Laurel Giveaway

Ever fallen in love with someone who at first sight didn’t appeal at all?  Well, that’s the story of me and Laurel!  A month ago when the pattern was released, I was decidedly underwhelmed.  “Hang on, that’s not a pattern, that’s a block!” I thought.  But of course, Sarai, who thinks of everything, had foreseen the reaction of sceptics such as myself and produced not only a booklet with tempting ideas on how to vary the design, she’d also thrown in a challenge in the form of a competition to see who can come up with yet more creative interpretations.  Which got me thinking along the lines of: “but it looks like it’d be really quick!”  And: “those sleeves are so feminine.”  And: “I could do with a dress that’s practical… where’s that credit card?”  🙄 🙂

Having already garnered a few compliments IRL on my muslin, I can now safely declare Laurel to be my feelgood dress of the summer.  And I want to share it with (one of) you.  For a chance to win my used but respectfully preserved pattern, leave a comment below.  Worldwide commentators welcome! 

I’ll also be drawing for three other Colette patterns from the stash:

–  the Clover, which I sadly made into porkBut you’d be luckier!

– the Sophia Lauren-inspired Lily, and

– the versatile Jasmine.


You may specify which draw you would, or wouldn’t, like to be entered into.  If you don’t, I’ll enter you into all 4.  The draw is on May the 1st.


The Laurel Muslin Review

I used a 1.5m of a full-width, light cotton to make Version 3 with the following adjustments/modifications:

1. French Seam: as my fabric is perforated and I didn’t want the seams to show, I used a French seam throughout, including in the sleeves.  

2. I shortened the length by 5cm (or 2″ in Colette-speak) so as to wear as a tunic or to the beach.

3. I widened and lowered the neckline.  Since these photos were taken, I’ve lowered it again by another 1cm so as to cut out the hook and eye at the back (I didn’t like how this sat).  The new lower front also works better with  this lapis lazuli necklace brought back by my mum from her travels in Chile.  

4. I made bias binding twice the  specified width

5. The waist seam: narrowed and made more vertical  than out-curving.

Time taken: most of a day, not including the reworking of the neck.  Would have been quicker if it wasn’t for the French seams.

Next time: I feel a slight pull towards the back so on my pattern copy I’ve moved the shoulder seam forward 0.5cm at the neck and 1cm at the shoulder.

And, oh look what indigo beauty I found browsing round Hobbs!  My version cost £20: pattern, fabric an’ all.

Stuart Skirt

So, tonight The Great British Sewing Bee reaches its final, only 3 weeks after the show’s start.  4 episodes!  We wait decades for a show like and that’s all we get.  How apologetic!  Did the commissioning team have doubts that anybody would watch?!  Oh, how I wish I’d been on that commissioning team.  I’d have demanded that the show based its format on the worst excesses of the Roman Empire – think Gladiatorial  Combat – with an exit policy straight out of the song Hotel California, i.e. you can never leave.  If it’d been up to me, those contestants would be sewing for our viewing pleasure forever unless a self-sacrificing member of the audience volunteered to step in and proved a like-for-like replacement.  So, for example, a handsome amateur tailor of Matrix-style costumes could take the place of Mark, a fellow-blogger could replace Tilly and as for the lovely Stuart, he’d only be allowed to leave if some kind of sewing equivalent of Paul Hollywood could be found. 

But enough of my sick fantasies.

Daughter and I had the idea to design this skirt after the Tulip Pocket Embellishment made by Stuart in Episode 2.  I was curious to see how long it would take: as somebody who’s thinking about sewing professionally, I try to keep in mind how long a project takes so should I get a commission, I’d know to charge more than the minimum wage. 

Here’s the breakdown of the Skulls as Pockets applique, a total of 1 hour 40m not including the making of the skirt.

Design of skulls: 10 mins

Making and attaching the skulls: 1 hour

Sewing the ric rac bodies on skirt:  30 mins

I did also spend some extra minutes looking for bits, blaming the kids for taking my stuff, coaxing Blogstalker off my work and lint-rolling the residual hairs….

After I finished, daughter immediately named this her “Funnybones Skirt”.  And then I remembered that the skeletons in the book had a dog.  How brilliant it would have been to have the skelly dog on the back of the skirt!?  But that’s the sort of idea you get when you have the benefit of time.  As Ann said, “I like having time to think.” 

I made the pattern for the A-Line skirt by first making a Basic Skirt Block and then adapting it.  I’ve been asked if the formula can be used for a child’s skirt and having now tried it, I’d say yes, but it helps if there’s a real difference in waist and hip measurements otherwise the skirt will be more of a tube and will slide off!  The other thing to bear in mind is that the dart has to be shortened: here I made it 7cm.  One advantage of sewing a girl’s A-Line skirt is that it’s so quick: this one is lined and it took an hour!

My Mini Betty

Mad Men first arrived on UK TV at the same time as I was learning to sew.  I had no idea what I was doing so rather than spend money on expensive fabrics, I’d cut up my husband’s worn work shirts and use the big pieces to make dresses for our daughter.  These would be typically toddler in style, with voluminous skirts and puffed sleeves.  We called them her “Betty Draper dresses”.

Five series of the show later and dear daughter hasn’t seen a single episode, yet she knows all about the stylish Mad Men ladies, thanks to Julia Bobbin‘s Mad Men Challenge.  Many times I’ve found her studying last year’s copycat creations, so when she asked if I would make her a sixties-style dress and Julia very wisely initiated a second Mad Men Challenge, it seemed a heavenly match!

This print with its ‘mid-century-modern’ colours struck me immediately as a perfect fabric for the job – it’s actually a quilting cotton from Jeff Rosenberg.  But we struggled to find a dress to copy.  Sally Draper’s wardrobe is rather frumpy compared to her mother’s: collars seemingly inspired by Oliver Cromwell; dull fabrics as favoured by religions that forbid frivolity in dress.  What to do?  My daughter knew what she wanted: a full skirt, none of that Swinging Sixties Psychedelia, and – here she was adamant – “no collars”.  I was insistent that the dress had to be for parties and play, not merely for a photo-shoot.  In the end, I designed a pattern with a tentative link to the series and took most of my inspiration from this blogger lady in her beautiful dress from Shabby Apple.

Everyone loves the results.  I’m mostly proud of the pleated waistband: the colour is a vibrant contrast to the grey and the pleats just beg to be played with.  If you’re wondering how such a waistband is constructed, my trick was a strip of interfacing fused at the back and hidden by the bodice lining.  The sleeves were made quickly and easily with casing and gathering elastic.  It’s a good little girlswear technique I picked up from Akiko Mano’s book.  Tutorial below.


Tutorial for Short Sleeve with Casing for Elastic

1 If your sleeve has a gathered head, begin by sewing two (or three) rows of gathering stitches.  If you’d like a fuller sleeve, you can add height to your pattern and easily gather the extra: just remember that adding a height of 2cm to the pattern will give you only 1cm extra since the top of the sleeve is folded in half, as it were.


2 Stitch the underarm seam.  If you’re using 0.7cm elastic, stop stitching 2cm from the end, leave a gap of 1cm and stitch 1 cm to the end.  Edge-finish and trim.  Press open.


3 Fold under 2cm.  This has now formed an opening on the inside of the sleeve.


4 Fold seam allowance in half and stitch 1mm from edge.  Attach the sleeve to armscye as per your usual method.

5 Thread the elastic
through the casing with a safety pin and sew the edges together.  If you allow an extra centimetre or two of the elastic, you can let out the sleeve later when the child has grown.


6 Slipstitch the opening closed.



The Great British Sewing Backlash

For an oversensitive creature like myself, the downside to The Great British Sewing Bee is that our gentle pastime is attracting attention outside our circles and provoking derision and sneers!  Oh yes, what the world right now needs of its women is delivery from nuclear perish; perhaps one brave volunteer could ensnare into a honey trap and disarm the-not-as-cute-as-we’d-thought Young Kim?  Not – as my favourite radio show mocks – sit sewing with programmes about retro midwifery on the bleedin’ telly!

And you, Punt and Dennis? 😥

Whilst I rarely wish to take part in Guardian-bashing, I’m bristling (a bit) at its treatment of TGBSB.  In his TV round-up, Andrew Collins skims over the content and whines “I don’t care!”  And the Guardian’s TV guide previews  the programme with an incredulous: “Who still has time to sew?!”

Er, I do! 

For the past two weeks, I’ve been looking after a varying collection of 8 to 13-year-old children, some of them mine.  It’s a nice job, requiring not much more than checking for blood, providing meals and a daily airing.  During this time, I was faced with the usual conundrum of what to do when a child has a friend’s birthday party coming up: do I buy or do I sew? 

Option 1: My Usual Stand-by

What do you buy a child who has everything?  Well, more of everything…   A packet of Moshi monsters and a novelty pen from my most-adored stationers.

Total cost with card and giftwrap: £7.50 to £10, depending on whether the Moshis are on sale.

Advantages: quick, easy and once the gift is bestowed, you can forget about it, unless… you’re the type to be guilt-ridden about adding to the plastic toy reject mountain.  Catholics and hippies are particularly prone here, and I’m a bit of both…

Option 2: a Personalized Cushion Sewn by Someone with Too Much Time on Their Hands

Total cost: slightly cheaper than option 1 if you don’t count the hourly sewing rate.  You need to buy (or make or reuse) a cushion pad.  I’ve also used an old concealed zip but you wouldn’t need one for an overlap design like on this Space Invader cushion.  For the fabric, most of us have stash, though I found that the Guitars remnant I’d  set my heart on simply didn’t provide a good enough contrast (see right).  Instead, I bought half a metre of a “dragster cars” print from Rolls and Rems.

Time taken: 3 hours, half of which was spent planning and unpicking the concealed zipper from an old dress.

Advantages: unique and useful.

Disadvantages: the uncertainty.  Will Sonny like it?  My kids reckon yes and strangely, I find I care less than I would with the plastic toy mountain.

Option 3 would be some money in a birthday card, but then the question would be how much money?  I wouldn’t hesitate to give a tenner to a child of 12 or older  (so they could treat themselves to some fags and alcopops 🙂 )   But turning up to a-nine-year-old’s party with money seems like handing in an entrance fee.  What do you think?

 My New Favourite Font

I’ve made personalized pressies many times before but one thing I’ve learnt from planning this project – which will speed things up if I make a cushion like this again – is to adapt the design to the age and gender of the kid.  Out went the rounded letters, in with the Collegiate Border font.  It’s a good one as it won’t use up much of your printer ink.  The free download is here.  For 7cm tall letters like mine (on a 41cm square cushion pad), select a font size of 200, print and cut out to make templates.