Giving something back-scarf

Sometimes things come to an end. And then new things can begin.

A little while ago, the mother of a friend died. As with quite a few mother-child-relationships, this one would have had the tagline ‘It’s complicated’ on Facebook. I could sympathise. The relationship I had with my own mother was less than straightforward. So, clearing out her flat must have brought forth mixed emotions.

Turns out that the mum in question had been a crafter with bits and bobs of a lifetime of sewing, knitting, and embroidery tucked away. And my friend went: “Hey, you know what, take the lot – I’d only throw the stuff away. I’d rather it got used.”

I’ve still not gone through everything – it’s quite a collection. There are countless knitting needles. The row counter already comes in useful. There’s old yarn. And slowly an idea grew….

… and became a scarf. Mostly made up of new, grey, wonderfully soft Merino wool, but incorporating some of that old yarn that had probably been in a bag for a fair few years.

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I love combining grey with a bright colour. It somehow really works. And to stop it resembling some sort of snake or sausage or sausage snake, I did something I’ve rarely done before, but will definitely do again. I steamed my piece. And then blocked it for good measure.

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Ooh, look at the two bits of stray yarn I forgot to weave in…

It was so worth it. The scarf still isn’t perfectly flat and won’t be, not with stockinette stitch. But the tension has relaxed and it is more likely to keep flat. Ish.

And here’s my friend, when I gave him his scarf:

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I think it’s safe to say that he liked it! With the turquoise yarn from his mum’s stash, the scarf is a teensy bit symbolical. But it’s also warm, and soft, and a bit stylish. And I’ll now dive in & see what his mum’s treasure trove holds for my new projects.

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Going away homecoming quilt

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There is such pleasure in making something for someone else.

One day many months ago, a lovely friend from my schooldays spoke to me on Messenger and soliloquised about how strange it was that her eldest daughter was about to move out and go to university. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes (not ears, we were typing, after all). It didn’t seem all that long ago when I met her daughter for the first time – me on a brief visit up north and her a not-yet-walking toddler.

But before I could say ‘doesn’t time fly’, a thought had winged its way into my brain. It’s exhilarating being a fresher in a strange town, meeting new people, facing new challenges. It can also be a lonely time on occasion. Wouldn’t it be nice if this young woman had something to remember her family by? I was just making two memory quilts for another friend at the time, and so the thought of a quilt seemed obvious. My friend was keen.

And so, after stuffing my life in boxes, moving country, not unpacking (I’m still waiting to move into my own flat), and buying a new sewing machine (yay!), I broached the subject again. My friend was still keen. So we decided on a modern, fresh design with a memory quilt element. The background was to be light grey, and the main design be made up of brightly coloured, scrappy squares.

First I cut lots of uneven strips of fabric and sewed them together. Blimey, was I being active. Sew, jump up to the ironing board, press seam allowances, attach new strip, sit down at sewing machine, jump up to the ironing board etc. etc. Aerobic piecing should be an Olympic discipline! After all that exertion I had to have a cuppa and a sit down, and then cut out the basic squares (20 by 20 cm).

I then added black frames to make the colours zing…

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… and then built up the quilt top strip by strip until I had my desired width (1.50m) and length (2.50m).

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After some grovelling on the ground in praise of the god of quilts, I had pinned down my quilt sandwich. To complement the basic, squareish design, I quilted straight lines with the help of my trusty walking foot. And after swearing a bit because cutting the edges off a quilt this size ain’t easy, I attached black binding and was done.

Note the photobombing dog.

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I had a spare square and some cut-offs left. As the quilt was going to go to the young student-to-be, I thought it might be nice to make a small keepsake for the rest of the family. Voila – it was just enough for a cushion cover.

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A final element of the quilt are what I’ve called memory squares.

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They are squares made from the same material as the backing, which had designs by each of the members of the family done in water-soluble pen. I traced the design with my sewing machine, thus creating a little ‘cartoon’ if you will. As a final step before adding the binding, I attached those squares to the back of the quilt. As these designs are personal, I’m not going to show them here in full but will give you a glimpse of how I did the ‘drawing’…

It was tremendous fun to make this quilt. I’ve had a picture of it in situ in the student accommodation at the university. I like the idea that it helps make going away to a new place into a homecoming.

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The things that are under things #2

After a lengthy wait for the local telecommunications company to connect my landline and wifi I am now online again. And not a moment too soon, as I’ve used the enforced break to make things. Lots of things. Lots of underthings.

It started with a mishap. As I’m camping out in my mother’s flat until my own flat is ready, most of the stuff I brought over from the UK with me to Germany are still in boxes. I thought I’d packed carefully, so that I’d have easy access to the things I’d need once I arrived. Like my sewing patterns. Not so. I’ve sought them here, I’ve sought them there… The only thing I can say with confidence is that they’re in a removals box downstairs.

But I wanted to make some new underpants and simple bras. So, I gritted my teeth and started over.

First, I copied the shape of one of my favourite simple bras. I keep calling them ‘simple’: what I mean is that they don’t have underwiring, padding, lace or other types of garnish – they are truly simple. I value comfort and simplicity in most of my garments, and, luckily, given my tiny cup size, I can get away with it.

I don’t like fasteners at the back, preferring to slip into my bra as if into a camisole. The construction, therefore, couldn’t be simpler. The bit on the right is the cup, which has a central seam, a dart and a side seam. The bit on the left is the back, which is cut on the fold (centre of back) and attached to the side seam of the cup. Easy peasy.

Here’s how it works in practice. Cut out cups. Sew darts, and add fold-over elastic to the top.

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Then close the central seam and sew the back piece to one side.  Now the genius bit: Take a generous measure of fold-over elastic (at least 40cm) and sew together. Then attach to the cup, and sew all the way around to the other end. Do the same with the other side. You now have two straps. You can also now add the elastic on the bottom.

The next step is to sew shut the remaining side seam and to add loops at the back. To make loops, take about 10 cm of the fold-over elastic, sew it shut, form a loop, string a small plastic or metal circle through it and attach to the back.

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The final step is to attach the straps to the loops. You’ll need to use plastic or metal sliders that allow you to adjust the strap when necessary.

And you’re done. These simple bras are ever so easy to make. After I made the first, I found that I had to adjust the pattern a bit. The more skin-tight a garment is, the more I find I need to adjust the patter to get it absolutely right.

I’m pleased with my glut of bras. They’re comfortable as anything. And because I was so motivated, I added a similar glut of pants to go with them. Well, I say ‘go with them’…

While making them, I discovered a beautiful trick. Normally, I’d sew in some elastic, fold it over and sew over it again. But given that I was dealing with two layers of fabric (folded over = 4 layers of fabric + elastic), it had always been difficult to sew an even seam. Until I began using fold-over elastic for my pants, too!

Just like regular binding, fold-over elastic encloses fabric and just requires one seam. Job done! It looks much neater than my other pants, quite apart from being a lot quicker to sew. Win win win.

My underwear drawer is now pretty much stuffed full, but I can see myself sewing a couple more. Just to use up those jersey fabric scraps…

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Happy to be home

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About six weeks ago I turned my life upside down & set it down again. But in a different country. Reader: I moved house and country – from Brexit-Britain back to Germany, which I’ve learnt to call home again. Indeed, I moved back into the house I grew up in, so it was a home-coming in many senses.

So, how to mark this auspicious event? I didn’t have to think very hard: I wanted to make a shirt to mark the occasion. But, unfortunately, I’d packed my patterns very securely. So securely that I couldn’t find them. For various reasons I can’t unpack the majority of my removals boxes yet, and so my patterns are destined to remain lost for the time being.

But luckily the ever-wonderful Pattydoo brought out a nice, comfy, slightly sporty-looking t-shirt pattern called ‘Ava’ just when I needed it. It was clearly fate (click here to get to the [German-language] pattern). The other thing I wanted to do was play around with appliqué – both the usual and negative appliqué. And maybe a spot of sew-drawing.

I found a lovely green slub jersey fabric and set to work.

First of all, I drew some letters on a couple of pieces of paper and cut them out. I’m showing off my paper scissors here…  The letters spell out ‘Hurra, Wieder da’ (Hurrah, back again), which just about sums it up. I decided to highlight the letters ‘Wi’ by trying out negative application, because they are short for ‘Wiesbaden’, the town that I now call my home town again.

I then traced the letters on some iron-on interfacing (back-to-front obvs.), ironed them on to some bright and cheery fabric scraps, and cut them out.

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Then I fixed all the ingredients on the shirt to see what it would look like.

And after removing my ever-helpful kitty Mia from the sewing table, I could finally begin appliquéing the bits and pieces.

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This is the finished front bodice. It’s not my best effort. In a way it looks too busy to be effective. But it was fun to make, and the shirt will lose its novelty factor anyway in a couple of weeks.

I enjoyed making it, nevertheless, and I learnt a few things about appliqué. It’s definitely a good idea to use interfacing or tear-away interfacing before attempting it. I also enjoyed the drawn element (the blue ‘eder’ in ‘Wieder’, where I drew the letters by sewing them rather than cut them out).

 

Now I’ve been back for 6 weeks, I’m still sorting things out, while simultaneously having the feeling of having arrived. Lots of things are still familiar, and I’m (re-)discovering other things. It’s great coming home after a long absence – in my case 17 years abroad. Yes, I’m still celebrating.

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New dog lead

Every time I go to the pet supplies shop, I end up looking at the dog leads. Not that my dogs aren’t exceptionally well equipped already. But somehow dog leads, harnesses and collars have that effect on me. Thankfully, I’ve hitherto been able to resist – partly because the leads on offer are nice, well-made and colourful, but also just a tad boring-looking.

The kind of doggy equipment I like has the kind woven ribbon sewn onto it that you see in my picture above – something to make the lead stand out a bit. But you can’t get that sort of thing easily in the shop – not in the shop where I buy my pet supplies, anyway. And maybe that’s a good thing because now I’ve made my own and it is SO easy.

Ingredients:

  • some webbing (2cm in my case)
  • some woven ribbon (1.5cm in my case)
  • a clip (I re-used a clip I’d saved from an old lead that I’d thrown out)

I wanted the lead to have an overall length of about 1.20 metres as I find the 1 metre leads give my dog virtually no room to explore. That meant that the webbing and the ribbon measured roughly 1.50 metres, taking into account the little bit of extra material needed for the loop. Don’t forget to singe off the edges of the nylon/poly webbing after you’ve cut off the desired length to stop it fraying.

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The first thing to do is to attach the ribbon to the lead. I quite like that the webbing is wider than the the ribbon as the edges would have looked a bit untidy otherwise.

Next you fold over the very edge of the webbing about 2cm inwards and then about 5cm inwards again. Then you insert the clip into the second fold and sew over the three layers of material that you’ve just created. I tend to go over the material several times, drawing an x-in-a-box to really connect the layers well. This lead is for an exceptionally small Jack Russell Terrier, but even he can pull.

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The final thing to do is to create the loop. Take the other side of the lead, fold the webbing over about 1.5 to 2cm and then fold it over again in as large a loop as you desire (maybe 25cm).

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And then sew over it as you did at the other end. And – that’s it. Bravo, well done, you’ve made a log lead. It’s only a simple lead, of course. If you want to make a training lead, I suggest you watch the delightful Pöbelmöpse’s tutorial. Theirs is made with webbing alone, but there’s no reason why you can’t attach ribbon to it.

And here’s my little dog Deri trying on his new lead.

 

Looking at the pics, I realise that he hasn’t got a matching collar now. Oh dear. I may have to make him one from the webbing and ribbon that’s left over. Accessorise, accessorise… 🙂

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A cardigan made from pure Denim

Come again?

Yes, you read that right. I knitted a cardigan out of yarn made from recycled denim: ergo, I’ve got a denim cardigan. Recycled yarns have been around a while, of course, but I’ve never been attracted to what was on offer, partly because I didn’t like the colours. And then this yarn caught my eye:

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I preferred the darker shade (it could have been darker still for my taste) and went ahead and ordered it. It comes in a double knit weight (knitting needles 4.5-5mm) and feels exactly like the cotton I used to use to make pot holders from: quite tough. The yardage is ok, although I did end up using quite a lot of yarn on my project, which made the cardi quite heavy: like a proper denim jacket. One word of warning: the yarn bleeds quite a bit (meaning blue streaked hands as you’re knitting) and may shrink in the wash.

The pattern I went for was Kate Davies’s wonderful Shepherd Hoody. If I’m honest, the cardi probably wasn’t designed for cotton. Wool is stretchier, and I did nearly break by fingers on the big cable pattern bits. But it kinda worked, as you shall see…

First of all, and unusually for me, I followed the recommendation in the pattern and made a swatch. Because of the pattern, the measurements are tricky with this garment, but after a bit of adjusting, things worked out.

As seemingly usual for Kate Davies designs, there are no seams in this garment. You knit it in long rows, knit the two fronts and the back separately, join the shoulders, add the hood and then insert sleeves by picking up stitches rather than knitting the sleeves separately and sewing them on. While the garment ends up getting bulkier and bulkier as you turn your rows, I do prefer the seamless look, particularly with a striking cable pattern like this. You get some pretty long rows, mind!

 

Here’s me starting out and about 1/3 of the way up. As you can see, the row for the buttons is already included. Once you get into the swing of the cable pattern, it really is a breeze to knit.

And here’s me trying the jacket on after having begun and finished the first sleeve. The fit is snug, but not too snug, and will probably end up slightly larger after blocking.

And here is the finished product:

I’ll say a bit more about how I made the buttons in another post – it’s really easy to make your own buttons from polymer clay, and fun, too!

Now, my least favourite task awaits – weaving in about 100 loose bits of yarn from when I changed one ball of cotton for another. The horror! Coincidentally, we’re just in the middle of a veritable heatwave, and so I’ll postpone this thankless task for a while longer. Then I’ll need to wash my new cardi carefully to allow it to shed any excess colouring while hopefully preventing it from shrinking too much. And I need to block it to prevent the moss stitch cuffs from flaring too much. I can’t wait to wear it – once it’s a bit cooler…

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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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