Charity shop finds

Many of us who make our own clothes also enjoy shopping in charity shops. I have been wondering why. Here are some of my reasons.

  • The thrill of the hunt
    • In my life I have found some truly wonderful things in charity shops, probably the best ever being a bottle green Hermes handbag for £1. Over the years the really old and valuable stuff has been whipped off to specialist shops and the charities have become much more savvy, which is great. But much of the sorting and pricing is done by people with different taste to mine and you can still find interesting, exciting and beautiful things.
  • Insight into a community
    • When I go to my Mum’s in Lancashire I often spend an hour or so zipping around the seven or eight charity shops in Clitheroe. Although this part of England is quite run down and relatively poor, and many people use these shops for that very reason, the prices are low. Hardback books for £1 for example.
    • In the Cotswolds I visit the six or seven shops in Cirencester and any other town we visit on our walks or outings. Here the clientele is more wealthy, but the prices are higher too.
    • In London I always drop in, wherever I find myself for a meeting. London has such a wide mix or rich and poor. The Oxfam shop in Hammersmith told me that they had “really caught a cold” when Primark opened opposite them. Why should hard up people buy second-hand trousers for £6 when they could get new for the same price?
  • The idea of recycling and a less wasteful life (helping us deal with guilt)
    • All my unwanted garments go to the charity shop when I am done. I took virtually all my wedding presents (first time around – mainly vases and coloured towels) to Oxfam the next morning. This, in small measure, helps me deal with the guilt of oversupply. Gift Aid means that the value of the clothes, when sold, are treated as a donation allowing the charity also to get access to a portion of my tax, thus increasing the value of the donation. Conversely when I buy from the charity shop I am giving a donation in exchange for the goods. This means I never mind paying quite a lot for something I want. Two examples would be a leather shearing coat for £40 and £20 for a Natalie Bray book.
    • This year I bought all my Christmas presents in the charity shops. This is ideal with small children who are normally more interested in quantity than quality, unfortunately. They need a wide range of cheap, colourful items that will break and get thrown out in short order. Equally children’s books and clothes, with minimal wear and tear, are plentiful and cheap. Buying the latest expensive item strikes me as a waste of money.
    • While I offload my UFOs and fabric off cuts to the charity shop, sometimes you can buy someone else’s UFO. In Lancashire this week I bought a Julia Hickson trammed tapestry with a huge amount of yarn. I have just started completing this. What fun. These kits are no longer available so I will now keep a look out. I was thinking Nick may be able to create a chair or stool that this could complement!
      Julia Hickman Trammed Tapestry Kit
      Julia Hickman Trammed Tapestry Kit
  • The opportunity to donate to charity while also enjoying shopping
    • While I do visit high street shops to have a look at the latest fashions, i rarely buy, except in the sales. Spending an hour looking through other people’s rubbish and unwanted goods is as interesting. And if I am tempted to buy there is minimal guilt. This is also compounded by knowing I can bring the item back when I am tired of it and it will likely sell again. Double, treble, win.
  • The pure joy of getting a bargain
    • While I don’t ever resent paying top prices I also love to get a bargain. I often buy bestsellers for £1, with an original cover price of about £8. There is no cheaper thrill than five hours of book reading for £1. Sometimes I find a pure silk or vintage mohair scarf for £2.50, or a nice piece of fabric for £5.
  • Desperate measures
    • Charity shops on the high street are the best answer to a wardrobe emergency. One UK holiday caught us unaware when we found ourselves in heavy rain. I was able to clothe a family of five in raincoats, anoraks, wellies and hats. Once when Esme was horribly sick in the car I was able to get a new party dress in the next town. If I am underdressed for the weather I can always find a jersey or dry shoes for rock bottom prices. Sometimes these items are actually nice and remain in the wardrobe for years.
  • Learning
    • Obviously when you buy something old, like an embroidered table-cloth, a vintage book or a second-hand crockery you can examine it closely or look it up on the internet and find out something about its history – a voyage of discovery that I enjoy.


Sewing with a Plan requires 11 items. Having done a grey skirt and a yellow jersey I needed to get back to sewing.


Moving on to my second neutral – navy – I decided on a basic pair of trousers. Although I have a few vintage trouser patterns I went back to basics and made a new trouser block.

I dug out Winnie, and got to work. This book costs about £12 – the cost of one modern “Indie” pattern.

It has been a while since I made a trouser block, but it was really easy. If you struggle to get trousers to fit just go for it.

You may remember that I have fairly wide hips and a small waist. I was never able to buy trousers that fitted well over the years.  Making pants to fit was what drove me into dressmaking classes in the 1980s.

I often think making your own patterns is time-consuming, but only took an hour or so (a bit longer to trace off the pattern), and I was able to make a pair of pants that fitted really well. Because I am paranoid about my hips being too big (for most commercial trousers) I measured really loosely around the hip area. Consequently the pattern was a bit too curvy and I had to alter the pattern slightly by shaving an inch or so off the outer leg/hip/thigh area but that is the only alteration I made. You may be able to see that on my pattern (compared to the book diagram) the hips are excessively curved.

Although Aldrich suggests making the trousers wider or narrower in the leg to match current fashions, I left them at the middle position (“alternative leg shaping” on the right of the diagram). This is a little wider than I generally wear, and also a little longer. But I felt ready to try a middle-of-the road classic shape on this occasion.


Four pieces only, and the most simple approach.

I am not keen on waist bands. They either cut in or feel sloppy. As with my grey skirt I left the waist band off. I drafted a couple of facings, but after consideration of bulk issues, I just finished the inside of the waist line with a nice piece of Liberty bias binding, made by my friend Linde Carr. This is such a comfortable finish.

It is always possible to make garments directly from the blocks and get a nice fit. But when I tried these on, in plain navy cotton fabric (with a little elastane in it), they looked so boring I wanted to do something to make them a bit more exciting.

Worried that the SWAP this year favours TNT and neutrals and (frankly) dull but wearable capsules, I didn’t want to jazz them up too much. But then I thought they had a nautical look and that maybe a couple of buttons on the front darts would give a bit of interest. I had four nice vintage buttons from the charity shop and I used these.

Nautical trousers
Nautical looks

Bonus knitwear

Thinking neutrals I decided to knit up all my small left over pieces of neutral merino yarns – two beiges, a couple of creams and some grey, and a couple of pastels – lemon and pink. I was inspired by Neapolitan ice-cream. But when I put it on Nick suggested it looked like a rock formation and named it Lyme Regis. This jumper may be part of the SWAP or not. We shall see.

The photos below do not show off the trousers very well. All they demonstrate is that the fabric contains stretch. And that my husband has bought a boat. Oh well. They are nice trousers and I have no doubt I will include them in the SWAP. It is just anonymous dark pants are not my usual choice of legwear.

Nautical but nice
We got a boat!

Next week we are going up to see my Mum who is in hospital again (dislocated hip). So I may not get something made for SWAP next week. At the moment my outline plan is

  1. Grey pencil skirt (done)
  2. Grey evening circle skirt or trousers
  3. Grey Chanel jacket
  4. Navy trousers (done)
  5. Navy pleated skirt
  6. Navy jacket or coat
  7. Westwood skirt in navy plaid
  8. Yellow jersey (done)
  9. Red jersey or maybe a striped (patterned) jumper
  10. Painted silk blouse
  11. Another top

Eleven weeks for eight items is realistic. Especially as I could use a Ready to wear navy jacket (item 6) and a previously made top (11), which means six items in 11 weeks. All good.

Making a book #7 The font

I was surprised last week by Ellen’s knowing question – what font will you use? And I said Gill Sans.

Why I love this font

It is English, it is retro, it is elegant and balanced; it makes life more beautiful! While Gill Sans is a very common font, ubiquitous even, it always looks fresh and modern to my eye.

  • English

I am not nationalistic, far from it, but I am always interested in English and British artists, designers, styles, products and traditions. The Gill Sans font was developed by one of the greatest British artists of the 20th Century – Eric Gill – specifically for posters, advertising and public information purposes. Creating a systematic approach to design and branding (as it is now known) developed in the 1930s, and the Gill Sans “alphabet” was widely adopted (although it evolved) by the Underground, the Railways, the BBC and Penguin books.

There are several nice German and Swiss modern, rather more geometric styles that are similar, but I prefer Gill Sans.

  • Retro

This font was developed in the late 1920s/1930s, originally as an alphabet of capital letters, based on the finely honed Roman style. (At my secondary school we had the gravestone of a Roman soldier, Lucius Baebius Crescens from Augusta Vindelicorum (modern-day Augsburg), soldier of the Sixth Legion.   I enjoyed looking at the amazing typography, carved our of the stone in a regulation style, and we used to seek his help for exam success).


Roman Alphabet and Gill’s version


  • Elegant and balanced

The design is artistic rather than technological or engineered. It flows and has flourishes. Behold the “Q”.

  • Beautiful

I love this font because it has an openness and lightness to it. As it was developed to include lower case letters it started to be used for body text and soon won many fans.

What is “Sans”?

Fonts are not something many of us think about – the design of the typefaces we use at work, on our blogs, and the ones we read in newspapers, books and reports. I usually stick with Ariel at work, preferring a sans-serif typeface in general. Although I have used Times New Roman in the past. The twidly bits (circled) are the serifs which are said to make them easier to read. Now I am learning InDesign I am learning lots more about the appearance of text and it is very interesting.

TImes New Roman v Ariel

What is Gill?

Come in Eric Gill (pronounced like a fish gill).

Eric Gill was a marvellous sculptor, illustrator and designer, and you can see his work, free of charge, all over London. The first image, below, is just one of several sculptures which adorn the headquarters of Transport for London. I have had the privilege of spending time inside this amazing Grade 1 listed Art Deco building known as “London’s first sky scraper”, 55 Broadway (St James tube station) many times. My son Gus worked there until recently; we are developing some TfL land for social housing; and I mentor a senior officer in the British Transport police who is also based here. The offices and lifts are amazing, but like many beautiful old offices it is not really fit for the future. It seems likely that it will be sold at some point. Gill also worked on the BBC building, and you will be greeted by his “Mankind” if you walk into the sculpture gallery at the V&A. Nick loves this sculpture (and says it looks like me, ha ha!).



Eric was amazingly talented and I have a great fondness for his work. He converted to Catholicism, but he was a pedophile. I mention this as there is a tendency sometimes to judge the artists rather than the art, and there are some who call for these works of art to be broken and removed. I am appalled by the desecration of art but some would boycott or ban anything that offends them. Not me. I intend to use his gorgeous font. Let’s have a look at it.

In my InDesign course I have been using this font and learning how to make a “drop cap”. It looks really nice, doesn’t it? Not for my book specifically but just to learn.

Using InDesign Gill Sans
InDesign exercise


Here is a nice blog post if you would like to know more.


SWAP #2 Yellow Rocquaine sweater

posted in: Finished projects, knitting, SWAP | 22

I have started on my 11 piece “Sewing with a Plan” wardrobe.

Last week I made a grey pencil skirt, that needs some alterations. Many thanks for giving me the confidence to have a raw edge at the hem. I am just dithering about the length at the moment,  but will bring an update in due course.

In the meantime I have been knitting. Only two knitted or crocheted garments are allowed in the SWAP. And between now and May I am likely to create more than two knitted garments, I may or may not end up including this jersey, but I admit I just needed to make it. Here is the pattern.

Why did I “need” to make it?

  • Yellow

Yellow, to me, is like pink. It just changes things. Put it with grey, or navy or black, or something quiet and suddenly we have a dramatic change. It lifts the mood. It gets noticed. It brings joy. Spring time is yellow time – crocus, daffodil, tulips. I admit I would not have looked at this sweater if it had been photographed in traditional navy. I need more yellow in my wardrobe, so that is why I made it.

Yellow can be a hard colour to get right – many people lack confidence in picking their best yellow and often pass on it (Demented Fairy) rather than take a risk. But anyone can wear yellow if they find the right one for them. Maybe this article would help.

I used Debbie Bliss Rialto in Banana. Also I swapped to a new supplier after having been badly let down by Love Knitting. I am now using Zarela via eBay. Their prices are keen, they have good stock levels and helpful customer service. Although I still love Colourmart you are restricted by what they have in, and they don’t have the full range of colours. The Rialto yarn from Zarela is nice and thick and comes in some great colours, at just under £5 a ball for nice, soft wool. It gave the stitches good definition.

  • Gansey style

This is a quintessential British style of knitting, where jerseys were knitted by women for their seafaring men – from fishermen to members of the royal navy. It is really part of our national costume and I love the look of them. I love the patterning and the shape, and although the Roquaine is a modern take on the traditional look I found it had a resonance and truth to it and I enjoying making it. Maybe I can try a more traditional pattern – the problem for me is that I hate the scratchy traditional yarns.

Gansey knitting
Yorkshire Fisherman in a gansey, with a medal

The name of this particular pattern comes from Guernsey, where there is a bay with the name. If it sounds French that is because this small island is a very southerly part of the British Isles, close to northern France and it has been in different ownership over the years.

Rocquaine Bay Guernsey
  • The pattern

The pattern is by Christine Danaee, and it appeared in the Autumn 2016 Pom Pom magazine. I first saw it mentioned by Marilla Walker and thought “one day I may be able to knit that”. The magazine is out of print but you can download it. I love the photographs, and of course the beautiful grey haired model and her stylish blue-grey trousers and lovely necklace. It is knitted in the round up to the armhole, where it separates. The pattern is not difficult. I followed the instructions rather than the chart, but the choice is yours. I have been interested in making a pattern with a stitch pattern since i first discussed this idea with both Sue Stoney and Aida. So three great bloggers have helped me get to this stage.

I joined the shoulders with Kitchener stitch – again thank you all of those for suggesting this approach to joining seams, and ever thanks to Mrs Zimmermann for holding my hand.

It’s a bit of a boxy look, with the bottom of the jersey hitting the waist, and the ribbing coming down a bit lower. I was happy with this shape, but you could make it longer if you don’t want this style.

Others have said the sleeves are too long. And I agree. I have created fold back cuffs, which I don’t like. So this sweater will probably get an alteration before the end of April.

  • iCord bind off
    iCord Bind off
    i cord bind off

Mrs Z invented the iCord I think. I had never tried it before. But this jersey uses it and it has created a very nice finish around the neck. I love this and would do it again if I had the chance.

Overall I am very pleased with this jumper. I have worn it for work, and here for the weekend. I think it will stay in the SWAP as I know yellow is a great fit with grey and navy, so we shall see what happens next week. I think I will go for a navy item next – a skirt, trousers or a jacket.

Rocquaine sweater
Rocquaine sweater


Two Weddings

posted in: History of fashion | 16

When Esme applied for a passport recently, it bizarrely required the date of her parents’ wedding. John would have known. But she had to ask me. And I couldn’t remember! I looked at some old photos to jog my memory. John is in Top Man and I am wearing a pink crepe wool suit I made from a Vogue 1940s inspired pattern. It had a peplum and shoulder pads and I felt wonderful. It clashed with the flock wallpaper and beige chrysanthemums provided by Register office, but I didn’t care.

Chris, John, Kate, Jenny c. March (?) 1985

Thinking laterally I uploaded the glossy Kodak prints on Facebook, and asked old friends who were there, if they could remember the date. Between us we got the year (1985) and the quarter (January to March), and guessed March, which was enough for the passport.

Fabrickated Wedding
With my Father before we went in

Then, just for fun, I tested myself on the date of my second wedding, to Nick. I knew it took place after my father had died in 2000, as he wasn’t there. I also knew the month. So I Googled it. Well I Googled the event that took place that day and found it immediately – 15 June 2002.

When Nick and I set the date I invited my friend Shirley, who laughed. She explained that the second phase of the World Cup qualifying matches would be held that day. “Don’t worry,” she said. “England have very little chance of getting through!” Although I had a vague recollection of watching the World Cup back in 1966, and the subsequent “England Winners” postage stamp, Nick and I were oblivious of the impending sporting bonanza.

We booked the local register office and sent out invitations. The Wallis sale supplied my outfit, and I made a headdress with pink tulle stitched to a cheap metal “tiara”. Nick bought six boxes of pink peonies from Covent Garden, and ten of Champagne from Sainsbury’s. Our Marks & Spencer cake was customised with pink ribbon and roses.

We got the house tidy on the Friday, stuffing washing baskets into the kids’ bedrooms and preparing most of the food. On Saturday morning I got my hair done while Nick made the salads and chilled the drinks. I asked my Chairman (a Catholic priest) if he would say a few words in the garden.

Then the whole family drove to Lewisham Register office for the last appointment before lunch. We arrived in plenty of time, to be greeted by the chief registrar. Discreetly she enquired if we would mind bringing forward our ceremony to11am rather than 11.30. She explained that the previous couple had postponed – due to the World Cup match. And she and her team would like to get off early, so they could watch it too.

At the register office with the correct witness (CHS)

As most of us were there, we agreed. With a stand-in witness (later substituted when the official witness arrived) we kicked off. Done by 11.30, we took a few photos and returned to the house. Nick and I started offering Champagne, and chatting to our guests, when we realised that the only people in the garden were us, our elderly friends and relatives and a couple of little girls. Where was everyone? Then Father Peter arrived and I asked him when he would be saying a prayer for us. His face lit up:

“What about half time?”

I ran upstairs to George’s bedroom, where I had shoved lots of junk and the television. And there, sheepishly grinning, squashed onto the single bed, or sitting on the floor were about 20 men, all the boys and a few Mums too.

Guests watching the match

Eventually it was half time and everyone came down for a beer, ecstatic that England had scored three goals. The sun was shining brightly and people got started on the food.

We took our chance and got everyone to gather. Father Peter kindly spoke to us all, basing his talk on 1 Corinthians 13: 4-13. Steve and Margaret, followed by Nick, made short speeches. Our oldest and youngest children, Ben and Gus (12 at the time), spoke about our family. Tears were streaming down my face, and we were buoyed up by everyone’s kindness and support.

I guess the speeches must have gone on for half an hour or more when Greg, a great friend and wonderful tenor, started to sing Amazing Grace for us. As his voice soared a huge cheer went up across all the homes in the neighbourhood. For a moment I was confused. Then we realised – full time. England has done it. A Three-Nil win against Denmark. In a way, I owe Emile Heskey my thanks for putting the game to bed by half time.

Nick and Kate 15 June 2002

Nick and I became a family with five children, but all of them were shared. We didn’t have any together. We both found step-parenting a challenge, but it all worked out well in the end.

SWAP #1 Copying a Jigsaw skirt

Let’s get started.

I have decided to start with my grey fabric collection. I have had most of these pieces for a while, especially the heavy silks. I have always resisted a grey or beige collection, alhtough I find these wearable colours. The SWAP this year will be a spur for me. In my mind I have a grey boiled wool skirt, a Chanel jacket, and either a top or an evening skirt from the grey silk.

SWAP 2018
Beautiful grey fabrics

First up is a pencil skirt. Most days I wear trousers or a plain skirt for work, with a shirt and jacket, and (in this cold weather) a jersey or cardigan. So a plain skirt in a neutral colour is a good basic for me.

There is a skirt I like the look of from Jigsaw. It is made from boiled wool and has some nice features. Because this fabric does not unravel you can use unfinished seams. I liked the effect of this on the CF seam and back darts. Also the front darts are transferred to the side seam and arranged to point downwards towards the tip of the pelvic bone which I found rather attractive. I even like the colour. The only thing that put me off was the price tag – almost £100, although it is now in the sale.


I decided to make it up in a piece of boiled wool I got for £4 a metre from Simply Fabrics in Brixton (there was only 80cms left on the roll). It is fairly heavy weight, perhaps a bit too heavy for a skirt really. In fact I have a Zara coat in exactly this light grey fabric and I thought they might look good together. And I love wearing light grey.


I prepared a pattern.

As I don’t store too many patterns and my size changes over time I started with Winifred Aldrich, drafted her basic tailored skirt and then moved the darts from the traditional position to the side seams at the front.


In order to give a bit of pizzazz to a plain skirt Jigsaw have used external darts and an overlapped raw edge CF seam. This was new to me and the boiled wool was ideal as it doesn’t fray at all. I stitched the front darts on the outside so I could clearly see what I was doing and to make sure that the join was good. I trimmed them back on the underside as they are rather thick. I used iron-on interfacing on the CB seam before inserting a white invisible zip.

The Jigsaw skirt has a seam at the waist line. I found this a bit crude so instead I attached a piece of curved Petersham, turned it in and stitched it down inside.  This worked perfectly.

The hem on the other hand was not satisfactory. It was very bulky, especially at the CB split as the fabric is turned over and this creates four layers. I also thought the skirt may be a bit long. Although I wanted to keep my knees warm in this cold weather it makes the skirt look a bit dowdy, especially with the flat shoes. I think I will alter it to make it shorter and do something about flattening the hem.

Copying a Jigsaw skirt
Jigsaw copy (first attempt)

My jersey

The jumper is made with the Elizabeth Zimmermann raglan sleeve pattern. If you made the colourful yoke pattern of knitting three cylinders you can do this too. The body and two sleeves are put onto one circular needle and two stitches are decreased at the sleeve and front section every other row. This creates the “raglan” seam.

I am very pleased with it because it is comfortable and it goes with just about everything in my wardrobe. It is made in Colourmart merino yarns. Nick and I went to an interesting event arranged by students at Central St Martins last week at the Tate Modern. The students show how digital technology and the loss of traditional studios in the capital forces artists to consider where and how they make their art. The use of coffee shops, the kitchen, the pub or a park bench can be more public places where the act of creation can be shared. In my day job I am pleased and proud to include artists spaces in some of our new developments. I certainly enjoyed talking to the young artists who also allowed members of the public to join in and consider their role in society at a temporary project staged at the Bankside gallery’s Tate Exchange arm. It certainly revealed the many ways we can make our lives more beautiful.


Making a book #6 Starting my Indesign Course

As you know books are designed. It is an absolutely crucial part of the process, almost as important as writing it. It makes it possible to read comfortably.

If you have ever printed out a book or even a long pamphlet and tried to read it I am sure you will agree that it is a depressing experience! I have paid good money for a proper book rather than downloading some horrible un-designed Project Gutenberg free book.Books without proper chapter headings, attractive readable text, sufficient white space and properly organised footnotes are work of the devil. I think this would be one way to drive me mad – to make me read badly designed books for a living. Books need to be designed to be read, to be as easy as possible to assimilate without effort. Some of this of course is the writing, which I will reflect on in a future post. But the design is as important as the writing, in my view.

Witness the incredible interest in the book cover! 

What strong feelings were released. How something looks – think of food, a bed or your own appearance – makes all the difference to how you feel about something. An idea to bear in mind when people say it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter how you dress. I always laugh at these critiques of style guidelines. Of course it matters how you dress, just as it matters what your lunch looks like. Presentation and context is as important as content. If you were really hungry and someone ripped the liver out of a deer in the forest I expect you might eat it. But the same ingredient, delicately cooked and laid on a plate with other colours and ingredients might be more appetising. I know you get this.

It’s my body…


Books look lovely. You pick them up and the designed to be read. The organisation of a book helps you navigate it. A real book, compared to an e-book, is something you can handle, and flick through and dart around in, if you please. But the best thing about books – from children’s stories to technical manuals -is the pictures. I love this aspect. It cannot be achieved electronically, yet. Not very well. Kindle is monochrome.

Actually I love Kindle. I have one in my bag at all times and I devour novels at any opportunity (when I not knitting). I don’t mind a paper novel but I am not that bothered. These go from front to back and lack illustrations and a physical book is heavy and a little unwieldy. A Kindle can be read in bed at night without disturbing the Other. For travel and holidays a Kindle is ideal and will fit in the back pocket of my jeans.

But for pre-readers, and definately for any visual/presentation/instructional manual we need illustration. For  style and craft book we need pictures and colour. I think there are some options for electronic coloured books but they are not entirely satisfactory, although I understand things are changing and over the next few years what I want will exist. But not, in a satisfactory form, yet.

So I am going to produce a colourful book and to do that it needs designing.

You know my step daughter Charlotte works book publishing as a designer, and she has given me some of the books she has designed. They are known as “bricks” as they are big, heavy, glossy and colourful. Packed with lots of double page spreads they are completely sumptuous and beautiful. These books don’t have “authors” as the writing is fairly limited. They are mainly made up of check lists or ingredient lists or tips. The photographs are highly stylised and while I think these books provide good inspiration they produce an unrealistic approach to how you actually organise a wedding. You might say these books are so “aspirational” that they have limited use for the people who buy them.

My own book will look good, and I really want to design it to make it easy to read and accessible. The mood is not aspirational but achievable, real not superficial, understanding that how things look is very important but not a slave to style. Char tells me that these books take six months to design and I can believe it. And a whole army of photographers, stylists and designers to create the look that DK loves and is known for. I am not knocking them and I have so much to learn but my book will have more words and less pictures. And the pictures will be of beautiful people and gorgeous clothes, but they will also be real and you will get to know them.

So in order to learn more about book design I have started two courses this term. One is photography (with Nick) and the other is InDesign.

The Indesign course is six weeks (18 hours) and I hope it will be sufficient for me to actually make my own book. Maybe it will still need a professional eye at the end but I am going to give it a go. I have attended three lessons so far and have designed

a) a CD cover

b) a double sided flyer for an exhibition at the V&A

and c) a business card, and two leaflets (we are getting quicker!).

Working with Indesign
InDesign projects

My work to date is  rudimentary. I learnt the techniques. I didn’t make something terribly artistic. But the punch line is that this technology is very accessible. InDesign is part of the Adobe package (which Nick bought years ago at Student rates) and for me it is much easier to use that Illustrator and Photoshop. Which is a relief as I found them both very trying. I am enjoying using the programme and I believe with more practice I will be able to make my book.

2018 Sewing with a Plan

posted in: Designing, SWAP | 6

Most of you know all about Sewing with a Plan (SWAP).

I have done this Artisans’ Square challenge four times now, although I only finished twice. I hadn’t planned to compete this year as I have too much on my plate. Sewing of up to 11 garments (or as few as nine) has already started and all work must be complete and photographed by the end of April. If you haven’t done it before I really recommend it as a way to create a very wearable wardrobe and as an interesting challenge.

Here are the rules.


Choose two neutral colors
Add one accent color and two prints OR two accent colors and one print
Make at least three garments from each neutral color
Make at least one garment from each accent color
Make at least one garment from each print
Remaining two garments may be made from any one or combination of your neutrals, accent(s) and/or print(s)
Create multiple outfits of at least two garments that work for your personal style
Each garment must work with a minimum of two outfits

Two knitted or crochet garments are allowed

I have about “Nine and a Half Weeks” until our merger is complete, so I have decided to join in this year, but in a very low-key, uncompetitive way. Instead of a major palaver I have been thinking of sticking exclusively to generally simple “tried and tested” patterns. This means that making up can be a quick and not too challenging affair. Also I am not going to over-plan this. I will make up items from the list as and when I please, and if it works out, it works out. And if I don’t finish, or if I get bored with neutrals, who cares?


I have three options on my neutrals.

Light grey is a consistent favourite and a shade I wear for work. I have been thinking about having a second go at my 1938 Chanel jacket, and the SWAP will be a spur. A simple top and a grey pencil skirt will meet the TNT specification of the brief. In this selection from top to bottom I have a boiled wool coating, linen jacketing, grey silk chiffon, two heavy silk fabrics. All beautiful, and all plain.

SWAP 2018
Beautiful grey fabrics

My second favourite neutral is navy. I have lots of nice navy patterns in my collection. I find navy easy to wear to find it always looks smart. From the top I have a navy jersey which includes greys and browns, a piece of Liberty cotton with brown and blue, a navy print with red and beige, a plain navy cotton with elastane, plain navy mohair coating, nice checked dress weight wool, dark navy with a fancy red and white pattern, ideal for a suit. Again I have some nice cloth here. Only two are plain but there are some nice options.

Sewing with a Plan 2018
Beautiful Navy fabrics

My third neutral is the deepest shade that I feel comfortable in – dark brown. I also managed to pick up some free dark brown leather off cuts from our shoe making class that I fancy turning into a skirt. The top piece, below,  is furnishing fabric which could make a nice skirt, but the pattern is very large (three shades of brown, plus dark grey and white). Second is a lightweight brown fabric – nice for a summer dress or blouse. Then two heavy brown coating fabrics, one with cashmere, the other really for a man’s coat (I bought if for Gus).

Sewing with a Plan 2018
Beautiful brown fabrics

I have sufficient prints in here to meet the brief.

I can also easily find an accent colour – almost any of my favourite colours go with these three neutrals

  • red
  • yellow
  • pale blue
  • emerald
  • turquoise
  • white
  • silver
  • purple
  • pink etc.

Alternatively I could create some painted silk to pull it together.


The possible outfits I have in mind are all things I have made before and like to wear.  Two of these are knitted/crocheted (only two knitted or crochet items are allowed):

This gives seven items, with four more needed – probably all tops – two of which must be made especially. Two can be RTW or made previously.

Rather than planning it all out in great detail again to change my previous approach, I will start to make up these basic items in existing fabrics and see if it is possible to pull it all together within the rules later on. Any other “competitors” out there? I think there is a small prize this year!











Our Virtual Community

posted in: Inspiration | 31

The Internet has only been available since 1990, the year my youngest son was born.

I remember being shown that I was on it in 1996 (via my job) and feeling astonished. But I soon embraced email and gradually began to learn how to “surf”. (One day I will learn how to actually surf IRL, or as my other son tells me, “AFK”).

So you will appreciate my surprise when I first heard my young sons, in about 1997, talking to what sounded like grown men people with strong German and American accents, who were (luckily) not even in their room. Their gaming consoles enabled not just a virtual game; it connected them to people all over the globe, who they were speaking to and playing with!

My own non-work breakthrough came through joining an international home exchange website,,  around this time, which enabled us to travel to Australia, New Zealand, India, Denmark, Paris, Amsterdam, Rio, Buenos Aires, New York, Florida, Seville, Bath, the Cotswolds (and that experience led to us buying a home in the area), and many other places. Leaving our own central London flat in the hands of our swappers, we universally met warm hospitality, often being invited into the homes, parties and outings of the neighbours. Our families and their families got involved. People referred others. The joy of spending time in someone else’s community, sharing local’s tips, walking around a city with the key to your home in your pocket. For Nick and I it was a life enhancing experience.

Home exchange to Seville

If our kids were early adopters or digital natives, my elderly parents had an interesting reaction.

You need to appreciate their different approaches to technology first. My father was rather scientific, enjoyed machines and how things were made, and he loved gadgets and novelty. My mother, on the other hand has no interest in technology and enjoys her less rational take on matters (especially politics). One day father brought home a microwave oven and proceeded to demonstrate the marvellous technology that turned a mug of water into a mug of hot water. We all watched, delighted, my mother saying she would never use it. She didn’t want fast and convenient, she had little use for heating up food and she enjoyed cooking. My father never really progressed beyond the mug of hot water, although to be honest he found out how to make lemon cheese (aka lemon curd) in the microwave which was really rather good.

So when my father got a computer and started to really enjoy it, my mother would get a bit miffed. One day he was showing me how he was able to listen to Tina Turner via the internet, my mother dropped a pan with a huge clatter. My father explained that whenever Mum felt he had spent too much time on-line she would break a plate or drop something so that he would need to move away from his keyboard and investigate!

I used Google a great deal at home and at work in order to find things out, or get information on opening times. I may have done a little shopping, but not much. And then, in about 2013, I got into blogging.

Firstly in search of information about dressmaking I Googled. And, somewhat to my surprise, I found much of what I wanted to know through non-commercial sites, set up by enthusiasts like myself. There were sites specifically for a community – like Artisans’ Square and Mumsnet. But there were also millions of individual bloggers who freely shared what they had learned. But there was much more to it. I just loved to read people’s stories about how they made clothes, their inspiration, their struggles (the what-went-wrong stories are always the best), their context – the wedding, making for men, the up-cycling before and after pictures, the stories so rich in interest and emotion. Then in a daring move I started to leave little comments, especially when the writers asked a question. But I rarely got a response which made it feel like a one-sided conversation.

Blogging on a homeforexchange holiday

Then, in 2015, I conceived the idea of setting up my own blog so I could write about what interested me “fit and fashion, style and stitching”). And it has sustained me ever since. I love writing and making things and being connected. To me sewing and related blogs have created a space where people with similar interests can congregate, learn from each other, entertain each other, bond with each other. Later on I also embraced Instagram which is ideal for those with less time. Both blogging and IG are positive friendly spaces where the community lifts each other up. It is life affirming. (I have disengaged with Twitter as it is full of negative people who like to do others down).

Sue, from New Zealand

But the biggest breakthrough was when I started meeting the women behind the blogs, or my “followers” (I find that a patronising term. They are more like friends and supporters). Just like the home swapping we connected through the internet, got to know each other, and found we had so much in common. One of the most beautiful parts of my life today is not just enjoying little chats with other bloggers and instagrammers. It is spending time with each and every one of them. Friends from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Scotland, the North, the Midlands, Northern Ireland, and lots who are local, have all made a special effort to meet me, and it has been one of the nicest things ever. The older generation are so skilled and able and have taught me so much. The younger ones share their digital skills, design excitement and shopping tips. I have made so many really wonderful new friends in this way and encourage anyone to give it a go. This generous, gregarious, gorgeous community is ready to embrace you. Join in!

My sewing room

posted in: Designing, Organisation | 20

Our house is a year old now, and there are one or two small snags still to be sorted! But we are very nearly there.

Nick has done virtually all the interior woodwork now, creating the most impressive cupboards in every room, and some of the hall ways too. When I think about the work he has done, from the careful design to the choice of colour, glass and knobs, to the back breaking work of construction, to getting the cupboards into the house and fitting them against walls that are not exactly straight,  I am in awe of his skills.

The original concept for the sewing room was this. I made a little scale diagram, and many of you made great suggestions on how I could improve it.

Rainshore sewing room plan
Scale drawing of my sewing room

In reality It’s a bit different. I have two easy chairs rather than the sofa, and the ironing board is somewhere else. And the bin has not yet been constructed (but it is promised). The thing that has worked brilliantly is the pull down bed which has been used by Ben and Mel (and Maia came too!), Gus, and Sara and Henrick from Denmark. It only takes a minute to put the sewing machines away in the cupboard and it is a great room for guests. The small bathroom next door – with a shower, basin and WC – is very convenient for guests, but if I get up very early and don’t want to disturb Nick I can shower here too.

From the window to my left (as I type this) I can see Nick’s shed, the car and the comings and goings of the estate. I took this when it snowed in December.

Mans shed in the snow
Snow Shed

If the door is open to my right I can see through to the lake. In the winter I have the doors shut to keep the heat in, and it is always a pleasant surprise to see the lake when I make a cup of tea (assuming the chai walla is otherwise engaged). If I am lucky I see it at sunrise or sunset. But whatever the weather, season or time of day the pure joy of looking at the lake is magical.

Carpenter with tea
The carpenter and his tea

So let’s have a look at the sewing room now it is completed and in daily use. This picture is taken from the left hand easy chair. You can see the typing desk, with a handmade inspiration board above the desk. The supplies cupboard next to it has boxes with paints and dyes in them on top. The three sewing machines are out on the table associated with the drop down bed. There is a light and a large roll of pattern paper.

Sewing room design
Rainshore sewing room

The second photograph is taken from the writing desk. You can see the second inspiration board, above the ironing board. The wool cupboard is where the sewing machines are stored, and also my books, leather and ongoing projects. Camilla is draped in some Japanese cloth and a painting of me from my early 20s (by Paul Smith) brings some cheerful colour into the room. The ballet barre is to the right. I use this, and the floor, to exercise when I don’t fancy going to the gym. But mainly I use the barre to store my projects in a variety of bags. Nick and I sit in the easy chairs to talk or sometimes I knit or listen to the podcasts (normally both at once).

designing a sewing space
Sewing room details

I imagine the room will evolve over time, but for now it is a wonderful place to work. I feel a sense of complete peace when I am in it.