Mum’s Christmas present

I know, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m writing about Christmas! I had to wait until after Christmas Day to share this post because it’s about the present I made for my mum, and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise in case she read my blog. A week’s passed since Christmas, and I’ve been trying to finish two projects that for psychological reasons only, I wanted to have finished by the New Year. Haven’t managed either, of course, but one awaits only tassels and the other really only needs another day, so I’m writing this now lest another thing I wanted to do by the New Year isn’t done! Ignoring a pile of ironing in the process, of course.

I started this in October, having seen a fab fabric by Lewis and Irene, featuring farmyard animals which though cartoon versions, were recognisable breeds – belted Galloway cows and Herdwick sheep, for example. My Mum’s a Knitter (capitals intended) and I thought this would be a great fabric with which to make a knitting bag. Plus, I’ve never made a bag before or grappled with lining. I bought the main fabric and another consisting only of sheep, also by Lewis & Irene, from one website; they were discontinued. I got them all from the same manufacturer because I’ve learned the hard way from my autumn quilt that matching fabrics by different designers is hard, not just regarding colour, but also the thickness of the cotton. I wanted a third because the two blended together too much, but on a second website found another featuring pheasants which I really liked, so it had to go in even though it blended a bit, then another that was from a different Lewis and Irene range, with the same theme but with much smaller design elements, more ‘ditsy’, and which had a matching but dark teal background so acted as my contrast.

I bought a pattern from Etsy, though it was for jelly roll strips and I wanted to do squares, so I changed the sizing a bit. I cut strips with help from my husband, who helpfully pointed out that if I just went for it with the farmyard one I’d be cutting off some animal heads! I’ve been known to do that before. I made sure to cut it in the direction that would leave me pieces of the right size for the strip across the top and for straps etc. Then the fun part of cutting squares (I ended up cutting a square-shaped hole in a piece of paper and holding it over the farmyard fabric to make sure I got the best scenes! Followed of course by ages arranging the squares just so.

The squares for the two sides of the bag, sewn together:

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side 1 comp

 

I sewed strips across the top, as per the instructions, and decided to make the base from the same fabric as the lining. It’s probably the least exciting of the four fabrics! Then I quilted it, just doing diagonal lines across the squares. Same as I always do, I’ve never been brave enough to try anything else. BUT this  was the first time using the new quilting foot Mum got me last Christmas after the cheap one I bought online first didn’t work well, then broke completely. This one was so much better, definitely a case of ‘you get what you pay for’. Thank you, Mum and Dad!

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Two sides and base of the bag-to-be after quilting

 

Getting the squares to meet on the side seams when putting them together after  quilting is hard because you can’t see the squares from the reverse because of the quilt line. I  had one unpick and redo, and it still isn’t perfect, but it’s okay. More annoyingly, I didn’t think to make the outside squares into rectangles, making them wider to accommodate the 3/8 – 1/2 inch seam allowance required for sewing the sides of the bag together rather than the 1/4 inch for patchwork squares, so the quilting doesn’t have continuity at the edges, which looks messy. It would never have been perfect, but it would have been less obvious.

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I didn’t have enough fabric to make the lining from a single piece, but it worked out well because using two pieces meant the sheep on each side of the bag could all be facing the right way up! No spacesheep swirling in zero gravity. I had to put a little piece in between the two, just because of the amount of fabric I had, but I think it’s okay. Unfortunately the interfacing I had wasn’t good and I had some problems getting it to stick.

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Lining

I made the pocket and the straps from the teal background with ditsy-ish hens; sewing a 1/8 inch topstitch down the sides of the straps wasn’t easy and the result a bit wobbly, but when I unpicked the wobbly one quite late at night and redid it, only to then realise it  wasn’t the wobbly one I’d just done but the okay one, I decided to pack that in and just leave it alone. Sewing on the strap ends to the top of the back within a very small seam allowance, as per the instructions as I understood them, means I don’t think it would bear much weight. My attempt at it was messy, but you don’t see it when it’s finished.

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Strap sewn to top of bag

 

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The lining pinned face-to-face with the outer bag, ready to be sewn together.

I had immense difficulty fathoming out what the instruction for the base of the bag meant. Triangles were involved, and scarily, ‘snipping’ off their points (for ‘snipping’, read ‘hacking off 3 inches of material’). I only worked it out by setting up the bag as it would look when finished and trying various origami-type set-ups til the right one presented itself. Better diagrams in the pattern would have been appreciated. It’s amazing how often I find myself puzzled by pattern instructions; I think that’s where YouTube comes in. Still not sure it’s quite right, unless the edges are meant to have a fold a bit in from where they join the side fabric:

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I left a hole in the lining and, again late at night, having sewn around the top of the lining and outer bag, with difficulty, and in a scene less bloody than ones on farming programmes but still reminiscent of calving, pulled the outer bag through the gap in the inner lining.

Only to find….

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no handles!

I’d trapped them between the bag and lining. So had to unpick it and do it again. Though I only unpicked the parts where the handles were, tied off the ends, and redid that part, thus avoiding the tricky bit where the side seams of the bag meet. I find sewing circular or tubular shaped things on the sewing machine really hard.

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More like it!

Then after the magical ‘big reveal’ of turning it the right way round, some top stitching to keep it in place, and it was finished.

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A Happy New Year to all!

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Cathedral Windows Christmas tree decoration

I’m just back from a week staying with my parents in the home I grew up in Northumberland (for those who don’t know it, a county in the far north east of England, bordering Scotland, with hills and a beautiful coastline). While there I made a Christmas tree decoration using a pattern I bought on Craftsy months ago. I’ve never done cathedral windows before, and think the effect of them is stunning, but knew that when the pattern introduction said it would be ‘easy’, ‘quick’, and ‘simple’, that wouldn’t be true – at least not for me!

It’s a double-sided decoration, the ‘O’ shape on one side and ‘X’ on the other. I followed the instructions with not the least idea of where they were heading. It’s a bit like origami, but with sewing. At least I though to use spray starch, because the pieces are tiny.

Here are the two sides after the first stage was completed:

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Can’t explain how I did it (and if I’d known what it would look like once unfolded would probably have positioned the left and right green triangles so the fabric pattern wasn’t facing the same way, but as it turns out you can’t see that when it’s finished); but the pattern if anyone would like to do it is by Shelley’s Studio. The green is scraps left over from the Christmas cushion cover I made for my brother last year. Hope he remembers to bring it out this year!

Then you sew a third colour on at the corners, and open up pieces to reveal the colours beneath, and sew them down. Rather like slits in Tudor gentleman’s robe, I suppose. This is one side mid-process:

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Unfortunately I forgot that I am hopeless at binding, at least the part where you have to get the beginning and end to fit together. I also definitely needed a longer piece of binding. I cut the pieces before going home and took them with me on the train, so when the pattern said ‘at least 14 1/2 inches’ I cut it to exactly that but should have made it longer. Although it’s a single rather than double binding I turned the edge up to stop it fraying, which the pattern didn’t mention though I think it looks better. But I ended up with not enough to make the fourth corner mitred like the others, and with a lump, not to put too fine a point on it, at the point where the start and finish of the binding met. So all I could do was make it as neat as possible and try to hide it under a thicker piece of velvet ribbon hanging than I would have chosen. Fortunately Mum had some I could use, because I forgot to bring any with me. I would have preferred to have the end of the hanging ribbon inside the binding, but even without the mess at that corner which needed to be disguised, couldn’t work out how to do that.

The overall effect of the finished item is nice, though the ‘X’ has come out better than the ‘O’. I would make one again, but be prepared to spend a long time on it. I wanted to leave this one with Mum and Dad so stayed up late, a Christmas ‘tradition’ I really must stop!

The ‘X’ in two different lights (to try and show the gold snowflakes):

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And the ‘O’:

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And in situ (blurred I’m afraid, I was in a rush)!:

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Different fussy-cut pumpkins (and more sparkle)

I feel more inspired now that autumn is kicking in.

I was looking for ways to re-use the green and brown fabrics here that I’d rescued from blocks that hadn’t worked and I’d taken apart, so after much fiddling about with different options – as usual – I eventually came up with this one. The pumpkin fabric is from a piece I bought in the clearance section of a website and at first I’d discounted it because most of the motifs are too big for what I’m doing, but then I thought I could do as for the last block and ‘fussy-cut’ small pieces out of it. It does lead to wasted fabric, but worth it for this and not so bad when it’s on sale. Maybe the centre square could have been a different fabric, but a big block of something plain in the centre sometimes looks a bit too stark. I do realise my pattern now seems to be to use these plain pieces in shades of tan for the background of the flying geese and don’t want to do too many of them, but I think it’s okay for now.

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I’ve  made slower progress on finishing this block because I’ve been working on a machine-stitched project at home. Top secret so pictures after Christmas! I’ve got as far as making the quilt sandwich and doing one line of quilting, but ran out of thread! It was just as well because that was Sunday and this coming Saturday morning we’re leaving for a week’s holiday so I wanted to spend Sunday afternoon (after my driving lesson) choosing colours for the next block so I can sew it while we’re away, and if I hadn’t run out of machine quilting thread I might not have stopped then I would be holiday-block-less.

I’ve also bought the backing piece for the quilt. It came yesterday so I washed it and it is still on the dryer as we speak – it’s rather large so drying it on my free-standing electric dryer is awkward, but we don’t use the tumble dryer due to expense and have nowhere outside to hang things (it’s raining anyway). My plan is to applique leaf shapes on it which will be made out of autumn fabrics. That way I can use some that I bought online but have turned out to not be the right shade, or were early mistakes. I think it should look good and removes difficulties of the seams of pieces making up the back not lining up with quilting lines, but it will take a long time and is not exactly something I can do on the train, so I thought I’d get a head start and alternate doing that at home with making up blocks on the daily commute. At least, that’s the plan!

I think this is block 33 and I’m looking at a 8×10 block quilt… so only 47 to go! I don’t know if I can get my head round that.

The estate agent through whom we rent our flat is coming to do a flat inspection while we’re both out at work tomorrow. I don’t like people looking around while we’re not there but there’s nothing I can do. I’ve been on a washing, ironing, and dusting spree because I don’t want to have laundry hanging around while she’s in there, so more ironing tonight, hoovering, tidying of the baskets of fabric and piles of paperwork (and hiding of candles! Not that our contract says we can’t have them but you never know)… by the time I’ve done all that, then on Thursday and Friday actually do some packing, I’ll be so whacked I’ll probably be too tired to make the most of being away. Hope not, because we’re going north and I’m looking forward to fresher airs and if it isn’t cloudy every day seeing some stars. Too much light pollution as well as air pollution down south.

Autumn block with fussy-cut fun pumpkins

I like the term ‘fussy cutting’ that I picked up from Peggy Cooper’s lovely blog (https://peggycooperquilts.com/) – it’s something I do occasionally but hadn’t thought about it having a name – now I know it I’m going to use it more! I’m not sure if using it as an adjective as in the title is the done thing, but I’m doing it anyway…

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The flying geese round the centre square use the very last of the special autumn leaves fabric I love so much: they’re recycled from a block I didn’t like and took apart, and I’m so happy I did because they’re used much better here. I’m not convinced about the use of colour in the central triangles at the edge (where two flying geese are sewn together), but the number of variations I tried in order to get this the best I could was ridiculous! In the end I had it all except the four small squares at the corner of the sort of block-within-a-block, so when I found a remnant of the fabric that I ended up using I was really pleased. It’s one I’ve tried to work into other blocks because I like it, but it’s only ended up in one. Part of the problem is that the background’s white and bright, and the other is that the motifs on it are quite widely spaced. Hence the fussy cutting, so I could get a tiny part of the edge of a sunflower in alongside the leaf and pumpkin in two squares. I would have liked more, but there just weren’t enough on the piece of fabric. I kicked myself for cutting squarely round the pumpkin used on the top right, because it would have looked better at an angle, but I used it anyway because it’s nice to have the two pumpkins with different patterns. That fabric is very thin, not easy to work with, and a couple of the corners of those squares came out stretched when I ironed them so they don’t look their best. I now realise I should have starched them… too late!

One problem with having spent so long choosing the fabrics for this one is that I only finished sewing it together on Sunday afternoon and didn’t have time to choose fabrics for the next one, so have no sewing to do on the train for my daily commute, I feel bereft!

Autumn block and first attempt at neck binding (unrelated!)

Something of a lowering sky when I went for a quick walk earlier this afternoon, but I saw some magnificent red kites, one swooping quite low over my head; my photos don’t do it justice.

I worked hard to finish a new autumn block this week, inspired by having a plan to use the same colours as last week’s, and by wanting to feel I’d achieved something by the end of the week if sewing the neck binding on my top didn’t work out! I’m pleased with the result:

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The more boldly patterned fabric is much thinner than the higher-quality Moda fabrics that make up the rest of the block, and I can feel how much better (for which read, easier) it would be to have fabrics all of the same quality. Unfortunately I haven’t had time this weekend to choose fabrics to put together for the next block, so will be deprived of sewing to do on the train. Might actually start reading a book, I used to read so much before I took up sewing! I’ve just finished Life of Pi and it took something like 4 months, oh dear. I listen to audiobooks all the time while sewing on the train, but don’t know if that counts the same way.

On Thursday night I tried to use the overlocking stitch for the first time. Not a resounding success, alas.

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I put the edge of the fabric up against the guide on the overlocking foot, but obviously sometimes it got too close and the edges have turned in. At least no one will see it. It went wrong near the bottom of the seam so I’m going to do that by hand.

I have spent so much of the last two weekends looking at YouTube videos! So much good advice, but people do things differently and I don’t always understand all instructions, so it’s still a lot of puzzling out what best to do. I confess that in my ignorance before I looked at these videos I thought the binding went on the outside! I now know that’s only if it’s to be a decorative feature, which in this case it most certainly is not. It took me in the end I think two and a half goes to do the binding round the neck of my top.

First time I used all these pins…

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It still didn’t work out, and I did misjudge it a few times and had to lift the needle to get a pin out then carefully put it back in the right place. The curve of the shoulder seam has  been the main problem. This was a wildly off-kilter part after my first go:

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Oops. I thought of just unpicking that section, then thought of the mess I make when I tie off an end of stitching mid-length and reneged. I thought I’d try to just add the correct stitching without unpicking this one… yes, I know, it didn’t work! So I unpicked the whole thing and tried again, this time, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, with basting. It still wasn’t neat like the woman in the video’s is neat, and I sewed over a few basting stitches and had fun picking them apart. But on the whole it was better.

Then as per instructions I trimmed it so the fabric was flush with the binding, and cut in little notches to help with the curve (thanks to having tried a little bit of needle-turn applique this idea wasn’t a novelty, so that was good), then turned  it inside the garment.

I saw on some blogs that some people do something called understitching, but I didn’t follow what exactly I was meant to do, and some people didn’t do it, so I decided as it seemed okay without it and my fabric’s not very stretchy (deliberately chosen for that reason) I would give it a skip. Then I basted the binding in place, by hand, then sewed it down with the machine. Again the problem with the shoulder, this time meaning I missed the binding for about 2 inches, but this time I did unpick from the  armhole edge to the offending part, and got the sewing machine needle in at the right spot and redid it. I stitched the thread ends in by hand, but don’t think it’s noticeable from the right side unless you’re looking really closely at the stitching, not if you’re just talking to me when I’m wearing it.

Having pressed in place, I think the binding’s  okay, a bit may gape in time but it’s fine for now (and for a first attempt) and for just me wearing it. A pity the two parts of the back are slightly misaligned, I really hadn’t realised until after the binding was done and I was going to take this photo. This whole thing has shown me – well, reinforced what I knew – that accuracy is so important, but also so difficult! I don’t think dressmaking is going to be my ‘thing’, I’ll make tops with the fabrics I’ve bought and I haven’t given up on making  pair of tartan pyjama bottoms in a nice thick or brushed cotton one day, but overall, I’ll stick with patchwork and knitting!

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Two cute harvest mice, and some decisions

Goodness, what a weekend, largely spent in eradicating moths, what joy. What a week, too, with the horrible heatwave particularly in the first two days, thank goodness it’s over.

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Here is the positive, however, the block I made last week to be a friend for the other harvest mouse with purple and brown; I rather like this one, and am glad that the cream fat quarter I bought on spec in Edinburgh turned out to be the best one in my stash to use. I like this Lewis and Irene fabric, with the two cute mice facing each other on the branch. Maybe not the easiest to match fabrics to outwith those designed to co-ordinate with it.

Here it is beside the other one, similar but different, which  is what I wanted.

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I laid out all the blocks, except those I’d already decided I won’t use (mostly those with red in them), but have taken out another few that I’m not sure whether or not I’ll use. These are the ones that are not going in:

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They make you go cross-eyed, apart from the one with the bird, which is too Christmassy but I would love to use in another project.

This is all of the rest to date, but the uncertain ones are all in a row next to the sofa:

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This is them without the uncertain ones:

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I’m not sure how clear the difference is in the photo, particularly as it’s over-exposed (still haven’t read the camera instruction booklet). These are the ones I don’t really like as they are, they’re either too bright or too busy, or both:

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I do like the majority of the bottom one, with the owls, but it includes three bold patterns which perversely blend into each other, and I really want the owls to stand out, so am going to redo it. Ideally I’d like to change the big triangles on the outside edges so that the brown with orange leaves are used for every triangle, replacing the multicoloured leaves; however, I’ve run out of that fabric. I’d also like to replace the bright orange centre triangles. This is the alternative I’ve come up with, after several hours of deliberation, though I know it’s not perfect:

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I’ve taken most of it apart, so am going to try tomorrow on the train to make two of the flying geese for the inner square – I know from experience it’s difficult to make flying geese when recycling old ones that have already been trimmed, so am not looking forward to it!

The other crafty thing I  did today was make jam. (The elderflower cordial of a few weeks ago was good, by the way, but it’s a bit sharp on the teeth, must be the citric acid. I make it in a really weak solution, but I must confess it’s nice in a gin and tonic!). I tried this jam a week and a half ago because I bought at random some apricots from the greengrocer’s, allegedly a bargain though I now know otherwise, then had to decide what to do with them. Found a recipe on BBC online for apricot, carrot, ginger and almond jam, with the promise it sounds weird but tastes good, and it happened to require the exact quantity of apricots I had, and I had enough carrots in the fridge, though as is always the case with anything that uses up ingredients, the other things I had to buy to complete the recipe cost more than the things I was using up. The end product tasted good but I’d overset it so you need a knife to get it out, so I wanted to try again but not leave it for so long. Part of the problem last time was that I used a sugar thermometer but the quantity I had was not much and spread over too large a surface area because I didn’t have the right type of pan, so I don’t know that the thermometer was far enough into the liquid. Anyway, I’ve tried again and hope it’s better, so can give the bigger jar to Mum because I think she’ll like it! I can make a cover using fabric and give it to her when I’m next visiting my family before Christmas, be like those House Beautiful magazines and look like I spend all my time crafting beautiful homemade gifts!Jam

Lastly, here’s two photos of honeysuckle I took on a quick pre-dinner walk today, I like to on a Sunday if I can, knowing I’ve nasty petrol-fumy London coming up tomorrow:

Block reconfigured

Quite a while ago I took a photo of all the blocks to date in the autumn quilt, and could see those that stood out for all the wrong reasons. This one stood out partly because of all the orange fabric round the edge, though it seemed like a good idea at the time because it made it simpler, but also because alternate the red and beige flying geese don’t work; the red stands out, the beige disappears, and it makes it all look wonky, which I didn’t realise from close-up but you see it from a distance. I really like the middle, and don’t want to lose the animals, so  decided to take it apart (gulp).

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I kept the middle as is, but gave it a new outside. (Yes, that took a lot of decision-making and mental energy, not my strong point). I finished with this:

green and hedgehogs

I would have used the same green that’s in the middle for the outside corners, but ran out.

Then I used the red flying geese, and came up with this:

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(Both photos are a bit overexposed). I wanted to be able to keep the animals, but I hope that here the orange isn’t so overpowering. I might have preferred to have brown on the outer corners, but orange triangles where the brown is now didn’t work because it replicated the orange on the inner part too much, so I just left it like this and quit fiddling. I did have to order more fabric to get the beige triangles at the middle of each outer edge, which involved getting a pack of pre-cuts and has landed me with a lot of other pre-cut squares in shades of brown which I’ll never use, but there you go.

I spent a goodly portion of yesterday tackling moths which are eating our carpet and were partly living under the box I keep fabric in, which was a bit depressing and involved moving a lot of furniture to get underneath, not the best on a hot day.

So I will have to find a  way of using the remaining fat quarters from the original block, but I think these two are better than the original. Phew, all this colour choice is exhausting! I’ve laid out most of another block, using purple-ish / brown-ish colours to give the last mouse block some company, so will do that before deciding on a new way to use the beige / orange flying geese from the first block shown here.

I have taken a photo of blocks to date, excluding some I think I won’t use, but shall contemplate that in another post. In the meantime, the forecast is for hot in London this week (maybe not by southern US standards, but by mine!), so I shall suffer on the underground on my way to and from work. This chap’s happy, though (taken last night from our living room window):

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