With Apologies for the Hiatus – it’s been a busy month!

There’s been a lot going on the past few weeks – my little sister’s wedding, the reason for the wedding bunting I’ve been making since Christmas, beginning a new job, and finally, now that we’re home from a much needed holiday, spring is well under way and we’re seriously behind on our garden preparations!

Congratulations to the bride and groom on a gorgeous wedding – very much their personal style and lots of beautiful handmade touches to the ceremony and reception. I was particularly taken by the home-grown baskets of bulbs as table centres, and the handmade pyrography favours.  The bunting was pleasingly well-recieved!

At the wedding

Normal service on the Country Skills blog will be resumed very shortly – including a round-up of my volunteers’ thoughts on their big bacon challenge results, more foraging tips, and how to make your very own home-cured ham!

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That Wedding Bunting – now well underway!

The quick and simple Christmas Bunting was only ever a dry-run for the big task – I’d promised my sister bunting to decorate the village hall for her wedding reception.    Time is ticking on, so I’ve been getting on over the last few weeks.

Wedding bunting, complete

My plan was eventually to make 6 strings of 10m length each, in pursuit of which I’ve begged, borrowed and not *exactly* stolen all manner of fabric scraps, old clothes and bits and pieces.  I also bought a 72 yard bolt of yellow double-fold bias tape from the US via the marvel that is ebay.  This time I’ve chosen a bigger pennant, 8″ long by 6″ across.  I’ve also tightened the spacing so there is 6″ between flags.

Bunting pennants, laid outIt’s a great selection of colours and patterns, garnered from friends, family, work colleagues, the back of my wardrobe, and freecycle.  The fabrics come from three sets of curtains, three blouses, a pair of jeans and a pair of cords, one pair of jim-jams, two offcuts of woollen suit fabric, some polyester scarf material, and one tea towel.

Bunting pennants, cut and ironedA bit of back-of-envelope calculation and I worked out I needed 29 flags per string.  I drew a new template on cardboard from a packing box.  Words cannot express what a slow boring job cutting out 180 triangles is, but with perseverance, and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the telly evening after evening, we got there in the end.

Bunting pennants, sorted into groupsAfter ironing and sorting into piles, time to assemble the bunting.  Bias tape has quite a lot of ‘give’ in it, so peel a load off the roll and give it all a good stretch, this will also help it lie flat.  I measured 10m lengths and then found the middle of each.  Then starting in the middle, pin the pennants one at a time into the fold of the bias tape, measuring the gap between them approximately.  After that, it’s just a matter of running the whole length through your sewing machine using appropriate complimentary – or if you like, contrasting – thread.  Try to avoid skewering your fingers on the pins too often.

Completed bunting

There it is – I hope she likes it!  Only four more strings to assemble before it’s all done!

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Counting Down the Days – making an ‘everlasting’ fabric Advent calendar

Time: about 6 hours – Patience: how many sleeps is it ’till Christmas?? – Difficulty: a little fiddly in places

Advent calendars have always been such an important part of the countdown to Christmas for me.  But aren’t they often just a little bit of a disappointment?  The chocolate calendars so often contain the lowest grottiest grade of milk chocolate imaginable, and the plain card ones are, well, a bit plain!

Completed Advent Calendar

The last few years I’ve seen a few beautiful fabric advent calendars with pockets, which sadly have always been a bit rich for my wallet.  So after I’d got out my bits and pieces of Christmas fabric scraps for bunting making a couple of weeks ago, I thought, surely I might be able to make something of my own?

You will need –

  • A large piece of heavy fabric for the backing.  The piece I used was about 45 x 80 cm, but obviously this will vary according to your design.
  • Enough scrap Christmas-coloured fabric for 24 pockets and something pretty for the top of your tree.
  • Some way of applying numbers to your pockets (felt, paint, embroidery…)
  • A bamboo cane and some ribbon.
  • A sewing machine capable of straight and zig-zag stitch, matching and contrasting threads.

Backing fabricI was lucky to have some quite heavy, checked, gold-coloured fabric in my scraps bag which was big enough to use as backing fabric.  Even better, the approximately 1″ squares of the pattern made a fantastic layout grid for the advent calendar, saving me a huge amount of hassle.

Calendar doodle I doodled out some boxes, and realised with some pleasure that I could build up a stylised Christmas tree out of square pockets using a very convenient 24 squares – result.

Then I had a dive around the random collection of Christmas fabric scraps I’ve collected over the years, particularly the annoying-sized offcuts  I never seem to be able to bring myself to throw out on the basis they’ll come in handy some day!  Out of some card, I cut myself a pocket template based on the squares of the backing fabric, two boxes wide and two and a half boxes high.  I used this to mark up, and then cut out my 24 pockets out of a mix of fabrics, using pinking shears.

Layout patchesNow it’s time to play about with your pockets to decide on a pleasing arrangement of the different fabrics.  It took a few tries but I pretty quickly came up with an arrangement I was happy with.  It’s also the time to decide how you want to arrange your numbers.   I decided to count them down from 24 at the top of the tree, down to 1 in the pot, but you could arrange them randomly or in some other pattern of your choosing.

I was feeling really chuffed at having found 24 small felt numbers from a craft supplier to use on the calendar pockets.  I can in no way recommend that you do the same thing, and here’s why –  having decided on the layout of the patches, it’s time to number them.  The felt numbers were far too small and fiddly to sew on with my machine, so I hand stitched them to the pockets.  It took me a whole evening in front of the TV (not joking, it took over three hours – as much as the rest of the project put together!).  There must be faster ways – I suppose I could have used fabric glue but I didn’t have any.  Fabric paint or iron on numbers may be a solution.  Of course if you have a marvellous programmable embroidery machine, you could just embroider them on.  If you do, you should know that I’m extremely jealous!

Trimmed pocket

Hemming pocketOnce all your numbers are in place (or before, if you’re paining or ironing on) iron your pockets with the top hem folded over, and then just trim the corners of the fold with the pinking shears.  Then stitch the hem over with a closely matched colour of thread.  Now is the time to cut and hem your backing fabric, too.  I used a wide zig-zag stitch to do the hemming, which avoided having to do any other finishing.  Give yourself enough fabric top and bottom to hem a pocket big enough to thread a bamboo cane through later.

Now lay out all your prepared pockets.  Also cut yourself a star, or other decoration for the top of your tree, out of a suitably spangly fabric.  Now it’s time to sew the pockets onto the backing fabric, which you will have to do a row at a time starting at the top.  First pin your star in place and then, with an appropriate contrasting thread, appliqué it in place. I used zigzag stitch, because I like the effect, and a dark red / burgundy thread, but you should do whatever you like!

Applique starThen, a row at a time, do the same with the pockets, sewing the sides and bottom onto the backing fabric using a zigzag stitch.  Try to make sure you catch both sides of adjoining pockets in the stitch.  Obviously don’t stitch the tops of the pockets if you’re going to want to put anything in them!  Oh, and mind your fingers on the pins as you work – or at least, try not to stab yourself *too* often.

If you don’t quite manage to catch all the edges, you can correct this later by hand using matching rather than contrasting fabric to make the corrections.  It will look hand-made, which is the point, after all!

Once you’re all done, cut two lengths of bamboo, one a bit longer than the other, and some suitably coloured ribbon to hang the calendar with.  I used a spot of fabric glue (yes, I’d learnt my lesson and bought some by then!) on both ends of the top bamboo cane to stop the tied-on ribbon from slipping.  I also used a little scrap of ribbon to tie a jingle bell to a tiny peg to use as a marker to move along from pocket to pocket as December ticks away.

That’s it, sit back and admire your handiwork!  And perhaps pour yourself a nice beverage – go on, you’ve earned it!

Deck the Halls – quick & easy Christmas bunting

Time: an hour or two – Difficulty: low (assuming you can use a sewing machine) – Cost: less than £5

Don’t you love bunting?  Not only is it very pretty, it seems to be bang on trend right now, if the smart interiors boutiques where I can’t afford to shop are anything to go by!

Christmas bunting

A while ago, I (maybe foolishly) volunteered to make a load of bunting to help decorate the village hall for my little sister’s wedding reception.  Before embarking on the epic effort, I thought it might be best to do a mini version to iron the kinks out of my process.  Christmas is coming, so what better than a bit of Christmas bunting for the hallway?

For this project, you will require –

  • A sewing machine (capable of straight stitch – so any sewing machine will do!)
  • Straight scissors and pinking shears
  • Scrap card for a template
  • Bias tape, as much as you want your bunting to be long, and the colour of your choice.  Double fold tape will save you the fold-and-iron process, but may not be as easy to get hold of.
  • Sewing thread to match or contrast with the bias tape.  I find if I’m trying to match a colour and I don’t have a really close match – as in this case, all my greens were too light or too yellow – it’s better to find a neutral colour which matches the tone.  I used a dark grey for this bunting.
  • Some suitably festive fabric.  I used mainly scraps left over from previous Christmas crafting.  If you want to use new fabric a single fat quarter should be enough to make 6m of bunting with quite modest 4″ x 6″ pennants spaced 6″ apart.

Bunting template

Realistically you probably have all of the non-consumables or none of them – 6m of bias tape cost me less than £2, and I had the leftover fabrics already.

This is a single-sided bunting, if you use printed fabrics like I have.  If you use fabrics which have two good sides, of course, you don’t need to worry about that.  I like the effect of the pinking-sheared edges, and it saves an awful lot of time over hemming.

My bunting templateStart by making your template.  I drew mine out for triangular pennants 6″ long and 4″ wide at the top (the whole template is 20″ x 6″).   If you’re using lots of small fabric scraps, you may also make to want a template for a single or a pair of pennants.  Give some thought to what spacing you’re going to want to have between your pennants.  I went for 6″ – the same as the length of the pennant.  Any more than this I think looks a bit sparse, closer and you’ll need more time and fabric to make extra pennants – at the end of the day it’s up to your taste!  Work out how may pennants you’re going to need by applying some basic primary school maths to the problem.   Remember to leave a bit more bias tape at the ends to give you enough to tie the bunting by.

Bunting pennantsUsing your template, mark up your fabric.  I used a biro to mark up the back of the fabric.  You might want to use something a little less crude, if you have it!  Then cut the top of the pennants with the straight scissors, and the sides with the pinking shears.  You’ll notice the lines I’ve cut aren’t quite strictly straight, because my pinking shears aren’t long enough to cut the side in a single action.  I don’t think it matters!

After ironingOnce you’ve cut all your pennants, it’s probably a good time to iron them.  At the same time, if you’ve bought single fold bias tape (bias tape which has the two edges folded in but isn’t yet folded in half) then use the iron to fold this in half and set the fold. Then decide how you want your pennants ordered, if they’re not all the same.

Pinning pennants in placeNow, starting from the centre to ensure they’ll be evenly distributed, start pinning your pennants into the bias tape.  I marked my 6″ gap onto the edge of a piece of card to help me space them consistently – it’s quicker than using a measuring tape or a ruler every time.  Try to be reasonably accurate but don’t stress over it.

Sewing buntingOnce all your pennants are placed, it’s time to sew.  I just used a single row of straight-stitch as close to the open edge of the bias tape as it was practical to do quite quickly.  You could also use a zig-zag stitch, if you prefer.  As you get to each pennant, just make sure the top is placed as far into the fold of the tape as possible, and lying nice and flat, before you sew it in place.

Bunting, folded for storageChristmas bunting - completedThat’s it, keep sewing until you’ve reached the end of your tape and all the pennants are secured in place.

Doesn’t it look pretty?  I can’t wait for Christmas now!

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