Sunday, 23 August 2015


"The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

It's been a long time since I posted here. I have been coping with big changes - divorce, re-training, new work and the sale and clearing of our big family house, moving, and furnishing our new, much smaller home. All the major things we need are now in place.

During this process I thought a surprising amount about sewing and blogging. Mostly day dreams about the things I would make, when.  I kept up my blog reading, which was a connection to sewing when I didn't have time to do any. I haven't always taken time out to leave a comment, but thank you. I really appreciated and enjoyed your updates.

So now life is busier than ever. The thought crossed my mind, perhaps I should give up sewing. However, I find it intensely absorbing and relaxing - has anyone else noticed that an hour spent sewing is a lot shorter than an hour doing housework?  Also, I don't enjoy shopping and I'm not easy to fit, as I am petite in height and average in every other respect apart from bust size. A life spent dressed in second had t-shirts doesn't sound too appealing. That's before I even get to the ethical issues.

So the sewing machine and overlocker are out of their covers. I'm starting back with some nightwear. I want easy to fit successes to begin with.

I thought about my blog, too. It has been in many ways experimental. I have sometimes been distracted by the style of other people, not to mention the massive amount of patterns now available. Colour analysis and the (first) Colette Wardrobe Architect project were ways I tried to identify what I wanted to make and wear, but strangely this time of 'not doing' has been more useful than either. Without consciously persuing anything I seem to have arrived at some conclusions!

The designs I like best are simple. It doesn't matter what era the pattern is from, I love a clean line. This was what I somehow couldn't get to when I was looking for a style word.
My five 'most worn' garments from the project.

I've also thoroughly revised my fabric and pattern stashes. I really enjoyed it, and I like knowing I have collections containing what I want to make and will use, instead of just collections! I confess to keeping some really strange secondhand fabrics. I have a bit of a blind spot in that area, and guess I will make some really strange clothes out of them.

Finally, I am working on a new blog which I hope will look cleaner and more modern. I will put a link up here when it's ready, which will be when I can capture one of my offspring long enough to take a couple of photos. 

Finally, I've really missed sewing and blogging. It's great to be back!

Philippa x

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Re-re-cycled Skirt

Firstly, group apology if I normally comment on your blog. I am so behind on blog reading. I am still adjusting to working so much and am used to a lot more free time. I'm pleased to say the job is worth it and I already feel very much at home, but yes my online and real life social life have taken a bit of a dive.

Anyway. My first completed garment of the year is a skirt refashioned from a skirt I made from a thrifted dress. The first skirt I made was too short to be worn at the midi length I originally intended, unless it was pulled down low on my hips which wasn't comfortable (not sure how that happened - it was one of my beginners mistakes). It has never been worn but was a useful trial for the skirt I finally made here

I kept it because I like the warm fabric and the golds, creams and blues in the pattern. This is the 'new improved' skirt:

The material is not like a modern fabric. The closest thing I can compare it to is ponte. It is one of those indestructible non-iron blends, but this one has the advantage of being 8% wool and even that tiny percentage makes it lovely and warm. I always worry these old-fashioned fabrics end up sitting in landfill for decades so it is good to use it. I can't imagine anyone buying clothes made from this anymore, unless they need a costume or fancy dress.

The refashion was cutting off the waistband and 7 inches of hem, which provided fabric for making a facing for the waist. The front of the skirt looked a bit plain so I made some patch pockets from the dress sleeves which I had saved. I made the round shape for the pockets by drawing round a saucer.

The swirly patterns at the top of the pockets were the dress cuffs. I put a button on each as the existing cuff buttonholes were still there. There are three buttons on the placket at the back too for fastening instead of a zip, as the placket was originally at the front of the dress and was quite shallow. They are more decorative than useful anyway because of the stretch. I got them out of the button stash started by my Grandma and continued by me. I finished the hem with bias tape.

I am really happy with how this turned out. Sometimes projects work just how you imagined - this was one. I am already digging through my refashion pile again. The period after Christmas always seems to refocus my thoughts on reducing waste - it must be a reaction to all the celebrations!

* I will be keeping a tally of the cost of my sewing at the end of each project during 2015. Materials purchased prior to this year will be listed as £0.*

Total cost of this project: £0.

A good start.

Happy sewing 'til next time,

Philippa x

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Hello! New Year.

I hope you had a lovely Christmas! I started a new job as well as being knee deep in holiday preparations, so I haven't written here for a while. I've really missed sewing and blogging and hope to do more this year, but I've signed up for more training so time will tell...

Today I want to share my sewing resolutions with you. For me, resolutions that encourage a change in mindset rather than something too specific work best ("eat less cake" is never going to work - I will just think about cake continually, and therefore eat more). 

So this year I resolve to make the most of my existing resources. I am not promising stop buying new fabric or patterns completely, but I will check what I already have first. In the past I feel I have been impressed with new artwork/up to date photographs - I will look at line drawings to see if new patterns are similar to those I already have. Also I will consider whether I can revive my drafting skills to tweak patterns. Years ago I learnt how to draft patterns to body measurements at college and could make patterns for things like shirts and coats from scratch. Yes, I am living proof that if you don't use it, you loose it! Despite some elementary mistakes and some really disastrous garments made during the last few years, I am starting to feel more confident in my abilities again. Or maybe that's why I'm starting to feel more confident. Sewing needs to be done to learn. I just hope my new found confidence translates into decent things to wear. However, due to my endless desire to experiment I will continue to produce a fair amount of totally unsuitable and unwearable garments. Maybe I should also resolve to view mistakes as learning opportunities!

I have also taken part in Karen's Sew Sessment. It's specific, but covers a lot in a few minutes.

SEW SESSMENT! See How Your Sewing Lines up

Top Three Items That I Wear For Home:
Knit tops, denim skirt, jeans.
Top Three Items That I Wear For Work:
Knit tops, cardigans, skirts.
Top Three Sewing Talents (go on, show off!):
Hand sewing, pattern and stripe matching, seam finishes.
Top Three Sewing Weak Spots (ouch!):
Buttonholes, easing anything in to anything else (curves, sleeves), top stitching.
Top Three Sewing Goals:
Do 'proper' FBAs, sew trousers (not drawstring waist), and improve finish on everything.
Top Three People Who Enable Me:
Internet friends (thank you!), my family, my clients (yes one or two are interested in my sewing!).
Top Three People I Enable:
Other sewing bloggers.
Top Three Reasons I Can't Sew:
Lack of time, tiredness.
Top Three Reasons I Can Sew:
I have the resources, I can make things more cheaply than I can buy them if I source materials effectively, it gives my brain a rest from everything else!
I think this year just finding the time will be challenge enough.

I won't mind if I don't achieve any of my Top Three Sewing Goals from the assessment this year, but it will be fun to try.

Finally - it was lovely sharing creating and sewing with you last year. I'm really looking forward to what 2015 brings and I hope you are too.

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

First up - this is a full on book review, so if you just want to know about the patterns go to the part marked PATTERNS half way down!

I bought this book as I've always been interested in styles of the past, but don't have a life that requires cocktails dresses or suits. Also, I look strange in some of the 'vintage' styles. The subtitle is 'A Modern Guide To Sportswear Styles Of The 1940's And 1950's', so I purchased it with much hope.

As you can see, the format is spiral bound hardback. 

I found Gertie's writing style light hearted while still being clear - if you like her blog, the book has the same tone. 

Photogprahs are clear and appropriate to illustrate techniques described in the text.

The first section is SKILLS. Unless you are completely new to sewing, these sections can be really boring. The information here was more comprehensive/detailed than many similar books I have read, and while I did know most of it there were a few useful reminders, such as where to interface - an area I could really improve on. I've had a few problems with my zips recently and had completely forgotten about stabilising the area with strips of interfacing!

The whole book is made much more attractive by the addition of gorgeous illustrations such as this one, drawn by Sun Young Park.
They add the charm and style that seduces me in the same way as vintage pattern covers.

Also in this section is a chapter on fitting and a chapter on pattern making, necessary because of how the patterns work (more below).

I thought I would try a pattern before I wrote this review because otherwise reviews can be like selling something for someone else when you don't really know if it's any good. I fully admit the pattern I choose is hardly a departure from my normal style. I had this organic cotton stripe jersey in my stash for a summer t-shirt that never happened, so it was the economic choice. When I make something woven from the book I'll put a new link in at the end of the post.

This is the Boat Neck Top I made in the book:
And here is mine IRL:
How the patterns work is there is a core of 10 full size, multi-size patterns on which all the garments are based. There is some overlay (nothing major) so you trace off whatever you want to make, then follow the instructions to alter the patterns to produce variations. This top was based off the Knit Sweetheart Top pattern (garment picture below).

To make it into a boat neck, I resized the shoulder area, re-drew the neck (using French curves) and swapped out the sleeves following the instructions. It wasn't difficult at all but maybe not ideal for complete beginners. There is quite a bit of flipping back between pages to refer to method for the base garments during construction as well, so there is some room for confusion for a total newbie. Having said that, none of the designs are complicated. For me, it's a nice 'step up' book, giving a little confidence in altering and fitting basic designs.

Sizes are 32" - 46" bust, 24" - 38" waist and 36" - 50" hip. My bust measurement fell between two sizes so I went for the larger one which was a good call as this top is just as fitted as the photo suggests.
I would have to be feeling pretty body confident to wear this without a cardigan. I think a little looser, more figure skimming than figure hugging does me more favours. However, I would consider making it again in black, as I am firmly of the opinion that this will turn me visually into a B cup ;)

Here's the back view for reference:
I shortened it by an inch or so but I am petite so there's plenty of length there for everyone else.

Pictured below are a couple of the designs I really like and can see complementing my existing wardrobe.

would also love this but know I couldn't carry it off.

Most of the patterns in this book are relatively simple shapes that can be adapted to produce different variations. Some, such as the jumpsuit, zip-front house dress and sailor blouse feel like they do have a more old school vibe and I really like those too. A massive plus for me though was that the majority of the patterns could be styled in a modern/classic or vintage direction - exactly what I was looking for - and I this will surely widen the book's appeal. I think it would make a nice present for a sewer who wanted to move on from the basics, especially if they didn't have a large pattern collection. It is a very cost effective way to get a collection of basic garment patterns.

Have you seen or bought this book? What do you think of it?

As ever, I paid for this book myself, don't know the author from Adam, and all opinions expressed are my own :)

Happy sewing, 'till next time,

Philippa X

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

I have been nominated for three blog awards, and haven't done anything about any of them! I'm putting this right in reverse order, starting today with The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. 

I was nominated for this by Jessica of Chronically Vintage, who shared her seven very interesting random facts hereIf you are wondering what our connection is, you'll find out below!

Seven Totally Random Facts About Me

1. I have been vegetarian for 29 years!

Yes, next year I will have been vegetarian for three whole decades. I have no regrets, zero interest in adding flesh of any kind to my diet, and I love my animal friends as much as ever!

2. My favourite animals are dogs (OK you may have guessed this one) and horses.

My dogs

love the faithful companionship of dogs and share my home with two (at the moment!). They have brought a lot of pleasure to my life, but easy to overlook are the health benefits. Before I had to go out and walk every day (at least twice), I used to get quite down over the winter. Now I actively look forward to those windy and freezing days, when I can come back after a refreshing walk to a soothing hot drink, having blown away the proverbial cobwebs. Yes, owning a dog is a big commitment, but my experience is that they more than repay the inconveniences. As for horses, my father was an amateur jockey so horses were part of my life from a young age. I rode ponies and often dream of getting back on horseback.

3. I have had several 'lives'.

No, I don't mean I have been reincarnated or regressed, just I am one of those people who for one reason or another has worked in lots of different environments and/or trained for a variety of careers, including those as varied as a beauty therapist, counsellor and personal assistant.

4. I am a secret history and vintage clothing enthusiast.

I am sure you are looking at the stuff I make and not seeing this at all. While it is true I dress mostly in modern styles, I have a lifelong fascination with history which is very broad, going right back to the earliest civilisations. I'm particularly interested in what life was like for ordinary people and how they dressed and why is a natural extension of this. I had colouring books of costumes through the ages in my childhood, and studied a module on the subject at college. 

An illustration I drew for my college fashion history file

Long before 'vintage' was a thing, I frequented second hand shops for individual, inexpensive, one-off items of clothing (often with hilarious results). I sometimes altered them, taking collars off men's shirts or putting two garments together, as well as sewing my own. (Note, in my youth there was a fabric shop selling reasonably priced fabric in every small town and literally nobody was interested in old clothes.)

Notes I made from a book called 'Vogue More Dash Than Cash' when I was
a fashion student in the late '80's. They were typed up on my Dad's old typewriter!

The advent of the internet meant a wealth of newly accessible information. Searching 'sustainable style', I discovered people actually wore vintage clothes head to toe (there is no-one doing that round here). For me it was history coming alive, I love to look at original garments and sewing patterns. Vintage appeals to me on other levels, too. One, there is nothing more sustainable than proudly wearing clothes that are decades old. Two, I love the idea of dressing however you want. Jessica's blog is one of the very first I came across, and one of the few 'vintage' blogs that have remained on my blog roll. I love the mix of history and style, especially the photographs she regularly posts which illustrate exactly how (mostly, but not exclusively, mid-century) folks really looked, original adverts, and recipes (which I occasionally try - what people ate is interesting to me too). I'm sure Jessica won't mind me sharing we have some health challenges in common as well, and it was seeing that she could blog, along with this post by So Zo's husband Pat, that convinced me that even if I couldn't blog often, starting a blog was something I could do.

One summer (before this blog) I decided to try dressing in a fully vintage style myself. I didn't know much about casual looks at the time so this comprised a skirt, lipstick and pearls approach. My teenage daughter kindly shared with me that "I looked older than grandma" (kind of the point, but still)! This was enough to convince me that the full vintage ship had sailed in my case. So these days I confine myself to admiring others, and adding vintage elements to a modern wardrobe. I particularly adore classic accessories - currently I own a structured black handbag, timeless pearl earrings and quite a few pairs of vintage or vintage appropriate shoes (brogues, loafers, wedges). Incidentally, Jessica also has an Etsy shop, should you be looking for some unique vintage additions yourself. I also love a full vintage make-up for special occasions/evenings. I have a handful of vintage sewing patterns in styles I think I can pull off, and have just received a copy of 'Gertie Sews Vintage Casual' (review to follow), so while I have dismissed a full vintage look for myself, there may well be some more vintage-style sewing in my future!

5. I'm also very interested in politics and current affairs.

I love to start the day with a good political debate on the radio while I prepare breakfast and the lunches, although I am not remotely interested in celebrity gossip, and become quite offended if this is presented as 'news'!

6. I am content.

Believe me, I haven't always felt this way but now I know I have enough in a material sense. It's so easy to get caught up in the pursuit of things, and miss out on what's really important...material possessions will never bring that deep down, long lasting happiness (however intense the initial hit), and devoting a lot of time to chasing them means missing out on so much other stuff. Even during times of crisis (which come in everyone's life), I try to be thankful for what I have. See below!

7. I have had swine flu and lived to tell the tale.

A few years ago I had a major health crisis, which shook my body and soul. The flu I had led to persistent infections, necessitating me giving up my job working with children and becoming virtually bed bound. I'm not going to go over all the symptoms here, suffice it to say they were horrendous, and had a massive impact on my ability to do anything of significance for a long time. 

Not being able to rely on my previously relatively healthy body (which I had taken for granted all my life) had a major psychological impact. I completely reassessed my life. I realised I needed to live differently to increase my chances of recovery, and began an on-going process of simplification. I scaled down my social life, volunteered less and said 'no' more often. I radically reduced the amount of clothes and styles in my wardrobe, so that getting dressed in the morning was easier. I had to slow down and relax previously high standards, which I found particularly difficult.

Apart from desperately searching for cures and longing to be well, I realised the only regret I would have at the end of my life was if I hadn't spent enough time with my close family and friends. I saw how precious and irreplaceable they are all over again. Time spent with them, even if it's just something ordinary like having dinner together, is the most treasured time of all....hug your family and friends!

Finally, I am a lot better these days although I have been left with a couple of chronic illnesses which do cause pain and some tiredness, but not like the first few years. There are limitations on what I can do (I can't write more than a paragraph by hand for example, as my hand cramps and I am not yet well enough to resume aerobic exercise), but I am going to interviews for (part-time) work outside the home and have managed some long drives, albeit with lengthy stops.

The lessons I learned during those hard years continue to work themselves out in my life, but ultimately I hope one day to be able be able to say I got more from the bad times than I lost. In the meantime, I'm just so happy to be here :)

Finally I would like to nominate:

Solvi of Delfineslise
Helen of Grosgrain Green
Kerry of Kestrel Makes
Debbie of Minnado's House
Kristin of Sunny Sewing

I chose these blogs because I feel they already reflect something of the personality of the blogger, and they've made me curious to learn more! Feel free not to take part if awards aren't your thing, or you've had the award before....if you do take part, I look forward to reading 7 Random Facts about you! Thank you for nominating me, Jessica and giving me the chance to share a bit more about myself here.

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Monday, 15 September 2014

Little Tie-dye Skirt & Do You Post Everything You've Made?

This skirt is a repeat make of Simplicity 2343, first one here in stretch denim.

The fabric is a firm woven canvas from my stash. I put the darker side of the tie-dye on the front and the lighter side round the back. There was no logic to that decision really. It wasn't particularly nice to sew (see slightly wobbly stitching on zipper lap) - I don't think it's clothing fabric. I puchased it as a remnant intending to make a cushion, but my lack of interest in sewing for the home has been documented before - hence it ended up as a skirt!

This pattern seems to work in virtually any woven fabric and one of the best things imo is if you make the short version it doesn't need much yardage at all (not much more than a cushion ;)).

The top I am wearing here is one of my Cocos, but I am hoping to imagine a better pairing eventually. I do feel like 'me' in this skirt, as it has elements of 'old hippie' in the tie-dye but a more tailored shape which I like on my body.

On a side note, I am wondering whether you post everything you've made, including repeats and fails? I know it's personal choice, but I'm curious because I'm still working out what I want to post. I like to see repeats on other blogs, as if a pattern is made multiple times it's usually a winner, and it's nice to see the same style in a different fabric, too.

As for fails, I see it as a kind of solidarity thing (we all have stuff that goes wrong). They are especially useful if they flag up a problem with a pattern. I don't aim for perfection with my blog as you can probably tell, so at the moment I post everything. For me, my blog is another way to have fun with like minded friends :)

So, what's your view on this pressing matter of great sewing blog importance? Do repeats bore you? Do you hide your fails in a secret place?! There are no right and wrong answers, but I'd love to know your opinions!

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Funnel Neck Coco Fleece

When I was talking about my general lack of style direction I forgot about the one part of my wardrobe I really and truly have sorted. I've been wearing variations on this 'look' since my teenage years and would summarise it as 'Cornish fisherman'. The components are: smocks of various types + jeans (any length according to season) + oldest brogues, clogs, deck shoes or loafers I own. Frequently accessorised with dogs, mud and/or sand - never fails.

Please find the latest addition below:
had this version of the Coco pattern in mind all holiday; it would have been so useful for walking/windy beaches. Oh well, next time! (The other versions I've made of this pattern are here and here and give a few more details how it works for my body shape.)

Apologies for indoor photo. This was taken on the day the tail of Hurricane Bertha whipped our neighbourhood. It brought cooler weather with it, and I've also worn this with a long sleeved striped top showing under the sleeves which adds a bit of contrast to all the blue.

Fleece is not a suggested fabric, but as it has a little stretch it worked out fine. (Fleece from recycled bottles, stocked here and bought over a year ago. I was really pleased to see this is still available, as it's the only non-wholesale source of recycled fleece I have been able to find. There is a lot of colour choice, too.)

Pattern alterations:
*Took triangular wedge from the bottom sides of the pattern pieces due to my straighter hips.
*Positioned the seam for the roll collar at CB instead of at the side as pattern directs - with my bulkier fabric, I thought this would look neater - now I'm not sure and will probably do as the pattern directs if I make this again.
*Sewed side seams straight down (no side splits).
*Took deeper hem of 1.5".

Made largely on the overlocker, the inside is as neat as the outside. Hemmed with a twin needle, rather than zigzagged - I'm so glad I've finally mastered the twin needle, it makes such a difference to how professional the finish is on fleeces and knits :)

Here is the top on a nicer day but as you can see I did not pull it down or arrange it in any way so please excuse the triangular boob!!

My only wish is that I'd had enough fabric for some nice snuggly pockets in the side seams. Should I make this again, I'm definitely adding them.

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x