V&A Museum of Childhood

Museum of childhood sign

I love this museum.

It has a big Victorian entrance hall, a lot like the one at the Museum of Scotland.

It’s so fun to wander round – compact, nicely laid out, and stuffed to the gills with old toys that will give you sudden nostalgic flashbacks.

We totally had one of these!

It’s not all 80s moulded plastic, though. They have some amazing dollhouses that date back hundreds of years, and plenty of creepy dolls to stock them.

Victorian dolls house

Dolls house living room

I liked this old flyer for a music hall show, part of their current ‘Magic Worlds’ exhibition.

Not quite so keen on this terrifying beardy man. This is a children’s museum, right?

There’s some interesting vintage sewing bits and pieces – including these toy sewing machines (also a tiny washing machine and mangle!) Get the domestic servitude started early, that’s the ticket.

My favourite bit was a small exhibition in the front entrance, called The Stuff of Nightmares. It’s based on The Brothers Grimm’s Fundevogel, which apparently is “a tale of abduction, fear, evil old women, revenge and ultimately, friendship”.

Just ignore that lame ‘friendship’ part, which has clearly been added by a overly PC curator, because this is a delightful reminder of how twisted, scary, and bizarre the Grimm folk tales are.

Sorry for the multitude of photos but I couldn’t resist. The baby stealing bird! The strange, glowing, big eyed dogs! The AGM of weird creatures on a toadstool! The Victorian pram!

I strongly urge you to go and see this exhibition before it ends in February next year (it’s already been there since Jan 2011). It’s small but exceedingly odd and I loved it.

Also, the museum has a pleasingly geometric floor, which (true fact), was made by Victorian women prisoners at Woking prison.

Rhubarb and custard hat

Vega hat in pink and beige

This is the Vega hat by Brooklyn Tweed. It’s really nicely written – I love the way the decreases create a a star on top.

It’s knitted from two different Rowan yarns and they’re both very satisfyingly woolly.

I’m on a mission to use up my frankly ridiculous stash of odd balls of wool, so hats are the order of the day. I choose these colours more or less at random, but they remind me of those rhubarb and custard sweets you get in big plastic jars in newsagents.

(I knitted it for a friend’s birthday and I promise it looked better on her than on my alien model head.)

It’s a pattern from the ever-expanding Brooklyn Tweed empire of knitwear, which is producing some of the best new knitting patterns I’ve seen for ages. Especially the FALL 2011 ones. I really hate to use the phrase ‘on trend’, but you know what I mean. There is knitwear everywhere at the moment and the BT patterns have just the right amount of texture.

I must knit this hat!

The BT Shelter yarn looks yummy as well.The shade names crack me up – they’ve totally nailed that faded, homespun hipster aesthetic. ‘Hayloft’, ‘Button Jar’, ‘Faded Quilt’, ‘Homemade Jam’, ‘Old Man’s Beard’*. The colours look gorgeous and tweedy though.
*I may have made this one up

Sorry for the radio silence around here over the last week. Looking for a job and various family crises have eaten up my time, but the good news is I’ve found some temporary work until Christmas. I have TONS of stuff to post about though, so I’ll soon be cluttering up your Google Reader account as usual.

The bright front doors of Islington

It was another beautiful sunny day today in London. There’s a bit of a chill in the air but no clouds to be seen.

Sunshine in Angel

I found a park today near Angel tube station that I’ve never seen – Duncan Terrace Gardens. It’s really just a narrow strip of trees between Duncan Terrace and Colebrooke Row, which has recently been re-planted and done up. Apparently Charles Lamb once lived there, which explains the name of the pub just round the corner (it sells lovely pies as well. And beer).

The house owners on Duncan Terrace have all painted their front doors different colours, they looked super-bright and cheerful in the sunshine.

yellow front door

I’m posting them here as I think this behaviour should be encouraged. In fact, it should probably be illegal to paint your front door black. A nice colourful front door cheers everyone up.

Bloomsbury wanders

I think Bloomsbury must be the best place in London for wandering. I was there last week for a quiet amble around.

There are so many good places to people-watch in the area between King’s Cross and the British Museum – Russell Square, the new St Pancras station, the British Library. Not to mention the magnificent London Review Cake Shop, where I went in for a cup of tea and some eavesdropping (two incredibly posh music students systematically slagging off everyone in their department, it was riveting).

Tiled floor

pink windowsill flowers



Yellow/orange berriesThis is definitely my new favourite colour

There’s something interesting around every corner. Do you have anywhere favourite for people-watching? I have to admit it’s my favourite thing to do  (second to sitting on buses listening in to other people’s conversations – I am incurably nosey)

Corduroy for Autumn

Well. Not much to say about this. It’s a boring, grey, corduroy skirt (Simplicity 2451).


Corduroy skirtThanks to my boyfriend for taking this photo to replace the previous and massively unflattering one

I would never buy a skirt on the high street because I always think ‘Come on, I could sew that for half the price’. But sewing skirts is just so boring. It’s because skirt-weight fabrics look so dull and worthy in the fabric shop, next to all the exciting printed cottons and silks. Corduroy and wool are the dark horses of the sewing world.

It’s a great pattern- I’ve made it twice before in stretch denim. The only change I made this time was to lengthen the back darts.

In keeping with my new philosophy of making things to last, rather than clothes that start to unravel if you give them a harsh look, I faux-overlocked all the seams on my Bernina. I also topstitched in a yellow/orange colour (which is a bit lost in the nap of the fabric) and added purple bias binding to finish the facing.

Topstitching thread hates me, but I discovered that actually putting in a new, heavy-duty needle helps a lot. I’m so bad at changing my needle regularly! I even keep the old needles after I’ve changed them, in case I have a needle-based emergency and Ultimate Craft is shut. Is that really awful? I know it’s a bit of a sewing crime.

Simplicity 2451

This photo shows the texture of the corduroy much better, it’s was a cheap buy on Goldhawk Road about 3 years ago. I’m really starting to scrape the bottom of my fabric stash, what with being at home all day. I do have some insane orange/yellow/pink batik fabric that is somewhat taxing my powers of garment visualisation, I think that might be my next challenge.

So there you go, boring skirt no. 1 in a series of many (hopefully)! I’m sure you are on tenterhooks with skirt excitement.

Most baffling copy in Oct Vogue

I really enjoyed the October 2011 issue of Vogue, not least for the Abba-themed knitwear photoshoot with Lara Stone, which was as awesome as it sounds. But I found this a bit puzzling:

Valentino green calf-skin trench coat
Why, what a beautiful green calf-skin Valentino trenchcoat, and a snip at just £4,233. But what’s this down in the descriptive text?

Virtually seamless? Am I being thick, or are there actually more than a few visible seams on that coat? Has something been lost in translation here? Perhaps there’s a new definition of ‘seamless’ which only applies to coats that cost more than four grand?

Fabric shop review: Ultimate Craft

This used to be a bog-standard Stoke Newington pound shop, selling plastic bowls and huge packs of multi-coloured toilet roll, when one day an enticing sign appeared in the window “Craft Shop: coming soon”. Obviously this was a cause for much excitement.

Ultimate Craft shop front

Well, it definitely met my expectations when it opened. It’s a treasure-trove. The best bit about the whole shop is this:

Just LOOK at that huge haberdashery department. They have everything, much more than John Lewis or any of the other big department stores. They also have the full selection of Gutermann thread – silk, metallic, cotton, topstitching, the lot:

I didn’t get a photo of it (I took all of these somewhat sneakily) but on the other side of the store they have an aisle with elastic on rolls that you can buy by the metre, piping cords and home furnishing trims, and professional looking double-sided interfacing in about 4 different widths.

This isn’t a shop that has loads of bargains, like Walthamstow market, but what’s great about it is the massive selection, which is invaluable if you live nearby. I used to hate having to stall a project because I needed to go all the way into town to get a zip or some matching thread.

They also sell lots of fabric:

Fabric department

It’s mostly cheap and cheerful stuff under £5 a metre. They have pre-cut lengths of African wax-print, and they seem to specialise in jerseys:

Jersey fabric
They do sell some posher stuff, like these really lovely silks which were £15 a metre:

Silk fabric

They also sell fabrics with the strangest names I’ve ever seen – see below:

strangely named fabric

Don’t ask me what they do to the chiffon to make it so upset. They also had a roll of ‘Techno Twill’. I have googled extensively to try and find out what ‘American D-Kripp’ is (they also sell boring old ‘Polyester D-Kripp’) without success. It feels like a soft cotton-like polyester fabric, possibly for lining, but who knows?

I’ve only approached the staff for advice once – they never used to sell concealed zippers, so one day I asked the man behind the counter if they were going to get any invisible zips in. He looked at me blankly and said ‘Yes madam, all our zips are divisible’. I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed with the conversation. I could have pressed my point, but I suddenly realised how insane I might look clarifying that I wanted ‘invisible’ zips (‘sorry madam, but all our zips are visible’), so I left it there.

Of course, this shop could hardly be the ULTIMATE craft shop if all they sold was haberdashery and fabric, and they do indeed have a large amount of paints, papers, card, jewellery supplies, knitting needles, wool, and strange craft projects. They even have what seems like a whole aisle of Airfix models if that’s your thing:


Every time I go in they are selling something new – last time they’d got in a stock of Olfa rotary cutters and cutting mats, plus some leather skins (!). I’m not actually sure how they fit everything into the store. It has Tardis-like properties. Definitely worth a visit if you live in the area.

Haberdashery shopping in the USA

(You can sing this post title to the tune of the Bruce Springsteen song, if you try really hard)

I only visited one fabric shop on my recent holiday, which I think is fairly restrained. It was G-Street Fabrics, which is just outside Washington Dulles airport in a little retail park which also contains a frozen yogurt shop (where I dropped off my boyfriend).

G-Street is a nice shop, but in the end I decided they didn’t carry any fabrics I couldn’t find in London, apart from these bizarre 3D cottons:

3D Fabrics

Yes, you do have to look at them through special 3D glasses. My favourite is the mournful looking 3D dogs. The mind boggles. I guess they are intended for quilters? Do you get the glasses free with the yardage, or do you buy them separately? So many questions.

Anyway, sadly I didn’t buy any 3D flame fabric (although now I am strongly wishing I had done). What I did get is some haberdashery bits and pieces I can never find in the shops here, including fold-over elastic in both pale blue and turquoise seersucker. I’ve always wanted to try this stuff. I also got a selection of tape-like products – Seams Great, Stay Tape, and Wonder Tape. I don’t know what the Wonder Tape is for, exactly, but the name made it seem so impressive. Anyone used these before?

haberdashery from G-Street

I also went to a Wal-mart and rifled through the fabric section there. Not having much use for High School Musical themed fabric, I didn’t buy any, but I did get two super-cheap patterns from the new lines by Simplicity and New Look.

Simplicity Sew Simple 2004

Simplicity 2004 is a very simple yoked dress pattern, but it has pockets and was only 97 cents so obviously I had to buy it. I’m slightly worried that it’s been described as a ‘muu-muu’ on pattern review, but I think it could work with elastic or ribbon round the waist to cinch it in. Hopefully.

New Look 6070
New Look 6070 was only 2 dollars, and I like the way they’ve included a line-drawing on the front of the envelope. It’s also the only commercial pattern I’ve ever seen which recommends using an invisible zip. I can see this with a peter pan collar and a fake button placket added, to give it a faux shirtdress feel. I’m thinking about using this John Kaldor fabric I got in Edinburgh ages ago, it’s a lovely rayon crepe which reminds me of the famous Marimekko gingko print.

That’s it for my pattern buying until I get a new job! I’ve bought about 10 new and vintage patterns in the last few months and I really need to get sewing some of them. I blame Colette Patterns for having too many nice designs.

Things I like in October

Things I want to buy, October 2011

Cream lace wedge shoes, £200
Disc jewelry, £39
John Lewis Flore Chair Wood £89
Bubble knit jumper, €49
La Petite Congolaise Cushion, £75 

I think what I like about making Polyvore sets is that it greatly reduces my impulse to go shopping.  Things look so pretty together in 2D, floating on a lovely white background, actually seeing them in reality would be a disappointment.

Anyway here are some things you should buy, or just look at and admire:

1. Cream lace wedge shoes from Clarks. I have these in beige suede and they are my favourite shoes of all time, and the only comfortable wedges I have ever found (even though everyone says that wedges are so easy to walk in. It’s all lies!). £200 for these is a ridiculous price, even if they are covered in lace and a limited edition, but I am coveting the dark blue and dark red suede versions.

2. Disc necklace from Toast. Toast are the supreme purveyor of the ‘trendy art teacher’ look – smocks, wooden jewellery, knitted tunics, and tweed. I don’t love their summer stuff but every autumn when they send me the catalogue I spend ages reading it and wishing that I was one of the moody-looking models slouching around European castles in merino knitwear (I think they’ve gone a bit too ‘feral youth’ with the catalogue cover this autumn though – see below.)

Toast catalogue cover Autumn 2011

3. John Lewis Flore Chair Wood  £89. I bought a lovely Ercol dining table off Ebay for our flat earlier this year, but to go with it we have a folding chair from IKEA and a rickety paint-stained seat we ‘borrowed’ from our old housemates (who found it in the basement). These school chairs would do nicely as a replacement.

4. Bubble knit jumper from COS, €49. My heart skipped a beat when I found out that COS have finally opened an online shop. The materials they use are incredible – look at this padded scuba skirt. They have great knitwear as well, and I would like this bright yellow bubbly jumper to make me happy throughout the winter.

5. I found La Petite Congolaise through an interior design blog. Her cushions are pretty expensive, but she does have a massive selection of African prints to choose from. If you sew these are super easy to replicate – you can buy African wax-print fabric all over London, or online. I’d love to make a wax-print cushion with denim piping (would probably make it an envelope back though, after my last traumatic experience making piped, zipped cushions).

Have you been doing any internet window shopping lately?

Sunshine dress – Vogue 9668

Here’s the dress I was frantically trying to finish before my recent holiday – Vogue 9668 in yellow gingham.

Vogue 9668 - Sunshine dress
Sorry about my dreadful smirk

I bought the fabric in May and it’s been marinating in my stash for a few months.  I LOVE large gingham prints, and thought this would be perfect for a beach wedding*, but didn’t want to do something too obviously 1950s. I bought a few vintage patterns on Etsy which I thought about using, but in the end  Vogue 9668 seemed like the best choice as I’ve made it twice before.
*The wedding ended up actually being in the living room of our rental house, due to a massive storm at the wrong moment, but I reckon it was still technically a beach wedding.

The fabric is so super fine and drapey, I love it. I got it from Fabrics Galore in Battersea, and apparently it’s from Paul Smith, I’m guessing it was used for their line of men’s shirts. The bodice and midriff are self-lined, and the skirt is lined with white cotton poplin.

Here’s the back:

I made a metric ton of alterations on this dress, some good, some not so good.

Before I cut the fabric –

-An FBA on the bodice
-Changed the bodice so the two sides meet in a sort of V/scoop neck,  instead of coming straight down to the midriff band (which I thought was a bit too low-cut for a wedding)
-Re-drawing the armholes so they were a better fit to add sleeves. I basically made this up as you can probably tell.

Vogue 9668 inside the bodice
Here's the inside with the bra cups sewn in

While I was making the dress –

-Bra cups sewn into the lining, as this style is too low-cut in the back to wear a normal bra.
-Added yellow piping to the midriff seams
-I changed the massive bust dart into two smaller ones, which worked extremely well in reducing-‘pointiness’, but made it a pain to sew the bodice to the midriff. Should have done this BEFORE cutting out the fabric.
-Sewed a ribbon to the back, as otherwise the dress constantly slipped off my shoulders in a Flashdance stylee.

Vogue 9668 back and ribbon
RIBBON ENHANCE! Please note my friend's amazing drawing of a jar of treacle, top left

Otherwise I pretty much followed the Vogue instructions, even hand-sewing down the midriff facing to the skirt, which is an unusual occurance as I loathe and despise hand-sewing (that’s why me and embroidery have never got on).

Reasons I love this dress:

      • It’s yellow gingham! It makes me feel like Doris Day.
      • Adding bra cups to the dress was a great idea, I feel super sewing smug about this.
      • I finished off all the seams properly for once.
      • It’s great for twirling around in, because of the bias cut skirt.

Twirling around in Vogue 9668

Reasons this dress could be better:

  • Oh dear, why didn’t I match up the checks on the front skirt? The back skirt is great but for some reason (I think it’s called ‘sewing after 11pm’) the front is totally out.
  • The fit isn’t amazing – you can see that the ribbon puts a lot of strain on the back bodice pieces, and the front stands away from my body a bit (it is fully interfaced so that doesn’t help).
  • It’s a smidgen too tight round the waist. After eating a huge meal and dancing around in 90% humidity at the wedding, I had to admit defeat and change into something more comfortable.
  • I’m not naturally a yellow sort of person, although this dress may have won me over.

On balance, I love this dress, even though it has absolutely no place in my daily life, and it’s too summery for most British weddings, so I forsee a long future in the wardrobe for poor Vogue 9668.  Somebody I know really has to get married on a beach so I have an excuse to wear it again. The South of France would be acceptable, or the Caribbean. Maybe even an Italian lake, I’m not fussy.

Jumping in Vogue 9668
Invite me to your wedding! I will jump around like a fool!

(sorry about not wearing shoes in these photos and thus exposing you to my feet. I know they look really dirty but it’s a combination of a tan and some dodgy lighting, honest)