who made my clothes?

Whilst i’m no stranger to thrift shopping and have been fashioning my own wardrobe for almost a year now, it’s fair to say that I have often been quite ignorant to the origins of my purchases. To be honest, I’m quite ignorant of a lot of things that are happening in the world.

I haven’t had a TV for more than a decade and I am woefully politically unaware. It’s not that I don’t care – it’s just that there’s only so much my little head can deal with and when I do engage it’s usually on such an all encompassing scale, that I have to be selective about what I can usefully take on board.

This last week, I’ve been involved in a photo challenge over on Instagram, hosted by @inthefolds, to raise awareness of Fashion Revolution Week. Each day we’ve been given a theme to prompt thoughts, discussion and inspiration. Here’s a snapshot of my week – for the stories behind the pictures, head over to Instagram. You can discover what other people have been up to by searching on #whomademyclothes #imademyclothes #makersforfashrev #FashRev

Having recently adopted a plant based diet, I’ve become increasingly aware of the food I eat and its environmental impact. This campaign has coincided with an aspiration to live more mindfully and question the all pervasive status quo.  I’m not about to go off and live in cave – contemplating my navel and disassociating myself from society. I’m a city girl and when it comes to my home town of Sheffield, I embrace all there is to offer on its eclectic fringes.

I don’t intend to stop buying things either. Life is challenging and short and having wrestled with existential angst for far too long, I now try and find pleasure in the everyday. When it comes to my environment, I’m an advocate of William Morris – ‘have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. However, now that I’ve opened up my eyes to the journey things have made before reaching my hands, my mind has shifted in terms of what I value.

The swansong of my week is a fourth attempt at Yoshiko Tsukiori’s Stylish Dress Book 2, Jumper Dress G, in glorious barkcloth. Last year I bought a stunning statement piece necklace from @bellesbejewelled and set myself the goal of making a dress, fitting of its pairing. The material was sourced from a late night ebay barkcloth trawl and I opted for this simple and yet elegant pattern to showcase the fabric design.

And so, I’ve come to the end of my first year of adventures in stitch – making my own handmade wardrobe and blogging about what I think about in the process. Whilst I’m certain that the answer to the question ‘who made my clothes?’ will be increasingly wrong doll-centric, I’m not entirely sure where the next year is going to take me. What I do know, is that my intention is to become a much more conscious consumer and approach future acquisitions with an enquiring mind.

does it bring you joy?

For five years, my home consisted of one room and the shared use of a communal area in a Buddhist community. Since moving into a flat, I’ve slowly begun to accumulate more and more possessions but I still value a minimalist lifestyle. However, I can be prone to prevarication when it comes to letting go of things, namely clothes – coming up with a plethora of reasons to hold on.

Ten months into my love affair with stitch, I felt compelled to examine my wardrobe. If I continue to create at my current pace, I’m in danger of over-indulging the inner consumer I had hoped to curtail. Reflected in the eyes of admiring non-sewers, I could perpetuate the myth that making my own clothes is driven by a lofty desire to reduce my carbon footprint.

Who am I kidding? Dig a little deeper and you’ll see the fabrics I’m drawn to are high end craft cottons as averse to recycled thrift. When it comes to patterns, I scan eagle eyed for breaking releases from independent designers and pour over Japanese dress books, beguiled by the clean lines and aspirational living shots. I’m consuming – just in a more palatable, aesthetically pleasing form.

On many occasions I’ve tried to hone my wardrobe and been hampered by reasons not to: I might wear it in future (I haven’t for years), I might lose a stone (I’ve put on a half) … the list goes on. So this time, I decided to adopt a different approach based on the Maria Kondo principle – does it bring me joy? It’s a emotional question which elicits an instant response and made easy work of streamlining my stuff. My working wardrobe is now a cacophony of colour, vintage finds and handmade creations.

WordPress and Instagram are vehicles which have allowed me to document my progress through words and pictures, connecting with like minded makers across the globe. Whilst I’m hugely encouraged by the support thereof, I’m mindful that the pressure to post does not propel the creative process. Cleaning out my closet has allowed me to fully appreciate what I already have and consider where I want my sewing journey to take me next.

In 2016, I’ve been concentrating on a capsule holiday wardrobe and unsurprisingly Japanese smocks feature highly. This month’s offering is another attempt at Yoshiko Tsukiori’s Dress E, from my beloved Stylish Dress Book. The first continues to garner the most positive feedback and the second is one of my most worn makes to date – however, I’m not convinced the capped sleeves work for me and am considering chopping them off. For my third, I’m using fabric sourced from Tim Holtz’s Eclectic Elements Collection, which found it’s way to me in the John Lewis January sale.

Construction was a stress-free staged approach, as I have painfully learnt from the errors of a sewing lock-in too many. I’m embracing a new tack of sewing punctuated by other healthy living essentials – namely cooking, eating, and sleeping. So far, it’s paying off and this make was a calamity free endeavour. I think the pattern and fabric compliment each other perfectly, with a home-made bias binding finish at the armholes to accentuate the green over pastel tones.

There’s always room for improvement and gathers continue to be my nemesis, as I lack the necessary patience to execute them well. The join on my bias binding is also unworthy of close inspection but I’ll dwell on these shortcomings no longer. Does it bring me joy? The answer is a resounding yes, so it’s a very welcome addition to my handmade wardrobe.

Whilst I’m yet to read Maria’s book, the wisdom in the words of this simple phrase have captured my imagination and the potential applications are all-pervasive. Food, friends, pastimes, sewing patterns … if they aren’t bringing me joy, I’m considering what they are bringing and whether it’s worth holding on to them so dear.

a curious girl

After the initial excitement of Maude’s debut, I pondered over the description of her in Love Sewing magazine as ‘curious’. Was the term being used in the same way as I’ve observed ‘interesting’, as a mask for ‘I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about’?

And then David Bowie died and in numerous articles his infinite curiosity was highlighted as a favourable character trait. Around the same time Jack Monroe came on my radar with resolutions akin to my own – namely running and adopting a plant based diet. Whilst I’m not about to emerge as a non-binary transgender, I’ve always strained under the weight of rigid societal norms and have started following Jack’s journey with admiration and … curiosity.

Having observed veganuary from an interested distance, I’m predictably late to a determination to avoid foods derived from animals. I’ve tiptoed around vegetarianism for years and whilst I’ve resisted defining myself by a label describing my food intake, I’ve long been a proponent of the health and financial benefits of cooking from scratch. Whilst my newfound passion for stitch has enriched my life beyond measure, my diet is a casualty I’ve been loathe to recognise. For acknowledgement is the first step towards action and being increasingly time-poor and passion-rich, I haven’t had the mental space to initiate change.

That is until I read this column and the quote ‘flesh has the force of violence in it’ resonated strongly in me. Whilst the words are nothing new – with a lifestyle strongly influenced by Buddhist philosophy – for some reason at this time, they jolted me out of my inertia. I examined my consumption of late and whilst it masquerades as healthy, the relatively time consuming art of food preparation has been eschewed in favour of food assemblage.

Change often meets with resistance – both within and without – and I’m already poised for the inevitable comments about extreme diets devoid of nutrients. However, one week in and I can firmly attest that having substituted egg on toast, cheese on toast and butter on toast for a myriad of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, has resulted in the tastiest, most economical and nutrient-dense food I’ve eaten in months. However, I’m no martyr to any cause and if, after my self-imposed two month experiment, I notice anything lacking I’ll be sure to re-introduce it.

Resistance continues to be an integral ingredient in my sewing adventures. In every project, I reach a sticking point where my plans unravel and I’m confronted with the results of poor judgement and a paucity of skill. At this point, I survey my options – to give up, employ a quick fix or apply myself to finding the best solution possible. My second attempt at Dress T from ‘Stylish Dress Book: Simple Smocks, Dresses and Tops’, provided me with ample opportunity for self-flagellation. Despite the busy pattern motif, I made easy work of fabric cutting until I came to the bodice. I’d been so focused on pattern matching that I failed to see the need for pattern symmetry around the yoke.

When I don’t understand something my brain goes into meltdown and I’m prone to make the same mistake over and over. Well meaning people – with a scant appreciation for differential learning styles – have tried to help by repeating the same instructions to no avail. To be fair, I’m not sure what my learning style is, so I can empathise with their frustration but I’m becoming more accepting of my foibles and idiosyncrasies with age. Slowly, through the painful and kinetic process of damage limitation, I come to appreciate where I’ve gone wrong.

Shaving half a centimetre off the left bodice at the centre and the right bodice at the side seam, achieved a semblance of symmetry and a 0.5 seam allowance at the yoke counterbalanced the reduction in width. If only I’d increased this to a 1cm seam allowance around the neckline, the results would have met my exacting standards. As it is, the outcome is far from a perfection which will always elude me. But as my fellow maker and blogger at The Up Sew has gently reminded me – all the marks we make chart the journey we have made and as such are valuable.

My next project is Maude-centric, as I tentatively explore the market for handmade gifts sporting a dismembered dolls head. Thanks to Instagram, I’ve discovered a niche of people who share my appreciation for the weird and wonderful. She’s not everyone’s cup of bakelite and I have no difficulty understanding that. However, from my own experience, resistance to new ideas and concepts can stem from feeling personally threatened, a lack of understanding and a fear of change. But if we are truly happy with our own choices, then accepting other people’s – whilst remaining true to our own – is an opportunity to embrace something from outside our own sphere with a mind of curiosity.


that kind of girl

The one that always gets picked first for the team, who flanked by friends breezes down the school corridors and seemingly navigates the transition from awkward teen to adulthood with ease. No surprises here – to coin Lena Dunham – I was not that kind of girl.

My attempts to secure a best friend at primary school verged on stalking and unless throwing random items at your head is a form of endearment, I was an easy target for bullying. They say youth is wasted on the young but not for me, I remember every painful detail. In The Reunion, Anna Odell dramatically portrays the lifelong effects of being cast out and whilst the intention for this blog is no misery memoir, the seeds of wrong doll’s inception were sewn in those formative years.

In secondary school, I was saved by my passions and a shared appreciation for the arts finally brought friendships my way. Accidental seating in the 6th form common room cemented burgeoning relations and thanks to my closest friends – Naadia and Emma –  my final years of schooling were elevated above that to be endured.

I lost myself in relationship with other. Formatively in my imagination – Michael Stipe, Vincent Van Gogh, Egon Schiele and Hal Hartley’s fictional ensemble of characters. Fantasy interspersed with reality and I immersed myself with friends and boyfriends – anything to avoid dealing with the relationship I had with myself. Thankfully, good taste in this regard prevented too much carnage and the inevitable unravelling was temporarily assauged.

I have always been drawn to those who chart their own course and manage to transform their difference into artistry. In that regard Frida Khalo stands alone – her feet the altar at which the marginalized prostrate. I’m sure I’m not alone in romanticising a life which was in reality beset with hardship. I’m intoxicated with her cacophony of colour, bewitched by her libertarian ways, fluid sexuality and unorthodox love affair with Diego. For me, the bridge between their adjoining houses an aspirational living ideal but in truth, I wonder if this was emblematic of their increasing separation rather than a celebration of their singularity.

I’m certain the fabric for my latest Japanese smock would have met with Frida’s approval. I sourced the material from Frumble and Frida La Catrina Dark Marine designed by Alexander Henry Fabrics might just be the most beautiful I’ve dared to desecrate. The design and colour are magnificent and reminiscent of Frida’s indomitable spirit – who else would erect a hospital bed in a gallery of her work to enable attendance. The more infirm Frida became, the more flamboyant her attire. On approaching my 42nd birthday I’ve become disheartened by a body that’s showing definite signs of age. However, contemplating Frida, who railed against her ravaged body in all it’s monobrowic beauty, I am reminded how I have much to be thankful for.

I chose Dress S from Stylish Dress Book: Wear with Freedom for my homage to Frida. The dress is the most fitted of my Japanese smocks to date, courtesy of the zip which was my unfortunate undoing. But for a teaching assessor style critique, firstly the plaudits in this affirmation sandwich. My cutting isn’t too shabby and I’m particularly proud of the pattern matching on the rear bodice and symmetry of the centre back. I cut out the pieces for the side seams roughly matching up blocks of colour, figuring the design’s busyness would mask a multitude of sins. It’s only on completion that I noticed a sneaky dotted line at Frida’s feet, that if followed would have made easy work of lining up the seams.

The other failure upon which I’ve been meditating is a gaping rear neckline. In my toile sans zip, the neckline lay flat but post zip insertion it’s been a focus of my fault finding attentions. Having researched a fix or two, I’ve considered moving the zip to the side, lowering the neckline and popping in a few darts. However, at the risk of butchering the beautiful fabric further, I’ve decided to practise acceptance and approach future rear zips with necessary caution.

I top stitched the neckline and swiftly unpicked my unhandiwork as the variegated pattern does not lend itself to this kind of finishing. Instead of slavishly following the instructions, I should have utilised skills garnered from other patterns and employed some under stitching. Oh the benefit of hindsight. The only deviation from the pattern was omitting the sleeves and bias facing the armholes.

Popularity and ease in youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When life is trouble-free, where’s the impetus to work on your character, the drive to hone your acerbic wit and the opportunity to develop insights through inner turmoil. Deconstruction affords the most valuable opportunity to rebuild in a fashion of your choosing. After years mired in melancholy, I’ve come to an adulthood of relative peace and contentment. I no longer fear being alone and embrace both opportunities to be by myself and the gift like-minded company affords.  I can’t deny that for an extended period of time, all I ever wanted to be was that kind of girl and I never thought I would say this but I’m genuinely glad I wasn’t.





I make no secret of the fact that I don’t buy into Christmas, so you could easily infer that I’m not a buyer or giver of presents. Quite the contrary, I love to both give and receive – just not at a pre-ordained time dictated by a marketer’s dream.

I’m a staunch advocate for treating yourself as you would have others do – if you don’t know how to make yourself happy, how do you expect someone else to. I buy myself flowers on a regular basis and cook a slap up meal for one without bemoaning the lack of company. But I also embrace avenues to share with like minded souls and the Internet affords opportunities a plenty. My adventures in stitch have had me dipping my toe into a whole world of social media I’d previously had no cause to explore – Instagram and Pinterest are my new playgrounds.

I’ve also re-discovered Etsy as a source of inspiration and a welcome alternative from high street trends. Inspired by these beauties I gifted myself from DangerousJane and RubyBijou, I got to thinking how Maude could be used to create handmade gifts for the niche market of #vintagedollface lovers. I knocked up this make up bag for my partner’s daughter and my mind is now awash with the possibilities – scarves, bags, card holders … any ideas most welcome.

Despite tentatively exploring Maude’s transferability, I remain firmly stuck in a Japanese dress loop and have just completed my current favourite – Box Dress D from Stylish Dress Book: Simple Smocks, Dresses and Tops. This pattern’s simplicity is its strength and whilst laid out it favours a tent, something miraculous happens when you try it on and the simple lines transform into a surprisingly flattering shift. It lends itself to a medium/heavy weight fabric and I opted for what is becoming my signature denim and a fitting backdrop for Maude. I cut on a medium and no adjustments were necessary as the shape fits my propensity for a loose fit.

So, Christmas is fast approaching and relieved of the burden of present shopping in bulk, I’m celebrating my birthday month as is my predeliction. Meeting up with friends one on one and eating my way through some of Sheffield’s finest – Maveli, The Grind, Marmadukes, The Street Food Chef – and still three weeks to go before I notch up another year of my forties. And there lies the rub – balancing my appetite for food with a handmade wardrobe based on static measurements. I can smell a New Year’s cliche a mile off – it’s time to dust off my running shoes.

tempus fugit

Time and tide wait for no wo man – something I was starkly reminded of last weekend, working at a residential event for young women with secondary breast cancer. During a highly emotive breakout session, focusing on women talking to their children about their diagnosis, one woman volunteered the only positive thing that came to mind about her illness – that it gave her time to put things in order. For most of us, thoughts of death and dying are not at the forefront of our minds as we navigate our way through our daily activities. But what if they were – how would the immediacy of our mortality affect the tenor of our day?

After three days in Manchester, ensconced in a work bubble of event organisation, I woke up on Sunday determined to seize the day and squeeze the value out of every minute. Propelled by this sense of urgency, I set myself the challenge of fashioning an item from start to finish. I’d already done the spade work – it being my third attempt at Jumper Dress G from Stylish Dress Book: Simple Smocks, Dresses & Tops. My first foray with this pattern was underwhelming but I had capitalised on lessons learned with a denim version for a friend.

I found the fabric in the kilo bins at Manchester Aberkhan and my first thought was that it’s stiffness and structure would lend itself perfectly to Megan Nielson’s Brumby skirt pattern. However, it seemed a waste not to make something more substantial from the 2.5 metres I’d bagged for a tenner, so I opted for a final showdown with Dress G.

Having learned that the fabric choice is all important in terms of fit and finish, I graded  up the denim version to achieve a roomier fit for my un Japanese-like frame. On top of previous adjustments, I added an extra 1.5cm under the arms at the bodice, increasing to 2cm by 28cm down, to accommodate my bottom heavy figure. To achieve my desire for a Bibaesque interpretation, I chopped 10.5cm off the unextended pattern leaving a 2.5cm hem allowance. I also included my stab at self-drafted pockets and 10 hours later … mission accomplished.

Whilst I’m pretty chuffed I managed to knock up a smock in a day – I did notice my mind becoming more and more agitated, as I raced against the clock to achieve my aim. Working at breakneck speed also had a negative effect on the execution and precision of my chosen craft. I’m happy that my age and work environment, have given me the confidence to spend my time in company and pursuits I find meaningful. But I have to concede that when it comes to my adventures in stitch, there are no short cuts. For my next project, my challenge is to favour process over outcome. Tempus fugit indeed but as the saying goes – softly, softly catchee monkey.

brother jones, sister singer

I was recently gifted a Singer 538 from a work colleague, hitherto gathering dust in her mother’s loft for 20 years strong. To test drive her capabilities, I returned to Yoshiko’s Jumper Dress G from Stylish Dress Book: Simple Smocks and Tops. Unsatisfied with the fit and fabric of my previous attempt, I tasked myself with adjusting the pattern to accommodate my friend Claire – petite in every way and understated to the core.

The pattern is traced off a size small with adjustments at the underarms, hem and pockets. For a more fitted shape, I took 2.5 cm off at each underarm seam, blending 12cm down. I neglected to add the recommended hem extension and raised the length by 23cm (leaving a hem allowance of 3cm) to accommodate my friend’s slight frame. She also requested side pockets and inspired by Victory Patterns’  Madeleine, I had a stab at creating my own aided by top tips from A Fashionable Stitch’s Patch Pocket Tutorial.

Uncharitable as it sounds, my yen to stitch has not been instigated by a desire to create for anyone other than myself. Neither am I propelled to explore the commercial possibilities of garment making. The responsibility and self-imposed pressure of meeting another’s expectations is the exact opposite of what sewing affords me. However, some things and people are worth stepping out of your comfort zone for.

Unlike my preference for big and bold, Claire is a proponent of the plain – clean lines with no frills or adornments. People often assume what makes them happy would make you happy – children, religion, alcohol ….. dismembered dolls and asymmetric hair (yes, I’m as guilty as the next person). Making for someone else is akin to being a good friend – appreciating their perspective and resisting the urge to put your own spin on things.

So I crawled into the mental landscape of another and fought against my desire to highlight detail with contrasting top-stitch. And I’m so glad I did – the results are subtle and classic imbuing the Japanese stylings from the book which the pattern heralded. I’m modelling the results which were fashioned for my understated and camera shy friend, who is much more petite than I. However, I’m so happy with the outcome, I’m going to replicate for myself – albeit a tad longer and wider.

Brother Jones was my first – a thing of beauty in shades of baby blue. Aesthetically, I was underwhelmed when I first set eyes on the Singer. Much less delovely with her sharp angles and muted hues but possessing a functioning buttonhole and zig zag capacity. She arrived with a predilection for incessant stitch when switched on and I invested in a service to see if this could be remedied.

£45 later and I was rewarded with a workhorse of epic proportions. Appreciating her functionality on this project, has caused me to look on her anew and appreciate her form through a lover’s eyes. Her angular frame and colouration are now reminiscent of Art Deco, the sound of her mechanisms a song to my ear. This is a steed fit for the long game –  I’m not sure how Brother Jones has taken to his new sibling but she’s definitely won me over.