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Posted on December 1, 2016

Heirloom Recipe Tea Towel Tutorial

I’m sharing a special project today. A project I’m so proud to have discovered and something that is simple to execute but so effective.

An ‘heirloom’ recipe preserved on a tea towel: it’s the perfect, practical, made-with-love gift.

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

A few years ago, my Auntie baked my Nana’s now infamous ‘Cut & Come Again Cake‘ for my Mum’s birthday, which was the first I’d ever heard of it.

Basically it’s a fruit sponge with lots of peel and it keeps well; the ideal family recipe.

On the face of it, it’s not complicated and it doesn’t really look like much when it’s made – you bake it in a loaf tin and the top goes a bit lumpy because of the fruit.

To me, it’s perfect in its imperfection (that’s what I told myself when I tried baking it for the first time this year, replicating that lovely birthday memory. Except the power was off and the gas went out half way through…)

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

I had to alter parts of the recipe – 1.5 hours seemed excessive for a start (I think it has to do with the altitude as my Nana grew up in South Africa), and I don’t have scales in ounces. The confusions were also the charm of it and I imagined her there with me, guiding me through it, watching over me.

I exchanged plain flour for wholemeal, and I added some almonds. As I weighed and measured the ingredients I thought of all the stories Nana and I had shared before she died (I was only in my early teens), and how much I would have loved to share a slice of my ‘Cut & Come Again Cake’ with her now.

I even pictured her little kitchen, the tablecloth vibrant with zebras and giraffes galloping towards Table Mountain, wooden masks on the wall and Abalone shells on the fireplace; her South African treasures.

But how to preserve the memories of a cake-scented kitchen? Precious pages of a family recipe bearing the hand-writing that can never be replicated because it came from her hand?

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again CakeOver time these scraps of paper get damaged, worn, butter-smudged and crinkled with flour, perhaps splashed with soap suds when the wiping-up commences. I thought the only solution was to preserve the original (still in my Auntie’s possession), and share a digital version that could be printed out as necessary. I didn’t think much more about it.

Until I was working on some pattern designs and starting to look up places to print them onto fabric. Of course my search led me to Spoonflower, and that’s when I discovered this amazing tutorial about how to turn old recipes into beautifully printed tea towels.

It was so easy to follow, right down to adding on the extra border for the seams – I would never have thought of that! (rookie mistake)

When I manipulated the file to the right size, I was worried that the writing would lose its resonance, its familiarity in the rendering of the words. What I loved however were the ruled lines and the blank spaces and the splodges and how it only added to the sense of having just been written, that minute, that morning, and ripped from a kitchen-warmed notepad in a hurry, to share.

By the time the fabric arrived I couldn’t wait to see how the finished tea towels would look.

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

I wasn’t disappointed at all, the words and numbers swirling on the fabric in my Nana’s familiar script, printed in bold black and white, and the quality of the linen pleasingly thick; a proper, good quality tea towel.

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

All I had to do was cut out the four designs, then double-sew the seams, ironing as I went.

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again CakeHeirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

If I’m honest I would have liked them to be slightly bigger, but it’s so great that four versions of the design fit a yard of fabric.

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

A few weeks later there was a Spoonflower design challenge to create a tea towel to the theme of ‘Grandma’s Kitchen‘.

I added some details to the original design – the tea and coffee pot on the tray, the mug of tea with a croissant. How continental!

I don’t know if my Nana would have gone in for a ‘coffee and a croissant’, but I hope she is looking down and smiling because she’s always in my mind and this project is dedicated to her.

Heirloom Tea Towel Tutorial - Cut & Come Again Cake

I’ve made the cake again a few times since, and now the three of us are proud owners of the ‘Cut & Come Again Cake‘ tea towel.

There’s just one left to give (but we’ve eaten all the cake).

NB. This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts my own.

Posted on September 1, 2016

PaisleyMake Festival: Fashion & Design Showcase

Yesterday I went ‘behind the scenes’ of Paisley Museum’s pattern archives as part of the PaisleyMake festival of creativity and design celebrations. For a student of textiles and a lover of all things pattern, it was catnip and Christmas come early. (Cue selfie with a loom!)

Rebecca Johnstone, Paisley Museum

As the Paisley2021 City of Culture UK bid gains momentum, the spotlight is on Scottish designers as they showcase their wares in Paisley Abbey for the PaisleyMake festival in partnership with Scotland Re:Designed.

As part of the showcase, experts from across the fashion and textile industry are speaking on topics such as innovation, collaboration and smart textiles. (Find out who and when.)

Being a local designer myself, I was delighted to get a sneak-peek, and was drawn to this colourful stand featuring designs and prints by Mairi Helena.

Scotland Re:Designed, PaisleyMake, Paisley Abbey

The hat and glove sets by Green Thomas lured me with their patterns, and the 100% lambswool scarves had me thinking: hello autumn accessories.

Green Thomas Hat and Gloves, Paisley MakeScotland Re:Designed, PaisleyMake, Paisley Abbey

Other designers selected to exhibit include: Barbra Kolasinski, Natasha Marshall, Rebecca Torres, Niki Fulton, Pea Cooper Millinery, Vonne Alley and Siobhan Mackenzie. (Full list plus links.)

The place to be is Paisley Abbey in the heart of the town, flanked by one of the many colourful lions for the Pride of Paisley summer art trail. 

A 'Pride of Paisley' lion outside Paisley Abbey

The striking Paisley-pattern weave on these decorated pillars create a really eye-catching entrance to the Abbey – thank Dyane Lanez of Tout Petit.

I love a bit of yarn-bombing but maybe this is weave-wrapping?

Decorated pillars at the entrance to Paisley Abbey

And while the focus is on modern innovations, and for many people tartan is the first thing that leaps to mind as the go-to Scottish textile, it’s hard to imagine today’s Paisley town-centre as a once-thriving textile hub, home to hand-weavers threading the intricate design of the now-infamous ‘floral teardrop‘ into shawls that were sold around the world.

Paisley Shawl collection, Paisley Museum Paisley Shawl collection, Paisley MuseumPaisley Pattern archive, Paisley Museum

Paisley Museum’s design archives proffer an inspirational legacy for a new generation of artisans and designers to reconnect with Paisley’s many treasures, perhaps re-working the ‘Paisley pattern’ or the ‘Paisley print’ for the modern era of fashion and textile design?

I intend to rise to this challenge and will be drawing (literally!) my inspiration from the early European and Indian influences, as well as key motifs from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements.

I look forward to featuring more of the archival pattern books that Dr Dan Coughlan, Curator of Textiles at Paisley Museum, was kind enough to share, but for now I’ll leave you with some more creative inspiration from the Scotland Re:Designed showcase – until 3rd September 2016.

Jewellery by Others Are at PaisleyMake festival

Rings by Others Are.

Gatekeeper Art by Lil Brookes

Intricate Gatekeeper Art by Lil Brookes.

PaisleyMake street signs, Paisley

NB: Although I was lucky enough to attend a local Blogger Preview to the collections at both Paisley Museum and the PaisleyMake showcase, this is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.


Posted on July 2, 2016

Fairy Tale Fashion: ‘Alice Day’ down the rabbit hole

One golden afternoon on 4 July 1862, Charles Dodgson, an Oxford don, took the 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boating picnic up the River Thames from Folly Bridge in Oxford. To amuse the children he told them a story about a little girl, sitting bored by a riverbank, who finds herself tumbling down a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world called Wonderland…

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

To celebrate ‘Alice Day’ (today, 2nd July) I’m sharing photos from the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibition that ran at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York, at the start of the year.

It was my first visit to New York in February, and I discovered the exhibition by accident, Alice-like, when I wasn’t looking for it. Immediately falling down the rabbit hole, I spent over an hour marvelling at the clever fashion interpretations of everyone’s favourite fairy tales.

Beginning in the thick velvety drapes of a prickly ‘forest’ with Little Red Riding Hood, the exhibition lured me through a magical realm of to-die-for couture and the fantastical machinations of childhood fairy tale viewed through an adult lens.

I thought the paper mask for the face of the wolf was a clever, contemporary take on the theme. The jewelled velvet gown was sumptuous (Dolce & Gabbana), and the padded, vinyl-hooded cape was by one of my favourite designers, Comme des Garçons.

Next: Beauty & the Beast. The paper mask again denotes the beast (without relying on ugliness or the grotesque). In fact, he looks rather like a lion?

The detailing of the floral layers really caught my attention here, having been a ‘corsage queen’ in my day. These shoes in the form of furry ‘beast’ claws were a real wonder:

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

Christian Louboutin’s ‘Alex’ pumps embody the dynamic of beauty and beastliness. Taking the form of a lion’s foot, their craftsmanship is extraordinary: the fur-like texture is created using dense embroidery, and the ‘claws’ are made from glittering rhinestones. Wow.

‘I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!’

This Manish Arora dress (2008) was displayed in true fairy tale style with fabric playing cards, bunny mask and checkerboard tights.

I’m sure the real Alice would have been delighted and proud with this nod to Wonderland. Meanwhile… Read more


Posted on June 20, 2016

Glasgow School of Art: Degree Show 2016

I was lucky enough to attend the preview of the Glasgow School of Art Degree Show last week, leaving with my head full of ideas and inspiration (wishing I was back at university myself with access to all that TIME and resource to freely CREATE and EXPERIMENT…)

My favourite part? The textiles, of course.

I was really struck by Rosie Noon’s collection; the sheer embroidery words that look like they’ve been scraped into skin. The details are texturally intricate with so many elements to draw the eye.

I wanted to know more about the themes surrounding this work, and luckily, Rosie details her starting point and inspiration:

My graduate embroidery collection was instigated by the discovery of a photograph album documenting the mysterious life of ‘Silvia’. Inspired by the repetition of women in mid-century dresses standing against blurred, floral backgrounds, contrasted by handwritten annotation of places and dates, I looked to re-appropriate these qualities in creating a new story through collage aesthetic in drawing and textile processes.

This connection to the past through a single photograph is catnip to a writer, textile lover and diarist like myself! Gorgeous work.

Degree Show - Textiles - GSANext I was enthralled by the beautiful tactile surface elements in Penny Hewitt’s work. She describes her collection:

Capturing the repetition and structures within organic form, closely exploring irregular repeat patterns.

The colours made me think of the fashion collection in my fictional novel, and I wanted to take these samples home and pin them to my wall!

Degree Show - Textiles - GSA

Degree Show - Textiles - GSAI couldn’t help but see a buoyant jellyfish suspended here in Niamh Brannan’s display, the clash of colours so riotous, playful, fun and daring.

Her collection puts me in mind of Mary Katrantzou prints in tactile form. Or a statement window display in a European capital? KaDeWe in Berlin springs to mind; a slew of designer handbags in matching jellyfish attire.

Degree Show - Textiles - GSA Degree Show - Textiles - GSAThese sponge-fronds attached to plastic tubing put me in mind of medical textiles and the innovations in that area. They would certainly make for ‘fashionable arteries’!

Degree Show - Textiles - GSAThe crisp geometric folds and stitches in paper, fabric, leather and digitally cut vinyl designed by Rochelle McGuinness really caught my eye, their application mocked up in lampshades and reminding me of some of the Cubist ceramics for sale at the Kubista museum in Prague. Read more


Posted on May 26, 2015

Beatroot & Lace Bazaar: accessories & vintage

Dainty Dora will be venturing out this Sunday to exhibit at the Beatroot & Lace Bazaar at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow.

It’s been a while. There is a lot to prepare.

But when I started looking at my stock and working out what to take, I felt the frisson of excitement that I used to have at craft and vintage markets, back in the day, when I went by the name of Cotton Candy Corsage.

Dainty Dora fashion accessories

Such a silly name really. Frivolous and airy-fairy, but I loved it at the time.

The name ‘Dainty Dora’ came about due to one of the designs I christened that name. I think the name ‘Dora’ has lovely connotations of hapless Grandmas’ knitting and crocheting around the fire, weaving tall tales into blankets and socks and jumpers. And then there’s ‘Dora the Explorer’….

I’ve always been attracted to vintage things – shiny buttons, age-worn leather, brooches and tea-sets and trinkets with provenance and history and the smell of another time. That vintage smell. Not the overwhelming smell of mothballs, but just a light dusting of vintage magic.

Who owned this before me? What were they like? Where did they live? What places did they visit?

Here’s a taste of what to expect from Dainty Dora this Sunday 31st May: Read more


Posted on May 11, 2015

How to make a floral hairband in 3 easy steps

Floral hairbands in multi-colours on hairbands, but also on elastic hairbands. I’ve seen them around the last few years. I wanted one.

Sometimes they feature crowns of white flowers that remind me of crafting daisy-chains in the long grass by the tennis courts on my school lunch break.

I never wore a crown of flowers when I was at school, and I think particularly because of that fact: I decided to make a floral hairband for myself. (Without using glue!)

Fabrics flowers & elastic

1. First, I gathered some fabric flowers and little corsages that I’d made some time ago. Oh, and coloured elastic.

When I was sifting through my stash, I was drawn to this eau de nil green and the lilac chiffon and the grey spot tulle.

2. After cutting the elastic to my head measurement, stretched to a comfortable fit, I used my sewing machine to stitch the two ends together.

3. Using my glamorous polystyrene ‘assistant’ to plan out where I wanted each element to go and experiment a bit with the design, I pinned everything in place and stitched the rest by hand.

The centre decoration is from a super-fancy hair bobble that I didn’t want to wear as a hair bobble. Now it has a new lease of life in a simple, low-key but fun floral hairband for spring/summer:

Floral Hairband Floral Hairband side view Floral hairband modelled on the head

It’s quite grown up really. Not too over the top.

I wore it to IKEA to test it out. I felt happy and summery. No-one laughed or stared or pointed.

There’s been a lot of rain and wind ever since, but next time the sun shines I’ll be the one rocking the floral hairband vibe.

And I liked it so much, I started another one, just so I’d have some colour options, you know?

Orange Floral Hairband side view Orange Floral Hairband

Make a floral hairband unique to you and be the envy of your friends!

Happy sewing :)


Posted on April 28, 2015

100 emotions: my *finished* Knitted Blanket

So, today is the day that I can share my joy in having finally finished my knitted emotional blanket that I began knitting some time ago.

It might have been 2-3 years ago, but when I really think back, I might have started it when we moved into our current house, which is nearly FIVE years ago.

The aim was to use up scraps of wool. But so much more has gone into this blanket of love and emotion.

And when I logged into my blog today, I realised this would be my 100th blog post here since launching on 1st December 2014 with the Christmas Stocking Advent Bunting (can’t wait to rediscover that…)

But for now, here is the finished blanket:

Knitted 'emotional' blanket - finished! Knitted 'emotional' blanket - finished! Knitted 'emotional' blanket - finished!

And I think there have been at least 100 emotions experienced while undertaking this project. Read more


Posted on February 6, 2015

Knitting a LOVE blanket

So it’s the month of LOVE and everywhere are hearts and flowers and red and pink things. It’s a bit pukey but I love the inspiration of crafty things to make.

Last year I started knitting a ‘love blanket’ using a mix of reds and pinks and creams and greys. Again it was mainly scraps of wool or charity-shop finds. And I even knitted in some scrappy intarsia hearts.

Knitting a LOVE blanket Knitting a LOVE blanket Knitting a LOVE blanketKnitting a LOVE blanket Knitted intarsia heart

And with this blanket, I’m mainly knitting in strips. MUCH more effective!

Because you might remember the ’emotional blanket’ project, which I talked about last month, and had hoped to finish by the end of January? Read more


Posted on January 21, 2015

Tartan bow brooches for Burn’s Night 2015

This Sunday 25th January is Burn’s Night, and although it’s a celebration of Scottish poet ‘Rabbie’ Burns (1759 – 1796), for me it conjures an image of a tartan-swathed Burn’s Night Supper.

Tartan bow brooches

These ‘bow brooches’ are made from Lochcarron of Scotland tartan in a medium weight. The plain blue bows represent the Scottish Saltire flag.

Tartan bow brooches Tartan bow brooches

Tartan swings in and out of fashion, sometimes gaining a bad rap for being tacky (think dodgy souvenir tam o’shanters and sickly colour-combinations), but Scotland’s most notable fabric is a beautifully woven and striking textile. Read more


Posted on January 9, 2015

Work in progress: knitted ’emotional’ blanket

I love knitting and it’s one of a handful of craft practices that I’ve been doing since I was a child.

Knitted squares blanket - work in progress

My Nana taught me to knit and my first project was a ‘scarf’ each for our two family cats. They hated those scarves.

I cut my knitting teeth on Jean Greenhowe’s knitted scarecrows, dolls, cakes and other characters (like the penguin with the lantern, featured on the site right now. I knitted that!), and knitting formed my ‘special project’ in Home Economics at school.

When I was 12 I knitted small squares from scraps of wool handed down by my Mum and my Nana, and eventually I had enough to make a blanket. There was no colour scheme or set pattern to the squares, but I would knit in rows of colour to form stripes, or experiment with different stitches to get interesting surface techniques.

I remember buying neon pink wool with my pocket money once. I was a child of the 80’s (though perhaps the only child to spend pocket money on wool!? I grew up in a very rural place.)

It was a proud moment when I finally finished that blanket. Read more


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