Because life’s celebrations shouldn’t cost the Earth

Friday, 27 December 2013

Having a cosy Christmas time

We've had a joyful season surrounded by family and friends and I hope you have all had a wonderful time too.  Christmas Morning Mass was a beautifully chaotic affair and led almost totally by the children.  All three churches in the Parish come together at both Easter and Christmas and it's always lovely to see the children taking full part in the proceedings.  George delivered both the first and second readings, Alice read part of the bidding prayers, Rebecca sang the responsorial psalm and Lucy and Jenny read the Gospel.  Ayana and the girls also altar served ably lead by Joseph.  They were all fantastic and didn't seem in the least bit fazed by a congregation in the hundreds!

We only open stockings before church, so once the dinner (turkey wellington) was safely in the oven, we settled down to open the rest of our presents.  Mr Larkin and the children gave me a new hair dryer to replace the one I've had since school, as it is now inclined to cut out mid-use.  Hopefully this new one will also deliver thirty years of service!  Darling Mr Larkin also presented me with a beautiful poem fresh from his pen.

Alice was very pleased with a new school bag and complete box set of the 'Heroes of Olympus' books by Rick Riordan.  George had a couple of new games, a set of headphones and a seven book set of the 'Game of Thrones'. Mr Larkin was delighted with a Charles Tyrwhitt shirt and some new hi-vis cycling tops.

We spent the rest of the day fairly quietly as we were saving ourselves for 'Boxing Day'.  This is very much a part of a traditional English Christmas and many people chose to spend it with close friends or family.  We dragged some trestle tables out of the garage and had a full sit-down Christmas dinner with ourselves and three other families.  It was a glorious day and we built up an appetite for lunch with a walk around a local lake and ancient woodland known as 'The Scrogs'.

I was stitching right up until Christmas Eve and this year's theme was tea cosies.  The first one was for Alice's godmother who is also one of her teachers and she kindly gives up at least one lunchtime a week to teach Alice and a friend the flute.


As you can see I made it from a beautiful piece of purple tweed and I gave the teacup design a festive tweak with the addition of a snowflake. The back featured a personalised Christmas label.

The script was formed using free-motion machine embroidery and the black stitching used to highlight the applique pieces was applied in the same manner.  The cozy is very dinky and the perfect size to cover a pot of tea for one.  Just the thing at the end of a long day's teaching!

The next two were somewhat larger and should fit a family sized teapot.  They also had little personalised labels on the back but as the light was fading on Christmas Eve by the time I finished I didn't get any decent pictures.

 Happy Christmas!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Upcycled Cafetiere Wraps - Sew Cosy!

 Recycled Wool Sweaters

Last winter I made these cafetiere cosies and lots of people mentioned how much they liked them, so this week I finally got around to making a couple more.

I purchased some Starbucks' themed 'French Press' sets and got to work.  The first thing to do was discard the flimsy red wraps they came with, (I'm thinking I might turn these into hanging 'wool' hearts for the tree) as they were made from a synthetic yarn and were way too thin to offer any insulating properties at all.

I dug out my stash of felted wool jumpers and scarves to find a far more suitable wrap.  If you want to produce your own pure wool felt, just throw some old knitwear into the washing machine on a boil wash, it's that easy!  One quick point to note though, is that if you wash a load with mixed colours, then the fibres tend to transfer to each other.  You can see evidence of this on the dark brown sweater below.  I actually quite like this effect as it gives the final wool fabric a nice artisan appearance! 

This method creates the most gorgeous tactile material which any member of the family would be happy to snuggle into.

Once I had wrestled my choice out from beneath bad kitty, I got cutting and stitching and this is what I came up with........

French Press Cozies for two of George's teachers.  

We decided they deserved a little Christmas present as they write and produce the annual 'Panto' at school.  For non UK readers, Wikipedia describes this typically British Christmas tradition thus;

"Pantomime includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, employs gender-crossing actors, and combines topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale.  It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers." 

"So now you know...........oh no you don't.........oh yes you do.........etc........etc.......!" 

The writing of a production containing 'topical humour' must take hours and this, along with numerous rehearsals, on top of their normal teaching week, represents a very impressive commitment. They take their production out, for free, to the local community and lots of primary school children and old folk get to share in this lovely tradition.

We chose a computer themed motif for the second cosy as the teacher for whom it is destined is an ICT teacher.  The other is for an Religious Studies teacher which as a subject didn't readily lend itself to a suitable design, so instead I came up with a cute coffee cup and spoon.

In homage to the traditionally British Panto I then added appliqued English biscuits to the design.  These are very different to the more American cookies and perhaps an acquired taste.  Pink wafers are a real blast from the past for me, although I'm not sure I would want to eat too many of them as an adult!

I was particularly pleased with how the "Jammie Dodger" turned out. They've been an iconic British biscuit for over fifty years, and were originally named after Roger the Dodger from The Beano.

Other classics featured are a 'Nice' biscuit, a coconut flavoured delicacy which was first mentioned in an 'Army and Navy Co-operative' price list in 1895.  A 'Bourbon Cream' introduced to the world in 1910 by 'Peek Freans' and finally the baby of the group a 'Fox's Party Ring'  created a mere 30 years ago in 1983.

I managed to rip one of the bags of coffee as I 'carefully' opened the original packaging and so I toddled off to the local supermarket to buy a couple more packs of Starbucks' grounds but as they weren't Fairtrade I refused to buy them.  So if you're reading this Mr or Mrs Starbucks I want my coffee to be Rainforest Certified and Fairtrade please!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Appliqued Sewing Journal

 Being thankful for acts of kindness

Today's journal cover is for the mother of a colleague.  I work with her son and he makes time to generate random acts of kindness as he goes about his daily life, those small things which make the world a happier place!  She is a talented needlewoman, so a sewing journal should be the perfect little gift. 

The printed fabric is a design called 'Sew Retro Montage' by Makower UK and was a gift from 'Style at Home' magazine.  I have a couple of metres of it and am looking forward to using it in many more projects.  The sage green material is from a pair of second-hand upcycled curtains.  I put them through the wash which thankfully removed the 1990's style glaze.  Do you remember when shiny cotton was used as an accent fabric in 'swag and tail' window and curtain treatments? 

'Sew Retro Montage' fabric by Makower

 As the notebook cover is for a sewing journal, I drew a vintage inspired sewing machine for the applique.  I then traced the pieces onto fusible web and ironed them into place.

Next I used black thread to outline the design which really makes it stand out.  This is the fun part of the process and I use my regular sewing machine and a technique called 'free-style machine embroidery'.

I embroidered the recipient's name using the same technique 

Happy Christmas June

 ...and Phil!

Monday, 18 November 2013

It's been a while.....

and Christmas is coming!

I am only too aware that I am becoming ridiculously behind in my preparations for the festive season.  I would love to report that my lack of blogging is down to lots of busy stitching and creating ready for the big day, but sadly this would be untrue! Rather, I have been juggling work and family commitments.  As I have no sewing projects to share with you, today's post is going to feature some holiday pictures instead.  

My father is unwell, but is receiving excellent care from Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge and they are keeping a really close eye on him with fortnightly appointments and scans.  He is part of a new trial for alzheimer's and although this is quite a time commitment, my sister and I were able to arrange a little break for us all to Malta which we took earlier this month during the school half term holiday.  

We rented a gorgeous traditional Maltese town house and when we weren't out and about we spent our time relaxing on the roof, which is where my parents are in this picture.  The children loved chilling there as it had sea-views on both sides and a pool.  I'm not over keen on heights but even I could appreciate how beautiful it was.  

I normally avoid the camera at all costs and so, as usual, there are very few pictures with me in them.  The children talked me into these two and requested that we pose using the type of gestures and expressions that the mobile 'phone generation use for their 'selfies'.  So we now have one picture of me with my eyes closed and another where I have an expression like a fish.  It seems I can't pull off the trout pout after all!

The weather was perfect and it was lovely to catch a bit of sun after such a wet September and October in the UK.  The pictures overlooking the Grand Harbour were taken from the Saluting Battery on Valletta's eastern ramparts and whilst we were there Alice noticed that they were selling one of her uncle's latest books.  This, not surprising, led to us all teasing Mr Larkin about his novel and our endless questions as to when it would be finished!  Hopefully next year..........

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Christmas Baking....

Felt Sugar Cookie and Gingerbread Tutorial

At the moment it seems as though much of the UK has become obsessed with all things cuisine due to the enormous popularity of 'The Great British Bake Off'.  Mr Larkin and the children have succumbed to the lure and can be found glued to the television screen whenever it's on. I thought I had managed to resist but even I have found my thoughts turning to baking, but for me it's baking with felt!

At the moment I am thinking about my Christmas sewing as I like to stitch gifts for our family and closest friends.  Last year it was appliqued bunting and patchwork stockings, but this year I thought I might create little ornaments to hang on the tree.  However, my inspiration is lacking as this year's theme seems to be......Baking.....and I don't do that!  

Still even I can appreciate the fantastic skill needed to produce delights such as these;

 And then I had my theme - Felt Gingerbread! So I had a little nose around Pinterest to get me started and found these super examples;

But I wouldn't be happy making direct copies of other people's work, so I spent much of today designing my first felt Christmas gingerbread biscuit.......

There are a couple of things I'm not happy with but hopefully by the time I've designed a snowman, bell, stocking, tree, star and elf I'll have ironed out my faults!

The process was actually pretty simple and whilst there are still elements which need 'tweeking' the basic design  worked, so I thought I would share it with you.

The first step is to cut your felt shapes and using a dab of white glue fix them in place

I then machine stitched around each element (one line of red still to do in the picture!)

I then added a few sparkling beads and sequins to represent sugar crystals  

 The eyes are french knots, although seed beads would also be cute

I stitched a thin strip of matching ginger felt between the top and bottom layers to give the cookie a nice 3-D effect before stuffing them but I actually think I could miss this step out and just sew the top and bottom together.  I'm also going to oversew the seams on the next one rather than blanket stitching them.

The cookies would also benefit from having their design nearer the edge of the gingerbread so that it looks more like 'flood icing'.  This is obviously a simple change to make, I'll just cut a smaller brown felt circle.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Cushion Love

I'm back in 'Style at Home' magazine!

This month's Style at Home magazine is all about cushion love and it's available in store now...

....and I designed and stitched one of the cushions featured in its pages!

 Jennifer, the editor, had asked me back in the summer if I might be interested in being involved with the issue and my answer was, of course, a resounding "Yes, Yes, Yes!" .  Well, the very next day, I received an exciting package in the post;

It contained a plain faux silk cushion cover, return postage and some very lovely and extremely generous 'Hobbycraft' vouchers.

I immediately got busy designing and making my cushion cover.  The woodland theme remains very popular this season and so keeping this in mind, I came up with a Stag's head silhouette but added a modern twist with a "Hello Deer" pun on the reverse.  

Style at Home have also featured my design on their Facebook page, so do pop over and have a look;

The design brief took me out of my usual comfort zone as I don't normally work with faux silk as I really prefer linen, cotton and wool.  However, conveniently enough, the pair of linen curtains which I recently bought from the local car-boot sale to upcycle for my tea cosies and journal covers had wide faux silk pin-tucked borders in various colours which proved perfect for this project.  In fact, I have now been converted to the pleasures of 'silk' especially with Christmas coming up and I have a couple of projects in the pipeline which I will be blogging in the form of tutorials over the next few weeks.  Keep coming back as they'll be fairly straight forward to sew and perfect for seasonal gifts!

Finally, don't forget to treat yourself to this month's Style at Home, it's perfect value at just £1.99

Friday, 4 October 2013

What a guy!

Appliqued Music Journal

George is part of a production of 'Guys and Dolls' this week.  It is a school performance and they're famous for the fabulous quality of their shows.  It's been a very demanding rehearsal schedule, with after school sessions for the last year, as well as all day Sunday for the past three weeks.  Now if this sounds a lot for the children, just think what it must be like for the teachers - No wonder they only put on a show once every three years!   We therefore really wanted to show our appreciation to the main staff involved and so I've been stitching a couple of personalised journals.  

Our children attend a Catholic school and as we also go to Mass in the same parish there is an overlap between school, home and church.  We are blessed with a beautiful church family, they have teachers who are their god-parents and we've shared so many holidays and wonderful times together in a large group since they were babies.  The upshot of this is that I was not reliant on George attempting to describe what the Head of Music looked like for this journal cover.  However, I'm still not actually convinced that I have captured Mr GB's likeness as, whilst he is perhaps a 'little thinning' on top, in real life he has quite a boyish charm going on!  Just think Matthew, you only have to wait ten or fifteen years before you grow into your journal cover!

The design was hand-drawn and all the pieces individually cut before being attached to the main fabric with fusible web.  I then used a pencil to gently mark the facial features before 'free-style' machine stitching the whole design with black thread.

The design was completed with the recipient's name and a very obvious pun based on the name of the show!


The second gift was a little more difficult as it was for a teacher I haven't yet met, so I therefore decided against attempting another likeness and instead stitched a cute teacher owl.  

The multi-coloured fabric was cut from a little girl's dress by British designer Jasper Conran. It was a car-boot sale buy last weekend and was just 50p, it's also going to be perfect for Easter egg appliques.  The dress featured a very full skirt so offered up yards of gorgeous material.

The little shape you can see in the top right corner is a matching mirror compact.  I was sewing late into the night to get this second journal finished so the photos were taken in very poor light, the colours and weave look much nicer in real life - Honest!

Friday, 27 September 2013

A little bird told me.....

Upcycled Fabric Journal Cover

My niece has just started her first term at Nottingham University, so I thought I would mark the occasion by stitching her a journal cover.  I altered the original design a little, so that it included both her university and field of study as well as her name.  The birds were created using raw-edge applique and freestyle machine embroidery.  The writing is also freestyle (freehand) machine stitched.  It's such a great technique, no wonder Kirstie Allsopp has described it as 'the crack cocaine of the crafting world'! 

Yes, Ellie is off to study Politics at Nottingham and we're all very proud of her. Although, I can't believe that she is old enough to be going!  I can still remember how excited I was when I first went off to university and how much I valued getting letters and parcels.  I'm not sure that people send so many letters these days and today's youngsters could easily miss out on the thrill that comes from checking the post each day.  With this in mind it was lovely to stitch a little gift to package and send.  I purchased an academic diary to pop inside the cover, but ensured that it was not such a snug fit that she couldn't swap it for a notebook or journal if she preferred. 

The lining was cut from this adorable piece of soft vintage cotton lawn in muted tones of pink and blue,

as you can see it's a 'Laura Ashley' classic from 1977.  I'm sure that to Ellie this will seem absolutely ancient!

The cute design I used is extremely versatile and is both easy to sew and very effective when finished.   

Well done Ellie xxx

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Appliqued Fabric Tag Tutorial

Personalised Linen Tag

As our warm weather gradually fades, my thoughts have been turning to Christmas.  However, I can't yet bear to completely give up on summer, so today's sewing project would work equally well for either a luggage tag or a Christmas gift tag.

Personalised linen tag

Beady eyed UK readers will have noticed that I have used a clothing label from a British supermarket called 'Asda', as they have a clothing line named 'George'.  The name comes from the designer George Davies who was also the original designer for 'Next' and luckily enough my son is also called George!  


The first step is to cut a tag shape of your choice from a piece of iron-on interfacing.  I used my Sizzix machine for this, but if you don't have a die-cutting machine simply cut one by hand.

Next, using a warm iron, fuse the cut shape onto the wrong side of your fabric.  I then held the fabric up to a window so that I could trace around the outline onto the right side using a Frixion pen.  These pens are sold in most supermarkets and when used on paper the ink disappears with the slight friction caused by rubbing.  On fabric the marks disappear when pressed with a warm iron, genuis! (...and much cheaper than pens sold specifically for quilting)
Having the outline of the tag on the right side of the fabric makes the correct placement of the applique shapes much easier.

So, using a fusible double sided bonding web such as 'SteamASeam' or 'Bondaweb', place your applique pieces onto the right side of your tag.  Once you're happy with your design, iron the pieces into place and then machine applique using a reduced stitch length.  I would also recommend using an open-toed machine foot so that you have a clear view of your work as you sew.

 The ribbon tag is straight, it's just my camera angle, honest!  

Now make a 'sandwich' of the front and back of your tag, placing right sides together.  You don't need to cut the back piece into a tag shape yet, just keep both front and back as simple rectangles.

The next step is to simply stitch both pieces together.  In order to keep the lovely tag shape, use the interfacing outline as your guide, keeping the machine's needle just to its right. Don't forget to leave a gap for turning!

Trim the seams, leaving a little extra on the opening as this makes tucking in the raw edges easier.

Almost there!  Now simply turn your tag right sides out and sew the opening closed.  I added some top-stitching around the edge to give my tag a more finished and professional look, but you can leave this step out if you prefer.

Attach an eyelet or sew a length of ribbon to the top of your tag and that's it...

All done!