Not doing that again in a hurry…

How to mangle denim… but Poppy approves!

Well. Lockdown Stashbuster 4 is finally here, but I’m not exactly pleased with it. Best, I think, to describe it as a learning process!

For a long time I’ve wanted to do something with denim; I suppose I have, but never anything I’ve been proud of. The idea I had in my head for my “quick & dirty” use-it-up cot quilt no. 4 was a variation on denim “bricks in a wall” – basically 2½” wide strips, cut in random shortish lengths, joined seams-up & chenilled, with a few contrast stripes. (The eagle-eyed who know us well will spot the edges of our old kitchen curtains playing the part of the contrast stripes.) I didn’t think it would take very long…

1st lesson: most modern jeans are woven with a degree of stretch. I thought I’d specifically excluded any stretch denim when choosing the old jeans to chop up, but it turns out that most of them stretched a little in one direction or the other. Which caused the finished top to skew frantically, though I’d have sworn all my seams were straight whilst I was stitching them. In the end I had to cut about 3″ off each side, one at the “top” and the other at the “bottom”, to make it look remotely rectangular but there was no way I could get rid of a marked “bowing” effect in the middle.

Lesson 2: some jeans are fairly lightweight, others are – not. The difference in fabric weights means some “bricks” are “dominant” when it comes to chenilling, and look bigger in the finished article. And the heavier-weight fabrics are just that – heavier – and my shoulders were aching like mad with all the pushing & pulling by the time I’d finished quilting it very roughly. Next time I have an urge to use denim in an actual quilt, it’ll be lightweight, non-stretch shirt & skirt fabric only!

Lesson 3: choosing a fairly heavy calico for the backing wasn’t a particularly sane move either, though at least it “balances” the top. This quilt would work well for a restless toddler; it’s too heavy for an actual baby.

However, it’s not all bad news, because lesson 4 is that I’m no longer terrified of appliqué. I wanted some brighter splashes, and kites somehow floated into my mind (as they often do!) so I just ironed some double-sided interfacing onto some scrap red cotton, cut out some little kite shapes, ironed them on and using a very tiny zig-zag, stitched them down. The tails are just a double line of red lockstitch, going over some red frayed selvedge scraps.

Teeny tiny kites…

The centre contrast stripe has a strip of old hand-woven braid stitched on, rescued from an old sewing box that came in on an auction-won job lot. I had no idea whether it would wash well; it might have shrunk or bled colours, but I thought it had probably been washed many times before, & luckily it had & it didn’t.

At this point, the big Pfaff decided it had had enough for now and wanted to go off to see its friends at the repair shop for a service. Fair enough, we can cope without it for a month, and to be honest, it’s high time; having your sewing machine properly serviced every now & then is worth every penny, in my estimation. So Stashbuster 4 was bound with strips cut from an old shirt-back, then quilted on the old treadle. Very badly; I was getting rather fed up with it by then. I spent the next few days snipping the seams in every spare moment. Take it from me, denim is tough stuff. As well as hurting my hands & defeating my little chenilling scissors, forcing me to resort to spring-loaded shears, this caused a lot of fluff on the floor and knackered one of the heads of our hoover. Hopefully mended now!

So today I snipped the last seam with a sigh of relief & popped it into the washing machine. Needless to say, it wasn’t done with us yet; the washing machine pump blocked, so it failed to drain. But luckily I managed to clear the filter, which mysteriously contained 9 hair grips, a large scrunchy, and rather a lot of tiny fragments of denim. This seems to have put it right, thank heavens. We could do without having to call the engineers, just now.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the landing curtains finished. They really should be the next project, if only because that will clear a LOT of space in there, and make the landing look a bit less 1995. And we are getting close to the end of Lockdown II, though like most people in England we’ll be moving into Tier 2, so still fairly constrained, although the incidence of Covid-19 here is actually pretty low. But so is the hospital provision…

Anyway, end of lockdown notwithstanding, I have another idea; not sure if this one will be Lockdown 5, or Tier-2:1, but I’ve hardly made a dent in my stash yet…

Lockdown stashbuster 3…

Whilst sorting out the blue/green strips for Stashbuster 2, I realised I had a lot of smallish rectangles (or thereabouts) in the scrap drawer. So my plan for Stashbuster 3 was to use some of those up gainfully, trying out a different technique. So this time it was foundation-pieced onto some random lightweight cotton; I took the rectangles and placed them randomly on the foundation cotton, then swapped them round until I’d a) achieved coverage of the foundation piece, and b) something vaguely pleasing to the eye, provided that eye happens to like chaotic brightness.

Hmm… there are still a lot of holes!

Then I pinned the pieces into position, rolled it up & took it through to my big computerised (secondhand) Pfaff, and zig-zagged the pieces into position. Needless to say, a fair few had fallen off by the time I got to them, and I managed to stab myself with the pins umpteen times. I wonder if a dab of PVA in the centre of each scrap would have worked better?

Scraps zig-zagged on…

If I weren’t just stashbusting, I might have used some of the Pfaff’s enormous range of stitches and some interesting thread. However, in the cause of using stuff up whilst I actually have some time available, I just went for fast & furious. After cutting & sticking on some wadding & backing (which also did duty as the binding, folded over, ironed & stitched down) with that miraculous 505 spray, I transferred operations to my REAL sewing machine, the 1909 Jones treadle.

If I could only keep one machine, it’d be this one. Never skips a stitch or sulks.

It took a lot longer to quilt this one; it’s much more closely quilted. I chose to more-or-less echo the shapes of the rectangles and their overlaps. So if quilts got names, I’d call it “Corners” as I turned an awful lot of those! But the joy of working on an old-fashioned treadle is total control; it never runs away with you. Anyway, by this morning I was very nearly there…

Hours & hours of turning corners later…

All done by lunchtime! And has been washed, dried & stashed away with Stashbusters I & 2, waiting for small owners, should those days ever arrive! Mind you, I’m not saying they have to be human owners…

The finished article.

Stashbuster 4 will be somewhat of a change of direction… but there are a couple of large alteration projects to shift first, to make more room in the “Sewing studio” aka the spare bedroom. So I’ll allow myself at least a week to get this one done & dusted.

Stashbuster 2…

Raggy cot quilt from scraps…

Stashbusting cot quilt no. 2 completed… My self-imposed challenge this time was only to use fabric from my scrap drawer for the top. Whenever I have a scrap of suitable fabric either left over from another project or come in on a job lot but much too small to sell on, I stuff it into my scrap drawer for using up another day. Well, that day is this day.

There’s a slight cheat in that one of the fabrics hadn’t quite made it into the scrap drawer (from a damaged “New Look” cotton skirt, which I hadn’t quite got round to dismantling) but that’s where it was bound. Not all the scraps go into quilt tops; there are 1001 uses for a small bit of decent fabric, like – oh, lavender sachets, bunting, test-stitching a newly refurbished sewing machine, lining a woven bag – they’re always useful.

My elderly mother got quite excited when she heard I was making cot quilts, pointedly wondering whether there was any news from the assorted offspring. It was hard to break it to her that actually I’m just making them for practice, to use stuff up & experiment with simple techniques, and because that size is so eminently do-able in short bites of time!

But I had thought that actually using up a whole cot-quilt’s-worth would clear a fair bit of space in there. Sadly, not so! I think there’s still enough for a couple of king-size quilts in there. I do have an intriguing idea for the next one, but this may go on for longer than a month…

My not-very-empty scrap drawer…

Actual practice…

I’ve been tidying the “sewing room” (aka the spare bedroom) in preparation for some serious stashbusting. I have far too much fabric, nearly all reclaimed, and all of it utterly gorgeous, so I’m choosing to see the current 4-week lockdown as an opportunity to do something with it! My plan is to make a handful of little quilts; nothing fancy, just scrappy strips & squares, according to my resources. Then I’ll have a stock of things to give to any new humans that might appear on my horizons, our assorted Offspring being of an age when that kind of thing may begin to happen. I’m seeing it as a rainy day project, because there’s a lot of work to do up at the allotment and in the garden, but at this time of year I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener.

Random strips of torn-up bedding, converted into a “fuzzy” cot quilt

Many a slip, of course; the proof of the pudding will be in the quilting, to muddle several metaphors. One finished already, though! And some mending done, too.

I was intrigued to discover, at a Zoom meeting of our Guild last weekend, that other people had also mislaid their creative mojo during the spring & summer lockdown. I wonder if it will be different this time? We’ve had a bit more of a run-up at it, this time, and have a better idea of what to expect. Also, there isn’t that feeling of “anything might be about to happen, any time” that kept so many of us feeling almost paralysed, in a creative sense, last time. But whether very much creativity will actually happen this time is anyone’s guess.

I wandered into a couple of charity shops earlier in the week & was intrigued to see people making a beeline for the bookshelves, then scooping up several books at a time, almost without actually looking at them. The sad thing that struck me was that in all the shops, the books on the shelves were more or less the same. Same authors, same best-selling thrillers & bonkbusters, same prices. I do know they have to concentrate on what they know will sell, but there’s precious little actual choice out there now.

Anyway, shan’t witter on for too long; there’s plenty more stash to bust, and an allotment to tidy up & mulch for the winter. But look what I found hiding under the Jerusalem artichokes; a very tiny Turks’ Turban squash! I thought someone had dropped a satsuma on our plot, but it’s smaller than that; it’s next to a quince & a pomegranate in the pic, and about equal in size to the clementine behind it. It’s quite heavy, but I suspect there won’t be too many seeds in that one!

A very dinky but fully-formed squash.

Hands-on stuff…

The dark evenings and winter chill made me determined to finish the small rug/shower-room mat that had languished on my big twining loom since last spring was sprung.

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Our new shower mat – still needs a little tidying up!

That, plus the fact I’d agreed to run a little workshop on the subject of “simple forms of weaving” for our Guild’s Skills Day at the end of January. I got stuck in and finished the shower mat within a couple of evenings – it’s now in use – and warped the loom with torn-up sheets ready for the workshop. My “students” seemed to enjoy themselves and between us we did several inches of  a new, full-size rug in warm shades of brown, orange & light green, still ongoing here at home. However, during the day, it did occur to me that it would be good to have some smaller looms available for people to learn the technique on and hopefully complete something small but useful within a day.

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New rug under construction!

So I started looking around for some suitable wood, ordered a batch of beechwood pegs and raided a DIY superstore for eye-bolts, wing-nuts and stainless steel rods, as we also needed to buy a sander for our younger daughter’s latest project. (Which is possibly THE most expensive way of acquiring eye-bolts, all beautifully but individually packaged & priced to match!) We did have some old bed-slats in the garage roof, but eventually I decided that they were too wide to handle easily and too shallow to fix the pegs into securely. Then my eye fell on a batten that had once held a 6′ wide Roman blind… although it’s technically a soft wood, it proved to be very sturdy and quite hard to drill into, so I think it’ll stand the strain. So I chopped it into 18″ lengths, bolted those into a square, then drilled holes & inserted the pegs along the top & bottom. Once I’d sorted out a way to fix the rod down the side – random washers & wing nuts to the rescue – I had a slightly eccentric but entirely workable loom.

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Home-made 18″ twining loom

However it took me a couple of days, on & off round Real Life, to weave an 18″ square, which made me think it’s a little too large for what I was aiming at. So the next construction project will be a 12″ version. In the meantime I’ll be weaving a new top for a little old footstool, not to mention working on a set of matching chair pads for our mis-matched kitchen chairs. And then – I might just go 3d with it and maybe try a small basket to keep yarn in?

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A footstool in need of a twined makeover…

That’s one way to make a dent in my fabric stash! And there are plenty of others…

I’m going crackers…

Having just finished dealing with the less-than-perfect apples, and making a batch of delicious medlar jam, I’ve found myself plunging headlong into Christmas again, about 6 weeks before I’m likely to be ready for it…

I’ll add more later, but for those of you, like me, bewildered by how time suddenly seems to speed up as the year turns towards its end and new beginnings, here’s the home-made cracker tutorial I promised you – about a year ago!

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Another Cautionary Tale!

It’s been a while… but I am steaming towards fully-restored health now, and beginning to take up the reins of my little business, and feel up to nattering with the world again…

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A stall full of vintage oddities, fabulous old fabrics and genuinely useful stuff!

I know a lot of people are – cautious – about buying second-hand craft supplies and equipment; sometimes things have “moved on” and equipment has been vastly improved, designs are very different to what people wanted 30 years ago, and some supplies may not have been quite as well-kept as one would wish. Moths, for example, do not let you know they’ve invaded your stash…

HOWEVER there are huge savings to be made if you’re not averse to profiting by other people’s mistakes. I’m about to tell you a tale that I’ve heard many times, in one form or another, over the last ten years, the last example only yesterday. Here’s her story:

“I worked hard, all the hours of the day, for many years running my own business, but all along I just wanted to find the time to sit & stitch. I love stitched textiles passionately; my home is full of them, I buy them constantly and couldn’t imagine anything more inspiring than being able to make them myself! So I’d go to exhibitions when I was away on business trips, and buy all the stuff – kits and frames, special needles, scissors and collections of thread – and stash it all away for my retirement. Anyway, I retired last summer, and joined a stitching circle, and started work on a huge project at long last.

I hated it! It’s so darn fiddly and time consuming! I’d work hard all day, then realise that I’d only actually achieved a tiny amount and half of that was wrong and would have to be unpicked. A friend suggested trying a smaller project so that I’d feel it was more manageable, but I didn’t enjoy that any more than the big one. Then I became ill and couldn’t do any more. They’ve sat there in the corner since then, and now we need to downshift and won’t have room for anything we don’t need…”

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Poppy thinks of a use for a large unfinished tapestry…

And there was the lady who’d owned her spinning wheel from brand new, back in the 1980s, and had never actually put it together. Come retirement, again from running her own business, out it came, and was constructed with much delight. But sadly, she didn’t “take” to spinning. Having been someone who was just about instantly successful at everything she turned her hand to, we simply couldn’t get her to slow up enough to fall into the rhythm of spinning, so she became very frustrated and decided not to bother in the end.

Not to mention the large upright rug loom taking up quite a lot of space in our conservatory… I really, really do want to make beautiful Finnish-style rugs out of reclaimed textiles, but somehow I haven’t even got round to warping it up yet, and it’s been there for over a year. Admittedly I’ve had a few other things on my mind for the last six months, but once I’d got stuck in with my twining loom (which couldn’t be easier to use – you can just tear up old bedding & get straight on with it) the idea of calculating a warp & cutting thousands of wool strips before I could start to make anything with the big loom kind of receded from the top end of my to-do list!

So I’m advising you; if you’re attracted to a particular craft, try it out BEFORE investing a small fortune in equipment or dedicating a large amount of space to it. Most crafts have local groups of people working at different levels in a social setting, like the Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers, or Lacemakers, or Quilters. Often these groups have equipment to try out, lend or hire out, and there are usually ways to acquire secondhand equipment and supplies inexpensively through them. Alternatively, there are friendly general craft & social groups out there, meeting in cafés, libraries and pubs, and experts prepared to share their skills and ideas for a small consideration, who will point you in the right direction for equipment & supplies.

Different equipment suits different users, too; it’s no good buying a spinning wheel just because it’s the same as everyone else has got, if it doesn’t suit your style of spinning, or you’re six inches taller or shorter than they are. Or knitting with standard cold metal needles if you have arthritis in your hands. You don’t need to spend vast amounts on fat quarters to make your first quilt; check out the 99p rails in your local charity shops as many gents’ shirts are made from pure high-quality cotton & there’s much more than a fat quarter in the back alone. As for tiered cotton skirts…

You don’t have to buy everything new. There will come a time when you know exactly what you need and only new will do, but until then, there are plenty of useful & delightful resources out there to do amazing things with; all you need to do is look…

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Fabric postcard being made from reclaimed stained table linen & reclaimed beads from a broken necklace, on a secondhand sewing machine!

 

Finally gone crackers…

I’ve been intending to make my own crackers since about September. As I have done for many years, without ever actually getting around to it; somehow I’ve always ended up buying them instead, then getting cross with myself on a number of different levels. In no way are crackers actually necessary, so why I should I find myself stressing about them? They really are spectacularly wasteful items, in terms of money spent and resources used to very little effect. Because I like them, that’s why! And the festive photos just wouldn’t be the same without the silly hats…

If you don’t want crackers that look cheap & flimsy, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on something that’s just going to be torn apart & thrown away. The gifts inside are usually simply left on or under the table, no matter how genuinely useful or sturdy. Some of the hats always tear whilst being unfolded and never make it onto heads. The jokes are usually spectacularly unfunny, with the odd exception, and half the snaps – just don’t.

Anyway, for one reason or another, as we raced up towards the Big Day, crackers had totally failed to appear in our household. On Christmas Eve I braved a last-minute dash to our local, rather upmarket, supermarket, to acquire the last-minute necessities like cream & salad, and swung past the “seasonal” aisle, thinking I might just invest in a box of crackers after all. But somehow all the more-reasonably-priced lines had just vanished and all that was left was an entire wall of top-of-the-range £20 boxes of crackers. Beautifully presented in lavish gold-wrapped boxes with huge glittery bows, but – £20 for a box of crackers? Just – no! However, other shoppers were sighing and muttering, “I suppose I’ll have to…” The cynic in me couldn’t help wondering whether any remaining cheaper boxes had been whipped off the shelves, an impression that was strengthened by the smug little grin on the manager’s face as he stood by the stock-room door watching the boxes being hurled into trolleys. That may be completely unjust, though!

Luckily, for once I was well ahead (by my standards!) with present-buying & wrapping and had the evening earmarked for doing something relaxing. Yes, you’ve guessed it – cracker-making! And whilst they were far from the delightfully-artistic hand-made dainties I’d had visions of making back in September, they did the job and looked OK, and used mostly resources that had no other particular reason for existing – little bits of left-over stuff from many years of present-wrapping. Everyone was mightily relieved not to have to find room for yet another tape measure or bottle-opener, as I’d filled them with “posh” chocs instead, and the wrapping-paper hats were still being worn in the evening. Quick-&-dirty cracker tutorial here, should anyone else find themselves overcome with horror at the thought of paying ridiculous sums of money for such instantly-disposable items.

And in other news, I’ve decided to appropriate another Scandinavian tradition; Christmas breakfast will henceforth be cinnamon buns, now and for ever after! I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas, or whatever festival you are celebrating at this time of the turning of the year. And I wish you all a happy, peaceful, creative and above all healthy 2019…

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Harmless fun…

I’m still running a little below my full operating speed, though pretty well all things considered. I’m very happy to have been told that all of the problem has been safely removed, but not quite so happy to find out that a little “mopping-up” treatment is advisable, just to be on the safe side. However, the safe side is where I’d infinitely prefer to be, in this instance! So I shall be mostly at-home for the next few months; oooh, this is my chance to use up some of my enormous and wonderfully-varied crafting stash…

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Origami stars…

It seems that handmade is enjoying something of a resurgence; those of my friends who sell their lovely wares have been astonished & utterly delighted to have been mobbed at the various craft fairs & shows this year. People have finally realised that something unique and special is worth paying proper money for. I’m not disparaging the efforts of those who slave away in third-world sweatshops, many of whom are highly skilled and deserve much, much more than the pittance they’re getting under our “globalised” economy, but please do support your local craftspeople too, who can’t afford to match the prices of giant corporations but are usually offering something vastly superior, as they’re driven by the need to create something wonderful, rather than the need to produce identikit items at the lowest possible cost in order to cream off vast sums of money.

I’m happy enough reclaiming, recycling, & selling on resources for other crafters & artists to use; I can & have sold things I’ve created, sometimes even on commission, but I find that that seems to place a demand on me that suppresses my creativity. So now I tend to make for myself, my family and my friends only.

So… it’s going to be a handmade Christmas, chez nous. Again! And although we’re wading through a small tide of handmade origami stars already (instructions here) this is the effort that’s made me smile the most so far:

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… a doorway decoration made from the crocheted edging of an old, stained tablecloth, two broken necklaces, two pairs of earrings and some random reclaimed beads & bead-lacing from my stash. The “junk jewellery” came mostly from a jumble sale yesterday; 20p per item (or pair of) items. The tablecloth came in a £10 job-lot of old linen, some of which was saleable as is, and some even usable (6 high-quality, pristine linen & Egyptian cotton pillowcases) but much of which has seen better days. I like to think that the ladies (well, probably) who sat & painstakingly crocheted these lovely edgings so many years ago would much rather see them loved and used, even in pieces, than sat in drawers or worse still, landfill. Full credit to my darling elder daughter for this lovely idea!

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Off now to assess my considerable resources and come up with some other off-the-wall ideas!