Tuesday, 18 March 2014


This week's area is a bit off-topic for my blog, but it is something I'm interested in having many years ago trained as a beauty therapist and make-up artist (in the evenings, as a change from a stressful job). I really enjoyed reading about Sarai's haircut and her thoughts on beauty routines. There are 9 questions to consider on this week's topic and if you are feeling a little in need of a review this would be a great thing to do. I'm not going to answer all 9 questions here because I don't want to send you all to sleep (this stuff is far more interesting to the individual than everyone else I think!), but I have answered them myself. All I'm going to do here is post 3-5 images that reflect my beauty signatures, as Sarai suggests.

natural beauty makeup
Gorgeous natural make-up: oliviaha.com 

1940s Make-up Guide
Clean and glamourous 1940's style make-up for special days and nights: vintagemakeupguide.com

short bob hairstyles are for sure suitable for every women out there ...
Beautiful bobbed hair:  www.hhairstyle.com
Finally, for a fun look at the most common blogger's beauty bloopers, hop over to this post on Crab & Bee.

If you want to share your beauty signatures in the comments, I'd love to know, and I love to talk about beauty so any challenges you have would be great to discuss, too. Either way, I hope you enjoy the rest of your week!

Happy sewing 'til next time,

Philippa x

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Liesl & Co Woodland Stroll Cape

I'm really happy to show you my first ever handmade piece of outerwear!

It's also the first thing I've made as a result of taking part in the Colette Wardrobe Architect project (still ongoing) - this cape was featured in my Core Style post, here..

I choose it because I am not yet confident enough to tackle coats, jackets and tailoring and the pattern really appealed to me. It isn't overly roomy like some capes and it's based on a vintage pattern, so I hope it will do double duty with jeans everyday and a pencil skirt for smarter occasions.

This is my second digital pattern (the first was So Zo vests). Due to the simple shape I thought it would be easy to stick together and fortunately I was right. I'm really glad I tried digital patterns. I like getting something pretty much instantly on the printer and the range of designs available. (Just to be correct Tilly & The Buttons Coco dress/top pattern was my third digital pattern, this was finished and blogged first as it was needed for a set date).

Me pretending to be the model on the pattern front!

I bought the fabric from Oxfam. It's been quite a puzzle to know how to handle it. It came with an Italian label with fibre content listed as 45% PA, 37% WO,15% VI, 03% WS. So I gather there is some wool and viscose in there but I don't know what PA and WS are. Anybody? (Whenever I put a question like that out there I'm always convinced the answer will be obvious and I will seem really stupid!) Anyhow it's very thick and warm, double sided, pretty firm but with a little widthways give. I took a chance and machine washed it on a cool wool wash with wool wash liquid and it turned out fine. I hope no-one is going to tell me I definitely shouldn't have done that!

I choose the navy side as my right side, as sadly I look terrible in most greys (for the same reason I didn't make the cape reversible, which would have been possible with this fabric). If you follow the suggestions, you would use two fabrics - a woollen outer layer and a nice slippery fabric for lining, but this material is already really warm.

As I didn't use lining the instructions weren't very relevant to me. I read them and they look perfectly clear. I may make the cape again (lined) for autumn and then I will be able to say for sure. But there are only four pieces and five buttonholes so I think it's a pretty easy sew (and you can also use buckles instead for a more casual look).

The cape sat cut out for a while as I fretted over what to do with the seams. Neither the Internet or my sewing books provided an answer I was happy with. I made different types of seam samples but felt they were  too bulky/rigid for the shape which needs a bit of flop to look right. In the end I took the easy way with the shoulder seams and overlocked them after sewing and pressing (in theory I could have left them as I don't expect the fabric to fray but apparently I can no longer leave a raw edge inside my handmades). 

For finishing the long edge I finally decided to try to separate the fabrics. This took ages as they appear to have been bonded together with superglue. 

I used embroidery scissors at first but I made a little cut in the fabric, so I tried a seam ripper and much careful wiggling. Every now and then I still caught a nick in the fabric. Next I tried simply tearing the layers apart but was too worried about the fabric distorting, as the pattern relies on nicely shaped edges. So it was back to the seam ripper. It was frustrating as I could see this pattern and fabric together had a lot of potential but I just couldn't figure out how to do the step without the risk ruining the fabric. The hardest bits were the centre fronts as I had to separate much deeper to enable me to insert interfacing between the two layers. 

If anyone knows a foolproof way of separating fabric layers please, please comment below. Other than that, I cannot recommend a fabric such as this if you are going to separate the layers (although I guess some fabrics may be bonded less firmly. Order a sample!).

This is how the cape looked when I had separated then folded in all the edges:

Then I couldn't decide whether to top stitch the edges or hand finish them. The lazy part of me really wanted to top stitch, but it would have made a slight ridge all the way around the edge. Since I had put so much effort in already I hand finished the entire cape. My sewing would be a lot quicker if I did less hand finishing.

I finally got to grips with my automatic buttonhole foot making this cape. I had two problems, one was if I sewed with the edge of the item at the back of the machine the buttonhole foot catches on the ridge. I solved this by turning the fabric around (I know - "No shit, Sherlock!", but I am used to a four step buttonhole that you can stick anything under any old way and it always came out perfectly). Two, sometimes the needle would start to sew across the buttonhole too soon. Apparently the smallest tap on the buttonhole lever that you pull down causes the machine to think the end of the buttonhole has been reached, and I was accidentally knocking it the tiniest bit occasionally when guiding the fabric through. So much to learn!

The buttons are Italian from the newly discovered mini treasure trove that is The Crafty Patch. I am not sure if you can see, they are a kind of squashed circle the imperfection of which really appeals to me.

I attached them by making a thread shank using a method from this book. My mum had this book when I was little, but I got mine from a charity shop for £1.99. It was published in 1978 but is still the first book I turn to when I need some guidance - techniques don't change much and although I love the Internet for help sometimes I just like to sit with a page open and really absorb the method. If you see one of these books and you are a sewer, snap it up - you won't regret it!

Despite struggles with the fabric, I am really pleased with my cape. I think I will wear it a lot, some real life woodland strolling would be nice :)

Finally, there's quite a bit of fabric left over - enough for another garment. I don't want to waste it but neither can I contemplate all that separating again. If anyone has an idea for a pattern that won't require it I would love to know. I've thought of a jacket with bound edges (Chanel type) but nothing else really springs to mind.

Also, if you have worked with similar fabric yourself, how did you finish the seams? Thank you! 

Happy sewing, 'til next time!

Philippa x

Saturday, 8 March 2014


When I saw this week's topic I smiled. Probably everyone who likes sewing has been seduced by the power of the unwise print at some time or another. Maybe my Coco dress is a case in point, as a solid or stripe would have been so much more sophisticated...but damn it, I still love this fabric!

(Brighter IRL)
So maybe this week's exercise has come just in time to save me from myself. For the full details go here to the Coletterie blog - it's well worth a look.

What percentage of your favourite, most worn clothing is printed? I don't own a lot of printed clothing, but the few bits I do own are in constant rotation as they brighten everything up.

What are your most beloved styles of prints? My entire life I've loved and been intrigued by ethnic prints, especially African wax and Indian hand-printed woodcut type designs, closely followed by tie-dye and batik.

African wax from my stash - not sure what this is going to be yet!

Indian print from my refashion pile - going to be a top
I also like stripes, have to be in the mood for spots (they are an upbeat print, I always think), and wear small to medium florals occasionally (I would like to experiment more with these). The florals I like best are dark, geometric, smudgy or stylised.

Cotton from my stash

Pattern detail from one of my favorite handmades - a cotton top refashioned from a dress. This came out of the wash today ripped too much to repair so will be replaced, but you can see how it's kind of, but not obviously, floral.
Being small in height big prints overwhelm me and I've never worn one larger than this that was successful.

can only handle animal print on accessories and even then I'm not sure. I feel really uncomfortable wearing something the colour of an actual animal, but I love this scarf (my only bit of animal print) and wear it a lot.

Finally, I've never tried any novelty/conversation prints. I tend not to see them as clothing prints at all (unless we're talking pjs then anything goes of course). But I haven't ruled them out - I'm undecided. It would probably depend on the individual print.

Sarai suggests seeing if any of the prints relate to your style words (mine are practical and relaxed). I think they do? Anyway, if my style words were glamour and glitz, I would be in trouble with these choices!

What prints do you like to wear? Do you suffer with the sewer's curse of choosing inappropriate fabric because you can't bypass a pretty print?

On a completely unrelated topic, have you been watching the Great British Sewing Bee? I love it! It's the only garment sewing show I've ever seen on British TV. There are some really great contestants too. I am in awe of Chinelo - how does she do that pattern drafting where she takes someone's measurements and draws straight on to the fabric and it fits like a dream? I want to learn how to do that!

Happy sewing, 'till next time,

Philippa x

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Emergency World Book Day Coco Dress

I made this tunic dress because at the end of last week I found I was to sit down and read for 3 hours straight to 6 different classes (of varying ages) for World Book Day (Thursday 6th March). As my family will attest it's incredibly rare for me to sit down for 3 hours unless I have the flu so I don't really own comfy lounging clothes. The thought of sitting for that long in my usual skinny jeans or denim skirt sounded really uncomfortable. So I sewed this:

The pattern is Tilly and the Buttons Coco dress. Construction is straightforward if you are used to knits. My fabric is interlock which is probably the softest fabric recommended - I think it would be even better in a firmer knit but as you may have guessed the fabric choice was a bit of a heart decision (from Kitschy Coo, here. To say I love their organic jersey prints is an understatement and if I had a small child I would totally be kitting him/her out in them. Also: excellent customer service and speedy delivery.) I followed the short list-style instructions that come with the PDF pattern. They are clear and unambiguous. I think Tilly has more in-depth instructions on her blog for those who want a little more advice on how to sew with knits though, and even a sew along. I would have loved to take part in case I could have picked up any extra tips but as mentioned the deadline did not allow!

I found the pattern to be true to size and finished measurements were included too. This made a big difference to me choosing the right size as I held the measuring tape around myself to see the amount of ease I would end up with. I don't understand why all patterns don't include finished measurements. I am sure I would have had less mistakes starting out if I had always had them to use. The only sizing alteration I made was to half the seam allowance in the bust area because of my large cup size and this worked well, but wouldn't be necessary for anyone smaller than a D cup.

That diagonal line is caused by my pose! 
The dress looks quite different on me to Tilly's photograph as I am not the 'traditional British pear shape' I hear so much about, I am the other way round. I think it looks like more of a shift dress. I probably could have pulled it in at the waist for a more fitted silhoutte but then I would have lost the ease (which is why I made the dress in the first place). So, for all you fuller busted ladies out there this might give you an idea of how this pattern will look on you.

If you are thinking of making the dress up I have a couple of comments that might be useful, although these are just my preference. Initially I sewed long sleeves and felt the dress looked a bit nightie-ish, although this could be my choice of print combined with my body shape. When I looked at Tilly's dress I realised her sleeves were 3/4 length so I shortened them as marked on the pattern. This really improved the look of the dress on me. Also it's drafted quite short but if you like the cute flippy look of the pattern you are better off keeping the shorter length. I hemmed it in bare feet as I could also see this dress worn in the summer with tanned legs and flip flops after a day on the beach (sigh!), although that could just be where my head is right now!

As you can see I didn't add the pockets this time (although my daughter really thinks I should). I'm too worried about fluffing up the placement as the pattern is a lattice and it would need to be spot on. Well it would for me anyway as I would never wear it if things were a bit skew whiff. Adding to my insecurities, the pocket placement isn't marked on the pattern - you position them where you like. Not a problem on a plain or stripe but on this...sometimes you have to know what to leave out ;)

I will definitely make this pattern again. Next it will be the top version instead of the dress (the jury is out on the dress until I've road tested it, but the pattern utilises the top half of the dress for the tops and I'm very pleased with the fit there so I know they will work.) They are the kind of thing I would wear on a daily basis. So I think this pattern will work out to be great value for money (I paid £7.50 for the PDF version and plan three tops).

Dogs + new dress = certain amount of stress
My own best tips for working with jersey (so far) are: cut as a single layer to avoid shifting (especially important with geometric prints and stripes), handle the fabric very lightly and as little as possible to avoid stretching, never allow the fabric to droop over the edge of the cutting or sewing table and practice hem finishes before you sew on to your garment. There are quite a few hemming options and I find the best finish varies greatly according to the type of jersey. When I started sewing with knits I really enjoyed this post by Lauren Lladybird.

Happy World Book Day to you all. I hope you can find a little person to curl up and share a book with, or at least have some precious quiet reading time to yourself :)

Happy sewing, 'till next time,

Philippa x

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Gorgeous Gloves & Visit To The Crafty Patch, Bourne

The knitters and dyers among you will surely appreciate the latest addition to my wardrobe:

The wool came as part of my Spring Sewing Swap parcel (thank you again Mrs SDSC!). 

(This photograph shows the colour of the wool more accurately.)

loved this beautiful hand-dyed wool as soon as I saw it. The soft colours are just perfect for my wardrobe. There was just one big drawback - I can't knit! Believe me, I have tried on many occasions and with several different patient teachers (one dear friend even tried to teach me twice!). It seems my brain can't compute knitting, unless holes and wiggles are your thing.

Anyway. En route to one of my daughter's rehearsal venues I pass through a small town called Bourne (in Lincolnshire), and spotted this:

A sign (visible from the road!) states "Knitting Service Available"!

I'm sure you can figure out the rest!

The shop is owned by Magi (pictured above), trust me she and her assistant Annette have got it covered if you want to talk knitting.

They helped me choose a pattern, and Magi knitted my gloves for a very reasonable price and very speedily, too. Non-knitters rejoice - I can not recommend this service enough!!

Of course while in the shop I had to take a look around. It's one of those places that is a real 'hidden gem', small from the outside but packed with crafty goodness on the inside. You can find everything knitting and crochet, along with cross stitch, tapestry, embroidery, habby such as buttons and ribbons, Christmas kits and general crafts including beads, paints and card making supplies. Phew!

I'm partial to a bit of cross stitch and was especially taken with these kits!

I might have to go back and get one!

So, if you are ever visiting in the Lincolnshire area be sure pay The Crafty Patch in Bourne a visit and pop in to say hello to Magi or Annette and browse their super establishment. If you're into crafts and sewing you're sure to find something to tickle your fancy. You can find more information here.

This post is my way of saying a big thank you for my lovely gloves. Even though I paid Magi to knit them, to me any kind of hand knitting is a form of love :) They are so much nicer than anything I could buy in the shops!

Happy sewing, 'til next time!

Philippa x