Worm Towers in the Potager

Originally I set up this area of the garden with two big beds of mixed annuals, flowers and herbs which left a nice sized area for the chicken arc to be moved around.  A few years later the chickens moved to a larger ‘permanent’ area under the old Bramley apple tree, making way for a wildlife pond and three raised beds.  We lost the beautiful old apple tree last year which gave my husband the opportunity to build a workshop.  So the chickens moved down into the forest garden, a joint workshop and potting shed (for me) appeared, and I gained two new cold frames and an extra three raised beds.

These beds were mainly annual vegetables, edible cutting flowers and some herbs, so over winter they are nearly empty and I top them up with home made compost.  Gradually, though, the annuals are being replaced with perennials: ocas (a lot of ocas) rhubarb, fennel, chamomile, lavender and mint along with self seeding edible flowers like borage and nasturtiums.   There will be even fewer annuals next year.

Recently I’ve noticed that quite a few permaculture and forest garden blogs mention worm towers.  I was inspired to make my own after reading a post in one of my favourite ones  Our Permaculture Life which is based in Australia, but the principles can be applied to edible gardens in Cornwall, it’s just a case of researching the suitability of plants.  Surprisingly most will adapt to our climate very well and it is not too tricky to find alternatives.  (eg Morag uses some varieties of perennial spinach which would not survive here but there are perennial spinach plants such as Caucasian Spinach and Good King Henry which will do well.)  The worm towers seem a really good idea.  They are basically mini compost bins which do not need emptying as the worms carry the goodness down into the ground for you.  Composting in-situ!CIMG4916CIMG4916

For each worm tower I used a length of  150mm x 500mm plastic pipe  and a terracotta saucer for a lid.  I then (by ‘I’ I mean my husband as I can’t be trusted with power tools) drilled some holes randomly around the bottom 30cm of pipe to allow worms, moisture and goodness through.

Next I dug a hole approximately 30cm deep and ‘planted’ the pipe vertically into the hole and refilled around to keep it upright.  All the drilled holes are hidden below the soil and the top 20cm of pipe is sticking out of the ground.

I half filled the worm tower with kitchen scraps, cardboard and newspaper and added some worms that I collected from the compost bins.  Most people recommend buying composting worms online as you need about fifty for each tower.  However, I thought I would initially try to find enough from my own garden as they have found their own way here, so are suited to the conditions and they will multiply by themselves.  Hopefully I won’t have to resort to buying any.  Then I just watered the tower well and covered it with the saucer.

I ended up making one for each raised bed in the potager, and I think they look quite cool sitting in amongst the vegetables and herbs.  (Apologies if you are unable to see all the pictures, I am trying to rectify that)







An Elfin Rag Doll

My second rag doll pattern is now available in my shop.  This one is an elfin-like, quirky doll.  I just love her striped legs.  (Not that she has to be made with striped legs.)  I have called her Ailla which is a Cornish girl’s name meaning ‘most beautiful’ and I think she really is!

She has a beautifully shaped face and a soft rounded body (but not too round; just right to be carried around by a small person).  I have added slim arms and legs, combined with pointy ears and large pixie boots to update her.  There is also a pattern piece for more realistic ears, so that you have the choice of making a little girl doll or a pixie/elf doll.  I think this pattern lends itself to being made in bright, unrealistic colours such as blue, green or pink for the hair.  Obviously, normal ‘hair’ colours would work just as well but you could also go a bit over board with this one.

Normally if I am making a rag doll, an embroidery, a drawing, or even a cake, I avoid trying to recreate something to look exactly as the real thing – this almost always results in failure and anyway, that’s what photos are for.  However, due to the shape of the face on this rag doll it does really need to have more of a real eye shape (sort of), but larger.  I always find that choosing how to embroider the face is the hardest part of making a doll.  There are so many variations and the slightest change makes a huge difference to the expression and way the rag doll looks.

The fabric I chose for the body, face and arms is a lovely soft, woven cotton especially for doll making and comes in a range of skin tones and a striped quilting fabric for the legs.  But, again, calico would work fine and could be dyed to your chosen shade using tea or coffee.

This pattern is more involved to make than the French-style rag doll.  It still isn’t difficult, there are just extra pieces to make a more rounded, 3D shape and the arms and legs are jointed so that they are re-positional.  There is also more detailed embroidery for the facial features, but obviously they can be simplified.

I have included patterns for her outfit.


Sewing Stretch Fabric

I have been working on some lingerie patterns that I would like to share with you.  My husband wanted me to call this post ‘Not around your ankles.’  Always something to bear in mind when making lingerie!

So, this is my first completed lingerie pattern:

I have called it ‘Tegan Lace Shorts Pattern’.  This is probably the easiest pair of lace knickers to make ever as the lace trim already has a nice edging on it and is quite elasticated, so no sewing on extra elastic or hemming!  It is available at Bramble Patch Designs in both PDF and paper format.

There are a few more in the pipeline:

Making my own lingerie hadn’t been something I had thought of doing until fairly recently as it involves sewing stretch fabrics and for years I had avoided sewing with stretch fabrics.  Once or twice I had repaired a T-shirt hem with my sewing machine only to have it tear apart again as soon as I put it on which is when I decided that maybe it just couldn’t be done by ordinary people with ordinary sewing machines.  Now I know how to deal with stretch fabrics and as long as you follow the basic rules it’s not that difficult or scary.

I’ve written this tutorial for anyone who’s found the perfect pattern they want to make only to discover that it needs a scary stretch fabric and, therefore, it was not for them!

You only need four main things to sew stretch fabric:

1. Some form of zigzag/stretch stitch on your machine.

You do not need a specialist machine to work with stretchy material.  A Serger does provide a really good finish if you have one but it’s not necessary.  Any sewing machine with a zigzag stitch can sew these fabrics.  Why a zigzag?  Because each stitch can stretch, so it won’t break, whereas a straight stitch is rigid so if the fabric around it stretches, the stitch will snap.

Some machines have a variety of zigzag stitches, overcasting stitches, stretch and knit stitches which are brilliant.  Mine has a really useful elongated zigzag knit stitch that looks like a lightning bolt which I use a lot and another knit stitch which seams and finishes all in one.  My old machine probably had these too but I haven’t read the manual for about twenty years.  OK, so I’ve just dug out my old manual and it does have several stretch stitches!  Check your sewing machine manual to see what your machine is capable of, you might be very pleasantly surprised.  Most sewing machines can do an awful lot more than most of us realize.  But, even if your machine can only do plain straight and zigzag stitches, you’ve got everything you need.  For example picot edged knicker elastic is first attached on the right side of a garment using a straight stitch, flipped back to the wrong side, then zigzagged in place:

A standard straight stitch and a twin needle creates a very professional and stretchy coverstitch for hemming. When sewn from the right side you have two neat rows of parallel stitches, with a zigzag on the reverse:

You can sew seams with a plain zigzag stitch, hem with a plain zigzag and neaten edges with a plain zigzag. (Although most knits do not fray so usually the cut edges can stay as they are.)

2. The correct needle.

If you are sewing stretch lace you will need a fine sharp needle and if you are sewing a knitted fabric such as cotton jersey, elastane, power mesh or tricot you will need a fine ballpoint or stretch needle as a sharp one could snag the fabric.  Remember that if you are using a man made material your needle will dull quicker, so change it frequently.

3. The correct thread.

Use an all purpose polyester thread as it is both strong and flexible.

4. Let the fabric feed itself.

This is important.  If you ‘help’ the fabric through, or pull it – even just to hold the threads so they don’t knot – it will stretch and stretch into a very odd shape:


These two pieces of fabric were the same size and shape.  The one on the left stretched because I held onto the threads, whereas the one on the right was allowed to feed through by itself.

If your machine has a walking foot this is a good time to use it so that the fabric feeds evenly WALKING FOOT WILL FIT, BROTHER, JANOME, SINGER, TOYOTA DOMESTIC SEWING MACHINES , and you might have to experiment with reducing the foot pressure a bit.  Oh, and it helps to have a really sharp pair of scissors for cutting stretchy fabrics.  I’ve just bought a new pair 240 mm Stainless Steel Tailoring Scissors, Superior Quality, Stainless Steel Scissor Blade  and have been both shocked and amazed at the difference they make.  I was looking at the (much) more expensive ones as I want them to perform well and to last.  But these had such good reviews and I decided for the really small cost it was worth taking the risk.  They really are very good.

That’s it really.  It’s not difficult, just different to sewing woven fabric.

This tutorial covers the basics which should be all you need to start sewing your own lingerie.


Happy sewing.

More Daturas

OK, so I have not been very motivated this week.  I had intended to make some more lingerie so that I could put the patterns in my Etsy shop.  The problem is that I have too many projects backed up and this week it seemed a bit overwhelming.  This is entirely my own fault because I see some gorgeous fabric (at least twice a week) and know exactly what I could make with it and then I buy it without thinking about the fact that there are only a certain number of hours in each day and that I already have a whole cupboard (and the top of my desk) full of fabric that I knew just what to do with!

Anyway, this week I did not do what I was going to.  But I did make my youngest daughter a cover for her tablet.


My oldest daughter has been asking for a new make-up bag which I will now have to get on with or I shall be getting complaints.  I have been dragging my heels a bit on this one as she wants a frame clasp and I’ve not used one before and haven’t even got around to making the pattern although I have seen a tutorial on U-handbag.  I’m just going to have to take the plunge.  I have bought the fabric.  So that’s a start.


Also, I made another couple of tops in the Deer and Doe Datura style.

The first Datura was in a grey, embroidered cotton voile.  I did the peter pan collar version but lengthened the back and put in a pleat to give some extra room at the bottom.  I attached a lovely diamante button to a bow and sewed it to the front bodice, which doesn’t show up particularly well in the pictures.

Then I made a Datura similar to the original in a really soft floral fabric and added some bright cerise and diamante buttons to the back.  I am beginning to notice a bit of a theme with the diamante buttons!

After the first peach coloured one I shortened the yoke and lengthened the top of the bodice.  I think it works much better like this.

Hopefully, I will be inspired to sew lingerie next week.


Pattern Weights

My sewing is really let down by my inability to measure and cut accurately.  This could be because I don’t enjoy it and am always in a rush to get on with the sewing.  It’s never really bothered me, it just means I have to make a few alterations as I go along so that everything matches up.  However, it occurred to me that it might save time in the long run if I did it properly in the first place!

Normally I hold the pattern in place with one hand and then cut with the other (you can probably see the flaw in this method) because it takes so long to draft my patterns I’m not overly keen to put pins in them, and I want to be able to re-use them.

So, I started to look for some pattern weights.  I found some.  They cost about £30 and looked like lumps of plastic. This would be such a waste of money for me.  If they don’t look appealing, I won’t use them.  At this point it still didn’t occur to me to make some, or even to use some pebbles/ stones/ crystals.  But I Googled ‘pattern weights’ images and along with the boring commercial ones were some fabulous handmade ones, including some that someone had made by painting patterns on to pebbles with 3D puff paint.  A really simple idea and so effective. Perhaps I should have done that, it would have saved me some time.  But some of the fabric ones looked so pretty, I just had to make some.  This was my first attempt:


I bought two large washers for each one and gathered a circular scrap of material around them.  I had planned to put a largish covered button on top of each but then spotted these diamante ones which were left over from making my notice board and I do like sparkly things.  I really like these pattern weights and they will get a lot of use.


Then I saw some pattern weights that looked like little pyramids and they seemed simple enough to make.  I found the tutorial at Tea Rose Home .  I cut out a triangle of scrap fabric and sewed the sides together so that the tips met at the top and stuffed them with lentils (I would have used rice but I had some lentils that were nearing their sell by date and there was more chance of us eating the rice.)  I’m quite pleased with how they’ve turned out as well.  They could easily be sized up to make a pin cushion or even a door stop.

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Because I never know when to stop I made two owls as well from slightly different patterns.  They were basically a small triangle attached to a larger triangle, folded over at the top for a beak, stuffed with lentils and a covered coin underneath to help them stand up.  The pink gingham one was made from two triangles of the same height whereas the purple and green one had a shorter triangle for his tummy.  This one was slightly trickier to sew but I think the end result is better.  I found the tutorial for one at My DIY Chat and the other one at a site called Moonstitches.

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I wonder if it’s my scissors that’s the real issue.  It could be my scissors, they’re almost definitely not helping the situation.  I have just realized that they are very old, possibly thirty years plus and they’ve never been sharpened.  That could have to be addressed at some point, but for now at least my pattern pieces should stay put.


My Deer and Doe Datura

The Deer and Doe Datura is a really popular pattern and so many people have posted pictures of their versions online.  I have spent hours looking at them. Seriously, hours!  I just love this pattern. Some people are so inventive with their use of fabric and make really effective colour and pattern choices.  Sadly, I do not, but I live in hope that one day inspiration will strike.

I have a confession to make.  I didn’t manage to buy this pattern, I drafted my own version.  There are a few suppliers listed in the UK but nobody seemed to have any in stock and I’m too impatient to wait for one to be posted from France.  A few months ago I made myself a block for a top from draping my tailor’s dummy, and all the tops I have made since then have been adapted from this. This one involved more changes than most, though.

True to my indecisive nature choosing fabric posed its usual dilemmas so I ended up buying enough for two tops.  In fairness, I would have gone back to buy more to make a second one anyway, so actually, I saved money on fuel.

The first one I made was the peach and cream Datura version with the cut out triangles.  I have read that the bodice construction was causing some confusion as most of us have been used to turning both pieces the right side out, machine sewing one shoulder seam and then hand sewing the lining to finish.  But by only turning one piece the right side out and inserting it into the other piece, you can machine both seams and sew the seam allowances flat to finish them neatly, then when you turn the other piece the right side out it’s finished with no hand sewing to do – brilliant!  This is going to be my preferred technique for lined bodices in the future.  The recommended way of turning under the lower bodice lining to finish is the way I always do it except that I would normally hand hem it instead of machine top sewing from the right side. This is actually the first completely machine sewn garment I’ve made and that includes the buttons.  I like the finish you get with hand sewing so this is slightly outside my comfort zone but I am happy with the results.  I chose not to put in buttonholes as I can get the top on and off without them and it eliminates the worry of someone undoing them without me noticing which could be embarrassing – and drafty.

Patrick Grant of The Great British Sewing Bee made a comment last week about a top with buttons down the back needing to stay closed at the bottom but I have made mine to separate at the bottom as I think it looks much nicer especially when worn with a short cardigan.  So I made the back of the green and white one the same way and found these gorgeous green and diamante buttons to complete it.  They cost about the same amount as the fabric but I think they’re quite cute and worth it.


I thought the peter pan collar version might be easier to do than the triangle cut out version as I found it fairly tricky to attach the bias binding in the right place (it would have been quite simple if I had just put it on my tailor’s dummy to pin it, but for some reason I didn’t think of that at the time).  However, with the second version it was hard to judge where to sew when I got to the middle of the collar so I ended up drawing a guide line in tailor’s chalk.  Again, if I had thought to do that in the first place it would have been very straight forward.  Still, I’ll know next time.

These tops do take a little time to make but I just love them so much I will be making more of them very soon.



A New Sewing Room

It’s official, I have too much stuff!  My lovely husband has just spent weeks making me a new desk for my sewing and jewellery making things and it’s already full, with things squashed in underneath as well.

The left hand side of the desk is for jewellery making (but soldering will still be done in the kitchen next to the patio doors and sink, and away from my fabric) and the right hand side is for sewing.  I have recycled lots of old jars for storage in my desk (I knew if I just kept hold of them they would come in handy one day), but wanted something slightly more aesthetically pleasing for the things which I use more often and which would be out on display.  So, after much research as I call it, but others might say an enjoyable morning looking online at other people’s brilliant ideas, this is what I came up with.  I bought lots of cheap matching jars from Asda for buttons, threads, elastic, zips, ribbons and embroidery silks.  I have wrapped the ribbon and elastic around lolly pop sticks and secured with diamante pins and I found this brilliant idea for the embroidery silks.  I have wound them around wooden pegs which conveniently have a built in clamp to secure the ends.  I think they are very effective. While I was on a roll, I decided that the plastic pockets I kept my sewing patterns in weren’t up to the job so I ordered lots of plastic document folders with snap fastenings and spent an afternoon sticking labels on them all with a description and a picture of the garment.

This room has had several previous incarnations.  It had been my oldest daughter’s room for about twelve years and I have used it as my yoga studio for the last three years.  I gradually filled it with my sewing bits and pieces as well and then found myself carrying them up and down the corridor to the kitchen where I normally sew.  So it made sense to put a desk in here instead.  It still has to double as a spare bedroom hence the chaise sofa bed and as it is just inside the front door where everyone can see it, I also tried to make it look like a nice reception room.  But it still ‘my sewing room’.  I’ve re-painted my Gran’s old display cabinet and lined the doors with fabric to hide the contents as it is full to the brim with lovely fabrics and a couple of yoga mats.  I’m not sure what she would have made of that as it was a dark mahogany when I inherited it.   Hopefully, she’d be pleased to see it being used.

I have enjoyed sewing in the kitchen as it’s a warm sunny room with lovely views out across the garden and fields, but it will also be really good to be able to use the table for its intended purpose and to not be squashed up at one end of it at dinner time!

All in all I think it’s turned out OK and should be a good base for my sewing.

Next time I will be sharing my efforts at making my version of Deer and Doe’s Datura pattern.