Hillarys Blinds Country Crafts Competition

Today I have been finishing my country crafts creations with the free fabric from Hillarys Blinds for their crafting and blogging competition: http://www.hillarys.co.uk/inspiration/the-hub/2014/country-craft-competition/

Hillarys Blinds Country Crafts Competition
Hillarys Blinds Country Crafts Competition

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.

step 1 – ironing

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.

getting to know the fabric

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.

Bath WI apron as template
Bath WI apron as template

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.

peacock apron
peacock apron

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.

apron selfie
apron selfie

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:

hilarys blinds comp - 12

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.

pieces of hippo

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.

magical sewing tool
magical sewing tool

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,

finished hippo
finished hippo

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.

Hilary the Hippo
Hilary the Hippo

Max the cat, was very interested in the little hippo.

Max and Hilary

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.

hippo-catic friendship

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.

A side – peacock head
B side – peacock tail

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
three catnip mice
zip pouch and mice
peacock zip purse

Now this is all that is left of my piece of fabric…

fabric scraps

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!

CE mark self-certification

After a week off, pottering around National Trust properties with our Swedish friends, it has been back to work this week. I have been keen to sell Ellen Mouse in my Etsy online shop, but there are strict regulations about selling even handmade toys. In someone else’s blog (sorry, it was some time ago and I cannot find the link) I found a link to Conformance Ltd, which has been invaluable! For £25 I bought a download that provides detailed guidance about how to carry out the tests necessary to self certify, along with a checklist and declaration form and blank technical file and even CE mark logos. I am used to looking at legislation from my previous job, but I would not have attempted this without their guidance. There is also a CE Mark self-help Facebook page, which I found helpful, if only to show that it is possible to self-certify.

Firstly I had to source EN71-3 compliant fabric. Discovering Plush Addict made this much easier as they provide certification details for the fabrics they supply (or tell you where they have not been able to obtain any reassurance). You still need to carefully check the data against CE mark requirements, but it really helps. They did send me a fat quarter instead of a metre, but sent the replacement fabric the same day I rang to query it and I received it the next day, so I will continue to buy from them.

I then had to make a couple of Ellen Mouse samples to carry out the tests, making sure to write out the materials used, stitch type and length, tension etc as each mouse must be made in exactly the same way. After that it is just a case of following the checklist. I even involved little Sophie over the road to provide a child’s fingers to try to poke in to seams and through the fabric. The poor little mice were tortured…washing machine and tumble dryer, trying to twist off their arms and legs, and using clamps and a bag of groceries to hang 7.2kg  from the seams – double stitching everything is so worthwhile! 7.2kg is a lot of weight (see top photo); I could hardly lift it and was very chuffed that Ellen’s little arms and legs had no such problems.

The photo looks like the bag is on the floor, but I assure you it is hanging off the floor so the full weight is pulling on the seam.

7.2kg seam test
7.2kg seam test

The worst thing is the flammability test. I confess I did not have a suitable stand so held Ellen Mouse with a long pair of bbq tongs as I set fire to her, but I had tested the fabric and stuffing individually, so knew she would not explode or anything. She had to be held vertically for the test, but I put her on the ground once she was fully alight. I have to say that carrying out this test made me realise just how necessary this legislation is. I know a lot of handmade toy makers do not bother with CE marks (despite the law), but watching a toy burn when it does meet the requirements for less than 30mm to burn in a second (Ellen Mouse burned at a rate of 17mm a second) fills me with fear for toys that burn more quickly. Regardless of fines or prosecution for not meeting regulations, I couldn’t live with myself if some child were injured because a toy I made was not safe.

The following photo is not for the squeamish – a mouse toy or two (one washed and one not washed) must die so that others may go forth in to the world!

Oh Ellen Mouse - I am so sorry!
Oh Ellen Mouse – I am so sorry!

the cat’s whiskers

Two mile stones today…or you could even say three:

1) I finished the quilt I started in November;

2) I made my first glove cat; and

3) I have 52 likes on my facebook page – not a lot compared to other pages but definitely not bad, given I don’t even have my Etsy shop open yet (thank you everyone!)

vibrant quilt with hand-appliqued hearts

I have decided to keep the quilt myself. This sort of hand stitching is too time consuming to make it practical to sell at a price that would cover my time, and I love the colours, and I have never kept a quilt before – it is something I have only ever made for other people. I think I also prefer more quilting, to keep it flat, and may go back and quilt it more in due course. Max the cat has already made it clear he wants to share the quilt with me…hence the cat fur!

finished quilt
finished quilt

Oops; this really needs pressing!

vibrant quilt
vibrant quilt
vibrant quilt detail
vibrant quilt detail

I used blanket stitch variations – whipped, crossed, closed and alternating between short and long stitches – and I really like the effect of the stitches on the back of the quilt (despite the cat hairs!).

reverse of vibrant quilt
reverse of vibrant quilt

glove-cat

Having made a number of dogs from Miyako Kanamori’s books, I thought I should try a cat. I have used stitching to shape the paws, rather than the pipe-cleaners that Miyako uses, as I want these to be suitable for babies and don’t want any wire poking through. No buttons either, as I don’t want any choking hazards.

glove cat
glove cat

I also got to spend a wonderful afternoon yesterday with a Bath WI friend and her daughter – two amazingly creative ladies. I came away full of enthusiasm, confidence boosted and excited about the future.

the country mouse and the town mouse

As I was sewing, something about the way a small brown blur moved made me think is wasn’t one of the sparrows who usually hop around laughing at me from the other side of the patio doors. Instinctively I picked up my camera as I turned to look. I always keep my camera – with zoom lens in place – next to me when I sew, in case of need…like this little fledgling being fed, for example.

sparrow fledgling
sparrow fledgling

Anyway, the little brown blur turned out to be a very cute little brown mouse.

country mouse
country mouse

I had a sudden flash of inspiration and thought perhaps Ellen Mouse, a little white town mouse, should have a country cousin brown mouse. So without further ado, allow me to introduce Freja Mouse!

Freja mouse
Freja mouse

Ellen Mouse is a little Swedish mouse, as is her cousin, Freja. Newcomers to my blog may not be familiar with Ellen Mouse’s story, so let me tell you. If you are sitting comfortably I will begin.

Once upon a time, in the mid 1990s, an English lady bought her first house and her first computer. The internet introduced her to a wide world of interesting people, including a fellow science fiction fan called Marie-from-Sweden. Marie visited England several times and met up with the English lady while she was there. After a couple of years, Marie invited the English lady to visit her in Sweden. Marie lived in the South of Sweden, closest to Copenhagen airport, so the English lady spent a few days in Copenhagen and on the day she was due to go to Sweden, Marie came to meet the English lady in Copenhagen and brought with her her friend Irene. Now Marie had explained to the English lady that Swedish people are very private people and you should not invade their personal space and you should not hug them (as was the English lady’s way). The English lady may have quietly raised an eyebrow at this, knowing Swedes to be the sons and daughters of Vikings, and who are they to talk about invading personal space, but complied with the request. However, when the English lady met Irene she recognised a kindred spirit and could not help but hug her. All these years later Irene and the English lady are still friends and Irene introduced the English lady to her friends and family. So when the English lady went to visit Irene in Sweden last year, she took a little mouse she had made for the daughter of one of Irene’s friends. The daughter is called Ellen, so the English lady referred to the little mouse as Ellen Mouse. (Actually Ellen wanted to call her mouse Sue after the English lady…and Irene’s clever husband suggested the mouse should be called Sue-Ellen…very Dallas!). Ellen Mouse now has a special place in the heart of the English lady. And they all lived happily ever after.

Actually I do get some crazy ideas about Ellen Mouse and have to be reigned in by Mark. For instance I think Ellen Mouse should have pyjamas and a hot-water bottle, and a ballet tutu, and a pair of fairy wings (so she can sit on the Christmas tree). Perhaps Mark is right…

this n that

good news for gloves

Well I suppose whether the news is good or bad rather depends on your perspective…gloves that are happy being gloves and find fulfillment in their hand-warming role may experience alarm in hearing that I plan to cut off some of their fingers, sew up the holes and fill them with flame retardant toy stuffing. On the other hand (excuse the pun), those gloves looking for more from their existence than to squished up at the bottom of handbags and pockets and school bags, collecting bits of fluff and getting left over throat sweets stuck to them may rejoice in the knowledge that they will soon evolve in to…dogs!

Patch the dog
Patch the dog

Some time back, Sue in my old office showed me a book she had bought: Miyako Kanamori’s ‘Sock and Glove: Creating Charming Softie Friends From Cast-Off Socks and Gloves

Sock and Glove
Sock and Glove

I fell instantly in love and started collecting socks and gloves. I have had some expressions of interest in these cuddly critters, so emailed the author to ask permission to sell a few…and she very kindly said yes!! I still have to carry out the CE Mark testing to self-certify (a company called Conformance sells a very reasonably priced downloadable guide and checklist to CE Marking, I would have been lost without. No doubt others are available too). So this coming week I will be torturing one poor glove-dog, hanging heavy weights from his seams, trying to poke out his stuffing, washing and drying him and worst of all, setting fire to him. One glove-dog must suffer so that others may safely go out in to the world.

hippy chick book bag

I have also been busy working out the simplest way to make a patchwork book bag to put together a tutorial. I love the fabric in this one, but want to try it with a plain border to make it a little bigger and remove the need be too precise matching up the side seams for anyone new to patchwork. I am wondering about making step-by-step photo instructions on postcards – what do you think? Would that be useful?

hippy patchwork book bag
hippy patchwork book bag
patchwork bag detail
patchwork bag detail

so cute! dolls house coat hangers!

Last week I posted photos of my Ellen Mouse mannequin and now my little eBay purchase has arrived, the dress and pants are ready to head off to my friend Jacquie.

Ellen Mouse dress and pants
Ellen Mouse dress and pants

There are a number of these hangers on eBay, but I bought mine from spacemop, and was very pleased with them.

walk and draw

Anyone who followed my old blog before I moved to wordpress will know that I am a big fan the Bath WI. Our June meeting was with Andrew Lansley of walk and draw in Bath. He is a lovely, unpretentious chap who chatted about how he came to start walk and draw, via art therapy, and then got us scattered around the vicinity (including several brave young women sitting in the middle of the roundabout!) drawing whatever took our fancy. The point of this is to slow down and look at things and just see what you can do. Andrew emphasised that it is not about the drawing. However, several people had said to me that they thought I would be very good at drawing and by the time I sat down to sketch a rather lovely Georgian terrace, I was so anxious not to disappoint, I lost all sense of perspective (in every sense of the word) and was part way through quite possibly the worst drawing I have ever done. Andrew came over to chat to me for a few minutes and I calmed down completely and realised just how stupid I was being. It wasn’t about producing a perfect drawing in less than an hour, it was about allowing myself to stop, breathe, enjoy a beautiful Summer evening and push all my to do lists out of my head while I just looked and put pencil to paper. I really want to try to build some of this sort of down time in to my life as an ongoing thing. Doing something, not for the the finished result (or the photo to put in my blog), but for the sense of calm the process itself produces. I would also like to attend one of Andrew’s events…he did mention he works with the Royal Crescent Hotel and it can be combined with their champagne afternoon tea – now how good does that sound??!!

mouse mannequin

This morning’s task was to make myself an Ellen Mouse mannequin. Every now and then I get a request for clothing for an Ellen Mouse, so I thought I should have an Ellen Mouse to keep, so I can fit clothes to her. Of course I could not let the little mouse parade around in the all together, so had to make her a vest and frilly pants…for decency’s sake.

This dress will be heading off to an Ellen Mouse in need of a Summer dress now the weather is too warm for a sweater and pinafore.

Summer dress for a little mouse
Summer dress for a little mouse

too warm for gloves?

It may be a little warm for wooly gloves, but they have other uses too! I turned this pair in to a soft and cuddly dog.

dog upcycled from a pair of gloves
dog upcycled from a pair of gloves

Over the last few weeks our cherry tree has looked amazing, but  strong winds recently have scattered the petals over the vegetable patch, like a layer of snow. Mind you, it has given the apple trees and the choisya their chance to shine. I don’t think I am the only one appreciating them either…bzzzzzzzz.

bees on the apple blossom
bees on the apple blossom
apple blossom
a Bath garden in May

Lovely days for walks by the canal with George the spaniel, who I walk for a friend once a week.

george canal
canal walk with George the spaniel