That’s what friends are for!

Life’s been rather busy here of late. Suffice to say I’ve not had much time for crafting and even less for blogging. I’ve rehearsed and performed one show already this year and I have a musical nearing curtain up.

I’ve done a spot of flower arranging; my cardigan just needs binding off, buttons and blocking. The alpaca hat and scarf for my bestie is in a state of perpetual WIP – I’m not sure they’ll be done in time for wear before the weather warms up. Soz, C! I’ve missed Unravel Festival for this year, although I will be going to the Knitting and Stitching Show with my bestie in a couple of weeks time – excited, much? Thanks, C! (Anyone else going?) I’ve just been given a stack of costume bits to sew for the musical. But looooook what my bestie just brought back from holiday for me…

Ain’t she just the best!? Just gotta find time to knit them now…!

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Good times!

I do enjoy Christmas. The run up is always a little crazy with school nativities and activities, parties, planning and shopping, decorating, preparing and wrapping. I’ve had rehearsals for two different shows as well as taking part in my church carol service – learning the harmonies for various carols has been a particular highlight!

I also ended up with various creative projects on the go too. Along with the apron for my nephew which I showed you last time…

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There was a fair isle hearts hat for my niece. I used the TinCanKnits Clayoquot Toque pattern as the starting point, but changed it up with a folded brim and my own design for the hearts.

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And a wheat bag for my sister in law, which I made from a little corduroy skirt I found in a charity shop. I used my mum’s sewing machine to sew it – she’s got an all singing, all dancing Janome machine that took a little getting used to, but sewing machine aspirations right there! – and filled it with wheat and homegrown lavender.

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There’s also been a fair amount of baking. Vanilla shortbread and slightly experimental apple and cinnamon cupcakes with caramel buttercream (I’ll be making those again!). My first ever meringue kisses made in a hurry to use up some egg whites before we went away for a few days, and my first ever Christmas pudding which fed the family on Christmas Day.

Fortunately, Christmas itself is a time to chill out and spend time relaxing with family and generally not doing too much except eat and wash up and eat some more and keep the kids entertained!

When we travel up to spend time with my family, Mr Jack and I like to spend time on the journey reflecting on the year past. It’s been a good one, with lots of things falling into place following the last couple of years of upheaval with house hunting, moving, school uncertainties etc. The boys are well settled at their new school, and we feel better rooted in our new house and town. I’ve surprisingly become a runner over the last year. I’m loving parkrun, and though I didn’t quite officially meet my target of a sub-30 minute 5k parkrun by Christmas, I have done sub-30 training runs and I’m not far off that at parkrun. I’ve also shed nearly 2 and a half stone thanks to Slimming World. I aimed to be at target by Christmas and was just a couple of pounds away. Technically that’s within the target range anyway, so I’ll call it a win! I feel very boring going on about food and pounds but ultimately I feel so much better for having done it and just for me!

I’ve been involved in some great theatre this year too and am so excited for what’s lined up for next year already. My first turn in  Shakespeare in February followed by a fun musical in March and then I’m booked to see both Harry Potter and Hamilton in London during April.

Then of course there’s also Unravel in Feb and the Knitting and Stitching show in March too. Plenty to be looking forward to.

For now though, I’m going to enjoy a few more days of food and family and a chance to not do much. Maybe I’ll manage to get this second crazy sleeve done before the year is out. Now that would be an achievement!

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Tricky sewing

My nephew’s Christmas list this year included an apron. I’ve been keeping an eye out for one in the shops with no joy, so when I spotted this cute fabric whilst buying black jersey for my sleeves, I decided to make him one instead.

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It’s a pretty simple make and I just used Pumpkin’s apron as a template. The challenge was in dealing with a rather tricky fabric. The shiny vinyl surface sticks to any other smooth surface which makes it tricky to keep it moving through the sewing machine. I used a little washi tape on the under side of the foot and a piece of fabric wrapped around the bed of the machine to help keep it from sticking.

The fabrics also can’t be pinned as they leave puncture holes. I just creased the edges as much as I could and hoped it would stay in line when I sewed.

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Overall it turned out pretty well. Hope the nephew agrees!

Tip top!

I made a top!

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Finding that pile of patterns inspired me to just get on with it. The pattern is New Look K6230. I dug out the pink flowered jersey which I bought as an offcut earlier in the year for practise sewing. I thought an entire top in pink would be a bit much so I investigated a local fabric shop and found the black jersey for the sleeves, which cost me as much for just one metre as all of the pink flowers and the blue flowers fabrics together! I did manage to cut two sets of sleeves and neckbands though, so they’re ready for making another top at some point.

Having not sewn with jersey before, I warmed up by reading a couple of blogs on the subject and referring to a helpful leaflet from Guthrie and Ghani that came with the sewing machine jersey and stretch twin needles I bought at The Knitting and Stitching show.

The pink was quite difficult to sew as it is such a floppy fabric. It was hard to keep it in a straight line without stretching it out. Fortunately the black is much more stable and most of the seams included both fabrics. The top stitching around the neckline was a bit wobbly so I unpicked the front section and had a second go. The most difficult bit was the hem. I had to try various settings on my machine to get the right stitch length and even then had to unpick a section or two that were very untidy.

The end result though, is something that fits and feels pretty comfy to wear and looks half decent! I’ll call that a win!

What new skills are you keen to learn but apprehensive about?

Unexpected treasures

I just popped into town for a few things and found myself in one of the charity shops. They have a whole craft section in this particular shop. Alot of it is quite old and basically junk, but sometimes there are a few treasures. I had a rummage through the patterns box – 50p per pattern! – and pulled out a few that I thought looked good and I might possibly have a go at at some point in the future.

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As I was checking the price again for the lady at the till, I realised there were lots of drawers full of other sewing bits and bobs – buttons, thread, bead, ribbons – so after I’d paid I went back for another rummage. Deep in one of the drawers I found this piece of soft stretch jersey. 2.5 metres of it, originally sold as a remnant from Closs & Hamblin. I’vestill not managed to make anything with jersey, but I couldn’t resist this for only a fiver!

I’ve already got my sewing machine out and I am determined to leap the old stumbling block of ‘what-if-I-mess-it-up?’ and have a go at making a top.

Summer

Having struggled to fill it in previous years, this summer seems to have ended up packed full of activities and away time.

Shopping with friends for cardigan buttons and other goodies.

A little DIY in the kitchen and the saucepan lids have a new home.

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A return to the family ranch is always good for the soul.

The tomatoes are coming along well and we have a pumpkin that has continued growing beyond golf ball size.

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There’s also been lots of reading (Swallows and Amazons with Pumpkin is wonderful!), lots of sewing and still a few name labels to go! Lots of fun at the park and meeting friends, cinema, theatre, TV, Scrabble, all sorts! The summer isn’t over yet and there’s plenty more fun to be had.

Hope you’re enjoying yours!

Letting go

What do you do with things you have made that no longer serve a purpose?

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You may recall that I made a dress back in March this year. Its the first real garment that I’ve made from scratch using my sewing machine and as such, it has a certain amount of sentimental value. Its a great reminder of a project I worked hard on, and pushed myself to overcome my ‘perfection paralysis’ and felt proud of what I managed to achieve.

That said, it was made as a costume for a show. Its not a style I would choose to wear on an every day basis and I cant really imagine an occasion for which it would be particularly useful. (Chances of someone I know throwing a 60’s party are slim!) In fact, it doesnt even really fit me any more. Thanks Slimming World!

But still it hangs on the outside of my wardrobe where I can see it from my bed and I’ve reached the point of wondering what to do with it.

The wardrobe mistress expressed an interest in having it at the time of the show, so I guess I could pass it on to her for future costume use. I just dont want to regret letting it go.

What would you do? Do you keep things after they’ve served their purpose or are you good at letting things go?

Sew busy

Today was a sewing day. Pumpkin went to his grandparents and Pickle was happily occupied with some new colouring pens and a few episodes of Paw Patrol. I felt the need to do something productive and spotted a T shirt of Pickles that has been put to one side for ages in need of a little mending, and so decided that this was a day for sewing.

I fixed the T shirt first, reattaching a piece of fabric across the inside of the front which covers the back of the embroidered picture to stop it tickling the tummy when worn.

Next up was a pair of Pumpkin’s school trousers that had sustained a knee injury on the playground a few weeks ago.

It was quite a big hole, so I patched it from behind with some iron-on mending fabric that I must have had for years as it was from Woolworths! It stuck pretty well, but I stitched it all the way round the edge for security too. It was a bit obvious on the outside so I folded some of the remaining loose fibres over the hole and darned them into place. Its not the best patch job, but hopefully its not too noticeable when worn at knee level and the trousers will last a bit longer at least!

Then I remembered a T shirt of mine that I never wear because the stitching had come undone and left a hole in the armpit (not a great look!) so I fixed that too.

Then, since I had all my sewing stuff out, I thought I may as well make a start on the great nametag sew-in marathon of the year. Pickle is starting reception in September so this week has seen a fortune dropped on new uniform for him. Pumpkin is also starting a new school in September, though as yet theres still a little uncertainty as to which one, so his uniform buying spree will happen closer to the start of term. Spreading out the sewing seemed like a good plan too.

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Now, lots of other mums think I’m nuts for using the sew-in type of name label. Just today I’ve seen rave reviews for both the iron-on stickers and the ink stamp type nametags and also a recommendation for the sharpie ‘write-it-on-yourself’ approach, but I dunno, I think I’ll always be a sew-in fan. Yes, its a faff and time-consuming, it makes my fingers hurt and I can’t believe how many I still have to do, but once they’re done, I know they’re not going to fade or fall off, they’ll last as long as the item of clothing does and once that item is outgrown or worn out, I can remove the label without a trace and I guess, even reuse it if I want to! They’re the same type of label that my mum used for me and my siblings when we were at school too, so it feels like a familiar and a sort of generational link. I even doubled up the initials so the same ones do for either child depending which way you fold it! Thanks mum! Its a labour of love and I’ll keep doing it for as long as my boys need nametags in their clothes!

What’s in your mending pile? Which type of nametag do you use?

Treasure Trove

A random comment I noticed on a Facebook group last night sent me off on a treasure hunt this morning. It mentioned a fabric shop I’d never heard of, just a short drive from where I live. I’ve been on the lookout for some cheap knit fabric so I can practise the Renfrew top pattern I bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show, before I let myself loose on the spensive fabric I bought with it.

The fabric shop itself was much smaller than I’d hoped and didn’t carry a vast amount of stock. Most of it was printed cottons suitable for quilting, but I did find an end-of-roll offcut of a pink floral-printed jersey. I didn’t measure it, but it was only three quid, so I bought it anyway and hope it might be enough for a first crack at a Renfrew.

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The treasure was to be found in the adjacent barn. It hosts a selection of small businesses, almost like a small indoor market – vintage clothes, art and papercraft supplies, a small haberdashery, a petfood stall, fruit and veg, even a yarn shop, but the crown was the most amazing Aladdins Cave of a cake decorating supplier. They stocked just about everything you could possibly want for cake decorating – tools, toppers, food colourings, fondant icing, edible glitter, boxes, cake boards, stands, and a huge selection of cake tins for hire. I know where I’ll be heading next time I need some serious cake supplies, and it’s much nearer than the place I used to go to!

I think I’ll have to keep looking for a good local fabric shop. I discovered a great one a few weeks ago when I visited a friend and her yarn shop in Essex, but sadly that can hardly be considered local! Still, if you’re in the vicinity of Braintree in Essex, Blake House Craft Centre is definitely worth a mooch. They have a whole range of shops there though I’ve only been in two of them myself. And Sew On stocks a wide variety of fabrics and haberdashery supplies. I could have lost hours in there and left with a considerably lighter purse had I been in the mood for indulging. Just next door is my friend’s shop Sconch, which is just yarn heaven. It carries probably the biggest range of yarn types I’ve ever found in a single yarn shop. They have a great space for running Craft and Cake sessions several days a week. The staff were friendly and helpful. They also run an online shop which I’ve ordered from in the past and they have excellent customer service. I’d definitely recommend stopping by if you can.

I’m resisting buying any yarn at the moment as I have several projects lined up already, but I couldn’t come away completely empty handed, so I bought these cute stitch markers.

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What’s your local yarn or fabric shop like? Have you ever come across a crafty treasure trove?

Dagenham Dress

This was going to be a series of work in progress posts, but since it all progressed rather quickly and to a deadline, and injuring my wrist at rehearsal a couple of weeks ago made typing difficult, it’s ended up as a fait-accompli post instead!

I’ve been rehearsing over the last few months for a production of Made in Dagenham. It’s set in the 1960’s and is based on the true story of the women workers of the Ford factory in Dagenham who went on strike for equal pay. It’s a fun show with great music and of course it requires lots of great costumes in keeping with the 60s era. My character in particular needs several different outfits and since the wardrobe mistress has her hands full costuming everyone else, I offered to have a crack at making a dress for myself.

I’ve never really sewn a garment on my own from scratch before. I did a bit of dressmaking as a teenager, though only simple skirts, and always under the tutelage of my mum. My mum and I also worked together to make my wedding dress several years ago. I’ve wanted to have a go at something a bit more ambitious ever since I got a sewing machine for Christmas a couple of years ago, but until now had only ever done simple mending jobs, or basic projects like my crochet hook roll and Pumpkin’s pencil case.

So, after a little bit of procrastinatory research, I decided the only this to do was to bite the bullet and throw myself into it. A trip to the local fabric store and I was equipped with pattern, fabric, lining material and a zip.

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I was a good girl and put the fabric straight into the washing machine when I got home. Then read the pattern properly and realised I would need a few other things. Cue another hasty trip to a different haberdashery shop for interfacing, carbon paper, tracing wheel and a rotary cutter.

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Since I was between sizes, I had a go at grading the pattern out at the waist and further at the hips. I made a toile out of the lining fabric to begin with to check the fit and ended up adjusting the grading a fair bit. The red line above shows my first attempt.

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Tin cans make excellent pattern weights!

 

I spent a long time laying the pattern out and tracing it using the carbon paper and wheel. I still took a big deep breath before I started cutting it. (Rotary cutting wheels are awesome by the way!) There were quite a lot of moments throughout the project where I found myself starting to question each new step and whether I was doing it right or was going to risk messing up what I’d already done. I just told myself to suck it up and get on with it. I’m not always very good at doing that. Often projects sit and linger when I can’t quite bring myself to do the next step for fear of messing up.

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Once I was happy with the toile I moved onto the main fabric. I thought it could be a big challenge having to do all the pattern matching, but in fact having the lines to keep me on track really helped.

Sewing the shoulder seams would have been easier if I’d fully unpicked the lining after using it as a toile. I did have to unpick it all eventually, otherwise the construction wouldn’t have worked. Pulling the whole thing right side out through the shoulder straps required some mental gymnastics, but was easy enough. I would need to think through the seams allowances better if I was doing it again, in terms of which way they lie and trimming them better before flipping it through, as they ended up being a little bulky, but that’s just how you learn, right!?

Inserting the zip was a similar story. I’ve only done a zip once before – on Pumpkins pencil case – and never an invisible zip. The first side went in fine. The second side took me a couple of attempts and then when I flipped it round I discovered it was twisted anyway, so I had to unpick that side again and reposition it before stitching again. Fortunately it went in right first time after that and I was very pleased with the pattern matching.

This was the point at which I fell over at rehearsal and sprained my wrist, so the dress rested for a week before I could get back to it. But with the show looming I had to push on. I basted the sides together and my wardrobe mistress kindly helped to check the fit and mark the hemline and it was fairly straightforward after that, just a little slow.

The hem was the bit that I procrastinate over the most I think. With everything having gone together so well up to that point, I really didn’t want to mess it up at the final hurdle. I pinned and repinned and basted and pressed and eventually took a deep breath before chopping off the excess length. I hand sewed the outer fashion fabric for a neater finish on the outside and machine stitched the lining.

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I’m incredibly proud of the finished garment especially given it’s the first time I’ve made something like this, and to wear it onstage and pretend it’s a designer outfit is a fantastic feeling. I’m absolutely loving doing the show too. I got my nails done last week to help me get into character as well. So unlike me, but they complement the dress perfectly! Here’s to more successful sewing!

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