Making a shirt more wearable

I’ve been sewing this week.

Fold-back cuffI have a paisley-patterned shirt that I like a lot, but now that I seldom wear a suit for work I find I’m just not picking it from the shirt stack in my wardrobe. Why? It’s the cuffs.

They are the double, fold-back type which work fine with a jacket, but are just too bulky under a sweater. Time to do something about them so I can get more wear out of this top.

Cutting line on cuffI started by drawing a cutting line across each cuff with tailor’s chalk.

I placed it such that, allowing for a ½” seam allowance, the buttons and buttonholes would be more or less in the middle of the new, single cuff.

Next I unpicked the topstitching before cutting along the line, to give me long ends of thread that I could finish off neatly and securely.

Trimmed cuffAll I had to do then was turn under the raw edges to the inside by half an inch, tack each cuff and its facing together, slipstitch that seam and fill in the gap in the topstitching.

Tacked cuffNow I have a much more wearable shirt. I can pop even fine knitwear over it without worrying I’m going to stretch the woollen cuffs or look like I have strangely bulky wrists.

Finished cuffThis has started me thinking about other little-worn garments I own that would benefit from a minor makeover. For a start, there’s a black velvet jacket with unfashionably puffed shoulders, but the light at this time of year is not the greatest for working on black velvet. That one may have to wait until Spring.

While I had the sewing machine out, I ran up a couple more bags for washing delicates, using the last of my netting.

Lingerie bagsThese are ideal for ensuring my hand-knitted socks don’t get mangled in the washing machine. I’m going to buy another metre of netting and make a few more bags as Christmas stocking fillers for the females in my family.

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Creating a window seat

Dreambird after 15 feathersI have my nose to the knitting grindstone at the moment, trying to get my Dreambird shawl finished in time for the Christmas party season. I am now 15 feathers in, with probably 5, maximum 6, to go.  I plan to have it done by the end of next week. I just need to avoid making any mistakes that involve ripping out a whole feather back to the last lifeline. To tell the truth, I’m becoming very bored with this project. Repeating the same 70 rows twenty-odd times is a chore that is only slightly alleviated by watching the different colours appear.

While I am devoting all spare moments to Dreambird, my dear husband has been making a window seat. We had to buy the timber needed to make the internal framework, but everything else was left over from the new oak floor.  Even the MDF “lids” on top of the storage spaces were cut from the template our joiner used to shape the piece of solid oak that forms the top step in the split-level floor. Here are the before, during and after photos.


Yes, it does look skew, but I can assure you that both the floor and the seat itself are perfectly horizontal. The trouble is that this old house has virtually no right angles in it, it’s the window itself that’s on the slant.  When the window seat is in use we’ll disguise the fact that it isn’t parallel to the windowcill by placing a few scatter cushions along the back.

All that’s left to do now is make seat cushions to go on top of the MDF panels. I’m not in any great hurry, because I don’t imagine that anyone is going to want to sit in a bay window in the depths of winter. Next spring and summer it will come into its own though, because the window faces due south and has a view over the lawn and flower beds. I have ordered some cut-to-size foam and made a visit to Bond’s for piping cord and long zips, but I still need to find the right fabric. That will have to wait until the Dreambird marathon is over.

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Harrogate show

I’ve had a day out at the Knitting and Stitching Show which is held in Harrogate every November. For once I didn’t buy anything – I’m on a yarn diet – I just had a good look round, chatted to lots of people, bumped into a few friends and acquaintances and feasted my eyes on the wonderful displays of craftwork in the textile galleries. I was looking out for fabric to make seat cushions for our new window seat, but the show’s fabric stalls were focused on dressmakers’ and quilters’ needs rather than furnishing fabric.  (More about the window seat next time.)

One of the first things visitors to the show saw on walking through the main entrance was this wall of woolly animals made from Toft’s natural fibre yarns. I bet they felt as good as they looked, but touching this fabulous display would probably not have been welcomed.

Toft wall of woolly animalsI had a play at freehand machine embroidery on the Brother stand and couldn’t believe how easy it is on a modern sewing machine. I didn’t even need to use an embroidery hoop, just a horseshoe-shaped device with a grippy underside that Brother call a free motion guide grip. You simply hold it at each side and push down lightly to keep the fabric/wadding sandwich taut while sliding it around under the foot. When you’ve filled the horseshoe with stippling, motifs or whatever, all you need do is pause the machine for a moment while you slide a fresh area under the needle and relocate the horseshoe device around it. I’m not ready to replace my trusty Bernina yet, but when I do Brother will definitely be on my shortlist.

Away from the show, I’m continuing to knit the Dreambird shawl. About half the weight of the Crazy Zauberball has been used up and I’m 10 feathers in, so I reckon I’m half way. I was hoping to be wearing this in time for a few pre-Christmas outings, but at this rate it’ll be New Year before it’s done.

Dreambird halfway there

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Wooden pipe collars

The thing I am most pleased with from last week’s crafting and DIY efforts is a simple piece of woodwork that has finished off our new oak floor. With help from my dear husband, I have made half a dozen oak collars to cover the gaps around the radiator pipes.

Oak pipe collar in situPlastic pipe collarWhen laying a wooden floor, the hole for each pipe needs to be generously sized to allow for any movement, and a wedge shape has to be cut in the board from its edge to the hole. The result can look a bit messy and the usual solution is to fit a so-called pipe collar. This is one of the plastic horrors that our floor fitter left us with. (To be fair, we did agree with him that we would source some oak collars at a later date, the plastic ones were only intended as a temporary solution.)

A friend's oak pipe collarOnce we started looking for replacements we discovered that for some reason the hardwood ones tend to be quite chunky and obtrusive, like this one I snapped at a friend’s house. They are made from two pieces of wood and the join is usually quite obvious because the grain doesn’t match. Also, the flooring manufacturers do not, in general, make matching radiator collars, just a generic oak in a light or dark finish. I wanted something better. We have lots of short lengths of the engineered boards used for the new floor, each with a 6mm (¼”) oak veneer, and we starting thinking that maybe we could make our own slim collars that would then be a good match for the colour and grain of the floor.

The obvious way to make something circular like this is to use a lathe, but (more’s the pity) we don’t have one. After a little experimentation we came up with a method that works and requires only a drill with a spade bit (to cut the central hole for the pipe in the face of an offcut of board, to just below the veneer layer) and a hole-cutter (to cut out a plug, centring the drill bit in the plywood layer), plus a router (to remove the plywood from the back of the board, leaving just the oak). After a little tidying up by hand with a chisel and sanding with progressively finer paper, this is the result.

2 oak pipe collars, unfinishedHow, you may be wondering, do you get such a collar around a radiator pipe, without removing the valve? This is the clever bit. A 6mm thick disk will snap easily along the grain if you place it over something like the shaft of a screwdriver and press down hard on each side.

Breaking a pipe collarThe break will be fairly straight, but not a perfect line. So when you stick it back together around the pipe, it will hardly be noticeable. And a 6mm joint is thick enough to hold when it’s glued, especially in a situation like this where there’s no pressure at all on the joint.

After applying the same oiled finish as on the floor itself, these pipe collars blend in really well. They certainly look a lot better than plastic ones that aren’t even the right colour.

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A posh cat bed

Cat bed in use 1I’ve made the quilted cat bed I posted about last week. This is not for proper, night-time sleeps – our cat has a perfectly good basket in the kitchen – but for daytime snoozes in the sitting room. The hope is that he will stop sitting on the furniture, and that a posh, chintzy bed will be less of an embarrassment than hairy seating when we have visitors.

Half-way through this project, I began to have doubts. Firstly, why was I spending time and using the last of my precious Skopos quilted fabric on a pet bed that the cat might not deign to use? Secondly, it looked enormous. I’d cut a 17” diameter circle for the base, but even to the owner of a 6kg Maine Coon it seemed very big once I started assembling it.

I decided I’d better have a trial run. I clipped the main fabric pieces together and put the proto-bed on the floor in front of a radiator, wondering how on earth I was going to persuade the cat to get in it and lie down. I needn’t have worried. Within 2 minutes the cat had spotted his would-be bed, climbed in it, had a quick wash and then curled up to sleep. What is it about cats and circles on the floor? (Just Google “cat in circle” if you haven’t come across this phenomenon before.)

Cat bed testIt did look a little large, but once I’d stuffed the tube that forms the outer edge it seemed a better fit.

Cat bed in use 2I couldn’t find a way of assembling all the layers that would hide the raw edges of the circular seam joining the tubular side to the base. The base (quilted fabric plus two extra layers of wadding and a lining on the underside) was just too bulky to be turned inside out through a gap in the seam. And once I’d stuffed the tube, the whole thing was too bulky to get under my sewing machine again, which meant binding the raw edges wasn’t even possible unless I applied binding by hand. But the raw edges tuck neatly under the padded tube on the inside where they aren’t really visible.

Cat bed with linerI added a removable liner made from an old kitchen towel – it’s easily washable and keeps the base clean – and that covers the circular seam nicely and should stop dirt gathering under it.

All in all, this was quite a quick and easy project which used less than a metre of quilted fabric. (You just need a 17” diameter circle and a 10” wide strip long enough to go around it – I joined three shorter strips together.) It did take a surprising amount of polyester stuffing though.

Norwegian Fir update

I didn’t manage to find any denim-coloured buttons I liked for this baby cardi, so I’ve gone for a complete contrast, a cheerful, sunny yellow.

Norwegian Fir 6


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What to make with quilted fabric

Some years ago, a Yorkshire-based fabric printer and finisher called Skopos had a number of mill shops in which they sold ends-of-rolls of heavyweight cotton furnishing fabric very cheaply. I have curtains, cushions and loose covers I made in the late 1980s and early 1990s from those remnants; they are washed at least once a year and have held up at least as well as the Sandersons linen union (a cotton/linen blend) that I typically bought before I discovered Skopos.

I have no idea whether there is still a Skopos millshop anywhere – the durability of their fabrics means that they seldom need replacing – but I still have some unused quilted fabric that I must have bought over 20 years ago. I’ve made all sorts of things from it in the past, including table mats, toilet roll covers and hot water bottle covers.

Quilted HWB coverI dug out what was left the other day after a visit to a friend who works from home and subsists on microdoses of coffee that she brews in a small cafetiere. She has a very fine Orcadian felt muff for the larger cafetiere that she and her husband use after dinner, but she was complaining that she couldn’t find anything to fit the tiny one she takes into her office during the day.

Mini cafetiere cosy‘Nuff said. I don’t need much excuse to sew something simple. Once I got home, out came the Skopos quilted furnishing cotton and I soon rustled up a mini version of the cosies I’ve made in the past. It’s to fit a 22 cm circumference cafetiere, and unfortunately I don’t have one that small on which to model it, so here it is on something else instead.

These cosies are really simple to make, and I’ve posted about them before – see quilted covers. Here’s what the latest one looks like laid flat. It’s just a rectangle with a tab closed with Velcro.

Mini cafetiere cosyI still have quite a large piece of quilted fabric, and I think I’ll make a cat bed from it.

Skopos quilted fabricThe poor cat is not impressed with our new oak flooring, he’d clearly rather we still had a nice soft carpet downstairs. And the old carpet was conveniently cat-coloured. Now, the cat is taking every opportunity for daytime snoozes on our chairs, sofas and rugs, none of which is at all cat-coloured so I am constantly vacuuming up cat hair. With luck, that can be remedied with a comfy cat bed, and one made of Skopos’s exuberantly chintzy print will be presentable enough to leave on show in our sitting room.

Dreaming on

My Dreambird shawl is coming along nicely – no significant problems so far.

Dreambird shawl in progressI’m enjoying seeing how the Crazy Zauberball colours are coming out in the feathers. I expect no two will be quite the same.

Since this shawl is composed of repeated feather motifs, all of which are exactly the same, in theory it should be plain sailing once the first has been knitted. I wish. Even though I’ve simplified the instructions to remove the need for most of the counting, there is still a fair bit of counting involved. It’s quite easy to mis-count because of the large number of stitches, and I am forever being distracted and then finding I’m a stitch or several adrift at some point. But it will be worth the effort, I’m sure. It’s already looking pretty fabulous IMHO.

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