The Big Vintage Sewalong – B5880

B5880 dressThis is my contribution to The Big Vintage Sewalong – the Butterick 5880. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of this initiative that has been running since March and ends in September. That’s a lot of sewing in support of The Eve Appeal.

I always forget. Forget how long the last stages take. Those steps that I think will be the work of a couple of hours eat up a day. Hand sewing the lining? A matter of moments! Yeah, right. Though this may be my most favourite lining fabric ever, bought from Ditto Fabrics.

polka dot lining fabric

polka dot lining with chalk

I’m not gonna lie; this is no easy make. I made at least two toiles of the bodice and a full calico toile of the dress, before even starting to cut out the fashion fabric. The cap sleeve structure is gorgeous to wear but blousy and you’ll want to make sure it’s not too blousy.

It’s an odd one. Too fitted and you’ll spoil the breezy effect of the dress. Not fitted enough and it will bag. But that notched neckline is to die for and the dress is incredibly comfortable to wear, fabric whispering over your hips. Whispering, Pour me a martini, darling. 

notched neckline B5880

What else? The skirt was shortened by a good three inches and pegged by two inches at each side, which means four whole inches were removed to give the hem of the skirt more shape. (A pegged skirt tapers towards the bottom.)

Shortening the skirt section is no easy task because you need to shorten the flounce at the same time. My solution? I just lopped three inches off the bottom of the flounce! But be aware that final adjustments may still be necessary, so baste and be ready to use the seam ripper.

And yes, that flounce. Unbelievably, this pattern comes with no instructions for stay stitching. But with the weight of that overlay, you’re going to need stay stitching like never before. It’s my opinion that you also need a waist stay. My dress doesn’t have one (deadlines…) but I’ll be adding one.

vintage buckle coral

With said deadline hoving and my brow resting atop my sewing machine, my last task was to make a self fabric belt twinned with a vintage buckle I was gifted many years ago. Darling long ago reader, did you send this to me? Please put your hand in the air, if so!

For such a relatively simple silhouette, the guts of this dress involved a lot. The bodice is fully underlined with silk organza, the waist seam was strengthened with the slevedge of silk organza and fusible interfacing was used to strengthen the seams where my invisible zip went. Too often, as I stood over my ironing board I would mutter, Patience, patience

guts of B5880

sewing underlining

So! Not a simple make, by any stretch of the imagination. I flex my muscles like this about once a year. It’s a good exercise; keeps the brain nimble. Indeed, my intrigue around the new-to-me lining construction kept me powering on through to the end. Learning, learning, always learning. When I stop wanting to do that, you can tip me into my grave and dance on it!

Oh, and if you seek the perfect accompaniment to hours of hand stitching, I passionately recommend the audio book of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. To. Die. For. Very. Clipped. Tones. And. Heartbreak.

Rebecca was published in 1938. This pattern was published in 1951. I don’t really know what those numbers mean in 2016, other than that over many, many years women have achieved fantastic things and I dearly hope shall continue to do so. Whether it’s with a pen, a needle, or a speech, I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings. One thing I do know. The future’s looking pretty female right now.

With thanks to The Big Vintage Sewalong for inviting me to take part.

B5880 flounce

b5880 pinned

B5880 rear

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 46 Comments

Using Silk Organza Selvedge To Stabilise A Seam

skirt section b5880

I am hard at work on my B5880 dress. (Let’s not dwell on deadlines for the Big Vintage Sewalong, shall we?)

I’m sewing with a viscose twill of most magnificent gorgeousness. I chose the fabric for its drape as well as the Oriental floral print which just seems to sigh, We’ll always have Paris. 

The drape struck me as suiting the dress’s side tuck ruffle, and it does. But man, all that fabric is heavy. So heavy, I was concerned about the front waistline’s ability to maintain silhouette and not bag or stretch. (There are no instructions for stay stitching in this pattern’s instructions.)

I turned to a length of silk organza selvedge, cut into a deep strip with pinking shears. I chose to work with the organza’s selvedge because it’s light, but tightly woven and extremely stable.

selvedge strip silk organza

Which I pinned and then stitched just inside the seam line of the front skirt waist.

silk organza selvedge pinned

silk organza selvedge stitched

Here’s hoping this works! Here’s hoping a lot else works. We’ll know in – ooh – about 48 hours. Wish me luck…

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Seaside Vintage Colour Inspiration

northbank gate

spade and bucket

northbank chair

mustard photo

I’ve been staying at the most incredible hotel on the Isle of Wight. If you’re looking for vintage colour inspiration, this is the place to come. (For many, many more photos, check out my Instagram account.)

peter rabbit

ella northbank

I did a certain amount of knitting (see above), lots of walking, plenty of thinking … and despite having packed a rucksack full of clothes, I’ve worn the same pair of shorts most days, twinned with a lovely Jennifer Lauren Afternoon Blouse I sewed two years ago.

summer top and shorts

Now to return to the real world and the rest of my life! First stop, building a website…

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Top 5 Activities When You’re Too Hot To Sew

Liberty Print Espadrilles

Hand Stitch Espadrilles

Espadrilles are the perfect project for engaging with your creativity when you don’t want to switch on a wall plug. No hot machines involved; all hand sewing, and the type of stitching that helps you channel your inner beach bum! Kits to be found here.

Making Espadrilles

Cutting Out

Again, no heat, just a cool pair of metal shears. Now is the time to prep a future make and then put it to one side, ready for when a breeze descends.

Cutting Out Silk Jersey

Plan Your Next Make

If ever there was a time for aspirational sewing  and the instant hit of online shopping – it’s now. You might want to invest in breathable fabrics, such as viscose. My most recent three viscose purchases went into the sewing machine this weekend. Far left, from The Man Outside Sainsburys, then from The Fabric Godmother middle here and far right here. Yum!

recent purchases

Get Out There

There’s no shame in putting the dust cover over your sewing machine and enjoying the sunshine. Goodness knows, we barely get enough of it in the UK. I’m a firm believer that the best creativity happens when you’re not actively creating.

William Morris Garden

Photograph Makes

Let’s use all this natural light to capture makes or plan photos for future blog posts. My one big tip would be to avoid direct sunlight. This recent blog photo was taken before work, carefully positioned in the shade, taking advantage of long daylight hours.

Tilly and the Buttons Bettine dress

So we can be productive, as long as there is ice and chilled wine to hand. Any tips of your own? For chilling wine, as well as sewing…

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 14 Comments

How To Sew A Pom Pom Cushion Cover

pom pom cushion

Have you noticed the recent pom pom craze? Want to be part of it without wearing a pom pom tiara? Then you need to sew a pom pom cushion cover. It’s really easy.


  • 120 minutes free time
  • A 50 x 50 cm cushion pad
  • Three shank buttons, 25mm wide
  • 2 metres of pom pom trim
  • One square of upholstery fabric, 51 x 51cm
  • Two oblongs of upholstery fabric, 34 x 51 cm
  • Matching thread

pom pom market


1. On each of the oblong pieces press down along one long edge.

2. Press down again to a seam allowance of 4cm.

3. Use a single pin to keep in place.

4. Stitch along the edge of the hem and a second row of stitching along the fold.

Pom Pom Cushion Collage

5. On one of the hems, mark where you’ll position your three button holes. I placed one at the centre, and the other two 12 cm out to the left and right.

6. Make your button holes and open them up. I use this kit and some Prym Fray Check.

buttonhole kit

7. Overlap the two hems of the oblong pieces and baste into place at each raw edge. These two oblongs now make a 51 x 51 cm rear piece for your cushion cover.

tacked edges

8. With a long stitch, sew rows of pom pom trim inside the 15 mm seam allowance to each edge of your 51 x 51 cm fabric square. The pom poms face in.

stitching pom poms

pom pom trim

Pom Pom Pointers!

Remember that the pom pom trim has stretch, unlike your woven upholstery fabric. Try not to pull it out as you sew, or cushion pieces will pucker.

Snip away pom poms near the corners of your cushion pieces so that they don’t interfere as your sewing machine negotiates those corners.

9. Place the two pieces of the cushion cover right side to right side and pin at the raw edges.

10. Sew around these raw edges, using a 15 mm seam allowance.

11. Finish raw edges, turn right side out and press.

pom pom trim ii

12. Sew shank buttons into place, insert your cushion pad and button up.

cushion buttons

how to sew a pom pom cushion

You’re done! This was such a fun project for a sunny afternoon. Do you have favourite projects for using pom poms?

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Cutting Out Lining Fabric

lining depth

Some of the best sewing lessons are learnt by experience. Even better sewing lessons are learnt when someone shares the benefit of their experience. So here’s a tip for cutting out lining fabric. I didn’t learn it from a book, video or tutorial. I learnt it the hard way and by then applying those hard won lessons.

Lining fabric tends to be tightly woven, which means it has very little give. This can spell disaster for sewing fully lined items. More than once, I’ve brought the raw edges of a bodice lining to hand stitch to the zip – only to discover that my lining is too narrow or too short or …. wahhhh! It doesn’t fit the main shell of the dress.

How can that be? Because your fashion fabric might have a loose weave or fluid drape that affects cutting out or relaxes with handling. Whereas your lining fabric doesn’t. Two pieces of fabric, cut out to the exact same dimensions. And now they don’t match.

fashion fabric depth

My answer? Now, I always cut my lining fabric incrementally larger than my fashion fabric pieces. See the bodice lining in the first photo? A depth of 17 inches. Now let’s look at the depth of the fashion fabric bodice piece. 16 and 3/4 inches… Not a lot of difference, but enough to mark a line in the sand between success and failure.

If these tweaks mean that ultimately your lining shell does end up being a little too big for the main shell of your make, fear not. Add tiny tucks. You can see one below at the front neckline of my Sew Over It Joan Dress. Believe me, your body will always be grateful for the extra give and it really doesn’t spoil the line of your make, as long as there isn’t a significant disparity in size.

tuck in lining fabric

I hope this helps somewhat. I hope it helps rescue potentially ruined makes. I hope you never have to go through what I’ve gone through in the past!

Sewing. Sometimes it’s there to test your backbone. And sometimes there’ll be a blog post that arrives at just the right time…

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged | 20 Comments

Summer Sewing

serena williams.jpg

It must be summer. Serena Williams has just won the Women’s Final at Wimbledon. (You can bet I shed several tears at her rendition of Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise.)

I’m sewing whilst Ella rests on the cool parquet floor and I have the doors and windows thrown open. I’m working on my Butterick 5880 for The Big Vintage Sew Along. Having completed my toile, I must now dig deep and sew the darn dress.

Most of today has been spent cutting out pieces. Truly, the most loathsome part of the sewing process. So. Tedious. Particularly time-consuming on this occasion as I was cutting out fashion fabric, silk organza underlining and lining fabric.

But once the shears were put aside, I could enter a slightly more contemplative phase – hand stitching the silk organza underlining to the fashion fabric, whilst watching two magnificent women play tennis. (Below, the interfaced front neckline with silk organza overlaid.)

underlining pinned

sewing underlining

Why underline? I’ve chosen fabric with enough drape to do justice to the front overlay. But I fear there may be too much drape to support the structure of the bodice. Underlining will help add stability.

Once the underlining was attached I treated both layers of fabric as a single layer. See the below photos of sewing the front bodice darts.

darts interior

bust darts

I’m a long way from completion, but at least work has begun. I’m scared that this dress won’t be a success, but in the words of Maya Angelou:

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I rise.

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 12 Comments

The Tiger Who Knitted His Tea

lime regis

I’m away for a week’s break, and obviously the packing of creative sustenance was a top priority!

I switched up the steps on a current make so that I could work on the hand stitched hem whilst separated from my sewing machine. It helps that the fabric I’m working with is a light, portable silk that takes up hardly any room in my case.

handstitching silk hem

I pack my knitting in its own bag and make sure to read forwards in the instructions. Might I need to take any extra equipment with me as the knitting speeds along on holiday?

knitting bag

knitting equipment

It’s not that I can’t switch off (though there is that), but my holidays are the few days of the year when I can really kick back and dedicate a goodly amount of time to relaxed making. In the pub, propped up in bed, out on the patio.

Don’t you just love the books you find in holiday rentals? Though this collection could easily make me weep. I swear if I buried my face between those pages, I’d inhale the scent of my own childhood and other, long forgotten holidays of endless summers, rock pools and picnic blankets. I wonder where Katharine is now…?

childrens books

the tiger who came to teakatharine

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Top 5 Makes Of All Time!

One of the great aspects of having sewn for several years, is that I get a real perspective on which projects have worked beyond my wildest dreams. Sewn items that I return to time and time again, that survive weekly cycles through the washing machine.

So, here are my Top 5 Makes Of All Time!

Laptop Sleeve

laptop case

I made this from fleece cotton and a geometric print back in 2012, using this tutorial. Four years later, both laptop and sleeve are going strong. Whenever I travel, my laptop slips snugly into this case.

Tofino Shorts


Sewn three years ago, yet still being tossed into the laundry basket on a weekly basis. I adapted the Tofino pattern to a shorts length for summer PJs and made these from Japanese double gauze, which I highly recommend for sleepwear. There are some good double gauze options here.

Grainline Tiny Pocket Tanks

Sporty Summer Sewing Tiny Pocket Tank

The Grainline Tiny Pocket Tank isn’t as straightforward as it first appears. A simple tank top in woven fabric (no accommodating stretch) means that good fitting is essential. I’ve done lots of tweaking, including an FBA, but once you get this pattern nailed to your body, it’s a really comfortable make. I have three on heavy rotation. But I can’t see this top for sale on the Grainline website? Any insight, peeps?

The Home


It’s easy to dismiss home sewing, but some of my deepest pleasures have come from the daily sight of items such as these barkcloth cushion covers I made three years ago. Fabric was bought on a trip to my beloved Isle of Wight, and now I have a part of that island beneath my posterior whenever I want! Can’t argue with that.

The Coco Dress

Tilly And The Buttons Coco Dress

I have made this and made this and made this and then I make some more Cocos. Simple patterns aren’t just for beginners; they also give a hit of creative satisfaction to tired multi-taskers. This one has been worn to death, but shows no sign of dying yet. Find a simple pattern that works for you, and you’ll never stop loving it.

Do you have a winning pattern that you can’t stop returning to? And any tips for projects that will give you pleasure in years to come?

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Tilly And The Buttons Bettine Dress

Bettine Dress Collage

Finally! After my initial aborted attempt at this project, the Tilly and the Buttons Bettine dress proves itself to be a winner. Don’t just take it from me – ask the several colleagues who commented on this outfit today. And it’s so gorgeous to wear. Not once did I find myself fidgeting or adjusting.

I made this version from a very cheap viscose (see my guide to this fabric here) bought on Walthamstow market last year. I never was quite sure what to turn this fun print and very fluid drape into. When I started pulling items out of my stash, searching for Bettine inspiration, this fabric called to me. Perfection!

This viscose is long gone down the market, but I’ve found an eBay source here. In fact, there are lots of fun viscose fabrics available online. Sew Over It is a particularly good source, and I’m impressed by the viscose at Stoff and Stil.

bettine and frixion pen

My Frixion pens were extremely useful during this make. (If you want to read a very detailed set of comments on the delights of Frixion pens, I suggest reading this blog post!) Why did these pens help? Well, there’s a certain amount of accuracy you’ll want at the elasticated waist, neckline and the gorgeous sleeve tabs of this dress. I wanted to freely wield a marking tool, knowing that there was no danger of permanent stains.

On the subject of sleeve tabs – if you’re using a directional print, think carefully about how the tabs will sit on the final dress and cut out your fabric accordingly. This is the type of lesson I only learnt the hard way in the early days of my sewing career.

clear elastic

The pattern calls for half inch elastic at the waistband. I didn’t have any in the house, so in a fit of desperation used clear elastic instead. A move I strongly recommend if, like me, you can’t bear bulk at your waist. This elastic is lightweight but strong and you’ll barely notice your elasticated waist. Win, win!

Tilly and the Buttons Bettine dress

I didn’t have enough fabric to cut out the pockets, but I think that’s all for the best. This viscose is so full of drape that pocket bags would only sag. As it is, I have a very cool and breathable dress for walking the dog. I apologise for the view of Ella’s posterior, but there you have it. Never work with children or animals.

This make was cute, cute, cute and FUN. I can’t wait to make several more. I may just have found myself the perfect, wearable summer dress. Now all I need is a summer!

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments