Stashbuster 6, for a real baby this time!

One of my auction “job lot of fabric” buys recently included a part-made cot quilt top; straightforward squares in shades of blue & white with ditsy prints, it was nice enough that I kept it, thinking I’d do something with it soon. So when I heard that a young friend was expecting a baby boy, it sprang to mind, although I’ve never believed that it has to be blue for a boy or pink for a girl. I hauled it out, and yes, it was just the right size.

On closer inspection, it was a bit – curious. The squares had been beautifully hand-stitched together, very neatly. But the maker had evidently heard that quilts need binding, so they had carefully hand-stitched two rows of commercial bias binding, one blue and one red, round the edge. But they hadn’t been able to decide what to do with the corners, which were all different. One had been overlapped, the next one mitred, and the other two hadn’t been finished at all, with random bits of binding left flapping, one of them much too short. I think at that point, they’d got frustrated, put it aside, and never returned to it. We’ve all had projects like that… but what a waste of all that careful stitching!

What to do? I sandwiched a piece of cotton batting between the top & a chunk of soft old candy-striped flanelette sheet, and hand-stitched the red edge down over the edge, then machine-stitched the “border” to give it some stability. One corner was almost bare, though. So I found some reds in my fabric cupboard; I tried folding rectangles over to make squares to cover the corners, but nothing looked quite right until I though of appliqé-ing little hearts over them, which somehow brought the whole thing “alive”.

Little hearts hiding some rather random corners

So that’s another bit of stash busted; not all my own work, but I hope I’ve done the original maker justice, and that my young friend’s baby will snuggle happily into it or play on it for some years to come. Now I think I might do some experimenting; there’s still – rather a lot – of stash, not to mention lockdown, left to go…

Everyday cot quilt for a young friend’s baby…

Bizarre!

How strange! I feel as if a beloved friend has just left us… the time had come to replace my Mac Mini. We’d had it for over 10 years and it had served us well; it’s been replaced with an updated version as that’s what does the things I need from a personal computer the best & fits the space available. It had become slower & slower over the last few months, and every now & then the fan would kick in audibly as it struggled; I suspect it had got very dusty inside. I opted to go for the trade-in option, as that means that anything that’s still usable inside the box will get re-used, and the bits that aren’t will be recycled rather than just sitting in a cupboard until I got round to chucking it out.

So I did the Mac-to-Mac transfer, which wasn’t as horrendous or time-consuming as I thought it might be, though there were one or two little blips. But Apple Support were great & smoothed it all out for me, and the New Mac Mini was up & running easily a couple of days ago. Yesterday I managed to track down all the bits of data that had wandered off to other folders, so today was “Wipe Mac-Mini-1” day. I followed the instructions on the Apple website to prepare it for returning to Apple, but as it came to clicking the “Erase Disk” option I felt a real pang of sorrow!

It’s very strange; I know I’ll feel the same when my beloved Mazda Bongo finally trundles off to the great scrapheap in the sky. Or if my 1909 Jones Medium treadled sewing machine jammed irreparably, something having broken inside. My head knows perfectly well that they’re just machines; they don’t have personalities, they’re not my “friends” no matter how useful they are, but somehow my heart “knows” otherwise. And I suspect that that’s one reason why I feel I have to do what I do; I see perfectly good old tools, furniture or books sitting in a skip or at an auction and somehow they seem to be begging, “rescue me!” But that does rather lead to an excessively cluttered home, despite my efforts to re-home stuff profitably.

I suppose the answer is, stay away from skips, scrapheaps and auctions. But please tell me I’m not alone, and that other people out there do sometimes feel the same, and that some of the good old stuff that’s tossed away in our wasteful society will also be rescued – just not always by me…

My beloved “rescued-via-Ebay-for-£2.50” Jones Medium treadle, still very much in use!

In the spirit of Thrift…

A long time ago, I discovered that the word “Thrift” doesn’t quite mean what people generally think. (Although there is an element of words eventually coming to mean what people think they mean, rather than what they originally meant. Just don’t tell Humpty Dumpty.) It didn’t, and shouldn’t, mean penny-pinching miserliness; it came from the same root as “thrive”, just as “frugal” originally meant much the same as “fruitful”. Once I’d wrapped my head around the idea of thrift as something positive, it put a different slant on my attempts to live within our means as we raised our biggish family on one-and-a-little-bit incomes whilst paying a fairly hefty mortgage to afford a home big enough for us not to actually fall over each other. It became a challenge to get the very best out of the resources actually available to us, rather than to become bitter & envious, and strive after ever more money and ever more stuff.

There are all sorts of interesting thoughts hovering around this; why are we continually encouraged to buy, buy, buy; to upgrade things that aren’t broken, to cook with fresh ingredients from the other side of the planet, to constantly change our clothes & decor at the whim of fashion editors & celebrities, to replace rather than repair? Is this a sane way to try to run the world? Why is our own time rarely recognised as an important resource, only time that someone else pays you for? However, the central fact is that, given that you actually do have enough (a key concept) of everything vital, it’s an interesting challenge to see what more you can do with the resources, of any sort, that do come your way.

Hence my determination not to just throw away (and where exactly is away?) the little strips of not-so-usable fabric that resulted from demolishing 20-something shirts, some old jeans, and a couple of skirts for free or very-inexpensive fabric. The hems, side-seams & plackets, mostly; I have another project or two in mind for the collars and cuffs. And thanks to lockdown 3 here in the UK, I have plenty of time to put my plans into action for a while. So, here’s the finished hem-and-seam rug:

Rug in twined-weave, made from seams, hems & plackets of old shirts, jeans & skirts, plus an old duvet cover.

I do know how very lucky I am, to have the time and the space to make things, but something inside me won’t let me not make things, and of course there are plenty of other things I should probably be doing, like housework. The things I make may be simple & easy, and I really don’t need another rug, but it’s given me great pleasure to turn some things that under other circumstances could be seen as “waste” into something genuinely useful and colourful.

For the next few days, I need to concentrate on getting a few seeds started, and a part-done cot quilt that needs finishing before the “user” arrives! But then – where next with my massive “to do” pile and my random assortment of “resources”…?

Sooo – Christmas has gone away…

… the family have eaten leftovers for a week, my allotment’s a weedy mess, the house is a tip, we’re back in lockdown again, I have 101 half-done or not-even-started projects lying around, and what am I doing?

Shirt, pyjama & skirt seams

Weaving shirt-seams, of course! I have 3 big bags of little strips of fabric cluttering up my sewing room, from dismantling lots of shirts/jeans/pyjamas/tablecloths & tea-towels for quilt fabric & other projects, and there’s only so many you can use as plant-ties. I’d been keeping them for a course on Weaving with Waste that I’d booked onto last September, which sadly couldn’t take place. There’ll be another one, of course, Once All This Has Blown Over (OATHBO in certain online quarters) but just imagine how much more I’ll have accumulated by then. Though my New Year’s resolutions, as usual, include putting myself on a Fabric Diet ; no more fabric will be acquired (new or otherwise) until at least half of what I currently have as been used up or sold on.

Slightly less of a tangle now

I have done some things: my Other Half has a second pair of cosy PJ bottoms made from an old flannelette sheet. They were cut out months ago when I made the first pair, and put aside in my enormous “to do” pile. DD2 has mended PJs and a new pair too, from some soft but sturdy brushed cotton found in a charity shop last spring at £3 for about 4m of 60″ wide fabric in a cheery red & white plaid. And I’ve finally managed to make a pair of what my great-aunt would have called, in a breathless whisper, “Underthings” (i.e. knickers) from an old t-shirt; not rocket science, I know, and of course I could just buy a pack of new ones, but it pleases me to re-use pretty & still-decent fabric & keep my money safe from those who peddle poor-quality “underthings” that fall apart in a few weeks. I’m pleased to report that they fit well and are very comfortable!

Poppy assisting with pyjama-making

I’ve also cut out & attempted to sew a warm top from blanket-type fabric acquired new, as a treat, a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I struggled with this. My overlocker didn’t seem to “like” the fabric & kept breaking one specific thread. At first I thought the thread must be weak, so changed it, but the next reel also broke every few stitches. Then I thought I must somehow have bent the needle, so changed that. But now I’ve realised that it was “pilot error”; the loopers & needles need to be threaded in a specific order, and once one thread had broken & been replaced, that order was undone and the machine was struggling to form stitches correctly. I’m hoping I still have enough fabric to sort it out, as I may need to re-make the sleeves entirely, I’d chewed so much off them before stopping to read the instructions… oh dear. You can’t cure stupid, as they say, by changing the needle!

So yes, plenty going on here, and there are still about 98 projects in the “to-do” pile, so I’m looking on lockdown 3 as a chance to clear as much from that pile as possible. Let’s see if I can end up with a chance to see the floor of the sewing room/spare bedroom once more…

Not the most “helpful” of assistants, really…

A jolly Covid Christmas upcoming…

I dashed into our local big outdoor shopping mall whilst passing on another errand earlier, looking for a few last-minute gifts. What a grim experience… I went into one shop, which was rammed, and the little assistant by the door said to the guy immediately behind me (far too close!) “Please may I remind you, sir, to wear a face covering in the store?” to which he snorted, “It’s not a law, you can’t make me; do you want my money or not?” The poor little lass just looked down; she was evidently used to this & knew not to antagonise. The place was full of aimless plastic & polyester tat and people barging around with no regard for personal space, never mind social distancing, so I left & tried another place, a well-known kitchenware shop, which wasn’t so crowded & didn’t seem to be attracting so many idiots. There were some good things, but at very silly prices. They’ll be half that price next week, and so they should be! So I just bought a couple of everyday necessities and left empty-handed; I don’t go down there very often. It seemed to me that people are behaving every bit as daftly as they normally do at this time of year, totally ignoring the enhanced risk of the mutated virus. I think I’d rather risk disappointing my family & friends than shop with the herd again…

It was also noticeable how slowly everyone was driving. Conditions weren’t that bad; grey & drizzly, admittedly, but no worse than that. But we were trundling slowly along at a very steady & careful 27mph in a 40 zone before the driver in front of me nearly wavered into the kerb & I suddenly realised that it was lunchtime & they’d quite possibly had a bracing snifter or two; I think there’s a lot of that about, with people stressed by what seems like an endless onslaught of bad & worrying news, health, job & money worries and the pressure of trying to keep up appearances over the “festive season”. Or more worryingly, perhaps they weren’t feeling very well…

We are very much amongst the lucky ones this year. We have 3 of our 5 offspring here at home, with a 4th not very far away. Eldest and his delightful partner unfortunately still live in Tier 4 so won’t be joining us, except digitally, but we’re all healthy (so far!) & have plenty of food in the house & at the allotment. I’m sad for all those who will be alone, and those who don’t have enough to eat, never mind presents for the kids. And as for those with no roof over their heads, in this endlessly grim drizzle that will only end as the temperature falls… my heart sinks. What are we thinking, to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace with an orgy of buying plastic & polyester tat? Stuffing ourselves with expensive, unhealthily-processed foods when many don’t have enough to eat? And doing what I did today, actually risking our lives by rushing into crowded spaces where some people have no intention of following the guidelines, in pursuit of the “perfect” present?

Count me out of that next year, please… in the meantime, I’m wishing you all a happy & peaceful Christmas and a healthy & merry-hearted New Year.

Tree from our local RSPB reserve, decorated with baubles rescued from the Tip, hand-painted be-glittered fir cones and walnut shells – oh, and the non-recycled odd candy cane!

Take 3 discarded shirts and an old tablecloth…

… add an Ikea cushion cover and a strip of old duvet cover, mix well, and :-

Lockdown stashbuster 5

I had a gorgeous, but sadly very stained, 1950s embroidered tablecloth sitting in my stash, and I’ve been determined to do something lovely with it since I first found it. It was so bright and cheery, yet it would never have been put for sale at a charity shop; thanks to those stains, it would just have gone into the rag-bag. I could have made umpteen cards from the motifs – and have made a few – but didn’t want to dissipate the prettiness too much. So it seemed a good idea to base the last little lockdown stashbuster quilt on what was left of it.

I also wanted to do a little bit of actual piecing, rather than haphazard flinging together of strips. As you can probably tell, it’s not my natural medium; far too painstaking, but it suited the subject matter! I’m a LOT happier with this one, though it’s a tad undersized at 2½’ x 3’2″; this was dictated by the size & number of motifs available. Perhaps a crib, pram or pushchair quilt?

Oh, and the batting’s a bit – different. Cotton “Bump” interlining extracted from some fabulous but badly light-damaged old curtains; it’s been washed before re-use, to control any shrinkage, but it still seems soft, fluffy, & lightweight, not unlike the “official” batting I used in the others. Just a tad less inclined to pull apart, so now the hunt will be on for old interlined curtains…

Anyway, time for a break from the sewing machines now! As lockdown comes to an end, and we gear up for the festive season – well, as festive as it can be in these socially-distanced days – I need to concentrate on sorting the house, the presents and the food out for a while. Time enough for stitching, or spinning, or weaving, when the excitement, and the workload, have simmered down…

Washed and ready to roll…

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.