Christmas cards 2010

I mentioned last weekend that I had made a prototype for this year’s Christmas cards but didn’t include a photo. The reason for this was that the best photo I had taken of it looked like this:

Prototype for card

For me, prototypes really are prototypes. They are the first attempt to see if it is even remotely possible to physically create something that in any way resembles the vision in my head and maybe, if I’m really lucky, work out some of the initial kinks in the process. Believe it or not, in my world, this is a photo of a highly successful prototype.

However, since I doubted that anyone would find that photo terribly interesting or inspirational and thought that most people would probably pity my poor family and friends for having such ugliness inflicted upon them, I thought I would wait until I had moved past the prototyping stage and made at least one finished article.

Hand-stitched Christmas card

Doesn’t that look better?

(In a fit of craft-related productiveness, I even managed to remember to take photographs of the process and have put up a tutorial on Yellow Ginger showing how it’s done.)

The things we do for love: part 2

Argyll Jumper - finished

The Argyll vest is finally finished. Actually it’s been finished for ages. It has proven difficult to get pictures of it though due to the fact that it has been worn almost constantly. (You would think that might make it easier to get pictures but apparently not.)

Argyll Jumper - finished

The duplicate stitch was surprisingly easy to do and I found the precise, repetitive nature of it very soothing. Putting together a tutorial on how to do it has been added to my increasingly long list of “things I want to do but have no idea when I’ll get around to it”.

Unfortunately, the recycled cashmere jumper that formed the first part of “The things we do for love” has never been worn. I picked up too many stitches around the armholes and, when worn, they flare in an extremely dramatic fashion (think bad 70s sci-fi costuming). My plan is to rip them out, pick up fewer stitches, double the yarn and use larger needles. Hopefully this will mean that they won’t take quite as long to knit this time around.

Exceedingly nice notions

Sewing notions rather than knitting notions, for a change.

Steven and I visited the East London Design Show in Shoreditch last night and loved the sewing notions from Merchant and Mills.

Sewing notions

The quality of the packaging and design is at least matched, if not exceeded, by the quality of the notions themselves. The sidebent tailor’s shears, in particular, feel absolutely amazing.

Sewing notions

Unfortunately, the gift box of notions and the shears are going to be a Christmas present for someone who isn’t me so I don’t get to keep them. I did treat myself to some proper tailor’s chalk but might have to pay their website a visit to stock up on some other bits. (You can never have too many pairs of really good scissors, right?)

There are lots of other awesome designers at the show (Steven managed to do most of his Christmas shopping in just one evening) so it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area. (You can get a 2-for-1 entry voucher by signing up for the mailing list on the show website.)

Quilts at the V&A

Despite living in London and being surrounded by posters advertising exhibitions and events that I want to attend, I’m very bad at actually getting around to going places. I did however manage to go and see Quilts: 1700 – 2010 at the V&A before it closed at the beginning of July.

As a beginner quilter with just a single patchwork block under my belt, I was inspired, over-awed and somewhat reassured by the exhibition. If it took 17 years for an eighteenth century master tailor to complete a quilt in just his evenings and weekends, there is hope for me yet. (We won’t talk about my reaction to the beautifully embroidered map of the English counties that had been completed by a nineteenth century 10 year old.)

I preferred the older quilts in the exhibition, those that were produced as quilts rather than as “Art”. I love modern art but apparently not when I go to see a textile exhibition. I think my favourite though was one of the modern ones, “Punctuation” by Sarah Impey. There’s a picture of it in this article or you can view more of Sarah’s work on Quilt Art. Given my blog name, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that my favourite combined both words and stitches!

At the time of my visit, I resisted the urge to buy anything from the shop but, as you may have guessed from the pictures, that didn’t last. As a treat for myself for passing another actuarial exam (11 down, 4 to go!) I bought a pack of quilting fabric. The fabrics are limited edition prints created for the V&A by Liberty based on details taken from some of the exhibited quilts.

The pack I bought has 36 pieces in 18 patterns and while I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do with them yet, they’re certainly brightening up my dining table!

Pretty Pink Pincushion

Wrist band pincushion

This is quite possibly my favourite sewing project so far — pretty, pink and practical.

Wrist band pincushion

It is a simple square cushion sewn to a wristband that fastens with velcro.

Wrist band pincushion

I needed something quick and simple to regain my confidence using my sewing machine since I have a couple of large projects that I’ve been putting off. I think this has done the trick!

Wrist band pincushion

Expanding my craft library

It’s getting harder to find decent second-hand bookshops in central London these days so we recently took a trip to Hay-on-Wye to satisfy our cravings.  I spent a fair amount of time rummaging through any craft books I could find and managed to pick up a few interesting additions to my library. I plan on writing fuller reviews once I’ve had the chance to read them more carefully and try some projects but here’s a quick look in the meantime.

Alabama Stitch Book, by Natalie Chanin with Stacie Stukin:

Alabama Stitch book

A collection of sewing projects for recycling and embellishing old t-shirts. I first heard of this book when the House on Hill Road blog reviewed the follow-up book Alabama Studio Style. Having now seen this book and the review of the second one at House on Hill Road, I think the projects in the second book are probably more to my taste but there are a couple of projects in here, including a skirt and corset top, that I do really want to try. All I need now are some t-shirts!

Designing Knitwear, Deborah Newton:

I’ve been getting more ambitious with my designing (I currently have a couple of lace shawls in progress) and my eventual ambition is to learn how to design clothing. I had seen this book recommended as a good guide to knitting design and, at a first glance, it certainly seems to cover everything you could want to know. In fact, at first glance, the sheer quantity of text and detail in this book is a little overwhelming. I think this is going to be a book that I sit down and read through rather than dipping in and out of. I’ll let you know how that goes later.

Second-hand craft books

520 Quick and Easy Patchwork Designs, Kei Kobayashi:

The concept behind this book is simple: using folded origami squares as the basis for quilt designs. Take your square of paper, fold your shape, unfold the paper and use the geometric pattern of crease lines as the basis for your quilt block. My quilting has yet to progress beyond simple patchwork blocks but there’s a wealth of inspiration in here for anyone from the absolute beginner to the expert looking for something new. There is a large section on traditional American quilt block patterns, as well as variations on geometric patterns and some Art Deco and computer graphic suggestions as well. It is a design book rather than a how-to-quilt book so if you’re looking for detailed guidance on quilting, piecing and finishing quilts, this isn’t the book for you but if you’re looking for inspiration, there’s plenty of it here.

Vintage sewing machine adventures: part 3 — the other bits

As a child, I loved rooting through my mum’s sewing basket trying to work out what all the different bits and pieces were and how they were used. No matter how much time I spent looking through that basket, there always seemed to be something that I hadn’t seen before.

Contents of the drawer

That’s why when the salesman in the junk shop showed me that the sewing machine table drawers were filled with attachments for the machine and other craft-related paraphernalia I knew I had to buy it. I’ve already talked about the sewing machine parts but here are some of my other favourite bits.

Punchcraft tool — If it hadn’t been for the fact that my mum used to have a couple of punchcraft kits, I might never have worked out was this was. Punchcraft is a way of creating pictures on fabric by “punching” yarn or thread through the fabric to create little loops. (It turns out that the tool can also be used to make holes in leather treadle belts when repairing vintage sewing machines.)

Punchcraft tool

A Turkey Rug Wool gauge — used for cutting lengths of wool to the right size for rug-making. You wind the wool round and round the gauge and then your scissors or knife slide down the groove to cut the lengths. I’ve never tried rug-making so I’ve no idea what you do after that!

Turkey Rug Wool Gauge

Turkey Rug Wool Gauge

Buttons — none that are particularly exciting but you can never have too many buttons!


Hooks, clasps and pins — I love that some of these (and some of the buttons) have small pieces of fabric attached, showing that they’ve been saved from old clothing.

Hooks and clasps

Screws, picture hooks and curtain hooks — It’s always reassuring to see that other people end up with weird collections of DIY oddments in their craft stuff.

Assorted screws and picture and curtain hooks

Blue sequinned triangle — part of a fancy dress costume, perhaps?

Blue sequinned triangle

Vintage sewing machine adventures, part 2 – Identifying the parts

One of the first things I did with the sewing machine was to empty the drawers and sort the contents into sewing machine parts and everything else. The first picture below shows what I first thought were all the sewing machine related parts (not including bobbins, screwdrivers, needles and the lint brush since those didn’t require any research to identify).

The attachments

My next task was to work out what each of these was. Two things made this reasonably straightforward. Firstly, the sewing machine came with its manual, which has pictures of most of the parts in use.  Secondly, this is a Singer machine. All Singer parts are stamped with “Simanco” and the serial number of the part. A quick trip to Google to search for serial numbers and most of the rest were identified.

The harder part is going to be working out how to use them!

Below is a full inventory of the attachments I have with pictures and serial numbers in case this helps anyone else trying to identify parts.

Continue reading “Vintage sewing machine adventures, part 2 – Identifying the parts”

Vintage sewing machine adventures – part 1

Steven and I took a day-trip to Whitstable yesterday to celebrate my first day of freedom after the latest batch of exams. It was just supposed to be a nice trip in the car with some lunch, a wander round some shops and then home again. Except that one of the shops, a small junk shop right on the sea-front, had this:

Singer Model 15K sewing machine

A 1940s Model 15K Singer treadle sewing machine and treadle table in what appeared to be almost working order.

Singer Model 15K sewing machine

And, yes, that is our lounge that it’s now sitting in.

The advantage of buying a Singer machine is that there is a lot of information out there on how to identify and date them. Looking up the serial number of our machine on the Singer website, I identified the type and learned that it was one of a batch of 300,000 built in Clydebank, Scotland between November 1945 and August 1946. In fact, I spent almost the entire evening reading about the history of the Singer Manufacturing Company and the factory in Clydebank.


I love the detailing and aesthetic of these machines and have been admiring them from afar for years. It’s so pretty that we decided it would look great as a piece of furniture even if we never got it working, although both of us thought we’d like to see it sew something at least once. However, the more I read about these machines and how good they are for sewing and, in particular, quilting, the more tempted I am to get it fully set up and learn how to use it properly.

I don’t think it will be too difficult (famous last words!) to get it working properly again. The machine needs a new belt (already ordered), a good clean and some oil, and the woodwork needs some restoration. The ironwork just needs cleaned. The worst part is going to be removing all the dead spiders from the inside.

The treadle

The other advantage of getting it working is that it came with a wide range of different attachments for hemming, quilting, and attaching cord and bindings that would cost me a fortune to buy for my electric machine. More details of those and the other contents of the table drawers to come in my next post.

Book review – Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style

A post-exam wander around the craft and design sections of the bookshops on Charing Cross Road today turned up a wonderful little volume entitled “Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style. 250 Patterns for Projects and Designs.” The book is a collection of Japanese pattern designs in nine different categories, including plants, creatures, geometry and, of course, waves.

Wave pattern

The book comes with a CD with JPEG and PSD versions of each of the patterns and, best of all, purchasing the book permits unrestricted use of any of the patterns for any purpose whatsoever without any further fees or need for acknowledgement or credit. Many of the patterns are set up so that they can be tiled in all directions.

Japanese cherry blossom pattern

There is a sentence or two accompanying each design with a short explanation of its origin or symbolism. The translation from Japanese is a little quirky at times but not enough to be distracting.

Japanese geometric pattern

The patterns are purely patterns and no instructions are given on how to use them but I’m already in danger of being overwhelmed by ideas for ways to incorporate the designs into knitting and quilting patterns.

Wave pattern

To sum up, if you’re interested in Japanese patterns and styles or just looking for a new source of inspiration, I can highly recommend this.


  • Title – Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style
  • Author – Shigeki Nakamura
  • Publisher – Rockport Publishers