Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The sewing vibe

I was trying to find some kind of play of words or pun related to the Uncle John and Whitelock Song 'Maryhill Vibe' as I've been really enjoying listening to them again recently.  However my brain isn't working very fast at the moment so all I could come up with was 'sewing vibe' - which I haven't really been feeling much of the past few weeks.  I just seem to have been so tired weekday evenings that I decided just to go with it - embrace the tiredness and vegetate in front of the TV. That's not to say I haven't been thinking about it though! I had a lovely day with socistorian a few Saturday's ago now - enjoying Yinka Shonibare's replica of HMS Victory with all its beautiful textile work, followed by fabric shopping on Goldhawk Road where I picked out some lovely fabric for pajama trousers (only £2 a metre - bargain!).

Then, two weekend 's ago we had Oliver's family down visiting and whilst he took his dad and brother-in-law to see the football I went with his mum, sister and aunt to see 'The Power of Making' at the V&A. What an amazing exhibition - so impressive!  There were lots of standout pieces for me, including the Alexander McQueen Armadillo shoes, the life-size crocheted bear and this wonderful sugar craft tiger.  It's a free exhibition so I'll definitely be going back to see it again as there was a lot to take in, including a really interesting looking video on many of the talented craft's people included in the show.

It really made me think about the place of craft in the art world - something I'm looking forward to exploring further when I go to hear Grayson Perry talk at the British Museum at How and Why I Draw after the launch of his installation 'The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman'.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

Secret sewing

Mestizo is a great Mexican restaurant on Hampstead Road and on our first visit there with friends visiting from Glasgow I was really taken with the fabric tortilla warmers, and the great food of course!  Oliver's definitely the better of us at recreating the food so I thought I'd have a go at making some tortilla warmers. 

I got the Mexican fabric at a Vintage Kilo sale - it was a huge kaftan and cost me all of £5.  There's enough fabric left for at least one more, possibly two, tortilla warmers.  You can see my stitching is still pretty messy in places, although the pattern for this is pretty basic, boy is it fiddly! It's basically four circles of fabric with quilting in the middle and bias tape round the circumference.  I used this tutorial but I made the circles substantially smaller than it suggested.  I just found a saucepan lid that was a bit bigger than a tortilla and drew round that. 

This was a Birthday present for my brother - who's an amazing chef, in addition to being a wonderful brother and friend - and even though he's a fancy chef I know he still likes making fajitas on occasion so I thought he'd get use out of it!  It was only a week late for his birthday  - the result of very untidy sewing on my first attempt, I had to unstitch it all and sew it again.

Although I know it could have been tidier I'm still really happy with it.  I love the colours and it was nice to use some more fabric which came from my mum's house for the inner layer of the warmers (the beige fabric you can see in the top photo).  It was also just really nice to make something for someone else, to think about my brother and how much I love him, whilst sewing.  Although I think I'll need to improve my sewing skills some more before I sew for anyone outside my family!

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I bought this dress during a visit to Portobello Road market a month or so ago.  I looked at, thought yeah that'll fit fine and handed over the £12 asked.  I just loved the colours and the stripes of course and I'd been looking for something in more primary colours so this fitted the bill perfectly - or so I thought! I got home tried it on and I couldn't get the zip anywhere near the top.  A kind friend suggested this was maybe a child's dress, maybe, but whoever it was intended for I was determined it was now going to fit me!

After seeking advice from Toile & Trouble I decided to make the dress into a skirt.  I chose not to take the zip out and redo it - yes, I'm a coward, what of it! Instead I made the bodice part of the dress the waistband so all I had to do was undo the stitching round the straps and waist-tie, then restitch it all.  whilst doing this I took the opportunity to angle the waistband in a bit at the top on both sides.  Then with the zip I just folded it over and stitched it flat.  It hardly took any time at all once I got started - amazing! It looks lovely from the front though the waist at the back is a bit bumfily (I have no idea how to spell that, probably becuase as Oliver pointed out, it isn't a real word, but you know what I mean right?)

Monday, 22 August 2011

There Must Be Magic

I can't post any photos of my latest wee project as it's a birthday present for my brother and I only mailed it off this afternoon (only a week late!).  So just in case he happens to check this blog I'll wait till he gets it before I share it here!

So instead I thought I'd indulge my childish side...
I have so many favourite childhood books - from preschool right through to Lord of the Rings and Anne of Green Gables but the preschool books all tend to have one major thing in common - beautiful illustrations!  My mum loved children's book illustrations and even when we were too old to buy for she would still often come home with different examples she'd picked up in charity shops.  When we moved to London I really couldn't bring all my books with me so many boxes of books were consigned to my Dad's garage.  Every time I go back up now I go through a few more boxes of stuff, clear some out, and invariably bring some back down with me!  This one came down the last time and it has so many happy memories.  I've realised upon reading it again on Saturday that I can still hear my mum's voice in my head, reading this aloud to me and for that reason alone this book is very important to me.

Aren't the title and the cover illustration just wonderful?! There Must Be Magic.  Because of course, to all children the world is full of magic!  I've recently been reading a number of books -  Buddhist, Zen and mediation related - and they all talk about the importance of getting back this childlike wonder with the world.  Well, these words and illustrations do it for me every time so I thought I would share a few of them.

 The book is called 'There Must be Magic - First Poems for Children'.  The illustrations were by John Overmyer and the poems were selected by Arthur Wortman.  'Otherwise' the poem containing the title of the book is by Aileen Fisher and one of my other favourites from the book is 'Happy Thought' by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I'm going back up to visit my family in Scotland next weekend and I'm sure my Dad and his wife would be happy if I gave them back some more of their garage (maybe even enough that they could fit their car in!) so I may just have to bring some more children's books back down with me.

Did anyone else have this book? What were your favourite children's books? What ones have you held on to above all others?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Peaches and green

I finished my second Sorbetto top last weekend but never got round to taking a photo of me wearing it until this weekend.  I'd like to say it was due to an unusually busy week but it seems like every week is busy and time just going faster and faster. On Thursday morning I had a wee freak out when getting ready for work as it seemed like only a minute ago it had been Wednesday morning getting ready for work - I really felt like I was in Groundhog day for a moment!

Anyway, this weekend was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of London life, I went to stay with my brother and his girlfriend in Abergavenny.  Me and my brother went to Brecon yesterday for the Brecon jazz festival so I asked him to take my photo outside Brecon Cathedral - the venue for the concert we went to.  I love my second Sorbetto as much as my first one! The fabric is gorgeous - a Liberty print I picked up on Goldhawk Road and I underlined it with a lovely soft white cotton just to make sure it wasn't see-through.  I know I'll get lots of wear out of it as it goes with so many colours - peach and green being a favourite!

The Brecon Jazz Festival was great fun - there was music going on everywhere you turned - in pubs, outside the Cathedral, in make-shift tents set up for the weekend.  We went to see the Tim Kliphuis Quintet featuring Dave Newton - a band made up of members from Holland, Scotland, England and Malta.  They played a great mixture of jazz, folk, classical and North African music with a violin, double bass, guitar, piano and a fantastic percussionist who played lots of instruments, including some really unusual ones, like a large vase!  The venue was stunning and Brecon itself was lovely.  We got some freshly made still-warm welsh cakes which and my brother got a gorgeous cider Happy Daze, which unfortunately as I was driving I could only have a sip of.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but my brother and his girlfriend moved to Wales to open an Italian restaurant in Abergavenny and to say I'm proud and excited about it would be a huge understatement!  I know you could say I'm slightly bias but my brother is an amazing chef and his friend who he's going into business with is a specialist pizza chef from Italy - ooh, I cannae wait!

So.. what next for the Sorbetto?!  I just spotted the PDF for a sleeve pattern for the Sorbetto over at Sew, incidentally.  I don't have much of a fabric stash though and I'm pretty skint this month so I'll need to start scouring the charity shops to see what I can find.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Keep on the Sunny Side

Oh well, so much for staying in on Sunday and getting my second Sorbetto done. The sun was just too alluring so me and Oliver headed to the park instead. I took a new book to start on 'Stamboul Train' by Graham Greene - it's so much fun, lots of mystery and intrigue!  To add to the sunny afternoon vibe we had two different tasty ciders from Wales to try, and enjoyed an afternoon reading, drinking and dozing in the sunshine.

I did go home in the evening and get the top cut out though. I'm doing two layers as the green & white Liberty print (which you can see in this post) is a bit see-through and I don't want another unwearable top like the yellow/white stripe one.  I thought about lining it but Toile and Trouble suggested I could just double layer for ease so that's what I'm doing as it really is a lot easier!  I got the staystitching done tonight and the darts but then I had to go out for a while and now, after 10pm, it's too late to get the sewing machine out.

So, seeing as I don't have another top to show you yet how about this rather lovely Parisienne plate by Ridgway instead?! It's from the 1950s and I just couldn't resist it in a lovely art gallery/antique shop in Kirkudbright.  The girl sitting at the table with the gorgeous 1950s dress reminds me of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Just one Sorbetto...

Well, maybe not, I already have plans for number 2 and number 3.  I've finally joined the ranks of the Sorbetto top wearers - after loving all the different versions I'd seen on-line I couldn't resist having a go myself. I finished my first one on Tuesday night so that I could wear it on Wednesday night when I was going to meet friends in Lincoln's Inn Fields park after work. Stupidly I forgot to take any photos of me wearing it in the park so instead you get another boring photo of me in our home.

I'd read so many blog posts about making the Sorbetto and noticed that quite a few of them mentioned that the length was a bit on the short side. I added a wee bit (can't remember how much) but it still wasn't quite enough so for my next one I'll add a bit more.

This top hardly cost anything to make as the peachy/pink cotton blend was from my mum's stash. I've been carrying it about for years and am so happy to have put it to use.  It's difficult to tell from the photos but the fabric has a lovely fleck through it. The bias tape is made from a pink/white striped fabric by Betty Jackson which cost £10 a metre - quite expensive I know but then I've only used a tiny square of it, in fact I'm sure I've got enough to make another Sorbetto out of what's left! 

The only problem I had with it was, in my determination to finish it for my Wednesday deadline, I came home from a meal out with Oliver and some friends, and 3 bottles of beer down decided I'd be fine to sew the bias tape to the armholes and press and sew the seam.  The armholes came out fine with no incidents to report however the seam wasn't quite so seamless (excuse the terrible pun).  I managed to press my arm as well as the seam and now have a rather large unsightly burn on the underside of my forearm!  I'd like to say 'Lesson Learned' and that I will never ever use the iron or sewing machine after a few beers or glasses of wine.  However I know that to be an untruth as I am terribly impatient sometimes and if I only have a wee bit left to finish off something then a few beers is not going to stop me!

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and although I feel I should be outside enjoying it I think I'm going to stay in and cut out my next Sorbetto instead.  I don't feel too guilty though as we've had a lovely weekend with my Dad and his wife who've been down visiting us.  We've been out walking all over London, stopping for sherry and Tapas at a great place on Bermondsey street called 'Jose' (another drink to add to my ever-growing list of drinks I never used to like but now do), stopping by the Royal Festival hall for a drink (with the added bonus of seeing all the fantastic clothes at the Vintage at Southbank festival), and finishing it all off last night with dinner at Mangal2 on Stoke Newington Road - basically walking eating and drinking our way round London - fantastic!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

'Cult of Beauty' inspired make-up bag

I had a busy week the week I went to the fabric brooch making workshop as only two nights later I was at another workshop. This was a zipper clinic at the Make Lounge in Angel.  I've never put a zip in before and on my limited experience of reading sewing books it's quite difficult to pick something up without seeing someone else do it so I thought this would be a perfect introduction.  Also, that little disaster I had with a zipper on a dress made me realise it'd be a very handy thing to be able to fix!

The workshop was full and everyone was really friendly.  It's a nice big workshop space, not as cute & cosy as the We Make summer pop-up shop but still a nice space.  The pace of the workshop was pretty fast actually, and they seemed pretty keen to get us all out on time - fair enough I guess but it did feel a bit rushed.  However the girl who taught us was really good and more than happy to go over things again, and again - I found it all quite tricky. By the end of it though I'd done a passable normal zip, a concealed zip and learned lots of useful tips such as moving the zipper round the needle whilst sewing.  We also all got to choose from a lovely selection of oilcloth and make our own make-up bag.  As usual my immediate reaction was to go for the brightest, most garish colour combinations - I picked up a lime-green with a contrasting bright pink zipper. However when I saw the William Morris inspired design below I had to change my mind. 

William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement has been on my mind a lot recently, ever since I went to the 'Cult of Beauty' exhibition at the V&A.  I wish I'd had a chance to go back again as it was such an inspiring, and truly beautiful exhibition.  So I'm glad I chose this fabric for my make-up bag instead, I'll think of the exhibition now when I look at.  I'd definitely recommend this workshop if, like me, you're new to sewing and have never put a zip in before.  Even if you had it'd still be a good fun workshop to go to.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

My next sewing challenge project!

I so enjoyed New Vintage Lady's Make and Mend Challenge that I'm all ready to sign up for another - the Plain Pattern Project.  The idea is to make the most plain, basic pattern, 3 times and 1 of the 3 should be as close to the original as possible.  Sounds perfect for a beginner like me! My only problem, how to choose which pattern?! I'm stuck between these two but I think that the McCall pattern looks more basic. Has anyone else made these up? What do you think? Am I right in thinking the McCall is the most basic?  I picked the McCall because of Tilly's gorgeous version of it here.  The Lisette Simplicity was picked because Casey inspired me with her Blueberry Fields.  Both Tilly and Casey's blogs have been great inspiration to me and I just love reading about their latest projects, and inspirations - thank you both!

Friday, 15 July 2011

First foray into craft workshops...

.. was a huge success!  Last Tuesday night I visited the We Make Summer boutique pop up shop for a workshop with Fabric Nation

Making fabric flower brooches.  I wish I'd wrote this up earlier whilst the pop-up shop was still open as it was such a lovely shop!

The workshop with Gillian of Fabric Nation was so much fun - the time just whizzed by and by the end of the night me and the other two girls, Nana and Kate (I think that's right but apologies if either of you are reading this and I got your name wrong - my memory sucks!), had each learned lots of new techniques and tricks for making lovely brooches.  Even better they could be used for hair clips or hair bands as well as brooches!  Gillian was lovely - so helpful and talented, and willing to share her sewing tips with us.  The brooches were really simple to make once you knew how - so clever!  I made the lilac and yellow brooch, the yellow and red hair pin, and the pink tweed brooch.  I've been wearing the brooch lots and the hair pin.  The pink tweed brooch strikes me as a bit more autumnal so I'm going to save it for a while!

Gillian is also involved in Handmade in Tooting, which organise lots of fun sounding workshops in both South and North London.  I think next pay day I'll book myself on something else.

And as if the thought of learning a new craft and a night of crafty fun wasn't enough to entice you, Gillian also made the best lemon drizzle cake - yum!

Sorry for the terrible photographs - I really do need to do something about my photography skills, or lack of.  The brooch actually looks better on the yellow cardigan in real life than it does in the photo below - it's much brighter in reality. And excuse the terribly cheesy photo but I just wanted to show how proud I am of the first brooch I made!

So guess what everyone's getting for Birthday/Christmas gifts then?!

Make & Mend 2011

I got the last of my mending finished last night whilst watching 'The Devil Wears Prada' - only 4 days late in finishing which isn't too bad considering how busy I've been.

So just to remind myself what the challenge was: -

I made my lap top case using a lovely mustard coloured cashmere fabric, with some quilted turquoise  fabric on the inside. I followed Say Yes to Hoboken's pattern but added in the lining. It worked well though the turquoise fabric was really slidey and hard to work with.

My repurpose was refashioning the green and white flower dress for a wedding.  This worked really well, I love the dress now and will get loads of wear out of it whereas before I was ready to give it to the charity shop.

I fixed all my jackets - attaching buttons (properly this time - so finger's crossed they all stay on longer than my previous attempts!).  I also used Shelley's great tutorial for darning holes in the lining of two of them.

Things I've learned -
  • I'm seriously addicted to sewing. When I first started reading sewing blogs I'd read about sewers dreaming about their next projects, obsessing over fabric, and think 'they must be exaggerating, surely!' Hah! Now I know exactly what they're all talking about, it kind of takes over at first, now I think I've got it under control, but I'm off to a vintage kilo sale followed by fabric shopping tomorrow so maybe I'm just kidding myself!
  • How to mend tears and holes in lining - could now apply this to any darning needing done
  • How to do shirring - I loved this, really loved it, it was so much fun to do! Definitely want to do some more shirring.
  • Quilting - well kind of, this was a bit of a 'just give it a go and see what happens' rather than following any guidelines but I think it worked out pretty well.
  • Attaching buttons properly? - I'll see how the newly fixed buttons hold up and get back to you on this one!
  • That altering the hem on a circle skirt takes a loong time!
  • I need to learn about more about what types of fabric to use as I think it would make things a bit easier. Also I need a new iron so I can have it turned down low.  At the moment it only works if up full, not so good for non-cotton fabric, as I realised when the turquoise fabric turned from a square to a diamond after ironing it on full heat.
  • I really, really need to spend time just practising basic techniques like sewing in a straight line, doing hems and seams etc.  
  • I need to be more careful with my belongings. I made a camera case to match my laptop case.  It was fantastic (even if I do say so myself) as my camera fitted snugly inside. I'd quilted it just the same as the laptop case too so it had lots of padding to protect the camera.  Then I went to see Pulp at Hyde Park (fantastic!) and on the way home trying to get my cardigan out my bag I must have dropped the camera case.  I was so upset at losing it but tried to console myself with the thought that maybe, just maybe, rather than getting ground up in the mud from thousands of feet, it will be found by someone with a camera of a similar size and provide care and happiness to someone else, maybe?! Of course it was also great consolation that I only lost the case and not the camera!
  • I LOVE CHALLENGES! Yes indeedy, it's just what I need for those nights when I get home from work and don't feel particularly creative.  If I know that there's other people also involved in similar projects, and I know I have a deadline I'd like to meet, then most nights the motivation comes back.  Of course some nights I still give in and spend three hours watching CSI instead, or reading a book, or reading sewing blogs, but many nights the challenge worked to restore my creativity!
All my newly mended clothes
Lastly I just want to say a huge thank you to Shelley over at New Vintage Lady for organising Make & Mend 2011!  I'm now looking forward to The Plain Pattern Project.

Monday, 4 July 2011


Well tonight is the first night I'm actually going to sit down and get some mending done as it's been a busy few weeks.  I'm not complaining though as it's been a really fun few weeks! We were up in Glasgow for a wedding (where I wore my re-fashioned dress), I've got to spend lots of time with three of my best pals, in Glasgow and in London, and yesterday we went to see Pulp! Added into that was lots of delicious food and wine, some cocktails, and well, I'm sure you can see why the mending went right to the end of the queue!

Tonight though, I've fixed the lining on a coat and now I'm sitting down to fix on buttons to 2 jackets and 1 skirt.  I know they're pretty basic mending jobs but for me it's still a step forward if I can learn how to fix buttons on properly as up till now my efforts only seem to last a short time till they fall off again - a sure sign I'm doing something wrong. 

it's a pretty big tear! took longer than I thought to whipstitch round it

I didn't have any matching fabric so decided to go for something fun & contrasting instead
Hopefully I'll get it all done tonight as it's the last night I'll be in the house before the end of Make and Mend 201 - another busy week this week then a weekend in the country for me, visiting Zoe in Castle Douglas.  I love going to Dumfries and Galloway - the scenery is so beautiful, good company, and this time a new puppy to play with - yay!

Sunday, 26 June 2011


Woo hoo - all finished!  With a few squinty lines, a bit of a problem with the inside seams (I forgot to overlock the edges and the fabric started to fray a bit!), and some very slippery lining - I finally finished the laptop sleeve from Say Yes to Hoboken's free pattern on over at Grosgrain.  I'm sure for sewers with more experience than me it would be a quick job of a few hours as the instructions are very easy to follow and there aren't many pattern pieces.  However it took me a lot longer than that, partly because I decided to line it and quilt the lining, but I loved the whole process (ok there were a few sighs and sweary words at times but I still enjoyed it as I know I'm learning so much).  It's a bit squinty and I'm having problems with that - no matter how hard I try I just can't seem to cut straight lines! Any tips or advice on this?  I think the cashmere also changed shape slightly along the top seam  as I'm sure it was reasonably straight before I had to sew it down.  It is quite stretchy fabric, maybe I should have been using a thicker needle? So it doesn't look nearly as chic and neat as the one in the picture but hey, it's mine, I'm happy with it, and now I know I need way more practice at cutting, and sewing, in straight lines!

I did ask Oliver to take a photo of me holding the laptop case but I forgot to put suncream on my shoulders today when we were in the park so I have pale arms and red shoulders - not a good look.

The tester bit of quilting I did is just big enough to work as a camera case so that's what I'm going to do with it.  There's enough of the cashmere left too so I'm going to make it to match the laptop sleeve. Matching accessories - yay!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Progress on 'Use Fabric You Already Have'

This is what I'm currently working on - the laptop sleeve from Say Yes to Hoboken's free tutorial on Grosgrain. The cashmere mustardy yellow is form my stash - well actually it's from my mum's stash so it's been in a stash a loong time and is high time it got used up! I just bought the teal fabric from the scraps bx at John Lewis and I thought it was a great colour to line it with - not that you need to line a lap top sleeve, I just wanted some practice of lining, plus I like lots of colours together, one colour is never enough! Oh yes, and the mouse? Well the mouse is a pin cushion made by my mum, probably before I was born. I've always loved him with his wee hat, and I'm so glad I'm actually making use of him now.

So this teal fabric I bought to line it with? Well it sure is a lovely colour but it's also really slippery fabric which caused me lots of problems with my other part of the plan - quilting the lining.  First off I tried it on a scrap, which is what you can see in the photo below, and it seemed pretty easy.  I think because the scrap was quite small it was easy to hold, plus I didn't try and draw lines to keep it straight I just went for it.  I liked the effect so decided last night to get started on the lining itself.

Ha! This time it was a lot harder - the fabric is so slippery and I don't have a cutting mat so when I was trying to draw the lines on, on a polished slidey wooden table, the fabric kept moving about.  Then when I started sewing it the needle started pulling occasionally on threads in the opposite direction.  I'm not sure why this is happening? Am I using the wrong needle? Or maybe the needle is blunt?  Well I got half the lining done last night and will get on with the rest on Friday hopefully.  We've had friends staying earlier in the week and we're off out for dinner with them tonight - Mexican, yum.  I have to say - I really never thought I'd get this addicted to sewing! I can't stop thinking about it, is this normal?!!

And can anyone tell me what the above quilting technique is called? Is it just 'quilting'? I tried looking up 'effect of the outside of Barbour jacket' but couldn't get anything (I know for an archivist my subject term ability is embarrassingly poor outside of work). I couldn't find anything about it in my Reader's Digest guide either. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Brooch making workshop

I'm quite excited as I've just booked on my first craft workshop in London - yay!  I've signed up for an evening of fabric brooch making with Fabric Nation at the We Make Summer Boutique in Hampstead.  I've got a lovely fabric brooch that I got as a Christmas present from a friend, it looks very similar to the ones shown below. It'll be fun to know how to make them!

This is my first foray into jewellery making in some time, since a 'bead bender' with two of my best pals in Glasgow.  That was a super fun day that started off as a jewellery making class at The Bead Company in Partick, followed by lunch at The Shandon Belles and then many pints of Guinness at the Doublet.  This one in London is on a Tuesday night so hopefully not quite so raucous, plus I don't know anyone so I'd be a bit worried if I did end up in an old man's pub drinking Guinness on my own.

The blurb about the workshop is included below in case it is of interest to anyone else.  Maybe see you there!

5 July Fabric brooch making
We Make Summer Boutique, Oak Studios, 8 Perrins Court, London NW3 1QS
Delve into Fabric Nation’s stash of vintage, upcycled and contemporary fabrics to make several pretty styles of flower, all deceptively simple to sew. Use them to brighten clothes or bags, wear as a hair clip or brooch, or make them as gifts for lucky friends. Pair up flowery, polkadot or striped prints, 50s barkcloth and US quilting cottons with vintage buttons, trims and felts to create unique and colourful designs. These flower brooches and hair clips are deceptively simple to make, perfect for the beginner, and offer more experienced participants a chance to explore different techniques and work with a range of different materials.

Gillian will provide step-by-step tuition in different brooch making techniques and one-to-one help for those with little sewing experience. All materials are provided, including home baked cakes. To book a place and for more details visit the We Make Summer Boutique

Monday, 20 June 2011


I have two pieces of fabric in my stash that I was thinking of using for this part of the project.  This first one is a vintage Liberty print which I absolutely love, and which has very sentimental attachments for me.

I'm not sure when it's from but it's definitely been in my mum's stash since the early 80s, so maybe it's late 70s?  As I've mentioned before my mum was a textile artist/embroiderer and she did also make some of her own clothes - mostly trousers and tops in lots of lovely bright colours.  I remember asking her what she was going to do with this and she always said she didn't know, that it was 'too nice to use' unless she had something specific in mind.  It's an awkward shape I think, 90cm wide by just over 4metres long.  I'm not sure what to do with it so I'm not going to use it for this challenge.  I was thinking I could maybe make a blouse? or I could use a small section of it as a waistband on a skirt?  Does anyone have any pattern suggestions for this? Even if it's more difficult than beginners as I could put it aside for later.

So, I had to think of something else to do for Make&Mend 2011.  I have decided to make use of this beautiful brown/mustard yellow coloured cashmere - also from my mum's stash (it doesn't look as good in this photo, it's actually a lot brighter in real life).  I've got a gorgeous navy blue cashmere too that I think will make a skirt but there isn't so much of this mustard one and it's got big bits cut out of it so it seems perfect for the laptop sleeve.

Luckily during Grosgrain's free pattern month there was this great pattern tutorial for making a laptop sleeve from Say Yes to Hoboken.

I picked up a scrap of teal fabric from the  sale box at John Lewis and I'm planning to line it with the teal as teal and mustardy yellow is such a fantastic combination and a combination I can see me wearing a lot of come autumn/winter.  I'm also thinking of trying some quilting on the inside on the teal fabric, diagonal squares in the same colour of thread - I've never done any quilting before so I'll need to try it on some old scraps first! 

Of course in order to get on with this I need to stop reading Grosgrain and Say Yes to Hoboken but they're both filled with so much inspiring stuff and so much advice and teaching that it's hard not to get lost for hours!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

High living


That's us just back from our weekend in Glasgow. The wedding we were at was at Pollok House, a beautiful stately home in Pollok Park. I've been going to Pollok Park and the Burrell Collection since I was a child but before Saturday I had never been in Pollok House itself. What a spectacular setting for a wedding! The ceremony itself was in the library - the whole day was lovely. The bride looked so elegant and beautiful in the dress made for her by Toile and Trouble and the whole day was lovely. it was great to get to catch up with friends, get a good dance, and get a nosy round a lovely stately home.

I thought I'd include a photo of me enjoying wearing my newly re-fashioned dress.  I was so happy to get it finished in time and when I was packing on Thursday night I suddenly remembered about a lovely green bag I'd inherited from a Great Aunt which matched perfectly.

In other news I had a £20 book token which I received for being a mentor to a friend studying her Masters in Archives (though I feel a bit of a fraud as she really doesn't need my help at all - though I do enjoy talking about archives with her, well I enjoy talking about archives anyway!).  So I decided to use this book token to treat myself to the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing as I've been continually renewing the copy I got from Camden Library 2 months ago.  It's lovely to have my own copy and I'm sure it's going to come in very handy for the next stage of Make & Mend 2011 - I have 3 jackets to fix.  Thanks to Shelley's tutorial I now feel more confident about mending the tears in the lining.  The other fix on all three is putting back on buttons.  I've reattached buttons before only for them to fall off again within a month so I think I'll have a good read through the section in the book on buttons before I get started.  Of course if anyone has any personal tips on securing buttons properly I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Officially hooked on sewing!

As I sit at the window writing this it is pouring down with rain outside, there's just been a flash of lightning and the last thing I can imagine wearing is a flowery summery dress but oh well, there you go, that's British summer's for you. I'm just so incredibly pleased with myself that I managed to get my dress refashioned in time for the wedding on Saturday!

The first thing I did was change the hem from a full-on scalloped hem to a lovely straight hem.  I then laid it over the back off a chair and couldn't stop looking at it - that's how pleased I was with my handy-work.  I was very good the first few nights sewing and listened to music - I'm totally addicted to Alela Diane's new album at the moment, especially after seeing her live last month.  However last night Oliver was out which gave me a rare chance to watch some Five USA AKA Jerry Bruckheimer's TV Channel - yes I watched an episode of Numbers then 2 hours of CSI, I'm not ashamed of that, ok maybe just a little bit ashamed, but it's an addiction I can't seem to shake!

You can see all the before photos - the hem, the broken shirring, the ribbon straps - on my Flickr and in the great Flickr group set up for Make&Mend 2011. It took me one night to do the hem, another night to do the straps and last night to do the shirring.  I imagine all these things will get quicker as I learn more, I mean at the moment I still have to check my sewing machine manual every time I have to fill up the bobbin or change the stitch length!

The dress - BEFORE

You can see in the before photo how shapeless it was with all the broken elastic on the shirring, and I was just a bit bored by the scalloped hem and the straps as I've had this dress for years.   So all the time was worth it as I now feel I have a new dress and all it cost me was the price of some white thread and elastic thread.  I think I can safely say I am now officially hooked on sewing!

The Dress - AFTER!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

And at the top of the mending pile...

I just counted my jackets - bad idea. I have 13, yes, you heard right 13! Is that normal? It seems just slightly excessive to me, I mean really, who needs that many jackets?! Never mind that all but 5 of them are vintage/charity shop buys (see, already I'm trying to placate myself that I'm not really such a insatiable consumer). The thing is I do wear them all, in fact I wear them so much that 3 of them need mending all at once. You can see the repairs needed to this one. 

This is the middle of the back of the jacket - it's slightly too small for me hence it ripped when I leaned over in my office chair to pick up my bag - oops! However it was a bargain from a vintage shop on Great Western Road in Glasgow, it's a lovely bright blue wool and as the label says it does indeed 'Match any weather' so I'd like to fix it and I'll just need to take my jacket off before making any sudden movements!

The next mend is my pink coat (my saviour on this occasion so I want to do a good job of mending it).  I got it in Kinji, a vintage clothes shop in Tokyo so it's also got lots of happy memories attached to it of our trip to Japan.  Does anyone have any recommendations on the best way to fix these?  I'm thinking I'm going to have to put a scrap of material behind the tear and sew round the edges by hand.  Is this the best method? I looked in my sewing machine book and unfortunately I don't have the foot it says to use for darning so I think it'll need to be handsewing.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Timotei dress

I was planning on getting started on this tonight but then I discovered Make & Mend 2011 and have spent so long looking at this that I haven't started yet - oops, not the most auspicious start!

So, here's what I'm planning to start, tomorrow night! I love this dress, I got it years ago at Spitalfields Market in London. This summer I thought it was looking a bit odd, on a closer look I realised all the elastic stitching has stretched making it sit at the wrong place on the waist and longer that it should. The one thing I always wanted to change was the scalloped hem so here's the perfect opportunity! I'm also going to use the fabric I cut off the hem to make proper straps as I'm a bit fed up with the ribbons. What about redoing the broken elastic on the smocking? Would that be really difficult? Anyone know any good online tutorials on this subject?

I'm hoping to have this dress done in time for a wedding a week on Saturday - wish me luck?!

The scalloped hem I would like to make straight

The ribbon straps I'd like to replace
Broken elastic on the smocking

My first group sewing project!

I'm a little bit nervous.. ok I'll admit it I'm hugely nervous, what on earth have I done signing myself up for a sewing project when I'm such a complete novice! However I just couldn't resist the New Vintage Lady's Make and Mend 2011.

I have lots of fabric that I have inherited from my mum.  I remember there always being a big pile of gorgeous fabrics in the linen cupboard that were always going to be something - however my mum was an artist - textile and embroidery - and that always took precedence over making clothes.  When my mum passed away I just couldn't bear to throw it out, so along it all came with the sewing machine and threads.  It's only now, two and a half years later, that I'm starting to learn how to use this much-loved machine!  So I thought this would be the perfect project to start with -
  • use fabric you already have for a new project - I have a few ideas for this, one with a vintage liberty print, another with a small piece of mustard coloured cashmere
  • repair/mend 5 things from 'fix' pile - I've been doing lots of this already but still have plenty left!
  • repurpose at least 1 piece of fabric - I'm not sure if this counts but I have a lovely green/yellow/white flower print dress on which the elastic on the smocking has all stretched. It's not too long, sits funny and it only has ribbons for straps.  I'd like to take it up & re-hem it, use the material I've cut off the bottom to make proper straps, and (if this isn't ridiculously out of my depth, then redo some of the broken and stretched elastic).  Is this a re-purpose?
I've now signed up and joined the Flickr group - anyone else want to join in?!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

good intentions

Hello!  I've not been a very good sewer recently but it's all for a good reason - since coming back from Italy we've been away again - this time a lovely long weekend back in Scotland.  I went home on Thursday for my Granny's 87th Birthday and we had a lovely party at my Dad's house - 12 of us in total, covering 4 generations!  before heading out to my Gran's I popped up to see a friend Lisa who runs an amazing coffee shop 'C, C & T' in Glasgow - she roasts all the coffee on site, they hand-make chocolates on site, they have the best Moroccan Mint Tea leaves ever - if you're in Glasgow you have to stop by for a visit!  Then a night in Bridge of Allan staying with a good friend (where the sun shined all day, it was unbelievably hot!), followed by Saturday night at the Lake of Menteith Hotel.  This last night was a real luxury treat courtesy of two of my best pals who got us it as a wedding present - thanks Lisa and Kath!  All in all a wonderful long weekend away.  Now I'm back to the reality of work, and hopefully, plenty of time to get on with some sewing!

I was going to get started on the Sorbetto top (a free download from Grosgrain last month).  However after the problems with the sheerness of the yellow stripey top I decided to buy a white fabric to underline it - except I'm not going to properly line it, I'm just going to cut 2 layers, the print and the whit fabric and sew them together - will it work?! I'll let you know how it goes!  I got a white muslin in John Lewis, and then popped into Liberty to get some bias binding (the pattern says you can make your own but I thought I should have back up, just in case).

Of course a quick visit to Liberty rarely turns out like that and I came away with some gorgeous sale fabric.  It's called Durie B and it's by the children's illustrator Brian Wildsmith - whose illustrated version of 'Child's Garden of Verses' I used to love (alas I think it was culled in one of my many attempts to reduce a lifetime of books to a reasonable/moveable number).  I loved the colours of this fabric, the mixture of different pinks, red, and the very mustardy, yellow colour.  Plus the dark background means it'll go great with tights in the winter - I've still got to get over my fear of dark tights with light coloured fabric as I've seen it on lots of girls and it looks great.  It's one of those irrational decisions made early on, like my decision that black and brown or black and blue don't go - once again I've seen other people doing it and know it can work, but am too stubborn - old habits die hard!  I thought it would make a lovely winter dress - and going by my current standards of sewing productivity I think that's being a bit more realistic than starting on more summer clothes.

My new fabric beside another treat to myself, some Sweet Williams

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Things We Wear

I wasn't sure whether to post this on my own archives blog, on the University archives blog, or here, but I decided to plump for here as the main reason this publication jumped out at me was the 'Things We Wear' section.  I really love how my life and my work are so intertwined, in the sense that I love what I do (for an introduction to where I currently work see here) and can always find something interesting in it, though I do need to watch and not bore people with 'archives chat'.  Anyway, I hope (!) this won't bore anyone!

I've just been cataloguing an intriguingly named box called 'unattached and individual' which has been an absolute treasure trove of unusual and interesting letters from individual members of the National Union of Women Teachers.  I've got loads more letters from the box to write about but I'll be doing that on over at the Newsam News blog
Image from the NUWT Collection, © Institute of Education
My goodness, I really know how to drag out a story don't I!?  Sooo, this letter I'm writing about was from a member of the NUWT, Amy Waite, writing to the General Secretary of the Union, Muriel Pierotti in 1942.  She writes
"Enclosed is a specimen of my book.  I have myself financed the publishing, partly because it is difficult to get a book taken up during these times unless one has a name such as Enid Blyton". 
She goes on to explain that her book is for young children, to help them learn basic vocabulary and that it has so far been successful, being taken up by schools in the area where she lives, and now in its third print edition.  The letter is enquiring if she can sell her booklet at NUWT conference.

I loved the cover of the booklet, with the basic line drawings of various objects.  Then when I opened it up this page in particular caught my eye. 

Image from the NUWT Collection, © Institute of Education

I do like the word 'frock' though I'd feel a bit strange using it to describe my own dresses, is it just me or does 'frock' now have a connotation of being used to criticise a dress, or used a bit sarcastically? I love that 'kilt' is in there as an item of everyday clothing as now kilts are things worn by men and only at weddings.  However I remember seeing photographs of my mum, and my grandmother, as young girls wearing kilts and I know that for a long time a kilt was part of most young Scottish girls wardrobe.  Can anyone tell me what a comb is?  Is it a shortened version of combination? And coming to that, what are combinations?  A pixie hood sounds wonderfully romantic.  I know I could just google it but I'd rather build my own picture in my head of what a pixie hood is!  Everything isle there is pretty self explanatory though I wonder if words like Mackintosh and Wellington are the same in other English speaking countries as in the UK? as in, our 'trousers' = American 'pants'

Sunday, 29 May 2011

My one-hour (2 week) top!

Well, that was some learning curve! I was under no illusions about my sewing skills so I knew that making a supposed 'one-hour' top would take longer than that, and that I'd have a lot to learn but wow, it's like learning a whole new language!   That's not to say I've not enjoyed it, far from it, I've had many a happy hour in my first steps in sewing and am looking forward to learning more.  When I first started reading the pattern I had to get my library copy of the Reader's Digest guide to sewing out and look up all the terms I've listed below.

Edge finish
Layer seam

Once I felt I understood the instructions a bit better I started.  The first cut into the fabric was a bit scary, is it always that way?!  Even though I'd bought cheap (£1.99 a metre) fabric I was still worried as I really liked the fabric and didn't want to make a mistake.  I had a few problems which I think all started with using blunt scissors to begin cutting out the fabric - I don't think my cutting was all that accurate.  Once I'd got the sides sewed up I realised that the front and back shoulders were different widths! Instead of taking it apart though I was very lazy and just folded the fabric in at the seam and did a slip stitch (woo hoo! - learnt this when making the cushion cover).

Overall I'm really pleased with the top. it's slightly less fitting than I would have wanted but then I don't think it could have been any more fitted without putting in a side zip.  I know I'll get wear out of it, particularly for work with navy skirts and navy cropped trousers.  The only problem with it is... it's a bit see-through! I didn't think about lining it until it was too late.  It's not a major problem though, I'll just need to buy a white or cream vest top to wear underneath it.  Hence the reason I'm not wearing it in the photo though, I still need to buy a vest top! Looking at it hanging as well I can see that the hem is pretty uneven, methinks I got a bit impatient and hasty towards the end and just wanted it finished - I really need to try and reign in the impatience somewhat.

It hasn't actually taken me all this time to make the top, I had the mistake the night before I went on holiday (when I stopped mid-sewing for a tea break, then came back to it and started following the pattern for a different version of the top).  Since I've been back from holiday I've had a sore throat and cold that's come and gone so it's taken me a while to get the energy to get it finished.  All raring to go on the next project though.  What to make though!? Has to be something simple again, as this project proved I've got serious amount to learn.  I'm thinking either this top or this laptop case - both thanks to Grosgrain's free pattern month. ooh, decisions, decisions..

I'm also going to look at my finances to see if I can afford to go to a sewing class as I think I'm far too lazy and will cut corners - maybe this is something you can do when you're experienced but I don't have that experience yet and feel I should learn the proper way to do things first.  I've read a bit about the courses at Oh Sew Brixton which sound fantastic.  Anyone have any other recommendations? Jessica recommended evening classes at college, a great idea, but they don't start till after the summer, and I'm waay to impatient to get sewing to wait till the autumn!