You know how it is when you see a fabric and fall head over heels in love? That's what it was like when I first set eyes on this amazing peacock print. I know that I have ongoing bird print issues, yet I am still drawn to them, from penguins to swallows and every kind of avian beastie betwixt and between. So when this print popped into my Twitter feed I was immediately hooked, and clicked through to find out more. What I had inadvertently stumbled upon was a brilliant crafting tournament, to be more precise, the Hillarys Blinds Country Crafts Competition, celebrating the launch of their new range of Country Retreat fabrics. The rules of the competition were simple … pick from one of the four featured prints and the lovely fabric fairies at Hillarys would send you a one metre square piece of delectable cotton to make whatever you fancied. Seriously. All you had to do was come up with a unique item for your chosen fabric, make it, and then write a blog post about it to enter. The gilding on this already very attractive lily (free fabric, free I tell you) was the potential for the very best entry to win a hefty £1000 prize. Safe to say I was "in".
So, now you are wondering what the other fabric options are I'm sure? No problem … here are the other contenders for your delectation.
I had a brief dalliance with the Wild Poppies print, and even considered the Patina Pewter for a tiny moment, but there was no denying that my heart lay with the Bird Parade print, so I signed up to the competition and awaited the arrival of my chosen fabric. I was not to be disappointed. When it arrived I pulled the fabric from its envelope and to my delight the background was the colour of rich clotted cream, studded with majestic teal peacocks, and featuring a secondary palette of soft undertones … mushroom, lavender, mustard and capuccino … in the foliage and branches. The peacocks themselves were large scale, which made careful consideration of my chosen craft item now a necessity.
I put on my thinking cap. I love peacocks, they are the most extraordinary creatures, with irridescent plumage in a cavalcade of colour and they have Attitude (with a capital A). It was then that it came to me … there was a weird quote about men, age and peacocks that was ringing a bell. I googled to see if I could find the quote in its entirety (all hail the internet) and laughed out loud when I found this:
At 20 a man is a peacock, at 30 a lion, at 40 a camel, at 50 a serpent, at 60 a dog, at 70 an ape and at 80 nothing.
Well, thanks a lot Spanish philosopher & writer Baltasar Gracian! It's just as well Señor Gracian and my bloke never crossed paths. You see, my bloke has a very big birthday in a couple of weeks, not just big in the normal sense but a VERY big, "grab your bus pass and let's go adventuring" kind of birthday. Yet, despite his *cough* extra life experience, my bloke is heading deeper into peacock territory every day. He loves wearing bright and patterned clothes, his taste veers wildly towards eccentric and his no boundaries rule to getting dressed in the morning is on the list of things I love most about him. I decided that the peacock fabric should be destined for him.
With each peacock on the print measuring a whopping 12 inches, I needed something that would allow for good design placement and still fit in with my bloke's wardrobe aesthetic. After some rummaging through his wardrobe I decided on a waistcoat. My inspiration was a simple unlined Burda waistcoat pattern in my stash, although it soon became apparent after some measuring that it just wasn't fitted enough and I wanted a fully lined garment rather than a faced one, so I opted to sew off piste … cutting the fabric using an old waistcoat as a pattern guide, adding seam allowances and changing measurements as I went. For peacock placement I decided that an offset design would work best, so I positioned the main peacock at the top shoulder point of the left front. I crossed my fingers once I had everything pinned and placed and started cutting out – the point of no return! I paired the cotton print with a soft pure cotton ticking fabric in pale coffee and cream, emphasising the country feel I was aiming for.
With everything cut out, I decided to do some additional embellishment to the main peacock before heading for the sewing machine.
I should let you in on a little secret. Hand sewing and I are not the best of bed fellows. I normally manage to stab myself repeatedly in the finger, develop blisters and bleed over whatever I am sewing in the course of prettification, and this time was no different. Yet, I persevered because I was so happy with the results. Adding a crown of teal toned french knots to the peacock crown was just the start … I added a varety of decorative stitches to all the plumage, with running stitch, back stitch, chain stitch & fly stitch details, picking out the colour accents in teal, aqua, cocoa and lavender.
At last I was ready to machine sew. I am new to making waistcoats, but I decided I wanted proper old fashioned welt pockets for the waistcoat. (Otherwise no proper pockets means nowhere to hide sweets!). Despite my limited experience, I do know that welt pockets are a tricky beast at the best of times, and given that I had no Plan B fabric I decided to do a tester pocket first. Armed with my trusty Vogue Book of Sewing I tackled version one, which was an unmitigated disaster! I tried again. Sadly versions two and three faired little better with puckered edges and weird shaping – I was beginning to lose hope. Then one of my online sewing buddies sent me a link to a new welt tutorial and it was suddenly a whole lot easier. Version four was a total success. (If you need welt pocket help check out this helpful tutorial here.)
I took my time and tackled both pockets for real on the waistcoat and they were a dream! I am so proud of them. This fabric has such a lovely finish when pressed that I ended up with perfect, neat, crisp welts. The rest of the project was a breeze by comparison. I sewed much of it at our Stitch 'n' Bitch Craft Day where (thanks to Noelle's speedy actions) it just managed to escape an incident involving a full mug of hot tea unscathed. Whew! The lining though was tricky … in order to fit the waistcoat to my man I had sewn the side seams, but then I couldn't for the life of me work out how to turn the lining and the main fabric through the shoulders. After a frustrated hour it dawned on me that the side seams had to be OPEN in order to turn the garment right side out! Doh! The stitch ripper saw some action following that little revelation. Happily without side seams it was an easy job to turn and understitch the lining.
I was almost done with the waistcoat. The little belt and D-rings at the back, added into the dart line meant that it was a more adjustable fit (depending on how many pies/pints passed its way on an outing) and a little extra handsew of the lining side seams followed by some buttonholes and a final press saw it done and dusted.
Ta da! The finished Country Retreat waistcoat.
Such a wonderful garment, perfect for any passing country gentleman.
My bloke loved this new addition to his wardrobe, and it fit him perfectly, but I couldn't help thinking it needed a finishing touch … something every true country gent should have … a pocket watch. I thought it would be fun to make an oversized felt pocket watch (think the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland) that could be fastened into the waistcoat pocket on a removable brooch pin.
The execution of the felt pocket watch was a very on the fly experience. After a quick sketch of my idea, I started by tracing and cutting large circle of wool felt and marking the face onto the smaller cream circle in vanishing marker. I carefully embroidered this, added button 'dials' and then chain stitched on some hands. Then I assembled the front face. A large circle, trimmed to just an edging was placed over the top and stitched through, followed by a long thin panel that was used as a gusset for the watch body (using trusty blanket stitch this time). For the back I embroidered a peacock feather motif onto another large circle of felt and then stitched this to the gusset too, stuffing the body of the pocket watch before finishing the seam. Some wrapped florist wire served as a great oversize loop wih a little gathered felt ball becoming the top knob. Then I found some thin metallic braid that I French knitted to make a convincing chain. Attach to a brooch pin and job done!
I knew exactly where I wanted to go to take the photos of A in his finished outfit. Just over a mile from my house are the green valleys and splendid wooded hills of the Chilterns. It was in these fields and country lanes that my grandparents met and courted, and in a tiny Norman church, nestled deep in the curve of the valley where they married.
My grampy was an old fashioned countryman through and through. He owned a myriad of flat caps, lovingly referred to as his ratting hats. He could tell you the name of every tree, bird or flower you would encounter and was a fan of long nature rambles, cutting a branch from the tree for me to use as a stick as we hiked through the countryside, picking berries and nuts on our way. We'd then run into nan's kitchen, depositing jewel like berry treasure onto the kitchen table ready to be transformed into a crumble or pie, and she would laugh at our magenta stained fingers, spilling the secrets of the berries that had "got away".
We neared the shoot location not long after dawn to take these shots. We saw the last of the dappled misty morning light and there was a distinct cripsness to the air. I love taking photos, even when it means laying on my stomach in the middle of a lake of nodding daffodils. With muddy knees and some lovely shots in the bag we headed home for breakfast.