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Starting to sew

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I know my blog’s been quite sewing-heavy recently, and I had a couple of comments asking how I got started and if I had any tips on where to begin. It’s kind of a tricky one to answer because sewing has been in my periphery for quite a few years and I can’t really remember what inspired me to start and how I learned, but I’ll try to help!

My sewing story

I started sewing on my mum’s machine at home in the summer before going off to university (ten years ago, woe). I’d mostly do t-shirt ‘reconstructions’ where I’d buy vintage shirts from Pop Boutique or the charity shop and cut them into something more fun. Here’s a couple of those old shirts on skinny little baby me.


I got sufficiently into it that I bought myself a fairly cheap overlocker – that’s the machine that makes sewing stretchy fabrics like t-shirt jersey much easier and gives pro-looking finished seams to garments. I can’t find the exact model any more but it’s something like this one. It’s getting on for ten years old now and still going strong.


But then I went off to uni sans machines and didn’t really think about sewing much again until fairly recently when classes at Ray Stitch and the Make Lounge piqued my interest again. This coincided with the Great British Sewing Bee bringing sewing onto national telly, and a huge recent rise in quality home sewing blogs and indie pattern designers offering endless inspiration.

Get the gear


If you’ve never used a machine before, buy a fairly entry-level one to start off with. You’ll only really need back & forward and zig-zag stitches to get going; expect to spend £100-200. I’ve got a slightly more swish computerised Janome DC3050 which I’ve been very pleased with.


You’ll also need the obvious miscellaneous items like fabric and paper scissors, large headed pins, hand sewing needles, threads and a seam ripper. Definitely a seam ripper. Cute little vintage storage box optional.

Starter projects

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

Start with some basic projects like cushion covers, tote bags and other little projects to get a feel for stitching before moving onto garments and deciding if an overlocker is worth your investment – it’s by no means a requirement, even for clothing. Look online for tutorials to follow: here are a few I’ve seen lately:

– Elena has a great How to Sew series on her blog
– A round-up on simple T-shirt tutorials
Cotton & Curls has some fabulous simple tutorials for clothing, both up-cycled and from scratch

Or try some of the billion books out there. Here are a few I own and recommend:

Do a class

The Make Lounge

Consider doing a class if you can afford it and have a place nearby. I find it invaluable to actually do something alongside other people and have an expert there to ask if you get stuck. My favourite craft haven The Make Lounge is sadly closing up soon, but have a look at the great list Jennifer made of alternative venues in London. I can highly recommend the classes at Ray Stitch first hand.

Scout chambray tee

That’s it really! Sewing is a fairly easy hobby to get into at an entry level, but I also find it incredibly satisfying to always be learning new, more advanced, techniques and finding that practice does pay off. Feel free to ask in the comments if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help. I’ll also do a post soon on my favourite online resources for fabrics, patterns etc.


By the way, I’ve started a separate blog for all my sewing adventures at I’ll probably still post an overview of my makes here too, but there’s all sorts of in-depth sewing-specific geekery that felt out of place here. So please pop over there and follow me if you want to keep up with my sewing makes in full.

DIY chevron pinboard


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


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:


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.


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


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.

Blog photo editing for lazy types

I thought it’d be interesting to share how I edit and grade photos for my blog, since I get a lot of nice comments on my photos. The secret is I’m really quite lazy with editing – I don’t shoot RAW and spend ages manually fiddling with exposure levels or anything, but a couple of minutes in Photoshop can make an average photo look a bit more special.

I’ll demonstrate on this snap I took while I was doing a letterpress class on Tuesday (about which more later…). Nice subject matter, but needs some work to make it pretty.

First thing when opening up my photo is to check the composition. I’m pretty OCD about making sure any horizon lines in my photo are straight and nothing’s cropped awkwardly off the edges. Usually just rotating the image is OK (using a ruler guide as a straight edge) but sometimes I use the distort tool to fix any off-balance perspective. This doesn’t really apply on this photo though.

Then I’ll crop to a pleasing composition, using 3:2 aspect ratio. But remember the more you crop the lower-resolution the image will appear, so it’s best to think about framing when shooting. I’ll also sometimes use the Smudge or Clone Stamp tools to brush out any details that are distracting to the composition.

Level and colour balance fixing next: hit cmd+J to duplicate the base layer, then apple-shift-L to run an auto-levels and apple-shift-B for auto-colour balance. Sometimes this effect goes a bit weird, so you can reduce its intensity by lowering the layer opacity letting the original image show through. Or sometimes manual level and curve fixing are required. Merge down the layers (cmd+E) when you’re happy with the levels.

Next the fun bit, grading. Grading refers to altering the colour tone of a raw photo, and it can dramatically alter the feel and effectiveness of a picture. I usually MEGA cheat on this step and use these brilliant prebuilt Photoshop actions by NellyNero (you can see lots more examples of the actions in use on her blog). If you haven’t used actions before, it’s really easy: just download the file and drag into Photoshop and they’ll appear in the Actions palette.

The NellyNero actions automatically duplicate your image and run the action in a new file, so you can tweak it (most have optional layers for extra effects) and then paste back into your original image. Again, I sometimes reduce the opacity on the action layer to make the effect more subtle.

Merge down, save, and finished!

Of course it helps to have a decent camera and a good eye, you can’t polish the proverbial…but I hope this was helpful, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer.

Quick diy Christmas cards

For more Christmas card craft ideas, click here

Christmas cards
diy Christmas cards

Two weeks today until Christmas! I spent a lazy Saturday evening, with Strictly on the telly and baked Camembert in the oven, making my cards and wrapping presents.

diy Christms cards
diy Christmas cards
diy Christmas cards
diy Christmas cards

The cards and tags are just basic shapes made from patterned washi tape and wrapping paper offcuts.

diy Christmas cards
diy Christmas cards

Here’s the best way to shape the washi tape: cut with a scalpel on a plastic board. It peels off quite easily for transfer onto the card.

diy Christmas cards
diy Christmas cards

Isn’t my Charley Harper birdie wrapping paper pretty? It’s on sale at Fred Aldous right now. All my other supplies were from there too (except the heart paper, which was from Daiso in San Fran), including MT patterned tape at the best prices I’ve seen. Yay Christmas!

Silver clay class at London Jewellery School

Silver clay jewellery class

I was invited by the London Jewellery School to try out one of their taster classes, so I jumped at the chance to try working with precious metal clay (PMC). I’ve seen it around the internet and have been intrigued by the possibilities it offers to make jewellery in real silver without the need for traditional silverworking skills and tools. It can be shaped like polymer clay, but contains silver particles with water and binder – the other bits burn off when fired leaving a pure 999 (purer than regular 925, even) silver charm.

Silver clay jewellery class

The lovely tutor Chu-Mei started by giving us a quick history of PMC, its properties and uses, then she demonstrated how to use cutters and textures to make a small charm. There are many ways to shape the clay, from cutters and moulds to drawing freehand shapes, and anything from leaves to leather can be used to add texture.

Silver clay jewellery class
Silver clay jewellery class

I decided to go freehand, cutting a button and feather shapes from my clay (playing cards are used to transfer the shapes and as a rolling thickness guide). You have to work fast because the clay dries out quickly with handling and exposure to air. Our shapes went onto a hotplate to dry out (you can also use a low oven), then a hole for the jump ring is drilled using a fine drill bit. Then Chu showed us two ways to fire the charms – either the traditional kiln method or a more DIY method with a kitchen blowtorch, which only takes around 2-3 minutes.

Silver clay jewellery class

This was the exciting part. After firing, the shapes are still matte white but after a quick polish they magically become shiny solid 999 silver! There were tons of oohs and aahs as people unveiled their new jewellery charms. My efforts are a little rustic but for a first try I’m very happy with them. The best part is that the process is completely achievable at home using fairly everyday materials, and I had two lovely wearable charms to take home at the end of the class.

Silver clay jewellery class

You can pick up PMC from beading supply shops and eBay. The raw material is pretty expensive, but there’s absolutely no wastage as unused clay or broken pieces can be ground back down and mixed with water to create new clay. I’d definitely recommend the London Jewellery School‘s taster classes as a great way to try out the process without spending much money (the PMC class is £35 including all materials), and they offer lots more advanced classes if you’d like to learn more.

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Moving photos

It’s official, animated GIFs are having a renaissance. Traditionally associated with cheesy sparkly graphics and silly memes, the new wave of giffers are turning the humble format into works of higher art.

Image: From Me to You

Image: IWDRM

Jamie Beck at From Me to You combines high-end editorial photography with subtle animation to intriguing and elegant effect (animation by Kevin Burg), dubbing the resulting images ‘cinemagraphs’. Meanwhile, tumblr-du-jour If we don’t, remember me takes vignettes from classic movies and seamlessly loops the frame.

It’s fun to make your own, as well! I did the one above using bits of this tutorial – but I used a series of photos taken on my camera’s burst mode instead of movie frames.

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Light leak Photoshop effect

I’ve noticed lately that there’s a trend for photography with a dreamy washed-out rainbow effect which kind of apes a light-leaked film. I’m not generally a fan of faking the natural blips and errors that occur in 35mm film; it often looks overdone and obvious, but I just tried out this effect for fun. The results are quite pleasing, if not a little cheesy:

Here’s how it’s done.

Open your photo and create a new layer above it.

Now make a really gaudy colored diagonal gradient in the new layer – 2 or 3 colours. I used neon green-yellow-pink for this one.

Set the blending mode of the layer to ‘soft light’ and adjust the opacity until it looks a bit more subtle. All done!

Try different colours for a kinda cross-processed effect. Here’s blue-orange-red.

And a more subtle one, pinks and purples.

P.S. These photos were taken in Devon on my work weekend away – more photos from the trip on Flickr.

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