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There once was an ugly duckling…

March 9, 2016

I've raved about the benefits of wet blocking knits before, but I've never seen such a transformation from ugly duckling to swan as this one after two days on the blocking wires.

This is a very lovely and super simple lace knit shawl designed by Janina Kallio, called Interlude.  It was a total breeze to knit and very quick – if you've never tried a lace knit before, I'd highly recommend it as a first timer's project.  The yarn I chose to use was a polwarth wool by Eden Cottage Yarns called 'Oakworth' (colourway is 'Steel), which they describe as "smooth and crisp" – very accurate, in my experience of it.  As anyone who follows my knit and crochet exploits knows, I'm a serious lux yarn lover, never far from a bit of super soft merino, cashmere or silk, and I wasn't sure about choosing a yarn like this for a knit shawl, but it really is perfect for a design that relies so heavily on the post knit process for it's finished look.  Smooth and crisp indeed 🙂

This is how the shawl looked straight off the needles:

Not terribly pretty…  I was promised in the pattern though that it would transform on blocking and that I needed to block it hard!

This was truly a project of firsts for me – my first Janina Kallio pattern, my first time using an Eden Cottage yarn (and indeed, a Polwarth wool) and my first time using Twig & Horn's Lanolin wool wash, which him indoors got for my birthday from Loop.  They currently seem to be out of the Lemongrass scented one that I have, which smells divine.  It did soften up the wool and was a delight to use – really silky.  After threading my Eden Cottage Interlude onto the blocking wires and leaving it in situ for a couple of days, it really did turn out to be something of a swan:

I've bought a range of different yarns from Eden Cottage Yarns to try out this year, all quite different.  Looking forward to trying out the next one – quite possibly with another Janina Kallio pattern, as I have a few more of those too 🙂

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Quilt Love

March 2, 2016

I do love making quilts.  I love the designing, the fabric selection, the planning, the cutting (okay, don't like that bit quite so much!), the sewing back together, the basting, quilting, squaring, binding, labelling and finishing, but most of all, I love the whole idea of making a quilt – especially when it's intended to commemorate something special.

The top of my latest quilt finish (Window on the Forest MKII) was made some time ago and had been languishing in my unfinished quilt drawer.  Then, a few weeks ago, the owner of my original Window on the Forest quilt asked me to make a quilt to mark the birth of her grand niece and she said this one would be perfect!  I was very happy to be asked and had spent the most enjoyable week finishing the quilt:

The feature panel central squares with the foxes, deer and bears were fussy cut in the same way as the original quilt, but I couldn't centralise all the animals because I didn't have enough of the fabric left to be able to waste any of it!  While I used some different prints from the Sarah Watts' Timber and Leaf collection for the quilt top and binding, I backed it with the same pretty floral print as the original quilt:

The original quilt was utility stitched with perle cottons, but I hand quilted this new version with quilting cotton, which will be more suited to a baby and more regular washing:

I also added a hand embroidered quilt label to memoralise the commission, why it was made, who for and who by.  To record everything in such a small space, my lettering stitches needed to be a bit too teeny to get them as perfect as I'd like to have got them, but it was at least legible.

There's something very special about a quilt with a particular purpose that will probably stay with a person, and in a family for a long time – I feel so honoured to have been a part of that:

You can read about my original Window on the Forest quilt here and here and here and finally, here – gosh I do go on 😀

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Mini Me

February 9, 2016

Well, we're already in February and this is my first post of 2016 – oops!  Having said that, I'd rather be a less frequent blogger than just blog twaddle when I've really not got much to say.

It does seem that I have a bit of a thing for minimising generally…  As well as minimising my number of blog posts, I tend to minimise my knitting designs too (tenuous link? Mmm, maybe!).  My latest minimised pattern is for my Versace Cowl, which I blogged about here.  I was sorting my yarn stash the other day, wondering what I felt like knitting next, when I came across my collection of Rowan Creative Focus Worsted yarn and there it was – the idea to do a new Versace Cowl in a mini me size 😀  This is the original:

And this was my inspiration Versace dress for the cowl design:

So dreamy, so pink and creamy and grey and sparkly.  Sigh…  

The Mini Me version of the cowl sticks pretty closely to my original design, with a few tweaks.  As well as changing the dimensions a bit (you can't go mini without getting a bit smaller after all!), I omitted the stripes between colour changes to simplify things.  I also minimised the silver thread and used a much finer silver and white lurex thread on the grey sections – still sparkly though:

Mini Me Versace is almost as long as the grown up version, but a little over half the width maybe.  I also kept the colour sections to about the same kind of ratios as the original:

I'm not sure I should admt to this, but because of the colour and the hairy nature of the yarn, I always think about pigs when I'm knitting the paler pink section of this cowl, so now think of this as piggy knitting – silly, but it makes me giggle 😀

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My Knitting Patterns? Just Like Buses

November 8, 2015

Seriously – they all come along at once! Yes, two knitting patterns in two weeks; I was so successful at getting myself moving with the capelet pattern last week that some of the motivation stuck with me up to this weekend.  I was also motivated by the amazing interest shown in last week's pattern for The Hug on Ravelry – as at right now, it's been favourited 513 times and downloaded by 1,081 people.  Gulp.  Amazeballs!  Of course it is free, so that always helps… 😉

Quite honestly, with today's pattern, I do feel like a bit of a fraud because all I've really done is turn a Purl Soho free scarf pattern into a cowl pattern and change the yarn.  I would love to be knitting with Purl Soho yarn but the shipping and customs costs to get it in the UK are prohibitive. I keep hoping that Love Knitting will one day become a stockist for them…  Meanwhile, my favourite Malabrigo Merino Worsted runs on as a fabulous sub!

So this week's pattern is for my quilted lattice cowl.  The one pictured below is the very first one I made that went to keep the lovely Emma of Hole House warm (she makes fabulous bags – do check out her work). This is the 'Simply Taupe' colourway; such a gorgeous shade and with the added benefit of being the same colour as Baileys, which gives me a nice warm feeling – when I think of it, and when I drink it 😀

As I've said before, I'm not great at getting my head down and writing patterns generally but, with this one, I put it off more because it felt like I might be stating the obvious.  This is because, if you have a bit of knitting experience, you really don't need my pattern – just use the original one on Purl Soho's fab site (where they frequently post fab free patterns), start with a provisional cast on, knit until it's somewhere between 55 and 57 inches long and graft the ends together.  However, over the last year or so, I've got my thick head around the fact that lots of less experienced knitters really like the confidence that a pattern to make a specific item gives them, so I decided that it is worthwhile to put it out there.

You can find and download the pattern for free right here on Ravelry.  You can also see the other colourways I've made on my Ravelry project page, but I thought I'd show them to you here too.  This one is knitted in the 'Pearl' shade and went to live with Kirsti in Washington:

This one is in the Prink Frost shade and is in my Etsy shop at the moment:

And this is currently on my needles and is a commission for Susannah.  The colour is Moss – not one I would have necessarily chosen myself because I usually prefer a semi solid to a solid colour, but I love it:

My next commission for this one is to knit it with Rowan Kidsilk Haze Eclipse in the beautiful blue 'Pisces' shade for the lovely cowl addicted Sara.  I made the scarf with this yarn last year in the silver shade and whilst I loved the scarf, it wasn't a lot of fun to knit – it took an age to do and this yarn is not great for knitting as the metallic thread in it separates out as you tension it through your fingers.  This doesn't happen at all when I crochet with it, which is strange…  Anyway, this was the beginnings of that scarf – how sparkly? 😀

When I first read the Purl Soho instructions for the lattice or trellis stitch, I will admit that I was a bit stumped at first, although I am a bit slow…  Because of this, I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a few photos to help anyone who, like me, doesn't immediately 'get' the written instructions – some of us are just more visual, aren't we?!

Judging by the comments on the Purl Soho scarf pattern page, you might not immediately see how to get those strands laying across the front of the work.  It really is as simple as it sounds – rather than having the yarn at the back of the work as you usually do when doing the knit stitch, you bring it to the front, before you start slipping the stitches and then take it back to the back before you knit the next stitch in the pattern, which fixes the strand in place at 6 stitch intervals, like this:

In the beginning, take your time on the rows where you add the strands to the work (rows 2 and 6) and make sure that you're adjusting the stitches and the strands sitting on the right hand needle so that the strands are at the same tension as the stitches in the Goldilocks fashion – not too tight, not too loose, but just right 🙂

Row 4 was the first time I felt a bit stumped, so these photos will walk you through the things that could be confusing.  So here we are, coming up to a stitch that we have to knit 'under' (in the pattern, abbreviated as k1uls):

So we slip our right needle under the strand / thread:

Push the right needle into the stitch as usual:

Then knit it and take it off the left needle as usual:

And carry on knitting:

The beginning and end of row 6 was also less than straitforward at first.  After you've made the purl at the beginning, keep the yarn to the front and slip the next 3 stitches before taking the yarn to the back of the work, ready to knit the next stitch:

Then when you get to the last 6 stitches, slip 3 with the yarn in front and keeping it there, purl the purl stitch:

This is how it looks after you've purled:

Next, how were you supposed to work those beginning and end strands you'd laid down in row 6 when you got to row 8?  The answer is: in exactly the same way as any other 'knit under' stitch, you just need to knit under the last knit stitch before the purl, like this:

So it looks like this:

I hope that this mini photo tutorial will be useful to someone and that anyone who decides to download the pattern has fun knitting it.  Feel free to comment or message me here, on Ravelry or on Facebook if you have any questions about the pattern or techniques 🙂

That might be it for knitting patterns for a little while, although I've still got plenty on my list to get finished off.  My next will hopefully be a full booklet for my Shaded English Rose Tweed cowl in several different versions, although that's not likely to be free since it is taking a lot of work to perfect! 😀

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Let me give you a Hug

October 31, 2015

It has taken far longer than I wanted or planned, but I have finally finished writing up the knitting pattern for this little capelet!

Really I don't know what it is about pattern writing – I enjoy writing, I love making the pieces that the pattern is for, and I get plenty of encouragement from lovely people who want to make the pieces up, but I just never seem to get my head down and do it 😮  Actually, I think it might be because I'm always so concerned about getting everything just right and when you make things, that's not always possible.  Although I have all my own patterns written down for myself to use, they're really all more recipes than actual patterns – I often tweak them or play with them to suit.  Putting it in writing feels like setting it in stone and, as written, it might not be just right for a particular person's particular project.  But there's a limit to how many tips and notes and suggestions you can add before you end up confusing the pattern.  You have to stop sometime and let it out into the world!

Anyway, it's written now and if anyone needs help or advice with it, they can email me or post a question here 😀  You can find and download the pattern for free on Ravelry here.  If you make one, I do hope you'll show me / let me know.  I've got plans to try the pattern out (or make an alternative version of it) using a more available yarn, so will share any successes with that in another version of the pattern, as and when it's done.

Happy knitting! 😀

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The holiday of two halves

October 11, 2015

We usually take at least a week off at this time of year – always Mark's birthday week and usually the week before or after too.  This year, it was just the birthday week and it was a week of two very distinct halves, as far as the weather was concerned.  Monday and Tuesday was all about rain and going nowhere.  Wednesday wasn't awfully different, but we'd had enough of being shut in and so took ourselves off to Anglesey Abbey for the day.

This wasn't our first visit there, but it was certainly the quietest!  Last time we visited was around the same time of year, but it was a lovely day and the place was absolutely mobbed with people.  Although it rained on the drive there and was chucking it down when we parked up, the weather broke just as we stepped into the grounds and stayed dry for the rest of our time there.  How lucky?!  The sky was grey and wet looking, but we enjoyed a lovely long walk around the huge gardens and park, where there's plenty to see.  One of my favourites is the cyclamen walk where the broad tree lined pathway is bordered by a carpet of pink and white cyclamens.  My photo is very poor quality, but you get the idea!

The formal gardens are much less my kind of thing, but they're very well planned out and there seems to be a statue around every corner:

Wall to wall dahlias are another big attraction – although these were past their best and a little off limits due to muddy lawns:

The white birches at Angelsey really are a bit of a cliche photographically speaking, but I couldn't resist anyway.  What I really love about these trees is their incredibly smooth and tactile bark – with trees like these, I'm completely sold on the concept of tree hugging:

My picture of the mill that lives in the grounds is particularly soggy, although the greenery is still so lush looking.  I'd love to go back when Autumn is firmly set in and on a day when the sky is blue!

The parkland is dotted with features like the Jubilee walk:

And was certainly getting into the Autumn spirit with piles of golden leaves everywhere:

It wasn't until we were back in the gardens and walking one of the many little pathways that take you from one formal garden area to another, that I actually stopped and looked at one of the large horse chestnut trees.  We'd been surrounded by them for hours but taking little notice of them really – it's not until you're up close that you think about the vast size of them.  I've tried this shot upwards with my camera phone a number of times, but it's never worked before – I really like this shot, the tree looks powerful and a little bit magical (I read Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree many times as a child)…

We had a bite of lunch and went for a look around the house.  I like that you go into this house by the side door and come out at the tradesmans' entrance around the back.  The original priory was built in the 12th century and was converted to a country house around 1600.  Its last owner occupier was Lord Fairhaven who lived a luxurious life there from the 1930s and left the house to the National Trust, who have kept the house as it was when he died.  This was our second look round and this time, with far fewer people, it was really nice.

Thursday was Mark's birthday and he must truly be righteous since the sun shone beautifully all day!  His number one favourite place to go is the seaside and as I quite like it too, that's where we went.  We headed up to the North Norfolk coast in the morning and straight to the Blakeney National Nature Reserve, famous for winter breeding grey seals.  When we arrived at the car park at Morston Quay, we were pleasantly surprised by how quiet it was and less pleasantly surprised by how muddy and unattractive the area appears at first sight!  Not to be put off by that, we headed off over the salt marshes and were rewarded by some lovely coastal views:

The seals are on the beach on the far horizon – we could just see them and we could certainly hear them singing.  The salt marshes are alive with birds as well and we found a nice sandy hillock to sit and eat lunch on.  The only way to see the seals close up is to go on a boat trip and as we walked back across the marshes to the quay area, we found hundreds of people queing up to do just that and the car park now completely rammed with cars and coaches.  Whilst I could see the attraction of going off to see the seals on a little boat with a handful of people, a super sized boat overflowing with people wasn't that attractive, so we gave that a miss.  The highlight of this visit was probably a schoolboy called Albion who we saw trailing some distance behind his group towards the boats.  Albion had quite clearly been shoved into his quilted jacket and swaddled with a winter scarf and hat set against his will – he certainly didn't have the look of an outdoorsy child and whined constantly as he dragged his feet in an exaggerated stompy walk for a short distance before throwing himself (with total commitment) to the floor and announcing that he was "just exhausted".  Excellent 😀

We had been toying with the idea of visiting Holkham Hall while we were in the area, but as we wouldn't have time that day to explore it thoroughly, we went to their beach instead.  £3.50 for the car park almost put us off, but I'm glad it didn't – what a beach!  The car park is really a couple of long verges either side of a long road with fields of grazing cattle on either side.  You then walk up into a pine forest which, it turns out, runs along the sides of the vast beach, which is something of a surprise as you come to it through the trees:

There were quite a lot of cars in the car park, but plenty of room for everyone on the beach, with masses to spare!

We had a lovely walk to the sea and wandered around the beach for a while before heading back home.  We'll definitely be going back there again next year to see the house and do the coastal walk.

I suppose that if you're going to have a holiday week of two halves, it is preferable to have the good half at the end 😀

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The Dark is Coming…

September 23, 2015

These days I don't usually do anything for Halloween, although I have a lot of fond memories of the season from my childhood.  I also enjoyed it in my teens and twenties as it was often a great night out.

Whilst surfing Pinterest the other week I noticed lots of Halloween pins beginning to appear in my feed and this must have got into my subconscious because when I spotted some spooky looking label fabric the next day, I decided I wanted to make something with a Halloween theme.  At first I thought I'd do a project bag but then I started remembering fun Halloween nights out and decided to make something I'd love to have had back then – a little wristlet clutch:

I used black Essex linen for the outside and of course it needed lots of hand stitched detail to make it special, like the top stitching, the hand applique and hand beading on the front and back.  I even invisibly hand stitched a super slim wristlet loop:

I even hand stitched the zipper of the inside pocket into place, which I think gave it a lovely flat and tidy finish – something that can be difficult to achieve on the machine.  The lining is made from a blood red and super soft Brussels Washer Linen:

Unzipping the pocket leads to a bit of spooky embroidery, which I based on Kate Beckinsale's vampire eyes from the Underworld movies.  This would be a great place to keep cash – anyone opening the pocket will be too scared to take anything 😀

After the fun of designing and making the clutch, I then had more fun making the shoot set up.  I do hope you recognise those 3 little spooks to the right – they can never be left out 😀

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Liberty Beach

August 13, 2015

Is there anything quite so nice as finally getting around to making something you've been plotting for months?  I'll answer that – no; there isn't 😀  I've been trying to find the time to make this little wall hanging since last summer.  I still have unfinished quilts in the unfinished quilt drawer (yes, there are enough to qualify them for their very own drawer), but I couldn't put this off any longer.

This is a little quilt of firsts for me too – my first novelty fabrics, my first batik fabrics, my first foundation pieced quilt, and the first time I've quilted with the sewing machine.  I'm not at all sure that I should even call this a quilt as it doesn't have any wadding, apart from the foundation fabrics and interfacing I added to the surrounding pieces  It really is more of a wall hanging, although the layout and templates came from my favourite quilting book: Little Book of Little Quilts by Katharine Guerrier:

I first bought this book many years ago but loaned it out to someone who never returned it (don't you hate that?  So rude).  But even though I didn't have it in my possession any longer, I'd poured over the sweet little quilts in there for so many hours that they'd stuck in my memory.  A couple of years ago, I finally found a second hand copy of the book to replace my original and since then, I've made several of the designs and have others on my making wish list.  I've made a few that are more or less straightforward copies of the designs like this cute picnic style quilt that's quilted with utility stitches using embroidery threads:

And my all time favourite from the cover:

Admittedly, this is amongst my unfinished quilts – although I've finished piecing the top, I'm yet back it and quilt it.  I made this one over several weeks in the summer last year and learned a lot about applique in the process.  I also learned alot about economy as I set myself the rule that I could only use fabric from my stash to make it.  I always thought that the farmer bunny panel would be my favourite before I actually made the piece, but my favourite turned out to be the wheelbarrow panel full of colourful yo-yo flowers, which I love – despite using a piece of slightly discoloured cabbage print fabric for the wheelbarrow because I just couldn't bear not to use it:

My next quilt that was kind of from the book was based on that first little green and red picnic quilt.  It occurred to me that the layout looked like a window in a wallpapered wall, and when I came across Sarah Watts' Timber & Leaf collection for Blend Fabrics, I made a new version of the picnic quilt that I called 'Window on the Forest' because I somewhat fancifully imagined that I was looking out of a window onto a forest full of fussy cut critters:

Soon after finishing this one, I pieced another top like it, but using one or two different fabrics from the collection and this is still languishing in the drawer of quilt shame, waiting for me to finish it up.  I did also make a mini version of this for a Mum to be in Alaska, for her new baby's nursery wall:

And I even made some scatter cushions for myself:

Anyway, getting back to 'Liberty Beach', last summer I decided that I'd make my own version of this little quilt from Katharine's book:

I adore the design but had something a bit different in mind for the fabrics.  I have a small but ever expanding stash of Liberty Tana Lawn and after pondering over it for some time, I started to imagine chic little beach huts featuring Liberty prints:

And boats with Liberty sails:

I then had a truffle around for fabrics to use for sky, sand and beach and discovered the marvellous world of novelty prints!  There wasn't a sea print that I particularly liked but I then found some splendid bright batiks and thought they'd be perfect!  This little collection of cuteness has been sat in a project bag ever since (the sharp eyed among you will notice that I only used one of the Very Berry Liberty prints in this stash – stash building rule 101 – buy a stack of fabrics you 'need' but use ones you already have – LOL!) along with a little bundle of mini checks to use for the boats:

I thoroughly enjoyed making the quilt and learning about foundation piecing, which I'd never tried before.  I know that most people like to use paper for foundation piecing these days, but I've always been drawn to a more traditional way of doing things, so I bought some batiste and used that instead, cutting it into little 4 inch squares:

I then got to work transferring the templates from the book onto tracing paper with a heat activated transfer pencil before ironing the designs onto the batiste squares.  A very funny thing I found with the heat activated pencil was that it transferred as clear as a bell on the first couple of squares, and then not so great on the next few.  After waiting ten minutes or so and trying the next one, it worked well again.  Isn't that odd?  The quality of the tracing was the same each time, as was the heat of the iron and the pressure I applied…  The lesson I took from this was that I shouldn't waste any more time trying to solve the puzzle and just do a couple at a time (I'd still love to know what the scientific explanation is though) 🙂

The most time consuming task came next, which was sorting through my fabrics (including my 'scraps' – that term does seem a bit mean – let's call them 'size challenged delights') and putting together combinations for each of the huts and boats.  Katharine's notes in the book tell you to make templates for the boats and huts and I'm usually very good at following directions, but I suspect I may be getting a bit too big for my sewing britches as I poo-pood her and didn't bother.  Wrong!  Although I'm sure you wouldn't need to make templates if you were a) experienced at foundation piecing or b) free and easy with your fabrics so that you cut larger pieces than you thought you needed, I failed on both these counts and really should have made the templates as I ended up having to unpick some pieces that were too small or the wrong shape and, horror of horrors, wasting at least 6 square inches of fabric – eek! 😮

I found that the hardest thing about foundation piecing was making yourself think about placement the wrong way around, because you're sewing on the reverse side.  Apart from the very first piece of fabric you place, you place each piece right side down, facing the right side of the last piece you added.  This is easy enough to remember in itself, but I struggled to place every piece at the right angle so that the fabric would cover the right area once stitched in place!  After having to unpick several incorrectly placed pieces, I soon got my head around it – pain is such an effective teacher.  I was slightly amazed at how reasonably tidy I managed to keep the working side, given that I'm certainly not the best, nor most controlled, machine stitcher.  I used a nice slim needle and my walking foot and forced my right foot to go slowly on the power peddle:

I also managed to place a couple of pieces out of order on my early blocks, simply because I wasn't paying enough attention, and kicked myself for that too, but I eventually managed to get all the foundation squares made:

The next job was to work out exactly how I wanted the layout to look and what the final size of the completed quilt should be, so that I could cut all the other pieces that would sit around the foundation pieced squares.  In the book, Katharine advised me to back all the extra fabrics with whatever fabric I used for the foundation squares, but I decided to use iron on lightweight interfacing instead and that worked fine.  I did consider adding a layer of wadding as well, but as this is intended to be a wall hanging, I thought it wouldn't add anything positive, even if it did go against my quilty instincts to leave it out.

In my first layout, I originally cut the bottom waves batik from the half metre I had in the most economic way:

But I immediately saw that it looked silly and wouldn't work, so I cut with the direction of the pattern that made most sense for the image and pieced two parts together to make it wide enough.  Once it was all together, I roughly squared it up:

Next, I cut my jaunty seafaring themed backing fabric to size and hand basted the two together in a grid:

I had a little machine quilting practise using some 'size challenged delights' before moving onto the real quilting.  I found that it was great fun just stitching in wavy lines with my walking foot.  I used a variegated sulky cotton thread, in every shade from pale aqua to deep purple that was perfect for the subject.

The binding was next and I did a final squaring up of the quilt before Clover wonder clipping it into place:

I usually use my 'binding tool' ruler to join the ends of my bindings, but I'd read about Lori Holt's super simple method of joining (that you can read about here) and decided to give that a go this time.  It really is genius – so simple and tidy.  I don't think I'd use this method on a quilt that was going to be used a lot and / or washed, but it is brilliantly simple for little quilts like this one.  Because there's very little weight to the quilt, and because I'd managed to get it nicely squared so that it would hang well, I decided to add simple triangular corner pockets for hanging with a dowel onto a picture hook. You can really see the variation of colour in the sulky thread I used for the quilting on the back too:

My final job was to make and add a quilt label that was in character with the quilt:

I printed the design and lettering onto white lawn and then added embroidery and applique to fancy it up.  This is my second printed quilt label and I'm still not that convinced by the method – hence embroidering over the lettering!  In fact, I think I may well remove the label I added to the last quilt I made and replace it with an embroidered one – I don't think the ink will last that long on these printed ones.  You could definitely accuse me of over fussiness here, but I hate the idea of something not lasting for as long as I intended while making it.

So that's another quilt ticked of the making wish list and popped into my shop.  Plus, it's given me an idea for another little project I want to make this week – more of which later! 🙂


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Takin’ it to the streets

July 30, 2015

Look at my swanky new project bags!  I do love a project bag.  I have several project bags of my own and have made quite a lot for other people using all kinds of sizes and shapes.  They're brilliant for just corralling your projects as you work on them, but also for taking your work on the go with you, whether you knit, crochet or stitch.

This very unprepossessing boxy zipped project bag is one that goes with me, whenever I'm on the move:

It was one of the very first I made using some decor weight gingham from my stash and it really helped me work out what kind of features I like in a project bag as well as showing me that this particular shape is absolutely my favourite for taking on the move.  The size and shape is perfect for sitting on your knee as you travel in a car (no, not while you're driving) or on a bus or train.  I tend to take crochet with me when I travel, just because I find it easier to pick up and put down, and I can just unzip this bag and work straight out of it, leaving my yarn and the worked part of my WiP inside where it's clean and safe.

When I was first encouraged to make a project bag of this type (thank you Leonor!), I was a little put off by what looks like a complicated construction, and more than a little put off by the kind of acrobatics you and your machine appear to be required to perform when it comes to sewing the side edges of the bag around the ends of the zip.  As regular readers of this blog will know, me and John, my basic entry level John Lewis sewing machine, have a rather emotional past when it comes to challenging sewing projects and I don't like to wind him up if I can avoid it, so I've become quite adept at finding workarounds that ensure a happy working environment for us both.  There was also a time when the idea of putting a zip into anything horrified me, but once conquered with the help of 'let's make this fun for John workarounds', I'll put zips into anything!

So if you'd really like to make a project bag for yourself but think that you can't because you're frightened of zips, horrified at the idea of making a complicated looking bag shape, don't think you can top stitch, or just don't have the best relationship with your sewing machine, read on and I'll talk us both through it 🙂

First, we need to choose our fabric and think about how we'll use it and whether it needs and help in the structure department.  My decor weight gingham bag isn't interlined at all.  I used one colour for the outer and another for the lining and found that the fabric was stiff enough to hold it's shape without any additional help.  However, as cotton fabric goes, it is quite stiff.  If you're planning on using a standard cotton print as most of us do these days, you're going to need to interface at least the outside of the bag, but it is super easy to do if you know what to buy and how to use it – which I'll explain.

My fabric choice for these bags was easy as soon as I saw Dashwood Studio's Street Life collection, I thought it'd be perfect for a travel project bag – it's always fun to theme your fabric with your subject and I love the cheerful colour palette of this collection:

I suggested to Dashwood that this would be a fun tutorial to share with others via their blog too and the lovely people there agreed and sent me a Street Life Fat Quarter (FQ) stack – hurrah!  Given that I was working from FQs, I decided that it would also be a good idea to slightly adjust my 'go to' project bag size and work out how to make a bag within the size restrictions of an FQ.  The finished dimensions of these bags are:

These designer type cottons are so lovely and soft but still have a bit of body that doesn't need a massive amount of help to make a bag of this shape and size.  I thought that it'd be interesting to try two different interfacing approaches using exactly the same weight and weave fabrics and see what difference this made to the end result. For my 'Cars' bag, I only added fusible fleece to the outer of the bag and for my 'Park' bag, I used the same fleece on the outer but also added some medium weight interface to the lining too, which definitely added more structure.  I added the medium interface to the handles of both bags too, just because it makes it stronger and avoids it getting all wrinkled up if you use it a lot to carry the bag.  Both these bags are still super soft though and you can easily squish them into another larger bag when you're on the move, if you need to.  I love the idea of a business woman commuting on the train to the City and working on her latest pair of knit socks out of one of these bags and then squishing it into her designer tote with her laptop as she pulls into Liverpool Street 🙂

On balance, I definitely prefer the end result of the Park bag – the shape looks so crisp, you could almost believe that it's stuffed to fill it out, though I promise you neither bag is, in any of these pictures.  There are a few more differences between them, which the sharp eyed among you may notice…  I made the pull tabs quite a bit wider on the Park bag and found that this worked much better and avoided the darn things accidently shifting about when I was sewing the slightly tricky side seams.  The handle is also half an inch longer and put on the right way up and the right side facing out, unlike the one on the Cars bag!  Yes, we all make mistakes 😮

The internal slip pocket doesn't quite work on either bag – it's too large on the Cars bag and I positioned it half an inch too low on the Park bag.  Practise makes perfect though – my next one will be awesome in every detail!

So you'll need just 3 FQs to make a bag and you will have leftovers – a lot of leftovers in the case of the third print that you'll use for the handle and other trimmings.  Here are the materials you're going to need to make one bag:

  • 3 co-ordinating FQs
  • Fusible fleece.  I use Vilene's Volume Fleece Interfacing (code reference H630)
  • Medium weight iron on interfacing.  Again, I like the Vilene one (code F220)
  • A 12 inch closed end zip.  I use YKK dress zips because they're great quality and come in lots of great colours
  • Sewing thread.  I use Gutermann Sew All thread for this kind of project – polyester threads are such good quality that you don't have to stick with cotton thread to sew cotton these days.  I've used two shades when making these bags – a plain white for the construction part of the sewing and a co-ordinated yellow shade for the decorative / top stitching parts
  • Quilters' tape – or you could use a bit of low tack masking tape if you don't have any of this handy.  Don't leave either kind of tape on fabric for long though – it can stain

As to tools and notions, you're going to need:

  • A sewing machine that sews in a straight line (or you could even hand sew, if you wanted to and had the time!), ideally with a walking foot and a quarter inch foot, but you can manage everything with a zig zag foot, if you need to
  • Pins and a hand sewing needle
  • Fabric scissors
  • A pencil and ruler
  • An iron and a pressing cloth (a man's white cotton handkerchief is ideal)
  • Some kind of thread to use for basting – any hand stitching thread will do

If you also have a cutting mat, rotary cutter, non-slip cutting rulers, a pair of stainless steel hemostats for turning out (you can find them on eBay – they will revolutionise your 'turning out' sewing life) and some Clover wonder clips, you will be super happy and make life much easier for yourself 🙂  I'm going to give measurements in inches only throughout this tutorial, because that's how me and my rulers roll but, you can convert anything you like using this handy dandy convertor, if you're fully metric.

Let's start with the fabrics.  Whichever fabrics you decide on, start by taking a good look at them.  You can stroke them if you like – you know you want to…  If you're embarrassed by the idea of stroking your fabrics, you might want to unfold them, smooth them with your hands and refold them a few times – it has the same effect whilst looking very business like and unemotional 😉  Does the print have a particular direction or a feature that you definitely want to use on the bag?  Now's the time to think about that and plan for it, before you get to cutting.  I'm really glad I took the time to think about how to cut this cute Michael Miller woodland print so that I could feature the fabulous foxes on this commissioned project bag, before I put my rotary cutter to it:

Next, iron your fabrics – it will make your sewing so much more straightforward and will ensure that your measurements are accurate as you cut out the pieces you need.  

It's now time to start cutting and we'll begin with the outer pieces for the bag (my directions that follow assume that you're just cutting your fabric in the most straightforward way and not doing any 'fancy' cutting of the printed pattern).  Lay out the FQ you've chosen for the outside of the bag on your cutting mat and get it straight – you can eyeball it against the printed grid background – don't assume that the selvedge is straight though – it isn't always.  Apologies for the quality of some of the tutorial photos – I took them all with my phone and the weather has been so overcast over the last week or so that I struggled to catch some good light!

Making sure that the top edge of the fabric is over the vertical '0' mark to the left of the mat, cut across the width at 9.5":

Then placing your freshly cut edge on the 0 line of your mat, straighten the other edge, as required:

Turning each piece the other way, make sure that the horizontal edges you just cut are sitting square on the horizontal guidelines on the mat and that the selvedge (that you'll cut off in the next step) is hanging over the vertical 0 mark on the mat, and cut to a width of 14":

Now put you're newly cut vertical edge on the 0 of the mat and trim off the selvedges at the 14" line:

Cut two pieces of fusible fleece to 13" wide by 8.5" high.  We're making these smaller so that we don't clutter up the seam allowances, or the area where we're going to put the zip, with unwanted extra bulk for your sewing machine to cope with.  Lay the fleece pieces onto the wrong side of the outer fabric pieces, making sure that the fabric is thread and lint free and that the fleece is glue side down onto the wrong side of the fabric (you can feel the nubbly texture of the glue with your fingers, if you aren't sure which the glue side is).  You can see that I've placed my fleece so that the top edge of the fabric where the zip goes is free of fleece by a good half inch:

Now, using your pressing cloth, which you've wet and wrung out well, and an iron set on 'wool' with no steam, fuse the fleece to the wrong side of your fabric.  If you're using the same fleece as me, you should hold the iron on it for 15 seconds at a time – don't 'iron' with it and move the iron around, just press one part at a time without applying pressure.  Once you're done, set these pieces aside to cool down and set a timer for 20 minutes so you know when it's safe to work with them.

While your outers are cooling, cut your lining pieces in exactly the same way and apply the medium interface, if using.  Again, you use the dampened pressing cloth on wool and no steam and, if you're using the same interface as me, press for 8 seconds at time.  Set these aside to cool – they'll also take 20 minutes before you can work with them again.

To make the simple slip pocket for the inside of the bag, grab one of the offcuts from the outer FQ and cut it down to 7" high by 6.5" wide.  Fold it right sides together across the height and pin it all around:

Now, using a quarter inch foot, seam it all around the 3 sides, leaving a small turning gap in the bottom seam.  Trim the corners to get rid of any fabric bulk and ensure clean angular corners when turned out:

Turn right side out, pushing the corners so that they're sharp and turning in the seam allowance at the opening – you won't need to sew this closed as you'll catch that when you sew it onto the lining fabric – just press it for now to make sure the edges are tidy and straight.

Put the pocket aside for now and we'll get to making up the handle, pull tabs and zip end covers using your 3rd fat quarter fabric.  First up, cut out the handle – it needs to be 7.5" long and 4.5" wide.  Make sure you think about the direction and orientation of any pattern on the fabric when measuring up:

Cut a matching piece of medium weight interfacing, fuse to it and set aside to cool for 20 minutes.  Now cut out 2 pull tabs at 4" wide and 4.5" long each:

The final pieces to cut are the zip end covers and you'll need 4 of those at 1.5" wide and 2" long.  You can just see in this picture that I would have been wiser to have cut mine the other way on this fabric print, but you don't see much of them on the finished bag, so not a huge deal.  Sometimes though, if you're using a print with the right scale, you can turn these little covers into a real feature by fussy cutting from your fabric and highlighting part of a print:

Before fitting the zip end covers to the zip, using a little tacking thread, stitch the top of the zip above the zip head closed (making sure you don't pull it too tight – it needs to stay flat and the little plastic stoppers need to stay aligned) to ensure that everything stays in place:

Now position two of the zip end covers over one end of the zip, with the right sides of the fabric facing the zip, and pin in place.  You can now immediately sew the covers on, but I personally prefer to add a few tacking stitches just over the plastic end of the zip and remove the pin.  This means that the work is nice and flat to sew on and that I know exactly where the plastic end of the zip is under the fabric, so I don't accidently sew over it and break my needle (have you ever done that?  It's only happened once to me and John and we both needed an hour off and a pot of tea to recover):

Sew the other 2 covers into place at the other end of the zip and then remove the tacking stitches.  Use your iron to go over the line of stitches you just made, before turning the covers right side out and pressing back, away from the zip:

Now increase your stitch length a bit and add a line of top stitching close to the fold and only over the zip section, to make everything tidy and run over that with the iron to set the stitches.  Now trim the fabric covers to the same width as the zip and it's ready to use:

Put the zip aside and take up the fabric pieces for the pull tabs.  These tabs need to be quite thin as we're going to position them over the zip ends where we ideally want to avoid any bulk for ease of sewing.  If you want to, you can omit these tabs entirely, but I find that they're really useful to have – using them to hold the bag taut while you work the zip avoids you pulling on the bag itself and creasing the main fabrics.

So, we're going to construct them by making little tubes that we'll turn out and top stitch.  To make each one, fold the piece of fabric across the width, right sides together, pin and stitch along the open side using a quarter inch seam:

Turn each piece right side out and press, making sure the seam you just made is nice and flat, before adding a little decorative top stitching 1/4" in on each side:

The handle should now be cooled down so we can work on that next.  Take it to the ironing board and fold and press in half lengthwise, wrong sides together:

Open it up again and press in a 3/8" seam on each side.  You're making these folds a little larger than 1/4" so that you can catch them securely when you top stitch at 1/4" in the next step:

Tucking in the edge seams you just made, refold in half again and pin, right sides out.  Take it to the sewing machine and make sure that if there is a 'right side' to your handle (think about how it's going to look on the finished bag – you ideally want the open, stitched edge to be facing down and the folded edge to be the one you look at) you're top stitching on the right side, and stitch the open side closed:

Then repeat the line of stitching on the folded edge for pettinesses sake.  You can see here that my printed trees on the fabric are the right way up on the top stitched side, and the seam of the handle is at the bottom:

Now we can attach the pocket to the lining piece.  We're going to attach this to the side of the bag that will be facing you when you open the zip, so keep this in mind when you're positioning the pocket onto the lining – make sure everything is the right way up!  You're going to want the open part of the pocket to be positioned 3" down from the top edge of the lining and centred into the middle of the width, so first of all, find the centre of the lining piece by folding it in half and making two little creases:

Now fold the pocket in half, right sides facing, and position the folded side against the centre line fold so you know the centre of the pocket will be at the vertical centre of the lining.  Measure down to 3" (not 3.5" as I've done in the photo here – remember that I took my pocket too far down!):

Pin and top stitch into place close to the edge of the pocket:

Snip off the threads, leaving a long tail at both the start and the end, then thread each end of the topstitch threads onto a hand stitching needle and stitch over the top ends of the pocket several times to make sure it is well attached and strong where it will have more stress:

Take the thread to the back of the work when you're finished and tie the two ends together to secure it, which avoids messy thread ends on the good side.  I like to do a simple loop knot and then follow it with a quilter's or surgeons knot, but tie it however you prefer:

That's all the 'bitty' jobs out of the way and we can now get to actually sewing the bag together!  Take one of your outer pieces and lay it right side up on the table.  Now lay the zip onto the top edge of the fabric with the zip head to the left hand side, facing down.  Clip into place:

Take the lining piece without the pocket and making sure that the top of the print (if it has one, as this one has) is at the top, and that the edges of it line up with the edges of the outer piece underneath, lay the top edge over the zip and clip into place:

For those who are very confident machine stitchers, you can probably skip this next part, but if you like your sewing to go super smoothly as I do, you might now want to take your tacking thread and a hand sewing needle and tack all three layers of the outer, the zip and the lining together along the very top edge:

Now make a mark using a pencil half an inch in from the edge at either side – you won't be sewing beyond this point:

I then like to mark my quarter inch sewing line from the top edge with a pencil and use my walking foot with the needle set to the left to stitch the zip into place:

You'll want to move the zip head out of the way before you start stitching and then move it back, once you're past that point:

I do sometimes find that I have to stop and start sewing because my walking foot is too chunky to pull the zip head past after sewing the first bit, but I still prefer that to changing to a zip foot.  If you're not used to sewing zips, do go slowly and keep adjusting the fabric as you feed it through to make sure it is all flat and even.  If you're not happy with how it looks, better to stop, unpick and fix it.  You shouldn't have any problems if you're using a walking foot, but if you use a zip foot or regular zig zag foot, it might take you a bit of fiddling to get the machine tension just right and avoid any skipping, bunching or creasing.  I swear that finding the right machine needle for the fabric on every project and buying a walking foot changed my sewing life!

Remove your tacking stitches if you used them and press the outer and the lining back away from the zip so that each part sits crisply back from the zip fabric with a nice clean fold.  I admit that I sometimes go out walking in the local woods without ironing the t-shirt I'm wearing, but I will never skip any ironing job on a sewing project – oh no!

We'll now add the other side of the bag to the other side of the zip.  Lay your second outer down onto the table, right side facing up.  Lay your 1st part of the bag that you just completed on top of this with the lining side facing up, and with the zip head over on the right side this time, and clip into place:

Lay the lining piece with the pocket on top of this, right side down – make sure you've got the top edge of this lining piece over the zip and that your pocket is the right way up, with the open side looking up to the zip edge:

Tack into place, mark the half inch 'don't sew beyond here' marks on either side and stitch into place, moving the zip head out of the way near the end, as you did at the beginning with the first side.  Remove your tacking stitches and press back from the zip on this second side too – here's how it looks on the inside / lining side:

And the outers:

The last step for the zip is top stitching it into place and, again, I use my walking foot for this with the needle set to the left, but we need to do a couple of other things first to ensure a good finish.  Making sure that your outer and inner pieces are nice and smooth and sit crisply back from the zip, pin them together on both sides about 4 inches down from the zip.  This will make sure that nothing moves about or gets creased when you're top stitching:

Then, use a little tape (I use quilters 1/4" tape) to mark where your half inch 'don't sew beyond this point' marks are.  This might seem like a pain, but you will be very glad you did it when it comes to sewing the edge seams!

Lengthen your stitch and using your walking foot as a guide on the edge of the fabric where it meets the zip, top stitch both sides from the start to stop marks and leave a long tail of threads at the start and end of each line of stitching:

Remove the pins and tape and take the ends of your top threads through to the back where you can tie them off as we did before with the pocket piece on the lining:

Give your top stitching a press to set it and trim off any excess from the zip end covers on each side:

Next we need to get our pull tabs into place.  Take a tab, fold it in half lengthways and place it right side down on the zip, with the fold facing in.  Pin it in place and add a few tacking stitches to keep it there so you can lose the pin (avoiding bulk again!).  Position the other tab at the other side, in exactly the same way:

Now we need to seam the bottom edges of the outers and the linings, so turn everything around and pin the outers and linings together so that the zip is in the middle and wrong sides of the outers and linings are facing outwards:

Seam the outer parts together using a quarter inch seam, and the linings using a half inch seam (we want the lining to be a bit smaller than the outer so that it fits tidily into the bag).  When you sew the lining seam, leave an opening of 3 to 4 inches that we'll use to turn everything out through later on.  Open up both of the seams and press them open with the tip of your iron, making sure that you cover the fleece and interface with your pressing cloth so that you don't mess up your iron:

Now we're ready to deal with the side edges but first, half open your zip for turning later (very important step!).  Now you need to arrange the pieces so that you make a sandwich of the zip – this is where the bag starts to take on the boxy shape and it's much easier to show you how it looks than tell you but the order from the bottom up is: outer bottom seam, outer zip, lining zip, lining bottom seam:

Let's work on the outer part first.  Bring the edges together and pin them so they don't move about.  Then clip the lining parts of the bag out of the way and mark a half inch seam line on the outer sections:

This is how it looks from above when you've prepared both sides:

Now, using your walking foot with the needle set to the left, sew along the seam line from one side to the other going over the centre section where the zip ends and the pull tabs are a couple of times, to make sure they're well secured.  You don't need to back stitch this seam at the start or the end because we're going to be cutting through it shortly.  Repeat this half inch seam on the other side of the outer pieces.

The lining parts are next and we're going to deal with those in exactly the same way as the outers, but this time, mark and stitch a quarter inch seam.  Again, you need to go over the zip in the centre and this is why we went to the trouble of marking that half inch 'don't sew past here'  when we inserted the zip – this makes sure that you have room to fold back the outer and stitch your seam on these edges.  Told you it was worth it!  This was also why we added the zip end covers to the zip and cut the fleece for the outer that bit smaller – all these things make sewing this seam much easier than it would be otherwise – it is definitely the fiddliest bit of the construction, but the workarounds make it doable 🙂

Once all four of your side seams are sewn, this is how the sandwich looks from one side (thanks to my glamorous tabby assistants):

Now you can mark up and cut out the corners that we're going to use to create the box shape of the bag.  Using a pencil and ruler, mark up a 1.5" by 1.5" square on every corner of the outer and the lining.  You need to measure from the side seams you just created to the fold along the edge, like this:

I'm definitely a measure twice and cut once girl (although I still sometimes manage to get it wrong!) so once these corners are all marked up, I go around with the ruler and double check them before using my fabric scissors to cut them out:

Before we get to sewing up these corner seams, we need to add in the handle that we made earlier.  Using the corner holes to peek through, orient yourself to the zip head end of the outer of the bag and feed the handle through one of the corners on that side, making sure that the right side of the handle (if it has one) is the right side up and facing right side out.  This is one of those moments when you need to look hard at the bag and think about it!  You can see in the picture below that my outer pieces of the bag are at the bottom of the sandwich and my handle is the right way up for the print on the fabric.  The top stitched side of the handle is facing into the bag so that it will be facing out when we turn it out and everything gets reversed.  Position the centre of the handle to the centre of the hole and pin in place:

Pull the other end of the handle (make sure it isn't twisted) through the opposite corner hole, centre and pin that in place too.  There's a good double check that you've got things the right way around in this picture – the open, stitched side of the handle is facing down towards the bottom seam of the outer, which means it is the right way up:

Mark and stitch a quarter inch seam on each of these first two outer bag corners.  Before you get to pinning and stitching the other 2 corner seams on the outer, use one of them to put your hand in and undo the zip all the way, which will make turning it out much easier.

Now close the 2 open corner seams in the outer and then deal with the corners on the lining part of the bag, but use a 3/8" seam there to make the lining a bit smaller than the outer, as we did with the other lining seams:

Look how odd and messy it looks now!

Time to work some magic and make this look like a bag by turning it out through the hole you left in the lining bottom seam but, just before that, check your edge seams and clip out any bulk you don't need around the zip: there really shouldn't be much but you might have a bit of the edge of the pull tabs that could be trimmed:

Once you've turned everything the right way out and enjoyed that extreme feel good moment when you know you sewed it all right and everything is in the right place and facing the right way, you need to close up the turning hole in the lining.  To do this, you can just stitch over it with the machine, but I much prefer the neater finish of a ladder stitch seam by hand, which is very quick and easy to do.  Just partner up a stitch on each side and every inch or so, pull them closed and watch them completely disappear:

Don't over tighten the stitches though – you don't want to pucker the seam.

Now push the lining into the outer, fill the bag with something soft and filling – I like to raid the clean sock drawer and stuff them into the bag until it's full – zip it closed and press all over with the iron.  Done!  All you need to do now is find a reason to hit the streets with a project on board 🙂

I hope that you do make a bag using this tutorial – please let me know if you do – I'd love to see a picture!  I've checked and double checked this tutorial to make sure it's free of all those irritating errors and omissions that drive me bonkers when using some tutorials but, if you spot anything I've missed or got wrong, or any way I could improve it, please do leave a comment here for me so I can fix it.

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Giving Kitty a Cuddle

July 17, 2015

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram,  you're probably bored of seeing pictures of the very first kitty toy I've created for my Etsy shop – the catnip cuddle whale.  I first made a smaller size of one of these whales for my own cats, but quickly made another, larger one after seeing our plus sized cat try to cuddle it – it looked more like a minnow than a whale…  I made these first ones using wool blend felt and soon realised that these wouldn't stand up to extended play as I watched one of our cats bite at it in his usual manner – quite aggressively, as if he were plucking feathers out of a bird…  After seeing that, I made another version with good quality woven cotton ticking, retaining the hand stitched details, which passed our cats' rigorous product testing 😀

When I made my first catnip cuddle whales to fulfill my first orders a few weeks ago, I knew I'd really enjoyed making them, but hadn't realised quite how much…  Since then I've spent a lot of time thinking about kitty toys and treats and, well, things kind of snowballed from there, as they tend to do with me 🙂

Our cats have a big basket of toys in the living room that is full of all kinds of things – the usual garishly colourful pet shop purchases (most of which came via my Mum who, for many years, liked to buy our cats Christmas presents, which they liked to ignore).  Then there are lots of pet shop stick toys with interesting things on the end that are mostly destroyed after only minutes of play due to the poor quality construction, some common place household things that became toys (whether I wanted them to or not) and the things I make for them.  They do adore the sticks and one particular pet shop buy called Mr Beaver – basically a brown fur pocket that I can put catnip in – but their favourites, I'm happy to say, are the things I've made for them and the 'found' items like feathers from the garden.

Givng your cat toys, and especially playing with the toys with them, is such a great way to bond with them and show them affection.  I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but I find that it generally isn't easy to give a cat a cuddle to show them that affection.  Elijah, our long haired tabby who hates being brushed, will put up with me half picking him up and kissing his head for approximately 1.76 seconds, as long as he's waiting for me to feed him and trying to stay on my good side at the time.  He'll also come and snuggle up between us on the bed and allow himself to be stroked for quite a while (he prefers Mark to do this), purring like a maniac, until he decides enough is enough and his bushy tail starts flicking in warning (the purring continues, obviously – it wouldn't be any fun for him if he couldn't finish things off with a few mixed messages). Badger, our black and white boy is much more open to me cuddling him – I can even pick him up and kiss him for a few seconds before he starts to wriggle and he frequently settles next to me on the bed for tummy massage morning and night, but only if him indoors isn't around (he's only allowed to stroke him when invited, and then never on the tummy!).

So it's fair to say that our cats aren't that into cuddles – unless you count the times that Elijah cuddles your arm with his teeth and claws if you are stupid enough to stroke his tummy when he shows it to you, which I mostly don't…

So over the years I've realised that taking the time to hand make them quality toys to play with and giving them their own things to cuddle and claw to their heart's delight as well as the occasional foody treat, is a great way to give them a virtual cuddle and I got to thinking about putting together our cats' favourite things into a kind of 'cuddle collection' that other cats can enjoy:

I had to start by popping a catnip cuddle whale into the collection and that was quickly followed by a crochet woolly ball, also heavily laced with catnip.  These balls are a good size for wrestling with and they get a little bit felted over time, which makes them look even better.  The wool does smell pretty sheepy – it is an eco, undyed natural wool and the stuffing I use is also all wool – it's as close to wrestling a real ruminant that most kitties will ever get!  

Next came the feathers and the stick.  As anyone who has bought a standard pet shop feathers on a stick toy will tell you, they don't last too long – most kitties go into prey overdrive when taunted with these toys and get stuck right in to pulling them apart.  For this reason, I did a lot of research and testing when putting together my feather fascinator!  I used some brilliant tutorials on YouTube to learn how to make the most robust feather toy I could using chenille covered pipe cleaners and the strongest nylon bonded thread to hand wrap each feather into place individually.  Then I went further by adding some black insulation tape to make sure that kitty's mouth or paws wouldn't come into contact with the wire inner of the pipe cleaner.  More YouTube watching was required then to learn how to join the thread to the stick robustly, without the need to use icky glue.  Watching how to hand build a custom fishing rod taught me how to hand wrap my super strong thread onto my wooden dowel 'rod' and pretty seamlessly hide the start and end of the thread securely under the wrapping.  Another fishing video helped me learn to make a very secure knot to tie the thread from the dowel to the feather toy and, for additional durability, I crocheted the thread into a chain construction too!

A cuddle collection wouldn't be complete without some favourite treats, so I added a little cello cone with some of our cats' favourite biscuit treats in it and then, the piece de resistance, a small tin of Japanese Katsuobushi – the equivalent of kitty caviar!  If you haven't ever come across it, Katsuobushi is dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna used in Japanese cooking that is shaved into very thin flakes and drives cats potty!  It's high in protein, low in fat, sodium and calories – as long as kitty doesn't eat too much, which he or she will, if you let them…

So there we go – a great big cuddle for kitty, in a gift box!  Not that we need an excuse to spoil our beloved kits, but I originally thought that these would make the perfect Christmas present for a cat, and they would, but they'd also be great for someone who has just got a new cat or kitten too maybe?  Then I got to thinking that they'd be a perfect present for a cat lover rather than gifting them those cat themed gifts like books, note cards, tea towels, oven gloves – cat lovers will be very familiar with these kinds of gifts – much better to give them a box of things that they can use with their cat to give them a great big virtual hug 🙂

You can find the kitty cuddle collection in my shop, here.  It comes in a cardboard gift box as shown in the pictures, all ready to gift – simply add a gift bow if you like – if you do, odds are that the ribbon will become another toy for kitty too!