Tilly and the Buttons Rosa Dress

Tilly and the Buttons Rosa Dress

Introducing my new Tilly and the Buttons Rosa dress.

I was delighted when Tilly asked me if I’d like to test this pattern. I was excited by just the line drawing alone. All I could see was piping and matching buttons and I didn’t falter when the pattern arrived.

I won’t go into construction details, mostly because so many weeks have passed, I’ve quite forgotten them, but also I think it only fair to do that with a tried and tested one.

That said, I love it and its had so many outings already. The legs are still bare, making the most of this warm September, but I have another styled vision of red tights and black patent DMs for the colder months ahead!

I love the 3/4 rolled up sleeves with the tab. It adds such a lovely detail. I’m always doing stuff and sometimes a full length sleeve just irritates me and feels so restrictive. Rolled sleeves makes me feel like I mean business even if I actually don’t!


I’m pretty sure I jumped at this pattern after making Mr O a few vintage western shirts (See two of them here and here). And I’m pretty sure the only shirt I’ve ever made myself – with a proper collar – is my 50s bowling shirt.

So I was due one. Even if it’s actually a dress! It still has that lovely vintage front and back yoke that I adore.

Tilly and the Buttons Rosa dress back yoke

I used a cheap washed out denim from A-One fabrics in the Goldhawk Road. Was a bit worried about the thickness, with piping sandwiched in the seams, but it worked just fine. Incidentally, the only piping I managed to get my hands on is upholstery piping for sure. It’s not dainty in the least. But hey I wanted statement red piping and I got it!

I apologise to anyone with a phobia of wrinkled clothing. I do have an iron – honest, guvs! But denim is just one of those tricksy fabrics I guess and in any case there is no official term for such phobia so I might just get away with it!

Tilly and the Buttons Rosa dress pockets

I actually sewed down the pockets, whilst sewing on the buttons (intentionally of course ;-)) to save me putting anything in them. Which I obviously would if they were functional. This will ultimately limit unnecessary boob distortion and minimize wrinkle action.

Another thing I really like about this pattern is the in-outness of the waist to hip. Such a lovely shape. And really helpful when one’s waistline is increasingly difficult to define!

Tilly and the buttons rosa dress

I should really declare that I took these shots myself. Not the usual quality delivered by Mr O, because he is away, gigging with his new band. It isn’t my favourite thing to do at all but needs must when your children declare they have better things to do, like walking someone else’s dog or doing Latin homework. Yeah, right!

Happy weekend everyone. Hope you get some sewing in! xxx


Vintage Blackmore 8194 dress

Blackmore 8194 vintage dress

I needed a dress for a wedding. Not just any old wedding but a beautiful Indian wedding where I couldn’t hope to compete with the finery of silks and saris. No pressure, then! I rifled through every kind of fabric and bored all the Goldhawk Road shop owners senseless with my dilemma, during the weeks leading up to the big day.

Blackmore 40s dress

I diligently visited a roll of paisley brocade in A-One Fabrics, three days on the trot, properly umming and arrring out loud. But it wasn’t quite right. I ordered some gorgeous cotton satin roseprint from Minerva thinking … actually who knows what I was thinking. It was all wrong until I spied a roll of drapey green fabric at the back of the shop. 100% polyester it transpires. My inner snob rose to the fore but I bashed it back down when I handled the weight and the smooth silky texture and noted the lack of crease when I screwed it into a ball. And oh the colour! Not to mention the price tag of £4.00 a metre. I wasn’t arguing at all!

I already had this pattern in mind: Blackmore 8194. It’s not dated but I’m guessing late 40s. Vintage Patterns Wikia has it down as 1950s but also claims that Blackmore published paper patterns between 1845 and 1940, so that doesn’t add up!

Blackmore 8194 sewing pattern

I was sold on the waist and hip detail, the softly gathered side fronts that fall from the hip and that cheeky little key hole detail with the bow tie feature.

Blackmore 8194 dress keyhole detail

Incidentally the bow tie itself is some vintage liberty homemade bias binding that I inherited.

I made a quick bodice toile in the original size, half knowing it was too small, but wanting to test the pattern without sleeves. Inevitably I changed my mind and graded the pattern up a size. Redrawing the pattern allowed me to add the seam allowance on too. Something this pattern didn’t allow for which also shows it’s age a bit, I think.

Blackmore 8194 vintage dress

I’m quite used to vintage patterns without markings or seam allowances but one thing that struck me as a bit odd with this one, was an instruction to “Make darts in the back bodice where shown by dotted lines in diagram”. Quite literally the diagram which is the tiny pattern layout illustration on the back of the packet. So it’s anyone’s guess, really!

Inserting the gathered panels into that front skirt panel was a bit tricky but quilting skills have taught me how to clip and pivot at a point, so it wasn’t too terrifying. Again, the instructions are loose: “Gather upper edge of side fronts to fit hip yoke of front as in sketch and stitch together matching VV to VV.” Simples, lol!

Blackmore 8194 inserted panels

I’m pretty pleased with the outcome. And it worked well for a wedding where colour was the order of the day. But there are niggles: I forgot to add seam allowance to the sleeves which actually doesn’t appear to make much difference but I did sew them on back to front! How much difference that makes will show in the next version which I’d like to make soon while it’s all fresh in my head; The waistline could do with a bit of ease. I like how it’s nipped in but it’s not that comfortable! And although the fabric is nice and drapey, I’d like to try it in a lawn or a lightweight cotton so that the neckline and the darts press sharper. I also neglected to do my usual adjustment to take out the excess fabric from the back bodice. I cheated instead by removing the zip and trimming the centre back seam… not very well!

Blackmore 8194 vintage dress back view

Considering I pretty much sewed this up the day before and was hemming on the morning of the wedding, I think it turned out pretty well. The niggles can so easily be sorted next time round. And to get change from a tenner is such the ‘Brucey bonus’ that I feel it prudent to reward myself with some lovely lawn!

I don’t have any of the official pictures from the day to share as yet but I’m sure you can imagine how stunning all the ladies looked, as did the men in their exquisite flocked and braided coats. I can’t begin to tell you how gorgeous my friend the bride looked. But I did shed actual tears – in a good way – when she walked into the room. Such an honour to have been invited to such a special day. And I’m so glad I went to the bother of making a dress, especially.

Blackmore 1940s dress

Photos by the wonderful Daniel Selway
Location: St Pauls, London
Shoes: Lola Ramona
Handbag: vintage from local Fara Charity Shop

Personalised bunting

personalised bunting Maddie

When I’m busy at work, it’s so tricky to find sewing time or the energy sew when I get home! But it’s imperative that I fit some in at least, or I start to feel resentful about my day job and that’s a bit pointless because, hey… I need to pay the bills so I can at the very least keep a roof over my sewing table!

And so bunting was last week’s fix. One for baby Maddie and the other for her big brother, Charlie:


Bunting in itself isn’t very taxing to make: With right sides together, I sew the two diagonal sides of each triangle set, leaving the top edge open for turning; trim, turn right-sides out, and press. Once I have as many as I need, I pin and sew to a length of bias binding, allowing enough for ties at the ends.

But in order to personalise ones bunting it pays to have some double sided Bondaweb to hand. And do not sew the triangles together until you’ve appliquéd the letters.

I traced the individual letters from a printout onto the peel-off paper side of the Bondaweb – making sure the letters were first reversed. If you don’t do this the letters will read back to front!

I then ironed the tacky side to the reverse side of the fabric and cut out the letter shapes. You can then peel off the backing and iron the letter to the front side of the bunting to keep the letter shapes perfectly in position as you sew them on.

I happen to have a cool appliqué stitch on my sewing machine but a zigzag stitch is perfectly good enough. Just keep it nice and slow and pivot around any corners and curves.

personalised bunting applique

It’s also a good idea to tack the open top edges together before you pin and sew to the bias binding strip. Just keeps them nicely in position and stops any pesky puckers!

I find it strangely satisfying to have a pile of appliquéd bunting triangles on my table and admit to just sitting and admiring before I launch into attaching the bias binding!

personalised bunting for charlie

I just love browsing for fabrics that coordinate together. And if you happen to love them it makes sewing the bunting so much more satisfying. But it does make the giving-away part of it more difficult. Lucky it is personalised!

personalised bunting Maddie

So there you go. The joys of bunting. A mood-boosting, sewing fix of a lovely gift. What’s not to love?!

How do you cope when you are short on sewing time? Do you just accept the break or do you find smaller fixes too?

The Pencil Atelier at the Port Eliot Festival

port eliot wardrobe dept
The quiet before the storm!

I have just recently returned from the most exciting and inspiring 4 days away at the most amazing festival, ever – The Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall, UK.

Lucky old me was asked to join the Pencil Team to fuel the 80s theme and bash out some rara skirts for lots of festival goers who would then participate in the fashion show finale at the end of the week. It all seemed a little bit daunting at first, not least of all because raras aren’t the quickest things to whip up and with minimal resources and in a tent!

ooobop sewing at Port Eliot festival

But we did have leccy and we did have good fabric. Boy did we have a substantial stash! Sponsored by Chloe no less. No expense spared for our budding fashionistas!

fabric sponsored by Chloe

So the afternoon before the first session we arrived at a prototype. For Paul! A willing and most encouraging volunteer who was delighted to be my model and first happy customer!


The order of the day was raw and ready! Overlockers didn’t get a look in and hey, who needs a hem anyway?! We had 2 shifts a day–one for each rara–at the very least, times 7 sewists: 4 fashion students from the Glasgow Clyde college; 1 amazing consultant stylist; one very wonderful experienced seamstress/mother/grandma to everyone… and me!

Bumble teaching sewing

To emphasise the ‘raw’, we barely used scissors, save to snip the ends of the fabric before ripping near-as-dammit lengths for main skirt and flounce sections. I accounted for double waist measurement for the width and measured just above the knee for length. The measurements for the layers were guessed… and hoped!

lanyas rara skirt

So we started flat, gathering the flounces from bottom to top. But not a gathering thread in sight. Way too much faffing! We just pinched and manipulated those strips under foot and zigzagged into position, covering each layer of stitching with the next flounce above.

rara skirt in progress

When sufficient layering was complete, we stretched and sewed the waist elastic (measured comfortably stretched against the body) to the top edge of the skirt using a wide zigzag stitch – making a casing was taking too much time. If there was any excess fabric beyond the end of the elastic, it was simply trimmed off. Then there was just one back seam to stitch up.

Each skirt took about an hour and a half on the whole, including a lot of chatting and demonstrating and getting the children to have a go. Some were willing. Some were quite happy to sit and chat and have a bespoke skirt made before their very eyes. I know I would be!

rara skirts

Little Miss O was in charge of printing the designer labels!

designer Pencil Atelier labels

Every customer had their own ideas. How many flounces, what fabric combo and whether or not there were additional ribbons and bows. In fact it seemed the younger the customer the more determined they were to inject their own creativity. However much we tried to push the gold mesh it often got declined! They wanted pinks and blues and yellows. And oh the relief when only one frill was requested!


I can, hand on heart, say that the most amazing music to my ears was hearing that most of the pre-teen children I sat with knew how, or regularly operated a sewing machine. Mostly of their own! How refreshing is that. No surprise that it wasn’t from the teaching of schools or after-school clubs, but by the willingness of their fabulous grandmas. It really was so encouraging to hear. Sewing isn’t disappearing anytime soon, fellow sewingistas! There are grannies out there championing this all-important and special skill that so needs to be nurtured and that makes me sooooo happy.

These twin sisters were a prime example. They love making their own dolls clothes and hope to make their own clothes one day. Fashion student, Megan made the skirt on the left and I made the one on the right, independently, guided by each allocated twin.

The twins wearing their rara skirts

And the results were fascinatingly, coordinated!

rara skirts for the twins

The sewing sessions were fast and furious but no less creative and fun. So much so that immediately after each one we stayed behind when everyone had left to make use of the fabric and whip up our own outfits.

after hours sewing in the tent

It was such a delight to meet these Scottish student beauties. So much energy and passion for sewing and fashion. And so much fun to have around.

Fashion student outfits

Whilst rara skirts flew off the sewing machines at one end of the tent, hand-painted slogan T-shirts were being pegged up at a rate of knots! A massive resurgence of 80s brilliance.

And then, when the last session finished, and the chilled dandelion and burdock tins where handed out (ok, so maybe there was an odd swig of the strong stuff!) then it was time for the fashion show. Paints were cleared, and in their place, a spray of silk flowers were jiggled into a jug, and the models were prepped by Jenny, Ruler of Pencil!

Jenny Dyson backstage ready for show
Shot by amazing society phogotraher, Darren Gerrish – port Eliot Official

Just check out these amazing head-dresses made at one of Piers Atkinsons workshops! The single only downer for working at the festival was that I didn’t get to make one due to clashing of classes!

headdress by Piers Atkinson

head wear by Piers Atkinson

They were all so excited. rehearsing their moves: A flick of the hair, crossed arms, over the shoulder attitude, pouts galore, working those raras and T’s!

Hay bales outlined the catwalk and the music began. It was simply brilliant!

Pencil Atelier fashion show

pencil atelier fashion show

I felt a wave of emotion once the children danced off. And moreso when one came back to hug me and thank me and tell me it was her most favourite skirt in the whole world. I properly cried!

But moods surged the next day whilst taking photos at the Rubbish Olympics. Another amazing concept drummed up by Jenny! Human dressage, Egg and spoon race without said egg and spoon, pencil tossing, Zoolander musical statues and more. Quite difficult to photograph when you are splitting your sides laughing but here is one of my faves. They were ‘Best in Show’ of course!

Human Dressage
Human Dressage

Such a glorious place, such amazing creative people, such talents and inspiration. Port Eliot is such a magical place. I truly hope it returns next year. And I think you should all come too.

A blue half circle skirt

blue half circle skirt

This is my new half circle skirt. Self-drafted and made in a cobalt blue poly crepe.

Sounds pretty simple hey? Well to be honest, in principle it was. And it would have been a swifty project if I’d have remembered a couple of simple things.


Why? Well in my case, I have a fair few circle and half-circle skirt pieces that I’ve not only drafted for myself, but for others too. And in my haste I’d just labelled them ‘skirt front’ or ‘full circle’ and one just said ‘circle skirt piece no SA’. The latter was helpful, at least to know that I needed to add a seam allowance but none were any help at all to know if it was the right waist measurement, the right length, a full or half circle etc. What a twit!

blue half circle skirt

So first job was to redraft another, to my size. And second job was to ensure all that info was written bold and clear on the pattern piece for future use.

I’d already prewashed my fabric, so that was a win. The number of times I’ve been fired up to sew and didn’t have prepared fabric to hand is way too many to count. But swifty projects aren’t very swifty at all if you haven’t factored in to…


Sewing a circle or half circle really doesn’t take that long but don’t bank on whipping one up, hours before a party because it has to hang at least overnight to allow the weight of the bias fabric to drop. This will almost definitely result in an uneven hem and will need levelling before hemming. I put mine on a dressmakers dummy but I’m sure if it was hung evenly on a pegged coathanger, you would achieve the same result.

So next there’s the levelling. I put the dressmakers dummy, wearing the skirt, on a table so that the hem is at eye-level. I use a metal rule from table top to my desired length and then mark all round with chalk or pins, rotating the whole dummy rather than spinning it (that’s another long story). I then go round a 2nd time to double check the measurements.

Once trimmed I sewed a quarter inch line of stitches from the edge and pressed up a hem. I stitched and in this case didn’t need to turn over again. But that might be necessary if fabric is more fraying.

blue half circle skirt

The lining of course needs the same treatment.

I rarely hate on any aspect of sewing, but I discovered this morning that I truly hate levelling, trimming and narrow-hemming lining fabric for a circle skirt, like massively!

It appears I’ve only made one other half circle skirt before, but it was so long ago, it’s well and truly worn out! So as much as I love this colour blue – quite unusual for me actually, don’t you think?! – I feel I must make a replacement black one too. And maybe a red as well!

I must at this point just big up my 12 year-old daughter who took these lovely photos for me. It was a very impromtu shoot as I was doing some shots of my eldest daughter who was face-painting in the park. Little Miss O brought her own camera along for some practice and certainly did me proud. Look out dad, someone’s hot on your heels!

Big Vintage Sewalong: Retro Butterick 5813

Big Vintage Sewalong dress

Back in March I announced I was taking part in the McCalls Big Vintage Sewalong. My scheduled date to blog seemed an awful long way off then, but all of a sudden today came shooting along like an express train and of course I’d left everything till the last minute!

My pattern of choice was the 1950s Retro Butterick 5813 – Nail on the head, Alana from Flying Purple Hippos.com! – but it wasn’t without a dither. I loved each of the three 1940s patterns on offer too!

retro butterick 5813

As soon as that pattern was in hand and I’d decided on version A, I headed straight down to Goldhawk Road and to the relatively new store, Goldbrick Fabrics, to snap up some gorgeous Italian brocade. I’ve been quite literally ‘stitched up’ (or rather unstitched) by brocade, once before (yes looking at you BHL Georgia!) and I knew as a rule, it has massive ‘give’ issues but this particular brocade is beautifully soft and luxurious with just the right amount of body at the same time and subsequently a little more forgiving.

retro butterick 5813

big vintage sewalong dress

And because the fabric was so special I wasn’t about to employ any gung ho scissor action. So I made a toile like the good girl I am. Fortunately I only had to make a few minor adjustments. Firstly I needed to remove some excess bagginess from the back bodice. I often come up against this issue but this style commanded some serious ease for practical reasons of movement I guess.

Big Vintage Sewalong Butterick 5813

Secondly, I needed to gain a little more girth. My go to adjustment for this is always to add a bit at the side seams but that often results in a loss of shape and a sausagey silhouette, so I thought I’d try a different way by sewing narrower darts and I do believe the result was way better, though, looking at the back view shot I should also have shortened the bodice a tad.

retro butterick 5813

Thirdly, I lobbed a fair bit off the length. I ummed and arred between below the knee or to the knee but I think after seeing these photos, an inch longer may have added a bit more drama. What do you think? I sewed a substantial hem so I could take it down a little I guess.

I wouldn’t recommend this dress to an absolute beginner. There are potentially, lots of hissy-fit inducing features like darts – lots of them, some underbust gathering (which admittedly would probably have been easier in a more manageable fabric) oh and inset panels! Luckily I’ve had some former training with insetting sections of my quilt panels – for example the Whirligig block –which made the instructions and the construction a near enough breeze!

Another thing to be mindful of is the precision of facing the front opening – sewing perfectly symmetrical seams to meet at a single point before turning through. I think the collar is such a lovely feature of this dress. There were no complications in adding it and it has a real neat finish that encloses the lining around the neck edge.

Big Vintage Sewalong dress

It’s fully lined too which means sleeves an’ all! I’ve only ever done this twice to my ever failing knowledge: My vintage plaid dress (which annoyingly seems to have disappeared from my blog) and more recently my Sew Over It Joan Dress. And I must say it feels like a bit of a rip off to have to basically construct the dress all over again in lining, no cutting of corners, darts, gatherings, inset panels the lot! And that means even more seams to overlock too!

retro butterick 5813

But of course it was all worth the effort and it’s so lovely and weighty. Proper quality, like!

I’m not sure whether I cut or sewed the wrist end of the sleeve incorrectly but in any case I opened the seam a little to avoid the puckering that was about to happen. And yes those are 3 little darts for shaping the sleeve. On the fashion fabric and the lining. That’s proper vintage detail!

retro butterick 5813

I chose an invisible zip over a more-authentic lapped one, only because I had one to hand but I’m really pleased with the outcome. It just looks like another side seam. I achieved such invisibility by taking my time for once, pinning and then tacking in position before using a regular zipper foot and then sewing a second time with the invisible zipper foot.

retro butterick 5813

One thing that surprised me was the vent. It’s just a slit with facings either side and the lining is stitched to the facings like a little bridge around the outside. Much simpler than the usual lined vents or kick pleats of most vintage dresses I’ve sewn but it does feel like a bit of a cop out after all the attention to detail elsewhere.

Overall I totally love this dress. It was such a pleasure to indulge in some vintage sewing again. Very long overdue and I’d love an excuse (and some more hours in the day) to make another. But I’d make a few more adjustments next time, namely taking a bit off the shoulders, shortening the bodice a fraction and adding a little more to the waist.

retro butterick 5813

It got some lovely comments as we strutted around Portobello Road and around Notting Hill. Not least of all from the lady who managed to sell me 2 new pairs of sunglasses. Flattery gets you everywhere, see!

retro butterick 5813

retro butterick 5813

retro butterick 5813

Many thanks to The Foldline for the encouragement, for McCalls Pattern Company UK for providing the pattern and fabric. I sincerely hope that lots of people get inspired to buy these gorgeous vintage patterns and that lots of wonga is raised for The Eve Appeal in the meantime.

retro butterick 5813

Special thanks also to Dan for dutifully shooting these amazing photos. We always have such fun. London is so full of amazing places and we’re lucky that most of them are just a short tube ride away. It’s always a hoot when we’re oot and aboot!

Marie from A Stitching Odyssey is next up. Can’t wait to see what she makes.

Born to be a gypsy girl

gypsy girl top and skirt

I gave up Flamenco dancing when I was 7 months pregnant with son. My teacher told me that if there was an ounce of gypsy blood in me I would continue dancing right up until the baby was born. Clearly my o-neg wasn’t cutting it. Lord knows how any amount of footwork is achieved when one is the size of a whale!

Anyhoos, just 4 years of practice and 17 years later there is still undeniable evidence of gypsy in me. Even if I’m not a real one. The dancing, the music, the earrings, the roses . . . the dresses. I think I’m just going to have to grab that bull by the horns and start over again.

gypsy girl dancing

But before I drift back to when I had time on my hands, lets talk about this outfit. It’s not a dress. It’s a top and a skirt. Separates, like!

I literally snatched the fabric out of the hands of the shopkeeper when he showed me some precuts on the counter. Just how hard is it to find border print these days? I knew it was going to be a skirt already but I had enough to make a top and my lightbulb moment was realising I had the perfect pattern in Butterick B4685. I’ve made it a few times before and blogged one of them here. Another version even served to complete Dorothy’s World Book Day costume! But this is the first time I’ve included the flounce on version C. And this fabric was perfect for the job.

Butterick 4685 top

I do have an issue with the fabric though. Mostly I find the shop keepers in the Goldhawk Road honest about the content. At least where they are informed themselves. And some even do an on the spot burn test for me if I ask. But this one (who shall remain nameless) confidently told me it was linen lawn. I had no reason to disagree. After all I’ve never purchased linen lawn before. But it sounded good and most importantly, implied of natural fibre. It is lovely and soft and lightweight. Perfect for keeping gathering bulk to a min. But I got that suspicious sweet smelling odour that hit my nose when I ironed it and felt compelled to do a burn test myself.

gypsy skirt and top back view

Surprise, surprise. Not an ounce of natural fibre to write home about. Well maybe one fibre in a million. It did crumble a bit betwixt forefinger and thumb so not 100 per cent plastic. Gah!! I hate the dishonesty. I probably would have still bought it with a bit of a haggle attached. But why glam it up when its so easily sussed?

I’m not too cross because I’m very happy with the outcome. I’m just cross with the bull****!

gypsy girl in the orchard

So the skirt is just a self-drafted gathered rectangle on a waistband with an invisible zip in the side. Unlined and therefore so quick to run up. Though I did hand-sew the hem because it pleases me!

gypsy skirt and top

Dan took these photos in and around the grounds of Fulham Palace, London. Such a beautiful and understated palace which is openly used as a museum and wedding venue and picnic grounds! The gardens are so immaculately kept. And the perfume from the wisteria was gorgeous!

gypsy style with wisteria

gypsy girl by outhouse

And as has become the norm, we had some more interest from the local residents. Clearly cleaning up from the picnics!

squirrel with a sandwich

And once again outposing me on the log shot! I’m sure Mr O does this on purpose. It had bugs and cobwebs and everything on it. Eeeewwww! Can I just say out loud. I hate sitting on logs!!

gypsy girl on a log

I love this outfit, not only because it brings out my inner gypsy, not even just because I made it  (well that as well!) but because its a style that never goes away. I’m as happy wearing this kind of dress now as I was in the 90s and the 80s and I’m pretty sure there’s photographic evidence of me wearing a dress very similar in the 70s! Or maybe I’m just plain old fashioned. Who knows. Who cares. I’ll make more anyway!!

A visit to Contrado

The weekend before last I had the absolute pleasure of joining Kate and Rachel from the Foldline along with some other lovely sewing bloggers –Marie, Jane, Katie, Elena and Charlotte – to visit Contrado – a very exciting, UK-based printing company with so much to offer.

choosing fabric at Contrado

The Day began cozied up in a room with tea, sticky buns and more lovely fabric samples than one could possibly shake a stick at. Already sold! We’d each come armed with a design in mind and we were going to print our very own fabric. It was almost too exciting to bear.

Looking at fabrics

Chris and the gang gave us an introduction from whence they came to where they are today and I was effortlessly sucked into his mesmerising world of print-on-demand on pretty much anything with a turnaround of just a couple of days, in most instances.

We uploaded our ’tiles’ and chose our fabric. I’m making that bit sound easy but when you’ve got a choice of over 75, so generously care of Contrado, it was such a tough decision. We watched the scheduling process as it happened on the big screen. Upload to print. Just like magic.

Next stop was to see them emerge from the printer. What? Already? I seriously wasn’t expecting to take mine home the same day.

fabric emerging

A little trot past the photo studio and around the trampoline (I didn’t ask that question) and into the print room where all the magic was happening. I was amazed at the silence of the operation. Smooth-running synchronised inkjets dancing back and forth in a clean and cool room. And not smelly at all!

The transferred fabrics were coming out and as I turned the corner, there was mine, printing onto actual cotton satin fabric in front of my very own eyes. The natural fabrics get printed onto directly whereas the designs for synthetics are transferred.

While this was happening, we were shown some of the great garments available for customisation. A dressing gown, espadrilles, a baseball cap, some lucky pants, swimwear, kimonos, all printed and handmade right there on the premises, to order.

printed dressing gown

It really is incredible. But seeing how speedy the seamsters were upstairs it was completely plausible. We oooed and arrred at the machines a lot. I can still hear the Randomly Happy squeals of delight. And just check out this bad boy!

contrado sewing machine

And it’s not just about garments. Though clearly that’s what we were all most interested in. It’s about product too: Hairbrushes, X-Box controllers, clocks, deckchairs, foam cubes, roller-blinds, shower curtains, phone cases, trays, biscuit tins… it would have been easier to ask what they don’t print on!

The next room was where the fabrics were heat-sealed (for durability) and packed. Though most of us chose not to have ours packed and instead, just folded for immediate cradling. You can just imagine the squeals in that room!

And so here are the fruits of my humble tile! Plans for a 50s wiggle dress of sorts have promptly entered the queue!


We all had such a brilliant and inspiring day. I left not only with an armful of amazing fabric but a head full of design plans for more. I love that this is a UK-based and family-run company. And I’m completely smitten with the strength of passion that passes through the team. It matters that communication is good when you are working at creating something so unique and precious. And so to meet such an approachable team in person was not only reassuring but it was truly an absolutely honour.

sewing bloggers

With much thanks to Rachel and Kate and the Contrado team.


BHL Sabrina dress v3

sabrina front view by fountain

This is my third Sabrina dress. And the best-fitting one yet. The first one was the result of a pattern test for By Hand London and the second, more recent version, was made so I didn’t keep wearing the first one all the time! It was also meant to address some of the fitting issues. But if you read that post, you’d see that I only created more!

But this one is certainly close to the mark with regards a perfect fit.

Most dress patterns come up too big across the back bodice for me. It’s not something I’ve ever properly addressed before I made a Sabrina, mostly because I didn’t know how. But it was as simple as taking a horizontal dart from the centre back and tapering to the armscye.

Sabrina dress back view

If I’m honest, it’s still a little snug across the hips. Probably because this fabric is less forgiving. It’s a sturdy brocade-like viscose. It has shiny woven ‘characters’ on a matt background which works great in the sunshine. The shop assistant guessed it was a polyester, which at £8 a metre stumped us both a little, so he took a sample outside to do a burn test. And it turned out there was more than just a little natural fibre in there!

viscose brocade close up

I also hemmed little bit shorter than the other two.  The skirt section flares out perfectly, especially in this fabric. Perfect for a bit of flirty, flarey fun!

sabrina silhouettes

bhl sabrina battersea

The weather was gorgeous on Wednesday as it is today, and promises to be on the weekend too! So Mr O suggested Battersea Park for our shots. I wasn’t too sold on walking from The Kings Road in Chelsea in high heels but he is mostly and annoyingly right with the no pain, no gain philosophy!

sabrina dress

I remember saying, not so long ago, that I couldn’t bear to make the same thing more than once, given all the amazing options out there. But I’m happy to make as many as it takes if it means I get the perfect fit, and the perfect fabric of course. I still have plans for more of these using some more challenging fabrics but those plans are on hold for a little while, as I focus on what I’m meant to be doing: Dan’s blazer and my Big Vintage Sewalong dress for example… ooops!

The By Hand London Sabrina dress pattern comes in two variations. This one and a lovely strappy button-front one…mmmm… no stop it, Janene. Focus!!


And the winner is…

winner classic tailoring techniques for menswear

Congratulations Evie Jones!

Special thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Fairchild books for providing such a great giveaway prize in association with #Blazerof2016 and thank you to every one who left such lovely comments. I’ve really enjoyed reading about what you are all getting up to. Remember you can still get hold of Classic Tailoring Techniques for Menswear at Fairchild Books along with a whole host of fabulous fashion books. My copy is already proving to be my best friend already.

In other news I finished a 3rd By Hand London Sabrina dress, yesterday. And it fits! So I’ll be back sometime soon this week, hopefully, with some pictures and a post. Oh I do love a bank holiday!