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Christmas presents catchup

Another long gap – but one of my excuses is that I spent a lot of time making things for Christmas presents! I now have more people to make presents for – including a grandson and a granddaughter which has really inspired me.

I decided to make a ball with a bell in it for baby Hope, with patchwork pentagons as I did for Julia, but this time with all the letters in felt. The material I used is a heavy-duty cotton which started life as a cushion cover and provided different mixes of blues and greens.

For Noah I branched out with my knitting and made a teddy bear in a lovely soft velour-type wool which I found in a sale. The knitting and making up were quite intricate but I was pleased with the result. I added features with embroidery wool and paws with brown felt.

The pattern suggested finishing the bear with a ribbon round the neck but I felt that with a baby in the house this might not be safe so I constructed a jacket with one button instead from some red and black wool which had not worked as i-chords.

As well as presents for children I also made another book cover, in a more conventional log-cabin patchwork.

And finally I made four brooches, all in the same kind a pattern with a central bead or button and a more of less symmetrical arrangement of beads going out from the centre to the edge, although I did vary that a little.
I made them in four colours, red, blue, violet and green, and decided to echo this blog by mounting them on card as you can see.
So that is what I have been doing since I last wrote but I am determined to keep up with making things and will be back when I have decided what to do next. 

Bringing the story up to date

Well after rather a long gap these are my next two pieces. The first started out with the intention of being another necklace but ended up as a brooch.

As you can see it has a button at the centre fixed with a bead and going out from it I have tried to be quite symmetrical, working with loops of beads which are then couched down.
The base is almost flat felt, although in two layers, but the tension of the sewing brings the centre up and the outer edge down. Because this is for my own use I fix it with a safety pin from the back of whatever I’m wearing.
I am intending to explore brooches further and to experiment more with shapes and different fixings.
The last necklace I made is also the most successful so far, I think, as I have learned lessons about where to place the beaded piece on the i-chord. I am very fond of the colours too and think it works well with a large central bead.

I used bugle beads round the centre to add height and cover the ‘step’ between one piece of felt and the other two. The basic shape this time was a rectangle to echo the centre so that going ’round’ became going straight and round corners.

This shot gives a good impression of the height of the whole and also of the way in which I have used different sizes and shapes of beads, almost at random, bur all within the same colour palette.

I am working on another large piece at the moment which may become another brooch. One of the things I need to think more about is size – at the moment everything I do seems to end up larger than I first intended, although perhaps subconsciously I want to make a really bold statement! When I have more to show I’ll be back here again.

I-chords, felt and beads combine

At a craft course at Glenthorne I learned how to knit i-chords on a circular needle. This was a real breakthrough for me because I saw how they could be used for jewellery and began experimenting with combining i-chords and beads.

My first attempt, at the beginning of 2008 was a single i-chord on 5 stitches in a combination of dark red wool and gold fingering thread. I made a loop and button fixing and decorated the centre front with a combination of beads and buttons.
 I gave it to a freind for her birthday but I did take a few photos first (although the focus was not too good for the detail!).                                                                                                                                                                                                  
There were several problems with this first attempt. The buttons etc that were lower than the chord would not lie flat but I wanted to do more than just sew things onto the chord itself. It was another workshop, this time about felting, that gave me an answer. Making felt of different thicknesses and putting together different shapes on top of one another gave me a base that I could make more three dimensional. I also discovered that as I covered it with beads my sewing pulled it into yet another shape.
So for my next attempt I made a two tier felt circle, sewed it together and added beads and a button to it, starting in the middle and working outwards. I also made the i-chord bigger by plaiting together three 3-stitch i-chords. Using bugle beads over two layers of felt added to the height of the finished centrepiece, but the whole necklace was not very large.
My next necklace was more ambitious. I started with quite a large felt construction and ended up with a big, bold, very sparkly centrepiece – much more complex and striking than I had expected. It was as if I was expressing a different side to my personality while I worked, adding more and more to the centre without planning the finished result.
I also changed the construction of the i-chord. I had bought some multi-coloured ribbon/wool on a trip to America and I used this to make three 3-stitch i-chords which I then plaited together. The finished felt and bead centrepiece was sewn onto this plait, quite low down so that it sat properly when worn. [Originally I had sewn it on too high up and this is what this photo shows]
Here are two more photos which show the height of the centrepiece from the side and some of the detail of the beading.
I have really enjoyed making and wearing these necklaces [although the ribbon i-chords do have a tendency to stretch- a fault that I am still working on] and in my next post will show you some more of my creations.

Knit one, purl one – very slowly

My mother taught me to knit but neither she nor I were very good at it (unlike her sister Phyllis who could knit Aran sweaters while watching television!) so I have always confined myself to basic stitches and small projects.
I have knitted squares (along with other people) to make up into blankets and when I started having children I tried knitting things for them. I could manage small cardigans and dungarees in stocking stitch using random wool to make the enterprise more interesting. My pattern bible was Knitting Fashion by Pam Dawson, the book of the BBC2 series which came out in 1976 – as you can tell by the cover! It is still a good basic book though and obtainable through Ebay.

I even managed to knit a couple of simple sweaters for myself. Perhaps the most complicated design I attempted was a sleeveless tunic which in 1982 became a maternity smock in dark green with a pattern of chevrons in brown and yellow.

Usually I stuck to much simpler patterns in interesting random wools. This is one I knitted for myself in green and at the same time I managed one in blue and one in purple using the same wool and a similar pattern with wide sleeves. 
But as the children grew up and life got busier I did not find time for any knitting projects except occasional scarves. I was sewing and doing patchwork and I did not really miss my knitting needles. Sometimes I thought about learning to crochet but never found a teacher or a book that I could follow. Eventually, a few years ago, I went on a course at Glenthorne in an attempt to learn. I was taught the rudiments but I also really enjoyed knitting this quite complicated scarf.
I really enjoyed putting the colours together and the way in which following the pattern produced this lovely wavy shape.
The Glenthorne course was a revelation in another way too because it was here that I learned to make i-chords – of which more in the next post.

More of the patchwork of my crafting life

Last time I said that I would write about knitting next but when I thought about it I realised that first I would have to say something about my patchwork history.

Casting my mind back I cannot remember exactly when I started doing patchwork but I think it coincided with the beginnings of Laura Ashley. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it was possible to buy bags of offcuts in the shops – not tidied up fat-quarters but real offcuts from dress patterns. I began to make patchwork from these and from material left over from my own dress-making efforts.

As I remember it I learned the technique of making patchwork by hand from books and at that point I was not aware of the possibility of using a sewing machine. I bought metal templates, made paper patterns (often from the stiff paper of Laura Ashley carrier bags), cut material freehand from those patterns and then tacked material to paper and sewed the patches together using very small blanket stitch. I found hexagons most congenial and made ‘flower’ designs which I then appliqued to cushion covers and other items including a tea cosy.

 Most of what I made was given away and I have very few photos but this shows two cushions from 1979 [and a rather lovely baby]
In 1977 when I had my first child, Julia, I made a ball for her out of pentagons. The material I remember was recycled from a book of furnishing fabric sample swatches. I embroidered the letters of her name on five of the patches using different techniques as you can see in these photos, although in the 30 years since then the felt which I appliqued for the J has perished and been removed.
I stuffed the ball with kapok and in the centre put a bell in a plastic cage, which worked up to a point but was not very practical as the whole ball was not washable! Eventually it became more of an ornament than a toy which is perhaps how it survived!
 
As the children grew up I put aside my patchwork, always meaning to take it up again when I had time. I never attempted any large projects and I had not tried to quilt anything I had made. So when I retired, four years ago, I knew that one of the things I wanted to develop was my patchwork.
I read magazines and websites and found just how much temptation in the shape of beautiful fabric was out there, but I remembered how I had started – with offcuts. Although many of my old clothes had already been given to charity shops there were still several bags-full in the loft. I also had a lot of material bought hopefully over the years and never made up. More recently I had acquired, after the deaths of my mother-in-law and mother, stashes of their material and some of their clothes. I resolved to use what I had before I allowed myself to buy more material (although I do allow myself remnants from time to time) and set about converting garments, all of which brought back memories, into fat-quarters, sorting them by colour and storing them in a craft cupboard.
By this time I had read more about machine-made patchwork and especially the log-cabin pattern which seemed made for that technique. Again I started small with motifs for Christmas cards then in 2007, still using log cabin as a basis, I decided to construct a fabric and use it to make notebook covers to be given away as presents. I also decided to experiment with quilting this fabric.
These photos are of the one book still in the house but I made another in dark shades, one based on red and one in shades of beige and peach.
I stitched the quilting between each strip of material but also outlined some elements of the pattern. As well as quilting I also embellished the lighter coloured covers with beads and sequins but that development I will follow up in another post.

Looking back

I find that I can’t begin a craft blog without looking back on my history of making things – so here goes.

At school we were taught needlework in a very formal way which did not suit me at all. I spent more time unpicking my work than sewing and while the rest of the class were progressing to the excitements of aprons and skirts I was still making – and unmaking – my gingham needlework bag. Although one report grudgingly allowed that my hemming had improved, I just could not see the point of the Victorian standards of plain needlework we were taught and was glad to get on to ‘academic’ subjects and leave that kind of sewing behind.

At home my mother was an accomplished needlewoman who had majored in art and needlework at her Teacher Training College. She could see that I was happier with my head in a book and did not press me to learn. She enjoyed making embroidered and smocked dresses for me when I was a child and later made me several dresses to my own specification, even once in a bright orange cotton which I loved but she knew would not suit my high colour!

However when I grew older and decided that I would like to make clothes for myself she taught me how to cut out material from a paper pattern, pin or tack the pieces together and sew them with an electric machine. She also taught me how to skip-hem, enough to keep the hem up but nowhere near as obsessively neat as I had been taught at school, which was a revelation! For my twenty-first birthday my parents gave me a sewing machine of my own which stayed with me for many years.

I enjoyed making clothes for myself and have been going through my photo collection to find a selection.
I made this long brown tweed dress in the late 1960s and wore it for my degree ceremony in 1970.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
And here is my wedding dress from 1970, which my mother helped me with, and my going-away outfit, a beige crimplene short coat over a dark brown rayon mini-dress with white spots and a huge collar, which I thought rather smart at the time!
 

I went on making clothes for myself and, as time went on, for my three children. I loved buying fabric but also got great satisfaction from recycling clothes and other textiles. I made my daughter Julia a fancy-dress fairy outfit from the train of my wedding dress but I will end this post with a picture of a jacket I made in the mid 1970s from an old chenille tablecloth. The body of the tablecloth was a dark orange but the edge had a geometric design in brown and dark blue which I placed on the front of the jacket. I only have a black and white photo but it does show an important part of my sewing history.
 
 

In my next post I will be talking about knitting and also about how my sewing moved into craft.