Post-SWAP: Making new plans

No sooner had she crashed out of SWAP than she was already making new plans. Like the jilted lover she deal with her grief by shouting “NEXT!”

I mentioned on Saturday that I hope to create a few items for Gus this year. A bomber jacket, a pair of shorts and some trousers, and a proper pair of jeans. I have loads of time now!

I also have some plans for myself.


  • Heavenly jumper in petrol blue cashmere. I have started this and aim to have it finished by Monday 13 March so I can take it to France. Progress so far:

    The colour of the sample is much truer than my photo shows – it is  a proper petrol blue. It is a top down jersey with a yoke, similar to the Lorelle. I will show it to you next week, assuming I finish in time. It takes 8 balls of wool so I am planning to knit one a day. That should be do-able.

  • The Fara Raglan colourwork jumper

    I got a bit stuck with this as I was behind on the jacket for Gus. But once I finish the Heavenly I will get back to it. You can see that my colour bands are a bit tight, although improving. Dear knitting-readers have advised steaming once knitted so I will try that.

  • A second Ankestrick jumper also in cashmere – this time brown and green. I ordered the yarn from Love Knitting (they had a good 25% discount). They have to bring them in from America so I will have to wait a little while. Hey no problem…!
  • use the remaining green cashmere yarn from Gus’s jumper to make something for myself.


  • I have caught the red bug from Stephanie. I think I need a red coat. I found some beautiful red fabric from Paul Smith (wool and mohair) in Simply Fabrics. I have to be careful with my reds. While I need a true red, or one with a little blue in I don’t look good in the most strident shades. I chose this red as it seems to have just a little bit of softness to the colour (slightly pinky). I plan to make the Burda coat 08/1012. I have made this for my daughter Esme (in brown) and she has worn it to destruction. It is a nice coat with an asymmetric fastening. It’s (to my mind) much prettier than the Paul Smith pea coat which doesn’t look very classy with it’s too obvious buttons and bulky shaping.
  • I want to make some cord trousers from the left overs from Gus’s pants. If I wear them with the green jumper we will look like twins. Ha ha. I don’t have a beard (well just the odd, stray hair!)
  • I would like a comfortable dress. This Burda dress is very pretty with its pleated asymmetry. Maybe made from the blue/brown fabric I showed you recently or something a bit lighter. Spring is coming.
  • I want to make a trouser suit, as trailed earlier. I bought the McQueen pattern. And some blue-grey mohair, again ex-Paul Smith. This is a major project, even more exacting than the jacket I made for Gus. I would ideally like to make this in a tailoring class where I can get some help with the fitting and construction (although this jacket uses that same stretch jersey interfacing!).

    Does it all work together? Yes, sort of. There is a blue/brown/red/green theme. Luckily because all my colours work well together (cool palette) I am not too worried. But the plan goes from super casual (the pull up pants) to the formal McQueen designer trouser suit. It’s definitely not a SWAP, but – with no particular time frame – that’s my plan and I hope to stick to it.

Sewing with a Plan 2017 #12 – decision time

Thank you for all giving me your advice on the MANSWAP – where I try to create an 11 piece wardrobe for my son in four months (now two).

I have four out of 11 garments done. If I was pacing myself that should be five and a half by now.

This week I almost completed item four – the Vogue 8988 jacket. I am pretty pleased with it. Gus too. He says he will wear it, which is very pleasing. I have learnt a great deal from this project about fitting and construction. My tailored pockets are passable and improving.

I used some good quality shoulder pads and sleeve roll to make the shoulders look really nice. I lined the sleeves with a decent, firm acetate lining and overall I think the fit is good, especially given the long hard road to get there.

Vogue 8988
Almost complete Vogue 8988 jacket (button-hole and button still to be done)

With just two months to go seven garments is almost one a week. The blue jacket took me at least three weeks just to sew. A second one would be quicker – maybe one and a half weeks if all the planets were aligned. If I had a few spare days leave I could take off time to do this project.

I could include a RTW item (say a shirt) and make a quick T-shirt. So while I think finishing on time would still be technically feasible it would involve too many sacrifices and compromises. I would have the satisfaction of getting the boy’s wardrobe done. And I know I would be really proud of it. I really like what I have made so far, and I am learning a great deal that will help the remaining garments go more quickly. But I think on balance I am going to call it a day in terms of SWAP. I did, briefly, play with the idea of submitting what I have been making for myself, plus a few other items I can knock off fairly fast. But no. I have nothing to prove and I am in this for fun, and for learning. Competition (except against myself) is irrelevant.

So that is the end of the SWAP time-table for me. I think I will make up more clothes for Gus, and I will write them up as I do them, but I want to knit, and read, and make myself a few items. So right now the pressure of a time-table makes little sense.

Over time I will be contributing to Gus’s wardrobe, and Gus (who is helpful, engaging, patient and kind) will be helping me to develop my skills. I really appreciate his willingness to be featured on these pages and you will hear from him again.

By Christmas I plan a more modest wardrobe for my son, as follows.

Gus’s wardrobe

  • A second, tailored jacket (However Gus finds the style of the navy jacket “old-fashioned” which I guess it is – maybe classic).
  • A painted silk bomber jacket (Gus and I are both looking forward to this project)
  • Blue trousers (Brenda’s kind donation)
  • Tailored summer shorts (Gus actually “needs” these)
  • Jeans (I am keen on the learning involved in this project).

The two tailored shirts are “nice to have” but I think I might prefer to just buy them. These cost about £25 from Uniqlo and I know home-made will not be superior. So until I get the shirt-urge maybe I can let myself off for now. However a perfect white shirt is something I do want to make at some point as I think in many ways it is the garment that sorts out the really good constructors from the also rans (that would be me).

Uniqlo men’s Oxford shirt

I don’t feel upset or worried about “giving up”. In fact I would say Gus and I are both relieved.

However I am a little bit disappointed. You see I love SWAP precisely because it is so challenging. Although beginners will find they can use it to organise their sewing it really appeals to what might be called “advanced” seamstresses. People who make their own patterns, fabric and plans. People who enjoy the more challenging “plus difficile” patterns, vintage designers or things like corsets. People who find the whole idea of an 11 piece “me-made” capsule wardrobe a fabulous idea – a little bit like being a proper designer. People who think about it for up to a year before they can get started. It seems to me (apart from one year one outfit which is also appealing for more advanced sewists) we need challenges to stretch and test us rather than just “here is something I ran up in a few hours” (which has its place too). So I am disappointed not to be continuing, but also a bit relieved because I can now do a few other things that I enjoy.

Over the next year – as I make a few more things for Gus, and myself, I shall be silently thinking about SWAP 2018 – to create a plan that is challenging and achievable, and within the rules.

A “business casual” trip to France

posted in: Organisation, Style advice | 13

Every year there is a conference in the South of France for the property industry. Even though I have worked about 26 years in this industry I have never attended the event. It just seemed a little inappropriate to go on what could be seen as a luxury event.

However sometimes business demands that one goes to events like this and I booked to go with my colleague. We plan to fly to Marseilles (with only hand luggage) and then drive, and we are spending three nights in an Airbnb to keep costs down. We have organised a couple of lunches for our local authority partners and there will be many meetings, breakfasts, events, drinks parties, one to one meetings (including one on a yacht), gala dinners, speeches, etc. As you can imagine my mind turned to my wardrobe.

If I was a man this would be an easy-peasy decision. I would travel in a dark suit and take three or four white shirts and a perhaps couple of ties. Maybe include some jeans and a T-shirt for travelling home, plus trainers and shorts so I could run along the beach.

For me it was a lot more challenging as I want business casual but I also want thoroughly professional and convincing.

I thought I would share with you what I have packed as it is an interesting exercise in putting together a capsule wardrobe. I have to admit that this selection is mainly RTW but that is just how it is this time. Most of what I am taking with me could have been hand-made.

Firstly for a short trip I would always choose separates as this gives maximum flexibility. The fabrics include wool, cotton, linen, and jersey.

The clothes are mainly red/deep pink, petrol and beige, but this is not a strict palette. My blue jacket and navy shoes mean I have three shades of blue going on here, plus brown one day for a change. I have to wear some of the tops twice, but because I feel the need to change for the evening they will not be worn for more than about 16 hours. At a push I could launder the tops because we are staying in a flat not an hotel. I have used hotel laundry services before.

The “wildcard” is the pleated, calf length green skirt that I only added at the end as an after thought. I don’t really need it but it gives a little glamour. I will pack some silver jewellery to make a bit more of the outfits, but other than underwear, wash bag, Kindle and phone this is all I will take.

I have chosen clothes which are

Day 1 Travel day 

Get up early to catch a 7am flight, arrive in Marseilles and drive for 2.5 hours to Cannes, straight to lunch. Outfit worn with petrol tights.

Day 1 Evening (white blouse (worn over beige T if cold), calf length full green skirt, navy tights and navy shoes)

Day 2 Day (white shirt, beige culottes, blue jacket, navy tights, navy shoes)

Day 2 Evening (Petrol blue skirt, red top, red tights and shoes)

Day 3 Day (Brown polo neck jersey, beige culottes, brown belt, brown tights, navy shoes)

Day 3 Evening (white shirt with red T over the top, beige culottes, bare legs and red shoes

Day 4 Travel Day (deep pink T shirt, green skirt, petrol tights, blue jacket and blue shoes – or whatever looks cleanest)

Looking professional but also comfortable in another country, when the weather could be very warm or pretty chilly is challenging. I am assuming I will be inside for most events but I will have to walk (quickly) from one event and venue to the other. Having comfortable, flat shoes is must. My evening shoes do have a very slight heel but are comfortable. I will probably take a coat or warm jacket too, but will decide on which one closer to the date depending on the weather forecast. I would be interested in any feedback on my choices or what you would do about a coat/raincoat/warm jacket.

Maybe I just need a nice elegant sweater. Shall I make this one? Heavenly by Ankestrick in DK petrol blue cashmere? If I drop the SWAP I could make it by 14 March. Difficult decision!


Brown and Blue

Jenny the Lilac Cat reacted to the Trump post last week by asking

The entertaining GQ clip suggests ‘brown and blue is a winning combination’. As my fashion guru do you agree?

I am with GQ on this. “Brown” and “Blue” are of course a wide range of shades and hues. GC was specifically proposing a fairly deep brown tie with a navy men’s suit. And here is a photograph of my daughter’s wedding. Shane chose a brown tie to wear with his smart navy suit and I thought it looked terrific. Absolutely spot on.

So what are the rules on wearing brown and blue together?

Let’s consider the two colours. Blue, a primary, is the cool colour. All the cool colours have blue in them. Brown on the other hand is not in the rainbow as it is not a pure colour. It is made up of a primary, plus the opposite (on the colour wheel) secondary colour. For example red (a primary) and green a secondary and red’s opposite or complementary colour) blue and orange , or yellow and purple. Effectively this means it is made from the three primaries coming together – red, yellow and blue. Brown therefore is a colour that can be warm or cool. Warm if it has lots of yellow in it, cool if the blue is stronger. Think of the sort of browns that are ochre and mustardy – these are the warm browns and the colour we probably think of when we think of brown – tan leather, donkey brown or tobacco . Orangey browns are also fairly warm – the gingers for example.  The blue browns can look more like taupe – a little smoky given the addition of lots of blue – in their light incarnation these are the lovely, neutral stone colours. Then there is dark brown, almost black. This is a cool colour.

So which browns pair well with which blues, and for whom?

For someone with warm colouring the yellowy browns are a great basic, especially if your hair is light brown, with a yellowish or reddish tone. The yellowy browns are set off very nicely with the warmer blues (teal, petrol and blues with a bit of yellow in them).

If you have cool colouring then blue is great basic in all its incarnations. Use a cool brown, like Shane’s tie above. Wear dark brown shoes with a navy suit. Or a brown Alpaca hand knit with a navy T and dark jeans.

Cyrene front view

If you have deep brown hair and blue eyes and a clear pale complexion you may have bright colouring, for you the bright blues look good with brighter browns – the cool versions. This is the colouring that really rocks the bright navy dress with tan accessories.

Muted people really can work these two colours together, especially if both of them have a greyish undertone. Lovely grey-blue with taupe – perfect.

Light colouring is set off well by lighter shades – all the pale blues, stones and light creamy browns.

To my mind deep brown and deep navy are the perfect combination for someone with deep colouring, ideally set off with white. Shane has deep-cool colouring and looks great in a dark navy suit with a white shirt and dark brown rather than black accessories. So much fresher and more interesting. With deep colouring two or more deep shades can look really nice together, eg maroon and navy, black and brown, forest green and deepest brown.

Finally brown and navy can both play the role of neutrals – they don’t shout “colour” at us. This means we tend not to tire of them. They look elegant and classy. Most neutrals look well together. Also I want to say there is no rule about about any colour not being suitable for pairing with another one. If you follow the rule that colours stick to others in their “set”, as above, they will always look harmonious together.

I have some nice fabrics that contain both brown and blue. I look forward to making these up at some point!

And here am I (cool-bright-light) in light navy, cool brown and white. This colour blocked circle dress made a virtue of the fact that each piece was huge and had to be cut from sections. I put two of my favourite colours together, offset by white.

Circle Dress by Fabrickated
Draped Circle dress

So in response to Jenny L I agree with GQ on this – blue and brown can be a winning combination.

MANSWAP #11 – the suprising construction techniques of the Vogue 8988

When I was taught the rudiments of traditional tailoring at college we were told that this was quite different from “soft tailoring”. I am not sure this word is still used much to describe the difference between proper tailoring and the quicker, easier methods of jacket construction which owe a certain amount to industrial methods.

Traditional tailoring

  • Use of duck, canvas, horse hair and other types of interfacing to create the shape of the garment
  • Mainly hand stitched using a variety of specialist stitches
  • The use of pad-stitching to create the roll of the collar and the break of the lapel
  • Collar construction is complex, uses steam, bias cut and pad stitching to mould and create 3-D shapes
  • Collar, stand and fall are uniquely constructed and created to provide a great fit and a lively appearance
  • Hand-stitched button holes
  • Traditional approaches – methods similar to those adopted centuries ago

Soft tailoring

  • Fusible interfacings
  • Collar and facings stitched together by machine and usually with one pass
  • Lined, but usually machine stitched and “bagged out”
  • Very little hand stitching, if any
  • Basic method is derived from factory production techniques

Up until now I had never made a soft tailored item. Many of the vintage patterns I have made I have used traditional tailoring techniques – pad-stitching, hand sewn linings etc.  Vogue patterns are usually based on soft tailoring approaches, although there are some patterns that provide what they call “couture” techniques. Some times there are two options – a more involved approach and a quicker version.

The pattern I used for Gus’s jacket is soft tailoring. This is not an approach I have tried before so I had lots of learn.

V 8988 Front

Fusible, stretch, jersey interfacing

This was the most surprising ingredient. I had to order it specially from Amazon. The instructions included insist this product should not be used on non-stretch fabrics. It worked quite well in fact and was a bit of a revelation. I would say this product stabilises the fabric rather than creates shape and structure. The jacket is really very soft. The interfacing is used on the front and back facings, the collar and the pocket flaps, and at the hem lines. It is very quick as it sticks on with a hot iron and I am not complaining, but it is very different to tailoring.

Unlined jacket

I usually line everything – jackets, coats, skirts, dresses. Usually not trousers but that is because I have tended to use cotton fabrics for trousers. But anything in wool I would line. So I was pretty suprised that this jacket is not lined, apart from the sleeves. I bound the CB seam with some home made bias binding but otherwise the design is such that most of it is enclosed, French seamed (yes – I was suprised too!)

Mitred cuffs

This was a great fun technique.

No pad stitching on the collar or rever

What can I say – big disappointment, but it seems to work OK under the circumstances.

Four pockets

I must have done a few jetted, or welt, or flap pockets in the past, but I had to learn again when I made Gus’s trousers (the double welt pocket). This time I had to do a couple of welt pockets with flaps, a slanted flap and an inside double welt pocket. That was such a challenging piece of work that made up for all the time saving with the stretch interfacing. One of the pockets I did four times! I made so many silly mistakes. Mainly because the kids were around and making a racket and I lost my concentration. Anyway the experience was positive, they look sort of OK and I am much more relaxed about doing these tailored pocket types.

Also I need to make a few alterations at this stage. There is too much width across the back at the underarm. I will put the sleeve in again, taking a little out of the back and the sleeve. Otherwise the fit is not too bad. I am going to take a little out of the back – a little a CB and a little bit more at the sleeve from the pitch point to the underarm seam.

V 8988 Back

In the meantime I have been looking at my button collection, which has recently grown.

I have been buying second hand leather buttons whenever I see them as they are such a great classic button that looks nice on a jacket. I have put them on a few of my own jackets. I like the old ones with a well worn look. My friend Bridget brought me some as a present the other day when they came round for dinner (and two Vogue knitting books). I love the way people in the sewing community do this – it is so kind and always a thrill. I think I will use the dark brown ones. What do you think?







Trouser suits

I am not one to follow trends. I am not breathless about what is shown at London Fashion Week, or the latest looks from Philip Lim or Victoria Beckham. I don’t have a subscription to Vogue and much of my interest in clothes is informed by my interest in either politics or the world of work. But I do keep my eye on trends and fashion which I find endlessly fascinating for what they tell us, as well as for the inspiration they provide. My all time favourite blog is from Anne of Pretty Grievances , especially her weekly Wearable Wednesday features. Where of course she features the totally unwearable and sends up the latest ridiculous fashions with the most hilarious, knowing, irreverent commentary. Long may she continue (and I hope she brings out a book of it all one day).

However over the last few weeks I have been noticing one trend which I have found both interesting and inspirational. The return of the pant suit. I feel the designers (like a few of the TV series writers) had been assuming a Lady President would be in charge of free world by now. In their mind (a few months ago) they were designing for female power even if the election results were unexpected.

I have been looking at some of the designs on show at New York fashion week in particular and noticed a few trends that may be of interest to those of us who make our own clothes.

Colourful Pant Suits

Of course Mrs Clinton has made the colourful pant suit her own, and finally it has moved from parody to mainstream. Personally I like wearing colourful trousers which I regularly twin with a sober shirt-type blouse or a navy or grey jacket. I think this looks fresher than dark trousers with a colourful jacket, but that can work well too. Of course the cat-walk models usually pair a pant suit with a push up bra, but I wouldn’t do that. Especially if you have the habit of taking off the jacket as the meeting room warms up.

I am really attracted to the delicious red pant suit at Altazurra – the lovely wide lapels, elegant princess line, the interesting sleeves and maybe even the shortish trousers. But the thing I like the best is the belt, or rather the ribbon, tied across the waist making the suit very feminine and modern.


A second Clintonesque offering is the pink suit. I have picked this one, from Phillip Lim, as it demonstrates the wider look that is catching on. Pleated trousers! I tried a pair of these (from M&S last year) and actually found them wearable and quite attractive. The key, I think, is to use the belt to pull them in at the top and to wear a close fitting blouse like the model here. You have to leave the jacket open, otherwise you might look like you are wearing a clown suit. These trousers are worn long, skimming the floor, and high (above the waist) to create as long a leg as possible.

Philip Lim

Belted jackets

Here is another version of the belted, tailored jacket. The whole suit is voluminous with long, long sleeves, with interesting button detailing, and long, long pants. So the wide belt makes it really work effectively. I also really like the navy shirt with cravat.

Michael Kors


“Loud” fabrics

Some of the pant suits on display were made in what my father used to refer to as “loud” – Menswear fabrics with an obvious weave, a large or colourful check or shiny fabrics. I think these are very hard to wear as they usually make the wearer look much bigger. I am finding the wider lapels very fresh and interesting with wide but still natural shoulders. Although this model is probably very slim (US s0) and usually tall she looks like a s14 in this double-breasted, plaid suit. Having said that I really like the masculine styling and in a plain colour I think it is a wearable outfit.

Acceptable work wear

The remaining suits are really wearable, and office appropriate, in my view. They are just nicely made, conservative but stylish suits that would look up to the minute and smart for a senior politician, manager or business woman. Maybe the styling is a bit odd, but I think any of these suits would be very suitable as well as comfortable and versatile. Would you wear any of them? I like the Jason Wu best myself.

Victoria Beckham
Ralph Lauren New York Womenswear Fall Winter 17 New York February 201
Jason Wu
Altuzarra New York Womenswear FW17 New York February 2017

Since working hard on a men’s suit jacket I feel I could actually make myself a nice trouser suit. Having had a look around at Burda and Vogue there is nothing current to match any of these looks. The best, to my mind, are vintage patterns. Have a look at McQueen’s Vogue Paris Original 2467, and 1970s Yves Saint Laurent Vogue Paris Original 1143 – Stephanie’s favourite.

Any other suggestions?

Time Management

posted in: Organisation | 34

I hesitate to write this post, but a few people have encouraged me to have a go. They seem to believe I get a lot done in a day and want to know the “secret”. Of course they are being kind and flattering me as being a bit of an expert on this topic, which of course I am not. I just have the overwhelming feeling that there are so many things I want to achieve today, this week, this year, and before I die. This is a bit motivator for me.  A long list, and a feeling that time is not infinite. A sense that although I know sleep is important I would really like to avoid it and do something more interesting.

I will outline a few things that help me, and welcome other suggestions, and disagreements and critiques.

I would hate anyone to think I am recommending any approaches or ways to live. Having a lively blog can make it seem that I am very busy as I write down things that other people don’t even mention. For example keeping a list of the books I have read; many people read as much or more but don’t feel the need to show off about it!

There is a whole movement about the value of “wasting time”, being open to spontaneous things and being available to others. I can absolutely appreciate this and I do recognise the quality that comes from doing things slowly, deliberately, generously and sensuously. Some of my dearest friends are like this. I don’t feel in anyway superior about being constantly busy and slightly on edge – I suspect these things are partly inborn and partly trained from a very young age. I come from a family that was never, ever, ever late.

By the way, my kids laugh out loud whenever anyone makes the “when the hell do you sleep?” remark. They know the real reason for me having more time than others is because Nick does all the housework and cooking.

  • Cut down on the housework and cooking

My husband enjoys cooking. He makes dinner every day, and a packed lunch. He irons my shirts and organises my train tickets. I know that I am very fortunate and this could be the key difference between me and the next woman. I rarely cook – when I am alone I eat toast.  In an average day I probably only spend around 10-15 minutes on housework.

  • Cut out most shopping and avoid buying stuff

We get food delivered, but I pick up fresh things on my way home from work. This takes no more than 10 mins. I use the internet for shopping for things like books, knitting needles and interfacing. If I am in town, between meetings, I often drop into high street shops to look at the clothes. I like to examine the trends briefly, but I hardly ever try on or buy. Once or twice a year, usually in the sales,  I might get something. I spend less than 10 minutes a day shopping, including browsing.

  • Be “Mindful” about time

I suppose it helps if you can decide what you want to achieve with your time, and what you struggle to get done.  I cut down the things I don’t like doing, the things that don’t make me happy or “add value” to my life. Some things seem designed to gobble up your time. For example I can’t face watching an advert on the TV, and I get annoyed by unsolicited emails and the rubbish that is printed in free newspapers. So I avoid them deliberately. Other things are necessary but not inherently interesting or enjoyable – getting from A to B or having a shower. I rarely spend more than three minutes getting washed. Obviously other people have different likes and dislikes. If you identify what you want to do more of you may have to do less of something else. Decide consciously what you want to avoid or limit.

  • Have an awareness of time

I have a “Protestant work ethic” and can find it hard to sit still – I walk fast. In fact I jog along rather than arrive five minutes late, and I squeeze onto a tube train even if it is packed. I usually know what time it is and am conscious of the end time of my activities – is this normal? Probably not!  I rarely lose track of time, even when I am really enjoying a book, making something or socialising. I feel time is precious and I try not to waste it – I can cut it fine and use every last minute. Hence the jogging. The big downside of this approach to life is that you can fail to notice or appreciate beauty, or small but important things, especially when you need to give people time. This is a negative personal failing and I regret it. I have a marked preference for doing something practical to help someone rather than listening to their problems. Sorry. This is not very endearing. My children are my sternest critics, and everything they say about me being insensitive is true.

  • Cut out most TV and keep social media under control

I don’t mind not watching TV as I consider much of it worthless. I have virtually no idea what is happening in popular culture. I never switch on TV, radio or music, because I think better in silence (I know others find the opposite).  On the other hand I probably spend too much time on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Nick and I often watch one programme together at night eg a Netflix series for about 45 mins, during which I also knit. So with the social media and the TV I am probably looking at a screen of some sort for two hours a day.

  • Develop non-negotiable routines

My most important routines are

  1. 5am get up
  2. 5-6am do something productive eg sewing
  3. 6.15 – 8am travel to gym and do an exercise class (eg ballet, yoga, weights, aerobics, swimming)
  4. 8.30am get to work and start working
  5.  12.30  eat lunch, read book, surf internet, knit, do personal shopping
  6. 5pm leave work promptly (if no evening commitment)
  7. 6pm eat dinner
  8. 7-9pm do something productive
  9. 9pm get PJS on, brush teeth, get into bed. Watch TV or read book and go to sleep by 10pm (or even 9.30pm)

I spend about 7 or 8 hours asleep, an hour exercising, and no more than one hour eating.

  • Try to avoid things that exhaust you

Stress, depression, and worrying can use up energy and make you feel that you haven’t got the time to do what you want to do. Some of these things cannot be avoided and all of us are sometimes tired or upset. If this is the case I try to take it easy for a while and focus on getting more fresh air – walking near nature is a good one for me. And socialising – I enjoy spending time with friends and family and especially people who make me laugh. Although I enjoy a nice meal and glass of wine occasionally I mainly avoid rich food, sugar and alcohol as they can make me feel sleepy and demotivated.

  • Do something new or stimulating

It is important not to get too stuck with a routine, so I like to do things that are different and get me out of my comfort zone – the theatre, exhibitions, holidays, trying something new. Even when I am tired on a Thursday night I find my evening class reviving. Those three hours wizz past!

Jewellery Making class
  • Use down time, travel time and do two things at once

This is such a cliché but (like all women) I can do two things at once. I read the Financial Times on the bus and my novel on my way home. I do a few exercises (mainly not visible) when I am waiting in a queue. I have an electric toothbrush and do something useful during the two minutes. Much of my social media is done when I am travelling, waiting, on the loo (yes, that is embarrassing, but true) and sometimes I look at my phone when I am in a boring meeting (even more embarrassing), and regularly when walking along.

  • Do it now

This is another cheat really. If I need to do something I find it much quicker – usually – to just do it when I think of it, rather than trying to remember to do it later. If I have lots to do I make a list, but this is rarely necessary. Sometimes doing it now includes asking someone else to do it – certainly within the family we do this quite a lot.

I feel rather exposed explaining how I manage my time. I would be very interested to know how it is for you. Thank you for your interest and what can we learn from different approaches?




MANSWAP #10 – Facing reality

I don’t know why I didn’t make a plan (the clue is in the name “sewing with a PLAN”). I planned all the outfits, the colours and the fabrics. I created a wonderful, imaginary wardrobe for my son Gus. I even suggested that when finished he might like to pack the entire collection in a suitcase and see how it works for a weeks holiday. I was dreaming!

It was only when Stephanie admitted that she may have bitten off more than she can chew with her stunning “love affair with Canada” collection that it actually dawned on me, that I have exactly the same problem. I have created a complex and exacting collection with two tailored jackets, a silk bomber jacket, two dress shirts, three pairs of tailored pants and two shirts. And I have just 11 weeks left. That is 8 garments in 11 weeks. What am I like? I have done SWAP before and I know you need to focus on getting the work done, but for some reason I am behaving as if I have all the time in the world.

Of course if I was in a part time job I might be able to do it, but I am more than full time with lots of evening events. And my weekends have changed from being largely at home, in the basement, sewing like a mole, to spending much more time in the country. When I am there I don’t really have the equipment and space sorted yet to do any serious sewing. I have been knitting and reading too – and enjoying that very much.

It’s not just the job. My poor old Mum had a horrible accident a week ago. She is still in hospital, and hopefully on the mend. Of course we had to drop everything and go up there and this has taken time (she lives a long way away). And as well as working evenings I do an evening class (jewellery) and one night staying at my daughters to baby sit most weeks,  so I haven’t got much capacity.

So – will I do the SWAP this year? I have created a plan! If I work hard my SWAP is still achievable. I get two weeks for the jackets but everything else has to be made in a week. I haven’t toiled the shirts yet. And I haven’t toiled the jeans. Toiling is probably out at this stage as I have no leave available and doing a garment in a week requires a tested pattern, or a more simple approach.

Plan for SWAP
Sewing with a Plan – the PLAN

So what are my options?

  1. Try really hard to achieve it all, dedicating most of my time outside work and family to the task
  2. Simplify the plan. I could substitute a fourth pair of trousers for the jeans. This would save testing a new pattern and if I made them in navy they would work with the wardrobe. I don’t suppose Gus would mind at all, although I am interested in the traditional jeans design and was keen to try a button fly. Simplification would almost certainly mean dropping the two shirts and making T shirts or sweat shirts instead. These could be designed and made to work with the outfits. Also there is the option for one shop-bought item.
  3. Forget SWAP and just sew the wardrobe more slowly.

I don’t actually know what I will do at the moment.

I got up early on Tuesday (at 3am – I am an early riser, but this is insomnia!) pressed and evened up my grey herringbone, and laid out the pattern pieces. I was determined at this point to do option 1 – to do my best to complete the SWAP.

It didn’t take long to realise I had a problem. Insufficient fabric for the pattern. I admit I buy what I think I might need (I bought 2m of this fabric to make myself a simple, collarless coat), and I am invariably stingy. When I make for myself I find a way to squeeze most patterns into the cloth. I think I might be able to do something here with the pockets, and there are solutions to too little cloth, but I can’t face it. If I am to proceed I need to buy some new fabric. Sadly, without even looking, I am pretty sure I will have the same issue with the beige linen-silk too.

Not enough fabric for the pattern

I have a supplier (Simply Fabrics, Brixton) that will definitely have some great quality wools that I could substitute. The colours though are what they have in (they buy up lots of ends of rolls from quality companies). I may find light grey and beige, but probably not. I would then be in a situation of having to find fabric from more expensive, traditional retailers which is more time consuming and costly.

I feel thwarted by my own lack of foresight. I could have been toiling during the planning period. I could have checked quantities of cloth at any time. Thinking through the calendar wasn’t that hard – it just needed doing.

I am now two pieces of cloth short of a SWAP without an obvious opportunity to go shopping. I will listen to your advice. I am still pretty keen on Option 1 but I need to be realistic. I like a deadline and find that without one my time drifts and I do other things. I am knitting myself two jumpers, and a pair of trousers. I have some great novels downloaded, thanks to your marvellous suggestions. 

Last week I shortened the green sweater. My sewing brain told me I could cut off the bottom of the jumper and knit a new ribbed section. I wanted to do this anyway as my original rib was too short. I had misunderstood the instructions as being seven rows of rib when it meant 14 rows. So cutting the bottom off and reknitting allowed me to create a nice deep rib that works better with the turtle neck and the ribs on the sleeves. It turned out to be a very straightforward and satisfying project. So that’s gone well.

How to shorten a handknitted sweater
Shortening a sweater (note home made ring!)

Trump’s dress code

posted in: Style advice | 29

Am I alone in feeling this is a still from a 1980s TV programme about power in the city?There is something rather old-fashioned about this photograph, don’t you think?

There are two groups of men. The older generation – proud of their hair – wearing baggy sack suits that pool at the hem, white shirts and boring ties. They are shaking hands (or perhaps just touching the tips of their fingers) and looking deeply into each others eyes. Everyone else is merely decorative.

To their left it looks like three power couples. The men (Trump juniors) are tall and handsome with good haircuts but with a bland samey look. You could switch their heads around and no-one would be much the wiser.  One has a Modern cut-off shirt collar and brown shoes. One has a pink tie and a daring blue shirt, but his trousers are at least two inches too long. The final one is ultra-conservative. But these look like city boys

The women all have long, blondish long hair and legs, slim figures and sport body-con dresses – probably “designer” dresses. Maybe even Ivanka dresses. They are glossy and feminine with high heels in light colours to make their legs look longer. They were knee-length or longer skirts and show off their shapely arms. These girls work out. They are smiling and enthusiastic – cheer leaders, hostesses, beauty pageant queens. The king and queen are Ivanka and Jared who are actually the centre of the picture. Maybe this is all about positioning them for the future (if previous US elections are anything to go by).

There are two ladies on the left – maybe posed to the side so the photograph can be cropped at a later date. These two are a bit down market perhaps. Short, a little bit dumpy and frumpy. They look like a somewhat different species. They wear more conservative black court shoes, that match their basically black, high street outfits in jersey fabrics. One has managed a cream, stretch lace top, over a skirt that is just too short for the occasion, I would say. The other women (far left) is Karen Pence, the wife of the Vice President. Bunny suggested I might critique her look, but to be honest Bunny there is not a lot to say. She is Mrs Ordinary America and she dresses like she shops local. Her inauguration dress was made by the same dress-maker who made her wedding dress. I guess ten out ten for loyalty, and ten out of ten for doing what she wants. Is the dress stylish, fashionable, flattering, appropriate? How about the belt? No.

Karen and Mike Pence

Have you noticed this eye-thing that the wives are forced to adopt? I think Nancy Reagan started it. Now all the women have to model the most intense listening skills, showing the audience that if they are rapt after hundreds of campaign trail meetings, then everyone else will be advised to listen up.

In the line up above Melania is missing, as she was for much of the campaign. And one can’t help but notice she hasn’t really worked out how to dress yet. Despite having a sensational figure and looking really great in her underwear/anything that reveals cleavage the outfits she has chosen since she became the first lady are uncomfortable and unbearably prissy. Compared to Michelle who seemed happy in her skin this first lady seems stiff, uncomfortable and acting out a role. To me the long pale blue gloves and the fussy, bulky neckline were all about negating who she is. Her cleavage is completely enclosed, double wrapped and hopefully forgotten. Maybe Melania will grow into the role and find a way of becoming her “own woman” as she says she is (but we find hard to believe). Obama always looked like he was in awe of his wife and I am certain he really loved her. I am not sure Melania feels loved. Or maybe a little facial enhancement has made her smiles look rigid.

Inauguration dress (Ralph Lauren)

Anyway this week a rumour went round that Trump was insisting that those who work in the White House should smarten up their act. The women should dress like women. And the men needed to look sharp, getting a quality tie round their necks. Maybe this is true, or maybe not. One has no idea what is fact and what is fiction these days. But the rumour sparked a lovely Twitter campaign where women – soldiers, surgeons, high court judges, astronauts – posted photos of themselves dressed for work. This is what dressing “like a woman” looks like. But the modern idea that women at work should wear tight, sexy (but not “cheap”) dresses, barely-there hosiery and high heels makes me want to scream. I do meet women who dress like this in the City, but gradually things are changing as more and more women resist the ridiculous stereotype, dressing for comfort, style and to please themselves.

As for Donald himself I can’t help but agree with GQ’s analysis of how he should get his own house in order first.

I think dress codes have had their day. Do you?


Josef Frank Pattterns-Furniture-Painting at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London

I had been looking forward to this exhibition since it was announced last year. Despite it being rather an expensive venue (£7, compared to many other London museums being free) the Fashion and Textile Museum is an important source of inspiration and one that really does its best for the sewing, knitting and textile community in London.

I love the Josef Frank fabrics which have been stocked in Liberty for as long as I can remember. The colourful organic style of the fabrics appealed to both me and Nick (and it is not always easy to get agreement on style with one’s partner) and when we first decorated our flat in neutral shades with cherry wood furniture Nick wanted some colour and pattern. So we bought some off cuts at Liberty and I made cushion covers. We also bought a couple of trays that are very handy and nice. And when we had a chance to go to Stockholm for a conference we went to the shop and bought some more small pieces – the fabric is not cheap but it is really something special.

In addition, to put the top hat on it for me, Frank as an architect was responsible for some very interesting and enlightened designs for public and social housing. Here is a good article that gives great context. 

So the exhibition was something of a pilgrimage for us, as we were keen to know more.

The exhibition celebrates the work of Austrian architect Josef Frank (1885-1967), exhibiting his paintings alongside his fabulous textile designs.

Frank watercolor painting

There were also some interesting drawings of “fantasy houses” he designed for his friends. These were pretty interesting but impossible to photograph. He fled Austria due to the rise of the Nazis in 1933 and settled in Stockholm with his Swedish wife Anna. He is widely regarded as Sweden’s most influential designer. I think the designs have a clear Scandinavian feel – especially in terms of the scale of the pattern, the use of organic forms and the colour palette. But they seem to have another element – a challenging, modern take on how to live I think. He designed homes that were functional, but also comfortable and personalised. Not for him the beige, ultra tidy lifestyle, but rather one where you feel at home. Throughout the exhibition one is invited to sit on chairs covered by his fabrics.

Here are some of the fabrics – and their stories. The earliest print featured in the exhibition was rather delicate and protected with glass. You can see how the leaves pattern was applied with the first block and then the dark red branches were printed on top.

This next one from 1925-30  (which I have at home) is called Mirakel (miracle). This is strongly influenced by William Morris, although it is also very much modernised. The black background and the use of complementary colours really makes it a vibrant print.


Joseph Franks

The next one Mille Fleurs, which is considerably later (1940) loses the joined-up-ness of the earlier prints. I like it slightly less as it looks more like a text-book rather than a fantasy garden. In fact Joseph Frank did use reference books – richly illustrated scientific books, maps and historical tomes – to help create a sense of verisimilitude. Mille Fleurs means “thousands of flowers” in French, and the name and idea come from medieval French tapestries where floral backgrounds leant a romantic and colourful context to the embroidery. I found this an interesting print as it is created from relatively small wood blocks that make up a very large pattern.

Joseph Frank Mille Fleurs
Mille Fleurs

Finally US Tree (1943-45). Frank moved to New York during the Second World War with his American wife and this design was influenced by the very different types of tree he encountered in the States. I don’t know about you but I often find the trees abroad very different to what I am used to – especially in Australia, but also in America. While I think we expect people to speak and look different, and the architecture and towns to looks different,  It is very shocking to encounter tree species that you could not have imagined before. You grow up with trees and somehow consider then immutable and eternal (silly, I know). Nevertheless Frank had the same experience and used field manuals to discover more about US trees. In this design he created a tree with 20 different fruits, leaves and flowers, sharing the branches. Maybe America’s diversity was being celebrated here. .




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