Monday, 25 May 2015

A fabric exchange

Something a bit different today - with not a bit of sewing involved! I think I've mentioned before that I love kangas, the rectangular printed cloths with borders that are worn by women in East Africa. I adore their bright colours and bold patterns, and the sayings that are an essential feature of the design. When I was growing up, my mum had a beautiful kanga which she liked to use as a tablecloth. The Kiswahili writing on it was fascinatingly exotic, and frustratingly untranslatable in those pre-internet days. Years later in South Africa I managed to buy myself a few kangas here and there, as well as some similar-sized cloths that are worn by Swazi women. And when my husband and I were married, we used a bright green kanga as our wedding canopy (The saying, translated, read: 'Don't be jealous of me, I have been patient', which I thought very appropriate).

I had never met anyone who shared my love of kangas until I came across Sarah's blog, Kabati la Kanga, in which she documents kangas she buys from her current home in Tanzania (in a town at the foot of Kilimanjaro, no less!). After a bit of correspondence, we decided to do a kanga exchange: I would send her a South African 'kanga', and she would send me the real thing from Tanzania.

Well, it was very exciting to receive a parcel a few days ago, covered in lovely Tanzanian stamps and containing not one, not two, but THREE beautiful kangas, all of them doubles (kangas traditionally being sold in pairs).

Sarah provided translations of the mottos, which are, from top to bottom: 'Lord bless us and give us blessings'; 'A house filled with love is not without blessings' and 'Give trouble to others, not me'. I love, love, love all three kangas, but am particularly taken by the red one, given that I collect enamel teapots and love the way they evoke cosiness and domesticity. 

Sarah's parcel hasn't reached her yet, so I can't show what I sent her. Let's just say it was a traditional Swazi cloth and an unusual kanga from my Cape Town days. I hope she enjoys them!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Little gifts

Does doing something two years in a row make it a tradition? I hope so, because taking my mum for a birthday lunch at Federation Square - child-free! -  was so pleasant last year that my sister and I decided to do the same thing again this year. As I live and work in the suburbs, and as work is really my only child-free time, it feels especially exciting to take a train into town (alone!) and to enjoy good food and conversation (without interruptions!). Follow it up with a nice long browse at Kimono House (and perhaps even a small purchase) and you have the makings of a wonderful afternoon.

There's always something interesting to see at Fed Square and on this occasion I was happy to have arrived early as there was a wonderful troupe of what I thought were Chinese dragons (a Chinese friend has since informed me that they were, in fact, lions). They performed a rather exciting dance with plenty of acrobatics.

But onto the handmade portion of Mum's gift. For years she has been raving about a store called Ziguzagu, so I decided to go check it out, buy some silk and make her a forget-me-not jewellery pouch. Well, words can't do justice to the incredible range of traditional and vintage Japanese fabrics this place sells. They are all in wooden crates organised by colour, and the shades are just so beautiful. I could easily have spent all day trying to find the right combination of colours and patterns, but time constraints forced me to be decisive.

Although the silks were a little slippery to work with, I managed to put the pouch together reasonably well (interfacing the outer pouch helped). I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again: I really love this little pattern. With the leftover bits of silk I made an open wide zipper pouch lined with linen. I think the colours of the silks are very much my mum's style, and I hope that she enjoys her little gifts - and that I remember not to make her exactly the same thing next year!

But here's the funny bit. At the restaurant, seating was on stools, each with a thin, flat cushion. And when we got up at the end of our lunch we discovered that Mum had been sitting on...

...a cushion made of the exact same fabric I'd used for her gift!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

KCW: Baby geranium

Just when I thought my Kids Clothes Week sewing was done, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend had a baby girl, for whom, of course, I wanted to sew something. Yes, it's another geranium dress, this time in the mimosa double-gauze that Shino sent me from her Etsy shop. I had just enough left over from R's mimosa dress to make a sweet little dress for beautiful baby E in size 6-12 months, and as this fabric is so baby-soft it seemed the perfect choice. I did the same little trick as last time to make the back skirt opening line up nicely.

And that's it for another Kids Clothes Week. A couple of wild things and a not-at-all-wild thing. I'm not usually that into the themes, but this one had pretty broad appeal, I think. How about you? Do you like sewing to a theme, or do you prefer to do your own thing?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

KCW: forest friends dress

Another hastily-photographed garment on an unwilling model, this time a simple dress from Kids' Clothes Sewing Lesson Book. The star here is the fabric, a beautifully soft Birch knit from their 'Acorn Trail' range.

The fabric is utterly divine, from the unusual bluey-green hue to the sweet little girl and forest animals pictured on it. When I chose it I thought R would probably welcome a change from the plainish fabrics I tend to use, and I imagined her closely examining each little creature on her dress and making up stories about where the girl is going. To go with the dress I made some leggings which match far better in real life than they do in these photos (I promise!) using a corally-pink cotton jersery which had been waiting in my cupboard for this very purpose. They didn't get modelled but they do fit wonderfully, which is more than I can say for most of the leggings I've made in the past!

I've made a dress from this pattern before - see here - and although the neckline of that one is slightly too large (it slips off her shoulder) the fit is otherwise pretty good. So with this version I kept to the same size, adding a bit of extra length, sewing in-seam pockets instead of patch ones, omitting the back closure and using a neckband made of the same fabric. I hoped this last modification would make the neck a little smaller, and while it doesn't slip off R's shoulders like the other dress, it seems a little baggy around the neck and chest - in fact, it hangs quite differently from dress number one. Never mind; the colour is stunning on R, it's had compliments already and - who knows - it may change a bit once it's been through the wash. Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm making a t-shirt dress in late autumn, it's because I didn't have enough fabric to make the long-sleeved tunic I was planning to make!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

KCW: a faux fur hood with ears

Never mind the sewing - the most challenging thing about Kids Clothes Week is getting things photographed. And I don't mean just draping them over a chair - it's having your child put them on and model, knowing that it needs to be done NOW (quick! before it gets dark!) if it's going to get blogged in time. So please forgive the hurried nature of these photos and the (mostly) sullen and irritated expressions on R's face. I basically just stuck this hood on her head while we were at my son's footy training session and snapped away while attempting to distract her with knock-knock jokes (an unsuccessful technique, as it turned out - despite my being the inventor of the world's best knock-knock joke*).

OK, preamble over - now for the details. This is the Faux Fur Hood from Lemon Squeezy Home. The 'fur' is a precut piece from Spotlight, of the less genuine-looking variety, as some of the others were a bit too realistic for my animal-loving tastes. I love the way this hood turned out, and I think it will be wonderful for R to wear throughout footy season when we are forced to spend long hours standing around a windswept oval in all kinds of hideous weather conditions. I'm not sure if R likes the hood or not - she was noncommittal - but I think it looks very cute and I'm tempted to make them for the whole family (except for K, who can't believe anyone would choose to wear anything so ridiculous, and who has specifically requested that R not wear it to his football matches).

A hit or a miss? Only time will tell. But if R doesn't wear it I'll take it for myself, because it's damn cold outside!

Lastly, I should acknowledge the inspiration for this hood: our own little wild thing, Zindzi. Who is much more pleasant to photograph than my daughter.

* Warning: it's puerile. As all knock-knock jokes should be.

Knock knock.
Who's there? 
Europe who? 
I'm a WHAT??
(Equally puerile variations: replace 'Europe' with 'I'm up', 'You're up', 'Dad's up' etc.)

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A hide and seek dress

I've been wanting to sew the Oliver + S 'Hide and Seek' dress for quite a while, and here - at last - is my first. I have to say, this dress does not disappoint. I love the way it looks and I love the fit on R. That said, the construction involved a bit more effort than I had anticipated, with several pattern pieces and the added work (although really, it's minimal) of the welt pockets. Maybe I'm just getting lazy... or maybe it's because I've been short of time lately... but it was definitely worth it as the result is so beautiful. 

The yoke is from the same Cloud 9 collection I raved about when I made R's yoke panel skirt, and the rest of the dress is linen-cotton. Not exactly winter-weight, but I think it will look great with tights and a long-sleeved top underneath as the weather gets colder. A big thank you to Leslie of Rosemary Mornings, on whose blog I happened to see a post about how to pattern-match the back yoke pieces. Her method was so quick and easy and I reckon the back of my yoke is just about perfect!

Having read somewhere that the sizing of this pattern is quite generous, I made size 5 with size 6 length (R is about to turn 7) and it worked out very well.

The hide and seek dress looks so stunning on R, my photos really don't do it justice. It didn't help that while I was taking pictures all she wanted to do was muck around with a fibre-optic lamp, nor was it good that the sun went behind a cloud just as I began photographing (only to reemerge the moment after R decided she'd had enough and bolted, which is what she is doing in the photo on the bottom right, above). But never mind - R has a new dress, and I got to sew the pattern I've long wanted to try.

Now I can move on to preparing for R's birthday party on the weekend, when 15 little mermaid friends are coming to celebrate with her...

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter baskets

A little while back I came across a tutorial for rope baskets, so I bought some cotton sash cord, gave it a go and wow - these things are so quick and easy to sew.

For my first basket I dribbled home-made liquid watercolours on the sash cord (if you want to know how to make paint from dried-up markers, click here) and left it to dry before sewing the basket. Then I experimented a bit with ways of finishing the tops of the baskets - I made one with two little handles, and some with one loop - and looked for best way to stop the end of the cord from fraying (I discovered that dipping it in melted candle wax works well).

I used different colour thread for each basket and some showed up better than others, which led me to think about dyeing some of them. Of course for a basket one needs only a small amount, which is why Greek Easter egg dye seemed the perfect solution. And since it's in all the Greek delis at the moment I picked up a couple of colours and went to work.

Instead of boiling the basket in the dye as per the egg instructions, I just soaked it for a few hours in a mix of dye and boiled water. The classic red dye produced a nice matte red shade, a little more subdued than I'd hoped, but I quite like it. The yellow dye worked well too, and I think I'll go grab myself a few more colours to try before stocks disappear from the shelves. 

Now I have a lovely little collection of baskets for keeping hair ties, small change, jewellery and chocolates!