Thursday 24 April 2014

When Is A Coaster Not A Coaster?

When is a coaster not a coaster? ...

... when it's an appliqué!

Over the last year I've dabbled in several projects that use crochet motifs as appliqués. I'm not talking about crochet appliquéd onto crochet here, (fun though that is), but crochet appliquéd onto fabric.

Before I started experimenting, I thought that perhaps crochet would not "sit" very well on fabric and it might all look a bit lumpy and homespun. Obviously you need to gauge the weight of your crochet vis à vis the weight of your fabric - no good trying to put aran, or worsted, weight crochet on a piece of filmy, Liberty lawn, say; the weight of the crochet will pull the fabric completely out of shape, but I've found that a DK, or sportweight, cotton yarn on reasonably robust, cotton fabric, works like a dream.

Denim is a perfect base. It also makes a good, neutral background to show off the colours of your chosen motifs. But any other heavyish, cotton fabric, I guess, would work well too.

My first foray into this lark was my "Jeans for the Golden Road to Samarkand" last May which you can read about here, if you're interested (Turkish Delight and peppermint tea optional!); next up was my denim apron liberally sprinkled with hooky tulips and I made a couple of little cosmetic purses too, out of denim off-cuts, with single tulips on the side panels.

My most recent effort was in January this year with my "NewYear's Green" jacket embellishment using crochet panels hand-sewn onto the cuffs, collar and bottom edge of a corduroy jacket. For this I used a heavier weight yarn - some leftover Spud and Chloë Sweater, which is an aran weight wool-and-cotton-mix. This has worked very well on the more robust, lined corduroy of the jacket but, I think, would be too heavy on lighter fabric.

The method I use for my appliquéing, (in case you'd like to have a go yourself), is as follows: having hooked up my motifs and finished off all the ends securely - there are plenty! -

I faff about with arranging them on the fabric laid out on the floor, for ages on end, pinning and repinning about a million times. (I find this faffing is unavoidable and definitely not an optional extra!)

Eventually, once the faffing is complete, I tack the motifs in position Carefully, ie not just any-old "cat's teeth" stitches, any-old-how, as quickly as possible, which is Mrs T's usual happy-go-lucky approach to tacking, and then I either hand-sew (my jeans and jacket) or machine-sew (my apron and the little purses) around the edge of each motif in a matching, sewing thread.

The results surprise me every time. The motifs seem magically to have grown onto the fabric and sit beautifully, as if they had never had a separate existence.

Obviously, for practical purposes, you need to use a yarn that is good tempered about being washed, if you're appliquéing to clothing that will go in the washing machine. I used Cascade Ultra Pima DK weight yarn for all the examples above, (apart from the jacket), and it's perfect. Fabulous range of colours, very easy to work with and washes beautifully. My apron, which has probably been washed the most, - I can't stand cooking in yesterday's cooking spills - looks as good as the day I made it. But any other mercerised cotton yarn, whose label confirms that he is laundry-friendly and that he won't blow a gasket in contact with hot water and suds, I am sure, will be fine too.

So.... one thing led to another and I thought I'd use the same technique to pretty up a denim skirt that I thought I'd make as my second Sew-Along skirt in Lazy Daisy Jones' Sew Along. It was going to be a short, plain denim skirt because short, plain, denim skirts are so useful and so versatile, but I decided to sacrifice versatility and usefulness and go off piste. Because. Because you only live once. Because, just as nobody gets to the end of their life and wishes they had spent more time at work, people do get to the end of their life and wish they'd spent more time living colourfully.* They mean this metaphorically, usually, but not always. Also I have to wear black a lot of the time for work, so some happy colour, for when I don't, is particularly welcome. But I digress. Back to the appliqués. I had quite a clear picture in my head of what I wanted. Bold, bright flowers with nice distinct petals, in lots of my favourite colours, dotted over the plain canvas of the denim.

Flicking through various flower patterns, nothing seemed quite right. I wanted something reasonably stylised, quite compact and not too small. Seventies-prints-kind-of-flowers with several colours in each bloom.

While I was humming and hawing about possibilities, Jenn of Color 'n Cream posted about the arrival of her new flower coaster pattern here and suddenly there were my perfect flowers! I experimented a bit with the colour combinations and in the end decided that the centres needed to be the same colour as the petals or it was all a bit too random with the number of colours I wanted to use. And I left out the final round because I liked the petals just as they were, without an edging.

I made sixteen in total and dotted them all over the finished skirt in, what is intended to be, an artfully artless way. It was a bit of a pain, keeping on changing the sewing thread colour to match the petals but it's worth it, because so long as the thread colour matches the crochet, your stitches magically seem to disappear without trace. As you can see in the pics above, I machine-sewed these rather than hand-sewed them on. A lot of turning of the fabric to negotiate all those curvy petals but I thought they'd probably be more secure if machine-sewn.

By the way, is it just me who is wistful for the days when reels of sewing thread had beautiful names instead of numbers? I'd much rather sew with Peacock, Saffron, Fiesta, Lupin, Parma Violet and Monaco Blue, Peppermint, Rose and Coral, Light Kingfisher and Blue Pearl than a load of anonymous numbers. Or is that just me being sentimental?

I added the flowers once I had completed the basic construction of the skirt, ie once I'd sewn the darts and main seams and had inserted the zip, but before I'd added the facing or lining. If you are more canny than me, you could add the flowers onto the cut pieces before any sewing, but you need to take into account where you will lose fabric area in the construction and I knew I'd get that wrong and find I'd sewn a flower where I wanted to put the zip or something. Once the flowers had all been added, I thought I'd add a little crochet border. Because. Because see * above. And because, I'd seen this beautiful version and because, well why not?! You could crochet a border strip and simply hand-sew or machine-sew that in place at the hem (as I did on my jacket) or you can do what I've done here and use a small, sharp hook to pierce the fabric edge and crochet directly into the fabric. This is what I am doing in the two pics below.

You can get a special "Sharp Hook" for this purpose from here (this is what I'm using) but I guess any fine steel hook would do the job or you could use one of those old-fashioned bodkins, that looks as though they might be more in keeping with the contents of a 19th C cut-throat's pocket, on the back streets of Victorian London, than a domestic sewing basket, to pierce holes in the fabric. A bit more laborious though, probably.

It's a bit fiddly getting the first row of stitches in - my advice is to take your time and do it in manageable stages - but you get into a rhythm and once the first row is done, you simply switch to your normal hook-size and complete the border as you would normally. In the pic below I am on my second row and using my ordinary 4mm hook.

I love the effect this gives.

The border I chose was number 62 from Edie Eckman's "Around The Border Crochet Borders"but with an additional row of single crochet at the base. Not too complicated or fussy, to distract from my flowers but enough to add a final flourish. That was the idea anyway. You could add a line of bought lace or trim, instead of making your own, if you prefer.

This skirt, like my first Sew Along one is also lined -  in a lavender lining fabric this time and without any pesky cutting errors, unlike last time! Ahem!

The crochet makes the skirt feel a bit heavier and I'd want to think carefully before committing myself to appliquéing an ankle length version - might be too much of a good thing - but this short skirt works just fine and I can't tell you how happy I feel, wearing it.

Especially with these bright turquoise tights. How can anyone not feel happy wearing these?!

Thank you to S who kindly took these photos of the skirt on me. I am a most uncooperative photographic model so these are the product of considerable patience and forbearance on the photographer's part - sorry, S! But I thought you'd like to see how the skirt actually looks when worn!

If you don't crochet, but do like the idea of the appliqués, stay with the coaster zeitgeist and buy yourself a set on Etsy like these gorgeous ones that Jenn has in her shop here and just sew 'em on; alternatively beg, browbeat or bribe(!) a crocheting friend to hook you up a bouquet of flowers in your favourite colours and get sewing! And if you do crochet, you don't, of course, have to use a flower that's really a coaster  - browse the Internet or pattern books - there are zillions of crochet flower patterns out there for you to find one that suits your own mood and style and then personalise even further with your own colour choices.

You don't have to make the skirt yourself either. Customise an existing item in your wardrobe or pick up a charity shop version and play around. Cut it shorter if need be and machine-sew a new hem. You can even convert an old pair of jeans to a short skirt following the directions in this book. I haven't tried this yet but I will - just too tempting an idea not to!

Meantime, back at Mrs T's sewing machine, she may now have to run up another denim skirt to cover off the occasions when she feels she can't wear this one covered in bright hooky flowers and trim! But such is life!

Oh, and by the way, I have a spare copy of Edie Eckman's "Around The Border" because for some unknown foolish reason I managed to order two copies at the same time by mistake and never got round to returning the spare one. So if you'd like it and can put it to good use, email me with your address and I'll post it off to you as a little freebie giveaway of hooky happiness which, as we all know, is, at least in part, what makes the world go round! And you will salve my conscience from feeling guilty at not having got round to returning it to Amazon!

E x

Saturday 19 April 2014

Easter Eve

I don't normally have much time around Easter to go overboard with decorations but this wreath is pretty speedy and easy to rustle up at the last minute, so long as you have picked the twigs and dried the basic structure in advance, that is, which I did back in February. Too late for last Christmas obviously but with the thought that at least it would be ready for next Christmas. I got the idea from Anne here - she's always good for ideas like this, as well as her recipes of course. The idea is that you pick the twigs while they are green and sappy (and therefore, obediently bendy), shape them into a circle and tie in place with string, (so that they stay in a circle, rather than springing back, as soon as your back is turned!) You leave this somewhere airy and warmish to dry, for a number of days or weeks and when you want to decorate it, you simply snip off the retaining string and hey presto! the twigs have dried in circular form ready for you to decorate and hang up.

As I say, I picked my twigs - a bunch of thin, whippy, hazel ones - back in February on a bleak and rainy afternoon walk. After a brief tussle, where the twigs thought they didn't much fancy the idea of becoming a circle, I prevailed upon them to think otherwise and having tied them in place with some fetching, purple garden string, I left them by the back door near the warmth of the boiler to dry out.

So far, so good. I felt slightly nervous snipping the string in case they decided to spring back to their original perpendicular form, despite my best efforts, but no, they stayed where they were, as good as gold!

Now for the decoration bit. My original thought was to add eggs but my hooky eggs are a bit big ...

... and I didn't have time to go hunting in the shops for miniature ones. What I did have was a whole load of crochet cherry blossoms from last year

and some felt robins I'd bought a couple of Christmases ago, in a mad moment, when robins with pastel-coloured breasts seemed a good idea. Getting them home, I decided they hadn't been such a good idea - the pastel colours just weren't Christmassy. But for Easter? Well, they seemed perfect!

The wreath seemed a bit thin with just the cherry blossom and the robins, so I hooked up a few daffodils and narcissi from Lucy's lovely pattern here.

The flowers are tied on with the ends of yarn from the crochet - even better when there's a project where you don't need to fasten off any ends, I think -  and the robins I've tied on with some thin, neutral-coloured string. So easy! But also so Eastery!

I don't know how robust the twig wreath will turn out to be - the thinnest bits are quite brittle but it might well survive until Christmas, in which case I shall remove the blossoms and unChristmassy robins and replace with more seasonal fowl / flowers!

Although I often believe less is not more, here is a happy reminder that it can be. Add to the mix, blue skies, a bunch of red tulips in a red polka dot jug, on my rather battered, old kitchen table,

and a beautiful Easter card that came from my French friend Christiane,

 in its own lined, linen envelope, which she'd made and on which she'd embroidered not just the greeting and a couple of darling, Easter rabbits but also my whole address, ...

... and Easter Eve feels as it should. 


full of the promise of hope, on the cusp of fulfilment. 

Wishing you and yours every blessing this Eastertide,

E x

Friday 4 April 2014

Sew Along Sewing

Daisy of LazyDaisyJones is hosting a lovely Sew Along project starting here using McCalls 3341 skirt pattern recently featured on the Great British Sewing Bee. Daisy herself has already made four of these skirts in different fabrics - wonderful examples of how the same pattern can give you an array of quite different looks. Have a look here. There are some other lovely examples out there in blogland too like Jacquie's version here.

So I thought to myself, well, why not? Recently I've been using my own skirt pattern, drawn out to fit my own measurements following the instructions in SewWhat:Skirts and very useful these makes have turned out to be, both my long and short denim versions that I posted about in 2012 and a couple of long, lined, Shetland tweed ones that I made this winter, which never made it into a blog post. And as I had been wondering  about making another short denim one - so useful for summer and easy to wear on cool days with thick tights too - instead of just making another version of my own pattern, I thought I'd tag along with Daisy's Sew Along. Not that I've made the denim one yet - got side-tracked by needlecord roses - as you do!

The pattern is lovely - a simple A-line really but with a couple of clever darts in the front and in the back, to give a good fit and you can choose from five different lengths depending on the look you are after. Usually I've found with commercial patterns that they give you a range of sizes from a UK 8 to 18 but this pattern comes in either a UK 4 to 10 or, in a separate envelope, a UK 12 to 18. That gave me an initial conundrum as really I am between a size 10 and a size 12, so I usually assess a particular pattern for generosity of cut when I see the pieces and choose between the sizes accordingly. Most of the things I make aren't too fitted anyway, so it doesn't matter unduly but this skirt is fitted - that's the whole point of it. After humming and hawing about which size option to choose, I ordered the larger one. Mistake. Definitely too big.* Ordered the smaller size and looked at what seemed to me some scarily small pieces - eek! I am never going to fit into that! Checked the measurements again and cast an eye at the lovely, new, denim fabric I'd bought and the delightfully Springlike, rosy needlecord, hanging over the banisters, all pre-washed and pressed.

Realised there was nothing for it but to break the habit of a lifetime and make what I think is technically called a "muslin"- a mock-up, in any old scrap fabric, so that you can adjust the fit, if need be, before cutting into the lovely fabric you've just spent good money on and finding out too late that you should have cut it bigger, or differently.

An ancient cotton sheet, inherited from my grandmother, with a large rip in the middle of it was the obvious choice for this exercise and so stage one was to do a trial run and see how the sizing and fit worked in practise. I didn't bother with the zip and facing, of course, just cut the main pieces and sewed the darts and main seams.

It turned out to be a surprisingly useful exercise and although a little voice in my head kept saying, "You're wasting valuable sewing time with this mock-up nonsense, Mrs T!", it wasn't true. It didn't take very long and the results were surprisingly informative. The cut is, in fact, quite generous in this pattern, so the size 10, amazingly enough, fits perfectly - the small pattern pieces are deceptive. But the length definitely did need adjusting. I wanted to make a short skirt but not that short and I realise that because my mind was on the other aspects of the fit, I would have sailed straight in and cut it at the pattern's line if I hadn't had the muslin's clear evidence that more length was needed.

Of course, having spent all this time faffing about, did I bother to add a bit of paper to the bottom of the skirt pattern pieces to accommodate the need for the extra length, before cutting? No, of course, I didn't! I said to myself, "I'll just measure the extra and mark with pins." "Yeah, yeah, yeah...  " All went well until I started cutting the lining which I wanted to add to the needlecord version, to stop it sticking to my tights, in wear. Emboldened by the success of lining my Shetland tweed skirts a month or two ago, I thought I could cannily cannibalise the left-over remnants of lining fabric to line this needlecord one. Thrifty or what?! Just enough fabric, if if I pieced together a couple of bits, but only just. All went well until, in the process of pinning and cutting, the 'phone rang. Working from home is not good on this front. What does Mrs T do? Does she leave the caller to leave a message and carry on cutting out, or put the scissors down and answer the 'phone? Neither. She answers the 'phone but, as it's something non-urgent, she thinks she will multi-task and carry on cutting, with one eye on the fabric and one ear on the 'phone. Yes, well, the inevitable happens. I forget I am supposed to be adding on the extra length. At the end of the 'phone call, I realise what I've done and shock my (pretty unshockable) 16-year-old son with a raft of expletives he didn't think his mother had even heard of - he now knows differently! Apologies, H! - and assess the damage with a gloomy heart.

What to do? Not enough spare fabric to recut entirely - and just a tad too drastic to carry on regardless. The worst of both worlds.

1 abandon the lining idea;
2 carry on but cut the lining much shorter than the skirt;
3 reposition the pattern pieces on the fabric available, to minimise the erroneous cut; recut the pieces, slightly less in line with the grain than is ideal but probably close enough to get away with, and hope for the best;
4 go out and buy replacement lining fabric.

I went for option three and by placing a small piece of fabric under the cuts and using a three step zig zag stitch I did a sort of darn to secure them from going any further.

In fact, they're pretty much contained in the seam allowance and on the right side of the lining, you now can't see any evidence of my careless cutting crime!

The reason I share this little cautionary tale is to say to you:

1 If you resize or redraw a pattern, do go to the trouble of drawing out your amendments and adding them on to the existing pattern pieces - in the long run it will save you a lot of hassle, even though it's a pain.
2 Don't answer the 'phone / feed the cat / cook the supper and cut out a sewing pattern at the same time. You are a woman and you do multitask as a matter of course, but you are still very likely to make a mistake!
3 If the worst happens and you do cut where you shouldn't have, stop as soon as you realise and remember that there is often a creative solution, even if you think the situation is irrevocable. But see 4 below!
4 Never mind: "careless talk costs lives", careless cutting costs valuable sewing time!
5 Never underestimate just how innocent, teenage children think their parents are!

Having got over this little glitch, matters went more smoothly and I'm rather pleased with the results!

Like a peek?

Here it is then!

A couple of sewing tips you might find useful, other than the above, hard-won advice of course!

1 When you are choosing a zip, it can help to choose one that's quite a bit longer than the length you actually need - gives you much more room to play with and once you've sewn in the correct length, you can just cut off the excess. Works at both ends. Make sure you've slid the zipper-pull down into the section that you've sewn on to the skirt first, before you cut it off, by mistake, though! Using a longer than strictly necessary zip is particularly useful if you find machine sewing past the zipper-pull tricky, with your zipper-foot, as I do, because you can slide it out of the way while you stitch.

2 I use bias binding to finish off the raw edges of the facing in a skirt like this and also to make a false hem at the bottom. Avoids the bulk of a double hem-fold and if the hem is curved, the bias of the tape absorbs the curvature perfectly.

 Just unfold one side of the tape and line it up against the raw edge of the facing (or the hem-line) as I have done in the pic above;  machine sew along the first fold-line all the way round; press the tape up, folding it over to the inside and hand-stitch the top edge (which will still be folded over) of the tape in place to the inside, with hemming stitches. I fold over the binding on the facing, half-way, so it remains visible, as you can see here, as the facing is on the inside of the skirt;

and for the hem, I fold it over so that all the tape is folded up, away from sight, to the inside and the machine stitched seam makes the bottom edge of the skirt. You can use commercial bias binding in matching or toning colours or go for something a little more decorative. I usually make my own with left-over cotton prints from my fabric box and one of these bias binding makers but here, I am using some flowery bias binding I picked up in Cologne last year. You can see the finished hem of the skirt in the pics below.

3 Use iron-on interfacing - it's very easy and when you've ironed it on, take a sharp pair of scissors and trim off the excess from the edges of your pattern piece. I find it tends to stretch a bit as it's applied and the trimming helps you to keep your seam allowances neat and even because the edges aren't blurred by overlapping interfacing when you come to sew.

5 If like me, you want to add a lining, it's not as difficult as you might think. Simply make up the basic skirt in lining fabric as well as your chosen outer fabric (ie the main pieces, minus the facings and omitting inserting the zip) and before you attach the facing, insert the lining into the skirt with the wrong sides of the fabrics together. Tack the two fabrics together along the waistline and simply treat the outer fabric and inner lining as one layer of fabric, as you proceed. For the hem on the lining I just turn up the fabric, fold in the raw edge and machine stitch in place as you can see in the pics above. It needs to be a little bit shorter than the hem of the outer skirt but not much. Finally, hand stitch the folded-back seam allowance of the central back seam onto the zipper fabric to secure in place at the opening which is what I am doing in the pic here:

6 I've added hanging loops because find I never have enough proper skirt hangers whereas I do have plenty of hangers with notches in them. Use some tape or bias binding and stitch onto the facing fabric at the side seam, with the loop facing downwards so that it doesn't show when you wear the skirt.

I then stitch "in the ditch" of the side seam to secure the facing to the outer fabric and avoid it pulling out of shape when you hang the skirt up by the loops. This also helps keep the facing in position when you wear the skirt. If you do this, make sure you stitch from the outside so that your stitching stays invisible on the outside of the skirt - I find it's difficult to ensure otherwise that the stitching does not stray from "the ditch" of the seam you are sewing in. Obviously, keep the attached loop out of the way or you'll stitch that in the ditch as well!

Thinking you might join Daisy's Sew Along too? Go on, give it a go! 

E x

*PS If you'd like to give this skirt a whirl and would like to have the spare pattern (UK size 12-18) that I originally ordered but found was the wrong size, email me with your address and I'll send it to you, as a little Sew Along freebie - it will ease my conscience at having had to order two! (It's been opened and looked at but is completely uncut.)

Ed to add: Pattern has now gone off in the post to come to life in a new Sew Along home! Happy Sewing, Deb! E x