Notionally Speaking: Stash

It's time again for Notionally Speaking where a blogger selects a sewing related word and writes about that word. 

This month's post come from Lynne of Ozzy Blackbeard. Lynne randomly selected "stash" and has some wise words on how to handle the fabric that enters your home. I wish I was this organised with my fabric! How about you - are you as organised as Lynne? 

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I was delighted when Claire asked me to take part in Notionally Speaking. I picked number 14, and my word is “stash”.

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If we craft, we have stash, it’s that simple. Where it gets complicated is the amount. I like to think that I have a relatively small fabric stash, for the simple reason that there aren’t many fabric shops where I live, so temptation doesn’t fall in my way too often; although the internet sales are hard to resist! I can appreciate how overwhelming it must be to have bags and bags of fabric. The pressure to use it must be awful.

But is stash just fabric? I don’t think so. What about all the other stuff that sewing requires – buttons, thread, zips, interfacing, bias tape, ribbons, patterns, books etc? All stash my friends!

The secret to stash control is organisation. I know that’s really boring, and takes up valuable crafting time, but it’s worth it. Then there’s no more time wasted searching for that elusive zip that you know you have, and is just the perfect colour for the garment that you’re making.

Here’s how I do it. As soon as a piece of fabric comes into my house, it gets washed, and then put in the fabric bag. By that time I will probably have an idea of what I want to make with it (if I haven’t bought it for a specific pattern), so I pin a piece of paper to it with the fabric length and width and what I want to make.

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I got this bag on Amazon, and try to operate a strict “one piece of fabric in, one piece of fabric out” policy. It doesn’t work, and I consider it a win if I can get the zip closed. This bag lives under a bed. There are also two bags in the roof space, but in fairness what’s in them mostly came from my Granny.

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I also have a notebook which is my stash organising saviour. I cut a little bit of fabric from the corner, staple it into the book, and note where I bought it, the price, length and width, and ideas about what I want to make.

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This has proved to be invaluable. I can make notes about what else I need, thread, zip etc – I sometimes even include really bad drawings! It’s so handy just to lift the book to take to the shops for colour matching thread. Also it serves as a fabric guide, as I have different types of fabric in there, so now I know what they are like if I want to buy more.

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I keep all my other stash items in various tins and boxes. For example, my zips and bias tape are in these Marks and Spencer biscuit tins, which were far too nice to throw out once I had eaten the delicious shortbread that was in them.

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The boxes that washing liquid capsules come in are very handy too, but sadly are not so glamorous. I have found that they are the perfect size for four overlocker cones – no more hunting around for the last cone in the colour I want!

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I am lucky enough to have a dedicated sewing table with drawers and shelves, so most of these things can be stored there.

All my patterns are stored in a big box under a bed. The coloured plastic folders came from the pound shop. Unfortunately I haven't been able to get any of the A3 size for a while.

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But what if you’re not just a sewist? I also knit and crochet so then there’s the yarn, needles and hooks stash. There was a time, before I started sewing, when there was so much yarn in my house. Again, in fairness, most of it came from my Granny. I used some of it, and sold the rest to fund my overlocker, but I thought I’d leave you with a photo of my Granny's yarn on the day I sorted it all out.

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Feel free to show this to members of your household if they say your stash is out of control.

Notionally Speaking: Muslins

Are you ready for the next Notionally Speaking post, where a blogger picks a sewing related word at random from a predefined list and writes a post inspired by that word? I hope so as Daniela from Ela Sews and Doesn't Sleep talks muslins. I had to smile when Daniela chose this word as she is well know for her exceptional fitting and patience during this process, including creating five (yes five!) in the past. So grab yourself a cup of tea and let us know your feelings about muslins. 

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Do you hate or love making muslins (aka toile)? When I started sewing I hated them, because they took so much time and then when you are done they land in the bin. Now, one and a half years later, I still don’t love them but I have recognized that they are essential to sew a garment that fits me and that I am happy to wear loads of times. For this post, I thought it is a good idea to answer some of the questions I had when I started to make muslins. If you have any more suggestions please share and comment!

Thanks a lot Claire for allowing me to babble about muslins.


Muslin can be either a test garment (=toile) or a woven cotton fabric. I’m going to talk about the muslin as a toile.

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Why bother with a muslin when you can directly start with your fashion fabric?

There are different reasons. Maybe you make a pattern for the first time and are not sure if the style of the garment suits you. Maybe you are one of those people who need to adjust the pattern to get a great fit. Maybe you want to try a new sewing technique. Making a muslin will give you more confidence when sewing the real thing.

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What fabric should you use for your muslin and where can you get it?

The rule of thumb is to use a fabric that will have similar qualities as you fashion fabric. I usually use different-weight cottons and polyesters. I tend to go to Charity shops and buy old bed sheets, duvet covers and curtains. You can get king size duvet covers for £4 already and that means you will have a massive piece of fabric that will last a long time (except if you are muslining a men’s shirt). Sometimes you are lucky and can even find fabrics in these Charity Shops. You can also buy cheap fabrics from fabric stores (look out for sales), ask family and friends, use any leftover fabrics you have from your projects or order online. But beware, I ordered muslin (aka cotton fabric) once from ebay and got very stiff fabric. It felt almost like canvas. Also stay away from butter muslin. You don’t want to make a test garment with it (ask me how I know---but it works great as a press cloth), because it is used to drain cheese!

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Pre-washing and cutting your muslin

Good news, you don’t have to prewash your muslin fabric! But give it a good iron to get out any wrinkles (if you skip this step, your fabric pieces might grow on you when the wrinkles start to smooth out). Then lay out the pattern pieces on grain--which might be difficult on an old bedsheet. Advice: tear the sheet to get a straight edge. It is important to cut the pieces on the grain so that you can be sure the fitting problems you are spotting are from wrong fit and not wrong grain. You can add some horizontal and vertical lines to your cut pieces by either using a sharpie or a straight stitch. These lines will give you an idea where your fitting problems are.

For example a horizontal line that goes up over your belly means you need more belly space. I’m not going to cover any fitting techniques, but can recommend reading “Fit for real people” by Palmer and Pletsch and a free fitting guide from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. There are many techniques out there and you just have to find out what is the best for you.

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Sewing your muslin

Just use a long basting stitch on your sewing machine. This way you can easily rip out the stitches. Also there is no need to make the whole garment from muslin. For example, if you make a dress with a circle or gathered skirt you can only make the bodice. But: I would always add the sleeves as they can change the fit of the bodice quite a lot.

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Working with your muslin

When working with a muslin have your shears, stripes of fabric, sharpie and pins ready---because you are going to cut into this fabric and try out some alterations. On the photo below, you can see one of my muslins for a blouse. I needed a square shoulder adjustment. Thus I cut the muslin at the position where I needed the additional fabric and pinned a strip of fabric there. I then stitched fabric and muslin together with a zigzag stitch to see better if my adjustment was working.

I added even more fabric by pinning it in.

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Fitting buddies

It is difficult, but possible, to fit the muslin by yourself. Do it in front of a big mirror. When fitting a bodice, sew a zipper in and with some wiggling you might be able to close it. You can also tie a string to the zipper

to pull it up and down a bit easier. Look out for a fitting buddy, which can also be family and friends. My boyfriend helps me with the pinning and sometimes even with the adjustments when I’m explaining to him how to do it.

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How many muslins should I make?

That depends on how well fitted you want your garments to be and also how many adjustments you have to make. I made as many as five and as few as one! It can become very frustrating at some point, because you have the feeling your adjustments are just not working. Don’t give up, it will be worth it.

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. 

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Notionally Speaking: Knits

Do you sew with knits or tend to avoid them? I fall in the latter camp but can't quite pin point why. This month's Notionally Speaking comes from Kelly at Make, Sew, Do who discusses this particular type of fabric and explains why they are like spiders. Read on to find out more...

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I am delighted to be taking part in notionally speaking today - I've really enjoyed reading all the previous posts. I picked the number 14 from Claire's list and was given 'Knits' as my topic, so here we go..

Knit fabrics seem to be a bit like spiders - many people seem to have a fear of them, but it's a fear that often seems to have little rational basis, and seems to be learned from other people. 

Who knows where knits got their bad rap from, but they're really not that scary. 

However I, like many sewists, seem to have fallen into this fear of knits trap, and I am determined to get out of it. It is most definitely a learned fear - the second item of clothing I ever sewed was a swimsuit! A Swimsuit! And it turned out brilliantly, I absolutely love it. I used an overlocker for the first time, I had no major issues with any of it and I wondered what all the fuss about knits was all about.

Closet Case Files Bombshell Swimsuit

But since then, I seem to have developed a bit more of a fear - I've only made one knit garment since (a wearable toile of the Lady Skater dress). It's daft, especially as such a high proportion of the RTW clothes I wear on a regular basis are from knit fabric - especially dresses - probably 90% of the time I wear a dress to work it is a knit dress. I have the fabric for two more lady skaters lined up, but even though I know the fit is right, I still have this bit of underlying fear which is preventing me from just getting on with them.


Yes, there are some things that can make sewing with knits more tricky than sewing with wovens - the fact that they stretch and can be a bit slinky means that it can be harder to line pattern pieces up correctly, and, if you're not careful, the fabric might stretch when you sew. You're not going to have those issues with a nice crisp cotton.

You also need a little (and only a little) specialist equipment - while an overlocker is great for sewing knits, and makes things a bit easier, your can also sew them perfectly well on a normal sewing machine. The only special thing you really need is a ballpoint needle for your machine and, if you want to hem your items, a twin needle also helps. Most knits don't even fray, so hemming is optional anyway, or using hem bands is another way of finishing the edges like the sleeve and neckbands on the lady skater. That's it, nothing else is needed. You'll probably need to use a different stitch on your machine, to make sure the seam will stretch - a normal zigzag stitch usually works great.

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And then you look on the flip side - there are so many benefits to sewing with knits. For starters, knits are SO much more forgiving to fit - the need for an FBA is, in most cases, completely eliminated. Given the negative ease often written into knit patterns, you can get a nice, tight-fitting garment with no pattern alterations at all. Slightly looser fitting patterns will also be so much more forgiving to fit, due to the stretch in the fabric.

Fastenings can be pretty much done away with as well. I don't think I know a single sewist who hasn't at one point been cursing a zip that just won't go in, or buttonholes that are not behaving themselves. With a knit, you don't have to worry about fastenings - most of the time you can just pull them on. Given my recent run in with an invisible zip, and repeated issues with buttonholes, this is something that I love about knits.

Another benefit of knits comes when you're trying to line up your pattern pieces on the grain - and figure out exactly where the grain is. With a knit fabric, you just follow the stretch! Much easier than trying to work out exactly where the grainline is on a woven fabric.

And when it comes to wearing knits - no need to iron! That is always a bonus! Much as a lovely cotton dress is lovely for the summer - the chances of me ironing something when I pull it out my wardrobe as I'm getting ready for work…not so much. Until I started sewing, I don't think I'd ironed anything in a good few years...

If you are a sewist who is yet to tackle knits, but wants to try them out, I challenge you to give it a go! I for one am going to make it a goal this year to sew up more knit pieces, so why don't you join me? There are loads of great beginner knit patterns out there, which can all easily become wardrobe staples. I can highly recommend the Lady Skater:


And then there is the ever-popular Sewaholic Renfrew:


And Tilly's newly released, and already taking the sewing world by storm, Coco:


If I've convinced you to give knits a go, but you need a little handholding to get started, there are lots of brilliant resources out there on sewing with knits. 

Lauren has written a great post on conquering knits, with lots of useful tips. Tilly has a list of resources on sewing with knits and a whole load of posts on sewing Coco, covering lots of techniques you need for sewing knits. Tasia at Sewaholic also has a big list of tips for sewing with knits and Colette have been doing some great posts recently as well, to tie in with the release of their first knit patterns and their book on sewing with knits

So let's all give knits the love they deserve - they make excellent comfortable, everyday clothes, and I look forward to having more homemade knits garments in my wardrobe.

Notionally Speaking: Finishing

This month's Notionally Speaking post comes from Amy from Almond Rock who randomly chose "finishing". How to finish your seams is a key decision when planning your project and Amy provides some useful advice when making this decision...

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What's the deal with so many pattern companies not daring to suggest seam finishes for garments? It's like the ultimate taboo sewing subject but also a vital part of making clothes that last!

How do you finish your seams? As a beginner it always troubled me that my clothes might unravel in the wash so in the beginning I often chose to make garments with fully enclosed linings. Today I’m summarising the pros and cons of the top methods of seam finishing.

These are methods slightly more involved than zig zagging at your machine and maybe you’re thinking about trying one of them out on your next make.

French Seams

I've heard a rumour these are called English seams in France. I'm probably being totally delusional to believe that though. There's no denying these are a very handy finish!


  • Super robust and pleasing looking.
  • Perfect for sheer fabrics.


  • It’s nailed on that you will sew the right sides together at some point rather than the wrong sides. And probably trim the seam too. Maybe you won’t even realise until you’ve sewn a complete seam… the wrong way around.

Pinking shears

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I inherited my Grandmother's pinking shears a couple of years back. They're a little temperamental and heavy to boot, but I love thinking of us both using this pair decades apart.


  • Quick and easy. I pink around arm and neckhole curves as a quick and dirty way to notch/clip and prevent fraying. If I had a sharp lightweight new pair I might pink all my allowances! It really looks neat inside a sundress or blouse.


  • Don't snip a big hole in your garment!
  • And don't expect your seams to last forever through repeated spin cycles and constant wear.

Bias tape/Seam binding

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Have you ever spent the time to encase the raw edge of your fabric with bias tape or seam binding for the traditional Hong Kong finish?


  • Using bias tape as a facing is a popular technique because it is very quick, provides a clean finish and allows you to enclose an armhole or neck opening without worry of future unravelling.
  • Hong Kong seams are just so lovely to see inside a garment. They can bring satisfying pops of colour to the inside of a garment that make you smile everytime you wear it!


  • Don't forget a facing will provide more support at a neckline that you might miss by using bias.
  • Plus you need to not be in any kind of rush and pretty certain your garment fits, to sit and bind all of the exposed seams.


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In 2012 I treated myself to a baby singer overlocker. Sergei the serger if you will. Then I upgraded at the end of 2013 to a new overlocker - Sergei II. This is my go to method for finishing seams.


  • Super robust and professional looking.
  • I have two methods for incorporating the overlocker into a project.
  • I either use method 1 where I serge the edges of all my pieces before sewing them together, along any seam allowance that will be exposed (not any curved areas) and then sew my pieces together so seams can be pressed open. This means you can follow the pattern instructions without worry.
  • Or I use method 2 which a lot of ready to wear clothes use where I serge my seam allowance together which allows me to trim and enclose the two pieces of fabric at the same time. I then press towards the back.


  • They’re relatively expensive – basically like buying a second machine.
  • They can be fiddly to set up and can accidentally eat a big hole in your garment if you're not concentrating.
  • Method 1 does mean a bit more time needs to be spent upfront on prepping each piece.
  • With method 2 you have to know when to stop to serge as you often have to serge one seam before moving onto another.

So what’s your preferred method of finishing your seams?

Notionally Speaking: Vintage

I'm thrilled to be launching a brand new series today. A while back I pondered what would happen if I posed a challenge to fellow bloggers. What would they come up with if I gave them a single word related to sewing that they randomly selected from a list and asked them to write a post. That's it, no other guidance - they can take the post in whatever direction they like. Thus, Notionally Speaking was born. I'm delighted that Marie from A Stitching Odyssey agreed to open this series. Which direction will she take? Read on to find out more...

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I'm so excited to be the 'opening act' for this brand new series and I couldn't be happier that I drew lucky number 13 from Claire's list of possible words - vintage! By definition, vintage are items produced over 20 years ago and as early as the 1920s...older items are usually referred to as antique. Which is quite a scary thought really, as items from the 1990s are technically considered vintage...*shudder*! I believe this definition applies to sewing patterns as well, which unsurprisingly is what I'll be chatting to you about today.

My particular brand of poison are styles form the late 1930s right through to the early 1960s...and I have countless patterns to prove it. So what exactly is the attraction? For me, it's five things in particular.

1. Glamour

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Like them or not, the styles of these eras are undeniably glamorous and feminine. They appeal to my inner lady who would love nothing more than to have the time to regularly set her hair in pin curls, adopt an excellent posture, put on a pretty dress and literally look like a million dollars...even if it's not particularly comfortable or practical!

2. Detail

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I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I started sewing my own clothes was the desire to create something unique. And from a stitching point of view, vintage sewing patterns are just the ticket with so many unique and interesting details. Even though the styles are often adopted by the high street, it's these details that are so often missing.

3. Artwork

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The envelope artwork for vintage sewing patterns is in a different league to modern patterns. The attention to detail is incredible, right down to the hair, make-up and accessories. The clothes themselves are depicted in such wonderful colours and prints, and you can almost see the fabric's texture. I think this alone, regardless of whether you intend to sew the patterns up or not, is what makes them highly collectable. If I didn't think it would be slightly unfair to my boyfriend, I'd love to display mine all around the house!

4. History

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Owning a vintage sewing pattern is like holding a tiny yet fascinating part of history in your hands. I get nostalgic daydreaming about the previous owners and their lifestyles. Were these women selfishly sewing for themselves like I do, or did they have others depending on them too? I especially love it when patterns come with the original recipient's name and address on them and I get goose bumps reading old notes scribbled on the envelope. Sometimes you get really lucky and a pattern arrives modified pattern pieces cut out of I've enjoyed pouring over the news and adverts from Thursday 31 July, 1947!

5. Contemporary

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Now, I realise that certain vintage styles are a little too fussy for some people's liking, but it often strikes me how contemporary many of them are. Such simple, clean lines and truly timeless designs. In fact, it's not that often that you see much on the high street that's original. Nine times out of ten when I get excited about cool design details, I later discover they actually originated in years gone by. At the risk of sounding cliched, nothing seems original nowadays!

Having said all this, I've actually sewn up very few of my vintage sewing patterns. Mainly because so many exciting, new indie patterns keep popping up, but also because they're not necessarily the most practical. I know for some people, instructions and terminology are also an issue. However, with so many excellent online tutorials and sew-alongs I truly believe that anyone can pick up the skills and techniques needed without too much trouble. As for the issue of practicality, try using a more casual fabric type in a fashionable colour or modern print, and you can always omit some of the kitscher details for a cleaner look.

Writing this guest post has actually reignited my passion for vintage sewing patterns and I vow that this year I'll put some of them to good use. Look out for an outline of my plans on my blog soon! Anyway, I sincerely hope you've enjoyed this little foray into vintage sewing patterns and that you've been inspired to dig out some of yours or have a go for the first time.

Thanks so much for having me Claire, I can't wait to see what the rest of this series has to offer!