Dog days

More baby stuff today (sorry – this has become a baby blog! for now at least), in the form of presents for friends’ babies. If you’re a sewing fan, you may be interested to know that you receive a free pattern when you sign up to the Purl Soho newsletter. When I did this last year, I chose the pattern for the Purl Soho pup, an adorable sausage dog made from cotton and wool felt. When cutting out the pattern pieces, I knew it was going to be fiddly, but the accompanying tutorial (with photos!) was really easy to follow and I actually enjoyed the whole sewing process a lot. Rather than, ahem, other times when sewing makes me stressed and sends me into a rage. I just took my time and followed the instructions, and before long, I had a pup!

I love this little sausage dog, the cute face and ears, and the squishy body is the perfect present for a little one. The first pup was made for Jim’s cousin, who had a little girl in the summer. Hence, pink and florals. The next one (sewed up a lot quicker) was for my friend’s little boy, born in October. I love the combination of beige and polka dots on this one – and, of course, the pom pom trim for a collar! I die.

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I often think I’m not very good at sewing (I certainly have yet to master curtains or dressmaking) but achieving small projects like this – and for them to actually look good – is really satisfying. It’s definitely helped to build up my sewing confidence. They’re not perfect, but in my mind that’s what makes them special: the little bits of handsewing, the slightly wonky ears! Of course, choosing the fabric combinations is one of the best parts, but seeing the faces of loved ones receiving a gift you have handmade with love – well that’s got to be the best part of all.

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Pants: an obsession

Great title for a blog post, no? Let me explain. With our baby due in March I have been having to hold myself back from too much shopping for the little one…not that I haven’t bought (ahem) some things, of course. But to try and abate this I have also been making a few bits for the babe. A bit of knitting, and some sewing too. Ever since Helen pointed me in the direction of Made by Rae and her wonderful FREE sewing tutorials, I had been hankering to make some adorable newborn pants. Rae describes the pattern as “so simple it’s scary”, and I’m inclined to agree with her.

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The newborn pant pattern really is a doddle. I made my first pair in a great elephant print I’d been saving for something special, and they turned out really cute.

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After that, I was longing to make more, so raided my fabric shelves for some inspiration. Deciding which fabric to use was loads of fun in itself. The day of the dead fabric is perhaps kind of random, I’m aware, but I’m sure our baby will appreciate the bold sartorial choice. My favourite of all is probably the foxes, oh THE FOXES! Again, I have Helen to thank for introducing me to that fabric.

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I made five pairs in total, because obviously baby needs trousers. I made them all over a couple of afternoons, and they were so much fun to put together – and so easy! Honestly, if you are a beginner sewer, you can make these cute pants. Skills needed: cutting things, sewing straight lines, using an iron. They are so quick and very satisfying, and will be perfect for our little spring-summer baby to lie about in.

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I think I’ve sated my pants obsession for now. I am currently knitting a pair of baby bloomers, though, so maybe I’m not quite over it just yet…
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A bear for a dear

It’s back to normal around these parts, which is lovely. Although I enjoyed planning our wedding, I have to say that I don’t miss it. I’m loving being at home, doing normal homely things. One such thing is a lot of crafting, as we have several friends who have babies on the way in the next few months. My friend Rachel gave birth to her second baby in July, and as I made Rachel’s first child a giant Humpty Dumpty a couple of years ago, it was only fair to make the new baby their own toy.

I’m a big fan of making toys for babies, as opposed to clothes, as children don’t grow out of them and will – hopefully – form a lifelong bond with their new pal. I decided to make a bear from Chloe tells you how…to sew by talented stitcher Chloe Owens. It’s a great, colourful book full of patterns for fun projects to stitch, from a toy rabbit to a patchwork quilt, to a feather headdress, cat bed, felt biscuits and earrings. The 60s fabric that Chloe favours really caught my eye, and made me want to make Fred bear straight away, with his happy face and smart braces…although I had plans to update this bear if Rachel’s baby turned out to be a girl!

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I was planning to stick with braces if the baby was a boy, but add a lace trim to the neck and waistline if a girl. When little Maria was born on 4th July I excitedly set to work adding the lace, and of course, eyelashes. Although I do a lot more knitting than sewing, I really enjoyed this project and think Mrs Bear turned out pretty cute, if double the size of the baby (she’ll grow into it). Furthermore, Mrs Bear didn’t take long to put together. My favourite part was probably choosing fabric for this project – there are so many possibilities! Also, well. The fabric in my craft room is getting a bit out of hand. Good job there are more babies on the way then…!

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Sashiko stitchers

Wow, hello! It’s been a while. Is it me or does Summer seem to be rushing by at an incredible pace? So many plans I made have just not happened. But I’m not letting it stress me out, going with the flow and enjoying our current heatwave. Recently there have been alfresco tea and knitting evenings, spending time with good friends, and having a great time at Larmer Tree festival in Dorset with Salle Pierre Lamy. August is even more jam-packed, with multiple birthdays, more trips away and planning for friends’ weddings in the Autumn. Phew!

One of the lovely things that happened this month was having Helen of Trees and Whatnot to visit. She came to teach a workshop at our weekly knitting group, all about Sashiko stitching. Helen is coming to the end of an MA and needed to conduct a workshop as part of her dissertation research. We knitters were more than happy to oblige! We spent a lovely evening learning about Sashiko: hailing from Japan, it is a form of decorative stitching traditionally used to reinforce points of wear with stitched patterns or patches. Nowadays, Sashiko is often used for decorative purposes in quilting and embroidery.

Helen first explained some of the history of Sashiko, and we talked about how society’s view of clothing (at least in the UK) has, in recent years, leaned towards a throwaway culture. With the advent of the online crafting movement, thankfully people are now embracing mending their clothes and other items to give them a new lease of life. We talked about the importance of “upcycling”, and how, by mending something that has been damaged, you can add to its history and increase its sentimental value.

We were then given pieces of navy blue fabric to practice our stitching on. Helen had drawn out our pattern for us already – there are many different decorative patterns to choose from in Sashiko, but we were to begin with the shippo tsunagi or interlocking circle pattern. Helen first demonstrated how to stitch in the Sashiko style, which I found very interesting: it is a straightforward running stitch, but instead of passing the needle up and down through the fabric between stitches, the fabric is gathered up so that many running stitches can be created in one pass of the needle. So simple, and so therapeutic! Everyone got the hang of the stitch really quickly, and we all loved seeing the pattern emerge on our indigo swatches.

After we’d practiced, we began work on other pieces which we’d brought along to mend or decorate. There was a vintage silk dressing gown, a skirt with a hole in it, and I began stitching interlocking circles onto the pockets of a pinafore dress. We had such a fun evening, and all the girls thoroughly enjoyed learning this new skill. Our friend Nia even finished her practice swatch that evening and turned it into a holder for her paintbrushes! Gal got skillz.

If you’d like to learn more about Sashiko, this book is a great resource. There is also a wealth of information all over the internet.

Finally, here are some photos from our evening…
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Teddy adventures

Last Autumn, my mum thrust my brother’s teddy bear at me and said, “Can you do something with him?” Poor Teddy Sam had spent years living in a cupboard at home in my brother’s old bedroom, and was a bit of a mess. His old t-shirt had gone missing and stuffing was disappearing out of the holes in his neck, head and body. He had been loved too much. His body was limp and flat and he badly needed some TLC, so I agreed to fix him up for my brother for Christmas. Let’s just get a couple of things clear first:

1. My brother is 31 years old
2. My brother named Teddy Sam after himself

Here he is, the poor little man. AAAAAW

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So I took Teddy Sam home and sewed up his head. Then I added some wool toy stuffing to his belly and sewed up the holes there. He was much plumper and, I believe, much happier already!

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Next I had to cover Teddy Sam’s modesty. I was originally going to knit him a fair isle tank top but, with Christmas fast approaching and other presents needing attention too, I decided that might be a bigger job than I could manage. So I turned to my trusty “Stash of Unfinished Knitting Projects” (also known as “Projects I Got Stuck on and Never Finished”) and found the perfect thing.

A knitted child’s dress ended up being far too long, and as I couldn’t figure out why – or be bothered to unravel all the wool – it sat forlorn in my projects box. Luckily for Teddy Sam! It was the perfect shade of cheery red, and I knew it could be easily adapted into a teddy-sized jumper. It would also involve me using a sewing technique I had never used before: steeking.

Traditionally, steeking is used when knitting jumpers or cardigans in the round, without any interruptions for openings or sleeves. After knitting, the garment is sewn and then cut (yes, cut!) to create sleeves and a front opening, if needed. There is an excellent explanation and tutorial on steeking over on Knitty.

So I did a bit of research on steeking – turns out there is a wealth of useful information all over the internet. I then measured Teddy Sam’s arms and body, then used pins to mark out where I would need to sew the piece of knitting to fit him.

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Next, I sewed along my marked lines – twice, to make it as secure as possible.

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I then carefully cut just outside the lines I had sewn, to create a T-shaped piece of knitting. Then I turned it inside out…ta da!

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In the photograph above you can see a pink line of wool along where the neck hole would be. Before cutting the hole, I used an embroidery needle to thread wool through two rows of knitting either side of the neck hole. This ensured that the stitches were secure and wouldn’t unravel when I cut the hole.

As you can see, the bottom of the knitted piece had a few rows of garter stitch. I wanted the top to match the bottom, so planned to knit garter stitch around the neck hole. I realised, though, that Teddy Sam was not going to fit through such a small hole with rigid stitches, so I decided I would have to put him in the jumper and knit the neck around him.

With some, ahem, gentle tugging, I got Teddy Sam into the jumper, removed the pink wool holding the stitches together and inserted four small double-pointed needles around the neckline.

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I then knitted several rows in garter stitch all around the neckline. This was rather fiddly, and I have to admit that some fudging was done.

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But it turned out pretty good!

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Finally, a bit of embroidery along the sleeve edges and a big old S on the front completed Teddy Sam’s jumper.

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And come Christmas, my brother seemed pretty pleased with newly-spruced Teddy Sam. I’m really happy with how this project went, despite at parts having to make it up as I went along. I learned some new skills, and gave a loved teddy a new lease of life. Now I’m looking at my own teddy, who looks a bit scruffy himself…