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DIY Christmas mantel and cards

Christmas mantel

We didn’t get a tree this year – even a baby one in the garden centre was £30 and we really don’t have the space. So instead I just bought a couple of large fir branches (£2.50 each), popped them on the fireplace and adorned them with lights and baubles. I think it looks just as pretty and festive as a whole tree!

Christmas mantel

I got the little horse and sausage dog from Jonathan Adler in the sale earlier this year – they are actually supposed to be Christmas tree ornaments but I keep them up all year.

Christmas mantel

Muji candles are my favourite: they cost like £3 each and smell gorgeous.

Christmas mantel

I found the berry twigs on the pavement after someone had cut their bushes – free decorations for the win.

Christmas mantel
Christmas mantel
The cotton and pussywillow are there year-round but I stuck some baubles on them too.

Christmas mantel
Christmas mantel
Christmas mantel

I made my cards this year using my loaned Cricut machine (first blogged here). There are tons of pretty Christmassy designs available so I picked out these ones and simply stuck them onto decorative paper (leftover wrap and some Japanese washi paper). Super quick but effective.

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Starting to sew

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I know my blog’s been quite sewing-heavy recently, and I had a couple of comments asking how I got started and if I had any tips on where to begin. It’s kind of a tricky one to answer because sewing has been in my periphery for quite a few years and I can’t really remember what inspired me to start and how I learned, but I’ll try to help!

My sewing story

I started sewing on my mum’s machine at home in the summer before going off to university (ten years ago, woe). I’d mostly do t-shirt ‘reconstructions’ where I’d buy vintage shirts from Pop Boutique or the charity shop and cut them into something more fun. Here’s a couple of those old shirts on skinny little baby me.


I got sufficiently into it that I bought myself a fairly cheap overlocker – that’s the machine that makes sewing stretchy fabrics like t-shirt jersey much easier and gives pro-looking finished seams to garments. I can’t find the exact model any more but it’s something like this one. It’s getting on for ten years old now and still going strong.


But then I went off to uni sans machines and didn’t really think about sewing much again until fairly recently when classes at Ray Stitch and the Make Lounge piqued my interest again. This coincided with the Great British Sewing Bee bringing sewing onto national telly, and a huge recent rise in quality home sewing blogs and indie pattern designers offering endless inspiration.

Get the gear


If you’ve never used a machine before, buy a fairly entry-level one to start off with. You’ll only really need back & forward and zig-zag stitches to get going; expect to spend £100-200. I’ve got a slightly more swish computerised Janome DC3050 which I’ve been very pleased with.


You’ll also need the obvious miscellaneous items like fabric and paper scissors, large headed pins, hand sewing needles, threads and a seam ripper. Definitely a seam ripper. Cute little vintage storage box optional.

Starter projects

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

Start with some basic projects like cushion covers, tote bags and other little projects to get a feel for stitching before moving onto garments and deciding if an overlocker is worth your investment – it’s by no means a requirement, even for clothing. Look online for tutorials to follow: here are a few I’ve seen lately:

– Elena has a great How to Sew series on her blog
– A round-up on simple T-shirt tutorials
Cotton & Curls has some fabulous simple tutorials for clothing, both up-cycled and from scratch

Or try some of the billion books out there. Here are a few I own and recommend:

Do a class

The Make Lounge

Consider doing a class if you can afford it and have a place nearby. I find it invaluable to actually do something alongside other people and have an expert there to ask if you get stuck. My favourite craft haven The Make Lounge is sadly closing up soon, but have a look at the great list Jennifer made of alternative venues in London. I can highly recommend the classes at Ray Stitch first hand.

Scout chambray tee

That’s it really! Sewing is a fairly easy hobby to get into at an entry level, but I also find it incredibly satisfying to always be learning new, more advanced, techniques and finding that practice does pay off. Feel free to ask in the comments if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to help. I’ll also do a post soon on my favourite online resources for fabrics, patterns etc.


By the way, I’ve started a separate blog for all my sewing adventures at whatkatiesews.net. I’ll probably still post an overview of my makes here too, but there’s all sorts of in-depth sewing-specific geekery that felt out of place here. So please pop over there and follow me if you want to keep up with my sewing makes in full.


Well. If you follow me on twitter you’ll have seen that we’ve had an awful couple of weeks. I don’t really feel like talking much in depth about what happened, but in brief our little Yoni cat suffered a massive trauma, during treatment of which they found he had a rare blood type, an aggressive infection leading to amputation of his back leg, anaemia, icterus, and – scariest of all – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic non-curable heart disease which has caused a thrombus (blood clot) near his heart. The good news is he’s recovering very well from everything that’s been thrown at his little body, amazing the vets who gave him a very poor prognosis when he first arrived. He’s now adapting to life as a three-legged tripod kitty and we hope to have him home by the end of the week. The bad news is his life expectancy now hangs at between one month and seven years due to the heart disease. So on one hand, yes, it’s great that he’s pulled through from the trauma, but also this is just the start of a very painful period of uncertainty.


It feels like I’ve cried out every tear I had in me, but I do at least take comfort in knowing that this little cat has had the best life we could have given him, and will continue to for as long as he’s got left in him. He certainly couldn’t have been more loved, and I’m very sure he knows just how special he is to us. He’s my best bud and it’s been so lonely not having him around for two weeks. Of course our other kitty Lila is lovely and very special to me too, but they are worlds apart in terms of personality. Lila is so laid back, content and happy – she’ll gladly take a quick cuddle then pad off to lie in the hallway for a nap. Yoni is more demanding: always up in our faces, wanting hugs, wanting food, wanting to see what we’re up to and trying to nose in. So I’ve felt the loss more acutely because everything – from eating breakfast unhindered by meowy demands to share, working at home without my cute furry colleague, to going to bed without his comforting warm weight at my feet – reminds me of him.


I was basically a wreck last week, when we weren’t even sure if he’d make it home at all. I couldn’t really work as my mind was so fractious. I could barely remember to eat or drink, and only got dressed so we could go and visit him every day. It’s really hard to keep distracted and will the days along when you feel too sad to do anything that you used to find fun. I found the few things that gave me any calm were keeping busy with making and doing at home. Pottering in the garden, tending to our little veg patch and taking quiet enjoyment in seeing the plants and flowers unfold into spring. Every day there’s little jobs to do and progress to see out there, and the recent rain followed by warmth has made our veggies bloom.


I turned into a sewing fiend. I blasted through the stash of vintage fabric I bought at The Shop the previous week and made two tops, some culottes and a dress in a matter of days – with varying degrees of success. I find time flies when you’re at the sewing machine and that’s exactly what I needed to pass the hours between our visits and phone calls with the vet. I’ll share my makes and a bit more about The Shop soon.

I’m also having a think about if there’s way way I can help other cats and owners who find themselves in this awful situation. It seems like there’s a lack of information about lots of things relating to kitty health – especially blood transfusions – that my internet skillz might be able to help spread. I’ll also be reopening my Etsy shop shortly with some proceeds going to cat charity (and some towards our vet bills – ouch).

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Me-Made May: Chambray Scout tee

Scout chambray tee

Not a week into the month and my first Me-Made May task is complete. And I’m calling it a success! Here’s my Marc-Jacobs-inspired woven chambray tee, made in just a day and happily worn already.

Scout chambray tee

It feels almost like I cheated since this make was such a breeze. The Scout tee pattern I used is so simple that the cutting and sewing took about four hours total. Of course I still managed to mess up a bit: I sewed on one of the sleeves is inside out so there’s an exposed seam tucked under the arm. I coud fix it, but no one realistically will see it and I almost like keeping it there as an ‘I made this!’ Easter egg.

Scout chambray tee
Scout chambray tee

One of my favourite things about making my own clothes is adding the little details that make your garment totally unique – purposeful decisions as well as inside-out sleeves, I mean. Want longer turned-back cuffs, a curved hem, denim-style topstitched seams, a comedically large patch pocket? Do it! With such as simple pattern it’s a nice chance to go a bit mad with embellishments.

Scout chambray tee

Mistakes aside, this is definitely my most successful handmade garment so far. I did all of the seams on my overlocker which gives it a lovely finish on the inside as well as allaying my fear that it’ll fall apart in the wash. I’m really happy with the fabric choice too: the chambray is light and soft with good drape and a little comfy stretch. I went a size up for an oversized look and it’s much more forgiving in the fit department that way too. I’ll definitely be using the Scout pattern again: I have visions of one in this nutty cat print fabric.

Scout chambray tee

So that’s the first Me-Made May task down, keep ‘em coming! Next? I’ve just ordered the Sew U book about stretch fabrics on Kathryn‘s recommendation to give me ideas for my jersey fabrics. As a brucey bonus, I have almost a yard of this chambray left which I might just be able to squeeze a little skater skirt out of too.

Pattern: Scout woven tee from Grainline
Pattern modifications: Lengthened sleeves and added turned-back cuff. Lengthened body. Curved hemline. Patch pocket.
Fabric: Pale blue Chambray from Minerva Crafts (bought 2yds, plenty left over)


DIY vintage-style gift tags

Two weeks to go! We picked up this sweet little tree at the weekend. We never usually bother with a tree but I couldn’t resist a baby one, and we can plant it up in the garden in January. Plus it makes it less likely that the cats will destroy it – Lila had a little sniff but they’ve otherwise left it alone.

Christmas wapping

I parked myself festively in front of it yesterday to do a bit of pressie wrapping. The letterpress-style wrapping I found (from Paperchase and Primark) inspired me to make personalised gift tags with the recipients’ initials on.

Christmas wapping

They’re based on the design of some vintage playing cards that I picked up at Spitalfields market a while ago. I didn’t want to use the originals so just picked a similar typeface and ran them off on my computer. You can download my PSD template here – you’ll need this free font as well.

Christmas wapping

Then I just cut them out, used a rounded-corner cutter on the edges and punched a hole which I strung with bakers’ twine.

Helper cat did not help at all.