Friday, 10 February 2017

A very particular commission

Soon after my friend K was given some bad news by her doctors we went out to lunch at one of her favourite restaurants.  We were not there to talk of gloomy things, we were there to enjoy the warm atmosphere, marvel at the proximity of the fen drainage dyke to the restaurant (a good four feet ABOVE the restaurant window) and eat very good food.  We both ate sparingly, me because my tendency to greed leads to a tendency to weight gain, K because despite her undiminished appetite for all the good things of life her actual ability to eat was reduced by her condition. Nevertheless we tasted as much as possible from the extensive menu.  In our conversation I stepped gingerly around the minefield.  How to say we could talk about the few months she had left, her wishes for that time and afterwards and the practicalities, even mention the D word, but we didn't have to?  So I said very little, just " if ever you need to talk about The Thing I'm here" (or more likely on the end of a phone or e mail).  In time we did talk, sorting out the practicalities in preparation for my duty as one of her executors and then she made one unusual request. It wasn't a very surprising request really, given K's life's passions.  
K began her working life as a wardrobe mistress for theatre and film and then in her late 30s went to university to read history,  her special interest was the English Restoration Period (from 1660).  Combining her two interests, theatre and the 17th century K was an expert on the clothing of the period, in particular the fine detail (wigs and mens neck-wear in particular).  Her knowledge was amazing, and so was her capacity to rant when a TV or film company got some small but important detail wrong.  Then came the day when she knew her life was running out and she asked if I would make her shroud based on a ladies late 17th c chemise.
Like this but simpler, she said
We discussed the shape (something simple) and the fabric (it had to be linen from Whaleys where K had bought fabric in her theatre days).  Following instructions I rang Whaleys and they were absolutely wonderful. When I told them that I had a very special commission and requested samples for K to choose from they sent them first class post and when I ordered the actual fabric they sent it by express courier.

As I stitched  K was in a hospice in Cambridge, surrounded by kind and skilful hospice staff and friends she had collected throughout her life and who in her last months had provided practical and emotional support of every imaginable sort.  As I stitched one friend sat beside her bed and another read to her from one of her favourite novels.  As I stitched she was cared for and loved, despite having no close family around her. She was not estranged from her family, it is just that they all live in Australia and K had lived in the UK so long that even when she got the worst possible news from her oncologist she chose to stay.

So, this is it, made from off white linen, embroidered at neck and cuffs in pale green linen thread, i-cord ties (something knitted at K's request), simple, long and voluminous . Patern adapted from one of Janet Arnold's book Patterns of Fashion 4



PS, I have one more commission from K.  That is to make a knitted wrap.  She had planned it so meticulously, in shades of green, a pattern inspired by lichen growing on a tree trunk and all beautifully charted, yarn bought but never quite began.  A large hat box containing the yarn sits by my favourite crafting space, I shall cast on very soon

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Hand made Christmas

When Number Two Daughter announced she would be making most of the presents she was giving this year she inspired me to get on with something I had been thinking about, but never quite getting around to, for a couple of years now - making quilts for the grandchildren

It all began when I found a fabulous stack of pirate themed fat quarters at a local store, perfect for a pirate ship quilt for The Little Senator

And one with cats for The (not so) Little Model

The littlest girl loves cuddly rabbits, so although this was a bit tongue in cheek...

I did include a pair of bunnies, pattern from the Little Cotton Rabbits collection

One of the girls has special needs, so for her a fiddle quilt

The other boy is always happy with his fingers around a pencil.

Lastly the big girl loves giraffes

2016 has been a stashdown year.  The shelves in my studio, carefully curated when JTH (a little fed up of every nook and cranny containing yarn and fabric) converted two thirds of our garage, were groaning and overflowing into five clip top plastic boxes. My aim, almost achieved was to get back to not needing those boxes. So making six lap quilts for the little ones in the family seemed a good idea, here they are, all done and ready for wrapping

I still did a bit of knitting and over the year, with the help of the Spreadsheet Of Doom on the Pre-process Yarnies group on Ravelry, I have either knitted, sold or given away over 15,000 metres more than bought, but more of that another time. Yet I still have so much on the needles, two pairs of socks, a shawl and a cardigan. I have looked longingly at posts on Facebook and Instagram at photos of holiday casting on but I'm remaining strong. I intend to complete WIPs first before beginning a new project.  I'm keeping strong... I am, truly ...



Saturday, 29 October 2016


I am so pleased with the dark velvet I chose for the collar of my Joan dress

You may recal that I was aiming to get this dress out of two and a half metres instead of three and a half. I decided to achieve this by shortening the sleeves, cutting the skirt to above the knee instead of below, and dispensing with the collar...

Then I looked again at my fabric and thought that the blue flecks in it could be enhanced by a bit of emphasis and that would happen if I used something blue for the collar.  I bought half a metre of blue silk and viscose velvet from Beckford Silk and am so pleased I did.

By cutting the velvet on the bias and leaving it as a soft roll the neckline looks just right and I think the dress might have looked too plain without it.

All done! and feels just fine. Had I used fabric with a bit of stretch I might have made the dress in a size smaller, but in this fabric I think I would have has straining at the seams issues!

In summary, I made three adjustments to the pattern for fit

  1. Lengthening the bodice (in two places, armhole and underarm seam)
  2. Increasing the sleeve width
  3. Reducing the waist darts 

And three so that I could make the dress out of 2.5m instead of 3.5

  1. Shortening the sleeves
  2. Shortening the skirt
  3. Making a contrast collar 
I would love to hear about how other people have made up the Joan Dress - fabric choices, modifications and alterations please!



Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Friends who know me and my knitting life will know I don't swatch.  Of course that can have bad results but give me a skein of squishy woolly goodness and a new pattern and I just can't wait to cast on 'properly'.  It's the same with making a toile when I'm dressmaking.  I mean, there's slow fashion and there's #whenamIEVERgoingtogetthisdone?' fashion. But I am making an exception with my Joan Dress - two reasons

1. There is a lot of shaping in this pattern, it has a waist seam and darts in several directions.  Each dart and seam must be in the right place. If I get the fit wrong it will not forgive me

2. My gorgeous Japanese fabric from Raystitch has very little give, I love it and don't want to ruin it but for me to do justice to the pattern and the fabric it must not be too tight or too loose.

So I made a toile.  Well actually I made up the lining as a toile using this lovely vintage fabric.  I bought it in a sale, from a place that gets stock that has lain in people's lofts for years. It feels like silk but I don't think it is, could it be rayon?  Does anyone know how to test?  I think there is something called a burn test but that sounds dangerous.

My two main fitting concerns were the waist, I am a UK size 16 and the bust and hip measurements were fine but I needed a couple of centimetres more at the waist, and the bodice length.  I decided the darts had enough in them to ease the waist size and to add 2.5cm to the bodice length midway down the underarm seam.  Otherwise I cut the pattern out as it was printed.

I had some cat help!

The fit was pretty good,  the waist in the right place and the sleeve/shoulder seam sat just right.  Sitting down, the skirt did not ride up too much

But there was a problem with the sleeve.  It looked fine with my arms straight but as soon as I reached forward it was too tight.  The solution was to widen the sleeve - possible with the outer fabric but what to do with the lining that is already cut?  I decided it would be OK if I let in a strip of fabric down the centre of the sleeve, from crown to hem giving me another 3cm around the top of my arms.  

This of course means the sleeve is fuller at the crown, with too much to shrink away with the usual double line of gathers. The solution was to make the armhole bigger.  So I split the 2.5cm extra length for the bodice by adding 1.5 above the bust (giving me a total of 3 cm extra circumference  to the armhole) and 1 cm below the bust.  It worked!  The only other modification I made is to shorten the skirt so that the finished length is just above my knees.

Needing to make notes on my modifications and not having a notebook to hand I wrote on the lining with a frixion pen - the writing will magically disappear when the fabric is ironed. Before laying the toile pieces out on my fabric and cutting out I ironed everything with Flatter By Soak.  An ironing spray, originally developed for patchworkers but also fab for dress making, it's not a starch, it does not clog your iron but it does give a lovely professional finish to any fabric and smells nice too.

When I made the toile I used a wide machine basting stitch and some bright red thread so that I could easily unpick and iron before using the modified lining pieces instead of the paper pattern.

And so, using my toile as a pattern I cut out my fabric  I only have 2.5m of fabric, much less than the pattern states.  To make this work I am going to 'bag' the lining (i.e. a similar construction to a coat or jacket), make the sleeves shorter and cut the collar out of a contrast material (to be revealed in a later post).  I just made it with not a centimetre to spare!.

I stitched all the darts, the shoulder and side seams and now I must pause, I need to shop for a zip and wait for my contrast fabric to be delivered.

More sewing coming soon



Friday, 14 October 2016


Well, I confess, this is truly slow fashion.  So many things have conspired to keep me away from my sewing room this week and today is the first time I have had the chance to turn on my overlocker (serger).

Having decided that I certainly need to pre shrink this lovely Japanese cotton fabric I needed to do a little pre-prep before throwing it into the washing machine.  It frays, hence the overlocked edge.

I'm washing it at 40deg c. Although 30deg would be fine for something that does not actually need washing I am thinking of what might happen to the dress in the future.  There is no division of labour in my house, since we no longer have small children at home, washing is done on a need to wear basis (by which of us has run out of socks or underwear).  This means as often as not there is a man doing the washing in our house and although his sorting skills are second to none (no jeans washed with white shirts for him) he washes everything at 40deg and I don't want further shrinkage to occur.

I have readjusted my schedule a little and, having checked my measurements against the pattern hope to be cutting out on Sunday.

I have a physical pattern rather than a download but 'bglad' in the comments on my last post asked if anyone had tried taking the pdf to a print ship and printing off on a continuous sheet.  Well, yes I have,  when I was involved in the Titanic Project this is what I did and it worked very well, though I needed strong pins as the thinest paper in my local shop was still quite thick.  It was also quite a novelty for the guys in the printers, I don't think they had had a similar request before.



Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Making Joan

At a recent visit to Ally Pally - AKA the Knitting and Stitching Show, I bought a couple of patterns from a lovely (fairly) new company called Sew Over It.  Including the Joan Dress.  I posted a photo of my pattern and fabric on Instagram and before I knew it I was joined by Alix and Becky and we had a SAL.  I'm actually more used to Knit Alongs but the idea of a Sew A-Long sounds fun so here we go.  Please feel free to join in, I shall post my progress on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with a little more detail on here.  No rules or time scales, I am not sure how fast I shall work on this, although I hope to get the dress cut out this week.  But look out for and use (if you wish), the hash tag #makingjoan then we shall all be able to pool our experiences

Pre-wash or not pre-wash?  I'm not a fan of pre washing fabric, I love to feel crisp new fabric under my fingers as I sew.  But Raystitch, where I bought the fabric recommends preaching and I have had some recent disasters with shrinkage. So I cut a small piece of my fabric and gave it a gentle swish through some Soakwash (I buy mine from here in the UK)  as this will be how I wash my dress when made.

It's clear I shall need to wash the whole length!  If you are joining in please let me know in the comments or social media - whatever way you prefer. We would love some company and to learn from each other



Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The kindness of Knitters

I don't visit Twitter much these days* but today I took a quick peek and my eye was immediately caught by a story from the BBC and Medicins Sans Frontiers, a touching human story of a baby being born on a rescue ship in the middle of the Mediterranean.  And the baby was wearing a hand-knitted hat - oh how I love the world wide sorority of knitters!  Little acts of kindness contributing to the huge effort put in by charities such as MSF and (some) governments.  There are so many examples of knitterly generosity but this one, today, touched  my heart

At the weekend I joined in another lovely example of knitters kindness, not to mention enthusiasm and stash enhancement. Saturday was the day of the annual Great London Yarn Crawl, a charity fundraising event organised by the clever partnership which is Yarn in the City.

Team Intarsia assembles for coffee and cake before our first shop visit

Each Year teams of up to twelve participants travel around London on Bus, tube, and train, with a little walking thrown in, visiting three or four yarn shops.  I was one of the guides for Team Intarsia.  This year there were more shops and included fabric and haberdashery shops; because we are crafters are we not? many of us crochet, embroider, and make our own clothes as well as knit.

Inside Fringe in Muswell Hill, Team Intarsia's first stop

All this excitement is in aid of the charity Refuge, this year raising more than £800 (the final count has not been done yet).  The work of this charity is specially relevant to those who, like me, listen to The Archers on BBC Radio 4. The program has a long running story line, which came to a (temporary) conclusion this week with a jury finding a woman not guilty of attempted murder after she stabbed her abusive husband as she attempted to leave him.

Second stop Ray-Stitch in Islington where I treated myself to a metre or so of some lovely Liberty Tana Lawn

Our third shop was Fabrications, situated on Broadway market.  Added bonus, the market is foodie heaven.  Three of us hardly noticed Saturday's rain as we sheltered under a market stall awning eating, Ravioli, a scallop and bacon sandwich, a (this was me) pulled pork and apple sauce

Barley Massey, Fabrication's creator, makes wonderful things by up cycling clothing, these cushions made of shirts & ties

And there is another charity supported by the knitters of the Yarn Crawl, Knit for Peace.  Each year we participants bring knitted items, hats, gloves, scarves, and baby clothes to the after party (where we drop footsore into a suitably located pub for liquid refreshment, pub food, and to ooh and aah over each others purchases of the day). And I was wondering did this tiny baby hat come from Knit for Peace? And will someone in the future be kept warm by an item donated by one of the yarn crawlers?

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself and forgetting our last stop at Stag & Bow in Forrest Hill, a shop that sells all sorts of loveliness, vintage clothes, trimmings, yarn...

It's hard to encapsulate Stag & Bow in one photograph, there is so much to see (and buy) this is my best effort, art, craft and decoration all in one
... and this

maybe it was impossible to describe Stag & Bow in one photo!

Would you like to join next years yarn crawl?  Save the date, it will be announced on the Yarn in the City website soon.



* if you have just clicked over from Twitter you may be puzzled, my apologies I have taken the lazy way of posting there - from Instagram