Net gain

Sometimes spending a couple of hours at my sewing table can accomplish more than just scratching that creative itch. My latest project did just that; it ticked the ‘make’ box, but also the ‘get organised’ and ‘use up the fabric stash’ boxes too.

I have amassed a number of 1950s style net petticoats as they are perfect for under my duvet dresses. But they were proving to have a life of their own where they are stored thanks to the bounce in all those net ruffles! It was time to take action.

The solution was simple – to make each one its own drawstring bag, matching the colour of the fabric to that of the petticoat. This way I could neatly store each petticoat, but also use up some of the many remnants that I have left over from other projects. What’s not to like?



A new look for New Look

I was sorting through a pile of  fabrics when I came across a short curtain with a vibrant pattern. I loved the design and put the curtain aside, thinking that it could be ideal to jazz up a black dress. A few days later a charity shop rummage came up with exactly that  little black dress, originally from New Look, but now at the bargain price of 99p.

The dress had a lace bodice section that looked rather tired.  It didn’t really matter as I wasn’t keeping this part of the dress. I removed the lace section keeping enough of it intact to provide a template. I placed the lace template on the curtain fabric, then cut out a matching piece to self-line it with in black (with seam allowances added to curtain piece and lining).

It was easy to sew the new section in place. As I had a good percentage of the coloured fabric left, so decided to use it as a band lower down the dress. This time I sewed straight onto the existing fabric, carefully ironing the seams and turnings.

Job done!

But there are more projects in the pipeline. In the same charity shop I came across two great duvets, one of which is scattered with Steampunk style motifs. I think that this could be the basis of the Victorian-inspired outfit that I have in mind ever since I saw a selection of garments on display in Brighton Museum made by students at a local college. I’m already planning the sewing sequence in my head (and it’s keeping me awake at night!). Because I want to add a bustle section I’m going to have to put in a side seam zip (never my favourite). The results will appear here in due course.

Dragon heart wedding

I was delighted to be asked to design the wedding invitation for my middle son. He and his fiancé are an unconventional couple and neither religious. They had chosen as their wedding venue the beautiful Red Drawing Room in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion – helped by the fact that I work at this Regency palace, so was able to provide a wealth of information about the practicalities of holding a wedding here.

I took as the basis for my design a section of the amazing decor from the palace – a brilliant red and gold design featuring a dragon. This mythical creature is perfect for this couple – both being involved in LARPing (live action role play) and enjoying magical and mysterious films, games, and books. It’s also not a rose or dove or such conventional wedding motif which wouldn’t be right.

I created a heart shape in which to contain the dragon, and then chose a black background. This may see unusual for a wedding where pastel shades are more common. But as I said, Dratz and Ric are not a conventional couple! I knew their wedding outfits (from Dracula Clothing) were elaborate frock coat designs in black with accents in burgundy for one, and tan for the other. The three ‘best men’ were also suitably attired, with two of their coats featuring a bold red and gold brocade. Black it would be.

What was really lovely was that Dratz & Ric chose as wedding favours for their guests a special blend of tea (both, like myself, being great fans of the hot beverage) from Bluebird Tea & Co., Brighton. Having the motif and the text font, used this to label their tea packets.

As a surprise for Ric Dratz had created (by Lulalupin) a beautiful floral display in the shape of a dragon for the top table. Dragon heartIMG_2939

And what did I wear for yesterday’s wedding? I had in my fabric stash a length of black and red striped fabric. Perfect. I made the dress taking the pattern from a dress with a cross bodice design, that I’d made before. Underneath is a 1950s black net petticoat to give it structure. The military style jacket I already had, but cropped it shorter. I used pieces of the striped fabric to add to my black fascinator for a coordinated look. And the final touch, the beaded red bag, again I already owned. While I took my red umbrella, it wasn’t required as the weather, although cold, was clear. It was such a magical day, enjoyed by everyone.  I’m so looking forward to seeing the official photographs (by Shotgun Weddings) in due course!


Blue IS the colour!

Tonight was the final ‘Open Print’ competition with my Camera Club, and as usual it was a challenge to come up with two images that had both artistic merit and photographic skill.

I has several images from a previous photoshoot which I done when working on ideas for the set subject of ‘liquid’. I had piled up some citrus fruit (holding them in place with lengths of wooden skewers), a squeezed half of an orange and a glass lemon squeezer. These I shot from various angles.

Although I liked those images in the end I did’t submit them, but I did play with a couple of them using my computer software, overlaying them, changing the colours and opacity to come up with ‘Blue Orange’. But what really made the final result was printing it out on quality water-colour paper. It gave the image a totally different feeling – unlike a photograph and more like an artwork. You can see this in the close up of the image below. I loved it – and so did the judge, awarding it 19/20. It really doesn’t look like a photograph, but like an artwork. I’m certainly going to be printing on this paper again.

The second image, ‘The girl with the blue hair’, I thought was the weaker of the two. The original image was very colourful, but I wasn’t sure it worked just as taken (in Brighton’s fashionable North Laine area). So I tweaked the image to blur a few of the details, with some change to the vibrance of the colours. I knew that I wanted to print it square, and reasonably small. And I printed it out both as a 5in square, and an 8in square. Then, I thought I’d see what I could do by repeating the image.

Initially all in black and white it reminded me of a contact sheet (I used to work with those when in publishing). I was also thinking about the subject of identity, finding that one person in a crowd, looking for detail. Then I kept one of the cells in the original colour way. I really liked it, but would the judge? She did, saying it reminded her of an Andy Warhol artwork,  scoring it 19/20.

I’m so not feeling blue this evening!


I enjoy designing posters for Heber Opera, and I’ve done a few for other events too. This week I was pleased to be asked to create one for my neighbour’s gig showing in the Brighton Festival.

Pete already had an image that he wanted to use, and had the venue and Brighton Festival logos. With the text ready it was a matter of coming up with some initial ideas and tweaking these to get the ultimate design.

It proved relatively straightforward to get the first drafts done – and I did that with Pete beside me so I could edit as we went along. Then I took the designs back home where I could fiddle around perfecting the colours and layout. What determined the final design was  moving the headline (Shame – the name of the show) from the horizontal to the vertical..then everything else fell into place. I like the way that Pete is looking through his reviews to the word ‘Shame’… the elements counterbalance each other, challenging each other.

You can see my  workings below on the left..and then the final design on the right. Simple and effective. Just come along in May to the Duke of Wellington, Brighton and see what Shame is all about for yourselves!

6 mini postersPete Strong final version

Dice & daggers

I guess you could call it spring cleaning. It’s addictive. I don’t like clutter, I do like everything in its place. I’ve gone through my wardrobe, my shoes boxes, and my attic seeing what’s there and what is no longer needed. There have been trips to the charity shop (enjoy your new life, pretty but impractical handbag!), and trips to the tip (goodbye old paint tins!). But when it comes to my props store, well that’s all wrapped up inside a bigger box of memories. And luckily it has a different trajectory.

I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics for around 25 years, working backstage mostly providing the props required (but also some set design and costume when needed). I’ve worked on 90 shows, give or take, from big productions to smaller concerts. These include the old family favourites such as Oliver, West Side Story and Les Miserables, as well as more eclectic works, Sweeney Todd, Paris Prince of Troy, Scrooge, The Baker’s Wife, and Hair. And then there has been a whole heap of operas from Carmen and La Traviata to Otello, Macbeth, The Pearl Fishers, and La Boheme.

As much as I’ve loved all the productions I have decided that the time is right to hand the props over to someone else, especially with a house move on the cards in the not too distant future. So I’ve hauled the props out of my attic ready to pass them on. But in doing so I had the chance for a quick flick through the many drawers.  And I soon discovered that looking at an ordinary item brings forth a score of music and a stage full of action.

A small selection

This group of items from the props store includes my four painted masks from Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (a Bartok opera – powerful stuff).

Many of the items I’ve had to make or adapt so it’s lucky that I have a creative streak, although sometimes it has been a challenge.  I’ve made water bottles for ancient Greeks, cut-throat razors for a barber with a vengeance, masks for all manner of disguise, paper tags for refugees, medals for military men, shackles for prisoners, and flags for the defiant as well as the piratical. Over the years there’s been more that I haven’t been able to store – the harmonium, a maypole, decomposing corpses, and assorted body parts (I was particularly pleased with those!). At least my three tier wedding cake now plays its part in a Christmas feast in a historic house!

Then there are the everyday found items – the keys, wallets, dice, playing cards, metal tankards, candlesticks, trays and pocket watches, available for many an actor’s turn on the boards. Although the props are finding a new home I am not totally losing touch with all my theatrical memorabilia – as I have a file (make that 3 files) containing a poster, programme and any thank-you cards from each production. I’m using my talents for poster design now for Heber Opera ( so those files will continue to increase….Rigoletto will be the next one to go in!

We’re going on a mouse hunt!

Once again I’m busy helping to run the family Christmas event at Preston Manor in Brighton. I’ve been involved for several years now with this seasonal shindig. I even come along on my days off to help out,  joining a fantastic team of people helping to bring that special magical experience to hundreds of local children.

It’s not just seeing Father Christmas here in the beautiful Drawing Room of this Edwardian home – we have other activities (dreamt up on a pretty non-existent budget) – all helping to show off Preston Manor and provide enjoyment for all the visitors (from babes in arms & first time parents, to early teens who really are too cool for school with their younger siblings) plus their families. A major success this year has been the Mouse Hunt!

I made the little mice a few years ago and sold them at a few craft fairs. A dozen of these mice have been hidden (in plain sight) around Preston Manor for the children to find. They just need know who they are looking for! I photographed the mice and designed up the Mouse Hunt name sheet. It’s been great watching the children (and adults) looking for the mice – and being so excited when they’ve found them all. Midnight Mouse is probably the one that is most difficult to spot  but there’s always a big smile when he’s finally seen (right in front of your eyes).

Two more days  of this event still to go –  two very busy days as the ‘sleeps till Christmas’ get fewer and fewer. The mice are still hiding!

It’s all gone frou frou!

This is an unusual fabric design – a mix of London street signs and Americana. But it’s not an easy pattern to work with. Appearing on a double duvet it provided ample fabric to play with, providing an opportunity to attempt a multi-layered skirt. I know the ra-ra style belongs to the 80s but I wanted to try something different to the dresses I’d made before.

I’ve made the dress in two sections – the bodice and the skirt. The skirt is made from a polycotton petticoat from an old skirt. The widths of fabric have been sewn onto this, each one hemmed, and gathered. It’s easy enough to do, though a little bulky as its handled through the machine so needs careful handling.

The bodice pattern is based on the blue corset-style dress from previously. The top two frill layers are sewn onto this. Again I’ve used the D-ring and ribbon closure method.

The final touch was adding a belt – sewn either side of the corset rings to come around the front and a ‘nurse’s’ buckle. This helps to hide the top stitching of the top frill layer. The finished dress is surprisingly weighty. I think if I made this style again I’d use a heavier weight fabric to line the bodice rather than self-lining. But I must say it does have a lovely feel to it when worn.

Winter wonderland

One of the aspects of dressmaking that I really enjoy is deconstructing a garment in order to re-make and adapt it into something new.  I turn over methods in my mind and have often made the whole thing in my head before it gets to my workroom and sewing machine!  The blue dress that I wrote about in my previous blog (the one with the corset style lacing) was a case in point, and I knew that I wanted to make this style of dress again.

I had a vibrant pink double duvet (originally Ikea) lurking in the bottom of my fabric stash. This was the material for the re-make outfit. I took a pattern from the original blue dress, adding the corset tie variation from the cutting out stage, and determined to shorten the skirt length, cutting it to knee length to wear it with my pink 1950s petticoat.  For this dress I have used metal curtain rings not D rings to hold the equally bright ribbon ties!


Not long after this I  found a lovely double duvet (£4 from my local Emmaus charity store) with a pretty winter countryside pattern. On one side the design was white on grey, and the other grey on white. The duvet was brushed cotton, perfect for the winter season, and I set about using the same pattern for yet another variation of the dress.

This time  I decided to set in a zip at the back and not corset ties. As I wasn’t sure which colour way I liked most I adapted the cutting of the pattern to use both designs in the one dress. I took my cue from the cross bodice, with the right shoulder piece grey on white, taking it around the pattern pieces to the back of the dress. The key to not getting the pieces mixed up was to lay them out in order and sew each in turn, first joining the two-tone pieces before sewing them to their neighbours. You can see the layout in the photograph below.



Pattern pieces laid out ready to sew


The finished dress

My final touch was to use a bolero pattern (than needs no fastening) to make a neat little top to go with the dress. The bolero is lined in dove grey, and has broad white sections to the sleeve ends. Such an easy pattern I think I shall make more, especially as it’s such a good way to use up those last few remnants.


Getting the corset blues

Having bought a wonderful set of pieces from my very talented neighbour, Lucienne of I decided that I needed a dress to go with them for the Winter season of parties. I came across the perfect fabric when I was putting away my laundry. As much as I loved my deep blue velvety duvet cover, it was a perfect match and I wasted no time in using my regular dress pattern to cut out the pieces.

The following day I had a short extra shift at work. Arriving in town early I popped into a charity shop. There on the rail was a stunning deep blue evening gown from the fashion label Debut. What’s a girl to do but  try it on! The dress fitted, it was too long but that was an easy fix, but it was snug. Was it too snug? Being honest with myself, I thought it was – and I did have that blue dress already on my production line. I decided to put the dress back on the rail and headed for work.

During the four hours of my shift I kept thinking about that Debut dress. In my head I thought about how I might give the dress a little more breathing space. I resolved that if the dress was still in the shop that on my way home I would buy it.

The dress was still for sale and  £15 later it was mine. My solution was to remove the zip and replace it with a corset style opening. This was actually easier to achieve than I imagined and I’m really pleased with the result. This was how it was done….

Corset dress.jpg

The 12mm D-rings cost £11 (I could have found them cheaper on line I’m sure but I wanted to complete this project done today). So what with that, and a 3m of ribbon bias binding, and 3m of ribbon for the ties, that’s all it took to transform the dress. I will certainly be experimenting with this style in the future.

PS The blue ‘duvet’ dress has been completed – and it’s equally lovely – and with a deep blue 1950s style petticoat to go with it, I’m very happy with it.