Year of Projects

I’m signed back up to Year of Projects on Ravelry, here’s the link:

My recovery wrap is underway. We stopped at the yarn shop on the way back from having the stitches out, it felt suitably special for my first venture post op into a building that wasn’t either home or hospital. That day my new Chiaogoo needle cable arrived too (it lasted a day before one of the cats neatly bit through the outer coating but that’s another story). It took me three attempt to get the right length tail to cast on with. I picked it up the next morning, re-counted, and realised that I’d cast on the DK number of stitches rather than the worsted number. Still, ripping out is quicker than redoing. I’m now up to row 30 (further on than the pictures show) and my strategy of picking a pattern with no increases/decreases or lacework is paying dividends. The chart-reading is presenting just enough of a mental challenge to my brain at the moment.

Yarn is Erika Knight Wild Wool in colourway Dawdle, a pinky brown. It’s 85% wool and 15% stinging nettle. This is a blend that I appreciated, seeing as how I have now vaulted into the menopause. It’s soft, springy and very easy to knit with. It doesn’t sting, either.

My plan is to do some knitting every day during my recovery. It’s a brilliant pretext for stretching out on the sofa by the upstairs window and watching the world go by. The weather is due to start clearing up in the day or two which means that I can finally get outside and start walking daily, I have missed fresh air so much. I start on 10 minutes and build from there, so still plenty of time for knitting.



Hello, it’s been a while…

In 2015 I started a degree course in photography, by distance learning and gradually stopped finding time to craft. My Juki’s been waiting at least a year for me to get a relatively simple repair done. I’ve knitted a few hats, but honestly we had enough. There have been a couple of epic gauge-related fails too…  I think the last one I made was a Pussy Hat, which was not a fail. All the beautiful clothes that I made for the girl (who’s now nearly 11!) are now either in a memory box or given to a very good friend for another life with her daughters. The photography course is going really well and I take every chance to combine textiles with my work. I’m starting to exhibit work, and am currently working on a theory module. I’m also gigging occasionally with my tenor sax in a blues/jazz quartet.

Life passes you a big red reset button every once in a while. I’m writing this 6 days after a full hysterectomy via keyhole surgery. I’m ok with that – my periods were erratic, long and relentlessly heavy, my PMT hideous and my belly bloated with fibroids. Our family is complete.  I was able to do a “trial menopause” last year and as a result am now on hrt that I am very happy with. Resting on the sofa this week, under my Babette blanket, thinking about how best to fill the next six weeks, two weeks, week, weekend, made me think that it’s time to knit again. Tomorrow the wound stitches come out and it’s time to make some stitches of my own again. Back onto Ravelry, and I’ve selected the Jared Flood Guernsey Wrap from my library. It’s not lace and has no increases or decreases so is suitable for my post-anaesthetic brain, and the inevitable frogging will be straightforward. It will allow me to buy something lovely from the local yarn shop, I quite fancy the Erica Knight Wild Wool with its surprise payload of nettle fibre. It will allow me to make something to mark this transition in my life, in the same way that I cherish and love (and regularly wear) the shawls that I made when the girl started school, and the tiny wonky jumper that I made for her when I was pregnant. Knitting seems to be how I process change, and it’s time to engage with that process again and see what happens.

There will be updates. Hope you’re all well.

Kermit the frock (By Hand London Anna)

Finally, it’s done. The pattern is the By Hand London Anna dress gifted to me by my sister, the fabric is a green bubble cotton bought from Stone Fabrics last year. It feels like a cross between seersucker and broderie anglaise and looks green, as green as mushy peas with extra saturation. Bold and bright, this frock is the complete opposite to most of my summer tea-dresses and I love it for that.

You might recall that I had a falling out with this project last autumn and mothballed it. This week however I decided that a half-finished frock in a bag was no good to woman nor beast in a hot June, and decided to sort out its issues and sort them out fast.

Issue 1 – I should have stay stitched the neckline and facing. The instructions don’t tell you to do this, but listen hard and you can hear a Greek chorus of Anna makers on the internet muttering that the neckline needs stay stitching. I didn’t do so, and attaching the neckline consequently gave me all kinds of grief. The finished neckline is a little wavy, which I think means that it would have benefitted from a lightweight interfacing attached to the facing (also not in the pattern). I had to rip out my understitching twice and clip extensively to get it to behave. I wound up topstitching the dress to the facing and I’ve never done that before. Next time, and surprisingly enough there will be a next time, I shall do the slash neckline rather than the v-neck and probably interface it too, or else line the bodice. I suspect there’s a good reason you don’t see many v-neck Annas on t’interweb. Issue 2 – this is completely my error – I managed to find the one flaw in the fabric and position it on the centre front skirt panel. Considering the amount of time I spent trying to differentiate right from wrong side I’m actually almost impressed that I managed to do so. It’s not really that visible, although it was all I could see last autumn. Anyway, I spent a few hours this week sorting out the facing, hemming, and finishing a few details and hey presto, a new green dress. I followed the pattern instructions for the hem – 1.5cm pressed under, then the same again. This length just grazes my knees and I’m 5 ft 5 – I think the maxi version is rather more generous in length.

Let’s look at the plusses, of which there are many. The pattern is clear and straightforward to follow and is well supported by sewalongs and blog posts on the internet. The dress sewed up very easily indeed (apart from the facing, natch). The many long seams were easily neatened with the overlocker. Instructions included the genius idea of hemming the sleeve edges before joining the bodice seams. I wish I’d done this on my Simplicity 1666 dresses. It has my first ever invisible zip, which is ok, if tending more towards the discreet rather than the completely invisible. I didn’t enjoy doing it much but it was nothing compared to the facing trauma. The fabric is perfect, light and easy to sew and such an unusual texture and colour (though it was unusually difficult to find matching thread and zip).

The really great plus though is The Fit (capitalised because it’s awesome). I made a straight size 14, in real life I’m a top-heavy vanity-sized 12. No alterations, though I could probably do with lowering the under-bust pleats just a smidge, once I work out how to do it (I think just stopping the stitching an inch or so short of the top of the pleat should do the trick). It’s simply the most comfortable woven dress I’ve ever made and it’s a really flattering shape too. As soon as I finished the (quick and dirty machine stitched) hem it felt like a dress that I’ve owned forever. The bodice stays nicely fitted over the bust, the sleeves allow free movement, the waist just skims over mine and the skirt is flared and non-restrictive. The kimono sleeves which I thought might be a bit top heavy (see the pictures) are fine and delicate in wear. I think this would be a great dress to wear on the bike. I’m going to make another, in red linen with the slash neckline. Watch this space….

Do I need an overlocker?

This question popped up in my Twitter feed yesterday (thanks @pansipotter999) and after talking her out of, then into one, I was reminded that I wanted to write a blog post on this subject. I did a lot of searches on this myself last year. So let’s talk about it, now that my wee beastie’s been here for the best part of a year. I sew for a hobby – if you sew for a living you’ll probably have different requirements to me. Kit wise I use a Singer 14SH754 overlocker and a Juki Exceed F300 sewing machine.

First off, an overlocker cannot replace a sewing machine. It cannot do a simple line of straight stitches, it can’t do buttonholes (not even badly) and it has no bobbins. It does, however neaten edges beautifully and can be used for sewing and neatening seams in one quick and noisy operation. The perceived wisdom is that an overlocker is great for sewing stretch fabrics. Well yes, it can be, but you may find, as I did, that the stretch stitches on your normal sewing machine are perfectly up to the job. Equally, many normal sewing machines have an overcast or overlock stitch. I didn’t have a lot of success with the one on mine (i.e. massive clunks and tangles, I’m sure it was operator error but I haven’t been tempted to try again now I have the Singer).

Next up – to get best use of an overlocker you ideally need to have it out, set up and accessible every time you sew. Otherwise you end up like me with your overlocker stashed away under your sewing table always having to lift it up and down depending on which machine the next sewing process requires.

Thread and set up. Before I had the wee beastie I would buy anywhere between 1 and 3 reels of Gutermann per project, wind a bobbin, and off I went. Using the overlocker means that I need to thread it with 3 or 4 threads, in addition to any threads needed on the Juki. I use Coats Moon reels that I order online. I have a set of colours ranging from neutrals through to pinks and blues through to navy and black. Ideally I keep a generic set of colours threaded on the overlocker at all times – they need to be ones that will work with most of my fabrics whilst being subtly different enough that I can tell them apart when troubleshooting. At the moment I’m working on a blue/ivory silk mix dress and have threaded with white, cream and palest pink. The thing that takes the time is threading so choose carefully to save time later.

Setting up. There is no way I can sugar-coat this one – threading an overlocker is definitely an acquired skill and you will need the manual/dvd/tweezers for your machine the first few times. It will take a while to do, as well. I believe there are such things as easy-thread air-assisted machines – they were out of my budget. You have 2 looper threads which go through the innards of the machine, and two needle threads which are straightforward in comparison. My Singer has (mostly) colour-coded thread guides and the only part that causes me trouble is one guide that has to be found by faith and touch, and even that gets easier once you know where it is. You can always thread an overlocker by just cutting the old threads and knotting on the old ones then pulling though. It’s worth learning to do it right though, sometimes re-threading from scratch is the best trouble-shooter there is. Once you’ve learned it’s there for good.

What’s it like to use? It is a gloriously mechanical piece of kit and a massive contrast to my Juki. The Juki purrs, this is whizzing metal and blades in a very Heath Robinson way. The Juki has all the innards tucked away, my Singers innards are fully displayed during threading and troubleshooting. I have found mine reassuringly difficult to break, despite a vast range of user error. I think the only thing that will stop play is overlocking over a pin. Thinking back, I have attempted overlocking with the presser foot up, with the needles not inserted, with all the right looper threads in all the wrong places, partly threaded, one guide missed in the threading…. There was never anything more to fix than a huge tangle. I have used it to neaten many seams on woven cottons and the silk/cotton gingham and to make four circle skirts for carnival out of a shiny Ebay polyester satin. There were several unexpected bonuses with using it for the skirts – neatly finished edges without miles of hemming, the ability to make fishing line hems without risking nylon line getting caught in my Juki and the sheer speed of the thing. I only used my Juki to attach the elastic to the waists, and I think I could have done that with the overlocker too. Oddly, I haven’t made anything stretch yet. It took a while to learn the best stitch to use and I still need to decide if I prefer to work with sharp or ball point needles. Plus, I am smitten with the stretch stitches on my Juki. I will use it for the next stretch project though, which will be a dress for Small Girl. I still sew woven seams on the Juki – I can measure the seam allowance better and it’s easier to unpick a simple straight stitch if anything goes wrong. Unpicking overlocking is interesting.

So, rounding up the cons – you need space, time, persistence and lots of thread. It’s not an intuitive machine to thread, and the time to set up will inevitably claw back much of the time you save in the making, at least in the early days. Mine is quite picky about needles, and John Lewis is the only place I’ve found that stocks the recommended needle. On the plus side though – you get beautifully neatened seams in a lot less time than it takes using any other method and without filling your main machine up with lint. It’s good for sewing knits, though I’ve yet to demonstrate that on a garment scale. It does have many other uses too – rolled hems, flatlocked seams, gathering via a differential feed….. all things I haven’t tried yet. So you probably don’t need one, especially if you have a sewing machine with a decent stretch stitch and overlock stitch. On the other hand, I didn’t pay over the odds for mine (£150 on special offer from Lidl). It’s definitely at the cheaper end of overlockers, but it works and has a guarantee and good phone support so I’m happy with it. I think that if you normally neaten seams, do any kind of “quick & dirty” sewing or work with knits, then an overlocker is definitely worth a try. It’s clearly not an essential (neither is my car, microwave or hair straighteners…) but useful just the same.

What’s new, pussycats?

As Sir Tom might have sung, had he been a blogger. Let’s see…. First off, massive Thanks to everyone who provided such great pattern suggestions in response to my last post. My current project is to get better acquainted with my overlocker, then I will be cracking on with some gorgeous dresses and shorts.

I have three finished projects to blog about today – two jersey dresses and a scarf.

First up, the Mission Maxi dress by Jamie Christina. I made the view with the ethereal, trailing godet at the back, using the same magenta/black striped rayon jersey that I used for Small Girl’s Mavis leggings. Clearly I had lazy floaty weekends at home in mind for this dress rather than the school run (a maxi dress with a godet is a bit like a wedding dress, in practicality terms). Anyway. I loved the pattern. It was very easy and quick to use. The size I cut is the perfect fit on top and waist, if a little loose on the hips so I’ll grade that section down a bit next time. It was the proverbial piece of cake to sew. The only small glitch I had was not getting the point of the godet quite right, but it’s good enough and can be fixed when it annoys me enough. I also stupidly left the godet piece hanging over a chair back overnight, so it grew a couple of inches due to the bias resulting in an uneven hem. Fixed with scissors. The neckband was done differently to any other I’d done but worked perfectly and is a method I’ll definitely use on other projects. I sewed the dress with the stretch stitches on my Juki, and I haven’t hemmed it but will trim it. I’m planning on another one but minus the godet and with a very slightly raised neckline. This was one of those projects that has you looking at the finished item in bewilderment, thinking that it really can’t be finished already, can it?

Next, the world’s brightest Hello Kitty dress. Pattern was Simplicity 1435, the view without sleeves and with a two-tier skirt. Fabric was a cotton/elastane single jersey from Stone Fabrics. I had a lot of reservations about sewing this dress. The pattern and the fabric were both pretty “busy”. Getting started wasn’t easy because the cutting layout required a single layer of fabric and mindful of my Mission experience I didn’t want fabric hanging off the sides of tables. @Pansipotter999 on Twitter came to my assistance and suggested placing paper on the carpet first to provide a smooth layer to work from. Result. Then there were problems finding and keeping a straight fabric edge so I could get the pattern pieces placed on the grain. I applied my “near enough is good enough”, “she’ll outgrow it soon anyway” and “it’s only sewing” mantras and did my best. Once it was cut out the pieces seemed to fly together. Again, I was using the Juki although I think an overlocker would have been a marginally better choice in a couple of places. I didn’t love the neckband method on this one so much, if I made it again I’d use the Mission method. Anyway, other than adding a red bow to the shoulder or neckline, the dress is done and the girl properly loves it. Thank heavens. It’s still dress-shaped too so hopefully I got the grain right.

Finally, the scarf that I’ve been knitting for my sister is cast off and ready to post. Hopefully she won’t need it for a few months yet but you never know. The scarf is lovely – made in Malabrigos Merino Worsted – and has been adored by everyone who’s seen it. It’s knitted in a “mistake” rib and is gorgeously soft and scrunchy. The pattern is the “scrunchable scarf” on Ravelry and I worked with 38 stitches, slipping the first stitch of each row purl-wise and knitting the last stitch of each row. I now get the bonus for finishing, which is deciding what to cast on next. Hope you’re all well, and thanks again for all your comments on my last post.

Lovely soft warm scarf

Lovely soft warm scarf

Desperately seeking unfussy knit patterns for kids

I think it started with Tilly’s lovely Coco dress for grown-ups. Or it might have been the summer Boden frocks, though I could do without the applique. Or possibly the need to replace some M&S gorgeous heavy jersey board-style shorts in a broad pink/white stripe that Small Girl cherishes and has out-grown. Whatever it was, it wasn’t helped by the gorgeous striped organic cotton jersey at Village Haberdashery (right).

I need clean-cut, unfussy patterns for a t-shirt dress and drawstring or elasticated waist long shorts, all for knit fabric, for a six year old. This is proving difficult. I don’t want puffed sleeves, yokes, zips, shirring, gathers, frills or ruffles. I don’t want spaghetti straps, bodices, wraps, faux-wraps or belts. I don’t want a fly front or turn-ups on the shorts. I want a simple A-line dress with short sleeves. Something that the girl can get into and out of on her own and that I can sew up in a heartbeat. She has enough with the frills and trims already, what she needs is easy summer stretchy simplicity.

It shouldn’t be that hard to find such patterns, should it? The ease of wear and laundering of a good stretch fabric lends itself to simplicity of garment design and such a pattern would be great for new-ish dress-makers. An A-line t-shirt dress has to be a classic surely, or does Boden really have the monopoly on design here?

Yet the pattern world is letting me down, the big 4 and indies alike. Even my 12 month stack of Burdastyle can’t deliver. Prove me wrong please, point me to your tried and trusted childrens knit patterns so that I don’t have to scour E-Bay for a cheap Boden frock to take the seam-ripper to. Or I might have to learn pattern drafting, or wait for Tilly to launch a childrens range. Please and Thank you J

All done bar the crinkling.

The Things That Matter quilt is pieced, backed, trimmed, quilted, bound and labelled. The girl secured her Gold Mathletics award whilst I was sewing the label on today and promptly reminded me that I was in breach of our agreement. So the quilt was handed over, and tomorrow I shall sneakily wash and dry it while she’s at school. It’s looking very one-dimensional at present and really needs that lived in, loved, and laundered crinkle. So I shall be washing it at a slightly higher temperature than I feel comfortable with, and will tumble it regardless of how much of a good drying day it might be outside. What’s needed here is a bit of shrinkage.

What follows is a whistlestop tour of its production. I started at the end of January, if memory serves me right, and it’s all but done today 17th March.

Making the top. I used 34 fabrics for the piecing, about six of which were in my stash, the remainder were shiny new fat quarters. Yes, I probably have enough left to make a cot size quilt in stripes. Yes, you surely could do it with rather fewer fabrics. I followed the quiltingdad wonky log cabin tutorial and it worked pretty well for me.

WP_003387Sashing presented a couple of issues for me. Firstly, I made a rooky geometry error and ended up with half my strips being too short. Luckily the shop had a scant metre of fabric left on the bolt and I could buy a rescue from my own stupidity. Secondly, once each 12.5” square was sashed, it become too big to trim to size using my square ruler. So there was a lot of squaring and swearing at the cutting mat on the kitchen table as I wore grooves into the cutting mat and wore out the blade on my rotary cutter.

WP_003463 (1)Making the wadding “sandwich” and tacking all three layers together took much, much longer than I’d expected. Sewing it to the living room rug didn’t help. The effort paid off though. My wadding is bamboo, as I think natural fibres are safer for children’s bedding. The backing fabric, chosen by Small Girl, is Robert Kaufman Spot On Extra Wide in Aqua, which had the glorious advantage of being wide enough for me to cut the whole piece sideways. Thanks go to my parents who generously paid for wadding and fabric, and to my mother’s Good Housekeeping Encyclopaedia of Needlecrafts which guided me through the long process of getting the three layers ready to quilt, and the hand-quilting itself. I used an entire small reel of tacking thread before I even started quilting.

Quilting was by hand, and very minimal. The wadding specified stitching no further apart than 8”, I quilted the centre square of each panel, a larger square a couple of rounds out, and up and down the entire grid of sashing. There was enough going on in the quilt-top without adding in a lot of ambitious machine quilting. I used Guterman Sulky thread, in various shades of pink and cream.

WP_003510Binding was more straightforward than I’d anticipated. I don’t have a link for a tutorial for making the binding but there are plenty out there. I used left over 2.5” and 3” fabric strips, trimmed them to 2.25” and made double-fold binding. The strips were cut on the straight grain and I joined them diagonally to reduce bulk and stress. Then I folded the 5.5metres of pink ribbon in half lengthwise, right sides out, and pressed it. Finally I rolled it up, which was a mistake (the binding twisted as I worked it). I found a great video on ShinyHappyWorld for binding the quilt and followed it to the letter. I have mitred corners!

WP_003521Labelling was fun. I love the look of the ticker tape quilts, where edges are left unfinished, and wanted to use this idea for my labels. Being somewhat of a control freak cautious by nature, my version of “unfinished” turned out to be a machine embroidered border with an outer pinked edge, and back-stitching being used to secure the labels. On the right hand top corner is a rogue fairy, and who doesn’t need a rogue fairy under their quilt to encourage sweet dreams? This was my tiny gesture towards a pieced back. The label proper is on the bottom left hand corner. The WP_003522quote is from Debi Gilori’s book “No Matter What”. I’m also going to attach a “Stitched with Love” label that I won over at GrosgrainGreen ‘s Sew Grateful giveaway, but I need to wash the quilt before I can tell where to sew that one.