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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Dungaree Dress Disaster Diverted!

Dungaree dress close upThis is my second make of the Turia dungarees – this time as a pinafore dress! A really easy process, following this tutorial. Not that this was an easy make. Ever felt tripped up by fate and fortune? I have…

Metal buttonDo not, under any circumstances, buy Prym dungaree fittings. I’m not even going to provide a web link. What an abomination! One good thump of a hammer and the shank point came straight through my button head. One button then promptly fell apart and the other one could not be removed from my dungaree dress for love nor money. I eventually cut – cut! – it out, and have never been so grateful for the darning stitch on my Bernina.

Abomination CollageI sewed on some lovely 1950s buttons but you’ll now never see those because the straps of my dungarees have since had to be knotted. It turns out, the buckle’s teeth aren’t sharp enough to stop straps from working their way loose. You couldn’t make it up!

Rant over. I cheered myself by hemming the dress with a pretty embroidery stitch.

Embroidered hemI think I rescued all my hard work. The dress is made from an absolutely fantastic cotton twill I bought from Belle Fabrics in Leigh-on-Sea. I’m tempted to phone in another order. Unbelievably, this shop doesn’t have a website though I did feature it in my run down of Top Ten Fabric Shops in the UK. If you’re ever in the area (and you really should visit Leigh-on-Sea) I would dart in and scoop up some of this twill.

dungaree dress ivI am very happy with my lapped zipper on this make. These days, I baste shut the seam lines over the zip before I machine sew. Otherwise, I find that the lapped seams spread, exposing the zip.

Basted lapped zipper

Lapped zipperThis dress was quite the journey! Worth it, though. I have a super-comfy outfit for weekend wear. In fact, I’m about to wear it up the pub to meet a friend. Ella is fast asleep, having spent the day scaring geese, leaping into ponds, barking at old men, chasing squirrels and disturbing the woman we discovered sleeping in a bed of long grass at Epping Forest. It’s a dog’s life!

Dungaree dress by tree

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Meeting Makers – The Book Illustrator

Le Chien A La Mode

How do you illustrate a book? Want to find out what it’s really like drawing scenes for a knitting pattern? Then give a big welcome to Jo Clark, illustrator on the charming and delightful Woolly Woofers from Debbie Bliss! Jo agreed to an interview AND a special animal-themed Christmas giveaway. So keep reading for a chance to win…

Karen: Welcome, Jo! First of all, I’d love to hear how you came to be involved in the Woolly Woofers book.

Jo: Hello! I was lucky enough to be approached by Quadrille Publishing. I think they had spotted my work on my website. They asked me to provide a sample illustration for the project which they explained a little bit about. I was, of course, very excited about the whole thing and got to work straight away!

K: How did you compose your absolutely fantastic scenes around the dogs featured in the photo shoot?

J: Ah well thank you, so glad that you like them, I really had such a fantastic time on this project. I was given a few words as a brief to describe each scene, together with photos of the cute pooches in their gorgeous jumpers and coats.

I just let my imagination run away with me, helped along with a few reference photos for things that I’d never seen before such as a streetcar. The only rule I had were that there were to be no humans in the scenes; this was an animal-only world. Which made it a perfect job for me! I tend not to put backgrounds in a lot of my pictures so it was a real treat to go back to creating a full colour double page spread, as I originally trained as a  children’s book illustrator.

highland dog

K: Can you tell us a little bit about your technique and process? What mediums do you use and how much computer work is involved?

J: Sure! I start off by sending a rough pencil sketch to the designer as my initial idea. Then when they are approved I create the final artwork. I start on a clean sheet and lay the colour down first using marker pens. Then I put in details over the top, using a nice soft pencil or a fine retractable pencil for the smaller details. I then scan the drawing, usually adjust the contrast and brightness on Photoshop, or clean up any marks that I may not want in the picture. I managed to sneak my cat Daisy into the book in a couple of places too. She’s the black and white moggy!

Note from Ed: I don’t think Jo’s being entirely truthful here. More than one cat sneaked into this book

Cats Collage

K: You specialise in illustrating animals. Can you describe a few of the challenges and pleasures of this type of subject?

J: Yes, I draw animals and creatures because I think they are so important to us, and we should look out for them whenever we can. And, of course, they’re cute! Animals have a certain mystery about them – they can’t speak to us, but they can communicate feelings in their own ways. I want my drawings to be able to capture that. So sometimes this can be tricky, especially as I work from photographs mostly.

To try and keep the freshness of  character I will often spend a lot of time looking at photographs and then try and draw from memory. Sometimes it works really well, other times not. I think the most rewarding thing is when I get such a positive reaction and my work makes someone happy. That is my main aim with my pictures, to brighten up someone’s day with a smile.

K: Do you have any advice for people who’d like to turn their creative skills into a career?

J: Always work to your strengths and do what you love, as it will show through. Remember that making mistakes is all part of the learning process. Just keep going and step forward. Never stop believing in yourself and realise that your work is probably not for everyone, but it will always be for someone. Your job is to find them!

K: If there was a single dog in the whole world that you would really love to illustrate who would SHE be? Would she be a MINIATURE SCHNAUZER? Would her name begin with ‘E’ and end in ‘A’?

J: Oh, it’s funny you should ask me that. I’m just getting a great urge to draw a Miniature Schnauzer called … Ella! Watch this space…


And now Jo would like to make our readers happy. One lucky person has a chance to win Jo’s Twelve Dogs of Christmas multipack of cards. To enter the giveaway, all we ask is that you visit Jo’s website and leave a comment below letting us know what your favourite product is. I’m quite tempted by the Tea Owl Tea Towel!

This giveaway is open worldwide and closes at midnight GMT Monday 13 October. Good luck! And a huge thank you to Jo, who you can follow on Twitter @joclarkdesign.

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Sewing A Silk Kimono Cardigan

Kimono CardiganI recently bought nine metres of silk for £25 in a sample sale. It’s liberating owning silk that costs only £2.70 a metre – you get adventurous. Enter the Kimono Cardigan, after I saw two versions on a friend’s blog.

I’ve felt ambivalent about this summer’s trend for kimono tops. I truly love the aesthetic, as it sits with my lifetime obsession with The Great Gatbsy and all things flapper. But I never have enjoyed the athletic figure to make me a true flapper girl and kimono tops are not as flattering as we would wish their drapes to be. Drapes which hang from the widest part of a figure. For anyone with a sizeable chest, this means that your waist line is not only hidden from view, it’s exaggerated.

Making this top – beautiful though I believe it to be – did nothing to change my opinion. I’ve photographed it as day wear, but I intend to use it as house wear, with jim jams and loose tops. But what very beautiful house wear. Who could possibly complain?

Kimono Cardigan iiFor the first time in a long time, I used French seams on every detail. I honestly don’t think I’ve sewn a French seam since I bought my overlocker. Overlockers are great for speed, but I did feel sad to realise it had been sooooo long since I’d indulged in this touch of quality that speaks only of care and time taken.

Kimono Cardigan iiiThere are loads of free kimono top tutorials on the web, but I was taken by this one because extra care was taken over hem bands and a graded front seam that gives a waterfall effect. If you use the same tutorial, please be aware that seam allowances are added further into the video – don’t take first measurements as sacrosanct.

It’s easy to think, Kimono? It’s just a bunch of rectangles. Well, yes. But this does mean that you’ll want to take so very much care. As you can see from the above, every seam will easily fall out on show.

Silk fabricIsn’t this silk fabulous? What is that print? Amoeba?! It was a devil to get a needle through. Even my teeniest, finest Japanese hand sewing needle did not want to penetrate that warp and weft. A sign of quality? Can someone let me know? I have about eight more metres to use up.

For a fascinating history of the kimono, visit the V&A here. And here‘s one of the best sewing blog posts I’ve ever read, about making a wedding dress out of vintage kimono silk.

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Brilliant Because

I have read so many explanations of late. People explaining why they agree to test a pattern. Or not test a pattern. Why they engage with blog tours – or not. Why they talk about their personal lives, or keep things private. Why they’re part of a blogging network or have left one. Why they feel obliged to organise book tours. Why they have to admit to burn out. Why, why, why. Worst case for me? People feeling why they should justify friends.

I keep hearing the question ‘why’ around blogging, but I crave the word ‘because’.

So, I’ll start if off, and here’s my list:

Because it gives me creative satisfaction.

Because I answer to no one other than myself.

Because I can sit up in bed at 5am to compose a blog post or…

Because I can not blog for a week if I’m knackered.

Because I can talk endlessly about my dog and no one tells me to shut up. Ella, I love you!!!

Ella Reviews Woolly WoofersBecause I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m just sharing.

Because blogging is my safe haven when the rest of life might be pants.

Because blogging gives me lifelong friends.

Because blogging is great. No, it’s joyous!

Because blogging.


It’s a great word, isn’t it? A bold statement. It doesn’t ask for permission.

Whether you blog, sew, knit, make fudge, care for others, get through the week and simply survive or have a particular talent for picking your nose, I want to know what you’re proud of.

Let’s make a pact. To dedicate today to feeling good about ourselves. For 24 hours, to celebrate the joy of blogging. And don’t ever forget – you don’t need permission to be brilliant. You just can’t help it!



Baby Ella (three months old) with my mum (age undisclosed). 

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An Open Letter To The Publisher of Sewtionary

Adobe Photoshop PDFDear Krause Publications

I’m sure you are very proud of yourselves for publishing Tasia St Germaine’s debut book, Sewtionary. How clever you must feel. How very timely. Sirs, your timing could not have been worse!

I trawled through the 101 photo-illustrated sewing tips. Arranged alphabetically. In a spiral bound format. Oh yes, indeed, it was very nice to have the book laying flat beside my sewing machine so that I could see ALL THE THINGS I HAD DONE WRONG ON PAST MAKES.

If you insist on publishing exemplary sewing books, in return I must insist that you publish them much earlier on in my sewing career. Multitudinous foul ups could have been avoided if I’d had Tasia’s remarkable reference tool to hand. 

Shame on you, sirs! Your selfishness leaves me almost speechless. Almost…

Remember my gentle wail, requesting sewing books that weren’t aimed at the total beginner? A few days after writing that, I propped myself up in bed to read The Sewtionary. I flicked through the pages slowly at first, then turning faster and faster. I couldn’t believe it. The little genius that was Tasia had written a book absolutely crammed with tips, and it wasn’t all aimed at the beginner.

Little gems and sparkling jewels of expert information nestled beside basics. Really clever little details that could make a big difference. Had you ever heard of zero stitch? Did you know how to bar tack? Ever seen ten photos and three pages of instructions on belt loops? Me, neither! And I was only on page 22! She’s like a smuggler, I thought, excitedly. Sneaking intermediate information into a beginner sewing book.

This book tells you how hair clips can help your sewing (true!), how to work with hair canvas and horsehair braid (Tasia’s clearly obsessed by hair), quilting interlining, sewing a lapped seam, making a press cloth (my own tips here)… The list goes on and on. Guys, there are two pages devoted to pre-washing your fabric!

If only I’d read The Sewtionary before… Which of my makes could Tasia have helped?

V8548 coat

When I made the V8548 coat, I initially put my sleeve heads in the wrong way. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d referred to page 192 of Tasia’s book!


I loved making my two Archer shirts, but struggled with the sleeve plackets and wish I’d had Tasia’s three pages of illustrated instructions to follow.

So, I think you can see that I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I was sent a PDF copy to review but I am sooooo ordering a hard copy to sit beside my most-loved reference tool, The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

Tasia has written a wonderful, wonderful book. Is this a future classic? Let it be so!

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The Language of Sewing

Sew magazine featureIt’s been a busy week or so, doing a lot of talking about sewing. I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in this month’s Sew magazine, highlighted as Blog of the month. When asked why I started a blog I replied, ‘Because I wanted to engage more actively in the conversation.’ I had the opportunity to do just that when I joined a bunch of sewing friends at Tilly Towers.

Sewing at Tilly Towers

Tilly Towers

Being a contrary soul, I sat there knitting. Ooobop and I had a very entertaining conversation about how we were both taught you should never, on pain of death, abandon knitting mid-row. I then promptly abandoned knitting mid-row in order to open some champagne.

Knitting at Tilly TowersThis week, I also ordered a copy of the now out-of-print The Gentle Art of Domesticity from Jane Brocket. Published in 2007, it still sells for quite a lot second hand, even though at the time of publication I believe there was some stir about it being anti-feminist. I certainly paused at the photos of aproned Jane pinning out a man’s office shirts on a washing line. Still, Jane is eloquent and clever and makes a valid point that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t knit, sew or embroider. I see her book as a landmark in the trajectory of craft publishing, and a very thought-provoking one at that.

Gentle Art of Domesticity

This all led me to think about the words we choose to use. Some people throw their hands up in horror at the term Sewist. I quite like it. It has a sparkiness to it. Other people would die rather than call themselves Seamstress, but I like that word too. There’s an echo of elegant timelessness. Though some people would only hear the ring of ‘old fashioned’ or ‘downtrodden’. Words are such very powerful tools, especially in this digital age. We should use them with care and kindness.

What do you call yourself? Would you rather die than be a Seamstress? And why does it matter?

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