Thursday, 29 March 2012

Orange blossoms: hand-painted tablecloth

I knew immediately what I wanted to offer my long time friend Cristian, when he announced he was going to get married soon...I knew how much he loves cooking and entertaining friends at home and how much he would have appreciated a hand-made present from me. Tablecloth it was.

He and his wife Francesca are talented architects (I was once one of them - but not so talented...), so they designed their own home's refurbishment. I noticed on the pictures they sent when they completed the works, a beautiful flowery theme above the kitchen beautiful that they used it again for their wedding invitations, and so beautiful that I decided it was the perfect pattern for the present I had in mind!
So, well in advance of the wedding day (please note the well in advance) I cut a 120x120cm  square on white cotton upholstery fabric; using a dimensional orange fabric paint with a pearl finish (to give the drawing some texture) I started painting a pattern of flowers on two opposite sides of the square. The paint is really super-easy to use as it can be held like a pen. Now, the difficult part was to reproduce in scale the flowers from the pictures and the wedding took me a while, but the result on the tablecloth is pretty similar to the original flowers.
I wanted to give a double-face function to the tablecloth, so I've used a rich, thick orange cotton for the back. I was lucky it matches quite well with the flowers on the wall.

A slight hiccup in this story were the napkins...towards the end of the project I realised I didn't have enough orange fabric to make four square napkins - or time to buy more fabric (as usual, I ran out of time, in fact I ended up asking my mum for help to sew some of it and giving this present to my friends MONTHS after their wedding...).
My husband (by now you got why I married him) came up with an idea: "Why don't you make triangular napkins? People tend to fold napkins in two anyway!". So what looks like a brilliant designer idea was in fact pure serendipity!

This is the finished result.
All credit for the beautiful pictures to Cristian, now owner of the tablecloth and happiest daddy-to-be!
This is Cristian, by the way, in a portrait I drew for his birthday, long long time ago

Thursday, 22 March 2012

A simple present...girly personalised cushion

I remember holding little M (the daughter of a good friend) on my lap, three years ago for the first time...she was 5 days old, impossibly small and fragile, so full of beauty and calm...that little baby is long gone, in fact her third birthday will be celebrated this Saturday. So I decided to offer her a simple cushion, handmade with her initial, to hug and sleep on and hopefully to keep until when she'll be a beautiful woman.
I started with some cute Winnie the Pooh fabric, and although in principle I'm against the unstoppable pink invasion that is now hitting any toy and piece of clothing available for toddler girls, it is undeniable that, actually, toddler girls seem to really love pink! So I have chosen a rich pink shade of felt to cut out her initial from. 

To add a little "something" - and to balance the pink!- I have also cut a small yellow and orange flower and decided to sew both the letter and flower by hand on the cotton fabric (I'm becoming obsessed with blanket stitch! Get ready, blanket stitch features in my next project too...).

Finally, I have sewn the cushion, which is a simple envelope (you can find good tutorials on You Tube), by machine.
(By the way, I'm incredibly proud of myself, not for the careful hand-stitching, but for the fact that FINALLY! I have serviced my sewing machine for the occasion, by changing the needle and putting some oil in the mechanical parts...I felt like a proper mechanic! Now "she" goes like the wind!!!)

Happy birthday little M! x


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Flea market hidden gems...vintage patterns

In one of these days of (almost) spring, the first time the sun finally decided to stay out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, I took my little monkey to a playground we never went to before (I know, wild life!).
On our way to the playground, we passed in front of a vintage shop I always meant to check out and never really had a chance to...this shop is a fantastic emporium of everything vintage, from those classic striped blue and white mugs, to bright green telephones (little miss shouted excited: "crocodile! CROCODILE!" - she had never seen a "telephone" before), and lots and lots of foulards and clothes that, really, would be better suited to Margaret Thatcher than myself...anyway, these sort of places fascinate me (as you might have guessed from my pseudonym, perhaps...), so I spent a good half hour browsing the place, until my attention was caught by a willow basket full of vintage sewing patterns...heaven!!!
At £2 each, for me these dress patterns from the late 60s incarnate a style that beats time...
I bought a 1965 Jackie O style dress pattern - I need to be prepared for when I will become First Lady... - and a 1969 sweet summer / party dress pattern that screams flower-power! My only dilemma is: will I manage to squeaze in them??? A size 16 of forty years ago is not the same as today's...

 But that's not all...little miss' little friends' second birthdays are coming up, so how about some 80s sun hats as presents??? Watch this space...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

On International Women's Day: a very feminine 1930-style crocheted hat with appliqué flower

I love hats. In my heydays I used to wear hats all the time. Now, with a toddler and in permanent running mode, I tend to use always the same, comfy woolly hat. Not the sexiest, I admit. But, in spite of my current practical, and quite spartan, style, I still have a special love for those feminine 1920s and 1930s hats, those pretty little ones with flowers on the side.
So, sometime ago, I bought a load of Japanese Noro Silk Garden yarn (pure joy, and the knitters and crocheters out there will understand me!), because I wanted to treat my best friend on her 30th birthday to a beautiful, soft and warm handmade poncho. Not on the cheap side, but definitely worth the effort and money.
With the leftovers (and some more brown wool yarn), I decided to crochet for myself a feminine, 1930-style hat with a big, BIG flower on the side (you can find the free pattern for the six-petal flower on the Lion Brand directory). I applied three beads to the inner part of the flower, and crocheted the hat by starting from the centre and increasing the number of treble stitches progressively up to the largest part (in brown, in my hat), which doesn't increase anymore and is made of thicker half treble and double crochet stitches (but you can find lots of easy patterns for beanies and cloches again on Lion Brand).

Today, on International Women's Day, a very special little woman posed for my camera to show the finished product...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

World Book Day: award-winning Very Hungry Caterpillar costume

Yes, you read it right: award-winning! Indeed, today little monkey came back home from nursery with a fantastic new book for her collection, which she won for sporting the "best-in-show" book character costume, her new Very Hungry Caterpillar, in occasion of World Book Day...Ha! Mother's pride!

Well, you may have noticed that I have been quiet in the last few days, cause a bad stomach bug that affected the whole family (happy days!) and the fact that I was furiously preparing the hungry caterpillar costume for today's event at little miss' nursery.
I searched on the Internet for patterns and ideas, and I have to say, not much came up...I even bought some furry fabric to make a Winnie the Pooh costume, until I came across the cutest newborn Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar hat and cocoon set by Sweet Love Creates. It blew me away!

I ended up using a hat that had been lovingly knitted for me many years ago by a good university friend, who would now be delighted to know that her hat has now got a new life. You can use any beanie you may already have, or simply knit or crochet one.

I then added a couple of antennae, which I crocheted not really following a pattern; same for the eyes and nose (but you can find similar Hungry Caterpillar hat crochet patterns on Etsy or elsewhere on the web). Now, given that little miss is a tiny bit bigger than a newborn, I couldn't use the super-cute cocoon idea, so I decided to sew the body of the little creature. This project was a first for me in many ways, including sewing a neckline, using elastic in a casing, and in general, sewing clothes for my baby. Scary!
I used one of her body suits to design and measure the Very Hungry Caterpillar's body, a sort of long vest made alternating  two different cotton greens, and I used elastic to create the effect of the caterpillar's body.

I also found at the market a sparkly yellow ribbon that looks just like those little hairs the insect has on its back. I cut the caterpillar's legs out of some brown felt and stitched them in between the front and back of the body.

I ran out of time, but I also wanted to make a pair of felt wings for when the caterpillar leaves the cocoon and becomes a beautiful butterfly (or she feels too warm and wants to get rid of the costume!)...unfortunately the stomach bug knock me out for good 24 hours...

In spite of the nasty bug, last night at midnight exactly, I stitched the last stitch...and this is the result.

The front of the Very Hungry Caterpillar costume...
...and the back

This morning, my little caterpillar at nursery was very proud of her new costume, although she soon felt "hot hot" and wanted to take it off...

P.S. Since this post is quite popular, I am thinking of creating a pattern / tutorial should anyone find it useful??? Leave a comment if you do, and if there is enough interest, I'll spend sometime putting my two brain cells at work!!!