Sashiko hot water bottle cover

Sashiko hot water bottle cover

This hot water bottle was one of my husband’s Christmas presents.  I made the cover from some felted wool given to me by a colleague, and embellished it with some sashiko embroidery – my first try at this beautiful Japanese stitching technique.  I chose a pattern that symbolizes prosperity, both because of the meaning and because I liked the look of the stitch.  It was also one of the less complicated patterns!

I got inspired to make the hot water bottle cover by TeresaDownUnder’s Stipple Quilted Hot Water Bottle Cover tutorial on her blog, Patchwork, which I first found through the wonderful Sew, Mama, Sew! blog.  I didn’t do the stipple quilting but I did follow her instructions for making the pieces.

Back of hot water bottle

I used the button off an old jacket for a closure

For a lining I cut up an old pillowcase and drew the pattern onto it as a guide.  I added a layer of quilt batting in the middle, so with the felted wool I ended up with quite a padded hot water bottle cover.  Luckily, the heat still comes through and it’s just the right warmth to have in the bottom of the bed.  Because the layers were so padded, I did the sashiko stitching only through the top surface of the felted wool layer.

I loved working with the sashiko needle – it was much firmer than a regular embroidery needle, so I could guide the fabric onto it rather than guiding it through the fabric.  I did a lot of the stitching on a very bouncy train journey, and it still turned out pretty evenly!

I’m going to use sashiko again in future projects.  The look of the patterns and the action of the embroidery is very meditative and relaxing.  I love the traditional look of the white/ivory thread on a dark background, but I think I may also experiment with lots of colours to see what can happen.

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Nanowrimo 2009 winner

Nanowrimo 2009 winner!

Yeahhhh!!!  I know this post is a few days later, but I think I was too much in shock for the first couple of days of December at the fact that I actually succeeded in doing the 50,000 words required to win NaNoWriMo.  I won last year, but I timed my sessions better and did a bit of writing onalmost every day of November that year, so I knew I would be able to do it.  This year I skipped a lot of days and still had 20,000 words to go on my novel with 5 days left.  I really didn’t think I could do it and I nearly quit.  Thanks to my lovely husband, who gave up his thesis time on our shared laptop, I managed to barricade myself in his office and write the last huge chunk in the last few days – with half a day to spare!  I’m still dazed from that much screen time, I think.

We got a tiny, beautiful pumpkin in our Abel and Cole box this week – perfect size for a batch of pumpkin ginger muffins, which I’ll be making tomorrow.  In the meantime, though, here is my 2009 pumpkin carving effort.  I had just visited the V&A’s Maharajas exhibition so I had ideas for an Indian filigree design (see last year’s post where I did a V&A-inspired lion rampant guardant), but I think it ended up looking more like a scalloped lacy doily, sort of Cinderella-pumpkin-style.  I’m pretty happy with it, though.  This year I used a linocutter instead of my jewellery equipment and it was less messy and easier to cut.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin with filigree design

 

Pumpkin with top

From above it kind of looks like Cinderella's carriage

Old chair

Old chair

When we moved into our new place in April, my husband’s family kindly gave us four dining room chairs that they’d had in their attic for 10 or 15 years.  The gray seat covers were a little the worse for wear – a few food and water stains, plus natural ageing, had made them look pretty tired.  We put some nice cushions on them to make them look prettier, but my plan had always been to repaint and recover them.

The repainting will have to be done some other time, but I’ve had the recovering fabric for ages now – my sister bought me Alexander Henry’s home-dec weight ‘Heath’ fabric in red for my birthday – so I finally got around to doing the first two out of four chairs last weekend.

My first tip: if the chairs are old, then when you’re removing the screws that attach the seats to the bases, replace them with new screws.  The old ones will be rusty.  Before we got the chairs my father-in-law had to re-cut one of the seat shapes because it had broken, and when he screwed it back onto the chair he used new screws.  Nice touch. Even though you can’t see them, it makes a difference.

Second tip: a flat-head screwdriver and a pair of pliers will help you get the old staples out when you’re removing the old fabric.  Wedge the screwdriver under the staples and press up just slightly – not too much, because this puts a lot of strain on your wrist.  Use the pliers to do most of the work and pull out the staples.  Depending on how old your chairs are, the staples may be rusty enough to break in two right in the middle, so you may have to pull out a lot of pieces.  Again, don’t strain your wrists!  There are a lot more staples than you’ll expect – there were about 100 in each seat on my chairs – so don’t do the staple removal all in one day.  It takes much longer to remove the old staples than to put the new fabric on the seat.

Staples

Staples

Third tip: the chair manufacturer may have added some plastic while stapling the original fabric to the seat.  I wondered why there was so much plastic, then realized it must be because the weave of the original seat fabric was quite loose – probably they didn’t want the threads to get pulled out of place by the staples, so the plastic piece was to smooth the surface down so there was less chance of catching the threads.  It also might be to protect the fabric from the rust the staples will eventually get.  Don’t be surprised by the plastic – but if your new fabric has a finer weave and you doubt your chairs are going to withstand much rust-inducing damage (like spilled drinks, maybe) then you don’t have to include a layer of plastic when you’re putting the new fabric on.

Tip 4: Use the old fabric piece from the chair seat as a template for the new one, but cut yours bigger.  The ones on my chairs turned out to just be squares, which is what I suspect will happen on most normal-sized dining room chairs.  That’s fine, but the manufacturer cut them the smallest size possible so as not to waste material.  I don’t like wasting material, but I do like having some leeway to work with, so I cut my new fabric several inches bigger on each side.  That way, I could staple it to the chair seat a little closer to the middle – thus covering up all the ugly holes the removed staples had just left, and stapling them to an area slightly closer to the centre of the seat, which was untouched and intact.

Tip 5: Pull the material as taut as possible and put a staple in the centre of each side and then in each corner so that the material is stretched as much as possible right away in all directions.  Then go back and fill in the gaps.  I certainly didn’t use 100 staples in one seat like the manufacturer originally did – I probably used around 40, spacing them out judiciously.

New chair

New chair

Tip 6: Your old chair might have come with another piece of cloth that was stapled on top of all the other stapling just to hide all the mess on the underside of the chair.  You don’t need to add this to your newly-recovered chair, unless you’re a perfectionist.  Just staple all the fabric in such a way so that nothing hangs down from the underside of the seat.  Unless small children are going to crawl under your chair and notice (and care) that your chair undersides are not perfectly beautiful, skip it.

It only took about 10 minutes to staple the new fabric onto the chair seat, and our house looks completely different with just one small change.  I’m looking forward to repainting the chairs, too – that will really make a huge difference!

Pink/red/blue side

Pink/red/blue side

My sister loved the pictures of the birthday quilt that I sent her a couple of days ago.  The work still isn’t done, but here are a few pictures of both sides with the full design and some details.

I’m currently working on the assembly and quilting part.  I’ve done this before, so I knew what to expect, but this time it’s a little harder because it’s double-sided and I have to make sure that the designs line up the right way.  I’ve therefore basted one side of the quilt to the batting, and now am about to attach the other side.

Green/red/blue side

Green/red/blue side

The usual instructions in quilting books and on websites say to attach with safety pins first, then baste by hand.  That’s what I’ve done, and it works pretty well.  What really gets me, though, is that out of all the advice and instructions in a book or on a site, the assembly part only gets about a page or two of text and rarely merits a picture.  That can be a real shock when a first-time quilter comes to do the assembly, and realizes that even after the hours and hours they’ve spent doing the patchwork, they still have a huge amount of work left.  It takes at least an hour to safety-pin a bed-sized quilt together, and about 2 hours to baste by hand – and you also have to find a big enough floor space for it all to happen.  I wish more quilting publications focused more attention on this stage.

Detail of green/red/blue side

Detail of green/red/blue side

Here’s a sneak preview of a quilt I’m making for my sister’s birthday.  I’ve nearly finished with the patchwork (both sides – it’s double-sided because I couldn’t decide what fabrics she would like best!), and I’m estimating the basting, quilting and binding will take another 2 weeks – so it’ll be done just before her birthday.  Too bad she lives in Canada and it’ll get there late!

It needs ironing, as you can see.

One side of the double-sided surprise birthday quilt

One side of the double-sided surprise birthday quilt

Last week I walked into the Green and Stone art shop in King’s Road and proceeded to blow my budget on art materials.  Looking at everything all together made me nearly hyperventilate.  I wanted it all!  What I actually bought, besides some collage glue and various other sticky items, was an art journal.  I just felt like it, and I’d been reading Danny Gregory and I remembered how I used to randomly draw stuff and how I never did that any more.  It’s quite a small and unintimidating size.  I’ve done a few pages in it so far with some coloured pens I had, and I feel like I just remembered my love for hand-lettering.  Pictures to follow, once I feel like I’ve done something I want to share.

The no-measuring quilt

The no-measuring quilt

I bought some remnant fabric at the Marimekko shop two weeks ago, with the idea that I would make a quilt with it plus whatever I could find that matched.  I supplemented the beautiful green and maroon ginkgo prints with some plain green fabric from Kaffe Fassett, which I bought from Liberty.

Since the remnants were all the same size, I figured I’d just cut them and sew them into randomly-sized strips without having to measure anything, and then join those strips together with some (still-to-be-bought) fabric in a matching colour.

The reason I loved this idea so much is because I hate measuring.  For a person so mathematically-inclined, it’s kind of an odd trait, but I just loathe taking out a ruler or cutting straight lines.  I like measuring by eye (I do pretty well drawing and cutting straight lines without help) and then sewing together by trial-and-error.  Perhaps that’s why some of the clothes I’ve sewn in the past haven’t fit exactly right, but it’s also why some of them fit better than they would if I’d stuck to the original pattern (at least I can personalize the waist-to-hip ratio on a skirt, for example!).  Anyhow, I decided to try a no-measuring quilt this time.  We’ll see how it turns out.  I’m liking it so far!

Sewing, quilting, lino printing, graphic design, jewellery, papercutting, inspiration, and craft theory… This pile doesn’t even include the three I got in the post this week, the ones I keep next to my side of the bed, or the ones in the cabinet in our livingroom.  I have so much reading to do!

Craft books

Craft books

I finally finished the quilt I’d been making for the last 5 months… it only took 5 more hours of work!  I can’t believe I had it in the house so long and didn’t realize that there was so little left to do on it.  The holidays certainly helped me find 5 hours in a row to finish it up.  We’ve been sleeping with it for the past week, and although it isn’t as thick as I thought it would be, it certainly is comfortable.  I was worried about the bottom layer, because it was newly-bought cotton and it was very stiff until after about six washes.  The top never worried me – most of it is my husband’s old shirts, cut up!  A new use for old and beloved clothing.  And since it’s still the holidays, I’m already on a second quilt project…

Finished quilt on bed (on top of regular duvet)

Finished quilt on bed (on top of regular duvet)