Friday, 31 July 2009

Log cabin block

First log cabin block, originally uploaded by soja.

I've been in a bit of a funk, sun frazzling the brain and stuff. So in an attempt to get me out of it I made a little list of things I've wanted to do (not things I have to/ should do...;-)). I decided to knock a couple of them off the list.

One of the things on the list was to learn a bit more about patchwork and quilting and try out some new (to me) techniques and patterns. I've been itching to make another quilt since my first attempt last summer. I wanted to try out some 'traditional' patterns. So, looking around, I fell in love with Jodie's pattern for a pinwheel baby quilt, when I saw it on the 'Two dogs and a Quilt' blog (link on the right) available for free in the Moda Bakeshop. After ordering the fabrics I need, I realised that this was the same quilt that Georgia had made so beautifully and I had admired on flickr. So it was meant to be. :-). I'm also treating myself to a rotary cutter, which should help to improve my cutting when it arrives. Now I have a ruler and a mat (I didn't last year), it didn't seem like such a big purchase.

In the mean time, I started this project yesterday. I've wanted to make a log cabin something ever since my beloved Uncle Michael gave be a needlecraft book for my 12th or 13th birthday and I loved the designs. He is the only person who has ever bought me craft books. He always took great care to notice what I was interested in at the time and then went and found me a book about it for my birthday. I also googled, of course, and decided to have a go at foundation piecing for the first time, following the great instructions provided here - and it's addictive!

I want to get better, I drew sewing lines on each and every strip to try and make my piecing more accurate, but I still need to work on this. I think that having a rotary cutter will help me to cut more exactly, and trim the finished blocks better, and then it's just practise and care I guess.

I made four blocks last night (I started with a 2" square and used 3 cm strips (mixing up the measurement systems there, comes from being young enough to have only learnt metric at school and old enough to have parents that only used inches...) And 3 cm is the width of my ruler, making cutting easier..... I'm going to make them up into a cushion cover for a dear friend, who always writes the right things, when I need to read them.

And links! Thanks to Stripey Cat for her very clear explanation on how to do it.

And um, does this post win a prize for greatest number of brackets used in one post? Eek.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

New toy with new home

I use a laptop (MacBook - thanks kind and generous friend) and no mouse, I've been happy with the trackpad and haven't missed a mouse in the last five years.

But, photo editing is a bit tricky with no mouse, depending on what you want to do, and I've been interested in using the computer to make more graphic images. For work I often make worksheets and draw and photocopy images to illustrate those. It would be easier, in the long run, if I could do that on the computer so that I have a permanent easily transportable copy, rather than folders and folders of paper.

And I've been playing with gimp, and it's fun. I was thinking about getting a mouse, though where I use the computer I haven't really got room for a mouse. Mostly because the cat has taken over the space next to the laptop... Then I was thinking that for what I wanted to do, a graphics tablet would be better anyway, and when I started idly searching on the internet I found that they weren't as hugely expensive as I thought they were, not cheap, but not that bad either.

Wacom Bamboo tablets seem to have a good reputation, I bought their cheapest model and I'm really impressed with it. Perhaps because I haven't used a mouse for so long, I'm finding using the pen and tablet intuitive and easy. The ArtRage software that came with it seems amazing, after only using the Paint programme on Windows before. Fun.

As neither the cat or the dog can be trusted around pens or pencils, I knew I would need a safe home for the tablet. Despite only arriving three days ago I was a bit horrified with myself to find that I had already managed to scuff one side of the tablet. So action was needed.

This little pouch didn't take too long, I quilted one piece of fabric with straight lines, using a piece of masking tape as a guide, then used two strips of matching fabric to bind the short ends and then two longer strips to bind the sides. And a covered button and elastic loop fastening.

The fabric is from Ikea, I think it is one of their newer ranges. This would be lovely for a bag too...

Monday, 27 July 2009

Early morning

Early morning sun, originally uploaded by soja.

The light is beautiful, this is the third time in a fortnight that I have stayed up all night to enjoy the cool air of the night and the early morning. This way it is cool enough to sleep, Lucky enjoys his last walk and first walk of the day, the day is seen at it's best..... and I am completely stonked by midday!

Though I hold out until lunch time and take a siesta, like many of my neighbours. It's just that mine starts earlier before lunchtime at 2pm and finishes later at 6pm. And sometimes I feel as if I have jet-lag by about 10 am. Not today though, It's 11.30 and I'm on my second breakfast of the day, all is good with my small part of the world.

And I finished those buttons. They are about 15mm, the smaller ones I bought (all 100 of them) don't seem to work with the universal button covering tool. Oh. But this size seems ok.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Tiny Totes

Simple Totes from BTRS -fronts, originally uploaded by soja.

Teeny tiny and sturdy. These are the 'Simple Tote' pattern from 'Bend the Rules Sewing' by Amy Karol. I'd made one of these before, using the measurements given in the book, so knew that they were small. I think they are a good size for children, they can carry them themselves without the bag dragging on the floor, or they are a good size for an adult's handbag (purse for any Americans out there). I like the way that the long handle is threaded through the short handle to keep the bag closed.

I made these with 100% cotton material from Ikea, they are all furnishing (home dec) weight fabric, two are also lined with furnishing fabric, making them especially sturdy, and two are lined with medium weight cotton. I love the colours and patterns. I thought these would be good things to make to sell, but I'm having second thoughts.

Theoretically, they should be quick and simple to make, but my machine seemed to be really out of sorts this week, what with that and the temperature being above 40ºC, it all seemed too much trouble. I went from using a 14 to a number 16 needle to try and get a good finish on the topstitching. I think I have sewed these bags several times over. Unlike unravelling knitting, there is really only so many times you can undo stitching before spoiling the material. I think this is why I find knitting more relaxing than sewing....

After abandoning the bags for a couple of days, I finished them today, the machine behaved - despite not changing the settings, thread or needle. grrr! I still can't get the top stitching perfect, though it is much better than it was. And I do like the result.

I've also been covering a few more buttons.... perhaps some pictures tomorrow. The anticipation, I know.... ;-)

OK, 10pm 36ºC, cold beer or sangria is calling to me from the fridge. Apologies to anyone suffering from the cold, I don't usually complain about the bright hot sunny days, but when I walked out on the street yesterday I looked to see what lorry or mobile device was causing the hot oven-like blast of heat, to realise it was the sun. Crazy hot.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Mice to see you

Mice to see you, originally uploaded by soja.

Turned out mice again. Mice day for it. Okay, I'll stop the bad mice jokes. If you want to make one the free instructions can be found at:

If you want to buy one.... these are likely to be found in an Etsy shop in a couple of weeks time... I plan to make/finish a couple more things before I open up. Eek! Or perhaps that should be "squeak!"

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Dandelion life cycle buttons

Dandelion life cycle buttons, originally uploaded by soja.

I've had his idea for a while, and finally got around to it this weekend. There are six buttons in the set.

I embroidered the fabric first, using a hoop and one or two strands of six-strand cotton embroidery floss, then cut the linen-mix fabric and covered the buttons. Each button is about 2cm (7/8") in diameter.

Not sure what I am going to use them for.... perhaps they can go in the as-yet-unopened Etsy shop one day!

Wow! 100 posts.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Wooden Dolls

Russian Dolls, originally uploaded by soja.

Matryoshka. I've always wanted a set of my own, for as long as I can remember. I don't know where my love for them came from.

In fact, this is my second set. Last year a good friend of mine bought me back a beautiful, smaller, more carefully finished family from a business trip to Russia. And now I seem to have inadvertently started a little collection of wooden dolls, a beautiful painted traditional doll picked up in Tokyo, a couple of funny fat-bellied little lucky characters given to me by students from Siberia, a modern cupcake-carrying Japanese inspired doll... and now these.

I was looking for various sewing bits and pieces in a Chinese Bazaar and came across this lonely, neglected set of nesting dolls, between a wooden zebra and a plastic budha, marked at €3.50. Even unvarnished, and perhaps a little roughly painted, it didn't seem much for the work that must be involved in making them.

I'm not sure where they are really from. Chinese Bazaars here in Spain are not so exotic as they sound, they are the equivalent of Poundland Shops in the UK, 100 Yen shops in Japan, and I guess the dollar stores in the US. There was only this one set, I haven't seen them in any of the many Chinese Bazaars before, so I don't know how they found their way to Southern Spain. Still, with a little careful painting I think that I can give the smallest babe a face and perhaps give the smaller dolls some eyelashes, a coat of varnish to protect them, and they will be a welcome addition to my little collection.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

I love YouTube

I saw this on Loobylu's blog a couple of days ago, but it has taken me this long to work out how to embed it (I'd link to Loobylu's blog post but I don't know how to do that either) - there is a link to her blog in the right-hand side bar).

I love it! So clever and sweet at the same time. :-)

Having a very techy week, I must have watched hours of "how-to... on gimp" tutorials. My two-year-old version of Photoshop elements wouldn't work on this one-year-old intel mac, and I couldn't face buying another copy, so I've had a year of no Photoshop. Now I'm wondering why I bought it at all, Gimp seems to be just as good and it is completely free. Perhaps this blog will even end up with a banner one day. All this learning new stuff is great, but my head is buzzing, and what with the heat and extra loud buzzing cicadas it's making sleep impossible. So what do you do when you can't sleep? Well, lets just say that little mouse now has 15 little friends to play with. They are addictive to make - anyone else had a look at the instructions and made one yet?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Parsley mouse

Parsley mouse, originally uploaded by soja.

Free instructions here:

Summer lunch

Summer lunch, originally uploaded by soja.

Phew! Not today's lunch, today is just too hot and I think lunch is going to consist of horchata ice lollies - at least til it cools down a little.

My summer eating is a weird mixture of lots of healthy, fresh fruit and vegtables, sort of balanced with not so healthy stuff because I'm too hot to prepare anything, yesterdays dinner was popcorn and melon.

I definitely eat more fruit when it's hot, lots of melon, and lots of soft fruits, peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries. And I love it when the tomatoes become cheaper and tastier all at the same time. This meal used a mixture of cherry and salad tomatoes. Fried/simmered down into a base of finely diced softened onion and garlic in olive oil.
A good slug of red wine, a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, a little sweet chilli sauce, a pinch of salt and lots of fresh basil and a handful of nasturtian greens from the balcony. And possibly my favourite beans - broad beans. Delicious.

The basil is growing better than ever before on the balcony this year I have pots and pots of it, lovely.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Finished Tortoises

Tortoises, originally uploaded by soja.

These are so fun to stack, I've been playing with them! I think the mouths really give them characters. It seems to be in their character to be a little wonky here and there..... hopefully most people would agree(!)

But phew, 40 legs (including the two from yesterday) in different colours - I'm not sure if I'll make this many all at once again!

Monday, 13 July 2009

It takes two....

It takes two...., originally uploaded by soja.

A little present for a little boy... a bit of a repeat, very similar to the two made last year for another little boy for his second birthday during the 'Learning to Sew flickr group sew-a-long.'

These are, pretty much, the turtles in Amy Karol's 'Bend the Rules Sewing' book. I changed the pattern a little, I cut out one cone-shaped piece of fabric for the tail, making one seam, instead 0f cutting two triangular pieces and making two seams - I remember finding the tail impossible to turn right side out last year.

I also cut the bottom as one piece, leaving a gap in the side to turn the body right side out. This was more because I had forgotten the bottom piece was supposed to be cut as two pieces, leaving a gap for turning- I had lost the pattern pieces for the bottom and the legs so I just drew them freehand at what I hoped was the right size.

I also appliqued a couple of felt "2"s onto their backs just to add a little hand stitched love and embroidered the eye and mouths.

As I was already making two, I cut out and sewed another eight at the same time. 32 leg pieces. Phew. It makes the cutting out quicker, and some of the sewing, but I had to stop to change the thread colour a few times, so not that quick really. The rest are nearly finished, they just need faces. They look really cute all bundled up in my project basket. They are going to be put aside for 'the shop'.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Ahoy there, me hearties!

Ahoy there, me hearties!, originally uploaded by soja.

And some pirates too! I couldn't get to sleep until I'd got these made, funny. The eyes are felt and embroidery, I covered and stuffed some buttons for the noses. I like the way the head gear had turned out. I cut up a bandana (1/8 of a bandana per pirate) for the headscarfs, and worked out a little paper pirate hat first, before cutting it in the felt.

I like the bare-chested pirates too - I'm still debating whether to add some chest hair to these. :-)

I say, I say, I say...have you heard the one about....?

Clowns, originally uploaded by soja.

I made some adjustments to the original pattern and methods, and added to the first two clowns.

The hands were ok, but a bit thin and floppy, so I have lined each hand with polar fleece, giving them a nice rounded, padded shape and feel. All details are stitched on, so if really necessary they can be washed in a machine. I tested this by washing the first two. They came out fine, but the felt was more felted, the rest of the clown (body, hair, trimmings, costume) were completely unaffected. It worries me when I see toys made for youngish (or even oldish) children that can't we washed.

I also decided that the black and white clown needed a hat, and the red multi-coloured clown needed three pom-poms, not two on his shirt.

I also handsewed quite a bit, I unpicked the original hems and re-did them by hand and I think it was worth it. The felt and some of the buttons came from an Etsy seller - Fuzzy Fish, very colourful, and now I know where I can reliably get hold of acrylic felt.

I've registered with etsy as a seller, rather than just a buyer. So now am just procrastinating and thinking about what to do next. I've really enjoyed making these puppets, so that's a good start. The plan is to make up a few things now, after all, I am sort of unemployed until September/October, perhaps getting things ready for sometime in August or September.

There is quite a lot to find out. I need to find out the postage costs from Spain to various countries, this could be a problem as it seems it's cheaper to send things from the UK to Spain, than Spain to the UK, the USA also seems to have a much cheaper postal system - lucky them! Well, I'm going to try and get a list of weights and cost.

I read lots of interesting articles on opening a shop over at etsy, lots of food for thought. Etsians seem to be a friendly helpful bunch, there is a lot of advice posted, though I might not be able to follow all of the recommendations - if I paid myself a 'minimum wage' for making these - it would make them far too expensive - I guess I am a slow maker! ;-) Still, it hadn't occurred to me that by selling at too low a price I would be undercutting someone who was trying to run a business and relying on the income. Hmm, I don't think I'm going to be giving up the day job any time soon!!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Hand Puppets - clowns!

Hand Puppets - clowns!, originally uploaded by soja.

I loved all sorts of puppets when I was younger. Though perhaps not clowns, they were either too sad or too silly. These guys have promised to be behave, however... 

The idea came from an old sewing book - The Collins Complete Book of Needlecraft (reprinted 1981, first ed. 1978). I bought it second-hand years ago and I find it useful to refer to for techniques and ideas. I notice in the older craft books, apart from the explanation of the techniques, which are usually clear and easy to follow, the projects are often more ideas than the step by step instructions that you get now. For example, for the puppets, it tells you you can use different coloured fabrics and make up hats and outfits - basically use your own imagination I suppose!

I remember thinking that the heavier Ikea cotton fabrics would be good for toys and puppets when I first got some, although my machine isn't keen on the black print, it is a little denser than the colourful print. These puppets were made using materials I already had - except the fuzzy pompoms - strangely they turned up in the supermarket and I couldn't resist buying a packet for these.

Anyway, these were fairly easy, I had to redo the necks as I found the gap a little too tight for two fingers, and for some reason my machine's tension went out of whack on every second or third seam. Grrr!

Now I'm thinking of other good pairs to go together. Hmm, doctor and patient, rival pirates, cops and robbers.... I've found at school that two puppets is always better than one - it encourages more language and imagination, it's almost inevitable that the puppets are going to 'talk' to each other..

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

WIP 4 - The Face

An afternoon, originally uploaded by soja.

So, while the paella was happily cooking itself in the microwave (many thanks to Bryanna Clark Grogan for revealing that that was possibe, in her book Nonna's Italian Kitchen), I tried out a few ideas for the face. 

I used separate pieces of fabric to play with and practice on. I tried a few different painted features, a completely embroidered face, different sized and shaped eyes, full lips, and simple lines, cheeks and no cheeks, nose, no nose etc and decided to settle on the simple embroidered and felt circle version. Hmm, pretty difficult to find a shade of pink that didn't clash with the purple hair or the blue face ;-) I think I'm happy with this. I'd originally planned on making the eyes more detailed - what do you think?

I've ordered some lovely coloured acrylic felt from a UK Etsy seller (Fuzzy Fish). She has dozens of shades availabe, and even with the postage, it is much cheaper than I can buy here. Of course, I don't need much here, but I have plans for finger puppets in the future - thinking of Christmas gifts already!!

WIP 3 - Hair stage 2

WIP -3 Hair stage 2, originally uploaded by soja.

I can't work how to adjust the photo in fd's flickr toys mosaic maker, I don't think I can, without cropping the photo and uploading again.

Anyway, the hair, mostly done. I think that I may need to add a couple more strands of yarn here and there - there is well over 50g of acrylic yarn on her head already! In the future I will adjust the lengths of hair that i add, and maybe use combinations of different yarns (thicknesses, colours, feel...) It took a long time - but really, I had forgotten how much i enjoy sewing like this, when I was a girl I just used to make things up, I got books from the library, but didn't buy patterns and rarely fabric - I used what I could find at home.

So, the advantages of this method - there is a lot of hair, it can be played and restyled as much as the owner wishes, there are no 'bald spots' or fixed styles, and with this much yarn it is unlikely that it will ever become particularly thin. It also adds a nice weight to the doll, though I still found i could prop her up in a sitting or standing position without her toppling over (I think the feet shape helps here).

The disadvantages are the amount of yarn and time required, though I enjoyed the process, so I guess the advantages win out here. :-)

A couple more pictures are on my flickr page if you want to see them.

The outfit is based on the Chinese Doll outfit in Pamela Peake's book (see previous post) adapted to fit my doll and other tweaks here and there.

WIP - Hair Stage One

I've finished the hair now - but it's too late and too dark to take a picture!

This is definitely a more time consuming method, and it takes about 6 times more hair than the method I used to use.... but the result is a very full head of hair that can be played with - plaited, tied up, unplaited, styled without limit. Though it takes several hours.

Anyway, this is a new technique to me, I'm not really a crocheter (new word...) more of a knitter, so I had to look up the stitch names before I could start. Fortunately when I was googling crochet hook sizes to convert the American sizes given to the European metric sizes I'm familiar with I also found out then the names for American and British stitches vary too. This cap was crochet with a 5 mm hook (American 'h') and double knitting wool using a half treble stitch (American half double).

With this method a skull cap is crocheted first, then each strand of yarn attached individually. I found very useful information, very kindly, and freely available at As my doll is differently shaped I had to adapt the instructions a little to make a cap that fitted, the first one was a little bit too big, and didn't curve around the head well enough, but a little unravelling and the second attempt seems to be pretty good.

Pattern (for my memory):

Make 4ch. Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
1st round. Work 8 htr into centre of ring. Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
2nd round. Work turning ch as necessary (htr = 2ch) and once more into st at base of turning ch and then twice into every st to end (16 st). Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
3rd round. Work turning ch and one more htr into same place (work once into next st, twice into next st) to end (24 st). Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
4th round. (Beginning to shape). Work turning ch and one more st into same place. (work once into next three sts, twice into next (4th) st) repeat to end. Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
5th round. (Beginning to shape). Work turning ch and one more st into same place. (work once into next four sts, twice into next (5th) st) repeat to end. Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
6th round. (Beginning to shape). Work turning ch and one more st into same place. (work once into next five sts, twice into next (6th) st) repeat to end. Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
7th round. (Beginning to shape). Work turning ch and one more st into same place. (work once into next six sts, twice into next (7th) st) repeat to end. Join with a ss to top of turning ch.
Cast off.

I shaped this cap onto the head, pulling it in or out to make a hairline, then sewed it on with cotton thread before starting to latch on the individual lengths of yarn. Another time I may add the 'hairs' before attaching the cap to the head so that it will be easier to attach the yarn to the outside edge of the cap. This has resulted in a very full head of hair - I like the look of it. Now I can understand why those waldorf dolls are expensive - they are very time consuming to make. Still, it was an enjoyable type of make, rather than one of those frustrating, wanting to throw the project out the window type of ones.... ;-)