Craftiness, baking and other lovely things.

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.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A stitch off the old seam

Some days my children severely test my faith in my parenting skills.

And then there are days when I really do think I'm getting it right.

Like the day Sewster came home from seeing her friends, told me how she liked a top one of the girls was wearing and asked if we could make one. Yes, make one.  How wonderful is that, that her first thought was to make one, not buy one?  

We yoked the strength of eBay (because we live out in the sticks where it's hard to find good fabric unless we first journey by car or train for 45 minutes).  We looked on Pinterest until she pointed at a picture and said "that one".  We laundered the fabric and took measurements and then proceeded, without a pattern, to make a beautiful kimono style top and a sash belt to cinch it in at the waist.  I did the tricky application of binding around the neck, but Sewster sewed all the seams and the hem.

Busy sewing.  She was shy about
posing in the top, so it's an action
shot instead.

Then she said that what made it really cool was that no one else would have one like it.

And then she wore it to a birthday party.

Yes, I'm definitely getting at least this bit of parenting right.

The cherry on top: she just asked me if we could make something similar with shorts to match for her to wear as pajamas.

This beautiful daughter of mine, who thinks of making her clothes, not buying them, is absolutely my inspiration and a reminder to look for the possibilities not the obstacles.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Knitting and an ambitious plan

Life has prevented sewing for the last week, but I do need my little fix of making every day, so I've been knitting instead.

We snuck away to Norfolk last weekend and I had several lovely hours (whilst hubby slept on and made the most of the child free lay ins) over Saturday and Sunday morning watching Downton Abbey and experimenting with some lace patterns.  I was still playing early this week, but yesterday I settled on the perfect pattern.

Kernal by Bonnie Sennott
I'm not making a scarf though, or not exactly, more a scarf inspired sort of cardigan-ish shrug thing.  I know what I mean.  I'll keep you posted with my progress.  I plan to use the lower border lace pattern for the front and the main panel pattern on the back.  I know, hard to picture.  But I have this beautiful yarn.

The beginning, a front.  It will eventually
be blocked, of course.

The photograph doesn't do the colour justice - think fields of wheat in glorious sunshine, a vibrant variegated yarn ranging from sunny yellow to almost orange.  It's a blend of 80% acrylic and 20% mohair from Stylecraft called Senses, in ochre.  My local yarn shop doesn't have much lace weight yarn but they had this and it's inexpensive, a good place for me to start I thought.

So, the ambitious plan... I know I'm not the only one who can't find the clothes she wants in ready to wear.  I know that I'm also not the only one who's fallen into the trap (too many times) of making up beautiful dresses from beautiful patterns that then languish in the wardrobe because they're more suited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace than they are to the school run or cleaning out the chickens.  And I'm definitely not the only one who has to alter just about every pattern and grade between two, sometimes three and even occasionally four different sizes to get a good fit.  

It seems sensible, given all of the above, to move on from other people's patterns to my own. I have very definite ideas about what I want to wear and I know enough (well, I probably don't, but it's never stopped me before) to get started.  And I will, of course, document all my efforts here - every glorious success, every learning-from-my-mistakes failure and anything that falls into both or neither camp.

Words of advice are welcome.  

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The butterfly dress

Little Miss Pink wearing the blue
butterfly dress
Yesterday was a slow work day (I work from home, freelance transcription) so I used the time to make the costume Little Miss Pink needs for her school assembly next week.  

The instructions from the teacher were that the children should dress as animals, although we shouldn't stress too much about making/buying as they would be making masks in class and could just wear leggings and tees in animal-ish colours.

Little Miss Pink insisted that she should be a butterfly and somehow convinced her teacher before suggesting that we sit and look at Pinterest together (she's 5! am I spending too much time drooling and dribbling over the wonder and beauty of the Pin-iverse?).  So we looked and looked some more until finally she announced that she'd like a blue (blue! not pink! at last) butterfly dress with wings "on bracelets".

I can do that, I said.
A painted wing, drying on newspaper,
which was a terrible idea as it stuck to
the back of the fabric...

I made a straightforward dress with a self lined bodice and back zip, then stitched the two (from a distance, with a squint) identical wings parallel to the back seam, about 1" away from it.  The wings attach to each wrist with some thin elastic.

My sewing skills are massively marginally better than my ability with the fabric paint, but when you step back it actually does look like a butterfly, so I'm pretty pleased with it.  Not as pleased as my fluttery little girl, of course.

Not a great photo, but the smile makes
up for it.

Fabric: polycotton
Paint: Dylon fabric paint in white, fuschia and silver (which is glittery and sparkly, perfect)
Headdress: inexpensive fabric and wire flowers, twisted together
Pattern: self drafted from a dress that fits well for the bodice, gathered rectangle skirt and hand drawn wings

Monday, 16 March 2015

Cakes, calories, compliments

Box of Delights from The Sweet Reason Company at Yumbles

Grace over at A Confederacy of Spinsters wrote a great post today about the American attitude to people losing weight (which holds true here in the UK, too), about weight loss being celebrated.  In Grace's words: "Successful weight loss, especially on a grand scale, is treated with more reverence than a presidential motorcade.""  

With two young daughters, one soon to enter her teenage years, I'm very conscious of any talk of diets, weight loss, being slim going on around them.  I am not skinny, but I'm comfortable with my size and I like cooking and eating too much to be any other than womanly.  Or as my youngest puts it, cushiony.    We talk about not eating too many sweet things or fried things because they're bad for your health.  We talk about grandma having diabetes and how sugar is bad for her.  We talk about superfoods now and then, and how some of them may or may not help me manage certain conditions (I have CFS or ME or whatever new name it now has).  But we don't ever talk about weight loss.

Sadly, that's not true of the wider world.  I hear it in the playground when I collect the children, whether it's a direct compliment to someone who's lost weight or a muttered comment about someone gaining weight.  Wow.  So judgemental, on both counts.  

I guess that must mean that, in my small circle of friends, I'm 'the fat one'.  I'm okay with that.  It shows I bake a mean loaf of bread, an even meaner cake and cookies that are requested for all the cake stalls.  And it means my children can rest their heads on my cushiony lap.  Can't argue with that.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

This week

First of all, happy Mother's Day to any mummy readers in the UK. I hope you're having a lovely day with lots of cuddles and cups of tea (the cuddles are the best bit for me, and Little Miss Pink has taken it upon herself to keep 'em coming).  How lovely would it be if all those cups of tea arrived in something as pretty as this?

Sadly sold, but MariasFarmhouse has lots
more lovely teacups to choose from.

Doing: This week I've been decluttering.  I read about the 40 bags in 40 days challenge, although I've managed to lose the link to the blog I found it on.  The idea is that for the 40 days of Lent you remove one bag of clutter each day.  I think real devotees focus on specific areas and have checklists and so on.  I've just taken the idea and moulded it to suit me, so it's more a motivation to get rid some of the stuff that really I don't need any more, and I can give myself a pat on the back each time something else leaves the house.

Reading: I'm hugely inspired by the Little Pincushion Studio.  Annabel Wrigley teaches children to sew and is converting a camper van into a mobile sewing studio.  Jealous?  Me?  Absolutely!  I'm wondering how I can persuade Mr V&B that a caravan on the driveway would be the answer to the sewing clutter loveliness that spreads itself, completely unassisted, throughout the house.

Watching: I watched The Great British Sewing Bee final.  I love seeing sewing on mainstream television, but it seemed to be a very short series and, watching with the Sewster (she's 12), they seemed to start with more difficult garments than in the past, skipping the more basic stuff that she would have grasped more easily.  That said, it has totally inspired her and I need to keep up the decluttering to make room for all the newly sewn goodness she's creating.

More reading: I picked up a copy of Simply Sewing, the latest sewing magazine here.  Sewster and I both liked it enough to subscribe - Oh Boy has a Beano subscription and Little Miss Pink has Toucan boxes, so I was on the lookout for something for Sewster and this is perfect (especially as I can read it too).  It has the usual mix of pattern reviews, new fabrics and lots of things to make, from simple bags to a dress by Lauren Guthrie.  My only criticism is that they suggest that "Transforming a T-shirt is a great place to start if you're new to dressmaking."  They do qualify that with "Jersey fabric can stretch on the machine, so practise on old tops to get the hang of it" but I don't think stretch fabrics are the place to start and it might well be a huge put off for some people.  Much better to start with a woven cotton, at least in my humble opinion.

Eating: I tried out a recipe for peanut cookies, made with just peanut butter, honey and an egg, which I found, of course, on Pinterest.  I'm not convinced they're the cookies for me, but I'm going to use it as a starting point for a healthier than average cookie.  Watch this space.  The basic recipe was a cup of peanut butter, 1/3 cup of honey and 1 egg, mixed well and baked by the tablespoon at 180 for 8 minutes.

That was my week.  How was yours?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

But it's Selfish Sewing Week, isn't it?

It might be Selfish Sewing Week in the rest of the blogosphere, but here at Vera and Bess it most definitely isn't.
Soon, my pretties, soon.

Before I can start on that lovely stack of laundered fabrics, all ready to be pressed and cut and pinned and stitched, there's this:

We come to save Oh Boy from
his boring old window treatment
with our Super Curtain powers
At least I finished the invitation for Little Miss Pink's birthday party, the front pretty bit, anyway.  Don't worry, I will add the time, date and place on the back of each invitation when Mr V&B copies and prints them for me on his spangly printer.

The girliest invitation ever.
This was more fun than the
curtains will be.
I think I've earned a little selfish sewing time at the weekend.  Unless I stay up and sew until midnight.  Which I might.  But only if I can make something gorgeous.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

22 hours in Sheffield

I said no at first.  It was on a Wednesday.  My mum was probably busy.  So no, husband, I can't come to Sheffield overnight with you, sorry.  

He sent me an email, with the hotel reservation attached.  Look, he said, it even says two breakfasts.  Are you sure you can't come?  So I called my mum and actually she wasn't busy at all and would be very happy to spend a night with her lovely grandchildren while I was whisked up to Sheffield to have dinner with my husband.

You can make all the plans in the world and still not be sure they'll actually happen until the day.  On Tuesday Little Miss Pink was at home recovering from a stomach bug.  I crossed my fingers and held my breath until Wednesday morning and miraculously three out of three children went to school.  I packed fast, a small bag of clothes and toiletries, a larger bag of knitting and notebooks.

So, the highlights of the trip.... 

Time as a couple is such a luxury these days.  It's some time since the children were all in bed by seven and these days I often go up at the same time as The Sewster.  We talked from the Fens to Sheffield and back.  We ate a leisurely dinner and nobody asked if they could have some of my salted caramel ice cream dessert or called me away as my main course arrived, thus ensuring it was cold before I could eat it.  We held hands, used the odd adult word and laughed a lot.  Yes, I missed the children and I'm very sorry that my poor mum had to clean up after Oh Boy when he was sick during the night, but we're a couple as well as parents and it was soooo good to be just the two of us for a few short hours.

I stumbled on a haberdashery (in Moor Market) and bought some gloriously pretty trim.  The dresses I stitch them on to will be so much more than they would without adornment.

The quiet space that is the Winter Gardens, with a little independent coffee and sandwich place tucked in a corner.  A soothing place to be, particularly with a butterscotch latte.

The Peace Gardens, modern design and classic architecture, huge balls and splashing fountains.  The winter-bare tree caught me eye and has my imagination intriguing itself with how to use the naked branches against the brick in stitches or printing.  Time to finally use that lino printing kit languishing unhappily in the cupboard.

I bought a fabulous skirt in a charity shop, two sizes too big, but I had to have it and it has a back seam which should make it easier to alter.   More on that in another post.

For a flatlander (I live in the Fens, which is about as flat as flat can be), the hills of Sheffield are an odd experience.  I like a landscape where I can see for miles and find cities generally oppressive, but it was good.  I might even visit again, next time hubby has an overnight.

Monday, 2 March 2015

I miss San Francisco

This gorgeous SF sunset was photographed by Jessica Saia and she collected some awesome shots from the internet in this article.  England is my home, but I sure do miss SF.

Organisation creates inspiration... I'm ready to sew

It seems to have been a long winter.  It may not have been especially cold (or at least not especially cold for especially long) but still those last sunshiney days of autumn seem to have happened a very long time ago.  And it seems just as long since I got out the sewing machine and made something... interesting.  I seem to knit more in the winter, maybe because it's easy to do snuggled up on the sofa under a cosy blanket.  It's also because winter brings Christmas, Christmas brings guests and guests mean we need more room for more chairs and all the sewing equipment gets tucked away out of reach somewhere.

So no sewing through the winter, which makes the winter last longer.  Hooray for longer, lighter days, trees thinking about growing some new leaves and me thinking about growing, sorry making, some new clothes.

I'm inspired by a couple of things.  The first was a shopping trip with The Sewster, my daughter apprentice, to buy fabric and ribbons and buttons, oh my!  We went to Cambridge and shopped at The Little Fabric Stall on the market which was just lovely, particularly the bindings and the very sweet little teddy we adorned with a pink polka dot button to give to Little Miss Pink (my youngest who was at home feeling poorly).  We also loved Callyco, where I picked up a lovely floral remnant to transform into a pretty dress.  John Lewis provided a beautiful new sewing basket purchased, of course, in the name of organisation, much needed now that The Sewster is starting to grow her stash.  Makes sense to keep all the tools in one place and why shouldn't that place be gorgeous?

So we came home all excited with our yummy new supplies, ready to sew.  But first, I spent a couple of very worthwhile hours revisiting the fabric in my stash and organising threads and pins and needles and tailor's chalk and... you get the picture.  It's doesn't feel like a chore when you rediscover those lengths of fabulous fabrics you bought however many months, or in some cases years, ago.

In a great piece of sew-friendly timing, Collette's March issue of Seamwork popped into my inbox with a couple of patterns to try.  I like the Aberdeen top a lot, but I haven't really ventured into knits, so I'm going to have a stab at converting it to woven fabric.  I'll probably lengthen it at the same time.

Aberdeen, in Seamwork issue 3
I'm also planning a dress which is going to be a mix of two different patterns, but more on that later.  The fabric is tumble drying (to make it more wash friendly post-make, of course) and the oven timer is shouting at me to take the bread out (roast chicken soup and home baked bread for dinner, yum - I make the bread in a cast iron pot with the lid on and it is so good).  

Happy sewing.  Don't forget to pop back later for tea, cake and an update on my latest sewing project.