Adventures in dress making – the Gertie bombshell dress

Adventures in dress making – the Gertie bombshell dress

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One of the very first Craftsy classes I ever joined was the Bombshell dress making class by Gertie. She wasn’t as big a name then as she is now, none of her books had been published then and initially she still interacted with the class as she was supposed to as a tutor with Craftsy. I loved the look of the dress, with a fitted, boned bodice and I loved the idea of all the new techniques I would learn.

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Alas my life became hectic just like Gertie’s did and I didn’t get very far then, four and a half years ago. I got as far as ordering thee boning and attempting to make the fitted bodice but it all ended up in a box, tempting me on occasion and mocking me at others.

With a wedding in Barcelona to attend I wanted to make a cool looking dress and decided to restart the class. This time I sped through it all and found having been making and fitting my own bras for a good 8 months stood me in good stead for fitting the bodice. Or so I thought.
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I kept googling other bombshell dresses and kept looking at how the dress fitted Gertie. Something wasn’t right with the cups, I thought it would work itself out in my much bigger cupsize, and I put my doubts about the odd elliptical look of the cups down to Gertie’s much smaller chest. I mean, the muslin still looked a bit like that on me but I thought with padding and proper stitching it would all look ok. I had a lot of gorgeous cream and red cherry print fabric at my disposal and about a week to do all the hand stitching, padding out and adapting a 3/4 circle skirt to fit.

IMG_1408Well. I learned a huge amount. I went lots of couture techniques such as working with just the pattern pieces without any seam allowances, using contrasting stitching to mark the stitch lines. What a lovely way to work. I learned more still about the size and shape of my own boobs. I learned all about cutting steel spiral boning (with blunt cheap cutters this was no joke!) and using quilting wadding to pad out the bodice. I learned to use a synthetic horsehair braid to hem the skirt with, making for a hen that stood out and accentuates the 3/4 circle. The skirt went in like a dream and the dress felt amazing on. But what had looked merely slightly off when the bodice had just one layer of fabric looked heinous by the time it had a lining and padding. Elliptical boobs rather than nice round ones. Major fail.

By this time it was 11pm the day before we flew out to Barcelona for my old friend Steve’s wedding to the lovely Sabrina and I didn’t have time to make another bodice. So the dress was left behind, I attended the wedding in a doctored (in the cab on the way to the wedding!) dress from Sainsburys and put it all down to experience.

The class has been retired by Craftsy as not long after I joined Gertie’s first book was published and she barely interacted with her students anymore. The good thing about Craftsy has always been the tutor-student interaction, you can ask questions and get answers, talk about problems you’ve encountered and share your progress. Not so in this class and for a while it became a student led class, with people helping each other out. I’ve definitely been helped a lot by the other people on the course and will go back and ask for advice when I come home. But I understand why the class was taken off the schedule as it did not measure up to Craftsy’s very high standards   Still, I’m glad I did the class and even if I never get a functioning dress out of it I still think it was fantastic value for money. But fingers crossed I will finish it and when I do I will post the pictures up here!

cheekyhandmades is 5!

cheekyhandmades is 5!

Cheekyhandmades is five!

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On 11th July 5 years ago I left my job at Whipps cross hospital. I had handed in my notice in April and by the time I left not only was I without a proper job, I had also just separated from my partner of 8 years, the father of my youngest son. All was up in the air. What had seemed like a viable idea when there was still a breadwinner in the house, to give up work and spend more time with the kids whilst making the odd bespoke quilt, now with me being a single parent of three boys, a huge mortgage to pay and no business plan, or even much of a plan full stop, seemed madness.

I spent that summer making some stock as I had a stall booked fort first e17 art trail event at the end of the summer holidays. It was a tiny table in my friend Sarah’s back garden. She was an established artist, drawing astonishingly beautiful and detailed pencil drawings of insects. She always drew a respectable crowd to her open studio event but it was hard to predict how they would take to me and my colourful fabric wares. As it was I made some pocket money, and met some lovely people and felt very encouraged especially as there were a few people who had come to Sarah’s garden specifically to see my wares.

E17 Art Trail quilt

E17 Art Trail quilt

Never having got round to writing a business plan, free wheeling and improving all along, never forgetting how fortunate I was compared to my colleagues still at the hospital, never forgetting how much I cherished being my own boss and being to just do rather than endlessly talk about doing, I somehow made it work. I added teaching to my repertoire in January 2011, cutting my teeth in the lovely Create Place, where I found my feet as a teacher, as a fixer upper of sewing machines and where I made some lifelong friends. Fast forward to July 2015 and I now teach from my gorgeous bespoke studio in my sunny e17 garden, I still do the art trail each year, I still make and sell bespoke quilts in my Etsy shop, and I still love my job. Not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate not having to ever sit in another stifling meeting room taking minutes (now my meetings are with great creative people in cafes over coffee and cake!), not ever having to sit on my hands not being able to implement changes, having to deal with power crazed managers and a behemoth of a system, having to beg for days off to be with sick kids and never being able to go on school trips. I cherish my days alone sewing and planning and doing admin, I even love doing my accounts, I love being able to go into school to read with my 7 year old, I love downing tools at 3pm for the school run. I love writing this blog post in a sunny park in Barcelona under a palm tree with parrots playing overhead, I love meeting new students who are nervous and excited about their class and go away full of joy and pride in what they’ve achieved. I love keeping in touch with my old students, a great many of whom have become friends. I love interacting with other amazing women running one women businesses and exchanging skills rather than money to pay for each others’ services. I love working in my fabulous garden studio with the baby foxes streaking past and the cats keeping me company. cheekyhandmades' studio

My kids have got older, I’ve met a wonderful new partner, I’m as happy and fulfilled as can be. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m grateful to everyone who has joined me along the way. I’m even grateful to Whipps cIMG_8841ross hospital for being such awful place to work that I just had to leave and try making a go of cheekyhandmades!

To celebrate my birthday I am offering a 3 for 2 deal on all classes booked before the end of August. Just book in for 2 and email me on [email protected] to let me know which 3rd one you want free.

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E17 Art Trail 2015

E17 Art Trail 2015

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This year’s art trail is now finished and I feel a bit flat, empty and tired. It was again (but more so this year) a whirlwind of art, crafts, meeting new people, hanging out with old friends, lots of alcohol and skipped meals, a hive of activity for 2 1/2 weeks, a re-confirmation of why Walthamstow is the best place to live and work.

Check out the Art Trail blog to get the real low down on what has been taking place here and keep an eye open for the Walthamstow Garden Party on 18/19th July, another festival or arts, crafts, music (Femi Kuti, Ghospoet and Skatalites among others!), film, dance, circus, poetry and spoken word and yummy food. All a hop and a skip from my studio in LLoyd Park. Check out the website here.

I love living and working in e17!

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Anna Courcha’s cool stitched wall hanging

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Sean reading from his novel ” I never did like the sound of bagpipes”

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The Wool Kitchen’s sumptious hand dyed yarns

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St. Barnabas Church

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Pygmy Cloud’s open studio

 

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We love Lego, an art trail favourite

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Howard Road House, always worth a visit, an entire knitted garden, this year’s entry was Roald Dahl themed!

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Cris Thompson’s lovely 3D printed necklaces

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Catboy’s show

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Diane from Pygmy Cloud with her lovely cloud biscuits

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End of trail party at the wildcard Brewery; Sean and I and new pal and neighbour Louise

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Anna’s work in the studio

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Improper Art Show

E17 Art Trail quilt

E17 Art Trail quilt

 

Making a quilt – or two – foundation paper piecing

Making a quilt – or two – foundation paper piecing

About 6 weeks ago I was comissioned to make two quilts for Rosie’s little boys, Caspar and Leonardo. Rosie had used a beautiful fabric from Moda, “Simply Color” as bunting for her wedding and had kept it all and now wanted it used in quilts her children could use and keep. Great idea!

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Rosie diligently washed and ironed all the bunting strips which must have taken her forever, and certainly made my life a lot easier. The colours were gorgeous, blue, orange, plum, ochre, pink, grassy green and greys.

I spent some time tinkering with ideas and came up with an alternative to a plain log cabin blog with one coloured and one white side for the corner blocks, and decided to strip piece the other blocks (going round a central panel with the boys’ names on it).

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It looks lovely. It is just taking a VERY long time! Each block is constructed by foundation paper piecing it to paper so they are all the same size, using a very short stitch so I can tear the backing paper off easily when done. I need 56 blocks and still have about 20 to go! Its easy meditative work and I’m really enjoying it, I just resent having to stop all the time for food, the school run, teaching, etc 😉

I’m quietly beavering away and I hope Rosie is patient.

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This is the lovely old Bernina I’m using to stitch the blocks

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This is what the blocks look like sewn together. Well worth it!

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A year of handmade – an update

A year of handmade – an update

At the beginning of 2015 I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t buy any clothes this year, apart from knickers and socks and maybe a coat if needed. All the rest including bras and jeans I was going to make. I had just got into making bras and had bought several jeans patterns so I was all set to go.

So how am I getting on, 6 months in?

Well I have made two bras and a pair of jeans as well as innumerable tops and dresses. However I seem to have a mental block about finishing the more complex things so the bras are near enough done, bit not quite , and the jeans are waiting for their buttons. I haven’t even tried them on yet. Epic fail in a way. I think I must be scared of these items not fitting as the pressure is so high to finally haIMG_9173ve a bra and a pair of jeans that fit me… I don’t know, it’s weird but I seem to have a real mental block about them. Every time I sit at my machine it’s other things I pick up. I have lots of quilt commissions on and have been making stock for a wonderful little shop Xylonite Arts, and I have made several new tops and dresses from new patterns (which are exciting to make as I like new things) and I am confident about the fit and they don’t take anywhere near as long as trousers or bras, and I have also made several versions of the Colette Ginger skirt and the April Rhodes’ Staple dress in classes along with my students.

This week I am going to try and get down to finishing those damn UFOs once and for all! Look at those funky bras…!

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I did cheat when I went to see my parents in Holland in April and bought some clothes. I had packed super light and at the end of a really warm few days, and then when the weather turned in Holland I was cold. Very cold. I ended up buying a jacket which I wear every day, a scarf and a really cool tunic, all in the H&M sales. And my mum paid for it all, so it was kinda like a present and maybe that doesn’t count :-). It is totally do-able to not buy clothes (unless you go on holiday unprepared!) and make it all yourself if you have time and fabric and patterns and skills. It’s not cheaper but it’s much nicer, better fitting and satisfying to make your own.

I’ve also knitted and crocheted quite a few things this year; two ponchos, at least one pair socks and various shawls/ wraps/ snoods

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Let’s hear it for love

Let’s hear it for love

Not sewing or studio related. Not even a post about leaves or flowers or cats. But a very important post nonetheless.

Those of you who know me well and even most of you who’ve attended a class with me in the last 4 years have known me as resolutely and very happily single for a long time. I had my friends, my work, my kids and my cats, I didn’t want or need anyone else. I saw myself growing old living alone, still going out dancing with Sarah and meeting for cuppas with Cath. Mulling stuff over with the help of a glass or two with Chris. Hanging out with my other Sarah talking about boys. But not with a man in my life apart from my lovely male friends. Seeing me back on an online dating site in early March was more of a browsing thing, after being told of this cool (and free) dating site. Within a week I had grown bored of browsing profiles, exchanging desultory messages, or not, with people I didn’t fancy anyway. But there was this picture of this gorgeous long haired bearded man that intrigued me. I think I fired off a quick “nice profile” message, although really there was nothing much on his profile. Anyway he messaged me back quickly and asked if he could call me. I was not too happy about that as I tend to hate speaking to people I might meet for a date, it’s so awkward and weird. Anyway I said yes and he called me. We talked for over an hour. He had the most beautiful voice and a seriously sexy Glaswegian accent. I was hooked. He was so easy to talk to. But he lived in Paisley which is over 400 miles north of me. This didn’t seem to deter him and he called again and again. Soon we were talking for hours every day. I still didn’t get why he kept calling me because we could never meet and anyway he was so lovely and handsome, why didn’t he look closer to home and for someone who didn’t have three kids and seven cats? But of course I fell in love with him before we had even met. I couldn’t not, he was just amazing. And then we did meet. In grim Swindon of all places. We booked in to a hotel presuming we would get on in person too and if not, well he was enough of a gent to sleep on the floor he said. We need not have feared. After getting used to this real life man being the Sean I had been talking to so much we have hardly been apart since. I went against all my dating rules and he met my kids the next day, and moved in three weeks later! A true whirlwind but not in a stormy kinda way. More of a “I know a good thing when I see it” way. Everyone who has met him loves him, including my kids (two of whom are teens and hard to please!).

Meeting him was truly a miracle as he wasn’t really properly engaging with the online dating thing either and I think his profile was set partly under pressure from a friend (thanks Samuel!). He lived in Scotland. We would have never met. I was old and cynical. He was hurt and still reeling from what life had thrown at him these last few years. Against all the odds love flourished and I am grateful every single day I went to the pub that night with Sarah where a friend of hers told us about OK Cupid. Stupid name. If I hadn’t been a bit giddy with cider I would have never bothered signing up with a site that sounded like a dating site for teenagers.

I cannot imagine life without him. He recently went away for almost two weeks and it felt like I was missing a vital organ. He is the best and he is my soulmate. He keeps me sane and calm and grounded. He reads me his poetry and his prose and I am astonished at his talent. He is so beautiful I cannot believe he is all mine. He has taken all the kids and cats and sewing machines everywhere totally in his stride. He supports me and comforts me and makes me laugh. He cooks me yummy stir fry mash ups and talks to me of history and politics and I adore his passion and knowledge and intelligence.  My own poet. Whilst I went through the tiring process of building a studio he kept me going, looking after me and all of us. This is what I wrote at the time:  “…and thanks finally to my loving and supportive partner Sean for running me baths, making me tea, keeping the house running whilst I’ve been painting or in Homebase and tucking me in at night when I’ve been too tired to even do that myself. His unfailing kindness, love and practical help not just now but always made and makes all the difference”.

So here’s to love. It rocks and even though I thought I could live without it, I am so glad I don’t have to. Sean the brave, you are my sunshine, my rudder, my beacon.

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Perfect Pattern Parcel

Perfect Pattern Parcel

The amazing and super cool Jill from Made with Moxie has been running perfect pattern parcels for a while now. Every now and then (every month maybe? I’m not so good with keeping up on how regular stuff is!) a new bundle of patterns is released. They are grouped together, so there has been a kids one, and some women’s dress making for example, and they are usually great for mixing and matching too. 

PPP brings together ubercool patterns so you don’t have to scour the net for them, which is handy. They are only available for a limited time, which makes it very exciting, in my book. And best of all you can set our own price. Feeling skint? Feeling like you will only make one of the patterns perhaps? No problem. Feeling like you want to support the indie designers and the charity the PPP support (to help kids, what’s not to like?!) and can afford to do so? Pay full price, with the added bonus of getting a free extra pattern. 

In Jill’s own words:

Support Indie Designers:

Independent designers create patterns that are innovative, imaginative and in line with current style trends. Their patterns encompass a broad range of sizes and fabulous “out of the envelope” fit because they’re thoroughly tested by real people. Indie designers are approachable, providing support, suggestions, publishing additions to your favorite designs, and hosting interactive sewing events. When we are patrons of indie designers, we are supporting small businesses. We are developing the community around us. We are helping make dreams come true.

Support PPP:

We ask you to dedicate part of your purchase to support the mission of Perfect Pattern Parcel. Our mission is to support indie designers, give to charity, and expand awareness to further those two primary goals. PPP funds cover the cost of all hosting and payment processing fees so the designers and charities don’t have to. With any dollar we spend as a PPP expense, our goal is to earn that dollar back and then some. Every dollar that isn’t used to cover expenses is reallocated to charity.

Support Children’s Education:

Donors Choose is an organization that matches up the needs of teachers and their students for specific projects with willing donors. The funds raised from each Pattern Parcel sale will go to help K-12 students in minimizing educational inequality and encourage a community where children have the tools and experiences necessary for an excellent education. From pencils for poetry to microscopes for mitochondria, your support will help address educational inequality and grow generations to come. To date, you’ve helped us raise over $13,000! 

Here is just one of the cool pattern in the latest parcel, the Bronte top. Comes with long sleeve option too.



I’ve just bought mine, buy yours now as it ends on Friday!  Here’s is the link: Perfect Pattern Parcel

More on the new studio

IMG_6946_2 IMG_6955 IMG_6956 IMG_6961 IMG_6970 IMG_7028 P1030254 P1030255 IMG_7081 IMG_7157 IMG_7083So I’m in my new studio, I taught my first class in there and it’s absolutely perfect.

It will no doubt take a while yet before I’m completely done and before my living room looks normal again but I’m on my way. Nice as the studio looks now, the living room (where I taught before) looks like a bomb site. I’ve been packing and pulling stuff off shelves and sorting things out but right now there is just tons of stuff waiting to go into the studio.

In the studio then my floor is hot pink, it needs a coat of varnish still but it looks gorgeous. I’ve bought a super massive solid dark wooden table off a friend. It nearly broke Sean and myself getting it up the stairs and then out down the external stairs as this baby is heavy but it looks amazing and can sit 8 people! The first curtain is up and the first storage unit is up.

Today I’ve been getting intimate with my bags of scraps, seriously there is about 7 big bags! I did a lot of ironing them to patch some onto a quilt I didn’t like (but love now it has patchy circles on it!) but there’s still a lot of sorting to do. Maybe by colour (-) yes I may have to succumb to a *system*…

My studio is warm and cosy and colourful and spacious, it’s a cat free zone so all is staying clean and cat hair free, I’m surrounded by gorgeous plants, the pond, trees, birds, foxes and of course many cats. The neighbours’ chickens are right next to me. It’s pretty idyllic! It so bright and peaceful in there, I kinda want to move in!

I’m running lots of classes in the studio so come and sample one: http://bookwhen.com/cheekyhandmades

The new studio

The new studio

IMG_6832_2 IMG_6847 P1030235 P1030237 IMG_6882 IMG_6919 IMG_6920 IMG_6923 IMG_6930Seb and Joe finished up here on Wednesday. It was sad to see them go on one level as they’ve been amazing to have around and I sincerely hope we keep in touch. But obviously it was exciting to see the studio ready for me filling it full of paint and fabric and furniture and students too.

I’ve had a few false starts with the floor and couldn’t really settle on a colour. I tried white and although I painted about a third of the floor I wasn’t feeling it. You know what it was? Too white. Too sensible. Not me at all. So last night I bought some pink paint and I’m SO feeling this! Of course it had to be pink.

So on this freezing but sunny morning I’m in the studio, shivering, listening to radio 6 and drinking coffee and PAINTING THE FLOOR PINK

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the workmanship of Seb and Joe. Seb runs the company, Liberty Lading, and has a lot of experience building all kinds and under all kinds of conditions. He lives on a tug on the south coast and has made the whole boat habitable and homely inside in his spare time. He also makes his own unique woodburners for which I’m in the market as soon as I’ve saved some more pennies (building a studio is an expensive thing to do! I’ve spent £400 or so in DIY shops this month alone!). Joe was his sidekick on this project but also works in a bike shop. Interesting fact: he has built his own bike out of bamboo. It looks amazing!

Anyway contact me if you want a high standard anything built. This studio is perfect right down to the last nail. Seb is a perfectionist and a proper craftsman.

Back to painting. I have one week to make this studio inhabitable as next Saturday I’m running my first class in there!

cheeky handmades