Get to know your sewing machine course

This course is designed to help you really get to know your own sewing machine, so that you can go away and confidently sew at home as well as sort any problems you might have.  Starting level is established by a brief questionnaire and everyone works at their own pace; supported through a series of tasks, using their manual , handouts and samples.  This allows beginners to take their time to explore and practice, whilst those more experienced can progress onto some mini-projects.

vintage silk upcycle



I bought this dress at the Kings Road Royal Trinity Hospice – this shop is great for vintage and really unusual pieces. The colour struck me first, then I noticed the detailing … the collar shape, slightly puffed sleeves and folded back cuff detail. I think it’s home made so respect to the hands that made those shapes, I wanted to keep the details as much as I could. I was going to a screening of Embrace, the Body Image Movement documentary so I wanted something striking and individual. (Sorry no progress pics, just before and after  ….. I was under a bit of time pressure.)

Nothing like colour blocking to update and give an outfit some edge. I couldn’t find a place for the collar without overcomplicating the outfit, so I’ve saved that for another upcycle. By taking off the collar, I was able to expose the lovely v-neck placket detail and those sleeves!

body image – this is not a gender issue

On Monday, I went to a screening of the documentary film Embrace, featuring Taryn Brumfitt who, in 2013, following her own battle with her body image, posted a before and after photo of herself with a difference and caused a media storm. In the film, she explores the issue of how women feel about their bodies; the media and fashion industry; and meets various women with unique appearances. Her Body Image Movement has gathered pace and women all over the world are being inspired by her.

The film is thought provoking; the photo was a brave thing to do and raised the profile of the discussion. I can’t help thinking, however, that we’ve been having this conversation for a long time now and there are a few places I’d like the discussion to move on to.

I don’t believe that this is a womens’ issue, I don’t really understand why it has to be a gender issue at all. I bet there are as many men as there are women with body image issues; I’m tired of being positioned as the victim. The media promotes the same unrealistic body types for men as it does for women. And there are many people who would not categorise themselves as women or men, dealing with stereotypes promoted. There has been an opening of the gender closet in recent years and it has felt like a good shift in gender equality. But whilst we are still in our she-camp, talking about this, I can’t help feeling we’re missing something.

The film also focussed on women who felt too fat …. everyone interviewed wanted to be thinner, there was a big focus on the fashion industry’s promotion of thin women and interviews with a plus-sized model (don’t get me started on that particular label!). I accept that this is probably the largest group affected, but my tall, slim friend sat next to me felt marginalised by the overweight gang and the overuse of the word skinny. She constantly faces comments that she finds hurtful, whilst we assume she’s happy with her body because she is what the media tells us is the ideal body shape.

I think what Taryn has done is amazing, my point is that this is not an issue just for women or men or transgender, fat people or thin people, tall or short …. we are human and for some reason we have a propensity to want what we haven’t got. Advertisers tap into this in every way possible to sell us stuff. This is an issue about the culture in which we are immersed, a media image issue, a commercial world issue and it affects us all.

After the film, I had a de-brief with a couple of smart, strong minded friends. One said, she wanted her son to see the film. I’m not so sure? Rather than a film about victims, I want my children to see the next version which includes all genders feeling happy about their bodies. But I do want my sons to see it just as much as I want my daughter to.

So how do we do it? How do we teach our kids to value themselves when we find it so difficult ourselves? How do we stop falling victim to what the media tell us. I think we have a long way to go before we truly embrace our differences, understand what it is to walk in some one else’s shoes and stop making assumptions about others based on our own desires and insecurities.

I truly hope Taryn is the start of real change and her next film is the one I take my children to. A quote from Monday’s screening might be a start ….

“We get to be the new magazine. We get to define what it means to have a beautiful body” 

Despite a huge decline in magazine sales, there seems no real change in the media or by designers to want to change they way they advertise clothes. So perhaps we humans have to come together and do it for ourselves, show the next generation what beauty is by just being it, accepting our wonderful bodies they way the look and celebrating our different shapes.

Finding our happy place with our bodies is easier said than done but I’ve started.  A little while back, I took a long, hard look at mine in a post entitled “Body shape: Me”. I also explored the crazy fashion industry to try and put my ideals in some context and shift them to a more realistic, happy place in “Fashion: we are all different shapes.” Good luck, everyone.

70s housecoat upcycle

(This is a bit of  a catchup post, as I did this one last summer and just realised I hadn’t posted it.) It was my Mums housecoat .. I’ve always loved the design at the bottom and the unusual criss-cross. I cut the top and bottom apart, removed the zip and turned the skirt around. Put a smaller zip in the back and added the black waistband from some fabric I had at home.

re-fashion workshop

This is a 4 session course, focusing on the conception and realisation of a design idea. There are many techniques used to upcycle clothes, from simple cutting and hand stitching to full deconstruction. The aim of the course is to help you see the potential in an unwanted garment and give you the confidence to have a go, not to produce a perfectly sewn garment.

Week 1 starts with a private rummage of the stock room at a local charity shop to select suitable garments to upcycle or deconstruct. You will then sketch or scribble some ideas, plan the tasks and resources required to realise the design.  Each week you will work on your individual projects, as I support you on a one to one basis in the classroom. Each week we’ll have a big share, I’ll talk about aspects of the fashion industry, such as why I believe second hand and upcycling has such an important role in today’s fashion industry; knowing your brands and how to select which ones to use or planning your wardrobe and avoid the pitfall of buying more new clothes.

At the end of the last course, we were invited by the Cancer Research shop where we had bought the original garments, to make an exhibition in their window. Great timing as it coincided with the TRAID #secondhandfirst week.



2016 Round up!

The good news is that I’ve had a brilliantly busy term, the bad news is that I haven’t had time to blog about it! I can’t believe my last post was dated October! So, a quick summary for now and I’ll try and catch up in the New Year. I’ve shown just one image for each event but there are more on my Facebook page.

I’ve shared my love of upcycling with 4 fabulous students on my Re-fashion Workshop at The Wantage Mix. We started with a rummage of our local Cancer Research shop where we selected garments to upcycle and they kindly allowed us to dress their window with the finished projects at the end of the course. The last session coincided with the Traid #secondhandfirst week, so we registered our Window Exhibition as an event on their website. The same week, I posted a short video on my Reasons to Shop Secondhand and will come back to that with more videos in 2017. There are so many reasons, aside from the very important ethical ones, why secondhand is a really good way to play around with fashion.


I’ve also held my first Upcycling Surgery at The Mix, where a few people popped in for some advice on how to alter and update their clothes. Another one is planned for 21st Jan.



As part of the Wantage Betjeman Festival I went along to a Poetry Evening at the vale & Downland museum. Inspired by two brilliant poems, I’m planning a post about the craft of sewing and garment making, love it or hate it?



I’ve been asked to collaborate on a project on the Kings Road in Chelsea so whilst I was there for a research trip, I had to check out the charity shops. There’s the designer Red Cross shop where you can buy Stella McCartney or Gucci for £150. Or the fabulous vintage on offer at the Royal Trinity Hospice shop; where I bought a couple of vintage jackets, a dress and skirt for upcycling, both pure silk for £20. There’s two Oxfam Shops and the Octavia Foundation shop where I bought a few staples and the waistcoat I’m wearing in the photo below, upcycled with denim. More on this in the New Year.


I been upcycling, as always! I’m in the process of transforming a denim skirt into a pair of culottes. I upcycled a velvet waistcoat for my visit to the Kings Road. And I’m hoping to update a 70s dress into a long asymmetric dress for a New Years Eve party in Edinburgh.


Katy & I did a Wardrobe Re-style for the lovely Sharon Whyte. Sharon totally embraced the idea of restyling what you already have in your wardrobe, finding new outfit combinations and clearing some items that just weren’t working and were cluttering her wardrobe and her mind when she came to deciding what to wear every day.


I wrote my first published article for the December newsletter issued by Sustainable Wantage; The contradiction of a commercial Christmas has bothered me for years so I’ve shared some ideas for upcycled, secondhand or locally sourced gifts. I’m posting some pictures on the blog, Instagram and Facebook of my finds using #sustainablechristmas.

So what’s ahead in 2017 …. I’m taking a Level 3 AET course in adult education, thanks to the support of The Mix and Abingdon & Witney College. The Mix have booked another 4 session Re-fashion Workshop course, as well some single day events for 2017, check out their website for dates; I’m also in the process of updating my blog layout and hoping to get some experience of fashion photography. I will be upcycling, of course and sharing some secondhand treasures. I’ll be posting some brand research on Dr Martens and a belt made from reclaimed fire hoses by Elvis & Kresse.

upcycling shoulder pads – vintage jacket


I love this vintage jacket I bought in a charity shop in Summertown in Oxford … classic, beautiful style. However, as much as I love a bit of vintage design, the shoulder pads were too much. I really wanted to retain the rounded look at the shoulders but reduce the size of them. I now have a very wearable jacket that retains the gorgeous spirit of the original garment.

Recently H&M collaborated with London College of Fashion students on a sustainable collection for London Fashion Week. One of the comments raised on Facebook was the issue of how scalable upcycling as a design technique is and it’s a big challenge for ethical fashion. In many cases of upcycling, designs are one-off bespoke pieces involving such time consuming alterations that they would not be profitable. Those are the ones I do just for the love of it, such as my brown dress in my last post. However, I believe this is exactly the type of upcycling technique that could be scaled profitably. A professional seamstress could make this type of alteration to a jacket in a couple of hours, keeping these garments in the retail pool. What’s more, these are exactly the garments that end up in landfill because they are not stylish or useful as they are.

Even better, if you fancy a go at upcycling this is a good technique to learn because it can be repeated. Learn some new skills or brush up your old ones and have a go, then you have a made-to-measure version that fits you perfectly. And once you have done one, you can scout the charity shops for more jackets to alter. Jackets are a great buy second hand .. bought new, they tend to be pricey; they are not a heavy wear item of clothing so they retain good condition and they are often made of 100% wool so they represent great value for money.

Here’s how I altered mine ….


shoulder bulk.1

leather trim.1

One sign of a good quality garment is proper pattern matching so I was determined to make sure I matched this one, to stay true to it’s Fortnum & Mason routes … and because it just looks better!

pattern match.1

So, there you have it, a scalable upcycle!  Tailoring is not for the fainthearted but it’s really satisfying and a useful technique to conquer. If you do have a go yourself, please share some pictures, you could post them on my 1134SewingClub Facebook page or email to

vintage upcycle for London Fashion Weekend

brown vintage before & after

I was really pleased with the final result of this upcycle and I really enjoyed wearing the dress for my visit to #LFWEND and the V&A. It was my perfect combination of comfort, style and individuality.

Recently I have been reflecting on past posts and how I present information on my blog. I’m also teaching a Re-fashion Workshop which started on Saturday. I took along some finished upcycling projects and explained my design process, what I had liked about the original garment and how I had changed it. I then handed out some design templates, scribbled and talked the students through how I came to the design decisions that I had for a couple of my designs. Everyone enjoyed sharing ideas, bouncing off each other and getting to know the design process. So I thought I would try and introduce the design element to my blog posts.

This dress was a full deconstruction and re-make. It was a 1970s dress in a really good quality cotton, I loved the print and the full length of the dress but it was too small. When I buy a garment for upcycling, sometimes I have a clear idea of what I am going to do with it but more often, I will spot elements of the original that I like and work with those to come up with a final design. So usually, I put the original on the stand and pick out the original design details I like ….. these are the elements I want to keep in some way. I like to update a garment but it’s important to me that it echoes the original, particularly if it’s a vintage garment.

brown vintage - ODD

Working with the original design details, I have a browse of a few magazines and check out any trends I like that are complementary to the garment. If it’s a vintage piece, I’ll do some research online or have a browse through some good old-fashioned books! I will then come up with some upcycle design ideas. I loved that long, front, flat panel and thought it would look cool as the back of the dress. The zip then gives the new design an on-trend deep v-front, the metal zip reminding us of the age of the piece as you don’t see metal zips like these so much now.

brown vintage -UDI.1


Next, I try and work out how to realise my design, sometimes it’s straightforward but often, it’s just a case of diving in with a few ideas and figuring it out as I go along. Of course, that means it doesn’t always work out as planned but sometimes it’s better than I’m expecting. But that’s upcycling and that’s why I love it!

brown vintage - DR.rev1BV-deconstruction

Upcycling tip – when cutting new pattern pieces for reconstructing, its a good idea to use a garment that you already have to decide about the shape, fit, style and alterations required.

BV - insert panels


The front of a garment is cut quite differently to the back, particularly in ladies clothes so turning a bodice around is not straightforward. It’s invaluable to have a dress form that is the right size and shape for you in order to get a correct fit …. or a good friend who will adjust it whilst you model it.

shaping bodice.rev1


neckline shaping

BV- neckline facing

H&M have recently collaborated with London College of Fashion, supporting students to produce an upcycled collection during London Fashion Week. Fashion Revolution founder Orsola de Castro commented that upcycling should be taught as a design technique. It is great news that a big retailer, for all it’s faults, is embracing the idea and collaborating with the designers of tomorrow. Hopefully, this will lead to change.

On a personal level, by Upcycling, beautiful vintage garments can be brought back to life, textiles can be saved from the landfill pile and craft skills can be re-loved. And it is immensely satisfying to wear a garment you have made with your own hands.


am i fashion?


The two events I attended on Saturday raised all sorts of contradictions for me, serendipitous because it has started to answer one of the biggest questions I asked myself when I started this blog. The question of where my place in fashion is?

On reflection, the ticket prices were a bit of a give away, but the penny didn’t drop until my pennies, or more like pounds had dropped! London Fashion Weekend; tickets to a catwalk show, talk and entrance £46 and yet this really turned out to be a glorified invitation to shop. By contrast, a Virtual Futures event at the V&A was £Free, wisdom was shared and all I was invited to do was to take. I took inspiration, strength and wisdom to help make my big decision.

I love clothes, I always have but I don’t like shopping! I love magazines but the consumer driven, throw away culture makes me feel uncomfortable! I loved clothes as a teenager but I was never drawn into the fashion industry as a profession? I spent my 20s on and off diets trying to look like someone else. These are my little questions, things I can’t reconcile.

So I’ll try to answer some of them ….. I love clothes because they allow me to express something about myself, they are a communication about what makes me tick and they allow me to live my life. I read magazines because they display creativity, fashion for me is everyday art. I have great respect for the craft of making clothes and I like how fabric shapes, falls and flows. At the LFWEND talk, journalist Melanie Rickey said “Fashion is about selling clothes”. Certainly, in the recent TV programme Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, the magazine appeared ruthless in its pursuit of the big sell. Somehow this all makes me feel sad. And when a friend suggested I sell some of my upcycling, I found myself feeling defensive and possessive about my random collection of things.

On Saturday, The Saatchi Gallery was converted into a department store, rails of clothes and very big bags to put all your purchases in! We were squeezed into the catwalk show, it was exciting and tantalising …. until it actually started.



The presenter opened with a triumphant statement about the fashion industry being worth billions and how much she liked to throw out one seasons clothes to make room for a new wardrobe. Velvet, lace and florals were paraded as if they were a new thing; on very slim models looking miserable whilst she made jokes about why there were boys in the front row and that somehow fashion was the triumph of the girls (the guys hat says “Living the Dream!). I went on to the talk between fashion gals, Brix Smith-Start and Melanie Rickey where they giggled and chatted about whether they preferred Gucci or Chanel, a pedi or a manicure which was fun but felt a bit silly.


Melanie Rickey then made a quip about having been horrified to have reached a size 14 after she’d had her son. She did go on to share her fashion rule not to be guided by dress sizes, that retailers are unregulated and can put any size on the label, the decision was made on the grounds of marketing rather than measurements. True and an important point, but only an issue because the fashion industry promotes small sizes as the ideal. If fashion celebrated all shapes and sizes then retailers would be honest about sizes and we wouldn’t be bothered.


The event at the V&A felt very different. In the most splendid and beautiful setting, model and performance artist, Viktoria Modesta shared her story of triumph against adversity and the mood was one of celebration of differences. She said the problem is that there are some people who think we are all the same with a few exceptions when what we should be thinking is that we are all different. The fashion industry is so guilty of doing exactly that, assuming that women fall into a small number of size categories. When I asked her if she thought she had a role in encouraging young girls to be confident with their body image, she said that aside from any physical differences, fashion stores are full of clothes that don’t fit people for all sorts of reasons; long legs or big boobs both of which are, by many, considered assets. At the talk, Brix Smith-Start’s was bang on with her fashion rule … cut, colour, comfort. Yes! Knowing what cut suits you, choosing colours that bring you joy and wearing clothes that make you comfortable. That’s MY fashion. I’m hopeful that people like Viktoria Modesta will continue to break down barriers of fashion conformity and celebrate individuality.

So we come back to the question of expressing yourself …. if clothes speak for you, what do yours say?


I want my clothes to say that I am me, an individual who is happy with the way I look. I want my clothes to have respect for people, the environment, the craft of garment making and the quality of fabrics. Viktoria Modesta  also said “Everyone makes a choice about what they wear, even if they don’t choose to wear something different.” You are not invisible because you dress like everyone else, your clothes still express the choice you have made.


I looked up the dictionary definition of fashion and, for me, I find contradiction again.

Fashion; “a prevailing or popular style of dress”

Fashion; “to give a particular shape or form; to make”

So, when I think about the first definition, it’s about following a style and dressing like others. However, if I think about giving something a shape, that surely would be different for every person. If we were each given a lump of clay or a blank piece of paper and asked to make or draw something, every shape or drawing would be different? So why can’t magazines invite us to be ourselves rather than showing us how to look like the latest popular celebrity. I do like fashion trends because they remind me to change something or look at something in a different way and that keeps my wardrobe feeling fresh. But what excites me about clothes is finding a different way of interpreting a trend and looking different from everyone else.

And so, back to my big question ….? Leaving the V&A, I felt inspired, energised and positive. But LFWEND left me drained and empty. It seemed to me that Virtual Futures is all about “original thinking” and “looking at the future” through different eyes, LFWEND felt old and tired. And the body image thing, why do we do it to ourselves? I shared a video on Facebook (check out my page) called “Stay Beautiful: Ugly Truth In Beauty Magazines”. It says nothing we don’t already know but it illustrates very well the shocking truths about fashion magazines being largely advertisements using model images that represent only a small proportion of women, in some cases computer generated! There were some harsh comments on the original post about this being old news …. but if it’s old news then why do we still buy the magazines and long for a figure that is unachievable. It is ironic that since I accepted my shape the way it is, my weight has fluctuated far less than it did when I wanted to look different. Somehow, in that acceptance, I now exercise for other reasons of health and wellbeing and the by-product is that, apart from my shape changing after having children, I look better than I did then. I’m not saying we should give up trying to look our best. Viktoria Modesta is beautiful, she’s a model and in many ways conforms to our perception of beauty BUT she stares us in the face and says look at how I am different. The fashion industry promotes a repeated image and calls for us to confirm to a particular size and shape.


When recycle actually means downcycle, then upcycle instead


Phew that was a busy, hot, wonderful summer full of fun and festivals, camping and campfires, stories and sunshine, fruit picking and friends, kids and kayaks, beaches and buddies, swimming and of course, sewing … can I think of any more? Probably, but you get the gist. In July, I ventured into the world of Facebook live with some video reviews and a rummage of my own wardrobe. I held two events at local charity shops, with a bit more Facebook live. August began with my event at the Pewsey Music Festival where I met lots of wonderful people excited about upcycling. Then I had a few weeks break from blogging and sewing. September is here, the kids are all back at school and I’m itching to get back to some projects.

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now and I’ve done lots of different things, I feel I have left a few threads unfinished. I also have some ideas for new projects. So, having had a break, I think it’s a good time to take stock and have a look ahead.  I want to reflect on what has worked well, what I’ve enjoyed and invite some feedback so that I can figure out my next steps.

I’m anticipating a random few weeks, I have a couple of events in the diary to prepare for but otherwise I’m planning to tie up those loose threads and catch up on blog posts awaiting.

Next in the diary, some high fashion ….



I’m off to London Fashion Weekend on 24th September, so I want to upcycle something to wear. I have a gorgeous vintage dress I’m going to upcycle, which picks up this seasons winter florals trend. I’ll post some progress photos on Instagram and Facebook in the coming week.

When RECYCLE actually means DOWN-CYCLE


This week H&M are promoting once again, their Recycle initiative where you can get a voucher for handing in unwanted clothes. Don’t be fooled into buying more under the illusion that they can recycle unwanted textiles. There are still very few textiles that can be turned into new ones, the processes just don’t exist. If retailers truly wanted to support sustainability, they would encourage consumers to buy better quality and keep clothes for longer … but where’s the profit in that? H&M are however, one of the best of a bad bunch on the high street when it comes to ethics;  they rate as one of the highest when it comes to work practices and the environment and they are at least doing something to encourage awareness of the issues. But a voucher system where people can trade old for new, when there is no way to recycle the old is only adding to the worlds massive pile of unwanted clothes and encouraging people to buy more. That’s not upcycling or recycling .. it’s DOWNCYCLING! 

UPCYCLE instead

With that in mind, here’s a project that will hopefully inspire you to take a left turn to the charity shop rather than the high street. I bought this skirt earlier in the year from The Shaw Trust charity shop in Wantage for £4.50. I love the 70s style and detailing but the waist was too small for me. 


A trusty selfie and I decided I’d shorten the skirt and use the cut-off fabric for a waistband. I like the stitching and buttons at the top of the skirt so I didn’t want to take anything off at the waist.

IMG_1274I unpicked and removed the waistband. It was a vintage M&S, cotton/linen blend so it was well made of good quality natural fibres so it was easy to take apart and good fabric to work with.


The skirt had a couple of darts and a pleat at each side, I figured I could take out without losing the style. I also opened up the side seams a little and added an insert to give the extra room I needed at the waist, which I topstitched to match the stitching detail already on the skirt.

I like the deep, flat-fronted top section of the skirt so I went for a deep waistband to balance it out. I only had enough cut-off fabric to make one length of waist band so I used an old cotton top for a contrasting inside facing band. I also liked the four buttons stacked at the front opening so I added two more to continue the design. The deep waistband and shorter length gives the skirt a fuller shape but taking the extra pleat and gather out makes it more flattering at the waist so I was pleased with the finished skirt.



Have a go yourself 

Your favourite skirt that no longer fits need not be given away or discarded onto the landfill pile. Have a go at altering it yourself. If you are new to sewing, there are loads of video tutorials on YouTube. Taking a garment apart is a great way to learn how they are put together, so buy one from a charity shop and have a practice before taking apart your own treasured piece.  If you live near Wantage I’m holding some upcycling classes at The Mix starting in October. The course is not a sewing course and it’s not about producing a perfectly sewn garment, it is about exploring what can be done to re-fashion existing garments. I’m aiming to encourage people to restyle and upcycle secondhand garments rather than buying new. Email me for more information or contact The Mix to book.

Re-fashion Workshop