Me-Made-May 2013 – who’s in?

Spring is here! Tomorrow is payday! And there’s one more thing that’s making me happy – guess what starts on Wednesday? It’s:



I wouldn’t normally stretch to four exclamation marks, but I’m very excited about this year’s challenge. Huge thanks go out to Zoe for organising this again.


So far I’ve taken part in Self-Stitched September 11 (went on holiday halfway through and gave up) and Me-Made-May 12 (left my camera on the train so had many outfits undocumented). This year I’m going to see it through the end. Fingers crossed.

Here’s why I love the Me-Made-May concept:

  • It forces me to think creatively about what I put on every day.
  • Photographing my outfits is a great way to find out what I actually wear.
  • It helps me figure out where the gaps in my me-made wardrobe are and plan to fill them.
  • The community of people taking part is amazing. It’s inspiring to see what others around the world make and wear.

I have a lot more home-sewn stuff than last year, so I’m hoping to wear mainly me-made outfits, combined with RTW stuff that I really love. I’ve been thinking a lot about the issues in my last post – if you didn’t see the comments, Franca of Oranges and Apples made a great point about buying less clothing (and make sure you read her comprehensive post about untangling ethical fashion).

My major piece of sewing will be a dress for a wedding on 18th May. I have the fabric – gorgeous polka dot crepe I won in a giveaway from the lovely Rehanon – but still need to decide on a pattern.

If you’re taking part, I have a question – where are you going to document your progress? I’ve joined the Flickr group, which is always a great place to find everyone’s outfits. But I’ll also probably post some via Instagram (you can find my feed here), and do a weekly blog round-up. Let me know what you’re doing so I can follow you!

Good luck to everyone taking part! Ready….steady….

The Bangladesh factory disaster and cheap clothing – what can we do?

The images coming out of Bangladesh are heart-breaking.


And the search footage they’ve been showing on the news is harrowing. It makes you feel powerless.

Plus, this Bangladesh news comes right on the heels of the story about Zara using slave labour, which came 2 years after a story…accusing Zara of using slave labour. They obviously don’t care.

And why should they? They’re heaped with admiring comments, not just from fashion blogs, but from journalists in the NYTimes.

I know consumers can exert pressure on companies, but could brands like Zara and Primark even operate without cut-price labour? Their whole business model is built on it.

My wardrobe is never going to be entirely hand-made. I buy high street clothes. And even if I didn’t, I’d be involved. I have no idea where most of my fabric came from. The cotton could have been picked by forced labour in Uzbekistan. It’s so hard to keep track of everything.

As home-sewers, we know how much work goes into a garment. However complicated a clothing supply chain gets, we know that at the end of it there are people, not just machines.

And that $1.14, divided between seven of those people, is not enough pay for making a pair of jeans.

Zara jeans

The only ray of hope (if you can call it that) is that the Bangladesh tragedy is getting a lot of press attention. And the press is linking the disaster with the clothing industry in a way I’ve not seen before.

The BBC even recorded this video asking people if they knew where their clothes were made (non-spoiler: nobody did).

The tangible things I can think of doing are:

  • Donate to Anti-Slavery International. They are the only UK charity campaigning to stop slave labour. Their magazine is how I found out about the forced labour in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan.
  • Talking about the issue and try and keep it in the news (hence this post).

I don’t know what I can do apart from that and I feel pretty helpless.

Some resources I found:

– The author of Overdressed, a book about the rise of cheap clothing, has a list of actions you can take here.

Labour Behind The Label support garment workers. They grade high street companies on how ethical they are.

– The Guardian have an ethical fashion directory here

Where I buy fabric: in London and online

This week I wrote a guest post for the lovely ladies at Tatty Devine! It’s all about getting started with sewing, and you can read it here. (While you’re there, you should also see this awesome post about the clothes Tatty staff have made).

Watching the Great British Sewing Bee has started me thinking. Specifically, about what the most challenging part of dressmaking is.

My conclusion? I think it’s matching the right pattern to the right fabric. Everything else is a skill you can learn, but this is more like a dark art.

Fabric selection for quilt - greens, purples, yellows

I still struggle with it, but it’s even harder when you’re just starting out and have no idea how to tell good fabric from bad, and where to buy it.

So I’ve been having a think about where I usually buy fabric and haberdashery, and this is what I came up with. I’d love to know where you get yours!

Where I buy Haberdashery

My first port of call for zips, thread, and elastic is always Ultimate Craft. It’s 5 minutes from my house and next to a newsagent that sells Burda magazines, what’s not to like?


Their haberdashery selection is immense, but I steer clear of the fabric after some bad experiences, although the jersey ribbing is okay (I still haven’t found out what the hell American D-Kripp is).

If Ultimate Craft don’t have it, or I can’t get there in time, I order online from Jaycotts. They have everything and the delivery is super-fast.

Where I Buy Fabric

I am terrible shopper. I’m a cheapskate and bad at making buying decisions (seriously never go shopping with me, it’s horrible). This applies to fabric too. So I mainly stock up when I spy a bargain on the horizon, like the Peter Jensen Sample sale or the semi-mythical Tottenham knit warehouse.

Otherwise, I would head to Dalston Mill Fabrics. Again, the ‘near my house’ factor is key, but they do have a big selection of fabrics, and a haberdashery cave at the back which has LOADS of buttons. Seriously, this is an A+++ button destination.


The people who run the shop are a little eccentric, and lots of the bolts are stored up on high shelves – they literally pull the fabric down on top of you with a massive stick. So it’s an interesting shopping experience. You don’t get that online.

For vintage fabric, I can’t resist The Shop on Cheshire Street.

the shop at cheshire street

It’s a vintage clothes shop that just happens to sell lots of  textiles. This photo is misleading – these shelves are normally full to bursting with amazing fabric. Not just little scraps either, I’ve bought 3 metres there before in one piece. And it’s cheap – about £5-£20 for each length. There’s also an old cabinet chock-full of vintage ribbons, lace and trims.  It’s tiny though, so don’t all head there at once.

Online fabric shopping destinations

You may think I’m crazy for saying this, but Fabricland has become one of my favourite online fabric websites. Yes, it’s a hell-hole of animated gifs, but it’s updated all the time, and they have SO MUCH STUFF.

I’ve regularly found the exact same fabric cheaper here than in other online and off-line shops. You just need patience and a strong stomach. Ordering is done over the phone but they’re very helpful.

fabric land copy
The Fabricland website. Not suitable for epileptics or UX designers.

Tissu Fabrics This is the motherlode of stretch fabrics. Delivery is fast, it’s cheap, and the quality is good. My Elisalex skater dress is made from ponte knit I got from here.

Honourable mentions

Goldhawk Road is objectively the best place to buy fabric in London, but I find it overwhelming. There’s too much choice! I hardly bought anything at the recent sewing meet-up for this reason. It’s also really far from Hackney, so I only make it out there about once a year.

Raystitch is lovely and sells gorgeous, organic fabric (I reviewed it here), I pop in whenever I’m in Islington.

Our Patterned Hand (review here) has beautiful fabrics you won’t find anywhere else, but it’s pricey.

Fabrics Galore I believe this is where a lot of the Great British Sewing Bee fabric came from. It’s a lovely shop, but again a huge pain to get to from Hackney so it’s a once a year sort of thing.

Have I missed anywhere out? Where do you buy fabric?

Sewing summit of splendour

You’ll probably be seeing this picture on a lot of sewing blogs. It’s a lovely souvenir of the massive meet-up that Rachel organised this weekend.

sewing summit
Photo by

Actully, meet-up is too small a word to accurately encapsulate the day. It was a stitching summit, a meeting of minds, the SXSW of sewing blogs. It was epic. The sun came out just for us.



Rachel is an amazing force of nature. I have put together work conferences this size and I know what an immense pain it is trying to wrangle everyone. She made it seem easy, bringing along a photographer (who took most of these great photos), getting goodie bags for everyone, herding us onto the tube, and shepherding us all along for a absolutely delicious Lebanese meal.

I spent the whole day chatting, meeting new people, and laughing my head off, as you can see in this photo.

Photo by

I did have a small crisis about what to wear. I couldn’t decide how cold it was going to be, so in the end I wore my blue pencil skirt (I’ve removed the pockets from this and it hangs a lot better) and my trusty old leopard print top.

My boyfriend told me not to wear heels as I’d be ‘the tallest person there’ but he was totally WRONG. Ha! It was awesome to catch up with fellow tall ladies like Shivani and Rachel, and meet new ones too.

me Shivani and Rachel
Photo by

I reckon if you’re tall you basically have to learn to sew, or resign yourself to shopping at Long Tall Sally and/or never wearing skirts that finish below the knee.

Chatting to everyone was impossible with nearly 50 bloggers there, but I gave it a good go anyway. It was awesome meeting the incredibly glamorous Nicole Needles, Katy of Sleek Silhouette in her McCalls 6503 dress (twinsies), super-talented Sally from Charity Shop Chic, and so many more lovely women. It doesn’t seem statistically likely that out of 50 people, everyone was nice, but somehow we beat the odds.

I was pretty good in the shopping stakes, only spending £6 on some emerald green cotton for a skirt. For some reason I took a picture of this joker fabric, I think because it was hideous, although now I’m looking at it I can see it as a tastelessly brilliant jacket lining…

jester fabric

This is what we all looked like at lunch. Truly you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the sound of 50 sewing bloggers all talking simultaneously in a Lebanese restaurant.


I got home exhausted, hoarse, inspired to sew more, and totally exhilarated. It was the best day I’ve had in ages. I have a nagging fear that even my nuptials in July won’t live up to it (there will definitely be less sewing chat on my wedding day).

Huge thanks to Rachel for co-ordinating, Janene for organising the delicious food, and everyone else for being awesome and ridiculously well-dressed.

Important parrot update

It’s been a while, but my parrot obsession is still undimmed.

A pretentious children’s shop in Stoke Newington is currently showcasing these in their window:

mini rodini

I tracked them down to a label called Mini Rodini, who sell overpriced clothing for tiny hipsters. I really need this jumper.

parrot jumperWhy should children get all the best clothes? Who spends £45 on a sweatshirt for a 7-yr old anyway? It’s so unfair.

Apparently there’s a childhood obesity epidemic, but it doesn’t seem to have reached Scandinavia, where this label is from. The largest size they do in these still wouldn’t fit me. I am tempted to do some screen-printing and rip this sweatshirt off (also if I spot that budgie fabric anywhere my jumpsuit plans will be resurrected ASAP).

On the other hand, this Charlotte Taylor dress is adult-sized, and possibly the best dress in the history of the world.

parrot dress

It’s like Sonia Delauney with parrots. Luckily it’s sold out as it’s a bit over my budget.

My final parrot find is from Boticca.

I signed up to this accessories website to try and find some interesting wedding earrings, but I find it nearly impossible to navigate. It has the Etsy problem – there’s just WAY too much stuff. Also Boticca send me nearly as many emails as Linkedin, which is a pretty high spamming bar to reach.

However I did manage to find this origami parrot necklace, which is also over my budget. I like to admire it from afar though.

design-fetish-origami-jewelry-2This concludes your April ’13 parrot update.

p.s. who’s going to the London meet-up on Saturday? I’m pretty excited about the thought of that many sewing bloggers gathered in one place. It may cause a huge ripple in the space-time-sewing continuum.

New favourites

New favourite colour combo:

My boyfriend put together this amazing tulip and daffodil bouquet which is eye-poppingly full of spring: sherbert orange, violet,  yellow and green all mixed together.


New favourite blog:

The Costume Rail 

I just discovered this blog by a professional costume designer and maker. I love her analysis of film, tv and theatre costume, and there’s also brilliant posts on fishtail dressesvintage underwear, and novelty knitwear.

(incidentally I am still using Google Reader to save all new blog finds. I’m living in denial.)

New favourite dress:

Picture borrowed from Me and My Polar Bear

This amazoid galaxy Elisalex dress sewn by Emily of Me And My Polar Bear.

Would you believe this fabric is actually a duvet cover from Tesco? As soon as I saw this dress on Twitter I bought the same bedding set (you can get it here). It’s pretty stiff poly-cotton though so I’m still working out what to make with it. I think another Elisalex would be a stalking move too far…

New favourite pattern:

McCalls 6531. It’s a kimono sleeve anorak pattern. I’ve still got some lovely khaki waxed cotton left over from the Peter Jensen sample sale (the gift that keeps on giving) and thought the two could combine into a summer jacket. I’ve bought a separating zipper and everything.


What do you think though? Too 80s? I was going to make the long version with the pockets, but on reflection the shorter jacket might actually be nicer… (Please ignore the McCalls styling, as usual)

The Great British Sewing Bee: some thoughts

Are you watching The Great British Sewing Bee? I’m glued to the telly. It’s been filmed about a mile away from my house – I’ve walked past that converted chapel many times without realising what delights lay upstairs…

My friend lives in those towers! I've been on that bus! I've shopped in that Leyland! etc etc
My friend lives in those towers! I’ve been on that bus! I’ve shopped in that Leyland! etc etc

I have SO MANY thoughts on it that I’ve organised them neatly into categories for you. You’re welcome.

The Great British Sewing Bee vs. The Great British Bake-Off – which is better?

– Patrick Grant is much better than Paul ‘housewives favourite’ Hollywood. Patrick’s beard alone is worth the price of admission. Whereas May Martin is not quite as good as living legend Mary Berry. Sorry May. Those are big shoes to fill.

Patrick's beard in full flow
Beard of glory

– On the other hand, Claudia Winkleman is a reasonable sub for Mel and Sue, but she does look very orange, as pointed out by The Perfect Nose.  I never notice it on Strictly Come Dancing, probably because anyone in that studio a shade paler than ‘radioactive Dale Winton’ is immediately frog-marched to a tanning booth.

– Trying to be objective, I think sewing has less of an imediate appeal than baking. There’s something about cake that almost makes you want to lick the screen – that doesn’t quite translate to hemlines and zips.

-Baking is also loads quicker than sewing, so the time constraints make more sense. A cake that took 12 hours of work would be pretty special, but you can sink that into a dress without batting an eye-lid.

The contestants

I think they’ve done a great job of casting this show. Everyone is an interesting character. Let’s be honest, TV is about people, not skills. This show was never going to be an instructional video and they weren’t really looking for the best amateur sewers in the UK (although they seem to have accidentally unearthed one in the shape of Anne. The woman has a whole forum dedicated to her advice).

I was actually giddy at the amount of sewing content they did include, including that trippy little animation on installing a fly zipper which was probably lost on 80% of the viewing public.

I also liked this little pocket demonstration
I also liked this little pocket demonstration

Same goes for the competition format. I wish nobody had to leave each week but TV demands a narrative and someone to root for. I was really sad to see Michelle, Tilly and Mark leave, but my current favourite is definitely Sandra, mainly because of her awesome Black Country accent. And her pockets.

Pockets of joy
Pockets of joy

The twee factor

Is minimal, thank God. I’m so glad it’s all about dressmaking, with the Cath Kidston homeware stuff relegated to those bits about sewing laundry bag or a cushion with rabbit ears (whatever the hell that was). They may be useless but they are a convenient moment for a tea-break.

Sewing behaviours described by the contestants’s friends and family that I recognise in myself, and was relieved to hear discussed on national television

  • Hoarding large piles of fabric in odd places
  • Disappearing off for hours to sew and forgetting to eat regular meals
  • Leaving pins scattered freely around the house which then end up in your boyfriend’s feet
  • Sewing garments for you, your friends, and anyone except your long-suffering partner
  • Frantic last-minute finishing leading to attaching things the wrong way round

The impact on the Great British Public

A small selection of a huge amount of tweets about GBSB

Twitter seemed to like it, anyway. Some of the reviewers weren’t so keen, saying that ‘trousers just aren’t as sexy as chocolate cake’, I think that depends on who’s wearing the trousers. But apparently haberdashery sales are soaring, which can’t be bad.

Watching this programme reminded me of seeing your favourite band in the world on the telly as a teenager. You’re torn between feelings of insane joy and nit-picky possessiveness.

But I really hope an interest in dressmaking surges. I don’t think everyone is going to learn to sew, realistically. It takes a lot of time and money. But having an idea about what goes into clothes can only help people make better buying decisions.

Further reading

Anyway I have MANY MORE thoughts but I’ll spare you for now. You should go and read these:

  • Ann Rowley is giving some fascinating behind-the-scenes info on this Artisans Square thread, including the fact that this week they were supposed to be making a child’s party outfit until the last minute…
  • The Thrifty Stitcher was the sewing consultant for the programme, and she drafted that trouser pattern they made!
  • These Twitter reviews in the Independent are amusing.

Final thought

Why was nobody (except for Michelle) using a rotary cutter? I couldn’t live without mine now. Do you use one?

McCalls 6355 – black and white dress

Look! I’m outside! And I’m not wearing a coat!

black and white dress

These photos were taken in the lovely Abney Park Cemetery here in Stoke Newington. It’s now a nature reserve, but is still filled with hundreds of graves.

So, it’s possible that the indistinct halo near my left hand is a friendly hovering spirit, mysteriously caught on film. Yes, definitely a spirit and not a big greasy smear on my camera lens.

I did try and persuade my boyfriend to take more pictures after I noticed the big smudges but he wasn’t having any of it.

abney park chapel photo

The park is a great place for a walk, spooky and quiet. Just be warned, there are large numbers of single men hanging around looking nonchalant, and they’re not just there for a pleasant stroll. So it’s best to cough loudly before you go down the tiny overgrown paths…

I still can’t believe the weather got above 10 degrees this weekend. It was like the Mediterranean out there. My face was warm for the first time in months.

Of course I immediately got a stinking horrible cold, which I’m putting down as an allergic reaction to sunlight.

black and white dress side

Anyway, the dress is McCalls 6355 which I bought in a pattern sale. It’s kind of the most boring pattern in the world, but it’s a handy basic to have lying around.

It includes bust darts AND front and back fisheye darts, which you can include or leave out depending on the fit you want. Plus you can sew it in a knit or a woven.

black and white dress back

I sewed the back darts and the front bust darts, and then shaped the side seams to make it less boxy. I did the whole thing on the overlocker, which is my best friend at the moment, and then added black ribbing to make the cuffs and neckline finish.

black and white dress cuffs

It’s a very local dress. The black ribbing is from Ultimate Craft, and the fabric is part of my mega-haul from the mysterious Tottenham warehouse of knits. The pattern is actually knitted rather than printed or woven.

black and white fabric

Anyway it’s not that much to write home about but it’s comfortable, didn’t need a zip, and took me less than a day to sew. HOORAY.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an urgent appointment with a Lemsip and some Strepsils.

David Bowie at the V and A: Five things I learnt


(Hopefully that resounded in your head in exactly the right kind of tortured Bowie-esque squawk)

David Bowie in a mustard suit

So a couple of weeks ago I took my friend along to the  members preview of the David Bowie V&A exhibition. Oh Lord, it is good. In fact, good doesn’t do it justice. It’s bloody amazing. Probably the best thing I’ve ever seen at the V&A.

Ever since I’ve seen it I’ve been obsessed with DB. I’ve even been having strange dreams about him. There was a particularly memorable one where London had collapsed to rubble and a 70s-era Bowie roamed the post-apocalyptic streets, giving impromptu gigs to hordes of feral teens.

Anyway there are lots and lots of reviews out there that give you a professional-type overview of the show, so I thought I’d stick to my top five learnings from the exhibition.

1. David Bowie has incredibly childish handwriting

I don’t know what I expected, but his letters are big, loopy, and not joined-up in the slightest. He also loved drawing in biro, which adds to the ‘back of the maths textbook’ feel. What does it all mean? Did his childish creativity never drain away? Or was he off sick the day they taught handwriting at primary school?

davie bowie

You can sort of see what I mean on this hand-written cover for Hunky Dory.

2. David Bowie is absolutely terrifying

I didn’t realise exactly what a pasty, weird-looking, alien sex lizard David Bowie was around the release of Space Oddity. One of my favourite bits of the exhibition was just the video below playing on an old 60s TV set.

You wear headphones which magically play sound when you look at a screen or an object, and I stood in front of this video for ages, totally mesmerised. So were about 40 other people all crowded around. I mean come on, that is some scary charisma.

3. I finally know what’s so great about ‘multimedia exhibitions’

Nearly every exhibition has some kind of multimedia element to it nowadays. Normally it’s a bit of a rubbish add-on, like the creepy moving heads at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume show. But for this David Bowie extravaganza, they’ve really cracked it. The music, video, and objects are all jumbled together in one glorious mixture.

david bowie

The most amazing bit is the last room. Somehow they’ve knocked through the ceiling to create a massive hall which is exactly like being at a huge gig. Seriously, the sound design is uncanny. One wall is covered with an enormous screen, showing footage of Bowie gigs, and the walls are lined with costumed mannequins towering above you on scaffolding. It feels totally epic.

I wonder what was in the rooms above though? If you look up in the last room in the exhibition (which is linked to the big hall) there are some hastily covered over holes in the ceiling…

4. David Bowie had a 26-inch waist

There’s some interesting behind-the-scenes gossip in this interview with the curator, who reveals that they had to get bespoke mannequins carved specially for the exhibition because of Bowie’s tiny waist and ‘powerful thigh muscles’ (*fans self*).

It was worth it, beecuse the costumes are presented really well throughout the show. Here’s the iconic jumpsuit he wore when Starman got in the charts – it’s in a mirrored booth with the TOTP footage playing behind.


Even the mannequins stuck on plinths have something interesting about them, like this one with a creepy golden hankerchief covering its face (apologies for the blurry picture – I was terrified of getting thrown out. We had to queue for two hours to get in)

david bowie gold hankerchief

5. David Bowie moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop in 1977 to try and get off drugs

Probably not the best example of decision-making in the history of the world. The Berlin room in the exhibition is pretty awesome though. It even has the key to the flat they shared, as well as one of Bowie’s paintings of Iggy, and the synth that Brian Eno used when recording the albums.

The other themed rooms are equally great. There’s a movie area that has one of the crystal orbs from Labyrinth, and a letter from Jim Henson telling Bowie how awesome he would be in the part.


Unfortunately it’s sold out online, but you can either queue up on the day, buy your own membership, or find a friendly V&A member with a guest pass and bribe them with cake (I am available for this purpose).

If you can’t get to London, as a consolation prize you should watch these two videos about David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth (RIP). They feature a hilarious voice-over from a bitter journalist who couldn’t hate Bowie more if David had killed his cat and skinned it for a new fur jumpsuit. There are also many crying teenage girls.

Just to finish, I have to show you this quote from a Guardian article about people who know David Bowie, as it made me lol significantly.

david bowie conversation with lou reed