Sunday, 31 July 2011

I've not done much...

I've had a lovely weekend, thanks to the boyf and Mr & Mrs B, lunches in pubs, bbq's, rides on the motorbike and my first attempt at a lemon meringue pie!

In the interim, I made dolly some arms.  They were as frustrating as the legs I'm afraid!  I did, however, change the foot on the sewing machine to my zipper foot and found it much easier to sew (as close to the seam as I dared) around the trickier outline of the hands.

Stuffed, and with fingers sewn in, a pair of arms.

I also decided to do something with the feet and removed some stuffing from the larger foot.  It went much better than anticipated and whilst one is still bigger than the other, at least it's not quite so golf-club-like!

And finally, I got to start on the good stuff: a hand-sewn ribbon covering for the seams at both front and back, and black embroidery thread stitched to create boot laces.

Arms and legs... fingers crossed the body and head are easier!

But, there will be nothing done for a while.  The projects at work are going to take up every spare minute until I go on holiday.  It is a shame, I am anxious to see her progress... but unless I am truly sick of code and webpages, I will have to concentrate on that first.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


Should not be this difficult!  I worked from home today and started early so that I could take an early lunch, which was actually elevenses, with the wonderful Mr S.  As we drank tea and ate biscuits I decided to try the first of my doll's legs.  In theory, nothing more than a straight line of stitching, turning the leg inside out and stuffing it... instead I watched all 6ft-something of Mr S wrestle with a scrap of material and various implements before finally giving up when the leg won, hands (or is that feet?!) down: it was time for plan B.

I have to say I am disappointed with the instructions that come with Phang; they are almost indecipherable.  I wouldn't normally be bothered, but the limbs of this doll are very narrow and the feet are supposed to be lined with cardboard which you patently can not turn inside out in the usual way.  Any tips on their construction would have been useful.  I gave up trying to figure out the instructions and did my own thing.

 To make boots, I inserted two layers of black silk in between the legs, before stitching down each side - leaving the top and bottom open.

I trimmed the spare fabric and lined up the base of the boot (black felt, a little habit).  I then sewed most of the way around the seam, leaving a third or the circumference open so that I could turn the leg inside out.  Turning was a nightmare, particularly where the layer of black silk was... I think stuffed the foot, handstitched the back of the boot closed and stuffed the leg.  Two thirds of the way up the leg I sewed a seam for bend it and the finished stuffing.  

The first leg was more error than trial... the seam split near the top of the leg and had to be hand sewn.  The second went easier, but as following the given seam allowance wasn't working I must have been too cautious.  As the picture shows, I have very wonky legs!!  I am going to live with them for a day or so before deciding whether or not to try a fourth leg.  I am not a perfectionist about my dolls, they are usually better for having a little character; rather like those good self-portraits.  A little handsewing on the legs I don't mind... little and large legs?  With a lumpy ankle?? Hmmmm..... 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The round-head cloth doll

What a name!  She will need one eventually but not until she’s finished.

I have always had a soft spot for dolls; growing up in Oman and Hong Kong in the late 70s/early 80s dolls were not readily available.  My first doll, Clementine, came with us to Oman (and lives on the 10yr olds bed now) and was my only one there as far as I remember.   In HK I had others, most notably the Sindy doll who had lots of heads, which I could buy at a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop in Jordan Road!  As I got older, money was saved for the holidays in the UK where I would buy old porcelain dolls.  I have always preferred old dolls to new, they have more personality about them. 

I started making dolls in my early teens, but both the dolls and the interest in them disappeared during college etc.  When Indy was born I wanted her to have a Clemmie of her own, and my interest in sewing was returning, so Wednesday was created - sat with Clemmie:

There is something special about making dolls; they have the potential to be an extension of the self, a self-portrait in cloth.  I don’t make them often, I have only made another six since Wednesday, but I find them very satisfying when I do.  They are always my go-to project when I need something that will keep me engrossed, engaged and distracted for a few hours.  I never make the same one twice and couldn’t make them any more frequently than I do, I would hate to dilute the experience.

So, a new doll.  I had seen Ruby on mollychicken a few weeks ago and was taken by her, but a quick google image search brought up a couple of other dolls/ideas that I like the look of too:

What I did want to do was make a round-head doll, with long legs and shaped hands/fingers.  I usually use free patterns and eventually settled on Kate Erbach’s Phang vampire doll pattern as a template for the body.  I also found a stash of shot silks that I was using on an experimental quilt piece that I was never completely sold on.  I would never have remembered them, but pulled it out of storage as a possible something to do when I was fussing at the weekend.  The project’s gone back into storage (can’t throw anything away…) minus its fabric and some beautiful shell buttons which are too pretty to stay hidden away. 

New doll = another thrift project = far too much stuff!      
I started cutting out the body last night but, as you may note in the photo, I didn’t have my usual scissors – I stupidly tried to sharpen them and ended up rendering them unusable!  I was able to get some bits cut, but eventually gave up and have just bought myself a new pair of Fiskars.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

I need something to do...

in the downtime on the Victorian Costume...  I have twitchy fingers.  I just don't have any idea of what to do.

Work is all code and Photoshop, I love it and it's creative in it's own way, but I'm learning as I go and it's mind-numbing most days.  Home is a three-quarter dressed mannequin and a huge project ahead of me (one I can't start till I've stocked on lots of bits and pieces) and plans for Halloween which I can't talk about yet!

I need something quiet and simple and consuming... it may have to be a new doll.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A chance to stretch my legs

Of all the things I love to watch the 10yr old do; running and swimming are near top of the list.  It’s not just an appreciation of her talent (or those gazelle-like legs!) but also a chance to wallow in some good memories.  At school, I loved to swim and sprint.  Precious little else about sport interested me, but swimming and sprinting gave me a sense of freedom that I relished.  That freedom was cut short and proper exercise and I parted ways. 

Now particularly, I am more used to my body feeling like it is clad in an old deep sea diver’s suit as the thyroid can make everything feel achy, heavy and listless.  Added to other delights, such as dizziness and palpitations, and I have long stopped thinking of myself and sport in the same sentence.  My only regular exercise is my morning walk with the dobe.  It is more a determination to shake my body out of its lethargy than an appreciation of the time itself and most days leaves me exhausted rather than invigorated.

So, it was with some trepidation that I looked at the programme for Sports’ Day yesterday and saw the “Mum’s Race”.  I have been long overdue a visit to Sports’ Day, but as this was the 10yr old’s first at the new school some hollering and photographs was in order.  It was a lovely sunny day, I was dressed appropriately and could run barefoot, and the 10yr old was frantically waving at me to stand up and volunteer; so I did. 

A 50m flat race dash: I would have been happy just to finish, placing 4th (or thereabouts) out of 7 would have made me very pleased.  As it was, following a small stumble in which I managed a cartoon-like cartwheel of my feet to keep my balance, I found a speed and dexterity that I didn’t know I possessed any longer.  The realisation came with such an intense delight that from then on it was a race I wanted to win: head down, arms pumping, legs stretching… for a few seconds I regained a measure of the girl I was 20 something years ago.  I won with a whoop and a skip that does not go down so well in a tiny village that typifies our fabulous English reserve; but, sorry folks, I could not help myself.  If it’s any consolation, I can barely move my legs this morning; but even that’s an experience I am enjoying… if it is through gritted teeth!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Split Pannier Overskirt... in an afternoon

Yesterday, with a clean house and the rain still falling I decided to start on the last piece of my skirt, the 1880 Split Pannier Overskirt.

It very nearly didn’t happen, it was a Thyroid Day: brain fog that meant I had to check with the boyf that I was laying out the pattern correctly (really, how hard can two squares on a fold be!) and reread the instructions each step of the way; mental dyslexia that had me talking about our dilly sog and the little ched ricken; some serious grumps (never the best frame of mind to create in..) and a right hand that dropped my cutting scissors so many times I was starting to think it had it in for me!  I won’t write about days like today very much, but with a deferential nod to sheer stubbornness, I mention the above because despite it all the final picture of this post is what I fought today to achieve and I am proud of it!

Rascal joined me and we started off with this:


It was a treat to get my metallic cotton poplin out of the Mood bag where it has sat since NY but it quickly got itself a nickname!  Beautiful certainly, but fussy, prone to creasing, camera shy and a nuisance to sew and cut.  On the plus side, it was a dream to press (once I’d plucked up the courage to have the iron on max temp) and fine which became a necessity later on.

There is no need to repeat pics of darts and seams etc. (though the seam on this is hidden as it falls straight down the middle of the centre back).  My two giant squares were sewn together, each had three darts at the waist and the front and bottom edges hemmed.  I will not be adding trim to any of the outfit until the jacket is near completion and I can see its entirety so I concentrated on finishing the edges well; particularly the corners of the bottom hem.

I find that sometimes my hems twist as they’re sewn, despite pressing and pinning, and so one corner needs to be tucked in and never looks quite right.  I developed a little cheat when working on an apron project last year (the Temptaprons).  I sew from one corner to the centre of the fabric, made easy this time by the fact that there was a centre seam.  I then sew from the opposite corner, lining up the stitch line, tying off all four threads and sewing them into the seam.  The result is virtually impossible to see and you have two straight and neat corners.  

I also finally used my straight edge tool on the sewing machine, such a treat and useful with the hand shakes!

Once I had hemmed the pattern called for two bias binding tunnels; to give you an idea of the scale, they were the length of my ironing board!

 Once these were sewn in, and a little more Christmas ribbon added for ties, I stitched a series of gathers, two on the outside edge and two at an angle in the middle of the pattern.  These were all not far off 24” long and were then gathered to 7” and 6” respectively.  Suddenly a huge rectangle was starting to become something very interesting.  The gathers were then sewn in with a strip of bias binding on the inside.  A technique I’ve not seen before and was dubious about, but it gives a surprising amount of stability and strength to the gathered areas.   Luckily it will be hidden, my sewing was not quite up to scratch today…

The final thing was the waistband.  Laying the fabric across the width, the pattern called for a 3” seam past the groups of darts and the remainder of the back panel to be gathered to fit.  Well, I had nearly 36” to fit into a 4” gap!  I was suddenly very grateful for the fineness of the cotton; at the tightest gather I could make I still had to allow another 1-2” either side to ease it in.  If I had make this overskirt in the twill that I used for the Fantail, it would never have happened!

Finally, I sewed ties to the top and bottom of the inner gathered sections, which allow them to be tied in place.  I gathered the bottom (bias binding) section and it was done!  It needs to be trimmed and I may line the central puff (I can’t decide if it needs a little more rigidity, I’ll research more first).  But here it is:

 Under natural light, the shine is not so pronounced.  It, instead, gives the poplin a soft grey tone and does not contrast quite so sharply with the softer twill.  But these are minor points, more photos I can take.  

For now, I will just enjoy my creation... and try not to panic too much about how I tackle the jacket!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sunday morning and a sick chook

In the midst of settling our new chook in, we have discovered that our top hen, Fly, has an impacted crop.  Pre-surgery (lets hope we don't get there) treatment is to pump her crop full of warm water and liquid petroleum as much as she can stand it (it requires swaddling her in a blanket and easing an 8" tube down her throat!) and then massage it all to, hopefully, break down the impaction.

It is a little like having a sick child.  Certainly felt familiar, stood in my kitchen at 8.30am on a Sunday, in my pyjamas, with washing up to by done, rocking side to side to calm her down and warming another jar of baby food!  But, having looked thoroughly miserable last week, her comb is coming back into colour and I think she trusts that all the interference is our trying to help.

I, in the meantime, have fallen utterly in love with my stoic little red hen.

The stronger pull... part two

I kept to my promise of "the stronger pull" this weekend, with surprising but wonderful results.  Yesterday was spent pottering and cleaning, readying my mind and my space.  Highlights include:

a tidy, under-sink, cupboard... with folded cloths (I wonder how long they'll last!)

a very shiny silver teapot (my Nan's, I love it) and a newly repaired Legs (he's Megs' favourite toy, sadly showing his age and now with a distinctive "Gimme a hug" arm thanks to Uncle G's emergency surgery!)

and matching pots for the olive trees out the front (yes, you have to look closely, I was distracted by the boyf and the dobe!)... the green crab I found behind the old pot is a bit of a mystery, especially as he disappeared, we think, up the downpipe!

In addition, we have food, a new hoover (loving the new hoover), took a rainy walk in the woods and relaxed.... perfect!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The stronger pull

"Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love." ~ Rumi

Thank you Leyla ( for reminding me again of what is important.  This cold and rainy weekend, I am going to be drawn by the stronger pull...

Another new look...

I have been busy at work (and at home, it gets addictive...) building a new website and writing the code for some applications in it.   I like websites, I like code.  I like how lines of text come alive with images and movement and colour; I am a true geek, I know!  And, as the creative IT juices flowed, I couldn't resist a little sideline project for my blog and a new, lighter background; I hope you like it, thoughts appreciated.

It's based on a couple of pictures that I made when the boyf was travelling on business a few months back.  The first was a little ode to our family:

The second was based on the Keep Calm and Carry On posters that are becoming so popular again... and was a small hint, following a week of lots of dog walking on my part, that he may like to catch up a bit once he was back!

The arrival, and now successful integration of the new chook, has had me thinking that I need to update our family snap; I love the image from the Keep Calm poster and wanted that feel of  sheer joy incorporated into the background.  And I was walking megs through the fields one morning I started looking at all the Cow Parsley.  It is such a beautiful plant, I often take photographs of it.  Last autumn, I took a series of shots of some seed heads in front of a pylon. I love pylons, in and of themselves, and particularly liked the juxtaposition of two very different, structural qualities. 

So, there is was, all the elements that I wanted to bring together to create a new background.  My thanks to Susan Libertiny ( for the beautiful free brushes; work like hers makes beautiful possible.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Finishing the Fantail Skirt

It's done and I am soooo pleased!!
My unassuming ball of twine has done exactly what I hoped it would.

It's taken three evenings to hand sew the hem.  I took this picture after the second night, when you could start to see the difference between the more structured curve of the sewn hem and the fall of the unstitched sections.

Once done, it had to go back on Miss G and once on Miss G it sat so beautifully, I was thrilled.  I still need to press the skirt and it's really too dark for decent pics, but I couldn't resist a few...

Now that's a fantail skirt! 
Once the overskirt and jacket are done, I think I will add some trim, but for now it's finished and I am over half way through my Victorian costume!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Making the Fantail skirt... thinking time

The back of the fantail skirt has bothered me ever since I finished it; the  overlap is too great.  A minor detail, especially as it will be hidden under the overskirt but I don't like untidy or inexact, it would always bother me if I didn't sort it out now.

So, after much procrastination, and with a nice quiet morning ahead of me, I unpicked, tightened the gathers, and trimmed the excess.  The waistband is now 4 inches narrower, not a huge amount, but 2" in a 5" gather does make a difference, the tighter gather creates a more pronounced and fuller shape.

Sitting, stitching, is always thinking time for me.  Today's little exercise was my Sunday meditation; and today's thoughts were about my love of exactness and detail.  I would not say that I am a perfectionist, I do not necessarily strive for perfection, but I do like things to be correct.  To have left the skirt was really never an option; it could not be left "a mess".  For myself, I see no harm in wanting things to be "just so"; it keeps me striving to be better in myself and all that I can do.  How this extends to those around me is perhaps less successful; I can be bad-tempered if things are not done as and how I would do them! is a detail of myself I must learn to temper. 

As the thinking progressed I was distracted again by the subject of hemming my skirt: another detail I need to get correct!  To just hem it would not be enough, it needs something to give it body.  To use modern horsehair braid also does not seem right; as lovely as it is, the Victorians would not have used beautifully manufactured polyester trim.  In researching original braids, they looked to have been flat woven plaits of horsehair, looking almost like shoelaces today.  Buying a 4 1/2+ yd length of shoelace doesn't seem quite right either, but at the supermarket this afternoon I spotted and bought some undyed cotton twine; at 80p for 80m I wasn't going to be an expensive experiment!  It's only 2-3mm thick so I am hand knitting it into a braid.  I'm hoping the end result will be more authentic, if not the material... certainly, my test length worked really well.  It can be sewn into (hidden in) the hem seam, lies flat and gives definition to the skirt's edge.

So, I am handknitting every chance I get... I even took it as I walked the dog up the field before dinner!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Songbird Card

I need a card for my mother's birthday and as I thought I might have time this afternoon I played with an idea I've been thinking about for a couple of days now.   

I took a simple silhouette of a bird cage, traced it and pinned it to a piece of shot silk from the scrap pile.  Using very small stitches, and most of my patience!, I sewed around all of the traced lines.

All the time I thought I had disappeared quicker than I could keep track and stupidly I forgot to take any real photographs, but it's a simple, if fiddly little card!  Once sewn I tied off all the threads, trimmed round all the edges and cut out the silhouette, lightly distressing the edges as I did so.  I then cut a rectangle out of a contrasting cotton, glued and sewed it onto the card front and then glued on my fabric birdcage.

I cut a bird out of a piece of navy canvas and glued it on top of the bird cage (my songbird has escaped!).  A seed bead makes a good eye and a row of beads a chain from which my bird cage hangs.

I'm pleased.
I'll try to remember to take a good photo tomorrow before it goes in the post!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Our new chook, one week on

So adopting a lonely chook... most people said it would never work, that an established flock would never accept a newbie, but a few things I read gave me hope.  With patience and careful monitoring I was fairly sure we could defy the odds and have four happy chooks.

The best piece of advice that I read was to roost the girls together from day one, take the newbie out every morning and then separate them in the day until they got used to each other.  Roosting them has been a fantastic success.  Never mind what has gone before, you put them in the coop and the girls act like angels; complete (when you check on them to make sure the silence really is peaceful) with the that slightly hurt look of surprise that says “don’t you trust us?”   It makes me think (what a strange place my brain can be…) of a good Mafia movie, stick all the Don’s together in a room and they’re courteous gentlemen and then, five minutes after they’ve walked out the door, they’re right back plotting each other’s demise and the shooting inevitably starts!

What has been less successful, certainly for the new chook; was the separation.  She hated it; as soon as we put her in her half of the run she would scuttle up to the wire separating the two sides and sulk for the day.  We couldn’t get her to eat or drink either which was worrying me.  As the week has progressed she fussed more and more as I lifted her out the coop; it’s as though she knows that she has to go through this and she doesn’t appreciate me delaying the inevitable!  So for a couple of mornings before work I left her with them for an hour or so.  Certainly the girls can be bullish, they have an order to establish and a routine and territory to protect; but they haven’t been overly vicious about it.   And when all else fails, I send in the dobe who instantly restores order!  

Etta (our fat speckled hen) is proving to be a right a trouble maker but, at the sight of Megs, runs and hides, is back at the bottom of the pack and no longer feeling like causing trouble.  Blue, our second chook just walks off, she's far too level-headed to be bothered by Megs; and top chook and the newbie (interestingly both little red hens) interact perfectly happily with her.  Fly, the top girl, bosses the dobe constantly; she's the only chicken I know who can make a dobe sit or lie down, Megs has learnt to respect her authority.  Newbie tolerates lots of licking and enjoys the confidence boost of having a dobe for a friend!   

Yesterday morning, having woken to the sound of clucking (a bit of a shock as the coop door should have been shut to keep them in and therefore not risk any accidental fights!) I decided to see if the two sides of the run could be joined.  It was a beautiful morning, sat in the garden at 6.30am the sun was warm, so no hardship to sit with a book and keep an eye on the girls for a few hours.  People say that chooks are stupid and, in this situation, can be cruel, but I have to disagree.  What they are is regimented and strict; but not incapable of tolerance or change.  The impetus for everything that happens seems to sit mainly with newbie; she is slowly testing the boundaries and when she does get put back in her place she backs off and is left in peace.  Mostly she goes back in the coop, where “Mafia Rules” still apply and I have watched her nesting quite happily with all the girls even if the reason she’s in there is because they’ve had a scuffle before.  None of the scuffles have been the vicious, bloody, fights I was told to expect, the majority of the time it is purely a show of dominance, rather like with dogs; I am starting to think of my girls as feathered dogs!

So, after a pretty uneventful day, I decided to take a chance, which explains why I found myself like this:

All too slowly I tin-snipped the wire away and was rewarded, at the end of the day, with a flock of four co-existing chooks who all trotted off to bed together and slept in a right mixed up pile of feathers!  This morning, the pattern is repeating.  Lots of treats keep them all a little distracted, but they are acting just as they did yesterday.  I'm hand-feeding the new girl to make sure she eats and drinks, but I also see her feeding herself and she's cleaning and preening too.  I think she might not be entirely well, or has mites, as she's closing her eyes and shaking her head... I've read nothing definitive and it could just be stress, so we'll think of plan for that tomorrow.  In the meantime, I'm just happy to hope that we're on the right path.  A week into a six-week timeframe, I think we're doing well.

Miss M, Little M and Charlie Chook

Miss M went for a walk today, came back with a beautiful red flower in her comb and Little Charlie, fresh home from school!  

I couldn't resist making a third little chook, based on the earlier patterns; with sleepy eyes and a school bag round the waist; and lavender free so that that baby has something to play with.  They are all wrapped up now, with a jar of home-made Beetroot Relish, I do hope Miss M likes her little present.

P.S. The 10 yr olds thank you cards, didn't fare so well, but thanks to the (dubious) wonder of Publisher, she at least has something to take into school tomorrow!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Miss M and Little M, all done

Miss M and Little M, all done and smelling lovely, I couldn't resist adding some dried lavender to the filler.
All ready to fly the coop.....  
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