Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


Special Days

Honestly and truly, every day is special – there’s absolutely no doubt that we all have bad ones but somehow we wake up tomorrow, pull on our big-girls’ pants and deal with it. I’ve been lucky and very recently had the most amazing few days away with some very special people, so let’s start with Day 1 and move on from there.

Day 1

I’ve known for ages that one of my students won Outstanding Student of the Year (Public Services), an international competition organised by Pearson with nearly 1000 nominees and over 1,000,000 possible entrants. There was a media embargo until after the actual ceremony.

Alarm set for 5.00am. I already packed the night before and my outfit sewn and ready for the awards ceremony in London, hosted by Baroness Garden of Frognall in the Churchill Room in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster.

Arrived in London and headed straight to Cosmetics a la Carte for a professional, last-all-day make-up. Cost a small fortune but this is definitely a time to treat myself.

Whirlwind day of receptions, awards, ceremony, fun and networking. So many talented and inspiring young people. Mine is called Clare and we wore matching dresses.



She is very special, battling illness while studying and then achieving the highest grades possible. A truly humbling experience to teach a student like this and so proud of her.

My dress is Burda 04-2016-119 worn with a light weight bright pink coat, which is a Merchant and Mills Haremere jacket made long. It’s unlined to cope with London city heat so all the raw seams had to be Hong Konged.


I actually wanted to go for a ‘This old thing? I just threw it on” look: sort of understated, not obvious but still part of an outfit. To achieve this I half-lined the sleeves with dress fabric so that when the cuffs were folded back the cuff lining matched the dress. and when I don’t wear the two together, just unfold the sleeves. It’s a smarter alternative to a cardigan and more relaxed than a jacket.


I actually got more compliments about the coat that I did my dress – perhaps the colour did it – it’s not easy to overlook. It’s looking a little the worse for wear after a full day wearing in London heat and humidity and then being unceremoniously stuffed into my travel bag.

20.30 Took the train from London to Preston for an extra few days of relaxation and enjoyment with my long-time friend Caroline. Did a bit of hand sewing on my Six Napoleon corset on the journey. Caroline and I re-connected last summer after 20 odd years apart and we haven’t looked back since.

Stayed up to 4.00am Friday, chatting and laughing like we were teenagers.

Day 2

Relaxing, lazy day at Caroline’s home  – I’d been up and on the go for 23 hours. Time to unpack, settle in, finish some conversations from the previous day ( same day). Watched Wimbledon and made plans.

Caroline is a photographer. Recently, we took one of her images and had it digitally printed onto silk. I hand rolled the edges and we both now have scarves that no-one else in the entire world has – that’s special.


It’s not upside down – it’s a reflection!

Day 3

Darwen –
Day out to meet Mags at Minerva Crafts.

Such lovely people there: a family run business who were more than welcoming, friendly and very patient with us.

49ebbdc43fe9f5e69ec693ba019dd0afWe pulled bolts of fabric from the shelves, mixed and matched and generally created a little bit of mayhem on the cutting table. We advised other shoppers – only when they asked mind you – and had a lot of fun. We all bought loads: Caroline got some grey/taupe jerseys in animal-like prints; Mags got a stash and I got enough for an autumn outfit. We had a light lunch followed by a wander around the speciality food market.

Mags is fabulous; honest, stoic, funny and very, very stylish. I’ll be honest, I was getting a bit fed up with blogging and taking photos and all that stuff but meeting her has re-invigorated me and has made me grateful for those special Internet friends who become real ones.

Day 4 & 5

Hanging out, day trips and shopping – just lovely. Then home again.

Day 6- 9

Hooray, back into the sewing room. I love travelling and going away but there’s nothing like coming home either and doing what I love best. Sewed like a mad woman and before the end of the week I had sewn all of Caroline’s Minerva stash. I did add the odd bit of lace and cotton jersey but from 2.5m, I managed to get three tops and 1m ponte made a perfectly coordinating pair of trousers.

Caro Tsv9193-a

Mainly the top pattern is Tilton’s Vogue 9057 (first and last) and the trousers are Vogue 8837 , another Tilton.

Caroline wore her first incarnation of this top at our day out at Minerva so I know it fits and suits her. The black and animal print (second) is Vogue 9193, another Marcy. Dead easy to sew as the sleeves are cut on but the pattern pieces are cut single layer and are therefore huge.



DSCN6354I was on a roll so I just kept going and added a few bonus but coordinating items to Caroline’s wardrobe.


The light grey knit is a layering piece (the fabric is from my Minerva stash) and is actually the top half only of Vogue 9193. The pattern doesn’t actually tell you to do this but it works really well. So well in fact that I think I need one myself.V9193

The knit top will also go over any of Caroline’s other tunics too. It wasn’t easy to sew though,  the fine silky knit fabric had a mind of its own. I did my best not to stretch it out and used some leftover animal print jersey as a stabiliser around the neck, sleeves and hem. The ‘underneath’ tunic is made from other leftovers and here you can see where the top and bottom meet. There’s a built in pocket on the left hand side. If you sew this top, just watch out – the side seams on top and bottom half do not line up, the bottom half is offset (see the tech drawing). Ask me how I know this because I’m so smart I don’t have to read the instructions….!

All of Caroline’s Minerva fabric has now been sewn, posted and quite possibly already worn as Mr Postman was especially swift this week.

That’s you all up to date until next time…




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.



M&M Story

Now, here’s another story…….this has been a summer of reconnections and reconciliations for me.

Haworth - The Bronte's home village

Haworth – The Bronte’s home village

I was making myself look better than I am on Linkedin a few weeks ago when, for some reason, I began to think about an old friend of mine from way back when I lived in London and thought she might be listed too. We lost touch – no fall out or dramatics – our lives just headed off in different directions. So I began to search for Caroline. Couldn’t find her but I did find her husband and I messaged him.

To cut a long story short: they have divorced but I did get an email for Caroline and I contacted her. A few emails later I booked the cheapest flight option possible and flew to Manchester, England. We haven’t talked or met in 20 years but I have just spent the most relaxing, chilled out and pleasant 4 days in Lancaster with a very dear friend. It was like we had only said goodbye last week. It’s good to be impetuous sometimes!


I packed my Merchant and Mills capsule wardrobe (sans dress) as I was travelling with only cabin baggage.

Four Bantams, one pair of Strides, one Curlew long sleeved top, one Haremere jacket and a few other items.

Caroline is a very talented photographer these days; she’s one of those people who is successful in whatever venture she tries. She kindly offered to photograph the remaining pieces in the Merchant and Mills Workbook for this blog. So most of today’s pics are in focus, perfectly lit and cropped.



First up is the trousers from the Workbook – Strides. These were made in a lightweight wool blended with cotton and METAL! The metal threads hold the wrinkles and creases and the fabric looks like linen.

Strides are wide-legged, pleated in front and influenced by classic menswear. I haven’t worn pleated trousers since Bananarama! Slanted front pockets, front zip with inside fly guard and a waistband that sits at the waist.

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The pattern is easily adapted to make shorts or any other length of trousers you want. I traced and made UK 12 straight from the book without any alterations at all. They fit perfectly. I am so impressed with these patterns – really enamoured.


While pleated and loose, Strides are not overwhelming or baggy; the pleats are minimal. Worn in these pics with two Bantams, white cotton jersey and black muslin.

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Inside, the fly guard is buttoned. Roobeedoo pointed out that there is a mistake in the instructions and they are a little confusing about what’s on the left or right hand side. Take your time and figure it out and it will be OK.

DSCN5474An overlocker (serger) is useful when making M&M patterns but not essential – your zig-zag stitch will do the job too for finishing seams. I’m so pleased with these trousers that they get the ultimate accolade of my label!



The Strides are described as “probably the most advanced pattern in the book” but personally, I thought the Haremere jacket was.

The Haremere


14 pattern pieces with lined sleeves and quarter lined shoulders; patch pockets (lined), two piece sleeves, dropped shoulders and a rolled shawl collar. No tailoring for a casual, relaxed look.

© again traced and made exactly from the book. The Haremere comes in sm, med and large. I made the medium. My sleeves are a touch on the long side so I’ve adopted the folded back cuff look which shows off the lining.

© of overlocking the seams I Hong Konged them (rather badly) but it was my first time doing this technique so I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

This jacket is made in a grey/white striped linen with a cotton voile lining. I didn’t want to put a sweaty polyester on the inside. You could leave the lining out completely if you wanted a quick make but you do need to finish all internal the seams. The front facings and all the hems are interfaced for a little bit of structure.

© had a bit of trouble finishing the inside where the front facing meets the hem so I sewed a couple of triangles to cover the mess. Otherwise, it sewed up fine.

DSCN5548This pattern can be easily lengthened to make a coat and will work in both lightweight and heavier fabrics like tweed.

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Thanks again to Caroline for taking the photos and giving me a home from home for a few days. You can check out Caroline’s photography at – well worth a look!

PS: thanks to you all for such supportive and encouraging comments on my last post. I couldn’t reply to each one as I was away and couldn’t remember my own password! But I was, and continue to be, touched by your kindness.