Tutu Refurb

Wow – long time no post. Here is a post with lots of pics by way of making amends.

Tutus take a lot of sewing, and that makes them time-consuming to make, and that makes them expensive.

So if you can pick one up secondhand which has a decently constructed skirt then it might be a cheaper way to get a lovely costume to dance in even if you have to adjust it a little – or, as in this case, almost completely rebuild it!

Take one tutu that is a bit short in the bodice length but which fits around the hips. Actually, I didn’t make it but this tutu and I have a bit of a history.

At first it was just a tiny bit short in the body for the lovely tall dancer (age 12). The first alterations I did were to open up the crotch seam and add a gusset of around 2” which allowed the skirt to sit at the high hip. I also added the white lace at the top of the bodice to preserve the dancer’s modesty and make her feel a bit more secure. The professional ballerinas might not bat an eyelid at an inadvertent La Toyah moment but it is a different matter when you’re 12.

That worked for a while but I swear this dancer stands in compost and it wasn’t long before she’d grown again. By this time, although the tutu still fitted around the hips and body, the gusset needed to be lengthened again, the skirt length itself looked a little short and out of balance with the dancer’s height and the frill on the bodice just wasn’t going to cover much anymore.

I wasn’t going to be able to match that purple, although it suited the dancer’s colouring very well, and I needed to create a completely new bodice so we decided on a more dramatic black and white theme.

In some ways the tutu was a little dated in its decoration with the nylon lace and all of those sequins, and to be completely honest it looked vaguely tacky up close and not to my taste really.  But this tutu taught me a lot.

The skirt was only very lightly hooped and had been knocking around backstage so was a bit grubby too – but on the dancer the skirt held its shape beautifully, it had been very well put together indeed.

And the sequins and lace? Sitting in the audience watching the dancer do her beautiful dancing on stage, some kind of costume magic happened and it looked really enchanting, very sparkly and definitely not tacky.

First the deconstruction.

The tutu had been made with no separate basque or knickers, more like a leotard shape (but not in stretch fabric) with the net layers sewn straight on.

So to create a pseudo-basque to build on I first cut off the top of the bodice, this looks quite drastic.

I like to think of it as a bodice-ectomy.

Then I removed as much of the top fabric layer as I could (but I left the sequins on because I couldn’t pick them off without damaging the net – and I like the idea that they’re still hiding somewhere in there).


The next step was performed with my heart in my mouth. It really was quite grubby. I decided that I would give it a gentle swish around in the bath with some warm water and a little Fairy Snow. I was prepared the remake the skirt if the worst happened, but happily I didn’t have to – the dirt floated out, the skirt remained intact, and it dried beautifully white on my line in the sunshine.

Skirt Adjustments

The 2” gusset I’d added previously was swapped for a 5” one, and a petersham waistband was added to the top of the pseudo-basque, along with two layers of stiff net to give some much needed extra length to the skirt. I now had a respectable base for building the rest of the tutu.

Outer basque, plate and bodice construction

The new theme was to be black and white mostly because  I’d found some white voile with a black flock design on it in a remnant bin at Abakhan.

At this point I usually get excited about completing the tutu and this was no exception – I got so carried away that I didn’t take any more photos until it was finished.

I cut a plate in white net, and then appliquéd selected motifs cut from the printed voile onto the plate. The plate was tacked to the top of the skirt.

Next came a decorative outer basque with a piped bottom edge, all in a heavy black satin. This was sewn by hand to the skirt, the stitches being buried between the piping and the bottom of the basque, and the piped edge neatly covering where the inner edge of the plate and the new layers of net met the pseudo-basque.

Finally, a completely new bodice in black satin. The trim is white braid which has some diamante stones in it, and it is relatively simple since the plate is quite patterned. The dancer is very slim and still young so I didn’t want to overwhelm her with decoration on the bodice as well as the skirt, although there is plenty of scope to add more to the bodice if it is needed in future.

A few crystals were applied to give the motifs on the plate to give the skirt some sparkle, and the skirt tacked together again.

I got a huge amount of pleasure from giving this tutu a new lease of life in a very cost effective way, and making it suit the dancer’s style but I think a lot of credit should go to the original maker of the tutu for doing such a good job of the skirt in the first placel.


Neptune Jacket from Sew Hip #10

Sew HIP! sent me the fabric for this jacket – I thought it was going to be a jelly roll of “Nest” by Tula Pink but it turned out to be some fat quarters of Tula Pink’s “Neptune” instead. It did mean a little rejigging of the design but it was the details rather than the main shape so nothing too drastic. One thing that didn’t need to change was the quilting.  I loved doing the quilting on this jacket so much – I like straight lines and neatness, really I do – but what really gets me going is a bit of asymmetry, or when things aren’t too perfect, so these quilting lines are wavy and curving and definitely not regular. You don’t need to mark them on the fabric and you don’t need to measure or use any funny gadgets on your machine. Just take a deep breath and flow along. I’d planned on it looking a little like tree bark when I thought it was “Nest”, but it worked just as well with nautical “Neptune” – think ripples left in the sand at low tide.

I really loved this fabric too – lovely quality. It was with a very heavy heart that I sent this jacket back off to Sew HIP! 

My friend, who so kindly agreed to model it for me liked it too – a lot (it is completely her colours). I think she looks fab in it, but don’t be decieved gentle reader, she may look sweet and lovely but shortly after this pic I had to pin her to the ground so I could wrestle the jacket from her. She is stronger than she looks I tell you!

One thing that did change was the neck detail. I’d planned to do something arty farty with the longs strips of “Nest” jelly roll, covering some cord with them and intertwining them like a, well, like a nest. Probably just as well I didn’t get that fabric. But I did feel I ought to provide something by way of neck adornment…..more about that in another post. For now just look at that gorgeous whippet, isn’t she a lovely one?

de Bono Challenge #1 – Random Input

I’m a bit of a fan of Edward de Bono’s ideas. You have heard of “lateral thinking” – yup, that was one of his. I was introduced to some of his thinking tools at school by the best teacher I ever had – Miss Veale of Turves Green Girls’ School. Then we covered him in more depth at college on my degree course – BA in Systems Analysis. I used them for real when problem solving in my job, and sometimes in everyday life. They are not new ideas now I guess, but they’re simple and useful and have definitely stood the test of time.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure yet, de Bono’s beginning point is that thinking isn’t something you’re either good at or not, but that thinking is a skill, and like any skill it can be honed and practised and improved. He provides a whole Smörgåsbord of different tools to help do so (my all time favourite one is his “Six Thinking Hats“). The thing is, to improve you do have to practise. Regularly. So my challenge to myself is to practise one exercise (de Bono refers to them as “games”) from de Bono’s “How to Have Creative Ideas” each week ….and share the process in my blog. Sunday is when I should be doing this – feel free to prod me if I don’t. Feel free to join in if you want.

This book presents a series of games to play using random words. I plan to use this random word generator here to get the random words I need.

Enough blather. Let’s get on with the first game – Random Input. For this we need a task to focus on and a random word to stimulate new ideas for or improve or simplify the focus presented by the task.

TASK (from de Bono): New ideas to make a bank more attractive to its customers.


let’s get the obvious out of the way first

…play flute music softly in the background
…an interior decor featuring a fluted theme

moving on

…free music lessons as incentives for regular savers (for being “in tune” with your finances)
…have all of the counter staff break out in song if someone’s new balance is a predetermined amount (like when the staff at Johnny Rocket’s diner perform a number when someone orders a certain item from the menu)
…a series of suites of financial services tailored around the type of music people prefer e.g. the Classical suite would be traditional and low risk so would have an interest only fixed rate mortgage, high rate savings account with a long notice period, and a shares portfolio based on blue chip companies whereas the Hip Hop portfolio might have a foreign currency mortgage, an instant access savings account with no minimum deposit, and a shares portfolio based around companies focussing on eco-building practices.
…set of security keys based on a signature tune or tunes for each customer instead of just numbers (flute has keys)

Ok, I found that quite hard. Perhaps it is because it is the first one.  I shall keep practising.

Have a go yourself. Either use this task with a different random word, or choose a different task – the front page of a newspaper (or home page of a newspaper website) can be used to generate tasks.

Have fun!

“Flights of Fancy” featured in Sew Hip #9

Two sets of butterflies and some smoking hot flames

Yikes! It’s been a while. Ok to celebrate the end of my winter’s hibernation I will do a few little catch up posts.
I think I may have gone a bit off-piste with this project (but I did have fun!).  I was walking around Leeds one day and I say a pair of gilded Adidas trainers by Jeremy Scott) in cage in a shop window, just like birds. I thought they looked so much fun, like wearing a fantasy on your feet. My family may have spoken to me during the rest of that day, I really couldn’t say*, I couldn’t wait to get home and start drawing and planning and designing and such.

The starting point was my childhood dream – I had long wished I could fly, but Mr Scott had already done birds….so how else could I soar … “What do I want to be today?” – a dragon, a butterfly, a bat? Fire, Hokusai’s Great Wave? OK I know those last two don’t strictly involve wings, but I was on a roll – and besides, catching a wave is the nearest thing to flying I can physically imagine.

So then the practicalities, what should it be made from? Well, something that doesn’t fray would seem appropriate, so felt, in layers to give it some body, was chosen.

How big? A quick examination of the lace up trainers in our house showed that the hole spacings were all very different. But I have a soft spot for Converse High Tops, and Sew Hip had asked for the project to be sized for children, so I popped into our local shoe shop where a very patient lady and her team have fitted shoes on my children since they each began to walk. The kind soul must’ve thought me completely batty, but did allow me access to her rather extensive stock of Converse for children so I could measure the lacing spacing. (Thank you so much Yarna at “Soley Kids” in S-O-T).

Then we came back, and I cut and stitched to my heart’s content, and generally had more fun with felt than I ever knew  could  be possible (I know, I’m easily pleased).  And don’t forget the sequins and beads and such – auditioning the trimmings is a very important part.

It was nice to see how they looked laced into the shoes back at the shop though!

These are quite easy to make and if you hated sewing then you could just glue the the layers together and use fabric pens for adding the details to make them even easier (update 29/4/10 – Threadbanger has a great project showing how to do this exact thing- go Threadbanger!).  So really, there is no excuse not to make a pair of your own, you know you want to – go for it – PIMP YOUR CONVERSE!!

* don’t worry gentle reader, they tend to squeak a lot if I don’t feed and water them regularly so I’m pretty sure they didn’t suffer – poor little felt orphans!

“So Small Necklace” from Sew Hip Magazine Issue 10

Sew Small necklaces - blues and greensI love the textile necklace designed by Anna Hodgson, I really like that it isn’t symmetrical and I admire the restrained use of just the one colour of green linen against the dark blue of the felt. The textures look lovely together and the outline stitching in fushia pink is genius. I was itching to have an excuse to make one and I got it when I finally got around to replacing the zip in my lovely friend’s dress. I don’t usually do repairs, I will normally explain to people who ask that I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than do repairs, but I dare not say that to this particular friend …..who practices as a fully qualified *acupuncturist!!! Anyhow, what with one thing and another it took me a L…..O…..N….G time to do this simple task, so long I’m embarrassed to admit to it and definitely long enough to warrant a heartfelt apology…..and a nice necklace to help to say sorry.

However, unlike the esteemed Ms Hodgson, when it comes to fabric I have absolutely no restraint whatsoever – I spent a happy 15 minutes sorting through my extensive scrap basket to find some suitable snippets for the leaves and matching them up to the felt I had in. Each leaf is very small so you can use up some of the ridiculously tiny bits that have been saved just because.

I felt sort of destined to make this necklace – I had everything already in my stash to make it. Felt, Bondaweb and eyelets – left over from the “Flights of Fancy” project in issue 9, leather thong left over from a beading project, and buttons from the Scottish Highland biscuit tin full of buttons which I inherited from Great Aunt Freda’s stash. Aunty Betty and Aunty Freda were Mr Topstitched’s great aunts.

Originally from the North East where they worked in mills in the ‘30s, they moved to Yorkshire to “better themselves”, becoming respectively a nursery nurse and the manager of a cake shop. I could never get them to talk much about the mills, but they retained a great knowledge and love of textiles and made a lot of their own clothes, although this dwindled off as they got older and engaged in a love/hate relationship with the tension on their newfangled electric Bernina. I feel it a privilege to be the current custodian of the button tin with all of its buttony loveliness. There are all kinds of treasures in there, and it was my son’s second favourite way of learning to count (the first being learning subtraction using Smarties).

It didn’t take long to make, although I confess I couldn’t actually locate the Bondaweb, so I made do with the ordinary fusible interfacing I COULD find and a Pritt stick instead.

The next important question was what colour to do the all important topstitching? I have print fabrics in various shades of blue and the felt in lime green, the dress is navy corduroy. So, obviously I chose orange! Well, perhaps not so obvious. Long experience with sewing morsbags from recycled fabrics and donated and leftover threads has led to the growing realisation that thread in lime green or orange will make a pleasing contrast with most colours. The felt was already green, and I didn’t want it too matchy matchy so orange it was.

Almost didn’t want to hand it over, but in the end, both necklace and apology were well received.

It was such a satisfying project that of course I couldn’t stop at just one! So it being another friend’s birthday was all the excuse I needed to have another go. More rifling through the scrap basket, fusing, arranging and choosing of buttons produced a purple version.

Sew Small necklace - jewel colours

For this one I used two layers of felt. A darker one to act as a foil for the jewel like colours of the cotton prints, and then a brighter felt behind it emphasises the colours still further. The second layer of felt also helps to give a bit of body to the piece. The felt I was using was quite thin synthetic stuff, the blue felt Anna used looks like it was a thicker natural felt.  I never normally need an excuse for adding more fabric and colour, but the extra layer of the synthetic felt I used did help it to stop feeling a little bit floppy.

I thought it best to cease and desist at that point, although I would gladly have continued to make more of these until I completely ran out of felt….mind you, it is Christmas coming up…….

*NB I don’t want to do a disservice to my friend, she most definitely does not EVER stick pins in eyes, she is very professional and effective and MOST careful and particular about her needles.

Felty Wonky Skull Bag Crochet Pattern

Felty Wonky Skull BagWow – where did the time go? As it has been SO long since my last post I feel I should try extra hard to make it a good one…so how about a free crotchet pattern?

A few posts back I mentioned a stash of wool that I was giving to charities and good causes. I found the sheer amount of yarn overfaced some people and then others just didn’t know what they’d make using it. My response was to make up a simple sample to show what could be done with it and give away the pattern with the yarn to hopefully inspire the flashing of many hooks. 

Happily, this seemed to do the trick, I don’t have much wool left, but I do still have a crochet pattern for a bag so I thought I’d share it with you. As I was using 100% wool yarn I thought I’d have my first attempt at felting (probably should be called “fulling” if I’m being technical but I’m feeling strangely woolly today so “felting” is what I’m sticking with). On the whole I’m quite pleased with it, although I’m slightly worried that it is a wee bit addictive – I’m already looking around for other things I can knit/crochet only to then intentionally shrink!

  Wonky Skull close up



…because symmetry is so overrated don’t you think?


100g Dark double knitting yarn (approx)

100g Light double knitting yarn (approx)

4.5 mm crochet hook

2 buttons

Darning needle

If you want to felt the bag, choose yarn that has a high wool content and check the washing instructions on the label; if it says “cool wash” or “do not rub” then it probably will felt. If it is labelled “superwash” or “easy care” then it probably won’t.


 Click here to download a Word document containing the rest of the pattern:


Felty Wonky Skull Bag








This is what it looks like before it is felted – skull on the front, stripey on the back. This one shrank by about a third when it was felted but it isn’t a precise science and the amount of shrinkage will depend on a number of factors – the wool, the temperature you wash it at etc.

This bag is destined to be a Christmas present, although it might be more suitable for Halloween. If I get time before 25th December I might line it – it has a lovely thick felty feel to it but when I “tested” it by putting things inside it I did find that pointy things had a habit of sticking through, things like keys or pens. Maybe this means I didn’t “felt” it enough? Or maybe this is just what felted crochet is like? Perhaps I’d best experiment a bit more….(this is me just looking for excuses to shrink stuff – can you tell?)



 Back of bag after felting I’d love it if you decided to make one for yourself or as a gift, and I’d be delighted if you made some to raise money for a charity.  If you do, please credit me as the designer and don’t claim the design as your own, or sell it or the bags you make for personal gain.

If you have a go and get stuck just ask and I’ll try to help, or if you notice a problem with the pattern instructions then let me know and I’ll put it right as soon as I can.

I have socked!

I have actually made a sock, just the one. This post is by way of celebration of my newly socked status (even though I finished it a week or so ago and have been admiring it ever since).

This doesn’t look like my Mum’s standard of knitting; her knitting is so neat and even and I can see lots of faults with mine. But if I’m honest, I didn’t think I’d get this far so soon, I estimated I’d be trying to finish them at Christmas whilst drinking Bailey’s – which wouldn’t help the finished quality of the hose but I probably wouldn’t care so much.

Solitary sock

I have a very  good friend who I KNOW would say, “Better finished than perfect” at this point. So I shall concentrate on other aspects of the sock.

It is warm and I love the pattern.

It fits my left foot better than my right somehow (I must have very odd feet)  so it shall be my left foot sock.

Perhaps the right sock will be better.

Mum has advised me NOT to try to match the pattern may by the yarn for the next sock, and I shall listen to her as usual….although I did get in a mess with some of her other advice. I’m sure she always used to maintain that it was best to find the end that lives in the middle of a new ball of wool rather than the outside end to start off with.  

To be fair, this has stood me in good stead with the albeit meagre amount of knitting I’ve done since leaving home, but a few months ago I was crocheting a simple bag using some cotton yarn in several colours.  All the colours were fine except the blue. These balls knotted up if you even looked at them. Of course this happened when I was out crocheting in public (I have trouble sitting still if I don’t occupy my hands at my son’s cricket matches), and drew a lot of comments from the other mum taxi drivers.  I’m content to tease out a little, crochet it up and then work at the knot a little more to free up another length. It usually sorts itself out like this but there is something about a knotted mess of wool that is fascinating to some people. I could tell two of them were positively itching to sort it out for me, it was really bugging them.

It didn’t stop there. I left the offending ball in the lounge while I settled people off to bed and got things ready for the next day, and came back to what can only be described as a Portugese Man O’War. Mr Topstitched had not been able to contain himself when confronted with the tempting tangle. The knotty bit was stationed in the middle of the room and there were several long streamers of knot free wool splaying out from it in various directions, for all the world like a large jelly fish. He sorted it in the end of course, but doesn’t seem interested in making any of the “controlled knots” otherwise known as crochet, ran a mile when I offered him a crochet hook (or perhaps he was confused by the menacing look on my face!). 

Since then I have been asked to help find new homes for nine sacks of assorted wool as someone needed to have a clearout. It was the leftovers from a wool shop owned by the person’s mum. It must have closed down a long time ago and the wool had been stored since then. It was a real trip down memory lane for me, the names on the labels alone took me back to when my mum seemed to knit every day to keep our family in jumpers and cardigans, and ponchos and dressing gowns (and when she wasn’t knitting she was sewing and crocheting).

There were balls of Paton’s Doublet, Totem and Bouclet, Robin’s Vogue and Gleneagle Tweed, another textured one called “Rimple” and reading some of the labels I noticed that they specifically advised starting from the OUTSIDE.

So now I’m confused, please put me out of my misery, are you an “innie” or an “outie” when it comes to starting off your wool? Is there even a right or wrong answer to this? Or does it depend on the wool and the way it is wound?  

Anyhows, I’m experimenting with what it says on the packet and I’m taking from the OUTSIDE for this crochet project I’m making with the wool I have left (the bulk of the stash has been distributed to local groups who knit for various charities and also organisations who do textile crafts with children).

(Quick aside – whilst discussing this wool on another forum I discovered I had unwittingly been a childhood niddy-noddy. I’m not sure how I feel about this but I don’t think it scarred me too deeply).

I’m making a crocheted blanket using the really clear instructions over at Attic24. I really love the colours she uses for her projects. Mine won’t look like that due to not as much crochet practice, using wool not cotton, and most of all because my colours are dictated by the “serendipity of the sack”. So far so good, I have 4 stripes (each stripe takes just under one of these “1oz” balls) and no gnarly knots, but we’ll see.

PS I really don’t know why I’m inspired to make a woollen blanket in the middle of our little heatwave – especially when I should be knitting the other sock.

Perhaps I’m just contrary.

Perhaps I’d better learn to hop.