Monday, 29 October 2012

Stripped Bare for Christmas Action - More Quilted Tree Decs

Back in July we made a cushion to celebrate the Fourth of July, so using the same technique we are going to create some more great quilted decorations to fill your tree.  Yet again we are going to raid the pastry cutter tin to find great shapes to use on the tree, you can use hearts, stockings, hearts, mittens, hearts, parcels and did I mention hearts?  This is another great way of using up scrap strips to create effective tree decs, so let's hit your Christmas stash of fabrics and get started.
You will need:
A selection of Christmas fabric or fabrics in Christmas colours of red and green
Cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter
Scissors, pins and thread, pinking shears are optional but really useful
Pastry cutters or artistic ability (which I am sadly lacking), pencil, greaseproof paper
Ribbon or hairy twine (if you are going rustic)
A walking foot
Iron and Ironing Board ... yes, they are back

Choose shapes and designs which are clean and not too complex, hence the heart, mittens, Christmas trees and stockings... but you could use snowmen and gingerbread men (but we are going to be using these shapes to create a garland in a couple of weeks).  If you feel confident in your sketching skills, the draw them directly onto the greaseproof or dressmaker's tissue, otherwise trace around the pastry or cookie cutter shapes.  Set them aside until we have constructed the strips.
You need to cut your strips to the same length but vary the width, don't go thinner than an inch as we are going to use the quilter's classic 1/4" seam allowance... frankly less than 1/2" showing will look like a line of dental floss or what was referred to by my old friend Clint as a greyhound skirt.  If you are using fat quarters use the longest side, usually the 22" side.
Sew the strips together using the 1/4" seam allowance, then iron your work from the back, do not iron the seams open, iron them closed all in the same direction.  Then turn your work so that the front is showing and press again, stretch the work slightly to draw out any excess fabric that may have become trapped.
Place the sewn strips on top of the batting, and pin into place using the longest pins you can find, but leave a good allowance of batting up to an inch around the sewn strips.

Fit your walking foot to your machine... don't worry if you do not have a walking foot, you can still do this but the walking foot will give you a better finish as it ensures that the different textures and thicknesses of fabric will feed through at the same pace. 

Sew in the ditch... don't know where it is?  Remember how we ironed the seams in one direction, you are going to be sewing about an 1/8" away from the seam line through just one layer of fabric and batting, not the three, that is your quilting ditch.  Use a contrasting thread to emphasise your stitching, sew along the ditch of every strip.  When you have completed this, trim away the excess batting.
Pin your pattern pieces onto the quilted fabric, it looks great if the strips match up (yep, sometimes I can get a bit anal about lining up, although you don't have to do this) so remember to reverse it when you cut our the second piece. Or if you want to be economical, use a plain piece of fabric instead of your quilting as it will not be seen.
Place the right sides together and sew around leaving an opening... for the mittens and stockings, leave the top part open.  For the tree, fold over a loop of ribbon, as ever I have raided the ribbon stash for some gorgeous Jane Means ribbons, pin it to the point of your tree on the right side on one piece of your tree, make sure that both ends of the ribbon stick out beyond this point, then lay on the other side of the tree and pin it in to place. For the heart, pop the ribbon loop in the centre of the curves at the top of the heart and use the same method, leaving a gap along the side.
Trim any excess seams and ease the curves by either nipping little triangles around the curves or using pinking shears to achieve this.  Turn the shapes right side out. Use a cool iron to press them into shape - do not use a hot or cotton temperature iron as this will melt/bond the batting.  
With your stockings and mittens, turn under the raw edges and press them into place... for the mittens, join a pair together with one piece of ribbon, tucked into the open seam and pin it together so they look just like the mittens tied into your coat that you could never lose, no matter how hard you tried, they will sit happily over a branch.  For the stockings a loop, pinned at the outside edge of your stockings.  Now sew around your decoration, 1/8" from the edge.
You could make little present shaped decs in squares or rectangle, even I can draw a square or a rectangle (well nearly) by running sewing ribbon in a cross over the square and popping a ribbon in the centre.
And now, a little later than usual, we are actually hopping over to Handmade Monday on a Monday... go look at what is happening in the Craft World :)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The How to Write a Tutorial, Tutorial

For the last 18 months or so, I have written a weekly tutorial and a number of people have said, “Wow, I could never do that, I just wouldn’t know where to start.”  Well that is stuff and nonsense, all a tute is, is a little history of how you made something, so in the immortal words of Julie Andrews and Messr’s Rogers and Hammerstein, “Let’s start at the very beginning...”

Choose your topic, the thing that you can make sublimely, that you enjoy doing... it doesn’t matter that it is not original, let’s be honest very little in the craft world is, after all there are only so many things to make or do, like bunting, peg bags, cook a chicken, put a child on the naughty step.  What matters is that you show how you do it and how great it is to be able to do it your way.

Next the title, I have decided we are going to make pom poms, so I could be very technical and say ”The Pom Pom Tutorial”, it says what it is but to be honest I think it is a little dull (actually it’s deathly boring) so I might go with “Pom Tiddly Pom – Pooh’s Pom Pom Tutorial” hoping that most of my audience had been brought up on a diet of AA Milne.

I love poms poms and they are really easy to make, you don't need any fancy kit but if you follow my instructions, you will get a great result each time... although perhaps not the mega pom pom that Carol Parkinson had in the infants which looked to me to be the size of a fooball (nb this is not an exaggeration).
Start with an intro, or if you are in education, a plenary telling us what to expect together with a picture of the finished item... I want to know that when I read this it is going to enable me to be the bestest pom pom maker in the whole wide world, or maybe just in my house.

You will need the following:
Wool - Don't bother with the good stuff, chemist shop acrylic will do, double knitting is great for this
Cardboard - Breakfast cereal boxes are ideal
Sharp scissors
A mug and a wine glass
Ribbon, I use Jane Means from my stash
After that, I want to know what I will need, I don’t want to be blind-sided by you telling me in the middle of making this that I will need something that is not readily to hand... so you need to tell me what I need from the get go.  If you use a particular brand of wool, let me know, otherwise I could be the muppet who buys a hand dyed silk and cashmere hank costing a fortune to chop into little bits.  Even better if you use a particular stockist, provide a link to them.  Think of this like a recipe, you see the picture of the stuffed boned chicken, then you look at the list of ingredients and gather them together and next you jump straight in and follow the recipe, well a tutorial is essentially the same. 

Everybody has a different style of writing and I am going to let you into a little secret, technical writing is the most difficult to do well and to read, especially if you assess it with the Gunning Fog Index which tests readability... so keep it simple.  Remember you want to keep them reading through till the end, not to be confused and turned off by long technical words and terms.

Let’s get going, you have told your reader what they will need, now let’s get to the method.  It’s easiest if you write this as you go along and take pics... I am useless at snapping but here are the basics, take pics in natural light, keep the background clear so we can see the magnum opus in construction, try not to use a flash and if you can rest your camera on something so you do not get the blurry wobbles so much the better.  Also pics break up a post, allowing the readers eye to rest and for them to get their breath back.

You will need to cut two circles out of your cereal boxes using the mug, then using the wine glass pop it in the centre and cut out the smaller circle.  Place the circles together.

If something goes wrong, tell your reader and show them, if there is a point where it looks awful but it will come right, let them know.  If you have ever boned a chicken, you will understand... there comes a point when you have a very sharp knife in your hands, your hands will be slippery from being stuffed into the chicken’s carcass, one leg will be detached and then you will stand there wondering why the heck you didn’t just roast it?  You need to tell the reader that this will pass a few moments later, you will have released the breastbone and be ready to put in the stuffing and sew up the bird and everyone will think you are just sooooo clever!
Take your wool  and start to wind it around the doughnut shape you have created, you will need to create small balls so it fits through the hole in the middle... you may find that the end will not stay put so tie a knot in it... when you have wound round once snip the knot out.  Continue winding until you fill the hole in the middle.  You could use one colour or to make it more fun, use lots of different colours, it is a great way to use up those scrappy ends that are not long enough to use for anything useful!  Don't worry if you cannot fill it all the way to centre but just be aware it will not look as dense and as fluffy as mine.
I am serious about writing as you go along, as it is really easy to miss out a step or a stage because you know what you are doing, remember back in school when they asked you to write up making a cup of tea... our English teacher took our class to the kitchen and used several of the essays to literally follow instructions... it was carnage, empty teapots, cold tea... and no tea at all.  I have a real bee in my bonnet about getting projects tested so, get another pair of eyes to look over it to see what you have missed.
Now comes the exciting bit, position the blades of your scissors between the two circles of cardboard and start snipping, take it slow and steady, the wool will not fall out but will remain trapped in the centre.  
Cut a length of wool 18" long, slip it between the two layers of cardboard and wind it around the your cut wool, slip a 12" length of ribbon under the wool which you are using to capture all your cut ends now draw it really tight, tying it with a secure knot.  Slip the cardboard off  and fluff up your ball... doesn't that look great?  You can hang it up using the ribbon... or if you are a small child it makes a marvellous weapon to hit your siblings without bruising them.
Use you final paragraph to suggest ways in which to use the item, cheaper alternatives and if it takes a long time tell them this too.

Making a pompom is a great mindless task to do in front of the TV on a cold evening and should take you about an hour.  Get the kids to join in and you will have a set of new decs for your Christmas tree or make smaller ones to attach to the ends of laces on sweaters etc.

Paste in your pics onto the blog, tie them up with the relevant description – don’t be tempted to state the obvious under the pic – use them to move the story along.  Next spell check and then look at it in preview... you will see where extra lines have crept in, tidy it up ready for your public.  Once you have written it, don’t leave it there, share it around, tweet it, facebook it, tag it and send it out to other people... you have worked far too hard to let it be a Billy No Mates Make!

In short the principles are as follows:
  • Title
  • Opening
  • Ingredients
  • Method
  • Options
  • Check and Share
And that dear reader, is how I tackle a tutorial... if you have other ways of doing it, please share.  And here is the ultimate musical tutorial, easy to follow, easy to understand, easily remembered and it comes out well each time.
And in case anyone is interested... no, I have not taken down my curtains to make play clothes for my friends!

So next it's off to Handmade Monday to see what other great crafty goodies have been made this week.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

OMG... How much?

Right, this year for the first time in ages, we are not going to the Knitting  & Stitching Show at Ally Pally.  There are a couple of reasons for this, am not sure if I mentioned it but recently both my brother-in law and my sister had mini strokes, TIAs or transient ischaemic attacks... in fact if it had not been for my bil having one first, my sister would not have realised what was happening when she had hers.  Both of them had a bit of tingling in their hands and an inability to hold a mug, feeling a tad odd and bit headachey.  
A previous matron of the hospital was in the stroke ward at the same time, nothing escaped her beady eye!
He had been on an aspirin regime which could well explain why there was little if no damage... however my sister was not so lucky, her carotid artery was totally bunged up (think mega amounts of sediment in your central heating!) which meant a whole different ball game.  Firstly, she was not allowed out of the ward... had to stay on flat surfaces - no stairs, lest any clots be released if she bumped about, the anaesthetists who could undertake this were on hols so it was almost two weeks later that they operated.  She had a carotid endarterectomy, yep, they removed that section of her carotid... you know the one that spurts everywhere in horror movies and put in a new piece.  She recovered really well thanks to the magnificent work of the stroke unit at Southend... if she had not had this scare, then she would most definitely have had a major stroke within the year.  So please, when you see those ads and articles about the signs and symptoms of strokes, just take the time to read them... it's just about thinking FAST.  She is back driving now but K&S is a long day, so maybe next year...
The show opens today and yes, I do kind of regret not going but to be honest a flippant comment made on Twitter has made me think... do you know that I cannot tell you how much I have in my various stashes?  I can tell you that I put 160+ fat quarters in a picnic hamper a few weeks ago.  I have a separate hamper for Christmas... a humongous plastic container for half yards or more... and at the back of the dining room lurks an even bigger trunk in which I know there is at least 4 yards of cream and gold dog tooth check wool fabric from the early 90s and an early visit to Ally Pally.  Tell me, what possessed me?
I aspire to sort my collection into this sort of  order
Not sure that we should tackle wool as it is pervasive, you think you have it locked down... but no, it hides in small spaces (that would be behind and under the sofas), it can literally roll anywhere and it does.  I have found it in every room in my house with the exception of the bathroom but frankly that is just a matter of time.  I love going through it and remembering where I bought it... and yes there is an Ally Pally novelty yarn  that I bought which, well honestly I must have been hypnotised by aliens... it is so mortifying that I could not even offer it up for a swap let alone take it surreptitiously to a charity shop, as even they have standards!
If only own stash was so well ordered and coherent
And do you know what, we haven't even addressed kit, like sewing boxes, cutting mats and rulers, buttons, ribbons, interfacing, tissue, hoops, threads, patterns, knitting needles, crochet hooks and no, don't go there with books, look I told you don't go there... need I go on?  I am sure there is an answer, it's just that I am not sure I will like it.  And do you know that I have just realised, I have not touched on embroidery, tapestry, felting, Hardanger...
I long to own something like this... memories of Brightwells in Southend,  the Grace Bros of fabric shops! 
So there it is the reasons I am not at Ally Pally this year, mostly because over the years I have accumulated the contents of the main hall and they are scattered about the house, in every nook, cranny and crevice... mind you what about under the stairs at the back, now there's a thought!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Countdown to Christmas - An Advent Chest of Drawers

I am typing this with sticky fingers, so any typos you see are due to my fingers not leaving the keys... Right so I have found my Christmas making mojo (it was hidden behind last year's Christmas cards) and now I am ready to get on with the next project which is a little Advent chest of drawers calendar... Thomas Chippendale watch out!

I don't know about you but I am a sucker for crafting magazines, I love to browse through them, especially when someone I know is in there... better still if I did not expect to see them, take a bow Wendy Massey who is featuring in this month's Craftseller, as one of their "regular designers", well that is really thrilling as Wendy also runs Handmade Monday.  Anyway, at the moment most of the magazines are giving away crafting papers... but I don't make cards or scrapbook and I can only pass on so much which means I have to find a use for it and the Advent chest of drawers is it.
You will need:
24 match boxes... be warned they are hard to find, I cleared out our local newsagent!
Decorative papers... there are tons given away with crafting mags at this time of year
Brass headed paper fasteners (optional) and a map pin
Paper scissors... if you even think of using your fabric scissors, that knock that you hear on the door is me coming to place you on the naughty step, you have been warned.
Heavy card, cornflake boxes work well
In the almost words of Mrs Beaton, first empty your match boxes, yes I realise that Bonfire night is not for more than a month so now you have a challenge to think what we can use them for... a model of the Titanic is not an option, nor is burning down London Bridge.
Put the boxes in eight groups of three, stacked on each other, remove the drawers as we do not want to inadvertently leave them stuck in there.  Glue the external packs together one on top of another, easiest way to do this is to dot  glue on two of  the box tops, you should now have eight groups... if you find that the frames lift then use anything to hand to weight them down.

Whilst they dry, we can move onto the next stage, choose two complementary papers, one will be used on the "drawers" and the other for the sides
Measure the height of the drawer and cut your paper to fit the front of the drawer and extending it just round the corners, dob a little glue on each end... don't over do it or the drawers will not fit back in.  Now I found paper with little hearts and decided not to put handles on my drawers but you can... use the map pin as an awl to poke a hole in the front of your drawer, then use a little pair of scissors to extend the hole, insert your brass headed paper fasteners. 
Now we are going to work on the frame, on each group of three boxes, cover one side with your other paper, start from the middle of the box, cover the side and take it underneath, then glue in place.  When you have completed this, lay out your first layer as shown below.  Then glue the next layer in place on top... you will be left with a hole in the middle... this is fine and you will be covering it up.
You now have a chance to decorate the sides... I found some wooden hearts and stars which I painted red and white to give it a Norwegian Christmas theme and stuck those on the sides... so check out those papers and stamps that you have and start decoupaging those blank spaces, think snowflakes, Christmas trees, mittens, boots, candy canes and gingerbread men.  
Make sure that you place them towards the sides of your box.  Insert the drawers and number them randomly, 1 to 24 ready for your little surprises.
Cut two squares from your card, a little larger than the frame you have created, cover these with paper...ensure you take the paper over the edges, this is particularly important for the top section.  
Glue or stick the the frame in place in the centre of your pieces of card.  When it has dried/set, tie up your little chest of drawers with ribbon... yes, you guessed it I raided the Jane Means ribbon hoard, nothing like red and white ribbons to say Christmas.
Finally fill the drawers... you might use chocolate coins or a really great idea is a set of promises for the recipients, if you have children, then how about "Today we will make Christmas cookies", or "Today you will go and see Fr Christmas", you get the idea.

So if you are looking for inspiration for Christmas, take a look at Handmade Monday, you can bet that Wendy and the other posters are already in the swing!