Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Quilting the Universe – Big Bang

It started out by me asking teenage son what colours he wanted in his quilt. We were standing in the kitchen at the time and he answered, “Just like this.”

“What, the kitchen?” I queried. “Blue, white and orange?”



Now, having the benefit of knowing my son since birth, blue actually means navy, white actually means grey and well, orange just means orange. So I set about gathering appropriate fabrics. Once I had gathered together about 100 metres of each colour I then researched quilt patterns. This quilt is intended for him to take away to university in September this autumn and I allowed myself 5 months in which to make it. I started in April and almost, almost, got it finished today but nPastelBigBang_m-1ot quite. I just couldn’t resist showing you……..

KaffequiltsagainThe design is from Kaffe Fasset’s Quilt Again book and is the Big Bang pattern. In the book the quilt has 3 stars which I thought was a rating for impressiveness. It actually means level of difficulty which just goes to show that if you don’t know your own limitations then there are no limitations!

Essentially, the pattern is a Lone Star that goes all the way out to the edges of the quilt.

To cut a very long story short – the thinking time and colour matching and fabric setting; the processes and time consuming patchworking. Then the construction and with every little bit and strip added, this quilt top just got bigger and bigger! In total there are 1392 diamonds. Yep, nearly 1400 diamonds and all with bias edges!DSCN5282

But there are easier ways to sew 1300 diamonds together: Straight stitch a clatter of fabric strips together and then cut them at 45 degrees. Then sew the diamond strips together. Press that tiny 1/4″ seam allowance open – good grief! And make sure your diamond points all match up – yeah right!

However, at long last I had a quilt top which is clear proof that time is limited and not endless. I think I should get a PhD for that discovery!


The quilting is really fairly simple and I mostly used my walking foot – North, South, East and West : NE, SE, SW, NW and then octangle rows to join up the points of the compass. That should hold the bias together yet remain soft and flexible enough to snuggle under. There’s a bit of a free motion quilting in the centre to make a spiral too.


While I was quilting the layers together, I did begin to think that this quilt was the same size as the universe. I have henceforth discovered that the universe is not infinite and neither was the quilt because the quilting did eventually come to an end. Do I get another PhD for that one? I sewed the binding on and the only thing that needs to be done now is slip stitch this over the raw edges and give the whole thing a really good pressing.


In the centre is the original Big Bang – hot and firey. Then all the debris, dust, dark matter and the foundations of our universe radiating out. Our solar system is orbiting around about the orange/turquoise band – warm enough for life but not too hot nor too cold. As we get towards the edges of the quilt, and therefore, the edge of the universe, everything begins to cool down and the second Law of thermodynamics is irrefutably proved. Of course the first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed  – which this quilt also proves – all my energy has transferred into this quilt which in turn will keep my son warm and loved when away from home.


For scale – son is 6’6″ (1.98m)

And when he takes official ownership of the quilt it will come with a single condition, namely, to make a Big Bang!



Leigh’s Quilt

The single niece and granddaughter (not mine – my parents’) is having her 6th birthday this weekend. There’ll be 17 wee girls screaming and yelling and bouncing like headers in a bouncy castle on Sunday – so the more mature in the family are visiting on Saturday.

My very first ‘finished’ quilt was converted into a picnic blanket for my mum as a gift on Mothers’ Day by stitching a £ shop shower curtain to the back, adding a couple of ties and a re-naming ceremony. To her credit, she thought it was so good that it is now draped over a bed in her spare room. And who should come and visit, see the quilt and want to sleep in that bed, but Leigh?

This then gave me the idea of what to give Leigh for her birthday this year – her very own quilt – she has enough pink plastic toys and tiaras anyway.

The quilt has actually been finished and ready for a while now but I couldn’t show it any sooner in case Leigh saw it here. I think I might be safe – but Kerry – don’t show Leigh until Saturday!

The block is a windmill (I think) – eight triangles sewed together, but there are easier ways to do this. Of course, it’s pink and purple and turquoise with a bit of green and blue.


There actually is a plan in amongst all that pink and purple – you might just be able to discern the diagonal bands of colour across the quilt.


All the left over triangles were made into a little pillow for her little princess head to rest upon and a short length of bunting to coordinate her bedroom.

The rest were used to make the quilt bigger with a border.

The back is a lovely green cotton with roses and would look just as good this side up.


I free motion quilted (rather badly) the layers. I started out with a design but ended up just sewing any old way. Heck, it holds the layers together and that’s what quilting is suppose to do.

And of course, you have to label and date the finished quilt for posterity……..


It’s not a huge quilt, it will lie on top of a single bed but not hang down over the sides. I thought this size would be a lot easier for a little six year old to drag downstairs and snuggle under on a sofa while watching TV.


But that’s not all……..

Apparently when she grows up Leigh wants to be a scientist and every scientist worth their salt needs a lab coat. My brother gave me an old one of his to alter!!! No really…an adult male size lab coat altered for a six year old girl! My heart bleeds for Mrs Mole. My instructions were that all I had to do was take it up and take it in at the centre back seam – no allowances made for the collar or anything, or armhole depth or chest width – nah! none of that mattered.


Starting point

As this is also a surprise I couldn’t fit the lab coat to the model so I asked for an item of clothing for fitting purposes. This is what I started with – unwashed I may add.



Mrs Mole herself suggested an personalised pocket, so paying attention to the master, that’s what I did and managed to rip the original coat while I was taking off the pocket. That’s life.


Alterted version

In the end, with armhole gussets and embroidered pocket and shortened and what have you, we have a small girl’s lab coat all ready for her to discover perpetual motion or what happens inside a black hole or the meaning of life or something quite significant like that and change our mundane lives forever.


Good luck with that Leigh – we’re all waiting for the breakthrough – no pressure, no pressure. I suppose if she changes her mind and wants to be an artist, she can still wear the lab coat as an artist’s smock.




Fabulous Fabric Comes with High Expectations!

This is a quote taken from Sewing Elle and how right she is. Elle took a fabulous Oscar de la Renta fabric and made an even more fabulous coat with it.

I took a fabulous patterned silk and made an OK dress with it.


There were challenges – only 1.8m and 55″ wide: had to have sleeves, no zips or heavy closures, and try to use every last scrap of fabric.

You all came to the rescue with suggestions galore – from kimonos and kaftans to hankies and cushion covers! We ran the whole gamut of clothing and everything inbetween.

In the end I settled on Vogue 8870 mainly because I have it and made it before – a mock wrap bodice with little fluttery sleeves and a swishy gathered skirt. I had no intention of doing the mullet hem BTW.



I cut the sleeves 3″ longer than the pattern and then didn’t have enough fabric for the skirt! I had considered making a skirtless dress but didn’t think that would work too well! So I evened out the top and bottom edges of the remaining fabric and sewed a tube. This was then attached to the bodice – flat at the back to match the design, but folded into a pleat at the front to match the mock wrap bodice.

I made a little casing for the back to hold a strip of elastic which just adds a gentle gathering and some shape for my waist.


I added some hooks and eyes at the ‘wrap’ point and with only enough fabric left for one waist tie, sewed the single tie to the front and this then wraps around my waist and loops through on itself to stay in place.


The dress has French seams throughout. Want to see it?



See, no real wrap. No fear of the front falling open in this dress.DSCN5289


And you didn’t think I throw away the little scraps now did you?


A pair of lacy thongs and a bangle wrapped in scraps.

DSCN5293Thank you for all the suggestions – you’re the best!


The Ponte Club

Donna’s Vogue pattern 1440 was still sitting about the sewing room after her uninvited visit so I thought I’d might as well just use it to save me rifling through my very untidy, uncategorised and unKondoed collection. I rely on memory as a filing system, although it has let me down previously as I’ve actually purchased a Vogue pattern that I already owned!

I’ve never sewn with Ponte before but found some on offer somewhere on the Interweb a month or so ago and bought a goodly amount of their stock: a pale grey, magenta, dusky pink and obligatory black. It’s probably too late for this query – but does ponte have a right and wrong side? It is a great fabric to sew with – no fraying, stable and behaves well, it stretches and recovers, no wrinkling but presses well. Details about what ponte is here.

I’ve had my eye on a few StyleArcs for absolutely ages…… although delivery from Australia can take weeks and weeks and weeks. I ordered a skirt and along with this pattern came the free monthly one of a coat- in the meantime I patchworked and quilted instead. I’d obviously ordered just before the container was full and I only had to wait 3 weeks for the patterns to arrive. BTW – StyleArc have an Etsy shop for instant PDFs and I’ve been availing of this facility a lot recently. …..

A marriage between StyleArc and Vogue and Ponte, even if some of the patterns are for wovens!

Skirt is Zoe

Coat is Mason (knit fabric)

Jacket is Vogue Donna Karan 1440

Top (plain grey) Donna Karan Vogue 1282 (knit fabric)

Top (patterned grey) McCalls M6078 (knit fabric)

Shoes are Vivienne Westwood



The Mason coat has raw edges but is trimmed with the selvedge from the pale grey on cuffs, pockets and round the neckline and lapels. Real easy to put together just watch your fabric choice as the wrong side shows at the fold back lapels. I serged all internal seams for a more finished look and the collar has a flat felled seam at centre back. The selvedge trim was sewn with a fancy wiggly stitch and ties the weird no-colour coat to the pale grey skirt for a ‘set’.


The Donna Karan jacket is fab and I have another planned in a linen woven which I anticipate will be more difficult to sew as in this case I just pulled and stretched the ponte to make the notches match especially round the curves. I didn’t bind every seam, just serged again, and I raised the shoulder seams by 1″ and left the shoulder pads out.


The jacket is waterfall and loose at the front but shaped and fitted through the back. This one is trimmed with a strip of magenta ponte – sewn on with a fancy stitch – and goes all the way around the whole jacket and cuffs which are folded back (extremely long sleeves).


The magenta trim then ties the pale grey jacket to the magenta Zoe skirt for another ‘set’.DSCN5260

The Zoe skirt is an unusual pencil: two huge open darts at the back from hem to bum, and a front that is narrower at the hem than waist to pull the sides seams forward. The back also dips down a little to create a curved hem. There is an invisible zip at the side and no waistband, just facing.

My first one was a muslin in the black ponte (not shown). It ran a little big. StyleArc’s patterns have 1cm (1/2″) SA so the magenta version was sewn with the usual 1.5cm (5/8″) SA and the zip was ignored. I can just pull the skirt on thanks to the stretch and recoverability of the ponte. And the fit was better.

By the time I got to the pale grey Zoe, the seam allowances had increased to 2cm (closer to 1″). The fit is much better although the ponte shows every knicker line, lump and bump, so robust undergarments are in order (or none at all!) And I can still just pull it on, so no zip required.


Seams were serged and the hem just machined. None of the skirts is lined but I would like to do this soon. The ponte clings to tights and a lining might help smooth out some of the body flaws.

The McCalls drape top still remains one my favourite one-hour sewing projects: front and back, two side seams and just narrow hems on armholes and hem and it can be cut from the narrowest of fabrics.

I have mixed emotions about the Donna Karan draped top. All the Pattern Reviews raved about it and when it is sitting perfectly, it is fab. But, every time I move the drape un-drapes. The pattern calls for a weight to be inserted in the inside to hold the drape in place – well, the weight went in, the weight came out; the drape was stitched in place and then ripped out. I might even be using a good ol’ safety pin in these pics!


The Pattern Reviewers stated that the armholes were large and low, so I sewed mine tighter from the outset. This alteration for modesty’s sake had an effect on the drape. The armholes were then ripped out and cut larger. OK, bad selfie below – but you can see the drape on one side with the larger armhole falling all the way from the breast and the ‘fitting’ on the other side with the smaller armhole.


Not my proudest moment in sewing……

DSCN5228 I ended up cutting all that mess off and adding a band. So much effort and time, adjustment and agony over a top that will now only ever be worn (if at all) under a jacket or cardigan. It does have a lovely drape and if I don’t move it hangs beautifully.


Three skirts, two jackets, two tops and a multitude of outfits!






A really big thank you for all your suggestions about what to make with the patterned silk. I think we’ve covered every garment possible and even DH suggested trousers! I’m still considering but might have settled on a pattern, if I don’t change my mind again that is! We’ve got a Bank Holiday weekend here, lots of sewing and wardrobe sorting planned. Hope you have too.


The Day Donna Came to our House

I was futtering about the house the other day, still in my jammies, with no definite plans for the day when the door bell rang. DSC00676Our front door swells when it rains and it sticks and I can’t open it, so I go out the back door, walk round the side of the house to see who’s there. Would you believe it? It’s Donna Karan herself!

She said she was in the area and thought she’d call just on the off-chance that I was home. Well, I had to invite her in didn’t I? – her having made the effort and all. I made her a cup of tea and then she asked to see my sewing room.

“It’s a mess” I say

“Oh that’s OK” she replies, “all the best ones are.”

“But I’m not sewing anything at the minute; there’s nothing to see.” I try to squirm out

“I’ve a few hours to kill” she insists, “Maybe I’ll help you tidy up.”

Geez! So we go the stairs to the messy sewing room and what’s lying on the table but Donna Karan Vogue 1440. That was convenient, methinks silently. She notices it straightaway and asks what fabric I have.


“I don’t have a stash” I admit a little sheepishly.

“Well, let’s see what you do have.” says Donna. “You must have a few bits and pieces.” I’m thinking – there’s just no dissuading this woman.

So I managV1440-2e to drag out  a bit of pink and white cotton gingham just to keep her happy. If she messes it up, it’s no big loss: I wasn’t that convinced of its wearability anyway. Donna decides to make the blouse.

“Brilliant! Fabulous! Darling colours! So on trend! It’s perfect!” Donna gushes. And I think “How long is this woman going be here?”

Within an hour, she has the blouse cut out and tailor tacked and the main pieces pinned together. Yes, Donna tailor tacks!

As I subsumed the role of Donna’s apprentice in my own sewing room –  I made more tea, threaded the machine and picked up the scraps of gingham off the floor. DSCN4969

Off she went sewing like a demon – demanding endless cups of tea (and I believe toast at one point but I lost track). I got bored and went to have my shower at long last and get dressed. Do I wear some DK stuff that I’ve made I wondered or is that a bit too sycophantic? I opted for Alabama Chanin instead – at least it’s American I convinced myself.

I’m doing my make-up when I hear the call “I’m done! Come and see!”

With a silent sigh and a false smile, I go back to the sewing room to find Doris wearing a genuine Donna Karan blouse.  And oh my gosh, now it’s my turn to gush and squeal. It’s lovely, fabulous, summery, unusual – so Donna Karan!


“I should have told you this before” I say to Donna, ” But Doris and me are actually completely different shapes. She’s a girl from the ’60s and I’m a middle-aged, overweight woman from the late 20th century.”

“Don’t worry about that.” replies Donna, “I could see the differences and I adjusted for them.” At this point I’m impressed but I still haven’t tried on the blouse.

“Take off that hand made stuff and try it on.” she commands, “Do you have some plain black or white jeans?”

“Emmm, perhaps” I admit, again sheepishly. This woman can make me feel like I’ve nothing to wear! So I go back to the bedroom and change; despite all that thinking about what to wear when Donna Karan is in your sewing room!


I try on the blouse and really, it is fabulous. The fit is perfect. I love the long length, almost tunic but not quite: the covered buttons: the shirt-tail hem with a little back split: loose but not billowy: the detail at the back shoulders. V1440-1The only gripe I have is lack of sleeves but there’s always cardigans for cover up and really, sleeves would be impossible on this blouse with the very specific shoulder details. I might just get over my sleeveless hang-up with this blouse………There’s just one little problem and the back shoulders are cut so that bra straps are visible – racer-back bra needed. And for Mrs Mole, the dart points are are in the absolutely perfect place!


Late in the afternoon Donna left and I was left with a very wearable, summery blouse that did not waste my gingham fabric. I now own a genuine Donna Karan blouse – she sewed it herself! I’m missing a label and a £XXXX price tag so I’m the only one who actually knows it’s genuine.

If you sew a DK pattern, or any other designer for that matter, can you say that “This is a Donna Karan”? What makes a RTW item DK or yours?


Elaine, you can tell your students that you read it on the Internet, so it must be true!


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