Diana: Her Fashion Story

On the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I had the chance to see the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition at Kensington Palace as a guest of our auditors. This included a talk by Claudia Williams the exhibition’s curator.

Diana exhibition Kensington Palace Claudia Williams
Claudia speaks about the exhibition

Held in the former home of Princess Diana we were treated to an explanation of Diana as a charismatic cultural force, using the clothes she wore to speak volumes. This set of photographs introduces the exhibition and encapsulates  the transformation of her appearance, role and character throughout her brief reign as “the People’s Princess”. The dresses wore in these photographs tell the story of Diana, through her clothes. Let’s have a look at what it all means.

The changes face of Diana

Many of the outfits she is wearing in these photographs are brought together in the exhibition. Other reviewers have complained that there are not many dresses on display, and the cost of the exhibition (about £20). But each of these dresses captures a moment in her personal history and evolution and provided me with lots of food for thought.

Take the first photograph – the engagement picture. Even though Diana was young, naive and tall (that is why she is sitting on the fence), she was nevertheless so fresh and beautiful. Her soft, natural colouring, her blooming complexion and elegant limbs made the dullest dress look marvellous. On the stand it was close to horrid. The curator explained at this point, as a teenager in Norfolk Diana had very little experience of high fashion. Her own formal wardrobe consisted of one evening dress, one blouse and a solitary pair of shoes. If she needed anything else she borrowed from her sisters or friends. She initially took advice from her mother about what she might wear in her new role, and her sisters employed a stylist from Vogue, Anna Harvey, to give Diana some help on putting a wardrobe together.

The second photo of Diana in the line up is in a 1985 Victor Edelstein, midnight blue velvet dress. Travolta, egged on by Nancy Reagan, eventually asked Diana to dance, having checked out her ability on the dance floor. In the end they danced for half an hour, including to “You’re the One I Want”.  He described this dance as the high point of his life. Edelmann describes a good dress as one that makes the wearer look wonderful rather than attract interest in the dress itself. In some ways the dress itself just sits there. As she dances, even in a still, the skirt swirls out and looks fantastic in motion.

The third photograph is from the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. Here is the Catherine Walker dress – on and off. In life, in motion, it is radiant and stunning. Silver pumps, statement earrings, blue eyeliner and the scarf artfully tied at the back. On display it was quiet, eau de nil, flattened and something short of stunning.

Next up is the Elvis Dress. On the stand this dress was sensational. The narrowness of the skirt, achieved with a long back split,and the upright feature collar make the dress appear, on its own, to be about six feet tall. At 5’10” Diana was tall for a woman, with siim hips and impressive shoulders. In light cream, enhanced by pearl encrustations, this is, to my mind, the absolute epitome of a Modern Princess dress. Perfect for Diana’s figure, it looks amazing with and without the short jacket. Everything works wonderfully, esecially with the heavy choker and neat, low heeled evening shoes. And of course a tiara will set off any dress! I was so happy to see this dress close up. Worth going tor this alone although it is in the V&A collection. Here is the story of the dress:

Diana supported many London-based designers, such as Catherine Walker, the couturière from whom Diana ordered this ensemble. Walker first provided clothing for Diana during her first pregnancy in 1981, and continued to do so until Diana’s death in 1997. This outfit, which Diana called her ‘Elvis Dress’, was worn by the Princess to the British Fashion Awards in October 1989 and then on an official visit to Hong Kong.
In 1997, Diana sold 79 dresses in a charity auction held by Christie’s, which raised over 3 million pounds for AIDS and cancer charities. This dress was bought by The Franklin Mint, a company which produces memorabilia such as a portrait Diana doll, featuring her wearing this dress, thus making it one of the best-known of Diana’s many outfits.

The next image of Diana is of her in a pink suit. The whole concept of a pink suit is of course fascinating, not least because Jackie Kennedy had already “owned” the look. The juxtaposition of the “pink” with “suit” is almost an oxymoron. A suit is men’s wear, city wear, job wears. Pink is feminine, evening wear, night wear. A woman in a pink suit is not trying to be one of the boys – nor is she ultra feminine with flounces and frills and a romantic look, as favoured by the young Diana. In fact Diana’s own inclination for feminine looks was dropped along with her husband and princessy roles. As she separated from Charles she wanted, or was persuaded, to reinvent herself as the humanitarian leader. And the pink suit signified the transition. This is a business suit, but the wonderful shade of light shell pink makes Diana look completely radiant and happy. This pink lights up her skin and emphasises her natural freshness. The shape of the suit is flattering, modest, tidy and business-like, with sufficient detail to make it special. The lovely 1940s collar and cuffs, the interesting button stand, the prominent, shiny but restrained buttons, plus elegant princess lines giving wonderful shaping around the bust, waist and hips. This suit really did the business.

Finally let’s turn to the last Catherine Walker evening dress, featured at the start. I am a fan of this shape of dress on Diana which make the most of her figure, especially in terms of the neckline. The narrow, but widely placed straps straps amazing with her square  shoulders and the bodice creates a slight corset effect. She shows just a hint of a great cleavage and her hips and legs are celebrated. This neckline is chosen again and again for evening wear as it is her very best look – framing her face, and making her figure look stunning. But choosing the most simple shapes, but in this case heavily embellished fabric, Diana shows absolute body and wardrobe confidence. Her shapely calves in shiny tights and subtly shaped gold satin shoes need no handbag, hat, gloves or other fussy royal trimmings. She doesn’t have a court, a crown or even a husband. But she looks radiant and in control.




My second attempt at a simple pleated skirt

posted in: Finished projects | 10

In our house we have an expression: “If at first you don’t succeed, read the blooming instructions”. And, under certain frustrating circumstances, that “blooming” might be a swear word. Often the brochure supplied with a heating unit, a coffee dispenser (Nick – it’s two pushes of the button), or even with your sewing machine may explain several things you have been struggling with for years.

So when I saw a pattern for a simple pleated skirt in one of the Sew Magazines I had been given by William Gee, I read the instructions, but I didn’t follow them! As a consequence I got something quite different. Not a bad skirt but one that was unnecessarily complex and annoying to put together. I felt I had let the pattern down; although I frequently “wing it” sometimes it is just nice to do as you are told and follow the “blooming” instructions. This is one of the joys of commercial patterns, I find.

Why am I resistant to following the instructions? Another expression comes to mind; “Pride comes before a fall”. I can be overconfident,  thinking I can adapt a  boring pattern to one that would use the full spread of my fabric, and suit me better. Anyway I wanted to give the pattern, as written, as second chance.

I found a small piece of modern retro fabric that had a pleasing pattern, red on pink, that I figured  would be ideal for this skirt. More ideal than the fabric the magazine used (a wide, John Kaldor linen), as it was a narrower width and thus created very little waste, (in fact just enough for another small patchwork sample at my class).

Sew magazine pleated skirt
Sew magazine pleated skirt

I was able to use the interfacing and lining generously supplied by William Gee. Sure the lining was dark red, and the two pieces were slightly different shades. But so what? No one sees your lining, and anyway I like varied shades.

I was also able to use the iron-on interfacing I got in my goodie box. By interfacing the pleated area I could create a nice crisp outline. Also you can write on interfacing alot easier than on red and pink fabric. I drew the stitch lines for the pleats directly onto the interfacing. I used an invisible zip from my own collection.

I wore the skirt again as part of my Me Made May efforts. I think this was probably the most weird outfit I managed during May.  Lots of different shades of pink and red, brown with green and pink, a sort of boy scout vibe and my cozy Cyrene jacket, dark tights and brogue shoes. I don’t think I will be wearing this combination again!

Bizarre Mash up outfit, featuring pleated skirt

You may also be wondering what else I have made with the contents of my prize box.

I am sharing my good fortune as much as possible, so when Charlotte  (my dear stepdaughter) came to stay I gave her the little blue bows so she could make cards for friends having babies. I will show you her work when complete. She also took a bag of assorted buttons to make a picture for her partner, Lee.

The other item I shared with her was the French knitting bobbin. She soon got the hang of that and took it away to potentially make yards of French knitting. Doesn’t the malachite ring that Nick made look great too?

Charlotte soon learned the technique, and she thought the little figure was cute. But what can you do with these cords of knitted yarn?

I had the answer!

One of my Mum’s carers, Kath Robinson,  loves making rugs with this technique. She showed me her work recently. Kath and her husband have a caravan and she finds doing the French knitting is a nice way to enjoy the evenings with no TV. I liked the way she used a variegated yarn to sew the long cords together. It was quite an impressive rug, in rather gorgeous shades.

Do you always follow the instructions? And what can one do with French knitting?

Style Analysis – Brigitte Macron

posted in: Style advice | 25

I know you like my style posts best so here we go!

The Election of President Emmanuel Macron has provided a  bit of relief recently, especially that he is not Marine Le Pen. His private life is a little interesting, because he married his drama teacher, who is over 20 years older than he is. Not that different ages is a problem at all – look at Donald Trump with his considerably younger spouse. But of course the press seems to think that the man should be older, not the women. Who cares?

Anyway, she is over 60 and a mum of three – grandma of seven. Luckily she appears to have a good sense of humour and I think she may need it. But today I thought it might be interesting to have a look at her wardrobe. Brigitte Trogneux comes from a family of Chocolatieres. Obviously she doesn’t eat the stuff herself.

I always like to start with the body outline – silhouette – even if it means showing the person in a swimsuit.

Bridgette appears to have a straight figure with slim hips and broad shoulders (similar to Princess Diana). Many top models have this body shape, and generally this figure (when slim) looks great in clothes as they hang well from strong shoulders. As you can see Mrs Macron is very slim. Her arms and legs are muscular with minimal fat. Her waistline is not very defined.

The Macrons, posing in the sea

The straight figure really looks amazing in trousers as the slim hips and thighs are flattered by an androgynous style. The shape of the navy outfit (below) really looks good on Bridgette in the sense that the shapes are relatively straight and the whole look is streamlined and modern. I like all the textures, the silver collar and the various shades of navy. What is her wardrobe personality, would you say? I am going with dramatic. Leather trousers are such a statement. “I am young! What is age? I am interested in fashion and I can wear up to the minute looks! I am confident of myself and what I am doing!

Her spectacle frames are quite heavy and slightly shaded. She is showing her strong intellectual side – the thinker, the strategist, the teacher.

Brigitte Macron
Brigitte Macron in navy leather trousers

Some further images of Brigitte in pants illustrate the point. She likes the leather trousers and shiny shoe boots, combining them with a more formal tailored jacket. She does the same with ultra skinny jeans and sporty trainers. Overall she knows how to dress for her body shape – her slim legs give a long, straight silhouette and make her appear tall and sleek. Personally I would wear a slightly fuller leg, especially with the jeans. The smart jackets are really nice and create a message that this person knows how to dress, what suits her and the jackets give a strong message of authority and competence. I really like the grey one with its interesting cross body strap – classic with a twist.

With this body shape the ideal dress is a straight dress in a firmer fabric. The white dress meets the requirement although personally I feel the black tights are a bit heavy, and I think the coat is too ordinary with this dress. Black tights flatter fuller legs – she could wear patterned tights or lighter colours, and not many women can. The blue dress is also fairly straight, with a high waisted look that is quite flattering on a woman without much indentation at the waist. The black dress has been chosen to give the appearance of a waist and it is a really nice dress. But I don’t think the full A line skirt is doing much for Brigitte. The extreme thinness of the legs is emphasised by a wide skirt. I would have suggested a pencil skirt shape with the skirt ending at just above the knee. Although slim arms and legs are enviable it is sometimes better to wear tights and perhaps a sleeve. Maybe show just your arms or legs, rather than both. I like the choice of accessories, which are a little bit “discordant” in a good way. The orange shoes with the black dress and the beige bag with the blue dress. This is a woman who is confident of her style.

Let’s have a look at Mrs Macron in a skirt. I am not wild about the blue or the pink one. The blue skirt – a sort of hipster kilt doesn’t look great with that white shirt and high heels. It looks a bit like a school uniform to me – not the best look for an ex-teacher. Her narrow hips and wider shoulders would look better with a darker blouse and a narrower, light coloured skirt. The skirt is on the hips rather than the waist but this just makes her shoulders look larger than they are. The pink skirt is potentially good in that it is a narrower cut, and not many women suit a pink mini with side pleats. The blouse is not too bad although the heavy shoulder line emphasises her shoulders. A simpler skirt and a neater top in a darker shade would work better. On the other hand I feel the blue suit/dress and jacket is great. The narrower skirt, the important military style jacket, the neat tailoring and the beautiful shade of light blue looks both presidential and stylish. Although her legs are both tanned and toned I would prefer them hosed. However my hunch is that this look, with the tamed hair, more subtle makeup and elegant accessories mark the transition from rock chic to First Lady of France.

What do you think?

Another week of dressing up and taking pictures – MMMay 2017

Enough already! I am bored of dressing up deliberately in me-made tops and bottoms, and taking pictures. I suspect that you are bored with looking at them too. So, just a quick post.

I am still obeying my own rules – one sewn and one knitted item per day.

It’s still pretty cold in London although I did have bare legs one day (under trousers, on Thursday).

It was not difficult to wear knitwear, to be honest. Looking at these pictures I realise, although I know lighter colours suit me, that I wore a preponderance of deep colours this week – deep petrol blue and forest green Heavenly sweaters, a navy jacket and a slightly lighter blue jacket. I always wear something lighter too  – pink, white, yellow or light grey. Deeper colours have a higher authority rating so I tend to wear them for work. The yellow trousers and the pink tights were worn on days without too many external meetings.

My weekend wear was soft and comfortable. We were with my Mum this weekend and the Saturday picture is in her living room; Sunday was in the garden. I was pleased to be able to wear my Cyrene jacket on Saturday. My Mum was interested in the hand knits and loved the moss stitch on the Cyrene. My knitwear is holding up well. I am especially  pleased with those sleeveless tops! They are just the job at the moment (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday). Soft, comfortable and warm, and versatile – spanning smart to casual. I may revisit my vow not to do another one. All that lovely yarn from Jo makes me think I should have another go.

However you can tell from my poses I am getting a bit annoyed with this project. Not just the posing. I am also beginning to feel dissatisfied with my wardrobe – I am not sure why. I want a refresh I think. I haven’t been sewing much and although the corduroy pants are new everything else is considerbly older.  I feel my wardrobe is getting a bit dated. Or is it that my outfits are being more defined by my footwear?

The trainers are, embarrassingly, getting lots of use and I may need to buy a replacement pair. I put them through the washing machine every few weeks as they get smelly,  and they are wearing out as a result. Lots of interesting “trainers for work?” views came from you, following last week’s post.

  • Bele says she walks much better in trainers and I have to agree. I use public transport rather than driving and this involves a fair amount of walking. And I walk pretty fast. It is just not comfortable to do this in hard leather shoes.
  • Annie notes the value of the sockless look. And again I agree. I especially like shortish trousers or “kewlots’ with sockless trainers, but of course the fabric shoes can get a bit cheesy.
  • Catlinda and others say OK to trainers with trousers but not with skirts and I agree the look is better with trousers (but needs must)
  • Ceci is looking for some slip-ons that look good with a skirt, so that will be interesting
  • And Caroline endorsed the look, adding there is plenty of choice out there now. But I am not sure I agree. My ideal work wear shoes would be
    • leather,
    • flat,
    • cushioned,
    • comfortable (especially in the toe area as Kim remarks),
    • dark (navy, black, dark brown),
    • classically shaped trainers,
    • stylish and up to the minute. Esme kindly accommanied me last year to all the shoe shops in Oxford street and we couldn’t find any.
  • Helen remarks that all the young people in her office wear trainers and it is the same with me. I have started looking down and I would say in London today, across all age ranges, probably as many as 50 per cent are wearing trainers. Here is a snap I took in Vauxhall on my way to our office on Friday morning. I think one of them is in leather shoes.They look cold, don’t they?
People in a London street wearing trainers
London Footwear Friday 9.20am


Will there be a MMM2017 next week? I don’t know. If the weather doesn’t improve I will have to recycle some of the old outfits.


A visit to William Gee Habadasheree!

You may remember that I won a box of haberdashery from William Gee, a Dalston (Hackney, London) institution. While I had ordered a few products from them, via the internet, I decided to visit the shop. Adam Graham – the manager – agreed to meet me, with his father Jeffrey who owns the company. There is a nice write up on Spitalfields Life and on their own website, so I will not repeat the history.

I turned up on Friday afternoon, and rather than talk in the shop I suggested we went out for “a coffee”. Luckily none of us like coffee so we went across the road to another veritable institution, Arthur’s. This is the sort of place you can have breakfast up to 12 noon, then they serve lunch and if you ask for a slice of toast at that point you can’t have it. Arthur reminded me a bit of Jeff Tracy with his bushy eyebrows and thick grey hair. I wonder where the “son and grandson” were that day.

While we drank our tea we talked. First Jeffrey:

“My father was in the haberdashery business in Commercial Street, and in 1964 he merged with William Gee and became the MD. I worked in the shop during the holidays.”

“Me too” added Adam. “I was counting scissors at five”.

“We had manual stocktaking then” explained Jeffrey. “Now Adam is modernising the company with computerisation, the internet and so on. I have four children and they all helped in the shop in the holidays. I didn’t encourage them to come into the business – Adam trained as a graphic designer – because the industry was in decline for many years. From about 1990s/2000s the factories we supplied in the East End and North London were all closing down and the work was going abroad. When I started all the big retail shops mainly sourced their products from factories in the UK, but now virtually everything is made abroad.”

“But you need to change, adapt and vary what you do. Today we feel we need to have both the bricks and mortar shop and an innovative website.  What was suitable and necessary in the past is not necessarily the right thing to offer today. We have this issue with some of our employees. They are really longstanding people who have been with  us a decade or two – brother and sister, husband and wife – we are a family firm! And many of them are traditional and a bit stuck in their ways. They say “we have always done it like this” and they don’t really want to change.”

“We have always been a wholesaler, business to business, with large volumes and small margins. We have a large warehouse and we were very competitive, but we always offered direct sales to local people. But over the last 20 years we have become more retail based, selling direct to the consumer through the shop and increasingly through our online shop. There are now only three or four clothing factories in the whole of London. Nevertheless there is still a garment district in the East End – lots of designers are based here and of course the fashion colleges – so we sell to everyone.”

“So this area was really a semi-industrial area that had got run down as the factories started closing, but then the designers and the artists and the fashionable people came and took over the warehouses and the area started to improve and regenerate. And we were still here and thriving. The way I look at it the internet allows us to sell to people all over the country – Adam is going to make it possible for people to purchase internationally too – but they come to the shop for an experience. Not just to see the products up close, but also to feel connected. Shopping is different now – the shop is more of a showroom and not just a selling place. In fact we think of it as a service to the community.”

Adam explains that the Great British Sewing Bee (which they supplied) has made dressmaking fashionable and they are benefiting commercially. “We are thinking of our shop being a textile hub, a workshop, a place to find out how to do things or meet people from the same community; we want to run some classes. My girlfriend has some great ideas for how to respond to the great boom there is in sewing nowadays. We want to create a buzz”. Adam with his eye for design has redesigned the shop to include lots of original vintage features, but also to offer a tidy well signposted shopping experience.

I said I thought the next big craze would be about the provenance of materials, similar to what we had seen with cheese, sausages, wine etc. People want to know where the product was made, if it is ethical, what it contains, the story etc. and Jeffrey took up the theme:

“We only sell British and European goods. You have to go to France, Italy, Spain and Germany as well as the UK for the quality people want. The Chinese stuff is sometimes OK but just about everything we sell is British or of a similar quality. Most of the sweatshops that we had here in East London have closed.”

Finally the Grahams showed me round the parts of the shop hidden from view and it was decidedly “Dickensian”, but beautifully organised. I was amazed at the variety of zips they had. “I bet you have every type of zip known to man!” I said. “Usually” Jeffrey replied. I am pretty sure the lino hadn’t been replaced since 1930.

What a fun experience – a fantastic family firm, offering a wide range of quality products at reasonable prices, and a little bit of fashion history. I really liked Adam and his Dad and I am sure that as they modernise and change they will continue to thrive.

Me Made May 2017 Week one

posted in: Style advice | 12

I did MMM16 and found it quite interesting.  This challenge, set by Zoe of So Zoe blog, is to actually wear what you make. It’s a nice idea, and with it being May it is particularly suited to UK people who love to make a summer dress.

I decided this year, MMMay17, my twist was to wear something sewn and something knitted. It was a bit challenging. For two main reasons – although jumpers are worn often in the UK May is (generally) one of our warmer months; and my seven or eight hand knitted sweaters are just a little bit casual. I overcame this by tucking them in to my skirt, and often adding a belt. “Luckily”, in relation to this challenge, it has been pretty cool in the first week, although I was barelegged on Monday (bank holiday), and in the Cotswolds it got really hot on Sunday and I changed into my silk painted dress. My friend Amo and I had spent the weekend making a nice simple dress for her – so we were both suitably dressed when the sun came out.

Amo in the sewing room
Sunday afternoon with Amo

But, back to the sweater challenge…

Some of my hand knitted tops

Of course May is not always pleasant as can be witnessed from my pictures below. The thick tights say it all. I was happy to wear a sweater every day, albeit a sleeveless one on Monday. On Sunday (you can see the sun in the photograph) I was wrapped up warm as per usual, but when I stepped out for the photo I realised how hot it was (scorching) and changed into a dress.

The green jumper featured twice, and I have three woolies I have yet to wear – the brown jacket, the petrol blue Heavenly and the rugged ski sweater (a bit warm and a bit rugged really – suitable for a wet weekend if we have one).

I am mainly wearing skirts – I need separates to get the woolies worn and most of my work trousers are RTW. But I normally wear skirts for work. I am wearing me made jackets, on Tuesday and Thursday, as I attended more formal work meetings those days. I meant to take my Me Mad jeans with me at the weekend but forgot them so the jeans on Saturday are RTW, but I would have worn my Birkin flares if I had them with me. I may try a dress and hand knit next week.

Most of the outfits are a bit old – the Thursday suit is from SWAP 2015. The Saturday skirt is my “curvy pencil” skirt. Most of the skirts are 1960s skirts made with vintage Vogue patterns. I like 1960s skirts as they are often detailed, with the pockets on the front princess line rather than the side seam, which I much prefer. The grey skirt is Tamotsu from the 1980s. The red skirt is new, and it is  my second attempt at a pleated skirt from Sew magazine which I will blog shortly.

Other style points – I am relying more and more on trainers even at work. Although I am sporting brogue type shoes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I wore trainers on for the office on Tuesday. I find the cushioning so comfortable and they allow me to walk fast. I have got used to them and leather shoes now feel hard and unyielding. I am very informal at work so I think it is OK but even a year or two ago I wouldn’t have done this. In fact I associated trainers with workwear with the New York power-suit, power-walk look from the 1980s, where the trainers were taken off at the desk and the high heels were slipped on.I found the look rather strange. But these days men and women can wear trainers with suits and work outfits. I think the look is fine, but not for more formal events. Obviously the girl in the second picture would look better (for work) with a shirt on. What do you think?

Holsten sweater by Ankestrick

posted in: Finished projects, knitting | 13

Review in two sentences. Nice, interesting pattern. Terrible yarn from Love Knitting.

Holsten by Anketrick

This pattern has been reviewed by Sue Stoney recently. She is an expert knitter and her version is very nice indeed.

Mine is quite successful despite having an absolute disaster with the yarn. I can’t believe what happened and I am quite angry.

I bought the yarn online from Love Knitting, and it took a while to arrive. I ordered six skeins of 100% cashmere 4 ply – five in brown (tea leaves) and one in green. When the yarn arrived from America after about two weeks, but only some of the skeins were 100% cashmere. Two of the skeins were a mixture of silk (55%) and cashmere (45%). As  you can see from the photograph below, quite a different product, weight and colour.  I had a little hassle with the company who eventually reordered the correct replacement and I sent back the incorrect yarn.

Love knitting mistake
This is what I was sent

So, believing I now had 100 per cent cashmere yarn I started knitting. After I had done the neck and shoulder area I came to coloured band and swapped over to the green yarn. This felt very different from what I had been knitting with. I was thinking – this feels like a DK rather than a four ply (I am still such a novice). I decided instead to use one of my remainder ends from Colourmart, which are sold as 4 ply and are quite skinny. I decided against the green which felt a bit thick, and offered up all the Colourmart options, see below.  On Instagram, and the people  went with the light mauve.  If you are a more experienced yarn purchaser than me you may have now worked out what had happened. The second picture shows my work with the Jade Sapphire “100% cashmere” and the colourmart 4ply. In fact, even through all six yarns were labelled as 100 per cent cashmere I still ended up with some silk/cashmere blend.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise until I had finished the neck, one sleeve and the purple band. When I took my second skein of yarn I realised it was thicker than the first skein – obviously because I was now using the 100 per cent cashmere.

Love knitting yarn problems
A really nasty outcome in terms of yarns

The difference is pretty marked. Luckily, because of the separation of the two browns yarns by the mauve band the two different yarns don’t actually sit side by side. And on me I am not sure you can tell. One arm feels different – less warm and snuggly, and the knitting is much less dense. I am annoyed as I spent so many hours on this jumper and feel I have been sold the wrong product, at the wrong price, but I can’t exactly send it back and I should have really satisfied myself that I knew exactly what I was buying. But, especially early on, one trusts the website to send you what you ordered.


The pattern is great, and I really enjoyed the way the two bands (across both the bust and one arm) are created simultaneously. It’s a neat pattern and I am enjoying wearing it. What is special about it for me is that it doesn’t look like something you could just buy – although it is both plain and simple, it has the kind of twist/artfulness that I like in a garment. I am keen to make it again. It is light and easy to wear and fits in a clingy but also a little drapey – I made one size up (small rather than extra small). Nick loves this top on me – I am not sure why. Maybe the colours are a bit muted (and he prefers what he calls “natural” colours.

Holsten sweater
Holsten sweater

I have some navy and pink 2 ply remnants from Colourmart that would work perfectly for this style. However, unlike my experiments with a bulky yarn knitting with two ply is a bit of a slow burn. I now have a queue of knitting projects (like many of you!). And just to encourage me some more my dear friend Jo and I met this week, and she kindly donated me her entire stash! I really didn’t know what to say. This is such a generous and delightful gift. Jo likes, and suits, deep cool colours, and likes quality yarns in cotton, merino and pure new wool. There is quite alot of the dark green (which is a colour I love (along with navy), navy, aubergine and what I would call petrol – although I understand this shade of blue is not called that in the US (they know their petrol over there!)

Yarn stash
Jo’s wonderful yarn collection

What should I do with this embarrassment of riches?

My first foray with sheep’s wool (and the importance of soaking your swatches)

Elizabeth Zimmerman

Following a recommendation from Linde I have been reading Elizabeth Zimmerman (of which more in a later post), and unsurprisingly for the Queen of Knitting, she swears by wool. I really like what she writes about the origins of knitting:

“Primitive societies herded sheep… for milk, meat, and skins. How resourceful to gather stray tufts of wool …and spin them into yarn. How resourceful to experiment with knots and loops on two sticks, and eventually to resolve the tangle into the prototype of some form of knitted fabric. Weaving took place at home, but knitting could accompany the shepherd, the sailor, the woman walking to the fields, anyone who at any time had idle hands”

Knitting Without Tears, 1971, p44

Most knitters I know love, even insist on, knitting with wool. I am not allergic (for whom Elizabeth’s “heart bleeds”) but I don’t really like wearing it close to my skin. I will happily make jackets, skirts and coats in pure wool, and I love the way you can shape wool when tailoring.

But I remembered that on my scary visit to Loop in Islington merino wool was recommended by the salesperson as it is not itchy. But when I felt it I found it not that nice. I didn’t, certainly at that stage, want to make a huge investment (much of their yarn is imported from the US and is very expensive) in money and time and then find myself reluctant to wear an itchy, scratchy jersey. So I went with the other fibres and shelved the idea of wool.

Over many years I have found that for softness next to the skin I prefer cotton, silk, linen, cashmere or alpaca.  Having said that, when knitting you do need a fabric with life and springiness, don’t you? Previously I have found cotton yarn leaden. So, so far, I have been using Drops Peruvian baby alpaca with silk (very reasonable), Purl Alpaca (very nice, soft English alpaca, but more expensive) and cashmere (bought from Colourmart). Buying it “retail” can be ridiculous. But I decided the time had come to try wool.

Searching for a bargain on Colourmart I came across some wool sets. These are odd bits of very soft merino yarn at about £20 for 300 grams. The colours are delicious and the yarn feels very soft and silky – so I bought a few packs. Those who had assumed my selection of bit and pieces of yarn might be the left overs from a productive knitting life, now know my secret!

I buy the bits that cannot be sold as a matching set because the yardage is varied and the colours inconsistent lots. But as I love colour, and am happy to blend and mix, especially now I know you can combine yarns to make a thicker thread, I see this as an advantage  While one can get a proper tweedy look with two contrasting yarns, I like the subtle effect of combining close but not identical shades. It gives a richness and interest, making the colours look more natural (like hair or fur) and less synthetic. While avoiding the variegated look (which I like alot less – not sure why!). In the picture below the three slightly different pinks look like beetroot when mixed together.

Three DK yarns makes one bulky
Swatching the pinks

So here is my first woolen garment, taken in Esme’s flat. This top is a better fit than the first grey version as I created some shaping in the back, and I knitted it in the round, at least until the armhole. It is less boxy looking than the grey one, but otherwise I followed exactly the same pattern. You know how I like to repeat my successes (such as they are!). Only this time I jointed the shoulders with the “three needle bind off” or the Kitchener stitch (knitted not sewn). Thank you to Chris and to Mary F for suggesting this – good choice!

Colour mart Merino wool in pink
Sleeveless Poloneck in merino wool

This has been soaked and washed in hot water and detergent. Compared to the cashmere there was very little colour loss, and much less “blooming”. Looking at the photograph I am wondering if the armhole is too deep. It is such a tricky thing – this knitting lark. You never quite know what you are going to get. I think it stretched a little more vertically than horizontally. Maybe I can try reshaping it next time it is washed.

The grey one has had a makeover too.

When I washed it in hot water with detergent after knitting and stitching I found the deeper grey took up a lot more water and relaxed more than the lighter shade. This made it unpleasantly flared at the bottom. I especially didn’t like the ribbing which had been knitted with a 10mm needle like the body of the jumper. I tried steaming it and it shrank a little, but not enough. So I unpicked the darker grey (which is especially soft and beautiful), and used my remaining light grey yarn to reknit the base, using 8mm needles for the ribbing to match the collar. In the third photo below I haven’t yet washed the reknitted jersey. You can see how the unwashed yarn is a completely different colour and texture.

This post provides some empirical evidence that you need to do what Stephanie says. Not only is it is essential to swatch the yarn you plan to use on the right needles (circular or straight depending on your pattern), you also have to soak it in water. As she says:

I usually soak my swatch for about twenty minutes and then pin it out to dry, but that is with wool as I don’t knit with cashmere (so don’t know much about how it behaves, although I think it has more limited spring/recovery).

I didn’t wash my swatch, although I did make one to make sure I had the right size of needles. But, from my experience, she is quite right. My cashmere, especially the darker grey, really spread out when soaked and became unattractively baggy. That is the poor recovery she mentions. Secondly creating mixed yarn from unknown batches can, even when they are the same composition and weight, really differ especially after washing. Thirdly it seems the wool stretched more in the length and the cashmere in the width – this seems surprising and I can’t explain it.

Fabrickated grey cashmere top
Re Knitted grey sleeveless top

Anyway I am probably through with this style of jumper, although I have learnt so much about knitting by attempting this project. I would like to try something with sleeves, using the three strands of DK wool. Maybe a little jacket?

PS Karen Templer has published her Sloper pattern.




Three year Blog Anniversary

posted in: Organisation | 61

Before I started blogging I believed that the average blogger could produce reasonable posts for a year or two, two and a half years, tops, and after that it would be repetitious and boring to read. Most of us don’t have that much to say! Or sufficient stamina!

And when that happens I have a deep admiration those who decide they have said enough, shut up shop deliberately, rather than try to keep it going when they have lost interest, or no longer have the time. And I really like the people who rely on Instagram instead of launching another blog (there is a blog post published every six seconds). This newer medium is perfect for those who want quick advice on thread choices, or help on how to do a hem on chiffon etc. Me too. In fact it is only because I actually enjoy writing that I am a blogger at all. For most purposes I think Instagram with its square, often arty pictures, short posts and instant connection is ideal.

So back to the blog. I have already exceeded the 30 month limit I initially thought  advisable, and I have been here for three years. In that time I have (unbelievably) published more than 800 posts. Had I been posting one a week, that would be 16 years worth!  At, on average 750 words a post, that is 600,000 words –  around six books, if I were writing a book. That’s alot to read! I do worry that I have outstayed my welcome.

Fabrickated blogaversery
Ice-cream Third Blogaversary celebration

So how has it been for me?

Looking back, as a novice blogger, I had five key questions.

Will I cope with the technology?

The first six months were hard as I struggled to manage the technology. At first I couldn’t do a link, or crop a photograph. I didn’t know how to schedule a post, automatically post to Facebook/Twitter, or create a gallery. But trial and error taught me most things. A few issues eluded me for ages but I managed a widget this month, which pleased me immensely, but I still can’t embed a video or piece of music. My one attempt at “vlogging” was not worth the candle.

Can I produce a reasonable number of words, in roughly the right order, once or more a week?

Then there is the writing. Could I produce daily posts? For the first year or so I was so excited about communicating that I wrote daily. In fact I found I could. I could make the time and deliver to a deadline, and I still have so many ideas and topics that I wanted to learn about or write about.

And, the really hard one, will anyone read what I write?

Will anyone read what I write? Will anyone comment on what I write about?

And after a few months I started to get readers and commentators, and the numbers reacting has amazed me. I am staggered by the generosity of people who read and comment.

Bless you! Thank you! Love you!

I know my blog is not very professional. I take pictures, rather casually, with my work phone, and I often have typos in the text which I may, or may not, correct during the day (sorry!). But you know that I am open, and relatively honest, and I try to communicate as if I was talking to a good friend. And while it is an effort and a commitment, I enjoy writing, and I love the feedback, even the critical stuff (actually especially the critical, challenging and probing observations). Frankly it would be hard to give up what feels like a friendship.

I have been very lucky to meet several other bloggers, followers and commentators. Several times I have bumped into people on the bus, in shops or in the street who I have met through the world of blogging. They recognise me from the blog, or I them. Isn’t that incredible? I think I would miss all these friendships and relationships it if I gave up now.

What about content?

The best blogs come from a passion. They give useful information that help others who in search of answers. They inspire. They allow you to feel less alone, more part of a joint endeavour. They are inherently interesting – for example seeing how someone else struggles to make a pair of well fitting trousers is very interesting to me (but undoubtedly in the watching paint dry category for most of my family and friends).

How much should I share?

There are bloggers who never show their face or give their name. Entirely their right to share their craft but nothing personal. For myself I want to hear the human story – this is what makes a blog interesting and compelling to read. There are only so many posts about putting in a zip or making a patchwork quilt that I can stomach. On the other hand I can (and do) read human interest blogs about adoption, cancer, running up mountains, setting up an enterprise in Malawi etc as they come from the heart and often involve human suffering and human achievement. I have been very open, and there are a few negatives associated with this, but on the whole I am very glad I have had faith in the vast majority of people who respond in kind. By themselves being open, friendly, trusting and honest about their weaknesses and failures. For me the internet of bragging is unsavoury and boring. Let’s hear it for the tryers, the failures, the learners and those that persevere against the odds. You are my kind of people!

So, at the end of three years, what next?

My future plans

I set out to write a blog about “fashion and fit. style and stitching”. I think it still serves a purpose. I have written alot about all four subjects

  • Fashion
  • Fit
  • Style
  • Stitching (I used this word to encompass knitting, embroidery and other crafts)
    small patchwork block
    Patchwork and Quilting class, lesson 1

Since creating a new home we have been spending more time in the country and this has meant less sewing (although more knitting). I don’t see this changing much.

And at work I have an exceptionally busy year ahead with a couple of big projects to complete. I have started a new blog – this time with a work focus! Leading Culture is really addressed to Chief Executives and other leaders, so I am not expecting many of my Fabrickated readers to sign up. But I have committed to one post a week.

Following careful reflection I am not going to close the blog because I would miss you. I will continue to write about the subjects that interest me, which of course will include clothes making and other crafts. I really appreciate hearing from readers and followers and I would love to meet you all in real life. But from now on Fabrickated is only going to have two (rather than three) posts a week – on a Tuesday and a Saturday. Whether I get to my fourth birthday or not – we shall see.

Thank you for coming with me. I appreciate and value every single reader and commentator. You inspire and support me, for which I am deeply grateful.


Some suggestions for people with light colouring

posted in: Colour Analysis | 27

Last week I gave some information on how to choose colours that work well with deep colouring. And then Ceci wrote that she would look terrible in the deep shades with her “pale pinky skin, grey/khaki hair, pale hazel eyes”. I have never met Ceci, although I always love her comments, and I have no idea what her primary colour direction is – even if she is not deep she could be muted, bright, warm or cool as well as lighter. I myself am predominantly cool, but I have light as my secondary or tertiary direction.

Although I have some light features in my look my primary colour direction is cool. But I have noticed that when I wear lighter colours I get better feedback. For example my “best nine” Instagram pictures last year were predominantly of light outfits. White, very light grey, pink, and a few splashes of colour on a white background seem to appeal to people who just click through lots of photos on a daily basis. The picture of our kitchen and my fabric cabinet are also a little on the lighter side.

So how do you know if your colouring is light? You are pale skinned with light hair – usually blondish or light red. Your eyes are probably blue or green and your eyebrows are not very evident. And you will probably have been avoiding black and very dark shades instinctively realising they make you look even paler, “washed out”, not very well, or “drained”.

If you have light colouring I would keep your hair its natural shade – blonde and light red are really the most wonderful shades and really sparkle in the sun. Don’t colour your hair darker. If your hair is going grey I suggest you embrace it – there is something quite stunning about silvery, light grey hair. Also don’t wear heavy make up – the old adage of just wearing eye make up or lipstick can work well for lighter looks. I always think Tilda Swindon does light eyes well, avoiding mascara, liner and even eye shadow. The basic idea, with natural beauty, is to celebrate the way you are. If you have light skin then don’t cover it with foundation, fake tan or bronzer. Just let it be, or use a little blusher that looks like you do when you blush or exercise.I  find her look very beautiful and intriguing – the lovely, cool pink lipstick looks vibrant and strong, compared to her overall soft look – providing impact and contrast, but still with great delicacy.

So what advice would I give people who have very little colour in their eyes, hair and skin? Keep the colours you wear light! This does not mean wearing head to toe pastels which is way too sickly for most people. But look for colours that are diluted and a little ethereal. The grey-blue Tilda is wearing seems to be a sand washed silk that echoes the grey-blue of her eyes. This is her “black” – a light navy or a faded blue grey. Here are some shades that work well on a person with light colouring:

These colours do look a bit sickly sweet all put together – like sugared almonds – but on the right person any one of these could look stunning. A light brown summer dress with white polka dots, or a fitted mauve sheath dress with tan sandals, for example. It is not necessary or even ideal to wear light colours head to toe – I often combine them with medium or deeper colours – for example a light yellow jacket with a white shirt and navy skirt. I am also very partial to a light coloured jacket – stone, light beige, cream or very light grey all look professional but appropriate on people with light blonde, red or light grey hair. Excuse the large numbers of photos of me in a work context. Which looks better – the darker or the lighter choices?

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