Saturday, 28 May 2011

Nancy's dungarees (missing elf returns...)

Anna bit into a butterscotch cookie, and the taste of toffee and vanilla filled her mouth. She allowed herself a small moan of pleasure before placing the biscuit down and wiping her hands carefully on a tissue.
      "So you got the coat finished all right without me?"

    "Yeah. No problems," she heard Ned saying from beneath the table. "I wondered where you were. Something come up?"
    She wished that she could see his face. Had he missed her? Her shoulders slumped; he sounded as if he was only asking out of politeness. She arranged the edges of the front legs of the dungarees under the sewing machine.

      "Ready, go...." The machine whirred  into action, the needle dipping in and out of the fabric, the point flashing under the spotlight. "Nothing exciting, just Timmy had chicken pox." It hadn't been an easy week. Timmy was never an easy elf to watch without being covered in itchy spots. She guided the cloth under the machine foot, calling out instructions to Ned when needed.
Finishing the front, she moved on to the back seams. First the centre seam, then attaching the yoke. She rubbed her tired eyes, and gave a yawn. "It doesn't feel like I've slept all week."
     "Couldn't someone else look after him?" called Ned. Anna frowned. Just like a man, she thought. Timmy was her responsibility. With her parents no longer with them, her brothers needed her more than ever. She looked at the front of the dungarees and decided something more was needed.
Together they sewed the shoulder straps, lining them with the same fabric before turning them inside out.
Finally she sewed around the edge, securing the facing in place.
 She watched Edward sew the tiny purple buttons in place, his eyes intent on his work. His hand sewing was always neat, and he worked so quickly, as if it came as naturally to him as breathing. She wondered how long he'd been sewing for. Really, considering she'd seen him nearly every week for the last few months, she knew very little about him.

Friday, 20 May 2011

One elf down...

Ned, the elf, let a heavy sigh and wondered where Anna had gotten to. This was the second night he'd had to work alone. He quickly ran a basting stitch along the hem of the coat, gathering the fullness in. His needle flashed as he worked across the material.
Had she found someone else? Another place to work. He jumped as the needle caught his finger, and he moved sharply not wanting to drip blood on to the facing, neatly finished with a cross stitch to prevent fraying.

Not that he really needed her at the minute. The only things left to do on the coat were hand sewing, and even if he couldn't handle the scissors by himself, he was more than capable of nibbling through the thread when needed. He tacked the lining in place, ensuring that there was at least a centimetre of slack in the lining. It was just that he'd gotten used to her. He'd was used to the way she shouted out instructions from the table as she skillfully guided the fabric through the machine.
 True she usually sounded as if she thought he was complete idiot, but she was HIS idiot. With his heart not in it, he hand sewed the sleeves in place. He liked the way Mrs W had used the outer fabric for the inside lining. It made it easy to spot where the armhole was.
What if she were ill? His blue skin paled at the thought, and his hand shook as he sewed the button hole. He forced himself to concentrate. Mrs W deserved better than a wonky button hole.

He took a mouthful of cake, and was slightly startled to find that the inside was pink, but he chewed on nevertheless. Anna would have loved this cake. Pink cake with white chocolate drops. It was positively oozing with thick icing still glistening as he bit into it. There were even mininature marshmallows on top. Absentmindedly he picked of the marshmallows to save for later. It wasn't very masculine but he adored hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. Sometimes if the cats were sleeping, he even heated some milk on the stove here, and made Anna one. His shoulders slumped as his thoughts circled back to Anna. Would she be back tomorrow?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The elves crept in softly through the cat flap...

     Silently the cat flap lifted, and a small elfin face appeared. He looked anxiously about the kitchen, hoping that neither of the household's cats were on patrol. Spotting a striped tail drapped over the edge of the basket, he held his breath, preparing himself for a quick get away. It didn't move.
   Letting out a sigh, the elf stepped to the side and let a smaller elf climb into the room. Together they crept around the edge of the kitchen, being careful to stay out of the moonlight which streamed through the window and pooled over the tiled floor. The kitchen door had been left slightly ajar; just wide enough for an elf. Squeezing through, the closed the door after them with a sigh of relief.
    "She should have those cats tied up," moaned the first elf, as he clambered up on the dining table. "Occupational hazard, I'd call it."
    "Comes with the job," said the second, sounding as he'd heard the complaint numerous times before. "You know its worth the effort. Look at that cake!"
    They both stared at the cake which had been left out on the middle of the dining table for a moment before tucking in. The icing was only just set, and as they bit in, it slowly oozed over the edges. Their hunger temporarily slated, they wiped their hands on the cloth thoughtfully provided, and looked across at the sewing left out for them

Quickly they began to sew the back of the upper collar to the undercollar. Stitch by stitch, feeling and shaping the fabric in their little hands.
Until finally, it was complete and they viewed it with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Cutting a length of thread, the other elf ran wax along it, protecting the thread with the hopes of preventing knots. Not that they weren't good at undoing knots, but they had a lot to do before daybreak.
They finished the front edging with tiny stitches a quarter of an inch from the edge, all the time assuring that the facing didn't show.
Little scraps of material littered the floor, and not wanting to be thought wasteful, the elves selected the biggest pieces and used them to make beautiful covered buttons.

     They stitched the upper and slower sleeves together and gathering the upper edge, the tacked the sleeves into position before machine sewing them in place.
Finally as the rising sun crept over the horizon, and the gentle sound of the bird's chorus filtered through into the house, the elves began to tack the lining into place, securing it around the arm holes, and along the facing ready to be handsewn.

Packing everything away, they crept back into the kitchen. The cats tail didn't even so much as flicker as they left the house.

The house was still again, waiting for the owners to wake up and for a little girl to toddle down the stairs, dolly in hand, eagerly looking forward to the day her new coat would be finished and she could twirl around to her heart's content.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Dandelions are taking over!

My daughters and I have been playing in the garden this afternoon, and I noticed that within the space of a week the weeds are threatening to take over. Dandelions creep from behind the shed where I normally turn a blind eye. Buttercups lurk beneath the strawberry plants. My newly laid turf is starting to curl up around the edges from lack of water.

And what conclusion can I draw from all this? I'm not spending enough time out there. So.. I've decided that this blog needs to be a once a week log rather than each day. Even with the help of the elves, it's taking too much of my time. I think it must be all the baking...

Also my husband has just started a new diet, and having a house chocked of biscuits is proving something of a temptation.

Don't worry, the elves will still be busy, but even elves need some time to themselves. I'm not entirely sure what hobbies they have. Perhaps they like gardening too.

So, until next week...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Starting the lining...

The collar is slowly getting there. Each time I look on another sewing bloggers website, they astound me with how quick they can dash out another outfit. I do hope that you aren't finding my progress too slow in comparison. On the upside, at least you get to see a lot of steps in the progress!

You can see in the photo above that there is only a tiny bit not sewn. Hand sewing definitely takes a long time. I think it's less stressful in the end, because you only do it the once. Obviously if you are a bit more patient with the sewing machine you might only have to do that once, but well, that just isn't how I work. Perhaps I do would do better, if I ever took the trouble to use pins. I don't even know where my pin box is anymore. I guess that's an achievement of sorts. Everything you've seen so far has been constructed without pins. I don't even use them to cut out!!!  as
I thought the elves deserved a change from that fiddley collar so I let them have a go at the lining. 
I'm glad that I used the fabrics this way around, as I think from this distant, the lining looks very busy and would have been overpowering as a outer fabric. I think the next step should be to add the sleeves. Unfortunately I had yet another mistake whilst cutting out. (No doubt some of you are thinking ... should have used pins! but that wasn't the problem.) With the wadding making the material thick I decided to cut the pieces out one layer at a time, and subsequently managed to cut out two left sleeves! Argh! I now need to get those elves to quilt a bit more material as I've run out....
These are the buns I used to tempt the elves last night. They are raisin and cinnamon with a heavy dusting of caster sugar. My husband, Ellie and I ate them fresh from the oven and they were lovely and hot.
I thought you guys might be interested in sewing who the end product is going to. This is Ellie. She is two, and alternates between being a little devil, and well, I won't say angel, but fairly close to it.

I've also been thinking about my next project, did I mention before about how long I spend daydreaming about making things.... This one needs to be for Nancy just in case she thinks she's been missed out. I'm not going to make a coat, as knowing my luck, she'll have grown out of it before I even finish it! I'm thinking about dungarees and a little blouse. The last set of dungarees I made, I didn't bother with bottom fastening for an easy change. Having wiggled her in and out of them for the last three months though I'm beginning to think that might have been a design fault. I don't want to use those horrible hammer on poppers (has anyone ever got those things to stay on!) , and I've never had any luck with the sew on strip poppers, so I'm going to need to think of a more enterprising way of allowing bum access. (Sounds terrible...)

The tailors thimble.

I'm afraid I left out a rather meagre offering last night. Admittedly it was my last chocolate truffle, but still it didn't really require a whole lot of effort on my behalf other than to not eat it.
As a result, the coat isn't looking a whole lot different. The other side of the collar is done now, but the back is still a collection of fraying edges and wisps of escaping wadding. I do think though that redoing the quilting on the upperside of the collar was a good idea. It definitely looks neater for the smaller stitch. 
The elves have started on edgestitching the lapels but haven't really gotten very far. They have lightly sitched about 6mm away from the edge. (You should trim the sea allowances to a little less than this, or at least grade them back as otherwise it is difficult to sew through.) You don't need to worry about being able to see the stitches themselves; after all it's a decorative finish that also serves a purpose. It gives the edge strength. It stops it waffing about, rolling which ever way it feels like. You can force the facing to stay where its suppose to be. You are in control!
Here is a picture of my tailor's thimble. When people think of thimbles, generally they are the closed end kinds. You pop them over your index finger, and it saves the needle from stabbing in your finger, or even more excrutiating, from sliding up your nail.
The tailors thimble is different. You wear it on your middle finger. The hole at the end means that you are easily feel the fabric. Obviously you can't use it like a close thimble as it would kind of defeat the purpose. Instead you bend your finger so it is parallel to the direction of the needle, and the needle end catches in the top surface.

If you ever spend time doing hand sewing on clothes, I full heartily recommend purchasing one. I never set a stitch without one.
Just in case you thougth I'd been lazy in the kitchen, here is a photo of the flatbread that occupied our pasta last night for tea. I say 'flatbread' but actually when I went to the cupboard I found that my bread flour tub was empty so this is actually a kind of cheese scone made with herbs and garlic; even my two year old woffled it down. I'm afraid that I ran out of puff after doing this though, so we just had stewed fruit for pudding...

By the way do you like my new background? I thought rather than using the blogger backgrounds I'd take a snapshot of my airing cupboard which is mainly stuffed with material and wool! Where does everyone else store their stash?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Attaching the top collar

As the elves had to redo most of yesterday's work (poor things) there isn't really a whole lot to report today.
They did manage to attach the upper collar on the left side which is shown above. This is attached by hand. I haven't done it this way since my brief stint as a trainee tailor. I think you always think 'eek' hand sewing! But in reality it is TONNES easier than trying to do this by machine. By machine you are guaranteed to have at least one tuck, and have to unpick and have to redo at least twice. At some point, the article in question will be flung against the wall in disgust. Whereas when you hand sew you can see exactly what you're doing. As long as you do enough basting, everything stays where it should be. You can also shape the fabric as you work, allowing fullness in the top collar. 
Why is fullness important do you ask? Fullness is what stops the collar from curling up the wrong way. The photo above shows the tiny edge stitching along the edge of the collar. I still need to do this for the lapels. This is another trick that I learnt as a tailor. It helps the edges from rolling and showing the under material. You can use it on any edge. It only takes a moment to do and makes a pretty finish. I even used this on my wedding dress all those years ago.
These were supposed to be orange and chocolate rock cakes, but they appear to be more like pebbles. They did taste nice, and obviously the elves thought so too!
As I haven't many photos to post today, I've included one I made earlier... This is Nancy sporting her pirate outfit. The blouse has little skull and cross bones on it, and a lovely big eton collar. The dungarees look like a treasure map. I made a similar outfit for Ellie as well, so when I'm in the mood I can dress them both up in matching outfits...

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Attaching the collar

I was expecting great things when I laid out one of these cookies last night. These are chocolate cookies with big chewy chunks of fudge. The biscuits are slightly soft, and melt in the mouth. Mmmmm...

And it seems that I wasn't to be disappointed.
 Here is the coat with the undercollar stitched in place and the facing added. It's definitely starting to look very 'coaty'.
This closeup shows the intersection of the undercollar (on the left) and the front and facing. The facing is sew up to the point where the rever and collar meet, and then snipped back.

Unfortunately while busy admiring their handiwork, I noticed a small cut in the fabric on the underside of the collar. I think it must have happened while the elves were clipping and grading the seams. I can't see any way of mending it, and for the effort I putting into the coat (or at least the elves are), I don't want it praying on my mind. Otherwise everytime I look it, I'll wish I'd redone it. And I am absolutely positive that the first time Ellie wears it to see her grandmother, my mother-in-law will unerringly home on it. Isn't that always the way?

So bravely, I have taken off the collar, and seperated the undercollar from the collar. I have enough material left to cut another one, so I'm going to do that today. The elves are going to have their work cut out for them as the coat has already been cut back, so the seam allowances are going to be very small now. It might not be a bad thing though as I think the neckline was a little bit tight when I tried it on Ellie. I might take the opportunity to redo the upper collar as well, and make it a bit wider. After all, I don't want to choke her when I do the buttons up.

Buttons. That's something to cheer me up. I think a coat like this deserves pretty amazing buttons. It's a 2cm buttonstand, so I think a 2cm button will look pretty grand. I was thinking of a bold colour, but what about having each button a different colour. What do you think?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The view from the other side....

This is one of the boring bits. Doing exactly the same thing but on the other side.  I'd say that the elves have done a pretty good job though, and they even look pretty similar. (Another downfall of a symmetrical garment is trying to tell if it really is symmetrical!)

Here is Ellie trying it on, as it now has two armholes so constitutes a waistcoat.She seems pretty pleased with it, especially the pockets!
 Below is a picture of my latest baking efforts. This is a picture of one that I was eating rather than the one left out for the elves (they don't appreciate left overs!) I've included this one so that you can see the cake is green! It was meant to be blue, but I think you must have to be braver with the food colouring.
I did one for each of us along with one for the elves, and a spare one using up some 'z's. They are mint choc chip (mint icing), and have chocolate chips inside, and covered chocolate beams (like smarties) on the top, as well as chocolate letters! Gosh, I think I went a bit overboard! Ellie was a fan, and actually ate some of the cake as well. Obviously not all; some was smooshed underfoot as always...
Here is the collar all quilted. (The elves had a busy night! It must have been all the chocolate!)
I figure this should be pretty soft around Ellie's neck. Here you can see the detailed quilting. I asked the elves to do the same as on the main body of the quilt, but I'm not sure looking at it now that I should have specified a smaller quilt stitch.  What do you think
I'm glad that I have my little elves to help me. I was thinking recently about what sewing used to be like before I had responsibility for two beautiful but demanding little girls. And I came up with the conclusion it was stressful. I had too much time on my hands. Sure, I didn't need the help of elves, but equally if I didn't get whatever task I'd set myself done that day, then I felt that I'd failed. I'd stay up late finishing it off, and rush through the complicated bits, pushing myself to just get it done.

But no longer.

Now it all happens gradually. I try and make an outfit each month, or at least I buy material with something in mind each month. I enjoy planning what I'm going to do, creating the outfit in my mind. As I usually have a bit of a backlog, there can be months between me starting to think of a project and actually sitting down and cutting fabric. It gives the design time to take shape, to develop. Each morning (assuming I've let out a tempting treat) I'm excited to see how the design is progressing. If there's a mistake, it doesn't matter. I noticed this morning that the belt for the back must have got kicked under the sofa and the elves hadn't spotted it. It means that some of the back seams need to be undone. So what?

These little elves haven't just enabled me to keep at going at sewing, they've transformed sewing back into the hobby I used to enjoy. So if you aren't fortunate enough to have a pair of little helpers, considering slowing things down, and taking time to enjoy the process. It makes all the difference.