The Girls’ Guide to Homemaking

29 Aug

There is no better way to spend a bank holiday Monday than with a good novel. And if the novel also happens to be full of crafting inspiration, then what’s not to love?

Now I know that chicklit is far from everyone’s cup of tea and the cover of this – The Girls’ Guide to Homemaking – does make it seem like it’s going be pure (and therefore unbearable) sweetness and light throughout. But I was happily surprised, there’s a good plot, a likeable main character with a not-so-happy background and a passion for making retro aprons using her grandmothers’ books from the 1950s, and Amy Bratley does have a rather clever writing style with more linguistic twists and turns than your usual chicklit author.


finding space…

28 Aug

Some people are addicted to storage solutions. I might be one of them, or it might just be that I NEED to be addicted to good storage when my flat is rather small and certainly not big enough to happily double as a crafting workshop. It took me a while to realise that my boy-o was actually rather annoyed that we could never eat at the dining table because the sewing machine and all of its many accoutrements lived there. Now that I have realised that this could be a little irritating, I’m trying to find ways to incorporate my sewing equipment into the living space without it looking untidy or unwieldy…

I found this wonderful cake stand in a charity shop for £3.50 (I know! BARGAIN!) and after deciding that it was highly unlikely that it would ever contain actual cakes (unless I have another Marie Antoinette party), I thought it would look equally pretty if I filled it with my threads and tape measure and other bits and bobs. I think it looks good in the middle of the table, and doesn’t take up any more space than a vase of flowers would, and I don’t see anybody complaining about flowers!

Tell me, do you have any clever storage solutions for your crafty stuff? I’d love to borrow a few ideas – especially when it comes to storing fabric. I’ve been stashing it in my wardrobe and it’s starting to grate…

Craft Politics

22 Aug

I didn’t start crafting in order to ask deep questions… I just wanted to make things. Or so I thought.

More and more, the big questions underlying domestic craft are taking me over. The history, the sociology, the politics of craft are drawing me in while my sewing machine gathers dust in the corner. Why? Well, I guess I’m a student at heart, and even sewing a seam comes with a fervent desire to weave a theoretical backdrop for what I’m doing.

And why am I doing it? What’s the real reason behind the crafting ‘renaissance’ of the last 5-10 years, and why have so many women (for it is mostly women) re-engaged with domestic life in this way? Is it a move away from feminism, or as I would hope, a move towards it? Is it a way of reclaiming ‘home life’ without becoming trapped in stereotypical expectations?  Is it less about gender, and more a comment on the state of capitalism? Is it a way of combining commerce and community?

Interest in these issues does seem to be growing. There was, for example, an exhibition at the Women’s Library last year (Handmade Tales) that focused on the role of crafting in definitions of womanhood, past and present.

But what about the crafters themselves? How do you see your wonderful projects of making and remaking clothes, interiors, gifts and more? Do you ever ask the big questions about what you’re doing, and if so, what conclusions have you come to?

inspired by Dora Damage

18 Aug

I have just finished reading one of my all-time favourite books: The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling.


A-mazing. I hated it for ending – I wanted to live with Dora Damage for the rest of my life!

Mrs Damage is the wife of a Victorian bookbinder who becomes too ill to work. When Dora takes over the business she enters a murky and seedy world, binding books that she’d rather not have to look at.

One of the novel’s most fascinating themes is the relationship between the world of commercial and public work, and the work of the home – the skills of a domestic life. When the Damages are too poor to afford leather to bind their books, they use the silks from Dora’s dresses instead, which are carefully embroidered by Dora. Domestic crafts, traditionally the domain of the woman, are used to save the family business.

The book has me thinking a lot more about the history of the crafts I engage in, and the potential they have carried, past and present, as much more than ways to pass the time. They might be a method of self-expression when writing is inaccessible… a way to store and encode the secrets of the heart when privacy is scarce… a way to make a living…  For every person that engages with these crafts or has engaged with them in the past, there is a different story.

I really would love to know more about the history of different crafts. If you have any books, websites, exhibitions in mind – please do let me know! I’m hoping to write quite a bit about this in the coming weeks. In fact, I may well turn September into my Craft History month.

Sashimi pays her way…

11 Aug

Some of you will have met my dress model before – if not, her name’s Sashimi and she came into my life one happy Saturday when I was strolling around in Angel, London. I’ve never used a dress model before, but I was really excited at the idea of using one since I hate patterns. Here are some of the things I’ve been using Sashimi to make recently…

At the moment I’m pinning together a super slinky halter neck top in a kind of stretch velvet in navy blue that I found remnants of in my local junk shop. As you can see from the picture below, it will require a rather daring mood – but I’ve worn tops of this kind before and  since I’m on the petite side, I found them to be really flattering, especially this kind of softly plunging neckline, so I went with what I thought would work.

I also made this cool little dress. It was originally this maxi dress that I got in a cheapo shop for just £3. I had to have it since I thought the material alone was worth that, but the dress was very poorly designed (for £3, not a surprise) and it was put together very strangely. After a couple of years of sitting in my projects drawer, I’ve finally had a moment and more importantly, the resources (I don’t think I could’ve done the re-style without a dress model to be honest) to get it changed into something I might actually wear!

the world in miniature

8 Aug

My sister Amal is a genius doll-maker, and I don’t use the word ‘genius’ lightly. Her dolls are beautiful – at the moment her shop is unstocked (the creatures take a long time to make) but if you take a look at her past sales, you’ll see what I mean. They’re resin ball-jointed dolls, about 9″ tall – very different to what you might have in mind when you think of the word ‘doll’.

To celebrate her birthday, I’ve been having a go at making some mini cushions for these dolls. It’s good timing, since Amal’s just bought a range of chairs for her dolls, and no chair is complete without a cushion!

I hope she likes them! They’re stuffed with cotton wool, and machine-sewed, except for the top edge which I’ve sewn with the tiniest stitches I could manage. I would love to make more of these as they are really cute, but I’m going to wait to see whether the dolls are fans or not – or whether they’d like to see some changes made!

hello sewing machine, it’s been a while

7 Aug

I’ve finally finished my temporary teaching work, which means I can get back to the psychology phd (which has been hideously neglected so far this summer) and also to crafting. How wonderful. This means, I hope, stepping up the frequency of not just making things, but also of writing about them.

I’m off to a good start at least. I’ve been busy sewing quite a few cushions stuffed with old fabric scraps. This is a wonderful way to not just use up the odd bits and pieces, but also to clear out all the unwanted clutter from your sewing corner. Suddenly I have so much more space now that I’ve made use of the scraps I’ve been stuffing into plastic bags.

These lovely little russian dolls started off life as a coaster from Accessorize given to me by one of my closest friends for Christmas (it was a Russian themed Xmas party). But it makes such a fantastic stencil, I’ve been using it over and over again. It’s not just good on fabric (using fabric paint), it also works well if you want to make fancy wrapping paper from brown paper and normal spray paint.

And ta da, next up are those speech mark cushions that featured a while a go on here but as cushion covers. After a couple of weeks of trialling them as cushion covers, I realised that my envelope backs were not going to be a good enough design to stop them from slipping off the cushion and looking a little messy, so I turned them into smaller, stuffed cushions instead. Much better.

I’ve now rectified my envelope back design (two overlapping pieces of backing fabric, rather than simply a flap to feed into the back of the cushion) so they’re a lot neater, and these cushion covers were made in the new way. I’m in love with this floral print – its one of the ones I found in my local junk shop, but I think it’s really charming. I’d love to know more about where it came from – it looks a little 80s to me, especially when I pair it with the black and purple stripe down the middle.


Ah, it does feel good to be back to making things and taking pics and showing them to all of you. It will also be really nice to get back to reading my favourite blogs – most of them crafty, some of them quite random (baggage reclaim in particular, a friend showed it to me as a joke, but I’m completely hooked!). One thing I’m afraid I’m not so looking forward to is getting back to the whole Etsy side of things. I have to say that as the site just gets bigger and bigger, I’m feeling more and more lost on it, and less and less inspired. It’s probably just me, but it does seem like selling things face to face would be a lot more rewarding. Maybe it’s time to organise a local craft fair!