Sew good: Tilly’s Margot pyjamas

It’s official – I’ve made an item of clothing for someone else, it fits and they don’t hate it. Tick, tick and thrice tick,

The said item of clothing is a pair of Margot pyjamas from the brilliant Tilly Walnes‘ (of Sewing Bee fame) book Love at First Stitch.

Attracted to the book by the promise of easy-to-follow diagrams and explanations for those of us with a good grounding in sewing but lacking the expertise to casually whip up a dress in an afternoon, I treated myself one payday.

And on the whole, I wasn’t to be disappointed.

When looking through examples of garments other people had made from Tilly’s patterns and seeing men’s pyjamas in the mix, I suggested in a weak moment to my other half that I could make a pair for him. He jumped at the chance and immediately wanted me to show him where he could look to choose some fabric. Of course he did. Then I was under pressure to actually deliver on a promise, instead of just thinking about it.

At Christmas, the lovely Santa kindly brought him some DC Comics fabric adorned with all the superheroes a man could want, and at great expense (so Santa tells me anyway), and by mid February, I couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to pluck up the courage to actually make a start on them.

Instead of recounting how perfect they turned out (because this isn’t true) it’s probably best to list the things I learnt while constructing these bad boys, so I won’t be tempted to make the same mistake twice (hopefully):

  • Patterns are important. Nobody likes upside down superheroes on one leg.
  • Think about where the pockets will go. It’s not enough for them to be level when they actually end up halfway down your thigh. (I was playing it fast and loose by adding pockets, these aren’t in the actual pattern. It’s debatable whether this was a good idea.)
  • Drawstrings only need one hole to come out of on either end. Don’t cut two.
  • As my mother taught me when I was a child, be careful with scissors. One slip equals a hole in your lovely fabric that you paid a small fortune for that needs to be sewn up. (Which I still haven’t done …)

Other than those minor slip ups, it was a relatively painless process done in one weekend. (I say painless – this is a lie. It turns out that kneeling on the floor for a whole day cutting out pattern pieces because you don’t have a table with play havoc with your leg muscles.)

Tilly’s tips and advice along the way are a godsend – just little things like putting one pyjama leg inside the other to sew up the crotch. I’d never have thought of that in a million years, but it made it SO much easier and saved a couple of hours’ fighting with my sewing machine trying to join two bits of fabric that just don’t want to fit together.

As you can see, Will is super (groan) happy with his PJs.

Am I allowed to make myself a pair now?!

    

It’s only cake.

Some people (me included) think the world revolves around cake. Baking it, decorating it, photographing it, eating it, gifting it – you name it, cake plays quite a significant part in my life.

But nowhere near the extent that it’s played in other people’s in the last couple of days.

Namely, the 556 people who thought it prudent to complain to the BBC about Wednesday’s episode of The Great British Bake Off.

For those unaware of this dessert-related debacle, the contestants had been tasked with making baked alaska, a largely ice cream-based dish, in temperatures of over 30 degrees. Not easy for anyone. One contestant, Diana, for reasons unknown, removed another contestant’s homemade ice cream (Iain‘s) from the freezer to make room for hers.

SABOTAGE, I hear you cry! Well, so it seemed.

But a lot of people directly involved in the show (including presenter Sue Perkins) have been quick to come to Diana’s aid, highlighting that the editing doesn’t make it clear that Iain’s pudding was away from the safety of the cold for a maximum of 40 seconds. Not nearly enough time to reduce it to the sloppy half-frozen mess it had become.

And to make matters worse, Iain saw red and threw his entire dessert in the bin – which he then had to present to the judges. Needless to say he was booted out of the competition by Mary Berry’s dainty feet shortly afterwards – after all, the bin was shop-bought and not homemade.

What made me laugh is the uproar that followed – Twitter and Facebook went into overdrive (just see #bingate), a campaign was started for Iain to be immediately reinstated, and over 500 people thought that making a formal complaint to the BBC would be a valuable use of their time.

About a baking competition.

It even made the front page of the tabloids the day after.

Sadly, gone are the days when the Bake Off was just a genteel, idyllic programme full of lovely people who enjoy making cakes – now, like most other things, it’s the subject of controversy, anger and blame.

I mean, there are wars on. People are being killed. Children are starving. And we’re worried about whether a 70-year-old lady might have accidentally damaged someone else’s pudding on television.

For goodness’ sake, get some perspective. Let’s save the anger for something that really matters, eh?

 

Aside

Dear Gran Canaria …

Today you managed to mistake a boat for a plane.

And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how.

There are few fundamental differences between boats and planes, which I’ll now take this opportunity to share with you, as you’re obviously not clear on them.

Firstly, boats tend to float on the water. They have oars (if they’re small) or engines (if they’re big), and are hollow so people can sit in them. They sometimes look like this, but can be a bit bigger:

They might also have pirates in them, so you should stay away from those. (They’re the ones with black flags with skulls and crossbones on them.)

On the other hand, planes look something like this:

The biggest giveaway that tells you what you’re looking at is a plane, is that they have wings on each side. Quite big ones, usually. They’re what helps the plane not fall out of the sky.

The natural habitat of a plane is flying through the air, so they’ll usually look very small. Don’t be fooled though – this is because they’re far away, and are actually quite big up close.

Hopefully that’s cleared up the confusion and we’ve avoided making any more silly mistakes. Just let me know if you want the difference between bicycles and trains clarifying, too. It’s hard, this transport thing, isn’t it?

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Sew good: Jersey dress hack

Today was one of those Saturdays where you want to keep busy but just aren’t sure how. With the afternoon to myself and nothing urgent to do, my stitching fingers were itching and I was after something to sew.

Not wanting to make too much of a dent in my flourishing fabric stash, I came across a bag of old clothes which was, having been unsuccessfully sold on eBay, destined for the charity shop.

Except that now they’re not.

I found this really simple jersey dress – originally bought from New Look during my burgundy phase, but quickly abandoned when I realised the top half was completely unflattering.

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So I decided I would just use the bit that *did* look good on me, which was simply a case of undoing the waist seam to detach the two halves. (And after doing so with nail scissors, I’ll be investing in a seam ripper in the non-too-distant future.)

I then cut the middle section off (between waist and armpits), folded it to make a waistband and pinned it to the skirt section before stitching everything together.

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The trim of the skirt started life as a very thin, lightweight scarf that came with a matching top – but soon got unpicked and turned into fabric instead.

I stitched it upside down to the skirt 2″ above the hem, then folded it down over the stitches and pinned and stitched to the skirt fabric so it lines up with the edge.

Tra-la.

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Sew good: Full circle skirt

While watching the first episode of the new series of The Great British Sewing Bee just now, I realised I’ve yet to blog about my first ever *proper* dressmaking project – a full circle skirt, which I made over two sessions on Sew Over It‘s Intro to Dressmaking course, which my lovely other half bought me for Christmas.

I was the only person in the eight-person class to make their skirt from plain fabric, but I’d already earmarked some lovely polkadot woven ribbon to go around the hem – so it wasn’t completely boring.

After the first session, my skirt looked like this. Yes – actually like a skirt. The zip was the thing I was most afraid of, but it was remarkably easy. Never underestimate the value of a good tacking stitch is all I can say.

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We were told that in the second session, we’d finish it off by doing the waistband and the hem. “How can that take another three hours?” was the general consensus. How wrong we were.

The first challenge was fitting the straight, interfaced waistband to the circular top of the skirt, which involved a lot of stretching and holding, a lot of pins and the need for a third arm to do the pinning while holding each edge.

Surprisingly, we came to try our skirts on to decide the length and they actually fitted. “It’s like it’s been made for me!” most of us exclaimed. Oops.

I then gave our lovely teacher a slight heart attack when I decided to lop 8cm off the bottom of my skirt. “It’s a vintage pattern!” she cried. Believe me – anything below the knee gives me a figure similar to Ann Widdecombe.

Finished skirt in hand, I took mine home to doctor some more. I was really rather skeptical about (a) the difficulty of, and (b) my ability to stitch straight ribbon onto a curved hem, but once I’d started pinning, I realised that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected. Quite painless actually, apart from the few times I accidentally pinned my own fingers as well as the fabric.

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So this is the finished product, and I’ve learnt that I can actually do zips, curved hems and waistbands with relative ease. Next stop – a dress.

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(Incidentally, if you ever wear a full circle skirt, don’t do so in windy conditions unless you’re wearing super thick tights. Just a word of warning.)

Aside

Dear the London Underground

Thursday wasn’t especially fun for anyone, was it? The day you managed to flood one of your own control rooms with hundreds of litres of fast-setting concrete and completely submerged three layers of relay cables. (You tried to deny it at first, but we all saw the pictures.)

The day that, through your own idiocy, you almost entirely disabled one of the most important Tube lines in London for most of the day and night, leaving thousands of people to find another way home and rethink their evening plans.

The day your staff and contractors were forced to work through the night to fix the mistake.

(And of course, the day the Internet made a laughing stock of you through the medium of concrete-based puns.)

Now I’m usually an advocate of yours – I even wrote a post a few months ago singing your praises.

But advocacy can only go far, I’m afraid.

Worryingly, the safety of thousands of people is in your hands for 20-odd hours a day, 364 days of the year. The thousands of people that you dutifully cart from Brixton to Bow and Hammersmith to High Barnet in your black, dusty, claustrophobic tunnels just a few feet below the streets of London.

And if you can do something as mind-bogglingly daft as filling a control room with concrete, unfortunately that makes me question what else you might be capable of.

What’s going to happen next? Are you going to remember to make sure the doors are closed before the train leaves? Will passengers nearest the exits be forced to cling to the poles and rails that adorn your carriages for dear life as they’re sucked nearer the swirling black vortex of the tunnel wall between St Paul’s and Chancery Lane?

Are you going to forget to screw the escalator steps back on and leave people to fall into the mildly glowing void beneath?

If a train breaks down, will the driver ask the people in the last carriage to get out and push it the last few hundred yards into the platform at Embankment?

The millions of people who shell out a large portion of their hard-earned wages every month to use your services are waiting with baited breath to find out what excuse you’re going to give next time something untoward happens.

Trolls in the tunnel? The signalling equipment has pulled a sicky? Vultures nesting on the track?

Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel there’s mortar come. (Sorry.)

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Get your bake on: Christmas cupcakes

As it was chucking it down and my boyfriend spent the weekend at the other end of the country, yesterday I took the chance to do some much-needed festive baking. Last time I donned my apron, my red velvet cupcakes ended up being brown velvet cupcakes, so I was desperately in need of something to heal my bruised baker’s ego.

Enter Rudolph and his festive, pudding-based friends.

Having trawled Pinterest for Christmassy inspiration, periodically wiping the drool off my iPad screen, I decided to attempt a batch of Rudolph cupcakes. I’d also bought some TINY holly decorations on a whim in Morrison’s a few weeks ago, and have been itching to use them because they’re so cute – so put Christmas pudding cupcakes on the list too.

Both are basic sponges – just a four-egg recipe (as I’d usually make for a 20cm tin) with two tablespoons of cocoa and then split between 24 cupcake cases.

For the Rudolphs, I covered 12 of the cakes with chocolate buttercream (I’d usually make my own, but was feeling lazy today so got a tub of Betty Crocker icing). The decorations are pretzels, white chocolate buttons with writing icing pupils, and a giant milk chocolate button stuck to a Smartie with more writing icing. (Annoyingly, in four packets of Smarties there was a total of 11 red ones, so one of my Rudolphs has a purple nose. That one’s lucky.) Just make sure you put enough buttercream on so the pretzels stay in one place!

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The Christmas puddings were slightly easier – it’s just a normal icing sugar/water mix (thick enough that it doesn’t run straight off, and dolloped with enough precision to make it look authentic) and the TINY holly decorations. I needed tweezers to put them on the cakes because they’re SO FIDDLY.

I’m pretty pleased with the results though.

Happy Christmas! *stuffs face*

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