experiments in stitch

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Recently I’ve been getting back into sewing, having knitted almost exclusively for the last few years. I don’t know if it’s the creative vibe around these parts, but I’ve been experimenting with machine embroidery and patchwork as well as more traditional needlework. I’ve been picking up a few projects that have been hanging around for aeons as well as starting some new ones that have been in my head for aeons.

The patchwork was inspired by a visit to a local art centre where there was a fantastic exhibition of art quilts by a couple of well-known textile artists. There were some pretty big concepts behind the quilts such as evolution, the origins of the universe and quantum physics, but what I particularly loved was the way the artists used bold colours in their work. Something about the neatness of the patchwork piecing also appeals to me; even when used in a contemporary way it retains a certain orderliness.

The first experiment was some machine embroidery over a printed upholstery fabric (you might recognise it from here).

This one is a project I had in my head for quite a while and started a couple of years ago; it was one I kept picking up and doing a bit of then would put it away for months at a time. I finally finished it the other day, although as with all my completed projects I now don’t know what to do with it.

I loved the patchwork so much that I went straight home and had a go myself; this is my attempt. While happy with the sewing itself it made me realise my fabric stash is woeful in terms of colour, something I hope to rectify in the near future.

And this is another one that had a very long incubation period; it’s made from those annoying ribbons you have to cut out of clothes when you buy them and which I kept for literally years with the vague intention of making something with them. And yes, it does sound a bit weird when I say it out loud.


new adventures in quilting

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On my recent visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show I impulsively bought what I now know is called a charm pack; a pack of pre-cut fabric squares for quilting. For some time I’ve had the vague idea that I’d like to try sewing a quilt (by machine, not hand – I’m not a masochist), probably firstly inspired by another WordPress blog, sazmakes.

stitched together

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the internet and of course that was my first port of call when researching how to turn those little fabric squares into something that could grace a (toddler-size) bed. Dear reader, the internet is truly a wonderful thing. It held my hand every step of the way and gave me the confidence to produce something so much better than I thought I would. I probably didn’t quite do everything the way I should have done, but nevertheless I’m rather proud of the result.

The pattern itself is fairly straightforward; diagonal stitching across the squares of fabric, which I sewed together in rows, then sewed the rows together. I decided halfway through to add a border and used the same fabric for backing the quilt. Not having bound square edges before I played safe and used ready-made binding, although if I made another I think I’d have a go at making my own. A bit of research came up with a way to machine stitch the binding so that it looks like it’s hand stitched from the front, and another search showed me how to deal with the corners. You can’t really see as the binding’s too dark, but those are rather neat mitred corners if I do say so myself!

I really enjoyed making this quilt and plan to do a more complex one at some point – that is, once I’ve finished all my other projects in progress of course…

another bite of the cherry

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A random marketing email recently prompted me to visit the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. I had been once before, years ago, when I was working my way through a City and Guilds in Embroidery, and thought it would be interesting to go again, this time from the point of view of a recently converted knitter. I’m not terribly keen on very busy, crowded places so I only spent a few hours there before my impatience got the better of me, but it was long enough to get round everything at least once and to be overwhelmed to the point of wanting to make ALL THE THINGS.

Rather than bombard you with words, I thought I’d break with tradition and list my show highlights.

1. Celeb-spotting: although I apparently missed Debbie Bliss on the Quadrille Publishing stand, I was apologised to by Stuart from the Great British Sewing Bee who bumped into me on another stand (although I only realised who he was as I walked away).

2. I tried not to buy too much stuff that I wouldn’t use (like I did last time, as my thread/yarn stash bears testament to…)

These were my (considered) purchases:

(a) a bundle of fabric squares as I really want to have a go at making a patchwork quilt;

(b) a skein of sock yarn as I’ve not tried socks yet (beautiful colour, gorgeously soft AND machine washable); (c) a circular needle for my current project.

3. I also bought (d) some chocolate from the one and only chocolate stand, which I somehow stumbled across almost immediately. No photo I’m afraid, as I’ve already eated it (predictable, moi?). I did share though.

4. I honestly saw a teenage boy there with hair that looked exactly like a sheep fleece. Seriously, look at these and you’ll see what I mean.

5. There were a lot of large ladies there. And I mean, A LOT. Getting around without bumping into any was, um, challenging.

6. The amazing textiles on display inspired me to pick up a needle and thread again at the weekend, something that’s taken a back seat to my near-obsessive knitting in recent months.

And the piece I restarted work on was itself originally inspired by a sampler I saw at the show the previous time I went. Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn, eat your heart out.

busy doing nothing

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Since being inspired to take up knitting after stumbling across Kate Davies’ blog, I’ve been reading more craft blogs, which has also encouraged me to return to sewing; not so much needlework at the moment but machine sewing. I treated myself to a new machine a couple of years ago, replacing my old Singer that was my 18th birthday present, and was thrilled with how easy the new one was to use and how quickly it would run things up. Although I’ve done some fairly mundane stuff on it – taking hems up, sewing badges on for the girls, that kind of thing – recently I’ve done a few small projects that I’ve been able to complete in a day.

A cushion for my sewing stool was the first one, the logic being that I would then have somewhere comfortable to sit while working on subsequent projects. With the same fabric I then made a Two Kates knitting bag, pattern courtesy of the aforementioned Kate Davies. Having seen the gorgeous items produced by Sarah on sazmakes, including this potholder and this quilt, I’m itching to have a go at quilting next; I did some for my never-completed City & Guilds in Embroidery many moons ago, so I’m sure I can get my head round it again.

In the meantime, my knitting obsession is still going strong, having churned out three more sets of handwarmers, two hats, a scarf, a pair of slipper socks, a jumper and the best part of a lap blanket (shamelessly plagiarised inspired by this one) since my first foray 18 months ago. If you’re into such things, you can find most of these on my Ravelry, apart from the blanket as it’s still in progress…

I already have my next project lined up, once again a pattern by the inimitable Kate Davies, a headband to keep my ears warm on days when I don’t want or need to wear a hat. You may have noticed some of the wool peeking out from my Two Kates bag; I’m quite excited about starting this project mainly because of the colours I’ve picked. Look at that purple! And the way the weather’s headed right now, it’ll still come in handy even if I don’t finish it until the summer.

raindrops on roses

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No, I’m not about to go all Julie Andrews on you, I’ve just been reading the WordPress weekly writing challenge which is all about your most meaningful possession. I don’t normally do writing challenges, daily posts, photo a day what-have-yous for the simple reasons that I’m a) lazy and b) stubborn, so not only would I not get round to a regular post (you may have noticed, ahem) but I would also probably rebel against being told what to post about in the first place. That said, for some reason this one started me thinking: do I have any meaningful possessions (apparently your beloved technology doesn’t count, boo), what are they and why do they mean something to me? The first object that sprang to mind was my old faithful sewing box.

So I know it’s not very exciting, certainly not at all sexy and you would be forgiven for rolling your eyes in the direction of this dowdy wooden leggy box, as Nick did when I first acquired it (along with comments like “you don’t really want to keep THAT, do you?”). But unfortunately for him, I do very much want to keep it, not least because it plays a starring role in one of my favourite childhood memories. The sewing box originally belonged to my Nana, whose house I stayed at regularly as a child in the school holidays. The house itself was a consistent feature throughout my childhood; the only house that was as I moved home before the age of 18 far too many times to count on my fingers. It was (and no doubt still is) a fairly spacious and light-filled semi-detached four bed in a quiet suburban road in Bristol, just the thought of which has the power to evoke a rush of nostalgia; even now I have the strongest memories of visits there.

In one of the smaller bedrooms lived her sewing box, which to me was a virtual treasure trove. It contained rows and rows of multi-coloured elastic, bias binding and threads. There were mysterious boxes full of needles, pins and other accoutrements that rattled when shaken. There was, rather excitingly to the young me, a bag full of different coloured ribbon, which Nana would sometimes let us wear in our hair tied at the end of plaits or atop bunches. Best of all, the thing I would always ask to play with, was her button stash. She had boxes and tins full of them, roughly sorted by size and for the smaller ones, colour. My favourites were the more interestingly shaped ones, the oversized nubbly oddities. With my child’s imagination, these took on individual personalities and I would spend hours creating stories for them or just searching through to see how many multiples of the same button I could find. I was lucky enough to inherit this collection too, although the poor sewing box is now too stuffed with my many bits and bobs to hold them.

My Nana was an accomplished seamstress, as were many women of her generation, and she had kept some dresses she made for my mother as a child, which I remember trying on with my sister when we were quite small. She also made us a rag doll each, one of which still survives at my stepdad’s house, that my own children now play with when we visit. It may well have been these that sparked my own interest in sewing; as a teenager, inspired by her industry, I made a pair of dolls from the same pattern which my girls also play with now (and have rather distressingly christened Rosie and Jim).

Sadly, the reason I now own the sewing box is because neither my Nana or my mother are around to use it any more, but I think of them both whenever I see it, which brings back many more happy memories than sad ones. Maybe one day it will even do the same for my grandchildren.

my brilliant (fantasy) career

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My memories of sewing begin very early on, right from my first stitches clumsily worked at infant school; in fact, they are some of my clearest (good) memories of school. (I have plenty of bad ones, but just don’t tell my kids.) However, it wasn’t until I was in my teens that my love of needlework really took hold, when I produced my first piece from a very simple commercial chart. From that moment on I was hooked, albeit more than slightly embarrassed about admitting to such an uncool hobby.

In my previous incarnation as a child-free person with a life, I occasionally used to attend Royal School of Needlework day courses and even worked on a City & Guilds in embroidery for 18 months before my natural laziness won over my desire to get an actual qualification. (Yeah, so I didn’t say it was a very thrilling life.)

One such course was on crewelwork or Jacobean embroidery; as far as I can remember it was spread over three days during which I learned various stitches and produced a piece of work based on a design provided by the school. Me being, well, me, I didn’t manage to finish mine within the three days and it’s languished in the attic pretty much ever since (along with numerous other projects in varying stages of completion, ahem).

Now that my girls are older, I’m finally finding more time to do the things I want to do rather than the things I have to do and one Sunday afternoon recently I spent an hour or so working on this particular embroidery. Sometimes I’ll pick one up and get bored with it fairly quickly but this time I found I really enjoyed the sewing. I’m also rather happy with the quality of my work considering it was the first time I’d tried some of the stitches, so I thought I’d showcase (ok, show off) the results here.

So all I have to do is figure out what on earth to do with all those creations taking up precious attic space; far too many to display without making the house look like some mad collector lives here, yet somehow I don’t think I can bring myself to just throw out over 20 years’ accumulated handiwork. Just off to check if there’s a market for this kind of thing on eBay…