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

Elizabeth Zimmerman

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

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

Knitting Without Tears, 1971, p44

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

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

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

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

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

Three DK yarns makes one bulky
Swatching the pinks

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

Colour mart Merino wool in pink
Sleeveless Poloneck in merino wool

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

The grey one has had a makeover too.

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

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

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

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

Fabrickated grey cashmere top
Re Knitted grey sleeveless top

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

PS Karen Templer has published her Sloper pattern.




Three year Blog Anniversary

posted in: Organisation | 61

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

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

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

Fabrickated blogaversery
Ice-cream Third Blogaversary celebration

So how has it been for me?

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

Will I cope with the technology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless you! Thank you! Love you!

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

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

What about content?

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

How much should I share?

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

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

My future plans

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some suggestions for people with light colouring

posted in: Colour Analysis | 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a pleated skirt – what could be simpler?

PI mentioned I would make a garment a month using my William Gee goodies. Just to get me back into the swing of things I elected to make a “simple” pleated skirt. The “pattern” was just a set of measurements from one of the Sew magazines and I pledged to follow the instructions.

I love a pleated skirt. I like how it doesn’t involve cutting and wasting fabric. I like how the pattern of your fabric is unaffected. I love how you need just one measurement – the waist as the hips are accommodated via the pleating. A pleated skirt can be mini, knee length or even floor length. If you have full hips and a small waist this is a great look as the eye keeps being pulled to the waist which looks tiny compared to the voluminous skirt.

Heat transfer printing maxi skirt
Hand printed box pleated maxi skirt (and printed T)

All pleats are nice, but I especially like the box pleat. I remember making my first box pleated skirt with my Mum when I was about 14. I seem to remember it was a light blue wool. She showed me how to just pleat up a width of fabric to my waist measurements (about 22″ at the time), with one side seam and a zip, and a waist band. Therefore I have known how to make a pleated skirt for over 40 years. And I knew it didn’t need a pattern. Second only to the gathered skirt, and the elasticated waist skirt, this skirt is absolutely great for beginners and people who don’t have an enormous pattern collection.

So I thought I would follow a pattern just for the fun of it. Pattern, interfacing, zip and bias binding kindly supplied by William Gee.

WmGee Project #1 The pleated skirt
WmGee Project #1 The pleated skirt

So I read the instructions and did the measurements, and then realised that we would be cutting a front that was 85 cms wide, and two backs at 44 cms each.

The fabric is 140cms across, and I had just over 1m.

I was a bit irritated at this point.

I always do my best to use the fabric as economically as possible, using either one full width, or two widths, rather than chopping it all up to fit the “pattern that wasn’t a pattern”. Generally the length I make is partly dependent on the material I have. Unlike my usual pleated skirt that has one seam and basically wraps around the body, this skirt had two side seams, a CB seam, pockets and no waist band. I thought I could combine the pattern’s approach with my own desire to use up all the fabric. But, and this is where I did something rather stupid – I decided to use two full widths of cloth. So now instead of 85 cms I had (allowing for seam allowances) about 135cms to pleat. And that was the problem.

I put in the CF pleat, the pockets, the side pleats and the pleats either side of the zip, as the pattern required. I then did my best to take up as much fabric as I could with box pleats at regular intervals. But even so the waist was too big so I had to pleat the box pleats with little tucks (small knife pleats). Of course I could have taken it all out and started again. I probably should have but I kept thinking – I would prefer a fuller skirt anyway, and I have never had a problem doing this without instructions. So why, when provided with instructions, do I become a complete nincompoop and incompetent?

The reason was that under pressure (I was trying to get it finished before Charlotte and Lee arrived for lunch) I couldn’t do the maths. Basically the problem is if you divide 135 by 3 (to take up the pleats) it gives 44 cms whereas my half waist is only 34cms. I think I really should give this Sew magazine skirt pattern a second chance and actually make it up as instructed.

Despite the hassle it is a pretty skirt. I love the pockets. The folded over waist band is comfortable but I prefer the belted-in feel, so I have added a belt. The textile is lovely and the colours are soft and pretty – a light muted palette that looks fairly zingy with a white shirt, but I think it would look good with a darker top too. Maybe for Me Made May 2017?

This is the first time I have been on the blog with a dog. The dog is Ruby Tuesday and she belongs to my step daughter Charlotte.  Ruby was very good to sit still for the photograph.

My version of the chunky sleeveless jumper

For those that are following the saga, you may remember that I have been tempted by a promise by avid blogger Karen Templer that she would offer a free pattern for a sleeveless sweater on 1 May. My impatience led me to measure up a chunky wooly I had at home and work out, roughly, how to knit something like it. To a woman you told me to have a go and “just do it”. This post covers my experiment.

Here I am in my new Cotswold work room, wearing the jumper and taking a selfie with Nick in his dungarees (he has now completed one cupboard and has started the second).

Kate’s sloper

Now the sweater is not perfect; nothing I ever make is, ha ha ha! This jumper is not yet washed or blocked; the shoulders are not sewn well, but I managed to work out how to do mattress stitch on the side seams. Hooray. (It is like ladder stitch, done from the right side, ensuring the seam looks nearly invisible). I am pretty happy with it. There is a thread at the back that needs trimming off, and my chunky knitting is not the best in the world, but overall I really like this jumper. I made a few adjustments as I went along.

The pattern

So the pattern. I couldn’t wait for Karen. So I measured an existing jumper and then I used the gauge to work out how many stitches I would need. I produced a scruffy piece of paper with the numbers on and launched into it. I wasn’t sure about how to shape the armholes or neck (before I knitted the collar), but I winged it. I didn’t stick exactly to my original plan, but I did more or less. I made the back just a little different from the front.

Here is my original pattern, compared to the pattern I actually knitted. I hadn’t thought about the back and front being different, but the back has one less stitch decreased for the armhole and I made it longer by the length of the ribbing (2″).

For the neck line I put 13 stitches on a stitch holder for the front and 15 for the back, having a shoulder width of 13 stitches which worked well. I only knitted two rows for the neck opening, casting off on the third row. You can see how it looks like a big square. I picked up eight stitches along both sides of the neck edges, giving 44 stitches in all. I then knitted these in ribbing. I was keen on a lower neck than Karen has on hers as I don’t like too much height on my roll necks. I was hoping for something more like a 1960s stand away, sort of Nehru height collar. I don’t think high polo/turtle necks suit me. On my original pattern I was thinking just seven rows. But on its own the yarn was too floppy. I carried on knitting until I had 18 rows and tried it on. I found that by turning it inside I had about the look I wanted and considered stitching it down so it was double thickness and fairly firm. But in the end I left it with a turn down to the outside. I think it looks OK, and summery rather than a kind of armless ski-wear look.

The yarn

I bought small pieces of left over cashmere yarn (a yarn set) in harmonious colours that I love, and I made two balls of wool. One with the darker greys, and a second one with a light grey, a very light grey and a soft, light muted turquoise. Close up the colours are rather lovely and shimmery, although from a distance the jumper just looks grey, with a darker shadow across the bottom. I hadn’t realised that you could mix up three DK yarns to create a thick “super chunky” yarn, but what a great idea for using up similar but slightly different colours.

Mixing three light grey yarns

It’s minimalist, very simple, soft, and I think very wearable. I think the structural look is enhanced by the toning grey yarns. I may have a second go at this once Karen produces her #SloperKAL and pattern. Or maybe, just for fun, I could try to turn this into a knitting in the round experiment.

The outcome

Kate’s sloper, side view

Some suggestions for people with deep colouring


Last week I did a colour consultation for Giorgia, who has deep brown eyes and lovely dark brown hair. As soon as I had draped her in deeper shades something wonderful happened – we both knew that these colours were absolutely right for her. The deepest green, strong purple, reds with lots of body, midnight blue and dark brown all looked terrific and just united themselves with her eyes, hair and skin and slightly purple-pink lips. These saturated colours just made her eyes sparkle, her hair shine and the darkish circles under her eyes more or less disappeared. We knew immediately that we had found the colour set that worked best for her.

Giorgia’s secondary colour direction is cool so she will have lots of fun putting more deep, cooler colours into her wardrobe. Giorgia (who I met at Morley and did some cling film wrapping with)  told me that she avoided black as she found it boring (it can be), and that she loves colour, which is always very exciting. If you can wear black but like colour I think very dark brown and midnight blue are great substitutes for your best neutrals (eg shoes, little black dresses, coats etc).  I suggested she always should wear a deeper colour, and not just black shoes, even if she selects lighter or medium toned outfits. It was the depth of colour near her face that was so elegant and harmonious.

A few days later a friend came to see me at work. She walked in wearing black and navy, with silver accessories. I know that when I suggested navy and brown one or two people thought it was a strange combination. But for years I thought navy and black was a bit dodgy myself. Susmita wore the two colours together beautifully.

The thing is the colours that have the same qualities always work together well. All muted shades, all warm colours, all the lighter shades etc – they just like being together.

I showed Giorgia this by putting all the deeper greens together on her and then adding the strong yellow. The deep purples looked great with the strong rust colours, the saturated magenta and the deepest reds. The feeling of strength that these shades elicit harmonise so well with the deep shades in Giorgia’s and Susmita’s natural colouring. Of course if deeps suit you then you can also wear white and pastels to good effect, but they will always look best contrasted with deeper colours. Say a white dress with dark brown shoes and belt rather than pale pink, for example. These women with blacks and dark browns in their hair and eyes can wear stronger contrasts than people with muted or lighter colouring. Here is Giorgia in a black and white (strong contrast) dress with black tights and boots and bright red lipstick – a great look.

Giorgia in her “Snow Leopard” dress

Would you wear black with navy?


More thinking on the super chunky Sloper jumper

posted in: knitting | 26

I can’t wait. I get excited. If I really want to make something I just get started. Promising to produce a pattern in a month – Karen Templer – is just too much of a tease for me. I know I can wait, but I don’t want to. So I have had a go at doing it myself.

Firstly I persevered with the tension square. According to Karen the gauge  is 10 sts and 15 rows over 4″ Although she suggests 8mm needles, my 7mm gave a too small square, so I went for 10mm. This worked pretty well to give the required gauge. Aren’t the peachy, shiny needles nice?

Tension square, chunky
Tension square made with 10mm needles

Next I had a closer look at a jumper I already own that looks fairly chunky.

I measured the jumper, laid flat and found it was 13″ across the upper chest, 18″ across the bust, and 20″ long (of which 2″ are the waist line ribbing), underarm to hem is 15″, with a neck point to shoulder point of 3″ The collar is 2.5″ depth, sleeves are 5″ long.

So, question, can I make the pattern myself?

On Karen’s blog there are some photographs of the jumper being knitted.

Karen Templer Fringe Association Sloper V 1
Karen Templer Fringe Association Sloper V 1

I have no idea if I am doing this right but I made a pattern by just using the measurements given. Does this look right to you? The measurements are in inches and the proposed number of stitches [created by multiplying the inches by number of stitches (red) or rows (green)] are in brackets. Does one need to include any seam allowances with knitting? What about shaping for the neck? It looks like Karen has got the neckline taking up about a third of the width and it dips down maybe three or four rows?

Sloper pattern
Sloper pattern?

I guess I could wait until 1 May for the pattern, but maybe I should just knit up my provisional pattern. Knitting it up will be quick (but not as quick as unravelling it, if it doesn’t work out).

I notice Karen has only four stitches at the underarm, whereas I have six; and ten across the shoulder where I have five. And my armhole depth is one-quarter of the depth, whereas Karen’s is closer to half. However my pattern is a bit different, especially with regards to the collar. I am also thinking I might add a little length to the back, possibly another inch or two.

So I  am thinking knit it up – I can still do her pattern when it comes out, using my version as an experiment.  By the way I am sure the internet is full of advice on how to create knitting patterns but this pattern has been created by logic alone! I always prefer to work things out for myself first before looking up the answer. If this doesn’t work I shall search for the correct way.

How to choose a wedding dress

posted in: Designing, Style advice | 15

One of my all time favourite blogs is Fit for a Queen, where the intrepid Mrs Mole takes a range of off the peg, designer, heirloom and unusual wedding dresses and alters them to fit her variously shaped clients. She always succeeds, in my opinion, in making the brides look pretty good, despite the sometimes less than promising raw material.

This is quite a skill, especially given the attitude of some who are approaching the big day. Frayed nerves, overstretched budgets, miserable diets, family pressures and there being just too much to do can make it hard to make sensible decisions. My two sons and daughter in law are in Australia at the moment celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth and Clive.

Gus, Bianca and George (alterations by me!)

Earlier this year we attended the lovely wedding of Maria and Adam (below) and we are looking forward to Kate and George’s wedding later this summer. I therefore want to offer a little advice on wedding dresses if you, or a loved one, is getting hitched this year.

Maria and Adam
Maria and Adam


The wedding market is worth $72bn in the US alone. A survey by Brides magazine shows UK couples spend around £30,000 on their wedding. I believe if you say you want something for a wedding – from venue to menu – the price goes up. Myself,  I would not spend more than about £200 on a dress. For my first wedding I made a suit in a good quality crepe wool; for my second I got a nice dress from a high street shop for £55.  It is an important day, everyone will be looking at you and you want to look your best. But unless you are a celebrity you do not need to spend £1000s a dress you will wear once.  Keep some perspective – you have so many other more important things to spend your money on. If you making your own dress you can buy beautiful fabrics within this budget.

If you are buying a dress rather than making it (and just ask Anne who made sensational  bridal outfits for her three daughters how much time, work and stress is involved), there are some very nice dresses available on the high street. Have a look at Top Shop, Whistles, ASOS, and H&M.


Once you have a budget you will want to think about the type of look you want. The modern preference is moving away from Disney princess approach to a sleeker, paired down look that is also more wearable for less formal settings such as barns, beaches and country house hotels. But while fashion and preference is important working with your body shape is important too. My main piece of advice is choose a style of dress that is similar to the dress shapes you already like and wear, in terms of silhouette. The three types of figure – the hourglass, the straight  shape and the slightly shaped figures all have an ideal type of full length dress.

A wedding dress will generally make the bride look feminine and desirable – the length and close fit of the dress will make her look taller and slimmer. The light colour will reflect light onto the face and make her look younger and fresher (of course most brides are already young and fresh!). However some people do get it wrong. Princess Diana wore a style of dress that would have suited a curved figure (and it was two sizes too big for her). The second image of Diana in a column dress shows a much more flattering choice.

All images from Davids Bridal. 

Shaped, curvy figure

Look for a dress with a fitted bodice, a defined waistline and a relatively full skirt. If you are full in the bust avoid high neck styles –  – a lower cut is more flattering.  The classic ball gown is probably your best look. You can wear softer, drapey fabrics, and curved hems.


A fit and flare dress will work well, as will princess seams. Emphasis on the waistline is good but make it smooth and uncluttered. A fitted bodice with a high waist can create a nice, balanced look.

Straight figure

If you are slim make the most of your shape with a column style dress. Look at dresses that are slim through the hips and thighs, perhaps “cupping” the butt. A halter neck, deep V or mandarin collar, will probably look good. If you have a straight figure but carry more weight try the dropped waist look, with fullness coming out from your relatively slim hip line can be very pretty.  Stiffer silks and other fabrics will look better than the softer, draped fabrics.



White is the colour that will make you look larger than usual – wider and taller – especially if you dress in a full length style. This is the whole point of wearing white – you will stand out and appear to fill the space, larger than life. A very full skirt, or a long train, will again make you bigger than the congregation and cement your position as the centre of attention. The dark suit of the groom will tend to enhance the contrast and again help you to stand out. If you want to look taller and slimmer high heels and a creative headdress will add length.

The exact shade of white you choose is related to your colouring. People with cool, bright or deep colouring will look best in the brightest whites – often easier to find in synthetics rather than natural silks. People with warmer complexions will look lovely in the natural, warmer, creamy whites. And if you have muted colouring the very slightly greyed off white will look best – also very light greys, pinks and blues may appeal.

Shiny white fabrics will make you look even larger, as will lace and other textures. Consider avoiding them if you want to look slimmer.



Winning a prize from William Gee

I frequently fill in forms that promise an opportunity to win a holiday, or something to do with sewing. But I do so knowingly – the company’s main aim is to promote their product and collect email addresses. I was on the mailing list of William Gee because I had bought some pocketing material. It was good quality and a fair price and it came quickly in the mail. But I find it hard to get enthused about white cotton fabric that never sees the light of day. It is stable. It is closely woven and thick enough to withstand wear and tear. It is not so thick that it shows. So William Gee is a firm I would go to for a dependable but not awfully exciting product. That is fine. When I saw that they were offering a chance to win a parcel of various haberdashery items I thought “why not?” and answered a couple of simple questions. So did 700 other people. Which is quite interesting if you ever want to run a quiz, prize draw or give away.

And, on this occasion, much to my surprise,  I won!

Marketeers will tell you that giving a free sample to try – be it a skin cream or a soya yogurt – is the best way to get people to buy. We rarely purchase something we have never tried before, without a trial or personal recommendation. But haberdashery? Is there any difference between suppliers? Bias binding, a zip and sewing threads are pretty standard, and you do get what you pay for.

So what was my prize?

I will show you what I won in a moment. Everything was packed in a one of three boxes and this gave me a real sense of going through someone else’s selection of trimmings. Like getting your grandma’s bits and bobs and finding some real gems in there. The selection was nicely put together and the quantities were generous, but some of the items were neither “all the rage” as Beatie put it, nor truly vintage.

However all sewing enthusiasts love and need interfacing, bias binding, ribbon, rick rack, separating zips, jeans zips, buttons, braid, little bows, elastic, lining, interfacing – what an exciting gift. And one I was thrilled to get.

There were some great items in the boxes and I opened and examined the contents with a great deal of interest, excitement and gratitude. So here is what I plan to do. Once a month I will make something entirely from the box (except for the fabric – which I have more than enough of already!)  As I seem to have gone off the boil a bit with my sewing I am hoping this haberdashery haul will stimulate my sewing creativity once more (alongside Ruth’s charming gift perhaps?)

My first project is to create a pleated skirt using a pattern in Sew magazine. The red and white sample is made up in a John Kaldor linen (£16 p/m). I decided to use my piece of John Kaldor linen (£8 p/m from Simply Fabrics), adding the interfacing, white bias binding and zip from William Gee. The pattern calls for a 9″ invisible zip but I will do a hand-picked one on this occasion (and will shorten the zip too). It looks like a simple job so maybe something I can accomplish over the Easter weekend. I might even have time to work on my coat.

WmGee Project #1 The pleated skirt
WmGee Project #1 The pleated skirt


Me Made May 2017 (and summer plans)

I will be doing Me Made May 2017. Will you?

This is a longstanding initiative by Zoe, or So Zo, to try to encourage sewists to wear the items we make, and to show (on Instagram or blogs) how the hand made items are combined in our wardrobe. I did it last year for the first time and found it quite illuminating. Of course there are lots of people who have entirely “me made” wardrobes, and newer sewists who only have a few summer dresses, but everyone can join in with their own criteria.

This year, as I have knitted a few jumpers since May 2016, I want to try wearing a hand knitted item everyday, usually combined with a me-made item from my sewn wardrobe. It may be a bit warm (as we often have a few nice days in May – in fact we have already had a few blooming amazing days during April. It was 24.5C yesterday) so this is only an aspiration. But as I often leave the house before the sun is up I can include a jumper instead of a jacket I think.

I have knitted seven items now – two for Gus – but five for me. And I will have done two more by 30 April. The mauve and brown Holsten (being constructed above) and I hope the Sloper top, previously mentioned, although the pattern is not out until 1 May. I feel sure it will be a quick project. My existing hand-knitted tops are mainly warm, except for the red and white striped T shirt which, so far, has been very little worn. Probably because of our cool climate. The other four have been worn a great deal – most days in fact.

Five hand knitted tops

What about the Fara Raglan you might ask? This is a retro looking, Fair Isle type jersey, with lots of different colours in it. The problem is the end is in sight – I am doing the ribbing at the hem (it is a top down top), and after that only have the short sleeves to complete. But it looks too small as the yarn has pulled the fabric tight, and I was nearly finished before I figured out how to manage the tension and swap colours using both hands to knit with. So I am thinking of just throwing it out (or maybe unravelling it, but the yarn was not expensive and doing colour work means it is chopped into small pieces). However I am very keen to do some colour work. A dear friend has noticed that I have “modern minimalist tastes” in knitting patterns, which I guess is true – there is a remarkable amount of stocking stitch there (and for Gus too). I must admit that I really like the top down, yoked, raglan sleeved approach Ankestrick uses (and the Fara), as I not yet competent at seaming.

My three remaining sewing projects might be finished by May, but one of them is a coat! I may make up the nice Burda dress, but my fancy has been captured by a dress I saw in a designer shop. I wouldn’t want to copy this exactly, but I love the prints together. And I love pink, yellow and blue together. I may produce some silk samples for a patchwork or multi-print dress. I have been wanting to create something like this for ages. Maybe this summer, especially if I get an invitation to a special event of some sort.

ATTICO silk tea dress
ATTICO silk tea dress

(I know – it looks like she is wearing an electronic tag).

I am not sure how wearing hand made clothes and knits will work out – but it is an interesting Me Made May 2017 challenge for me.

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