The Big C, World of Wee top transformation

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In which I have an adventure sporting my new top featuring extreme bladder appliqué. Really? A … bladder? You betcha.

“Ummmm”, said the lady in the shop staring at my chest (yes, I know this is not an unusual phenomena, although it is normally an affliction of the gentlemen in my world, however, I digress) … , “Is that a bladder on your top?”

I looked her squarely in the eye, “Yes, yes it is.”

*Silence* Nobody blinked. After several uncomfortable seconds some large tumbleweeds cartwheeled past, and still the woman did not utter a single word. I stared at her harder and willed her to speak. She fidgeted nervously in the corner and looked for something (anything) to distract her and save her from having to talk to this bladder wearing crazy at her counter. As the tumbleweeds whirled around for a dusty second lap two she finally coughed, ” Ahem, … well … lovely …” she trailed off, her eyes flitting to the door, desperate seeking an easy escape. “It’s a special design, to promote awareness of bladder cancer,” I explained. Apparently that was the last straw … her mouth made a little O shape of disappointment (I swear she almost mewed) as she turned on her heel and fled into safer territory at the back of the shop. You see, I had committed an unspeakable act, I had uttered the dreaded C word in public. CANCER.

You may not know this about me, but I am the proud Chairman of Fight Bladder Cancer, a charity that provides support and advice to everyone affected by bladder cancer. You can find out more about why in the links further down this page, but I am mindful that this is a sewing blog, so let’s cut to the all important project details. I should also point out that there are some very lovely T-shirts that we’ve designed as a charity that require absolutely no sewing surgery whatsoever (because they fit normal size people) and you can get your hands on one of these lovely designs for yourself here. I did try on the largest ladies T-shirt, but let’s just say there was little/no room in the boobage department so it was a definite fail. A overstuffed overcooked sausage is generally not the look I am aiming for. I then tried the bloke’s shirts, which were more than ample for ‘the girls’, but with a men’s cut crew neck they made me look like a black lego brick … ’nuff said. It was with a slight air of desperation that I contemplated transforming an existing T-shirt into something I could actually wear, but with the very first meeting of the UK members of the support group in the diary, I really needed something on brand. I had another peek at the original shirts …

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My favourite TNT top pattern of late is the much made Deer & Doe Plantain Top. Yes, that does make this number 5 (you can find version 1, 2, 3 & 4 here and here). This top is just perfection for me … I love the fit, it’s easy and quick to sew and it’s wonderful to wear. For this incarnation I raided some butter soft black cotton jersey from the stash and set to work. I also managed to find some tiny scraps of polka dot jersey for the elbow patches. Most of you are familiar with my polka dot obsession, and I can reassure you that I am working on it. Pah!

Still, with this top the most nerve wracking bit was the cutting and assembling of the bladder from the existing T-shirt. With a steady hand I cut round the shape of the design, leaving an ample margin, and then smoothed and pinned into place on my cut out front. Once I was happy that it was straight and unrumpled, I sewed all the way round with a short zig zag stitch and then trimmed as close as I could to the stitching with some very sharp scissors. I was delighted with the result. The rest of the make was a breeze (thanks overlocker, did I mention that I love you?).

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And there we have it, one transplanted bladder on one Plantain top. Result. My absolute favourite phrases in the design, which feature different words for having a wee are Tinkle, Widdle and Shaking hands with the vicar. Just delightful … with the added benefit that they give people a whole new reason to stare at your cleavage.

A little bit about Fight Bladder Cancer

Bladder Cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the Western world.
It is the most expensive cancer to treat.
It has the highest recurrence rate of any cancer.
Of those diagnosed (over 10,000 people a year in the UK alone), half will die from the disease.
It is the only top ten cancer where survival rates are getting worse.
No-one wants to talk about it.

Almost five years ago my bloke was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive version of bladder cancer. A grade 3 tumour, it was Stage 4 when they discovered it, advancing into other organs and making radical surgery his only option. They gave him a 15% survival rate. After a long operation and during his recovery period, we discovered that we were all alone … there was no support group or charity to give us advice or help in any way. So we decided to start one. Now we have an active online support group and reach thousands of people from all across the globe with our website. We are in the process of raising more money to further spread the support and help we offer internationally, so that people in every corner of the globe affected by this disease have somewhere they can find comfort and feel safe.

You can find out more at www.fightbladdercancer.co.uk

The dress now standing on Platform One

Choo choo … is that yet another incarnation of the Lady Skater pattern on the tracks? Okay Pattern Police, hands up, I’m afraid it’s guilty as charged. In my defence, this dress is the ultimate quick fix for a bored wardrobe and in theory can be cut out and sewn in less than two hours – who’s not gonna swoon at those sewing stats? This time I fancied changing up the silhouette a little more for an even shorter bodice length in combination with a wider skirt to create more of an empire line to the finished garment.

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Great plans, huh? That was until I saw this print on the Minerva Crafts website at a low price and fell immediately in love. Stretch cotton jersey? Check. Some of my favourite colours? Check. A cheeky take on a trad print? Check. The yardage was in my shopping basket and purchased before you could say stash attack. I waited patiently for it to arrive. (That’s a lie, I don’t do anything patiently, rather I fidget a lot and look at the slowly ‘moving through treacle’ hands on my watch face repeatedly, whilst waiting for the sound of the postie as he leaps up the stairway into the studio). Two days of fidgeting later it arrived, and I ripped open the parcel to see the jewel like colours (delight!) and reached in to pull out said fabric. Oh dear. Disappointment with a capital D.

I like things that feel nice. I like gossamer silks that float like clouds, rippling lakes of satin, plushly piled velvets and american cotton so soft it feels like butter. Long ago I eschewed acrylic yarn for merino, alpaca and cashmere when I knit, simply because I can’t bear to invest time and love to make something that doesn’t feel gorgeous when it’s finished. I am a wanton, sensuous creature and am seduced by texture, softness and handle. Imagine then, my horror, when my beautiful new stretch cotton jersey print came out of the parcel as stiff as board. What’s more, it didn’t appear to stretch. At all.

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An eternal optomist, I rationalised that maybe it was because the fabric had a lot of “dress” in it. Surely a round or two in the washing machine would see it right? I chucked it in at 40 degrees and hoped for the best. I tried to kid myself that the fabric was softer post tumble (I washed it twice just to be sure), and maybe it was a tad (clearly I had now reached the denial stage), but it still had very little give. I wondered if perhaps I had inadvertently stumbled on some top secret military grade camo fabric, with specially woven bullet proof kevlar fibres in the mix. Trouble was … I still loved this print!

In the end I threw caution to the wind and stomped off to the sewing shed to see if I could whip it into submission. I cut out my new shape Lady Skater super quick, adding a couple of inches to the length (bye bye pudgy knees), shortened the bodice and added an extra inch to the top of the skirt piece, as well as adding in another couple of inches to the skirt width at the hem. Twenty minutes later I was ready to sew. Woo hoo.

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This was the moment it went a bit wrong and my story turns into a sewing version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You see, I had three different coloured threads to choose from on my overlocker/serger as I started to sew. I lined them up on the table and gave each one due consideration. There was the black thread, “Oh no”, I said, “that is far too dark!” Then there was the white thread, “Oh no, that is much to stark!” and finally there was the cream thread, “Oh, yes, that one is just right!”. So I set about my seams with the cream thread loaded, and other than having to tug resistant necklines into shape (not enough stretch for that darned neck facing) it seemed to go well. In fact, an hour in and I was almost done with all the serged seams. Great, I thought, I’d better check the fit and try it on. To be honest it was a bit of a squeeze. This dress requires fabric with around 20% stretch, and my fabric has about 1%. I did, however, manage to wrestle my way into the bodice and once on it felt alright (truth be told it was a little like I imagine women who bound their breasts and pretended to be boys in the 1920s felt, but hey, I bloody love this print and I AM GOING TO WEAR IT, okay!?) It was not so bad once I acclimatised to the fit, and I was pleased with the new cut that my pattern fiddling had created.

Then, as I gave another test spin in the mirror (please tell me I am not the only one who pirouettes and twirls in half finished garments like an over-excited child?) I noticed these weird little marks across the top of the shoulder line. Uh oh. And then I realised that where the fabric was under tension from having almost no stretch you could see the cream thread of the overlocked seam. Only tiny pinpricks of the light colour, but the more I looked, the bigger they appeared. As I pulled the dress off to more closely inspect all the seams, I realised that this was a problem on every single seam, from the neckband to the skirt and well, everywhere. I had two choices – chuck it in the bin and deny any knowledge of the fabric’s existence (camo fabric? I don’t know what you’re talking about) or sorting it out. So I pushed my overlocker aside, reached for some navy thread and my trusty sewing machine and redid every single damn seam on the dress half a millimetre inside the line of the serged seams. It took quite a while, but to my delight it solved the problem of the pale thread show through. Result.

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As you can imagine, my patience was wearing thin by this point and I think my twin needle hem suffered as a result … the tension definitely needed a bit of tweaking as it is still raised up like a mini mountain, even after liberal application of a hot steam iron. However, I have decided to overlook these minor flaws, because I have a brand new dress made of magical non-stretchy stretch jersey! And that my lovelies is a rare find.

Despite the rubbish weather, new dress and I made friends by going on a mini outing up the lane to our vintage village steam railway. I even donned a little matchy neckerchief for the occasion (contrary to popular belief, not only the preserve of ladies called Lurleen who live in Nashville). After weeks of rain here in England it was heartening to see the spring primroses bravely peeking their heads above the soil, even though it was pretty breezy (by the way, please excuse my poor Marilyn Monroe impression with the skirt). Only eighteen sleeps to Spring!

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The star spangled All American Girl dress

This confection of red, white and blue, complete with stars, stripes, half-naked wenches and glitzy USA typography, adorns my latest terribly understated  *embarassed cough* incarnation of the Lady Skater dress.

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As you’ll no doubt remember from my Intergalactic Planetary interpretation of the Lady Skater Pattern by Kitschycoo, I am head over heels in love with this pattern. It is the perfect work dress … comfortable, uncreasable, quick to make, and ridiculously wearable. This version has already had three outings since I made it last weekend. After resolving my initial fitting issues with the pattern (due to my extraordinary cartoon-like, Dolly Partonesque physique) I can now run this baby up in a couple of hours. That time frame also allows much time for fabric coo-ing, studying it at great length while drinking tea, removing kitties from the cut out pieces when they decide to use them as a bed and the occasional pat (all of which occur on a regular basis in my sewing shed).

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The fabric is the stuff jersey dreams are made of … light as a feather, it washes and dries in no time and is only just on the safe side of lock you up eccentric. Better still, it was in the sale! If there is anything better than sewing a new dress you love, it is sewing a new dress you love when you got the fabric at bargain basement price. For my fellow crazies, you can still purchase some of this star spangled goodness at Minerva Crafts. They have one of the best selection of jersey fabrics here in the UK and I have two more of their delectably different fabrics already safely stashed for future Lady Skaters. The dress is essentially unchanged from my wearable muslin version, although this jersey is not quite as stretchy, and arguably the hem could be an inch or two longer, but hey, what’s a pudgy knee between friends? I kept the three quarter length sleeves and neckline because it makes it easier to make the dress multi-seasonal (tights and a cardi in the colder months and unadorned for spring/summer).

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In this dress I feel a bit like Supergirl – perhaps it’s the combo of sky blue with scarlet, or the fact that I’m emblazoned with the old stars ‘n’ stripes, or perhaps because the perfect accessory is one of many, many pairs of red shoes – whatever the reason for me it’s a winner. It reminds me of all the happy months I spent in the States, and all the things I miss about the good old US of A. From the waft of a Cinnabon as you walk into a shopping mall to sloppy joes, baseball games, fantastic burgers, screened windows, all night book shops, great customer service and fabric stores laden with goodies so cheap and plentiful you almost cry. *ahhh* Good times.

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This is my last make for Sew Blue February. Next up on the sewing table are a floral trench coat (I have no idea what I am thinking!) and some darling dresses for the grandchilderbeasts.

Intergalactic planetary Kitschycoo-ish Skater Dress

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Rockin’ it for all the intergalactic plus size women across the universe in my new dress and Men in Black sunnies combo. I will wear this dress for every single moment of the rest of my life and shall never take it off, no never, you hear me? LOVE the way this dress turned out. In my eyes it is faultless … the fabric was stupidly cheap in the January sales, and although I was a bit ‘meh’ about it when I bought it, when you are a little distance away the pattern magically transmogrifies from drunken aztec style drug haze into a Dr Who-esque multi-dimensional universe. Not only that, but it is just the right side of warm and washes like a dream. It being in the sale, the fabric mix was determined of unknown origin, but I suspect a cotton/viscose/lycra fibre fusion in the 4 way stretch which drapes and moves with an adorable amount of swoosh as you walk.

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In terms of long lasting wardrobe potential it’s also a winner. I have a lot of blue in my closet and immediately found two cardis, a jacket and two different pairs of boots which tone perfectly with my new frock, so I can dress this up or down depending on my mood. Today I am cosy in my work combo of flat suede boots and long cardi with big pockets (is that a tri-barrel plasma gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?).

Now for the knitty gritty … the sewing of the thing! Unless you have just jetted in from another planet I’m sure you have heard of the wonder that is the Lady Skater Dress by the talented Kitschycoo. After reading of other sewing blogger’s adventures with this lovely pattern, in particular the enchanting Mary of Idle Fancy’s sky blue creation, I was hopeful this could fit straight out of the imaginary pdf packet. Nope. *sigh*

I cut the largest size for the bust and graded down one size for the upper bodice, added a wedge into the circle of the skirt (to use the full width of my fabric) and give it a bit more oomph. Pretty minor changes, but what I didn’t take into account was the weird proportion of my body in combination with the very pliable 4 way stretch of the fabric. Here was the result (please note I show these fitting pics of my first toile purely in the interest of sewing science, and not because I am happy appearing across the internet miles as a large blue cube lady. Just saying.)

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As you can see there are some major problem with this. Although I already chopped two and a half inches off the length of the bodice and back in these photos the waist is still at least two inches too low (adding to the overall “I am a human box” vibe). However, the worst fit was the arms … too loose and big around the bodice, too tight across my biceps. As much as I pinned and undid the serged seams I just couldn’t get it right. I retreated to the sofa with some wine and my ipad to see if I was the only one to to have pretty major issues with fitting this pattern.

Thank goodness I found Shannon, who had documented in great detail her fitting adventures with the Lady Skater dress. Obviously, Shannon has the patience of a saint and managed to get her dress to fit to perfection, but her level of perfection made me absolutely determined not to be beaten. In the end, I used all Shannon’s advice, and compared the sleeves and arm scythe to another couple of patterns I had that fit well in the arm and did a frankenpattern for a revised bodice and whole new sleeves. I also added another two inches to the skirt length and chopped off in total 4 inches from the bodice. I think that definitely makes me a bona fide “short-arse”, as my nan would say. Hey ho, that’s what high heels were invented for.

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Lastly, I should pass undying love and gratitude to my serger, without whom none of this would be possible. Seriously, all you sewers out there … if you can possibly scrape together the cash to buy one of these babies, do so immediately. Mine is a bottom of the range model but is perfect for what I need and makes running up a knit dress or top super speedy (fitting issues aside). Once I finished this Lady Skater dress I immediately cut out another in a, well, I think it’s safe to say, more controversial fabric choice! If we have more sun this week then hopefully I’ll have photos soon. Can’t wait to show you all.

’Cause I am a champion & you’re gonna hear me roar

Oooh – what is this terrifying creature lurking in the long bamboo on a sunny afternoon? Okay, maybe not so big on the scary front but very cute. Check out the little pouchy cheeks on these guys!

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This king of the jungle and his entourage are the awesome wild side critters to adorn this fun print from Makower fabrics. I scored this adorable cotton fabric on my expendition to Ally Pally last autumn and as soon as I saw it I knew it was perfect for a shirt for Aiden’s 3rd birthday present. Not only that, but it was a great contender for a Jungle January project. (Yes, I do know it’s February now, but I promise this was all sewed, seamed and pressed before the clock chimed midnight on the last second of January.)

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I was a little tight on fabric for the shirt, so the pattern placement is not quite as perfect as I might like (secretly being a sewing control freak who aims for such things), but I think a newbie three year old with a safari on his shirt hopefully won’t be too bothered by such trifles. The cotton print has a slightly faded, retro look to it and is busy enough not to show up food stains or other boy related hazards too badly. The shirt pattern is the lovely Sketchbook Shirt by Oliver + S. This is a really great pattern, with fantastic, easy to follow instructions. I am so happy I found it, after spending disappointing hours trawling through the selection of boyswear patterns from the Big 3. (Their designers seem to be quite deluded as to what’s de rigueur amongst the wee people in our midst, OR are living eternally in 1983, I can’t decide which.) No wonder there are so many brilliant indie pattern designers creating wonderful, wearable children’s clothes nowadays. I also downloaded the Sunday Brunch jacket pattern (for little girls) as it was soooo lovely. I love the instant fix of a downloadable pattern. While you do then have to do a bit of cutting and taping, at least you have it right NOW and there is no waiting involved. What can I say? I am an instant gratification kind of girl.

I made no changes to the pattern at all, and was delighted to have found one with a proper stand collar which I always thinks sews up with a much nicer finish than the “camp collar” featured on many other shirts in this age range. Even the button bands were a breeze, and I managed pretty perfect topstitching. I also love the little details on these patterns … the box pleat on the back yoke is a really nice and unusual touch.

To be honest, I’ll be sad to see Jungle January go. I’ve so enjoyed seeing all the makes on Anne’s lovely blog. (Who would have though there were that many animal prints in the world?) Bring on Blue February … I am ready.

p.s. Thanks to Katy Perry for the epic song Roar whose lyrics I totally nicked for this post’s title. She is awesome, and better yet wears a leopard print bikini combo in the video for the song (animal print wearing women of the world unite).

A bunch of Deer & Doe Plantains

Introducing my neon disco leopard print jungle january Plantain top, courtesy of those generous mesdames et messieurs at Deer & Doe. These are two more versions of their wonderful free top pattern … perfect for any knits lurking in your stash. This particular fabulous print looks like I shot and killed a spanglestastic disco diva big cat on a sultry nightclub dancefloor somewhere in darkest Africa. The less dramatic truth is that I found it on eBay!

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Ahh, eBay, how i love thee. This fabric is so ME. I adore it, and almost did cartwheels round the kitchen when it arrived. Unusually, for an internet buy, when the fabric arrived it was even brighter and bolder than I hoped … it’s also incredibly busy, almost fluorescent and features hot pink … so, an all round winner. Even better, this now being my third Plantain top (see versions 1 & 2 here).  I have got the making down to a fine art. For this incarnation I decided to add a feature band to the sleeves and a little tab with a button fastening.

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This was the first test for my brand new overlocker and I spent much of the afternoon annoying my bloke by telling him over and over how darn amazing the new bit of kit was, and how much it was going to “change my sewing life”. It’s easy to forget sometimes that there are non sewers who only hear “blah, blah, blah” (in a Charlie Brown’s teacher stylee) everytime you open your mouth to spout about sewing related topics. I digress. High as a kite from the combination of perfect finish and a machine that cut the fabric edge as it sewed (seriously, I nearly cried on the first seam) I made this top start to finish in a little over an hour. It looks great with black jeans and is also a perfect companion colourwise for a handbag I picked up on a trip to Madrid last year. Oh, and I have pink shoes that are also the perfect match. In the interests of transparency I should point out that my bloke will tell you I have a rainbow of shoes and it is impossible to find a colourway in the world that I do not own shoes to match … it’s not true, but boy am I working on it!)

With my disco neon version pressed and hanging in the wardrobe I turned my attention to Plantain number 4. For this version I fancied trying my hand at some patch pockets on a tunic length version. I got this lovely feather print cotton jersey from Girl Charlee (part of their own Love Pantone collection). I also managed to find a tiny bit of fabric in a chartreuse jersey from my stash to use as trim on the pockets. I added four inches to the length on these pieces and also cut a much wider sleeve so that I could gather them onto a band and create a different arm silhouette.

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With the main body assembled and seamed I turned my attention to the pockets. In a very unscientific process I grabbed some leftover fabric and just chopped myself some semi-circular shapes for the bottom of the pockets. I then made some pleats in the top and then added the folded band for the top. Then to make it easier to get a really nice edge finish I basted all the way round on the sewing machine and used this as my pressing line for the curve which gave me a really lovely clean edge. I then pinned them to the front … checked they were level and topstitched on before removing the earlier basting. They looked good but a little bereft when I finished then so I added some vintage purple buttons from my stash. The pockets don’t show up brilliantly on this large scale print but they worked so well I will definitely be making them again.

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This is a really lovely relaxed tunic and I think will work well dressed up with work trousers and heels, or with skinny jeans and boots at the weekend. Just one last #januaryjungle make to go and I have one whole day left. Stay tuned folks …

3 wurms, some magic wire & an island wrap

DECLARATION: This post features yarny goodness and fiddling about with some pointy sticks. Anyone with an allergy to knitting related blog posts should step away from their browsing device immediately (no, no, don’t look back, the knitting vibe will get you!) Please be assured that normal sewing service will be resumed shortly.

Okey dokey, for those hardy crafters who are still with me … are you sitting comforably? That, you see, is a vital reason why knitting is important to me. It’s no secret I like to make all kinds of stuff, and my primary passion is sewing. However, sewing does have limitations and it requires and awful lot of kit and kaboodle on hand. In the evenings, especially in the winter months, I like to snuggle up on the couch with my bloke, drink tea, watch DVD box sets and knit. I really love having a project I can just pick up and do rather than have to wrestle with patterns, tracing paper, pins, scissors and fabric. I love knitting all kinds of things but hats are a particular favourite … they take little yarn so you can use something really luxurious and they’re quick and easy.

Without further ado, let me introduce to you a most marvellous pattern for a knitted hat.

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This gorgeous concotion is a Wurm Hat designed by Katharina Nopp, and you can download it for free on Ravelry. It is a very simple knit with just knit and purl rows to make the bubbly concertina effect, and a double thickness brim edging which is knitted in as you go. It’s knitted in the round so there is almost no seaming to do at the end. Result.

Two years ago I made my very first version of this pattern in a beautiful apple green cashmerino yarn for Michelle’s Christmas present. Michelle is a keen allotment owner, and a warm and cosy hat for those cold mornings working seemed the perfect gift. And it was! Not only did Michelle LOVE the hat, but she wore it all the time … in the car, at the allotment, driving the girls to school … in the chilly months you would never see her without it. That is, until last autumn. It was early one morning in October that I received the text message, “I can’t find my green hat :-(”

Numerous searches ensued of cars, vans, cloakrooms, drawers, sheds and any possible place the missing green hat could be lurking. But from sunlit windowsills to cobwebbed dusted greenhouses, the hat was not to be found. Days passed, and with no new leads I decided on a radical course of action … I would simply make a new green hat. I printed the pattern out again and went off in search of wool. Four shops later and a whole day at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace and I still couldn’t find a single ball of green wool in the right colour. Seriously? I turned to the infallible internet for a solution, trawling wool shops, searching all my regular online haunts, ransacking eBay, even pleading with friends and fellow knitters, but to no avail. In the end I caved in and decided I would just have to pick a different colour – something new. After a stressful hour in John Lewis with my bloke, during which I held up, ball by ball, every single shade of Rowan wool produced (for those of you who don’t know … that’s a wholelot of wool) while my poor bloke’s eyes glazed over as he repeatedly mumbled, “Yeah babe, that’s nice too …” . In the end I plumped for a luscious purple in pure new wool and a spicy orange tweed mix of merino and silk.

Speed knitting ensued, as I knew I had only a few weeks to get the hats finished before Michelle’s birthday. Sadly, although I am a speed sewer – the knitting – not so much. I did just finish the purple version on time but the orange one was a week late to the party. Luckily, Michelle didn’t mind my knitting tardiness and was delighted with her new hats! Here she is modelling the purple version (thanks to Evie who did the all important stick waving throughout our photoshoot).

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Then, something strange happened. Just a few days after the two new hats were settling into their new home, the green one suddenly appeared! Who knows where it had been and what adventures it had been through. (It certainly looks like it has been through a lot.) Although considerably flattened and well worn in comparison to its two new Wurm companions, and despite it now being a little on the large and baggy side … Michelle still loves it the best! That’s the other thing about knitting … it’s slow and steady and it take perseverance, but in every stitch of that hat there is knitted in a little dollop of love.

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Now to the magic … how many of you who knit actually block the stuff you make? I have to admit, I used to think life was too short, but now I have come round to the magic of blocking, and just like sewing, it’s worth spending that little extra time to really show off your work. It also gives a perfect finish that you tend to see in RTW knitted garments. So what’s it about? Blocking is primarily reserved for wool or wool blends … for these fibres have a memory. Crazy non?, but true. Blocking sets your stitches. Using either steam or by letting the garment get wet and then dry into shape, you create a permanent memory in the fibres. Let’s see it in action!

This is one of my favourite TV knits … Brooklyn Tweed’s Guernsey Wrap. It’s got just enough pattern to keep it interesting but is still possible to knit with confidence while you’re watching Breaking Bad. In fact almost all of this scarf was knitted to that particular box set (go Jesse!). I should point out to fans of more exotic DV box sets that subtitled films are not particularly suitable for TV knitting. Ask me how I know? Let’s just say there was a painful experience of a cable cardigan and several episodes of the Killing … neither ended well.

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The two pictures on the left show the scarf before blocking. It’s kinda lumpy looking and see how the rib section pulls the width of the scarf in to make it look wibbly along the edge? My stitches don’t look terribly even and it’s because they’re not. However, by the magic of blocking I can make it perfect. I rinsed the scarf gently in a wool conditioner, rolled it gently between two towels to get rid of excess water and then laid it out to pin in place. Two things to note on that point. Firstly, for this scarf (which is really long) rather than using individual pins down the length I used blocking wires – long semi rigid wires that you thread into the edge stitches and then pin to give you a really smooth and perfect edge to the garter stitch. Secondly, if you live in a really titchy house like ours you might have trouble finding somewhere long enough to pin this bad boy out! The only bit of the house with enough length was my bloke’s side of the bed and safe to say he was not too impressed on day 2 of the process when he found himself having to do gymnastics to get into bed without putting his feet on the still blocking scarf (oops). Ah well, to get perfect looking stuff, sacrifices must be made.

Anyway *fanfare* here’s the finished scarf. Perfect for winter chills or a passing polar vortex. Crazy winter weather? Another reason that knitting rocks.

Brooklyn-Tweed-Guernsey_wrap

Lastly, a ginormous thank you to Michelle who didn’t twig that when I asked her if I could do a photoshoot of the hats that I meant with her in them! and also to Kim, who let us use her new garden and plied us with tea and lovely homemade cake all afternoon.

Raindrops on roses & penguins on polka dots

Okay, okay, so I know they’re not quite the lyrics to acccompany Julie Andrew’s melody from the Sound of Music, but I strongly believe it is only because she didn’t have this enchanting fabric in front of her at the time. If they’d given her this fabric to make clothes out of for the troublesome Von Trapp children, instead of the putrid moss flocked curtains they ended up in, then well, let’s just say things might have turned out very differently indeed.

Tiny-seamstress_mini_poppins-bag_detail

Many of you know of my ongoing obsession current enthusiasm for bird prints (we’re talking everything from tiny wee swallows to giant parrots … my avian infatuation is non-descriminatory!) and as soon as I saw this print in the window of a tiny village shop I fell in love. I was shopping with my mum at the time and she did her classic, “Seriously?” face as I pointed to it on the bolt and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, I LOVE that!” Mind you, as it is a Nancy Wolff print for Kokka (imported from Japan) it certainly wasn’t cheap. It’s a medium to heavy weight linen and so that limited my options with what to make with it (please don’t think I didn’t toy with the idea of a penguin print dress because I so did … however, common sense and not wanting to have to send my cats out to sweep chimneys in order to earn extra money for their human’s fabric addiction saw me purchase a much more sensible lone metre).

I decided that the best option for my scant yardage was to make a bag, and so I whiled away a good few hours on pinterest, oohing and ahhing over other people’s amazing bag makes and tutorials. Then I saw this lovely pattern from Tiny Seamstress. The bag I picked is the Mini Poppins bag (note that the downloadable pdf pattern also features another tote style bag too – two for the price of one!). I was delighted, but once the pattern downloaded I faced a dilemma. Could I really fit everything I usually cram into my handbag into something that used the term “mini” in its description? That would include mobile phone, three half used packets of pocket tissues, random pens (usually without lids), lipsticks, sunnies, a large handful of receipts, my wallet, one stray earring and some baby wet wipes (yep, I know wet wipes are a mum’s secret weapon and I’m not a mum, but ever since my friend Laura demonstrated how to wipe blood from a cream satin shoe using only a baby wipe I don’t travel anywhere without them!) In the end I plumped to enlarge the pattern to 125% size when I output it, just to give me a bit more storage space for all my stuff. This decision comes back to bite me later … stick with me and you’ll see.

Anyhow, the pattern was great (although no pictures for those of you who like a helpful diagram but I found that by referring back to the photo I could see what I was meant to be doing) and I chose to pair the penguins with a dark navy linen polka dot and a hint of orange (to pick up the tones in their lovely little beaks). The pattern is intended to be sewn with quilting weight cotton, so although I did use fusible fleece for my outer bag parts and the inside pocket, I didn’t add it to the lining as I used a thick checked wool tweed in burnt orange. Be warned though – when you get to the strap insertion and sewing the whole darn lot together, it is not for the faint hearted! It was all I could do to jimmy it under the presser foot on my machine and I sewed the whole top seam with my eyes half closed awaiting a needle break or some other sewing catastrophe. It was like sewing through a fabric mountain. Luckily, my new sewing machine is obviously made of stern stuff as it sewed through without a problem. Here are some detail shots.

Tiny-seamstress_mini_poppins-bag

Yep, did you see that wonky topstitching? Well, topstitching through all layers was no fun either, especially where the straps joined. There was thick linen, fusible fleece, strap and wool lining to get through and I just couldn’t make it as perfect as I would have liked. I unpicked it once and restitched, but exactly the same thing happened again. Ah well, if the sewing gods dictate slightly cockeyed topstitching then who am I to deny them? This is also where I encoutered my mistake … the pattern is designed (at 100% size) to perfectly align the width of the outside feature pockets to the width of the strap. Yet, because I had upsized the bag, mine doesn’t match. That’ll teach me to be a smarty pants. “Why not just make wider straps?” you ask … ah, well, that’s because it’s nigh on impossible to source wider rectangular metal strap rings. Next time I make this bag I am just going to do it regular size so everything aligns perfectly. Repeat after me “pattern designers know what they are doing!” 😉

Tiny-seamstress_mini_poppins-bag_finished

Overall though, despite these minor imperfections, I am delighted with the bag. The penguins get a lot of attention when we’re out and about (only fitting seeing as some of them are wearing trilbies, so have obviously dressed up for the occasion). It was also my Sew Green December make … although it is a little late to the party. Now it’s back to the jungle for me, with two more makes to finish by month end. I have no idea what February is for the Sewcialists? Anyone?

Deer & Doe in the jungle

WARNING: this blog post features graphic photos of pattern slashing that some dedicated seamstresses may find distressing.

deer&doe-plantain-muslin1

I was smitten as soon as I saw this new pattern from Deer & Doe hit the Twittersphere. Not only did it look like an extremely useful everyday kind of top, but I already had some fabric in mind … a crazy multi animal print viscose jersey in greys and purples (why have one animal print when you could have five in one?!). Even more appealing, those generous people at Deer & Doe let you download the pattern for FREE! Woo hoo.

The downside? Yep, we all know there had to be a downside … the lovely pattern only comes in sizing up to a European 46. What does that mean in real money? It means that the biggest size is for a 41″ bust. Ahhh, well, there was the immediate problem … that left me four and a half inches short of my full bust measurement. I uhmmed and ahhed and ignored it for a while but then I saw the pattern on Anna’s lovely blog and I knew I had to give it a go. I was concerned on a number of levels about the task ahead … I have only ever sewn one knit fabric garment before (the kitschycoo skater dress) and I don’t have anything remotely resembling a serger/overlocker. Also, I have never really drastically altered a pattern with that amount of difference. Still, I had an extrordinary event coming … a whole weekend with no visitors or social happenings … in summary an ocean of sewing opportunity.

Saturday morning saw me head for the sewing shed with a cup of tea and get out my Fit for Real People book. Obviously, as the pattern was sized for knits, I had a bit more leeway with how I extended the pattern, but I still needed to add a full inch to the bust on each piece and then make sure that I retained the lovely trapezium effect of the original design. I had a vague idea that this kind of empire line treatment would also work much better on my figure. I have to confess that the next bit wasn’t particularly scientific … I got my pencil and sketched in a few lines and then just grabbed the scissors and slashed the pattern pieces from top to bottom. Eeek! (If you are attempting something similar I recommend a brief lie down at this point in the proceedings, it really helps.) Then I got the tape measure and my spare tissue paper and filled in the gaps til I had the extra inches I needed. You can see from the photo that I added in the extra all the way down the piece, making it wider at the bottom to accentuate the shaping.

Pattern-adapting-deeranddoe_plantain-pattern

Next up was the sleeve. Again, I knew I would need to add substantial width to the upper arm, so I cut right up the middle of the sleeve and then across the full width at the top of the sleeve (leaving about 1/4 inch intact to use as a pivot). Again, I spread and filled and taped in place and I was ready to cut out. For my muslin I used a cheap cotton jersey I have had lolling around in the stash for donkey’s years. To be honest I had gone off it some years ago and it was in the potential ebay pile. I didn’t have any problems sewing it together. The instructions are brilliant and very easy to follow, and I also found it easy to sew with an ordinary machine.

After I finished the neckline and did the sleeve seams I tried it on to check the fit. Although it was pretty good I felt that in order to give my silhouette a bit more shape (more hourglass and less “the human cube”) I nipped in an extra inch just under the bust on the side seams (again, you can see this revised line marked in pencil on the pattern pieces above). I was delighted with the results and funnily, I’m also back in love with the fabric now it’s made up – those gorgeous clashy graphic shapes in pink and coral – yum! For a wearable muslin I think it’s great. The photos, I’m afraid, were done in haste in all the rubbish weather today, so I completely forgot to get my bloke to take a photo of the lovely black elbow patches on the back of the sleeves. I was worried about sewing these on, but they were actually a breeze and really give the whole thing a RTW look.

Because I like the look of the neckband ‘as is’, I didn’t add the decorative top stitching to it, but I did do it on version 2! I am still amazed at how neat that neck seam is. Alongside more sewing, one of the things I really want to concentrate on this year is making sure I make things that go with other things! Even down to jewellery. My mum is an amazing jewellery designer, but I am sadly lacking in that skill set … but I thought I’d have a go at making a pair of matching earrings, and was really pleased with these little beauties that I threw together in about twenty minutes.

deer&doe-plantain-muslin2details

On to Plantain T-shirt No. 2: I was extremely pleased with the fit of the pattern after my extreme tissue paper surgery, and the only additional alteration I wanted to make was to add an extra inch or two to the length. So, this morning it was back to the sewing shed for my first #junglejanuary make. This fabric was a trickier customer entirely and was absolutely horrible to cut out as it kept trying to escape from the table. After that it was a breeze and I think version two was completed in less than two hours (that was with much fa-la-ing around, not exactly focused deadline sewing). On this version I added 2 inches to the length which I think makes it more tunic-like, and I also decided to add a little detail to the three-quarter length sleeves with some ruching and a shell heart button. I’m pretty pleased with version two although I think it is less successful in this viscose jersey than the cotton jersey of my wearable muslin. Here are some photos (please bear in mind that it was absolutely chucking it down with rain by now and was so bloomin freezing I wasn’t taking my scarf off for anyone!).

deer&doe-plantain-junglejanuary2

It layers up really well with my favourite grey cardi and will be perfect for working in the studio. Because all this crafting time without interrpution went to my head, I made another pair of matching earrings … mostly because when I was browsing through the bead box in search of pink and orange beads earlier in the day I found these purple leopard print beads, and then, well, it would have been rude not to!

deer&doe-plantain-junglejanuary3

All in all an extremely successful couple of sewing mornings. I have the perfect piece of fabric in mind for my ultimate Plantain T-shirt … and hopefully I can get cracking on that next weekend. It’s fabric I have been eyeing for some time but I have always been discouraged because it is a knit. Unfortunately, it is (oops) another bird print (if you remember, I have a problem with bird prints!)

deer&doe-plantain-junglejanuary

It’s great to have a finished #junglejanuary garment this early in the month. Normally I am the worst kind of last minute Larry. I have already cut out on my next Jungle January project … this lovely jungle print cotton for a shirt for a wee person (in a perfect Oliver + S pattern). Rahhhhrrr!

#junglejanuary_cotton-jungle-print-cotton

Happy Jungle January sewing everyone.

Sewing a Christmas menagerie!

It’s Christmas Eve and there has been a veritable cavalcade of seasonal sewing in these parts. Yes, this time last year I absolutely promised myself that I would NOT put myself through these last minute deadlines and I would be sensible and actually go to the shop and buy some presents rather than try and make things. Well, I did for some people, but I still like to sew for the wee people I know.

With three different recipients in mind I picked these two lovely flannel prints from Plush Addict and the Happy Girls jersey print from KitschyCoo for a skater dress.

menagerie-fabric

The monkeys are destined for a pair of PJs for Will (my godson). Ever since he was tiny he has had a cuddly monkey called Jack. Jack has been pretty much everywhere with Will over the years, and although he’s nearly six now and obsessed with superheros and the like, there is still always a special place for Jack the monkey, so I think he’ll love this fabric. It’s much brighter in real life and lovely and soft too.

Will’s little brother, Aiden (dressed below as the cutest sheep you’ll ever see at his nursery school nativity) is definitely a nature boy. Although I still think he’s far too pretty to be a boy with his curly locks and cherubic cheeks, I’ve gone for matching PJs in a little own print with shiny copper toned buttons. So adorable, and if anything this cotton flannel is even softer. I used New Look 6746 for both sets and it’s a lovey easy pattern. The most time consuming part was tracing off the different sizes, and after that it was full steam ahead.

Here are the jamas all finished and heading for some Christmas wrapping.

New-Look_6746-Pyjamas

Next up was the happy girls jersey print dress. I just fell in love with this print as soon as I saw it. It features a trilby wearing squirrel, ponies, flowers and has the most gorgeous buttercup yellow background … and I thought perfect for the little girl’s skater dress. I am so pleased with how this turned out. It was an easy peasy make and really helped me start to overcome my fear of sewing knits. I’m so delighted with the pattern that I think I may attempt the grown up skater dress in the new year. Here it is hanging cheerily just before wrapping (check out the gangsta squirrel!)

Kitschycooskaterdress

And here are the three wee people these are destined for (from left to right, Aiden, Will and Evie) …

three-children

I’m really hoping to get some photos of them sporting their new togs over the holidays.

Meanwhile, of course I have been sewing regular sized stuff too (A’s Christmas snowflake shirt was finished this very morning and I’m hoping to take some photos of him in it for its debut tomorrow on Christmas Day). Another last minute project was some super tiny mini bunting I made for our clients at work. It seemed like a really great idea in the planning … I made little cards which said,”Deck your desk with mini bunting, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” but when it actually came to sewing and turning zillions of teensy tiny bunting flags over metres and metres of bias binding, well, let’s just say it wasn’t quite such fun. On the up side … they looked so cool when they were done and the clients loved them.

mini-bunting

Last but not least, I also made some lovely little stacked bundles of lavender sachets for little extra presents for friends and family. I used some stash fabrics and referred to the brilliant tutorial on Flossie Teacakes lovely blog to get perfect corners (yes, I am very anal about 90° angles on my lavender sachets!). Such a quick and easy make and takes hardly any fabric. I cut them at 4 inches by 4 and and half inches before sewing … and they could be a little larger. Personally, though, I love the looks of these mini versions and they are so easy to tuck into a drawer or storage chest. I love the ribbon with the type on it.

lavender-sachets

Phew, that’s it. I have a brand new bag all cut out ready to sew featuring polks dots and penguins, so I will be turning my attention to that after the new few days of holiday festivities. I am so looking forward to some serious sewing time. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!