Posted in Sewing

Completed: Tilly & the Buttons Cleo Dress

Happy Holidays! I hope you are having/have had a lovely festive period.

I am having a super relaxing Christmas break at home with my boyfriend and our kittens and I am even managing to fit in some sewing and knitting in between the eating, drinking and quality snoozing on the sofa.

The first of the finished festive sewing projects is a really lovely Cleo Dungaree Dress, the latest pattern by Tilly & the Buttons.


I loved this pattern as soon as I saw it but I wasn’t sure if it would work on my body shape. I am fairly slim but I have a definite hour glass shape and, as this dress is cut quite generously in the waist and hip area (so it pulls on easily without a zip) I worried it might make my hips looks bigger than they are. Then I saw how sassy the Crafty Pin Up looks in her version and my mind was made up!

I really like the dark blue 1950s style denim so I ordered this for my Cleo, along with dungaree clips and buttons, from Minerva Crafts. It was a tough decision between blue denim and mustard needlecord though. I am probably going to have to make a second version of this dress!

Very helpful, Delia

According to my measurements, I cut a size 4 of the mini length version, with one front pocket, and made no alterations to the pattern other than to slightly widen the straps so that they fit in my dungaree clips better.

Daphne also lends a hand

Once I had managed to get the cats off the fabric, it was a breeze to sew up. Like all Tilly patterns, the instructions are so easy to follow and are illustrated beautifully with colour photos. I managed to get the whole thing made over two afternoons. It maybe takes a little longer than you would expect due to all the top stitching. I have said it before in this blog but I absolutely love top stitching. I love how focussed I have to be and how the whole world around me disappears while I am in that top stitching moment! Bliss!

And here is the finished dress….


I am so happy with it. The fit is perfect and I love the dark blue fabric and the contrasting mustard top stitching. I might replace the buttons with something slightly bigger as the clips have a tendency to come undone but otherwise it is perfect. I’ve worn it out already and got so many compliments. A really great dress.

Posted in Sewing

Completed: Gertie’s Surplice bodice dress with 3/4 circle skirt

Back in September I was idly scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw that Gretchen ‘Gertie‘ Hirsch had announced she was coming to the UK to teach some workshops, literally five minutes walk from my flat,  at Ray Stitch in London.

Within seconds I had booked myself onto a class – the only one that had not yet sold out – a bodice fitting workshop over two evenings in October.

The lovely Gertie

I was asked, a lot, why I was doing this class. ‘You already know how to sew’, ‘You’re a sewing teacher, isn’t that a bit weird’  – that kind of thing.

A couple of facts:

  1. Sewing with Gertie…. are you kidding me? I’ve been a fan of her and her blog/books/patterns for years. Of course I am going to try to get in her class.
  2. I actually have never learned how to fit clothes properly. Usually I just take my measurements and hope for the best, with a bit of tweaking – maybe a few extra  *gulp* neck darts  – afterwards. I have never made a toile/muslin before. EVER. And I have certainly never adjusted a pattern before. Seriously.. .how have I managed to make anything that fits?!

Anyway…I went along to the class. Met a small group of fab sewing ladies and I am happy to report that Gretchen is one of the most lovely people I have ever met. I spent two evenings with Gertie,  perfecting a princess seam bodice from her book Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book. Just six short hours  with her and I learned so much about fitting. I came away from the experience  feeling empowered and ready to tackle any sewing project, knowing that the result was going to fit beautifully.

Taken from Gertie’s Instagram feed – check out my happy face

I have my perfectly altered  princess seam bodice pattern and muslin as a result of that class , and this is a dress that I will definitely make in the near future. But before that, I wanted to have a go at another dress from Gertie’s book, the surplice bodice dress with a three quarter circle skirt. I was inspired by this awesome anchor print dress by Sewn by Ashley and wanted to create something similar for a wedding.

Flamingo close up

I bought this amazing navy blue flamingo print cotton from Sew Over It and a petrol blue lining from Fabric Store in Walthamstow. And, armed with everything I had learned from Gertie, I set to work on my first muslin.

Muslin number three  – the fit is so bad I am too embarrassed to show my face

I traced off a size 8 but I had to do a lot of alterations to this pattern. The waist needed to be bigger; I needed to take some fabric out of the front so it would lie flat against my chest; I shortened the shoulders; I took quite a lot of fabric out of the back to stop it gaping at the neck; and pinched out a little fabric from a sway back. All in all I ended up making five muslins! Five! From the girl who had never made a  muslin ever before!

Awkward pose; awesome dress

I am so glad I did though. I could not be more happy with the fit of this dress. Once I got the fit right it was relatively easy to put together. I lined the bodice and used an invisible zip. I did intend to use horse hair braid in the hem but as I will be wearing it with a stiff petticoat it doesn’t really feel necessary.

I love this dress and felt amazing wearing it to the lovely wedding of Ellen and Pete this weekend. A perfect dress for being twirled on a dance floor.

Action shot

I’m going to leave you with a bunch of photos taken in my classroom.

Happy Sunday xo


I probably should have used blue thread in my overlocker
Front view
And another
Posted in Sewing, Teaching

So You Want To Be A Textiles Teacher?

Would you like to spend your days teaching teenagers how to make clothes? As a secondary school textiles teacher this is part of what I do… a small part though.

I often get asked how I ended up being a textiles teacher and what my job involves, so pull up a chair and let me tell you all about it.

I have been sewing and knitting since my mum taught me when I was very young but I haven’t always been a sewing teacher. After I left school, I studied journalism at university and went on to work as a news reporter on a local newspaper in my home town in Lancashire. I left the north west, and journalism, and moved to London in my mid twenties with no clear idea of  what I wanted to do. After a string of dull office jobs I decided that I wanted my hobby  – sewing  and knitting- to become my day job. Back then I didn’t really know what I could do with these skills. But I knew I wanted to go back to university and I knew I definitely didn’t want to become a fashion designer. I never even considered becoming a teacher until I went to work one day wearing a hand knit scarf and my then boss said “that’s really good, you should teach kids how to knit”.

And that was it…. I went to Goldsmiths University and did a 3 year BA Ed course in Design and Technology with Education.  The more common route is to do a one year PGCE course but, feeling like I had something to prove, I really wanted to do a full three year degree. I loved my degree course and I ended up specialising in textiles and finishing with First Class Honours. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher though.

Textiles is on the National Curriculum and it is taught in most schools. It usually comes under Design and Technology and is taught alongside Food Technology, Graphics and Product Design (wood and metal work to most of you!) but often it is taught as part of Art. I trained as a Design and Technology teacher, which means, in most schools, I would be expected to teach all areas of Design and Technology, not just textiles.

Learning to use the sewing machines
So anyway… I  graduated in 2010, aged 34, and got a job in quite a tough London school, teaching graphics and a little bit of textiles. I stayed there for three years, still not sure that I wanted to be a teacher but seemingly, very good at teaching. Then I got my current job and felt like I had won first prize. I was taken on at an Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ school to introduce textiles to the school. I was to be the sole textiles teacher and had total control over what I taught.  I would just be teaching textiles, no other areas of D&T. An amazing  and really unusual opportunity.

I love my job and I am finally sure that I want to be a teacher. I teach all ages from 11 year-olds to 18 year olds. With the younger ones I teach basic sewing skills, using a sewing machine, applique, tie dye and designing. We make plush toys and slippers. GCSE textiles is more about construction and we do a lot of clothes designing and making. At A-level it goes up a notch and becomes a lot more creative. We do a lot of free machine embroidery, fabric manipulation and more advanced pattern cutting. As one of my students put it… “at A level you stop designing pretty dresses and have to ask yourself would ‘Lady Gaga wear this?'”

Teaching knitting
I do love my job and yes I do get to teach my hobby every day but it is not always easy. Teenagers are usually fantastic to work with but there are times when they are unpredictable and difficult. There is a lot of work to do and most nights I go home so exhausted that the last thing I want to do is start sewing or knitting. The rewards more than outweigh the negatives though. I get to make a difference every single day. Nothing beats that.

If you are interested in becoming a textiles teacher – and do remember that jobs teaching just textiles are few and far between – then my advice to you is to visit a school. Visit several schools and just get a feel for it. Visit my school if you like! I think you will know quite quickly if it is for you or not. And if it is, then go for it… it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Year 7 ‘Urban Toy Project’

Block printing
Newspaper dress inspired by Queen Victoria