Category Archives: Sewing

One more thing about trousers – how to turn them into shorts

Boy formerly wearing trousers

A little while ago I showed you how to patch a hole in a pair of trousers.   Now that the warm weather is here, another, simpler, alternative to patching long trousers is to turn them into short ones.

If the hole is on the knee, put a pin as close above the hole as you can and measure the distance between the pin and the hem of the trousers
Then measure the same distance from the hem and mark with tailors chalk or a pin, all the way round each leg
Using sharp scissors, cut along the marked line (get a grown up to help you with this)
Turn the shorts inside out
Turn up about 0.5cm / ¼ “ of fabric then turn it up again a further 1cm / ½ “ so you have a neat hem
Check the leg lengths are equal and adjust if necessary
Pin it and tack
Machine neatly round the hem or hand sew using small, neat stitches
Remove the tacking thread

Et voila! One pair of shorts for warm sunny days and grazed knees.


Filed under Children, Household Hints, Sewing

Unexpected clown trousers

On Saturday afternoon, Boy the Younger handed me a letter from his schoolbag informing me that, as it was Creative Week starting on Monday, the children had to go into school in clown outfits to start the week in a jolly way.  Oh blimey.

I bought a couple of yards of blue and white spotted fabric and some elastic and set to work.
I cut out four giant trouser legs and hemmed them all round.
I then stitched them together and made a wide hem round the waist, leaving a gap for threading wire through.
I opened out a coat-hanger and bent it into a circle, pinching hooks into the ends to link them together, then threaded it through the waist hem.
I squeezed the ends of the hanger shut with pliers and then stitched up the gap in the hem.
At the bottom of the trouser legs I did the same, but threaded those through with elastic so the trousers were really baggy.
I made braces out of ribbon, but I wish I’d bought extra elastic so that the trousers would have stayed on better AND bounced up and down.

To finish the outfit off, he wore some long striped socks and my Converse on his feet, a dark blue long-sleeved t-shirt with a red Indian waistcoat and I had made a bow tie out of the surplus trouser fabric.  I didn’t have time to make a hat, so he wore a wizard’s hat which I made years ago which has a big padded brim, a pointy cone and an old diamante earring stitched to the front like a jewel.

Children’s dressing up clothes can be made quite simply with cheap material and a bit of imagination.  You don’t have to have tailoring skills – just look at a pair of trousers, for example, take note of the shape of the pieces and copy them.  Even shirts, tops and dresses can be made with little skill.

Alternatively, you can pick up bits and pieces from charity shops which can be adapted with the application of a pair of scissors and a strip of Wunda-Web* into something marvellous.

I once made a Robin Hood outfit for Boy the Elder out of an old airtex shirt of mine, dyed green.  I made a little shoulder cape out of a remnant of green upholstery fabric and cut out a crenellated edge which I finished off with blanket stitch to make it look authentic.  Then I gathered the edge of the cape slightly with a drawstring thread and stitched it round the collar of the shirt.  A belt was applied round the waist and bingo!, a Merry Man as I lived and breathed.  Boy the Younger was wearing it only yesterday.  All day.  With my pirate boots.

* Wunda-Web is a  wunderful thing.  It is a long thin strip of something vaguely sticky which you fold into the hem of the garment you need turning up.  You then iron it on and it holds the hem or seam – no sewing required.  A boon, particularly if you don’t have a sewing machine.


Filed under Children, Household Hints, Sewing

I find a perfect tin to put my buttons in

At Christmas, I found a delightful button tin in Oxfam, that had more than a hint of 1940s utility about it.  I pounced, brought it home, only to have overlooked the fact that my cantilevered sewing box has a maximum height of 1 ¾” per tray.  Foiled.

This hardly constitutes a national emergency, but whilst doing a little mending yesterday, the fit came upon me to find a more suitable button tin.  Maybe something with ‘Gold Flake’ or ‘Gee’s Linctus’ written on it.

Being a child-free weekend, I had the mother of all lie-ins this morning.  I dozed intermittently through The Archers Omnibus, snuggled pleasantly through Desert Island Discs and finally emerged winking and blinking into the light of an overcast noon.  I made a lovely plate of Egg Florentine (you see, I do eat my own recipes) and settled down to watch a wonderfully romantic 1945 film called, ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ starring a young Wendy Hiller and the delightful Roger Livesey.

Then I started to feel a little lazy.  I ought to go for a walk, get some air in my lungs, burn a couple of inches off .. well.. anywhere really.  Then suddenly I had the overwhelming feeling that today I was going to find my special button tin.  But I wanted to finish the film.  Then I remember that I had it on DVD in a Powell & Pressburger boxed set, if you please.

I jumped up, bunged a bit of lippy on and headed for the Harborough Antique Market.  I searched and searched but no tin.  There was a small ‘Players’ tobacco tin but it was scratched and dull and simply didn’t fit the bill.  I tore myself away, managing not to buy a silver-topped, cut-glass claret jug that was calling to me, and trudged sadly home.

When I went to pick up The Boys, I told The Father of My Children about my Button Tin Sadness, knowing that he would understand.  “Mmmmm”, he said, and disappeared upstairs.  He came down proffering a small chocolate tin which had been produced by Cadbury Bournville to commemorate the Queen’s Coronation.  “Would this do, do you think?” 

I fell sobbing with gratitude at his feet, murmuring my thanks  like Jenny Agutter in the ‘Railway Children’.  And here it is.


Filed under Collecting, Sewing

Not enough thermals in the world

Leicestershire in October

I cannot believe how cold my house is and it’s only October.

Last winter I lived in the Victorian house across the road which had central heating, double glazing on the ground floor and hot water.  This winter I live in 1920’s house which has no double glazing, night storage heating and we have to switch on the immersion to get a bathful of hot water.  You have to be quick though, because the bathroom is so cold that the only way to tackle it is have a bath so hot that the cool air is a welcome relief.

Storage heaters are the worst system in the whole universe unless you live in one room and go to bed at eight o’clock.  The idea is that they buy electricity during the night (when it’s slightly cheaper) and heat the bricks which live in the elephantine units that are bolted to the wall.  The bricks then release the heat during the day.  Marvellous.  Except that most people are out of the house all day and want the heat at night which means you have to keep them switched on in order to have any heat at night which costs an absolute bloody packet.  I had these at a house before and our first electricity bill, in 1996, was over £500 for one quarter.  I dare not switch them on.  Storage heating is The Landlords’ Choice as it requires no plumbing in or installation of expensive boilers.  It also means that if you want to have enough money to pay your rent you’d better not switch them on.

This means that I have to think of other ways to keep my house warm.  The first way, which I wrote about last year, is to cover your windows with cling film or purpose built plastic to keep out the draughts.  It is incredibly effective and cheap.

Next, I have bought curtains from the charity shop and stitched them together to make one big curtain that covers the front door.

I have also found some old curtains that don’t fit anywhere else and this weekend I’m going to make a thick curtain to cover the sitting room door in an attempt the block out the icy draught that could not be colder if we were shooting Dr Zhivago on location.

I have bought us all electric blankets so that at least we can be warm in bed.

I’m going to buy some oil filled radiators which are apparently much, much cheaper to run.  I tried to have a look on Freecycle but the internet keeps crashing so it will have to wait until tomorrow and failing that a trip to Argos seems in order.

There is an open fire in the sitting room and once I’ve put the curtain at the door and cling film at the windows that should be warm enough, but some arsehole has boarded up the fireplace in the dining room with a sheet of hardboard and sealed it with silicone.  I have tried to chisel this out but most of the silicone is behind the board so I’ll have to buy a chemical solvent to remove it.  The landlord assures me that the chimney is fit for use so it must be true, but in true Wartime Housewife Style, I have my own set of chimney brushes and unless there a boy or a brick stuck up there, we should be good to go.

Draught excluders under the doors are also essential and  attractive ones can be made very simply by sewing up a tube of material and stuffing it with rags.  If you don’t want to be irritated by constantly moving them every time you go in and out, attach little loops along the top, screw small curtain hooks into the door about 2” / 4cm above the bottom to line up with the loops and hang the draught excluder from it, obviously making sure that it sits on the ground.

Apart from that, I’m going to wear more jumpers and thicker socks.  And then I shall stock up on lace hankies in case my consumption comes back.


Filed under Household Hints, Life in general, Sewing, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

JET! Wooh ooh ooh ooooh ooh ooh Woo ooh ooh

Today has been quite cold and this afternoon I had to go and drop some paperwork into one of the schools I’m hoping to get Boy the Elder into, which, I felt, necessitated me looking like a grown-up.  I confess that I was rather pleased to get out my winter coat. 

One of my jet buttons

I have had this coat quite a long time but I always feel smart and sharp in it.  It’s a really nice shape but it came decorated with rather plain buttons.  Whilst rummaging around at the antique market, I came across these really beautiful 1930’s jet buttons and so I took the old ones off and replaced them with the jet.  The coat was transformed and I always enjoy looking at the buttons when I’m wearing the coat.  I remember my grandmother having jet jewellery and it seemed old fashioned and yet glitteringly and morbidly compelling at the same time.  Those necklaces always smelled of Pontefract Cakes because she kept them in the same drawer. Don’t ask.

Jet is a semi-precious stone which, when polished, takes on an intense waxy lustre of the deepest opaque black.  This is where we get the term ‘jet-black’`  a description which has  been found in literature since the eleventh century. The rich black colour never fades, and the shine which can be achieved is such that polished jet was even used as mirrors in medieval times

Jet comprises an unusually pure and hard form of fossilized wood  from an ancient and relatively abundant species of monkey puzzle tree.  It occurs as thin lens-shaped seams within a series of shale rocks, known as the upper Lias, which were laid down in the early Jurassic period 175-185 million years ago.

It has been collected and worked into beads, buttons, earrings, and belt-sliders for thousands of years and has been found in Bronze Age burial sites throughout the UK. Once Bronze Age craftsmen discovered that the act of polishing jet caused it (by virtue of its electrostatic property) to be able to ‘magically’ attract chaff, straw, and sawdust to itself, jet became valued not only for personal adornment, but also as a powerful bringer of good fortune.

The occupying Romans made extensive use of jet, with Roman jet workshops situated in York sending worked jet ornaments and jewellery to all parts of the Roman Empire.  After the Roman armies left in the 4th century AD, the use of jet declined and it was not until the Vikings settled in the 9th century AD that jet once more came to be more widely used for jewellery and small carvings. For the next thousand years it was used mainly for ecclesiastical jewellery such as crosses, rosaries, and rings.

As jet of the finest quality can only be found near the historic fishing town of Whitby which is situated on the North Yorkshire coast, it is fitting that Whitby was at the centre of that most remarkable period in the history of jet, the Victorian era.

Although as many as ten jet workshops were operating in Whitby by 1815, it was not until the mid-1800s that the jet industry became really well established, and the opening of the railway combined with the Victorian love of seaside holiday souvenirs made it even more popular. 

However, it was the Victorian vogue for jet mourning jewellery which contributed most significantly to the growth of the Whitby jet industry. Victorian fashion was predominantly class-led, with Queen Victoria herself ultimately setting the example. It was the deaths of the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert in 1852 and 1861 respectively which really stimulated wider public demand for jet mourning jewellery.

The Whitby jet industry was at its height in 1873, at which time approximately 1,500 men were employed in some 200 manufacturing workshops. Raw jet was not only being avidly collected from local beaches, but was being commercially excavated at a number of  inland locations in the North York Moors area, with mines extending as far inland as Bilsdale and Osmotherly.

Jet workshop

However, in spite of the efforts of miners to procure increasing amounts of raw jet, demand became so great in the 1870s and 80s, that some manufacturers resorted to using inferior ‘soft’ jet sourced either locally from geological layers in the cliffs rather than the Lias shales, or from France and Spain.  Items worked from ‘soft’ jet began to craze and crack soon after they were sold. In addition to these problems of quality control, fashions in the latter part of the 19th century – particularly the Art Nouveau period – dictated the wearing of much smaller pieces of jewellery.

Contemporary jet jewellery can still be purchased in or one can buy Victorian style pieces and there seem to be plenty of shops in Whitby and online that sell it.  I wear an awful lot of black and I would love to collect it but I can’t collect everything.  Can I?


Filed under Collecting, History, Sewing

In which the Wartime Housewife demonstrates that she is not in it to make friends and is an unspeakable pedant

Yesterday I visited a particularly soul-less church in Rutland (more on this tomorrow).  I was therefore delighted by this bright and beautiful display of hand stitched hassocks commemorating the achievements of various groups in World War Two, which almost persuaded me that it was a place of worship and not a multi-purpose venue with retail opportunities.

However, I bet the person who stitched the hassock on the bottom row, second from the left felt a bit of a chump.  I nearly said “took a bit of flack” but that would have been going to far.


Filed under Religion, Sewing

Things to Make and Do at Easter: Part 1 – Felt Egg Cosies

As it’s nearly Easter and also the school holidays I thought I’d give you a few creative ideas for adults and children alike.  We will have Felt Egg Cosies, Hot Cross Buns, Simnel Cake and Faberge Style Decorative Eggs.  I will do these in the early part of the week to give you time to buy anything you need.


I made this little felt egg cosy some years ago – I also made a chick but it has gone astray.  You can copy my colours or you can make your own; I would suggest making several and doing them in different colours for different people.
For non-sewers, the ‘right side’ means the side you will see and the ‘wrong side’ is the side you won’t see.
The list of things you need is based on my colour scheme.

You will need:
Felt squares in yellow, black and white
Cotton – yellow black and white
A needle for cotton
A needle with a slightly larger eye for wool
Some pins
Fine black wool for the whiskers
Coloured wool for the hair

Cut out the pattern pieces using the template provided (you should be able to print it off easily)
Pinch the ears at the bottom and sew them onto the back piece of felt for the body
Cut out the eye and nose shapes and pin them onto the front piece of felt for the body
Using white thread and small stitches, sew the eyes and nose to the body
Now cut some little circles in black felt for the irises
Stitch them onto the white eye pieces, using black cotton, to create a nice or funny expression
Thread some fine black wool and sew through the nose for whiskers, leaving about 1”/2.5cm at each end.
Use some black cotton to secure the whiskers on the wrong side, taking care not to sew through to the nose on the right side.
Now thread your needle with yellow cotton.
Place the body pieces wrong side together and overstitch right round the edge
Cut some coloured wool into short lengths and bundle them together
Lay the bundle front to back between the ears and sew into place.
Tip: If you keep one hand inside the cosy it will stop you stitching the two sides together too far down and spoiling the shape

Another Tip:  If you are a little short of time, you can glue the nose and eyes on using craft or fabric glue.  This might make them tricky to wash but then you might never need to.


Filed under Children, Indoor Activities, Sewing