Memory, sweet memory

I’ve always thought that the idea of making memory quilts was an excellent one. Clothes are not much good after your baby has grown out of them, or after a beloved person has passed on. But by making a quilt that uses elements of clothing, we don’t only create something that lovingly preserves our memories. We also get something that is practical, useful and beautiful for the here and now.

I’ve never before made a memory quilt, so it says something for my friend Melissa’s trust  that she gave me a bag of her most treasured baby clothes that no longer fitted her two small girls and let me get on with it.

My model was Sew Very Easy‘s stunning T-Shirt Quilt (click here for the video tutorial). I mostly followed Laura’s method, except for a couple of tweaks, beginning with the size of the squares…

Step 1: Destroy a pile of baby clothes.

ThiIMG_6413s is where it’s kinda good that you yourself don’t have fond memories of the clothes you’re destroying. And do it thoroughly. Depending on size, the clothes were either big enough for my squares (6.5″ – the size chosen because I have a convenient ruler of that size), and when they weren’t, I cut out figures and motifs in order to appliqué them on squares in turn. I even kept the little buttons off a dress – you’ll see what I used them for below.

 

 

Step 2: after cutting the squares and if the fabric is either flimsy or made from stretchy fabrics, stabilise them. 

I decided to spray-starch them, something I’ve not done before but which worked well. Now I just need to find an alternative way of starching fabric than by means of stuff in a spray can. The other thing I did which you can just about make out in the third picture above is attach 1 cm strips made from iron-on interfacing all around the edges of my squares. This is a departure from Laura’s video tutorial, as she irons on stabiliser on the whole square. I’m not sure which stabiliser she’s using, but mine was a medium weight and I felt that it would make the square far too stiff. But stabilising the edges definitely helped keeping the squares in shape – vital if you’re trying to piece them. These prepping steps take a longish time, but it’s definitely worth not cutting corners here.

Step 3: add appliqué and free-motion sewing elements if you want to

As mentioned above, some of the clothes were just too tiny to be used for 6.5″ squares, but the appliqué/pattern on them was meaningful to my friend. I decided to cut them out and use the rough-edge appliqué method to sew them to some of the squares – mostly to squares that came from the backs of shirts and which didn’t have a pattern or a prominent motif on them.

I mostly used free-motion sewing to attach the appliqué, so that it looked ‘artistic’ rather than uneven. I hope I succeeded…

The third design element were added bits of background to make the appliqué more interesting.

I only just learnt to ‘draw’ with my sewing machine, and it’s so much fun that I’m definitely planning to do more of it. Spot the little buttons I kept from Step 1

Step 4: after all the squares are designed to your satisfaction, add borders.

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As you’re doing your borders, you will soon realise why stabilising the fabric is such a good idea. Jersey is notorious for stretching all over the place and in ways you hadn’t anticipated. Patchwork with unstabilised jersey is a nightmare. It may help to lower the pressure on the foot if your sewing machine has that option, but I prefer a walking foot any day – also in order to keep the squares as nearly perfectly square as you can manage.

 

 

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Also really important – pressing your edges as you go – this makes accurate sewing so much easier. If you don’t have a small ironing board to place next to your sewing machine, it may be a good idea to drag the ironing board to your sewing table and place it right next to it. You’ll be doing a lot of getting up and sitting down again.

 

 

Step 5: after you’ve finished the quilt top, make a quilt sandwich with your favourite wadding and, as they say in the books, quilt as desired.

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I opted for a very simple, stitch-in-the-ditch, square quilting design. This is where it really helps to have a walking foot, as the layers making up the quilt sandwich may also start to wander despite your best efforts. I opted against a more complex quilting design because I felt that the squares (and the motifs on them) should attract the attention of the viewer, not the quilting design. I tend to think that quilts with busy patchwork that also have very a very ‘busy’ quilting design look a bit over the top.

Step 6: attach binding.

And finally, my favourite task: doing the binding. Other people find it dull, but I love attaching binding and really trying to get the corners straight.

Even if my design is a bit wobbly, my corners are dead straight. Ha!

Step 7: stepping back and admiring your work.

Here’s the first quilt for the older little girl.

And here’s the second one for her  younger sister. Same but different.

I’m really pleased with these two quilts. Want to see some close-ups? Ooh, go on…

I’m glad to say that my friend and her little girls were pleased with the quilts. The girls are still very little and I’ve heard that they’re going to be given the quilts when they’re older, so that they can appreciate the significance of every single square. I hope the quilts will act as springboards for stories that begin “And when you came home from the hospital you wore this…” or “And when we celebrated your first birthday, you had this t-shirt on…” With any luck, the quilts will cover these girls’ beds for some time to come…

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Soft blue comfypants

I don’t mind admitting that I like sitting on the sofa. Reading, cwtshing dogs, knitting or sewing – nearly all my favourite activities are done best while sitting somewhere comfortable. I lean back, stretch out my legs, heave a happy sigh and am content.

So it may not come as a surprise then that I like my clothes to be comfortable, too, and not just for slouching around on the sofa. I really cannot be bothered with clothes (or shoes for that matter) that pinch and hurt, and all in the service of some arbitrary ideal of beauty.

Which is why I immediately liked a pattern called Faulenzerhose (idler’s or loafer’s trousers) by Schnittreif and sold by Farbenmix. The trousers are wide and comfy, but the cut guarantees that you won’t look like you’re wearing a sack. The drawstring waist makes them easy to sew and easy to adjust for that time when you couldn’t resist that second helping of pudding. They have sew-on pockets, which can be customised to be a feature of real interest – usually by sewing them from a different fabric. The paper pattern is only available in German (at the time of writing).

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I love cord, particularly the very fine fabric that’s sold as Babycord. Oooh, the softness of it. Just the right material for my slacker’s slacks.

The first step involved serging round the edges of all my pieces, so that the material won’t fray.

 

 

 

After that I spent some time tinkering with the little elements of my trousers. In order to insert eyelets into the waistband, I ironed on several layers of interfacing to stabilise the fabric a bit and to give it some body for the eyelet to hang on to.

And then I wielded my hammer. I’m still not great shakes at inserting eyelets into fabric that actually want to stay there, but I hope that these ones are well hammered in.

Next I decided to have a bit of fun with the pockets. The pattern comes with front pockets, and I made up some back pockets as well. Piping would probably have offset the pockets very well, but I decided to use binding – also in blue, but with contrasting yellow stitching. Here are the pockets…

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The next step is simply to attach them to the front and back legs of the trousers. Word of warning to the beginner: the curvy bits of the pattern point inwards – they are the crotch area of the garment. Don’t try to attach the pockets the wrong way around. My back pockets are shaped slightly irregularly (which I find works better than pockets that are totally symmetrical) and so I needed to take care to put them on the right leg.

I was also keen to have a decorative seam in yellow running down the outside of my legs. Therefore, after having attached the pockets, I sewed the outside legs together first, and then added the decorative seam.

The rest was easy. The next step is to sew the inside legs together, turn one leg inside out, stick it into the other leg, and zoom round the middle/crotch area. Job done.

FullSizeRender-4The only thing left to do now was to attach the waistband. As you can see in the picture I’d added a couple of belt loops from leftover binding tape. Useful for dangling house keys from, I hope. To make sure that the waistband fitted, I pinned it to the waist of the trousers and determined where exactly to sew the waistband together to form a loop. Then I inserted my cord (not for me the endless fiddling around with cord and safety pin after you’ve already sewn your waistband), and sewed the waistband to the waist of the trousers. And one last but crucial step: I put my lovely new trousers on, resisted the urge to slouch, loaf, or slack, and determined how long they needed to be and where to put my seam.

Here’s the finished article.

 

And here’s the finished article with me in it, ably assisted by Mia cat, who insisted on being in the pictures.

I’m telling you, trying to take pictures of trousers with a mobile phone is no mean feat. Holding the phone is out of the question as the angle is just too weird. So, I was balancing the phone on a shelf, jumped back & tried to look relaxed and happy as the timer counted down. I’m not good at having pictures taken at the best of times…

… Phew… time to put my slouchy, slacky, loafery, comfy pants on and sit down on the sofa to do some serious slouching, slacking, loafing in total comfort…

 

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On the value of making things – slowly


If you’re, like me, a committed crafter, you may have subscribed to a number of online fora in which crafting is discussed. You may receive regular emails from sites like Craftsy, which advertise (online) classes to improve your technique. You may also glance at the odd craft blog written by professional or semi-professional crafters. And you may have come across advice that goes something like this: “If you use x technique, you can radically speed up z process of your chosen craft.” Or: “If you buy this product, you can do x so much faster, meaning you can produce many more quilts/crocheted products/knitted products/whatever.”

Why? Why do we have to rush through the different steps of our projects, producing more and more stuff? I get that we may wish to speed up some elements of our craft when we’re selling the products or when we have some kind of deadline, such as a birthday. But why are we allowing ourselves to be hurried in everyday crafting?

One answer is: plain old greed. We may have turned our backs on consumer society insofar as we’ve decided we prefer to make rather than buy certain products. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve all become minimalists. To some of us, the wish to have more and more stuff is simply transferred to our craft: we amass a great stash of fabric, yarn etc. as if there’s some kind of craft supply famine just round the corner, and we rattle through our projects, delighting in the finished project, but forgetting to enjoy the crafting journey. Members of a sewing group I’ve subscribed to on Facebook regularly brag about how little time it took them to finish a shirt or a dress (“Only two hours from cutting to trying on!”) or how many items they’ve made (“This must be the sixth dress I’ve made using this pattern – I just could not resist the fabric.”) . I’m not entirely immune to this either. But it is worth reflecting that this is just a different way of producing superfluous stuff. We can probably use one t-shirt, but why do we have to make five or six?  We’ve fallen for the same old capitalist logic – just like everyone else.

In order to make yet another quilt, another shirt, another jumper, we rush through through the various steps of crafting. Ok, so not many of us really enjoy cutting out pieces for patchwork. I personally don’t particularly enjoy cutting out paper templates for EPP (English Paper Piecing). Granted, there are ways of using our time wisely and not to spend too much time on preliminary tasks like this. But that doesn’t mean that I have to scour the internet to buy just one more implement that will help me speed up this part of proceedings. Instead, how about trying to find joy in all parts of what is, after all, a hobby? Taking care to cut out EPP paper templates carefully, mindfully hand-basting rather than using spray adhesives, which we know full well will damage the environment, and then turning to sewing the basted pieces together may take three times longer than cutting corners and using timesaving devices, but at least I’ve enjoyed the whole process rather than just some of it. I may have made three quilts in the time it took me to make one, but what would I conceivably do with so many quilts anyway?


Taking the time to make things mindfully, we can relish the minutiae of the process. This is also why I prefer to hand sew rather than sew by machine – at least when it comes to patchworking, Threading the needle, enjoying the regular rhythm of stitching, watching as the patchwork grows piece by piece – all these things are in themselves enjoyable. When I rush things (and, of course, I do sometimes rush things), I tend to make numerous small errors. When I take my time I rarely do. It really isn’t just about finishing. It’s about the enjoyment of creating, not just the pleasure we take in what we have created.

So, shall we take our time next time we sit down with our latest crafting project?

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New year, new bullet journal

Some time last year I gave in to the general craze for making bullet journals. If you haven’t come across these before, here are a couple of introductory video clips (clip 1 and clip 2) that explains what bullet journals are. Mind you, my version is a lot simpler, as I tend to lose track of habit trackers, for instance…

I’m obsessed with writing, stationery, notebooks, so making a bullet journal is deeply satisfying. Ever since I was a child, I have been making journals, diaries and the like. As I wrote in a previous post, what I like about bullet journals is the freedom to create a diary-cum-journal that meets exactly your needs, not the needs that someone else thinks you ought to have.

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But now, after several months of using it, my journal was actually full! I gleefully bought a new one – bright yellow to go with spring. This time I didn’t get a Moleskine notebook, but one by the German company Leuchtturm, which come with certain pre-printed elements of the bullet journal, such as the table of contents and page numbers. The page numbers are really useful – I found those tedious to write down in my other journal.

 

 

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But I’m not sure whether I actually need the table of contents – the notebook also comes with two handy page markers, which are more than enough. I guess a table of contents is handy if you write down weighty thoughts that are to be preserved for posterity. Not me then. But I dutifully made some entries…

 

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Another element, which I surely can do without, but which I’ve begun nevertheless, is a key. I can remember my main signs and symbols, but I noted down the one I’ve just recently begun using, namely the one for the daily 10-minute meditations I’ve started doing. Hopefully, writing them down will help to keep me on track.

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I also welcomed the opportunity to redesign the main part of the journal slightly. While I was happy with having four categories of activities on two facing pages, which allow me to keep an eye on the main things I’m doing at a glance, I was less happy with spreading out a week over four pages. I found, I could probably do with less. So, I decided to try setting out a week over just two facing pages. So far, it’s working out well.

FullSizeRender-4 I’ve continued saving two facing pages for stuff that is not tied to dates and days of the week – random thoughts and notes. The headings of these elements may change, and I’m not too bothered if I don’t fill these pages every time. ‘One good thing’, in case you’re wondering, refers to an idea I culled from Facebook, where one writes down one good thing that happened during the week in order to focus on the good things in life.

I love the flexibility of bullet journals. I know that there will be a few weeks ahead in which normal life is going to be turned upside down – I’ll be moving house –  and I’ll have very little or no chance to fill in my usual columns. So I used the opportunity to briefly convert the journal to a notes-and-deadline list. What needs to be done by when, but written down in a short-hand-kind of way, so that I can get organised for the big house move. And it will be big because I’m not only moving to a different city, but to a different country. Once I’ve settled in, normal service will be resumed – and maybe I’ll change my categories again.

And the final thing I like about bullet journals is the scope for doodling. Who doesn’t like a good doodle? And as for fantasy furniture-arranging in what I imagine my new flat to look like, well, it beats window-shopping any day…

 

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Sunny, summery socks

The sun is out. I’m almost holding my breath as I write this, so as not to jinx it. But, unquestionably, the sun is out and suddenly spring is in the air. I have a rather Pavlovian reaction to sunny weather: I immediately cast about for things to wash as nothing’s better than fresh-smelling clothes from the clothesline. The other thing I do is bathe my face in sunlight and think about summer.

Which is where summer socks come in. Over the winter months, I spent some weeks in a sock-making whirl (see post 1, post 2 and post 3), and I’m glad to report that most of the socks I made bore up reasonably well (except the ones made in Lang’s Mille Colori Baby yarn – that’s not sock wool and thus not recommended) and kept my feet warm. Now that I’m eager for spring, I want, nay need, socks in a cotton-blend yarn.

Enter this wonderful yarn:

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The strands of cotton of this yarn encase a polyester thread and so this yarn should hold up to wear and tear. It’s also slightly stretchy, and it has beautiful colours. What’s not to like?

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I thought I’d try a simple cable pattern – one with three ‘strands’ rather than two, which give a braided effect.

And here’s the finished article. The colours are bright and summery. The pattern is unostentatious, which means it works well with the self-striping effect of the yarn.

Added to that, the socks are lovely to wear: soft, springy, and cool to the touch. But they are also warm enough to keep my feet temperate once the sun goes down.

After having finished my first pair, I found that there is probably enough yarn left to make another sock. And as I don’t yet possess a third leg, I made my way back into our lovely local yarn shop and bought some more yarn. I foresee another sock-making spree…

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Cuteness overload

What are your favourite lies to yourself? Mine are ‘I’m just looking’ when entering a bookshop followed closely by ‘Just browsing’ when I can’t resist looking at my favourite online fabric shop. Oh yes, and then there is – ‘Look how cute it is, and it is in the sale!’ Which is why I ended up with some fantastically cute purple racoon fabric.

Yes, I may be heading towards that time of life when the magic number 50 is around the corner but age is just a number, isn’t it? And if you add my numbers up you get 9, which seems just right for this fantastic fabric.

To let the pattern shine, I decided to go for a simple longarm t-shirt pattern. A few years ago I discovered the Pattydoo pattern online shop. They have a plethora of cool and trendy patterns for women, men and children nowadays, but back then their range was a little more limited. Out of all the patterns, I liked the hoody ‘Riley’ and the long-arm t-shirt ‘Liv’ best. I’ve made a few Rileys over the years, but only one Liv. Time to revisit the pattern.

All cut up and ready to go!

Liv is one of the patterns that is available in German and in English. And, as is usual with this designer, you can view a video tutorial (in German and with English-language voice over) and follow the step-by-step guide. This is very useful if you’re just starting out or want to learn new things. The shirt actually comes in several varieties: with cuff at the waist or not, with round neckline, v-neck neckline and with gathered neckline. You decide which version you want, and the pattern is delivered to you by email.

Sewing the ‘Liv’-t-shirt is fairly straightforward. You simply sew the shoulder seams together and add neckline strip. By means of the notches that you’ll have transferred from the pattern to the fabric when you were cutting out, this process is pretty painless.

Then you insert the sleeves. At first this process looks complicated as the armholes are shaped inversely to the sleeve, but, with the help of those little notches and because jersey fabric is stretchy, this can be done quite easily.

And then you simply sew the sides together, starting at the bottom of the sleeve and finishing up at the waist.

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Then come the cuffs. Cut out square pieces of cuffing fabric or of the same fabric that you made the main body of the shirt from, sew them together into a circle (take care to sew them the right way around – along the grain, not against it, otherwise the cuffs won’t be stretchy). Then attach to the sleeve. In order so that the sleeves actually fit my (apparently overlong) arms, I tend to add a couple of centimetres to the pattern, and I may also (as in this case) lengthen the cuffs slightly.

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All done! Hey, no, wait… we need to attach a cuff to the hem of the shirt. Only in this case I didn’t. I put the shirt on, checked myself out in the mirror and thought – heck, that’ll do! So, instead of adding a cuff, I simply finished the piece off by  folding over the fabric (2cm seam allowance) and, using a triple zigzag stitch, created a simple hem. The shirt flares out a bit more than it would otherwise have done (because there should really be a cuff), but I really like the look of it.

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I can’t get enough of those little racoony faces. Luckily I have some fabric left over & am now mulling over what to do with that… A beanie? An infinity scarf? Incorporate it in another t-shirt? Hmmm….

 

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UFO no more!

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I’ve done it! I’ve finished my crocheted blanket. I can’t even remember when I started it. I do relish projects that you can really get your teeth into. Projects that are long and demanding in a non-demanding way. Meaning you’ve got to commit, but they’re not that difficult to do and thus hugely enjoyable. A bit like a Victorian novel. But it is also very satisfying, indeed, when you’re finally crocheted your last stitch.

This blanket ended up having an evolving design. I wanted strips of equal length, but varying width with different but similar colour combinations. One colour would dominate in each strip. And the unifying principle was that I was using seed stitch all the way through. The reason why I chose to do strips that had to be sewn together was that they’re much easier and quicker to do than the virtually never-ending rows on a largeish blanket. It is good to make some visible progress of an evening, even if the project will only be finished in the dim and distant future.

The yarn comes from the good people at New Lanark Woollen Mill. It’s a double knitting yarn, which comes in a range of natural colours. I love their wool. It’s very woolly wool, if you take my meaning. It still seems to smell of sheep (although it doesn’t). It can be slightly scratchy when worn against bare skin, but it is perfect for a blanket.

IMG_5462As you can see, the dogs like it just as much as I do.

IMG_5460This picture shows what is so wonderful about this wool: it is the magnificently rich and complex nature of the colours. And adding a simple border unified the whole design, I thought.

IMG_5475And here it is, in situ. If spring holds a few more cold nights in store for us, I’ll snuggle up under it…

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