Thursday, 2 July 2015

We have moved...

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

So... you think you are strong because you survived the soft cushions...

 I might start giving out a prize to the first person to follow the strange workings of my mind and identify where the titles of my blog posts are coming from... I wanted to tell you about the new cushions I made last weekend, and started thinking about cushions and titles and of course... Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch popped into my head... is that normal?


 Ok - so onto the soft cushions... I booked my daughter and I onto a cushion making class with the lovely Rebecca Woollard last weekend, I've always been a tiny bit afraid of making cushion covers because of the numerous ways you can insert a zip or a button closing or a flap closing or whatever else there is... am sure the list goes on... and I have only ever inserted a zip one way into a child's dress - following very strictly the pattern instructions.

We arrived at 10am on a chilly Sunday morning, sewing machines in hand, ready to go, and by 5pm (or rather 6pm as we were having too much fun to stop - and Rebecca let us finish off what we were doing past the end of the class - bless her) we had both created some beautiful cushions. I learnt to do a simple square cushion with end zip closing and split layered fabric, and I learned how to insert a zip 3/4 way down the back, with flappy bit. And I learned to make a flange (I love that word...) around the edge, and a piped corded cushion (making my own bias binding and edging...(not photographed yet as I am still just finishing it off) and I learnt a very nice way to decorate your cushion using simple pieces of ribbon.

My daughter Eloise, made this fantastic panda cushion - and then had a great time decorating a square cushion using all the different stitches on Rebecca's machine - plus length's of ribbon. She has now come to realise that my 'fantastic' Janome machine that she has always been jealous of (she has a small plastic but fully functioning £35 John Lewis one....) is actually pretty basic and is now hankering after an all singing, all dancing, super duper lots of stitches model... I pointed out that the difference in price between this one and my one is around £500-£600 - which is  a LOT of pocket money to be saved up...

Although I know where she is coming from... I have a bad case of machine envy now too... not that I don't love my faithful Janome of course!

I am so proud of our efforts and the professional finish to our lovely cushions. I just hope I can remember now how to do it for the next time I want to make a cushion or change a cover... I need a cushion making project quick before I forget... 

How hard can it be to make lovely professional looking cushions? Actually not too bad... well quite easy when you have a brilliant expert telling you what to do... when I try one on my own I will let you know how hard it really is!

Until next time...

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Place to Make and Do.

Thought I might share with you my new love... 

My sewing room!

Ever since I lost my job, my study has been a place I didn't really dare to go. Apart from being one of the rooms we never got around to decorating when we moved in 2 years ago, and having boring white walls that were horribly blemished by badly polyfilled holes. It felt a bit weird in there. I had spent so many hours and days and weeks and months of my life sat in there working away - and now that part of my life was over. Well working in that particular job anyway. 

It made me sad to go in there - so I avoided it, and my daughter soon took it over with junk she had collected to sell on eBay (her temporary solution to my current financial crisis - bless...)

Then I suddenly had a lightbulb moment... maybe I could re-decorate, and re-purpose...

Now that my work computer and piles of filing are gone - we only have one small laptop and printer of our own, so we don't really need a study - we all tend to use the computer anywhere but in there. 

Yet at the same time, I am doing a lot of sewing, but I have totally taken over our dining room and every time we want to eat - we either have to balance plates on our laps in the kitchen or I have to clear up my sewing projects so we can eat together.

What if I turned my study into a sewing room... then that would solve two problems in one go... both what to do with this redundant, and rather depressing room. And give us back our dining room for eating in.


I've been reading a book recently too about setting up a business in the craft industry - and in chapter one it impresses upon you then importance of having a space to make and do... perfect excuse to justify a small shopping trip.

So I persuaded my lovely patient husband to come to IKEA with me on his day off - so we could mooch around their storage solutions without the distraction of the little people. 

We bought me a new modular desk with side storage, a desk top and a trestle support... and loads and loads of shelves and hooks and jars and boxes and storage goodies. 

I sold my old depressingly functional workstation desk on eBay and began to construct my new empire. 

I took my son Louis with me to Homebase after school with one of the teal drawer's from my new IKEA desk - to help me choose a matching colour for a feature wall. He encouraged me to be super daring and go for a really bright blue/teal to match the drawer exactly. 

And we bought more boxes...

The next week was spent re-vamping... sanding and staining the desktop, and painting the walls - two feature walls we decided in the end.

I bought some staining wax online in walnut and antique oak and tried out both on my desktop. I expected to like the walnut best, but actually preferred the rustic look of the oak. I stupidly did two big sample corners - figuring I would choose which I liked best and paint over the sample I didn't want, and if it showed through then it didn't matter as that would be the bottom of the desk, and I would do the top with the selected shade once I had perfected my technique... however... on turning the wood over I noticed that it had two massive metal rails embedded in the bottom to attach it to the trestle and storage until part... ooops... so quite a bit of sanding and staining was needed in the end!

The end result was pretty good. Then my husband very kindly put up my shelves for me, and my rails and spice racks...

So now I have a place to make and do. A little sanctuary to retreat into and make things. And I love going in there now, and my daughter loves going in there too, especially when friend's come to visit. 

And best of all - I can make as much mess as I like, and then I can just close the door and leave it all out for next time. It's like a grown up playroom - and what's not to like about that?

"So if you want me - I'll be in my sewing room." I'm still not tired of getting to say that...

Friday, 5 June 2015

Typical Me - I Started Something... And Now I'm Not Too Sure...

So... I bought these 6 dining chairs on Ebay in a fit of upholstery learning enthusiasm. I was looking for some small boxes to work on for my Furniture Restoration class but seeing these for sale nearby and managing to buy them in a giddy auction bid-out for only £22 for the lot, I thought - why not? I'll learn to do them up, re-upholster them and perhaps sell them on, maybe not for a profit necessarily but to a loving home, and I will have learnt a lot along the way.

Well... learn a lot I certainly have. How hard can it be? Well I have learned... pretty hard actually.

First thing I noticed when I got them home was that some of them have suffered from woodworm, and some are rotting away from being stored in damp conditions. They were all really filthy and covered in cobwebs and the threadbare leather seating (or what was left of them) and hessian and webbing are held in with about 100 rusty tacks per chair.

So there I was one sunny morning, sleeves rolled up - de-tacking and painting with woodworm treatment.

I got one chair pretty well cleaned up and discovered that one of it's joints was coming apart. Probably munched away from within by the woodworms. And then I stopped... for several days, possibly weeks, feigning bad weather or bad back or both... and then another sunny morning came along and I thought I had better do some more... one chair down... five to go...

And I was busy pulling out tacks and sanding down and I was listening to my Spotify playlist on my phone and suddenly, quite appropriately the Smith's came on with 'I Started Something I Couldn't Finish' and as I was singing along and merrily pulling out my 130th rusty tack, I thought goodness... is this song trying to tell me something...

Hair brushed and parted 
Typical me, typical me 
Typical me 
I started something 
...And now I'm not too sure...

Anyhoo... here is a before and after of the two chairs I have managed to clean up so far...

I took my wobbly joint chair into my Furniture Restoration class this week and showed it to my tutor. He made me bash it apart with a rubber mallet - poor chair! And on week one the woodwormy leg was left being held by about 4 clamps and a whole lot of fish glue.

And the following week we plastered filler all over the corroded joint and then tried to drill new holes for the dowls and it splintered into several pieces. The damage from the woodworm although not much to see from the outside but a few small holes, has turned the inside into swiss cheese! So - lots of umming and ahhing later... and we plasterd on more filler  - a LOT more filler and basically glued it back together with filler and popped it in a sash clamp.  

And all this is before I even get anywhere near any fabric...

I must say - people have been very supportive though, despite my clearly having some screws loose somewhere... my lovely mother-in-law has passed on her upholstery tool collection. And her much loved father's tool collection of chisels and block planes and screws... he was a carpenter and so has a very impressive collection of old wooden handled, steel bladed chisels, which my tutor helped me sharpen.

Now I just have to learn how to actually put some new upholstery on. 

Oh and de-tack and sand down and repair another 4 chairs...

Wish me luck... I'm gonna need it.

 To be continued...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Cos I'm Free - To Do What I Want - Any Old Time...

Free like a butterfly, free like a bee, it's nice to be free, it's nice to be free... 

I have discovered something new this week. And I am very excited to discover it. Anyone who has been in the vague vicinity of me in the past week will know what I'm talking about here, and hence the irritating reference to the Soup Dragon's song which has been buzzing around my head for days but I have broken FREE from the constraints of normal run-of-the-mill sewing. Yes I have. And yes you may very well say - but Anne - you have only been sewing for about a year, how can you be rule breaking already? Well I am... I've dropped my dogs and gone skipping off into the wonderful world of 'Free Machine Embroidery'. 

And what a wonderful world it is too. I like to sew yes? You may have picked that up if you have been paying attention to this blog thus far, and I also like to draw. Put them together and what have you got? You've got Free Machine Embroidery that's what. Or Free Motion Embroidery or whatever you would like to call it. But basically it means you drop your feed dogs on your sewing machine and hoop up some material and off you go - using the needle like a pencil and drawing stuff on material.

Now I have to say a big shout out thank you to the lovely Poppy Treffry here for her wonderful book 'Free Machine Embroidery - Learning to Draw with your Sewing Machine' now I was mightily excited to read that title I can tell you as the concept of drawing with thread just totally floats my boat. I bought the book, I soaked up the contents, and I faffed about for days, on the pretence that I couldn't possibly start actually trying this out until I had the right embroidery hoops that were on order from Amazon. Then they arrived and I faffed about some more. Then I realised that I was scared... So excited was I to discover such a fun sounding thing that I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to do it, or I would hate it, or I would break my lovely machine. 

Now there is only one way to deal with fear isn't there? You gotta just dive in. So dive in I did. 

First of all, as recommended by Poppy, I did some scribbling...

And I had quite a few snarl ups and my poor Janome made some quite concerning growling noises... and I played with my tension and I learned that you have to keep an eye on what is happening with the flappy bits of material around your hoop, or you end up sewing all your material together in a big mess on the back...

And believe me when I say, you do NOT want to unpick this stuff! So then I tried having a play with some applique pieces as in the main photo above. And nothing went too horribly wrong... So I tried making a couple of birthday cards for my friends whose birthdays are coming up this weekend. 

My good friend Mandy really likes owls, and it so happens that I have some owl fabric left over from a dress I made for my daughter last year. So I thought for a start, I would try a 'cheat' applique and see if I could draw around the owl shape. I even added some eyelashes to the girl owl... clever huh?

The Happy Birthday bit is very wobbly indeed. Maybe a little more wobbly than could strictly be classed as 'charming' but hey - it is my first attempt - and I know Mandy is very forgiving and won't mind me practicing on her card, I am sure she will be greatly honoured to have the very first Free Machine Embroidered masterpiece off of the production line!

Then I made a card for my friend Rachel, who is super dooper amazing at making cakes. So I thought a cupcake would be appropriate. And my writing is slightly less wobbly... I made a bit of a mistake with the cupcake case... sssshhh don't tell anyone but there is actually two layers of cupcake case as the first one went wrong as I sewed it on before the cake layer... ooops. Not to worry, you can easily patch over the top. I was quite pleased with my daring change of stitch type to zig-zag to make the top of the case.  Shame I didn't think of that to start with, then I wouldn't have had to unpick the straight line I did originally.... :-)

My next project is a notebook cover for my daughter's brownie badge book. She is always trying to steal my notebooks... that girl is very organised for a 9 year old and has notebooks galore for all her cunning plans. Now she wants one for plotting which brownie badge she is going to go for next. 

So I have been inspired by the lovely Josie Day over at Sew for Soul and used her brilliant tutorial to create a notebook cover for a cheapo notebook from Wilco's. This time, following Josie's advice I have dispensed with my restrictive embroidery hoops and just used some interlining on the back to avoid too many puckers and just went for it free style! Much easier. 

And not too shabby for a first attempt, even if I do say so myself.

Might be brave enough to attempt some thank-you teacher notebooks for my children's brilliant teachers next. 

It's quite funny, because before discovering this technique, I was already doing similar stuff, as on my son's applique pirate curtain and my peg bag and a few cards I made for folks at Easter and for mother's day... but I didn't realise it was an actual 'thing'. I was just feeling a bit renegade and using my sewing machine to sew on applique and blast through card and pivoting like mad because I didn't realise you could drop the feed dogs and be free! 

So big thanks to Josie and Poppy and Google and Amazon for helping me realise this was a thing. I have not stopped grinning and humming happily to myself since I started. And hopefully with a bit more practice - who knows what I can draw?

Life before Free Machine Embroidery!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Restoration - How Hard Can It Be?

So, during my time researching new careers I hit upon Furniture Restoration. 

It doesn't require a 3 year degree - tick
It doesn't cost 9 grand a year to study it - tick
It doesn't involve working with computers - tick
I really love working with wood - tick
I love old furniture - tick
Maybe I'll get to use a lathe - tick tick tick...

So I signed myself up on a London Met University short course in Furniture Restoration. (Cass Short Courses) I bought myself a book about furniture restoration and I bought myself some projects to work on during my course.

I became somewhat of an ebay addict in the process... discovering I have quite a penchant for Japanese Meiji Period lacquered and parquetry mini cabinets and jewellery boxes and music boxes. 

I have read quite a lot of my book now, and I am half way through my 10 week course and I have learned a lot. Although I have also learnt how much there is to know and how little I currently know. The gap between where I am now and where I would need to be to do Furniture Restoration professionally is wide and deep! 

On day one of our course I discovered that our teacher has been doing this for 6 years and prior to that was a cabinet maker for many many years, and he is still learning. 

I'm starting to realise there is no quick road to travel from computer boffin to career changing hands on fulfilling work. But I am having a lot of fun learning about restoring beautiful old pieces of furniture. I'm very much enjoying immersing myself in a woodworking studio for 3 hours every Wednesday night and working with tools and wood rather than computers and bits of paper.

I come home each night with my hands blackened and sore and I am building up an impressive collection of cuts and bruises too. Last week I managed to hit my thumb with a claw hammer instead of the leather punch I was aiming for to punch out a small circle from some copper sheet. I was trying to look nonchalant - as if it didn't really hurt like buggery but it was tricky to pull off when I noticed I was dripping blood everywhere... 

My favourite piece is this little Japanese Parquetry mini cabinet that I bought on ebay for £60 - probably far too much to pay for something that was pretty damaged and not terribly fashionable at the moment. But I love it. It had a door hanging off its hinges, and is missing a side handle and a back piece of it's bottom trim, and it had a big split up the back. I have now cut and planed it a new back piece, and patched up the split up the back and have waxed and polished it up... is still a work in progress but is definitely getting better. 

I'm also creating a new door for this bigger box that has it's door missing and a few pieces of parquetry tiles missing and a stuck draw with a missing handle.

My third project is an old tea caddy that needs a new side handle and cleaning up and reglueing here and there...

It's still got its original velvet lining and foil lining in the tea holders and it has it's original glass mixing bowl - it's a little bit chipped but all in all not bad for it's age.

I'll keep you posted as to my progress. Next step is to try and carry into London one of 6 dining chairs I bought on Ebay for repair and re-upholstering... quite how I am going to carry one all the way to Commercial Road to my evening class I am not too sure... but if I can do it... I am sure I will learn a lot.

And so, in answer to the title of this blog... how hard can it be?

The answer my friends is... quite hard indeed. But very enjoyable and rewarding.

Monday, 11 May 2015

From Small Acorns Grow...

I had a bee in my bonnet recently about making a picture of a tree out of applique felt. It came from watching an episode of 'The Great Interior Design Challenge' where I thought I spied a picture of a tree made from fabric in the background on a wall somewhere for about 2 seconds, then it was gone. But it got me thinking. And above us you can see the result. Which now hangs on the wall in our living room. 

When I first started, I wasn't sure whether or not to put the coloured leaves on it, as you can see below, it looked pretty nice without. But a little bare. And I have this other idea where I would like to make some cushion covers with primary colour blobs on which I will make into birds with long legs... more on that later... but I thought it would be nice to tie in the colours in the cushions with those on the wall on this picture, so I sewed on some felt coloured leaves too. 

My other dilemma was that I was going to add a couple of birds to the branch on the right - you see there is a space I left there specially. But in the end it looked a bit twee (or should that be tweet?) 

My 3rd dilemma was that I bought some copper, gold and silver embroidery thread to put some texture on the trunk of the tree, and I'm still not entirely sure if it adds or detracts from the overall look. If I made another one I'm not sure if I would add that on or not? Also, I'm not entirely happy with the top stitched line across the top of the grass, I was hoping it might fray a bit more down to the line and look really grassy, but in reality - it just looks a bit strange seeing the stitching there. Although, I am not too sure how I would attach the grass otherwise?

I have to say, it was super fiddly to cut out and to sew, and I learned a lot. We used insulation board to staple it to - as that would be really light weight - however, getting a nice straight edge on it was tricky and I am not entirely sure we succeeded on that, as you can see, the top edge of the final piece is pretty wobbly!

I have to tell you also that my lovely hubbie made the frame for me. Which is very impressive! Am just wondering now, if I ought to have stained it and waxed it first to make it a bit darker and smoother and more finished... I may still yet...

I'm not too sure why I wanted to create a massive tree picture, I think I have always had a lot of respect for trees and I think they are really beautiful. I've not told you yet that I am also a published poet - have I? 

When I was in sixth year at school, I wrote and illustrated a poem about trees for our sixth year school magazine. I recently found it in a box of childhood memorabilia that my parents recently dumped on me after a big clear out. It's a very dangerous box to have in the house as it tends to suck away time - I just go for a little rummage in there and before I know it, a few hours have passed... it holds so many treasures from my childhood and teenage years, like all my concert tickets, and notes from friends passed around at school. 

One day I might find a way of making use of some of the goodies in there - in some kind of display or montage, if I ever find the time...