The Bee makes a skirt

We reached a milestone today: my children are making their own clothes. My job here is done!

It happened like this. The Bee was ill. Not very ill, but just ill enough to be home from school. I tried to snatch a bit of sewing time but she can sniff a good craft activity a mile off, and before I knew it we were leafing through my patterns for something for her to make.

At nine years old, she’s all about comfort and freedom these days – no flouncy dresses anymore, thank you! We settled on making a Lazy Days Skirt simply because it’s such a good beginner’s pattern. To increase the chances of the resulting garment actually seeing the light of day (I can’t remember the last time she chose to wear a skirt!), we picked a nice soft jersey knit in a plain, no frills bright red.

All in all, it didn’t take very long, and the Bee did most of the cutting, pinning and stitching herself. She did find some parts quite tricky though. Knowing where to sew the seams and feeding the fabric straight though the machine were a challenge, so I drew chalk lines on the fabric for her to follow, which definitely helped. She found threading the elastic through the waistband casing difficult, and because we’d opted for knit fabric, I had to keep ironing those pesky curling edges flat. (On the plus side, the knit fabric meant we didn’t have to finish the hem).

To be honest, I’m still not convinced she’ll actually wear it! But I think she was truly delighted with her efforts. “It looks just like a real skirt Mummy!”

It IS a real skirt, darling!

[Photos to follow…]

Boxes of delight

Two box pouches

Bags again! They’re outrageously moreish. These boxy beauties are particularly nice. They’re fully lined and (in this case) also waterproof. And all contained in a lovely FREE tutorial by Pretty Modern.

Bag number one was made following a zip ransom promise to my lovely nieces; the fabric is from Sarah Jane’s enchanting Wee Wander collection, and is called ‘Summer Ride’:

Horses washbag collage

Bag number two was for a sister-in-law (fabric from Ikea):

Flowery box pouch collage

And the third was for my brother:

Stripy box pouch collage

Actually, my brother got two bags. If you look closely at the first photo with the stripy and rosy bags (right at the top of the post), you’ll notice that the stripy tags are different to those in the pictures directly above. One of the ribbon tags fell off the first bag before I could give it away (I can’t have caught enough of it in the seam allowance), so (months later) I finally got around to making an almost identical bag. This I proudly presented to him… But wouldn’t you know, it seems I had in fact already given him the first one! Talk about Mummy Brain!

The only change I made to the tutorial was to line some of the bags with a woven polyester shower curtain fabric so they could be used as wash bags – so I didn’t interface those linings. I had to reread the instructions carefully at several points, but the process was really well described with lots of pictures (I love a well-photographed tutorial!). When I made the first of these bags I’d only ever sewn one zip before, so wasn’t quite sure how close to sew to the teeth; but I just sewed about 1/8 inch away and it worked fine.

So thank you, little nieces, for holding my zips to ransom – I might never have found this lovely tutorial otherwise!

Strawberry peg bag

Strawberry peg bag 1

A beautifully hand-sewn peg bag was gifted to me by a friend some years ago, and is still going strong. Inspired by it, my second project from Sew! Cath Kidston was this, made for my mother’s birthday. She already has a strawberry laundry bag, so I knew this heavyweight Cath Kidston cotton would go down well. It also looks rather like the one in the book…

The only thing I did differently was to not add the bias tape around the outside of the bag. No, not a design choice; I simply didn’t have enough bias tape! The instructions were vague about how large to make the opening in the front of the bag, and by the time I’d finished binding the opening’s edges (a fiddly process), I realised there wouldn’t be enough for the outer edging. So, be warned: if you’re thinking of making this bag yourself, buy (or make) more tape than the pattern suggests – or cut a smaller opening than I did!

Strawberry peg bag 2

The bag was a bit smaller than I expected, because it’s designed to hang from a child-sized clothes hanger; if you’re making one for a large family, you may want to use an adult hanger and size it up a bit. I lined mine with shower curtain fabric, mainly because I have lots of it left after all those little zippered bags!

And now, a question that’s been bugging me for years: where do you keep a peg bag if you don’t have a utility room? Ours seems to live in many inappropriate places and can never be found when we need it. Answers on a postcard, please…

Strawberry peg bag table

Geranium school dresses

Blog 8 This dress! It’s what gave me the courage to dive into sewing, after dipping my toe in. Back when the Bee was just three years old, I came across the Geranium Dress pattern (Made By Rae). It was the first PDF sewing pattern I ever tried, and it turned out to be a good choice. With lovely photographs and clear instructions – and even some friendly advice from Rae herself when I got stuck with the printing – I was eased into the wonderful world of dress-making. For my first ever dress, I went with the faux cap sleeves and pleated skirt options. Not perfectly pattern-matched, but at the time I was delighted that the central white band lined up at all!  As the polycotton I’d chosen was a little see-through, I ended up lining the skirt as well as the bodice, but otherwise, I followed the instructions faithfully and was rewarded with the miniature triumph that is making your first dress. And I have been a *huge* fan of this pattern ever since: to date I’ve made five, and I’m just cutting out my sixth… Blog buttons 2 And these buttons! Whimsically random, no? Now add them to a toddler’s nursery dress and POW! Cuteness overload! But let’s backtrack a minute. The photographs above are of the Smidge, who – incredibly – will be going to nursery in September. She honestly can’t wait to get there, and I’m sure she thinks school corridors are paved with gold. It was originally the Bee’s summer uniform, but life was moving too fast at the time and we have very few photos of her in it. For the sake of an authentic record, this is best I have: Blog first checked dress 1 (Awww – teeny school socks!) The following year she’d grown out of it, so out came a few more buttons for summer uniform dress number two. Umbrellas? Why not! Blog checked dress back 2 (Uh-oh, check out those lopsided pigtails!) I used the Geranium Dress pattern again, but this time opted for the cut-out neckline and gathered skirt, and added a thin satin ribbon around the waist. 2014-08-30 12.17.55 Wanting a change but not fancying the frayed-look flutter sleeves, I followed some (now forgotten, sorry!) web instructions on drafting your own cap sleeves. At the last minute, I added an inverted box-pleat to the centre of them, and think the result is rather nice. Blog checked dress box pleat sleeve Unfortunately I made the bodice with very little growing room, and didn’t get round to photographing it until the Bee had pretty much grown out of it. Poor child, it’s not very flattering anymore… Time for another one, perhaps? Blog checked dress front The things you do for your mother’s blog! Blog checked dress fist pump


Two little Katie Morags

World Book Day at school! Which means everyone dresses up as a movie character, right? 🙂

Katie Morag girls blog

The Bee, however, begged to be Katie Morag, the strong-willed little red-haired girl who lives on the fictional Scottish Isle of Struay in Mairi Hedderwick’s charming tales. Katie Morag is highly recognisable, as she almost always wears the same outfit: a cream knitted sweater with blue zigzag detail around the neckline, a green tartan skirt – and black wellies. (Even in her dance show, she still connives to wear “tackety wellies”, sporting nails in the soles for tap-dancing – I love it!)  In the new and equally charming BBC adaptation of the books, the actress playing Katie Morag also wears the same outfit week in week out. Here they are side by side:

March 20152

Courtesy of some lovely neighbours, the Bee already owns a “Katie Morag skirt” (green-and-blue kilt) and “Katie Morag boots” (still two sizes too large but hey, they look more like wellies that way) – so that just left the jumper to figure out. And the red hair. And one little sister wheedling her way into getting a costume too…

Lucky for us, two little cream jumpers were quickly found and bought, and grandmotherly advice sought and offered on how to embroider the blue patterns. The answer? Lazy daisy stitch and some royal blue wool. And a lot of help from Grandma in getting them stitched up in time for the day. Grannie Island and Granma Mainland would’ve been proud!

Katie Morag M blog

(We like this book, not least because it includes a recipe for Grannie Island’s “porridgies”, a.k.a. flapjacks…)

The Smidge’s skirt was a serendipitous charity shop find – a men’s tartan shirt, which quickly became a simple elastic-waisted skirt. We only got a week’s notice of the event at school (i.e. no time for ordering fabric online), so I was pretty pleased to find something so close to the colours of the original. I pulled the gathers round to the back of the skirt to make the front flatter, more like Katie’s skirt. The Hello Kitty wellies are somewhat less authentic, admittedly, but fortunately the Smidge didn’t fuss.

And the hair? Orange hairspray. Oh, how happy the Bee was with that hairspray! We had a nerve-wracking day while she was at school, wondering whether the spray would rub off on her jumper and ruin all that hard work, or just not wash out of her hair at all. In the end it came out just fine and gave the girls an orange bath to play in, too. And, because random rules stated firmly enough sometimes have the desired effect, we quickly developed a new rule of “no red hair until you are five years old” to explain to the Smidge why she (at the tender age of two) would not be participating in this stage of the costuming. It worked! And now she’s waiting it out, asking every day when she’ll be five and can have Katie Morag hair…

Katie Morag hair blog

Ice cream dress

Ice cream dress front 4

This was the very first dress I made for the Smidge, but (like most everything I make) photographed and blogged months later! It’s my take on an Oliver + S classic: the Ice Cream Dress, here served up in shades of raspberry and vanilla.

Ice cream dress front 3

It’s had a lot of wear so rather inevitably, that pale pink yoke is now covered with subtle food stains. Good thing I got some pictures before it got too bad!

Ice cream dress button

I love the peachy footprints in the main fabric, and I’m glad I went for the dusky pink for the bottom tier as it has a lovely coral tone – I found a perfect little coral button for the back, too.


The Smidge is so chuffed with it. It’s so utterly endearing to see her smoothing it down, and telling people unprompted, “Mummy MADE it! For ME!”… It makes me feel so happy!

And that is why I sew.

KCW: Lola Lotta dresses

Lola Lotta dresses 1

It’s Kids Clothes Week!

For those of you not yet in the know, KCW is a seasonal prompt to sew for your kids, one hour a day, for seven days. And then share what you’ve sewn.


I’ve never taken part before, but this time the storybook theme and cute little logo were too much for me and besides, I’ve had some ideas up my sleeve for a while that fitted the theme.

So here it is, KCW project number one: Lola Lotta dresses!

The eponymous Lola of the oh-so-wonderful Charlie and Lola books, and her friend Lotta, have very specific sartorial tastes. Lola has a penchant for cute little shirt dresses in stripes or ditsy florals, while Lotta prefers a pinafore dress with contrasting sleeves.

Lola Lotta collage

Not being in the mood for a direct copy of any one dress (or shirt collars, or pinafores, for that matter), I decided to create a mashup of the styles: a long-sleeved floral knit dress with contrasting sleeves, which would be warm and practical for autumn.

I ended up with these: neither Lola nor Lotta exactly, but really EVER SO absolutely Lola-Lotta-ish! 🙂

Two Lola Lotta dresses collage

The daisy fabrics are a lightweight jersey knit, upcycled from a pair of matching adult-sized dresses which the Bee noticed in a charity shop and begged for. Using the gathering and hems from the original dresses probably saved me a heap of time, so I’m now officially an upcycling convert!

This being my first proper foray into sewing with knit fabric (see here for early experiments!), I wanted a pattern that would hold my hand while I took my baby steps. In the end I used the Oliver + S School Bus T-shirt (ages 3 and 6) as the base, but lengthened it and used this tutorial to give it an A-line shape. I could have bought a dress pattern I suppose – but I wanted the security of the O+S instructions (they were excellent), and the alterations were quite simple to make.

Although I’m pleased with the results, I think the top half of the dress came out a little too wide this way, so next time I’d leave it slimmer-fitting and make the a-line alterations lower down. But hey, first proper knits project AND first self-altered pattern – I’ll cut myself some slack! 🙂

Lola Lotta dresses sitting

I created a few problems for myself in this project. First, I thought I was being very clever by using my twin needle to sew all the seams on the pink dress, a bit like an overlock stitch. Mistake! The seams aren’t very stable, and you can see them pulling apart a little like baseball stitching around the sleeves and side-seams here:

Lola Lotta dress stitching

Once I’d realised that the twin needle idea wasn’t going to work, my main problem was getting my sewing machine’s proper stretch stitches to work. It took an hour and a half of coaxing before my attempts looked anything like the illustrations in the manual. In the end, I ditched all the recommendations for foot type, stitch width, tension and needle position, and just played around with all the parameters I could think of. And when I say “played around”, you can read “almost threw the sewing machine out the window” – I’ll admit I was close to tears with frustration before I eventually got something acceptable.

I also had to make some changes to the cuffs. I think the fabric must’ve gotten a bit stretched while measuring and cutting the pink dress’s sleeves, because they came up a bit short. So I left them unfinished to gain a bit of length, and actually, I really like the way the jersey curls back to create a relaxed, lightweight look.

Lola Lotta sycamore seeds

By the time I got to the blue dress, I didn’t have quite enough white fabric left for the sleeves, so I just made some little cuffs out of the daisy fabric. They’re a little bit stretched because I was in the middle of my argument with my sewing machine, and… Well – it won that round.

Sewing machine troubles aside, this was a fun and satisfying achievement of a project, and overall I’m delighted with the dresses. I’d definitely recommend the Oliver + S School Bus T-shirt as a good place to start sewing with knits if you’ve never tried before, as the instructions and tips are excellent. If my sewing machine and I can learn to put our differences aside and work together, I can imagine a happy knit-sewing future together. If not – well… Let’s just say I’ve still got an overlocker on my Christmas list…

“I have this little sister Lola. She is small, and very funny…”

Lola Lotta dresses funny1

We are TOO absolutely cute for these dresses!

Lola Lotta hugs


Galloping Roller Skate Dress!

Horses dress playground 1

Isn’t this fabric lovely? It’s another of the talented Sarah Jane’s, called Summer Ride, in Seafoam. Although I never rode as a child, there’s something about these glowing colours, frolicsome ponies and blowsy meadows that’s so evocative of the heady freedom of happy childhood summers.

I was just coming round to the idea of making an Oliver + S Roller Skate Dress with it when I saw these gorgeous photos by Olivia Jane Handcrafted, and knew it was meant to be! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? I hope so, because I think the combination really works, and her version is so beautiful. I decided to omit the ribbon and the neck facings, but left in the notched neckline as I think it’s a pretty detail on an otherwise simple dress.

Horses dress v-neck

Do you like the sandals? My husband can take full credit for them: he was pretty nervous when I dispatched him to Clarks, worrying if I’d approve of his choices… I think it’s safe to say he can go again!

I spent a long time trying to cut the pieces out to get a good pattern match over the central back seam, but not waste too much fabric. In the end I got a compromise; the back seam pretty much matches and I still have some leftovers to use on another project. 🙂

Horses dress Margam 1

The trickiest bit was trying to line up all the pieces beneath the slit on the back of the neck, where two lining and two exterior pieces meet. My first attempt was a complete hash up (cue lots of unpicking, made extra difficult as I’d gone over it several times for strength – typical!). Fortunately, the second attempt worked out just fine.

I really like this little magenta button – it’s the same colour as the large magenta flowers, and adds a nice pop of contrast.

Horses dress button

The dress got a good testing: climbing trees, playing on the playground…

Horses dress collage 3

… Rough-and-tumbling with her sister…

Horses dress cuddle collage

… Running, ‘flying’ with Daddy, and cuddling with Mummy…

Horses dress collage 2

It got a bit stained along the way, but I don’t really mind because it adds character… To the child, if not the dress…

Horses dress flowers 2

Hello Kitty compromise dresses

Kitty dresses L&M 12

Dilemma: what do you do when your children ask you to sew something you don’t want to make?

The Bee has been wanting a Hello Kitty dress for a long time, and although I have nothing against the whiskered critter, she‘s just not my usual aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong – if someone gave her the kind of neon pink ruffled item I think she’s imagining, of course I’d let her wear it. But sewing one is a different matter.

So I was pretty excited when I came across a line of Liberty print fabrics subtly peppered with kitties, and thought I’d found the perfect compromise. The ‘Capital’ print (below) jumped out at me as the Bee has long been interested in all things London. But at £45 per metre?! It was sadly not to be.


But wouldn’t you know, they make the same print as a polycotton bedspread! At about a tenth of the (per metre) price, it was worth a shot. When it arrived, I was a little disappointed; I think I was hoping that, being Liberty and all, it would somehow be amazing quality – but it was just a standard, slightly stiff polycotton. On the plus side, it should be quite hardwearing!

I used the same t-shirt dress tutorial as the Elsa dress, and (as before) gathered the skirts rather than pleating – it’s a great set of instructions and if you’ve never sewn a dress before, this would be a great place to start. It’s so quick and satisfying that I made one for the Smidge too: they love matching clothes, and often ask to be “sister snap” (how could a mother resist that!?).

Kitty dresses L&M 2

I cut the interfacing the wrong way for the Bee’s dress: I didn’t realise the stuff was stretchy in one dimension until I tried to use it to stabilise the waistband. Which of course, it didn’t do! So the Bee’s dress ended up being rather wide. Ah well – it doesn’t look too bad, and I learned something new. I cut it the non-stretchy way for the Smidge and it looks much better.

Hello Kitty dresses collage 1Hello Kitty dresses collage

I guess I got a bit lucky with the fabric – I’m not sure what I’d have done if I hadn’t found a reasonably tasteful option.

Kitty dresses Maddles 15

Postscript: I also ended up making one for the Bee’s best friend as a birthday present, as she wanted to be “friend snap”… Having just made two of them, I thought it’d be a quick and easy sew – only somehow, I cut the fabric a bit too short – disaster! Liesel’s clever ribbon hem method (from Oliver + S’s free Lazy Days Skirt pattern) came to the rescue, and gave just enough length to be viable! And now that’s quite enough kitty dresses for me, I think.

Tiffany's Hello Kitty dress collage 2


Some hasty princess dresses

Elsa & Anna running

One thing I have realised recently is that the more I sew, the more I want to sew: my ‘to-do’ list is getting really long! And there are things on it that have been there for AGES. Things like… Well, Elsa and Anna dresses, for two. Now, the girls have not yet seen the Disney film Frozen. (Yes, really! They are sensitive souls, and the whole parents dying/snow monsters/bad guys thing would really upset them. I was the same – still am, come to think of it.) Yet – they have still managed to fall in love with those princess sisters. And I have been promising to make them dresses all summer… And then suddenly it was August… And then the last week of the holidays…

And so to speed things up a little, I figured I’d try to make something quickly.

Very pragmatic. Very sensible. But – so not my style! I am completely in awe of bloggers who can whip up amazing creations while their children are napping. I am, unfortunately, a very slow sewer: think sloths, snails, and the speed most people get out of bed before 6am – you have the idea. I love the reassurance of instructions and perfectionist’s mantra of careful and steady. But (as I kept reminding myself) these dresses would be for playing in, and would get torn and trampled faster than Elsa can build snowmen.

Put like that, it just didn’t seem worth putting in the usual effort. So, throwing my metaphorical gloves to the wind, I grabbed my scissors and a couple of charity shop garments. It still took a few hours, but here are the results:

Elsa dress cape 1

The Elsa dress is based on this t-shirt dress tutorial, and involved attaching an appropriately sparkly maxi skirt to a cut-off t-shirt. The inspiration for the snowflakes came from this brilliant Elsa cape; I made mine using iron-on interfacing, and it was really fun playing with the designs – I wish I’d had time for more! Most of them were of the soft, slightly stretchy interfacing, but I made one from woven interfacing, and it is already peeling off – you can see it on some of the pictures. I’m not really sure why! And if I did it again, I’d also iron them to the underside of the cape, where the soft surfaces are less likely to pick up dust.

Snowflake collage

I hemmed the uber-fraying cape fabric with Fray-Stop glue, which has actually lasted okay so far and is pretty easy on the eye. I’d have tried using a flame to seal the edges, only I wasn’t convinced the whole cape wouldn’t burst into flame – which would’ve kinda slowed down the whole speedy-dress process 🙂 As the top is made of non-fraying knit fabric, I just cut the sleeves into princessy points, which the Bee is very impressed with. And thanks to the fullness of the original tiered skirt, the dress has a wonderful twirl that makes up for other shortcomings…

Elsa dress twirl side

Elsa dress twirl front

Elsa dress twirl back edited

… Such as the distinct lack of bling. My five year old cast her eye up and down the dress, and – after her initial excitement had worn off – informed me politely that the Tesco (supermarket) version has more bows and sparkles. An appropriate attitude when one is pretending to be a princess, no? Perhaps I’d better add a few sequins!

The Anna dress is pretty underwhelming. Fortunately, the Smidge’s main requirements were met in that 1) the dress is green, 2) Mummy says it is an Anna dress, therefore it must be an Anna dress, and 3) it is HERS.

Anna dress collage

I just shortened and roll-hemmed an adult dress, then took in the sides, folded down the v-neck top, and reattached the straps. Yup – that’s it. My husband took the girls out to the playground, and I wanted it done by the time they got back. But the Smidge is just as delighted as if it had been a genuine replica Anna dress! It’s great for tickling your sister in…

Elsa Anna tickles

… And talk about melting frozen hearts when you see the two of them playing nicely together (which isn’t always the case)!

Elsa & Anna hugs 2

So, the Great British Sewing Bee alteration challenge this was not, but it’s the first time in forever I’ve whipped something up, so I’m happy to let it go. (Sorry!)