Monday 20 February 2017

Secret Valentine Exchange 2017 - Giving and receiving

Keeping up the happy feeling that came from giving away copies of Sewing Happiness in the last blog post, this one is also all about gifts.

In its fourth year the Secret Valentine Exchange was very, very big (I can't bring myself to use the word "huge" anymore). I followed the #2017sve hashtag on Instagram and everyday there were more, and more, beautiful things being made. Then, the excitement as packages started arriving on doorsteps all over the world.....

My gift came from Shana ( in the U.S.A. It arrived the day before Valentine's day but as I was having a mopey sort of evening I opened it up to cheer myself. And it did!

One of the things I love most about the gift exchange is we all have our own skills or talents (or ambitions to have skills, but more on that later) and so the gifts are varied in their media.

Shana had drawn some lovely note cards and envelopes and handstitched a little Bike Me Valentine heart as the card (I love that it reads as bite me at first glance!). But the main piece was this gorgeous mini canvas of me, in my See You At Six dress and with my old 1980 steel singlespeed bike. I LOVE it. - thank you Shana.

The distribution of Valentine swap partners is meant to be random, but I had found a project that I desperately wanted to make, and had an idea of just who I would make it for...

After I'd filled in my own details for my swap partner (obviously I mentioned bicycles and my pet goldfish!) I fired off a begging email to Ute asking if she couldn't play Cupid and set me up with my Valentine of choice. You see I wanted to make this: (warning: Blog post saga approaching)

And I was pretty sure I had the right target in mind for Cupid's arrow: Pips, aka @magdalenesmuse or The Girl In A Teacup.

I already had some 1mm (or so I thought) khaki macrame cord, and so I bought a reel of black and then hit up Maria's Beads & Trims for the red jasper cabochons and the smaller beads. The stones she had to hand where close to perfect but didn't measure exactly the same - her casual suggestion that I "just change the number of knots" had me breaking out in a cold sweat. I had no idea what I was doing and I sure wasn't going to start improvising!

We set off for a late January holiday and took everything with me, and a little bit of linen and some embroidery thread just in case I needed a plan B.

The first step was wrapping the stones. And above, my first attempts were looking pretty good. Then, the instructions were to insert knotting threads and here was where it all started to go awry. The instruction was to insert a thread at the top of the stone from left to right, then another of the same length below it. Then insert three longer threads then ten shorter threads, in the same manner, on each side.

That confused me. To do it "in the same manner" would have the threads going from left to right across the back of the stone. How then do I correlate that with the instruction to do it "on each side". I went with the "in the same manner" interpretation and blithely stumbled on. Only after I had done the row of khaki knots that came afterwards did I get to the next step and realise I had nowhere near the right number of knotting threads.

Oh, and by now I had a pretty mean blister! I was typing some rather vitriolic emails to the author of the book and becoming more hysterical by the minute as the really bad Wifi at the motel kept timing out on my email before it could be sent (you're guessing right if you think that was a blessing in disguise!).

With a deep sigh, I unpicked it all and went back to the beginning. This time I did the first two threads "across" the stone, but then next thirteen threads on "each side". That gave me the right number of threads and I now see there is no error as such in the pattern (check that outbox and phew the email never did get sent), although I maintain it is not absolutely clear as an instruction. :)

I was getting it right now, but it was becoming obvious that my thread was too thick and it was just not going to work. The scale was all wrong and it was impossible to fit all those knots around the stone's perimeter. Set it aside and give up time...

Plan B: A cup of tea and some handstitching...

I had thought that I might make the Forget-Me-Not Jewelry Pouch pattern from the Straight Stitch Society

There was no doubt that anything with Liesl's instructions would be a joy to sew and I thought if I did the embellishing while on holidays I could sew it up quickly once I got home. - When I opened the pattern and saw point 6 from the Manifesto: "Sometimes a glass of wine really does improve your sewing. Or at least your attitude. Same difference." I knew I'd come home!

the pattern is an absolute delight to sew. After the instruction is given as to how to create a petal, instead of something as dry as "repeat for all other petals" the instruction tells you to do the same thing again, and again, and again, and again, and again.  A laborious step made funny.

The bottom of the pouch has a little circle of quilt batting sewn in to give it a proper little base.

The fabrics were from my stash and were as close as I could get to Pips' declared love of black, cream, purple and dark florals. Since it was my stash after all, she got grey, beige and murky green florals :)

The inside of the pouch has a large, central compartment and then these little ring or earring holding pockets around the edge.

I was wondering what to do for a drawcord when I rummaged through my ribbon-y things bag and found this little sample of cord that was included as a gift with a fabric order (thank you Mamzelle Fourmi) and what do you know, it's kind of purple!

I was delighted with the jewelry pouch, but the unfinished macrame necklace was bugging me... I had no other use for the cabochons if I didn't make the necklace, and I knew the necklace was not something that would suit me - it had to be for Pips.

Back to Feeling Inspired for thinner macrame cord. I found some that certainly looked thinner but had no numbers anywhere (in English at least) on the packaging. I asked the shop attendant and he told me it was 1mm cord. But that's what I bought lat time I said... Ah the difference is in whether it's measured as 1mm diameter (the too thick stuff) or 1mm circumference. How one is to ever know that is beyond me. Sadly there was no bronze, khaki, beige, cream or neutral colour in the right thickness, so I bought a red for the section around the stone. In hindsight I think it was the wrong choice, but I wasn't risking buying cord off the net and getting a third interpretation of 1mm.

With the right number of knotting cords and the right cord thickness it started to become enjoyable again. I worked on it most evenings in that week. There were still plenty of mistakes and a fair bit of unpicking of knots.

I seriously botched one side of the choker, but when I considered out loud whether I should do it over again the family looked ready to take out an intervention on me. it was time to say near enough is good enough and get it packaged up and in the post.

Threading the beads was quite tricky and I found the only way to do it was to use a cigarette lighter* to melt the end, then quickly grab the melted end with a pair of tweezers and pull it out into a thin, stiff thread. If only I could have wrangled the camera phone while doing it I would have taken a video as my cut and melt technique for the thread ends got quite proficient by the end. The backside of the necklace is a little scratchy due to the melted ends, but I imagine it would be even worse if I had used a cotton thread and had to superglue all the cut ends in place.

*I now have a purpose bought cigarette lighter in my craft supplies toolbox

Well, what better excuse to try something completely new, out of my depth and potentially disastrous, than in order to give it away! As I'd hoped, Pips was delighted with her gift and I supsect is about to fashion a gamrent specifically to go with her new necklace. What a sweetheart!


Macrame Necklace:
Pattern: Red Jasper Choker pattern from Bohemian Macrame
Materials: Red Jasper cabochons and bronze beads from Maria's Beads and Trims. 1mm polyester cords from Feeling Inspired
Jewelry Pouch:
Pattern: Forget-Me-Not Jewelry Pouch from Straight Stitch Society
Materials: Linen (beige and grey), floral cotton, quilt batting, drawcord and beads all from my stash.


  1. Shelly, what an amazing tale of commitment! I'm going to print out this post and pop in in my journal. My 1910 silk velvet dress is in for a major reworking. High goth celebration ahead! Xxx

    1. Ha! i was intentionally trying not to use the phrase "a bit goth" in case it offended! :) So glad you liked it and you flatter me even more if you rally plan on keeping a copy of my ramblings.... xx

  2. Ouch - that blister! Both gifts worked out beautifully, though. Any normal person would have given up on that macrame, you know that, right? But you wouldn't be you if you'd let it beat you!

    1. Nope, I was not going to let it go without at least a decent crack at it. I was prepared to not be able to get it to a giftable state, but not to give up without trying! :)

  3. I go a little weird when I hear macrame mentioned. Too many head injuries from beige macrame pot plant holders in the 1970's I think. Your knot work is impressive to say the least. It has almost erased my 1970's bad dreams.

    1. :) It seems to be making a resurgence. I've just pre-ordered a book that has some amazing modern macrame wall hangings in it. Again, it's something I want to do, just not sure it's something I want to have :) - I grew up in the 70's and my dad was the one who made pot plant holders in the shape of women's breasts then sold them at the school fete! Ah, the good ol' days. :)

  4. The necklace is stunning, I am in awe, and I'm thinking of making trim for my jacket now looks very mundane. The jewelry pouch is so pretty.

    1. Sharon I love the idea of using micro macrame techniques to make trim for clothes. It could look amazing. Go for it!

  5. Oh my goodness, that is mind blowingly beautiful. So much effort, such a gorgeous gift.


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