Steaming ahead

I love the steampunk style, though I’m not quite brave enough to wear the whole look myself. But when I found a duvet with a steampunk pattern it gave me a starting point.

The duvet design had the same pattern though in two colour ways, one on each side. Neither provided enough fabric for the long dress pattern that I had drafted. I would have to combine the two.

Sometimes I have a lot of thinking time in my job and during these moments I worked out how I was going to make the dress, adding both a corset feature and a bustle effect. Rough sketches helped to crystallise these ideas.

The shape of this dress is drafted from a straighter one that I’ve made before. With this dress I’ve widened the skirt sections and used a side zip – thus enabling the corset and bustle back pieces not to be interrupted. The bustle is made from a wider skirt panel, with a drawstring channel sewn down the middle (you can see the gathering tape in the photo). This gathers up the piece into gentle folds (much easier than sewing in folded sections). This is sewn along the side seams, on top of the main back panel.

The corset piece uses D-rings to help pull the bodice section in for a tighter fit. I’ve chosen a gold ribbon for lacing.

You can see the back sections here…


The dress has been lined with grey lining fabric , which gives it weight. The finished dress can also be worn with a full length petticoat for a fuller effect. It feels great!

Another project!

Making this dress sparked off a second project. I thought about making a bolero top to use up the few remnants of steampunk fabric remaining. But having come across an inexpensive jacket, I realised that this would make an easy adaptation to complete the outfit.

The jacket was unlined and just needed re-shaping. I did this cutting a high arc at the back, to show off the corset tie. I bought the front to a point just below the original top button fastening. Edging the jacket with the same bias binding used on the steampunk dress hemline finished it off perfectly.

I’ve also used this approach to a pinstriped jacket (£1 bargain charity shop buy, originally M&S). This one was lined so took a little more work – un picking the lining, cutting the jacket to the new shape, then trimming the lining and re-hemming it. It’s not cut as high-arched on the back.

The only thing I will do when I do this again (I love the shape so I know that I will), will be to use a piece of interfacing to stiffen the side points…a good iron will have to suffice for now!


Upholstering myself!

Upholstery fabric is tougher stuff than dressmaking fabric, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Or rather, I can’t ignore it!

I came across two striking upholstery fabrics recently; one was a length of fabric with a stylised thistle design on, the other already made into a colourful removable chair cover with bold geometric shapes.

All I needed was a sewing pattern, some lining fabric (which I had in my fabric stash) and a long zip. The pattern was easy – one I’ve used before, Burda 3477. I knew how to adapt it with pockets (which I intended to add to both of these new dresses). Having cut the chair cover into pieces only one section was long enough to fit a pattern piece whole, so I used this for the front dress panel. Luckily joining sections of fabric was easily hidden by the colourful and geometric design, and by incorporating the pocket lining.

The thistle dress was easier as there was enough length to fit all the pattern pieces perfectly. I lined each of the dresses to make dealing with the armholes and neckline easier to finish. The side seams are the last to be sewn, so it’s easy to tweak the fit slightly if necessary. Then the hems and it’s all done!

The upholstery fabric gives the finished dresses more ‘body’ – and they’re certainly warmer than the the duvet material that I’ve used for other dresses. They feel more structured to wear, and I’m very pleased with both.

Wide of the mark

Travelling to work by bus my eye was caught by Primark’s shop window. There was a big photo of a woman wearing wide legged jeans, I fancied a pair. On my next day off I traveled into town and popped into the store. After a fruitless search for the jeans (there were lots of skinny ones) I asked a shop assistant…who looked…found none, then asked a colleague. She  informed me that the Brighton store didn’t have any of these, and that it was a generic picture…and not all branches would have these jeans. I suggested that it was misleading to be advertising a product that the shop didn’t stock. One lost customer.

So, I looked around a few other stores but could really find anything that I liked, or at a price I could afford. So, I did the obvious thing and popped into Fabric Land instead. I already had a pattern for trousers which I had used before. These had an elasticated waist, and were incredibly easy to make. But I decided to adapt the pattern for a closer fitting finish. Fabric Land had a variety of demin to chose from, and I selected a deep blue – and an 8in zip.

If you’re used to making your own clothes you may know that trouser legs can be cut as just two pieces – with the side seam on the fold (and in the middle of the piece). You need to pay attention to the front and back crotch shaping. Or you can cut the trousers as four pieces, again paying careful attention to fronts and backs. I made this pair using four pieces.

I adapted the construction by incorporating a zip. Fitting a zip is easiest when you are working with just two panels. So this was the first item to be tackled after the cutting out. Then the construction was pretty much as the original instructions described, until the ‘elastic’ bit.

Having tried the trousers on they were just like ‘clown’ trousers – very roomy at the waist! But careful pinning of four darts took in the volume. I used two shorted darts at the front, and two more slightly longer at the back. All were equally spaced between the central and side seams. Before sewing the darts I tried the jeans on again just to check they were in the right place. Perfect fit – so simply sewed them up.

Instead of a waistband I cut a yoke, with a gentle curve and sewed this to fold to the inside of the jeans, adding a couple of hanging loops as I passed the side seams. Quick hem and it’s all done.wide legged trousers.jpg

It’s not a brilliantly clear photo of the finished jeans here, but already I’ve decided to adapt the pattern (again) and add pockets next time.  There’ll be a better photo when I’ve done that on my second pair of trousers. I’ve enough demin left over, though I may buy a different shade and work with that. You’ll just have to watch this space.

Off my trolley!

It is not fashionable or desirable to carry plastic carrier bags these days.  I try my best not to acquire new ones and re-use those that I do possess. I’ve noticed around town that the wheeled trolley is becoming more popular and no longer just the preserve of the elderly. Browsing one of my regular haunts I came across just such a trolley – for £1. Still in the process of sorting prior to a house move I was eyeing up the wheels that this bargain offered. Without its dull red cover the frame alone would help move boxes of stuff from A to B. Then of course, I had an idea.


It would be easy to make a new cover. Just as with re-contructing clothes the starting point was deconstructing the existing bag. You can see in the photo above the constituent elements of the trolley bag – the most important turning out to be the drawstring and its channel! With any project like this don’t throw anything away until you’re sure that you won’t need it. As I took the bag apart I made a note to self about the positioning of the piece that secured the bag to the frame. Then I went off to buy some new fabric.

I chose PVC with a colourful camper van motif. And I also bought some black honeycomb  fabric, wanting to line the bag and give it just a little more substance. I haven’t sewn PVC before but luckily it didn’t present a problem going under the sewing machine needle. I chose a multicoloured thread (thanks Sophie!). I already had some velcro to attach the strap and a zip. I decided to reproduce the original zip pocket, although I could more easily have sewn a flap pocket closure instead.

Having cut the pieces out from the PVC and honeycomb fabric, the order of sewing was to make the individual elements first; the strap, the back pocket, and the top flap. Next was to sew the back pocket to the main body of the bag (along the sides only so it could slip over there frame. I then sewed the bag shape into a tube, then sewed in the rectangular base. Adding the strap and flap came next, before finally adding the drawstring closure  (top left photo below) and a bias binding trim.


This has been a very rewarding project, and actually easy to do. If you find a bargain trolley – or have an existing one with a worn cover, try your own re-vamp!


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!