I think this is more ‘me’

First up, thanks everyone who commented on my winter coat muslin. You’re all so funny and lovely and clever. I laughed, I cried, I nodded vigorously throughout.

The overwhelming consensus was that this coat is not working for me at all.  The collar is too big, the raglan sleeves too low, the swingy voluminous shape too voluminous for my small frame and the length waaaay too long. Plus, there was some very sage advice involving swelling bosoms, breast feeding and avoiding complex sewing while heavily pregnant.

So taking all that on board I’m going to put my winter coat plans on ice until next year. Any tips on storing three metres of beautiful expensive wool without getting perma folds in it?

And in the meantime, I’ve purchased… this!

Simplicity 7805I decided that something more fitted would suit me and my frame (even if I do end up a bit chubbier) and I love anything with an empire line. When I saw this I just thought of Moonrise Kingdom and fell in love instantly. I’ve actually bought it in a Bust 36 to accommodate any potential extra boobage I might be lucky enough to get.

Isn’t View 1 totally adorable with that double collar?! God I so want this coat to be made up now. But patience is a virtue and what a fantastic goal to get me back in shape post partum.

A nice sit down

Greeting crafters! Hope you’ve been making the most of your weekends so far. I’ve literally just finished a project and I just had to write it up because it’s one of those projects that makes me bloody proud to be crafty (and cheap).

So I was looking for a chair that would be ideal for nursing in, and I found a beautiful Ercol rocking chair on eBay going for a song. I eventually won it for £41 and it was delivered last week. It’s a gorgeous chair and the cushions are so comfortable… but they were a bit… eighties shall we say?

Original cushions

The original cushions – grim!

Pretty grim huh? It was time for a makeover.

I had this lovely vintage cotton I picked up at a market in Crouch End a few months ago. I’d been saving it for cushions but when I realised how beautifully it went with the dark wood of the chair I was committed.

Vintage fabricI just traced around the original cushions directly onto the fabric, noting where the zips were. I used some ready-made piping I had in my stash and hey presto, three hours later, we have a transformation!

New ercol cushionsI’m so so chuffed with this! It’s weird that a little project like this can make you so happy isn’t it? I can’t wait to get crocheting in this later tonight!

Do you find little projects can have a completely out of proportion impact on your sewing mojo? What’s been your proudest crafty moment recently?

Stop press: New sewing accessory range at John Lewis!

So I made my usual lunchtime pilgrimage to John Lewis yesterday to stock up on wool and generally just lust after fabrics and whatnot in the haberdashery dept, when I was quite literally stopped. in. my. tracks. after witnessing the wonder and awe that is the new ‘Vintage by Hemingway’ range of sewing accessories exclusively for John Lewis.

I’ve been looking for something to keep my growing collection of yarn and crochet hooks in. I did have my heart set on a vintage style knitting basket (basically a fabric bag set on a wooden frame), but then I saw THIS:

Vintage by Hemingway Sewing/Knitting box

Isn’t it amazing? I love the superbly elegant art deco illustration and check out the inside print!

Filled with crochet goodies!

There’s loads of room for wool, needles, accessories – all sorts. And it stands up beautifully on my Edwardian fireplace…

On the fireplace...

At £30 I think this is a bit of steal. There are similarly vintage-style purses and bags priced from about £9 I think. I wish I could show you the full range but I can’t seem to find it online.

I wonder if the release of the range has something to do with the new 1920s-style ad campaign by John Lewis? Wouldn’t it make a perfect gift for a fellow stitcher? Oh why can’t there be some sort of community place where significant others and family members of us seamsters can go to get ideas of what to get us for Christmas and birthdays? I suppose Amazon wish list is a bit like that as I think you can add items that aren’t necessarily sold on Amazon. Does anyone know of any specifically crafty alternatives though?* I would be amazed if someone bought this for me, but too late as I simply had to have it, there and then!

* Flash of inspiration later – what about a shared Pinterest board!!?? I may have to set one up immediately (sighs at potential hours wasted invested in setting up of said board).

That was the week that was

It’s a sunny Sunday morning here in London – the end to a perfect week of beautiful weather and loads of exciting stuff going on.

If you don’t know by now, the Olympics came to London this week and the torch relay did the rounds of every borough in the city in the run up to the opening ceremony. (BTW did you watch it on Friday night? Bonkers and brilliant!) The torch visited Alexandra Palace on Thursday night so we headed up the hill to see it go past.

Torch at Alexandra PalaceUm – I took lots of pics but not one of them had the torch in it. See that guy in the white tracksuit? He’s holding the torch – in his RIGHT HAND, which is OUT OF THE FRAME!

My mum was staying with me this week so we took advantage of the gorgeous weather to enjoy a day by the seaside. Brighton beach!

Brighton beachWhilst in Brighton we took a stroll through through the North Laines and came upon Ditto fabrics. well of course I had to nip in and check out their sale which isn’t available online. I picked up three metres of this cute elephant print viscose for just over £15. It has a lovely silky drapey feel to it.

Elephant print viscoseWe also found a brilliant bric-a-brac shop in North Laines, where I came upon a fantastic collection of vintage buttons and threads. I picked up these little babies.

Vintage threadsFinally, I promised my mum  that I would knock her up a Colette Violet while she was here, and I managed to do it! Here’s Jean proudly modelling her very own bespoke blouse, made with cherry blossom cotton from Fabric Tales, all the way from Japan! Hope you like your blouse, Mum! It was my first bout of selfless sewing in a while and I loved it. xxx

Mum is her Colette Violet

Women! Know your place!

I simply had to share this – some vintage Pathé footage of a Butlins holiday camp competition.

The challenge? To make your own bikini from scraps of fabric and a bit of string, then model it proudly as 100 men in dodgy shorts look on lustily.  Nice.

Although it’s all terribly sexist and objectifying, when you compare it to today’s wet t-shirt competitions and worse… it all seems rather modest and innocent, non? If entirely wrong of course. You’ll find no nostalgia for sepia-toned sexism round here.

Warning: This post contains fabulous vintage fabric

The Shop, Brick Lane

Shelves bursting with fabric

Hello pop-pickers. Have you all recovered from the style-fest that was the weekend? Not only did we see a multitude of amazing OWOPers on Tilly’s post; we also had the most glamorous round-up of Mad Men dresses ever from Julia Bobbin. My, these posts just keep on giving – every time I go back I see something else I want to sew or another blogger I want to add to my reader. Thanks to both Tilly and Julia for a dazzling end to March.

In other news, I went for a wander around Brick Lane on Sunday with some friends who were staying with us. If you haven’t been over there in  a while and you like vintage clothes, great music and fabulous food, I can heartily recommend it.

We dandered down the main drag, pottering off into little streets to explore tiny boutiques and hidden markets. There’s tons of stuff to do, see and buy. One shop I recommend seeking out is just off Brick Lane at 3 Cheshire Street. Called simply The Shop, it stocks an amazing range of vintage fabrics, clothes and trinkets, plus lots of gorgeous Scandi-style linens for making up adorable aprons. I’m looking at YOU House of Pinheiro with your fantastic vintage apron tutorial! Plus The Shop has one of the biggest range of silk scarves I’ve seen in London. That’s a pic above of some of the shelves – good for a rummage.

Here are my finds:

Floral cotton poplin

1 metre of seventies-style floral cotton poplin, to be used for cushions in the living room. I’m thinking hot pink neon piping. Just £3.50.

Peach square

2.5 metres of this man-made fabric (not quite identified) from Rose & Hubble – to be used for a dress I think. Crucially – it doesn’t feel nasty. A snip at £9 for the lot.

Silk dupioni

My favourite – just under 2 metres of this gorgeous silk dupioni. I’ve been looking for a checked silk dupioni for ages (I was thwarted trying to buy some of this from Harts – they informed me it had sold out over three weeks ago but rather annoyingly seems to still be on the site hmph) and whilst this is a different colour scheme from what I wanted I think it could be a very pretty dress or a luxe tulip skirt? A bargain at £7.50.

I love finding vintage fabric – any tips for other shops/markets in London? Share ‘em!

The best laid plans…

…can easily be derailed by the arrival of some new treasures. I had previously scheduled all my sewing projects into a nice well-ordered list. But these little beauties are just crying out for some attention and threaten to disrupt ‘the list’. Oh well, never mind. But look at the shiny new things!

Striped seersucker

I went for an innocent browse in The Cloth House in Berwick Street last week and ended up coming home with two metres of this charming striped seersucker. Isn’t it just so Missoni? I love the colours – they’re unusual together and the texture of the fabric is so tactile. I keep stroking and scrunching it. I’m so enamoured with the vintage pattern I used for the Mad Men dress challenge (Simplicity 5961) I’m considering making another version using the seersucker almost straight away. Speaking of the Mad Men dress – here’s a better quality sneaky peek than the one I put up last week. You can tell I’m dying to reveal it can’t you?

Mad Men dress

I also received a couple of delightful vintage patterns in the post last week:

Simplicity 6535

This is such a sweet little A-line dress, especially with view 2′s neckline. I’m thinking of using this wonderful Japanese cotton that was donated to me by a lovely lady named Cassy. Possibly with a cream/ivory contrast neckline.

Japanese cotton

I’ve been searching for a pattern to recreate this blouse. It’s a vintage blouse from either China or Japan and it’s got the most beautiful ruffled neck which is one of my favourite looks.  Sadly the arms are a bit tight and the fabric is becoming a bit bobbly in certain places so it’s time to try and recreate the magic! A good look at the design reveals it’s actually just a simple low collared shirt with ruffles attached.

Vintage blouse

and here’s the pattern to (hopefully) do it:

Vintage Vogue pattern

What about you? Do you find your plans are constantly being reprioritised depending on what pretty new thing has caught your eye?

Mad Men: The challenge

Disclaimer: If this all goes t*ts up, please don’t be disappointed in me.

Fact 1. I love Mad Men. I’m a relative late comer to the series and had to catch up using certain nefarious websites and DVD box sets, but now I’m absolutely 100% hooked.

Fact 2: I love Julia Bobbin. Her dresses are always super-cute and flattering and her pics are to die for. She’s also a dab hand at adapting and creating her own patterns.

Fact 3: Julia Bobbin is also a BIG fan of Mad Men, and when I say fan I mean she’s openly admitted to hunkering down for the night with binoculars just outside their open windows (in her head anyway).

Fact 4: Julia has thrown down the gauntlet to stitchers everywhere with her Mad Men Dress Challenge: Recreate a dress from the series by the end of March.

Fact 5: I must be certifiably insane as I have signed up.

Fact 6: I have no more facts so let’s stop this nonsense.

Yes, it’s true. Despite the fact that I am woefully behind on the Minoru sewalong and I’ve signed up to Tilly’s One Pattern, One Week challenge which entails making at least another – possibly two – Violet blouses, I said YES JULIA.  I quite literally dribbled when I read Julia’s post. I may have had a little cry too, right there at my desk.

I’ve been pinning pics of Mad Men dresses on Pinterest and doing google image searches for hours, but I keep coming right back to one dress. In fact, the dress which may have inspired Julia to create the challenge in the first place. This one:

Joan Holloway - blue

It’s just too wonderful to resist. Julia has created the most divine version of this dress. I only wish I had her skillz in being able to draft patterns, but after a long search I think I’ve come up with a pattern to fit. I hope she doesn’t mind me shamelessly copying!

I’ve just purchased Simplicity 5961 on Etsy. I think the empire bust line is perfect and in fact the A-line skirt will be more wearable for my small height. I really do want this dress to be something I can wear a lot.

Simplicity 5961

I’ve already chosen and purchased two metres of royal blue pure wool crepe from Truro fabrics. Sheeesh – it was expensive. Whoever said making your own clothes is a money-saving option needs their head read.

If you’d like to sign up to this awesome challenge just mosey on over to Julia’s blog where she has a button and deets all waiting for you.

Wish me luck!

Completed project: A vintage-style Colette Violet

I’ve wanted to do the Colette Violet for a while. I’ve been thinking it’s more practical for me to have more separates in my wardrobe since (as lovely as dresses are) I’m more likely to reach for them on a bleary-eyed Monday morning in the dark. Plus I wanted a nice blouse or two to take with me on my holibobs that would be light and fresh in the heat but would cover and protect my pale Irish upper arms.

Colette Violet

I was inspired by the vintage feel of Lauren’s and Nette’s versions so I chose a very lightweight floral cotton and adapted the pattern so it was a much tighter fit (more details below). The buttons are vintage – doncha love the pink pop of colour?

Colette Violet

Lordy that’s a bit of a Prozac gaze isn’t it?!

Colette Violet

A closer look at the peter pan collar.

Colette Violet

Noof noof fluffy Gracie.

Pattern review: Colette Violet (short-sleeved version)

Difficulty rating for StitchandWitter: 2/5

Fabric used: Just under 2m of a lovely vintage-style floral cotton from Walthamstow market

Total cost of dress (not including pattern): Approx £8.50 (think fabric was about £2 a metre, buttons were £4.50 for six)

Fitting issues: Now I knew the Colette Violet is supposed to be a loose-fitting blouse, so I decided to cut out a size 8 from the pattern. But once put together I realised I still wanted a more slender fit. So I hacked off a good bit on either side (see pics below). I also knew that Colette patterns often need a width reduction across the shoulders on me, so I did it right this time and took about an inch off either side at the top of the armhole.

Altering pattern

Making issues: I’d previously made a blouse with a peter pan collar and got incredibly confused with the placket and the facing so it ended up being hideous inside (although it was one of my first sewing projects last year). This time, it went like a dream, with Colette patterns’ lovely relaxing yet instructive voice guiding me though each step. I now feel like I can go back to that vintage pattern and try it again! My buttonholes still aren’t perfect. I get this issue on my machine where I can see occasionally it’s not leaving the stitch in the fabric. Not quite sure what’s going on there – may have to consult the manual.

Skills learned: Adding a placket.

Anything to add? I tried to finish the edges of the facing with self bias binding like Lauren’s fabulous version. I followed Portia’s excellent tutorial for making bias binding – what a breeze! But then tragedy struck – my masking tape is evidently the stickiest EVER and my fabric is soft and thin – the two became inextricably linked and wouldn’t be separated. They are now locked together in their hellish fabric/paper union in the sewing room bin. Ah well. I just turned the edges under a quarter inch instead.

Will I make again? Yes – without a doubt, especially now I have my alterations in place on my tracing. I plan to do multiple versions  in all these fabrics, maybe adding piping to the collar and front edges too:

Fabrics for Colette Violet

Have you made anything multiple times? How do you keep the process fresh so you don’t get bored?

Vintage dress parade!

One of the loveliest things to come out of writing a blog about sewing, (apart from the community, the inspiration, the camaraderie etc etc I could go on etc) is that occasionally your friends and family read it. And then they do something utterly lovely and give you free stuff because they realise you might appreciate it, or can so something with it! I have been the lucky recipient of no less than EIGHT vintage or vintage-style dresses in the last month. One from a chum and a whole bagful from my mother-in-law, who used to collect vintage dresses from boutiques in and around Norwich. Thanks Ann and Mel!

I’m just completely head over heels in love with all of them, whether I can wear them or not. This weekend I decided to have a bit of a sort through them and figure out whether I can wear them straight away or whether I have to fix them up a bit, whether I should harvest them for fabric and notions,  or simply marvel at them and stroke them lovingly once in a while.  And here they all are, modelled so perfectly by my dress form (well, I’m sick of seeing my ugly mug all the time) ;-)

Ready to wear… or almost

Floral sixties shift

This is a gorgeous slippery little silk shift from Blanes, which according to the Vintage Fashion Guild website was ‘a very middle-range British company, active in the 1950s and 1960s – making good quality day and evening wear’. It fits like a glove. The background is much more golden than the image suggests. This will be beautiful with a little cardy and wedges come summer.

Fifties-style handmade dress

This was donated by my friend Mel. I think she said her friend made it but I might have to check that out with her. In any case it’s very well made with full lining and matching covered buttons. I love the little embroidered polka dots on it and the colours are so cheery. There’s a little tightness at the bust but nothing a safety pin won’t fix.

Embroidered forties dress

This is my absolute favourite from the whole collection. It’s one of the most elegant dresses I’ve ever laid eyes on. Just look at those little heart buttons and pretend bolero detail. The fabric has give, so although this dress is a little small for me (did people in olden times just not eat very much, like ever?) I can squeeze into it. I’ll need some serious foundation underwear though! Sadly there are a few holes in the dress but I’m hoping they’re fixable.

Crushed velvet dress

Look at this little knockout! Complete with padded and underwired bosom. This is from a label called ‘Images’. I haven’t been able to find out much about it yet. Anyone recognise the name? I’m finding this dress quite difficult to date but I love the crushed velvet – and that bust. Instant chest – yay!

Ready for upcycling

Scarlet fifties dress

I love love love this dress so much, it kills me that I can’t get into it. But the fabric is absolutely gorgeous and I’m pretty positive there is enough to make a half circle skirt. It’s from Richard Shops, which was a British high street chain started in 1927 and enjoying its heyday in the 60s apparently. This has a fifties feel to it, with the neat collar and cut off sleeves. Ooh I don’t know if I can cut it. It may have to be a wardrobe lurker for a while. Further inspection shows a rather large seam allowance so maybe… watch this space…

St Michael dress

Recognise that label? Those of you old enough to remember being forced by your mother to try on clothes in the middle of high street department stores will – it’s Marks and Spencers!  (How did mums ever get away with that? I never see that happening these days.) Love the pattern on the fabric – very whimsical. Not sure what kind of fabric it is though – maybe viscose rayon? Whilst the neckline and shaping around the bust is really flattering my torso is too short for the extra band around the middle so I’m going to see if I can remove or shorten that in some way.

Ready for harvesting

Eighties squiggle dress

Look at this cheeky little number! It’s so jaunty and so wonderfully eighties! The fabric is awesome although I have no idea what it is – it feels like a stretchy cheesecloth – maybe crepe? As you can see from the label it’s by Carla Bower for Radley who designed for the company through the 70s, so perhaps it’s a little earlier than I first thought. The buttons are fantastic. Sadly the dress is a little tight for me – I’d be worried about the buttons at the back popping open all the time. So it’s going into the fabric stash. Hopefully I’ll find something suitable so I can use both the fabric and the buttons as they work beautifully together.

And finally… a wardrobe lurker

Pleated forties dress

God I love this dress, but it doesn’t love me. It looks stunning on the dummy but I look like a sack of spuds in it :( It’s much too beautiful to cut into – look at all those pleats! Sigh. Maybe I need to think about this one a bit more. There’s no label on it, and every pleat has been hand sewn. Can you imagine? Love the neckline too. This one will sit like a gorgeous but untouchable goddess in the wardrobe while I figure out where to go with it.

What about you? Any vintage treasures that you can’t wear but can’t bear to part with? Maybe I should keep some of these dresses as a piece of history to hand onto my own daughters? Actually that hadn’t even occurred to me until I wrote it! Probably because my only female baby is a cat and she never shows much interest in clothes unless she’s trying to destroy them…