What does the last of the housewives do?

Category: Sewing

A necessary beanbag

I’m settling into the lair rather nicely, I’m finding very specific spots for my extremely wide collection of bits and pieces, and yet there was something missing. A something that loomed larger and larger in my fevered brain until it became a necessity and an urgent one at that.

Since I’ve been back from Turkey my time has been consumed with restocking the larder with muesli bars, choc chip biscuits, vanilla and cinnamon biscuits, jam slice, fruit toast, ANZAC biscuits, driving the children about, and working. Two weeks full time, which was probably a lot easier than driving the children around during the holidays, they just had to put up with a fortnight of watching TV and playing computer games, the poor dears. I teach at a university, so any amount of work that I do inevitably results in assignments or exams to mark. The course that I just taught results in large assignments, twenty four page assignments, and I have twelve of them to mark. It is therefore obvious to the meanest intelligence that I must have somewhere comfortable to sit while marking. You know about my white painted wooden chair, that is only good for about half an hour’s sitting before I lose all sensation in my lower limbs. You also know about the world’s most comfortable chair that hangs on our back verandah, but the weather is currently such that I’d have to wear ski gloves to have operational fingers, and that’s no good for typing the multiple exclamation marks that these assignments will gather in their comments section. What I needed was a beanbag.

I haven’t had a beanbag in years, mainly because it was a personality quirk of my first cat, Snoopy, to pee in them. He then taught my second cat, Linus, that this was the required behaviour of any civilised cat. I persisted with the washing and spraying for a while and eventually gave up altogether. Linus has been dead for over a year now, and the latest cat, Stormaggedon, has been very good in the toileting department, so it’s time to risk it again.

I don’t know if you’ve gone shopping for beanbags lately. You can get cheap shiny ones from the chain stores, if you’re lucky you’ll spot a denim one (the Moose recently acquired one as a birthday present, and the sight of him comfortably reclining all over the place has spurred me on), or you can get super deluxe ones that will part you from many hundreds of dollars in cash. My Scottish blood rules out the latter as an option, so my only real choice, dear reader, was obviously to make my own. How hard could it be? Not very hard at all as it turns out.

I wanted to make two really, one as an inner lining, and an outer case that I can slip off and wash. You can get patterns all over the internet, I used the Lincraft one. You just cut out three sail shaped bits and a couple of semicircles for the bottom. I had some superannuated curtains that worked well for the liner, and I had some help cutting it out. The reason this picture is a little blurred is because there was quite a lot of leaping and biting going on…

Then you just pin them and sew them together. The bottom has a zipper, and this was my first time doing a proper one. I had to watch three Youtube clips to get the hang of it, mainly because I couldn’t believe that you sew it in over an already sewn up seam, and then pick it undone.


So there. If I can do one, anyone can. I then spent two hours that I won’t get back at Spotlight giving myself a headache choosing the outer fabric. I wanted something tactile, less than $15 a metre (I needed 5 metres) washable, not too patterned, not pink, and durable enough to be sat on by someone who planned to spend hours clutching at her head while simultaneously typing questions marks and exclamations in comment boxes. 
I cut out the outer lining a few centimetres bigger all around than the liner. I added a strip 15cm wide to each of the bottom semicircles which would overlap because I wasn’t going to make that opening a zip, just a slip cover. It was even quicker to do because the animals were bothering a very slow moving electrician I’d got in to add some more power points that I hadn’t anticipated needing in the lair. I did fill the liner before squeezing it into the outer cover – three 100 litre bags if you’re planning to use the Lincraft pattern – it’s a big one.


It really only took a couple of hours, maybe three (I’m not counting the hours at Spotlight, I’m trying to forget those), and maybe half an hour to very carefully decant the beans into the liner and then vacuum up the strays. 

I’m extremely pleased with it. It’s very comfortable, I can move it close to whatever heater I happen to have turned on. The Muffet now wants me to make her one, but I’m only going to do that after she’s kept her room clean for a month, or after hell freezes over, whichever comes first. Anyway, I’ve got assignments to mark.


Furry Waistcoats will Never go out of Fashion

Some years ago I was out shopping with my sister and we noticed that many shops were stocking furry waistcoats. I love a waistcoat and love a bit of tactile stimulation, so tried some on. One I particularly liked had a price tag of $150. “One hundred and fifty smackers!” I cried. “For that I’d make my own!”. And with the sunny reliance on my competence that characterises my family, my sister replied “As if you would”.

I’ll show her, I thought. I got myself up to Spotlight and bought some of their finest fake fur, a waistcoat pattern and even some interfacing, just in case. And then I was rather inconveniently diagnosed with cancer and rather lost concentration for a bit. A couple of years later I started thinking about that waistcoat again. They still hadn’t gone out of fashion. I got out the pattern. I boggled quite a bit at the amount of tissue paper involved and all the numbers. I put it away again. Then last year, you may recall, I was coerced into making Roman Soldier costumes for the school play from a pattern and after the initial two weeks of migraines it really wasn’t too difficult. Today I found myself with a whole afternoon with no one in the house to demand stuff of me. It was time.

The pattern looked a lot less intimidating this time around. I got out the fur, dug out some left over satiny material from making the Muffet’s swimming carnival cape, laid it all out and started cutting. Of course a project of this type needs some helpers to stop the material from flying away.

The fur proved surprisingly easy to sew. I’d pinned and sewed together the eight pieces in less time than it took to cut them out. Of course unpicking the back two sections to sew them on the right way up took a bit of time, but we got there in the end. I could actually wear it just like this.

But I’m going to do it properly with lining, here it is in pieces:

I’ve put that together too. You then put the shiny side of the lining to the furry side of the waistcoat and pin it together. I’ve just started sewing that up and after bamboozling myself over whether I’m going to be able to turn it the right way out or not I’ve decided to finish it in the morning. And then I shall go over to my sister’s place and swan around in my furry waistcoat and she will no doubt ask me whether I shouldn’t have just plonked down the bucks and I could have had it five years ago. But that, of course, would be missing the point entirely.

A Bag of Holding

I had to get out the sewing machine to patch up the giant hole my fibreglass cast has torn in our bed sheets, so I thought while I was at it, I may as well whip myself up a handbag. You see, the one I’m using is perfectly adequate, but its size and composition mean that now that I’m able to hoist myself about on crutches at a fairly reasonable clip it does tend to drag up my clothing as I move along in a kind of ratcheting manner. Not desirable. All I want is a handbag whose handle will fit over my neck and shoulder and that will fit my wallet and phone in it. And some car keys. And some butter menthols.

I actually have a bag that fits this purpose, bought on holidays at Crescent Head.

There are two problems with it. One is that it’s too deep, as at most handbags in this style. I don’t want to stick my whole arm in the thing. The other is that it is my receptacle for the bits of my dream handbag:

And I can’t bring myself to repurpose it. I also need to make a few prototypes before assembling the dream bag, so here is prototype one.

It really only took me about an hour to make. There were a few breaks for arguing with a woman about what the Town Hall will be charging us for the Verdi Requiem and it certainly won’t be nearly twice what they quoted us. I also had to ring up the doctor to apologise for forgetting to come in for an appointment, that was embarrassing. That very rarely happens, I had it in the diary and everything. Perhaps I was subconsciously annoyed that my regular doctor had the temerity to be off having a baby. The strap is leftover material from the Great Soldier Costume Adventure which you’ll find in the archives from last year. I just took a piece of fake black panne whatever that somewhat reminiscent of velvet stuff is called and cut out a piece three times as big as I wanted the bag. I cut a third off and hemmed it, also hemmed the remaining piece. Then I sewed each piece onto the strap. I did have to pick it apart a few times because I have trouble envisioning things in 3D, but we got there in the end.

I did plan for it to be in use just for my remaining three weeks and two days of captivity, but I think with a fair bit of trimming and neatening up it will make a fairly nifty handbag to be put into regular rotation. I just won’t work on it around the time of my rescheduled doctor’s appointment.


Sydney Stitches and Craft Show

I love to go to a craft show, because I’m always delighted, surprised, inspired, amused, bewildered and ultimately creeped out by them, at which point I go home, exhausted. And so it was with the Sydney Stitches and Craft Show, held at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse at Rosehill, not Randwick, stupid Google Maps. I’d been there before, so I wasn’t fooled.

The tone was set by an elderly gentleman outside the entrance, shaded by a large black umbrella who was playing, to the accompaniment of a boom box, panpipes. He would put them down occasionally to attempt to flog a CD to anyone that got too close, but most of the time it was continuous panpipes at a pretty high volume. Carefully avoiding him I waded through a sea of excited pensioners all filling in the form for the lucky door prize to get at the treasures within.

For those who haven’t been to the Stitches and Craft Show before, its bread and butter is this kind of thing.

These are fat quarters, and are used in quilting. Apparently you cut them into shapes and sew them to other bits that you’ve cut into other shapes until eventually you get something big enough to either give to your loudly protesting nieces and nephews at Christmas, or to hang on the wall. They’re not much use as bed coverings now that everyone has doonas. Needless to say, I have no interest in quilting and do not wish even to know why they are fat or what they are a quarter of.

You’ve also got your scrapbook and paper craft shops, a couple that are threads and wool, including one that was selling this:

Pre-felt! The possibilities!
Also shops specifically for your nanna to buy supplies to make nanna rugs,

Shops where Professor Umbrage bought her cross stitch kitten,

And sadly only a few bead shops, and even more sadly they were only selling cheap Chinese stuff. The one that was selling Swarovski and brand name stringing materials was doing so at a vastly higher price than I could get them at Fusion, so I didn’t bother. If I wanted cheap Chinese stuff, and it definitely has its place, I would go to I Love You Beads on Parramatta Road, then I could get cheap organza bags too.

I’m putting this one in to make my sister laugh.

Possibly they should have had the arrow up the other way, but that’s all I’ll say about that.

There was even a stall flogging needlework cruises. Needlework cruises. Surely they couldn’t get a whole boat load of embroiderers? I didn’t stop to ask.

I did love some of the cutesy stall names, like KimoYes ( selling kimono fabric), Punch with Judy, Picklemouse Corner, the Status Thimble, Crafty Frou Frou and Miss Rose, Sister Violet. Actually, those last two were the only ones I bought anything from. Some black and white stuff from the former,

And some outrageous trimming for the dream handbag I started making for myself about this time last year from the latter,

But eventually the crowd takes its toll on me. The mob that makes up the crowds at this kind of show is principally senior ladies with a good handful of teenage girl school groups. Neither group has any respect for personal space and after a couple of hours I have been jostled more than my system can tolerate and I must away for an hour or two of peace before picking up my little darlings from school. Now all I need is a few free days to get some serious crafting done. I might have to ignore my committee duties for a bit.

Swimming Carnival Accessories

“Mum, we’re allowed to dress up for the swimming carnival! Can you make me something?”. Year 7 is so exciting for the Muffet, they’re allowed just that little bit more freedom and it’s going to their heads. Swimming carnival is on Friday, and it isn’t compulsory to attend, unlike primary school. It is, however, very strongly encouraged and the Muffet wouldn’t miss it for quids. Especially as you can dress up. Looks like it’s time to get out the ole sewing machine again.

The first thing is to decide what to make. A hat? Hair’s going to be wet for some of the time, so no. Some kind of outfit? I still haven’t recovered from the school play. You know what I’m pretty good at. Capes. They’re only a step up from baby blankets and I’ve made wizard ones, fairy ones, a Red Riding Hood and a Jedi one. With or without hoods, they are dead easy and you don’t need a pattern. Muffet wants a swirly one in her house colours, so I stuff her house shirt in my handbag and it’s off to Spotlight I go.

Her house colour is maroon, so if we lived in Brisbane I’m sure the whole house would be decked out in footy memorabilia. As it is, I’m surprised at the choice of materials available that exactly match her shirt. Dance satin is on special, so I get three metres of it and six metres of maroon fringe, plus some black and white balls of that yarn you knit into spirally scarves and a set of knitting needles to replace the ones the dog ate.

For a travelling cape you make trapezoid panels, a big one for the back and two halves for the front and it sits close to the body. For a swirly cape you need a semicircle. I spread the material out on the floor and measure the width. It’s one hundred and thirteen centimetres, so I draw on the wrong side a semicircle of that radius. See, you should pay attention in maths. I cut out a semicircle for the neck of radius twenty centimetres. I’m not going to get all fussy about finishing touches, but I don’t want to leave the neck edge raw and I don’t want to muck about with facing and fusible interfacing, so I make a smaller cape to shoulder height to sit on top with exactly the same neck cutout. This has a fifty centimetre radius. I hem the front edges of the larger and smaller capes, then sew the maroon fringing around the edge of the smaller cape. Then, concentrating tensely, I place the shiny side of the short cape against the rough side of the long cape, line the neck edges up and sew them together. I got it right first time! I don’t even need to press the seams as the material is heavy enough to sit properly. A tab of Velcro at the neck corners and I’m done in under an hour.

How popular am I going to be when the Muffet gets home? But then again, how long will that popularity last?

What I’ve learnt about Sewing

I’ve done it, I’ve finished the damned things. Six soldiers costumes are on their way to the Muffet’s school and it’s only fair that I share with you some of the things that I’ve learned.

A quick recap for those of you who haven’t been following me like a bloodhound. My dear daughter volunteered me to help with sewing for the school play. I fronted up to the main instigator of this outrage, Mrs Gray, and sweetly informed her that I was rather good at sewing in straight lines and did she have any togas for me to hem? She handed me a bag of material, a very complicated set of patterns, fixed me with a steely glare, returned my sweet smile and said “May the force be with you”. For further accounts of my subsequent misadventures, see here.

So the first thing, dear reader, is to identify your motivation. In this case, impress Mrs Gray. But there are many more practical things I have learned about sewing.
Static electricity can be a good substitute for pins.
Don’t wear drapey clothing while sewing unless you’d like to incorporate it into the costume.

Cotton batting is a tasty source of fibre.
An RSL style carpet is excellent for hiding stains and dog hair, but it does mean the only way you’ll find a dropped pin is by stepping on it.
Turn off your sewing machine while you’re away from it otherwise your dog will sit on the pedal and give himself a fright.
If you’re sewing after dinner, you will sew a sleeve on upside down or a badge to your pyjamas. Factor this into your timing.
If you want to use some material scraps from a pile your late elderly cat used to sleep on, no amount of washing and hanging it in the sun will get out the smell. Just chuck it.
Resist the urge to admonish your children with pins in your mouth.

Pets can be useful to stop your material from flying away.
That clunking sound means the top thread has come off the hook thingy that goes up and down.
Sewing a ribbon or some scalloped felt over your seams is an excellent way of disguising the fact that you haven’t measured anything.

It’s a bit hard to tell from this shot, but this tunic was doomed. It did teach me three valuable lessons. Don’t let the dog sit on your sewing shortly after he’s been eating grass. You need to sew the wrong side to the wrong side OR the right side to the right side, not one of each. And if you’ve given yourself a break from sewing by ironing the school shirts, you need to turn the iron back down if you’re going to press the seams on your polyester tunic. It didn’t actually set the smoke detector off, but it did attract the attention of the children who, as always, were very forthright in their advice.

A hot glue gun is a useful alternative to hand sewing.
Your sharp scissors are under your daughter’s desk.

It’s easy to make wire closures for your armour if you have a set of jewellery making tools and five years experience making clasps for necklaces.
Finally, with a great deal of patience and coffee and moaning to friends and an enormous amount of muttering, you can teach yourself to sew and deliver six soldiers costumes a whole two weeks before the performance.

Now I don’t know if I want to get in and sew something for myself or sell my machine on eBay. I should probably give it a few weeks before I do anything rash.

REAL sewing

When my son’s school had a school play they told us to send him along in a white tshirt with a tea towel to put on his head.  I’m paying now through the girls’ school, with an extreme crash course in sewing.

I have actually sewn something from a pattern once before, but that was in a white hot fit of indignation that a size 6 ice skating dress could cost one hundred and fifty smackers.  I am lacking the adrenalin this time, and I’ve also gone into something yet again with out checking out what it involves.  Having read the pattern about forty three times now, I’m pretty sure the teacher who gave it to me didn’t either.  That, or she’s particularly sadistic.

I popped up to Spotlight this morning to supplement the bag of polyester I was given with stuff that the pattern actually specifies.  I possibly should have looked up what soutache actually was before hunting through haberdashery and aisles and aisles of craft supplies for it.  If you think I should have asked a staff member, you really haven’t been paying attention to my various personality disorders.  I didn’t find it.  I did find some red ribbon, sparkly felt, and wide gold stuff that should serve as buttons and studs when given the right treatment with scissors and a hot glue gun.  Also batting, which seems ridiculously expensive for what it is, which is compressed fluff.  I think this should get me through The Difficult Bit which is a rather fancy armoured vest.

The pattern said Apply Batting to Wrong Side of Front.  I’m OK with wrong side.  How do you apply batting?  Dr Google tells me you can use spray glue, double sided tape, or basting.  Pushing aside thoughts of pork crackling and lesbian pregnancy, I went with basting.  I got very confused with right sides and wrong sides of fronts and backs and lining and mirror images, but regained confidence with ironing seams.  I discovered why my mother used to curse so freely while sewing costumes as my daughter breathed down my neck while chewing expansively on a Mentos and wondering out loud what on earth I was doing.  Then the Horror asked if there was such a thing as an anti-sewing machine as I held up the vest to realise that the capped sleeve was on back to front.  I resisted showing him the stitch ripper up close.  It was starting to look a lot like a cheap puffa vest, but then I got the Muffet to model it…


and it actually doesn’t look too bad.  Except that I’ve put the OTHER sleeve on back to front as well.  Actually, now that I look at it, possibly the sleeve is completely upside down.  It’ll look a lot better with red ribbon and gold buttons on it.  Heigh ho, only five more to go.

Digging out the old sewing machine

The end of the year for any parent is a frenzy of concerts, award nights, end of year dinners, and sometimes, a school play.  “Anyone’s mum or grandma can sew?” went out the call.  “Oh yes, my mum’s great at sewing” said the Muffet.  Or as I put it when I went to collect my material and instructions from a very frazzled looking sixth grade teacher, “I’m really good at sewing in straight lines”.  “Any help at all is just wonderful” said the teacher.  “I could kiss you!”.  I took a step back, I need written notice for that kind of thing.

This morning I got out the pattern.  I’m making six soldier’s costumes.  They appear to consist of a tunic, a breastplate, and a very fancy combination of belt and skirt.  I look at the back of the pattern packet for materials list.  Something light for the tunic, imitation leather for the breastplate, gold buttons, metal studs, grosgrain ribbon, soutache, metallic braid, felt and batting.  I look in the bag.  Acres of polyester and a bulldog clip.  I take a deep breath and decide to go to the gym.

Back home again I start reading the sewing instructions, always a good idea BEFORE starting, I’ve learned from experience.  Blah blah blah selvedge blah batting blah blah turn yoke right side out, press, turn in raw edges on back edge and slip stitch closed.  I check my email.  There’s one from the Horror’s teacher complaining that he’s sitting in a corner with his shirt over his head refusing to talk to anyone.  I send a sympathetic reply.  Back to the instructions.  Actually, the tunic doesn’t look too hard, even with a neck facing.  I’m not going to bother with fusible interface, this thing is only going to be worn twice and is unlikely to get its own room at the Museum of Modern Art.

After a strong coffee, I got to it, and like many things, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought



It only took a bit over an hour, and that included wiping mildew off the sewing machine.  Only five more to go.  Then we start on the tricky bits, and I’m going to resist the urge to draw the details of the breastplate on with marker pen. I shall go to Spotlight to get the missing bits.  Not today, though.