Monday, 31 May 2010
I did it! I made soap!
It’s curing in a box on the kitchen table right this moment. It was easy. I’m not absolutely guaranteeing that what comes out is going to be usable soap, but if it is, then I shall definitely be making lots more. I fragranced this one with lavender and geranium essential oils, but I may make another batch and use ylang ylang and patchouli. I might also dry some of the lavender flowers in our garden and add those. The sky’s the limit. But first I have to clean the blender. It turns out that’s actually more difficult than making the soap. (Stupid cheap Tesco blender. Honestly, I know it's cheap and I shouldn't be supporting Tesco anyway, but why don't they at least make blenders that are fit for purpose?!)
(I used the starter recipe from this book - Smart Soapmaking. I'm pretty sure I didn't have anything at the correct temperature but it seemed to come together, so I'm guessing this recipe is fairly foolproof. I think I put about 30 drops each of the lavender and geranium in, but I don't know how well that will have worked out until I use it.)
Sunday, 30 May 2010
I was using a very useful method of choosing fabrics for patchwork there. It is called, Get Everything You Own Out Of Its Box And Throw It In A Heap On The Floor. Then Go And Make Coffee. I’m surprised more people don’t use this method, because it’s very effective.
And this is after I tidied it today (ignore the kitchen roll! That just proves I dusted):
I am worried you can’t tell from this picture quite how much tidier it is, so I've taken this one:
Look at all that blank floor! Admire the use of a storage box!
I’m pleased I’ve done this, as now I can start next week with a clean(ish) slate. Lots of new projects planned – tshirts and more tiered skirts (hopefully for the etsy shop), and, if I get round to it, a short-sleeve linen jacket. For Me. To force me to learn how to make button holes. And I’ll be finishing and trimming those things you see on the dress form.
There you are: Organisation. A Plan. No more untidiness. Industriousness and Productivity. No getting distracted by random things.
Oh, but wait. What might this be? What arrived very recently in a large box?
Soapmaking supplies! Eeeeeeeek! Well, perhaps I’ll just have a bit of a go tomorrow. It is a bank holiday, after all. Industriousness can surely wait one more day. Can’t it?
Saturday, 29 May 2010
Ok, I’m excited enough about this skirt that I’m showing it to you unironed, untrimmed, and photographed in crappy light (I might try and take better photos tomorrow to show it off a bit better – it’s really nice). When I got to the third tier on this, I suddenly began to think, this skirt is unwearable; there is no occasion, there is no social gathering, where this skirt will be appropriate on me, a cynical 35-year-old with angular features. And now I’ve finished it and tried it on properly, I can confirm that I was absolutely right. However, I love this skirt so much that I will wear it anyway: I may wear it to Tesco. I may wear it tomorrow to go and buy a barbecue from Homebase (it’s supposed to be nice weather next week.) This is how I made it, in case you want to make one too (you can adapt this easily to different sizes, although I think mine would fit most women (or adventurous men.)) It would also be lovely on a little girl.
Basically I made it from this post on Craftster, and this tutorial. (There is also this woman on Craftster who has made a long one – she deserves a medal. By the time you got to the bottom of that you would be sewing ruffles long enough to go round a house.) I used this order of colours: purple, light blue, green, yellow, pink – I’m not really that fond of yellow but I had to do it in that order because I’d got most fabrics in yellow and pink, for some reason. I used mostly quilting-weight cotton, and this thing can stand up on its own – don’t use anything heavier (lighter, like voile, would be fine.) I used a basic 5 inch square, and cut them all out with scissors – it would be better to do it with a rotary cutter probably but scissors are fine. I worked on a 1/4 inch seam all round but I think it ended up being bigger (it’s difficult to sew the ruffles on only 1/4 inch.) I used 12 purple squares, 18 blue, 27 green, 40 yellow, and 60 pink (increasing by x 1.5 each time). This makes it into a circle skirt – you could get away with a smaller ratio, but I think you’d lose some of the impact. I gathered the ruffles just by machining a long stitch all round and then gathering it by hand – it was quite laborious (although not undoable), so if you’ve got a ruffler foot on anything that would help. Also, I serged all the squares – I serged sides, sewed strips, then serged along each strip before ruffling and sewing to the strip above. I hemmed it by serging the edge of the pink strip and then turning a single hem and topstitching. I added a waistband after I’d sewn it all – it fastens with a drawstring (I don’t like the drawstring I used very much so I haven’t shown that. I might make a patchwork one and add beads, because with a skirt like this, in for a penny). The only thing I didn’t do was prewash all the fabrics, so this skirt might be a disaster waiting to happen. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
I’m normally good at styling clothes but the only things I can think to wear this with so far are: fitted white tshirt, white birkenstocks: fitted denim jacket, brown satin sleeveless tshirt, nude heels, lots of gold necklaces. If anyone has any better ideas, please let me know!
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Anyway, I bought half a metre of purple spotty Kaffe Fassett fabric, because it made me think of amoebas, and when the woman serving me asked me what I was going to do with it, I said, 'I'm going to make a bag!', confidently. I'm not sure what kind of bag I thought I was going to make with only half a metre, no lining, no interfacing, no pattern and no skill. It turned out, I was going to make this kind:
This might have been the first thing I ever sewed on my own (I actually think it was). And you see, even at that early stage I couldn't just leave it be, I had to find some other fabric from somewhere and use the spotty stuff as appliqué. With sequins sewn in some of the spots. I think I was going to sew sequins in all of them but I got bored and went to the pub. I do use this bag though, you can see it is stuffed full (with the sequins actually, ready for a Sequin Emergency).
The spotty fabric disappeared then for a bit, and I lost it. Like the One Ring. Then it reappeared, not via Gollum but via me clearing out a cupboard. So I used it for the Scrappy Cushion which was in Sew Hip. You will see there is a purple and orange theme. You know how people always tell you to trust your instinct with colours/ there is no right and wrong/ all colourways are welcome in the Happy World of Craft? Look at my cushion and beware. (It's comfy, though).
Then I used it as the top of my Amy Butler Gum Drop Pillow. I started making this after my job ended last year. This was at a point in my life when stress had caused me to have no powers of concentration and the Gum Drop Pillow took months (with a hiatus halfway through). If I had known at that point that one year on I would have sufficient capacity for learning to be able to now thread a serger, I would have dropped down dead of shock. I moved Take A Break and the tv remote off the rug to take this picture. That's called styling.
Then I used a bit in a knitting needle case I made for my mother at Christmas. I didn't take a picture sadly but it was modelled on the Colored Pencil Roll from Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts (there is a nice version here) and it looked very cool, possibly setting in train my current obsession for Rainbow Patchwork items.
Well, the purple spotty fabric has reappeared again, because I am using it in the Rainbow Patchwork Skirt which I mentioned yesterday. I'm hoping to have finished this monster tomorrow so I can take pics (and move on with my life), but in the meantime here's a taster.
This is the last layer waiting to be serged, hemmed, ruffled and sewn on. It's so long I draped it from my tree to show you the magnitude. Unfortunately the man from a few doors down was wheeling his dustbin back while I was doing this and gave me what is often described as an old fashioned look. Clearly that man is not used to people taking quirky winsome photos for blogs.
I shall go now and eat toast, because there's ruffling to be done, and now I've realised the extent of it I think I need to build up my strength. À demain.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Sew Hip magazine, which gave simple instructions. Essentially, when you shirr you are making a big tube and then pulling it in with elastic to make a smaller, slightly squashy-looking tube. There are no darts, there is no shaping. That should be easy, right? Well, the instructions certainly made it sound easy. You handwind the bobbin with your elastic thread, and then you just sew round and round your tube in a kind of a spiral (using the presser foot as a guide to space the rows) until you have done enough to fit over your bust, and then you clip your threads, put your dress on, and skip away, possibly to some kind of cool festival or a picnic in the park. Result happiness. However. Trying to follow these instructions felt a little bit like nailing a jelly to the ceiling, which is also easy to explain (take one jelly. Stand on chair. Hold jelly against ceiling. Knock nail through jelly with a big hammer – you might need a friend to help you steady the jelly at this point. Voila! Jelly nailed to ceiling! Enjoy!).
Basically, if you try to shirr your dress by sewing round a big spiral, unless you are making a dress for a very small baby (and I suspect this might be the case even then), you will run out of elastic. Elastic thread is thicker than sewing thread: you will have to rewind your bobbin at least once, possibly more. This is fine – rewinding the bobbin is no trouble (it doesn’t have to be tidy – I can make my sewing machine knot up just by looking at it, but my haphazard bobbin winding didn’t cause any problems.) However! You cannot backsew to secure elastic thread: it doesn’t work: I have tried. So, if you are starting again in the middle of your spiral, it is likely to come undone, especially because you have to pull and stretch the elastic as you are sewing to get a bit of flat fabric to sew through. My dress looks pretty on the outside: inside it is Frankenstein’s monster with elastic pulled and knotted and handsewn to secure. Also, it is not easy to use the presser foot as a guide for seams. You have to pull and tug at your fabric to stretch it to sew: sometimes frankly it is not clear what direction you are sewing in, never mind if you are correctly placing the new line of stitching half an inch from the old one.
So this is how I have decided to do it and it seems to be working much better (if a shirred top appears in my etsy shop you’ll know it was ok, if not I’m going to quietly skulk off and never mention it again.) 1/ Sew lines of shirring, not a spiral, and trap the ends in a seam (I will be using a french seam, doubly secure and also I am using sheer-ish fabric.) I’m doing this with a seam on the back, but you could probably use one of the side seams too. Don’t start with a new bobbin half-way through seams – check you’ve got enough to finish before you start. 2/ Mark with washable fabric pen lines where you want to sew – I’m spacing mine half an inch apart. I’m reasonably confident the washable fabric pen is actually washable, if not I’ll be walking about with a grid marked on my chest. Horizontal lines, so flattering! 3/ Sew with a very short stitch length, and I’ve found I need a tight top tension: if my bobbin tension is adjusted correctly, I haven’t found I need to adjust it any more, which is useful as I’m not sure where I’ve put the screwdriver.
Those are my shirring tips, I hope this is helpful. It is a performance but worth doing as it looks attractive, and as you are tripping about in your diaphanous creations only you will know about the bitter tears and swearing at the sewing machine, everyone else will think you are effortlessly chic in a hippie kind of way.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
I love granny squares, I love them, and I bet I am one of the few people who learnt to crochet not just in order to make granny squares but in order to make them into something really questionable. Like a skirt. Or a waistcoat. In fact, I have to confess, I look at the reviews of crochet books on Amazon and if any of them say anything like ‘oh God, this book is a hideous throwback to the seventies, who on Earth would wear xxx’ then I get excited and I put that book on my wishlist. Yes. The Seventies: A Much Maligned Decade. Or, The Seventies: Not Just Owls. Well, I haven’t crocheted a wonderful granny square skirt yet, but I have started a granny square. And I have failed to stop. It’s taking on epic proportions. If I can keep going for long enough I’m hoping to have a throw, but, this thing EATS yarn. I daren’t add up what it’s cost me so far. On the subject of which:
The Prodigal Has Returned. Yes, I’d be lurking in my stylish ricepaper bag too if I’d cost almost as much to repair as I did to buy!
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
I am what you might call an active kind of learner: I do not understand things until I have done them, myself, with my own two hands. I don't read instruction books: I use them as a reference for after I have worked out what I am doing. I cannot learn by reading, or by watching someone else. I do not believe most people are like me, as otherwise no one would bother putting instructional videos for anything on YouTube. As far as I'm concerned, you might as well tell me to look at a video of a sneezing panda and then go and perform open heart surgery, that is how little visual learning means to me. Anyway I have managed very well thus far and this was my approach to the serger. Well, never mind the instruction book: what they should have done with the serger was sell it wrapped in a big bit of paper that said in words a foot high, THIS IS NOT A SEWING MACHINE! YOU CANNOT SEW OVER PINS WITH IT! Because that is the only thing you need to know. Did you know that? I didn't. I know it probably isn't ideal to sew over pins with a sewing machine, but the worst that ever happened to me was that my needle broke and hit me in the eye. And it glanced off my eyelid! So it was absolutely fine. So I naturally assumed you could do the same with a serger. This was mistake number 1. We will pause here for a calming photograph of Cambridge which I took earlier today. Isn't that pretty?
OK, so the difference with a serger is that blades are involved, and somehow this was what the pin buggered up. So it gave a kind of furious screech and stopped, sucking my bit of fabric I was practicing on into its innards. Well, when my sewing machine is difficult with me, I don't take any nonsense, I strip it down, I change needles, I swear, I rethread. So this is what I did. And I ran the serger again. And it made the most awful clanking noise you have ever heard. And the new needles I had put in bent (actually bent!), broke, and flew out. OK, I thought, I did not put those needles in properly, I will try again. And the same thing happened. At this point I began to feel a bit worried. Another calming break: this is Wisteria on Magdalene.
I tried again and actually things became worse. Oh my God, I thought, Oh my God. I have broken my serger. I put it it under the desk and I walked away and made tea, but there are some things tea can't cure and broken sergers is one of them. This is silly, I thought, I will have to deal with it. So I took my serger back to Sew Creative and spoke to the woman who had sold it to me. 'Hmm' I said. 'There are a few problems with my serger. It seems not to be entirely working. I thought perhaps you could press something and make it happier.' She fixed me with a look. 'And what led up to it not working?' she asked, carefully. 'Me!' I said, in an agony of remorse. 'Me! I sewed over a pin! And now my serger is dead! And I have killed it!'. Well, quelle surprise it turns out that this is not unparalleled. This has happened to sergers before. And so my serger was taken away 'it is probably not terminal' and is coming back on Thursday. And I am very excited. But, this is the rub, and we will pause for a very attractive photo of St John's which is my partner's Alma Mater although he is not grateful:
My serger is costing a fortune to repair. A fortune. I am not exaggerating. I could practically have bought another one (well, perhaps a second hand one.) So, if you go over a pin, this is a big deal. You will knacker your timing belt. Do not do it. Learn from my mistake. Then you will have a bonus £67+VAT which you can spend on the frivolous item of your choice (although if I remember it is financial reasoning like that which leads to destruction and ultimately death in Bleak House. And if we aren't getting our financial planning advice from Dickens, I don't know where we are getting it from.)
Monday, 17 May 2010
In the meantime, this is my studio: I say studio: I mean box room. You note I'm not showing you the floor? The picture is by Dave who I used to work with. Dave has some lovely pictures – look on his site. But don't go buying all the Sun ones, because I'm having one of those as soon as I've got a bit of spare money. And the plant is a Peace Lily. It's the only plant I've ever not killed. I haven't given it a name because I don't want to become too attached (well, I have. I call it Fred. But I don't call it that out loud, because that would be tempting fate.)
This is a shelf full of my books. It has so many books it's actually bending. I won't tell you what I think about Weekend Sewing because I'm trying to be upbeat. All I'll say is, do you remember when Les Dawson used to dress as a woman? I looked like that in the Kimono dress.
And this is my tree. It only looks like that for about 5 minutes but while it does it's spectacular and I rush about taking photos. I thought it was appropriate for Spring and new beginnings.
Thanks for reading. I'll be back tomorrow to tell you my adventures with my serger because I'm hoping my experience can serve as a warning to others: that might give me some comfort, at least.