Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


The Right Tools

I’ve never really understood the joy and enthusiasm some of you have for old sewing machines – you take pics and write posts extolling the virtues of dusty, creaky, black and gold machines and think they’re brilliant. You add them to your armoury and I’ve really no idea if you ever actually use them or why on earth you would buy another machine when you have a fully functioning one already.

I’ll be honest, at best I merely scan such posts and mostly I just skip them: until now…..

My mother LOVES auctions; real live auctions not sterilised eBay, but the type held in wood-clad, stale-cigarette smoke and furniture polish aromatic warehouses with real live characters and stuff you can touch and smell and see before you bid. We’re not talking Sotherby’s or Christie’s  here but mainly local house clearances and bankruptcy sales. There’s not a week goes by that she’s not on the phone asking if there’s anything I need. Actually, there’s nothing I need, I really and truly have everything and very much more but I try to keep my Mother happy so I say something like a “Ming dynasty blue and white serving dish”, or “Clarice Clef tea pot” or “Louis XIV footstool”, knowing fine well that these items will never appear in a local auction house but at least it gives her something to look for.

This week’s phone call asked if I wanted another sewing machine as there was one was listed in the local auction house catalogue. It’s lovely that she supports my hobby and wants to help but I don’t have the space nor the inclination for more stuff.

“Thanks, Mummy but no thanks. I have a machine and it works perfectly well. Why would I want another?”

“Well, you just might.”

“What kind is it?”

“Don’t know, it’s just listed as a Frister and Rossman.”


I left the option open……

Long story short I am now the very proud owner of a vintage Frister and Rossman 45 model II. A bit Internet research places said machine circa 1970. The best bit is that it’s heavy duty, manually operated and I’m guessing will sew through at least three layers of sheet metal if I want it to. And I now completely understand the desire for vintage machines.

It has that lovely ‘beat up’ look; a bit of paint chipped off, a few knocks and dents but in my eyes that only adds to its ugly beauty. Made of real wood and metal, it weighs about seven tonnes and I either need to do more arm exercises at the gym or enlist assistance to lift it onto the table.


My Father bought a new bulb – thank you dad! It has the grand stitching repertoire of forwards, backwards and zigzag. It also came with a little bundle of bobbins, tools, oil, brush and feet.


Isn’t wood lovely? I’ve found an instruction manual online – thank you whoever put that up.

A bit of online research discovered that Frister and Rossman are (were) a German company and with a bit of guessing, this machine heralds from around 1970. Nothing like  German engineering – best in the world and will last forever.

There are  Flash Gordon knobs and levers so that alone makes it brilliant – no computer beeps and bloops just clunky operator choices and no Error messages if you forget to lower the presser foot – it lets you make mistakes!


So what’s the point in having such a basic workhorse of a machine?

Well, a few years ago (exactly four) I started a pair of leather trousers. I had to abandon them because my perfectly functioning Janome TXL607 would not sew through the layers – skipped stitches and no stitching at all in some places.  In sheer frustration I started glueing the pieces together which is never a good idea for clothes. The half completed legs were rolled up (never fold leather), stuffed in a plastic bag and have lain at the bottom of the fabric box for four years. However, with that external motor, no computer telling me that I can’t do it and a new leather needle inserted I might just get to finish them.


Would you believe it?                  An actual  pair of leather trousers!

As a pair of leather jeans they’re really really bad: as my first pair of leather jeans they’re brilliant!

The pattern used was my Jeanius draft of a pair of Armani Jeans, next time I’ll be using Bootstrap skinny jeans as there is absolutely no alterations needed for fit.

What’s wrong? A lot.

Back pockets were glued in place years ago and are now double stitched to compensate for crappy modern sewing machine efforts.They’re also positioned too low.

Mismatched back yokes (there’s six layers of leather at that join).

Twist in left leg inside seam???? And the inside finish is shameful.

What’s good?

A completed pair of five pocket jeans, a working fly zip…



…..and I can get into them.


I’m tempted to call these ‘a muslin’ but as they’re made from leather it is hardly an appropriate term – let’s call them a ‘learning’ experience – both material and machine.


Best way to press leather is to wear it; any wrinkles or creases tend to work themselves out with body heat and natural stretching. I’m also assured that with enough wear, the leather trousers will take on your shape for good or ill.

You only get once chance to sew leather as those needle / pin holes are there forever.


And …. my mother is now on the look out at the auctions for a sturdy table on which to place my new vintage sewing machine and I’m on the look out for more hides!






This is What Happens When…..

A home sewer joins a gym……dscn6568After the flurry of sewing posts in August I fell silent for a few weeks and this is the reason why.

Yes, you heard that right. I looked at my thickening waistline in my not-lost Lea wrap dress and decided to take affirmative action. I’ve joined a gym! (Again). However, this time, it’s different – why? Because I sew……….

1980sclothes_p3tauqI really didn’t want to look like Jane Fonda (actually I did!) or wear the 1980’s aerobic  workout gear with headbands and leg warmers.  I know vintage is fashionable but really, there is a limit….bc7df4e1f23e67fbf3ef826d50d85dc5

It seems to be the style nowadays, at least at my gym, to not look like you try too hard with workout clothes – it doesn’t matter if they don’t match or belong to a ‘set’. It’s the “I just threw this on” look.; “I’m more interested in my workout than my workout clothes”.

I don’t do running and jumping stuff and my chest dimension is moderate so that gives me an opportunity to sew some easy workout gear.

Rhonda wrote a very timely post this week about athleisure clothes and I took some inspiration from this. Thankfully we don’t have to spend $98 for a pair of Lululemon leggings – just 1 metre of lycra fabric at £5 makes up a pair of leggings and a cropped top.

I’m doing lovely posturing exercise classes – Yoga, Pilates, BodyBalance etc and they need flexible leggings and tops that don’t ride up. The gym sessions include rowing, cross trainers and mucking about on weight machines. So I tried to sew a workout wardrobe that encompasses both.

Most fabrics are from Fabworks and as far as I know are not specifically manufactured for working out but so far, they’ve performed very well, unlike myself.

Why sew your own? Well, I suppose it’s the same reason we sew normal everyday clothes: no-one else will be wearing the same thing, I can make whatever length and breadth I like, I can choose my colours, I can add little details like tabs for locker keys or pockets, and the cost!

Mainly sewed in a palette of turquoise and pink with a bit of black and grey and, when combined with some RTW navy, black, grey bottoms, forms a very versatile collection that will take me easily from one week to another.

Some details: I changed the tension in the left needle on the overlocker with a contrast thread for an interesting stitch detail in black and white leggings: sliced up a leggings pattern to include a contrast spiral: drafted top from RTW with shoulder strap bands.

Want some action shots?

Leggings pattern – McCalls  6173 and takes 30 mins to sew6173

Dark pink top – drafted from RTW

Pale pink top – Merchant & Mills Bantam top with hemline band and added shoulder contrast.


Leggings – Vogue 9108 (Marcy Tilton)  with added spirals

Top – drafted from RTW with added side panels


Top – as above in turquoise knit marl.

I have lengthened most of the tops and dipped the back to cover my backside. As the tops are racer-back, I have made cropped tops – essentially half a T-shirt, to wear underneath to cover the bra straps.


And when it’s time to go home, just throw on a Holiday top with added front pouch. Same fabric as top above.


The girl who would only ever wear sleeves is now wearing racer back T-shirts…..


and getting muscles.




Half ‘n’ Half

My goodness, but you girls love a dress, or two!

Today, however, I’m showing separates: versatile, impartial to season (think layering), casual, dressy and no limits on the colour spectrum.

Rarely do I buy factory made clothes. I’ve never sworn off RTW with pledges or promises so sometimes I succumb to the instant gratification of shopping.  I’ve become very fussy about fit since making my own clothes – a downright snob actually – which accounts for my limited shop purchases. I try something on and my first instinct is to examine the drag lines, the wrinkles, the gapes at neck and waist. I look at it and ask “If I had made this, would I be happy with fit?” Inevitably the answer generally is “No”.

I discovered Finery earlier this year – RTW with an edge. I enjoy looking at their use of fabrics and colours and slightly unusual shapes – a great inspiration. I admire the nonchalant styling – I’m wearing this because I want to, not because I want to look like my colleagues or because it makes me look sexy, but it makes me feel good.  I bought stuff………

Let’s stAZ-005_CHARTERIS-TOPS-BLACK-FINERY-LONDON_170_2art with trousers: same style, one cobalt blue and one chartreuse. 7/8 length, side pockets and small front pleats. The pic on the left is the same style in magenta (tempting…..). The trousers do not have the fit I would demand if I’d made them myself but they’ll do. Considering almost everyone else wears RTW, I can’t look any worse than the general population.


You all know that I love my colours as much as greys and what a basis these two pairs of trousers gave me to expand upon.

I made just a few tops and now the option for outfits is endless. A perfect travel wardrobe; which it was earlier this summer. This is what I packed and I didn’t have enough days to wear all the combinations.

Cobalt with butterflies and Chartreuse with butterflies

Vogue 1247 (OOP) in poly satin

Chartreuse with pink and Cobalt with pink

Yes, it needs ironing! Pink silk chiffon, pleated blouse free pattern from Sew Easy


Cobalt with cobalt

My own Three Bears T with added side pocket, ribbed viscose jersey


Cobalt with blue/green peacock feathers.

McCalls M6078, viscose jersey so old I’ve forgotten where it came from.



Chartreuse with turquoise.

Modified McCalls M6078 to fit fabric, viscose jersey from My Fabrics


Chartreuse with orange

Bootstrap Blouse With Button-Decorated Back, not quite made to pattern specifications, Merchant and Mills Indian orange cotton with yellow stitching

And I haven’t even ventured into the other classics of black and navy, and any other colour that coordinates with these colours. Surprisingly, khaki green is also a good colour with both the cobalt and the chartreuse. I love a bit of clashing. Think of this post as a very amateur attempt at the Vivienne Files for non-RTW coordinates to wear with RTW.











Where’s my Lea?

I’m over 50 and sew a lots of things but really….

I positively 100% knew that I had purchased and printed StyleArc’s Lea wrap dress pattern after reading Sew2Pro’s review. The actual date of said download is a mystery but I am absolutely sure I owned it.

About 4 hours later: found the pattern. Hah! not that old……although I wasn’t sure if it was tiled and taped and ready to go. What joy when I discovered the pages taped and the pieces cut.

DSCN6400Great. Lay the pattern pieces out on Aeolian Ripples from Fabworks- an Avoca jersey knit in burgundy/green and perfect transitional colours for that summer to autumn look. It is also my first step towards my burgundy pieces for A/W.


1 hour later: All the pieces are pinned to the fabric and I discover that the pattern pieces had previous pin holes. This means that I had actually pinned each pattern piece to another fabric at some time in the recent past. Could I remember which fabric – no?

LEA-DRESSI showed my husband the pattern drawing and asked if he had ever seen me in this dress. Answer – no. So, maybe I pinned and then abandoned. Yeah. That’s the answer.

Except….each pattern piece had all the notches cut.  I figured that one does not pin and cut out pattern pieces without marking notches. What the ******?

I racked my brain and memory banks for a previous Lea wrap dress. I resorted to old-fashioned private detective techniques – I  tapped phones, sat outside my own house for 48hrs in a van,  planted bugs in the bathroom, all in the cause of  looking for evidence. The wardrobe provided no tangible clues and I came to the conclusion that I had previously cut out all the pieces, made the dress and gave it away. But I still could not think of the fabric used or even a memory of doing all this.

I lay awake for weeks trying to think of when I had made Lea: what fabric had I used; what occasion was I sewing for?  My family queried if I had anything on my mind – YES ACTUALLY – I obviously made a dress but I have no recollection of it and I can’t find the physical item!

So I figured the only way to deal with ghosts is to face them and so I made a Lea Wrap dress (another?).


I may have sewn wider seams that the pattern allows for (in fact I did) which would account for the top not covering the bits it should cover, so a coordinating camisole is essential.


Lea Wrap dress is a classic/basic wrap dress with collar a la DVF and 3/4 sleeves. Not complicated and eternally fashionable and stylish.

I love the collar on the dress and the front wrap really does stay wrapped. There are no darts and the sleeves are sewn as in T-shirt construction: one big side seam. Using a two-way stretch is paramount.

The only fiddly bit is sewing on a narrow binding along the front that hides the raw edges of the collar and neatens up the front edges. This needs to sewn on the right side out, then trimmed, turned and top stitched in place. So glad this fabric is busy and you can’t see the wiggly, uneven topstitching line.


I have ‘thickened’ over the summer weeks so time to do something about that or else I won’t get into any of my clothes. I find that my home made clothes are such a good fit that a weight gain of more that 2kg tells. RTW on the other hand seem to have a 5kg weight gain built in.

I lengthened the dress by 4″ because I like a below-knee skirt – it lengthens the leg and covers knobbly knee caps. I also added an inch or two to the sleeves. The waist ties are the length they are because that was all the fabric there was.


I have bombarded you, dear readers, recently with posts and makes. I have been playing catch-up with myself; I sewed so much but never took pictures or the time to write. I think I’m almost up to date now and I thank you for your patience. After six wonderfully relaxing and sewing weeks my summer holidays are drawing to a close. Then, as we say here, it’s back to porridge.


I still can’t find my first Lea wrap dress though.

Have you seen it?


The Adventures of the Six Napoleons

“It’s the Napoleon bust business again,” said Lestrade. “You seemed interested last night, Mr. Holmes, so I thought perhaps you would be glad to be present now that the affair has taken a very much graver turn.”

It’s the finale of the Six Napoleon dress challenge, set by (used to be sewing friend) Marianna of Sew2Pro. About six of us intrepid and quite possibly over-confident sewers decided to take on Sew2Pro’s challenge to make a Six Napoleon dress. None of us challengers met the first deadline of Bastille Day and I have to admit that I was one of those who requested an extension. But here it is, in all it’s Great British Sewing Bee scrappy state – my interpretation and version of Dogstar’s Six Napoleon dress……

It might look OK but truly believe me, the insides and the finish is crap (that’s an official technical sewing term just in case you are unaware of it).


The bodice is Alabama Chanin’d down one side only with reverse applique. The skirt is 4m of a fine jersey mesh pleated and sewn to the bodice. There’s a white half circle underskirt  which I left on show at the shortest part of the skirt. All fabrics are from Fabworks.

Styling accessories include opera length fingerless gloves and a plaited neckband with intertwined pearls. My nod to the black pearl of the Borgias.

DSCN6538 The hem of the skirt is faced with a 4″ band of red jersey and (lazy girl) just serged the edge. The red peeks out as the skirt drapes and moves.


The good news, I suppose, is that I can actually get into the dress and it fits well. I am not proud of this dress – well maybe just a wee bit pleased that I got it started, figured out, finished and worn.


This challenge turned out to be much more difficult than any of us thought. A little bit of tedium was creeping in.



When did I wear this dress?



In the kitchen of course! I made a chicken curry for dinner although I did remove the gloves for that part. Then reclined on the sofa to watch the Olympic weightlifting on TV. A totally fascinating sport – a mix of strength, concentration, psychological mind games and sheer impressiveness.


And Marianna – maybe the next time you set a challenge it could be a shift dress………….?


“Well, well, we can’t expect to have it all our own way, Watson,” he said, at last. “We must come back in the afternoon if Mr. Harding will not be here until then. I am, as you have no doubt surmised, endeavouring to trace these busts to their source, in order to find if there is not something peculiar which may account for their remarkable fate.”

The Adventures of the Six Napoleons by Arthur Conan Doyle