A most marvellous year with a somewhat crappy ending….

homemade mincepies

I hope you all had lovely Christmases, most festive Yuletides, Winter celebrations warm and merry, in the company of loved ones be they family,friends or furry and fluffy ones (and by that I mean animals rather than anyone particularly beardy)…

I can’t quite believe it’s the end of another year, this year more than any other I shake my head and wonder where on earth the time has gone….and I think that is one of the really nice things about keeping a blog, you have the chance to look back, not just skimming over notes,scribbles  or entries in a written diary (mine always end up looking like they’ve been written by Prince Charles with his spidery old scrawl), but you also have the picture prompts and straight away I’m remembering how cold we were that day going for a walk, the smell of the horses in the field, the taste of that elderflower cordial….

I always enjoy looking back at what I’ve been up to, not in a maudlin old way but remembering the high points, the happy times, the taste of jam made from hedgerow fruits and finding the kitchen invaded by the kittens from next door…….

So I’ve put the kettle on, made a pot of tea and am happily looking back and remembering the past 12 months……

January was all cold mornings, we had some pretty heavy frosts where the broccoli and herbs looked quite other worldy covered with a delicate silvery frost, and the marshes down the road flooded which was quite exciting when we went out for our Boxing Day walk…..I was determined to sort out the sides of my granny’s paperweight crochet blanket and made umpteen half hexagons to fit in the gaps on the top and bottom, actually I got right carried away making them and had enough to fill all the sides for a scarf I’d also been working on….another walk saw three graceful swans which were making no end of row as they were eating and snuffling about in the river, then bottoms tipped up, one, two then all three at once…

I got into my head to make a couple of cushions using the same crochet pattern and made two fronts….a year later they’re still waiting to be finished so that’s somethng on the New Year’s to do list….I also had a good tidy up in my work room and found some old floral embroidery testers I’d made a couple of years back.

I spent some Christmas money and bought Felicity Ford’s excellent Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook which is a wonderful and inspirational resource, it’s really to help you plan and design stranded colourwork but I found it a great read for patchwork planning too…

The first part of Februarysaw me still tidying up my work room, it never seems to take long to get all pickly and this time tidying I tried to make sure all the tins and boxes were opened to see what treasures were hidden away…and I found more embroidered samplers, some inspired more by beautiful fairisle jumpsers and tank tops than traditional embroidery samplers….the weather was still cold, we had some proper heavy frosts and the marshes seemed constantly half hidden under a low laying mist…baking cakes for Sunday afternoon tea and pack up is always part of my routine of a weekend, and never more so than in the Winter where a fat slice of cup seems much more appreciated with a cup of tea.

I bought a huge bundle of beautiful coloured tapestry wool, the little skeins were 10 pence each and the happiness a huge pile of them turned out on my worktable gives me is priceless., and some new to me vintage sewing needles, these what I prefer to use when I’m hand sewing, they seem to bend less and the points keep sharper……I also un-ravelled a whole load of crochet squares, I’d trimmed them with white originally but I decided I’d rather a blanket to match my granny square crochet scarf….

My boyfriend’s birthday is in February and one of the presents I made him was a tweed cycling hat, the pattern is by The Little Package company and both styles of hat are so nice to make….

For me the most exciting part of February was being asked to design a pair of baby quilts for one of my friends….lovely Darren who has The Little  Red Roaster (Norwich’s best coffee shop) is having twins and he wanted two quilts made for the new arrivals….

 

At the start of March new neighbours moved in next door and within a few days we met their two little cats, Bob and Izzy soon became regular visitors in our garden and although at first Bernard was a bit wary of them, he soon became great chums with Bob…most mornings start with a nose rub greeting, quick bottom sniff then Bernard and Bob wash each other….Izzy gets the odd look in.

The weather is getting nicer, blossoms and catkins seem to be out earlier that usual, and on days when it’s not too cold we head up to Little Tinkers, a small horse and donkey sanctuary which is just up the road, we tend to go the long route which is over the marshes so we’re generally quite out of puff and rather muddy when we get there.  I love the donkey’s and would one day dearly love one of mine own, but for now I’m happy to cuddle this gorgeous one, so friendly and loved being scritched behind the ears.

I found an old copy of Cold Comfort Farm in a local charity shop, it’s been on my must read lists for the longest time…..it’s so funny and very good reading.

Bread gets baked a couple of times a week and I use a natural starter that my friend Daisy gave me, it makes for a good, robust loaf which isn’t heavy and which smells so nice and homey.  I even used the natural starter to make hot cross buns which came out perfectly….the kitchen always smells wonderful on baking day.

Most of the month has been spent working on the quilts, designing the patchwork tops and choosing fabrics…sometimes having free rein is a bit overwhelming so Auntie Ally said Kate (Mrs Darren) liked stars…after that the designing was much easier.  To help me with the patchwork I painted up a series of patterened papers so I was able to make little paper patchworks…..playing really with moving the papers around, but I was able to see the designs much clearer than with just plain coloured shapes.

Spring has most definitely sprung, everywhere in the garden there are bursts and pops of bright colours….the cherry tree is a riot of gaudy pink, the raised beds are edged in soft blue smudges of forget-me-nots and cats eye speedwell….golden dandelions grow up alongside alpine strawberries through the cracks on the the patio paving and garden path….sitting out on the back door step often seems the nicest place to be.

Early morning sunshine is streaming in through my work room window and I pin up some patchwork as I prefer the softer, muted light this gives…I also like the shadows that some crocheted garlands cast.  Work on the quilts is progressing nicely, all the patchwork piecing and quilting is sewn by hand, so these were never going to be weekend makes…..holding the quilted tops up in the sunlight and the pieced fronts show through, all ghostly and reminding me of stained glass.

The bread proves and rises outside now, covered with a tea towel and placed in a warm spot, a few loaves get the odd poke from a curious paw but then cats are curious…..Izzy likes to hide up under our sprouting broccoli, she runs and sits there as soon as I open the back door, some days she lets me tickle her, stroke her face and ears, other days she’s back over the fence in a flash or peeps at me from around flower pots and watering cans.

One of my favourite walks each year is up the road to our local university, the woods that edge it’s grounds are a fair treat for the eye when the bluebells are in flower…the air becomes heavy and fragrant, and the scent of the bluebells soon has me all heavy eyes and sleepy…..I never fail to gasp as we turn the corner and our eyes are just flooded, overwhelmed with the most intense blue…….truly breath taking.

The forget-me-nots fill every spare bit of ground in the garden, huge swaithes of blue cover path and step edges.  Occaisonally a cat darts out from under it’s floral bower, disturbing any bees that may be taking their breakfast.  Flowers in the garden inspire me to embroider  lavender bags, made from an old linen shirt from Anne that I’ve tea dyed and weathered.

The quilts are finished, as the binding is carefully stitched into place, I say my goodbyes, wish good things and so much happiness for the twins…and I can’t help but wonder about how these quilts will journey, become snuggle blankets and sleeping comforts, toy beds for their favourite dolls, maybe be taken away to university, and one day get tucked around their own sleeping babes…….I’m a daft old thing and get very sentimental about my quilts.

I finally find some skinny coat hangers in a “tat” box at a charity shop so I can make dottie angels happy hanger tutorial….it’s nice for my fingers to work now with yarn and a hook rather than a needle and thread…..

Bernard is enjoyng the sunshine and warmer weather, he tends to nap upstairs, snuggling then stretching out on the quilt and blanket we have on our bed…..often you can hear him snoring while he sleeps, from time to tie his paws twitch….what do you dream of little trumpster.

Sadly this month I lost one of my oldest friends, my dear Rupert who was in his eighties and who I’ve known for some thirty odd years…him and his wife have been like grand-parents to me and my sisters and he had the best sense of humour of anyone I’ve ever met….their kitchen all pipe smoke and warm, a place of comfort with the kettle on for tea and a plate full of biscuits produced before your coat is barely off……

June sees the first of the hedgerow harvesting, baskets filled to the brim with billowy white clouds of elderflower blossom to make the sweetest cordial…even Bernard is half intoxicated by the sweet scent (picked while the blossom is all powdery and pollen rich, and before it begins to smell like tom cat pee)…the cordial it makes is so refreshing, and the bottles I make don’t last us 5 minutes.

The sourdough bread swells and grows enormous in the Summer, often looking more like neolithic fertility figurines than a loaf of bread….

The tiny wild strawberries in the garden are growing up everywhere, tiny berries which seem to taste different from plant to plant are scattered over yoghurts or are tumbled over puddings in the evening.

A plate of sausage rolls are made for my pastry fiend with tiny little leaves on top…

The meadows and pastures over the marsh are so abundant and full with flowers, and the colours seem to change from week to week…..one morning the fields are all golden with marsh buttercups and yellow rattle, a few days later a fine spread of ragged robin and rose bay willow herb….the wild flowers I’m seeing continue to inspire me with my botanical embroideries, generally I use vintage silks sourced from a local antique shop which sells all sorts of truck…most days see me head out for a slow amble over the marshes which are now sucha feast for the senses, the colours are glorious, the smell of the blossom is lovely and the sound of bird song and buzzing bees very soft and lulling …..

I also become somewhat obsessed with paper piecing hexagons…no piece of scrap fabric is safe and some thousand odd of tiny fabric wrapped papers are made and are sewn together with a series of small stitches… numerous cushions begin to appear on the sofa.

July was hot, a proper scorcher….. by mid-morning I felt all drowsy and and slow, cold drinks and sitting somewhere shady with Bernard seemed to fill my days.

The chives in the garden all flowered at once, huge purple pompoms of blossom which I used to flavour sandwiches or sprinkle on top of goats cheese pizzas.

Just down the road there are huge marchmallow plants, each year they get taller and talle and this year they were taller than me, huge blossoms of the softest lavender.

I bought a bag of the most brilliant blue threads, shiny silks that sew through linen like butter.

Last month I made hexagons, this month I can’t stop making ice-creams, slowly stiring egg rich custards and mixing in cherries from the wild trees just down the lane, or gooseberries from Jan’s allotment…..I made a lovely raspberry sorbet with last years berries I found lurking in the back of the freezer and even a small handful of the wild strawberries make an ice-cream so good I close my eyes and remember Summers spent down at the beach in Southwold.

We bought some little panibois “tins” to bake smaller loaves of bread in….oh my goodness, these are so nice to use and I felt all “artisan” and proper bakery when I opened the oven door and saw such pretty loaves baking in them.

Everything in the garden is green and growing, the beans almost grow while you watch them, and the lettuces are coming up as fast as I can eat them.

August too was hot and humid, nights were spent feeling all frazzled under a sheet and hoping that Bernard wouldn’t jump and cuddle leaving me feeling all sticky and sweaty when I woke in the mornings…..

The headgerows are fair heaving already with ripening harvests, most saunters out see me return with a basket filled with something to cook with….mirabelle plums and blackberries are picked and slowly covered with sugar and vodka to make warming Winter tipples…..

This was also the year I tried my hand at pickling walnuts …..I picked the walnuts too late so they weren’t a great success but I’ll have another go in 2016…..the Autumn Bliss raspberries in the garden are coming on a treat, already they are swollen and deep red, delicious picked all warm and popped straight into my mouth.

August also saw the start of my dress making obsession…I think I made about 7 dresses in around 3 maybe 4 weeks, I used the dottie angel pattern by Simplicity…..I tinkered a bit with the pattern so it fit me better, I guess I’m a bit of an odd shape as I have quite wide shoulders and a broad back but I’m a bit hollowed chested and the original pattern wasn’t doing me any favours…however post tinker and I’m very happy and every time I wear one of these dresses it gets a compliment.  Where possible I’ve tried to use vintage threads and notions when I’ve made the dresses (my darling boy bought me some vintage dressmaking tools for Christmas 2014 so I got to use those while drafting the pattern) and two dresses have been made from silky feeling sixties prints.

I also was nominated in August for a Liebster award, this was my first blog award and I really was quite chuffed….Zeens and Roger who nominated me probably didn’t expect quite the lengthy old answers that I gave but while writing them I unknowingly planted a seed that would soon come to fruition……

It seemed the sunshine was never going to end, September had some really glorious days, and often I’d start the day with a cup of tea sitting on the back door step with Bernard and Bob from next door keeping me company.

The little crab apple trees just up the road seemed their fullest ever, and I made several trips with my shopping basket in hand to pick the beautiful coral and salmon coloured fruits….where as last year there was such a bounty here of blackberries I wasin danger of turning into one myself, this year hasn’t been no where near as good, but the silver lining has meant I’ve looked elsewhere for fruits to make jam…..the hedgerows round abouts where i live are so laden with wild fruits, rosehips, and haws, rowans, elder berries and wildling apples and crabby ones……all delicious in jams and jellies and syryps.

One of the first jellies I’ve made was an apple one flavoured with vinegar and herbs from the garden…this was used to make the nicest vegetarian gravies I’ve ever tasted…..the jellies using just hedgerow fruit are very citrussy and are ideal as breakfast preserves.

I finally finished two projects which had taken a little while to complete….first up a knititng bag made form no end of hand pieced hexagons….it’s nice and roomy and has pockets inside…..second was a grannnies paperweight crochet scarf which I’ve been working on for ,oh I don’t know how many years…a good few at any rate…..it reminds me of richly embroidered velvet coat collars by Paul Poiret and I love it…..I spent so much of this month secretly wishing for the weather to turn so I could start wearing it.

 

Oh October….you are my most favourite month…partly because my birthday is in October (yep, I’m that shallow) but even when it’s all wet wild and windy I love the changes this month brings…..the man with the roast nuts barrow sets up stall on London Street, the smell wafts all the way down to Jarrolds where you turn the corner and know Autumni s well and truly here…..

More jellies were made, this time using some foraged japonica quinces which I left in a bowl in the parlour to ripen up…opening the door each morning and the sherbety aroma was so uplifting and smile inducing…..I also made some soothing syrups as I always end up with a crocky old throat come Christmas….some of the foraged finds bought home possibly the teeniest weeniest little old snail I think I’ve ever seen…I know he’s just going to eat all our veg but I didn’t have the heart to squish him…but instead allowed him to “run” or slide free behind the compost bin.

Izzy from next door had babies in the Summer and her four kittens have been running amok in the garden…carefully planted seedlings have been upturned, chewed, covered with earth while the kittens themselves have been making most merry…poor old Bernard hasn’t known what to make of them, and often comes running down the path as the tiny tots are in full pursuit.

A little more tinkering with the dottie frock pattern, this time splitting the bodice from the skirt and inserting side pockets…. I’m so happy with this pattern and am finding a pocket to be perfect for my hankies.

The little seed planted back in August began to grow, and I picked up my knitting needles…I’ve been able to knit for a few years but only simple scarves, and dishclothes…nothing more fancy than that….but I kept thinking about wishing I could knit better and decided I didn’t need a fairy godmother ot wave a magic wand.  This was something I could do myself….so I began to practise, small samples/swatches with stitches chosen from an old Harmony guide…suddenly I was knitting, slipping stitches, passing them over, knitting two together…I even dabbled with cables…..and then I fell in love, completely hook line and sinker…I saw this gorgeous gorgeous shawl on Instagram and wanted it so bad…I was on the verge of asking a friend to knit it for me then thought no, I would do it myself……mistakes have been made, stitches un-knitted, full rows un-ravelled but oh how proud I have felt, watching the stitches slowly grow……thank you so much Zeens and Roger and Buttercup and Bee for those original Liebster questions.

Oh, and I got nominated for another blog award, this time by Sharon over at Creativity and Family.

 

November is suddenly upon me and all I can think of is my knitting….at the same time I find out about Wovember and a British Breed KAL over on Ravelry by Louise of Knit British … I’m setting my alarm earlier and earlier to enjoy my quiet time knitting on the sofa with Bernard all snuggled up next to me, often with his head on the wool. I’ve become a wool convert and love the warm scent of my sheepy Shetland wool.

I finished the shawl and when I attempt to fling it around my shoulders half near strangle myself to death…..I re-check the pattern and realize my gauge or tension is way off so if I want to wear the shawl without doing myself a permanent mischief I’ll need to unknit it and start again ……oddly this doesn’t make me sob my heart out, but instead I know I can do it…the feeling of knowing I can do it is just wonderful.

Then it’s a mad flourry as the Christmas fairs are now starting, work days start while the lark is still sleeping and commssions for stockings are posted off…..I start to make a toy for on eof my little nieces birthdays but realize it won’t be ready so will have to be a Chrtstmas gift instead…..

Just down the road there is a beautiful rowan tree with pale pink berries, even when I’m super stressed and have 101 things to do, stopping and looking at it never fails to make me smile and feel a little calmer.

And so the year is nearly over……December started with two busy craft fairs and then a series of commissions, family came to visit, a cat toy needed to be made (complete with teeny dottie angle frock and a green cardigan)and slowly burning the candle both ends began to take it’s toll…a prickly throat soon became a nasty cold and laryngitis but then worse of all our beloved Bernard (the trumpiest and sleepiest cat ever) had a nasty lump come up under his paw……an overnight stay at the vets and an operation has meant it’s all been a very fraught here.  Everyone’s kind comments when I wrote about him being ill has meant so much to me….the kindness of strangers and internet friends never fails to amaze.

Finding time to knit has been my escape from all the worry and fears*….the shawl has been un-ravelled, I did that Christmas Day afternoon, and it’s slowly being re-knitted on rather larger needles….(plenty of swatching for the correct tension was done before hand) the wool smells so sheepy and comforting, and where as in the past Bernard has pinched yarn or tapesty wool, he’s been very respectful of my shawl wool…I think he’s enjoying the scent as much as me and will happily rest the tip of his nose against the ball of wool….I’ve also started making plans for a second shawl, thinking about how I can change the cloverleaf pattern so I don’t have two shawls quite the same….

So I’m wishing you all a very peaceful 2016, with lots of good times and laughter and health and happiness….

*We got the results of the biopsy late Christmas Eve, and I’m afraid to say it wasn’t good news, the lump they removed proved positive and the cancer is the sort that will return…We have to go back to the vets next Thursday to talk over the options on future treatments so for now he’s being spoilt rotten like you wouldn’t believe.

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Delightful debbie and some dottie angel frocks………….

orange floral dottie angel frock with a blue cardigan

A couple of months ago in the Summer I bought the dottie angel frock pattern and spent the next few weeks sewing up a fancy new frock for every day of the week…..I’m in the middle of re-drafting some more changes to the pattern as I’ve got fabric waiting to be cut for 3 or 4 more frocks, and there’s some beautiful fabric in two local department stores which seems to whisper “buy me buy me” every-time I walk pass them.

I’ve mentioned before I’m not one for having her photo taken, I’m not sure what’s worse, seeing a spider scuttle and scurry across the carpet or having someone say “smile” as they whip out a camera or phone, both bring on palpitations….anyway, I’m lucky enough to have a very kind friend called Debbie who is a similar size to me (well I’m all pancake boobs and wobbly bottom while she’s all lean and toned from cycling and running (…the other year she cycled from Edinburgh to Norwich just for the pleasure really of being out on her bike)….but we’re about the same height and these dresses seem to cross over a couple of sizes.  I was able to persuade her into doing a little frock modeling for me behind our house, not sure what our neighbours thought if they were looking out of their windows as I had her whipping frocks off by the hedgerow though she had a vest and leggings on underneath so the goings on weren’t too improper.

orange floral dottie angl frock with an orange cardigan

I really like this orange fabric (John Lewis in the sale)…the pretty floral print means I can pick up colours to combine and offset against the orange (see the blue cardigan in the top picture) or go for the full “you’ve been tangoed” effect with the orange cardi.

I made a couple of alterations to the original pattern as I found the neckline wasn’t sitting quite right on me so I raised the shoulder line nearest the neck, this pulled the dress up a little, and also raised up the neckline itself in the centre.

I didn’t find the tucks to be so flattering for my shape (pancake boobs) and found sewing ties at the front with a fabric strip on top of them seemed more pleasing.  I also narrowed the skirt of the frock as well as I found this made it hang down a bit nicer (I’m all bottom and the extra fabric wasn’t doing ones posterior any favours.)

Normally I’d have given these a little press with a hot iron before wearing them but I was all slumicky this morning and just bundled them up in a basket before heading out with my camera.)

blue rowan fabric dottie angel dress

I’ve made all the dresses the same, doing away with the little tucks and having the ties right in the centre instead (the ties pull and gather through the fabric band and then knot and tie together at the back)

As well omitting the tucks I also did away with the pockets as I preferred the dress with out however I saw this lovely one with pockets and binding in the same fabric and now think maybe pockets may appear on a couple of these.

I originally bought this Rowan fabric to back a piece of patchwork into a quilt, however even after washing it couple of times, it felt a bit heavy for hand quilting so saved it up for this pattern especially.  I usually wear it with a light  green cardigan though I’m thinking the orange one wouldn’t go amiss either.

vintage gold dottie angel dress

On “Tah Dah-ing” my boyfriend wearing this, he turned round and asked “is that a pair of curtains?”….wasn’t the response I was after however I think he has a point.  Of the seven frocks I’ve made this one is the only one I’m not so fussed with, which is annoying as that fabric was a right pain to sew being all slippy and wanting to slide onto the floor the whole while I was sewing it.

It’s some of the vintage stash lovely Sylvia gave me and is proper dress fabric (not curtain fabric thank you) and I’m wishing now I’d saved it for a more fifties style frock, one with a fitted bodice and almost dirndl style skirt (love those dirndl skirts,) and then used a nice mustard cotton lining from Merchant and Mills…..oh well.  It’s not all bad, I can re-use the fabric as the lining for Christmas Stockings but all the bindings sewn on the hems will just be chopped up for cushion stuffing…unpicking those will be too much even for me.

blue charity shop fabric dottie angel frock

This was the first dress I made, even after making 3 toilles it still came out a bit roomy (room for two helpings of pudding at the front….I ended up bringing in the pattern along the central line nearly an inch, and the same decrease along the back line.  The other dresses are a better fit but this is still nice and comfy (in the Summer when we handful of scorchers then it was lovely and floaty.)

It’s also a bit harder to combine with that many colours, I’m not normally one for dark blue but this looks better when I’m wearing it with a variety of green cardigans and I have a sparkly yellow one I think will brighten it up (though that is a bit scratchy on bare arms so thermals will be needed underneath)

The fabric was a proper charity shop treasure, about 3 meters of fabric for £1.  I originally bought this fabric  years ago and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been tempted to put it out and charity shop it myself.

It’s making me laugh looking at these pictures and if Bek is reading this then I know she’ll be smiling too as Debbie isn’t really a dress wearing lady so I do appreciate her letting me dress her up today in these frocks.

front view of the green floral dottie angle dress

I bought this fabric as soon as Tif told me her dress was going to be a pattern.  In between buying the fabric and having the pattern I had a a couple of hospital visits and one of them involved wearing a little gown that was almost identical to this print…so now when I wear it I worry people will think I’ve wandered out from the local hospital.

It’s quite a light green fabric and looks best worn with a green cardigan (I love green cardigans and if my knitting ever improves enough it will be the first garment with sleeves I create on my needles) as any other colour seems to overwhelm it rather.  However it looks particularly fine worn with my Kenny Everett leopard print leggings (each time I wear them I can’t resist doing the little dance)

There’s not enough fabric left for another dress but there’s enough to turn up in my patchwork so there’ll be a few blocks for “dear ethel” made using this print.

back view of the green floral dottie angel dress

As well as raising the neckline of the dress at the front, I also raised it up a tad at the back.

I like a nice big bow so made the ties a little longer than the pattern required.

Normally “Lydia the tattooed lady” here keeps her ink well under wraps so it’s quite a treat for me to see her colourful tattoos.

vintage green fabric dottie angel dress

This is possibly my second favourite dress, the fabric was from Jenny’s Haberdashery stall in the St Gregory’s Antique centre on Pottergate in Norwich (I rarely go into the city without popping in and coming away with a reel of thread or a bag of tapestry wool)

The fabric was rather slippy to sew and I ended up hand sewing the hem, turning it over with the point of my needle so it rolled over nicely.  All the bindings and even the thread were of an equal age (if not older) to the fabric so the colours matched very well.

In the picture the front band looks like I’ve sewn it on drunk, it’s just how we’ve tied the dress, in “real life” it’s not squiffy at all.  I wore this the other day with a gold cardigan and it looked great.  I like dark green and along with the orange shoes really covet a nice dark green pair.

grannies paperweight scarf using tapestry wool

And this time it’s finally me, wearing my number one favourite dress.  The fabric was in the John Lewis sale and I made the dress for about £6.00.  At the time I was sewing it my Bernina sewing machine was playing me up and I had to sew this on a hand turning machine.  I mentioned using vintage bindings on the dark green dress, but when I stop and think about it, all the frocks have been sewn with bindings and seam coverings from antique and junk shops, most are 1960’s and older.

I love this print because I can mix lots of different colours with it, orange, yellow, grey and chestnut.  It’s also the dress I’ve been stopped the most about and asked where I’d bought it.  There is something very lovely about being able to say “oh, I made it myself”

I’ve combined it with the grannies paperweight scarf I finished off a couple a weeks ago….it’s a riot of colour and I think will go with just about anything. It’s made from mostly vintage tapestry wool sourced form antique shops/junk shops/jumbles/car boots and charity shops.

It’s been blocked and hand washed in fabric conditioner so is nice and soft, though it was a tad warm to wear today as it’s very warm being all wool.

I don’t do Instagram but if you do then pop over to #dottieangelfrock…as there are loads of amazing dresses that other people have made using this pattern.

And thank you Tif for drafting up a lovely pattern, one that’s pretty simple to make and seems to flatter a multitude of body shapes.

Buttonhole chisels and three more frocks…..

original box by Clover Japan

As I mentioned yesterday Norwich is somewhat of a mecca for finding vintage haberdasheries and one of my favourite streets to such is Magdalen Street..(it’s also home to the wonderful Baghdad Grocery store which sells huge half kilo tubs of the most delicious pistacio studded honey halva which I can happily consume in a weekend much to the horror of my dentist*,  heavenly tasting rosewater flavoured nougat balls and the lightest puffs of sesame seed snaps….they sell lots of other nice food things too but though I’ve somewhat gone off chocolate I still have a sweet tooth and a large paper bag stuffed full of delights straight from the Arabian Nights tends to accompany me home when I’ve been down that end of town)….one shop I can happily rummage around for a couple of hours is Aladdin’s Cave which is a veritable treasure trove…most stalls get a look round but there is one downstairs that always gets special attention.

Last year I saw this interesting little red box tucked under some old hankies in a Victorian chamber-pot (which I rather liked and thought would make a nice plant pot but knew the beloved would have had  a fit if I had bought it home) and as I’m rather nosy, the lid came off …..

vintage dressmaking tools by Clover Japan

Inside was this beautiful set of dressmaking tools, complete with cherry red wooden handles.  They were made by Clover which is a brand that’s still going strong (I love their sewing needles and soft grip crochet hooks).   I didn’t have enough money to buy them but when I told my boyfriend about them he said to go back and get them and then they’d get put away for Christmas and that would be a gift ticked off. (He’s lovely because he knows I like sewing things, many of the most precious haberdasheries in my sewing box were presents from him that get used almost everyday).

They’re pretty old, I’m guessing sixties, and there was a little rust but a gentle wipe over with some oil and very fine wire wool removed most of that.

The set includes a wheel for tracing pattern markings, which are used with dress makers carbon paper, 2 different sized chisels used to cut fabric for button holes, a punch to make holes (in leather or in pattern such as marking where the point of a dart will fall) and an awl (using for enlarging buttonholes and in embroidery).

blue on blue Rowan print dress

The tool set had been sitting in my work room not unloved but not getting a lot of use, however this past week or so it’s being used pretty much non stop while I’ve been making dottie angel frocks…..

As I mentioned the other day I hate my photo being taken and I’m hoping to persuade a friend to let me take pictures of her in them (we’re pretty similar shapes…hmmm okay I’m somewhat podgier as she’s very fit and runs and cycles and does all sorts but these dresses will cover up all her hard work) so you will eventually get to see what they look like properly.  But failing that I’ll get my boyfriend to take them, I’ll just climb up on to a stool and get him to lop my head off like Tif used to do in some of her early modelling pictures.

Anyway, this is one of my favourites, the fabric is by Rowan and I bought it at the start of the year when it was in a sale, I’d intended to use it for the back of a quilt but the fabric is such nice quality that I think I’ll find it hard to quilt (it’s pretty thick) so thought instead to use it for a dottie angel dress.  All the trimmings are vintage and even though they are 3 different shades of blue, I don’t mind.  I think my sewing is looking rather neater in these pictures…I just can’t help it, on an electric machine my foot just goes down and it’s woosh and the speed limits all get broken and I end up in the ditch.

orange floral print dress

This orange fabric was from John Lewis.  I love orange and blue together and so when I saw this fabric I was rather tempted, and then when I saw it was half price I couldn’t resist. (it’s not so bright in real life)

Like all the other dresses I’ve made I’ve excluded the pockets and front tucks preferring instead to sew the ties to the front and then cover them with a bar that covers them.  I find this seems to suit my shape a bit better.  I was a bit apprehensive about what my boyfriend would think about this fabric but surprisingly he said he liked it. It looks fantastic with either an orange cardigan or a pale blue one.  Can’t wait to try it with pink.

I’ve also made the dresses in just one pattern or print, I tend to like bright leggings and tights and colourful cardigans and scarves and I just thought there was probably enough going on alreay without combining too many prints (though I’ve just been looking at a book of Christian Dior dresses and I’m thinking I know nothing.)

navy floral print dress

Last up is this blue floral one which was the first one I made and so is a bit roomier than the others.  The fabric was from a charity shop and I’ve had it age (really, I’ve had it for years) …I think it cost me about a pound and there was quite a lot of it.  Initially I sewed the tucks in but after wearing it a while it wasn’t feeling right and so I whipped it off and got out the un-picker and made a few adjustments.

I can’t stress enough just how comfy these dresses are to wear.  I popped into my local John Lewis yesterday to give the lady a swirl of the top one (she’s already seen the grey one) and she laughed when I told her how many I’d made so far.

What I will say is that I really benefited by making a calico toille.  The alterations I went on to make to the pattern helped it fit me so much better (as I said before I think I’m rather odd shaped as I’m quite wide across above my boobs and back but don’t have much waist but then I make up for it with hips and bottom.) I will post photos of the toilles I made (they’re fun to see as they’re covered in scribbles) but the first lot of pictures I took look terrible.

*however in my book halva is counted as a health food as it’s full of sesame seeds and they’re very good for you, full of calcium (said with a very straight and only slightly guilty looking face)

A box of truck, two new frocks and two fine reads……

a box of old truck

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve tried to tidy up this case* of what at home we’d have called “truck”…an assortment of hooks, thimbles for the fattest fingers, spools of shirring elastic, leather cases for threads and wonderfully old hand embroidered needle-cases that almost fall apart as soon as look at them, and buttons, buttons, buttons….the last time I ended up just emptying in a whole load of them (lovely bright ones from the seventies on their original cards from Bex who used to write a really smashing blog, she’d write about her garden and being a vegan, loving crochet and so many other things…it was always interesting and I felt really sad when she stopped writing it, and buttons galore from my lovely Sylvia. Many of Sylvia’s buttons are really old, beautiful glass ones that weigh an absolute ton and which when I’ve seen them in fancy shops cost a proper packet.)

butons and trimmings

This was yet another attempt at sorting out and was yet another one that ended with everything being squidged back in (although this time the lid now won’t close and I’m pretty sure nothing extra has gone in…)  In part I was trying to find some vintage trimmings which I know I’ve ferreted away somewhere, one of those infamous safe places where it’s been tucked away for later and now I can’t find them for the life of me.

However it’s not like I’m really short of supplies, Norwich over the last couple of years has become an absolute mecca for vintage haberdashery needs.  Numerous vintage/junk shops seem to have at least a couple of stalls selling threads and trimmings, packets of binding (many often un-used and still with their original wrappings), needles, lace, fabric, anything your work box is lacking….and then there are the “events” …The Bead and Textile Fair I went to the other year at John Innes was amazing….I came home so laden with bags of tapestry wool, a huge stack of Golden Hands which made the beloved one sigh deeply, packets of hilariously named vintage sewing needles (Scientifically Designed)….my friend Anne (who spoils me with hand knitted socks and gifts of un-wanted linen) bought various knitting things which wobbled and rotated for winding wools…anyway, check in with their website for the next one…..Then there is The City Antiques Fair which is held at St.Andrews Hall about once a month….this is always amazing and a purse full of change is guaranteed to purchase you a wonderful variety of haberdashery treats.

vintage gold print dress

I have become a tad addicted to making the dottie angel frock….I keep twiddling and tweeking the pattern but I’m pretty much happy with how these look.  I’ve omitted the pockets as I’m sot so keen on them myself, and I wasn’t getting on with the front tucks so instead have sewn the ties in the middle of the dress (sort of under my boobs but not so high as to make complete strangers go “gracious me”) and then have sewn a fabric strip over them so the ties sort of run through that to shape the dress a bit, then those just tie together at the back.  I completely and utterly hate having my picture taken (too many pictures taken of me cutting onions wearing swimming goggles** and talking on the phone in green face masks, oh and lets not forget the picture of me where I looked like Paul Merton…really, I saw it and said “what is Paul Merton doing in my school uniform”) but I will try and persuade a friend to model the frocks I’ve made so you can view them properly….(no good asking my beloved as he’s somewhat shorter and I don’t think there is enough chocolate in the world with which to bribe him).

Of the frocks I’ve made so far this is probably the one I’m not so sure of….the fabric was the devil to sew, super slippy (even worse than the green) and I wouldn’t want to stand near an open flame in case I just go WOOSH……modled it in front of the beloved and Bernard and was asked “is that curtain fabric?” …….it isn’t.  It’s a vintage fabric from Sylvia that I thought was going to make me look all slinky minky but once sewn I apparently look like I’m wearing curtains so maybe this will be kept for when I’m at home or just popping down to Waitrose…not for going into town where I might meet bump into someone I know.  Though it did look rather splendid with an orange cardigan, and then I thought oh why not and tried it on with a gold sparkles yellow one…..it would certainly brighten up a gloomy overcast day.

The binding tape I sewed around the hem was a gift from my accountant.  Last year he gave me a bag full of vintage bindings, ribbons and skinny strips of leather thonging which are perfect for notebook ties…..his wife was having a clear out and he’d thought I might be able to find them a home……they’re coming in super handy for these dresses.

grey floral print dress

Possibly my favourite dress…this was all sewn on Dorothy so it holds a special place…plus when I wore it in town last week I got asked where I’d bought it so felt all big headed and happy.  I did have a look round to see if the boyfriend had bribed the lady who had asked but couldn’t see him hiding up anywhere.  The fabric was from John Lewis and was reduced.  Because I’d altered the pattern somewhat (and the fabric was a bit wider) I was able to get away with using 1 1/2 meters so the dress cost me just under £6.50, and I’ve got two nice sized pieces left for knitting bag linings or maybe a pair of handkerchiefs.

I pretty much lived in this all weekend, so nice and comfy without looking like I’ve given up on life.

vintage reading

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned these two little books before, they’re pretty recent purchases and both have kept me entertained while I’ve been reading through them…..

Encyclopedia of Needlework by TH de Dillmont covers pretty much everything you’ll ever need to know about hand sewing…lots of beautiful examples for different edges and hems including a simple but very effective scalloped hem formed by stitches alone, and a wonderful section on embroidery.  Lots and lots of techniques are shown which are pretty much all but forgotten but I think it’s always nice to learn a couple of new ways to do something.  There’s also a nice little section on buttonholes if you want to get all fancy and hand sew them rather than use a sewing machine.

Second up is Learning to Sew by Barbara Snook….I have to admit it was the gorgeous bright orange cover that made me pick this up. Mostly it’s a collection of things to make, some of which I don’t think I’d ever want to see made but then there are some nicer makes including a very simple but pretty little nightie for a small child and a selection of bibs and matinee jackets so I guess it evens out…as with all old sewing books I think you need to look and think “hmm, while that may be truly dreadful, I could use the technique for this wonderful and amazing thing”…..there was an interesting section on seams, stitches and binding which I felt was worth a pennies price of the book.

*the case itself is rather an unusual shape and I’d not seen one like this before, I’m guess it’s an old musical instrument case.

**goggles were worn as I thought they’d stop my eyes watering when cutting onions…but they didn’t.

grannie chic sewing and a dottie angel frock…..

dottie angel dress trimmings

For some time now I’ve been hoarding nice fabric and vintage trim while waiting for the dottie angel frock pattern to be released, I’ve known this was in the pipeline for a while so have been using it as a bit of an opportunity to squirrel away any interesting haberdashery pieces while I’ve been browsing around Norwich’s many antique and junk shops.

It’s probably just me but I’ve had a few difficulties with it, firstly I got confused with the sizing (it’s in American sizing) so my first dress looked like a tent…even with a belt it was the size of a marquee and I think I could have hired it out for a wedding.  My fault totally as I didn’t check the sizing properly, and normally I like to make a toille or muslin from dressmakers calico so I can make any adjustments…but I just wanted to make it, so after all the first excitement of sewing the first frock I decided to calm down a bit, have a cup of tea and sew the next one a bit slower.

I ended up making 3 short toilles so I’d get a dress shape I found more flattering to my shape, I’m quite tall and if I took more exercise and toned up a bit I’d be quite lean, however sitting around sewing and crocheting doesn’t exactly do wonders for my physique so I’m a bit pear-shaped with a quilter’s bottom…I’ve got quite a short body being all legs, with scrawny old shoulders and collar bones.  I’m quite wide across my back but then don’t have a lot going on in front (man, do I know how to make myself sound attractive)…so I found I was a bit in-between sizes and needed to tweek the pattern a little. (I think this is because I’m super fussy or something, I’ve seen loads and loads of lovely dresses made on Instagram and no-one else seems to have so much trouble as me…so don’t panic and think you’ll have to alter it if you want to buy it…I’m just saying this is what I found I needed to do).

he is a proper granny chic loving kitty

Also it didn’t help that every time I laid out pattern cutting papers and weights on the table my little assistant would suddenly appear, and jump up onto the table, and nest himself down in the middle of everything…..

Reels of tacking threads would be rolled onto the carpet, and anything covered with sewing instructions are pattered and pounced upon….

drawing around a tweaked pattern

Anyway, after three toilles and a few tweeks to the shape of the top section I’ve now got a pattern I’m really really happy with.

I ended up using the small size pattern, and then added a little to the front section and a little to the back (the first small toille wasn’t exactly tight across the boobs but by the time I’d sewn in the tucks underneath my boyfriend just kept staring at them and said they were distracting him)…..when I’d made a medium toille it was too loose across the front, and back waist, plus it was very open at the sides.  Also because I’m not exactly Chesty Morgan, the front neckline was a bit gapey and wasn’t sitting flat.

I found by making the toille and just sewing it together with 1/2 cm size tacking stitches it was easy to un-pick and fold the fabric about a bit so the shoulders would sit better…..on my pattern I raised the front shoulders and dropped the back ones and also curved off the shoulder shaped as I found this then sat better.  I know I make this sound like a lot of work but it wasn’t that bad and I think I’d have to do this for any shop bought pattern.

If you have someone to help you then it makes this a whole lot easier and I really don’t feel the time and cost of calico was in anyway wasted.

Once I was all happy with how the toille was fitting I was able to re-draw my pattern and ended up drafting it out on some old lining wallpaper we had in the garage, to make the sleeve holes and other pattern markings I used a pattern punch from a set of vintage dress makers tools my boyfriend bought me for Christmas but if you’re careful how you fold the paper across under the hole, you could use a regular stationary paper punch.

he says he is helping

See there is definitely something about this pattern that he was going doo-lally over…I’ve said before he’s a granny chic cat as he loves a crochet blanket, but he’s also seeming to be a fan of tiff’s lovely dottie angel frock too……

To hold my pattern pieces down I bought some washers from my local iron monger’s (Thorn’s in Norwich…it’s like a rabbit warren inside and is just brilliant.  The staff are really knowledgeable and friendly, and they’ve often ordered things in especially.)  These were about 20 pence each and are a nice weight, they’ll hold card down, aren’t so big if one falls off the table on to your foot you’ll end up in casualty, and store away really neatly.

The fabric is from John Lewis, it was the last piece of a bolt so was super reduced, I wasn’t 100% there was going to be enough for the dress but with a bit of careful pattern placing I’ve actually got some left over.

sewing with dorothy

So just as I’m starting to start sewing my sewing machine goes loopy…I’ve got no idea what’s happened, it’s something with the tension I think.  One of my friends is coming round tomorrow and she’s an absolute marvel at sewing so I’m hoping she’ll take a look and see what’s happened… (I’m hoping I’ve just done something daft and that it won’t need a service)….however in the mean time I had a choice…I could leave the pieces cut out or I could get this gorgeous lady out of retirement…..

Her name is Dorothy and she belonged to my great aunt Dorothy (her surname was Poppy and that’s what a lot of people who knew her called her..though we called her auntie dora and loved her because when she came and stayed she would always bring with her a bottle of Ribena, and Mr Kipling cakes and the sort of fancy grocery shopping we didn’t have as there were just too many of us for things like that…)

I’ve written about her before when I was sewing some patchwork.

She’s turn of the century and only sews forward, doesn’t do a reverse stitch and don’t even think about zig zag or anything fancy.  But even after 100 years she still sews a nice and neat little stitch, it’s pretty straight, any slight meanderings I’m sure can be allowed after that amount of time.  She comes with a wealth of attachments and fancy feet which I’ve never thought to use and which really I should do, there’s at least two different feet for turning over hems, and various markers for quilting though I don’t think she’d be able to cope with the bulk of a quilt nowadays.

vintage sewing

I hadn’t used her for a while so had to give her a little dust and polish and a good drink of oil…she’s quite thirsty and I was a bit alarmed at how much she was putting away yesterday, however by the end of the day she was running so smoothly that I’m sure Fred Dibnah would have been delighted to hear her.

still beautiful after all these years

And look, no electricity, just arm powered (it is a bit hard going after an hour or so)

It’s so neat, it’s a shuttle bobbin so the bobbin is a tiny little metal spool which fits in to the side when it needs refilling and then you lift the lever up to raise the bobbin platform, and the side wheel then spins against it as you turn the handle…..

I don’t use the pin cushion as it’s so delicate now and the velvet is very threadbare…….

hand powered

She’s still beautiful after all these years, and yesterday she did me proud…my dottie angel frock was all finished.

I love the beautiful enameled paintwork on the body and the gold arrow showing you which way to turn the handle…..

I promise to show more of her soon and I’m hoping to be able to film her in action…..she’s a bit noisy but she never fails to make me smile, and threading up a new bobbin is a proper treat…..she makes me think of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, no nonsense, very brisk…