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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

"R" is for Romper

Phew. Kids Clothes Week is over. Time to step away from the sewing machine.

I had a busy week, but got loads of things sewn up. Fitting it all in amongst family life meant there was no chance to look at all the gorgeous stuff other people were making though, so I'll no doubt enjoy peeking in the next few days.

I think (although may change my mind with the weather) this was my favourite make of the week. Perhaps because it was the first time I'd made baby clothes, and used this pattern, and I do love the challenge of making something new.

Or, could it be that I used the last of the two metres of super scooter fabric I'd bought from KitschyCoo. Here's a reminder of what the fabric was originally intended for...

Coco Dress
...and the other bonus item I made out of the leftovers...

Flashback Skinny Tee (into a dress)
The dress I made for the biggest girl sparked off a not inconsiderable amount of sibling jealousy, by the way. Scooters are popular around here, so it turns out. Anyhow, moving on. The romper.

Sorry to start on a low, but, it needs to be said. Putting poppers on the romper was a major PAIN, and easily took me as long to do as the entire sewing process. Picture the scene - me heaving my whole body weight down onto the pliers, hoping the plastic poppers would fuse together. By the end of the sorry process, I had got it down to a 50% success rate. There was quite a pile of duff popper halves awaiting the bin by the end. If anyone reading this has some tips on poppers, then I would love to hear from you (rather than accepting it is just me being either inept or a weakling - or both, hee, hee).

Onto the positives. I really liked the pattern. It comes from Sewing for Boys . I bought this a couple of years ago, when I was researching potential patterns to use on my sewing courses (still got a couple of spaces on the new Coco ones, by the way). There are quite a few patterns that are totally unisex, and so, in the run up to KCW, I had a flick through and came across the romper one.

 I adjusted the pattern in a few ways. I lengthened the sleeves and legs. I tweaked the instructions so that the seams were enclosed, rather than raw edges everywhere. I just thought this would look better with the printed jersey I planned on using. And then, as the romper started to come together, I decided to add cuffs. I'm really pleased with how this worked out. If anyone is interested, I'll happily post some detailed instructions on how I did this bit.

And so now, I think I have come up with something home made for the baby of the family that I want to make again so that it can be a regular feature of her day to day clothing. I like babies in clothes like this. Dresses are cute (and don't have stooopid poppers, and so less effort I now realise), but rompers are more comfortable and practical for a baby who is on the brink of moving about the place (although it would be so much more convenient for me if she held off doing that for another year or so until she has better listening skills and can understand basic principles such as don't wash your hands in the toilet basin, and so on).

Those who know me in real life, might have picked up on the hubby's teasing about Charlotte being behind Prince George on the developmental stakes. He was born a week or so after her. I am open minded about her marrying someone slightly younger, so if his parents are reading this, then how about an old fashioned betrothal, no? Any way, despite this fact, last week, whilst on his first official engagement at a play group (love that, by the way), he was observed crawling and cruising. Needless to say, our backward baby can do neither of these things yet.

Charlotte at nine months
But, she can clap! And she got her first tooth last week. Oh, and is extremely beautiful and adorable in every way. So all is not lost. The girl deserves a home made romper to smear rusks all over.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mini Me and the Sewing Bee

Coco dresses and mini versions (using Flashback Skinny Tee)

Okay, okay. I know I said I would hold off writing things here until Kids Clothes Week was over.

But, is anyone else feeling sad that the Great British Sewing Bee is over? Look away now if you haven't had chance to watch the final yet.

Once again, those producers have succeeded in opening my eyes to another thing I'd like to make at home. A silk tie. I haven't sewn anything for my hubby before, but maybe this might be the thing I try doing. I felt sorry for poor Chinelo - I would not have liked to try and understand those complicated instructions under the pressure of timed conditions either. But the challenge of focusing on the neat constructions of one small thing, and making those hand stitched parts look truly beautiful when I have tonnes of time to spend on it really appeals. And I'd really enjoy guilt free shopping for some silk to make it with, knowing it was for someone special. And choosing lining to contrast - I'd like that bit too!

So, another new sewing challenge to add to the list.

On the vintage coat front, I read Tilly's review of the second GBSB book, and have spotted that the mustard coat Tamara made features in it. I'll definitely be cheekily having a poke through the book next time I'm in town, and maybe buying it now.

As for the final challenge. Wow. I sat watching them all, already with an inkling of who I thought was going to win. As the dresses started to reach completion, I knew Heather would win. Chinelo's dress was the one I would dream of wearing. And maybe, given enough time and practise, the one I could imagine myself making. But, Heather's skill and finished garment was just in another league from the other two, don't you think? It looked absolutely exquisite - it would be impressive for any amateur to make something like that, but to do so under such pressure was just brilliant. I thought the way she handled those metres and metres of organza and the way it draped was sheer perfection. I loved Patrick's comment about budget when he listened to Heather list the quantities of fabrics she planned on using. (Here's the clip if you missed it and want to know what I'm going on about.) And the bodice. Oh, my. And that detachable bustle, too. Wow. A well deserved win.

So, the final challenge is certainly not something I'll be attempting at home any time soon. Although it has been a great lesson in the art of the possible. Maybe by the time I have had the 30 sewing years experience Heather has had, I will be ready to whip up a wedding dress for one (or all four!) of my daughters. Now there is a task worthy of pulling out all stops.

For the time being, my little girls are happy with my current level of sewing ability. In their little world, I am super sewing mummy, who is like the Sewing Bee contestants. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

And, in their world, dressing so you match your mummy is COOL.

I have indulged them. And I am not even sorry.

Look away if you don't like Julie Andrews. (I love her, and the Sound of Music remains my favourite film. Enough said.)

This summer, there will be some matching mummy and daughter action going on when we're on our holidays in Devon. I will hold judgement on whether I'm going to allow it to happen closer to home. I might bump into people, you know. What will probably start happening, is I will deliberately get dressed after them (to avoid matching mummy and daughter), and, whichever daughter owns the dress that matches the one I am wearing, will rush upstairs and change into hers. I can still remember the matching sheep and hills jumpers me and my mum had when I was little, and how much I loved it when she wore hers at the same time as me. So maybe I should put my cringes aside and let them have their fun.

Grown up Cocos and mini versions for daughter #1 (scooters) and daughter #2 (spots)

For now, the washing line like this makes me smile without suppressing any cringes. And, I got both the mini dresses out of the leftover jersey from the 2 metres I'd bought for my own original versions. Bonus. In my head, that counts as free clothing for my children.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Kids' Clothes Week

Hello again. I hope you've had a good weekend.

I'm lying on the sofa, feeling rather full after one too many Yorkshire puddings with my Sunday night roast, and pondering the fact Kids' Clothes Week is about to begin.

The basic idea is you commit to spend an hour a day towards sewing up some clothes for your kids, and enjoy having an admiring/nosy look at what other mums are sewing for their offspring. This is something I've taken part in a couple of times before, although not for a year or so.

It's mainly the biggest girl and the baby who need clothes. The other two have recently had things handed down to them (the benefits of having all girls) and their drawers are now full to bursting.

The biggest girl (correctly) informs me she only possesses one short sleeved t shirt, so I'll be making her some of those. I've just ordered some plain cotton interlock from here for these. Readers, you have my word that I am going resist all temptation to pimp up the makes. The brief is to stick to basic t shirts with no fancy business whatsoever. Easier to make, and they will go with everything and restrict the amount of crazy clashing combinations of clothes that get worn out in public. Don't get me wrong - it's not that I am aiming for my children to look all catalogue like with perfect coordinating outfits. Just not looking like they have pulled things from a jumble pile would be nice.

So, t shirts. And, to go with the t shirts, the girl needs a couple of pairs of shorts, too. These I will allow some embellishments, and will be guided by the girl as to what they should be. And possibly some leggings. All good, practical things for going to the park and climbing trees in. Depending on how the t shirts go, I may try a simple jersey dress - using the same pattern, just extending it down a bit.

The baby has a few handed down things (including a couple of me made printed cotton dresses I am looking forward to putting her in) ready to go for the summer, but needs some new clothes. Not that much has survived her three big sisters! So, with this in mind, I have just ordered some pliers for putting poppers into clothes. Yes, I am feeling brave - there might be a home made romper suit or two. We'll see. Now that she is getting to an age where she is in one size for longer, there seems a bit more point in trying to make her a few things. And I have the fun of a new sewing gadget to look forward to.

So, that's the ambitious list for home made clothes for my girls. I am not intending to make all of the above in the next week (particularly as free time is in short supply now the school holidays have started and I am busy teaching my courses in the evenings), but it'll be a nice kick start.

At the time of typing, I have some intentions of getting up early and doing my hour before the rest of the house wakes. I know myself well enough that this is a bold statement I will laugh at in a week from now. To maximise sewing time, this will be my last post until next weekend - I'll be tracking my progress on Twitter, and would love some tweets from you with pictures of your own makes, if you're doing KCW too.

To kick start things, here's a couple of dresses I made a week or so ago - part in preparation for teaching a course on them, and part because they remain the biggest girl's pattern of choice for dresses. It's the trusty New Look 6016, just adjusted to make room for a seven year old. Isn't the fabric ace? I got it from Fabric Rehab, although my local shop (Fabric World, by the bus station, for the benefit of Bedford readers) sells it too.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Vegetable Patch of Glass (aka Gertie)

I've decided that my plot outside needs a shorter title. And, for some unknown reason, is in fact female. Since `she' has had quite a facelift over recent weeks - all visible sign of broken jars and bottles having been lovingly removed, and, beauty cream applied (one tonne of top soil and ten bags of very smelly special mushroom mould manure the bloke from the nursery convinced me to buy) - I want a name that will reflect her hopeful future (which will be both pretty and fruitful) and not her sordid past.

Three sackfuls of dirty broken glass
It has been a big day for Gertie. Everyone wants a piece of her. The middle girl has bestowed upon her the precious nasturtium seedlings she has been tending to. The biggest girl has planted her lupins right in her middle. And, the littlest big girl has plans to rehouse her sunflowers with her tomorrow. I have gotten in on the act too - raspberries, sweetcorn, onions and shallots, carrots and marigolds are just the beginnings of the things Gertie has had to find room for. 

 Tomorrow, potatoes, beans and tomatoes will be added to the list, along with anything else we think of until Gertie is full. 

For some of the time while this was going on, the baby of the family sat on top of the soil (on her play mat) and watched it all happen as she banged her plastic cups together in a happy way. When she started to get bored, I stretched her out with the offer of a rusk to eat/smear over herself and her clothes. Lucky she can't crawl, or else she might have found her own snacks to eat by reaching for a worm or handful of soil.

One member of the watering team, checking her charges aren't feeling thirsty since the last time they were given water (half an hour earlier)
I'll be honest, and admit that I am not really sure what I'm doing. But it is proving to be fun. In fact, I found myself feeling unexpectedly happy during the glass removal process. And just now, I couldn't help myself in planting my first ever carrot seeds. I hope they grow!

I'll be back in a couple of weeks with an update on Gertie's progress. In the meantime, I'm going to leave you with a picture of one beautiful thing from the garden.

Pear tree blossom
Do you have a garden? And if you do, what sort of a gardener are you? If any of you happen to be secret Monty Dons and have some top tips for a novice gardener like me, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The fun of learning new things

As I type, the middle girl is having her first piano lesson in the room next door. With the rest of us in the front room, is the piano teacher's son, who will, for the sake of this post be called Giant Baby. He is only a couple of months older than Charlotte, and yet has about six teeth (give or take), tons of hair, can crawl and stand up, and is about twice her size. (Charlotte, if you were my first child, the presence of this little chap would be making me feel seriously insecure about your developmental milestones by now. Just saying.)

The middle girl wearing (yes you guessed it) her newly acquired mini Coco
Now, where was I? Oh yes, the fun of learning new things. Both the older two are about to start learning to play the piano (in a bid from me to stop them thumping on and ruining the one we have). They have been so excited! In fact, they were due to start lessons last week. But, due to an unfortunately timed sick bug, in which I was vomiting in one room as my hubby opened the door to the piano teacher, it got postponed until today. Incidentally, there was no "Oh, poor Mummy," type concern from my darling daughters, but more of open hostility towards me for being ill at such an inconvenient time to them. 

Jo's pocket
The fun of learning new things is not restricted to children. At my Kitchen Table Sewing lessons this week, I've had two classes learning to make dresses for little girls. We're following New Look 6016, although with a couple of pattern adjustments, such as the pleated pocket above. I know my Monday night ladies won't mind me telling you how gleeful they were that they had learned how to make sweet little pockets.

One of the things I like about sewing is that there is always something new to learn.

For me, I have had just been having my own sewing induced fun learning to make bound button holes. (I will make that vintage coat one day... this is step one in acquiring the skills I need to do it justice.) It took me three attempts to get it right - if Patrick were to look at this final one (oh, the thought of that...) he would find errors in it - but I think I have nailed the method. I just need to practise more so I can get a neater result.

I have Karen of Did You Make That? to thank for this new piece of knowledge. Until I came across her e-book, bound button holes seemed to me like some kind of magic trick only to be performed by the super elite of the sewing world. She has written totally detailed instructions, with pictures, making it all easy to follow, for the considerably reasonable price of £2 (I say this, because, as someone who spent time putting together teaching resources in my day job before children, I know how long beautifully set out and clear instructions take to write).

Hey, if you find there is not much on TV tonight, download Karen's instructions, grab a piece of scrap fabric and head towards your sewing machine, and give yourself the thrill of making your first ever bound button hole. You won't be disappointed. (Well, I am assuming my readership are into sewing as I type that last paragraph. I think my hubby would rather gouge his eyes out than spend an evening making a bound button hole.)

This little anchor scrap is going to stay on the top part of my sewing box for now, so that I can look at it, and be reminded of how good it feels to exercise my brain cells and learn something new. If only I had more of the anchor fabric - I like a jacket out of it, now I've used half of the one little scrap I had...

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee (part 2)

Hello there, and thanks for popping by. If you've just stumbled upon my little corner of the internet for the first time - a specially big hello. I hope you'll enjoy reading my waffle about sewing and come back again for more.

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Three minutes to spare...

So my Friday night went like this. 

I got the three littlest ones to bed. After being stuck in the house with them all day long because of the sick bug, boy was I grateful for bedtime when it came. 

My hubby was in London and not due back for a couple more hours or so, and, the biggest girl was at the school disco.

So, at exactly 7 pm, it was time to `Ready, steady, sew!'. I'd been plotting my own little version of one of the Great British Sewing Bee challenges - the 90 minute pair of leggings. Sad, or what. But I was quite looking forward to it!

Having paid close attention to the episode (3) when it was on, I had spotted they used a Kwik Sew pattern. I had vague intentions of getting hold of one. This didn't happen in the end, as I decided to just hack apart the leggings I already had. They had a hole in the knee, after all, so I thought I didn't have much to lose.

As for the fabric, I bought one metre of black jersey from my local fabric shop for £6.99. With the thick elastic, I had enough supplies to make myself two pairs of leggings for just under a tenner. Bargain. And, if the whole thing went belly up, I have only lost a tenner, which is not the end of the world if I learn something in the process, I thought. 

Upon closer inspection of the fabric at home, I was a bit dubious about the quality of it. It is okay - and a lot nicer than the now almost thread bare black leggings I've quite happily been parading about in, but a bit stretchier than I would like it to be for leggings. But, I thought to myself that I would use this as an experiment, and move onto something more expensive if it worked out well.

So, I cut up the old leggings, and flattened out one of the legs on top of the doubled up new fabric. Oh my goodness, I thought. The knees on these old leggings are really baggy and thin! I felt the pressure coming off even more - it shouldn't be too hard to produce something that looks better than baggy leggings with a hole in one knee, I told myself.

Next, I needed to get my over locker out of its box and change the thread. This got me thinking about the Great British Sewing Bee. I wonder whether they make the contestants thread up their machines as part of the timed challenge, or, do they have secret behind the scenes sewing elves to help them on that? It would be really mean to make someone who hasn't used an over locker before try and thread one under the pressure of timed conditions, wouldn't it? Thankfully, on this occasion, there were no big disasters on changing the thread - I got away with just knotting the new colour to the old and gently feeding each thread through the machine. 

Having done a couple of test pieces, it was time to sew the leggings together. I had no instructions, but, having watched them being made on the programme, I had a pretty good idea of how they were made. What I had no idea about with my black fabric and dark night, was which was the right side and where the grain line was. Still, clock is ticking, I thought (yes, I really am that stupidly competitive with myself when I set my mind on something), no time to waste and all that. 

I probably shouldn't admit this, but, I only used one pin. I sewed the front and back centre seams, and then popped a pin in the centre of the long inside leg seam, held the edges and ends together and just went for it with the over locker. At this point, I tried the leggings on, to check the fit. I adjusted it slightly. As I lined them up to get ready to put the elastic on, I noticed how remarkably huge the bottom looked! These could fit an elephant, I thought. I decided not to dwell on the fact I had been happy with how they fitted my own bottom thirty seconds prior to this observation.

The rest of the make was fun. The tip of portioning up the elastic and stretching each segment to fit the equivalent amount of the jersey on the top of the leggings worked a treat. I used my normal sewing machine for the rest of the leggings, folding over the elastic and twin stitching it down, and then finishing off the seams at the ankles.

And it was job done. By the time I'd got to the ankles, the big girl had returned home from her dancing fun. 

I put her to bed, headed downstairs for a Diet Coke and Smug Cake to celebrate the leggings being decent enough to wear out. And then, upon realising there was nothing but rubbish on TV, decided I may as well make a second pair. I did. And they took half the time that the first ones did. Which, I guess, goes to show how much more efficient it is to make clothes in factories (if you're just making boring black leggings that look the same as every other pair of boring black leggings). 

So I guess it begs the question, what was the point of this particular make? It hasn't fulfilled the criteria of being unique, which is usually my reasoning for making my own clothing. Granted, the leggings worked out a bit cheaper to make than buying them (although, I think I'll hold judgement on this until I work out the cost of making them with jersey I really like the quality of). So, what was the point? Well, for less than I might normally spend on a Friday night takeaway, I have enjoyed the fun of setting myself a mini challenge that has resulted in something I can wear with loads of my other clothes, and, has boosted my confidence to go ahead and make this kind of thing in the future.

In fact, I have been inspired by looking at Scruffy Badger's running kit. Maybe now I will splash out on some fancy breathable sports fabric and a decent pattern to follow. We'll see what the neuro surgeon says about my back when I go and see him for my follow up appointment on Monday, first... (am keeping my fingers crossed he will say I can return to running).

Is the Great British Sewing Bee inspiring you to sew anything specific? I'd love to hear about your GBSB inspired projects.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee (part 1)

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Start `em young!
First things first. It's Mothering Sunday this weekend. With a sick bug working its way through the family (including me!), it has felt like a timely reminder to me this week that there are times when it would be nice not to be the one in charge. Being sick is grim. Being sick and tending to a sick child (or two) is even worse. No doubt there will be much written about how wonderful it is to be a mum. And it is (most of the time). But, there is also a lot of plodding on regardless to be done. 

Now I'm a grown up - and a mum - I am looking back on my own childhood with different eyes. I think part of the art of being a wonderful mum is not making it obvious to your children that you are plodding on regardless, when actually, you'd like to press the pause button and not have to be in charge for a bit. 

One of the ways my own mum did this for me was through sewing. She'd make me great clothes (because money was tight). She'd make literally hundreds of dancing costumes (as a way of paying for me to go to ballet lessons). And, she'd find the time to sit down and teach me to sew and guide me through my own creative whims (when she would have probably liked to get on with other things).

One year for Christmas, she bought me this antique Singer sewing machine. I can remember telling all my friends at school about it, and feeling proud that no one else had one.

I've been LOVING watching the Great British Sewing Bee. I sometimes find myself unable to sleep, because my head is buzzing with ideas of things I'd like to try making from the programme. Friends, I have two words for you. Vintage. Coat. That is all.

This week's episode got me thinking about my beautiful antique Singer machine. Whoah, I thought. I am not sure I could even remember how to thread that thing up any more, let alone whip up a pretty blouse in timed conditions.

By yesterday afternoon, both the littlest big girl and me were starting to feel a bit more perky. We'd both had just about as much CBeebies as we could bear. So, the idea came to me to get the old machine out and let her have a go.

I got the machine out of its box. It smells wonderfully old!

The four year old was super eager to have a go. I can remember finding it hard to thread as a girl - I guess I have learnt something over the years, after all, as threading up seemed pretty intuitive this time round. With the GBSB episode fresh in my mind, I was expecting tension problems galore, and so I down played our chances of actually sewing something.

But, luck was on our side. The old girl still works like a dream!

I let the littlest big girl practise on a scrap of fabric. Unlike her adventures on my electric sewing machine when she and her big sisters were making ponies, she wasn't scared this time round. The slow pace of the hand wheel was just perfect for her, and it quickly became clear that she felt confident enough to try making something. A bag, was her suggestion. Because little girls can NEVER have too many bags, right?! (Actually, she had a specific purpose in mind for this bag - she wanted something to collect golden tickets for fudge in, for the hunt that is going on in our home town of Bedford this Saturday. I hope the hunt doesn't disappoint...)

Predictably, when her big sisters returned from school, they were less concerned with asking how their little sister was feeling now, and more interested in when would they be allowed a go on the sewing machine that was sitting proudly in the middle of the front room.

After tea, I said. (Now there is an incentive for them to not drag their heels over a mealtime, eh?!)

And then it happened. In the time it took for me to nip upstairs and grab a piece of fabric for the middle girl, I was stopped in my tracks by the sound of yowling from downstairs.

The biggest girl was making her way through to the front room at the same time as I was running downstairs to see what had happened, so I knew it had to be the other two creating the noise. The sight of the littlest big girl leaping about the room clutching her finger and the middle girl dashing past me with a look of complete horror on her face made it pretty clear what might have gone on. And then the victim's yelled through sobs accusations clarified things a bit more.

Right, back in the box it goes, I said, declaring an end to all sewing for the day.

Things calmed down. There was no blood in sight when I was eventually allowed to check the finger in question (although I am assured `it was in fact bleeding, Mummy'). I coaxed the ashamed middle girl out from under her bed by bath time. Shortly after that, I overheard a rather sweet little conversation between the two of them in which they were clearly making their peace with each other. Needless to say, we've now got a new rule that only one person is allowed near the sewing machine at any one time.

The middle girl is now poorly on the sofa, so has still yet to have a go on the machine. I'll let you know how she gets on when she does.

To all the mums reading this, I hope you get a lie in on Sunday. And, perhaps (if you have little ones) some home made cards thrust in your face in an excited manner (but not too early in the morning, eh?).

And to my own special mum, thank you for all the sewing - and everything else you did in my childhood in the name of plodding on regardless. I love you.