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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1950’s Dirndl Skirt Remake

I found this skirt about five years ago in a secondhand clothes shop in Holt, North Norfolk. The waist band is tiny and there are a few mends. But the fabric is perfect for this full but gentle style, and the pockets, positioned on either side like two useful saddlebags, are wonderful. They are lovely and deep and hang open with a loose turn-down cuff, accentuating their symmetry. They are interlined with muslin which is so much nicer to work with than synthetic alternatives.


What is a dirndl skirt? The dictionary describes it as ‘a full, wide skirt with a tight waistband’. It also makes reference to an Alpine peasant costume.


Anyway, I really had to remake this one, scaling it up slightly to fit the model (see below). After a trial run with some beastly viscose, far too hideous to show, I procured a couple of metres of vaguely 50’s cotton print and here’s the result, seen  occasionally teamed with a moth-eaten, 1960’s charity shop find.



The skirt was very easy to make. It’s definitely going in the book – Old Clothes. And maybe with the right fabric the jacket would work as a remake? The original is a sturdy jersey and says 100% wool on the label .

So the team headed off to a well-lit location with a bag of props and some lagers, and the stylist got to grips with the wayward model.


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Brighton’s West Pier  delivered the perfect backdrop for a wistful look into the sunset.



Next post: – some sort of dress I think, suitable for garden labour.


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Simplicity Sewing Project




























I am entering the Simplicity Star Sewist Competition using their New Look pattern number 6145.  It is made up in a fine linen from MacCulloch and Wallis at 25-26 Poland Street, London W1F 8QN. The linen is a  blue and grey check and the pattern has been carefully matched throughout. It is interfaced with a fine muslin at the neck, cuffs and button bands.


There is one pocket on the right side, set at an angle, positioned  to just cross over the side seam. This is cut on the bias to contrast with the straight lines of the dress and has a trim of piping in a blue/green silk.

There is a small kick pleat in the centre back seam.

I changed the neckline into a shallow V shape.


I put buttons down the centre back to the waist, including a smaller button and loop at the top.


The sleeves have been cut with length enough to form a neat cuff .



The silk is also used to bind some of the raw edges on the wrong side of the dress giving a finer finish.

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