04 September 2011

Crafty little sew-and-sew

"Catching all passions in her craft..." - Shakespeare, "A Lover's Complaint"

Inspiration often comes from the most usual sources. For our joint birthdays this year, the DEB and I decided to take our adorable little camper van for a week-long getaway in Snowdonia (North Wales). In preparation for this trip, we visited a local caravan shop near Coughton Court, as we needed a bit of cabling to connect our awning to the railing on top of the camper van. The actual cabling unit he needed was unavailable, but the shop had the materials needed to create one, the two strips just needed to be stitched together.

Possessing the heart of a would-be-crafter, I stepped forward to save the day by offering to stitch the strips together -- by hand. Upon returning home, I was struck by the heft of the task that lie before me. I weighed the situation, and thought the better of it, it would take me ages to do by hand. The DEB suggested I contact one my WI chums, and make use of their sewing prowess - and a sewing machine. 

A great suggestion, but one that left me troubled. I could be a Sewing Goddess too, if I had the right kit! Then, it occurred to me, why don't I have the right kit? Why have I never ever bothered to acquire a sewing machine? I blame the US feminist movement of the late 1980s! There. I've said it. 

In those heady university days, at least where I found myself, one kept ones crafty "tendencies" -- we certainly wouldn't have dared to called them "ambitions" -- quietly to oneself. Even before that, I remember how, when I was I high school -- I attended a prestigious girl's prep school academy -- my friends who attended other schools used to joke that St. Mary's was just a "finishing school for future society spouses", and laughed at the way we "Belles" were "forced" to take regular classes on Home Economics and Home Management. However, our school took 'real life' issues as seriously as Latin or Physics. I wasn't thankful at the time, but I am very thankful today.

And now, whaddya know, the whole world is hooked on bake, make and re-make! Everyone's clambering to be crafty! Me, included. 

My quest to solve a problem and release my inner sewing diva had begun! After a bit of online research, I went along to the Leamington Spa Sewing Machines Shop, Royal Leamington Spa's own sewing centre. There, inside the lovely bubbly-gum pink storefront, I met Sue Smith, who graciously gave me an afternoon of her time introducing me to wonders of the modern sewing machine. I was petrified, as I panic at very the thought of measurements, measuring, numbers and the like, but Sue was very reassuring, reminding me that I can read. And, if you can read, you can sew!

Sue was staggered by my revelation that my most 'recent' quilting project took me all of five years to complete by hand. (!) "You will be amazed," she said, "at how liberated you will be with a machine." Technology. I felt like a cave dweller, knuckles firmly dragging the ground, being encouraged to come forth into the light...

And the light, at the end of the tunnel, was a JANOME 2200 XT. A very sexy piece of kit, 100% luscious girl gadget (with 22 stitch functions!), perfect for the nervous, sewing machine novice. I rushed home to play with my new toy and instantly fell in love!
By the time the DEB arrived home from work, the awning cable was done and ready to be tested! "Wow!" said the DEB. "Wow!" said the very happy me.

Of course, the awning cable was ridiculously easy to do -- even though it was fiddly and awkward material to work with -- and only took me the best part of 15-20 minutes. By hand, it would have taken me hours. I felt like Hermione Granger with her infinity bag of goodies, what could I not achieve with this machine? I ran up the stairs and tipped out the contents of my sewing basket -- my hoarded stash of beautiful fabrics -- mostly William Morris designs -- that I have collected over the years, with the intention of creating something 'one day'. Maybe now, I'd actually do something! And, of course, the non-existent "wedding quilt" still waiting, after two years, to see the light of day. Maybe now, that too would actually get done.

It's funny, I do know some real quilting purists would never ever use a machine, and see quilting by hand as the only true form of that art. Sorry, sisters, I gotta move on! 

Nerd that I am, I felt I needed to arm myself with some knowledge. So, while I was in Oxford recently -- had to go to an Open Day at Magdalen College to meet up with my new chums from BADA (British American Drama Academy, more on them soon!) -- I treated myself to a visit to my favourite Waterstone's bookshop in Oxford's High Street. 

The Craft section of this Waterstone's is amazing. I was spoilt for choice, but one title literally jumped off the shelf  at me: The Busy Girl's Guide to Sewing: Unlock your inner sewing goddess - projects, advice and inspiration for a creative lifestyle by Carrie Maclennan. Perfect. (I also treated myself to a tiny paperback of The Designs of William Morris *SIGH*)

Carrie Maclennan's book is a godsend! So inspiring. I read it from cover to cover while we were on holiday in Wales, and just couldn't put it down! Surprisingly, Carrie's a novice seamtress, though she's been in the craft industry for years. So her book is written from the refreshing perspective of a novice, who is learning as she goes along, as opposed to that of a smarty-pants know-it-all. 

As a result, the whole time we were in Wales I was chomping at the bit to get crafting! Thankfully, North Wales is treasure trove for crafters. While we were in Harlech, I discovered a fantastic little fabric shop called Cae Du Designs. I caught the owner, Dee, just as she was about to close for the day on sunny (yes, sunny!) afternoon after a long-day at the beach. We started chatting, and before we knew it were wading through all her gorgeous fabrics!

I was keen to find material for the languishing wedding quilt. And Dee did not disappoint! After a few hopefuls, Dee struck pure gold. She unearthed the most beautiful silk/cotton fabric called "Bay Trees", which was absolutely perfect in colours of cream, taupe, lavender and sage. *SIGH*

Before the the arrival of the sewing machine, I was dreading the prospect of facing (yet another) hand-sewing project. For me and hand-sewing, simplicity rules: keep it simple with just two different fabrics in a (boring) square block formation. 

Well, now that I am all "tooled up", I can be much more adventurous! I went mad and bought as much of the fabric Dee suggested as I could carry! (£18.00 per metre - naughty!) More than I will ever need, but, it was oh, so gorgeous, I will hoard it forever!

While is Wales I also starting building my basic sewing tool box, as recommended by Carrie Maclennan in her book. That's been fun, too. Ebay is an incredible and inexpensive source for wonderfully crafty things like embroidery scissors, tape measures, pins, fabric markers, etc & etc. Now, I just need to time and space to craft...

Isn't strange? Now that my professional life here in the UK is (finally, finally) starting to 'heat up'; I am discovering a completely engaging and all-consuming past time?


1 comment:

Hilary said...

Just discovered your blog and have really enjoyed poking around (loved the trying-to-plan-an-American-wedding-in-England post). As a Canadian engaged to a Brit and also livng in Warwickshire, I feel a kinship!