Crafty hen do and bunting extravaganza

So, I’m getting married two weeks on Saturday. I haven’t really posted about my wedding planning, because I’ve done absolutely no DIY, crafting, or sewing for it at all. It’s been a total CRAFT-FREE ZONE.

This is because I prefer to keep crafting and deadlines far, far away from each other. Luckily for me though, my friends have more than compensated, putting me to shame with their amazing creativity.

This applies especially to my hen do which was a couple of weekends ago. My lovely friends hired a room above a pub in Shoreditch, and filled it with embarrassing photos, crafting activities and wine.

It looked like this:

knitting, wine and bunting

Check out the bunting/knitting action!

I am far too lazy to make bunting so I was very touched that so many lovely people took the trouble to sew so much, and decorated the room so beautifully.

My friend Lizzy made some of it, and it’s the most perfectly finished bunting I have ever seen – she’s posted about it on her blog here. It’s basically the Rolls Royce of bunting. I have some in my living room adorning the bookshelves.

bunting from lizzy
Photo stolen from Lizzy’s blog

As well as this, my friends organised a fascinator making session run by the v talented Jess, who I met on the textiles course at Morley College. She brought along so many trims, ribbons, buttons, templates, millinery bases, and bits of fabric, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Everyone was having a go! I hope to see them all at the wedding…

My friends don’t know I’ve posted this but hopefully they won’t mind. Or alternatively never find out.

Here’s my fascinator effort. Not bad for an hour’s work while drinking rosé, I reckon.


We also had a writing area run by my friend Bea, where you looked up the meaning of your name and filled in a template to create your own poem:


And a knitting area, led by Lizzy who is a knitting fiend. That woman has made more jumpers in the last year than I have ever owned in my life.


I loved that when I looked around, everyone was sitting crafting, drinking, and chatting. It was more relaxed than a formal crafting class, but still really fun and creative.

It was an amazing weekend, and I feel very lucky and privileged to know such lovely people. Cheesy but true.

Double Peter Pan collar blouse AND my grand unified theory of sewing

So, speediness is not what you come to this blog for. It’s taken me just over six months between talking about sewing blouses and actually sewing one. What can I say, I’m a tortoise, not a hare.

Double peter pan collar blouse

It’s from the original Built by Wendy Sew U book, which was all the rage on the internet, about 5 years ago. I’ve made two versions already, and for this one I wanted to try something a bit different – drafting up a double Peter Pan collar.

Double peter pan collar

The top collar is made from left-over denim from my Beignet. The bottom collar, and main fabric, is some really beautiful shirting from Shaukat, which my mum kindly donated to me after a shopping expedition to South Kensington.

Okay, so in some ways this shirt was successful. I love the fabric, I like the way the collar turned out, and the insides are neat (I overlocked them). But in another way it was a failure – the fit. If you’ll forgive me, I’m going on a bit of a diversion here…

The Yes I Like That grand unified theory of sewing:

To my thinking the most challenging (and interesting) thing about home sewing is that you have to combine three elements, which are completely separate in your average high street garment. They are:

  1. Design. I’m using this word widely, to include: the garment style (whether you buy a pattern or draft it), the fabric and trimmings you use, and the design elements you add or take away.
  2. Fit. Including learning what good fit actually looks like (and I’m definitely still learning).
  3. Making. The actual sewing and pattern-making. All the little tips and tricks and manufacturing skills.

As a home sewer, you’re in complete control of all three. Which is liberating. But also a bit scary.

To me, 1 + 2 are the most important. I find pure technique pretty boring. I like problem solving, but I like having something nice to wear even more. I want the final product to work.

It was the second element that failed here. The first two versions I made fitted well, but the shoulders were wide. For this one I trimmed a tiny amount (honest!) off the armholes and sleeve tops. Well, that tiny amount must have added up, because this shirt was incredibly tight across the shoulders, resulting in a V-shaped wrinkle which was super obvious in the first set of photos I took:

shirt with V yoke lines

I managed to partially fix it by sewing into my armhole seam allowances and it’s not so tight now. The V-lines are still there, but not as prominent. Overall, I’m happy.

The more I make, the more I learn, but it does all seems to break down into these three elements. The hardest two are the fit and matching the right fabric to the right pattern. I’ve got gorgeous fabric sitting in boxes because I just can’t visualise the perfect garment to do it justice.

I’d be interested to know what you think. What’s the most important aspect of sewing for you? Do you think there’s more to it than just these three elements?

(P.S. one more thing! I lined the cuffs with denim as well for a little surprise…)

Denim blouse cuff

Craftaganza, Sunshine, and Brighton

It’s taken me a week to write about this, but the Craftaganza market last week was really fun!

It was held in a beautiful building, an old church. I used to walk past it when I was a student at Brighton but I’ve never been inside. It’s a great space.

Zoe lined up some really amazing sellers and I did a bit of sneaky shopping. My lovely boyfriend also bought me a pair of Erica Trogal feather earrings, which I can highly endorse.

It was a scorchingly hot day. Brighton was packed, the train down from London Bridge* was full to the brim, and people were crammed everywhere along the sea-front.
* my new candidate for least favourite London station. Finally Euston has a worthy competitor in the hideousness stakes.

We didn’t make it onto the pier because it looked off-puttingly full of people, but we did see the sea, photo evidence above and below.

It was strange walking round Brighton again. The atmosphere hasn’t changed at all, it still has that charming, ramshackle energy that’s so much less polished and stressful than the way London feels.  All the old shops are still there, and lots of new ones too! But I was glad to see that the pick and mix shop on the North Laine was still present and correct.

The next Craftaganza event will be in June, and if you’re anywhere near Brighton, I definitely recommend popping down, it’s going to be epic. I’m really impressed with how much work Zoe puts into organising these things, on top of a full time job as well.

Zoe also gave me the greatest gift one human can give another: parrot fabric!!

Parrot fabric

This is just a small close-up of the magnificence. Don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet, it’s too amazing to cut without some serious planning first. Possibly I will just frame it and admire it every day.

She also gave me this gorgeous hand-made bag from wax print fabric, which was really overwhelming and too nice. I love it, the colours are brilliant.

Amazing bag in African print fabric

So that was my weekend, a week ago. Hope you have a good one coming up!

On Craft and being ‘crafty’

What does the word ‘craft’ make you think of?

Some twigs, yesterday

Those pasta necklaces you make for your mum at primary school? Church hall fairs and macrame plant pots?  The smell of PVA glue? Retro ‘Make do and mend’ posters?

Art and Design have it much easier – who wouldn’t want to be described as an ‘artist’ or a ‘designer’? But ‘crafter’ and ‘crafty’ sound so homespun and lumpy. Why does craft have an image problem? Is it something to do with gender?

What got me thinking about this was the Kirstie Allsopp programme, Handmade Britain. Something about the way ‘craft’ is presented makes me uneasy.

There’s only one aesthetic being pushed: the flowery, vintage-y, home-baking, village fair type. Even a book like ‘Queen of Crafts’ by Jazz Domino Holly (which promises to put the ‘rock and roll’ back into craft) is stuffed with the kind of cute, easy things you used to get in 1950s activity books for children: making your own lipbalm, growing plants, doing a bit of knitting. Try a bit of everything, it’s just a laugh.

At the other end of the scale there’s the ‘Craftsman’. Doesn’t that word have a lovely reassuring ring to it? Makes you think of tiny Parisian workshops, decades-old tradition, hand-worked leather luggage, etc etc. The kind of ‘craft’ championed by Wallpaper magazine – limited edition, exquisitely made, and very, very expensive. Oh, and usually heavily branded.

Although the big companies making these ‘craft’ objects might have  the majority of their products made by underpaid workers in China, sending out some press releases on their traditional craftmanship gives their brand a lovely, old-fashioned, top-quality glow.

Handmade perfume flagons in Wallpaper magazine - probably going to cost a bit more than your Superdrug bottle of Charlie Red

There has to be a middle path between the idea of craft as a fun, non-threatening pastime you can pick up and do on the weekends, and the professional, old-school, highly priced craftsman.

I think you can find it on the internet, on blogs and forums and groups. The old-fashioned (and non-derogatory) use of the word ‘amateur’ springs to mind. Amateur comes from the words ‘to love’, did you know that? You probably did if you paid more attention in GCSE French than me. People doing something just for the love of it. Trying their best and learning all the time.

I don’t really think of myself as ‘crafty’, in the sense that I could turn my hand to anything and make a good job of it. There are a few things that I’ve tried that really capture my interest and have kept me hooked, and sewing is one of them.

Interestingly, for the tutorial segments of the Kirstie Allsopp show, the experts she brings in to do demonstrations (90% women – no craftsmen here) all specialise in one particular area, whether it’s floristry, machine embroidery, applique, screen-printing – whatever. It’s a worn-out axiom that practice makes perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Kirstie Allsopp does have many lovely coats.

Making is one of the most satisfying things you can do on this earth. Can you remember the first time you knitted a tiny garter stitch square, or sewed a wonky pair of pyjama bottoms, or drew a just-about-recognisable vase of flowers? It’s an insane rush! But if you leave it there you’re missing the best bit, which is learning. Dipping your toe in the water isn’t as good.

That’s what sometimes makes me leery of the idea of ‘Craftivism‘. I don’t like the idea of ‘craft’ as a magical sprinkle dust which you can use to add trendiness, or authenticity, or old-fashioned values to your particular project. Nobody’s set up ‘Designism’ because design is just too broad a concept that encompasses so many things. To my mind craft  – making things, to put it simply – is also too broad to be narrowed down like that.

What do you think?

Bust Craftacular

Last weekend I went to the Bust Craftacular in Bethnal Green. This is the 3rd or 4th year in a row I’ve been, and this time I got a little bit of crafty deja-vu.


Maybe you know what I mean. There are so many talented illustrators, designers and makers at the event, but the pool of inspiration they’re drawing from seems to be getting quite shallow.

Here are some things that are increasingly familiar:

  • Moustaches. The absolute worst offenders. Moustaches have GONE TOO FAR.
  • Tea cups
  • Foxes
  • Birds
  • Cats
  • Antlers/deer
  • Trees
  • Drawings of girls with big eyes
  • Bunting all over everything

I’m not saying this to discourage anyone who’s about to put the finishing touches to their drawing of an antler-wearing, mustachioed fox, drinking from a tea-cup, holding a string of bunting in its paw, and standing on an owl’s wing (which actually sounds v impressive).

All I’m saying is, it’s refreshing to see something different. Check out these amazing illustrators I discovered at the Craftacular for starters:

Sarah Lippett drew this brilliant comic which is all about Yuri Gagarin and has proper Russian words in:

Image taken from Sarah Lipett's shop, where you can buy this comic, and you totally should

Also, how good is this vase – it’s a representation of the Mercury 7 space capsule.

Image taken from Sarah Lipett's blog

Just to make me look totally stupid, she has some awesome bird drawings on her blog, and I also bought a v funny zine from her which is all about….er…. facial hair.

The other illustrator whose stuff I really liked was Nanae Kawahara (she has a website here)

She draws some frankly bonkers illustrations, mostly involving poodles. I bought these sweet cards, one of which appears to feature an array of Christmassy chairs. Her Etsy shop also has the best wedding card I’ve ever seen.

(I was also going to mention Cleo Ferin Mercury, who draws colourful 1960s screen icons all over lovely silk scarves – but Chuck did a much better round-up of her stuff, which you should go and read instead)

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.