Outer Child – Making Teddybears

clone tag: 6359999614990745609‘Uncanny’ is best translated as strange or mysterious, difficult or impossible to explain. As children, we have a natural affinity for teddybears and, even though they are in no way human-looking, we imbue them, in our childish imagination, with personalities. As we grow into adults we stop playing with our teddybears, but one or two of them stay with us, moving from house to house, from bedroom perhaps to study, as our lives go on. Julia Cameron tells us to keep a totem in our workspaces – a stuffed animal or a wind-up toy – to fuel our childish creativity.

When my first niece was born, I made her a teddybear. I had never made a teddybear before and the process was genuinely unsettling. I cut the pieces out of fur and stitched them together,  then I used screws and cardboard discs to attach the limbs to the body. And, all the time, I was thinking, ‘This looks nothing like a teddybear, this is never going to work!’ It is so strange how something that isn’t real, still has such a specific look and shape that anything that differs, ever so slightly, seems completely wrong. Even when I stuffed the head, body and limbs I was thinking, ‘This still doesn’t look right,’ and it wasn’t until eyes, ears and nose were in place that the teddybear looked as it should.


I’ve made three teddybears so far – as soon as people hear you’re making them, the orders come in. And, with each new teddy, I’ve gotten faster at the making but, still, there’s that uncanny moment when I wonder, ‘Is this right?’IMG_20170612_163059

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Downsizing Cords

A while back I posted about upsizing jeans, adding an inch on either side to make them bigger. Last weekend, I altered a pair of my husband’s corduroys to make them smaller.

My husband decided to clear out his wardrobe. I have written on this blog, many times, about the importance of a cleared-out wardrobe; how cathartic it can be, how important it is not to hold onto things if you never wear them. But my husband was so ruthless with his clothes that he made me look like a hoarder. He was so thorough that I worried he wouldn’t have anything left to wear. So I tried to show some restraint myself, and only saved one thing from the charity shop bag: a pair of navy corduroy trousers.

Of course, they were far too big and Sunday afternoon was spent making them fit. First, I had to think about how I wanted them to fit. Corduroy is a thick, heavy, material and works best, I think, with more masculine cuts – so I decided to keep the legs straight rather than narrow-fitting. Secondly, I had to decide where I wanted them to sit on my waist. I know that high-waisted is fashionable at the moment but I don’t think it suits me and I don’t find it particularly comfortable, so I decided that they would sit on my hips. That meant that the crotch was going to be quite low because I didn’t want to make the alterations too complicated, but that was in keeping with the masculine style that I was going for.

cutting away the excessThe first thing I did was unpick the waistband at the back and sides, keeping it attached at the front because I didn’t want to make any changes to the flies. I unpicked the hems on the trouser legs too. Then I used safety pins to take the trousers in an inch on both sides from the top of the trousers all the way down the leg to the bottom. I tried them on a few times, altering the safety pins slightly to give the trousers a bit of a curve around my hips. Then I ran two rows of stitches down the legs to make sure that the new seam would be secure.

I don’t have an overlocker and the material was too thick to french seam, so I used pinking shears to cut away the excess fabric to avoid it fraying. I re-hemmed the trouser legs. When I reattached the waistband, I made a new seam in the centre back so that I could take out the excess fabric.

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Caring for Clothes #1 – Coat Hangers

Jackets are my favourite item of clothing. One day, I hope to amass a collection of jackets from all my favourite designers – Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen… But, until I have the disposable income, I’m happy to make jackets for myself.

Recently, I made a Bouclé jacket à la Chanel. I found some really fun fabric and, inspired by more recent Karl Lagerfeld designs, I made this:

Boucle jacket

I have quite narrow shoulders and I noticed that the sleeves on my jackets were being pushed out of shape by too-wide coat hangers. I was so pleased with my new Bouclé jacket that I didn’t want to ruin it by putting it on a dodgy coat hanger, so I decided to make my own.

A quick search online showed me that nobody else had experienced the same problem. Or, if they had, they hadn’t blogged about it. So I decided to experiment. I took a metal coat hanger and bent in the sides, making it fit my narrow shoulders.

I cut up an old pair of jogging bottoms and used them as padding, winding them around the coat hanger and stitching them in place.

Then I chose an outer fabric, in cotton, to decorate the coat hanger and wrapped strips of fabric around the hook.

I have made three so far, for my Bouclé jacket, my Musketeer jacket, and a jacket which I bought from Boden.

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angès b. – taking inspiration from the greats

agnes b jacketI once asked my dad what ‘smart casual’ was and he said, without hesitation, ‘agnès b.’

I’ve just bought the book ‘agnès b. styliste’ – a beautiful collection of stories and photographs about this wonderful label and the fabulous woman behind it. I have a black jacket in my wardrobe that’s over twenty years old and faded from all the wear and love it’s had from my mum and me, but it’s the jacket that fits me best and the garment that gives me instant reassurance as soon as I put it on.

There’s no agnès b. in Sydney but, inspired by the book, I decided to make my own ‘snap cardigan’ – a simple, round-neck cardigan with a row of snap-fasteners down the front. Agnès designed this cardigan in the 1970s and it’s still selling today.

I used a cardigan that I already had as a pattern. I cut around the back, front and sleeves with a 2 inch border because I wanted this new cardigan to be less fitted. I considered adding ribbing to the bottom of the cardigan and along the opening, but it made the knitted cotton bag a little. Instead, I added facing made of the same knitted cotton to the bottom and sides to make neat hems, and just used the ribbing at the neckline and cuffs.

Then I had to add the snap fasteners, which turned out to be tricky! By the time I had edged the opening of the cardigan, I had two layers of fabric that the snap fasteners had to pierce through and it hurt my fingers trying to squash the pieces together. In the end, I got the hammer out and gave each fastener a whack, just to make sure they were secure.

I’m pretty pleased with the end result. It’s not as well-made as an agnès b., but it’ll do until my next trip to Europe.

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True to Size

H&M spring

This photo caused great merriment amongst my friends. A few days ago I went into H&M to try on a few things, and this dress look so awful on me that I had to document it.

Obviously, they didn’t have the dress in my size. It looks great in the advertising campaign, and I love the embroidered flowers – what I’m poking fun at is how badly it suited me. But it did get me thinking more about high street dress sizes. I had chosen four things to try on that day and they were all different sizes.

It’s very important to understand your own body shape. None of us are the same, and none of us should feel bad that we don’t fit into the specifications prescribed by fast fashion. I know that I will need to go down a size if I’m trying on a dress that has a fitted bodice and waistline; if the dress is more of a shift, I will go up a size because my hips are slightly bigger. What we choose to wear will also be affected by our mood; there are those days when the only thing to wear is the biggest, baggiest jumper in existence.

Coachella for H&M

I didn’t buy the dress pictured above, but I did buy a black lace dress with a leotard to wear under it.

I had no intention of using the leotard, even when buying the dress. One of the fasteners in the gusset was busted, and I knew that I had a black jersey dress at home that would look better under the lace. But I really like the leotard’s low back and I wanted to find a use for it. It was the perfect thing to go with some jersey fabric that I had bought for a few dollars a while ago, which had been sitting on the top of my enormous pile of fabric, waiting to be used.

I cut a simple, A-line skirt from the fabric and stitched it to the waistline of the leotard. When I was happy with its position, I cut off the bottom of the leotard. I’m pleased that I’ve found a use for the leotard, which I had seen as just something that came with the dress I wanted to buy. I hate throwing anything away, which is why that pile of fabric in my sewing room is so large.

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Bringing back Peddle-Pushers

Spring has arrived and it’s hotting up in Sydney. It’s already 28oC on this glorious Sunday and it’s not yet 9am. I’m looking forward to some warmer weather, but I’m less ecstatic about the high UV warnings. Living in Australia, I battle daily with keeping cool and avoiding skin cancer. With this in mind, I’m bringing back peddle-pushers.

Does anybody even remember peddle-pushers? Very popular in the 90s and early 2000s. I had a trendy older cousin who gave me her cast-offs when I was 10 years old and I can still remember the excitement of trying on those patterned shirts and crop-tops and knee-length trousers. Growing up with brothers, it was wonderful to receive something that wasn’t ripped or that boxy boy-shape. My cousin’s clothes were pretty and fashionable.

When it got too hot last summer, I bought a pair of black beach-trousers to wear to work and sweltered through those recurring heatwaves. My manager looked at me pityingly and said that I could wear shorts, but all my shorts were ripped denim, and far to short to wear to the office. This time around I’m going to be well-prepared.

A few weeks ago I went into Topshop and got yet another pair of black jeans. I now have three pairs: one plain, one embroidered and now one pair chopped. I also took my scissors to a pair of jeans from Brandy Melville which I’ve had for a few years.

I’m leaving a raw hem on the black pair. I’m going to see how they wear for a few weeks, but if the fraying gets out of hand I’ll run a stop-stitch 1cm from the bottom. The blue jeans had a wider leg, so I have been able to re-use the bottom hem which is wide enough to sit just below my knee.

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Fabric Buckets

We went to Ikea on the weekend and bought the biggest shelving unit we could find. I call it our hobby chest, and about a third of it is taken up with my sewing and knitting paraphernalia. I made these fabric buckets to hold my knitting projects.


Here’s how to make a fabric bucket:

  1. Choose an outer fabric and a lining fabric and cut a circle out of each, and a rectangle with width that is equal to the circumference of the circle. The height of your lining rectangle should be double that of your outer fabric rectangle, so that you can make a border at the top.
  2. Pin the rectangle to the circle as follows:

3. Do the same with the lining pieces.

4. Slot the lining bucket into the outer bucket, fold the lining rectangle over the top of the outer rectangle and sew together:


Choose relatively thick fabrics for your buckets like denim, cotton twill or furnishing fabrics. You can even stitch metal rods inside to make the bucket stand up on its own. Three rods are best, evenly spaced around the edge. I haven’t used rods, but I find the buckets stand up nicely when they are stuffed with skeins of wool.

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Melbourne Fashion Week

One of the things I’ve missed since moving to Sydney is London Fashion Week. So, when I got wind of the dates of Fashion Week in Melbourne, I booked my flights! I had been warned how cold it can get in Melbourne so I went armed with my pink fur coat.

I went for three days and crammed in as much as possible. I went to the opening runway show, featuring designers from Victoria, and had the chance to chat to some newly-emerging designers about their business models for sustainable fashion.

RMIT fashion students’ final collections

Opening-night runway


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Coat to Jacket

I made this fur coat over a year ago but never wore it. Every now and then I would take it out of the wardrobe and try it on, but it looked so large and awkward that I would put it back again. I have 2 rules for wearing strange and outlandish clothes. The first rule is, wear it regardless – wear it with everything, all the time, and very soon it will become your favourite item. But my second rule is, if you still haven’t had the courage to wear something out of the house after a year, then alter it.

I love the process of sewing so much that I have a very large collection of clothes. And I tend to feel guilty if those clothes languish in my wardrobe unworn. Altering clothes can be scary because you run the risk of ruining a garment. But, as I took the scissors out of my sewing box, I reasoned that I wasn’t wearing the coat anyway, so it was worth the attempt.

The first thing I did was cut the bottom half off, so that the coat became a jacket. Then I added a dart in the back to nip in the waist because a neater, fitted finish worked better with the new length.

I wore it out for the first time last night. At first, I felt a little silly, standing at the bus-stop in a yeti costume. But, after a lovely dinner and a walk around Sydney Vivid’s light displays I started to feel more comfortable. Back to the first rule: wear anything with confidence and it will look stylish. Plus, it was a cold evening and faux fur is super warm!

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Film Review – Berlin Syndrome

Berlin Syndrome is the story of Clare, an Australian back-packer visiting Berlin, whose romantic encounter with Andi very quickly turns into a nightmare.

A lot of the criticism for this film has centred on the opinion that the female protagonist’s actions are unbelievable. ‘Women travelling alone are supposed to follow certain rules,’ runs the first line of one review. I take issue with this argument on two grounds: firstly, it’s fiction and if the protagonist did nothing then there wouldn’t be a story. Besides, one look at Max Riemelt and, wouldn’t we all go? But, more importantly, isn’t it disturbing that society has such a strict, moral conduct code for women?

On Wednesday evening I went to a talk at UNSW: ‘What’s Feminism got to do with it?’ and sat for an hour entranced by Roxane Gay, fantastic writer and self-styled ‘bad feminist’. Never has there been another movement more self-criticising than feminism, she pointed out. She said a lot of great things, but I was particularly struck by her comments on sexual abuse. If a woman comes forward seeking justice, she is barraged by questions, mostly about what she did and what she should have done.

Berlin Syndrome has echoes of Bluebeard. From the male protagonist’s point of view, the woman does something wrong, she ‘takes the bait’, and must be punished for it. We can watch this film (or read this book) and understand that this is not normal behaviour. But, what makes this story so captivating, is the possibility that Clare is just as messed up as Andi. It’s a disturbing thought, and it’s not for everybody. Which is why three people walked out of the cinema in the first thirty minutes.

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