Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Signing Off

Dear friends,

A million thanks to those of you who have read about and cheered on my creative endeavors in this space these last few years. I have really enjoyed sharing it all with you. I've decided, though, that's it's time to call it a day here at CABL. I haven't posted in a long while, and the last time I looked, another crafty blogger (whose aesthetic is very different from my own) has started another blog by the same name on Wordpress. So it's really time to pack it in.

I'm in the process of working on a new personal website that will include all of the disparate creations coming out of my studio, and will indicate here when that is up and running.

My Etsy shop is still up and running, so if you need any knitting accessories you can get them there.

Until we meet again, farewell and thanks for all the love.

P.S. If you're on Instagram, you can also say hi to me there @leslieastor
I'll never get the hang of Twitter.
I think I might have started a Tumblr account a long time ago.
I've more or less abandoned Facebook.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Five Easy Pieces

Last Fall I read an article about the slow clothing movement, in which the author wrote about a year long fast-fashion fast she undertook. I was inspired to try it, and made it about four months before buying some new jeans and boots on a recent trip to New York. But I'm certainly thinking more about my clothes: where they come from, what they're made of, who made them. And I'm pausing before making new purchases, and putting a lot more things back on the rack than I used to. The truth is, throughout the winter I mostly wear jeans and a blue Uniqlo puffer just about every day. I don't need most of the clothing I buy.

I'm also trying to make more clothing for myself, which is infinitely more expensive, time consuming and impractical than buying them. But I really like to sew, and it's really satisfying to make a pretty blouse myself, so I'm working on a few new things for spring. Here are five pieces of clothing I've made recently that are fairly simple to make (I consider myself an intermediate level seamstress, so "fairly simple" might be a relative descriptor.) None of the clothing below requires sewing buttonholes or installing zippers, so if you can sew a straight line you can probably handle these patterns.

Probably my favorite of the five pieces, this pattern from the folks at the mecca of making aka Purl Soho is very well illustrated and written, so worth trying to make even if you're a beginner. The trickiest bit for me was sewing the bias tape around the neckline; I always find it tricky to do. This pattern calls for making your own bias tape, but if you've never done it or don't feel like trying, you can just buy a pack of readymade. This tunic was made with double guaze cotton on the front and arms and a Liberty cotton back. This was a pricey piece: the pattern was $18.50 (about £12) and the fabric and notions together were roughly $70 (about £47), though I do have enough fabric leftover to make a little something else.

2) The Schoolhouse Tunic by Sew Liberted
I love tunics for their versatility and comfort and this one is very pretty, made from a simple purple linen. I have to admit that I found the instructions tricky; I would've liked more illustrations and at one point in the pattern I couldn't reconcile how a right side piece and wrong sided piece were side by side. I emailed the folks at Sew Liberated and they kindly tried to help me through the issue, but really they just reiterated the written instructions that came with the pattern. I'm not sure if I actually made it correctly in the end, but it's pretty anyhow. This tunic was a lot less than the Purl one; about $14.50 for the pattern and about $35 for the fabric or about £35 in total.

3) The Taproot Tunic

This pattern was by far the easiest to follow and a great beginner's piece to try. It was free in one of my issues of Taproot Magazine, which you can buy here. I made this tunic from a linen sheet I bought at an antique store (the tag said "antique french linen", so, fancy). The pattern calls for adding a pocket, which I left off, and instead I added some pretty embroidered flowers and bias binding on the neck and cuffs (I know-I just said a minute ago how much I hate working with bias binding.) This was the least expensive project: $9 for the magazine (I get a subscription, so add a little more for shipping to the UK) and about $9 for the linen, though I have a lot of that left over from the big sheet after making the tunic. About £12 in total.

4) Liesl and Co. Everyday Skirt from Oliver + S
My rubbish photo doesn't do justice to this pretty skirt, which has nice pleats in the front, an elastic waistband in the back, and pockets. The pockets were a first for me, but I find the instructions and illustrations on Oliver + S patterns to be reliably clear and accurate, so it was worth the extra time to add them. This skirt was made with a Robert Kaufman chambray cotton I picked up at Purl last year. The pattern can be digitally downloaded, costs $14.95, and the fabric and elastic were about $25 (about £27 total). Worth it.

5) Nicole Blum's Pretty and Full Skirt, from the Sew Mama Sew blog
This skirt is very similar to the Liesl and Co skirt above, with nice pleats and an elastic waistband, but doesn't have pockets. It calls for an unfinished hem, but I finished mine. Another bonus: it's free online and the instructions are clear and well illustrated. I would suggest making a few of these at a go and you've got your skirt situation wrapped up for the season. I can't remember where I got this stripy red and white fabric, which has a bit of a stretch to it and works great for this skirt. I'd say it cost me about $10 or £6.50.

Though signs of spring are all around me, at the moment I'm still wearing the jeans and puffer coat. But you might see me wearing some of these things in the months to come.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Zip Pouch Tutorial Roundup

There are so many great tutorials online for how to sew a simple zip pouch, and today I'm going to share a few of my favorite ones with you. Once you get the hang of them, zip pouches are pretty easy and very satisfying to whip up. Sometimes when I'm feeling a little stuck in my studio, I make a bunch of pouches just to get things moving along. If I cut up the fabric assembly line style I can crank out quite a few in a morning or afternoon, and feel like I've accomplished something. They're very handy to have around as last minute gifts. (The pouches pictured here were made with wool remnants I bought on my trip to Cotswold Woolen Weavers back in the fall.)
If you've never worked with a zipper before, I have a tutorial on this blog for making a very simple felt zip pouch which is good for beginners because it's unlined and uses felt which doesn't have a right or wrong side. That means you can focus mainly on learning how to sew the zipper in rather than worry about what layer of fabric goes where and which way it faces.

Once you're confident with that process, you can move on to a making a lined zip bag from the always excellent Purl Bee blog. This photo below is a simple lined bag I made using one of my precious Liberty fat quarters. It's lined with a lovely cream raw silk, not pictured.
Adding a lining to your zip pouch really bumps things up a notch, as seen below. My advice is to be very careful that lining and outer fabric sizes match perfectly, or else you'll wind up with a rather wrinkly, beginner's looking lining. You can see what I mean in the photo of the blue and white lined pouch two photos down on the right.

Another very well photographed and clearly written tutorial, which throws a zip cover embellishment into the mix, comes from Flossie Teacakes. This one took me a bit of practice to tackle; it's important to pay attention to the bit at the end of the tutorial about the "zip ends pointing into the lining side and not the outer fabric side"; failure to heed this instruction results in a wonky zipper.
These box zip bags above were the ones I mentioned in an earlier post having made my boys for Christmas. The first one I made was the plaid one on the top right; I botched the placement of the lining and outer fabrics so that half of each were on both the inside and outside. But Michael didn't mind, so I kept it and learned from my mistake and was more successful with subsequent bags.
And here is Henry's bag, for which I used this very manly grey tweed. Below you can see a shot of the slightly more whimsical lining I used. These were all made using the box bag tutorial from the Say Yes blog. The only downside of this one was that is doesn't hide the edges on the lining of the bag, though I tidied them up as best I could by trimming the seam allowance with pinking shears.
For a tutorial that shows a box bag in which the seams of the lining are hidden in between the layers, you can check out Truly Myrtle's tutorial. This one also includes a handle on the edge of the bag, so is the most advanced of all the ones included here. My eyes started to glaze over a little bit as I scrolled through the instructions; they are clear, there are just a lot of steps.

If you've tried zip pouches using other tutorials not mentioned, or have other useful tips for working with zippers, feel free to share in the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Welcome to Shedville

When we first moved into this house in the middle of the farm, our plan was to convert a barn across the road into a house in which we'd be living long term. (Turns out, it's not going to happen that way, but we're forming Plan B at the moment.) In the meantime, to make more space for everyone here, we started building sheds in the garden.

The first shed (really more of a summer house-it's pretty big) was here when we moved in, and was quickly claimed as my studio. This is where I can be found spending many of the weekday hours sewing, designing, bird making, starting at walls, etc. Occasionally the boys will come in to spend some creative time with me. I thought about carving out a space for them in here, but instead we're giving them their own space, as you'll see in a moment.
My shed in the morning light.
Rarely is it actually this tidy in my studio.
Sometimes the boys keep me company.
My studio walls are covered with artwork; both mine and theirs.

Also here when we moved in was a much smaller garden shed, which was useful but falling apart, so we had it rebuilt. It's where you'll find tins of house paint, tools, chicken and rabbit food, plant bulbs, and probably a lot of stuff that should get chucked. Remind me to go in there in the spring and have a good clean out.

Then Henry decided he wanted a mannex for himself, where he could work on putting together the 1953 Sunbeam motor bike he's building from parts, build his beehives and store his apiarist's supplies, and where he could skin/pluck and otherwise prepare the game animals we eat. (We've been having a lot of venison stew lately, and I think we've decided not to buy beef at all anymore.)
In Henry's shed, some things get put together, some things get taken apart. 

Finally, we wanted a place for the boys to do what they need to do, too. In the barn across the street we keep Jake's drum kit, but its a little dark and creepy on one's own over there, and we reckon he and Charlie would practice a lot more regularly if we moved it closer to the house. We also plan on putting in an art studio for them (meaning shelving with art supplies and a table to work on), and eventually a tool bench with some tools for them to start making whatever it is boys their age need to make.
Michael has plans for what will go where in the boys' shed.
The doors are on, but we still need insulation and electricity for the boys' shed.

We've taken quite a lot of ribbing from friends and family around here about the proliferation of our sheds. Apparently some people find them an eyesore. We're not too bothered by all of that, though I think the boys' studio will be the last one. Next the focus will shift to finishing the tree house that Henry and the boys started building last spring. That's another post altogether.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Things They Left Behind

For Christmas my mother in law gave me this beautiful sewing box, which had belonged to one of my husband's grandmothers. I only ever knew Henry's maternal granny, Pam, a woman I deeply admired. She was of that greatest generation; a young wartime bride who engendered the know how and self sufficiency that defined the women of her era. She was an ambitious cook who routinely whipped up souffles, potted shrimp, and fish pies, an avid gardner who grew her own vegetables, and a prodigious knitter. After each of my boys was born, I'd get one of her lovely hand knit baby jumpers in the mail. When I first removed them from their packages, they always smelled of Embassy cigarettes, a fact I somehow found endearing. (For her great granddaughters she made exquisite hand smocked dresses.)

My own grandmothers were both crafters as well (though at the time they never called themselves this-making things was mostly born of the exigencies of life). My mother's mother (and her mother before her) was a quilter and also dabbled in embroidery. She never used a machine to sew or quilt, and as I grew up I understood machine quilts to be somehow inferior to hand stitched ones. I have two that my great grandmother made; they are among my most deeply valued possessions. After my grandmother died a year and a half ago, my sisters and I helped my mother sort through her things. I took with me a cast iron skillet, in which she made her cornbread, and some things from her sewing box, including some needles, wooden spooled threads and an embroidery hoop (pictured below). Before she died, my grandmother passed along a partly embroidered tablecloth that her mother had started working on. I accepted it reverentially, and promised that I would finish the job.

When I'm working alone in my studio, these women and others like them often come to mind. I reflect upon the fact that the make-do-and-mend mentality was for them a given rather than a chosen ethos. I marvel at the fact that they managed to make so much, even in the absence of the abundant time saving devices that free me up to, ostensibly, do more. And I also experience gratitude, for the things they left behind.

My maternal grandmother, Violet Mail, and my boys in 2011.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Gifts of Christmas Past

Hello friends, and happy 2015! I hope the photos above help excuse my absence from this space these past two months. I wanted very much to make this my most handmade holiday season yet, and began working toward that end back in September. I didn't want to rush, or feel stressed about making gifts this year-I really wanted to enjoy the process and be mindful of the people I was making things for. Rarely a day went by between September and Christmas when I wasn't making something to give away, and by the time Christmas came, I had finished almost everything I set out to do.

I started out making jam from the bumper crop of wild blackberries we saw last season, and added some sage from the garden per the recipe in Alana Chernila's  book "Homemade Pantry". I also started in on my soap making then, as it needed several weeks to cure before giving away. The third photo above is soap from a batch of lavender and lemon zest coconut butter bars; the photo below that shows them beautifully wrapped by my five year old. Henry's honey was in good supply this year, too, and the kids' teachers each got a jar, along with a jar each of bath bombs (also of the lavender and lemon variety-one of my favorite scent combinations). I first learned how to make bath bombs from the Teach Soap website, but have since gained the confidence to make my own variations on those basic recipes.

The pink and blue bunting were gifts for my nieces, whom we spent Christmas with in America this year. I'd been saving a stash of Liberty fat quarters for a while now, and thought it was finally time to use them. The brown and cream scarf below that was a woven creation from my loom. It was intended for my sister til I remembered she has a thing about wool touching wool-and doesn't wear wool scarves or gloves, so that one is an unintended Christmas present to myself. I made my boys matching pajama bottoms, and printed "small" "medium" and "large" (using freezer paper stencils) onto plain white t-shirts. My large son didn't want to be photographed wearing his, but small and medium were okay with it. To make the bottoms, I used a free pattern from Oliver and S for boys' shorts, and just added the appropriate length to make them pj's. It worked like a dream.

Lastly, I ordered some magnets from Sticky 9, which prints your Instagram photos onto little magnetic squares. You can make a version of these yourself using printable magnetic sheets from an office supply store, but they're not all that cheap and I was happy with what I got from Sticky 9. I printed photos I had taken all around the farm throughout the seasons, and of my boys, to give to my family back in the States. I hope they think of us every time they open their refrigerators.

I made a few other items not pictured, including a canvas and denim log carrier for my husband, who is forever hauling in stacks of wood for the stove, and tweed zipper bags for him and all my boys, so they could carry their toiletries on the plane in something other than ziploc bags. I made similar silk zip bags for girlfriends, and for all of those I used different size variations of this tutorial from the Say Yes blog.

Hope you all had a relaxing and peaceful holiday season, and are ready to embrace this New Year, whatever it brings. I'm off to my studio now, to get back to work on a birthday present for my sister. It's long overdue!