A panoply of (sometimes) lovingly handmade crud.

How to: Frame your embroidery

Framing your own cross stitch and embroidery projects not only saves you a lot of money, but also means you’re totally in control of the creative process and can add your personality to the finishing touches as well as the design itself.

Here are two designs that I framed.Image

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For the bottom one, I popped into a framing shop out of curiosity. They estimated that it would be £60 to frame this AND that the method they used would involve ‘permanently bonding’ the cross-stitch to the backing board so that you could never remove it from the frame. The alternative method they could have used would have been nearer £100. My framing method took a bit longer but was about £50 less than the cheaper option. I carried the un-ironed cloth around with me for a couple of weeks and popped into charity shops looking for a frame of the correct size. Since the design is an unusual shape, this took a few tries but I eventually found this snazzy silver frame. There were also some on eBay but the delivery costs were high and I wouldn’t have got to feel good about myself for donating to charity.

You will need

  • Your finished embroidery project
  • A frame of the correct size. Ideally your aida should overlap the frame by about 2″ on all sides*
  • Needle and thread

*It’s your call whether to use glass in the frame. I do because it protects the cross stitch from dust and grease but some people leave the glass out because it can distort the appearance of the stitches.

The frame has several parts; the frame itself, the glass, the backing board and the back of the frame. If your frame is missing its backing board or the backing board is thin and cheap, you can cut a piece of cardboard to fit your frame and use that instead.

If you want a card border around your project like both of mine have, you’ll also need

  • Stiff card. If you’re not using glass, make it REALLY stiff.
  • Sharp cutting blade
  • Steel rule
  • Appropriate surface for using cutting blade (e.g. self-healing mat)

Note: For the first design I didn’t have a blade and mat to hand so I cheated and cut L-shapes from two pieces of card using scissors and then laid them over each other. Would you have known if I hadn’t told you?

How

1. Carefully wash and iron your project. This will instantly make your embroidery look at least 100% more professional. Here’s what the second project looked like before this stage.

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I leave mine to soak in lukewarm water with delicate soap for about 15mins, then gently rub the aida clean with my hands. I use stain remover if there are any stubborn spots, then carefully rinse under running lukewarm water until I am totally certain there is no detergent left in the fabric. I iron while it’s still damp on a low setting. I iron mostly on the wrong side and sometimes use a pressing cloth to make sure there’s no chance of the iron staining my project. Make sure the fabric is utterly dry before framing.

2. Skip this step if you’re not using the card.

Carefully cut your chosen card so it fits exactly into the frame. I’ve only ever done this with glass to help keep it in place. Measure the size of your embroidery, plus any border you want to leave around it and decide how big a hole you need to cut out of your card. Sketch the shape you’re going to cut onto the card and make sure the lines are parallel. Of course, you can cut any shape you want, it doesn’t have to be a rectangle. Carefully cut out using the steel rule and blade. Check you’re happy with how it looks in the frame before proceeding.

3. Anchor your cross stitch to the frame’s backing board.

This will keep it in place and also stretch the fabric so the design looks its best. Check roughly where in the frame you want your design to sit. Fold the edges of the aida over the edges of the backing board, then get your needle and thread. Whip stitch the raw edges of the aida together over the back of the frame (see pic). Make sure your stitches are at least 4-5 squares away from the edge or the aida will unravel and pull the stitches out.

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You can see here that I didn’t leave a big enough border! Ideally you would do the stitching horizontally as well as vertically.

You can improvise and skip this step if your design is a bit too small, it just gives a more even finish. If you can’t do the stitching, then stuff the backing board with the cross stitch on it into the frame and pull the edges of the fabric until it’s nicely stretched.

4. Check you’re happy with the placement of the design.

Put the covered backing board into the frame (don’t forget the card border first if you’re using it). It will be a tight fit. Look at the design from the front. Are the lines of the aida running parallel to the frame? If not, tug on the edges of the fabric at the back until it’s nice and tight and you’re happy with the way your design looks. This step took me a while because it was hard to get the text to look completely straight. The metallic thread pulls at the fabric differently to cotton, which doesn’t help.

5. Once you’re happy-ish, put the frame down and step away from it for a couple of hours. I was a bit dissatisfied with mine at first but when I returned to it later, I realised it was fine. The longer you stare at the project up close, the crazier you can go. Once you’re satisfied, put the back of the frame on and you’re done!

Tatty Devine forget-me-not necklace workshop

I’ve had my eye on these Tatty Devine workshops for a long time. I have a worryingly large collection of Tatty pieces (jewellery is one of my many vices) and I really liked the idea of making one myself. Here’s what I ended up with.
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This will definitely take pride of place in my floral jewellery collection. Since I have a couple of pairs of pliers, I might tinker with it further in future. This is probably my favourite detail.

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I think it’s so cute to have a little charm on the leader!
Here are a few more pictures from the workshop. TD provided little bowls of pre-cut flowers and leaves, and we played around with designs. Each piece still has plastic backing on it to protect the acrylic from the laser, then from our sticky fingers (which leave prints). As always I was indecisive about mine. The flowers came in dark pink, light pink and lilac. I knew I definitely wanted to combine the pinks and showcase the three sizes, but I ummed and ahhed over leaf placement.

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Next it was time to begin construction. Tatty use sturdy jump rings that need two pairs of pliers to open.

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I made a mistake and my necklace was asymmetrical. Then I couldn’t decide which side I liked better.

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Surprisingly, the hardest bit was attaching the chain, which we cut to our desired length. The links were smaller than the jump rings, so we had to manipulate the final link so the jump ring could go through. We used pliers plus this tool, which I call ‘the poker’. Does anyone know the real name?

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After lots of swearing I managed to bash all the links into the right shape and attach the leader and necklace.
The final step was peeling off the protective film and voila!

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Why yes I am wearing an entirely self-made outfit. The tiger’s loving it.

How to: Spiced apple loaf cake

You can tell I’m feeling stretched when I start making simple rustic cakes like this spiced apple loaf. Although it doesn’t look much, the apple and yoghurt keep it nice and moist, it’s not too sweet and you can really taste the butter, the tang of the apples and the subtle spices. It’s great with a cuppa, doesn’t leave you feeling too guilty, and the prep time is only about half an hour.

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Recipe

Adapted from here.

  • 100g butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g buttermilk or yoghurt*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200g flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 medium eating apples
  • 50g walnuts, chopped (optional)

*I used Greek yoghurt. You can make your own buttermilk by adding 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and leaving to stand. The recipe notes say that ordinary milk (or low fat yoghurt, for that matter) works fine but I would worry the cake might be a bit dry. Although with all that apple it’s probably be fine.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan). Grease a 1lb loaf tin, or similar
2. Melt the butter and leave to cool. Meanwhile, slice or chop your apples. Peeling is optional, I don’t bother.
Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined and light, 1-2mins
3. Add the butter, milk/yoghurt and vanilla and mix until incorporated
4. Stir in the dry ingredients. You will be left with a very thick batter
5. Add the apples and nuts if using. It will look like a lot of apple but it’s fine. If you want a simple decoration, reserve 10 or so apple slices.
6. Transfer the batter to your greased pan and level the top. Decorate if you want.

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7. Bake for 50-60mins. Check after 40 and cover with foil if it’s looking too brown. Once the cake passes the knife test, remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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It’s best to cut this cake with a sharp knife, otherwise all the bits of apple make the slices uneven. But then you get to ‘clear up’ the crumbs. Yum.

Cross (stitched) words

A few weeks ago I found myself desperate to make something (read: trying to work on my thesis) but lacking in craft materials. I dug through my sewing box and found the last scrap of the aida I bought years ago when I discovered subversive cross stitch. I remembered an idea for a project that came to me a while ago. A friend at University had a wonderful book called Mr Concerned’s Talking Book of Therapy. It was a kind of spoof self-help picture book that played a selection of stock phrases when you pressed buttons on the side. Ah, I found a picture! Thanks, internet.

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The phrases were read in a typical American ‘analyst’ voice and the phrase we listened to the most, and which I still remember nearly ten years on, was:

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I improvised the little floral design using a picture I saw on Tumblr as inspiration. I really like the way the back-stitching looks, it makes the flowers pop much more. The reason the lettering goes over slightly is that this piece of aida was only just big enough for the lettering and I wanted to be able to frame it.

It’s such a shame WordPress doesn’t support GIFs cos I made a cool one that you can look at here.

Fully skirting the issue

Years ago I bought a midi skirt that turned out to be a surprisingly good investment for travelling. In even the most conservative countries, if you cover your knees you will avoid uncomfortable stares and unwanted attention, and you don’t need to worry about offending anyone at religious sites. A full cotton skirt is both a comfort and a delight to wear as you enjoy delicious exotic breezes or tuck it beneath you on the beach. Can you tell I’m dying for a holiday? I’m thrilled to be packing this.

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The second I saw that leaf pattern, it was love.

My mum helped me to make this skirt, so this post isn’t a a proper how-to, more notes that might help someone/me recreate something like this garment if they wanted.

I bought 1.5m of cotton and there was almost none remaining. Notions are a zip and a hook and eye.

We started out by measuring my desired length for the skirt, which was just below the knee. We cut two pieces of fabric that were as wide as the fabric and about 75cm long I think. Making sure the leaves were all facing the same way, I sewed up the side seams, leaving a gap at the top of one of them for the zip.

Note on pattern matching: This is a huge deal in the Great British Sewing Bee and I wanted to show off to mum that I knew about it. Mum described this pattern as having no ‘nap’, a word she uses to mean ‘obvious pattern repeat sections’. The term is used differently on GBSB. Anyway, the point is that with a busy print like this, you don’t need to worry about pattern matching. Ahem.

Anyway, the zip I chose from mum’s bread bin of zips was an invisible one. These are harder to put in than a normal dress zip and require the use of the machine’s zip foot. The key to making sure the zip truly is invisible is sewing as close to the teeth as possible. How we achieved this was by sewing once to secure the zip, then going back over it again closer to the teeth. I think you can see what I mean in the photo below. We stitched in yellow.

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Now it was time to put in the box pleats. We had nearly 90″ of fabric to reduce to 30″ (my waist measurement… don’t judge me) so in the end we needed 16 1.75″ pleats. Mum sewed them down 6″ so there wouldn’t be too much fullness around the tummy.

I then pinned them all open.

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And then basted them ready for the waistband.

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We used a 2″ strip of fabric which was interfaced, sewn double over the right side and then doubled again and sewn to cover the raw edges behind.

I pressed a 1cm hem, folded it double and pressed it again, then top-stiched.

Clear as mud. Now anyone can create their own skirt assuming they know a former professional seamstress and have 8 hours on their hands!

How to: Chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate frosting

These cupcakes were for one of my oldest friends whose dearest wish on her 27th birthday was a cake mountain. I’m pleased with my contribution. These were like the foothills. I know she loves white chocolate, hence the frosting. The crazy sweetness of the frosting is tempered by the rich darkness of the cakes. And glitter. Shiny shiny green glitter to remind us of the time we visited the Leprechaun Museum in Dublin. 20140330-223845.jpg

Pots of delicious gold.

I used my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe, which I halved because I knew there was a strong likelihood that there would be way too much cake at the party. I’ll give the full recipe, which makes 20 cupcakes. I also halved the frosting recipe, and ended up with enough frosting for 8 cupcakes. Again, I’ll give the full recipe. There aren’t many process pictures today because I was baking at night. Check out this earlier post for more pics. Frosting recipe adapted from here.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, at room temperature

1 cup (7 oz) sugar 2oz (60g) of your favourite chocolate

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fl oz) oil. I used walnut.

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup (3oz) full-fat sour cream*

1 cup (5 oz) plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup (2 oz) cocoa powder

1/2 cup (4 fl oz) room temperature coffee, water or a mixture

*I substituted Greek yoghurt as I didn’t have sour cream. It was okay, but I think the sour cream gives a more moist result, probably due to its higher fat content

For the frosting

6oz (170g) white chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup (230g) butter, at room temperature

2 cups (240g) icing sugar

¼ cup (60ml) double cream. I substituted milk, but cream gives a better frosting.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt (to taste, be careful if you use salted butter)

Method

  1. Line a muffin tin with paper liners and preheat your oven to 180C (170 fan)
  2. Melt the chocolate. A minute in the microwave should do.
  3. Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. The mixture should resemble wet sand.
  4. Once the chocolate is cool enough to touch, add to the butter and sugar and mix until combined.
  5. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating between each addition.
  6. Add the oil, vanilla and sour cream and mix until combined.
  7. Sift the dry ingredients together into a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing between each addition.
  8. Add the water or coffee and mix until smooth.
  9. Divide the batter among your paper liners, filling each 2/3 of the way up. 1/3 cup of batter is about right.
  10. Bake for 14-20 minutes, until they pass the toothpick test
  11. Remove from pan immediately to cool on a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

  1. Melt the white chocolate and leave to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth. I made this frosting by hand with a wooden spoon and it came out really well. However, a hand or stand mixer may have given a slightly smoother result.
  3. Add the icing sugar about 1/2 a cup at a time and mix until smooth after each addition.
  4. Stir in the cooled white chocolate and then beat until creamy.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and salt, to taste.
  6. Add in the cream. If using milk, add slowly and stop when the frosting reaches the consistency you want.
  7. Beat until smooth.
  8. Spoon or pipe onto your cooled cupcakes. My trusty Wilton 1M tip has got a bit bent so the piping wasn’t as gorgeous as normal. Treat your piping tips with gentle loving care, peeps!

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How to: Reversible drawstring project bag

This little project bag featuring this stunning peacock print is a very useful item for any crafter. It’s the perfect size for making socks on the go and the thick canvas material doubled up means that there should be no danger of your needles working themselves through the bag and getting lost. This is also my entry for the Hillary’s Country Crafts competition- Hillary’s Blinds supplied this rather fabulous fabric. I think if I were to do this again, I would use a contrast lining and perhaps a bright blue binding. This is more elegant and understated than the things I usually make! 20140331-104944.jpg

It even stands up on its own! I was inspired by this project here but I made a few changes. The bag is fully reversible, formed of an outer bag and lining bag stitched together.

You will need:

  • 4 12×12″ squares of fabric. I think 2 in a main colour and 2 for a contrast lining would look great. Or patchwork squares! I also think a lighter lining would help the drawstring action.
  • Ribbon or bias binding for the tie (less than 1m)

Finished bag is about 8″ tall with a 6″ square base. You can alter the bag to be any size, just ensure that the squares you cut from the bottom corners in Step 1 are 1/4 of the total width of the fabric. Unless otherwise stated, use a 1/4″ (0.75cm) seam allowance

Method

1. Cut a 3″ square from the bottom corners of each square of fabric. I made a little template from scrap paper to ensure mine were even. 20140330-221042.jpg 20140330-221054.jpg

2. Choose the two squares that will form your outer bag. With right sides facing, stitch along the bottom seam, then the two side seams. Repeat with the other two (lining) pieces. 20140330-221823.jpg

3. Press all your seams open. You will now create the corners in both bags.

4. Take one of your corners with the square removed and open it so that the two seams now meet in the middle. You’re going from this  20140330-222123.jpg

…to this

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5. Stitch across this edge.

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Repeat with the other three corners. You will have two bags that look something like this. 20140330-222538.jpg

6. Now we assemble. Have your outer bag with the right side facing in. Put your lining bag inside it with the right side facing out, i.e. right sides together. Line the seams up carefully and trim the top edges if they’re a bit wonky. You could see in Step 2 that mine needed a trim.

Stitch around the top raw edge, sewing the two bags together. Leave a 3″ gap so you can pull both bags through so they’re the right way around. Once you pull the bags through the gap, you will have this 20140330-223202.jpg

7. Press the seam at the top so it’s nice and neat. Top stitch to close the gap you left for pulling.

8. Mark a line 1″ down from the top edge. You will top stitch this line to create a channel for the drawstring. 20140330-223516.jpg

8. Carefully snip open one of your side seams between the two top stitched rows. You will feed your drawstring through this gap. Attach a safety pin to your ribbon to make the process easier. I always find this step annoying! 20140330-223730.jpg

9. Feed the ribbon all the way through the channel and stick a fork in it, you’re done! You actually could store forks in here if you wanted. 20140331-105006.jpg


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