Saturday, 31 December 2011

Holiday crafting: part 2

These little pyjamas were an end-of-November first birthday present for my first cousin once removed (she's already being encouraged to call me 'Auntie Nina', because 'First Cousin Once Removed Nina' is both a mouth- and an earful, really). I got my sister to bring me the Oliver and S Bedtime Story Pajamas (sic) pattern from Purl when she was visiting family in New York a couple of years ago. I'd just discovered the craft blog world and I think Oliver and S patterns were one of those trendy things that a lot of the first bloggers I read were excited about at the time. I like to think that these days I'm a little less inclined to get caught up in blogosphere hype like that, but it might only be that the effects are more subtle. Where's the line between inspiration and influence? At what point does creativity dissolve into consumerism? When does community slip into competition? And how many companies are getting bloggers to do their marketing for them?
(The trousers look oddly short here because they're attached to the hanger)
Anyway, whatever my reason for wanting it, I got it, and that (expensive!) pattern fermented in a box with so many others for some time. Various new humans appeared on this crowded planet but they did not receive handmade pyjamas - not from me, at least. And then this autumn I decided to give it a go; perhaps it was the fact that I'd gained just enough sewing experience not to feel too daunted, perhaps it was the drip-drip-drip eroding background annoyance of impulsively bought patterns and fabrics sitting 'stashed' and unused, or maybe it was the idea of being called 'Auntie Nina' one day by the new human in question...
The first hurdle was sizing. The baby's mother had no tape measure. The baby's grandmother had but the baby was very wriggly. Some well-fitting pyjamas were measured instead, and those measurements didn't seem to correspond at all to any size given on the pattern envelope. What did people do before the internet? Can anyone remember? I'd have either given up or spent precious hours sewing the wrong size, I think. But this is the 21st century, and a short trip along the information superhighway brought me to an errata page for the pattern. I haven't seen them on, but my cousin tells me that the 18-24 M size I sewed fits her not-especially-big 12-month-old very well.

The main fabric is a soft, fair trade, organic cotton sheeting that I bought from Gossypium a while ago. It was very good value at £9/metre because it's so wide. Gossypium only have a gingham pattern at the moment but if you're willing and able to pay more, there's a choice of four designs from Fairtrade Fabric (search that site for 'fine finish' to find the right stuff). The turquoise binding fabric is a Cloud 9 organic cotton print. I didn't buy anything newly for this project at all - every element was sitting there, festering to varying degrees. We can chalk this one up as a small victory against The Stash.
Wonky stitching - all part of the handmade charm, right?
A detailed pattern review seems a bit futile as the pattern's now out of print... One nitpicky gripe I had was that the neck binding and leg bindings were different widths. Next time I'd make them match - but I think there will be a next time, because generally the pattern was so simple and the result very sweet. A good thing too, since you only get value for money from a pattern like this by using it many times. I imagine the simple lines of these pyjamas would lend themselves very nicely to being made with each piece in a different patterned fabric, and the small sizes would make that a practical way to use up remnants from other projects or old clothes (I'd guess you could cut all the pieces from two medium-sized shirts).
I was very pleased with the new (to me) seam finishing technique I tried. I chose a turned-and-stitched finish from the excellent sewing guide that my sister gave me a few birthdays ago. I've not yet managed to make zigzag-finished seams look remotely neat, but this method was much easier and no more time consuming - you do have to press each raw edge back behind itself but the sewing's much faster because you use a straight stitch. After all the gift sewing, I plan to do some "selfish" crafting for myself in the new year, and the seam-finishing that'll be involved in that feels slightly less chore-like now. The Stash had better look out...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Holiday crafting: part 1

This was a present for a good friend (whom I hadn't seen for far too long) with a December birthday. It's a slightly modified version of the free gathered clutch pattern/tutorial by Anna of Noodlehead. I made both the front and back gathered, and the band across the purse is narrower. The whole thing is only 8" long because I cut all the pieces too small by mistake. I only sewed one row of gathering stitches on each piece, which seemed to be enough. And I eliminated the iron-on interfacing - I hate that stuff, it smells so toxic - by stitching the edges of the gathers to some plain interfacing; I used nasty synthetic interfacing here (I am still working my way through that one metre, I haven't bought any more!), but the lining pieces were interfaced with reclaimed fabric (old pillowcase).
I stitched the crinkles to the sew-in interfacing
The instructions given are generally very good but I did have some trouble with the zip end covers. I've used Florence's directions before but this time I decided to try Anna's different method. She says you shouldn't stitch through the zip ends when you come to sew the outsides and linings together. I ended up with a hole at each end and I didn't like that so I unpicked (unpicking stitches from synthetic interfacing is not fun!) and re-stitched through the zip ends. It means you get some crinkling but no holes.
Birthday wishes inside and a scrap of coordinating flowery fabric
The striped cotton fabric is from an old dress which was cut on the bias. It was thriftier to cut my purse pieces straight along the edges of the old dress pieces, which means they are on the bias too. The plain pink/mauve is handwoven fair-trade organic cotton. The tassel is made from embroidery threads (bought part-used on Ebay from someone who'd given up embroidering), following instructions from an old knitting book. The little message inside is stamped with fabric ink on a scrap of reclaimed white cotton.
Wrapped in re-used tissue paper with a leaf skeleton and natural raffia
I don't think my friend realised I'd made the purse when she unwrapped the present. I'm sure other crafters have had this problem; what do you do? When someone admires something I've made without knowing I've made it, I'm often too shy to say, "I made it!" - that might seem like boasting. So this time I said nothing, but I think she will have realised when she looked inside and saw the stamped label. Perhaps I'll send her an email telling her what the purse is made of and how to wash it.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The shortest day

The northern hemisphere's winter solstice fell yesterday, 22 December, this year. Usually it's on 21 December, but every four years it gets a day late and then is readjusted by the following year being a leaping one, apparently.
The oak trees still have some leaves...
I don't know why the winter solstice is regarded as the beginning of winter, while the summer solstice is celebrated as 'midsummer'. That makes the year - and the planet - seem lopsided. (Also, last weekend, I saw some frozen puddles; don't try to tell me that was autumn.) Let's say 'midwinter' instead.
...while the cherry trees are already preparing for spring
(this post includes a photo of the same thicket in full bloom last April)
This is the start of the new year, really, don't you think? At about 05h30 yesterday morning we reached our furthest point from the Sun and began to tilt back towards it. I feel like we should take more notice of the solstices. They're something that all people could celebrate together, rather than (or more likely in addition to) splitting up to observe all sorts of different winter holidays that probably started out as solstice parties anyway. 
That said, Christmas is so entrenched that I haven't yet managed to celebrate a midwinter properly. 21 or 22 December always seem to muddle past in a fog of last-minute gift making/buying; we miss the astronomical turn of the year because we're too busy with stuff. This year I had a bit of help from our inaccurate Gregorian calendar, so I did get my sewing finished yesterday evening, and the tree decorated, and then Boyfriend and I ate some pancakes with beeswax candles burning (and no TV or computer running). Perhaps that's enough to build on next time. I'd love to hear from anyone who celebrates the solstices in some way - how do you do it? I wish a belated Happy Midwinter (or Midsummer!) to you all!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Trees For Life (not just for Christmas)

Trees For Life is an environmental charity that's not only fighting deforestation but is actively engaged in reforestation in the Scottish Highlands. Britain used to be densely wooded and Trees For Life is trying to repair some of the centuries of damage done by humans clearing land for farming and unsustainably felling trees for fuel and building. Boyfriend and I like to have their diary every year in place of a calendar, but in trying to find a link to put here I've just discovered that there is no Trees For Life diary for 2012, and that the calendars have sold out already. Eheu! I hope they'll resume diary publication for 2013; as well as having a beautiful photograph for every week of the year, their diary is a consciousness-spreading tool, thanks to the inclusion of environmental anniversaries along with all the usual bank holidays and the like. On 4 December 2004 logging was suspended in the Philippines after 1,000 people were killed by flooding (deforestation causes floods), while on the same day in 2006 Brazil officially protected 15 million hectares of rainforest.
Old Trees For Life diaries are a protected species under my afore-mentioned policy of Not Throwing Anything Away, so I had a decent stash of green tree pictures to raid to make a festive wreath. (If you re-purpose 75% recycled paper, does that make it 175% recycled?) I don't go overboard on Christmas decorating but this wreath from The Red Thread looked like a quick and easy project that wouldn't involve driving myself mad or trashing the flat. I then drove myself mad and trashed the flat searching for the stapler (didn't find it - had to borrow one from my parents).

It's our first winter in this home and the front door of our flat is on an indoor corridor, so I'm guessing that a paper wreath ought to survive the season (if it's hung out of the reach of the neighbours' stampeding wildebeest children) to be brought out again next year.

Mixed in with the Trees For Life leaves are a few from a National Geographic 2008 diary (they are much stingier with the pictures and that diary came with an utterly unnecessary plastic cover). The cardboard for the base of the wreath was from the packaging of an old Stargazer's Almanac (another annual fixture in these parts - and that very bright thing in the night sky at the moment isn't an unusually slow aeroplane, it's Jupiter).
I stuck a second cardboard doughnut over the back of the first one to hide the staples and make the wreath sturdier. I also trimmed the inside edge of the cardboard ring a bit after I'd finished attaching the leaves, because it was showing through in one or two places. I glued the last two leaves on (centre top) so that no staples would be visible. The little piece of red and silver Nepalese paper string was saved from a gift. I prefer to re-use materials when I make something that's purely decorative, because turning new resources into a completely non-functional object seems a bit wrong. But there are nearly always a few non-re-used elements (in sewing projects it's the thread, if nothing else). New materials used this time: staples, glue, a tiny twist of craft wire and a little hook to hold it to the door (the plastic hook is re-usable but will require a new sticky pad each time).
Could you find ways to make your seasonal decorating more green?

Friday, 2 December 2011

New threads

Just a quick post to say that you can now buy 100% certified organic cotton sewing thread here in the UK. The best part is that it comes on a WOODEN REEL! As if that wasn't exciting enough, the wood is reclaimed. Somebody has thought this through. I've yet to discover if they've remembered to do away with the little plastic wrapper - here's hoping. I'm still working my way through the rainbow of polyester (petroleum!) thread that came with my sewing machine, but now I know what to do when it runs out.
It's not that long since wooden reels were the norm - my grandmother
 unearthed these old Italian threads while re-organising a cupboard recently
(Red and white fabric in the background from Gossypium)
The Organic Cotton shop has 11 colours and large reels (I've observed a little bit of imperial/metric confusion on this site before so I've asked whether these are really 300 yards or 300 metres) at a price that does compare well to good-quality non-organic cotton thread. Be sure to request plastic-free packaging on your order - they can do it but they won't unless you ask.

Greenfibres has 34 colours but only 100m reels, and the price comparison is less favourable. But then the conventional thread has costs that we, the end consumers, don't pay directly - the cotton farmers and their families and communities and the planet pay instead. Baby albatross pay when the plastic reels end up in their stomachs. Maybe I can afford to take responsibility and pay more for my thread.

The wooden reel could probably become a crafting material in its own right when the thread runs out, too - I'm picturing light/blind cord pulls, keyrings, Christmas decorations, perhaps even quirky necklaces... A little set of organic cotton threads might be a useful, thoughtful gift for the conscious crafter in your life.