Sunday, 10 January 2016

I've been away for a while...

2014 and 2015 were pretty horrible years for me. Lots of reasons, but mainly because I live far away from my family and my father was ill, so I spent quite a bit of time travelling to the other side of the world to help out. For this reason, my blogging post had to take a back seat for quite a while, but, hopefully the start of 2016 will bring a renewed vigour and I will get my life back on track.

Not all was bad, though. In 2014, I bought a lovely wide format printer, and I have been plugging away at Illustrator and have produced a small range of patterns for knit fabrics. I've been selling them at our local knitting mill factory shop, and at craft fairs.

 I am tired of looking at garments which are mass produced, and are just tight tubes of knit fabric, which in my opinion, make you look like coloured sausages.

"Coloured sausages?" I hear you say.... Well, this is what I think about knits, and how they make you feel.

As I am now on the second half of my 6th decade, my body has changed quite a lot from when I was younger. There are deposits of cuddly bits in places I wish there weren't. I know this is natural, as much as I want them to go away, I have a feeling they are going to be around a long time!

Knit fabrics are so comfortable, they stretch and cover the body. Often, they feel just like a second skin. Woven fabrics never feel that way. If a woven garment is tight, you will know it for sure. A knit fabric will probably just stretch a bit more over the tight bits and you just don't notice the pounds packing on. Have a look in the mirror at your back view. You cant feel the tightness of the Knit top, but in the mirror, if you have a bit of excess cuddly stuff above your bra, it will show. And so will the other slightly wobbly bits! I do wonder whether the T shirt revolution is responsible for the obesity problem in the world.

However, knits are my fabric of choice, I don't think a day goes by without me putting on at least one knitted garment, be it a shirt or skirt, or both. I just love feeling comfortable in what I wear, so I wanted to take my pattern experience into a new area.

For a while I was doing some work with a 3d program, Optitex. You make up a pattern and then digitally sew it together and fit it onto an avatar. At the time, I did not know how to adjust the fabric qualities on the program, and so the patterns I produced fitted the model beautifully, draping over the body, rather than hugging the torso tightly. I printed off the pattern, measured myself, and cut a basic T shirt out. Sewed it up, and popped it on. The resulting garment was fitting, but not in any way tight. It covered my belly and swept over my hips, and I was, after accepting the fact it didn't fit as tightly as I was used to, that it did actually look a lot nicer than a normal T shirt!

I was hooked. Out went all the square, short tops in my wardrobe. I am now making myself new garments, longer than before, with lovely curvy sides. They feel lovely, and I think I look lovely in them too.

I have taken this basic shape and made a collection of garments for both Apple shaped people, like me, and Pear shaped people.  Apples and Pears was born, and I hope it will grow in the coming year.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


I'm nearly finished sewing...
I'm nearly at the end....
 Then things will start to go wrong! 
It drives me round the bend!

The garment is just perfect, 
I've really taken care,
All trimmed and pressed and lovely,
But I've looked everywhere....

Where is that flipping button? 
I only need one more.
I know I had the right number
When I bought them at the store.....

I've checked all round the table
I've searched all round the floor.
I am going crazy...
I can't take it any more!

I'll check under this fabric, 
clean up with my broom
Pick up all these threads and bits...
It MUST be in this room!

I think there is a goblin, 
Named Mr Sew-and-sew
He always hides the last thing
So I cant get up and go.

I sigh, and say, I'm tired!
I need to go to bed, 
But I just keep on searching
He's playing with my head.....

I'll just pick up this iron...
I hate that button thief!
Lo and behold, I see it!
It was hiding underneath!

Do you have a goblin,
Your Mr Sew-and-sew
Hiding in your sewing room?
I'd really love to know!

Friday, 4 April 2014

The day I nearly murdered a client

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a woman who sewed for people. She did this , because  she had two young children and she liked to be at home with them. Sometimes she made patterns for a factory, loads of track suit patterns, with lots of bright colors and flashy panels. All the grading for lots of sizes, all done by hand in hard cardboard. Oh well, it WAS the nineties! Not quite as bad as people say the eighties was, but the garments were a fashion travesty.

The woman, of course, was me. Johannesburg, 1994, I think.

That's the problem with being a freelance worker. You get some pretty awful stuff to make. Sometimes it can be good, sometimes very, very bad. 

 Sometimes I call myself a pattern making prostitute.... If you pay me, I will make it. I will say that whatever you want me to make is great! I am getting better at not doing that, but sometimes I still do.

I preferred making patterns to sewing. There is something so lovely in nice pattern board, and grading rules.... It's a bit like knitting. You know you are going to have to repeat the same thing over and over again in order to complete the task, but its regular, and calming in a way.  So organised and sensible. But was a lot of work and paper, Some of the patterns were so heavy when I finished them I battled to carry them to my car. Now its all done on computer. The trees will be happy about that.

Sewing, on the other hand, I absolutely hated. I didn't have my lovely Bernina at that time, just a little machine which chugged away and was great value. I had a nice old singer industrial overlocker which was awesome but a pain to thread. There's something so random about when the fabric, sewing machine and thread combine which is not good. Bad things occur and I go crazy. I get back ache and want to throw it all in the bin.

I had one client, an Indian Muslim lady.  The Muslim community have a lot of functions and it is important to be well dressed. No Hijabs were ever seen in South Africa back then. Head coverings, yes, but none of these....
I made some rather Over-The-Top garments for her in some alarming sparkly fabrics which broke needles and drove me crazy. One day she brought me some fabric, rather too little for her rather cuddly body size. The fabric cost $500 a metre.I used to feed my family for a whole month on that! It was narrow with a border on it and I had barely enough to go around her body. 
fancy sewing your way through this ?

 I squeezed a garment out for her, and she went away happy.
A few weeks later she called me, and said she wanted me to make another garment, out of the same material, unpick it and fashion something else "Because everyone had seen that dress and I want a new style" 

For probably the first time, I said..... NO. I'm pretty proud of that. No more sewing for THAT lady.

I was annoyed, but it wasn't as if I wanted to murder that one.


There was another woman who  came to me a few times for dressmaking. She had an unfortunate figure,with curvature of the spine. It was obviously very difficult for her to find anything that would fit her unusual shape. But she was so fussy! I made a trouser suit the first time, but it came back a few times for changes. 

Then I made another top for her. The fabric was slippery crepe de chine, polyester. Lovely.....yeah right!
On completing the garment, she came for a fitting. She was in fine form that day. She was standing in front of the mirror, being a bit fussy. I know I should have been understanding, she probably had very poor self esteem. Then she said it..... " the next time you make something for me could you use larger stitches so that I can unpick it when I get home"

I was stunned .I felt my hands rise up behind her back....

I wanted to strangle her right there, in my own bedroom. The urge was so strong I had to force myself  to put my hands down again and hold them behind my back!

Now, although I really hated her at that moment and almost did a terrible deed, out of that incident, I came away with a valuable lesson. Don't sew for people?? 
I wish that were so!

But the valuable thing I learnt is, 


My machine sets by default to a small stitch each time I turn it on and I wish it didn't. I always turn up the stitch length when I sew. At the moment I'm making a riding jacket (Not for me,again!) and I've unpicked the thing a couple of times already, and this is what reminded me of Mrs Fussy Customer.

I wonder who sews for her now?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Really good reasons why sewing is good for you

Our lives have changed so much since I was little. I think my mother made all my clothes apart from my shoes and socks! We did have some rather special store bought
 dresses which were gifts from a grandmother, but its the ones that my mother made that I remember the most. Nowadays clothing is so cheap,(and mostly from China,) that most people opt for the easy way, go buy it instead.... But I believe that making something for yourself or a loved one makes a difference. You are giving time and attention to produce something useful and (hopefully)beautiful. Somehow going out to the shops isn't quite the same.
LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF When I was about ten I started playing with the sewing machine and before very long was making clothes of my own.
I remember a cute little shift dress with orange ,black and white fabric and puffed sleeves, which I made as a school project. So very seventies!
Once I tried to make a pair of pink flannel pyjamas and got the legs and the body parts all wrong and my friends and I fell apart laughing at the strange sight of me in a very strange garment with a crotch depth of about a metre and two short legs. Lesson learnt!
Really bad mistake on making my pyjama pants!

My little pony dress, Juliet, aged 5
Picnic in the Cape,
 Evan wearing a Bart Simpson shirt and shorts
I made my prom dress, my wedding dress, my children's clothes.

A few shirts for my father, dresses for my mother,

My sisters wedding dress, (in fact there were two of those),
and all the bridesmaids dresses too. 

Curtains for a lot of houses we lived in.
I think that every time you make something, whether it is for yourself or someone else, you project a part of yourself into the garment.
A remake of an eighties pleated suit, made for Juliets 21st.

Don't you think that is really special?


Practice makes perfect.

 The more you sew, the better you become, simple.

Your confidence increases, and we all could do with a good dose of that.

 Learning a new technique is empowering.


When I lived in Durban I had a small business, called 'FASHION PASSION'. I had a small office on a fairly  busy street and I used to supply patterns to the CMT clothing factories. It was next to an old brothel, luckily they had moved out, but I did have a few strange fellows knocking on the door occasionally, but that's another story!

 I had a friend whose cousin was a stunt car driver who drove ridiculous trucks with huge wheels. I think he also moved to New Zealand, anyway he was about 6ft plus in height, and I made him a shocking pink and black jumpsuit with a strange Triangular Shoulder effect in black and pink stripes.(No photo, thank goodness!)

 When I think of it now.... Hideous! Well, it was the Eighties! It was made in awful polyester canvas fabric and I can't imagine how hot it must have been, Durban is punishingly hot and humid. I am surprised he is still alive... death by bad taste and overheating. Yes, it was ugly, and yes it was complicated to make, but I did it and it was fun doing it. 

Get out there...
 be creative. 
Try something new!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Who on earth sews on a HOLIDAY?

My mother's lovely old Necchi sewing machine

I am always making something. Actually most of the stuff I make isn't for me at all. Something I am trying to remedy!

 I have arrived at my parents house in the past, and been faced with a large roll of furnishing fabric, and a lounge suite. Dark Brown. Kinda velvety. Not my favourite but it was very forgiving fabric and I managed to do a good job with my mothers old Necchi sewing machine.
This machine has defined what I do in my life. Given to my mother before I was born, it was the first machine I ever used,at about eight years old, and the first thing I ever made were rolls and rolls of  crepe paper Christmas decorations.  Cut strips of the paper and place together with white on one side, red or green on the other. Sew all the way up the centre, then cut into the edges of the paper to form a fringe. Twist and stick up on the ceiling.  Ever so retro! They lasted for years and years. From then on the Necchi was my favourite thing. It has a book of patterns that you can produce by slotting a lot of cogs together. I was fascinated.

When my family left what was Rhodesia, and moved to the UK, I used to go to church jumble sales and buy things and rehash them. Good old Necchi sewed them up again. We lived there a year, and then we moved to South Africa, and I  wanted to study to become a physiotherapist. I really wanted to be a vet, but a very sexist male vet said girls were too weak to become vets.

I didn't get accepted. My Dad saw an advert in the paper, "Fashion Design as a Career" and so I did that instead. 

Clever Dad. He saw what I just couldn't see.

So, here I am, on holiday, using the same machine. (Now 56 years old!)

 She still purrs away, and if she wasn't so terribly heavy I would bring her home with me. She weighs 15kg!

So, this time, so far, I have sewn a new net curtain for my Dad's lounge window. The cat ripped the old one. I hate net curtains, but you know how oldies love them.....

Karen and Dad on her new section
My sister and her partner have bought a hill and they are going to develop an eco campsite in the Valley of 1000 hills, and will be living in a caravan for a while. For her birthday I re-upholstered the squabs, changing them from grotty smelly dirty brown floral fabric to more modern grey, and I'm halfway through doing the curtains. The caravan is a very mouldy smelling old seventies thing.  Curtains are in a knit fabric, a bit of an experiment, but material is already available, so that's what she wants to use. As Durban is so humid everything goes mouldy and smelly if things are closed up for long.

Valley of 1000 hills
CAT the cat enjoying her new cat blanket infused with catnip

These were her adorable kittens
The cat that has adopted my father is very sweet but I don't think she had much of a good time as a kitten. She was a stray that produced the most lovely kittens when my Mum passed away and she has stayed on with my Dad and is great company for him. I bought some catnip and have made her a few catnip mice and a cat blanket for her to sit on with some catnip inside. She has turned into a very crazy sexy beast! I think she must be stoned!

I'm going to make one for my sisters cat too.

But I have made something for myself. I downloaded a program that gives you free pants and bodice blocks. Enter your measurements and hey presto out comes the pattern that will fit you. Hopefully anyway!

 I have a new wide format printer at home so I had a great day getting the printing correct, and as I had run out of time and had to leave for SA I took my patterns with me. I found some black velveteen in the bottom of the very musty linen cupboard and made up the pants pattern. Well, I am on a diet. I don't think I have lost that much weight, but sadly the pattern was WAY too big.  I took off 4cm on the back side seams , all the way down the leg, and 4cm on the front and back waistband and they do fit very well now. I also removed the darts at the back, and moved the front dart over my hip bone, which I find is a much better place to remove excess fabric.
The pictures are awful. Ghastly!!!

 I was so proud of my new velveteen pants, now I'm not so sure!

they feel better than they look!
Hmmm... more sit ups required! and make them shorter!

So... two weeks down and another 2 to go. Whats next?
Adust some shirts for my Dad,I think. And then? I have no idea!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Look who came for breakfast

It's amazing what 'normal' is considered to be in different parts of the world. While here in South Africa, all sorts of things which were one normal for me, are now, in my eyes, completely strange.

While I am here, I am enjoying being able to jump in a swimming pool at any time, and, as I am definitely a morning exercise person, I choose to go and have a swim in the morning, to wake me up and for me to have that saintly feeling that I have actually done some exercise, even when I am on holiday, although somewhat incarcerated in a retirement home. Of course, the inhabitants of this retirement home must think that I am strange, going to jump into the pool when it is not a hot day, and they keep asking if the water is cold. It hasn't been cold until today, and it was so cold it gave me a headache!

On the way home, walking past the rubbish dump, and along the 12 foot electric fence, I saw them. Monkeys! A whole troupe of them. I haven't seen monkeys for a long time.

Now, monkeys are a nuisance. They can get in your house and steal your fruit. Therefore, people have security doors to keep burglars out (normal) but also to keep monkeys out. The big monkeys have become very clever and now send their babies into the house to get the fruit!

I stood quietly in the front of my fathers garden and asked him to pass his camera out so I could take photos.  (now that would not be normal activity for South Africans, monkeys are so commonplace here they would be chased away). I had a great time taking photos.
Hey you guys! come this way!

The family group... I love the babies
Berries for baby and avocado for mum. Delicious breakfast!

Little fella peering through the leaves at me
Who will get the bananas?
'CAT' the cat, is not even vaguely worried about the visitors

Of course,  I should have thought more about what is normal for South Africans who see monkeys, and stopped being such a tourist. Remember I said that monkeys are little thieves?

While I had been swimming, my Dad had been very organised and had made some morning tea and some jam sandwiches for the gardener, Paulus, and had placed it outside the kitchen door. He was busy looking at stuff on his computer, and had not done what he normally did, see monkeys, check the back door! They may get in the kitchen!

Guess who got the sandwiches?? The monkeys, of course!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Its been a long, long time...

Life has many twists and turns, and the past year was probably the most arduous one our family has ever encountered, and thankfully I am now on a (fairly) straight road as our lovely daughter has now recovered well from surgery etc.  I am so thankful for the wonderful health system in New Zealand.

So, blogging took a back seat for a while.

But now I feel as if its a good time to get going again! I am presently visiting my father  and sister in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Our family left South Africa in 1996 to start a new life in New Zealand. I have come back here quite a few times to visit my family, and its been interesting to see how the country has changed while we have been away. There are good things, there are bad things. Poverty and lack of employment are still bad, and with this comes problems with begging at street intersections theft, etc. Its so sad to think that Mandela's dream of a better place for everyone has not become reality.

 At present I am staying in my fathers house in a small retirement complex, with electric fences 12 foot high to protect the aging community from break ins and theft. And this is no exception, everywhere you go, properties have really high walls with electric fences and razor wire on top of that. Its horrible.

However, there are many things about South Africa  that I am really enjoying. The weather here is warm , sunny , most of the time punishingly hot and humid, but its so lovely to feel the warm air on your arms, and not the ever-so-slightly chilly wind which we get in New Zealand. And wonderful to jump into an outdoor unheated swimming pool and not shudder with shock! I go for a swim every morning, annoying the troupe of geese as I have entered their 'territory'.
I love the sound of familiar birds, doves cooing in the trees, the raucous "KA KAW!" from the Hadida bird, a brown ibis which is so common here. As it is a tropical area, the plants that grow here are huge, and flowers are everywhere.

What is really lovely, though, are the clothes people wear. I am really enjoying looking at the styles that people wear. Not much black clothing around(NONE!), lots of colours, fabulous shoes. And the African women have the most glamorous hair. They don't like their natural hair, which is very tightly curled, so a lot of wigs, and braiding with extensions are commonplace. I can't help myself, I keep saying, gosh, I LOVE your hair!

What's next? A visit to a game park is definitely on the list. Buy some shweshwe fabric. A traditional cotton printed fabric with amazing geometrical designs. 
 I love Africa!