Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Sources of Inspiration

One of my very bestest friends, K, dresses really well. She has chosen the colours that suit her perfectly and wears them with style and panache. Her ‘to-go’ outfit is a beautifully patterned (and usually expensive) shell top, cardigan (if necessary) and a pair of trousers. It looks effortless.

Once a month I go away for a day to sew with my mates. We bring our machines, fabrics, patterns and chat about sewing, patterns, swap tips, techniques and review gadgets. We also eat a lot of scones and cake and might squeeze a wee bit of sewing in between. Most of these lovely sewing ladies are young – I mean way younger than me.

I mostly use Vogue patterns; they use PDFs and mostly independent pattern companies. Sometimes I feel a little old-fashioned and left out because I’m a Big 4 fan. I know my Vogues and know instinctively what alterations I need to make for a perfect fit.

Anyway, one of “Young People” sewing team’s favourite pattern companies is Sew Over It. After our last day away and listening to all their talk , I went delving and came up with this..


Beautifully presented in tissue wrapped fabric and a study box – I was overjoyed. I bought this little kit. Silk Cami as a proper paper pattern with printed instructions and 1m of pre-selected cotton. I also added a few other metres of alternative rayons just because.

Sew Over It or SOI if you’re in the know, which just happens to be the title of this post – did you notice? Sources of Inspiration (SOI) – good, huh? also sells fabric – good and bad at the same time. It means you can choose a pattern and then go directly to buy appropriate fabric, or find a gorgeous fabric and then find a suitable pattern.

I did both.

This practical, useful and everyday top can easily be sewn up within a hour without interruption. This weekend I managed three……..


Fabric 1 is from a newly opened local Belfast shop Hab & Fab. Fabrics 2 and 3 are from SOI. I’v got hummingbirds and roses, flowers and bouquets, lilies and vines. These are rapidly taken photos to match the rapid sewing.

To mix things up a wee bit and add a bit of variation I did three difference seam finishes. The instructions go for French seams but I’m lucky and have an overlocker/serger who is particularly good friends with me at the moment (jinx!).


Fabric 1 is a scuba with a woven cotton backing and was trimmed and finished with pinking shears. Fabric 2 got the French seam treatment but not as we know it. Fabric 3 was straightforward and simply serged.

And now for the French seam treatment. This is NOT my idea. I got this from Kathleen as I read Ozzyblackbeard’s latest blog. I have to tell you it is genius and like all brilliant things, one wonders why did I not think of that? You do need a serger/overlocker.


Step1 – Wrong sides together, serge the seam 1/4″ or thereabouts.

Step 2 – Right sides together, sew the serged seam within. This is nice as you can easily feel the serged edge through the fabric.

Step 3 – Press the enclosed seam to one side. Perfection, easy, neat – absolutely brilliant!

My SOI box is now empty but I’m using it to hold the next planned patterns……


I am gearing up for an epic sew – Vogue 1467 – so this little top was for fun and fast sewing; it is a nod towards K’s distinctive style and the direct influence of my sewing away day friends – no matter what age they are – we can all still learn from each other.



Holiday Legacy 1 – Step-In Skirt

For people who sew, no trip away from home is a complete success unless you manage to bring home fabric! Agreed? This is our version of the holiday souvenir.

In Scotland, I visited the Harris Tweed shop but they had so much choice that I couldn’t decide on the day. Added to which £40 for half width/ £80 for double width per metre means a simple straight skirt would cost in the region of £100 including lining and zip etc. TweedsIt was also quite difficult to choose a winter weight tweed in temperatures of 24 with clear blue skies and practically 20 hours of sunshine. A skirt well made in Harris tweed would last at least 30 years and I don’t know if I have 30 years left…..

In Mexico, fabric shops were sadly obscure and the pickings meagre. Thankfully, I was staying with a sewing friend who had boxes and boxes full of stash and I went gleaning. There were also patterns galore with which to pair the fabrics.

I came home with a Japanese print cotton (subject of this post), autumnal coloured silk chiffon and dark brown gabardine. I had selected others but weight restrictions and space in my luggage prevented me from bringing any more home. More about the other fabrics as I sew through them……..

Patterns included:Vogue 2625 – Michael Kors dresses (2002), Vogue 1467 – Lauren Sara suit (1994) and Vogue 8499 – Marcy Tilton skirt and trousers (2008).



I bought a “designer” linen skirt in Mexico, which is not really a skirt. I don’t know if this item of clothing even has a name, so I’m calling it a step-in-skirt. The linen isn’t the finest nor the best, even for the price I paid but it creases beautifully and looks like linen.

As soon as I came home, I copied it or at least made a similar version – let’s call mine a cousin.


To cut a long construction story short – make a skirt and sew in between the legs at the hem. Here’s a crappy sketch No 1:


The RTW one has has a wrap front and tie.


But I didn’t have enough fabric for a wrap so my version is just sort of a skirt shape with side pockets as pleats at each side and the waistband split and attached one to the front and one to the back.

With only about 1m of fabric to play with I laid the RTW skirt flat on top of the Japanese print and drew around it with some chalk – yeah I know, the technicality and precision is astounding you! Cut out two pieces exactly the same. Here’s another crappy sketch No 2:


NB: slice through the fold – it is not necessary to the pattern. I cut my fabric in two first because there is a directional design, so just treated it like a nap.  The only critical measurement is the top (waist) of the skirt; it must be your waist measurement + ease + seam allowance: err on the side of way too big. The waistband must be longer than the waist measurement by at least 2″ .

Practically a no-waste pattern, the two pockets and waistband can fit around the pattern of the main skirt pieces on what would otherwise be left-over or dumped.

Flip the pocket pieces and sew to the front and back skirt pieces with the narrowest part close to the waist. Stitch the pocket bags together and sew up the side seams. these will form not only pockets but pleats.

Attach one waistband piece to the front (both front and back are exactly the same) and attach the other to the back. Check for fit and mark buttonholes. I made two button holes on either side of the front section and sewed buttons on the back section which makes a very suitable in and out system. It’s absolutely fine if there’s a bit of overlap – you’re just adding to the design feature pleated sides.


Mark how wide you want the leg holes to be at the sides, obviously, they need to big enough so that you can get your legs through: leave this open and sew the hem in between together like a normal seam and finish the hem edges around the legs bits. See crappy sketch No 1 above.

DSCN7774There are however, a few experienced disadvantages:

  1. It’s difficult to cross your legs as this not a pair of trousers nor a skirt.
  2. Bodily functions require perfect timing and clean floors – the whole thing has to drop down like a jumpsuit, or whatever the modern day name for they are.
  3. Climbing up step ladders could be problematic so don’t wear this while doing DIY.

Otherwise, it’s easy to sew, uses the most of limited fabric, relaxed, wee bit weird and the Step-in-Skirt is truly comfortable to wear.


I also added a little fabric stay inside to hold the pockets together, pulls them towards the front and adds to the pleated sides (see, there was a wee bit of posh sewing knowledge used).

The Step-in-Skirt could also be classified as a pair of trousers with the lowest crotch seam ever!


Thanks to you all for your ever encouraging and supportive comments and messages.

And a very warm welcome to all new readers and sewers.



Second Home (Mexico)

Get a cup of tea…..

There are many things I’ve never done in my life so far – I  have never travelled beyond the equator; been to the continents of Africa, Australia, Eurasia; nor even across the Atlantic Ocean. This summer I managed to accomplish one of those nevers: at the ripe old age of middle I managed to cross the Atlantic and for the very first time in my life set foot on USA soil, albeit for a few hours stop over in Atlanta airport on my way to Leon, Mexico.


Leaving Mexico

I haven’t been beyond UK borders for years. For 10 years or so as a family we took many holidays all over mainland Europe but generally speaking that’s just like being at home except for a different language and warmer weather; travelling to Mexico is culturally unique. I feel a trifle guilty showing you my suitcase because I did not sew everything I packed.

There are occasions in our lives when you have to make decisions and sometimes buying holiday-one-off clothes makes a lot more sense. My suitcase compromised a mix of RTW and sewn. I cannot foresee some of my Mexican wardrobe ever being worn in the very near future – I mean temperatures of 26 degrees and above are relatively unknown in my part of the world – and so I truly wasn’t prepared to spend money, time and effort on sewing things when I could buy them in the summer sales. This one of the reasons that I never signed up for 100% 12 months of sewing my own wardrobe. You never know what life will throw at you, offer you or knock you sideways.

In May this year I was diagnosed with yet another malignant melanoma – good grief, it’s my third! If not identified and cut out, this is a 80% death sentence. Wear the sunscreen people!! A temporary, damaging sun tan is not worth it. Take it from a bottle if it’s that important to you. My gratitude to our British National Health Service cannot be expressed enough. Obviously……


Proudly displaying my newest “I’m still alive” scar

So when I received an invitation from ReAnn to visit Mexico my first thoughts concerned my life, health, skin, potential sunburn and subsequently the consequences. I have typical Irish, Northern European skin – pale, freckly and my delicious blood is a gourmet meal for every flying insect


Decisions to travel were – Yes, then No it’s too risky – life’s short and all that sun is dangerous:  then YES! Life is really and truly too short so take all and every opportunity whenever they present themselves.

Thankfully when the husband was asked if he wanted to come too he gave the right answer – No!

So off I went solo.


Packing philosophy

Choose a base/primary colour and add co-ordinating colours to ring the changes.

Slide1My base colour was royal blue, it is surprising how many colours coordinate with this principal colour and the co-ordinating ones were neutrals of white and natural linen. I had a little bit of space left in the case so in went one black and a couple of patterned items.  Mostly my clothes were solid colours but I did add these few patterns for variation.


I bought two items while I was there – an expensive designer linen step-in skirt (a perfect opportunity for another blog post) and some khaki shorts from the tenguies (market) simply because I didn’t own a pair of shorts.

DSCN7751Merchant and Mills Bantam vest in lime green rib


I packed two pair of shoes – flip flops for pool and early mornings, one pair of blue flat sandals and I wore the leather lace-up shoes for travelling because I don’t like moving through heavily populated areas such as airports and underground stations with my toes exposed in case of back-stomping and trampling.


You will excuse me, I’m sure, that I do not model the entire suitcase. Everything that I packed was worn and most pieces at least twice, although I had the advantage of having a washing machine. Some items of clothing are very old and have been blogged before and it was ultimately very beneficial and gratifying that I had already spent the time making them, just waiting for their day in the sun. The olds include:


Donna Karan wrap dress

See the lotion on my pale Irish legs? (Emm delicious). This photo was taken last year after the Donegal midges attacked. The DK dress was worn at dinner one night and turned out to be a ‘signature’ look – see below….. I had a posh meal out at the Insitutio while a world renowned classical guitarist played and who happened to know I was from Ireland and played a little ditty with Latin influences. God bless him.



Self drafted T-shirt dress with beading

This self-drafted, beaded neckline dress was  worn for dancing the night away to what else but ‘the blues’. I went dancing with Jan to a Blues night uniquely sung in Spanish with the most adorable lead guitarist. I even got asked to dance.


Sateen patterned cotton trousers, so old now that I cannot rightly remember when these were made. The new additions were a hybrid Alabama Chanin/ CfPD Bias top in white cotton jersey.


Location is someone’s exquisite bathroom….

DSCN7752The white cotton CfPD Spiral Top with a little waist tie detail and needs an ironing…..






My version of Monsoon blue and white striped cotton trousers.







A homemade copy of Oska summer linen dress, made in a fine checked natural linen and the base pattern was StyleArc’s Toni.





Another modification of the Toni was the black muslin over-dress.












I bought a few plain white T-shirts, a swimsuit, a cover-up. I didn’t pack enough loose tops even though I’d made them, such was the temperature. Lesson learned.

At least now I have stuff that will travel the world with me wherever I go in the future- I have a wardrobe for all seasons and all temperatures.





IMG_0694So anyway, poor ReAnn felt a little under the weather one day and I set off to visit Canada de la Virgen (ancient pyramids) all on my own.

On the bus to the archaeological site this couple asked me if I had had dinner at a place the night before and that they remembered me because of my lovely blue dress (the DK). They then ‘looked after’ me for the rest of the day.

See – sewing has many unknown and undocumented advantages!





Then one other day as I was sitting by a fountain and waiting for ReAnne who was having her hair cut some American ladies walked by and commented that I should have a photograph taken. I gave them my phone and this is it. We met them again later that day.


On another day ReAnn and I had a fabulous day tour around Guanajuato.


I wore my black muslin over-dress with white cotton shift and white linen trousers and she wore a plain black dress too, both of us in total contrast to the colourful houses – we must have looked like two devotees of some religious sect together. Apparently Guanajuato was the backdrop for some Disney animation film recently but my days of watching such genre has become temporarily dormant.


One evening we went to a really bad fashion show which I would not have missed for all the tea in China or all the Tequila in Mexico – it was so bad it was good!


On Tuesday morning I shopped at the local market and had the best meal of the entire visit – a whole fried fish, crispy on the outside and creamy white on the inside. We were the only gringos at the long table. Perfect.


I had tequila. Salt and limes included.


I helped ReAnn fit and finish her Vogue 1442 dress.


I advised and assisted Kathy with fitting and understanding the instructions for her very complicated Vogue 1424



For which she very kindly gifted me the best present ever – a cactus pincushion.


And within an hour of unpacking, my cactus had fruit, just like the real thing.


I regularly sent home pictures of Car of The Day from San Miguel.


There was art, churches, markets, eating, walking, talking, cooking class (thanks to ReAnn for the following photos), characters, sunshine, scenery, mountains,


When I had 30 mosquito bites, I stopped counting!

I didn’t have altitude sickness (6000ft), I didn’t suffer jet-lag, I didn’t get sunburn, so a few irritating insect bites were a small price to pay.

Believe me, I saturated myself with insect repellent, Avon’s Skin So Soft – you name it, I lathered it on and the wee sh*tes still found the areas that I hadn’t covered – between toes, fingertips, thumb.

Other wildlife included Silence of the Lambs sized butterflies (moths) in the bedroom.

IMG_0760Amazing hummingbirds….honestly, can you ever imagine an Attenborough thingy visiting your garden???





I had an absolutely brilliant time in Mexico – a unique lifetime experience for which I wholly and truly have to thank ReAnn and will probably never have ample opportunity to repay ….and of course, sewing which was our initial reason for contact.

I have henceforth decided on a new acronym: AFS = away from sewing machine! What was the first thing I did on my return home??? You guessed it.

Suitcase still packed and I hit the sewing room………there was no time to suffer jet-lag.

Take life’s opportunities NOW.

Do not wait until next year, next week, next month, tomorrow……..and if ever anyone says to you that sewing is a solitary, isolated activity – here’s absolute proof that it is not and if anyone ever offers you anything – take it!



Mystery Blogger

awardThanks so much to everyone who nominated me for this award.

My blogging days were floundering and this was just the kick I needed to get going again.



I couldn’t respond immediately because I might have been a wee bit busy at the time either camping in Scotland or preparing for a journey to Mexico but I’m getting around to it now.

The award description: “Mystery Blogger Award is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious post. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.” Created by: Okoto Enigma

I was nominated by two of my favourite bloggers – Kim and Coco. What I’ve done is answer all their questions in a row. Thank you ladies, much appreciated.

I have interspaced this overly wordy post with some pics…..

Kim The Material Lady

  1. Do you read, and if yes what is your favourite book?

I read every single night of my life: even if it’s very, very late or early, this is always part of my bedtime routine although sometimes I don’t always remember what I’ve read, so I have to read it again the following night.

Desert Island choice of a single book though is extremely difficult –

  • 13th Valley: Vietnam War, to remind me how futile war is.
  • Handmaid’s Tale: how not to treat women
  • Prayer for Owen Meany: there is some spiritual element to all our lives
  • A Confederacy of Dunces: read it and then tell me what’s is about….but it’s brilliant.

Funny, that these are all American novels – that may surreptitiously say a lot about me and my opinions and preferences. I do like the English classics too and to be quite honest if there are words on a page, I will read them!


Some Book Club members in San Miguel

  1. What is your favourite ice cream flavour?

Vanilla – I can then add whatever flavours I choose.

  1. What is your favourite season, and why.

I love all four seasons because I am a child of the northern hemisphere and enjoy the changes and because I can wear lots of different clothes. However, if I had to select one in particular it would be Autumn/Winter. I can wear my beloved boots ( I have A LOT) and hence more skirts than in summer as I don’t need to shave my legs, and I can always look forward to summer again.


  1. Do you prefer to sew in silence or with entertainment of some sort.

I always sew with BBC4 radio on. Sometimes it’s a drama of any genre just because I love a good story. Sometimes I play a Craftsy class as my computer in is the sewing room but I  hardly ever get to watch the whole video and just hope I’ll learn by sheer osmosis.

  1. Would you sing karaoke, and what song?

Any chance I can get I sing and dance and this is definitely not a pleasurable experience for any listeners – I can’t carry a tune in a bucket! I always stand up and sing my little heart out at any blues, rock and roll but especially Stand By Your Man – go figure!

Coco’s questions:

  1. Whose sewing or style most inspires or influences your sewing?

Easy peasy – your name’s sake – Coco Chanel. Oh, I love my jeans and weird-out gathers and pleats but ultimately, I like tailored and fitted clothes – if only my real life and figure reflected my ideal wardrobe……


  1. How often do you bin a garment and throw up your hands in defeat?

Hardly ever. What I will do however is sew that bad thing up to the very finish but I might never wear it. What I will hopefully learn from the process is how to do something and more importantly, how not to do something. No sewing time is ever wasted nor a defeat – there’s always learning to done.


  1. How often do you pull the latter out of the bin and keep going?

Only once. A Vogue dress I’m truly glad I did.


  1. What is your favorite thing about your sewing space?

I used to sew in the dining room but there were complaints from other family members about ‘stuff’ lying about so I moved into the spare room. It now means that the dining room is clear but we cannot accommodate overnight guests, however I have my own space.  I have a large window that looks all the way to the road at the top of our lane where I can view the traffic and activity and this makes me realise that I am not alone. I like my beat up old wooden sewing table that was bought in a charity shop for £10 and that I’m sure many people would throw out. I sometimes like the clutter and mess until it gets too much and I have a clear up and then everything is right with the world again.

  1. How many sewing machines do you own?

I have two. The stalwart and every day is Janome TXL 607. It is not an especially sophisticated machine; forwards, backwards, zig-zag and buttonholes are all I use but then I don’t mind hand sewing at all. It is computerised which can have its benefits with such features as: needle down, cutting thread, threading needle, sewing knots, and a multitude of sewing feet to cover every eventuality.


The other machine was purchased by my mother in an auction a couple of years ago and is practically industrial in its weight and construction. A German engineered Frister Rossmann 45 Mark 11 circa 1970s. I’m always slightly worried that my poor wooden gate-leg table will not support its weight when placed upon. It takes two arms just to lift it! This machine is great for leather, heavy textiles and for those occasions when you really don’t need a computer telling you what you can sew or not.

I’m not passing this Mystery Blogger Award on because I think that most blogs that I follow have already been covered and I don’t really want to have to choose another 5 or 10 favourites as I constantly find new ones daily.  However, if you want to you can answer any of my questions on your own, see below……..

  1. About how many ‘friends’ (both real and virtual) have you made because of sewing?
  2. What opportunities has sewing offered or provided you?
  3. If you don’t have a sewing blog but sew – why not?
  4. Could you sew without the Internet?
  5. What’s your favourite fabric?

To finish the award, I’m supposed to now tell you three things about myself:

  1. I live beyond my means.
  2. I’m a wee bit superstitious
  3. I never wash my fabric prior to sewing!





Clothes for Camping

Home again, home again, clippity hop!

Thanks so much for all your comments and critiques on my most recent posts.

I’m back home after a fortnight in the depths of Mexico (more to come later) – I have a lot to show and tell but first I’ll cover the Scotland holiday camping trip wardrobe. This camping trip, tent and all, occurred the very first week of July with two girlfriends. We journeyed all the way to Durness and if you get the weather that we had, I would strongly recommend this as a destination. However, if the forecast is four days with gales and pouring rain – I would definitely not suggest you go there. I guess you take your chances with Scottish weather and we got lucky! The sky was really and truly that blue – these photos are not Photoshopped.


Our half acre camping site: tent, camper van with awning, outdoor kitchen, fairy lights, lanterns, candles, solar lighting, sitting area, wind break and views out to sea – perfect!

Now, I know you’ll be thinking: what on earth do you sew at home for a camping trip iin the most northerly town in the United Kingdom where it never got dark at night and the weather was extraordinary?  This is our beach…..IMG_0391While packing, I was preparing to experience all seasons in one week, as is customary for UK holidays, but ultimately we had Mediterranean weather for the whole week – which was nice and my homemade wardrobe fitted in perfectly. I did purchase some cheap RTW long sleeve T-shirts to add to the rotation and provide some protection from the sun but otherwise this is the packing rundown.

Gather together the following patterns:

Pirate Skirt pencil skirt

Greenstyle Sundance Jacket 

Vogue Paco Peralta 1550 trousers

Marcy Tilton Vogue 8837 pants (OOP) but any legging/jogging bottoms are suitable.

A few tops / T-shirt patterns that in my case incorporated : Merchant and Mills Bantam vest; Centre for Pattern Design bias cut top: Drape Drape 2 asymmetrical top; basic long sleeved T-shirt from whatever pattern you favour.

Slide1Choose co-ordinating fabrics and sew at will. What you can end up with is at least a five day wardrobe……..

I looked at specialist RTW clothing  before I started sewing – outdoor activity sites, camping gear, mountain rescue clothing and the like but everything was in the colour range of black, navy or khaki. I most certainly didn’t want to wear these on holiday. There’s a gap in the market there somewhere…..


Pencil skirt and white T: eating an ice lolly and carrying a bag of ice for cocktails back at base camp.

My primary colour was the lime green flowery scuba from Fabworks. It has pinks, greys, black and white incorporated, which then became the co-ordinating colours for the extended holiday wardrobe.


One thing that is of ultimate importance for camping clothing is comfort and flexibility, lack of wrinkling is also a benefit so this wardrobe is wholly comprised of man-made fibres – no I tell a lie, a few items are cotton jersey: all that bending down and stretching and sitting and fixing things and walking, putting things up and taking them down and what have you requires clothes that move with the body but don’t shift. The ability to layer is also useful for evenings when it might become a little chilly.

Mostly I wore trainers during the vacation, in the following photos I wore pink flats.

The photos are taken at home after the holiday but hopefully you’ll get an idea of the interchangeability, co-ordination and range of looks, style and most importantly, wearability of this little wardrobe. And just because you’re sleeping in a tent, doesn’t mean you have to look like you are during waking hours.


As always, with a little bit of left over fabric, I made a little sling purse and a narrow neck scarf – just in case I felt I wasn’t totally co-ordinated enough.


Slide2The Greenstyle Sundance jacket proved to be indispensable: I made a full sleeved, hooded, pocketed outer layer in the flowery scuba and then made a sleeveless, non-hooded over/inner layer in heavy pink cotton jersey for layering purposes. This relaxed front zipper closing sports jacket incorporates a drop back hemline, optional hood, zippered side seam pockets for extra security and an additional pattern alternative for a pleated back which I didn’t use. Because I made both a sleeved and a sleeveless version, the two could be worn together, either on top on underneath.

The pattern includes a long cuff with thumb holes for those of you who run on the streets in winter and for those of us who don’t, it’s a little design feature to keep your hands warm should the need arise or else provides you with the style ability to mimic your teenage children by being slouchy with an attitude.


If you don’t want to look like this on a fabulous, truly memorable camping/outdoor holiday….choose your clothes to reflect the experience.


Sew your own……….

No, I will never wear the two together but it was fun to show you.

Next time, it’s Mexico……