When we heard there was going to be a seaside airshow coinciding with our son’s very important birthday, DH and I decided we all go!  We didn’t dare tell… Airshows are weather-reliant and prone to cancellation 😯 so we led our new teenager to believe the excitement was in seeing the sea, fish ‘n’ chips on the beach and a new shirt with a cool print of planes for him to wear.

Made out of Liberty Tana Lawn.   Like he’d care about Liberty Tana Lawn.  But you might!  This was bought last year from Fabric World (49c Goldhawk Road) and though it’s not the latest release, the print is still available online and in other colours too. 

McCall’s M6044

I used a man’s shirt pattern McCall’s 6044 which, as it stands, is way too big for a young teen.  This is where a photocopier with a “reduce function” proves valuable.  I shrunk Size Small to 80%, which is easy enough and much quicker than enlarging a pattern (as I did to make Two Peas in a Pod). 

If you want to try it, take an  actual garment measurement and your desired garment measurement then use a calculator to divide the latter by the former: this works out the  percentage by which you have to reduce your copy.    

For example:

Actual finished shirt length: 30in

Desired shirt length: 25in

Reduction percentage: 25 / 30 = 83%

Beware that your Seam Allowances will shrink too so reduce them from 1.5cm to 1cm or similar.

M6044 is an easy pattern to make and my View A was especially quick.  The only difficulty was stitching the thick parts of the undercollar: the corners where the collar has been inserted and the interfaced, folded seam allowances are very thick.  Does this part of shirt-making drive you mad?  Do you have any tips for success?  After five failed attempts at making the top buttonhole, my machine was in danger of being taken out and beaten in the style of Basil Fawlty thrashing his car.  Which is when I knew it made sense to just leave the top button off.  I don’t think it matters:

As for the airshow on the birthday, the sun did come out!  As did the Red Arrows, a fearsome F-16 MLU, some Wingwalkers on Boeing Stearmans and many others.  And I marvelled at the planes’ design perfection and at the skill and bravery of the pilots while feeling very grateful for it all.  Especially for the son!

Location: Eastbourne

The Great British Sewing Backlash

For an oversensitive creature like myself, the downside to The Great British Sewing Bee is that our gentle pastime is attracting attention outside our circles and provoking derision and sneers!  Oh yes, what the world right now needs of its women is delivery from nuclear perish; perhaps one brave volunteer could ensnare into a honey trap and disarm the-not-as-cute-as-we’d-thought Young Kim?  Not – as my favourite radio show mocks – sit sewing with programmes about retro midwifery on the bleedin’ telly!

And you, Punt and Dennis? 😥

Whilst I rarely wish to take part in Guardian-bashing, I’m bristling (a bit) at its treatment of TGBSB.  In his TV round-up, Andrew Collins skims over the content and whines “I don’t care!”  And the Guardian’s TV guide previews  the programme with an incredulous: “Who still has time to sew?!”

Er, I do! 

For the past two weeks, I’ve been looking after a varying collection of 8 to 13-year-old children, some of them mine.  It’s a nice job, requiring not much more than checking for blood, providing meals and a daily airing.  During this time, I was faced with the usual conundrum of what to do when a child has a friend’s birthday party coming up: do I buy or do I sew? 

Option 1: My Usual Stand-by

What do you buy a child who has everything?  Well, more of everything…   A packet of Moshi monsters and a novelty pen from my most-adored stationers.

Total cost with card and giftwrap: £7.50 to £10, depending on whether the Moshis are on sale.

Advantages: quick, easy and once the gift is bestowed, you can forget about it, unless… you’re the type to be guilt-ridden about adding to the plastic toy reject mountain.  Catholics and hippies are particularly prone here, and I’m a bit of both…

Option 2: a Personalized Cushion Sewn by Someone with Too Much Time on Their Hands

Total cost: slightly cheaper than option 1 if you don’t count the hourly sewing rate.  You need to buy (or make or reuse) a cushion pad.  I’ve also used an old concealed zip but you wouldn’t need one for an overlap design like on this Space Invader cushion.  For the fabric, most of us have stash, though I found that the Guitars remnant I’d  set my heart on simply didn’t provide a good enough contrast (see right).  Instead, I bought half a metre of a “dragster cars” print from Rolls and Rems.

Time taken: 3 hours, half of which was spent planning and unpicking the concealed zipper from an old dress.

Advantages: unique and useful.

Disadvantages: the uncertainty.  Will Sonny like it?  My kids reckon yes and strangely, I find I care less than I would with the plastic toy mountain.

Option 3 would be some money in a birthday card, but then the question would be how much money?  I wouldn’t hesitate to give a tenner to a child of 12 or older  (so they could treat themselves to some fags and alcopops 🙂 )   But turning up to a-nine-year-old’s party with money seems like handing in an entrance fee.  What do you think?

 My New Favourite Font

I’ve made personalized pressies many times before but one thing I’ve learnt from planning this project – which will speed things up if I make a cushion like this again – is to adapt the design to the age and gender of the kid.  Out went the rounded letters, in with the Collegiate Border font.  It’s a good one as it won’t use up much of your printer ink.  The free download is here.  For 7cm tall letters like mine (on a 41cm square cushion pad), select a font size of 200, print and cut out to make templates.

Gifts II: Space Invader Cushion

This cushion is a Christmas surprise for my son (he’ll get other stuff too, don’t worry… ).  It’s to help gradually transform his bedroom from a little boy’s abode into a cool grunge lair.  Making it is very simple.  At the back, there’s a 10cm of overlap of fabric which eliminates the need for a zip or buttons.  The bright piping adds interest and is beginner-friendly, though be sure to make more than you think you’ll need!

I’ve had a go at this before, many years ago when I used a print fabric (a sweet “Ready Steady Robot” design from Alexander Henry, long discontinued) and it was quicker still, but this time I wanted to use applique after seeing the gorgeous asterisk cushion made by Vacuuming the Lawn.  My OH and I looked at various Space Invaders images and agreed at once which little dude would appeal to our first-born the most:

Drawing him isn’t difficult: he’s basically a bunch of squares on an 8 by 11 grid.  Should you want one of your own and you’re in a hurry, I’ve put him on a Space Invader Excel Graph for you.  Or would you prefer the version of him cheering with his hands in the air!?  Here it is: Cheering Space Invader!

I chose cotton sateen as it’s washable (this is a cushion that the cats will sneak up to sleep on).  It has a richness of colour and a shine that isn’t unlike the brightness of a monitor.  One bonus of working in this bright yellow colour was that even after I interfaced the fabric, I could trace the design through it from a sheet of paper.

Oh look, once you cut the dude out, you can use the offcuts to play Tetris!

The Space Invader Cushion Tutorial

You will need: a cushion, 0.75cm of full-width fabric (more for a bigger cushion), 0.25cm of applique fabric plus fusible interfacing.  2mm piping cord.

1. Firstly, buy (or somehow obtain) the cushion and design a template for the applique to fit.  My cushion is a 55cm square and the Invader is printed onto an A4 sheet.  I cut a 55cm paper pattern for the cushion, plus 1.5cm seam allowance all around (that is, a 58cm square).

2. Fuse some interfacing onto your applique fabric and cut out your design.  Stitch the applique to your cover fabric.  I use a stitch length of 0.4 and a width of 2 on my Elna zigzag.  It takes a good 45 minutes to do an A4-sized Invader!  For  the piping, I cut 4cm bias strips and inserted a 2mm cord inside.  This creates piping to fit a 1.5cm seam allowance.

3. Next, pin piping to the cushion front seam allowance, lining up the raw edges.  Overlap the ends of the piping and clip piping seam allowances at the corners:

4. Add cushion backing.  Make the pattern first: half of the pattern for the cushion front + 5cm for the overlap + 3cm seam allowance for the overlap side.  Cut twice.

5. Pin and stitch the backing, first one side then the other.  Stitch twice over the overlap, especially if your cushion is a firm one.  This will prevent the stitches ripping when you insert the cushion.

I really hope my son doesn’t read this but when I was his age, we had an Atari 2600, an early video game console, on which I’d blast away at Space Invaders for hours each day, or till my mum realized and chased me off into doing something more useful.  Don’t remember the little buggers looking this cute though…

Get Ninja’d

It needn’t take more than 5 minutes to make a Ninja mask.  Just cut an aperture into a square of opaque fabric.  You don’t even need a sewing machine.  But if you do decide to upgrade the mask with some stitching that makes it neater and more permanent, you can solve the eternal problem of what to sew for an almost teenage boy (you know: the one too old for dinosaur print, too young for Hawaiian shirts).

Worn with black at Halloween, the mask makes an instant Ninja costume.  Come winter, it’s an original stocking filler and if you make it from cotton jersey, it’ll keep the nose super-warm during long walks in the snow! 

You need: an 80cm x 80 cm square of a fabric that’s opaque but easy to breathe through.  Thread.  Bias binding  or ribbon for finishing the peephole (optional).

Making up:

1. Measure the size required for the peephole.  This tends not to vary much from person to person so measure your own if you’re making the mask as a surprise.  12cm x 3cm should suffice.

2. Turn your square so it’s on the bias and mark the peephole in the middle. 

3. Stitch along the marking.  Cut out the peephole, keeping as close to the stitching as possible.

4. If you wish to finish the peephole with a narrow strip of bias binding, then pin and stitch, trimming peephole close to the stitch line before flipping the binding to the right side.  

Alternatively, reinforce the peephole with a row of zigzag stitching.

5. Sew a narrow, hankie-style hem on all 4 sides, using the rolled hem foot.

Putting on the mask:

Place peephole over eyes and tie the “wings” at the back of the head, over the back flap.  The knot gives the mask its characteristic Ninja appearance.

And what if you’re dressed up as a Ninja with nowhere to go on a rainy day?  

Here a couple of ideas:

Learn how to make origami shuriken: “blades hidden in the hand“.

Watch as a hapless Ninja takes on John Goodman in Speed Racer.

P.S.  One of my readers suggested making the mask out of fleece.  This would be super-warm (possibly too much for summer) but it does have the advantage of not needing stitching.