The great skanklet debacle 

skanklet-300x181I did so much enjoy watching the Sewing Bee this year, that was until the final episode. So I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and tell you what I think.

Just to be clear, Matt is, by all accounts, a super chap and he is the one who went home with the gong so fair play to him.  But is he Britain’s best amateur sewer? Errrr… no.

All three contestants made an absolute dog’s dinner of the final garment.  Not one of them was either well constructed or sophisticated enough to give you sewing envy, let alone have the catwalk wow that Heather Jack‘s did in 2014.  Neil’s was just too complex to complete in the time; Lorna’s lacked finesse; and Matt’s was simply a repeat of the corset challenge with a poorly executed lampshade attached to the bottom.  images

So backwards to the alteration challenge.  Lorna’s was simple but reasonably well sewn; Matt just added a bit of stiffening to the hem to do something, though not entirely sure what; and Neil made the skanklet. 

Ah yes, the skanklet. It was after all, avantgarde week, so surely we were looking for out of the box solutions.  I’m not sure what side of the bed Patrick got out of on that morning, but it clearly wasn’t the right one. In previous week’s he would have chuckled, admired the chutzpah of the maker and then commented that it was well sewn. Surely ‘wearable’ means you could go out in it without it falling apart, so it fitted the brief.  And you could imagine Lady Gaga strutting her stuff in one (there’s an idea) . It certainly didn’t deserve the vitriol poured upon it, nor was it a final losing garment. Backwards again to that fabulous Japanese asymmetric top. Good on the boys for helping Lorna out (unlike poor Chinelo last year who struggled with the tie pattern challenge). Once again the only person who executed it well was Neil.

Screen-Shot-2014-02-28-at-4.35.21-PMLast year there was a hue and cry that Chinelo Bally didn’t win, but there was a clear reason for that because she was amazing at free form cutting and beautiful fitting jersey garments but bumbled along the bottom in the pattern challenge, so the title went to someone who was consistently good and then pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Matt on the other hand, although he improved consistently, never rose above good into great or exceptional. Producing the least worst garment in the final challenge does not make you the best overall.

I suppose the biggest proof of who really is Britain’s best amateur sewer is who you would ask to sew an item of clothing for a special occasion to make you look a million dollars. And we all know who we would choose…

Cat x


It’s the little things

unnamedIt isn’t always easy to find the time to make a whole new garment, but there are other ways to create clothes that are extra special and that little bit different.

I have been known to buy myself a bog-standard t-shirt from a well-known supermarket and adjust the length or add buttons and other trimmings to make it into something that differentiates it from everyone else’s.  I’m still plucking up the courage to do a full-scale alteration challenge – I think that potentially this is something I need to do with a friend which would force us to do something in a specific time-frame.

I do have a large stock of buttons, but I’m always on the lookout for more and I came across these from Kate Holliday on Friday.

As it happens, I know Kate through mutual friends so it was lovely to catch up with her at Olympia. But I was also completely blown away by her hand-made buttons.  And they are completely hand-crafted. Starting with a lump of clay, Kate flattens, cuts and fires these gorgeous little pieces of loveliness.

I couldn’t resist this little chap – and he will definitely be featuring on a garment at some point.  I also fell in love with the shirt buttons Kate herself was sporting so I am going to be investing in some of these as well at some point in the very near future.  Bye bye plain white shirts forever!

Cat x

Three dimensional stitchery

I love the Great British Sewing Bee, not least because it inspires me to do stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily try (or buy sewing equipment that I really need!).

I haven’t done much three dimensional or constructive sewing, other than felt animals of various sorts at school or the now famous Bob the reindeer. I have seen letter cushions before and liked the idea of them so I thought I would give it a bash.

The choice of letter was really easy as it was for a present so I set about creating a pattern with the help of a well known Sunday newspaper. Getting the proportions right was surprisingly difficult. Either the uprights were too skinny or the distance between them too large or the crossbar too thin. I can understand now why font design is such an art form because there is a lot to be considered.

Having finally reached a size I was happy with I cut out the front and back, taking a great deal of care to ensure that I got the stripes in the right place and parallel. I then attached premade bias binding around the whole perimeter of each. As a scientific exercise (probably not the best thing to do on a gift!) I sewed one binding on by my old method of using a zipper foot, and one using my fancy pants new binding foot. Unquestionably the latter produced the much better result, and it was considerably easier to use.

Deciding on the width of the joining piece of fabric also required significant thought. Once again it was important to get the proportions correct. And also to decide whether the stripe should go vertically or horizontally. My biggest mistake though was that I sewed it on all in one piece rather than creating sections which matched each junction on the letter. This meant that although I sewed it all on pretty accurately and neatly, when the two sides were joined together there was a twist in the final product.

All that said, I’m pretty pleased with it as a first attempt and the recipient liked it, so I’ll definitely be having another go.

Cat x

The pitter patter of tiny feet

I know that a bad workman always blames his tools, but there comes a time when you need to invest to get a better result.

When adding piping to a cushion or anything else I’ve been fudging along with an old zipper foot which is fine, but there are occasions when I just can’t get it quite right.  So while I was in John Lewis buying a birthday present for a chum (I’m hoping I am going to be able to persuade her to blog about it because it looks like a lot of fun) I bought myself a specialist piping foot.

I’m going to have to look up a little video or two online to see exactly how to use it properly, but if it makes it easier to get a great end result I’ll be happy.  I’ll keep you posted of how I get on.

I also bought a concealed zipper foot.  Being a self-taught sewer I didn’t know that these existed, and it might explain some of my zip-phobia.  I am in the process of making a dress for a friend which requires a concealed zip so I really need to get the hang of this – plenty of practice required methinks before getting to the real thing.

As for the zigzag foot – that actually came with the ‘foot kit’ that Kid, Kitty and co. bought me for my birthday last year. I am yet to work out what sewing task will be made better by this particular implement but I’m willing to work through lots of different projects to find out.

Cat x

Britain’s got talent

CaptureWithin my fabric collection I have a small selection of hand-printed fabrics from the marvellous Sarah Waterhouse.  The only problem is that I love the fabric so much I cannot bear to cut into it, unless I am absolutely sure I am going to be making something that will turn out fabulous first time.

Kiwi-Plum-Bird-Brolly1I came across Sarah via a crowdfunder project aimed at helping her expand her business.  And I am pleased to say that she achieved her finance objectives and ever since then has seemingly gone from strength to strength.

Capture2Based in the aptly named Persistence Works in Sheffield, Sarah produces her stylishly hand-printed range on a range of eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics.  They have a wonderful organic feel to them, not so much in the pure technical term, but the texture seems to tell a bigger story about where they came from.  (Much as I like buying fabric online, I have to get a regular fix of actually touching fabrics as it can be this which is often the deciding factor in a purchase.)

Designer-maker success stories like Sarah’s make me believe that perhaps we are at last turning back to the idea that investing in something original and made to last is much more satisfying than the disposable consumer culture we are constantly steamrollered by. This in its turn will help to retain our craft and skills heritage, enabling a wider choice of careers for all.

If you would like to buy some of Sarah’s fabric or possibly sign up for one of her screenprinting classes, visit

Sunday afternoon stitchin’

I’ve been feeling a bit guilty that I haven’t done any actual sewing for a few weeks. There always seems to be something to do or someone who needs to be taken somewhere.


Therefore this afternoon I thought I would try and complete a little project just for the satisfaction of doing something. I found an old copy of Mollie Makes which still had the freebie make on the front and dug out the sewing equipment to make a little travel card holder.  Since my existing travel card wallet has been slicing a hole in my coat pocket this would also possibly be something that would come in very handy.


I’m always amazed that I have picked a hobby that requires so much ironing.  The first thing I had to do on opening the little paper envelope was to give everything a jolly good press.


The instructions were clear, but unfortunately the person writing them had clearly had a common sense failure.  There is a reason why imperial and metric recipe requirements aren’t interchangeable, and this is equally so for sewing.  How anyone is expected to measure 6 and 7/8cm is beyond me.  The instructions had patently been created in inches and whoever rewrote them didn’t round the cm measurements up to accommodate a ruler.

There was another problem with the acetate. This had to be trimmed to exactly the same size as the originally sewn rectangle.  But, as we all know, when you turn something inside out you lose a little from the bend of the fabric, so more adjustments required.

My first attempt at sewing through acetate wasn’t wholly successful, but fortunately I still had a heavyweight needle in the machine from sewing something else a couple of weeks ago.  I did discover that the knack to sewing ribbon onto acetate was to spray a little adhesive onto the back first, stick it in place and sew with the ribbon face down to allow the feet to gain a little traction.


This was almost a 15 minute project, and the results were not bad at all.  Not least because my travel card actually fits in the wallet!






Getting to grips with the formalities of design

As you know, I have embarked upon a Curtains and soft furnishings course in order to conquer yet another of my stitching phobias (the zip gremlin was kicked into touch some time ago).

The last part of my current unit was to develop a window treatment for a fictitious client. Until I started this process I had no idea that there was a whole range of books which exist simply to give you line drawings of every conceivable curtain, blind, pelmet and pole combination you could ever think of. Part of my reading list were two volumes by Wendy Baker entitled The Window and Bed Sketchbook and The Compact Sketchbook of Blinds. Both of these gave me a very clear idea of what different curtains in all kinds of environments would look like.

I am lucky in that I can draw (though nowhere near as well as Kitty) so creating the sketch was not at all daunting. I’m sure I am not alone in spending numerous hours planning out new interiors designs on the backs of envelopes, but what I did discover is that if you draw your window/room to scale, the design you thought you liked often doesn’t work at all.
I chose a slightly awkward window, in that it is at the top of a half landing, and originally planned just a single curtain to the left. But when I sketched this out it didn’t look at all balanced and I was forced to rethink. As the curtains are never required to close, the fact that they are completely different lengths doesn’t matter at all.

I’ve submitted all of my first unit coursework now, so I am awaiting both my mark and details of Unit 2 which will involve some curtain construction. the other news is that having shown off the cushions I created for the little sewing lesson I ran, I now have multiple orders for these as well. Better get on then I suppose.

Cat x

What’s that lurking under the bed…?


As you may, or may not remember from one of my previous posts, I have confessed to having rather a large stash of sewing/creative magazines under my bed.

Capture1Many of these are staples that you would find at any newsagents, such as Sew magazine ( which is great for free dressmaking patterns) and Mollie Makes (a nice quirky read guaranteed to bring a smile) the big favourites that didn’t go anywhere near the recycling bin were from US brands Interweave and Stampington.

Capture2I first came across these titles while visiting one of my favourite stitchery dens, Rainbow Silks in Great Missenden (of Roald Dahl fame). They carry a huge range of magazines from both publishers and their beautifully produced covers are very hard to resist.  Stampington do a wonderful range of really quirky titles, including whole magazines devoted to rejuvenating clothing – Altered Couture – as well as eclectic soft toys and the melding of 3D artwork using paper, fabric, painting and dyeing techniques to produces some wonderful pieces of art.  The photography is always amazing and the writing enthusiastic, it’s a bit like National Geographic for creative types!

STF-200x200The other title which I always buy is Stitch from Interweave.  I like this magazine because it is absolutely jammed full of projects with the patterns included or easily downloaded from their website.  There is just a little chat at the front and a few product reviews, but other than that it is all about the sewing.  I have made lots of different things (including Bob, Fred and Bert the reindeer) of various different levels of complexity and there is little that I haven’t been pleased with.  There are even free bonus projects on the web like the Feel Good Love Pillow

If you can handle working in inches and the frustration of not having as easy access to crafting materials as is apparent in the US marketplace, I can heartily recommend these publishers for pushing you outside your normal sewing/creative comfort zone.

Cat x

What’s the alternative?

Now that Valentine’s Day is out of the way for another year (that makes me sound desperately unromantic which is very far from the truth) I am sure many people’s thoughts are starting to turn towards the marriage season.

There are lots of wonderful white/cream/ivory creations out there, but what if you don’t want to walk up any kind of aisle wearing a traditional wedding gown? What are the alternatives.

Wedding dress copyright N RodgersWell you could always be like the super talented Deborah Simms currently appearing in the Great British Sewing Bee who made this wonderful creation for herself. There’s no doubt that going down this route ensures that you end up with something that is bound indelibly with your own personality.

B9GDLriIEAAPjB1If stitching something this important gives you the heebie jeebies you could always enlist the help of a talented someone else. The wonderful Rachel Fox from Foxglove and Gingersnap makes truly one of a kind dresses using fabulous machine appliqué.

CaptureYou don’t have to look much further to find a wealth of alternatives. Joanne at The Couture Company has a veritable feast of goodies on offer, seemingly covering every style from steampunk to etheral twenties inspired gowns.

If meringue isn’t your style, the bridal shop on your high street brings you out in a cold sweat and you aren’t confident enough to have a go yourself, it looks like there are plenty of talented sewsistas out there who can create something exactly right for you.

Cat x