Review: The Great British Sewing Bee- Sew Your Own Wardrobe

I recently treated myself to the latest GBSB book as I’m mainly interested in learning to sew my own clothes (disclaimer: I’m a bit of a weird shape.) Although I’ve been focussing on making stuff for D with varying degrees of success, the ultimate goal is to make dresses and skirts for myself- ideally good enough to wear to work!


I really like that there’s a separate pattern pack- I quite like the process of piecing together patterns (I know that’s a bit sad!) but it takes a lot of ink- so I can trace these easily.

As I’m a beginner sewer, I thought I would pick the patterns that most appealed to me in terms of ease; although I LOVE the 60s coat, it’ll be a while before I get to that!


I’ve actually bought some fabric to do the t-shirt, although I went for some jersey in grey with polka dots. I’ve also planned to do a sewalong with a Twitter friend. We’re both newbies, so we’ll be virtually cheering each other on! I like this pattern because it’s only two pieces, but there’s a bit of bias binding needed, which will keep things interesting.


I really like this- although I would probably wear it with leggings. I can imagine really playing with colours and fabrics, so this is next on my hit-list!

I also really like the information presented in the book, such as the masterclasses, which make even scary seeming processes seem easier:


Another feature I found really useful is the fabric dictionary. I have NO CLUE about fabrics, so this was really handy! I think for the price- it seems to be on offer all over the place at the moment- it’s really worth it, especially as patterns can be so expensive. I’ll be blogging my process as I go, so do keep an eye out.

This week, I will be finishing D’s shorts and having a go at Tilly and the Buttons’ Brigette scarf. I am stupidly excited about her new book being launched in a couple of weeks and I bought a really cool suit-y fabric to make it out of! If you’re a beginner sewer, have a go at the pattern- it’s super simple!


I’ve started Couch to 5K!

I am an exercise-phobe. I once told my doctor that I was a ‘reader, not an exerciser’, but I felt I needed to step up my game a little. I can easily walk 5K (I walk loads, especially at the moment, while the weather is fine- also whilst pushing a large toddler up and down hills.)

So yesterday I downloaded the Week 1 podcast from the NHS Live Well site- my friend Carolina had recommended it, so I figured it would be good. The music isn’t too bad and Laura, the narrator/enabler/cheerleader is encouraging without being patronising. I managed the first week (12 minutes walking, 8 minutes running) quite comfortably.



I’m planning on running again on Wednesday and Friday (to sort of run alongside my current work schedule). I can’t say that yesterday I felt anything massive or spiritual, but it was nice to know that I’d done something physical before the day had started.

So why am I telling you this? Because a) if I put it here, I have more chance of actually doing the whole thing and b) I wasn’t sure what else to write about today!

I need to sort out some proper running gear though- not sure a black Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt is the highpoint of running chic.

Have you done couch to 5K? Any advice?

Surrounded By Water blog tour- interview with Stephanie Butland

I was recently given the opportunity to review a new novel, Surrounded By Water by Stephanie Butland. The story starts after a well-liked policeman rescues a girl from drowning, only to drown himself. What comes afterwards is a story of betrayal, gossip and false impressions and I was utterly hooked. I was, of course, delighted to take part in the book’s blog tour! I’m also really happy to be able to offer one reader (UK only) a signed copy- simply leave me a comment with an email address and/or your Twitter handle and I’ll draw a winner next Saturday. Simple, right?

SURROUNDED BY WATER NEW 2I’m delighted to say that I managed to grab an email interview with Stephanie about her writing process (big cheer for NaNoWriMo!) and other author-ly pursuits. Previously, Stephanie wrote two books about her experience with cancer, although Surrounded By Water is her first novel.

Stephanie Butland close-up (c) Jonathan Ring

1. Where did the idea for Surrounded by Water come from?

This book started life as a NaNoWriMo project – a comic novel about a committee trying to persuade the council to put up a fence after a drowning accident. An early reader suggested ditching the committee structure; as soon as I did, the real story, of how and why the accident had happened, emerged.

2. Was writing/publishing a novel easier/scarier/harder than writing non-fiction?

Much scarier! I When I wrote non-fiction about my dance with breast cancer, I knew that, even if people didn’t like the books, or my approach to the disease, I was sharing my own experience, and that gave a sort of protection. With fiction I’m sharing something that I’ve made, and I feel much more vulnerable about it. I really thought it would be the other way round.

3. How has your previous writing influenced Surrounded by Water?

I blogged all the way through my dance with cancer, and that experience taught me a great deal. I learned that words don’t write themselves, that readers can smell what’s inauthentic, and that the process of writing is, basically, about showing up and getting on with it. My experience of having the first two books edited showed me that I needed to weigh words carefully and to value my readers’ time as well as my own.

4. What are your top five must read novels?

Oooh. Well, I think this would change if you asked me next week, because picking 5 books is impossible…. but, with that caveat, I recommend:

‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth for scale, emotional involvement and beautiful writing

‘A Tale For The Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki for its clever storytelling and delightful narrator

”Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett for sheer truth and emotional impact

‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters for dazzling twisty-turny plot – I think it’s the only book I’ve ever read that has made me gasp and put my hand to my mouth!

‘The House Of Mirth’ by Edith Wharton for wit and wisdom and the brilliance of the main character, Lily Bart

5. What advice would you offer to would-be novelists?

If you really want to write, write. Make time – small pockets of time if you have to. Give up soap operas or cleaning the car, or make a deal with someone about shared school runs. If you have a day job – and most writers do – go to bed earlier and get up earlier so you have some undisturbed time. No-one ever writes a book because they have nothing else to do. If you go on to Twitter at 5am it’s full of writers who’ve got up early to get 500 words in before work (while faffing about on Twitter, another essential part of writing life). You can worry about agents and publishers and platforms once you have something for those agents and publishers and platforms to engage with.

Check out Stephanie’s website here. Surrounded By Water is available to buy now- I’ll be reviewing it in my end-of-month reading round up.




Britpop playlist

Benn and I have been listening to BBC6 Music’s History of Britpop stuff this week and we had a discussion about it last night; I loved Britpop, Benn was more into dance music (he was a strange child.) It was a funny time for me, the mid-90s. I was a bit too young for grunge (I discovered that later) and I distinctly remember loving Pulp before The Spice Girls even arrived. Anyway, I thought I’d put together a playlist of Britpop classics for a sunny afternoon!

By the way, in the comments, can you tell me which band was the best of the genre? Benn and I disagree.


The Bluetones- Slight Return

I’ve had discussions with my friend Alex about how The Bluetones are one of the more underrated Britpop bands. I love this song and never get bored of it.

Elastica- Connection

Elastica are one of those bands I’ve learnt to like more as I got older; they didn’t really register on my radar at the time of Britpop.

Sleeper- What Do I Do Now?

I love this song. I loved it when I was a kid and I always wanted Louise Wener’s haircut. Alas, my hair did not want that haircut.

Pulp- Common People

For me, Pulp are the band of Britpop; I can’t quite explain it, but I think they didn’t have the boorishness of Oasis or the faux-matey-ness of Blur. They just got on with it. Plus, Jarvis Cocker can do no wrong in my eyes. (Fun fact: we had this played at our wedding, video and all.)

Oasis- Live Forever

Despite what I said about Oasis, Definitely Maybe is one of my all time favourite albums. I just liked them before they got a bit messy.

Blur- The Universal

Unlike with Oasis, I prefer Blur’s later stuff (as this was released at the end of 1995, I reckon it still counts as Britpop). It’s a shame British Gas ruined what is essentially a lovely song with quite a scary message though.

Dodgy- Good Enough

Remember when one of Dodgy was engaged to Denise Van Outen? No? I do. Anyway, as a kid, I loved Dodgy’s exuberance and joie de vivre… another underrated band.

Echobelly- King of The Kerb

I remember singing this at school and not having any idea what the lyrics were about. I may have also had this on a Smash Hits tape…

17 months…

Can you believe that D is almost a year and a half old? This time last year, I was preparing to go back to work and slowly winning the battle with postnatal depression. D was a cheeky little dude who laughed a lot and shuffled about a bit, but not much else. Now he’s a (sort of) walking, talking monkey who, like his mother, never shuts up:



Benn has accused me of creating a monster though, as D spends a lot of his time demanding ‘Po Po Pat’ and ‘miaow’ (Postman Pat and Jess, if you’re not up on your toddler speak).

I’ve also found a TV couple who parent a bit like me: Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family- I know I’m five years late to the party, but we just got Netflix and I’m hooked.


Seriously, everything they do with Lily has some kind of element that reminds me of mine and Benn’s sometimes woeful attempts at parenting. I’m not at the stage of dressing D up as Diana Ross just yet though, no matter how fond he is of playing with my makeup.

Although D is a joy to be around, he is also starting to have tantrums. One of the hardest things is working out how to deal with what adults consider ‘bad behaviour’ but to a toddler is just exploring; he’s too little to know right from wrong, but there is behaviour that I don’t want him to display- like hitting his childminder’s daughter (which thankfully seems to have ended now.) I don’t want D to become the kid that no one invites to parties. But that’s something Benn and I will work out as we muddle along.

I swear that when I next get broody though we’re getting a dog. Kids are hard work.




Books 2014: March

Ah, Time, you sneaky monkey- creeping up on me unawares. I can’t quite believe that it’s April tomorrow! As usual, here are the books of the month, slightly fewer than the last couple of months due to an epic biography I read.

All photos, as usual, Waterstones.

Rasputin: The Last Word- Edvard Radzinsky (my own copy)

Rasputin: The Last Word (March)

Old Russia fascinates me and I read this at the time as the latest Crimean crisis was erupting (it’s very interesting/scary to see how events a century ago can mirror what’s happening now). Rasputin’s one of those historical characters we sort of know about but don’t REALLY know about. This book is a peculiar beast; on the one hand, it tries very hard not to glorify him and on the other occasionally refers to him as a miracle worker. He was, in fact, a git. A smelly, alcoholic git. Anyway, this book was interesting, but a bit of a slog due to poor grammar choices made by the translator.

Kiss Me First- Lottie Moggach (my own copy)

Kiss Me First (March)

I’d seen rave reviews of this and picked it up a few weeks back in Tesco. When I first started reading it, I was a bit bewildered by the hype but then found that I was completely sucked in after the first few chapters. As I read it, I couldn’t help thinking that the main character had some form of autism spectrum disorder and this made it hard to get into her head and settle for the ride. No matter, a good read, if a little frustrating at times.

Beautiful For Ever- Helen Rappaport (my own copy)

Beautiful For Ever: Madame Rachel of Bond Street - Cosmetician, Con-artist and Blackmailer (March)

I got quite a few Amazon and book vouchers for my birthday and I ended up buying three books by the same author (I wanted her book about the Russian Grand Duchesses). This appealed to me because, despite my love of reading about women throughout history, they tend to be noble or royal- and I have a soft spot for a ne’er do well too. This book tells the true story of Madame Rachel, one of the first beauticians in London who had a shady sideline in blackmail with a liberal sprinkling of personal tragedy. I enjoyed it very much.

The Shining Girls- Lauren Beukes (my own copy)

The Shining Girls (March)

After reading Tereza‘s review of this a couple of months ago, I picked up a cheap secondhand copy. My word, it’s a strange book. I’d like you to cast your mind back to The Time Traveller’s Wife (which I loved when I first read it, but oh the film was a letdown. But then why am I surprised.) Now, imagine that the time traveller in said novel isn’t a passionate man in love, but a raving violent lunatic who gets his kicks by using a Chicago house to travel through time and torture and kill women. The novel is told from various points of view but mainly focuses on Harper (the murderer) and Kirby (the girl who didn’t die). It’s gripping, gory and I loved it.

What have you read this month? If you’d like to keep up with what I’m reading, you can follow my Pinterest board here.


Feeling under the weather



Life is pretty hectic at the moment; we’re in the period at work where we’re nagging students to get all their work done before exams, I have a pile of marking to do, D hasn’t been sleeping so well and I have had a sore throat and a cough for the last three weeks (I will go to the doctor, before anyone tells me to.)

I am very much looking forward to the Easter holidays and having something resembling a rest, but until then I’m busy! So if my blogging schedule goes a bit erratic, I apologise. Please bear with me! There are a few exciting things in the pipeline (books, sewing, interviews etc), but I might not manage three posts a week. At the moment all I want to do is read books to D, drink hot chocolate and watch TV.