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Sometimes Louis and I have small battles over my enthusiasm for new things, and how many unfinished things are floating around. It’s true, I do have a lot of ideas (and that is only getting worse since I ‘discovered’ Pinterest – caved, more like) and I do enthusiastically start a lot of things, and a sad number of them reach a certain point… and then I quietly hide them from sight and start something else. We in the industry refer to these things as UFO’s (unfinished objects). They do have their uses – sometimes it’s really nice to pull one out of the cupboard and have something finished in ten minutes, but mostly they like to torment me too. Often I have taken them as far as my abilities will take them, and I must simply wait for a wave of inspiration before I can work out how to resolve it. But I will admit that a lot of the time it is just evaporated enthusiasm, or my irrational fear of button holes getting the better of me.

But given my recent enthusiasms for MORE new things (rental blues will turn a lady into a house-buying optomist of the worst DIY disaster prone kind, even I am taking this latest enthusiasm with a pinch of salt, and yes, Pinterest is not helping with my runaway imagination) I thought I should finish some stuff. So…

This dress! It only took me four months to put the button hole in. I even bought some fabric specifically for the purpose of making these to sell, in different colourways and a range of sizes. I still plan to do that… ha!

And a lampshade. These aerial photographs are something I’ve had lying around for years and it’s nice to do something like this with them finally. But while I like the concept I do not particularly care for the craftmanship here. I need stronger backing for it, and better glue. Faced with crap glue I did what any sane person would do – blanket stitch. It’ll do until I work out how to do it properly. At least it’s not sitting around half-done, right Louis?

… so that would explain where I’ve been! I re-covered this chair I have only had for about seven years (though it did have some holidays at my mum’s house). I went a little bit mental on the home front, mostly due to a severe bout of rental blues in this freezing cold house (turns out I am allergic to gas heaters). And when you have the rental blues it would seem the best thing for it is to have a stab at the things you CAN change. So, shabby little chair, you have scrubbed up very well. If I do say so myself. It all started with this:

Bertie and I spent a lively afternoon with a bottle of meths and some ‘Steelo’ pads at Louis’ mums’ house scrubbing the shellac off her mantlepiece. Her house is filled with beautiful native timbers stained to look like mahogany as per the fashion of the 1950s (my guess). When I came home I looked at this chair and thought, maybe all that ugly dark varnish will come off with a bit of meths and Steelo too…

The seat itself turned out to be very easy to extract from it’s frame – two screws at the back and two nails at the front. It was interesting to see how faded the fabric had become – I always liked the pattern of the green, which is probably why I had put up with its rattiness for so long.

It was never a particularly comfortable chair, and I have to admit here that I didn’t really know what I was doing and therefore have not improved on its levels of comfort. I simply tacked the new fabric over the top. But I did pause to reinforce these corners where the frame was poking out of the front of the seat.

There were a lot of pins involved, a lot of furniture tacks, and then some nice blanket stitches around the edge of the seat (and eventually on the back as I wasn’t so pleased with how the fabric was sitting between tacks).

Getting the varnish off the frame was beastly and it was not a pretty sight, hence the lack of photos. I used a combination of ‘goldilocks’ scouring pads (to get the worst off), the finer steelo scouring pads, lots of methylated spirits and BRUTE FORCE. (Music helped too). Then I sanded it down and used something from a tin that Louis said was ‘dutch oil’ but in fact I did not look at what it said on the tin. You apply it liberally with a cloth, rub it in and smooth any drips, wait for it to dry and do a few more coats like that. In some places the oil hasn’t really taken but on the whole it looks a lot nicer than it did before. All up it probably took about ten hours – I covered the seat in a morning with the usual interruptions of tea breaks and hanging out the washing (though Rata was out, I might add) and several attempts at getting off the varnish did add up a bit.

The fabric I used is some wool I found a few years ago at the opshop – it’s a lovely pattern and I wanted to make a dress with it but it is just too scratchy for a garment. I have enough left over to make a skirt with… usually I match Rata but could it be time to match the decor instead? Watch this space!

(Actually, don’t. You know me. I still haven’t finished that chips dress).

Shrewsbury, Yum City

OK internets, I am out to confuse you: In New Zealand these biscuits are sold as Shrewsbury’s, but if you internet that name the only recipe you’ll find that matches the biscuit you know will be a New Zealand one (and a good one at that, thank you Woman’s Weekly!). The rest of the internet describes Shrewsbury’s as some kind of biscuit with dried fruit in in, while Jammie Dodgers seem to be the same as what we call the mighty Shrewsbury. Bought ones have paste-like raspberry jam in them, with either a plain round hole or a star or heart to show off the jam inside. When I am in bought biscuit mode I will quite happily polish off the whole packet in an afternoon, but I don’t have the stamina for that anymore.

The recipe is faultless. The biscuits are crisp and they taste nice. I didn’t have any vanilla essence so I just added a bit of lemon zest and a splash of lemon juice and I think it might have worked better for it. I could have gone all superhousewife and used homemade blackberry jam in them but I don’t have much left of that and there’s a large jar of cheap boysenberry jam in the fridge that needs using too (Pams actually make nice jam. If you need a lot of jam. I discovered this through being the housekeeper for Playcentre).

I rushed things by trying to bake both trays in the oven at once, and I should have known better than to do that. The tops biscuits cooked faster of course, but I made the whole ones a bit thick so their bottoms were nicely browned before their tops went golden. Oh well.

Now we are readying the teddies and the china for a tea party with our friends Marta and Anouk! It’s Anouk’s second birthday this week and Rata decided that Anouk’s birthday present should be the fancy dress costume I made for Rata this week… which Rata refused to wear. It seems like my days sewing for Rata are numbered. At least she likes my baking.

Hot Chips!

Here’s what I’m working on at present –  a chips dress!

But first, does anyone know with doing a neckline on a t-shirt – you know where you use the ribbing or whatever it is called -whether you sew it to the outside, fold it over and sew, or start on the inside? I have tried to do it in the past and despaired when the facing gaped out. I know I’ve made it work once doing the opposite of what I had in the past, but I can’t remember which was which!

I remember seeing a very good tutorial for this, maybe on the Burda website, but for the life of me I can’t find it, or anything remotely useful. But if you have a good link tucked away somewhere, I’d be so grateful if you could share it.

I’m of to fix the shoulder seams so that once I’ve worked out which way to go with the facing, it’s not all for nothing!

So, at long last I have ‘documented’ this dress. More recently I made the deer hunting dress with the same pattern, and for a more detailed explanation of my experiences with Butterick 5605 go here and then here.

But when I said I’ve ‘documented’ it, you knew it was just going to be a couple of photos, right? I didn’t get your hopes up now, did I?

The bumps on the hips are the pocket openings. They work better on the fuller version of the dress, but in order to sew them up I would have to take apart the dress. So for now they are going to stay. I like pockets, and also I like the little peek of polka dot lining.

The back is pretty super and fits better than the deer hunting dress (but I also spent a LOT of time on the fit so that’s hardly surprising).

The best thing of all is that I can get away with wearing it to work with boots and tights and a cardigan. And it may currently be my favourite work dress, though it has a fair amount of competition. This afternoon I am going to put my bout of Extreme Productivity to use in making my “chips dress”. And go to a clothes swap in the hope that I might find something warm to wear.

Me! Me! Me-Made-May!

(May 1st, me-made skirt)

I have signed myself up for the rigorous challenge of Me-Made-May ’12, the brainchild of the marvellous Zoe where one seeks to wear self-stitched clothes for the month of May but defines their own challenge. My pledge went a little something like this:

‘I, Lotte, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’12. I endeavour to wear at least one article of me-made clothing and the rest New Zealand-made each day for the duration of May 2012’.

In reality the last few days have been freezing cold and I have had to do without my merino long sleeve tops from Glassons, which are – yes – made in China. Basically I knew as much about this gaping hole in my me-made/NZ-made wardrobe, I just wasn’t expecting it to get so cold. My bottom-half is sorted though: undies made by my neighbour, Columbine tights and Minnie Cooper shoes.

I will admit though that already I have cheated. Or rather, added another ‘genre’ of clothing: op-shopped items that are not made in China. While not gifting me any get-out-of-jail layers of merino, there are a few warm British-made things I own that I hope to bust out. This is certainly a learning curve! I’m not beating myself up about already bending the rules, but perhaps with more preparation I can be a little closer to my ideal by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, back to the outfit photos…

May 3rd – a plush me-made dress and a me-made wool coat.

This is my newest creation: a pattern from my Built By Wendy Dresses book sewn up in a wool/angora blend with super-super cuddliness. I made the shift dress pattern up for Clementine for her birthday (more on that when I’ve adjusted the shoulders to fit her) and this is the dirndl pattern. I was a bit sneaky and just cut out the pattern pieces on the Large line, then stitched on the Medium line, effectively giving it a 5mm seam allowance. It fits, it works, sort of. The important thing is that the dress is made, instead of my waiting for a spare moment in which to draft a pattern. The lace was from the Salvation Army and I sat in the kitchen at Playcentre tacking it on last Friday, finishing it in Rata’s room that afternoon.

(Julie will notice the wombat, commonly known as “the Daddy one” sometimes “the fluffy one”)

What I love about the Built By Wendy patterns is that they are so quick to sew up. I need to make the bodice of the dirndl dress a little longer as the waist is too high and my belt just won’t stay up there (for this dress I will make some loops to hold it up there). I intend to whip up my “chips dress” this weekend, and I think the dirndl will work well with the cotton knit, though the skirt will be something more robust.

Despite the woolly nature of the dress, I was actually quite cold all day, possibly because the sleeves are short, and the neckline low. Getting booted off the train a station early and having to wait for the bus replacement in the bitterly cold frosty air was not pleasant. I need some goodly sourced merino, or at the very least the internal thermostat of a preschooler…

I forgot I’d planted beans. I like purple vegetables, especially when they’re as productive as the “King of the Blues” runner beans. Think the other ones are Blue Lake Runners. I maybe got ten beans, on the two plants that appeared of the eight beans I sowed. The purple ones? All fifteen seeds grew into huge plants. I’ve had at least this many beans a week for three weeks. Maybe more. Like I said, I keep forgetting about them.

The purple cauliflower were a nice surprise this afternoon. I’d forgotten I’d planted them too…