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Foxes quilt & my sister’s flat

Nat's flat

My sister Natalie moved into her new flat a couple of weeks ago, and an Instagram I took went down well so I thought I’d share a few more photos, along with the housewarming gift I made her. I have house envy to be honest, it’s making me want to move and start over with ours!

Nat's flat

It’s a first floor flat in a low 60s block in East London. It’s light and pretty spacious, and she’s done a brilliant job decorating: it’s very ‘her’, cosy and colourful, but still in keeping with the 60s architecture. The sofa is from Made.com and do you recognise one of my old chairs? I donated it when we got a new armchair.

Nat's flat

My favourite part is the seating area in the long living room. The coffee table is vintage G-plan from Past Caring on Essex Road, and the fluffy round rug is Ikea. She’s got the same ladder shelf from John Lewis as we do in our bedroom.

Nat's flat

On the far wall she used the same Cole & Sons wallpaper as our bedroom too. (She lived with us while the purchase was going through so picked up a few ideas – as well as hand-me-downs!) The beautiful sideboard was another great vintage find from a shop in Finsbury Park.

Nat's flat
Nat's flat

She’s quite into foxes, can you tell? They basically informed the ‘orange and wood’ scheme. The print above the sideboard is from East End Prints and the spiral lightshade is from Wilkos.

Fox quilt
Fox quilt
Fox quilt
Fox quilt

For a housewarming/birthday gift I made her this sofa throw/lap quilt, to keep up the fox theme. You can read about all the nerdy construction details if you’re interested over on my sewing blog. We also made that cushion using dashwood studio fabric.

Nat's flat
Nat's flat
Nat's flat

Luckily the kitchen was modern and in good nick so didn’t need changing. There was a hideous textured glass-panelled wall with an old-fashioned serving hatch dividing the kitchen from the living room which came down, and a breakfast bar went in. The bar was custom cut by Unto This Last and looks great.

Nat's flat

She inherited my old table and chair (Ikea) to use as a desk. The gorgeous light is from Tu at Sainsburys, but seems to be discontinued; the typewriter print is from Paperchase.

Nat's flat

I made this storage cube for her, just by staple-gunning an old hinged-lid box with a layer of padding then flannel fabric from Plush Addict.

Nat's flat
Nat's flat
Nat's flat

She’s an English grad and works in a London museum, so there’s a literary and London theme throughout. A touch of Penguin book wallpaper in the bedroom!

Nat's flat
Nat's flat

This is the before! Scraping off the woodchip was a team effort – it took FOREVER but was definitely worth it. I’m so pleased she’s in and has made such a lovely home. It also means I have my spare room back, so next on the list is sorting out my own study/sewing space.

Boro at Somerset House

Boro at Somerset House

Yesterday, a beautiful sunny spring day, Michelle and I went down to Somerset House to check out the Boro exhibition. To quote the website:

Translated to ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for items – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when need required and had to literally make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families repaired and recycled fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down to the next and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Cotton was an expensive and sought-after material in rural Japan, so worn-out clothing was passed along and used as futon/bed coverings, the worn-out parts re-worked and replaced with new patches as necessary. The pieces are beautiful and mesmerising to look at, so have been appropriated as highly collectible artworks in Western countries. As a sewist, I was particularly fascinated to get up close and see the various woven patterns, fabric combinations, dyeing and embroidery techniques used to create such a richly textured surface.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Varying lengths and patterns of hand-stitches for decorative texture.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

I love these dense rows of stitches: nothing is measured or straight, and it doesn’t matter. It seems to tie into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: imperfect beauty.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Some of these patch-pieced ones look like English fields seen from an aeroplane.

Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House
Boro at Somerset House

Look close and you’ll see layer upon layer of patterns and textures. Woven patterns remind me of ikat, one of my favourite types of fabric, and some pieces seemed to have had patterns created by resist-dyeing and shibori-stle knotting and folding techniques.

Boro at Somerset House

You can see why the pieces are compared to art works: some have the Cubist arrangement of a Picasso or Mondrian, where others seem freely expressive like a Pollock or late Matisse.

Boro at Somerset House

This was my favourite, the decorative embroidery looks like mystical cave symbols, and the tan corduroy with the shades of indigo is gorgeous. It was very inspiring to look at a different way of combining and manipulating materials, and really makes me want to create an abstract hand-pieced and -embroidered quilt. The free exhibition runs until 26th April, daily 10.00-18.00. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

DIY Christmas mantel and cards

Christmas mantel

We didn’t get a tree this year – even a baby one in the garden centre was £30 and we really don’t have the space. So instead I just bought a couple of large fir branches (£2.50 each), popped them on the fireplace and adorned them with lights and baubles. I think it looks just as pretty and festive as a whole tree!

Christmas mantel

I got the little horse and sausage dog from Jonathan Adler in the sale earlier this year – they are actually supposed to be Christmas tree ornaments but I keep them up all year.

Christmas mantel

Muji candles are my favourite: they cost like £3 each and smell gorgeous.

Christmas mantel

I found the berry twigs on the pavement after someone had cut their bushes – free decorations for the win.

Christmas mantel
Christmas mantel
The cotton and pussywillow are there year-round but I stuck some baubles on them too.

Christmas mantel
Christmas mantel
Christmas mantel

I made my cards this year using my loaned Cricut machine (first blogged here). There are tons of pretty Christmassy designs available so I picked out these ones and simply stuck them onto decorative paper (leftover wrap and some Japanese washi paper). Super quick but effective.

Crafting with Cricut

Crafting with Cricut

Have you heard of Cricut? (Pronounced like ‘cricket’, not ‘cry-cut’, by the way.) They make at-home cutting machines for crafters and makers – it’s basically like a printer but with a blade, and you can cut a variety of materials to make loads of different projects.

Crafting with Cricut

Cricut invited me along to an introductory day a couple of weeks ago at the lovely Homemade London in Marylebone, to meet the team and get a hands-on demo of the machines and see what can be made with the results.

Crafting with Cricut
Crafting with Cricut
Crafting with Cricut

Here are some of the demo products. The machine can cut card, vinyl and iron-on transfer material, so you can make projects as diverse as die-cut greeting cards, jar or wall decals and cushion or T-shirt designs.

Crafting with Cricut

The machine comes with a sticky-surfaced cutting mat, which you attach your material to and gets fed in like a regular printer. You also need access to the online Craft Room, the software you use to put together the designs. With some machines you can make your own designs from scratch, but with the Mini you use designs from Cricut which are purchased in themed packs. If this sounds limiting, it actually isn’t because the packs have a vast variety of designs, and you can also put together shapes and letters and merge them into one piece.

Crafting with Cricut

Here’s how the software looks. You basically have an onscreen replica of your cutting mat which you load up with designs. You can resize, rotate and merge the shapes before sending to be cut.

Crafting with Cricut

Here’s what I made in our taster session. Everyone needs a spangly fox cushion, right? Cricut kindly sent me a Mini and some materials to have a go at home as well. I was worried I wouldn’t remember how to do everything properly, but the setup and software are all pretty straightforward really. So I’ll be sharing some more projects I’ve made using this cool little machine soon.

Starting to sew

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I know my blog’s been quite sewing-heavy recently, and I had a couple of comments asking how I got started and if I had any tips on where to begin. It’s kind of a tricky one to answer because sewing has been in my periphery for quite a few years and I can’t really remember what inspired me to start and how I learned, but I’ll try to help!

My sewing story

I started sewing on my mum’s machine at home in the summer before going off to university (ten years ago, woe). I’d mostly do t-shirt ‘reconstructions’ where I’d buy vintage shirts from Pop Boutique or the charity shop and cut them into something more fun. Here’s a couple of those old shirts on skinny little baby me.

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I got sufficiently into it that I bought myself a fairly cheap overlocker – that’s the machine that makes sewing stretchy fabrics like t-shirt jersey much easier and gives pro-looking finished seams to garments. I can’t find the exact model any more but it’s something like this one. It’s getting on for ten years old now and still going strong.

P6200359

But then I went off to uni sans machines and didn’t really think about sewing much again until fairly recently when classes at Ray Stitch and the Make Lounge piqued my interest again. This coincided with the Great British Sewing Bee bringing sewing onto national telly, and a huge recent rise in quality home sewing blogs and indie pattern designers offering endless inspiration.

Get the gear

P6190357

If you’ve never used a machine before, buy a fairly entry-level one to start off with. You’ll only really need back & forward and zig-zag stitches to get going; expect to spend £100-200. I’ve got a slightly more swish computerised Janome DC3050 which I’ve been very pleased with.

P6200361

You’ll also need the obvious miscellaneous items like fabric and paper scissors, large headed pins, hand sewing needles, threads and a seam ripper. Definitely a seam ripper. Cute little vintage storage box optional.

Starter projects

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

Start with some basic projects like cushion covers, tote bags and other little projects to get a feel for stitching before moving onto garments and deciding if an overlocker is worth your investment – it’s by no means a requirement, even for clothing. Look online for tutorials to follow: here are a few I’ve seen lately:

- Elena has a great How to Sew series on her blog
- A round-up on simple T-shirt tutorials
- Cotton & Curls has some fabulous simple tutorials for clothing, both up-cycled and from scratch

Or try some of the billion books out there. Here are a few I own and recommend:

Do a class

The Make Lounge

Consider doing a class if you can afford it and have a place nearby. I find it invaluable to actually do something alongside other people and have an expert there to ask if you get stuck. My favourite craft haven The Make Lounge is sadly closing up soon, but have a look at the great list Jennifer made of alternative venues in London. I can highly recommend the classes at Ray Stitch first hand.

Scout chambray tee

That’s it really! Sewing is a fairly easy hobby to get into at an entry level, but I also find it incredibly satisfying to always be learning new, more advanced, techniques and finding that practice does pay off. Feel free to ask in the comments if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help. I’ll also do a post soon on my favourite online resources for fabrics, patterns etc.

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By the way, I’ve started a separate blog for all my sewing adventures at whatkatiesews.net. I’ll probably still post an overview of my makes here too, but there’s all sorts of in-depth sewing-specific geekery that felt out of place here. So please pop over there and follow me if you want to keep up with my sewing makes in full.