Tag Archives: 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.

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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.

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Filed under Collecting, Sewing

Out of an old sewing machine came forth a kindling box

Our homes should be places where we can be expressive of who we are.  Even if we can’t afford the furniture or paintings we would like, we can always make comfortable compromises by putting an attractive throw and bright cushions over a tatty sofa or, as I do, photocopy pictures of paintings (in high resolution) that I love and frame them.

As I have said before, I am deeply uncomfortable and perplexed when I go into a house where everything is white and there are no books or pictures, precious few ornaments or fol-de-rols and no clues as to the identity of the inhabitant. 

The ability to make things oneself comes in so useful, particularly when money is shortUsing up old materials to make new things is not only deeply satisfying; it makes your house more individual and exciting but also means fewer  items going to the tip.  For good examples of this, you need only visit Sue at the Quince Tree or The Vintage Knitter to see the lovely things they do.

As usual for a Sunday, I was wandering around the Market Harborough Antique Market and spotted an interesting looking box, half under the table of a stall that I frequent.  It was a slightly unusual shape and it drew my eye, something about the shape nagging at the back of my mind.  The vendor had put a few small logs in it and I thought “What a super, neat little box for kindling”.  I’m currently using an old straw bag for kindling which does the trick but it looks untidy and just ‘not right’. 

The cover off an old sewing machine

I asked what price she had on it and immediately beat her down a few quid.  It turned out to be the lid off an old Singer sewing machine.  How completely perfect.

which became a kindling box

I am the owner of four sewing machines; an 1890s treadle, a 1910 flower-enamelled Singer, a miniature 1950s Sew-ette and a fancy new modern jobby that goes shopping for its own bobbins and advises you on your colour schemes.

Everything in your home should tell a story – your story.  So make it an adventure.

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Filed under Collecting, Decorative, fashion, General DIY, Re-use Recycle

The Casualties of Life

Thursday was an interesting and varied day.  As you know, we all went to the pictures on Wednesday night (Orange Wednesday – 2 tickets for the price of 1 – excellent).  However, because the earlier showings were all full, we had to see ‘Karate Kid’at 8.15pm.  It was only 6.15pm so we went over to Frankie and Benny’s for a feed, which was earth shatteringly expensive – I’d been planning to take them to MacDonald’s on the way home.  Consequently, we didn’t get home until quarter to twelve, which is very late for young chaps and chappesses.

I had agreed to help Lady Marjorie with some spring cleaning first thing on Thursday morning but I had to take my car to the garage at 8.30am.  Luckily they lent me a car for the day as after Lady M, I had to pick up The Boys and leg it over to Mrs Cromarty as I have been helping her partner to make something for his disco rig.  We have had to design it almost as we go along and there is a lot of sewing involved.  A lot of sewing.  We were still working on it late into the night, with only a break to pick up my car (now purring along happily) and get some fish and chips.    At one point, there was a crash and a lot of yelling and Boy the Elder came hobbling downstairs in great pain.  He had tripped over a cable and a large television had fallen onto his foot. Ow.

I inspected it closely, put a cold pack followed by a stabilising bandage on it and made him lie on the sofa with his foot up.  By 11pm his foot had turned many different and exciting colours and it was decided that Thursday night in A&E would conceivably be quicker than Friday.  Mrs Cromarty is much nearer to The Leicester Royal Infirmary, where they also have a dedicated Children’s A&E, but I’ve never been there, so she opted to come too.  We left Boy the Younger at her house.

It could have been much worse.  We were given a wheelchair so that we could avoid Boy the Elder’s inevitable RADA audition, as he hopped, grimacing and groaning along the corridor like a low rent Long John Silver.  After only half an hour, we were ushered into Triage or ‘See and Treat’ as it was helpfully labelled, where the nurse started giggling as Boy the Elder described what had happened.  “I’m so sorry”, she said, “It’s just that we have another boy in the waiting room who had a really large clock fall on his head at about the same time. Strikes me as quite funny”.  We agreed in principle that it was quite funny.

There was then the usual A&E Foxtrot between X-Ray (BTE: “Why have you put that heavy sheet on my privates?” Nurse: “In case you want to have children when you’re older”), The Adolescents’ Waiting Room and the Treatment Cubicle.  The Adolescents’ Waiting Room was fun.  There were posters everywhere about AIDS, drugs (all types), STDs (and how to catch one), chlamydia, female circumcision and forced marriage.  These stimulated some interesting conversations, I can tell you. 

We were delighted to discover that we were waiting with Clock Boy who had a hole in his head.  I told him all about trepanning to cheer him up.  His lovely parents were with him and we chatted happily until both boys were called in to the treatment room.  Boy the Elder was feeling quite cheerful by now and regaled the nurse with his tale in articulate and gruesome detail.  “I bet it hurts like buggery” she said, which got The Boy firmly on her side.

There appeared to be no bones broken and, having dropped Mrs Cromarty at her house, we finally arrived back home at 2.45am, tired, cold and hungry.  After a brief pause to shovel down some cheese on toast and Ovaltine down us, we retired to bed at 3am.  I had an appointment at 9am.  Not happy.

I collected Boy the Younger and we gave ourselves the afternoon off.  I made up some of my special Bruised Bone Liniment (Top Secret formula, incredibly efficacious), applied some to the offending foot, after which we retired to the sofa in a big heap with cake, tea and ‘Blazing Saddles’ on the DVD.

It could have been worse.

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Filed under Children, Family and Friends, Life in general, Medical, Natural Home Medicines

A lecture about life skills and instructions on how to sew on a button

My Sitting Room

I’m always curious when people proudly announce that they ‘can’t cook’ or that they are unable to ‘even sew on a button’.  Evolution should sort these people out – these are life skills, not optional extras.  What they actually mean is that they can’t be bothered to learn to cook because a) they’re rich enough to eat out, or b) the supermarkets are full of pre-prepared, over-salted, glutinous ‘meals’ or c) they confidently expect someone else to do it for them.   They don’t sew on a button or mend their clothes because a) they can buy another one, or b) they’re rich enough to pay someone else to do it or c) they confidently expect someone else to do it for them.

Everyone could boil an egg, knock up a bit of pasta, roast a chicken.  Everyone could sew on a button or a nametape.  If they wanted to.  These are austere times and it’s always cheaper to do these things for yourself.  I’m not suggesting that we should all be sitting in windowseats with beatific smiles on our faces, embroidering tablecloths for retired governesses or knitting socks for soldiers, but we should all assume a basic level of skill for our own self esteem and convenience.  And don’t attempt to give me the “I don’t have time” defence, it cuts no ice with me.

However (you all knew there was a ‘but’ coming).  Sewing, knitting, crocheting, making things – out of fabric, wood or whatever your chosen medium –  is incredibly satisfying; to complete an item that you have made yourself fills you with pride and pleasure.  Sewing is the thing I’m best at and one of my only regrets in life (only?  surely not!) is that I didn’t do O’Level needlework as it would have made life an awful lot easier.  Sadly, I was so frightened of the teacher that I didn’t have the guts to do it.  Happiest days of your life?  I don’t think so.

But I make things all the time, out of a combination of creative enjoyment and searing poverty.  In the evening, I like to have something to do with my hands, to know that I’m not just slumped, passively in front of the telly (obviously I do sometimes – you can’t follow Foyle’s War or Lewis unless you pay attention).  Sometimes I’m just doing boring mending or labelling of school clothes, but sometimes I’m making Gollies or knitting squares for a patchwork throw for my manky sofa or making something for the boys.  It gives you creative, constructive focus and encourages concentration.

Another important reason to mend rather than replace is that it means one less item in landfill.  Even if you can find a cloth recycling bin, it still takes energy to recycle things and, as I will never tire of saying, re-use first and if you can’t, recycle.  I keep an old set of worn out uniform to cut up for patches to keep trousers and sweatshirts going for longer and the only energy you use is your own.

I seem to remember that one of the large UK prisons (Brixton, The Scrubs?) embarked on a project where the men made a huge patchwork quilt on the theme of prison life.  Its aim was to encourage them to learn new skills but also to have a creative outlet for their feelings, frustrations and anxieties.  I never saw this piece, but apparently it was extremely moving.  In Victorian times, women and men were encouraged to learn sewing to teach them patience, assiduity and endeavour. 

This is so true.  To make something properly usually means that it can’t be dashed off in an evening, it’s something one has to work on over days, weeks, months even.  I knitted a very simple pram blanket for each of my boys when they were born and I loved to see them wrapped up warmly in them as they lay sleeping outside in the pram.

How to Sew on a Button:
(with additional help from the 1930’s Big Book of Needlecraft)



Get some cotton the same colour as the thread on the rest of the buttons
Thread your needle, then cut a length of cotton about 18”/45cm long
Tie a couple of knots in the end without the needle on it
Position the button where you want it and push your needle through one of the holes from the wrong side
Take the needle back through the other hole, looking to see how the other buttons were done
Do this about 10 times until the button appears to be firm
Push the needle up from the wrong side but don’t put it through the hole in the button, pull it out to the side
Wrap the thread round the core of thread under the button several times
Then push the needle back up through one of the holes in the button and back to the wrong side through another hole in the button
Tie the cotton off with a firm knot and cut it off neatly
Pat yourself on the back and have a cup of tea and a shortbread finger

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Filed under Decorative, fashion, Sewing