Monday, 24 March 2014


So maybe you noticed the latest meme going round, the #nomakeupselfie that was started to raise awareness of Cancer, got adopted by Cancer Research and ended up making millions for various cancer charities. Well more than one friend of mine took exception to the general concept, for various reasons, most of which I agreed with.

From the concept of the no-make-up thing:
"Honestly, this sort of shite makes me so angry. And there's always that little element of supposed humiliation, isn't there? Bra size, where do you like to plonk your hangbag ('I do it on the kitchen table, I do it on the passenger seat, ooer'), and now, what do you look like without make-up? Because of course, the very idea of a woman posting a photo of herself without make-up is 'brave' and also ever so slightly humiliating."

to the hatred of the nomination aspect... (whilst also hating the no make-up bit)
I hate the propagation of the idea that women are brave if they "expose" themselves with no make up on social media. Get a grip womankind! To be honest the only thing this silly viral FB equivalent of an odious chain letter has done is prove what I already thought I knew: majority of women wear far too much make up and look amazingly better with out it!
Raise money for cancer awareness a more thoughtful way folks..."

So I was nominated and took a photo with no make-up on because, well, I didn't want to be a total wet blanket and at the grand old age of 30 I have reached a stage where I truly don't care that there's a photo of me out there with no slap on.

Look, here it is. I don't think I look too bad really...

But then I caught a comment on one of my friend's FB pages with an idle throwaway hashtag #saveIMs and thought, hey, maybe this is jumping on the bandwagon, but how about a campaign that exposes something that I really do feel vulnerable about to raise awareness of something very close to my heart? And so began the plan.

I don't talk about this much online, because it's a difficult subject for me and I have many negative and conflicted feelings about it, but two years ago my son was born by Caesarian Section in an NHS hospital and I received abominable care. The C-sec was as a result of a cascade of intervention that I've spoken to various professionals about since and come to the conclusion was unnecessary and based upon hospital policy more than individual situation. I was bullied and guilt-tripped into taking the 'decisions' that led to the surgery and I still feel very angry about it.

Worse, though, was the laughable 'care' I received after the C-section. After my husband and mother were sent home (against my wishes). After I had been through 3 days of labour (and they don't call it that for nothing) and no sleep and the most traumatic experience of my life, being sliced from hip to hip whilst awake (having had a life-long fear of hospitals and medical implements), being treated like a piece of meat in a processing plant I was left alone in a cubicle with my tiny helpless baby in a plastic box out of my reach.

Just when I most needed caring for, companionship, peace, safety and a quiet place to lick my wounds I was shut in an overheated orange cubicle surrounded by other women, other babies crying, alarms going off and the most vicious, unhelpful, unpleasant midwives I hope I ever have the misfortune of meeting. My baby cried. I couldn't reach him so I rang for help, which eventually arrived and huffily asked me: "What?!"

I was 'encouraged' to get out of bed before I could go up to the maternity ward. No help of any sort was given to me, either in terms of a hoist, or a supporting arm.I was told to push up on my arms, but after labouring on hands and knees for three days, and having been (as previously mentioned) sliced from hip to hip, I didn't have the strength in arms or abdominal muscles to do it. I passed out from the pain, sobbed for my husband, begged for help and had hospital health & safety at work guidelines quoted at me.

If someone can tell me where else a patient recovering from major abdominal surgery would be left to fend for themselves to this degree, never mind look after a baby also, I would very much like to hear about it.
I won't go into the rest of my stay, needless to say I was heavily reliant on my husband, and, initially, even the other mothers on the ward, for basic care - water to drink, assistance with my baby, help to the toilet, supervision in the shower as I was so wobbly on my feet.

Two years, and a helluva lot of therapy later and I am mostly recovered. I still occasionally get anxiety attacks, especially when I thought I was pregnant, and low spells when I feel hideous guilt about my first year with my son and how much my PTSD from the hospital experience affected our relationship. The flash backs have thankfully stopped, as have the nightmares and crippling dark moods, but I fear pregnancy and birth in a way I didn't before.

And then I met Liz. Liz is a wonderful woman who works as an Independent Midwife. We talked many times about my experience and I had decided that, next time we had a baby, I would birth that baby at home under Liz's care. My husband and I were prepared to beg, borrow, scrimp together the £4,000 this would cost in order that we could both feel that our best interests were being served.

Liz refers to her mothers as 'clients' because ultimately she works for them. She listens to their concerns, gives them information but she lets them make the decisions. I finally felt like I might be able to enjoy being pregnant again, to look forward to giving birth, to being safe in my own home, with someone who knew me, knew what I wanted and whom I trusted. If she told me we'd have to go to the hospital then I would be content to go, knowing that that was truly what was needed.

And then I heard the news that the insurance scheme for independent midwives had failed. That from October they would be unable to practice legally due to EU jurisdictions. I'll be honest. I still don't fully understand the ins and outs of the legal aspects. All I know is that I had a choice and now I don't. So I'm choosing to do the only thing that puts me back in control again. I'm choosing not to have another baby, even though my husband and I would desperately love another one.

So I will post the me that I never show anybody. Not my face devoid of makeup, but my saggy, stretch-marked, scarred belly, the belly that grew and nurtured my beloved son. It's not pretty to look at and exposing it makes me feel vulnerable in a way that my bare face never could, but I'm prepared to do this if it gets a conversation going. Had you even heard of Independent Midwives before now? Did you know they were about to become illegal? Do you have any idea what we'll be losing if they go?

Please read here to learn more about Independent Midwives: Independent Midwives UK
Please go here to donate to the campaign: Donate to Independent Midwives UK

And please post a picture of your belly (post or pre baby/ies) to see if we can raise even a fraction of the awareness that the #nomakeupselfie has.
Tag it with #mummytummyselfie and join the, for want of a better word, revolution.
I grew a baby in there by myself, but I don't want to give birth by myself. #SaveIMs

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sew what's next...?

Well, it has to be sewing, but sewing what?

I have a beautiful pair of french knickers in midnight blue silk, unfortunately they haven't fitted since I was about 16, but I still have them and occasionally take them out to admire them.  This just isn't good enough, so one project I have in mind is to try and find or create a pattern that I can use to make some more.  I've been doing lots of research and there's a tutorial over on Vera Venus that I'm going to use as a jumping off point, then I'll see if I can get a bit more adventurous.  I'm totally in love with the silhouette of this emerald green pair by an Etsy seller, Sophistikitten, but she's stopped trading so I'll have to wing it.

I also need a new dress for a wedding reception in May.  My only wedding-appropriate dress was worn to the groom-to-be's brother's wedding last year so roughly half the guests will have seen it already which means something new is in order, but funds are limited, so I'm going to be making something, I have a couple of ideas, but nothng's set in stone yet.

Before I start any other projects though, I need to make something functional.  My sewing machine lives on some open shelving in the sitting room which means that a cover is essential to keep the dust off, but I am heartily sick of the white plastic monstrosity it came with.

I've seen this luscious cover- the colours even match my sitting room - but there's no tutorial for it, or for anything similar that I've seen, but it looks like standard quilting and binding, so I should be able to bodge something together - the hardest part will be doing the opening for the handle.  However. That's where I'm going to start and I'll be getting on with it as soon as I locate the perfect fabric - something bright, bold and pretty with red and turquoise in... and maybe pink and yellow, too. Not too hard an ask...

Before any of these, though, I have some really dull projects to finish - hem the Cub's unfnished curtains, take up my bedroom curtains, make tie-backs for mine and the sitting room curtains and make some bunting for the kitchen to tie the (white blind covered) window in with the (sherbert-coloured curtained) French Windows...

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Great British Sewing Bee smocked toddler dress tutorial

I’m sure I’m not the only amateur sewing enthusiast who watched ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ with a mixture of interest and frustration.  It was fascinating to see sewing on prime time TV, to watch garments take shape, to be introduced to (or reminded of) various techniques for seams, embellishment, fitting and finishing.  Conversely it felt like there was too much detail for the very amateur and not quite enough for those of us who were accomplished amateurs wanting to expand our skill base.
I was particularly interested in the toddler dress they made in episode three.  I have a toddler myself and, OK, he’s a boy, but he looks cute in skirts… No, not really, he looks like a boy in drag, but it looked like a fun sewing project, I’ve always wanted to have a go at smocking and he has a little friend the same age, Miss J, who I occasionally utilise as a substitute daughter when I want to make pretty girlie things.
I had a look online, but couldn’t find a tutorial on the dress, so I had to figure it out for myself. I used a few other blogs, which I’ll link to, in order to learn various techniques, but the overall tutorial is my own work and I figured out the pattern and made the dress in just three hours with no specialist equipment other than the shirring elastic.

So here’s the idiot’s guide.  Apologies if I get a little too down to basics, but you can always skip the bits you already know.  Please ask me via comments if you need clarification on anything or a I missed a bit!

- lightweight dress fabric, cotton or polycotton
- sewing thread to match
- white shirring elastic
- pins
- sewing machine
- scissors – embroidery scissors and shears
- ironing board and iron
- measuring tape


- Measure the child’s chest and the length from their armpit to the desired length of the dress (roughly mid calf). These are the measurements you need to figure out how much fabric to buy.
You need 2 x chest measurement + 10cm in width and 1 x length measurement + 10cm in length.

So.  My toddler measured 55cm round the chest. I multiplied by two to give me 110cm, then added 10cm. I bought half a metre of fabric which was about the right length, especially since I wanted it to last a couple of years for a fast growing toddler, so I made it slightly too long and with a deep hem that can be let out.

I bought a 150 x 50 cm section of fabric which cost £4.90 with free delivery from The Little Button Craft Shop on Amazon
I could probably have found a cheaper one – there was a rather nice liquorice allsorts print for £2.99, but you had to pay for delivery and I wasn’t sure if Miss J’s mum would like it as much, so I played it safe.

Be aware that if you want to make Rouleau straps in the same fabric then you might need to purchase slightly more as they are cut on the bias.
- Wash and dry the fabric.  This is essential as it washes any chemical additives out of the fabric which may cause stiffness (this affects the shirring to some degree) but more importantly makes sure that any shrinkage takes place before you create the garment!

- Press the fabric. This makes your life so much easier than having to deal with a wrinkled up rag!

Now we’re ready to get going

Making the dress

- Cut out the fabric to the correct size. Mine was already 50cm long which was the perfect length, but I had to trim 30cm off the width to give me the 120cm I needed giving me a piece 120x50cm.  If making from two separate pieces I would need two pieces measuring 60x50cm.

(You could make the dress in two pieces as they did on the show: a front and a back. This is ideal if you have a narrower width of fabric or are making a dress for an older child, however I didn’t see any point cutting and re-sewing my fabric as it was already the correct width, so I made a fake French seam for the look of it by folding the fabric right-sides together, sewing along it, then opening it out and pressing the seam to one side.)

As mentioned on THGBSB you want to use a French seam on this project for two reasons. Firstly because a child has delicate skin, so you want a smooth, neat seam for comfort. Secondly a French seam completely encloses the raw edge and doubles up the stitching which makes it harder-wearing for the rough use and repeated washing it’s likely to receive (again - toddler-related!).

If you are using two separate pieces of fabric then you need to lay them wrong sides together, pin along the edge, then sew about 3 to 5 mm from the edge. A smaller seam looks neater, but obviously your sewing skills will dictate how close to the edge you dare to sew!

Press the seam to one side with a steamy iron, pulling the two pieces of fabric apart so you get a nice smooth finish with no creases. Ironing at every stage may seem a bore, but as with every sewing project is the key to a neat and professional finish.
Now turn the fabric so the right sides are together and pin along that same seam. Stitch a seam just outside the raw edges of the previous seam so it is completely enclosed.  If any raw edges are visible when you’ve finished you can go back and sew along that bit again a bit further out, a toddler won’t notice that there are two stitch lines, but obviously try and keep a smooth, straight line.
Press the seam over to one side again, then turn and press on the right side to make sure the two sides are completely opened out.
Trim along the top and bottom edges if needed - da-dah! French seam!

 Now you need to hem the top edge ready for the shirring. You want to make this as small as possible, so roll it over and finger press it before pressing it with an iron, then turn it again and press again.

Pin along it to stop it flipping back as you sew – you could tack it too if you don’t feel confident about sewing over pins. Try and sew as close to the edge of the rolled over fabric as possible without coming off it. I know it’s tempting to do the bottom hem too whilst you’re at it, but resist – you’ll see why later!

It’s shirring time – are you ready? I used this tutorial
to give me a bit more information about shirring before I got started. I also did the smart thing and used a scrap of fabric to test it on before starting.

I used the longest possible stitch on my machine (a Janome), which was a 4. This worked perfectly: gave me a good gather and didn’t seem too loose but here’s a word to the wise – it moved damn fast! Seriously. I wasn’t expecting how fast it would eat up the distance across the fabric which made it nice and speedy to do, but means you have to be a bit more careful controlling the fabric through the foot.
Decide how deep you want the smocked section to be and how many rows to do.  I ended up doing ten rows of shirring over 7cm, but then I was doing it by eye. I’d say 6 – 8 cm of shirring would be about right and for structural reasons as well as visual would recommend at least 6 rows of shirring. Leaving about 1 – 1.5cm between shirring rows seems like a good guide. Find a visual reference on your sewing machine you can use to make nice parallel lines. Mine were a bit wobbly, but it looked OK, so don’t get too hung up on it, whatever May Martin might say ;-)

Make sure to get as close to the end as possible as you want to have gathers going all the way to the seam and don't want a massive seam-allowance because the gathers don't go far enough along.  I learned this from bitter experience!
Tie off the beginning and end of every shirring line as you finish them.You have to pull the gathers out as you sew the next line and you don’t want to accidentally pull out the previous row of stitches when doing this.  Just give the elastic a gentle tug at the back and the thread on the front should pop right through to the back. Thread a pin or needle under it and pull it all the way through and tie it into a knot with the elastic. Simples!

TIP: I know this might sound obvious, but remember to keep the right side of the fabric towards you when you do the shirring – otherwise the elastic will end up on the front. I may have made this mistake myself, so please learn from me!

 So you’ve sewn your 6 cm block of shirring, the gathers have formed beautifully and you’re ready to move onto the next stage. 

TIP: Don’t forget to change your stitch length back to 1 or 2 – whatever you use for your normal stitching

Fold the dress in half lengthwise, wrong sides together so the two raw edges line up. Pin along these and tack if you need to, then sew along it making sure you sew over the ends of all the lines of shirring (I have to admit, I didn’t manage to do this first time, but I’ve learnt from my error and I will next time as it will not just look neater, but secure the shirring still further).

Clip the raw edges down a bit if you need to, turn inside out and, (have you guessed what I’m going to say next?) that’s right, give it a jolly good press with the seam to one side. Now pin along that seam making sure the raw edge is enclosed and stitch along it.  Time to press it again – the end is in sight now!

Bingo! It looks like a dress, right? Excellent. Time to try it on your model.

I know he looks pretty unimpressed, but that’s because I stopped him running around swooshing his skirts so I could take the photo. What can I say? The boy likes dressing up!
Stick a quick pin in the skirt to mark what length you want it to be and, if you’re feeling brave, use pins to mark where you want the straps to go, too. (Safety pins can be used if you’re worried about creating a child kebab).
Get the iron out again and turn the hem over all the way around to hide the raw edge, finger pressing then ironing. Now turn it again so the folded edge is level with the pin marker you made. There’s more than one way to do a hem, so you have some choices here. Some people use a machine for the hem, which is fine and can create a more shop-bought look, but I like to slip-stitch a hem if I have the time. It creates an invisible hem and means the hem can be more easily let down to accommodate a rapidly growing small person!
Only one thing left to do now and that’s make and attach the straps.  If you have an older child then you could leave it strapless, but if your toddler is anything like mine it’ll take them only moments to realise they’re wearing something that can be speedily wriggled out of!
If you want rouleau straps in a matching fabric then you’ll need to cut two strips on the bias out of your fabric which means you need quite a lot more of it. This is why I went with a plain fabric in a co-ordinating colour… I think they used to be a pair of pyjamas that I had in my scrap box! If you want to save yourself the work you could also use a ribbon or even make a broader strap from some fabric just folded over a couple of times and stitched. Why not experiment if you have time? If you want to make the rouleau straps then here’s the tutorial I used:

Don’t bother buying a stitch turner or whatever that little tool is called. Just drop a needle threaded with the loose threads through the tube then pull. It’s a tricky manoeuvre but once you’ve done that first part the rest follows easily.
I hand sewed mine on because I actually find that quicker than getting the machine set up and trying to sew through thick chunks of fabric like this, but it’s entirely up to you. I finished the ends of my straps with a little knot to stop them fraying like Ann on TGBSB, then tied them in a bow just as they did on the programme. Done!

I’ll see if Miss J’s mummy will mind me putting a picture of her in the dress up - she seemed to like it as much as I do. If only I had a girl to dress in pretty things…

Since I made this one I ran up a couple more for other friends with small girls. If I can find the photos of the Cub modelling them, I'll add those too - it's such a fun and pretty pattern, and so quick to do.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

All knitted out

So in the run up to Christmas my knitting fingers were very busy, not only was I knitting a complicated scarf for my mum and a Christmas Stocking for the cub (photos to follow!), but about a hundred of my pals were reproducing and I was making billions of tiny baby hats to welcome the new arrivals into the wettest winter in recent history.

So after knitting probably about 11 hats as well as all the other items I have completely run out of knitting mojo and was beginning to wonder what to do with myself. Well thankfully The Great British Sewing Bee has just restarted and so has my interest in sewing, but this reminds me that last summer's sewing project (the little shirred dress for a toddler) has still not been properly blogged, so later today I will be creating that, possibly in many parts, and setting out my sewing plans. I would do that now, but I have a toddler jumping on my leg and trying to turn the laptop off so, for now, adieu!

UPDATE: Huzzah - found the Great British Sewing Bee Toddler shirred dress tutorial was already written up and the photos in a folder (I must have been more organised than I thought) so I've tidied it up and published it and you can find it here: Shirred dress tutorial

Sunday, 5 January 2014


Well, Happy 2014. The end of 2013 was spent busily crafting a myriad of projects for others, including the stunning Ishbel scarf by Ysolde for my mum, a fun fairisle Christmas stocking for the Cub and about a hundred 'Aviatrix' bonnets for the multiple babies born over the last three months.

Chatting to CC, my very bestest friend round here and a crafter extraordinaire, I was pondering what to make over this coming year. "You should make something for yourself." She stated it unequivocally, like it was a given and my reflex denial gave me pause - why not make something for myself? When was the last time I had? Uh oh - I couldn't actually remember, other than the evening dress I never finished (more on that another time). Unless you count the kitchen curtains or the upcycled curtains-to-cushions in the sitting room it had been more than four years since I even *attempted* something for myself.

That's it, then.  2014 is the year I make things for MEEEEEEEEEE!

(and maybe for the Cub, because he looks so darn cute in handmade)

So let's start a list of things I want to make, then I can come back and tell you how it went.

How about some felting? I'm going to felt up some old jumpers and want something stylish to make out of them. 

Sewn Felt Slippers

These slippers by Stephanie Hung are lovely and should be simple enough to do - and if I love mine then I can whip up some for other people quickly enough that it shouldn't eat into my selfish crafting too much ;-) What? There will still be birthdays and Christmas to provide presents for!

Parisian Twist Headband

Love love love this and it'll use up a lovely ball of yarn I got from someone else's de-stash - lush!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Today's mission. ..

Make do and mend! I've abandoned my knitting for a little darning and sewing on of buttons. Very dull but very satisfying

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Going nutty - the season for free food

So, scouting out my new territory has revealed some glorious riches in the way of foraging.  Wild plums, heaps of elderberries, I'm sure there are some heavily laden brambles along the river and oh my!  A gloriously fruitful walnut tree right behind my house.  Look at these beauties:

Shame it's too late to utilise this interesting-looking recipe for pickled walnuts, but apparently you have to pick them in June.  Pity, as it'd make a super Christmas present, never mind, maybe next year!

This year I'll just have to gather the ripened nuts and maybe package them up into little bags as gifts! Unless you have a better idea.  Any good walnut recipes out there?

Must check out those plums again later to see if any more have ripened and go along the river for some blackberries.  For now, though, I'm chained to the sofa with a vomity toddler.  Poor Cub.