posted in: Designing, Inspiration | 10

We went to an exhibition this week, and by the time you read this it will be over. Nevertheless it was interesting and I hope I can draw some points out.

The first is that taking a day off work, and going to see something mid-week is a complete and utter luxury and just so different from walking around in a massive weekend group.

The idea of the exhibition, organised by Burberry, is to show the craft skills associated with a collection. They write

A crafted collection featuring historic, cultural and artisanal details…noble and authentic fabrics are combined, blurring masculine and feminine, casual and formal, night and day, all mixed together to create a new reality born of all the moments that have gone before”

OK, it’s a wee bit pretentious, but it is also a marvellous exhibition. More broadly, in the old Foyles bookshop before it is redeveloped for luxury flats,  it show cases the talents we have in London and encourages people to either commission artists and crafts people to create work for them or just be inspired.  The following crafts were on show over the week (20-27 September 2016)  which followed the September 2016 runway event. As we went on Monday 26 September we only saw some of these artists – those I have named.

  • Sculpting – Thomas Merrett
  • Experimental design
  • Calligraphy
  • Fashion history
  • Visible mending
  • Sand casting
  • Silk screen printing
  • Miniature portraits – Holly Frean Here is Holly in a little studio, painting a sitter (in one hour slots). Her style is inspired by the old master paintings found in country houses.
    Holly Frean painting a miniature portrait
    Holly Frean painting a miniature portrait
  •  Military embellishment – Kings’ Troop. We spent some time talking to Godfrey and his apprentices. The three saddle makers are serving members of the British Army. Their work was exquisite and the role they play in the Army is significant and important. Godfrey showed us how he pierces the leather with a sharp needle, then sews with two interlinked pieces of thread. Very skilled work.
    Master Saddler and Harness Maker Godfrey Morris making a leather vessel
    Master Saddler and Harness Maker Godfrey Morris making a leather vessel (Rosalind Wyatt’s Calligraphy in the background)
  • Patchworking – Rachel Scott. I spoke to Rachel at length, and I am sorry the picture didn’t come out too well. Rachel mainly makes rugs, from natural, undyed wool. In fact there were some of Rachel’s rugs on the ground in Holly’s area. Rachel had been commissioned to produce a patchwork cushion cover from the fabrics used in the Burberry collection and she was sewing it when I visited. It’s the greens and browns on her left in the picture. I was suprised at the relatively large stitches and the quantity of them (five or six per hexagonal side). As you can see her dress is made with the same hexagonal patchwork technique. I asked her what she thought of machine sewn quilts, and she said she couldn’t see the point. She always handstitched – this meant that patchworking could be combined with other things like conversation and social life. I asked her if it was working with colour that appealed to her, and she agreed that this was the primary motivation – creating new arrangements of colour. She trained as an artist at the Royal College of Art and looking at her clothes you can see the strong artistic skill in her confident use of pattern and colour. I admired her dress and she said she hadn’t bought anything to wear since about 1970.
    Rachel Scott showing her patchwork coat and dress
    Rachel Scott showing her patchwork coat and dress
  • Traditional lacquer – Pero da Costa Felgueiras. I also really enjoyed talking to Pero – an enthusiastic, Portuguese craftsman who makes fine lacquered furniture, but who also works on the restoration and decoration of historic houses including Strawberry Hill and Hampton Court. (I thought for a moment that Joyce’s bulldog was on show, but it was actually a lion). He was very charming and told me a little bit about lacquer work and the different styles. We shared our experiences of the Brighton Pavillion too, with its Chinese style decor. (Thomas Merrett, sculpturer, in the background)
    Pero Da Costa Felgueiras makes a lacquered table top
    Pero Da Costa Felgueiras makes a lacquered table top
  • Book binding
  • Stitching and Embroidery
  • Passementerie

Also on show upstairs was the entire collection. Here are just a few of the garments which I loved. Spot the pink velvet men’s jacket!

Have we all just got too many clothes?

In the 1930s women owned about 60 items of clothes, and bought five new items annually.

Students at Leeds University 1930s
Students at Leeds University 1930s

During the second world war rationing allowed women to buy about ten new items each year.

1942 London fashions
1942 London fashions

Currently we buy 60 new items of clothing each year in the UK, and 64 in the US. This means that today each of us has around 300 items in our wardrobes (including tights, socks, belts etc).


You may be wondering if the clothing industry and “fashion” can convince us to keep increasing the number of items we buy and keep every year.

But interestingly, it appears, that shopping for clothes is starting to falter. After year on year increases in clothing sales there has been a marked drop across many UK retailers over the last six months.  Kantar Worldpanel, which tracks the clothing purchases of 15,000 UK residents, reports that this year, for the first time in seven years, clothes purchasing has fallen. The effect is strongest among the under 25s. This is in the context of retail spending as a whole increasing.

There appears to a fundamental change in behaviour with people preferring to spend their money on experiences – such as holidays and meals – rather than clothes. Like many people I feel jaded by the reality of shopping, and if I see something I like (such as a pair of shoes) I invariably wait until the sales – and the urge usually passes.

Our largest clothes retailer – Marks and Spencer – with 10 per market share – has seen the sharpest drop for a decade, in clothing sales in July. FCUK has not made a profit since 2012. John Lewis profits fell 75% over the last six months, and Next is struggling. Primark – the most visited high street retailer – noted sales had dropped for the first time in 16 years.

I found this data through the FT.com and no-one really knows why it is happening. It is possibly just a blip, but it may be the start of a trend. Some have suggested the weather is the cause, but I don’t think that is it. What follows is just a guess.

  • Competition is so intense between fashion retailers that people just wait until there is a discount, or they shop around for a cheaper version, reducing impulse buying
  • The internet can work in the same way. Although it is easier to click and buy to some extent, nearly half of garments bought on the internet are returned due to disappointment with fit, colour, style etc
  • Overall the offer is quite boring. Why buy another black coat, pair of skinny jeans or a fleece? Fashion at street level is not moving much and norm core is predominant.
    Typical UK street scene
    Typical street scene (actually in Dublin)
  • I have followed fashion for 45 years and I have no idea of what is fashionable at the moment beyond cold shoulders and flared sleeves. I can get a hit of these for a few quid or make a top at home. It’s not like a whole decade of change that I was used to. The 1980s had a strong trend, the 1990s had a recognisable look, but by 2000 there wasn’t really a strong decade-defining fashion.
  • My hairdresser told me that the millennials are very reluctant to wear their hair short – they all favour the long-haired look – again the most conservative “easy” style that is not a style and costs virtually nothing.
    Long haired girls, London
    Long haired girls, London
  • Fashion is particularly dull when compared to food, or holiday opportunities. A trip to Bosnia, or a wonderfully authentic Italian pasta resturant raises my pulse. Another navy blazer does not.
  • Our homes are smaller as housing gets less and less affordable. In “homes for hobbits” we have less storage space
    What could a couple actually store in this typical wardrobe and drawers?
    What could a couple actually store in this typical wardrobe and drawers? (And why would you want twigs in your bedroom anyway?)

A number of sewing bloggers commit themselves to a Ready to Wear “fast”. But while they stop buying disposable fashion they can find themselves buying fabric instead. And those with a large supply of fabric in their home often commit to going on a fabric fast too, or promise to “shop their stash” first. These pledges stem, it seems to me, from sewists feeling that their hobby might also be a little out of control. Maybe we are all suffering from the overconsumption bug. This is like experiencing Christmas dinner – you eat so many rich seasonal dishes that you feel like fasting for weeks.

I am talking about myself of course.

I literally cannot accommodate any more clothes in more wardrobe, or any more fabric into my cupboard. I am scared my newest hobby – knitting – could intensify the problem I have by encouraging me to buy more raw materials than I can convert into garments. The “problem” of having too much. This is quite obscene really, in a world where so many have far too little – to eat, drink, wear, and spend. When I think about food waste, obesity, clothes in landfill, the waste of energy and resources, the fact that I am complaining about not being able to stuff any more clothes into my wardrobe, I feel a bit unhappy.

I don’t really know what to do. I have lots of nice clothes that I enjoy wearing. They fit me. The colours enhance me. They are quite stylish and coherent without being particularly fashionable, and don’t feel like they will date. I wear each item relatively rarely so don’t even get bored with my wardrobe. I probably need less clothes not more.

So why do I keep on making clothes?

The truth is I so enjoy the process, especially in terms of learning new skills or improving the ones I have got. Knitting has been a revelation as I know that – potentially, and in time – I can produce a knitted garment as well as a sewn one. Maybe the answer for me is to move on to new garments – socks, hats, tights, shoes, bags. Or to learn new crafts – crochet, weaving, spinning, jewellery making.

What do you think?



The unbearable challenge of learning – my first jersey

posted in: Finished projects, knitting | 47

I had never knitted a wearable garment.

It may seem strange that while I have made several lifetimes worth of clothes with needle, thread and cloth, I had tried, but never succeeded in knitting myself a garment I could wear. For decades I longed to create something that I could pull on over my head and wear with pride. Yet making a jumper eluded me – failed attempts sit in carrier bags in a long forgotten cupboard somewhere, feeding my guilt and underlining my incompetence.

I put knitting a wearable garment on my bucket list (ie things to do before I die). And then, after a trip to the Knitting and Stitching exhibition in March, I bought a kit. Not a full kit (no needles) but a pattern, and the correct yarn in a useful (sturdy) paper carrier bag. With a cute picture of one of the Alpacas which had allegedly contributed some hairs to the batch. At the exhibition I saw made up jerseys, examined them (I lacked the confidence to ask if I might try one on), talked to the owner and the designer, and asked them if they felt, as a complete beginner, I might achieve a completed garment. They thought about it, and told me I could. Cheerily they suggested I might visit their farm, join a class and get started with supervision. And while feeding the llamas did have some appeal, I guessed that the problems would come not at the casting on stage, but more at the yoke and finishing area. (And I was proved right-see below). The reason I alighted on alpaca rather than sheep’s’ wool, was that it seemed to have a nicer feel. I now know a bit more about yarn, and I can see that alpaca has its own limitations. But it is warm, light, soft and the natural colours are very pretty (similar colours to human hair – there is something for everybody in the range).

So although it is scary to be a total beginner I bought the kit, and I struggled a bit to start with, as I have elaborated already. The terminology, the equipment, and even how to knit in the round foxed me at first. I needed to call a friend. But eventually I managed to get to the yoke. Natalie had suggested a second dinner at this stage, but as things had gone quite well to date I decided push on, unguided. I got into an enormous pickle as a result and almost gave up. In fact I started a second knitting project at this point as I was so exasperated.

Knitting project gone wrong
The second knitting project – also stalled


Then the designer reached out to me, Kari-Helene Rane, through Instagram and email, and she helped me work out how to proceed. Photo from The Yarn Loop. 

Kari Helene Rene
Kari-Helene Rane

She may have had an ulterior motive in that she wants to see people making her jersey successfully, but I believe she helped me because she wanted to help a beginner gain confidence. How else can I explain her generosity in virtually holding my hand over a period of weeks, checking in and making sure I was OK with the knitting. And I was getting all this help plus the time and encouragement of about 60 experienced knitters from all over the world.

I am in tears as I write this.

For me this jumper has been pretty challenging. I know the stitches are a bit uneven, and I know I could do a much better job if I ever make it again. Something that seems quite straightforward even the second time around (ever made a toile?) can seem completely baffling when you are inexperienced. Following instructions is really hard if you have no idea how a jumper is shaped. Now it is done it is fairly obvious how fullness is suppressed in a knitted garment. But if you just read instructions and follow without understanding it is easy to make a mess of it. For example decrease at marker, meant decrease at each marker, rather than at all markers – of course we need to reduce fullness evenly across the jumper not just in one place, but I didn’t get that.

I had to rip out the yoke and re-knit it. Going back and re-doing work is pretty frustrating and a little bit upsetting. But I do it all the time when I sew and I approach it with equanimity. The equanimity comes from experience, that you know it can be fixed. Without that experience of ultimate success every correction reinforced my fear that  the knitting would never be successfully completed. The feeling of potential failure and incompetence was very uncomfortable. It meant that for a couple of weeks I could not bring myself to destroy my work, even if it meant eradicating mistakes and getting back on track. Destruction was necessary in order to create. But I had to tell myself that I could do it, and I would eventually succeed. For me having others say this, who had been through it before, was the thing that made the difference.

The lesson for me is that starting something new is quite frightening. That others are not just willing to help but actually want to. That the helping hand makes all the difference but if we are treated with indifference or distain our incompetence is so painful that we would rather give up than preserve.  My efforts have been rewarded, and I have grown and learnt through this experience. Not just about knitting a jumper, but how incredibly important experience is and how enriching it is when it is shared.

I also chose this pattern as it had minimum making up requirements – two tiny seams under the arms that don’t even show. I just sewed them up the best I could but I have lots of learn about finishing as well as knitting. I have still to learn how to do this process, so will be seeking help again. But for now I have tackled my fears and overcome my failures, and I feel amazingly happy as well as moved to tears.

Lorelle Purl Alpaca Fabrickated
Me in my First Jersey Ever

I want to say thank you to all of you – Nat, Stephanie and Kari-Helene especially – but also all the wonderful commentators who reached out with advice and encouragement.

You have encouraged me to help other beginners, and people who have tried and failed, and to reach out to those who give up in the face of difficulty. I now understand that sometimes we just don’t have sufficient experience to understand. And to recognise how fragile our egos are when we are demonstrably incompetent.

And now the jumper is finally finished I am delighted, as you can see. Of course I can spot plenty of faults and failings, but right now I feel like this!

Goal scored





Menswear Friday – Men in Pink

posted in: Colour Analysis, Style advice | 21

Regular readers of this blog will know that I like pink.



I enjoy wearing pink, and it makes me feel good. Although it is the ultimate “feminine” colour it has some properties that can make it a very flattering choice for both men and women.

Pale skinned people show the blood beneath their skin, especially when they are energised, excited or happy. We flush with pleasure and get a peachy glow after vigorous exercise. Young children have rosy cheeks, full pink lips and plump skin. Unfortunately, as we age our skin begins to look duller as a result of poorer health and circulation – we get dark circles, pasty skin and age spots. Many women, and a few men, will rectify this natural fade with makeup – especially using rouge and lipstick to bring the colour back into their faces. I have nothing again a dollop of blusher or lipstick, but wearing pink, especially near the face, will generally have a similar effect of making your skin look brighter and fresher. But instead of wearing make up you can wear pink (which is generally more socially acceptable, especially for men).

The key thing with pink, like any colour, is to get the right shade for you. I explain how to do this here. Because my colouring is cool I need to avoid the warm peachy pinks (which I love, by the way) and stick with bluer shades.

Pink works its magic on men too, although many men steer well clear of it, feeling it has girly implications. But just as women look more feminine in masculine clothes, men can look more masculine by a carefully judged use of pink. Women are often attracted to pink and like to see it on men, especially if it is a little unexpected and different.

And I have shown three suits above (although two of them are notionally from the 1930s) – although this may look a bit full on it makes a change from the M&S stone light weight suit many men choose for summer weddings and special occasions. Pink is popular for casual wear – a nice pink jumper or polo shirt with jeans, dark trousers or summer shorts can look very cool. On holiday this summer I noticed how lots of men wear pink, peachy shades and light reds on holiday – the only time men can really let their hair down and express themselves.

However I really want to recommend pink for work, especially the pink shirt or tie. It is a great, and subtle, way to look younger and fresher, and to indicate approachability.  Pink always goes with grey and navy, but also works well with lighter shades like this pinkish beige.

The Pink Shirt
The Pink Shirt

I am sure you know what white collar jobs and blue collar jobs are (office jobs versus manual jobs). Have you heard of pink collar workplaces? There are a range of definitions of what this means but it can include female dominated industries, or more generally the service industries. I work in a female dominated industry – social housing – but I wouldn’t want to call it a pink collar workplace. But I do think men who have lots of women reporting to them, or in more diverse workplaces, may find pink a good colour for shirts, ties or handkerchiefs.

So a few pointers if you have been thinking of breaking out of the white/blue/grey wardrobe many men are trapped in. For men colour in general is a bit scary – but pink can be subtle and beautiful and

  • Get the right shade of pink to flatter your complexion
  • If you are dark skinned you can get away with a strong contrast eg very light pink with deep charcoal, and also the deeper pinks. White men generally look better in the lighter pinks, with less contrast.
  • A very light pink shirt will look like a white one but will lend a little glow to the skin.
  • One pink item is usually better than head to toe, unless you are a dramatic dresser and in a creative industry.
  • A pink shirt is still a little bit non-traditional, so if your workplace is old school keep all the other elements very sober
  • A pink tie can be very classy so long as the item looks expensive and is made from silk or other beautiful natural fibre.
  • Pink accessories can add just a little interest or shock value eg pink socks, or a bright pink handkerchief. But never go for the comedy look eg pink pigs or hippos etc.

And finally here is a beautiful 1955 pattern, reknitted in the 1980s, in a delicious shade of peachy-beige. My husband has asked for exactly this jumper, but in cashmere. Honestly! He overestimates me…

1955 Vogue mens jersey in pink
1955 Mens jersey from the Vogue Knitting book

Paris Weekend – An alternative capsule wardrobe

If you had given me Lisa Comfort’s wardrobe for a weekend to Paris I wouldn’t have been too disappointed. But I would have felt a little underdressed in my navy/beige/tan “imaginary Parisian” wardrobe. As Sue S from Fadanista said:

I want pieces that go together but which are vaguely stylish and which make me feel a bit more glamorous than my usual holiday apparel.


Me too Sue. So I set myself the challenge of creating a capsule wardrobe for a couple of nights in Paris, that had a bit more style and could be made up fairly quickly.

Lisa suitcase included

  • trousers
  • skirt
  • dress
  • T shirt
  • blouse
  • jacket

When I put a capsule wardrobe together my thoughts often turn to fashion history. I find this is a good way to create a mood, or a theme for a collection. And if you can get a mood then it is fairly easy to get a set of clothes that work together. But the really easy way, as many have mentioned is to buy one good pattern that has lots of options. Two were suggested by readers. Eimear suggests Butterick 2704, and Su suggests Vogue 2815. You probably have your own favourite go to wardrobe pattern – do let me know if it is one you would recommend.

So, young sewers, I will let you into a secret. This really radical idea that will make you happier than an eBook or sticking together pdf patterns.

You can still buy, on eBay or elsewhere, amazing vintage patterns by some of the greatest designers of the 20th Century, for around a £5. These arrive with ready to use pattern pieces and full instructions. Much more useable than a set of pdf patterns and you don’t need a printer or glue. And what would be nicer than having a little wardrobe designed by a great designer, backed up by experienced pattern cutters, with professionalism instructions?

When I thought about a great holiday wardrobe, I thought of Perry Ellis.

There is something about his youthful, elegant and sexy clothes that would be ideal for a weekend away. They have a strong fun factor, but they are also practical and comfortable. This feature in Vogue magazine in 1985 shows the wonderful flexibility of Ellis’s wardrobe. He sticks to a white/grey/blue palette which always looks fresh. He is a fantastic designer, and later patterns into the 1990s were created by Marc Jacobs. Sarah Sheehan has written some interesting articles on the fashion house. Most of the patterns I show below are available at relatively low prices as the 1980s still remain relatively unfashionable with pattern collectors, despite these looks becoming very contemporary.


Vogue 1521 would be a first choice for me. I just love that sash at the dropped waist, and the pleated longish skirt. This would be my skirt and blouse and I love the fabric and colour choices on the envelop. But for a weekend away I might be more adventurous with the colour choices. One set would be in one colour so that with the sash it could look like a dress. The other set would be in a complementary set of colours so they could all be switched around. I think I would do one of the skirts knee length and the second one longer.

Vogue 1521
Vogue 1521

T shirt/trousers/skirt

Vogue 2666 would probably fit the bill if we wanted to create the whole wardrobe from one pattern. But I would use this for the T shirt/pullover, trousers and a sexy dress. The skirt and trousers are pull-ons (thanks Lynn for freeing up my descriptions!), and these would be easy to make and nice to wear on a long weekend.


My final choice might be Vogue 2474 because I think we need a jacket. The cropped jacket on the left is very pretty, but I also love the way it can become a long, sexy dress. Also this pattern comes with some great paper bag pants. I would certainly wear the shorts on a long weekend in Paris – bare-legged in summer but with tights in winter. However the “boyfriend jacket” is in all the shops right now for autumn – loose fitted jackets, often double breasted, 1980s style. If I had a bit more nerve I would probably go for Vogue 1522 instead. I think this is the jacket featured in the Vogue photoshoot at the top of the post. This pattern also features the low sash that we saw with Vogue 1521.  In fact this one pattern could easily replace the Lisa Comfort e book with its trousers, shorts, dress, jacket and top. And one thing I didn’t care for about her styling was the shoes. I prefer Perry Ellis’s shoes too.


What patterns would you choose? Any suggestions for a colour scheme that would work well for a couple of nights in gay Paree?

Anything for the weekend? – Lisa Comfort’s capsule wardrobe

I was sent an eBook free, for review.

Lisa Comfort with a decent coffee
Lisa Comfort with a decent coffee

This book, published this week, is by Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It. It’s key features include:

  • A small, but flexible wardrobe, using patterns that can (through the use of a few horizontal lines) create a range of outfits
  • For example a dress made from a pattern that can be cut through at the waist to create a T shirt or blouse. This is in the best tradition of the old Vogue “wardrobe” patterns (jacket-coat, mini-maxi, trews-shorts etc).
  • The idea of this selection (two dresses, a skirt, jeans and jacket) is that it will see you through two nights in a European city
  • pdf patterns
  • Fabric suggestions
  • The more difficult techniques explained with colour photographs

My initial reaction to it

  • I love the idea of a travel wardrobe
  • And packing light
  • And creating a wonderful wardrobe with a few items that all work together – the essence of SWAP
  • Does this collection work for me – and would it work for others?

I am going to judge this book in the terms it is presented as – a wardrobe for weekends away. Of course some of these items are perfectly OK for work and for weekends, but I decided to judge their value and suitability for a long weekend in Paris (where the book has been beautifully photographed).

Mia Jeans

Lisa in Mia Jeans
Lisa in Mia Jeans

If you are visiting a city in Europe and it is not the height of summer,  planning your travel wardrobe around a pair of jeans is a great idea. Jeans can be dressed up or down, the comfort factor is high, the colour is good to go with just about anything, they don’t show the dirt or crease, and the flatter most figures (if you get the cut right).

What about the Lisa’s actual jeans pattern?

The trousers include top stitching, a front fly and a silver button, and they are made in denim,  so they are jeans-like. Or even jeans-light. However I find the absence of front pockets weird. These look more like slim line trousers to me; I think with such a high waist they need pockets. With a flat front they might have been better with a lower slung waist and maybe even the zip at the side or CB seam (for a 1950s or 1960s look).

Molly T-shirt/Jersey dress

Lisa I the Molly dress
Lisa in the Molly dress

T shirts. Yes. My go-to top at the weekend and for short holidays. The Molly is a  good T shirt with a nice little twist – the sleeves are cut on the cross grain to create some interest. I would make and wear the T shirt, definately. Would I wear a dress that is effectively a long T shirt? Probably not. Even in Ponte Roma. But it’s a nice pattern, and it works particularly well in stripes (Lisa has three striped versions in her suitcase).

Alex Blouse/Shirt dress

Next up is the Alex shirt dress and blouse.

Now blouses are not my favourite thing. I do wear them for work sometimes but the problem with blouses and shirts is – they take a long time to make and they take a long time to iron. And I generally prefer the look and feel of a T shirt. My poor little four year old grandson has to wear a shirt, with a collar and tie, to school.

Modern school boy
Modern school boy

I wear a blouse for work:  I would not dream of taking one along to Prague or Amsterdam. They will crease and I don’t want to be pressing anything on a short break (or a longer one actually). This is why the T is better.

On the other hand I might consider a shirt dress – they are a great classic style. Nice in chambray too. My thought  here would be that I want a dress on holiday but it needs to be easy to pack and it has to be versatile. For a city break dresses have to be good for day, night, walking, and sitting in the sun. I tend to pack a knee length dress with thin straps that I can wear as a sun dress, with a T shirt underneath or with a T shirt over the top, and a cardigan if it is chilly.

In terms of the actual pattern I find it a bit under designed – why there is no bust dart? This has an impact on the fitting of the sleeve and obviously across the bust. The fold up sleeves on the other hand are rather fun and save having to make a cuff. The shirt curve at the back is OK if you like that kind of thing, but the front split (given the button placement) is very high. If I was looking for a shirt dress style I think I could find a better one, and I would probably opt for one with a waist line rather than bunching the skirt up at the back with the brown leather belt. Vogue 8028, has a proper collar, a top button, bust darts and really nice in-seam side pockets which I much prefer to a breast pocket (not the best place to store your Euros  – now worth the same as a pound).



Erin Skirt

Erin Skirt
Erin Skirt

I would also pack a skirt for a city break, but  probably not a slim fitting pencil, a garment I associate with work. I like an active weekend break, but even if I was mainly drinking coffee and eating I would want something more comfortable than the Erin. I would choose an A line for striding about.  I think the sample skirts (and jeans) were made up in stretch denim although I did not see this advice being given. In a non-stretch fabric I would say that this is not a practical skirt for a city break. And while I like the T shirt is grey really a great colour for a holiday wardrobe? Why not go for emerald, red or even a pattern?

Lola Jacket/coat

Lola Coat
Lola Coat

Turning to the jacket I am unenthusiastic. Waterfall edges are a bit dated, if you ask me. I would have offered an on trend bomber jacket instead, or even a cheeky update of the Chanel jacket, or maybe a stylish hoodie with interesting pockets. I would have liked to see a wow jacket to set off the collection and this doesn’t really do it for me. Had it been in a brighter colour or a patterned fabric it might have won me over. But I would have passed this jacket up in M&S or Primark.


I applaud the concept of this ebook. Lisa is very photogenic and the outfits are carefully considered. She is very popular and has a wide following. The patterns are pared down to make them more accessible to beginner sewers and they are probably fairly quick to make. This style of product is aimed at young people who like the idea of the cool, vintage inspired pieces with lots of stripes. It has immediate appeal and the reaction to date has been very good, and I wish her well. I imagine quite a few will buy this book and then not make up more than one or two garments. The ebook costs £20 which is £5 per pattern, but you have to print and sellotape them. It is only good value if you make them all.

I remain fascinated by the idea of the capsule wardrobe, and I would like to see the wardrobe pattern coming back – where you get lots of garments in the package rather than just one. In the 1980s Vogue did lots of Wardrobe patterns for working women, and they were great (although now rather dated). They had a casual range too, Five Easy Pieces, which are worth a look at, if you can see beyond the colours and styling. Overall my verdict is this: These patterns are relatively easy to sew but lose something in the simplification. Overall I find the styling, colour and fabric choices and designs a bit too conservative and middle of the road for me. I know the French like their neutrals, stripes and classic cuts – but let’s give them some English sass when we drop by for a macaron.

What do you think?


Casual wardrobe planning #2 – The Tops

In my last post on my new casual wardrobe I discussed the range of tops I would like to make that might go my four casual trouser types.

I am planning to make jeans, drapey trousers, elasticated waist jogging bottoms and legging/ski pants.

To wear with them I am thinking of four knitted tops

  • short sleeve T shirt type
  • longer sleeved indoor sweater
  • cardigan or jacket
  • thick outdoor jumper that can be worn over others and instead of a jacket for spring/autumn walks

I am not sure this makes sense. Do these tops go with these bottoms? When I first thought about trousers I had jersey tops (T shirts and sweat shirts) in mind. The only one I feel confident of is the ski pants with the outdoor jumper – a sort of late 1950s apres-ski look perhaps.

I am keen on the knitting as I want to learn to be a competent knitter, and as many have suggested, knitting can fill the spaces when sewing is difficult (eg car and rail journeys). It can also, like hand sewing, be combined with social life. As Ellen W indicated, you can take your knitting into the living room and either watch the TV or talk to family members. And while I have friends who watch TV while sewing, I am a silent, solitary sewer. But I can watch over the little children and have great conversations with my husband while knitting away.

I thought I would try to draw what I had in mind. But before that let me give you the tops I am think of (not necessarily the final pattern choice, but more the garment type). I have taken the designs from the Vogue vintage knitting book I previously mentioned. I bought one other book, second hand, which has more modern Fair Isle patterns. It is Mary Jane Mucklestone Fair Isle Style. These patterns do not have a difficulty rating but I will assume that all the Fair Isle/stranded colour work patterns are fairly challenging, but I love the look and think it would work in my country setting. It is also important not to get too bored with knitting.  It is of course possible to produce a knitted jumper with some cabling or other patterned stitch instead. These patterns are necessarily my final choice.

Short sleeve pullover or Tank top

Long sleeve indoor sweater

I had originally rather fallen for this design as I really love the neckline.

Cashmere Square-neck twin set 1980
Cashmere Square-neck twin set 1980

But as Erica kindly looked up the pattern and gave me some sage advice.

“That particular pattern also has a distinct advantage for the beginner of having a cardigan without buttonholes to worry at. It is an ’80’s “vintage”, re-created in an ’80’s book, so I would bear that in mind (as they can tend to be longer and sometimes boxier than one might want today); you might want to alter it and make it shorter (easy enough to do to adjust length normally – just adjust length to armholes). There is also some detail at the bottom of the sleeves that looks a little bulky – the jumper cuffs are rib, the cardigan has a reversed piece – do you like that detail? – would you rather it was simpler? (it is not terribly clear from how it has been styled – and they have cut off the original half way down the forearm, so you can’t tell anything from where they started).

In other words look at the boxy 1980s shape, especially in terms of the fullness of the sleeve. I am not up to doing alterations so I think I will leave this one. There is plenty of time to find a better pattern.

Cardigan or Jacket

The 1980 Cashmere jumper, above, has a matching cardigan (but I am not sure I could put up with knitting two garments almost identical and in the same colour {yet I know this is the sort of garment I like to wear}. There is a nice looking “Fair Isle” twin set in one of my Vogue books that I like the look of. This also includes a long sleeve jumper and matching cardigan, in a very pretty Fair Isle floral pattern. This could equally provide the indoor sweater and cardigan requirement.

Vogue Knitting Library
1951 Fair Isle Cardigan and Sweater


The final outdoor jumper is, in some ways, the most interesting to me. Here are two tops that I love. The first one is for “adventurous beginners and it’s got that early 1960s look about it – skiwear, Norwegian, bold – that I love. I like the neckline too. But the modern “Fair Isle”, designed in 2003 by Cheryl Burke is, to my mind, stunning. It is inspired by the aurora borealis – the nothern lights – known as mirry dancers in Shetland dialect. I don’t know if you have ever seen the Northern Lights – we spent a fruitless week in the Finnish Arctic circle one year hoping to see them – but the purples and greens, luminescent and wonderful against the dark sky are certainly inspiring. However these are not my colours – I prefer a cooler palette. So if I make this sweater I would use a different set of colours.

A recent trip to Loop in Islington was with this pattern in my hand. Although I did not end up buying the yarn (which is really the wrong weight of yarn for the project – although the salesperson tried to convince me I could just use different needles as she didn’t have sufficient quantities in the DK weight), I did love the colours. I especially would like to have yellow in the mix if I were to make this pattern. These bright, cool colours are the colours I wear and really love.

Quince and Co Finch 4 ply
Quince and Co Finch 4 ply

Some months ago, when I started to think about a casual wardrobe Joyce suggested a casual wardrobe inspired by our new holiday home in the Cotswolds. I think she was rather disappointed when I choose a colour scheme related to the environment – navy blue (the lakes), green/brown (vegetation), light grey/white (sky, clouds). I think she found me unadventurous. But now I have been thinking about knitting with colour the idea is occurring to me of a navy wardrobe (supported by the neutrals of white and light grey) with splashes of colour. I think this is more me.

Menswear Friday – How to wear a suit

posted in: Style advice | 14

Maybe the suit is no longer required in many workplaces. That could be just the reason to wear one.

A nice suit can be very flattering on a man, and often makes him look both taller and slimmer. Trousers with a jacket cannot provide the same effect. It would help you stand out from the crowd when everyone else looks less than sharp in their chinos, baggy jumpers and fat shoes. And some jobs and tasks require a suit, if you want to look professional  – at least for presentations, interviews and when you want to boost your authority. If you are not a life long suit-wearer, or you come from an ordinary rather than an upper class background, you may need some pointers (according to some recent research).  If you want to look like you know what you are doing – sharp and impressive, with the polish that is required, you need to learn the language of the suit.

Here you go.

  1. Make sure your suit fits well – most importantly in the shoulder area.
  2. Make sure your trousers are not too long or too short and that the jacket is the right length in both the body and the sleeves
    Di Caprio in too long trousers
    Trousers that are too long
  3. The higher cut the sleeve the easier the movement, otherwise you get that 1980s American sit com look
  4. You don’t want an obvious gap between the edge of your collar and the edge of your lapel (it means your jacket is too small or your shirt is too big)
  5. The lapel and tie width should be the same. James Bond has it right here, although I am not sure what is happening with his shirt collar.
    Lapel and tie the same width
    Lapel and tie the same width
  6. Modern lapels and ties are relatively narrow. If you go for a more vintage look (ie broader) ensure the lapel and tie balance out
  7. Don’t forget to match your shoes and belts too, ie both black or both brown. A belt is not essential but if you wear one don’t make it too wide. The slimmer and slighter you are, the slimmer and slighter the belt.
  8. Avoid black for a suit – it’s a bit flash. Dark grey wool (charcoal) is generally the best colour if you only have one suit. Navy or blue greys are always lovely too.
  9. With a black dinner suit or a dark grey suit always choose black shoes. Black also looks fine with lighter greys and all the blues.
  10. Brown shoes work well with navy, lighter grey and browner suits. However they are slightly more casual and are not welcome in the City of London (in senior roles).
  11. Single vents used to be fashionable. Now we are back to double vents again. These work well on larger frames and allow easier movement
  12. For a youthful, fashionable look you can wear a one button suit with peak lapels. Avoid if you are over 35 or at all portly.
  13. Generally the best look for most men is the two button suit. The deep V makes you look taller and slimmer so make sure the first button is relatively low down on your chest
  14. Three buttons are OK if you are long and thin, but never do them all up.
  15. And always undo them when you sit down
  16. Double breasted looks good on Prince Charles and larger men, but they need to be very well fitted, so are generally better avoided
  17. Coordinate, don't match, your hankerchief
  18. A pocket square (handkerchief) can look nice with or without a tie. But don’t have an exact match with your tie.
    Boateng purple suit
    Ozwald Boateng in purple suit
  19. An off duty suit can be a nice addition to your wardrobe – for evenings out, parties or presentations etc – these could be worn during the week if you are in a creative occupation.

Simply Fabrics – shop review

posted in: Shop Review | 23

Last weekend, although I have enough fabric to sink a ship, I visited my favourite London fabric shop. I realised I had never reviewed the shop, so here is my review.

Simply fabrics
Simply Fabrics

While London may not be as good as New York it has quite a few fabric shops and markets, supplying both top end designer fabrics down to the most humble schmutter. I know that the Goldhawk Road shops are popular with many, and the markets (particularly Walthamstow) supply many home sewists with cloth, my own heart lies in Brixton, at the end of the Victoria line.

Here nestles a small shop (actually two shops) that could easily provide all my needs.The second shop has notions, some remnants, linings, curtaining, interfacing, muslin, etc. The second shop is convenient rather than special, but it is fit for purpose. In recent months I felt the main shop it had gone off a bit – but I think it has found itself again. Robert has stepped back and Leo is in charge – the shop is much tidier than it was and it is going a bit upmarket, which is fine by me.

Last weekend my friend Megan said she needed to get some wool, at a low price, for her tailoring class. She, plus two of her colleagues who had come from Italy and Germany to learn alongside her in the East End, met me at the tube.

They were not disappointed. Simply Fabrics has a wide range of tailoring wools, mostly selling at £6 p/m. These end bolts, including relatively small quantities, are sourced from factories and tailors who create men’s suits; and if you want grey, blue or occasionally something more interesting, you will find a suitable cloth here. In addition there are two bins with less salubrious cloth. One sells at £3 p/m and the other £2 p/m. My intrepid young friends found several pieces of wool in the £3 bin – ideal for making basting, herringbone and pad stitching samples, pocket styles and to create their own sample books. I told them that when I was learning to sew the class would buy 10cm samples of high end cloth and then share out 10cm squares amongst the whole class – I had camel, vicuna and quite a few interesting coatings.

simply fabrics
Suiting wools at Simply Fabrics

The young tailors kept gravitating towards some large rolls of high end cloth. i often buy from this pile. Here the fabrics are from £10 to £20 p/m but you really do get some excellent bargains. Robert and Leo buy up end of roll fabrics that have been used by designers like Paul Smith, Roland Mouret and many others that vary from time to time. Generally they will tell you where they come from (nothing much is labelled). At first I was a little sceptical, but these are honest men, and after searching the internet, and going to Harrod’s designer rooms, I can confirm that they are what they say they are. At present there are around 20 rolls of wonderful Paul Smith woolens – including some colourful stripes, cashmere mix, and beautiful navys. If you want to make a smart coat, jacket or skirt this would be a good place to go. They also still has some super primrose yellow fabric that would make a marvellous party or evening dress. Over the past few years most of my SWAP garments started their life in this shop.

More interesting fabrics
More interesting fabrics

In addition they have a good range of linens, some Liberty fabrics if that floats your boat, lots of colourful rayon, cotton and jersey. Plenty for the local African market in terms of laces, heavily embroidered/embossed/blinged up fabrics; and for young designers all the modern synthetics like scuba, and other interesting textures that work in structured outwear.

I also have to commend the owners. Robert works at weekends, and Leo in the week. Both are very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful (although always busy – I have rarely had them to myself). Robert kindly arranged a burn test to show the students how to tell the difference between silk and wool by nose alone. I am not sure I can tell the subtle difference myself (relying on more obvious visual and tactile clues). As nothing much in the shop is labelled they will give you their best guess. I suppose if the exact provenance of your fibres is important to you this may be a little worrying, but let me assure you that you will  not generally get quality like this, at this price, anywhere else in London.

If you are not very experienced at buying fabric, you may find a shop like this intimidating. I have to say my own trip to Loop last week (a famous wool shop) left me confused and a little uncomfortable – if you don’t know much it is really hard to know where to start. It can be embarrassing to ask beginner questions. It is easy to feel fobbed off with what someone else decides you need. But Simply Fabrics is not intimating really, Feel free to ask the proprietors, or even the other customers. It sometimes feels like a party is going on here.

Customers love this shop
Customers love this shop

One time I was in the shop and two nicely dressed, slightly effete young Irish men were looking at the linens. They were weighing up various light shades – beige, peach, white, cream. I thought maybe they were looking for soft furnishings. Eventually they pulled out a light beige and took it over to be cut. They asked for a very large quantity. I was waiting too, so asked what they would be making.

“Oh nun’s outfits. For sisters who are working in Africa”.

When they left Leo said

“That was a surprise”. And it was. We didn’t see that coming and to be honest, it’s that kind of shop.

I have been thinking about this shop and why I like it so much. The thing is it is an honest shop. They don’t push you to buy. They don’t give you any flim-flam. They help you if you want help, but if you take the merchandise to the counter that is fine too. They cut generously. They knock off 10 per cent for students. They give you a little snippet to take home if you want one. They put up with some crazy customers, local designers and makers, beginners, people who ask for £1 p/m cloth for all sorts of weird purposes. They are self-effacing and competent gentlemen, selling great cloth at fair prices. I cross London for this shop and if you are in the capital, or nearby, I still make this my No 1 shop.


Cling film patterns – trying for trousers

Last week I hosted another Cling Film Party in my basement flat. Powered by wine, chocolate, Nick’s lasagne and scintillating conversation Georgia and Jane made bodice patterns.  Ably abetted by Megan, I hope they produced good quality bodice blocks.

Saran wrap bodice
Megan and Jane create Georgia’s bodice block
We used a tried and tested technology for this – an approach we worked out with Pia last time around. Pia has a great deal of pattern making experience and she really helped us the first time around. As I said at the time – the fact that my own bodice fitted perfectly when I made up the toile was due to precision and commitment on the part of my fitting buddy Pia. 
Let’s just repeat Pia’s excellent general advice (slightly edited): 

I think a combination of normal kitchen wrap & narrow wrap pallet might be useful. On its own the narrow wrap can be less stable, and can be squashed as the layers are built up. A layer of clear sellotape/packing tape is worth more than many layers of wrap – but of course you don’t want to tape directly on your skin, so a layer or two of wrap first, then tape to stabilise the wrap, may make the process quicker, less uncomfortable, & more accurate. The purpose of the wrap would then be to protect your skin (like the plastic bag one use for duct-tape or paper-tape double).


Larger kitchen wrap cut into manageable size might get more area covered more quickly & be useful for the harder to wrap neck-shoulder-chest-area.


Another suggestion would be to mark all the guidelines before you start wrapping. You can then take your time to get this right without wrapee discomfort from sweating in the wrap. It also means you know where to wrap to at neckline & armscyes. This would mean that you can just trace the guidelines onto the wrap before cutting wrapee out.

Guidelines ideally shouldn’t move, so maybe you could use the narrow tape Sew2Pro brought along (Shoben tape), or masking tape with guidelines drawn on, or maybe even eyeliner? 🙂

Turning now to the issue of the bottom half of the body. We had previously discussed with Pia the idea of the skirt/pants/lower half wrap and she added the following excellent suggestions.

Consider wrapping top & bottom separately, even if you’re aiming for a dress length result. That’ll give you time to recover between each portion! Just make sure the boundaries stay the same – ie waistline, armscye (for separate sleeve wrapping).


I’m tempted to do pants/leg wraps. The tricky bit would be figuring out how to wrap between the legs & the crotch line! 😉

Pia wasn’t available on the night we chose, but Marianna and I decided to get on with producing trouser patterns.

The main issue with the trousers was clearly “figuring out how to wrap between the legs and the crotch line” as PIa so delicately put it.  The fit in the crotch area is the essential feature of trousers and the crucial area to perfect in getting a good fit. We realised this was a (ahem) sensitive area and Marianna wore running shorts, while I found a pair of leggings. Nevertheless this approach does require a willingness to wrap between the legs, so be sure you are comfortable with this.

Nappy wrap
Nappy wrap

How to create a good line at the CF and CB was on my mind the day of the wrap, and I focused on it when wrapping Marianna, creating what can only be described as a “nappy” section that we put between the legs right at the very start. We  draped the crotch piece separately first of all. I cut several strips long enough to cover the whole crotch line from to back,  brought it up to the waist line front and back, before securing with clear sellotape. Then I wrapped the hip area by going around the body. Finally I wrapped one leg section. Certainly for the leg wrap the narrow packing cling film was ideal. With the legs themselves I put long strips of packing tape in a downwards direction – waist to ankle – then wrapped the whole leg, going round and round.

As with the bodice we marked the plasticated garment carefully before taking it off – the CF, CB, side seams, inside leg, waist, hip, knee and ankle. The piece around the hips is partially discarded – the right side (say) is there to keep the wrap stable while you create the pattern on the (say) left leg.

When cutting the pattern off the body we cut the side seam, starting at the ankle. It is useful if the wrapee can lift her leg a little to facilitate this.

Marianna has not had time to make up her trouser toile yet so I cannot tell you what the crotch on her trousers came out like. But I have to admit mine was a failure.

The leg wrap was great – the shape and length of the legs is certainly good enough. There is a good fit at waist and hips. The issue is the crotch. Effectively because we did not get in close enough to the tricky area Marianna and I have created dropped crotch trousers. The crotch is least one inch too low for comfort.

Saran wrap trousers
Dropped crotch

Here are a few more pictures. Certainly, compared to the excellent fit I got from my bodice, these were a disappointment. However the process has proved itself again as a reliable and effective alternative to flat pattern drafting. I could make an alteration to my trouser pattern to ensure that the crotch is in the right place. However I am keen to try the process again in order to improve on the technique. Do I have a partner please?

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