Monday 12 December 2011

Christmas crazies!

How did Christmas get to be only a week away? We still don't have our tree or any decorations up! I would have been blogging about everything I've been doing for the last couple of weeks (mainly crafting of presents and eating of christmas dinners) but I've been too busy doing it all! I've started to feel rather stressed.

I can share 2 gifts I made last week, both were pretty quick and easy so you might still have a chance to copy the ideas if you're so inclined!

Gift 1 is a set of herb jars, inspired by an article on xoJane. They're normal jars (purchased from Amazon) but I painted the lids with blackboard paint. That way they can be custom labeled, and seen from the top in a draw.
I bought fancier jars than the ones in the article a. as a nice gift but also b. so that the jars can be stacked side on with the lids showing on a shelf. The blackboard paint in a tin was about a quarter of the price of the spray, but it has left some slight streaking, so spray might be a better bet! I've bought a chalk pen to write on them so that it's nice and neat and I'll give it with the jars.

Gift number 2 was a fairly simple bag for my Mum to carry her knitting in.I took a square of the cord and rounded the bottom edges, then sewed the 2 sides up and sewed a long rectangle with the corners cut off into the base. I then lined it with this cotton wadding, and a cotton lining over that.
The top was just a wide rectangle sewn over the raw edge, though I added some piping to give it a more professional look. If I made this again I'd make the tuck a box pleat, but it looks ok as it is (pain to sew though - had to turn the tension WAY down because it was so thick!).

The handles are cotton tubes with cotton wadding in too and were top-stitched in flace with purple thread (but light green inside).
The catch is another tube but with the ends pointed, and I added a magnetic clasp to the catch and the bag, then sewed a large button over the top for decoration.
Very easy and, if I do say so myself, very effective!
I just hope my Mum likes it (and that she hasn't found my blog yet!).

Stand by for some rushed shots of me going out for various shindigs (including a 1940s party on Saturday), recent sewing projects (tap pants, trousers and a golden corset!) and me cooking Christmas dinner for 7 on Saturday...Roll on 2012!

Saturday 3 December 2011

Getting it off my chest

I was fitted for a new bra recently and realised I've reached somewhat epic proportions. Although it's somewhat depressing to know no regular lingerie companies provide for my size, getting a better bra has made me look thinner and more shapely. There are all sorts of figures about the numbers of women wearing the wrong size, and I know I've given lots of friends tips which have changed the way they wear bras in the past. As I had a spell fitting bras, and have struggled to find a good bra in the past, I thought I'd share my knowledge with you!

1. Sizing principles
There's a lot of confusion about what cup and band sizing mean, and their relationship. Essentially, the band size is the size of your rib cage, and the cup is the difference between the band and the fullest part of your chest. The sewists amongst you will probably be familiar with the D cup as 2" difference, but this isn't strictly true when we're fitting a bra.
Using my favourite pub discussion (men love to hear about this for some reason) we can illustrate bra sizes.
Imagine I take a standard sized bottle top, and place it on the front of a coke can. It's quite big in proportion to the can right? So the coke can lady probably has F cup boobs, with a 32" band. Massive right? Now take the cap and place it on a large bottle of coke, suddenly that's tiny. Our bottle lady has A cups on a 40" band, despite her boobs actually being the same size.

2. What size band?
It wasn't so long ago that the smallest back size you could get was a 32", and the largest around 38". Many women, therefore, got pushed into whatever was closest to their size.
The rule that gets flug around is usually chest measurement plus 4-5" is your band size, but actually I think the same issues that affect the rest of the clothing industry with vanity sizing means that this isn't really true any more. I'd always start off looking at the current brasize and how it fits. You should always buy and wear a bra on its loosest fitting. That allows you to get a bit of extra grip by tightening it as it ages and the elastic loosens. On that fitting, the bra should be firm around the chest - it should be able to stay up on its own if you take the straps off your shoulders. I find most women can go down one or two band sizes - the tighter it is (within reason - you still need to be able to breathe!) the better support it'll give and the more comprotable it should be.
Something else to look at is the space between the cups. This should sit flat on your breastbone, so that the band hugs your rib cage all the way around. The band should also be level - the same height at the back as the front. Most bras that are too big rise up towards your neck in the back. This is because the bras aren't giving any lift, so women tighten the straps to hoick themselves up - you shouldn't need to do that if your band fits properly! In fact, the straps should be the last thing you adjust to give you a little lift after you know the rest of the bra fits well.

3. In your cups.
Now you can look at cups. This suffers the same problem as band sizing - because cups A-D were standard for years, many women wear whatever was closest to their size, even though they needed an F! The cup should sit comfortably all the way round the breast tissue, not digging in, bagging out or wrinking. At this point it's worth trying a few different brands, as they're all cut in slightly different shapes and will suit different people. Personally, I know that Freya, Fantasie and Rigby and Peller usually suit my shape well, but other brands do have individual bras which work well too.
If you're getting bulging over the top of the cup, you need to go up a size. The rule is generally that for each band size you drop, you need to go up a cup size. Like the other rules, though, use this as a guide to start from!
Don't be afraid of the larger cup sizes - you don't need to be built like a porn star to wear a big cup -  to illustrate this point - I bought a 30H last week, and I'm not porn material! My measurements are around 38" full bust, 30" underbust.

Below is a good exaple of a terribly fitted bra. We all know Christina Hendricks has big knockers. My guess would be around a 30-32" F-G cup. The bra she's wearing in this photo is probably a 38D. You can see clearly the the cup is sitting right on the tip of her boobs, and the wire must be cutting in terribly. The wire should run below where the horizontal seam is, and about half the distance between the strap and her back. You can clearly see from the shadows that her boob continues well below the line of the cup and goes right back under her arm. I'd guess that there's been some significant photoshopping done here to make her chest look smooth and perky, because she'll never get that look from a bra that size!
There's a good guide to specific bra problems here, along with a couple more photos.

4. Shopping for bras.
My first piece of advice is to do this with a friend. There will be a lot of chopping and changing of sizes and brands and the last thing you want is to keep dressing and undressing to get another size. Shops with good bra fitters can save you a lot of work, but beware those sales people who use a tape measure, and anyone in a shop which has a limited range of sizes - they'll only know how to fit you to their closest size, so you may end up with something that only roughly fits.
Start with simple designs - once you know your size in a brand, you can try the pushups, strapless and other specialist designs (and bare in mind this the size might change slightly for fit in some shapes).
Don't forget to have a good jiggle - lean forwards and tip yourself into the cup, get your hand in and move everything around - you need to give yourself a helping hand to get everything in its right place!
If you think you're getting in the DD-E cup territory, you should probably find a shop with plenty of larger sizes - in the UK your best bet is Bravissimo. I say this because once you stray out of regular high street sizes, you need to give yourself the chance to find a range of styles and brands that go up well above your expected size. Don't limit yourself to the 'plus sizes' rack of the department store!
Don't forget to look properly at your size every couple of years, and if you gain or loose weight.

A properly fitting bra will not only make you look better and make clothes fit better, but it can help your back and shoulders if you're very large, and avoid the damage from badly fitting wires, which isn't pleasant and has been linked (though I can't find any actual studies to support this idea) to breast cancer.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I've been too busy to blog of late - between working, sewing and sleeping I'm not getting the time to post anything!
I've been doing a lot of costume making recently, which has been great fun but has tied up every spare minute of the last few weeks. This is, sadly likely to be the case over much of the winter as I try to build up a good range of costumes for a portfolio - I'd like to start making some money from my sewing next year but I need to do a lot of work between here and there to improve my skills. I have a list of about 30 items to get done before March, so time really is of the essence!

An early Templar Knight costume
I have been doing a little sewing for myself too, but I've not managed to finish anything yet! It's very irritating. I'm determined to complete my chanllenge of finishing 12 garments this year. Although I've actually made a lot more than that, most of my creations have been for someone else, or costume (or both!). I'm planning to finish a Vogue skirt, the 1940s swing dress that I started a year ago, and a pair of 1940s knickers before the end of December. Wish me luck!

Toile of one of my recent projects
Something else I've been making is a corset - I'm in the middle of a 6 week evening class making one, and I'm loving it! Once I've done the class I have plans to make another corset the same, just to fix the process in my mind. Photos of the finished article will follow soon too.
So I hope all's well in Blogger land - I've not been reading nearly as much as usual either, so I'm worried I might have missed something. Let me know if there's any news :)

Monday 17 October 2011

Now we're cooking with gas!

I mentioned a while ago that we'd had a new kitchen installed, well here are the pictures!
We went with IKEA, since they're very cheap, and we were impressed with the quality - I have a friend who had an IKEA kitchen 5 years ago and it still looks brand new.
I used the online design feature to put the layout together. Fortunately once we'd paid for it instore a fitter came out to measure and corrected all of the mistakes I'd made. Oops! My measuring mistakes meant that I didn't get everything I wanted - double sink, built in microwave and full sized dishwasher being the biggest dissapointments!
When we bought our place it'd been a student rental for a long time and the cheap kitchen was really past it. The oven door had lost its handle, and its ability to light the gas. The fridge barely kept anything cold and the freezer frosted up within hours. The sink was leaking and the cupboard doors were warped. In short - ready for the knacker's yard!
Before - uninspiring to say the least
The kitchen was delivered on a Saturday and we were overwhelmed with new things. That was like Christmas, as the men brought appliances and IKEA packages in. Very exciting times!
We ripped the kitchen out ourselves to save some cash and actually it was very satisfying! We ran into trouble with the sink, as the people who fitted it didn't isolate the water supply, so we couldn't remove the taps without flooding the house. Fortunately the buildres managed to sort that out.

The builders arrived bright and early on the Monday - the electrician first to sort the appliance plugs out, then the cabinet makers and the plumber. The benefit of using the IKEA recommended service, apart from getting some of the installation on their interest free credit deal, was that they knew exactly what they were doing with the units. Within a few hours the first cabinets, and the extractor fan had gone up.
And by Wednesday afternoon, they were finished!
We went for Ramsjo units in white, with a solid oak worktop. The door fronts do show every bit of dirt, but they wipe off easily. The work surface has been very easy to keep clean and we've not marked it yet! The sink is Domsjo and I love it - it's big enough to fit the oven trays in completely, to soak and handwash clothes, plus it's been easy to keep clean - I noticed it was getting a bit tea stained today and after putting some soda crystals and boiling water on it, the stains came off with a wipe. My only complaint would be that with a high tap like ours and a shallow sink, the water does tend to splash everywhere if you're not careful. Fortunately, since we're barely washing anything up any more it's not much of an issue!
I think the biggest change has been the use of space - we've fitted a dishwasher in to the kitchen, and managed to hide the recycling bins away without sacrificing any cupboard space. Plus the built in washing machine keeps it lookig tidy.
I've been very impressed with the IKEA appliances - they're all A and above rated and seem to have been designed with very sensible and practical use in mind.
We've made good use of space, with a carosel cupboard in the corner - the shelves pull out completely so you can get right to the back and it works better than I'd thought it would!
The drawers with a cupboard front were a bit of a wild card - we only got them because there wasn't enough space for a regular drawer unit. Actually, though, they work really well. The height of the bottom drawer lets me stand up cleaning spray and kitchen roll, while the top 2 drawers fit cutlery and cooking bits and bobs simply.

The obligatory before and after shots:

The island making the L-shape is a trolley, coincidentally in the same colour scheme as the kitchen. We went for that rather than a built in island so that we can get a big table in and, when we pull it out to seat 10, move the island to keep access all around the table. Using baskets on the trolley shelves lets us store our veg and large bags of pasta.

The 'dining' part of the room got some wall cabinets and a sideboard for storage. Using the alcove left by the chimney breast gives us more space in the room/ We're planning to buy a new, bigger table which will be the same size as the current table at full extention, seating 6, but pull out to seat up to 10. As we've used the length of the room there should be plenty of space for that.

It feels as though we have more space now, and the room feels much nicer too. As the front door opens directly into this room, it's helped to improve the feel of the whole house!
There's a lot of work to do still - tiling the cooking space, painting the walls, making a new blind, fitting new lights and, eventually, stripping the carpet off and doing up the original oak floorboards in the whole of the room. All we have to do is find the time and the money!
I have to say that I've been very pleased with the IKEA purchasing process, the fitters (who came back to fix a minor issue with the work top placement 2 days after I called about it) and the quality of the cabinets and appliances.

For reference;
Sink: Domsjo
Fridge: Framtid fridge freezer
Oven: Datid OV8
Washing machine: Renlig
Dishwasher: Renlig
Hob: Datid
Work surface: Numerar Oak
Sideboard: Stornas Buffet
Doors: Ramsjo white
Handles: Svep

Cost £3350
Fitting £3490 (IKEA approved firm DTW)
All but £1000 of that went on 2 years interest free credit.
The appliances are all under 5 year warranty, the units 25 years and the installation 3 years, so we're pretty confident it'll last!

If you're looking for a good value kitchen, I'd say that IKEA are well worth a look. They're well designed and the service is very good (we had a named contact to deal with). You can almost certainly save money by putting cabinets together yourself if you have the know-how and looking for a local firm to fit them and the appliances, though you won't be able to spread the payments that way.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Sewists of the world - I need your help!

Rewatching True Blood season 2, I was struck (again) by how fabulous Lorena always looks.
This burnt orange number is fantastic
I do dislike the way that most of the vamps dress like 90s metallers - come on people - you have all of eternity to get your style together - be braver! Anyway, Lorena is, to me, how good vampires should look (Eric aside, cos, well, you know).
And that green dress she wears when Bill leaves her in the 30s? Just amazing. So much so that I'm keen to try to replicate it. Can I find a pattern though? And that's why I need your help!
To remind you, the dress is bias cut, has a cowl neck, underbust seam (though I'm not concerned about replicating that specifically) and straps which cross in the back.
I love the brooches on the straps, and the train in the back
The closest pattern I've found is Vogue 8358, though that's v-neck rather than cowl. If anyone can find me a closer pattern, I'd be eternally grateful! 
Vogue 8358

And just cos I can, I give you...Eric Northman.

Friday 14 October 2011


My Grandmother is wonderful. While this is something I've always known, I have come to appreciate it even more recently, when I've been going through the Ton of clothes I grabbed from her house following a big clear out I helped my Mum with.
Handmade skirt
As she's now elderly and immobile, my Nan has surrendered most of her incredible (both in terms of content and size) wardrobe, and much of it has come to live with me.
I've washed a few items and aired the rest and am now the proud owner of;
12 skirts
1 skirt suit
1 jacket
2 dresses
6 slips
1 dressing gown
2 dresses and 1 skirt from which I'll reclaim fabric
1yd of cotton and
1 fur coat

Blue and green plaid skirt
My Mum is amazed that anyone would want to wear her Grandmother's clothes and as they're all 60s and 70s items, I'm surprised too. It turns out, though, that my Nan has always been a style queen.
Not only is her taste impeccable - the fabrics she's picked out are beautiful, she's also always bought very high quality clothes and she's taken really great care of everything. Most of it looks brand new. It's incredible. And, as I'm discovering, most of her clothes were hand made.
My Nan grew up in the 30s and 40s in the East End of London. When the war started, she was 14 and so left school to join the work place. She went to work in a factory sewing parachutes and as far as I know, has been sewing ever since.

Simple black velvet a-line skirt
At the end of the war she married the boy next door (actually he lived opposite, but near enough!) and when my Grandad was offered a chance to move to Hampshire with work, they took it. She kept working in London and would take the bus into Victoria every day, which meant that she needed a wardrobe fit for the London scene whilst saving her pennies (not to say that she didn't like to spend - there's an oft told story about a pair of shoes she spent 2 week's wages on in Bristol during the war, which she had to hide from my Grandad).
Suit made in 'West Germany'
As a result she sewed many of her own clothes then, and continued to make pieces for cruises she went on in her retirement. She has a raft of photos of her creations dining on the QE2!
It was my Nan who first taught me to sew and I can remember many happy school holidays making stuffed toys, dressing up clothes or aprons. When my school ball came around at 16, I helped her make a dress with a boned bodice and massive Tulle skirt from burgundy satin - I still think it's a remarkable feat! I wore that dress proudly and told anyone who'd listen that I'd made it with my Nan.

Handmade dress - crazy!
Some of the skirts need taking in, since as she got older she let out a lot of darts and added an inch here and there to the waist bands so that, weirdly, they're too big for me. I'm sure as the rest of the clothes get modified I'll be posting pictures of me in them, so watch this space!

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Primark for the win

As I mentioned in a previous post I happened to accidently do some shopping in Primark recently. I'm doing my best not to spend any money right now but I saw a variety of lovely clothes that I couldn't pass up. There's a distinct retro vibe on the high street at the moment, and I'm keen to capitalise on it! 
This skirt is a light rayon type fabric and comes in bang on knee length. It's light enough for parties and summer only sadly but I'm happy to wait to wear this. It''s got a great swish factor to it!
Pretty floaty blouse with tiny flowers all over, and gathered to the sleeves and waist. This is really soft and comfy and works well with high waisted trousers and smart skirts.
Cotton peasant top. Again, one for the summer but this was reduced to £5 so it'll sit in the cupboard happily till then. There's smocking around the neck and the waist and little gathered sleeves.
30s style pyjama/lounging set with high waist wide legged trousers and a kimono top. This will also have to be a summer outfit but it's pretty special and I couldn't turn it down!
And the piece de resistance - a tweed suit with a full circle skirt, mock waistcoat in the jacket and prettily puffed sleeves. I've had lots of comments about this suit - I think it's going to be a stock item for winter!
I think I'll be popping back in a few weeks to see their new winter stock as it comes in - I think we're in for a very vintage few months on the high street!

Saturday 1 October 2011


I got to join a friend at an Oktoberfest party last night, and had a wonderful time!
I thought I would enter into the spirit of things by dressing up, and managed to cobble this together in a week. The blouse is from Primark, it's a gypsy style top with smocking round the neckline and was reduced to £5! The corset top thing dates back to the 90s, when suck a thing was still fashionable - I'm very pleased I'm such a hoarder!
I made the skirt and the apron this week - trhe apron was a very simple make - just 1m of gingham cotton gathered onto 2m ribbon and hemmed all the way round.
The skirt, however, was something of a challenge. I bought too little fabric the first time I went to the shop and ended up getting the rest on Thursday evening.
I was intending to make a gathered skirt like Gertie's and bought some raw silk with a taffeta like textureso that it would stand out nicely. Sadly, as I ran out of time, the gathers turned into box pleats, the invisible zip turned into a barely held together set of plastic and cotton threads. I won't tell you what the insides look like...Still, it held up to an evening's drinking, and a rendition of the Macerena.
We had entertainment in the form of an accordian playing, joke telling Bavarian. We had lots of sing alongs, songs with silly actions and clash clashing with our neigbours. There was beer.
And more beer.
And sausages!

Friday 30 September 2011

Developing your eye part 2

Yesterday was the second of my photography classes (part 1 here). This week's assignment was 'black and white' and it was certainly a challenge.
I tried to look at objects which were obvious with colour, but in black and white became more abstract and maybe a little odd looking.
Once again, I'd welcome some input - last week's comments were very helpful!

Shooting in colour and then desaturating in MS photo editor made things tricky and half of what I thought would work really didn't. I've also had a busy week, so I've ended up with some shots I can't say I'm all that happy with, but they provoked some interesting discussion so I guess that makes them successful in one regard?
I have learnt something valuable - namely that I'm all about colour when taking photos normally. Although I might experiment some more with black and white, I have to say it doesn't do that much for me.

Next week's assignment is about narrative - 5 pictures that tell a story. I'm totally stumped!

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Night on the tiles

As I mentioned yesterday, I went out with some very lovely ladies for one or two drinks in Bristol this weekend.
It just so happened that, only hours before getting the invite, I had been passing through Primark (honestly - it runs between 2 streets) and accidentally started buying things. Many of these things are lovely and very, very vintage, but one of them was totally suitable for a night on the tiles.

This dress has a waist that comes to a point at the bust and cape like sleeves. The fabric really looks like vintage rayon too, and the self covered buttons are a lovely touch. I tried this on in a 10 and couldn't get it done up over my bust so went hunting for a 12...only to find a rail crammed with 50 of this dress, all in 8 and the skilled shopped I am though, I hunted until I found the only other dress in the shop, in 14. It's a little on the roomy side, but the cut of the dress disguises that well, and I'm chuffed to bits!

I threw on some 30s style hair and makeup stylings, packed my lippie and headed out!

After a couple of drinks, a game of foosball (turns out I suck at all sports, even pretent ones) and much laughter, we headed up Park Street and turned into a slightly dingy side road. One of the girls rang an annonymous looking doorbell and the door to another world opened before us...

Hyde and Co has to be Bristol's best kept secret. It's a prohibition themed bar (though in reality it's much more than this) and the whole place is decked out with quirky vintage items. Sadly it's too dark to get many good photos inside, but believe me, it's special.
It's been open for over a year and no one I know has ever heard of it, I'm stunned, and actually, pleased. It's mainly a cocktail bar, where no one stands (once the seats are full people get turned away) and you're served at the table by the cocktail waiters, decked out in tweed waistcoats and ties. They were very attentive and really knew their stuff, we felt very well looked after!

I'll leave the finer details out, as it's worth experiencing yourself, suffice it to say I spent my evening grinning like a loon! If you are looking for somewhere in Bristol to have a special drink, Hyde and Co is just abotu as special as it gets!