Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Cat Endorses Quilt

I know lots of you have cats, dogs and other domesticated animals who relish helping you with pattern placement, sorting fabrics and cutting out etc.. I’ve seen the pics!  Mine, (cat called Eddie) however stays well out of the way of sharp things like pins, needles and scissors so it was somewhat a surprise when the other day she came out and nestled comfortably on my latest quilting project as I sat in the garden and hand sewed the binding. I couldn’t shift her which I took to be a good omen – cats especially know ‘things’- and I now believe this quilt is not only endowed with effort and love but animal instinct too. Just wierd.


Did anyone also note the colour coordination between my choice of clothes and the quilt? – You get bonus points – well done! [dress= Vogue 8870, pink & multi-coloured chiffon; cardigan = Burda Cocoon Cardigan 11/2013 #107, saffron yellow mohair blend]


This one is for my very dear friend Caroline who I met this summer after a 20 year weekend break. She was busy, I was busy but we reconnected easily, simply and effortlessly. After a short but extremely enjoyable 4 day visit I decided she needed a quilt and so she gets one. She has no choice in the matter!

Starting point – a painting Caroline has had for as long as I have known her. Here’s the colour scheme.DSCN5543

Next was to personalise the style. Caroline is a photographer and has a million (or more) paintings, pictures, photos in her home either hanging on the walls or leaning against walls or stacked waiting to be hanged. So frames, borders, mountings are prevalent throughout. So the quilt pattern was going to be like frames around a picture.

I did get carried away a wee bit with this idea and some of my frames are rectangular, big squares, little squares and no where near square. Once again I made a quilt that has a basic plan interweaved with improvisation.


Individual blocks

31 fabrics used which I determine to be significant as it’s a prime number and no one in the entire world understands prime numbers so they’re weird. All fabrics are Kaffe Fasset because Caroline is a bit posh and likes and appreciates the good stuff. they were bought online from FlorenceRose and I couldn’t recommend this Internet site enough! Excellent communication and personal service and not bad prices either! And although there’s only 20 involved in the planning stage, I bought many more and used them all.


The finished blocks were round about 10″ with a few at 20″ to upset the regularity and some are only 5″ sewn together. My inspiration was this which is actually paper pieced – aye! in your dreams!


The blocks are essentially constructed around a square in the middle with ‘frames’ or borders surrounding them. Sometimes the centre pieces are rectangle and every block is different. Approximately 9X9 grid with all the leftovers sewn into a stripey border.

Mine (or rather Caroline’s) has simple straight line machine quilting in a grid-ish pattern to keep all the layers together.


Pre-quilting airing

It’s huge! About 96″ (2.4m) square. I have no idea how I got this through my little home sewing machine – sheer tenacity and brute force determinism I suppose. We have a King-sized bed and to check for fit (just like dressmaking) it reaches all the way from the head to feet and hangs over the edges too: perfect for wrapping yourself up in while watching a movie or Breaking Bad on the sofa with lots of room for one other! Take it in the camper van for days out while photographing landscapes. Lay it on the heather for picnics or lying back and gazing at the sky…..


I never really use a pattern when making a quilt – I just buy a load of fabric, cut up and sew it back together again. When there’s no fabric left – that’s the size of the quilt! Maybe I should try to be a bit more disciplined……DSCN5691

And when there’s nothing on TV or it’s raining just gaze at the quilt…….count the fabrics, look at the frames, try to figure out the construction and method in my madness, or just simply smile at the colours. It’s a happy quilt.



The backing is a simple black and white print to contrast with the colours on the front with a patched strip down the middle.lhd665_zoom__14098


And no quilt is complete without a name and a label



The quilt has already been posted, has arrived and been unpacked and just in from Caroline……..


Her cat on the quilt!


Navy Daisies

I’ve used so much solid navy in my A/W ’15 wardrobe that it needed a bit of a lift. There’s a small hint with the small neck scarf……..


clothhouse-swatch-0347183001441879350849210776The fabric is from The Cloth House, London and was purchased in real life when I there a few weeks ago: it’s a Japanese hammered polyester with a genuinely silky drape and hand – just lovely. Presses well, slight fraying but not excessive and wrinkle free. Black background with navy, cream, lilac and amethyst flowers, all outlined in matt gold. This can be worn with black, grey, navy, cream and purple.


spiral_blouse_patt_image__76239_zoom_grandeThe pattern is an old favourite but I’ve not sewn for quite a while – The Centre for Pattern Design Spiral Blouse. There’s just one piece.


I’ve previously made this with and without centre back seam; with a front button opening and a sewn closed front; lengthened, shortened; long sleeves and 3/4 length. The original pattern comes with a simple round neckline but you can add any shape of collar you like – and I have – pointed, mandarin, funnel, ties, scarf and scooped out for a lower neckline.

The version presented today has been lengthened 3″ with a centre back seam, enlarged all round by simply cutting 1/4″ bigger than the pattern; scarf-style collar (so as to use all available fabric), and a “design feature” of pointed sleeves. I’ll explain later.

Worn today with cotton navy twill Jeanius jeans, rolled up for styling but in reality they fall slightly over the foot to wear with boots and other shoes. I’ve lost count of how many pairs of jeans I’ve made using this Craftsy class and drafted pattern but certainly way more than I could afford or bothered to buy.


The scarf ties can be worn in lots of different ways too, depending on mood and outer-layer jacket: pussy bow, wrapped around and tied at back, casual and loose.


This little blouse also goes with existing wardrobe staples – the cream and the navy Chanel-style jackets – respectively Vogue  8804 & 8259 (OOP) with modifications:




The pointed sleeves are due a cutting error while trying to lengthen them but failed miserably. The sleeves are sewn with a spiral seam and I just kept sewing until I got to the end. However, I kind of like the origami-nature of the point and the slit hem – like an exaggerated elbow dart – so it stayed. It also fits with the natural bend in my arm, so as long as I stand with my arm bent, it looks fine!


The blouse is cut on the bias and drapes/folds/puddles/ drops quite attractively at the back to create an uneven hemline.


I sewed all French seams within and hand rolled all outside hems using this super quick, absolutely magic and easy method.


I think I need to alter my Jeanius pattern a little bit to eliminate those back thigh wrinkles using this method – The paper pattern has been used so much that I may need to make a new one! At the same time, these jeans have been worn for two days in a row, so a bit of stretch and wrinkling is to be expected. I just keep thinking…better than RTW!


And most importantly and significantly …. no-one in the whole wide world has a blouse like his or jeans like these. So pointed elbows and wrinkly thighs – all part of the “look”. You couldn’t do it if you tried!

PS: the neckscarf is made from all the savable leftovers, sewn together into a length long enough to go round my neck and tied in any way that I can. No pattern, no rules, no respect for grainline or pattern – just do it!



2 Piece Leftover Skirt

With little bits of leftover fabric I’ve made knickers, wrapped scraps around cheap bangles for matching accessories, made flowery brooches, sewn up scarves in all shapes and lengths, made belts and if I have enough (0.5 – 0.75m) then a sleeveless T-shirt / vest.



I hate to hoard cut offs and love to use them instead, so when I finished the latest Merchant and Mills outfit I had absolutely tonnes of fabric left over (well, relatively speaking, of course).

Because the Curlew dress is bias cut I had all the corners of the denim coloured wool/linen/cotton but only a little bit of the super soft Haremere coat alpaca – still, it’s too good not to use. But what to do?

One day quite recently I sat in Carnaby Street and watched the world go by.

What struck me was the confidence, individualist and independent dressing styles of the people passing by. Admittedly, some of the ‘styles’ would not suit everyone but on my return to provincial Belfast I noticed how ‘same’ we all dress: nothing shocking or unique; nothing that stands out. There’s not a Wow! factor. I also recently wrote about wearing a dress that I seldom wear because it’s ever so slightly ‘out there’ but have now decided I shall hereafter actually wear what I sew  – The Over 40 (50!) and not dead yet approach. So the other day I dug out a dress made a couple of years ago, hardly ever worn and put it on. It’s not an unusual or weird garment, just a dress and therefore, dressy and sometimes, I need a little bit of extra confidence to wear such an item.

V2401DSC00359Vintage Vogue 2401. The interesting thing is the skirt – a swishy back and sides that wrap over the front panel. Ah-ha! A front panel and separate skirt…….

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Maybe not, so here’s what I did…….

With total disregard for grain lines, nap and weave I patched the bits and pieces together of the cotton/linen until I had big enough bits to (almost) fit the dress skirt pattern – back and sides. The seams were overlocked to stop fraying. The alpaca scrap was squared off and extra panels in cotton/linen added at the edges.




Folded pleat in pattern piece to fit the fabric

I removed 3″ from the top of the skirt when cutting out and the length was dependent on the amount of fabric I had.

Sew the back to the sides and finish the front edges: make some shaping darts in the flat front panel: wrap the back over the panel and tack in place.

When I made son’s Letterless Letterman jacket I bought way too much 1X1 cotton rib so this became the waistband.


Sew the 1X1 rib to the top of the skirt and overlock for neatness and extra security. Now there are three different fabrics.


And the final product is a very wearable skirt that fits right in my navy A/W ’15 wardrobe plans.


The sides are longer than the front but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest – only adds to the wrap-around look.


I have to step into the skirt instead of pulling over my head because of the restriction of the woven fabrics at hip length but hey! it’s my skirt, I made and I know its flaws and weaknesses and I know how to put it on.


There’s the wrap or rather the overlap of side to front. In real life I’ll be wearing navy opaques.

The off-grain, not quite bias gussets at the sides. As with all half-circle, full circle or bias cut skirts, let it hang overnight before hemming to let gravity do her job and let the bias drop to get an even hem.


And with the matching coat….

DSCN5740The scarf is made, of course, from leftovers from a recently made blouse which is nearly finished – just have a few more buttons to sew on. Soon…….


The rib waistband can be worn high or folded down, depending on how fat I feel on any given day.


Don’t throw those scraps away



More M&M Workwear

Still enamoured with my Merchant and Mills Workbook I am continuing to sew garments using these patterns but attempting to elevate them to professional autumn/winter workwear status rather than soft and wrinkled summer linen.


I started with another Curlew dress. [Photos have been lightened and are slightly blurred so that you can see the garments.]


This one is made in a wool/linen/cotton blend in dark denim blue. Not too much to add to the first review except this time I lengthened it considerably so that the hem cuts exactly at the top of my black Salvatore Ferragamo boots which were picked up for a song in a charity shop. See, you can make things any length you want when you sew your own clothes!

I also came across an error in my initial tracing of the pattern. My front was too long for my back – the armholes didn’t match up, and completely my own fault …..this fabric was not as forgiving as the linen/cotton used in my first dress which I eased into place but this one wouldn’t budge.

Therefore I added a new design feature (we all use those, don’t we?). I folded the excess at the front into a ‘new’ seam and I now have extra shaping over the bust!


The pattern is now fixed. Although I do kinda like this little extra detail.


Over the top of the dress is a coat – Haremere jacket once again. This time lengthened absolutely loads but wait – the hem of the coat cuts exactly at the hem of the dress and hence also at the top of the boots. See, you can do things like that when you sew your own clothes!DSCN5698

Don’t mind the hair, I’m going to the hairdresser’s tomorrow.

This fabric is gorgeous – linen/wool/alpaca – about 33% of each. In navy blue, it’s soft, like a knit but robust like a boiled wool. It is lined with a navy/black silk and viscose mix, same as used in son’s bomber jacket.


Both fabrics are from MyFabrics. I had a short business trip to London a few weeks ago and headed directly from Heathrow airport to Berwick Street via Liberty’s with £100 burning a hole in my pocket. Too much choice!!!! However I did pick up 2m of Japanese hammered polyester (more later) and a card of vintage navy buttons from The Cloth House, which were promptly put to use on this coat.

BTW – I’m back on Friday 16 October for one night only. Any of you Londoners want to meet? I saw a fab navy ribbed knit in Misan that I intend to buy next time round but need advice on seaming techniques and pattern choice….I’ll be wearing this coat so you’ll easily recognise me.


I Hong-Konged the seams again: nowhere near perfect but better than the first time. So I just need more practice and a very good excuse for another Haremere….if only I could justify the cost of the wool tweeds in Misan’s basement


I fretted aDSCN5679 little that the back of the coat would seat due to the softness of the fabric and so I fully lined the back, kept the original shoulder and sleeve linings and left the fronts unlined.

I’m planning on sewing a navy A/W ’15 collection and this is the start but I have still a few items to make and others to fantasise about.

ReAnn came to visit and she brought me a hat. We had great craik. I took her to the local Folk Museum for a local craft day and then back to our house for hearty Irish food and hopefully, good company.


I just had to wear homemade clothes to meet her so I wore my mock Vivienne Westwood dress to impress. I’m admitting this only to you, but this is only the second time I’ve actually worn this dress! I love it: I always get compliments when I wear it and yet the poor thing mostly languishes at the back of the wardrobe. Do you make stuff that you hardly ever wear?

ReAnn is an amazing woman, truly. My life is better for having met her. A traveller, a sewer, a fabric stasher, an unique stylist; independent, strong, funny and lighthearted, enthusiast for life and extremely interesting. I want to be like her when I grow up.



The Letterless Letterman

Pay attention now, today we are going to learn something about men’s fashion……There is extra information and learning resources in the links below and I expect you all to do your own research and independent reading in preparation for your assignment due next week.

A bomber jacket:
typically made in leather or shearling with a collar, two front pockets and sometimes a zipped pocket on the left sleeve.

81DNbhWN8kL._SL1214_A Harrington jacket: usually cotton twill traditionally with a tartan lining, two front pockets and collar.


A Letterman jacket: often made in wool, sometimes with raglan sleeves; two front pockets and collar in rib knit.


All jackets have common features – rib knit around the hem and sleeves, pockets, length just above hip/below waist and were created for practicable menswear: bomber jackets for WWII pilots, Harringtons for golfers and the Letterman (also known as the Varsity Jacket) closely linked to Harvard University’s baseball team.

Easy now girls – here are some pictures of movie stars in jackets.


Mmmmmm Steve…..        Right, where was I? Oh yes…

Thanks to your previous knowledge and expertise you recently directed me to a range of patterns suitable for teenage son who requested a jacket. I ended up selecting Burda 09/2014 134 as it is downloadable (almost instant) and cheap £3.99.

134_flat_large 134-092014-M_large

All tiled, taped, seam allowances added and cut out; for your information, there are no separate pieces for the pockets you have to trace these off the front pattern and the waist and sleeve bands are just measured rectangles. The jacket has an applique letter, single welt pockets, separating long zip and is fully lined. The instructions were written in a language that I have never encountered before so for a simple looking jacket this was a major learning project. When all else fails, slip stitch the lining!



My son is very conservative in his colour palette – navy. I chose a navy quilted poly and a navy cotton/silk lining. His preferences lie in the plain and unadorned: absolutely no logos on his clothes, I have ripped out the Nike tick from sweatshirts and Hollister T-shirts are relegated to sleepwear only. After some consultation, we arrived at the final design – he refused to have the letter on his Letterman and wanted a Harrington collar instead of the rib knit version and most definitely not tight or fitted. In readiness for the next four years of learning, discovery and fun we proudly present the Letterless Letterman…with a rather reluctant model…








Action shot

For those of you who had to wear school uniform do you remember all those woven name tags that had to be sewn into shirts, skirts, trousers, socks, pants, shoes, blazer and anything item that was not tied down? Well I found a few left over from primary school days and of course one had to be sewn into this jacket – just in case there is another one exactly the same at uni!


Leftovers were made into a scarf (with name tag too).


Fully lined


I always have a problem joining front facings to the hem. I have to ‘patch’ the join in nearly every jacket I make and this one was no exception. Any suggestions about what I’m doing wrong or better still, how to do it right, will be gratefully received.


Over the next few weeks children who once were little will be heading off to university.


Good luck, work hard, enjoy yourselves, phone your mothers once in a while and do your own washing before you come home!


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