What I made Wednesday: floral circle skirt

northwest is best chintz

Inevitably, somebody is going to tell me that I look like I’m wearing a tablecloth. That’s because I am wearing a tablecloth, which I made into a circle skirt. In the past, my sewing was a bit sloppy and rushed, but recently I’ve made the effort to slow down and concentrate on the details. Because this tablecloth was circular, I could have chopped a hole in the middle, crawled in and shouted ‘ta da!‘ Instead, I not only handsewed the buttonhole but also the entire hem (machine sewing makes a circle hem sit all wrong).
Circle skirts are a good project for novice sewers, and you can find an explanation here. Or here. Mine is fastened with a (nearly) invisible zip and button, but you can simplify it with an elastic waistband. Warning: circle skirts need a lot of material, which is why I used this outrageously chintzy tablecloth (£1.50 from a charity shop). Second warning: sewing circle skirts is also addictive, and I’m already working a plain one.
Well. I should walk around a bit incase someone mistakes me for a sofa and tries to sit on my lap.

top – american apparel // skirt – made by me // wedges – dune
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Shrieking Violet fanzine

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Recently, I wrote a piece about Sunny Lowry for ace Manchester fanzine The Shrieking Violet. Sunny was a pioneer, as she was one of the first British women to swim across the Channel. Learning about Sunny’s life was inspiring, because she lived an incredible life and was still active as a campaigner during her nineties.
It was a special edition of the fanzine for a convention at Victoria Baths. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it on the day, but Natalie kindly sent me a copy. You can read it all online here.
Thanks to Natalie for asking me to be involved, and thanks to Andy for illustrating the piece.

What I made Wednesday: embroidered needle case

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A case to hold your needles makes sense. So why have I been fumbling along with a little needle tin? Because I’m an idiot. Before a dropped sharp became stuck into my foot, I sorted myself out by making a hand embroidered needle case.
It’s a simple booklet of fabric with a felt lining where needles can be safely held. Handsewing isn’t a strong point of mine so I decided to practise some embroidery stitches – chain, cross, feather and Pekinese to be exact. I’m not expecting a call from the Royal School of Needlework soon, but the result is functional.
Also, if you want an online resource for handstitching techniques, try Stitch School.

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My sewing machine

northwest is best john lewis mini sewing machine

On my What I Made Wednesday post about the patchwork bag I sewed, Dulcie of Human Sea and The Woollen Typist asked if it was machine sewed. The answer is yes, using the dinky John Lewis JL Mini sewing machine you see above. When choosing a sewing machine, I didn’t have a large budget, plus I wanted something light enough to transport around for when I teach workshops. (Being neither a car-owner nor muscular, this was a big concern.) Costing £59 and weighing 2.6kg, the JL Mini was just what I needed. It also comes with a spare needle, three bobbins, a threader and a 1-year warranty.

If you’re a hobbyist, I recommend it as it’s reliable and the options aren’t overwhelming – just 10 basic stitches (straight and zigzag), plus you can backstitch and adjust the thread tension. Threading the bobbin and needle are also very easy. The main drawback is the foot pedal isn’t responsive to variations in pressure – meaning it just goes at one speed. Also, because it’s a mini machine it wouldn’t cope with heavier, upholstery fabrics. But for the occasional home sewer it’s perfect.

One day I’ll probably need to upgrade to a sturdier machine which offers more stitches (for buttonholes and blind hems), and I’ve already got my eye on a Janome machine. I’ve used them in the past and they are dreamy.
Hope this helps if you’re thinking about buying your first sewing machine.

Local Love: The Sunday Market at Islington Mill

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After going on and on about how fond I am of Manchester, it’s about time I introduced a regular feature to showcase the happenings of this city. So welcome to Local Love, starting with The Sunday Market at Islington Mill. Supporting independent retailers and designer-makers is important, otherwise we’re lumbering towards a high street where the choice is Tesco or Asda-Walmart. Also, if I consider buying something from Topshop these days I just have a vision of Sir Philip Green greedily shoving £20 notes into a tin that reads ‘Hidden Pacific Island getaway fund‘.
Almost any bar or venue can arrange some tables, charge some willing stallholders and call it a craft fair, but Islington Mill care about creating a pleasant atmosphere and encouraging a variety of stallholders. Weather-wise, Sunday was grim and grey, but inside the Mill is was cosy, with newspapers and food available. Goods on offer included tasty homemade jams and chutneys by Trove, sweet shop inspired jewellery by Tuckshop, fun wooden pendants by Amethyst Annie’s Jewellery plus Victoria Plum’s cards and accessories incorporating old stamps.
I bought a birthday present for my sister, but shhh, don’t tell her…

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northwest is best wooden jewellery (2)

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Check me out: polyester

northwest is best polyester

No more polyester,‘ I told myself. ‘No more clinging, sweaty synthetic fabrics. Natural all the way. Cashmere. Silk. Cotton. Quality not quantity.‘ But shuffling the rails in one of my favourite charity shops* I found this Uniqlo dress, brand new with tags. Were there a Uniqlo store in Manchester, I’d consider shopping there. 100% polyester, but it won’t crease if packed in a weekend bag. Plus the black scribbles remind me of Keith Haring.
So I found myself almost failing the fingertip test wearing this. But with tights and shorts underneath it passed my cycling modesty test, until I was waiting at a traffic light. ‘You should be done for dangerous driving…‘ a man on the pavement with a hopeful smile shouted. ‘…with legs like those!‘ The light turned green before I had to respond.
Also – that hair got cut and those weeds got pulled.

* What am I saying? All charity shops are my favourites.

ruffled blouse – charity shop // dress – uniqlo via cancer research charity shop // tights – marks & spencers // flat shoes – stead & simpson

Feminist Fashion Bloggers guest post: Oranges and Apples

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Hello everyone!

This is Franca from Oranges and Apples. For today’s Feminist Fashion Bloggers’ event, we are doing guest posts. Jacky, Aly and I were matched up and decided on the theme of musical heroines. I’d actually suggested this topic because I’d wanted to write about the Riot Grrrls, and use it as a way of making myself find out more about them. Then of course I completely ran out of time so I decided to talk about a musical artist I really loved when I was younger: Amanda Palmer.

I bloody loved the Dresden Dolls in my early twenties. Boyfriend Dave randomly found their debut CD on a listening post in a record shop, we didn’t initially know anything about them, but were both big into the music and the imagery on the CD. We’ve seen them quite a few times live, and they’ve always been great, and we’ve also seen her solo three times – they/she always come to Edinburgh in the summer for the festival.

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There are many reasons why I like Amanda Palmer, and many of which are feminist, if not in name:

  • She’s a fighter. For some strange reason when she went solo, she was signed by Roadrunner Records, a label otherwise representing a load of metal bands. I’m not really quite sure what anyone was thinking when this contract was signed, but unsurprisingly they didn’t really know what to do with her and as I understand it didn’t do much to promote her. They then wanted to edit the music video for the song Leeds United to make her belly look smaller, which she told everyone about via her blog and there was a massive outcry from fans and big body positive campaign for everyone to show their bellies. Eventually it ended up with a massive bustup with the label and a two year campaign to get her to be released from her contract (including this video of her singing ‘Please drop me’ to the tune of Moon River). They did in the end drop her.
  • She communicative and incredibly open. The only reason the Roadrunner thing was successful because she’s got the most loyal fans and that’s because she’s incredibly active on the internet, communicating and interacting directly with the fans. There’s tons of fan art on her flickr and it seems like she properly responds to messages. She’s a madly prolific blogger and tweeter and emailer and she will literally talk about anything. She’s talked lots about her dispute with Roadrunner, about having an abortion at 17, date rape, sex and love and her husband Neil Gaiman. It’s such a fearless openness where really nothing is private or staged or edited. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live one’s life like that, but it does mean that fans can really know her. And that’s where all the massive amount of support she has comes from. Personally I can’t keep up with the constant stream of stuff and still have a life so I have unsubscribed from the emails and I never read the blog, but I can imagine my teenage self would have got well into it if my obsessive following of 1990s indie bands is anything to go by.
  • She properly promotes her collaborators. I never get the sense that she’s doing what she’s doing by herself. She’ll always give full credit to the musicians, photographers, designers and artists she works with in a way that I don’t think many people do.
  • The music is just really really good. Even with the 7000+ songs on my ipod and a contant stream of new discoveries, I go back to it all the time.

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So think she’s pretty cool. I haven’t really paid much attention for a couple of years, because she hasn’t released any new material for ages, and because the last time we went to see her it felt a bit repetitive. But that’s fine, I appreciate that things change and a large part of my being not so interested is that I am no longer an exitable 21 year old with time to spend on being a fangirl. Such is life and it made me think no less of her.

And really I could have left this post at that but I decided out of interest to google ‘Amanda Palmer feminist’. And what I discovered then was not so fun. I had been vaguely aware that her newest project was that she had signed some twins. I had had investigated no further. But as part of my googling I discovered that said twins were in actual fact Amanda and musician Jason Webley, and an elaborate backstory had been made up in which the twins were cojoined, abused as children, been in child porn and circus performers who had run away at 19 and had been plucked from obscurity by Amanda and Jason. That’s them in the picture below.

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What I made Wednesday: patchwork bag

northwest is best patchwork bag

Patchworking, in my mind, is an American craft. It makes me think of colonial women stitching together tiny scraps of fabric, or women swapping elaborate blocks at a quilting bee. For a long time I’ve wanted to try, and so I sewed myself this tote bag. As expected, patchwork is time consuming due to all the cutting out (done with scissors as I don’t own a rotary cutter) and ironing. Yes, there’s some seam puckering, but for a first attempt it’s not too shabby.

Patchwork tote bag

What I made Wednesday: knitted flowers

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I make things. I’d like to gush about how I OMGlovecrafting, but I’m not even sure. Making things just happens, and I can’t imagine not making things.
To encourage myself to improve, to try new crafts and to finish projects (instead of leaving them halfway through), I’ll be making something to show you every Wednesday. Starting with these sweet flowers, made using a pattern in Susan Crawford’s Vintage Gifts To Knit. They’ll be sent to Lancashire to be displayed at the Just So Festival.
Also, I sorted myself out with a new Tumblr account. For me, it’s a convenient way to scrapbook images. Mainly knitting images.