Hello friends, it's been a while! I've found it really hard to catch up on blogging and sewing since my recent visit to Cyprus, so I'm breaking myself back in with some good news for crafty folk in and around Leicester.

A few weekends back I went to visit my favourite fabric stall on the market, only to find out that the owner was winding it down in favour of a permanent shop just up the road, called Material Magic. I can't tell you how exciting this is for us locals, because there's a serious lack of choice when it comes to fabric shopping in Leicester. The two market stalls are excellent, but obviously not there every day, and the haberdasheries in the big chains (John Lewis, Fenwick, etc) are pricey and lack selection. 

Anyway, Material Magic certainly didn't disappoint! It's a relatively small shop, but packed with a good variety of fabrics which are very reasonably priced. 

Cottons of all weights for any project

Fancy fabrics for special occasions

Fun animal prints

Jersey in a range of solids and prints

Colourful linen for Spring time

Cotton lawn in brilliant florals

Of course, it would have been rude to leave empty handed, so I brought these adorable prints home!

Have you discovered any good local crafty shops recently?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I'm in Cyprus, visiting my family and eating my body weight in Feta flavour crisps...and so much more! However, I think that it's also the perfect opportunity to share a little more about my stitching heritage, which I only recently discovered fully myself. Last year I shared the story of my great-grandmother and the silk she painstakingly spun and wove for her daughters' dowry - which I am now one of the lucky recipients of.

My Armistice Blouse made from my great-grandmother's silk

Today, I want to share the story of my grandmother's skill - she is so ridiculously modest that she initially didn't think it warranted sharing with us. You see, my grandmother was a bit of a whizz at freehand machine embroidery! She used to decorate plain bedding and make it into something special for the family household. One of my favourites is this set below, which shows so much attention to detail. The colours and design are so fresh and pretty and I don't even know where I would begin to embroider scallops...machine or no machine!

My grandmother also helped her mother to put the intricate finishing touches on the hand-spun silk bedding for their dowry. It was a combination of embroidery and crochet and the result is so stunning, don't you think? 

So well-known had my grandmother's skill become on the island, that from 1947, when she was around 16, she started taking in students. Around 6 female students (and their sewing machines) could be accommodated at the family home and over a 3-month period my grandmother would teach them everything she knew about machine embroidery, even helping them work on specific projects along the way. She got paid one Cypriot pound a month, which in those days was a pretty significant contribution to the household!

And just because I couldn't resist sharing, here are some gorgeous pictures of my grandparents. I know I must be biased, but I think they're one of the most handsome couples I've ever seen!

It's been said that my grandfather fell for my grandmother because of her red-ish hair that she used to regularly wear in girlie plaits. I don't know why, but I find that an incredibly cute notion!

This last photo is such fun! I doubt they had many cars in the village so it must have been a blast posing with this one. My grandmother's the one on the left leaning on the car and because she's always been somewhat of a matriarch - always the strong pillar of the family both physically and mentally - it's so nice to think that she once may have been a little frivolous.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I've enjoyed learning about my stitching heritage. Does stitching run in your family?

A couple of Sundays ago, some lovely colleagues and I took an Annie Sloan Chalk Paint workshop at the gorgeous Pomponette in Leicester. I know this has nothing to do with stitching, but you've all shown such a great interest in our home improvements, that I figured you might find it interesting. So, if you're not familiar with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, it's pretty amazing stuff! It can be used on a multitude of surfaces - wood, concrete, metal, matt plastic, earthenware etc - inside and outdoors. The best thing is that as long as your surfaces are clean and oil-free, you don't even need to sand them down or anything!

During the workshop, Pomponette owner and Annie Sloan Chalk Paint extraordinaire, Joanne Purtill, taught us how to achieve different finishes with the paint. Although the possibilities seem endless, we focused on Vintage Rustic, Crackle Effect, Two Colour Lyering and Smooth Modern Finish - seen in that order below.

It was liberating being told that random and messy brush strokes are a must for most effects, because that kind of goes against all your painting and decorating instincts. It was also quite fun using a hairdryer to make the paint crackle...again, so counter-intuitive!

Once the paint is dry, wax is applied for a more robust finish. There's a clear wax that protects the painted surface and a darker wax that also allows you to create a 'dirtier' finish. The latter is particularly good if you want to give a modern item a vintage vibe.

After practising the different effects, we got to choose a favourite paint colour and were then set loose on an unsuspecting photo frame.

I even picked up a genius tip for removing excess paint from your brush, without totally messing up your paint pot. Very handy indeed!

Due to the ridges on my photo frame I opted for the simple Two Colour Layering effect, basically distressing the frame back to its original wood in certain places. I'm not gonna lie and say I have a natural talent for this, but the workshop was heaps of fun and these are skills I'd love to nurture! Don't all our frames look pretty all together?

The absolute icing on the cake, was getting to spend the day in such an inspiring setting. Joanne's shop is tastefully crammed with beautiful pieces of furniture (vintage and new) which she has skillfully transformed using the very techniques she teaches. If you've seen the kind of vintage furniture I'm into, you'll understand why I was in heaven!

So yeah, if you're ever in Leicester and have some time to spare, I highly recommend popping into Pomponette. If you have the time or the inclination to sign up to one of Joanne's workshops, better still!

Are any of you fans of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint? Got any examples of your work to share?
Hello friends! If you're in the UK I hope you're enjoying the same glorious weather we're having here in Leicestershire...we've totally earned it this dreary winter!

Just a quick post today to say a BIG 'thank you' to everyone who entered my Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge giveaway. I've randomly drawn some winners and can hardly wait to see your interpretations of these gorgeous patterns...CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Simplicity 2382 is going to Carla 
Butterick 4919 is going to SharpTeethOfLove

McCall's 6875 is going to Sox
 Style 4530 is going to Irena

Don't forget, everyone's welcome to join the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge - it's a yearlong effort, so no immediate deadlines to worry about! You can also keep up to date on Pinterest and by using #vintagepledge on Twitter.

Yes, before you ask that is a mini bottle of JD with a 'Drink Me' label attached that I'm sporting with my gorgeous Flora Dress - the latest pattern from By Hand London. It's just how you get to roll if you're lucky enough to be a pattern tester for the girls! If you ever get the chance to do it, I recommend it for the awesome care package alone!

Anyhow, back to The Dress! I Love It! I don't know what it is about By Hand London patterns that make me reach for floral fabric (Elisalex, Victoria and Anna) - I've seen and adored plenty of edgy variations of their patterns, but for me they tend to conjure up a more whimsical and girly aesthetic. But maybe that's just the aesthetic I usually lean towards anyway!

I bought this fabric at the same time as my Elisalex one and it's a medium-weight upholstery fabric. It works beautifully with the lines of the Flora pattern, holding the box pleats really well and resulting in a nicely structured bodice. I was a bit underwhelmed with it at the time, but I'm now smitten with the grey-blue background and in love with the bold and colourful floral print. I'm also a sucker for the chintz quality of the fabric, even though that does fade in the wash. Do you like how I placed the trio of flowers on the bodice front to look like a necklace? I'm stupidly proud of that!

I chose to make my Flora Dress in View B - with the 'more demure tank bodice' and dipped hem circle skirt. I'm not exaggerating when I say that despite Flora's impressive appearance, she comes together really quickly and easily. I cut mine out on a Friday evening and it took me less than half a day to sew her up on the Saturday. There are just four pattern pieces for View B, the design is deceptively simple and the instructions are clear. But if you don't feel confident in tackling Flora alone, the By Hand London girls have announced a sewalong that starts on 2 April!

I want to take a quick minute to show off my invisible zip here. After bemoaning zip insertions and the troubles I usually encounter, this one went it hassle-free and looks pretty good. The reason? I finally realised I was using the wrong foot all along...I was using my Janome invisible zip foot on my Brother machine. Stupid, stupid idiot! So I might have kissed and made up with invisible zips...for now!

What I also love about Flora, is that just like her sisters, she makes sure you end up with a neat finish on the inside, but with minimum effort! If you're considering making a dipped hem version, you may want to think about lining your skirt as the wrong side of the back will be visible. I didn't feel this was necessary for me, but it's just something for you to think about.

I shortened the bodice by my usual 1.5cm and shaved off about 7cm from the longest part of the skirt, but otherwise made a straight size US 10 / UK 14 because I didn't have time for a muslin. I must admit that I will probably unpick and grade it down a bit for a closer fit. I didn't tamper with the length of the front skirt and it hits above my chubby knees on my 5ft 3" frame...so be warned leggy friends! You also need 150cm wide fabric to make this baby, otherwise your skirt pieces won't fit on. Finally, I totally need to sort out some slight side-boob gaping...any good tutorials on what causes this and how to fix it please?

If anyone needs me in the meantime, I'll be twirling away in my living room!