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Secret birthday project #1: The Test Card quilt

26 Feb

We spent a lovely day at my parents yesterday, and I got to give dad his birthday presents.

Last year I asked dad for his old work shirts, to make him a quilt. It was just before his birthday and I hadn’t finished my first quilt yet, so I knew I wouldn’t get it done in time. I stuck them in the bottom of the airing cupboard and almost forgot they were there.

Fastforward to a few weeks ago, when my quilting bug struck again, and I found them while digging through fabric for my Village Cricket quilt (for some reason, quilts have to have names in this house).

It seemed rather self indulgent to be making a quilt for me, when I still hadn’t started dad’s so I bit the bullet.

Once I’d cut up the shirts into usable fabric pieces I thought might work together I laid them out, thinking they could be a Log Cabin design (not all of these are his shirts btw).

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But I wanted to make a ‘man’ quilt, and this arrangement seemed too fiddly and fussy for dad.

Instead, I settled on a plan of 7in wide squares and rectangles, in a random layout. To break it up a bit I made some 7in square(ish) blocks out of swatches from Deckchair Stripes.

This is what they looked like, nested in the gingham bag they came in. Love it!

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I bought a whole pack for £15, which I thought was a bargain for 60 strips, and used about a fifth of them, settling on blues, with a few bright colours.

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They’re all named after sports. Darts was my favourite.
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A lot of the swatches were wonky, so I did some evening up, being very fussy about squaring off the shapes.

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Which left me with this little pretty pile.

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Then I sewed them into threes.

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And cut them into squares.

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The blocks took an afternoon, but were perfect for the bright zings of colour the quilt needed, among the grey, black and dark red check of dad’s shirts.

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Then I laid it out, and pieced it in a couple of evenings. And here it is. (Well, the top anyway)

I’ve not finished the quilting yet (luckily, dad is the patient type). I’m using bright blue embroidery thread (DMC 995), again, to add a flash of colour.

It reminded me of the BBC Test Card (although when I looked it up, I thought, not so much actually).

The quilt is backed with a soft flannel sheet so it’s ultra snuggly, and once again, the wadding is good old Bamboo Blend.

He seemed to like it. Yay!

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Heritage in a box frame…

1 Feb

Thanks so much for all your lovely words about nana’s sewing box. The frame arrived this week and so I have started playing around with what’s going in it.

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I got quite a small frame so that everything is quite tightly packed in, much like it was in the Cadbury’s tin where so much of this resided for so long. I’ve been arranging and rearranging all these treasures in the tin lid as the dimensions are so similar.

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The crochet cotton was a little tangled, so I rewound the last few metres back onto the cardboard spool more neatly. That felt a bit strange, but nana was pretty tidy so I think she would have wanted everything to look its best.

I didn’t realise until now that some of the silk thread is really fine. Not embroidery thread at all I think, but for stitching up evening gowns perhaps. It’s also taken me this long to notice that some of the colours we love are the same – the teals and soft greens. That feels good.

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I do need to work out how to get everything to stay put, having not framed this kind of stuff before, so if this is your forte, I’d be grateful for any tips!

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I’ll be back with the finished piece soon…

Vintage sewing thread: Heritage in a box

18 Jan

A  couple of years ago my mum gave me a box full of vintage stuff which was kind of hard to open. It was my nana’s old sewing supplies.

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When nana died and my family cleared out her tiny house, they found scraps of fabric no bigger than 1cm square, hoarded away ‘just in case’ – a mindset leftover from the two world wars she lived through.

We couldn’t keep all of it, and yet, mum didn’t let the thread go. Originally there were two boxes that she gave me, both smelling musty and in an absolute jumble. So I took a deep breath and put my ruthless hat on, getting rid of anything plastic, anything that was just too tangled and unuseable.

I kept the real vintage stuff. Embroidery silk wrapped so neatly onto cardboard tubes, 10 yards on each…

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Wooden spools of thread, including the ‘Patent Glace’ cord that shines like a midnight thoroughbred…

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Scraps of paper she’d wound her leftover thread around – a Christmas card that talked of rationing…

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A letter about ‘terms’ in old money, I think from a landlady…

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What looks like the cover ripped off a ration book, entitled ‘The Week’s Food’…

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A shred of newspaper advertising emergency beds and reporting a bombing in Bucharest, with German troops putting out the blaze, in the tiniest type.

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And more. A ball of ecru crochet cotton…

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Darning silk in tan and pink and brown, plaited together and tied with a green bow…

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Linen carpet thread and silk for mending hosiery…

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I cannot spend long looking at some of these things. To know that she touched them but she is gone is sometimes too much. I open the box and tears come, even after all this time.

But her spirit  is in there, among all this vintage haberdashery and scrappy paper and so, as part of my constant quest to make the best of what I have, and only keep things that are truly beautiful or useful, I am going to make a little display of it all, instead of keeping these fragments of her history shut up in their Cadbury’s biscuit tin.

I found a box frame, and it should be here in a couple of weeks. so I’ll show you how it turns out then. Ttfn.

Last minute presents…

24 Dec

Peppermint creams – 2 cups icing sugar, 1 whisked egg white, 2tsp peppermint essence, green colouring if you like them minty looking too. Roll out using icing sugar for dusting, cut out  (lovely cutters from Kitchens) , and leave to dry for a few hours.

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Mince pies – half a cup of butter, cup of plain flour, pinch of salt, juice and zest of an orange for the pastry. Leave at least 2 hours in the fridge before rolling and cutting out. Just 15 minutes in a medium oven.

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Gingerbread trees. Cut out stars of different sizes from gingerbread dough (secret ingredients – dark brown sugar and black pepper). Layer up using plain icing as glue and leave to dry.

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Ice with thin green icing and add silver baubles. Leave to dry again before dusting with icing sugar and edible glitter.

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Covers and ribbons on the preserves!

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And that’s it!

Happy Christmas everyone! I do hope yours is absolutely wonderful xxx

Crafty ways to speed up your Christmas countdown

21 Dec

Yes, I like to make stuff at Christmas. I like to give homemade presents. I like to cook for people.

But it helps to have a production line mentality. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t put any thought into what you make or give. More that big batches of gifts allow you to make things more quickly, and be more generous at the same time.

Stephanie Dosen’s brilliant Heartfelt Rings are just lovely, and take less than half an hour from start to finish. So I’ve made at least ten (here are just a few of them).

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Lots of pretty presents to go around, each one slightly different, but made with an identical process that’s easy to memorise and do on auto-pilot while watching Elf for the ninth time.

Eierzucker biscuits take considerably longer…

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You make the dough (icing sugar, eggs and flavouring – in this case lemon zest) and then rest it overnight, roll it out painstakingly (otherwise you will be finding icing sugar in your hair WEEKS later) and leave for another 24 hours to dry, before finally putting the moulded shapes into the oven.

They taste good when you make them, but even better after a couple of weeks (they keep practically forever in a tin). So you make a lot in one go. In this case, 36. They’re such a sweet treat you wouldn’t give away more than two or three per person, so that’s at least a dozen people with a sugary smile on their faces (unless you ‘don’t like sugar’ in which case, you are banned).

Chutney and jam are the same. You make lots, but weeks or months in advance. Come Christmas it’s just a question of labels and covers. I made these in September, so fingers crossed, they’ll taste good now.

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People keep asking me if I’ve ‘done everything’ or if I’m feeling ‘stressed about Christmas’. Honestly. it’s no on both counts. I’ve still got plenty to make with just a few days to go.  But doing lots in advance, and in big batches takes the pressure off, and makes Christmas crafting fun.

Joy to your world! What are you making today?

Homemade Christmas countdown!

1 Dec

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OK, it’s officially December, so at last I am allowed to say the C word. Hurrah!

Last Christmas was the best I’ve had since I was a kid. Because I got to see it through the eyes of my then 2 and a half year old daughter. It was the first Christmas she really started to register what was going on and it reminded me how much fun it is supposed to be. Hurrah!

The fairy outfit and Russian dolls she got on Christmas morning probably helped get things going…

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And there was a lot of festive baking to be done too.

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This year I suspect will be the last before we get the many years of sleepless Christmas Eves, so we are going to treasure every single speck of it.

I’ve been making and giving homemade presents at Christmas since I was a teenager. It started at uni when I had no money, and each year I make more and buy less. The trick is finding pressies that don’t take weeks to create (unless you have oodles of spare time) – otherwise you are swapping the stress of The Shops with sitting up ’til 2am on Christmas Eve finishing socks (been there).

I can’t talk about all of what I’m up to as some of the intended recipients read this blog, but there will definitely be chutney, jam, scarves, biscuits, cakes and more. I’ll talk you through as much of it as I can.

I’ve also got some decorations to sew for the tree, so over the next few weeks, I’ll occasionally pop up with one of those too. There are some great festive makes out there in the interwebs, and Christmas is all about giving, so why not try these for a start…

Candy Cane playdough

Cookie Cutter ornaments

Fabric ‘paper’ chains

OK, let the countdown begin!

Vintage tartan for a steal

30 Nov

I do love a charity shop bargain, but this may just be my find of the year – a length of proper tartan which dates from about 1969 I think, found in pristine condition at St Peter’s Hospice (our local shop are celebrating their 30th anniversary today. Happy birthday lovelies!)

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I’ve seen skirt lengths like this before, but this is the first one I felt compelled to buy, as it was a mere £1.25. Which is an absolute steal for about 1.4m of good quality wool cloth.

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As stated on the nifty hanger label, it includes a leaflet about a making up service for ‘ladies who do not make their own skirts’ (shock horror). You can have a fully lined skirt tailored to your specific measurements, for £2.25. Something tells me that leaflet’s not going to work any more…

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There is also a form to join a sewing club inside. These are making a resurgence these days, which is a marvellous thing.

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I suspect this bit of Old Mcdonald tartan will become a cushion cover rather than a skirt, as it’s not quite enough to make a kilt (as I’d originally hoped) – I wouldn’t be able to get enough pleats out of it. But given that it’s immaculate after 40 years it should last a good while.

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I’ve been a bit obsessed with tartan recently, and have been experimenting with weaving on a small loom – my scarf (below left) is the result, but I’m going to try for something a bit more authentic next time. Och aye, indeed.

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While I was shooting this, Storm managed to crawl under the bed and get herself stuck, so I had to break off to extricate her…

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Stand by tomorrow for the first of lots of lovely festive posts! Yes, it’s nearly time to say the C word!