Duo Boots #BootTribe Blogger Event

Duo Boots Autumn Winter 2014

I’m a believer in spending as much as you possibly can on shoes – and no, I don’t mean by buying 50 pairs in Primark, however tempting that may be. I’ve been there and done that (well, perhaps not 50 pairs) and more often than not they fell apart after a few weeks of wear and cut my feet to shreds – but that’s what you have to put up with when you’re a poor student, right?

Now I’m older and (I’d like to think) wiser, I know that a quality pair of shoes is your best friend and will see you through many a walk to work, shopping trip and night out without you having to give a second thought to your footwear and whether it’s rubbing or pinching. As Carrie Bradshaw would agree, good shoes are an investment, which is exactly why you want to the fit to be just right when you’re splashing the cash on a pair.

Cue Duo Boots – their boutiques aren’t just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill shoe shops, but luxurious fitting rooms with an expert team on hand to measure you up and help you find the perfect boot or shoe for you. It’s just as well they really know their stuff when it comes to shoes and style, as Duo offer three width fittings, an amazing 21 calf sizes and a huge array of beautifully crafted shoes and boots, so choosing may be a pleasingly tricky task.

The Frome-based brand has had a boutique in Bath since the 1970s, and has expanded to include stores in Edinburgh and London too. Since it opened its first shop 40 years ago, Duo has built a reputation for the excellent quality, fit and design of its footwear – its in-house designers collaborate with independent European manufacturers, a team of technicians, last-makers and pattern-cutters who use the finest Italian leathers to bring Duo’s on-trend yet timeless designs to life.

Duo Boots Bath Autumn Winter 2014Duo Boots Bath Blogger EventDuo Boots BathDuo Boots BathDuo Boots Bath Boot Tribe Blogger EventDuo Boots Bath Leopard Print

I’ve often gazed longingly at the gorgeous styles on Duo’s website but have yet to add a pair of their shoes to my collection, so I was pleased to be invited to Duo’s #BootTribe blogger event in Bath last week, where myself and other shoe-loving South West bloggers – including the lovely Lorna from raindropsofsapphire.com and Hope from ihopeso-blog.blogspot.co.uk – had the chance to browse the Autumn/Winter 2014 range and choose our #BootTribe. Our blog logos were on tags with little pegs so we could claim our boot of choice.

As much as I’d love to join the long-legged Olivia Palermo types and be part of the over-the-knee #BootTribe, or even Kate Moss and the knee-high-loving gals, my petite stature means I’m definitely firmly in the ankle #BootTribe. But which to choose? I was delighted to learn that Duo offer shoes to fit my little size 35 feet, which is near impossible to find on the high street as most shops start at size 36 – and, what’s more, that all of their ankle boots are available in a 35. Win!

BootTribe BloggersDuo Boots Mandel Ankle Boots

Although extremely tempted by the rather jazzy cheetah-print, in the end I went for these stunning tan Mandels.

I had a sneak peek at Duo’s range online before heading to the event and these were the boots I had my eye on, and they were even better in person – you can tell they are well-made with care and attention to detail, fit, comfort and style. I how versatile these are – they’ll smarten up skinny jeans and a snuggly jumper, and will add a casual edge to a dress and my new fur coat from Dorothy Perkins. In fact, these will be great with the second Megan dress I’m sewing up at the moment, so watch this space.

You can find out more about Duo and browse the latest styles on the website, and follow @DuoBoots on Twitter – be sure to search #BootTribe on Twitter too for all the blog posts and photos from the event.

Collecting a Card Stash with CardNest

CardNest Cards

Receiving a nice card in the post is one of life’s simple pleasures, but it generally only happens on special occasions – and even then, most birthday greetings, thank yous or congratulations come in the form of a quick post or message on Facebook. Let’s face it, it’s something we’re all guilty of doing, often mainly because it’s so hard to find time to look for a card – especially if it involves a dash to the high street during a lunch break, which usually offers a very uninspiring choice indeed.

Monthly subscriptions are rather in vogue at the moment, but few promise anything actually useful – most feature nice but ultimately unpractical products that are likely to end up at the bottom of your make-up bag/desk drawer/wardrobe within a week or so. However, a new subscription service, CardNest, which launched last weekend, stands out from the crowd thanks to its unique ethos: to get us sending more cards to our nearest and dearest, be it for a special birthday, anniversary or just to let them know you’re thinking of them.

It’s a kind of rebellion against the notification-led life we lead, where we’re constantly checking our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and goodness knows what else for likes and messages, yet rarely take the time to thoughtfully connect with the people we know.

CardNest Greeting CardsCardNest Cards

So, how does it work? Well, for just £7.50 a month (£10 for international delivery), subscribers will receive three lovely cards through their letterbox every four weeks. It’s as simple as that. You can even get the stamps included too for the ultimate convenience.

The team behind CardNest have collaborated with talented designers from around the world to create the cards, and each one is exclusive to CardNest so you won’t be able to get them anywhere else. The idea is to build a collection of beautiful cards ready to be written and sent off whenever the occasion arises.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from this month’s CardNest card selection – as I love a good pun, the ‘I’m So Grateful’ card by Anna Hurley is definitely a contender, but they are all truly lovely.

The great thing about CardNest is that it’s not only your intended recipient who benefits – you get to enjoy opening up the pretty packaging and admiring the latest delightful designs, then to pay the fun forward by sending them on to your friends and family (and that’s not to mention the brownie points you’ll get for being so thoughtful). Basically, everyone’s a winner!

Find out more by checking out the website or following CardNest on twitter @cardnest. They’re even offering 50% off your first month’s subscription at the moment with the code LAUNCH50.
CardNest CardsCardNest

91 Magazine’s 10th Issue

91 Magazine September 2014

It’s hard to believe it’s September already, but indeed it is (and over halfway through, no less) and with it brings a new issue of one of my favourite reads, 91 Magazine. The 10th edition of the magazine is crammed, as usual, with inspirational home tours, first-class photography and must-do DIY projects – in fact, the adorable embroidered Liberty fabric napkins might just be one of my favourite-ever craft projects to be featured in 91 Magazine, but then I’m always a sucker for anything involving Liberty fabrics.

If, like me, you’re a Scandi-style devotee, you can feed your Scandimania by checking out the tour of a gorgeous home in Norway, while those with a penchant for all things retro will love the snaps of a beautifully converted Victorian school building in Leeds. There are also a few fab ideas for getting creative with spray paint.

If you’re a creative business owner looking to expand your venture, my feature on growing an independent business will hopefully prove useful, with invaluable advice from three successful homeware designers – Gillian Kyle, who runs an eponymous brand stocked in John Lewis and Liberty; Camilla, founder and designer of Butterscotch & Beesting homewares; and Margarita Lorenzo, who runs a boutique brand of handmade homewares called Chocolate Creative.

You can take a peek at a preview of the 10th edition on issuu, or go right on ahead and subscribe on Magzter for just £7 a year (go on, you know you want to).

91 Magazine91 Magazine91 Magazine91 Magazine

Exploring Bath’s Museums

One of my favourite things to do on a rainy day (aside from sewing and watching my way through the Netflix catalogue in my pjs, obviously) is visiting a museum or two. So on the rather grey and wet Bank Holiday Monday last week I headed to Bath to have a look around the Bath Fashion Museum, where there were no less than three superb exhibitions on show that I’ve been wanting to see for a while.

Our first stop was the Great War in Costume exhibit, focusing on the dramatic changes to women’s lives and roles that took place during World War I. For the first time, women were required to do men’s work and fashion evolved accordingly. Restrictive corsets, elaborate dresses and dainty shoes were impractical for their new roles, so functional trousers and hard-wearing boots were introduced to women’s wardrobes to reflect their new (albeit not entirely accepted by some) status as a part of the workforce. The exhibition featured both work and civilian dress, memorabilia and propaganda, as well as some absolutely stunning costumes from Downton Abbey. It must be so lovely to be an actor and get to wear all those lovely outfits for work. Sigh.

The exhibition has finished, but no doubt there will be another equally fantastic one to take its place soon – there is also so much to see in the rest of the museum.

Great War in Costume Collage Great War in Costume

We then moved onto the Georgians exhibition, which is running throughout 2014. There is surely no better location for such a display than the Bath Assembly Rooms, where outfits like those on show would have been worn by upper-class folk in polite society during the 18th Century.

One of the most interesting things about the exhibition was seeing how much fashions changed across the time period – just like today, fashions evolved year on year (although obviously nowhere near as quickly as they do now thanks to the likes of Primark et al).

It can be easy to view this time period as all bustles and corsets, but fashionable silhouettes changed significantly over these years – arguably, in fact, in a more noticable way than they do now, as they had all manner of structuring undergarments at their disposal. These included the rather comical panniers, cage supports for extremely wide-skirted court dresses that I think are one of the most impractical items of clothing I’ve ever come across. Many were so wide that the wearer would surely have had to walk through doors sideways – I can’t even imagine what trying to sit down in one of those things would have been like! I also loved the display of Georgian-inspired modern clothes, including a showstopping dress by one of my favourite designers, Vivienne Westwood.

While I won’t be sewing up a super-wide dress any time soon, there was still plenty of dressmaking inspiration to be found – the Georgians certainly knew how to work a floral print and embroidery.

Nearly a year ago (how time flies!) I posted about the Glamour of Bellville Sassoon exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see it, but luckily for me the Bath museum has a smaller version on display at the moment.

The 25 evening dresses on show have been assembled by Mr Sassoon, and each one has been kept across the years by Bellville Sassoon’s clientele and borrowed back especially for the display. The centrepiece of the exhibition is three ensembles worn by Princess Diana, including the going-away outfit worn on her wedding day.

I always look forward to seeing the latest Dress of the Year. In a nod to the ever-increasing influence of fashion bloggers, the 2013 dress was chosen by Susie Bubble. A candy pink number from the Christopher Kane Spring/Summer collection, the dress features a perfectly balanced combination of delicate detailing and edginess.

Susannah Lau said: ‘I chose Christopher Kane’s dress because, to me, he is one of the most exciting and brilliant designers to have emerged from London Fashion Week. He manages to take the most unexpected elements and make them work in collections that then define seasons.  The Spring/Summer 2013 season saw Kane take on Frankenstein –crystals, black gaffer tape and white lace shouldn’t sit well with one another but the juxtaposition somehow come off as harmonious.

To accompany the dress I have also chosen young accessories designers who have also contributed to London ‘s rise – unconventional milliner Nasir Mazhar who has segued into street-inspired ready to wear and quirky shoe designer Sophia Webster.’

As we got a joint ticket for both museums, we also visited the beautiful Roman Baths, which looked simply stunning in the late afternoon light.Roman Baths Summer Evening Roman Baths

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.

TillyMeganDress

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

MerchantMills.jpg

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!