September 15, 2014

Advent Calendar - Finished!

I haven't disappeared, I promise. I started maternity leave, which means that much of my time these days involves no computers (fantastic) and lots of sleeping (equally good).

And occasionally, some sewing.

Yay, finished! Pockets pressed, stitched, backed and filled. We can now have Christmas in September. Tempting though it is, we'll put a hold on the turkey for now. Baby is due any day now and we've been more focused on hospital bags than twinkling lights.

I just happened to have some small chocolates - as you do. Perfect size for advent calendar pockets. And for midnight snacks.

The larger pockets fit in quite a bit - I'd imagine you could fill these pockets with small toys or lots of coins. 

The colours are really cheerful! I'm tempted to leave it up instead of folding it away for the festive season. There's just no space. Baby stuff takes up all the space! There are blankets, onesies, toys, gadgets and gizmos, muslin squares, talcum powders, and lots of pink things everywhere. 

This is the back - I really love those penguins. They remind me of how I feel these days. Waddle waddle. 

I can identify with that. Yawn. Impromptu mobile phone photo on the way out to lunch this weekend, as you do. 

August 19, 2014

Christmas in August

It's not as bad as Christmas in July. Really, it's almost September. Soon, there will be Christmas carols playing in all the stores, and decorations adorning the High Street.

I know. What is this crazy lady thinking?

It's not a rational thought. I'm counting down the days/weeks until Baby Arrives and suddenly there aren't very many left. While I still have 6 weeks to go, we've been told to be prepared for anything from 2 - 6 weeks. You know, just in case she comes early. There's not a lot of time left to prepare anything. We have a cot. We have a moses basket. She has clothes. We're fine. (And, repeat).

And then, in all the excitement of taking it slowly and trying to finish off work so I can go on maternity leave and well, there isn't really time for an afternoon nap, is there? I happened upon the new Makower advent panels for this year. You get one panel of pre-printed advent calendar, and one panel of pre-printed advent calendar pockets. You cut out the pockets and assemble on top of the calendar, and done! Family tradition, and a sewing win.

They're not as Chrismassy as they have been in the past, and I love the colours. Like, really love. Greens and reds and oranges and teals. 

And so, because I've been completely rational about the whole process, I bought two panels. One for our family, and one for my brother and sister in South Africa. Because really, there's loads of time to cut out individual pockets, press, top stitch, attach, add batting and press some more. 

And, really, a tiny two-month-old baby needs an advent panel for her first Christmas. 

I know. It's all a bit nuts. Still, it looks rather lovely once (partially) assembled. I'll show you once they're done. All the pockets have been cut, pressed, top stitched, and attached. That was the biggest job. Now, all I need to do is add backing, wadding, hanging loops and voila! we're ready for Christmas. Sort of. We just have to get through the baby bit first. 

This is the fabric (from Stitch) I chose to use for the backing - purely on the fact that I had to have those penguins. Aw. 

August 8, 2014

QAYG, and, on being pregnant.

Remember these? 

They became these:

Ta da! They're really bright and cheerful. The back is plain linen, so when it all gets a bit much, you can just turn them around. Ahem. There are still two more waiting to be assembled but that piping is a pain! I was so enthusiastic about it and now I'm at the point where I find myself regularly asking out loud, nobody will really notice if half the cushions don't have piping, will they? Why are you laughing at me? Slow and steady. I'll get there, eventually.

Sewing and craft progress has been s-l-o-w. I have been napping instead, or catching up on the Food Network channel. Did you also start watching The Great British Bake Off this week? Best. TV. Show. Ever.

We also finally got the Animal Alphabet quilt up on the wall, yay! We're not allowed to put hooks/nails in the walls, so we've used a very brilliant no-more-nails solution which involves something very sticky and a bit of balancing on one leg while pressing the sticky-whatsits against the wall. 

I supervised. 

Baby has been very spoilt these past few weeks.

This Grace rag dolly came all the way from Aunty Anne in South Africa! Here she is relaxing in the moses basket, in her Liberty frock - as you do. She made the long journey north accompanied by some very beautiful things. Not even here yet, and this baby is going to have expensive taste. 

This knitted cotton blanket is also from Aunty Anne, from Rabbit & Wood in Newlands, Cape Town. There's no place like home, there's no place like home. Aren't the little motifs fun? I like the ladybird best. 

Not to be outdone, this little elly-phant came all the way from Solvang, in the USA! A present from Aunty Andrea. I know, we're getting closer and closer - and suddenly it's all very real indeed. There are comforters and blankies and onesies and moses baskets, and sheets that need washing. 

This is what I look like these days (wait, before we go, take a photo! Yes, on the phone. I'm sending it to my mom. The conversation resulted in the first usable pic of pregnant tum.). My tummy is big and round, and sticks out in front me like a watermelon. I'm tired a lot. The nausea has more-or-less passed, although there are occasional reminders of the past seven months that make me very grateful for these days of food freedom. Baby is very active and especially likes to kick and punch when I'm trying to sleep at night. An acrobat, we speculate. Or a synchronised swimmer.

I've been banned from driving because the steering wheel doesn't turn very easily (I may be right up against it, but I'm not telling) so things have really slowed down here - which is great. Work seems to be very busy but that's going to be winding down in the next couple of weeks as well. Overall, my phrase for the past few weeks has been: "afternoon nap." It could also be "waddle." Or "knackered." Or "I really feel like strawberry frozen yoghurt, dear."

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!