All posts by Isabella Morgan


Ever since having to wear navy knickers for school as a small child I’ve loved the colour navy. So now I get to make a dress in it. Lining and all.

It’s my frock for Friday  – perfectly plain but hopefully the best yet in terms of finish ( as you know, I’m a little slack when it comes to the finer details…but as I am not accustomed to wearing dresses inside out I’m not particularly bothered).
So, here it is –

and here it is  again with a handknitted red cardigan…

and again with a hand-threaded button necklace and a green cardigan.

And it’s lined. Completely. I think I’m getting better at this sewing thing.
If only I could wear it inside out! And track down some navy knickers.

Cost of dress information
2 metres material at £2.65 a metre (Fabricland)
2 metres navy lining at £1.05 a metre (Fabricland)
navy zip  £1.65
navy cotton £1.65
TOTAL = £10.70




auntie Mabel’s Morris Minor

It’s my birthday soon. And I’m hoping to get a new sewing machine. I’ve grown attached to my very old Brother, it’s true. Even the slack seams that it’s given me I’ve learned to live with. And love. Sort of. As for it’s chug-chug speed, it’s heaviness – these qualities I find quite charming. But…

But only because I’m going to get another one. 

Once I get that lightweight, speedy, tight new model I won’t look back.
Bye bye Morris Minor! Hello Porsche convertible!  

As I myself am a Morris Minor of a woman I feel a little guilty to not sing the praises of age and experience in my machine (I did try), to not see it as ‘a fine wine’ full of body… But to take the triangular  machine-woman-car metaphor a stage further I will reveal to you that I too intend to trade myself in and up. Sick of feeling like I’m slowing down to a halt, I’ve started to embrace that which throughout my life I have derided. The …

mid-life crisis.

Mid-life crisis = Toad of Toad Hall (parp!parp!); old people ageing disgracefully (‘Have they no self-respect?’ ‘What do they look like?”Why is that woman wearing heels when what she really needs is a pair of surgical stockings?’), men with no hair driving sports cars, or worse still, having pony tails …You get the picture.

But somehow that no longer bothers me. It’s all part of the joke. Indeed, I think that I am the joke. Whether that’s because I can now rib people my own age engaging in ridiculous youth-grabbing gestures and get away with  it by adding ‘…oh and that’s just like me!’ I’m not sure. Could be.

But back to my own youth-don’t-leave-me-yet pointless gestures. Obviously it will be a gargantuan , perhaps impossible, task to transform my solid Morris Minor bodywork into a streamlined Porsche (I was going to say ‘streamlined sexy Porsche’ but really, that would be going just too far. Even I, in the throes of my mid-life-crisis mania, cannot see post-menopause as ‘sexy’. ‘Elegant’ – yes. I’m happy with ‘elegant’. But  ‘sexy’ – no.) Yet I shall endeavour to become sleek(-ish), (nearly)slender and fast(er than I am at present). To match my sewing machine (if you’re reading this Buyers of the Sewing Machine, don’t take this as a sign to buy a plodder just to make me feel better.).

But before I transform myself through the medium of speedy sewing I do have a little unfinished business with some auntie Mabel fabric and a Morris Minor of a sewing machine. Oh, and the pattern? My favourite Vogue V8555…It must be time for a change soon…

the auntie Mabel fabric
(Rowan fabric bought in John Lewis sale about £7 a metre)
the Morris Minor of sewing machines
Ta da! one very slack-seamed auntie Mabel dress …

with matching cardigan and contrasting bag and shoes
(Mid-life Crisis Me would have heels)
Mid-Life Crisis Me will sit-up her way to a washboard-flat tummy.
Or invest in a pair of Spanx…or some other brand of superknickers for the flabby
phew! that’s a better angle!
and that’s even better!
A swing jacket that covers up
my nan (whose name was Maud incidentally. Good name.) would have been proud-
co-ordinated at last
ooh! I even found a velvet coat…
Very auntie Mabel
Time to roll up the sleeves auntie Mabel and take on…I’m not sure what yet, because I did really like the auntie Mabel look,  but it’s time to take it on, whatever it is…
Life. Yes. That’s what it is. Life.  It’s time to take on life.
Let the mid-life crisis begin!
‘Parp!Parp!’ (the ridiculous Mr Toad)

2 metres Rowan fabric = £14 (John Lewis)
1 18in zip = £1.50 (Fabricland)
gold-coloured thread = £1.50 (Fabricland)
Total cost of dress = £17


Rosie Green the upcycling Queen

Rosie. Rosie, Rosie, Rosie.

Rosie ran round this morning, leaving her sewing machine still warm on her kitchen table,  to show me … her version of The PSD (=Perfect Summer Dress). Apparently she was inspired by my frocks but really I know that she can’t wait to give me a master-class in finishing off. Properly. Rosie you see has a reliable machine. And an overlocker. But it’s not just that. She is really competent at making a garment to a very high standard. At finishing off.

Unlike me.

As I was looking at patterns in John Lewis the other day a very sweet woman struck up a conversation about the importance of finishing off properly.

The conversation went something like this –
Perfect sewing woman : Oh, most people have no idea how long it takes to make something.
Slapdash sewing woman (me) : Oh yes. That’s true. No idea.
Perfect sewing woman: You have to finish all the seams and that alone can take ages.
Slapdash sewing woman (me): True again. All the seams. Ages.
Perfect sewing woman: But it’s worth it.
Slapdash sewing woman (me): Oh all too true. So worth it.

As conversations go it was banal, I grant you. But I suppose that now that I’m in the sewing circle of trust , as it were, I need to up my game.

Not least because as I walked away, wearing my white strawberry dress which I had hurriedly knocked together on the weekend, not a properly finished seam in sight, I could feel a piece of stray cotton dangling against my leg. I hope she didn’t notice.

Labelled in the past by my mother-in-law as a ‘slack knitter’ ( for which there is no known cure ), I want to avoid the epithet of ‘slack sewer’. 

Cue Rosie Green. In the coming weeks I will be referring to her greater sewing wisdom to help me on the road to sewing salvation as well as featuring garments she has made. As a passionate advocate of upcycling she has long been dressing the great and the good of St Andrews with her upcycled, well finished off creations, many of which I hope to feature in the coming months.

How to upcycle a size 22 skirt into a size 10 dress with Rosie Green
* Get one very large skirt from a charity shop (the Gloucester Road has loads)
* Cut to fit by cutting out a section of material along the side seam . Sew.
* Use excess material to create shoulder straps.
* Go to a charity shop to get a big belt to pull the dress in at the waist thereby avoiding extra sewing.

Ta da!

Cherries or strawberries?

This post is for my sister-in-law Claire.

I’ve not got round to posting my Friday frocks for a week or two and I must confess that I did start to miss it. Instead I foist myself upon my sister-in-law Claire in Newcastle and wore them there. Not all of them but as many as I could.

Oh breakfast, let me put on my yellow cherry dress.


Oh, are we going out for lunch? I’d better change into my red polka dot frock.


Oh, we’re sitting in the garden, I’d better rush imageand put on my rosie green number.
Claire has just moved into a new house – boxes everywhere – and, worse still, NO INTERNET.
So I subjected Claire to a frock frenzy. I couldn’t show her my dresses on the blog so I would have to wear them.
Sometimes I think that I must have been a really irritating child.
Then Claire said , ‘Did you make that dress?’
By this time even I was beginning to find myself insufferable. Also,  most shameful of shamefuls, in my desire to finish my latest frock I’d not got round to buying her a housewarming gift.  I’d fully intended to  (yes I know, the road to hell and all that…)but I’d somehow got stuck to my sewing machine.
But she really seemed to like my rosie green dress. She even tried it on.
Then I had it. That lightbulb -, Eureka- , call it what you will, moment.

I could make her my dress.

I could make her a dress as a ‘Good Luck in your New Home’ present.

As soon as I came home I went down to Fabricland to buy some fabric (unsurprisingly). Claire likes pink but try as I might I couldn’t see anything suitable. I went up and down and up and down and up and down  the rolls of material.
 Could we get away with pink cupcake material? Or a little pig design? I could hear my sensible self screeching ‘Don’t do it Isabella!’ 
Then I saw it. White with a strawberry design. But then I saw another one. White with a cherry design. What was I to do?
I bought both. That is, after all, the joy of Fabricland!
And here they are –  two fruity frocks.
So what’s it going to be Claire? Cherries or strawberries? The choice is yours.

The case for cherries…
The material is slightly thicker than the strawberry fabric
the pattern is busier, more colourful and less likely to show marks

cherry red
cherries in the garden
cherries with handknitted cardigan

                                          and yet more cherries – with chunky belt

And now the case for strawberries…
there is a white heart detail on the material which you can’t see in the pictures
the skirt is lined

very white – what not to wear when you eat spaghetti Bolognese
the strawberry material is thinner than the cherry

big skirt


Look! It’s lined!

(to avoid the Lady Di effect when standing against the light)

                                         No zip, just a button at the neck

So Claire, cherry or strawberry, what sort of fruity frock girl are you?
You would look beautiful in either so the choice is yours. Let me know and I’ll send it up. Thank you for having me to stay!
Oh no! But what are we going to get for Andy?

Summer in the City

As the temperature cranked up to ‘scorchio‘ last week I realised that I needed another dress for the summer as it was clearly going to last for more than three days at the start of July. So I abandoned my auntie-Mabel dress and rushed out to Fabricland for  blue polka dots (about £3.50 a metre – total price for dress £10).
Less Cox and Baloney. More Mud Dock Café.
So that’s where we went to cool off when the thermometer hit 32 degrees, sitting on the balcony overlooking the water after my (un)trusty machine  had done its best and knocked together a frock for Friday. Again. Against all odds. That machine shouldn’t really be here at all. It’s a functioning miracle, still working away when it should be sitting with its metaphorical machine legs up watching ‘Cash in the Attic’, enjoying a nice up of tea and a digestive biscuit. Oh, and what a surprise, it’s churned out another V8555. Like all old machines it’s not good with change…

no jacket required (isn’t that an album by Phil Collins?!)


I hate to say it but say it I will – ‘ship shape and Bristol fashion’. There. I’ve said it and I promise I’ll never say it again…


Move over Mr Darcy the Mud Dock cappuccino is here…

A Dress for the Summer


Can this dress take you all the way to a Hollywood boulevard…?


It’s another V8555! This time with the full skirt. The E-model. And it’s another yellow dress. It may be Saturday but it’s Sefton Park Road’s street party and that calls for a sunny summer frock. With red cherry pattern.

Not quite your Hollywood Boulevard look (but then again, lovely though it is, Sefton Park Road isn’t quite Hollywood Boulevard),the V8555 E  has a full, swishy skirt that is cool on the legs in the heat so that you can parade around in it without swathes of material clinging to you. Never a good look. Talking of which…

             Unintentional cleavage

Only weather as blisteringly hot as we are currently experiencing could induce me to flash any cleavage. This has been a drawback (hate to admit it) of the V8555 for me as I have to yank my dress up at the front every so often.  As you can see from this shot, it doesn’t always work…

After having splurged my hard-earned pennies on the Amy Butler fabric I returned to my first discount love, the unimaginatively named ‘Fabricland’. You can see why as this material cost £3.60 a metre (or thereabouts) and the yellow lining just over a pound. Along with the thread and the zip the materials for this dress cost a princely £15. Unaccustomed to paying so much in Fabricland for the materials to make one dress I nearly said, when presented with the total, that I didn’t want the material after all.  Also, the thought ran through my mind of the appropriateness of the fabric design. I mean, how often does a female over the age of twelve get the chance to wear a big-sun yellow dress covered in pretty red cherries? Ironically that did it for me and I haven’t regretted my decision. Thankfully this dress has been a sunny and fruity delight (wasn’t that some addictive drink  popular a few years back? Very bad for children?)  And great in the very surprisingly sunny weather. I think I’ll be wearing it until it falls apart ( and considering the state of my machine that could be very soon…)

Where’s my red cardigan?

Perhaps the weather is getting a little too hot…

red dress with yellow cherries…

Perhaps this is what happens to the Sunny Dress when you’ve had too much of it…

Oh, and I nearly forgot to reveal the identity of the person who said ”…this ladder can take you all the way to Heaven”. As the answer is (Ta da!)  Holly Johnson from ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ I’m guessing that ‘Heaven’ is a reference to the famous gay club in London back in the 80’s. As for the ladder, let’s not go there… But it just goes to show that you can find meaning in the most unlikely of places and elicit wisdom out of the most inauspicious (?) of mouths.

It’s Frock Friday! ‘This ladder can take you all the way to heaven.’

I’ve made the frock but I’ve been so busy – showing frock to mother, off to see friends for Frock Friday cocktails , sitting in sun with sons – that I’ve had no time to upload frock. Until now –

Just 2 metres of Amy Butler fabric(from John Lewis), approximate cost £14, makes a whole bright yellow dress! Incredible.  And who would have thought that yellow would suit me so much when six months ago I felt sure that it did not. Yellow. Just goes to show that the power of subliminal advertising runs deep. It’s not the first time that I’ve said ‘I’m never going to wear THAT!’ only to find myself rushing off to the sales several months later with the express intention of getting hold of the very THAT that I had so vociferously expressed my undying loathing of those months before.
As for my trusty pattern, I have been adjusting it and making the dress much longer than the suggested length… Perhaps it’s a little too long… Still, it can’t look too bad as my mother (every woman’s worst style critic) goose-stepped me up to John Lewis’ material department this morning and insisted on buying  not one but two lots of dress fabric so that I can make her dresses in the same style. I agree – I’ll make her the frocks. But she had better not think I’m  making her any cocktails!
Only joking mum!
But what was the significance of ‘ladder’ and ‘heaven’?  And who said it?  Hmm. I’ve had too many FF cocktails to explain or be bothered to tell you where I got the quotation from.  Perhaps next week…(Don’t get too excited. The answer is very disappointing.) But before I go I want to write a bit for my youngest son who is feeling homesick at the moment, away in Berlin, after having spent a week in relative seclusion in a villa set in Spanish countryside with 30 other students (WHO would rent out such a  villa to 30 18 year olds ? I mean, it’s a whole classful of kids but without the teacher… )
 My darling Harry, I hope you enjoyed the Soviet airport (no, I’m not joking! He really did go there!) . I’m finishing the jumper I’ve been knitting for you for the past 3 years…and (wait for the uplifting platitude to be read while singing ‘This opportunity comes only once in a life time’ for maximum Eminem pumped-upness ) try to embrace each and every opportunity you get.
Also, just to cure you of any lingering pangs of homesickness you may still be harbouring, just imagine the following scenario –
Dad and I are sitting in our full Royle-family glory, slouched in front of the TV, have been for hours, dad with a bottle of beer and me with a glass of white wine ( sorry about middle-class trappings but don’t be fooled into thinking there’s a huge difference between me and Barbara, because there’s not…) .
Then, just when you think that existence at home can’t get any more mind-numbingly  mundane a James Bond film comes on. Too tired to move or even exercise finger on remote I start to sing along to the theme tune – ‘Never Say Never Again’. ‘Sean Connery’s my favourite James Bond’, I say, ‘What do you think Simon?’ You’ll not be too surprised to read that  Simon does not share his thoughts on this most divisive of subjects, presumably because he prefers Pierce Brosnan and wants to avoid an argument. However, Harry, it is to my next question that I draw your attention as I then pipe up, ‘Which  film is this?’
…And with that, my angel, I hope to have cured you of your homesickness. Have a great time in Berlin. Bis bald ( a little bit of German for you), mum xx


As I spread the word about my favourite dress pattern

feast your eyes

imagine my consternation when I was told today that it is no longer featured in the Vogue book of patterns. Big mistake. Big, big mistake.
However, even worse news for me as I have gone round hither and thither offering it out and now that fellow sewers cannot buy their own copy I may have to put my money where my mouth is and actually lend it out.  
But I can’t.
I mean, what am I going to make without it ?
I already have 3 lots of fabric recently bought in the sale at John Lewis with  the V8555 written all over them.

Fabric one is a Rowan fabric, price £6.75 a metre –

baby diarrhoea yellow

reserve judgement…it just takes a little bit of vision

 and fabrics two and three (also priced at £6.75) are by Amy Butler –

very yellow –  apparently the colour of the summer…

very boldcould be too young for me. Again.

 Perhaps what I need now is to find out the best place from which to buy pattern paper – or is that illegal? Imagine the headlines ‘Middle-aged woman gets 6 months for tracing dress pattern’.  ‘Frock Fraud’ . Oops, hope not.
So you see, I couldn’t possibly copy it. Or lend it out. That surely must be a crime too.
As a last resort I have even resorted to making most of friends’ dresses myself. Take, for example, my dressmaking protegee Dotty. She cut the pattern out under my watchful, nurturing eye, then I whipped it off her and insisted I ‘show’ her how to assemble the pieces. Within two hours we had it finished and on.

Dotty in the Minnie Dress

Dotty claimed that she was unable to use the pedal to finish her dress due to a broken foot…  She looks stunning. But she’s still not getting the pattern. Yet!

Workmen and tools…

Excuse the unintended euphemism. No, the title of this post is more to do with the quality of my seamstressship ( 3 s’s…?!). No, let’s re-write that – ‘seamstress-ship’. Hm. In fact let’s completely re-write that – let’s say ‘quality of my sewing’. I have for weeks, to those unfortunate enough to be around me, gone on about the substandard nature of my sewing machine. Inherited from my father who had given it to my mother who had given it straight back to him, no doubt in horror, I have used the 40+ year old Brother machine to indulge my new-found passion and I fear that it has been holding me back.
Indeed, to say it has served me well would be a lie – it’s slow, limited and … slack. I accept that the tension should be something that I could remedy myself. Add to that  my mother-in-law’s criticism of  my knitting as ‘slack’  which forever haunts me ( ‘ a problem there is no cure for’. Apparently…) and you can see why I also fear that the ‘needs improvement’ grading for my sewing might be my fault. Not the machine’s.
Despite my protestations and taunts of  ‘Stupid machine’ I can sense that the menfolk in my house think that it’s me.

And Thursday night was no different. The machine was playing up. Really playing up and I was threatening to replace it. Then, as I was nearing the completion of a pink gingham frock (ready for Friday),  just one side of the zip to sew into place, I saw a light. Not ‘the’ light , you understand, that’s for my other Blog, but ‘a‘ light.

 I took my foot off the metal pedal ( can you see where I’m going with this yet?) , looked around and could see nothing. Odd. I put my foot down again, hands in position to feed the zip and fabric through. My head was down, willing the machine not to fail me now.  Instantly I caught a lightning flash from the corner of my eye.

I stopped again. This time I could smell burning. I looked around. No extra light to be seen. Hmm. I felt sure that it was the ‘stupid machine’   but as I couldn’t actually see the problem I decided to press on ahead. I’d nearly finished after all. I bent over to rub my bare foot ( got it yet?) . At least alert to a possible problem at this point, when my foot pushed on the pedal I looked down and saw what I initially thought were flames coming from beneath the floorboards. Yes, flaming floorboards. Thankfully my instincts are sharper than my brain and I swiftly removed my bare foot from the metal pedal.  The now overpowering smell of burning compelled me to unplug the sewing machine and put some slippers on.
But as I looked down at my nearly sewn in zip I contemplated, albeit fleetingly, wrapping a towel around the metal pedal and carrying on valiantly. Gloriously. Stupidly. I picked up the metal pedal and sniffed it. Hopefully. But it was ‘dead’. I told myself that I would never have done anything so foolish as to forge ahead. Ha, ha, ha. Flaming floorboards…

I placed the metal pedal on the table laying it out gently as if it were a dead bird that I hoped to resuscitate. Half-understood stories of phoenixes, flames and ashes invaded my mind. ‘I didn’t mean it,’ I said, ‘I didn’t really want to buy a new machine.’

Still, I had to finish the dress for the following day.  I hunted down a sewing needle, threaded it ( after 3 minutes of trying, nearly sick with the concentration of focusing to see the eye. Bizarrely no time to find my glasses…) and spent the next hour sewing in the rest of the zip by hand. Very badly. 

My Flaming Floorboards Dress

Reminds you of a pair of curtains? There could be a reason for that…
Pink Gingham for Frock Friday
Material from the curtain selection at Calico, Bedminster, Bristol
about £7 a metre.
I usually wear a cardigan with this one…
POSTSCRIPT – for those of you who are seriously concerned about the metal pedal, I did not manage to revive it, nor did I even try. Instead I have replaced it with a plastic one. Much safer.
The Brother sewing machine lives on to sew another dress.


c’est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron

Again. And again. And again…

After a brief dalliance with a pattern I’d seen made up on the Dolly Clackett blog ( called the ‘Cambie’ by Sewaholics)

 I soon returned to my true love. My Vogue options pattern.  As for Dolly’s favoured pattern ( and it is true, she looks fab in the style), it didn’t do much for me.

 Other than make me look like some simple ageing woman who hankers for her youth ( oh! perhaps that is me…) and still wears white knee-length socks (phew! No that isn’t me!), the style makes the wearer look short ( as I’ve already made crystal clear short I am not) and top heavy. Which, perhaps, I am.

See what I mean…

 When you’re pushing 50 (and the rest) top-heavy-short is not a flattering look. Dolly looks wonderful ( so wonderful that I was compelled to track down the pattern of the dresses she wears on her blog). However, I did not look as wonderful as her.
So for me the Vogue Options pattern is a dream. It has sufficient challenge (darts, lining, zip for heaven’s sake!) yet seems to fit like a dream. The style is flattering (well, at least it suits me more than the Cambie), and, now that I remember to put a split in the back of it I can even move unimpeded. What more could I ask for?
Bye bye Cambie!