Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Stitching

It's probably a bit silly posting Christmas greetings on Boxing Day, but I thought I might as well peak a bit late rather than never. So Merry Christmas to you all, and happy stitching!

I have been working extra days this month, the uni students have been gearing up to move out from under our roof, and we have been preparing for the mama and the dadda with the bubba to take their place in this homely half-way house. We have also been planning our Summer holiday, stockpiling camping gear and essential items for a 4WD trip into the Victorian high country, oh, and in between times, wondering how on earth we were going to manage to fit in Christmas.

There was a half-hearted attempt at Christmas decorating; a small tree up on a side table, away from the marauding Watson, a small collection of Santa Claus figurines, and an arrangement of red and white china on the wine cabinet. 

My dear Anna-Lou shopped and cooked up a storm to try and save me from the usual post-Christmas meltdown. She bought the ham, cooked two Christmas cakes, made salted caramel macadamia slice and Rocky Road. She prepared the summer pudding for breakfast, baked frittata, churned a rich and delicious apricot ice-cream and peeled and baked all the veggies. An angel she is. :)

Christmas is done and dusted now, and Boxing Day has been lazily spent drinking tea and eating cake, taking naps throughout the warm afternoon, and imbibing in a spot of knitting (finally).

The mumma and the dadda and the bubba have come to stay, ensconced in their rooms at the other end of the house. The warmth of the day has given way to cooling rain, and all is at peace.  I am working on a knitted dinosaur for baby R (six months old now!).

I am working with this gorgeous Morris & Sons Empire 8-ply 'Arcadia' yarn. I haven't used it before, but it knits up into a beautiful even fabric, and the variegated colours are very appropriate for a prehistoric reptile methinks.

But I am off to make tea, eat chocolate and watch an episode of Foyle's War with my beloved. I hope that your Christmas season has been filled with peace and joyous things.

Evie :)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Three Peachy Chickens

Organic peaches, a gifty from the farm at Cobbitty. I sliced them all up this morning and threw them into the slow-cooker with a goodly splash of Irish Whiskey. Doris, Doreen and Augusta had a terrific feed on the scrappy left-over bits, helped out here and there by Rosie the Wonderdog.

I don't usually eat ice-cream, but I just had to have a wee bit this evening, scooped into a bowl of olde fashioned peaches; the creamy ice-cream melting into a beguiling juicy soup. Delicious. It is surely the best taste of Summer, don't you think?

The best end to a happy day. :)

Goodbye Vice-Chancellor (in my blue lace dress)

When an invitation to a formal event arrives in the post, my first thoughts quite naturally turn to oh-my-goodness-whatever-will-I-wear. I am one of those 'keep it simple' kind of gals, and my wardrobe has been kept deliberately spare. I have never been able to wear bold prints or blousy florals, and I so often seem to gravitate toward block colours of black or red.

But lately I have discovered that I can wear lace with reasonably good effect, and so when the invitation to attend my University's grand farewell to our long-serving Vice-Chancellor [President or Rector, to those in the UK or US respectively], I dismissed the boutique-de-frock and went searching for lacy fabric instead.

The blue was a considered choice spanning two trips to my local Spotlight store over the course of a week. With time getting down to the wire I landed back there on my way home from work on Wednesday and decided that it would likely do as not. Imagine my joy at the checkout to discover that the price had been reduced by 75% by deem of a mega-sale, and that pretty blue lace had serendipitously become more than ridiculously reasonable.

I had cut a pattern from a mesh sheath in my staple wardrobe, and fudged the hemline so that I was able to take advantage of the scalloped hemline. These things are so quick and simple to whip together using a rolled-hem on the overlocker [serger], and if not for my decision to add a border of flower motifs around the neckline, it would have been an evening's work. As it was, the neckline bit got a bit tricky, and getting it to all sit nicely nearly had me in a lather! I downed needle in just under two hours before it was time to slip into my dress and buckle up my shoes. But I did really feel quite lovely with my little home-made lacy number over a black ruffled-hem dress. Too easy!

And it was a truly wonderful evening spent with colleagues with whom I am the very best of friends; catching up with University chums of old, sharing memories, reminiscing, enjoying a rolling collage of photographs that document a long and prosperous chapter in the life of our Institution. And of course, commemorating the incredible contribution of a gifted, dedicated, warm and generous woman. She will be well-remembered, and remembered-well.  Goodbye, farewell, Professor Reid, I have loved you well.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Little Santa and the Etsy Store

Last week I was working on getting my little Santa pattern knocked into shape, with a view to FINALLY getting my Etsy Store up and running. Making my own patterns has never been a problem; so many times I just sketch something on paper, cut it out and stitch it into existence. But taking my fudged-together paper bits and taking them through the transformative design process has long proved to be a stumbling block.

But this time I was determined to push through the pain barrier and work it through to completion. And I did. It took my entire weekend to tweak the pattern, produce the sample (thereby testing my own instructions), tweak the pattern again, take a thousand dodgy photographs, and finally get to the point where I thought it was done.

And then we come to opening an Etsy Store ...

There is no such thing as just-opening-an-Etsy-Store. Fair dinkum, it felt like writing a job application for a position for which I was ill-qualified! I confess to being quite the novice, and not exactly possessing a head for business, it became a long, drawn-out, and tiresome exercise. But I was as diligent as I could possibly be, and I now have my shop up and functioning, complete with polite little policies, a few pretty pictures, and a PDF pattern!

It is hopefully the first of many. A meagre offering perhaps, but it does feel so very good to have put a drop in my bucket of dreams. I have two more little Christmas projects nearing completion, and the patterns are already a good way through the design process. At the moment I'm just having fun and enjoying the satisfaction of making sweet little things.

Wish me well my friends!

Evie xxx

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Watson and the devil of a day

Poor Watson has had a day of it. We had a 45 minute drive to the groomer this morning; a bath and blow-dry and then the dreaded clippers. He has once again been transformed from a scruffable bundle to a handsome poodle-dog. He sits so beautifully tall and proud (not that he is that tall). But then we had the trip to the vet-doctor this afternoon for annual vaccinations and the heart-worm needle. She also plucked his ears out and checked to make sure all was well deep down in his ear canals. But I think the thermometer up his rear end was the final indignity. He is asleep at my feet now. It's all been a bit exhausting.

I find it best to go off and have a coffee, leaving the groomer to do her business. I spent a whole hour with my knitting, a big cappucino and an almond friand. It was busy, but not so busy that I felt guilty in taking up a whole table and two chairs. It was a wonderful panacea to the hurry of life; knowing that I had the simple pleasure of time to sit and knit and think and let my mind wander wherever-it-will.

I am on to my second entrelac sock, and have almost completed the trickiest bit. It's nearly time to work the heel and knit on down to the toe. I'm thinking of trying something a little more complex for my next set of socks; Farmer McGregor, a pattern from my Socktopus book by Alice Yu.

It's good to have aspirations ... but I might be calling on my knitting gurus for this lot! Be warned y'all. :)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vintage finds

Sadly, one of our local vintage thrifty shops closed it's doors last month. It has long been a favourite haunt; just the place to pick up old lace doilies, odd buttons, embroidered pillow shams and old ladies gloves. They have also stocked an excellent range of vintage hats, shoes, frocks, and ties, and usually enough daggy pre-loved gear to outfit one for those dress-up-parties-of-the-unmentionable-birthday variety.


Apart from the beautiful blue French embroidery cotton, I was able to pick up a silk kerchief, a couple of fine lace doilies, a string of pearls, some vintage buttons ...

... lots of assorted triangle cards of old press-studs, and a box of fine crochet cotton.

I also scored a whole bolt of scrummy chocolate-coloured braid. I can see it now, stitched around the collar and cuffs of a future Regency Spencer jacket creation ...

I spent an entire hour sitting awkwardly on the carpeted floor rifling through knitting patterns that stretched back some seventy or eighty years at least. I could have bought so many, but it was the quaint Paton's knitting booklets from the 1940s that came home with me in the end. There were baskets full of odd balls of wool, tins of knitting needles and crochet hooks; boxes of old dress patterns, magazines, and other strange assortments of ye-olde-things.

I can't help but be captivated by the ephemera of the past. Perhaps they are the things that link my modern-day life to the whisper of my grandparents' hand-me-down existence; the time when a woman's handiwork was valued and cherished, when remnants were hoarded up to be repurposed, when a reel of thread was eeked out sparely and gathered resources were conserved. I still feel as though I have one foot on that polished linoleum floor, as though I could rest my head upon the velveteen cushions in the dimly-lit front room, and listen to the steady rhythm of the wind-up clock.

I love to dip my hands into the tin of old buttons, to thread a fine needle, to make tiny stitches and slowly create something useful, or even something beautiful. 

These are the things that help to ground me when I feel overwhelmed by a pace that is not of my making.

It helps me to breathe.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Secret Socks

Knitting + Spare Moments = Secret Socks
Knitting + Spare Moments + Thinking = Rambling Thoughts

Pondering the rhythms of life
That aren't really rhythms
But are more like waves crashing on the shore
Sometimes a raging sea; wild and uncontained
A swirling, churning, bruising, swallowing, dragging swell
I bet you know it all too well
+ + +
Yet other times held soft and warm
Afloat, becalmed; Anchored by some sturdy means
The waves are waves no more, than ripples on said distant shore
I cannot find a rhythm here
The tides will come
And tides will go
There will always be ebb and flow
The constant thread that I hold to
Is all I make and all I do
Though some may think it all is dust
Need drives me on - create I must
Still knitting ... happily

Nearly there.

Crazy Zauberball by Schoppel-wolle in Herbstwind 1507
Purchased at Morris and Sons, Sydney on Bushfire Thursday 2013

Secret Socks are a secret because they are a gifty for someone who won't expect them :)




Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fat Quarter De-stash

I started re-arranging my sewing stuff a couple of days ago, initially because it's high time I did a de-clutter, but also because over a short period of time I have swallowed up far more space in this house than is my lot. I want to retract and compact.

And in the process, I have determined that I have far more fabric than I will ever use in my lifetime. Row upon row of beautiful fat quarters sit within wire drawers, untouched and unregarded for the most part. I am so often now a slow worker. Once upon a time I would wield the rotary cutter across swathes of folded cloth, whiping up quickie quilts in the wink of an eye. But no more.

I prefer slow stitches now. Hand piecing little hexagons, or turning applique pieces with a fine needle. And then there is the knitting to consider.

In turning my attention to the surplus patchwork pieces I found that there was much that I could spare. And much that I would be happy to part with, especially to aid an amiable cause.

I have bundled up little packets of fabric and tied them with string. There are also a few lengths suitable for backings, a stack of charm squares and a pile of orphan blocks.

Two cardboard fruit boxes sit stacked in the corner ready to deliver to the Springwood Winmalee Bushfire Quilt Appeal. I also found two finished quilt tops that I can happily donate as well.

I have reserved a couple of unfinished projects that I will attempt to finish and hand over by the end of the year. The fabric will help of course, but finished quilt tops would be even more welcome.

It feels good to part with previously-coveted stuff; I think I feel lighter already. :)


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bushfire (and bushfire quilts)

This last week has been a sombre one. Bush fire, normally the scourge of summer, has ravaged much of the Blue Mountains in an untimely, unseasonal, and very unexpected way. Australians in general, and mountains folk in particular, understand the threat posed by the dense and rugged landscape that we choose to call home. But the weather conditions in past weeks, and indeed months, have been hotter, drier, windier than normal. On Thursday 17 October an almost perfect storm of soaring temperatures and strong, gusting winds conspired to spark a fire that rapidly bore down upon residential streets in North Springwood and Winmalee. It did not take long for row upon row of houses to be gutted, for street upon street to be consumed.

Photo Blue Mountains Gazette on facebook, 18 October 2013
Bushfires are unpredictable monsters; directed by the whims of prevailing winds and atmospheric conditions. With temperatures in the mid to high-thirties, low humidity, and a dense accumulation of fuel on the ground, the Springwood fire burned and threatened and burned its way from street to street, from ridge to ridge, through interconnecting valleys, leaving nothing but a blackened footprint in its wake.

At the end of the first few days over 200 homes had been lost and around 109 properties had been damaged. It is numbing stuff, unbelievable and inconceivable.

We have been on the periphery of this fire; it was in the valley beyond, and in the bushland at the end of our road. In one day it had raced from Springwood, following the line of the creek to the river at the foot of the mountains. On Friday night we stood watching the flames from across the road, watching and waiting and hoping.

Thanks to the firies, we were kept safe. Blessed be the firies.

But this was not the only fire to burn in the mountains this week. A massive fire has been burning from Lithgow and across the north-western edge of the mountains. Yet another fire cropped up at Mt Victoria, the little township right at the top of the range. Homes have been destroyed in these fires also, but amazingly (truly amazingly), no lives have been lost. We are so very thankful for the efforts of thousands of fire-fighters, the home-grown ones and those from interstate, for the gutsy hard-slogging hours of work they have put in to protect so many.

It's been an exhausting time for all. I can't convey the intensity of constantly watching the television footage, of monitoring the updates on facebook and Twitter, of witnessing the unfolding devastation again and again, and hearing stories of friends, and friends of friends who have lost everything.

The outpouring of love, practical help and financial support has been just as overwhelming. We have lived through bushfire time and time again, but never before has our community been so "connected", so immediately responsive to the immediate need arising from crisis.

There has been no sewing here, and little or no space devoted to creative pursuit. It has been enough to put food on the table, to keep family close, to pack clothes and memorabilia in case of evacuation, and to send thoughts of consolation and hope out into the universe.

This is not a comprehensive narrative of the enormity of this fire event - it is bigger, wider and deeper than I care to describe. Fire continues to burn away and beyond containment lines. It will burn in the wilderness for weeks, perhaps months. We hope and we pray that the weather will be kind, that soaking rain will come, that towns and communities still under threat will be spared.

Those most affected now face the enormity of rebuilding what they have lost, of replacing that which cannot entirely be replaced. So many people, individuals, groups and organisations have rallied to try and ease the pain as much as possible. One of these is Tracey Greenaway from the local branch of the Salvation Army. She has initiated an appeal for quilts for fire victims, and she would love to hear from anybody who is in a position to help. Donations of fabric, wadding, thread, finished quilt tops, time or money would be most welcome, but you don't have to be a quilter to make a contribution.

You can read about the Bushfire Quilt Appeal on Tracey's blog, and please do get in contact with her if you think you might be able to assist. I imagine it would be a wonderful, healing thing to receive a quilt purposefully made-with-love at a time like this.

I have pulled out several unfinished quilt tops from my cupboard tonight and over the next few weeks I will see what can be done to pull them into shape.

It is times like these that serve to remind us that we have much to be thankful for.

Evie xxx

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lizette, the vintage French mannequin

Let me introduce you to my darling Lizette, the newest addition to the House of StitchityBits. She is a vintage French mannequin (apparently), or that is what the seller told me. I'm happy to go with that. Hey, she even came with free pins stuck into her neck.

She is going to help me with future Regency gown-making efforts, but rather than leave her naked just now, I thought I would drape her with my beautiful antique Honiton Tape Lace Collar, thereby showing both to good advantage.

Honiton lace making has a long history, originating in the East Devon district in England during the 17th century. The majority of this style of lace was produced by hand in the town of Honiton, and it was highly sought after by the titled and wealthy. It was even worn by Queen Victoria. You can read more about Honiton lace on A Textile Lovers Diary or on The Textile Blog.

Mr P procured this piece for me some years ago from Bernadette Thomas of Needlewitch, and it forms a treasured part of my *small* antique sewing and textile collection.

But back to my mannequin. Having checked out her fittings and fixtures, I would think she is post-1950s. The three-pronged metal stand is somewhat pedestrian, and the metal cap atop the neck makes her more industrial than her wooden-peg top counterparts. There are a few minor stains around one side of the chest and shoulder region, but other than that she is in quite good condition. I will have to pad out her out a bit here and there to bring her up to my dress size, but her main purpose will be to make it easier to drape and pin the sheer muslins, organzas and lace trims used in reproduction costuming.

Here, Lizette wears the Regency petticoat with boned bodice, one of the garments included in the La Mode Bagatelle pattern range. It is a simple lawn under-dress, devoid of any embellishment. But the gowns that go over the top can be anything from sheer muslin for day wear, through to extravagant silk and lace for evening or ball gowns. I have been adding some Regency gown inspiration on Pinterest lately (and some garments for the gentlemen also), and I now have a head literally swarming with grand designs:

"Oh! my dear," continued Mrs. Bennet, "I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! and his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw any thing more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst's gown——". [Pride and Prejudice: A novel in three volumes., Austen, Jane. Published by T. Egerton, London, 1813.]

I seriously wish that I didn't have to sleep, such is the width and depth and breadth of all that I want to create. Lace, or no lace!

Which I have started collecting ...

... in anticipation of stitching gowns, and petticoats ...

and trimming bonnets ...

with feathers ...
and brightly coloured things.

I never did grow out of dressing-up and playing with dolls. :)

I believe that Lizette has taken on a persona of her own. When she arrived in the back of the car, I flung open the door and ran out to hug her. It was love at first sight. She has taken up residence in the spare room for now, and I occasionally peek in at the door to relive the feeling of delight.

Bienvenue sur votre nouveau Lizette maison.

x  x  x 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

More baby socks

More baby socks. Knitted over the last week or so; while spectating at doggie training, waiting outside music lessons, during the 15 minutes sitting in bed before lights out.

The Shepherd Merino 4-ply baby yarn knits up really well, and is perfect for little socks. This is an adaptation of my Perfect Baby Sock pattern; casting on 40 stitches instead of 32, and using 3.0mm DPNS. In fact, I didn't follow the pattern strictly at all, just because it's so stuck in my head. I carried K2, P2 ribbing all the way down the leg and front of the foot, reverting to stocking stitch when decreasing for the toe.

The foot length is 4 1/2" or 12cm, so they should fit 6-12 month old baby and will be just about right for baby R at Christmas!

Red Red and the Fair Ground Cushions

Were there any colour that I could be
I think it would be red for me.

I have given up hope of ever having beautiful, expensive furnishings in my living room. Boys will be boys, and dogs will be dogs, and cushions will be thrown on the floor for watching TV, lounging about and rumbling with said dog. So I have come up with a workable solution: European pillows! Covered with sturdy red and white stripey cotton drill, they remind me of  childhood fair grounds; the laughing clowns, pony rides, fairy floss and ice cream cones! 

French seam: 
n. a seam in which the edges are not visible [Collins English Dictionary]

I don't think that really explains it ...
French seam:
n. a seam stitched on both sides of the cloth.
 [Websters College Dictionary]

And that's just ambiguous ...
French seam:
n. A seam stitched first on the right side and then turned in and stitched on the wrong side so that the raw edges are enclosed in the seam. [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language]

Now that makes more sense.

French seams are a wonderful way to finish off even simple, homely things. I love French seams. Raw edges are fully enclosed, meaning that they not only be hard-wearing and durable, but they will look neat and tidy forever.

And while we're talking neat-and-tidy, I thought I'd try the covered zipper end tutorial, posted by Julia on the Craftsy Blog last week. I've stitched in lots of zippers before, but it's still something that I usually dread. However, this method was super-easy, and it certainly is very neat and tidy. I only needed to hand stitch the covered zip end to the side seam to finish it properly :)

I've made a couple of these now. They're nice and comfy, easy to whip into the wash, and I reckon they look pretty snappy. I can't explain why, but red just seems to make me happy. :)

Evie :)