Me Mad May is over; bring on RTW June!

posted in: Organisation, Style advice | 23

I did the fourth week of MMMay17 but I had some phone problems so I can’t show you the pictures, except one. Here I am with a nice old 1960s Kimono sleeved jacket in the softest lemon wool. All the rest  are on Instagram. I am hoping I will be able to post a few more recent pictures soon. 

So. For a full month I wore one hand-sewn item and one hand-knitted item each and everyday. I have not yet reached the dizzy heights of making everything I wear. Never made a bra, never made tights, never made knickers. I have made my gym kit, lots of tailored items and coats, but never rainwear. I have made jeans, and men’s wear, and I have created lots of textiles in passing. I am proud of my achievements, but I don’t think I am going for the gold medal of this one. Happy with the bronze.

So what was MMM17 all about for me? This year it was really useful for thinking about handmade knitwear.  However I found the exercise a bit of a strain. What it did to me was made me question  what I am wearing and do my clothes bring me joy?


I know I can make virtually anything I want – nothing is denied to me as I can sew. And knit! But what do I want?

I want to create a really small, orderly wardrobe that is

  • fashionable and stylish
  • crisp and clean
  • comfortable
  • authoritative enough for work
  • rather plain

That should be easy!

Fashion and style

MMMay17 revealed my current wardrobe is looking dated. I want a more modern look. This is important to me.

Before I sewed I would not worry about passing on last seasons’ outfits (darling!); these days I feel a real wrench taking my hand made wardrobe to the charity shop. So I wear things which are quite nice but I don’t love (Marie Kondo has alot to answer for).

Maybe I am shallow but I love novelty, style, new ideas, new colour combinations and ideas – fashion in other words. Just one year ago I wouldn’t have worn trainers for work, but now (in London) this look is stylish and normal. A few years ago I wouldn’t have worn a trouser suit as they looked old-fashioned and dowdy, but now they look great. Overall, especially for work, business casual has become the norm and formal, corporate wear has negative connotations. If you want to look young and engaged you need to pay some attention to changing trends – I am beginning to worry I don’t have enough culottes or cold shouldered blouses in my wardrobe! But seriously dated dressing is aging.

I do have a silver  leather skirt!! And a shorts suit!! These items are a bit unusual and I wore them in May and I like them. But I wish the silver skirt was shorter and the shorts a little tighter. In the 1930s women were forever altering their clothes to give them a “new lease of life”, “making do and mending” “retrimming” their hats and crocheting a new lace collar for their sole afternoon dress. I do appreciate the thinking here, but it is not me. Instinctively I am a chucker, a thrower, someone who gets rid of things when they no longer suit me.  I really want a clear out.

Crisp and clean

Which brings me to my second point. In wearing “Me Made” I noticed that a number of my items were tatty. Is that because they were often worn, or badly made? Not finished properly, or just inferior to RTW? All the lovely, natural fibres I go for in my dressmaking may not be as durable as I think. Two of my unlined cotton skirts have not held up to wear and tear. I really don’t want to give them up (they are made of nice, thick, stretch cotton from Roland Mouret), but I am a bit ashamed of the finish.


For years I laughed at people who wore leggings, T shirts, shorts with elasticated waists and trainers – and never went to the gym! I previously opposed the sloppy idea of a dress down Friday. To be honest at one stage I would have said wearing a cardigan to work was a definate no no.

I kept my shorts and trainers for gym, and wore proper skirts, jackets, tights and formal shoes for work although I did have an anorak (rather than a proper coat), and often chose a long sleeved T rather than a shirt, to avoid ironing.

Now that standards at work are unravelling, and business casual is the norm (ties are beginning to look a bit odd in my office) I find myself caught up in the desire for comfort. If I haven’t an external meeting on a Friday I do sometimes wear my jeans. (For years I didn’t even wear jeans). And in terms of “active wear” the penny has finally dropped. These garments are ideal for less active wear too. Even inactive wear (lolling around on a sofa) feels better in stretchy, soft stuff. Gym wear is of course specifically designed and constructed so it doesn’t chafe, restrict or constrict. Anything made of stretchy jersey is supremely comfortable. So it makes perfect sense to wear clothes that stretch when you do, don’t dig in, and give you a sense of well being. I mentioned that at weekends I often wear leggings and long sleeved Ts from Uniqlo, and in summer I am wearing gym shorts, sports bra and top – cotton or wool, depending on the weather. I seem to have gone super-casual, all of a sudden.

So I need to think about work – comfort but with sufficient authority. I am inspire by these looks.

Authority dressing

Earlier in my career having authority meant – for women – wearing a white shirt and a navy suit, with a knee length skirt, dark tights and court shoes. For men too – a navy suit, white shirt, silk tie, dark socks and black leather shoes. Once a week I may still have to dress like this – a board or City meeting for example. But most of the time I want to look stylish, crisp and comfortable but still have the edge in terms of authority. I could not chair a meeting in gym gear. But I believe there is an answer. My Business Casual post covered some of the ground.


Like many dressmakers I have a penchant for the colourful, the patterned, the shiny and the novel. What I find myself wearing most often is of course – the neutrals – especially navy and grey, using scarves, belts, tights and jewellery to introduce colour and individuality. I want a wardrobe that is essentially plain. If we are going for comfort then we have to find the authority elsewhere and neutrals and deeper colour do this.

I will be thinking about a modern, fashionable capsule wardrobe over the next couple of weeks, before I readjust my sewing/knitting/shopping plans.

In the meantime – do you feel your look is a bit dated? Do you yearn for comfort? What about plain and simple shapes and colour schemes? Do you have the answer?




How often do you wash your clothes?

posted in: Organisation | 45

I used to wash anything that had touched skin after one wear (eg socks, underwear and blouses/T-shirts/woolies). Everything my kids and grandkids wore went straight off their backs into the laundry basket. Skirts and jackets I would take the cleaners after 6-12 wears I guess. But for a number of reasons I have cut right down.

Nowadays I wash knickers and tights after one wear. Everything else when it needs it. I use a visual test and a sniff test. If it doesn’t have obvious marks (eg food stains or mud), and if smells good I just fold it up and put it back in the wardrobe. Kids clothes too, get examined and sorted. PJs, school trousers and jumpers can last a week if there are no obvious stains. Adult skirts and jackets now go for ages without laundering. I brush them down, use lint rollers and steam or press them. I hardly use dry cleaners, not least due to the cost  – £5-£10 for one item – that may have cost less than that to make or buy.

For  decades I have ignored “dry clean only” tags on RTW goods. I prefer my own skill and judgement. Anything made of natural fibres is washable, and with care so is viscose, polyester and elastane. However I dislike hand washing and have found most things can go in the washing machine. The silk, wool and cold cycles on my machine are excellent. According to the Daily Mail the average family spends £320 a year on dry-cleaning, while those who wear suits to work can spend as much as £640 a year. I find this statistic unbelievable although it must be true if it is in the Daily Mail. 

From time to time I machine wash woolen jackets and skirts, pressing carefully afterwards to refresh them if they become grubby or smelly. But some have gone on for ages without a wash or dry clean.

Some will find this revelation disgusting.

Others will admit they are equally “lazy”, “tight” or “green”.

I don’t like making work, or wasting money or damaging the environment but I am not at the extreme end of any of these standpoints. I just think excessive cleaning is a bit of a con. Like the idea of daily shampooing of hair, this is based on social anxiety about dirt, grease, animal secretions, slime, mould, decay, dandruff, BO and squalor, rather than any objective filth.

A seamstress has an advantage over a member of the public

  • we have knowledge of fibres and fabrics
  • we know how our garments are constructed eg with iron-on or sewn in interfacings
  • we know how to press, and the impact of water or steam on our fabrics
  • (if we have too much washing to do, especially if there are lots of towels and bed linen we know we can take it to the laundrette for a service wash – £30 for a huge bag that will be washed, dried and folded).

This means we don’t have to accept the myth that we will be socially unacceptable if we don’t launder daily.

Until the 1950s washing clothes was a major palaver. I can remember “blue”, green soap, yellowish soap for collars and cuffs, a scrubbing board, a boiler, tongs, a plunger and a kind of big stick, a mangle, a washing line, pegs, peg bags, and a sort of wooden stick to push the washing line up with (was it called a prop?).

Glasgow women watching their clothes dry (and knitting).

Monday was washing day and it took lots of time to get the washing done. Unsurprisingly, apart from sheets, shirts and underwear, not much was washed. The domestic washing machine was invented in 1937 but when I was young (1950s, early 1960s) my mum was still using old-fashioned techniques. When we got a machine it was a top loader and had a rubber lining and a kind of central stick around which the clothes circulated.

Old style washing machine

A little further back less was washed, and less often. The laundry process took several days.  The “Great Wash” took place every few months and may have involved hiring professional washer women to help.  According to a book published in 1860 the washers would prewash in cold water, rising until the water runs clear, then soaking for 24 hours, further soaking in warm lye (including ashes and soapy agents), heating the water again and again, beating the washing with sticks and finally rinsing, wringing and drying.  The labour was so extensive that many clothes, especially the outer garments, were never washed at all.

Today washing and drying at home is largely mechanised. However I don’t have a tumble dryer. Therefore every item has to be hung up to dry on the rack,  or more recently as our flat is a bit damp, on a heated rail. The main reason I cut down the washing is that the drying is trying. If we have the heating on the clothes dry but the evaporation makes the air damp and we need a dehumidifier.

Clothes drying on “the rack” at Rainshore

Speaking to my friend Amo about growing up in Nigeria she says they just hung up wet sheets and they were dry and fragrant within a few hours.

The Dhobi Ghats of Mumbai

The sun would also sterilise linens.I guess the damp climate and cold weather has meant the British have always been a somewhat dirty and smelly race, certainly before soap and hot water were widely available.

I was wondering if women’s easier lives in modern societies were down to time-saving devices like washing machines and vacuum cleaners. But according to Tim Harford it is the reduction in food preparation and cooking that have changed far more and are actually responsible for women being able to work and feed the family. Again, thinking of life as I have seen it in India and rural Africa much of the women’s time is consumed with procuring raw materials and food preparation, and certainly my own Mum and Grandma spent several hours a day cooking.

Me Made May 2017 – the third week


As I did it I thought I would capture it. Many thanks to Becky, from our Company Secretary’s team, who gets in early and was always available to take a quick picture first thing. She generally only took one shot – a habit I associate with analogue photography – so it was a bit hit and miss. I seem to have the same cheesy smile in all of them as I stand next to the storage cupboards in our office. Friday I was at our Hammersmith office, and the weekend was spent at Rainshore. Although I don’t really love this process I rather like the scrutiny I can subject myself to.

For work I am wearing RTW trousers, my Burda winter shorts and my Birkin flares. I really enjoy wearing my shorts suit and this was my choice for my most formal day, Wednesday, when I wore a matching 1960s jacket with the shorts. These are made in a boiled wool from Simply Fabrics. On Tuesday and Thursday I have, optimistically, chosen Me-Made summer skirts. The turquoise lace unexpectedly looked great (I think!) with a knitted top. I am not so sure about Thursday which I have mentioned before. Having said that I got a compliment  from a very stylish lady who really liked the mixture of reds and pinks I was wearing. One thing I can say for sure is that having such a relatively limited range of outfits to choose from (in terms of a daily Me-Made Knit) forced me to put together a few unusual combinations. That was certainly true on Saturday. I wore my 1970s DVF dress with a hole, and just put my Lorelle (also worn on Wednesday with the shorts suit) on, on top. The sleeveless grey top also works well as a a casual top with my new linen skirt. I finally got my legs out this week as it is warming up. But not reliably.

According to these pictures you would think I did nothing but knit over the weekend (a blue jumper, according to Elizabeth Zimmermann, and a green Sloper using up Jo’s yarn). Actually we had the grandbabies to stay and it was full on. We had a great adventure. We enjoyed the Cotswold Farm park although it was fairly chilly. Even better was fishing for trout at Bibury. This was very rewarding as the fish are farmed and really easy to catch. You have to hit them on the head (sorry!) to kill them, but we felt it was important for the kids to understand a bit more about food. We enjoyed eating them a few hours later. I think the gutting was pretty interesting, but you can see the disgust on the kids’ faces. On Sunday Nick made a big batch of sourdough and Ted made a teddy bear and kit a dragon. With raisin eyes. So all in all a lovely, outdoorsy spring weekend with lots of laughs and fresh air. My green jacket is RTW from Joules sale. It’s a great colour, isn’t it?

One more week to go on MMM17. I am beginning to clarify what I want. I am yearning for simplicity, less items and less choice. This aspect of the “rules” appealed to me. I am thinking more of a uniform for work, based on comfortable and stylish footwear, and relaxed, comfortable weekend wear with the emphasis on knits. And I need a hair cut.

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 picture from the Balmoral honeymoon. 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 | 11

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 | 26

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?

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