Author Archives: annabelvita

A room of one’s own

I sew in the living room, at our dining table. (I call it that, but we rarely dine there.) Most of the time, I’m happy with this arrangement. It means I get to watch TV at the same time as make things and be with Mr V even if we’re doing our own things. I’m thankful that Mr V is wonderful about letting me leave my stuff out on the table until my project is finished, and he pretends not to mind how noisy my clunky old sewing machine is.

But, there’s a huge part of my heart that yearns for that room of my own (although of course, Ms Woolf would rather I used it to write than sew!). From that part of my heart to yours, here are some of my favourite sewing spaces from the internet.

(You can find more on my “there she sews” pinterest board.)

Love this little nook, especially all those gorgeous scissors on the wall.

Um, sewing shed?! Yes please! (as long as it comes with a heater and I can insulate it! Brr.)

Source: flickr.com via Annabel on Pinterest

Ikea plus Orla Keily plus a trio of little red suitcases? Yes yes yes.

Ah, cool blues and peaceful whites, I love you.

I do wonder if I’d craft more or less if I had my own room to do it in. At least with sitting room sewing I tend not to leave projects unfinished for tooo long, because they’re right there in the main room of our flat. (I try not to pack away unfinished objects as it’s the kiss of death for them – I did that with my Cambie Dress and as I have mentioned many times, I’ve yet to finish it.)

I find how I feel about sewing in the living room tends to depend on which of these two pictures my sewing space looks like:

(Even though the neat picture is still pretty chaotic as we’d only just moved in!)

Where do you craft? Would you like a room of your own?

Do you have a craft room? Make me jealous with all the details!

PS. This week has turned into an impromptu sewing space week! I’ve got a sponsored post on the subject tomorrow then I’m going to show you where I secretly stash all my sewing tools around the house!

PPS. I know, but thank you for supporting me and my little blog!

Megan Nielsen Kelly Skirt in light denim

I ordered this skirt pattern on a whim (it arrived in this lovely parcel from Backstitch.co.uk) and sewed it up a few weeks ago using leftover denim from my halterneck dress. It came together pretty quickly – I think it was one lunch time to cut the pattern and fabric, then one more lunchtime and two evenings (one of which was mainly hand-stitching buttons in front of the TV). The instructions are lovely, the pattern pieces are easy to work with (they’re really thick paper!) and all in all I loved how it came together.

Plus,  I, Annabel Vita, made button holes. I cannot emphasise how unstoppable this makes me feel! I sewed seven button holes into a finished garment and it didn’t ruin it and they actually look ok! There’s only one that looks a bit gammy if you look really closely. I can cope with that. I’ve come a long way, baby.

But, in this fabric, it doesn’t work for me and I haven’t actually worn in. I think it’s because this denim is a bit of a weird colour and it’s lighter than something I’d normally wear on my bottom half. I tried to take some pictures of me wearing it (only around the house) while Mr V was out – standing on a ladder in front of the bathroom mirror and on the bed using the self timer. The results were… weird. And even less flattering than the skirt is in real life!

I think I’m going to dye both it and the halterneck dress a much darker blue in order to get more wear out of them. My only pang is that I cut up an old charity shop top for the pockets of this skirt and I love them! I’m pretty certain dying the skirt darker will mean losing the pretty pockets, but oh well. It’s also likely to dye the wooden buttons, but at this point I’m seeing this skirt as a wearable muslin anyway so… I think it’ll be worth it. The buttons weren’t expensive. (Thanks, weird bedding and wool shop in town!)

I’m pretty proud of the insides of this dress. Some wonky top stitching aside, it’s definitely the most well-made thing I’ve sewn. I bound the pocket seams with bias tape and used the top stitching on the side seams to enclose my raw edges there. The rest of the raw edges are enclosed thanks to Megan’s brilliant pattern.

I only made one adjustment, which was to add a seam at the centre back of the waistband, because I was using 1.2m of fabric (only just enough to make this) and messed up my cutting layout. I pressed the seam open and you can’t really tell it was a mistake.

The only thing I didn’t love about the pattern was that the pleats are the same size in all the different pattern sizes. I felt like this was a shame because on my XL skirt, the pleats just don’t look as lovely and deep as they do on the smaller-waisted skirts like these. Although now I’m looking again, maybe I’m imagining this? Anyway. One day I might make one with deeper pleats.

One thing I loved loved loved about this pattern was the section for notes at the end of the instruction booklet. I filled it out and added a swatch like the big teacher’s pet that I am.

I will definitely make this skirt again – I think maybe in black it would look nicer on me! I also have a little plan up my sleeve to make one for my mum one day.

Next project? Either a black sorbetto dress for winter or… finishing my old nemesis, the Sewaholic Cambie dress, currently hanging out on Doris and taunting me from the corner….

Don’t be fooled by how nice she looks on Doris! I’m hoping she’ll be wearable by Christmas. She’s pretty festive, no?

“How do you find the time?”

Question:

(Click on picture to go to the real tweets)

Answer: I just give up on even basic house-keeping and live like this:

Ha!

Longer version of answer, in case you too were wondering how I’ve been finding the time to sew since I caught the bug: I have a five minute commute to work, so my evening starts at 5:35, plus I go home for lunch so I make 50-minute dents in sewing projects during the middle of the day.

Also, when I’m on a sewing kick I neglect my blog (see lack of posts lately and fact I still haven’t blogged about that skirt…) as well as other things like cooking (thank goodness for Mr V).

On the plus side, that particularly chaotic scene was the result of finishing up a birthday present for a friend in 90 minutes rather than the allotted evening when our plans suddenly changed, so I now have a skirt and an apron to show you when I get some good pictures. Hooray!

What does your house look like mid-project?

PS. Can you spot my massive Rolf Harris drawing in the corner? He drew it for me when I was about seven.

What I’ve learnt as a novice seamstress

This isn’t a beginner’s guide to sewing (ha!), just some random thoughts on things I’ve learnt since I started sewing in earnest last Boxing Day (when I made pyjama cat!).

  1. There is so little sewing involved in sewing things! Seriously. Most of your time is spent cutting, ironing, pinning etc. I guess it’s the same as painting a room – it’s the prep that makes it hard. But ironing for sewing isn’t the same as ironing for laundry… so don’t let that put you off. It’s just different. I guess because it doesn’t feel like a chore?
    (On related note: I love pinning on the ironing board, you can pin all the way through the board while you work out tricky seams)
  2. The sewing community seems to be divided into quilters and dressmakers (apparel sewists?), but I think this is a false dichotomy. The skills aren’t exactly the same, but taking it slow, ironing everything and learning how to approach fabric and all that is transferable. I actually think making a quilt is a great first project because it’s all straight lines and the high when you finish it will get you through a few projects that don’t work. Also, knowing that I like making quilts makes me feel happier cutting into lovely quilting cottons to make clothes. Because if the clothes don’t work out, I can still make patchwork from the fabric! It’s like your fabric has two chances at life.
  3. I actually think starting with home stuff is a great idea. For me, the hardest thing about sewing clothes is making them fit. It’s not only tricky (unless they fit out of the envelope, which doesn’t happen for me), but it’s also incredibly emotional (most body stuff is, right?). I’m happy to be tackling this, because I’m learning so much about my body’s quirks (I have a really short and narrow back, who knew?) but it’s not easy and so… if you’re scared of sewing in general, I’d make a load of cushions and curtains (and maybe a quilt!) first to get some basic skills before launching into that battle.
  4. Oh! And when you do make clothes, I’d steer clear of free tutorials and invest in some real patterns. Why? Well, I started making a dress based on a BurdaStyle reader-submitted tutorial about five years ago and that thing will be forever unfinished because the tutorial was confusing as all hell for a beginner. There are probably some great tutorials out there, but as a beginner it’s hard to tell the difference between well-written and poorly thought out. (Of course, free patterns from a trusted source (Sorbetto, anyone?) are different and you definitely can start with these!)
  5. I think independent pattern companies – Sewaholic, Colette, Megan Neilsen et al – are great when you’re learning to sew. Not only is the blogosphere full of people sewing these patterns, the companies themselves all have blogs full of tips and tricks, AND, best of all, you can email the person that wrote the pattern and knows it best if you run into a problem that you can’t solve yourself or with the help of the internet. (I’ve never had to do this, but I’ve emailed Tasia from Sewaholic about a shipping query and she got back to me straight away.)
  6. I love sewing blogs and think subscribing to a few is great way of learning about sewing without picking up a needle or thread. They’re great for inspiration (for example, I only realised I wanted to sew a Sewaholic Minoru when I saw this one from Kristen). It also means that when you do start making things, you have some chance of understanding pattern instructions without google, and then you have the vocabulary to search for the answer when you come up against a problem. (Eg. I knew that to find tutorials on enlarging the bust area on my Cambie dress, I had to google “sewaholic cambie fba”).  I’ve picked up a lot by osmosis from reading sewing blogs!
  7. I can do it. This is probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt. There’s this moment when the collection of cut-up shapes you’ve been stitching together suddenly become thing. Nearly-a-dress, nearly-a-quilt, nearly-something. It’s a sort of magic, conjuring something new from something else. Learning that I can make that magic trick happen has given me all sorts of new confidence. Making a quilt made me feel like I can make anything! (With a bit of time, patience, and googling.). I love that feeling!
  8. And, I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: If I can do this, you can do this. Seriously, my friends are shocked that I can do it. Ha!

Do you sew? What things have surprised you?

PS. Sorry for all the sewing posts lately! I have some house stuff in the works and now that autumn is here I plan to spend more time in the kitchen again.

River rock pattern weights

This last trip to France we didn’t go crazy on the souvenirs. A basket. Two postcards for our top tens. Some address labels from Carrefour. My favourite pepper with the spices in it.  (Oh, and I got some jelly shoes for river swimming.)

And, at one point during the afternoon we spent lolling here…

… I suddenly realised the lovely river rocks would make perfect pattern weights for when I’m cutting out with my rotary cutter.

So we selected a few favourites and here are my new pattern weights in action (I keep them in a little le creuset dish).

I used a permanent marker to add the name of the river we were in to the rocks, so they’ll always remind me of that lovely, sunny afternoon in the cool, clear water. I intend to add to my collection slowly, one or two each time we visit a pebble beach. If we go back to the Dordogne sometime, I might add ’2012′ to this batch.

Hooray!

PS. Note to self and others: don’t go crazy with this, a couple of pebbles where pebbles are plentiful (they form islands in the middle of the Dordogne there’s so many!) (but I should have just taken one or two, just the same) is fine, but be better than me and remember to leave nature as much like you found it as possible.

I love useful souvenirs (see above comment about pepper and address labels!) – it means that reminders of happy times are weaved into every day life. Plus useful souvenirs tend to need less dusting (she says, as if she ever dusts). What are your favourite souvenirs?

PPS. I already have a pebble collection on the printer’s tray, so maybe I’ll make pattern weights out of those too!

My favourite morning of the summer

I’m not quite ready to admit it’s autumn yet (even though I’m wearing tights and boots today!), so I thought I’d tell you about one morning this summer.

We got up early and walked along the canal on one of this summer’s few sunny days. We stopped to watch little old men sail beautiful model sailboats. I told Mr V, for the hundredth time, about how we used to do that with my Dad, every weekend, until one weekend we went and the boat pond had been filled in!

We went to a cafe for breakfast at the furthest point of our walk and then Mr V bought me a dress in the sale on our way home! Perfect.

My other favourite mornings of the summer were here and here, but this one had the virtue of being at home.

What was your favourite morning of the summer? Or any time of day, really!

PS. That lovely Design Mom asked me a question, you can read my answer here.

Cooking on the road – bean stew

I grew up camping with my family. I think we stayed in bed and breakfasts about three times in my childhood and the first time I stayed in a real hotel was probably when my Dad took me to New York when I was 14.

There is so much I love about camping: sitting outside late into the night, doing everything in the fresh air, the sense of community with your temporary neighbours. When we were kids we’d even love it when it rained as it meant we’d cycle to the bar of the nearest fancy hotel and spend the afternoon playing endless games of cards.

I’ve done a lot of camping with friends or Mr V in the last decade, but most of it has been at festivals, or while backpacking, or we’ve flown somewhere or got the train. So it’s all been more like having a tent to sleep in, but not really camping. This trip felt like the first time going back to those childhood camping holidays, where we literally brought the kitchen sink (or at least a washing up bowl) and cooked most meals ourselves. It felt so familiar.

My mum would always pack the same meal to eat when we arrived – rice and a tin of chicken in white sauce. I have many happy memories of eating this same meal in the dark or in the rain at the end of a long, long car journey. I brought a tin of chicken in white sauce on this holiday for old times’ sake, but it didn’t turn out to be our favourite meal. (Although, I think mine tasted better than Mr V’s, as it was seasoned with nostalgia)

The first full day Mr V and I were in France was a Sunday and we managed to find a supermarket just minutes before it closed. Our food shopping became a supermarket sweep as we both ricocheted around trying to get everything we needed before it shut. We’d bump into each other and go: “Squash!” “Mosquito repellant!” “Toothpaste!” and then dash off. Needless to say, we didn’t quite come out with a carefully considered meal plan, just a load of stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Anyway. That’s how this recipe came about, when we found ourselves back at the campsite with a tin of beans, two courgettes and some leftover saucisson from lunch. It tasted so good that we actually made it three or four times while we were away!

I’m calling it a “recipe”, but really I think beans plus meat and veg in a pot is probably a) more of a formula than a recipe! and b) probably the oldest meal there is (if your beans weren’t tinned). But, hey, I made it and liked it, so thought I’d share

That stove there is a Trangia 27 and it’s one of my favourite camping tools ever (right up there with my Swiss Army knife). It’s a hand-me-down from my Dad and I thought it was dead but then I replaced the burner (the old one had corroded because my teenage self didn’t look after it very well). The rest of it is practially good as new even though it’s been used and used. It’s just one of those things that really, really works! It folds up into a unit about the size of a smallish saucepan, but inside it has the burner, windshield (it burns in all weathers, even rain) two saucepans, a frying pan and a handle for them all. Anyway. Not sponsored or anything but I love it.

I love the challenge of cooking on a single ring. You have to time everything right and juggle all the different elements of a meal, while only being able to heat things one at a time. Rice is pretty handy for this (using this method, it cooks itself perfectly after the initial blast), but cous cous is phenomenal! You just put half a mug of cous cous (for two people) in a bowl with (optional) a slug of olive oil and some salt, and then pour over 3/4 of a mug of boiling water and set aside (covered) for ten minutes or until you’re ready to eat it.  Done.

Camping Bean Stew

Ingredients:

Olive oil

Cous cous (half a mug)

Courgette (one or two small ones)

Saucisson (or other cured meat, such as chorizo or salami) (a couple of inches)

Tin of cannelloni beans (other beans would work) (about a 400g tin)

Cherry tomatoes (a handful)

Salt and Pepper

1) Boil your water for your cous cous first, then set it aside as detailed above.

2) Meanwhile, cut up the courgette and saucisson into slices (we later added leeks to the mix as well, with good results)

3) Fry the courgettes and saucisson in a little olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan (or in the frying pan if you have one)

4) Pour over the tin of beans, season, stir well and cover. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer until the beans are cooked.

5) When nearly ready, add the tomatoes (I like mine cut in half).

6) Serve with the cous cous.

Friends, I’m curious – what sort of family holiday did your family go on as a child? Do you find yourself gravitating back to the same things now your older? And, if you camp, what’s your favourite thing to cook when you’re there?

Wild swimming in France

Here are some more pictures of our wild swimming road trip around France. We were there for ten days, swam in five different rivers (and the sea!), covered about 3,000 miles, camped in four campsites, and… just had the best time. Hands down. Hands up. Best.

I thought, rather than giving you a day by day run down of what we did, I’d just post some of my favourite pictures, and tell a few stories alongside them.

It doesn’t even look real does it?

It certainly doesn’t feel real that just a fortnight ago
I was swimming here every morning in lieu of a shower!

Our route

Our first stop (after an early start, a ferry across the channel and a long day’s driving for Mr V) was a beautiful wooded campsite near Angouleme on the river Charente. There were four families there when we arrived and then we had the place to ourselves for the second night!

The river here was gorgeous. One evening, as we sat quietly by the water, we saw a furry little head bob past in the water – we’re fairly certain it was an otter or a eurasian beaver. Either way it was one of those moments you know you’ll always remember.

The campsite itself was in an oxbow of a river (we could see and hear the water from our tent) and quite fast flowing, so on the morning we left we had a great time swimming round in circles (hop in upstream, drift downstream and then run across the narrow sliver of land back into the river upstream!). (This ‘method’ is recommended by Roger Deakin in his lovely book Waterlog, I’ll post his description of it sometime, because it makes me happy.)

While we were there, we also went into Angouleme for dinner. We didn’t see much of the city, but did enjoy the cheeky little bits of comic book graffiti around the place, like this funny little chap:

Doesn’t he look like Where’s Wally’s scruffy little brother?

After two lovely nights in the Charente, we drove in the pouring rain to the Dordogne. Luckily, this was the last bit of rain we’d see all holiday – something we were thankful for after a soggy few months in England!

We spent three nights in the Dordogne at a gorgeous campsite next to a clear, surprisingly chilly tributary of the big river. Every morning we’d wake up hot in our little tent and slip down to the river for a swim before hordes of children overtook it. Those morning swims are the thing I’m missing most now we’re back in the city.

(Wow, I look so glum in this photo! I was going for serene water nymph)

That little pool above was right by our tent, but then we discovered this dreamy pool, and that’s when we knew we’d found a campsite we’ll be coming back to again and again.

During the day, we went to cafes in cute little towns, hired a canoe (I lolled in the bow taking in the scenery while Mr V paddled for three hours, it was epic!), found little nooks in the river to call “our private beach”, did lots more swimming and found dogs to befriend. (I speak pretty good French, but Mr V speaks dog like its his first language.) (Maybe it is, his parents got a puppy when he was two weeks old and they grew up together!)

Dodgy picture taken on my iphone through its waterproof case!

Mr V taught me to skim stones here! I’m now obsessed.

When I call this a ‘wild swimming holiday’, that might be a bit misleading
as we mainly enjoyed floating our way around France. Just FYI!

The view over head. Sigh.

This little fella was so hot and sleepy. We loved him!

After four dreamy days, we packed our little tent in our little car and headed to the coast. We camped at Ronce-les-Bains and, even though we thought the Dordogne was crammed with tourists, we soon realised that that was nothing compared to the crush at the seaside. After a swim in the Atlantic, moules frites on the Ile d’Oleron and a good night’s sleep, we hightailed it to the leafy Loire.

Ah! The Loire. I love the Loire.We hired a canoe again and literally paddled through the moat of a chateau. It was amazing (those pics are on my underwater film camera so not in this post). We swam in the Indre and the Loire, had lovely beers on leafy terraces and felt the last few days of our holiday slipping blissfully through our fingers.

We stayed at another lovely riverside campsite, this was the view from our tent

On our last day, Mr V bought me a basket at the market (I’m a bit obsessed with baskets) and we spent hours and hours with a picnic at another place that felt like a private beach, swimming and skimming and sunning ourselves.

I know you’ve seen this one before, but I really love baskets, ok?

Then the next morning, we woke up, packed the tent up while it was still dark and drove all the way home!

Man. I know I’ve already gone on about how brilliant this holiday was, but it really was magical. Ten shining, bright, beautiful days. We left the ipad at home and listened to audio books. We cooked simple meals over a teensy stove (more on this soon). We woke up and slept with the sun! Ah. I could go on forever….

Vintage goodies

One of my favourite things about having finally learnt how to sew is that it gives me an excuse to hoard fabric. (Let’s be honest, I was doing this anyway, but these days I have a reason!) In fact, it’s not called a hoarding, it’s “building a stash”. Hooray!
The other good thing is people (mainly my mother and mother-in-law) are giving me fabrics that they’ve hoarded! Double hooray! This little bag of goodies (vintage fabric and patterns) came home with Mr V last time he visited his parents without me.

 

 

The best bit? Some of the fabric and patterns came from my mother-in-law’s mother’s stash. Isn’t it amazing, that when I eventually use these I’ll be wearing her engagement ring and sewing with her fabrics and patterns? It’s a lovely inheritance that makes me feel part of Mr V’s family in a very real way.

 

 

Some of the pieces are quite big – that blue one with white flowers in the middle is easily big enough for a sorbetto and there’s some more larger pieces further down the stack. Then there’s plenty that would be big enough for doll’s clothes (three different patterns in the stack!)

 

 

Some of the pieces of fabric are only big enough to use in patchwork. but luckily, I love making patchwork quilts!  I’m so excited that the next quilt I make will be made like quilts should be made – with scraps of fabric from hither and thither – rather than with a pack of pre-cut squares from the quilt shop. (There’s nothing wrong with that, but I love the thrifty individuality of quilts made from scraps.)

And this shirt? I can’t wait to make this shirt!

Maybe I’ll see if there’s enough of one of the larger pieces of fabric to make one of these blouses from. That would be fun, right?

And then maybe a hilariously old-fashioned nightgown?

Because nothing says ‘sexy’ like a night dress that goes from your neck all the way to your wrists and ankles!

What craft supplies do you hoard?

Sorbetto Sundae summer dress (on a person this time)

I know some of you will have been waiting for this post for a while and some will be thinking “shut up about that stupid dress already” – so to please both groups I decided to get this post up as quickly as possible! (which is why I didn’t wait until we had a chance to take better photographs).

Here she is! My summer dress made from Colette pattern’s free sorbetto pattern and a £7 metre of cotton voile, in a cornfield.

This photo was taken on a HOT day in a cornfield beside the Dordogne. It was the first time I’d posed for a blog photo like this and the first time Mr V had acted as my photographer like this. The results were mixed (I think I look a bit dumpy in this one and what is that weird smile I’m doing?!) but we’ll get better with time!

Anyway, back to the actual dress. This was exactly what I wanted to wear all day every day on our holiday. It was cool and flowy and just the most comfortable thing ever. It’s the sort of thing I’d have worn even if it looked awful (maybe it did!)  because it felt so lovely to wear. I think I wore it for at least five days straight (eww).

Now that I’ve waxed lyrical about how much I love this dress, here’s some things that need fixing next time I make it: 1) it made it through the washing machine twice without major incident but there are places where the bias tape has come away from the dress because I didn’t sew it down properly – easily fixed this time and easily avoided next time and 2) my darts are completely uneven – you can’t tell at all in pictures (and I don’t know how it happened), but it makes the dress ride up wonkily on my bust. Not a major problem but a bit irksome – would be easy to fix if I knew how it happened the first time – it’s probably because I cut it out with scissors on the floor rather than at a nice hard table with lots of pattern weights and my rotary cutter!

You can see I wore it without a belt – too hot by far for that most days, but I did pop a leather belt on when we went out for a fancy dinner one night (moules frites by the sea!).

I love it and plan to make many more just like it in the future. Next on the sewing table? A sorbetto top with sleeves. Ooh. Then another Simplicity 1800 in black or navy blue for the autumn. I plan to stick to those two patterns for a while so I can work on my skills without worrying about whether a pattern will fit or work for me.

PS. Talking of dresses, I think I found my wedding dress on Saturday! My mum, Mr V’s mum and I had a lovely time in a bridal shop and I’m pretty sure we have a winner! We also took Mr V’s parents to see the venue and they think it’s just as lovely as we do. HUZZAH.

PPS. Big fat trip recap post up in the next few days, pinkie swear!