Friday, 24 April 2009

Reviving a lost art?

I am so glad to see that smocked dresses are back in fashion for babies and little girls. (I have also noticed it as a feature on other fashion items too). By smocking, I mean the old fashioned hand embroidered variety not the modern equivalent, worked by machine and combining shirring elastic.

I have always loved the way the delicate threads and stitches trap the tiny folds, so that they fall in beautiful, little gathers across the yolk of a dress. I made my first smocked dress for my "O" Level needlework exam and my own daughter wore it about sixteen years later. (That's her, aged about two, modelling it - twenty seven years ago!)

Throughout her childhood, I smocked summer frocks, winter frocks and party frocks until, aged about eight, she rebelled and refused to wear them in favour leggings, ra-ra skirts and jeans!

Before I returned to full time work, I even smocked for a firm in Belfast. They sent parcels containing the threads and pastel fabric pieces for smocking. I returned to them a neatly smocked panel for the princely sum of about 80p per panel. Not a lot of money even twenty five years ago. I just loved the satisfaction of producing these little works of art.

Now I have had a request from my niece to make smocked dresses for her baby daughter. So, out came the Anchor embroidery threads in soft, pastel shades and off we went to find suitable fabric. Not so easy these days as fabric shops are few and far between, but trusty Watson & Thorntons came up with three lengths of dainty, floral prints in pale blues and creams and a tiny blue and white stripe.

Of course my skills were a bit rusty but like riding a bike - you never forget how, once you have mastered the art.
I put my neat, hand stitched rows of gathers on the wrong side of the fabric, pulled them up so that straight, parallel pleats show on the right side and I was ready to smock. I have a pretty sample of smocking stitches which I made as part of my Textile course at college and, with this to refer to, I recaptured the technique and completed my first attempt.

Now I am hooked! The second one looked even better and met with great approval from all. The third one is in progress and the fourth one is waiting in the bag. Two friends have baby girls, so I guess they too will be happy recipients of my handiwork. I don't think there is a living to be made from it but I can recommend it as a stress therapy!!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

An eye for a bargain.

My daughter returned from a long weekend business/pleasure trip to Hong Kong and chose to spend Friday and Saturday at home here, with us.
We both enjoy a little retail therapy so popped into town to look at fabrics for dressmaking. Nothing caught our eye, although there is plenty to choose from in Watson & Thorntons. On our way back to the car we just happened to call in at T J Hughes and ten minutes later came out with 2 skirts for ten pounds. One was a size 10, long, gypsy style, Per Una reject in black and cream. The other was a size 16 indian style skirt, in grey and black, with sequins.
By Saturday night we had transformed the black one into two super skirts, which my fashionable daughter thought ideal for summer day and evening wear. We chopped the bottom frills off the gypsy skirt making a neat knee length size 10. The frills were then re-cut and attached to a plain, black skirt yoke made from a scrap of jersey fabric. The effect was a sort of ra- ra skirt about twenty inches long and perfect for a twenty something, young lady with perfect figure!
The grey skirt was recut to make a knee length size 10, leaving enough to make a short A - line skirt from the remainder.
Four skirts for a tenner - how's that for beating the credit crunch!!! Not only that, - we had a happy time enjoying each other's company as we sewed, tried on, unpicked and tried again. It's great having quality time together- time to chat and mull over the important things in life and time for laughter and love.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Happy Easter!!

Just a bit of fun for Easter!

I made a super set of Easter cards with little needle felted bunnies but forgot to take a snap of them before I posted them to elderly aunts and a friend or two. So, here are the lambs and chicks I needle felted. Not as pretty but cute all the same.

This week I have been working in the garden mentioned in my previous blog. Tuesday was another perfect spring day and such a privilege to spend it digging and planting in that special place. The birds sang in the trees all around me as I worked peacefully by myself on the little plot of land, once so beautifully managed by my Dad. It was his pride and joy, providing fruit and vegetables to feed the family for most of the year. He was a great teacher and loved nothing more than having his girls pottering alongside him as he dug, raked and planted. We learned all we know by lending him a helping hand. Well, I am sure we thought we were helping but, at the tender age of about three onwards, maybe we didn't always get it quite right. He never discouraged us and I guess that sowed the seeds of our love of gardening. (Excuse the pun!)
So we now have onions, beetroot and potatoes planted and a good piece of the plot dug over ready for beans, courgettes and salad leaves.

He would have been so proud of the way we are working together and pleased that he passed on so much of his knowledge so successfully. Just as I was about to leave, I heard the twittering of the returning house martins. Three of them were swooping through the blue sky high above my head - early I think, but a very welcome sight.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Spring and a special day

What a glorious start to a day that is filled with wonderful memories of a very special father.

The sun shone in a clear blue sky and our hills looked stunning, basking in its warmth.

My spring flowers were scenting the air with the delicate perfume of narcissus and grape hyacinth. Yesterday I saw my first swallow - just one. Yes, I know that doesn't make it summer but it bodes well and gives a positive lift, telling us that all is well with the natural world.

My sister spent time in her garden too - its hers now but was Dad's so it's filled with such good vibes, making it a treasured place to be. She sent me a photo of the delicate blue forget-me-nots, Dad's favourites, growing down at the bottom of the garden where we always feel so close to that wonderful man, who died twenty years ago today.
A good friend mentioned something which reminded me of this little poem:
There is always a face before me,
A voice I would love to hear,
A smile I will always remember
Of the one I loved so dear.
We cannot bring the old times back,
When we were all together,
But those we loved don't go away:
They walk with us for ever.