Getting a Badge

Hopefully when you read this there will be two new badges in the right hand margin. I was a Brownie once but only managed to get the Hostess badge.

This involved doing some pretend washing up, in coldish water, in the back room of a church hall that smelt of gas. The secret was to wash glassware first because it’s the cleanest, then one steadily moves through the crumby plates and onto the grease and gravy, slopping the grey water around with a disgusting mop, and it’s all done in a jiffy. As a result of this rigorous training my dinner parties have been memorable – and few and far between.


This is an initiative  set up by Zoe who writes the sewing blog ‘So, Zo … What do you know?’  I think the idea is to try to wear more of one’s home sewn clothes, or hand knitted jumpers, throughout the month of May. You can take part – visit Me-Made-May for more details. I have decided to join in because I love making clothes and have heaps of them strewn all around the place, gathering dust and generally getting too small for me as the years pass. But in reality I wear the same old stuff all the time. For me sewing is about the process and making, not the wearing. So this will certainly be a challenge and will involve 31 days of skirts or dresses. I might have to make some trousers, pantaloons or slacks quickly, for emergencies.

The Big Vintage Sew-along

This is a promotion from the McCall’s pattern company aimed at getting us all sewing archive patterns – not the frail originals picked up in a charity shop, only in a size 10 and with one or two pieces missing – these are brand new multi-sized reproductions. There is plenty of information and a downloadable leaflet at Big Vintage Sew-along

I rather fancy this sturdy skirt – McCall’s 6993. But not with those shoes. Muddied gardening brogues might work better – particularly with the May challenge coming up. The fabric is a fine stripe but quite robust.


I like the complicated waist area and the two inverted pleats.


I want more badges now!



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Furniture Gymnastics

There is a certain type of therapy to be gained from moving the furniture around. Some of us love this relentless shifting and dragging and heaving, others, quite sensibly, are loathe to play the chaos game. It’s an activity that involves the whole family, by which I mean the mum and a couple of reluctant, moaning children. We share many happy memories of laughing hysterically as we manoeuvred galumphing sofas and huge tables through narrow doors, around awkward corners, up the stairs and into another room. The fun is endless. Just think of Ross and the couch in Friends“Pivot!” 

A simpler version, rather like one-day cricket, is a straightforward rearrangement of everything in the same room! This also brings into play some rarely used but thrilling gymnastic skills – table standing, sofa vaulting, back-of-the-TV stretches and hoovering lunges due to unearthed fluff mountains.

In 1985 a dear friend gave me an old sofa – she was upgrading with a smart Edwardian three piece that hadn’t yet been jumped on by toddlers or shredded by feline claws. The old one has since has been professionally reupholstered, moved house once or twice and had a loose cover made for it which must be thirty years old now. This is a bit like having a dress made for you in your twenties with strict instructions to make it last a lifetime. The cover has been washed umpteen times, shrinking more each time I’m sure, and ten years ago the patching started.


Oh, and by the way, it only has one leg, chocked up at one end with a long block of oak and at the other with Dan Brown. What a great book.


In an effort to give it a new lease of life I recently bought two enormous feather cushions for the seat. Unfortunately they are flat, unlike the original boxed ones.

After a nudge from my daughter, “Cover those cushions, they’ll get ruined,” I started on a patchwork plan. I did some maths, selected ten half-yard pieces that were hanging around and chopped them with the rotary cutter into one hundred 11 cm squares.

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Arranging the squares randomly is never as easy as one thinks.


Then I had doubts about my maths and added a narrow strip around the edge. And decided to pipe the edge with some robust stripy stuff.


Things at Sewing at Damgate have been busy lately – the workroom has expanded to accommodate more sewers and we are now holding regular all day workshops. This has called into play my trusty old Bernina Nova which is forty years old now and still going strong.

I love this machine!


This is an old piping foot in action.


And I think this is a quarter inch patchwork foot ploughing through the patches, some wadding and a lining.


I think the seat cushions look a bit weird actually, like two square mushrooms with tablecloths on them. And as soon as anyone sits on this they will be like pancakes, Dan Brown will probably give up the ghost and it will be time to play the furniture game again – for therapeutic reasons.


March 26, 2016 · 6:15 pm

Recipe for a Skirt


One piece of fabric, 1.5 to 2 metres should cover it easily, depending on what decade you are living in

Some poppers – root around in the button box to find a few

One button, any colour


Rip off a narrow strip of fabric long enough to go round your waist, with an extra 10cm to be the overlap for a button and buttonhole. Fold it in half lengthways, press.

Take the rest of the fabric, pleat or gather it along its long edge and join it to the narrow strip.


Test for length and stitch it all together. I thought I would make a small sample skirt to illustrate this. Note to self – never go into the dolls’ clothes-making business. Now I’m worried that it will look like a weird Borrowers costume, with giant pins and a huge button. For a more normal version of this skirt see 195o’s Dirndl Skirt Remake

I tend not to put zips in things – preferring the placket. This is such a lovely opening, ideal for a full, unstructured skirt.The waistband joins with a button and the placket closes with a few press-studs. I have sewn these in red, to make them show up, using waxed double thread and buttonhole stitch. No strain is put on the poppers so they don’t come undone.


Alternatively you could use buttons and buttonholes – like a button fly on a pair of Levi’s, the buttons obscured from view under a margin of fabric. At the base of the opening there is a small bar tack, also reinforced with buttonhole stitch, the idea being that this small piece of stitching will prevent any accidental ripping.


Here is how to do it with an illustration from Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework 1939-ish


I have made versions of this skirt many times over the last 40 years – even got married in a couple – on separate occasions you understand. The earliest one I clearly remember was in dark green cotton, with a lurex thread running through it – which sounds hideous and tasteless, but it was actually lovely and subtle. It had a slight check to it as well. It was 1979, Polanski’s Tess was on at the cinema and clothes were all about the romantic arts of scrubbing and lighting fires and pulling turnips. In fact, in this still from the film, I think Nastassja Kinski is actually wearing my skirt!


I remember sporting it with a huge viscose scarf wrapped and folded and tied and twizzled around my hair. And some flat suede boots in grey, which may have been men’s but at least they fitted me. The skirt was long, mid-calf, and the lower foot of the hem area had about ten very small tucks, running parallel. I wore it until it fell apart. We lived in a freezing cold flat in Muswell Hill, and I seem to remember wearing some sort of underskirt with it, to add another layer and be more like Tess. And tights of course. And socks and leg warmers. It really was cold. We all wanted to live in Hardy’s farmyard mud and look beautiful and sleep in the attic over the barn.

I must also confess to making a perfectly monstrous version of it, and wearing it just once, to a posh party. I must have looked like a visiting court jester. I had bought some jumbo corduroy – a yard of blue and a yard of red. For some reason I liked the fabric but had skimped on the purchase, so made the skirt in wide red and blue stripes.


This is probably the look I was going for, a dress of beautiful  slender stripes and the exquisite bohemian style of Egon Schiele’s wife. Mine was an embarrassing travesty.



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Saturday afternoon dilemma

It is a wet afternoon in Norfolk. The house is quiet, apart from the slosh of the dishwasher. And here’s the dilemma. It concerns choices.

Option 1 – a bloody great stack of ironing which, with something decent on Radio 4, wouldn’t be too bad I suppose. But just look at it! I have tried to capture in the photograph the hugeness and irksomeness of the task but I’m not certain I’ve done it full justice.


Option 2 – this is the triangular scarf thing I started a couple of months ago. The intention was to finish up lots of small amounts of Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. I began to run out of the brighter shades so I decided the left hand side would be intentionally dark. It has seen me through the whole of Bake Off, a full season of Gardener’s World (even the trips to arboretums and gravel gardens), Lady Chatterley and The Go Between. And now it’s finished – sort of. And I am bereft without knitting. There are a few ends to sew in. Then the edge to sort out, which is going to be crocheted, but I don’t really know what I’m doing with a crochet hook beyond cat blankets, so …



Option 3 – finish off this long top which so far I quite like. It is made up in some lovely soft cotton from Merchant and Mills using Vogue V1177 pattern that I found at The Knit and Stitch about four years ago. The picture on the envelope is not quite the look I’m going for. I shall be wearing it with sturdy leg coverings, some sort of liberty bodice and probably the aforementioned scarf. The task is a nice one though – sew on the buttons and slipstitch the hem. But you see I’m not being honest because …



Option 4 has just arrived in the post!


This is 800 grams of beautifully packaged Double Knitting wool from Blacker Yarns who are based in Cornwall. It is still wrapped in its grey tissue paper, tied with matching wool – I can’t bear to spoil it! It’s just the colour I wanted, a serviceable navy blue, and I’m sure nobody will notice if I put on an old film or boxed set and get started!



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Summer knitting

Summer is not the best  time for knitting. Autumn is my favourite, when darkness shrinks the days and the fire can be lit. This is the best time for embarking on a new project. For a long time I have been making do with the wool I have had in stock, which is mostly  the 4 ply equivalent from the wonderful Jamieson and Smith up in the Shetland Islands. They call it 2 ply jumper weight. I have bought loads of this in all their amazing colours and once bought on impulse, a ton of red, quite out of character for me as I described in The Tyranny of Red Wool.

Well, this autumn I am going to  trawl through the patterns again, think very carefully and then splash out on the right wool in the right amount and therefore not mix dye batches. Until then, I am making a strange triangular scarf out of all the remnants – at the moment it reminds me of an Oxfam blanket.


I am aiming for roughly square shapes, but I don’t think it matters if they drift towards rectangles. Each square is 12 stitches wide and probably 16 rows high, worked on size 10 needles in stocking stitch. At the end of each row of squares I add a triangle. It’s not the easiest knitting, there’s a fair bit of guess work and masses of tangles. I am cutting the approximate length for each square first and sewing the ends in on the back as I go along to reduce the muddle. It’s easy to pick up and put down and there isn’t much real thinking involved, only decisions about which colour to use next from a steadily diminishing and knotty range. When it’s finished I will attempt to crochet an edge all around to somehow bind the whole thing together.



Also, by way of a confessional, I thought I would include the final pictures of the red 1940s cardigan. I certainly don’t want to put it on at the moment. I’m not sure I will ever feel that cold or even that bold. But it is finished and I’m not undoing it ever again. I think they call it closure.


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Linen sheet, camisole vest


This is what the young call ‘a hack’. In the old days we called it ‘an alteration’. Much as I would like to sport a svelte profile as depicted by this young gel in shades, realistically that ship sailed years ago. Fortunately the Burda 7051 (bought for my daughter) is a multi-sized pattern ranging from size 6 to size 18. I know which one I prefer. So I traced off Look C in the more comfortable matron’s size and then did some changes. I want this garment to be a camisole top, to be worn under several other layers of clothing throughout the long harsh winters we get in Norfolk, rather like the goose fat bodice of yesteryear that children were reputedly sewn into. Or maybe it could just be a handy white vest.

I wanted to make it out of an old linen sheet I had, its middle section worn to a cobweb, but the outer areas still serviceable. I also wanted to  incorporate the decorative hem which has a line of faggoting between the folded edge and the main sheet.


Sadly, like so many words to do with sewing and needlecraft, the word faggoting has disappeared from the modern dictionary. Fortunately Mary Thomas has it in her Embroidery Book of 1936 – I feel she must have been like the Mary Berry of the sewing world from between the wars. I love the way she tells us to tack both hems to a strip of stout brown paper, which I believe also played its part in the goose grease undergarment arrangement.


Anyway, the original pattern uses a long zip down the centre back, not very camisole-like. So I decided to sew up the CB and cut a new seam in the centre front – adding buttonhole extensions and facings – thus making it more comfortable against the skin and easier to put on. The faggotted edging looked as though it might work well as the hem of the two fronts, unfortunately not enough to do the back as well.


This is half way through, pinned, part machined, part tacked. At this point I was still wondering what to do with the armholes. The pattern says bind them, so I did, using this cunning gadget.


This is a new acquisition for me, having managed for years cutting and guessing and folding and fiddling. I love it! It felt like a big outlay at first, but now feels like money well spent. So I made up yards of 18mm binding and decided to bind the neck and armholes at the edges of the seam allowances, rather than on the seam line, thus giving 1.5 cm extra width all round. And the binding shows rather than being folded out of sight.  IMG_4859

Seven buttonholes and shell buttons spaced fairly close together finish it off, and at the top of the button stand I have put a tiny press stud and a small button and loop to hold it together neatly.



I’m going to look out for more old linen, pillowcases with embroidery, linen table cloths, maybe even serviettes (clean ones)  that could be turned into serviceable underwear!


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Tea towels and an old bag

Last year I bought a pack of three cotton tea towels in Waitrose. I was seduced by the soft white cotton and fresh blue stripes. I wanted to make something from them but had no burning ideas. So after unpicking their machined edges they were filed along with all the random three or four metre lengths of bargain fabric that seemed like a good buy in the shop, but then at home somehow never quite match the project I want to get cracking with. The tea towels would make lovely linings for small purses and bags and pencil cases and needle cases. But again – not really urgent projects.

Meanwhile, on the sofa, two saggy feather cushions have been crying out for covers for years. I think the originals were washed once and then considered far too faded and dreary to put back on. A Sunday afternoon moment brought cushions and tea towels together. I used one tea towel, folded in half and stitched round three sides with minimum seam allowance, for the smaller cushion and found some blue tape to make very simple tie closures.

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For the other cushion I used the two remaining tea towels for back and front. Rather than lose the wonderful blue stripes I put lots of pin tucks in the plainer tea towel to reduce its width. There was a bit of excess fabric trimmed from the other tea towel, enough to make some more ties. This one has a more generous amount of fabric at the opening which works better.

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There must be hundreds of other things to do with tea towels. Any thoughts?

Here’s another make do and mend project. This was a dress that was once wearable, but the heavy fabric made it feel rather like pulling a stout envelope over your head, or actually more like a canvas tent. Inspired by a cross between one of my student’s enormous tote bags Gallery, and the current style of quick release bicycle panniers, I have chopped up the dress and made it into a large overnight bag. Lined with some heavy cotton casement it might just work.



As usual there wasn’t quite enough material. So the handle had to be scraps and offcuts joined together, reinforced with a length of the casement.

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I’m going to leave it without a fastening rather like a paper round delivery bag. The dress’s two patch pockets ended up on the front and back, perfect for tickets and passport.


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