Habits, old and new

In February, more than any other time of year, I find myself relying on old habits. Good ones, to keep life running smoothly. They might be easy – grabbing a jar of soup from the freezer as I head out the door to work – or require a bit more effort (my Tuesday night swim definitely fell into that category this week), but habits really do work.

Thankfully, new habits are relatively easy to create, one at a time. I tend to throw one in every few weeks, just for fun. This week was the week of starting to eat a salad for lunch every day, on top of my usual mid-morning soup. It’s only been three days and already I’m planning my next batch. And loathe as I am to join in with food trends, I have to admit that jarred salads are pure genius. I’m making them three at a time and the third was as fresh and appealing as the first. I just grab a jar from the fridge as well as the freezer on my way out the door now.

Like all families, we tend to let things slip a bit when life gets busy, and our children asked John and I whether we might revamp our plastic-free efforts a bit. I was all too happy to agree – some plastic has begun to creep back into our shopping – and we had a look through our bin to see what the culprits were. It turned out that it was mainly the odd unusual purchase – and lots of plastic from food that friends gave us when they emptied their fridge before a recent holiday. While there are a few things that we’ve reverted to buying in plastic (for instance our toothy-tab supplier ran out for a while, so we’ve been back on tubes of toothpaste), for the most part habits have kept our bin slim. Neither John or I would think of heading to the shops without our shopping kits in tow, and really, it is no extra effort at all. So we’ve just made a list of plastic-free goods we need to replenish to avoid some packaging we have fallen back into buying, and that’s about all we plan to do for now.

It goes without saying that I do have some bad habits – drinking endless cups of tea is one I’m tackling at the moment. There’s nothing wrong with the odd cup of tea, but from time to time I find myself drinking nothing but the black, caffeinated variety all day, which can’t be good for me. So far, I’ve cut it down to two cups a day, and I’m finding myself ready for bed a little earlier with each missing cup. Seriously, I’m sleeping like a baby at the moment, and this is from someone who normally sleeps well. Who knew it was having such big effect?

Then there are habits that are good for the environment but not always so good for me, like not buying flowers any more. In the summer, this doesn’t matter as I grow my own, but in the winter I rely on the odd flowering pot plant. Well, this week I have been doubly blessed by a bunch of alstroemerias regifted by those same holiday-going friends, and the most gloriously bright bunch of tulips as a thank you from another friend. What a joy it is to have flowers in the house again. They make me smile every time I see them.

What’s more, they’ve got me thinking about my own garden again, and those bulb lasagnas I planted in the autumn. I wonder how they’re doing? I must pop out and check on them, as well as the other things under cover, and give them all a drink. Soon enough it’ll be time to get back into the habit of watering them every few days and pulling weeds when I get in from work. That’s the lovely things about habits in a temperate climate: they shift with the sun. Nothing lasts for ever – not the winter and its challenges, nor the habits we build to survive it – and that’s just the way it should be.

Madeleine

Have you been trying out any new habits recently? I’d love to know – and maybe try them for myself!

Preparing for spring

Over the past few years, I’ve come to make the winter months precious by filling them with winter-only activities. Come spring, I’ll be needed in the garden, and I’d like to immerse myself in a fleece or two on rainy days. That means that there won’t be much – if any – time for knitting. So I’m doing a little pre-spring cleaning, and using up the bits and pieces left over from other makes.

So far, three such projects have graced my needles: a long-awaited (we’re talking years) tea cosy for our house, a pair of colourful wrist warmers and the start of a sweet little bonnet for a soon-to-be-born little person. I started the bonnet on Sunday afternoon while watching a film with the girls and went wrong twice before finally reading the pattern properly. I have to say, I didn’t mind a bit. I was so cosy, wrapped up on the couch in front of the fire, and working on something so small that it was the work of an hour to pull it out and start again. The yarn is leftover from the socks I designed, with the idea that the busy new parents will be able to throw it in the machine when it gets grubby. I’ve been there.

The wrist warmers were a bit of a slog, if I’m honest. Not because they were hard (they aren’t) but because there were three yarns used in every colourwork row, so I had to keep dropping and picking up two of them. They were one of those projects that I had to set an end date for. I’m glad I did, though, because Fliss loves them and I’ve set them aside for next Christmas.

Bringing me the most pleasure, though, is the new tea cosy in my life. This is going to sound ridiculous, but why did I not know how effective these things are? They keep the tea piping hot for ages, even in our somewhat chilly house. I used a pattern from this book, and have plans to make little birds with the last of my leftover scraps. More Christmas presents, you see. The pile on the present shelf is growing, as there have been some little sewing additions too, of late, and it is so satisfying to reach for a gift you made a few months earlier with just that person in mind. Come next Christmas, it really will feel as though the elves had made it all.

With the lengthening days, the urge to read about the natural world has come again, and I found myself scanning the library nature writing section. In the end, I plumped to reread The Shepherd’s Life. We’ll be going to the Lake District in the spring, and journeying through its pages feels almost like setting off on that little jaunt a few weeks early.

I love having so much to look forward to, but instead of thinking I can’t wait, I find that really, I can. I can because I have so much to enjoy doing between now and then. Next up will be another pair of wrist warmers, and a second snood, and perhaps even a second little bonnet to tuck away for another, as-yet-unknown baby. A few little birds might find their way into the children’s rooms. There are winter walks to enjoy, still, before reading about the rest of the year indoors, in the warm. Come the spring, I’ll be out there all the time, with my hands in the cool dark soil. For now, though, I’m preparing for spring in the most pleasurable ways I know.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

How are you preparing for spring? Or is it not on your mind just yet?

Winter Flora publication – and we have a winner!

Thank you so much for your comments on the Introducing Winter Flora post. I’m delighted to announce that the winner of the pattern is Cathy. A copy of the pattern will be landing in your inbox later today.

The pattern is now available in my Ravelry and Etsy shops.

Madeleine

Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial part four: adding the waistband and fastenings, and finishing the hems

Welcome to the fourth and final part of the Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial. It’s now time to attach the waistband and fastenings, fit the trousers and finish the bottom hems.

First, you are going to prepare the waistband. Taking one piece of the waistband at a time, arrange the interfacing so that it is lying on the bottom half of the main fabric, on the wrong side, within the seam allowance. The interfacing should butt up along the horizontal centre line of the waistband piece. It should be glue (bumpy) side down. Using a pressing cloth to protect your iron, and following the manufacturer’s instructions, iron the interfacing into place.

With right sides together,pin edges U together.

Make sure that the interfacing runs along the bottom of both pieces.  Sew and press seam UU open.

Seam UU is the centre back of the waistband. Then turn edge S down so that it meets edge T, and press the long horizontal fold.

Open out the waistband again. Arrange your trousers, right sides out, so that the back is facing upwards. Lay the waistband along the top of the trousers, right side down, aligning seam UU with seam KK. The raw edge of the waistband (T) should align with the raw edge of the trousers (BG).

Start to pin the waistband to the trousers, working your way around from the centre back (UU). Keep going until you go past piece 5. Open out the pocket (pieces 3 and 4 and keep pinning.

Stop at the point where the pocket fabric meets the trouser fabric of piece 1 (seam NA).

Measure a further 2cm/ 0.75” and cut the waistband here.

Keep the short cut-off piece of waistband for later. Repeat on the other side.

Use your tailors’ chalk or fabric marker to mark the point where the waistband meets piece 1, on both the wrong and right sides of the fabric. This marks your sewing line; the further 2cm/ 0.75” is your seam allowance. Take out the final pin so that you can work with the cut end of the waistband. Snip your length of ribbon in two, and fold half of it to form a loop. Pin the ribbon loop to the right side of the cut waistband. The cut ends of the ribbon should overhang the cut end of the waistband, and it should be a quarter of the way from the top of the waistband (not including seam allowances). In other words, it should be in the centre of the interfacing, but on the right side.

Your ribbon loop will be sewn along the seam line. Make sure that your loop is big enough to accommodate your chosen button. Adjust if necessary. Sew the ribbon into place along the seam line.

Repeat on the other side of the waistband.

Now take one of your discarded lengths of cut-off waistband. (It should be easily long enough to cover the gap between your two cut ends of waistband – check that it is.) Arranging it in the same way as the pinned length of waistband (wrong side up, the raw edge of the waistband (T) aligning with the raw edge of the trousers (BG)), pin the cut end to the cut end of the pinned section of the waistband, wrong sides together. This is what it looks like with the seam allowance turned towards the new piece of waistband…

and here it is with the seam allowance flipped the other way.

Sew along the seam line. Zigzag the raw ends. Press this seam open.

Now pin the new length of waistband along the front of the trousers, until it meets the other cut edge of waistband. Taking care to ensure that it will be the right length to lie flat along the top of the trousers, pin these two ends of the waistband together at the sewing line, and sew. Zigzag the raw ends, press this seam open, and pin it down.

I’m afraid I forgot to take a photo of this until after I’d sewn the waistband to the trousers – so if you’re wondering why you can see those stitches, that’s why! Just ignore them…

Sew the waistband to the top of the trousers all the way along edge T of the waistband. Use the top of the interfacing to guide you.

This is what your waistband will look like when you’ve finished sewing…

and this is what it looks like when you flip it upwards.

Next, you need to hand finish the inside of the waistband. Press seam TH/G up towards inside of the waistband. Press the seam allowance of edge S inwards, wrong sides together. It should look like this before it is folded over:

Pin it down to the inside of the trousers so that all the raw edges of the waistband are contained neatly inside the waistband. It should look like this:

Sew seam SB/G by hand from the inside of the trousers. Make sure that your stitches are invisible from the outside. This is easiest if you sew edge S down to the seam allowances already there, rather than to the outside of the trousers. Here are my trousers with the waistband finished off, and folded as you are supposed to wear them:

Attach the buttons. Try your trousers on. They will look like clown trousers, with an enormous waist! Fold the pockets inside so that edge A roughly meets edge P. Adjust until there is an equal fold on either side of the centre front of the trousers, and they feel comfortable around the waist. See where the end of the loop meets the waistband, and mark with a pin.

 Take them off, and make sure that the pins are both an equal distance from the side seams. Adjust as necessary, then sew on your buttons in the places marked by the pins. (My waistband needs another press…)

Finish the bottom hems. Try your trousers on again. Fold up edges E and I until the trousers are the length you like. (They look really nice about an inch above the ankle.) Mark this length with a few pins. Turn the trousers inside out. Mark your desired length on the inside of the trousers with your tailors’ chalk or fabric marker. Mark another line 5cm/ 2” below this, and trim the excess fabric away. Zigzag the bottom of the trousers again.

Then turn the seam allowance under by 2cm/ 3/4” and press.

Fold it over a further 3cm/ 1 1/4”, press and pin (this should take them to your desired length).

Hand sew seams E and I using ladder stitch. (To do this, you simply catch a couple of threads of the outside of the trousers:

then take a bigger stitch along the inside of the hem:

before picking up a couple of threads from the outside of the trousers again.)

All done!

Wear your new trousers with pride. And rest assured that they are incredibly easy to adjust should you gain or lose weight – you just need to move the buttons…


Introducing Winter Flora

Winter has most definitely arrived in the UK. This is what my garden looked like this morning:

and now it is hung with freezing fog.

I, for one, am rather pleased with this cold spell. The frozen cobwebs and candied blades of grass are magic enough to make cold toes and fingers bearable. We don’t get many days when the temperature stays below freezing through all the daylight hours and each leaf, each twig, each little bit of gravel is locked in a perpetual dawn.

No matter how cold it gets, there are flowers out there to brighten my day. Last autumn, for the very first time, I planted little winter violas in the hanging baskets, and their purple blooms greet me every time I come home. The children were incredulous that they would last all winter, but there they are, flowering on either side of our front door. I am looking forward to a rush of new growth in the spring.

Much older are the hellebores and snowdrops, planted under the old apple tree soon after we moved in. It’s a tricky little bed, shaded and drought-ridden thanks to the tree but directly outside our patio windows. Of course, it’s the winter and spring flowers that do best there, and the nodding hellebores are one of my very favourite. Modest and demure, they wait the winter out with quiet stoicism, eyes to the ground, adorned in gentle purples and pinks and creams. Nearby, the snowdrops have been appearing almost overnight, unnoticed until they ring their little white bells. They are both the sort of flowers that you have to look for, crouch down by, gently lift to admire their blooms. Winter flora, even in the midst of all this frost.

These little dabs of colour are such a joy in the midst of the grey that so characterises the British winter. And, it seems, no month is greyer than February. January I can like, with its energy and sense of renewal – and my birthday. But February? February needs a little colour.

So what better way to celebrate the colour and beauty outside the back door, than to bring a bit of it inside to work on by the fire? This month’s pattern celebrates the gentle colours and delicate shapes of my two favourite winter flowers. I’ve laid them in a bed of moss, with moss stitch borders at either end to complete the illusion. Laid flat, the flowers are clearly depicted, but once on, the design is more subtle.

Unlike all my patterns to date, this is not for beginners, and there will be no tutorial. This snood isn’t very complicated to make, but you do need to know how to knit with two colours at once, twist in your yarns as you go, and read a simple chart.

I really enjoyed designing this project. I started it on Christmas morning, working out the chart in an old maths book, and finished it in the car on the way to my birthday weekend. It blocked in the bathroom overnight, and we took these photos on our walk the following day, when the sun popped out unexpectedly for all of twenty minutes. Of course, I wore it the ‘wrong’ way up, as the snowdrops are meant to face downwards. I even managed to photograph it upside down… But we didn’t see the sun again for a few days, by which time it had been parcelled up and sent to my sister in law for her own special birthday. So these are the photos I have.

I have enough yarn upstairs to make another, so that’s what I’ll be doing in February. Knitting with colour, running the soft yarn through my fingers, and enjoying every tiny detail of the winter flora. And then having something new to wear for those tricky final weeks of winter, when spring seems so long in coming.

Madeleine

The pattern will be published in my Etsy shop and my Ravelry shop next Thursday, 7 February 2019. It calls for Drops Alpaca yarn – one ball of each colour 7238, 0100 and 3800 – and a 3.5 mm circular needle.

I would like to give away a copy of the pattern, so if you’d like to enter a little giveaway, please leave a comment at the end of this post by midnight GMT on Wednesday 6 February. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 7 February.

What are you knitting at the moment? Are you reaching for the colour, too? I’m looking forward to sharing my other knitting projects with you next week.

Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial part three: inserting the back darts and joining the four leg pieces

Welcome to the third part of the Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial. Now that the front pieces are assembled, you are going to prepare the back pieces and attach them to the corresponding front pieces. Just you you did last week, please repeat each instruction for the other side of the trousers.

First of all, you need to insert the darts in piece 2. Make sure that you’ve accurately transferred your markings to your fabric. If you are new to darts, I strongly recommend marking them on the wrong side of the fabric as well, so that you can see the line that you are sewing along.

Working on just one dart at a time, fold the fabric right sides together so that the two diagonal dart lines lie on top of one another. The excess fabric should be on the wrong side of the fabric. The trick with darts is to iron them flat, pin them along the sewing line, and sew from the fat end towards the point. Here is my pinned dart. I’ve used a horizontal pin to mark the end of the dart.

Never sew all the way to the point (stop a few mm before you get there), or back stitch at the point; just leave your ends long and tie them in a granny knot. This prevents the point from puckering. You can see my finished dart, with long ends at the bottom, here.

When you’ve completed both darts, press them towards the centre back seam. Here are my completed darts.

It’s now time to attach piece 1 to piece 2 along the side seam. Lay out piece 2, right side up. Find which piece 1 goes with it by laying them on top, wrong side up. The correct piece is the one on which edge F is aligned with edge H, when they are placed right sides together like this. Pin and sew seam FH from the top to the bottom, so that the top is lined up perfectly even if the bottom isn’t. You will need to ensure that the pocket extension piece (piece 5) is straight. You can see my pinned pieces here.

Then press this seam open, as I’ve done in the photo below.

Now that each leg of the trousers is constructed, you’ll be working with the both legs at once as you sew them together.

Sew the legs together along the crutch seam. Arrange the trouser legs so that they are both still wrong sides out and right sides facing, with each piece 1 on top. Place them next to each other in an ‘A’ shape so that edges CK, which will be lying on top of each other in each leg, are facing each other at the top of the ‘A’. You can see mine laid out like this in the photo below.

Pin edge C of the left leg to edge C of the right leg. Starting from the top of the trousers, sew seam CC towards and ending at the end of the curve (the crotch point). In the photo below, you can see my pinning and I am pointing at the point that I am going to sew to. Do not sew on down the trouser leg.

Turn the trousers over, and repeat these steps for seam KK. Here is my pinned seam KK, and again, I am pointing at the point to which I am going to sew.

Press both seams open, taking care not the distort the curves.

Next, you’re going to sew the trouser inseams. Lay out your trousers, still wrong sides out, so that pieces 1 are on top again. They should look like this:

Align where all four parts of the trouser legs meet at the crotch, and pin. Pin seam DJ on one leg. In the photo below, you can see that I’ve pinned this seam on one leg. The scissors are pointing at the crotch point.

Sew from the crotch point towards edges E and I. It’s important that you sew both seams in this downwards direction. Repeat for seam DJ on the other leg. Press both seams open, as shown in the photo below.

Turn your trousers the right way out, and admire! They should look like trousers with a really big waistline. If you gather the top, they will look like mine do in the photo below.

That’s all for this week. Next week, you’ll be finishing the trousers by adding the waistband and fastenings, and finishing the bottom hems.

Madeleine

How are you getting on? Is this your first pair of trousers, or are you an old hand?

These days

I’ve been making a real effort not to say I’m so busy, although truth be told I catch myself doing it all the time. Yesterday afternoon, collecting Ilse from my parents house, I found myself doing my usual must dash! – and it was true. John has been out of the country for work this week, which has been the cherry on the cake of a very full life.

The trouble is that the word busy doesn’t have the best connotations. There’s something self-important about it, as well as pointless. They call it busy work for a reason: something to keep children occupied and make them think they are getting somewhere whereas, in fact, they are standing still. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with a bit of busy work, as long as it’s a conscious choice. I’d count knitting something simple as grown up busy work, really. But I don’t want to think of my life as busy. I want to think of it as full of the things I love.

These days, I am working four days a week outside the home and one day on my pattern designing business, and I am loving it all. Around the edges, though, I’ve chosen to keep going with the other things I enjoy, rather than putting them on ice for when the work dries up, or, worse, the last of the children leaves home. Like most people, I like finding out about how other people spend their time and, as this has been so much on my mind lately, I thought I’d share a week with you.

On Mondays, I just go to work. Normally, nothing happens in the evening, which is the loveliest end to the first day of the week. John and I take it in turns to come home and take care of the children and the chores, or stay late at work. As a result, I either switch off by cooking and doing the ironing, or walk straight into a house with a lit fire and tea on the table. I like both.

The lack of clubs means that Monday nights are when I tend to finish off – or at least work on – whatever craft project I started at the weekend. This Monday just gone I finished a couple of waistcoats for an upcoming ballet show (don’t worry, I’m not actually in it. I wouldn’t inflict that on any audience).

On Tuesdays, I go for a swim in the evening. We decided to enter an outdoor swim this summer, so since December I’ve been swimming twice a week (more in the holidays) at our local pool. There’s a women’s only session on Tuesdays, which is the perfect time to do interval training in the pool as everyone is very polite and knows that you are not trying to race them for a couple of lengths before going maddeningly slowly for a bit. At least, I hope so. Maybe they all just think I’m annoying.

On Wednesday evenings, I have a music lesson. At the moment, I’m working on the piano. You might remember that I also play the flute, but I find that one instrument to practice (hopefully) every (most) day(s) is quite enough to have on my plate at the moment, thank you very much. One day I am going to do my flute diploma. But I am enjoying playing the piano so much that I’ve decided to go for my grade 8 on that first. It might take forever, but I’m enjoying the journey and I’ll get there eventually.

Thursday is my day when I work at home on my business, and in the evening I head out to my adult ballet class. To be entirely honest, John often has to give me a shove out the door. Having spent a day blissfully cacooned in my own little world of sewing and knitting and writing, the thought of donning a leotard and going out into the cold and doing what is always a really challenging class is not a little daunting. Then I get there and I love it. Every. Single. Time.

On Fridays, I like to come home and cook and then watch something in front of the fire with everyone. I might, if I’m feeling energetic, do a little knitting. I always have an early night. Now that I’m forty, I don’t even pretend to want to stay up late.

Saturday mornings are probably the hardest part of the whole week, involving cleaning the house, planning meals and generally catching up with the debris of the week. Suffice to say that I have streamlined this to within an inch of its life. I will never enjoy it, so it may as well be got over with as quickly as possible. I know that there are people who love this more than anything, but I just don’t. If I could travel through time, I’d go and get myself a Victorian housekeeper – you know, one with really high standards who would take care of everything. Sadly, I can’t. At least everyone pitches in.

I do, however, love Saturday afternoons, because this is often when I start a big new crafty project. If you remember, I did a lot of cutting out of fabric during the Christmas holidays, and last week it was a joy to be able to just pick up those waistcoat pieces and start to sew. There is no way I would have had the wherewithal to grade and cut the pattern, but sewing? I can do that. Especially with a pot of tea, some Christmas cake and some good company.

If I’m not sewing, I’m swimming, because the weekend is the best time to get into the pool and just swim for as long as I want. Sometimes I have company that gets bored after about an hour, and sometimes I go on my own and stay in much longer. I don’t mind when in the weekend I go, or how far I swim, as long as I go and do at least 60 lengths of crawl. I am astonished by how much progress I’ve made in two short months.

Sunday has long been family day in our house, and in winter that often means a walk. Last Sunday it was just a short one: an hour along the Fulford Ings and back. The week before we all went to see Mary Poppins, instead. Next weekend is Residents First weekend in York, when all the local attractions and restaurants and so forth are open at a very reduced rate to anyone with a YorkCard. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’m hoping for a trip up the Minster tower as it’s been literally years, and perhaps a visit to Barley Hall or the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. We’ll see.

I can’t quite decide whether this is the most boring post in the world (I suspect it is – sorry) or actually vaguely interesting to those of you who don’t know me in real life. But I think I’m going to publish it anyway, for my future self. There’s been a lot of dedicated diary writing in our house, lately, and I caught myself thinking that I really ought to keep one again. And then I remembered that I do, after a fashion, right here on this blog. One day, when this big old house is much emptier and I have time on my hands, I’d like to look back at the way things used to be. The longer I live, the more I realise that life changes, imperceptibly, all the time, and what was just the norm one year is completely forgotten the next. So this is a little record for myself, really, of these fleeting months at the start of my fifth decade, and how I chose to fill them.

Madeleine

What are you choosing to fill these days with?

Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial part two: assembling the pockets and trouser fronts

Welcome to the second part of the Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial. This week you are going to construct each trouser leg separately before sewing them together. For each of the following instructions, repeat them for the other leg.

First of all, you need to insert the pleat in piece 1. Lay piece 1 out with the right side facing upwards. Bring the two solid lines together until they meet, directly on top of the dotted line. Press this (box) pleat, making sure that it is even on the back. Pin this:

and sew down (horizontally), using a straight stitch within the seam allowance, but very close to your marked sewing line.

Now it’s time to construct the pockets. Find the pieces 1 and 4 that face this way, right sides up:

With right sides together, pin and sew pieces 1 and 4 together along seam NA, stopping at #. Start from the top of the trouser front/ pocket, and sew downwards. Here they are pinned:

and sewn:

Now find pieces 3 and 5 that face this way, right side up:

With right sides together, pin and sew pieces 3 and 5 together along seam LP, stopping at *. These seams will feel strange – a bit unevenly matched and bulky. It’s just because they are slightly different curves and lengths. Just pin them carefully. It’s really important that you don’t pull on the fabric when you are sewing curves, as they stretch out of shape quite easily. To combat this, pin them pieces really carefully and feed them gently and slowly through the machine, without pulling on them. You could even hand sew them loosely first, for extra security. It will look nice and flat when you open it out. Here they are pinned:

and sewn:

Next, you need to attach your pocket lining to your pocket piece. Attach pieces 3 and 4 by pinning and sewing seam MO with right sides together. Here they are side by side:

and sewn:

Now arrange the fabric, right side up, so that edge A meets edge P. The pocket fabric should lie beneath the trouser front.

Finally, pin and sew between # and * of the pocket pieces. (Do not attach the pocket pieces to the trouser front at this point.) In this photo, it’s the bit between the pins.

Press all your seams. If you really want to, you can understitch the seams where your pocket meets the trouser fabric, to stop the pocket fabric from rolling out. But I don’t like to: the pockets are made to gape slightly and show off the pocket fabric.

Madeleine

What fabrics have you chosen for your pockets? I’d love to know!

Two quilts, maybe three

Not so very long ago – within the last five years – the airing cupboard held bulging bags of would-be quilts. There were old wool blankets from our grandparents’ homes, a stained batik tablecloth of my mothers, a tired feather duvet, ripped sheets, leftovers from dressmaking projects and more than a couple of bags of old clothes in patterned fabrics. One summer holiday I got the whole lot out and divided it up as best I could, never having made a quilt before. I divvied up the blankets and other bits of wadding, assigned backing, and estimated how many scraps I’d need for each. Armed with a pair of scissors and the fact that a coin quilt really couldn’t be all that tricky, I set about making my very first quilt, which Seb has had on his bed ever since. It took far more scraps than I’d anticipated, and I wouldn’t use such a heavy backing again, but it still looks nice enough.

Ilse’s Irish Chain took several months more, even with the loan of a cutting mat and other game-changing equipment. It took so long, in fact, that I wondered if the library would allow me to keep renewing the same book for so many months. But eventually that, too, was done, and the bags in the airing cupboard were a little bit lighter.

That summer I got organised and made up two more ‘kits’, dying white sheets for backgrounds and setting myself up for the next two quilts. That autumn I ended up making three, two of which have never been blogged and Ben’s fast and furious leaving-home quilt. And, finally, the airing cupboard was empty and all the children’s beds were covered in a bit of homemade warmth.

Five quilts down the line, a huge kingsize one is next, for John and I. In my head, I place a glorious order with Liberty and spend a happy month or so making a starburst of truly cosmic dimensions, radiating from its epicentre in a blur of colour and light. One day.

In reality, all the sewing I’ve done over the past couple of years has generated a significant number of scraps, and this is what I quilt with. I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping them quilt-ready. Inspired by professional quilters who keep their bins full of precut fabrics in every size, shade and scale, I’ve been keeping on top of my own cutting in a rather more specific way.

The thing about using scraps and old clothes is that for every nice big 8″ square you get, you end up with fifty much smaller bits that simply can’t be used. So I’ve chosen three quilts to have on the go, in sizes that can be cut down into each other if I change my mind.

First of all, there’s a postage stamp quilt, designed to use up all those pesky little 2.5″ square pieces (anything smaller goes in a scrap jar and gets used for making cards, and crazy quilting and the like. Ilse loves digging through it). I don’t think I’d have the patience to sew 1936 little scraps of fabric together in one go, but it’ll take years for me to accumulate that many scraps. In the meantime, I’m stitching them into 16 patch blocks with no rules other than that no fabric can be repeated in each block. When I’ve made 121 of them (or earlier, if I get sick of this project) I’ll sew them all together and finish the quilt.

The quilt that I’m really excited about is the next size up. I cut anything that would allow into 5″ squares, so that I could cut them down into 2.5″ squares if I wanted to speed the postage stamps along, and spent a very pleasant few months considering what to do with them. For a long time, I pondered a hand-stitched clam quilt, but in the end Christina’s gorgeous Drunkard’s Path sent me on a little pathway of my own, and I am planning something like this beauty. I’ve dyed and cut more than enough grey squares (yet another worn out sheet) in various shades to pair with the number of coloured squares I have so far, and am looking forward to some steady piecing as and when the fancy takes me.

Finally, I’d like to make a very simple, large scale quilt of half square triangles. Whenever I can – and it isn’t often – I cut a 10″ square. These seem to get used up faster than I can collect them: twenty went into the back of a baby quilt, and several more were cut up into 5″ squares. I’ve got eleven at the moment, and think the duplicates will hit the cutting mat soon. That leaves just eight, which is a very small beginning indeed. Perhaps that pile will grow, and one day there’ll be a kaleidoscope of all my favourite fabrics on our bed, in triangles large enough to show them off. Or perhaps I’ll need just a few more squares here or there to finish off the other quilts, and that’ll be the end of that. Whichever happens, it doesn’t really matter. All things being equal, there’ll be a quilt on our bed in the next couple of years, and another for the guest room. Two quilts is what is really planned, and a third would be a bonus.

Madeleine

How do you plan your quilts (or do you not plan them at all)? Do you make them fast, or over months and years? With new fabric or old?

Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial part one: preparation and cutting out

Welcome to the first part of the Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers tutorial. This week you’re going to assemble the paper pattern, choose your size and cut out your fabric pieces.

Before you begin, please make sure that you’ve washed and ironed your fabric. That way your beautiful new trousers won’t shrink and warp the first time you put them through the wash.

Now measure yourself (or whoever the intended recipient is), and choose the right size. Please don’t get hung up on what size you normally are in the shops; just go for whichever hip and waist size best describes you.

Now you’re ready to assemble the paper pattern. There are full instructions attached to the paper pattern – please do take the time to read them. They are entitled How to use this pattern. Basically, though, this is what you do.

Cut out all the square pattern pieces and lay them out in a grid pattern. Each square has two numbers in the top left corner. The first number tells you which row the square is in, and the second indicates the position in that row, from left to right. So square 1,1 is the top left hand square. Square 3,2 is in the third row from the top and is the second square from the left.

You can see in the photo below how I have assembled the pattern and highlighted each piece in my size. The pocket pieces are one size only.

You need to cut mirror images of pieces 1, 2, 5 and 6 from your main fabric. This is because you need each piece for both the right and left sides of your body. You can do this in two ways. First, you can fold your fabric in half, lay your pattern pieces on top and cut both mirrored pieces at once. Alternatively, you can keep your fabric flat. Lay your pattern piece on the fabric right side up and cut the first piece. Then turn your pattern piece so that it is right side down and cut the second piece. Whichever method you choose, remember to align the grainline of the pattern with the grainline of your fabric. Remember to trace the sewing line, and add seam allowances. Apart from seams E and I, which will be folded over twice, all the other seams will be enclosed so an allowance of 1.5cm/ 1/2” should be ample. Use a larger seam allowance if you prefer. Add at least 5cm/ 2” seam allowances to edges E and I – and more if you would like the option of longer trousers. You can trim the excess fabric later, if necessary.

You also need to cut mirrored pieces of pieces 3 and 4 out of the pocket fabric in the same way.

I’ve used an obliging duvet cover, folded to the right dimensions, to demonstrate the layout of both fabric width options. First, we have the 2.25m/89” x 1.14m/45” fabric. I’ve folded it it half lengthways and laid out the pattern pieces like this:

Then there’s the 1.91m/80” x 1.52m/60” option. Again, I’ve folded the fabric in half lengthways. Here’s the recommended layout:

Then you need to lay out pieces 3 and 4 on your pocket fabric, again folded in half to produce two mirror images of each piece. I folded the piece of fabric below so that it measured 56cm/22″ x 35.5cm/14″.

You also need to cut one piece of interfacing from paper pattern piece 6, but without a seam allowance. Then cut this interfacing in half lengthways, so that you have two long, very thin strips.

Once you’ve traced your pieces, added seam allowances and cut them all out, leave them attached to the paper pattern pieces until you need them. Before you use each one, transfer the markings from the paper to the fabric using a fading fabric pen or dressmaker’s chalk. Then zigzag stitch around all the edges, to prevent fraying.

That’s it for this week! Next week you’ll be assembling the trouser fronts – including the pockets.

Madeleine

What fabrics are you working with? I’d love to see these in a range of different choices, and to see what people have picked out for their pockets!