Arrows, borders &checks

It’s been a great day. Reminded about West Dean Gardens near Chichester in West Sussex (don’t you just love Facebook?) we drove over this morning. As we did so the fabulous Red Arrows RAF team were wheeling overhead with their colourful smoke trails. On verges and road footbridges crowds of people stood, looking skyward, with cameras raised, to capture the aeronautical acrobatics. It was all part of the Festival of Speed (see my last post). I remember the Red Arrows in my childhood, when on some of those hot summer days they would appear in the sky, colouring it as if with fat Crayola crayons. We looked up in awe.

The gardens at West Dean (surrounding the artsy West Dean College and home of surrealist collector Edward James) were glorious. And luckily, not that busy – we’d certainly timed our visit to give enough time to enjoy the outdoors before returning for the World Cup Final.

As with the Sussex Prairie Gardens, that I visited recently, I concentrated on the close ups with my camera. I did take longer vistas but they look very ordinary and didn’t really convey the beauty of these gardens.

The Victorian glass houses here are just fabulous – the hot colours of the begonias, the leafy beauty of the ferns, just have to be seen. I was reminded when looking at these, and the beautifully presented vegetable and cut flower beds, that these sights would have been familiar to so many ‘big houses’ before the First World War. In those days there were staff to tend and hoe, before that war decimated the labour supply and life as it was known.

I certainly took away ideas for the new garden that I am planning (watch this space) – the colour combinations, the planting choices. I just wish that I could have a river (OK, a stream) flowing through (great stone bridges). Great to have the space to show off two large sculptures, with their white smooth surfaces contrasting with the green foliage. Dipping toes into The Lavant, was just amazing given the on-going tropical temperatures, watching as a family of ducks paddled past! It’s not the same with a bowl of water is it?

Then it was home for cold beer, World Cup final football (I’m a casual observer – spent my time going through my photographs but liked the Croatian’s ‘checked’ football shirts), profiteroles with hot chocolate sauce (why not?). And a film to watch tonight……..relax!


Speed Way

It was far too hot a day to be out in the sunshine, but today I spent a couple of hours at the Festival of Speed at Goodwood in West Sussex. The site was crowded, dusty, and noisy with the throb of engines and vroom of the vehicles speeding down the race track. I have no real interest in cars (the tickets were a free-be) but decided that it would be another opportunity to try some close up images. Years ago I went to the Brands Hatch racetrack (a Press Day jolly) with the same idea. The details of some of the cars are intriguing. I can’t tell you what the particular cars are that I’ve focused on are, but I enjoyed photographing these bits of them!



Getting close to nature

I needed a break from home creativity so took myself out to Sussex Prairie Garden, near Henfield in East Sussex. I enjoy photography and have been to these seasonal gardens a couple of years ago. I was particularly keen to see the garden sculpture as well as the planting.

I tried to concentrate on using my macro lens, its just an inexpensive one, nothing flash. I’m rather pleased with these photographs.

The gardens had lots of wooden totem-pole style sculptures as well as stone heads – I’m looking forward to trying some double exposure techniques with the latter.

Going up

This week the weather is hot, reaching 24 degrees! Too hot for working in the garden, which is what I’d scheduled. Although I’ve managed some planting, by mid morning the sun is full on and I’ve had to find shade.

As part of my new look garden I’ve recently had a paved terrace installed, giving me somewhere to sit – and west facing it is a sun trap! Yesterday I bought a large cable drum from The Wood Store  (£15 for this 1 metre diameter one). I’ve always wanted one of these to use as a garden table…it has that up-cycling, hipster vibe!

I already own a sun parasol but the floral design is rather twee.  I decided to make a new cover using some old curtains that had faded (but I thought could be useful somehow so haven’t yet discarded). Instead of taking the existing parasol apart to use as a pattern I drafted a new one. I thought that if I got the shape wrong and had already dismantled the old cover I’d be a bit stuck!

It was easy enough to trace the individual segment – and then cut it out eight times. I incorporated ties along each of the seam lines to hold the cover to the spokes. I also added a small triangular pocket for the end of the spokes to fit into. The plastic top of the parasol unscrews so I made sure that I kept a small hole at the centre of the new cover (just like the old) to fit the central pole, before replacing the cap.

The finished result is OK, I say that as it’s not fitting quite as taut as I’d like (I could have been more generous with those seam allowances! But now I know how it fits together, I’ll probably have another go. Next time I will definitely take the original cover apart and use that as my pattern.

For now I can sit in the shade in the sun!

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.