone commemorating the day before the start of the war - 2nd September 1939.

"Have I got the dates wrong?"  I asked Renée.
"No," she replied.  "It is to mark something else."

I asked her to tell me more, and she explained briefly that 2nd September 1939 was when a group of young men from the village hid a cache of arms in the basement of that house.  The arms were later taken from their hiding place and used locally as part of the French Résistance against the Vichy regime which controlled that part of France from 1940 to 1944.

"So the Résistance was in operation, right here in the village?" I asked.  " I didn't know that.  What happened?"
"Ils ont été fusillés," she replied briefly.  They were executed.  Fusillé is a very strong word to use in French - it means executed and shot, as opposed to just killed.

And I probably knew the answer to my next question before I asked it, but I still had to ask.
"Right here.  Under that stone."

The stone itself is an act of defiance - not commemorating the date of the men's death or the end of the occupation of the village, but rather the date that arms were hidden in preparation for fighting. 

The names of those young men do not appear on the village war memorial, because war memorials remember those who served in the army, not in the Résistance.

This is the village war memorial, and like so many war memorials it has far more names from World War I than from World War II.  Twelve men from the village who joined the French army died during World War I, and one died in World War II.

But the men and women from France who served and died working for the Résistance are still remembered as well.  When we drove out of Nancy very early in the morning, on our way back home through France at the end of our holiday, the children and I saw an enormous roadside memorial to Résistance fighters, and there is a national one at Fort Mont-Valérien in Paris.

And in a tiny village in the South of France, local heroes are remembered by a simple, defiant date on a house in the village square, and in the memories and stories of those who enjoy living in the village today.
Mum and Renée, singing at the village fete.

The village fête in full swing, at lunchtime on the third day.

The church bell tolling, after the mayor laid flowers on the village war memorial at the start of the fête.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Cold weather knits

Goodness me, it is cold.  Here in London we've gone from balmy, no-need-for-a-coat, blue-skied autumn to full-on winter,with icy winds, cold toes and hot water bottles, in less than 48 hours.

Last night (curled up under my quilt, in a corner of the sofa) I finished the second of these fingerless gloves.

They are made from Kaffe Fassett sock yarn using a free pattern from Ravelry, and are incredibly warm and comforting to wear.  They do come up quite short, and when I use this pattern next time, I will add more rows to the length of the palm.  These ones have an additional four rows to what the pattern specified, but next time I think I would add 12 rows.

I had to learn how to do a stretchy cast-off, so that the top of the mitts wouldn't pinch my hands, and from the plethora of online tutorials and videos, I found this one explained it all particularly well.

I love sock yarn with a passion, and have quite a bit of it - looking beautiful in a basket in the corner of the sitting room.  I enjoy knitting socks, but I am so pleased to find another quick and easy pattern for this fine, warm yarn. 

I do always get in a tangle with the Rowan sock yarns though, and this time was no different.  I don't know why.  I don't think I do anything different with them, but I am learning that I need to rewind the entire ball at the start of the project to avoid a frustrating evening of untangling messes like the one below.

So now I have warm hands, I decided I would like a new hat too.  Finishing a piece of knitting always makes me want to start something else right away, so I stayed up until stupid-o'clock last night rummaging around on Ravelry for a hat pattern I like, and deciding which of my yarns I wanted to wear on my head (whilst wearing my fingerless mitts, of course - the house gets cold once the central heating turns itself off).

I ended up casting on with this Rowan Cashsoft Baby DK in a beautiful shade of pink.  I am going to make a slouchy beanie hat, but given that my head is freakily big and I can rarely find hats to fit, it may end up more snug than slouchy.  No matter though - I shall be warm, which right now is my only aim.

You can find more details of both these projects, including links to the two patterns, on my Ravelry page.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Continuing with colour

Silverpebble's Splash of Colour project has started something here I think.  All the sewing I've done this week has been saturated with colour.

I've made two brightly coloured treats for the shop

First came a notebook cover, using what may be my last piece of this gorgeous Phillip Jacobs floral fabric.  It holds a Muji or a Moleskine notebook and has a little pocket on the front for a couple of pens or pencils.  If I still worked in the City I would so LOVE to take this into meetings as a zingy counterpoint to all the standard-issue office stationery. 

I've also made a patchwork cushion in one of my all-time-favourite colour combinations of bright red and pastel blue.  It has a touch of pink ricrac too, because I never need much of an excuse to add ricrac.

I used a dark green polka dot cotton for the back of the cushion and added a little patch of the Cath Kidston strawberry fabric which I'd included on the front.  I really love the blanket stitch settings on my machine, which I've used here, because I always found appliqueing with a zigzag stitch a very knotty and messy business.

I have a real cushion obsession at the moment. 

Since finishing C's birthday Swiss cushion, I've finally got round to remaking the cushion covers that I sewed for O when I was pregnant with her, nearly nine years ago.  I hadn't learnt about the envelope back closure back then and they were fastened with a giant flap and some very unsatisfactory velcro.  I've been desperate to re-make them and O finally agreed but instructed me to "keep them saggy" because that's how she likes them.

Despite the small blow to my pride this caused, I did as instructed and kept them "saggy".  I unpicked the covers, tutted at the shoddy understanding of seam allowances I had nine years ago, and re-made them with a few small additions of other panels of matching fabric, and some ricrac.

The cushions originally had the red-and-blue gingham on one side and the red-and-blue paisley on the other (both Ikea fabrics).  Because I added in some extra panels, I had a little of both fabrics leftover after re-modelling the cushions.  I used some of the gingham on the (puffy, not saggy!) cushion for the shop and with the very last scraps of the leftovers I made O a small patchwork quilt for her Clothkits dolls.

This corner of her bedroom now has all the colour I could wish for on a grey November day.  The Clothkits gang are all tucked up under their quilts, O's strawberry quilt is folded up on the bed, and the cushions are all lined up against the wall.  It looks like a cosy pink, red and blue fabric nest!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Splash of colour - November

The autumn colours in our part of East London are incredible this year.  The small part of Epping Forest that I drive past on the way to school each morning, has me exclaiming every day.  And there is one road which is lined with small trees of such vivid orange and flame-red, that even the children are moved to admire.

In our own garden, the cherry tree has put on quite a display for us; but the show is nearly over and I have much raking and bagging up to do if I want the grass to survive the winter.

The best splash of colour however, is to be found indoors, where I am baking little vanilla fairy cakes today.  They are cooling on their rack in front of the toaster and later will be topped with pale pink, rose-scented icing and some pink sprinkles.  Because sometimes little, simple girly cakes are just what's needed.

This post is for Emma's inspired Splash of Colour project which you can read about here, and then go and admire everyone else's November contributions in the Flickr pool here.