Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Oh my golly gosh - I have an award!

I honestly never win anything... in fact the only book I was ever awarded at school was because they realised I was only left in the VIth form without a prize, so I was chuffed to bits when I received a note from Helen at Rains Drops N Roses

Naturally, there is no such thing as a free lunch and there are strings, albeit not all that onerous, attached to the award:

  • Make a post linking back to the person who gave you the award
  • Share seven random things about yourself
  • Award seven recently discovered bloggers with this award and contact them to let them know they have won.
Now, please don't have a drink in your hand as you read this... I don't want you gobbing all over your screen in disbelief... in spite of what I am about to post, I really am a nice person (well some of the time):

1. I can still suck my toes... but choose not to!
2. When I win the lottery (and it really is nearly my turn) I will have freshly washed and ironed sheets everyday... tell me you don't love the smell and feel of them?
3.  I know who Zebedee Tring is, and I will not answer the door or the phone when the Archers are on the radio.
4. My underwear lives in three separate drawers, white, black and coloured... I am still recoiling in shock from the day that Sarah Kennedy said she only possessed two bras.... euuuw!
5. Parsnips, celery and honey are all food of the devil, if you send me onto Saturday Kitchen with James Martin and he serves them up... I will not be responsible for my actions, just the smell makes me nauseous.
6. I was banned from the Togs website, much to amusement of my family and work colleagues, I did not realise I was quite that knowledgeable or scary.
7. I can still remember all three verses of God Save the Queen which I learnt in the brownies, so I will still be singing when the rest of you have to bow out!

My recently discovered bloggers list:
Sharon at Roses and Rue
Caroline at Red Needle Sewing
The Colorado Cutie at Yarn Dependents Unite
Each of them is special and well worth a visit.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Summer Beach Hut for Sally - Cushion Tutorial

As you may realise I live by the seaside and like to take inspiration from what is going on around me for my applique cushions, so I did not even have to walk to the beach but found inspiration while drinking coffee from one of my lovely bone china mugs which are based on local views created by Howard Robinson, a renowned local artist.

Tutorial for the cushion


Cushion pad - Merrick and Day are great stockists
Main fabric - linen, cotton, ticking, calico
Applique fabric - scraps from previous projects, I find cottons work best
Sewing Cottons
Sewing Machine
Scissors and/or rotary cutter and mat
Iron on fusible bonding
Grease proof paper
Iron and ironing board
A saucer
Air erasable marker pen

In the famous words of Mrs Beeton, first choose your cushion, whether it be square or oblong, the choice is entirely yours... I am working with an oblong cushion pad which is 23" x 15".

Firstly, iron your main fabric, remember your iron is your very best friend when you are sewing.  Normal seam allowances are 5/8" but I am going to be really generous and give myself an inch, so I will need to cut out a piece of fabric which is 25"x17" and set it aside.  If you are using cotton ticking, it loves nothing better than to unravel, so cut it out with pinking shears or a pinking blade.
Now is your chance to literally go back to the drawing board, I am the least artistic person you will meet so a beach hut design is ideal as it is made up of squares, triangles and rectangles/oblongs.  You are now going to map these out on your greaseproof paper!  I used my cutting mat and ruler to draw out my pattern - this pic is drawn out on normal paper so you can read the dimensions.
Hut = Square 3 1/4" x 3 1/4" with a triangle rising 1 3/8" at the apex drawn on top
Door = Oblong 2.5" x 1.5" with a triangle rising to 3/4" at the apex drawn on top
Eaves = Oblong 3" x 3/4"
Cut out your design, pin it on your fabric scraps and cut it out carefully... all of the designs that we have chosen are symetrical so we do not have to worry about cutting out an item back to front. Trace around you pattern piece on the paper side of your iron-on fusible webbing.
Now place out your applique pieces on you fabric to see what works best for you, I have found that odd numbers of items work best, a bit like when you are gardening!
When you are happy that everything is in its place, peel off the paper from the fusible bonding, place it on the back of the fabric and then put it onto your cushion front and iron firmly into place, the bonding will give weight and strength to your fabric pieces. Do all the huts first and then the doors.

Your next step is to decide which stitch you will use to hold you pieces to the cushion front, you can use running stitch, satin stitch, blanket stitch, in fact let your imagination run riot and use any of the embroidery stitches your machine has - if this is the first time you have done this, have a little practice on some spare fabric, far better to make your mistakes where you will not see them!  I have used satin stitch for the beach hut with two complementary cottons and a running stitch for the bunting flags.

You only need to sew up the walls and base of the beach hut and all around the door.  Leave the roof unsewn as you will cover that with the eaves.
Next we will attach the eaves, overlay the oblongs to make a right angle which you overlay on the roof, start on the inside left hand side and work around the L hand side and then down the R hand side so that you will be able to complete it in one continuous piece of sewing.
Frankly, five beach huts look a little bit boring, so I thought that bunting would lift the cushion a little more.  Grab your saucer and place the edge under the edges of your eaves and draw from one to the other using the edge of the saucer as your guide.  This will be the "string" for your bunting, sew along your guideline with  a suitable stitch, I used satin stitch in lilac as I wanted to use a purple polka dot cotton for my bunting.
Cut out an oblong of 6" x 3/4", now fold the left hand corner over to the right side and cut out across the oblong, you have a square, fold this in half and you have a triangle, which becomes your bunting flag.  Repeat this until you have enough pennants to hang between your huts.  Now repeat this with your fusible bonding and iron the bonding and triangles in place.  I used a running stitch to hold the flags in place as I felt that the satin stitch looked too heavy.
Now we are going to make the back of our cushion, you need to decide how you want to close your cushion,  you could use, a simple envelope close, zip, tapes or buttons and whether you want it to close centrally or off-centre.  As this is quite a substantially sized cushion, I am going to use some large wooden buttons to ensure it closes firmly and to make it a little more interesting, it is going to close off-centre.

For my cushion, I will need to cut piece of fabric 31" x 17", this is 6" wider than the cushion front, as we will need to fold fabric over to take the buttonhole and to sew on the button, so cut the fabric so one piece is 11" wide and the other is 20" wide... don't forget to use your pinking shears to prevent fraying. Turn over a 1/4" seam down the 17" length of one side of each piece of fabric.
Now, you need to take the wider piece of fabric, fold over each seamed piece so that 2 3/4" is underneath and iron it into place.   Next, decide how many buttons and where you will place them, I am using two, so I place mine a third of the way down from the top and a third of the way from the bottom.
As you can see these buttons are large and my automatic buttonholer would not take them, so I need to mark the length of the buttonhole, you can use chalk, your pen or pins to do this.  
Change your machine foot to the buttonhole foot and if this is the first time you are doing a buttonhole take the time to do a little practice on a spare piece of fabric.  It will create the lower bar first, then run up the left hand side of the buttonhole, then the bar across the top and then back down the right hand side. Then using a sharp pair of scissors cut between the two sides of the buttonhole.
With the right sides of your fabric together, place the wider piece down first, as you will need the buttonholes to lie on top when you turn the cushion out.  As we have used a striped fabric, match the stripes together, we have a generous amount of fabric to ensure that this happens and that you get a really professional result when you finish.  Pin the fabric together and do the same with shorter width, matching the stripes again and laying it over the fabric which contains the buttonholes (four layers of fabric).
Sew around the cushion cover.  Before you turn the cushion cover out, go to each corner and cut off the corners above your seam, so that you will not have a bulk of fabric lying there and then you will get a lovely sharp corner. Turn the cushion out, sew your button in place and then insert your cushion pad.
You have now finished your cushion, ready for that Summer seaside look.
This cushion now lives with my friend Sally to remind her of her week spent on hols down in Cornwall.

And here are a selection of other Summer and seaside ideas, each of them are based on simple shapes of squares, triangles and oblongs/rectangles which are available in my Etsy Shop.
Please don't forget that it is also Handmade Monday, so go and take a look at what everyone has been up to over the past week... I see that Wendy, who hosts this is so darned organised that she is already making Christmas items!  Trust me to be behind...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

All Taped Up?

Not so long ago, when you went to the wool shop you would just find various weights of wool to knit with... 3 ply, 4ply, DK, Aran, Chunky but in the last few years there has been an explosion in fancy yarns particularly the tape yarns.

I first came across tape yarns at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally in the 1990s when I bought this knitting kit from KnitWits in Cumbria (if anyone knows what happened to them, let me know, I loved them).  This was knitting on the edge, it was a cotton tape which knitted up quickly to create crunchy summer styles but still knitted in the conventional way.
No, they are not dropped stitches... and yes, I will sew buttons on soon, I promise!
Then Rico, pushed the boundaries even further with CanCan from which you could make fabulous flouncy scarves with block or jewel like graduated colours hit the shops.  However you did not use the yarn as you did before, you cast on by opening out the yarn and literally sticking your needle about a quarter of inch below the top of the tape, then moving along about two inches you did the same again -  no thumb method, continental, cable, long tail end, this was new order - stab and grab!  Then to knit with it, you used placed you right needle through the left stitch to knit but instead knitting the whole of the yarn you stabbed a hole two inches further with your right needle and pulled it through as a knit stitch so that the rest of your yarn created the flounce and not only could you knit with it, you could crochet too.  As an experienced knitter, it drove me up the wall as I could not thread the yarn through my fingers but new knitters love it with the exaggerated movements to wind the yarn around the needles.
More yarns followed from Rico - Loopy and from Katia - Triana, living up to its name where the tape is a series of loops sewn together.  
Like CanCan, you cast on by putting your needle through the holes of each loop along the top of the yarn and then knit in garter stitch through every second stitch over just seven stitches to make a brilliant narrow flouncy scarf with a great lacy effect, these scarves tended to be much narrower and wound several times round the neck.
And the latest I have found is Woolcraft - Tango, which forms a very closely looped jabot style scarf but yet again an entirely new form of tape.
I worked up this scarf in front of the telly in just a couple of hours, I can just imagine if peeking out from a black coat this Winter.  And this is my contribution to HandMade Monday, so don't forget to take a look and see what everyone else has been up to.
If you wondered if I finished my socks from last week, they can be found in the blog below this.  However I happened to be passing the LYS, having walked up to the bus stop and spent 10 mins waiting for the bus and 20 mins sitting on it... so like I say, just passing when I found some super Alpaca sock yarn which will make such lovely bed socks.  It is deliciously soft and I am trying something called butterfly stitch which took and inordinate amount of swearing and ripping back for me to work out how it was done and then I realised I was over-complicating things - KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).
I will let you know how they go, and I promise the applique tutorial will be here shortly when I am happy with the pics.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Finished for Friday

As promised, the socks are now completed and I am as pleased as Punch with them... 

This is the very first time I have made socks for me rather than anyone else, so I am wriggling my toes in them as I type!

After an hour or so, I started to get withdrawal symptoms, so I knocked up a scrunchy for a friend's daughter and she was thrilled with it.  We then had to look through her mum's fabric scraps to make one in her school colours - brown and yellow!  
Have you noticed how many weddings now take place on a Friday?  I was walking home from my LYS and there was a lovely wedding party celebrating in a local restaurant... isn't it amazing how infectious other people's happiness can be?  And talking of happy occasions, I am currently watching the family across the road, they have organised a surprise 50th birthday party for their son-in-law and various family members are squeezing into the house.  His two young sons have not been told about it, lest they give the game away.  So I am currently sitting in a little bubble of reflected happiness and may well throw caution to the wind and celebrate with fish & chips from the shop.  Sometimes you just have to live life to the max.  Have a lovely and happy weekend, one and all!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Forty years on...

Well this is just half a HandMade Monday, the other sock will be finished during the week.  I don't know if you have ever made socks before but there is a great feeling of satisfaction when you turn a heel or finish off toes with a spot of kitchener stitching.  These were made with Austerman wool with extra Aloe Vera which means my hands are feeling rather good right now and if you need a copy of the pattern you can find it on Ravelry
And now for some really exciting news, I heard from Sasha Kagan following my last blog and the great news is that she is bringing out a new book.  
" My new book “The Classic Collection” has just been published by GMC, this is my 7th pattern book and it takes an overview of my design career from 1969 to 2009 with 5 patterns from each decade. This book has been written to coincide with my retrospective exhibition “My Life in Textiles- 4 Decades of Hand knit Design” details of venues are on my websitewww.sashakagan.co.uk "

Not only is there a travelling exhibition this year but also a number of workshops and masterclasses, so do take a look at her website and more news of Sasha at the end of this blog.

So I wondered if I had a piece of knitting from each decade of  the last 40 years... and here they are... be warned they are not all pretty!

The first from the 1970s is an Aran Cardigan which I made when I was 11, I don't think it bears close inspection but I did make it all myself, which means every time my mum corrected it, I ripped it back to the point where I had gone wrong - I was a horrid child!

Next from the 1980s, we have a mohair and cable combo, I loved this jumper because of its construction, the bottom cream part is not cast off but sewn onto the cable panel.
Now we hit the 1990s, jumpers were cropped, even when you cabled them and this had such a snuggly neck line... but I somehow don't think my kidneys ever felt the benefit!
And finally into the 2000s, I loved this cardigan but I have never found the right buttons, butIi do still have a ball of wool left over to sew them on when they do appear!  Sometimes I think that this cardie should have been in blue rather than pink for the number of times I go the lace pattern wrong and swore at it.

Now, I have no ideas what the 2010s hold in store, but I do think that Sasha's Scotties may finally make it onto my needles (they are in the new book) but perhaps I will ask her for a suggestion.  That's right, Sasha Kagan has agreed to do an interview on my blog, so I thought I would ask if any of you have a question for her that I could include in the interview?  Pop the question into the comments and I will try to use as many as possible.

PS.  Look out for the cushion tutorial coming later this week :)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Charity Shop Bargain Brings Back Happy Memories

Yesterday, I found a couple of books in a local Charity shop that set my pulse racing and bought back happy memories of 1980s knitting, my sister dug deep in her pocket and bought them both for me at the princely sum of £1.35 (about $2.20).
The first book was the Sasha Kagan Sweater Book, I can remember borrowing this from the library in Stepney (back in 1984 it would have cost me a 1/12th of my weekly wage) and dribbling over the amazing pictures of garments knitted in a Fair Isle style. This was the first time I had seen this technique used to create fabulous pictures and back then the cardigan that I wanted to make was the Winter Scotties cardie... even if it was in 2 ply... yes, you read that right 2 ply! I never got to make it but there is a Scottie dog beret which even now is tempting me, although I think I might give the leg-warmers a miss!
The other book was The Sweater Book and excluding some of the shoulder pad heavy patterns, a number of them would translate really well into designs for 2011... although I am not sure I would submit a child to this!
So I thought you might like to see a couple of items I made back then from Patricia Roberts patterns... the first is a Sampler Sweater which I made in 1985, I bought the pattern and wool from her old shop in Covent Garden as a Christmas present to myself as I was going to be spending Christmas on my own, I remember having to wind up the skeins of wool into balls using my dining chairs to hold the wool!  It was the first time I had ever knitted from a chart and I worked into the night so that I could see the yacht, house, the night sky and the tree developing.  Although I have to admit the extra long cable between main sweater and the bodice still bugs me...
And the next is the Bow Tie cardigan, an absolute classic of the 1980s down to the shoulder pads which I used wear with black leggings and a black felt hat, and I thought I looked the bees knees, fortunately for me, no pictures survive!
I have realised that both these pieces are over 25 years old, but on searching for them, I discovered my first ever completed piece of clothing... An Aran cardigan made when I was 11 and my mother thought I should be kept busy as I was off school for a month with Glandular Fever.

Oooh when looking for my old pattern book I found a UFO (UnFinished Object) a Patricie Roberts cardigan using blackberry stitch to simulate bunches of grapes... and some of the skeins are not even wound up... it must be over 25 years since I started it... I think it might need finishing, what do you reckon?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Baskets and Booties

I cannot believe that we are already at the beginning of the week again and it is time for Wendy's Handmade Monday - do take a look and see what everyone has been up to over the past week, as usual there are some amazing makes on there.

As I have not been able to find a new job yet, I have been putting my time to good use (around agency visits) and have sorted out the hanging baskets, window boxes and pots in my front garden.  We are going for pink and cheery this year...

Filled with double headed Petunias, a blousy pink 

Geranium intersperced with blue Lobelia

More Geranniums, Busy Lizzies, couple of Penstemons
 and a rather strking Coleus
More Petunias and Lobelia with great

instant colour making my front window
a joy to look out of!

I have also been asked recently for some gender-neutral baby booties, it is really lovely the number of mums-to-be who don't want to know what they are going to have.  So I have whipped up some cream booties, a pair of navy blue Mary Janes with Zebra buttons and cos I like flowers and the basket weave pattern a couple of pairs of cocoa  coloured booties with  flowers, definitely not gender-neutral just plain lovely.

What I really enjoy about making booties, is how quickly they knit up... might make some beanie hats to match them... what do you reckon?

And finally, the good news is that the rushing for the Arts and Craft chair arrived in the post this morning, which means that I will have another item on my to do list!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Guest Blog by A Playful Day - Sitting on Top of the World

I am thrilled to introduce my very first guest writer who blogs at A Playful Day about knitting, daydreaming, cooking and finding pleasure in all things practical. Aplayfulday was created as a reminder to keep things playful and to search for that joy everyday.  From this blog, a podcast has developed that is rapidly growing in popularity and can be found on itunes and the blog.

Sitting on top of the World

I’m known for being daydreamy, tucking myself into a space, carving it out and making it mine. From where I sit I daydream, survey and indulge. I found a new place to do so today. I decided I will share the experience with you but don’t tell anyone else ok? It’s a special place.

Secondly, I was excited because I was sat on a rooftop.  From where I sat I could survey the world, look down into neighbour's gardens and spy on the cats that watched me quizzically.  I delighted in looking up every now and then as one of the many cats tried once more to catch a squirrel.  I found myself rooting for both teams, it all just looked like a fun game of chase in the sunshine.  I peered into other people’s gardens and grew curious about artefacts that I could spy.

Then there was my chosen activity, a new project, ready to go and ready to entertain me with its’ freshness.  I worked away, pausing to reflect that those would need sorting before summer footwear and to take another sip of nice cool wine.  I wriggled my toes, glad to be bare foot, my favourite footwear of choice!  I did decide those might need a little tidying to get ready for Summer though....

I sat for so long and saw so many things that by the time I had company I was full enough with indulgent solitude that I could cope with sharing.

This is going to be the first in a series of guest blogs and I want to thank A Playful Day for for starting off the series in such great style... and now as it is a Bank Holiday in the UK, I think I will take a chance to stand, stare and enjoy the peace.

And remember to let us both know what you think of the guest blogs.