The magic of kits

Last Thursday, as soon as I’d published my post about our Easter holidays, I wrote another post about my dismay at discovering that I have a stash. Yes, I know that this is a problem that I am privileged to face and yes, I know that many creative people love nothing more than a great big stash full of possibility. But the thing is that this is my life and my time, and I don’t want to spend it making things I neither enjoy creating nor really want in the end. Life is short, and our planet’s resources are limited. I like to make things that I need, want and will treasure, one at a time, using up scraps as I go. That’s what brings me creative pleasure.

Part of the reason I was so fed up about it was that I’ve spent a lot of time using up yarn scraps this winter. I’ve knit two lace baby bonnets and crocheted two snoods, as well and knitting colourwork wrist warmers and a long fairisle snood for my mother, amongst other things. The final snood was finished in the lake district, and in my mind, that was the end of the materials in stock. As I found, that wasn’t the case at all.

We’ve had the pleasure of a long weekend this week, with a Bank Holiday Monday, and with the luxury of time I took myself off to my little studio to finish off another nearly-there project – hand binding my new sewing machine cover.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I’d grabbed the hoover and a duster and was giving the whole room a spring clean. I emptied out all three desk drawers, moved all the books and generally had a really good sort out before putting things back differently to before. Rather than having a drawer for all things woolly (spinning, knitting, crochet) and another for all things sewing-related (garments, embroidery, patchwork and quilting), I consolidated all the tools into one drawer and all the materials into another. (Various papers, including patterns and writing materials make up the third.) This time, though, I was a bit more ruthless about what constituted a material. Food dyes? Yes, actually. Brown luggage labels? Yes. Essential oils and seeds for the veg patch and bits of beeswax? Yes again.

I also did something very uncharacteristic and donated a length of viscose to the charity shop. It’s not that I’m against donating – in fact I’m all in favour of it. I just think that donation has become a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card for many of us when it comes to thoughtless consumption. Normally, we really do use things up and wear them out to the extent that they are only fit for recycling by the time we’re done with them. But that fabric was making my heart sink every time I looked at it. I didn’t want to sew with it, and I didn’t want to see it on Ilse for a year or two.

Out also (to recycling) went a couple of other well-intentioned projects, one of which was the beginnings of my handspun blanket. It is made from my handspun yarn, crocheted out of leftovers from various projects. But I have been making it for three or four years now, and it is just over a foot long. Again, I only have one lifetime, and there are other things I’d rather spend it on.

Thinking about long term projects led to me cast a critical eye over my scrap quilt squares. I’d already used up the postage stamp blocks I’d made for the other side of the sewing machine cover, and honestly felt like I’d had enough of that. Instead, I put together a kit for an EPP sewing roll. Everything is planned and labelled and a beautiful lining fabric has been assigned. All of a sudden, what was a languishing long term use-up-the-scraps project is a new and exciting portable craft, ready to come out and about with me this summer. I can’t wait.

There’s a lot to be said for trying your hand at something before committing to a major project, and the drunkard’s path blocks were something that I had my fill of very quickly indeed. It wasn’t the curves – I quite like sewing curves after all my dressmaking – but rather all the pinning of the aforementioned curves that was just tedious. So the fact that the first sixteen blocks were trimmed too small (don’t sew when you’re sleep deprived) turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I turned them into a lovely new pair of much-needed potholders:

and went on the hunt for a new quilt pattern. In the end, I chose to make something very similar to this, only with a grey background instead of the white. I cut up my 10″ blocks and a bit of Liberty and all of a sudden my I’ll-make-it-as-I-create-scraps quilt is now a kit complete with everything I need to construct the top, bar a border. It is going to be my autumn project, with a view to getting it onto our bed by Christmas, and once again, I can’t wait.

What with a washed and dried fleece paired with some food colouring (Ilse and I have a date set for this) as well as all those frozen elderberries and avocado skins, I’m ready to see how much I can get spun during the Tour de Fleece this July.

The jar of tiny scraps is ready to transform my old handspun yarn tags into reusable Christmas tags (the magic of pencils and rubbers) and some cards.

A favourite pattern and the right sized needles have been selected for some September sock knitting:

and a couple of other quick and easy projects have been finished off and cleared out of the way, such as some visible mending of a much loved (and very much on its last legs) jumper.

When all was said and done, I had a total of eight projects lined up for the next few months, all of which I am delighted about. I genuinely can’t believe just how much impact a simple shift – just collating materials into kits – has had on my attitude towards these materials. They have gone from being millstones to a series of treats that I am looking forward to getting stuck into, one by one. In fact, I was so keen to get started that I finally made some more progress on my holiday embroidery yesterday, and am planning another pleasant afternoon’s stitching very soon.

It has also inspired a flurry of other creative endeavours, with old projects being pulled out and dusted off all over the house; especially gratifying was finding some more scraps being added to a strip quilt last night.

It’s been such turnaround, from dismay to pure pleasure, over the past few days and I’m relieved that only the latter seems to be catching. I don’t know what the psychology of all this is, but I do know that there is something truly transformative about the magic of kits.

Madeleine

What are your tricks to make yourself excited about your materials again? Do you make up kits for yourself? Or do prep/ cutting sessions? Or is there another method that we should know about?

Sleepy sewing

This was supposed to be a post about the start I’ve made on my 5″ square scrap quilt. Last weekend saw me dragging myself through the days, worn out by about six different factors, but determined to enjoy the days off. I managed a swim, some knitting, tidying the house (with lots of help from everyone, as usual), and a couple of hours in my little studio, sewing.

The quilt blocks themselves are easy enough to make. It’s going to be a randomised drunkard’s path quilt, meaning that all the curves will go off in different directions – you might remember me dying and cutting the pieces during the Christmas holidays. I made a highly technical template from a cardboard tea box, cut the first patterned squares into pieces and paired them with their grey counterparts to make quick, simple squares. Then I had the fun of arranging them into bigger, four block arrangements, like so:

Finally, all I needed to do was trim each little block down to the right size, and it was done. I merrily cut all 16 of the blocks I’d cut down to 4″ squares, before remembering (just as I was falling asleep one night) that 4″ was meant to be the finished block size. I told you I was tired.

No matter. Our potholders have been looking beyond shabby for some time now, so 16 squares will be perfect for two double-sided replacements. Worse things happen at sea.

Which means that I still have all 484 blocks to make. In truth, I have no intention of making that many this spring – I only have enough patterned squares to make half that number anyway. This is meant to be a long term project, using up scraps over the next two or three years. There’s really no rush, and the first 16 blocks were good practice anyway.

In other, more successful news, may I introduce you to the first seedling of the season? It’s a Grandpa Admire lettuce, and I can’t wait to eat it.

But today is going to include neither sewing nor gardening, because I’ve a little woolly bonnet to finish, and a sunny seat by the window to enjoy while I do so. It’s been a week of early nights and as much rest as possible so far, and I fully intend to finish it the way we started. And besides, the next set of squares are ready and waiting for a more successful sew next weekend.

Madeleine

Any silly sewing mishaps lately? Or other foolish errors? I for one find it hard to mind with all this spring sunshine and new growth around.

A small, sustainable wardrobe: dressing up

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

As you are probably aware, it’s World Book Day next week. Fliss has been planning her costume for months – literally: since last October. And sometime between then and now, I made the promise to help her make an 1840s dress from scratch.

Now, before you start thinking that I am one of those mums who spends days planning and making her children’s fancy dress costumes, can I assure you that that is most certainly not the case. My children are more likely to be pointed towards the recycling bin and told to sort themselves out than have much input from me. Partly this is because I have had years of dressing up days to contend with, but it’s more down to the fact that dressing up days are, in my opinion, all about giving children the chance to flex their imaginations and creative minds and come up with something all by themselves. I flatly refuse to buy or hire costumes for them – don’t have a look at statistics on the number of costumes that get sent to landfill each November if you’re of a sensitive disposition – because it is the most ridiculously wasteful way to approach the issue. Added to the fact that it doesn’t stretch the children at all, it sets my teeth on edge.

Why, then, did I promise to help Fliss sew an 1840s dress? Well, we started with something reused and upcycled – a charity shop sheet that had already served as a spookily enormous cloak last autumn. But more than that, I was swayed by her utter devotion to the project. She has spent ages poring over Victorian costuming books, fashion plates and illustrations in her own copies of classic novels. She’s begged me to watch the Dressing up as a … videos by Prior Attire, in order to understand all the different layers. And, in truth, it’s an area that I’ve wanted to dip my toe into for a while now. There are many incredible creators of authentic (and not-so-authentic) historical dress out there that it’s a rabbit hole easily tumbled down, I can tell you.

Our dress falls very definitely into the not-so-authentic category. For starters, we used a polycotton sheet, because pure cotton sheets are hard to come by in the charity shops around here. We didn’t have the time, inclination or fabric to make copious numbers of petticoats to support her skirts. And of course she doesn’t own a corset – not that she needs one! Instead, we dug out a 1950s style net underskirt that was in the dressing up drawer (full of ghosts of costumes past, and heavily drawn upon) and layered her ballet character skirt on top.

The deal was that I would make the bodice while she made the skirt, and that we had from exactly 10am until 4pm to get it done. (Otherwise I could have spent days on this, and I have other things to do this half term.) This was a fast, furious and not particularly careful sew. I took the speedier, electric machine and she took the 1916 Singer, which she prefers anyway. We simplified the skirt, deciding upon a simple elastic waisted one instead of making cartridge pleats and then fixing it to the bodice – her ‘dress’ is actually a skirt and top. I wanted her to be able to make it quickly and easily and all by herself, which she managed with aplomb.

Thanks to York libraries we had access to a fabulous book, and this is the earliest of all the Victorian projects in it. And while we took shortcuts with the skirts, I am proud to say that I constructed the bodice authentically. The only things I changed were not lining it (to save fabric) and bias binding the neckline (because I ran out of piping). My favourite thing about this dress, apart from how wonderfully Victorian she looks in it, is how Victorian the bodice looks laid open, with all the seams in the right places, and not a dart in sight.

The pattern was surprisingly easy to draft. Because Fliss is still significantly smaller than the adult size given in the book, I scaled it down using not much more than common sense and intuition – not something I’d do were I making her a modern blouse. But that’s the thing about Victorian patterns – to my limited knowledge, anyway. They were made to be taken in and let out, adjusted as they changed owners and body shapes. The seams are left exposed and unfinished for a reason – and you can change the fit of the garment quite easily. I fitted the bodice on Fliss while we worked, pinning it into place and then sewing. The shawl front, which is actually a whole second layer on top of a fitted bodice, is simply attached at the neckline and pleated before the top and bottom edges are finished. The sleeves are set so low that they are actually identical. In modern garments, there’s always a left and a right sleeve, to allow for more fabric (and ease of movement) at the back of each shoulder. Not so in this outfit. And so the sleeves were the easiest I’ve ever set in. Finally, I pinned the back together so that it fitted nicely, folded back the excess fabric and sewed on a row of hooks and eyes. I didn’t trim any fabric, so that she can let it out as she grows. I know I’d want to, if my mum and I had made a Jane Eyre costume together.

Much as I’d like to show you a photo of the full effect, head included, I don’t put pictures of my children online, so you’ll have to make do with some headless Victorians instead. Think of her as the friendly household ghost. I can, however, show you the back of her practice hairdo:

which really completes the look.

Most of the time I groan when the children tell me about yet another dressing up day, but this was even more of a delight to make than I had anticipated. I think we might have sown the seeds of a new passion, for me if not for her. I can see myself making another such outfit, by hand, in natural materials, from the inside out. Practising my skills by cording petticoats before moving on to embroidering a shift, knitting some stockings, and maybe even constructing a pair of stays. Who knows if I’ll ever make the time. I’ll certainly keep reading about it.

And, from the reception that her Jane Eyre dress has had, I expect that Fliss will be wearing it to dress up whenever the occasion allows. Who knows, it might even go into a box when she heads off to university one day. Surely that amount of wear would make it a very sustainable costume. Which makes me very happy indeed.

Madeleine

What have you been sewing lately? Anything fun?

Please forgive the grainy phone photos! I ran out of steam after all that speedy sewing, and was too busy in the garden to take proper photos the following day…

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…


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?

Introducing Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers

Like many others, I greet the autumn with wool in hand, my to-knit list growing faster than I get get through it. But by the time December arrives, my appetite for knitting is sated somewhat, and I start planning my New Year sewing.

I love to sew in the cold and crisp new year. The winter is the only time when I can fully turn my back on the garden, and so any spare daylight hours can be given over, guilt free, to sewing. We light the big stove in the dining room and I’m happy in there all day, cutting and pressing at the big table before moving to the armchair in the bay to hand finish garments in the last of the afternoon light.

I do almost all our sewing for the year in the winter months. By February, the emphasis is very much on summer clothing: simple cotton frocks and skirts and whatever else is needed. I like to have an easy quilt on the go, so that I can make a block here or there when a spot of making is required and I don’t have time to dive into dressmaking. But in January, you’ll usually find me making any winter clothes that my wardrobe is lacking. And this year, what was lacking was most definitely a warm pair of versatile trousers.

These trousers are inspired by all those button-up trousers that men wear in period dramas – you know, the pale beige trews sported by Mr Darcy and his friend Bingley, for example. Rather than a complicated fit involving a fly, or the unflattering bulk of an elastic waist, I wanted a simple button front. I also wanted a appealing cut, and the simple lines of peg trousers look elegant on everyone, in my opinion. The beauty of this design is that the button closure, combined with the easy fit of the peg style, means that you don’t have to worry about fit. Simply make your trousers in the correct size, try them on, and sew the buttons in the right place for a perfect fit. Trouser fitting doesn’t get any easier than this.

I made my first pair of these last winter, from a gorgeous dotted chambray, using scraps of Liberty Maybelle for the pockets. As you can see from the photos, they look equally good styled for older and younger models. The lovely Ella wore them in a way I never would, and I loved their funked-up cool. In fact, I loved them so much that I wanted a version to carry me through the cooler months, so made another pair from a soft wool tweed. They work equally well in any soft and drapey fabric and are ridiculously comfortable. What’s more, they look good with everything. Dress them up with heels for work, or down with boots, pumps or sandals for home. Make the pockets from scraps of something beautiful, as they do peek out in the most delightful way. They also provide the all-important modesty needed with button-up trousers, ensuring that there’s no chance of an unfortunate gaping moment. And because these are a feminine take on the style, and we all know who was really in charge in that particular marriage, I’ve named them after Miss Elizabeth Bennett as was.

This is very much a beginner trouser pattern. If you can sew straight lines and curves on a machine, you can make these. There is some pleating involved around the waistline, and pockets to insert, but these are clearly explained. As you might expect, I’ve put together a fully-photographed tutorial which will be published beginning in January on this blog, and will remain freely available thereafter.

I’d like to run a little giveaway for this pattern, so if you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a free copy, please leave a comment below. To be eligible to win, you need to tell me who you are making the trousers for, and whether or not they will be your first pair. The deadline for entries is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 9 January 2019. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 10 January, which is also the day that the pattern will become available in my Etsy shop. The tutorials will be published over four Fridays from Friday 11 January.

Madeleine

Who would you make these trousers for? Will they be your first pair? Leave a comment answering both these questions to be eligible to win a free copy of the pattern.

As I’ll ever be

I have spent quite a bit of this holiday getting ready for the new year. There’s a lot on the books for 2019: a significant increase in work hours, a big birthday, work on the house, more patterns to publish, an outdoor swimming event, a couple of nice holidays… Then there are all the things I want to carry on with: parenting and gardening, ballet, music lessons, reading and crafting and working on my writing. Enough to keep me out of trouble, at any rate.

Yet for all my planning, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t see the logic in having just one shot at changing habits every year. If I want to change something, I’ll change it, no matter what the calendar says.

I do, though, always feel a shift during the Christmas holidays. It’s less to do with dates than the passing of the winter solstice, the subtle lengthening of the days, and the inevitability of the spring to come. Winter is here, and it won’t last forever. So I find myself making preparations, and urging others to do the same.

This year, as every other since we’ve lived in this house with its big old garden, we’ve had a family day out there, hacking and chopping and pruning until it is in a fit state to leave until it greens again. We filled two enormous builders’ sacks with evergreen waste to haul to the council compost facility, and have a heap of branches by the fire pit just waiting for den-building and a spot of chicken-proofing before an enormous bonfire one dull weekend to come.

As is also always the way, my focus has shifted away from knitting to sewing. I love to pull all my fabric out in the quiet days after Christmas, and write little labels assigning projects to each length. This year, though, I tried something new. Conscious of the fact that my time and attention are going to be stretched, I went ahead and cut every single one of my projects for the coming season. I have to give full credit for this to Jo at Three Stories High, who wrote a post about this in November. I have to admit, I read it and thought that while it was a good idea, it wasn’t for me, because I don’t like to have more than one work in progress on the go at a time. But when I was writing my labels, I realised that I probably wasn’t going to want to draft a new skirt pattern on a Saturday after the cleaning and shopping and ballet runs. I certainly wasn’t going to be in the mood for grading boys’ waistcoat pieces for the upcoming dance show. And I would probably put off dyeing the background fabric for my 5″ scrap quilt when faced with another week’s worth of laundry. Besides, in my head, a length of fabric is a work in progress the moment I pay for it. So I got on with it.

First I pulled out my tailored skirt block and drafted a new style I want to develop.

I drafted a bias-cut cami, and some new underthings, and cut up a stack of old clothes into scrap-quilt squares. There are also three bags and two lined zipped pouches, ready for some simple evening stitching.

I bought a couple of packets of Dylon and turned a ripped sheet, old pillowcase, stained dress shirt and boringly white fat quarter into grey background fabric.

And then I cut out 197 background squares in various shades of grey.

I dealt with all other the leftover pieces straight away, and now my quilts are ready to sew.

I graded a waistcoat pattern for Seb and the other boy in his ballet class, and cut all the pieces.

Then I tidied my little studio, including my sewing drawer. All that’s left uncut are two lengths of fabric for pattern tutorials (because I need to photograph the process) and one piece of rather lovely Liberty that I suspect is destined to be used whole, on the back of a quilt.

Everything else is ready for garments, bags, pouches or quilts.

And then I set my space up to carry on with my 2 1/2″ postage stamp quilt.

Not all the days have been quite as purposeful, though. I’ve been going for lots of long leisurely swims with John or one of the children for company. I’ve done some very relaxed piano practice. There has been a lot of lounging around watching films and knitting up my latest design. We’ve been for a few lovely sunshine-y strolls, including one down into the Hole of Horcum yesterday, when the purples and greens and oranges of the winter landscape delighted us all. We’ve been planning lots other of walks for the coming Sundays, with the odd pub lunch thrown in, as well as other nice things to do together in our downtime. And there’s a fiendishly difficult jigsaw in progress on the dining table.

Mostly, though – and especially in the week to come – I am going to be attempting the impossible, in trying to store up as much rest as possible for the weeks ahead. So yes, I will definitely be having that second cup of tea in bed, and perhaps doing a few rounds of colourwork before I get up. There’s nothing urgent, just now. Everything is as ready as it’s going to be for the weeks and months ahead. Now we just need to remember to enjoy them.

Madeleine

Are you ready for – and looking forward to – the new year? What does it hold for you?