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Saturday, 25 October 2014

A velvet Megan, a near disaster of a purse to match, and, my digital detox

Autumn's definitely here. Beautiful golden leaves falling from the tree outside our house (volunteers to sweep them up once they go mushy, anyone...?), crisp cool air and bright sunshine. 

Having had a break from sewing, a couple of weeks back I took a new project with me to keep me busy while I babysat for a friend. Enter the velvet Megan.

I swooned over the fabric the instant I saw it - and pretty quickly started to picture it as a dress for moi. I'd say a dress for special occasions, but, my philosophy is to enjoy wearing favourite clothes whenever you fancy looking fabulous, and not just to keep them in the wardrobe only to be worn once in a blue moon. Besides, as a mummy to four little ones, I am not forever going to parties. That said, it is my friend's 40th in a few weeks, and I will wear this outfit for that occasion. There's even talk of us going out dancing, and I think this will be perfect.

The dress is fully lined, making it feel extra warm, and luxurious, too, if I may say so. I hand finished the hems and the bit where the lining meets the sleeves whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing last Saturday night. Are you enjoying the series, by the way? We are. Unsurprisingly, in a house with four little girls, the show is a big hit. And a big incentive for good behaviour, so they are allowed the treat of staying up late to watch the first hour.

My friend Emily took these pictures for me. We'd headed out to our favourite cake shop for a mid week treat and catch up. The day time life of a housewife cannot be all DIY (still making slow but steady progress on my hall and stairs), piles of washing, scrubbing floors and chasing after a baby, can it? Admittedly, Charlotte is an age where she will not be fobbed off with whatever healthy baby snack I pull out of my bag for her. She might not be able to form sentences yet, but her "Loli-loli-loliiii!!!!!", accompanied by a pointed finger in the direction of my cake is pretty easy to translate.

Do you like the purse I made to go with my dress? I love it when there are enough scraps to make a little accessory, don't you? The pattern for this was taken from Lisa Lam's A bag for all reasons. I have just one top tip and warning to share with you on this subject. Never use masking tape (usually handy for protecting your purse fabric from getting glue over it in the tricky framing process) with velvet. You guessed it, I know from bitter experience, that masking tape damages velvet. The result was that I had to completely unpick and replace one side of my almost finished purse. Argh. I am always telling the beginners who come to my classes not to worry about making mistakes - you learn your best (and most memorable) lessons that way. Too true!

Lastly, if you like reading my blog, and tend to find me through Facebook or Twitter, it might be worth signing up for an email update on posts, as I'll be using those things less from now on.

Over the last month, I've had something of a digital detox. That is, a deliberate step back on my part from the time I was spending with frequent checks on social media, and, also evenings spent browsing Twitter and so on counting for evening entertainment once the girls were in bed.

I had been feeling glum at the start of September, and decided to make some changes in my day to day habits to see if that had an impact on my sense of happiness, starting with my ever growing social media habit. I think that my digital detox  - along with some other changes - has made me happier. Now that I have broken the habit, I am going to set myself more sensible boundaries - perhaps just ten minutes once a day for a quick check on email and interactions and the like. I'm also going to buy myself a watch, as I think part of the distraction comes from using my phone to check the time.

I've started a different reading habit instead. Being the world's slowest reader (my husband and best friend both joke it is incredible I got a reading based degree, and they are right), yet having ambitions to discover some of the classics of literature before I am old, I came to a point of realising this would never happen if all I did in the evening was watch rubbish on TV or read about other people's lives on social media. My head is less busy by bedtime. At the moment, I am growing to love Jane Austin, and am (slowly) working my way through all her novels.

The past two weeks aside - when I've had a rather annoying lingering throaty cold - I've got back into early morning running again. Setting the alarm for Stupid O' Clock is the only way I can fit it in. And I have to give myself a talking to and remind myself how much I enjoy the happy feeling a run gives me for the rest of the day. I increase my chances of getting out of bed when the alarm goes off, by leaving my running kit right next to the bed. The runs mean guilt free cake consumption, and, I know I am more patient, too, for having been out exercising in the fresh air. And this can only be a good thing, when faced with all the many challenges children throw in my path.

A case in point - Charlotte's habit of flinging her food onto the floor in one quick sweeping gesture, that comes in the moment she deems she has had enough of her meal. Grr.

That's about it for now.

I think my next make is going to be something completely new, using a metre of Liberty lawn, and for my husband, Mark. Can you guess what it will be?

What have you been making?

Monday, 6 October 2014

From Beginners to Bag Ladies - Your Makes!

It's midday. Having taken Charlotte to a playgroup this morning, fed her with beans and cheese on toast for lunch (her favourite), she's now down for a sleep. Hurrah. 

Over the last few weeks, this has been my (almost) daily cue to whirr into action and get my painting togs on and continue my mission to decorate the hall. 

But. Today, it is so grim and wet outside that I need the lights on inside. Urgh. I am not feeling the decorating inspiration, my friends. Partly due to the weather, and also because I am reaching bits of the process that are beyond my skill level, and a tactical pause to consider important questions, like, what on earth do I do about all the trunking (and other imperfections I am now noticing), a bit more. In a perfect world, I'd have a team of professionals to come and solve such problems for me. The reality is that I am settling for the best I can do myself, and adopting "It will look a lot nicer than it did" as my mantra. I have also ear marked a sparkly light fitting as my future reward for when the job is finished - it is keeping me motivated to get the job done, now that the initial novelty of doing some decorating has gone.

Enough boring waffling on about DIY. On with the real purpose of this post - to show you some pictures of the bags the ladies made on my two Complete Beginners' Courses in September.

Emma's pretty prints came from Dunelm Mill, and Jane got her Cath Kidston fabric for a glorious discount at the factory outlet near St. Neots. 

Sarah's nautical themed prints also came from Dunelm Mill - and the finished bag looks great with her outfit, don't you agree?
As we were taking the photos, Emma insisted everyone ought to notice how impressively good a job Sarah did of lining up the print on her bag. Nice job, Sarah!

I had a bad case of fabric envy over Rosalina's bag - it started life as a pair of old curtains. A brilliant stroke of charity shop luck, no? It just goes to show you don't have to limit yourself to fabric shops when sourcing materials for your makes.

The final bag for the Monday night ladies was this pretty butterfly one, made by Claire. She's now onto making her next project already, which is a dress for her little girl.

Smile for the camera, everyone...!

Not to be left out, here are the Tuesday girls with their finished bags:

Both groups were so much fun to work with. A lot of tea was drunk, cake eaten, shared laughter over mishaps and, so much delight over everyone's finished makes. From being nervous on week one, to leaving at the end of week four with chatter about what they will make next, I think it's fair to say their sewing journey/addiction has begun. Hurrah to that.

As for me and my own sewing - well, you have probably guessed that not much has been happening. I've put some of the bigger projects I had lined up on the back burner, until I have time and motivation to do them justice. I have indulged in planning a few quicker projects - starting with some purses. I love making purses, and haven't made any for ages - so I thought these would be ideal, both for the amount of spare time I have at the moment, and, for the fact I have some good friends with birthdays coming up.

I am basing my makes on this pattern from Lisa Lam's A bag for all reasons. As framed purses are a popular request on something to include in my courses, I am going to be including this on my Handbag and Purse Course in November. As well as learning how to make a framed purse, we'll be making the oh so roomy For Pleats Sake. Can't wait!

Having settled on a project (and let's face it, that can take me a while), the fun of choosing fabrics and trimmings begins. Now there's a way to bring cheer to a damp afternoon while the baby sleeps. Watch. This. Space. 

If you'd like to join me in some sewing, booking has opened, and there are four places up for grabs. You can book online using the secure link to the right of this post.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Lady Skater Dress

Hello again. Wow. Two posts in one weekend. This time, I thought I'd show you my latest make - the Lady Skater Dress - and let you in on a guilty secret.

I recently posted about how I rated different jersey fabrics once they'd been through six months of being worn and washed - my clear winner on the still looking as good as new stakes was the Campan jersey I'd bought from DragonFy Fabrics

Shortly after writing the post, I was sent a couple of metres of the very beautiful stuff to make something else with and show here on the blog. Thanks, guys!

My first thoughts turned to a Coco top that I could layer under a dress (perhaps the navy linen Lilou I've had cut out for nearly a month now...?) or a cardigan. I will almost certainly order a more traditional blue and white Campan for this purpose now, as in the end, I realised I liked the red and pink just on its own and started to picture it as a Lady Skater Dress. My inspiration for making one had come from admiring the ones made and worn by two bloggers I know in real life - my fellow Bedford based buddy, Anwyn, and Lindsy, who I met at the NYLon14 meet up back in May.

Friday night was spent hunting for paper; realising the only paper available was in fact rainbow coloured; trying to get the printer to work; cursing all the taping and cutting up of pattern pieces involved, and finally cutting out the fabric. All this was done with comedy shows on in background which helped keep me amused, and chocolates at my side. 

Being a bit lazy, I really dislike PDF patterns and would happily pay at least a fiver extra to avoid all the annoyance involved. It's a testament to how much I like a pattern if I go ahead and buy one that is only available as a PDF. 

Amanda's pattern and instructions didn't disappoint at all. A woman after my own heart, she has a long set of instructions and a crib sheet for more confident/lazy types. 

I cut out a size 3 and graded it out to a size 4, and then decided to ignore advice about testing for fit and went straight for the real thing. This gamble paid off, and I am very pleased with how this dress fits. The only change I made during the making process was to chop about an inch off the length of the sleeves, as I figured that being shorter than average height, I'd probably need to reduce this a bit.

The making came together in exactly two hours. Hurrah! I do love a one night make, don't you? The only glitch was that I accidentally sewed the elastic that is meant to go inside the back shoulder seams onto one of the front ones as well - resulting in a slightly bumpy left shoulder, but I can live with that. I liked the method for putting on the neck band, and, you can't really see it in the photos (I perched my camera on a bin, set the timer, and posed in a I hope no one notices what I'm doing type fashion) but the contrast direction of stripes looks exactly as I'd hoped.

I'm pleased I opted to try this pattern with the Campan - its weight makes for a nice swish on the skirt as you move, and I almost think using it in a slightly more fitted pattern like this makes more use of the fact this is a fabric that holds its shape beautifully well. I've been wearing the dress all day, and there are no signs of bagginess at the elbows. In fact, I am now wondering about whether I try making another Lady Skater but extending the bodice and just having it as a top. Now that would be a way to make that Lilou warm enough to wear in autumn/winter and entice me to want to make it a bit sooner (and stop those pieces just getting left in a pile for the next six months of so...).

The Saturday Sweet Shop
I promised you a guilty secret, didn't I? With all four girls on a bike ride with Daddy, I'd been to Aldi, and was meant to be popping into town to pick up a couple of bits I can never get there. Oh, and as I was just passing the Saturday Sweet Shop, it would have been rude not to pop in and say `hello'. I haven't breathed a word of this to my darling daughters. They are tucked up in bed. Husband has headed out to work to do some last minute Headteacher stuff, and it is just me and the contents of those white bags...

I had to laugh. The lady in the shop commented on how unusual it was to see me on my own, and I told her my plan to buy myself sweeties and hide them away for a post bedtime treat. As she weighed out the chocolate caramel fudge and Turkish delight I'd asked for, she said, "It's a wonder how you stay so slender with four children!" - subtext, and eating all the fudge you do. The compliment made my day though.

Sophie, if you're reading this at some point in the week ahead (I know you sometimes do) have a sneaky look in my red handbag - I have hidden you a piece inside it. Enjoy - and call it a perk of reading all the way to the end of Mummy's blog! Xx

Big thanks again to DragonFly Fabrics for giving me the fabric used in this post.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Do half hearted selfies and photos taken by children still count for OWOP?

Hello, lovely readers.

SATURDAY - Sunshine Coco goes to the swings.
"I think I've missed your head out by accident, Mummy..." 
It is a grey Saturday morning - we've been to swimming lessons, and now, the three big girls are cutting up bits of coloured paper and trading in sweets (strawberry bootlaces being chopped into not really worth bothering about sized pieces by one in a bid to get some extra Smarties from the person who still has some), whilst we wait for the baby to wake so we can have our usual wander into town for the library and loom bands.
SUNDAY - stripy Coco with Hummingbird infinity scarf
goes to Liberty in London (excited squeal!)
I'm perched on a stool next to them (them knowing I am listening in prevents potential sweet based wars from breaking out), nice large mug of tea and the laptop, as I thought I'd put together a quick catch up on how my Coco OWOP went.

MONDAY - a bit of a chill in the air, so Sausage Dogs with GAP jeans
The week itself went easily, to be honest. Although, I suspect that, when I compare my photos to other participants, I will realise my efforts have been a bit half hearted - both on the photography front, and the styling part of the challenge. But I didn't have much time to take lots of photos each day until I had one that didn't make me cringe, and, it has been a fairly uneventful week of school runs and nothing much else to make me feel inclined to dress up.

TUESDAY - hello sunshine, let's have bare legs with Scooter Coco as I
feel good about remembering to water the plants
This may all sound a bit, well, negative. It isn't meant to be. I have enjoyed wearing my Cocos - but this hasn't been that different to normal, really. Only that a few other patterns would be creeping in, of course. I like wearing things made from jersey, because generally, no ironing is ever needed, and, they are really comfortable and practical to wear around small children.

The reason why time feels so short... (but doesn't she look lovely as she
scampers off to cause chaos in her sisters' room?!)
Making my own clothes - like these Cocos - gives me daily little bursts of joy when I wear them, I can remain in something easy going, and, also something that is totally unique and reflects my own personal tastes. I'm going to keep this in mind, and try not to feel inadequate or jealous of other bloggers when I look at their OWOP write ups.

I am sure I am not the only one who gets a bit deflated when they see things others have made - and I am missing the point when I do. For me, sewing at home is about switching off and claiming some time for yourself, and about the fun of turning the awesome fabrics that have tempted you to part with your cash into the image you have of what you'd like it to be.

WEDNESDAY - "Mummy, those tights are really bright!"
"But, they look nice... don't they?"
I have a minor confession. After making the new camera Coco on Wednesday night, I wore it for the next two days - in exactly the same style. There. Lazy, I know. But who cares, eh? I did the sniff test before getting dressed on the second morning, and all was fine. So, the next time you come across a mum of four (or more) little ones, and wonder how she manages to juggle it all, remember that she might be gleefully cutting corners on laundry by wearing the same things twice (and, encouraging the rest of the family to do the same). He, he.

THURSDAY - new top joy as I wear Camera Coco with teal
chinos from GAP
And that is it from me for now.

The awesome cake shop round the corner is making the technical challenges from the GBBO each week. I have inside information that this week's Swedish Princess Cake is on sale by the slice today. I am hoping there will still be some left by the time we go past...

Have a good weekend, whatever you get up to!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Snap up a place on a Kitchen Table Sewing class!

The One Week One Pattern challenge is almost over. I've been enjoying wearing my Coco tops so much that I managed to squeeze in time to make myself another, and am wearing it today.

I used some snazzy camera print and blocked it with some stripes for an on trend* monocrome look. As the weather is cooling down, I decided to opt for long sleeves this time.

I'm really happy with how the make came together. It's the second version I have made using blocking, and, I can vouch for it being a process that is speedier and less nerve racking second time round.

And yes, you've guessed it - I'm wearing it today! (Is there a person reading this who manages to resist the thrill of wearing a new make at the earliest opportunity?!)

So, Bedford peeps - who'd like to come and make one of these lovely tops with me?

This is the perfect pattern to buy for someone who has made a few simple things and wants to try making their own clothes.

By coming on one of my courses, you know you'll be venturing into the fun of dress making with plenty of help on hand. And cake. There is always cake...

As well as Coco making, I'll also be returning to children's clothing - making the super cute Dance With Me Dress, which is a lovely garment to make for little girls.

There are a couple of spaces left on these two October courses, so snap one up while you can.

Choose your course(s)

 *I never use the phrase `on trend' in real life - I make a point of never buying fashion magazines, and so can safely guarantee any trend that I pick up on has long been and gone by the time I have noticed it...

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Buying knits: How my Cocos look after six months

Hello everyone.

The run up to OWOP got me thinking about my Coco tops and dresses. The Coco is my favourite dress making pattern because it is so versatile and is a practial thing for me to wear as a mum of four children.

My love of the Coco pattern has persuaded a few of my sewing friends to take the plunge into making things with knits, and, with a complete dearth of places to buy them locally, I have been quizzed by some of them about where I'd recommend when going online.

It's about six months since I made my five Cocos, and in that time they have all been through the washing machine lots. I think now is a good time to give a review of which fabrics have been the best over time.

My Sunshine Coco was made out of Roma Ponte from Guthrie and Ghani and cost £10 per metre.

How well has it kept its shape 10/10
This has a beautiful weight to it and hangs nicely. The fabric has kept its shape and suits the Coco style really well.

Good as new to look at 5/10
Although the lovely mustard shade is still going strong, I'm disappointed by how badly the fabric has bobbled. I've never tried de-bobbling fabric before, but, given how much I like this Coco, I might need to look into solutions for the problem so I can feel as proud wearing it as I did when it was new.

Value for money over time 7/10
I would have given this a much higher grade before the bobbling happened, as I was delighted with the quality of this when the postman first delivered it to me.

I searched high and low for the perfect stripes before settling on this Campan jersey from DragonFly Fabrics. I winced a bit at the price of £19.95 per metre, and nervously waited for the postman to see if it was worth the expense.

How well it has kept its shape 10/10
The Campan jersey has more give than the Roma Ponte, but keeps it shape just as well. It also has a nice amount of weight and thickness to it and suits the Coco.

Good as new to look at 10/10
I cannot detect any signs of wear at all - really pleased with this purchase.

Value for money over time 9/10
Although I cannot bring myself to give it full marks due to the cost, this source of fabric has become the Boden replacement for my Breton tops in the future. It seems expensive, but the quality is worth it over time - a classic looking set of stripes that I can imagine still being wearable in 5 years time.

I came across the next two prints whilst looking for the perfect stripes. It comes from a long time favourite place of mine for fabric for children's clothing, KitschyCoo. Me and those sausage dogs had a love at first sight moment, and I was blind to the £21 a metre fee they demanded to come and live with me,

How well it has kept its shape 9/10
I am happy with this, but as it doesn't have the same amount of weight as the previous two, the bottom of the top has a tendency to curl a bit and needs ironing into submission.

Good as new to look at 8/10
This is still going strong - but I have to say the colours have never been quite as good as they were before I pre washed it ready to make the Coco. But I am not sure how you can get round this with a design that has black and white...? No other complaints though.

Value for money over time 9/10
I am giving this a high score, because, even thugh I don't think it will last as long as the Campan jersey, it gets bonus points for being so unique. I'd have paid a premium for something so unusual had I bought it in a shop.

As already stated, I bought this scooter print from KitschyCoo - and spent £42 on the two metres I needed for a Coco dress. What can I say, other than green is my favourite colour, and I fell for the idea of making something completely different to what everyone else was wearing.

How well it has kept its shape 9/10
Same as the sausage dogs.

Good as new to look at 7/10
Argh! More bobbling... I don't think this is nearly as bad as the mustard coloured Coco, and it isn't getting any worse. Fingers crossed.

Value for money over time 8/10
I'm knocking another point off this compared to the sausage dogs (even though I'd say I like them both for their unique factor) as this particular print just doesn't seem to be as durable.

The spotty Coco was the first one I made. The fabric for this was only £5 a metre from Tissu Fabrics. I have ordered several of their plain and striped interlocks since, and made lots of clothing for my girls with it.

How well has it kept its shape 6/10
About the third or fourth time I wore this, I was walking down the street and suddenly horrified by my reflection and the realisation of quite how much length seemed to have vanished in the washing machine. This was after the usual pre wash I did before making the Coco.

Good as new to look at 8/10
If you ignore the shrinkage issue, the overall appearance of this particular interlock print remains good. That said, the plain versions I have bought from Tissu, which have been worn and washed lots more (children's clothing) have bobbled.

Value for money over time 8/10
Okay, so this interlock may not last as well as others, but £5 a metre can't be sniffed at, especially if it's functional children's clothing you plan to use it for. It was ideal for a first Coco when getting to grips with the pattern.

So, that's my round up of Coco tops and dresses so far. It really comes down to a lot of personal taste factors as to fabrics that tickle your fancy, but, hopefully the comparison of how these garments have held up to day to day wear over time will help when deciding over what to buy.

My winner on points would be the Campan from DragonFly Fabrics, and it comes down to the excellent quality coupled with the classic stripes on offer.

Have you any favourite places to shop for jersey?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Clemence Skirt

When I received my copy of Tilly's Love at First Stitch, I decided I liked all the patterns in it and wanted to make them all right now.

In a bid to stop myself neglecting my family life because of too much time spent sewing (although, let's face it, there is a fat chance of little people letting you get away with that for long!), and, dare I say it, ignoring all boring jobs around the house, I set myself a limit of one make a month. I also thought this would encourage me to savour the making process a bit more than I am sometimes inclined to do.

Regular readers will have spotted it has been a couple of months since I made anything from the book. I made my first Megan dress in June, and then followed it up soon after with a second, nautical themed one. I have so enjoyed wearing these two beauties all summer long. In fact, I like the Megan so much, I have just ordered fabric for a warmer more wintery version. But more about that another time.

A bit like buses, you wait around for ages, and then three come along at once. 

Enter the Clemence skirt. 

I babysat for my friend Clare last Saturday night. As usual, I went armed with my sewing machine, and this time, a bag full of cut out skirt pieces for three skirts, with pockets too, and waistbands already interfaced. Once the children were all quiet, and I'd helped myself to a tea and a KitKat, I sat down to sew.

You will recognise the bottom skirt from my Megan. I bought a pre cut piece of fabric for £25 on Goldhawk Road, and ended up with enough leftover for two Clemence skirts - one for me, and one for my best friend, Sang. She likes the fabric too, and, as she lives in Nottingham, there's very little chance of us unexpectedly bumping into each other in the street and having a hilarious skirt twins moment.

The fabric for the other skirt was given to me by my friend Stacie as a birthday present. It was exactly a metre, and so I decided to widen the gathered pattern so that I used all the fabric up (I basically just cut a waistband down the length of the fabric, and then cut the remainder into two half metre lengths for the front and back), and ended up with an even fuller skirt.

I did most of the sewing on all three at Clare's. Until I reached the point where I really needed an iron. Oops. I had forgotten to ask her to point it out to me before she left, and I felt too embarrassed/cheeky to interrupt her night out with a `Where do you keep your iron, please?' text. 

So, the unfinished skirts were bundled into the bag. I got two of them finished the following night, while Mark sat beavering away on final preparations for work the next day.

With the older two girls back at school, Charlotte in bed having a morning nap (don't babies have the best existence?!) and the almost school girl sat happily at the table painting, I sneaked out my sewing and finished the last skirt. My artist companion then had the fun of using my camera to take a few shots of the twirlability of the skirt.

I'll be honest and say that initially, I felt slightly underwhelmed by Clemence, and unsure of how flattering I thought it was on me when I finished the first on Sunday night. 

But. Wearing it for a quick little cycle on the school run has changed my opinion. This is the perfect skirt for cycling in. The gathers drape beautifully over the frame, making me feel all graceful and lady like with my pretty mint Pendleton bicycle. I should point out this is a welcome contrast to my almost flashing my knickers not quite decent but cycling with my Megan on anyway look.

And finally, this Saturday sees the start of OWOP. It's my first time taking part - I think it promises to be a fun week of peering at other people's lovely makes being worn in day to day life. I am going to be on the look out for some inspiration of a new pattern to try.

But you're wondering what I have chosen as my pattern to wear, aren't you?

One Week One Pattern 6th - 12th September
The Coco of course. With five of them already made, and another two of the top versions in the pipeline to boost my nice things to wear with jeans autumn wardrobe, the choice was obvious. Can't wait!