Featured post

Colour Me Confused

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Again it’s been just far too long since I sat down and wrote any kind of interesting words on my blog, and for this I am truly, very sorry – please do forgive me! I promise it’s not for want of trying, but children/work/children/work/bouts of illness and general life do have a terrible habit of getting in the way. But no more! I promise (to you as much as to myself) that this will change, and I will Make The Effort to write up the to-ings and fro-ings of my life more often. So there.

And so, to business. Quite literally as it happens. Things are afoot in the world of Lotte Jamieson The Craft Empire. Stuff is happening and decisions need to be made, plans need to be followed, items need to be ticked off lists and I need to spend a lot of my time sat in front of my computer instead of knitting and sewing, which is where I would clearly prefer to be, but hey ho, them’s the breaks when you are attempting to make a career out of these things.

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Lovely ash grey – second most popular as it turns out.

This week, asides from getting serious glazed eyes from staring at the laptop for many hours a day (remember when I used to do that for a proper job? Crazy.), I have been looking at colours. Yes, looking at lovely colours and deciding which ones I like the best. I’m aware that it doesn’t sound all that strenuous, but for some reason I have made it into quite a task. The thing about colour is that, quite obviously, we all have our faves and sometimes we agree with other people that pewter grey and mustard yellow are quite divine partners, and other times we think that baby pink and coral make us to want to vomit in spectacular style. So when it comes to choosing colours that other people might like/want, it makes me suddenly doubt my own preferences and leads me to become so paralysed by too many choices so that I am completely incapable of making any decisions whatsoever.

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Is it Leaf or is it Goblin Snot?

Which is why I decided (just the one sensible decision) that I would ask the general public for their thoughts and have a poll of opinions on these damnable but oh so pretty colours. I gathered up 16 different flavours of wool that are potential recruits for my latest projects and I flung them into the faces of my Facebook followers to see which ones stuck and which fell by the wayside. And the results (so far – it’s still ongoing) have surprised me. Now I am aware of the power of advertising and the strength of names when it comes to anything that you want people to like/dislike, and obviously if you’re going to call a pale shade of green something inviting like Leaf or Spring, then people will tend to react more positively than if you went down the Games Workshop route, and labeled it Gangrene or Goblin Snot, but still, I was pleasantly taken aback at the popularity (and non-popularity) of some of the shades. Regardless of their prettified names.

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A big ball of eggy sunset yellow – we have a winner!

By far the most popular were Sunset (a lovely bright eggy yellow – I imagine the marketeers steered clear of Egg Yolk as a name for the reasons stated above) and Ash. Which brings me back to the yellow and grey combo I mentioned at the beginning – it’s good to know I’m on the side of the right colours sometimes. Much less popular were Forest (dark green), Teal (which I think comes out a bit off on a computer screen) and Mink (one of my favourites, a dirty pinkish pale grey/brown), which got no votes at all. So I’m obviously not right all the time.

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The much rejected dirty pinky grey/brown that is Mink.

So, here’s your chance to have a say – let me know what you think and I’ll add your votes to the overall score. Then in a couple of weeks, I’ll be able to reveal just what is happening to all this lovely colourful wool.

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Featured post

Knit Aid at the Shop

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Last week I hosted a mini Knit Aid session at Emporia Fabric & Crafts as I had been feeling like I should do something to help out for a long time. For those who don’t know, Knit Aid is an organisation that exists to bring knitters (and crocheters) together to create warm and useful pieces that will be given to those who are in a much less fortunate position than ourselves. Their current aims are to help refugees across the globe in places like Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, where people are fleeing war torn countries, and who have been forced to live in camps style set-ups and badly supplied, makeshift housing.

At Knit Aid sessions kind hearted creatives get together to make beanies, blanket squares, fingerless gloves, socks and snoods which will then be taken to various camps where people are living in uncomfortable, damp and badly insulated tents and huts. By giving them the gift of warmth, these people are able to cope a little better with the harsh situation they are living in, as well as feel that they have not been completely abandoned by the countries that they have fled to.

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Fingerless gloves in cosy warm merino, and a super chunky knit hat

The amazing Shahnaz, who set up the initiative in summer 2015, has organised hundreds of Knit Aid sessions in London and the South East, and has encouraged knitters of the UK to do the same – so I did, and this was the result.

Myself and some lovely ladies knitted up some fingerless gloves, beanie hats and a strip of blanket squares to donate and today I posted them off to London, from whence they will be sorted and sent out to the place they can be most useful. Living so close to the coast as I do, I kind of hope that they will be sent over the Channel to Calais, but I know that they will be keeping people warm wherever they end up, and that it the most important thing.

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Fingerless (but not thumbless) gloves

Although the deadline for this collection is Friday 28th May, I am sure that there will be more opportunities for knitty and crochet fans to help out at a later date – and if you are very keen, you can even order yourself a Knit Kit direct from Knit Aid, which has been put together with the help of Wool and The Gang (of whom I am a great admirer), which gives you a pair of super chunky needles, and enough wool to knit either three beanies (one for you and two to donate) or two snoods (one for you and one to donate, or two to donate if you’re very generous). You can also pop into Emporia and get 20% off yarn from me until the 18th June if you mention that you are knitting for Knit Aid. There are also patterns (some free) on the Knit Aid site to get you started, and don’t forget there will be hundreds of appropriate patterns for free on Ravelry too.

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A pile of knitting waiting to be posted off

I have no doubt that as the year goes on I will be holding more Knit Aid sessions, so if you’re interested you can always get in touch with me on lotte.jamieson(at)gmail.com and join me in being a Kind Hearted Knitter.

 

Featured post

Park Mall Blogger’s Day – part 2

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Somnus and Seb felt creations.

Two more shops participated in the special Park Mall Blogger’s Day, one of which is where I work, so I will certainly be able to give you the lowdown on what’s going on there, no problem. So here we go, on with the show!

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Jane Carter-Lilley, Flossy Watts and Juju Art.

Made in Ashford
This other shop, which I don’t work in, is the main reason I had to split this blog post into two, as it’s absolutely crammed with loads of different sellers and crafters. Following the success of Pop Up Ashford which took over another unit in Park Mall last year, the council again agreed to allow a collective to take over one of the empty shops and turn it into an Aladdin’s Cave of loveliness. Jewellery, clothes for both kids and adults, ornaments, stationery, glassware, chocolate and cards are just some of the wonderous things you can get hold of there, made by a plethora of local talent. The collective works by allowing the various crafters to take over a certain amount of the shop in return for manning the tills for a day or two once a week; they can sign up for a short term contract and if they like it, they’ll stay on and if they have to get back to other, more officey kind of jobs or looking after children, then they can opt out once the contract is up, making it the ideal way of testing out they unique products on the high street. This also gives the shoppers of Ashford the best of both worlds as they get continuity from the bigger sellers as well as the variety from the smaller, shorter term sellers – meaning there is always something new and exciting to look at.

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Ella Bee Crafts, Made in Pixieland and Lucy Alice Designs.

The current line up features loads of talented makers, all of whom are local to Ashford and it’s surrounds. On the day I visited, Flossy Watts/Jane Carter-Lilley was in charge, so she showed me around the shop, introducing all the various crafts including her own gorgeous pieces of wood and silver jewellery, which stars alongside work from other members of her family. Also popping in to restock her shelves was the lovely Judith of JujuArt. Her work features silhouettes of plants and birds, projected onto plain or brightly coloured backgrounds, making the images incredibly striking. The natural theme is continued by sweet little bees, butterflies and fox earrings and necklaces made by Nicola Jennings Art, using photoreaslistic designs printed onto light weight card.

Mulberry Glass Art, Mini Medley, and Nicola Jennings Art.

Mulberry Glass Art, Mini Medley, and Nicola Jennings Art.

Clothing comes courtesy of Mini Medley and her fabulously funky kids’ printed trousers and sweatshirts, and Aye Aye provides fifties style circle skirts and sweetheart neckline wiggle dresses; Mulberry Glass Art has a whole shelf full of wonderfully skillful painting on glass, depicting flowers and natural designs; and more birds and British wildlife designs on cards and prints, cushions and jewellery come from the hand of Lucy Alice Designs.

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Aye Aye Boutique.

In the goody bag that was so kindly put together by the crafters was a little pack of stationery from Made in Pixieland which also contained a tiny bottle of sparkly pixie dust, which both my children instantly demanded, and my daughter only conceded in handing it over when I gave her the pink crystal earrings from Ella Bee Crafts – not that she has pierced ears yet, but she is a sucker for shiny things.  My personal favourite from the day, was a delightful smelling felted pommander made by Somnus and Seb whose range of brightly coloured wool felt key rings I also fell for – if you like a mix of texture and delicious fragrance, then these babies could be for you.

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Emporia Fabric & Crafts
Given that I have worked with Clair for two and a half years now, it’s tricky to be completely objective about this shop but I will give it a bash nevertheless. For those that don’t know anything about it’s evolution, here’s a potted history: Clair moved into a tiny unit on Bank Street back in October 2013, having decided she needed Ashford needed somewhere for sewers to be able to handle fabrics in person before they bought them. Once she was settled in however, Clair then found out she was pregnant with her third son, and so plans for growing her shop went on the back burner for a bit. Once Leo was born, Clair quickly got back in the saddle and decided to put in a proposal to move her shop into the now council owned Park Mall and continue expanding her fabric empire.

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The reversible dress pattern, fat quarter rainbow, and the Amelie dress – soon to be released as a pattern.

She (and I) moved into the new and much, much bigger unit with the help of T-Cat last July, and since then the shop has just gone from strength to strength. Not only has Clair hugely expanded her range of fabrics, but she’s also released her first commercial dress pattern and is finalising details on two more; the shop also stocks a growing range of wool and yarn, has taken on lots more class teachers, and also features a range of local crafters selling ceramics, silver jewellery, leatherwork, hand printed kids’ t shirts, beaded necklaces, chocolate and knitty items. Clair also teaches plenty of different classes herself and gets plenty of inspiration from her students for developing more patterns – her classes on the child’s reversible dress, the a-line skirt, pyjama bottoms, beginner’s sessions and holiday kid’s classes have all proven very popular with those wanting to increase their sewing knowledge.

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Crafters corner, the fabric wall and the wool area.

But whether you’re after classes, crafts, or inspiration, there is nowhere better to come for a fantastic range of amazing fabrics than Emporia – crammed with prints from the likes of Swafing in Germany, Michael Miller, Beth Studley, Camelot, Andover Fabrics, Marvel Comics, Makower, Gutermann florals, linen and heavier weight cottons, jersey in funky patterns, as well as basic plains, calico, felt and netting are all on the shelves here. Basically, if you want to make a dress for a three year old with pink skulls on, or cover an old chair with flying rabbits, or pyjama bottoms with Bat Girl all over them, then you know where to come.

Featured post

Park Mall Blogger’s Day – part 1

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So, last week the very lovely Kate of Happy & Glorious organised a fantastic blogger’s day around the independent shops of Ashford’s Park Mall. Having kind of abandoned my blog about a year ago (more about the why’s, wherefore’s and what I’ve been up in the meantime soon!) I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to get back in the saddle and kick it off again. Given that I’m a partial resident of one of the Park Mall independents, it seemed even more like the perfect reason to get blogging again – so here we are now, ready to rock n roll and explore the delights of some of my fantastic shop-based neighbours.

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Cards, cake cushions, bathy things, smelly things and very cute and easy to look after plants.

Happy & Glorious
Set up by Kate Thompsett in 2012 to mark the London Olympics and celebrate all things British made and fabulous, Happy & Glorious moved from living in the virtual world to a real world bricks and mortar shop back in winter last year. Selling a range of homeware and gifty type items, this little unit is crammed with all kinds of gorgeous things, many of which are designed and produced by Kate herself. Gorgeous smelling candles and reed diffusers (Clovelly), floral lotions and potions (Bramley), big squishy geometric blankets and wool purses (Melin Tregwynt), fine china with illustration style prints (Boop, Wiggles & Florence, and Sue Candy), fun and funky cards (I like Birds, Raspberry Blossom, and Lancaster and Gibbings), grown up wash bags (Ducky Dora) and best of all, cushions that look like giant biscuits (Nikki McWilliams). What’s not to like?

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Lovely candles, notelets and to do lists, cards, soaps, teapots and mugs in fine bone china.

Featuring designers and creatives who live and sell their products in Britain is Kate’s thing, and she has done a sterling job in curating a range of inviting and innovative pieces. My son has bought me her scented candles and bath bombs as gifts on a regular basis, but my heart was captured on blogger’s day by the delightful range of succulent plants that were gracing the window. I’m desperately hoping I won’t kill it, but it’s sitting on my sewing shelves so at least I will see it on a regular basis, and therefore remember to water it.

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Goodies and a voucher from H&G, and Kate doing a pantomime style slap on the thigh, just because posing for normal photos is dull.

Not only did Kate organise the whole bash, but she also got all the independents to put together a very lovely goody bag for us bloggers, and included in that was a voucher from her which I can share with you for a fantastic 15% off until the end of May. Just quote BD2016 when you make a purchase from Happy & Glorious to get your discount.

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Bags, scarves and a glimpse of Helen lurking inside.

Glam R Us
My second visit of the day was just over the road from H&G to the Glam R Us stall which is located in front of Wilkinson’s, facing right out onto the open space of Park Mall and it’s planty area. Owned and run by the lovely Helen, Glam R Us pretty much does what it says on the tin – if it’s glamorous, then it’s on the shelves. If you love all things blingy and glitzy, then this place is for you. I do have a bit of a jewellery addiction it has to be said, so I have to be quite strict with myself in places where shiny things abound, otherwise I get into trouble with my credit card, but the prices in Helen’s place are all very reasonable, so you can get your fill of pretty stuff without breaking the bank.

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Handbags, pretty necklaces and a happy Helen ready to serve the jewellery-lovers of Ashford.

It’s not just jewellery on sale at Glam R Us though: handbags, scarves, decorative hangy things to put on your bedroom wall or in the bathroom, and plenty of other sparkly items to make you feel a bit special can be snapped up too. Fortunately I have a wedding to go to at the end of the month, so I was perfectly justified in getting myself a gorgeous bronze coloured wrap-around bracelet with my 20% off, which you too can enjoy on your first online purchase.

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Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, picture frames and hanging signs.

Creative Collective
The Creative Collective is a gallery, workshop and art space located opposite Happy & Glorious at the same end of the centre as Glam R Us. Filled with fantastic art and crafts created by local artists, this unit is run by Betsy Aidinyantz. Currently showing an exhibition by photographers Doug Harman and Philip Hinton, the studio is a light and inviting space where you can be inspired by other artists or even take lessons in all kinds of creative skills yourself.

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Art in progress, creativity on the walls.

The collective also holds regular events such as film nights, craft clubs and festivals – the main one being Betsy’s very own creation, ArtiGras which takes place annually in May, featuring local crafters and artists’ stalls, as well as creative collaborations from groups based in and around the town.  This year’s ArtiGras takes place on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st May, and the theme is magical mystical creatures, so you can expect to see plenty of fantastical animals and crazy creations over that weekend.

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Crafty watches and creative classes.

Next up – the delights of the Made in Ashford community craft pop up and the wonderful Emporia Fabric & Crafts.

 

Featured post

Simplicity 1877 by Leanne Marshall

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Two major dressmaking events occurred during the course of 2014 – both equally significant, but one much more impressive than the other – not only did I make two actual dresses, from genuine patterns, all by myself, but I can actually wear them, and most shocking of all – I actually like them. (I’m pausing here to allow the gravity of the situation to sink in properly, because if you know me at all, then you will know that I am the Queen of Fussy and can rapidly go off stuff very quickly, even between having loved something in the shop and then suddenly hating it for no reason when I get it home. Anyway – pause to allow that statement to really hit home.)

So often during the 2013 period of sewing stuff, I managed to spend hours and hours making garments that either didn’t fit or that after all the blood, sweat and tears, I found I wasn’t that keen on the article and didn’t really want to wear it. There was the god awful Sewing Bee mashup of the blouse and tunic, both in cotton and jersey; then there was the refashioned strapless dress into a skirt, which when I began to lose weight suddenly became far too long and would trip me up endlessly; and you might also recall the Sorbetto top which was such a pleasure to make but which made me feel like a bingo-winged dinner lady once it was finished due to the massive floral pattern which was way too heavy on the pink. Basically I made a lot of stuff that was horrid. Or at least I thought it was horrid once I had finished it, and it therefore became another sewing related albatross around my neck that made me terribly despondent about ever making anything I would actually wear outside in public.

But – along comes a little bit of determination, some not too expensive fabric that I actually like, and some serious graft, and what do you know, but I’ve suddenly got a dress I can wear in the real world without worrying that I might bump into someone I know.

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Who doesn’t love pockets?

The story of the Simplicity 1877 dress starts way back in 2013 when I chose it from a selection in a pattern pass-along competition. I loved the deep v neck and the funny little ruffles on the shoulders and despite my mum making that, Hmmmm, face when I asked her for some help with it, it seemed like it might actually work. And it did – the ruffles, the numerous darts, the pointed bodice, the big gathered skirt and the bound neckline and armholes – all of which had given me several flavours of collywobbles before I started.

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Quite a lot of skirt

The main problem I have with describing my time making this dress is that it was completed over such a long period of time, that I have real difficulty remembering what happened; I had planned on blogging about the 1877 properly, giving people my actual opinion of the pattern, telling you precisely what I changed and how, but since I cut out the pieces in October 2013 and finished hemming it in January 2015, you can see how much of the detail may have slipped my mind. However, I shall try my best and hopefully shed some light on the construction process as I saw it, so here goes:

Sizing – I cut a 16 since I have quite big boobs and didn’t even want to think about doing a large bust adjustment what with all the other complicated stuff I thought I would be attempting. This turned out to be too big, mainly because I lost weight but also because I think I should have gone with a 14 and done a bust adjustment, which I will now have to add to my list of things I need to learn to do, despite being scared. In the end though, I made it smaller by quite a chunk down the back simply by taking it in either side of the zip. Not terribly professional I’ll grant you, but that’s what the woman who altered my wedding dress did, so if it’s good enough for a very expensive duchesse satin number, then it’s good enough for cotton.

Shoulder ruffle, complete with pin and pointy finger

Shoulder ruffle, complete with pin and pointy finger

Shoulder ruffles – other people who have blogged about this dress indicated that they might be a bit tricksy. I found them possibly the easiest part of the pattern as they don’t have to fit anything, they just have to match each other, which mine do – ish.

Neckline – the v neck is waaaaaay too deep. I tend to show quite a bit of cleavage as it is, simply by owning quite a bit of cleavage, but the original pattern takes it to unnecessary extremes – unless you want to give everyone an eyeful every time you bend down slightly in this dress, you will need to raise the neckline. I took mine up an inch and a half (I think).

Wonky back seam

Wonky back seam

Length – I’m 5’7″ and I am not a fan of my knees – they need to be hidden at all times – so ideally I would have cut this a little longer, but I didn’t have enough fabric. However, since the skirt is so full it does give the illusion of extra length, and I also decided to bind the hem rather than roll it up and lose even more length, thereby gaining a precious half centimetre. The only reason this worked out okay is because of the pattern on the fabric and the dark colour of the background – anything lighter and it would have looked peculiar I think.

I also ended up taking in an inch or so of the funny kimono style non-sleeves (they’re not really sleeves are they? they’re just flappy extensions of the shoulder) because I thought they looked weird and boxy – again possibly because I had cut a size too big. This was done as an extension of the side seam, and although I can’t raise my arms above my head that easily, I think the whole shoulder/top arm area looks much better as a consequence. Plus if I do it again, I would have to increase the length of the bodice as I am very long in the body, and this sits slightly higher than my natural waistline, which is a bit odd feeling.

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Slightly twisted back, but that could just be me

So there you have it – one proper dress, from a proper pattern, sewn properly then hacked about a bit at the end, because I can’t resist tinkering. And I’ve actually worn it outside in the real world – admittedly in a foriegn country with only one other person who knows me, but still. As the weather warms up I imagine it become my go to dress for spring due to the slightly heavier nature of the cotton.

Next time: the other dress that I made last year – ooh the tension is unbelievable!

Featured post

Catching Up Knitwise

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Yet again it’s been ages since I’ve blogged, not quite as long as last time, but at least two and half months have flown by while I’ve been desperately busy working and getting on with life in general. So much has changed in my life since I was writing regularly, but now I am kind of settled into a new routine, I am determined to keep up with my posts and log as many of my makes as possible. So in an effort to remind myself of what I’ve actually been doing with my time since the end 2013, here’s a couple of knitty things I’ve been making; sewing stuff to follow soon!

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Apologies for the weird gormless foam head modelling the hat …

Blackberry Stitch Hat
I am massively pleased with this design, which I came up with all by myself, through sheer bloody mindedness and a husband who is able to do multiplication and division on demand, even whilst watching foreign language films and drinking gin. Having completed a few cabled hats based on a Rowan pattern I decided to see if I could get to grips with a different stitch and create a slightly more Scandinavian style with a pointy top, a little like the funny elf type creatures wear. My half Finnish half Scottish cousin calls these people Tumshies (not sure of the spelling) and they seem to be a very distinct part of the Scandinavian Christmas identity – instead of helping Father Christmas make the presents, they will steal the gifts for themselves if the children they are intended for have been naughty apparently. Not the cutesy elves of American culture, these elves have some balls, which made making hats akin to theirs even more appealing.

Using seriously chunky wool (as always) these pointy, bobbly hats knit up very quickly, taking around an hour and a half, and have a good stretch to them because of the nature of the blackberry stitch. If you’ve not had a go at blackberry before (also called Trinity stitch in the USA I believe) take a look on YouTube for some guidance and give it a bash – it’s not as tricky as you might think, and also gives you a lovely dense knit, making it perfect for keeping heads warm. I did this one in my favourite colour, and if no one has bought it by the end of the month, I will declare it to be mine for keeps.

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Different coloured cables …

Cable Earwarmers or Headbands
I had been thinking about this kind of headgear all over the Christmas holidays, but since I promised myself I would do no work of any kind for a whole week and a half, the prototype didn’t get into production until the beginning of January. Annoyingly, I wish I had caved on this over Christmas and got going with it as as soon as I worked out what it was I wanted to achieve – essentially one single cable that looked like a plait around the head – I was off, on a cable themed merry go round, knitting every available colour I could buy. Again, this one is a really quick knitter and once I got the pattern in my head, after a couple of goes I could make it up with no reference to my notebook whatsoever. Which was fantastic news when I spent the morning dragging my husband and his poorly back to the doctors and the hospital for a scan, hanging about in waiting rooms with nothing else to do. I also knitted a few on the train to London and back to see my dad after his operation (clearly it’s a medical thing with the men in my family), but I did have to sit side saddle while I did it, in order to avoid poking the man next to me with my long and rather chunky needles.

Again these babies are inspired by my ongoing Scandi obsession, and despite not having long hair any more and being quite grateful for the fact, I can’t help but think you need to have long, tousselled locks to really look the part. But one thing is for sure, if you find hats make your head way too hot, a headband is most definitely the answer. And you don’t get hat hair either.

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A lovely jumper and some lovely wool, but the twain are just not likely to ever meet …

The Jumper
You recall that simple jumper I started way back in what seems like the last century? The one that I started three times and unraveled all the way each time, only to start again in a different size, or on different needles, or just because? Well, that project has been abandoned yet again, and the only reason I haven’t unraveled it yet again is because I can’t quite bring myself to ball it all up again. I think it’s going to become a cardigan. But I’m more than likely going to start off a child’s size cardigan for my daughter first and see if I can finish a much smaller project. Otherwise, I am destined never to actually complete a knitted garment for myself this side of retirement. And since I’m now self employed that day may not ever come.

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It’s big, it’s squishy, it’s a heart – what’s not to love?

Big Knitted Heart
This one was completed purely for the Valentine’s Day display window at Emporia Fabric & Crafts, with a vague hope that someone might buy it. No-one did, but I enjoyed knitting it nonetheless. The pattern is one I used to create some much smaller hearts for hanging in my daughter’s room when she was tiny, and for a company that sells dog products, where they were sold again for Valentine’s Day, with squeakers inside. It’s knitted using 10mm wool doubled up on 15mm needles (super duper extra chunky!) and is huge and squishy. It’s still available, should anyone decide they think it would look perfect in their own armchair, but most importantly it made me think about knitting other cushions, particularly cabled ones, although they will have to wait until next autumn now. I’m all about spring from here on in.

Next time: more projects from the Missing Year, plus plans I have for future sewing. Or, other crafty stuff that has grabbed my attention in the meantime and I simply can’t shut up about it.

Featured post

Long Time No Speak!

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Helloooo! Anyone left after nearly a year off? Well, to those of you who are still hanging on, a big warm welcome back and a really quick look at what I’ve been up to in the past year. Things have been incredibly hectic both in the crafty world and the real one: so many things have happened it would be impossible (or very long winded) to tell you about every single thing of interest, so you’ll have to make do with a brief but hopefully interesting precis, before I go into a bit more detail in the coming weeks.

I’ve cracked on very hard with both my sewing and my knitting skills in 2014 and have surprised both myself and my mother with how far I’ve come. Not only have I been making a whole load of stuff, that I simply haven’t had time to blog about, but I’ve also ventured into the world of selling my makes – yes, I’ve actually been making things that are good enough to sell! Who’d have thought of that happening this time last year when I was moaning on about wonky seams and overly complicated knitting patterns? Certainly not me, that’s for sure.

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So how did this come about, I hear you ask. Well, for starters in January last year I started doing some copywriting for a lovely little place called Emporia Fabric & Craft, which was a real boon to my freelancing. Then when the owner was in need of extra cover to help out during the summer, I started working there one day a week, and haven’t stopped since. Working alongside Clair has given me loads of extra confidence when it comes to developing my own sewing, and I get so much inspiration from seeing all the amazing fabrics she sells and talking to the customers about what they plan to make with them. So around Halloween, just in time for the shop’s first birthday, I knocked up a few spooky themed items, like pumpkins, witches cats, hanging bats and some bunting – mostly to decorate the window, but some things sold, which got me thinking about making more.

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Even more exciting, and scary, is the fact that I’ve been teaching (I know! Teaching!) knitting classes at the shop too. When I first started to talk to Clair about what she did in the shop, she mentioned that she was thinking about getting hold of a knitter to take workshops, to compliment the range of sewing classes. Even though my knitting had improved vastly at that point, it took me until the autumn to finally take the plunge, and despite being nervous at taking my first class, I enjoyed it immensely.

hats

Then when Clair said she would be holding a six week pop up version of the craft market she has been hosting in empty units around the town, I decided to make the leap and get myself a stall. And that’s where you find me now – with just one week left of the pop up, shoppers and fellow crafters of Ashford have the chance to get their hands on my very own makes. Currently in stock are: decorative birds in contrasting fabrics, large and medium cat cushions, mini quilt comforters backed with fleece, and man-bags or wash bags for men. On the knitty front, there are a variety of different, brightly coloured hats in cable, plain knit and blackberry stitch; plus boot cuffs and wristwarmers.

So if you fancy taking a closer look, or want to get your hands on any of these crafts in time for Christmas – swing by the Emporia Craft & Vintage pop up market before 1pm on Christmas Eve.

Featured post

2013 End of Year Roundup

2013 End of Year Roundup

Well crimp my edges and fold me sideways, it would seem that the New Year has arrived already! Just where December went I will never know, but as with my last post I just don’t seem to be able to keep up with the kids, the housework (housework – que?), my job and the blog. Fortunately however, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had time to get crafty, so here I present to you, in no particular order, my end of year roundup of unblogged craft projects, and my most successful and unsuccessful makes of 2013:

Counting down in the Countdown colours ...

Counting down in the Countdown colours …

Pillow Case Advent Calendar
Something I have been determined to make for a long time now and with a well timed visit to a large fabric store to recce the fat quarters that were Christmassy but not too Christmassy, I found an old pillowcase for the base and got folding those little 12cm squares for all they were worth. It was an odd project to complete for me, in that I didn’t think the prep time would be as long as it was, but then the sewing time was much shorter than I expected – I don’t know why, but it’s always the other way around for most things I make. I also machine stitched the numbers on the pockets, which was most satisfying indeed, despite some of them being rather wonky. Anyway, for a random plan of action that came together the last weekend of November, it was quite satisfying; and I got to watch the mammoth guide to Doctor Who on the iPlayer while I did it.

You can't see his wings, but I promise they are there

You can’t see his wings, but I promise they are there

Black Retro Owl
An un-birthday present for my niece. When my daughter turned one back in September my brother, his wife and three year old daughter came to visit and so, as small children are bound to kick off when other small children are on the receiving end of gifts and they are not, both my son and my niece got small presents to avoid the inevitable screaming fits that would ensue when my daughter opened all of hers. The pattern is based roughly on an owl that my aunt made for me when I was a child, except that I added wings. It’s made from black jersey (apparently my niece’s favourite colour en ce moment) and some striking yellow cotton from the seventies, salvaged from, you guessed it, my mother’s attic. I love his big button eyes, which is basically what I end up using all my buttons for, and my daughter was fascinated by them, so I am planning on making owl 2.0 for her sometime soon. I stuffed him with some of the contents of my old maternity pillow which made him a little lumpy, but he still seemed a successful make.

Washing all over the world

Washing all over the world

Makeup/Wash Bags
Two more presents, but this time for grownups. The makeup bag (not pictured because invariably when I make presents I forget to take photos and am therefore reliant on the recipient taking one and sending it to me) is covered with Michael Miller fabric that has a distinctly seventies feel, featuring  retro designed squirrels and mushrooms, and brown, purple, turquoise and white being the predominant colours. The inside is made from a green and white polka dot pvc, which I bought a whole metre of, so you can be sure to see that stuff getting plenty of use in the coming months. The map-themed wash bag was a Christmas present for my husband, and also features a map design on the pvc liner, which I am particularly proud of. I added a hanging loop on this one, which I stupidly sewed onto the wrong side first off, and had to spend about an hour unpicking, such is the weird adhesive quality of sewing with pvc fabric. But I broke three machine needles on the first one, so you clearly can’t win. Asides from these mishaps though, these little beauties are one of the quickest and most satisfying makes ever.

Foxy face

Foxy face

Felt Fox Face iPad Case
Another birthday present, but this time for a very special grownup lady who celebrated her 40th, sorry, 39th + 1 birthday this October. She loves foxes and so having thrown her off the scent by asking her a variety of questions about her favourite music, colours, shapes, food and drink, I set about making this foxy little chap from numerous pieces of felt, both hand sewing and machine stitching until he was all fixed together in his various layers, and lined with some lovely green and blue leaf patterned cotton to keep the iPad nice and cosy. A very satisfying make indeed, made yet more satisfying by the fact that she and I both had a silly weepy moment together when I gave her that and a bumble bee pendant I knew she had wanted for ages. People crying over presents you have handmade them is always a good moment, unless of course they are weeping with horror.

Chase me, chase me!

Chase me, chase me!

Hare and Fox Fabric Collage
The walls of my daughter’s bedroom are still terribly bare despite my best efforts to fill them with paintings, photos and various decorations since she moved in there back in the spring, so given how much she loves trees and nature in general, I decided to make use of some samples I got from a local upholstery place that had some trees, foxes and a running hare on them. I used a fat quarter from Hometown with lovely olive green trees as the background, and then glued and machine stitched the top pieces down, before wrapping the whole thing around a canvas. It hangs above the top of the cot, next to a mobile of spinning family faces, and my daughter will often point at the picture and say “Trees!” with some delight before she goes to bed.

I also another pair of pyjama bottoms made from an old bed sheet in record time on Christmas Eve for my husband – they are not the most exciting or even terribly pleasant looking of bedtime trews, and consequently don’t warrant much of a mention, and certainly not a picture. I didn’t even iron the fabric before I made them, and given the lack of hoovering that has taken place in this house recently they got covered with cat hairs as I laid them out on the carpet. Not the most enchanting of presents I am sure you will agree.

Best Make of the Year:
It has to be the zebra kimono top from Salme patterns. I made it so quickly and easily, despite not cutting out any seam allowance and the fabric was so heavenly to sew with, it simply has to be my Best Make of 2013. In fact, when I looked through my wardrobe for something to wear on New Year’s Eve to a small party of select guests (my old ante-natal friends and their kids – much drinking and much Batman action), I realised that I should have the guts to use up that lovely Liberty piece on this pattern as the simplicity of the cut would really let the gorgeous pattern and colours speak for themselves, so resolution no.1 is to get that fabric out and make the first brave snip.

Worst Make of the Year:
A tricky one, this, as (if I’m allowed to put on my negative hat for a moment) you could say that almost everything I have made for myself to wear so far has had Worst Make elements. My Sewing Bee Tunic ended up nicely, but I literally had to take the entire thing apart and resew it, as well as struggle for what felt like hours determining how to understand those ridiculous instructions for the facing; the Sewing Bee Blouse was also a bit of a ballsup, and despite coming out okay in the end, whenever I have put it on and looked at myself in the mirror, I have taken it off again almost instantly; so I think for being the most depressingly ill-fitting, despite having beautifully sewn in sleeves (for a first timer), it has to be the Tunic/Blouse Mash Up, which still makes me feel all angry and sad when I think about how happy I was with the sleeves, and how awful it looked on me. Another resolution should clearly be to make something from that book successfully.

Slooooowest Makes of the Year Still Under Construction:
Flurry Rowan jumper – still on about row 30 of the back due to having been unravelled three times, and my shoulder not letting me knit without causing me pain. Maybe I will have it ready for next winter.

Simplicity 1877 – all cut out and with the darts tacked in place, but still sitting in a yellow carrier bag under my work desk. And I cut it out in a size 16, and now I am very much more a size 14, so I’m not sure I will have the mental energy to lay them all out again and cut off the excess, and re-do the darts. In fact I might just leave it in the bag until I’m a size 12, which gives me an excuse to push the bag even further towards the back of the desk, until 2015 probably.

Featured post

Knitting Fitting Fiasco

Knitting Fitting Fiasco

Well, if ever there was any proof that I cannot keep my house clean, wash everybody’s clothes, look after two children, go to work and create/write about all kinds of lovely crafty things in my (ha!) spare time, here it is. October has been and gone, and now so has November, and I have done nothing in the way of finishing many of my ongoing projects, or indeed still haven’t even put some of them under the needle. But, now that Christmas is only three weeks away (eek!) I am determined to get some things finished before the end of the year, even if that means staying up until the wee small hours, making my eyeballs bleed as they strain to see the stitches. That’s probably a little over-dramatic, but you get my gist.

jumperwool

The beginning of term segued seamlessly into the end of my maternity leave, which then resulted in me spending an awful, awful lot of time remembering what it is I do for a living (editing) and running very fast to catch up with everything I had missed over the past year. We then had vast amounts of family staying over three weekends, which, as much fun as it was, totally ate up any energy I might have had for knitting/sewing. And then of course, half term crept up on me out of nowhere, and so my house was full with my son once more, and he and my husband and the baby participated in some much needed Daddy-time, while I went off to work. Then November hit bringing with it illness, aching joints and yet more work, so now the autumn is over and everything is kind of normal (barring the onslaught of the festive season), I am desperate to crack on with the jumper that I started knitting back at the end of summer.

Here it is in the very early stages:

flurryroundneedles

I am using the Flurry pattern from the Easy Winter Knits book by Rowan, which is supposed to be done using Drift on 10mm needles. Given how much the Rowan wool costs, I substituted the Stylecraft Super Chunky, which knits up on the same size needles. My plan was to do a few test squares using the 10mm circulars and my old 9mm wooden ones that came from my great aunt, to see gauge my tension and see how dense the resulting knitting was. Having done this and achieved the correct tension according to the pattern, I kicked off the process on the 10mm and got as far as about ten rows above the ribbing, before I had my doubts. It just seemed too open and gappy, which made me think it would be too chilly, which is not what one wants from a big, wooly jumper in my opinion.

I then knitted up another version, this time in XL on the 9mm needles, figuring that the smaller stitches would gather up more, resulting in a tighter knit, which would then require more stitches to the pattern. I did this and carried on thinking all was well until I hit the armholes and having cast off the relevant bits and worked up to the beginnings of the neck, I realised that I had knitted a monster and that it was actually big enough to fit my husband, who is no small fry I might add.

So having held the thing up to him, and then up to me, and laid it on the floor to measure it about a thousand times over, just in case it had magically shrunk and decided to fit me instead of a stoutly built six footer, I took it to my mother and we both made sad faces, before we set about unravelling the thing back into it’s component three balls of wool.

And now I am on version 3.0 of Flurry and it is clearly not going to be finished before the end of the year as I had promised myself, as asides from all the work, cleaning, childcare and general other stuff I have to get on with, my shoulder is still not right after roughly ten months of pain, clicking and aching in the cold. I can knit without too much bother, but I can’t sit and plough through the rows in any sort of wooly marathon – I can only do short bursts, and even then I can’t necessarily do it every single day. But hey ho, I can at least feel assured that this time I am actually knitting it in the right size. Hopefully … Here’s to version 4.0 whenever I discover whatever’s wrong with this one.

On a more positive note, (kind of) in other knitting news, I am still attempting to get on with the baby blanket that I started back in Easter this year. Fingers crossed I will get it finished before the choccy eggs and bunnies pop up in 2014.

babyblanket

Featured post

Cable Boots Cuffs Knitting Pattern

Cable Boot Cuffs Knitting Pattern

Several months ago, back in May or June, I had my Cable Relevation and discovered that actually you don’t have to be a complete knitting genius to be able to work them, you just have to have some patience, a little bit of a maths moment and not mind counting out loud repeatedly until you sound like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. You may also find yourself making odd groaning noises as you go, dependent on how tight your tension has unwittingly become, and you struggle to get your needle in and out of the cable stitches without sounding like you are straining on the toilet. (Apologies readers, if you are of a polite disposition and dislike having knitting compared to going to the loo.) My husband calls this knitting constipation, which is quite appropriate really given the noises and the struggle to produce your knitting comfortably.

So – after several hours of hard concentration, groaning, one complete miscounting of stitches resulting in having to unravel the whole cable section since I couldn’t work out which row I was on and couldn’t put the stitches back on the left hand needle properly, I have managed to produce these boot cuffs, the pattern for which I have decided to share with you now.

Hmm, lovely cables

Mmmmm, lovely cables

I actually completed the first one back when I had just discovered how to cable, and indeed got off the starting line of the second one, only to encounter the miscounting error mentioned above and the have the whole shooting match put on hold by my dicey shoulder. So what with the weather looking like it was on the turn (which it now seems to not be anymore – honestly whatever happened to having summer during summer time?) and following the success of my Big Wool legwarmers, I thought I would finish off the second cuff and feel proud of my cabling success.

On the legs, but minus boots

On the legs, but minus boots

Sadly, I couldn’t quite get to the end of things without at least one more balls up, namely forgetting that I had done the rib section with smaller needles, so that one cuff is bigger the other and the rib section is all weird and splayed out like a frill on a fish’s fin. I didn’t actually realise this until I got to the end of casting off, and in my hurry to have them done and dusted, I told myself that the rib secton would bunch up again and look okay, and got on with swing up the seams. Strangely enough, it didn’t bunch up and it didn’t look okay, so my next mission was to undo the sewing, unravel the rib section, wrangle the stitches back onto some size 6mm needles (possibly 7, I can’t really recall) and finish the cuffs off properly rather than consign them to the Things I Have Made But Will Never Wear pile. Actually given the mess I would no doubt have made of the unknitting, I had to call on my mother to help out and she thankfully got me back to the cable section without any hitches, so I could re-do the rib in 5 mm needles. I’m sure, however, that those of you who complete these cuffs in the appropriate timescale won’t have these issues.

With short boots ...

With short boots …

I completed these in Hayfield Bonus Chunky on 6mm needles, with the rib in 5mm; the wool band calls for 6.5mm, but I prefer a tighter knit than that which you generally get with the chunkier wools, although this is a goodly chunker. I used just one 100g ball, but depending on how tight or loose your tension, you may just go over into another ball.

So here’s the pattern, just waiting for someone else to give it a try.

and with longer boots

and with longer boots

Using this wool and these needles knits up a pair of boot cuffs suitable for calves measuring around 15/16 inches. They will fit over skinny or fairly slim fit jeans, or will work around ankle boots as long as they tuck inside the boot, rather than over it, as they would otherwise slip down. Obviously a lot of these factors depend on your tension and the wool you choose to use. If you have really skinny legs or want to knit them specifically for ankles rather than calves, you could always cut out the last cable section – but I would only recommend this if you are confident with cables and can work out your missing and remaining sections appropriately! As with all my patterns, if you spot an error, please do let me know.

One pair still slightly wider than the other, but who's counting, eh?

One pair still slightly wider than the other, but who’s counting, eh?

Abbreviations: K = knit stitch; P = purl stitch; c4f = cable 4 in front by slipping the next 2 stitches onto your cable needle and holding it in front of the work before knitting the next 2 from your left hand needle, then knit the 2 stitches off your cable needle; c8f = cable 8 in front by slipping the next 4 stitches onto your cable needle and holding it in front of the work before knitting the next 4 from your left hand needle, then knit the 4 stitches from your cable needle.

Note: as the cable pattern relies on using a foundation row, the first row of cabling is only labeled Cable Row 1 for ease of reference later on in the pattern – it is not actually the first row. The beginning and end of every cable row should end with 4 stitches of either k1/p3, p1/k3 or k3/p1, p1/k3 – this is a good indication of whether or not you have followed the pattern along the row correctly or not, as if you end up with more than 4 stitches, you know you have gone wrong somewhere along that row.

Cast on 60 stitches.
Knit 10 rows of double rib, by knitting 2, purling 2, k2, p2 until the end of the row, for each row.
Row 11 – foundation row – k4, p8, k3, p8 – repeat k3, p8 until you have 4 stitches left, then k4.
Row 12 or Cable Row 1 – K1, p3, c4f, k4, p3, k8, p3, c4f, k4, p3, k8, p3, c4f, k4, p3, k1.
Row 13 (Cable Row 2) – This is the repeat row, which should be knitted alternately as you go through the cable part of the pattern – p1, k3, p8, k3, p8, k3, p8, k3, p8, k3, p8, k3, p1.
Row 14 – k1, p3, k2, c4f, k2, p3, k8, p3, k2, c4f, k2, p3, k8, p3, k2, c4f, k2, p3, k1.
Row 15 – as row 13 (cable row 2).
Row 16 – k1, p3, k4, c4f, p3, k8, p3, k4, c4f, p3, k8, p3, k4, c4f, p3, k1.
Row 17 – as row 13 (cable row 2).
Row 18 – k1, p3, c4f, k4, p3, c8f, p3, c4f, k4, p3, c8f, p3, c4f, k4, p3, k1.
Row 19 – as row 13 (cable row 2).
Row 20 – k1, p3, k2, c4f, k2, p3, k8, p3, k2, c4f, k2, p3, k8, p3, k2, c4f, k2, p3, k1.
Row 21 – as row 13 (cable row 2).
Row 22 – k1, p3, k4, c4f, p3, k8, p3, k4, c4f, p3, k8, p3, k4, c4f, p3, k1.
Row 23 – as row 13 (cable row 2).
Rows 24 – 35 – as rows 12 – 23.
Rows 36 – 44 – work eight rows of double rib, k2, p2 etc.
Cast off and sew up side of leg.

Featured post

Five Crafty Little Dresses

Five Crafty Little Dresses

It was my daughter’s first birthday last week, and in amongst the rush of seeing visiting relatives, starting back at work, getting my son back and forth to school for his first full-time week and taking the baby off to starter sessions at nursery, I did occassionally stop and think about what I would have been doing this time last year.

orangereddress

In the days preceeding her birth, I spent an awful lot of my time lying on the sofa, feeling anxious that the baby would be late, and generally wanting to get it all over and done with. When I did finally go into labour (I say finally as if she was reaallly late, but actually she was four days early), I had the fortune to have two lovely friends come and babysit me all day until my husband came home from work. Both of them brought their boys with them, who happen to be my son’s best friends, so the children just entertained themselves. The ladies tag-teamed with each other on cooking, shopping and massage duties (I know! how lucky I am to have them) and generally made me feel like I was in the best place to be experiencing the early stages of labour, and were there to hold my hands when things started to get a teensy bit more serious.beigedress

Once my husband was home and my son in bed, we sat down to eat dinner in front of the Great British Bake Off and the contractions began in earnest, making me wince while Mary Berry tut-tutted and Paul Hollywood raised his steely grey eyebrows at all the soggy bottoms on show. Then despite things slowing down a little bit when I went to bed, the starter’s gun had officially been fired and we were off down that route from which there is no return. And at 4.10am the next morning, my dark haired, pinky-purpley baby girl arrived, not in the lovely warm birthing pool as planned, but on the edge of the midwife unit’s bed as she came out so quickly, complete with a grey “compression face.”

greendress

So one year one, she is simply the most delightful creature, eats almost anything including chilli pasta sauce, is amazed by the way the wind moves the trees around and astonished by the activities of her beloved cat on a daily basis, is constantly entertained by her big brother as he pulls funny faces and sings her silly songs, and is also generally ready to have a go at climbing anything, the stairs, the sofa, the baby gate, the changing bag included.

orangesleevesdress

Now she is just starting to walk a bit and has her very own pair of shoes (she is something of a shoe fetishist), my mother found a little collection of dresses that she made for me when I was small. I’m not too keen on dresses on babies/toddlers in general, given that they are not always the most practical items to wear when you spend much of your time crawling around on all fours. I am also of the opinion that if I don’t put on a ballgown to do the washing up and hoovering, then I don’t see why I should restrict my child’s physical freedom, based on her gender, by putting her in some fancy frou-frou puffball. But, now she is starting to walk, I will be able to make use of these dresses on occasion as they are none of them particularly froofy or impractical, and when coupled with long sleeved tops and leggings, they should be sufficiently warm too.

bluedress

They all vary in size, and as Mum can’t remember how old I was when I wore them, we are just going to have to judge by the arm and neck hole size, and maybe have a scout through the photo albums to see if we can spot me wearing them at all. The smallest is the one with a beige kind of crimplene-y bottom with a red and blue floral top. The crimplene section came from a skirt of my grandmothers, which is nice to think about – passing on fabrics from three generations ago. All the dresses have some history or other though, and I think the Liberty one (my favourite – although, Liberty on a 1 year old? I don’t even have a Liberty dress yet) came from my other grandmother’s fabric haul.

fivedresses2

The green and white flowers may well have been bought specially for me, but both the orangey ones look rather Von Trapp-esque, making me assume that they were both refashioned from either Mum’s own clothes or the living room curtains. In fact the sleeveless one has a definite whiff of upholstery fabric about it, which gives it quite a stiff skirt, making it look oddly formal for such a small person’s garment.  Nonetheless it is a lovely feeling to know that these, and a few other little dresses, can be used again by my daughter having been made with such care by my mother, 30 something years ago.

Featured post

Salme Kimono Top with Added Zebras

Salme Kimono Top with Added Zebras

Despite my general grumpiness with sewing brought on by various failures over the summer, I am not one to give up lightly and began looking for some fabric to make the Great British Sewing Bee Tea Dress the other day, which I have seen completed by other bloggers, (English Girl, Tulle and Tweed, and various others) and know to be a quite and simple make. I wasn’t keen on making it in silk or a slippy polyester, and instead found this delightful zebra printed cotton lawn on eBay for only £4 odd a metre, and duly ordered a couple of metres for the stash. When it arrived however, I found myself a little hesitant to turn it into a dress, given my general duties as cook, cleaner, childminder and general grubber abouter when at home. I had thought I might wear it to work, but now that the weather is on the turn, it didn’t seem like the thing to be flitting about it early in the frosty mornings, unless I paired it with a massive pair of boots, thick tights and an oversized jumper, in which case there wouldn’t be much point in wearing it at all.

Zebras galloping all over my living room

Zebras galloping all over my living room

I then happened upon the Guardian fashion pages and came across this video expounding the virtues of this season’s latest Must Have, the T Blouse: a wonderful mash up of the casual and the slightly smarter (who doesn’t love the opportunity to cheat at dressing smartly, but actually being comfortable at the same time?) with a smartly cut t-shirt shape, made from a finer or more luxurious material. I was particularly enamoured of the coral pink version sported by Jess Cartner-Morley at the beginning of the video, with the old fashioned style curved hem, like those on dress shirts. (Do they have an official name?) So off I went trawling the Internet for a t blouse pattern (none to be found – they are clearly so very up to the minute – or just a new name created by the fashion media to make us get excited about something that already exists …) and eventually happened on the Kimono Top from Salme Patterns.

A fabulously swooping curve

A fabulously swooping curve

It is a brilliantly simple pattern, with a super stylish sets of curves from the chest to the waist, which stop it being simply a baggy top. The only detail that it didn’t have was the curved hem, which with the help of a t shirt I already own which has them, and making use of one of my new French curves (yay! so simple – so effective!) I extended the hem lines down and round, making the front slightly longer than the original pattern, and the back much longer.

Needs to be a touch longer at the front

Needs to be a touch longer at the front

All the pattern pieces came together beautifully and incredibly quickly. I had the first stages of shoulder and sides sewed, and the cuffs and hems pinned all within one hour. The rest of the sewing and adding the neckline, took about another hour. I didn’t want to sew the facing in with a topstitched line, so I simply attached it down the short side onto the shoulder seam, and attempted some virtually invisible hand sewing at the centre back and front, and various key points around the neckline.

Long enough to cover my bottom at the back

Long enough to cover my bottom at the back

The only thing that didn’t go quite to plan, was that I stupidly didn’t read the pattern notes properly before I started out and didn’t realise that I had to add on the hem allowance – but having plumped for the size 16 to give myself a little more space for things to go wrong, it actually worked out okay in the end. It fits very nicely and I am extremely chuffed by the success of adding in the curved hems. I am definitley going to make this pattern up again, but possibly with a longer front too. and maybe another version that actually follows the pattern’s hemline. It could be time to crack out that lovely piece of Liberty that I have been saving …

A little bit like a pyjama top according to my husband, but I love it nonetheless

A little bit like a pyjama top according to my husband, but I love it nonetheless

Featured post

Big Wool Glee Legwarmers

Big Wool Glee Legwarmers

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but autumn seems to have suddenly arrived out of nowhere and the chilly mornings have been making my fingers itch to get cracking on with more knitty projects. So having lined up several of the Rowan Big Wool patterns in my To Do list, I am eager to move on to making my very first proper garment. But more of that later … Here are my finished Glee legwarmers:

Perhaps a bit much with the stripy socks too

Perhaps a bit much with the stripy socks too

The brilliant thing about super chunky wools is just how quick they are to knit up: these babies must have taken me about three hours altogether, with another 30 minutes or so for weaving in the ends and making them up. The wool is delightful to knit with and makes for what seems like a more tactile process than with skinnier yarns. The needles also make it more fun I think, as they are brilliantly chunky and a joy to work with. The only issue I had was making use of my brand new 10mm circulars which took a couple of rows to get use to, given the short length of the work on the needle, and the way that the plastic middle kept poking up and down depending on which side I was knitting.

Roasty toasty legwarmers

Roasty toasty legwarmers

The pattern calls for 10mm needles, with a tension of nine rows per 10cm, but try as I might however, this seemed impossible to produce with the 10mms so I attempted it on the 12mm, but my tension was still too tight. I did consider using the 15mm but I knew it would come up too stretched out and holey, and that was not the look I was hoping for. So in the end, having knitted up about four different test squares and panicking that I would be ruining the wool by over-using it, I decided just to attempt to keep my tension as loose as possible on the 10mm.

Looking more like sleeves than leg apparel

Looking more like sleeves than leg apparel

Having completed them and tried them on, I can see that they are slightly too small, as the stitches are a little stretched out, but I know from experience with wearing hand-knitted garments that they are somewhat similar to new jeans and take a bit of wearing in to make them feel right. What I perhaps should have done, given the basic nature of the pattern, was perhaps to increase the number of stitches by a couple or four, thereby allowing me and my chunky calves a little more room. But I didn’t, and despite being a tad on the tight side, they are still lovely and snuggly and fine when worn over tights or leggings, or thin skinny jeans. The one change I did make was to use 9mm needles for the ribbing as I think legwarmers need to be pulled in a little at the top and bottom to stop them from falling down too much, and that is something I would definitely recommend.

Not the neatest of sewing

Not the neatest of sewing

Now that I have got to grips with the Big Wool, next on my knitting list is to finish off the cabled boot cuffs I started working on over the summer, and to get started on one of the most basic garments from the Easy Winter Knits book. Here is a quick glimpse at the boot cuffs:  cablededge

I am about one and one third of the way through the pair, and as soon as I have finished them and checked the pattern over, it will all be here for you to make your very own pair. So I had better get a move on, just in case we get a sudden reprieve from the autumnal winds and summer makes an unexpected return. Or pigs might fly …

STOP PRESS! My mum has just texted me to remind me that there is a programme on the history of knitting on BBC Four on Wednesday night at 9pm, as part of the Fabric of Britain series. Set your machines to record now!

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Rowan Big Wool

Rowan Big Wool

Well, here we are – the summer holidays are over, my son is having his first taste of big school and the baby is catching a quick nap before we have to rush back and collect him amidst the mele of other children and parents all clamouring to grab their bags and talk about what a wonderful/terrible time they’ve had being apart. My son went into his new classroom full of enthusiasm and eager to get to grips with all the new toys, so I’m wondering how long this interest in school will last when he realises he actually has to pay attention to the teachers and do what he is told, rather than just get on with making hoof sounds with the shells or cooking dinner in the home corner. Fingers crossed it will last at least a week …

So now he’s on the long and educational road to becoming an adult, it means I might actually get in a bit more time for some crafty goodness, of which I have had disappointingly little over the past few weeks. You may remember back in August (sigh – seems such a long time ago now) I was on the receiving end of some very lovely fabric and other crafty stuff. 

It's big and it's wool

It’s big and it’s wool

Another part of my fabulous birthday haul was a small selection of the delicious Rowan Big Wool which I have been lusting after for quite some time now. It comes in a variety of naturalistic and bold colours, and they have names to reflect that (going from Lichen, Forest and Heather to the more industrial sounding Lipstick, Glamour and Concrete …) which makes them even more appealing to me. I have four different colours: Vert, Wild Berry, Blue Velvet and Smoky, which are all very dense in tone.

The fabulous four

The fabulous four

In fact, if you are looking to get hold of some of this wool from via the Internet, I would recommend you darken down the colours on your computer screen, as I was quite surprised by how much darker they all are in real life. But they are still very scrumptious and I am rather excited by actually getting my grubby little paws on them at last.

Both easy and wintery

Both easy and wintery

Big Wool is made from 100 % merino wool, this is seriously chunky stuff and is supposed to be knitted up on 15 mm needles. Now I love a chunky wool due to the quickness of it knitting up, but also because I have a terrible addiction to huge knitting needles. My favourite pair are a lovely wooden duo that I inherited from my mother, courtesy of her aunt. They are a beautiful colour and feel amazing to work with, and for quite some time now, I have felt that they deserved to be treated to the experience of working with actual wool instead of the artificial yarns I have been using for years. But given their age, they don’t have a size marker on them and having compared them to some others in my collection, I think they are closer to a 11 or 12 mm instead. However, my husband did buy me some simply fabulous 15mm bamboo ones last Christmas, so I hoped they would do the trick.

Chunky!

Chunky!

My plan is to make myself a couple of the smaller items from the Easy Winter Knits book which my husband bought me for our wedding anniversary, and that contains patterns for Big Wool and Drift (which knits up in the same size). I have been reading this book at bedtime and cooing over the wools and knits for several weeks now and have settled upon the safest option of making the legwarmers first. Made from two different colours in a basic Stocking Stitch, the pattern uses just two balls of wool and seems the pattern least likely to go wrong or not fit. And this is what I have achieved so far:

One legwarmer, nearly ready

One legwarmer, nearly ready

Just the one leg, and not even made up yet. It was incredibly quick to do, and took about an hour and a half, over the course of two evenings, and probably would have been even quicker if I wasn’t attempting to concentrate on Wallander (in the original Swedish with English subtitles – what is it about knitting and foreign crime drama that goes together so well?) and drinking a glass of wine or two. I’m very pleased with it, but as with all these things, having done one, I now want to move onto something else when I should just get on with the second one. Especially now that I’ve added another colour into the colection mix: a discontinued raspberry swirl kind of pinky purple, that I bought from eBay.

Tiny hand grabbing the ball of wool suggest it's not just me that likes the new colour ...

Tiny hand grabbing the ball of wool suggest it’s not just me that likes the new colour …

And I want to get started on a jumper soon, so that I might actually finish it before the end of the winter, although probably not with authentic Rowan first off, given the price would be extortionate and I might not actually do a terribly good job. But for now, I am still loving the Big Wool and quite excited about the prospect of getting to grips with it in a cabled cowl too. It’s so nice to be back in the crafty saddle at last!

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Birthday Craftiness and New Fabrics

Birthday Craftiness and New Fabrics

It was my birthday this week and thanks to my very kind and clever husband, I was on the receiving end of some very special crafty gifts. He basically corralled his family into a virtual craft shop and made them buy me all kinds of things from my wish list, including: some French curves (I don’t really know what these are for yet, but I know it has something to do with drafting your own patterns); a magic disappearing fabric marker pen (which will stop me from drawing on fabric with the blue chalk from my son’s drawing board); a pair of pinking shears (taking me back to my childhood when I thought that cutting fabric or paper with zig-zaggy edges was simply wonderous); Scandinavian Stitches by Kajsa Wikman (whose lovely blog can be found in the list to the right); and a box of tiny little drawers that can and will be filled with buttons, cotton, ribbons, needles and various bits and bobs from my messy craft box.crafttools

I was also given some lovely fabrics by my mother from her trawls around various haberdasheries across the length and breadth of the country, with this tiny pink and green floral number more than likely to end up as something light, floaty and summery, when I can find the right pattern for it.mintflorals

Alongside that were some smaller pieces of heavier weight stuff, with brocade, chenile and twill all in the mix, in various shades of purple, red, black, cream and grey. These will no doubt be put to use as part of applique projects or making small crafty items. I have a bit of an addiction for large scale or self-coloured patterns on curtain or furniture weight fabrics, especially those with a kind of Baroque feel, so these babies are right up my street.pinkbrocades

purplebrocadesThe day before my birthday we took a trip to Rochester to visit Hometown, a delightful fabric shop that is full of colour, pattern and simply delicious looking trimmings and buttons. I spent a good 40 minutes in there all together, having been dragged away for lunch the first time, and heading straight back there afterwards to make sure I really had seen everything. In general the shop feels set up for quilters since most of the stock seems to be patterned cotton, set out in colour themes, but there is also linen and felt, and I think there was some silk too. And there are books, woollen things, sewing kits, ribbons, buttons, and all manner of extra bits to make you Ooh and Aah in the style of the crowd at a fireworks display. Plus, all this lovely crafty goodness is located in a nice, light, spacious room with plenty of room to wheel a buggy about, which is always good news for those of us with small people in tow.greenbluefabrics

I eventually chose a scrumptious nautical Makower which I have been eyeing on the internet for a while – intended for a knitting needle case I think – and some scissor patterned fabric green and a blue and pink floral number from the sale. These last two are possibly heading for a new life as some sort of smarter blouses for my imminent return to the adult world of work. I also treated myself to a bundle of some small pieces of various lovely patterns, including stars, rockets, trees, leaves, houses and old adverts which are destined to become parts of fabric collage or applique pictures, although I might combine the stars and rockets into a LeapPad cover for my son whose obsession with space continues unabounded.smallpieces

All in all, I am simply overwhelmed by all my lovely new fabrics and craft equipment and itching to get started on about a million new projects. I just need to decide where to start!

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How to Make a Buggy Liner

How to Make a Buggy Liner

I have been meaning to make something to line my baby’s buggy with for a while now, pretty much since the hot weather arrived, given that the seat is black and therefore not necessarily the coolest of places for her to sit for long periods. Also, given the nature of small people and crumbs, I thought an easily removable and washable liner would be a much better way of attempting to keep the buggy clean, instead of picking it up and shaking it vigorously (hard with my dodgy shoulder) to dispose of the old bits of biscuit and breadsticks that get wedged down the side. So given my general grumpiness with proper sewing and attempting to make garments for myself, I decided to give myself a shove and make something easy and non-3D this week.

So here is how I made a very simple, very quick liner for a buggy (or stroller liner if you live across the pond).

Three different fabrics, and the seat - all good to go

Three different fabrics, and the seat – all good to go

You will need: enough fabric for the top layer (something hard wearing but washable, like curtain material, ticking or other heavy duty cotton; enough material for the back – can be the same as the top layer, but I went with an old sheet that I have used for covering furniture when painting because no one will really see it and I didn’t want to waste the good stuff; and enough material for padding in the middle – or wadding, like you would use for quilting, if you want this to be warmer or more squidgy and comfortable for the baby.

You might want to iron your fabric first - like I didn't ...

You might want to iron your fabric first – like I didn’t …

1. Take off the cover and assess how much material you will need. I would say that one metre is about sufficient, but if you have a crazy large buggy from Silver Cross or similar, you may need more. If you can’t take the cover off the seat, then I suggest you take some toile type material (old bedsheets or similar) and pin it onto the buggy seat, before you draw around the part you want to make a cover for. Either way, you will want to pay attention to the strap holes (if your baby is still quite little, then you may need to mark out sets of holes above the ones you are currently using, so that you don’t have to go back and fiddle about with it when they get bigger), and draw lines across any significant areas such as the back of the seat and the dividing lines between the side panels and the back panel.

Marking out the strap holes

Marking out the strap holes

2. If your seat cover comes off, then you simply need to lay the cover on top of your materials and cut around them to create your panels. I gave myself a 1 inch seam allowance to allow myself plenty of room for errors and to turn the layers right side out without worrying about stretching the seams out. If you can’t take the cover off, create a pattern as above, and then use this to cut out your three different fabric layers. I assume that most buggy seats would be symmetrical down the vertical line, so you won’t need to worry about cutting right and wrong sides of the fabric differently, but if for some reason you have an asymmetric buggy seat, make sure you flip the back and front layers appropriately when you are cutting.

Padding, back layer and top layer

Padding, back layer and top layer

3. Once you have all three layers cut out, assemble them in the right order for sewing – top layer (layer 1) goes on the bottom of the pile, facing up. The bottom layer (layer 3) then goes on top of that, right side down. The wadding or middle layer (layer 2) then goes on top of that. I didn’t sew mine with wadding as I wanted it to be as cool as possible – I simply used the leg of an old pair of pyjama bottoms, having split the seam open. But if you are using wadding and haven’t sewn anything with it before, I suggest heading out to YouTube or visiting a few quilting blogs to see what they say, as there might be a whole set of rules I am unaware of for sewing with massive chunks of dense foamy stuff.

Sewing everything together

Sewing everything together

4. Pin it all together, and remember how much of a seam allowance you gave yourself. Sew around the edges starting from the bottom and ending up at the bottom, having left a good few inches open, so that you can turn the liner right side out. Before you turn it out, clip your curved edges and trim off any excess material, so that the liner will be as flat as it can. Once you have turned it out, pin in the  loose edges and top stitch over the fold.

Clipping all the curved bits

Clipping all the curved bits

5. Press the liner on both sides, so that your edges are flat and neatly lined up with each other. Now you need to sew across all three layers at various points so that everything fits together rather than hanging separately. I chose a fabric with a pattern of flowers, branches, bugs and bees on it, so I took the opportunity to sew lines around the design, in the style of a quilt. But if you have a plain fabric, you can sew in whichever way you please – straight up and down lines, or go crazy and freewheel randomly until you are done. Either way, it is extremely satisfying. If you want to separate the back of the liner from the seat, you also need to sew across that horizontal line and across any other areas that need defining: my buggy has a head rest style top, with curved flaps that come out at right angles from the back to support nodding sleepy heads. I was going to sew up the vertical line between the flaps and the main body of the liner, but I demured in the end, as I didn’t want to sew over a bee.

Not too shabby for a first time button hole

Not too shabby for a first time button hole

6. Now you need to create button holes for your straps: obviously these will vary hugely from buggy to buggy, but mine needed to be massive – about 8 cm, which my button hole foot did not accommodate terribly well. I’ve never done button holes before, but it was surprisingly easy, the only drawback being the size meant that I went off slightly wonky on the reverse side of the stitch, which if the hole had been a normal size wouldn’t have noticed, but on this enormous one, it was very obvious. But these holes are all about functionality and the most important part is that they are located in the right position for the straps to come through, otherwise the liner will simply slip to one side, or worse will end up squeezing your baby into an odd position. I highly recommend that you check your markings on the fabric against the straps in real life, before you make the holes, just in case you have sewn a different line to that which you marked out when you were measuring up the buggy in the first place.

I had to cut into a bug on this one

I had to cut into a bug on this one

7. Put your liner in the buggy and insert the straps through the holes, then put your baby in the buggy to check that everything, including the baby, sits well together. If it looks okay and the baby is happy – off you go, you’re done!

Just waiting to be covered with biscuit crumbs ...

Just waiting to be covered with biscuit crumbs …

This was such a simple and quick project, it was the best thing to do for my shoulder and for my sense of sewing related self-worth. Making something for the baby that was brightly coloured, based on no particular pattern and finished in just two hours was incredibly satisfying, and made me enjoy the process of sewing again. Particularly good fun was the quilting aspect (despite not actually quilting with the proper stuff) as it was almost like drawing with the machine. Or almost the opposite of colouring in, where you draw around the coloured sections and provide the lines yourself. I think what appealed to me most was the free-hand nature of it – following no prescribed pattern and generally making it up as I went along – I sewed around the majority of the coloured sections, but stopped short of making lines around every different coloured section (the stripes on the bees etc) as it would have taken a lot longer, and more time than I had to spare. So maybe that is the answer to my sewing frustrations: I need to alternate my strict pattern based efforts with more liberal, freestyle sewing, where I get to off-road a little more. Anyone else get frustrated with all the rules and just wants to kick against the system every now and then?

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Great British Sewing Bee Mash Up – Tunic and Blouse with Sleeves

Great British Sewing Bee Mash Up – Tunic and Blouse with Sleeves

So while my shoulder gradually sorts itself out (thank you for all your kind words!) and my sewing machine awaits the attentions of my dad (bonk-bonk-whirr etc, but this time I can’t just wish it better) I thought I would share with you the nail in the coffin of my recent sewing slump, thankfully now mostly recovered from.

About a month or so ago, I found this lovely turquoise dress in a charity shop and I instantly thought it would be good for salvaging the fabric. Although I quite liked the dress as it was, it was far too small to fit me, and a bit on the short side; but, given the empire line and the gathering, I figured there would be plenty of fabric for something to be made out of the skirt, once I had cut it off from the top part and smoothed out all the gathers.turtquoisedress

After the scissors came out and I hacked the thing apart in the middle, I was forced to iron the bejesus out of the skirt fabric, so that I could get a flat piece of material to lay my pattern out on. Having attempted the Blouse with Sleeves in the duvet cover previously and found it too small, I planned on using the tunic pattern which I knew fitted, combined with the sleeves from the blouse, and I did have plenty material for all four pieces thankfully. However, if I had paid more attention to where I cut the front and back pieces from (ignoring the fact that I would have to match up the scallops on the hem) I would have been able to cut out two sleeves without the original side seams in them. But, worse things happen at sea, as my mother says, so I ploughed on and concentrated on cutting out a smaller, neck-only facing, as by attaching sleeves, I didn’t need facing for the armholes.

A smaller facing for the neckline - you can also see where I haven't bothered to take out the basting stitches on the zip

A smaller facing for the neckline – you can also see where I haven’t bothered to take out the basting stitches on the zip

Having inserted the zip (admittedly in the wrong colour and not as neatly on one side as the other) I sewed the front to the back, and then took a deep breath before attaching the sleeves. I had only sewn one other set of sleeves before I got to grips with these turquoise babies, so I was fairly trepidatious about it going well, and took some time to look on other blogs for advice and tips on sewing sleeves. Kat from Australia, whom I discovered via the Pyjama Party, has this fantastic post on setting in sleeves and is well worth a read if you are struggling with the nature of sleeve ease versus armhole size. Reading her confidence inspiring words (“sew slowly!”) and focusing on her simple but incredibly effective diagram, I worked my way through both sleeves, and did a pretty amazing job, for a second time sleeve sewer. The sleeves are by no means perfect – there are several tiny gathers at various points, but I was very chuffed with myself and the acceptable job that I had done, and that was what mattered to me at the time.

A whacking great seam down the front of the sleeve is actually the least of my problems

A whacking great seam down the front of the sleeve is actually the least of my problems

Having patted myself on the back for doing such an impressive job on them, I then started to look a bit more closely at the size of the garment versus the size of me. Now I know that everyone seems to struggle with sizing when they start off sewing and that it takes a while to get things to be able to fit, but I had no notion of the fact that if you have a larger bust, no matter if you have smaller (relatively speaking) arms/shoulders, you need to have larger armholes to allow your boobs room to move about without stretching the fabric to breaking point horizontally. I gleaned this fact from one of Miss P’s posts which I can no longer locate (boo! if you know which one it is, please do let me know …), so given that I used a size 12 for the body pieces and size 14 sleeves, I was obviously not obeying the bust/armhole ratio rules. Therefore, before I even sewed up the sides, I knew that this mash-up was not going to fit me.

Not too bad from the front, but ..

Not too bad from the front, but …

I did attempt to foist the top off on my mother for her birthday, but as much as it fits her bust, it didn’t fit her shoulders either, so it simply came home to hang off the back of the living room door, waiting for me to decide its fate. I could cut the sleeves off and make facings for the armholes and wear it as the tunic, or I could leave the sleeves on (it took me so long and they worked so well!) and let the whole thing bug me. Childishly, I did the latter.

Hmm. attractive - not the most shapely of garments

Hmm. attractive – not the most shapely of garments

And this is what pushed me into my slump. And I still seem to really be struggling to work out the magic rules of cutting out the right size pattern in the first place, and knowing what to do to make things fit while constructing it. I know that this is achievable as I see numerous other sewers blogging away on a daily basis about their lovely makes, but I seem to be missing a trick here. I would dearly love to do a proper sewing course, but that is both prohibitive time-wise and money-wise, so I guess I just have to pull up my sewing socks and trudge on, and hope that I light upon the mysterious secrets some time soon.

Non-matching zip and crinkled back

Non-matching zip and crinkled back

On the plus side though, I am continuing to lose weight and so I can just about cram myself into the tunic blouse, so maybe by next summer it will actually fit my shoulders properly. But then my boobs will probably have shrunk by then too, so the whole thing will still be out of whack with my physical self! But I have some non-garment sewing in the bag at the moment, and some hand-sewing as suggested by Charlotte of English Girl at Home, so I will hopefully be back in the saddle sometime soon. As long as the shoulder gets better, the children aren’t ill, my husband goes back to work, etc etc. Sigh …