A Frankenstein’s Monster of a dress

I’ve spent the last two nights wrestling with a polka-dot monster. In between bouts of sobbing, sewing, seam ripping and cantering up and down the hallway with a cat at my heels and a ‘1000 yard stare’ according to my husband, I’ve managed to produce this:

Polka-dot monster

This is the result of about 8 hours work so far. I’ve made so many mistakes that have had to be corrected, it’s now the fabric equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster.

What did you do wrong went wrong?

Well first off, as I spoke about in a previous post, I omitted to add the extra width in the bodice to accommodate the darts, so I had to re-cut the bodice fabric and lining.

Then, since I had no experience of adding lining to a dress, I decided to sew the lining pieces directly to the fabric pieces by zig-zagging round the edges.

I then sewed the back bodice pieces to the bottom skirt and added an invisible zipper. So far, so not so bad, although the invisible zipper was pretty tricky and the finished result wasn’t amazing but it did the job.

Then I sewed the front bodice to the front skirt. Guess what? It was STILL a few centimetres maybe too narrow. Where am I going wrong with this, I thought? *%&@ it – I’ll just sew a larger seam allowance down the sides.

Then  I attempted my peter pan collar. I had decided to sew it in between the lining and the fabric so a nice crisp clean collar would emerge like a pretty little butterfly when I turned it. Uh-oh – I’ve already sewn the bodice to the skirt so I can’t do that. Stupid. OK – I’ll sew it onto the neck line instead. Eurgh. Not a good look on the inside on the dress. But lesson learned for next time.

I needed to tidy up the neck line first though so I rolled a small hem and stitched around the neck line. Bit messy but most of it would be hidden by the Peter Pan collar. However, I did this AFTER I put my zip in, so the top of my zip was now sticking above the neck line. No problem, I thought, I’ll just snip the ends off to neaten it up…

NO! The zip fastener flew right off the end of the zip when I pulled it up! How could I be so dumb? How on earth did this happen? What compelled me to carry out such a foolish act of stupidity?

Cue another half hour sobbing on the couch unpicking a 20 inch zip in the last of the day’s light with concerned cats and husband watching from the corner of their eyes.

Polka-dot bodice

So this is it for the time being. One peter pan collar done, one left to do. Two sleeves to set in (boy I can’t wait to do that! not…), one invisible zipper to re do, side seams to stitch up. I still suspect that it’s going to be a few centimetres too narrow for me. But I’m going to finish this dress. It will not break me!

Polka-dot back view

Getting down with upcycling

Well sewing peeps, I’m afraid there is little to report from the sewing room this week. Mostly because I spent the weekend at ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror at Alexandra Palace, and spent the following two days recovering… I’m too old for this palaver you know.

Highlights from the festival (ooh too many to mention but I’ll give it a go) included a storming performance from PJ Harvey who looked like some fabulous medieval folk witch, an extremely noisy set from Liars (have you ever felt a drum beat reverberate in your belly? I can safely say I have now…) plus dreamy schwoozy indie pop from Beachhouse.

But I digress. Back to sewing. I did manage to get some more work in on my cloned polka-dot dress on Sunday morning but found that whilst I’d traced my darts correctly (bravo) I’d failed to add the necessary extra four cms to the width (for shame). And I’d already cut out my bodice material and lining. Oh the waste. But I have plenty of spare fabric left so will just have to do it again. Or lose a rib or two. And maybe a lung.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is going to be a sloooow project as I’m so nervous of making clothes. I don’t know why. I can approach a cushion or a tote bag fairly confidently now but I’ve still got the ‘dress stress’. Anyone else get that feeling? Excitement, apprehension, quaking fingers, a sense of impending doom and failure? Or is it just me?

So in the absence of a completed made-from-scratch project to show you, I just thought I’d share some ‘easy’ upcycling jobbies I’ve been doing on my wardrobe. Much less stressful than creating something from scratch and so nice being able to get more use out of things you never thought you’d wear again.

Monsoon dress

This was a very fine dress from Monsoon, bought for the ballet a few years ago and never worn since. It was just that wee bit too long and formal for work or play. All I did was raise the hemline by about, ooh, seven inches or so and added a bit of rick rack to the bottom. Now it’s just a pretty little dress I can wear anytime.

Upcycled cardigan

This is one of my favourite upcycling projects. I bought the cardy from a charity shop in Muswell Hill for £6 (I know – steep for a charideee shop but hey it’s Muswell Hill dahling) as I wanted to do some serious cutting. Inspired by Casey’s tutorial on reshaping knitwear I made the long sleeves ¾ length and added a vintage lace trim round the cuffs and edges. I love this cardy so much I’m in danger of over-wearing it. So sorry I haven’t got the before pic for you but I’m sure I’ll be tempted to do it again, perhaps to a scarlet version. I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you have some old knitwear lurking in the back of your wardrobe.

Upcycled dress/jumper

Finally, this dress was worn just twice and never again – the frill felt a tad too girly for me. So I chopped off the bottom and did a rolled hem. Now it’s a cute and perky jumper – perfect for autumn (or July, considering the London weather recently). I had to forcibly restrain myself from adding more rick rack though. That stuff is addictive. Word.

What about you? Any upcycling gems you want to share? Or do you have any tips for the dreaded ‘dress stress’? I could do with some reassurance that it’s not just me.


The news coming out of Norway over the last 24 hours has been tragic and shocking in equal measure.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Norway a few times over the last couple of years and have good friends living in Trondheim. Norwegians are a fantastic race of people. They’re tolerant, practical, forward-thinking, creative, responsible, thoughtful and funny. Most of all though, they’re incredibly proud of their young people and invest a lot of care and love into the next generation. So for this terrible act to happen to the very group  of people that Norwegians place above all else is even more heart-breaking.

Marit, Simon, Freya, Ragna, Jan, Vebjorg, Adrian, Johanne, Marit, Elin and family – we’re thinking of you and your country this weekend.

Guess what? I’ve got a robot, a robot…

Bag! I managed to finish my For Pleat’s Sake tote bag project on Friday night. I was desperate to get it finished, not least because sewing is OUT this weekend as I’m off to ATP festival at Ally Pally all day Saturday and Sunday so there’s no way I could get to do a bit of stitching until next week.

For pleat's sake tote bag

Am completely chuffed with this bag. It’s the first one I’ve made that I’ll be glad to wear out (and not slightly apologetic about). I hope it looks fairly professional. I think it does. It was pretty easy to make on the whole, although sewing down the ‘v’ sides was a bit tricky as a first timer – I over estimated how far I needed to go and had to get out the ol’ trusty seam ripper. We’re now fully acquainted – the seam ripper and I. I’m pretty sure I use it every time I sew. I’m going to call her Harper 7.

For pleat's sake tote bag

I love the handles. They were super-easy to sew on with a bit of leftover embroidery thread.

And another exciting addition – I ordered some woven labels to sew into items that I made for gifts for family and friends, initially as a bit of a joke but I got steadily more and more excited when I thought about them. They arrived on Friday! I want to put them on everything, all of the time. So I sewed one in. I really need to work on my technique for though – look at the state of that?! Any tips?

For pleat's sake tote bag

Loving the robot print. I have a bit of a fetish for songs about robots. You might have noticed the small  and not very clever reference to Marina & the Diamonds in the title, but I think this bag has Robyn & Royksopp’s The Girl and the Robot written all over it, which is one of my all-time favourite pop songs.

If you fancy making this bag too, the full tutorial is available for free from the fabulous Lisa  Lam on u-Handbag.

Updates from the Sewing Room

Just so you know I’m not slacking in my resolution to make at least one new item a week, I thought it was time to introduce a mid-weekly sewing room update on whatever projects I’ve got on the go at the moment. It’s so nice to have multiple things in various stages but it can also seem like you’ll never finish anything. So this will keep me focused and motivated (or harassed and impatient – depending on the weather/availability of chocolate/red wine etc).

So, this week I am mostly…

Pieces for a new polka dot shift dress

Putting in the groundwork for a new dress, using my cloned pattern from the Oh Sew Brixton! workshop I did on Sunday. I’ve transferred the pattern to a sturdier paper and I’ve cut out my dress fabric. I’m using some leftover black with white polka-dot polyester satin (at least I think it’s polyester satin – my fabric knowledge is rubbish but I’m trying to improve it) that I bought at Walthamstow market for a couple of quid a few years ago. I want to try the pattern out on a cheap fabric before I go doolally in the shops. I’ve got a black cotton poplin for the lining which I’ve yet to cut out. I’m going to take this project sloooooow as it’s the first dress I’ve made in years and only the second ever unless you count tracing round a tunic, cutting it out, sewing it together and ignoring all shaping whatsoever. Oh and the baby dress – but that doesn’t count as I couldn’t fit into it.

I actually have metres and metres of this polka dot so I want to try my hand at making a circle skirt from it as well, using these fantastic directions from Andrea Tung. I’m really excited about this one, mostly because I used to have a scarlet circle skirt that I loved and stupidly threw out when I gained a bit of weight around the middle. Oh the shame and waste! I’ve also still got my wedding crinoline (a lovely champagne colour) which I think would look very sweet peeking out from under those polka dots.

Materials for the Pleat's Sake Tote

Tonight I’ll be starting on this pretty ‘For pleats sake’ tote bag (yes – another free pattern. How generous are web sewists? It’s awesome) from Lisa Lam at u-handbag.  I actually have a very similar robot print so I’ll be teaming that up with the leftover strawberry cotton from my recent apron tutorial. I even got the same red leather handles from eBay.  Hope to get this finished before the week is out.

Even more felt coasters!

And finally, when I have a moment, I’m continuing to add to my collection of felt coasters as it’s so nice having a bit of time away from the sewing machine, just watching a bit of telly and knocking one together. I made two just watching The Hour last night. (BTW did you enjoy it? Started a bit slow but picked up the pace for me – really enjoyed the period detail and love Ben Whishaw’s angsty angry journo – yikes he’s hot).

So that’s it from The Sewing Room this week. What about you? Any projects on the go?

Goodbye old friend – hello new wardrobe

Have you ever had an item of clothing in your wardrobe that you love, love, love and even though it’s battered and ripped, you just can’t bear to part with it? Have you looked at this item and thought ‘If only I had bought ten of these then I could wear it forever…’?

I certainly have,and that’s why I went to a fantastic Wardrobe Cloning workshop at Oh Sew Brixton! on Sunday afternoon. As the rain hammered down on the skylight and the thunder and lightning lit up the London sky, eight of us were busily rummaging through our wardrobe ‘can’t-bear-to-part-withs’ with our tutor Yolanda, tracing outlines and seams, darts and zips onto greaseproof paper.

As the name suggests, the Wardrobe Cloning workshop teaches you how to create a dressmaking pattern from your favourite items so you can recreate them again and again. We brought a few items each but the work was so intensive most of us got through just one garment.

Old friend dress

I brought this dress I bought years ago from Warehouse. I love it. I’ve worn it a million times and always get a compliment whenever I do. It fits perfectly. But it’s getting old. Alas, wearing and washing have taken their toll and now I can only wear it with a long cardy to hide the various little rips and holes. I’ve had it recreated by the tailors of Vietnam, but in fabric so hideous I couldn’t bear to wear it. (I was on holiday! I had sunstroke! I was drunk at the time!) So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

First Yolanda talked us through the piecing of a garment and how to notice the shape and drape of it, taking notes of darts, zips and curves to the outline as well as the feel of the fabric. In essence – what makes us love the item and what we want to recreate in the pattern.Tracing seams

Then it’s down to work. Laying greaseproof paper over our items we traced every dart and seam, measuring, measuring and measuring again.The bodice was fairly easy on my dress, but trying to get my back and front skirt to line up together was tricky. Garments change shape over time with wear and tear so it’s a matter of straightening up, second guessing and a little bit of alchemy, as Yolanda put it.

Measuring measuring...

The three hours whizzed by and many of us were just finishing up at 5pm on our first piece. I can’t wait to make this dress. I think putting the pattern together myself takes a huge chunk of fear out of making it. I understand the pattern perfectly – because I created it. I’m still going to make it out of cheap fabric first though – I’m not that confident yet.

Front and back plus a Peter Pan collar

Wardrobe Cloning is just one of the many workshops that Oh Sew Brixton! offers, but if you’re interested then get booking for the Sat 20th August class from 2-5pm. Costs £35 which is a bargain in my book if you consider how many clothes you can re-create as a result of the skills you’ve learned. Just think what you can do – charity shop finds in awful fabrics can become templates for glorious new items. Love a friend’s dress but can’t get it anymore? Trace it and make it yourself! Though before I get carried away on a reverie of the possible – I need to get down to the practical… and make the darn thing first. Watch this space for further updates.

What about you? If you could clone one thing from your wardrobe – what would it be?

Oops… I did it again

Uh-oh. After making myself a promise that I wouldn’t buy more than £50 worth of fabric every month, I bought more fabric. But I couldn’t resist this fantastic website after Gertie of Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing featured it earlier this week. Fabrictales.com features absolutely stunning Japanese prints (traditional and modern) plus kooky quirky designs and tactile details such as rippling and double gauze. I also liked the fact that one of their lightweight cottons was described as perfect for ‘hot sweaty times’. This is what I plumped for in the end:
Ripple whales in pink

Isn’t this cute? Would make a great dress for a little girl, or an unusual vintage blouse, or even the centre piece of a log cabin quilted cushion.

Double Gauze Reversible Asanoha Cherry Blossoms in Pink This is dreamy. It’s cherry blossoms on top and traditional asanoha stars on bottom layer so completely reversible. I have a forthcoming project to knock up a pair of Colette Bloomers so it might be perfect for that, though reversible knickers might be a bit forward thinking. Perhaps a pyjama set or a retro ‘Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em’  dressing gown? Betty (Spencer – not Draper) is grossly underrated as a style icon you know.

Ume Branch on Light BlueFinally, my favourite. Look at the grain on it! I’m thinking of using this for a dress project – either Simplicity 3836 which Nibbles and Bytes has done a stunning version of.

Or McCall 2401, of which Tilly and the Buttons made a masterpiece for her very first dress

I guess which one I choose depends on the drape and feel of the cotton. Exciting though. Now I just have to wait for it to be delivered. Ooh the anticipation!

Later today I’m off to a Wardrobe Cloning Workshop at Oh Sew Brixton. I’m bringing two dresses to clone. No sewing – just pattern making today. Hopefully I’ll have something to share later this week! What about you? Any fantastic sewing courses to recommend?

Tutorial #2: Apron with pocket and piping

Apron with pocket and piping
Reversible - look!

Hi everyone. I’ve managed to cobble together a tutorial for making a lovely reversible apron complete with a charming little pocket and piping all round the sides for that retro fifties look. This particular apron is for my mum, who’s just moved back into her house after a devastating fire last year. I like to think of her wearing this as she tootles about her new kitchen, whipping up Ulster fries and muttering Hail Marys, as Irish mothers are wont to do.

Apologies in advance for the quality of the images below: I left my camera lead in work so I’m taking these ones with my mobile. Hopefully you can still make everything out.

OK – so I’ve used three different contrasting fabrics for the apron but don’t worry – you don’t need three, or even two. You can do the whole apron in one fabric but then you might miss out on all that fun when you flip it to reveal a whole new look! I’ve used a floral print for the ‘front’ and a cute little strawberry print for the ‘lining’. I’ve used blue polka dot fabric for the pocket and the piping, plus some left over ready-made binding to frame the pocket.

Apron pattern

I’ve used a free pattern from the wonderful world wide web for my basic apron shape. Get it here from (gulp) the Martha Stewart website. Hey, it’s free. Don’t judge me.

You will need:
Fabric for front (26″ x 40″)
Fabric for lining (26″ x 40″)
Medium weight 1.5″ cotton twill tape approx 80″ depending on how long you want the neck and the waist straps to be.
Contrasting fabric for pocket (6″ x 8″)
Contrasting fabric for piping (120″ x 1.375″ – I cut three strips of about 40″ each and sewed them together to get this)
Piping – I used size 4 which has a circumference of about 0.375″
Binding – enough to frame your pocket – mine was roughly 27″

Your seam allowance for this project is 0.5 inch, included on the apron pattern.

Making piping

To start – let’s make our piping, which is the sweet little blue polka dot trim around the outside of the apron. Although I’ve given you the measurements above, if you’re using a different width of piping you’ll need to adjust this. So to work it out, wrap a tape measure around your piping nice and tight and make sure your tape measure then allows for half an inch (which is our seam allowance) on either side. If that doesn’t make sense – hopefully the picture will! The total measurement will then be the width you need your strips to be.

Secure piping in the fabric

Then just tuck the piping into the middle of the strip (right side on the outside) and stitch as close as you can to the piping itself. I use a piping foot for this but you can use your zipper foot as well. So that’s your piping done.

Now let’s cut out our apron. As you can see from the pic you’ve got to fold your fabric and place the edge of the pattern on the fold. So when you cut it out and unfold it you get a perfectly symmetrical apron! Cut one of your front fabric and one of your lining. Mark where you want your waist straps and neck strap to come out of. Don’t worry about the markings on the pattern – just do it where it feels natural.

Cutting out your pocket

If you’re adding a pocket you need to do it before you sew the apron together as then all your stitching will be hidden on the inside. So I just did a simple half square with a curved bottom like this, but you can do any shape you want. Cut it out of your chosen fabric, again on the fold.

Adding binding to the pocket

I used some leftover ready-made binding to frame it. I just folded the binding around the edge of the fabric and pinned it, pressed the corners and turned the edge under at the end to neaten the join. Then I edge stitched around the binding to secure it to the pocket, pinned the pocket to the apron and then stitched over my edge stitching so it was nice and neat. Obviously leaving the top open. Yes you may scoff, but I sewed a few inches into my opening and had to unpick it with a seam ripper. Durrr.

Inserting the pipingNext it’s time to put all your pieces together. So, lay your apron pieces on top of each other, right sides together. Your piping can be inserted as you go along pinning. So as you can see from the pic the raw edge of the piping lines up with  the edge of your fabric and is sandwiched in between the two layers. Pin as you go to secure it. I started at the bottom of the apron so any joining would be done in a less conspicuous place.

Clipping piping on a curveRound the curves it’s worth making snips in the seam allowance of your piping every couple of centimetres or so – just makes curving it so much easier.

Inserting the strapsWhen you get to where your straps go in, carefully tuck the strap inside the two layers and just have a centimetre or two peeking out. Make sure it’s between your piping and your lining fabric so that you get the uninterrupted piping all the way around. This will make sense when you turn it right side out, I promise.

Sew all the way around the apron except for where your piping overlaps – leave roughly 5 inches open. Again I used my piping foot and sewed right into the side of the piping so it was nice and snug.

Before fixing your opened piping, turn your apron right side out and admire your handiwork. Poke out any edges that haven’t fully turned.

To join your piping, finish your seam and make it all nice and neat, unpick some of the stitching on one side of the piping and open up the fabric. Take the other length of piping and trim it so it joins your first bit of piping inside its opened fabric case. Then just overlap one length of fabric over the other, turn the end under so there are no raw edges and then tuck it back into the apron seam, turning the upper and lower edges of the apron under to match the 0.5″ seam allowance. Press if you need to, then just do a tight edge stitch along the opening, ensuring you catch all three layers.

Press and you’re done!

Again – sorry about the misty dark quality of the images. Normal service will resume next week. Have a fantastic sewing weekend! x

Finished project: Log cabin baby quilt

I’ve been wanting to make a quilt for as long as I‘ve been sewing but it always seemed so intimidating, complicated and fiddly, until I got Modern Log Cabin Quilting by Susan Beal. This is a fantastic book for any quilting beginner. Susan breaks down each step so simply that it’s almost impossible to go wrong.

So, this quilt is for my darling baby niece Cara’s first birthday at the end of July. I really wanted to make her something she could keep and treasure – in other words – I didn’t want to make an embarrassing mess that fell apart after a few washes. It’s roughly 42 x 42 inches – just the right size for a crib. I used organic wadding and 100% cotton fabric. Here it is:

Finished log cabin baby quilt

I used the Sunshine Baby Quilt pattern from the book for this project.  Unfortunately I started the quilt before I started the blog so I can’t show you how I constructed the blocks and the sashing, but trust me – it’s so easy and addictive. You basically make a series of blocks according to the instructions and then sew them all together. You can add long strips called sashing in between the blocks to ‘frame’ the pieces and give it more structure. Then you sandwich together the quilt top, the wadding, and whatever you’ve chosen for your quilt back (I used the same material for the back as for the sashing) and either use basting stitches or quilting safety pins to hold it all together. Note: requires a bit of space to do this – I used the living room floor. Once that’s done you can add a quarter inch seam around all the sides and then you’re ready to quilt!

Drawing quilting lines then sewing 'em inFor this pattern, Susan recommended hand-tying the quilt – an old fashioned technique that requires tying little knots about every seven or so inches and leaving about an inch of yarn on show. I have to confess that I did that, and then found the effect quite messy so I pulled them all out again and opted for long parallel diagonal lines of stitching every seven inches across the quilt. I just marked them out with a quilting ruler and a tailor’s chalk. The tricky bit was rolling up the quilt to fit into the sewing machine!

Gingham binding from All the TrimmingsSo this is the gingham I bought from All The Trimmings. Look how it arrived – how sweet!

Pin the binding to the edge of one side of the quiltSusan gives very good instructions in the book on attaching the binding and neatening it at the corners.  Unfold the binding and pin it to one side of the quilt.

Fold the binding around the edge of the quilt

Then fold the binding around the edge of the quilt to encase all three layers.

Fold and press the corners and add a few basting stitches

Fold and press the corners and add a few basting stitches to hold it in place.  Then sew the binding down on the opposite side of the quilt, about a quarter of an inch from the inner edge, ensuring you catch the other side as you go. If you miss it in a few spots you can always go back and redo that bit then take out the errant stitching.

The finished binding

Ta daaaa!

Pacifier pouch

And since every good baby deserves to accessorize, I knocked up a ‘pacifier purse’ from the remnants using this free pattern from Sewing Republic. Maybe we can call it a dummy dock instead. Or if you’re from Norn Iron like me -you’ll call it a dody dock.

I have just one thing left to do on the quilt to make it really special but it’s a secret so I can’t tell you until it arrives. Hurry Ms Postwoman! (Really must do my nails. Hmph.)

A tale of two chairs… plus YOU get to pick the cushion

Fact: I can’t pass a skip without having a quick peek just in case there’s anything good in it. And I know quite a few people who feel the same way. So when I’m walking along the street and I happen to see a chair that’s obviously seen better days but is essentially structurally sound, I pick it up and I bring it home.

Chair that's seen better days

Last week I spotted this chair outside someone’s house, ready for the bin men. Unable to resist but a bit wary of just taking something from someone’s front yard, I knocked on the door and a lovely old lady answered and said of course I could have it. New project and meeting a neighbour = double win.

Last summer's chair

I’ve also got this old chair which I picked up off the street last summer but have done nothing with. So this weekend, I decided to give them both a makeover. I sanded them down with coarse and then medium grain sandpaper, applied a white primer and undercoat and then gave them a lick of paint.

Good time chairs!

And here they are! The paint was called Pigeon by Farrow & Ball, which has got to be one of the silliest paint shades I’ve ever heard of. I do like the colour but now I’m faced with a new quandary – what fabric should I use for my cushion?

Which fabric goes best?

Here are four different options. I think they’re all nice but the one that stands out for me is the pink retro squares. That’s from an old vintage pair of curtains I found in Bethnal Green.  That’s one chair sorted – but what about the other one? Drop me a comment and tell me if you think I should go for the blue, the green or the orange flowers because I just can’t decide, and I haven’t got enough pink fabric to do two matching pads anyway.

To thank you for helping me make my mind up, I’ll be doing a brand new tutorial very soon on making a seat cushion with piping (and little ties so you can attach it to the chair back). Watch this space!