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Putting a zip in a cushion.

Over the Christmas festivities, I had a cushion explode on me. Well, the insides anyway and I didn't notice until I went to remove the cover for washing and found myself in a cloud of loose feathers. We really must stop those family pillow fights!

So I went to John Lewis who I normally love, to buy a replacement. I couldn't really find anything suitable and they were all around £50-£60.  I have happily paid that for a cushion in the past, but something just nagged and said Brexit - you'll need your pennies.

So I bought a lovely firm feather cushion pad for £7.50 and a fabric remnant for £7.00 plus a plastic zip for £1. A real saving.  You can of course go without a zip and do an envelope fold, but in the spirit of doing "a proper job" I decided to give a zip a go.

Easy Peasy Zip Putting-In
Again it looks complex but it really isn't. There's loads of videos on youtube showing the process too.

I'll assume that you have your cushion pieces (a front and a back) cut out to the right size to allow for hems and cushion pad plumpness. The zip in this cushion is going at the bottom.

Lay your 2 pieces of cloth right sides together in front of you.

Lay the zip on your fabric near the end and facing up, and use a pencil to pop in a mark where the zip top and bottom are.

It would be the icing-on-the-cake to centre this but isn't essential.

These marks will be where you sew up to and then across to catch in the plastic zip. In the photo, I've gone just inside the metal bit to make sure I don't sew over that.  If you're using a metal toothed zip, then take care when sewing - needles and metal don't go!

So you now have 2 marks on the cloth to show the beginning and end of your zip.  I also find it really useful to get out a ruler and mark a pencil line for my stitching. The line you can just see is 1" from the edge of my material and goes the whole length of the fabric.

The next step is really clever!!

You're going to join the 2 pieces of fabric by sewing along the line you've just marked. Start off by sewing a small stitch and secure at the end. Sew until you reach your first mark (one of the zip ends) and do a little stitch backwards and again forwards to secure. Do not remove the fabric or cut the thread, but leave your needle down in the fabric. Turn the dial on your stitch length to about 6, and continue to sew until you reach the second mark, and again, leave your needle in the down position.

Alter the stitch size back to the smaller one you started with and take a stitch forward, one back, and another forward to secure. Sew to the end of the line, and secure at that end too.

Photo showing the small stitches, going into larger ones at the markers.

Press the seam open.

Pin the zip into place between your 2 pencil marks. Make sure the teeth of the zip stay along the centre stitched line.

You can sew with the pins in, but you get a better finish by basting the zip into place.

Basting the zip into position.

Turn the fabric over and stitch the zip in place from the right side. Use a zipper foot to get close to the teeth, and sew down one side, across the zip end, up the other side, and finish off by sewing across the top end.

Because you've sewn the length of the cushion before this stage, everything stays beautifully smooth.

Remove the basting.

Turn over, and use a seam ripper or unpick those large stitches you made when you joined the 2 pieces of fabrc together.  And you're done.

(Well, ok, you do need to quickly whizz round the other seams on your sewing machine which takes all of 2 minutes!)

Tunic top - the results.

I jokingly said on Instagram that my endeavours at dressmaking had resulted in yet another in the genre Maternity Wear for Fishermen. But this morning, I'm happier than that, and will actually wear it somewhere, which is a great success!! I have ordered more patterns and am looking forward to making a coat next.

The fabric, whilst being drapey and soft was also a little dull. Maybe I need some white trousers! The pattern was Liesl + Co, Gallery Tunic and Dress (no pattern numbers)

Dressmaking - Putting in a dart for the largish of boob.

I've been a bit poorly the last couple of weeks having caught the dreaded flu. I'm feeling well enough now to be a bit bored by sitting round and coughing lots, and wanted to try something new to occupy my fingers. The Great British Sewing Bee is coming back on to the TV shortly and I think I'm a victim of subliminal advertising, because my first thoughts turned to dressmaking.

I was forced into dressmaking in the early 1960's and nothing I made fitted terribly well; not sure a well gathered dirndle skirt fit anybody very well.  I ended up spending a fortune on fabrics and patterns, and still buying all my clothes from Miss Selfridge and Biba! Never daunted, I've kept trying over the years without success, until today of course when all will be different! 😅

I've bought a pattern and some lovely blue drapey fabric. (Double Gauze which has no right or wrong side or pattern direction, so an easy start I hope)

I'm taking it slowly, but the first instruction says that if you are over a "B" cup in a bra fitting you should put in a dart. Well I most certainly am, so the first step is to tackle a dart.

Actually it turned out to be quite easy and I thought I'd share the process just in case you ever needed a dart anywhere!! Don't be horrified by the number of steps - I've tried to spell it out and it always looks complicated when you do that, as you'll know if you've ever tried to explain peeling a potato step by step.

Step 1
Find your front pattern piece/s. Mine only had the one because it was placed on the fold. On the paper pattern piece mark in the seam lines with a pen or pencil all the way around. This is so that you can hold the pattern piece up to yourself to mark where you need a dart.

Step 2
With the pattern piece against you mark the high point of your boobs (ok, the apex if you prefer!) with a cross on the pattern piece. Take your time to get this position right and wear a good bra.

Step 3
Lay the pattern piece on the flat and draw a line from the middle of the apex to the bottom of the hem. Look at the photo below if you're not sure where I mean.

Step 4
Draw a line from the apex to the armhole - make a mark about 1/3 of the way up from the armhole side seam and then join this dot to the apex.

Step 5
Last line! Join a line from the apex to the side seam where you want the dart to be - in general, most bust darts angle down an inch or more below the level of the apex

Step 6
Cut the pattern piece from the hem, along line 1 to the apex. Swing the scissors and continue cutting along line 2 nearly to the edge. Leave a bit of paper for a pivot.

Steps 6 and 7, cutting the pattern piece

Step 7
Cut the pattern piece from the side seam along line 3 almost to the apex. Leave a bit of paper uncut so it can swing open.

Step 8
Lay the pattern down and gently increase the space between the edges of line 1. For a D cup I've allowed 3/4" This will mean that the other 2 cuts will open naturally. Keep it all lying flat.

Paper pattern piece which can now open to include extra fabric for a dart. A 3/4 inch gap has been left on line 1 and the other cuts have swung open into the right places.

I've popped coloured tissue paper underneath the pattern piece, and sellotaped it into place for stability. I might want to use this pattern again.

You'll notice that the bottom of the pattern has a step in it. All you do is pop a bit of tissue paper under the end, and redraw the line from the longer pattern piece to the other side.

All done!  If you are largish of boob, doing this on something without a dart will help make it fit better.

Akua/Caligo inks

I wanted to try a little experiment after watching several youtube videos on printmaking.

There seemed overwhelming support for Akua inks over everything else, so I bought a pot to test run and compare to my usual Caligo.

I used both inks for monoprint, reduction monoprint, monotype, and printing of etchings with and without a press.

Basically there's not a lot to choose between them. They both clean up with soap and water (though to clean a plate thoroughly, I found I needed to use a little vegetable oil for both) Looking at the tubes it seems that Caligo is based on Linseed Oil and Akua is based on soya.

I'd imagine that for textiles, Akua (soya based) would be less likely to rot the fabric over time than Caligo (linseed based) That's just my personal take based on my long-held understanding that oil paints which contain linseed oil can rot fabric.

Akua intaglio ink is much runnier than the Caligo etching ink, which made the line monoprinting less successful...too much noise.  It suggests you mix it with magmix to make it thicker when printing. Good to know there are products to thicken and thin, but the Caligo is about right naturally. Caligo also make products to thicken and thin.

Akua also do a liquid pigment which looks fun and can be used in conjunction with the intaglio and is transparent. You could have great fun combining both products. It looks a bit like Golden Fluid acrylic. It's claimed that Akua will stay wet on the plate until printed onto paper when it will then dry, giving endless time when making an image.

Below: A quick reductive mushroom monoprint on Somerset paper, Caligo on left, Akua on right.

Sketchbook page using Akua for monoprint.

In conclusion, I found the Akua much wetter and viscous than the Caligo and I would use it for preference for reduction monoprinting. I'd use the Caligo over the Akua when it came to line monoprint. Good to have both products to hand I guess.


A couple of weeks ago, I did a guest blogging on the Sketchbook Challenge blog The idea of the blog is to encourage everyone to do a sketch a day for 2019. I just did a run-through of my sketchbook with some ideas. Sufficient time has passed since my posting I think, for me to now share it with you.

Put me in an art shop with a little spare cash and I'll find my way to the sketchbooks. I love the feel of fresh new paper encased in a shiny black hard cover, pristine and ready for me to explore and use for any creative experiments. I can't keep my hands off them, they're just like sweets and of course I have quite a few - one or two are even full up!

I even had one made for myself by a local bookbinder who filled it with a mix of papers I'd chosen, and bound it together with spacers so I could add loose work to it, and he put my name in gold letters on the front. How wonderful was that? It's A3 sized and I'm trying to fill it with portraits but it's taking a long time.

If you're new to using a sketchbook or are a little unsure of how to start, you could easily be put off and feel pressurized to produce something wonderful in it. Don't be, it's yours, go mad - no one need ever know! But if your aim is to produce a beautiful book, then there are lots of examples of completed sketchbooks out there - look on YouTube or google for example where you'll find loads including lots of GCSE and A level students sketchbooks.  I tried making a visual diary once with Linda and Laura Kemshall, aiming to make each page a record of life over a 3 month period. Although it was enormous fun to do and lovely to have something as a record of those 3 months, it isn't how I usually use a sketchbook, they're a lot more random that that! You can see a video of its contents here.  

How do sketchbooks help me?

As an ideas depository and a way of remembering all the things, silly or otherwise, that come to me at random throughout a day. Maybe I'll have been to a gallery and seen something that's resonated with me, or picked up some overheard words on the radio or seen on a piece of graffiti. I grab a sketchbook, find a clean page and jot things down or draw a little picture. This clears my mind and allows me to progress my ideas knowing that it's all been safely recorded. After all, no one can remember everything!

2 pages from a sketchbook showing recorded ideas for future work.

Sometimes my sketchbook is just a no-pressure vent for any creative juices. A place to try out a new pen or give a new technique a run through.

String pulling using Quink.

Do you ever sit in front of the TV, or perhaps get up one morning, and just feel the need to be creative but you're not sure how or what to do? Your sketchbook is the ideal place to just play, perhaps you could brainstorm about how your feeling, do a quick little drawing of what's in front of you, or mix some paint colours on a gelli press to see what happens. Below is a page using the gelli press and stencils.

You might want to make a finished, considered piece of work, and use your sketchbook simply to work through ideas of placement and colour for example. If  however, you dream of doing a wonderful painting, or in my case an art quilt, but flounder because you run out of steam after the initial thoughts, take heart and record them anyway as ideas about what to include in the piece will invariably change over time, and at least you'll have a head start when you revisit.

This idea was for a pencil sketch on gold leaf, which had bits of an underpainted colour showing through. It wasn't successful of itself but the idea is there, it's remembered, it's mine, and I can come back to it with a fresh outlook later on. Priceless.

A sketchbook is also a good place to store little bits and bobs that you collect through life eg tickets to exhibitions, wine labels, stamps, or in the case below a postcard. Can you just make it out in the middle right? It's an image of the roof of the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford.  All I've done is stuck it into my sketchbook at used pen and watercolours to extend the image out over my page. There's no reasoning behind this one, it was one of those "I wonder what would happen if....." moments.

You can cut away or tear the pages too so there's less to fill, and you create a layered feeling. Here is a drawing of a seedhead and a torn page on top with a little watercolour flower.

Tracing paper layered on top of a drawing on top of a coloured page. The tracing paper flips over exactly on top of the painting, adding another layer of texture and depth.

If you have a ring bound sketchbook, you'll find it easier to do printing as you can bend the cover right back out of the way. I like the hard bound ones, and it's still possible to print directly into them but I confess it's trickier. Here's a monoprint of Mr Portillo - a family member managed to snap a selfie with him.

Still feel you can't draw? Why not trace and work into it with colours or use black and white to show tones?

Here's a page with a monoprint of a heron, traced from a book, which was then worked into with paint.

A sketchbook allows you to work through ideas, to play, to have a go, to record, to collect, to paint, to draw, to print, to mess up, to have fun. Use it whenever you can!

Reductive monoprint - Mushrooms

 Another first go - this time with reductive monoprint (which means starting with lots of ink and wiping it away)

Here's the process

I've put a white cloth on the table and covered it with a large piece of acetate which I bought from a DIY store. (They can cut to size which is very useful!) You don't need to do this, it just makes life easier.

I've put a piece of paper under the acetate as a size guide when inking up.

For the first attempt I used Caligo printing ink and covered the area with a thin layer of ink rollered until you can hear the "crackle" (just a lovely whispering sound that tells you the paint is the right thickness)

Below - using a cloth to wipe shapes from the ink surface. This is done freehand with illustrations from a book to give me confidence; essentially mushrooms are just ovals with a thick stem.

Printing the image onto paper. Use your hands to gently rub the paper - or use a brayer, spoon, or barron to transfer the image from the plate. All those loose sheets of printer paper you can see are masks I've put round the sides of the plate to give me a nice edge .

The reveal  - areas for improvement as usual but a quick and easy way to print. Maybe slightly damp paper would have given more detail.

I also tried using Open Acrylics and although you have to be quite quick as the paint dries more quickly than the printing inks, I liked the effect more. Don't think you could use ordinary acrylics as it dries too quickly.