Top 5 of 2013


It is time for my Top 5 of 2013 (as organised by the lovely Gillian. I can’t believe this time last year I didn’t know her!). I have to review my Sewlutions tomorrow for the Mistress of the Jar, so I’m going to pack a lot in this post…

Lets start with the misses2013 misses

  • I learned so much making my Couture Jacket and am really pleased with the construction and techniques I used. But I’ve only worn it a couple of times. I’m hoping it is because the typical British spring went from freezing to boiling in a week, so fingers-crossed I enjoy wearing it this spring.
  • My Dotty Dolly Cambie dress remains unblogged ūüė¶ I was so excited making it – polka dots, a Cambie dress, ric-rac…. all the ingredients for a perfect dress. But wearing it didn’t feel perfect. I think I prefer the gathered skirt to the a-line version I did here, and the fabric for my floral Cambie flows better. Again. I will try it again in spring as it was finished just as the heatwave started, and all the lining was a bit too sticky.
  • Inspired by meetings with Charity Shop Chic I got some items to refashion. Have you seen them yet? Nope. Because there was a lot of brain power involved in fitting my pattern pieces onto refashioned parts of garments. I will definitely put these to the top of my to-sew pile as one is fuscia silk and the other is red wool.
  • My red Basic Bella cardigan has been worn frequently these past few months and is a great chunky cardigan for a chilly day. But it is chunky. The cotton blend yarn stretches (not enough research done) and I made it fit my measurements, not incorporating negative/zero ease for a close fit (beginner knitter’s mistake) so overall it is rather baggy and can look a bit sloppy. It is still great to wear, but it has to go in the miss category since it was one of the causes of my bad wrists ūüė¶
  • Finally my first Anna dress. Its not a total disaster, and most of the lovely comments suggested chopping the sleeves off (a job that can wait until it gets a bit warmer!), but I felt disappointed with it after all the Anna love around the blogosphere.

Hits 2013



I had a lot of trouble choosing my hits as I’ve made so many nice things this year; I feel my sewing has improved and I have a better sense of what suits me now, so there were less disasters.

  • I love my stripy Tiramisu dress and it was a great introduction to Cake Patterns. Steph’s drafting and custom fit instructions are great, and so it was easy to get a fit and finish I was happy with. I wore this loads over the summer – perfect for pulling on with sandals – even though it is still un-hemmed! oops! I made a long sleeve version which was also great, so this pattern will be staying in my collection.
  • My Polka-dot Portrait Blouse was a simple cotton tee but it was perfect over the summer. Loose enough to stay cool, but with enough subtle shaping. I lived in this with my cropped jeans, which was quite a revelation for a stretch t-shirt girl.
  • I made a quilt!! What more do I need to say?! I learned so much, caught the patchwork and quilting bug, and now can stay cozy while lounging on the sofa.
  • My floral Cambie was another great dress that worked for all occasions; school, weddings and lazy weekends. I feel so good in it as there is the right balance between style and comfort, the fabric is soft and scrummy, and I did some good pattern alterations to get the perfect fit (and at a meet-up someone was wearing a Cambie they had altered using my tutorial!)
  • Finally, since it is the only garment in season at the moment, is my Liberty Hawthorn. I wasn’t convinced about the pattern until I saw all the versions popping up on people’s blogs. This is the fourth fabric version of this, after lots of muslin-ing to get the bodice darts to fit once I’d done a big FBA, so I’m proud of all the work that went into making it. Again, I feel really good in it – not showy, but just quietly confident, like a stylish grown-up in it.


  • Do you notice anything about all my hit garments? A Cake pattern, a Gertie pattern, a Sewaholic pattern and a Colette pattern. I didn’t realise until writing this, but all my hits have been from independent pattern designers (my By Hand London blazer was almost in the top 5). This isn’t deliberate but I think it reflects my sewing process. Since blogging and reading other bloggers I have discovered new companies I’d never heard of. And since these companies all blog, I get to see inside the patterns and get more inspiration than is on the pattern envelope. To be honest, I’m not sure what the last Big 4 pattern I used was…
  • Three out of four hit garments are dresses! I feel good when I’m wearing a well fitted dress, and it is less hassle getting dressed in the morning. Yet I feel like dresses are impractical and don’t sew that many. This must change!
  • I like learning and I want to expand my skills. This year I learned some couture skills, I learned to patchwork blocks and how to free-motion quilt, I learnt how to add darts to knitting (yes, bust darts on my knitted cardigan coming soon once it is dried. Blocking takes so long in winter!) and I learnt more about photography and taking better pictures. As we say in school, I have a growth mind-set towards my sewing learning.
  • Sewing is more fun when you can share with people who understand you. I love, love, LOVE my new Sewcialist and Spoolette friends here on the blog, on twitter and instagram and now in real life thanks to lots of meet-ups ūüôā It is so great having people who understand your passion for creating and who can offer advice from experience, but most of the time we meet we don’t talk about sewing; there is almost an unspoken attitude towards life that we all share, despite being totally different and having different other interests, which means we can get on so well.
  • I’m pretty awesome. This isn’t said in an arrogant way, but in a “I have previously had such low self-confidence but I’m actually starting to believe I’m good” sort of way.
  • I need to craft; it is not just a hobby anymore, it is part of my life. When my wrists were bad and I had to rest, I had no idea what to do with myself. I felt twitchy and on edge for weeks as I hadn’t made anything for ages, and this in turn made me feel really low (in combination with the pain and frustration).


  • All my sewing and crafting inspiration comes from the sewcialists and spoolettes and all the great blogs I read. If I had to pick my main inspirations, they would be:
    Jo  (Sew Little Time) because I think we sew quite a lot of similar things and are similar height so I can trust her makes will also look good on me.
    Struggle Sews A Straight Seam because her blog makes me smile so much, and she has a great approach to sewing wearable garments.
    Gillian (Crafting A Rainbow) because we are like the same person on different continents; both teach little kiddies, both love bright colours and sewing wearable jersey. And Gillian is always behind a twitter plan!
    Amy (Almond Rock) as she makes such cute tops with great fabric. And she turned her blog into self-hosted (I may need her help soon since I’ve nearly reached my storage limit on wordpress, eek!)
    Roisin (Dolly Clackett) for all her amazing and FUN dresses (and she is such a lovely friend).


  • Make more dresses. I feel great in dresses, so I should make more.
  • Wear an entirely me-made outfit at least once. The only RTW items I have to buy at the moment are bras and socks. I have some sock-weight yarn and I’ve signed up to a bra-making course at Morley College (its not for a style I really wear, since that sold out last term, but should teach me the fundamental aspects I hope)
  • Keep improving and learning new techniques, and keep challenging myself in my crafting. (Was that in school speak too much?!)
  • Make more effort to join in online; open-ended sew-alongs, challenges, commenting on blogs and sharing reviews and projects online.
  • Most importantly, I will enjoy my crafting and take my time to savour all the details. I rushed my knitting and learnt the hard way that I need to enjoy crafting in (slight) moderation, otherwise I may not be able to craft at all.

As a thank you for reading all that reflection, here are some pictures of some of my projects that didn’t make the top 5 hits… To see them in more detail, click on the newly organised pages at the top of the blog ūüôā



Half-term plans

Yay! Half-term is finally here after what has felt like the longest week ever. I have woken up everyday thinking it was one or two days later in the week. So what am I going to get up to, now I have time at home to be awake and crafty?half-term plansClockwise from top left:

  1. I have two silks I got in the John Lewis sale to make some nice tops/blouses from. I resisted them twice, but decided ¬£14 for a silk top was probably a good buy. Underneath them is a jersey remnant, about 80cm long, so I’m going to see what I can squeeze out of it (sleeves or no-sleeves, that is the question).
  2. I need to quickly finish my pieces for #imapiece and get them posted. First¬†Hannah mentionned it on Monday and then Tilly had a guest post by the Craftivist Collective so I had to whip out my embroidery threads (well pick my case up off the floor) and get involved. Two out of three are finished but number three needs some sparkle of some sort…
  3. Pressing some sad looking flowers. Since I read Attic 24’s review of the year in flowers I’ve started buying the occasional bunch of flowers to brighten up my little flat and this morning afternoon I managed to grab some flowers before they looked too sad and have pressed them in my flower press.
  4. My current crafty reading list. A cute jacket I can’t stop thinking about in one issue of Burda and a spring tunic in another (I need to get some muslin fabric asap). Gertie’s portrait blouse is a contender for using my sale silks. 100 flowers to knit and crochet is filling the post-blanket crochet hole.

The best things in life are free







Yesterday I got a phone call at school from a local interior design shop asking if we would like some scraps of fabric they were chucking out. As Art and D&T coordinator I was very excited to get free stuff to supplement my budget so I arranged to go round and pick it up. I arrived at the shop to see three bin-bags full of off-cuts and scraps, and a huge box full of old sample books (and that was only the stuff she had brought upstairs!). As we were chatting about what the kids could use the fabric for, I¬†mentioned¬†my personal crafting obsession and she said I could take stuff for me…

I felt a bit like the candidates on The Apprentice when they have the shopping challenge and have to get items and return to the boardroom in time – I looked at my watch and realised school would be locked up in 15 minutes and we had to grab what we could and get it in the car asap. We took five large sacks back to school, and they are sat in my classroom awaiting sorting next week (well being hidden in the cupboard until I have time to sort them). I was desperate to rummage but I could hear the caretaker’s keys rattling so all I had time to grab was…Liberty

Two Liberty home furnishing sample books. They are pretty heavy and were a pain to carry on the tube, but it was worth it as inside are lots of samples of Liberty fabrics. They all have little pictures to show how the whole width will look.PicMonkey Collage

Some of the pieces look like they could just about make a side of a cushion (maybe with a little border) but others might need to be cut up and panelled or patched together to be big enough to be a cushion. I had been thinking of doing some patchwork quilting this year, so this might actually be the inspiration to do it (once I work out how to open the sample booklets) as it probably my only change to have Liberty silk cushions judging by the price list below…price

The designer said she had at least five more bags in the basement so I am very tempted to go back once I’ve sorted (and worked out where to store) the first lot!

Review of 2012

Everyone else is doing it, so I’m going to follow the cool crowd and do my own review of the year. I love seeing reviews of the blogs I follow and remembering all the inspiring images and projects I have read and followed through the year, so I hope you enjoy mine as much.

I tried to pick just 5 or 10 top makes over the year, but as I looked through all my pictures* I saw so many makes I forgot about (because they have seamlessly merged into my wardrobe, not because I never looked at them again!) so here, sorted into categories, is my round up of the year…

In the category of Most worn garment of 2012 the nominees are:

most worn 2012

In the category of Best Fancy Dress of 2012 the nominees are:

  • Self-drafted boiler suit (worn to Secret Cinema showing of Promethius)
  • HRH The Queen cloak and sash (worn to a birthday party)
  • And the winner is… HRH The Queen! I loved this night out, the cloak was great for waving while dancing, and it can probably be reused for future parties with different themes.

fancy dress 2012

In the category of Most time-consuming make of 2012 the nominees are:

  • Miette cardigan (it has been a decade since I last knitted an adult-sized garment)
  • Peacock dress (hand-beaded, couture finish in expensive silk)
  • Colette Sorbetto (lots of pattern adjustments to get the perfect fit)
  • Jeanius Jeans (making a pattern from scratch and lots of muslins)
  • Minoru jacket (again, lots of muslins and adjustments)
  • And the winner is… The Peacock Dress! When people admired this dress and asked me to make them a dress, I added up costs of materials and my time (at least 15 hours of beading, 6 hours of fitting and tweaking, and many, many hours of construction including 4 hours hand-sewing the hem!) to give a quote of just a little under 4 digits. Surprisingly nobody made further requests…

most time consuming 2012

In the category of Most unusual craft location of 2012 the nominees are:

  • in a cable car over the Thames (going between Olympic venues)
  • on a beach in the middle of Camden at 7am (after the start of the last leg of the Olympic Torch relay)
  • outside Buckingham Palace while waiting for Olympic cyclists to arrive.
  • And the winner is… The Beach in Camden at 7am. A beach in Camden is pretty unusual. Being there before breakfast is even more unusual. Sitting in baking sunshine by 8.30am in England is definitely the most unusual happening!

most unusual location 2012

The final category is for projects that I would never have believed were possible a couple of years ago (well possible for other people, but not me!). In the category of Most life-changing make of 2012 the nominees are:

  • the Peacock dress (sewing with silk, couture techniques, hand beading)
  • Jeanius jeans (making a pair of jeans without a proper pattern)
  • spotty Burda blouse (I’ve never even managed to buy well-fitted woven tops before)
  • Miette cardigan (not just a knitted garment, but one that fits without gaping!)
  • Minoru raincoat (It is a coat. I can wear it when it rains. I don’t get wet!)
  • And the winner is… the spotty woven Burda blouse. The other nominees may be fancy or more technical, but as a curvy girl I have never worn or owned nice woven tops (without them looking unflattering) so this blouse makes anything seem possible. Plus, when I tried on the finished blouse I wanted to wear it immediately, which is always a good sign.

most groundbreaking 2012

Looking through all my pictures there were so many that didn’t make the nominations, so here is the best of the of the rest 2012

Top row, left- right: Sorbetto top, giraffe crochet hat, Birthday Butterfly dress
Middle row, left-right:
Summertime skirt, Embroidered Embroidery case, iPad case
Bottom row, left-right:
Blogging meet up and shopping, Denim Traveller dress, United Stashes of Awesome skirt

A lot of great crafting and great memories this year, I hope you have enjoyed reading all about them on my little blog. Thank you to all my followers and for all the lovely comments. Happy New Year!

* I am aware that some pictures haven’t been blogged, or some makes haven’t been photographed. Sorry. Will try and do better this year!

Peacocks at the zoo

Last week, you may know, was my big brother’s wedding in Bristol Zoo, and the first outing of my Peacock dress. So here is a picture post full of animals and sequins!

The final dress complete with beautiful corsage.

Silly wally pose!

Teeny baby meerkat!

Fascinating feathery fascinator.

I put the fascinator on a headband in the end and it stayed in place all day, although some of the feathers didn’t like all the rain and drizzle.

Sea-lion enjoying the rain.

Beautiful silk shining under the disco lights.

I love the two-tone effect of the silk ūüôā I’d like to say that I spent hours choosing the perfect length for the dress, but I was limited by fabric. However I think the length and a-line combination was great – long enough to feel decently dressed but short and swishy enough to feel fun.
p.s. look at that invisible hem!

"Hello, ooh look at that lovely dress."

A good view of all the hand-beading.

Sadly a couple of sequins didn’t survive all the dancing, but the fit had plenty of dancing-ease.

Pitter patter raindrops.

Stripey lemurs.

It is pretty rare to wear something for a whole day and night of walking, eating, standing, posing, eating and lots of dancing, and then crawl into a cab after midnight still feeling totally comfortable (pointy stilettos excluded!). But this dress fitted like a glove – no waistband digging into the wrong place, no straps slipping down the shoulders, and no lining twisting around. The dress got a big test-wear and here is the proof…

Rocking on the dance floor

Peacock in progress

After a nightmare in which I turned up at the wedding in an un-hemmed dress with basting lines visible, I have worked away on my dress to get it closer to completion. (I worked until the sunshine suddenly disappeared, so the colour in these pictures is totally off)

The silk didn’t like being gathered on either the bodice or the skirt, so there were some adjustments to be made on the fashion fabric. The bodice needed lots of adjusting as I wore it, and now has a pleat/tuck at the centre, to take away some of the fullness from the gathering.

The dress was supposed to have a flared skirt, but in the stiff dupion it looked a bit too voluminous. After lots of uhmming and ahhing and fear of making irreversible changes to the silk, I used the pattern for an a-line dress and traced new sewing lines. This worked but unfortunately the silhouette didn’t look like it would work with pockets ūüė¶ I had been getting rather excited by the prospect of formal clothes with pockets!

The hem needs to be sewn up and will be just above knee-length – I added a generous couple of inches to the length when I cut the pattern out, and the new stitching lines seem to be the perfect length.

I had to re-watch some of Susan Khalje’s craftsy videos again to remember some of the techniques for inserting the zipper, and attaching the bodice lining.

Hand sewn zipper

Carefully matched seam-lines

Invisibly hand sewn lining

Now all that is left to do is the hem, skirt and midriff lining and some couture finishing touches. I think I may add a final beaded motif to the centre back – what do you think?

Peacock progress

Work on the peacock dress is moving at a good pace, despite the ridiculous amount of hand sewing and preparation to get a couture finish.

So far I am enjoying the techniques as I can see how they will provide a finer finished item, although I am looking forward to rustling up a couple of cheap-and-cheerful unfinished garments.

I am interlining the dress in organza, and the organza layer serves as a pattern so there is no need to mark the fashion fabric. I cut out all the organza pieces (with generous seam allowances) and marked all the pattern info on them. Then it was time to lay them out.

Blocking the hallway with my fabric

I had to go outside and use the landing outside my flat, and I am so glad I could play with the layout as there was only just enough fabric. I adjusted the pattern as it had a seam down the centre of the front skirt – the fabric was too narrow to cut this on the fold, so I created panels at the front.

I spent at least an hour fine-tuning the placement of the pattern pieces, measuring the distance from the grain-lines to the selvedge to the nearest millimetre, resulting in a rather sore back the next day! However the bonus of this careful preparation was that it took less than five minutes to cut up all the fabric. One of Susan Khalje’s key techniques is to ignore 5/8″ seam allowances and cutting lines, and just focus on the stitching lines (which are transferred and basted everywhere). This means, as long as the stitching lines are clearly marked, you can cut the fabric however you want, leaving generous seam allowances = super speedy cutting as you don’t have to be mega accurate.

Once all the pieces were cut out it is time to carefully hand baste the interlining to the fashion fabric. This takes time. A lot of time. Especially when you have to re-baste the same line four times because it isn’t quite smooth. (I must confess I have only done the bodice and midriff pieces so far, as there was only so much I could take at once).

Next, more basting, but this time actually attaching pattern pieces together, before finally getting the sewing machine out to sew some seams. The seams are all carefully pressed and catch-stitched to the interlining, without a mark appearing on the right-side of the garment.

Hand-basting, pressed seams and catch-stitching

Due to the cross-over detail of the bodice I had to attach the lining to this section and finished it using my new best friends…

My couture best friends

When I made this dress before, I top-stitched around the bodice neckline to keep the lining in place, but it really wouldn’t look right on this dress. I am wondering about hand-stitching some seed beads every few centimetres to keep the layers in place – is that too much detail?

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I have also sewn 879 beads and 462 sequins on the midriff band so it is now ready to attach to the bodice. I have left a little space until I know exactly where the zipper will go, if I ever find one in an acceptable colour!



Scrumptious silks

My normal sewing technique is normally pretty quick with a “that’ll do” approach. I thought I had improved when I made my fully lined trousers, but when I showed my step-mum she asked “don’t you finish your seams?”, so after seeing Dibs sign up for a Craftsy couture course I thought it was time I took things to the next level. So what better opportunity to try out couture techniques, than when making my dress for my big brother’s wedding. And if you are going to sew couture, you need the finest materials you can get.

Yesterday I met my aunt for a tour of Berwick Street’s silk shops. The first time I can remember going fabric shopping was with her, to get fabric so she could make me a dress for my sixth-form leavers’ ball a good decade ago. I was prepared with pattern envelopes and my feather hair accessory (I’ve not yet decided whether to attach it to a clip or a hairband).

Feathers in her hair - hair clip or hair band?

The staff in all the shops were very helpful and gave me lots of clearly labelled samples to take away, and one shop even draped the fabric around me so I could look in the mirror to check the final effect. We deliberated over brunch and in the end I chose the silk dupion that was a slightly brighter shade of turquoise-teal with an inky purple tone from The Silk Society. There were a couple of dust marks on the fabric, so the assistant cut me a bit extra AND took half a metre of the final price. Hopefully this picture can give you an approximate idea of the shade.

Beautiful, beautiful silk

I also got some blue-turquoise-purple silk organza to overlay on the midriff band. I am going to add beading to the midriff (and maybe shoulders?) so I had a practice on some organza and dupion.

sample beading for the midriff band

It’s not the final design, as I was experimenting with different sizes of beads. I’m a bit short of some of the beads so I am impatiently waiting for the shops to open so I can get the final supplies I need before curling up on the sofa with my hand-beading and a film. Perfect Sunday plans ūüôā