Further adventures of Preen

posted in: Uncategorized | 3


Influenced by the Preen Spring/Summer collection I started taking photographs of peonies. To me, the ultimate spring/summer flower. They are in gardens and shops in May and June, and they were my flower (with roses) for my June wedding. They are in my mother’s garden, and although they cost around £5 or £6 a bunch, we often have them in the house in June.

IMG_0181 IMG_0178

I then experimented with pixelating my photographs. This meant saving them in their smallest dimensions, then cropping them to the tiniest size. This little photograph is then scaled up using the zoom button. It pixellates! Then, on my computer, I just play with the exposure, lightness, coolness, saturation and other buttons to create a harmonious and attractive colour scheme. I saved the files and finally printed them out on the dye-sublimation printer. This uses specially coated paper that can accept the sublimated ink. Once the image is printed it can be transferred onto the synthetic (at least 60 per cent synthetic content) fabric, using the heat press. Under the high temperature and pressure, the dye turns to a gas and permeates the fabric, and then solidifies into its fibers. The fabric is permeantly dyed and can be washed without damaging the quality of the image. We used the Richoh GX7000 Sublijet-R system.

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As the papers are very small (A4) I decided to make a very small garment, and used my new shorts pattern for this project. I drew the pattern pieces on to the fabric using a washable felt tip and then printed two papers onto each section, realising there would be quite a lot of white surrounding the pattern, but deciding I could live with that for experimental purposes.

Here are the pieces after printing and cutting out.

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Overall a great effect. It’s just what I wanted, at this stage. It shows what is possible.

Guest Post – Joe the Mod

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

Here is a guest post by my friend Joe. He is a man who goes to dressmaking classes. His first project was a skirt for his daughter; his second a pirate shirt for himself. We talk about setting in the sleeves over a bowl of Vietnamese soup. I asked him to tell me about his attitude to clothes, fabric and fashion.

“I am a Mod. A Mod out of time. I come from the Mod revival of the early 1980’s rather than the original scene in the 1960’s. I am still a Mod in 2014. I think this may only be possible because I work in Soho, although I understand you can buy Fred Perry T-shirts all over the country as well as Chelsea boots, desert boots, Levis and crew neck jumpers.

Sta-Press trousers
Sta-Press trousers

The internet is also a great source of appropriate attire. That is where I got my parka from.

My take on the style is quite minimalist, with clean lines and bold patterns. I tend to wear single breasted suits with two or three buttons. My shirts are tailored or slim fit. My shoes have thin soles and often rather pointed.

Casually – nothing flared. The simplicity of a Fred Perry T-shirt with 501s suits me. I have a number of black fine knit jumpers with V neck, turtle neck or crew neck. Flashes of colour can come from a Paisley or polka dot shirt. In winter, under a jumper, with the collar and cuffs just on show.

My most recent, and most precious acquisition, for the summer, which always entices me into slightly more colourful clothes, are my red, white and blue bowling shoes. I am very proud of them and wore them to a wedding in Wales recently. I had a matching suit and shirt.


I am not sure what other guests’ thought. They appeared to subscribe to the “scruffy is cool” look. Mods who have that outlook become Grease Monkey/Scooter Boys and I think lose something of the essence of Modism. Still, it takes all sorts.

There are songs that play in my head “Boy about Town”by the Jam, or the Kinks “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, as I walk into Soho on a sunny day in a three-button suit, winkle picker boots with Cuban heels, Ray Bans and my Fred Perry bag. I love that feeling.

The Kinks
The Kinks

When I was 13 years old I ran up and down Carnaby Street envying the Mods, in their Sta-Press trousers, monkey jackets and black and white bowling shoes. I aspired to wear those suits and Ray Bans but couldn’t afford to. Now I can, and I do. I am that boy about town , a dedicated follower! In my mind’s eye at least and probably still about 13!”

Does a wrap dress suit all body shapes?

posted in: Finished projects | 3

Following the success of my DVF dress I thought I would run one up for my daughter. She had just told us at Christmas she was expecting her second baby so I thought I might try a maternity style wrap dresses.

I used Butterick B5860, view B. I wanted to add the collar from D, but Esme said no. (I will blog about making clothes for others on another occasion!)

A maternity wardrobe
A maternity wardrobe

I got some purple-blue viscose jersey out of the oddments bin at Simply Fabrics and ran one up. Unfortunately due to my sloppiness, and less than perfect eyesight, I managed to make the jersey up back to front. In other words (if you knit) I had the purl on the front rather than the knit. A beginners mistake. Also, she noted that the front wrap was somewhat long. I did follow the pattern and we thought maybe it assumes a bigger bump. Here she is in it, in the 8th month of her pregnancy (3 weeks to go). It’s so voluminous that it has only just fit her. She is a slim girl (normally) and she found the ease excessive. Anyway given the warm weather, and the advent of her maternity leave she is now willing to wear it.


Esme in 5860
Esme in Butterick 5860
Bump in full view
Bump in full view

Travelling Light – summer suitcase

posted in: Style advice | 5

OK. So you are going on holiday – yipee. Next question – what to pack?

I get unreasonably angry with visitors to London who insist on driving wheeled, wardrobe-sized suitcases onto the tube. Our congested, crushed tube. Our commute gets a whole lot worse when a suitcase the size of a small child encroaches on our space. Despite being well aware that our weather is changeable I wonder what eventualities they have packed for? Just how many outfits do you need for one week’s holiday in London? Or anywhere for that matter?

Travelling light
Kings Cross station

I have one suitcase and it is small enough to qualify as hand luggage (even on Ryanair). This is important in terms of maneuverability, ease of travel, and reduced chances of finding it has gone to Stockholm when you are in Madrid. And, these days, budget airlines charge for putting your luggage in their boot.

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With less space to play with – what to pack? Obviously this depends on where and when you are going. I have based this proposal on a summer trip to the French countryside, but it would work for London too. It covers all the weather bases, and can be flexed. It is formulae that allows you to make changes to accommodate any specific needs (e.g. dressier, hotter weather, more swimming etc).

And if something really surprising happens – like non-stop rain, or you get invited to a wedding, then you might have to buy something in the country you are visiting. That’s what the credit card is for!

Step 1

This wardrobe is based on separates to allow maximum flexibility. Also cardigans and jackets, and layered tops allow you to create more looks. Similarly if you pack a dress choose one that allows you to wear a T shirt underneath to increase the options.

Choose two colours that you like and work well together. People often base their holiday wardrobe on Black and White. Boring. Don’t do it. Choose something a bit different – what about brown and pink, purple and silver, red and turquoise, or yellow and green?  Let’s call the colours A and B, and each item can be plain, or a pattern (at least 50% of which is in the main colour). Cardigans can be exchanged for a light jacket.

Step 2

Choose four sets of separates that work together but are interchangeable.

  • A set 1 : skirt, top, cardi
  • A set 2: long skirt and top, or pinafore type dress and top
  • B set 1: trousers, top, cardi
  • B set 2: shorts and light jumper (eg cashmere)
  • Colourful patterned scarf which includes A and B
  • Five additional T-shirts which go with A and B – say 2 long-sleeved, 2 short, and 1 vest so they can be layered.
  • Indoor/evening shoes or sandals in B or neutral
  • Three belts in B and two other colours, one additional piece of jewelry
  • Plus four pairs of pants/knickers, 3 pairs of socks, a pair of thick tights in A, your swim suit, sunglasses and wash bag
  • Sun hat in neutral shade
Four outfits and….
Four outfits and

Step 3

Pack carefully, with the shoes and heavier items at the bottom.

Step 4

Prepare your travel outfit:

  • Underwear and socks
  • Jeans or stretch trousers in a suitable neutral colour
  • T-shirt, Cardigan and/or lightweight jacket in neutral
  • Necklace, earrings, or other jewelry
  • Raincoat in B with hood, gloves in pockets
  • Soft bag or rucksack including passport, tickets, Kindle, pen, make up, credit card and small purse, phone, and transparent bag with small containers of moisturiser, shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen.
  • A second scarf that includes A and B
  • Trainers
Travel outfit
Travel outfit

Here are some of the possible outfits (in addition to the sets you started with):

  1. Navy skirt, pink T, pink cardi, white belt, floral scarf, pink shoes
  2. Navy skirt, grey stripy T, grey cardi, pink belt and shoes
  3. Navy skirt, white and navy T, yellow belt, navy tights, trainers
  4. Patterned trousers, blue bias top, navy cardi, pink belt and pink shoes, floral scarf
  5. Patterned trousers, brown vest, white belt, grey cardi, pink shoes
  6. Patterned trousers, red sweater, white belt, pink shoes (evening in casual venue)
  7. patterned trousers, pink vest, pink belt and shoes
  8. Shorts, pink T, socks, trainers (going for a walk on a hot day)
  9. shorts, blue bias top, yellow belt, pink shoes, pink bag
  10. Jeans, pink T, red jumper, white belt, trainers
  11. Jeans, navy striped T, floral scarf, pink shoes
  12. Jeans, red jumper, grey cardi, socks, trainers, raincoat, spotted scarf, gloves (in the event of rain)
  13. White dress worn over short-sleeved grey T, grey cardigan, silver jewellery, pink shoes and bag(evening in a restaurant),
  14. white dress worn over red T, spotted scarf, pink shoes, with red jersey in case it goes cold
  15. etc.

And finally

Of course over two weeks your clothes may need a wash –  I usually find a laundry/launderette, or hand wash.


Sporty Shorties, Chapter Two

posted in: Finished projects | 0


I mentioned I was going to attempt to make a pair of lined running shorts as part of Karen Ball’s Sporty Summer Sewathon. This weekend I made a passable pattern, which I tested by making the first prototype. I am not entirely happy with it, but that is normal when I am in the early stages of working on a design. The materials I used were sub optimal and I chose the wrong treatment for the waistband. I will now have a think about how to rectify the design issues, and revisit these shorts over the next week or two.

Plenty left over for a scrunch
Plenty left over for a scrunchie

Design and pattern cutting

I was pleased with my pattern. Using the design and dimensions of my blue running shorts, I adapted my trouser block, omitting the darts, extending the waist to allow for a folded-over channel for the elastic.  I created a little side split but otherwise they are completely plain. I don’t have an underwear block, so I just traced off the integral knickers from inside my shorts. And I designed a little inside pocket, on the same principal as a “housewife” pillow case.

I fitted the knickers first. I had to take a little off the side seams so that the back elastic stayed where it needed to. Ladies blessed with a curvy rear will know what I mean. I now have a good pattern for underwear – but I am not sure why anyone would sew their own pants, frankly, at 3 pairs for a fiver at Marks and Spencer.

Fabric and other materials

My existing InSport shorts are made out of 100% Polyester (with a nice cottony feel) and lined with “Cool max”. The knicker legs and waist band are elasticated and feel very soft and comfortable when worn.

At this stage I just wanted to test the fit and style of the pattern so I used some Lycra from Simply Fabrics. Avoiding the black I went for pink. Robert asked me if I was entering Run for Life. I didn’t buy elastic as I thought I had some at in my cupboard. It turned out to be two metres of red, fold over, elastic. I used this to finish the knicker leg openings. It is much too heavy for the Lycra, and I will need to look for an alternative before I make the final pair.

I have had some excellent suggestions on fabric and patterns from Patricia, Bessie C, and read the thread on Exercise Clothing on Artisan Square. Thank you!

Red knicker elastic with pink lycra?
Red knicker elastic with pink lycra?


I once made Esme a black leotard for school, about 22 years ago. I made an identical one for Alice (her teddy).  That was my last experience with something both clingy and stretchy.

I basted the leg elastic, but otherwise just pinned. I used a mixture of a zig zag and straight stitch depending on the seam was, ironed on cool, and turned up the hems. I found using a bit of Magic tape rather than pins worked well, especially at the corners.

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I put the knickers inside the shorts, wrong sides together. Then I had a bit of trouble with the waistband. I tried a simple folded over channel, into which I inserted some pyjama elastic. I am not very happy with the look to be honest, so will think of a different approach with the next pair.

Running shorts V1, with Monet print vest
Running shorts V1, with Monet print vest

My T shirt is self printed with a lino print of miniature flints on a blue background. Once fixed, I painted the white spaces with watered down fabric paint. Inspired by Monet.








Vivienne Westwood – Challenge accepted!

posted in: Finished projects | 12


Vivienne Westwoodalike jacket
Vivienne Westwoodalike jacket

I finished the Westwood type jacket. I have worn it alot already! I lined it with a little bit of left over purple silk. The buttons were chosen by Sharon’s young assistant on Clitheroe market.

Then I made a skirt to go with it, using just 70cms of checked woollen fabric. The pattern – Vogue 6600, used before here – didn’t specify yardage for the skirt alone. But it would be around 1.5yds. Allowing for matching the plaid would have required at least 2m, so I was chancing it here.  I did the front panel across the fabric, and the back along the selvage. An offence, I know, but as the panel stands a little proud I don’t think I will get arrested for wearing it. I think it works better with only one button done up (two buttons was my design addition).

My finished suit (just in time!)
My finished suit (just in time!)

My reflections on Marianne’s Vivienne Westwood Challenge?

  • I love a challenge and a deadline
  • my pattern drafting is better than I thought
  • conversely, my construction skills are worse than I remember, and in need of improvement
  • when copying a designer item think twice about changing anything (i.e. more interfacing and buttons)
  • buy sufficient material to do the job
  • now use the pattern, skills and knowledge to make VW2!

Thanks Marianne for organising the challenge, and I look forward to seeing how you and everyone else got on.


The place of neutrals in your wardrobe

posted in: Uncategorized | 5

Neutral shades are really, really useful. Wonderful, restful, reliable. The don’t fight back. They soothe and provide a backdrop to the drama that is your wardrobe.

Here is a Alison Thain who runs a new housing association called Thirteen. She has chosen light neutrals to go with her fair skin and hair, and doesn’t she look lovely? Totally business-like, powerful but approachable. She is wearing flat but fashionable white shoes and a tan belt, with a toning (rather than matchy-matchy) handbag. Her necklace is petite, like her, and her make up is light too.


Neutrals Rule

But not all neutrals are born equal. Neutrals – like the colours – fit into the categories I mentioned previously. There will be a shade of blue and grey that works best for you, and everyone can wear the mid beige that Alison is wearing. But you can find your best neutral by determining your own colour direction and finding similar hued neutrals to enhance your natural characteristics.

Deep or light?

Deep neutral colour palette
Deep Neutrals

People with deep colouring look great in black, and very dark navy, darkest brown and charcoal. These are the traditional business colours and people with deeper colouring really carry off the look, especially teamed with a white or very light coloured shirt or blouse.

Light neutral colour palette
Light neutrals

People with lighter colouring just look washed out and ill in the traditional shades. Much better is to can choose a mid grey for their business-wear, or a lighter tone of mid grey blue. A light navy can look great, and so can beige, as chosen by Alison above. Cream would be a nice colour for summer, perhaps for a linen suit.

Cool or warm?

Cool neutral colour palette
Cool neutrals

People with cool colouring have a blue undertone to their hair, skin and eyes. The cool colours flatter then and they can really wear any blues or greys for their neutrals and business wear. Very dark brown is good too, and cool beiges and stones will look nice in summer.

Warm neutral palette
Warm neutrals

If you have warm colouring there will be yellow undertones in your hair, lips, eyes and skin. You will probably have naturally golden hair, reddish tones in brown hair, greenish eyes maybe. Anyway if you are warm most shades of brown will enhance your colouring and look good in a business suit. Apparently Churchill (a keen painter) felt sorry for the browns. Some people don’t think men can wear a brown suit, but on the right man or woman it looks wonderful. There are warmer greys and blues too if you prefer to wear more traditional colours. But avoid black.

Bright or muted?

Bright neutral colour palette
Bright neutrals

People with bright colouring – lots of contrast between their hair, skin, eyes and lips – think of Snow White for an extreme example – need to stick to brighter neutrals. All shades of grey to black look good, but brighter blues can be worn for work if you have bright colouring. Perhaps the ideal look is a clear bright charcoal with a bright blue or red tie for a man, or a strongly coloured blouse for a woman.

Muted neutral colour palette
Muted neutrals

People with muted colouring have a lot less contrast, and their natural colours are much softer and more muted. These people suit a muted, greyed off, elegant colour palette. Grey is good, but not the brightest greys. Grey blues are great on people with a muted colour direction. Probably worn with a low contrast shirt or blouse – perhaps a lighter shade of grey-blue and a tie or scarf in similar tones.

 Neutrals for the home sewist

Some  home sewists go mad for bold prints, quilting cottons or colourful fabrics. Compared to cartoon kittens, or a Navaho print, neutrals seem a safe bet. For garments you wear alot they are the natural choice – the business suit, or the coat. Neutrals go with everything. For example a black jacket – if black is your neutral – will go with your entire wardrobe. But you don’t want to dress head to toe in neutrals as they can be a little boring.

A friend visited from the Caribbean. After spending half and hour in London she asked if it was a national day of mourning.     She had never seen so much black and dark, dull neutrality being worn by a population!

Making a number of basic items in the right neutrals for you is a sensible use of your precious sewing time. Colours like grey, black, navy and grey blues suit many of us, but they need some relief. This is why a colourful blouse or scarf, necklace or lipstick looks so good with a neutral outfit.

In amongst the grey and beige you can spot an orange fox (or squirrel)
In amongst the grey and beige you can spot an orange fox (or squirrel)

Cool, bright, deep and muted should find it easy to buy business wear. The two groups who need to depart from the classic palette are people with warm and/or light colour directions. Here is a nice vintage suit in Camel. Its a great colour if you have warm colouring and looks super with both warm pastels – cream, peach and warm yellows, and with deeper colours like burnt orange, teal and brown.

1960s Camel suit
1960s Camel suit

And light mid grey is a perfect colour for people with lighter colouring – it doesn’t overwhelm and looks good with white, pink, lemon and light blue. Or match it with a similar tone of mid blue, pink or like the model below a grey spotted silk blouse.

Light grey suit (lose the black hat)
Light grey suit (lose the black hat)

Inspired by Preen – textile printing experiments

posted in: Fabric printing | 13

I have written about a lovely Preen collection that has inspired me. At first I just loved the colours of the Spring/Summer collection 2012 – the strong pinks, with grey, white, green, blue and turquoise. I went to the shop in Notting Hill, and was allowed to try everything on and really examine the clothes (thank you Miriam). I discovered that the textiles used were created using pixellated photographs of peonies, which were then digitally printed on silk.

Preen S/S 2012
Preen S/S 2012

Obviously not something a home dressmaker could reproduce at home. But I have taken the idea of pastel shaded cubes on white as my inspiration, and have worked on this concept at home and at the Mary Ward centre, where I go to evening classes once a week.

Here is my first attempt at home. I used some washable gutta to create rough squares on a piece of silk, then mixed some silk paints in suitable colours and filled it in.

Testing the colours on silk
Testing the colours on silk

As this worked quite well, I made up a 1960s shell top, from one of the patterns I used previously (for the 2014 SWAP).

Shell top, Vogue 7379
Shell top, Vogue 7379

I sewed the five sections together, leaving it open at the shoulders and CB so that it was more or less flat. This meant that when I painted the squares on it would continue across the seams – providing perfect matching! In fact what happened was that the colours seeped across on the underside creating some less desirable effects. I have yet to rescue this item!

Painting the shell top
Painting the shell top

I have tried a few other techniques too. Here is what happened when I experimented with screen printing.

5 colour screen printed cotton
5 colour screen printed cotton

I also experimented with the heat press at the Mary Ward centre. I painted several sheets of paper with heat transfer inks. These did not look very promising in the tube, and pretty dull on the paper. After letting the ink dry I used the guillotine to cut them into two-inch squares, before assembling them on a piece of very light translucent polyester and putting it into the heat press (which works like a large, very hot, dry iron). Here the fabric is displayed on white backing fabric as I would need to mount it on an opaque background when making up a skirt.

Heat transfer (single thickness)
Heat transfer (single thickness)

It was impossible to get all the little squares lined up due to the very high heat of the press and the relatively flimsy nature of the paper. Nevertheless I was very pleased with the result. As the fabric is transparent I tried folding it over to see what happened.

Double thickness heat transfer print
Double thickness heat transfer print.

This has definite possibilities. Has anyone got any other ideas of techniques or approaches to creating this unique designer look?

Sporty shorties

posted in: Inspiration | 4

I go to the gym most days. I wear running shorts and a sports bra, socks and trainers. All of these items are bought, not made.

It’s the shorts I have a problem with. I like wearing shorts, but not too short. The three pairs I have – bought years ago from Run and Become – are great. They have the following essential features:

  • Classic cut
  • built in briefs
  • comfy elastic waistband with adjustable cord
  • small interior pocket (for my earplugs)
  • non clingy quick dry fabric
  • long enough to look reasonable on a non-Amazonian women
  • side pockets, if possible (for earphones and hanky)
  • nice colours (not black!)

My shorts are mauve, tasteful greyish-brown (think Farrow and Ball), and today’s pair in bright blue (with pink bra top). With constant and daily use all are showing signs of wear but, sadly, I have been unable to replace them.

Decent running shorts
Decent running shorts

I have searched the internet, specialist sports shops, discount outlets and department stores. I did find some boys’ running shorts that nearly met the criteria but the shape and fit were out of the question. In the gym today I looked round and found everyone in my Body Pump class had black shorts on.

Why are (nearly) all the shorts black?
Why are (nearly) all the shorts black?

As usual I am being driven to make my own clothes as I can’t buy what I want.

When I saw that Karen’s Sporty Summer Sewathon I thought I might bite the bullet. This means finding or drafting an appropriate pattern, identifying suitable fabrics, and tackling the construction with an ordinary, ageing, domestic machine. If you know of any patterns or have fabric suggestions I would love to hear from you!


Red Peacock – Liberty print blouse

posted in: Finished projects | 0


When I was doing my City and Guilds 380 training in Fashion I was obliged to make a garment featuring “craft skills”, such as weaving, macrame, crochet or knitting. At the time macrame hanging plant pots were all the rage, and I am not much of a knitter. Just to be different I went with tatting. Here is an interesting blog post about tatting by TinyInc.

tatting shuttle

This little shuttle sits in your hand, and you work on the thread that is held in a bobbin, in the centre of the shuttle. It is slow, repetitive work, but there is a reward of a little click each time a tiny, even knot is created. This continues for many hours until a skinny piece of cotton “lace” appears.  I had no idea what to do with it. I wanted in some way to reflect the William Morris ideal of craft.

“A good way to rid one’s self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order; it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to its creative character.”

Morris valued craft skills of the humble working man as being of the highest order. Something for me to think about when I was making hundreds of knots. And having thought about English craftiness I was drawn to Liberty of London to provide the fabric for my project. I wondered around the wonderful emporium one Saturday and I bought a piece of their lovely Hera Fabric. Not a very big piece because it was expensive – just enough to make a little top.

Liberty Peacock design "Hera"
Liberty Peacock design “Hera”

I used my princess line block to create a panelled top and used the tatted lace to join the sections together. I don’t remember wearing it, and several decades, and house moves, later it has been lost. But it was with a certain amount of nostalgia that I looked at the “Liberty” fabrics at a shop in Goldhawk Road. I saw the peacock design I loved but in red and pink, and bought three metres for £20. You can also get this fabric from Liberty.

I used a vintage blouse pattern, making up view B, but with full length sleeves as in view A. It has a number of interesting features. The blouse is shaped by darts, inverted darts and released pleats. As a consequence it flares out over the hips. It works well tucked in or out. The sleeves, with minimum ease, are inserted (like a shirt) before the side seams are sewn up.  There is considerable fullness at the cuffs. I had to move the button on the sleeves to produce a tighter cuff – next time I would just make them smaller. The approach to the placket was one I had not experienced before, but it seemed to work.


Butterick 603
Butterick 603


This blouse has silver buttons – perhaps not an obvious choice. In fact they are very plain and almost look like press studs rather than shanked buttons.  I like a metal button – it saves matching the colour and it acts a bit like wearing jewellery. It reflects light and flatters the complexion  – so long as you know what precious metal works well with your colouring.

IMG_0196 IMG_0198