Tag Archives: Crafts

Crochet Winter Warmers

13 Feb


Anyone residing in the UK for the past few months would be aware that it’s been, well, rather parky out. I won’t be the only one who should have spent much all of January and much of February, shrouded in blankets and refusing to leave the warm environs of my flat for any non-essential reason.


However, the course of my life has never been sedentary. I was back in my seaside hometown of Southport during the cold snap, so I decided to hibernate at my Grandparents house – until cabin fever struck. I decided to take a stroll along the deserted beach, which gave me the perfect opportunity to play with the settings on my new camera.


For those of you who know anything about the North West coast, you won’t be surprised to hear that the wind was whipping up in every direction which made the chilly temperatures feel even colder! Eventually, I retreated back into the town to seek retail therapy and hot chocolate. It was then that I discovered a gem of a place: the Yarn Fairy on Wesley Street.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was inevitable of course, that an addicted crafter such as myself would succumb to the lure of independent boutique yarn shops and the prospect of lovely new crochet projects. As I was wearing my deliciously warm new winter coat, I decided to try and pick out some colours to create some cozy accessories.


Unwittingly, I selected some yarns which perfectly matched the shades of the seaside, where I had taken my stroll and where my mind must have still been wandering. The yarn was from Rico studio, and was 50% acrylic, 50% wool, so I thought that would be a good choice. Both the blue and the cream yarns were variegated, and contained all sorts of different shades from my coat. Perfect!

I’m not really a fan of crochet patterns – I’m much happier just setting off and discovering where the stitches take me. However, I had recently seen a tutorial for making a hat from brim to top, rather than the other way round – I decided to give that a go.

I began by making a loop in the pretty, blue yarn, which fitted snugly around my head, and then hooking a row of double crochets to get the hat started. Onto row 2, I began a row of treble crochets, doing a hooked treble stitch every 4 stitches. A hooked treble is where you push your crochet hook crosswise, around the post of the stitch below, rather than putting it through the top of the stitch below. I hope that makes sense! It is the same technique used when doing the basketweave stitch.

After a few lines, I switched colours to the cream, but continued doing 3 trebles, 1 hooked treble for the first few rows -then as I wanted to reduce the stitches, I began doing a hooked stitch for every three, then for every 2 and so on, so that the raised columns were preserved, and the hat began to form into the correct shape. For every two rows I completed, I probably unravelled another, as I worked out how the hat should fit me.

I wanted slouchy, beret style to the hat, so I tried it on after every row or so, checking that I was progressing how I wanted. As I reached the top  of the hat, I got to a stage where each stitch was a hooked treble, and then for the next row, I began hooking two raised ridges together, to close up the hat at the top. Finally, once the hat was completed, I used a spare strand of blue yarn to make a simple bow at the top.


Next, it was time to get started on the hand warmers. I have a track record with handwarmers, and have made a whole series of them for myself and others over the years (a few examples are below). They are a quick and easy make, which doesn’ use up too much yarn, and can be embellished in countless ways.

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Again, the easiest way to get a good fit for your handwarmers is to begin with a chain of around 34 stitches (depending on the dimensions of your hands and wrists), and to try on the glove after completing every row, to check they are fitting well. This time, I began with the cream yarn, and instead of producing ridges around all of the handwarmer, I just created two ridges, 3 stitches apart, which would run along the top of the item.


When I reached the bottom of the thumb, I began to alternate rows backwards and forwards, leaving a gap. Once the gap was sufficient, I added a chain of 3 and then began doing circular rows again – this technique gave my glove a thumb hole.


To match the design of the hat, I switched to blue yarn when I reached my knuckles, to give a blue border to the tops of the handwarmers. Once I had completed the glove to a desirable height, I then began building the rows around the thumb joint, using a selection of slip stitches, double crochets and treble crochets, to mould the shape. This is a little fiddly in explanation, but is very quick in reality!


The big task then was to make an identical twin for the gloves! This is always easier said than done, but it’s manageable as long as you continue to check and compare the work as you go along.


I”m really happy with my new creations, and especially like the silver flecks in the yarn that makes the items sparkle. My new makes came in handy last month, when I spent the weekend in Cologne, Germany. My trip coincided with a giant snowstorm, and I was grateful for my warm accessories whilst sightseeing in a blizzard!




Scandimania Pt 2: Trondheim

28 Dec

Right, I know I’m taking my time in posting blogs at the moment – life has been frantic and I’ve hardly known whether I was coming or going. I’ve really been looking forward to spending an hour or so, casting my mind back to my amazing Scandinavian adventure, and sharing my memories here on the blog. Here goes!

So, after waving a fond farewell to Stockholm, I took a flight North West, to begin 6 blissful days in Norway. It was my first visit to this beautiful country, and I divided my time between two places which couldn’t be more different – firstly, the historic city of Trondheim, in Central Norway, and then onto the capital city, Oslo, in the South. It truly  was a tale of two cities.


I am lucky enough to have friends that live in central Norway – Emily is originally from England, but teaches at an international school in the historical city of Trondheim, and lives there with her Norwegian boyfriend Magnus. When they heard I was visiting Scandinavia, they kindly said I could stay a few night with them, and see what Trondheim has to offer!

It’s a beautiful, traditional city, which actually used to be the capital of Norway until 1217. It was founded by the Viking Olaf Tryggvason, and there is a tall monument to the man himself in the centre of the city square.


I only had 2 days to spend in Trondheim, so I tried my best to fit as many sights as possible. The city itself is peaceful and picturesque, especially the idyllic Old Town area, with its brightly coloured buildings.  I had the opportunity to visit the spectacular Nidaros Cathedral,  as well as walking all the way up to the Kristiansen fortress overlooking the city.

I was happy to see that the city was not immune to guerilla crafters! Many of the statues had been adorned with handmade orange scarves, which I’m sure the statues were grateful for, given that it was just above freezing!

Of course, no holiday would be complete without some crafty purchases, so it will not surprise you to discover that I found a wonderful craft supplier in Trondheim. In the evening, I met up with Emily to stroll around the town. Down a quiet cobbled street, I spotted M. Sommer, which supplied an abundance of ribbons, buttons, trimmings and fabrics. The shop is something of a Trondheim institution, and has been in the same place for 125 years!

It was difficult to know what to pick, when there was so much to choose from! Finally I found the perfect souvenir – some ribbon in the colours of the Norwegian flag. This will be perfect for decorating an item for my flat. I also picked up some lovely blue and green glass beads, as I thought I could probably make a necklace that would remind me of the light sparkling on the waters of the Norwegian coastline.

On my final evening, Emily and Magnus took me to a traditional Norwegian diner in the Old Town. It was called Baklandet Skydsstation and served wonderful, hearty Norwegian food. The diner itself was beautifully decorated with handmade cushions and old portraits and embroideries. I had the most delicious meal of poached salmon in a broth, and I even had a little taste of Magnus’s wild reindeer stew!

I felt refreshed and relaxed after my brief break in Trondheim – the next stage I had to look forward to was a scenic, six-hour train journey through the mountainous Norwegian landscape, towards Oslo.


Thank you to Emily and Magnus for making me so welcome in your beautiful home city! Onward to Oslo…..


Four Go Glamping – update

23 Nov

You may remember that, earlier in the year, during the blissful, balmy Summer, my friends and I went glamping in Oxfordshire, and had time to visit a pottery studio during our stay. We painted mugs and jugs at Aston Pottery, using stencils and a stippling effect, and left our masterpieces here to be glazed and fired.


After a long wait, our items have finally arrived! Hannah, Kat and I met up recently, and opened the parcel to reveal our works of art. The patterns have come out really well and the colours have deepened during the firing. The glaze is smooth and even across the mug, and the finishe piece feels really professional! Katie painted a jug during the weekend, which has also come out really well.

It was wonderful to finally receive our items and remember our fantastic weekend. Katie wasn’t able to join us, but hopefully she will feel the same when she sees her creation!


My mug is now bringing sunshine to my morning coffee and desert heat to an evening cocoa on these long winter nights. I’m really happy with how the design turned out, and would defnitely try stencilling on pottery again – perhaps I may try this effect on something at my pottery class!

Tipi Tealights!

13 Oct

I realise I haven’t updated you on my progress at pottery in quite a while. I have been continuing with my Wednesday evening classes at Hayfield FE College, and although I’m not convinced my skills are improving that much, I am definitely still enjoying the experience!


Readers of my blog will know that I spent a few months at the end of last year working on a pottery project for my bathroom. I’m still delighted with the effect of that project, but I also definitely wanted to try out some new ideas, rather than make any more companion pieces.

Therefore, last term, I embarked on a new series of items, this time for my living room. I already have some Native American art in my living room, so I thought I could create some items to complement this theme, and emphasise the theme of the Great Outdoors too.


The first project I got started on was a series of three tealight holders of differing sizes for the various tabletops and surfaces in the room. I wanted to experiment with using silhouettes of shapes as the apertures for light to shine through.


The first tealight holder I made was a simple, star design, using star cutters. I cut out a long rectangle of clay and let it dry out/firm up slightly, before cutting the stars out randomly across the surface, and curving the slab round onto a circular base.

For the second one (in the middle. in the picture above), I once again cut a rectangular slab, but I tried to cut small crescents in the clay, to resemble a pine cone. I don’t think it was as successful as the stars, but it sort of works! For the third, I tried to depict a campfire.


After firing, I left the outer clay unpainted, but used glazes on the inner surfaces. For the stars I used blue, which graduates from a darker blue at the base to a sky blue at the rim. For the pine cone, I used a uniform, pine green glaze, and for the campfire, I used an orangey shade at the base, moving up to a deeper red at the top.

The fact that they are unpainted on the outside but brightly painted on the inside means that the items really ‘come to life’ once they are lit and in use – by day, they look neutral in the room, but by night, they brightly shine and flicker, and give off a warm glow.

I was then suitably inspired to begin work on a centrepiece – a larger tealight holder, which would be more of a feature for the room. Playing on my interest in the Great Outdoors and Native Americana, I decided to base my tealight holder on a traditional tipi shape.


I made sure to cut lots of holes out of the clay, so that the light could get through. I had to let the clay dry quite a bit, before curling it into the tipi shape and resting it against a bottle while it dried. I also added a Thunderbird for the top! At the same time, I made the base at the same time, so that the two parts could dry evently at the same time.

Once the two parts were dry, they were fired, and then I was able to sketch out my designs onto the surface with a pencil. I wanted to use lots of references I had seen in my research of tipis, including a focus on nature, the phases of the moon, and a spirit animal.

I then painted my design in underglazes. Underglazes are great, as their pre-firing colours are faithful to the colours of the finished item. Also, they don’t seep into each other, so you can get quite an accurate design. I found that using light brush strokes gave a good effect for the sky on the outside of the tipi.

I also painted the inside in shades of yellow, orange and red, and painted the base to look like earth. Making the item took two weeks, and painting took another two – finally, my tipi was finished! I am especially happy with my lightning bear and my thunderbird.

The light really pours out of the front of the tipi, which gives a lovely effect. However, unlike the smaller tealight holders, this item is a feature in the room even when the candles aren’t lit. I am very happy with my design!

Scottish Craft Adventure Part 3 – Orkney

1 Oct


Finally, I have found time to tell you all about the last stint of my Scottish road trip – a visit to the Orkney Islands.


Orkney is an archipelago around 8 miles north of the Scottish mainland, made up of around 70 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited. It is an amazing, mystical place, where it can be seemingly sunny, rainy, windy, overcast and foggy all at the same time. Orkney is popular with fans of ancient history and archaeology because of it’s UNESCO world heritage status for the neolithic structures you can visit there.

I took a ferry from John O Groats, past the Old Man of Hoy, to the town of Stromness on Mainland (the largest island in the Orkneys). The sun was setting as I made the crossing, giving the most amazing light as I took pictures of the Old Man, a huge, ever-changing sea stack which uncannily resembles a figure, stood in the crashing waves, guarding the islands from trouble.

On my first morning on Orkney, I drove out to see the Ring of Brodgar, a 5000 year old stone circle, which I thought would be very much like Stonehenge. Not so! Not only is the Ring of Brodgar the most northerly stone circle, is is also utterly enormous, at over 100 metres in diameter. It is also positioned on a stretch of land between two lochs, which means the light reflecting off the water makes the whole environment feel utterly magical.

The Vikings invaded Orkney around 1000 years ago, and believed that the stones were actually Gods who, after a night of revelling, stayed up too late and were turned to stone as the sun rose. The stones are so large, that as you look up at them, with the clouds moving quickly in the background, you can almost imagine that they are coming back to life.



I also visited Skara Brae, which is a neolithic village that was completely covered in sand until a freak storm in 1850 ripped the coast line apart, revealing the untouched stone dwellings beneath, perfectly preserved. I’m not even going to try to describe the place – suffice to say, this is Bucket List stuff: one of those sights you simply must see before you die!

I also had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of stepping inside a number of neolithic burial tombs, not least the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay, and the world-famous Maeshowe on Mainland, which pre-dates the Pyramids (!). The experience was certainly something that I will never forget, not least because I was following a long line of visitors to the ancient site – the first people to discover the site were the early Viking warriors, who used Maeshowe as a shelter during their raids. So, amongst the amazing stone carvings almost 5000 years old, you will spot lines of Viking graffiti, written in runic alphabet. Simply amazing.

Of course, my trip wasn’t just about neolithic adventuring – I also made sure I found time to sample some of the best that the Orkneys had to offer. Not least, ales from the Orkney Brewery, and a wee dram from the acclaimed Highland Park Distillery. Well, it would have been rude not to…

I also, predictably, immersed myself in the arts and crafts heritage of the islands. Orkney makes this super-easy for visitors, by promoting an annual Orkney Craft Trail, which signposts you to artisan workshops, galleries, boutiques and exhibitions.  I found myself on a virtual treasure hunt across the islands, looking for the next Craft Trail sign, leading me towards some of the islands’ hidden treasures.

I spent a lot of time on South Ronaldsay, a large island to the South West of Mainland, which is reachable by road bridge. It was here that I visited the Tomb of the Eagles, and also had the chance to visit the beautiful Italian Chapel, a stunning place of worship built and decorated by Italian POWs during WWII. You can still sense the blood, sweat and tears of the POWs that went into building it – the Chapel was a real labour of love that gave the prisoners something to focus on, and deserves a blog all to itself really!


Whilst there, I chanced upon a fantastic studio which was a yarn shop, gift boutique and art gallery in one. It was called The Workshop and Loft Gallery, and it was hidden down a street in the village of St Margaret’s Hope. The Workshop is a craft cooperative which was set up 35 years ago by local artisan producers. It stocked knitwear, textiles and yarns, as well as jewellery, ceramics and wonderful art work from local artists.

It will come as no surprise to you that I ended up buying some local yarn as a souvenir of my trip – especially as it was lambing season whilst I was there. Across the islands you could hear the bleat of sheep and watch the gamboling of cute fluffy little creatures as they learned to use their legs for the first time.


I bought some skeins of yarn which had been transported down from North Ronaldsay island, of an aran weight. The rare breed, North Ronaldsay sheep are unusual, due to the fact they live on a diet of seaweed. I don’t know if this adds any special quality to the yarn!


Also on South Ronaldsay was the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, which was filled with the impressive, large scale tapestries of local artist, Leila Thomson. If you are lucky (sadly I wasn’t), you can watch Leila work from the gallery. Her tapestries are moving (emotionally not literally!) depictions of life, death, nature, family, memory and the Universe….pretty big themes! If you make it to Orkney it’s definitely worth seeking out this gallery –  the pictures on her website simply do not do the works justice.

Anyway, with time being short I also spent as much time as possible exploring mainland and some of the other neighbouring islands. Mainland is home to many artists and craftspeople, with one notable one being potter Andrew Appleby, known locally as the ‘Harray Potter’, after the name of the Mainland Parish in which he works. Andrew runs Fursbreck Pottery, which has shops in both Kirkwall and Stromness. I throught the items were beautiful, and I couldn’t resist buying some handmade ceramic buttons to remember my trip by.


I also visited countless other studios and galleries, but I don’t want to bore you completely! Suffice to say, the heady Orcadian combination of ancient historical sites, wild landscapes, and creative outlets left me fizzing with creativity and ideas.


I took hundreds of photos of natural textures, which hopefully I would like to recreate in some craft project, using my North Ronaldsay yarn, my Fursbreck ceramic buttons, and a few other things that I picked up along the  way.


Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some features that remind me of the fascinating layers of history I encountered across the islands – Neolithic burials, Viking graffiti, and WWII buildings.

DSCN3033As we know, all good things must come to an end. Eventually it was time to begin the 14-hour, 580 mile journey South, back to Doncaster which I have always affectionately thought of as ‘The North’. This holiday taught me that it is anything but! Thanks for being patient in waiting for posts from my adventure, I hope they were worth the wait. I promise to be a little quicker in writing up the results of my makes from the items I picked up along the way!

12 days, over 1000 miles, and an unforgettable adventure.

Paperweight making at Caithness Glass

7 Jun

On my Easter trip to Scotland, I arranged a visit to a place which I hadn’t been to since I was a wee nipper – Caithness Glass. The factory and visitor centre is in Crieff, Perthshire, and I remember being dazzled by the sight of craftsmen blowing hot glass and plunging implements into roaring furnaces to make stunning glass pieces when I was young.


I read on the Caithness Glass website that they offer visitors the chance to make their own glass paperweight – this certainly appealed to me! I presumed I wouldn’t get to actually influence all that much, but I was happy to have the chance to see close-up how glass items were made.


I arrived at the visitor centre and was introduced to Martin, one of the craftsmen who works at Caithness. He showed me around the workshop, pointing out the furnaces, the kilns, the workstations. He said that the first job was to choose the colours for the pattern inside the paperweight.


The colours are formed by granules of coloured glass – displayed on a series of shelves in colour order. Martin told me that the coloured pieces work much in the same way as pottery glazes – some of them melt at different temperatures, giving different effects. Also, some of the granules are fine, like a coarse sand. Others look more like ice cream sprinkles, or are as coarse as gravel – all of these will affect the melting and mixing speeds of the colours, so will affect how the finished piece looks.

I was given some metal trays to collect colours on. I chose a fine, pale grey, a coarser pale yellow and a granular, dark blue. We set them out on the worktop by the furnace for mixing into the glass.


Martin collected a big blob of molten glass on the end of the pole, and began turning it evenly, to ensure it stayed centred on the pole. Every so often, he would hold the pole still, so that the glass would bend to one side. He would then flip it over, to keep the glass moving properly. He then gave me the pole, and together we rolled the molten glass in each of the coloured trays, to fix my chosen colour flakes to the molten glass. Then, the whole pole went back in the furnace to heat the mixture up to a good temperature for working on.


Martin then asked me to sit down and begin rolling the pole against the metal rails – this allows the glass to start cooling whilst keeping its shape. I was given a wet, wooden, curved mold, which I used to shape the top of the glass blob whilst cooling it slightly. He was a very patient teacher! I was surprised at how heavy the glass was, so it took a little getting used to – I eventually got the hang of the technique to roll the shape.


I couldn’t see the colours which had been added, but Martin explained that all the colours disappear whilst molten, and would return when the glass cooled.


I was then given a metal spiky tool, which I used to poke dents all over my blob. Martin explained how this was going to create air bubbles in the finished design. More glass was added, and then we went back to cooling and shaping the glass again.


Using large metal tongs, I created a neck to the glass blob, which would become the base of the paperweight. After a while, the glass had cooled to around 900 degrees (!) so I was able to use a sharp knife to score a line around the narrowest part of the neck. Martin then took the pole over to the cooling kiln, and firmly tapped the pole against the worktop – the finished paperweight cleanly broke off, like magic!


Glass is brittle when it cools too quickly, so at this point, it went into a cooling kiln, at a degree of 500 degrees, so that its temperature could lower gradually over the next 24 hours. Then, it could be removed from the kiln to continue to cool.


The whole experience took around 25 minutes, and it was great fun! I feel like I really learned a lot! It was great being in the real workshop where all of the Caithness paperweights are made, and to be making my item alongside other craftspeople making items for commercial sale.  Martin was a great teacher and answered all of my incessant questions. He even agreed to being in a workshop selfie!


You may be wondering why it has taken me so long to post about my glassmaking experience, as it took place 6 weeks ago. Well, as I was in the process of gallavanting around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the lovely staff at Caithness said they would send my paperweight home for me at the beginning of May.

I eagerly awaited its arrival, but sadly, it did not appear! I became increasingly despondent as I checked the post box, day after day. I checked with Caithness to check it had been posted on time, and it had. After checking with the post office to no avail, I came to the conclusion that it had been lost in the post. How disappointing!

However, just last week, I received a phone call from Caithness. My paperweight had been on a jolly tour of the postal service of England and Scotland, and had arrived back at their factory. It was sent once again and arrived here last week. I am so utterly delighted with it! It’s not only a wonderful souvenir of my holiday, and a memory of a fantastic experience at the workshop, but also I love the way the colours swirl around inside the globe.

The wonderful people at Caithness even engraved the base of my paperweight with my name and the date that it was made – preserving my amazing holiday for years to come.


…and perhaps my favourite feature – from this angle, it looks like it’s smiling!

No-pattern Chevron Dress

26 May

I’m sure many of you were glued to the recent series of the Great British Sewing Bee. I was rooting for Chinelo since episode one, and was sorry that she didn’t win – although Heather really did deserve the win with that AMAZING couture gown. All three of the finalists were absolutely brilliant, I don’t know how I’ll cope until the next series.


Anyway, in the semi final, contestants were tasked with copying a favourite item of clothing. Tamara’s yoga outfit was outstanding, and she rightly won ‘Garment of the Week’ for it.

I didn’t plan on doing anything quite so ambitious, but I wanted to recreate one of my favourite dresses.


The navy blue birdie dress I am wearing in the above picture was given to me by Char, one of my besties, after she spied it in a local charity shop. I absolutely love this dress because it doesn’t crease, it’s really light, and it’s so versatile – I can wear it with leggings and heels; shorts and flip flops, or even use it as a nightie if I have an overnight stay. It doesn’t take up too much space when you are packing, and it’s really comfortable. I think originally it was quite a large dress size, but I like the way the extra fabric gathers when the ties are pulled around the waist.


As regular readers will know, I purchased a few metres of a striking, green striped polyester on a recent trip to Abakhan with my Mum. This fabric is a little heavier than the material on the original dress, but it seems quite drapey, and it didn’t crease despite my efforts! I thought this would be perfect for this project.P1030114

However, before jumping ahead to the fabric, the first thing I needed to do was to make a pattern. Of course, what every dressmaker needs is a handy roll of flipchart paper! And no, I didn’t nick it from work before you ask – our recent chaotic office move at work meant that lots of surplus or damaged stationery items were being disposed of. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, as they say – the large A1 sheets are really handy for tracing templates.

The dress I am copying from is a simple design – two pieces of fabric, both of which are darted at the waist, and the front piece of fabric is also darted at the bust. The dress also has some simple capped sleeves. After watching the Sewing Bee, I decided to copy Heather’s technique for copying darts onto the pattern – I marked the darts on to the pattern, then folded the paper so that the darts were lying in the place that they would be on the final, stitched item.P1030076

I then traced the outline of the dress onto the folded sheet of paper, removed the fabric, and unfolded the darts, to give myself the paper template. I’ve kept the pattern piece, with construction notes, so that I can make this dress again.


To give a bit of interest to the dress, I decided to cut the fabric on the bias, so that I had diagonal stripes. Hopefully, with some careful stitching, this should give me fantastic chevrons on the side seams. Once I had cut the first piece, I then used that as the template, rather than the paper, so that I could ensure the stripes were lined up exactly.




I have also finally learned the lesson that putting time in before stitching saves you time after! The fabric was quite slippy, so, after stitching the darts, I basted the two pieces of the dress together, remembering to also slip the waist ties in at the correct points, so that the stripes matched up properly. That way, I knew when I put the material under the machine foot, that it would attach together correctly.

The original has sleeves and I planned to duplicate this feature, but when I tried it on (in the selfie below) I liked the way the chevrons looked on the shoulders and decided to dispense with sleeves.


Another lesson I learned during this project was how to do a rolled hem. I decided to give it a go after working out that one of the included specialist feet on my sewing machine was a rolled hem foot – if I’ve got one, I may as well use it! It took a bit of practice to get right, but I’m happy with the result. To ensure it stitched neatly, I ironed the tiny hem allowance first, to make a crease in the fabric. This then fitted into the curled channel on the foot, so that the fabric was guided under the needle at the correct point. I used this on the armholes, as I was already happy with the look of the dress before hemming it, so using a rolled hem sealed the fabric using the least amount of material.



When I tried the dress on, I noticed that the neckline gaped slightly – I solved the problem by making a small boxpleat in the centre, and stitching it by hand. It has removed the gaping, and has actually become a bit of a design feature!


Et voila – my finished chevron dress. I’m really happy with the bright, vibrant look and think the fabric choice is really effective. I also like the way the stripes play against each other when the tabs are tied around the middle (made from some remnant strips of material).


I’m delighted with how well the chevrons match up at the shoulders and down the sides, and I think the bias cut of the material really shows off the fabric’s drape well.

The dress isn’t an exact replica of the original, as the sleeves are missing and the length is longer, but I think I will find it as useful, versatile and wearable as the first. I will definitely be making more of this one!


Satin Dress II – The Rematch! Vogue 8241

20 May

As reported in my post earlier this month, I have not had much success in my mission to make a slinky dress using Vogue pattern 8241. Less ‘Pretty in Purple’, more the ‘Purple Peril’. Or perhaps the ‘Aubergine Horror’. I could go on, but I won’t. ‘Vile in Violet’ – OK, I’ll stop.


I guessed that much of the bulk was coming from the lining, so once again, I dismantled the skirt. However, the lining seemed to be pretty light, so I wasn’t sure if it was the cause of the bulkiness. Perhaps it’s the stiffness of the fabric which is causing the problem. The crepe-backed satin was gorgeous but didn’t seem to do as it was told! Also, I thought that the elasticated gathers were really unflattering, especially around the hips and over my stomach (which I am self-conscious about).


After messing around, I decided to play with pleating the skirt, rather than gathering it. I could make some pretty features, but the drawback may be that the dress would need a zip, as it may not have the flexibility to take on and off that the elastic offered. I logically concluded that I could pleat it if I added fabric to the sides, so that I could still get in and out of the dress – this could ultimately make an interesting pocket feature.

I decided to unpick the sides of the skirt down to an approximate pocket length, and then lined the skirt piece with the lining so that all the raw edges at the waistband and embryonic pockets were hidden.


I then played with pleating the front and back, and tinkered with pins until I was happy with it – the elasticated gathering didn’t look so bad on the back, but I felt the front waistband could look really pretty with some big, structural pleats on it.


Pleating the fabric into the centre meant that I needed to attach more fabric to the sides, so that the garment would still fit comfortably around my body. I chose to do this using the shiny satin side of the fabric so that it matched the bodice, rather than the matte crepe skirt. I felt that this looked best stylistically.


I attached a shiny piece of fabric to the skirt piece to fill in the gaps on either side of the pleats. This meant that I could attach the back and the shiny insert part of the skirt to the bodice,  leaving the pleated segment free.  As I had stitched all of the raw edges of the skirt and the lining, I decided to attach the back of the skirt to the outside of the bodice, so that the lovely purple-and-navy skirt edge could be a bit of a feature around the back. As mentioned, I thought the back of the dress looked okay elasticated, so I reattached some elastic, but stopped the stitching approximately 1 inch from each sideseam – I thought this might prevent that unappealing look of having gathers over the hips.


As with the back of the dress, I decided to have the side seams of the skirt piece visible too – I spent well over an hour trying to evenly line up the seams so that I would have a uniform effect on both pocket sections.


Once that was attached, I put the dress on and then pinned the pleats whilst wearing the dress – I know this is a terribly bad habit, but I was beginning to brim with ideas for the item so my thoughts were rushing away with me. You will be slightly relieved to know that once I had taken the dress off, I then evened the pleats out with the help of a tape measure.

I arranged the pleats so that they rose incrementally towards the middle of the dress – I liked the way this looked as it was a bit more unusual than what I had planned on. The problem was that, once the pleats were fastened, it was a bit trickier to get out of the garment. Therefore, I decided not to stitch the end pleat on either side of the front panel.
I stitched the front 3 pleats down, backstitching them to make sure they were secure, and then stitched the rest of the front panel flat against the waistline.

After a few cups of tea and some deliberation, I came up with an ingenious solution to securing the final two pleats on the front of the waistband – hooks and loops! These could be used to pull the waistband in once I was wearing the dress. Also, they had the added bonus of creating two lovely pleats in the bodice.

I was happy with the style, and beginning to get excited and optimistic about my project again. Like a good sewist, I eagerly pressed all of the seams, so eagerly in fact that I didn’t check the iron temperature – FAIL! Fortunately the burn was on the wrong side of the fabric, on the section that lies below the front pleats, so it won’t be visible. Phew!

Finally, I had to finish all the various odds and ends of the dress. The multiple stitchings and unpickings had taken its toll on some of the seams, which had begun to unravel – I hand stitched them so secure them. I also remembered to stitch the bottom of the shiny front-skirt section to the lining on the back of the front pleats, so that it formed a spacious, handy pocket under the pleats at the front of the dress :). Stylish AND practical!


So here we have Satin Dress Mk II – I know my sewing has gone rather off-piste from the original pattern, but I’m happy I didn’t give up. There are lots of things I have learned on this project – understitching and working with slippery satin being the two main ones. This is the 2nd vogue LINK pattern I have been unhappy with during my recent dressmaking extravaganza, so perhaps I will try a few other pattern brands for a while and see how I get on.


In many ways, this has been a really satisfying make – I followed a pattern and was unsuccessful, but was patient enough to perservere, and was confident enough to try my own solutions without really knowing the answers. The finished result is certainly not perfect, probably won’t get that many compliments and I won’t be using that pattern again. But is the item wearable, flattering, completely unique and all mine? Yes? Am I proud of it? Absolutely.


Fabric Finds!

14 May

My dressmaking is coming on at a pace, and I seem to be getting through yards of fabric fairly quickly. In the past few weeks, I’ve discovered three very different fabric outlets: one epitomises the height of traditional, classic and timeless British design in the heart of London, one is an online treasure trove based in the Lake District, and one is rather more up my street (geographically and price-wise)!

Liberty London London Olympics 2012: Top Ten Must Visit London Shops

After a recent union conference in London, a friend of mine took me on an outing to the one, the only, Liberty of London.  I could barely contain my excitement! There, right in the middle of bustling London, a street away from Piccadilly Circus, stands a gorgeous, 4 storey, Tudor-style building, and within it contains gorgeous fashions, homewares and, of course, fabrics. A little known fact is that the building itself was constructed out of the timbers from the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan in 1924.


The entire building was a work of art – I think I spent more time looking at the architecture than I did browsing the fabrics! One of my favourite features was this little chap, eating a banana on the fourth floor.


It was, quite literally, fabric heaven – cabinet after cabinet of Liberty-printed cottons, linens, georgette. The entire department was full of wide-eyed women (and some men) running their fingertips longingly along rows of  Tana Lawn prints and sighing at the sight of button and ribbon displays. Prices started at around £22 per metre, which was slightly outside of my budget for an impulse purchase, so I used the visit to browse for inspiration, rather than to buy. Somehow, I tore myself away from the dressmaking fabrics to venture up to the fifth floor, where they keep the home furnishing fabrics.


There was one fabric in particular that caught my eye – exotic, floral and fabulous, I had to have it! Impulse buying mode kicked in with some intensity. I checked the label and it said “Liberty of London 19.50” on the tag. Excitedly, I thought I could probably stretch to buying two metres of the gorgeous stuff, seeing as I would, after all, need a souvenir of my visit! My mind began rushing with ideas for beautiful items I could construct from the fresh, bright material.


The helpful assistant took the bolt over to a scientific looking machine, and started rolling out the fabric to cut. Just before she did so, I checked “This is £19.50 a metre, right?” She looked at the label and regrettably informed me that 19.50 referred to the number of metres left on the roll, not the price per metre. She went to check the price in the master file, as my heart sank. All my future, imagined cushion covers, wall hangings and coin purses began to recede in my mind. The assistant returned with the eyewatering figure of £79.50 per metre. Per. Metre. I politely explained that I would have a think about buying it and come back later, before making a panicked dash for the exit with my credit card in tact. Oh well, there’s always next time – and there definitely will be a next time, I’m sure!

Upon returning from London, I called Mum to tell her of my adventures. Whilst I had been away, she had found a great sale on one of the fabric websites – Just Sew Penrith. They have some lovely prints and a good variety of fabric types. I consoled myself after my Liberty disappointment by treating myself to a few metres of a pretty blue floral stretch cotton which was on sale at £4.50pm,and a striking geometric poplin, which I think might look great for this pattern. What do you think?

Any confessed fabric addict would know that just two new materials weren’t going to be enough to satisfy my dressmaking habit! And so it happened that I was back in my hometown at the same time as Mummymau was visiting last month. This called for a trip to Abakhan – our very own North West fabric paradise.


I think Abakhan have quite a few sites across the North West, but in my opinion, the Preston store is head and shoulders above the rest. I always make time for a visit to this store whenever I am back, as there is no equivalent here in Yorkshire. When you walk through the doors, you never know what you might find – but it is a rare day when you leave the store empty handed. There’s always something to tempt.

The store is, essentially, a big warehouse, with all varieties of dressmaking and home furnishing fabrics downstairs, and yarns and habadashery upstairs. Many of the baskets hold fabrics which you buy by the weight, not the length.


Mum spotted a wonderful, glittering array of African waxed prints, which she thought could look good as bold Summer sundresses or kaftan-style tops. I spotted some fabulous offcuts in a basket marked ‘Dress Prints – £18.99 per kg’ – I am guessing that they are both made of artifical fibres, although the green stripe was a piece around 3m long and it had a good drape; the diamonds piece was around 1.5 m long and was light, airy and prone to creasing. I already had a plan in mind for the green (which you will read about soon) and thought that the diamond print could make a great lightweight blouse for the warmer months.

I asked the cashier to check the weight before I committed to buy them – combined, they came to around £10. Bargainous!

Upstairs I spotted bags of assorted buttons for £1 and a variety of findings and notions which I couldn’t leave behind. As Mum and I were walking towards the queue to pay, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye –


Nothing was written on the label, but I was 99% sure that this was the classic Liberty print, Wiltshire Berry. There was no producer name on the selvedge, but the fabric was good quality, 60″ wide and a light, lawn weight – perhaps it was a second? Sometimes I have spotted Alexander Henry and Michael Miller prints in there, priced incorrectly as just a few pounds per metre, so it could be possible. I checked the price: £4.99 a metre. There was no doubt we would be taking the lot! There were 5.3 metres left on the roll, so the cashier said she would charge us for 5. I don’t know if it is a Liberty second or not, but I don’t especially care – it will make the most beautiful shirt-waisted dress, in my opinion! Both Mum and I loved the print, so we have decided to share. What a sight we will be in our matching garments!


In total, we returned home with nearly 18 metres of fabric, 300g of buttons, Gutermann thread and other assorted habadashery for just under £80. Not bad for a morning’s work….wait a minute, what time is it? How on earth did we spend 3 hours in there?! Time flies when you’re having fun I guess!


Robot Shorts New Look 6873

8 May

Readers of my blog will be aware that I recently went on a road trip through the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. In preparation for the adventure I decided to try my hand at making some shorts out of a remnant of stonewashed denim, which I had bought at Abakhan in Preston a few years ago. I chose a pattern for shorts with an option roll-up detail and buttoning on the outside of each leg.

Shorts 5 Shorts 6

The pattern I used was New Look 6873, which required one and three quarter yards of a 45″ fabric. I didn’t have quite enough on the denim off cut, so I looked through the pattern pieces to see if there were any internal parts to the garment which I could do in a contrasting fabric. I realised I would be able to do the insides of the pockets and waistband in another fabric, so I got to work.

This is definitely the most complicated design I have ever tried to sew before – there were were 10 different pieces to the pattern, which, when cut out, gave me 19 bits of fabric to construct together. I was a little apprehensive, thinking I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but I thought as long as I worked slowly and methodically, I’d be ok. Plus, I like sewing with denim, it’s strong and can’t really stretch or warp when sewing, so I decided to give it a shot.


I measured the quantity of denim I had, and it was a 1.5 yard square. I knew I’d need to a) be really sparing with the denim I had and b) Work out which parts of the pattern I could get away with doing in a contrasting fabric. I cut the fronts and backs of the shorts out and was almost out of material already! Granted, this was also partially because I decided to lengthen the shorts so that the finished result would be approximately kneelength. I would need to do the inside of the fly, the waistband and the pockets in another fabric. I had a small amount of denim left for the outer waistband, but there was not quite enough to cut all of it in the same grain direction as the main pieces. Therefore, I decided to cut all three parts of the waistband in the same direction: against the grain, as I thought this would look less noticeable than just one segment of the waistband being cut in a different direction.

If you don’t believe how sparing I was with the denim, look how much was left at the end of cutting! Barely enough for a back pocket!



I am slowly honing my pattern cutting skills. I have never previously worked out how to cut the triangles on the cut line neatly (the ones you use to match up the pieces at the right points). I watched a tutorial where the sewist cut snips into the pattern piece, rather than arrows away from the pattern piece. I thought this was much neater and still did the job. Plus, it meant I could cut the pieces closer together on my feeble scrap of material.


A determined rummage in my fabric stash revealed this gem: It’s ‘Ready, Set, Robot’ by Alexander Henry. It’s a quilting cotton print which I impulse bought years ago and have been too nervous to use for fear of wasting it. I decided the Robots’ time had come to be stitched into something amazing. Obviously, the cotton was not as tough as the denim, so I used a strong interface on the pocket segments before stitching. I tried, wherever possible, to match the pattern well, so that robots were peeking out and smiling wherever they were spotted.


…and just a few weeks after my first attempt at understitching , here I was using the skill again! This particular job was much easier on these seams, but it was great to know I’d learned a skill which was already coming in useful!

I have made skirts and dresses before, but never trousers or shorts. Therefore, it gradually dawned on me that I would need to make my first attempt at constructing a fly. Eek! After much comparing of my bought jeans, I slowly began to understand what to do. In my typical style, I had started this project before ensuring that I had all the required fixings and findings available. It was at this point I needed a zip, and rather than waiting to buy just the right one, I found a 20″ brass zip on red backing lying around in the craft room that I thought I would cut down to size once it was attached. I basted the fabric to the top of the zip and then, when I came to test the fastening, I realised that this would leave the surplus zip at the bottom of the fly, hanging over the crotch, instead of at the top, where I could cut it and secure it/conceal it in the waistband. I ended up having to unpick it and rebaste it to the bottom of the zip – hopefully this is not a mistake I will make again!

Once I had the front and back leg pieces assembled, I then stitched them together at the centre seam, front to back, and then stitched the legs. The project was going well, so I was feeling ambitious and, after being inspired by the dungaree challenge on the Sewing Bee, I decided to take a shot at flat-felled seams. I was nervous that my attempt would ruin the whole look of the garment, so I decided to stitch in neutral, cream thread rather than the bright yellow I had used on some of the understitching.

I stitched the side seams with wrong sides together, then trimmed the edge which faced onto the back sections of the shorts, and pressed the seam flat. I then carefully folded, pressed and pinned the untrimmed, front edge over the original seam, and stitched it as slowly as I could. They look pretty good actually! I also decided to flat fell the inside leg seam, as they also would be on show when the short legs were rolled up. However, for this one, the folded material was on the wrong side of the fabric, rather than the right side.

Shorts 2

I think the flat-felling really neatens up the finished result, and it wasn’t that difficult. I’m sure my technique will improve, but this isn’t bad for a first attempt!Shorts 3

I basted the shorts together, but was a bit concerned as the pockets were overhanging the fly at the front. Did I do something wrong? I read and re-read the pattern, and checked some of the discussion on Sewing Pattern Review. No-one mentioned that specific problem, so I decided to trip the inside pocket edges and stitch them back up.


I finally got the waistband on, then tried the shorts on for the first time. The waist was sitting too high for my liking, and again, the waistband material was overhanging quite a lot. I realised that the problem may be that the pleats on the fronts of the shorts were too deep. A few sewists had reported this on Sewing Pattern Review, but I hadn’t understood what they meant until I got to this stage. I unpicked the waistband back to the front seams, and let each side of both seams out by a few mm. The pleats were rather deep  – perhaps I got them wrong in the first place! When letting the pleats out, I made sure to reposition the belt carriers so that they both still landed central to the pleats.ve I done something wrong? Once I had done this, the shorts fitted me perfectly. What’s more, the waistband was no longer overhanging excessively, and the pockets fell back on the inside. It made me realise that I probably hadn’t needed to trim them after all, as the problem was in the pleats all along! Oh well, at least that won’t be visible on the final garment.P1030050

On the picture above, you can see the belt carrier hanging down perfectly between the pleat, before being lifted up and stitched onto the waistband backing. The observant few may also be able to see the change in grain direction between the waist and the leg. The VERY observant might notice the neat top stitching on the pocket edge!

Time to face my fears: buttonholes. I took a deep breath, and wisely decided to test on other fabric first. Fortunately, I was home for the weekend, so Mummymau was on hand to guide me through the process. My sewing machine proudly declares itself to be capable of ‘”One Step” buttonholes. This is all well and good, if only you know what that step is! I turned the dial to the buttonhole setting, and attached the buttonhole foot.


It was a crazy contraption which had a slot for you to insert the button you were planning to use. This apparently enabled the machine to produce a buttonhole exactly one quarter inch longer than the button, resulting in a perfect finish. I couldn’t seem to master the stitching though, until I resorted to You Tube tutorials in a fit of desperation. Suddenly, the process seemed surprisingly straight forward, once I discovered the small lever at the back of the stitching plate of the machine!


I held my breath, positioned the test fabric, and applied pressure to the foot pedal…

P1030063And it worked!  I couldn’t believe it – a skill which had been a huge obstacle to me for a long time was easy peasy, and gave a wonderful, professional finish every time…

….as long as you always remember to turn the dial to ‘reset’ after each buttonhole.

Here is a picture of my first buttonhole. What a proud moment! I also had to make holes on the small button tabs on the sides of each leg.

With that final stitching, my awesome robot shorts were born. I am completely in love with finished result. They are eally comfy, hardwearing, and unique. They fit me perfectly (due to all the messing around with the front pleats) and I am certainly going to wear these to death. I had been toying with the idea of adding a back pocket to the shorts, which I eventually did after this picture was taken. As soon as I can find a willing volunteer, I’ll upload a photo of my handiwork :)


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