Monday 21 December 2015


Every year since I was sixteen I've made ten resolutions every January, then come back to them at the end of the year to see how I did. It's such an ingrained tradition now that I forget that literally nobody else in the world does this. I've made my resolutions as usual, but I feel like before I take a blogging break for Christmas it would be nice to make another ten here, relating to my new area of interest, split 50/50 between sewing and style:


1. I will learn to fit properly.

Since one of the major advantages of making stuff yourself is that you can fit it correctly, I want to learn how to do that properly. Mostly any 'fitting' I've done when not in the presence of expert tuition is of the "pull seam in a bit more here, sew it up" variety, which is fine but still leaves a lot of fit issues in my clothes and adjustments I could do with learning. I'd like to get a better understanding of my body's individual shape and fit requirements and how best to serve them.

2. I will plan my projects two months at a time.

I was surprised at how useful my Unnecessary October Dress Pattern Haul was. I bought five patterns at once, which is not unusual, but then I posted about them and began thinking of them as a set, which gave me a lot more incentive to actually work through them. I ran into problems with not having appropriate fabric at hand though, and I need to work on getting these two lined up a bit better. I'll probably end up writing myself a set of guidelines or something equally dorky to make sure that I get through some of the stuff I actually have instead of buying endless new stuff.

3. I will be more creative.

Because I'm just a beginner, what I do right now is: buy pattern, cut out as instructed, sew up as instructed. What I'd love to be able to do is understand patterns well enough to be able to mess about with them, change necklines and sleeves and shapes and turn a tank top pattern into a wedding dress or whatever the hell it is other people seem to be able to do. I'd also like to be able to turn inspiration into wearable clothes, and I have acquired myself some croquis with the intention of attempting this every month or two.

4. I will work out what the hell to do with my scraps pile.

At the moment, I have two bins and two bags full of pieces of material that aren't big enough to go in my fabric cupboard but aren't small enough to be thrown away without guilt, and I need a good way to reduce this to at least a quarter of the size and keep it there. I think using pieces to try out bodice fitting is probably not a bad idea to start off with, as is reminding myself that whilst random sewing bloggers are perfectly entitled to write appalled posts about how they would never throw out a scrap of anything, they aren't actually the governor of my life choices and I can throw stuff away if I want.

5. I will become a more disciplined fabric buyer.

My fabric buying policy so far has been "buy as much as you can as cheaply as you can", which I think is a large part of the reason my cupboard is so full of stuff I don't seem to be able to pair with a pattern. I will still buy cheap fabric for my first attempt at something, but I would like to keep at a similar level of spending and acquire smaller volumes of better fabric that's more compatible with my pattern queue.


6. I will get a grip on my shoe situation.

It's only fairly recently that I realised how much better I feel in a good pair of shoes, and to be fair I have recently started taking steps to sort that out. But next year I want to build up a small collection of comfortable and pretty shoes that I can wear on a day to day basis without hurting my feet. The chances are that I'm going to have to get more of a grip on shoe shopping (which I hate because I have weird-shaped feet and it's so difficult to find comfy shoes), and also spend more money on each pair of shoes (which I also hate because even shoes that feel comfy in the shop often start hurting after I've paid money for them). But I will feel better for it, and I know that.

7. I will elevate my everyday casual wear.

I don't really want this to be anything drastic, I just want to have a slightly more polished baseline than jeans and a top, i.e. jeans + random top isn't an outfit, but jeans + specific top + specific jacket is. At the moment a lot of my handmade stuff goes unworn because it's too far above my baseline casual - I go out in a dress and it's such a noticeable shift in my style level that people ask me what I'm dressing up for. I'd like to be able to wear dresses on a day-to-day basis and not have people look at me funny, is all.

8. I will maintain a haircut.

This is weirdly fundamental to the success of my previous resolution. I find it almost impossible to dress in a put-together way if my hair isn't behaving itself, and my hair has spent most of this year not behaving itself. Having now got my hair cut into a proper style, I need to commit to getting it cut every couple of months and not letting it grow back into a mop.

9. I will shop more carefully and more ethically.

I haven't done a ridiculous Primark shopping spree in a while, but I think at this point I'm going to put a conscious end to them. I have done so many cheap-ass shopping sprees and thrown out so many of the things after one, two or no wears (I do have one Primark jumper that is amazing and is still alive and I love it and it was £9, but that was years ago and it's literally never happened again). No more buying disposable shit from places with dubious labour practices. I want a wardrobe that makes sense, which means not just chucking random stuff into it because I saw something purple that maybe doesn't exactly fit or go with anything but look, purple (genuine thought process I have had). I can afford to put a little more thought into this stuff.

10. I will find out what 'me' clothes look like.

This is the intended outcome of my "attempts to develop style" series, and it's something I want to work on next year because I think it'll make everything a hell of a lot less confusing. I want to have a very clear picture of what's 'me' and what's 'not me' while still leaving room for me to try shit that may not be exactly me but is fabulous.

I'm now going to take a couple of weeks' break. I'm at home with my family for Christmas, and next week my boyfriend and I are flying out to spend New Year in Sicily (yes, we suck, I know). But I shall be back in January with sewing plans of all kinds. Merry holiday time to everyone!

Wednesday 16 December 2015

blog notes

Blog note the first: Posting is going to be light from now until I get back from Sicily in January, but I do have a resolutions post and a couple of other things scheduled to go up in the next couple of weeks.

Blog note the second: All of my Unnecessary October Dress Pattern Haul projects have now been completed (yay!) but will probably not be posted until next month. I was thinking about rushing them all out before I start talking about my next pattern haul, but I was forgetting the bit where I haven't made any of those things yet and would rather not have long stretches where I don't post any finished makes at all.

Blog note the third: I have to make/finish about six Christmas presents in the next two days because I have a fanciful imagination and terrible time management skills. Please wish me luck.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Jen attempts to develop style: observations and step one

Let's start off with a word dump.

Observations from hits post and past makes:

saturated colours
graphic and tonal prints
black tights
structural details
navy + white
shoulder detail
wrap style
waist emphasis
minimalist accessorising
very dark + very bright

And now some words I think of when I think about an aspirational style I'd like to have:

olive green
balanced proportions
deep shades + cream
vintage inspired
swishy trousers
Italian style

There's a bit of crossover there, but Imaginary Jen appears to be more elegant, sophisticated, and subdued than Actual Jen. Given that so many of my favourite clothes are crazy bright colours I'm not going to try and bring Imaginary Jen to life, but I think I can accommodate a few elements of the second list. Enough that I can choose to swish around and pretend to be Sophia Loren and/or Phryne Fisher every once in a while and nobody will think it's weird.

And now, the tremendously exciting debut of my first step towards this whole style thing: after looking back at my old photos, I decided to cut my hair again. Now it looks like this:

I was worried it might be a tiny bit too short when I first saw it, but now that I'm used to it I think it's a lot better. My hair is super-thick, sort of curly but not curly enough to be actually curly, and never behaves in the same way twice, so when it's a bit longer it sometimes looks fine and sometimes looks like I've had some sort of horrendous accident with an electrical socket.  It was starting to drive me nuts, and the time was right for a symbolic chopping of hair, so here is my proper-short bob!

Having an actual hairstyle as opposed to a mop forces me to pay more attention to what I wear, and one of my resolutions (which you will be seeing in a couple of weeks) is to commit to regular hairdressing appointments. If my hair is up together I'm a lot less likely to fall back into the "eh, fuck it, that'll do" manner of dressing. I do think that what I wear is likely to shift slightly now that my hair is this short and I'll be keeping an eye on that.

Technically I've done step two as well; a few hours after I had my hair cut, a van turned up and took away several bin bags' worth of clothes and shoes I don't wear anymore, so there is now a small amount of space in my room for me to accumulate new and better things. Marching with grim determination down the road to progress, that's me. Also it's just over a week until I leave for Christmas and I'm having serious trouble convincing my brain that that's not sufficient time in which to make three and a half dresses. Sigh.

Monday 7 December 2015

jacket in


A little while ago, I bought the Sewaholic Cordova jacket pattern. I loved the shape, and having seen on the envelope that lightweight brocade was one of the recommended fabrics, I had a vision of a black brocade jacket with an electric blue lining that rather excited me. But finding a brocade I liked and thought I'd happily wear as a jacket proved trickier than I'd imagined, and I started to look at other options. Eventually I bought some white wool with multi-coloured flecks, mostly because the online shop had named it "Joseph Boucle" (who's got two thumbs and enjoys terrible fabric/literature crossover puns? THIS GIRL) and planned to make the jacket up in that instead of brocade.

When I came to look at it, I realised that the fabric was a lot more multicoloured and a lot less white than I had in my head, meaning I wouldn't get the kind of contrast with the lining that I'd been hoping for. Apparently that was the main selling point of the jacket to me, because I then completely lost enthusiasm for the project.

A little while later, I bought a sewing magazine with a free pattern on it. I've now stopped doing this, because I've learned that sewing magazines always supply the smallest size and that's no good to me. The free pattern on this magazine is a New Look pattern with a much larger range of sizes - US sizes 8-20, it claimed. I thought that might bode well. Then I got it home and saw that this range of patterns only has a nine-inch hip-to-waist difference, and that their "US size 20", i.e. a UK size 24, had a hip measurement of 43 inches. I know sewing patterns are sized smaller, and I know I have a lot of hip, but given that I wear a UK 14-16 on my bottom half in ready-to-wear, I was not expecting to have this problem. Ugh.

The pattern was for a sheath dress and cropped jacket, and due to my ridiculous 14-inch hip-to-waist difference, the jacket pattern did fit my measurements. I threw the dress pattern away because what is even the point it's just a dull sheath and decided to repurpose the boucle to make the jacket.

This came out really well. The photos did not, because we took them at 4pm and apparently that's night time now. Yay autumn!

It isn't quite neutral enough to bring the Zombie Hoodie Replacement Race to an end, but it certainly covers some more of the bases. I found it quite easy to construct - the main problem I had was that this fabric frays really quickly. This was my first time inserting sleeves in a woven fabric, and it didn't give me any grief at all. There aren't any closures on it, which in some ways is great because I definitely would have put this off if it had a zip and possibly put it off forever if it had buttons. It's also unlined, and I'm not so keen on that because I have to look at my seams every time I take it off. When I make it again (which I will) I'd like to try and put a lining in, though I have no idea how easy it is to just Frankenstein a lining into something. Experiments!

(Also, remember when I made this top? I had no idea it would be so useful, but I get loads of wear out of it, especially now that it makes a nice outfit with this jacket. I must make some more.)

Posing Tip: Pretend to be looking at something far away. This is a simple way to find the light with your face, allowing your ridiculous expression to be shown off to full advantage.

Also positioning yourself in such a way that it looks as though you're lost in the wilderness of your very small North London garden. That's a good one too. (This is why you come here, right? The modelling tips? You wait til I do a whole post using Tyra Banks' 'pose with pain' philosophy.)

More jackets to come. I've not decided whether to make a more neutral version of this or have a go at the Cordova first, but it will probably be one of the two unless something else comes up. I am organised and good at planning. You cannot deny my truth.

Thursday 3 December 2015

Jen attempts to develop style: finished projects review

Following on from the "pictures of things I've worn and liked" post, I thought I'd try a "quick and dirty evaluation of things I've made" post. Here is everything I've ever made and posted (up until the writing of this post), reviewed in one sentence or less, divided into three categories by frequency of wear.

Things I wear a lot:

(Probably the least 'me' thing I've made, but if I keep everything else simple and dark I'm comfortable enough to get a lot of wear out of it)

(Super useful pullover summer dress)

(I mean, I don't wear these three a lot right now, but it's December in London and common sense is still a thing)

(I'm surprised how useful this one has been)

(Love it, but might remake it - some of the construction bothers me)

(Again, surprising, given occasionally indecent stretchiness. Apparently that doesn't bother me as much as I thought)

(Love this and wish I had more of this jersey)

(Best skirt shape)


(Really great dress, will make more, but need to be aware that I won't like it as much if I make it in a neutral colour)

(I need to get over my fear and make another pair of trousers)

Things I wear occasionally:

(It's a bit big and it's not very well finished, but it's still purple and swishy)

(This annoys me because I really like it, but there's a disconnect between style and fabric; it's a basic cotton cushion fabric so it doesn't feel fancy, but when I wear it as a regular dress people ask me what I'm all dressed up for)

(This is great, but because it's SO high-waisted it doesn't go with that many things)

(Turns out this isn't an everyday dress. Also I want to buy myself a softbox)

Things I hardly ever wear/have never worn:

(I think this needs some fixing. I often go to put it on and take it off again because it's just too baggy in the shoulders)

(This photographs so well but it goes with literally nothing else I own)

(This wasn't the right fabric for this top)

(Too short and too itchy)

(Zip needs fixing)

(Zip needs fixing)

(I've had this for about two weeks and so far no suitable occasions have arisen)

Things I can learn from this:

1. I need to work on my zip insertion
2. My success rate is higher than I think it is
3. Having put them all in a list, my makes aren't as schizophrenic as I thought they would be
4. I need a defined purpose and pairing for everything I make
5. The biggest reason for my not wearing something is poor fabric choice
6. I wear prints more than I think I do, but since I hardly ever mix them I need an equal amount of neutral things
8. Very bright + very dark = happy Jen

It is now time to work out exactly what I'm going to do with all this information I've acquired. Slapdash analysis time!

Monday 30 November 2015

Vogue designer dress, or ARGH

I saw this dress (Vogue 1395) on Lladybird, and I wanted it. The pattern seemed easy enough to get hold of, but there was no point if I didn't have the right fabric, I told myself, and I wasn't going to find a lovely black fabric with a pretty cherry print like that, was I? So I left it, riiiight up until the point where there was a half price sale on Vogue patterns and I was having a bad day and needed cheering up. It only sat in my pattern folder for about a week before I found some pretty black floral fabric of indeterminate make-up at Walthamstow Market that I thought might work, and I started making the dress the next day.

So, obviously it doesn't look as good as Lauren's, but then I'm new at this. Also I am so glad I read about her experience with this pattern, because the instructions were absolutely fucking terrible. This was the first Vogue pattern I made (I made this one pre-red skirt and am posting things out of chronological order because I'm a rebel now), and it put me off sewing up any of the other Vogues in my stash in case all their instructions were like these (luckily, they don't seem to be). I spent literally an hour and a half trying to work out how on earth to put the shoulders together, and I'm sure what I did isn't what it told me to do.

So in many cases, I did what she did. I did French seams (for the first time ever) rather than double-stitch all the seams because I am never going to double stitch all my seams without being given a bloody good reason, I took the shoulder seams up by 4/5cm because the neckline was all huge and loose and gapey, I entirely ignored all of their hemming instructions and I'm fairly sure I didn't put the facings on the way the instructions told me to either.

It has an overlay attached at the back which wraps round and ties in the front. It does not appear to enable the wearer to fly, which is a mark against it in my book.

I also didn't understand their instructions for sewing the elastic casing, though I'm not sure whether that's more my fault or the instructions'. So I literally just sewed the elastic onto the seam allowance of the skirt, which is maybe not a great long-term option, but meh. By the time I'd got to the elastic I was a tad bit annoyed by this dress and wasn't really thinking about its longevity. Also the hems really need redoing - I recently acquired a stupid cheap overlocker from Lidl because apparently that's a thing, and it looks easy enough to do a rolled hem on those.

RANDOM CHANGE OF SCENE FOR ONE PHOTO ONLY. Somehow the lining ended up being longer than the outer skirt even though I did a tiny hem on the outer fabric and a huge one on the lining. This was an earlier photo, in which you may or not be able to see that I accidentally folded the hem towards the outside because I am a moron. I've cut that off now, so hopefully the dress looks like a bit less of a derp in the newer photos.

Having finished this dress, I do like it, though I'm not sure when I might wear it. I was hoping it would be a good dress to go dancing in, but because of the way the overlay sits the ties ride up and create a boob shelf if I put my arms up, so I don't think it'll work for that. Also it's a bit short, and I'll definitely add to the length if I make another one. But since I've got very little negative ease in the elastic, it's incredibly comfy and will be an excellent dress for massive dinners.

You all wanted to spend some more quality time with my amazing shoes, right?

BEST SHOES. Oh, the dress? I might make it again in the summer, by which time I'll hopefully have a better handle on how to make the process of constructing this thing less of a pain in the arse.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Jen attempts to develop style: previous hits

Most of the style overhaul advice I've read suggests starting off with a mood board. I've tried a couple of times to do a style mood board thing and I just can't get it to work for me. I understand the rationale, but there's always a disconnect between what I come up with picture-wise and what I would actually wear. So I'm not going to try that this time; not yet, at least. Instead, here are some outfits I have loved in the past, represented through photos which are mostly very poor, but we can work through it, right? Right. Let's go:

1. Grey fitted jumper and red tulip skirt

My favourite outfit six years ago, which I would say was the time I felt happiest about my wardrobe. I don't have a photo of the top, but here's the skirt, which I am obviously VERY excited about: high-waisted, bright red tulip skirt, mid thigh length with pockets and a thick black waistband. The jumper was thin, fitted, in a mid to dark grey with mini shoulder pads.

2. Black dress and grey wrap

I only have these two in separate photos. As you see, one photo is very small, and the other features me in a pink pointy party hat, because why wouldn't it. Black short-sleeved dress with neckline/shoulder seaming detail, fitted through the top with a drapey skirt which probably has a technical term but I don't know it. What's the technical term for 'random folds of fabric'? The wrap was literally my favourite thing ever until it fell apart - I got it from All Saints and they called it a 'pirate cardigan', but now they're calling something else a pirate cardigan and it's not even remotely the same. It was basically a cross between a wrap cardigan and an infinity scarf and I LOVED it. I've never found anything else like it since, and I'd buy another one in a heartbeat even though it fell apart rather too quickly for the amount of money I spent on it.

3. Black wrap dress

My hair looks like a wig here. Basic black wrap dress, wore it to death, sure I still have it somewhere but can't find it. If I ever find it again I will be working out a way to clone it. Oh, also, this blue thing? I bought it from a market in Galicia about ten years ago and I wear it constantly, as a scarf, as a wrap, as a sarong, as a shoulder-protecting device when it's sunny. I'm not sure what I'll do when it dies.

4. Black strawberry print dress, black belt, black leather jacket and tape measure necklace

I was looking for a photo of this dress, and I found two featuring the whole outfit, which would be great except for some reason I am a) looking far too excited about M&Ms, and b) standing in a bath. Oh, Past Jen. Anyway, I really want this necklace back. It's a tape measure twisted into a heart that I bought way before my sewing days and it would be my favourite thing ever now if I hadn't lost it. I would also be wearing this belt all the time if I knew where it was. The dress is a printed chiffon over black lining with shirring round the waist and little cap sleeves (and a LOT shorter than I remember it being), and the jacket is a very thin leather with a draped front which I still have.

5. Blue lace dress

This is one of my favourite ever photos (photo courtesy of the amazing Fred Lindbom; dipping courtesy of the equally amazing Alexis) and I love the colour and style of this dress, though not so much the way the lace overlay started unravelling really quickly. Hmph. I got a lot of wear out of it in the short space of time before it became too tatty, though.

6. Burgundy silk dress

Dress has split sleeves and a wrap effect at the front. I wouldn't normally think of wearing bird print but I loved this dress. It was also surprisingly versatile and I used to wear it quite a lot; not to work or anything, but it was my go-to "thing to wear in the evening" for quite a long while. The second photo doesn't add much but it makes me smile.

7. Short sleeved red jersey dress

This is the kind of dress that was my go-to a couple of years ago; simple pullover jersey dress with a fitted bodice and flared skirt. I wasn't going to put it in but I seem to have been photographed more in this dress than in anything else I've ever worn and they're all great memories, so here. In my long-hair days, dancing in Genoa with Micky, who is basically a unicorn in human form and we love him for it. Photo credit: Alessandro Cabella

8. Jeans and black vest top

Apparently posing in baths used to be my thing. These were my favourite, favourite jeans. They were the best-fitting jeans I ever had, I felt amazing in them and I wore them long past the point I should have thrown them out. I got them from Oasis at the same time as I got the red tulip skirt, and after that they apparently had a complete overhaul of style and fit because I've never found anything I like in there since. Omnipresent grey wrap again in the second picture, where I am on a carousel because that's what grown-ups do.

9. Mustard dress and black belt

Gah, I miss this belt. This was one of several long-sleeved fit and flare skater dresses that I had from Asos before Asos quality dropped massively. Here are two photos of me in Venice - one that shows what I'm wearing and one of me pissing about with a lamppost.

10. Cream jumper and shorts

I'd forgotten how much I liked these shorts. I wish it was easier to find ones this length. (Giant chair and fake old lady because why not.)

11. Bright pink party dress

A bonus one; this is by no stretch of the imagination daywear, but I would be remiss not to include it because I'm not sure I've ever felt so good as I did in this dress. Bright pink Karen Millen strapless satin minidress with some kind of origami pleating thing at the front. I can't wear this anymore but I'm never getting rid of it.

This is about as much as I can do from memory and Facebook photos. Going back through photos of me trying to find ones where I'm wearing day clothes that I liked has been a bit of a slog - there are 20+ photos of me in a Goth ballerina dress, about a dozen in a hooded Santa dress and approximately forty-six million of me in stupid wigs, but decent photos of normal clothes? Can't help you.

From this we can pick up:

- a lot of black, red and blue
- quite simple
- short skirts
- shoulder detail
- knee high boots
- oh, black tights, I love you so much
- very dark or very bright
- assuming we ignore the bonus dress, easy to wear
- that one belt was really great
- there aren't a whole lot of sensible photos of me in existence

I will be doing something very important and useful with this information (I assume), so hold that thought and we'll come back to it in a couple of posts' time.