Homemade jeans – Burda 7863

‘Homemade jeans’ is the kind of cutting insult that would lead you to weep silently in the toilets at school – ‘Where’d you get your jeans? Did your mum make them?”.

Thankfully I am no longer 13 years old, so I’m not afraid to say that YES I made my own jeans, and yes, I am ridiculously proud. In fact I may have danced around the house in them singing a special ‘I made jeans’ song as soon as they were done.

Burda 7863 - stretch skinny jeans

I actually finished them a week ago, but blimey, it’s hard to take outfit photos at the moment, due to it being dark for 80% of the day. An added complication is that my in-house photographer is off sunning himself in New Zealand. Plus, the fabric is blue/black – not the easiest colour to capture.

I had to resort to desperate measures, so I actually got up early (before 7am! Don’t say I never do anything for you) to try and document these for the blog. It was not a success. The photo above was the best of a bad bunch.

Well it was either that or this deadpan mug-shot face:

Burda 7863 - stretch skinny jeans from Tissu Fabrics

Taking pictures of the back was even more challenging.

Burda 7863 - stretch skinny jeans back view

These jeans were designed to be a wearable muslin, and I have actually worn them twice in public without anyone pointing, laughing, or saying ‘what the hell is that on your legs?’.

They are far from perfect. There are fitting issues and sewing mistakes galore. But this post is just for gloating. I’ll do another one going over all the information in EXHAUSTIVE DETAIL (bet you can hardly wait).

(The pattern is Burda 7863, inspired by the many amazing versions from Handmade by Carolyn. The fabric is this stretch denim from Tissu Fabrics.)

Do you dress for your shape or wear what you like?

Tall ladies of the internet! Check out this vintage fashion advice my friend posted on Facebook:
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Ignore for a minute the fact that both clothing recommendations look basically identical. Do you think about your height and shape when you’re deciding what to wear?

You can find this advice everywhere, but I’ve never paid much attention, although I loved Trinny and Susannah back in the day (I always wanted to go into their magical 360 degree mirror cabinet. Admit it, how perfect would that be for fitting home-sewn clothes?)

This vintage fashion advice seems to be saying that tall girls can’t pull off girly clothing, which is basically ridiculous. And yet – I am sort of uncomfortable in super-girly outfits. I feel like I’m wearing a costume. For example, although I love this dress I made, I’ve only worn it about 3 times.

Things get even more complicated when you think about side-to-side shape, rather than just up-and-down. You enter the area of fruit based advice. You know, comparing ladies to apples and pears and carrots and what-not.

body shape

After doing some googling, I discovered that Caryn Franklin (yes, her off the Clothes Show!) has some pretty comprehensive style guides on her website. She even has a guide specifically for tall, pear-shaped ladies, which I promptly downloaded.

It says that pear-shaped ladies should avoid skinny jeans and instead wear black A-line skirts to disguise their shameful hip area, which is what these style advice people always say.

When it comes to tall women though, the guide gives exactly the OPPOSITE advice to the anonymous vintage style book author. She says that too often we wear dark, manly clothes to try and blend in, when we should aim for more ‘feminine, sensual styles’

Choose clothes that have softer features. Fitted blouses with shaping and feminine touches like pussy bows, for instance, still perform the same function as a plain shirt. For knitwear choose textured knits, like cable, where you can enjoy the soft rounded knitted stitching. This will add a level of femininity and sensuality and you can take it further. A soft wrap around style with a knitted collar will be far more interesting than a plain pullover. Designs that have a certain amount of volume in them will always feminise your silhouette, simply put, this means look for garments that have more material in them.

So what are you saying, Caryn? Should I be wrapping myself up in acres of frilled lace and cable knitwear? I thought I was supposed to avoid ‘little girl’ fashions!

Too girly?
Too girly?

Some of the recommendations make sense though. I tried on some maxi skirts the other day, and they actually looked awesome – and they are recommended wear for  tall people.

What do you reckon? Do you try and ‘dress for your shape’?

Penguin’s eggs, the Antarctic, and how to keep warm

This is actually Stoke Newington, not the Antarctic, but it's easy to get confused
This is actually Stoke Newington, not the Antarctic, but it’s easy to get confused

It’s below freezing in London at the moment. How do you cope with the cold weather? Last year I found an unusual solution – this book.

It’s called ‘The Worst Journey in the World’, and it’s by a guy who rejoiced in the name ‘Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard’, and was on the Polar expedition with Captain Scott.

The ‘worst journey’ wasn’t actually the trek to the Pole, but a 2-month quest he and two others took through the Antarctic in the depth of winter, to collect some penguin’s eggs which scientists at the time thought might be a vital missing link in evolutionary studies (spoiler alert: they weren’t).

It was pitch black the whole time. They trekked 70 miles in the snow, sometimes travelling just 1 mile a day in temperatures of -60. It was so cold that each morning they had to prise their sleeping bags open so that they’d freeze with a hole where they could insert themselves at night. It was so cold that their sweat iced up immediately and didn’t melt, so they walked everywhere with massive sheets of ice moulded to their bodies.

All their teeth fell out after the nerves died. If they stood still for more than 30 seconds, their clothes and harness would become frozen into position and they’d have to man-haul sledges in that pose the whole day.

It was bloody cold, is what I’m trying to say. At one point their tent blows away during a huge blizzard and they lie on the floor in a icy cave, waiting for death. Then the blizzard lets up a bit and they struggle outside to realise the tent has miraculously been caught on a bit of rock outside. It’s nail-biting stuff.

This is the explorers on return to base camp. The other two later died on Scott’s ill-fated Polar expedition

What’s really heartbreaking is that not only were the penguin’s eggs a massive red herring, but when Apsley took them to the Natural History Museum a clerk basically told him to piss off and stop bothering people doing important scientific work. Then nobody even bothered to dissect the eggs for years.

After reading this book I had a mental epiphany, which is that if they could cope with two months of this, I could cope with getting out of bed in a cold flat and getting into a hot shower. So if you want to feel slightly warmer than a man with only a reindeer fur sleeping bag between him and the frozen Antarctic waste, I recommend this book. It is quite long though.

If you don’t have time to wade through 600 pages, and you don’t want to crank up the heating bills either, I recommend these things instead:

  • Get two hot water bottles (one for your feet and one to cling to desperately). You can even make your own covers.
  • Knit some handwarmers that you can wear indoors while still being able to type, make cups of tea etc. I recommend this pattern.
  • Uniqlo Heat Tech is surprisingly good. It’s all polyester, but somehow breathable. The tights are particularly amazing.
  • I have been living in my boyfriend’s Snugpak army surplus bodywarmer non-stop for the last week. It’s a bit Made in Chelsea to actually wear out of the house, but it does have military grade warming properties.
  • Accept any invitations to go out. Whether you’re in a public place or someone else’s house, at least they’ll be paying for the heating.

Any other strategies for the current weather?

This guy looks quite happy about it

Paviapavia – Etsy haberdashery shop

I find Etsy shopping frustrating. It’s like a gigantic charity shop with pretensions. You know there must be good stuff amongst the 90s ‘vintage’ and hand-made twig wreaths, but you need dedication to find it. I always give up around the 3rd page of results.

But luckily my friend Solii is an advanced-level Etsy shopper, and she introduced me to Paviapavia. This shop is a haberdashery treasure trove, stuffed with things like this:

And this:

And this:

Unbelievably, everything is under 3 quid. It’s cheaper than chips.

My favourite category is Appliques, but be warned: there are 1043 objects in there. You may experience chiffon flower fatigue by the end.

I have no idea what I would do with this stuff. There could be a danger of the Per Una Effect (although to be fair the actual Per Una line has seen a dramatic reduction in random haberdashery usage), but there must be spectacular ways to add these things to sewing projects. Like maybe this around a neckline?

Or this on the back of a 30s style dress?

Do you have any Etsy shop recommendations? I’m okay at finding vintage patterns but lost when it comes to everything else.

In other news, I’ve finally joined the 21st century and upgraded to a shiny new iPhone. This means I can start Instagramming, 2 years later than the rest of the world. I look forward to taking many photos of food I’m about to eat. If you’re on Instagram, let me know so I can follow you!

Maudella patterns from the 60s and 70s

Fun fact of the day: Did you know that New Look patterns actually started out as Maudella, a British company? It was set up in 1937 in Yorkshire. Now owned by Simplicity, of course. I’ve never sewn a New Look pattern, but I love Maudella.

maudella new look

You can still find super-old Maudella patterns on Ebay, but my favourites are from the 60s/70s era. They mostly put out simple separates and dresses, and they’re so go-ahead, so peppy, so Helen Gurley Brown-era Cosmopolitan reader.

I’ve got two in my collection. Firstly this sweetheart dress with puffed sleeves, which I got for 99p on Ebay. 70s patterns are still going cheap at the moment, but I think more people are looking for them.

Will the same thing ever happen to those 80s monstrosities all over Etsy, I wonder? Who will rehabilitate the immense puffed sleeve?
maudella dress front

This pattern may actually be from the late 60s, not 70s at all. I love the dolly shoes. Clarks are doing a similar vintage style at the moment that I’m coveting.

My other Maudella find is this one, which Kerrie kindly sent me. This is a hard-working pattern: you get a double-darted pencil skirt for weekdays in the typing pool, and a long floral a-line number for relaxing in at the weekend, crocheting a new afghan perhaps. The woman on the left has some extreme pointy nails going on.

maudella skirt

Maudella patterns don’t pop up that much on Ebay and Etsy.  I’m kind of in love with this ‘Ship n Shore Leave’ beauty that’s currently available.


These people don’t seem to belong to the same pattern, with Ms. Flower Power on the right, a homage to Chairman Mao at the back, and God-knows-what on the left. Funky chef’s uniform?

The illustrations are nearly always great on Maudella envelopes. I’ll leave you with this beauty, which is rather risque for a vintage pattern. Check out the lady in pink at the bottom, going for some tan-line-free sunbathing…


150 years of style on the Tube

Today is the 150th anniversary of the London Underground!


I hardly ever travel on the Underground. I’m lucky enough to be able to cycle to work, and I live in Hackney which is a tube station desert.

But when I do venture down, my favourite thing to do is people-watching. You have to be sneaky about this (making eye-contact is a huge faux pas), but the entertainment factor is high. I’ve spotted many amazing outfits deep below London.

So in honour of the occasion, here are some stylish tube-dwellers of the past for your enjoyment.

Firstly, she may not actually be on a train, but I love this image of an Underground station painter during WW1, from the London Transport Museum website. Check out the boots, the painting smock, and the guy attempting to photo-bomb in the bottom right.


I can’t work out if this shot from Life was modelled or not – just look how perfect the outfit and hair are on the woman in the front. If you click to view the large version you can see lots of men in uniform joking around (they are definitely not all standing on the right to let people pass, tut tut), and a woman on the left who seems to be hiding her face from the camera.


Everything about this picture is perfect, from the huge plaid coat (home-sewn or bought? The checks don’t quite match up) to the sensible court shoes, neatly rolled umbrella and seamed stockings. Plus the huge surreal hands reaching towards her on the ad poster.


This image is from the Guardian’s gallery of Underground images. Two uncomfortable looking men surrounded by a bevy of mini-skirted ladies. Actually it’s not even a real tube, but a mock-up of the brand new Victoria line at the Design Centre in 1968. You can tell by how clean it is.

Victoria Line Exhibition, 1968

Punks on the tube, back when you could smoke in the Underground (it wasn’t banned until 1984!). I think this hair should come back. We have the technology to make it happen. If you read England’s Dreaming you’ll discover that Sid Vicious made his hair stick up by smearing on Vaseline and lying with his head in the oven. Now we have John Frieda.

punks on the tube

I saved my favourite one until last – it’s the Queen on the tube! Wearing an excellent matching hat/dress combo, and a huge fur coat which is probably stuck deep at the back of a Palace wardrobe nowadays. She looks unamused.


Happy birthday tube! Long may you continue, as long as I never have to travel on the Northern Line at rush hour.

Red Elisalex skater dress from By Hand London

Everyone needs a new dress for Christmas, right? This was mine.

red ponte knit dress front

It’s inspired by the skater dresses you can see all over the high street. In fact it’s almost identical to this ASOS one.

When did full skirts start being called ‘skater’, by the way? I think it must be an ice-skating ref instead of a skateboarding thing. A bit more ‘Winter Olympics’ than ‘Vans Warped Tour’. Anyone want to shed light on this important issue?

Anyway my skater dress is made from ponte knit from Tissu Fabrics (£5 a metre!) and the Elisalex dress bodice from By Hand London. Here’s my verdict on both:

  • The fabric is easy to sew, and forgiving to wear. But blimey, it’s a bit crackly and static-y. Wearing tights underneath makes the skirt unbelievably clingy.
  • The Elisalex bodice is a beaut. I cut a size 10 to account for stretch, and I love it. So easy to fit. I used a half-circle skirt (the tutorial was also from the By Hand London website, so thanks ladies!)

red dress back

I like the deep V on the back on this dress, but next time will widen the shoulders a bit.

This dress was worn for my work do, a friend’s  annual Christmas dinner, and the big day itself. Not bad for a tenner’s worth of fabric and an invisible zip.

I put clear elastic in the neckline and the waistband, and actually CHANGED THE THREAD in my overlocker to match the fabric, for the first time since I got the thing. Which was, er, more than a year ago. Shameful.

Okay, can I ask for some help from any fitting experts out there? I quite often get these pesky folds in the back shoulder. Here’s an illustrative photo with some giant red arrows.


I think it’s something to do with my prominent shoulderblades and general posture. I looked in Fit for Real People and they called it the ‘hunchback’ fitting problem, which made me want to just give up. I’m open to advice though, don’t hesitate if you think I need the well-known ‘Quasimodo alteration’ or similar.

I’m happy with the dress though. Nothing more cheerful than red in the winter.

red ponte dress

I’d use this knit again, despite the static. I fancy trying to replicate this Topshop dress in a few colours, maybe a blue and a marled grey.

You can buy the Elisalex dress pattern here, and the fabric I used here.

New Year highlights and resolutions

Happy New Year! Here’s to an extremely lucky, rain-free, and prosperous 2013.

For your enjoyment, here is a murky picture of me enjoying the Edinburgh New Year fireworks, complete with fizzy wine in a plastic cup. For bonus points, can you spot the shivering toga-clad students in this photo?


I’ve been AWOL due to a hectic schedule of watching crap TV, eating Lindor, and enjoying the freezing delights of Scotland at Christmas. I did meet up with Debi and Kerrie in Glasgow for a sneaky Mandors visit which was fun – check out Debi’s blog for a picture of said historic meeting.

But now I’m back and raring to go! I’m determined to beat my blogging record from last year (a measly 77 posts). This must also be the year I master the self-portrait, especially as my in-house photo taker and tea-maker is away for the whole of January, and I already have three finished garments waiting to be photographed.

2012 was an awesome year. Here are my highlights, in no particular order:

sunset in Norway
Sunset in Norway
  • Standing on a troll’s tongue in Norway, and experiencing the strange delights of Norwegian cuisine (bolognaise pizza anyone? no?)
  • Watching and enjoying esoteric sports including synchronised swimming, handball, and water polo (thanks, London Olympics!)
  • Getting a tweet from Shelagh Fogarty, personal heroine and Radio 5 Live presenter.
  • Touching my toes for the first time in 20 years (thanks, ballet classes!)
  • Hobnobbing in REAL LIFE with sewing bloggers like Zoe, Rehanon, Karen, Emily, Elisalex, Claire, Julia and more.
  • Growing a mini oasis on our Hackney balcony.
  • Getting engaged under a beautiful sunset (see above).
  • Tackling the fly front and winning, thanks to an awesome tutorial from Grainline.
  • Bouncing on a Stonehenge replica somewhere in Walthamstow Marshes on a scorching hot day.
Bouncy Stonehenge, one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time

Last year I fulfilled all of my New Year’s Resolutions, or ‘objectives’ as my friend Jenny prefers to call them (I approve of this as it sounds incredibly business-like). But I only had three, which is cheating really.

This year I have a whole enormous teetering pile of objectives, with three specific sewing ones:

  1. Take part in Me-Made-May and actually make it to the end. Third time lucky.
  2. Scale the trouser-making mountain and sew some stretch skinny jeans.
  3. Work on my personal style so I only make what I’ll actually wear.

The key to keeping any resolution is to make it specific, so I think the first two are okay. The last one is way too vague, but I’m working on that. Expect a post about it soon. Happy 2013!