SWAP #5 The circular skirt

The circular skirt has lots going for it. This one appears to have exaggerated underpinnings giving the model the appearance of an exceptionally wasp like waist.

1950s circle skirt

It is flattering for women with smaller waists and disguises larger hips. It can be showy and fun, supported by a full petticoat, or it can be restrained and modest and drapey, if made in a softer fabric.

The original – cut a hole in a table-cloth and wear it tonight – approach shows just how simple it can be, and for many it provides a good way in to sewing.

The pattern

I have reviewed the wide range of instructions on the internet and some are decidedly dodgy and will not give you a good fit. I have also read all the old books I have at home (showing that this skirt has been permanently in fashion, and that there is nothing new under the sun). So here, having distilled it all down, and piloted the approach, I offer you what I think is the easiest and best way to make a circle skirt.

You can start with your skirt block you can eliminate the darts, creating a flared skirt (with a curved waistline). Then additional slashes (from hem to waist) allow you to get the CB and CF at right angles to each other, with the waistline becoming a quarter circle)

But of course the easier method is to create a “donut” shape, where you just cut out a circle from the middle of the cloth. You can create just one seam into which the zip is inserted (unless you make the skirt in very stretch fabric and add a piece of wide elastic for the waist band). Most of the web “tutorials” are based on this approach in order to make the job as easy as possible.

How to get the size right?

Here we go back to basic maths and we need to work out the radius based on our circumference/waist measurement. The circumference of a circle is just slightly more than three times the diameter. To calculate the diameter we need to divide the circumference by pi  which looks like this: which is 3.14 (or very slightly more, but we will don’t need to be more accurate). The radius will be half this so 3.14 x 2 which means you must divide the circumference by 6.28 to find the radius. Measure your waist snugly. My waist is 68 cms. 68 cms divided by 6.28 = 10.8 cms.


We could now make a paper pattern by creating a quarter circle pattern piece, on to which we add seam allowances on the waist line, side seams and hem. The CF/CB can be cut on the fold. This creates a nice pattern that can be used again and again, with a side zip and possibility of side seam pockets if prefered. Unfortunately even reliable Mrs Aldrich lets us down with her fabric layout diagram. The CF fold is not on the fold as it should be, and with a different arrangement of the fabric it should be possible to avoid the CB seam.

Making a circle skirt
Winifred Aldrich circle skirt

However this approach is much more reliable that the quick and dirty method of avoiding a paper pattern altogether. All over the internet are “tutorials” that involve folding the fabric into four (cross and lengthwise), measuring out from the point to produce the waist line, and then measuring down from the waist line as far as the fabric allows for the length of the skirt (or shorter).

But before we start cutting let’s talk about ease and seam allowances (I have viewed about 25 diagrams and tutorials and none of them mention this issue). If we measure down 10.8cms and CUT along this line what do you think is going to happen?

As you sew on the waist band, sewing 1.5cms below this cut what happens?

You have now created a radius of 12.3 cms, which (x 6.28) gives a circumference of 77cms – 9cms too big. Assuming we take 3cms off for the back seam it is still 6cms too large. Even if you like a bit of ease this is way too roomy.

Let’s start again.

If you draw in your waist line as instructed at 10.8cm, and use your tape measure on its side to draw a second line 1.5cms above it as your cutting line you will be able to get a good fit from the quick and dirty/no paper pattern approach. However – and I have made several samples before I wrote this, in both paper and in fabric – I must issue a big warning.

  • Fabric becomes very unstable when a substantial circle is cut into it, and stretches markedly if you are not very careful.
  • Also cutting through four layers accurately is not easy. Even half a centimeter makes a difference to the fit. You do have to be very accurate. I would say a little smaller rather than bigger is better as you can stretch the bias a smidge to fit it into the waistband.
  • I stay stitched the waistline

Once the donut is cut out you will need to create the CB seam by separating the skirt along the straight grain on one edge.


I wanted a wool with drape and found the perfect fabric at Simply Fabrics. I think it is Paul Smith suiting in navy that is not too deep. The fabric really makes this skirt in my opinion. It is a nice quality and I should have lined it, but I wanted it to be as light and drapey as possible, so in the end I made it with nicely finished seams instead. It is a little deeper than this photograph shows.

Blue suiting fabric
Nice, blue, Paul Smith wool suiting


I made the waist band along the selvage edge two centimeters longer than my waist measurement – ie 70cms, to allow for ease. I kept it fairly narrow as this was the best use of the cloth, but a circle skirt can look great with a much wider waist band. If you are fairly petit a narrower waist band (and belts) may suit you better than a wide belt, and vice versa.I applied very light interfacing to the waist band then the cut edge of your skirt is coaxed to fit onto this straight edge. I  carefully pinned, then tacked, the waistline of the fabric. Even though I had cut accurately it didn’t have any trouble filling the space.

Before finishing it I added an invisible zip, closed the CB seam, and finished the waistband by hand.

I put the skirt on Camilla and let it hang before hemming. It is swishy and heavy, but also it drapes nicely. I am looking forward to wearing it. But first I need to think about hand or machine hemming. Any views?

Circle skirt
Circle skirt





Making a book #8


I mentioned my book was being professionally editorially reviewed in early January. Late January the book came back, with lots of encouraging and useful advice. Well worth the cost. I know some people dislike their work to be criticised, but I love it. it is easy to get too close to your work and think that it is great, whereas an outsider can see the flaws more easily. The two editors who read the draft – Sonya and Alison – made some very good suggestions. Essentially they proposed a restructure of the chapters and taking out some extraneous material.

I found the Mac very good for opening up the original, the edited version and the overview.

Book editing
Editing the book

I restructured as suggested and have finally been through all of the edits. Many of these proposed referencing every quotation and fact (which I rarely do with the blog) and raised a few questions – what is Normcore? Mattress stitch? A Dirndl skirt? A tenant leader?

I feel very happy that I have more or less got the book written, and while I will keep on polishing it and eliminating any cliches and wasted words, I think it has legs.

I will now be focusing on “making” the book.


Although I had suggested I might be ready to print by Easter I now realise that is hopelessly unrealistic. I am really struggling with photography. At the moment I don’t really understand it and am finding it hard to get a good result with a digital SLR camera. We are being taught to avoid the Automatic setting.

My first efforts of the lake at different times of day are rather disappointing. I think the focus and ISO was wrong but I am trying to take in so much new information I have no real idea of what is happening here.

Dusk Lake
Dawn Lake
Dawn Lake

I know there is tons of information on the internet but as ever I get quickly overwhelmed. I need much more practice with someone who knows what he or she is doing. It will also be alot easier as the weather improves to spend lots of time outside, taking pictures.

Book design

While photography has not yet clicked for me I have made good progress with InDesign. We previously bought the Adobe CDs when one of us was a student so I didn’t need to make the difficult decision to “rent” the software from the company which seems very expensive. Although there is a one year discount for students subsequent months are charged at about £50 a month, which is far too much for non-professional users.

The course ended last night and over six weeks I have made posters, business cards, a 30 page magazine, flyers, post cards and a CD cover. I feel confident enough to do these basic jobs and I look forward to building on my skills.

With the Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator I know that (like dressmaking) practice makes perfect. Luckily Charlotte is coming next weekend. Her cover is coming along well and I am hoping she will give me some one to one tuition on designing the inside of the book.

And between all these classes and homework, and the challenge of learning new things I have been reading and knitting. Two self help books which I snapped up at 99p on Amazon were really interesting and I would recommend them, if the topics interest you.

Why we sleep by Matthew Walker and

The Unexpected joy of being Sober by Catherine Gray.

And the knitting? I made another EZ yoke sweater and used the same motif that Kerry used on hers. Navy and white cashmere. I love it, although it still needs finishing. May or may not enter the SWAP, as I have a red Perry Ellis cardigan on the go.

Yoke sweater
EZ Yoke sweater with“Rusty” motif

SWAP #4 The sleeveless blouse?

posted in: Finished projects, SWAP | 8

I want a very simple shell top/sleeveless blouse as part of my SWAP. I plan to make some painted silk to pull the other items together. I am using grey and navy and a couple of other striking colours – possibly red and yellow. But before I paint the fabric I need to find a suitable pattern.

Ages ago, as part  my intermediate pattern cutting class, I was required to make a pattern for a halter neck dress. So I copied a lovely YSL pattern. 

Vogue 2093 YSL halter neck dress
Vogue 2093 YSL halter neck dress

I made a toile of the top but couldn’t make up the dress as I lost my self drafted pattern somewhere. I had bought boning, as it was required for the Vogue Pattern Original, as was looking forward to making up this item.


I chose Marfy 1913, a free pattern that has been made up many times, including by several of our best constructors, such as Mary of Cloning Couture. There are dozens of versions out there, many of them very nice. It is a simple woven top, all the fullness being gathered into the collar. It is not as cut-in as the YSL, and is a very simple pattern with just a front and back piece and a collar with an undercollar.

Marfy 1913
Marfy 1913

I cut this pattern out from inexpensive Chinese digital polyester satin I got at Simply Fabrics. I am not sure this fabric is dyed fast, so I saw this as a wearable toile. But the fabric is navy so it may be a SWAP item.


I added 3″ to the length and decided against an elasticated bottom.

It was really simple to make and it didn’t take very long. I used some very lightweight fusible interfacing on the collar and along the back neck vent, and used plastic press studs for the back neck fastening.

I used black satin bias tape that I was given by Wm Gee to face the armholes.

But I am not keen. The collar looks like a polo neck on me.

Marfy 1913 top
Marfy 1913 top

I am not very keen on this pattern so I will look out for something more appealing with a lower neckline.

And I had a lovely experience this week, spending an afternoon to fellow blogger and couture sewist, Ellen Miller .Ellen was in London to promote her new book, and she and her husband joined me to have a good look around the V&A.  Here we are in the tea shop!


Charity shop finds

Many of us who make our own clothes also enjoy shopping in charity shops. I have been wondering why. Here are some of my reasons.

  • The thrill of the hunt
    • In my life I have found some truly wonderful things in charity shops, probably the best ever being a bottle green Hermes handbag for £1. Over the years the really old and valuable stuff has been whipped off to specialist shops and the charities have become much more savvy, which is great. But much of the sorting and pricing is done by people with different taste to mine and you can still find interesting, exciting and beautiful things.
  • Insight into a community
    • When I go to my Mum’s in Lancashire I often spend an hour or so zipping around the seven or eight charity shops in Clitheroe. Although this part of England is quite run down and relatively poor, and many people use these shops for that very reason, the prices are low. Hardback books for £1 for example.
    • In the Cotswolds I visit the six or seven shops in Cirencester and any other town we visit on our walks or outings. Here the clientele is more wealthy, but the prices are higher too.
    • In London I always drop in, wherever I find myself for a meeting. London has such a wide mix or rich and poor. The Oxfam shop in Hammersmith told me that they had “really caught a cold” when Primark opened opposite them. Why should hard up people buy second-hand trousers for £6 when they could get new for the same price?
  • The idea of recycling and a less wasteful life (helping us deal with guilt)
    • All my unwanted garments go to the charity shop when I am done. I took virtually all my wedding presents (first time around – mainly vases and coloured towels) to Oxfam the next morning. This, in small measure, helps me deal with the guilt of oversupply. Gift Aid means that the value of the clothes, when sold, are treated as a donation allowing the charity also to get access to a portion of my tax, thus increasing the value of the donation. Conversely when I buy from the charity shop I am giving a donation in exchange for the goods. This means I never mind paying quite a lot for something I want. Two examples would be a leather shearing coat for £40 and £20 for a Natalie Bray book.
    • This year I bought all my Christmas presents in the charity shops. This is ideal with small children who are normally more interested in quantity than quality, unfortunately. They need a wide range of cheap, colourful items that will break and get thrown out in short order. Equally children’s books and clothes, with minimal wear and tear, are plentiful and cheap. Buying the latest expensive item strikes me as a waste of money.
    • While I offload my UFOs and fabric off cuts to the charity shop, sometimes you can buy someone else’s UFO. In Lancashire this week I bought a Julia Hickson trammed tapestry with a huge amount of yarn. I have just started completing this. What fun. These kits are no longer available so I will now keep a look out. I was thinking Nick may be able to create a chair or stool that this could complement!
      Julia Hickman Trammed Tapestry Kit
      Julia Hickman Trammed Tapestry Kit
  • The opportunity to donate to charity while also enjoying shopping
    • While I do visit high street shops to have a look at the latest fashions, i rarely buy, except in the sales. Spending an hour looking through other people’s rubbish and unwanted goods is as interesting. And if I am tempted to buy there is minimal guilt. This is also compounded by knowing I can bring the item back when I am tired of it and it will likely sell again. Double, treble, win.
  • The pure joy of getting a bargain
    • While I don’t ever resent paying top prices I also love to get a bargain. I often buy bestsellers for £1, with an original cover price of about £8. There is no cheaper thrill than five hours of book reading for £1. Sometimes I find a pure silk or vintage mohair scarf for £2.50, or a nice piece of fabric for £5.
  • Desperate measures
    • Charity shops on the high street are the best answer to a wardrobe emergency. One UK holiday caught us unaware when we found ourselves in heavy rain. I was able to clothe a family of five in raincoats, anoraks, wellies and hats. Once when Esme was horribly sick in the car I was able to get a new party dress in the next town. If I am underdressed for the weather I can always find a jersey or dry shoes for rock bottom prices. Sometimes these items are actually nice and remain in the wardrobe for years.
  • Learning
    • Obviously when you buy something old, like an embroidered table-cloth, a vintage book or a second-hand crockery you can examine it closely or look it up on the internet and find out something about its history – a voyage of discovery that I enjoy.


Sewing with a Plan requires 11 items. Having done a grey skirt and a yellow jersey I needed to get back to sewing.


Moving on to my second neutral – navy – I decided on a basic pair of trousers. Although I have a few vintage trouser patterns I went back to basics and made a new trouser block.

I dug out Winnie, and got to work. This book costs about £12 – the cost of one modern “Indie” pattern.

It has been a while since I made a trouser block, but it was really easy. If you struggle to get trousers to fit just go for it.

You may remember that I have fairly wide hips and a small waist. I was never able to buy trousers that fitted well over the years.  Making pants to fit was what drove me into dressmaking classes in the 1980s.

I often think making your own patterns is time-consuming, but only took an hour or so (a bit longer to trace off the pattern), and I was able to make a pair of pants that fitted really well. Because I am paranoid about my hips being too big (for most commercial trousers) I measured really loosely around the hip area. Consequently the pattern was a bit too curvy and I had to alter the pattern slightly by shaving an inch or so off the outer leg/hip/thigh area but that is the only alteration I made. You may be able to see that on my pattern (compared to the book diagram) the hips are excessively curved.

Although Aldrich suggests making the trousers wider or narrower in the leg to match current fashions, I left them at the middle position (“alternative leg shaping” on the right of the diagram). This is a little wider than I generally wear, and also a little longer. But I felt ready to try a middle-of-the road classic shape on this occasion.


Four pieces only, and the most simple approach.

I am not keen on waist bands. They either cut in or feel sloppy. As with my grey skirt I left the waist band off. I drafted a couple of facings, but after consideration of bulk issues, I just finished the inside of the waist line with a nice piece of Liberty bias binding, made by my friend Linde Carr. This is such a comfortable finish.

It is always possible to make garments directly from the blocks and get a nice fit. But when I tried these on, in plain navy cotton fabric (with a little elastane in it), they looked so boring I wanted to do something to make them a bit more exciting.

Worried that the SWAP this year favours TNT and neutrals and (frankly) dull but wearable capsules, I didn’t want to jazz them up too much. But then I thought they had a nautical look and that maybe a couple of buttons on the front darts would give a bit of interest. I had four nice vintage buttons from the charity shop and I used these.

Nautical trousers
Nautical looks

Bonus knitwear

Thinking neutrals I decided to knit up all my small left over pieces of neutral merino yarns – two beiges, a couple of creams and some grey, and a couple of pastels – lemon and pink. I was inspired by Neapolitan ice-cream. But when I put it on Nick suggested it looked like a rock formation and named it Lyme Regis. This jumper may be part of the SWAP or not. We shall see.

The photos below do not show off the trousers very well. All they demonstrate is that the fabric contains stretch. And that my husband has bought a boat. Oh well. They are nice trousers and I have no doubt I will include them in the SWAP. It is just anonymous dark pants are not my usual choice of legwear.

Nautical but nice
We got a boat!

Next week we are going up to see my Mum who is in hospital again (dislocated hip). So I may not get something made for SWAP next week. At the moment my outline plan is

  1. Grey pencil skirt (done)
  2. Grey evening circle skirt or trousers
  3. Grey Chanel jacket
  4. Navy trousers (done)
  5. Navy pleated skirt
  6. Navy jacket or coat
  7. Westwood skirt in navy plaid
  8. Yellow jersey (done)
  9. Red jersey or maybe a striped (patterned) jumper
  10. Painted silk blouse
  11. Another top

Eleven weeks for eight items is realistic. Especially as I could use a Ready to wear navy jacket (item 6) and a previously made top (11), which means six items in 11 weeks. All good.

Making a book #7 The font

I was surprised last week by Ellen’s knowing question – what font will you use? And I said Gill Sans.

Why I love this font

It is English, it is retro, it is elegant and balanced; it makes life more beautiful! While Gill Sans is a very common font, ubiquitous even, it always looks fresh and modern to my eye.

  • English

I am not nationalistic, far from it, but I am always interested in English and British artists, designers, styles, products and traditions. The Gill Sans font was developed by one of the greatest British artists of the 20th Century – Eric Gill – specifically for posters, advertising and public information purposes. Creating a systematic approach to design and branding (as it is now known) developed in the 1930s, and the Gill Sans “alphabet” was widely adopted (although it evolved) by the Underground, the Railways, the BBC and Penguin books.

There are several nice German and Swiss modern, rather more geometric styles that are similar, but I prefer Gill Sans.

  • Retro

This font was developed in the late 1920s/1930s, originally as an alphabet of capital letters, based on the finely honed Roman style. (At my secondary school we had the gravestone of a Roman soldier, Lucius Baebius Crescens from Augusta Vindelicorum (modern-day Augsburg), soldier of the Sixth Legion.   I enjoyed looking at the amazing typography, carved our of the stone in a regulation style, and we used to seek his help for exam success).


Roman Alphabet and Gill’s version


  • Elegant and balanced

The design is artistic rather than technological or engineered. It flows and has flourishes. Behold the “Q”.

  • Beautiful

I love this font because it has an openness and lightness to it. As it was developed to include lower case letters it started to be used for body text and soon won many fans.

What is “Sans”?

Fonts are not something many of us think about – the design of the typefaces we use at work, on our blogs, and the ones we read in newspapers, books and reports. I usually stick with Ariel at work, preferring a sans-serif typeface in general. Although I have used Times New Roman in the past. The twidly bits (circled) are the serifs which are said to make them easier to read. Now I am learning InDesign I am learning lots more about the appearance of text and it is very interesting.

TImes New Roman v Ariel

What is Gill?

Come in Eric Gill (pronounced like a fish gill).

Eric Gill was a marvellous sculptor, illustrator and designer, and you can see his work, free of charge, all over London. The first image, below, is just one of several sculptures which adorn the headquarters of Transport for London. I have had the privilege of spending time inside this amazing Grade 1 listed Art Deco building known as “London’s first sky scraper”, 55 Broadway (St James tube station) many times. My son Gus worked there until recently; we are developing some TfL land for social housing; and I mentor a senior officer in the British Transport police who is also based here. The offices and lifts are amazing, but like many beautiful old offices it is not really fit for the future. It seems likely that it will be sold at some point. Gill also worked on the BBC building, and you will be greeted by his “Mankind” if you walk into the sculpture gallery at the V&A. Nick loves this sculpture (and says it looks like me, ha ha!).



Eric was amazingly talented and I have a great fondness for his work. He converted to Catholicism, but he was a pedophile. I mention this as there is a tendency sometimes to judge the artists rather than the art, and there are some who call for these works of art to be broken and removed. I am appalled by the desecration of art but some would boycott or ban anything that offends them. Not me. I intend to use his gorgeous font. Let’s have a look at it.

In my InDesign course I have been using this font and learning how to make a “drop cap”. It looks really nice, doesn’t it? Not for my book specifically but just to learn.

Using InDesign Gill Sans
InDesign exercise


Here is a nice blog post if you would like to know more.


SWAP #2 Yellow Rocquaine sweater

posted in: Finished projects, knitting, SWAP | 22

I have started on my 11 piece “Sewing with a Plan” wardrobe.

Last week I made a grey pencil skirt, that needs some alterations. Many thanks for giving me the confidence to have a raw edge at the hem. I am just dithering about the length at the moment,  but will bring an update in due course.

In the meantime I have been knitting. Only two knitted or crocheted garments are allowed in the SWAP. And between now and May I am likely to create more than two knitted garments, I may or may not end up including this jersey, but I admit I just needed to make it. Here is the pattern.

Why did I “need” to make it?

  • Yellow

Yellow, to me, is like pink. It just changes things. Put it with grey, or navy or black, or something quiet and suddenly we have a dramatic change. It lifts the mood. It gets noticed. It brings joy. Spring time is yellow time – crocus, daffodil, tulips. I admit I would not have looked at this sweater if it had been photographed in traditional navy. I need more yellow in my wardrobe, so that is why I made it.

Yellow can be a hard colour to get right – many people lack confidence in picking their best yellow and often pass on it (Demented Fairy) rather than take a risk. But anyone can wear yellow if they find the right one for them. Maybe this article would help.

I used Debbie Bliss Rialto in Banana. Also I swapped to a new supplier after having been badly let down by Love Knitting. I am now using Zarela via eBay. Their prices are keen, they have good stock levels and helpful customer service. Although I still love Colourmart you are restricted by what they have in, and they don’t have the full range of colours. The Rialto yarn from Zarela is nice and thick and comes in some great colours, at just under £5 a ball for nice, soft wool. It gave the stitches good definition.

  • Gansey style

This is a quintessential British style of knitting, where jerseys were knitted by women for their seafaring men – from fishermen to members of the royal navy. It is really part of our national costume and I love the look of them. I love the patterning and the shape, and although the Roquaine is a modern take on the traditional look I found it had a resonance and truth to it and I enjoying making it. Maybe I can try a more traditional pattern – the problem for me is that I hate the scratchy traditional yarns.

Gansey knitting
Yorkshire Fisherman in a gansey, with a medal

The name of this particular pattern comes from Guernsey, where there is a bay with the name. If it sounds French that is because this small island is a very southerly part of the British Isles, close to northern France and it has been in different ownership over the years.

Rocquaine Bay Guernsey
  • The pattern

The pattern is by Christine Danaee, and it appeared in the Autumn 2016 Pom Pom magazine. I first saw it mentioned by Marilla Walker and thought “one day I may be able to knit that”. The magazine is out of print but you can download it. I love the photographs, and of course the beautiful grey haired model and her stylish blue-grey trousers and lovely necklace. It is knitted in the round up to the armhole, where it separates. The pattern is not difficult. I followed the instructions rather than the chart, but the choice is yours. I have been interested in making a pattern with a stitch pattern since i first discussed this idea with both Sue Stoney and Aida. So three great bloggers have helped me get to this stage.

I joined the shoulders with Kitchener stitch – again thank you all of those for suggesting this approach to joining seams, and ever thanks to Mrs Zimmermann for holding my hand.

It’s a bit of a boxy look, with the bottom of the jersey hitting the waist, and the ribbing coming down a bit lower. I was happy with this shape, but you could make it longer if you don’t want this style.

Others have said the sleeves are too long. And I agree. I have created fold back cuffs, which I don’t like. So this sweater will probably get an alteration before the end of April.

  • iCord bind off
    iCord Bind off
    i cord bind off

Mrs Z invented the iCord I think. I had never tried it before. But this jersey uses it and it has created a very nice finish around the neck. I love this and would do it again if I had the chance.

Overall I am very pleased with this jumper. I have worn it for work, and here for the weekend. I think it will stay in the SWAP as I know yellow is a great fit with grey and navy, so we shall see what happens next week. I think I will go for a navy item next – a skirt, trousers or a jacket.

Rocquaine sweater
Rocquaine sweater


Two Weddings

posted in: History of fashion | 16

When Esme applied for a passport recently, it bizarrely required the date of her parents’ wedding. John would have known. But she had to ask me. And I couldn’t remember! I looked at some old photos to jog my memory. John is in Top Man and I am wearing a pink crepe wool suit I made from a Vogue 1940s inspired pattern. It had a peplum and shoulder pads and I felt wonderful. It clashed with the flock wallpaper and beige chrysanthemums provided by Register office, but I didn’t care.

Chris, John, Kate, Jenny c. March (?) 1985

Thinking laterally I uploaded the glossy Kodak prints on Facebook, and asked old friends who were there, if they could remember the date. Between us we got the year (1985) and the quarter (January to March), and guessed March, which was enough for the passport.

Fabrickated Wedding
With my Father before we went in

Then, just for fun, I tested myself on the date of my second wedding, to Nick. I knew it took place after my father had died in 2000, as he wasn’t there. I also knew the month. So I Googled it. Well I Googled the event that took place that day and found it immediately – 15 June 2002.

When Nick and I set the date I invited my friend Shirley, who laughed. She explained that the second phase of the World Cup qualifying matches would be held that day. “Don’t worry,” she said. “England have very little chance of getting through!” Although I had a vague recollection of watching the World Cup back in 1966, and the subsequent “England Winners” postage stamp, Nick and I were oblivious of the impending sporting bonanza.

We booked the local register office and sent out invitations. The Wallis sale supplied my outfit, and I made a headdress with pink tulle stitched to a cheap metal “tiara”. Nick bought six boxes of pink peonies from Covent Garden, and ten of Champagne from Sainsbury’s. Our Marks & Spencer cake was customised with pink ribbon and roses.

We got the house tidy on the Friday, stuffing washing baskets into the kids’ bedrooms and preparing most of the food. On Saturday morning I got my hair done while Nick made the salads and chilled the drinks. I asked my Chairman (a Catholic priest) if he would say a few words in the garden.

Then the whole family drove to Lewisham Register office for the last appointment before lunch. We arrived in plenty of time, to be greeted by the chief registrar. Discreetly she enquired if we would mind bringing forward our ceremony to11am rather than 11.30. She explained that the previous couple had postponed – due to the World Cup match. And she and her team would like to get off early, so they could watch it too.

At the register office with the correct witness (CHS)

As most of us were there, we agreed. With a stand-in witness (later substituted when the official witness arrived) we kicked off. Done by 11.30, we took a few photos and returned to the house. Nick and I started offering Champagne, and chatting to our guests, when we realised that the only people in the garden were us, our elderly friends and relatives and a couple of little girls. Where was everyone? Then Father Peter arrived and I asked him when he would be saying a prayer for us. His face lit up:

“What about half time?”

I ran upstairs to George’s bedroom, where I had shoved lots of junk and the television. And there, sheepishly grinning, squashed onto the single bed, or sitting on the floor were about 20 men, all the boys and a few Mums too.

Guests watching the match

Eventually it was half time and everyone came down for a beer, ecstatic that England had scored three goals. The sun was shining brightly and people got started on the food.

We took our chance and got everyone to gather. Father Peter kindly spoke to us all, basing his talk on 1 Corinthians 13: 4-13. Steve and Margaret, followed by Nick, made short speeches. Our oldest and youngest children, Ben and Gus (12 at the time), spoke about our family. Tears were streaming down my face, and we were buoyed up by everyone’s kindness and support.

I guess the speeches must have gone on for half an hour or more when Greg, a great friend and wonderful tenor, started to sing Amazing Grace for us. As his voice soared a huge cheer went up across all the homes in the neighbourhood. For a moment I was confused. Then we realised – full time. England has done it. A Three-Nil win against Denmark. In a way, I owe Emile Heskey my thanks for putting the game to bed by half time.

Nick and Kate 15 June 2002

Nick and I became a family with five children, but all of them were shared. We didn’t have any together. We both found step-parenting a challenge, but it all worked out well in the end.

SWAP #1 Copying a Jigsaw skirt

Let’s get started.

I have decided to start with my grey fabric collection. I have had most of these pieces for a while, especially the heavy silks. I have always resisted a grey or beige collection, alhtough I find these wearable colours. The SWAP this year will be a spur for me. In my mind I have a grey boiled wool skirt, a Chanel jacket, and either a top or an evening skirt from the grey silk.

SWAP 2018
Beautiful grey fabrics

First up is a pencil skirt. Most days I wear trousers or a plain skirt for work, with a shirt and jacket, and (in this cold weather) a jersey or cardigan. So a plain skirt in a neutral colour is a good basic for me.

There is a skirt I like the look of from Jigsaw. It is made from boiled wool and has some nice features. Because this fabric does not unravel you can use unfinished seams. I liked the effect of this on the CF seam and back darts. Also the front darts are transferred to the side seam and arranged to point downwards towards the tip of the pelvic bone which I found rather attractive. I even like the colour. The only thing that put me off was the price tag – almost £100, although it is now in the sale.


I decided to make it up in a piece of boiled wool I got for £4 a metre from Simply Fabrics in Brixton (there was only 80cms left on the roll). It is fairly heavy weight, perhaps a bit too heavy for a skirt really. In fact I have a Zara coat in exactly this light grey fabric and I thought they might look good together. And I love wearing light grey.


I prepared a pattern.

As I don’t store too many patterns and my size changes over time I started with Winifred Aldrich, drafted her basic tailored skirt and then moved the darts from the traditional position to the side seams at the front.


In order to give a bit of pizzazz to a plain skirt Jigsaw have used external darts and an overlapped raw edge CF seam. This was new to me and the boiled wool was ideal as it doesn’t fray at all. I stitched the front darts on the outside so I could clearly see what I was doing and to make sure that the join was good. I trimmed them back on the underside as they are rather thick. I used iron-on interfacing on the CB seam before inserting a white invisible zip.

The Jigsaw skirt has a seam at the waist line. I found this a bit crude so instead I attached a piece of curved Petersham, turned it in and stitched it down inside.  This worked perfectly.

The hem on the other hand was not satisfactory. It was very bulky, especially at the CB split as the fabric is turned over and this creates four layers. I also thought the skirt may be a bit long. Although I wanted to keep my knees warm in this cold weather it makes the skirt look a bit dowdy, especially with the flat shoes. I think I will alter it to make it shorter and do something about flattening the hem.

Copying a Jigsaw skirt
Jigsaw copy (first attempt)

My jersey

The jumper is made with the Elizabeth Zimmermann raglan sleeve pattern. If you made the colourful yoke pattern of knitting three cylinders you can do this too. The body and two sleeves are put onto one circular needle and two stitches are decreased at the sleeve and front section every other row. This creates the “raglan” seam.

I am very pleased with it because it is comfortable and it goes with just about everything in my wardrobe. It is made in Colourmart merino yarns. Nick and I went to an interesting event arranged by students at Central St Martins last week at the Tate Modern. The students show how digital technology and the loss of traditional studios in the capital forces artists to consider where and how they make their art. The use of coffee shops, the kitchen, the pub or a park bench can be more public places where the act of creation can be shared. In my day job I am pleased and proud to include artists spaces in some of our new developments. I certainly enjoyed talking to the young artists who also allowed members of the public to join in and consider their role in society at a temporary project staged at the Bankside gallery’s Tate Exchange arm. It certainly revealed the many ways we can make our lives more beautiful.


Making a book #6 Starting my Indesign Course

As you know books are designed. It is an absolutely crucial part of the process, almost as important as writing it. It makes it possible to read comfortably.

If you have ever printed out a book or even a long pamphlet and tried to read it I am sure you will agree that it is a depressing experience! I have paid good money for a proper book rather than downloading some horrible un-designed Project Gutenberg free book.Books without proper chapter headings, attractive readable text, sufficient white space and properly organised footnotes are work of the devil. I think this would be one way to drive me mad – to make me read badly designed books for a living. Books need to be designed to be read, to be as easy as possible to assimilate without effort. Some of this of course is the writing, which I will reflect on in a future post. But the design is as important as the writing, in my view.

Witness the incredible interest in the book cover! 

What strong feelings were released. How something looks – think of food, a bed or your own appearance – makes all the difference to how you feel about something. An idea to bear in mind when people say it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter how you dress. I always laugh at these critiques of style guidelines. Of course it matters how you dress, just as it matters what your lunch looks like. Presentation and context is as important as content. If you were really hungry and someone ripped the liver out of a deer in the forest I expect you might eat it. But the same ingredient, delicately cooked and laid on a plate with other colours and ingredients might be more appetising. I know you get this.

It’s my body…


Books look lovely. You pick them up and the designed to be read. The organisation of a book helps you navigate it. A real book, compared to an e-book, is something you can handle, and flick through and dart around in, if you please. But the best thing about books – from children’s stories to technical manuals -is the pictures. I love this aspect. It cannot be achieved electronically, yet. Not very well. Kindle is monochrome.

Actually I love Kindle. I have one in my bag at all times and I devour novels at any opportunity (when I not knitting). I don’t mind a paper novel but I am not that bothered. These go from front to back and lack illustrations and a physical book is heavy and a little unwieldy. A Kindle can be read in bed at night without disturbing the Other. For travel and holidays a Kindle is ideal and will fit in the back pocket of my jeans.

But for pre-readers, and definately for any visual/presentation/instructional manual we need illustration. For  style and craft book we need pictures and colour. I think there are some options for electronic coloured books but they are not entirely satisfactory, although I understand things are changing and over the next few years what I want will exist. But not, in a satisfactory form, yet.

So I am going to produce a colourful book and to do that it needs designing.

You know my step daughter Charlotte works book publishing as a designer, and she has given me some of the books she has designed. They are known as “bricks” as they are big, heavy, glossy and colourful. Packed with lots of double page spreads they are completely sumptuous and beautiful. These books don’t have “authors” as the writing is fairly limited. They are mainly made up of check lists or ingredient lists or tips. The photographs are highly stylised and while I think these books provide good inspiration they produce an unrealistic approach to how you actually organise a wedding. You might say these books are so “aspirational” that they have limited use for the people who buy them.

My own book will look good, and I really want to design it to make it easy to read and accessible. The mood is not aspirational but achievable, real not superficial, understanding that how things look is very important but not a slave to style. Char tells me that these books take six months to design and I can believe it. And a whole army of photographers, stylists and designers to create the look that DK loves and is known for. I am not knocking them and I have so much to learn but my book will have more words and less pictures. And the pictures will be of beautiful people and gorgeous clothes, but they will also be real and you will get to know them.

So in order to learn more about book design I have started two courses this term. One is photography (with Nick) and the other is InDesign.

The Indesign course is six weeks (18 hours) and I hope it will be sufficient for me to actually make my own book. Maybe it will still need a professional eye at the end but I am going to give it a go. I have attended three lessons so far and have designed

a) a CD cover

b) a double sided flyer for an exhibition at the V&A

and c) a business card, and two leaflets (we are getting quicker!).

Working with Indesign
InDesign projects

My work to date is  rudimentary. I learnt the techniques. I didn’t make something terribly artistic. But the punch line is that this technology is very accessible. InDesign is part of the Adobe package (which Nick bought years ago at Student rates) and for me it is much easier to use that Illustrator and Photoshop. Which is a relief as I found them both very trying. I am enjoying using the programme and I believe with more practice I will be able to make my book.