Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Quick Handmade Christmas Traditions

Not the catchiest of post titles, I'll admit, but it does exactly what it says on the tin! I'm keen to start some little quirky family traditions of our own - things that will remind Wiss of his christmasses in many years to come, as they get brought out of the loft yet again. But I'm mindful that there's less than a week to go so these future bits of history need to be done quickly!

Homemade decorations:
I much prefer homemade decorations to shop bought ones but paper chains just don't last. This year I've made a whole bunch of twisted felt streamers which can be used over and over, and can even be washed! I used acrylic felt in bright colours and white, but any two contrasting colours will do. Cut a strip of felt 5cm wide and as long as you can from each of the two colours. Sew these together with a straight stitch 5mm from the edges, all the way around. I included a loop of ribbon at either end to help to hang it. Using a scalpel or craft knife cut approx 5cm slots approx 7cm apart, through both layers of felt.
Then all you need to do is feed one end into the slot furthest away from it, and pull it through to create the twist. Then feed the same end into the next slot, and pull through. Then the next. Repeat all the way down your streamer and you'll end up with something like this:

Santa's Key:
We were given this idea by a family member who has four children and I thought it was genius! Questions are often asked by clever kids who have noticed that while Father Christmas usually comes down the chimney, most houses these days don't have one! How will Santa be able to get in??? Using his magic key that we will leave under the mat/on a hook outside/under a flower pot of course! I have bought a large old key from ebay (but any spare key will do) and will add a ribbon to hang it with.

Christmas Pillowcases:
We all have stockings to hang up, and although I loved the idea of making everyone christmas pyjamas I just don't have enough time. However, there is time to make christmas pillowcases! I saw this tutorial via I'm a Ginger Monkey and thought it would be great way to continue the festive decorations into the bedrooms. As soon as I've stopped blogging I'm going to be knocking up some pillowcases using these fab fabrics:

Reusable Santa Sack for Presents:
I made this Santa Sack as a special commission but I liked it so much myself I will definitely be making some more next year. It is lined inside with contrasting fabric to make it stronger, and has a drawstring top to keep all those presents safe inside. I improvised a pattern using a cross between one of my waterproof bags, and a toiletry bag just scaled up! If you'd like a proper tutorial to follow then check out Dana's Hobo Sack and just make it bigger.

And there you have it! Four little ideas that won't take long to make but will add to the magic that is christmas!

If you have any more ideas then I'd love to hear them. Please leave a comment below or link to your own blog so I can see what you're up to. Even if they are more involved projects than these, let me know so I can add them to my 'Things to Do for Next Christmas' List!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like christmas!

My last Christmas market of 2012 was on the 8 December. A huge thank you to all the lovely people who came and chatted, and especially to those who bought things! It was a great event, busy all day and the Horniman Museum was an amazing venue in the bright winter sun. Thank you to Lucy and the Horniman for putting it on!

I have to admit, I was pretty shattered after three weekends of markets in a row, and weeks of making stock, but I had the next challenge to concentrate on so after one night of R&R (a Chinese take-away and the X-Factor final!) it was time to DIY!

We moved house in August but months later there were still loads of packing boxes in each room. With a Christmas deadline to get downstairs presentable at least I needed to get busy in the workshop! Our dining room has two large alcoves, and I own about a gazillion books so it made sense to build in floor to ceiling shelves to house our 'library'. I made these thick 'floating' shelves from mdf and timber (and am happy to provide details should anyone wish to make some themselves) They are pretty easy to make and relatively easy to install (although I speak from experience when I recommend that someone should always hold the ladder. Poor Kieran!)

With the addition of some ultra cool Star Wars inspired retro prints from Etsy and our gorgeous old wooden table purchased from Ardingly antiques fair, it's finally starting to feel like a home. We also made time to tackle the enormous box mountain that was in the corner of the front room: a couple of hours later and the corner looked like this!
Hooray! It's beginning to look a lot like christmas.....finally! We are hosting our first ever christmas lunch with both families round to us. The husband is in charge of food and I am in charge of spatial design (ie making sure we can all fit!) and decorations. A pretty good deal I think? Even though there's less than a week to go, there's still time to make some lovely festive decorations, and great finishing touches.

As this is our first Christmas with a child who understands what it's all about, I'm really keen to start some family traditions of our own. My next post will be all about quick, simple handmade christmas ideas that could become part of your festive rituals. I'd love to hear about any quirky traditions that your family have at this time of year too!

Thanks for reading :)

Friday, 7 December 2012

A Fair Christmas Fayre

The Fair Christmas Fayre starts tomorrow at the Horniman Museum and runs on both days of the weekend. It is London's longest running ethical market place and this weekend there will be over 30 stalls selling fair trade, recycled and Eco gifts to help make your Christmas feel good!

I am thrilled to be part of this fantastic event (and that it is being held at the Horniman, South London's gem makes it even better) and although This is Wiss is not an obviously Eco company I do share many of the principles of the Fair Christmas Fayre.

Since becoming older, wiser, and a mother I have become increasingly Eco aware. We do as much as we can in our day to day lives - recycling, grow our own veg, waste as little food as possible etc - and this philosophy continues into my designs and materials used for my products.

Because my target market is babies and children, and of course their parents, I think carefully about what materials I use and where possible I use natural fabrics. My Square Bear & Square Hare comforters are made using organic cotton and bamboo blended terry towelling. Bamboo has natural antiseptic properties and is very absorbent but just as important, it washes well too!

My Changing Mats and Waterproof bags are made with 100% cotton outer layers. I used washable nappies when my son was a baby, and these waterproof bags made it simple to use them whilst out and about. I swapped the clean nappies for the soiled ones, plus any wet clothes, and the bags kept everything away from the other contents of my bag. At the end of the day the bags could just be washed along with our clothes.

I use a lot of felt in my products; it comes in a range of great colours and is easy to work with. I use a 50/50 wool blend felt because it feels so much nicer than a synthetic equivalent. It can only be surface washed as the wool makes it shrink, but it gets softer as it gets older. Natural fabrics age beautifully and I like to think that my toys will be played with for many years.

As a parent, I prefer to buy toys that will last not only materially, but that will engage the child over a long period of time, and maybe lend itself to many ways of being played with. I try to design with this in mind too.

However, practicality comes above everything else - my products must function well or what's the point? Sometimes a natural fabric just won't work in which case I choose the best synthetic substitute. My squishy dice need to be able to withstand a lot of manhandling, throwing and usually a lot more chewing! The first range I made weren't able to be washed so I sourced a replacement. The new range of bright dice are made from neoprene, which is machine washable. So although they aren't the greenest option it does mean that the dice should be able to last for many more years.
Above all, my main claim is that all This is Wiss products are 100% handmade in the UK! I've had to enlist my mum to do some sewing in Suffolk this year, but everything else is made by me in South London!

There are many things that I can do to make This is Wiss a greener company, and in the new year I will be looking into what more I can do. I am starting to send out more orders so the first thing will be to source some recycled packaging! If anyone has recommendations I'd love to hear about them.

I can't wait for this weekend and will enjoy being part of The Fair Christmas Fayre both as a seller and a customer. You too can have a green Christmas! See you there?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A white christmas?

This completely sums up my 'theme' this Christmas, both at home and with my This is Wiss products. I know the scandi look of red and white can look super cool and oh so festive but I'm yearning for more colours this year. We've got a white box of a dining room, and because we are still settling in the decor in the rest of the house isn't quite what we want it to be so I think I'm overcompensating with the Christmas Decorations, but I'm thinking big, bright and bold!

The same thing has been happening at This is Wiss HQ. I've got some great new, some festive products and they are a bit technicoloured. And why not? I love them and so do kids.

The pink fluoro material I originally made my dice from was strictly limited edition and I've nearly used it all up. I've been searching for a suitable replacement that was just as bright but that could be washed too. A few weeks ago I found what I'd been looking for. Neoprene comes in a range of eye-popping colours but is machine washable, so ideal for my squishy, baby-chewable dice. The new dice are multicoloured - pink, green, blue, orange, purple & yellow - and very silky to touch. I hope you like them!
The felt crowns that I made for The Queen's Jubilee have been flying of the shelves - in fact they are perfect for school Nativity Plays! I have widened the palette for these and the crowns are now available in grey, pink or original yellow, all with multi-coloured 'jewels' and adjustable velcro fastening.
My Moustache t-shirts have been so popular that I thought I'd give some a chWISSmas twist. These Rudolph and Santa t-shirts are available in sizes 4 months - 4 years, and are appliqued onto Organic Cotton shop-bought t-shirts.

I wanted to have a couple of Christmas products this year so thought my Felt Twisted Streamers would be perfect for festive decorations (although they could be used all year-round and are a great alternative to bunting) These are made from synthetic felt so can also be washed and re-used. These will be available in various combinations of pink, aqua, green, red and white.
The final new product I have to show you is something I've been working on for a while. There are more and more people crafting, making, sewing, knitting etc etc and there really isn't a feeling that can compare to creating something yourself. I've been keen to make a kit of one of my products so that someone can make it themselves if they'd prefer and a Rudy Reindeer seemed like the perfect place to start. I've put together a complete kit which includes everything you will need to make your very own Rudy, including the wooden spoon. (You will need a needle and thread, or maybe a sewing machine though!)
All the usual This is Wiss products are still available too. Now for the important bit - where can you get them all from?

I am very excited to be part of two fantastic local Christmas markets. The first is this Saturday in Gipsy Hill, SE19. The Palace Christmas Fair is at Christ Church and will be open from 10.30am-4.30pm. See the link for more details and a list of all the other stalls and entertainment too.

The second is next Saturday 8 December at my favourite museum, The Horniman. The Fair Christmas Fayre is London's longest running ethical market place and will have loads of unique stalls selling handmade/eco/fairtrade items so you can feel good about your Christmas purchases! There is also a Santa's Grotto and a Carol Concert so click the link for more details.

If you can't get along to either of those then you can purchase via my online shop or visit my new Etsy shop!

Enough of the sales pitch now, thank you for sticking with me through it! As you can probably tell I'm a little bit excited (and maybe a little bit exhausted too!) I'd love to hear your thoughts about my new items, and if you've got any thing new you're making for christmas then let me know about it!

See you soon, angela

Monday, 12 November 2012

chWISSmas is coming!

I feel like I can hear the Countdown Clock ticking down the days until Christmas. I have so much to do that my 'To Do' list has turned into a day by day timetable, and I'm sticking to it rigidly!

I have got some exciting This is Wiss news that I've been eager to share for a while, but seeing as it is chWISSmas related I didn't want to announce it too early.
Rudy the Reindeer first made an appearance last chWISSmas and due to his popularity he is back! Just like the Bobby Horses, Rudy is made from wool-blend felt with vintage buttons. He is built around a wooden spoon making him the perfect size for little hands, and with added jingle bells he would make a delightful Christmas present.

But new for this year, there is more than one way you can get your very own Rudy:
1.) you could buy one from my online shop
2.) you could buy one from one of the markets I'll be at
3.) you could buy a Rudy kit to make yourself at home - available next week from etsy or online
4.) you could learn how to make a Rudy yourself in a class with me at Ray Stitch!

I am really looking forward to teaching these classes so if you're near to North London then why not book yourself in? Ray Stitch is sewing heaven, with a fab cafe thrown in too! The timetable of events contains a whole range of other projects to make that would be ideal Christmas gifts (for you or even others!)

Right, I'd better get back to my timetable!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Life on Fast Forward

Those of you who are familiar with my blog will probably know that I am always trying to fit as much as is humanly possible into whatever time I have. I've lost count of the times I've said "I have been busy", or "if only there were more hours in the day" but it is especially true at the moment.

I am struggling to find time to blog about what I've been up to as I'm too busy doing it! Now I can't be alone in this very modern dilemma, but if anyone has any tips on how to live life and document it at the same time I'd love to hear them! I'm just hoping that I'll have some breathing space in the New Year and then I can work on building a rythmn or routine that makes things a bit easier.

So I thought I'd make this post a very quick run-down of what's happened recently so that we're up-to-date and I can blog 'for real' afterwards!

Hold on tight, here we go...

My new baby! under the watchful gaze of Raoul

Hot Chip at Brixton Academy for my birthday!

Lewis's Halloween Outfit - he finally decided on being a ghost rather than a yellow wizard!

Making papier mache halloween masks

Behind the Scenes at the Horniman Museum for Halloween

Fireworks at Crystal Palace - a huge hit with Lewis!

Now we're all up to date and with birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Halloween and Fireworks night out of the way it is officially the 'build up to Christmas'. Aaaaaarghhhhh! I've got lots of exciting things planned, of which I will share in my next post, but I can't believe how quickly time is marching on. Oh, if only there were more hours in the day!!! ;)

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Knitting & Stitching Show 2012 - I was there!

I have just about recovered from this weekend's Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace and wanted to share it all with you before I get even busier putting to use everything that I bought!
I went along with my mum on Friday as a regular punter, and as neither of us had ever been before we were exited to see what all the fuss was about. The first thing I should say is that it is big. Actually it's huge! There are hundreds of retail stands, as well as artists galleries, workshops and classes. I had booked mum and I into a 'Give it Back' class where we would have been taught how to make a pillowcase dress. These simple dresses are made for charities like Dress a Girl Around the World. Unfortunately public transport was against us that day and we didn't make it to Alexandra Palace in time. Such a shame.

You could buy pretty much anything you wanted to do with sewing, knitting and other crafts, plus there were some amazing artistic creations. Unfortunately, most of the 'art' was not able to be photographed so you'll have to imagine the intricate quilted wall hangings and the knitted wedding dress and matching grooms suit! But the Knitted Village was brilliant...
At times the day felt like an endurance test: there was so much to take in, look at, touch and so many people to navigate around but regular R&R breaks helped! At the end of day 1 I had actually been quite restrained in my purchases...(Things didn't remain this way though!)

I was back on Saturday and Sunday in a professional capacity, helping to man the Ray Stitch stand. I'll come clean, Rachel is a good friend of mine but even if she wasn't I would still love her shop! She has a great eye for design and style which shows in the products and fabrics she stocks as well as the way it is all presented. This year Ray Stitch was representing Merchant & Mills  - make sure you check out all of their gorgeous stuff too. I want it all!
I had a lot of fun working on the stand - it was lovely to meet so many people and really inspiring to talk to them about what they were planning on making with their purchases. Even though we were rushed off our feet both days I still managed to look round again, and again! and made a *few* (ahem) more purchases. Here is my full haul from the show...
Bella by Lotta Jansdotter - to make a cushion as a housewarming present
Cloud 9 Geocentric - canvas weight organic cotton to make cushions for our hallway bench
Cloud 9 Nursery Flannel - to make snuggly toys for friends' new arrivals
Jersey remnants - only £3 each, perfect for my t-shirt making stash
Gorgeous Robert Kaufman Jelly Roll - for a future quilt, one day!
Hideous Thomas the Tank panel that Wiss will adore! Maybe I'll make an art roll up?
Non-scratchy 100% wool to make Wiss's scarf (and  for Raoul to play with!)
And then there is just one more thing to show soon to be, brand new shiny, fancy pants sewing machine!!! I have been thinking about a new machine for a while and hoped that there would be some good deals at the show. All the major brands were represented and had knowledgeable staff to answer all your questions. It was a great way to compare different makes and models all under one roof. I had demos by Brother, Pfaff and Janome and all had their pros and cons, but I decided on the Janome XL601. They sell their machines through stockists all over the country who are there to help should problems arise and who will take care of the servicing. (Which I will do annually, I promise!) I am SO excited to get my hands on it later this week!
So, there you have my weekend in a nutshell! I bought lots, met loads of lovely people (including some twitter friends @mrsramskill and @missmagpiemakes) and have a ton of new projects to start on a new machine!

Same time, same place next year then?!
If you visited Ally Pally this year, how was it for you? Please leave me a comment or a link to your blog below as I'd love to hear all about it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

This is Wiss: KCWC Autumn 2012

Hello! I am right in the middle of KCWC so really should be busy sewing but I thought I'd take a moment to blog about what I've finished already, what I still want to make, and link to the AMAZING flikr group. Just look at what's been achieved already!

Now I thought that I was prepared for this KCWC - I'd been thinking of what to make for over a week, and I gathered together fabrics and ordered some wool but compared to most of the blogs I've been reading I was way behind! No matter, I reminded myself that this isn't a competition and that all the 500 plus sewers taking part are doing it for fun and to support and inspire each other along the way.

I had so many things that I wanted to make and I've managed to gather quite a stash of fabric over the last year or so, but when I looked into what clothes Wiss actually needed there wasn't much. He's been lucky and had quite a lot of new clothes bought for him recently (Primark have some fab boys clothes in store at the moment). But there are lots of upcoming births and birthdays so I thought I would make some clothes for them instead.

First up are two 2 year old girls' birthdays and a google search led me to this great website, Craftiness is not Optional It was a new one for me but I know I'll be visiting again and again. The tutorial I followed was for the gorgeous Lovebird Tunic, and even with drawing up my own pattern it was an easy project to tackle. Look!

I used some special fabric I'd been saving for just such a project: top tunic is made from bright blue baby cord with a cloud 9 organic cotton print, bottom tunic is made from organic cotton grey chambray with Aneely Hoey's fox print from the Walk in the Woods range. I can't wait to see how these look on - hopefully pictures to follow...

I also have 4 friends all due to give birth in the next month (one set of twins!) so I will be making each new baby a gorgeous and very practical nightdress - just like the one I made at the start of the year here. I've got some vintage t-shirts already and I'll mix them with bright coloured jersey to make each one as individual as the little person inside!

The last item I was planning on making is for Wiss - a scarf, knitted not sewn, which does stretch the rules of KCWC a little but I've got a lot of travelling to do in the next few days so will use that time wisely. At least it would have done. I bought the yellow marino wool from eBay a month ago but it still hasn't arrived!

I'll not be able to do much sewing over the weekend (sad face) because I'm going to be at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace (happy face!) I've never been but I have heard such great things I am really excited. My mum and I are going along tomorrow as regular punters and as well as some serious purse action, I have booked us into a class to learn how to make pillowcase dresses for charity.

Then on Saturday and Sunday I will be helping out on the Ray Stitch stand. I hope to meet loads of new people so if you're going too then let me know and come and say hi! If any of you have been before and have some great tales/tips then I'd love to know.

Good luck for the rest of the week to all of you taking part in KCWC and I'll be checking the Flikr pool. Happy sewing!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Super Super Heroes!

Last weekend saw the 5th birthday of one of my favourite little people, my friend's son Albert. I'm not even going to go into how he can possibly be turning five already when I remember him being just a bump so clearly, because that will just make me feel even older!

His mum is super talented (remember her from here?) but when it comes to themed kids parties she is the best, and she makes everything herself. In the past there has been a Cardboard Box party, Brave Knights, an Ice Cream Sunday party and this year it was Super Heroes! There were brilliant games such as 'Pass the Kryptonite' (a glow stick!), tie up a villain (with loo roll) and jumping over 'skyscrapers'...
We were really unlucky with the weather but the kids didn't seem to mind the wind and rain. The garden shed was transformed into a Super Heroes dining room, complete with bunting made from comics, balloons, the Batmobile and 'kapow!' and 'thwap!' signs...
Wiss said he wanted to go as Batman so I duly whipped up an old-school Batman costume (mainly so I could get him to wear leggings with pants over the top!). He must have known any photos of him wearing said leggings/pants would only come back to haunt him because on the day he refused point blank to wear them. Or the cape. So in fact, my little Batman wore just the t-shirt with brown cords and his anorak instead. Damn him!!!
I wanted to make Albert something for his birthday following the Super Hero theme and I came up with...Secret Albertman! Ssssssshhhhhh, it's a secret! All super heroes have an everyday alias, so I thought Albert should be able to become Albertman easily, you know, when the time is right.

I cut two 'A's' from orange and black jersey, layered them with the black on top and sewed them both onto a black t-shirt 10mm from the edge. I love the way jersey rolls itself up in time, and thought that gradually the 'A' would become a little more prominent, but still not too obvious. I made a cape from the same black and orange jersey fabric and sewed my first ever button holes at each top corner. The cape attaches to the t-shirt using fab orange striped buttons (from Ray-Stitch) so it can be worn or removed as the situation dictates!
Every Super Hero needs a way of communicating so I made a double-sided watch from felt - grey and cream felt for the normal everyday watch which turns over to reveal a flash 'telecommunicator'. Secret Albertman laughs in the face of an iPhone! I wrapped these up along with a secret notebook and a card, 'Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it...'

Luckily for me Albert chose to accept his mission so maybe one day, if you have a problem, and no one else can help, maybe you could hire 'Secret Albertman'. But keep it under your hat! ;)