Saturday 28 February 2015

Merchant & Mills + Uniqlo = Awesomeness!

Just before Christmas Katie tweeted about an awesome new range at Uniqlo, designed in collaboration with Merchant & Mills. Sewing-themed clothing? Awesome!

The range was only available in Uniqlo's Asian stores at the time... but it's now reach the UK stores. Hurrah!

There are womens t-shirts and sweatshirts printed with sewing- and making-themed text plus lovely vintage illustrations of scissors and sewing machines...

...  all in muted colours that match the kind of shades Merchant & Mills tend to use for their products and packaging.

There are also t-shirts for the guys...

... plus a range of tote bags.

Aren't they great? No prizes for guessing what shop I'll be visiting next week!

Click here to ooh over the full range in Uniqlo's UK store, and click here to visit Uniqlo's US site.

(All images taken from Uniqlo's website.)

Tuesday 24 February 2015

An Old/New Project

Remember this flower headband tutorial?

When I was sorting through some paperwork last week I found an old sketch I'd made of the same design, that I'd obviously intended to use as an embroidery pattern but never got round to stitching.

So, better late* than never, I'm making a start today! I've drawn a neat version of the pattern...

... traced it onto some fabric and popped it in an embroidery hoop ready to stitch.

Next up: picking colours and choosing stitches. I do so love the start of a new embroidery project, there is so much delicious possibility in those unstitched lines.

* I don't know exactly when I thought about sewing an embroidered version of this flower, but the original tutorial was created waaaaay back in 2010 so this pattern could have been hanging around waiting to be stitched for quite a while! 

UPDATE: This design is now available as part of my Romantic Flowers sewing pattern! Visit my shop to see all my printable PDF patterns

Monday 23 February 2015

Glorious Goldfinches

I love goldfinches. They are such pretty birds... and I have stitched a lot of them over the years!

I've only occasionally seen them "in real life" though, as they're an infrequent visitor to our garden.

So I was quite delighted last week when our birdfeeder was host to not one...

... not two...

... but THREE lovely goldfinches!


They've come back several times since then, it is such a joy to see them. I couldn't resist taking a little video of a pair of them enjoying the seeds. Birds are so awesome :)

(Can't see the video? Click here to view it on Google Plus.)

I am feeling quite inspired to work on some bird-themed patterns now!

Friday 20 February 2015

Crafty Ladies: Meet Wendi Gratz

Time to meet another Crafty Lady

Wendi designs wonderful, joyful sewing patterns. She's a master of lots of stitchy skills, creating patterns for machine sewing, quilting, handstitching and embroidery which she sells in her shop, Shiny Happy World

She creates video tutorials for every technique you need to complete her projects (such a great idea!) and also shares lots of free patterns and sewing lessons.


Hello! My name is Wendi Gratz and I design sewing, quilting, and embroidery patterns especially for beginners. All of my patterns include links to videos teaching you every skill you'll need to complete the project – and you can find all my patterns, videos and tutorials at Shiny Happy World.

I live in the US in a pretty remote area - the nearest fabric store is over an hour away. I'm up high in the mountains in North Carolina with my husband (Alan), our daughter (Jo), our dog (Augie), and way too many chickens. :-)

If I don't have a needle in my hand, I probably have a book. Or a spoon. I love to cook and eat good food and I post a lot of recipes on my blog too.

Recently I've been making. . .

Softies! I love designing softies and I've got three “collections” going on right now – so I've been making a lot of them. :-)

The Cuddle Club softies are cuddly and huggable and made from the amazingly soft cuddle fleece I discovered a little over a year ago. I've been moving from big, fat pillowy stuffed animals to some lankier guys with long arms and legs and weighted hands and feet that are lots of fun to pose and play with.

The Party Animals are smaller felt critters. They're more at home on a shelf  - not really designed for vigorous play and trips through the washing machine. :-) These guys are all hand-sewn, which is good because I'm completely incapable of sitting in front of the television without a needle and thread in my hands.

The Dress Up Bunch are all dolls with the same basic body so they can all wear the same clothes. It's so much fun to design outfits for them! And this year I'm starting to design some other accessories too. I'm working on a pet for them right now. :-)

I've been working on. . .

Quilts! I love non-intimidating applique quilts and I've built quite a collection of patterns. I always like to invite the maker to play with the patterns. I show them the effects they can get by tilting the head a bit, or playing around with the placement of the ears, and I make all my quilts with the same block size so makers can mix and match the blocks – like adding a single cat block to the bird quilt. :-)

I'm working on taking that a step further with a quilt that has a lot of mix and match possibilities built right into the pattern. I'm working on a bunny quilt right now, with mix and match bodies, ears and faces. I'm hoping to have it ready in time for Easter crafting! And then I've got something totally new to come by summer. I'm still trying to figure out how to make it work really well, with lots of opportunities for creativity and play – but still keep it super easy. :-)

I've been blogging about. . .

My tidy studio. Seriously – it's like I can't stop talking about it. But I did the most successful declutter of my life at the end of the year and it has completely changed the way I work.

I love it! And I'm expanding the tidiness out into the rest of my house as quickly as I can. Supply-hoarding is a problem for a lot of us creatives, so people seem ok with the fact that I've been writing about this a lot. :-) The two best posts are this one that's a tour of my whole studio, and this one that answered reader questions about how, exactly, I did the declutter.

I've been watching. . .

The Good Wife and Foyle's War. I watch an hour or two of television every night while I do handwork and right now we're bouncing between these two series. I love them both! We don't have any kind of cable or satellite – so we only watch what we can get online or through Netflix. I'm also in love with Master Chef Junior. Other favorite series I turn to are Firefly, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and Elementary.

I'll admit – it's sometimes hard to stay focused on my work when I'm watching Miss Fisher. The costumes are spectacular!

I've been reading. . .

A lot! My husband is a writer and I worked in children's publishing for about twenty years before starting my business – so we're a family of readers. I hardly ever read craft books, but I read lots and lots of fiction. I love good stories – no matter what medium – and I wish my designs were better at telling or suggesting stories. It's something I'm working on and I have the work of some of my favorite artists hanging in my studio. :-)

I read for an hour or more every night after I'm done working. Some of my favorites from the last month or so are Clariel (the fourth book in the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix), The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, and Tongues of Serpents (in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik). I just started The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley - I love the Flavia deLuce books!

Wendi's 3 Top Tips for Happy Crafting

1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. I know people say this all the time, but it's hard to take it seriously when all you see online are beautiful images of the successful projects that made the cut. But I mean it. If you're trying to learn something new, you're going to make mistakes. If you're not producing some spectacular failures, you're not pushing your skills enough.

2. Don't feel like you always have to push yourself. I know – I just talked about pushing your skills. But you don't have to do that all the time! Sometimes the happiest way to spend an afternoon is working on an easy project that you know you can nail. Don't be ashamed of doing things that are easy.

3. Don't look too closely at your mistakes. You're going to see them. You'll see mistakes that nobody else in the world will see, even if they're using a magnifying glass. But don't dwell on them – or feel like you have to rip them out and redo all of them. Just make a mental note of them so you know where to go slower or use more pins next time, and move on.


Visit Shiny Happy World to see more of Wendi's work and check out her range of patterns and tutorials. You can also keep up with the news from Wendi's world on her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram

Click here to read more posts in the Crafty Ladies series.

Please note: the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.

Thursday 19 February 2015


I am feeling a bit under the weather this week. You know that kind of bug where you feel okay (if a bit sleepy) until you try and stand up and do stuff and then you feel all wobbly and have to sit down again? I've got one of those. Ugh. 

I've been putting my feet up and reading some great books and magazines...

... but I've also been working through some of the tasks on my To Do list that I can do while sitting down and not 100% awake!

One of my ongoing projects at the moment is "archiving" - a fancy word for me sorting through all my paperwork, old photos, notes and sketches from finished projects, bookmarked blog mentions, magazine features, etc... and organising them into something resembling a proper "archive" of my business over the past few years.

Instead of a box full of contracts and paperwork: a neatly labelled file with everything organised in any easily-findable order. Instead of a bookmarks folder full of nice reviews of my books, etc, gathering digitial dust (and potentially vanishing if the various blogs get deleted): a folder of colour print outs for my records. And so on.

I've also been putting my magazine features from the past couple of years into my folders of clippings...'s lovely having the magazines lined up on my shelf for a while, but they take up so much space! I do keep the most recent magazines and a couple of special ones (my very first magazine feature and my first cover project) but it's great to get the rest filed away like this... not least because it makes me feel very fancy having a "portfolio" of clippings to show off :)

Next up: sorting out my 2013 and 2014 crafting photos so they're ready for the next time I make a crafty photobook! 

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Exploring the City: The Bank of England Museum & Guildhall

Earlier this month I took a trip to the City of London for a Nice Day Out. It was rather chilly, but lovely and sunny - perfect for a bit of winter sightseeing.

My first stop was the Bank of England, where the huge doors are covered in lots of lions!

There's not much to see when you're right up close to the Bank as the huge exterior wall looms rather large and (aside from the doors) is pretty plain in design ...


... but you can get a better, much more interesting view from over the road:


I'd come to visit the Bank of England Museum, which is free to visit (hurrah!). I have to admit that I'd expected this to be a bit boring but had thought "well, it's free, I can have a quick look round..." - in fact I ended up spending almost two hours in the museum!

As well as introductions to the role of the Bank today (with some interactive games for kids), there was lots of information about the history of the bank, the building and it's staff, with an interesting selection of artifacts on display and lots of interesting stories to discover. I especially enjoyed the virtual tour of the Bank (which is also available as a free app here), the banknote gallery and the current exhibition about the Bank and its staff in the First World War. You can also touch a real gold bar, which was pretty cool.

Next I walked a couple of minutes down the road to Guildhall Yard. This is a lovely open space, surrounded by fascinating buildings, including Guildhall itself which was build in 1411! I took a trip here early last year but decided to pay a return visit to see the newly revamped Art Gallery, and to see a couple of things I'd not had time to last year. First up, Guildhall's Great Hall:

The medieval Great Hall was the venue for lots of famous trials over the years, including that of Lady Jane Grey for High Treason in 1554. When it's not in use for a function, it's free to visit - you enter via the modern wing...


... then walk down that glass corridor and into the hall, which is just as spectacular inside as it is outside.


Next up (and just next door): Guildhall Art Gallery.


The rehang shows off their collection of Victorian paintings really well and they've got more paintings on display than before. There's also a new heritage gallery (petite but interesting) and a temporary exhibition about Tower Bridge which included some fascinating alternative designs that were proposed for the bridge. Oh and you can see the remains of London's Roman ampitheatre in the basement too! Not bad for free.

I was also delighted to spot something I missed on my first visit. Along the front of the gallery are a series of busts of famous London residents (Shakespeare, Christopher Wren, etc) then tucked into a corner there's a lovely statue of Dick Whittington and his cat!


Isn't that cat just adorable?


Finally, I visited St Lawrence Jewry which was re-built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London and then re-built again after the Second World War.


This was a nice little church with some lovely stained glass, including a window that features Christopher Wren himself! If you fancy a peek inside the church there's a 360 degree panorama on their website.

After looking round the church I thought about going for a walk to explore a bit more of the City but it was getting even colder. So, I retreated to the nearby Museum of London to warm up in their cafe then headed home, already making plans for my next trip...