Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Friends who know me and my knitting life will know I don't swatch.  Of course that can have bad results but give me a skein of squishy woolly goodness and a new pattern and I just can't wait to cast on 'properly'.  It's the same with making a toile when I'm dressmaking.  I mean, there's slow fashion and there's #whenamIEVERgoingtogetthisdone?' fashion. But I am making an exception with my Joan Dress - two reasons

1. There is a lot of shaping in this pattern, it has a waist seam and darts in several directions.  Each dart and seam must be in the right place. If I get the fit wrong it will not forgive me

2. My gorgeous Japanese fabric from Raystitch has very little give, I love it and don't want to ruin it but for me to do justice to the pattern and the fabric it must not be too tight or too loose.

So I made a toile.  Well actually I made up the lining as a toile using this lovely vintage fabric.  I bought it in a sale, from a place that gets stock that has lain in people's lofts for years. It feels like silk but I don't think it is, could it be rayon?  Does anyone know how to test?  I think there is something called a burn test but that sounds dangerous.

My two main fitting concerns were the waist, I am a UK size 16 and the bust and hip measurements were fine but I needed a couple of centimetres more at the waist, and the bodice length.  I decided the darts had enough in them to ease the waist size and to add 2.5cm to the bodice length midway down the underarm seam.  Otherwise I cut the pattern out as it was printed.

I had some cat help!

The fit was pretty good,  the waist in the right place and the sleeve/shoulder seam sat just right.  Sitting down, the skirt did not ride up too much

But there was a problem with the sleeve.  It looked fine with my arms straight but as soon as I reached forward it was too tight.  The solution was to widen the sleeve - possible with the outer fabric but what to do with the lining that is already cut?  I decided it would be OK if I let in a strip of fabric down the centre of the sleeve, from crown to hem giving me another 3cm around the top of my arms.  

This of course means the sleeve is fuller at the crown, with too much to shrink away with the usual double line of gathers. The solution was to make the armhole bigger.  So I split the 2.5cm extra length for the bodice by adding 1.5 above the bust (giving me a total of 3 cm extra circumference  to the armhole) and 1 cm below the bust.  It worked!  The only other modification I made is to shorten the skirt so that the finished length is just above my knees.

Needing to make notes on my modifications and not having a notebook to hand I wrote on the lining with a frixion pen - the writing will magically disappear when the fabric is ironed. Before laying the toile pieces out on my fabric and cutting out I ironed everything with Flatter By Soak.  An ironing spray, originally developed for patchworkers but also fab for dress making, it's not a starch, it does not clog your iron but it does give a lovely professional finish to any fabric and smells nice too.

When I made the toile I used a wide machine basting stitch and some bright red thread so that I could easily unpick and iron before using the modified lining pieces instead of the paper pattern.

And so, using my toile as a pattern I cut out my fabric  I only have 2.5m of fabric, much less than the pattern states.  To make this work I am going to 'bag' the lining (i.e. a similar construction to a coat or jacket), make the sleeves shorter and cut the collar out of a contrast material (to be revealed in a later post).  I just made it with not a centimetre to spare!.

I stitched all the darts, the shoulder and side seams and now I must pause, I need to shop for a zip and wait for my contrast fabric to be delivered.

More sewing coming soon



Friday, 14 October 2016


Well, I confess, this is truly slow fashion.  So many things have conspired to keep me away from my sewing room this week and today is the first time I have had the chance to turn on my overlocker (serger).

Having decided that I certainly need to pre shrink this lovely Japanese cotton fabric I needed to do a little pre-prep before throwing it into the washing machine.  It frays, hence the overlocked edge.

I'm washing it at 40deg c. Although 30deg would be fine for something that does not actually need washing I am thinking of what might happen to the dress in the future.  There is no division of labour in my house, since we no longer have small children at home, washing is done on a need to wear basis (by which of us has run out of socks or underwear).  This means as often as not there is a man doing the washing in our house and although his sorting skills are second to none (no jeans washed with white shirts for him) he washes everything at 40deg and I don't want further shrinkage to occur.

I have readjusted my schedule a little and, having checked my measurements against the pattern hope to be cutting out on Sunday.

I have a physical pattern rather than a download but 'bglad' in the comments on my last post asked if anyone had tried taking the pdf to a print ship and printing off on a continuous sheet.  Well, yes I have,  when I was involved in the Titanic Project this is what I did and it worked very well, though I needed strong pins as the thinest paper in my local shop was still quite thick.  It was also quite a novelty for the guys in the printers, I don't think they had had a similar request before.



Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Making Joan

At a recent visit to Ally Pally - AKA the Knitting and Stitching Show, I bought a couple of patterns from a lovely (fairly) new company called Sew Over It.  Including the Joan Dress.  I posted a photo of my pattern and fabric on Instagram and before I knew it I was joined by Alix and Becky and we had a SAL.  I'm actually more used to Knit Alongs but the idea of a Sew A-Long sounds fun so here we go.  Please feel free to join in, I shall post my progress on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with a little more detail on here.  No rules or time scales, I am not sure how fast I shall work on this, although I hope to get the dress cut out this week.  But look out for and use (if you wish), the hash tag #makingjoan then we shall all be able to pool our experiences

Pre-wash or not pre-wash?  I'm not a fan of pre washing fabric, I love to feel crisp new fabric under my fingers as I sew.  But Raystitch, where I bought the fabric recommends preaching and I have had some recent disasters with shrinkage. So I cut a small piece of my fabric and gave it a gentle swish through some Soakwash (I buy mine from here in the UK)  as this will be how I wash my dress when made.

It's clear I shall need to wash the whole length!  If you are joining in please let me know in the comments or social media - whatever way you prefer. We would love some company and to learn from each other



Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The kindness of Knitters

I don't visit Twitter much these days* but today I took a quick peek and my eye was immediately caught by a story from the BBC and Medicins Sans Frontiers, a touching human story of a baby being born on a rescue ship in the middle of the Mediterranean.  And the baby was wearing a hand-knitted hat - oh how I love the world wide sorority of knitters!  Little acts of kindness contributing to the huge effort put in by charities such as MSF and (some) governments.  There are so many examples of knitterly generosity but this one, today, touched  my heart

At the weekend I joined in another lovely example of knitters kindness, not to mention enthusiasm and stash enhancement. Saturday was the day of the annual Great London Yarn Crawl, a charity fundraising event organised by the clever partnership which is Yarn in the City.

Team Intarsia assembles for coffee and cake before our first shop visit

Each Year teams of up to twelve participants travel around London on Bus, tube, and train, with a little walking thrown in, visiting three or four yarn shops.  I was one of the guides for Team Intarsia.  This year there were more shops and included fabric and haberdashery shops; because we are crafters are we not? many of us crochet, embroider, and make our own clothes as well as knit.

Inside Fringe in Muswell Hill, Team Intarsia's first stop

All this excitement is in aid of the charity Refuge, this year raising more than £800 (the final count has not been done yet).  The work of this charity is specially relevant to those who, like me, listen to The Archers on BBC Radio 4. The program has a long running story line, which came to a (temporary) conclusion this week with a jury finding a woman not guilty of attempted murder after she stabbed her abusive husband as she attempted to leave him.

Second stop Ray-Stitch in Islington where I treated myself to a metre or so of some lovely Liberty Tana Lawn

Our third shop was Fabrications, situated on Broadway market.  Added bonus, the market is foodie heaven.  Three of us hardly noticed Saturday's rain as we sheltered under a market stall awning eating, Ravioli, a scallop and bacon sandwich, a (this was me) pulled pork and apple sauce

Barley Massey, Fabrication's creator, makes wonderful things by up cycling clothing, these cushions made of shirts & ties

And there is another charity supported by the knitters of the Yarn Crawl, Knit for Peace.  Each year we participants bring knitted items, hats, gloves, scarves, and baby clothes to the after party (where we drop footsore into a suitably located pub for liquid refreshment, pub food, and to ooh and aah over each others purchases of the day). And I was wondering did this tiny baby hat come from Knit for Peace? And will someone in the future be kept warm by an item donated by one of the yarn crawlers?

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself and forgetting our last stop at Stag & Bow in Forrest Hill, a shop that sells all sorts of loveliness, vintage clothes, trimmings, yarn...

It's hard to encapsulate Stag & Bow in one photograph, there is so much to see (and buy) this is my best effort, art, craft and decoration all in one
... and this

maybe it was impossible to describe Stag & Bow in one photo!

Would you like to join next years yarn crawl?  Save the date, it will be announced on the Yarn in the City website soon.



* if you have just clicked over from Twitter you may be puzzled, my apologies I have taken the lazy way of posting there - from Instagram

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Am I still a blogger?

Well I guess I am. Although this year marks an all time low in terms of posts it actually reflects a high amount of activity and a bit of diversification.

even moving away from fabric, yarn and fibre

But first a question... I have not blogged since 18th May and until recently my weekly hit stats were going down week by week.  Generally when I am a busy blogger they are at about 300-500 a week but quite understandably the numbers were heading into single figures by mid July.  Then. WHAM. suddenly they began to climb until today, as I write they are at 1,016!  How can that be?  The focus of attention seems to be this post about knitting buttons into a cardigan as you go.  The post was featured in the Knitty blog soon after but otherwise I can see no reason why it should be so popular.  I have scrutinised my stats, the hits seem to come from the East. This happened once before, at that time a scurrilous tabloid columnist with a similar name to me was hitting the headlines but this time???  I have no idea.  Do any of you (particularly if you use the Blogger platform) have an idea?

Still Knitting, this is the Reyna shawl, knitted entirely from stash (yarn chicken was played)

SO! To the real business, getting back to blogging and some diversification. When I retired I believed that it would enable me to spend more time with all things crafty. More sewing, more spinning and above all more knitting. Then I got a bit stuck, too much stash acquisition for a start. My attempts last year to buy less yarn were only replaced with buying books, equipment relating to knitting and building up my fabric stash. Epic fail.  

Far less stash acquisition this year but this is a recent purchase to finish a very old WIP (see below)

Then there was that sudden realisation that I no longer felt I had a role in society.  My life, by spending more and more time on my fairly solitary hobbies, had moved to the margins, away from the mainstream

It was time to get a grip. So I took on a couple of volunteering things, one at our local Citizens Advice and the occasional day helping out in a local school.

Cleaning sinks in the art department can be creative when you spot hints of Jackson Pollock

When you can't photograph a class in action you can still take an after shot (featuring Teacher's Pet)

And there has been some diversification in my crafting too.  It's true I have always sewn some of my own clothes as well as knitted but these past few months I've not only made clothes for myself

Merchant & Mills Camber Dress (Ikat fabric from John Lewis)

Detail of my standard shift dress (heavily modified Simplicity pattern)

but embarked on a big patchwork project

Mostly hand sewn quilt but I always enjoy hand hemming the binding (am I odd?)

Finished 50s style from Quilting Modern

Then something totally new - watercolour painting.  I have played with it for some time but last year my friend Vandy encouraged me to take a short course with her (it's on again this year and I going again) and I was off! Even producing some fairly pleasing results

Watery Greek Island olive tree 

Passion flowers in my garden

 Finally I picked up a crochet project that I began over five years ago (I'm aiming to get this finished this August)
Beach Blanket

And all (or nearly all) of this makery is from materials I have in stock.  Yes indeed I am making great inroads into the multiple stashes <<smug face>>



All this activity, it's all so exhausting

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Could knitting be bad for you (or can you have too much of a goodthing?)

A short while ago a friend posted a link on Facebook to a blog post about fighting depression.  Now some of my lovely regulars will know that this is an interest of mine.  From time to time I succumb to an attack by the black dog and most recently I wrote on here that it had been particularly bad this winter past and that the dog had brought along the grey donkey of futility.

Getting out more on the Helford river (thank goodness spring is here at last)

Before I dig deep into my view of this blog post, a little word about 'fighting illness'. Generally I don't like the term as it can carry with it the suggestion that all illness is potentially beatable, and almost single handedly to boot, by the person under attack.  True a positive attitude goes a long way, as well as eating healthily, getting enough sleep and excercise along with persuading your doctor to treat you as a partner in your treatment. But it is my belief that we should not suggest to someone that they alone are fighting the illness.  For surely it is cruel to imply that chronic illness or worse, a terminal stage is because they did not fight hard enough.  Nor would I ever suggest to a doctor that many hours googling my condition plus regular bouts of positive thinking replaces his or her seven years in medical school and another  seven post graduate training

But there is a lot we can do and one thing I have learned is that while I was working at an intellectually challenging job involving writing, campaigning, lobbying and the occasional public speaking, knitting was my panacea for almost all my ills.  However, once I was retired and free to knit all day I believe it was threatening to be the cause of a prolonged visit from the black dog, a feeling of uselessness and even agoraphobia.

Soon after writing this post I took stock and decided that rather than sit around waiting for things to happen, for people to ask me to do things that would make me feel  more useful, I would get out and just DO SOMETHING.  I applied to be a volunteer at a local charity and local school. It couldn't do any harm to be more busy could it? To have to fit my selfish life into someone else's time table? Now I'm not saying everything is now brilliant, that I have not looked back since I returned to the world of work (albeit unpaid) but it has helped me not to dwell so much.

St Michaels Mount at Marazion always lifts the spirits

So I ask myself, while there are plenty of articles out there telling us how knitting helped people get over bereavement, a stress related illness or even lowered blood pressure can we actually have too much of a good thing, in fact can knitting be bad for you?

We all know the physical risks, hours of knitting with the same size needles and yarn can risk RSI in the hands and neck problems but what about the psychological?  I'm certainly not saying we should give up knitting but, something that is pretty much true in most aspects of our lives,  I needed to get the balance right.

Taking a break from work for a few weeks just to sit and knit worked well for me in short bursts but hibernating and knitting for days on end was turning me into a recluse.  While not an actual hermit style recluse I had begun to resent anything that took me away from my sofa and my latest project.

Of course I haven't given up knitting totally, while I am now committed two days a week to volunteering (in addition to a couple of forays out to an exercise class) I still have the odd afternoon and many evenings to knit and now I look forward to that time as a treat, not a time when I sit and plough through a project while dwelling on the futility of life.

I have still finished quite a few things in the last couple of months, here are some of them...

A little red, white, and blue hat for Glori to wear to a birthday party for the Queen (pattern coming soon)

The Lattice shawl, a KAL at my local knitting group

Sweet William knitted (and steeked!!) as a cardigan for Isabella to wear at her first birthday party

Vanilla socks using up all my Islington by Kettle yarns leftovers

What do others think?  I would love to know



PS I have been sewing a bit lately but more of that later

Monday, 7 March 2016

Sock making is a thing...

Did you know that? It's definitely a thing.  If you knit socks you can talk sock.  But can you knit the perfectly fitting sock? And do you have a sock knitting party piece?  Well I do now, thanks to a class I attended last weekend

we got notebooks specially for the class (I may have bought Kate's book too)

A master class from THE SOCK EXPERT Kate Atherley at Purlescence.  Purlescence is a wonderful on-line yarn shop with premises in the Berkshire countryside.  It has a fabulous selection of yarns (including Sweet Georgia and Indigodragonfly), loads of needles (ChiaoGoo and Lantern Moon to name a couple), and other knitting notions.  But it also feels like my local yarn shop.  That is not just because it is based only about 30 mins drive from where I live, but also because Sarah and Jonathan the proprietors are so lovely, friendly and helpful.  They don't just sell fabulous stuff though, they also enthusiastically knit with the yarn they sell and try out the needles and notions.  And they have open days and classes...

Taking measurements and swatch knitting

The Morning's session was on how to knit a sock that fits perfectly.  We all have differently proportioned feet - right? In any combination of length and width, height of instep and lumps and bumps. So it is logical that when we have the chance to make our own socks that they should fit properly

When measuring my foot circumference, just above the 'toe cleavage' (a new expression learned on Saturday!) one foot was a whole inch bigger than the other, then I remembered the toe operation I had last November and put it down to that.  On the whole I have long broadish feet with a circumference that is nearly as big as my length - basically I could knit flat squares and seam them up the back, although that would not be very comfortable and this class was all about making a comfortable fitting sock.

After measuring came the maths (quite easy really)

Kate is a mathematician by education but the number crunching we had to do in her class was not complicated and was reproduced in the hand-out (and in Kate's book) It's all there to read off a table once you have your gauge and a few simple foot measurements

gage knitted in the round because socks are knitted in the round

In the afternoon we learned to knit a pair of socks in the manner of Anna Makarovna. Anna Makarovna appears briefly in the epilogue to War and Peace amazing the children with her ability to knit two socks at a time, revealing the second only at the moment she closes the toe.  Google her name and you will find out a little more about the socks and more information in an early discussion  here in Knitty and a pattern here on Ravelry

What the two socks should look like after knitting ribbing separately and sorting the stitches for the stocking stitch leg

Once you get the hang of it it is fairly straight forward but I recommend reading all through the instructions first, or, better still look out for one of Kate's classes next time she is on a teaching tour. In my photograph above I am knitting socks in different colours to help see which stitches are which. Of course that means that while I shall avoid second sock syndrome, something the method is designed to avoid, I have given myself 3rd and 4th sock syndrome!!!

All while we were listening to Kate and knitting our swatches we could gaze at the yarn displayed around the walls of the lovely light work room where the class took place

Sweet Georgia loveliness 

There was lots of good coffee and cake, and lunch, too.  Purlescence is just North of Newbury, not far from the M4 and very easy to find in a little cluster of barns on the edge of a farm in rolling Berkshire countryside.

There will be more courses and an endless supply of yarn, just keep an eye on their website