Making a book #2

posted in: Book writing | 14

I mentioned I used to make books as a kid. A one-of-a-kind book that, at best, was read by seven or eight people.  To whom I was related.

One of my blog followers who knew me when I was a young teenager has sent me one of my “plays”! Isn’t that amazing? I can’t believe this had survived for nearly 50 years. It is complete rubbish of course!!

Writing a book
Teenage scribblings

My kids – especially Esme and Charlotte – also made books. Esme had a brilliant cartoon/comic strip about a tooth. Very funny and poignant, actually. And Charlotte, who is talented and artistic, produced lots of rabbit stories as a small child, is currently working on a couple of kid’s books. The latest one is really funny. I am hoping we might collaborate a bit.

So what is the secret of writing a jolly good book?

A dear friend of mine – Ann Tabak – self-published a book about her life. It is not available to buy but she gives it away to friends, and it is very special. She told me:

If you are going to write a book you either need a fantastic imagination, or a very interesting life!

Her life was of the very interesting variety and, although the writing is not “professional”,  I think her book is absolutely brilliant. It’s strength is that it is about Ann’s life which was harsh and shocking, but she survives. Like Ann I couldn’t manage a work of fiction. While I enjoy reading novels and short stories, I am not able to write fiction,  although I admit I have tried.

So if you are not that good at making things up – a friend runs the Liars’ League which concerns itself with short story fiction – you had best stick to nonfiction. By definition we are now in the realm of truth, facts, and everyday reality.

So the key question I have asked myself is – if I tell the truth will it add something to the world? Are other people interested in my experiences (eg learning to knit, losing my ex-husband, managing my time), opinion (how to dress for work, have we reached peak stuff? why it is nice to look nice) and instructions (how to make a jersey, or a hat, or a draped skirt)? And the simple answer is that people read the blog so I hope they find the mix of topics interesting. Can I create a narrative around this material that holds it together and makes sense to other people?Although I will talk about my own experience I believe that many of the issues and challenges I face are common and will resonate with others. Can I do what I already do, but better?

Maybe not. Self doubt is a killer. I admit I have plenty of self-doubt, but I am going to move on. Never be afraid to test your limits, and fail. It can only make you better – at sewing, knitting, fitting, or writing.

I am also thinking about you, my kind, engaged, thoughtful and generous readers. Some have already offered to proof read, help with design and layout, test the patterns. But I have been wondering how I can include you in the project. I would love you to collaborate with me, if you would. Two ideas are on my mind

  1. Photographs of you knitting or sewing in unusual places. I don’t know if you remember the extreme ironing challenge? These images may have been photoshopped but most were genuine and quite funny.

    I wondered if you would be kind enough to send me a (big, clear) photograph of you doing a craft activity in an unusual place. It doesn’t have to be that unusual – a beach, plane, kids’ judo session, in a queue, in bed, on the tube or where ever you do it!

  2. A drawing or sketch that relates to making beautiful things. Or something you might write, in your own handwriting, that expresses your approach to making. As colourful as possible!

The deadline would be February I guess so plenty of time. Maybe you could email it to me? I am

If any of you are worried about me “monetising” my blog, or “going commercial”, please let me reassure you that I don’t expect to make any money! I will be selling the book in an attempt to recoup the costs of producing it. If (very unlikely) I should make a profit on it I will give the proceeds to a homeless charity, so you don’t need to feel that your photograph or drawing would be exploited, but I would need you to agree to me owning and publishing it (fully credited). I am asking for a gift – don’t feel obliged!

So this is what I have done so far

  • Named my baby: Making Life more Beautiful: a maker’s handbook
  • Created a one sentence summary: Tips, projects and stories to make busy lives more beautiful and meaningful
  • Decided on the dimensions: 200 pages of A5 with 40 full colour photographs, illustrations, diagrams and other types of marginalia
  • Drawn up a Table of Contents:
  2. LIFE (Beliefs; Work; Family; Community)
  3. MAKING (Sewing; Knitting; Crochet; Textiles; Creative environment)
  4. BEAUTY (Wardrobe; Body Shape; Colour; Beauty within)
  • The Table of Content has enabled me to produce my writing schedule; I aim to complete the first draft of the text by 1 January 2018,  and the book design (including patterns, illustrations, photographs etc) by 1 April 2018. I am trying to write different sections each weekend, and so far I have covered section 1 and 2 and I am into the Making section. This requires technical instructions which I struggle with. I can’t write a beginner’s book – but I want to encourage people to have a go. So it is difficult to pitch it right, and also explain how to do things that are better shown face to face.



More lovely Elizabeth Zimmermann jumpers

I have been waiting patiently for one of my friends Giorgia to finish her sweater as she strongly encouraged me to do the Knit a long. And “Ta Da!” her jumper is finished. It is such a beautiful one, isn’t it? Giorgia chose a nice deep plum merino yarn from Colourmart and spent quite a lot of time thinking about what colours to use for the yoke. We met up, with Sew2Pro, for a lunch, to consider it! In the end she went with pink! It’s beautifully knitted with perfect tension and I love it!

Elizabeth Zimmerman yoke jumper
Giorgia in her EZ jumper

The other person I have been waiting patiently for is Maggie. Things were very tough for her as her husband was very poorly during the knitting. I was so sorry when she told me he had passed away and she was knitting through her grief. On her blog she has written a very moving post about Bob. Maggie nevertheless has produced a really splendid jersey and she looks wonderful in it. I love the little touch of red on the sleeves, don’t you? It is so vibrant.


Maggie is very tall and she shaped her jersey by having more stitches for the hip, which she then reduced down by around 40 stitches for the bust. This worked well and she neatly reduced the body tube every few rows in the side seam position. Although she was worried the sleeves might be a bit wide at the cuffs, using the Zimmermann per centage system, I think they worked out fine.  Also I have taken issue with EZ on the yoke depth, which she suggests should be 25% of the bodice circumference. I felt that 20% was enough but Maggie was happy with the longer yoke. So if you have a shaped body, or are rather tall, or even a man (!) this sweater works fine, but you may need to adapt it a little.

Now what about this one? Glorious, isn’t it? This is Helen. She made this jersey back in September, and wrote it up on her own blog. She is a great knitter and I find her blog very inspirational. The red and orange look super against the grey, don’t they? Also just using two, adjacent, shades works brilliantly and makes a very elegant sweater, beautifully paired with a nice pair of jeans. Bravo Helen.

The next one is Felicia’s. You may remember she had already done a lovely plain cream one.  This time she introduced colour, inspired by the Who and Quadrophenia. I especially like the sleeves and the rolled neck finish. Nice, eh?

Zimmermann yoke sweater
Felicia EZ plus the Who

Next up is Kerry who has produce not one but two EZ sweaters.

Brilliant!  I love her colourwork. Intricate but subtle. She has used the same motif on both the jerseys and it is interesting how the contrast on the black and white makes the motif advance. The drape of the white over the jersey is much more marked. The grey on red is more subtle but also very special. I know the red one went from Australia to the UK and Italy with Kerry and she knitted it up in transit. Kerry has managed to get a very good fit and the white on black looks so fresh (especially in her November garden). Well done Kerry. i was hoping to meet up with her, but another time Kerry?

I will just mention my own version, which I know I have featured before. I used the same pattern for this cardigan – my first cardigan.

EZ yoke sweater made into a cardigan
EZ yoke sweater made into a cardigan

I am in love with this pattern. It is so adaptable, simple but flexible, fits all sorts of shapes and provides endless fun with colour and pattern. Do let me know if you have one in progress (I have lots of posts to help you through it), and I will feature it. I have another one on the go myself actually….




Making a Book #1

posted in: Book writing | 28

My book started with a different topic entirely. I wanted to write about the process of making a merger happen without the people involved getting beaten up. That is what I am doing in my day job and I am trying to live this idea. I am making notes and trying to specifically capture the emotional impact of major change on the individual and collective psyche. A huge project, and definitely one for another day.

In the meantime, and as I already mentioned I wanted a project to focus on in my down time – specifically to protect myself from burn out at this specific moment. I use creative activities like sewing and knitting, but also blogging and writing, as a way of doing something that is challenging but rewarding. I used SWAP for this two or three years in a row. That challenge – of creating a small collection of 11 items – consumed and sustained me brilliantly. But I don’t feel I can do it again. I don’t really want that many more clothes and I feel I have nailed SWAP as well as I ever will. I shall be following along though, on Artisans Square, as it is a fascinating process. For me creative, somewhat solitary work is a very good antidote from trying to look after 3000 people while we create what I hope will be the best housing association in the UK.

So once I had decided I wanted to write a book that covers some of the same material as I have been presenting in the blog for the past few years I had one of those “epiphany” moments. If I write this book alongside the most difficult project I have ever done in my work life the two tasks will be mutually supportive. That’s the idea anyway. I could fail on both counts!!

However here I go. I am writing a book in public! I will share the process – the content is broadly already known to you – and see what happens.

The first thing I did, and this is what led me to drop the merger book project and start on the Fabrickated book project, was sign up to a ten-day business book challenge. This is completely free and takes you through the process of creating a proposal for a publisher based on your “business” (a bit of an issue for me as I don’t have or want a business. I have no time and no inclination to run a business; my work is my business). But as I was writing a business book I joined in.

It was brilliant. Let me give you the details if it might be of interest to you. Alison Jones will help you think through the whole process of writing a book to support and boost your business, but there is much in there that is generally about book writing. The focus helped me work out that I didn’t want to write or publish a business book – at least not now. But I did want to create a book, make a book, and this is now what I am dedicating my weekends (and Christmas break) to.

The lovely Alison Jones

My book doesn’t yet have a name, or a one word summary, or a cover. It is not going to be a commercial proposition, and it is not going to be traipsed around publishers. I actually want to do all the processes myself (with help from friends and family) as a creative process. Apart from writing and rewriting the book, I want to learn all the processes involved. I will write the patterns. I will style the models. I will take the photographs and design the inside of the book (pagination, layout etc). I will do the diagrams.  I will also have to do the marketing and distribution myself! I will have to pay for some of the editing, design, the printing and I will attempt to recoup this outlay by charging for the book. My gamble is that if I do a really nice job, making a colourful, interesting and useful book, then some of you might buy it.

Now there are a few blog-to-book publishing successes, but most blogs don’t necessarily translate well to the book form. It is a very different proposition. A few dozen people have told me they have read this blog from start to finish (a mammoth task – 850 posts), which I found astonishing. Even I haven’t done that – I treat the blog more like journalism – once written it’s over. I even find it a bit hard to make the time to respond to all the marvellous comments once I have moved on to the next article (sorry!). So my gamble, my hunch, is that if I can take the best bits, and polish them, and find an overarching theme and thread, and provide better patterns, and glorious photographs, then I might have something useful and nice and more professional that my friends and their friends might wish to acquire for themselves or buy for someone else.

I am asking myself what have I got to lose? Some money if I don’t cover my printing costs. The time isn’t wasted – I need a juicy project and I am finding this one amazing, so far. I believe the process will help me think more deeply about what I am doing with my life, and I will learn more about the world of books and writing and stories and communication. Doing it with you (if you are willing to join in) will be an enriching and interesting process and it will make the book more of a collaboration or act of co-creation. At the end if you are willing to part with £10 or £15 quid to get one that would be a bonus.

So – here I go – off on another adventure.




Learning to weave in a day

You may recall I have a friend Bridget who we met on holiday. She and her husband sat on the coach in front of us, and while he studied a map of Jordan she knitted. We got on very well, and she introduced me to many things including marvellous patchwork, knitting and weaving. Bridget also kindly follows this blog and when I mentioned a desire to learn to weave she pinged me an email.

“I spent last Saturday with my 10-year-old niece and we wove a scarf in a day – she did it from beginning to end – starting at 11 and finishing by 6. If you fancy that, it would be lovely”.

So last Sunday Nick and i went to see our friends. Bridget’s husband is a bell-ringer, and her son is great fun and works with one of my board members,  so there was plenty to talk about while Bridget and I escaped to her workroom at the top her house. First she showed me some very fine examples of her own work – a silk cushion and a beautiful scarf she made for her late mother. The colour work was gorgeous and the very even weave impressive. My standard was set by a ten-year old however, so I was focused on getting the basics right and then working against the clock. Nick was in charge of lunch and cooked home-made pitta bread, lamb and salad.

Bridget’s loom was found in an attic and gifted to her. When I last saw it, it was in pieces and looking rather sorry for itself. But recently she had had it overhauled, and while all the fittings were in nylon rather than the original cotton bindings, it was sitting waiting for me at 10am.

The loom

I had read that for beginners the foot pedals are much easier to use than a table loom, but they do take up quite a lot of space and are a rather expensive piece of equipment. Bridget wrote:

“Mine is a four-shaft floor loom, 28 inch wide. And sometimes bits fall off, but we can sort it out. I think we should aim for a couple of metres about 30cms wide. I have two reeds, one 12 parts per inch, the other 6 parts. If we use the 6 parts then we will have a loose weave, but we will achieve something and I am all for results. On the warp we need 6 times 15 (say 14”/30cms) and double up for the selvedge times 2.5metres – and that will be our warp – so bring whatever four ply you have and we can organise it. It does need to be the same material as otherwise they stretch differently and that is complicated.”

Absolutely none of this made any sense before I got there, but it does now. I took cotton yarn as I had rather alot of it – a gift from my dear friend Jo – and I thought the wonderful deep teal blues might make a nice scarf. Plus I also had a 50p cone of red cotton yarn that I found in the Salvation Army shop in Walthamstow. Bridget did some calculation of how many threads we would need and we use a fiendish piece of equipment made by her husband. We included two types of teal and a stripe of red. Obviously those who love fabric will have worked out that weaving gets some of its uniqueness by having a variety of warp as well as weft threads. That flash of red looked so nice next to the blues. Bridget was very careful with the counting, using a little pink thread to hold it all together before moving it over to the loom.

The warp threads – one big loop – and carefully removed, loosely knotted are then attached to the loom. A wooden bar takes the looped threads and the cross over (where Bridget is indicating in the first picture) is preserved with two flat pieces of wood.  Then each thread is feed through. This is obviously much easier with two people, especially when one is an expert. I pulled the threads through the nylon holders, and then through the reed, using a trusty opened paper clip. The threads were tied firmly in a bow on a roller near to the weaver so that the yarn is under tension. We got this done by lunch at 12.30.

Now we start weaving! First Bridget wound more yarn around the shuttles and this meant I could go quite quickly. She sat and knitted Christmas presents and amused me with her funny stories (this woman has great comic timing!). She also shared her plans for growing, in the church garden, sufficient flowers to decorate the church throughout the year – what a great project!

Bridget showed me two weaving methods. Using the outside “pedals” I made plain weave. This was fun and fairly quick. She also showed me how to weave a twill type weave using the range of foot pedals. I followed the instructions but also made some of it up, just to see what would happen. Actually it made a bit of a mess but I was very keen to see how the lifting of the different warp threads altered the weave and lengthened the floats.

Look Ma, I am weaving!

This was one of the most fun things I have ever done. If you have a chance to do a course or even spend one day on this marvellous craft, don’t hesitate.You can see below that my work is uneven and rather messy. The stitch patterns are not correct. The scarf is not even finished! Bridget has kindly asked me back to have another couple of hours on it. But what a lovely, life-enhancing experience. Working together with a friend made it even better. Bridget is generous and kind, a great teacher and sharer of knowledge. I can’t wait until my next lesson.

My work so far

I would love to have a floor loom like this. I think I could accommodate one in the Cotswolds. But first I need to go on a course or learn more. It is a most fascinating craft and surprisingly quick – quicker than knitting for example.

Any weavers out there?

Can I make a book?

posted in: Book writing | 28

You may remember a little ramble about how much I had on my plate, accompanied by a few knitted garments looking unfinished and sad. I did promise to have a New Zealand sweater Knit a Long before Christmas. But it was dependent on my working out all the glitches which I have failed to do, as yet. Sorry if you were looking forward to that (next Christmas?). I am also putting the EZ yoke sweater part two together, so I will share that soon.

In terms of having a bit too much on, my plate is now brimming over and there are several peas and chicken nuggets on the floor.

If you have ever done a merger, or even a major change programme, you will know that it is not so much the additional work load as the emotional load that is so exhausting. I need to look after myself (I also have lots of people looking out for me, so please don’t be concerned), and one thing that revives and sustains me is making things. I know many of you also use your sewing, knitting and craft work as a relief from stress, misery, grief and cacophony. Although my job is very demanding (especially from now until Easter) I think an alternative focus, that is demanding but fun, could be just what I need So I might  get my job done with a degree of calm focus.

I am pleased to report that the garments in my previous post are now finished, ongoing or dumped. I have started two new knitting projects. More on these soon.

I also mentioned a long-held desire to write a management book.

Over the last month I had a go at this and it never really took off, so that idea is on the shelf. However my son Gus suggested I write Fabrickated – the book. I thought it was his way of making mirth, at my expense. Ha ha ha. I nearly fell off my chair.

Then he said he wasn’t joking – he offered to do the editing and design and to provide encouragement and support.  I started thinking about it. And rather than aspiring to be the publishing sensation of the year I had a simple thought –

Why couldn’t I MAKE a book?

As a kid I was always making books. Full of drawings, paintings, little stories, italic writing, jokes, maps, diagrams, with tickets and wrappers – like a scrap book, but more writing. It’s a simple pleasure, and there is something adorable about a one-of-a-kind, handwritten book.  My own books were much more eclectic – including the odd autograph, prized photograph and sections in code. And I proudly let family and friends read them. I also wrote a few plays and poems that were sometimes performed to any adults who might give me ten minutes. Can you see where I am going with this?

I was blogging before blogs were invented.

I am a show off! I love writing down what I am thinking or making and getting a reaction. I wanted to be an actress as a kid, but today I get lots of pleasure from public speaking (part of my job) and from all types of communication. It makes me feel more alive – and although supportive, kind enthusiasm is always very welcome I do invite criticism as I am always keen to do better. The blog has allowed me to connect with others and the discussion at the bottom is always the best bit – as I listen to ten or twelve voices I just feel like I am at a party and I find it so stimulating and fun.

So I don’t know exactly what I want to preserve from the blog – it may just be a feeling of having a little party – or it maybe grabbing some of the best posts and re-presenting them with the benefit of the feedback you have provided me with. But this is going to be a new project for me (and one that combines perfectly with the photography course)!

Fabrickated book
Glued to my computer

I am going to write up my progress up every week or two in case the idea of making a book appeals to others, and just to share the journey, and keep myself to task.

I don’t know how it will turn out, and maybe I will never publish it. I know I will need some help from my family and friends, and you will all be in the book, one way or another (with sufficient protection of your privacy). Also I may test out some of my ideas as I go – I trust your wisdom to help me learn and grow and develop as I embark on a new venture.

I am so excited!



Making Christmas presents from scraps

One of the great benefits of the shoe making course is that I was able to pick up lots of discarded leather pieces. In the photograph below I include my feet, for scale.

Nice (free) leather offcuts     

I think the dark brown is probably sufficient to make a skirt, if it is pieced. Or maybe a pair of shoes! I love dark brown leather. The bright pink, and the green are pigskin, used for lining. Some are patent, some are suede. We have metallics, some stretch, and a piece of leopardskin printed leather. Upper right you can see small sample books – I always say yes to a sample book although these pieces are very small. I thought if I ever make jeans again these would be nice on the back waist band. My friend Linde suggested you could make a colourful binding by stitching them all together which is also a great idea.

I took this selection in case I  get around to making a few little presents for the forthcoming season. I am not doing Secret Santa this year – it is just too much pressure – but I am want to make small, handmade gifts for everyone. You know the time pressures I am under currently so I need something nice, personal, thoughtful, colourful. And quick.

Last Christmas I was impressed with the padded patchwork purses that Jenny the Lilac cat made.  I actually bought the supplies but never got round to it – maybe I will manage one or two this year.

I started thinking about what I might like for myself (useful and beautiful)

  • somewhere to safely store my earphones
  • a little purse for a couple of cards, a fiver and a housekey, when I need a minimalist approach
  • maybe a traditional looking wallet but in interesting colours
  • coasters to protect the surfaces of Nick’s wonderful furniture
  • fabric bags with leather straps (Jenny again)

This weekend I have started to play around with ideas of how to create small leather items.

Thinking of closures I bought an useful piece of inexpensive equipment with hundreds of colourful poppers. These apparently work on leather and will allow me to introduce more colour. I also have quite a large selection of short colourful zips that I won last spring from William Gee. As a garment maker I could not see the point.  Now I can –  they may be good for small bags or purses. They also gave me some strong khaki thread that will work well on leather.

Total cost of the popper set, including next day delivery, was about £13. So if I can do everyone’s Christmas gifts for around a tenner, I will be pleased.

I am going to start with the three sample books.

These are precut leather with a hole that are asking to be made into small purses. I want to add textiles to the leather and I will use two other fabric sample books I have had for ages. One is my Linton tweed plain crepe wools in strong colours. The other is digital printing on different types of fabric that was sent to me by a company that has now gone out of business, Fabpad. So I thought I might combine the leather with the wool lining and use the digital printing for an internal pocket.

Bottom right shows my prototypes. I realise I need rubber glue – after six weeks of inhaling it every Sunday (bootmaking) you would have thought I would have procured some already . Some of the fabrics will need interfacing. Even using a leather needle and the strong thread my machine doesn’t really like doing this.

Any tips at all for someone who has never made non-clothes items?

Making small purses

The problem of writing these posts before Christmas is that everyone now knows what he or she is getting.

Small but perfectly formed

Oh well.


Do you care about how you look?

posted in: Inspiration, Style advice | 42

How we look is such an important aspect of who and what we are. Just as we have a character and personality, so too, we have an appearance – a body, a shape, a way of talking and walking. We have colour. Our appearance matters very much to others – they judge us on how we look before they know anything else about us. Our appearance will affect everything in life – from how we attract sexual partners, to our ability to get chosen for the netball team, to how much we earn throughout our career.

Yet we feel so ambiguous about our appearance, reflecting our own love/hate relationship with ourselves.

At any one time I can feel both beautiful and ugly – I appreciate aspects of my appearance, but in other respects I am unhappy. I find it hard to accept the whole person of who I am (with all my attributes and imperfections).

Perhaps we all have an unbalanced opinion of ourselves. True self-knowledge is very rare. Many are needlessly self-critical; some of us are conceited and egotistical. And although we may worry about how we are on the inside – am I kind, self-satisfied, lazy or greedy? – somehow it is a debate we can have with ourselves alone.  But how we look on the outside, is evident for all to see. How we look is how we meet the world, and make an impression on society.

It is odd that concern over appearance can be seen as vain and ridiculous. Vanity, or too much interest in our appearance, is widely condemned. It seems superficial and skin deep missing the real me.  They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” – but we do! We don’t have time to get to know every book, so we check out the covers and very quickly make a decision on what genre, publisher or writer appeals most. And what we don’t want.

Think of the effort that goes into designing a book cover, or a box of biscuits or a car. Those designers and marketeers know what they are doing. In a busy, noisy world they want to convey information fast to screen out those who won’t want the book or item, and focus on those who might bite. Your appearance is the same. It is how people perceive you and this makes it worth some serious attention surely? How you look, if you care about it or not, helps people work you out fast and decide how they feel about you.

Whether you like it or not your appearance conveys your values, your personality, your hangups, anxieties and history. I suggest it makes sense to spend some time considering how you want to look – in terms of dress, make up and hair – if only to make the world more beautiful and pleasant for others.

When I see someone who has thought about how they present themselves (I reckon about one in twenty people make much of an effort with their appearance) I feel a sense of pleasure. A vintage scarf, exceptional spectacles, more than two colours, well-chosen patterns – these details convey that you care about yourself and others. When I see someone with a sense of style, I feel happy. But when ten girls with long hair, skinny jeans, ballet flats – all in shades of grey and khaki – jump on the tube I feel a bit depressed.  I particularly respond to originality and creativity. I have a little cheer when someone dresses vividly – puts colour and pattern together boldly. Although I am a sucker for cool neutrals too. My favourite looks include Art Student (we have lots around Kings Cross), Eccentric Ellder and Too Cool for School.

Kit dresses for dinner

Personally I always applaud individuality and creativity over convention and co-ordination, even when it is a bit off.  I hate the “occasion outfits” sold by department stories where the whole outfit matches. I don’t want my colleagues to wear cardboard cut out corporate outfits that someone has decreed is “office lady” wear.  I love it when people, even little kids, express their feeling about themselves through their wardrobe choices.

What do you think?





What to learn next?

posted in: Inspiration | 8

Regular readers will know that my main mission in life is to learn! After the bootmaking Ceci was asking What next? And so were we!

I love travel, exploring nature, meeting new people, eating food especially food I have never tried before – novelty attracts – but most of all I like to know how things are made. I like to discover the “secrets” of a craft.The ah-ha moment when I realise what makes a shoe a shoe, or how patchwork really works, how sourdough bread only contains flour and water, how pattern cutting works, how to knit certain shapes and motifs. Oh my word! There are so many things we  the world only appreciate superficially until we engage with them and learn all about them.  Discovery, and then learning to replicate what we have seen, is so thrilling.

We went to boot making as I had wanted to learn to make shoes for ever, especially as my Mum’s family were all in the shoe trade. The fact that my cousin (the son of my mum’s brother) gave me lasts from the factory makes me feel very connected to my personal history. With a father in textiles and a grandpa in shoes is it any surprise that I have the passions that I have?

Vintage wooden shoe lasts
Vintage wooden shoe lasts

I researched shoe courses but they are rather expensive and intensive – as Mary Funt mentioned they are aimed more towards the semi-professional. I would very much like to have another go one day. But for now I have other considerations. I want an evening course – our weekends are for relaxation in the country. Nick is happy to come with me, and is leaving the choice to me this time (obviously this is my opportunity to select ballet!).

Here are our thoughts to date.

  • Upholstery. My Mum suggested this. She did upholstery herself repairing and improving chairs. She made tapestry seat covers and they are rather nice items. I will get some photographs over Christmas. We are tempted, mainly because we have a nice old leather chair that has been wrecked by naughty little kids jumping on it. We would enjoy restoring it and recovering it. Also as Nick’s carpentry will soon move away from cupboards into furniture I thought it might marry up well.
  • Pottery – we have both had a go at this before at school or adult ed classes. It is such a lovely primal thing, sticking your hands in clay and creating plates, cups, jars and vases. We might be able to create a collection together with a theme for the country house. Nick wants to make big things, and I want to make small, delicate things.
  • Spinning. I see pictures and videos of this and I am very keen to learn. Obviously now I can knit this is a way to get the raw material for my craft. But also, in the Cotswolds, we are surrounded by sheep and local sheeps wool is widely available, straight off their backs.
  • Weaving – related to spinning and sheep and wool. This was always an option at my school but I thought it was far too slow. But inspired by my friend Bridget Cass, who has a loom at home, I would love to do this one day.
  • Textiles. I have done a few printing, painting and dying courses, and I really love making textiles. I can’t get enough of this.

Plenty to be getting on with.

But at the weekend we decided on photography.  With a proper camera rather than a phone. I feel I owe it to you, my kind readers. I expect you are equally dissatisfied with many of the pictures I put on the blog and some of my learning will be in taking pictures of myself that are not bathroom “selfies”. I want to learn what all the knobs on cameras do and I want to know the basics of editing.

My brother was a professional photographer. And my first, late, husband John did photography and video at collage, and was a keen and very precise photographer his whole life. He had a dark room in our first flat – a Council flat in Wandsworth – and there is something about the red light, and the smell, and the excitement of pictures slowly developing and hanging up to dry. And my Uncle Stuart was a keen amature. So I had plenty of people around me who took pictures. But I have never taken a proper pictures myself.

Nick and I will be going to photography classes next term (from January). Hopefully you will find my blog photos improving as I learn.

Last week I met up with Lois. We talked about three choices for where anyone might go next

  • Set up a business/develop your business
  • Get a job/develop your career
  • Do a degree or an in depth course.

The last one was what interested us both and we talked about an Art Foundation course. That would be bliss for me. To learn all those arty things that I have never really tried like life drawing and sculpture. Of course the cost of doing a full time course and not earning at the same time would be impossible for most of us.

Lois, at lunch

@Lois.h is on Instagram and takes lovely pictures. We are going to meet up again so she can give me some Instagram and iPhone tips.

Some advice on social media names

Love it or hate it, the name we are given at birth usually sticks with us forever. The process of choosing children’s names is taken seriously and is often full of meaning. My kids all got parent or grandparent middle names, a tradition my daughter has continued. Pregnant Mums either knit, or get books from of the library that list all the options, with meanings (eg Adolf, not popular since the second world war, etc). A name can often indicate the sex and age of the person, class, their nationality, ethnic group, even which part of the country they come from. Pet names often presage children’s names by a few years as young couples try out Beau, or Riley, on their Pugs first.

Sometimes it is left to chance. You may have seen how a submarine, named by public poll, got its name: Boaty Mcboatface.

Boaty McBoatface
Boaty McBoatface

Some people name their homes. Nick and I decided to name our house after my father’s childhood home (although to do so in the age of Amazon deliveries is probably an affectation).

If you have been following Sewvember on Instagram (#bpsewvember), organised by Amanda Adams of @BimpleandPimble, you may have noticed (Day One) she asked everyone to explain their Instagram name. It was fascinating to read the stories – especially the really weird and unusual ones. But most of us chose a somewhat obvious name like Susan1962, TwirlyShirley or rely on corny puns like Sewshattered.

I prefer it when someone includes their actual name, as it is easier to comment if you know they are called Susan or Shirley. Sometimes the person becomes the name, especially when the name is chosen to cloak the real identity. I always think of Elaine as Demented Fairy, and Mrs Mole is a complete mystery.

The discussion made me think about how we name and describe ourselves, so here are my two pennies worth of wisdom on the topic. It’s a bore when you change your name as people have only just got used to it. Remember when Marathon bars became Snickers (in 1990)? I am still not that happy about that. We are all creatures of habit and can be easily confused. Do it once and do it right. 

Marathon became Snickers

Tip no 1:

When choosing a name for yourself on Twitter, Instagram etc, give it sufficient time and thought – these names can stick.

Originally I called this blog “Fit and Flare”  – it was a pun too – a blog about fit (one of the main reasons why I sew) but also about flare/flair – style. (And Fit and Flare is a style of dress too). I chose my own identity at the same time – Fabrickated. This name is a portmanteau word combining Fabric with my name Kate D(avies). In fact, at one point,  my email name was Kated so that felt comfortable. As well as encapsulating what I was doing – fabricating things – it had my name on it! Ha ha. I was pleased with the formulation, and it has proved to be memorable, and good fun. I wanted Fabrickate actually but that was taken.

A year into the blog my son Gus suggested I remove the confusion that two different names might cause – was I Fabrickated or was I Fit&Flare? Good question. Although few of us are professional bloggers we do, sort of, become a brand, and you don’t want to confuse people, especially in the fast paced digital world. So, taking his advice I dumped Fit and Flare and now the blog is simply Fabrickated. It is really silly and unbelievable but on three occasions  I have had the embarrassing but delightful experience of someone shouting out, across a shop, or on a bus “It’s Fabrickated!”.

So here comes Tip no 2:

If you have an online presence across more than one platform stick to one name.


The internet world is chockablock. Keep it simple or you will just drown. I know people running micro businesses with more names and handles than large conglomerates. Bear your reader in mind.

Finally a point on the sub-title. This is idea from the world of book publishing. You give your book a name, and then follow on with a short summary of what it is all about.

Monty Don, Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom

Mary Berry, Mary’s Household Tips and Tricks: Your Guide to Happiness in the Home

Tim Peake, Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space

These “strap lines” are also found in the world of branding. I always liked (the now defunct)

Thames Water: Running Water for You.

The blogging sites, like WordPress, encourage you to choose a sub-title. This allows classification but more importantly it tells readers right away what sort of things you be will covering. Have a look at what your favourite blogs say at the top of the front page, right after the title. It is very revealing, and helps readers decide if they will like the blog or not.

When I started Fit and Flare I gave it a sub-title – fit and fashion, style and stitching – I like a bit of alliteration! Actually having a four-part approach gave me lots of leeway in terms of content. This was never just a dressmaking blog covering fit and stitching – I wanted to write about fashion and style too. And the formulae more or less worked until I started knitting. And jewellery making, and crochet, and now boots. So I toyed with adding the words knitting, or crafting. But as I haven’t been doing much stitching or fitting recently, I have been feeling that the subtitle might be a bit misleading.

Tip no 3 is:

Use your subtitle to make your blog stand out, and  make sure it reflects the content.

On reflection now is the time for me to update my strap line, or my sub-title.

Today I have refreshed it to… (tiny drum roll)…


Making Life more Beautiful

How did you choose your Instagram or Twitter handle? Or the name of your blog?

Boots made – the last post

posted in: Finished projects | 13

Last week we had almost completed our footwear and the final week was spent creating the sock – the little piece of slightly padded leather that goes inside your shoes. Then we took pictures, collected email addresses and went home.

Neither of us will wear our boots. But it was a great experience, nevertheless.

Did you notice the nice double row of top stitching on Nick’s toe caps? Or my unique pink tabs?

What I loved about the course

  • Fabulous opportunity to learn a new skill from a skilled shoewear designer and craftsman
  • Modern, state of the art equipment in a beautiful setting
  • Convenient
  • Good value for money (ie about £100 for a day of tuition), plus absolutely all materials supplied such as leather, zips etc.
  • Very small class (only four on our course, although up to 12 are allowed)
  • Starts from the very beginning with designing and pattern making to the final polish. You get a very good understanding of the process  of bespoke shoe making
  • All four achieved a high standard of design and making
  • The students and teacher were nice and friendly
    We are the bootmakers

Less good

  • The styles of the boots were very limited and not what we wanted to make
    • For me I ended up with heels which I find very uncomfortable
    • Nick didn’t care for the shape of his shoes and disliked the “cementing” process. He would like to stitch his own welted, leather soled shoes
  • The style of teaching was idiosyncratic. Our teacher was a craftsperson rather than a teacher. I would have prefered, say, 30 mins of explanation/lecture each session to help clarify what we were going to do and why
  • The pace wasn’t quite right. There were literally hours spent waiting for glue to dry. This time could have been used for a subsidiary project, eg creating a second design, and pattern.

I don’t really have a major problem with having unwearable shoes. I seem to remember my first dress-making classes being forced to make an apron, and later a blouse in a boring style. Certainly with pattern cutting we often made patterns for items I would never make up, or wear (cowl trousers in my case). But I do think the course should take current styles and choices into account. I would have been very happy with almost any version of a flat boot. I think Nick’s requirement was rather more specialist and not realisable in this setting. However if the tutor had asked people about their learning objectives I feel he would have been able to explain/demonstrate the welting process, or perhaps over Nick leather soles.

At the end of the course we both felt we would like to learn more. The London College of Fashion runs other short courses at weekends or for one week, covering ballet flats, court shoes and sandals, all taught by Nafi. I would certainly consider the ballet flats or sandals course (or boots if I had feet size 40 or above). The course Nick wants doesn’t really exist at the LCF. Here are some other classes I have researched.

Nick would enjoy a 12 day handsewn shoe workshop, like this one. But it is very expensive (about £2000).

We might consider another five day course to make Derby shoes in a small studio in East London. Again costs around £700, so quite a commitment.

But I may just have a go at home.

My mother’s family were in the shoe trade and my cousin Hamilton very kindly found me a pair of old lasts in his garage.

Vintage wooden shoe lasts
Vintage wooden shoe lasts

I have started the process of making a pair of shoes from these at home, but I don’t know if I can.

I took off the metal footplate as this is suitable for making shoes that are nailed on. I acquired the correct size and shape of lasting insoles which include a metal shank (they are a bit old too!).

Removing the metal

I covered the lasts with tape and cut them off and I am now ready to create the pattern.

Making shoes at home
Ready to go – maybe?

Whether I go ahead with this new project, sign up for a class, or start to learn something new only time will tell. If you want to see some really great work – both in terms of design and making – have a look at my friend Aida’s website.

I may not make any further progress. But I know so much more about the process, my leather stitching has improved, and I have a very pretty pair of shoes in my cabinet.