Vintage sewing reads from the charity shop……

McCalls sewing book

After having both my head and heart proper turned over the past some months by the joys of knitting, the last few days have seen me pottering about in my work room, mostly it’s involved tidying up, sorting out, but there’s also been some sewing…..One area of tidying that needed to be taken in hand were my needlework books, they’d started to spread out around the house, a small pile here, another few there… so I tried to gather them up all into one place…there’s been a couple of new additions to the sewing reference library, they’re all oldies but goldies.

On Friday I saw 3 different editions in just one charity shop of this classic, it’s such a great book and was one of the very first sewing books I ever bought. There’s a few different printings but it’s pretty much the same information inside each time. It’s a really great book for beginners and it also has plenty of information for more confident sewers too.  As well as explaining how to draft (draw up and design) a pattern it then explains how the garment is put together, with chapters covering pockets, collars and a a very thorough easy to follow section on button-holes.

Clothes by Margaret G Butler

A little while back  I bought the More Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray, I’d already bought the Dress Pattern Designing book by her years ago and had been on the look out for the sequel ever since but it’s one of those books that is hard to find or is really expensive…I must confess to a squeal of happy when I spotted it on the shelf of a local charity shop, an absolute bargain at £1.99…….it might seem a bit daunting to a beginner at first look but it’s certainly worth buying it if you see it cheap… all Natalie Bray’s books are so well written and as they were first written in the sixties there’s plenty of “vintage” lines/shapes to the pattern drafting.

Possibly a more easy to follow book for a beginner is Clothes by Margaret G Butler…(this is a 1975 copy) inside it’s full of helpful information about fabrics, threads, patterns, how to cut out, how to lay patterns on fabric….the chapter on zips and buttonholes is especially well written and has plenty of clearly drawn illustrations with easy to follow instructions….it’s handy to have if you’re working from a commercial pattern and aren’t really sure of some of the techniques…there is also a nice section at the back of the book about how to care for your clothes including laundering and repairs.  There’s no photos  so it doesn’t feel dated and the information inside is very sound.

vintage needlecraft books

Another two recent purchases (both bought for less than a posh coffee) was Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book and Complete Needlecraft by Agnes M Miall.

The Mary Thomas book is such a wealth of embroidery know how, it dates from 1936.  The subject headings contain a bit of back ground information including some history and then the instructions on how to work the type of embroidery (it also includes quilting, patchwork and smocking) are very clear and easy to follow….there aren’t many photographs but it has lots of clean and well drawn illustrations.

Complete Needlecraft covers a much wider range of needlecrafts (including dressmaking, repairs, knitting and crochet) and has quite a lot of photographs (including a rather scary looking crochet bra) but no drawn illustrations. The copyright is 1945 and has a Book Production War Economy Standard brand inside, however it doesn’t read as make do and mend book in the slightest as there are suggestions for some rather swishy items inside.


Mary Thomas Knitting Patterns

Okay, I know this isn’t a sewing book but it’s another classic by Mary Thomas…..I nearly did a little dance of joy when I found this beautiful 1948 edition of Mary Tomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns…it’s very nicely written, pretty clear and reasonably easy to follow, but I must confess it was the charming illustrations that made me smile so much all the way up to the till with my money….my favourite and there are so many inside I love…( the stocking stitch /garter stitch illustration, the puppy with the un-ravelled knitting, the squirrels popping nuts into a stocking hanging onto a tree,the college professors having a quarrel over their knitting……) has to be this young girl winding her yarn off from the antlers of a reindeer…in real life it probably wouldn’t work but makes for such a sweet image…I’ve seen more modern day printings of the book for sale online but I don’t know if they have the illustrations in or not….

The knitting patterns are written out as well as having a little chart so if the instructions seem a bit complicated then the chart might make things a bit clearer….there’s also a very helpful texture index at the back which suggests some stitches which suit particular garments or knits..

zips and haberdasheries

One of my favourite past-times is having a nose around and poke about in odd corners and dusty boxes in charity shops or bric a brac shops, sometimes I come away all empty handed and that’s fine but other times I manage to pick up a gem, often for very little money and which becomes a much valued addition to my library or hoard of haberdasheries.  The above items were all sourced for very little money and generally I find the quality of older pieces to be a lot better than what I can  afford to buy new.

The zips were a real bargain, although I only bought one at first as I wanted to check for rust (because the zips were all in their original packaging it wasn’t possible to check without  undoing and tearing the cellophane) but it was all fine so the next week I went back and bought a few more….the zips are metal and the teeth are nice and strong.  They also run nice and smooth (which I was a bit concerned about at first)…the colours of the fabric are very nice…peacock, glen green, sage green are just some of the ones I ended up buying.

I prefer to do a lot of my sewing by hand and mostly use vintage Sylko Dewhurst thread as it’s such good quality, it’s brilliant for both hand sewing and machine sewing, the thread slips through the eye of a needle so easily.  While the above threads aren’t that brand, they are all still nice to use, and I’ll often use a finer cotton to use as a tacking thread….I also prefer using vintage needles as I find they are a bit stronger and seem to be finer, and sharper….

I love little packets of vintage bias binding, sometimes it comes with thread in a matching colour (not something companies tend to do nowadays)…depending what I’m sewing I might carefully wash and then press the binding before using it as sometimes it shrinks and then will make the seam it’s sewn to pucker up a bit…if what I’m making isn’t going to be washed then I don’t worry….

butons and trimmings

As well as having umpteen charity shops nearby I’m also lucky enough to have a wide circle of friends and family who’ll gift me bags of buttons, threads and sewing what nots…even my accountant has given me small bags of leather thonging and embroidery silks, bindings and lace trimmings…..I’d like to say everything is tidied away and is in it’s place…hmmm, for the most part that’s probably true but there are still little tins and and suitcases that hold an assortment of haberdasheries from all over….From time to time I like to empty a box of notions and doo dahs out onto my work table, more often than not I’ll find something I’ve forgotten all about and which can get me thinking about who these little treasures used to belong to…inspiring me with thoughts of a new dress or skirt….




Side sloping pockets for a dottie angel frock…….

placing a pocket on the skirt of the dress

While I’ve been really happy with the dottie angel dresses I’ve sewn up over the Summer, I’ve gone back to the drawing board and re-tweeked the pattern again this time to add a couple of side sloping pockets.

The original pattern has front pockets but I prefer a more hidden pocket to the side.

I’d already re-drafted the small size pattern to fit me better across the shoulders and neckline, but this time I used the pattern block I’d made for my medium dress as I was intending to add some tucks at the front and darts at the back.*

Without any seam allowances, my bodice waistline measures about 15 inches down from the top of my shoulders…or about 10 and 5/8ths of an inch down from the centre front neckline of the bodice…(I’ve raised the neckline from the original pattern but hope this gives a general idea)

Square across (draw a line 90 degrees from the centre front line) along the bodice waist line….this is where your pockets will hang down from.

The next stage involved me standing in front of a mirror with the pattern pinned to what I was wearing while I placed my hand in a series of positions before drawing around it to get a nice pocketty shape.  It’s surprising how big a hand sized pocket needs to be (and in fact I could have made mine a bit deeper).

side slant pockets in dress front

Once I was happy with the pocket position I re-drafted the “skirt” front section of the dress, allowing an inch seam allowance at the top (actually I only needed 1/2 an inch but I was intending to sew French seams but they were a bit bulky and I ended up using a binding after pressing the seam open)

Rather than buy fancy pattern cutting weights to hold down my pattern pieces, I just bought a whole load of square washers from my local iron-mongers…they’re about 2 inches square and are surprisingly weighty.  Because they’re quite thin they don’t get in the way when you’re drawing round patterns and french curves, and best of all they were dead cheap, about 20 pence each.

pocket and lining for dress

Along with the cut away skirt front, your pocket is made up of two other pieces, a piece to fit in where you’ve cut away and then a pocket lining.

You need to draw the fabric grain direction on both of these pattern pieces so they’ll be positioned properly on your fabric, then the pocket will hang nicely (this runs parallel to the grain on the skirt pattern piece.)

My pockets measure 13 inches on the grain line from top to bottom (this includes a half inch seam allowance all round with an extra half inch at the top (which I didn’t actually need as I didn’t go with the French seams.)

They’re about 9 inches across at the widest point.  They sound quite roomy but next time I’d make them a bit bigger.

You’ll notice on the top pattern piece in the above picture, at the bottom of the curve where your hand will fit, there is a short straight line across to the side seam allowance.  This helps the pocket fit in a bit neater when you sew the side seams rather than if you’d just kept drawing the cuved line.  (I hope that makes sense.)

pocket lining with notches

Once all the fabric pieces have been cut, sew any tucks in the skirt front before sewing the pocket together (if not the pocket will only get in the way later on.)

With right sides together, pin then sew the pocket lining to the skirt front.

Once you’ve sewn them together, cut out little notches around the seam allowance of the pocket, these will help the edge of your pocket look neater when you turn it over.  (I’ve got a pair of Merchant and Mills button hole scissors and they are brilliant for cutting notches as they have short and chubby little blades which helps prevent you cutting too deep a notch and going right through your row of stitches.)

pin to stop the lining shifting before sewing

Once the notches are cut, turn over the pocket lining and pin it nice and flat against the skirt front.

top stitch along the seam edge of the pocket

Sewing just a 1/16 th of an inch (or a couple of mm) away from the edge, sew a line of top stitching (you may find this looks neater if you increase your stitch size up a little but if you do, don’t forget to lower it back again)…..this stops the pocket seam rolling out and looks nice and professional.

position pocket front on the wrong side and pin into place

Then pin the pocket back to the wrong side of the skirt front, make sure all the pieces are in position correctly and matching up before sewing it in place.

As this part of the pocket can be seen when you turn your dress inside out you may like to sew a pice of bias binding around the edges for a fancy finsh, or you can use pinking shears to trim the edge of the fabric, or if you have an overlocker you could use that.  This is all done not just to neaten the pocket edge but will stop the fabric fraying.

dress pocket finished

Once the pocket is all sewn in, the rest of the dress is ready to sew….the bodice front fits on top (you’ll want to sew that on first and then the binding over the waistline seam)….the sides of the dress are sewn exactly like in the dottie angel dress pattern, the sides of the pocket are sewn in along with the side edges of the dress so will be tucked into the French seams, and when finished will hang perfect and almost be invisible..

And yes, another blue and orange fabric…purchased at my local John Lewis in their sale section.  It’s quite a wide fabric and I was able to make this using just 1 1/2 meters.

There’ll be pictures of the dress all finished coming soon.

*I did add some tucks and then I unpicked them as I’d sewn them up a bit high and they made me look a bit too bosomy…so next time I’ll make the bodice waistline an inch lower and that should solve that problem.

A Liebster award and some awfully long answers……


This week I had a nice surprise as I was very kindly nominated for a Liebster award so a huge thank you to Zeens and Roger for that.  Now according the “rules” as they are, I’m supposed to nominate a selection of other blogs to now pass it on to, however as I explained to the lovely Rosina, I think all the blogs that I follow are more likely to have some thousands rather than the 200 followers a nominee is supposed to have and they’re all pretty busy people who may not have the time to answer my questions so I thought I’d just break the rules and open my nomination to anyone who reads my blog and would like to answer my questions which you’ll find at the bottom.

If you don’t want to answer then that’s fine too, or if you only want to answer one question then that’s fine too…all I will say is some of my answers to Zeens and Rogers’ questions are rather long, if you regularly read my blog then you’ll know I’m a chatterer and can happily talk the back legs off a donkey, so go pop the kettle on for a pot of tea and grab the biscuits as I think by the end of this you’ll be needing them……

The rules can be found here on Zeens and Rogers’ blog.

As well as answering the questions she asks I’ve also included a couple of the ones she was asked by Buttercup and Bee as I thought that they tied in rather nicely and also I figure, hey, if I’m going to break the rules then lets break them.

spelt and seed sourdough

What did you have for tea last night?

What are you having tonight?

(and she was asked What is your favourite meal to cook?)

Okay, well last night the boyfriend cooked (he does weekends and I cook during the week) we had a selection of steamed green vegetables and a fat wadge of Spanish omelette made with roast peppers and goats cheese.  Being a Friday (which counts as the weekend) we also had cider, half a glass of a Somerset cider, no more than that though or I’d be sliding off my chair under the table (seriously I am the world’s cheapest date)…what was pudding..oh yes, super sweet and juicily ripe nectarines from a vegetable stall on Norwich Market (we’re so spoilt, there are two fantastic stalls where we buy most of our fruit and veg from, Mike and Debs which is on the front (stalls 46 and 47), and then there is an organic stall called Folland Organics (stalls 40 and 41) owned by the lovely Robb who wears nice jumpers. The beloved one also had a pastry from…The Norwich Providore (stalls 44 and 45 on the market)…their pastries are really good and it makes me super grumpy that I can’t really eat things like that anymore.

Tonight he’s cooking again, and it’s Quorn veggie burgers with a couple of fat slices of halloumi cheese on top..I love these so much. It used to be a bit worrying as Bernard also liked them and he’d jump up on the table to try grab a bit (nothing worse than eating something that the cat is trying to pinch as it goes to your mouth…but luckily he’s stopped doing that.)..I’ve also got half an avocado and a handful of tomatoes from the garden….as it’s a weekend there may well be wine, but just the one glass.  We’re as bad as each other, and a bottle lasts us two nights if not we’d just be asleep on the sofa by nine.  Will there be pudding, yes, don’t ask a silly question. (Basically there’s pudding every night)…tonight it’s raspberries from the garden which will be hiding under an avalanche of thick cream.

While I’m happy to cook a meal, more than anything I love to bake bread.  For the past year or so I’ve been baking bread using a sourdough starter my friend Daisy gave me (she’s a wonderful cook and is off to Leith’s School of Cookery in a week or so…she made the most amazing chocolate truffles flavoured with masala spices and when we’d finished them I felt very sad.) and I’ve found it’s helped my bread making skills no end.  Mostly I like to tinker about and add different things, last loaf I made had spelt flour, oats, grated apple, sunflower and sesame seeds and honey in it and I think there’s barely enough left for his morning toast.  Even though I can’t really eat bread anymore (well I can but it leaves me feeling utterly wretched) the pleasure I get from making it for my boyfriend is immense.


What are you doing at the weekend?

(she was asked What do you do to relax and un-wind?)

Very little.  The weather has been nice today so we went for a gentle stroll across the pastures on the marshes that are just across from where we live.  We’d been hoping to forage for blackberries for the freezer (the rain has made them a bit squishy for jam) but we didn’t get as many as we’d hoped, so some are currently drowning themselves in brandy and the others will make a crumble for tomorrow night alongside a dollop of cream.

Probably the best way I can clear my head if I’m feeling all fraught and fed up or I’m feeling achy and shoulder crampy from sitting sewing to long is to get out, and head across the meadows, an hour outside and I’m back feeling brand new.  Even if it’s nippy I’ll happily wrap up and go for perhaps a shorter walk but just getting out of doors always does me the world of good.

Recently the pastures were so full of wild flowers, it was just like the old flake advert, and the flowers I see on my walks go on to inspire me so much with my work.

We came out here in the winter just after Christmas and a lot of it was all flooded so some parts weren’t cross able, however it felt like a proper adventure walking where the water allowed.  When the frosts came and the floods froze it was so beautiful, especially where the weight of the ice in the river pulled away from the bank.

inspired by flowering herbs in my garden

As a child, what did you want to be when you were a grown up?

Honestly, I have no idea…probably because I’m still deciding that.

I grew up in a lovely little village, it was quite rural being surrounded by fields and farms.  But it wasn’t a dead village, there were 4 or 5 little grocery shops including a post office and two busy village pubs. We had an excellent bus service there, buses on the hour which would bring us all the way to Norwich. If we missed one bus then our mum would just put the kettle on, and we’d have a cup of tea while we waited for the next one to come along….very different to when I then later lived in London and would get all grumpy if I missed a tube train and had to wait a whole 5 minutes for the next one.

My primary school in the village was really nice, and it makes me incredibly sentimental to think how 4 generations of my family have gone there…my dad’s dad, my dad, me and my 3 sisters and even one of my nieces have all been taught there.  My teachers there were always really encouraging so I can’t think they’d have been dismissive if I had some rum career choice ideas, but in all honesty, I really can’t remember what I wanted to be.

if you listen carefully you can hear him snoring

Mastermind Subject?

Blank face….pass…….seriously I really don’t have any specialist subjects and don’t think I particularly know much about anything.  I really love Jane Austen’s Novels (Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park not so much but the other 4 never seem to stray that far from my bedside table) so I think I’d be okay on those.

Failing that it would have to be the shenanigans of my cat Bernard, I can happily tell you all about his little adventures and what he gets up to…mostly this involves stuffing his face with chicken which he seems to flick all over the kitchen floor, playing with Bob from next door (a cheeky little black and white cat who has a pink nose,) napping in various different locations around the house and having wind.  For a little cat there is a lot of smell.

In the picture above he’s having forty winks on the quilt I made for my boyfriend’s birthday, the fabric is quite loosely woven so every so often I have to repair when he’s been plucking, and also on the crochet blanket which is taking me forever to make.

Buttercup and Bee herself was asked What is your favourite crafting project to date? and I’d have to say that mine would be this blanket…even if at times it feels like an albatross around my neck, sewing in the woolly tails on the back is never ending but it looks nice when a hexagon is completed. Each hexagon took around an hour to make, choosing the wool, crocheting the hexagon, joining it in and then sewing in the tails, there’s about 400 hexagons so it’s not a weekend make and I’m probably daft letting Bernard sleep on it but I never have the heart to move him.  The blanket has been made form tapestry wool that has been mostly sourced form antique/junk shops, car boots, jumbles, gifted by very kind friends, and some I’d kept from my Nanny’s work basket.  It weighs an absolute ton and is so wonderfully warm and cosy that the wildest winds can blow and bluster outside, if I’m snuggled under this then I just don’t care.

vintage threads

What do you collect?

I love vintage haberdasheries and am as happy as Larry when I find some tucked away in a forgotten box in a dusty corner of a junk shop….I love buying vintage sewing threads and my favourite brand is Dewhurst Sylko, I’m not fussed if they are on the wooden reels or the plastic ones, the colours are the same and are just gorgeous.  What I particularly like is when thy have the paper circles on the ends with the name and number of the thread, who can resist a purchase of Fiesta Pink,Jasmine Yellow, Cambridge Blue…..I try not to hoard them and use them a lot in my hand sewing, mostly when I’m sewing patchwork as I tend to sew most of that by hand, but recently when  made one of the dottie angel frocks I ended up using a vintage thread in my machine as it was the perfect match to the vintage fabric I was using.

I really try not to be precious about any of the haberdashery items I have, I’ll happily use turn of the century sewing needles (they were made so strong and sharp back then that they really do the job much better than modern needles) and my work box is half full of vintage pieces that I love to use (and which I’ve seen behind glass in more than one museum).

little bear and wee stocking assortment

Other things I can’t resist buying are bags of tapestry wool if I see them at car boots, junk shops, charity shops and jumble sales.  I ‘m not buying them for hoarding so much as for my work as i prefer to use them when I’m embroidering my Christmas stockings, the soft palette of colours the wools often are seem to suit my work and give the stockings that hint of yesterday I’m trying to create.  Vintage tapestry wool is often slightly fuzzy (Lady Penelope is my absolute favourite, it’s perfect for embroidering) and just blends into the wool fabric so perfectly.

button tin

And I can’t forget buttons, I just can’t help myself when I see a tin full of them (I have to sink my fingers in amongst them like Amelie and the sacks of beans and lentils…)

I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderfully kind friend called Sylvia (eighty years young) and a couple of years ago she gave me a hoard of haberdashery and fabrics that I couldn’t believe…one tin was full of smaller tins, each filled with incredibly old sequins and beads, hooks and eyes…opening each tiny tin to see what was inside I knew exactly how Howard Carter felt with Tutankhamun’s tomb…”Can you see anything?”….”Yes,wonderful things”…

Amongst the treasure from Sylvia was a huge collection of beautiful vintage buttons, many of them glass ones which sparkle and catch the light, along with plastic and resin ones, bakelite and wooden toggles from children’s duffle-coats.

Holt 006

Along with collecting haberdashery pieces, I also love little china dogs.  It started off with some sulky faced Staffordshire singles in a wide variety of sizes but now my collection has grown to include small terriers, dachsunds and a chalk spaniel whose face has almost worn away but I love him all the same.

As much as I love cats I’m really not a lover of cat things (though I own the most awesome cat umbrella), most of the cat figurines I’ve seen are frightful but I think there’s something so lovely and friendly about china dogs.  I’ve never owned a dog (growing up we always had a house full of cats, rabbits and a very shrill squealed guinea pig) but I’d love to have silver and black cocker spaniel, I can just imagine us heading out for a walk on a windy day, all bundled up in a tweed skirt and headscarf (me not the dog)…however I’m all too aware the reality of a wet, muddy pawed dog jumping up onto one of my nice crochet blankets shatters that illusion pretty damn quickly…so the china dogs fill the gap of my dream dog.*

*I even have a name all ready in case the day comes I own one (having been a girl guide I know the importance of being prepared!)

house cosy

Adventure Time Yes or No?

Hmm…I’m probably have to say no as I’m pretty boring and am rather a stick in the mud and like to stay at home.  Me and my boyfriend couldn’t help laughing as I was recently stopped and asked by some teenagers doing a suvey if I liked Extreme Sports……if you know me this will also make you laugh, extreme for me is going out without a hankie or a bag of Werther’s Originals tucked into my handbag.

I guess I was a bit wilder when I was younger though, when I was nineteen I traveled by myself to Italy and when there took a night train from Pisa (a friend’s mum suggested I pin my passport and money to my knickers in case my bag got pinched so I by doing that  felt quite safe, not a care in the world…) which traveled all the way down the left hand side of the country, the train then came apart at the “toe” and went onto a ferry then it all joined together again before journeying on to Palermo. This was all in the day before mobile phones nor did I speak particularly good Italian, just the very very basics, please, thank you…enough to buy the most amazing tasting cheese and ham roll and a coffee on the ferry for breakfast….When I think about it now I can’t believe I did it, what was I thinking…probably not much….but I had such an amazing journey, the people on the train were just wonderful and incredibly kind to the silly English girl with her little dictionary and very bad sunburn….inquiring minds may be asking why I went, well I was all smitten with a boy so really all I was thinking about was going to see him. (the romance didn’t last but I had a beautiful holiday.)

charles de lint

Name a book that you read again and again?

My absolute favourite of all time book is The Ballad of Dr Richardson, it’s a graphic novel by Paul Pope and sadly it’s been out of print for a while.  I love pretty much everything that Paul Pope does (he writes and draws) and this was pretty early in his career.  It’s a romance about daring to disturb the universe and I love it…sadly I’ve now read my copy so many times the pages are one read away from falling on the carpet like Autumn leaves so I just keep it on the book shelf and touch it from time to time.  Paul Pope’s artwork is always so inky and black, like that oily sheen on top of espresso coffee and this book is his inkiest.

Other books (or graphic novels/collected comic books) he’s written include Batman Year One Hundred.  It’s set in the future (a lot of his books are set some years ahead of now) and in it Batman wears a ribbed jersey and leather gloves, there’s one scene where you see the gap between the jersey and the glove, a brief glimpse of Batman’s wrist and all of a sudden the “mythology”, and “mystery” of Batman seems to disappear and you are left with just a man, his human-ness is on show and I love that. (being a bit of a geek I even bought the little statue that came out to coincide with Paul Pope’s interpretation of Batman…and no, it doesn’t sit alongside my dogs.)

He also wrote a book (see above as yes, it’s a book with pictures!) called 100%.  Again it’s set in the future and is a collection of stories about a group of people who’s lives all connect.  My favourite part is where this girl is just laying on her bed, one leg bent over the other and wiggling her foot.  The way her foot wiggles is so perfect and beautifully drawn.

He’s possibly most well known for creating a series called THB which he began to self publish back in 1994.  It’s set in the future and is about a teenage girl called HR Watson, she lives on Mars, her dad is a robot designer and the Mars government is after him.  He’s made HR a bodyguard which is THB, it’s a small rubber ball but if placed in water explosively expands to become a huge purple (rather pointy headed and eared) naked man..with no genitals because he’s not a real man and ugh ..this isn’t Watchman with Dr Manhatten flapping his wing wang doodle about everywhere), they have to race across Mars to one of the safe cities where her step brother and his friends are, including The Jiggler (sigh) who is a Martian that HR has a huge crush on….along the way there’s coffee drinking, code rings, getting kidnapped by comic book publishers, letters home to her friend Lottie whose dad is an opera singer and who has  a little…pet? Pet isn’t the right word, anyway she has a thing called Mister Pig Dog, he’s got a moustach any hipster would go green with envy for, he likes chocolate milkshakes, oh yeah, the girls also get to have  bumble hip-shakes at a local gansgter’s night club when they fix a gangster car….phew….there’s about 15 issues of this in various sizes and it’s completely and utterly brilliant.

I’ve even bought a Spiderman comic (Tangled Web of Spider-man number 15) that he drew (I love comics but I just don’t like Spiderman) which happily didn’t involve too much of the old webslinger but focused more upon the teenage daughter of a crook who’s planning a big robbery.  When he goes into her bedroom (which captures perfectly all the mess and clothes strewn everywhere-ness of my own teenage room and makes me want to apologize to my younger sister for having to put up with my slumicky teenage ways) and she’s all bouncing up and down on her bed with a huge poster of Spiderman on the wall he gets all cross because he’s a robber and doesn’t like Spiderman, so he tears it down and she gets all sad, then he goes out and she listens to the radio after re-taping up the poster (it’s sort of funny because it’s all torn and she’s mended it so badly) and while she’s painting her toes in a chaos of pots and jar and mess on the carpet, hears about a robbery that has just taken place and Spiderman has been spotted nearby, so she sneaks out and actually see the robber (though he’s masked so she doesn’t know who it is) then Spiderman turns up and can’t find the robber but she points him to where the robber went and then sitting there all huddled up she realizes she’s seen the huge bag full of cash the robber was lugging along somewhere before…..didn’t her dad have one the very same…the expression on her face is so heartbreaking.

I guess you can tell i really like Paul Pope.

A book without pictures that I love about as much is called Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint.  I’ve wrote about this before here and it gets re-read very regularly.

I also listen to two audio books time and time and time again…Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.  Both are un-abridged (I really hate books that get chopped about, they always take out my favourite pieces and would much rather listen to a book in it’s entirety).

Jonathan Strange is all read by Simon Prebble and as far as I’m concerned he is the best book reader for voices in the whole wide world…I keep hoping he’ll read the Jane Austen novels as his ladies voices are lovely without sounding like David Walliams (who is being utterly wonderful in Partner’s in Crime on BBC.)

(she was asked Name the last book that you read?)

Well I’ve literally just finished “101 Dalmations” by Dodie Smith.  I’d read it years ago but hadn’t re-read it for over a decade…completely lovely and the bit with Sir Charles reminiscing about his dogs made me cry..I’ve just ordered a copy of “The Starlight Barking” which I guess I haven’t re-read for 20 some years.  I read “I capture The Castle” by Dodie Smith at Christmas and had just been waiting to find a second hand copy of “Dalmations.”  I recently finished reading “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons.  In between that and the “101 Dalmations” was “The Dark is Rising” sequence by Susan Cooper which I hadn’t re-read for ages but which I’ve loved for the longest time.

crocheted cosy

What was your first job?

I was 14 and it was as a waitress in a little seaside restaurant about 6 or so miles up the road from our village.  I used to work weekends in school time and then I worked during the week as well that Summer, with some evenings thrown in too.

When the weather was nice I’d cycle there and back but if it was very wet I’d get the bus, though on a Sunday when the service wasn’t running I’d often just have to cycle in a cagoule and hope I wouldn’t see anyone I knew.  My boss had an eye for the ladies and would spend most mornings sunning himself down on the beach, but not before drenching himself in vegetable oil and vinegar as he insisted this helped him tan and not burn and indeed he was the shade of a beautiful teak veneer but to my mind always smelt somewhat of a bag of chips.

I’ve got a scar on my right calf where he flung a broken coffee percolator into a rubbish bag I was holding, it smashed and a shard of glass slashed up through the bag and my leg…being the eighties health and safety wasn’t much of an issue and so my leg wasn’t stitched just some cheap sticking plaster that was about 10p from the chemists.

Apart from that, and oh the swearing, the air would very often turn an intense shade of blue, he was actually an incredibly fair boss, he always made sure I’d have my lunch and if he felt someone hadn’t tipped me properly he’d make me run up the high street after them and return their 10 or 20 pence and to say with my best Oliver Twist face “sorry sir, I think you left your change behind” and then he’d slip a couple of pounds himself into the tip jar.

I used to like it as we had canned squirty cream and I’d carefully squirt out the tallest wobbliest towers of cream on my coffee that you could possibly imagine.  To my 14 year self this was the very height of sophistication (and could never understand why my customers looked so horrified.)

After that I then went to work in a little fruit and veg shop, it was a lot closer and I’d mostly work there on a Saturday with the odd half term holiday thrown in .  I stayed there 3 maybe 4 years and it helped me loads with my maths as we didn’t have a proper till and I had to add everything up on a piece of paper .  We had a couple of “characterful” customers including a lady who would come in and want to weigh all the lettuces.  My boss was quite a serious chap but there were a few ladies who’d come in and give him what I think of as “Carry On film” sauce…”ohhh Christopher, can I feel your plums” …or “do these look like a nice pear Christopher”… when another lady came to work there called Sadie who herself was very cheeky, if she heard this being said she’d look at me and I’d have to just nip out the back as she’d make me laugh too much.

a day trip to bungay 004

And these are my questions if you’d like to answer them yourself then feel free…I’ve ended up answering them myself as well.

If you could have a fantasy date with anyone who would it be?

Peter Ustinov, ideally when he was in Spartacus but I think he was still lovely when he was old so I wouldn’t mind (duh…it’s a date with Peter Ustinov, I’m not going to get all fussy)…it would involve browsing the book markets of Vienna followed by coffee and an obscene amount of little Viennese pastries at some pavement cafe with Anton Karos serenading us in the background.  I think he was so wonderful and funny and love listening to his voice that I can’t think of a more delightful date.


What pieces connected with what you love to do, do you really treasure….

A red strawberry needle sharper made by the Royal School f Needlework. (it was bought with birthday money from a dear friend who sadly now is lost in a maze of dementia but when I use it I remember her very dearly)

A pair of Sajou embroidery scissors that my boyfriend bought me for valentines a few years ago.

A piece of cardboard that has been embroidered with bright woolly stitches which was in a gorgeous case of haberdasheries my beloved bought me some Christmas’s ago…it’s beyond precious.

quilts and crochet outside 019

What do you wish you were better at/could do?

I’d love to be better at languages, I can’t roll “r’s” and my pronunciation of anything in French and Italian is terrible…for anyone who can remember “ello ello” I end up sounding like the English Policeman that no-one could understand.

Possibly more achievable would be improving my knitting skills, I’m a very basic knitter, I can do dishcloths but only if everyone is quiet, and even the I need to be writing down what line I’m on, and often forget if I’m knitting or purling, but it’s something I truly wish I was better at as I’d love to knit myself a Prince of Wales jumper. (it’s what I’m wearing with my tweed skirt when I imagine myself out walking with my dog!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed what has become way more lengthy than even I’d intended.

Many thanks again to Zeens and Roger for the nomination.

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… 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.

When it’s raining cats and dogs and picking raspberries by umbrella….

in the nanny chair

Well so much for a Summer heatwave, this week it’s been raining cats and dogs, every time the cat comes in the floor needs wiping over and I’ve been scurrying around the garden lifting water laden pots out of over flowing saucers.

However at least someone isn’t too bothered by the weather, his current favourite spot is snuggled down on his Nanny chair, all curled up with Miss Enid…..soft snoring and gentle puttering and mutterings..interrupted by the occasional trumpety noise and the less than pleasant aroma that accompanies….

gutterman tin

I’ve been trying to have a bit more of a sort out, in part because I was getting a bit cross I couldn’t find some of the the sewing threads that I’d bought recently (I’d put them in a safe place and then couldn’t find them…then only for them to magically appear right under my nose a day or two later…)..although I do most of my sewing by hand, a fair bit still gets done on a sewing machine..after the traumas of last week when my Bernina machine started playing up and needing to bring my beloved Dorothy out of her retirement, I found I was then feeling somewhat fraught trying to lay my hands on thread that I could use in the sewing machine.

I ended up having a bit of an “aagghhh” moment then calmly, took a deep breath and just emptied a shocking amount of thread out on to my work table (and on the floor…) and began sorting out all the Gutterman thread I have.  (I like to use Gutterman in my sewing machine, I find it doesn’t keep snapping like the cheap thread and the cotton comes in a good range of colours.)  It’s quite nice having it all in one place, and I’m trying to be good and not put random threads back in odd places like the window-sill, or behind my computer or in one of the umpteen sewing boxes that seem to accumulate around my room.

inside todays sewing box

Every so often I like to clean out and tidy my current sewing box (it makes me feel like Amelie’s mum cleaning out her handbag or her dad tidying out his work box)…generally what’s in there changes depending on what I’m sewing, although there are always going to be a few old friends and favourites that I like to have close to hand that make my sewing so enjoyable but there are always a few “now how did that get in there”s that surprise….

Favourites emptied out include little red Clover wonder grips (left over from the hexagon piecing a few weeks back), a rel of vintage ribbon (had a present to wrap and tied it with this), beautiful Sajou embroidery scissors and vintage tortoise shell effect ones (presents from my boyfriend), numerous silk threads for hand sewing, beeswax (for making the silk thread stronger), elastic bands for the Bernina (a little trick for the 1008…the wheel on the side that turns the needle tends to stick which is a pain when you need to re-lease it when you want to thread up a bobbin…a fat elastic band placed around the ribbed edge of the wheel helps you get a nice tight grip and the wheel un-screws much easier), an assortment of thimbles (they breed as I don’t often wear one so I don’t know where they are coming from), more un-pickers than you’d think possible..(this is why I don’t sew a lot on a sewing machine, I always end up going too fast and then needing to un-pick what I’ve done.. one of them has a little brush on the end which is handy to regularly dust out under the stitch plate), red strawberry needle sharpener (bought some years ago from The Royal School of Needlework and these are very similar….they seem expensive but they are one of the little things in my sewing box I love more than words and it gets used no end)…..there’s also a pair of Japanese fabric snips (another gift from my Arpette) which are lovely to use, tweezers for stitches that don’t want to come out without a good wiggle, an old embroidery pamphlet and a knitting needle gauge because it has a nice size little ruler along the side.  There’s also a pin cushion ball I bought form a car boot and which when gently and carefully kneaded, produced a shocking amount of needles.

vintage green fabric

And this is one of the reasons there are so many un-pickers in the sewing box…’s one of the frocks I’ve been making based on the dottie angel dress pattern.

The fabric is from one of the antique/junk shops in Norwich and actually…all the thread and trimmings are vintagey too……rather than make the tucks in the front, I’ve sewn a fabric band across the front.  The ties are attached at the front, thread through and pull up at the back.  I’ve also not bothered with the pockets, I htink the fabric is a bit light weight for them…It’s quite a slinky number and the fabric feels nice and silky….it was a bit of a “oooh…blast” to sew as it was slippy, so I ended up hand sewing the hem, turning it over a few times with the needle point and though this sounds a right old chore, I found this the easiest part of the dress.  Modeled it last night in front of  the boyfriend and the cat, and it didn’t get the “are you wearing curtains”comment so figure it’s safe to wear out of  the house.

Looking at the picture I’m thinking my sewing does look proper ropey…all I can do is hang my head in shame and say I wasn’t any where near the sloe gin or fruit vodka from last week.

If you’d like to see some nice examples then there is a great Instagram thingy here

raspberry cluster

It’s too wet to go foraging as the rain’s been so hard and I know the blackberries will be all mushed but hopefully if we get some sunshine I can get out over the weekend…in the mean time, we’ve got raspberries all ripe and ready to burst in the garden, so it’s out with a brolly and although a bit of balancing is required when there is both a bowl and a brolly in one hand, any trouble is well worth it, especially if there’s cream in the fridge.

I never used to like raspberries growing up but then I had a warm one, freshly picked and it was a taste epiphany, they’ve become a favourite fruit, and the crop we get between now and October (sometimes even November if it’s mild and sunny) are looked forward to all year round……delicious in jams and syrups poured over ice-cream, I love them just as much eaten straight off the bush, and with the merest sprinkle of sugar and a dollop of thick cream they blow strawberries out of the water…velvety and soft in texture and with a rich, intense fruit taste, they seem so much more luxurious than what they are…..

ripe and ready to burst

The bushes are getting all droopy with the weight of the berries, the fruit hangs down like bunches of fat swollen grapes the colour of deep red rubies….we need a bit more sun and a little less rain if any are to be used in jam.  Most days Bernard and Bob from next door are to be found lurking around them somewhere.  Stretched out napping, finding a little shelter from the rain…they seem to keep pretty dry underneath there.  Every so often wafts of cat fluff drift up and catch on the berries only to be noticed when we’ve drenched the berries in cream …”why is there cat fluff in my pudding” seems to be the catchphrase of the Summer……

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…

My patchwork essentials……or quilting on a budget part one….


When I first started quilting I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, I’d watched a 15 minute program on telly showing how to make a log cabin quilt and I thought “oh, I think could do that”….and while I didn’t then make a log cabin that day, I tried my hand (okay-ish) at quilting a cushion cover. and a couple of other pieces though my stitching didn’t really look too much like pictures i was seeing in a book (this was all before the internet so didn’t have You-tube or anything like that to watch or get help from….luckily before I’d had enough of my new hobby I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely lady called Alison Farmer who took me under her wing who gently guided and showed me that bits I wasn’t quite understanding…..

My first trip to a specialist quilting shop with her was a revelation…the shop was stacked to the ceilings with more fabric than I’d ever seen in such a small place…..then there was a wall of equipment that I had no idea what it was for, including an array of the widest rulers I’d ever seen  (why on earth did they have what looked like a pizza cutter? ) not forgetting all the different threads and different needles.

At the time I was on an incredibly tight budget (and some things never change)  I bought some fabric and because the first quilt I made was a sampler quilt of my own design, I bought some quilters template plastic, and a packet of very fine “sharps” but that was it.  It didn’t look very much when I laid it on the counter but when it got rang through the til it still made me wince.


Over time I learnt what the other things were for (the pizza wheel or to use it’s proper name …the Rotary wheel, was a real eye opener) and some pricey items such as the big rulers I either saved up for or I’ve had bought for me when it’s been my birthday or Christmas and have been used more times than I believed possible.  My rotary cutter is a bit of a death trap but I find it really comfy to use compared to some of the skinny ones nowadays, my first transparent gridded ruler has barely any outer markings left but I like the size too much to part with it…….some of the leftover fabric scraps from that first quilt still crop up and get used in smaller projects.

piecing triangles

Anyway, after finishing the star quilts I thought I’d write a list of some of the things I use when I set about sewing a quilt (from piecing the patchwork to quilting the layers together)…..writing this post is the result of a couple of conversations I’ve had with different friends, we’ve talking about quilts and patchwork and a couple of friends felt even though they would like to take it up as a hobby, quilting is a rich persons’ hobby and that they couldn’t afford it….I disagreed because I certainly don’t think that is true although I think it can definitely seem that way on first appearance. I really hate that because much of the history of quilting and patchwork has come about by making something out of nothing, people from the poorest communities creating patchwork quilts that are rich in colour, texture and self expression.

At the end of the day, patchwork and quilting is all about joining fabric together with stitches. Fabric doesn’t have to be bought new, you don’t need a sewing machine, you can sew by hand, and scissors cut fabric fine.

stack of fabrics

Really, all you truly need to begin with is fabric, sewing cotton, needles, some pins and a pair of fabric scissors.  It also helps if you have a small pair of scissors to cut your thread with rather than keep using the larger fabric shears.  Those are your essentials and I’d guess the pins and scissors you’d have if you already sew…. It’s great if you have access to a sewing machine, but that isn’t truly an essential, but it does make sewing patchwork a lot faster.

Next would be something to make the templates for your patchwork with (you can use cereal box card) or if you aren’t using templates or papers, something to measure and cut your fabric.  Then comes the wadding or batting (an old wool blanket that has worn thing will suffice, or you could sew together things like old jogging bottoms and sweat shirts, big wool scarves from charity shops), backing fabric (you can make this out of smaller pieces of fabric sewn together if you want or use an old sheet), thread for the quilting and needles.

quilt books 003

There are loads of books now about patchwork and quilting, and a trip to your local library will nowadays reveal shelves heaving with books full of inspirational quilts.  Most of my quilting and patchwork books are second hand, picked up from charity shops and car boots.

I wrote a piece the other year about my favourite resource books, the Barbara Chainey one and the Maggie Malone book are both in the Norfolk Library system so you can take them out on loan…..I’ve also got a book which was like 25p or something from a car boot simply called Patchwork.  It’s part of the traditional needle arts collection and is written by Diana Lodge……it covers a nice range of patchwork designs and although some of the colours and fabric choices aren’t really my cup of tea, the information inside is very sound.

dresden plates 016

It’s a good idea to know what sort of quilt you intend to make,  this is going to sound rather odd but personally I think it is actually easier to start off making a decent sized quilt than something too small…….my first quilt took me cough cough…five years to make (it was a really huge one), but in that time I also made and finished other smaller quilts.  Working on the larger quilt allowed me to gain my confidence as a quilter, and also become a more accomplished sewer….

If you are looking to make a very light weight quilt for summer or to throw over the sofa then you could use an old flannel sheet as the batting, winter quilts would benefit from something more substantial. And then you have quilts that are for the wall or small pot holders so it’s good to have a think about the purpose of what you are making.

holiday sewing 006

One of the easiest types of quilts has a patchwork top made up out of different coloured squares.  There is also a block called Nine Patch which looks really effective repeated over in an array of fabrics.  I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am a hand sewer, and sewing squares by hand is pretty easy, and it’s nice and portable…however if you prefer to use a sewing machine then that’s fine (I just have a tendency to go a bit doo lally when I get on a machine.)

The fabric you buy to make your patchwork top doesn’t have to be bought new, you can easily re-purpose items such as shirts or outgrown childrens clothes. Personally I find stitching stretchy fabrics like t shirts quite difficult so I tend to avoid using those, but shirts and summer dresses, light weight trousers and skirts are all good.  Pieced together t-shirts can be used as a batting though if you are looking to make a lightweight quilt as the patchwork and backing seems to stop any stretch. and it’s nice to sew through. You can also use fleece fabric as a batting, that gives a bit more of a quilty pucker when it is quilted.

pinks and red


Specialist quilting shops will sell  fabric called “quilting cotton”, this is lightweight and is perfect for patchwork, it doesn’t fray too badly and It gets softer and softer as it’s handled, washed and slept under. You can buy it in smaller quantities such as fat or thin quarters so you can pick and mix lots of different colours and pattern.  Linen is another option for fabric, while not being the easiest fabric to work with, it has a wonderful texture and wears really well.  My main piece of guidance here with buying “new” fabric would be to only buy fabric you really love…if you’re undecided and not sure in the shop then you aren’t going to be suddenly falling in love with it and wanting to sew with it when you get home… (I speak from experience)

However, both quilting cotton fabric and linen are pricey and can easily be out of a lot of peoples budget which is where using recycled/resalvaged fabrics can come in.

Recycled or re-purposed fabrics

Clothing from charity shops and carboots can be ideal to use in patchwork.  Things like cotton shirts are good as there is lots of fabric in them though I’d just advise checking that the fabric is strong enough and not too lightweight as you don’t want it to start tearing as you start sewing it. Old pillowcases and duvet covers, sheets and tablecloths are also good. The only down side is that they might be woven quite tight so can be a bit harder to sew through than the shirt cotton.  I think you should always use fabric you like but at the same time it’s best to know what the fabric may do a few washes down the road.

les soeurs anglais 002

Vintage fabric

Vintage cottons are generally a safe bet, they’ll already be soft from years of washing and being worn.  However some other fabrics don’t cope so well.. silk disintegrates or “shatters” and becomes almost like dust, some old velvets bleed colour non stop, so don’t cope brilliantly with being washed.  I think both of these are more suitable for crazy quilting with lots of embroidery to support the fabric.  (Certainly with vintage silk I’d go so far as to use a piece of lightweight American muslin underneath for support even with crazy quilting and embroidery)….old tweeds and woollen fabrics will quite often shrink so again they are best used in items that aren’t expecting to be washed in anything other than a very cool wash.

Really old, vintage fabrics which you think will be fine can often be a bit frail so you might want to check they haven’t been damaged by sunlight if you are buying them for patchwork (I once bought some lovely old curtain material to use in a quilt. It was folded up and tied off in a parcel so I didn’t get a chance to properly check it, when I got home it pretty much shedded apart when I shook it out as it was so fragile).

I would also say here that it’s always worth mentioning to friends and family if they have any spare fabric or do they know anyone who sews.  I’ve been extremely lucky and have been gifted heaps of lovely old sewing things from friends and family having clear outs.  Pretty much all the quilters and sewers I know have a bag or box of scraps that they are more than happy to share some of.  It might not be the fabrics that sets your heart on fire but it you never know….

vintage quilting needles

Needles for patchwork

The needles you generally use for hand sewing patchwork are called “sharps” or applique needles.  They are a bit skinnier than regular sewing needles and have very sharp points.  They tend to have quite a small eye to thread the sewing cotton through.  I’d also recommend milliners or straw needles. They are similar to the “sharps” but are slightly longer and finer needles, very sharp and again excellent for sewing patchwork and applique or sewing patchwork over papers.

When I’m piecing or sewing my patchwork I like a nice sharp needle and where possible favour vintage “sharps” as I find the older needles somewhat stronger than modern ones. (Norwich has loads of great antique/junk shops and many of them seem to sell vintage haberdashery items)…Brands I tend to use the most when buying new are John James, Milward and Newey Craft.  All of these are very good and have nice sharp tips. I like a number 10 needle myself but packets with a variety of different sizes in them are really good..

vintage threads

Sewing thread

Although I like to use a lot of vintage thread in my hand sewing such as Sylko Dewhurst, I’m also quite happy to sew with Gutterman 100% cotton thread.  I don’t like their polyester thread though, I find it tangles too much.  It’s fine when I’m using it in a sewing machine, but for hand sewing I prefer a 100% cotton thread.

Generally when you’re sewing patchwork, if you use grey thread you’ll find it blends in really well with most other colours, especially if you are using prints of more than one colour, and your stitches won’t be so noticeable when you turn over your seam.

cream blanket inner needlecase

Something to cut your fabric with

Obviously you need something to cut your fabric with, a good quality pair of fabric scissors will last you a life time as long as you don’t use them to cut anything else with.  (If you live in a household where you think someone might “borrow” them to cut wallpaper or hair then hide them.)  Merchant and Mills make really beautiful scissors and I’ve got a pair of their 8″ Tailor’s Shears……mine were a Christmas present, they get used loads, and when I’ve finished using them they get put away in their box.  But I also bought a pair of craft scissors from our local market which were well under £5 that I only use for fabric and they are still super sharp ten years later.

And a small pair of scissors or thread snips to cut thread with makes life handy.

Regarding rotary cutters….I didn’t buy one for quite a while, because I just didn’t need one. My first quilt was a big sampler and each block was unique, so I would cut out the templates for a block, and then draw round and cut with scissors the shapes required from my fabric.  And even if you are making a patchwork top with squares then you can quite happily draw round templates and cut your fabric with scissors.

Rotary cutters combined with a thick ruler, and a cutting mat can make life much easier however ( I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sewn up tiny little patchwork log cabin squares where I’ve had a stack of ironed fabric and have cut the fabric in strips before sewing together on a sewing machine) but if you’re on a tight budget and are really new to patchwork and quilting, I’d wait a while before investing in any expensive equipment.

ruler and template plastic

Quilter’s Template Plastic and cutting mat.

This can be bought in A3 sized sheets or in packs of A4.  It’s available gridded, plain or with an isometric pattern (which is good for cutting hexagons and diamonds. It depends what you are drawing or cutting as to which you’ll need.

You can buy templates already pre-cut.  Personally I like to make my own as it’s a lot cheaper, but you do need to be accurate in your cutting and drafting.

I have a small plastic square ruler by Creative Grids, (it measures 4 1/2 inches each side) and it cost me under £10.00 and I really don’t know how I managed without it.  Now I’m not saying you definitely need to go out and buy one of those, I make a lot of small patchwork and find this really handy as it’s small and I find I can be more accurate.  I also have a couple of bigger rulers but for me my small ruler is worth it’s weight in gold.

When I made my first quilt I bought a pack of gridded Quilter’s Template Plastic.  As it was already gridded I just had to very carefully cut out my templates along the pre-printed lines.

Cutting mats can be bought from art supply stores and a small A4 sized one is really handy even if you don’t have a rotary cutter, I use one I bought from a cheap stationers, and save it for tucking under my fabric to lean on when I’m drawing round my templates onto the cloth.

dutchman's puzzle 009

I think this pretty much covers what I think are the basics for sewing patchwork.

I really hope this helps anyone reading to see that quilting (and patchwork) doesn’t have to be a “rich persons past-time” …. I’ve never had much that is worth watching in my purse which is why I probably favour hand sewing over machine sewing, it does take longer but then it’s lots cheaper…I’ve tried not to let what’s not in my purse prevent me from enjoying what has become one of my favourite past-times.  (And when you’re making something for yourself or someone  you love, it’s nice to be able take your time.)

Making new from hand me downs……

dodgy cover but well worth a read


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned buying this brilliant book from a little pop up charity stall in Norwich….to begin with I was only tempted to look through it because of the hilarious front cover, but actually on browsing through the pages I realised it was actually a proper little gem so for pence have given it a new home……

The pictures inside are in black and white so I’m sure don’t do the magnificence of the clothes made the full justice but let’s just say time hasn’t been kind…this was written in 1980 so we are talking late seventies fashions here….(the little boy wearing a pair of jeans made from an adults denim cast offs is a delight and I’d love to know what colour his tank top is) but the basics are really excellent…….there are a few things that I don’t think any child would wear today (do little girl still wear long party frocks..being a child of the seventies I had a “beautiful” purple one, it had a velvety bodice and long sleeves which puffed at the wrists, and remember wearing it to a party with silver sandals…move over Kate Jackson, I felt like a Charlie’s Angel!)….but there are some nice little dress patterns in there and plenty of information about repurposing your old clothes…..

The introduction is really funny as it goes on about how buying clothing for constantly growing children can eat up a big proportion of the household budget but by making their clothes you’ll have money left over to buy them shoes….or even to buy something new for yourself.  (that made me laugh out loud as I just imagined all these poor little mites running around in some proper odd outfits but mum sashaying around in something that Margo from The Good Life would wear…)


inside children's clothing book


Each outfit gets its own easy to draft pattern and the instructions are nice and simple, there are some lovely clear illustrations to follow and there’s a section at the front explaining sizes and how to take a child’s measurements….if you aren’t used to making clothes then this is such a nice book as most of the outfits are written for beginners to make (and if you are using something old or from a charity shop or jumble sale then it won’t be the end of the world if it goes wrong…)

It’s probably more suitable as a pattern book for girl’s clothing as there are a fair few dresses in the book, but not so much for boys.   Aside from the afore mentioned jeans for boys (the pattern is okay but I’m not sure how tight little boys wear their jeans or trousers nowadays) there’s a pyjama pattern and a top for wearing on the beach which is unisex and the dearest little pair of bib fronted shorts… I’ve mentioned on here before, we don’t have any children (we just have Bernard who in our eyes is our little baby) so I don’t know if children today would wear clothes like this or whether they’d put their parts on and have a strop…..maybe little ones would wear them…I keep thinking of the bib fronted shorts, they are just the cutest….but if you made the clothes small enough you’d certainly be able to make clothing for favourite toys or dolls.


patterns are easy to follow


The last section of the book  deals with general instructions, and each method and technique is easily explained and has more of those lovely clear instructions to show you what to do…..techniques covered included adding seams to a pattern, using a garment’s existing seams, how to make bias binding, how to sew French seams, gathering, making buttonholes, setting in sleeves, setting in a zip and there are also various ways shown for finishing a hem…..

As far as I’m concerned this really is a proper little gem, reading through it I’ve thought about our two little nieces and am thinking perhaps I need to make them new frocks……actually I made one (miss Maggie) some little dresses a couple of years ago from an Ikea duvet cover (a pound from a jumble sale which was one of the best bargains of all time).  She wore one to her Nursery and a classroom helper misheard Maggie’s mum when she said “it’s from an Ikea duvet”…another mum saw the dress and the classroom helper said “oh, it’s from Ikea”.  The other mum went to Ikea and asked where their children’s clothing was….much confusion ensued….. anyway I made her two little dresses with a ruffled trim on the bottom in different variations of the fabric and even though they were from an old jumble sale duvet cover she wore them loads and loads and they are now possibly being worn by younger sister Eliza.

I’ve had a look on a couple of on-line book shops and this book is available but I think it’s also worth asking at your local library…it’s from 1980 so may still be in the system, but it never hurts to have a look on charity shop book shelves…

Once the quilts are all made then I’ll make at least something from it to show as the advice given in it is really good.  (I guess the only downside is that a lot, maybe most, of the clothing manufactured today won’t wear half so well as clothing made pre- 1980, so the fabric may not be so quite so forgiving, certainly lightweight jersey and t-shirt fabric bobbles like the devil…..but you could always just use and adapt the patterns and make the clothing out of new fabric).


v and a fabric and a selection of vintage needles


I also bought a lovely little haul of vintage needles (a pound the lot….the needle packets weren’t “new” or full, but the needles in there were all nice and sharp and rust free……and the fabric was from Norfolk Yarn on Pottergate (next to Head in the Clouds) in Norwich…it’s from the V and A collection by Rowan and I bought some last year in a pinky red and just loved the print so much…….I need to recount the blocks in “dear ethel” but think I’m still a block short and thought to use these for that…..