It was a Crafty Christmas

Now that it´s all over and presents have been unwrapped and are being enjoyed, I can show you some of the things I made for friends and family without spoiling the surprise.

First up was a simple apron…I know Ria my best friend will be reading this, but I know she won´t mind me sharing (and learning) the fact that the fabric came from a pillow case I found in a shop that seemed to have come loose from its partner and was being sold in the bargain bin. I unpicked it, washed and ironed it. It´s amazing how much fabric is used in a simple pillow case.  I just loved the fabric and thought “I can do something with that”. So I did!

I roughly copied the shape of an apron I have and added a pocket.  You can´t have an apron without a pocket, can you? Then I ran a matching bias binding round the outside and also used it to make the ties.

I had enough fabric to also make a matching oven glove – here´s how I did it.

I cut out two outer shapes (from my existing oven glove) and two the same in white fabric for the inside, plus two pieces of wadding so that it can be used by a left or right handed person (that´s for when I visit her!).

Then I machined round each 3 layer “sandwich” and zig zagged round the edges.

I added bias binding round the wrist edge and a tag to hang it up. I realised after I had finished I should have put the tag so that it stuck into the reversed glove so that it would be outside when it needs to be hung up. Oh well, we learn by our little mistakes.

Then I joined the 2 “sandwiches” together and then turned the glove the right way out. Next time I´ll remember about the tag and perhaps put a double layer of wadding.

Ria´s final gift was something she had mentioned to me that she had thought about buying – fabric bunting. As, like mostly anyone who sews, I have a stash of fabric remnants at home, I decided I´d give this a go.  And what fun it was!
I found this incredible tutorial on how to make bunting…if you want to give bunting making a go, I can highly recommend it. There´s lots of other really great stuff on there too!

OK, more updates to come soon on things I have made, but in the meantime I´m off to make soup…

Sewing Saturday…Get Shorty – or “How to take up jeans or chinos”

I know from previous comments that many of you have a sewing machine tucked away gathering dust. Perhaps you´ve mastered a straight seam on your machine, but not really progressed beyond that. Well, fear not, your machine will now be able to pay you back and save you the expensive costs of having to take too long jeans or chinos to the tailors for adjusting.

I know that whenever I´ve taken the “lazy” route I´ve thought “How much? Crikey, that´s almost what I paid for the trousers!”  Also, when I buy something new, I want to wear it RIGHT NOW and not a week on Wednesday.

So…grab yourself a pair of long jeans, your dusty old machine and half an hour of your time and you´ll be set to go stepping out in your lovely new trousers.

Start by unpicking the old seam. Don´t skip this step, you don´t want a huge bulky hem swinging round your ankles now do you?


Measure the length of the original hem (where the hem hit the floor to the cut edge of the fabric) and take note of this measurement.  Let´s call it A.

Now measure your inside leg.  A handy friend or loved one who you can trust intimately with this is useful!  Otherewise measure a pair of trousers that fit well along the inside seam from the centre join to the floor.  This is measurement B.  Now put a pin in your new trousers at measurement B from the inside leg top seam and then another pin the distance of A from the first pin.

If your trousers are only an inch too long, you´re in luck. Your cutting line will probably be the old base line of the original trousers. If it´s different, add a few pins or mark with tailors chalk or even biro (you won´t see this when you´re finished) all the way round and cut the bottom off.  Don´t try and be clever and cut through both sides at once.  Apart from hurting your hands when you cut, you´ll probably end up with a wonky edge.  Cut upwards to the line then round.

Don´t throw these little strips away, they will be useful in a moment.

Now do a double fold up to the B pin mark and either pin or pin and tack (baste) your trousers.

Try them on again!  You´re about to sew them, so you want to be sure you´ve got it right. Now iron the bottoms from the inside.  Don´t skip this step either, it will make sewing so much easier!

I recommend using a heavy duty needle – a pack of 5 only costs about a euro here, hopefully they´re not expensive where you are and you´ll get a much better result.

Either match the thread to the existing stitching or find something close to the colour of your fabric.

Now you´re going to just have a little play with those strips of material you saved.  Stitch along on one of these strips, checking the colour and stitch length.

Take the wide extension piece off the machine if you have one (Sorry, I don´t know what it´s called and I never use mine) so that you can slip the trouser bottom straight onto the machine ready to stitch.

Start stitching – I recommend you start just before the inside leg seam so that you are sewing the back first.  In this way, if anything does go wrong (but it shouldn´t!) it´s less noticeable.

Sew right round, cut your threads and admire your lovely new hem.

Don´t forget to remove the heavy duty needle and replace with the usual one.

PS. Shortly after making these adjustments (to Big Man´s trousers) He Broke My Very Special Left Handed Dressmaking Scissors!!!  He said he wondered why they didn´t cut the plastic cabling he was trying to chop….I am trying to be understanding but He Broke My Very Special Left Handed Dressmaking Scissors!!!  I´ll be over it soon. Maybe.

Travelling Hopefully

I believe there is a saying which goes something like “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – well I have to say that I can´t quite agree with Robert Louis Stevenson. But I expect he wasn´t heading to London for eight days to visit my family and friends, so I´ll just have to excuse him.

I arrived home late last night to be met by my wonderful Big Man bearing flowers.  Lilies…my favourite. It´s been a while since he bought me flowers, (impossible to get where we live) so the surprise romantic gesture was very much appreciated.

Being a canny packer of cases, I always go right to the limit on my baggage allowances.  20kg in the suitcase, 10kg in the hand luggage and the biggest hand bag possible.  No, I most definitely don´t travel light!  I went out loaded with Christmas presents (can´t tell you much about them though, as I don´t want to give any surprises away).  The case was also packed with packs of chorizo and morcilla to make Fabada Asturiana, plastic lid things to “flip” your tortilla, chillies from my garden, wine glass/tumblers, gifts from my recent holiday, chocolates for my niece and nephew, books to entertain young children on a long flight to the States to see their grandmother, Spanish fans for a friend´s mum, olives, biscuits….well, I think you get the picture.

The advantage of this is that once you´ve unpacked and “shared the love”, you have an almost empty suitcase waiting to be filled with gorgeous things to take back home with you.  Of course, I wasn´t about to go home empty handed.

I carefully packed some lovely pictures done by the wonderful children I got to spend time with.  A very flattering portrait of me done by my 10 year old niece, Lara.  Look at that fabulous waist and bust…if only! A lovely thank you card from 4 year old William and his 2 year old brother Matthew.

Chocolate.  And then some more chocolate.  If you haven´t tried Quality Street, track it down!  Lots of lovely chocolate toffee and caramel sweets in a tin.  They just take me back to childhood Christmases when these were a very special treat.  And then you get to use the tin to put your cakes in!

I had a bit of a mad fabric buying spree.  I´m laying some of the blame for this on my new blogging pal Evie, over at Pendle Stitches.  I was the very lucky winner of this beautiful shawl that she had made, and it was waiting for me at my parents´ house.  Very handy actually, as it was a little nippy last week in London.  Anwyay, Evie suggested some wonderful fabric shops for me to look at in London.  The fabrics were amazing.

"Weigh" too much fabric!

Eventually I bought a huge variety of fabrics in Tooting Broadway, my old neighbourhood in South London, plus an amazing discovery of some vintage fabrics, still neatly folded and never taken out of storage since about 1950.  They almost tipped me over the baggage allowance, but as there were only 31 people on the flight home (I felt like I was on my own private jet), the check in girl turned a very kind blind eye to my extra kilo…20 metres of cotton, linen, silk, jersey, viyella, crepe and who knows what else do weigh rather a lot.  I also bought a new magazine to inspire me.

I´ll make that one day.....

And finally, to food.  My mother stocked me up with all sorts of odd and bizarre things I find hard or expensive to buy out here.

All spice berries, Golden Syrup, Maldon Salt.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Loaf tin liners and vanilla for my baking.

My mum made me a wonderful beef curry with lots of vegetable curries to accompany it.

Best friend Ria made a fantastic chicken and cannellini bean casserole (recipe another day) even though she was feeling poorly last week.

And talking of food, guess what?  I got to meet one of my new blogging pals face to face.  It was Mad Dog, who was not in the least bit mad and not remotely dog like!  We spent a happy and all too short hour in Bar Italia, in the heart of London´s Soho, drinking coffee and chatting about food, Spain, food, photography, food, ourselves.  What a great guy he is, and he gave me a fantastic gift of the film Tampopo, a comedy featuring…yes you´ve guessed…food!

So, now I´m home again and looking forward to getting back into my kitchen. Big Man has already started stocking up on autumn fruits and vegetables.

A neighbour gave us a crate of Membrillo, or quince, so we´ll be making quince jelly this weekend.

Another neighbour gave us some enormous pomegranates (or Granadas) from his tree.  I may just have to eat them as is, as I adore them served simply.

I also have a couple of kilos of broad beans, but I think you already know many of my recipes for this gorgeous little vegetable.

So, time to unpack, wash, cook and sew.  Sounds odd, but I can´t wait!

PS. Am looking forward to a few days of blog catching up – really looking forward to seeing what you have all been up to.

Sewing Saturday – Green Circle Skirt

Did you see how I cleverly put the word “Sewing” into the title so that anyone expecting a recipe would be warned and steer clear if they were not interested?!

If you´re still with me though, thank you!

I recently found a beautiful skirt in the charity shop for a couple of euros.  It had a tiny waist (which would probably have fitted over one of my thighs) but was quite long.  I loved the fabric and bought it thinking I could make a bag out of it.  Once I had washed it and taken it apart, I saw that in just one half of the skirt there was enough fabric to make a half circle skirt for me.

Fabulous Fabric

I cut it from the top to the length I wanted then made a simple black cotton waistband which I fitted a piece of elastic into after I had re sewn the side together.

Stretchy waistband to allow for large lunches

And that was it – a quick re fashion into a beautiful skirt which I think Alfi has a longing to wear!

Dog Friendly Fashion

For more fantastic “Refashions”, do take a look at my blogging pal Jillian´s fantastic site here.

Afternoon Tea Dress

More tea Vicar?!

Can you believe that the dress above started from a pattern that looked like this?

I wonder what on earth she was thinking about...

What a sultry look eh?

I found the material at a bargain price in a furnishing fabric store but thought it was pretty enough to make something wearable with.  It was more an experiment to learn a few new techniques for me as now that I´ve finished the dress, I realise that I don´t really have anywhere I could wear it!  I don´t think the chickens would appreciate it and I´m not sure it would go so well with my wellies.  The dogs probably wouldn´t take much notice of it either on our walks.  Hey ho, I´ll put it back in the wardrobe for now and wait for an invitation to a Vintage Style Garden tea party.

I had a good play around with the pattern.  I realised that the pleating in the bodice would do me no favours, so took the original one in.

Adjust, adjust...

Then I cut it out according to the adjustments I had made in my muslin.

..and...cut!

I took time to finish the edges properly.

Zigging and zagging

Unbelievably a little local shop had some pretty satin bias binding which I used to cover the inner seams and finish the hems and edges with…I got a bit carried away as I liked it so much.

Pretty Pink Satin Binding

These were then hand finished. Love sewing by hand!

Tiny, invisible, hand stitching

Finally I decided to add some cap sleeves.

Pin the sleeves

I´m happy with how it turned out and may well use the muslin to make up another dress in a more “useable” fabric.

Big lesson learned for me – I have severely wonky shoulders! I had to adjust the bodice shoulders so many times to get the right fit.  I blame it on carrying heavy school bags loaded down with books in my youth…

Bali and Beautiful Batik

Like a dream come true

One of the little extras you get from having visitors is that they often come bearing gifts.  Sometimes it´s stuff that you´ve asked for like Wasabi Paste or spices you can´t find in Andalucía and sometimes it´s little surprises.

This summer I have been very lucky to receive two batches of fabric for my dressmaking.  One batch came from Singapore and the other from Bali…via the UK and my friends.

These fabrics are very beautiful and unusual but do tend to come in quite strange lengths.  Not the usual dressmaking widths.  I expect that are probably just the right measurement to make some wonderful typical Balinese or Singaporean outfits, but because I am rather more robustly built  than the ladies from these beautiful places, I had to give a little thought as to how I would make the most of the fabrics.

Fabulous Fabrics

I decided to go “off pattern” and just sort of drape them around my dressform, Marilyn the Mannequin.  Who incidentally, after forking out a great deal of cash and waiting ages for her to arrive from the UK, is not really all that useful.  I was so focused on buying an adjustable dress form that I could “expand” to my curvy chest measurements that I didn´t look at how big her bottom was.  Poor old Marilyn has got a much bigger bottom and hips than me, even when she is at her smallest setting.  Normally looking at another woman´s bottom and deciding that it was larger than mine would give me some small sense of satisfaction (I know, I´m horrible…but you´ve got to boost your self esteem when you can).  In this case, she´s useless for making fitted skirts, dresses or trousers, as they won´t go round her and I have to just pin them to the front!

Anyway, after much pinning, trying on, adjusting, re tacking and finally sewing I made a pencil skirt with a zip and waistband.  I use the word pencil loosely as I am probably closer to the shape of a magic marker. 

Pencil-ish Skirt

Flushed with the success of this effort I went on to make a simple v-neck top with the rest of the scraps from the same length of material.  Please note that I will not be wearing the skirt and top together or I may be mistaken for an escaped Batik Wall Hanging from a museum of ethnic art.

Voluptuous Top Half Needed To Fill This Top

Finally, I made a sort of A-Line skirt with a drawstring waist.  Very forgiving on days when I feel like my bottom matches Marilyn´s.

Hurrah for drawstring waists!

And as a little thank you for getting this far into my post if you were expecting a tasty recipe (sorry, not today), and for thinking that the black spots on Marilyn were dirt on the camera lens and not a horrible plague of flies that decided to join me while I was taking photos…..here are a few snaps from when I visited Bali as part of my Round the World Trip in 2005.  Far too long ago…

Green Dress

I´ll blend in nicely on St Patrick´s Day in this....

So, anyone who popped by today hoping for a recipe or a vegetable garden update will be sorely disappointed.  Sorry!  Today is sewing, well dressmaking to be more precise.

I have never been formally taught to sew apart from a brief four week evening class about a hundred years ago which did, usefully, teach me how to put a sleeve in.  The rest I am picking up through trial and (a great deal of) error. 

Living in Spain has made buying clothes quite tricky for me. Being a woman who loves her food means that this is reflected in my shape – I think I´m an “apple”….well endowed on top, and not much bottom to speak of.  If only I could find my waist I´d be heading somewhere towards hourglass! Actually, no, I´d just be a top heavy woman with a waist and a flat bottom…

Spanish fashion, at least in Andalucía, seems to cater for either the very young, thin and trendy or middle aged and frumpy.  I´m probably over exaggerating, but finding something half way fashionable that suits a well rounded forty something is quite tricky.

This year I decided to stop buying things that I either never wear because I get them home and decide they´re hideous, or wear a few times and then they fall apart. I also have a wardrobe full of lovely clothes from my “past” which I felt could be recycled and given a new life.

Back to basics for me, both in terms of not spending money and using what I have at my disposal to recreate.  Buying new material though, is permissible! 

Having gone through my wardrobe now and pretty much renewed everything that could be altered, I have plenty more skirts that actually fit, dresses that go over my chest but come in at my hips and the charity shop is also a whole lot better off.

I wanted to make something simple, but to do it well and chose a summer shift dress from the latest Burda magazine.  No zip (although having said that, I think I´ve pretty much mastered putting in zips), but I added some darts to fit it a little while still leaving room to put it on!  It´s the first time I´ve done a v-neck and I used bias binding.  I´m sure professionals would turn their noses up at this short cut, but it worked well and I´m pleased with the results.

Ok, am off to put on my new summer frock and do a bit of wafting around in it!

From Strappy Long Dress to Mid Sleeved Cocktail Dress

           

Long and Strappy
 

 

When I was a grown up, living in London with a “proper” job, I often used to get invited to functions which required me to dress formally.  And great fun it was too.  Nowadays, I hardly get to change out of my flip flops, unless it´s into my wellington boots.  I have a large suitcase full of some lovely evening wear which will most probably never see the light of day again.  At least, not wrapped around my body, it won´t.

Short and Sleevey

 

We do get invited to lots of weddings though, and formal attire here bears no resemblance to what I would have worn in London.  Forget all thoughts of the Royal Wedding and think Gala Dinner and Dance or Cocktail Party.  Long gowns, sparkly frocks, big hair. And when you stop to consider that most weddings here take place in the hot summer months, it can be hot work looking gorgeous.

I generally, well never to be honest, wear a full length frock.  I go for cocktail length (i.e. on the knee for me) and it seems to work.  Not too hot, but glamorous enough.  I have also accepted that as the years pass, it´s best to try and cover up my “bingo wings” – those lovely flabby bits at the top of the arms that many of us girls become prone to.  Ain´t getting old fun?!

Anyway, in a bit of a dressmaking mood, I remembered a lovely red strappy dress that I had tucked away and decided that it needed a makeover.

It was floor length, with spaghetti straps so I cut it to knee length and adjusted the new hem.

With the scraps of material that came off from cutting it down I cut out new sleeves.  I made a muslin template with a sleeve pattern I had from making a dress a while back.  Luckily I did the muslin version first as I had to make it slightly larger to accommodate the different sleeve shape.

Getting those sleeves right

I cut out the final version of the sleeves in velvet.  The length of the sleeve was determined by the material I was working with, but I craftily used the hem of the dress to work as the hem of my new sleeves, saving me a little job.

I pinned the new sleeves round the straps.

Pinned...

 

...tacked...

Then I tacked (basted) them into place and removed the pins.

...and sewn!

I sewed the sleeves in by hand, which also served to overcast the edges and then machine sewed the inside hems of the sleeves together.

That was it.  The dress needs a good iron, but I´m sure it will now get to enjoy a happy second life at a party some time soon.

Sad Chairs, Happy Chairs

            Big Man hasn´t exactly gone hungry over the last two weeks, but a lot of my time has been taken up with recovering my dining chairs so we´ve eaten a lot of tortilla.  I´ve never been taught properly how to “do” dressmaking or upholstery, but have just picked things up as I went along. I´m sure the finished results are not perfect, and certainly not to a standard that I could get paid for the work, but I was really pleased with the way my most recent project turned out.  Big Head me!

Sad Chair (right), Half way through makeover (centre), Happy Chair (left)

            When we moved into the house 3 years ago, we bought a lovely dining table in a light oak colour and six matching chairs which were upholstered in a cream cotton type fabric. Obviously over time the colour started to look a little sad.  Particularly at the top where the chairs are held and moved around.  I tried fabric shampoo on them but it didn´t seem to make much difference.  At a fabric shop near Malaga, on a sneaky trip to Ikea (to buy napkins and candles, what else?!) I saw some lovely fabric in a burnt orange colour at a bargain price.  I had already measured the chairs and knew I needed just over six metres, so asked for seven (allowing for any mistakes).  There was eight and a half metres of fabric left on the roll, so the shop very kindly discounted the last metre and a half and I went home a happy woman.

            I started out by pinning large sheets of plain paper to a chair.  I had had to stick several together to get the pages wide and long enough.  Then I drew around the outline of the chair marking corners and edges and then cut the pattern out.

Making the Pattern Template

            The pattern was then pinned to the fabric and cut out, leaving a 2cm edge all around.

Pin Pattern to Fabric and Cut Out Leaving 2cm Edge

            The hard work then began, as the next part took the longest, particularly on the first chair which I needed to make sure was absolutely right before cutting out any more fabric.  Luckily it all worked out well!  I pinned the fabric, inside out, to the chair, using the pins as though I was tacking the material together.  This allowed me to pull it tight and manoeuvre it to get a good fit around the chair.  The fabric was then tacked in a contrasting cotton and the pins removed. 

Pin and tack to chair

            With the first chair I turned the fabric the right way round and slipped it back onto the chair to see how well it fitted.  Phew, all ok, so I was ready to sew.  Out came the trusty sewing machine and I machined the tacking in a matching thread with a straight stitch.  In order to ensure the fabric wouldn´t fray at the edges, I switched the machine to a zig zag and stitched all the edges to tidy them up.

...and stitch away...

            The final part was to turn the fabric right side out, slip it over the chair, and pull it tight at the bottom.  The chair was then flipped upside down and with a fine, flexible sewing needle, I tacked the zig zagged edges onto the underside of the chair.  I guess this could have been done more quickly with a strong stapler, but after Big Man put the wrong sized staples into ours the other day (we still can´t get them out), it was hand sewing for me. 

Hand sew or staple to base of chair

            The first chair took me the longest, probably about 8 hours in total over a couple of days, but by the time I got to the sixth and final chair, I think I was down to about 4 hours!  They´re all finished now and I´m happy with the results.  Here´s to many delicious meals eaten whilst sitting on the newly covered chairs.