Back in Time

W and I have just come back from a few days away, the majority of that time spent in an 18th Century stocking weaver’s home in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. The property is owned by the Landmark Trust and if you are not familiar with the work of the Trust, do check out their website.  We’ve had some great times in these historic buildings, one of the best was at Saddell House on the Mull of Kintyre where we spent a few days before Christmas with one of my school friends, her teenage boys (plus friends) and her partner.  She and I played at being Mrs Bridges and Ruby (from the original version of Upstairs Downstairs), rustling up vast quantities of food in the huge kitchen with no access to any shops once we’d arrived.  I like to think I was better qualified to be Mrs Bridges with my O Level in Food & Nutrition!  When they weren’t eating (or sleeping) the boys spent a good deal of their time running a table tennis tournament in the basement.  They were surprised to find that W was an expert who was determined to win (and did).

Back to the 18th Century stocking weavers.  Having read up on the history of the house they certainly didn’t enjoy an easy life, although those living in the houses in this row would have had a better time of things as they were part of a co-operative rather than working in a factory.  The house is on four floors with vertiginous stairways between each floor – to be treated with caution after a glass of wine or two in the evening!  If your preference is for modern luxury then the Landmark may not be the right choice but the opportunity to spend time surrounded by history is pretty special.

The weaving looms look pretty complicated – and large.  I think they must have either been assembled in situ or perhaps brought in through the large window on the first floor?

The houses are filled with furniture, books and pictures relevant to the area and period and these two embroideries were on one of the landings.  I wonder at what point Harriot Webb realised she wasn’t going to be able to fit the whole of the second line of verse in on the right hand sampler?

I stuck with the yarn theme while I was in the house by carrying on with my crocheted blanket which has been stuck at a lap blanket size for some time.  I think there are now enough new squares for a couple more rows to be added.


Highlights of the week :

  • A visit to Ledbury and some shopping in Tinsmiths and Hus & Hem (described as a Smörgåsbord of Scandinavian design).  I was able to make a start on my Christmas shopping pledge to stick with buying from independent shops.  I did buy some fabric, more on that another time.
  • A trip on the GWR steam railway (W’s choice)
  • A visit to the Gordon Russell Design Museum in Broadway.  For anyone with an interest in furniture design this is a must and as it was a quiet morning I had a personal tour from one of the volunteers.  Broadway itself has to be one of the most immaculate villages in the country.  Even the fruit and veg display at the deli was perfect!
  • More shopping in Ludlow including a lovely shop called Black Bough and a great lunch at The Green Café.
  • Ludlow Castle in glorious September sunshine.
  • The Ludlow Period House Shop.  The complete opposite of Broadway – this was the most chaotic shop I have ever seen full of all manner of items for anyone restoring a period house.  It was absolutely fascinating.  We were very tempted by the Irish made grandfather and night shirts.

One thing I did reflect on while I was away was my dependence on my mobile phone and internet access.  There is no WiFi in Landmark properties – they don’t even have televisions – and 3/4G was intermittent.  I was concerned to realise just how grumpy I felt at not being able to access IG, Twitter, iPlayer Radio etc. when I wanted to.  There was one advantage – I had decided to limit my viewing of work emails while I was away and in the end I had no choice a lot of the time.

I’m not sure what the answer is because phones and tablets are now so omnipresent it is hard to remember or imagine life without them.  Hila at Saturday Night Stitch is currently without a mobile and this is her very interesting blog post on the subject.  I’m sure lots of you have a view on this subject!

Just a Card and a seasonal pledge

This is a post I wasn’t planning to write just yet but a recent re-tweet by Mollie Makes drew my attention to a campaign by artist and designer Sarah Hamilton.

Just a Card

Sarah decided to launch the campaign when the owner of a gallery that was closing told her …

If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had bought just a card we’d still be open

Anyone who has ever tried to make a living using their making skills will know just how difficult this can be and the aim of this campaign is to encourage people to support independent shops and galleries, even if it is just by buying something small like a card.  My card collection is testament to the fact that I’ve been following this approach for a while!  I just need to actually give some of them away now and again!

There are more details on the campaign to be found by clicking on either of the links above with ideas for spreading the word, including posting images of your purchases using the hashtag #justacard.   There is also a lovely web button that you can add to your blog.

Onto my pledge which has been further inspired by the campaign.  This is something I’d hoped to do last year but left things a bit late and didn’t quite manage it.  I am now approaching the moment where I have to use the words …. Christmas shopping.  There, I’ve done it!  My aim is to buy all my Christmas presentsfrom independent shops – apart from those that I make myself. I’m going to add charity shops to the list to allow for fabric or vintage finds that I can add to the mix.  I know this is going to be a challenge but now I’ve made a commitment in writing I’ll be more likely to stick to it.  I won’t be able to share everything I buy because some of the recipients read this blog and that would ruin the, hopefully lovely, surprise.  I’ve already got a list of shops lined up.  One of my favourites is Workshop in Prince Albert Street, Brighton with its irresistible range of carefully selected products for the home – and the people who own it are just lovely.  They also stock scrumptious chocolate bars from Nomnom in Wales. The mince pie version last year was a winner.

I’ll be reporting on other special independent retailers as the shopping progresses.

I also need to come up with a new gift wrapping theme for this year.  Possibly ideas include :

  • Something fabric related …. an opportunity to use up all those scraps
  • Recycling – I’ve done this before but this time I’ll avoid the ironing of plastic bags between baking parchment to create a new material!  Quite effective but the fumes were grim!
  • Hand-printed wrapping paper – I have a kit given to me by my sister last Christmas for carving a printing stamp so this could be the opportunity to use it
  • A recipe I found on Pinterest for making Christmas ornaments and gift tags using cornstarch, baking soda and water

This was last year’s theme which was reasonably easy to achieve because I only had to pick stuff from the garden (mostly other people’s gardens to be honest) and add some ribbon and brown paper.

I love wrapping presents – one of the best bits of Christmas in my opinion!



Refashion #3

As previously mentioned, I seem to have become a Refashioning addict and can’t stay away from rails of men’s shirts in charity shops!  This is my third Get Shirty project and will be the last before the deadline for the community challenge, although definitely not the last ever.

I think one of the main benefits of the three projects has been the opportunity to experiment, sometimes successfully and other times not.  There is one pale green linen shirt, sans sleeves, lurking in a corner which has been pinned, re-pinned, generally faffed around with and finally abandoned.  I will use the fabric for something eventually but I don’t want to look at it again for the time being.

For this project I reverted back to the pattern I used the first time round for this top which is a bit unadventurous but this is a shape that I really like and I know I will get use out of it.

I had planned to make something more like a jacket keeping the buttons at the front.  With all three refashions I’ve decided to keep the button band intact because it seems such a waste not to but I need to branch out a bit more!   The jacket plan didn’t work out because the top doesn’t look right unbuttoned.  However, I’ve already worn the refashion twice and after a day in the office I’ve decided that I’m really pleased with it.  It is slightly strange buttoning up the ‘wrong’ way but I can live with that.

Here’s what I started with.  Its a really good quality fabric and I love the colour and the stripes.  It was only £3.99 but I can’t remember where from (I’ll confess to having bought two other shirts on the same day so lost track of locations).  I’d already removed the pocket when I remembered I needed to take a Before photo.  There is a very faint reminder on the fabric of where the pocket was but I’m hoping it will gradually disappear with washing.

The construction was pretty much the same as last time except that I re-traced the pattern as a size 6 for a more fitted shape.  The differences/improvements were :

  • I used French seams throughout.  I don’t think I’ve ever done these on garments before, only shopping bags, and I was so pleased with the result.  I wasn’t sure how they would work for inserting the sleeves but it was easier than I thought.  I had to pin the sleeves on while Doris was wearing the top to make sure I got the wrong sides together first time round.  I love how neat everything looks inside.
  • I made false cuffs on the sleeves.  This is my new favourite thing because it is so quick and effective and works well for ¾ length sleeves.  I don’t like sleeves that get in the way, which they often do because of my short arms!
  • I changed the buttons.  The existing ones were a bit too shiny and plasticy and had the brand name printed on them so I found some stripy ones for £1 (for 8) at The Eternal Maker.
  • The shirt had a different, narrow striped fabric on the inside of the cuffs and yoke and I was able to use this for the back facing.  You can’t see it but I know it’s there!
  • I used the free fabric marking pen from Love Sewing magazine to keep my top stitching neat and ensure that it caught the facing all the way round.  I pinned the facing on the reverse and then drew a line with the white pen on the right side over the pins, took out the pins and then sewed.  Basic stuff but I hate it if I go off piste.  On the subject of sewing magazines, I do seem to have got a bit sucked in lately to buying these each month, I’m so easily tempted by the free patterns etc.  Having just checked the Love Sewing website to make sure I was mentioning the right magazine I found a link to a tutorial for a Japanese style apron from The Hearty Home which I’ve been looking for since spotting this one from Toast.  I might never have found it if I hadn’t bought the magazine!

What I need now is a project to use up discarded shirt pockets!  Any ideas?

Made Up Meet Up

Having not only created the Made Up Initiative to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust, Karen from did you make that also organised a Meet Up in London on Saturday for those taking part.

Not one to miss out on the opportunity to spend a day in London, W came with me (not to the Meet Up!).  I wore the Brumby skirt I’d pledged to make and my latest Get Shirty Refashion (not yet blogged) and W wore an eye-catching combination for safety reasons as he was planning to hire a ‘Boris Bike’ for getting around.  I wasn’t keen to join him on two wheels so in the end we agreed to walk.

As we passed Portland Place he spotted three young people playing table tennis in the World Piazza at the front of Broadcasting House.  He will play table tennis at any opportunity so asked if they wanted a game of doubles – and they said yes!

I just loved the very stylishly dressed man who sat down in the foreground with his yellow coat, striped socks and floral tie.  The boys seemed genuinely disappointed when I dragged W away.

The Meet Up was in the Parcel Yard on the concourse at Kings Cross Station.  It was rather exciting actually meeting Karen as I’ve been following her blog for a long time and she is just lovely!  She was a very generous host, not only providing refreshments but also bringing along fabric and patterns from her stash to give away.  Her Vogue dress was fabulous.  You should look at it in more detail here.

At 1.30 there was a draw for the three prizes which Karen managed to broadcast live on Periscope despite the thickness of the building’s walls making internet access somewhat intermittent.

This was the first meet up I’ve been to and it was great talking to other bloggers including these three pictured with Karen.


left to right Gill from vintagerockchick had made a Mortmain dress but didn’t wear it as she is saving it for her great niece’s christening.  She’d brought along a photograph of the dress and a piece of the fabric which was gorgeous.  Kate from Fabrickated was wearing this coat (but not in the photograph sadly, it was lovely) and Tamsin from pimp my curtains had taught herself to knit recently and made this scarf – which was far too cosy to wear on Saturday.

Next stop was extracting W from a beer festival round the corner from the station and heading for a late lunch at The Grain Store.  Very lively location but rather random service.  We then made our way along the Regent’s Canal to Camden Market before heading back to Victoria.  At the start of this walk we came across a lady in a narrow boat selling home baked cake.  Who could resist?

According to the Health App on my iPhone we clocked up around 23,000 steps during the day which entitled us to do almost none on Sunday!  The Brumby skirt was more comfortable than I thought it would be given the somewhat rigid nature of the fabric, although there was a slight pocket failure when the additional securing stitches on one side came adrift.  Too much shoving of hands in pockets + poor stitching.  Easily rectified.

A great day and a big thank you to Karen for organising the fundraising initiative and the Meet Up.

Annual Fig Harvest

No sewing this weekend as I was working yesterday but I did bake a fig tart for Sunday lunch. We have a fig tree in our garden which has grown from a small plant in a pot into an enormous tree. The original plant was compensation from a local DIY store after a health & safety incident involving W, a swinging garden seat display and a lack of proper construction on their part!  I wasn’t present at the time so I’m not able to report exactly what happened but he came home with a fig tree!

We picked 16 beautiful ripe figs the other evening (another potential health & safety incident)  and I used this recipe to make two really delicious tarts (one for the freezer).

On a sewing-related topic, readers of this blog may remember my post about the blouse my grandmother made for my mother back in 1945.

My sister and I were with our parents today and there was a photograph of the Queen in their Saturday paper, possibly from the same year, wearing an almost identical blouse.

Who copied who???

All Made Up!

I originally posted here about my pledge for the Made Up Initiative set up by Karen over at didyoumakethat?  Her original aim to raise £1,ooo in support of the National Literacy Trust has already been met and and far exceeded which is fantastic.

My pledge was to make the Brumby Skirt by Megan Nielsen by the deadline of 10 September.  This pattern appealed to me the first time I spotted it online, not least because of the great pockets.  I picked Version 1 which is the shortest one with the BIG pockets!

Brumby Skirt

I managed to overcome my reluctance to be forced to sew in order to meet a deadline.   I traced off the pattern in small and made up a toile. I’m not sure if I missed something but the only problem I had was that the pocket facing and lining are not sized and the facing didn’t line up with the skirt front – there was a small piece sticking out at the top.  I just chopped it off. Very daring! Here’s the toile – which I was very happy with.

I decided the small might be a bit snug once the zip was inserted so sized up to medium for the final version.  This turned out to be fortuitous given what happened later.

On to the fabric.  I had three possible choices.

In the end I went for a grey/blue fabric from Ditto in Brighton (bottom right).  I’m not sure if this is a denim or a twill (or something else)?  I was advised in the shop to wash it first and thankfully I paid attention because it shrank quite a bit.  As a result I only just had enough fabric.  I thought I’d have to cut the facings from something else but with a lot of fiddling (and one facing not cut on the grain) I managed it.

The pattern instructions are very clear and everything came together well.  I invested in a new needle suitable for denim which made all the difference.  This is a weighty fabric!  I decided to topstitch in a matching thread because I didn’t want to mess things up with wonky stitching.  I went with the tip to stitch along the bottom edge of the pocket from the side seam for around 2″ to avoid gaping as I noticed this was an issue with the toile.

I was slightly apprehensive about the gathering technique for heavier fabrics using cord which you sew over with a wide zig zag stitch and then pull the cord to create the gathers (I didn’t try this on the toile). I was worrying unnecessarily – it works like a dream!  So effective and really easy, although I did have to cut the cord and extract it in several pieces when I’d finished, rather than just pulling it out in one go as suggested. I’ve not done much gathering before so I was expecting it to be tricky to get the waistband to attach neatly but it all went smoothly.  The fabric looks much ‘bluer’ in these close-ups than it actually is.

At this point things started to go downhill as I attempted the exposed zip insertion!  I’ve never done one of these before but I wanted to give it a go because I had a lovely blue denim zip which contrasted really well with the fabric.  I won’t go into the whole traumatic experience in too much detail because I don’t want to re-live it but I just couldn’t achieve a finish I was happy with – particularly after accidentally clipping one corner of the rectangular space you fit the zip into in the wrong direction!  I still can’t believe I did that! I did manage to stick it all back together with some interfacing and darning but it wasn’t a good start.  Several unpickings led to unsightly fraying at the bottom of the zip space and I suspect the thickness of the fabric didn’t help.

This was where the fact that I had cut the skirt larger than the toile was the saving grace.  I tried it on and realised that it was actually too big so I was able to trim the seam allowances back to get rid of the damage and insert a concealed zip instead.  I started with a navy blue one but that also came out and was replaced with a neutral one.  I used to be terrified of concealed zips but they now seem like a doddle by comparison!  The only problem is that the junction between the skirt and the waistband is quite chunky and a vigorous pull is required to get the zip up past it.

There is no denying that this is a substantial garment – it can actually stand up by itself!  W reckons it is bullet-proof and it is now known as the Kevlar Skirt.  Here’s the finished skirt, with a quick photo of it ‘styled’ with tights and boots which is how I’m intending to wear it, although I changed out of them very quickly to come to work as I had started to overheat!  Thankfully the zip behaved or I would have been trapped in it all day.  I’m hoping its first outing will be for Karen’s Make Up Meet Up on the 12th.  The photos make it look like the hem goes down at the front but rest assured that is an optical illusion!

Despite the zip trauma I absolutely love the Brumby and will definitely have another go at the exposed zip on the next version.  I’m really pleased to have finished this within the Made Up deadline and to be supporting this brilliant initiative.  Thank you Karen.