Adventures in Appliqué: Phoenix Rising

finishedphoenixHello Lovely Blogosphere folk!  Oh, I have been trying to write some posts to share with you for weeks, but ever since the Kington Show last month I’ve been in a bit of a ‘creative slump’ it seems.  I spent so much time and effort crocheting and making things for the stall in the run-up to the show that I’ve felt like I needed a bit of a break – or a change at least.  The thing I most enjoyed making for the show was our Phoenix Crafts appliqué banner, and if you follow me on Pinterest you’ll probably have noticed I’ve become a bit obsessed with appliqué lately!

I’d had the idea for Mr Phoenix in my head for quite a while, and had been gathering fabrics and threads from far and wide (the main two came from this lovely shop in Devizes way back during my hols in July!).  As with the Psychedelephant Quilt I was using quilting cottons, so I ironed fusible interfacing to the back of them to prevent fraying.  At least, that was the theory…  Once I’d drawn the basic design I made freezer paper templates for the larger pieces, then cut & pinned these into place.designingI then began hand-stitching the ‘flame-feathers’ into place using fine embroidery threads and small running stitches.  My intention was to make a raw-edge appliqué that I would then machine to the background.  Once the main feathers were on, I cut a lot of the smaller pieces freehand, fitting them against my template.  As you can see, I played around with a few different fabrics for the feathers but in the end I went with red and purple, adding some gauzy gold over this to give it some extra sparkle.piecingThe raw-edge technique worked fairly well for this part of the process, but when I came to do the gold details on the head and crest, the pieces of gauze were so tiny they began to disintegrate!  I ended up using tiny whip-stitches instead and it took forever!  I realised at this point that if I want to do more of this stuff, a serious brushing up on my hand-sewing and embroidery skills is needed… (more on that in a minute)!readytomachineBut at last, the hand-stitching was done and I pinned Mr Phoenix into place on my background fabric, a lovely pale orange cotton given to me by my mum, with a backing tissue underneath.  I had a play with some different stitches on the machine and decided that a tiny satin stitch would prevent the fabric from fraying but still enable me to maneouvre around all those detailed edges without obscuring them.  I hit problems straight away as everything started moving around too much, so I had to ditch the pins and hand-baste the applique to the background instead.stitchtestingSee how neatly that satin stich goes around the curves along the bottom piece of my stitch tests above? Oh, if ONLY I had known what awaited me…botchedwingcloseupThe first wing section seemed to go OK when I was machining it, but when I took it out, I thought at first my stitches must have failed to catch in the edge of the fabric.  I painstakingly unpicked several sections and did them again.  Only when the same thing happened again did I realise the terrible truth: the edge of the fabric was disintegrating as soon as the needle touched it!!  You can see on both the top and bottom pink/orange sections of the wing where I had to stitch over them twice, making an horrible lumpy mess.  Even then, I had to go back and catch some of it under by hand as it began to come apart before I was through stitching!closeupmachinestitchingThe tail feathers ended up being such a mess that I gave up on using the machine at all.  I cut some more pieces from the gold gauze and stitched them on by hand to hide the worst of it!  After all that effort, I must admit I was disappointed.  I’d used bondaweb on the psychedelephant quilt and had no problems machining around the cotton at all, so I can only conclude that it was either the interfacing I used, or that the batik fabric in particular was just not very good quality.

HOWEVER, I am happy to report that the finished piece really doesn’t look half bad – as long as you don’t look too close!dsc00130The banner made a great focal point for our stall at the Show and I had some nice compliments, too – always a boost!  I have plans to make a patchwork border for it at some point and maybe add a few more bits and pices. dsc00134Making this was definitely a Learning Curve, and I really did enjoy the process – despite that Sinking Feeling when I started machining!  But it’s encouraged me to go off and do an online course to learn some new techniques, which I’m LOVING and will be ready to share with you soon!

Til then, wishing you all a flamin’ good weekend 🙂

Kington Show: Highs and Lows

dsc00139HIGH!  We got our stalls and workshop area all set up in time, everything was labelled, Mr Phoenix was finished (more on him soon), and it all looked gorgeous!

LOW… I nearly didn’t get there at all, because I went to the wrong gate first and the guy wouldn’t let me turn round to get to the right one 100 yards down the road, but sent me on a 4 mile detour down narrow country lanes instead, resulting in me nearly colliding with a landrover, skidding and only just managing to avoid ending up in a ditch…

dsc00137dsc00135HIGH! We had a good spot in the Horticulture Marquee and our stalls looked great; lots of visitors, lots of interest, and we met some lovely people!

LOW… actual sales were on the disappointing side…

dsc00134LOW…Cy: This is a nice demo granny square you’ve made Sar, shame it’s not the pattern I asked you to put on the handout though

Sarah: This IS the pattern I’ve put on the handout

Cy: I’ve never seen this pattern before in my life…meteachingdsc00146HIGH! It didn’t matter!  She learned it over a cup of tea, we had a fantastic bunch of people turn up for both workshops and we soon had them all hooking away!  Herefordshire now has a slew of new crocheters!pincushionsLOW… competition was stiff in the Pincushion category, and my little macaroon (top left) came nowhere…dsc00142secondprizeHIGH! Quilting category entries were pretty scarce this year.  I won second prize!  And £2!! Oh, I LoVE our local show!

And, overall HIGH! because it was such a great day, we met so many nice folk and there was a brilliant atmosphere.  Thank you to Cy for being fabulous, to Boo who invited us to come and do the workshops, to all our lovely workshoppers (we hope you’re happily crocheting away at home!) and to everyone who worked so hard to make it all happen.  dsc00140I am now officially Collapsed in A Heap…

Wishing you all a HIGHs-far-outweighing-the-LOWs kinda week! 🙂


Free Crochet Workshops at the Kington Show!

crochetworkshopadHelllooo!  As mentioned a while ago, I have some EXCITING NEWS about an upcoming event.  The event is the annual Kington Show on 10 September, and the news is that Cosmic Crochet has teamed up with TradRad Crafts and we will be launching our new partner venture, Phoenix Crafts, with some FREE beginner’s crochet workshops at the show!

Not only that: we will have a fabulous stall full of lovely yarny and crafty goodies for sale, some of which you can see on display here in my front window (there has to be some advantage to living on a busy street, right??).  The stall will be open all afternoon in the main marquee, and the workshop sessions begin at 1.30pm and 3pm.

We will be making simple granny squares, and there will be lots of yarn, hooks, and handouts available so you don’t need to bring anything but yourself!  Any squares you don’t want to keep will be worked up into blanket squares and donated to the African charity KAS (see this post).

So if you live in the Herefordshire/Powys/Marches area (or feel like visiting), do come along and have a go at some crochet, or just pop by and say hello.  We should be fairly easy to spot, providing I can get this little project finished in time!phoenixinprogressWishing you all a flamin’ good week 🙂

The Festival of Quilts at Birmingham NEC

compass quiltOh. My. WORD.  I’ve just been to Patchwork Heaven!!  And it’s in Birmingham – who knew??

Last weekend me and my lovely craftsy friends took ourselves for a Grand Day Out to the annual Festival of Quilts at the NEC.  The show is organised by The Quilter’s Guild, and it’s the biggest in Europe.  And, people, I can tell you – it was HUGE!!  I mean, just VAST!  We were there pretty much all day and I don’t think we even got round half of it.

Our initial strategy of working forwards from the back of the hall was soon foiled by the Kaffe Fassett Quilt Collection.  As we paused to admire the vintage and modern handiwork on display, who should appear but the man himself!  And THEN, the curator came over to us and said, ‘Kaffe will be giving a guided talk about the quilts in a minute ladies, if you’d like to join us?’.  WOULD WE?!?Kaffe1I must apologise in advance for the quality of photos in this post: not sure if it was me or my ancient, failing camera, but many of them came out very blurry.  BUT – the gorgeousness of the quilts shines through, I think!  This is my fave of Kaffe’s own quilts, with some details of the beautiful machine quilting (though he admitted to us that he doesn’t do much of the actual quilting himself these days!)Kaffe2Kaffequiltdetail1Kaffequiltdetail2Colour-tastic or what?

Next we were drawn to the City & Guilds students’ showcase, and this display really caught my eye.  The giant orange opens up and holds a cook-pot, but it’s quilted into ‘orange segments’ inside as well – wonderful!orangecookbagThe Quilter’s Guild competiton quilts, numbering into the hundreds, formed the main part of the display. There were stunning examples of every technique imaginable, from traditionally pieced blocks and hand-applique to very modern free-form machine quilting.  I  personally love quilts that use a mixture of piecing, applique and hand and machine work.  Here are a few I found particularly inspiring, especially the beautifully worked details:colourpanelscolourpanelsdetailblockquiltblockquiltdetail1blockquiltdetail2AnniversaryQuiltdetail2AnniversaryQuiltdetail1The theme for this year’s Guild Challenge was ‘On the Beach’ and it was great to see all the different interpretations and designs people had come up with, and such a huge variety of quilt styles:165BeachExtravaganza184GoldFootOntheBeach1153PebblesontheBeachNow, let’s talk about COLOUR, shall we??  Here are some eye-poppers for you (the last one is entitled ‘Pretty Hippy’ – it’s my kinda quilt!):83PainttheTownAnyColourMiniquilt259PrettyHippySo of course as with any competition, there has to be a Best in Show.  However, I’m not going to give you the actual quilt that won Best in Show.  Nope.  We decided we’d each choose our own!  So, this one came close second for me.  We all loved the design and the details, especially the really original use of silhouttes as a border.  Sadly after so many quilts, I’ve forgotten the maker/title – sorry!  But here’s me and H. admiring it (sewists note, H. is wearing her fab self-made Washi dress!):Me&HelenBut the hands-down winner for me, was the spectacular Magical Mermaid’s Caslte quilt by Claudia Pfeil.  I absolutely adored this quilt – the design, the colours, the exquisite hand-stitched and painted details.  Apparently she used 30,000 Swarovski crystals in it!  mermaidcastledetailMy pics of this quilt were some of the last taken on the day, and by this time both me and the camera were past our best.  When I uploaded them I was distraught to find all were blurry and out of focus.  But I SO wanted to show it to you, that I emailed Claudia hereself and she very kindly sent me these two lovely photos to share with you – craftsy folk really are the loveliest!  So here it is in its entirety, plus a super sharp detail shot.  My personal Best in Show:Magical Mermaids Castle by Claudia PfeilMagical Mermaids Castle CP detailIt was a very magical day indeed, and there was a lot of picnicking, browsing, fabric shopping, and laughing in there as well!  We saw so much creativity and met such lovely people, and came away with bags of fabric and inspiration.  A HUGE big hug and thanks to my friends A. & H. for making it happen and for sharing it with me.  Can’t wait til next year!Wishing you all a very Magical Mermaidy week! 🙂

Macaroons & Mini-drawstring bags

Well hellooooo!  Wow, these summer months are flying by and I don’t know about you but I seem to have been very BUSY the last few weeks!  Mostly with nice things, like going camping and visiting friends and family, but still, it all goes by so fast.

Crochet is one of my best forms of relaxing and unwinding, so whenever I’m dashing about I like to take my favourite hook and a small bag of scrap yarns with me and make some pleasing little things.  This summer I’ve been loving these gorgeous Macaroon pincusions by Lilla Björn crochet.  Named ‘cos they look like little cakeys, good enough to eat (but no calories)!  They’re made using overlay crochet, which I think gives them an intricate, almost tapestry-like appearance.  However this pattern & tutorial are brilliantly easy to follow – it’s actually much simpler than it looks!  In fact as soon as I’d gotten the hang of it, I adapted it to make a mini-drawstring bag using the same technique.  Yummy or what?!pinkcaramelsSo yummy that I made a bunch on a recent weekend with friends and then gave them all away, so I only have a couple left to show you…!minibagsI’m back home for a few weeks now, apart from a day-trip jolly to the Birmingham Festival of Quilts this weekend (and yes I am FIZZING with anticipation!) with a couple of my lovely craftsy pals.  I’ve got lots of making to do, and some exciting news to share with you about an upcoming  event: more on this VERY SOON….allmacsMeanwhile, wishing you all a delightfully sweet week 🙂

My back yard

backyardafter1I haven’t written much about my garden this year, I know, but it’s still coming along and I’ve gradually been reclaiming it from the weeds and rubbish left behind by previous tenants.

Lately I’ve been on a Mission to brighten up my back yard (not least because it’s the best spot for taking those sewing-selfie-pics to share here with you!).  This little space leads from the alley by my back door through to my garden and also, in the higgledy-piggeldy world of 18th century cottages, is an Access for my neighbours’ garden.  This is what it looked like when I moved inbackyardbefore1Not exactly welcoming, I think you’ll agree!  So I began to gradually tidy it up, replanted the hanging basket with geranium cuttings and cheapie things from Aldi, and installed a big rainwater butt given to me by some friends who were moving.backyardbasketyardclearingI began to move a few plants in, although only one section gets any sun and I have to keep most of it clear as a thoroughfare.  What I really wanted, though, was a big ‘planter’ that I could fill with colourful scented annuals to make a bold, bright splashbackyardbetI saw some wooden ones at the garden centre recently – priced nearly £50!! This is roughly ten times my usual ‘makeover’ budget!  So one morning a couple of weeks ago, the rain held off long enough for me to construct this rather ‘rustic’ affair from bits of wood left over from making the second compost bin.  This wood was actually given to me by my neighbours, so I thought it would be nice to use it for something they’d see and get a smile from as they passed by.planterbuildingI planted it up with sweet peas and love-in-a-mist grown from seed, and made a wigwam of sticks for things to climb up.  Total cost: packet of woodscrews £1.20, 2 half packets of seeds £2.00, half a grow-bag mixed with garden compost £1.75 = £4.95!  Not bad, eh?  Here it is just plantedplanterplantedA week or so later and It’s all growing up nicely, hopefully soon to be full of flowers and wafting scent across the yardbackyardafter2Next step is to persuade my landlady to get the back wall painted for next year, and my mum has given me some planters to put up on it.  Goodbye dull, grotty old space: Hello cheerful, perfumed oasis!backyardafter3aWishing you all a bright & colourful week 🙂

Shirred Duvet Sundress

skirtyBehold, the final dress from my recent Makeathon!  If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll already be familiar with my propensity for wearing bedlinen (evidenced here and here) long before the recent Sewing Bee challenge!  I’ve had this single duvet cover – £2 from a charity shop – in my stash for a while, originally thinking I’d use it for a quilt backing.  It’s a reversible job, and I only liked the brown side and didn’t think there would be enough of it to make anything to wear.duvetWhen I saw this fab shirred sundress by Leila of Where The Orchids Grow though, I fancied having a go.  I thought this might be the very thing for the purple batik bought on my recent Birmingham trip, but I wanted to make a practice version first.  When I’d done my measurements, I realised I could cut the brown side of the duvet in half and match up the flowery band from the top and bottom to make a ‘border’ print.sideshot2I didn’t do too badly matching up the pattern on this side, but sadly there wasn’t enough to do the same on the other!

I’ve never done shirring before but it was easy-peasey on Cosmic Lulu.  I soon had the bodice shirred down to the recommended length, a couple of inches above the waistline.  HOWEVER… my duvet cover was made of a cotton/terylene mix, and therefore quite crisp.  When I tried the dress on, the gathered fabric stuck straight out in front of my already-quite-substantial middle, making it look like it was time to Call the Midwife!sideshotAfter much re-thinking, I decided the answer was to keep shirring the bodice until I had the gathers in a more flattering place.  I ended up with 30 lines of shirring all the way around, plus a further 4 along the front only that I tapered in at the side seams to adjust for my sway back.

I also had to make one strap 1/4″ shorter than the other on account of my sloping left shoulder, and then I still needed velcro on the insides to stop them from slipping off!  Although I am much happier with the final dress than the first version, I must admit it’s still not the most flattering shape for me and I don’t think I’ll make another.  That said, it IS a very cool, comfortable, easy dress to wear.  So I’ll definitely be taking it on my hols, just in case the sun should decide to shine.  Plus, I won’t need to take a duvet cover, haha!frontshotWishing you all a sunny weekend 🙂

Whoo-Hoo! Velvet Party fRock!

frontshot1The Mission: to make a gorgeous yet comfy-for-dancing-in dress in time to wear to my friend Jas’s spectacular Summer Solstice bash

The Goal: to use the oldest piece of fabric in my stash, a beautiful stretch velvet in stunning midnight blue, given to me by my mum some time around the last Ice Age

The Challenge:  I have never sewn velvet before, apart from a pair of cushion backs and they didn’t go well…

I had a very clear vision in my head of this dress.  I wanted a long flouncey skirt, but no gathers or elastic; and I wanted it to be a really good fit, but with plenty of room to move around in.  And, I wanted BIG sleeve flounces!  I’m talkin’ Lord of The Rings Elf- Princess sleeves.  Oh yeah.  This was going to be a Party fRock!!Since I had no pattern that met these requirements, I figured I’d start with a basic Lady Skater and add the bits I wanted.  Although I’d got the fit nearly right with the Purple Ponte version, I still had that fold-above-the-bust issue, plus I’d had to raise the neckline and it wasn’t perfect.  So I went back to Amanda’s excellent Fitting & Adjustments guide, and Lo! – there was the very problem I have with just about EVERY PATTERN, described exactly!  I needed to shorten the shoulder & upper bust height!  Result!  I can hardly beleive that my shoulders are THREE sizes down from the rest of me, and may in fact need to come down even more.  I kept the neckline as per the pattern this time but made all my other previous adjustments.  And folks, I have to say the fit is probably the best of anything I’ve made.  Except I then went and cut the bodice a bit short – argh!  Never mind.  I still love it!paisleysleevesMy original plan was to make contrasting sleeve and bottom flounces to add a bit of VaVaVoom to the plain blue.  This royal blue, paisley-etched velvet from The Textile Centre seemed the very thing.   I used the lower section of the Lady Skater skirt to draft a very full bottom flounce (with a little help from Gertie!).flouncedraft I had actually cut out the sleeve flounces and tacked one on to check the length before realising that they didn’t work at all.  The dark blue velvet was perfectly gorgeous on its own… luckily I still had plenty left to do my fabulous sleeves with… sleeveywonder…but not enough for the bottom flounce. I ended up just adding a slightly flared ‘band’ at the bottom edge instead.  And I can tell you, that sewing two curved seams together in stretch velvet is a bloomin’ NIGHTMARE!!  It just moves all over the place!  I literally had every pin I own in this seam, and it STILL wouldn’t stay put.  PAH! – if only I’d known, I could have just cut the skirt longer in the first place!!skirtshotIt’s still pretty flouncey though, and there was enough to get the length that I wanted, so all’s well that ends well.

As the dress began to come together, there was a bit of a ‘Medieval’ thing happening, so I thought I’d amp this up by using my fave decorative top stitch along the sleeve edges and neckline.  It worked beautifully on the sleeves  (below left), but as you can see when it came to the neckband (top right), it started stretching out the fabric and making it go all lumpy.  I tried it twice but it just wasn’t working, so I changed to a regular straight stitch instead and that worked fine.topstitchingWith just a few days to go til the big weekend, all was going well.  And then I came down with THE worst cold I’ve had in years.  The dress was on its hanger, waiting to be hemmed.  I was in bed, dosed up with everything the local chemist had to offer, and it was looking like I wasn’t going to make it to the party at all…backshotOn the day of the Do though, my brother helped me get myself up & out, and I DID go, though only for a few hours and mainly to sit by the bonfire.  It was a lovely evening though, despite my feeling so lousy, and as I am completely without shame I wore the dress anyway – unhemmed and uneven!

It took a couple of weeks to recover from that lurgie, and to finish the dress off properly.  It WAS a challenging make, the velvet was tricky to work and I certainly made some mistakes with my pattern mash-up.  But y’know what? – I absolutely ADORE this dress!  It fulfills all my wishes, to have something really special that’s still incredibly comfortable to wear, and that makes me feel like an Elf Princess, despite my More-Dwarf-than-Elf figure.  And oh yeah – those sleeves totally fRock!!sleevelaughWishing you all a fRocking great week 🙂