Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Hi there!
We have recently returned from a holiday in Australia where we got to hang out with my family (including my beautiful brand new niece) for three weeks. It was wonderful.

This did, however, require 24 hours worth of flying to get there and I was a little apprehensive about how well my nearly-two-year-old would cope. She's usually pretty relaxed and self contained, happy to draw and listen to stories, but I knew there would be times when she would be really tired, fidgety through lack of running around, and generally fed up (and possible quite vocal about it). 
I decided to put together an in-flight activity bag for her. I bought a lovely little world map backpack from the Maritime Museum in Greenwich and began to assemble some new things to keep her occupied. I included some stickers, a couple of Dr Seuss books, chunky lego-style blocks as well as her favourite Stripey Teddy and essentials like little raisin boxes so that she'd have something to chew if her ears were popping.

I also wanted to include a small colouring book. She's at the scribbling stage (as immortalised here) rather than actually colouring anything in and so doesn't really engage with the usual colouring books, so I thought I'd make her one that was visually interesting, even if she wasn't colouring it all in.

I made her two scribble books, each using a card my mum had previously sent to the Little One featuring Australian wildlife (as well as a lovely message from my mum) as a cover. The first one was small with plain white pages and a postcard of a Rosella print.
I used the same process as my Handy Dandy Notebooks. Here I've secured the pages using mini pegs, I have waxed 4 strands of sewing thread with beeswax and am about to get saddle stitching.

As it turns out, she wasn't really interested in that one, she preferred her personalised colouring book:
I used this koala card and, to keep the pages interesting, I used a mixture of colored paper, lined and graph paper, as well as abstract patterns I printed off the interwebs.

Rainbow pages!
That waviness is because I didn't use a properly sharpened knife to trim the edges. The Little One didn't seem to mind.

And here's an 'after' shot. Thankfully she did travel pretty well and she did engage with this book, scribbling in it and sticking the stickers. As you can see, her water bottle leaked on it at one point, and she ripped one of the pages, so it has been well used!
I still put it in her little backpack along with her pencils, books, blocks etc when we head out and she continues to use it. And when this one is exhausted, I'll make her another one!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

gifts from an ugly green dress

I had a dress in the late '90s/early'00s. I found it in an op (charity/thrift) shop in Australia. It was a slightly fitted, short sleeve shift dress and it was made of a strange flecked, 100% unnatural stretch fabric in various shades of green. It was affectionately known as The Ugly Green Dress and I wore it with clumpy shoes. It became one of those nostalgic items that I couldn't throw away, so it migrated to my stash. I used it to make a cushion for my sewing chair many years ago and the rest has been languishing ever since.

Then I had a baby who, way back in February, was getting good at doing animal noises. She was particularly good at a snake hiss, so I got the remnants of The Ugly Green Dress out of the stash and I made her a snake to play with.

The body of the snake (do snakes have bodies or are they mostly tail?) is made up of two long strips of patched together sections of the dress. The forked tongue is red leather and the eyes are buttons.

I made it in the evening and left it poking its head into her cot for her to find when she woke up in the morning. I have to admit I wasn't sure if we were going to wake up to her screaming at the intruder but she was happily playing with it when I went in to say good morning.  Months later and she still likes to play with it. The snake does lots of spinning with her! 

Cut to last month and my friend's birthday. She's a crafty gal who likes to sew who lives in a flat that faces the wrong way to get the right sort of light for house plants. So again I reached for The Ugly Green Dress scraps to make her a cactus pin cushion. Hooray, a useful house plant that won't die! 

This time I used the wrong side of the fabric because it looked more cactus-y to me. I drew a cactus shape as a template, stitched it right-sides-together, clipped and turned it and packed it really tightly with pollyfill.

I attached the cactus to a gathered-together 'soil' ball also stuffed with pollyfill and stitched a patch to the bottom to cover up the messy gathers. The cactus sits in a little pot I found in a charity shop, and being able to take it out of the pot like this means that you can store extra pins in the base of the pot if needed.

I really like this pincushion and I reckon I have just enough of the fabric left to make one for myself. 

Thank you Ugly Green Dress, you just keep on giving.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day stitchery

It was Mr B's first proper Father's Day yesterday as he was away at a friend's stag do last year. We had a lovely relaxed family day involving bacon and pancakes, Drop Dead Fred (farewell Rik Mayall, sigh) and a cheeky pint or two at our favourite local pub.

Our Little One and I collaborated on a gift for Mr B - she scribbled on a set of four handkerchiefs and I embroidered over her scribbles...

Two hankies were embroidered in colour (as they were drawn) and two were done in pale blue thread for a more subtle effect.

I stretched the handkerchief out in the embroidery hoop (but in reverse, so that the right side of the fabric was up, but was sitting against the floor) and let the Little One at it with her pencils. I then fitted the embroidery hoop the right way around and started stitching...
I had to stop her making her scribbles too complex, and even then had to do a bit of picking and choosing which lines to follow, but it was quite a nice zen-like activity stitching along meandering random lines!

After washing and ironing them, I popped them back in their original packaging and wrapped them up ready for Fathers day. Mr B was very pleased with them and I believe he has one of them in his pocket at work today!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

MeMadeMay'14 round up

Me Made May is over again for another year. Well, it's been over for nearly a week now and yet I'm only just catching up! My pledge for this year was to use MMMay'14 as an opportunity to get back into the habit of making things regularly, this time using my leather stash as inspiration. 

Here's what I made...

mystery braid belt in natural vegtan leather
completed May 6th.

tangram pendant in silver vegtan leather
completed May 12th

amended tangram pendant in silver vegtan leather
completed May 16th

completed May 20th

completed May 26th


I'm happy with what I made. Some of these things have been bubbling around in my head for ages, others were unplanned.  I've realised I really like working with vegtan leather which features in all of my makes and had thought going into this challenge that I'd probably do more sewing on my machine. I did have moments where I felt like I should have made more things but I stopped myself from bashing some small things out on the sewing machine because I realised I was just going to make them for the sake of output for the MMMay challenge, not because I actually wanted them to exist in my life.
But I'm happy with my output. I feel like they are all considered pieces and all have a place in my wardrobe.

Bonus makes!

I did do some other non-leather-related sewing during MMMay...

a couple of simple little dresses for my Little One using Mr B's old shirts (more on these soon)

I also made a pair of Comox trunks for Mr B in time for his birthday (this wasn't his only gift!) After the first wearing the feedback was that I need to take in the waistband, so they're currently sitting on my desk waiting for a date with the ream ripper.

My other achievement was that I fiiiiinally took in the side seams of a store-bought top which was supposed to be fitted and yet was boxy, and not in a good way. All I had to do was change over to black thread on my serger, and how long did it take me to get around to doing that...?!

So all in all, a productive month! Thanks again to the excellent Zoe for hosting another Me Made May challenge. I'm already looking forward to next year's!

big hand-stitched leather tote

Final make of MMMay'14 - a big hand-stitched leather tote bag
completed May 26th 

When I worked at Theatrical Shoemakers, anytime we were required to include hand-stitching on medieval/barbarian/spartan etc style footwear, I was the one who got to do it. I really enjoy that kind of thing and it was during weeks of stitching dozens of pairs of sandal boots for a big film job that I decided to make myself a hand-stitched tote bag. And it's only taken me about a year and a half to get around to doing it!

As part of my MMMay'14 pledge, I mentioned that I'm usually hesitant to use up skins of leather in one go and so I tend to go for smaller projects. Well, for this bag I decided to be bold and use a large piece of leather I've had in my stash for aaaaages.

It's a softly textured oxblood-y/brown-y leather with a slight nubuck-y finish. I knew I wanted a bag cut in one piece and so I let the dimensions of the leather determine the size and shape of the bag, aiming for the biggest bag I could get out of the leather. I avoided that curved area at the bottom because structure of that section of the leather was weak and stretchy.

I forgot to take a photo of the pattern making process, but basically I taped together newspaper and cut it to match the shape of the leather. I then played around with folding the paper to determine the dimensions of the bag. I cut the paper into the final shape and then used that as a pattern to cut out the leather.

I used pre-waxed thread (from my stash) which sort of melts into itself making the stitches really stick together, and although specialist hand sewing leather needles are available, I like to use tapestry needles (also from the stash). These are basically the same as the 'proper' needles with large eyes and a rounded point.

I marked the stitching line and made holes for each stitch using the smallest setting on my hole punch. I overlapped the side seams and saddle stitched them closed using a needle at each end of the thread.

This is one completed side seam and the holes punched and ready to stitch on the opposite side. The rectangular cutout section is the bottom gusset. That yellow strip on the bottom right is some double sided tape I used to hold things in place while I stitched.

Side seam and bottom gusset.

I wanted the bag to hold a rectangular shape at the top rather than flattening out against the body, so I did a few stitches to pinch the corners into shape. You can just see the corner stitches in the first photo.

I've been enjoying making mystery braids (as seen in this recent belt) and I thought I'd add a little bit of interest to the straps by braiding the section that sits on the shoulders. 
Here I am preparing the vegtan straps - splitting the middle section into three and punching the stitching holes. I've punched them now because I want the leather dye to get down into the holes so that no natural coloured leather shows around the stitches.

I dyed the leather with Fiebing's "Dark Red" from my stash. It turns out to be a strange colour - at first it looks very magenta and then it settles down a bit. It looks different in different lights and it's tricky to get an accurate photo. I chose it to bring out the oxblood colour of the bag leather.

Here you can see the saddle stitching in progress using the two needles. These two ends criss-cross each other through each hole and the wax on the thread holds the stitch tight. On the left there is one of the pinched and stitched corners.

Trust me, the straps aren't really this fuchsia!

It's a big bag - 18" wide, 12" tall and 4" deep with a bag bottom to hold its shape. I can fit all of the usual stuff I carry around in my nappy bag with plenty of room to spare. Having said that, I haven't actually taken it out for a spin yet and that's because of the crazy sunny-then-rainy weather we've been having, and until I've scotchguarded it, I'm not risking it under these unpredictable London skies!

I'm very happy with it though. I really enjoyed making this bag - it reaffirmed how much I enjoy the process of hand stitching. I just hope it's not too long until I'm swanning about with my new oversized tote. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

spotty belt

MMMay'14 Week 3 - narrow spotty belt
completed May 20th

Another week of MMMay and I have made another belt. This time I have had a play around with pattern. The salmon-y coloured spots are the natural colour of the leather and I dotted them on using a masking fluid. I then dyed the belt black and rubbed off the dots to reveal the pattern.

I had planned for this belt to be blue with a silver buckle, but it seems my blue leather dye has leaked/evaporated and I didn't have enough, so I went for black. I didn't have any black leather dye either but I did have black edge ink which has a gloopier consistency. Not being the right material for the job, the outcome isn't ideal but at least I know that for next time. 

The buckle and loop were cut off a vinyl belt I found in a charity shop. The rivets are from my stash.

I clustered the dots at the ends and spread them out more evenly along the centre of the belt. I was going for a bit of a random look but I think next time I'll do a more consistently sized dot.

Happily, it goes quite nicely with this pussy bow blouse which I found on a previous trip to the same charity shop in which I found the belt buckle. And all for less than a fiver.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

a tale of two pendants

So this is what I made in week two of Me Made May...

...a silver vegtan leather tangram pendant.
completed My 12th.

For this year's Me Made May pledge, I wanted to focus on making things using my leather stash. I also wanted to experiment a bit and use the materials in interesting ways which is why I spent MMM week 2 having a play around with making a necklace.

This is one of those cases where I set out with an idea in my mind of what I wanted to make and ended up with something completely different. Originally, I had set aside some lovely muted bronzy leather with the idea of making a sort of roman headdress-esque laurel wreath necklace but the more I played with it, the less I liked it. 

While I was wondering what to do next, I remembered I still had some of the silver vegtan leather I used for my tessellated leather fabric for my installation in Window 135. Vegetable tanned (vegtan) leather goes through a different tanning process to the kind of leather that is used in clothing, shoe uppers, etc. It is more rigid and is therefore used for leather soles as well as belts and saddlery among other things. I knew that if I used vegtan, the pendant would hold its shape well (as my previous experiments with the laurel-style necklace had been a bit floppy) although using a rigid silver leather took me away from the organic flowy look I had been going for and into a more hard edged geometric style. 

Enter the tangram. We played with this puzzle at school when I was a kid. I liked the idea that from one set of shapes, a vast number of designs and silhouettes could be made. I think it's a good analogy for crafting - you start off with a fairly basic material be it leather, fabric, clay etc, and yet the possibilities for what that material can become are seemingly endless.

I drew up a template and used it to cut my design in leather. I had thought about staining the edges of the pendant black to make the silver pop even more, but I preferred to keep them natural to show off that it was in fact made of leather. I finished the edges using gum tragacanth to make them smooth, added a jump ring and a fine chain which was in my stash (and luckily happened to be just the right length), put it on and admired my handiwork, and wore it out to Mr B's birthday lunch.

It was only when I sat down to blog about it last week that I realised my mistake... that big triangle should be two smaller ones! Haha! I even looked up the tangram design while I was drawing my template and *still* managed to get it wrong!

So here's version two!...

(amended) silver vegtan leather tangram pendant 
completed May 16th

raw edges finished off with gum tragacanth

Problem: crumpled top. 
Solution: get the iron out distract everyone with a big shiny pendant!

Of course I could have continued to wear the original pendant, I had enjoyed wearing it on its inaugural outing, but once I realised my mistake, all I could look at was the space in the middle of the triangle that should have had a line through it! And who wants to be be wandering along merrily only to have passersby whispering behind their hands "tsk, her tangram is wrong!"  Not I.