Hey Marianne!

15 Feb

It’s been a while. Sometimes life is like that. I’ve been sewing but not blogging, embracing my inner introvert (if that’s not a contradiction in terms). We moved house (albeit about 30 yards) last October and I got me my very own sewing room, which has transformed the whole process of sewing and given me a space to call my own.


Agnes meet Marianne, Marianne meet Agnes

Agnes meet Marianne, Marianne meet Agnes

Anyway, to the dress in hand. I love Christine Haynes. Hers are some of the blog posts I most look forward to reading; I love her style, her warmth and her patterns. Bizarrely, this is the first of her patterns I’ve sewn up. I have a little stash of Emery dress fabric waiting to go but I am, by nature, a cogitator, so I imagine just like with the Colette Patterns’ Laurel dress, I will make a toil and then whack a few out.

Neck binding that went to plan!

Neck binding that went to plan!

Marianne is my friend. She pays me the compliment of making me look quite well pulled together, while feeling like I have all the comfort of wearing my nighty.  I don’t feel self-conscious of my midriff either, so a round of applause for Marianne please. Our blossoming friendship nearly came a cropper when the lovely ponte roma I bought from Ebay arrived with a giant hole perfectly positioned in the centre. When I say “giant hole”, I don’t rely on my usual copywriter’s style of over-embellishment for dramatic effect. It was easily the size of a large dinner plate and enabled me to wear the fabric Tonto-style as a poncho.

A dinner plate sized hole.


While I queried the eyesight of person cutting the fabric, understandably I thought, the seller could not have been nicer and gave me a full refund. But still, how do you cut out a length of fabric and not notice a hole that large? The fabric itself is lovely and washed and stitched well, but it did mean that I was very restricted in the pattern placement and style (and length!) of Marianne I could choose. All’s well that end’s well though and she’s a beauty. I cut a size 6 on top and graded out to a size 8 from just under the arm and it fits beautifully. After draping it on Agnes I was temporarily alarmed, thinking it looked far too small to fit me, but not a bit – in fact it looks far better than I ever imagined on these middle-aged bones. The joy of ponte roma is that it doesn’t cling where I don’t want it too and despite feeling that the style of sleeve would only accentuate my bosom – zut allors, all is well! There’s a bit of fabric gathering under the arm but I’m not sure that’s not down to the wretched hole I was trying to cut around (I’m fairly sure there was some slippage) and my efforts to match the stripes.

Gormless with strange hair fin, plus job sheet in the background

Ignore the strange hair fin I’m sporting.

This time I sewed the entire dress on my sewing machine for a change rather than my overlocker, while following Christine’s sew-along. The pattern is very straightforward but I really liked jogging along next to Christine – the sew-along helped slow the process and made it even more enjoyable. There were some tips I picked up that were new to me, even though I’ve sewn with knits quite a bit over the last two years and I have to admit, sewing ponte on my Janome rather than my rather spirited and feisty overlocker was very easy.

Gratuitous cat shot: Lord Boo looking imperious - and learned.

Gratuitous cat shot: Lord Boo looking imperious, as is his want.


When life gives you lemons, make a Marianne dress, I say. Most of the time I like to hide in the corner and remain the observer, but being part of the sewing community on a wider scale involves dipping your toe in the water, particularly if you want to be a part of it all. I love waking up, checking Instagram, and seeing what sewing peeps on the other side of the world are doing, as well as here in good old Blighty: snapshots into other people’s lives make this big old world feel a whole lot smaller, widens your perspective and helps you feel connected in the best way possible to a group of generous-hearted, talented individuals.




The Everyday Feminist Skirt

11 Aug

Photo bombed by Lord Boo, cat supremo, feline mastermind of the neighbourhood.

Hey there. It’s been a while. I’ve been-a-sewing but sometimes it’s nice to swim below the surface for a while. You know how life goes.

So here we find the all new ‘I love Liesl’ page. The Everyday Skirt is a pattern by Liesl & Co that I first saw all sewn up on What Katie Sews – following her links there were some other rather splendid versions out there too – and in a typical blast of sewing impetuosity, pattern download was bought and fabric sourced. All from the comfort of the sunny shores of Devon. A week of sunshine, sand and ice-cream was just what I needed and I returned to the dappled sunshine of West Oxfordshire desperate to get sewing. It’s essentially a sophisticated gathered skirt, elasticated to suit at the back, with straight side panels. It’s the smooth side panels that make this such a flattering fit, together with pockets that are sewn into the waistband (not shut as I have been known to do before…) The skirt is designed to sit slightly below the waist but I may well position it on my waist next time, not quite sure.

Tidy on the inside - it's a miracle!

Tidy on the inside – it’s a miracle!

The fabric was a lovely cotton seersucker from Miss Matatabi, one of my favourite Etsy shops. Not only does she have a wonderful range of fabric but her shipping costs are reasonable and FAST. I mean I’ve known letters take longer from my ma and pa in Sunderland, but that’s another story, and seemingly often another country for Royal Mail.

Look at the fabric! Of course this print is perfect for my feisty, no nonsense Northern alter ego (or do I mean my personality?) and I so love the little women’s signs that I flounce in the face of the men of the house. What for, I’m not entirely sure. They’re quite an emancipated bunch. A statement skirt – who’d have thought it?!

Waistband wonders and my girl power fabric

Waistband wonders and my girl power fabric

This pattern really was a dream. The instructions are simple, clear and well thought through. I understood everything. I made no mistakes! I felt competent! In fact, I felt more than competent. I felt good. The insides look as good as the outsides. I can tick off pockets as a feat accomplished and as Katie says, the method of sewing the waistband to the skirt is fab-u-lous. Yes, it’s a beginner pattern but it really is so well put together in every sense, I reckon even the dog could sew it. The only slight fly in the ointment (and I’m sure that I’m to blame here) is that the print is slightly skewiff (one of my ma’s favourite phrases – fringes, tiling, shelving, teeth, you name it, it’s a bit wonky). I spent a long time matching selvedges, pulling, tugging, trying to align the grain and this is where I ended up, a bit off kilter. But don’t actually care. I still love this skirt.  I already have some lightweight denim ready to make an autumn version. Go me! Ah yes, but wait til I blog about my other makes. The great leveller.

More wonders: pockets that open and aren't sewn together...

More wonders: pockets that open and aren’t sewn together…

There is much sewing to be done in the next month. Two dresses (one for moi and one for Lady Moo) for a very special wedding next month. Two Sorbettos owed as gifts. And the fabric stockpiled for all the summer dresses I was supposed to make but lost time somewhere out there to pestilence, illness, despair and toil.

So let’s close the show in my favoured way, with a rather wonderful song.

The show has now left town. Yep, the Wilderness Festival is over for another year; the deer can trot back from whence they came; the crash barriers (chortle) can disappear from the train station; and the Co-op is decimated (the 6ft Wilderness banner opposite the shop failed to give them any pointers in terms of stock control…) As this was my first year of non-attendence, I thought I’d offer up a lighter-in-the-air/swaying song to recreate the mood. Lights, camera, joss stick, action.

Looks like Purple People Eater to Me!

31 May

IMG_2670Oh yes, Sheb Wooley, I’m after you! Here is my Tilly & the Buttons Coco dress – is it called a franken-dress, or is that just me in it?!

It’s a Coco top, shortened a wee bit, with a sort of Merchant and Mills Factory Dress skirt on the bottom. It’s what I call a result, after the trauma of my first Coco.  Last time, I managed to disfigure my fabric by drying it badly and then forcing my daughter to model it. This time I went for a more stable knit, using a lovely ponte roma bought from Plush Addict, and washed and dried it carefully.

It was a one-eyed, one-horned flyin' Purple People Eater!

It was a one-eyed, one-horned
flyin’ Purple People Eater!

Originally, I cut a funnel neck but I thought I looked a bit too much like a purple ET, so cut it out and used some black cotton ribbing I had lurking instead. I really liked the contrast – black/purple, purple/black – and added the ribbing to the cuffs too, using the lovely Amanda method (from Kitschy Coo), as detailed in her Lady Skater dress pattern.

So all’s well that ends well really: I had wanted this dress to be in a Kelly green (as I had pinned on one of my Pinterest boards) but thought it might be too bright, being a gal who favoured black for all seasons for most of her twenties and thirties. So I chose vibrant purple instead.

Despite cutting the same size Coco as before, this fabric behaved differently – just like my children, in fact. The end result is a little bit big, thus casting it into the “roast dinner dress” corner of my wardrobe. It also functions as a giant nighty, which means on all these balmy Spring days that have so far eluded most of the British Isles, I remain snug as a bug and asleep at my desk. Happy days.

Brigitte and Tonic

19 May

A rare sighting of the shade-loving Panda in sunshine


Today, I seized the moment and got him indoors to photograph me outdoors. Outside our office to be precise. Seeing as we work together, the sun was shining, and our office is a four minute walk from our house, it seemed like a good idea.

Friday night saw me whizz up a Brigitte scarf from Tilly Button’s book, Love At First Stitch. This book richly deserves all the accolades that it has garnered: it’s well written, beautifully styled, full of properly helpful sewing information, and some fab-u-lous patterns. When I was “saved” by sewing last summer, Mathilde was the first pattern I made and since then, I’ve made all of Tilly’s patterns to date. I thought I might as well start with Brigitte as I’m rather partial to a head scarf, as they cover a multitude of bad hair sins, and as evidence from my college library card shows, I’ve been wearing head scarves and plaid shirts my whole life.  The scarf is straight forward to construct (of course it is!) but, you know, it’s really nice to have a scarf to wear in a print that you’ve chosen and that goes with loads of things in your wardrobe.

Close-up of Brigitte hiding the seam lines of my wig

Close-up of Brigitte hiding the seam lines of my wig

Having been in our office on my own last week all on my lonesome, I took the opportunity to utilise the large flat table in our meeting room in order to cut out some rather lovely fabric I’d bought to make the Tonic Tee by Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick (SBCC). I’d chosen a rather gorgeous grey and navy striped jersey from Guthrie & Ghani at £4.75 per half metre. The pattern was rather generously available free of charge, and needed only a metre of fabric so less than £10 for an organic cotton t-shirt seems a pretty good price to me. IMG_2646

The office table was good value and enabled me to release my inner OCD and match my stripes like a zealot during my lunch time. Did zealots match stripes? This one did. I am now planning a hostile takeover of the meeting room for my own sewing purposes, armed with a pair of Fiskars and some shearing elastic.

Ta-dah! Stripes that match!

Ta-dah! Stripes that match!

The inspiration behind my Tonic Tee was the ethereal sewing goddess known as Christine Haynes. She wrote a fab tutorial for drafting a Peter Pan collar for the Tonic Tee that you can find here. Everything was awesome. Everything was cool as me and the table worked as a team. The construction of the Tee probably took me about three and a half hours and everything worked. This is my favourite item of 2014 so far. I love it. I encourage you to make one too. With a collar. You know you want to. I am a stripey Tonic Christine zealot and it’s made me very happy. I made something I love to wear.

The zealot pose

The zealot pose

And of course, spurred on by success, I naturally returned to SBCC to buy another pattern, the Mimosa Blouse – which is exactly how it should work, when they’re kind enough to share their stuff for free.

Last Saturday, I managed to overcome various different anxieties/phobias/navigational challenges and head off to the vast gathering that was #NYlon2014. There I met some truly lovely women and hopefully began some new friendships – special mentions to Caroline of CJ Made and Janet at Kitchen Table Sewing – and bought enough fabric to make a Mimosa blouse and plenty more. Being part of the sewing community really does give you so much.

For a long time, I regularly guest blogged for my husband’s music blog, Mad Mackerel. This song was the school anthem for 2012 and it came to mind when I was thinking about how much I dislike having my photo taken for this blog! It’s actually a very funny indie punk song by The Lovely Eggs and my children (and lots of others) LOVED it! Don’t be put off by the cover, it’s expletive free, but there’s plenty of scope for some improv dancing. By child number 2 I’d had enough of ‘Wind the [bloody] Bobbin Up’ and ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, so number 3 just got stuff like this🙂



When is a deer not a deer?

20 Apr

IMG_2631When it’s a cushion, of course.

Happy Easter campers. I hope your cup overfloweth with chocolate.

It’s a bit of a cop out really, blogging about sewing cushions when I’ve some perfectly good ‘garments’ to write about. A large part of that is due to my loathing of being photographed, something I will just have to get over I suppose…

And so, a little bit of frenetic Good Friday sewing activity of the soft and squidgy variety: cushions! First up was the new cover of the neck sausage – the Ikea mini bolster cushion – that fits conveniently behind my rather wobbly and often very painful neck. A very good friend of mine, known to my children as Movie Mate, gifted me a fat quarter of a rather splendid print, just the right amount of fabric to make a new cover. It’s ace. It’s a carton strip of Quilt Girl, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Velma of Scooby Doo fame, if you ask me.

Linda, a mild mannered assistant, not janitor

Linda, a mild mannered assistant, not janitor

IMG_2637Anyway, I wanted to remind myself how to pipe a cushion, as it had been a while; shame I didn’t pick an easier shape than a CIRCLE. Second end is better than the first, but the end result is just dandy. I’ll gloss over the “adventure” I had with the open ended zip, removing the pull like an eejit when I’d just sewn it in…

All this piping practice came in handy for cushion number two. This is to be a gift for the son of one of my most favourite people in the whole wide world. He turns 18 on Wednesday and is off to study photography in Falmouth next year. This should be something for him to vomit over as he sees fit; I took a great deal of care and it came together well, the best of the three.


Last up was a cushion, for my children. I love this blue fabric with the groovy deer wearing specs. I have a bit of a thing about deer, so don’t be surprised if you see them popping up from time to time. I used up some ready bought navy bias binding that I already had, but it was much narrower than the purple I used for the camera cushion and therefore far more expletive-inducing. You sew and learn.


So that’s it. If anyone out there reading this can point me in the direction of a tutorial for piping something in the round, that would be fab.

Cushion pads came from Furnish NK at the bargain price of £2.25 per 12 x 18 inch feather pad; p&p was a little steep at £6.99, so I ordered four pads to make it worth my while. The deer and camera fabric both came from modes4u in Hong Kong and arrived impressively quickly.

Sewing cushions may not be the most exciting or challenging of projects, but a little bit of instant gratification when you’re feeling a bit meh was just what was needed.



Retro Rose Winifred Dress

9 Apr

At the start of March, I gave myself a stern talking to and decided to enter a sew-along. My first ever. The Winifred Dress by Bluegingerdoll, to be precise. I had been admiring her from afar and it seemed the perfect style for this panda.


Winifred with a longer hem. Because I'm worth it.

Winifred with a longer hem. Because I’m worth it.

However, all did not go according to plan and to regurgitate the rather hackneyed expression, it was a bit of a journey.

That journey began with the much delayed arrival of the pattern itself, ordered 5 March, arrived 29 March. Abby of Bluegingerdoll shared her frustrations at the shortcomings of the Australian post office and emailed me the pdf so I could start long with everyone else, bless her. It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts but I was armed with some beautiful cotton bought from Ditto Fabrics  (grey Retro Rose by Makower) and I could see the dress in my head – question was, could I sew it?

I love love love the expression [sewed] “like a boss” which I believe – and of course I may be wrong – originated with Lauren Lladybird. I have my own sewing simile now, post Winifred: sewing like an arse. Arse, arse, arse. Saying it repeatedly brought some relief. Good job I can laugh about it now. Much.

Anyway, back to Winnie. Being a good panda and reading and following Abby’s instructions, I constructed a muslin. Despite my measurements being well within the size 8 spec, my muslin became wedged around my bazookas and I feared that I would have to cut myself out before losing consciousness as my chest was so constricted. Small matter, muslin numero dos fitted just dandy although I did add 1/2 inch  to the armholes front and back. I blame my obsession with kettlebells, but I’m shoe-in for arm wrestling competitions these days. Anyway, fair dibs Abby, as there was enough fabric to cut out the dress but not an annoying amount spare, if you know what I mean.

Step by step I followed the sew-along until I got to the collar, whereupon I behaved like a cat repeatedy running at a closed cat flap. I swear you could see the smoke rising from the old grey matter as I tried to understand and make sense of what I was doing. Eventually I emailed Abby, as it appeared from the Winifred Facebook page that no-one else was having a collar issue, and she duly replied. But the time difference between West Oxfordshire and Melbourne meant that I had my eureka moment …at 12.45am… before I got her reply. I couldn’t go to bed until I’d figured it out. Nevermind the pressing work deadline facing me the very next day, at least the collar was on!

A collar. Just a collar...

A collar. Just a collar…

It may not sound a big deal when written with due brevity here, but collar-gate lasted several days – my children went hungry, the dog was unwalked, I barely spoke. I am pernickety about my sewing. I want it to be good and I want to get better at it. The finishing matters. I want collars with points. Hems that are even. A dress that looks good inside as well as out. La la la. I’m keen to improve and that’s part of the joy of sewing again.

I’d found a lovely slide buckle for the back of the dress from Minerva Crafts, as well as some gorgeous lilac bias binding. But godammit the buckle was too BIG. Growl. Gnash. Fury. I bought another. Wrong colour. More gnashing. I ordered another from Ebay and at last a fit worthy of Cinders.

My back plus buckle

My back plus buckle

Buckle on I was ready to hem. I left the hem a bit longer because, well, I wanted to. Maybe next time I’ll be daring. Because I loved the bias binding so much, and I’d bought extra, I decided to cover the raw edge of the skirt in bias binding (or whatever the proper technical term is) and then hand sew the hem using slip stitch.  Other sewers regularly wax lyrical about the joys of hand-sewing, and I never thought I’d join them, but this is the second time I’ve done a fair bit of hand-sewing as part of my garment finishing, and I really enjoyed it. I used some bias binding for the inside collar too and used my overlocker, which I’m driving as an automatic (if you get my gist), to finish the rest of the edges, apart from the centre front and centre back which are French-seamed.

Hem it!

Hem it!

Anyway, she’s done, finished, Miss Winifred. I’d say take a bow, but that’s Sheila, and I think Winnie should be more of a curtsy. Ta dah!




I Should Coco

9 Mar

IMG_2585Yes, let’s bring a little Supergrass to this sunny Sunday afternoon as I welcome the arrival of my first Coco. Note that, my first. Yes, because I will surely have to make another not least because I love the pattern (as I have done all Tilly patterns) but because of the sewing gremlins that beset this much looked forward to project. (Note the blame of the imaginary third party, obviously no room for Panda error…)

Having sewn no less than three other garments with knits (Lady Skater one, Lady Skater two and the Aslan Plantain) since January, I felt hot to trot in sewing terms. The pattern and instructions is nothing less than top drawer and entirely what I’d expect from Tilly: this is a woman who talks my language, pattern-wise, and presents the step-by-step instructions clearly with beautifully shot photos (and a glorious red manicure) to match.

There’s been a sewalong on her website to accompany the release of the pattern, together with various different posts offering advice on sourcing fabric and sewing with knits for newbies. She really has thought of everything. Frankly, the only thing she appeared not to cover was the evil weevil that escaped from the bottle once I opened the pattern, or should I say the fabric.


I bought my fabric from Tissu Fabrics, a navy cotton jersey interlock as recommended, and it seemed perfect, but I think the problems began when I washed it. As Tilly points out, dry your fabric flat. FLAT. FLAT. FLAT. Roll it in a towel, lay it on the table, just make sure it’s flat. I didn’t. I hung it up. It stretched and distorted and although I continued my Coco in a belligerent and cautiously optimistic fashion, I knew I was chancing my arm. Learn from my mistakes.

Construction wise, a straight size 3 was cut and I slimmed the sleeve down as per the recommendations of other more competent sewing ninjas than I. I love the funnel neck style and 3/4 length sleeves, I’m just sorely disappointed with my efforts.


If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands

You can see by the way it hangs on the delighted Lady Moo that all is not Coco. Still it could have looked a lot worse. This will be my working toile or maybe toil?  Threads kept snapping on my sewing machine in twin needle mode for weevil knows why, causing me to unpick and unpick and stretch the hem despite the Wundaweb I used to stabilise it.  Why did the thread keep snapping? Why? Why?

I fully intend to Coco again, perhaps with a heavier, more stable fabric (ponte knit anyone?), and will sew armed with a Nerf gun to shoot the sewing weevil down in its tracks. You can’t say I haven’t warned him. Bar steward.

I’ll be back😉