Saturday, 6 December 2014

New Year - forget First Footing - go visit the Newly Weds

I'm jumping forward a few weeks to the end of the year to share some more unusual New Year's Eve traditions.

The Mari Lwyd, a Welsh Mumming tradition
It all started when asking my husband what he knew about Mari Lwyd as part of my Christmas tradition blog series. The Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare or "Gray Mary" in English) is a Welsh mid-winter mumming tradition, often used to celebrate the New Year but it traditionally took place anytime between Christmas and late January.

Small groups of well wishers would be accompanied by a person disguised as a horse, and would go from house to house and sing a traditional song challenge at each door, hoping to be invited in for food and drink.  Mari Lwyd could look rather gruesome as it included a real horse skeleton - although the one shown in this picture from the Material Cultures website has been decorated with pretty rosettes. 

My husband told me about another Welsh tradition he had once taken part in when staying with a friend of his in West Wales. It was the custom locally to visit the houses of anyone you knew who had been married during the year. But just like First Footing, you were not allowed to enter the house until the New Year. After spending a very festive evening in the traditional hostelries (ok the local pubs), the newly weds rushed off home just before midnight, so that they would be ready to welcome friends and family, and the odd visiting stranger or two.  Of course, depending on how may people you knew and how many weddings there had been that year, you could end up having a very long night....

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Wales.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Does Santa really live at the North Pole?

Dressed for the Cold - Bodleian Libraries' Shop
Legend and stories tell us that Father Christmas (or Santa) lives in the far North. Exactly how did St Nicholas from Turkey end up in such a cold place, nobody knows, but that hasn't stopped people telling the tale.

For example, Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist, did a series of drawings showing Santa living at the North Pole. Nash also gave him a workshop for building toys and a large book filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice!

And one of my favourite authors, J.R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit etc) wrote Christmas letters and drawings to his children between 1920 and 1943, including this one of Father Christmas dressed for the cold at the North Pole.

Many countries lay claim to be the home of Santa - well, the Artic Circle does cross many borders after all. In North America, letters to Santa are addressed to The North Pole, although the US uses an actual city in Alaska called The North Pole, and Canada uses the postcode H0H 0H0 - which is brilliant. And of course he has lots of different homes in the Nordic countries too, especially as many people wonder how the reindeer can find lichen to eat at the real North Pole! Maybe it's part of his magic so we don't really know exactly where he lives.

Me, I like to believe he's at the real north North Pole - you know, the one marked by the intersecting longitude lines on the globe. Although we can't see his home - it is magically hidden - I know he's there.

Santa Envelope - Welsh version - The Old Button
I imagine his home to be warm and cozy, with lots of log fires and plenty of comfy chairs for enjoying hot chocolate and mince pies. There is a workshop where he and the elves still make traditional toys - although he's sub contracted the more modern stuff to the big toy factories in recent years; stables (and lots of lichen) for the reindeer, and of course a sorting office for all the letters....

Of course, you don't have to post your letter - my children always wrote handwritten letters and left them in envelopes on the mantlepiece for his magical helpers to collect. I've developed this tradition into a gorgeous wool envelope design, with the address hand embroidered on the front - we call him Sion Corn in Wales, and Pegwn Y Gogledd is Welsh for The North Pole.

But the elves reliably assure me that if you believe, your letter will get to Santa, whatever address or language you use.

Every Christmas Eve in our house, we track Santa with NORAD - well I say we, but it's mostly me. My husband and teenage kids may watch a bit, but I check every hour and watch all the video clips -  Christmas doesn't start for me without a glimpse of the man himself in his sleigh pulled by reindeer - with Rudolph leading the way. But although he does seem to set off from the North Pole, NORAD are very careful not to give away his exact location!

Norad Tracks Santa
Why does NORAD track Santa? This You Tube video explains how in 1955 a little girl called the the Continental Air Defence Command telephone number by mistake, and asked the colonel on duty if he was Santa. The colonel explained that he wasn't, but that he had radar that could track him.  And the rest is history.....  Norad starts getting ready to track Santa on the 1st of December, and the main event starts on Christmas Eve of course, but they do have a great trailer.

And what about those fantastic reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen - these are named in the brilliant The Night Before Christmas poem (originally called A Visit from St Nicholas). But what about Rudolph? Where did he come from? Apparently the story of Rudolph can be traced back to a specific author - Robert L. May, a cartoon - who created the idea of a misfit reindeer who saves the day for Santa on a foggy Christmas Eve, for a Christmas coloring book.... Or did he think it up all by himself? Maybe he saw Rudolph's flashing nose one Christmas.... and Santa asked him to tell the story....

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Christmas Stocking Story

Many years ago, in the 3rd century or so I am told, there lived in Greece a man called Nicholas. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra and there are many stories and legends about how he spent his whole life giving gifts to people in need. One of these stories is about stockings...

 Origami figure from St Nicholas Center website
One night, or so the story goes, Nicholas was visiting a village when he heard about a poor merchant who couldn't afford to give his three daughters a dowry, which meant they couldn't marry and may have to spend the rest of their lives as servants.  

Knowing the proud merchant wouldn't accept charity, he rode by that night on his white horse and tossed three bags of gold coins into the merchant's chimney.  The bags fell down the chimney and landed in each of the girls stockings which had been hung up that night by the fire to dry.  On waking the next morning, the girls were delighted to find their gifts and went on to make good marriages. 

And since that day, children have hung up their stockings by the fire, hoping for gifts to fall down the chimney from St Nicholas....

And so the story of St Nicholas and the gifts given in stockings began. But over the years in different countries, the giver of gifts changed his name - in the UK, he became known as Father Christmas, and in France Père Nöel. In Germany he was called The Christ Child, or Christkindel, and the tradition travelled to America and became Kris Kringle. And in Holland, toys were left in wooden shoes called clogs by Sinterklaas - and Dutch settlers to the USA are likely to be the origin of the modern name Santa Claus.

And the origin of the famous red coat. Is it in recognition of St Nicholas's bishops robes? Or is it from the time of the early Coca-Cola adverts? Perhaps only St Nicholas knows.

Of course fashion changes and children usually wear socks instead of stockings now. I remember as a child using one of my father's old football socks as a "stocking" as it was bigger than my child sized sock. It was big enough for lots of goodies including an orange and some walnuts, a book and a small toy or two. And of course some sweets and chocolate. It did look rather lumpy though!  Do you remember what was in your stocking as a child?

I hope St Nicholas (or Father Christmas or Santa Claus...) leaves some great gifts in your stockings this year.  And if you don't fancy leaving him a lumpy old football sock to fill, why not take a look at some of my quirky Christmas Stockings (available to purchase seasonally through my shops)

Nativity Stocking by The Old Button
Howdy Santa Stocking by The Old Button
Holiday Santa Stocking by The Old Button

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Yule Log

The Yule Log
The medieval Christmas was a welcome mid-winter celebration, starting with the lighting of the Yule Log with the saved end of the previous year's log, which was burnt continuously for the Twelve Days of Christmas, providing much needed light and warmth. Some 17th centuary historians wrote that the Yule Log was a way of blending pre-Christian traditions into the Christian faith - linking the birth of Jesus to the winter solstice - or Yule - a celebration of fire, light and joy celebrating the turning point of winter and the new born sun.

The Yule Log was originally a whole tree - one end would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room, and over the 12 days it would gradually be fed into the fire. Of course, this is not so easy with modern fireplaces!

Many countries and regions still have a Yule Log tradition with lots of interesting local variations - for example in Catalonia in Spain, Tió de Nadal or Christmas log is covered in a blanket and fed grass or fruit, then beaten with a stick to an accompanying song persuading it to "poop" sweet edible gifts - a fun tradition that has its roots in hopes for a fertile harvest the next year.

In Devon and Somerset in the UK, some people use a large bunch of ash twigs instead of the log, based on a local legend that the shepherds found some bunches of twigs to burn to keep the baby Jesus warm.  And in parts of France the log is sprinkled with wine so it smells nice when burnt.  Here in Wales we don't have any specific yule log traditions - but it is sometimes called a boncyff Nadolig meaning Christmas log or "Christmas stump"!

The most modern tradition I found is the TV Yule log in America, where in 1966, a Yule Log burning in the Lord Mayor of New York's fireplace was shown on TV on Christmas morning.  The TV Yule Log is still being shown today - you can watch it yourself on the web through

But for many of us, our Yule log is a chocolate one. The Chocolate Yule Log or 'bûche de Noël' is a chocolate sponge rolled into a log shape and smothered in rich chocolate cream. Delicious.  If you fancy making your own - here's a link to the Hairy Biker's Yule Log.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas - a Perfect Gift List?

Traditionally since medieval times, Christmas in the UK was celebrated over 12 days starting on Christmas Day - the 25th of December, and finishing on the eve of Epiphany on January 5th.  The period celebrates the time between the birth of the baby Jesus to the coming of the Three Wise Men, who brought lavish gifts to the infant king.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Gift List
The traditional carol - The 12 Days of Christmas - was first written down in the 1700s but dates from earlier times and may originally have come from France. There are many origin and hidden meaning stories but there is no evidence that it is anything more than an amusing memory game or rounds song - as this article on Snopes explores.

The carol celebrates a time of dancing and music and, of course, gift giving, with a different gift being sent to the giver's true love on each of the 12 days of Christmas. 

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

and so on... 

I have to say, it was quite an impressive gift list. Not sure I'd want all those swans, lords and ladies in my house at the same time though. And the pipers and drummers would get kind of noisy.

Today we still give gifts to our loved ones at Christmas, and as those of us with young children will testify, some of the gift wish lists can be as fanciful as the Twelve Days one! 

If you are going through your Christmas gift lists, you may want to check out the fantastic handmade gifts showcased on Craftfest. Here are some of my favourites - which have been inspired by some of the Twelve Days of Christmas gift ideas.

Some say the first 7 gifts are all about birds. The partridge, turtle doves, geese and swans are easy enough to visualise. And hens, sure - although perhaps French hens were fancy ones with gallic charm! But what about gifts number 4 and 5? The four calling birds is likely to mean black birds, as the original word was colly, an old regional English term for black. And the five golden rings may relate to ringed necked birds, possibly pheasants. All of these birds would have been welcome edible gifts at Christmas.  No sign of a turkey in the song though - that's a rather more recent festive fare! 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Elen's Prom Dress - Part 4 - Laced Corset Back and that Dratted Rolled Chiffon Hem

This is the final post on Elen's prom dress and I'd like to share with you how I did the laced corset back, and what I thought would be the hardest part of sewing her dress - the chiffon hem! Oh, and let's not forget the blinging up.

I thought the laced corset back would be fairly straight forward. I'm familar with lacing from doing stage costumes and she had tried on enough laced backed prom dresses for me to know the lacing had to be strong.

Edwardian corset
A corset was traditionally an undergarment made from heavy fabric that had bones (initially whale bones) inserted into channels sewn over the seams.  It was used to shape the body - often into unnatural shapes - through the tightening of the back ribbons, which cinched the waist in to tiny proportions.

I found this fantastic blog article What everyone ought to know about wearing a victorian corset on the Historical Sewing website, which gives some facinating tips on wearing a historic style corset - including one on visiting the "facilities"!

Modern corset bodices borrow many of the principles of historic corsets, but are not as so damaging to the body as the extreme corseting approach, which could cause significant problems to a woman's body. 

Elen's prom dress was in a corset-style and used plastic boning so wouldn't have the same effect as a correctly tailored corset, but even if you are not looking to get that tiny waist effect, the most important part of lacing a corset is getting it to cinch in the waist so that the upper bodice is supported from the torso. I've seen so many girls hitching up their strapless prom dresses all night because they rely on tight lacing round the bust but the corset bones aren't supported correctly from the waist area. 

I needed the lacing ribbon and loops to be strong so I could lace her up tight - often fashion dresses have skimpy lacing that snap and loops that pull out of the seams.  And I wanted them to look the same as the dress so I decided not to use satin ribbon but to make rouleau loops and cording from the satin and chiffon overlay.  

This How to make rouleau loops tutorial by Peggys Pickles shows how to sew together long strips of fabric (right sides together) that are then turned inside out to make a long thin tube with the right side showing. This slightly round shaped cord can be used to make button loops, but is also great for lacing loops and ribbon, especially if it's made a little wider than normal. You can add extra strength and prevent bias stretch by threading a polyester or cotton cord through.

I also found this fantastic How to make loops for the back of a wedding dress corset You Tube Video by Des Swags Curtain Make which shows how insert the central cord as you make it and use it to pull the whole thing the right way through. Brilliant - although I agree with the lady in the video - it is really hard to pull the cording through the middle. 

Sewing the loops to the bodice - I took a length of rouleau cord and tacked it to the v-shaped back of Elen's bodice (not the lining) - in loops as shown in my diagram left.

The actual loops are the bigger ones that fall to the left in the diagram - when I was happy with the size and shape (and checked they matched on both sides) I machine stitched in place (I actually sewed it just inside seam allowance line) - sewing it twice for extra strength.

I then placed the lining on top of the whole bodice (right sides facing) and stitched together up each back seam and along the top, before turning right sides out and slip stitching the bodice lining to the skirt seam along the inside waist. 

I then had a dress with a lined bodice that had matching loops that were caught between the bodice and the lining seam - strong and neat.

The lacing was another very long piece of rouleau loop cord made in the same way as the loops and just threaded through in a criss cross pattern when putting the dress on.  And the lacing was straight up the centre of her back - unfortunately she is twisting slightly in this photo so it looks out of line.

(I didn't use rouleau loops to fasten the self covered buttons on the skirt as they were too bulky - I used shirring elastic to make stretchy loops that disappeared behind the little buttons.)

Blinging it up - this photo shows off the beautiful diamante trim - this was a pre-stoned chain in a beautiful scroll shape that I hand stitched to the bodice top and waist line - so it can easily be removed when laundering.   It was really hard to sew on though - I kept getting the thread caught up in the stones and loops.... This actually worked in our favour though for a headpiece as Elen's hairdresser needed to use hardly any pins to keep some in place in her hair. 

And talking of hard work..... I'd been dreading doing the chiffon hem.  I had made a chiffon wedding dress for my sister many years ago and the double folded hem was not my best work! So I did a bit of research and came up lucky with this fantastic You Tube video How to sew a rolled chiffon hem by Ami Simms.

Contrary to my assumptions, you don't roll up the hem before stitching, but you form a ladder of tiny stitches that connect to each other by thread slipped between a folded hem - when you gently tug on the thread, the fold rolls up on itself and the stitches disappear.  Amazing.

After cutting the hem to the right length (poor thing, Elen had to stand on a box for ages while I measured, pinned, checked, and then rechecked), I gave it a go.

It was so simple to do and although it took a bit of time, I actually loved doing it - I sat in front of the television and just stitched away. The finished hem looked stunning. I wish I'd hand rolled the satin underskirt and lining now....

Ah well, there's always her wedding dress to do, although I hope that'll be a few years in the future...... In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few more photos, including one of Elen with her grandmother and the links to the earlier blogs about Elen's Prom dress. Part 1: A design concept     Part 2: Boned corset bodice     Part 3: Bias skirts in satin and chiffon

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Elen's Prom Dress - Part 3 - Bias Skirts in Satin and Chiffon

Part three of Elen's prom dress is all about bias cut skirts - the good, the bad and the ugly.

For the skirt of the prom dress, I was using a pattern for an A-line bias cut petticoat, which I was going to attach to the boned corset to make a single garment.

Elen wanted it fuller than the pattern, so I "inserted" a wedge section to increase the hem circumference without adjusting the waistband. This didn't work brilliantly - bias cut patterns are perfectly drafted and if they are very unforgiving to change. So the satin underskirt draped a bit unevenly but it wasn't too bad and I reckoned I could work with it as I was adding a fuller chiffon overskirt.

You can see from the photo that the waist to hip underskirt is completely smooth against the body -  essential as the top bit was going to be cut off and the line shown by the stitches would be the new dropped waistline.  I found this new waistline by pinning the bodice over the underskirt and using tacking stitches to mark the line. The line curved down over the stomach, was higher at the side and dipped down again to two "V" points at the back - all matching the shape of the bodice lower edge.
We had decided against an smooth A-line chiffon overskirt - the colour of the fabric was stunning but looked even more effective when gathered. And this would make the skirt even fuller, which Elen decided she wanted. Note to self - don't let "client" change her mind too many times!

I decided the the chiffon overskirt would be a full circle with the "waistband" twice that of the underskirt to give nice gathers. Of course the fabric wasn't wide enough, so I cut a half circle for the front and two half circles for the back panels. So I only had 3 seams (2 seams too many in my opinion) which I sewed together using a french seam.  French seams are perfect for chiffon - the raw edges are enclosed neatly and they help reduce the puckers and wonkiness you can get when sewing stretchy bias edges.  I found this blog article by The Dreamstress has some really helpful tips and tricks for sewing french seams in chiffon. 

Now, my "circle" pattern was perfect - I'm a mathemetician at heart so I worked out all the lines and curves and lined up the chiffon selvedges really carefully. But when I hung it up I was horrified. The hem dipped by over 10 inches. A quick search online and I found my answer.

Apparently fabric warp and weft "gives" differently, which is what gives bias cut panels such a nice drape. But in a full circle, the difference is distorted significantly and the fabric stretches unevenly - and continues to stretch. People who handmake full chiffon belly dance skirts recommend you hang the cut skirt for a month before sewing up. I didn't have that long, but I did hang it up for a week and hoped for the best.

Now I had to add the gathered chiffon to the underskirt. Remember the tacked line that marked the new dropped waistband - that was my guide for adding the chiffon skirt.

I gathered the waistband with machine running stitches and pinned and tacked to the underskirt. Then pinned the bodice in place to check it worked before machining sewing the chiffon into place.

Then, very bravely, I cut away the excess silver duchess satin.  Now I had a full skirt, with a dropped waistline that followed the shape of the bodice lower edge, which I could sew together.

Even though I had checked and double checked every stage, I was very, very relieved to find it all went together perfectly - the skirt hung beautifully from the bodice - both on my dressmakers dummy and on Elen!

Nearly finished now. All I had left to do was create the corset back fastening and add some bling.... Oh and add a petticoat lining and do a rolled chiffon hem.....  Will this dress ever be finished? 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Elen's Prom Dress - Part 2 - boned corset bodice

Elen in her finished prom dress
My daugher Elen wanted a strapless boned bodice for her prom dress and I'd been lucky enough to find a pattern for a bodice and skirt that I thought I could adapt.  (You can read about her design ideas in Elen's Prom Dress - Part 1).

I'm giving you a sneaky peek of the finished dress - as the photos of the work in progress are a bit dull!

Here she is at my mum's house on the night of the prom - checking out her hair and make up in the mirror. She looked absolutely stunning - really elegant - I was very proud of her.

As you can see, the dress has a sweetheart bodice and self lacing at the back - exactly as she'd asked for.

Cotton toile for accurate sizing

I thought I'd better do a cotton toile first (a sample made up using the pattern to check sizing - but using cheaper fabric) as she seemed to be in between the sizes on the pattern.

And as you can see from the photo of the half bodice toile on the left, I needed to let the waist and hips out a bit, but take the bust in, which was surprising as I thought I'd have to let the bust out based on the measurements on the pattern sizing. Motto - never trust the pattern! Bodies don't come in standard sizes....

From my toile I was able to adjust the paper pattern - I just creased small darts where needed and pinned into place before trying again. I made another cotton toile using the adapted pattern - which fitted perfectly! Hooray!

Boning in tape casing stitched to seam lines

The pattern I was using was unlined so the casing for the plastic boning was supposed to be stitched straight to the bodice.

But I didn't want the stitching lines to show at the front, and I was planning on adding a lining, so I decided to add the boning to the bodice lining rather than to the bodice top layer.

Luckily I decided to test my technique using the cotton toile bodice - the bodice seemed to shrink a little when the boning was applied - so I was able to allow for this when cutting out the lining.

Side view of boned lining

Elen had chosen a soft silver duchesse satin as an underskirt and bodice - that would be overlaid by chiffon.

I had bought some thin lining fabric for the petticoat layer of the skirt but I thought it might not stand up to the pressures of the boning and the tight lacing, so I decided to use the firmer satin as my bodice lining.

The photos show the satin bodice lining (with the right shiny side facing in towards the body) with a soft herringbone tape stitched along each of the seam lines and topstitched down to form a casing.

I cut the boning to size and added a soft binding to the ends so they wouldn't poke into her.  My tape was wider than needed but it didn't matter as it was all hidden inside once I'd added the lining to the main bodice.

If you'd like some more technical help with boned bodices, including how to curve and cover the boning ends so they don't poke into the wearer and how to adjust paper patterns, here are some fab blogs and online articles I found helpful.

Bodice version 1 - unboned

I made the main bodice from the same silver duchesse satin overlaid with aqua chiffon - actually I made two. Elen initially chose a gorgeous pale aqua chiffon in a very fine weave. I treated both the satin and the chiffon layers as one fabric, so all the chiffon edges would be enclosed in the seam allowances. This fine chiffon was really hard to work with - it kept slipping around on the shiny satin - I had to pin, re-pin; tack and re-tack lots of time to get it to sit flat.

But once I'd made it up, we realised it was too pale for her - you can see the first attempt in this photo (at this stage the boned lining isn't attached so it looks rather loose and floppy). She also thought it was too shiny - the fine weave let a lot of the satin show through.

So we chose a darker chiffon which was a much stronger colour on her. It was also a heavier weave that let less shine through and I felt would help the skirt hang better. And there was another bonus, this chiffon was coarser - more granular than slippery, so it was much easier to overlay on the satin.

The new bodice was stitched to the lining along the top seam - I left the two back seams open so I could add the corset lacing loops later. Ok - that was (relatively) easy! Now I needed to work out how to attach the skirt to the bodice!  But that can wait for next time.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Elen's Prom Dress - Part 1 - A design concept

We'd left it rather late to sort out my daughter's prom dress - this is also her main GCSE exam year and due to the staggered approach her school takes, she's either been sitting exams or studying hard since November which rather limited the time she had to go shopping!

Elen had pretty firm ideas on what she wanted - one of her optional subjects was Textile Design Technology and she had already designed her own perfect dress!  

Elegant with a historic feel. Strapless with a sweetheart neckline. A very fitted bodice with boning. With a low waistline (dipped at the front) and a corset back. Full length with a flowing skirt that is not too puffy but has a very full hemline. And in blue or green chiffon over satin. And maybe with a bit of diamante.

Should be easy enough, I thought. But after numerous online searches, lots of phone-calls and visits to loads of shops across South Wales, still no dress. There are hundrends of beautiful dresses out there. And most of them looked gorgeous on her. But none of them were right... too puffy... wrong bodice... too much bling... wrong colour... too straight... I started to regret encouraging her to do the design course!

Ok, Mum, she said - you can make me a dress, rather naively assuming I could just whip up something to her specification! I did make my own wedding dress and have done bridesmaids and prom dresses for family and friends. But I usually started with a pattern not a design concept. And I have an irrational fear of working with chiffon! However, I do make stage costumes without patterns, and although she is almost an adult, she does seem to still have a child's belief that her mum can do anything. So I said I'd give it a go. Brave words.

I looked at dress patterns but there is nothing at all similar to what she wants - they were either too basic or followed current fashion - there were lots of empire line and sheath styles. I even looked at traditional wedding dress patterns - some of them had almost the right bodice but the skirts were high waisted or were way too puffy.

I eventally managed to track down a pattern for old fashioned wedding underwear - a boned corset top and a full "A-line" petticoat - the sort of thing you'd expect to see under a Victorian costume. They were separate pieces but I hoped I would be able to put them together as a dress - at least for the satin under layer.

So far, that was the easy bit. I decided to have a go at the boned bodice first, before worrying about how to add the skirt. I'll share how I got on in my next blog post.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Scrap Fabric Challenge - June: Patchwork Drawstring Bag for Storing Undies

If you work with fabric, I bet you have a huge pile of scrap pieces. I certainly do. And they are all jumbled up in a huge box, which I find much easier to pull out all over the floor than to put back tidy!

I recently read a fantastic book about scrap quilts (and how to sort your scraps) and am completely inspired. I've set a date for sorting my scraps - the 1st July seemed like a good start - but in the meantime I'm going to make a start on using them productively.

Upcycled denim with vintage scraps
I do use my scrap pieces - especially the larger ones - but it mostly tends to be to trim or accessorise a project I am making from my stash of fat quarters or yardage. So the scrap box gets even fuller.....

But recently I have been deliberately using larger scrap pieces on the denim jackets I've been up-cycling.

On this denim waistcoat, I hand sewed panels cut from Tana lawn cotton scraps in a gorgeous poppy print. My mother-in-law had been storing these pieces of fabric for years - I think she had made a blouse with the original material, but the scraps were just too precious to throw away.

Ohio Star and Nine Patch Blocks

But I want to do more - I'm starting to do specific scrap projects, where the main purpose is to creatively use up scraps of all shapes and sizes. And I want to have a go at more irregular, random creations.

I am pretty good at improvisation - nearly everything I make is designed and adapted from my head rather than planned out in advance, but they are still ordered or structured and I like things to line up and be balanced.

Which is why I love doing patchwork with traditional block patterns and repeats, such as my Gettysburg Ohio Star quilt. I used reproduction American Civil War prints in blues and tans and designed the quilt top using Ohio Star and Nine Patch blocks and geometric borders.   
Scrap Fabric Challenge June
But I'm being increasingly drawn to the fabulous random scrappy quilts I found in the book. They look stunning and I really want to make something similar but the deliberate mis-matched seams, random placements, assorted colours and different shapes scare me pretty silly.

So I'm setting myself a challenge. I'm going to create at least one scrappy project each month for the next year - which will have both the benefit of reducing my scrap mountain and help free up my creativity in different ways.

And here's project number 1 - a little drawstring bag for storing underwear - inspired by an offcut of fabric featuring vintage style bras.

OK, it's still based on squares and it's all carefully co-ordinated colour wise, but it is completely made from fabric I found in my scrap box, including the striped backing and white lining. And the patchwork placement is (almost) random - I admit I did play around with it a bit to get a reasonable balance, but it isn't in an ordered pattern. I'm happy with this one - it is early days.....

I made this bag as a donation to a charity raffle being held on the Creative Connections Facebook page on the 21st June - to celebrate a whole year of sharing and promoting the work of small independent crafter designers.

Creative Connections is a on line crafting community where crafters from all backgrounds and techniques can get together to share ideas, get support, show off their latest makes and promote each others work.

Why not pop along this weekend to join in with the Fun Day, or check out the Facebook page at any time. Just click on this link.

Friday, 30 May 2014

From Jean Jeanie to Golden Brown - Upcycled Denim Patchwork Picnic Rug

Upcycled patchwork Picnic Rug
One of the articles in the Summer 2014 edition of Creative Crafting magazine is a tutorial I wrote to make a picnic rug or small patchwork quilt from completely recycled materials.

I just love working with pre-loved denim jeans - they are so soft, especially the vintage styles from Levis, Wranger and Lee. But denim is a really heavy fabric and can be difficult to machine quilt in one piece. So it's perfect for a quilt as you go technique such as rag quilting.
Previous denim rag quilt in reds and blues

I made my first denim rag quilt a couple of years ago, combining checked shirts in reds and blues with old jeans. I used a simple chequerboard design, alternating red and blue patches against denim patches cut from jeans in a similar mid blue tone. 

In keeping with the eco theme, I used bamboo wadding - a fantastic soft low loft batting wadding that is so easy to machine and hand quilt. Bamboo is a very eco resource - it grows very quickly and doesn't need the same chemicals as cotton to grow and process.

Perfect for picnics
For this new quilt tutorial, I used the same technique for the central panel. I chose denim for both dark and light jeans this tiime and added patches of recycled sarong fabrics from vintage garments and offcuts from the manufacturing of new sarongs. 

The indonesian batik sarong prints are just gorgeous - traditional floral, leafy and designs in gold, brown, navy, cream and blues. I think they are stunning against the denim.

This time I chose green wadding - made from recycled plastic bottles. Again very easy to quilt, and washes and dries brilliantly - perfect for a picnic rug!  

I decided to add straight solid pieced denim borders made from patches that included some denim seams - giving extra strength to the rug and adding extra texture. And finished off with a pieced binding from more sarong offcuts. 

If you'd like to have a go at making this picnic rug for yourself and would like instructions, you'll find the full tutorial on
the Summer edition of Creative Crafting - you can buy a download or order a printed copy by clicking this link.

So why Jean Jeanie and Golden Brown the post title?  As well as the link to the golden brown sarong prints and the old denim jeans, these were two of my favourite songs from my pre teen years and at college - and I think this quilt is just perfect for those teenage years in between!

And if you fancy buying the original, it's for sale through any of my online shops. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Starlight....Starbright: Sparkling Jewellery from the Craftfest Blue Team

My third blog post showcasing the Blue Team stalls on Craftfest features the jewellery stalls. I wasn't sure what to call this post - I wanted to include sparkling or twinkling, but inspiration was slow in coming.

Then it struck me when I looked at my first jewellery stall - Seren Bach - which is welsh for little star.
Starlight.. Starbright it would be. 

Star Pendant from Seren Bach Silver
This beautiful Star Pendant by Seren Bach Silver is a one off piece - 3 solid silver stars, each with a different finish and highlighted with a sparkling rhinestone.

Seren Bach is located on the edge of the Brecon Beacon National Park - not too far from me on the South Wales coast. I'll have to wave over the mountains.

Each piece is unique and I just love the way the jewellery is photographed on welsh slate.

You can see more of Seren Bach Silver's jewellery by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Pearl and crystal Bracelet from The Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen's Freshwater Pearl & Crystal Hand Knitted Bracelet reminds me of the Milky Way.

It is so light and airy and the pearls and crystals glisten and glow just like the stars in our own galaxy.   

You can see more of The Little Red Hen's work by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Fire Pendant from Beads Braids and Bows
And of course, although the stars we see in our night sky may appear silver white, there are many different types and colours.

This stunning Swarovski Fire Opal crystal pendant from Beads Braids And Bows reminds me of the Red Giants and of course our own special yellow star - the Sun.

The colours go beautifully together - really warming.

You can see more of Beads Braids and Bows work by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Quartz Bracelet from Silvers Nature

This beautiful white and rose quartz bracelet from Silvers Nature looks like it has its own stars glowing from within it, but is really the way the light bounces off the frosted surface.

It reminded me of the moon - which of course lights up our night sky because of the reflection of the starlight from our sun.

I love the un-earthliness of this piece and the little silver purse charm add a really cute finishing touch. 

You can see more of Silvers Nature's jewellery by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

So, I've now shared everyone from Team Blue - check out If I were a child, what would I choose and Beautiful brilliant blues for the other stalls. I do hope you've enjoyed seeing them, as well as browsing the other stalls taking part in Craftfest this May.

You can find all of the Craftfest stalls by clicking on this link to the Creative Connections website.

And please pop back tomorrow for my special post for the CRAFTFest Blog Tour where I'll be doing a giveaway from The Old Button.   See you then.

Friday, 23 May 2014

If I Were a Child - What Would I Choose from Craftfest Blue Team Stalls

CRAFTfest starts tomorrow so here is a previews from a few more stalls from the Brilliant Blue Team.

To celebrate the start our half term, today's theme is If I were a Child - what would I choose ......

Cat Mosaic by Juesaics

What child wouldn't love this stunning cat mosaic from Juesaics in their bedroom or playroom?

The colours are just brilliant, and the cat is simply, yet perfectly, pictured sitting on the wall.  And just look at the yellow sun - hope your half term has some sunny days.

You can see more Juesaics by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Lego Soap from Gifts by Little Miss

I just love lego. Even though my son is now a teenager he still asks for lego in his Christmas stocking - and yes I usually try and get to play with it even though his models get more complicated every year.

These gorgeous Lego Brick Soaps from Gifts by Little Miss are just fantastic - perhaps I should ask for them in my Christmas stocking - it's never too early!

You can see more Gifts by Little Miss by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Ceramic wall plaque by Jelly Bean Pottery

Remember doing pottery at school?  Mine never looked anything as amazing as this.

The colours are great together and I love how the pattern swirls around in loops and make overlapping shapes. 

Just hang up one of Jilly Bean Pottery's fantastic ceramic plaques - they are sure to inspire lots of young artists.

You can see more of Jelly Bean Pottery's work by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Beano Notebook from The Shed

Beano - how absolutely spiffing. This fantastic wooden book from The Shed has been decoupaged with images from a vintage Beano comic.

There are lots of pages inside - perfect for drawing, making notes, or even making your own comic - I used to love doing that as a child.

I'm guessing this would be a perfect father's day gift - if the kids can bear to part with it.  

You can see more of The Shed's upcycled and vintage style gifts by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Purple Knitted Hat from Emily's Funky Knits
This gorgeous hand knitted hat is by Emily's Funky Knits. I think the colours are so pretty - I love the graduation from purple through lilac to green - then lilac again. 

And I think the little pom pom flower is really cute. Girls had better watch out incase mum decides to borrow it!

You can see more of Emily's Funky Knits by clicking on this link to their Craftfest stall.

Child's Apron from The Old Button

And finally I'd like to share with you one of my apron designs - little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf - I just love this fabric.

Well, I hope you had as much fun browsing these fab makes as I did choosing what to share.There are lots more stalls over at CRAFTFEST- just click on this link to go to the Creative Connections website.

I'll be back tomorrow with some glittering jewellery stalls from the CRAFTfest Blue Team.