Saturday, 26 July 2014

Notionally Speaking: Style

It's time for this month's instalment of Notionally Speaking where a blogger picks a sewing related word at random from a predefined list and writes a post inspired by that word. Style is always personal and can be a sensitive subject - you either feel you know yours or are trying to find it. Please welcome Jen from Tea for Two as she takes you through what it means to her. 

Notionally Speaking

Style. What does it mean to you? To me it's quite a loaded word. I feel like it should be totally subjective. We decide what is stylish, right? According to our own tastes, our own preferences. And yet the media is constantly telling us about trends, who looks good this week, who looks bad; what is in style. 

So I prefer not to think about that side of it, and instead to think of it as a very personal notion. It’s what catches my eye right now, what inspires me, and what I strive for, both in terms of what I wear and my sartorial mood. And boy does that change a lot.

The word style may mean something totally different to you. And that's fine. It has a lot of meanings. I'm going to talk about MY style – and I hope it entertains you for just a few minutes and that you forgive my narcissism. After all, we should write about what we know, right?

My style has changed A LOT in just the past 10 years - my twenties. Of course it has. In that time I’ve been a university student, I started the world of work, I moved to our nation’s capital, and I got married. And this year I turned 30. It’s only these last few years really that I’ve started to feel confident in dressing for my style.

So indulge me while we take a visual tour of my style over the last decade… At the very least, I’m sure we’ll have a bit of a giggle.

(By the way, anything I go 'blergh' at in these photos is in no way meant to offend anyone who does like that kind of style. It's just my personal preference at the moment, and I'm mostly just being very self-critical!)

Pic 1

1. June 2005 – 21 years old. Just before third year of university, just back from a holiday with friends and Josh to the south of France. Back then I was definitely keen on the vest-under t-shirt look, as seen here. Also, those shorts – WTF? This all feels like far too scruffy a look for me now.

2. April 2006 – 22 years old. A night out during third year of uni. Ignore the wig. Yes, I wore cardigan on a night out. I had the usual chub of a uni student and looking back I don’t feel like I dressed well for it. I was also very keen on wearing a belt round my hips, as in this photo. Very noughties.

3. May 2006 – 22 years old. Another uni night out. Trying to be sexy? Coming off as sweaty. Note the vest under vest AND the belt round the hips. Oh yes! I was clearly lacking in imagination. I also owned A LOT of black tops.

4. July 2006 – 22 years old. Just finished uni, on a canal holiday! University hoodie was a must. I don’t wear hoodies anymore, they feel too bulky and too casual for most of the time.

Pic 2

5. June 2007 – 23 years old. At my aunt’s wedding. Blonde! I think we can all agree this was not such a good look for me. I also cringe when I look at the style of my dress – not flattering for my shape at the time; too empire line and not fitted enough around the waist.

6. October 2007 – 23 years old. On holiday in Sorrento. I think this isn’t bad, but not surprised to see an unimaginative black top, but then they are pretty good as a basic. The blonde is still there (WHY???). 

7. January 2008 – just before my 24th birthday. On a work trip to Nice. Again, prolific use of black, and I obviously didn’t notice at the time how much extra bulk that cardigan added to the tops of my arms – big mistake! Also still wearing bootcut jeans – not my style anymore!

8. September 2009 – 25 years old. On holiday with ‘Lena in Barcelona. Haha, white bootcut jeans. Enough said.

Pic 3

9. As pic 8, on that same holiday. Again, my style has veered away from the leggings with dresses style (not that there’s anything wrong with it) – it just shows me how much my preferred style has changed.

10.  May 2010 – 26 years old. On holiday in Cornwall. The blonde has gone! I finally saw the error of my ways. I don’t hate what I’m wearing here, I just know for some reason I wouldn’t look twice at it these days in a shop. And the headband? So not a good look for me!

11. October 2010 - 26 years old – on my way to Amsterdam with friends. Ahh, jeans tucked into boots – I still do that and actually really like it.  The long blazer is also a style I’m still keen on.  Starting to feel more comfortable exploring my style here, as I’d lost quite a bit of weight.

12. June 2011 – 27 years old. Loving the short hairstyle here and was v happy with my size, hence the short short skirt! Also shows how I was keen to start wearing more colour and interesting prints, and just generally be a bit more adventurous with those.

Pic 4

13. August 2012 – 28 years old. On my minimoon (sorry) in Whitstable. Demonstrates my current fave style of skirts sitting on the waist, with tops tucked in.

14. May 2013 – 29 years old. On honeymoon! In Yosemite National Park. One of my favourite summer vintage dresses. A few years ago I started buying vintage clothing and fell in love.

15. September 2013 – 29 years old. In my Elisalex dress at a wedding. Starting to make my own clothes at the start of 2013 has also really made me think carefully about my style. I love the Elisalex and think it went perfectly with this vintage hat/fascinator.

16. May 2014 – 30 years old! In one of my most recent favourite vintage dresses. I love the unusual prints you get on vintage clothing, and the knowledge that you’re wearing something no-one else will have on.

So that’s a little round-up of just a snippet of my style evolution! Thanks for indulging. It’s made me realise how quickly things go in and out of favour with me, but also how my style tends to directly relate to my current shape and size. Is that the same with anyone else? When I was a bit larger I think I didn’t really want to make a statement with clothes, but I also didn’t have the confidence.

I’m now really enjoying have a little bit of individuality. I like nipped-in waists, high-waisted jeans and vintage styles (both actual vintage and vintage-inspired). Sure, there are still plenty of days when I’ll throw on any old thing, but more and more I’m having fun with fashion, and not letting fashion magazines or high street shops dictate what I wear.

So tell me, what does ‘style’ mean to you guys? I really wanna know!

Thanks so much to Claire for letting me wax lyrical – I really enjoyed it!

Jen x 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Door stops - saving my sanity!

Do you have doors that creak or are prone to slamming? We do. I'm constantly in and out of them when crafting as I always forget something or the ironing board is in a different room, and the creaking drives me insane! It is even worse when the windows are open in good weather. But not anymore. I made some door stops to retain my sanity! 

Here's how I made them. 

You will need: 

Outer fabric (choose something sturdy) 
Lining fabric (again, choose something sturdy)
Medium weight interfacing 
2kg fish tank gravel (or equivalent, just make sure it is heavy) 

Seam allowance is 1cm throughout. 

1. Cut out the following pieces in both the outer and lining fabric:
  • One rectangle - 50cm x 22cm
  • One circle - 17cm diameter
  • Two truncated circles - use the full circle as a template, draw a vertical line 3cm from the edge and cut. You want opposite edges cut on each piece. (See picture below in step 6)
From your outer fabric and interfacing:
  • One rectangle - 10cm x 20cm
Door stop 3

2. Prepare the handle. Take your 10cm x 20cm rectangle and apply the interfacing to the wrong side. Fold the fabric, right sides together, pin and stitch.  Turn the fabric through, and press with the seam line in the centre. 
Door stop 4

3. Take your full circle and place it right side up. Take your handle and place it on top, right side up, allowing a couple of centimetres to fall over the edge. Baste in place. 
Door stop 5

4. Take your outer fabric 50cm x 22cm rectangle. Fold in half, right sides together and pin. Stitch and press seams open. 
Door stop 1

5. With right sides together, pin the circle into the cylinder. Stitch in place. 
Door stop 6

6. Take your truncated circles and press the straight edge under 2cm. Stitch in place. 
Door stop 7

 7. Cut two strips of velcro to the length of the straight edge. Place one on the wrong side of one truncated circle, the other on the right side. Stitch. 
Door stop 8

8. Put the velcro edges together. Pin the full circle to the cylinder, rights sides together and stitch. Open the velcro and turn the cylinder out. 

9. Repeat steps 4-8 with your lining fabric. 10. Fill your lining with the gravel. Close the velcro securely.
Door stop 9
11. Put the lining into the outer fabric, velcro circle first. You will need to manipulate the shape the lining to do this. Once in, close the velcro of the outer fabric securely. 

12. Place by the door!
Door stop 10

Thankfully I can enjoy the peace now...

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A Bellatrix Blazer

I've often said that I have gaps in my work wardrobe and I finally have a make to share that goes a little way to filling it. Every now and then I need to dress sharply at work. I've wanted to make Papercut's Bellatrix Blazer for a while and a VVIP event on the horizon provided the perfect excuse to get going as well as filling a small part of the hole in my wardrobe.

Bellatrix Blazer

If you don't know this blazer, pop over here to see the line drawings. I love the sharp lines with the princess seams, the gentle curve of the collar and the cute sleeve detail where the back is longer than the front. I chose version one, which has the longer hemline as I am more likely to wear it over trousers.

I picked up the fabric at Barry's in Birmingham. It is a lightweight black brocade with blue "eyes" running in perfect lines throughout. I tried to keep the lines steady throughout the jacket but the curves boggled me a little. They are reasonably straight although no where near perfect. Ah, well. The lining is a plain black fabric that comes from the Fancy Silk Store. It has a lovely drape and will be able to withstand the occasional wear this blazer will get. It also feels good against my skin.

Bellatrix Blazer

I made a few alterations to ensure a good fit. As I have a slight swayback, there was a lot of excess fabric in the upper back, about 4cm from the seam line. I pinched out 2cm at the centre back and tapered to nothing at the side. The the front, I added an extra 1cm to all sides. I added an extra 5cm to the sleeves. I don't like sleeves which move substantially past your wrist when your arm is straight and this extra length ensures this doesn't happen.

Construction takes a while, this isn't a project you can rush through. To start with there are a lot of pieces (about 26 when you include the lining) and then there's the interfacing. Wow, you will spend a long time at your ironing board applying the interfacing! The front, lower front, lower back, collar, sleeve hem facing and the welt pockets (all x2) require this treatment. To save time, I blocked fused the pieces and then cut them out. You could fuse your fabric before cutting out your pieces but it seemed like a waste if interfacing to me. I chose a lightweight black interfacing from Minerva as I didn't want to stiffen the fabric. I was aiming for a sharp but soft look. 

Bellatrix Blazer

The most daunting thing about this pattern when looking at it is the welt pockets. Creating neat ones can take a lot of time and increased attention to detail. However, the difficulty vanished when I realised they were in seam pockets. It gives you the same effect but without the panic of cutting into your fabric with no going back! They came out perfectly first time! You also need to be careful to remember that the seam allowance is 1cm, rather than the standard 1.5cm.

Bellatrix Blazer

The instructions are very clear to help you throughout and are written as if you are having a conversation with someone. I was impressed with how Papercut packaged the pattern. The strong paper the pattern is printed on will last a long time. I found it a little annoying that the instructions are on the same sheet of paper. You do have the option of cutting them out and creating a cute little book (which I did in the end) but I would have liked to have kept the sheet fully in tact.

Bellatrix Blazer

You'll notice that I haven't added a button and I'm holding the jacket closed in the photos. I haven't found the right button to work with the colours yet so played safe and decided not to cut a buttonhole until I have the right button. I am considering adding a hook and eye at the front instead though, allowing the edges of the jacket to just meet at the seams. What do you think?

Bellatrix Blazer

Sadly, the first time I wore this blazer was for the photos. The morning of the event was one of the hottest of the year to date and called for a complete rethink of my outfit! It seems a shame to have out all the work into making it and then not being able to wear it. At least it is a useful addition to my wardrobe and I have no doubt it will get worn during the autumn - but I'm not wishing for that just yet!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

What do you wear to afternoon tea?

What do you wear to an afternoon tea hosted by the head of your workplace? An Afternoon Blouse that you stitched up the night before? Well, of course! 

One of the things I love about this pattern is it makes a great stash buster for fabric leftover from other projects. I dug out the remaining fabric left over from my Beating the Winter Blues Cami dress. The colour of this fabric works across seasons and I love having the option of bright colours all year round.

Happy Afternoon Blouse

Being short on time and logic, I didn't make the alterations to the pattern that I identified last time. As this cotton is more tightly woven than my first blouse, it came out more fitted. There was still too much fabric around the front neckline which bothered me a lot the first couple of times I wore it. The effect was a box at the front of the neckline which wasn't particularly flattering. To correct this, I pinched out the excess fabric and added two darts. I feel much more comfortable wearing it with the added darts and like the new slightly angular look of the neckline. 

Happy Afternoon Blouse

For this version, I overlocked all of the edges. Oh my, how an overlocker changes your sewing life! The arms and hem are machine stitched and I top stitched the neckline so the piece looked balanced. Unfortunately not all of the top stitching is even. I'm waiting to see if I can live with it before pulling out the seam ripper. The button is one I picked up a while back at Hobbycraft.  

Happy Afternoon Blouse

Obviously the photos were not taken in the gardens during the tea (I was too busy chatting and eating mini scones!) but that was the first time I wore the blouse. Instead, the photos were taken in a garden just outside the Botanical Gardens in Oxford - apparently a medieval Jewish crematory lies beneath the prettiness.   

Happy Afternoon Blouse

I love this version and have worn it a lot since it was completed a couple of weeks ago. I honestly don't think I can feel anything but happy when wearing this colour. It can be dressed up or down and is a perfect all rounder. So can my other version it turns out. I wore it to work for a VVIP event with a black skirt and it didn't feel at all casual. You guys were right! 

Happy Afternoon Blouse

Do you have fabric or a particular item that makes you happy every time you wear it? 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Oops! Owning up to sewing mistakes

Image courtesy of kjnnt /
I interrupt the normal blogging service of showing finished items to talk about another side of the construction process. All too often, I make mistakes when sewing. Most are ridiculously silly and many times I don’t want to share them with you. Hands up if you feel the same. Yes, I thought I wasn't alone! I’ll often include a few small mistakes in a post but that’s as far as I have gone, until now! Last weekend I had an epic fail and while I can’t bear to bring you the details in all its glory, I thought it would be fun to share some of my mistakes and invite you to tell me your stories. 

So deep breath and here goes. My mistakes include (please don’t judge me too harshly):
  • Bravely stitched over pins and then heard a loud crunch. I wasted 30 minutes taking my machine apart to dig out the broken pin pieces. Have I learnt my lesson? No, I still stitch over pins!
  • Spent ages carefully hand stitching bias finishing on a neckline and arm completely forgetting to clip the curves and thus forcing unpicking and more hand stitching.
  • For a dress, I spent time getting the toile to fit well but a “in progress” fit revealed it wouldn't do up. For hours I couldn't figure out why until I eventually spotted a giant (we’re talking 5cm) accidental tuck in the waistband.
  • Traced a pattern carefully and then found I had traced the wrong size for the sleeves and only found out when I stitched the top. As the top was loose fitting, I didn't bother with a toile!
  • Chose to move the zip from the centre back of a dress to the side and then didn't add it in. No wonder it wouldn't go over my chest!
  • Lost track of how many times I have stitched the right side to the wrong side. It's more embarrassing when most of them are with the darts on the outside!
  • Took my eyes off of my overlocker for a second and found the blade had cut the fabric well over the seam line.
 And the worst?
  • Merrily cut out perfectly and stitched up the item, only to find on step 20 (or whatever) that I didn't have all of the pieces. Not only that, I didn't have enough fabric to complete the item. To add insult to injury, the store is sold out of that particular fabric! Seeing the look on your boyfriend’s face when you admit what you have done is an interesting experience...

I should say that tiredness and alcohol played a very small part in the above. I learnt my lesson quickly when I looked at my stitching following three glasses of wine... Hangs head in shame.

Your turn now! Please tell me I’m not alone in making (big) mistakes when stitching.Go on, don’t be shy - be brave and think of this as some form of group therapy until it is all swept under the carpet again.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Notionally Speaking: "Indie" - Jo, The Amazing Adventures of Taracat

The latest instalment of Notionally Speaking is from Jo at The Amazing Adventures of Taracat. Jo randomly picked "Indie" as her word from my list of sewing related words, and it was the perfect match. Along with pictures of Jo dancing in her recent makes, she is also known for her love of Indie patterns. Read on to find out why.

Notionally Speaking
Yay! I am so happy to get the chance to contribute to Notionally Speaking. I picked number four and was delighted to get 'Indie' as my word. Indie can be applied to sewing shops, fabric designers, in fact anything related to sewing that doesn't come from big companies, but when I think of Indie I think of patterns. I am not alone in my love for independent patterns. May was Sewing Indie Month, organised by Mari of Seamster Patterns, with loads of participants, while June is Indie pattern month over at the Monthly Stitch. 

A quick scan of my me-made wardrobe showed that over eighty per cent of my makes are from Indie patterns. Among these that get the most wear are my Deer and Doe Belladone, my Colette Laurel dresses, my Seamster Patterns Dandelion dresses and my Christine Haynes Nautical Emery. 

Clockwise from top left: Seamster Dandelion; Sewaholic Cambi/BHL Elisalex pattern hack; BHL Flora; Grainline Scout Woven Tee; Christine Haynes Emery; Deer and Doe Belladone; BHL Anna; Colette Laurel. Centre: Seamster Patterns Dandelion. 

I am drawn to Indie patterns for a number of reasons:

1. Attention to detail

taracat 2

While this is a generalisation, I find that Indie patterns do have more of those little touches that lift a pattern from 'meh' to 'mmmm'. Details like the vertical tucks on Tilly's Mathilde blouse, the piping o Colette's Rooibos dress or the shoulder gathers on Deer and Doe's Reglisse (pictured). There is more than a bit of inspiration from vintage eras when those extra details were more common, but unlike vintage patterns the Indies actually explain how to do it too. Which brings me to number two.

2. Instructions

taracat 3

Apart from a couple of disastrous textiles lessons at secondary school, I am pretty much self taught, so comprehensive well laid out instructions with pictures are a must. The first garments I ever made were from free downloadable Burdastyle patterns. I loved the styles and I got there in the end but those instructions nearly put me off sewing for life. So when I attempted my first Indie pattern. Colette's Rooibos, it was a revelation. A little book of instructions, explanations of techniques, and like many Indies they even had a Sewalong on their blog with photos for each step. Colette are not along in offering this kind of help. If you get really stuck I have found Indie designers more than happy to answer questions through their blogs, email or Twitter. I don't know if you would get that kind of support from the big pattern companies, actually it has never occurred to me to approach them.

3. Supporting real people

taracat 4

Yes, I know the big companies are made up of real people too but there is something really gratifying about knowing you are helping someone to build their business and realise their dreams. And every time I have had contact with the people behind these patterns I have been blown away by how nice, helpful and supportive they are. They make the effort to meet their customers and find out what we want, at meets up for example, and you do feel like you can approach them without them rolling their eyes and thinking 'God, what now?' Of course they might be thinking that but I didn't get that impression. 

4. Packaging and presentation

taracat 5

The rustle of tissue paper, that new smell, the artwork...I get a real buzz when I get a new Indie pattern through the post. Care has been taken over everything from the design to the materials used, and you can tell. Deer and Doe, for example, use proper recycles paper instead of easy to rip tissue, while BHL patterns even include a label to sew into your finished garment. Little details that make a new Indie pattern a real treat and a pleasure to work with.

At the other end of the spectrum, Indie patterns are more likely to be available as instant downloads to print, stick together and make immediately. I know some people hat e this way of doing it but I love it. In fact, my last few Colette patterns were bought as tile and stick downloads because I am impatient and couldn't wait to get started on them straight away. 

5. Fit and Fitting

Some people have bodies that fit certain patterns straight off. Most people do not. Then again, that also applies to ready to wear clothes. I find that Indie patterns fit my shape better but I do sometimes need to make adjustments. In fact the only pattern I have ever found that fit me pretty much straight out of the packet is Christine Haynes' Emery dress. 

taracat 6

However,if it hadn't fitted perfectly I would have been able to go to the Sewalong round up for how to do an FBA, a narrow shoulder adjustment or any other help I needed with fitting. Most of the Indie patterns I have made have had accompanying sewalongs or posts on how to make adjustments, and the designers are usually pretty approachable if you need extra help. Again I haven't seen that kind of support from the bigger pattern companies. 

If you need any more evidence of my love of Indie here is a small selection of the Indie patterns I own and plan to make or remake soon. Should be enough to keep me going for a while:

taracat 7

For a list of Indie pattern companies, check out Sew Independent's list or Fiona's comprehensive list

And thank you Claire for inviting me, it's been really fun. 

Thank you, Jo! I agree with many of your points here and it's no wonder the majority of my patterns are Indie's too. Do you share Jo's love of Indies for the same reasons? 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Giveaway: Sewing Patterns

This weekend I was lucky enough to be gifted an enormous bag of fabric, some sewing books and a lot of patterns. They came from someone I don't know, but Adam's mum caught them for me. I'm still sorting through the fabric and books but have looked at the patterns. The majority seem to be from around the 1970s, not my era at all, but there are a few that I will keep:


There is a chance that I will create the blouse and skirts. I'm intrigued by the trousers. Although the styling of the mens pattern is absolutely appalling, the line drawings for the shirt suggests it has promise.

However, there are many more that I just won't use. The deal for taking this treasure trove of sewing related goodies was anything I don't want must be given away and not end up in the bin/recycling. So, I'm offering you the chance to snap up some of the other patterns. You should know I have only quickly checked the patterns. They all have the original instruction sheets and seem to be complete but I cannot guarantee this. The majority of the patterns seem to have been cut. 

If there is a pattern that you like, leave me a comment below with a contact email so I can get your address. Patterns will be given away on a first comment, first served basis and I'll happily throw in the postage. Anything not snapped by the end of the of the month will go to a charity shop. 

Vogue Patterns 8928, Maternity dress, Size 14 (36-28-38)

Burda 7391, Jacket and Trousers, Size: 8-16, cut at 16

New Look 6280, Jacket and Skirt, Sizes 12-18, cut at 18

Style 2360, Misses' set of blouses, Size 10 (32.5 - 25 - 34.5)

Butterick 3794, Misses' Dress, Size 14 (36-28-38)

Butterick 4644, Jacket, Culottes and Blouse, Size 8 (Bust 31.5)

Style 1497, Lined Wedding or Bridesmaid Dress, Size 16 (38-30-40)

Simplicity 9505, Brides' and Bridesmaids' Dress, Size 16-22, cut at 18 (40-32-42)

Vogue Patterns 1706, Coat, Shorts, Trousers and Top, Size 12 (34-26.5-36)


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