Last year I decided to enter a sewing competition. As you do. And what do you know? Unlikely as it seems, it appears that I have won first prize, a brand spanking new Bernina 330 sewing machine. I am beyond excited, and not a little bit gobsmacked!
The competition was advertised in Sew magazine, and was organised by Bamber Sewing Machines in Eccles. I paid the princely sum of £18, and for this I was sent a pattern (Butterick 4790 – better known as the Walkaway Dress featured in last year’s Great British Sewing Bee) – as well as the fabric required to make it, a yellow ditsy floral cotton poplin. The rules were simple – use the provided fabric to make the dress in a size 12. Each person entering the competition could enhance and embellish their dress as they saw fit, but they needed to use the fabric provided and it had to be a size 12.
Now, while there will always be a place in my life for ‘quick and dirty sewing’ – whipping up a simple A-line skirt, for example – my real passion lies in couture sewing. I love couture’s perfect marriage of form and function, whereby even the humblest garment can be turned into something truly beautiful and unique through an attention to detail and carefully chosen finishes. If I’m putting time and effort into sewing a garment, I want it to be as perfect as possible. For me, sewing isn’t about speed, it’s about finish, and whatever I make needs to look as good on the inside as on the outside.
This is one of the reasons I decided to enter the dress competition. Not only did the competition allow me plenty of time to create the dress, but it also gave me the opportunity to play with some fun couture techniques and finishes to really make the dress my own. As everyone who entered was supplied with the same fabric, this would be a real test of how good my sewing actually is. By entering the competition, I could challenge myself to do the best job I was capable of. It never actually crossed my mind that I might win!
And so I set to work.
After cutting out the pattern (itself a mammoth undertaking due to the amount of fabric involved!), I sewed the different parts of the dress together using French seams. I love French seams! I think they give a garment a lovely neat and professional looking finish. I do have an overlocker, and I do use it, but my preference is always for a finished seam wherever possible.
Having sewn the component parts together, I created a full lining for the dress. I line pretty much everything I make; in my opinion, it provides a much nicer finish to a garment, helping it to last longer and hang better on the wearer. And with the fullness of the skirt on this dress, I thought a lining would give it a nice bit of body. And so it did!
Finally, crazy fool that I am, I hand finished the hems on the dress and the lining. Boy did that take some time!
The first real design decision came in choosing what bias binding to use to finish the outer edges of the dress. I initially considered using the plentiful fabric remnants to create my own, but I decided that whilst it would look very pretty, self-binding wouldn’t provide sufficient contrast, meaning that the dress might look a bit drab and washed out. I eventually plumped for a bright orange binding (I do love orange!), which was carefully stitched down by machine and then finished by hand. I’m a sucker for punishment!
The competition rules stated that we could enhance or embellish the dress as we saw fit, but I didn’t think it really needed too much pimping up. For me, the beauty of the Walkaway dress is in its simple clean lines, and the fabric we had been given had quite a delicate pattern. I didn’t want to detract from this by adding too much trim, so I decided that, in this instance, less is definitely more. But the big question was – how to embellish it without overwhelming it?
Now it has to be admitted that I have an irrational love of ric rac, and because of this, I really wanted to incorporate some into the finished garment. And whilst on a sewing course earlier this year, my lovely friend Cindy Dahlin showed me some divine little flowers and leaves she had made by intertwining two strands of ric rac.
I immediately knew that was the trim that the dress needed; all the other ladies on the course agreed – and so the decision was made!
I chose two contrasting shades of pink to pick up the colours of the flowers in the fabric, twisted them together, pressed them flat and attached them by hand to the dress, allowing a little bit of the orange binding to peek out at the edge.
Finally, I decided that the orange of the bias binding needed pulling out a little more, so some skinny ribbons were created using binding remnants, tied into a bow and attached to cover the spot where the ends of the ric rac trim met on the neckline.
I followed the pattern pretty much to the letter (a first for me!), but when it came to the closures at the front of the dress, I departed from the instructions. The dress, if made to the pattern, would be closed with three poppers, sewn onto the bias binding at the waistline, meaning that one front panel of the skirt would have to lie on top of the other. Not only would this totally spoil the line of the trim, I also had some doubts about how secure a closure poppers would be – I felt they were highly likely to fail my “donut test” (which consists of imagining how something would fit were I to go on a sugar bender and polish off a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts in one fell swoop…), and had visions of the dress pinging open at inopportune moments.
And so I elected to use hooks and eyes instead, to ensure the skirt stayed fastened (no matter how many donuts were consumed!) and to allow the two front panels to lie edge to edge when closed. They were attached using a modified tiny blanket stitch, using green silk buttonhole twist – which was also used to create bra-strap carriers and swing-tacks to attach the lining to the outer dress fabric at the hem.
The dress was now completed…
… but I still felt that something was missing. And as is often the case with dressmaking projects, there was a fair bit of fabric left over after cutting out. Now given the cost of fabric in Switzerland, and the fact that I’m a quilter, I am somewhat obsessive about not wasting fabric. So I decided to use some of the fabric remnants to make a co-ordinating little clutch bag, which I lined with orange striped fabric, and embellished with the same ric rac trim as the dress and an orange button to match the bias binding. I think it complements the dress perfectly and completes the outfit.
So here’s to my winning walkaway dress! I never imagined I’d win, but a lovely new sewing machine is sitting in my mum’s spare room as I write. I can’t wait to go and visit her so I can get sewing with it. And I hope that this might persuade other people to take the plunge and enter sewing competitions. Because, as I found out, you never know…
Well, there seems to have been a bit of radio silence chez LPC recently. And for a very good reason! Not only have I been travelling – visiting Mum, weekend in Bath, day trip to Lyon – I’ve also been sewing away like a crazy woman.
Mais pourquoi I hear you cry! Well, a local group I belong to – the International Women’s Club of Lausanne – is holding a Holiday Gift Fair in early December. And I’ve decided to take a table to try and sell my wares.
This is a bit of a departure for me, as, until now, I’ve never seriously considered selling what I create. Most of it is made for the sheer pleasure of creating something beautiful, and ends up as gifts for people close to me. What’s more, I’ve never actually been convinced that anything I make is good enough to sell. But a couple of things have recently helped changed my mind.
First off, I successfully completed my Fabric Fast earlier this year, during which I committed to not buying any new fabric for 6 whole months. And so, from January to June, everything I made came my stash. This not only made me feel Deeply Virtuous, it also made me really take stock of the yards and yards of beautiful fabric I already have and which I’ve been hoarding for Some Special Project Or Other. But I’ve come to realise that such a Special Project may never materialise. Or, if it does, I’m much more likely to buy something yummy and new. And this is because of another revelation from my Fabric Fast – over the years my tastes have evolved. Fabric that I bought, say, 5 years ago, whilst still very beautiful, just doesn’t inspire me like it used to. It’s just sitting forlornly in my cupboard, waiting to be used. And that makes me a little sad. Fabric should be enjoyed, not hidden away in a cupboard!
And so I resolved to use up some of these former favourites to make beautiful and useful items – not just quilts, but things like various-sized fabric baskets, tissue holders, bookmarks, bags – and whatever else I can think of! And seeing as I can only use so many of these, and only have so many friends that would appreciate them as a gift, the logical conclusion is that I should try to sell them, so that they can be used and enjoyed as the fabric gods intended.
Secondly, I recently attended Patchwork in the Peaks – a twice yearly quilt retreat, held by the lovely Ms E in the glorious French Alps. And when I was there, I made a new friend, Ms S. Now Ms S, like me, loves modern quilting fabric, and was, like me, hugely frustrated by the lack of said modern quilting fabric available in the local area. And so she opened an Etsy store to sell fabric that she loves (she currently has some beautiful Jeni Baker Art Gallery fabric for sale…) One of the evenings we got chatting about fabric in general, and fabrics we’ve grown out of in particular, and she suggested I look into selling off some of my stash on Etsy, which, she assured me, is nowhere near as complicated or expensive as I’d previously assumed. And so a seed was planted…
Finally, I heard about the Holiday Gift Fair, and it occurred to me that this would be the ideal opportunity to maybe try and sell some of my creations, and then, if it goes well, possibly open up a little Etsy store myself as well.
And so I’ve been creating… And here is a little snapshot of some of my Works in Progress.
Noodlehead Divided Baskets
Pocket Tissue Holders
Reversible Twisted Fabric Baskets
And last, but by no means least, Kitty Cat Tissue Box Holders, just like this little guy – but in waaaay cooler fabrics 🙂
Linking up with Lee at Freshly Pieced for WIP Wednesday...
Over the years I’ve discovered the Caribbean from afar. I’ve read books and articles about the islands, seen documentaries, and drooled over friends’ holiday photos. I knew that all the islands have a different character, and were a riot of colours. That the flowers were hot pinks and reds, the foliage lush and green, the sands (generally speaking) almost white, soft and fine, and that the sea was a glorious, ever-changing shade of turquoise.
But it wasn’t until 2 weeks ago that I finally made it here for the first time and the beautiful reality of it just blew me away.
As a quilter, I love colour, and so, naturally, I was in my element! And all I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks is how to capture the essence of the Caribbean in a quilt.
Or, indeed, in several 🙂
Blues, aquas, turquoises
Luscious shades of green
Yellows and oranges
Hot pinks, purples and reds
These photos may not even begin to do it justice, but hopefully will be enough to spark memories of the beautiful colours that we saw during our wonderful holiday.
I’m still not sure how I want to capture all this vibrancy in quilt form, but the Caribbean we saw was gloriously untamed and wild with colour, so I’m pretty sure it will be scrappy and probably quite improvisational. And thanks to an impromptu gift from the wonderful RR, I know what I’m going to use for the backing…
And one more thing I’m sure of is that I just can’t wait to get started!
Have you ever had one of those projects? The kind you thought was going to be an absolute breeze? That you left till the last minute because you thought it’d take a day at most to piece? The one you never realised you could be so wrong about? That you ended up cursing out and wanting to rip apart with your bare hands in frustration? The project that, once finished, you took such deep satisfaction at managing to overcome all the issues that the Quilt Gods threw at you, that it actually seemed worth all the Very Bad Words that were uttered during its construction?
I have. And it will forever be known as The Quilt from Hell…
It all started out innocently enough, with some Very Good News. My lovely schoolfriend, Ms S, and her husband, Mr M, announced last year that they were expecting a baby boy. I was so happy for them, as I knew how much they’d been looking forward to becoming parents, and I immediately decided that the new arrival would need a quilt.
Now Ms S is an exceedingly talented lady. Not only is she pretty and kind and a complete brain-box, she is also extremely crafty. She creates, sews, crochets, bakes a mean chocolate muffin, and even has her own Etsy shop. I am in total awe of her! So the quilt needed to be super special. And when we were in the US back around Thanksgiving, I found just the thing, handily bundled together as a super-cute kit. The fabric range was Boy Crazy from Riley Blake Designs, and included cars and robots and space rockets, and lots of other things that little boys like to play with.
The pattern seemed deceptively easy. It consisted of 12 scrappy 16-patch blocks, set on point, alternated with plain white squares, and a couple of directional borders.
I know, sounds like a walk in the park, doesn’t it??! But one word in the last paragraph would come back to haunt me. And that word is ‘directional’… Given some of my previous experiences with directional fabric, you might think that warning bells would sound at this point, but no. All I thought was – oh how pretty, the little cars are all driving in the same direction!
I won’t be making that mistake again…
The first issue I encountered had nothing at all to do with directional fabric, though. It was an error in the pattern itself, which called for the white fabric to be cut into 8″ squares.
While I was cutting them, I remember thinking “Gosh, 8″ is a funny size for setting squares – wouldn’t it usually be either 7 1/2″ or 8 1/2″‘?” but I foolishly ignored the Inner Voice of Reason and continued cutting happily away.
It was only once I’d made the 16 patch blocks that I realised that – yes – the finished block size was indeed 8 1/2″ square. So my setting squares were too small. So I had to recut them. And I didn’t have quite enough fabric. A small annoyance, easily rectified with a visit to my stash to retrieve some Kona white.
So, then, so far so good. The main part of the top was duly pieced with the right sized setting blocks, and I even decided to jazz it up a bit by appliquéing Daniel’s name into the setting squares. This was all RR’s idea, and a jolly good one, too, I have to say 🙂
Then the directionality of fabric came into play.
Border 1 – little cars, all driving from the left of the quilt towards the right. The fabric supplied in the kit was cut both crosswise and lengthwise to make this possible. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough of it. There was just about sufficient to do the top and bottom border, but not enough for the sides. Lateral thinking was called for, and so one of the discarded 8″ setting squares was cut into 4 cornerstones. And it was still 1″ too short on each side…
After some Very Creative Pressing, Plenty of Pinning to ease the fabric of the quilt top, and Lots of Words Beginning with ‘F’, I managed to get the first border to just about fit.
It almost looks like it was planned that way, doesn’t it? If you can ignore the fabric puckering and rippling round the corners, that is…
Next up – border 2. And the same problem reared its ugly head. The border was once again directional, and once again there wasn’t enough fabric. Well, this time there was more than enough for the top and bottom borders but, unfortunately, not quite enough for the sides. So, to make it fit, I had to piece it, by cutting into the surplus from the top and bottom. Fortunately, there was just enough left over.
And yes, it really was only 2″ or so short, which made it all the more annoying…
Ok then, quilt top pieced, issues overcome. Now for the backing. A beautiful piece of large scale directional fabric.
Uh-oh! Did she just say directional? Sadly, yes… And therein lay the next issue. The print was oriented lengthwise across the fabric rather than crosswise. And there wasn’t enough fabric to piece it so that it ran in the right direction. Grrrrrr……
So out came the rotary cutter and I chopped up my 3 yards of fabric into smaller pieces, which I then proceeded to sew back together, to make a hodgepodge of a backing that just managed to fit.
Perhaps hodgepodge is a little harsh. Let’s call it improvisational, shall we???
After all that, the actual quilting was a piece of cake. I used white thread to echo quilt the appliquéd letters and the edge of the setting blocks. Then I quilted concentric squares in the 16 patch blocks, using a vivid orange colour to co-ordinate with all the bright colours in the prints.
Finally, I quilted parallel straight lines around both borders, again in orange.
To finish the quilt, I decided to use a bias binding, to make my stripes appear diagonal. I’d never done it before, but my friend Ms E has used it on her quilts and talked me through how to do it at the last Patchwork in the Peaks quilt retreat. I thought it looked beautiful and had been wanting to give it a try for ages. And anyway, I figured, what else could possibly go wrong???
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!
This is what could go wrong. I miscalculated and cut the square to create the bias strips too small. So there wasn’t enough binding, and I had to cut another square. And when I cut the strips from this one, I cut them the wrong way…
Some more creative cutting and piecing just about salvaged the situation (along with a stiff gin and tonic…). And the quilt was finally finished. Ta da!!!
It was delivered to the adorable little man himself last week, when I was back in the UK. Ms S and Mr M loved it, and Baby Daniel showed his appreciation by throwing up his milk on my jeans, then all over his Daddy’s jumper 🙂
Looking back, though, I have to say I’m rather proud of myself. Normally when things go wrong I would simply go and get some more fabric to put them right. But I’m on my 6 month Fabric Fast, so that wasn’t an option. I was forced to think creatively about how to get round the issues. And no, the quilt isn’t 100% perfect, there are seams where I’d prefer there to be no seams, and a slight puckering in the corners, amongst other things, but you know what? It was a labour of love, and I think that makes it more personal.
After all, there can’t be many babies out there who have the honour of owning The Quilt from Hell!
And by the way, people, apologies for the rotten quality of the photos – they were taken in our hotel room the morning I delivered the quilt, when I suddenly realised that I hadn’t quite got round to photographing it yet…