Monday, 24 November 2014

30 Totes and Bags to Sew - my new book!

30 Totes and Bags to Sew

Well finally, and undeniably, it seems I have written a book! Not being a great counter of chickens, I haven't particularly announced this to anyone beyond close friends and family -  those who were close enough to spot the eye bags, and the trail of loose threads I left in my wake over those frantic months of stitching and writing. And having sent off those final drafts and stitched samples back in February of this year, all of a sudden I am a bona fide published author! It started to feel a bit more real when I took delivery of my author samples, then came the extra copies I had ordered to sell in my shop. Today though, reality really hit home when I popped into Waterstone's in Cardiff and found my book on the shelves (I used to work for Waterstone's, so it's particularly nice to find my book there)!

my new book
I didn't realise when my husband was taking this photo that I had positioned myself right next to Giles Brandreth in his novelty jumper.
Obviously, this is entirely the kind of authorial image I aim to project.

The book focuses on the Tote bag, that's to say a bag with two handles, and I really wanted to include as broad a range of designs as possible, so inside you'll find projects ranging from a teddy bed tote for young children, to an oilcloth car caddy, to a velveteen evening bag. There are also lots of techniques covered such as reverse appliqué, kanzashi flowers, embroidery and freezer-paper stencilling. I'm so pleased with the final appearance of the book; the team at Quintet and my editor Julie Brooke have done an amazing job with beautiful photography and layouts - it has a spiral binding with hardback cover which has to be my favourite thing as a consumer of craft books as it means you can have the book open flat in front of you whilst working through a pattern. There are also plentiful colour photographs to illustrate the steps, as well as full-size pattern pieces in an envelope at the front of the book.

projects from my book, 30 Totes and Bags to Sew

a few snaps of the projects from the book

I am selling the book through my new online shop over at (thanks to my talented web-designer brother, the brains behind Rootsy) and signed copies are available on request (I find it frankly hilarious to be saying that!). You can also buy from the usual places like Amazon: 30 Totes & Bags to Sew: Quick & Easy Bags for All Occasions (this is an affiliate link so I will be paid a 5% commission for any orders made by clicking here), and Waterstone's, as well as independent bookshops.

There is also a US edition of the book for any readers who live across the pond - it's called Tote-ally Amazing Bags in its American incarnation, and is published by St Martin's Press, who have kindly featured me as their author of the month over on the SMP blog.

For a sneak preview of the book, I've posted a video thumb-through on youtube, and you can also see a few images of the inside in my online shop.

I would love to see any photos of anything anyone makes using the patterns from my book, so please do get in touch if you have any to share and I'll put together a blog feature in due course!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tiny paper pieces

I was in need of a nice evening sewing project for all those blanket-on-knees evenings now that it's getting a bit more Autumnal, so this ferris wheel mini quilt tutorial from Sew Scatterbrained was just the thing. It's an English paper piecing project, which is my favourite kind of hand-sewing, with truly tiny pieces, triangles, hexagons and squares with each face measuring only 1". I've been tempted to do a ferris wheel quilt before after seeing Katy's Spring Carnival quilt, and love her take on this traditional block with the fractured pieces falling away at the bottom. It's a really versatile design with plenty of potential for changing the pattern the eye focuses on by bringing different pieces into the background and foreground with contrasting solids and prints.

I've always fancied making a mini quilt, and goodness knows the study-o could do with a bit of brightening up! The Sew Scatterbrained tutorial is made up of 'circles' in 7 different colours on a backdrop of neutral hexagons in low-volume prints.

patchwork pieces

The best thing about this project for me is that it has been an opportunity to rummage through my scraps bin and actually use some of the tiniest of offcuts I've been saving for a rainy day. There is something very pleasing about those multi-coloured stacks of squares and triangles.

English paper piecing

It's taking shape pretty quickly, even though I'm only spending half an hour stitching here and there. I do like to have a project that I can just pick up and put down when time allows without any setting up or clearing away needed.

paper piecing

The cat is my constant companion; she loves it when I'm working on hand-stitching as it offers her an opportunity to cosy herself up in the lovely Welsh wool blanket my sister gave me. She hasn't made herself particularly useful as yet, other than keeping my feet warm and enabling me to stave off putting the heating on for that little bit longer.

black cat in a blanket

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Back to school and then some

Boat from Caldey Island

Well the Summer has been and gone, and everyone's back at school - including the resident small person, who now joins her brother and sister at the same primary school in Reception class. For one year only, I shall have all three in the same place between 9am and 3.30pm - daughters at each end of the school, with eldest off to comp next year, and boy-in-the-middle only a year behind her. It'll be a relief to despatch them all to the same place every day after a very busy year last year, which involved practically ejecting the elders from a moving car in order to get the youngest to her nursery school 5 1/2 miles away 15 minutes later. It also happened to be an exceptionally busy year for me (isn't it always the way when life is already frantic), taking on a new part-time job as well as a soon-to-be-revealed project which consumed several months of my life.

I must admit it's been a bit of a shock to the system to be the one going out to work whilst the husband was at home with the children this Summer. With him being a teacher, I normally look forward to the long holidays as a time when we can all revert to a lovely chaotic existence with days out on the hop, and an extra person to share in the parenting and housekeeping. It feels a bit as if the Summer has slipped through my fingers, so I'm already looking forward to half term. Even the husband told me he knows exactly how many days teaching are left till the holiday - perils of being a mathematician, I think he sees all life in digits!

I'm more the type who sees life in pictures, and if there's one good reason why I love to blog, it's for having a record of all those moments which would otherwise be forgotten. So with that said, here's a snapshot or two of Summer 2014.

George's Marellous Medicine

Tower of London poppies

In the park

Beach Cricket in Tenby

Caldey Island

Monday, 4 August 2014

Winner of Lisa Lam's sewing pattern giveaway

Thanks for all the entries into the giveaway. The winner was commenter number 10, Miss Cut n Sew - your patterns will be winging their way to you very soon! I hope you enjoy using the patterns. If you didn't win but would like to purchase a copy, head on over to Stitch Craft Create where you'll find the patterns available in booklet form, as pdf files, or as a set of both patterns together.

Now I'm back to sorting out the study-o - it's been a busy six months or so, and my sewing room is in desperate need of a clear out, so expect to see some fabric destashing over in my etsy shop very soon as I clear the decks and try to restore a bit of order!

Monday, 21 July 2014

New dressmaking patterns by Lisa Lam - blog hop and giveaway

I'm delighted to be taking part in a blog hop showcasing Lisa Lam's new dressmaking pattern booklets as not only is Lisa a talented designer/maker but she also happens to be a good blogging friend of mine. There was also an added incentive in having my own little miss to stitch for!
Lisa Lam new dressmaking patterns
back cover dance with me dress

Lisa has designed two booklets featuring Summery designs for girls - the Happiness Halter Playsuit and Dance with Me Dress. Each booklet includes 3 simple variations to sew - a playsuit, dress and top in the Happiness Halter booklet,  and dress, tunic top and bag in the Dance with Me Dress booklet.

The format is very user-friendly - a magazine-sized booklet with a sturdy card cover and the instructions inside over several pages - no need to open out unwieldy sheets of paper. A pattern envelope on the back cover contains the pattern pieces on a sheet of dressmakers' tissue. Beautiful photography and  details like the showcasing of designer fabrics on the pattern sleeve make the booklets a pleasure to leaf through.

pattern envelope

If you've ever tried your hand at sewing any of Lisa's bag designs, you'll be familiar with her clearly written style and fantastic step-by-step photography, and the patterns certainly don't disappoint on this front.

step-by-step photography
I'm a big fan of photography rather than diagrams for illustrating unfamiliar techniques as seeing the actual fabric and pattern placement makes more complex steps so much easier to follow! The patterns don't assume any prior dressmaking knowledge, and Lisa walks you through each step of the process with helpful tips along the way.

The patterns have clever little touches and attention to detail which makes the designs very wearable - I particularly like the wide elastic casing waistband on the happiness halter dress, comfortable and practical for little ones. Finishing techniques like the binding on the pocket opening edge also give the finished items a high-end look.
happiness halter dress variation

It just so happens that I have a ready made little mannequin of my own to stitch for, so I decided to stitch up the happiness halter top, as who can resist a nice ruffle?

happiness halter top ruffle detail

happiness halter top

happiness halter top back detail
The size 4 happiness halter top was a perfect fit for my diminutive little miss, with the elastic channel in the back making for a nice neat finish, with no gaping. The length is great for wearing with a pair of shorts, though I would probably cut the pieces a bit longer to make a tunic-length top for wearing with leggings.
Happiness Halter top

My littlest was thrilled with her new top, and eldest, who is just in to double-figures, has actually said she fancies one of her own, so how's that for versatility? Whilst the patterns are for ages 2-6, this style lends itself well to being sized up for older children, so my eldest might just get one stitched up for her.

If you fancy trying your hand at any of the patterns, I have both pattern booklets up for grabs - just leave a comment on this post by the end of the month to let me know what Summer stitching projects you are planning for a chance to win! I'll draw a winner on Friday 1st August, so do check back to see if you have won as blogger doesn't always provide me with email addresses to contact winners directly.

To follow the rest of the blog hop, click on the links below, or pop over to Stitch Craft Create for more details or to purchase Lisa's patterns.

Fri 27th – A Spoonful of Sugar
Tue 1st – Pistons and Polish
Mon 7th – Kitchen Table Sewing
Wed 9th – Kitchen Table Sewing
Mon 14th – Sew Maris
Tue 15th – A Stitching Odyssey
Fri 18th – Scruffy Badger Time
Sun 20th Sew Mama Sew
Monday 21st Angharad Handmade
TBC  House of Pinheiro


Saturday, 7 June 2014

Anyone for lemon tart?

My children have developed an obsession with lemon tart. Even the boy, who considers most other desserts and cakes to be frankly inedible. I have been in search of a good recipe for lemon tart for a while, but was finally spurred into baking by a surfeit of lemons in the fruit bowl and a small unopened tub of crème fraiche in the fridge nearing its use by date. It's surprisingly hard to find a recipe for lemon tart that doesn't involve real cream (something which we never have in the fridge as none of us like it), but as ever, the BBC Good Food site came up trumps, with this recipe for The ultimate makeover: lemon tart, which purports to be both low fat and delicious.

Lemon tart
short-lived lemon tart
The only change I made to the recipe was to make the sweet shortcrust pastry by rubbing 60g of unsalted butter into 140g of flour, stirring through the 1tbsp of icing sugar, then binding together with the leftover egg yolk (from the filling) and a bit of cold water. Otherwise I followed the recipe as on the website.

Mine doesn't look as immaculate as the one on the website, but it was speedily demolished by the children, which is as good a vote of confidence as any; they're pretty particular when it comes to their lemon tarts.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The scrap quilt reveal

Brace yourselves ... I've only gone and finished something!

scrap quilt

Project name: Scrap Vomit (or Technicolour Yawn if you're going for the sanitised version)
Size: 70" square (big enough for me to be completely hidden behind it when holding it up to be photographed!)
Started: May 2011
Finished: May 2014
Batting: Warm and Natural
Backing: Moda extra wide Dottie quilt backing in grey
Quilted: By hand with Gutermann hand-quilting thread in dark grey and Clover gold-eye quilting needles

I signed up to a quilt-along for this scrappy quilt, led on by the enthusiasm of Katy over at imagingermonkey. That was almost 3 years ago - I think Katy has actually completed around 90 scrap vomit quilts during the time I've taken to make my single one, which shows me up somewhat, but then, she is a superhuman quilting machine. This quilt was begun in England and completed in Wales, so has dual heritage just like my 3 children. I was sneakily stitching blocks in between house viewings, which may not have been the best way to ensure the house was tidy, but it was a welcome distraction.

The blocks themselves came together really quickly. I kept the A-blocks as 7 x 7 blocks of random scrappy 2.5" squares but adapted the B-block for a single colour of contrast (dark grey) in a diamond pattern which would criss-cross over the whole quilt.

B blocks handquilting

(oops, missed trimming some threads!)

A blocks handquilting
I started quilting it by hand in May 2012 (aren't blogs terrible for providing incontrovertible proof of how long you've been working on something!), with diagonal lines following the diamonds on the B blocks and segmented circles on the A blocks. I think it was the quilting really which did for the prompt completion of this quilt - all those overlapping seam allowances to stitch through! And so I let it sit, for around a year, only to pick it up again this Spring and realise there wasn't much left to do. So with only 6 circles left to quilt, I picked it up in the evenings and after work and found it came together really quickly. I was saved from procrastinating and deferring decisions over the binding by the fact that I had bought an extra metre of the dark grey solid fabric - I didn't really want anything that would compete with the scrappiness of the quilt, and it also helps to draw the eye to the diamond pattern and save it from getting lost in the multicolour madness.

backing and binding
I've gone as far as removing the erasable pen markings for the quilting, and trimming away (most of) the loose threads, but the quilt hasn't even managed to make it into the washing machine yet and is currently residing on the arm of the settee in the living room, ready to be appropriated by whoever comes along and wants to make a den or a bed for their teddies.

I feel a bit bereft at the completion of such a long-term project - I definitely need to get stuck in to another quilt!

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