What to learn next?

posted in: Inspiration | 3

Regular readers will know that my main mission in life is to learn! After the bootmaking Ceci was asking What next? And so were we!

I love travel, exploring nature, meeting new people, eating food especially food I have never tried before – novelty attracts – but most of all I like to know how things are made. I like to discover the “secrets” of a craft.The ah-ha moment when I realise what makes a shoe a shoe, or how patchwork really works, how sourdough bread only contains flour and water, how pattern cutting works, how to knit certain shapes and motifs. Oh my word! There are so many things we  the world only appreciate superficially until we engage with them and learn all about them.  Discovery, and then learning to replicate what we have seen, is so thrilling.

We went to boot making as I had wanted to learn to make shoes for ever, especially as my Mum’s family were all in the shoe trade. The fact that my cousin (the son of my mum’s brother) gave me lasts from the factory makes me feel very connected to my personal history. With a father in textiles and a grandpa in shoes is it any surprise that I have the passions that I have?

Vintage wooden shoe lasts
Vintage wooden shoe lasts

I researched shoe courses but they are rather expensive and intensive – as Mary Funt mentioned they are aimed more towards the semi-professional. I would very much like to have another go one day. But for now I have other considerations. I want an evening course – our weekends are for relaxation in the country. Nick is happy to come with me, and is leaving the choice to me this time (obviously this is my opportunity to select ballet!).

Here are our thoughts to date.

  • Upholstery. My Mum suggested this. She did upholstery herself repairing and improving chairs. She made tapestry seat covers and they are rather nice items. I will get some photographs over Christmas. We are tempted, mainly because we have a nice old leather chair that has been wrecked by naughty little kids jumping on it. We would enjoy restoring it and recovering it. Also as Nick’s carpentry will soon move away from cupboards into furniture I thought it might marry up well.
  • Pottery – we have both had a go at this before at school or adult ed classes. It is such a lovely primal thing, sticking your hands in clay and creating plates, cups, jars and vases. We might be able to create a collection together with a theme for the country house. Nick wants to make big things, and I want to make small, delicate things.
  • Spinning. I see pictures and videos of this and I am very keen to learn. Obviously now I can knit this is a way to get the raw material for my craft. But also, in the Cotswolds, we are surrounded by sheep and local sheeps wool is widely available, straight off their backs.
  • Weaving – related to spinning and sheep and wool. This was always an option at my school but I thought it was far too slow. But inspired by my friend Bridget Cass, who has a loom at home, I would love to do this one day.
  • Textiles. I have done a few printing, painting and dying courses, and I really love making textiles. I can’t get enough of this.

Plenty to be getting on with.

But at the weekend we decided on photography.  With a proper camera rather than a phone. I feel I owe it to you, my kind readers. I expect you are equally dissatisfied with many of the pictures I put on the blog and some of my learning will be in taking pictures of myself that are not bathroom “selfies”. I want to learn what all the knobs on cameras do and I want to know the basics of editing.

My brother was a professional photographer. And my first, late, husband John did photography and video at collage, and was a keen and very precise photographer his whole life. He had a dark room in our first flat – a Council flat in Wandsworth – and there is something about the red light, and the smell, and the excitement of pictures slowly developing and hanging up to dry. And my Uncle Stuart was a keen amature. So I had plenty of people around me who took pictures. But I have never taken a proper pictures myself.

Nick and I will be going to photography classes next term (from January). Hopefully you will find my blog photos improving as I learn.

Last week I met up with Lois. We talked about three choices for where anyone might go next

  • Set up a business/develop your business
  • Get a job/develop your career
  • Do a degree or an in depth course.

The last one was what interested us both and we talked about an Art Foundation course. That would be bliss for me. To learn all those arty things that I have never really tried like life drawing and sculpture. Of course the cost of doing a full time course and not earning at the same time would be impossible for most of us.

Lois, at lunch

@Lois.h is on Instagram and takes lovely pictures. We are going to meet up again so she can give me some Instagram and iPhone tips.

Some advice on social media names

Love it or hate it, the name we are given at birth usually sticks with us forever. The process of choosing children’s names is taken seriously and is often full of meaning. My kids all got parent or grandparent middle names, a tradition my daughter has continued. Pregnant Mums either knit, or get books from of the library that list all the options, with meanings (eg Adolf, not popular since the second world war, etc). A name can often indicate the sex and age of the person, class, their nationality, ethnic group, even which part of the country they come from. Pet names often presage children’s names by a few years as young couples try out Beau, or Riley, on their Pugs first.

Sometimes it is left to chance. You may have seen how a submarine, named by public poll, got its name: Boaty Mcboatface.

Boaty McBoatface
Boaty McBoatface

Some people name their homes. Nick and I decided to name our house after my father’s childhood home (although to do so in the age of Amazon deliveries is probably an affectation).

If you have been following Sewvember on Instagram (#bpsewvember), organised by Amanda Adams of @BimpleandPimble, you may have noticed (Day One) she asked everyone to explain their Instagram name. It was fascinating to read the stories – especially the really weird and unusual ones. But most of us chose a somewhat obvious name like Susan1962, TwirlyShirley or rely on corny puns like Sewshattered.

I prefer it when someone includes their actual name, as it is easier to comment if you know they are called Susan or Shirley. Sometimes the person becomes the name, especially when the name is chosen to cloak the real identity. I always think of Elaine as Demented Fairy, and Mrs Mole is a complete mystery.

The discussion made me think about how we name and describe ourselves, so here are my two pennies worth of wisdom on the topic. It’s a bore when you change your name as people have only just got used to it. Remember when Marathon bars became Snickers (in 1990)? I am still not that happy about that. We are all creatures of habit and can be easily confused. Do it once and do it right. 

Marathon became Snickers

Tip no 1:

When choosing a name for yourself on Twitter, Instagram etc, give it sufficient time and thought – these names can stick.

Originally I called this blog “Fit and Flare”  – it was a pun too – a blog about fit (one of the main reasons why I sew) but also about flare/flair – style. (And Fit and Flare is a style of dress too). I chose my own identity at the same time – Fabrickated. This name is a portmanteau word combining Fabric with my name Kate D(avies). In fact, at one point,  my email name was Kated so that felt comfortable. As well as encapsulating what I was doing – fabricating things – it had my name on it! Ha ha. I was pleased with the formulation, and it has proved to be memorable, and good fun. I wanted Fabrickate actually but that was taken.

A year into the blog my son Gus suggested I remove the confusion that two different names might cause – was I Fabrickated or was I Fit&Flare? Good question. Although few of us are professional bloggers we do, sort of, become a brand, and you don’t want to confuse people, especially in the fast paced digital world. So, taking his advice I dumped Fit and Flare and now the blog is simply Fabrickated. It is really silly and unbelievable but on three occasions  I have had the embarrassing but delightful experience of someone shouting out, across a shop, or on a bus “It’s Fabrickated!”.

So here comes Tip no 2:

If you have an online presence across more than one platform stick to one name.


The internet world is chockablock. Keep it simple or you will just drown. I know people running micro businesses with more names and handles than large conglomerates. Bear your reader in mind.

Finally a point on the sub-title. This is idea from the world of book publishing. You give your book a name, and then follow on with a short summary of what it is all about.

Monty Don, Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom

Mary Berry, Mary’s Household Tips and Tricks: Your Guide to Happiness in the Home

Tim Peake, Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space

These “strap lines” are also found in the world of branding. I always liked (the now defunct)

Thames Water: Running Water for You.

The blogging sites, like WordPress, encourage you to choose a sub-title. This allows classification but more importantly it tells readers right away what sort of things you be will covering. Have a look at what your favourite blogs say at the top of the front page, right after the title. It is very revealing, and helps readers decide if they will like the blog or not.

When I started Fit and Flare I gave it a sub-title – fit and fashion, style and stitching – I like a bit of alliteration! Actually having a four-part approach gave me lots of leeway in terms of content. This was never just a dressmaking blog covering fit and stitching – I wanted to write about fashion and style too. And the formulae more or less worked until I started knitting. And jewellery making, and crochet, and now boots. So I toyed with adding the words knitting, or crafting. But as I haven’t been doing much stitching or fitting recently, I have been feeling that the subtitle might be a bit misleading.

Tip no 3 is:

Use your subtitle to make your blog stand out, and  make sure it reflects the content.

On reflection now is the time for me to update my strap line, or my sub-title.

Today I have refreshed it to… (tiny drum roll)…


Making Life more Beautiful

How did you choose your Instagram or Twitter handle? Or the name of your blog?

Boots made – the last post

posted in: Finished projects | 13

Last week we had almost completed our footwear and the final week was spent creating the sock – the little piece of slightly padded leather that goes inside your shoes. Then we took pictures, collected email addresses and went home.

Neither of us will wear our boots. But it was a great experience, nevertheless.

Did you notice the nice double row of top stitching on Nick’s toe caps? Or my unique pink tabs?

What I loved about the course

  • Fabulous opportunity to learn a new skill from a skilled shoewear designer and craftsman
  • Modern, state of the art equipment in a beautiful setting
  • Convenient
  • Good value for money (ie about £100 for a day of tuition), plus absolutely all materials supplied such as leather, zips etc.
  • Very small class (only four on our course, although up to 12 are allowed)
  • Starts from the very beginning with designing and pattern making to the final polish. You get a very good understanding of the process  of bespoke shoe making
  • All four achieved a high standard of design and making
  • The students and teacher were nice and friendly
    We are the bootmakers

Less good

  • The styles of the boots were very limited and not what we wanted to make
    • For me I ended up with heels which I find very uncomfortable
    • Nick didn’t care for the shape of his shoes and disliked the “cementing” process. He would like to stitch his own welted, leather soled shoes
  • The style of teaching was idiosyncratic. Our teacher was a craftsperson rather than a teacher. I would have prefered, say, 30 mins of explanation/lecture each session to help clarify what we were going to do and why
  • The pace wasn’t quite right. There were literally hours spent waiting for glue to dry. This time could have been used for a subsidiary project, eg creating a second design, and pattern.

I don’t really have a major problem with having unwearable shoes. I seem to remember my first dress-making classes being forced to make an apron, and later a blouse in a boring style. Certainly with pattern cutting we often made patterns for items I would never make up, or wear (cowl trousers in my case). But I do think the course should take current styles and choices into account. I would have been very happy with almost any version of a flat boot. I think Nick’s requirement was rather more specialist and not realisable in this setting. However if the tutor had asked people about their learning objectives I feel he would have been able to explain/demonstrate the welting process, or perhaps over Nick leather soles.

At the end of the course we both felt we would like to learn more. The London College of Fashion runs other short courses at weekends or for one week, covering ballet flats, court shoes and sandals, all taught by Nafi. I would certainly consider the ballet flats or sandals course (or boots if I had feet size 40 or above). The course Nick wants doesn’t really exist at the LCF. Here are some other classes I have researched.

Nick would enjoy a 12 day handsewn shoe workshop, like this one. But it is very expensive (about £2000).

We might consider another five day course to make Derby shoes in a small studio in East London. Again costs around £700, so quite a commitment.

But I may just have a go at home.

My mother’s family were in the shoe trade and my cousin Hamilton very kindly found me a pair of old lasts in his garage.

Vintage wooden shoe lasts
Vintage wooden shoe lasts

I have started the process of making a pair of shoes from these at home, but I don’t know if I can.

I took off the metal footplate as this is suitable for making shoes that are nailed on. I acquired the correct size and shape of lasting insoles which include a metal shank (they are a bit old too!).

Removing the metal

I covered the lasts with tape and cut them off and I am now ready to create the pattern.

Making shoes at home
Ready to go – maybe?

Whether I go ahead with this new project, sign up for a class, or start to learn something new only time will tell. If you want to see some really great work – both in terms of design and making – have a look at my friend Aida’s website.

I may not make any further progress. But I know so much more about the process, my leather stitching has improved, and I have a very pretty pair of shoes in my cabinet.

How successful senior women are portrayed on TV (British version)

posted in: Inspiration, Style advice | 13

A recent discussion on Meghan Markle found all of us agreed that the outfits the women wore on Suits bore little resemblance to the workwear you might find in a modern lawyers office in NYC.

I guess that is true in the UK too, but it got me thinking.

What do successful, senior women wear in UK TV series and could you really wear these outfits to work?

Let’s start with Gillian Anderson, who plays the part of a senior police officer in The Fall. Although Stella is a senior cop she wears striking clothes – high heels; usually a pencil skirt; occasionally trousers. But her blouses are sexy – draped fabric, often shiny, looking more like luxury pyjamas than a businesslike shirt. Her hair is loose and long, with a bit of a wave, and her makeup is subtle, her skin dewy. I would say she is closer to the American style of senior woman, but her look is not that typical in the police service.

In London we now have a female police commissioner who is rather effective, and out of uniform this is how she dresses. Nothing wrong with a blouse, joggers, trainers, ruck sac and a week’s supply of bananas for a bit of colour. But Cressida is no-one’s style icon.

Cressida Dick on her first day as MPS Commissioner

The other professional woman we have seen recently has been Dr Gemma Foster, a General Practitioner. Her outfits are generally safe classics and the sort of thing you might buy at Reiss, Jigsaw or Hobbs. Realistic, yes, these clothes are the sort of thing and inner city GP would wear. Practical, comfortable, deep colours and neutrals, rather modest and unexciting. However when Gemma goes out she dresses in an overtly, and traditionally, sexy way. She likes lacey underwear, hold ups etc, but I would say the portrayal of her outfits was hyper-realistic. Which is more than you can say for the terrible storyline.

I enjoyed Happy Valley, a series focusing on Catherine Cawood as a front line police officer. She is decidely gritty, often getting punched and duffed up by the Yorkshire ne’er do wells. She bustles around in a big yellow anorak or a bulky high vis stab vest, giving as good as she gets. With so many items hanging from her jacket she reminds me of an Early Learning Centre activity centre. I love that she has ordinary-woman hair – not much of a hair cut, greying roots and a rubber band keeping it off the collar – and a very typical body shape.  She doesn’t do much out of uniform work, but when she knocks off at night she will put on a wooly jumper, or a zip up fleece and loosen her hair.

(I have never watched Broadchurch or Vera, but Karen suggests them as more good example.)

The female detective from Broadchurch appears to have bought a trouser suit at Next and worn it with a pastel blouse. This look was common in the offices of Britain a few years ago, but it is desperately dated now. Whereas Vera with her tweedy coat, Dr Who scarves and comedy headgear is just another English eccentric in the Miss Marple mold. I don’t think many women dress like this, and I don’t think she is a typical detective either.


So what is the punch line with these English dramas?

Apart from Doctor, there is just one role for an intelligent, professional woman on the TV, and that is Police Detective. If you are successful in your detecting career you will dress in unexceptional ways to blend in with the dark and dirty landscape. Although some towns, cities and seaside towns are featured to good effect, much English drama focuses on challenging social issues. I cannot think of a series where women have senior jobs in the media, the arts, construction or law. Occasional series feature female  senior civil servants or government ministers such as In the Thick of It, a series I much enjoyed. Nicola, the Minister, wears unremarkable political dress – the comedy is always in her attempts to manage the message. One of her advisors Terri is often put upon – but she can’t fail to be noticed in her terrible, huge-shouldered, jackets. I love the Terri character and always enjoy seeing her horrid outfits which are completely wrong for her. As a short woman with a large bust, a soft, rounded face and figure these jackets in toilet roll colours emphasis her shortness and girth.

Which leaves us with our British diet of stately home and costume drama. Which is a pity.

Stay posted for information on the 13th Dr Who, played by Jodie Whittaker. Judging by the hoody and overcoat this strike for women’s equality will not be accompanied by an interesting stylish look. Shame.

Jodie Whittaker





Colourful suggestions for darker skinned people

posted in: Colour Analysis, Inspiration | 13

Do you follow the wonderful, funny, talented  Nakisha Smith’s blog Dressmaking Debacles?  She and I tested a jeans pattern together and I have followed her ever since. The other day she wrote an interesting blog on colour analysis. She concluded that it has nothing to say to people with darker skin shades,   except “dark” – which sounds fairly dire.

Here she goes:

“I would encounter these conversations about colours and season and all that jazz and be utterly confused. I finally figured out the confusion – those “tests” were not for brown ladies! There was always one “dark” and it supposed to cover all of us women of colour. Like really? The cool browns, warm browns, the olive skinned … we are all just …”dark”. And that’s it. So I’ve always just gone off my own reaction to a colour when I encounter it and how I feel when It is on my body”.

Now Nakisha is highly competent at making clothes and she knows what suits her. She is very confident of her look and figure. She looks great in blues, greys and orange and she has agreed to me continuing this conversation on my blog. Although I cannot disagree with her “wear what you want” conclusion I felt I would like to respond to her critique.

The Winter palette

Colour analysis
“Winter” Snow White

The “Seasonal”  approach was the system used in the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s start with “Winter”- the category that most people will darker skin would traditionally be put into. Funnily enough the archetype for this “season” was Snow White – with skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony wood and lips as red as blood.

Of course it was fairly odd to suggest that the whole world could be slotted into just one of four categories. The Seasons gave some people a clue, but it was rather crude and colour analysis has developed since the early days.

More recently the different companies have made the “tests”, as Nikisha describes them more sophisticated, looking to see what primary direction a person will have. Today we decide which of the following dichotomous groups of colour look best against someone’s face.

Deep or Light? Cool or Warm? Bright or Muted?

The old Winter palette would mean (if we tested Snow White herself), Deep (she has black hair and dark brown eyes), Cool (blue undertones) and Bright (lots of contrast and brightness – those lips for example). Walt Disney choosing red, white, blue, purple and orange with little touches of brown for Snow White’s costume – a cool, bright and deep wardrobe to complement her colouring.

The Deep colour direction

So let’s go back to “Deep” or “Dark”.

Deep doesn’t actually mean “dark” – it implies that the colours are intense and saturated. Light colours have lots of water in them, not lots of white. And deep colours are not blackened – they just contain more pigment. Does that help? A dark red might be deep, but so too is a strong scarlet or yellow. A  light red would be pinky, a light yellow might be lemon.

Now let’s turn to Nakisha’s brown ladies or women of colour (some of our UK terminology is different, so please forgive me if I inadvertently offend). She is right that there are infinite versions of skin, hair and eye colour and actually we are all unique. Like white people, there is more than one version of black people in terms of colouring.

Here are a few of my family members and friends just to show what a wide range of skin, hair and eye colours black British people sport. Hello Rosa (Esme’s step-sister back row), Ade (next to Esme), Ted (behind Esme’s arm) and Kit!

Kits Third Birthday

Ade definitely suits deeper (more intense) colours, whereas Rosa’s primary direction is Muted. Ted suits cool bright colours, and I don’t know what is best for Kit as I haven’t run the test, but I would guess he will also suit the cools.

So black people will vary, exactly as Nakisha suggests, and if you do colour analysis on people of different ethnic groups you will see all the colour directions.

However if you have black hair (and you will see that Kit’s hair is brown and more similar to his Mum’s colouring than his Dad’s) you will probably suit black as a neutral. Most of the people of the world have black hair – those who come from India, China, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Southern Europe for example. So whenever I meet someone with black (actually very dark brown) hair, when someone has “blackness” in their colouring, it will normally be enhanced by black clothing. Black as a colour is deep, cool and bright. People who are fairer, who don’t have so much “deepness” or “blackness” in their colouring are usually complemented by wearing softer or lighter colours.

Skin, eye and lip colour is important too, but probably secondary to hair shade. When doing a colour analysis I also try to look at the whole picture of the face/hair/eyes and see which range of colours harmonises best. So there is some subtlety to the “test” beyond sticking people in categories.

While deep (saturated) colours look great against darker skins many black people can carry off a strong contrast in their look. Pair black with white, or pastel shades, or pair deep navy with orange, or put a vibrant pink scarf on with a charcoal overcoat, and you will have a great look.  I would say avoid head to toe black or navy, and get some contrast in there – using pastels, or brights, or pattern.

Also many black people look good in head to toe brights, although in the UK at least (with our drizzly weather and dark evenings) this look can be too dramatic for the average person. I would say that Lupita Nyong’o has bright as her primary direction rather than deep.

Lupita in Orange

The other colour palette that suits most black haired people is the cool palette – colours with a blue undertone. Cool is my primary direction too. So here is an interesting experiment I tried at work today. Shai and I are wearing an almost identical shade of violet. We both have cool undertones in our skin. While I am better in lighter shades, and Shai looks great in the deeper colours I would say this cool-bright colour looks good on us both (but probably a bit better on him!).

Kate and Chay








What’s happened to the cardigan?

(sorry about my management of posts this weekend – post on colour coming on Tuesday)

Since I last wrote about a cardigan, I made another EZ yoked sweater. Partly I was waiting for the Knit along knitters to finish their Elizabeth Zimmermann sweaters. I am now waiting for a second batch so I can show what we have all done…

My cardigan is finally finished and I love it so much I have decided to give it it’s own blog post. I will include some better photos once I have the next round up.

You may remember that making a cardigan can be done in pieces or one piece, like my Cyrene jacket. Or it can be made in the round like a jumper and then it is sliced down the middle when all is said and done. I wanted to do it this way but I was pretty scared. The idea of cutting knitting was freaking me out.

Then I hummed and harred about what to do with the yoke – plain, coloured or patterned.

Colourmart Violet Merino and Cashmere

Having done three colourwork versions of the Elizabeth Zimmermann colourful yoke jumper I was keen to try something different.

I saw this wall when I was in London Bridge and I thought – how interesting. One of these end on bricks would be a mistake. A whole series of them creates an interesting pattern. And of course the same is true of knitting. One purl stitch in the middle of a plain jersey of stocking stitch stands out like a sore thumb. But arrange them in a pretty pattern and you can get a stunning effect. It was Aida from Athens that showed me how to do this when she visited London recently.

I was disappointed with my efforts which, compared to the colour work; it all lacked drama. Sue Stoney suggested I get a book of vintage patterns and it was tempting. But three IG people suggested bobbles! Or popcorn stitch if you are American. Brilliant idea. Oh I do love asking for suggestion on the blog and on IG – so exciting and rewarding. I don’t even know most of them and here they are telling me what to knit, and I obey and love it. Happy days.

So I learnt how to do bobles from the internet, and while they are not perfectly made, nor aligned they are big and rumbustious and dramatic and I have such pleasure is seeing them sitting proudly on my jumper. For it is still a jumper until it is made into a cardigan.

Knitting a cardigan

Becoming a cardigan

I read  all I had by Mrs Zimmermann. But she doesn’t have a “chapter on cardis”. She covers button holes, and there is a section on borders in Knitting without tears. There is information on how to cut your knitting apart for an opening. But she didn’t give me enough to confidently tackle it. I found I needed to read the five part steeking series by Kate Davies. 

Kate Davies likes to do a crocheted edge before cutting, then cut, then pick up stitches. She realises that many are scared of a) cutting and b) what happens to the cut edge – will it unravel? I worry about these factors, but not so much. For me the main worry was making the picked up stitches look really neat and deliberate and not wonky and very home made (it is my first cardigan, remember? Maybe it’s ok to look a bit shabby!)

I wondered what stitch to use for the button bands – the tradition seems to be ribbing – either parallel with the hems and neckline, or at right angles to it.  Moss stitch is nice and always appropriate where ribbing is suggested (Helene used it on her yoke sweater to great effect). My Cyrene jacket has moss stitch borders and very pretty they are too. Mrs Zimmermann often promotes garter stitch which is nice and stable and fairly easy to do. She has a section on making mitred edges. I also consulted Karen Templer who explained the difference between the picked up button band as suggested by EZ and the vertical seamed band, where a narrow strip is knitted and then sewn on.

Worrying about how hard it was paralysed my efforts for weeks. And when I wrote my knitting round up I jolted myself to act. I committed to cut!. Along the way I devised a steeking method that suited me far better than the complicated suggestions out there.

Steeking for simpletons and beginners

You will have knitted a column of extra stitches at the CF of your jumper. I included just four. Others say five or seven. I used the lemon yarn to mark the CF. I machine stitched the two middle columns of knitting stitches, just in case, and then picked up 80 per cent of the stitches to create the button band (advised by Zimmermann). In retrospect I would say 70 per cent is sufficient. Also (as you can see) I did not get nice square edges at the top and bottom. This would need more care next time. On the left you will see I have already knitted the button band and on the right I am about to start.

Steeking a cardigan
Picking up the button band either side of the CF

The button holes look a bit messy too. I used the Zimmermann method of decreasing two stitches and then M2 on the next row. I did this every 13th row so the button holes were evenly spaced, putting one at the neck and one at the hem.

Button holes on a Zimmerman cardigan
Making button holes

Once the bands were knitted I cut along the dotted line. The stitches held together OK, helped by the sewing machine stitch. I overstitched the edge and it looks neat. I washed it, and pressed it and it seems to be fine. The second picture shows that the front hem is a bit sloping but it improved when I washed it.I found some buttons in my collection and stitched them on to match the button holes.

Here it is on.

Voila Violet cardigan




Bootmaking Week 4 and 5

posted in: WIP (work in progress) | 10

The boot making continues.

In week four we finished the lasting, and made our heels.

We had to work hard to get all the leather to fold over beautifully in the toe area. Again I used my dressmaker’s skills of easing and shaping, creating eight or nine little pleats over the toe area. As the leather is fairly tough this is best achieved by applying heat which softens the leather and makes the glue (which was applied seven days earlier) sticky again. Once this was done the three staples that we used to attach the insole to the last were removed because we will be taking the last out soon. Then the shoe is sanded down so that we don’t have a lumpy area under the toe, or anywhere else, a small rubber insert is added and then the shoe is sanded again.

Next we got to work on creating our soles and heels. The soles are bought ready-made, roughed up a little on the sanding machine and then cut to size with a particular “cookie cutter” in just the right size. The leather to cover the heels is also cut out at the same time with the same machine. The plastic heel form is covered in glue and we then wrapped the leather around the heel neatly pleating, cutting and tucking – you will have done these processes as you make collars for example.

You can see how I have a nice little pink tab on my boot, as I try out the heel for size, ready for attaching the sole.

Ladies boot making
Beginning to look like a boot

In week five we basically soled the shoes and attached the heels.

I enjoyed this bit of the process. First we stuck the heel to  the sole so that both can be attached at once. Attatching the sole to the back side of the heel was quite hard work as we had to get it into the curve. Then once everything was dry and recovered in even more glue we were at the stage of sticking the sole to the shoe. Both shoe and sole are warmed and while everything is flexible and sticky you have to get a good match of sole and shoe bottom. Then it all gets a good whack with the hammer.

The next step was so exciting as we got to remove the last. I hadn’t realised how the modern plastic lasts are jointed. The boot is put onto the stand that you can see above and the toe is pushed up with some force. The last “breaks” and with a bit of pushing and pulling it comes out of the shoe, which now feels very light!

Despite the surprisingly large amount of really strong glue, plus hammering I was really unsure how well the heel would fare, with just being stuck on. All those awful evenings came back to me where a heel had come off on a night out. Maybe it was just a 1970s thing but I remember the shame of walking home on one tip toe, with a kind of limp, caused by a heel becoming detached by a curb. I remember all my friends taking our shoes back to the shop if this happened on the first few wears. Does it still happen?

Anyway my fears were soon assuaged when Nafi, our tutor, took us into the workroom to attach our heels with a special heel nailing machine. This shoots six screw type nails into the heels up through the inside of the shoe. This is obviously what keep the shoe in one piece. One that was done I was able to whack in the heel cap with my hammer.

The men obviously were creating a different shape of boot. Here is Nick working first on the sander to create his sole so that there is about 1mm of sole visible on the outside. In the second picture he has created the heel with a piece of thick belly leather sandwiched in between two pieces of sole material.

Finally the men painted their heels black and spent some time polishing their shoes.

Next week, the final lesson, we create a sock for the inside of the shoe to make it comfortable and to cover up the inner workings. I can’t wait to try on the boots and show you what we have achieved!

Meghan Markle – style analysis

posted in: Style advice | 17

I enjoyed watching Suits – at least at first, until it got boring. The women in the series were very sleek and wore, what purported to be, modern American workwear, so there was plenty to look at even when the story line tanked.

There was Donna the slightly naughty redhead; the cool, calculating female boss Jessica; and Rachel Zane (paralegal to qualified lawyer) – played by Meghan Markle. All three had that Corporate America look – toned figures, tight outfits, and lots of suppressed sexual allure. The polished look of flamboyantly blow dried hair, high heels, and lots of booty (possibly enhanced by Spanx).  I was taken with Markle and found her rather lovely in the show.


Suits Meghan Markle
Suits – the ladies

Unusually for me (as I don’t follow sufficient popular culture) when it was announced she was dating the younger Wales boy – Harry the “spare” prince – I actually knew who she was, and I could understand the attraction.

With beautiful features and a fresh, radiant look there is no doubt that Meghan is very pretty. She has a balanced face, cute features, dark eyes and an intriguing facial mix of sharp edges and and softer lines. Although her hair is straightened her dual heritage (white/African American) background has given her an intriguing and unique look. She is also very photogenic. I love her in the deep red lipstick in the first picture which celebrates her full lips and brings her colouring to life. The second picture is of her more obvious “red carpet” look and to me she looks more run-of-the-mill.

Let’s have a look at her body shape. A swimsuit picture can help us to help identify the overall silhouette.

Here is Meghan in a bikini compared to Prince Harry’s Mum – Princess Diana. Immediately we can see that they both have a straight figure – the shoulders are wider than the hips, relatively small bust, the waistline is not well defined, with slim hips, thighs and legs. Of course they are not very similar to look at, and Diana was about five inches taller, but the underlying body shape is the same.

With a straight body shape the best look will be straight, fairly structured dresses, and tailored jackets. Let’s have a look at Meghan in this style of dress – which she choses frequently.  This shiny,  leather (?) dress is best described as a short (mini length) coat dress, with the nice button details on the sleeves and jetted pockets. The deep V neck showing lots of skin is an OK look but it creates an ambiguous focal point. Slim girls with an athletic build and small bust can wear a very revealing top, but maybe a little higher would look better?

Another version would be this deep red, brocade dress. Although this one seems to go the other way in terms of cleavage –  with its demure high necked collar, the stiff fabric, boxy shape and mid thigh length is similar. These two dresses are good choices in that much of the emphasis is on the delicate leg – enhanced by wearing rather elegant, pointed shoes.  

Both of these dresses – and there are many more on the internet – are a good choice for someone with a straight or semi-straight figure. The structural fabrics look really nice and have a 1960s youthfulness about them and they really flatter a skinny leg.

Now consider a few dresses Meghan has chosen to disguise her figure and “break the rules”. Let’s consider the gorgeous midi length dress below. I am reading this as Meghan wanting to look grown up and more feminine. This red dress is much longer than she normally wears and the skirt flares out over her hips.  The bust is attractive without being too overtly in your face (I include the Deal or No Deal picture just to show how not to dress. The skimpy padded bra/slip dress is just nasty, in my opinion). The issue for a woman with slim legs is that they can look too frail and out of proportion under a longer, full skirt. It looks to me like the midi dress may be tapered slightly towards the hem so that this effect is not over exaggerated.

Here is another dress which I feel works slightly against the grain, but again with good results. The cut in shoulders and lovely pleated neck detail, frames her face, and minimises Meghan’s relatively square, broad shoulders. The tight, elasticated fabric makes the most of the waist line and pulls in under the hips, before flaring out into a nice fish tail.

Let’s finish with some trouser pictures. If you have a straight figure with slim legs and delicate ankles all these trouser looks will suit you. A neat shorts suit with a shirt and jacket; skinny wet-look leggings with a shirt and jumper; a billowing blouse over skinnies. Although most of these looks are high street rather than high fashion the style is very accessible and nicely put together.

Let’s finish with a picture of Meghan with Harry. Here she looks great in a big, boyish shirt, artfully tucked to give a semblance of waist, unadorned (ripped even) skinny jeans, and lovely flat brown shoes and matching casual bag. With loose hair, sunglasses and a happy smile she looks just great.

What do you think?




Knitting Update…

My life has started to get almost unbearably busy. You know me – I fancy myself as being rather good at time management. But of course I am not that good because I am now dropping the ball, forgetting things, doing things wrong and letting people down.

My philosophy of life is that I am fearful of dying before I get my money’s worth! I have so many things I want to do, make, see, experience, savour and love and so little time – if I am lucky as my Mum I have just 30 years left. (I am not sure I can use up all my patterns and fabric in that time!)

My other key motivation is to keep on learning. This gives meaning to my life. While I have more than enough of material things – especially clothes! – I never have enough of learning. I still make things to learn new techniques and to challenge myself.


At work preparing to merge two large housing associations is challenging for me. Nobody really likes change – including me of course – and in preparing for such a big change requires hundreds of people to collaborate together on the project. I have been working long hours and have had to deal with lots of anxieties – both individual and organisational. It’s tough and it is impinging greatly on the rest of my life.

Notting Hill Genesis
Visiting a Genesis scheme in Barnet



My family is undergoing changes too – two out of three have new jobs to adapt to, and the other one has become a part time student. Nick is doing lots of work in the new house so we are seeing less of each other during the week. Here are some typical pictures of everyday life.

A book

In terms of my free time I may have overcommitted. I have been trying to write a management book, and have started a new blog to begin to put things together. In retrospect I am not sure I can write the book without running the blog for a year or two to get my ideas sorted out. I don’t know if I want to write a general management book – about compassionate management – or a specific merger manual. And then I do sometimes wonder if I would rather write Fabrickated-the book! So I am spending time on “the book” without actually knowing what Book I am writing. I am having help from a specialist but I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Even if I don’t manage to achieve a published book I am learning so much. And researching the book is teaching me many useful things. I am listening to business book podcasts, and reading about the psychology of work, and planning.


Did you know that you cannot write well unless you also read widely? So despite my resolution for the year being to read one book a week I have completely failed to do that since I took up knitting. I read a book last week, but it was the first for a long while. (All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead)


Also I had been thinking about learning Spanish for years. I like the language and have a rudimentary understanding from trying to learn. But now my son Gus is studying French at Uni, and my daughter Esme is learning Italian, I thought it would be a good time to go for it. But I can’t really give it enough time.

Knitting, sewing and crafts

And then I want to make things – another Chanel jacket, more knitting and a second pair of boots. We are loving the boot making course but of course I would now like to take it further.

Boot making at London College of Fashion
Boot making at London College of Fashion

I am not sure how we will achieve that. Nick and I are also beginning to think about what to do a course on next – he has suggested pottery, which is fine with me.

So what I have I been doing at home? Let me give you a quick update on what I have achieved. Embarrassingly I have four knitting projects on the go.

  1. Started a New Zealand sweater for Nick (preparing for the knitalong). The yarn I order to complete the jumper is a different colour. I think it looks OK as a colour block, but I would have prefered the grey – had it been available.It is too long, and we can’t decide on the neckline, so this has stalled. Elizabeth Zimmermann New Zealand sweaterElizabeth Zimmermann New Zealand sweater
  2. Remaking the striped kids sweater. I made too many mistakes on this (wrong size of needles, not keen on the yarns, the colours don’t appeal greatly especially the heavy navy neckline and shoulders). I started to lengthen the body and considered making this up as a tank top. With all those colours I figured this might be preferable to a fully striped long sleeved jumper. But I think I will abort the mission. However I do want to do a stripey, rainbow sweater at some point. The crochet skirt showed how nice small pieces of yarn can look together, especially when the colour scheme is harmonious.
  3. The diaphanous pink and white jumper, inspired by Helmut Lang. This is going quite well, if rather slowly. I used lace weight merino yarn and relatively large needles creating a transparent look. I found an appropriate pink yarn to create the stripe across the middle. I have yet to decide if I want sleeves or not and how to finish it. I think the tank top may be nice. But short sleeves, with wide pink borders would contrast well with a cotton vest underneath.
  4. The violet cardigan. This needs steeking and I am fearful of doing it. So this is sitting in a bag.
    Cardigan from Elizabeth Zimmermann
    Violet bobble cardigan based on Elizabeth Zimmermann