Spending, sewing, thinking, saving

During May, I set myself a challenge of curbing unnecessary spending.  So, apart from food, fuel, and toiletries, I allowed myself three ‘extra’ purchases –  I couldn’t go completely cold turkey.  And the big three turned out to be… an e-Book, a tin of Dylon dye, and a saucepan (for dyeing in).  Turns out I could go without most things for one month, but not craft materials.

Here I am perfecting the stylish use of Co-op-advert-as-apron:

Wanna see what went in that saucepan?

I’ve had this cotton knit dress hanging around for ages – I spotted it in a charity shop and fell for the intricate detailing at the neckline. I took it in at the princess seams, up at the hemline, lopped off the sleeves, and got a fairly good fit, but somehow it never got as far as my wardrobe.  Turns out all it needed was a colour change…

I’ve blogged in more detail about this dress, and the inspiration behind it, over here at the Sew Weekly

Anyhow, now that it’s June, in theory I can go back to my happy spending ways… talking of which (bear with me here) have you ever read Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald?

 I know it’s a great work of literature and all, but I found it pretty long-winded.  I’m a fast reader, but I almost lost the will to finish it there in the middle.  But.  It does have one of the most awesome descriptions of a shopping trip, possibly ever:

“Nicole bought from a great list that ran two pages, and bought the things in the windows besides.  Everything she liked that she couldn’t possibly use herself, she bought as a present for a friend.  She bought colored beads, folding beach cushions, artificial flowers, honey, a guest bed, bags, scarfs, love birds, miniatures for a dolls house and three yards of some new cloth the color of prawns.  She bought a dozen bathing suits, a rubber alligator, a travelling chess set of gold and ivory, big linen hankerchiefs for Abe, two chamois leather jackets of kingfisher blue and burning bush from Hermes”.

If I were to go on a crazy Nicole-style spree right now, mine would go something like this:  the Sewaholic Renfrew pattern, a walking foot for my sewing machine, grosgrain ribbon in twenty different colours, a huge bunch of crocosmias, and yards and yards of yellow chiffon.  Ooh, and yellow spray paint, some merino wool in a bright bright blue, one of these beater whisks, the Wiksten Tova pattern, a box of Laduree macaroons, a beautiful bra or two, masses of silk jersey, and some handmade jewellery from Etsy.  And while I’m here, some heart-shaped teacups, Teapigs licorice & peppermint teabags, some thick Guipere lace, and a really snazzy camera.

But, fun as that would be, I’m learning something about this slower pace of spending.  I like being more intentional and really considering whether what I buy will be used and/or appreciated… not just played with for 5 minutes and then discarded or stored away.  Fitzgerald follows up the grand shopping list with another list of “some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole” in factories, farms, plantations and shops, the “ingenuity and toil” behind “such processes of hers as wholesale buying”.  His final comment on the trip is “She illustrated very simple principles, containing in herself her own doom” – isn’t that intriguing and provoking?


So no mad splurging this month.  Instead of adding things to the shopping basket, I’m pinning them on Pinterest – maybe to buy in future, or just to enjoy and inspire.  I love moseying back through these pins for a personal visual feast!  If you’re interested, I’m at: http://pinterest.com/amyellablue/ …I’ve even got a board just for sewing patterns.

What would be on your dream shopping list right now?

Book Review: OK, so I had a bit of help…

Thanks for the lovely comments on my new bag make earlier this week.  I feel pretty chuffed with myself, could you tell?

So the pattern was self-drafted, but I had a little something to help me through:

The Bag Making Bible, by Lisa Lam

I’ve actually had this for nearly a year, but on first flick through, I wasn’t too taken with it.  It’s organised as a sort of meander through bag-making – there’s an introduction, then a project, then some information about materials, another project, a technique or two, and so on.  I just ended up confused.  And I have to admit, I do have a slight resistance to any book with ‘Bible’ in the title – so often it’s a setup for a major let-down.

But actually, this is a gem of a book, if you start off from the crucial page:


Yes, the index!  In a way, the ‘Bible’ bit makes sense – this isn’t the kind of book you’d read from cover to cover in one sitting, it’s the kind you’d dip into for advice about this or that, relevant to the situation in hand.  So I’d be merrily making my bag, and thinking “how on earth do I put a zipped pocket in the lining…?” Quick-check in the index, and ta-da, there’s a lovely 4-page step-by-step guide in the middle of the book.  Lisa Lam definitely takes the panic out of attempting a new technique.  After I’d managed this:

…I thought “well, that wasn’t too hard!” – a mark of a truly well-written craft book.

The book comes with a pattern sheet for all the projects featured – I haven’t actually tried any yet…

…but I have learned about interfacing v interlining, magnetic snaps, zips and pockets, handles, inserting the lining… the photos, explanations, and tips are excellent.


All in all, a fab book – “a complete creative guide to sewing your own bags” as it says on the tin.  Best read (if you’re anything like me) when you’re in the midst of a project, rather than before.  Just remember, start with that index.

Sewing or books?

I have a small confession: if I had to make a choice between sewing or books, books might just win. 

Some part of me truly believes that the answer to everything can be found in a book.  Whenever a problem crops up, I think “hmmm… there must be a book about that somewhere…”  If I haven’t found the answer, it just means I haven’t found the right book yet.  (I am only just now realising that some problems can only be solved though time, experience and relationships).  I can’t remember when this belief in book authority took root, except that I learned to read at a relatively young age and when I was 7, told my teacher that I’d rather read books to myself as adults couldn’t get the voices right (I know… precocious brat).

(My bedroom bookcase – I keep my collection of crime novels here, and have just realised that may be weird.)

I don’t think I’m alone in the sewing blogosphere with this love of books… I’m sure Carly and Karen are like-minded, and I’ve just come across this beautiful blog where authors make children’s clothes inspired by children’s books.  (Is it wrong to want a small person of my own so I can make cute mini clothes?)  So: how many crafting books do you have?  I’ve just been round the house for a count-up, and my grand total is 25.  Is that a lot?  Or pitifully small?

This got me thinking: do I really use these books?  Actually read them?  Have I ever made anything inspired by them?  No idea.  So, I propose to review them all, one each week (I’ve picked Wednesday, as it somehow has a nice bookish feel to it).  I’m not on the payroll of any authors or publishers, so it will be an honest personal summary of the good, the bad and the ugly.  If I come to the conclusion that the book is useful, but not for me, I will stick it in a giveaway and see who wants it.  If you have the same book, please do add comments,  or different opinions, or links to things which it has inspired you to make.  Here we go!

The first book on the list is one which will definitely not be in a giveaway, my recent birthday present:  The Party Dress Book, by Mary Adams.

Put simply, this book is gorgeous.  I tend to be a pretty casual dresser, but as I said in my earlier post:  if you’re not into overly feminine dresses, this book will a) make you want to be, and b) give you some fab ideas to incorporate into other projects.  If you are into the girly look, you may just cry tears of pure joy. 

My friends, it is a design feast.  The first section is called ‘Origins and Influences’, where Mary Adams explains how she got started and set up her own business, and what inspires her – from Marie Antoinette to the feminine styles of the 1950s.  It’s a real insight into the creative process, and how her style has developed over time, with plenty of luscious pictures.  Brace yourself: there are a lot of ruffles.  One of the most striking dresses is  a frothy wedding dress in transparent aqua, lavender, peach and yellow… for a split second, I was like ‘why didn’t I do that for my wedding?’ (I promise, you get infected by the floaty dresses).  All this was far more interesting than a sequence of twee ‘how-to’ projects. 

The middle section of the book gets technical – fabrics, colour combinations and sewing techniques.  I did my first french seam following the step-by-step photos, and it turned out great!  Mary Adams doesn’t give away all her secrets – no clues to her fab sleeve designs or corsetry – but she covers applique, quilting, pintucks, ruffles and using bias strips, so there’s plenty to get on with.

The final section is planning and making your own party dress.  It does come with a paper pattern (in its own little envelope) but actually, I wouldn’t recommend it for a brand new sewist.  It’s a lined princess-seam bodice with a circle skirt, in taffeta or organza – I can’t imagine that being an easy way to start.  On the other hand, if you’ve been sewing for a while, you’re likely to have your own favoured patterns that you’ve tried and tested, and don’t need particularly need this.  I can’t see myself using it.  I’ll just let my imagination run riot on other things.

Conclusion:  A gorgeous floaty meringue of a book.  Some practical bits, but the real treasure is the inspiring peek into Mary Adam’s creative process.  I reckon I’ll come back to it for an inspiration boost during creative blocks.