Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What a Doll

Well well, who would have thought that sludge could cause a little disturbance? I had no idea sludge was not a widely known phrase. For those of you wondering what on earth I've been rambling on about, there's a rather grim description of sludge here (read at your peril). I suppose sludge is indeed a muddy, silty type substance which is generally fairly negative in its connotations. I use it to encompass a colour palette which is rather murky in tone. This is how I always viewed these Civil War type fabrics, to be fair I really didn't "get" them but I'm glad to say I've widened my tastes (and my stash!) It was probably a little unfair to dismiss my recent handiwork as sludgey. There is beauty in that there sludge!

I have been indulging in more sludgey quilting on a miniature scale and devouring books on the subject. I asked my sister to lend me this book (scared as I was by the second hand prices on the 'net). Any self-respecting Civil War-style quilt maker knows that you have to have a prairie doll to display with your quilts.

Now I will turn my crafty hands to just about anything but I've never made a doll. I've made soft toys, I've made dolly-like clothes (for Katie Kitty for example) but never a doll. Truth be told, I was a bit scared! I read Prairie People over and over, I've not been seen without that book for the past week and yesterday, I decided it was time to get down to dolly business. I chose my doll, "Purleyetta" (the book has a huge list of rather interesting names suitable for prairie dollies) and began tracing the pattern pieces onto freezer paper. I love this stuff. It has a paper side onto which you draw and the reverse is shiny and when the heat of an iron is applied is turns temporarily sticky so it is great for making pattern pieces and templates, you simply iron the pieces onto your fabric and cut round them.

So far so good. Purleyetta is looking a bit worryingly butch here?

The instructions directed for the doll to be made from osnaburg (duly ordered from The Cotton Patch) which is a very loose weave sacking-type material. Not the easiest to work with, I stay-stitched all pieces as instructed and double stitched all seams using a very small stitch size. Oh, the patience.

So I have sewn like a thing possessed (nothing new there) and I would say about 15 hours later, Purleyetta has been born. Not a bit of butchness in sight, out she goes to enjoy the glorious sunshine.

The sunshine is lovely but not handy for photos, it has to be said. I was most trepidatious about creating the doll's face. My sister has always said "But it's the faces. Getting those right. That's the hard bit". I was thinking going Amish might be preferable. But I set to with some permanent fine liner pens, some acrylic paint and a few brushes and it wasn't actually that bad. A bit of trapunto created the nose (oh my, was that fiddly and the osnaburg actually frayed a bit but never mind).

The attention to detail in the instructions was good. The head and body are one piece, then there are two separate legs which you stitch into the body and two arms to hand stitch to the torso. I loved creating the chubby fingers!

Of course, the body was only the beginning because then Purleyetta had to be dressed, lots more pattern pieces to trace onto tissue paper before sewing them up, including full under garments made from vintage sheeting trimmed with vintage lace.

Working on a small scale is fiddly but satisfying.

The book suggests that Purleyetta is a simple soul, without frills, and a true quilter, happy with her quilts. There are instructions in the book for creating Purleyetta's memory quilt so that's just what I did.

I don't have a lot of plaid fabrics in my stash but I had stockpiled some of the Munchkin and Mr HenHouse's old shirts and in they went! They were lovely to hand quilt being made of super-fine cotton.

And the sashing? None other than a reduced-price lady's top from Sainsbury's supermarket (it was even £3 when it went through the till!) It was a shocker to sew with, made with that rather flimsy cotton supermarkets like to produce cheap clothing with, and being gingham, always tricky to try to keep the lines straight but never more so than here.

The little quilt is backed with a decidedly pretty floral print in a calico style. I enjoyed the simple hand quilting which didn't actually take that long. I didn't hand baste this quilt but used a basting spray (505) to fuse the quilt layers which worked brilliantly. Using the thinnest batting you can find is the best tip for enjoyable hand quilting (Dream Cotton in request weight is good).

So there you have it. I'm pleased with the outcome but I will have to psyche myself up to make another doll. That will take oooh, at least a few days! But that's ok as I've got another quilt on the go. You probably suspected that.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

So Sludgey

It's Autumn, my dear readers, there can be no denying it, can there? The sunshine we've enjoyed this week has certainly softened the blow that my favourite season has passed already, quick as that inevitable flash.

There are some compensations though, aren't there? Still beauty all around, if you but look hard enough. In the garden, we are awash with apples with their delightful rosy hue and sweet, crisp flesh.

There is still the odd rose (my favourite, David Austin's Jubilee Celebration), and interesting brambles, teasels and seed heads.

Maybe it's the nature around me which has turned my usual sewing practice on its head? You may recall that sludge and I are sort of old friends, albeit a tad begrudgingly ( if you fancy, read here, here and here) but this year, I am embracing sludge like no other.

My bedside reading is consisting entirely of books like these...

I have become quite obsessed with the "prairie style". This is music to my dear sister's ears who has long been in bed with sludge and is an avid dolly quilt maker. The books above are all by the talented Kathleen Tracy who also has a lovely blog. She mainly creates doll quilts and her books go into some of the interesting history of the American Civil War and prairie life. There's nothing I like more than a book which combines sewing and history; heaven.

Like Squirrel Nutkin, I've started to surround myself with Autumnal, prairie-style goodies (he being a hoarder but not necessarily into prairie style?)

And so I have had fun this week working outside my normal comfort zone, going small and sludgey. Working on such a small scale, means I have been prepared to change my usual way of quilt making. I have been hand basting the quilts in advance of quilting, rather than pinning them as usual.

Then I have even been hand quilting them! Maybe you can just pick out the pretty leafy border design on this quilt?

I cobbled the design of this first quilt together myself. "Bow tie" is a very traditional design, often seen executed in 1930' style fabrics, but here in sludge with an added border. The whole quilt measures 13" by 15 3/4". You know, looking at it, I'm not sure if it isn't a bit mean to condemn it as sludge. In fact, it has a right old mix of fabrics: a bit of charity shop dress, some Liberty, some modern prints, along with all those repro Civil War designs.

I then turned to one of Kathleen's books "The Civil War Sewing Circle" to run up this scrap squares quilt. It's a little bigger at 17.5" x 22.5". I did find the hand quilting on this a bit boring in the end, just going back and forth in a criss-cross fashion, but cannot deny that I like the effect very much. Somehow it just seems right with these quilts.

Goodies then. What did my beady little eye spot in Bridport which just had to come home and be part of my very own sludgy sewing circle?

Oooh yes, that fabulous little Singer sewing machine had to be mine! Talking of sewing accessories, Kathleen Tracy came up trumps again with her pattern in "Remembering Adelia" for a traditional housewife needle case. These were used by ladies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to hold their sewing supplies. They were also carried by soldiers during the American Civil War, often made for them as a sentimental token by a loved family member back home.

I think these are a fantastic practical idea, no sooner had I made one than I made another for my sister. The chance to ummm and ahhh over five different fabrics for one project is an opportunity I certainly relished!

So that is how my new Autumnal header came into being.

And I must confess, I already have yet more sludgey quilts and things to show you soon. The Hen is on a veritable sludgey roll...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Mad as a Hatter

The weekend found the HenHouse posse in Bridport once more, not that we need an excuse, but we wanted to be a part of the hat festival taking place. This was a new festival last year, which we missed, but not so this year. There was hatty stuff going on everywhere. The Art Centre had a bustling hat market...

Sellers had come from near and far.

The talented young lady selling these fascinators had travelled fourteen hours by coach from Fife.

As well as hats for sale, there were folks sporting headwear all over the place. These ladies looked fine in their red and purple ensembles.

This poodle got into the spirit.

These two don't scrub up too badly (even if the lady does look like she's about to take off thanks to the seasonal gusts!)

And the Munchkin, where is he, you may be wondering?

He was off in the social club, taking part in a hat making workshop. Lots of fun he had, too (despite this unusually sombre expression!)

In the museum, there was a display of 1940's hats. Sadly, the photo is not great, taken through the glass.

Hmm, there were definitely a few hats I would not have minded adding to my collection.

Along the street, things were getting jolly and crowds gathered outside the fabulous old cinema to hear the ukeleles.

In the church hall, there were more stunning hats for sale. Both new and vintage (these belonging to EleganceMaison)...

And most importantly, my lovely bloggy friend, Kate, whom I managed to meet for the first time. Kate was selling her beautiful hat pins and accessories, some of which I'm now lucky enough to own.

Mr HenHouse was to be found perusing the wonderful treasures in Bridport's antiquarian book shop. Golly, I love this place, it's beautiful and tranquil and we never come away empty handed.

I, meanwhile, (in a strange "upwards" photo taken by the Munchkin), seemed to be mooning over yet more hats and handbags of the decidedly vintage variety in the brilliant "Vintage at Cornucopia" shop.

I am now feeling slightly miffed that I did not buy this gorgeous vintage hexagon throw. Maybe next time?

After all that culture and retail therapy, it was time to escape to the countryside and breathe in that fresh Somerset air. Ahhhhhh.

The Munchkin spotted this porky friend in the orchards at the cider farm.

This is a really beautiful spot and comes into its own at this time of year when it's nearly time to harvest the apples to make that delicious cider. Yes, we shall return then to see it in all its glory.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Arts and Crafts

I do love a spot of Arts and Crafts. This time I don't actually mean the sort you do with your hands, but rather the design period, that which spanned mainly from the mid-Victorian era to Edwardian times.

My first home was a modest 1930's terraced house. It came complete with original stained glass windows and doors, wooden floor boards and original tiled cast iron fireplaces which rather sold me on it. Although not belonging therefore, to the Arts and Crafts period in terms of its architecture, it did lend itself well to being decorated in the style and that's just what I did. I wish I had some photos to show you but unfortunately, I don't.

At the time, I was potty about all things Arts and Crafts. I worked and saved my pennies which were then spent on William Morris print curtains in Liberty and Pomona wall hangings along with gorgeous copper fireplace fenders and so on for which I bid hard on good old eBay.

I have many many books on the subject and during the school holidays, it was a source of amusement yet delight to me that the Munchkin came over all engrossed with architecture. He'd while away the hours making line drawings of buildings and when I suggested he might like to browse my extensive book collection he was well and truly hooked. So when my parents came to stay for a while and we discussed where to go, I was delighted when my Dad suggested we re-visit Standen, a house I'd visited and fallen in love with at the height of my obsession probably ten years ago.

As you can see, it's really rather stunning, nestled in the rolling Sussex countryside pretty much in the middle of nowhere, a glorious spot, built for a well-to-do solicitor and his family. It is astoundingly well preserved as it has always remained in the family (it's now owned by the Nation Trust).

Inside, I was thrilled to discover that they now allowed you to take photos, albeit without a flash so apologies that they are a little dark, so I am able to share the glorious interior with you. Much of the furniture and textiles were commissioned especially for the house by famous artisans of the Arts and Crafts era such as William de Morgan, W.A.S. Benson and William Morris.

What struck me is that it was a house well placed to make the most of a television-free era. There was evidence of many books to read, musical instruments to play and tapestry and sewing going on. I can't think of anything more heavenly!

All the original features are intact and all the wonderful light fittings by Benson.

The orangery takes my breath away.

So does the kitchen! Farrow and Ball eat your heart out!

Upstairs is spectacularly beautiful. What I think I love so much about this design style is that although it embraces the natural and flowery, it does so in a relatively restrained way with clean lines, with an emphasis on good quality workmanship and good, honest materials. It is not fussy like the Victorian style.

Amazing William Morris wallpapers and fabrics abound.

Oh for a dressing room like this one.

The views from the windows are captivating.

The simple gardens are beautifully tended.

The surrounding cottages on the estate are picture-postcard perfect.

The view from the gardens unsurpassable.

Simply an extremely special place. Do visit if you have the chance.