Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Crochet Lessons in Perserverance

I'm being taught a lesson in perserverance by Venetia at the moment. For a long time I've liked the idea of being able to crochet, I love brightly coloured crocheted blankets and accessories, I've even tried a couple of times to learn how to crochet, but I've never quite got to grips with it.

A couple of weeks ago Venetia decided that she would like to learn how to crochet. She found a few tutorials on YouTube and sat in front of them working out how to do it with her hook and wool. After a couple of hours practising she came to me frustrated with her progress, her stitches still coming slowly and unevenly. I praised what she'd managed so far and told her that with almost any new skill lots of practice is required before the skill is even close to being mastered. And I gave her lots of positive encouragement to carry on practising, telling her I was sure she'd start seeing big improvements if she did keep trying. Off she went again and she kept at it, here and there over the next few days. And gradually she did find a rhythm with it, her stitches started to look really good and she became much more confident and speedy with it. Once she'd got the hang of her basic chain stitch, she branched out a bit. With every new variation she tried she struggled for a while initially, but she's kept going and is doing brilliantly with it.

Here are her first completed attempts at Granny Squares:

And then she worked out how to change colour:

In one of her squares she used quite fluffy, thick wool (very technical term!) and ended up with a larger square which didn't match, so she's decided to keep going round on this particular one:

She's really excited because two of her teachers (one at school and one at ballet) are pregnant, and she's thinking a crocheted baby blanket for each would be very doable. So her plan is to make one with lots of the small squares, and to keep building up her larger square for the other one until it's baby blanket size.

Her enthusiasm and success encouraged me to give it another try too. I've spent a good few hours over this last week hooking together a chain, then pulling it apart and trying again and again. I'm not even beyond getting passably even stitches in a single line, never mind building it up further. And my hands and fingers feel awkward and clumsy still in my efforts. It feels exactly like my previous attempts when I gave it up in frustration, deciding crochet obviously just wasn't my craft. And right now I would love to give it up again. But there's one difference this time around. This time around I have Venetia smiling kindly at me (as her hook flashes away seemingly effortlessly!), and telling me that it just takes a bit more practice, and that if I keep going I'll definitely get the hang of it! Grrrrrrrrr!


Monday, 28 March 2016

Vintage Yoyo Hair Band

I recently bought a bag of silk and chiffon scraps in a Charity Shop. They were crying out to be used to create another hair band to add to the planned Christmas present hamper of hair accessories. I'm not sure whether the scraps are old or not, but they have that kind of look and feel to them, and to complement this I thought 'yoyos' with some vintage buttons would work well.

I did persuade Maria to model it for me, but she wasn't overly enthusiastic at being photographed so not the happiest face ever! 

And I got a second hanging fabric basket finished for the storage side of the present. (Find the first one, with links to tutorials, back here.)

If you look closely, you'll see where I had a slight accident on it with my rotary cutter! Maybe I need to make another butterfly to hide it a bit better!

I added an extra layer of wadding to this one and it keeps its structure just well enough, even when hanging, to avoid the front pleat I had to add to the first one.

I know it's Easter, but it's also 'Ho, ho, ho and on we sew' time of the month, so I'm linking up again, over at Pesky Life this month. The year is whizzing by so fast, you'll soon be wishing you'd got your Christmas crafting already started!

Hope you've had a wonderful Easter weekend too though,


Saturday, 19 March 2016

Small, hanging, patchwork fabric basket.

After some thought about the storage side of my mini hamper of hair accessories gift, I decided that what Venetia really needed was some sort of hanging storage for all her bits and pieces, and that this needed to be in the small space in her room between her mirror and the door - since this is where she stands and does her hair. Something hanging so conveniently right there is hopefully going to help her keep it all tidy, and avoid hair clips and bands being scattered all over the house! Once this decision was made, I didn't have a whole lot of scope for what to make, since it really is quite a narrow space.

I decided on a hanging, fabric basket. I had a look at this 1 Hour Fabric Basket tutoial on Craftsy. It's basically very similar to the one featured on Crazy Mom Quilts a couple of weeks ago, just with different sizing. So I used this method, but with my own sizing requirements, and instead of adding side handles I put in 3 small tabs at the back for the hanging element.

It was all looking perfect and holding its shape pretty well, but then I realised that holding its shape whilst sitting neatly on the table next to me would be quite different to holding its shape when hanging on a wall from those back tabs. It was obvious that as soon as I put it into a hanging position it would gape forward badly.

I added some extra, emergency 'quilting lines' to try and strengthen the structure, and tried a bit (quite a lot in fact!) of spray starch, but clearly it was still going to gape. So I sewed in a very basic pleat at the front, and that did the trick well enough.

It was then crying out for a fabric origami butterfly to be sewn over the pleat.

And my plan is to insert a nice stick, or piece of driftwood, in the tabs at the back, screw a couple of largeish hooks into the wall and hang the stick on the hooks. So it will look like this, imagine the hooks...

And here it is in the space it will eventually hang, happily it does fit nicely!

But I think she could do with another one underneath, so there's room in each for a quick rummage without anything spilling out, and so she can fit in her life saving 'tangle tease' and maybe some detangling spray! I can go for the same again, adding the pleat to avoid the gaping forward, but has anyone got a better idea for a design?

Linking up with Crazy Mom Quilts again this week. Have a great weekend.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

Take 5

1) We've been really lucky with the weather for the past week. The end of last week and the weekend were particularly lovely, with even a reasonable warmth in the sunshine - though don't get me wrong, it's not balmy yet! But it did mean that swimming season has officially begun! Spurred on by the fact that Venetia was off on a residential trip with school at the end of last week and, as part of that, spent an hour or so body boarding in the sea, the boys were keen to also get back in the salt water.

Although Maria most definitely did not want to swim, she did manage to get completely soaked!

Hard to see but there's a little head bobbing around in the sea on the left hand side that belongs to Theo.

The rock pools weren't really any warmer than the sea!

Although there's no photographic evidence (happily!), I swam as well, and without a wet suit, so I get all the plaudits for bravery/craziness please! It might be the earliest in the year that I've ever been in the water, and it was really cold, but it was also gorgeous, and it felt amazing to be back in the sea. (And twelve crabs found in the rock pools, so the girls were very happy too!)

2) As well as swimming season, we're now definitely back into gardening season. I was extremely excited to see 'Gardeners' World' returning to our screens on Friday evenings - which the rest of my family found quite sad! And I've been out there making plans and getting grubby fingernails lots already.

There's not too much looking 'pretty' out there yet (other than masses of snowdrops, primroses, and daffodils of course - I could have taken lots of very pretty photos of them if I'd thought to!), but here are a few of the patches I've been working on. This first one is going to be a strawberry bed soon...

It's an old wooden 'shelter' which was once in use to store very large calor gas cylinders. We haven't used calor gas in the house for years so this shelter was lying around redundant. Once I'd cleared an area for it, it didn't take a lot of adapting to turn it into a planting bed. I'm hoping the strawberries will be very happy there!

I was incredibly extravagant the other day and treated myself to a new, posh wheelbarrow.

See that big orange ball that's there in place of a wheel? It makes it unbelievably manoeuvrable and is apparently impossible to puncture! (I haven't told either of the boys this fact, that could be fatal!). Of course it could be that this wheelbarrow just feels amazing in comparison to my old one...

Here's a close up of the wheel - it wasn't overly manoeuvrable!

But, once I've drilled a few drainage holes, it will become a wonderful planter - I haven't decided whether I'll put herbs in it, or maybe a small selection of lettuces to be right next to the back door - so I don't have to go off on an expedition if I decide to make a last minute salad to go with the tea.

A few other 'bargain' plants have found homes recently too, there was a fig tree hiding up behind the new wheelbarrow in a huge tyre, and here are a couple of honeyberries newly planted.

I'd not heard of these before so it will be really interesting to see what they're like.

My broad beans and white onions are doing pretty well.

But my red onions completely disappeared, they must have been much tastier than the white. And I've also had problems with pests eating my purple sprouting broccoli and the garlic I planted. We have had some smallish black flies lurking around the soil in various area, and lots of jumping grubs on and just below the surface of the soil. I think they may be Fungus gnats, and I have a bad feeling that they may be my pests. Does anyone have any experience of these and, if so, is there a super effective way to deal with them?

3) A recipe for you. This is one of our favourite cookie recipes, and the one Venetia requested I make for her to take off on her trip last week.

Chocolate Chip Orange Cookies
175g butter (softened)
75g icing sugar (sieved)
225g self raising flour
The grated zest of 1 orange
60g plain chocolate chips

Beat, or blend, together the butter, icing sugar and orange zest, add the flour and combine thoroughly. Mix in the chocolate chips (make sure you do this by hand). Form the dough into a ball, cover and refrigerate for an hour. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about half a cm, and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Arrange on a lightly greased tray and bake at 180C/350F for approx 10 mins. You want to get these out when just golden, don't let them brown at all, and they will harden up as they cool. They are melt in the mouth moreish!

4) There has been some sewing going on too. Another pair of slippers for a friend...

Find the pattern at BigLittle on Etsy.
I experimented a bit with the flowers to go on there. The finished violets have hand embroidered centres, but I had first tried a machine embroidered version. It wasn't quite the look I wanted to work with the slippers, and, even more to the point, the dense machine embroidery made the flower quite rigid in the centre and I think it would have been uncomfortable to kneel down in slippers with it on. So the reject violet became a decoration for a hair bobble for Venetia's planned hair accessories Christmas hamper.

5) Speaking of which, a couple more flowers have been made to decorate clips/bobbles.

These 2 are very straightforward. A long, thin strip of fabric, folded over to double it up on the shallow width, wrong sides together - iron it down and then sew along the fold to secure it. Then cut out even 'bumps' like so...

Tapering one end to be narrower for the centre of the flower and leaving the other end a smooth petal shape.

Machine sew along this new wavy edge to secure it (leaving it raw edged). Then just roll up your flower carefully from the narrow end, securing it with some regular hand stitching as you go. I think it works well to coil it quite tightly in the centre initially, and then to leave it a little looser and maybe add a few pinched gathers as you get nearer the other end for the outer petals. Keep putting in a hand stitch or two to hold it all in place. And then I finished it off by hand stitching a 'circle' of green wool on to the base.

All done. The pink one is now on a hair band and the smaller yellow one on a clip.

I've been working on a 'basket' for the storage side of this present too, but it's not quite finished yet. Have you got any favourite fabric flower making methods or other hair accessories you've made which have worked well?


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Sunshine Pojagi

We've been enjoying some lovely, sunny weather recently. Cold, frosty mornings with beautiful blue skies, and sunshine which has a surprising warmth to it for this time of year. And this has given us some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Theo has caught a few for me on camera (he got a new, fancy camera fairly recently with Christmas/birthday money and long-hoarded savings).

All this sunshine has prompted me to have a play with our painted fabric from the other week. I've been experimenting a bit with 'pojagi' recently - a Korean style of patchwork (read a bit more about it on Wikipedia here or try here with an option to then view lots of gorgeous examples from an exhibition!). Pojagi is traditionally hand stitched with extremely neat seams (sort of French seams) which mean that it can be displayed either way and is very effective with light shining through it. So it seemed perfect for the painted, muslin fabric with a sunshine theme. And I found this tutorial by The Silly BooDilly very helpful - especially as it's for machine sewing!

My original Pojagi expeimenting was fairly precise, with nice, simple shapes and I got on pretty well with it. This time though, I was much more relaxed with my cutting and didn't really have any particular plan in mind when I started - and this approach definitely made it much harder to get my seams good and neat!

This was my first attempt.

I wasn't mad keen on the end result and tried again.

After struggling with those seams, especially the slightly curved seams, I'd say both look deceptively simple! But I definitely prefer number 2, and it's currently hanging in my bathroom window looking lovely when the sun shines through it.

Have you ever tried Pojagi yourself? And if so, have you any good tips to pass on?

Linking up with Crazy Mom Quilts again today, have a great weekend,


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Patchwork Glasses

So it was just under a year ago that I started wearing reading glasses. I found it quite a depressing experience and also a slight struggle to get used to the practical aspect of wearing them initially. Well, in just under a year I've gone from only slightly needing them, and sometimes skipping wearing them, to being almost incapable of reading small print without them. More depressing than ever! Nobody told me that as soon as you do start wearing glasses your eyes quickly become completely reliant on them and your unaided sight deteriorates so much more rapidly. Definitely lessons to be learned there with other body parts!

I have another eye test booked for next week because I'm pretty sure it's now more than just being dependent on the reading glasses I have. Using a screen and hand sewing have become a definite strain on my eyes too. So in an effort to reconcile myself with this new sad state of affairs I finally finished up the mini quilt I started last year when first trying to adjust to said glasses.

The text came from a poem, Desiderata, which you can find here on Wikipedia. I am trying hard to be completely convinced by my words from last year:

"These lines seemed very appropriate to me at the time. And although they don't completely dissolve my dislike of ageing, I do definitely feel that I'm wiser, more mature and confident in myself, a more balanced person than when I was a spring chicken, so perhaps the need for reading glasses (as well as numerous other physical signs!) is a reasonable trade off for my accumulated wisdom and experience!"

I wrote more about how I go about printing on fabric back then too. I did warn in that post that my printing does not lead to colour fast results, so is only useful when you won't be washing your item. Sadly I didn't heed my own warning sufficiently carefully, not quite enough accumulated wisdom and experience! I had used a water soluble pen to doodle a few lines on to the fabric to follow when starting the quilting. And just the tiniest amount of water to rinse off the pen also set my ink running.

I wasn't feeling the love with this project enough to start again from scratch, so I just reprinted my words, cut them out and sewed them over the smudged mess.

After all, give it another year or two and everything will look like a blurry mess anyway!
The glasses themselves are made from patchworked fabric, lots of very small scraps in shades of green. And I think there's definitely a gap in the market for real patchwork spectacle frames. That would make the whole situation much more bearable! Glasses cases come, or can be made, in all kinds of patterns/fabrics/designs but the glasses themselves are just not quite there yet.

So wish me luck for next week with round 2 at the Opticians!