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Sunday, 1 March 2015

#NotJustAnotherNotebook - FEBRUARY ROUND-UP

Hey there, fellow Stationery Fans. 

February is behind us now, spring is in the air (I hope!), and so it's time for another round-up on the #NotJustAnotherNotebook project.

Ready for the notebooks? Here goes...

Number 25 was a present for Sarah's niece. She choose the wording - I'll admit now that it was a little tight fitting it all in - and said that Cath Kidston prints would be a hit.

Numbers 26 and 27 were a repeat order, from a lady who had liked her own notebook and decided to order a couple for her friends. She gave me the wording, and a sense of colours for Kerry and a hint at a love of woodland thing for April.

My good friend Imogen ordered the next two. One for her mate, and one for herself.

As with other orders where I have known the person well, and they happen to sew, the pressure was on for Imogen's book, as she gave me an open brief for a recipe book. Eek. She's a girl who loves chocolate cake (don't we all?) and is a brilliant baker. I enjoyed embellising this book with vintage lace and little pearls.

The next four orders (#30-33) came from Shelley - she'd seen Imogen's books, and wanted some stationery of her own.

As Shelley was in no rush, and clearly had specific styles in mind to suit the people the notebooks were going to, I asked her if she'd like to browse FabricRehab and let me know if she spotted any prints she'd like me to buy and use on her notebooks. Er, yes! 

I love the prints she came up with, don't you?

This is something I am happy to do with any multiple orders, or, if you have no mad rush for your notebook and can wait for me to put my regular order in (about every fortnight or so).

Also, if you have other online fabric suppliers you love and want me to consider, then I am all ears to that! The Village Haberdashery is another favourite I will be making an order from soon, should you happen to see anything you'd like a notebook in...

Number 34 was made for my friend Kris to give to her friend Karen. She wanted a swan on a blue background, with the words you see on her notebook. This was perhaps one of the trickiest makes of the month to get going on. How on earth do I produce something so specific without it looking like my five year old had made it, I wondered. Google images was my friend - I traced a photo of a swan and then freehanded the machine stitching to match the tracing I had at the side of my machine, before using Bondaweb to attach it to the background and adding a bit more stitching.

Number 35 was another very specific request - for a little girl called Lucy who loves looking at the stars, and has recently been given a telescope. Her Mum wanted the notebook for her, because she kept on finding little bits of paper where Lucy had sketched what she'd seen in the sky that night. How lovely is that?! (And, wouldn't you love to see what Lucy draws in her book?)

The next couple of books were ones I bought on a day when my Middle Girl was invited to a birthday party at short notice. I'd initially thought I would just pop into town and get each of the twins a book token. Then the day didn't quite work out as planned, and with Charlotte in bed at lunchtime, it seemed just as easy to come up with two very simple and quick to make designs. Luckily, my `young children like seeing their name on stuff' gamble was spot on this time. Hurrah.

 If #39 looks familiar, it is - my step dad spotted the one I had made for my friend Anwyn Rowberry, and wanted one of his own. Naturally, I changed the colours a bit, along with the name...

The final two are both gifts. One for someone's sporty husband, and another for a Mother's Day present, for a mum who loves bright colours and knitting. Do you recognise the fabric in #40? Yes, a certain coat had a remnant just about big enough to lavish on one notebook. Not to be left out, I raided my current crochet blanket project for a little wool to applique on to #41 for the balls of wool (in case you were wondering what the blobs were!).

That makes a total 17 notebooks made for charity in February. After a crazy first half, the second half of February was really quiet on the orders front - not sure why that was. The total to date is at £447.50 (£548.75 including Gift Aid), and this will be split between WaterAid and The Salvation Army's projects with the homeless.

With the numbers of orders tailing a bit, I found myself having a few doubts. Maybe the interest in the project is tailing off already. My ego started to feel slightly wounded, if I am brutally honest! Whilst the quiet couple of weeks coincided with half term (helpful), and, gave me time in the evenings to focus my sewing energy on finishing my coat (hurrah!), I had to kick myself and give myself a reminder of why I decided to make notebooks in the first place. 

A perfectly timed WaterAid advert on TV, while watching episodes of Mr. Bean with the girls, one grey day in half term - with footage I think we'd seen before, with a six year old boy carting a big container on his head. As the camera panned down to some murky looking water, and the little boy taking a drink from it, the front room fell silent. `He's the same age as me,' said the Middle Girl. `Oh, it's WaterAid. That's why you're making the notebooks, isn't it, Mummy,' said the Biggest Girl.

There are lots of charities I could have chosen to support. WaterAid struck a particular chord because it tries to address a need that is so obviously basic to us all. And yes, if I am honest, of course those adverts tug at my heart strings. I would hate to watch my children drinking polluted water, not to mention the amount of freedom they would have to sacrifice to spend all that time walking to get water each day (how would the Middle Girl fit in time for all the many faffing around time wasting things she considers important and likes to play at doing each day..?). Not being an expert in world politics, or really understanding how to solve most of the problems that I see on the news, I am grateful that truly heroic individuals exist who have chosen to set up charities and to devote themselves to actually getting on and trying to change things on the ground for other human beings in the world. 

When I spoke to one of the bods at WaterAid, they were unable to tell me exactly how much a well costs - it varies according to the geography of a place, and other factors, too, I guess. That's a bit annoying, as, selfishly, it would be nice to reach a point of - aha! and now I have sewn my way to providing a little community with fresh water. Cue warm glow, etc. But, still. In my head, I am visualising another bunch of people somewhere in the world who will at some point this year or next get nice cold fresh water supplied to where they live, thanks to WaterAid and your willingness to hand over cash for a notebook with my wonky stitching all over it. 

So, thank you if you've already become part of the #NotJustAnotherNotebook gang. If you've liked your notebook enough to Tweet about it or mention it on Facebook, or, recommend to an actual real friend to contact me to make them one (you know who you are - thanks for sending people my way), then double thanks go to you. 

Right. Enough waffle. I have a little competition for you.

This month, I made two of my favourite notebook - the chocolate cake design. I left the top blank, ready to have a purple spotty label sewn on with another name.

As it's Mother's Day in two weeks, I thought it would be nice to say `hurrah' for all mums. Be it our own mums, the mummy mates who prop us up on the school runs, the grannies, the aunties...

To enter, simply comment below and give the name of the person you'd like the notebook to be for - either yourself or someone else AND your favourite kind of cake (this is just because I am nosy like that).

This competition closes on Thursday 5th March. Good luck!

Last orders for Mother's Day are the same date as the competition deadline. Follow the links on the right hand side (when viewing full web version of the blog) to order. Ta!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I made a coat!

Don't tell anyone I told you this, but I applied for the current series of The Great British Sewing Bee.

The mustard coat that Tamara made (Series 2) had totally inspired me - I craved the opportunity to sew something really challenging like that, and, that I would have loved to own and wear. And so, with a bit of egging on from Mark, I sent in an application. 

Surprisingly, I got called for an audition in London. Cue a couple of days of me fantasising about being let loose on the haberdashery section they have on the programme, before heading to meet the producers. Unluckily for me, I wasn't what they were looking for that day.

When I got turned down, I resolved to make myself a coat, by way of compensation to myself at missing out being on the Bee. As well as the fabrics, I was also drawn to the post make cake eating sessions they always show the contestants enjoying together. (Readers who know me in real life know that I never let myself go short on the cake front. In fact, a mild panic breaks out in our house if we ever look like we might run out.)

A coat isn't something to be made overnight and there were many times during the making of this one that I felt genuinely grateful to be sewing this thing at home where I could take my time, and not in front of TV cameras like the contestants on the Bee. It has taken me until now to come good on the promise I made myself.


I am so glad I did. 

This has been my best ever sewing project. It has taken me ages to make, there are flaws throughout, but, I don't care. I made a coat. And I love it. 

Want to know how the sewing went? Then grab yourselves a cuppa, and read on. This is gonna be a looooonng post. 

The pattern and gathering supplies

With a catch up and fabric shopping trip to Berwick Street planned with a handful of other sewing blogger friends, I decided it was time to crack on and make that coat I'd been dreaming of. I scoured the web for patterns, and plumped for Burda 7020. I liked the style as soon as I saw it, and could picture myself wearing the coat a lot. Out of character, I arrived half an hour early, and so I popped into the first outlet of Misan Fabrics I came across (unbeknown to me until later that day, they have about three other shops on that street). I saw an end of roll piece of green cashmere wool blend in the basement that was £74 for the 2.4 metre piece. About thirty seconds later, I saw some beautiful Liberty silk that gave me another love at first sight fabric moment. I held it up against the wool, and knew that they both needed to come home with me and be turned into a coat. There was only a metre of the silk left, but the lady in the shop (wanting to assist me in parting with £27 for it) helpfully pointed out that when it comes to coats, the sleeves are often lined with a plain (cheaper) fabric compared to the main body. I held it up against my body and decided it would probably be enough. 

These fabrics will sound expensive. They are. But, my philosophy in making this coat has been that it will take me ages to make, and so, if I am going to do it, I want to make it something that I will love, and couldn't have afforded or found in the shops.

Having bought the fabrics, and met the girls for some shopping, there was an awkward moment when we popped into a boutique selling vintage clothing, and spotted a gorgeous handmade green coat in a decidedly similar style to the one I was planning to make. The lining was plain, but even so, the relief on my face when it didn't remotely fit me made everyone else laugh.

About the same time, I read a great post, on the very same coat, that provided me with helpful information about using sleeve head rolls and where to buy them. Don't you just love the sewing blogging community? I also ordered my shoulder pads and coat interfacing from here, too, and was really pleased with them.

I used cotton bamboo batting (ordered from evil Amazon, due to the fact nowhere near me sells the stuff - Bedford sewing shops, please take note!) for quilting the lining. 

The other thing I went ahead and got ready specifically for my coat making adventures was my very own homemade sausage and ham. I did this using a tutorial on Tilly and the Buttons. Easy to do, and they both turned out to be really useful (and not to mention make me feel like a proper tailor!).

I had a piece of luck when it came to this dummy - my school mum friend Helen happened to mention on Facebook one day that her mum was having a loft clearout, and would anyone like a tailor's dummy. Er, yes please, and thank you!

Preparing to sew the coat

I bought myself a copy of Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. This was a mixed read of being really insightful on the one hand, and so full of references to design gods that it almost intimidated me too much and put me off starting, for fear that my own handmade coat would turn out to be laughable by comparison.

The internet was my best friend, in learning about how to pre treat my fabric. I decided to opt for the easiest technique, which was to bung the expensive wool into the tumble dryer with some damp towels and hope for the best. Phew. All went well. 

The coat interfacing from The English Couture Company was a nice combination of being thick and soft - conscious of wanting the coat to be warm throughout, and testing a patch to check the wool would remain drapey with the interfacing on it, I decided to interface the entire piece, prior to doing any cutting. This took me a couple of hours!

Still unsure of whether the coat would be warm enough for my liking, I read up on quilting the lining, and decided this was going to be what I would attempt to do for the main body of the coat. Having read that this is normally done with straight vertical lines a couple of inches apart, I decided to ignore that information, and go with a wiggly quilting pattern, that followed the shapes of the flowers and leaves on the silk. 

The bits that went wrong and were a drag to sew

I've already mentioned in a previous post that quilting the lining took me about 6 hours or so (over several sessions). It seemed like the half finished lining spent most of January hanging over the dining room door, and, because charity notebook orders were going crazy at the same time, I wondered whether I'd ever finish the coat. On top of that, it was a gamble, as I wasn't sure until the coat was finished whether the quilted lining idea would work and look good. The tension randomly started playing up on some bits of the quilting, but being lazy, I didn't bother unpicking it. You'd have to look closely to spot it! Besides, the silk is so delicate, I thought I would do more harm than good with unpicking.

My Mum was up one Sunday, conveniently just after I had cut out my fabric. In a shameless manouvre on my part, with everyone feeling contented after enormous amounts of roast lamb followed by double helpings of lemon meringue pie, I suggested the girls might like to play puzzles with Grandad, whilst me and Mum did some sewing. Afterall, it would have been silly not to make use of the opportunity for a one to one tailoring lesson, wouldn't it?! In that time, we worked together on the somewhat laborious task of applying tailor tacks all over the place; I got a great refresher on how to make bound button holes; and, we attached the sleeves onto the main body of the coat. Had the Sewing Bee cameras been there to notice it took us about half an hour to work out which way round the sleeves were meant to go, I think we'd have both been laughing at ourselves on TV. 

Annoyingly, it wasn't until after Mum had gone, and I returned to complete the task of applying the sleeve/shoulder padding that I noticed the sleeves weren't matching. Grr. I think it happened because we each did a sleeve, and must have gathered them and hand tacked them slightly differently. Both were fine on their own, but the mismatch stood out too badly to ignore, and so out came the unpicker.

My other bit of significant unpicking was over a howling error I made on the pockets. I opted to stray from the pattern and make welt pockets. This coat was going to be all about producing the best sewing I could, and trying new techniques, and so in seam pockets just weren't going to do it for me. Mum's words in my head, I did a practise version. I had both of the pockets lined up on the actual coat, sewed the first one, cut the slit, and... realised it was upside down. Either I'd invented a new fashion statement in the form of this less convenient to use pocket, or, I needed to attempt to unpick the tiny welt hold stitching without damaging the fabric. It is just as well this bit of the sewing happened last week, during my day of coat sewing that happened, thanks to Mark being on half term and taking the girlies out for the day. At least I was feeling calm enough to respond by just rolling my eyes and getting out the unpicker. 

A few of my favourite things

Okay, so now for my favourite bits about the process and the finished coat.

The afternoon Mum and me sewed was wonderful. With our busy lives, we don't often get time to ourselves. It was brilliant to be able to share our love of sewing together (even if, as Mum readily points out, when recalling my unimpressed face upon receiving a sewing machne for my 21st, this hasn't always been the case) and it is a memory I will treasure forever.

I am chuffed with the buttonholes. Incidentally, if you'd like to learn how to do them without the help of your mum, Karen's little ebook is excellent. I'd recommend buying it and having a go at bound buttonholes even if you have no coat plans in the pipeline, as (without sounding like too much of a geek) it was quite thrilling to realise the secret behind those beauties. The contrast on mine was inspired by the Tamara coat. It took me a whole morning to practise them, but I am delighted with the results. In fact, when Mark and the girls returned home that day, he said in disbelief `Is that (4 buttonholes and 2 welt pockets) really all you've done?!'. Ha, ha. He was pretty surprised at the amount of time it takes to make a coat, even if I think he is secretly impressed with it now it's finished.

The collar was a satisfying learning process, too. Even if I did initially sew both pieces of collar stand together as one piece onto the main collar before realising my error, resulting in needing to cut a third so the wrong side wasn't left showing on the finished coat. Still, we don't need to point out every mistake, do we - and, once I'd understood how the construction was meant to work, it ended up giving me the idea for the Liberty silk as a hidden contrast, which I like a lot and hadn't planned. 

Finally, the lining. I love love love it. It is decadent to hide such expensive fabric inside a garment, but I think the finished coat is glorious for it. It gives me a little burst of joy each time I get a flash of it, and that is what this coat is all about. 

Now, feel free to have a laugh at my expense over the photos of me looking daft in the playground at pick up this afternoon. My friend Lisa is nifty with a camera, and a great sport in agreeing to snap these pictures for me. Even her skills at making me laugh and relax didn't manage to cover the fact I make a decidedly awkward model.

Look up at the sky, she said.

Hmm, did you get my best side, I wondered.

 I have my hands in my pockets a lot. Now look down at the ground, she said.

Ready for some flashing?

And walk towards me, Janet. That'll look natural. Ahem.

Well, you can't accuse me of taking myself too seriously, now, can you?

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I absolutely loved making myself a coat. I don't think it takes a talented person to do it to the standard I managed - it was just a case of me wanting to do it enough to persevere through all the mishaps. If you've been dreaming of making a coat... go for it!

Free fabric to sew with!

Good morning, lovelies.

Hands up if you're going to be watching the Sewing Bee tonight?

My Complete Beginners' Course continues to be the most popular one I offer. The course is aimed at giving people an introduction into using a sewing machine, and to build their confidence and skills by making simple cushions and a tote bag. The next two courses are fully booked.

To try and keep things fresh, I am trialling a new course aimed at beginners who would like to dip their toes into the world of dress making. We will still spend time learning how to use a sewing machine, and practising techniques by making colourful little pin cushions in the first lesson, before moving on to making a skirt.

The Megan Neilson Kelly Skirt is the perfect beginner project. The style is a simple and flattering A line, and an easy one to fit - I have two of these skirts in my wardrobe that I wear regularly, which I blogged about here and here.

To help any would be sewists overcome their nerves, I am offering free fabric to sew with for anyone deciding to take the plunge and snap up one of the last two places on this course.

The course starts on Monday 9th March, 8 - 10 pm, and runs for four weeks.

You can book using this Paypal button.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

We've got mice!

Hello everyone!

Half term is over now - how was your week?

The biggest girl sat at the Singer, making a shirt for her mouse, `Crumbs'
The three big girls (and Mark) are back at school, leaving Charlotte and me to our own devices again. It's been a sluggish start to the week for us - I've had a raging ear ache, and, poor little Charlotte was sick so many times last night that I ran out of clean bedding. But, we did fit in a good play at Bedford Park with friends yesterday, rounded off by my current favourite guilty little secret - a BLT at the newly opened Pavilion, so not all bad. Back to the vomit for a moment, times like this make me feel eternally grateful that I live in an age and society where automatic washing machines are the norm. Hurrah for that. There's no more sign of sickness this morning, so fingers and toes crossed, everyone, huh?
The shoe box that got turned into a wardrobe, thanks to the middle girl (aged 6)
Anyhow. Half term was most excellent on the sewing front. I finished my coat - yippee! I'll blog about that once I have bribed my friend to take some decent pictures of me in it. I felt joyous wearing it for the first time on yesterday's school run. The wind was biting, and I was nice and warm in the coat that I MADE MYSELF. Love, love, love sewing and the joy it gives me. Naturally, I couldn't resist a few coat selfies - so if you happen to follow me on Twitter (@kitchentablesew) or Instragram (@notjustanothernotebook), you'll have already had a peek of what the coat looks like.

Back to the topic...

The biggest girl made this, and called it a `Celebrate Britain' dress (!)
I'd earmarked this half term as a good time to help my little girls brush up on their sewing skills.

Sewing featured strongly in my childhood. Be it Mum going back to college (to get formal qualifications for all the things she seemed to be able to do already) and making her own tailored collection; standing on the dining room table, complaining as she pinned the hem on something she was making for me to wear; the house being full of dance costumes, ready for the majorly exciting to me dancing show (that was how Mum paid for my own lessons), and, not to forget, all the bags of scraps that I was allowed to delve into and make things with.

The middle girl made `Princess Polly', and here she is in her Strictly outfit, made at Grandma's
It's this last memory I most want to give my girls as part of their childhood. So, as the eldest girl (aged 8) already had her eyes on my copy of the Comic Relief Crafternoon Mollie Makes, I decided now was the time to go for it, and offer to help them all make something from it.

These mice were one of her favourites. (She'd like to make the felt guinea pigs with dinosaur outfits next.)

The mice were too tricky for them to manage alone - so they didn't get frustrated and give up, I said I'd do most of the work on the bodies, and they could do the clothes on their own. This worked out pretty well - after making the first mouse, I made the next ones slightly bigger, as the limbs were a pain to turn out and stuff. For a crazy couple of hours, I was sewing as fast as I could, trying to finish the mice before Charlotte woke up from her lunchtime sleep. Meanwhile, the girls did the bits they could - they stuffed, and they hand stitched the tails and the features on their mice. By the time we got round to thinking about clothes, and doing something constructive with the bag of scraps that was now strewn all over the dining room floor, Charlotte was awake, and it quickly became clear we needed to close the door on the `sewing room', resolve to eat our tea in the kitchen, and wait for the next day.

Sewing with children of different ages isn't easy. Part of me would rather they all watched TV, or went off and played their own games and gave me some peace. (There was plenty of that in our half term, too.) But, I want them to share the joy I get from being able to sew. With grotty weather, and time on our hands, last week seemed like the right time to grit my teeth, pretend I am a patient person, and get on with it. I often had to take a deep breath, and remind myself this is meant to be fun for them - that them all demanding my attention at once is just them being keen to succeed at something new and exciting but not knowing how and wanting help to get there. Each of them in turn, needed to be firmly asked to go off and find stuff to play and do on their own, so that someone else could get the one to one help they needed.

This all sounds a bit negative. It wasn't - it was really enjoyable in the end, once they got the hang of some basics (meaning I wasn't endlessly threading needles), and, as soon as they started getting their first whiffs of success (such as the moment the biggest girl finished sewing her mouse a face, above) they were hooked. I know that the mice will probably end up lost and forgotten at some point, and they may not remember making the mice - but I am hoping we've made some decent steps towards making sewing something they can begin to enjoy independently. I'm counting it as a success that they can all now thread a needle, do a few basic stitches and tie off.

`Princess Polly' in her dress (it matches the beloved blankie the middle girl has)
They made the first set of clothes on my ancient Singer machine. They loved using it - being powered by a simple handle, they felt in control and that it wasn't at all daunting. Plus, they quickly worked out how fast they could sew up clothes by machine. The second set of clothes were made by hand, during a grey afternoon at Mum's, when she let them raid her scraps and pretty ribbons.

`Sidney' the mouse, in her dress made by the littlest big girl (aged 5)
The eight year old even commented at one point that maybe she might be allowed to have the machine for her children to use. Whoop, whoop. The seed has been planted. I think the biggest girl is well on her way to loving sewing. To be fair, all three are. Success

The gang!