My Next Tattoo: A Work In Progress

Don’t mind me, I’m not really here.  Just posting a work in progress. Real post about something completely different on Wednesday!

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Drawing’s a craft, right?

Butterfly Cross Stitch Pattern

I moved in to my flat nearly 3 years ago. I won’t expose the murky contents of my soul, but it was a very bad time and I had been staying with my mum for a week or two. I wasn’t even sure if I liked this place. I just needed to move ASAP and my landlady said it was mine if I could get her the deposit that day. So out of desperation rather than enthusiasm I did so, and totally sniped this place out from under the nose of someone who had probably fallen in love with it. I hope they went on to win the lottery and live in a palace made of gold. I hope they’re no longer bitter.

Back to me – my first impression was not helped by my landlady’s choice of art.

artThe art was so bad I barely noticed the couch.

In the living room she had not one, but two canvasses featuring pebbles. These images mostly make me think: Why pebbles? Why not porridge oats? Or sand? Really commit to your blandness, if bland you must be.

In my landlady’s defence, she may have felt that bland was the way to go after the frankly terrifying Beatles tribute hanging in the bathroom. Above the toilet of all places. As much fun as I had showing my bare arse to these hideously mangled local legends a couple of times a day, I was half convinced that they’d climb out of the picture and eat my ovaries if I missed my rent. Especially alternate-universe-train-wreck-survivor-George Harrison.

It all had to go.

For a while I had nothing on my walls, and as much as this was an improvement eventually I decided the place needed more character.

It was about this time that I started playing with an extension for Java called Processing. It lets you create images and animations using a few simple lines of code. You can do some really fun things with it straight away (I highly recommend the tutorials on their website), and some very clever people have done some amazing things with it including music videos. I’m not that clever though, so I just used it to write a program that generates cross-stitch patterns from images.

Yes, using the incredible power of Processing in conjunction with the humble tapestry needle I managed to turn this:

butterflies

Into this:

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Yeah, it doesn’t look so great next to the original, but it beats the shit out of pebbles and didn’t turn out to badly for my first ever cross-stitch.

If you fancy trying your hand at cross-stitch, and are an absolute, clueless beginner-numpty like I was, here’s a list of things I would’ve found useful when starting out:

  • Aida Fabric is the name for the most common type of fabric used in cross-stitch. It has a wide set weave to give you an obvious grid pattern to follow
  • 22 count, 18 count, 14 count, etc. – the counts on an Aida fabric indicate how many stitches a stitch stitcher can stitch when a stitch stitcher stitches an inch. In short, 18 count Aida will give you 18 stitches per inch
  • Tapestry needles are what you will stitch your stitches with. They’re like regular sewing needles but much chunkier so you can thread embroidery cotton through the eye
  • Speaking of embroidery cotton, I use the six-stranded cottons. I cut a length and then separate the strands into two sets of three, so I end up with two lengths of half the thickness. This works just as well and the cotton goes further that way. The threads come in skeins, are pretty cheap, and available in all colours of the rainbow from a normal haberdasher
  • Stitch a full line of forward slashes, and then fill in the back slashes. Don’t do each individual cross one at a time. It saves cotton and time

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If none of that made sense, try this video which says everything I just said in the inhuman, incredibly monotonous tone usually reserved for flight safety information videos (please-attend-to-your-own-oxygen-mask-before-helping-others, and so on). It also says a lot of other useful things I didn’t think to.

If you want something to practice on, my butterfly pattern is below. Right click and save and it’s all yours. You lucky thing.

butterflies_pattern

The Patchwork “Quilt”: Lessons Learned

Finished Quilt

The patchwork “quilt” came about as part of my quest to make my surroundings ever more twee, because twee-ness juxtaposes so nicely with my utter disdain for most people and things.

The quotation marks of the title are obnoxious, and for that I apologise. I’m quoting myself whenever I tell people I made a quilt, which I didn’t. I made a duvet cover. But the word ‘patchwork’ flows into the word ‘quilt’ in a way so long-established in my psyche that I no longer have any control over my diction after the second syllable. Instinct and laziness take over.

I have a tendency to let my enthusiasm for a project carry me into doing things in a completely half-arse-backwards way. I’ve been known to injure phalanges, sometimes even whole limbs, with strain and effort that could have been avoided if I’d only planned a bit. My beloved duvet cover is a fine example of this. Learn from my fatal flaw and your hands may yet remain un-cramped and un-calloused.

Here are some lessons I learned, in no sensible order:

1. Draw out your pattern first, and get a count of patches in each colour
Witness the extent of my forward-planning:

patchwork plan

Beee-ooo-ti-ful, is it not? This is one thing I don’t regret. It took me ten minutes, scribbling on stolen work post-its. It was my gospel throughout the many long hours of cutting, sewing, unpicking, and general fuck-ups. For example: I spent an evening of furious arithmetic* staring at this, figuring out how many more triangular patches I needed after discarding a load that just would not sew up properly.

All this because I didn’t know about the second lesson…

2. Don’t cut the patches by hand
You may save money by swerving the purchase of proper quilting tools, but you will get a huge crick in your neck from hour upon hour of cutting out shapes in front of the TV (to stave off the boredom). You will also get finger callouses which will serve as a semi-permanent reminder of your hubris. You might even become so miserable that you give up the whole endeavour and instead go and sit in an empty bath tub for hours. Alone. In the dark. Either way you’ll get wonky patches, which is more than a little annoying once you get to the sewing stage.

This brings me to my next lesson…

3. Don’t sew by hand
Ignore this rule if your bucket list reads:

  1. Complete exactly one patchwork quilt in my entire life
  2. Curl up in said quilt and die a martyr to the Luddite cause

4. Quilts are not better than duvet covers
Quilting is the more traditional way to mount a piece of patchwork, and that’s nice. Mounting your work on a duvet cover is cheaper, makes it easier to wash, and makes it easier to re-mount.** You can also change the thickness of the duvet inside to make it a cover for all seasons.

5. Recycling old clothes for patches is not as easy as it sounds
During my patch-cutting stage I recycled two pairs of old trousers, a dress, and a skirt before I realised that unpicking complicated seams is a mug’s game. Unless recycling is a very important part of your project’s aims you’re better off buying cheap fabric in nice, big rectangles. These have never been a thing, so they won’t resist being the thing you now want them to be.

Partial PatchworkA quick game of ‘spot the seat of my old work trousers’

6. Don’t use stretchy fabric
You’ll think it’ll be OK and in the end it might be, but it’ll also be a massive ball-ache along the way. Stretchy fabric cares not for your careful measurements. You will almost certainly end up with wrinkly seams trying to compensate for its fickle ways.

7. Make sure your pattern does not look like a swastika, or genitalia, or your ex’s face
Unless that’s what you want, in which case ignore me. The best way to check whether your pattern has symbolic meanings that you didn’t intend is by showing it to a younger sibling. Love you or not, they are almost certainly looking for ways to make you feel like an utter tool whenever possible. This may be the first time I’ve found a use for this quirk.

My original pattern had an unintended Nazi flavour which is missing from the finished work. It’s missing because I have a younger brother who loves to point out my mistakes. If you are not similarly blessed, try a bus driver. They have a near identical mind-set, minus the love.***

8. Listen to good music
I sang while I sewed. The hours flew by and it didn’t feel like work. And I sounded lovely, thank you. Just. Lovely.

9. Have faith
From the very first section that you sew up to the last you will be uncertain whether your fabrics clash in a tasteful way, or if your interplay of light and dark colours is right, or if the pattern you planned is emerging, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Just keep going. Perseverance builds character. The ability to finish things is a skill in its own right. And it will most likely look awesome anyway.


* I don’t wish to brag, but there may have been some Pythagoras. BACK

** Mount, mount. Mount-mount. MOUNT. There. Out of my system. BACK

*** Bus drivers can’t love. BACK

Jar-full-o-Yarn Centrepiece

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My mum, who must be obeyed, put me in charge of decorations for my nana’s 80th birthday party earlier this year. My nana played a large part in my upbringing and it’s to her I owe my interest in crafting. She taught me to knit, sew, and crochet at such a young age that I find it hard to believe that my pudgy little fingers had the dexterity to thread a needle. But they did, and I am grateful to them and to her.

My interest somewhat abated during my teenage years as I was busy being an entitled little shit in the time-honoured fashion.* But I found my way back in my mid-twenties once I realised that being happy and fulfilled, for me, involved making things as well as consuming things.

That being the background of my relationship with the birthday girl, I felt that just laying out balloons and plastic banners wouldn’t be quite right.

I thought up these centrepieces while lying in bed on a week night when I should really have been sleeping. Originally they were much fancier affairs with a central tube of water to hold long-stemmed flowers, surrounded by tiny yarn balls and pearly beads, all within a statuesque glass vase. I quickly realised that this was (a) really specific and hard to find the materials for, and (b) expensive. I had one month and a strict budget. So jam jars and plastic champagne flutes became my shabby-chic saviours.**

After agonizing over which jar of pickled produce was the right size for long enough that people had started to stare, I selected eight large jars of beetroot, got stared at with greater intensity, and then picked up some plastic champagne flutes to form the central water tube/flower holder. I checked the height of these against the jar to make sure they wouldn’t peek over the edge. After the fact I was very glad I chose the ones with the detachable base. Only the stem is useful here. This sits inside the jar, supported by all the balls.

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Then came the labour-intensive part: my balls.*** Originally they were all yarn but this took a long time per ball, and yarn isn’t as cheap as anyone would like. Then I tried using scrunched up bits of paper as the centre of the ball, but it was a lot of faff to scrunch paper just right so that the resulting ball would actually be spherical. Then I moved on to cotton balls and never looked back. They come pre-scrunched and you can get about 100 for pennies.

step 1Beautiful in its simplicity: the humble cotton ball

step 2Start to wrap the yarn around the ball

step 3Once you feel the ball is big enough, cut off the
yarn leaving a tail a couple of inches long

step 4Use a tapestry needle to thread the tail through
the top layers of yarn. This should secure your tail
sufficiently to prevent unraveling

stap 5Cut the last visible bit of the tail off, and you’re done

Repeat as many times as you need. I found I needed about 18 balls per jar.

The pearly beads that pretty-up the gaps between my balls came in two long strings of two different sizes – smallish and smaller. You can get them cheap in lots of places and just take the scissors to them. At first I tried artfully scattering the beads as I layered up my balls within the jar. But then I learned to my surprise that small round things don’t stay where you put them. Ever. So instead I super-glued one or two beads to each ball and left them to dry over-night.

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When filling the jar I found it best to stack the balls in layered circles around the walls, rather than attempt to fill the whole jar.

Once my balls were in I measured the circumference of jar’s opening and cut a piece of ribbon about three times as long as it was round. I glued this ribbon around the opening, and let it dry overnight. Once dry I tied a bow and cut off any excess length.

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And just like that I had knitting-themed centrepieces for my crafty nana. She liked them so much she asked to keep one, which is the equivalent of actual praise in my family.

Finished table setting

* Drinking my pocket money, racking up massive phone-bills, telling everyone how little they understood me and then refusing to explain myself. BACK

** TOP TIP: it’s a lot cheaper to buy jars with something in them than it is to buy new, empty ones. Why? Because capitalism. As I type this I’m remembering that I have a large quantity of pickled beetroot in my fridge that needs to be disposed of. Although that sounds suspiciously like future-me’s problem. BACK

*** At this point I should warn you that I will be unabashedly throwing the word ‘balls’ around wherever possible throughout this post, just to amuse myself. BACK

Wedding Colour Scheme

imageSo after much internal deliberation on colour schemes for Our Wedding, I have decided on Navy, Peach & Raspberry… Think Bellini’s, champagne with Chambord & Champagne with raspberries on the glass.
Once I start coming up with invitation designs I will post all the boring details !