I so enjoyed the challenge of last year’s Hillary’s Blinds craft competition that when I was emailed about taking part again this year, I jumped at the chance! I was given the choice of a metre of any of these fabrics:
I think all four are lovely and was particularly tempted by Rayna Apple, but the lovely colour and foliage print of Safi Turquoise won me over. As anyone who reads my blog cannot have escaped noticing, I love bugs and bees and wildlife so I decided to use freemotion embroidery to add a few bugs to the fabric and then to use it to make a shoulder tote. I almost always make things for other people and decided this one is for me!
One of the nice things about upholstery or curtain fabric is that it is more substantial than a quilting cotton and is a good base for free-motion embroidery. Mind you, to be sure there would be no puckering, I added a stitch and tear stabiliser to the back of the fabric before I began stitching. Free-motion embroidery is rather like drawing by moving the paper instead of the pencil. I love it; totally addictive.
Once the free-motion embroidery bee, dragonfly and ladybird were complete I could tear away the stabilising fabric.
The other benefit of upholstery fabric is that it holds its shape and does not necessarily need lining. I am a big fan of French seams – stitched once with wrong sides together, trimmed, turned inside out and stitched again, so all the raw edges are enclosed within the seam.
Once the body of the bag was complete I turned over the top edge twice and machine stitched two neat rows of stitches. The bag is finished with long handles, so the bag can be worn on the shoulder. I used two narrow lengths of fabric for each handle, ironing the raw edges to the centre and sewing the two pieces together with the raw edges tucked neatly away in the middle of the fabric ‘sandwich’. The handles are sewn to the bag with two layers of stitching for strength…and ta da!
This is a really simple way to make a bag – if you have a sewing machine you haven’t really tried using, a big like this is a great way to start sewing. In fact this is a method I teach at Grownups Playgroup, as it is great for beginners to take home something they can use and be proud of. I am keeping this bag, but feel inspired to embroider more bugs and beasties on bags and zip pouches in the coming weeks.
I have loved seeing how differently everyone approaches this challenge; have a look for yourself on the competition’s Pinterest board: Hillary’s Craft Competition 2015
[Oh and I just realised, this is my 100th post since I switched to WordPress…may push the boat out with a celebratory alcohol free lager…all that’s in the fridge]
I requested the teal bird parade fabric and when it arrived for some strange reason it whispered to me that it wanted to be a giant rabbit. I think it was an Easter thing and the fabric wanted to be Pantoufle, the imaginary rabbit in ‘Chocolat’ – yes, I know Pantoufle is a kangaroo in the film, but I am pretty sure he is a rabbit in the book. I am sure I have talked before about my belief that, just as in Harry Potter where the wand chooses the wizard, in my world the fabric chooses the project. However, in this case the fabric and I had to have a bit of a chat about practicalities. Much as I love the idea of a giant rabbit, while I try to build my little business I have to be strict about use of limited resources…a large rabbit takes a lot of polyester stuffing and would not be something I could sell to cover the cost (not only does it feel odd selling something made from competition fabric, even handmade toys need to be tested and CE marked to be sold in the EU). The fabric and I had to reconsider the project.
The first step in deciding what to make is to get to know the fabric. I start by ironing it.
It gives me a chance to see how the fabric handles and to appreciate the pattern – which is lovely, and would make a wonderful roman blind.
This fabric is quite a heavy twill sort of fabric, but moves well and irons well. The peacock print is quite large and we, the fabrc and I, decided it needed to be something that had a large enough, flat enough surface to appreciate the pattern…we decided on an apron. Not a complicated project, but something that makes the most of the fabric.
I am a great believer that if you have a piece of clothing that fits well and suits you, it makes sense to use it as a template/pattern. I have a Bath WI apron that is just right, so used it to cut out my apron, making sure there was a complete peacock in the centre.
When I use lighter fabrics to make aprons, I cut two pieces and sew them together, right sides together, leaving a small gap to turn it back the right way out. It neatens the edges and gives the apron a better weight so it hangs well. This furnishing weight fabric is heavy enough to be unlined – in fact I think lining it would make it too heavy. All I had to do was was double over the edges and top stitch and attach cotton twill tape ties. For the neck I like to sew two D-rings in to a loop of tape and attach to one side of the neck, with a lose ended tape the other side. This makes the neck adjustable regardless of your height.
I often use curtain or furnishing fabric to make aprons – you can find some quite economical hard-wearing fabric (or upcycle old curtains), and some lovely prints. It’s a quick and easy and effective thing to sew; perfect for a first project or a last minute gift.
Now, I hate waste. I keep every scrap of fabric – you never know when you might need a tiny piece for an easter bunny’s tail on a handmade card or to cover a button. I had enough to make at least one more thing and in the way that one thing tends to lead to another, the apron made me think about making cupcakes, which made me think about eating cupcakes, which…for some reason..made me think of a hippo!
As I mentioned above, to sell handmade toys in the EU you need to carry out very specific tests in order to use the CE mark (I have done this for my Ellen mice). As the hippo will not be for sale I am free to just make it for fun without worrying about dye data sheets, burn rates or, for that matter, copyright issues. Ages ago I treated myself to this lovely book:
If I make things outside the business, it feels like playing hookey so allowing myself to make the hippo from the book was a real treat.
I generally make my own patterns, and it was fun allowing myself just to follow someone else’s (excellent) instructions. In addition, Ellen Mouse has such tiny arms and legs, they take practice to turn the right way out, but these hippo limbs are huge in comparison and so much easier! A word of advice to anyone who has never tried to make a doll or toy with arms and legs before, some books will tell you to pin a safety pin to the end and slowly, slowly oh so slowly wiggle it down until the tube is the right side out. In my humble opinion, what you actually need is a chop stick.
This rather splendid chopstick has had several uses. It started life as a magic wand at a Harry Potter party, dropped quite a few pieces of sweet and sour chicken down my front and now turns fabric tubes inside out and pokes stuffing in to even the most awkward fabric nooks and crannies. Once you have sewn a fabric tube with right sides together and need to turn it the right way out, just push in the closed end of the leg or arm or other fabric tube slightly, push the end of the chopstick in to the hollow (the larger end of the stick if the tube is wide enough, so it is less likely to push through the line of stitching), stand the other end of the chopstick on the table or your knee and wriggle the tube of fabric down over the chopstick – rather like putting on a snug pair of tights.
My completed hippo seemed a little under-dressed for cupcake making, so I made her an apron of her own,
I decided that, given the source of the fabric, the only possible name for my hippo was Hilary, and took her outside for a bit of a photo shoot.
Max the cat, was very interested in the little hippo.
In no time at all the cat and the hippo were firm friends; they made a bond of friendship…you could even call it a hippo-catic oath! I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.
With Hilary the Hippo complete there were still scraps of fabric, so I made a zip pouch, a pincushion and three catnip mice! I filled the pincushion with crushed walnut shells to keep pins and needles sharp – just be careful with anyone with a nut allergy.
If you make your own catnip mice or fish or birds, there are things to remember:
don’t use beads or buttons that might come off and choke your cat
keep cats out of the room when sewing (mine try to steal it while I am sewing it closed)
make sure it has a long enough tail to protect your fingers from sharp teeth and claws
don’t leave cats and catnip toys unattended; cats can go utterly loopy and may hurt themselves
Now this is all that is left of my piece of fabric…
Even these tiny pieces will go in my scrap bag for making applique cards and fabric pictures…
It would be ever so nice to win the prize of £1000 (that would buy a lot of zips and thread and toy stuffing), but regardless I have had a lot of fun with my free piece of fabric and I have already become very attached to my little hippo friend and our two cats will be giddy with happiness when I give them the catnip mice, so thank you Hillary’s Blinds!