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Getting back to making clothes

Jane in a dark green linen dress and the Deren cardigan by Jacqueline Cieslak

When I was a teenager I made most of my clothes.

Partly it was financial - buying several dresses from jumble sales (and jumble sales were SO good in the 1980s) and refashioning them was a cheap way to get something new to wear.

Partly it was fit - I had a narrow waist and wide hips, a figure that ready to wear brands struggled to accommodate.

Partly it was style - I tended towards fancy dress in my clothing tastes; Edwardian slips, chef’s whites, satin pyjamas, you probably get the idea. When I went to University, as well as my sewing machine I packed 20 vintage hats.

Partly it was boredom. Growing up in a village in the 1980s left an awful lot of unfilled time.

The clothes were slapdash, sewn in haste, often the hems were held up by sellotape. I preferred to sew a new outfit each week rather than make something properly that would last. I was the sewist version of fast fashion.

I sewed my graduation dress - white jaquard silk with a paisley pattern, gored skirt and antique handmade lace around the neck.

I sewed my wedding dress - a raw silk puff of of a dress with a hand embroidered bodice and an underskirt fashioned from a Victorian crinoline.

I sewed my honeymoon outfit - a navy and white capsule collection made from patterns in Prima magazine.

And then I stopped.

Jane in embroidered linen dress

I made a lot of things for my daughters before they got to the age when pink and glittery became important. But from 1996 until last year, I didn’t make anything for myself to wear.

I don’t really know why.

Perhaps it is that thing that often happens when children are born, that the mother’s focus moves and many activities are simply abandoned or switched.

Perhaps it was a body shame thing, a feeling of worthlessness - steroid treatment for an auto immune condition made my body change to the point I didn’t really recognise or value myself for a long, long time.

Perhaps it was lack of space and time, a lack of intention.

For I always said that I would like to get back to sewing clothes - but I just didn’t.

Last week I made a dress, as I type this I am wearing it.

I ordered a pattern online from Elizabeth Suzann, got it printed by Netprinter, and found some old glazed cotton fabric to make a toile.

You can see that I am aiming to put the slapdashness of the past away.

The toile showed that the style just didn’t suit me - I had missed that the sleeves were part of the body, with fat facing cuffs, I had missed that the neckline was high, that there were no bust darts and, even more distressing, no pockets.

By the time I had cut up my toile and re-cut the pattern all that was left of the original was a beautifully shaped hem, dipping at the back, rising at the front.

I made it from a purple linen left over from some lavender bags we once made for Jason Statham - but decided that I didn’t fancy owning a dress the colour of parma violet sweets, so I dyed it olive green in the washing machine with a pack of Dylon that had been in the cupboard for years.

On Saturday afternoon - killing an hour before picking up rugby watching blokes from the pub - I decorated the hem with freehand machine embroidery, cream poppy seed heads and cow parsley. The instructions are now in the Freehand machine embroidery course.

Jane in embroidered dark green linen dress

I don’t know whether this will be the start of a creative wardrobe - I have worn the dress three times since last week which is encouraging and I love that it is a walking work of art. At University my MA dissertation was on artistic dress - from the Pre-Raphaelites to Sonia Delauney - maybe this is a circling back around and taking inspiration.

I have my next pattern picked out. It is based on an apron dress that Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins, wore. I just need to work out how to fit a larger bust into it . . . .

Linnet patterns

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Comments: 2 (Add)

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Corrie Fairlie

Dearest Jane,

The dress is beautiful and you look beautiful in this beautiful dress. Thank you for writing about how you made the dress. Very, very interesting.

No apologies for repeating myself, the Seven Wise Men of Greece did! "Wisdom can be repetitious", according to Thomas Cromwell when he was speaking to his son Gregory in Hilary Mantel's 'The Mirror and the Light'...

Judith Schur

I used to sew loads of clothes from Prima magazine patterns too. I had a file full of ones that I wanted to use but since having children I have only made one dress (and I've only worn that once!!) Reading this reminds me how much fun it was :)

Snapdragon social

Stillness is such a difficult skill to acquire.  I suspect that so much of the rushing about that we do is simply an attempt to avoid being still.
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For if we stopped, paid attention to ourselves, to the world around us, let everything sink in - well that might be very scary.
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But I do think it is the most important skill - a five minute pause, a checking in.  I'm not talking about meditation here - nothing as formal as that - just a stilling and listening and paying attention. Appreciation, recognition, renewal.
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It is something that I am very bad at by nature - but I have been taking lessons from Dixie. 

For if a spaniel can relax into stillness, nosing into a shaft of sunshine, then I'm sure I can.
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Teasel isn't quite there yet.

#aseasonalway #springerspaniel #springerspanielsofinstagram #slowlivingforlife #lessonsfromdogs #bringyourdogtowork #storiesoftheeveryday
One thing that gardening teaches you year on year is that so much is beyond your control. Some things will thrive, others won’t, and mostly it will be nothing to do with anything you’ve done. 
Some years will be great for one crop, terrible for another. This is a great year for garlic here, awful for beans. 

It’s the same with business - a lot of things happen that are due to the ‘weather’ of the world. We can pivot and turn, change our tactics, Google ‘how to make reels’ and so on - but we can also choose to embrace and lean into what is working well. 

My Friday letter today is about social media and all the ways I’ve used to connect with people over the past 21 years - if you fancy a read you can sign up in my profile. 

And in the meantime I’d love to know what’s growing well for you. Or indeed, what has been a disaster! 

#theartofslowliving #livethelittlethings #nothingisordinary #natureandnourish #embracingaslowerlife #aseasonalway #seekthesimplicity #scotlandsgardens #growyourownfood #cornersofmyworld #greenthumb #rusticgamesttong #cornersofmyworld #simpleandstill #vintagegreenhouse
Each year I have a personal project running.  Something just for me. Something that allows me to experiment and play. 
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The first year that I became obsessed with using the plants here to dye textiles - back in 2019 - it was twelve skeins of a raw slubby silk yarn that I  had been hoarding for decades. They became a patchwork cable blanket that now sits on the back of the sofa.
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In 2020 it was double knitting yarns, in dozens of colours, knitted into a stripy jumper to keep me cosy in the Studio.
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Last year I dyed linens and am gradually making them into patchworks and appliqués - many I am squirrelling away for a project that I may or may not ever begin.
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This year I am using mini skeins - in an attempt to keep it more manageable - and exploring the differences in colour caused by the pH of the original extraction. 
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There are four skeins for each plant, two for neutral extraction, two for alkali - with one of each pair being dipped in iron to 'sadden' the colour.
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If science had been like this at school I might have paid more attention . . . .

#botanicaldye #alchemy #growyourowncolour #gameoftones #plantdyed #naturallydyedwool #plantdyersofinstagram #craftwithconscience
#shadesofnature #extractedfromnature #inspiredbynaturesbeauty #plantdyedyarn #naturaldyedyarn #foragedcolour
This is a tomato salad that was inspired by one I ate a few years ago in a cafe in Mingun, Myanmar,
There it was mainly made with green tomatoes, sharp against the shrimp powder.
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In Myanmar the military junta have begun to execute activists arrested after the coup in February 2021. The brutality and violence continue, the quashing of democracy, the corruption. 

11,759 people, arrested after the coup, remain in detention, 78 people, including two children, have been sentenced to death.
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You won't usually find much out about Myanmar in the 'fed to you' media, but this week there has been reporting and a Dispatches programme about mass killings  was on Channel 4 on Monday.  The Guardian has consistently been the newspaper reporting most on the aftermath of the coup and you can also follow hashtags like #whatishappeninginmyamar here. 
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There may seem little we can actively do about the horrors in the world, but people involved always say that what matters is knowing that people care, bear witness and don’t simply forget when the news cycle moves on.
We always have a slight breeze here - a blessing as it stops the midges flying.
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It often gets up at night after a warm day, seeming to breathe its way round corners. 
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If you walk through the garden in the evening at the moment, the scent of Lilium regale drifts about you in eddies of spice.

#simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #underthefloralspell #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
The more I travel down this road the more I realise that deciding how you live, which values you honour, what you will prioritise all have to be deliberately chosen. 
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You can’t just drift into a slower, more intentional life. 
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You can’t buy it. 
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You have to make a commitment to actually live it. 
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And that’s not always easy. 
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It is why I go to events like last weekend’s summer camp @thegoodlifesoc . 
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It is also why I surround myself with a supportive community where my choices don’t seem weird.

It is why my to do list today has sitting with a coffee taking in the swoony scent of the sweet peas on it. 

#howihueit #simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #cornersofmyhome #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
This is the actual physical Studio.
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It is a little cabin between meadow and wood - a space for creativity and connection a space that I deliberately and intentionally worked towards for a number of years.  There is a sunny deck looking onto trees for the summer, a wood burning stove for the winter.
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The Studio is also another thing - it is a club of amazing people who are intentionally prioritising their creativity and connection to the natural world. 
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It is a community of great humour, support and inspiration - the best thing that I have ever had a hand in.
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The Studio Club is closed to new members at the moment and the doors will open to new members again on the Autumn Equinox. 

I'm currently working with @fbarrows, who is providing a gentle and encouraging outside eye, as I decide on what we will be doing in the club over the next six months.
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I've been surveying all the members to find out exactly what it is they enjoy most, what they feel I could do better. 

In this week’s Friday letter I've included a link to a short survey, because I  think it would also be useful to know what people who follow me, but are not members, feel about these things. 
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If you get it, it would help me so much if you could take a minute to fill it out - there are only five questions and there is also a bribe . . . .

#slowlivingforlife #simplelife #whereiwork #simpleandslow #creativelifehappylife
The more we actively take time to pause, to sit still and watch, the more we see. 
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My Friday Letter this week is all about taking advantage of some unwanted early wakening and starting to use the binoculars which have been hanging on the coat rail for eighteen months.
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Twenty minutes with a cup of tea, the binoculars and a lawn full of early birds and their worms.

#momentslikethese
#the_gentle_manifesto
#daysofsmallthings
#natureandnourish
#aseasonalway
#daysofsimpleandslow
#ournaturedays
#aquietmoment
#pocketsofslow
#thesweetlifeunscripted
#folkandstory
#pause
snapdragon.life
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About Snapdragon Life

In the Studio Club I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

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