Review: Hoop-la! 100 things to do with embroidery hoops.


Last year I rediscovered the joys of the local library, and was pleasantly surprised to find how many crafty books were on offer. One of the books I borrowed and loved was “Hoop-la! 100 things to do with embroidery hoops” by Kirsty Neale, and it made it onto my “must buy once I’ve returned it” list.

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As the title suggests, this book is all about things to do with embroidery hoops; some projects involve embroidery and some don’t. It is unbelievable how many different projects there are, from using the hoop as a screen for printing, adding hinges to make books, and all sorts of lovely decorations.

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Some of the projects are a little zany and for things you might never have use for, but there are so many techniques for various abilities that are clearly written and illustrated. Lots of these skills could be adapted to other embroidery projects, or general crafting, so don’t be put off if you don’t want a wall covered in hoops! There is a fresh and modern style to the book (lots of the designs remind me of a new-ish style of kids illustrations I’ve seen in modern picture books, and the sausage dog above is just like Sizzles from Charlie and Lola) but it isn’t overly cutesy and I’m sure it could be adapted to any taste in fabric.

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One of my favourite projects is this French Shading. I’ve never seen it before but I love the technique and am desperate to find a suitable project to try it on. It is a shape filled with French knots, but the colour totally matches the backing fabric. I just want to touch it so badly!

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What I liked about this book was the range of skills and techniques covered. I find that at the moment I am in a weird no-mans land where I am no longer a beginner wanting easy projects to do in an afternoon, but I’m not expert enough (or awake enough) to want month long sagas to work on. Does anyone else find that books and magazines are either pitched too much towards a beginner or too specialised to accommodate the intermediate sewist who doesn’t have as much time to spare as they’d like? Well this book has something for everyone, from quick sewing of buttons to computer generated applique (wouldn’t an applique portrait make a perfect present for a special occasion?!). There are clear instructions and templates to follow throughout, plus little clouds full of tips, tricks and variations.

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I really enjoyed this book and found it very inspiring; there were simple projects to start immediately and lots of new ideas to imagine and daydream about. I think it would be a great fun gift for a new-ish or keen crafter, and would be a great addition to a sewist’s bookshelf.

All opinions are my own and not connected with the author. I did not get any rewards, but if the publishers want to send me a free copy I will gladly accept as I loved the book!

A Beginner’s Guide to Couture Techniques

couture jacket 268bWhile working on my jacket I have used lots of tips and tutorials online (and in print). Here is my list of the best resources for learning to sew couture techniques.

  • Susan Khalje’s Craftsy Couture Dress course. I made my Peacock Dress using this course, and used lots of the techniques again for this jacket. I would definitely recommend the course as it is full of lots of tips that can be applied to most projects; eg. use the stitch-lines not cutting lines for accuracy when sewing, and never baste in space (keep work flat so layers stay together and don’t bubble)underlining
  • Kenneth D King’s Couture Techniques. I borrowed this from the library but will buy my own copy when I have to return it. He covers lots of techniques and tips and has a great approach to sewing; save your perfectionism for when/where it counts (said much more eloquently  on this podcast)
  • Gertie (blog and book) cover lots of classic techniques in an accessible way.details
  • Seamstress: PoppyKettle I was googling for sleeve-head tips and discovered this new-to-me blog and ended up staying and reading lots of other posts.
  • BurdaStyle has a great article about making a couture Chanel jacket, and the discussions make an interesting read.
  • Linking from BurdaStyle is Frabjous Couture’s day-by-day account of her couture jacket course with Susan Khalje. The course sounds amazing, and again I kept clicking through to different posts on her blog.welt pockets b
  • Welt-pockets – Lastwear tutorial
  • Welt-pockets – Colletterie’s Sew-Along post
  • My archive of Threads magazines always has useful tips and tricks. The recent special issue about fitting has been referred to a lot over the past few weeks. I can’t work out whether my subscription entitles me to free Insider access or not.couture
  • Finally, it isn’t specifically a couture book but if one of the marks of a great couture garment is a great fit then I have to include the brilliant Fit for Real People.

Have you sewn using couture techniques? If so, what tips and resources do you recommend? If you haven’t, I hope these books and blogs give you some inspiration.

Review – Doodle Stitching

One of my exciting crafty birthday presents last month was an embroidery book – Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection by Aimee Ray (ISBN 978-1-60059-581-3) The book was chosen for me because “it looked like it had lots of patterns, not just projects*” and I think this is the biggest strength of the book.The book starts with some Embroidery Essentials and some projects, including coasters, bunting, gift bags and tags, and even jewellery using balsa wood! Aimee gives instructions for making the items in each project, details of the motifs used and stitch choices, and alternative designs that could be used: there is enough detail for a beginner to embroidery, while giving plenty of options to put your own stamp on the projects.The last section of the book is full of motifs in a range of categories, from Alphabets and Circus, to Weather and Woodland Animals. The designs include some traditional subjects but are really fresh and modern, without being either too twee or trendy.** And what is even better, is that the book has a CD with all the motifs on, so you can re-size and combine them to make your perfect design.There are lots of cute motifs, and so far I have been working on a project featuring lots of woodland animals, birds and trees. I love the food and celebration designs (including ice-cream sundaes, picnic sandwiches and slices of pie) – one of Aimee’s projects is a simple shopping bag covered in lovely fruit and veg. There are so many potential projects I could make from this book, it is hard to know what to do next.
This is definitely a book I’d recommend as there are so many ideas and designs – 400 or so, plus a full alphabet – and some have so much detail they can be modified to create other variations.

*approximate quote
** I am really pleased that crafting is becoming cool to do and that there are so many new designers and products available now, however I find lots of things aimed at a younger crafter go for a super-cool street style or a really strong “Make Do and Mend” retro vibe. This is great if that is your style but its not really me, so it is great to see something that is nice and modern without being overly trendy or cutesy.

Review – The Granny Square Book

With so much sewing for my Peacock Dress, I must confess that I have fallen behind with my Crafty Crochet Resolution 😦 So during the school holidays I dusted off my hooks, unwound my yarn and started to catch up on my crochet. To help me along I may have done just a little bit of craft shopping, and since one of my parcels arrived I have been carrying a particular crochet book around everywhere I go.

The Granny Square Book: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Crocheting Square by Square by Margaret Hubert, Creative Publishing International, US; Spiral bound edition (1 Nov 2011) ISBN: 978-1589236387 (find it on amazon here)

The Granny Square Book is divided into three sections – Crochet Basics, Granny Square Patterns, and Designing with Granny Squares.

The first section is a great introduction to crochet that would be perfect for a beginner. It starts by introducing the equipment a crocheter will need and how to start with chains and single crochet. All these instructions are really clearly illustrated with detailed photos. As someone who has been crocheting for a few years, the pictures were very useful and taught me how to do more complex stitches such as front post double crochet, popcorn and bullion stitches.

This section gives instructions for starting and finishing granny squares, and a range of techniques for joining the finished squares. The most useful part of this section for me was the list of abbreviations and conversions between US and UK terms (I never know exactly what I am doing) and a key of diagram symbols. Since reading this book I have actually been able to follow the diagrams – who knew that the dashes on the pattern correspond to how many times to wrap the yarn round the hook?!

Once you have mastered the basic stitches, section two has 75 different patterns (plus a couple of half-square patterns thrown in for luck). Unlike some books I have seen, all the patterns are different (not just different colour combinations of the same square) and there is a good variety between the solid and lacy designs. All the patterns are rated – easy, beginner, intermediate or experienced – and there appears to be a good mix of difficulties so there should be enough to challenge beginners and more experienced crocheters.

One of the best features about this book is that each design is neatly laid out on one page, with photos, text and diagrams all together, so there is no need to keep turning the page to check you are following the instructions correctly. On the rare occasion that the instructions go onto two pages, they are sensible placed on double-paged spreads. The book is spirally bound so it stays open on your lap for easy reference.

The final section of the book gives lots of ideas and instructions for what you can do with your finished granny squares, including bags, cardigans, accessories and a few traditional throws. Not all of these designs are to my taste (too obviously made from multicoloured granny squares for me to wear) but there are some lovely one-colour lace scarves and shawls that look easier and less stressful than knitting lace.

The book has diagrams and instructions to help you design your own blankets and garments, and this is where those half-square designs look really useful. There is a lovely shawl with arm holes so it can be worn as a scarf or a wrap/waterfall-waistcoat, made up in a lovely shade of raspberry. I would never have thought of making a scarf from lots of granny squares, but it would make the process more portable and less stressful – there is nothing as bad as doing a long piece of knitting and dropping some stitches!

One of the projects Margaret mentions in her introduction is a blanket that grew as she did – starting off as a small blanket, she added more rows and more squares until it eventually fitted her king-sized bed. This would be a great project to make for a little baby, as I can imagine adding more rows as the child grows up, until you finish it when they turn 21 perhaps.

Overall I really liked this book and have already recommended it to lots of people – it would be a great introduction for a beginner, but there are enough challenges to keep a more expert crocheter busy (I can’t wait to make the swirling spiral pictured above), and the layout and instructions are really clear. The one thing that I don’t like about this book is the weight – It is hardback and weighs 752g according to my kitchen scales. I like to have a project in my bag for a bit of lunch hour de-stressing or in the event of tube delays, but after carrying this around for a few days I had sorer shoulders than usual. I wish I could take a couple of pages out to carry around with me – I would love to have each of these patterns on a separate card, so if anyone knows of something similar, please let do me know.

p.s. Thank you so much to all the people who have commented and subscribed to my posts. I hope you are enjoying them as much as I enjoy getting the emails from wordpress telling me somebody “likes” something! 🙂