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November 2014

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Handy work

November 26, 2014

I do love hand quilting.  I also love hand appliqué.  My hands aren’t entirely keen on either though – it is quite hard going on them to use the itty bitty needles involved that sometimes seem as sharp on the eye end as they do on the pointy one!  I’ve also been finding this week that my absolutely essential quilting thimble has been slipping off my finger because it has been so much colder, which isn’t helpful…

My latest nightdress case commission came from a lady who wanted nightdress cases for her grandchildren.  The cases will live at her house and her grandchildren will use them there when they came to stay.  I love that idea – it really is one of those things that you can imagine they will remember from their childhood: “when we stayed with Granny, we kept out pyjamas in these fancy nightdress cases that she had made for us.”  Can’t you just imagine it?

I was asked to make both cases in different shades of pink, so I was keen to partner the pale pink one with a stronger Liberty print (this is Ciara) and the hot pink one with something a little cooler (this is Edenham).  Usually, I use Robert Kaufman’s Essex Linen for the outers, and this is what I used for the hot pink case, but he doesn’t have a paler pink shade so I used his new linen and rayon blend Linen Washer, which is just lovely – so soft and drapey, but still up to the task.  I quilted them both with a lilac quilting thread, so there are elements of sameness and difference in both, which felt right.

I do tend to use this cross hatched quilting pattern in a lot of things, I just like the look of it.  On these cases, I love that you get two different scales of the pattern – one on the case itself and another teeny one on the appliqué beds.

I use a cotton batting for the case itself but a pure wool one for the mini bed because it is so lofty and makes the little bed look and feel like an old fashioned eiderdown, once it’s quilted.

Before hand stitching the bed and pillow into place, I also stitch down the little ‘sheet’ on either side and across the width of the bed.  I like seeing how tiny and tidy I can make the stitches.

The little cases look quite plain before the applique is added, although there is a fair amount of work involved to get to this point since I also interface both the outers and the lining pieces before putting them together:

I do love Liberty tana lawn, but it isn’t the easiest fabric to work with.  Even with a lightweight interface added, it is very delicate and liable to crease where you don’t want it to, but if you use your finest needles and silk pins, it will work with you, and I think it looks gorgeous:

I think I have the design for these little cases where I want it now.  Top stitching around the edges on the outer would give it another lovely level of detailed finish, but I couldn’t use the machine for that – it just wouldn’t look right against the hand quilting stitches on the outer.  It is already a greedy little design with the expensive fabrics and the time taken for all the detailed work, so I think I’ll keep them sans top stitching.  Also, apart from the additional time investment, there’s a limit to how much work my hands can do! 🙂

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Shaded English Rose Tweed

November 21, 2014

My latest cowl design is all finished.  I wasn’t always sure about it, but I am now.  You sunny looking tweedy shady thing 🙂

I even love the edges:

The reverse of the stitch is pretty too:

But the front is prettier – like a little honeycomb of sunshine:

A big cosy hug of a cowl:

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that I’m quite pleased 🙂

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Cowlicious II

November 12, 2014

Since writing my first Cowlicious post, I’ve finished my Baileys trellis cowl, which I’ve now officially named the: ‘ Baileys Quilted Lattice Cowl’ 🙂  It is super, super soft and squishy and I love how it worked up with Malabrigo Worsted Merino, which is my go to yarn for cowls.  I especially love how the trellis strands look with the yarn’s single ply construction – so perfectly chunky and lofty, which you can see in this close up:

I’m now writing up the pattern, which I’m going to make available on Ravelry.  This will be my second pattern since registering for a designer’s account – get me!  I’ve been absolutely blown away by how much interest there’s been in my first pattern, which I offered free.  The pattern for my Reversible Chevron Scarf was uploaded on 5th November and, so far, it has been favourited 447 times and downloaded 1,028 times – wow!  If you want to add to that number, you can download it here.

I’ve made a lot of progress on my yellow shaded tweed stitch cowl too, which now also has an official name: ‘Shaded English Rose Tweed Cowl’.  Here it is at the point where I’d just begun the 3rd and penultimate section:

I’ve now finished knitting, have grafted the two ends together and I’m feeling very happy with it.  Can’t wait to see how it looks when I’ve worked in all the loose yarn ends and it’s on the model form!  I’m also planning to write up a pattern for this one, but would like to get it test knit before I publish it, so if anyone out there reading this would like the pattern for free so that they can road test it for me, please get in touch!

As usually seems to happen with me, while working on this shaded cowl, I had an idea for another cowl, inspired by this beautiful Versace dress:

Verace Pink Sequined Gown  ✮✮ Please feel free to repin ♥ღ

I had to immediately give way to my instincts and find and order the yarn I’d need to make what was in my head.  I couldn’t find the colours I wanted in my favourite Malabrigo cowl yarn, so went for Rowan’s Creative Focus Worsted (blend of 75% wool and 25% alpaca), which I’ve worked with before and know I like:

The silver thread is to add into the grey section only, to imitate the rhinestones on the waist of the Versace dress.  Soon, my precious, soon…

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Charlotte, Emily or Anne?

November 4, 2014

Isn’t this Folio Society edition of the Brontë novels beautiful?  If you could choose just one to read, which would it be?

I guess that most people are more likely to select either Charlotte’s passionate and dramatic Jane Eyre or the black romance of Emily’s Wuthering Heights, given that these two novels have been incredibly popular for a very long time.  I’ve read and studied both these novels and have come to value and appreciate them for what they are, but the writers’ voices don’t speak to me personally – they’re not really novels I enjoy.

Anne Brontë is much more to my taste and I’m currently re-reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Academic opinion is that this was one of the first sustained feminist novels and grounded in realism – neither of which you could really accuse Charlotte or Emily’s works of being, even though many real life ‘things’ happen in them and they are concerned with the lives of women.  I also find a gentle humour in Anne’s writerly voice that is absent in those of her sisters’, whether she’s exposing the less attractive side of her characters’ personalities, or holding up her candle to illuminate the gritty details of everyday life, which some critics of the day considered to be ‘coarse’.

After Anne’s death, Charlotte prevented the republication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall saying that it “hardly seems to me desirable to preserve … the choice of subject in that work is a mistake.” and I can’t help wondering if that was genuinely her reason, or if her successful author’s vanity was threatened by Anne.  Was Anne more modern, less self-obsessed, more realistic and worldly than her more famous sisters?  These were qualities that were becoming ever more popular with the reading public and I wonder if her work would have ultimately been more critically successful if Charlotte hadn’t stopped republication when she did?  I also wonder what Emily would have been capable of, had she lived to learn more of life, and her craft.  I suspect that her immense imagination could have produced something quite incredible that would have been more accomplished in an authorly sense than is Wuthering Heights.

There is one passage at the beginning of Chapter 5 that also made me think about just how much we modern female makers and artists have in common with our Victorian counterparts like the novel’s heroine, Mrs Helen Graham.  The hero, Mr Markham, has come to the hall to visit Mrs Graham and her son and is looking over some of her paintings in her studio when they have this exchange:

 ‘You have almost completed your painting,’ said I, approaching to observe it more closely, and surveying it with a greater degree of admiration and delight than I cared to express.  ‘A few more touches in the foreground will finish it, I should think.  But why have you called it Fernley Manor, Cumberland, instead of Wildfell Hall, —shire?’ I asked, alluding to the name she had traced in small characters at the bottom of the canvas.

But immediately I was sensible of having committed an act of impertinence in so doing; for she coloured and hesitated; but after a moment’s pause, with a kind of desperate frankness, she replied:—

‘Because I have friends—acquaintances at least—in the world, from whom I desire my present abode to be concealed; and as they might see the picture, and might possibly recognise the style in spite of the false initials I have put in the corner, I take the precaution to give a false name to the place also, in order to put them on a wrong scent, if they should attempt to trace me out by it.’

‘Then you don’t intend to keep the picture?’ said I, anxious to say anything to change the subject.

‘No; I cannot afford to paint for my own amusement.’

‘Mamma sends all her pictures to London,’ said Arthur; ‘and somebody sells them for her there, and sends us the money.’

 Of course, makers today have a much more convenient time of things selling online, whether from their own web sites, Facebook, Etsy or other marketplaces.  But like many makers who are home raising their families, Mrs Graham doesn’t allow the restrictions on her mobility in the physical world hold her back from using her creative abilities to support herself and her son.  As you read the novel, you discover that she also clearly finds a solid sense of independence from this self-sufficiency: she draws upon it to strengthen herself, to recover from her ordeals during her marriage, to overcome the loneliness of her current circumstances, and the disapproval of her neighbours who know nothing of her troubled past.

Whether or not you’re already a Brontë fan, if you’ve never read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I’d urge you to give it a try – you can read it for free in various formats via Project Gutenberg here.  There’s also a very good 1996 BBC dramatisation of the novel staring Tara FitzGerald, Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens, if you’re the kind of reader who enjoys seeing a novel’s story before reading.

If you don’t know much about  the often tragic and sad lives of all the Brontë family you couldn’t do better than to read Juliet Barker’s biography, The Brontës A Life in Letters, which I found very absorbing as a biography of the family, as well as a well researched and detailed look at life in the mid 19th century.