Sunday, 28 September 2014


I had all sorts of sewing plans for this week, but then Life got in the way. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

My current project is nowhere near even taking 'in-progress' photos, so instead I'll show you the fabric I'm using. Mum spotted it in Watson and Thornton on our trip to Shrewsbury last week, and it's just perfect.

It's made by Nutex and is called, "Victorian Ladies". This seems a little odd, because there are . . .

Teens Era ladies,

oriental-themed ladies,

ladies in evening dress

ladies in day dress,

ladies striking a pose,

and ladies looking like something out of a Helen Dryden illustration,

but only one lady who looks particularly Victorian.

So what am I using this fabric for? Answer coming soon.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


On Friday Mum and I went to Shrewsbury for the day, and as it’s such an interesting place, I thought I’d share it with you. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great, so my photos don’t really do it justice.

The Old Market Hall

The first thing about Shrewsbury is, how do you pronounce it? Some people start the name with “Shrew” (rhymes with ‘grew’), whereas others start with “Shrow” (rhymes with ‘grow’). A few people ignore the problem altogether and just call it “Salop”, a name which confusingly is used for both the town and the surrounding county of Shropshire. My mum, whose family came from Shropshire, uses the first pronunciation.

The town is tucked into a loop of the River Severn, with the castle strategically placed on the narrow neck of land to the north.

Map of Shrewsbury

What the map doesn’t show is just how hilly Shrewsbury is. All the roads which lead from the town centre to the river are quite steep.

Wyle Cop, leading down to the English Bridge

This is just as well really, as the Severn is prone to flooding.

Flood level marker by the English Bridge, with the Severn in the background

In the Medieval and Tudor periods the town flourished, mostly due to the wool trade, and it still retains a medieval street plan and curious street names.

Sadly, I forgot to photograph the street sign for Grope Lane!

There are lots of half-timbered buildings in the town. Some are the traditional black and white.

Whereas on some the wood is kept a more natural colour.

There are also some Georgian buildings.

And a Georgian bridge.

The Welsh Bridge, built in 1795, with the new Theatre Severn behind it

There are of course some modern buildings, including a couple of shopping centres. One of the nice things about Shrewsbury is that many of the big chain stores are in the shopping centres, while a lot of the older buildings are home to small, independent shops. At the bottom of Mardol is one such shop.

Watson and Thornton

Don’t be mislead by the shop front; the business extends into the premises next door. Plus, like a lot of shops in medieval towns like Shrewsbury or Chester, the property extends a long way back. I spent a very happy time browsing the various departments, and yes, I did buy some fabric. Hopefully you’ll be able to see my purchases in forthcoming posts.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


The current HSF challenge is ‘Yellow’. You can see all the lovely things that the other Challengers have made here and here.

When The Dreamstress published the list of 2014’s challenges, I thought that I’d give this one a miss, because yellow is a colour which does me no favours whatsoever.

Then I found, and fell in love with, a fabric which I thought would work for the challenge.

Then I realized that I’d got quite big plans for the next challenge, and I couldn’t possibly do both, so Yellow got dropped again.

Then, because I’d not done any challenges for ages, I began to feel distinctly under-HSF’d.

And then, I remembered this.

The Dreamstress posted this image for 2013’s ‘accessorize’ challenge, and I thought it was gorgeous. I still do, and as it’s small (in size if not, as it turned out, in effort) and undoubtedly yellow, I thought I’d give it a go.

The first challenge was getting suitable velvet. When I enquired at my local fabric shop the staff said that they very rarely had any yellow in, as there was no call for it – clearly it’s not a colour which does anyone else any favours either! Eventually I found a remnant of furnishing velvet in a very pale yellow; paler than I wanted, but better than nothing. It’s also too stiff to recreate the buttery-soft draping of the original, although a careful wash softened it up a little. On the plus side it is a cotton velvet, which is more period appropriate than the synthetic dress velvets on offer, even if I’d been able to get the right colour.

All of the bag frames I could find were modern and plain, but then I remembered that I had a frame in my stash already - and it turned out to be perfect. Plus, I managed to find some chain to go with it - even more perfect.

Bag frame and chain

I enlarged the picture of the original bag to the same size as my bag frame, and used this as a guide for making the various decorations.

The beaded flowers were the easiest things to make. I threaded size 11 seed beads onto beading wire, and experimented with numbers until I got to the correct petal size. Then I twisted the wire to hold the loop together and made the other three petals all on the same length of wire, twisting after each one.

Making the bead flowers

The easiest way of making the strawberries was to use velvet ribbon, as I only needed a tiny amount of fabric. Unfortunately all the pink velvet ribbon that I found was too much of a dolly mixture pink, so I bought some beige instead and dyed it with fabric paint. Painting onto the velvet pile produced a blotchy effect, but I discovered that if I painted the back of the ribbon and let the colour soak through, I got a much more even coverage.

Painted ribbon for the strawberries

I sewed tiny pink beads on randomly for the seeds. Then I folded the velvet in half lengthways, right side in, and sewed it up in a cone shape. I cut it to shape after I’d sewn it, as it was far easier to handle that way. Then I turned the cone right side out, stuffed it tightly with cotton wool, and sewed up the top. The leaves were made from green and gold shot ribbon.

Completed strawberries

The six-petal flowers on the original bag are obviously made from a non-fray material. For these, I experimented with painting both white felt and heavy sew-in interfacing with fabric paints. The felt took up the colour better, but when it dried it went very stiff, and developed a bumpy texture. The interfacing was harder to paint evenly, but I found that if I soaked it first, and then lightly patted it dry before painting, this allowed the colours to flow more easily. As well as wetting the fabric, I thinned the paints down to a fine wash and built up the colour through several layers.

Felt and interfacing samples, showing the chewed effect of the punch

I had hoped to cut out the flowers using a punch, but both the felt and the interfacing were far too fibrous for this to work; they just got chewed up and wedged in the punch. So I stuck with the old-fashioned method of drawing a pattern, pinning it onto the fabric, and cutting round it. My curved embroidery scissors were a great help in getting a smooth line. Finally I sewed some seed beads into the centres.

Pattern pieces and flowers

The round flowers (roses?) were the trickiest to get right. In my local fabric shop I found some compressed paper beads, which I thought I could use for a base. However they were a bit big, so my plan was to cut them in half to make them shallower, and peel off the top layer of paper. Good plan, but it just wasn’t possible to peel off only one or two layers. Fortunately another, larger branch of the shop had the beads in a smaller size.

Paper beads, showing what happens when you try to peel off a layer

On the original bag, these flowers have lots of subtly different shades of fabric. I managed to find the same fabric in two slightly different shades; one pink and one mauve, and then got busy with the fabric paints again.

The painted fabrics (strong colour is the wrong side)

Because the beads are made of paper, it’s possible to sew fabric onto them. This does need to be done carefully though; otherwise a wisp of paper comes out with the thread, and once pulled through the fabric is impossible to remove.

I made the flowers by sewing a small patch of fabric onto the bead, and then layering bias strips of different coloured fabric, folded in half lengthways, round the beads.

Clockwise from top: the initial patch, starting the bias strips, a completed flower

From the picture of the original bag I can’t really make out what is going on around the edges, just below the bag frame. There is some lace at the top right, but also some indistinct wispy stuff. I decided just to use organza ribbon and gather it.

I struggled to find any suitable lace for the centre. All the wide laces I looked at were either the wrong type of lace, or horribly nylon. Then I remembered the stash of lace and other trims which I was given by a friend’s mother-in law. This turned out to include some lace which had a straighter edge than I would have liked, but was otherwise ideal.

Velvet, organza ribbon and lace

To work out the shape for the velvet, with the folds at the sides, I made a mock-up out of heavy cotton, and then unpicked it to get the pattern.

The mock-up

The final pattern

Then I had to work out how to construct the bag, and in particular what order to do things in. It seemed best to do as much of the decoration as possible onto a flat piece of fabric, so I placed the cotton pattern onto the velvet and thread traced round it.

The pattern marked out on the velvet

Then I pleated the lace to give it a vaguely curved bottom edge, and attached it and then the organza ribbon.

Organza ribbon and lace attached

The ‘roses’ came next, followed by the interfacing flowers and some of the wire flowers. The ends of the wire were pushed through the velvet and opened out on the wrong side, and I also sewed a bead over the centre, which covered the wire twists a little.

I couldn’t add any more until I had pleated the velvet at the sides. I cut along the top of the shape, on the front half only, sewed it into the frame, and pleated the excess fabric at the sides. Then I added a rosette of organza ribbon at each side to cover the top of the velvet pleats. Finally I attached the remaining wire flowers on the right, and the strawberries on the left.

Next I cut out the top of the back and pleated it. Then I sewed the sides together, turned the bag right side out, discovered that there was no way that the velvet was going to fall into nicely draped pleats, sewed the back into the frame, and added the chain. Obviously it still needs lining, but that can be done another time (the “Re-do” challenge, possibly!).

The small print:
The Challenge: Yellow
Fabric: Velvet, interfacing, unknown synthetic fabric for the round flowers
Pattern: My own
Year: Early to mid twentieth century
Notions: Beads of paper, glass and plastic, velvet and organza ribbons, wire, metal bag frame, chain
How historically accurate is it? A few modern materials have crept in, but it is based on an extant item, and most of the materials and construction are accurate, so 90%
Hours to complete: Way more than I was expecting, a lot of them spent experimenting with fabric paints!
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Bag frame £10, velvet £2.08, chain, paper beads, ribbon, fabric for round flowers £4.62, everything else from stash, so £16.70

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Curtains, part 2

Having cut the curtain pieces out, it was time to start making them up. The first thing to do was hem both the curtain fabric and the lining. The lining had a 7cm / 2¾" double hem, and the curtain itself a 10cm / 4" hem. I machine stitched the lining hem, but blind hemmed the curtain hem by hand, leaving about 10cm of the curtain unstitched at each end.

Note: It's important, especially with a fabric like this which doesn't have an obvious right way up but does have an obvious directional pattern, to check, double-check and even triple-check that the hem is at the same end on both pieces. Ask me how I know!

Curtain and lining hemmed

It was while doing these checks that I noticed something strange in the fabric. Either by accident or design, the pattern is not printed horizontally across the fabric, but moves upwards slightly as it goes from left to right. To explain what I mean, here is a completed curtain, folded into a tube. The curtain was cut exactly on the cross grain of the fabric, and the hems are entirely even, but there is a difference in the pattern of 3cm / 1¼".

Showing the mismatch in the fabric printing

Fortunately I had cut the curtains far too long anyway, to take account of the pattern repeat, so I was able to shorten one of them at the bottom so that the pattern matches up in the centre. It does mean that I now have a definite right curtain and left curtain, though.

Once the pieces were hemmed, the next job was to sew the lining and main curtain together. I did this first along long the edges which will meet when the curtain is closed. I pinned the curtain and lining right sides together with selvedges aligned, and sewed them with my overlocker (serger), cutting off a tiny amount as I stitched. The selvedges of curtain fabric are often so tightly woven that they cause the fabric to pucker slightly; trimming off the very edge with the overlocker takes this puckering out.

The lining on the completed curtain should be slightly narrower than the curtain itself, and the fabric should wrap round to the back of the curtain, like a facing on a garment.

To work out how much lining to take off, I laid the curtains face down, side by side, stitched edges together, and adjusted the widths until the pattern matched. Then I pinned this edge, smoothed the two fabrics across to the other selvedge, and pinned and overlocked this edge.

Curtain and lining, second side, showing the excess lining width

Then I turned the curtains right way out, and pressed the sides. Finally I mitred the corners of the curtain fabric so that the edge fitted under the lining, and finished hand sewing the hem.

The completed hems, with the pattern matching at the centre

To work out the curtain length, I held one up against the track, and pinned where I would want the curtain hook to be. The hook would go in the bottom set of loops on the curtain tape, I laid the tape against the curtain, and marked 3mm / ⅛" above the top. This would be the top of the curtain. I folded down the excess and pressed along the fold, but didn't cut any fabric off at this stage.

Top of curtain, folded and pressed

I cut the curtain tape longer than the width of the curtain, and turned under the raw ends. Then I pinned the tape 3mm / ⅛" below the top edge of the curtain, and sewed along the top edge of the tape only, sewing through the tape and two layers of the curtain and lining. Once this was done, I cut off the excess curtain fabric so that the raw edge would be under the curtain tape.

I made cord pockets out of the cut off lining fabric. These are a tube of fabric with one end sewn up, then turned right way out and folded in two, with one side longer that the other. The sides are sewn to form the pocket, and the raw edge is slipped under the bottom edge of the curtain tape. When the cords of the tape are pulled up to gather it, the excess cord is then put in the pocket to keep it out of the way. I decided to put my pockets at the ends of the curtains, rather than in the centre.

Finally I sewed down one short edge of the tape, along the bottom, and up the other side. The top and bottom of the tape must always be sewn in the same direction, to prevent it from puckering.

Completed curtain top with cord pocket

Unfortunately the room itself is a very long way from complete, so here is just one curtain, ungathered, to show what it looks like. Something more exciting next week, I promise!

Ungathered curtain in position

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A "Rate The Dress" with a difference

Every week The Dreamstress posts a new garment (not always a dress) on her blog, and invites readers to rate the dress on a scale of 1-10. Some are generally agreed to be wonderful, some are generally agreed to be hideous, some provoke wildly differing opinions, and a few (very few) are considered almost too boring to talk about.

What made this week's entry different for me was that I've actually seen it! It was in the Beauty in Exile exhibition which I saw in Venice a couple of years ago. So here are a few more photographs of it, starting with a not very good (unfortunately the dress was in a glass case) close-up of the beading on the skirt.

Skirt detail

Bodice front close-up

Another view of the side decoration

Beading on the sleeve