The Man Outside Sainsburys – Revealed!

The Man Outside Sainsburys

If you’ve ever been curious about the most important man in my life (the one who fuels my sewing addiction aka The Man Outside Sainsburys) here he is! I screwed up my courage and asked for a photograph. So now you know who to look out for, should you be visiting. If you’re a stranger to Walthamstow, it’s worth knowing that the market is Europe’s longest. You have to take quite a stroll to find this guy, but it’s soooo worth it. Look how Ella adores him! She recognises a purveyor of fine fabric when she meets one.

I didn’t have time to hang around and chat, though. Today has been mainly sewing with pink crepe. Apart from when I had to step away, too tired to think straight and convinced all my hard work needed to be thrown in the bin. Always best to take a walk in the sunshine, when that sewing mood descends.

Do you battle creative demons, telling you you’re a failure? Personally, I think self doubt is all part of the process. It’s just knowing how to manage it. Any tips?

Crepe Detail

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Contrasting Colour Thread – Would You?


Contrast Overlocker Thread

This is my current make in a gorgeous teal crepe. The seams are finished by overlocking in red thread because a) I couldn’t be bothered to change the threads, b) I like the contrast and c) no one will see this.

On the same make, there’s top stitching involved. I sewed that in matching thread because a) I couldn’t be bothered to change the threads, b) any issues with accuracy will become screamingly obvious and c) everyone will see this.


I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to contrast thread with topstitching and I pick my battles. I want to know that I have pretty good control of the fabric on the machine and I’ll use my number 57 Bernina foot to make sure things stay accurate. Then, maybe I’ll use a contrast thread. But if I was topstitching a collar in thick wool, I’d definitely choose matching thread, thanks very much. I don’t need to draw attention to any less than perfect sewing!

I have used contrasts with delightful results. This skirt still brings me pleasure every time I wear it.

baby-pink-collageI’ve also seen some very successful top stitching from other people. I’d love to know their secrets! Any tips, my friends? For example, I’ve never used specialist top stitching thread. Does it make a big difference?

And are you sometimes like me – too lazy to change your overlocker thread?



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Minerva Crafts Meet Up


And that’s when I buried the cross stitch in the back garden

This anecdote just about sums up my past weekend at the Minerva Crafts Meet Up. Memorable, full of laughs, surprises, fabric, shared experiences, new friends and outrageous stories. Oh, the stories… Few of them repeatable.

There were workshops and talks, quizzes, competitions, fabric discounts, bucks fizz, cake and really lovely new friends…





So, why was this idiot there? I’d been invited to present a talk on the topic of sewing. I chose for my theme ‘A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in.’ I wore a crown and promised to pass it on to the Perfect Sewing Queen, if she emerged by successfully answering six questions. It is with no little delight that I report no one in the audience could pass my less than rigorous test! We were united in our lack of perfection. Funny that…

I took several past makes to share and was happy to point out mistakes. As one attendee commented, ‘We all secretly like sharing the mistakes, don’t we?’ I think she’s right!


The weekend was without doubt a resounding success. Here are the reasons I particularly liked it:

Getting out of London. As a Derbyshire girl who relocated to The Big Smoke, I have a fair amount of sympathy with anyone who waves a hand in the air and reminds us all of life beyond the M25.

The weekend. I stayed over for two nights in Darwen. I really liked the flexibility this gave me. I could chat like a maniac and a short cab ride later, throw myself on a bed. I’m half social butterfly, half introvert and I recharge my batteries with periods of solitude. A hotel room provided me with exactly that.

The mix. I really, REALLY liked the fact that anyone and everyone was in attendance. I was particularly struck by the wide and all-encompassing age range. There we were, united in our adoration of creativity, comparing notes on patterns and fabric and wool, chatting about children and parents, life, bras, the universe… We had a right old gas! I’ve already ordered my mum to come to the next meet up.


The evening do. It was at Blackburn Rovers FC! I’ve never seen sewing and football united in such beautiful harmony. When a local DJ with a broad Lancashire accent pronounces, ‘These Minerva girls know how to have fun!’ you know it’s time to hit the dance floor.

I could go on and on and on. Am I allowed to admit I’m already hatching plans for the next Minerva Craft Meet Up, should there be one and should I be invited back?

Did you attend? Did you love it as much as I did? Would you consider organising something similair in your home town?







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April Rhodes’ Staple Dress

Staple DressThis is the April Rhodes’ Staple Dress, that I recently purchased as part of the third Pattern Parcel. It’s a corker! Only took me an evening and an early morning session to cut out and make, ahead of this weekend’s Minerva Craft Meet Up. (More on that later. The short version is I left my talk notes at home, the hotel messed up my booking – and I still managed to have the most awesome time in the history of the sewing universe!)

Back to the dress. I’d been waiting for just the right canvas for this silk/cotton mix bought from The Man Outside Sainsburys. I just love the print. It’s so 21st century! What IS it?

photo (14)

This dress is super-easy to make. It runs true to size, uses only five (count em!) pattern pieces and … that’s about it. The waist calls for shirring with elastic thread. I didn’t have any elastic thread and was in no mood for postage charges, so zig zagged a quarter inch elastic to my waistline. Job’s a good’un!

You want to know what I bought at Minerva Crafts, don’t you? This! On top is a John Kaldor linen and that cerise beauty is a triple crepe. What to make, what to make…

But the burning question is, would you wear a print like this?

Staple Dress ii

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Cutting Out – Which Method Do You Prefer?

Cutting Out

I was cutting out some fabric recently, becoming frustrated that my sharp new rotary cutter blade was struggling with the crepe. Then I thought, Why don’t I just use my shears? I’ve become so unthinking about using my (admittedly awesome) rotary blade for big pieces of cutting out that I sometimes forget my collection of scissors.

The pros and cons of a rotary blade?

You’ll need a cutting mat (the larger, the better) which is extra expense and will need storing when not in use. I bought mine a long time ago off eBay and keep it behind a side cupboard. You’ll also need replacement blades for your cutter – and to remember to buy them.

When cutting out, your fabric remains on the flat. You’re not lifting fabric to accommodate a blade on the underneath, which makes for much more accuracy. The blade can be like a knife through butter when it comes to long, straight cutting out. Can be. Depends on the fabric.

The pros and cons of a pair of shears?

More control over awkward details, a better slice through challenging fabrics and a satisfying ‘snipping’ sound! Can be used when laying fabric out on the floor and an easier initial investment for beginners. They’re best for notches and marking darts. And they look lovely.

Well, that’s just my opinion. Which side of the debate do you sit on? Rotary or scissors? And have I forgotten any pros or cons?

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Minerva Blooming Magnificent Prize & Meet Up

Minerva Giveaway

You know I mentioned a ‘second prize’ as part of my Sporty Summer Sewalong prizes? Yeah, I’d better rename that Blooming Magnificent Prize! You would not believe what Minerva Crafts are offering for whoever I choose as my second prize winner:

  • A basic sewing kit including a pair of scissors, thimble, unpicker, wrist pincushion, hand sewing needles, pins, point turner and button gauge and a tape measure.
  • An assortment of 16 metres of fabric including caravan print cotton poplin, plain black microfibre crepe, coral pink crinkle fauz suede, silver grey sateen suiting, ivory two-tone patterned linen and pink floral print lace.

Inspired to do some sporty sewing? I am! Do you think I can nominate myself as a winner? (Answer: no.)

If you’re facing Monday morning blues and wondering how to fill next weekend, you could do worse than make some last minute plans. Get your toosh over to Darwen, Lancashire for the Minerva Crafts Meet Up on 14 June. I’ll be talking, along with others, and I’m really looking forwards to meeting sewing friends, old and new. Maybe I’ll do some fabric shopping and I can’t wait to see what dresses the Minerva Crafts Network bloggers have been making. Be still, my beating heart!

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Hollyburn Skirt & Tiny Pocket Tank

Hollyburn Skirt & Tiny Pocket Tank

Hello, sunny happy sewing people! What are you up to this weekend? Ella and I have been chasing the rays, ducking the thunder storms. Someone asked me recently why my dog features in so many photos. The ultimate accessory? No, I’m just a single girl who lives on her own which means when I leave the house, so does my friend. I’m not gonna leave her cooped up indoors whilst I wrangle with a self-timer! Not when there are squirrels to chase!

She’s totally overdue a groom. You can see why she’s called The Dark Lord. Do you know what it feels like to be watched by that inscrutable face ? Ever had the sense that someone is judging and finds you lacking? Welcome to my life!

The Dark Lord

So, first off the confession. This latest version of the Hollyburn skirt is a total steal of someone else’s fabric inspiration. I recently bumped into House of Pinheiro and she was wearing this awesome dress, made from fabric bought from The Man Outside Sainsburys. Two questions made my heartbeat quicken:

The Man Outside Sainsburys has been unfaithful to me?

Why didn’t I buy some of that fabric?

So, I skedaddled over to the stall. Only one problem. There was a single metre left. ‘I’ll have it,’ I said, snatching it out of the stall holder’s hand. There ain’t no dignity in sewing and anyone telling you different is a liar.

What to make, what to make? I decided to go for the Hollyburn skirt, cut on the cross grain. This skirt is a bit of a fabric gannet, so I didn’t even have enough for the waistband. I cut that out of a solid black of a similair weight. I think it works! Absolutely love the drape of the fabric and this is going to make the perfect summer cycling skirt. When summer arrives.

The top is another Tiny Pocket Tank made from some Indian cotton I bought from Stone Fabrics. This cotton is really fine so you’d better make sure you’re working with a new needle in your machine.

Fabric Drying On The Line

Hollyburn Skirt

After all this sewing and dog walking, Ella and I stopped by our neighbour, artist Anja Jane, who is taking part in the annual E17 Art Trail, opening her home to visitors like me so that Ella can terrorise her cat. Another good reason for living in Walthamstow.

E17 Art TrailNow, I know what you’re thinking. Karen, when are you going to start sewing the culottes? Avoidance strategies? Moi? I’m not scared!

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Sporty Sewing – First Make!

Tiny Pocket Tank

I completed my first Sporty Sewing top by mistake! I had some fabric left over from my latest Afternoon Blouse and decided to make a Grainline Tiny Pocket Tank. As I sewed the last stitches I thought, This will be good for cycling in. Boom! I’d made something to exercise in, without even thinking about it. This top has since been worn for cycling and dog walking. It’s a winner! (Though looking at this shot, I really need to dig out that discarded bra and use it to pad my dressmaker’s form to my real bust size. What does one use for padding? Socks?! Hello, teenage self, long time no see.)

I find these basic tanks to be more challenging than they first appear. First off, bias binding. It makes for a lovely finish, but it’s fiddly and time consuming. Second off, third off, and fourth off – fit. This isn’t a stretch T-shirt, it’s a woven fabric, so good fit really does make a difference. I’ve applied an FBA, three adjustments of bodice darts, widened the shoulders, raised the front neckline and finally traced my adjustments onto Swedish tracing paper. Grainline’s pattern drafting is second to none, but with such a simple top you do need to make drafting work for you. Do you agree?

Colette Pattern

Finally, my vintage culotte pattern has arrived! Which means I can move onto my second Sporty Sewing make. I’m intrigued by the construction. What fabric would you use? A twill? Chambray? I’m torn. And when I say torn, I mean clueless. Help, please!

How are you getting on with your Sporty Sewing?


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Coco Dress In Metallic Dogtooth

Coco Dress in Metallic Dogtooth


Ever since making my Coco En Noir, it has been worn week in and week out. It’s a real go-to outfit for both home and the office, comfie as heck and keeps its silhouette wonderfully. So I’ve been on the look out for another stable knit in a good base colour. When my fingers squeezed and stretched this metallic dogtooth printed black knit, I knew immediately that I’d be buying two metres.

Coco Dress Dogtooth Detail

I used the wrong side of the fabric to create a contrast yoke and for the cuffs, just to break up the stretches of shiny dogtooth. This dress satisfies my love of black, grey and a touch of glitter. The fabric came from my recent trip to Goldhawk Road. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve worked with this pattern. How many times a week shall I wear this dress, I wonder?

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Blade Runner

Sewing Scissors

There comes a time in a Sewist’s life when you hope no one ever asks how many lethal objects you own.

But these aren’t weapons, Officer. They’re my hobby!

Let’s continue this conversation in the interview room, shall we?

I decided to organise my scissors, from left to right, in order of acquisition.

Pinking scissors. My mum lent these to me when I began my sewing career four years ago. Hmmm, I really should give them back and buy some of my own…

Dressmaking scissors. A competitively priced John Lewis own brand pair of dressmaking shears. Good enough, they saw me through several years but they quickly began to feel a bit blunt and lightweight.

Rotary blade. Bought off eBay along with a cutting mat, these transformed my life. Terrifyingly sharp, I could also use these on my table rather than crawling around on the floor. My joints were immensely grateful!

Cath Kidston haberdashery scissors. Blunt old household scissors became frustrating when it came to cutting out paper patterns. I bought these and issued a rule. Not To Be Used For Any Task Other Than Cutting Out Patterns.

Merchant and Mills tailor shears. These were requested as a Christmas present – and what a gift! With the heft of a bar of gold (or thereabouts) and a super sharp blade, these are my prized possessions. Worth every penny – of someone else’s money.

Thread snippers – two pairs. You can never have enough of these.

Duck billed platypus. Oh no – that’s an extinct creature. I mean, duck billed applique scissors. Aimed at quilters, they’re very good for grading seams. They’re also really sharp and I find them fantastic for snipping notches.

Gingher micro-serrated scissors. Perfect for cutting out silk. Apparently. Haven’t actually used these yet, so the jury’s out!

Gingher tailor’s point scissors. Bit underwhelmed by these, if I’m honest. I mean, I already have eight other pairs of scissors!

So, if I had to boil this all down to one essential pair of scissors, which would it be? No debate – the Merchant and Mills tailor shears. They are a class act. Made from Sheffield steel, what else could you expect?

Problem is, once you discover the delights of a sharp blade, there’s no looking back. Officer, I didn’t do it….!

Do you have a pair of dressmaking blades you’d recommend?

Sheffield England

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