A simple sewing project to bring happiness and cheer!

At the end of last year we redecorated a room in a hurry that really needs a proper replastering and rewiring. Since that isn’t possible right now, we removed old wallpaper and patched the walls as best we could, covered them with thick lining paper, and painted over it. Given it is in an Edwardian house, the ceilings are high and elsewhere there is (or was) a cornice as well as a picture rail. In an ideal world, we would put these back in. In reality the ceiling is still scratchy artex and painted a greyish white. While the new paint looked great, something was lacking at ceiling level. In addition the room was now echoey, and the newly pale peachy-pink walls too intense with no contrast colour to balance them. (I haven’t painted the skirtings or architraves yet.)

So after much thought, (and rejecting various ideas such as stencilling the walls or using decals which might not stick, and wouldn’t solve the echo problem) I came up with a plan. Create bunting in the colours I wanted to introduce, to act as a cornice and a sound baffle and decoration all in one. Amazingly it has worked on all three counts. It fades from view when the lights are off, and brings happiness and wakefulness in the mornings without being overwhelming. Magic.

For those wanting to do something similar, we made paper templates first cut from magazines to check the size, and the finished triangles are a little over 5” long. I used a plain white backing fabric to bring the colours out. Ready made 1/2” bias binding seemed the simplest option to join them, nearly 18m of it! (Which took 112 triangles…) To hang it, we cut up some old plastic paper binders and used ‘permanent’ glue dots to stick the hooks to the wall – sticking the fabric to the wall lasted a few days, the hooks have now been there successfully for over a month.


Sewing in Circles

Knotted Button

A winter coat … and an opportunity to try out some different knots. These (there are three, but it didn’t feel right to photograph the whole thing) were fun to make, although a little tricky. I like to use knots to bind good emotions for the wearer, and it felt good to have three circles in each.

Three is an important number in Neolithic and Celtic art – I think of the triskele with its three spirals, or the triquetra of three interlocked semi-circles. There are three realms to our world: Earth, Sea and Sky, and within these we live through three stages of life: maiden, mother, crone. Our health is often seen in terms of Body, Mind and Spirit. When we journey, we choose Upper, Middle or Lower Worlds to explore.

Goddess Brigid has three aspects, as does The Cailleach. Badb, Macha and Morrigan work together and are collectively known as The Morrigan.

Three makes me think of a tripod, or a milking stool, perfectly balanced no matter what the terrain, each leg supporting the others. It is the potential of two parents with a child. A triad in music is a perfectly balanced chord, major or minor, that forms the root of Western harmony.

There is a lot of energy stored in three-ness, as there are always forces acting together. It is not a stable energy like four is, there is constant change, growth, development. Things can happen. The triskele has three legs going out from the centre, balancing yet full of movement, looking outwards. The child will pull forwards. Triple Goddesses include Creativity. Triads can become counterpoint and fugues as well as chorales. Yet there is perfection and completeness within that three-ness.

Sewing these knots on took longer than making them, and needed me to turn the coat on each stitch. Definitely sewing in circles.

Yule Quilt

Yule Quilt

This is now the fifth quilt I have made in the series of 8 for each sabbat display, and the first where the colours had a small amount of planning in their arrangement – rather than just the total random, ‘scrappy quilt’ look. I did not have many suitable fabrics for Yule, 3 golds, 3 greens, and 4 reds although one was in very short supply. Had I started with this quilt, I would have probably made it far more definite in its design by using some colours for the stars and different colours for the borders, yet this interests me precisely because it wasn’t done that way. It draws me in more.

The stars made me think of spiky holly with its bright berries, as well as poinsettia plants sold everywhere but needing more warmth than our house generally offers on a winter’s night. There is also the coming of the light, directly from the sun as we celebrate its return – and for two months of the year I have an unobstructed view of the sunrise through trees from my bedroom window. Most years (but no longer guaranteed) there is also light reflected by snow, bringing a wonderfully uplifting feel at what is generally a dark time.

Making a series of quilts that are supposed to be an exact size has also been a learning experience. My sewing accuracy wasn’t bad before, but sew each 1/4inch seam just 1/2mm out, and over 25 seams you have gained or lost a whole inch, 25mm. That is assuming my cutting was accurate to within the same tolerances! So it took me to quilt 4 to get almost the right finished size, and this one is just slightly long. Given they are all made slightly wide, long looks good. The other good thing I have finally learned is how to work methodically when picking up each pair of pieces to sew, in order to keep them in the same position and rotation. It has taken me a long time to master this basic skill!

Normally I change the display about a week before a sabbat, but it felt appropriate to get this out last weekend. Not because lights and decorations are up everywhere else and M enjoys them being up in our house as well, but because winter arrived with the last leaves falling off the trees, two dustings of snow and ice on the pond. Autumn has passed, it is dark outside, and I feel ready to close the curtains and be looking within. Enjoying candlelight, being cosy in the long dark evenings, and preparing for what is to come. In my case, a completely crazy, exciting, holiday season with so much packed into about 3 weeks that I have had to write down what I need to do when.

Mabon Quilt

Quilt for the Autumn Equinox / Mabon.

Here is my quilt for Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox. This quilt is about harvest, not just in its ripe fruit colours but in the fabrics themselves, for which I think I counted 19 in total. Some are from previous quilting projects, such as the three tree series I made, giving a nice link to the harvest of tree fruits (apples and plums in particular). Several squares were cut from scraps leftover from dressmaking, some of them clothes I made for M which are now too small for her but also one of mine which I still wear. And finally the music fabric, leftover from a ‘baby quilt’ and saved for quite a long time because these small pieces were all that was left. It represents another joy in my life right now, to play with the morris dancing group. Again, nothing has been bought new. So to look at this quilt brings happy memories. (To me, it is all the more remarkable because the difficulties I had actually sewing it were beyond anything I have done recently, as since August I have been suffering from a very sore hip and leg and at times can barely sit or stand. Sewing was done in very short bursts, left-footed. But that is a story for another time.)

Since both equinoxes are all about balance, I have also been testing an urban myth that has been puzzling me since I discovered it last Spring. There is a much repeated story on the internet that it is possible to balance an egg on its end at the equinox. I tried this, and failed. Then I read it was at the moment of equinox. I have no idea if the Earth is acutely aware of the moment of equinox or not, as with the moment of solstices. There is however a moment when the tides turn, which are of course affected by sun and moon so I didn’t just dismiss it out of hand. So since I missed the right time last time, and it was quite a convenient time this time, I thought I would have a go in the spirit of scientific enquiry. This time I also invited company.

What we proved is: some people can balance eggs. Duck eggs, chicken eggs, they will apparently all stand on their ends for as long as is required of them. The equinox makes no difference to those capable of balancing an egg, as the trick was quite happily repeated the next day. I, however, am still incapable of balancing an egg on a smooth, hard surface, no matter what time of day. Although I can have fairly good results if I use a non-flat surface…

Colours for Summer

I have been rather uncreative for a few weeks, since wearing myself out sewing Morris dancing clothes… and then suddenly realised that the lack of a project was why I was feeling unfocused and lost this month. Clearly I don’t know myself, and what makes me happy, that well yet! Luckily finding a new project is not something I have trouble with – just keeping them within bounds given time and space constraints. (Building work continues in the house, making dust and chaos as well as preventing wood or glass work.)

So a week ago I had an idea to make my temporary seasonal display area (half a mantleshelf) a proper cloth cover, by buying a strip of fabric, edging it, and putting it in place in time for the summer solstice on Wednesday. If I found enough suitable fabrics, I could even change the colour for each sabbat. However, not only did I fail to get near any shops, it being too hot, I also should never really have imagined I could stop at something so simple.

Having visitors all weekend required an empty sewing table in order to eat off it, and a lot of thinking time. By Monday morning I had a plan – to use up my scrap pile and make a simple quilt-style top. One for each sabbat of course, starting with midsummer. That gave me Monday to make it.

Suddenly a difficult question loomed. What colours to use for midsummer? All the other seven sabbats have colours I associate with them, but not midsummer! How could this be? So I wrote a list, to see what was left over. (It is slightly different to other people’s lists, but then in trying to write this after finishing, I discovered a lot of variations!)

Imbolc – Greens and white – holly, snowdrops
Ostara – Pastel shades – eggs, new shoots, pussy willows, daffodils
Beltane – Greens and light colours – forgetmenots, tulips, honesty and ribbons
Litha – ???
Lughnasa – bright yellows – hot sun, ripe corn, poppies
Mabon – Reds and purples – apples, plums, late harvests
Samhain – Orange, red, brown, black – pumpkins, autumn leaves, and descent into dark
Yule – Greens, Red, Gold – holly and yew

And what I decided on was blue skies, sunshine, and a garden absolutely full of flowers. Mine is full of roses, campanulas, hardy geraniums, foxgloves and peonies right now, so they have inspired the colour choices.

My method of construction was very simple – strip piecing with only a few triangles and rectangles to break up the squares. The colours were arranged fairly randomly, and for once I didn’t worry too much if I sewed the wrong pieces together from my initial plan. Some of it will be covered anyway. There is no wadding, so it was just sewn onto some plain cotton for backing. Quilting is also very simple, just sewing around the edges of a few pieces through both layers – this also sewed up the hole. Total time to be useable was about 4 hours including cutting and laying out time for which I had help, with an extra ¾ hour on Tuesday morning to quilt it.

Here’s how it came out. A bit crazy, but fun. You might notice by the length that I have now managed to purloin the whole of the mantleshelf for my display!

Quilted Summer Solstice display cloth (8″ x 52″)

Lessons in Trust

I have wanted to do some form of both dancing and music for two or three years, but couldn’t find anything suitable in terms of my abilities (limited when it comes to dancing!) and time available – until late last year when I saw a ladies morris group out dancing. It was just one of those times when I knew instantly that that was what I wanted to do, and by January circumstances meant I was able to join the group and have my first evening out by myself since having M. Amazing, and utterly perfect for me! As a result I have been very busy over the past few months practising polka steps, learning the dances, and sewing the required costume – leaving less time for all the other things I would love to do, and even need to do, like housework and gardening. It has once again proved to me that I can manage whatever I want to provided I focus all my energies in that direction – but only just! Hence a few late blog posts recently, besides other things.

The difficulties I faced were frequently unexpected. To begin with, all went smoothly. Realising I was serious about joining the group, and that the only ‘spare’ skirt wouldn’t fit me (kit normally being returned when dancers leave), extra fabric was purchased and I was handed a bag and a roll of fabric, a greaseproof paper pattern for the skirt in size 20ish, and the spare skirt to copy. Purchasing ribbon to match was my responsibility – and at that point my problems started. Three shops later, I found a colour that was close although not exact and either too narrow or too wide. They were able to order some for me, for collection the following week. Sorting the pattern was another major challenge, since the skirt has 8 flared gussets to be fitted and a flat waist. I can’t even guarantee my waist will be the same size in three months time with all this dancing, so I have to find a way of making it adjustable…

So I get the skirt made – although not without having to take the sides apart and re-sew them smaller since it was already too generous. Next I try and buy plain cotton poplin for my shirt, so visit my favourite fabric shop. They don’t have enough. Something they normally keep in stock, so I try again. And again. And again! It turns out the owner is ill and hasn’t put the order in yet, and won’t let the three or four other people who work there do it either, so by this time fabric stocks are seriously run down – I buy elsewhere but it isn’t exactly what I wanted. Still, I shall probably need a second shirt by the summer…

Meanwhile I ask multiple times about a waistcoat pattern. A month later I am given a bag of coloured fabric scraps for the patchwork front, but still no waistcoat. I finally manage to borrow one from another dancer, but I only have it for three days as she is dancing out early in the season. (I knew I wouldn’t be ready for April dates!) So I make my own pattern from hers, guessing at size alterations needed, and then try and buy the extra bits I need. Calico lining takes two shops to find, different colour ribbons take three, and buttons take four shops before I find anything suitable. I am at this point going into Derby almost once a week with M, taking up valuable sewing time!

At the same time I must get a pair of clogs. This is not something I can make, nor buy off the shelf in my size, so I find a clogmaker online who will custom fit. I expected them to be ready early April, but I only get a message to say they are ready for fitting at the end of the month. So my first free day for nearly a month (thanks to pre-schoolers having school holidays) sees me driving nearly two hours, an hour fitting clogs, an hour having a walk and my sandwiches while the clogs are finished, and then driving for over two hours back again. I do have a contingency plan, but mainly I’m just trusting I will get back in time. Thanks to a roadworks traffic jam delaying me by twenty minutes when nearly back, I am able to collect M with 1 minute to spare and no stops en route. The dance is in three days but I’m too worn out to sew that evening.

I spend my free half days that week glueing the photocopies of music I have been given onto card, and then covering them with plastic so that I can use them outside. There are over twenty in total. The dances in the list for the weekend get practised on my recorder, the rest do not.

I finally finished sewing everything the morning of the day before my first dance, continuing to trust that if it was meant to be, then somehow it would work out. I still have to add some decoration on the back of my waistcoat, and sew some bell elastics for my shoes since the ‘spare’ pair of those were rather tight. Luckily my next dance is not until June as everyone else is having a long weekend away, so hopefully I can relax a bit now!

Intuitive Sewing

I have had an interesting and unexpected lesson in intuitive sewing over the past few days – which follows on from my year’s aim of being more connected to what I am doing. It started with a piece of fabric, as most sewing projects do, but unlike most projects, no plan.

The fabric was dark red with a pattern of roses made by varying lengths of pile – a fluffy, warm, knitted fabric, that looked tricky to sew and with such a large pattern, not ideal for a small child. I didn’t buy any. A couple of weeks later, with a combination of a change in the weather and a growth spurt, something warm was really needed and M still wanted this fabric. I bought a metre, thinking it would be about right for a jumper or jacket, or possibly a cape. She told me it needed to be a long cloak not short… and with a hood!

I look in my pattern collection: nothing. I look online: a few superhero style patterns, or circular cloaks, but nothing that will work for her or the fabric I have available. Just a photo from a long-out-of-date and no longer available pattern.

Rose Cloak

The finished Rose Cloak

So I take a couple of measurements, width across shoulders and length, and start sketching. Half an hour later I have a pattern with several lines drawn at different angles to see what looks right, and lay it on the fabric to see what will fit. The front and back will have to lie in opposite directions, but luckily the roses don’t show this up too much. It is my best guess at the size; I look again at the pattern after a break seeing if anything needs changing. I don’t seem to be able to improve it, so I cut it out, leaving fluffy bits of dark red everywhere that need cleaning up.

Finally I sew. The whole thing takes about an hour, and just needs a button on the front out of my box to complete it. I guess on the loop length.

M tries it on. It fits, she loves it. I am amazed.

Correcting Sewing

Recently a friend complimented me on a dress M was wearing that I had made, after she had just had a sewing disaster and discovered the frustration of something coming out the wrong size. It got me thinking, because if there is one thing I have learned in twenty odd years of sewing, it is that it is a rare item that comes out exactly right the first time! Children’s clothes have a huge advantage, because as the wearer grows, most items will have a brief period when they fit exactly as they are supposed to, but most other things, especially adult clothes, have needed adjustments at best and remaking from scratch on occasion.

The sort of ‘adjustments’ I have had to make include sewing seams smaller, unpicking seams to make them bigger, cutting new sleeve pieces to make them longer, or wider, removing pieces of fabric to turn them the right way round, changing hem lengths, altering trouser widths, remaking waistbands at a different height, both higher and lower, keeping the waistband but remaking the trousers or skirt, adding gussets to give more shoulder space, easing armholes, extending halternecks… And that is not to mention the fun that comes of using an overlocker machine which cuts as it sews. Presser foot not down is my usual disaster, so that the fabric is cut but only huge loops of thread are made, although that is minor compared to having to unpick an overlocked seam and resew for whatever reason, or having to patch a hole in a jacket lining that wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the machine.

However what strikes me is my willingness to correct sewing problems. Each ‘mistake’ I have found, I have figured out a way to correct, and then done so without more than a few days fuss and bother. I seem to accept it as part of sewing, and necessary if clothes are to fit well and look good. Yet until now, I have never seen this as remarkable, just normal. Makes me wonder if I can apply this to other areas of my life!

Lost and Found

I try to be tidy, and I like the feel of things being organised, but I don’t always manage it when the creative spirit is fully present. So sometimes I lose things.

Yesterday I lost a piece of fabric. I finally reached the stage of arranging the square blocks for the quilt I am making for my sanctuary space, so spent some time with M’s help laying them all out on the bed to decide which colour was going where. There was one square missing. Being very sure I had sewn the right number, I proceeded to look for it. Everywhere. Around my sewing table, in and under scraps piles, in every pile and basket of M’s things in case it had got picked up and put somewhere. (She plays next to me while I sew.)

I stayed calm. Getting cross has never solved anything yet, and I did have enough bits left to sew another one. It is not the first time I have lost prepared quilting pieces, and they have always turned up eventually, but not always in time to be useful. I let go of my attachment to the work I had done and started cutting out replacement squares and triangles, doing the background colour first since I had plenty.

The 'missing' quilt square

The missing quilt square

Then just as I was about to have to cut into a larger piece of fabric, I thought of a place I hadn’t looked – and found the missing square! Under the ‘kitchen sink’. Apparently a dishcloth was needed…

Pink Flowers in January?

Bright pink is not a colour I associate with January, or at least, not January in England. It would be perfectly reasonable to find pink flowers in more Southern climates, but here I am usually just seeing the first snowdrops, and waiting for the Winter Aconites, Crocus and Daffodils. (Of course those are all out too this year!)

Fuchsia hemsleyana

Fuchsia hemsleyana

However this year I have been struck by how many pink flowers there are in the garden. I was pruning last week, taking advantage of the waning moon and a rare sunny day, and found two different types of roses with pink flowers. They were a bit tatty from the weather, but doing their best with lots more buds to come. Nearby was a Fuchsia hemsleyana* that was giving me one of its best shows ever, absolutely covered in tiny pink flowers, and more predictably a Viburnum bodnantense Dawn. Then in the front garden, a pelargonium was just opening up a new flush of paler pink flowers. So it has made me think about colour, the time of year, and my relationship with it.

Pink is generally seen as the colour of nurturing and unconditional love, so is therefore assigned the heart chakra – more commonly seen as being green (also a colour of love). It is not a colour I tend to wear, so if the theory that we wear the colours we need in our life is true, then maybe I don’t currently have a strong unfilled need for nurturing and unconditional love. (I guess with M I’m doing the nurturing and loving!)

Looking at my current clothing though, I came to the conclusion I mostly wear the background colours I see around me – strong greens, browns, reds, black, navy blue in winter, and lighter blues, greens, turquoise, white, beige, red or occasional purples in summer. (Yes I know there are no yellows and oranges in my list, they just don’t look right on me.)

In my colour lists there is one exact repeat: red. The light version of red would be pink (they are not strictly speaking different colours, just different hues of the same colour) but I don’t currently have any. Then I realised there may be another reason for my not wearing pink – the availability of clothes in suitable shades, since I am more of a dusky or bright pink person, not baby pink which is most of what I see for sale.

So I have to ask the question – do I need the colours already around me at this time, that nature has so thoughtfully provided? And does that include pink? Because if so I shall need another visit to my favourite fabric shop!

*This is the name the plant was sold to me under, but may now be more correctly known as Fuchsia microphylla subsp. Hemsleyana.