24 November 2011

Arts and crafts (and a beautiful building in the middle of London)

It's been a busy week for our little team at work. So when the boss suggested a couple of us visited a 'house' down the road that had just opened to the public, we jumped at the chance to have a proper lunch break and a wander outside.
Two Temple Place
Two Temple Place has been in private ownership for over 100 years, and has just recently been opened to the public, along with an exhibition of publically owned art from across the country - starting with William Morris: Story, Memory, Myth.

The works of art have been loaned from the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, which is currently undergoing £5m renovation. There's wallpaper, tiles, stained glass, and a lot of tapestry - massive panels of hand stitched embroidery, made by the ladies of the house (not 2 Temple Place, another house, and I can't remember their names, other than the daughter was called Florence). They're amazing, large swathes of loveliness. The tones of the threads used and the direction of the stitches creates an amazing effect. It took everything I had not to reach out and touch them. And the wallpaper... wow! It never fails to astound me how those patterns are created. There are examples of finished rolls, but also works in progress and planned works, showing the intricate details of the initial designs.

The building itself is beautiful enough for a visit, even without the William Morris exhibition. Built for William Waldorf Astor (of Waldorf Hotel fame) in 1895, it's been through various private owners since then and has only been opened up to the public for the past month. There's a little information in one of the rooms about the history of the building, including bomb damage in 1944 (since restored). It's a good fit with the theme of the William Morris exhibition. There's lots of friezes, carvings and statues of characters from fiction, including Shakespearean characters, and the Three Musketeers (this inevitably led to a hushed chorus of 'da-da-da da-da-da', as we thought about Dogtanian).

No photos were allowed, but more information is available on their website. And it's free to get in, so pop round when you're next in the area! Definitely a good way to spend a lunchtime.

1 November 2011

52 sleeps!

Yes, I know it's only just November, but those of us who plan to have a crafty Christmas have been thinking about the 'C' word for a good few months now.

Most of my plans are around decorations, including some Christmas bunting and fabric wreaths. I got the   materials last year but never got around to making them, so I'm determined to get them finished by early December.

For the first time I'll also be participating in Crafty Christmas Club, set up by the lovely Tilly.  Pop over and have a look if you fancy seeing what people are planning on making for Christmas (presents, food and decorations). Unless you're expecting to get a present from me. In which case don't - you'll only ruin the surprise!!

Oh, and crochet at the Make Lounge was brilliant. I loved it so much that I've already signed up for the follow up course, and I've a new skill which I've already put to good use...

...the Mollie Makes apple jacket. Although I have the magazine I used the pattern that was reproduced on the Guardian website. And if you fancy a laugh - read the comments. Honestly, if they put as much effort into crafting as they do commenting, well, they could probably have mastered the apple jacket pattern by now!

17 October 2011

New craft on the block

I'm going to the Make Lounge tonight to learn how to crochet.


It was a birthday present from the boy. He didn't have a list of potential presents this year, as I wanted a surprise. The boy did good.

Double yay.

I've been trying to teach myself crochet for ages. I've felt like I should be able to do it. But it's annoyed me that no matter what I read, or however many YouTube tutorials I watch, I still can't get the hang of it, and the patterns remain a foreign language.

The closest my crochet hook usually gets to yarn is picking up dropped stitches in my knitting.

So I'm really looking forward to tonight's class. And then I saw this in Saturday's Guardian magazine.

Now firstly, crochet is (apparently) going to be the cool craft this winter. But secondly, IRONIC?! How dare they! Very disappointing given how much coverage they give to crafts.

So it seems that with crafting, I'm simultaneously cool and a dork. 

16 October 2011

We interrupt our regular programming with...

... a Gin off!

I do love a good drink. Generally it's a vodka and tonic, on a girls night out it's a cocktail (cosmopolitan or caipirinha, thanks for asking), and there's usually a bottle of bubbles around on a girls weekend.

But then I spotted a link to making your own gin on Twitter (through @Craft, I think), which was seized upon by one of my real life twitter friends.

We have competition history, me and Mrs R. We started the bake off at work together, so a gin off seemed a perfectly natural thing to do.

So last week I headed down to South Wimbledon to be the independent judge in the gin off. Mrs R and three of her friends had been hard at it making their own gins, and all were lined up and numbered by the time I arrived, so I didn't know who had made which one.

The contenders

I was hoping to be like Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, but I was probably a bit more Mel and Sue.

We tried every gin neat (with an ice cube), and then with tonic water.
All marked up and ready to drink
Line 'em up
And it was only fair that we compare them to some 'proper' gins - Bombay Sapphire and Whitley Neill. I'd never had Whitley Neill before, but it's very nice.
The 'control' gins: Bombay Sapphire and Whitley Neill
My (very rudimentary) understanding of the process is that the botanicals used in the process influenced the final colour of the gins. As they weren't distilled, they were never going to end up clear like the Bombay Sapphire or Whitley Neill, but that was to be expected.

After the neat gins, we tried them with tonic.
Gins with tonic
Ice and a slice?
And then lined them up in order of preference, both neat and with tonic.
Scores on the doors
As you can (just about) see from the scores, judges were split and favourites differed when tasted neat and with tonic. Two of the gins had been flavoured with rosewater, and this was just too fragrant for me when neat, but a really nice drink when tonic was added. Actually, I'd drink all of them with tonic (I've never been a big fan of neat spirits).

Mrs R was an excellent host, and provided us with canapes and nibbles, and an abundance of cheese. I promise we ate more than just cheese with fruit (it's just that this is the only food I got a picture of, honest).

Mmmmm, nibbles
And in case you were wondered what was added to the basic vodka to make such wonderful drinks, well, here you go: 
  1. Rosewater, cardamon pods, juniper and black pepper
  2. Rosewater, cinnamon, cloves, orange and lemon peel, and juniper
  3. Juniper and coriander seeds, cinnamon and lemon thyme
  4. Juniper, green cardamon, black cardamon, black pepper, lemon peel, cloves and angelica.
Gin 4 was victorious, and I think all were agreed the angelica was the winning addition. It was a bit of a plus point that this was made by the host. 

5 September 2011

Pattern love

We had a bit of a clear out at home the other week, so I took a load of no longer wanted but perfectly good items down to my local charity shop.

The smart thing to do, since part of the reason for the clear out was a lack of space, was to exit as soon as I dropped the bags. But no. A little voice inside me said I needed to have a look around.

And so it was that I stumbled across two piles of vintage (or just old) sewing patterns.

This was the first time I'd come across sewing patterns in a charity shop, so I went through the piles twice, just to make sure I didn't miss something. Well, the first time I checked the sizes for something that might actually fit, and the second time for a pattern that I might love but may need a bit of adjustment.

 And so I came away with these two beauties.

This Simplicity pattern (from 1977) is for short and long skirts and cullottes. I've been avoiding buying skirts for ages, as I thought I already had quite a lot in my wardrobe. Turns out I was wrong, so I'll attempt the short skirt (left hand side drawing) at some point.

Simplicity 8248

And how amazing is this 1974 Halston design from McCalls? At first I though it was nightwear, but turns out this is (apparently) the kind of thing people wore during the day time in the 1970s. I still think it'll make great PJs (is that a heretical thing to say about a pattern from the great Halston?).

McCalls 4264

I might have bought more, but there were no prices on any of them so I didn't want to get carried away. Turns out they were £3.99 each. I have no idea if this is a great deal, or whether I've been had, but as the money went to charity I'm not too bothered if it's the latter.

I'm also in danger of getting a stash of Colette patterns. The Crepe dress pattern is ready and waiting for me, but I've been distracted by the new Peony dress pattern. 

Colette Peony dress

There's also a new blouse (jasmine) and the first trouser (Clover) patterns from Colette (you can get a sneak peak of all three on the Coletterie blog), but I'm also eagerly awaiting the Colette sewing handbook, due for release in November.

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But first I've got the V1179 to start on. I fell in love with this pattern as soon as Karen mentioned it on her blog. I've banned myself from buying any more dresses, but this is quite similar to items already in my wardrobe and will be just right for work layered up with a long sleeved tee and tights for the winter.

V1179 dress

I'm hoping the fact that it's only three pieces to sew together will help me get my clothes making mojo back after the fitting issues with the V1992 and V8554. Plus it'll be my first chance to properly test out my overlocker - always a bonus!

2 August 2011

Mid-year sewing resolutions

I am the queen of procrastination. Usually this lends itself to starting new sewing projects when I should be doing something else (mostly cleaning), but occasionally it leads to a stray unfinished objects or indecision.

So, in an attempt to turn these into, well, finished objects, I am publicly declaring the following mid-year sewing resolutions in the hope that the fear of being shamed in the blogosphere will make me sort it out.

Resolution no. 1 - finish my baby quilt

I made this in a class (well, 3 classes) at The Make Lounge. It's a really cute lap/cot quilt (which will be a lap quilt, given the absence of a cot in our flat!), and enjoyed making it so much I would dearly love to do some more quilting. I'm planning on making a quilt for our bed at some point, but before I do that I really should finish this one.

The classes were well over a year ago, and I finished tying in the loose ends around November. All that's left to do is bind the edges.

Resolution no. 2 - find something to do with these fabrics

A recent acquisition, I couldn't resist buying these when I spotted them in the Oxfam shop on Edgeware Road - £4.99 for around 3.5m each! Now I just have to figure out what to do with them. They both have quite a large pattern, so wouldn't work for make up bags, but might work for tote bags. Or I could use them for some clothing - they're quite thick cotton, so probably not suitable for tops, but could make interesting skirts.

Oh you pretty things
Resolution no.3 - finish dresses (and rediscover my clothes making mojo)

These dresses have been hanging on my wardrobe for well over a year now. I really should finish them.

I started the V1192 in the hope that it would be ready for my cousin's wedding. In August. Last year.

It was. But despite making a muslin, it doesn't quite fit right which led to last minute panic buying. I think it just needs a bit of tweaking somewhere around the shoulders, which hopefully will sort out that sagging bit at the top (although it does look a lot shorter than I remember - might have to try to let the hem down a bit).

I started the V8554 even earlier than that. The top half fits (I think), but there's way too much fabric at the bottom. It's gathered around the waistband, but it puffs out resembling a limp tutu. Not a good, or even flattering, look. So I need to unpick the skirt, cut off some of the fabric at the seams, gather it again, sew it back onto the waistband and add a zip. Easy!

I seem to be stuck at a bit of an impasse with dressmaking. Despite buying the pendrell blouse and crepe dress patterns, I'm yet to even think about making muslins, let alone pick out proper fabric for the finished makes. I'm not certain it's due to lack of time - probably more not wanting to solve more fitting problems. So I hope that finishing these two dresses will push me to want to start on these new patterns.

And the grey patterned fabric you can just see in those pictures, leads me to...

Resolution no. 4 - making blinds and curtains

Me and the boy spent a loooooong time trying to pick some fabric for curtains in our bedroom. This one is probably our favourite so far, but it is quite dark. I'm planning on also making some roman blinds in plain white, which should lighten it up a bit, but the paint we want to use is quite a dark grey (although lovely), so we're a bit concerned that it'll be too much.

I do like the Sanderson Dandelion Clock fabric though - not sure I can justify the extra expense of this fabric, but I might try anyway!

Despite listing these last, they're probably the one's I'll have to do first. We're having our windows repaired in a couple of weeks, and I think we'll have to take down the existing blinds so I better get a wriggle on.

In the immortal words of The Doors - the time to hesitate is through.

27 July 2011

The one where I actually do something

So after weeks months of procrastination, I've finally designed my business cards. Spurred on by Moo's offer of free stickers for Etsy followers on Twitter, I quickly designed some round stickers, which although cute looked nothing like what I had originally planned for my business cards and branding.

My new Moo round stickers
Given that I'd designed them in a bit of a hurry I wasn't sure how good they'd be, but I loved them as soon as they arrived - so much so I completely ignored previous ideas for the business cards and followed the same theme. I've been waiting impatiently for business cards, mini cards and return address labels to turn up (what can I say, I was one of those kids that bought new stationery right at the start of the summer holidays!), and had a massive smile on my face when these turned up today.

Yeah, Helen, open me quickly...
A veritable rainbow of business cards
Ooh look, mini cards
I do love Moo's branding. They've captured a playfulness on their website but that also extends to their email communications and packaging. The mini cards came with their own baggage info.

I've also (finally) set up a Facebook page for Josie and May (it's almost embarrassing how long it's taken my to sort all this out, given that my day job is dealing with websites and social media), and I'm slowly adding pictures of past makes. As a result, I'm getting a few custom orders so I've been busy making new reversible bags. I love this one so much I'm tempted to keep it for myself, but I think I'll end up buying some more fabric for another one.

Nautical reversible bag - ahoy sailor!
This weekend I'm planning on making more make up bags and taking decent photographs so that I can add them to my Etsy store before a self-imposed sewing lock down, where I will be entertaining in-laws and decorating the bedroom (not at the same time). Well, at least until the time comes to make the curtains.

26 June 2011

When all else fails, bake.

The last couple of weeks months have been unusually hectic. Having finished a major project at work, I thought I'd have more time to do stuff. But life has caught me out, and it's only now I've been able to have a bit of an indulgent break and do what I want. Yes, there's a pile of ironing to do, but it can wait a few days longer. Besides, I should be at Glastonbury trying to find the Strumpets with Crumpets van (surely the best named food van ever - I wish we'd stumbled across them before Sunday last year), and no ironing gets done at Glasto.

Baking has definitely suffered as a result of this lack of time. I love baking, but things seem to have just got in the way of me doing more recently. I did make Pimms cupcakes for my friend's birthday a couple of weeks ago, but having to bake to a deadline seems to take some of the pleasure out of it (although everyone seemed to like them).

Pimms cupcakes, with strawberry, orange and cucumber icing.

So yesterday I set out early (well, for a Saturday) to pick up a few things to make the spiced apple cake from the excellent Spooning with Rosie.  Me and the boy have made quite a few recipes from this book, and not one have failed. (It pains me that Rosie's deli is only down the road in Brixton, and I am yet to venture there. I must rectify this, and soon.)

Ready to go in the oven.

I've made this cake a couple of times now. The first time I used wholewheat flour as I couldn't find any buckwheat flour as called for in the recipe. How much difference can it make, I though? Turns out a lot - it's a much better cake with the buckwheat flour, so do try to find it if you can.

Nom nom nom.

It's not a fancy pants cake. You probably could jazz up a slice and serve it as desert after dinner, but really it's a cake destined to be enjoyed with a cuppa. So tonight I'm going to settle down in front of the telly, stick the Big British Castle's coverage of Glasto on, crack on with some knitting, and eat a slice between rows. Because everything seems better when there's cake.

25 May 2011

I made a shade (and I like it)

I tend to think of myself as a self taught crafter, but in reality I've had a bit of help on the way.  This has mostly been in the form of The Make Lounge, a lovely space in north London which offers a variety of workshops. I've tried quite a few, and learnt something in all of them, but last week's workshop on making a lampshade was brilliant.

I've harboured a desire to make my own lampshade ever since the first series of Kirstie's Homemade Home. I'm not going to say she made it look easy (she didn't, otherwise I would have tried it at home ages ago!), but I like a challenge. And I've been struggling to find the perfect lampshade for the living room - now shadeless for nearly a year - so I jumped at the chance to learn a new skill when the classes were announced.

The teacher explained everything simply, and all of us seemed to follow the process well enough. It's actually quite a methodical process, so next time I make one (and there will be a next time!), I feel confident that it'll look just as good.

Confession time - I'm a bad blogger, and forgot to take my camera. Worry not though - I have a picture of my finished lampshade. Ta da!

Ok, so it hasn't quite made it near a light fitting yet, but look at it. The stripes aren't wonky! I even challenged the boy to find the seam, and he struggled. I think that's a success. And just look at the rolled finish. I'm beginning to see why lampshades cost so much - all that rolling takes it out of a girls hand. Even so, I can't wait to do it all over again.

14 April 2011

You never forget your first sale

I sold my first make up bag yesterday - it seems those colleagues who said my bags were good and they'd want to buy one weren't lying!

My first sale was a small make up bag made in Amy Butler fabrics (Daisy chain in clematis and lined with Belle oxford stripe) - ta da!

What's that? Why yes, it is a Josie and May label! How lovely of you to notice!

It never ceases to amaze me how popular the outer fabric is amongst my friends. It's brown, I keep thinking, who'd want that? But clearly I did - I bought it for a reason!

I have another order for a larger make up bag using the same fabric combinations from another work colleague, and I plan on working out a pattern for a make up brush wrap, so that'll keep me busy over the weekend.

I can't wait to make more and sell them on Etsy. It's been good practice, forcing me to make sure the stitching is as close to perfect as I can get, rather than thinking that it'll do as it's only for me.

It also gave me an opportunity to try out wrapping ideas. I love opening those purchases you make online only to discover the seller has made a bit of an effort in sending it to you. I had planned on having sorted out the Josie and May colours by now, and also have some moo mini cards to use, but those work/life scales have been tipped firmly towards work in the last couple of months and those were the things that could wait. Fortunately I love wrapping presents, so have quite a stash of tissue paper and ribbon. It was the perfect excuse to use the stitch-effect ribbon I picked up when I visited Wyken Vineyards just before Christmas (we spent so much time at the farmers market and in the shop that we forgot to actually look around the vineyard - oops).

I knew it was bought as a present for a family member, so I included a little gift tag she can write a message on and stick on before passing on (if it had been for her to keep, I would have written out the tag myself).

So now I'm recovering from all of the excitement, and preparing for a weekend spent in front of the sewing machine. Lovely.

27 March 2011

Procrastinator is my middle name

Today was supposed to be spent tidying.

I'm not very good at tidying.

I get easily distracted by things like reading old magazines. The very ones I'm supposed to be putting in the recycling. This does not please the boy.

Today's tidying involved being near the sewing machine I've hardly had the time to look at, let alone use recently.

Next to it, my camera.

I couldn't resist the urge to make this little thing.

I used a tutorial from Photojojo, which was quick and easy (and relatively mess-free) - all straight lines, and it just slips over the strap that came with the camera. And I got to use the pinking shears I got for Christmas for the first time - bonus!

So I no longer have to look at the boring black strap with the massive logo in the middle. But I do still have to tidy up.

26 February 2011

The talented amateur

You know that bit in the X-factor, when the auditionees are asked why they are there, and they say 'My friends tell me I'm good'? Well I've been struggling with that recently. How do you know when the things you make, which friends and family say are really good and that you should sell them, are actually, well, good enough to sell?

The answer is, get networking! I booked a place on the Stylist networking event for starting up your own craft business pretty much as soon as I read about it. Mostly for the chance to hear about the things you need to think about that I probably haven't yet thought about. The panel were a good mix of women, and the comments from Donna Wilson in particular helped me concentrate on where I want to go with my crafting.

But what was invaluable was meeting the other networkers. My last minute decision to take a couple of bags with me to show people paid off. The women I spoke to were really complimentary about them, which helped confirm that there probably is space in the market which my bags are good enough to fill, but they also gave me lots of suggestions for designs and (probably without knowing it) pushed me to think about where I want to go with it. I'd been happy about just selling them online, but when someone says they have contacts at big London department stores, well... it certainly makes you reconsider! Now I just have to act on it (easy, right?).

This blog won't be solely about the business. It'll probably cover my attempts at dressmaking and domestic goddess-ery too. And I'll be sharing it all with you lucky guys.