Monday, November 05, 2018

Rescuing an Ugly Yarn

A few years ago my daughter and I dyed some wool tops for me to spin into yarn.  To be quite honest, I didn't blog about it because it was a bit of a failure. We used Wilton's food colouring, as it's child safe.  Unfortunately, a lot of the colours blended together and so the reds and purples didn't show up at all.  

I'm sure there are people that love bright, vibrant colours, but personally, I found the yarn quite hideous.

Fast forward to now, and I'm currently trying to learn more about using acid dyes to dye my own wool tops.  My other half bought me a Eurolana dyeing kit for Christmas and so I thought an excellent first project would be for one that can't go wrong - it couldn't get much worse. 

A fellow dyer told me earlier this year that there are no dyeing failures - it just gets darker.  This thought has been quite freeing for me in my dyeing adventure.  If a dyed project goes wrong, you can always dye it again.

I took my 100g of blue-faced Leicester yarn and soaked it for an hour in warm water and Eurolana Wool wash, which came with my dyeing kit.

I thought long and hard about what colour to over-dye it with.  As it's a rainbow yarn I knew that some of the colours would inevitably turn muddy or brown.  I thought about dyeing it blue, but there was an awful lot of orange in the yarn, which would turn quite an unattractive colour.  The garish green section of the yarn was quite short, so red was the obvious choice - all of the other colours would hopefully be improved by a red dyebath.

I have an old casserole dish that is reserved for non-food craft experiments.  In the dish, I dissolved a teaspoon of citric acid in hot water and then filled my dish with enough water to cover the yarn.  I then dropped in a teaspoon of magenta dye and gave it a good stir.  I gently dropped my yarn into the casserole dish and turned up the heat very gently.

After doing a lot of reading about fixing acid dyes, I chose not to use vinegar, as the Eurolana dyes suggest.  Citric acid just smells a lot better, you need to use less and apparently it works much more quickly.   You know when the wool has absorbed the dye when the water starts to look clear.  With vinegar, the Eurolana instructions say that it should take 30 to 40 minutes for the dye to be absorbed.  My dye bath was almost clear after 15 minutes.

I felt that my yarn could take a little more colour and so I removed it and added some red dye to the casserole dish this time.  I'm afraid I wasn't taking strict notes on quantities at this stage.  I was just having fun and experimenting.

Again, my yarn absorbed the red dye in about 15 minutes.  I was pretty happy with the depth of colour I had achieved.  The greens had turned an olive colour and any darker they would be a definite brown, which I wanted to avoid if possible.

Here's my yarn all washed and set.  It's still a little bolder than I would normally wear, but I think it's a definite improvement on the original yarn.

Here you can see the gradient.  Oh, I do love a gradient cake!

The yarn still didn't turn out to be a colour that I would confidently wear, so I made a cute, bold and colourful purse instead.

I love how the yarn that my daughter dyed still lives on, but now with more depth and a lot less ugly!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the cushion. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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Friday, May 18, 2018

Getting to Grips with Zips - A Beginners' Simple Zip-Backed Cushion Tutorial

For the last couple of months, I've been updating the cushions in our conservatory, living room and bedroom.  As I've said many times, I'm not particularly at home in front of a sewing machine, but having made nearly a dozen cushions in a short space of time, I feel confident enough to share the technique I worked out to make a simple zip-backed cushion.

In the past, I've made buttoned cushions and envelope cushions - being slightly apprehensive about inserting zips.  (I really needn't have been...) However buttoned cushions can be quite time-consuming to finish, with all the button-holes and buttons to stitch on, and I find that envelope cushions tend to gape over time and look less professional.  With eleven or so cushions to make, I knew that I had to get to grips with zips.

I bought some beautiful fabric last year from Modelli Fabrics.  I must confess that I'd spent more on material than I normally do, as I wanted a statement fabric for our conservatory that was fade-resistant and of course, this comes at a price.  So the fabric sat in the spare room for several months because I was just too scared to cut into it.

Eventually, after watching quite a few YouTube videos and procrastinating a little bit more, I finally bit the bullet and took my scissors to the precious fabric.  So here's my detailed step-by-step on how I make a simple zip-backed cushion.


  • Upholstery fabric. The fabric shown in this tutorial is Lusso Bronze Velvet. My cushion is 46cm x 46 cm, so a 50cm length was enough for one cushion.
  • Cushion insert or pillow pad - I prefer feather as I find it stays plump and holds its shape longer than poly-fil.
  • 3 pattern pieces  - One for the front and two for the back.  I like to make my cushion covers slightly smaller than the cushion insert for a plumper look.  My pattern pieces were 46cm x 46cm for the front and the two back pieces were 46cm x 35.5cm and 46cm x 13.5cm
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Pins and whatever method you prefer to attach your pattern to your fabric.  Rather unconventionally, I like to attach my pattern to my fabric with Sellotape.  I find the fabric distorts less and it reinforces the pattern edges for future use - although it is slightly wasteful... sorry.
  • Thread.
  • Sewing machine with a regular foot and a zipper foot.
  • Magnetic seam guide (optional).
  • Zip more than 5cm shorter than the width of your cushion. I used a 38cm zipper on my 46cm cushion to keep a good distance from the seam.
  • A seam ripper (also knows as a stitch ripper or Quick Unpick.)

Cut out your pattern pieces.

Lay the edge of the smaller back piece on top of the edge of the larger back piece, right sides together, making sure that if there is a nap, it runs in the right direction when it's opened out.  Place pins on either side.  Lay the zip centralised, close to the edge and mark just inside the top and bottom stoppers of the zip with pins.  You will want to keep these two pins in while you are sewing, so make sure that they are far enough away from the edge that they don't interfere with the needle and seam allowance.

Place more pins evenly along the seam.  I like to insert my pins at right angles to the seam.  I just find it distorts the seam a little less.  Some people find that they are able to stitch the seam with the pins in at this angle.  Personally, I've broken too many sewing machine needles and bent too many pins to keep them in while sewing.

With your regular sewing machine foot in place, a 1.5cm seam allowance and a short stitch, sew to the first pin that marks the start of the zip.  Put the sewing machine in reverse and go back 3 or 4 stitches, sew forward 3 or 4 stitches.  Keep repeating this so that you are sewing over the same 3 or 4 stitches several times.  You will be cutting the following stitches, so you need to make these edge stitches very secure.

Turn up the stitch length as high as it will go.

Stitch until you reach the pin that marks the second zipper stop.  These long stitches are effectively basting or tacking stitches.

Turn the stitch length dial down again.   Repeat the forward and back action over the next 3 or 4 stitches to secure them.  Continue sewing to the end.

You may want to press your zip seam open at this point, (personally I didn't bother).  Check the seam to see where the reinforced stitches are and place your zipper pull just inside.  Pin it in place.

Pin the rest of the zip in place, making sure that the teeth of the zip sit over the seam.

Change to a zipper foot, making sure that the base of the foot sits to the right of the needle.  Insert the needle close to the edge of the zip, to the right of the zip pull.  Stitch along the edge of the zip.

When you have sewn past the bottom zipper stop, keep the needle in the fabric and rotate your work to continue along the base of the zip.

Turn your cushion back again with the needle still in the fabric, continue to stitch up the other side of the zip.

When you reach the other side of the zipper pull, cut off your thread, leaving an end long enough for you to pull through.  Tidy your thread by threading it through to the reverse and sewing a few stitches into the back of the zip.

Insert your stitch ripper or Quick-Unpick into the longer tacking stitches and gently cut them.  I find it easier to start in the middle and work towards the outside, stopping when you meet the slight resistance of the reinforcing stitches.

Fortunately, I found that most of my tacking stitches came out clumped together on the stitch ripper, but the odd stray thread can be pulled out by hand.  If you have a lot of cut threads poking out, you may find a pair of tweezers or lint roller will make it easier to pull them out.

At this point it's important to unzip the zip - you only make that mistake once...

Lay the cushion-back over the cushion-front and pin around the edges.

Change back to a standard sewing foot and stitch all the way around the cushion edge with a 1.5cm seam allowance.  I like to use a magnetic seam guide as my fabric is so thick - it just makes it easier to see at a glance where I need to be stitching.

Trim the corners off at about 45 degrees, 1mm or so from the stitches.

Turn your cushion the right way around, pushing the corners out.

Insert your cushion inner, sit back and admire your handy work!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the cushion. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Printable Handspun Yarn labels

I'm really not the most organised of people, but every so often I'll pull myself together, drag myself out from under the pile of chaos that's building up around me and sort myself out.

I love hand spinning and knitting, but the problem is, I enjoy the former quite a lot more than the latter.  Consequently, I have a pile of handspun yarn that I've spun purely for the pleasure and relaxation I get from spinning, with no real end purpose in sight.

I came to the conclusion that I'd be much more likely to use my yarn if I knew exactly what I had in the first place.  

I decided to design some handspun yarn labels, so that I know how much is in each skein and what gauge of yarn it is.  If I've dyed or blended it myself, I can also add which colours or dyes I used so that I can try to replicate it in future.  Now for me, that's organised!

This is just a small selection of my handspun yarn that I've managed to measure, weigh and label so far. At least now I can search for a pattern on Ravelry, knowing exactly the gauge and length of yarn I have in each skein.  I can see several cowls, gloves and shawls-worth right there!

Here's a png of my handspun yarn labels if you'd like to print your own, or I've created a PDF link here

They're designed to fit on A4 card, but I'm sure with a little resizing they'll work well on US letter card too.  All you need to do is cut them out and punch a hole to attach them to your skein. 

I've printed mine onto cream linen cardstock, but they'd also look beautiful on hammered card or watercolour paper.

If you're feeling really organised, make sure that the loop you attach the label to your skein is long enough so that you can reattach the label to the outer yarn of your centre-pull ball.  That way it doesn't unravel from the outside; if you have any left over, you'll be able to work out exactly how much from the weight.

I hope you find my labels useful!  Happy spinning!

Copyright - I'm sharing these labels purely for personal use.  Please do not use them for commercial use.  Feel free to share them with your friends, but please give them the link to this page.


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Monday, December 18, 2017

Mini Hama Bead Wreath Christmas card

A few days ago I blogged about the Hama bead Christmas wreath that I designed.  It's gracing our tree as I type.

Do please have a look at it here, I go into quite a bit more detail about using Hama beads than in this post.

I couldn't help but wonder how the wreath would look made out of mini Hama beads.

I've made a couple of projects out of mini Hama beads - a Christmas pudding card and a portrait. I love the definition they give to a design - they are also incredibly cute!  Every Christmas I like to send a few handmade cards to people close to me that appreciate all things handmade and I knew that this wreath would look even better in miniature.

Now, if you've never seen mini Hama beads, I should warn you that they are tiny - I mean really small!  Standard midi Hama beads are 5mm in diameter, while mini Hama beads are just 2mm wide.

Here they are next to each other as a comparison.  The hexagon pegboards above have the same number of pegs on them, but the mini Hama bead hexagon pegboard will sit comfortably in an adult's hand.  I should probably point out that the recommended age for mini Hama beads is 10+.  I fear that my 9 year old wouldn't have the dexterity and co-ordination to handle them without getting extremely frustrated!  I personally like to pick up and place my mini Hama beads with tweezers as I find that it gives me a little more control.  I find it also helps to sit under a bright light - my eyesight is not what it used to be!

I didn't actually have a mini hexagon pegboard and so the cheapest way of getting one delivered to me was to buy this mixed set for making owls that came with Hama beads, ironing paper and a mini hexagon pegboard.

When I'm using Mini Hama beads I like to store them in these stacking bead boxes, which thankfully have a lid for each colour.

Another useful tip I've discovered is that dropping pinches of each colour onto a large mini Hama beadboard creates almost a small palette for you to easily tweeze your colours from.  It prevents them from rolling away, but still helps to keep each colour close at hand.

Here's a printable pattern of the original Hama bead wreath.  I didn't have dark red or gold in mini Hama beads, so I substituted them with burgundy and mustard (or Winnie the Pooh brown), but any complementary colours would work.

Here's the un-ironed wreath on the pegboard.  Once I'd got my work area set up and I picked up speed, one of these little wreaths took me about three-quarters of an hour.

Here's the back of the wreath when I'd run an iron over it.  I should probably say that mini Hama beads are a little more difficult to iron as they are so small and light.  You need to be very confident and firm with your iron and run it over the whole design for at least 10 seconds before you attempt to lift off your iron to have a look - this I have learned from experience!

To make the card I printed Merry Christmas onto some 9cm x 11cm cards.  The font is Lainie Day SH if you wanted to print and make your own.

To assemble the cards I simply stuck the Hama bead wreath on with extra strong double sided sticky tape.  I did make some little bows to stick underneath, but they just looked too fussy.  The bows would have also made the cards too thick for a second class stamp, so that certainly helped with my decision!

I managed to make 4 cards in this colourway.

Out of curiosity, and in the name of frugality, I thought it might be interesting to see how a wreath would look in the mini Hama beads that came with the owl Hama bead set I purchased with the mini hexagon Hama beadboard.

I love it just as much as the traditional Christmas wreath!  The colours are a lot more spring-like, so I turned it into a birthday card instead.

Here are the mini and midi wreaths side by side, just to illustrate again how small and delicate the mini Hama beads are.

I'm so pleased with how my mini Christmas wreath turned out.  It reminds me a little of a vintage cross-stitch sampler.  Maybe I'll find a little square frame to put one in for next year...

Copyright - I have provided the free pattern for personal use.  Make them for yourself or give them as gifts, sell them to raise funds for charity but please do not sell them for profit.  
If you post images of your own versions on the internet, please link back to this page. 
Thank you.

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased to make the Hama bead Christmas wreath.  If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

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