Sunday, 30 September 2018

Making the Seasons: September

Two clothing posts in a row! Most unlike me, but all house pottering and crafting is on hold while the endless home renovations continue. We now have new flooring in the hall and living room and it's looking fabulous, I will show you soon. But enough of that, welcome to September's Making the Seasons post. As always with these posts, I am trying to make a little time and space in a busy life for some kind of crafting. It can be anything and if you look at my Making the Seasons label on the right hand side of my blog you can see the other things I've done over the last ten months, but this month was sewing.

I don't know whether it was the recent Frida Kahlo effect, with all those floral headbands I kept seeing everywhere, or just summer, but for the last few months I have really wanted to cover a plain white shirt with some fabulously over the top, Mexican style embroidery. You know the sort of thing, huge flowers and lush green leaves, heavy with satin stitch. I even bought a couple of lovely tops - a large cotton shirt from Gap and a gorgeous silk blouse in the sale at The White Company - but couldn't settle on a design or find the time for that amount of time-consuming stitching.

And then I remembered applique, something I used to do a lot when the children were younger, brightening up a plain supermarket t-shirt or bag with some fabric and thread. It's a quick way to achieve the same effect of colour and shape without hours of careful hand sewing. So I dusted off my Bondaweb (fusible interfacing) and found some linen and felt scraps, and just cut out a few shapes, arranging them on the t-shirt as I went. The top I used is a plain striped long-sleeved t-shirt from Gap, a shop I like a lot because their clothes seem to fit my body shape well and they always wash well and last a long time. 

It took an hour to cut and iron on the petals and leaves, and then I spent maybe an hour each night this week securing the fabric to the t-shirt with stitches around the edge, then adding a little embellishment and extra detail. The fusible interfacing secures the fabric for a little while, but you need the stitching to make sure it's really going to last. I like how it came out, especially the way it looks a bit like a necklace, and the colours are summery but faded, a nice crossover into autumn. It was a fun project and a welcome distraction from endless decorating, and a seasonal end-of-summer thing to create, although I'm afraid I've packed away my Saltwaters for another year and dusted off my boots. 

Next month, the last one in this Making the Season's project I'm sharing with my friend Lucy at Attic24, I am planning on learning a totally new skill and trying my hand a something I've never done before: weaving on a small loom. I am very excited! But for now, please pop over to Lucy's beautiful, colourful blog and read her September post. She's been extremely busy with Yarndale so I am amazed that she has had time to do anything else. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

I Made a Dress

It's true, I really did make an actual dress! You all know that machine sewing has never been my passion or my forte, but with some patience, a lot of swearing, and a lot of help from YouTube and kind people on Instagram, I made a dress that is not only wearable but actually rather lovely. I can't quite believe it and this is another post, like the knitted jumper, that I didn't think I'd get around to writing. I'm so pleased.

The pattern is the Camber dress from Merchant and Mills and I would definitely recommend it as a beginner pattern. It's a simple shift dress, for which you need to add darts at the bust, sew bias binding around the neck and sleeves, make a yoke for the back and insert the sleeves, unless you want a sleeveless shift which, now I come to think about it, would be very nice for the summer. 

All of these were new to me and I learned so much just from sewing this one dress. My darts didn't sit right to begin with (pointy boobs!) but after unpicking, re-sewing and pressing well with a DIY tailor's ham (a damp tea towel filled with rice) they were salvaged.

I didn't find the yoke across the shoulders overly troubling and I went very slowly and carefully with the stitching on the bias binding as I find stitching on a curve really tricky.

Inserting the sleeves was fiddly but I found a couple of really good tutorials online and followed them. The pattern directions are clear but scant, and as a total beginner I needed more detail so thank goodness for Youtube. 

I decided at the last minute to add pockets, simply by sewing two squares onto the front of the dress. I love pockets in a dress or skirt, they are so useful. 

A more skilled dressmaker would no doubt have inserted pockets along the side seam of the dress but this was a step too far for me and I like them as a bold feature on the front. 

I found the pattern a little on the loose side but I haven't washed it yet so it may shrink a little. I will probably wear this dress with a belt, or you could make a nice matching sash/tie from leftover fabric. I chose a linen fabric which is gorgeous, and I love the way it creases, but it's heavier when worn than it feels when handled in the shop, if that makes sense, so it's an autumn and winter dress. 

The day Bella took the photos below I wore it to work with leggings, sandals and a cardigan, but when it's colder I'll wear it over a thin black roll neck jumper with tights and boots. It's very versatile. 

Apologies for the graininess of these pictures; Bella took them on my phone in her bedroom at about 7.30 one morning before we left for school and work. 

But I absolutely love it and am definitely going to make another. I am currently thinking about a patterned fabric, although the thought of pattern matching makes me nervous, or perhaps one in grey linen with contrasting bias binding and pockets in a bold colour like mustard yellow or raspberry pink. I don't know but I'm going to have fun thinking about it. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Eyes on the Prize

Amidst the renovations and general chaos life rumbles on and we all settle further into our new roles and places, inching ever closer to autumn. The nights are drawing in visibly now, although it's still very mild. 

While Bella just sailed through the transition from primary to secondary school, I'm still getting to grips with it. Not a day goes by without some email from Parentmail telling me I have to do or sign or buy something. No matter that I spent an eye-watering amount of money on uniform back in August - there's still more. Black leggings and a plain black t-shirt are required for dance class apparently, and two different types of PE t-shirt along with sweatshirt and bottoms, and don't forget the scientific calculator, and while I'm at it would I like to put down a £100 non refundable deposit for a school trip to France next year too, while I'm at it? I need a PA just to manage school admin. It makes me nostalgic for primary school when all you needed was a Smiggle pencil case. Meanwhile, Bella and her precious new mobile phone have discovered youtube, Zoella, and cake decorating tutorials, which led to a Saturday afternoon during which both children showed me that they were far better at piping icing than I could ever hope to be, although I was permitted to do the washing up. The new phone and Facetime has also led to Bella picking up some old and dear friendships from Leeds which is absolutely lovely, with girls I knew since they were tiny. It's great hearing her giggle away while she talks to them. Technology, it has it's pros and cons. 

The house is an appalling muddle, with everything in completely the wrong place, and so I am constantly misplacing things like birthday cards I was supposed to post and my keys. The kitchen is the only undisrupted space, and I retreat there often. Soups and stews are starting to feature more now, and I am becoming great friends with my slow cooker. I also made a dress, completely taking over the whole kitchen for a day while I did it, and I will show you the results soon.

Work on the house has taken over any free time we have at the moment. We are doing everything ourselves and so it has to happen at weekends and during the evenings, which is slow going and tiring, but saving us a lot of money. We are, as ever, on a tight budget, but since I last posted about work on the house, we've been busy.

We pulled up that glossy dark laminate flooring in the hallway and found....more laminate. Only this was the really thin kind (the era of Changing Rooms, we thought) and glued to the original parquet floor.

Removing this laminate was one of the worst DIY jobs I have ever done in this house, it nearly broke me and my parents, who were helping me that weekend when John was at work. Each strip had to be softened with a heat gun then lifted with a scraper.

While the thick layer of glue left behind had to be softened again, scraped off, then scrubbed with wire wool and white spirit. It was the most unpleasant, toxic, sticky job ever. 

And the floor is still sticky, hence the attractive carpet stepping stones we are using until the new flooring is laid.

Other than that, we've been filling and levelling in the hallway, getting it ready for decorating. We still need to lay the floor, fit skirting, paint everywhere (walls, woodwork, ceiling, metalwork on the stairs), sand and varnish the wooden stair treads. Not much then.

Meanwhile, in the living room, we pulled up the laminate and found more of the same lovely parquet floor underneath.

Unfortunately, it only covered two thirds of the floor, the other third being concrete as it was a later addition. Also, quite a lot of the original floor is water damaged and with loose pieces of wood. 

Now, while restoring the original floors would, of course, have been wonderful, it would have meant digging out, lowering and levelling the concrete areas, then sourcing reclaimed parquet that matched ours, then paying a carpenter to lay the floor. Not something we had the budget or the stomach for, I'm afraid. 

Then we thought about engineered oak, for both the living room and the hallway, but at £2000 we quickly thought again and decided to go for this, which was less than half the price including underlay. 

Yes, it's laminate (which I feel has unfairly become a dirty word in floor coverings), and it's really nice. Thick and warm with bevelled edges and a matt, textured feel, it looks fantastic in the living room.

John and my brother in law Paul spent all weekend laying the living room floor themselves and I couldn't be more pleased. It lets so much more light into the darker corners, and the matt surface is infinitely more forgiving of dust and dog hair than the previous shiny flooring.

John has been busy fitting the skirting and this weekend we hope to decorate. I think we are just going to paint everything white. I like it that way, then all the wood and plants and little pops of colour can shine against it. It will be October, realistically, before we are anywhere near finished, perhaps by half term. But, eyes on the prize, I just need to keep thinking about how beautiful and airy it's going to look when it's finished, about how much more space we will have, how much more light bouncing around the house. I may need to buy some more houseplants!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

All the crafting

Hello! Thanks for your tips and advice on housework. I am going to do a proper round up type post soon, because it's one of those funny subjects which seems really dull at first glance but which people (myself included) quite like talking about and especially finding out how other households tick and make it work. Thanks to those who recommended the TOMM method. I am familiar with it and have had a good look at her website and videos, and like a lot of what I see, although having said all that I don't know if it's for us as a family and household. 

It's suddenly turned a lot cooler here and there are WIPs everywhere, and I know that the seasons are definitely turning as I plan more and more projects for the colder months. But, if I'm honest, I'm just not feeling it. I'm too tired, too busy, too distracted. Between the new job and new routine and the chaos that is the downstairs of our house, I am not feeling remotely inspired. Please don't tell me that all crafting will stop until October half term, I will definitely go mad. Some nights even the thought of getting out my crochet basket is too exhausting to think about but, like exercise, I always feel better afterwards. My malaise is not helped by the fact that I spent all day yesterday sewing the Merchant and Mills Camber dress and while 90% of it is good, better than good actually, the darts around the bust are all wrong and I feel like screwing it up in a ball and throwing it into the spare room until I am calm enough to sort it out. 

Anyway. Moving on.

I don't know if I ever showed you a photo of this blanket I made for my friend and colleague Donna, who left us to move to New Zealand. She asked for grey and heather tones, and it was a pleasure to make something in colours that I wouldn't usually choose. Actually, this is the kind of project I feel like working on at the moment; something solid, cosy, easy. No decisions to make. 

For those who might like to know details, I used the standard ripple pattern in treble crochet and it measures 90 x 120 cm. The Yarn is Drops Eskimo (five balls of white #01, four of grey #53, four of dark grey #14, four of camel #13 and four of heather #65) and an 8mm hook. Using such chunky yarn, I discovered that it is - just - possible to crochet two colleagues blankets in three weeks right at the end of the summer term, but I wouldn't advise doing so in a heatwave.

The hexagons are growing nicely. I reckon I've done about a hundred and twenty by now, although nothing since the holidays.

I usually cut out three sheets of 3 inch hexagon templates at a time, and then choose the fabric and cut pieces roughly to size using a 4 inch hexagon. I try to cut my paper hexagon templates as carefully as possible, as the lady in the yarn shop said the accuracy was really important when sewing them all together. Then I hand baste in batches of ten or so, and iron them flat whenever I happen to have the ironing board out. I know that I will never use up all my fabric scraps with this quilt so I am prioritising the ones I like best, like the Liberty print and the Nani Iro, and choosing the colours and patterns which I really love. I want a lot of white in this quilt too to offset all that colour and pattern, so I am using plain white cotton for quite a lot of the hexies too. Those ones are really boring to make.

I started a new blanket on holiday. I found myself with a lot of aran weight cotton yarn (Drops Paris) left over from a project earlier in the year, a baby blanket for which I kept ordering pink yarn until I found the right shade, but couldn't face returning all the yarn. I have a very distinct picture in my head of how this blanket is going to look and I have to trust myself here as I don't have a pattern and it's join as you go, so no chance to lay out all those squares of colour before crocheting or sewing them together.

My squares are all on the diagonal, and there will be waves of colour that gradually move through the grid but not in a rainbow way, much more random than that. I know this corner is very pink but that's because that's all I had on holiday. The subsequent two rows are much more grey, white and beige, and I have all these colours here too:

I can't really tell how this blanket is going to turn out and go through phases of loving it and hating it. 

I also have plans to make this jumper, in time for the cooler weather hopefully. 

The pattern is from here and I decided to make it in the colour featured as I don't have anything in this rusty orange colour, and it seemed perfectly autumnal.

I bought this book from Foyles in London during the holidays and am now determined to get out the as-yet-unused loom I bought about a year ago. 

Part of the appeal is that is seems the perfect way to use up odd amounts of yarn which have long since lost their labels, and I am planning a small wall hanging for our hallway, when it is ever finished. October maybe?

In the meantime I am very inspired by the designs in the book and have lots of ideas about the colours I want. 

This is the autumn I finally get to grips with weaving! Oh, and juggling work and family life, sorting out the living room and hall (John is laying the flooring this weekend), working on all my WIPs, remembering to feed the children and dog, not fall asleep on the sofa every night at 9pm....not much then.