Knitting Gifts With Super Chunky Wool


Looking for a simple scarf to make as a gift? I have just the pattern for you! This is the Embraceable Cowl pattern from Phydeaux Designs. I made a 56-inch length scarf version with 10mm needles and two balls of Debbie Bliss Roma in Blaze. This wool comes in some fantastically intense colours. I’m very tempted by the Hot Pink.

This is a super-fast and easy make. It took one weekend to knit the below and I wasn’t even applying myself:

Scarf knittingThis scarf is a gift for a fellow Londoner who kindly walks Ella. She worships him. I mean, worships. A girl could get offended, know what I’m saying?

I wanted a scarf pattern that a man would be happy to wear. I think this ticks that box. I’m not sure every bloke would embrace my chosen colour, but I’m working on the assumption that if Ella’s dog walker doesn’t like this shade, he’ll have someone he can share the knitting love with.

The good news is that I bought four balls of this wool, so I can make a second scarf in plenty of time for Christmas. If Ella will let me give the next one away.

Are you planning to make any Christmas gifts this year?

Ella and scarf

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A Needle Pulling Thread – Listen Now!

A Needle Pulling Thread

When two readers in one day email you about the same thing, you need to sit up and pay attention. Miriana and Judy urged me to listen to a radio episode they’d both enjoyed and they wanted me to alert you, too.

I have only one word of advice when you listen to this Radio 4 programme. Have a box of tissues to hand. (Please be aware that features don’t stay up for ever on the BBC iPlayer. Listen soon.)

I enjoyed this radio programme very early before work, practising bound buttonholes. Ooh – buttonholes! Nothing like using your own e-book to see whether or not instructions work.

Bound Buttonhole Testing

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Sew Over It, Islington Opens

Sew Over It Door, IslingtonLast Sunday I was invited to enjoy an afternoon of sewing at the new Islington branch of Lisa Comfort’s Sew Over It. Door to door, this place is a 43-minute journey from my home, so there was no doubt that I was going to pop by.

On a quiet Islington street, and only a short walk from a pub that looks perfect for after-sewing meet-ups, the new store is painted an unmissable purple. As dusk fell, the place became disgustingly pretty.

Sew Over It,Islington

Several of Lisa’s patterns are available to stroke as they stand on mannequins. I was particularly impressed by the Joan dress (available with classes) and I bought a copy of the Pussy Bow Blouse.

There is a nice selection of fabrics and notions here. But my favourite feature is the teaching space, overlooked by this huge, Dickensian window. I understand that with space at a premium, many London shops are obliged to hold their classes in a converted basement. But I do like to see natural light. It’s hard to go below ground for a lesson, especially in the summer.

Which is lucky, because I’ve already signed up for the Ultimate Trouser class at this store. Will I see you there?

Lisa Comfort's Sew Over It, Islington

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Are You A Customer Or A Community?

Le Chien A La Mode

A blog review? Or free marketing? And do we care?

When I’m not sewing like a maniac, I work in the business of book publishing. It’s one of many creative fields that faces huge changes in its relationship with customers. Yesterday, I attended a panel talk from lawyers who represent game, film and music industries, as well as Ye Olde Worlde of books.

The most fascinating part of the talk (for me at least – I’m sure other people were geeking out over other details) came from the lawyer who dealt with the gaming industry. He started using the word ‘community’ instead of ‘customer’ – an important shift in vocabulary, I felt.

This made me think a lot about the sewing online community and the businesses embedded therein. Especially when the debate turned to the benefits and dangers of free content, honest or biased online reviews from community members, free marketing and how the world of creative retail is changing. Gone are the days when a customer silently coughed up their money and tugged their forelock in gratitude at a product delivered. Long gone. Customers, communities – call them what you like – now have a strong sense of ownership over the brands they’ve helped create and continue to support.

I walked back to the office thinking of blog sewalongs, pattern reviews, online forums, pattern publishers in my Instagram feed, tantalising free downloads, sponsored goodie bags, giveaways, books published, new subscription services being launched… There was only obvious conclusion I could draw. Sewing strode at the forefront of change lawyers and publishing professionals had just been debating in a room overlooking the River Thames.

This thought gave me cause for huge cheer. Only a few years ago Joe Public would have patted us on the head for holding a needle and thread instead of a briefcase. More fool Joe Public. We’re industry leaders!

Ours is a vigorous, challenging, joyous community. We’re also customers with voices. But, which comes first for you? Are you a member of a community or a customer? Is this something you even consciously think about? And who draws the line in the sand?

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Sewing Trousers

Burda 7017Did I know how to sew trousers? No. But two Sewists* shamelessly Twitter goaded me into buying Burda 7017 (currently available for £2.93 here!) and some stretch cotton jaquard from The Man Outside Sainsburys.

For all those people out there who think they don’t know how to sew trousers, let me tell you – this was one of the most enjoyable sewing experiences I’ve had for ages. During the process, I was deeply reminded of the twin factors that first propelled me into sewing. Love of learning and a perfectionist streak. These trousers are by no means perfect, but the touch paper has definitely been lit. I want to make more trousers and make them better.

Burda 7017 detailsIf you have a similair perfectionist streak, you may just have found your drug of choice. Look at all the details you can geek out over! Pleats, fly fronts, cuffs, waist bands and belt bands… So many details to get right. Heaven.

Trouser CollageI cut out true to my size and the fit was great, other than around the waist. But the back seam, one of the last steps, allowed me to adjust fit. I took out a huge 1.5 inch chunk from either back seam at the waist, grading back out to normal seam allowances to accommodate my toosh. I took an inch out of the leg length and lowered the waistline by an inch.

Seams were either overlocked or pinked with pinking scissors. I did quite a lot of pinking, because the construction was such new territory for me. With dresses and skirts, I can look ahead and judge when to overlock a raw seam before construction. Not with these! I was entering unknown territory – and enjoying every moment.

Burda trousers and Ella

I love my new trousers! Seriously, guys – go for it. Burda 7017 is a cracking pattern and I honestly didn’t find it that difficult. I do think these would look even better in a fabric with a tiny bit more drape. Thankfully, TMOS has already sold me the perfect wool/silk mix.

Are you tempted to make trousers? Or are you already a trouser expert? If so, any top tips? I’m bitten by the bug.

* Thank you to What Katie Sews and Scruffy Badger for encouraging me to overcome my fear of sewing trousers.

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Being Nagged By The Hawthorn Dress

Hawthorn CollarThe prettiest collar ever?

Anyone remember the dress I had to throw away? I cut it out again. Correction. I cut it out again twice. Initially, from a heavy turquoise cotton – which I realised I loathed. Hospital scrubs, anyone? So I pulled out this African wax cotton gifted to me by Rosie of DIY Couture. Thank you, Rosie!

I’ve never worked with wax cotton before, despite the fact that several stalls sell it on Walthamstow market. I confess, some of it I find kind of ugly. But not this! Here’s what I never quite understood. When you wash wax cotton it really softens up, but still has a certain stiffness to it that makes it behave beautifully. I now bitterly regret the African wax cottons I considered and then dismissed at the fabric district of Paris.

This Hawthorn dress was such a fun make, playing with the colours pink and purple. I particularly love how my topstitching changes from pink to purple as the collar flips over.

Hawthorn topstitching detail

Hawthorn DressOoh, that skirt drape makes the print look really twisted. It isn’t. There was a lot of careful pattern matching. Well, until it came to cutting out the back bodice. Then, I placed my directional print the wrong way round. Meh, I could care less.

Pattern matching Collage

I made loads of changes to make this dress a just-about-success rather than a failure. I went down two whole sizes in the bodice and sleeves, and made a Full Bust Adjustment. I took an inch off the bodice depth. I widened out by millimetres at the waist to accommodate my thick middle. I tweaked and played, tweaked and played. Mostly, I played.

When this dress hung on my dress form, it really reminded me of the dresses I saw in the Horrockses dress exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum I attended a gazillion years ago with Tilly and the Buttons and Fehr Trade. That was my first ever sewing meet-up, back in 2010. What an age ago, that seems.

So this dress reminds me of friends, it reminds me not to give up, it reminds me to have fun. Alright, dress, enough already! Stop nagging me, jeez. I get the message. Sewing. It’s basically one massive metaphor for life, isn’t it?

Pink Button

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Failing – It’s All A Matter Of Perspective

Sewing Fail

If I was in the workplace, I wouldn’t be calling this a fail. It would be a learning curve, a challenge, part of a wider strategy and a reach for best practice. It definitely wouldn’t be a fail. But it is. A fail.

On Saturday morning I was on Instagram, proudly photographing my WIP. By Sunday evening, I was trying on my new dress and watching the twisted front seams flap about. This would never be a dress to wear outside of the house or in front of witnesses, so it went into the bin and I went back to the sofa, surprisingly sanguine and with a minimum of swearing.

I was entirely undone by fabric choice. Bought cheap as chips off Walthamstow market, it had a lovely drape – too much drape for my dress. And it was riddled with faults, some of which ran straight down the front of my bodice. Ultimately, I should never have cut this stuff out.

It’s not entirely a wasted experience – nothing ever is. I thought I’d go through some of the lessons I learnt, making a dress I’d never wear.

Adjustments: I needed to take a good inch off the bodice length and I’m thinking of going down a size and doing an FBA.

Sizing: I thought I’d cut out the right size, but I was swimming in this dress. I’m going to go back and measure the paper pattern pieces to get a better picture of sizing.

Tweaking collar seam: on a second make, I’d shave a few mm from the under collar’s seams to allow for ‘turn of cloth’. This technique (magnificently explained here) allows the seam line to roll neatly out of view. This isn’t covered in the pattern instructions, but I know about this step and should have employed it.

Order of steps: there are some steps I’d tackle at a different stage in the sewing.

Familiarity: I am now familiar with the pattern, it’s fresh in my mind and I should be able to work on a second make much more quickly.

Fabric choice: I won’t work with something full of faults (!) and I shall work with something that presses crisply. I have just the fabric in my stash. I should have saved my pennies at the market.

So! No lesson is ever wasted. Not even lessons in failure. I’m going to truck right on into a second make. I shan’t tell you what the pattern is – I should be able to show you soon. Hopefully.

Tell me, please – what lesson did you learn by failing?

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative. Woody Allen

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Burning Issues Of Our Time – Buttons!

Buttons collageI was recently ordering buttons for my latest make – a variation on a shirt dress, if all goes according to plan. 12 half inch buttons, that’s all I needed. But when I keyed my search term into a well-known online bidding site, I was overwhelmed with choice.

The heart-shaped buttons were oh-so-tempting. The ickle flower buttons made me melt. But in the end I ordered 12 fish eye buttons. Plain, simple circles. Buttons that would do their job with a minimum of fuss and no demands. Sensible buttons.

This is my dilemma. I really love the novelty buttons. I have a whole jar of novelty buttons. What could be more cute than a button shaped like a fish?! And yet, and yet… They sit all higgeldy piggeldy, no matter how carefully they’re sewn on. They catch on buttonholes, straining them. And they make me look like I’m in kindergarten. (Mmmmm… Scheduled afternoon naps with rows of little bodies. Remember that?)

I do love that my photo of ‘sensible’ buttons includes one with a red anchor! What’s your take? Would you throw caution to the wind and sew on a button in the shape of a fat buddha or Johnny Cash’s guitar? Or do you tread the path of caution? It’s a tricky one to call. Especially when a little cat with two holes in its ribs is giving you a whiskery smile… Choose me, Karen!

cat button

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Knitting My First Socks

SocksThese are the very first socks I’ve ever knitted, using this excellent free sock knitting tutorial. They were made using just over one skein of Malabrigo Worsted wool and bamboo double pointed knitting needles. How long did this project take me? Er, eight months!

KnittingI knitted up the first sock in February and couldn’t quite bring myself to cast on the second sock. Apparently, this is known as Second Sock Syndrome. Who knew? It’s a bit like running laps – and I’m bad at that, too. I finally got round to my second lap in October.

Which is why I’m very tempted that my next foray should be the Hippity-hop sock pattern from Loop. The socks mirror each other, which means they’re slightly different in the knitting, which keeps things interesting. Is this pattern over ambitious for a sock newbie?

Socks ii

In case you’re a sock newbie too, I can assure you that this isn’t so hard and it is fascinating to learn how a sock is constructed.

I intend to use these as bed socks, but I have a question for the sock experts out there. Well, several questions.

  • How do hand knitted socks stay up when you’re wearing them out and about? There’s no elastic.
  • How do you bear to wear hand knitted socks inside shoes or boots that are going to pill and distort the wool?
  • When you’re down pat, how long does it take you to knit a sock?

They are all my questions for now. I’m sure I’ll think of more! Oh yes – any sock patterns you recommend? I may have caught the bug. They’re easy to knit on commutes and they only take … eight months to make!

Would you knit socks?

Socks iiiUPDATE I’ve already thought of another question. How do you wash your hand knitted socks? Thanking you!


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Hibernating Hedgehog

The winner of the Jo Clark giveaway is Maxi! She wins the 12 Dogs Of Christmas multipack of cards. I’ll be in touch for a postal address, my friend.

JCDFrenchBulldogTurkey_04Are your making habits changing as spiders cast their webs, mice scurry indoors, leaves turn golden and bed socks look appealing? Mine are! My urgent and only desire right now is to hunker down on the sofa with knitting and a dog to cuddle. We’re all animals at heart, and right now I’m channelling a hibernating hedgehog! Though hopefully, not quite as spikey…


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