Craftiness, baking and other lovely things.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Granny does gingham

Granny squares meet this spring's trend for gingham (Woman's Hour told me this is spring's hottest new look so it must be true).

Reduced to its simplest form, gingham is just squares of colour.  Take white (or ivory for a more vintage vibe) and two shades of a colour.  For the sample in the photograph, I used cotton dk in white, palest blush and a peachier blush.

I made up tiny little one round granny squares and then sewed them together.  You could definitely go larger with the squares, but I think it's better to sew than crochet the squares together for the gingham effect.

Quick pattern:
Ch5 and working in fourth ch from hook, work 3tr, ch2, 3tr, ch2, 3tr, ch2, 2tr and ss into 3rd ch to join.  Fasten off.  (In the sample I made up I only used 1ch at each corner and the squares are a little bit curvy and round.  2ch at the corners will give a sharper corner.)  Make up as many squares as you need for your project.

Yarn details:
The white and very pale blush are Rico Essentials cotton dk and the peachy blush is Sirdar cotton dk.  I raided my stash, but recommend that you use the same yarn for all three colours for the best results.  It's not obvious in the photo, but the Rico yarn has a slight sheen and the Sirdar is very matte.

For more gingham inspiration, have a browse through what Pinterest found me for crochet gingham.

Friday, 1 July 2016


Sadly not my beautiful sewing room.
Photo credit: [ ] via Source / CC BY-SA

I need to admit something to you, and it makes me very uncomfortable to say it: I have too much.

Too much fabric (a lot of which I will never use but it's pretty so I keep it).  Too many old beads from broken bits of jewellery (because I did a course 4 years ago that required me to have some beads, but of course I have no need of them now).  Too many bits of ribbon and trim (because they are handy for making cards etc, which of course I don't do, or at least not with ribbon).  Too many sewing patterns (given to me, found at car boot sales, most of them not my style or size).  Too many things to mention in a basket marked 'Christmas', fabric and all sorts, which haven't been considered for at least 3 years.

You get the idea.  The problem is, I live in a small house; there are 2 adults and 3 children in our 3 bedroom semi.  I don't have a studio, garden room or even a defined area for making. 

I also think that I'm getting overwhelmed by this huge stash of crafty goodies.  Somewhere under all the stuff I don't use are things I want to use.  I'd like to get started on lino printing, but that would involve moving 3 large baskets, a pile of notebooks (oh, the notebooks and old diaries!  Am I the only one that can't bear to get rid of them?) and a couple of bags of ribbon ends.

 I need to be brutal and dramatically reduce my fabric stash and all the other things that are taking over.

So, first I need to establish some rules about what I can keep.  Logically, I think if I know that I won't use it in the next 6 months (with 1 or 2 exceptions, such as a length of dress fabric that I know I will make up when I find some time, or the little jingly bells that I do use at Christmas) then I should let it go.  That's hard.  I can already hear the voices in my head: but it's so pretty; it would make a lovely bag; oh, but you loved that when you bought it.  You get the picture.  Maybe you even have some of those voices yourself.

I'm going to start today.  I'll let you know how I get on.  

Thursday, 30 June 2016

How to make a dress: a cautionary tale

There are rules in dressmaking and, whilst some of those rules can be broken, most them (to my mind at least) are rules for good reason.  Let's take my latest dressmaking adventure as an example and highlight just a few of them.

Rule 1: Buy the right amount of fabric

If you see a gorgeous bolt of fabric that you have to have, but you're not sure exactly what you will make with it (and by exactly I mean which pattern you will use, not just some vague notion of a lovely dress for summer) then you must be sure to buy enough fabric.  I know that for me a dress length can be anything up to 3 metres.  I am generously proportioned and when you combine that with a circle skirt or other fabric munching style, anything less than 3 metres will limit which patterns I can use.  So standing in John Lewis, murmuring to yourself that 2 metres is fine because you didn't really have fabric in your shopping budget today is a mistake.  Buy enough or buy none.

I did at least buy a forgiving print, which was very handy when I broke rule 2....

Rule 2: When you trace out your pattern, if you are making any alterations - such as adding a button front to the skirt piece - be sure to include that on your new pattern piece.  See those extra seams and the buttons squished as far over as possible?  That's the result of cutting it out wrong.

Random notes written on the pattern piece reminding you to add 2" at centre front" will not be noticed when you are cutting out with your youngest child sitting under the table talking to you, your son complaining that the table is in the way of the TV and arguing with his teenage sister.  You will not see the note.  You will cut out your skirt fronts without the extra bit for buttons and buttonholes.  You will then be forced to try and put together enough fabric from your scant remains (see rule 1 above) to stitch bits on.  Thank goodness for that forgiving print,

Rule 3: Try it on as you go, before adding zigzagging to raw seam edges or topstitching.

Even if you've used the pattern before and especially if you haven't or you've changed something (like adding a different skirt to the tried and tested bodice), trying it on before you go beyond the point of unpicking and fixing fitting problems is absolutely vital.  Otherwise, your slight sway back which mysteriously didn't manifest itself in previous versions of this exact same bodice will pounce.  Too bad the dress was completely finished when I realised.

My sewing machine through a wobbler and the buttonhole lever refused to work.  I threw the dress on the floor, packed the machine away and picked up some knitting instead.  My husband medicated me (large glass of red) and withdrew to a safe distance.  A few slurps later, I realised that I could stitch the buttons in place through both centre fronts and stick a zip in the back.  If I had only remembered that my daughter also has a sewing machine.  Oh well, too late now.  Because I almost always wear a cardigan over a dress, because a concealed zip takes seam allowance and because I had a regular white zip, I went for an exposed zip.  Not pretty inside and boy, does it highlight that sway back, but oh well.  You can't tell if I pull the dress slightly below my natural (quite high) waist and pop a cardigan on.

Despite all of the problems, I am actually very pleased with the result.  I wore it the day after I finished it to go shopping with the teenager and felt comfortable and well dressed all day.  I particularly like the belt loops keeping the belt securely in place and the lovely pockets.  I do like a pocket.

The patterns I used were the Colette Seamwork Adelaide bodice and the Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt.  The Adelaide dress originally does not have separate pieces for the bodice and skirt, but having made a couple of dresses already from it, I thought I had the fit for the bodice nailed and I wanted a different skirt.  I've had the Hollyburn pattern for a while but not used it.  It worked brilliantly.  I topstitched the waistband on after I'd put the dress together, tucking the belt loops in and catching them in place at the same time.

I have plans to make more of these with some lovely Liberty fabric I got for my birthday and a couple of other pieces of fabric I have.  I love the fitted bodice and flared skirt, and the pockets, waistband and belt loops make it extra special. I might go with a concealed zip in the back and fake the button front.   And I will try to follow the rules next time!

PS I also made the cardigan and I cannot tell you how much joy and satisfaction I got from having a complete me-made outfit.  I used the Acorn Trail pattern by Amy Herzog as the starting point, but altered it from set in sleeves to raglan (I find they are easier to sew in and feel more comfortable) and I also added extra cables at the front edges to mirror the back.  The yarn was from Sirdar, just a basic aran acrylic (for reasons of price and I can't wear wool).

Friday, 13 November 2015

Liberty at the London Fashion and Textile Museum

A little light crochet on the train to London
So yesterday I took the train from my flat, rural Fenland home to the Big City, to hear a talk by Chinelo Bally at the London Fashion and Textile Museum.  I also got to see the Liberty in Fashion exhibition.  What to tell you about first?

I'll start with the exhibition, as that's what I saw first.  I have a bit of an ambivalent relationship with Liberty.  I truly love some of the Liberty fabrics but sometimes it's all a bit over-blown for me, just a little bit too far out there.  That said, the exhibition was fascinating, especially from a sewing perspective.  The details and construction of some of the garments, mostly dresses, on display was breathtaking.

All those little details, immaculate pintucks, embroidery and smocking.  Just beautiful and inspirational.  I must put more effort into those finishing touches.

Chinelo's talk was very good.  I haven't got her book in front of me to talk about.  I had already pre-ordered it from Amazon when I heard that I had won tickets to the talk - thank you very much to Frida at Pavilion Books.  Chinelo spoke about her book and Great British Sewing Bee and gave us her top tips for freehand cutting and dressmaking.  I can't remember them all but the ones that stuck in my head were:

Lose the fear - don't be afraid of cutting into the fabric or of your fabric choices.  What's the worst that could happen?  You can start again if it all goes wrong.

Measurements - we all know this one, but with freehand cutting it really is absolutely vital to get your measurements right.

Don't get hung up on not having all the gadgets - Chinelo uses a razor blade instead of a seam ripper (nice to know that even someone sewing for a living needs to rip seams out, isn't it?).  Look around your home and improvise if you haven't got a particular tool or gadget for a project.  She recommended the use of a tin of tomatoes as a pattern weight.  She's a very practical girl.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the book, fingers crossed it should arrive today.  In the meantime I'm wondering if I'll be brave enough to draw a pattern directly onto fabric and start cutting...

Monday, 9 November 2015

Tickets for Chinelo Bally's talk at the Fashion and Textile Museum? Yes, please!

I always enter those competitions on blogs, you know the ones, leave a comment and a winner will be selected at random.  Well lucky little old me, I won a pair of tickets to visit the London Fashion and Textile Museum for Chinelo Bally's talk launching her new book, plus entry into the Liberty in Fashion exhibition. #veryexcited.

I pre-ordered Chinelo's book just yesterday and I am intrigued, if slightly terrified, by her dressmaking methods, so it's fabulous to get the chance to go and hear her talk about it all.  Daughter number 1 thinks it sounds good, but it clashes with Scouts so she probably won't come with me.  (Scouts?  That's on every week!  Still, she's 12 and her celebrity crafter of preference is Kirstie Allsop.  Me, I like 'em all.)

I will report back, possibly with pics if I'm allowed to take them.  #winnerwinnerchickendinner.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

31 shirts and talking to children about death

In the summer, I sat on the steps of my beach hut under a gloriously blue sky, listening to the gentle sound of the incoming tide and talking with my friends about what the terminally ill father could gift to the family he would leave behind on death, to give them something tangible to hold onto, something that would help them remember him.  It wasn't a sad conversation, at least not for my brave friends; more a practical discussion of the possibilities.  I mentioned that memory quilts were worth considering, especially as Dave was a great wearer of shirts of all patterns and colours.  They liked the idea, although Ange did say it would definitely be something that I'd have to make, she having no sewing skills beyond button fixing.

Last Saturday I collected 31 shirts.  Dave was in the hospice, at the very end stage of end stage cancer.  He was expected to pass within days.  Ange knew he would not be wearing those shirts again and she had decided that she'd like to use the memory quilt, or memory blanket as we were calling it, to lay it over his coffin and then bring it home to comfort her and the children.

I took apart, cut up and sewed for 5 days.  The finished blanket had to retain the 'shirtness' of each shirt, rather than being made up of identically sized, neat little squares, arranged in an organised pattern.  Rather it had to include all the little details that made each shirt special: the contrast stitching; the crazy lining fabric; buttons stitched onto velvet ribbon.  The pieces had to be large where the pattern was large.  I pieced it blindly from piles of squares and strips of fabric.  I had enough fabric from those 31 shirts to make a double sided blanket.  It was huge.  It was beautiful.

Making that blanket was an unexpected experience.  Cutting fabric is usually boring, but not this time.  The whole process was almost meditative.  Whilst my hands were cuting, smoothing, stitching, my mind wandered and I remembered that day, and other days, on the beach with Dave and his family.  Parties we'd been to, conversations we'd had, cups of tea we'd drunk together.  It was an honour to be trusted with such precious fabric and I know that the finished blanket will be treasured.  I left the blanket with Ange's mum who laid it on her bed so that it was there when she got home late that night from the hospice.

The next morning, yesterday, at 6am, Dave - who hugged better than anyone else I've ever been hugged by - passed from this world.  Ange asked that friends meet in the evening to celebrate his life and send some fireworks up to heaven.

I didn't know how to tell my children why we going there.  They knew that Dave was ill.  But how could I tell them that someone they knew, their friends' dad, was dead?  In the end, it was my husband who told the older two in a very straightforward way.  We decided that Issie, aged 6, didn't need to know.  I wish now that I had joined my husband to tell them, even though I know I would have cried.  Grief should not be invisible and I realise now that I had the chance to show my children that, to show them that crying is okay.  The children took it in the same straightforward manner they were told.  They enjoyed the fireworks and had a great time running around with the other children.  It was a fitting celebration of the life of the man who was called a friend by many, many people.

As we were leaving, I hugged Ange and she thanked me again for the blanket.  "Dave would have been proud," she said.  Bless you, Dave Stocker.  You will be missed.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Me-Made-May 2015

I'm in!  I have pledged to wear at least two me-made items for every week of May.

It's been crazy around here, with the cough and cold that won't quit, school holidays and a quick break in Norfolk.  I know I've neglected my blog, but the children are back to school next week and I can stop being Mrs Tickle and concentrate on other things, at least between 9am and 3pm.  I've been sewing and knitting and can't wait to post about the fabulous new outfit I've almost finished for a party this weekend.  Way out of my usual wardrobe comfort zone but I am very, very pleased with it.

To find out more about Me-Made-May, look at So, Zo's blog or click the button top right of this page.