2017 Resolutions and Plans

posted in: knitting, Organisation, SWAP | 21

I got a bit bored of people saying 2016 was an exceptionally bad year. A few rock stars died and the people voted for some unpalatable choices. But come on – compared to years gone past we didn’t have so much to worry about. In the Western World at least we have eliminated much disease, absolute poverty and have created a wobbly support system for those most in need. Life expectancy and child health is overall improving annually and most of us have lots of choice. In my pocket I have a device that extends my brain power so I can know and do so much more than before. Not everyone is so lucky and progress is hard. But in my optimistic world view nothing is impossible. Humanity is amazing and can, with a will, conquer most things with time, commitment, investment and technology.

Sorry. Rant over.

I am happy with my lot.

I realise I have many advantages and benefits, and I am very privileged. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fact that we have been able to buy a second home this year. As someone who works in homelessness and housing I had to consider this carefully. We have worked hard to make and save the money and I cashed in  my pension and sold up my valuables. We plan to holidays here rather than fly off to fancy places. We will share our good fortune with family and friends.

My other huge advantages are in having an amazing husband, Mum, children, step children and grandchildren; and having a job I love and believe to be important.

What are my resolutions?

  • Carry on knitting, learn more techniques and produce better quality garments
  • Do the MANSWAP for Gus, really getting to know more about making menswear
  • Run a 10K race for charity (from a standing start – I don’t really like running)
  • Read a book a week
  • Spend more time in the country, learning about our new area
  • Be kinder and more understanding; listen more
  • Finally do a jewellery class, with Nick

And my own sewing plans for the year?

I still think I have too many clothes. But I feel this year, once we have readjusted to a new life style (town and work in the week; country and leisure at weekends) I may need to make some wardrobe changes too.  I feel like a big chuck out, really paring things down. In the country I have been wearing Uniqlo leggings and long sleeved Ts. I have several colours of top and they look nice layered; my bottoms are all navy. These items are warm, snug, lightweight and flattering. And reasonably priced. I was not suprised to read this : “The collection is a firm Vogue favourite, thanks to innovative technology that retains heat in winter months despite coming in the softest, thinnest of layers to allow for extra stretch and mobility.” (Vogue magazine). M&S also now make these tops and leggings too.

In the country (at this cold time of year) I wear my “base-layer” constantly as:

  1. nightwear (we had no heating or hot water for a while, so this was necessary)
  2. house-wear (when we are at home in the day it is now so warm and comfortable that i just wear these items in the house with bare feet (underfloor heating) or slippers
  3. underwear (when I go out on walks the base layer forms a warm shield against the cold – serving as vest and long johns).  Over the top I put jeans or trousers, a hand knit, a couple of down jackets and my leather coat/waterproof, with wellies or walking boots.

However I have a few ideas percolating.

  • As I sew the MANSWAP I may make up some of the items for myself too –
    • this includes a pair of cords
    • a bomber jacket
    • and maybe a white shirt
    • a pair of jeans
  • Inspired by making silk for Brenda I want to make a summer dress with some hand painted silk (this has been a plan for a very long time)
  • I would like a long, evening cloak in green velvet
  • Some of the items I previously discussed for a casual wardrobe
  • Something for work – a nice jacket, dress or skirt, a suit would be ideal – perhaps using one of my vintage couture patterns
  • A few presents, for example little purses which I saw on Jenny @lilaccat’s instagram
  • Non-clothes items eg cushions and chair covers for the new house.

As you can see, nothing pressing and maybe I won’t sew much for myself this year. The SWAP, the soft furnishings, plus knitting will keep me busy until May.

I realise these plans may disappoint the purist. I hope you will stay with me even if you love pictures of ladieswear straight off the sewing machine!

MANSWAP #6 The brown corduroy trousers

posted in: SWAP, WIP (work in progress) | 25

With the Sewing with a Plan it is generally Planning first, then after Christmas Sewing starts. Sometimes one or two garments can be made ahead. I “planned” to start these trousers early as I had had great success with the toile. But moving into our new holiday home, and then entertaining most of the family over Christmas, meant I was doing more laundry and cooking than sewing. Never mind.

The pattern

For these trousers I used the Make My Pattern Slimline Pants.

As I had toiled it already I was fairly confident of the pattern. It is based on Winifred Aldrich, but digitised and made to your individual measurements (if you are a man). I was very pleased with the design, which is just a very classic pair of mens’ trousers. Gus likes a relatively high waist and was pleased with the way these come up a fair way at the front. The trousers fit well across the front and back – not too much ease, but certainly not an overly “trendy” look. The width of the legs is pretty classic too. We didn’t look at the fuller pants pattern – I think these might appeal to an older man, but not for Gus.

The materials

I was keen to get Gus to try wearing brown. Although he has cool colouring he also suits the more muted shades. So while brown is generally a warmer colour (as it has a fair amount of yellow in it) I was looking for more of a grey-brown (taupe) which is a particularly nice shade. So I searched quite hard for the right shade of corduroy. I wanted a thicker whale, and to avoid the very bright/cheaper looking shades. I found some fabric I really liked, on sale from My Fabrics (now sold out in brown). The piece I got had a few small faults in it, but I got 3m for about £12 so I was pleased with it. As I hadn’t made up the pattern before I figured I could sacrifice these pants if things did not go according to plan.

For lining the pockets etc I recycled the terrible trousers I made with my cling film pattern. I used an iron-on interfacing for the waistband and pockets.

The construction

Before I started I examined carefully a pair of cords my husband wears.  Here are a few close up of the details.


Many aspects of the construction of these trousers were new to me, as I had never made mens’ trousers before. For example

  • split waist band
  • double welt back pockets
  • front pocket construction differs from my experience
  • use of lining material on the back of the waist band
  • very unusual fly construction

So I was learning lots on my first pair. I was tempted to go and do my own thing, especially with the fly, but in the end I just trusted the pattern and the very extensive written documentation. There are videos too if you need more help. Joost de Cock has tried very hard to make the trouser making experience one that a beginner can tackle. I loved that about the whole package. However it is worth mentioning, politely, that there are a few errors in the labeling, instructions and descriptions. Not too bad but there is room for confusion if you are actually a beginner. I wondered why Joost had not called for pattern testers and got a range of people to go through the pattern with a fine tooth comb. I imagine lots would have volunteered (me for example!)

As I am making these trousers at least twice more for the SWAP I am going to persevere.

Everything worked out pretty well, although I am not happy with the fly. I didn’t like the method and the finish is not very good – it looks amature. I commented on this on Instagram, and the dear designer responded. Joost De Cock was open to looking at other approaches so I recommended my old favourite as it creates a great finish every time. However it needs a grown on fly facing which this pattern doesn’t have. And it doesn’t include a fly shield.

Second fitting

I find making my own clothes that I have a good feel for whether an item will fit or not as I have an internal map of my own body in my head. Making for Gus has seemed like my map is way out – Gus is much bigger than I am. So everything I have made so far seems huge. Because Gus is not always available – whereas I am when I am sewing for myself – I pressed on with the construction without fitting at every stage. I relied on the fact that the toile was a good fit.

However once they were sewn up to the waist band, but not finished, I got Gus to try them on. Unfortunately they were a little bit tight. I was very disappointed and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. I had sewn the seam allowances at 1.5cm as required yet they needed some ease across the body (the legs were fine). What had happened?

I think the main reason was that the toile was made in calico, and the corduroy is much chunkier. Also once I had got pockets and pocket bags in I guess that took up another centimetre or two.

So I thought I would undo all the seams and use a 1cm seam allowance instead. Then I had a brain wave.

The trousers are constructed with an extra wedge at the CB seam to allow for a little bit of weight gain. I put this in, mainly for the experience. The fact they were too snug gave me the ideal excuse to use the extra fabric to let the pants out. I will try this and report back!



Guest blog by Lucy Glynn on Fashion Cities Africa

Not very long ago Grace of Good Mom Bad Mom (aren’t we all?) wrote to ask if I had been to see the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition in Brighton, and asked for a review. As Brighton is a little way from London I asked my dear friend Lucy (who lives there) if she would go and see it, and do a guest post for us. And she kindly agreed. Over to you Lucy.

Lucy (left) with Deon

Fashion Cities Africa is a small exhibition shown in Brighton Museum, set within the Royal Pavilion grounds. Heralded as ‘”the first major UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion”, it was always going to be difficult for a relatively small display to live up to its billing.

The exhibition covers fashion design and culture in Casablanca in Morocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya, and Johannesburg in South Africa. The geographical range shows the diversity of a vast continent, but it was less clear what unites these locations and the fashion that they each produce. There was a theme of contrasting the incivility of modern African cities, with the gloss of fashion, and an implication that this juxtaposition sets the continent’s fashion scenes apart from those in the West. The designers in some of these cities arguably have to work harder and be more creative than their western contemporaries, without the same infrastructure in place to give them a headstart.

The exhibits range in style from a minority of pieces which may immediately be identifiable as African, to a larger array of clothing which is less obviously related to its origins. Thula Sindi sums up what the exhibition shows us about many of the African designers included when he tells us “I am interested in something that’s contemporary, that has a global appeal; with the African touch, but that’s not a cliché”. Maria McCloy is one featured designer whose designs incorporate traditional African dress as a political statement to redress years where “anything African and traditional is either not seen as sexy and sophisticated, or relegated to special traditional occasions”.

The most interesting aspects of the exhibition for me where were my own assumptions were tested. There was a fascinating spotlight on how the aid efforts of the 1980s that followed campaign such as Live Aid, have mutated into a fashion scene of their own. The Nairobi-based 2ManySiblings designers are examples of a thriving recycled fashion scene which explicitly plays on the ideas of charity and waste, by upcycling the large amounts of clothing in circulation that has been donated by the benevolent first world.

Another revelation was that ‘wax prints’ (also known as ‘fancy prints’ or ‘ankara’), the brightly coloured cloths that provide the backdrop to the exhibition’s branding, and form a lot of what I think of when I envisage African fashion, are a subject of some controversy. |These prints actually originate from European manufacturers and were first sold in Indonesia before being exported to West Africa. I am a big fan of these unashamedly brash fabrics, and was initially disappointed that the exhibition was centred on far more subtle designs. Where the wax prints do appear, they serve to gently question my preconceptions, informing me of an ongoing debate about cultural appropriation, authenticity and condescension.

Elsewhere there are comments on multiculturalism and diversity in the modern Africa, such as the work of the Sartists who politicize fashion by referencing colonial-era dress in their designs, and in garments incorporating techniques from different cultures, such as Said Mahrouf’s Moroccan embroidery on Indian silk with complex ‘western’ draping techniques.

As I said at the outset, this is not a large exhibition, and Some of the items of clothing displayed were indistinguishable from simple western fashion. I would have liked to have seen more of the native textiles that many of the designers referred to in the exhibit labels. However, in explaining his objection to wax prints, Sunny Dolat, a stylist from Kenya finds that they “parallel the ‘Africa is a country’ narrative. Despite the diversity of African fashion, it is garments that use wax print that get the most publicity”. For me, this statement summarises the success of this exhibition, which taught me more of what African fashion has to offer than is usually shown to British audiences.

2016 Reflections

posted in: Inspiration | 41

A number of people have been sharing their hits and misses from 2016 (me included). The braver ones go on to share their reflections on the past year, and their plans for the new. I really enjoy reading these posts as it hard to get perspective on the trails and tribulations, joys and pleasures, without a little distance.


Firstly a huge, and heartfelt thank you every one who has read the blog, commented on my posts, offered advice and help (especially knitting help, but also tailoring and fitting help).

My community

As a child I understood community as being family-based (especially cousins) plus my local neighbourhood. As I aged my community was work based, plus people I knew through my political interests. Now my community is as much a virtual one as any other. This doesn’t diminish my real life relationships – in fact I meet up with bloggers and sewing people whenever I get the chance. But the rich and important relationships I have made through sewing are of a fundamentally different quality to some of the relationships one has in the course of everyday life. The supportive understanding, with just a tiny bit of helpful challenge, has enriched my life in so many ways. In a sentence we “get” each other, don’t we? – how we struggle, learn, share, encourage those with less skill and win praise for our achievements.

I follow lots of blogs and comment whenever I can, and I appreciate more than I can say all those who stop by to say something here. I like to think I am hosting a virtual party! I wish I could do this in real life more often but I do it when I can – food, drink, a warm welcome – but even virtually I hope you will discuss, debate and share. The comments are the best part of this blog and I know many of you enjoy reading what others think. Dozens read but never comment, which is also fine. But if you do find time to say hello from time to time, please do. It means so much.

A new focus

I wrote an impassioned post about having too many clothes, and I am still feeling the truth of that. I really enjoy making clothes but I have a huge wardrobe that suits my lifestyle, and it would probably last me for the rest of my life.

As a result I have decided to do a SWAP (11 coordinated garments) for my son Gus this year. One of my main motivations for sewing is the learning that it involves, so learning more about men’s fitting and construction is a positive aspect of my apparently “selfless sewing”.

This year we did some doll-making workshops, and hat making, and indigo dying, as well as pattern cutting. I absolutely loved learning new techniques and extending my sewing skills (mainly hand sewing with the dolls and hats).

This year my friend Bukky had a little girl. She looks alot like my Ted doll!

I learnt how to crochet a hat in the doll making class, and it brought back to me that I did actually know how to do it but I had forgotten. And then a chance conversation with a woman I see at the bus stop led me to consider her advice that crochet is a lot easier on public transport than knitting. So perhaps something new to try in 2016?

But knitting has proved to be the most interesting new interest for me, so thank you to everyone who helped me overcome my fear of actually making a garment. The dressmaking background has definitely helped, but mainly I had to overcome my fear of failure. As I watched my two year old grandson learn to talk this year I realised that everything worth doing takes considerable practise, and you make lots of mistakes along the way. Kit would repeat himself many times until we understood what he meant. And many skills just require perseverance. With the knitting I now believe I can make just about anything I would like to wear. So I expect 2017 may have more knitwear in it. I like knitting and love wearing soft, cuddly knitted jerseys.

Family, aging and death

Growing older is a privilege. My dear old Mum is now in her late 80s and cannot walk anymore. She needs help to get about, but her mind, hearing and sight are good. We go up North once a month and spend a day or two with her. She still goes out to the shops, loves being taken to restaurants and enjoys a full life, but restricted mobility creates dependence which is not easy. Let’s try to stay active, engaged and as helpful to others as we can, but when we need help let’s just accept it gladly.

Mum and Me

My dear ex-husband John died this year, never experiencing the joy of retirement and slowing down a little. He hated the dependency that his illness brought with it, and fought to the bitter end to avoid the reality of his condition. And to protect us all from his pain, fears and loss of control. His death was a giant blow for our family and I feel like I lost a leg. He was such an important person for my kids even though they are all over 25. Neither I nor Nick nor Jo can possibly supply the unique style of love, care and support he offered the children. But we will try.

John Davies
John, with Ted

I am also thinking of my own aging. I am not intending to quit my job for another five or six years. But with Nick retired and our holiday/weekend home complete, I am changing gear. I was never a one for staying up late, going to clubs, or listening to rock music. But I love meeting new people, making friends and having conversations. This year we will be spending more time in the country, breathing fresh air and just enjoying nature. I expect our centre of gravity will begin to shift a little in the coming months. Being a grandparent continues to be my greatest joy, and I find spending time with the little ones to be a real pleasure and such fun.

I will share my 2017 sewing and knitting plans, and some of my life plans, in a future post. Thank you again for reading and responding.


MANSWAP #5 – The actual Plan

posted in: SWAP | 24

I have taken a little break recently, but that has given me plenty of time to firm up my plans for Gus’s SWAP. This involves a wardrobe of 11 items that I have to complete by the end of April this year.

I announced my original garment plan in a previous post. 

I have since fine tuned it. The colours have come out a wrong. They just all look the same – dirty, brownish/greyish shades. Really they are varied and rather subtle.You will see them again when I make the outfits up.

Essentially we have white, grey, grey-blue, yellowy beige and dark green. The bomber jacket will be made with painted silk. I have illustrated this with the piece I am creating for Brenda but I intend to get Gus to paint his own fabric. The bomber jacket will be the stand out piece in this collection. Menswear is a bit more boring than womenswear – most men just wear blue, black, grey and white. This introduces a little bit of colour but is big on neutrals. For the bomber jacket I want to use all the colours in the collection so that the jacket goes with all the bottoms – funnily enough Brenda’s colours are quite similar, but I think we will have yellow rather than red and pink.

The shirts are white at the moment but I haven’t bought the fabric so we can go a little off piste with the shirts in due course. Although I have put down the Make My Pattern shirt I haven’t toiled it, and may need another brand. I am actually starting to sweat a little in case those damn traps trip me up again. If I struggle too much I will revert to T or sweat shirts, or even do more knitting. Knitting as opposed to fitting? I wonder.

Anyway this is the plan. I will leave Gus to react to it.

  1. Long sleeved Shirt
  2. Short sleeved Shirt (adapt shirt pattern by shortening the sleeves)
  3. High waisted jeans
  4. Corduroys
  5. Smart shorts (adapt trouser pattern by shortening the legs)
  6. Work  trousers
  7. Summer Tailored jacket
  8. Winter Tailored jacket
  9. Bomber jacket
  10. Alpaca “Lore” jumper (already completed)
  11. Polo neck jumper

Eleven garments, seven patterns. The SWAP rules allow 8 patterns so I can use one more if my plans change.

The fabrics seem to photograph better if we put them all together – denim from stash (selvedge denim and shirt fabrics not purchased yet. Silk for bomber will be created at the end).

MANSWAP fabric
The MANSWAP fabric collection

That’s it for now.

I have completed one sweater, with one pair of brown corduroy pants and the green polo neck in the works. I hope to have at least one of these done by next week.

Secret #Stitchingsanta

posted in: Uncategorized | 11

The idea behind the Secret Stitching Santa, organised by the talented and dedicated Sheila of SewChet, is that a variety of sewing and knitting bloggers make or buy presents for others. I did it last year and made a life long friend – Megan of Pigeon Wishes who used to live round the corner from me. Last year my Secret Santa present went to Lancashire to Navy Blue Threads. I was delighted when she made a lovely jacket from some of the fabric I sent her, but mortified when I realised that the book I had covered with hand printed fabric for her was actually last years diary. She forgave me, thankfully.

While I love this kind of stuff I am horribly late with getting organised for Christmas so felt overwhelmed by the very special gifts that my Secret StitchingSanta Caren sent to me.

She writes of her own excitement when her gift arrived and I felt very similar.

Like most people I had not received an actual surprise present for years – since I was a kid really. At Christmas I often use it as an excuse I tend to buy a few nice things for myself around Christmas time (this year I bought a coffee coloured bra, some Jo Malone perfume and a bag for my knitting needles) but discourage others from giving me gifts as I have more than enough of everything I want. I encourage “consumable” presents from family (and they didn’t disappoint – especially Charlotte’s home-made biscuits). My daughter gave me waterproof over trousers in purple – an excellent choice, and my daughter in law Bianca gave me a very useful toiletries bag – perfect for my swimming kit – shampoo and moisturiser.

But the present from a stranger was the envy of all the family, especially the grandchildren who thought the large, nicely-wrapped parcel was bound to be for them. “No it’s for me!” Caren lives in Lancashire, and here I was just a few miles away opening her present in the same county – the parcel had been down and up the motorway before I came to open it.  It was pretty exciting, once the kids had finished ripping open their own presents, to have the a tiny tot wobble over clutching “Grannie’s present”.

They asked if they could open it. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Nor could I! Inside the box there were a dozen smaller presents, many wrapped individually. So many colours and details. It really was an astonishing gift.

I really couldn’t believe that someone could have taken so much time, trouble, thought and kindness to put this gift box together (even the box itself is a proper storage box that I will certainly reuse). Clearly a person with so many different craft skills – a handmade card; Mr and Mrs Penguin; a personalised, embroidered, crazy patchwork stocking; two gorgeous vintage button trees with bells; some absolutely unique wine holders with special red and green Christmas hats. Including the wine! And chocolate in the stocking! Plus some nice sewing materials – patchwork pieces in coordinating browns, adhesive fabric (another great idea I had never seen before), embroidery threads, and super useful crane scissors. And finally from Tiger – the nice Danish shop – special Christmas tea, a metal tea maker and a pack of coverable buttons. And a Christmas cracker! Caren must have blown the budget as well as spending hours on the making.

Caren Taylor Christmas Crafts
Caren’s Christmas Selection

What can I say? My whole family were flabbergasted. So much thought, time and generosity – and so many things I will enjoy for months to come. I have already decided to make little purses with the patchwork fabrics. The wine bottle ladies are such fun and once we have drunk the wine I want to put them on to other bottles, so that they can keep on making me smile. The trees, and the penguins, will be packed away with my Christmas decorations and will feature on next years tree, but I will keep the scissors in the stocking in my sewing drawer where I will use them most days.

Caren is not a dressmaker, and doesn’t come from a family of arty, crafty types, but after attending a patchwork demo about seven years ago she began to experiment with making

“cute and quirky hand-made items. I was sewing by hand for over a year before I ventured onto a sewing machine, then there was no stopping me! I have made many lap quilts…and four full sized double bed sized quilts, all quilted by hand”.

Despite not having done art or sewing since school Caren taught herself to draw and paint as well and she sells many of her art works through her Etsy shop. 

Finally I wanted to show you our Christmas dolls, and their recipients, although I was careful to refer to them as “little guys” with the lads. All three grandchildren named the dolls after themselves, appreciated and cuddled them. Making and giving creates a wonderful feeling. Thank you Caren, thank you Sheila and thank you to my lovely family who made Christmas so very special this year.


How to make your own dressmaking fabric by painting on silk

Happy New Year – I am back! We were away for Christmas and New Year, without access to the internet.

What do you do when you can’t log in? It’s a challenge, I can tell you!

This is what I did

  • read some books
  • enjoyed our new home in the Cotswolds
  • spent time with the family
  • went to the gym/pool, often with the family
  • did some knitting
  • and painted a piece of silk for Brenda, which I will write about later.

Anyway since I showed a picture of what I made for Brenda on Instagram a few people asked how I did it, including Stitched Up Sam. I often use hot wax but this is not essential, and it involves a piece of equipment that not everyone has (or dangerously heating candles on the stove – not recommended). Below I explain how to do it with the minimum of special equipment.

I am absolutely not an expert but I have done a term of silk painting at the Mary Ward Centre, and I have made lots of painted silk linings. Two years ago one of my SWAP dresses was made from painted silk. If you search painting on silk images you will see lots of professional looking work and art. My way is the quick and dirty way.

As you can see from the photos above I am far from a proficient painter. I just choose some colours I like and sort of daub them on. I was thinking of peonies when I made my dress fabric, although Clarinda Kaleidoscope asked me if they were peaches. I didn’t even plan out the flowers on this one – you can see how they are sort of randomly spaced. I was very aware with the bodice that I didn’t want blossoms on my bosoms, so I avoided that – but the design is not well-balanced.

I have improved a bit since this effort and made a nice, small piece of painted silk on another occasion. I intended to use this for my SWAP last year, but that plan fell by the wayside.


You will need

  1. A piece of natural 100 per cent silk. Any silk will do – I have used habotai, crepe, satin and stretch silk with elastane. White or natural cream is the best colour but you could use a pastel shade if you want. Get at least one metre. You can cut out or draw out your pattern pieces first if you want to get the design to work perfectly (eg pattern matching or motif placement). But I will assume you are just painting the whole thing.
  2. Some silk paints eg Setasilk, Javana silk paints. You can make every colour from Red, Blue and Yellow. But I find black is useful for darkening. To make colours lighter don’t add white – just dilute them more. You can get these paints on-line or (in the UK) Cass Art shops stock them.
    Setasilk silk paints
  3. At least one decent quality paint brush. I have two – a fat one and a thin one
  4. A paint mixing tray or just some little pots
  5. Some water
  6. Something to cover the table and an apron. It can get a bit messy, but the paint will wash off floors etc if you get to it quickly. When it dries it goes sort of rubbery, but can be rubbed off.

The process

  1. You could work the design out first, but I can’t be bothered. I just choose the colours I like and then go on instinct. If you choose the colours you like to wear you are not likely to go wrong. You can always make a small handkerchief or headscarf practice first.
  2. You can mark your cloth with pins, washable fabric pens or tacking. This makes it easier to plan the pattern placement. I find getting the midline in (where you would normally fold the fabric for cutting on the fold) and then regular spaces is helpful. With Brenda’s fabric I just kept folding it in half to get the markings in a sensible place – that way there was no waste
  3. Some fabric may need washing first. I don’t normally bother.
  4. I start by putting one motif in a specific place eg midline at the markings. Then add a similar or different motif to its left or right or whatever to build up a balanced pattern.
  5. Start with the lighter colours, and let them dry before adding the next colour. Or not. If the colours are wet then they bleed into each other, which is a nice effect. Another thing you can do is wet the fabric (with a paintbrush) and paint onto this. This creates a sort of water-colour effect which is very pretty.
  6. If you are doing this on a table under lights it will dry fast so by the time you get to the end it will be dry enough for the next colour
  7. The proper way to use the paints is to dilute them. But I am lazy and I like strong colours so I often use it from the pot. This also ensures consistency of colour.
  8. If you mix colour you will get a more muted look. You can create greys and browns but if you want exactly the same shade throughout the piece you have mix it up in advance.
  9. When painting say purple, I start with blue with a dash of pink or red, paint with this colour, then add more red so the purple gets redder. This means I have several purples creating a nice, varied effect.
  10. That’s it. Just keep going until you like what you have created. I like to leave some white in a design, but you don’t have to. If you don’t like the effect you just keep adding more colour. For example with Brenda’s i messed around a lot with the brown/turquoise section to create a sort of malachite look.
  11. Once you are happy with the design you need to fix your paint by ironing with a hot iron, according to the instructions. I think it take maybe ten seconds? I just keep going over it for a while and it seems to fix just fine.

I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any good tips, or if you have a go.

A Handmade (Minimalist) Christmas

I am not very good at Christmas. I don’t like the pressure. I don’t like the unrealistic expectations. I don’t like the excess.

On the other hand I do love my family, and I really enjoy spending time with them. When you have the delight of four generations together that is something to celebrate. I love the smell of a real tree, I enjoy Christmas pudding, mince pies and Stollen. A few extra days off work is a treat, the many generous gestures made at this time of year, and pure delight of children are to be enjoyed. But the need to make an extra effort can be too much for me, and others.

This year I have just about managed to send cards to my board members and team, with a bottle of wine or cava. I have dispatched a gift to my #sewingsanta giftee. And I got a parcel back – from Bolton! How exciting.

I have arranged Amazon vouchers for the children to they can get what they want. For my mother we got a DVD about Queen Victoria, which she accidentally also asked my cousin David to buy for her. So we can watch it twice over Christmas. The grandchildren already have, we feel, as do their parents, more than enough toys. So many it can be burden to look after them all and they can take over your house. So Nick and I decided to make presents for our three grandchildren, but to keep them at Rainshore (our home in the country) so they can be played with there.  Maybe in a different environment we can contrast a different style of life, and play, to contrast with the instant hit from brightly coloured, plastic commercial toys that they also enjoy.

This year we made dolls. I have already described the process. Nick came to a second workshop with me so we now have three dolls. The “Ted” and “Maia” dolls sit alongside dolls our fellow workshop participants made. As it was my second workshop I had time to do the hair and make a pair of dungarees. I cut these out freehand – not perfect but they will probably do.

Since then I made outfits for the “Kit “doll, and the “Maia” too – although Nick still has to finish her hair before Christmas. He is using up some left overs so Maia will have three different shades in her hair, and a long fringe. Ted’s hair is dark brown (and includes alpaca and cotton); Kit’s is a lot lighter (as IRL) and made from untwisted, organic wool. One of the most fun things about making these dolls is to create the hair from yarn. Mopsa admitted she has what she called “a yarn habit”. Some of her own dolls have amazing hair – soft and lofty thick non-plied yarn including mohair. These yarns seem only to be available in America. Kit’s dungarees match my CC fold skirt, and Maia’s dress matches one I made for Esme.

It was interesting attending a sewing course with my husband. I had originally bought the course for my friend Meddie, but the date wasn’t ideal for her. So Nick took her place. It was actually an amazing thing to do together. While I am more than happy to go to courses with complete strangers (who soon become good friends!), it was fun to go out as a couple. We had a nice lunch on Broadway Market and then had tapas for dinner too. It was a lovely, productive day and I was grateful to Nick for being a good sport and coming with me.

I was suprised how good he  was at sewing. I had no idea he knew how to do it! Mopsa is a great, patient teacher, and with a little guidance Nick produced the most competent work. His doll is delicate and beautiful with green eyes, a sweet coral mouth, blondish-brown hair. And one leg shorter than the other – but we are all a little asymmetrical, aren’t we? But overall I think his proportions are much better to mine. My Ted’s head is probably a bit big.

I also enjoyed working with my 5 year old grandson Ted. He made a very nice special Christmas card, using collage, felt tips, paint and glue. He did lots of writing inside too. And my dear step daughter Charlotte sent home a big bag of chocolate biscotti. Ted, Nick, Kit and I ate them straight away. We couldn’t wait. Below, caught in the act of scoffing the lot.

Going for a home-made Christmas (I absolutely cannot bring myself to buy Christmas tat from shops, ironic or not) Ted and I also made the decorations for the Christmas tree. It was lots of fun and I like his attitude to colour and style.

Hand made christmas decorations
Ted’s Christmas decorations

We used air dried clay and Christmas biscuit cutters. And then painted them with inexpensive acrylic paint. Ted made some of his own shapes too which are even more charming. We hung them on the tree with a few reindeers Nick had made. And then on top of the tree I put the sock monkey I had bought at the Advent Fair. This is lovingly made by Jackie Parsons of Boo Peep Kids. He has silver, removable wings at the back.

Finally we decorated the tree. The tree takes pride of place at Rainshore. Yes it is finished. Sort of. There are quite a few issues that still need fixing but we have lit the fire, slept the night there and we will use the oven very soon. I don’t want to share pictures until it is actually finished, but it is very exciting indeed.

The preparation for Christmas has been a bit stressful but now we should be able to relax a little and enjoy it. We don’t have internet in the new house, and it is very intermittent at my Mum’s. So I am not promising to post over Christmas/New Year.

Hand made chirstmas
Mr Sock Monkey on the top of the tree

“What the hand makes, goes back to the heart”


Silk painting commission

Some months ago I noticed I was getting a fair few comments from Brenda, in Oregon, USA. She appeared to be reading my blog (all 750 or so posts) from start to finish, and commenting on several. I was flabbergasted. Most people treat a blog like a magazine or newspaper, reading the latest posts, but having very little time for the old news. I am like that myself. Even with the blogs I enjoy I rarely go back to the very beginning, although of course I do search or read back as my interest takes me. But I was so touched by her interest, and commitment, that I emailed her directly, and we started “talking”. Mainly about our printing, dyeing, surface decoration experiences. She, for example, has lots of knowledge about eco-printing with leaves and other plant matter, natural printing techniques, and quilting and sewing and knitting. And as we talkied a bit more about ourselves I found her an intriguing and kind person. I followed her on Instagram @bmarksor. So it was a bit of a shock when she wrote to tell me that she had breast cancer, and that she would be off line for a while. I wished her well and hoped for the best.

My internet friend Brenda

Well of course I carried her in my mind for a week or two as I knew she was waiting for detailed results, the prognosis and the treatment plan. Although I have never had cancer myself, like many people, I have been close to lots of people who have. Surgery, chemotherapy, tests, sickness, pain, worry – much of our experience with cancer is negative. So after a week or two I reached out to ask her how she was doing. Thankfully Brenda was happy to talk about what was happening and I appreciated her openness and willingness to share her horrible experiences in a way that made them bearable – for herself, her family and her friends. And she allowed me in, and we have continued to talk about losing her hair, and feeling exhausted, and preparing for surgery, which will take away her breasts.

During this time she has displayed a very strong character, a scientific interest in the treatment and its effects on her body, the social and personal issues associated with her condition. She has a very positive view of life and her future that I find encouraging and inspiring. And in the midst of this she has been focused outwards, and amongst other things has been following my SWAP plan!  She wrote offering me some beautiful fabrics that she had bought to make smart work wear for her job as a lecturer. She is off work at the moment and is probably thinking that even if she goes back to this job she won’t want to dress so “corporate” in future. So she kindly sent me swatches of all her fancy fabrics (about 10 of them) and asked me to take them all, or to select which I would like to receive, as a gift. I was overwhelmed but I offered to pay for the postage as I had a feeling that it would be prohibitive.

In between her treatments Brenda went to the post office and weighed her parcel, and gradually we agreed to take out items that were too expensive to post. Instead I proposed that Brenda, when she has recovered, comes to stay with us in London, or by the lake, in England. I hope that she will do this – it was not an idle offer! In the meantime we agreed I would make her something and she suggested that I paint a piece silk, so that she can make up a special outfit for afterwards. Last week a parcel arrived that included a beautiful piece of blue wool to make trousers for Gus, some high quality natural silk, inspiration pictures and some stones. I will write about the stones, and the blue wool, on another occasion.

Brenda will be a different shape after the operation, and the chemo has diminished her appetite, but Brenda is able to think positively about being cured, and putting some creative energy into making a new wardrobe. In the same way that when she lost her hair she made some lovely hats she plans to make a special dress that will flatter her and make feel good about herself. And I get to help and play a part in that! What an honour. But also, what a responsibility!

My task is to use these pictures as inspiration. The Alabama Chanin stencil designs are, as she notes, “botanical, movement, medium scale, could be beautiful in brush strokes”. I find these images a bit scary – for my attempts at stencils see here. I generally paint flowers (and leaves, but they are a supporting act for me), but the AC seems to be more about stems and leaves. And the patinated copper jewellry (which I love) is also leaf shaped, and the peacock feather motif is elliptical. Again my natural shape when painting is somewhat rounded.

The colour inspiration is also a little bit worrying – I think we are going for green and purple scheme, with brown, blue and turquoise. But also there is something in that first swatch that is talking to me which is the warmer gingery brown/beige and the cherry red. I think these two colour provide a useful bit of contrast, alongside white. Brenda can certainly wear deeper cool colours but I also want to get some lightness into it as it is silk.

I am excited about this commission which will be challenging. I want to create something that Brenda loves and can use to make a gorgeous dress. At the moment she is suggesting I create the bodice and she will create the skirt, but what I am thinking perhaps is to paint say half the length of the fabric, then batik wax the painted areas, and dye the fabric say dark green, or brown or navy, so that there is a nice plain section and the patterned section with the same background colour. I think it would be easier if I knew the pattern or shape Brenda was planning for the dress but it may be too soon for her to decide.

I can’t wait to get started but I will let it brew in my mind for a little while.


MANSWAP #4 Making a tailored jacket for Gus

posted in: SWAP, WIP (work in progress) | 25

The two jackets

You may remember that I started with the idea of making a 1940s vintage jacket for my son Gus. I toiled it twice and made a number of alterations. On the third iteration, discouraged by the amount of work I was having to do, I listened the wise words of my esteemed followers and commentators. I ditched the old pattern and bought a new one – Vogue 8988. I would like to make this up in grey wool, and beige linen – a winter and summer version.

This pattern is labelled “Plus Difficile” if you speak French or prefer metric. Or really don’t want to admit that this means making it up will not be a breeze. Tres difficile.

Anyway I did the first fitting, having added extra length. I am not sure why I did this. I didn’t have Gus here very often, so I looked at the measurements I had taken. Anyway, long story short it was long. Tres long. I can’t even bring myself to show you photographs.

But I pinned it up and started fitting the bodice (leaving off the sleeves and collar). And do you know what? All the issues I had with the 1940s pattern reappeared here. So much for men’s bodies changing over the decades! My son is awkward to fit, whatever the period. His parsnip shape means that an average jacket is tight across the chest, and won’t close across the CF, but is baggy across the waist and hips, especially in the back of the jacket. To fit Gus properly we need to take width in from across the back of the jacket especially in the (sway back) waist area, and add it to the front of the jacket to accommodate the broad chest.

I made the following adjustments:

  • shorten by 5cms
  • add additional width (2.5cms) across the front chest
  • take in at CB and side seam by about 1cm each, tapering slightly for the waist

I altered the pattern and recut the shell. I am now on Toile No 4. Or “Toilet” as Kim’s autocorrect calls it!  And here is a close up of the problem area.

Vogue 8988
Close up neck area, Vogue 8988

Now apart from just being too small (still) the issue of the traps re-appears. You can see how the neckline is lifted away by the thickness of Gus’s traps.

I had the realisation that Gus is the archetypal “97-pound weakling” who has done a fair amount of gym work. Inherently he is a skinny lad, but his upper torso strength is considerable. He can even lift me up bodily above his head (that shuts me up!). You can see in the old cartoon ads that I grew up with that Charles Atlas has the same big traps. I wonder where he bought his jackets! Come to think of it he always seems to appear without a shirt – maybe he couldn’t find one to fit.

Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas Advert

When he tried the toile on Gus and I both noticed, that apart from just being too small across the upper chest we have the neck-and-traps issue. I was at a loss. Gus gave me some advice.

“Just post the pictures and one of your sewing friends will tell you what to do”.

Well, it’s not a bad idea. Here are some more.

The other, related issue seems to be that it is too small.

Gus’s chest is most definately 38″. The toile does sort of fit  across the actual chest line, so in that sense this pattern is the “right” size. But I think i need to cut the jacket in a size 40 chest to get sufficient width across the shoulders which are bigger than an average 38″ man. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me previously.

Unfortunately because I had already cut the pattern down to 38″ I had to buy the pattern again. I know. I am an idiot. But £12 is a good price for learning such an important lesson. When working with someone else’s body don’t assume anything. Trace off the pattern, then play with it. That way you can make further adjustments. Actually I realised that I would always rather make something smaller, than adding width to a pattern. Also that getting a good fit across the shoulders and upper body is the most important place for me, and therefore it is likely to be the most important place to fit on someone else. If the upper chest and shoulders fit well then the other alterations are easier, I think.

So I now have to make up the 40″ chest toile and have a look at that. The solution to the shoulder shape maybe to leave this seam open, just marking the stitch line, and then to fit it on the body. Along with Gus I request any good ideas please!

Sweater #2

In other SWAP news Gus has decided on a different, but rather similar, pattern (to the one he chose previously) for his jumper. This is a 1960s pattern rather than a 1940s one, and maybe the styling is a bit more Steve McQueen. I got the pattern on Clitheroe market for 20p. It’s an amazing pattern. The jumper comes in about 12 sizes and you can have set in or raglan sleeves. My goodness you could do two for everyone in the family, and in so many different colours. The pattern is designed for a synthetic yarn but I swatched some lovely dark green cashmere from Colourmart and Gus really liked it.  I will make a start on the jumper after Christmas. I am still hopeful that I may be able to do one pair of trousers before Christmas (a second SWAP early bird), but if not I can always start on the jersey.



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