Stop press: New sewing accessory range at John Lewis!

So I made my usual lunchtime pilgrimage to John Lewis yesterday to stock up on wool and generally just lust after fabrics and whatnot in the haberdashery dept, when I was quite literally stopped. in. my. tracks. after witnessing the wonder and awe that is the new ‘Vintage by Hemingway’ range of sewing accessories exclusively for John Lewis.

I’ve been looking for something to keep my growing collection of yarn and crochet hooks in. I did have my heart set on a vintage style knitting basket (basically a fabric bag set on a wooden frame), but then I saw THIS:

Vintage by Hemingway Sewing/Knitting box

Isn’t it amazing? I love the superbly elegant art deco illustration and check out the inside print!

Filled with crochet goodies!

There’s loads of room for wool, needles, accessories – all sorts. And it stands up beautifully on my Edwardian fireplace…

On the fireplace...

At £30 I think this is a bit of steal. There are similarly vintage-style purses and bags priced from about £9 I think. I wish I could show you the full range but I can’t seem to find it online.

I wonder if the release of the range has something to do with the new 1920s-style ad campaign by John Lewis? Wouldn’t it make a perfect gift for a fellow stitcher? Oh why can’t there be some sort of community place where significant others and family members of us seamsters can go to get ideas of what to get us for Christmas and birthdays? I suppose Amazon wish list is a bit like that as I think you can add items that aren’t necessarily sold on Amazon. Does anyone know of any specifically crafty alternatives though?* I would be amazed if someone bought this for me, but too late as I simply had to have it, there and then!

* Flash of inspiration later – what about a shared Pinterest board!!?? I may have to set one up immediately (sighs at potential hours wasted invested in setting up of said board).

Planning ahead? I can’t see my own feet…

I was filled with good intentions not so long ago of making a stylish and comfortable maternity wardrobe. Bolstered by some fabulous donated patterns and a haul from Walthamstow market I dreamed big, BIG I tell you. But then my abdomen swelled and my ankles swelled and my waist disappeared and heartburn and back ache began and I thought ‘sod it – I can’t be arsed’.

Massive respect to those bloggers who post glama mama pics throughout each trimester, but that’s not for me. If I can lace my own Converse up in the morning without emitting 100 decibel OOOFs I’m high-fiving everyone on the way to the train station.

But I’m not stressed or frustrated by my slight lack of sewjo. It’s just a gentle winding down in my opinion. It’s my body reminding me that bending over a cutting table or sitting at a sewing machine for a couple of hours in a hard-backed chair just isn’t the way forward. It gently leads me to the sofa where I settle with a cup of tea and a slice of something sticky and do a bit of crochet instead. Which is so much easier to do when your mind has zoned out. (I zone out regularly now into some kind of catatonic state, unable to recall what I was thinking about just a moment ago. I think it’s a coping mechanism for impending childbirth. At least I hope so.)

I would like to make a few more things though – the Renfrew with Zoe’s maternity adjustments is calling out to me as a third trimester must-have, as is an easy maxi skirt with elasticated waist for going over the bump – a la Megan Nielsen.

DIY Maternity maxi

DIY Maternity maxi

I think the winter coat project will see me through the next six to ten weeks at a leisurely pace. I plan to do a fairly robust muslin beforehand and I’ve ordered the teal wool and had it dry-cleaned in advance. I just have to … peel myself… off the sofa…

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little pic of these booties I’ve crocheted to match the apple-button cardy I completed a couple of weeks ago, using the leftover yarn. I want a pair in my size!

Crocheted baby booties

I’m just loving this book, Cute and Easy Crocheted Baby Clothes. It has a selection of gorgeous projects like the booties above, plus blankets, cardigans, hats and toys rated at three different ability levels: beginners, improvers and enthusiasts. I’ve just started on another cardigan (this time at improver level) in a muted blue-grey cashmerino wool which features the most adorable shell patterning and it seems to be working out just fine – fingers crossed.

I can definitely recommend crochet if you want to try something new. Here are my top tips for getting started (and why you should):

  • The easiest way to learn is to watch someone else doing it and copy them, whether it’s a willing friend or a youtube tutorial.
  • Granny squares are probably the easiest and most rewarding project to begin with. You get to try out lots of stitches and styles, have loads of fun with colours and put them all together for a unique and cosy blanket.
  • The thicker the wool, the bigger the hook, the chunkier the project. Most yarn will have a recommended hook size printed on the side of the yarn wrapper but if in doubt ask a sales assistant.
  • Crochet is portable! You can take it anywhere – the tube, the plane (yes – hooks are allowed), the park…
  • It’s a conversation starter almost everywhere you go, people just can’t resist leaning over and asking you about it.

Finally, I mentioned in an earlier post about some news I received a while back which took some getting used to. Now that it’s all sorted I can reveal what it was; I was made redundant a few weeks ago! I know, it all seems rather bad timing given that I’m almost seven months preggers. But actually, I think I’m fairly happy and relaxed about it all (or maybe I’m just zoning out again?!) and I got a fairly good package that should keep me and the baby in fetching fabrics for a while yet.  My only concern will be coming out the other side of maternity but to be honest with you that’s so far away it’s not worth worrying about right now. I quite fancy a change of direction in any case, so the time off will come in useful for deciding where I want to go/what I want to do next. Hey everyone, let’s move to New York! Just kidding… what about Portland instead? 😉

P.S. Must just give a shout out to my fellow pregnant sisters in sewing – there’s something in the water! Huge congratulations to Pincushion Treats, Casey, Julia Bobbin and True Bias! Watch out for some serious maternity style.

My Handmade Style: So, Zo…

From vintage chic to clean modern shapes, how do these seamstresses create and communicate their own unique style in their projects? What and who inspires them, from film and music to everyday life. And what’s their dream outfit?

Today we have one of the shining lights of the sewing blogging world – Zoe Edwards of So, Zo… Zoe is the brains behind the annual Me-Made-May and Self-Stitched-September challenges and has just recently taken the leap into self-employment, teaching sewing classes in Brighton. She’s also an expert on upcycling, refashioned and sustainable style having worked at TRAIDremade until the studio closed earlier this year. But enough wittering – let’s take a gander at that divine wardrobe…

Zoe from So, Zo...

You’re known for your vintage pin up style and gorgeous nautically-inspired creations Zoe. But if you had to, how would you sum up your look?

Hmm, I’d say my look is mid-twentieth century inspired retro with more than a dash of nautical and a dollop of Rockabilly! My look is usually a pretty casual one though. I’ve made some nice ‘going out’ dresses, but I don’t have to dress smartly for work and I value comfort pretty highly!

Where do you find your style inspiration and how do you channel that into your me-made wardrobe?

When I want a hit of inspiration, there are certainly online destinations where I know I’ll find some. Trawling Modcloth, Tara Starlet, Dear Creatures, Orla Kiely and increasingly Pinterest, plus all the awesome sewing blogs I like to follow, will always dig up something that gets my, ahem, juices flowing! I rarely act on the accrued inspiration immediately, but having a bank of images and subsequent ideas makes me feel nourished in some way.

As for how this visual inspiration is channelled into my handmade clothing, I think some ideas resonate and stick with me stronger than others. They force themselves to the top of the ‘to be sewn’ list, and it kind of feels inevitable that they should be made. What I sew is a very instinctive thing; I never make any ‘summer sewing plan’ or anything like that. Occasionally I’ll write lists to help clarify the ideas I’m favouring at the time, but they become obsolete within a week when new ideas bubble up!

Who are your style icons and why?

I don’t think my style icons are people, rather certain eras, looks and themes. Rockabilly, Hawaiiana/Tiki, the Beat poets, 1950s Las Vegas, 1960s Paris, diner waitresses, pulp fiction covers… I’m not sure if all those influences are directly evident in the way I dress, but they certainly motivate and fuel me creatively.

Are there any particular designers that you use for inspiration?

No. Generally I find street style infinitely more inspirational than the work of named designers, (Orla Kiely and the designers of the clothing sites I mentioned before aside of course!). Not to say that there aren’t lots of designers out there, past and present, creating amazing things that would or indirectly do inspire me, I just never specifically seek them out. Inspiration is too easily found on sewing blogs and my favourite sites.

I love to see what real women are wearing in their everyday lives, especially if their clothes are handmade. The Me-Made/Self-Stitched months are a joy for this (the next challenge month will be Me-Made-May ’13). Plus the all-year-round Me-Made-Living flickr group is growing into a wonderful community for sharing your handmade outfits.

If you had to select one self-stitched garment that really encapsulates your style – what would it be and why?

Hmm, I guess it would be my Rockabilly wiggle dress. It’s based on a vintage wiggle dress pattern that I adapted to include a contrast leopard print top section and bustier line seam. Its vintage credentials combined with a kitschy fabric choice is pretty representative of my style. The black sateen has a decent elastane content too so it is super-comfortable to wear: another feature that I feel is important because if it isn’t comfortable, it will usually get left in the wardrobe.

The Rockabilly Wiggle Dress

The Rockabilly Wiggle Dress

Do you ever take risks and experiment with your look? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

When I started to take sewing clothes seriously about five years ago, my approach was a predictably scattergun approach: I made stuff with whatever patterns and fabrics I could get my hands on with very little regard for if I would actually wear the final garment or if it fit with my sense of style and life.

I think the process of learning to sew is awesome for developing a good understanding of your body and stylistic preferences because you are forced to make every single decision from start to finish to make that garment exist. Walking into a shop and buying something is so much easier with so much less emotional investment (which is why cheap, shop-bought clothes have taken on a certain ‘disposability’ in our society). After lots of projects that rarely saw the light of day, if at all, I began to think much more about what I was making and how to stop wasting so much of my time and fabric. These days I feel I know my style body and lifestyle pretty well so I can make reasonably well informed decisions about what I make. I think this more considered approach has made me a lot less experimental or adventurous these days, but I’m happy with that.

What didn’t work from my more adventurous days? Blindly making heaps of free patterns from Burdastyle (about five years ago when most of their selection was free). For example, I made a couple of circle skirts that looked horrendous on me and went with NOTHING in my wardrobe at that time. WHY did I do that??!!! I’ll never get that uncut fabric or those hours back…

What did work from that time? My first attempt at using a vintage sewing pattern (before I had a blog) produced this boxy 1960’s little jacket. It’s lined with casino print quilting cotton, all playing cards and poker chips, and has little iron-on swallows on the shoulders. I bought the swallows and the quilting cotton in San Francisco (two separate trips) so it reminds me of special times. Plus the black sateen is very soft so it feels more like a cardigan than a jacket to wear. It’s looking a little past its best these days but I still love to wear it, I’m wearing it now in fact.

1960s jacket

1960s jacket

There are certain looks some of us just can’t pull off… do you have a style bugbear?

Kind of. A few years ago I was pretty obsessed with the Built By Wendy and Dear Creatures ranges. A lot of their styles and other tunic-y tops and skinny jeans looks that were about at the time were better suited to a less curvy figure than mine. I also agree with Roisin when she complained that layering escapes her. My theory is that layering isn’t as easy for hour-glass shaped girls than for more slender shapes. But I’m trying hard to find ways to implement successfully layering because I love vibrant colour combinations and feeling warm!

Also, I love the real pin-up styles of tiny blouses and tight Capri pants and sexy wiggle dresses, but I just value comfort too much to rock those looks for longer than an evening.

What would be your dream outfit, existing or otherwise?

For a couple of years now I’ve been dreaming of making a phenomenal diner waitress style dress. I chronicled this obsession here and I’ve started to collate my image inspiration on a Pinterest board. I’ve made a couple of garments with elements inspired by diner waitress’ outfits, but I’m gearing up to make the very final word in diner waitress dresses!

Diner Waitress dress inspiration bard

Diner Waitress dress inspiration bard

What other sewing bloggers would you recommend for great individual style?

Answering this question could easily be a post in itself, my goodness, there are just so many! I love it when a sewing blogger has a really specific flavour to their creations, it doesn’t have to reflect my own tastes at all although of course it’s awesome when it does for inspiration purposes! I love Jen from Grainline‘s relaxed contemporary style, Helene from frk.bustad‘s all-out mid-20th Century kitsch chic, Tilly from Tilly and the Button‘s super sweet Paris preppiness (is that a word?!), Cecile from Sewing and So On‘s perfectly pitched warm-weather wear, Solvi from Delfinelise‘s eclectic and fun layered awesomeness, Winnie from Scruffy Badger Time‘s infinitely wearable and mix-and-matchable separates… I could seriously go on and on and on. Everyone in the online blogging community has something to offer each other so it feels weird to pick just a handful.

Thanks so much Joanne for asking me to answer these questions, it’s been a fun experience and I think I now know myself and my style a bit better for doing so!

Thanks Zoe for sharing your inspiration, and making us all lust after a diner-waitress frock we didn’t know we wanted!

We interrupt crafting to bring you this very important fashion announcement…

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful as this collection from Temperley London? I think I’ve died and gone to sartorial heaven.

The silhouettes are incredibly simple – basic t-shirts and circle skirts – but the panelling of the slippery silk colour blocks against the dusky transparent ones is simply gorgeous.

Don’t you love the elegant geometric prints here too?

That is all – normal service will be resumed shortly.


Completed project: Nightie night

Just a quick one – am sure most of us are in the same boat, waiting for Downton Abbey to begin. But I wanted to share that I have in fact been doing some sewing this weekend and haven’t given myself up to the crochet hook completely.

I finished my semi-self-drafted nightie yesterday, using the neck yoke from New Look 6864 and copying the general structure of a nightie I’d previously bought from Zara home. I used the swiss dot I picked up in Walthamstow market and some pretty floral cotton from my stash.

Nighty nightI was a bit distracted yesterday when I was finishing the neckline and managed to inadvertently sew wrong side to right side, then had graded the seams before I realised my mistake. D’oh! Cue lots of dark mutterings while I got the trusty seam ripper out. So as you can see from the photo – the yoke is a wee bit of a mess and not very symmetric but I can live with it.

Inside I used french seams to enclose the raw edges and faced the arm holes with some pretty bias binding. The overall effect might be a little Cath Kidston for my liking but hey – tis nightwear. At the rate I toss and turn, it’ll be rucked up under my armpits before I nod off.

French seams and bias binding

French seams and bias binding

In fact I may go and slip it on now before Downton starts, slice myself a huge chunk of carrot cake and settle down with the cats for the opening credits. Sweet dreams!


A weekend of reflection and crochet

Here in the UK we just experienced what will probably be our last proper summer weekend. It was pleasantly hot, gloriously sunny and with just the slightest breeze – absolutely perfect.

I had hoped to kick off the weekend in true style, by meeting up with Karen and a bunch of other lovely bloggers for the V&A outing to the Ballgown exhibition on Friday evening. I had my ticket ready, I was wearing my best polkadot frock in honour of Jane and Roisin joining us… when I got a bit of interesting news that set the cat amongst the pigeons.

I’m afraid I can’t go into detail until another time when things are a bit more sorted, but suffice to say I had to do a lot of thinking over the weekend and particularly on Friday night. So after having a good old chat with the husband I took myself up to Alexandra Palace’s duck pond to finish off the baby cardigan and enjoy the beautiful evening.

Alexandra Palace duck pond

Alexandra Palace duck pond

I find crochet fantastic for tuning out all that other noise and fuss. It reminds me of when I used to do kickboxing – the concentration on fairly repetitive actions just makes me feel more zen, more focused, more relaxed. It lets me concentrate on just one thing at a time and declutters the mind, much more than sewing, which I can find fairly stressful even though I enjoy it.  So it was crochet all weekend!

At the duck pond…

Crochet in the park

On the train to Norwich…

Crochet on the train

and in the in-laws’ garden (blimey I look huge in this pic).

Crochet in the garden

The upshot being that by the end of the weekend I had finished the baby cardigan and made another row of granny squares for the interminable blanket. Hooray! The bonus being that I’m pretty much happy with recent events, subject to a few improvements and hope to report back further in due course! In the meantime, here’s the baby cardy.

Baby cardigan

The finished item!

Hopefully not too bad for a first attempt? I know there are multiple mistakes in there but I’m just chuffed I finished it and it might actually fit a real live baby. I also realise that the sleeves are a little Pigeon Street in appearance but that ramps up the adorability in my opinion. 😉

I just LOVE those buttons – they were stupidly expensive (£1.70 per apple!) from John Lewis but they were just so perfect I couldn’t resist them.

How was your weekend? Do you find that making things allows you to de-stress, de-clutter  your mind and just focus on what’s important?

My Handmade Style: Sallie Oh

From vintage chic to clean modern shapes, how do these seamstresses create and communicate their own unique style in their projects? What and who inspires them, from film and music to everyday life. And what’s their dream outfit?

I’m really excited about my guest this week (actually – when am I NOT excited about the guest?) but seriously, I have a huuuuuuge blogging crush on this woman. Houston-based Sallie of SallieOh drops in to talk about style, and readers, this woman has it in bucketfuls. Read on to find out how she comes up with her gorgeous looks again and again… 

Sallie Oh

I know it’s difficult but in this series I’m asking bloggers to describe their style, if they can. How would you define your look?

Well what’s so difficult about this question is that there’s actually two of me. There’s the Sallie that lives in my head, and the Reality. The Sallie that lives in my head has amazing style. She wears lots of classic pieces with a really modern cut or fabric, but incorporates a lot of avant-garde pieces in there that give everything a bit of artistic drama. And she has really really amazing shoes.

But the reality is more of a mish-mash of holdovers from the poor college days, some respectable but boring remnants of an ill-fated corporate job (in which I often got the “dress code” talk from my boss) and then my sewn wardrobe, which aspires (at best) to the Sallie-in-my-head!

Where do you find your style inspiration and how do you channel that into your me-made wardrobe?

I have a lot of sources for style inspiration. It’s hard to pinpoint just a few because I feel that what I generally do is saturate myself with images and then somehow mentally sort through them to figure out what will work for me. Then I usually delude myself into thinking it was my idea all along and that I am, of course, a genius! But really I look at a wide variety of blogs – probably evenly split between style blogs and sewing blogs (a perennial favorite is Closet Visit – I love the voyeuristic quality of snooping through someone’s closet, and all the women featured have such an individual look) and I also do a lot of virtual window-shopping. Occasionally I meander through images of the runway shows, or hit up sites like Pinterest. And since I like to find things that I can make I spend a lot of time looking at sewing patterns and trying to imagine how they might work for me. I think we can all agree that working with sewing patterns sometimes requires quite a bit of imagination to get your head around the often-unfortunate “envelope” images!

As far as channeling that into my me-made wardrobe – I’m really an advocate for grounding everything in practicality. As awesome as the Sallie in my head is – I need to keep in mind the real necessities of my day-to-day life. And so when I start to think about what item I want to sew next to add to my wardrobe I really think long and hard about what I reach for again and again – especially on those days where I resent the need to even put on clothes (let’s be real here, that’s, like, every day!)

Are there any particular designers that you use for inspiration?

I’ve been known to go to this one particular store when I head into “the city” (Houston) that carries a lot of young, mid-range designers: Rachel Comey, A Détacher, Electric Feathers, Suno, Isabel Marant… And I like to try on the clothes and examine them and basically be that annoying shopper who spends hours in a store and then walks out empty handed. It’s like playing dress-ups. But I get a lot of inspiration from there. In general I like to look at small designers who are making artful clothing that is wearable, yet pushes the limit somehow.

If you had to select one self-stitched garment that really encapsulates your style – what would it be and why?

Well now that’s like asking me to choose a favorite child!! Hmmm… let’s see here…. I can only pick one? I’m actually going to say my ikat McCall’s 6553. The silhouette is the kind of thing I dream about and the pattern feels funky but also sort of laid-back which works with life. It dresses up well and it’s also a great no-brainer for when I need to look like I tried but actually I just rolled out of bed (like today, for instance!). It’s proven to be a very hard-working dress. And I like that.. It also doesn’t hurt that I get tons of compliments on it!

Ikat dress

I’d also give a second and third place to my jeans and my Rachel Comey for Vogue white top.

Sallie's jeans and Rachel Comey for Vogue top

Do you ever take risks and experiment with your look? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

I really feel very passionately about wearing what makes you comfortable – and I don’t mean comfortable like you’re in jammies – but comfortable in your own skin. Clothes should just highlight the fact that you’re already gorgeous – and if you feel self-conscious you won’t be giving off your best vibes (for lack of better phrasing…) so perhaps that means I’m not particularly risky? I think maybe I sometimes put together outfits or make a certain garment that I know others may not like, but that I think will make me feel good – so in that way perhaps I’m a risky dresser. I risk getting weird looks from other people! But it usually pays off in the end. My ikat dress was like that – I worried that maybe the print and the voluminous silhouette would be too big of a statement for the people in my daily life, but it turned out to be the most highly complimented me-made item in my closet to date!
That being said, it definitely took me some trial and error and a bit of brutal honesty to know what makes me comfortable and what’s outside of that comfort zone, which leads me to…

Is there anything you wish you could wear but can’t? 

Why yes… yes there is! I often find that anything too sweet or girly just doesn’t look quite right on me. As much as I love demure little peter pan collars and bows and puffed sleeves and dainty little prints on others – it just looks all wrong on me. Like I’m a 40 year old, hard-living, street-walking woman playing the Lolita. Just kidding. Not really.

I think it took me a little while to figure out that a vintage or rockabilly look was not my friend – which was a bit of a letdown because I generally love the look on others. But once I figured it out it was like a huge liberation! I don’t have to dress that way! I can dress alllll these other ways!

I think this is also where knowing your own body comes into play too. There are certain silhouettes that just aren’t particularly becoming on me. I’m so over trying to beat myself into somebody else’s shape so I can wear a certain type of clothing (if that makes sense) I’d rather just skip the drama and focus on what I know is flattering. And usually it involves something that doesn’t make me feel bad about my 3pm chocolate fix or my love of bread.

What would be your dream outfit, existing or otherwise?

This is probably very unexciting – but my dream outfit would probably be some sort of loose draped or flow-y dress in a breathable fabric (hello silk!) and a solid color that hits at about my knees. A pair of really great architectural heels that look like a work of art and a large necklace and/or bracelets with some color. Hair up (the hair’s always up). Lipstick optional.

If I had 10 versions of that outfit I could be set for the rest of my days!

What other sewing bloggers would you recommend for great individual style?

Oh gosh! There’s just so many! I’m not sure anyone does the vintage look better than Gertie (Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing) or Casey (Elegant Musings). They’ve really owned that one. I really love the clean modern and slightly playful aesthetic of Jen from Grainline. You can always tell an Oona make from a mile away – that girl knows how to work with fabric, color and texture! I think Mokosha’s got a great eclectic look – and really knows how to mix colors and patterns. Others that are really up there for me (told you there were a lot!) Heather Lou (Closet Case Files), Carolyn (Handmade by Carolyn) Novita (Very Purple Person) and a new one I just came across (courtesy of Heather) Otga Hasbold (Otga Hasbold), and of course Peter! (Male Pattern Boldness)

…Okay seriously I’m just going to start naming every sewing blogger ever! I get very excited by the continuing diversity I’m seeing develop within the sewing community. It’s such a wonderful way to develop your own individual style!

Joanne, thank you so much for asking me to be a part of such a great series of posts. You are a great inspiration to me and to so many others! I hope one day our paths may cross in real life. At which point you better be guarding that parrot print Salme dress with your life because I still have designs to steal it! Maniacal laughter…

Just kidding. Not really.

Yikes! While I try to extract a hysterical Sallie from my wardrobe, I really hope you’ve enjoyed her thoughtful answers. If you didn’t know this amazing seamstress before then I am delighted to be your introduction. Simply stunning. Thanks Sallie!