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JL Martin – or Tinkymctiddles as she’s known on Instagram – is a writer, illustrator, coder – and, very recently, a sculptor of miniature models – models just like this!
These tiny pencils, miniature baguettes and eensy-weensie rows of knitting fascinated me when they began to appear in my Instagram feed. I couldn’t resist inviting Janet to be interviewed as part of my Meeting Makers series.
Keep reading to find out how you model a pencil from a toothpick!
Could you tell us a
little about your background as an illustrator and coder?
Thanks so much for interviewing me. I used to work in the tech industry but went back to school for picture book illustration. Since then, I’ve been working as a colourist on the Laser Moose graphic novel series from Andrews McMeel and working on my own illustration and writing. I still enjoy coding which now includes data analysis and programming electronics. This has opened up many creative possibilities like this desktop cloud I made.
At some point I hope to make a miniature table lamp that works!
What drew you to
working in miniature? What is it that appeals?
Do you remember the tiny sticky buns and sandwiches in
Paddington Bear? I’ve always loved the tiny sets and props of stop-action
animators like Ivor Wood, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, and of course
I also collect objects as part of my writing process so making models for illustration is a natural progression. To me, realistic miniatures are just ridiculously hilarious especially when something like a giant hand interrupts and reminds you of their actual scale.
Please talk us
through the making of those miniature pencils – how on earth did you do it?
The secret of the miniature pencils is that they don’t
actually write! I’m so sorry! I did try to make them look as real as possible.
They’re made from toothpicks shaped with an X-Acto knife and sandpaper, which
are then painted with brush pens, Sharpie markers, and nail varnish.
What are the mistakes
you’ve made and learnt from?
For miniatures, clay consistency is important! Sculpey is
too soft. Fimo Oven Bake Clay is a little hard. If you mix them both together it’s just right.
When colour mixing clay, you can easily end up with a lot of dull colours! Using good primary and secondary colours and following colour mixing theory has been really important. There are also loads of clay colour recipes on the web. I also recommend the book Making Doll’s House Miniatures with Polymer Clay by Sue Heaser. Her food tutorials are amazing.
Working with clay around cats is challenging. They love stealing miniatures or getting hair in the clay. You have to keep everything wrapped up. Even then, sometimes things just get hairy. I’ve learned to embrace the texture.
I’m trying to learn more, experiment more, have fun, and just put more of my work out there. Right now I’m working my way through some children’s illustration courses at the School for Visual Storytelling.
Do you have any plans
for your miniature work?
I plan to make more miniatures and possibly combine them
with 2D drawings or build dioramas for editorial illustration and children’s book
What’s next on the
I’m looking for an agent for illustration and book projects. I’m also working on a children’s book about what happens when you accidentally swap carts at a rather dangerous supermarket. I need to make a realistic miniature cauliflower and a human brain. It’ll all make sense eventually, I promise.
Do you run an iron over your fabric before cutting out and, if so – why? I was thinking about exactly this question as I pressed some summer weight wool suiting to make yet another pair of culottes.
Here are my reasons to press fabric before cutting out – and they may not all be the obvious ones.
1. Getting In The Right Frame Of Mind
If you start your project in an organised, efficient way there’s a good chance that you’ll carry this attitude through the whole piece of work – or at least through the cutting out! Pressing your fabric takes a few moments of time, time during which your mind can settle into the work to be done. This activity can also be pleasingly mindful, emptying the brain with repetitive motions, and you know I’m a fan of that.
2. Assessing Your Fabric’s Behaviour
A good session at the ironing board gives you a chance to see for the first time how your pre-washed (you pre-washed, right?) fabric is going to behave during the sewing project. Is it slipping about? Resisting heat? Already fraying at raw edges? Or does it press like a dream?
If I need to pin selvedges together to ensure an accurate press, then I know I’ll also need to take care during the cutting out. You get a heads up on the challenges that lay in store. I’ve even been known to swap out one fabric for another if I don’t like the way it’s behaving with the iron, and that can save a lot of wasted time and effort.
3.Picking Up On Flaws
As you smooth a hot iron over metres of fabric, this is your opportunity to keep an eagle eye out for any flaws in the fabric. Mark them with chalk or a pin and avoid them when cutting out. No tears here!
4. Right Side, Wrong Side
When pressing a solid colour fabric, I immediately check which is my right side and wrong side by looking at the selvedge. Hopefully, this should help you distinguish – but not always. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to decide which is the right side and which is the wrong side, but barely indistinguishable is not the same as distinguishable, and this can often become apparent once a project is sewn up. So, I use the pressing exercise to establish which I want to be the wrong side, and mark it confidently with chalk. Saves a lot of frustration further down the line.
5. It’s Easy!
This is the easiest piece of pressing you’ll do during the whole project. Metres of smooth fabric to ease an iron over. No hams needed, no seams to trim, no fiddly tubes to turn inside out, no collars to press. Sweet! Start a project with an easy task, and you’ll already feel like a winner. I’m not above kidding my brain. But this does allow you to set up your pressing station, so that when the trickier tasks emerge your equipment is out, ready and waiting.
I bought this book for £1.50 from a shop on the Isle of Wight. What’s not to love? Liberty! Sewing patterns included! The Eighties! Not just a piece of history. There’s some pretty detailed information in this book, plus basic pattern blocks can always be adapted. I’m hopeful there’s something here I could sew.
Always check the line drawings…
But, oh these Eighties moments, frozen between the pages. Flipping through this book, I am swept back to an era when Princess Di pie crust collars were de rigeur, flounces ruled and Laura Ashley was a lifestyle goal.
Would you join me on a stroll down memory lane?
One day, we’ll look back at our jumpsuits, Cos dresses and dungarees in sloth, flamingo and palm leaf prints and roll our eyes. In the meantime, I’m happy to laugh fondly at the Eighties.
It wasn’t all car crash TV. I also bought a rather lovely pink tweed blazer.
Do you ever find anything interesting when you go on holiday?
I’d ordered photo-printed cupcakes carrying miniature images of the book cover but – doh! – ordered them for the wrong day. Still, that didn’t spoil our fun.
Kate of The Foldline arrived early to film a pre-party book interview with me – you can see it here.
I had lots of butterflies in my tummy, but once people started to arrive I calmed down. Thanks so much for joining me, if you were there! There was lots of laughter and chat – everyone got on so well and it was lovely to introduce friends from different spheres of my life.
I gave a little speech, gulping back the emotion, signed books – and laughed like a drain when someone mistook my editor friend, Jon, for TMOS!
As part of the speech, I made people cheer if they could answer YES to the following three questions. Which question do you think received the loudest cheer?
Do you ever buy fabric with no idea what you’re going to use it for?
Do you ever sew naked?
Do you ever sew whilst drinking alcohol?
I love this photo of myself, Tilly and Rachel. If ever there was proof of sewing’s worth, it’s these three very different female bodies.
And, of course, I wore my red dress – also of dreams. I felt very comfortable in it. I’m going to sew one for a friend – and I hardly ever sew for friends!
I wish you could all have been there, but it would have been a very crowded room … and the prosecco would have disappeared early!
With thanks to The Village Haberdashery and Head of Zeus.
Do you ever feel as though you were born to live in a certain decade of your life?
I found my youth hard. I was too ‘fat’, I loved make-up despite the fact that my 20s were lived through the Britpop era when women were expected to be lads. My writing was gauche and immature.
But I loved to write. I vividly remember the evenings I would sit on my bedroom floor, with an electronic typewriter, hammering out letters to friends who rarely responded. It didn’t matter. I took huge comfort from the fact that Carol Shields only began writing novels at the age of 50. 50! Could anyone imagine being that old and still able to write?
And so it is no small irony that The Little Book of Sewing is published in my 49th year and I find that my sewing empowers the woman I am today. If only we knew back then what we know now.
Life will be fine, little acorn. More than fine. You’ll wear some fancy dresses, too.
Want to draw attention away from your white legs? Wear even whiter tights!
So… This is the V8825 dress, which is currently on sale HERE, made with fabric that is currently on sale HERE. Yup, this simple make is also a bargain.
I made this dress after seeing SewManju’s tunic version. To die for? I think so! I chose to make the dress in a claret, as red suits my colouring.
Look at those sleeves and barrel cuffs! And that faux wrap bodice! None of this is difficult, though you may find yourself adjusting the pattern to suit your personal aesthetic. For the record, I:
Shortened the sleeves by 1.5 inches
Shortened the cuff by 4 inches and took 2 inches off their width. I still ended up turning up those cuffs and catching them in place with a few hand stitches
Shortened the belt by 6 inches
I widened the waist to accommodate my thick torso, but then ended up taking it in again.
Other than that, this baby was made straight out of the pattern envelope.
I added interfacing at the skirt hem for stability and hand stitched, so that there was no obvious seam line.
It’s publication week for The Little Book of Sewing! Have you been joining in the Instagram fun #thelittlebookofsewing? I’ve seen so many great and inspiring stories, including how this book inspired Kathy of Sew Dainty to launch her own jewellery business. Check out those acrylic scissors – swoon!
Of course, it takes more than one person to write a book. From my editor, Ellen, to Sam who designed the cover, to the production person who picked out those gorgeous yellow endpapers to … you, dear readers!
The moment I began the writing journey, I knew that I wanted to include my blog readers. I’ve always said that half the sewing wisdom at Did You Make That comes from the friends who leave comments. And I was determined that wisdom would find its way into this book!
Each chapter has a different emotional theme, from kindness to self image, sexuality to aspiration. And each chapter features quotes…
But I didn’t only want to feature quotes from famous people. I wanted to feature quotes from … YOU! And with permission, that’s exactly what I did. Here are a selection, taken from the book:
It was so much fun selecting quotes and then reaching out to readers! Everyone had a story to share behind their quote and I felt as though we were really writing this book together. Thank you to all the people who contributed.
It’s the book launch in a few days, which means I really should crack on with some sewing. Shall I see you there? We need to celebrate together, too!
When it came to cover inspiration for The Little Book of Sewing, my editor asked me to send over a few visuals that I liked. Amongst them was a link to Stitched Up Sam’s Instagram feed. I really like the way she combines the traditional technique of free motion embroidery with some edgy images. She chooses to work with lovely fabrics and her embroidery is always so neat!
Having shared my mood board with the publisher, I continued to admire Sam’s work from afar as the book was brought together and was going to print. By this stage, I’d seen the cover, of course, but had no idea who had embroidered it – until Sam got in touch to thank me. SHE HAD DESIGNED THE COVER!
I was thrilled that a fellow creative had been part of the journey and couldn’t resist asking Sam about the process. Read on to find out how you embroider a book cover!
Welcome, Sam! First, can you tell us a little about your journey in free machine embroidery?
Certainly. I first discovered free machine embroidery almost seven years ago when I saw a local textile artist demonstrating at a craft fair. She was offering one-to-one workshops, so I treated myself as a birthday present and was instantly hooked. Since then I’ve stitched all sorts of different items and images but I think my favourites are some of the portraits I’ve done. Of course, your book cover is also a favourite as it’s the first time a complete stranger has approached me to do a commissioned piece.
What did it feel like when Head of Zeus first contacted you?
If I’m honest when I first opened the email I thought it was a scam of some sort! But after a bit of Googling I realised it was genuine. I was really excited but also quite apprehensive as I’d never done anything remotely like this before. I wondered if I’d be up to the task but my lovely husband convinced me to go for it.
How did you begin to sketch out cover design ideas?
I spent a weekend doodling first of all, coming up with a number of different designs of varying degrees of complexity. The final design is actually one of the simplest and I think it works brilliantly on the small size of the book. I also had a good rummage through my fabric scraps and embroidery threads for some colour ideas. I wanted a range of fabrics that went well together but didn’t have overwhelming patterns and luckily I had scraps of the same fabric in quite a few different colours. Finally I stitched up a couple of samples as my sewing is much neater than my drawing!
Would you share the process of embroidering the cover?
Funnily enough, the majority of the cover design is one of the original stitched samples I sent to Head of Zeus. The samples took a few hours each. I started by sketching out my design on paper, then once I was happy with it I transferred the elements onto fabric which I then cut to shape and appliquéd to the background with free machine embroidery. The initial drawing and cutting out stage took as long, if not longer than the actual sewing. The publisher loved the main elements of the design but wanted a different coloured background (I’d stitched the sample on a dark background) so I recreated it on the light background and added some hand embroidered stars and lightning bolts.
What is your favourite detail in the cover?
I think that has to be the tiny reel of thread sitting on top of the machine. It was probably the most fiddly part of the design, but anyone who knows me will tell you I love working with tiny fiddly design elements. The reel of thread was conquered with a steady hand, a good pair of glasses and the smallest, sharpest scissors I could find! A pair of craft tweezers comes in very handy for positioning tiny pieces of fabric in the correct place.
Any exciting plans for the future?
I absolutely loved my first experience designing and illustrating a book cover. It’s not something I’d ever thought of doing previously but this experience has definitely lit a fire in my belly. I’m bursting with ideas and would love to find an illustrator agent to help me think more about how I build my fledgling business. In the meantime, I am working on producing a range of kits for my embroidered portrait designs, which I’m hoping to make available within the next few months. Watch this space for more news!
Thank you so much, Sam. Readers, I hope you are as inspired as I am – not only to buy a copy of The Little Book of Sewing, but maybe to dabble in free motion embroidery. I can’t wait to see Sam’s kits!
Did any of you see the recent stunning use of a vintage Vogue pattern by Riccardo on The Great British Sewing Bee? I loved this dress made from a set of charity shop curtains!
The pattern is the Vogue Paris Original 1483, faithfully tracked down for us by Rachel and Kate at The Foldline.
But as I began scouring the Internet looking for an undoubtedly expensive copy, it occurred to me that this pattern reminded me of a vintage Vogue pattern I’d already sewn with – the Vogue 5098. This also reminded me that, actually, vintage Vogue patterns are not that tricky to source.
So, here’s my collection of Vintage vogue patterns to inspire you all! A small, bijoux collection, but a collection none the less. And how I love them. I didn’t pay a lot – or anything – for these patterns. Sewing swaps, eBay, Etsy, car boot sales … these are all your friends. It wouldn’t take much research to imitate Riccardo’s make with your own set of curtains.
What a treasure trove of history these patterns are…
If you’re in any way inspired by the past, this is history you can hold up to your nose. We are lucky. We still have access to thousands of vintage sewing patterns to be picked up for pennies. I’ve always believed that history is not about men puffing on cigars in underground bunkers. It’s about the people who churned milk, swept cobbles and – yes – sewed patterns. It’s all around us, and via the medium of sewing we’re lucky to invite this history into our homes.
If you want your history-loving heart to skip a beat, just look around you. Go to your own charity shop.
And if, like me, you are a fan of vintage Vogue sewing patterns, keep your eyes peeled for a FREE giveaway coming to this blog soon.
Do you have a favourite vintage Vogue? Share the love in the comments! I might just have to seek out that pattern…
Can anyone recommend a blogger-friendly point and shoot camera? I’ve been using the same one almost since I started blogging, and it’s dying on its feet. I’m not interested in an SLR – I find those impossible for taking photos of myself. Just a nice, simple, high-quality camera that means I don’t always have to scurry outside for best light.
Because this is what happens! A bit of a Marilyn Monroe moment, overlooked by neighbours. Though a person might argue these are the best shots.
For this version, I used the last of my House of Hackney silk, bought in a sample sale. I didn’t have quite enough to add my usual extra ruffle hem, but I like this shorter, flirty version. Do you?
I took a lot of time over hand stitching various details and added some NW3 of Hobbs buttons, rescued from a cardigan…
I like the fact that I might confuse people. Hold on. Is that Hobbs or House of Hackney. Neither! It’s hand made.
The silk has a very dense weave, which sometimes makes it tricky to sew with. Silk pins definitely needed. But oh my goodness, the print and colour saturation!
This is why we sew. So that we can feel the butter-smooth ripple of silk fibres against our skin as we stand in the wind. When most people are scurrying home, faces to the ground, we’re absorbing the joy of stitches made by our own hands. Stitches that allow silk to caress our bodies. And, really, it is a joy. I can’t think of a better reason to sew…