Sunday 30 March 2014

How to... Techniques: Make felt in your washing machine

Introducing a new series: "How to... Techniques"! 

This is a technique I learnt in College- making felt in the washing machine using Wool Tops. It's a great way to make small amounts of felt and is much quicker than making it using the traditional hand felting techniques.

1) You will need

Two A4 sized pieces thin lining fabric, Wool Tops, scissors, sewing needle and thread.

A few notes on materials:

Thin polyester dress or curtain lining is relatively inexpensive to buy, but you may already have a jacket or a skirt with lining in and you're planning to up-cycle it for the fabric, so that would be a double up-cycling bonus! I have tried this with thicker materials, such as calico and t-shirt jersey, and although it still produces a felt, it is next to impossible to remove it from the backing fabric, so I recommend sticking with the lining fabric!

You don't need much wool tops at all for this as you're only making thin layers (I only used a tiny amount of the bundle you see below). I buy my Merino Wool Tops from Crafty Notions as they source their wool from a single trusted farm in West Faulkland, and it is produced without herbicides and pesticides. They have a great range of colours and a small bag will go a long way- they also sell packs of colours if you just can't decide! But you may already have a stash just waiting to be used...

2) Make your layers

Gently pull thin pieces of wool tops away from your main bundle of tops.

You're going to make 4 layers altogether. For your first layer, firstly, take a single piece of your lining fabric. Next, lay your wool tops vertically on top of the piece of lining fabric, overlapping each piece of tops as you do so. Leave a gap of one inch around the outside

For your next layer, repeat the same process again, but this time lay your wool tops vertically. I've used pink tops for this layer to create a two toned piece of felt

Your next layer will be horizontal

And your next layer vertically once again. On this layer I've again mixed in some of the contrasting colour

3) Stitch your fabric together

Next, lay your second piece of lining fabric on top of the felt layers you've just made. Poking any stray fibres back in, you can now tack your felt parcel together. Stitch as close to your felt layers as you can

Next, tack a cross diagonally across your felt pillow. This helps to create a flat finished piece of felt. If you don't stitch the cross, you will end up with a small screwed up piece of felt (have done this a couple of times when I've forgotten to stitch the cross!)

4)  Felt in the washing machine!

Your felt parcel can now go in with a  regular load of washing on a 40 degree setting. The friction from the other washing in the machine, combined with the heat and washing soap will cause the wool fibres to felt together

5) It's finished!

Don't be alarmed if when you take your felt parcel out of the machine it looks a little out of shape- undo the tacking and remove it from the fabric and you should have a lovely flat piece of felt! 

These small thin pieces of felt would be ideal to hand or machine embroider onto, or to cut pieces from to use for Applique. I'll be back in a future post to show you some examples of how you can use your felt.

Happy making!

Sunday 23 March 2014

Holiday in The Cotswolds

I've been a bit quiet on the Blog front this week because I've been away with the other half ( Mr Writer) for a holiday in The Cotswolds. I just wanted to share some of the photos with you to give you a glimpse of the beautiful countryside around Gloucestershire. I think sometimes holidays in England are overlooked in favour of get-aways to sunnier climates, but we've got amazingly quaint towns and villages and rolling countryside on our doorstep that are waiting to be explored. Oh and not forgetting some seriously good food!

We stayed here in The Fox Inn in Lower Oddington. It's ideally located to explore the Cotswolds with pretty villages within a short drive and the main cities are less than an hour away. If you're looking for somewhere quintessentially English to stay, I can't recommend it enough. Really lovely friendly staff too.

For foodies out there, we ate in the Fox Inn restaurant here each night- the menu focuses on seasonal and local produce and I can honestly say we had some of the best food experiences here this week, with the highlights being Ox cheek, Bath Chap (pigs cheek) with scotched Quails egg, and (don't knock it 'til you've tried it) Calves brains, which Mr Writer describes as one of the nicest things he's ever eaten. Check it out here

We visited The Rococo Garden on our way back from visiting the pretty town of Painswick. This is an 18th century pleasure garden in the grounds of Painswick House, created during a time of flamboyant garden parties. Really lovely to walk around in the sunshine

View of the valley from one of the garden buildings

Just up the road from where we stayed is Bourton- On the-Water. It's a very pretty village with the river Windrush flowing through and is very popular with tourists looking to visit a traditionally English town. There's also a Motor Museum, which  is home to Brum, if you remember him from the childrens programme which was set here. Although he is on a pedestal to stop him driving off..!

Something that struck me most about The Cotswolds is how much they have preserved their heritage- they really have worked hard to keep their cultural identity and you can see this in the way the buildings have all been kept in the traditional style and the towns and villages are full of independent businesses- you don't see any chain stores here except in the very large towns. This is quite a contrast to back home.

From Bourton- on the-Water we walked between Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter (the name comes from the Old English for "muddy place"), which I recommend for the scenery.

We headed out to Warwickshire one day to visit Anne Hathaway's cottage, just outside Stratford-Upon-Avon. The guides were very helpful in explaining the history inside the cottage and the grounds were very pretty. We then headed into Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Shakespeare's birthplace. This was the only disappointment of the holiday, as Mr Writer and I both felt that there was a certain amount of selling out here- it was a very touristy town and it felt that they hadn't preserved the heritage as well as Gloucestershire.

We also visited Gloucester, which is well worth a visit for the Beatrix Potter museum, housed within the original building she drew for her story The Tailor of Gloucester, the Docks and the stunning Cathedral.

So that was just a little insight into our holiday and I hope it inspires you to visit! I'm now thoroughly fired up to get making, see you later in the week!

Wednesday 12 March 2014

How To... Make a fabric remnant Tote Bag

Welcome to my latest  How to..." How to make a fabric remnant Tote Bag! 

The inspiration behind creating this "How to..." has come through having numerous crafty projects on the go and carting them to and from work in various bags, ready to work on in my lunch hour. I thought how much more organised it would be to have a little cotton Tote bag to house each project and to keep them a little more stylishly than in the current bags for life!!! 

Also, one of my aims through this series is to show you how you can create something handmade and unique without having to spend much, placing emphasis on using what you have and Make Do and Mend. I had this fabric left over from when I made a rag doll for my niece, but this could also easily be made from an old top, dress, pillow case, etc. Think of it as a recipe that you can tweak according to the ingredients you have in the cupboard! So without further ado, let us begin...

1). You will need

A fabric remnant, fabric scissors, pins, sew-all thread to match your fabric, sheets of newspaper, sewing machine. 

2) Fold your fabric in half

Fold your fabric in half to give you a bottom edge and two layers of fabric

3) Pin newspaper pattern to your fabric

Using a single sheet of newspaper as your pattern, place the paper on the fold of your fabric in the bottom corner and pin this to your fabric, ensuring you pin through both layers of fabric. My newspaper pattern measures 47cmx31cm. You could make it bigger or smaller if you prefer

4) Cut around your newspaper pattern

5) Remove newspaper and pins to leave your basic bag shape

6) Create your top edge

Create a neat top edge for your bag by folding over one inch at the top of your fabric and pressing with an iron

Fold over by another inch and press again. Repeat these steps for the other side of your fabric

7) Tack along your top edge

8) Machine stitch your top edges

Using a straight stitch and the wrong side of your bag facing you (so you can follow the visible edge) machine two vertical rows of stitching to secure the turn over. The first should be aprox 1cm away from the edge, with the second row as close as possible to the edge. Repeat this for the other side of your bag and sew in your ends. Remove the tacking

9) Cut the bag handles

Cut a piece of newspaper (mine measures 52cm x 4cm) to use as your template and then pin this to your left over fabric. Cut four pieces

10) Turn over the ends

Turn up each end of the four fabric strips by 1cm. Press with the iron- this will give you a neat finish

11) Sew the handles

Pair up your fabric strips and with right sides together, tack and then machine a straight stitch down each long side, leaving a 5mm seam allowance and creating a tube. Repeat for the other strap. Remove the tacking

12) Turn straps through

Turn the fabric tubes back the right way (a knitting needle comes in really handy for this, or a Bodkin if you have one) to give you two handles. If you would prefer you could use webbing or ribbon for straps, if you have some to hand

13) Stitch your straps to the bag

Pin and tack your handles to your bag, lining them up with your top edge. Stitch a long rectangle to secure the handle. If, like me, you're not that neat on the sewing machine, you could always cover this stitching with buttons, beads or decorative stitching. Likewise you could cover your top edge stitching with ribbon or rick rack, which you could applique or use Bondaweb to hold in place

14) Almost finished! Stitch the side seams using a French Seam

Now all you need to do is sew up the sides of your bag. There are some options here- you could simply place the right sides of your fabric together and stitch a straight seam up each side, allowing a 1cm seam allowance. This would, however, leave you with raw edges to your seams.

The other option is to create a French Seam, which is great as it encloses your raw edges and is really simple (promise!)

To create a French Seam you will need to place your fabric with wrong sides together and stitch a straight seam down each side, allowing a 5mm seam allowance.

Next, trim away a couple of millimeteres from the seam allowance (see below). Press this seam open

Next, turn your bag through so the right sides of your fabric are together and press along the seam line.

Stitch a row of tacking very close to your first seam. 

Next, machine stitch 1cm in from your seamed edge- this encloses the raw seam

Remove the tacking and press the seam to one side. Turn through the right way and press again. Check out You Tube for some really helpful tutorials on this here

15) It's finished!

All ready to take my knitting project to work in! If you make one I'd love if if you could link a pic of it in the comments box!

Happy making!

Sunday 2 March 2014

This week in photo form...

A few things I've been up to this week!

Making (and eating!) chocolate cake! 

Making chicken, leek and mushroom soup

Making new brooches and rings in the studio

Restocking my shelf at Make Do and Mend, Chelmsford

Experimenting with punch cards on my knitting machine as part of my Fair Isle project. More on this in the coming weeks

Knitting a ladder stitch cardigan in beautiful Rowan Drift

What have you been up to this week?