Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Crafty Collective

Herewith is a happy tale, for it involves cake and crafts, what could be nicer?

So, last week, having spent what I decided was an unreasonable amount of time cooped up indoors avoiding the snow, I decided to do something new.  Crikey!  So on Wednesday morning, I collected up the quilt I was working on and set off to a local town to do something I'd always meant to do but just never got round to.  Do you know the feeling?

I was headed here, a crafty shop called Stag and Bow,  which opened up a couple of years ago and I've previously dropped in for a natter now and then but never been to their open crafty morning on Wednesdays.  Why not?  I really do not know!

Well now I'm in the swing of things, so today I packed up my bag again, and my cake this time, and off I set.

Inside, the shop is lovely with a definite vintagey feel.  There's a large table in the middle where crafty folks can sit and chat and well, craft, obviously.

A most inviting scene awaited, the tea warming in the pot with a hand knitted cosy atop, vintage china and cake and biscuits.

The surrounding walls are filled with lovely haberdashery and craft items and also, the work of talented local people which is for sale.

What a treat, to sit awhile with like minded folks, partake of a little Victoria Sponge, and chat and make all things crafty, whether your poison be knitting, beading, patchwork or quilting (and anything else besides).  I've finished the quilt I was working on last week so I took my trusty hexys.  The never ending project!

Once I'd eaten my cake (priorities and all that), I did manage quite a bit of sewing but I couldn't help looking at all the loveliness around me. 

The owner, Pascale, is clearly a very capable crafty lady and the shop offers a whole array of workshops taught by various other talented individuals.  As such, there is much on offer to buy here, from yarn to pom pom trim, fabric to bias binding, feathers to buttons.  Bias binding was what I needed today and it was so nice to be able to buy it locally.

There's a shelf very high up which looks to be full of Liberty Tana lawn so I am saving that for a future visit.

I LOVE these old shop counters.  Even more so when they are full of haberdashery, quite a bit of it vintage.

Around the shop, every available surface is attractively and thoughtfully decorated.  Always something to inspire...

Beautifully made things...

Wednesdays shall never be the same again...

P.S.  Charlie Boy was quite overwhelmed by all your lovely messages on his guest post, thank you so much.  His furry head is really rather large now so fitting through the cat flap might pose a problem!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Guest Blogger

Mum said it was getting ridiculous that we furries had not ventured outside for days.  Well, can you blame us?  We're not daft, we saw that white stuff fall from the sky and we know it's cold on little paws.  But mum is sneaky sometimes. She opened the front door and I was a bit tempted to be honest.  I mean, why go out of the cat flap, every kitty knows it's way easier and much more fun to sit miaowing by the door until the humans open it for you.

But crikey, it's still freeezing out there.  Mum, Mum!  Let me in!  I've been out for at least two minutes now.  

Muuum...I'm sitting on the window sill... doing my sad, cold furry face...

Ha, that's better!  And what's more there's a nice warm hottie right here, with my eidy and cushions, for me to toast on!


Monday, 21 January 2013


Howdy readers.  Buried under inches of heavy snow are we (if you're in the UK, at least)?  Still under the covers?  Oh, I wish.  Of all the days to have to take the Munchkin to school (usually he walks with his Dad), today was the day.  School will be shut, I confidently thought, snuggling back under my eidy. No such luck.  Ah well, I've had a head start on the day and it's lovely and bright with all the white stuff abounding and now, the sun has appeared.  I look like the Michelin (wo)man, I don't think I could wear any more layers!

Yesterday, it snowed lightly but steadily all day.  Outside, it was a little below freezing.  We had three beautiful furry foxes visit, it was delightful to watch them frolic in the snow.

Outside, it looked like a Winter Wonderland.  The Munchkin had been out sledging with his friend on Saturday and so most unusually, he was happy to stay indoors yesterday.  This meant I entirely missed snow play.  I am not at all upset by this!

Best to stay inside and keep cosy, I thought.  Mr HenHouse lit the fire early both days. I shudder to think how many gazillions of units of gas we must have used this last week but am so grateful we have the fires, too, as the radiators just sort of take the edge off in an old Victorian house such as ours. 

You may have guessed that a certain furry someone was eager to make the most of this.  

What have you got to look so grumpy about, Charlie Boy?

Could it be because Vorey has robbed both of the (microwavable) hottie pads?!

Poor Vorey, he's such a tiny cat, he really feels the cold.  Charlie has plenty of fur to keep him warm but the hottie battles are still raging today.  They've learned it's best to stage a sit-in!

I managed a lot of lovely sewing over the weekend, which I'll show you soon.  I had a foray into clothes making with another Colette pattern, and I also decided I must get on with the stepped tile quilt I started ooooh, ages ago.  I also whipped up a roast, got to stay fuelled up in this weather.  That's my excuse, if I need one!

I'm not sure what I did though, as the Munchkin seemed to find it hysterical?  I don't think my cooking is that bad!

Sunday night then, the second best night of the week (after Friday).  Time to settle on the squishy sofa, if one can find room between the furry friends, glass of wine, cosy fire, Mr Selfridge on the telly and a spot of sewing.  Back to the hexys.

Or not, if the Boss has his way!  Stay cosy...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Another Quilty Tip

This morning, when I woke up in bed, I had quite a surprise facing my bleary eyes.  I refer not to the fur ball one of the cats had kindly left me on my candlewick blanket (delightful, but soon sorted by the washing machine) but to the crazy colourful scene playing out over yonder.  I imagine it might be how those hippies felt in the sixties when they were tripping, get it?

You may be wondering why my latest quilt, the scrappy trip-a-long, is in my bedroom. It is not because it is finished and gracing the bed already (I wish!) but because now I have a substantial number of blocks made (twenty), I really needed to see them laid out.

The ideal way to see how your quilt is coming together as you make it is to have a proper design wall, of course.  This is basically a very large piece of board which is covered in flannel on which you then arrange your fabric blocks. You can buy these custom made, for quite a few pennies, I expect, but the question is, where do you put such a thing?  Where do you happen to have enough space and where it won't be completely in the way, too?

As I mentioned, the design board is covered in flannel, that's because due to the furry nature of the fabric, when you put cotton blocks against it, they basically "stick".  The other day, it struck me that our wall of wardrobes was a nice large blank space.  Off I went into my quilty den, in search of my stash of old flannelette sheets which I hoard for backing quilts.  One pre-loved flannelette sheet and four old skirt hangers (from a thrift shop) later, and I have myself a temporary design board.

I actually need my steps to reach the top!  Because my blocks are not entirely flat (because I haven't pressed all the seams yet), I have used a pin in each corner to help keep the blocks stuck on. 

The beauty of this arrangement, along with its "cheapness", is that it is not permanent, so when I do not need my "design board", I can simply roll it all away and it shall take up precious little space to store.  I now need to get a larger sheet as I've still two rows of blocks to add to the bottom!

It really does help with a large quilt such as this, with such a scrappy nature, to stand back and see the patterns emerging.  Taking a photo and looking at it on the screen helps you to see the quilt top in a whole new light and pin point areas which either work really well and can be replicated or don't work well and need to be moved around.

I am in a bit of a quandry with this quilt.  On the one hand, I want to just enjoy making it and not be too "controlled" with it, that is the idea of a scrappy quilt after all.  It's meant to be a bit crazy but I feel it needs a bit of order to allow a pattern to emerge, then again I do not want to have all the leading diagonals in the same colour or fabric as this creates too much of a distinct pattern for my tastes.  My head naturally likes a bit of tidiness and order so I am having to fight to allow the scrappy-ness to join in! 

This quilt top has certainly sent Charlie Boy into a trance!  I think he's dreaming of the day when this top becomes a quilt and he can cosy up in it.

Just hold the fur balls please, furry friend!

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Amongst my daily mooching of blogland and of course, Pinterest, I couldn't help but notice an awful lot of images of a pretty fabulous quilt design.  It promised to facilitate some serious stash busting and well, I have quite a serious stash to bust!

I quickly discovered that a major QAL was going on, that's a "quilt-a-long" to you and me.  I didn't hesitate much before deciding to join right on in as a "trip around the world" quilt had long been on my admittedly rather extensive to-do list.  This quilt has a slightly different design in that it has many "trips around the world" within it and the idea is that it is super scrappy, though of course, if one wants, it can be more orderly.  There's a huge and thriving Flickr group devoted to this QAL with lots of massively inspiring  pics.  Pop over for a look.  I dare you not to be tempted!  

Fab, eh?  (You'll find a link there to the instructions for making the quilt top, too.)

So it starts with stripping, ooh err missus! I made my usual "buffet" to allow me to select strips at random for each block.  I haven't cut all the strips before starting, far too boring, I've just been cutting some strips in between making each couple of blocks.  That way, my blocks are quite random.  The strips are 2.5" by 16" so fit nicely out of a fat quarter, by the way.

So you select six strips and sew them all together.  You then need to iron the seams in a particular direction.  I couldn't understand the instructions at first but I worked it out in the end and drew myself a little diagram (I even coloured it in, how sad!) which I keep over in front of my ironing board to make sure I get it right.

You then sew the two side ends together which gives you a sort of "roll" and you take this to your cutting mat where the magic begins.  Shock, you are going to take up your rotary cutter and cut six "slices" from your roll.

More shocking still, you're going to need your trusty seam ripper at this point  Yucky, there's nothing worse than seam ripping is there, but fear ye not, as it's gentle seam ripping and in this case, it has a good purpose.

You simply rip out the seam between two of the little squares and open out the "slice".  You do this with each slice, only each time, you open up the seam above the one you just opened.  You need to be careful and organised with this to get it right but it's simple enough.  It gives you the stepped design you can see emerging in the photo below.  Oooh, clever, right?

Once you've sewn those six strips together, you have your block.   Just think how long it would have taken to cut those 36 2.5" squares and sew them together individually.

The block is not looking quite flat here as I haven't ironed the final seams, yet.  Until I arrange all the finished blocks into my final design, I am not sure which way I want the seams to be pressed.

Before you know it, you have a whole load of blocks.  It takes me about half an hour to make a couple and I like that you can just fit in a few here and there between all those dull household chores.  It's quite handy to combine with ironing, I find, as you are already spending quite a bit of your time pressing seams over at the ironing board.  I tend to operate a reward scheme: "When I've ironed a few shirts, I can make a couple more blocks"!

If you are tempted to join in, there are a few things I've learnt along the way:

  • Make sure you are careful and accurate with the basics.  So, cut your strips accurately and sew with proper quarter inch seams.
  • Be careful with your pressing, too.  Don't use too much steam or stretch the strips when you're ironing them, you want to maintain those straight lines to make things easy on yourself later. 
  • I  am impatient and after two rows, I soon realised I was not going to pin together all the zillions of rows it would take to make a sizeable quilt.  I do however, like my squares to all butt together accurately so careful cutting and pressing allows me to simply hold the rows together as I feed them through the machine, and pull or push the squares together just a little here and there to get them just right.
  • You can be as random or as ordered with this pattern as you like and I guess that's down to personal preference.  Personally, I like the quilts which have a bit of pattern going on but still look random and scrappy.  It's clear some folks have completely winged it, others have made sure they have an orderly scheme going on.  You can achieve this by placement or colour.  To this end, the longest diagonal on your block makes the most impact so I've started to give a bit of thought to what colour to use in that spot.  The main diagonal is going to start with the square at the bottom left of your block, so be mindful of that when you start cutting and ripping open your slices.
  • I work on two blocks at a time; this allows me to chain piece with the minimum of stop-starting and cutting threads, and I can keep track of everything with that number.
  • I have two boards on each of which I arrange a set of six strips (use cardboard, spare cutting mat, kitchen tray) and I then work from left to right on each board to keep things ordered.  I carry the boards to and from my ironing board, always keeping each set together and in order.  It depends on how much room you have in order to do this, but if your sewing table is not big enough for both boards, you can make more space by setting up another chair, set of little steps (that's what I do), or a big box on the floor next to you.
  • At first, it can be tricky to know where to rip open your slices and you want to get that right.  Once you've opened up your first slice, lay it out flat and note the two colours at the top.  The seam to rip open in the next slice is the one between those top two colours.  
Clear as mud, eh?  I think you need to have a go and you'll know what I'm wittering on about, honest!

What you should not do, of course, is decide that you really neeeeeed certain colours or fabrics to go in your scrappy trippy quilt and then go online and naughtily order a few.

Bad, bad Hen.

So I've had a little play with the sixteen blocks I've made up so far.  The blocks will measure 12" finished and so I think I'm about half way there.  I'm starting to see a pattern emerging and getting a better idea of how to order my blocks but to be honest, I am not overly concerned.  The beauty of this pattern is that you can just sew along in an entirely haphazard way and still achieve a pretty cool result.  Very liberating.  

Go on, you know you want to!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A Bright and Shiny New Year

Hello readers, and a very Happy New Year to you all, too.  It's been a while since I've been in blogland but the Munchkin has finally gone back to school today (since when did children get twenty-five days off at Christmas?) so I am able to get back to normal.  In fact, I think I need a rest, whoever decided to call Christmas a "holiday" really got it wrong in my opinion!

 (Abigail Brown birdies : Mr Blue, a Christmas pressie to yours truly from Mr HenHouse; Miss Pink, a pressie from... errm... yours truly to yours truly.)

Much as I loved how our home looked and performed over Christmas (by which I mean it was comfy and homely and everything just well, worked, you know), it was nice finally to de-Christmas which took place as soon as I set foot back in the house after our spending New Year away in the West Country.  The tree was but a shrivelled, needle-dropping, ten-foot monster.

Do you know, the sun actually shone for a while this morning?  I am fed up with these grey days we've been putting up with.  Give me cold anytime, so long as it's accompanied by blue skies and the big yellow ball in the sky.  Anyway, I hear that the big chill starts tonight so I'd better get my thermals out and those logs in!

But back to the sun, I don't know about you, but I feel a whole lot better when the weather perks up, it's as if I perk up, too.  The post was promising today, as well.  The Boden catalogue at last has gone all Spring-y with pretty colours and fabrics; pink jeans, minty green cardis and flowery blouses, all photographed against a patchwork-wallpapered wall.  Bring it on, Johnny. I'm pretending it's not Winter and in my kitchen jug this week, resides a pretty candy-coloured bouquet of stocks, daffodils and tulips.  Scrummy.

More tempting post came in the form of a pretty bulb catalogue; I first encountered this company at the Chelsea Flower Show, their stand is always filled with heavenly coloured and scented baskets of perfect hyacinths.  Ahh, a girl's gotta dream...

Much as I loved my Christmassy kitchen, I am just as happy to be back in pretty mode.

(P.S.  Have you had a look online?  It's naughty I know, but Cath has some new goodies in and the kitcheny things are oooh rather pretty.  Not as good as the real thing, of course, such as delightful 1940's goodies above, but nice eye candy and practical all the same.)

In the sitting room, my new charity-shop-bought vase (good old Bridders) is home to some really gorgeous old fashioned chrysants in the prettiest shade of lilac-pink.

Talking of flowers, in a rare restful moment over the Christmas/New Year "holiday", I sat down with a needle and thread, some divine vintage fabrics and much inspiration from a certain marvellous Julie Arkell, and finally made a fabulously floppy flower brooch just for me.

It felt good to be getting crafty once more.

I've started a new quilt, too, ooooh exciting!  How about you, reader, are you getting down and crafty in 2013?