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:

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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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Japanese folded patchwork box

I finished making the Japanese folded  patchwork box from the kit I bought at the Edinburgh Knitting and Stitching Show. It’s 5 inches square which is actually bigger than I thought and holds all the reels of thread I have with room for more. The photos look a bit overexposed but it gives you the idea of the nice fabrics supplied with the kit. I like that it means  you can use a plain background to each square and showcase the lovely fabric on the inside of each square.

The kit gives instructions on a clever way to get a circle with a folded-under border, using a cardboard template, a circle of fabric that’s bigger than than the cardboard template, and making a running stitch between the two that you pull on to draw it up round the cardboard and use spray starch to iron it down. I though this must be the ideal way to make a circle for needle-turn applique too.

This weekend was very busy, I’m more tired at the end of it than I was at the beginning! Very pleased to get the talk I was giving on Friday over and done with, though. I think it went quite well and the people were nice, but I’m glad it’s done nonetheless. I do get myself wound up about these things, and there was a lot of preparation involved. Only as I was leaving did I think to take a couple of pictures. Here’s one, but I don’t actually know which part of the building it is, where we had tea I think.

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I did remember this weekend that I wanted to try to make elderflower cordial, I thought of it last year only after the elderflowers had  all died, but I did buy the citric acid needed (and used a little bit for a different flavoured cordial but with fruit you buy in the shops, so it’s not the same!). We picked some elderflowers today and following the recipe on the BBC website I’ve got them infusing in a mixture of sugar dissolved in boiling water (cooled), citric acid, and slices of orange and lemon. They’re to stay in there for 24 hours, then when I get in from work tomorrow the liquid’s to be strained through muslin and put into sterilised bottles.

Right-oh, bedtime!

Farmer’s wife 9-block cushion and visit to the Edinburgh Knitting and Stitching Show

This week I’m visiting my family in sunny Northumberland (it actually is at the moment, too). Left hubby at home because he’s allergic to the large hairy mutt, and as a side issue is also at work.

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Large hairy mutt contemplating mischief

I got the train and Mum and Dad picked me up from the station late on Thursday night, then had Friday to wind down, and on Saturday Mum and I got the train to Edinburgh. I actually spent all of Friday until about 6 p.m. working hard on quilting the Farmer’s Wife cushion cover I sewed for my brother (who was out at work on Friday). By dint of staying up late in the week leading up to coming home, and taking the project to work so I could do some at lunch times, I’d done the quilting along the sashes and then around the shapes on four of the five blocks, and sewed the top and bottom edges of the back onto the front before I set off for my parents’. The last bit was because I have the sewing machine set up in my flat and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use Mum’s machine and didn’t fancy sewing the whole thing together by hand. Friday evening we first tried to get Mum’s old sewing machine to work, then we gave up and after dinner I stayed up til midnight sewing the back of the cushion on by hand. There is a theme here akin to the Christmas cushion cover and my aunt’s quilt – I need to organise my time better!

Here is the end result (complete with squint central square!). I don’t the off-white is so bright in real life, the flash / sun makes it look over-exposed. I’m glad I spent time doing the extra detailing on the back.

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The photo below was taken late on Friday night, when the dim lighting showed up how quilting round the shapes gives them more depth in certain lights. On the other hand, I would like to do free motion quilting in a fancy design all over it, but alas I don’t yet have those skills!

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Saturday was fun! We got there early (the trains were only at 8.33 or 10.20 and then we had to get from the train station to the bus station and get the shuttle bus out to where it was being held, which was a half-hour ride, so definitely worth getting the early train). We had a good look at all the stands, and the displays of knitting and quilting. Also some textile art for sale to people who can afford original artwork, but the detail in some of them was incredible so an art collector would be spending their money well. It wasn’t as busy as the one I’ve been to in London, which was a good thing, but still busy enough that there were some stalls where you had to negotiate your way to try and see what was for sale. There weren’t as many fabric stalls as I’d have liked, but then I’d already decided not to buy much as I’ve got a substantial stash at home and I now know that these shows aren’t really the place for bargains, more to see what’s out there (and even then, many online stores have more extensive ranges). Japanese fabric seems to be on the up, and there was a stall selling good quality Japanese fabric. Felting also seems to be popular and there were some fantastic creations on show.

I bought a kit to make a box from Japanese folded patchwork, which I’ve started because I didn’t have time to cut pieces for an autumn quilt block to bring with me, so it’s good to have a project to do here (though I do have knitting which I brought with me). The company’s called Euro Japan Links Ltd. It’s a 5-inch box with no lid, made from 5 squares. As well as the instructions, they give you the dark red fabric which is the backing to each square in this kit, wadding, and 7 squares from which you choose 5, which is good, and I bought two more fat quarters from their stall that I thought I might use in the box, or if not will use another time because they’re navy and cream so useful colours. Whether I’ll make the box successfully is another matter!

IMGP0652I also got a lovely little embroidery kit, which will be a new endeavour for me because I don’t do embroidery, just cross stitch, which I don’t think counts, but the autumn picture’s gorgeous so I hope to do it well. I got a few fat quarters, from a stall selling 4 for £10, mainly because I liked the dark blue but then spent a ridiculous amount of time deciding on another three to blend. In the end I found two to blend and got a random third that I think will match with a red and white check I have back in the flat.

Oh, and Mum kindly bought me a new pair of sharp little scissors because my current ones are quite blunt (and weren’t even fabric scissors to start with)!

Not loads but that’s good because I have to carry them back on the train, and have plenty projects to be getting on with and don’t really need anything else. But it was a good day out. Mum got a kit for knitting a teddy bear made from knitted patches which she’s started already, so I’m looking forward to seeing the end result of that one day! So long as the dog doesn’t get his paws on it, of course…

Farmer’s wife cushion centre block

After 8 blocks, and having decided those with off-white in them should form a cross (either 4-pointed or in the 5 corners) I still couldn’t get a layout I was satisfied with – either all four blues were too close together, or the two with the dark burgundy background were next to each other, or the two with the tan background and burgundy chevrons were next to each other. I had thought the two-colour tan and burgundy one with the sort of windmill effect would be the centre block, but decided it looked too dull. The arrangement on the left was the best I could come up with. Then I decided to make the last block my centre one, to fit the arrangement on the right. I wanted it to have all four colours in (discounted the plain burgundy that appears in one block), and by luck the last design I wanted to make was one I thought could carry four colours. It ‘s called ‘Gentleman’s Fancy’, I don’t know why!

Having decided on the arrangement of the four colours within the block, it came together quite quickly.

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Because the centre off-white square measured up okay, and the finished square was the size it’s meant to be, I honestly thought the centre tan square was straight but just looked wonky because the angle I’d cut through the pattern wasn’t straight so it was an optical illusion. Not so! Sadly not until I’d sewn blocks together did I actually take the ruler to it and see it isn’t lined up right. So the very centre square of the whole cushion is wonky – could that be some sort of metaphor?! I’m thinking of it as like a sewer’s version of a maker’s mark.

Anyway, I’ve now done all the sashing, much of which was difficult because I started by making the same mistake I did with the windmill-style block, thinking so long as the sash was the same length as the block I was sewing it to, it would all fit together. Again, not so! When I had two blocks each composed of, say, four pieces of the same width, and sewed them to either side of the sash, they didn’t line up with each other and had to be unpicked and redone, this time with pencil marks on the back of the sash to show where the seams ought to line up. I got there in the end but it took yonks and once again I had to take it on the commuter train of a morning and afternoon / evening, not the most convenient! Still, at least you get good light through the train window. (I’ve been struggling with light at home, specially with the pencil lines on dark blue, and once it gets to late afternoon / evening and the sun goes down). Oh, and I nearly forgot to say, I remade the first block, the one I’d tried with paper piecing, using the draw-around-the-stencil-onto-the-back-of-the-fabric method I’d used for the other blocks. It does look neater and the centre point’s a bit better, and it made it easier to sew it all together when I didn’t have a different type of seam to master.

Herewith the finished front (two pics with different light / focus):

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Needless to say, I’m about a week behind schedule for taking it home on Thursday!

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The 8th of my 9 Farmer’s Wife blocks, and another tricky one. I’m just not used to triangle / kite / diamond-type things! This time I starched the fabric before drawing round the templates, I found otherwise the pencil was pulling on the fabric too much and it was hard to get it right, especially at the corners. When making the eight individual segments there were some pieces that just wouldn’t line up properly, usually the burgundy ones on the pieces made of three parts. I couldn’t see why just by sight, but making new pieces did the trick so there must have been an inaccuracy in drawing round the templates.

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These are the two halves ready to be sewn together. Lots of excess bits of pointy fabric in the middle to negotiate. When sewing sections together it was hard to see how they were going to line up until they did: I do admire the farmer’s wife who designed this in the first place! (Though I’m sure it wasn’t unique to her, and I find it astonishing there were / are so many talented craftspeople out there).

I would have liked all the lines I’d drawn on the back to line up, but in this section (below) they haven’t, so I hope it will be okay when I come to sew on the sashing.

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This is the finished item. Two shots, one indoors and one out to try and get the colour representation right (seeing as our landlords were away so I could photograph it on their patio, which we’re allowed to sit on in their absence). The one outside’s better for colour but casts quite a shadow at one edge. There is one point that doesn’t fit quite as neatly in the centre as I’d have liked, but with all those points to navigate I couldn’t do my usual and fiddle about with the fabric to get the needle in exactly the right place, so we’ll just have to live with it. By the time it’s quilted it probably won’t be too noticeable.

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Moving on to put the pieces together so I could decide on colours for the last block was quite a challenge, but that’s for another post!