July 21, 2014

QAYG: a sneak peek

I know. Like I didn't have enough projects on the go.

I took a break from weaving threads in on my animal alphabet quilt. Next time, I'll get rid of the ends as I quilt. I've learnt that lesson the hard way after two hours of sewing in ends and counting! I'm almost done on the back, and still need to flip over to the front. Breathe.

I wanted something quick, fun and colourful. A zippy pouch? Maybe. I cut out some wadding and started piecing together strips of fabric, randomly choosing colours as I went.

Quilt-as-you-go (QAYG) sewing is great. You start off with one piece, and quilt it directly on to the wadding. Then, add a strip on one side, sewing it face down with a small seam allowance, and flipping it back to the right side. Quilt on top. Repeat. Grow a giant pile of quilted panels.

My little panels grew. And grew. I used up a lot of scrap strips of fabric I bought from the Quilt Festival last year, and added some blocks of my favourite fabrics.

Like these newsprint penguins (Nancy Wolff for Kokka). Some of them wear hats, some of them have bowties, some of them have briefcases. And that green. 

Also, my precious glitter elephants and camels (also Kokka). That camel has two humps. It makes me smile every time I look at this panel. There are apples, mandala flowers and glitter roses. Kitsch overload.

That's when I realised that these couldn't be zippy pouches. Oh no. They had to be cushion covers. And they had to live in our lounge, replacing our muted, purple cushions that currently adorn our cream-coloured chairs. I want to look at these bright colours and happy fabrics EVERY SINGLE DAY.

There are chickens, cows, penguins, bugs and butterflies. There are camels, elephants, swirls, dots and honeycomb patterns. All in tiny strips of fabric, in alternating colour tones. Yellows, reds, pinks, greens, blues, black and oranges. 

I'm not sure where this colour overload has come from, but it is fun and oh so happy

I'm going to make the back panels (unquilted) out of plain linen to calm things down a bit, and I made miles and miles of lilac binding which I'll use to make piping. Ambitiously. I had about a metre of the lilac fabric leftover from sewing a cot skirt - I'll share pictures soon, when I've cleared off all of the things stored on top of the cot and made it look a bit neater. 

Crafting seems to be going really slowly around here. I'm not sure whether it's the being-pregnant, the piling-up of work, or the London heatwave - or perhaps a combination of all of these? My goal for this week is to cut out the backing fabric for the cushions and assemble the piping. Small milestones seem so much more achievable. Hopefully, by this weekend, I'll have a finished cushion or three to share with you.

Incidentally, I've also started sewing a dress and - can you believe it - I bought some more fabric to make a second weekender bag. Small milestones eh?

July 10, 2014

Animal Alphabet Quilt, Again

I hadn't forgotten about the Animal Alphabet Quilt. I was just taking a little break while I finished up the Amy Butler Weekender Travel Bag. You know, to keep things interesting. Also, this quilt is a lot of work. Sometimes you just need to put it away for a bit.

I pieced the back using three animal fabrics - turquoise zebras, lime green cows and blue-green chickens. As you do. I laugh every time I see those chickens. Each one is decorated with a pattern (floral, gingham, dots) and there are flowers and teapots in between them.

The pattern calls for a spiral echo quilting fill which is a really tight quilting pattern. I was really reluctant to do it ... I've never quilted anything this big before, I've never attempted the spiral echo pattern before, and I rather liked the way the quilt looks with all the spaces between the animals. 


I decided to do what the pattern says. 

I got this far, I could take another risk.

It took ages. Ages. Casualties: one tea cup that got knocked off the table while quilting. Also, sore arms, maneuvering the quilt sandwich on a small table. I've now nicknamed my sewing machine the little engine that could. It just chugged along quite happily with only a few minor speed bumps (usually tension related). 

And then

I'd wolf-whistle at this quilt if you could hear it. 

I am so happy with the quilting. It's not perfect, but I love it. 

My absolute favourite part of the whole process? Trimming it down to the right size and getting rid of the messy excess. It actually looks like a quilt now, even though it isn't finished. 

Gratuitous close-up. I still need to weave in all the ends (there are lots, but not nearly as many as when doing the applique stage!), make the bias binding, make a hanging sleeve, attach the binding and lo! done. It might take a while, but that's okay. It looks like a quilt. I feel successful. 

Here are those chickens. Chuckle. 

July 8, 2014

Sewing the Amy Butler Weekender Travel Bag - Part Two (Done!)

I had a marathon sewing week and finished off the weekender bag! Ta da!

I wanted this bag to be fun and one of those "everything in its place" bags. There should be space for nappies and baby wipes and at least two changes of baby clothes. There should be space for blankets and muslins and a hangy thing for keys so you don't lose them.

And it is. Everything fits. I added a tag to attach my keys to (I'll add a carabiner clip later) and the interior pockets are super.

It's so big that you can fit an entire pack of nappies at the bottom of the bag (no false bottom required! ha!) and you don't even notice it. And the wide strap adjustment means that it is really comfortable to carry all that extra weight. I used one layer of heavy interfacing and one layer of wadding inside the straps and they are amazingly comfortable.

The side pockets are the perfect size for wipes. Because you always need wipes. Put in two packs, just in case. 

The front pockets are big and gapey, but just the right size for lots of muslins or other bits and pieces. I'm going to take Wendy's advice from a comment on my last post and put some sort of closure on these pockets so as to prevent missing items later on. Options: I could sew on velcro (not a friend of muslins?) or perhaps even just hand sew a line of stitching up the centre to create two smaller pockets that aren't as gapey. We'll see.

My very favourite bit is the chunky plastic zip. It is such fun! If I could, I would always use this type of zip. For those of you looking for the elusive 30" zip, I got mine from eBay for £2.99 (free shipping). Result.

Overall, I'm happy with this bag. You don't need as much interfacing and stiffening as the pattern says you do, unless you like that starched look or are using this bag for fancy luggage. I made a few adjustments that I'm really happy with (the interior pockets, the extra wide straps) and learnt about some that I should have (fully attached lining next time, and definitely magnetic snaps/stitching on the exterior pockets - and, does it need so many exterior pockets? not sure). The colours are a bit mad, but I like it. 

I'll probably make another one. It is a great size, and I think it would make a really nice handbag if you sized it down a bit (at least 30%) and used sensible patterned fabrics. Not likely happening in this house.

July 1, 2014

Sewing the Amy Butler Weekender Travel Bag - Part One


Remember these fabrics? I've been cutting them up into a million different pieces that make up the Weekender Travel Bag. I had read loads of blogs on the topic: be prepared, they all said. They were right. I traced all of the fabric pieces onto sewing paper, and started cutting. It took about four hours to figure out placements, cut, match up, cut wadding, cut interfacing, etc. It happened slowly, in stages. There was tea involved.

I snipped, and zipped, and sewed, and breathed in slowly quite a lot. I had made a list of all the changes I wanted to make to the bag in advance, and had adjusted the pattern accordingly:

  • I wanted to quilt all of the pieces ala Oh, Fransson! I didn't want to use Peltex / Timtex because it's too expensive here in the UK, and I have plenty of wadding leftover from recent quilt projects. I used a layer of wadding and a layer of heavy vilene instead of cotton duck, and quilted random parallel lines along the panels. Tick. 
  • I wanted to extend the straps so they'd go over my shoulders. The fabric I had was 56" wide, perfect for adding a bit of length. Tick. 
  • I wanted to add an inside pocket, so I cut out two extra "main pocket" pieces. Tick. 
  • I really didn't like that the side pockets didn't have piping, so I made up a few inches more so I'd be able to add a burst of lime green on the sides. Tick. 

  • I found a 30" zip on ebay. Easy peasy. Also saw that they have them in stock at Hobbycraft in the sewing section (in four dire colours ranging from black to dark olive green/grey). I'm sure a shorter zip would be fine here, you would just adjust the length of the opening accordingly.
  • I couldn't find quilting template plastic for adding structure to the base. No tick. Thought about buying a placemat and cutting it up. Too thick. Looked everywhere for leftover box inserts I could cut. No luck. Nothing else lying around that could easily be cut up, and later washed. Fine. Who needs a structured bottom anyway? 
  • Will later add a false bottom if I can find a good plastic insert. I also bought bag feet but have opted to leave those off as the bottom will likely be resting on the ground without the added support anyway. 

I quilted the side panels around a heart applique shape cut out from the leftover lining fabric. I used four different fabrics (a metre of each) and there was just enough left over from the pink lining to cut out these hearts. Plenty left from the echino bugs, navy polka dots and lime green linen/cotton so might make up some small zippy bags. Eventually. Or, to use as the fabric covering for the false bottom. 

Oh, those wonder clips! They're amazing. Amay-zing. 

I have a box of fifty. At one point, at "the dreaded step 11" (when attaching the side panels to the top and bottom and actually making this a bag), I ran out. It wasn't difficult or techinically challenging, you just have to go slow and recycle your clips as you finish one section and start another. And use a super strong needle. And be prepared to resew bits that aren't close enough to the stitching on your piping. Grr.

That's as far as I got. Exterior assembled. Loads of threads that need cutting off, and a loose bottom-y bit that needs a bit of structure. I'm sure if I had this on the floor instead of hanging on the door, it would look more stable, but I'm happy with my progress! It has a zip that works and everything. It's much bigger than I thought it would be. All through the cutting I was thinking oh, it's not as big as everyone says it is. Silly sausage. Just wait until you sew the main panels to the top/bottom and then you'll see. It's a big 'un. That's okay, I'm making to hold lots and lots and lots of nappies and changes of clothes and bottles. Those things take up space. 

Time to start working on the lining. All pieces are cut, it just needs to be assembled, pressed and hand-sewn in. As you do. 

June 23, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!

It was my birthday this weekend, on the summer solstice. I can't remember it ever being this hot. Or this summery. Or this lovely.

Oh, and I was thoroughly spoilt. We were supposed to go up-country to visit family but alas plans had to change last minute and we ended up staying in summery London for the weekend Summery London. Have you ever heard it called that?

There was a boat trip up the Thames, an exciting day out at the National Gallery, a trip to Borough Market, adventures past the Royal Guard and of course - cake.

What's a birthday without cake? So many to choose from at our chosen cafe. 

We shared gooey chocolate cake, and drank tea from posh take-away cups. As you do. Scallops make everything look fancier, methinks.

Did I mention that the weather was superb? I am so used to a wintery birthday in the southern hemisphere, getting a weekend full of sunshine and wonderful weather was amazing. We picnicked, and ate fresh fruit under the trees (and more cake, this time home-made). We walked around barefoot. It was light until after 10pm. 

And best of all, I received phonecalls and messages and cards and parcels from around the world.

This one arrived today - look at those stamps! Isn't that special? Postage stamps are such wonderfully inefficient bits of art, they make receiving parcels such a wonderful experience. 

And finally, some birthday sewing. I haven't started yet, but Amy Butler's Weekender Bag is on my to-do list and the pattern has finally arrived after much back-and-forth with stockists. It has been called a sewing rite of passage and the mother of all bags - how very exciting. I picked out all the fabrics from Stitch, a lovely bricks-and-mortar shop a short walk away, and have traced the pattern pieces. Now, to start the cutting. There's an awful lot of cutting to do. 

Wishing you all a spectacular week ahead. I'm starting to feel much better now, the nausea seems to go away a little after 2pm each day so things are slowly getting back to normal. I'm even able to drink tea. Leaps and bounds!

June 3, 2014

So Many Threads

This has been happening. I can't tell you how many times I've had to change the thread on my sewing machine. SO. MUCH. WORK! But, oh so worth it. 

My dining room table has been turned into a quilting table. I've arranged the chairs around it so that they take most of the weight of the quilt as it turns every which way, saving me a little bit of effort as I build up enormous quilting muscles in my forearms. How do people do this all day as a job?! You need to be as strong as yak (!) as you manoeuvre the many-layered beast under the needle. I've stitched around every animal in letter groups from A - T, and am feeling very tired indeed of all of these loose ends and bits of thread that need to be sewn through to the back of the quilt... 

...but it's my fault there are so many threads. I decided to do two lines of free motion edging along each animal and letter shape: one that is very neat and just in the right place, and one that is really free and wiggly, creating a bit of movement and out-of-the-lines colouring. Very Happy Indeed with the overall look and feel, not so happy about the many ends that need tidying up!

Next up: edging of animals U - Z. Then, sew up the quilt back and start quilting! Tally ho.

May 29, 2014

P is for Productivity

Are you ready? I'm super excited about this ta da moment.

All of the animals have been traced, cut, stuck and positioned on the quilt front... completely ahead of schedule. Ah, bank holiday weekends. Some of the animals go in two-by-two, and some are greedier: we have five quails, three zebras, three chickens, four fish, three newts.

I like to think that the hardest part is over, but now I need to find two pieces of quilt wadding THAT FIT to line the back, and start the free-motion outlining of each colour. Slow and steady.

Rainy weather is a great for getting things done. I've also cut back on work - slowly - so I'm doing less driving around and attending meetings (very good for the nausea), and more time working on illustrations and designs (very good for the soul). There are some exciting projects coming out of my studio, I hope to be able to share them with you soon!

In the meantime, I've also been doing some of this:

I had no intention of starting a new project, but it just sort of happened. I'm trying to clear up and clear out all the things I've stored away for a rainy day - including those bits of fabrics that are too small for a project, but too precious to throw away. 

The result is a lot of little squares, slowly being pieced together to make a postage stamp quilt. I'm making them with 2.5" squares which results in a 2" square block on the quilt, and although I originally aimed for 2,000 blocks, it's probably going to be more like 900. My little sewing machine has been hard at work with the zip zipping along of quarter-inch seams.

The piecing is the fun bit: cutting down fat quarters into 2.5"squares is not fun. There's a lot of measuring and pressing involved, and the occasional unhappy exclamation when the perfect 2.5" square shifts at the last minute and puts out an entire row of "postage stamp" seams. I think this calls for a weekend in front of the TV with a cutting mat and an iron nearby.

This little quilt is all for me. My first ever "all for me" project. So indulgent.

May 20, 2014

Hello Sunshine!

Everything seems so much more manageable now that the sun is shining and there are daisies underfoot.

There have been slow summery walks through parks. 

Lazy admiration for growth and colour and green

Walks through places we've never visited, just to find bursts of colour.

Real honest-to-goodness ice creams from the ice-cream man's van. (I had an ice lolly. With Strawberry and Lime and Pineapple. Yep.)

And there has been some indoor progress too.

It took me a while, but I finally measured, cut, pieced and pressed the quilt front for The Animal Alphabet Quilt. I only had 2m of white cotton, despite the instructions saying that I needed 2.9m, but it all worked out just fine with a small piece to spare. I drew a diagram, checked my maths twice, and just went for it. 

You have to measure, press and mark out intersecting grid lines for the animal applique pieces (goodness gracious) but if you just follow the instructions slowly and go bit by bit, it all comes together. 

And I'm most proud of this: I've stuck down the first row of animals and letters, A to E. We have alligators, butterflies, chickens, dinosaurs and elephants. As you do. 

Next up, Fish to Kangaroos. 

May 8, 2014

R is for Rainy Days

Oh it was so nice having a bank holiday this week. I'm still quite sick (ah the joys of pregnancy, they say) so I had a rather lazy weekend on the couch, in bed, in the sun. And then, all of a sudden-ly, it started to rain.

It's still lovely and bright outside, but the rain is glip-glopping on the pavement outside the windows and everything inside becomes hazy and snug and warm. It's quilt weather.

F is for fairy lights

Because nothing is nicer on a rainy day than sitting inside, with fairy lights lighting up lanterns, candle holders and other cheery knick knacks. We made an impromptu trip to IKEA on Monday for an emergency TV stand, and came back with a selection of battery-powered fairy lights. Also, a tv stand which required an awful lot of building. I supervised from bed and read out the instructions.

U is for Unicorns

Unicorns, and sparkly purple fabrics. Lots of late-night tracing, cutting, ironing and more cutting. Making good progress on the remaining animals - only four more sets to go. Then I need to assemble them, measure out the backing, and iron them on. Then lots and lots of free motion quilting. No pressure.

X is for X-Ray Fish

X-ray fish are grey and black, and you can see their stitched skeleton as they swim by. They also have awfully funny faces with big white eyes, but those are still in progress.

T is for Turtles

The most fiddly of all the applique shapes! Each piece needs to be traced, then cut, then ironed on to fabric, then cut again. PAIN. The acid green shell makes me happy, though, and the batik green seems rather appropriate for turtley appendages.

M is for Messy

That's my sewing table, and it is absolutely covered from end to end with bits and pieces of colourful fabric. You never know when you might need a bit of yellow for Yaks, or a touch of orange for Vultures. Choosing fabrics is half the fun.