Monday, 30 December 2013

Season's Greetings!

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! I thought I'd just showcase a few illustrators I'm really into at the moment, as I'm sitting here catching up on their blogs and generally basking in their awesomeness :)

First up, Studio MME. I absolutely LOVE the stories and characters Megan comes up with. It's a delight to receive her little imagination pick-me-ups in my email inbox, like my own personal break from reality.
'Daughters of the Forest' by Megan Eckman at StudioMME

Doodle Art was always a big thing when I was growing up, so discovering ink artists Johanna Basford and Kerby Rosanes (Sketchy Stories - click on his name to see his illustrations) has re-opened a world of colouring for me. Colouring in is so relaxing!

Gorgeous flowers from Johanna Basford

Mattias Adolfsson displays an excellent sense of humour in his illustrations...

I adore Mattias Adolfsson's reindeer-pig :)

... and I have two of Natalia Pierandrei's (nati-art) gorgeous, romantic prints in my home:

'The Victorian Circus' by nati-art

Last, but definitely not least, is someone I knew way back when, in Wellington, when we were just teens: Rufus Dayglo. Rufus is the artist with the formidable skills behind 'Tank Girl', among other things.
'Tank Girl' by Rufus Dayglo

So that's what I've been doing to relax these last few days; checking out some great illustration talent :) I've included links so you can go to the artist's websites, and all of them have fabulous products/services for sale.

See you soon!


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Bridal alterations: converting a zip fastening into lacing

Hi! I thought I'd write a sewing blog today, showing an alteration I performed recently. I took photos while I did it so that I could file them away as a teaching resource.

As some of you may know, I've been spending a lot of time over the last couple of months doing fittings and alterations for a lovely bridal shop here in Bath. It's a really interesting job, meeting lots of people from all walks of life who have one big thing in common: the stress of organising a wedding! Finding the right dress can be difficult, and even when you find it there can be issues of fit. That's where I come in.

Mostly I take in side seams and shorten hems, but every now and then something like this comes along,. when the bride wants to change something major.

In this case it was swapping the zip and buttons at the back for lacing. This was both for style and to facilitate fit. She had purchased a sample dress which was too big for her, especially across the back, and this was the perfect solution. (We had the designer's permission to make this change.)

Yes, it's the same dress - the lighting was just very different on both days!
In the first picture you can see where I pinned the outline I needed for the lacing gap.
Here's how I did it. I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking here, so look closely at what my fingers are doing to position the rouleau ready for stitching. If your dress has beads and sequins, like this one does, remember to remove them from the seam allowance and the reach of the presser foot. Even after doing that I managed to break two needles because of the thickness I was sewing through, and the unevenness of stitching over fabric rouleau, so take it easy. Us the fly wheel instead of the pedal if it makes you more comfortable.

First I cut the new outline, being very careful to arrange all the layers of fabric correctly first. Check once, check twice, check again and then cut. I cut through the lining at the same time, then separated the lining from the top fabrics - which I then basted together just inside the stitching line. Next I marked the distance between the rouleau loop stems, using a piece of cardboard marked at 2.5cm. I found this easier then fumbling around with a tape measure or ruler, and I could slide the pins in through the notch I cut in the cardboard edge. Check that they line up on both sides (you can see where I've already stitched the rouleau onto one side).

In polyester taffeta I did not find the rouleau easy to make. It refused to turn nicely, either with the string method or a loop turner. So I cut the long strip I had made into shorter lengths and turned them with the loop turner. Much easier.  

Okey-dokey. Here's where you get to look at how I'm manipulating the rouleau. I didn't measure the loop lengths on the rouleau; just went by eye and carefully gauging the relationship between the rouleau and the presser foot. I never cut the rouleau. (I probably should've pressed the rouleau first :D )

Tip: don't have any loops in the bottom 4 or 5 cm of the new back opening. This is where you'll need to leave a gap large enough to tuck the lacing ribbon ends away, and that can be pretty thick if it's made in fabric.

Here's the new back opening with its loops attached and ready to be lined. Turn the dress inside out, pin the lining in place, baste if necessary (with slippery or napped fabrics, usually) and stitch right around the whole opening (second picture). Shape the bottom of the opening as you wish. Clip at the bottom, understitch if possible and turn through. Press.

I made a modesty panel to go behind the lacing, to cover the flesh and allow for the client's bra. The lacing ribbon was made out of a bias strip of the taffeta stitched into a tube and turned through (with great difficulty!). After the fitting with the lacing in place, I've decided to go back in and stitch around the opening again, a little further away from the raw edge, to make the loops a bit narrower.

Let me know if you liked reading this. I can post more of this kind of thing if you like :)


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Bath Fashion Museum Study Day, Oct 2013

This year's Hallowe'en treat to myself was to have a study day at the Bath Fashion Museum. I looked at ladieswear from the 1790's through to the 1830's. It was lovely! I do love my study days :)

Here are some pictures of a dress I found quite startling - it's bright, bright yellow! I absolutely love the prints from this period. Dated c.1808-12, it appears to have been made very economically from a small-ish length of fabric. There is no lining, nor are there any side back seams like you would normally find in a dress from this period. Instead, the back bodice is cut in one piece and has a small amount of gathering across the centre section at the waist seam.

The design is a simple cross-over bodice with an apron fronted skirt. As you can see, the only decoration are the frills around the neckline and the wrists. Usually in a crossover bodice there would be hidden underbodice pieces to fasten, giving a little structure to the dress, but not in this example. It is very frugally made. The skirt hem measures 194cm in total, and the skirt itself is pieced together with varying widths of cut fabric.

Judging by the glimpses I got of the fabric deep inside gathers and seams (where there's been less light exposure over the years), the colours of the printed cotton have suffered very little fade. I think this vibrant beauty would have looked lovely under a plain brown pelisse. The most obvious sign of wear was at the sleeve hems, where they were a bit dirty.

(Images shown courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council. Item ref. BATMC 1.09.2008)

Bodice front, BATMC 1.09.2008

Nearly full length, BATMC 1.09.2008

Sleeve, BATMC 1.09.2008

Hem detail, BATMC 1.09.2008

View with the front bodice opened out, BATMC 1.09.2008

View with the front bodice opened out and the front skirt pulled down, BATMC 1.09.2008

Close-up of the sleeve hem frill, BATMC 1.09.2008


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Newsflash! Keepsake Embroidery Commissions Taken!


I am now taking on commissions of custom embroidered children's artwork! You know, those sweet little line drawings they do of home and family (and monsters!) that you wish you could keep on the fridge forever :)

Let me make them into awesome pieces of embroidered art for you to treasure for years to come! Christmas presents for the doting grandparents; keepsakes for beloved aunties, uncles and Godparents; keepsakes for you to treasure.

The idea to take on this kind of commission comes in the middle of a long night, and after some deep and meaningful conversations with fellow doll artists about the pitfalls of the European CE legislation and how it affects our art and our businesses. The upshot is: I enjoy embroidering; I want to make art; I love kids drawings. A match made in heaven? I hope so!

I don't want this to be exclusive to children's art either - I'm open to working with adults too, and I'd be really happy to work with artwork from kids/people with learning disabilities/autism etc. as well. Anything to put a smile on someone's face and give them a sense of accomplishment :)

Examples and prices will be posted next week. In the meantime, contact me to go on my list of interested parties and please do pass this along to all your friends!


Remember, you can join me at Facebook or Google + too!

Monday, 26 August 2013

A Little Light Embroidery

It's a sunny Bank Holiday Monday here in the UK so I thought I'd share a little embroidery pattern with you. It's my own design, of course, but what colours and stitches you would like to use with it are entirely up to you! I've gone with deep reds, pale yellow, greens and a touch of silver. My stitches are stem, chain, French knots and couching. For the leaves I did big chain stitches on top of one another to raise the surface a bit. The main leaf thread is a space-dyed pale-mid green. I might do the words in a blue or a teal...

I thought I might use my one in a patchwork quilt. I'm kinda into those at the moment :)

This is where I'm up to:

And here's the link if you'd like to save the pattern to your computer: Happy Flowers 1
Please use it for 'personal use' and not for profit, though use for charity is A-okay :)



Monday, 8 July 2013

Harriet's New Shop!

Great things are afoot for Harriet, my handmade 1745 style doll! She has her own shop!

The beautiful Harriet, with a handmade rose
Where she will her friends!! To good homes, of course :P

It was all Tasha Baa's idea. We were just hangin' out in the sitting room one day and she was all like 'Virginia you can't keep trying to sell dolls and costumes in one shop, you know'. And I was all like 'Yeah, I know (sigh) but what can I do?' 'Harriet should have a shop of her own. Baaa.' And that was that. Miss Baa directed the photo shoot for the banner, in which Harriet was, of course, the model (although Georgia and Jerry tried to get in on the action), and I did all the stuff that sheep hooves just can't do on my little computer keyboard, and here we are. Harriet has her own shop where she can find good homes for her friends, make some lucky humans very happy and earn her keep!

Tasha Baa, taking tea on the lawn in true Steambaa style
Do stop by and take a look. The 'stock' will be quaint, quirky and varied, and there will be Queen Anne style dolls like Harriet in there very soon (but with some special quirky twists!). Harriet prefers that her friends be housed with caring, gentle adults rather than littl'uns, as they are (for the most part) delicate creatures, many of whom are entirely unique in this world.

The new shop ties in with Harriet's website,, where you can read about me, Harriet, Tasha Baa and some of Harriet's other friends. (This blog is, of course, named after Harriet too! Which is a bit odd, I suppose, but seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Jerry & Georgia, who tried to sneak into Harriet's banner shot
So, if you're in need of a new companion, or a quirky gift for a friend, Harriet would love to see you. She's very excited!


Thursday, 27 June 2013

How to make a leather thimble

I find this kind of thimble brilliant to use – really comfortable and versatile. I’ve found references to leather thimbles in historical texts, too, though I can’t remember where! After a while the thimble takes the shape of your finger, so if you leave it lying around it can freak people out. Hehe!

My leather thimble in use.
I make these from off cuts of lightweight leather or fine suede, the weight you would make trousers out of.  You can extend the life of the thimble by turning it around on your finger, giving you a fresh surface to push you needle against. I usually wear my thimble on the middle finger of my right hand (I’m right-handed).

For added oomph you can glue a small, oval piece of plastic (cut from a margarine container or some such) inside the fingertip, in a good position to use as a needle-pushing aid.

This pattern is for a small-ish finger, so check the width/finger girth measurement before cutting and increase the width as necessary. A 6mm seam allowance is included. I've given the dimensions if you want to simply draw it on a piece of paper, or you can print it out so that the little square measures 1cm. Mine is a little bit wonky; yours doesn't have to be!

Dia. a. The pattern.
1.       Trace around the pattern and cut out your leather.
2.       With right sides together, stitch seam lines ‘A’ together, from the hem to the notch, to make a tube.
3.       Open the seam and squeeze the tube closed with the seam sitting centrally.
4.       Sew a curved seam across the top and trim off the excess leather. This is the fingertip part of the thimble (dia. b).
Dia. b.
5.       Turn through and try on. It should be a snug fit. If not, turn it back through, alter the seam and trim off the excess leather.
Here's what it looks like from the fingertip down.
A new thimble and and old one. See how the old one looks like a bent finger?

A slightly fuzzy picture of what an old thimble looks like if you take it apart and flatten it out.
One last picture of me wearing my old thimble.

And that's how to make a leather thimble! Happy handsewing!


Monday, 6 May 2013

Hot off the Press!

The Virginia Creeper Spoonflower Fabric Shop is up and running, as of today! Woohoo!

Yes folks, I finally did it! I've been kinda terrified of taking this big step, but now it's done and I'm so pleased. Onwards and upwards :)

I've released two designs into the wild today: a simple rose-pink-on-white Regency stripe, perfect to be printed onto cotton voile for a delightfully light summer day dress, and a dusky puce design stamped with tiny primrose yellow leaf motifs, for a more substantial statement. These designs are based on the style and colours of the Regency period, and are ideal for re-enactment garments and re-creating the looks of your favourite Jane Austen heroines.

More designs and colourways are to come, all based on historical styles and colours.

You can visit my new fabric store here:, and there's a mini gallery in the contents bar down the side of this blog.

I can't wait to see what people make with my fabrics! (I can't wait to see what I make with my fabrics, hehe!)


Thursday, 18 April 2013

I'm Taking a Deep Breath and...

... launching into the wonderful world of teaching sewing! Squee!

I am a little terrified.

But I enjoy teaching and it's a return to something I could really get my teeth stuck into.

Check out the first draft of my flyer:

What do you think? Will it attract good students? I hope so!

Wish me luck, and please tell all your friends who want to learn how to sew :)


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Today's Fashion Museum Visit! Woohoo!

Today I went to the Fashion Museum here in Bath. It is a fantastic resource and I love going there to do my historical fashion research. This visit held a special bonus for me, as another researcher had requested to see C18th and C19th ladies shoes and I got to see them too! That is, as well as the stunning array of c.1830-1850 dresses that Elaine had kindly dug out of storage for me :)

I'm still learning how to do this research lark, so please bear with my sometimes fuzzy pictures and do feel free to share any tips you may have that will make my life easier and my research better!

And yes, I use a point-and-click camera... and my trusty old Ericsson K800i mobile phone. At least I don't use those one-use cameras any more, hehe!

Let's start with a gold silk satin dress with applied braid at the hem, c.1836-1840. With its A-line skirt this gown has a 1970's feel, oddly! I love the puffed sleeve, though, and the skirt hem detail. (ref. BATMC I.09.1007)

Shirring, pleating and a lovely loose chain braid highlight the hem.

See the puffed upper sleeve? So yummy in this mid-weight satin :)

This was my first encounter with a double hook back neck closure. I like it.
The very top hook is placed at right angles to the row of hooks along the CB.

Check out the teensy stitches!

Now for some gorgeous emerald green silk with black woven detail and black lace, c.1855.
(ref. BATMC I.09.1051)

This is a really stunning gown. Most of the black detail you see is
woven into the fabric, then a fine, wide black lace is applied
to the bodice panels. 

Pagoda sleeve and scalloped pinking. Joy!

Get ready! It's... A SHOE!!!!! I'm only including one in this post because I might overload you with shoe-y goodness otherwise :D

In pale blue silk with bow and embroidered detail, this one is from c.1790-1800. I can easily imagine a refined lady dancing the night away at the Assembly Rooms in these lovely pumps!
(ref. BATMC I.10.26A)

I love the little stripes on the bow!!

That's all for tonight, I'm off to bed! Hopefully the weather will be warmer tomorrow... it was snowing again today and I reckon it's a two-hot-water-bottle-and-a-hat kind of night...

(Images shown courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council)