My back yard

backyardafter1I haven’t written much about my garden this year, I know, but it’s still coming along and I’ve gradually been reclaiming it from the weeds and rubbish left behind by previous tenants.

Lately I’ve been on a Mission to brighten up my back yard (not least because it’s the best spot for taking those sewing-selfie-pics to share here with you!).  This little space leads from the alley by my back door through to my garden and also, in the higgledy-piggeldy world of 18th century cottages, is an Access for my neighbours’ garden.  This is what it looked like when I moved inbackyardbefore1Not exactly welcoming, I think you’ll agree!  So I began to gradually tidy it up, replanted the hanging basket with geranium cuttings and cheapie things from Aldi, and installed a big rainwater butt given to me by some friends who were moving.backyardbasketyardclearingI began to move a few plants in, although only one section gets any sun and I have to keep most of it clear as a thoroughfare.  What I really wanted, though, was a big ‘planter’ that I could fill with colourful scented annuals to make a bold, bright splashbackyardbetI saw some wooden ones at the garden centre recently – priced nearly £50!! This is roughly ten times my usual ‘makeover’ budget!  So one morning a couple of weeks ago, the rain held off long enough for me to construct this rather ‘rustic’ affair from bits of wood left over from making the second compost bin.  This wood was actually given to me by my neighbours, so I thought it would be nice to use it for something they’d see and get a smile from as they passed by.planterbuildingI planted it up with sweet peas and love-in-a-mist grown from seed, and made a wigwam of sticks for things to climb up.  Total cost: packet of woodscrews £1.20, 2 half packets of seeds £2.00, half a grow-bag mixed with garden compost £1.75 = £4.95!  Not bad, eh?  Here it is just plantedplanterplantedA week or so later and It’s all growing up nicely, hopefully soon to be full of flowers and wafting scent across the yardbackyardafter2Next step is to persuade my landlady to get the back wall painted for next year, and my mum has given me some planters to put up on it.  Goodbye dull, grotty old space: Hello cheerful, perfumed oasis!backyardafter3aWishing you all a bright & colourful week 🙂

Shirred Duvet Sundress

skirtyBehold, the final dress from my recent Makeathon!  If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll already be familiar with my propensity for wearing bedlinen (evidenced here and here) long before the recent Sewing Bee challenge!  I’ve had this single duvet cover – £2 from a charity shop – in my stash for a while, originally thinking I’d use it for a quilt backing.  It’s a reversible job, and I only liked the brown side and didn’t think there would be enough of it to make anything to wear.duvetWhen I saw this fab shirred sundress by Leila of Where The Orchids Grow though, I fancied having a go.  I thought this might be the very thing for the purple batik bought on my recent Birmingham trip, but I wanted to make a practice version first.  When I’d done my measurements, I realised I could cut the brown side of the duvet in half and match up the flowery band from the top and bottom to make a ‘border’ print.sideshot2I didn’t do too badly matching up the pattern on this side, but sadly there wasn’t enough to do the same on the other!

I’ve never done shirring before but it was easy-peasey on Cosmic Lulu.  I soon had the bodice shirred down to the recommended length, a couple of inches above the waistline.  HOWEVER… my duvet cover was made of a cotton/terylene mix, and therefore quite crisp.  When I tried the dress on, the gathered fabric stuck straight out in front of my already-quite-substantial middle, making it look like it was time to Call the Midwife!sideshotAfter much re-thinking, I decided the answer was to keep shirring the bodice until I had the gathers in a more flattering place.  I ended up with 30 lines of shirring all the way around, plus a further 4 along the front only that I tapered in at the side seams to adjust for my sway back.

I also had to make one strap 1/4″ shorter than the other on account of my sloping left shoulder, and then I still needed velcro on the insides to stop them from slipping off!  Although I am much happier with the final dress than the first version, I must admit it’s still not the most flattering shape for me and I don’t think I’ll make another.  That said, it IS a very cool, comfortable, easy dress to wear.  So I’ll definitely be taking it on my hols, just in case the sun should decide to shine.  Plus, I won’t need to take a duvet cover, haha!frontshotWishing you all a sunny weekend 🙂

Whoo-Hoo! Velvet Party fRock!

frontshot1The Mission: to make a gorgeous yet comfy-for-dancing-in dress in time to wear to my friend Jas’s spectacular Summer Solstice bash

The Goal: to use the oldest piece of fabric in my stash, a beautiful stretch velvet in stunning midnight blue, given to me by my mum some time around the last Ice Age

The Challenge:  I have never sewn velvet before, apart from a pair of cushion backs and they didn’t go well…

I had a very clear vision in my head of this dress.  I wanted a long flouncey skirt, but no gathers or elastic; and I wanted it to be a really good fit, but with plenty of room to move around in.  And, I wanted BIG sleeve flounces!  I’m talkin’ Lord of The Rings Elf- Princess sleeves.  Oh yeah.  This was going to be a Party fRock!!Since I had no pattern that met these requirements, I figured I’d start with a basic Lady Skater and add the bits I wanted.  Although I’d got the fit nearly right with the Purple Ponte version, I still had that fold-above-the-bust issue, plus I’d had to raise the neckline and it wasn’t perfect.  So I went back to Amanda’s excellent Fitting & Adjustments guide, and Lo! – there was the very problem I have with just about EVERY PATTERN, described exactly!  I needed to shorten the shoulder & upper bust height!  Result!  I can hardly beleive that my shoulders are THREE sizes down from the rest of me, and may in fact need to come down even more.  I kept the neckline as per the pattern this time but made all my other previous adjustments.  And folks, I have to say the fit is probably the best of anything I’ve made.  Except I then went and cut the bodice a bit short – argh!  Never mind.  I still love it!paisleysleevesMy original plan was to make contrasting sleeve and bottom flounces to add a bit of VaVaVoom to the plain blue.  This royal blue, paisley-etched velvet from The Textile Centre seemed the very thing.   I used the lower section of the Lady Skater skirt to draft a very full bottom flounce (with a little help from Gertie!).flouncedraft I had actually cut out the sleeve flounces and tacked one on to check the length before realising that they didn’t work at all.  The dark blue velvet was perfectly gorgeous on its own… luckily I still had plenty left to do my fabulous sleeves with… sleeveywonder…but not enough for the bottom flounce. I ended up just adding a slightly flared ‘band’ at the bottom edge instead.  And I can tell you, that sewing two curved seams together in stretch velvet is a bloomin’ NIGHTMARE!!  It just moves all over the place!  I literally had every pin I own in this seam, and it STILL wouldn’t stay put.  PAH! – if only I’d known, I could have just cut the skirt longer in the first place!!skirtshotIt’s still pretty flouncey though, and there was enough to get the length that I wanted, so all’s well that ends well.

As the dress began to come together, there was a bit of a ‘Medieval’ thing happening, so I thought I’d amp this up by using my fave decorative top stitch along the sleeve edges and neckline.  It worked beautifully on the sleeves  (below left), but as you can see when it came to the neckband (top right), it started stretching out the fabric and making it go all lumpy.  I tried it twice but it just wasn’t working, so I changed to a regular straight stitch instead and that worked fine.topstitchingWith just a few days to go til the big weekend, all was going well.  And then I came down with THE worst cold I’ve had in years.  The dress was on its hanger, waiting to be hemmed.  I was in bed, dosed up with everything the local chemist had to offer, and it was looking like I wasn’t going to make it to the party at all…backshotOn the day of the Do though, my brother helped me get myself up & out, and I DID go, though only for a few hours and mainly to sit by the bonfire.  It was a lovely evening though, despite my feeling so lousy, and as I am completely without shame I wore the dress anyway – unhemmed and uneven!

It took a couple of weeks to recover from that lurgie, and to finish the dress off properly.  It WAS a challenging make, the velvet was tricky to work and I certainly made some mistakes with my pattern mash-up.  But y’know what? – I absolutely ADORE this dress!  It fulfills all my wishes, to have something really special that’s still incredibly comfortable to wear, and that makes me feel like an Elf Princess, despite my More-Dwarf-than-Elf figure.  And oh yeah – those sleeves totally fRock!!sleevelaughWishing you all a fRocking great week 🙂

 

The Heart of the Matter

hearts2A friend of mine recently shared a funny, sweet poem with me that was written by a young Asylum Seeker, as a way of celebrating and thanking the ordinary folk who had helped her during difficult times.  She was basically saying, all you people who aren’t rich, or powerful, or well-connected and think you’re just ‘ordinary’: you’re the ones who made a difference.

I’ve written here before about KAS, the charity that makes & distributes blankets to AIDS orphans in Africa.  I try to use up odd bits of yarn and things I’ve been given to make granny squares for them.  I had some dullish, grey squares that began life as an ill-conceived project that I abandoned – warm they may be, but not exactly the thing to brighten up a child’s day!  But with some colourful yarn scraps and this heart motif tutorial by Meladora, they turned into these:hearts1We all know there are lots of folk in the world who are not so well off.  What can you do?wafflesGet a hook (or knitting needles) and some yarn: play with colours, experiment with different techniques, try out that new stitch, fish out those abandoned projects and make a square.  Better still, make several.  Get together with your craftsy friends and make a stack.  Then post them to Africa.  Or France.  Or Great Ormond Street.  Wherever you’d most like them to go.KASparcel1‘Cos ordinary folk have BIG HEARTS, my friends 🙂

Two-for-One T-shirt Dress Makeover

maxidressHello there!  How’s your summer progressing? – Mine was going well, til I came down with a hideous cold and missed most of June!  But in between coughing fits and unspeakable snottiness, I’ve been sewing like a DEMON and I’ve got loads to share with you!  Starting with this, a rather-too-maxi T-shirt dress that I picked up in a charity shop for just £3.  As well as being tripoverly long for yours truly, the weight of that skirt made this cotton jersey pull around the least flattering parts of my middle.  So I set to work on it with Cosmic LuludressThat’s better!  All I did was chop it off at a length that still allowed me to bend down and do up my sandals decently, then turn up the hem and use one of the stretch stitches around the bottom.  I actually went for the same decorative stitch that I used on the purple ponte skater rather than the twin needle.  This stitch has a lot of stretch in it, and finishes the edge off neatly without the need for overlocking, etc.  Great for lazy sewists like me who can’t be bothered to change the needle!

And speaking of lazy… how’s this for a simple way to transform the chopped-off length into a skirt?  You will need: one elasticated waistband from a worn-out pair of PJ bottoms; lots of pins; five minutes or so of overlocking, and a puff of steam:CaptureWhoo-Hoo!  Funky little stretch mini-skirt!  Probably my ‘Most worn’ garment this last week as it seems to go with every T-shirt I own.skirt

Even for a slow-sewin’ gal like me this only took an afternoon and I’m very pleased to have two quick, cheapie wardrobe additions.  Just goes to show, sometimes the old ‘don’t throw that out, it might come in useful’ approach really does reap rewards!

Wishing you all a double-whammy kinda week  🙂

 

Catherine Wheel bags

bothbagsI do love a nice colourful crochet bag, don’t you? So much fun to make, so useful to have!  I fell in love with this design from Cozy Things blog, and following her instructions I soon figured out how to make one for myself.  And then I made another!

The base is worked as a flat circle of treble crochet (double in US terms); Cozy Things recommends the very wonderful Attic 24 bag tutorial for this, which you can find HERE.bagbottomThe main part of the bag uses Catherine Wheel stitch, worked in rounds rather than rows.  This is a new stitch to me!  I get a real kick out of learning new crochet techniques and this stitch is actually very simple, although the finished result looks quite advanced, doesn’t it?!  I found this great tutorial by The Crochet Crowd, and had it nailed in no time.  springbagI did an out-and-out copy of Cozy Things’ version on my first bag, even down to finishing the top edge with Attic 24’s Bobble Shell Edging.  The handles are 6 rows of double crochet (US single) worked into a chain of 100 stitches.  I did do my own flower design though, with a cute little button in the middle!floweCUThis was a really super-quick make, and I had so much fun doing it that I immediately began another.  I went off camping for a few days last week, and since each bag takes less than 50g of DK in each colour to make, it was a perfect little project to take with me.  One of my favourite holiday pastimes is to lounge around my campsite crocheting in the sun, so my second bag was finished by the time I got back!purplebagoutsideThe sunshine has really distorted the colours here, the middle stripes are actually deep green.  I did a slightly different top edge this time round too, but don’t ask me what stitch I used ‘cos I made it up as I went along whilst sitting in my tent!   The flower went a bit wonky on the second bag but hey ho…overexposedshotI reckon they make quite a groovy pair!

Wishing you all a wheelly (haha!) great week 🙂

Purple Ponte Skater

Front1I was SO chuffed with my last Lady Skater dress success that I thought I’d make another to help me get a handle on Cosmic Lulu‘s stretch stitch functions.  Of which there are many – some of them, I’ve discovered, better suited to particular jobs than others!  But despite a shaky start, this dress has also turned out pretty good, and very wearable.Front2This is a medium-weight synthetic ponte from those lovely folk at The Textile Centre.  It was meant to be a quick sew to fill in that ‘Hmm-Spring-Still-Feels-Like-Winter-Today’ gap in my wardrobe.  HOWEVER, it nearly didn’t happen at all, as I stupidly had only ordered one metre of fabric instead of two, and by the time I realised it was GONE from TTC’s website – ARGH!  Cue, Desperate Pleading Email!  But the wonderful Jane saved the day by finding me the very last remnant – hurray!  Thanks, Jane 🙂skirtySo off I went, and soon had the hang of the triple stretch stitch.  Brilliant!  Now, what about this standard overlock stitch for my armhole seams, I thought?  Bad, BAD idea!  They went seriously wibbly.  And y’know how people say you can’t unpick overlocking? – turns out they’re right.  I had to re-sew the seams and cut away the original stitching.  Here it is just before the hacking trimming.sleevemessI pretty much stuck to using the triple stretch after that, and it all came together fine.  This ponte is a bit clingier than the jersey I used last time, but I went with exactly the same pattern alterations as before, so it wasn’t until I saw the photos of my wonderful sway-back adjustment that I realised how many VBLs (that’s Visible Bra Lines) were on show!BackYou may have noticed that this dress is in a SOLID COLOUR!  Yep, it’s true: even I have moments when a plain(ish) dress is the order of the day.  However, I couldn’t really leave it entirely plain now, could I?!  Especially when my gorgeous new machine has SO MANY stitch functions to choose from.  How about a nice bit of bright orange decorative top-stitching around the neck, hem, and cuffs?  YES please!detailmontageAnd yay – those sleeves didn’t turn out too badly after all!SleeveyWonderIt may have been a glorious evening when these pics were taken in my garden (many thanks to brother Rob for making it all look so good!), but overall it’s been a pretty chilly May here in the Marches, so I’ve had more opportunities to wear this dress than I expected this month.  I’ll admit that I don’t love it as much as the last one, but it does what I wanted of it, and I had loads of fun doing the top-stitching.

So now I’ve done a stretch jersey dress, what next?  Weeeelllll, there’s a something a bit special in my stash I’ve been saving for a long time, until I had the machine to do it….FacePullingFrontWHAT?? – VELVET?!? – You must be JOKING!!

Wishing you all a GLORIOUS weekend 🙂

Day Trip to Fabric Heaven!

goodiebag

Last year, my friend Mary and I planned to go on an indulgent, fabric-lovers day trip to Birmingham to visit the famous Rag Market and The Fancy Silk Store…. and it didn’t happen, for various reasons.

This year – IT DID!!!  Last weekend, we boarded the train with our sewing plans and yardage requirements and off we went!

Seriously, if you’ve never visited the Fancy Silk Store and you have even the slightest inkling of a Fabric Addiction, I urge you to go.  It is literally floor-to-cieling stacked with fabrics, on every floor!

Ooh, SO hard to resist going crazy and doubling my fabric stash in an afternoon!  But, I had a budget, I had specific projects in mind, and I DID manage to be fairly restrained.  I swooned over the batiks though, and first up was this soft, lightweight beauty, destined (I hope) to become the Kate & Rose Giselle Dressgreen&yellowbatikBut I couldn’t stop there…. this one has a bit more body and I think will make a nice strappy sundress.  (Possibly with shirring, if I’m feeling ambitious?)purplebatikThen over the road in the Rag Market, while M. was off buying gorgeous curtaining for her new pad, I spotted this fabulous, 70s-wallpaper-print pin cord.  Aha!  The very thing I’ve been waiting for to make this vintage 70s overdress for the winter.  See? – it’s all part of the plan, honest…cordAll in all it was a Grand Day Out and I think we may have to make this into an annual pilgramage.  And did I stay within my budget?  Weeellll… so hard to be restrained, plus y’know the Giselle dress requires elastic, so I had to buy a metre which put me over budget by….stashtastic…25p!

Wishing you all a Fabric-tastic Friday 🙂