Saturday, 8 December 2012

Festive crafting

Preparing for a quick trip up north to have an early Christmas celebration with relatives, I opened a box to retrieve some plain gift-tags, and found them sitting right between my leaf stamp and the green and red inks. The lower case letter 'o' from my much-loved alphabet set stood in as a berry stamp. I liked those first few, so I went into mass-production mode. An off-cut of heavy cream card left over from making a birthday card last week yielded another 16 small (about 3cm x 5cm) tags. More than enough for this Christmas, I think. 
I got extra thrifty with the string: it's what holds the beetroot and potato bags closed in our veg box. I have quite a collection.
My family have come to expect extra-special gift wrapping from me every Christmas. It's getting exhausting to maintain my own standards, though (the vintage paper tablecloths of a few years ago, with matching tags handmade in the shapes of the motifs on the paper, were probably the peak), so this time around these little stamped tags are as fancy as it's getting.
I've let myself mostly off the hook with presents, too - that is, I'm not making them all. There's a glut of birthdays in my family at this time of year, so I've knitted and sewn plenty of presents in the past few weeks. I'm nearly crafted out. People will receive shop-bought Christmas gifts (still strictly no pointless garbage or novelty nonsense, of course), and it will be fine.

How about you? Are you in a festive crafting frenzy? Or taking it easy?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Some people read the instructions and some people don't

Vintage sari silk from my grandmother's wardrobe
I'm a lone* instruction reader in a family of people who think the little booklet that came with their new camera was just recyclable box-padding. We have a lot of conversations like this:
Relation: "How did you know how to do that?"
Me: "I read the instructions."
or
Relation: "I'm trying to do this but it's coming out all wrong."
Me: "Maybe you should read the instructions."
or
Relation: "My [gadget] doesn't do that."
Me: "Did you read the instructions?"
and sometimes
Dad: "I was just trying to do [something almost certainly warned against in the instructions] and this [probably essential] piece broke off so I joined it back on with Blu-tack/Sellotape/a clothes peg. Cool, huh?"
Me: "Yep."
But occasionally instructions let me down. One of my birthday presents last week was a narrow hemmer foot for my Brother sewing machine. It came with instructions in seven languages, given in eight steps plus tips and diagrams. I read them. Then I tried to sew a narrow hem. It involved pulling the thread ends through the fiddly little curl in the foot, as per the diagram that really doesn't show you how to do that. I gave up and went to bed just before sewing machine abuse became necessary.
Eh?
The next day, I turned to Youtube (WHAT did we do before the internet?), where Erica from a sewing machine shop in Ontario, Canada and Niler Taylor in Georgia, USA (who has cut herself on a pin) showed me exactly how to use a narrow hemmer foot. Brother have their own video with muzak and an extra step that's not in my instructions, but the method shown in the other videos is much better.
Brother instructions vs Youtube
The foot does all the work and makes a truly tiny hem - it's about 3mm wide. I plan to use it to make scarves from some of the old saris that my grandmother's handed down to me; they all have weak spots in the silk so I wouldn't dare use them for garments (one sudden movement could cause an underwear revelation) although the colours and prints are still lovely.
Thread tension not quite right, I know
While I'm talking about instructions I must mention (as ever!) Florence, whose Practical Guide to Machine Appliqué came in handy a few weeks ago when Boyfriend asked me to add some numbers to the back of a retro football shirt. I find that a lot of instructions have important information missing, presumably to keep them short, but Florence is not the sort to confuse clarity with brevity. She tells you everything you need to know; the instructions aren't waffly or long-winded, they're just complete. Florence very sweetly sent me a free copy of her e-book when she published it (it was meant for my mum, actually, but we all know what she's like with instructions...), but had I paid £3 for it I'd feel that I'd got an excellent bargain.
The white fabric was cut from an old t-shirt
This was only my second attempt at machine appliqué, and it was jersey-on-jersey with lots of curves, so a bit of a challenge, but it turned out OK. Having just read Sarai's thoughtful post about perfectionist sewing I compared my work to another shirt Boyfriend has with a number that was sewn on when he bought it (you can pay extra to have them do this), and that made me feel better  - the professionals apparently don't even bother to zig-zag their appliqué, it's just sewn on with a straight stitch and the edges left to get scruffy.
Sorry about lighting - very gloomy here today
Lastly, more bad instructions. After seeing some lovely versions of the Wiksten Tulip skirt on Flickr, and having enjoyed the Tova pattern so much, I decided to buy the pattern from Interweave (if you're shopping there, do search for a discount code - I found one that worked). I already knew that there were errors, because Jenny Gordy has corrections on her blog. But the instructions are still pretty unclear and there are no diagrams at all! I don't think any of this is the designer's fault, it looks more like a desperate editing failure. (In fact, Jenny sent a very helpful reply to my email about the placket pieces - in case anyone else is still confused, they should be attached just like the placket pieces on the Tova shirt, showing on the outside and with all raw edges enclosed, and the buttonholes should be in the right hand placket as you're wearing the skirt.)
Help!
On top of that, my printed pieces won't line up at all. Each page is smaller at the left hand margin than the right. Has anyone else had that problem, or is it just my printer? I complained to Interweave and they gave me a refund but no advice, so the pattern hasn't cost me anything but it's still crooked and I still want to make a skirt. I've got my babycord washed and ironed but I don't trust my wonky taped pattern enough to take the scissors to it...

*: In fact I have found another instruction reader to pair up with and he reads instruction manuals cover to cover. For fun, I think. I'm an instructions lightweight by comparison.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Pass it on

Dear friends in the sewing world, please join me in welcoming two fresh recruits to our ranks! Last month my young cousins (aged 15 and 11) gave a new home to our grandmother's vintage Necchi sewing machine, and I like to think the old machine itself might be almost as excited as these girls are about the sewing adventures that await them.
Gratuitous chipmunk shot -
I forgot to take photos of the Necchi
Before the Necchi was handed over, I spent a long, hot afternoon guiding my cousins through a simple little lined bag project, to get them familiar with the basic functions of the machine. Threading up came surprisingly easily to them; sewing straight was very nearly mastered; fancy stitches were delighted in; and I did my best to communicate the importance of NEVER SEWING OVER PINS. We also discussed Fluff's unfortunate role as the Great Enemy.

This all took place in upstate New York, where the extended family had gathered to scatter my grandfather's ashes a year on from his death. Now I'm back in London, and my cousins have taken the sewing machine home to Toronto, so I'm not on-hand for further assistance. It was great fun to get these two girls started as sewists, though - passing it on is one of the best bits of crafting, don't you think? (And I hear the machine has already been used to make a cat toy!) So I'm going to put down a bit of information and advice for my cousins below, and invite all sewists reading this to share what you know in the comments.
We did some of our sewing outdoors; this is the best view I've
ever had from behind a sewing machine
As my aunt's a non-sewist (put off by a ruched-and-embroidered apron project at school!), I wrote a shopping list of the bare essential tools for life with a sewing machine:
  • Scissors - big and sharp, and never to be used for anything but fabric
  • Scissor sharpener (e.g. Fiskars)
  • Pins - glass-headed are best
  • Machine needles - universal type, mixed sizes (e.g. Schmetz)
  • Seam ripper
  • Tailor's chalk or erasable fabric pencils/pens
I promised to provide some links to sewing tutorials and information, so here are a few to start off with:
Also, girls, it seems your vintage Necchi makes you eligible to join a club! And some people even collect Necchi machines.

A few thoughts about fabrics: for now, I'd stick with woven cottons. Quilting cottons are available in all sorts of beautiful prints, and they're a good choice for beginners because they're easy to sew with. Heavier cottons (e.g. 'home dec' weight) are nice for bags, cushions, and aprons too. These fabrics don't fray easily, don't curl up, and don't slide around when you're trying to work with them. Finer, fancier weaves and knits can come later. I choose to buy only organic cotton, for lots of reasons, and it now comes in loads of fun and pretty designs. Think about re-using fabrics, too - old bedlinen or your dad's past-it shirts, for example (but don't tell him it was my idea). Although we didn't do this for your little bags, I'm a firm believer in washing (and ironing) fabrics before using them, so they get any shrinking or dye-bleeding out of their systems before you turn them into something lovely. For me, the easiest way to do this is to wash and iron fabrics as soon as I buy them, rather than waiting until I want to use them, when I might be too impatient to launder them.

OK, readers, your turn... Does anyone know a good, helpful sewing shop in Toronto? Perhaps one with classes? Are there any tools that you consider necessary for even the simplest projects? Any websites or books that you refer to often, easy tutorials you've spotted, or just general advice for beginners? Please pass it on!

p.s. Happy Equinox!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bags - making, making do, mending

On Monday last week I gave up waiting for my sister to tell me what she wanted for her birthday, and set about making her a little shoulder bag to replace the worn-out one that she's been carrying around lately. I thought it would take me no time at all, and it turned out to take at least three times as long; do all crafters suffer from this mis-estimation problem? On Wednesday my sister unwrapped an unfinished bag and exclaimed with delight that she'd realised, a few days earlier, that she'd like a new handbag, but hadn't asked me to make one as she thought she'd left it too late -  so she didn't mind too much that I had to take her present back to finish the strap.
The fabrics are both organic cotton, handwoven in India and fairly traded, from the online Organic Cotton shop. The outer fabric's a heavy herringbone twill, this piece left over from a much bigger bag that I made for my sister's birthday last year; the strap and lining are a lovely dark blue/cream shot cotton. (In case you're wondering, the Soil Association website has good information about what organic farming is, how organic standards apply to textile production, and a list of the reasons why I choose to buy organic cotton fabrics rather than conventional cotton.)
I backed the herringbone with scrap fabric (a duvet cover in its previous life), attached with fusible web. This is an imperfect solution to my dislike of synthetic interfacing - I'm still using the glue, which I'm sure is pretty toxic (think of the smell when you iron it) and must cause all sorts of pollution in its manufacture, but I am at least avoiding the polyester fabric, and re-using something old instead. It gives the bag a slightly firmer structure, and counteracts this particular fabric's creasing tendency. I interfaced the strap, too, to make it stronger.
I learned to sew zips from Florence's instructions, and hers is the only method I've used so far, but this time I tried something slightly different. One end has a fabric cover, sewn as Anna of Noodlehead explains in her Gathered Clutch tutorial (and this diagram). The other side has the zip ends disappearing down between the outer fabric and the lining, which allows the bag to open up wide. I have a little purse where the zip's done like this, and I couldn't quite work out how to copy it until I read through Erin Erickson's Two Zip Hipster pattern. It wasn't coming out right at first; then I unpicked the ends of my topstitching so that the lining could fold right back from the outer fabric along the zip-insertion seam, while I sewed around the bag sides and base. That gave a good neat finish, and it was easy to re-do my topstitching afterwards because I was doing it by hand. Did that make any sense?
A much duller bit of sewing last week was fixing some re-usable shopping bags that have been hanging around looking sorry for themselves for a long time. These were stitched together so poorly that they obviously weren't really meant to last much longer than the disposal plastic carrier bags that they supposedly replaced. They're also made of a nasty non-woven synthetic stuff and were imported from China - how's that for eco-friendly? Their only appeal really is that they fold up neatly to keep in a handbag, but as we have them now I feel we ought to make them do for as long as possible before they become everlasting landfill. In reinforcing the seams and firmly re-attaching the handles I reckon I spent  longer working on them than the sweatshop folk who put them together in the first place did.
Last week was clearly Bag Week: I also mended a much nicer reversible tote bag that my mum made. Some rummaging of the urgent Oyster card variety combined with being made to hold a music stand proved too much for one of the strap seams on a bus a few months ago. That strap end is now thoroughly joined back on and I strengthened the others too, so that I may go forth and rummage frantically for my Oyster on all of London's fine buses with the de rigueur feeling of flustered embarrassment but without fear of my bag giving way.
With the machine out I also hemmed my jeans, which I've been wearing for the past several years in the style of a too-cool sixth-former circa 1998 (i.e. far too long and with huge scrappy chunks worn out by my heels), and now I'm concerned that I could be teetering precariously on the brink of semi-presentability. Am I getting old, or just doing my bit for the Olympics?

Have you repaired anything recently?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A cushion that has nothing to do with royalty

Oops! That was an unplanned seven-week blogging break. May was International ME Awareness Month and I had thought of writing something about that - but I guess I was too tired... Perhaps I also rested on my laurels a bit, as the page views kept rolling in despite the absence of anything new to read - largely the result of my embroidered Tova top being one of the winners in Rae's Spring Top Sewalong. Thanks to Rae for running the Sewalong, which must take a lot of work, and thanks also to all the people who voted for my top! I like to think I'm not competitive but I must guiltily admit that winning was quite a thrill. Of course the taking part was fun too, particularly as it caused me to join Flickr. I'm staying away from Pinterest because of the copyright issues (and also because it looks like a massive time-sucking vortex of enjoyable materialistic internet doom), but Flickr seems strong on intellectual property rights because it's made for photographers. It's still a major time-sucker, naturally, especially the favorites (sic) feature - but it seems to have a bit less vorticity than Pinterest.
At some point in the last seven weeks, I made this simple little cushion cover from a top that I bought in the Oxfam shop. Please note that the red, white, and blue colour scheme has nothing to do with the schmubilee. I was able to cut the front of the cushion cover in one piece from the back of the top. The top flap of the cushion back had to be pieced together, but I don't think it looks too bad.
To make it feel a bit more substantial, I lined each piece with some fabric cut from a worn-out flannel sheet, and joined the layers with straight lines of red stitching - is it quilting when there's no batting? (My camera doesn't seem to deal with bright red very well - anyone know what that's about?)
The buttons are from an Ebay seller who seems to travel around Europe finding ancient haberdashery in long-closed shops and factories. (I won't link to her shop because I've been disappointed with some of the items I've bought, and she's quite rude. But if you search for 'vintage buttons' on Ebay, all sorts of treasures will come up.)
I don't feel 100% confident that buying second-hand fabric, or clothing to use as fabric, is entirely ethical. Using things that are unwanted, rather than letting them rot in landfill, is important, of course - but when I buy something second-hand that's nearly new, I wonder if I'm just supporting a culture of over-consumption and disposability. Certainly I'm benefiting from that culture when I find something that I wouldn't buy new for ethical reasons (in the case of this top, it's made of cotton grown non-organically, treated and dyed most probably with polluting substances, and produced without any assurances about fair pay or fair treatment of any of the people in the supply chain). The person who bought the top new was happy enough to discard it, virtually unworn, because they'd paid so little for it. Buying second-hand from charity is obviously different to buying from the original owner, because I'm not actually funding that person's shopping habit, and I'm giving money to a good cause. But I wonder to what extent we relieve our guilt about over-consumption by donating unwise purchases to charity; if we can feel virtuous about donating things we shouldn't have bought in the first place, does that allow us to keep shopping wastefully?

Another side to this is that if I can buy things I want second-hand and therefore avoid (at least in my mind) responsibility for how those things were produced, I don't necessarily have to engage with the major issues of our consumerist society or involve myself in finding solutions. By buying second-hand, am I simply enjoying the fruits of modern consumer capitalism whilst imagining that my conscience is clear? I worry about this less when I buy something that is quite old (like the buttons shown above) and/or has been well-used - but if the previous owner is discarding something just to replace it with a newer model, that's troublesome too. What do you think? Do you buy second-hand for ethical reasons? Does the age of second-hand goods affect how you feel about buying them? How do you think second-hand shopping compares to buying ethically-produced new products?


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Tova, embroidered

I thought about dyeing my Tova top, but to use natural dyes you apparently have to boil cotton fabric for a couple of hours to "scour" it. That would have shrunk my top disastrously. I suppose I could have just bought a pack of Dylon, because I've been told it's not that toxic - I don't think it has that symbol on it with the dead fish and the dead tree (I can't bring myself to buy anything with that on). But I asked my mum to add some embroidery to the front inset instead. I chose some threads from a bundle of half-used skeins that I got on Ebay a while ago. Then I picked the stitches from a book Mother has, drew the lines on the fabric, and gave it to her to sew. Didn't she make a nice job of it? I was so pleased when I got it back! We agreed that we might share out the designing and stitching like this again.
I thought it was best to have the embroidery on the outside edges of the inset rather than along the placket, because of the way the neck falls open. The design's deliberately not precisely symmetrical.
The stitches are back stitch, feather stitch (which the book said was traditional on English smocks, so seemed appropriate), French knots, and Danish knots. My mum used two strands of cotton and stitched very delicately to avoid pulling the fine fabric.
I'm entering this in Rae's Spring Top Sewalong, so - horrible! - I had to get a photo of myself wearing the top. I'm not a person who feels at home on that side of the camera. I just don't even know how to look "natural"; as soon as the lens is pointed at me a kind of appalled tension and awkwardness takes hold. (Or maybe I always look like that...?) Posing is so embarrassing - maybe even worse than having to look at yourself in the mirror with someone observing. Readers, have any of you managed to overcome this problem? What's your secret? It's such a relief that headless photographs seem to be entirely acceptable in the sewing blog world!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tova

The first I heard of the Tova top and dress pattern from Wiksten was when Florence recently mentioned that it was newly available as a PDF download. It seems everybody else had been excited about Tova for some time already. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I'm glad I did - no energy wasted hankering after a paper pattern I couldn't afford (which I'm sure was a thing of beauty, by the way, because even the PDF has a certain style about it when taped together). Having done a little Google and Flickr research, I told myself not to buy any more patterns until I'd used at least a few of the ones I already had. Then I spent a rather sleepless night picturing how good almost every fabric in my stash might look in Tova form...
I like buying sewing patterns as PDFs - no trip to the shops, no postage to pay, no waiting for delivery, no CO2 from transport, no packaging, and I can make it more eco-friendly by printing on recycled or scrap paper. There was a slight hitch caused by Ronald Reagan, but Jenny Gordy sorted it out very swiftly. In fact, probably the biggest advantage of buying patterns as downloads from small companies is that you can email the pattern designer personally with any questions or problems you have. I know some people think internet shopping is very impersonal, and it can be, but in this case it involved considerably more meaningful human interaction than a trip to the shops to buy a mass-produced pattern would have.
I decided to use some organic cotton muslin that I had for a toile this time, rather than the usual old bedlinen. My thinking was that if it turned out to be a reasonable fit, I could finish the seams and hems properly and it would be a wearable garment. I sewed it all with organic cotton thread, too, to leave open the option of dyeing the top. One lovely thing about the Tova pattern is that it doesn't require any notions at all - no zips, buttons, elastic or interfacing - so this one is 100% certified organic cotton and entirely biodegradable.

I made a size small and, although it seemed a good fit at the point when Jenny suggests trying it on, once the sleeves were added it was just slightly too snug around the bust. I was able to let the armhole seams out a bit so it's wearable, but I'm wondering what adjustment to make next time - will a medium be just right, or would a small with a full bust adjustment be better? I'd also like to add to the seam allowances as it's very fiddly to finish a fraying 3/8" seam allowance without an overlocker (I did mock-French seams for most, and zigzagged the armholes). My mum's suggested sewing a medium with 5/8" seam allowances, so I'd end up with something in between a small and a medium. Thoughts, anyone?
The inside of the double-layered inset
As the muslin's so sheer, I wanted to add a double layer of fabric to the inset. Kerry, who's been leading a Tova sew-along that I've been a bit too impatient to follow, simply treated two layers as one to achieve that. But I wanted to deal with the seam finishing issue at the same time, so I stitched my second layer on behind, after joining the inset to the main front piece. This encloses the inset seam between the two layers (except for a tiny bit at the base of the placket). I machine-stitched the long sides, and then slip-stitched the other two straight edges by hand. Next time I'll do all this before top-stitching the inset or sewing the shoulder seams, and I might try to stitch the long seams of the inside panel at the same time as joining the inset to the main front. This isn't a perfect solution because it creates an extra seam inside the placket, but I haven't managed to get my brain around it any other way yet.
Inside of the inset again
$10 is fantastically good value for a well-designed top and dress pattern in all sizes. Jenny's instructions are concise and clear, and her photos are so much more helpful than the indecipherable diagrams you get in commercial patterns. I haven't done set-in sleeves by myself before, and I did have to get my sewing reference book out to confirm that I was easing, not actually gathering, the sleeve cap (as opposed to the centre front and the cuffs). I ignored Jenny's advice to slip-stitch the inside of the cuffs and collar before top-stitching them, but I won't skip that step next time. All in all, the Tova pattern's lovely and I plan to use it again before very long.


p.s. My mum and I collaborated to add some embroidery to the inset of this top - see this post.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Slippers & pyjamas

Do you find that if your feet are cold, the rest of you feels cold too? And that once your feet have become cold, it takes them ages to thaw out? In our well-insulated modern flat, slippers are not quite the year-round necessity that they were in previous draughty Victorian residences, but the recent icy weather prompted me to make a new pair.
I'm not a great crocheter but these slippers from Erika Knight's Simple Crochet do live up to the title of the book. I think there's an error in the pattern, although the errata page on Erika Knight's website doesn't mention it: I found that I ended up with too many stitches in each round if I worked the first double crochet into the same place as the slip stitch each time. When I stopped doing that, it worked out. I made an extra half-row at the end and then joined the back seam with slip stitches/single crochets. That meant I could carry on around the opening of the slipper without breaking and re-joining my yarn. I worked two rounds of double crochet to finish the slippers rather than the recommended one: one in the main yarn (one strand only), and one in contrasting yarn. I skipped a stitch at each corner on both rounds to avoid any bagginess there - it's what I'd do in knitting so it seemed sensible. I didn't put insoles in the slippers at all because I prefer them to be just one up from socks. That meant I didn't need to use any glue, and the slippers are 100% organic and biodegradable.
I took them off for the photo but I usually wear socks too,
because cold ankles = cold feet
I don't know if you can tell from the photos that one slipper is smaller than the other - nothing to do with my feet, which are both equally large. Somehow I worked the second slipper tighter than the first, and even though I added extra rows to make up for it, it's still smaller in every direction. In this case it's more of an annoyance than a real problem, and I'm hoping they'll get evened up a bit with lots of wear. They're not shaped differently for right and left, either, so I can alternate which foot wears the smaller slipper. But I've had this trouble with knitted pairs of things too; what's the solution? The only one I can think of is to have both items on the go simultaneously, working a couple of rows on each in turn, which seems a bit silly and for knitting would require double needle supplies too.

The main yarn is the undyed Jacob speckled (marl) DK from Garthenor. Jacob sheep have a stylish two-tone look, and their fleece has to be sorted by hand after shearing to separate the colours. It's quite soft and gets fluffier with wear and washing. The green edging yarn is Rowan/Amy Butler Belle Organic DK, a mix of organic wool and organic cotton.
In other news, I finished (finished!!) a pair of pyjama trousers for Boyfriend. He was promised these quite some time ago and has been waiting quietly and patiently (in increasingly shabby pyjamas), which really only serves to make a person feel more guilty - it's a great relief to have these off my 'to do' list (and I'm working on making fewer promises!). I drafted the pattern myself because an earlier attempt with McCall's M4725 produced a garment of humorous voluminousness. The fabric is a lovely Gossypium organic and Fairtrade cotton sheeting (not available directly from Gossypium at the moment, but Fairtrade Fabrics have it); the little contrasting piece at the drawstring opening is from an old shirt. They look rather more special with the man himself inside them but you'll have to take my word for that.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Stamping again

I found another use for that leaf stamp I made. Something that I ordered online came with a receipt that was printed on sticker paper. Amazon receipts and others usually have one part that's sticky, while the rest is ordinary paper. This one was all sticky, with backing paper, so I cut it up and saved the blank parts.
Bits of receipt + homemade rubber stamp + pretty multicoloured ink pad (from Blade Rubber Stamps near the British Museum) = stickers! Who doesn't love stickers? Perfect for closing a mauve lokta paper envelope, now on its way to my grandmother.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A week next Pancake Tuesday

We have a pancake day most weeks in this household. Pancakes are easy and tasty and probably not at all bad for you - if you eat them, like we do, with fresh fruit and sugar-free jam.
There are lots of gluten-free pancake recipes on the web (scroll to the bottom of that post for links to more), and all sorts of other options like egg-free, vegan, etc. Most of those recipes seem to be for thick, American-style pancakes, which don't feel to me like the right sort for Shrove Tuesday (I'm not a Christian and this is an aesthetic objection rather than a theological one). More to the point, most of those recipes have very long lists of ingredients. Suppose you can eat gluten and milk but you plan to invite your more sensitive friend over for pancakes (she'll be delighted), or perhaps you avoid gluten and dairy yourself but you don't do much baking; either way, you probably don't want to spend the cost of a very decent meal out on special ingredients for one lot of pancakes.
Round here we make gluten-free and dairy-free pancakes with four ingredients. We don't usually measure anything, just add flour and liquid gradually until the consistency seems about right. Last time I measured as I went, to share the sort-of-recipe here. So, please note: I'm no chef and this recipe hasn't been tested like a professional one - but it's approximately what we do weekly, and it works for us.

For about 10 pancakes: 
1 medium organic egg 
225g rice flour (organic brown rice flour is my favourite, and we get ours from Infinity Foods, but the Dove's Farm rice flour is more widely available and also makes good pancakes) 
425ml 475-500ml rice drink (I use Probios Rice&Rice + Calcio; you can try Rice Dream, or soya drink or another milk substitute)
Half a teaspoon flax seeds (ground flax is best but I bought cracked flax by mistake and it works; whole seeds might be OK too if you let them soak in the rice drink for 10 minutes or so)

You need a fork, a mixing bowl, a ladle, a spatula, and a small non-stick frying pan, as well as a clean tea-towel to keep the pancakes warm in.

Break the egg into the mixing bowl and beat it with the fork. Add about half of the rice drink and all of the flax seeds and beat again. Then gradually add the flour and the remaining rice drink, mixing thoroughly as you go to avoid lumps. When everything's combined to a creamy smooth texture, you can start frying. Get the pan really hot; on our electric hob I actually start heating the pan while I'm mixing the batter. Oh, of course you'll need a tiny bit of fat for the pan - does that count as a fifth ingredient? I put no more than half a teaspoon of sunflower oil in the pan at the beginning. The first pancake turns out quite oily, but then I don't grease the pan again. It probably depends on your pan; mine's a non-toxic Green Pan (apparently Teflon is not very nutritious...).
The rest of the work is just pancake basics - obvious unless you've somehow never made a pancake or seen anyone else make one. Just in case: ladle some mixture into the hot pan, immediately spreading it by tipping the pan (if the first one doesn't spread easily, add a tiny bit more rice drink to the mixture). Turn it over when the surface is set - this takes a matter of seconds. You can't wander off while the pancakes are cooking. You have to stand there the whole time and it can be quite enjoyable if you let it. The second side takes another few seconds to cook and then you put the pancake into the folded tea-towel to keep warm.

When they're all done, fold them or roll them or stack them with your topping(s) of choice and eat them straight away. Sliced banana is good, with or without blueberry spread. Stewed apple can work too. If your kitchen, and therefore your plates, are very cold, warming the plates beforehand is nice. Our kitchen's pretty warm, so I just put the folded tea-towel on top of the plates while I'm frying, and the waiting pancakes warm the plates slightly that way.
About the egg: if you really can't find an organic one, at least make sure it's free-range. But while free-range standards are of course preferable to the horrors of battery farming, they don't actually guarantee an awful lot. Soil Association organic certification demands a much higher level of animal welfare, including more space, more access to the outdoors, and no beak-trimming. (I'm not sure what terms and regulations apply in countries outside the EU. "Pastured" might be the US equivalent to free-range; CIWF recently investigated factory farming in the state of Georgia.)
If you try out this recipe, I hope you enjoy it and please do let me know how it goes - comments are experimentally open at the moment!