Gypsy Top Revamp

I love gypsy tops, especially during the summer, they are so pretty.  I found this one in need of some attention in a charity shop; it has lovely embroidery and rouleau loops around pretty pearlised white buttons at the front. However the elastic smocking had gone at the top and round the bottom, but with a little work the pretty top could be re-vamped. 
For some reason the tops this year have been rather unflattering and it sometimes makes me wonder, firstly why all tops have to be a particular design and why they make clothing that distorts the figure adding pounds. The industry knows that we are four basic shapes and this particular style only suits apples. 
As you can see from my sketch, the top is gathered around the hips, the widest part of the body – because it is loose around the waistline and goes in at the hips – it would swamp nearly everyone, dropping right down from the bust at the front. This style would only suit those who have a bit of a tummy to hide under all that gathered hipline, the rest of us would look overweight. 
The plan is to cut off the gathered edge at the bottom and create a gathered waistband, this brings the top back in to accentuate the smallest part of a woman. By drawing attention to the waist, you can look slimmer instantly! 
I cut off the bottom band of gathering and used the overlocker’s rolled hem to create a pretty finish. The bottom button should be removed as it cannot go under the overlocker foot. 
Not only does an overlocker give a more professional finish to a garment, but the pretty rolled seam would lighten the edge of this top allowing it to ripple gently down from the waist. 
If you don’t have an overlocker, you can use the scallop edge stitch in most machines (see * below)- it looks like a zig zag stitch that has been flattened off at the peaks. 
Elasticated smocking is very easy to do on a sewing machine, you simply wind the bobbin with elastic rather than thread. Take care that you slightly stretch the elastic when you wind the bobbin and when you put it in the case. 
It comes out from the bottom of the stitch plate and is slightly thicker than thread so you might have to adjust your lower tension. 
As you can see from my sewing machine’s display, choose an ordinary straight stitch, set to the longest length. (*You can see the scallop stitch displayed as no 9)
The key with any smocking is to space the rows of stitching evenly. 
I use the foot as a guide: you can see that my fabric is lined up with the inside edge of my foot. 
Slowly stitch round the top; gently stretching it as you go, so that it will gather. 
You will notice the fabric behind the foot will be gathered, keep working round the edge until you reach the other end. 
Use the stitch plate guides to continue working rows of stitching until you have your desired depth of smocking. 
I have roughly calculated that my waistline needs to be about 10cm from my bottom edge.
You can either measure up and mark all round the waistline with air drying pen, but I am fortunate to have an additional guide that slots into the foot. 
Stitch around the top slowly working the fabric through until you have reached the beginning. 
The second row of gathering has been done using the edge of the foot as a guide to keep the stitching lines parallel. Pull the fabric this time so that it is not gathered when it reaches the footplate, otherwise your gathering will double up, ending up with a very small waist! 
You can stitch as many gathered rows as you like to create a broader waistband. 
As you can see from the picture, the top edge has returned to its nicely stretched edge but I also have a gathered waistline that shows off my curves! 

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Summer time and the livin’ is easy

We are enjoying a wonderful warm summer here in Southern England: as soon as the sun comes out we head out to make the most of it. The beaches are busy, but the garden is quiet the balmy sun warming and browning my pale skin while a lazy breeze rustles the Roses in full bloom their delicate sent drifting along in waves while the dog rolls blissfully in the grass. 
The riper the tomatoes the deeper the colour

There is so much to treasure at this time of the year but in particular the appearance of seasonal fruits and vegetables; their freshness and piquancy is at its height.  I received some delicious vine ripened tomatoes and a flavoursome cucumber this week – just perfect for gazpacho soup.

To enjoy your own all you need is:

6 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cucumber peeled
I large red pepper
1 large red onion
1 clove of garlic 
100ml olive oil
A splash of Red wine vinegar
A couple of teaspoons of sun dried tomato puree
A large handful of mint fresh from the garden 
(I have some sensual lemon mint that just adds a delicate note to the soup)
Just blitz it all up in a liquidiser or blender until you have a smooth consistency
Pass through the sieve to remove the seeds and skin of the peppers and tomatoes
Leave to cool in the fridge for at least an hour or if you don’t want to wait add ice and blitz again
Best enjoyed out in the garden – relaxing with a good book or the Sunday papers, 
 a nice cool glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a pitcher of Pimms at your side.
Oh yes….summer time and the living is easy!  

Talking French

The photograph above illustrates what is frustrating about the underwear widely available – it is just so unflattering! It distorts the model’s rather lovely shape her cheeks are poking out from the bottom, they cut across the widest part of her body in a band -these knickers sabotage your sexiness  no matter what your size. It does make me wonder just what manufacturers are thinking and why we put up with it. It is nigh on impossible to buy anything else, so fortunately being able to sew means I am not restricted to what is available in the shops. 

You can buy these from ‘What Katie did‘ 
French knickers on the other hand begin at the smallest part – the waist, and follow a woman’s curves gently to finish just at the top of the leg. This makes everyone look beautiful it works with the lines of the female form rather than against them. 

You can buy these from ‘What Katie did’
Of course what comes as a shock when you pick up a pair or make your own – is that they seem huge! 
Used to these mean strips of fabric, the volumes of lace or satin are a big difference but stick with it.  Once you have something around your natural waistline and not cutting across your hips, you will find your ‘muffin’ top becomes a distant memory. 
It feels wonderful to have knickers around the waist again, that you might find you never go back. Make them out of stain or silk, and you have a whole beautiful sensation as it flows round your hips. 
They are bliss to wear under a summer dress as they are cool and have no visible panty line. Of course your man will find it irresistible, all that wonderful accessibility will be on his mind! 

Available from ‘What Katie Did’
The French knickers here are from What Katie Did, they ship world wide, but they are very easy to make. 
You are simply making light, airy shorts which in the warmer weather make summer dresses a pleasure to wear. Especially if you are a little more generously proportioned as I am. Last year in Vienna the temperatures were very high, I had put on a little weight and was shocked at how my thighs rubbed together and became extremely sore. French knickers are perfect for solving this problem as the fabric takes the ‘rub’. In addition if you suffer from Thrush or cystitis they really do help prevent these occurring.  
I will be blogging next how you can make your own glorious pairs of your own – its quick and easy, I made two pairs in an afternoon! And the fabric requirements are not big at all. 

Strawberry fields forever… June Jamming

I love the warm June sunshine – it has been a wonderful summer so far and I am thrilled that it is once again Strawberry Season. 
While I would love to be one of those talented gardeners that grow everything I need, my gardening skills are not that successful! Fortunately there is a lovely pick your own farm not to far from home and my friend D and I headed off there last Sunday. 
Its very companionable moving among the warm straw lines, spotting and picking the delicious red berries among the lush green leaves; the sun warming our backs as the gentle breeze plays with strands of our hair, the easy conversation mixing with birdsong as we catch up on our lives. I love the smell of hay as it rises warm from the sun reminding me of so many good times in strawberry fields: childhood days spent roaming the fields, my own children in competition to find the biggest sweetest ones their chins evidence of the fruit that did not make it to their baskets. There is nothing to beat the taste of a strawberry ripe and warmed by the sun. There are so many wonderful pleasures associated with this small simple act, gathering your own is almost as good as growing your own and the price of the strawberries makes it worthwhile too. 
Of course jam making is a slow process; one that fills my kitchen with the sweet delicious smell while they seep in the sugar. I tried a few new ideas this year as strawberry jam is notorious for not setting well – I was thrilled that I achieved the soft set I was hoping for.
 I have included the recipe here if you want to make some yourself, it is very satisfying to have the jam on the shelf only days after they are picked – it gives me a glorious sense of blissful domesticity. 
I made around 2 1/2 lb of jam (strictly it is a conserve but I call it jam!)
You will need:
900g / 2lb strawberries, hulled. 
900g / 2lb of preserving sugar (it contains pectin which will help your jam to set) 
2 apples
2 lemons 
15g / 1 knob of butter 
A preserving pan 
Sugar thermometer (it really does take the guesswork out of finding the setting point) 
A muslin square  
Jam funnel (it is one of those really useful items that you only discover once you have one!) 
3 medium sized clean jam jars with lids
Wax paper discs 
Layer the strawberries in the sugar and allow to seep, preferably overnight
Peel and then finely grate the apple – place the peel and core in the muslin square and knot tightly to encase the apple then add to the strawberries and sugar. 
Cook over a low heat stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to boil gently for around 5 minutes just enough for the fruit to soften. Turn off the heat and cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand for another night. 
Before you begin cooking the jam -place two saucers in the freezer, you will need them to be very cold in order to check the jam for setting. 
Sterilise the jam jars by placing them into a warm oven (lowest setting).  This will also mean that the jars won’t crack when you spoon the hot jam into them. 
Add the juice and grated rind of the two lemons to the strawberries and place the sugar thermometer on the side of the pan ensuring that it is not touching the bottom of the pan. 
Bring the jam back up to boiling point, stirring the fruit now and then – boil rapidly (the jam will do a rolling motion) for around 5 minutes. Check the thermometer – the temperature should reach about 220 or the ‘jam’ setting. 
To test for setting -take a small teaspoon of jam and place it on the plate, return to the freezer for a few moments;  the jam should be slightly thick when you push your finger through it. If it remains runny then boil again for a few more minutes and then repeat the test until you are happy with the set. 
Place your butter into the jam and turn off the heat, stir the butter until all the bubbles are gone. 
Let your jam to cool a little (about 10 minutes) so that the fruit will be evenly distributed in the jar rather than sinking to the bottom. 
Ladle into the warm jars and cover with a wax disc. Run a damp cloth round the edge of the jar, this will discourage mould to form. Screw up tightly and allow to cool. 
Label and decorate with fabric and ribbon if you wish; enjoy the warm glow of being a domestic goddess!  
Delicious on a warm baked scone or fresh white crusty bread and butter!