Tattoed Ladies and Strong Men


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We are a good portion through the Summer and House of Jo’s Busman’s holiday. I’ve been occupying myself not only with the usual sewing and patterning but have also managed to cram in a few working festivals. I’m finally recovered after my nearly two weeks in Glastonbury Festival’s Shangri-la and have weaned myself off afternoon/anytime naps. The event was a mix of mud and sun and noise and passed in a blur of late night shifts at Wally’s Bar and sleepless mornings as the Shangri-hell stage turned my caravan into a beat amplifier. I exchanged my magic beans for a shed on two wheels: limping home with not one but two caravans and am now the dubious owner of a late 60’s Thomson T-Line Gleneagle.

The next event was Keynsham Music Festival where I had the pleasure of working with the Lovely Maya Wolf for a whirlwind Hat Making workshop. By heck, my hands moved somewhere near the speed of light and I facilitated a marvelous mix of head based ornamentation.

Changing pace and age range in quick succession I moved onto the planning and preparation for a four day Creative Pattern Cutting Course hosted by my good self at City of Bath College. Yet again we had a great bunch of students who stood steady under a barrage of technique and practice to complete a scaled adventure in the art of pattern cutting and dressmaking.

I am now putting the finishing touches to a House of Jo workshop which will be gracing Camp Bestival this coming weekend. I’ve been cutting and sticking, swatching in Adobe Illustrator and making a series of exemplars for a Tattooed Lady and Strong Men jointed paper doll extravaganza:

Josefine et Paolo jointed paper doll tattoed lady strongman

Love is matching tattoos and facial hair.

Thanks are offered to The Enchanted Gallery, the template for the dolls and doll making supplies can very kindly be found here.

Polly Cotton

My Mother isn’t a resident in internetLand so I can safely post a picture of her Birthday/Mother’s Day present. I’m making it well in advance because I am the worst daughter ever and am virtually guaranteed to nearly always forget to mark either of these occasions. She has been badgering me to make her a doll for some time now and here is my offering: Polly Cotton. She needs a few finishing touches but for now I must get on with my scheme of work and lesson planning.



Update: Polly Cotton now has a silk georgette rouleaux trim for her jacket and a matching hair ribbon.

Identifying Fabric: Burn Tests





BURN TEST – CAUTION. WARNING. BE CAREFUL! This should only be done by skilled burners! Make sure there is a bucket of water nearby and that you burn in a metal bucket or non-plastic sink.

To identify fabric that is unknown, a simple burn test can be done to determine if the fabric is a natural fiber, man made fiber, or a blend of natural and man made fibers. The burn test is used by many fabric stores and designers and takes practice to determine the exact fiber content. However, an inexperienced person can still determine the difference between many fibers to “narrow” the choices down to natural or man made fibers. This elimination process will give information necessary to decide the care of the fabric.


WARNING: All fibers will burn! Asbestos treated fibers are, for the most part fire proof. The burning test should be done with caution. Use a small piece of fabric only. Hold the fabric with tweezers, not your fingers. Burn over a metal dish with soda in the bottom or even water in the bottom of the dish. Some fabrics will ignite and melt. The result is burning drips which can adhere to fabric or skin and cause a serious burn.

Natural Fibers

Cotton is a plant fiber. When ignited it burns with a steady flame and smells like burning leaves. The ash left is easily crumbled. Small samples of burning cotton can be blown out as you would a candle.

Linen is also a plant fiber but different from cotton in that the individual plant fibers which make up the yarn are long where cotton fibers are short. Linen takes longer to ignite. The fabric closest to the ash is very brittle. Linen is easily extinguished by blowing on it as you would a candle.

Silk is a protein fiber and usually burns readily, not necessarily with a steady flame, and smells like burning hair. The ash is easily crumbled. Silk samples are not as easily extinguished as cotton or linen.


Wool is also a protein fiber but is harder to ignite than silk as the individual “hair” fibers are shorter than silk and the weave of the fabrics is generally looser than with silk. The flame is steady but more difficult to keep burning. The smell of burning wool is like burning hair.


Man Made Fibers

Acetate is made from cellulose (wood fibers), technically cellulose acetate. Acetate burns readily with a flickering flame that cannot be easily extinguished. The burning cellulose drips and leaves a hard ash. The smell is similar to burning wood chips.

Acrylic technically acrylonitrile is made from natural gas and petroleum. Acrylics burn readily due to the fiber content and the lofty, air filled pockets. A match or cigarette dropped on an acrylic blanket can ignite the fabric which will burn rapidly unless extinguished. The ash is hard. The smell is acrid or harsh.

Nylon is a polyamide made from petroleum. Nylon melts and then burns rapidly if the flame remains on the melted fiber. If you can keep the flame on the melting nylon, it smells like burning plastic.

Polyester is a polymer produced from coal, air, water, and petroleum products. Polyester melts and burns at the same time, the melting, burning ash can bond quickly to any surface it drips on including skin. The smoke from polyester is black with a sweetish smell. The extinguished ash is hard.

Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fiber which is almost pure cellulose. Rayon burns rapidly and leaves only a slight ash. The burning smell is close to burning leaves.

Blends consist of two or more fibers and, ideally, are supposed to take on the characteristics of each fiber in the blend. The burning test can be used but the fabric content will be an assumption.

(Image credit – National Safety Apparel, Ditzyprints & aVENIR fashions. Text Credit – The Fabric Stock Exchange)


Gemma Nova Wilks


Gemma Embroid F low qualityGemma Embroid B low quality

Gemma Nova Wilks

10th May 1990- 17th July 2013.

No words to describe a parent’s love and loss: Twelve hundred knots and a whole lot of stitches don’t even begin to to describe how heartfelt my condolences are. This is my stitched version of a truly wonderful portrait from the hand of Gemma’s friend Jeanie. Carrie Wilks; here’s to your original one-eyed chicklet in a Kingdom of the blind.

Pattern Cutting Summer School


I had the pleasure of teaching a Summer School at City of Bath College this past week. A lovely bunch of ladies came along to the class and I hope I’ve managed to not put them off pattern cutting for life and managed to teach all just a little something!

The first day is always the most intense session: Predominantly focussing on dart manipulation. Day 2 we investigated sleeve and facing techniques and the two final days everyone got down to either creating a pattern and a toile for a bodice of their own design or a series of scaled patterns to explore a variety of pattern cutting operations.

Claire, Irene, Katie, Karon, Lauren, Mandy and Winnie all worked incredibly hard, asking all the right questions in the right places to really extend their learning. The most asked question during the early sessions was “Why/where do I put the dart” and I was very proud to find by the end of the sessions they could all equally proudly answer “Wherever I want: I’m the designer!

Winnie has written about her journey over on Scruffy Badger, go check her out!


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This technique is from Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s most excellent book
Patternmaking for Fashion Design. 
  1. Close bust dart.
  2. Close waist dart and open dart at armscye notch.
  3. Draw in style line from bust pivot point to side seam approx. 6.25cm from waist. Mark in notches for gather control.
  4. Close RHS armscye dart.
  5. Slash LHS from style line to bust dart.
  6. Close LHS armscye dart.
  7. Spread LHS released sections.

Drape Drape



I ordered in a copy of Hisako Satos’s Drape Drape for the college library a month or so ago. On my last visit I was happy to see it on the shelf and booked it out for the Christmastime holiday.
Drape Drape is the latest book from the Bunka Fashion College in Japan, unlike their previous offerings in the Pattern Magic collection, this book doesn’t supply cutting directions, instead the patterns for the garments are included in full size on fold out patterns at the back of the book.
Each pattern is given in a three sizes S/M/L which is a big plus as patterns such as this would be intimidating to grade without a good amount of previous knowledge. Sewing directions are included for each project.

The publishers description vouchsafes the book as being highly suitable for anyone wanting to learn about draping although I would caution anyone who is to purchase the book without first viewing that this is a project based book, if you make up some of the clothes in the book I’m sure your understanding of the construction processes necessary for this type of garment will be acquired, which will in turn inspire your practise, but if you are looking for a publication teaching you the nuts and bolts of draping on the stand this book is not going to fulfil this requirement.
I made up the one piece dress on P… After running out a 1st toile in a jersey I made another in a wool plaid. You can see from the image below that I performed some ad hoc* alterations between toile 01 and 02 mainly to account for the lack of stretch in the second fabric. I also lengthened dress considerably which necessitated widening the hem.
*When I say ad hoc what I actually mean is amateurish! I was in a hurry to finish the second toile before the sun was down on the first and I only graded out the centre front and centre back-I’d started to cut it out before I noticed my error-not grading through the side seam to give more width across the armhole. Less haste, more speed comes to mind, as does the saying measure twice cut once!

Vintage Pattern Selector


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I received my author copy of The Vintage Pattern Selector through the post today, the American version is already for sale over on Amazon and the English version will be released in the new year.
The Vintage Pattern Selector is both a practical and an inspirational sewing book that arms the reader with all the techniques and information they need in order to mix and match a variety of iconic clothing styles from the 20th century. Accompanied by a CD with 15 printable patterns for a range of dress sizes, this book is a comprehensive guide to creating contemporary outfits from vintage styles. For home sewers and fashion enthusiasts, vintage clothing isn’t merely a device to replicate specific looks from a specific era, but instead, an opportunity for limitless style options that draw on decades of experimentation with hemlines, colors, styles, and silhouettes. The Vintage Pattern Selector is the ultimate handbook for readers seeking advice on how to choose the right fabric, color palettes, styles, and patterns in order to create contemporary pieces that reference these timeless styles and designs. Combining vintage inspiration with modern style, patterns, and practical advice, this book is the long-awaited category killer on a thoroughly exciting subject.
Includes a CD of 15 patterns in a range of dress sizes, from small to extra large. Includes advice on choosing fabrics and color palettes. Arms the reader with techniques and advice for mixing and matching vintage style from the 20th century to create thoroughly modern looks
And if that isn’t enough to whet your interest perhaps you would like to read a glowing review from the lovely Nothy Lane over at Aft Agley.
Vintage-Pattern-Selector_ English front page

Needle Tatting


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I’ve been teaching myself needle tatting (or Frivolite if you’d rather).



It’s a great improvement on shuttle tatting-quicker and a more consistent tension is achieved.


 There are two active threads at anyone time (and sometimes more), the ball thread and the needle, or core, thread. The ball thread knots a series of hitches around a 15cm needle threaded with the core thread. The needle does not taper and is a consistent size from eye to tip. Different sizes of needle are used for the varying gauge of thread: the needle for this sample made from sewing thread is tiny, and very bendy, making work somewhat slower.
This is a section of a collar piece before blocking.
…and here, for your delectation, is a wee coronet…
… starched and mounted on a ring of fine wire…
I wear it around the house a lot: my mother always said I had ideas above my station.


A brief respite from the De-Trebussing: Two partially complete garments from the U.F.O box become one.


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The skirt part is composed of rows of French seamed circular flounces, originally developed but rejected as a “Super Sempstress” cape for my Foundation Degree final collection, which means it’s been residing in the box since 2007. The top part’s origin is unknown, probably brought back from a scavenging mission at Anne Kings. It’s a Kimono shape with delicate white on white cutwork which had been removed from a very damaged gathered straight skirt. The cutwork is machine made but the rest of the garment had been constructed with perfectly regular hand stitching. The Empire Line join had a hand sewn feather stitch to reinforce and secure the seam allowances and once my clear out is finished I’ll recreate it. The Obi belt, in case you’re interested, is a lovely buttery soft grey leather which I’ve owned so long I’ve forgotten where it’s from.



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It’s been a busy Summer at House of Jo. I’m near the end of a Busman’s Holiday of sorts and have been working on a project with my colleague Andrew Richards which will be released into the wild in S/S 12. In the meantime, here’s a cuff and cuff guard construction worksheet lying fallow on my hard drive.