The Knitting, Stitching and Blogger Show

Since I live quite literally FIVE MINUTES from Alexandra Palace, and had never before been to the Knitting and Stitching Show up there, I felt it would have been quite, quite rude not to make an appearance this weekend. I’ve passed by before when it’s on and marvelled at the coachloads of silver-haired, sharp-elbowed grannies coming in from all over the country, yet always thought it might not be my cup of tea exactly. But this year I was absolutely determined to check it out, and I have to say, I’m glad I did!

Not only was it a gorgeous day for a walk to to the Palace (see Karen’s lovely scenic pics), my in-laws were down from Norwich for the weekend, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to go and have a look with Ann, my M-i-L.

We were only in ten minutes when who should I see having their picture taken together but new bride Zoe and Karen! Sewing serendipity batman! Zoe had to dash off to her stall (yes Zoe was manning an area for Traid, giving advice on upcycling and refashioning old clothes, as she is a responsible and caring human… not browsing for bargains like the grasping selfish seamstress I am…) but I managed to grab Karen for a quick chat and pic before we toddled off to look around. Here’s the lovely lady in question looking rather fabulous (are we both wearing Orla Kiely prints Karen?)!

Karen and me!Then it was off to try and cram in as much as possible from the exhibition and the stalls. Here’s my modest haul from the day:

The haulHere we have a metre of gorgeous helicopter fabric from Favourite Fabrics, first spotted on Jane’s tutorial for baby blankets. Hey – I’m a plagiarist an ideas magpie, what can I say? We also have four wooden buttons for the winter coat, an embroidery hoop, some assorted needles and a thread organiser to get me started on embroidery and a rather fabulous 5mm crochet hook. I’ve been frothing at the mouth with jealousy every time I see another swanky hook on the crochet vids I’ve been watching on Youtube so I’m delighted to finally get one of my own.

Then it was over to Zoe for a quick chat (thanks for being so accommodating whilst trying to work at the same time Zoe!) – we’ve never met so it was just lovely to see her in person. Here she is hard at work, bless her.

Zoe hard at work

Finally, off to the Royal Oak in Muswell Hill for a cup of tea and a sit down. Phew. Oh and we spotted this delight on the way out – a knitted village!

All in all I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent there, but here are my tips for doing it well:

1. Dedicate a structured day to it. There’s so much to see and do it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Try and get booked in for a couple of workshops (like Shivani did) or talks in the morning as these are easy to miss out on. Shivani made the excellent point (in comments on Karen’s blog) that the coaches start to leave from 3pm and it empties out quite a bit so it might be worth leaving the shopping bit til then.

2. Bring a packed lunch. Alexandra Palace is a delight to walk around and have a picnic (yes, even in October!). At the back of the Palace is an enclosed deer park and there are loads of parks and woodland to the fore.

3. Have a budget and stick to it. It would be so easy to get carried away, especially at the sewing gadget stores, and it’s difficult to tell in all the excitement whether you’re really getting a bargain.

4. Don’t expect to get much in the way of dressmaking fabric. Most of the fabric available is quilting cotton.

5. Make the most of the expert advice on offer. I feel bad I can’t remember this particular stall’s name, but the lovely owner was invaluable and spent at least five or ten minutes in helping me find the right tools to get started with embroidery.

6. Which brings me neatly to my next point – bring a notepad and pen to take notes of shops and locations in the hall, otherwise you’ll lose track if you want to go back and visit them or buy from them again. And pick up as many leaflets/business cards as you can too.

7. Take the time to look at some of the exhibitions around the place. ‘Mining a Golden Seam’ was an embroidery exhibition from North East embroiderers. Inspired by coal mining, exhibitors were as young as 7 years old! Seeing something like this definitely makes you think about craft and communities, shared histories and narratives. Ooh it got me feeling all cultured like.

Maybe next year I’ll see some more of you there!

My Handmade Style: Handmade Jane

From vintage chic to clean modern shapes, how do these seamstresses create and communicate their own unique style in their projects? What and who inspires them, from film and music to everyday life. And what’s their dream outfit?

Yet another blogging favourite joins us today to talk us though her handmade wardrobe – it’s Handmade Jane. I’ve been very excited about featuring Jane, not least because I love her style (and I bet you do too) but because she’s also possibly one of the nicest bloggers you could meet in the flesh. But enough of the fawning – let’s see if Jane will let us into her drawers!

Jane's Alma blouse

Jane, anyone who follows your blog knows you’re mad for vintage patterns, polka dots, gingham and shirt dresses! But if you had to describe your style, how would you sum it up?

Well, I think you’ve covered all life’s essentials in one fell swoop there! If I was blowing my own trumpet (which I am), I’d say ‘elegant chic with a vintage twist’! I’m a stay at home mum, which dictates the sort of clothes I wear to a certain degree – although I love them, wiggle dresses just look plain wrong down at the park! Having said that, I do like to look like I’ve made an effort – I’m a naturally neat person and am not comfortable being scruffy. So knee length skirts and dresses with cardigans seem to be my wardrobe staples during the day.

Where do you find your style inspiration and how do you channel that into your me-made wardrobe?

Other sewing bloggers mostly, closely followed by old films and books, and of course, Pinterest, which I have to ration myself with, otherwise I’d be on there clicking away all day. I’ve just started collecting classic Agatha Christie books of the 1950s and 1960s, partly because I love a good crime novel, but also because the unfortunate murder victims on the front covers always seem to be rocking a gorgeous frock!

Agatha Christie heroine

Any kind of wartime drama is right up my street, especially if it features girls swanning around in tea dresses and cardigans. I really like Sarah Waters’ novels because she has a wonderfully evocative writing style and is a stickler for period detail, whether it’s clothes, decor or manner of speech. I’m thinking specifically of The Night Watch which is set during WW2.

The Night Watch

The Night Watch (BBC)

But with all sources of inspiration, it’s the vintage details that really get me going: a ruched bustline, a lace trimmed collar, a piped edge, an unusual colour combination, vintage buttons…. I’m always looking for ways of incorporating these details into my own sewing. I’m not really trying to create an entire vintage look, just a flavour. So I might make a shirt dress from a modern pattern, but shorten it and perhaps add vintage buttons for more of a 1940s look.

Who are your style icons and why?

I’ve got a soft spot for blonde bombshells from the 1950s! It’s a look that really appeals to me: the curvy figure, the sexy cut of the clothes, the blonde hair, the red lippie. Marilyn Monroe is probably my number one style icon.

Marilyn MonroeSome of her film costumes are eye poppingly wonderful, and it was two of them (a halter neck dress from Niagara and a cherry print dress from The Misfits) that inspired me to make my own Cherry Fabulous dress (seen above) this summer.

Jane's Cherry Fabulous dress

Her off-duty style is fabulous too: halter neck tops, polka dot sundresses, fitted sweaters and tight trousers – she always looked pulled together and perfectly accessorised.

Are there any particular designers that you use for inspiration?

I’m not really interested in current fashion trends. I feel quite strongly that what I
wear should be about what suits me, my personality and my figure, rather than
what’s currently doing the rounds on the catwalks. Tara Starlet and Vivien of
Holloway clothes are great for vintage style inspiration. I think Orla Kiely‘s eye for
design and colour is excellent and I always like the clothes she designs, even
though they are ridiculously expensive. I’ve recently discovered Kate Spade, and
was delighted to find she has a similar obsession with polka dots as me!

If you had to select one self-stitched garment that really encapsulates your style – what would it be and why?

That’s a difficult one! I think the easy option would be to choose a polka dot blouse or a gingham dress, as both these types of garments encapsulate my style in a nutshell. But if I was putting a little more thought into it, I’d have to say my Oolong dress. I made it for my brother’s wedding last summer and virtually everybody I spoke to said the dress was very ‘me’! It’s a flattering, feminine fit with 1940s style details (ruched bust, slightly gathered sleeves, knee length) in an oh-so-pretty blue floral fabric. I like the fact that it’s vintage in look but retains a modern edge. It’s also one of those dresses that makes me feel fabulous whenever I wear it, which can only be a good thing, right?!

Jane's Oolong

Do you ever take risks and experiment with your look? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

I’d like to be a bit more of a risk taker but I just can’t drag myself away from my favourites most of the time! I’m constantly drawn to red, red/navy combos, 1940s florals, polka dots and gingham. A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested that maybe ‘enough was enough’ with the gingham and polka dots. It was like a red rag to a bull. If I like them, they suit me and make me happy, I’ll wear gingham and polka dots every day if I want to!

Having said that, I do have a hankering to wear yellow and this is one thing I’d like to be braver about. I have a Pinterest board full of yellow inspiration which I’m constantly sighing over. My reticence is because I know red and blue suit me, so I can wear them with confidence. With my colouring, I’m not so sure about yellow, and if I don’t think something’s quite right on me, then I won’t be confident wearing it. I’m taking baby steps though, and have taken advice from Caitlin Moran in her book ‘How to be a Woman’. She says, “every woman needs a pair of yellow shoes (they unexpectedly go with everything)”. Too right.

Jane's yellow Pinterest board

There are certain looks some of us just can’t pull off… do you have a style bugbear?

Anything that ‘s too flowing or unstructured – I just look pregnant! I definitely need some shape definition. And like Zoe, circle skirts just don’t do it for me. I love them on other people and really wish they suited me. But they don’t.

What would be your dream outfit, existing or otherwise?

Amazingly, after so many years, I still really really love my wedding outfit. A dressmaker from Brighton made my dress, based solely on some pictures I’d drawn and amazingly, she got it spot on! It’s a sleeveless, fitted, floor length gown in red crepe de chine, with princess seams. Very simple and timeless and she managed to get the fit just right. I wore a matching shoulder wrap and red heels, and truly felt like a movie star (as all brides should on their wedding day!) I didn’t stop dancing and smiling all day!

What other sewing bloggers would you recommend for great individual style?

I have to mention Tilly of Tilly and the Buttons, as hers was the first sewing blog I started following. Seeing the evolution of her handmade style really inspired me to start up my own blog. I also got very excited when I first discovered Lauren’s blog Lladybird – a lot of her style preferences overlap with mine, so I’m always keen to see what she sews next! Her beautiful polka dot Ceylon dress is probably one of my favourite ever dresses. I also really admire Casey‘s unique, vintage style – she just does her own thing and always looks wonderful! This is just the tip of the iceberg though, sewing bloggers inspire me on a daily basis.

Thank you so much Joanne for inviting me to be part of this excellent series. I can’t WAIT to see who else you have up your sleeve! x

Thanks for introducing me to Kate Spade (and wasting a whole afternoon) Jane! I’ve already got my eye on the Oolong pattern after seeing your version… divine.  And who else wants to see Jane’s wedding dress NOW?