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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Emily, Molly and Bella

A while ago I indulged in three felt doll kits on special from Herrschners. Each kit delivered to Australia cost me $11.30 Australian. I bought Emily, Molly and Bella and began with Emily.

These kits are designed so children 8 years and over can make them. They come with everything needed to make the dolls - even the stuffing in a vacuum-sealed bag!

The felt pieces have holes punched where the stitches need to go. They use back stitch and blanket stitch.

They would be great for using with groups of kids - or for craft in nursing homes.
It is a simple, effective design. Instructions are fairly clear and the diagrams good. All stitching is done with a tapestry needle.

The kit includes a bag of beads that are emptied into the body below the stuffing to give it weight and sitting capacity. I reinforced the stitching around the bottom to be sure no beads would leak out.

It took me 6-7 hours from start to finish to make the first one (Emily). I added a mouth (which is not quite as crooked as the photo shows) because I don't like mouthless dolls.

It turns out by serendipity that the colours of this match perfectly the dress I smocked for Niamh, so I was pleased to find fabric in the colour-way of the second doll, Molly, for Veronica's dress!


Molly took me only about 5 hours to make.

These were exceptionally popular birthday presents. They just fit inside the bags I made to go with the dresses, but haven't spent much time in the bags!

Bella (kit picture, Brigid's has a mouth!)
I had a third doll kit, Bella, which I made up in about 4 hours last weekend for Brigid, who was going to Sydney to spend 5 days with her great uncle and aunt.

I accompanied her over but she will return on her own. I thought Bella would be a welcome companion.

I was right.

These were fun to make and very easy - a great idea. I notice they are out of stock at Herrschners, but still available elsewhere. I have requests for more clothes which shouldn't be too hard to fulfil.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bags from Smocking Scraps

I really hate to throw away the bits of smocking cut from the yokes of dresses to form the neckline. In the case of the recent Splendour in the Grass dresses, the cut-out piece was of reasonable size, as the neckline is fairly low.

As I had fabric left from both dresses, I made a couple of bags and decorated them with the left-over smocking.

The trickiest bit was neatening off the top edge of the smocking scrap so it wouldn't fray.

I backed this scrap to the top of the smocking with fabric.

I then cut a round shape - dictated mostly by the shape of my fabric and  smocking offcuts - four times from the fabric and twice from batting. I made two sandwiches of fabric and batting and roughly quilted the sandwiches.

I added the piece of smocking to the bottom of one of the sandwiches to form a pocket, then bound the top and attached a strap.

Result: a bag to match the dress.

I repeated the process with the chambray off-cuts and a slightly different shape.

Equally good result.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Splendour in the Grass Variation

In the end, I liked Splendour in the Grass so much I decided to use the pattern for the second birthday dress, this time using some modern batik fabric I bought in Denpasar, Indonesia. It is the same fabric I used to make the hardanger button box from Inspirations 73.

It pleated beautifully and was easier to stitch than the chambray - but may not wash and wear as well.

I used the same smocking design, but went for three blending colours rather than contrasting. I was tempted to go for completely subtle but included the pale pink in the end in deference to 5 year-old taste.                                                                                                                                                 

The frill was much easier to manage with the thinner cotton, giving a nice edge. I still needed to check I hadn't missed the edge anywhere and I did two rows of stitching to be sure.

I finished off the front with the tie made of the three smocking threads but used a couple of dragonfly buttons in place of the gold beads.

It's always a bit tricky, trying to get the right dress for the right child. I'm hoping these two dresses are sufficiently attractive in their own right to make both girls happy.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Smocked dress - Splendour in the Grass

With the fifth birthday of my twin granddaughters approaching I have been working through the projects I  planned for the event. The largest (in terms of work) of these was a smocked dress, Splendour in the Grass, from AS&E Issue 92, designed by Simela Constant. I really enjoyed making Simela's High Five jacket in AS&E 87 and love the look of Splendour in the Grass.

I  had bought a kit for this dress for Niamh, but had not yet to worked out what to do for Veronica. I do have a kit I bought for her, but decided to leave it for another year or two as it will fit up to 7 years and is probably better for a slightly older child. So I need to choose something else.

In the meantime, I got on to the smocking of Splendour in the Grass, which is in a lovely soft, pale blue chambray - rather more washed out in the photos than in reality.

I like the design a lot - both the smocking and the dress itself. It is smocked in a series of interlocking diamonds - a very interesting and effective way of combining simple two-step trellises.
The colours (not well produced in these photos) are fresh and great for Niamh, who is has hair verging on red. The chambray smocked beautifully and will be soft and pleasant to wear.

My challenge was to manage the cutting and sewing without my sewing room or the kitchen! Our kitchen table is in Jim's study, so I managed the cutting there.

My sewing machine is currently in a corner of my study and I hadn't tried it out. It proved to be workable-so I was in business.

I had to follow the instructions closely because they used a few techniques I hadn't used before. The dress has very clever side panels, cut away and stitched together at the shoulder to form the armhole and providing a backing to the frill. This really allows the smocking to shape the dress.

Both the front and back yokes open, the back closing with buttons, the front with a tie. This is a great design for small children, allowing a lot of flexibility in dressing and undressing.

My major challenge was in attaching the frill using Simela's technique of turning under the top edge of the frill panel and gathering through the two layers, then stitching the gathered frill on to the body of the dress through the two layers before removing the gathered threads. I should have practiced!  I am used to gathering frills through one fabric layer. And chambray wasn't the easiest fabric to try through two! It was more successful when I pinned and gathered in sections about one eighth of the circumference of the dress.

Nevertheless, I mastered it, and love the result. I think this is a pioneering design. I love the way the smocking gives such shape and fall to the dress and the side panels give an elegant form, allowing the shoulder frills to sit flat without any gaping at the sleeves. The ties hang easily because they are weighted by the beads. The dress allows very easy movement and will be so comfortable to wear.

I do hope this design is picked up and used by others. I'd love to keep making versions of it as the girls get older. It is really modern but also classical. I think it might be the best design of any I have made.

I wonder if Niamh will agree? Or Veronica - I've now decided to use this design for her dress as well.
Thanks Simela!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Peg Bag Construction

The fabrics I chose for the peg bag were a plain garnet-coloured homespun and two pieces of deep red screen-printed fabric designed by Lara Cameron of Ink and Spindle , 'Birch Forest' and 'Bonsai Forrest', both purchased at a Bowerbird Bazaar in Adelaide.

There are a number of Ink and Spindle fabrics using Australian plants that would be great for this bag  but I had Birch and Bonsai in my stash and they worked quite well. I also chose a red webbing rather than the natural colour in Inspirations. I figured it might look better over time.

I made a few changes in the notions as well. Rather than use a metal ring around the top of the bag I used nylon boning which I had to hand. It is lighter, won't rust and keeps the top open quite well.

The other change was to the base. Hettie's Patch, my local quilting shop, didn't have anything recognisable as 'ultra firm double-sided fusible stabiliser' so I substituted plastic canvas. It gives a firm base while allowing any water to drain away easily if the bag gets wet.

Once all the decisions were made the construction flowed fairly smoothly. The screen-printed fabric holds its shape really well, making the scallops quite easy to work with.

The top stands open nicely with the nylon boning.

My only problem was that I mislaid the latch hook I had so carefully purchased from the UK and spent the best part of a day tidying up all my workspaces before finding it on the floor where it had fallen!

I was pleased to use some ceramic buttons I had bought in Hobart on one of my visits about 10 years ago - just about perfect colour.

I think this is the most satisfying and enjoyable project I have worked on all year.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jenny McWhinney Peg Bag

Jenny McWhinney's Early Bird  project in Inspirations 75  immediately caught my eye and had me rummaging in my stash. As lovely as the finished item was, I couldn't bring myself to spend $75 on the kit for an item that, if used, will take quite a battering. I did, however, really want to make it - and make it NOW.

I had some sturdy cream linen from an Embroiderers' Guild sale of oddments, some dark red homespun and several pieces of cream and dark red screen printed cotton bought from Ink and Spindle at various Bowerbird Bazaars. I managed to source webbing of the right width from Earth Girl Fabrics in Melbourne. The swivel latch was more difficult, but I bought one in the end from Sew and So in the UK.  The total cost of $23 for both delivered includes enough webbing for another project.

By serendipity, the Doodler Lap Frame I had ordered from Nordic Needle to assist me with the Betsy Morgan Etui project (another story) arrived while I was getting organised for the peg bag, so I decided to try it out rather than use a hoop. I also decided to transfer the design to the linen using pencil rather than the stabiliser suggested. While I don't mind working with stabiliser on small projects, I didn't want to have a film of plastic between my fingers and the fabric on a piece this size.

I photocopied the design, went over the outline of the photocopy in black felt pen, then used a light box to trace the design in pencil to the linen.

Unfortunately, in my excitement I omitted two of the birds - only realising when I had the fabric stitched to the rollers. Easy enough to add - but I decided to finish what I had first.

The design is worked in three shades of red. I used what I had that was closest to the suggestions - two shades of garnet and a brighter red. As I went along I added in a third shade of garnet.

I love the free sketch feel of this project. The predominant stitch is backstitch. It is used like a pencil, to get different effects. I especially liked the barbed wire - two intertwining lines of sketchy backstitch with little straight stitch barbs. Really effective and fun to do.

The jacket is outlined in and filled with lines of backstitch, leaving blank the two shapes for pockets - in the manner of candlewicking.

The two finches were fun to stitch - quite a bit of variation with seed stitch, fly stitch and couched lattice added to the mix.I liked the effect of the seed stitch on the pigeon in particular.

Once I finished the finches I had to remove the fabric from the scroll frame - which had been very comfortable to work with on this project - and add the missing birds. I then used a 12" hoop in my sitting frame to finish. I think the red is a bit too much of a contrast - but then subtlety isn't the priority on a peg bag!

I really enjoyed embroidering this piece. I am glad I went for pencil outlines - much more comfortable to work with.

I am a bit wary of the construction - but also curious to see if my fabric choice will work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ruffled Pillowcases

It is now several months since our discussion about pillowcase styles in Australia and North America. I have now finished Vanessa and Victoria, the two ruffled pillowcases I bought from Herrschners at the same time as the others and put aside to embroider as birthday presents for my twin granddaughters. Their birthday is drawing near and I have been looking for easy projects to slip in while preoccupied with my family history blog and building work.

The pillowcases come ready-made and printed. Part of the printing is designed to remain after it is embroidered. This is very like 'fancy work' of my youth - no hoop, stem stitch and satin stitch.

Victoria is the green-toned one.

Vanessa is mauve-toned.

These are not the most exciting presents in the world, but I think the girls will enjoy going to sleep with their heads on these pillows and I have enjoyed the simplicity of embroidering them.