Sunday, 31 May 2015

Oops! (and bonus tiaras)

My, hasn't May gone by quickly? Which is my none-too-subtle way of saying that my entry for this month's Historical Sew Monthly challenge, Practicality, isn't yet complete.

So instead, here are some pictures of my finds in Cheltenham (Gina, I know that you'll love these!)

Cheltenham Museum has a renowned collection of Arts and Crafts items, which was the main reason for my visit. You can see the online collection here. However while looking round the rest of the museum I came across this display case.

The accompanying notes stated that most of the pieces are made from pinchbeck; an alloy of copper and zinc invented by Charles Pinchbeck in about 1720, to imitate gold. Around the same time Georges-Frédéric Strass invented paste; a hard durable glass which when cut like a gemstone could come close to sparkling like a diamond. It could also be coloured to imitate other gemstones. All of the tiaras in the case are set with paste stones.

Pinchbeck and paste haircomb, about 1800, probably French

However the item which really caught my eye was this one.

Frontlet, faceted coral beads in a pinchbeck setting, about 1800-20, probably Italian

It looks remarkably like the one which Caroline of Dressed in Time blogged about here. Two hairpieces, almost identical, separated by 5,000 miles!

If you'd like to see more, much of the museum's jewellery and clothing collection is now online. Happy browsing.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Quilts UK and Malvern

A long time ago (a very long time ago in fact) I made several patchwork quilts. I haven’t done any quilting for ages, but I’m thinking of having another go, for reasons which I’ll explain if I ever get round to starting. Anyway, just thinking about it seemed like reason enough to go to the Quilts UK show at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern last weekend.

What follows is a lot of pictures of some of the quilts which I could get close enough to photograph, albeit rarely facing straight on. There were others which never seemed to be without a crowd around them.

I took this one before I realized that it made sense to take pictures with some sort of aid to attribution included, so unfortunately I have no details for it. Apologies.

Mystery quilt

This quilt, “Love-in-a-Mist” by Liz Jones, was the Quilts UK 2015 Overall Champion. Judging from the number of rosettes pinned around it, it also won several other prizes.


Love-in-a-Mist, detail

Just so that you can see how small it is, I photographed the winner of the Miniature Quilts section next to its label and rosette.

Mini Medallion, by Jane Wheble

Everyone who looked at this was impressed by the sharpness of the points of the rays.

Mini Medallion, close-up

There was more sharp piecing on “Whistler: Fire and Ice” by Annelize Littlefair.

Whistler: Fire and Ice, centre detail

I loved the fact that the dual colouring, for example in the brown sections, was achieved by very dense quilting.

Whistler: Fire and Ice

Colour positioning was never a strong point of mine, so I'm always impressed by people who can do it well.

Hot Sahara, by Lyn Langford

There again, sometimes you don't need a lot of colours to make a statement.

Cappuccino, by Gwenfai Rees Griffiths

Cappuccino, centre detail

The Wapley Hill Tree in Winter, by Maggie Farmer

Beading details on the tree trunk

Storm at Sea has always been one of my favourite blocks; I love the curved effect achieved from straight lines. It was a particularly appropriate block for a quilt celebrating the 50th anniversary of Porthcawl's Royal National Lifeboat Institution Station.

Rays of Gold, by Bridgend Quilters

Also curves from straight lines, I'd never come across twisted log cabin blocks before, but I really liked the effect.

Round the Twist, by Maggie Annable

Round the Twist, centre block

Obviously there were lots of appliqué quilts as well as pieced ones.

Cactus Rose, by Ray Lawrence and Maureen Crawford

Morris Dance, by Judith Wilson

This quilt, "Masquerade" by Birgit Schueller, was inspired by the Mardi-Gras-themed fabric in the centre of the stars.


Detail showing the inspiration fabric

The masks have coloured fibres trapped under the thread painting to add to the rich effect, some are just visible above the pink quilted feather.

The masks in the centre

Quilting detail

This is only a fraction of the quilts and hangings on show, and unfortunately none of my photographs of the wholecloth quilts came out well enough to include.

As I was staying in the area for a few days, the next day I went for a walk. Most of the area around the Malverns is either rolling hills . . .

Looking west

. . . or very flat indeed.

Looking east, with Great Malvern in the foreground

But in the middle is this.

Part of the Malvern Hills, from the Three Counties Showground

It's a popular area with walkers, and the clearly marked paths mean that even if your map-reading skills have got a bit rusty, like mine, you can't go far wrong.

Sugarloaf Hill and North Hill

I walked up to the Worcestershire Beacon, the highest point of the Malvern Hills at 425 m / 1,394 ft. It's a long time since I've been out for that sort of walk, and I felt every foot of the climb!

The Beacon, looking north

Fortunately I could take a break on the way up. In the nineteenth century Malvern was a spa town, its pure water famous for "containing nothing at all". One of the many springs on the hills was St Ann's Well. The spring is now housed in this little building, which is also a cafe.

St Ann's Well

After all this I fancied a trip to somewhere flatter, so spent a day in Cheltenham, where I found something which looked very familiar. But that's a subject for another post.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Hat Trick!

My millinery spree continues! After working with sinamay and fabric/buckram, I’ve now made a third hat, this time from the traditional hatting material of felt.

Well, sort of traditional. The hat was made over several weeks on an evening course at Hat Works, and we started off by making our own felt. I forgot to take any photos of the first part of the process, but we began by laying out pieces of teased out wool fleece on a textured mat. The fleece was placed in two layers, one with the fibres running vertically, and one with them running horizontally. Finally we added a few lengths of coloured fleece. The layers were then thoroughly wetted (and I mean 'thoroughly' - the tables were awash) with soapy water, and the mat rolled up into a tube, which was then rolled back and forth.

Fleece, mat, and an awful lot of water

This causes the fleece to felt; the wool fibres hook into one another, and the whole piece shrinks into a more solid mass.

The completed felt

Because the course was all about processes we could recreate at home, we didn’t use hat blocks to shape our hats. Instead they were blocked over household objects such as plastic jugs. First of all we put on a piece of wetted blocking net, and secured it with an elastic band. This stiffens when it dries, and forms the basis of the hat.

Stretching the net over the block/jug

Then we placed our felt over the top, considering the best placement of the coloured sections, and secured that in place as well. The whole thing was then left to dry thoroughly.

And stretching the felt over the top

The next week we had to decide how deep we wanted our hats to be, and sew round what would become the bottom of the hat, before taking it off the block. Then came the scary part; cutting off the excess felt!

Cut down to size, and starting to look hat-like

After that we stitched brim wire round the edge, to stiffen it.

The inside of the hat, and the sewn-on brim wire

Now the fun bit! Lorna the tutor had brought lots of luscious feather trims for us to work with, including peacock feathers, and a strip of iridescent teal and turquoise feathers which were perfect for my colour scheme. There was also a bag of fabric flowers for us to rummage through, where I found some crumpled and rather sad-looking blue five-petal flower shapes.

Feathers galore! - and the flowers just above my hat

I started off by couching some long strands of a peacock feather over the coloured strips of my hat. This also had the advantage of anchoring the strips to the white felt; they hadn’t felted in properly.

Peacock feather strands couched on to accentuate the coloured strips

Then at the front of the hat I added two small clusters of peacock feather strands and the teal and turquoise feathers.

Once all the feathers were in place, it was time to bind the raw edge. This also covered the ends of the feathers. I found some home-made blue crepe binding which I had made but not used for Granny’s collar, which was the perfect colour.

Finally I pressed the fabric flowers flat, painted the edges and part of the petals with bronze fabric paint, and curved the petals with a ball tool. In the end I only put one on the hat, and secured it in place with some dark bronze beads. Finally I added a couple of iridescent leaf-shaped beads underneath.

The completed flower (slightly bent in transit, I've not have time to fix it yet)

The hat is lined with a bias strip, gathered at the centre. Lorna showed us a gathering stitch which is a combination of overcast and running stitches, and which gives a lovely scalloped edge when pulled up; I can see this being used on other trims.

A sample of the gathering stitch

A small piece of the lining fabric was sewn under the central hole.

The completed lining

Finally we put elastic in the hats to hold them in place, and attached the lining.

The lining and elastic in place

The completed hat

Much as I like the end result (and a big thank you to tutor Lorna Young for a fabulous course), I can’t help thinking that a small veil would finish it off perfectly. It just so happens that I’m going on a veiling course in a couple of months, so watch this space!

Sunday, 10 May 2015


It's the month after April and before June, which means that So, Zo. . . What do you know is again hosting Me-Made-May; a chance to celebrate handmade clothing in all its glory.

Pretty much all of my work wardrobe is now me-made, so I considered what other areas of my life could benefit from a little me-made-ness, and decided to make a coat. Specifically, this coat.

I've had this pattern for so long that it's now out of print! I love it, but I suspect that the complete lack of fastening means that this is not the most practical garment for keeping you warm. Ideal then for late spring, or the chillier days of a British summer.

In my local fabric shop I found a red/black remnant in a large check, which seemed perfect for the 1950s look. Along one selvedge it had some large stitches in yellow thread, which I assumed were holding a tear together. However when I turned it over, I found that it was actually this.

Stitched information

I've no idea what it means, but it's fascinating!

The collar and cuffs are to be plain black - another remnant. I decided that for the lining I would really like something other than standard lining fabric, but wasn't sure what. Then on yet another visit to the fabric shop (it's the first shop I come to when I walk into town, I always walk when I go into town, and I rarely get past there without just 'popping in for a look'), I found this.

Both sides of my 'lining' fabric

I wasn't sure which way round to use it, but eventually decided that the darker side - at the bottom of the picture, and I think the wrong side - would look better.

So I cut everything out, and got started. I made up the main part of the coat, and I made up the lining and facing. Then I noticed a couple of things, and they were not good things.

Bad Thing number one:

I had carefully cut out all the coat pieces from a single layer of fabric, so that I could match the pattern. The centre back seam matched nicely, . . .

. . . one side seam matched nicely, . . .

. . . and one shoulder seam matched nicely.

Shoulder seam and sleeve head

What the heck I was thinking when I cut the fronts out, I have no idea! The pattern matches horizontally, but not vertically. Look at the the sleeve seams and the darts, and it's obvious.


I have a plan of sorts. I'll cut a strip off the right front, tapering up to the neck. It means that one side will be slightly wider than the other, but because the coat is so full, I'm hoping it won't be obvious. That way the fronts will be symmetrical most of the way down, and hopefully the black facing will cover most of the mismatch at the top.

Bad Thing number two:

The check fabric is very loosely woven; so much so that in places the lining is visible through it, and the coat doesn't hold its shape at all well. I really should have noticed this before I started, and underlined the pieces. So now I'm considering whether retrospective flatlining is desirable/feasible/ going to drive me insane. However, as I've got a couple of commissions to do, and May's Historical Sew Monthly project, this consideration may go on for some time!