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 (heberopera.co.uk) 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 Lulalupin.co.uk 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.

Printing a portrait

The new season for my Camera Club has started, and last week was the first of the print competitions. I’ve taken so few photographs of late that finding images that I think are good enough to submit is becoming tricky (especially as I have been moved up into the advanced group). I also knew that I couldn’t attend this particular week to hear the judge’s comments, but I was still going to put two prints in.

Looking through my photo collection I returned to a shoot that I did a couple of years ago when I had three wonderful young women to model my handmade  hats for me.  One of the images caught my eye – Natasha in the green hat. I decided to work with it and see what I could do to present it to the judge.

The image is a sensitive portrait as well as being a product shot. But I didn’t want to print it in colour. All prints have to be presented on a backing board, 40 x 50cm, but I wanted decided to print it small.

The final image is more sepia than black and white. The bottom image shows the relative size as it sits on its backing board (though it’s a quick snap on my phone so the light is showing badly). The image is printed 12.5cm square (5inches). I mounted the print on another piece of mount board, blackening the cut edges, then positioned that on the backing board.

The club results are always emailed after the event, and after a couple of days they came through. I don’t know what the other images submitted were but My Portrait of Natasha scored 19/20. I’m happy with that. My second image – well, let’s just say it wasn’t as high!

P1230553Portrait of Natasha by 04A Chrissie Berridge

New Tasha.jpg


Maria, Janet, Rupert and Me

Today I’ve been able to get down to a spot of creativity after a busy August. But the origins of this blog started way back in 2007 – and it didn’t start with me.

I love fabric –  bold designs, colourful designs – there is such potential in what that fabric can become and what the result of that transformation can mean. I love the feel of a new bolt of cloth – and a fabric shop to me is as a sweet shop is to a child. I am not alone in this. My boyfriend’s late wife, Maria was a fellow fabric devotee. Her passion was for vintage fabrics, particularly those of a 1970s design and she had built up quite a collection over the years.

As life inevitably moves on down an unexpected path gradually a house-clearance is underway. It is an odd feeling lifting out the bolts of cloth, I imagine Maria’s delight in sourcing, and owning each piece. A talented artist her mind must have been fired up by each acquisition.

In her collection were two sections of a Rupert Bear design. They came with a note, dated 2007 from Janet. I’m guessing they were bought on eBay or something similar. Janet says ‘I hope you make something lovely from the fabric’.

Rupert letter2

The fabric was held for many years, waiting for its new lease of life, but one that sadly Maria couldn’t give it. I asked my boyfriend if I could have the fabric and he agreed.

The Rupert design is effectively a series of printed squares, which does make for some limitations on how the design can be worked with. Cushion covers or a basic bag would be ideal but I didn’t want either. It was all too easy to opt for my familiar duvet dress pattern. I could keep the repeating panels in the skirt, and a little jiggery pokery would provide the bodice (I even had a recycled invisible zip handy). The fabric at one stage must have been held in a swatch book because there are a series of punch holes along the top of the two sections – there was no way of avoiding these when making the bodice so as not to lose the length, so Fray Check has been employed (it’s a small price to pay). I finally added a white bias binding edge to the hem (after I took the photos) which completes the dress. Worn with one of my 1950s- style petticoats it looks great!

Rupert dress.PNG

And so now I can say to Janet that yes, something lovely has been made from the fabric. I can say thank you to Maria for finding it all those years ago and keeping it safe. And I like to think that there is always a new way to cut and re-stitch the cloth of life from the most treasured of remnants.

Picking a pocket or two

Pockets. Useful. Easy. Do it!

number dress

For an even easier way to add pockets simply fold up a section of the fabric (to the depth of the pocket) before cutting out the two side front sections. But I wanted to use a contrast fabric, which although wouldn’t be seen, I knew it was there!  Job done.

adding pockets

Dipping my feet into time

Before I embarked on my current sewing frenzy I spent a fair amount of time taking photographs. I seem to have got out of the habit of late – and when I do – it is via my iPhone rather than what I refer to as my ‘big camera’. But the two hobbies coincided today.

Killing time waiting for my dinner to cook I played around with an image I’d taken of my latest bargain duvet. The duvet had a multiple clock design on one side, and digital time signals on the reverse. As usual I snapped an image of it on my iPhone, but this time included my feet. The duvet will inevitably become a dress – I’m yet to decide what style. But using my Pixlr app I converted the image into various different colour ways, including monochrome and collage. It’s an app I use often to to create a variety of artwork pieces, and quick images for social media (where the collage feature is particularly useful).

I like the way it looks as though my feet are dipping into a pool of time! I think this photograph may end up as a canvas print at some point, particularly as a single circular image (which I’ve simply multiplied in the example above).

Taking photographs comes in handy when it comes to my publicity work for Heber Opera (heberopera.co.uk). I’m currently working on a poster design for their next production – Rigoletto – in May 2018. It’ll be the fourth poster that I’ve designed for their major productions; having done Rusalka, The Pearl Fishers, and Faust (as well as concert & fund raising posters too). It’s also good to get away from my sewing machine that still appeals to my creative streak!

The 3 Pillowcase Dress

I’ve been playing around with the Burda 3477 pattern. The design of this pattern is for three panels to the front, and four at the back (with a zip in the centre back). On the pattern is a mark line where the length/fit can be adjusted.  I used this marker point to cut the pattern into two, providing separate bodice and skirt sections. This dress is very simple to make, and by not always using the same fabric for all the sections offers easy variations for your wardrobe.

I had three bright pink pillowcases (I think originally Ikea), and I have picked up similar pillowcases from Emmaus for just 50p each. Pillowcases cut easily into long strips of fabric. For a pattern like this where the pattern pieces are narrow, they fit easily onto the pillowcase lengths.

3pillowcase dress

With the pink pillowcase dress I added a band of plain pink fabric to provide detailing at the waist. I also left this dress unlined, so it’s super cool for the summer, though it does have facings to the armhole and neck sections.

I then went on to experiment with the pattern as you can see in the other photographs. The dresses using brown fabrics all have lined bodices, so there was no need to make facings, making for a much neater finish.

The Buzz Lightyear dress was great fun to make. Originally a duvet with the single Buzz motif on the centre, I carefully aligned the pattern pieces to make the most of retaining that image. The pieces have also been kept whole, not divided into bodice and skirt. This time I added tiny cap sleeves (the pattern piece taken from another pattern, though it would have been easy enough to draft one up). I love the bold colours of the finished dress! I still have the reverse of the duvet, with a star and rocket design to work with on another project.

Last week I picked up a lightweight skirt with an oriental pattern for just £3.50 at Emmaus because I liked the design (it’s not as pink as it looks in the photograph below, honest!). The skirt itself was too small for me to wear comfortably. Combined with some plain red sheeting I took out my Burda 3477 pattern once more to see how it might work.

oriental dress

I cut the waistband away from the original skirt, which also had narrow band a few inches above the hem, then laid the fabric out as one piece . There wasn’t enough patterned fabric for the whole dress, but there was, with some joining of pieces for the main front, and back panels. But it did mean retaining the ‘hem’ band, which now is a feature on the right hand back panel. To emphasise this further I sewed on three pearly buttons with red thread. I also retained the original lining of the skirt and have used it behind the patterned pieces to give a little more weight to the garment, and in doing so it also meant that the zip was neatly closed in!

There was little fabric left after cutting the main sections but just enough to cut a narrow binding strip for the cap sleeves, and a narrow trim for the hem of the new dress. The dress could have been sewn much tighter on the sides, but as this is for summer I didn’t want to feel too restricted so opted for a slightly fuller cut. I’ve also added a slit on the centre back seam for ease of movement. I’ve been wanting to make a red dress for ages, and this one fits the bill nicely!