Handmade Holidays: A Quilt for Bernard

Bernard is my niece's teddy bear. He goes everywhere with her and I wanted him to have a gift for Christmas. I made him his very own quilt to match her's. While the idea of a tiny miniature version of this quilt sounded very cute I knew it wouldn't quite work so instead I used some of the same materials and colours to make a coordinating quilt instead.

It worked out at about 12 inches square and was made up of improvised piecing on front and back, quilted with a doodle stitch. The quilting was actually the hardest bit for me. All of my quilts are usually done on my quilt frame where I move the machine and not the material, so it took a while for my machine quilting skills to kick in on this piece!

My brother and sister-in-law loved the blanket but I think my niece was more excited by the huge pile of toys she'd already got. However later on I did find Bernard all wrapped up so I think it went down well even if it wasn't as exciting as a mound of Duplo.

The chance to make something special and personal for my niece made this one of may favourite gifts to give this year. I hope she'll play with it and maybe one day it'll get pulled out of the bottom of a box and she'll remember the Christmas even Bernard got a gift.


Handmade Holidays: Napkins

This year I was taking it easy, by 7th December we had bought all of our gifts and wrapped them up. Though there was a decided element of festive smug about this, it also killed alot of my festive joy. There were very few handmade gifts in the mix, and as the wrapping was done so early there were no decorations up in the house or much joy when doing the wrapping. As work began to get quieter my crafty side started itching and ideas for handmade gifts and extras started appearing in my to-do list. Now gifts have been given and I am enjoying the pre-New Year lull as a time to share my handmade holidays in series of posts.

I made these napkin rings for the pop-up shop a couple of years ago but I sold them before they had chance to be used. I found a stash I made last year in a drawer but realised I have no napkins to put them on! I nipped into town and gathered up an arm full and set about filling them with a little festive joy.

Each of the napkin rings has a different phrase on them and so the slightly mismatched trees worked well with this. I raided my scrap jars and found enough bits of green to make a set of 12 napkins. The trees were hand cut and machine appliqu├ęd using bondaweb which left them a little stiff but this will fade the more they are washed and used.

They were a huge success with my family and I am really proud of how well they came out. Though they were a bit last minute I loved having a chance to make something for the table that I know will be used again and again.


Melty Snowmen & Mulled cider

Here is a sneaky peek of the festive fodder in our house at the moment. During December there has been a cauldron of mulled cider bubbling away most weeks but this week they've also been joined by some melted snowmen cupcakes. These came from boingboing  years and years ago, and they never fail to amuse or entertain people.

Merry Christmas!! I hope your day is filled with fun, festivities and plenty of food. 


A quilt for Laura

My decision to make quilts for people having birthdays with a zero has started a bit of an avalanche. The next in the queue was my good friend Laura. Now Laura is an unashamed love of all things hyper girlie. If it’s pink, and has sparkles on it she’ll love it.  And here was the challenge. This is not my aesthetic, I have my mother to thank for my rejection of the idea of ‘pink is for girls’ from an early age. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t like pink and believe in equality it’s just *I* don’t like pink. But this was a quilt for Laura, so I bought all of the pink. There is pink cupcakes, pink dots, pink floral designs, and my personal favourite pink chevrons.

I started off with a Log-cabin in mind but found myself missing the spontaneity of the more improvised quilting I have been doing recently. I took the blocks I already had done and instead they became a part of my more fluid design.

Excuse the super bright pics, unseasonably bright weather exposed the hell out of these!
My favourite side of this quilt is definitely the back, I think the injection of the grey dot is a great contrast to the other colours without being to dark and heavy.

My most favourite bit of all has to be the binding. I have been making my own bias binding for the last few years, but up till now this has always been made from a single colour. Not this time my friend! This time I carried on my improvisational madness and made a multi coloured binding. I love how the different elements of the binding reflect the rest of the quilt, and this has filled my head with new ideas when it comes to bindings! Now all I need to do is break up from work and have several weeks alone with my sewing machine.


Stabby Death Cakes

Recently a lot of my creativity has been leaking out in my baking. Back working in an office means copious amounts of tea and more people to share a batch of cakes with. My first real chance to do some playful baking came at Halloween with the creation of Stabby Death Cakes. Surprisingly I saw the idea in a Tesco magazine and couldn't resist giving it a go.

The Tesco recipe used Red Velvet cake topped with peppermint '"glass", firstly red velvet is a cake I cannot stand - it just tastes like food colouring to me, and secondly I couldn't see how it would pair with the minty glass. Instead I went for a chocolate mint cupcake with a white chocolate ganache icing which went perfectly with the minty glass. Add a sprinkling of red food colouring and my Halloween confections were complete.

They went down very well ending up on the college's instagram almost immediately. I have to admit I took great joy in people's expressions when asking if they would like a 'Stabby Death Cake'. First step taken, creative confectionery has started creeping back into my working life.


A quilt for Mia

My fun-quilts-to-make list had been getting steadily longer while I was finishing my degree, in my third year there was very little time for sewing things non-college related. Once I was graduated top of my list to get finished was a quilt for my niece.As soon as we found out Sister-in-law was pregnant I knew I wanted to reinterpret the quilt my big brother was made when he was a baby. It is a delightfully 80’s vogue pattern made up of washing on a line with the baby’s vital statistics embroidered on it. 

I snuck into my parents loft, stole my brother’s baby quilt and used it to make a pattern for my quilt. The original has beautifully made miniature clothes with hand stitched hems but I wanted this to be a very practical quilt so my pieces are hand embroidered then machine satin stitched to keep them in place.

I did go to town on the back of the quilt. I had planned on buying a single piece of fabric for the back but when I finally had a few hours spare I didn’t want to waste any of it heading into town and getting sucked into a fabric buying binge. Instead I raided my stash and pieced the back together out of bits and bibs I found there. I love the back of the quilts that Ashley from Film in the Fridge makes and I have been experimenting with adding more interest to the back of my pieces for a while.

When it comes to machine quilting I have been in a bit of a loop-de-loop free motion rut for a while now, so it took me a couple of unpickings till I was pleased with this cloud design. I bought myself this book at FOQ this year so my next project is going to be making a sampler quilt to try all the designs out!


Roller Derby and the world of NSO-ing

I've got a new job. Technically I have got two new jobs but the 9-5 one is much less exciting than this. I am Hereford Roller Girls new NSO! OK, how many of you just thought "wha.....?!". Don't worry I am here to enlighten you to the world of the Non Skating Official (NSO).

I have been in love with roller derby since I saw Whip It and then discovered that real life derby is so much more exciting. I've never been a sports fan, I had a pretty intense horsey phase as a teen but generally getting sweaty in company as an adult is not really my thing and I find uber competitiveness off putting. I am however a fanatical crafter, passionate feminist and thanks to roller derby's connection with both the American DIY movement and its abundance of positive role models for women, it has been part of my cultural landscape for a while. So as you can imagine when I found out there was a team in Hereford excited is too mild a word to describe how much squealing there was.

I strapped on my little used disco skates and proceeded to suck at skating. But everyone sucks when they first start. As an adult balancing on wheels is downright terrifying, and so I tensed up and I fell over. A lot. A hangover from teen riding accidents, as well as a drunken fall down some stairs and a hereditary neck problem has left me with a back that just can't handle impacts like that. My doctor told me in no uncertain terms that sure I could skate I just couldn't fall over. 

And with that my Derby dreams were over.....or so I thought. 

Turns out there is a whole section of the derby world that doesn’t skate, it is even in their job titles – Non-Skating Officials. NSO’s do all of the timings, scorings, penalty wrangling and generally keeping track of what is going on. Being organised, a whole bunch of rules, being a little bit bossy, and no chance of falling over (other than the usual challenges of remaining upright in day-to-day life) it’s like the roller derby gods dreamed up a job just for me. So here I am the newest addition to the HRG family complete with requisite new-fad-obsessional- researching and learning. Several evenings have been spent with roller derby on the TV, a rules handbook in one hand and the stats package in the other as I try and understand the differences between all the different penalties and referee hand gestures. 

And I love it.

Things are about to get a bit more skate-y here are Rats as Big as Cats, it’s going to be awesome.


Freelance Friday

On a Friday I work as a freelance community artist. At the moment I am working with The Courtyard's arts and older people team running an arts club. The idea behind the project is to use rural pubs as a community meeting point and deliver arts to older people who are living independently. I realised that I am four weeks into a ten week project already and I hadn't taken a single picture or blogged about the project, so today amid all of the creative chaos I remembered to take a few shots.

There are two groups in the project, one which is run on a Monday at The New Inn in St Owen's Cross, and my group who meet on Friday's at The Tump Inn in Wormelow. Each group has a different focus. At the Tump Inn we are focussing on mixed media techniques so each week I am introducing the group to a different technique or material. This week we had a guest artist join us - Jeanette McCulloch who runs the Monday group. Jeanette was giving the group an introduction to using watercolours and stamps to create a long picture. We then folded these long this images to make concertina books.

It was a really successful session and everyone seemed keen to take home their books and keep working on them. Next week we're moving onto stitched image which should produce some exciting results!


Yarn Basket of Shame

By the side of my sofa is a basket. A basket of shame. It is filled to overflowing with yarn and needles. As I have been cracking on with some mindless knitting projects I have had to sort out the basket a bit to stop myself having to cram the new projects in quite so violently. I was appalled at what I found:

So many half finished projects. Not one, but three sets of socks in progress. 1 is a cable knit sock that was very unlikely to ever get finished on account of its confusing pattern! 3 were my attempt at two-at-a-time-magic-loop socks - another failure. 4 just needs the ends weaving in, 6 is a pair of leg warmers I need to figure out at what point in the lace pattern I am and carry on. 5 are a pair of baby shoes I have tried to make up four time now and failed every time. Maybe over the summer I'll finally figure them out.....

The project that frustrates me the most is 2. These are a pair of socks I decided to make for myself months and months ago, and look they are maybe four rows away from completion yet they are languishing in the basket of shame. My hands are too bad at the moment to be able to knit with tiny dpn's but once I get the use of them back I will be taking great joy in finishing off these bad boys, just in time to get snuggly during this changeable British summer!

I know I am not alone in my basket of half finished WIP's, what is hiding in yours?


Branding, branding everywhere

As part of my Professional Practice module I have been designing logos for use on my work and business stationery. For me this is some of the most fun bits of the end of college - the finishing touches, the details and the stationery! I have written before about the origin of Rats as Big as Cats, and now I am taking my tweaked logo and going crazy with it. 

I had a bunch of vinyl decals made at college to go on packaging in the future, but at the moment they are just appearing everywhere....


The Crafts Cluster: Final Countdown

Just a quick post to tell you about a series of posts called 'The Final Countdown' I am doing over at The Crafts Cluster blog about the last few weeks at college. If you want to find out about all the work that goes into putting on a show, bop on over and check it out.


Remember Me

 On Thursday I had my first gig as a community artist. I was one of three artists who were running the live drawing event at The Courtyard as part of their Remember Me event, a day designed to not only to raise awareness about dementia, but to allow those with dementia, their carers, family and friends to come together for a fun day out at The Courtyard. It was a huge success and we were busy all day. 

Our part of the activities was encouraging people to help us complete the huge wall hanging. There was painting, drawing, stamping, collaging and a whole lot more. It was a wonderful event and the resulting piece looked very impressive from the second floor balcony. 

For my part I was making free motion embroidery pictures of the people who were drawing which were then stitched onto the bigger piece. I loved how much the drawings and paintings surrounding my pieces bring them to life!

I was very pleased with how my contributions turned out and I had a steady stream of people watching me as I was stitching up these pictures. There is something about the immediacy and unexpectedness of drawing with a sewing machine that fascinated people - though I failed in getting anyone else to have a go on the machine. 

Working with older people was not something I planned on doing but my work with The Courtyard on this project and on the Red Suitcase Project has had a profound effect on me, my work and my plans for graduate life. It has been unexpected and brilliant. Helping older people reclaim part of their lives they thought they'd lost to dementia has been a privilege. I am looking forward to working in this area more as a I graduate... which is terrifyingly close now!


My First Jumper

I recently posted about knitting in the pub. My aim to knit a jumper post graduation went a bit wrong. Wrong because I've only gone and finished it! This flew together so quickly. I have always been put off the idea of knitting clothes for myself because I thought it would take too long and I would get bored. The opposite was true. By using big needles and chunky wool this jumper took took shape over the course of a about ten days, and I am thrilled. Yes it is a bit short, a bit wonky and my tension is...variable shall we say, but it is an actual jumper. One that I have been wearing to stay cosy while battling my final collection. Trouble with a big fluffy jumper and a white quilt is that the defluffing of the finished pieces has become epic!

I've already cast on my next project and it is already growing nicely courtesy of an unexpected hangover yesterday. I don't think I need to worry too much about being bored when I graduate I've already got orders from BorderlineStraggler for a hand knit jumper of his own...



Things are coming to an end around here, one of the more annoying things being my diary. I have either worked in, or been in, education for the last 9 years meaning that my new year always starts in September and diaries are bought in August. Now I am about to leave education I am finding myself a little short in the diary department. The last date in my current diary is July and I'm already getting booked up for events past then.

I know that one solution should be an electronic diary but as I am not office based at the moment I find a paper diary easier to use. And of course I love any excuse for pretty stationery. Or normally I do, turns out trying to buy a new diary in May is nigh on impossible. Like fabric I don't really buy much stationery online, I like to feel the weight of the paper, and the incidental purchases that come with entering a real life stationery shop. But this time I had to. I got myself a cheap 2013 diary online and set about customising it.

You can just about see in the picture above that the diary is double layered. I have rebound the diary pages in a binding called do-si-do. What you get is a diary on one side and a notebook on the other. I made a whole stack of these kind of diaries a couple of years ago for a pop-up shop and they were a huge success, but because I use an academic diary I never got round to keeping one for myself!

The notebook side is made up of a whole selection of different paper stocks. I really love having a mix of different pages to write on and since I learnt to bookbind two years ago all my notebooks have had a mishmash of different stock.

The diary/notebook is covered with some of my precious Melody Miller Ruby Star Shining fabric with the selvedge edge left deliberately raw. I love how this project means I have been able to eek out every scrap of this fabric. I'm really excited to start filling this diary with post graduation plans, both grand and mundane!


A quilt for Esther

All my friends seem to be having Big Birthday's this year. Lots of zero's appearing and people moving from one age box to the next. One such person is Esther and to commemorate her reaching the big 2-1 I made her a quilt. I wanted it to be special and something that she would love so I commissioned some fabric from a very talented print maker on our course Clare Shepherd. She has just started blogging about her work here, I'm particularly enjoying her Inspiration Station posts. Esther and I have both been in love with Clare's work for several years and it seemed the perfect way to add a little something special to quilt. 

I gave Clare free rein when it came to the colours of the prints and then built my palette around it. I  am thrilled with the great job she did - so much so that it took me a while to build up the courage to start cutting into it.

I wanted to show off the fabric to its best and eventually decided to have one fussy cut block to show off the tower print, contrasted with bigger blocks of the print to show the repeat.

It backed with a Joel Dewberry print I'd been hoarding for a while and bound with a contrasting fuchsia pink cotton. I kept the quilting very minimal and went for 3 inch wide diagonal lines that remind me of candy cane stripes. It is lap quilt sized, just perfect to snuggle up under on the sofa when you don't want to share. 

It is almost impossible to make a super secret project for your housemate and this quilt has mostly been made while Esther's been out at work. This has made me work quickly and decisively, which has been no bad thing. Research for this quilt has helped me realise that my quilts come together most easily when I don't think about them too much. I pick a stack of fabric and then just improvise the sections as I go along. There was a lot of browsing through Ashley's blog Film in the Fridge for improv inspiration and I am itching to get started on my next non college quilt!


Stitching and the Pub

There is a pub in Hereford that everyone goes to. I don't just mean all the people I know, I mean all the people. All of them. It isn't even a very nice pub. My hatred of it is well known amongst my friends and the idea of me going there never fails to bring a "you - in the barrels?? Seriously?" comment. I have a whole list of issues with the place but the main one is how busy it gets. There is a huge outside area filled with picnic benches complete with umbrella's and those heater things which you can feel burning away the earth's resources with every blazing bright orange second which gets full - full like bars on the strip in some awful brits abroad resort full. I suffer from PTSD and big crowds of drunk people in a confined space are big triggers for me. This makes the barrels at the weekend my own little piece of hell but on occasion I have to go there (usually to support friends in need) and this weekend I have had to go twice.

One of the most effective coping strategies I have is craft. The physical act of knitting engages enough of my brain to keep me calm in these stressful situations. I have got to the point with knitting that I can happily stitch without having to look at what I am doing, leaving me with plenty of mental space to carry on chatting with my friends easily. The main requirement for this sort of knitting is that it should be very simple and repetitive, no heel turning here or complicated cabling. With two barrels trip looming this weekend, I decided to get a head start on one of my 'When I Graduate' goals and give knitting a jumper a go. This jumper to be exact, in a midnight blue yarn. Yes it is far too chunky to enjoy now but will be brilliant come autumn time.

I've never made any full size person clothes before. I get easily bored so the idea of slogging through a huge garment has put me off, but I decided to try the big needles/big wool school of thought and give it a go. I made so much progress.

This was me casting on the jumper at 3pm, I did about 2 hours of knitting with nbnq while catching up and then three hours in the pub and I have almost got the back of a jumper!! I am very excited by the speed of this and am practically looking for excuses to go to the pub just to crack on with this project.

So, if you see me in the pub and I've got my knitting out, don't be offended, I'm not ignoring you. I'm keeping the crazy in check. If you're lucky I'll be making a big blanket with room to snuggle under while I'm stitching, come have a cwtch.


Inspired by a hip hop side project

I'm currently running a community arts project. It is my first time running a project like this and it has been a very steep learning curve. I am working with a really enthusiastic team of HCA students but I felt a bit disconnected from the project. We had a month break over the Easter period and I found getting back into the swing of things was challenging.

The blogsphere is a wonderful thing and as I was trying to figure out what my problem was this post from Kim of Finest Imaginary popped up in my reader and hit me over the head. What I needed to do was face up to the fact I might not have been doing the best job of managing this project and do something about it! A flurry of pro-active ness overtook me, setting up catch up meetings with my student participants, review meetings with the Courtyard, visiting the homes we were working with and generally getting on top of things. As is always the way with these things it is the little changes that make all the difference. A mid project review lunch gave everyone the chance to discuss their experiences, make suggestions and get us all feeling like a project team again. We are going to have weekly show-and-tell sessions with the work each group is doing and as an opportunity to share our experiences. The guys I am working with are great, they have been consistently enthusiastic and engaged in the project, and forgiving of my learning curve mistakes, and helped me rediscover my mojo. I'm looking forward to sharing my design for my own Red Suitcase quilt.

Thank you guys.

You can check out the Red Suitcase Project blog here and see how we are getting on. The quilts are really starting to grow so expect lots of pictures in the next few weeks!


When enough is enough

I am happy to report that the first piece in my final collection is at the 'stabby' stage which is the last stage in being completed! I spent several hours today contemplating this quilt trying to figure out when it was finished. My quilts are generally made through a simple drawings and samples before I work on a full size piece. The grid patterns and voids which make up my designs are tinkered with while I am making responding to the rhythm of the piece. As there is no drawing or completed design I'm working to, trying to decide when a piece is finished is a delicate task. Too much stitching and the subtlety of the work is lost, to little and it is just a white grid sewn onto a quilt. This stage usually involves a lot of head tilting, umming and ahhing.

My final collection is based around architecture of my youth and translating the details of these buildings into quilts using very regimented dense stitching and contrasting voided areas. This first piece has seen me expand from using only grids to including some other structural stitch. I'm particularly taken with this section of zig-zag stitch.

After a lot of head titling I took the plunge and at lunchtime I called this quilt finished and starting tidying it up.

I enjoy the finishing stage of my quilts. The joy at squaring off an edge, seeing it transform from pieces of fabric and thread into a proper finished thing. There is an evening's worth of handsewing left to do to finish of the binding but I can't for the life of me find my thimble at the moment so this is on hold till later - the last thing this quilt needs is pinpricks of blood on the edge!

I'm looking forward to sharing more little peeks at my collection and the inspiration behind it in these last few weeks leading up to the big reveal in my degree show.


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