April Rhodes Sewing Patterns

April Rhodes Sewing PatternsApril Rhodes Sewing PatternsRiding Peplum & Party Dress

The weather has turned rather autumnal already in the UK, meaning I’m stuck in a mid-season wardrobe quandary – if I layer up, I get hot and flustered within five minutes of leaving the house, but if I head out in just a blouse I end up shivering. Everything in my wardrobe is either too summery and looks wrong with a jacket, or too wintery and hot-flush-inducing. Thus, I am in one of those moods where I hate almost every item in my wardrobe, which I think means it is time to get sewing some new pieces.

There are so many fabulous indie patterns on the market that it can be so hard to choose which to try first, but when I saw these lovely patterns by April Rhodes I knew I had found my next project. April Rhodes Sewing PatternsThe Staple Dress

On her website April says her dream is to make patterns that are simple, quick and easy to sew, which, quite frankly, is music to my ears – at the moment I want to fill my wardrobe with lovely new me-made clothes, so speedy sewing projects are just what I need.

I’m a big fan of the riding peplum and party dress pattern – I love both garments’ modern style, relaxed fit and flattering, body-skimming shape, and the fact they will suit a wide variety of fabrics; the dress could be made with a bright, cheerful print for summer, or in a plain black or navy fabric to wear with a cardi and boots in the autumn and winter.

Now I’ve found some lovely new patterns to work with, I’m rather looking forward to autumn – what are your new-season sewing plans?

Wedding Sewing

When you reach a certain age the wedding invites start rolling in, which is rather exciting for a sewing fan like me – just think of all the pretty dresses to be made! Sewing your own wedding outfit ensures you definitely won’t be in the same dress as anyone else, but it brings with it another problem: choice, choice and more choice. Should I go smart and sophisticated with a plain, block colour, or perhaps cutesy and sweet with a classic summer floral? As with all sewing endeavors, the options are endless, and thus I spent hours and hours browsing fabrics and patterns online for the summer wedding I was invited to this year.

I needed a fabric that would keep me cool during the celebrations, and decided I wanted a print that was at once classic and contemporary. In the end I chose a light faux-linen fabric in a modern floral print from good-old Fabric Land – a bargain at only £4.99 per metre. As luck would have it, I’d just received my copy of Tilly’s fabulous Love at First Stitchthe stylish Megan dress is ideal for such a smart occasion.


The Megan dress was a dream to sew and I didn’t have to make any alterations to the pattern – apart from, as always, to shorten the length. I’ve not sewn many sleeves so I was dreading that part, but Tilly’s clear instructions made it super easy. In fact, the trickiest part was inserting the zip, but that was down to me rather than the pattern. I learnt two important lessons here folks. Firstly, don’t buy cheap zips. Secondly, don’t buy cheap sewing machine feet. I unfortunately did both, which resulted in much unpicking and lots of cursing.

The first zip I bought broke in half after I had attached one side, and I didn’t have much luck with my second attempt with a new zip either – one of the grooves in my cheap, ebay-bought invisible zip foot wasn’t wide enough, which meant my stitches were too close to the zip teeth (despite ironing them flat first) and the zip wouldn’t close. After finally figuring out, two further attempts later, that the other groove on the machine foot was wider and worked fine, the zip was finally in (just two days before the wedding I might add!).

I don’t think I’ve made anything that has fit me as well as this dress (a little too well, perhaps – I must admit I was feeling a little uncomfortable after a three-course meal and a few glasses of fizz). I’ll definitely be wearing this again – for this wedding I paired it with baby-pink shoes from Primark and a vintage silver beaded bag, but I could easily wear it with a black jacket and heels for an autumn/winter wedding.

What will you be making from Tilly’s lovely book? I think I’m going to give the Mimi blouse a go next – watch this space!

Primark Shoes & Vintage Bag


Donna Wilson’s New Fabric Collection

Donna WilsonDonna Wilson Fabrics

Moon Cloud Oyster Linen – Sunshine Oyster Linen

I’ve long admired designer Donna Wilson’s quirky homewares, so I couldn’t wait to take a peek at her new collection of ten fabrics. Titled Forest and Friends, the designer’s first ever fabric collection features her signature nature-inspired illustrations. Clouds, trees and raindrops are regular motifs, which is no surprise really considering that Donna grew up on a farm in Aberdeenshire in the north-east of Scotland, where there was no doubt an abundance of all three.

While many of these cheerful fabrics would be more suited to home-decor projects such as cushions and bedding, I could definitely see myself wearing the subtler prints, such as the raindrop and the mushroom & leaves prints pictured below, both of which would be great for a pretty dress or blouse.

In keeping with her commitment to supporting local manufacturing, all the fabrics are printed in the historical silk town of Macclesfield. At £25 per metre, these fabrics cost a little more than I would usually spend on material, but it is certainly worth it for the unique prints and the quality, not to mention the fact that you’ll be doing your bit to support the local manufacturing industry with every metre you buy. Visit the website to see the full collection.

Donna Wilson Fabric

Raindrop Lightweight Cotton – Mushrooms & Leaves Lightweight Cotton

Donna Wilson Fabric

Mountain Home Lightweight Cotton

Spa Day & Tapas at Bristol Lido

Swimmers do leisurely lengths while sunbathers relax on the waterside sipping Prosecco, nibbling tapas and basking in the sunshine; this might sound like a lazy afternoon on a Spanish summer holiday, but it is actually the scene that greeted us when we arrived at the Lido, the renovated Victorian swimming baths tucked away on an unassuming street in the exclusive suburb of Clifton.

We were lucky enough to visit on a gloriously sunny day – I can imagine taking a dip in the outdoor pool isn’t quite so idyllic in the depths of winter, even if it is heated – and took advantage of their Swim, Tapas & Wine package, which included full use of the spa facilities from noon until 3pm, followed by a sumptuous lunch of three tapas dishes and a glass of wine each.

Although there were quite a few ‘serious’ swimmers there (i.e. people there to actually swim rather than splash about aimlessly like us) there was enough space to accommodate those of us who just fancied floating about by the side and chatting as well – we had to book a few weeks in advance, so they obviously limit the numbers to ensure everyone has enough room to fully enjoy the facilities. And enjoy them, we certainly did.

I’d never been in a steam room or sauna before and never really got why people love them so much, but I definitely understand the appeal now. I’ve never felt more relaxed or refreshed, especially after braving the post-sauna ice bucket, which basically involves you voluntarily tipping a bucket of cold water on yourself. It sounds hideous, but it was actually quite addictive and felt rather invigorating after sweating it out in the steam room and sauna.

As if our day of spa-based loveliness wasn’t already enough, we then headed to the restaurant for some delicious tapas and wine. I cynically thought the dishes might be a little on the small side, seeing as they were part of a package, but I couldn’t have been more wrong – portions were ample and bread and olives were even included in the price.

From the wide selection, we plumped for rich and spicy chorizo and morcilla; classic patatas bravas; crisp cabbage and Parmesan salad; tasty Syrian lentils; and succulent wood-roast scallops served in the shell in herb and garlic butter. Even though we’d been at the Lido for about six hours by this point, we decided to stay just a little longer and indulge in coffee and cake too. I wish I could justify spending the money on a Lido membership, but, for now, I’ll settle for the occasional day of indulgence at this urban oasis. 


Merchant & Mills Sewing Book


If your style is more normcore than girly girl, you might feel like the sewing world doesn’t cater to you – after all, more often than not, sewing boxes and accessories come plastered in Cath Kidston-esque bright floral prints, and many sewing shops stock endless reams of ruffles, sequins and other fussy trims. Sewing books also often go in for this super-feminine style. Not so, however, in the case of this new sewing manual from Merchant & Mills, who sell sewing notions, patterns and fabrics and are known for their stripped-back, utilitarian aesthetic.

This book offers a no-nonsense approach to sewing and is all about celebrating craftmanship and creativity. Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field set up Merchant & Mills in 2010, hoping to, as their website says, ‘elevate sewing to its proper place in the creative world’ and encourage women and men alike to make ‘a clear statement of individuality and experience the satisfaction that comes from making clothes that compete in style and quality with top-end retail, paid for in time more than hard cash.’

Of course, high-end clothes are usually set apart by the details – the flawless darts and tucks, the perfectly matched seams, the flattering fit – and this manual aims to help you achieve this finish at home. As you might expect, then, the level of detail in this book is truly second to none. Without ever being boring or dry (aside from the odd bit of dry humour, that is) it features pretty much everything you need to know about great sewing. From fabrics to stitching styles, fastenings to must-have sewing tools, this manual covers it all.

The book also features 15 projects to get stuck into, ranging in level from nice-and-simple to a bit more advanced – for instance, I’m tempted by the pillow cushion with sweet cotton ties, but might just leave the oilskin shoulder bag until I feel a bit more comfortable sewing with different materials.

One of the main things I took away from this book was the importance of pressing correctly. It can be so easy to concentrate so much on the actual construction of the garment that the finishing touches, like pressing, get forgotten, or are just done as an after-thought. However, this book reiterates that pressing your seams, darts and tucks properly – and this includes not over-pressing, which can distort the fabric – is the key to a professional-looking end product.

I know the phrase gets bandied about a lot when a latest must-have sewing book is released, but this truly is an essential book for all dressmakers of all skill levels.

Men’s Shirt Refashion

One of my favourite parts of the Sewing Bee is the refashioning challenge – making something old into something new and unexpected is a pretty impressive skill, and one that I am yet to master. For my first refashioning project, I kept it simple and decided to turn my boyfriend’s denim shirt into a skirt with an elasticated waist (the shirt was in a bag destined for the charity shop when I nabbed it, just to make that clear – it’s best not to go stealing your other half’s favourite shirts!). Here’s how I did it:

  1. Refashioning a men’s shirt into a skirt is quick and simple, as the main construction has already been done for you (no hemming needed, joy!). If the shirt you’re using doesn’t have pockets, you’re in luck. All you’ll need to do is measure the length you want your skirt to be, from the hem upwards, then add enough at the top to make a waistband – this should be the width of your elastic, plus a 1cm seam allowance – and draw a straight line with tailor’s chalk across the width of the shirt when you’ve measured the correct length to mark your cutting line.
  2. If, however, your shirt has pockets like mine did, you’ll need to unpick these and remove them, as they’ll get in the way of creating your waistband. Once I’d unpicked mine, I noticed the denim underneath the pocket was darker than the rest of the shirt, meaning I’d need to chop more off – if this isn’t the case with yours, then you can just carry on with the measuring and cutting. If you’ve encountered the same problem, however, you might need get be a bit creative and use the rest of the shirt to make a waistband (I’ll come to that later).
  3. Once you’ve cut the unneeded top half of the shirt off, it should start looking a bit more skirt-like. As the shirt I was using was fastened with poppers, and I didn’t want any embarrassing popper-bursting situations, I sewed up the length of the closure – it would probably be worth doing this with a button-up shirt too to avoid it gaping when you sit down.
  4. Now it’s time to create the waistband. Those of you using the simple, turn-down method will need to fold and press 1cm of the top inwards, then fold down the width of the elastic (plus a bit of wiggle room) inwards as well, and topstitch. Make sure you leave a gap of a couple of inches so you can feed your elastic through. In fact, as I’m lazy and I hate fiddly things like this, I left four gaps – at both side seams, and front and back – which made it a lot easier.
  5. If, like me, those pesky pockets mean you can’t create the waistband the aforementioned way, then not to worry, as it’s still super simple – all you need to do is cut the sleeves into four equal pieces to be sewn together to form the waistband. I measured carefully to make sure the seams would match the centre front and back and side seams of the shirt, and sewed all four pieces together to form a loop. Pin this makeshift band to the shirt, right sides together, and sew all the way around. Then rest of the steps are the same as before. See, told you it was easy.
  6. Once you’ve threaded the elastic through, sew the two ends of the elastic together, sew up the gaps you left to thread the elastic through, and voila – your shirt will be reborn as a rather fetching skirt!

Men's Shirt Refashion Skirt

Top Gap Skirt River Island man’s shirt Bag French Connection Locket Disney Couture Shoes Dune Sunglasses Accessorize

Have you ever refashioned a men’s shirt? What did you do with yours? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Chic on a Shoestring by Mary Jane Baxter

Chic on a Shoestring

When I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to have it – I never buy anything full price, am regularly in the charity shops looking for bargains, and don’t usually buy anything I could sew for a cheaper price myself, so I’m always eager to learn more ways to be chic on a shoestring. This is the first book from milliner and maker Mary Jane Baxter, and is full of simple, fun, vintage-inspired projects, peppered by fantastically quirky illustrations by Sam Wilson.

Every turn of the page uncovers a must-try make and lots of inspiration. I’m itching to create the 1950s-paste-jewellery-inspired necklace, the easy slouchy top made from vintage silk scarves (ingenious!) and the cute ribbon corsage. The book also features handy hints and tips on how to hunt down bargains to upcycle and customise. I love how quick and easy the projects are – they’re great for when you don’t have much time for crafting but still want to indulge your creative side. Plus, any book that aims to help me build a fab wardrobe without spending a fortune is a-okay with me.

Chic on a Shoestring Book

Paisley Taffy Blouse

Colette Taffy Blouse

Paisley is most associated – and not always favourably – with the hippies of the 60s and 70s and, I’ll be honest, it’s not really a pattern I’m usually drawn to. However, there was something about this fabric – I just couldn’t leave the shop without it. I think it might be the touches of neon green. Because it’s such a bright print, it’s been in my stash since I bought it in December, but as we’ve had a few sunny spells I thought it was time to start some summer sewing.

I received the Colette Sewing Handbook for Christmas, and decided to give the Taffy blouse a go first. As it was somewhat similar in construction to the sorbetto I was quite comfortable with a lot of the techniques involved. I haven’t, however, ever sewn a sleeve before, despite having quite a few projects under my belt now. Thankfully sewing my first ever sleeves was a fairly pain-free process, so that’s something to check off my list and do more of in future.

Overall, I think this is a great little pattern, especially for a beginner. I only have a couple of gripes – firstly, the size of the sleeves. Now, I know the book says to use a light fabric, and I’ve used a heavier cotton, so this is probably my fault, but the sleeves really are huge! In fact, I’ve had to put a few stitches in at the sides to tame them. If the correct fabric was used though, I’m sure they would be lovely. My second – and final – gripe is the size of the neckline. I have narrow shoulders, so I altered the pattern slightly when I traced it to account for this, but the neckline is still quite wide and does slip down on occasion. Having checked out some of the other Taffys on the blogosphere, it seems this is a common problem, so keep it in mind if you decide to make a Taffy.

I think this top will get lots of wears during the summer – I’m planning on wearing it with a floaty, high-waisted skirt and sandals when (or if) it starts to really hot up.

Colette Sewing Handbook Taffy Blouse

Fabric Fine Fabrics in Taunton Bag Vintage Necklace Mawi at ASOS Sunglasses Accessorize

If you fancy putting your own spin on this 1970s fabric, here are some pretty paisleys to get you started…

Paisley Fabrics

1 Basket Full of Posies from Spoonflower 2 Paisley Elephant Drops from Spoonflower 3 Paisley Print Chiffon from Minerva Crafts 4 Small Paisley from Fabric Rehab 5 Persnickety Paisley from Spoonflower

April Wish List

1 Blush gold chevron fabric &  2 Triangle geo fabric from Spoonflower 3 Dune laser-cut leather flats 4 Salme colour block dress sewing pattern 5 Monica Vinader pendant 6 Salmon polka dot fabric from Fabric Rehab

Unless you’ve managed to eschew all clothes shopping for the last four or five months (and if you have, I salute you) you’ll probably have noticed that pink coats are the most popular way to keep warm right now. The fashion blogger cover-up du jour, you’re not anyone if you haven’t got a pink coat (which, come to think of it, means I’m not anyone). Being petite of stature, I’ve always shied away from wearing pink, mainly because I don’t want to look like a pre-teen off to an after-school disco (at least until you look at my face). Although I’m girly, I’m not quite that girly.

However, it seems since the pink coat became a must-have, the colour has undergone something of a revolution. No longer only seen in pretty floral designs, pink has been given a bit of a grown-up makeover of late, and is can now be found gracing graphic, geometric prints that offer the perfect balance of femininity, sophistication and edginess. So, this spring and summer, I may just embrace this new, modern way of wearing pink.

91 Magazine’s New Issue

91 Magazine March 2014

I’ve long been a fan of 91 Magazine – when I first stumbled across it, I couldn’t believe all those lovely articles were available to read for free. As a writer myself, I know how much hard work goes into producing articles like those – the research, the editing, the photography and, inevitably, yet more proofreading, fact-checking and editing – and it’s something that is increasingly being undervalued in a world where free (but not necessarily good) content is readily available online.

So, when the editor announced that she would be charging a mere £2 each issue – or a bargain £7 for a year’s subscription – it came as no surprise to me. In fact, I applaud what must have been a really difficult decision to make; people have become accustomed to reading online without it costing them a penny, so it must be tough to step away from that level of readership, but overall I see it as a brave and much-needed step for online publishing. Writers, editors, designers and photographers deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, and we shouldn’t expect them to produce quality work for nothing – after all, you wouldn’t expect to stroll into a cinema and see a film for free, or visit a hairdressers for a cut and blow-dry without paying for it, would you? So, well done Caroline, and here’s to many more issues of your fabulous magazine.

Anyway, onto the new issue itself. This one features all the swoon-worthy photography, enviable (yet not unachievable) interiors and interesting craft projects we’ve come to expect from the magazine, including ideas for adding stylish copper accents to your home, a guide to seeking out the best vintage goodies, and several mouth-watering recipes that I’ll definitely be giving a go.

It also includes my interview with Lyndsey Goodger, proprietor of the online interiors boutique, Rose & Grey, for the Ladies Online feature (warning: you will want everything on her website).

If you fancy a sneak preview, you can take a peek at the new mag and read back issues on Issuu. Alternatively, you can buy and read the full issue or get the year’s subscription on Magzter.co.uk.

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