Sunday, 9 December 2012

Knitting machines - keep or sell??

I need your advice!!

So I have these knitting machines. Three, to be exact. Brothers KH-860, KH-260 and a KH-830. Complete with their ribbing attachments, little foldy table, some cones of yarn, and some wonderfully 90s pattern books and punch cards. I've had them for a couple of years now, gathering dust under my bed, so the other day I figured I'd just do the sensible thing and list them up on eBay. Because, really, when am I going to have the time to figure out how in the hell to operate them, and who wouldn't want an extra hundred quid or two just before Christmas?

But then I got them out to take some photographs...

Scary looking? Hell yeah. But aren't you now feeling kind of intrigued...? Immediately I Google the models and up come a flurry of YouTube tutorials on how to set them up, cast on, and do all sorts of amazing stuff... It is thanks to YouTube that I learnt to hand knit after all; now the world of machine knitting could become my oyster too! And let's face it, when it comes to hand knitting, I'm more of an instant gratification kind of gal with a penchant for circular needles or DPNs, so how great would it be to be able to think up and whip up, and I mean really whip up, a few cabled jumpers here and there for me and the little man? A great big knitted blanket for f*** sake??? Plan to list on eBay scrapped there and then.

I did think I should probably double check how much they were going for though... £500 each??!! That's potentially £1500 for all three! What do I do guys?? I need your help here. Do I keep them and get all obsessed with this new-to-me craft, or take the money and run? Not sure where I'm running to but you know what I mean. The learning of a new craft is always so deeply exciting... I love that I'm building up a bank of skills and developing my creativity in ways I hadn't planned. And of course, the making and the wearing and the giving of something I've made is also a big motivator! But the time and the money that goes into these hobbies, and those slightly manic nights when you can't get to sleep because you're so excited and inspired and just need to keep on knitting...! Don't I already have enough on my plate?

What do I do? What would you do??

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Advent 2012

Oh man I love this time of year. The dark days, the bitter chill, the cosy evenings, the fact that it's practically a crime not to fatten oneself up on stews and roasts and pies and puddings and... And I know I shouldn't be wishing my life away but I can't deny that I do spend most of year looking forward to now. Thank goodness then, that some clever soul thought up an Advent Calendar to help us squeeze every last tinsel clad drop out of the festive season before it's all over, all over again!

This is the Advent Calendar I made last year (tutorial here) and it really was the best I've ever had - for each day we thought of a little Christmassy something to do, with the odd treat or silly present hidden in random pockets. Last year my little man (who was three at the time) would get such a kick out of finding the right numbered pocket every morning, while I got all over excited about decorating the tree and making infinite batches of some cakey deliciousness or other! This year he's wanted to be more involved in the planning of our calendar, thinking up ideas of how he'd like to spend his holidays, and dedicating long hours to the decoration of his den... hmmn... let's just say he's nicked my favourite star fairy lights, and I'm down an entire roll of doubled sided tape and box of rhinestones. I'm actually a little envious. It looks really cool.

~ Advent Activity List 2012 ~

1. Pancakes for breakfast!
2. Decorate the Christmas tree.
3. Write a letter to Father Christmas.
4. Decorate the den.
5. Read stories about Saint Nicholas.
6. Go to our local street party to see the Christmas lights being switched on.
7. Hang out wreath.
8. Read stories about Hanukkah.
9. Movie night! Make popcorn and watch Christmassy movies.
10. Make Christmas cards for family and friends.
11. Gather unwanted toys, books, clothes etc and donate to charity.
12. Ice-skating at the Natural History Museum.
13. Practice singing Christmas Carols.
14. Wrap up warm and take a hot picnic to Kew Gardens. Remember bread for the ducks!
15. Escape to the country...
16. Bake and decorate sugar cookies to hang on the tree.
17. Make hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts and read stories by the fire.
18. Make Christmas spice cupcakes to take to school for the Christmas Party.
19. Appointment with Father Christmas!
20. Make Christmas Crackers.
21. Read stories about the baby Jesus.
22. Go to St Paul's Cathedral to listen to the choir.
23. Make a wish...
24. Hang out stockings for Father Christmas (don't forget to leave the reindeer a treat!).

For the little cards I just got a piece of thick brown paper and stamped it with white snowflakes using the butt of a butternut squash and a snowflake shaped cookie cutter. Once it had dried I cut the paper up into 24 little cards and wrote each activity over the top.

PS. Last year I found the following image on Pinterest... It seems someone had the genius idea of setting up a "Santa writes back" studio - I had every intention of doing this last Christmas but never got around to it. That and I don't think my boy really and actually understood, not like he does this year! So I have no idea if it's still happening or if they'll reply overseas, but I'm going to give it a go, and here are the details if you want to write to Santa too!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Sewing under the influence

One thing from my PMS sewing list: done! The small collar blouse from Japanese pattern book, Simple Chic.

Despite its casual, breezy appearance, I'm actually more enamoured by this shirt that many of my other more complicated or glamourous makes. For two reasons: firstly, I don't actually remember making it... I was completely out if it having gone under a general anaesthetic the day before, and considering all the morphine and codeine and whatever else they pumped into my system, it's a wonder I didn't stitch my fingers to the machine let alone come away with a shirt so well made and beautifully finished! Man, I even took the time to blind stitch the hem - although that part I do remember - and rest assured my fingers received a fair few stabs of the hand sewing needle whilst I zoned out to my second apocalyptic movie that day... And secondly, I feel like I've had a bit of a eureka moment with the making of this shirt. My monotonous everyday uniform of jeans & t-shirt couldn't be further from the sort of things I make and wear to go out, and I've been struggling to bridge the gap between studio slouch and dressed for the Opera. Not that I give even the teeniest damn what I look like when I'm slouching about, it's just that there are times when I'd like to feel a little more interestingly put together, yet still casual and comfortable. For me, this shirt does exactly that.

Construction-wise, I had been interested to see what it would be like working from this book, seeing as all the instructions are in Japanese. Before my operation I started making notes in the book as I figured out that the patterns did not include seam allowance, I began interpreting the characters for things like Centre Front, Side Panel... I figured out the sizing chart, then got confused as there seemed to be only one cutting line for this pattern - I was almost going to write a Help Me! post when I realised it was one size fits all! 

The fabric is from a grotty little market stall in Kilburn and cost me all of £1 per metre! For that price I would've expected something deeply unnatural but it feels like cotton voile, and behaves like it too - easily creases, irons like a dream and no meltage when burned. So why was it so cheap?? 

Despite the language barrier, the technical drawings in this book are incredible. Each step is so clearly illustrated and impossible to mis-understand, even post-op and under the influence of serious pain killers. The epitome of sewing instructions! 

All in all, mega success. 

New skills acquired: interpreting Japanese sewing instructions; sewing under the influence. 

It's the kind of shirt I always wanted to buy but never found and somehow never thought to make - until now. Hardly surprisingly, I want to make more. And wouldn't it be cute as a mini-dress...?

Friday, 2 November 2012

By Hand London is LIVE!!! is officially LIVE and our very first collection of sewing patterns is now 
FOR SALE, for real!

We’ve sat here, teary-eyed as we watch the first orders roll in, trying to think of a more eloquent/witty/intelligent way of announcing this… but there’s really no other way than WE’RE LIVE! IT’S REAL! WE DID IT!!
We are nervous, excited, terrified, proud… and we can’t wait to hear what YOU think. Any feedback would be so much appreciated – it is our first collection after all, and we only want to keep improving on our collections to come.
There’ll be a little silence over at the By Hand Blog as we recoup our emotions, send out packages, and put the finishing touches to the Spring Summer 2013 toiles… I am also currently recovering from an operation I had at the beginning of this week to remove a stone from my salivary gland so I'm hoping to get some light personal sewing done as I potter about the house, swollen of face and slurping of soup (I'm SO hungry!! Definitely going for a Mexican when I'm better... and a pizza... and...). Keep checking back to By Hand London though, as we will be back with details of the Charlotte Skirt SEWALONG which will be commencing mid-November!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Hooded Simon - a knitting pattern

Will I be shot by the Sun-lovers if I admit that I'm in trans-seasonal bliss right now? The temperatures are erring towards freezing and the clocks have gone back eliminating another hour of sunlight; there are still heaps of crispy Autumn leaves everywhere fresh for the frolicking, and still a week to go before all the fireworks and mulled wine and toffee apples... It is getting seriously cold though. Perfect timing, then, to make a start on this year's snood, or Simon, as I will from now on be calling them, thanks to Kathryn of Yes I Like That. Made from Toft's chunky alpaca yarn and 10mm circular needles, this guy was knit in an evening and a half and has been warming my scalp ever since. Here's how:

You will need:
Gauge: 10 stitches / 14 rows = 4"

Cast on 60 stitches. Being careful not to twist your stitches, join to work in the round.
Knit 6 rounds of garter stitch (knit one round, purl one round, repeat).
Knit approx 22 rounds of stockinette stitch (just knit rounds), or until your snood is as deep as you want it to be around your neck.
Next round: knit 17, purl 26, knit 17. This sets up the width/depth of the hood. To adjust, increase or decrease the number of knit stitches either side or the purls - and obviously decreasing/increasing the number of purls accordingly to keep the number of stitches in the round consistent. This hood was designed to sit perfectly on the head as in the picture, therefore I would advise against making the hood shallower.
Next round: knit.
Repeat the last 2 rounds twice more.
Next round: knit 20, bind off 20 stitches, knit 20.

Working the hood:

Now, still on the circular needles, but now working in rows knitting the hood back and forth:
Row 1: purl 37, knit 3.
Row 2: knit 37, purl 3.
Continue in this manner, repeating rows 1 & 2 until your hood reaches your desired length (mine is quite long - it's to hold all my hair, of which I have a lot).
End on a knit row - as if you were just about to begin another row of purls.

Closing the hood:

The best way to close the hood (in my opinion) is with the kitchener stitch: holding the needles together (wrong sides of the work facing), cut the yarn leaving a nice long tail (about 4 times the length of what you'll be stitching o be safe). Thread on a yarn needle and following this great video tutorial, close the hood with the kitchener stitch.

You could, alternatively, cast off at this point and with right sides together stitch the top of the hood closed, or cast off both sides of live stitches with a 3 needle bind off. Man, wouldn't it be fun to make knitting technique video demonstrations? But in a really fun (& still instructional) way...?

With the advantage of hindsight, next time I make this I will avoid the silvery grey colour... Let's face it - I'm reminding you a bit of a knight in a chain maille hood, am I right?? A super cosy knight, mind you.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Pre-menstrual sewing plans*

*Warning: this post is has a fundamentally feminine undertone. If you are a man, and you find 'time of the month' talk offensive/nauseating/unfathomable, look away now. Or, for a little insight into the workings of a pre-menstrual mind, keep reading...

As I mentioned in my interview at Stitch & Witter, I am one of those sewists whose self-stitched wardrobe is firmly rooted in "too much frosting, not enough cake" territory - a term so perfectly coined by Sewaholic's Tasia. Always planning to make more everyday appropriate attire, but so often getting distracted by delicious fabric and vintage patterns better suited to cocktail dresses. Kidding myself by thinking that the more silk skirts I make, the more I'll be encouraged to dress accordingly every day. So has this become my reality? Do I take my son to school wearing sheer tulle princess skirts? Do I swan about in Sainsbury's in floor sweeping dipped hem dresses? The answer my friends - and sorry if this comes as a disappointment - is no, I most certainly do not. In reality, I like to stay in my pyjamas for as long as is socially acceptable. And this desire to be as comfortable as humanly possible without being naked, is at no time more heightened than during that week. You know what I'm saying here - that week just before the painters set up camp in my uterus, I hate everything my wardrobe has to offer (except for my pyjamas). 

And so it was the other day, as I sat glaring at all the things I didn't want to wear, I decided I would, right there and then, make a list of things I'd be happy wearing whilst feeling my worst. This is it guys, my pre-menstrual sewing agenda - time to start stitching up some cake and give the frosting a rest.

First up, and keeping to the pyjamas theme, I've been meaning to make a pair of slouchy silk peg leg trousers for yonks. Soft and slinky, low slung and worn with a t-shirt and cashmere jumper... aaahh bloody bliss. I've yet to find a pattern so any suggestions would be most welcome, if not I'll be drafting up these babies myself.

like this but silk - image source

The next thing I always imagine myself reaching for on those grouchy mornings is a loose, swingy blouse in a bright happy fabric... and I think I've found just the thing in my new Japanese pattern book, Simple Chic

A recent online trip to Etsy left me completely smitten with Japan Lovely Crafts' selection of pattern books (and the completely adorable Nobuko who runs the shop), most of which seem to be designed with pre-menstrual women in mind! Easy wearing and slouchy, yet somehow clean and contemporary at the same time. I already had the perfect fabric for C-2: the small collar blouse, and am cutting as we speak:

I am a firm believer that a girl can never have too many knits, especially when cramps need nursing, but for someone who believes this so wholeheartedly, I have far too few. I am ashamed to admit that despite the fact that I have been knitting for five years (and crocheting for 20), I have only ever made myself one cardigan. Countless scarves, snoods, hats, baby things, mittens, socks etc etc etc... but only one cardigan. Right now I'm still struggling to finish a cabled jumper I started this time last year, but more about that later.

I wish I had the patience (and a few extra hours in the day) to embark on a project of such perfection as this swing jumper being knit right now by Heather Lou, but I know I'd be knitting it from now until forever so I'm thinking about cheating ever so slightly... what if I found some lovely chunky knit wool fabric and stitched up something along these lines:

image source

Oh, the coze.

Next up, and this kind of goes without saying, are a bunch of jersey tops. Another thing that one can never have too many of - and I already have a fair few of Dixie DIY's short sleeved swing tops. But it's pretty damn cold these days so I'm going to take one day of quiet over half term to churn out a few long sleeved tops; maybe I'll even get a chance to try out Dixie's brand new Hot Cocoa Sweater pattern (free to download here!). 

Lastly, and perfectly completing my 'period closet', I want to make a drapey jacket/cardigan type thing.  Two patterns have caught my eye: another from Simple Chic, and a sleeveless version from an old Burda:

Looking at them together now, I think I'll be going for the Simple Chic pattern - not only am I too lazy right now to draft a sleeve, but also I think the Burda pattern has a bit too much swing, lending it more of a maternity vibe. I have the perfect fabric for this in my stash too - a light and crisp, yet weighty linen - however it is a difficult shade of cornflour blue (what the hell was I planning to make with cornflower blue linen??)... but I plan to rectify that with some black dye. 

I'm feeling very excited about this list girls; finally a plan to make some bits that might see some real action for a change. Meanwhile I'm still reassuring my silk dresses and see-through skirts that the perfect party for them is coming real soon...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

My Handmade Style at Stitch and Witter

It's the moment I've been waiting for all week... 

A few months back I was bowled over when Joanne of Stitch & Witter - who's blog makes it to most of our Top 5's I'd wager - asked me to take part in a series of interviews discussing handmade style she was to be hosting on her blog. Bowled over that Joanne even thought of me, and even more over-bowled when I began to see the prestigious company I was in. Ever wondered about SallieOh's split style personality? Tilly's mantra? Zoe's secret obsession with Diner Waitresses? All these incredibly inspiring ladies and other blogging greats are represented in Joanne's 'My Handmade Style'. So you can imagine how smug I'm feeling right now. 

Swing on by to Stitch & Witter if you don't think you know enough about me already...!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Vintage skirt refashion

Let me start by saying that I cannot take any credit for this refashion - the idea was 100% snaffled from this DIY over at A Pair and a Spare.

I spotted this skirt from afar - its pink jungle sunset print specifically - hanging cramped on a rail at a second hand stall in Islington market. I didn't even bother trying it on; at £6 I was gonna have me that skirt and make it fit. Turned out, it may as well have been made to my waistline it fit so well! The length was always a bit too much though, and not wanting to hack up that beautiful fabric without a sure plan, it sat in my wardrobe for over a year without so much as a single outing.

When I saw the aforementioned DIY (on Pinterest, of course) I almost kicked myself for not having thought of it first! So simple! So slap you in the face plain to see! Skirt too long? Cut the bloody bottom off and turn it into a top. Obviously.

And that's just what I did. I sliced off a panel about 5" wide from the bottom of the skirt, twisted it at centre front and handstitched the twist into place. Then I stitched a length of pink elastic to act as a halter.

Even though this, as an outfit will quite clearly remain confined to pool party scenarios, I love it. And the skirt will definitely get taken out a lot more now that it's no longer at that awkward mid-calf length.

And finally a little something for the pubescent boys who just happened to be strolling by at an extremely slow pace during this whole "shoot"...:

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Deeply dippy, part 2

Still obsessed with dramatically dipped hems, this jersey dress - a long sleeved variation of this self-drafted dress, later re-made here - very nearly made it into our first collection of sewing patterns at By Hand London. We had wanted to offer a super easy beginner knits pattern and I tell you, they don't come much easier than this dress! 

I've said this before, but this dress is such a breeze to make. No zips, no buttons, no closures, no shaping, no nothing. Just a simple bodice back and front, sleeves with wristband finish (or just an armhole band for short sleeves), circle skirt basted to bodice then elasticated at the waistline. The only reason this pattern didn't make it into the collection was that it would've used too much tissue paper to print an entire whole-cut circle skirt pattern without breaking it up into multiple segments... and therefore defeating the point of a dress that should be make-able in under an hour.

Like my silk dipped hem skirt, this jersey dress has the same wonderfully swishy, billowy feel that just makes me want to swan about, spinning and skipping every other step. While the silk skirt saw plenty of action over Summer, I think this dress, with its burnt orange and fried egg-like florals, might just be my go-to party dress this Autumn.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Deeply dippy, part 1

It feels like forever since I posted anything I've made here. And that's not to say I haven't been stitching up the usual storm in my studio. I just haven't had the time to photograph everything. Missed the sun -- bad hair day -- no one to help me take the pictures -- excuses, excuses. So it was on this sunny, but distinctly chilly Saturday morning that I finally got around to photographing the backlog.

I'm not usually a sucker for faddish trends, and fancy my look as more classic with a twist, but I can't deny that I fell pretty hard for all the dipped hems out and about this Summer. So hard that I made two quite serious garments with dramatically dipped hems... 

For this half circle skirt, I used a delicious paisley Liberty print silk, using the more faded, alleged wrong-side of the fabric as my right-side. I preferred the softer pastel effect for the main body of the skirt, and having the bolder print come flashing through from the inside only adds to the interest of this skirt. For a piece such as this where the inside of the garment is as much on display as the outside, it was vital to me to finish everything impeccably.

French seams at centre front and centre back - I obviously would have preferred to have the seams at the sides but it was quite an awkward length of fabric I had left and it was one hell of a lot easier getting the dipped hem symmetrical this way. I actually further reinforced the French seams by pressing and stitching them down, I guess like a flat-felled seam... French-felled seams, then?

I finished the hemline with a simple broderie Anglaise trim which as well as giving it the neatest of finishes, also adds a little extra weight, making this the flowiest, most billow-iest skirt I've ever had the pleasure of wearing. Oh, how it billows...

(apologies for the creasiness of the skirt... I've worn it a fair few times this Summer and I'm afraid I had to dig it out of the laundry basket in order to take these photos. Probably should've given it a little press, but hey. I don't like ironing on a Saturday morning.)

In fact, pictures simply don't do the billow any justice...

Friday, 21 September 2012

I think I just died and went to Fabric Heaven

Could it be that I'm the last sewist in the world to have only just discovered Spoonflower? Never before have I seen such a frenzy-inducing selection of prints... For those of you not yet in the know, Spoonflower is basically a textile designers' Etsy equivalent. They offer a selection of fabrics (cottons/silks/twill etc) and anyone can submit their own designs to be printed onto the fabric of their choice (no minimum order!), either for your own private use or you can create your own shop within Spoonflower where other people can buy fabric printed with your designs, earning you 10% of the sales.

I daren't even begin to count how many hours of my life I've lost over the past week salivating over my computer screen. And I haven't even scratched the surface of all there is on offer, but here is part 1 of my Spoonflower wishlist...

Aztec Bronze peach 

This peachy aztec design is begging to be transformed into a drapey maxi dress... half circle skirt... gently cowled neckline possibly...


It's no secret I'm mega into the galactic - I've even tried creating my own galaxy print - but this is just on another dimension of spectacular.

coral ikat

I'm not a huge fan of matchy-matchy, except when my clothes match my furnishings. To me, sewing doesn't get much more satisfying than that. I would use this coral ikat to make a pretty gathered skirt and some cushion covers to match.


It could be Springtime every day with this peach blossom printed onto sheer cotton voile curtains... Or just a really, really pretty dress. Maybe too pretty. Maybe better for a little girl... Did I mention that the friend who's wedding dress I made back in April got pregnant on her honeymoon?? They're having a girl and I now feel compelled to sew/knit vast quantities of miniature pink things.

cestlaviv_madras orange pink 

This watery handpainted check print reminds me of something my Mum had when I was little. It slightly pains me to say it, but I'm getting a distinct Carrie Season 2 feeling about this... A slinky, silky high waisted quarter circle skirt in this fabric worn with a cropped kiddy t-shirt with some kind of nostalgic Care-bears logo on it. You know it would look hot.

Day of the Dead Skulls Tesselation. 

Can you tell that I'm still only on the "coral" colourway selection?? I'm quite digging dia de los muertos imagery at the moment, something so strangely pretty and morbid at the same time about those decorated skulls.

Sugar Skull Tattoo 

Another dia de los muertos print, and a whole new colourway! Possibly my second favourite colour combination, blue and red reminds me of the Circus, Dumbo and outdoor Summer parties.


I've been wanting to make a more casual, day dress from one of our debut sewing patterns - the Elisalex dress - and I reckon this military stars & chevrons print is just the thing for a mini-bubble skirted, short sleeved variation, complete with vintage military badges sewn on at the shoulders!


Maybe a little too twee or reminiscent of tacky velvet wallpaper for some, I'm actually quite smitten with this delicate pink damask. The pale colours make for a more subtle effect I think, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I'd like to have a skirt and matching curtains in this fabric...

Art Deco Sun Scales 

I love the bold bright colours and geometric patterns of Art Deco design and this sun deco print is probably my favourite of the lot right now. I won't even start listing what I'd make with this - in short: everything and anything.

Over the last couple of years I've successfully managed to quash my impulse to buy clothes... but it seems that that innate desire to consume has only been relocated to the impulse to shop for fabric, patterns and notions. Ugh. Somebody please grant me access to a hefty Spoonflower voucher! I would use it so well!

Did I mention it's my birthday next month??
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