Saturday, 31 December 2011

Yuletide Wilderness Janker

Contrary to the lack of blog postings, my little hands have been busy, busy, busy this month...winter is definitely a time for wool crafts, and I have been polishing my crochet hook and getting back to the granny squares. I also finished a jumper which took an embarrassing 3 years to complete, more about that when I get round to taking some photos.

Then 2 weeks before Christmas, I received a special request for a homemade 'smoking jacket' using some fabric rescued from the bargain basement at Abakhan in Liverpool (aka El Kilo). Well, I struggled to find a smoking jacket pattern, and instead I found this pattern for a 'Janker' German style jacket. I decided to quilt it with a sateen burgundy lining. If it hadn't been for the quilting bit, this would be the easiest pattern ever.

The end result is unique and I think has that perfect combination of 'couture' and tastelessness to make it look very expensive. The wooden 'boho tribal flower' buttons from Otterly Beads were a perfect finishing touch.

This is my first bit of dressmaking for years (other than Clothkits) and I am hooked! I learned a couple of things, most especially that fabric (especially quilted fabric) shrinks on washing. The overall effect is a little more 'tailored' than we had anticipated. Secretly I am relieved that I discovered the shrinkage issue on this project than when I start making a cape for myself in the new year.

Finally, the inspiration behind the label came from the Selvage blog - check out the incredible dress made by Jodie Carleton using selvages.
Hedley sports the Wilderness Janker

Wooden Boho Tribal Flower Buttons

Selvage label

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Machine Embroidery for Dummies

Machine embroidery: lotus blossoms
Mandala quilt: lotus blossom
I needed some gap fillers to distract from the blueness of the quilt but after the debacle of the knotty endless knots I knew I didn't have the patience to hand embroider any more. So I used the tracing paper technique to machine embroider these lotus blossoms which like everything else have a symbolic meaning, representing 'purity and enlightenment'.

Mandala Quilt at last!
As you can imagine, by now I was eager to get finished as I feel I have been looking at primary colours for too long, and dare I say am itching to play with here it is in full technicolour splendour: de dah de dah: The Medicine Mandala Quilt (and who knows but it may have healing properties....)

Mandala Quilt under the apple tree

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Endless Knots or the Great Circle of Life

Endless Knot
Back to the Mandala quilt and a word or two on embroidery - in my head I was destined to do great things with a needle and thread; 8 endless knots later and I accept my limitations. Above is the best example and I am quite pleased with it (stand back and squint). The other ones are very knotty endless knots, which I suppose is quite poetic. These represent the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth or the endless cycle of suffering (!) which reminds me of this scene in 'Harold & Maude':

Maude: What a delight it is, Harold, to
  bump into you again. I knew we
  were going to be good friends the
  moment I saw you. You go to
  funerals often, don't you?

  Harold: Yes.

  Maude: Oh, so do I. They're such fun,
  aren't they? It's all change.
  All revolving. Burials and births.
  The end to the beginning and the
  beginning to the end - the great circle of life. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Guest Crafts 2: Bandana Quilt (Hankie Blankie)

Retro Scarves quilt or Hankie Blankie

Retro scarves quilt rumpled from sleep

William Least Heat-Moon, in his book, 'Roads to Quoz', wrote of the "Wandering Foot" quilt that he had as a child, "Mothers, fathers, give forethought to what you allow your children to sleep under. I don't mean roofs and rafters. I mean something closer to their skins, their heartbeats, their souls if you will. My parents early put me under a quilt hand-stitched by a paternal great grandmother, a woman who saw Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg...."

My second 'guest quilt', coming hot on the heels of Sunshine's beautiful Kaleidoscope quilt, reminded me of that paragraph. This was made by a relation (what a crafty family!) for her daughter who was leaving for University. With a selection of retro scarves, she produced this wonderfully cosy Bohemian quilt. It makes me feel quite nostalgic for my student days (especially for my beautiful Indian skirt which lost a battle with a bicycle chain in my first year). There is something so comforting, when starting Uni, in having a tactile reminder of home, sewn with love. These things usually become fond heirlooms, and get even better with time.

My sister-in-law has a similar 'bandana quilt' made by her own mother (or grandma) when she started university in the 1980s, and following the tradition my mother-in-law made similar quilts for her grandchildren a few years ago (she calls them 'hanky blankies').

I think the thing that appeals to me the most (after my mandala marathon quilt escapade) is that the patches are REALLY BIG - how satisfying to sew!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


Hedley before adjustments

When I was getting to grips with serging, the thing that I coveted was a "dressform" (dummy) but as it was I had to tack the seams of the jumpers whilst wearing them. This involved a little contortionism though I was pleased with the overall result. Now I had read a number of articles about making the perfect dress-form using duct tape (see this inspiring video: making a duct tape dress form) and I almost tried it, but kept having visions of duct tape catastrophes.

Anyway a little windfall was all I needed to get my hands on an Adjustoform lady valet (on my wish list for a couple of years) called Hedley. When she arrived she was pretty slim... 

 ...well after a few glasses of wine and pieces of pie she split her seams a little and well...looks a bit more relaxed.
Hedley in her new home after adjustments

In fact I would go so far as to say she looks a little like me.
Me and Hedley

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Guest Crafts 1: Kaleidoscope Quilts

Although I haven't got lots of friends and family and the only people who read this blog are an even smaller subset of the aforementioned small group, just about most of them have more than a few crafty bones in their bodies. So I thought a 'Guest Crafts' sub-blog blog where I focus on crafts made by friends and family would make a nice change. As we all go by pseudonyms I shall call my first guest crafter Sunshine.

Sunshine's first kaleidoscope quilt
Second kaleidoscope quilt

Sunshine obviously has a mathematical bent and produces these amazing kaleidoscope quilts. The small one is the prototype I think. The second one she made at the request of someone who saw her first quilt and liked it a lot. I think the second one is fantabulous. I am calling them kaleidoscopes because that is what they make me think of.

What I love about this quilt is that at first it appears completely random and asymmetrical, but when you look from the centre, the pattern suddenly jumps out at you, then you find your eyes whizzing around finding patterns within patterns. I love the bold fabrics. I am also in awe of the way she managed to get all the points so pointy. Anyone who has ever tried to make a quilt with triangles will know that it is actually quite a tricky thing to make points pointy. Mine often end up blunty (maybe because I never measure anything) and there is usually a great deal of unpicking involved.

Hopefully I will be able to show more of Sunshine's work in the near future as she also dabbles in wool-related crafts.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Knitting inside out and Serging ahead

When I start a new hobby I think I can do really difficult things straight away. For my first proper knitting project in 2004 I chose to knit a Rowan cotton 'denim' jersey for my friend Slim: Fleet design. I had never actually learned how to knit properly or read a pattern so I had figured how to knit and purl through playing with needles and wool…but I thought a knit was a purl and a purl was a knit so when I started knitting this jersey it looked nothing like the picture in the book because I was actually knitting it inside out. It also took an incredibly long time, and over the course of many months I gradually relaxed, which made the front about 10cm longer than the back (tense concentration in the beginning) and the sleeves really really long because they came last. However, when sewing up, the neck hole was very small, so he could not get it over his head. So it became my jumper.
Rowan denim 'Fleet' jersey with very long sleeves
Rowan Fleet after the chop
This year I acquired a still boxed, never used serger/overlocker from Oxfam. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to attempt threading the beast, but once I got going I spent a happy Saturday chopping away at seams. My oddly proportioned Rowan was first on the list for the chop. There wasn't great method it, but I was very happy with the result (except one sleeve is still slightly longer than the other - I think this is because Madonna's Swept Away was on at the same time and it was like watching a car crash so I think I might have veered off my chalk lines in distraction).
Rowan 'Fleet' with normal sized sleeves

Inspired by this modest success, I attacked 2 of mum's homemade gems (she is a good knitter but I gave her a bad pattern). I love the tailored result, but the lovely soft wool sure does bobble. I did have a sweater debobbler but I think it is possessed by a demon because it doesn't work when I want it to and turns on by itself when no-one is looking at it. Anyway Slim fixed it so now it is broken completely. I used a Bic razor instead which is much better and I would highly recommend this method for debobbling sweaters.
Serging for Simpletons

Mum's home-made cardie pre- and post-serging attack
Mum's second attempt cardie post serging

Friday, 21 October 2011

Spot the Difference

Precious Parasols on Mandala quilt
Pesky embroidery. To think that I was excited about adding the embellishments to the Mandala quilt! Well, the precious parasols were not too bad despite the fact they were completed when watching uninterrupted Marchlands and Upstairs Downstairs.

Things, however, started to go horribly wrong when I finally got around to starting on Deadwood, a box set that has been sitting in the back of the cupboard for at least 4 years. I did try it once before but couldn't get into the whole Western thing after watching Battlestar Galactica. So it took a minor DVD drought for me to finally try it again - akin to eating the leftover golden Quality Street toffees.

Well, not many people I know have watched Deadwood, but be warned there is quite a bit of cussing. I reckon that this was the reason for the wandering needle when sewing the Victory Banners:
Victory Banners on Mandala quilt
A note on Victory Banners - this, along with the Parasol, is one of the 'Eight Symbols of Good Fortune'. It symbolises 'victory over all disagreements, disharmonies and hindrances', 'victory of knowledge over ignorance...the attainment of happiness'*.

So instead of meditating on this noble sentiment, I was mesmerised by Calamity Jane. Boy oh boy. No wonder my lines got wiggly.

Anyway, I am fed up with embroidery now, because I messed up a lotus blossom and in unpicking it shredded part of the quilt and now have to come up with a fix. I tried darning it, but unlike this 140 year old darning sample done by my great great grandma in 1871, I doubt my darning will stand the test of time: 
Darning: sampler book, Helena Hallisey 1871

* Buddhist symbols in Tibetan Culture, Dagyab Rinpoche ISBN 0-86171-047-9

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Rainbow quilts

Colour-wheel Rainbow Quilt
My common-law mother-in-law (what a mouthful!) sent me a few bundles of unusual vintage American FQs after a recent holiday. I keep meaning to photograph them but have been sidetracked.

This blog is getting a bit dusty and neglected so I thought a picture of the quilt I made for my nephew would brighten things up a bit. I was going through a colour-wheel phase at the time and spent many a happy hour sorting fabric squares into colours. I usually allow my carefully sorted fabrics to get jumbled up again over time so that I can have the pleasure of sorting them again.

I read an article in Sew Hip about a woman who collected swatches of fabric from her daughter's clothes from childhood through to adulthood and over 25 years or so stitched an English style patchwork quilt, which she presented to her daughter on her wedding day. I thought this was a lovely idea - now I just have to convince my sister to let me cut up her daughter's best frocks...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Is there such a thing as too many hobbies?

Remember spinning? Well, I got so excited about it that my NeverEndingMandalaQuilt was put on hold for a bit....which made me feel guilty about that and also about the fact that I have temporarily put on hold my SECRET project which i can't talk about because it is a secret...and also on hold is the crocheted Afghan and all the other crochet projects plus the jumper that I have been knitting for the last 2 years. That is not to mention my quilted Castlehead panorama project which I have to say never really left the ground but made me feel very happy and a little bit excited for several weeks last year. Oh and lets not mention the novel (embarrassed cough), the embryonic idea of which helped me while away a few happy hours when sunbathing covered from head to toe in factor 30 on one of the 4 sunny days of summer this year. 

So this is how far I have got with the spinning:

To the uninitiated this is 2-ply Herdwick. A very lucky person may find the occasional beetle spun up and twisted in amongst the fibres.

The final twine:
  above - on the Niddy Noddy; below - the Dingly Dangly

I still have quite a bit to spin and am looking forward to knitting it up into itchy garments...

...but for the last week I have gone back to embroidery, except that I keep getting distracted and why, oh why, did I ever open the Pandora's box of