Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mostly repairs

Although I've been fiddling about with sewing for a few years now, I've never really repaired anything until just lately. For some reason, sewing to me was always about creating something new, or certainly reusing something to create something else, I'm all for green sewing...but repairing? Really? Isn't that...I don't know...kind of boring? It just never seemed to occur to me. Here's a little example. I have a lovely oatmeal cardigan from Monsoon that I wear A LOT. I love it. It's lasted well over the years, kept it's shape, and goes with just about everything. But it started to get little holes forming just above the edges to the three-quarter length sleeves. Very annoying. I took to rolling the seams, which hid the holes nicely, but they would keep unwinding, exposing those nasty little holes. I was complaining about this one day at home when the husbandbot said “well, can't you sew it or something?” and it was like a little lightbulb went on over my head. Wait a minute...I sew right? Maybe he's right...maybe I could repair this cardy, because lets face it, Monsoon clothes are lovely but not cheap; I wasn't about to throw a mostly perfectly-functioning cardigan away. So I stomped up the stairs and had a think. Folding the seam a few times seemed like a good idea, so couldn't I just sew it folded? I decided in the end to use a nice floral fancy stitch I have on my machine and this is what I got.
The fancy stitch doesn't stand out because I did it in cream, but it still looks smart, it looks like there's some detail and NO MORE HOLES. Maybe this repairing lark has something to it after all. 
So was there more repairing to be done? I noticed with horror, as if for the first time, a small pile of things on a shelf above my machine. Gosh...a repair pile! There were a few clothing items of my daughters to repair that she'd long outgrown, and her favourite dinosaur plushy, Radcliffe. A friend of ours bought this dinosaur for our daughter her when she was born, and the stitching at his mouth had come away, and just needed a few hand repairs. So off in my train sewing bag he went and is now fully functioning again! Here he is! He's so cheery :)
While I was at my machine I also started pulling together some stray scraps, thinking about a scrap swap I'm going to do with my friend Rachael. If you don't already know about her blog, I'd recommend you read it. It's called Sew, Ray, Me and I'm always inspired by Rachael's posts and the amazing things she makes. She's recently been working on some sweet embroidery and a fantastic travelling kids art case. Luckily, I also know Rachael in real life, so we often meet up to let the little ones play together and try to swap sewing plans and patterns amid the chaos. So here's the start of my scrap pile for my next swap. Rachael, avert your eyes!
I did actually complete some new things this week too. I finally finished the fossil fish pouch I was working on last week and here is it how it looks!
I'm pretty pleased with it actually. The colours work well and my first zip was a success! I think I'll make more of them. I like bringing our wonderful fossils 'to life'.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Naturally inspired

This week I've drawn a lot of inspiration from where I work. As a Natural History Curator in a local museum, I look after hundreds of mounted and preserved birds, animals and plants. We often get artists coming in to draw the birds and animals, so surely I have a huge resource of inspiration right at my feet, Right? Well, as with many jobs, though I love my work, I strive to leave much of it behind at 5 o'clock when I go home to my husband and little girl, and continue in my other guise of 'wife, mother and crafter'. This week however, I sat on the train and let my thoughts wander, and I started thinking about some of our amazing collections. Two collections in particular caught my imagination this week, our fossils from the Devonian period (around 400 million years ago), and our native Scottish wildlife specimens.

Our Devonian fossils are fascinating. During this period, fish were the highest form of life, and were very plentiful. Many of the fish types that lived then are long extinct, and I explored them so thoroughly during the recent redisplay of our museum that it's no wonder they are still 'swimming' around in my head. One of my favourite species is the lobe-fin fish Holoptychius andersoni. I know, a bit of a mouthful right? Still, I loved it's shape, and wanted to use it's great silhouette. I decided to choose two nice, bright fabrics, and this is what I came up with on the train the next day.

I hand blanket-stitched the fish on, but in hingsight I think it would have looked better zigzag appliqued on my machine. I also hand stitched the fishes scientific name which took AGES but I quite like the effect. Planning to make a zipped pouch, you can see the zip attached already! And then I have thoughts of several fish silhouettes on a cushion using the same fabrics. Would anyone buy a fossil fish cushion? Who knows! Well, I would anyway!
I was also thinking about developing some ideas based on Scottish wildlife, and I started sketching in my train sketchbook and a few ideas were starting to form, but although I drew a nice badger, nothing really grabbed me. It was only once I got home and found a scrap in our study (i.e. the messy room where everything happens, including my sewing, home admin, and my husband's work) that had a little sketch of a cartoony bear on it. 
Of course! For YEARS now I have been saving nice doodles that I've done at work or on the train and stuffing them in a folder for some, nebulous future 'use'. Suddenly a bulb flickered on over my head. I have a whole design archive just sitting waiting!!! To celebrate, I worked up the bear a little further and promptly sewed him up on the train the next day. 
Here's the worked up sketch - now he has a body and legs! And here's how he turned out in fabric form.
I love him! But as ever for me at the moment, what to do with it next? 

I'm really not getting much sewing machine time at the minute as by the time I've worked, done chores etc...the appeal of sitting alone upstairs glaring at my machine and swearing at my own impatience DOES start to dwindle, but I did sneak a little machine time. My 20 month old daughter loves arranging little blankets and is a great 'help' when it comes to sorting out the cloth nappy wash with all the boosters, fleece liners etc. So I decided to make her a few little 'blankets' of her own. In about twenty minutes between chores, I whipped up this little blanket.
I literally threw it through the machine, slapped some binding round the edges and just sewed it through once, with terribly messy corners and joins, but I didn't care. I was after something QUICK, not perfect. Just two layers of fabric back to back with no wadding, but I added diagonal stitching lines to 'keep' the two fabric halves together. Carefully arranged over a 'sleeping' mouse, I left it for my little girl to find the next morning and...
I think she likes it :) She has since spent ages arranging the blanket and the mouse – tucking him in while saying 'sleepy time' and then taking him out again. I think I'll make her a few more blankets in different sizes and using different fabrics. And although I just threw the colours for this together in a few seconds out of what was on my sewing table I actually LOVE the combination of the yellow with white polka dots and the pale blue/grey binding. I'm thinking that some placemats would look lovely in those colours!

What will next weeks train journeys bring? 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sketching with embroidery

 Can you sketch with embroidery? This was the question that occupied my thoughts during last weeks train journeys.  I was badly organised at the weekend and instead of carefully preparing some hand sewing for the train I just shoved some scraps in my train sewing kit and thought I would figure something out on the journey. 

Well, on the first day I got out needle and thread and a fabric scrap and had NO ideas. When I draw and doodle I often feel the same, and to get going I just put paper to pencil and start sketching some lines and curves and see where it takes me. Usually without fail a creature or person starts to emerge from the lines and I'm off. Would the same process work with stitching? Well, I started to do a few stitches, started to curve them round and I thought...that looks a little like an about a cute dog? And this is what I ended up with.
I like his face and the cute 'woof'. When I sketch, I work very fast, but although hand sewing is very slow in comparison, I didn't loose patience, and the picture slowly unravelled in my head as I went and I was able to get it down on fabric. This really felt like a bit of a revelation to me. Did this mean I could throw scraps in my bag every week and bust out some neat little hand stitched pics to use in projects? Possibly!

The next day I tried again, and this attempt didn't go quite to plan. This time I flipped through my train sketch book looking for some inspiration, and another dog caught my eye. I've been doing a few sketches of a cute little dog called 'little brown dog' – the least imaginative of my names I know, but I thought he could work as a little simple feature I could use in developing some product ideas.
Buoyed by my success of the previous day I battered on with the project, not really thinking about what I was doing. I didn't like the result. Here's a photo.
The whole design is quite small, and it just doesn't work. I rushed the dog and the poor lettering and it really shows. I should have taken a few minutes to think before I started, then I might have used only three embroidery threads instead of the full six, which is too bulky for so small and intricate a design. What I've learned from this is free-form stitching with no reference might work better because you develop your idea from where you start, using the stitch size and thickness to dictate what the design becomes. However, if using references, a few minutes spent at the start deciding what stitch size and thread thickness best suits the design is time well spent.

The next day I again started to work from references, this time of birds I'd been sketching a few months before in designing appliqué for a dress for my daughter. Here are some of the sketches, I decided to use the bird in the bottom right corner.
So, this time I thought about it. I decided to make the design quite big, and to use the full six threads to give it a chunky look. I decided I would fill some of the design with stitches and that I'd use a few colours. I even selected the colours to put in my train kit the night before. Now that is perhaps getting a little too organised for me! Anyway, I worked on this for a few days on the train and here's what I ended up with.
I really like it! There were a few moments during the process where I wasn't sure it would work at all, but I kept going and I am quite pleased with the final result. Not bad for a complete hand sewing newbie! What I'd like to do next is start to incorporate some different stitches into my work.

Another question I also need to answer is, now I've created these little embroidery designs, what on earth do I do with them now? How can I used them in a sewing project? How do you use similar things in your projects?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A notebook is needed...

When I started this blog a few short weeks ago, I hoped it would help to focus and drive my creativity. I thought aiming for weekly updates and being aware everyday of LOOKING around me, recording and noting things I could share with the blogging world would spur me on.

And it has! I admit, I'm only a few weeks in, but it's really working. I've been sketching lots of ideas on the train, developing a few 'product' ideas, and easily writing those weekly blog posts. To help, I thought I would start a little crafting or blogging notebook to help me plan and focus. I'll be honest, I love notebooks, so it wasn't difficult to 'decide' that this new pursuit warranted one, but a plain, ordinary notebook wouldn't do. I sew, right? So surely a nice sewn notebook cover would help to inspire me? So I started to sketch on the train and then had a neat little thought...why not invent a cute little creature who could feature on a notebook cover and 'inspire' you by commanding you to 'draw', 'write', or 'create'? I did quite a few sketches, looking for the quirky yet cute look I was after.

Aha! There he is, at the bottom left corner there...lying down, looking cute and attentive. Let me zoom in for you...

There...So, I cut the little fella out of fleece on Sunday night and threw him into my train sewing kit (that reminds me, I really must feature that on here as well...I would be lost without my train sewing kit)...I'd intended to machine zigzag appliqué him on and then add hand-stitched details on the train but I was too eager to get started so I blanket stitched him on with one thread of embroidery thread on the train and then started to embellish, and here's what I ended up with...

I really like it (the fleece does not look so bobbly in real life!). I like the speech bubble effect and I like the way the cerise thread stands out against the cute blue-with-little-suns background. He took me two days of 30 minute train journies to attach and embellish, and then I made him into a notebook cover for my blog book. In hindsight, maybe the speech bubble should say 'blog!' or 'create', but I'm happy with 'write'. Here's a few more shots of the finished notebook. The book already had a marker ribbon so I didn't need to add one but I sewed on a nice line of ribbon down the spine for contrast anyway.

What do you think? I was thinking I could do a few more and perhaps start that Folksy shop I've been thinking about. I certainly love doing the hand stitching more than I thought, and it's a perfect way to fill a train journey! Plus I now look forward to using my lovely notebook :)

Does anyone else craft on their way to/from work?