Me-Made May: Chambray Scout tee

Scout chambray tee

Not a week into the month and my first Me-Made May task is complete. And I’m calling it a success! Here’s my Marc-Jacobs-inspired woven chambray tee, made in just a day and happily worn already.

Scout chambray tee

It feels almost like I cheated since this make was such a breeze. The Scout tee pattern I used is so simple that the cutting and sewing took about four hours total. Of course I still managed to mess up a bit: I sewed on one of the sleeves is inside out so there’s an exposed seam tucked under the arm. I coud fix it, but no one realistically will see it and I almost like keeping it there as an ‘I made this!’ Easter egg.

Scout chambray tee
Scout chambray tee

One of my favourite things about making my own clothes is adding the little details that make your garment totally unique – purposeful decisions as well as inside-out sleeves, I mean. Want longer turned-back cuffs, a curved hem, denim-style topstitched seams, a comedically large patch pocket? Do it! With such as simple pattern it’s a nice chance to go a bit mad with embellishments.

Scout chambray tee

Mistakes aside, this is definitely my most successful handmade garment so far. I did all of the seams on my overlocker which gives it a lovely finish on the inside as well as allaying my fear that it’ll fall apart in the wash. I’m really happy with the fabric choice too: the chambray is light and soft with good drape and a little comfy stretch. I went a size up for an oversized look and it’s much more forgiving in the fit department that way too. I’ll definitely be using the Scout pattern again: I have visions of one in this nutty cat print fabric.

Scout chambray tee

So that’s the first Me-Made May task down, keep ’em coming! Next? I’ve just ordered the Sew U book about stretch fabrics on Kathryn‘s recommendation to give me ideas for my jersey fabrics. As a brucey bonus, I have almost a yard of this chambray left which I might just be able to squeeze a little skater skirt out of too.

Pattern: Scout woven tee from Grainline
Pattern modifications: Lengthened sleeves and added turned-back cuff. Lengthened body. Curved hemline. Patch pocket.
Fabric: Pale blue Chambray from Minerva Crafts (bought 2yds, plenty left over)

memade

Me Made May

memade

I’ve signed up Me Made May! I heard about it via a lot of the sewing blogs I follow and it seemed a great way to encourage myself to continue with my fledging sewing hobby. The idea is to set yourself a handmade challenge and spend the month of May fulfilling it. It’s a fairly open brief and you can choose a challenge that suits you – whether it’s just mending some old items of clothing so you can use them again, pledging to wear something homemade every day, or using up your fabric stash. The premise is to get people thinking about the clothes they own, wear and make, which seems particularly pertinent given the sad news from Bangladesh last week, and ongoing issues with high street supply chains. Have a look at the full rundown here.

P5010375

What’s my challenge? I’ve bought these three lovely fabrics recently – a heavy grey jersey, a lighter pink-marl jersey and some cotton chambray – and I want to use them to make three everyday wearable pieces. I’m also going to try not to buy any new store-bought clothes all month and have a wardrobe clearout, too.

ScoutWovenTee

I already have plans: the chambray will become a Scout, but I plan to add a dipped hem, rolled-back sleeves and perhaps a chest pocket like this Marc Jacobs tee. Man, I can’t just leave a pattern alone.

topshop

With the jersey I want to try replicating a couple of my favourite pieces from my wardrobe that I wear to death: this Topshop jersey dress and slouchy dip-hem top. I’m not sure yet whether to use a pattern, or draft my own based on tracing the garments.

Head over here if you fancy taking the pledge yourself, and I’ll keep blogging my progress.

DIY pottery with air dry clay

Oh god. I have another craft crush. Making pots with air dry clay!

I decided to give this a go after taking a fabulous beginner pottery class with The Amazings right here in Stoke Newington. I’ll share a bit more about the class once I’ve got my handiwork back – it’s being glazed and fired at Lesley’s workshop right now – but it really gave me the pottery bug.

Traditional pottery isn’t exactly an accessible do-at-home hobby: you need lots of make-a-mess space, a wheel and a kiln to do the proper stuff. But then I remembered you can buy air dry clay which doesn’t need a to be fired in a kiln – it just hardens in the air. It’s kind of a hybrid between sculpting clay like Fimo and real kiln-fired clay. I picked up a kilo brick of white Das brand stuff from Cass Art for a fiver – Amazon has it too. You can reseal the packet so you don’t need to use it all at once – although I kind of got carried away and used it all over one weekend. Make all the pots!


I found that working with the air dry clay has both pros and cons over traditional clay. On the bad side, the surface more readily picked up unwanted textures from my rolling cloth and fingers, so it was hard to get a really smooth surface. I found that rolling out on a smooth wooden board got much better results than on a cloth tea towel. It didn’t seem to respond to water in the same way as earthen clay, so you can’t just smooth out any flaws with a damp sponge. It can develop cracks easily too since it begins drying as soon as it’s exposed to air, so you’ll want to keep your excess clay sealed as you work.

Having said that, it’s pretty pliable and easy to work with generally, and does keep moist for quite a while so you don’t have to rush. For me the biggest pro is it’s easier than terracotta clay to keep clean while working, and no special kit is needed: I used tools I had lying around like a wooden rolling pin, knitting needle and plastic ruler.

For my first go, I made some simple column pots decorated with embossed textures and cut-out shapes. I used the technique I learned in the the Amazings class of using a cardboard tube wrapped in paper to mould the clay, then attaching a circular base. The pots then need to dry out for 24-48 hours: you can tell they’re fully dry when they have turned paler in colour and no longer feel cold to the touch. You can then use a fine sandpaper to smooth the edges, and apply acrylic paints and varnishes.

I was going for a sort of pastel-glazed ceramic effect, so used a few layers of paint mixed with acrylic varnish. I don’t think it was 100% successful but never mind – I’ll still use my wibbly-wobbly pots as candle holders and vases.

Four unique new pots for a fiver, not bad eh? Would you give air dry clay a go?

DIY chevron pinboard

corkboard

I’m feeling all Pinteresty! How else could you explain my sudden urge to paint an old boring corkboard in pretty stripes?

corkboard

Yup, this make has all the hallmarks of a Pinterest-style DIY: chevrons, pastel colours, washi tape, a corkboard… it’s pretty damn twee, but I think it looks pretty cute above my desk.

Look, I even did a Pinterest-friendly step-by-step graphic:

corkboard

Step 1: Use a ruler to mark a grid on the corkboard, and mark chevrons in washi tape

Step 2: Paint – a sample pot is ideal

Step 3: Peel off the tape while it’s still damp. Touch up all the Pinterest-unacceptable wonky bits with a smaller brush.

Step 4: Have your cats scrutinise / sit on your handiwork.

corkboard

The whole thing was basically an excuse to show off these adorable push pins that I found in Paperchase, to be honest.

Corkboard

Tea dress class at Ray Stitch

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I was VERY excited to get an email from darling Islington sew shop Ray Stitch, asking if I’d like to try out one of their new sewing classes. Ray Stitch is the loveliest little shop: a cave of beautiful fabrics, notions and supplies alongside a little cafe with excellent coffee and cakes. They now offer evening classes which cover the whole gamut of sewing, from beginners’ machine skills to pattern cutting, quilting and soft furnishings.

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I took the Tea Dress class as I already know my way around a machine but wanted to learn how to cut and follow a pattern having never done it before. The dress also has some little details like bias binding, an elastic-channel waist and peter pan collar which I thought would be great techniques to learn and apply to other projects.

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

The course was spread over two Friday evenings, in a small class of 5-6. Last Friday we did a lot of prep to get started: measuring each other to ensure we picked the right size, learning about ease, and figuring the best way to cut our pieces to avoid too much fabric wastage. I love the Liberty Lawn fabric I picked (on sale at sewbox.co.uk), and I even have a bit left over for another small project.

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

We tackled some of the trickier parts of the construction first, like sewing the bias binding to the keyhole neckline, under the watch of instructor Gen. I loved how the class was informal without any demos, yet Gen was on hand to answer any questions and keep an eye on everything. There was a bit of homework between the two sessions on the easier sewing tasks like the sash and shoulder seams. In the second session we finished the details: sewing the puffed sleeves on and creating the elasticated waist, then finally sewed the whole dress together.

To be honest, one of the most exciting parts was being let loose in Ray Stitch after hours, breathing in all the heavenly sewing goodness..

Sewing class at Ray Stitch
Sewing class at Ray Stitch
Sewing class at Ray Stitch
Sewing class at Ray Stitch
Sewing class at Ray Stitch
Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I spent this morning doing a bit of handsewing final touches – and here’s my finished dress!

Miss Mozelle dress
Miss Mozelle dress
Miss Mozelle dress
Miss Mozelle dress
Miss Mozelle dress
Miss Mozelle dress

OK, it’s not 100 per cent finished as I still need a button for the keyhole neckline, but I am impatient. My very first from-pattern dress is a billion miles from perfect, but still so pretty, totally wearable and fits well – and it’s really comfy. Plus I’ve leant so many new skills that I can put to use on my next sewing project. I’ve already eyeing up what I want to make next… a Peony dress perhaps.

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

Thanks so much to Ray Stitch for the fantastic class! You can find out about all their upcoming events here.

Learning Calligraphy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Learning proper calligraphy has been top of my to-do list for ages. I’ve been storing up inspiration for ages, and even tried a spot of faking the effect, but nothing beats learning a skill properly. Master letterer Jon Contino is right when he says “Learning calligraphy will give you a much more intimate sense of each letter and it will help you to learn how to manipulate each one or many together to create a beautiful composition.” It really is the foundation for all typography and I find I have an even better appreciation for letterforms after just a month of practice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Josh bought me a nice Winsor and Newton set for Christmas, which was the kick that I needed to get started. I also signed up for American designer and letterer Melissa Esplin‘s online course, I Still Love Calligraphy, for extra guidance and encouragement. I’m just coming to the end of the month-long access period now.

callig

As you will have noticed if you follow my Instagram, it’s become quite an obsession and I spend a spare few minutes every day filling a sketchbook page full of more practices. I’m still very far from pro, but I can see myself improving which is great.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The online course has been very useful to this novice. You get plenty of resources like videos, printable practice sheets and letterform guides, and there are several activities for which you can upload your work to get critique and suggestions from Melissa. It goes from the very basics of forming the thick and thin strokes right up to decorating your work with flourishes and starting to develop your own unique style. While it’s a very casual course with not too much interaction, I still think it’s worth the $95 for access to the resources and a structured learning approach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A major hurdle that took me a bit too long to realise was that the italic nibs in the Winsor & Newton kit were not right for the copperplate/roundhand style I wanted to emulate. Flat or slant-cut nibs are suited to traditional gothic and italic lettering styles, where the angle controls the thickness of the stroke. By contrast, copperplate nibs let out more ink when you press down harder (usually on the letters’ down strokes) to create the elegant thick-and-thin effect of more modern calligraphy. Another bonus is that being a lefty isn’t a disadvantage at all in this kind of lettering and I found I was able to follow right-hander instructions with no problem.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve had quite a few emails and comments asking how to get started, so here are my tips:

chead1

P1240001

You don’t need a specialised kit or anything fancy at all: just pop to any decent art shop and pick up some black india ink, a set of copperplate nibs and a holder, and a sketchbook with smooth, thin pages (layout pads are perfect). Check out this Amazon widget for all the basics if you don’t have a suitable shop near you.

chead2

Before trying to develop a style of your own, it’s best to learn classic copperplate lettering so you appreciate how the letters are formed. It’s like doing a foundation in life drawing even if you want to make comic books. Start from the very beginning, learning how the pen makes thick and thin strokes and doing page after page of the basic strokes: upstroke, downstroke, sidestroke, ascender and descender curves. Then learn how each upper- and lower-case letter is formed and write each one out lots of times! You could use Melissa’s course or a book, or find some online resources for help.

chead3

P1220001

Calligraphy is such a portable hobby that doesn’t need much in the way of space or tools, so try to practice a little bit each day. I fill a page of my sketchbook between writing emails, while waiting for dinner, watching TV and so on.

chead4

Look on the web for inspiration and try copying what you see. Obviously don’t publicly use or share a direct copy of someone else’s work, but it’s a great way to learn different styles and techniques. I’ve got lots saved on Tumblr and also love the Oh So Beautiful Paper blog.

I hope I’ve given you some tips if you fancy having a go at calligraphy yourself!

DIY vintage-style gift tags

Two weeks to go! We picked up this sweet little tree at the weekend. We never usually bother with a tree but I couldn’t resist a baby one, and we can plant it up in the garden in January. Plus it makes it less likely that the cats will destroy it – Lila had a little sniff but they’ve otherwise left it alone.

Christmas wapping

I parked myself festively in front of it yesterday to do a bit of pressie wrapping. The letterpress-style wrapping I found (from Paperchase and Primark) inspired me to make personalised gift tags with the recipients’ initials on.

Christmas wapping

They’re based on the design of some vintage playing cards that I picked up at Spitalfields market a while ago. I didn’t want to use the originals so just picked a similar typeface and ran them off on my computer. You can download my PSD template here – you’ll need this free font as well.

Christmas wapping

Then I just cut them out, used a rounded-corner cutter on the edges and punched a hole which I strung with bakers’ twine.

Helper cat did not help at all.

DIY Christmas cards rebooted – as seen in Grazia!

DIY Christmas cards

It’s officially under a month until Christmas. I haven’t done any shopping yet, but I did get my Christmas cards made early this year, thanks to a bit of motivation from Grazia magazine…

They contacted me after seeing last years’ cards wanting a little tutorial for a Christmas craft feature in the magazine. You can see the full article in this week’s bumper festive edition of the mag – it’s on the iPad too so I got an early peep last night!

Here are some extra snaps of the cards I made:

DIY Christmas cards
DIY Christmas cards

The photo ones are made with Instagrams that I snapped last winter. I got them printed as cute Polaroid-style prints from Firebox and fixed them to the cards using photo corners and washi tape. Then I just wrote a message on each one using a Sharpie. These are probably my favourite of the bunch, and definitely the easiest to make.

DIY Christmas cards

More embroidered cards; you can see my instructions for these here. Pro tip: stitching with metallic floss is REALLY not fun. It took me about five times as long to do those glittery baubles as with the normal cotton floss. But ooh, shiny.

DIY Christmas cards

The washi tape ones are similar to the ones I made last year, just with an updated design. Step-by-step instructions for this one can be found in the Grazia article.

Hope you like! Are you making cards this year?

Reminder: fair tomorrow

A little reminder that I’m doing the Cabbages & Kings designer-maker fair tomorrow at Abney hall on Stoke Newington Church Street. Tonight is all last-minute prep!


I can’t promise that Wonder Cat himself will make an appearance, but as you can see he’s applied his rigorous quality control…

South Indian cooking at Food at 52

I bought Josh a South Indian cookery course day at Food at 52 for his birthday last month. It sounded so good that I bought myself a ticket too! South Indian food is one of my favourites – and it happens to be largely vegetarian – but I’ve never been able to master a good curry at home, so I was desperate to pick up some tips.

The class’s menu did include one prawn dish but was otherwise veggie and I recognised a few of the dishes from my favourite Keralan restaurant Rasa. The day class covers a mighty ten dishes, including chutney, snacks, sides and a mix of dry and saucy curries.

We began by splitting into two groups – the class is a snug 8 people – and preparing the spice blends for the various curries. This stage involved lots of measuring and frying off the base spices, which usually include some combination of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida (an orangey powder with a leek-type flavour), and curry leaves.

As a warm-up we made the prawn and paneer curry first, by simply adding coconut milk to the fried spices for a subtly-spiced, warming curry dish. We then got to work on the other dishes, which included a beetroot pachadi with grated coconut and a green bean thoran, a dry curry flavoured with cumin seeds, tamarind paste and chilli. We even prepped some vadai, a doughnut-shaped snack made with lentils and spinach.


After all our hard work we were led upstairs to relax with a glass of wine for a bit, while the table was prepared for us to try our dishes out. The space, situated on Central St about halfway between Old Street and Angel, has fun eclectic decor with the cosy, welcoming feel of someone’s home.



The final feast was a colourful spread and everyone agreed all the dishes were delicious. My favourites were the paneer curry and heavenly lemon rice, given substance by the addition of cashews, crunchy dal and tindori, an Indian vegetable a bit like a gherkin. In fact I’ve already re-made them both at home, for my parents no less, which went down extremely well.

The day classes at Food at 52 are quite pricey, but it was a brilliant fun day and we feel equipped with lots more skills and knowledge to carry on making curries at home. They also offer shorter, cheaper evening classes across cuisines including Vietnamese, Thai and Italian.