Sunday, 26 July 2015

Teachers' presents - bags!

So here are the presents that did get made in time!

One bag - I think this would be a good beach bag.

Predictably, it started off as a find in a Charity Shop. Two napkins, just like this...

Which got built up, log cabin style, with a few scraps, then a thrifted bright pink curtain for a lining and handle, a bit of elastic at the opening and it became a bag.

It's funny, I can't really imagine wanting these 2 napkins as napkins, and I definitely wouldn't want the shocking pink curtains as curtains and yet I think they work as a bag. (And we all were sure these colours were perfect for the intended teacher.) For me, thrifting is all about seeing the potential in something.

And then Venetia and I made some fabric 'baskets':

I'd seen a post about, and a link to, a free Craftsy class on bag making on The Artful Parent (find the specific post here), one of the bags was a bucket bag that looked perfect for an idea we had in mind. So my plan was that Venetia and I would watch the class together, and then she could make most of the bags herself with a bit of help from me where needed. Unfortunately our internet connection is so terrible that trying to watch the class was driving us potty before we got even 5 minutes into it. I think it had frozen getting on for 50 times by then, and I was desperate to give up on it but had managed to keep quiet, I was very happy when Venetia decided it would be best to think again though.

So basically we winged it! But if your internet connection is a bit more respectable than ours, I would recommend watching the class (free remember!), it did look good, and our baskets were definitely floppier than the class ones looked!

These baskets turned into cream tea baskets - with some home made scones, a jar of home made jam and a pot of clotted cream added to them.

Thrifted fabrics for the insides on both these bags, but the outer fabrics were both new ones I'd picked up in sales quite a while back.

There's another patchwork bag which we didn't get finished, but the teacher is a very friendly one and we already have a precedent with her for giving late presents!

It is feeling lovely to be into the Summer holidays now, and despite fairly atrocious weather we have been enjoying our wild swimming. In fact setting ourselves the challenge of swimming every day is perfect for days like these (think wet, windy and not overly warm!), because without that challenge there would definitely be a temptation to stay holed up inside! Yet when you make the effort to swim on days like these, it always feels amazing. There's something about being in a slightly wild sea, not even being able to tell whether or not it's raining because of all the spray, which just makes you feel extra alive and almost part of the sea itself. Not great for photos though, the best I have today is a fresh out of the sea selfie before we made a dash for the car and turned the heating up on the way home!

It was a bit too wild for Maria today unfortunately.
Hope you're enjoying Summer wherever you are (or Winter down under!).


Friday, 24 July 2015

Take 5

1) We are well into jam making season here - loganberry, tayberry and strawberry so far. Theo also made some really delicious strawberry and apricot jam the other day - we had quite a few over ripe apricots in the fruit bowl which just got thrown in too basically, but it worked beautifully. Anyway, jam making, I find, encourages other baking. Usually fresh bread rolls, sometimes scones, and just occasionally a sponge cake. A whisked sponge is always my favourite choice to fill with jam and fresh cream.

4.5oz sugar
4.5oz plain flour
3 eggs, separated
1 tsp baking powder

Whisk the egg whites till stiff and white, then in a different bowl whisk the yolks and sugar till pale and thick. Gently fold the whites into the sugar mix, and then also fold in the flour/baking powder. Put into greased tins and cook in a medium hot oven for approx 10 mins.

2) My tablecloth is beginning to turn into a quilt. Here is the centre.

I cut another circle, the same size, from a really rich, yellow fabric (plain vintage sheet!) and sewed them together (right sides together), all the way round. No little gaps required for turning because once it was done I carefully cut into just the yellow side and cut out a large circle, leaving just a border, and then obviously it's easy to turn it right sides out.

So the embroidery you can see here is the reverse of my table cloth fabric.
Then I cut small slices into this border to help it lie flat nicely.

After a good iron I sewed it on to a white background. This is going to be the centre of my quilt. I think it's calling out for some spiral quilting.

3) Lots of photos to catch up with. The usual boys in water photos...

For some strange reason Theo loves doing belly flops at the moment!

And girls on the beach...

Venetia dancing of course!

But as well as the predictable beach/sea shots, we were away at the weekend and got the chance to go back to a few old haunts. When the boys were little, long before the girls came along, we used to live in a tiny village in Hertfordshire. There was a picturesque ford quite nearby with ducks and geese. The boys, particularly Sam, were mad about ducks and we used to go to feed them most days. I have many, many very happy memories of this particular place, so of course it was top of my list to revisit. We hadn't been there for probably 10 years, I don't think either Sam or Theo properly remembered it for real, but they've seen lots of photos of their littler selves there. It was really special to see how much they enjoyed being there again, the joys of feeding ducks clearly never grow old! And of course the girls loved it straight away too. 

It probably helped that there were some very cute baby ducks there too!

4) I saw this series of 'Nature is Speaking' videos the other day, very powerful. I think the first one was 'The Ocean' with Harrison Ford, which obviously resonated very much with me, but they were all good, particularly the Mother Nature one with Julia Roberts, I thought. 

5) Our very last day of school was yesterday. Holidays have, finally, officially begun, hooray! And we did manage to get most of our planned teacher presents finished! I'll leave you with just one, until I get round to sorting out my photos for the others! This one was very easy - black sharpie on a plain white mug. It was for a music teacher, so Venetia wrote a few lines from Abba's 'Thank you for the music' on there. 

We made a very simple little mug rug to go with it too.

I kind of thought, since it was only little, that I ought to have very narrow binding, but actually, with hindsight, I wish I'd gone quite a bit wider.
There's so much on Pinterest about sharpie drawing/writing on mugs/plates etc, definitely worth a browse if you're looking for gift inspiration. But there seems to be quite a bit of divided opinion on how durable it is, and whether or not there's a need to use an oil based sharpie. Ours seemed to work OK, but I would have liked to test it a little more, so I think we'll do a bit more experimenting before we make any more as gifts.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Sewn Artist Trading Cards

I've been making another ATC - this time a very personal one for a really special friend.

I shall have to give you some background. This card is for my friend, Michele. She is a lovely person and an amazing Mum to two gorgeous boys. She is one of the most loving, gentle, calm, patient and encouraging people I've ever known (all amazing qualities to possess as a parent!). And her family, particularly her husband and their two boys, mean the world to her. The other week Michele made a comment, to me and another friend, about how she frequently gets to the end of the day and feels that she just hasn't done a good job that day as a parent. Obviously we reassured her as best we could at the time - which was really not difficult given how amazing Michele is! Basically, if she's not doing a good enough job, then the rest of us are right up the creek! But her words left me wanting to do more in some way. And I decided that I wanted to make her an ATC that somehow tried to tell her not to feel inadequate and that she is doing a good job. Something that she could just pick up at the end of the day that might give her a bit of distant reassurance. 

Since, after my last ATC making, there were a couple of requests for more detail on how I make them, I took photos along the way this time around and will take you through my process. 

First up though, it might be helpful to talk about what an ATC actually is. It wasn't a term with which I was familiar until very recently, so in case you're in a similar boat, here's a bit of information on them, taken from Wikipedia:

Artist trading cards (or ATCs) are miniature works of art about the same size as modern trading cards, 2 1⁄2 by 3 1⁄2 inches (64 mm × 89 mm),small enough to fit inside standard card-collector pockets, sleeves or sheets. The ATC movement developed out of the mail art movement and has its origins in Switzerland. Cards are produced in various media, including dry media (pencils, pens, markers, etc.), wet media (watercolor, acrylic paints, etc.), paper media (in the form of collage, papercuts, found objects, etc.) or even metals or fiber. The cards are usually traded or exchanged.

So now back to the making. Obviously the first step is to come up with a plan of what you want to put on your ATC, and the reasons behind your making will be the key here. For my card I decided to use this gorgeous photo of Michele and her youngest son as my inspiration.

Then I took a scrap of neutral linen, a little larger than the 2.5 by 3.5 inches I was ultimately aiming for, and drew on my image. Water soluble pens are great for this. I added a scrap of wool behind my fabric to give it a bit more weight and stability.

When I was happy with it I sewed over my drawing as best I could. I often like to use a dark grey for this kind of machine embroidery - I like the way it gives a feel of being a pencil drawing. And if you'd love to have a go at recreating a picture in machine embroidery then please don't be put off by thinking it's too hard. Depending on the picture you're using it's often possible to trace at least an outline of your image, rather than having to draw it completely free hand. And the embroidery itself is easier than you might think - it's mostly a matter of going slowly but steadily and not beating yourself up too much when it doesn't turn out completely perfectly! Practice is also a massive help with machine embroidery, you'd be amazed how much you can improve in a very short space of time. So, please don't be daunted, give it a go!

Once I had my embroidered image, I was quite tempted to leave it just as it was. Or obviously another option, that I often like, is to combine it with applique. But something else which I've been trying more recently is to combine it with paint. This is particularly suitable if you're making something, like an ATC, which is not designed to need washing. (If you are making something that will need to be washed at times, for instance a cushion cover, you could still use paints - for example acrylic based paints which are then ironed are relatively colour fast I find - but you do just need to be a bit more cautious.) 

If you've used a water soluble pen to create your original drawing, and you're now planning on adding detail and colour with paint then please remember to wash off your pen marks first and let it dry thoroughly!

I used some 'proper' water colours for my paints, once ironed I do find these reasonably colour fast, but I would definitely be wary of using them in other projects.

When I was happy with my work, I trimmed it down to the 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. And I also wanted to add some words to the picture (I like words!). It was really hard to decide on the words I wanted, there were so many ways in which I wanted to try and reassure Michele. In the end, some words from Kim, over at Mothering with Mindfulness, felt like the perfect choice. Kim had written about how she reassures herself if she is having a moment of self doubt...

 "I am enough"

'A phrase I often use for myself, it is simple, but often allows me to get past my moments of self doubt, and negative self talk. 
We all struggle, we all have moments when we wonder if we are doing this mothering thing right ... 'I am enough' often reminds me that I am what my little one needs, my love for him, the time I spend with him, the choices we have made, all of it is enough.'

This phrase felt perfect with the picture of Michele, in which I think her love shines through. I printed the words up on fabric (see back here for more information on that). I use bondaweb to help with this, so then it's an easy matter of ironing on the words and securing them with more sewing.

With previous ATCs I've machine embroidered words, or alternatively you could hand embroider or carefully write them in with a fabric pen or permanent marker. I just liked the printed effect with this one. And of course, ATCs don't have to include any words, it's entirely down to what you want to make, they don't even have to be 'pictures' of any sort, they could just be a beautiful, tiny, piece of abstract art.

But for this one, on to the back. Same kind of process. I cut a scrap of fabric slightly bigger than required, with another piece of wool to back it again.

My back was going to be purely words this time, and since I'd decided on a quote with quite a few words in it, I went down the printed fabric route again to help me to fit it all into such a small space. I think that's the biggest challenge I've found with the ATCs I've made so far - you really are working on a miniature scale and it can be difficult to do that and get the effect you want.

Once these words were ironed and then sewn on to just the back of my card, I trimmed this up too, making sure it matched my front piece. Then put the 2 pieces together (wrong sides together) and simply sewed around the card several times. You probably know by now that I'm very comfortable with raw edges, so this method works for me - and is incredibly simple!

And here's the finished card...


I'm sure lots of people out there would go about sewing ATCs in a very different way. This is just my preferred method at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if I experiment with other methods and tweak my approach in the future. 

I was introduced to ATCs through a swap which Ali organises on a regular basis on her blog - Very Berry Handmade. And in fact there's another swap just coming up (to be completed by around the 24th August) which Ali has recently organised. I'm taking part again, and the theme this time around is 'My favourite...' , I haven't decided on any particular interpretation of this as yet, so watch this space! And Ali is planning on having several posts devoted to ATC making on her blog over the next few weeks so it's worth keeping an eye out there for more ideas on making them. Another great source of ATC inspiration is her Flickr group which has photos of many of the cards from previous swaps - find it here.

So hopefully that might help if you are interested in ATCs. I have to say I'm a little bit hooked on them now, and I also have hopes of getting the children involved in making some (not necessarily sewn ones) and swapping them in the not too distant future.

And if you do make any, I'd really love to see photos of them.


Monday, 13 July 2015

Teacher present time of year.

It's that time of year again, which may possibly be second only to Christmas in terms of hand making gifts - teacher present time. And as usual I'm not hugely organised! (It never helps that it follows on so soon after Maria's birthday making!) Right now, to be completely honest, some bought presents are sounding an excellent idea, but Venetia has home made expectations (which of course I want to live up to!), and she also wants to be involved with all the making this year.

The first two are done (with little involvement from Venetia unfortunately!), and were handed over to the girls' two wonderful ballet teachers at the weekend.

First up, a cushion - made from old table linen and with a simple black, machine embroidered ballet dancer:

And secondly, not hand made by me, but thrifted - some lovely old napkins with beautifully embroidered, colourful dancers on each. These seemed the perfect present when I saw them several months ago, especially as they were in amazing condition.

If we do get round to it, we're hoping to make patchwork bags this year for other teachers' presents. I've seen lots of gorgeous ones out there, we love this one for instance...

Find it here, but it's pictures more than a tutorial.
So if you have any quick (preferably very quick!) and easy to make favourite bag patterns/tutorials then please give a shout! Or maybe you have other 'go to' teacher present ideas? All help gratefully received!


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Take 5

1) I think that, somehow, I have very happy Charity Shop karma (goodness knows how this could have come about!). On Sunday, after some hesitation, I cut into a really beautiful, embroidered, linen table cloth. Before you all gasp in horror, it did have quite a few teeny holes dotted around. The plan is, predictably, for it to become a beautiful quilt instead:

One large circle for the centre

And 4 large triangles for somewhere around the corners.

Hopefully by the time it's finished I might actually have ironed it along the way!
Then yesterday, I had a very quick visit to a Charity Shop we just happened to be passing, and what did I find - a beautiful, bargain tablecloth. Bright, bold and cheerily vintage rather than delicately embroidered, but definitely still beautiful:

2) One last present from Maria's birthday I haven't got round to showing you, another circle skirt:

This is fabric from a Charity Shop find too. It's quite sheer, floaty fabric, and when I bought it I really didn't have a clue what I would do with it, I just loved the design on it. But after making the last 2 skirts, I realised how perfect this would be for one - both in terms of it's floatiness and because, though it's impossible to see from these photos really, the design is very suited to the circular cutting required.

I also had the perfect blue polka dot fabric for the waistband, this was some of my Mum's old stash.

3) No photos, but I have to share our after school excitement yesterday. You know it's something bad when your teenage son comes and finds you in the garden with a very worried look on his face and says:

"Mum, I honestly don't know how this has happened, but..."

Nothing good is going to complete this sentence! What I actually got was:

"... my snake seems to have got out of the tank and I can't find him anywhere!"

Since we have no parseltongued, glass tank vanishing Harry Potters in the house, it was pretty clear to me that this had happened because someone had not closed up said tank completely when feeding said snake the night before. But that wasn't a lot of help. Upon going up to inspect the scene of the crime, I realised that losing a snake in Theo's room, even though it is quite a large snake (well over a metre in length) was a complete nightmare. There were countless nooks and crannies where it could have been hiding in amongst all the debris. Feeling a bit daunted by searching in there, I thought I'd have a quick check of the neighbouring rooms - Sam's and Venetia's - and it only took a glance in both of them to realise it would be even more of a nightmare if the snake had slithered off to explore in either of those. So, Theo and I tried to think like a snake on the loose, and happily, after about half an hour of tidying/searching in Theo's room we discovered the snake under his sofa, hiding beneath all the scrap paper etc that was also under there. It took probably another half an hour or so to chase it around the room before we finally caught it and got it safely back in the tank - that snake is fast and can squeeze into pretty tight spaces! So, really, in hindsight our snake on the loose adventure could have been a lot worse, particularly since it had obviously escaped the night before - although none of us are afraid of snakes (especially this one which is a completely harmless corn snake), I think it might have been a pretty terrifying experience to wake up in the middle of the night to find an unexpected snake slithering across your face in the dark!

4) Still no groove found with posting photos, so a catch up here of a recent expedition with Sam. A very, beautiful, tucked away cove. After a short walk through some woods, it was a hefty drop of 240 steps down to the beach (and yes, I did count them - on the way back up!)

Catching glimpses on the way down.

For anyone local, this is Broadsands, between Combe Martin and Ilfracombe. It was a really lovely place for a swim.

Not a baking hot, sunny day, but perfect water conditions to swim out to some of the rocks, surrounded by deep water, and safely jump in. And in fact it was our first swim in the rain for the year, which always feels a slightly magical thing to do. 

We had the beach to ourselves the whole time, apart from a few visitors who arrived, and then left, by canoe. I did feel, at the start of our trek back up the steps (many of them very steep and uneven - so not great for young children), that canoe was definitely the best way to reach this beach!

But, even going on foot, it was definitely worth the effort. And happily someone had positioned a bench conveniently at the top of the steps!

5) Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, and many different forms. I think young children are often the best to explore these many, many forms. They don't have preconceived ideas of what is an acceptable expression of their creativity. And if we can embrace and encourage their creativity, without trying to impose our own preconceived ideas and boundaries upon it, I'm sure they can teach us a lot.   We were lucky enough to have a fresh, new art installation created in our house at the weekend...

It took quite a bit of thought and some careful positioning to get just the right effect. Happily, since although it was very impressive and I loved it there were some health and safety implications here, it turned out to be just a temporary art installation!