Sunday, 30 November 2014


I was going to post all my recent makes in order, but I just can't wait to share this make with you.

As the weather got colder I knew I'd need a warmer coat than the lightweight mac I'd worn through spring. I have a winter coat but it's not a great fit (my back is too broad - ha!) and it's black, which I've tried to limit from my wardrobe as much as I can.

I needed a coat and I wasn't willing to buy one. I've had this cape idea for a while, buying the wool back in London in July especially for it.

This project has done me the world of good. I took my time throughout, made the effort to practice unfamiliar techniques and fabrics and ended up with an item that I love and should I make it again I wouldn't do a single thing differently.

I have literally waited a month for the right day to take these photos as anyone in the UK will tell you we pretty much skipped Autumn. The weather has been constantly "mild" (read cloudy and boring) and all those sunny Autumn mornings I love so much just never came and now it's practically winter. This morning the sun shone through the window so I grabbed the tripod and dashed to the park just hoping there were still some Autumnal colours around. There were, but they were all on the floor. Good enough.

Guys, you all need to go and make a cape right now, and I'll tell you why:
  • It's so damn comfortable. You know how you feel a little restricted in your coat with the arms? Imagine a circle skirt for your upper body. The freedom is beautiful! I thought it would be restrictive but I took care to place the armholes so that I comfortably carry a handbag on my elbow or let the arms hang loose. I have total movement and don't feel suffocated the way I have in a coat.
  • Because of the room, you can wear your comfiest, thickest jumpers underneath it. In fact this is sometimes essential as your arms don't have any, well, sleeves. 
  • It's easier than sewing a coat. Seriously, the pattern is a half circle with darts to form the shoulders. That's it. From there you can customise as you like, add a hood, add a collar, add buttonholes or a ribbon tie, add arm slits, pockets, whatever the hell you want.
  • It looks good with a snood. See? - (I did make the snood, but for some reason I've never thought to blog about knitted makes. Perhaps I should?)
  • ...And these awesome vintage (1950s I believe) green gloves I found in The Real McCoys in Exeter (which also match my boots, happy days!) - 

In fact, I do love the amount of "vintagy" of this cape - enough to feel a little special, not enough to feel fancy dress. I went into a vintage shop in Birmingham yesterday and the woman in the shop was so excited about my cape she put the phone down on her daughter to ask me about it! Obviously this woman has spectacular taste!

The only downside to the cape is that you can't wear a handbag on your shoulder. You can, technically, but it looks strange. But you can wear it on your arm, like a lady :)

So onto the details. The pattern is the Fairy Tale Cape, a "you choose the price" pdf pattern by Charlie at This Blog Is Not for You. She's also recently released lovely dress and skirt patterns that are definitely worth checking out! The instructions that you download for the cape are quite brief but she's done full tutorials on the blog for lining the cape and adding armholes, as well as drafting a collar. I did find I had to write out lists of what order I'd do things in as there's no set order given but it's pretty simple to figure out.

I'd originally planned to do a hood rather than a collar, but when I sewed it on it looked absolutely ridiculous. Firstly, the hood on the pattern is a very exaggerated floppy hood, which I should have known wouldn't work with a heavy wool. Secondly, in this heavy, beige, almost hessian-looking fabric it looked horrifically like some kind of medieval costume which was NOT the look I was going for. I swiftly unpicked the hood and drafted a collar which I really just should have done in the first place! 

I bought 2.5m of this heavy wool from Simply Fabrics in Brixton as I wasn't sure how much I needed and couldn't get signal in the shop to check. I only used about a meter and a half of it, so there might be enough to squeeze out a matching skirt at some point! For the mere price of £6 a meter I expected a wool blend but a burn test suggested it's 100% wool. Win! The fibre really makes this cape work - it's lovely and warm even at my 6am commute on the bitter days we've recently had.

The lining actually cost more than the wool, but was worth it for the right colour which proved very hard to find. I bought this lovely gold satin in Barry's in Birmingham for £7 a meter. The buttons are coconut wood, from Wool Warehouse, which anyone who knits should check out immediately as it is simply the best wool shop I've ever come across. I also found this gorgeous dress clip in a charity shop which I think looks lovely clipped onto the collar. :)

A lot of friends have been asking recently if if costs more or less to make your own clothes than buy them and I always tell them it depends what you compare it to. If you normally shop in Primark, H&M, and New Look then probably not. If you normally shop in Topshop, Oasis, and Warehouse, then there's definite savings to be made, but it really depends on the quality of fabric you buy, and to a large extent where you shop for it. The total cost for this cape came to about £35, which is pretty much on the budget I'd planned for this item, and certainly less than I'd pay for a wool cape on the high street.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Announcing the May Sewing Retreat!

Yesterday, I met up with sewing buddies Lindsey, Charlene, Janet and Caroline and we were chatting about the various sewing retreats going on (mainly in the US) and how much fun they sounded. However, I know I'll never go on one of these trips for one main reason - the cost.

I'm sure there are plenty of events like this in the UK, but when I have seen them they are arranged as a class style event - where you go to learn a new skill or construct an item, so much of the cost goes towards tuition and the company's organisation of the event. We thought, what if just a group of friendly sewists got together, hired a not-so-little cottage in the countryside for a long weekend and had a little sewing vacation together? And it was totally affordable?

Let me paint a picture for you - you arrive at a quaint country house full of people who love sewing as much as you do, you get to know each other over dinner and a few drinks before turning into bed. The next morning we all have breakfast, go for a walk in the nearby woods and then return to the cottage for a full day of social sewing - sharing ideas, inspiration, techniques, and tales of the time that zip just wouldn't go in! We stop for a quick lunch, then crack on with the sewing. We'll have various stations for cutting and sewing, and perhaps a few souls hand hemming in front of a cheesy movie in the living room. In the evening, we take turns cooking our favourite meals (and maybe a few cheeky desserts) and just chill out. Feel free to pack knitting/embroidery/small projects to work on while we chill :). And then on Sunday, we do it all over again, before going our separate ways on the Monday with a handful of finished items and a bunch of new friends. Depending on where we end up staying we could even scope out the local fabric shops before heading home!

I'm already tracking down a suitable location with extra large tables, sofas for all, and plenty of plug sockets!

The Details:

Dates: I'm looking at the first May Bank Holiday; Friday 1st - Monday 4th May 2015. Attendees can arrive during the day or after work on the Friday, and we'll head our separate ways after lunch on Monday.

Location: I wanted to make it as easy as possible for as many as possible so I'm looking at the South region, probably the Cotswolds, as I appreciate many of you guys are London, Midlands or just "South" based. Sewists from the North and beyond are of course most welcome if you don't mind the extra travel :).

Cost: I've already scoped out a few places to get in touch with depending on how many people are interested, but the average costs for 3 nights will be around £100 to £130 per person for the venue, plus expenditure for food, drink, etc.

Equipment and materials: you'll need to bring your own sewing machine, fabric, tools, and whatever else you need for your makes. We could also do a fabric and pattern swap if people are keen as well.

So if a long weekend of sewing, socialising, eating great home cooked food, a few cases of wine (let's be realistic) and walks in the woodlands sounds appealing to you, please get in touch! Send me a message on, or leave your email address in the comments. Once I have an idea of how many are interested I'll start contacting venues and will provide further details from there.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A grey, wintery Zinnia

I want you to know how much trouble I've had to go to in order to get this post up tonight as promised. I took some photos ages ago but looking through them I realised just how hideous they are so decided to grab the tripod. For this, I had to do my hair and make up (hassle!) and I even burnt my hand helping Chris cook dinner after he burnt his hand cooking it (dinner had better be good - it still stings pretty bad!) but I prevailed!! I WILL blog! But with some miracle I managed to get a few photos in the time it takes to play Michael Jackson's Thriller. Good stuff!

So, this is Zinnia number 3. It's basically just an awesome skirt - it's a modest length for both work and cycling, it's fairly flattering even after big dinners and it goes with practically everything. I imagine as my current Zinnia's wear out I will continue to make more for many years.

As part of my AW14 plans I decided a grey, heavier weight skirt would be a good addition to the wardrobe and as usual I had a lovely luxurious fabric in mind and then spotted a bargain on the market (story of my life) and grabbed that instead. It's still a pretty decent fabric though - from the brummy rag market - I did have to battle out with another lady for it though as though was only three meters left and she had her beady eye on it also. Luckily she decided it was too expensive at £2 and let me have it (I later found her at the 50p/meter stall snapping up a few meters of fabric!).

For the price I expected pure polyester but the burn test suggests a good cotton content as well. Happy days.

It's a medium weight fabric which works lovely for the skirt as it behaves and presses well but there's a slight stiffness to it that gives it a great shape too.

You may also notice another new make here in the form of a Tilly and the Buttons Coco - but we'll come back to that one another time.

Construction wise I don't have much to say - all you need to get right is the waist measurement and the rest falls into place. I do find the waistband is too small though, and have had to cut a new one each time I've made this skirt. I'll learn.

I did decide to add another length of grandma's lace to the inside of the hem, just 'cos it's pretty!

Once again, I've tried to do a nice neat job - which is pretty easy on a skirt to be honest (much less potential for things to go wrong!) but I've had a couple of twisted button bands in the past which I wanted to avoid this time. I don't normally faff around with basting, but I'm glad I did this time.

Finally, a bonus photo of a Zinnia outfit I particularly love. Colour matching is the best!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Hawthorn no. 2 - Blue and white delight

So now we've seen the cheap, slightly rushed, polyester Hawthorn, I'd like to introduce to you this beautiful (there I said it) cotton lawn Hawthorn. I'm really proud of this dress, and despite being constantly told growing up that I should be more modest, I feel like I am allowed to chuck that out the window every once in a while.

I was naughty with this fabric as it didn't meet my SS14 colour scheme at all but it was so pretty and so cheap I couldn't leave it behind. I bought it in Simply Fabrics, Brixton whilst visiting for the By Hand London kickstarter bash. A lovely lady, Barbara, offered me a bed for the night so I could stay a little longer and meet up with some of the girls from NYLon14 the next day. I had some time to kill in the morning and Barbara recommended this shop not top far away. I'll definitely be going back! The fabrics are very good quality and a fantastic price, though the stock changes frequently with what he gets his hands on so it's very much a "pop in and see" kind of place.

This is a gorgeous soft, fine, cotton lawn and was just £3.99 a meter. They also stock liberty fabrics (normally discontinued rolls) at about £12 a meter. I adore the print on this fabric, and this kind of print will feature heavily in my SS15 plans (yes, I'm already thinking about it!).

So onto the dress! 
I wanted to do this dress better than the others. I wanted it perfect inside and out, and bar a couple of wonky stitches (where no-one will see) I'm really very happy with it. 

Would you like to see my insides?

The main seams are all French seams. The facings and waist seam are all bias bound in a soft white binding.

The sleeves are faced with the bias binding also...

...hand stitched down almost invisibly...

...and the hem, also hand sewn, is finished with a sweet blue and white lace trim my grandma gave me.

The best part of finishing everything so carefully is that I know this dress will last a long time. And I really look forward to wearing it summer after summer.

I bought 3m of the fabric which was 57" wide. Sadly I didn't record how much was left but I think it was just under a meter. I gave the rest to a friend who has just bought a house and the colours match her kitchen, so she wants to make some sweet things out of it. 

I also used 4 and a half meters of the bias binding and almost 3 meters of trim for the hem. It's amazing just how much length you can get through, and 3m of hem is a lot of work by hand, but it's so lovely to have an invisible finish. I used to really loathe hand stitching but now I enjoy the process knowing how much better the finish will be. I've also got a lot better at it than when I first started, which helps with the motivation!

My only issue with the dress is that it's a little loose around the waist. With all the bias binding on the inside it's not worth altering, but if/when I make another I'd probably lose an inch or so there.

I've promised myself to get back on the blogging train, and will hopefully be posting weekly from now on. I figured if I say this here then I can be held accountable if I don't! I still have plenty of finished items to share before I start struggling for content, so fingers crossed I can stick to it! 

Until then, I hope you've enjoyed my little Hawthorns :)