Monday, 24 June 2013

let the fabric decide

Oh I have a ton of blog posts lined up... in my head! It's frustrating but I'm just not finding the time to get to the computer at the moment. Spare moments are rare and I tend to try to make things in those. Here's something I made recently, a present for my artist friend Ashlie. It is one of a pair, the other one being a birthday present for my Aunt (I used to call her "my second mummy" when I was little).

They are different because of the way the pattern lies on both shell and lining fabrics, and also because they have different vintage buttons on the front. They were slightly tricky to sew - but I'll come to that. What I really wanted to say about them is that I believe they show how worthwhile it is to buy fabric without knowing what it will become, just for the love of it. Sewing books often advise against this, but when I'm sewing I like to let the fabric dictate my projects when I can. This was an odd, long strip of gorgeous French vintage fabric, purchased on a whim (& in the sale) from Rag Rescue - it just fell naturally into 2 envelope purses.

I was inspired by this book to repurpose an old silk scarf for the lining, and so I discovered just how tricky it is to sew silk. I also made things harder for myself by making a curve instead of a point for the flap - cue sewing curves of two very differently weighted fabrics, yikes! But it was worth it.

I made Ashlie's first, and I slightly prefer it. Does anyone else find that the first attempt at making something often turns out the best? Maybe it's because I'm most motivated for new adventures, I don't know. But once Ashlie's was made it seemed quite floppy - not destined to be a clutch or anything (she found a perfect use for it - check out her Instagram feed @paintingbliss to see!)

So then I tried using some stiff interfacing. My Aunt's one can be a clutch but it is less well sewn - remember that tricky mix of fabrics I mentioned? Well turns out adding stiff interfacing makes it harder (especially for getting a neat seam). You know what? When I stop learning I'll stop sewing (though I doubt that day will ever come).

And here are the little fabric badges I put inside my Aunt's gift. I couldn't find my stapler anywhere so came up with a different fastening, which I rather like... By the way, in case you didn't know, I sell handmade badges on Etsy...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

memoir project update

I mentioned in this post that I was taking part in this project, one of a hundred participants writing a short hand-written true story. Taking the idea of patchwork as my inspiration, I intertwined several stories of birth and death, and wrote about an emotional journey from the time when my grandmother died last year to the early weeks of my new son's life.

This also brought in other people loved and lost, stretching back into the past - my grandmother's life, my mother's. I tried to catpure the strange interweaving of life and death, the agonsing pain of loss, the vulnerability and joy of life. It is also about family, about the circle of life: the comings and goings that shape us and make us who we are.

It was an extraordinary process, especially writing by hand. I've often written a journal, so it was a little like that, I suppose, except that I had a bit more of an overarching plan: I knew what I wanted to write about. Somehow it fitted into the form of this little book of lined pages. But writing by hand felt raw and intimate in a way that the keyboard just doesn't achieve. At some point it will be digitised, and, if you feel like it, you'll be able to read a little piece of my heart online. I'll let you know.

See this post for more details about the project.

Friday, 7 June 2013

the cat's pajamas

So I was, you know, wandering around with a grouchy baby in my arms who wouldn't be put down and cried if I sat down, and wondering what creative thing I could do standing up with him in the sling. Then I remembered this cute cat stencil I've had lying around, ever since receiving this wonderful box set of Agnès Varda's films for Christmas from my lovely husband. It's the image of Varda's cherished (and sadly deceased) cat Zgougou.

Seriously people, why did no-one tell me how easy this is? OK so my first attempt, on plain fabric (see above) was a bit fuzzy and blotchy, but I still love it. I wasn't sure if the plastic stencil would work (I've heard ironed-on freezer paper is the best bet), but I'm totally fine with the results, even if their is some seepage. Next up: a yellow t-shirt of my son's:

It totally transforms this plain yellow shirt which, frankly, I wasn't too keen on, into something cool! I can't wait to see him wearing it now. In the photo at the top of this post you can see that it even works on patterned fabric. This stencilled vintage material is going to become an appliqué on something - but I'm not sure quite what yet. I love it so much I want to choose carefully.

If you'd like to try, it really is the simplest thing in the world. All you need is:

- a stencil
- some fabric paint (I used Dylon, £2.95 per pot and it will go a long way)
- a paintbrush
- tape (I used some parcel tape that just happened to be on the kitchen table)
- 2 old tea towels you don't mind staining (one for putting behind the fabric while to absorb any paint that seeps through and the other one for ironing the stencil to set it).

I literally want to put cats everywhere now, it's kind of addictive... but I also want to try making my own stencil. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

more love letters

Have you ever written a letter without knowing who will read it? Me neither, until I saw an intriguing photo on Annee Apple's instagram feed. There was an envelope on which was written 'Open me... If you find this letter it's for you to keep'. I followed the leads to find a website,, encouraging people to write letters full of love to strangers and leave them for someone to find. I decided to join in.

I love the idea of finding one of these letters, so it makes sense that I'd enjoy writing them, imagining the feeling of finding a missive unexpectedly, full of warmth and light. Once I started writing, though, I realised it was a little more complicated than I'd first assumed. Leaving the letter for anyone to find is an incredibly open gesture of goodwill. It meant opening up to the idea that anyone, anyone, could read it. I meant wishing everyone well, even those motorists who drive badly when I'm on my bike, even the rude woman who grumbles when I pull my pram up onto the bus, even someone who might not wish me well at all, who even - to take this idea to its extreme - might want to harm me... Anyone.

It took a little inner adjustment but once I'd had this thought it felt really liberating and well, just good. It made me realise how much energy I waste (me - someone who thinks of herself as a pretty easy-going, people-loving person!) feeling disgruntled or resentful towards people I've never met. Try it - you might surprise yourself! Most of us, all we really want is to love and be loved. Let's spread that love around, to people we've never met, to everyone.

I also had to contend with the idea that the letter might not have its intended effect, might not make the person smile or feel warm inside. It might be ripped up and thrown away without a second thought. But then I thought that the one thing it almost certainly wouldn't do was any harm, I resigned myself to letting it go and leaving it to fate: a message in a bottle.

So if you see a woman stealthily pull an envelope out of her baby's pram and leave it somewhere odd, it might just be me! If you'd like to join in, check out the moreloveletters website.

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