Nikko and Cleo – autumn staples


Don’t you just love it when two me-mades are a match made in me-made heaven? I actually sewed up my Cleo eons ago during the big blog drought, and then whipped up this True Bias Nikko top last week, and they’ve been nigh on inseparable ever since. Whilst this is undoubtedly not my most flattering get-up, I love the child of the seventies vibe of the outfit and colours.

I made the Cleo with denim from Goldhawk Road that developed these odd pale ripples, almost like marble veins, during its pre-wash. I kinda like them. The rib knit is from Sew Me Sunshine and it is not a friendly fabric to sew. Even with my walking foot the ribs stretched out along every seam, making for example the shoulders far longer than they should be. Owing to the additional stretch factor in the rib I ended up taking the top in drastically along the sides although trying to leave the armscyes untouched; the stretching of the rib along the shoulders combined with the taking in at the sides has resulted in a less than perfect fit. I’d made three Nikkos from bamboo jersey back in the spring for skiing and they each fit like a glove so the fitting issues here were slightly frustrating.


The cuffs also stretched out so they have an almost frill-like appearance which is actually rather appealing. Anyhow, I realised that on the whole the slightly poor fit doesn’t bother me. I just don’t have the time in this life to be pernickety over every single make. I love the colours in this top; they make me happy. It’s comfortable, I wear it. Perhaps sometimes that’s enough?


Nina x


Appearing on The Sewing Quarter – me, on TV!

If there were ever a tale of feel the (realistically totally stupid) fear and do it anyway, this is it. Last Wednesday morning I appeared on live national television and contrary to the fears of my preceding month I did not majorly mess up and cause the world to cave in on me and my business. In fact, I had a ball.

When the folks at The Sewing Quarter first got in touch with a suggestion that I come on air and demo a couple of my patterns, which they would simultaneously sell, I was pretty excited. A big order, an opportunity to reach new customers and to boost the brand – it was all good! Sign me up!

The pattern order waiting to be boxed up…

I merrily sent off ten boxes of patterns and then the dread set in. It was television. It would be live. It was in Birmingham.*

(* I have absolutely nothing against Birmingham; I think it’s great. It’s just not anywhere near London, which meant I had to go up the night before and stay over, alone in a hotel room with only my deeply panicky thoughts and 30 minutes of free wifi.)

I should say now that I am not a shy person. I have given large team briefings, presentations at conferences; I used to host a weekly pub quiz. I have taught classes and made a speech at my friend’s wedding. BUT all of these were things I had essentially prepared for. I didn’t know how to prepare for this – I didn’t know how much demonstration I would be able to fit into the time prepared, I didn’t know what kind of machine I would be using or who the presenter would be. Um, yes, you’re right, I could have asked in advance – but I didn’t. I was too scared of seeming scared.

I watched episodes with Becca from Sew Over It and Sarah from Crafty Sew and So and felt a little sick. They were SO calm! They didn’t make any mistakes! They didn’t laugh inanely or knock anything over or break the sewing machine or accidentally hit the presenter (all things I considered it quite probable I would do).

But come Tuesday I took the train to Birmingham. I checked into a Travelodge, had the same ‘gosh, aren’t these people SO nice and friendly’ thought I have every time I stay somewhere outside of London, and managed to lose myself, quite literally, in the Bullring. I then realised that travelling for your own business isn’t exactly like all the business travelling I’ve done in the past, in that if I had a nice meal and a glass of wine I wasn’t going to be able to expense it to anyone but myself, so I ate a takeaway in my hotel room. I also did a sizeable shop in Sainsburys because whatever else might go wrong in my world on Wednesday morning at least I wouldn’t go hungry on top of it all.

The contents of my backpack by the time I settled in for the night. I’d bought four pairs of tights, ‘just in case’. And four triple chocolate cookies, for the same reason.

I had to be at the Sewing Quarter offices for a 6.30am meeting, and basically that’s when it all started to get better.  They were all so lovely! And relaxed. I was told I would be fine so many times I started to believe it. If you watched my Instagram stories then you’ll know I was still pretty much quivering with fear before going on but I can honestly say the team there couldn’t have done more to put me at my ease. I’m just a really wimpy wimp.

I was on in the hour from 9–10am talking about and demonstrating the Carnaby Dress, and then again from 11–12 doing the same for the Piccadilly Pyjamas. They were without doubt the fastest hours of my life. Once it got going I honestly forgot I had a microphone, that I’d never sewn standing up before, or that there were even cameras, really. There was just me, Vicks the presenter, and a few people somewhere out in the ether who might be interested in how to sew an all-in-one facing.

My sister watched from home, which was just as well as we gave her a little wave!

The Carnaby Dress went really smoothly. I then managed to bungle the Piccadilly waistband twice, which was embarrassing, but somehow so far from the horrors I’d imagined that I didn’t even feel that bad.

I felt on such a high when I left that I got on the wrong train from Birmingham and ended up having to get off and turn around ten minutes later.

All in all it was a brilliant experience. A lesson to me in pushing on and giving something my all no matter how intimidating it may seem. Although I admit the joyous after-effects I’m still enjoying wouldn’t have been quite so intoxicating without their hefty dose of relief… Anyway, hopefully there’ll be a next time and at least I’ll know what I’m up against – nothing but my own overblown fears.


P.S. if you want to watch the show, it’s available now on YouTube here. My segments start at about 1.02 and then again at 3.03.

McCalls 7745 – more busty fail than fairy tale…

So here’s part 2 in my ‘fabulous McCalls patterns I made for Singapore’ series. First up I made a black jumpsuit that I couldn’t love any more than I do, and second up I’m sharing a dress that I want to love SO much more than I can.


I mean look, it’s utterly beautiful, right? The fabric is a heavenly viscose from Lamazi Fabrics; I have a pair of Portobello culottes in the black and gold colourway. I love the vivid, punchy hues of the flowers and their wild, irregular scattering. I wanted to make a dress as pretty as the meadow on the fabric, and I sure did. It just doesn’t really fit.

I mean, it seems to fit at first. I spent quite a bit of time on the bodice fitting actually, which makes this tale all the sadder. It’s a wrap dress, it shouldn’t go that wrong. Disclaimer: no, you can’t see any of the problems in the photos because I was doing my best to hide them, and I apologise in advance for writing so much about an issue that I haven’t even illustrated. But what a quick try-on in the mirror at home didn’t prepare me for was the gradual gape that would develop within a short while of wearing out and about. The weight of the gorgoeus ruffles along the front pulls down the neckline – on both sides. The fabric isn’t strong enough to say no, and the muslin I used for the lining (to keep it all blissfully light) simply goes with the (downwards) flow, my careful understitching to no avail.



The result was, well, slatternly. The contrast between the prettiness of the fabric and the style of the dress makes the immodesty all the more glaring. And you know what I also found interesting – how uncomfortable I found that immodesty on the street in Singapore. In London, people would have stared, some men almost certainly would have commented. But at the same time in London no one actually cares; heck, there are people out and about here wearing outfits too small to qualify as clothes as opposed to accessories, but no one’s bothered. In Singapore, no one stared. No one commented. But I felt more embarrassed because no one else was wearing a garment seemingly as a showcase for their bra, or anything remotely revealing at all. (At least not at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.)


You can see in this pic how dangerously low the front V has become, and a sly bit of lining already rolling its way to the outside…

This isn’t about women having to cover up; Singapore isn’t draconian in that way. But I did feel a tad disrespectful  – and basically silly, because I was wearing a dress that didn’t fit as it ought. I scuttled back to the hotel as soon as these photos were taken, wearing my backpack on my front and looking properly weird.

I am loathe to extensively unpick because this fabric loooves to fray. I think however that I will shorten the straps, replace the ribbon ties with self fabric ties, and ultimately put some invisible buttons down the front neckline to hold the wrap in place. Rosa shared a gorgeous version she’d made on Instagram which gives me hope that mine too can become a thing of wearable beauty.

All this is going to wait a while though. Partly because I’m still sad I didn’t get to go out on a date night in Singapore feeling like a flower fairy gypsy, but also because it’s now averaging in the early teens back here in the UK and I won’t be wearing anything so dainty again for eons. Maybe I’ll fix it up and perfect it and then pack it away for our honeymoon, although as Scotland is still a possibility for that particular holiday I’m not counting on it… Or perhaps I’ll just hang it back on the dress form and simply admire it all winter!

McCalls 7789 – linen jumpsuit of dreams!


Ah, Singapore! It’s been nearly a month since we got back from a fortnight’s holiday there and I’m still missing it. What a month it’s been though: I’ve managed to be ill twice, visit Birmingham, manage a huge order for the business, significantly expand the wholesale side of things, start Invisalign treatment and plan some of the ‘big’ bits of our wedding. Which is why I’m only now going through and sharing and writing about my Singapore-holiday me-mades, starting with quite possibly my favourite make of 2018 thus far: this jumpsuit.


I’ve been really loving some of McCalls’ recent releases and this was one I simply HAD to have. The jumpsuit features a bodice with straps, curved neckline and front tie-closure (actually the pattern offers straps and a solid bodice OR a tie-front closure on a strapless bodice but it’s easy to mix-and-match), a deep waistband and then the most wonderfully wide trousers I’ve ever worn. The trousers have stitched-down pleats and deep pockets; everything fastens with an invisible centre-back zip. I made a size 10 and it fit me remarkably well; I barely took anything off the back which is my usual adjustment, and as the drafted leg length is ankle-skimming these worked perfectly for me – in heels.


The fabric is a viscose linen blend from Fabric Godmother. It only came in black, which is rarely my first choice of colour, but obviously works well with totally OTT designs (can you imagine this in a print?!). The stuff has such a lovely hand that I went and bought more to make a chic pair of Portobellos for my mum. It presses well and doesn’t crease anywhere near as much as straight-up linen, which is a huge plus when you’re working with a hotel room iron.

All in all it came together simply and smoothly, which is exactly the sort of first-time make you need 3 days before you’re off on holiday. I know the Big 4 pattern companies come in for a lot of stick these days but they do make some great designs which simply wouldn’t be viable products for a small indie. If I released a wacky wide-legged jumpsuit I doubt I would sell enough to cover the production costs – but hey, maybe I’m playing it too safe??

I wore it on our one ‘big’ night out in Singapore – in fact, the first big night out I’ve ever had in Singapore – and felt like a Crazy Rich Asian! Or at least two of those things. I was cool and yet hot at the same time (#humiditygoals). I mean, I felt seriously sexy and that doesn’t happen to me often in these working-from-home-and-not-getting-out-all-that-much days.


I can’t even express how much love I have for this garment. It’s actually the first jumpsuit I’ve ever sewn and I’ve already got another (a Kew and Portobello mash-up) now in the works. But next up for the blog is my second McCalls holiday sew and spoiler alert: it’s a bit of a fail…

Until then – have yourselves super duper weeks and enjoy some autumn sunshine!

Nina x



Back to blogging!

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Hello! It’s been eons, hasn’t it? I haven’t blogged for well over a year and boy, what a year it’s been! I’ve missed this little blog of mine, missed having somewhere to talk about my makes (not that they’ve been many) and life in general, all because life in general has been busy, challenging, exciting and no-real-time-for-me-time-all-consuming. And so I’m happy to be back writing and sharing again!

Life today looks pretty different to when I started this blog. Back when I kicked off Thumblenina I worked in publishing, I lived alone in a sweet little flat in Balham, I sewed just for pleasure and I saw a lovely guy for dates most weekends. Obama was President of the US, David Cameron was our Prime Minister and once in a while someone mentioned this crazy little thing called ‘Brexit’.

Now I run my own sewing pattern business from the flat I share in Clapham with that same lovely guy, and next year I’ll be sewing my own wedding dress.

Just don’t think about the other changes.

So, back to the blog and the here and now. Along with a name change, the blog will see me mix up the content a bit from now on. I’ll still be sharing my sewing projects here – I’m finally getting the chance to sew more for myself these days and have got a raft of recent pattern reviews to get down in writing. I’ll also be documenting other creative adventures – including but not limited to the epic crafty plans I have for our wedding! I’ll be talking art and illustration, calligraphy, design, embroidery …

One of my recent makes, McCalls 7745

AND I’m going to talk honestly about the realities of being a creative entrepreneur, and try to tell stories and give tips that might help anyone else on (or thinking of) this path. It’s the sort of thing I’ve found hugely reassuring and inspiring over the past 18 months and I’d like to put in my two penn’orth. Thinking about the nature of small business and creativity is unsurprisingly a current preoccupation of mine and so it feels natural to share some of that here too.

My living room floor as I write this…

Anyhoo I’m really just looking forward to once more having somewhere to empty out the whirligig of my brain! And hopefully a few old Thumblenina friends out there will keep me company as I do 🙂

Nina x


Ballgown vs Ballgown!

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If there are two words guaranteed to strike joy into my heart, they are black tie. Whilst I may enthuse about brilliant basics and I do really aspire to making my own jeans and underwear, there is nothing that gets my creative juices going like a chance to really, seriously, dress up.

I grew up on a visual diet of gowns: BBC period dramas, Grace Kelly films, Bond girls. I loved paper dolls (the sort whose clothes come with tabs on) and spent hours designing and drawing my own ever more extravagant evening dresses for them. (I remember one in particular: pale pink, with floating tiers, covered in garlands of bright pink roses and strings of pearls. Completely OTT.) When I was nine or ten, my mother altered a bridesmaid’s dress she’d once worn and paired it with a little pair of white lace gloves as a gift to me, my first ballgown. When I grow up, I thought, I’m going to dress like this ALL the time.

Well, it turns out that even the most diehard ballgownista would feel a bit of a twit wearing one down to Asda, so it’s fair to say my childhood dreams haven’t quite come true (yet). But I have been lucky, and been to my fair share of fabulous balls. If I’ve counted correctly, I’ve made a total of thirteen ‘ballgowns’, from my first boyfriend’s prom when I was only seventeen through to this very latest, made and worn two weeks’ ago.

This last occasion was my dear friend’s wedding, and what rendered him all the dearer to me was his specification of a black tie dress code. I immediately began to dream and scheme. But there was a slight hurdle: in a professional capacity, I was making the bridesmaids’ dresses. I had to choose something that would be stylish without being too attention-grabbing (I guess that’s kind of a standard wedding guest dilemma). And I had to make it in a very short space of time, with very little money. Oh AND I was feeling completely sapped of inspiration and sewjo after three back-to-back rounds of wedding commissions.

All of which can go some way to explaining how I ended up making two dresses.

The lesson of this tale is never go to Goldhawk Road with only one fabric in mind. The fabric in my mind was primrose yellow silk, and it simply didn’t exist. This was three days before the wedding, and I panicked. I saw some very pretty mauve tulle and grabbed it. I then ended up with lilac georgette for the base fabric. It was all very pretty and all very, meh. And so, two days before the wedding, I went to Soho in search of a dupion – I was going to make a bustier dress with a contrasting tulle skirt. I drafted the bust cups myself, lined them with bra form and inserted underwires. I got 80% of the way to making a bustier ballgown with a tulle skirt. And then I stopped for dinner and over the course of the meal decided I wasn’t going to wear it (the perils of eating, living and working in the same room). The bustier top was, well, too busty. I’m fairly generously proportioned in the front, and the dress was looking positively Amazonian. My public justification was that it was too aggressive for a wedding, but the truth is I just didn’t want to wear it.


So, with 24 hours to go, it was back to the drawing board, and back to Goldhawk Road. After half an hour in Unique Fabrics, with the poor shop assistant laying out every shade of every silk for me to um and ah over, I ‘made his day’ by taking his advice and leaving with 2.5m of a blue-green silk I would never have picked for myself. (Next time I need dress fabric I’m just going to that boy and asking him to choose some for me upfront.)

I then proceeded to recreate a dress I’d originally drafted 18 months ago for a Christmas ball. It was inspired by this stunning number worn by Caterina Murino in Casino Royale.

Caterina Murino Casino Royale

Back then, I made it in royal blue silk, with a By Hand London Anna skirt and a BHL Holly hack for the top. This time, I wanted to avoid the sexy slit but retain the slinky silhouette. I first drafted the top so that the front was a deep bias-cut cowl with a facing, attached to a low-cut back (not cut on the bias). Using my sloper, I drafted a v panel, inspired by vintage 1930s gowns for the skirt front and back. I then tried to work out how to draft a half circle skirt with a square/diamond instead of a circle at the ‘waistline’. Nope, I didn’t get it either. In the end I draped the skirt from the v-panel using my dress form and went around marking the hem with pins.


The actual stitching was super quick. Once the drafting was done, this was probably one of the fastest dresses I’ve ever made! The skirt only has one seam, the centre-back, and that was cut on the selvage so I had no lengthy seams to finish. I even machined the hem. So yes, oddly, this has turned out to be one of the quickest and cheapest makes I’ve done in a long while. The whole thing was done in under a day, and cost under £40. And I truly love it.

Thumblenina teal silk ballgown

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The silk ripples and flows in the most extraordinary way; the colour shimmers and alters like oil. It felt comfortable and flattering, and I never wanted to take it off. It was a wonderful wedding celebration, a beautiful summer evening, and I had the best time, feeling like the best version of myself. It also helped that I was really chuffed by how the bridesmaids’ dresses turned out…

I’m going to be sharing more details on these once some less orange, more professional photographs are available!

Anyway, now I’ve got to plan my outfits for pretty much the opposite kind of dressing up: I’m going to Wilderness Festival next week and so I’m thinking pom-poms, face paint, hair glitter and WARM clothing… But for now I’m just going to post another photo of me as I’d like to be, all the time. Perhaps next year I’ll start the world’s first black tie festival! x

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