Meeting Makers – The Book Illustrator

Le Chien A La Mode

How do you illustrate a book? Want to find out what it’s really like drawing scenes for a knitting pattern? Then give a big welcome to Jo Clark, illustrator on the charming and delightful Woolly Woofers from Debbie Bliss! Jo agreed to an interview AND a special animal-themed Christmas giveaway. So keep reading for a chance to win…

Karen: Welcome, Jo! First of all, I’d love to hear how you came to be involved in the Woolly Woofers book.

Jo: Hello! I was lucky enough to be approached by Quadrille Publishing. I think they had spotted my work on my website. They asked me to provide a sample illustration for the project which they explained a little bit about. I was, of course, very excited about the whole thing and got to work straight away!

K: How did you compose your absolutely fantastic scenes around the dogs featured in the photo shoot?

J: Ah well thank you, so glad that you like them, I really had such a fantastic time on this project. I was given a few words as a brief to describe each scene, together with photos of the cute pooches in their gorgeous jumpers and coats.

I just let my imagination run away with me, helped along with a few reference photos for things that I’d never seen before such as a streetcar. The only rule I had were that there were to be no humans in the scenes; this was an animal-only world. Which made it a perfect job for me! I tend not to put backgrounds in a lot of my pictures so it was a real treat to go back to creating a full colour double page spread, as I originally trained as a  children’s book illustrator.

highland dog

K: Can you tell us a little bit about your technique and process? What mediums do you use and how much computer work is involved?

J: Sure! I start off by sending a rough pencil sketch to the designer as my initial idea. Then when they are approved I create the final artwork. I start on a clean sheet and lay the colour down first using marker pens. Then I put in details over the top, using a nice soft pencil or a fine retractable pencil for the smaller details. I then scan the drawing, usually adjust the contrast and brightness on Photoshop, or clean up any marks that I may not want in the picture. I managed to sneak my cat Daisy into the book in a couple of places too. She’s the black and white moggy!

Note from Ed: I don’t think Jo’s being entirely truthful here. More than one cat sneaked into this book

Cats Collage

K: You specialise in illustrating animals. Can you describe a few of the challenges and pleasures of this type of subject?

J: Yes, I draw animals and creatures because I think they are so important to us, and we should look out for them whenever we can. And, of course, they’re cute! Animals have a certain mystery about them – they can’t speak to us, but they can communicate feelings in their own ways. I want my drawings to be able to capture that. So sometimes this can be tricky, especially as I work from photographs mostly.

To try and keep the freshness of  character I will often spend a lot of time looking at photographs and then try and draw from memory. Sometimes it works really well, other times not. I think the most rewarding thing is when I get such a positive reaction and my work makes someone happy. That is my main aim with my pictures, to brighten up someone’s day with a smile.

K: Do you have any advice for people who’d like to turn their creative skills into a career?

J: Always work to your strengths and do what you love, as it will show through. Remember that making mistakes is all part of the learning process. Just keep going and step forward. Never stop believing in yourself and realise that your work is probably not for everyone, but it will always be for someone. Your job is to find them!

K: If there was a single dog in the whole world that you would really love to illustrate who would SHE be? Would she be a MINIATURE SCHNAUZER? Would her name begin with ‘E’ and end in ‘A’?

J: Oh, it’s funny you should ask me that. I’m just getting a great urge to draw a Miniature Schnauzer called … Ella! Watch this space…

JCDFrenchBulldogTurkey_05

And now Jo would like to make our readers happy. One lucky person has a chance to win Jo’s Twelve Dogs of Christmas multipack of cards. To enter the giveaway, all we ask is that you visit Jo’s website and leave a comment below letting us know what your favourite product is. I’m quite tempted by the Tea Owl Tea Towel!

This giveaway is open worldwide and closes at midnight GMT Monday 13 October. Good luck! And a huge thank you to Jo, who you can follow on Twitter @joclarkdesign.

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Sewing A Silk Kimono Cardigan

Kimono CardiganI recently bought nine metres of silk for £25 in a sample sale. It’s liberating owning silk that costs only £2.70 a metre – you get adventurous. Enter the Kimono Cardigan, after I saw two versions on a friend’s blog.

I’ve felt ambivalent about this summer’s trend for kimono tops. I truly love the aesthetic, as it sits with my lifetime obsession with The Great Gatbsy and all things flapper. But I never have enjoyed the athletic figure to make me a true flapper girl and kimono tops are not as flattering as we would wish their drapes to be. Drapes which hang from the widest part of a figure. For anyone with a sizeable chest, this means that your waist line is not only hidden from view, it’s exaggerated.

Making this top – beautiful though I believe it to be - did nothing to change my opinion. I’ve photographed it as day wear, but I intend to use it as house wear, with jim jams and loose tops. But what very beautiful house wear. Who could possibly complain?

Kimono Cardigan iiFor the first time in a long time, I used French seams on every detail. I honestly don’t think I’ve sewn a French seam since I bought my overlocker. Overlockers are great for speed, but I did feel sad to realise it had been sooooo long since I’d indulged in this touch of quality that speaks only of care and time taken.

Kimono Cardigan iiiThere are loads of free kimono top tutorials on the web, but I was taken by this one because extra care was taken over hem bands and a graded front seam that gives a waterfall effect. If you use the same tutorial, please be aware that seam allowances are added further into the video – don’t take first measurements as sacrosanct.

It’s easy to think, Kimono? It’s just a bunch of rectangles. Well, yes. But this does mean that you’ll want to take so very much care. As you can see from the above, every seam will easily fall out on show.

Silk fabricIsn’t this silk fabulous? What is that print? Amoeba?! It was a devil to get a needle through. Even my teeniest, finest Japanese hand sewing needle did not want to penetrate that warp and weft. A sign of quality? Can someone let me know? I have about eight more metres to use up.

For a fascinating history of the kimono, visit the V&A here. And here‘s one of the best sewing blog posts I’ve ever read, about making a wedding dress out of vintage kimono silk.

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Brilliant Because

I have read so many explanations of late. People explaining why they agree to test a pattern. Or not test a pattern. Why they engage with blog tours – or not. Why they talk about their personal lives, or keep things private. Why they’re part of a blogging network or have left one. Why they feel obliged to organise book tours. Why they have to admit to burn out. Why, why, why. Worst case for me? People feeling why they should justify friends.

I keep hearing the question ‘why’ around blogging, but I crave the word ‘because’.

So, I’ll start if off, and here’s my list:

Because it gives me creative satisfaction.

Because I answer to no one other than myself.

Because I can sit up in bed at 5am to compose a blog post or…

Because I can not blog for a week if I’m knackered.

Because I can talk endlessly about my dog and no one tells me to shut up. Ella, I love you!!!

Ella Reviews Woolly WoofersBecause I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m just sharing.

Because blogging is my safe haven when the rest of life might be pants.

Because blogging gives me lifelong friends.

Because blogging is great. No, it’s joyous!

Because blogging.

Because.

It’s a great word, isn’t it? A bold statement. It doesn’t ask for permission.

Whether you blog, sew, knit, make fudge, care for others, get through the week and simply survive or have a particular talent for picking your nose, I want to know what you’re proud of.

Let’s make a pact. To dedicate today to feeling good about ourselves. For 24 hours, to celebrate the joy of blogging. And don’t ever forget – you don’t need permission to be brilliant. You just can’t help it!

#brilliantbecause

Ella-29

Baby Ella (three months old) with my mum (age undisclosed). 

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An Open Letter To The Publisher of Sewtionary

Adobe Photoshop PDFDear Krause Publications

I’m sure you are very proud of yourselves for publishing Tasia St Germaine’s debut book, Sewtionary. How clever you must feel. How very timely. Sirs, your timing could not have been worse!

I trawled through the 101 photo-illustrated sewing tips. Arranged alphabetically. In a spiral bound format. Oh yes, indeed, it was very nice to have the book laying flat beside my sewing machine so that I could see ALL THE THINGS I HAD DONE WRONG ON PAST MAKES.

If you insist on publishing exemplary sewing books, in return I must insist that you publish them much earlier on in my sewing career. Multitudinous foul ups could have been avoided if I’d had Tasia’s remarkable reference tool to hand. 

Shame on you, sirs! Your selfishness leaves me almost speechless. Almost…

Remember my gentle wail, requesting sewing books that weren’t aimed at the total beginner? A few days after writing that, I propped myself up in bed to read The Sewtionary. I flicked through the pages slowly at first, then turning faster and faster. I couldn’t believe it. The little genius that was Tasia had written a book absolutely crammed with tips, and it wasn’t all aimed at the beginner.

Little gems and sparkling jewels of expert information nestled beside basics. Really clever little details that could make a big difference. Had you ever heard of zero stitch? Did you know how to bar tack? Ever seen ten photos and three pages of instructions on belt loops? Me, neither! And I was only on page 22! She’s like a smuggler, I thought, excitedly. Sneaking intermediate information into a beginner sewing book.

This book tells you how hair clips can help your sewing (true!), how to work with hair canvas and horsehair braid (Tasia’s clearly obsessed by hair), quilting interlining, sewing a lapped seam, making a press cloth (my own tips here)… The list goes on and on. Guys, there are two pages devoted to pre-washing your fabric!

If only I’d read The Sewtionary before… Which of my makes could Tasia have helped?

V8548 coat

When I made the V8548 coat, I initially put my sleeve heads in the wrong way. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d referred to page 192 of Tasia’s book!

grainline-archer-shirt

I loved making my two Archer shirts, but struggled with the sleeve plackets and wish I’d had Tasia’s three pages of illustrated instructions to follow.

So, I think you can see that I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I was sent a PDF copy to review but I am sooooo ordering a hard copy to sit beside my most-loved reference tool, The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

Tasia has written a wonderful, wonderful book. Is this a future classic? Let it be so!

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The Language of Sewing

Sew magazine featureIt’s been a busy week or so, doing a lot of talking about sewing. I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in this month’s Sew magazine, highlighted as Blog of the month. When asked why I started a blog I replied, ‘Because I wanted to engage more actively in the conversation.’ I had the opportunity to do just that when I joined a bunch of sewing friends at Tilly Towers.

Sewing at Tilly Towers

Tilly Towers

Being a contrary soul, I sat there knitting. Ooobop and I had a very entertaining conversation about how we were both taught you should never, on pain of death, abandon knitting mid-row. I then promptly abandoned knitting mid-row in order to open some champagne.

Knitting at Tilly TowersThis week, I also ordered a copy of the now out-of-print The Gentle Art of Domesticity from Jane Brocket. Published in 2007, it still sells for quite a lot second hand, even though at the time of publication I believe there was some stir about it being anti-feminist. I certainly paused at the photos of aproned Jane pinning out a man’s office shirts on a washing line. Still, Jane is eloquent and clever and makes a valid point that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t knit, sew or embroider. I see her book as a landmark in the trajectory of craft publishing, and a very thought-provoking one at that.

Gentle Art of Domesticity

This all led me to think about the words we choose to use. Some people throw their hands up in horror at the term Sewist. I quite like it. It has a sparkiness to it. Other people would die rather than call themselves Seamstress, but I like that word too. There’s an echo of elegant timelessness. Though some people would only hear the ring of ‘old fashioned’ or ‘downtrodden’. Words are such very powerful tools, especially in this digital age. We should use them with care and kindness.

What do you call yourself? Would you rather die than be a Seamstress? And why does it matter?

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Dolores Batwing Top

Dolores Batwing TopWhen So Zo invited me to pattern test the Dolores Batwing Top (launched today, people!), I was like a greyhound out of a trap. Yes, please!

This PDF pattern for a simple batwing top/tunic/dress prints out on only 12 sheets of A4. To tape together and trace the pattern only took up 30 minutes of an evening.

Dolores CollageBy 10.30am the next morning, I had made and photographed the top and sent my feedback to Zoe. By lunchtime, I’d made myself a matching skater skirt out of the remains of the jersey…

Dolores Batwing & Skater Skirt

Any construction tips? All seams were completed on the overlocker. I used Steam-A-Seam tape to stabilise hems before stitching with a wide and deep zig zag on my sewing machine. I loosened the tension on my sewing machine bobbin. I used a walking foot. That’s about it!

I really love this pattern and it’s a great stash buster for any drapey jerseys taking up space in your fabric storage. Thanks, Zoe, for allowing me to test!

Do you think you’ll make this top?

 

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Polka Dots and Pattern Trails

Coco Dress SixThis is my sixth Coco dress, so I’ll keep it brief! The polka dot ponte is from Stone Fabrics. It’s fairly coarse in texture, I don’t think it’s my favourite ponte ever, but I’ll still wear this dress to death. The awesome pocket fabric was a gift from DIY Couture when she was having a clear out. Thanks, Rosie!

Pocket detail Coco

It’s such fascinating fabric! I had to use a press cloth to get the iron over those raised polka dots. I don’t think this is really made for dressmaking. I’d use it for accessories, cushion covers or outerwear. Any suggestions? I have a load of this stuff.

In other news, my non-too-subtle hints prompted Cat to track down three more patterns on the Pattern Trail. She may have had to negotiate cobwebs!

pattern trailThis means that there are just two patterns left (Pattern Two and Pattern Six), hiding in nooks and crannies on the Isle of Wight. Will they ever be transformed into outfits, or shall they become nests for mice? It’s up to you, readers!

Pocket Detail Coco ii

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Debbie Bliss’s Woolly Woofers – A Dog Blog Review

Ella Reviews Woolly WoofersHello, readers. Consider yourselves honoured. After months of persuasion and the multiple signing of Non Disclosure Agreements, a very special presence in the blogosphere has agreed to write a guest post.

She’s infamous for her love of velvety coats (that only need grooming every six weeks), her fondness for fake fur (especially when it comes in the shape of a duck and makes a honking noise) and her ability to strike just the right pose for a blog post.

Quadrille Crafts offered their latest book, Woolly Woofers, for Ella to review. The author, knitting legend Debbie Bliss, lives in our locale, Walthamstow. So needless to say, Ella took her new blogging responsibilities very seriously…

Ella ReadingElla: The first thing you need to know about this book is that there are a lot of dogs. There’s Brian and Ernie the pugs, Carmel Corn the Teacup Yorkie, Dexter the French Bulldog, Millie the English Springer Spaniel…

Ed: Um, the knitting. We want to know about the knitting.

Ella: Knitting?

Ed: The outfits all those dogs are wearing.

Ella: You mean the outfits those dogs are enduring. Yeah, 22 whole outfits that a human can inflict on an innocent dog. Feel proud of yourselves, guys! Are these the faces of happy woofers?

Do These Dogs Look HappyEd: Oh, come on! You’re just bitter you weren’t in the photo shoot.

Ella: I don’t want to talk about that.

Ed: I’m sorry, readers. We should explain. Ella was invited to be in the photo shoot for this book but because her owner had prior commitments (a day job) Ella had to regretfully decline. There’s still a certain amount of sulking at Didyoumakethat Towers.

Ella: Er, did you read the NDA? Keep that to yourself! Let’s talk about the stuff that humans can make with wooden sticks and wool. Like, they’re so clever. Mod Dog looks quite cool…

Mod Dog

And I’ll admit there’s a certain je ne sais quoi here…

Le Chien A La Mode

Maybe this cowboy would let me borrow his neckerchief?

Cowboy Bandana

Ed: In short, would you recommend this book?

Ella: To dogs? No. You’re totally being exploited. To humans? Absolutely. You need something to keep your tiny brains occupied, and another activity that persuades you to put us top of the pack can only be a good thing. Next time? Just don’t force a dog to dress like a bee. Know what I’m saying?

dog beeWoolly Woofers by Debbie Bliss (published 11 September) is one of the best knitting books to ever come into my possession. It’s fun, it’s joyous and it’s inimitably innovative. Debbie Bliss and Quadrille should be extremely proud of themselves. I sooooo wish I’d been at the photo shoot!

Disclaimer: Ella would like to point out that she received no compensation for writing this blog post (not even dog treats) and all scathing opinions are her own.

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How To Add Metal Buttons To Dungarees

Equipment for attaching metal buttons

Welcome to my step-by-step guide to adding two metal buttons to your Pauline Alice Turia dungarees. (And thanks for everyone’s lovely comments on my pair! To the readers who think dungarees are the devil’s work: thanks for your entertaining comments, too!)

THE EQUIPMENT YOU’LL NEED

  • Three metal buttons – one for your practice go, two for the final make.
  • A scrap of the same fabric you’re using on your final make.
  • A hammer or mallet.
  • An awl and piece of wood.
  • A Youtube video from Vince. Skip to 7 minutes in.

There are 44 steps in the instructions for these dungarees. Adding metal buttons to the bib comes at step 39. Which means you’d better be confident! Trouble is, there’s not much guidance out there.

Eventually, I stumbled upon Vince’s Youtube video. Vince is the Great Uncle I never had. In my imagination, he lives somewhere in the midwest of America, works the land and is a direct blood descendant of the father in Little House On The Prairie. He has hangnails and cracked skin on his hands. He definitely wears dungarees.

Anyway, Vince was a big help. I watched a short bit of his extensive Youtube video and ran to gather my equipment for a practice go.

1. Pierce a hole in your fabric with an awl, and a piece of wood to take the point. If you don’t have an awl, dig out a kebab skewer or something from the kitchen. The main priority is not to stretch and distort your fabric by forcing a blunt instrument through it.

Step one Collage

2. Push your button tack through the hole you’ve created.

3. Slip the shank of your metal button over the point of your tack.

4. Flip fabric and button over so that the tack head is face up.

Step two Collage

5. Find a surface with absolutely no give in it. A wobbly table didn’t meet my requirements, so I went outside to the back garden and a crumbly concrete back path.

6. Hammer away on the back of your button tack! Four or five good whacks should do it. Button attached! (You might want to ensure that easily scared pet dogs are far away and feeling safe. Otherwise, you’ll find them hiding in a corner of the garden, trembling.)

Step three CollageI have a few other construction tips for the Turia dungarees:

Use fabric with a bit of stretch in it. You’re going to be making some rigorous demands on these dungarees, especially when you make a sudden lunge. (I like to work a sudden lunge into most days, don’t you?)

Which brings me to…

Torn seam

I over zealously trimmed my seams at the point where the pinafore back met the shoulder straps. Then I tightened my dungarees extra specially tight for neat blog photos. Then I went into one of my sudden lunges. The horror! A seam popped.

This was easy peasy to fix (thank goodness) but my advice would be:

a) Don’t trim the seam at step 21 of this pattern.

b) You might want to add some top stitching to this detail for extra stability.

c) Desist from sudden lunges. Even if a chocolate eclair is passing under your nose.

d) Desist from eating chocolate eclairs. Unless you’re pregnant. Then you can eat whatever you like.

I also added strips of fusible interfacing to the zip insertion, to prevent the fabric from rippling.

You definitely don’t need to add a zip on each side seam, as the pattern suggests. One zip on one side will do the job. The beauty is, you can choose which side to suit your right or left handedness.

If you don’t like a cropped leg, add length to the legs when cutting out.

I cut true to bust and hip size. I ignored waist size, which would have meant grading up at this point. Why bother? These are dungarees!

If you’re sewing with corduroy, you will need a press cloth. Remember my Fabric Focus on corduroy!

That’s everything, I think. I’ve probably forgotten something. Let me know if you have any questions! Are you one of the people planning a new pair of dungarees? I’m already dreaming about my second pair.

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Pauline Alice Turia Dungarees

Pauline Alice DungareesThis is the latest sewing pattern from Pauline Alice. Is it possible to love a person you’ve never met simply because of their smile? Pauline Alice’s happy face makes me want to spoon cream onto strawberries and roll on clouds, chuckling like a cherub. She just has that effect on me!

As soon as I saw her dungarees I was charmed. Plus, I wanted to learn how to make them. I ordered the pattern, snapped up some cheap stretch needle corduroy from TMOS, bought buttons and buckles, ordered some topstitching thread and needles… Yes, you’ll need to gather your arsenal for a make such as this. But what fun!

Topstitching & ButtonI absolutely love the pattern – the artwork is delightful, instructions come in three – three! – different languages (Spanish, French and English) and are easy to follow. The only point at which I became tremulous was attaching the buttons, so I took lots of photos and will share those very soon.

If you’re a fan of pockets there are five - count em – on these dungarees. Perfect for listening to the radio on your iPhone during a dog walk. Yes, that it is a Mickey Mouse patch.

dungaree pockets

There are lots of flat felled seams. You’ll definitely know how to make those after this make. I kept my contrast top stitching to an absolute minimum, on the bib section only, and very glad I am too. It’s great for detail, but my goodness, you had better be accurate – which I definitely wasn’t in certain sections (cough-crotch-cough). Below, you can see how thick topstitching thread is compared to some silk thread.

Topstitching thread

Last time I blogged a make a reader left a comment. ‘The dress is fine, Karen, but where’s Ella?’ So for that reader and others, here’s Ella. There has been a certain amount of rigorous telling off this week. She’s been alarming grown men and children with her barking, a consequence of twilight dog walks when anyone approaching us is spotted as a potential attacker. It’s fine, Ella. The kid on the tricycle isn’t going to mug your owner and when the man in running shorts bursts into tears, that’s when you need to feel guilty. (I’m kidding. Just.)

Dungarees and Ella

Trouser hemsThese dungarees are designed to have a cropped ankle. It’s worth bearing this in mind if you prefer a longer length. But if you like the cropped look you have lots of opportunity to share fun socks with the world.

I’m really happy with my Turia dungarees. They’re fun to wear and comfie. I wanted the perfect dog walking outfit, and I think I’ve found it! Plus, now I know how to sew dungarees. Would you wear a pair?

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