The quilt of calm

blue patchwork quilt


Thumblenina quilt close-up
Hello everyone – if you’re here in the UK I hope you’ve been enjoying this most glorious of spring weather! We’ve just returned from Meribel, where the sun also shone bright and warm, giving me my first experience of skiing through puddles. This break meant so much to J and me; we seemed to have barely raised our faces from the grindstone for the past few months.

Of course I would have finished a quilt just in time for the heatwave. I’m always a season behind with my sewing, sometimes two. Anyway, for the winter now past, I have been sleeping under two duvets. It’s not that our flat is particularly cold, or London particularly cold – it’s just me that is particularly cold. A quilt was the obvious solution for a sew-er, but my as usual my ‘dreams of creativity’ brain segment kinda overlooked the business that the other half of the brain was still beavering away on, and hence I ended up with a large in-progress quilt sprawled across the living room floor, flaunting its half-finishedness whilst I tried to finish instead the really big project. And we were still sleeping under two duvets.

After I launched my patterns, I finally turned my attention back to the quilt, and during a binge-watch of the brilliant series Taboo, I completed it. I think we had it on the bed for a total of two nights before the weather turned and it was thrown off.

Anyway, it still adorns the bedroom during the day. I love it, because it’s the easiest quilt I’ve ever made, so I can admire it with no painful recollections of mismatched corners and seemingly endless hand-quilting. (My last bed quilt was for my sister and it took, no joke, about five years – for some now unfathomable reason I’d chosen to do a fan design and hand-quilt it, whilst studying for a degree and moving house multiple times. It’s pretty, but I still have very mixed feelings when I look at that quilt.)

The fabrics for the patchwork were all bought at The Cloth House. J has spent a lot of time studying and working in Japan, and I particularly like Japanese art prints, so I tried to choose Asian cloths. Some of them are actually Japanese fabrics, others are I believe Indian, but the geometry of the patterns and their cool hues will go well with the kind of artwork I have in mind for the walls of the bedroom.


It’s a sign of how little brain space I actually had available around that time that I cannot for the life of me remember where I bought the five metres of navy poplin I used for the back. The filling is medium-weight wadding. Each front rectangle measures 24 x 17 cm. I used my cutting mat for the measurements and managed to be precise enough that almost every ‘crossroads’ is perfect. This is a tied quilt, so each crossroads is also the location of a little knot made with heavy duty thread.

Thumblenina quilt detail

I find the finished effect elegant and calming. It also slightly counters the feminine prettiness of other aspects of the bedroom. I now want to replace the bedside lamps so they are matching (rather than so glaringly his ‘n’ hers!) and to add some of those long-admired Japanese prints to the walls. Then hopefully our bedroom will become a longed-for haven of tranquility away from the work-dominated zone of the living/kitchen area – anyone who has worked from (a relatively small) home will appreciate the draining effect of being permanently surrounded by reminders of your job. Unfortunately we can’t take a mini-break to the mountains every time work gets a bit intense so it’s important to have these separate spaces. If anyone has any other tips or tricks for striking this balance please do let me know! x

Thumblenina quilt


Simple Sew Trudy – how to make perfectly pointy corners

Simple Sew Trudy Thumblenina blog

Well if this isn’t just about the most overdue blog post ever, I don’t know what is. Last November I made up this sugar-sweet confection of a dress ahead of a day of pampering and photography up at Simple Sew HQ. The day was great fun – and a reminder (as if we needed one) of the jollity, humour and supportiveness of sewing peeps.

From that day onwards I’ve worn my (back-then) new Trudy dress to just about everything. I couldn’t get over having something that was so pretty but could still be worn with a vest and would keep me warm. The fabric is a wool blend from Sew Over It. It would be divine as a spring SOI Chloe Coat (they’ve released a new online course for this pattern). Anyhoo, back to Trudy – the dress is a breeze to sew as it’s unlined and the collar is just finished with a facing. My only comments would probably be to flag up that the cuffs are close-fitting but don’t have any openings; I suspect some people wouldn’t be comfortable with this. Also: the full-length sleeves are rather long; at times I felt like a pink check gorilla. And yet I still love it.

What you can’t of course see properly in these photographs is the pretty Peter Pan collar on this dress, which I chose to make in a contrasting white poplin. So to tie in, here’s my trick for getting the pointiest of pointy corners on your collars, cuffs, bags etc. The red line represents the single strand of thread and it’s at 50% opacity when it’s meant to be underneath the fabric.

  1. Cut a strand of medium-weight thread (I use top-stitching thread) about six inches long and set to one side.
  2. Sew up to the corner and stop one stitch before where you intend to pivot, leaving the needle in the fabric.
  3. Take your strand of thread and slide it in-between the two layers of your fabric at the corner until it hits the needle, with one end of the thread being pushed inside the layers of fabric to the left of the needle and the other lying outside the fabric across your machine to the right of the needle. The thread should make a V-shape with the point of the V being where the thread is pulled up against the needle.
  4. Now make one single stitch; this should step over the strand of thread.
  5. Turn the fabric as you would normally do, pivoting around the needle.
  6. Leaving the left-hand end of the thread inside the layers of fabric, bring the right-hand end of the thread around the front of the needle and push it inside the layers to the left so the two ends of the thread are together.
  7. Continue your stitching until finished.
  8. Snip off excess fabric at the corner.
  9. When you turn your corner the right way out, the two ends of the thread should appear and if you tug on them they will pull the corner through to perfection. Then you can simply pull one of the ends and the thread will come out.Eh, voila, pointy points! I hope you find this helpful – it’s been a game-changer for me! x

Simple Sew Trudy back Thumblenina blog

[This post first appeared on the Simple Sew Blog, and the Trudy Dress pattern was provided to me free of charge as one of the Simple Sew Bloggers. Discover more tips and trick using Simple Sew Patterns on the blog.]

Introducing … Nina Lee Patterns!

So friends, for those of you who don’t know, I’ve got some rather exciting news … I’m super thrilled to introduce you to ‘Nina Lee’ – and my very first range of sewing patterns! I’ve started my own little business, and we’ve launched with three patterns: a pair of trousers, a dress and a blouse, each named after an area of London. The aesthetic is my own: pretty, feminine clothing with a nod to current fashion but drawing on a much broader sphere of inspiration. Without further ado, let me introduce the designs:

Nina Lee Portobello Trousers

The Portobello Trousers are wide-legged, high-waisted, with front pleats and back darts, closing with a centre-back zip. Obviously they have pockets 🙂 They work equally well in winter wools or summer wovens and I really cannot tell you how flattering I find these trews – they just make my legs feel so long, almost like those of a normal person.

Nina Lee Portobello Trousers

The Bloomsbury Blouse (pictured up top) is kinda secretly my favourite baby (just don’t tell the others). It was the first pattern of the three that I really developed, and I’ve had more comments (nice ones) from strangers about this top than anything else I’ve ever made. The pattern comes with options for both wide and narrow ruffles, and to add (or not) ruffles at the collar and cuffs. I’m all about the big ruffles, but also pretty much in love with the straight-up Edwardian vibe of the version with narrow ruffles I made for my sister.

Nina Lee Bloomsbury Blouse

Nina Lee Bloomsbury Blouse

And last but not least, the Carnaby Dress. This is a fun little shift with separate skirt pieces that can be colour-blocked, and in-seam front pockets that can also be colour-contrasting. Hey, you can put on contrast sleeves if you want too. Plus, because the front shouldn’t get all the attention, it’s got an exposed zip in the back. Dreamy in denim, or cord, or linen in the summer…

Nina Lee Carnaby Dress

Nina Lee Carnaby Dress

This is a project that’s swallowed up my life with increasing intensity over the past few months, and I’m really happy to be finally sharing it, and hopefully returning to some kind of normality. Certainly this here blog will be from henceforth resuming normal service; I want to make it clear that this enterprise is an entity with a separate existence and for anyone who comes here because you’ve enjoyed the content of this blog – it’s not going to change. I still really want a place to chat about things I’m making, and I still want to make ALL the patterns. I’ve got lined up for you a Simple Sew Trudy dress, a velvet Closet Case Files Nettie dress, a Thread Theory Finlayson sweater, a quilt, a Tilly and the Buttons Cleo, a secret Sew Over It pattern… And those are just the ones I’ve actually done. The Nina Lee site has its own blog, and that’s where I’ll be talking about the patterns, inspiration, hacking, fabric etc. If you want to find out more about any of this, please visit our website:, or follow us on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest, @ninaleelondon.

Self-promotion firmly concluded.

Nina x

Sew It With Love Delia top

If you like it then you oughta put a bow on it…


So I did.

Say hello to Delia, the first pattern from Sew It With Love, the London-based sewing company and school run by the lovely Elena. It’s a super-cute knit top with raglan sleeves, an optional peplum and optional bow. (The bow is not optional in my mind; I will never miss a chance to wear a bow.) I was lucky enough to be a pattern tester.


thumblenina delia top sew it with love 4.jpg

I ordered a cotton jersey rayon blend from Girl Charlee UK, and as they only take orders in whole metres, ended up with rather a lot! The orange and lilac colour combination is sugary sweet; every time I think I’m moving in a more sartorially sophisticated direction, I do something like this. Bows, frills and sherbet. Do you ever find this, that you have one idea of your style in your head, and then keep being drawn to prints/colours/designs that don’t sit within that style at all? Or that it’s winter, and you’ve only gone and bought something that screams summer? (You can all too clearly see in the photos that I’m wearing a cami underneath!)


Delia is a nice and easy sew, perfect for someone still new to knits. The pattern comes with plainer variations (short sleeves, no peplum, no bow) which makes it a great ‘basic’. I made a size 10, which is quite relaxed in this particular knit. Fit-wise I shortened the bodice because I wanted that peplum to hit right on the waist (the original design has it rather lower). I’m still considering whether to shorten the sleeves to three-quarter length; having shortened the top I feel the balance is slightly thrown out by the long (and loose-ish) sleeves.

I’m excited by all the colour-blocking possibilities with this top – I’m thinking of making a version with a black and white graphic print on the bodice, then plain black sleeves and a black bow… It’s such a perfect pattern for spring, which I’m rather waiting for before wearing this Delia out and about. Right now that seems still some way off, given I’m wiped out with a cold that’s utterly stolen my voice. I don’t think I ever realised quite how much I chat to myself until today, when the flat has been so oddly quiet… So, for now, this is my way of communicating – thanks for keeping me company, blogosphere! x



Hello, and, er, a very belated Happy New Year!

First day of February and I’ve just about recovered from Christmas. I’ve still got a considerable amount of chocolate to consume, but at least I’ve finally got the Muppets’ Christmas Carol soundtrack out of my head.

I LOVE Christmas. My excitement levels go into hyperdrive sometime around breakfast on December 1st (it’s no coincidence that that was the last date I managed to post a blog entry…) and I usually spend the next few weeks in a sort of craze of festive happiness otherwise only found in sugar-high five-year-olds (only in my case with added alcohol). Thankfully, unlike your average five-year-old I have a sewing machine into which I can channel some of my festive frenzy, and there are few things I enjoy more than making Christmas presents. So although this all happened some time ago now, and I’ve got heaps of exciting 2017 stuff to show you, I still fancied sharing my Christmas makes…

For my mother, on her country walks and mini-breaks, I made a second version of the Desmond roll-top backpack, as before scaled to 80%. Again, I used Liberty fabric from Fabrics Galore, reinforced with interfacing, and this time a grey needlecord for the lining. The hardware came from Kleins, in Soho. Such a satisfying make.



The speed of my knitting is something of a running joke in my family, especially as Christmases past have often seen me wrap up some unfinished accessory – scarf, gloves – complete with needles and yarn and place it sheepishly under the tree. True to tradition, this year my lucky sister received a half-finished scarf in Rowan Kidsilk Haze, inspired by this one. Hey, at least I managed to finish it in the new year, and it is pleasingly fluffy…


Also this year I had the added bonus of making for J, a man who was never going to realise on his own that what he really wanted for Christmas was a pair of red tartan pyjama trousers. I used Kwik Sew 4088, a versatile pattern that offers trousers, shorts, two top variations and a dressing gown. Unfortunately, he takes these trousers quite seriously and will only wear them for actual sleeping, not blog posing, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say they are great.

And, for me (because why stop at giving to others?) – I finally made the Christmas tree skirt of my dreams!


village haberdashery patchwork thumblenina.jpg



It’s a project posted on the Village Haberdashery blog back in 2015. Christmas 2015 I was busy leaving my job to go freelance, overhauling my existence and in general freaking out about Big Life Change, which didn’t leave a lot of time for Christmas patchwork. This year, a consuming, unnecessary and completely indulgent craft project seemed the perfect way to mark the fact that I’d actually survived the aforementioned change. Piecing all those little squares (often imperfectly, but hey, it’s a skirt for a tree) soothed my soul, and inspired me to tackle an actual quilt which will be appearing here imminently…

Anyway, sorry to be oddly sharing my Christmas on February 1st; I don’t know where January went but it clearly wasn’t into productive bloggery. I celebrated Chinese New Year at the weekend and I think my rooster resolution should be blog more! x

The Foldline Billie top – and a little of life lately…



Hello and happy December! Things have been busy and up and down here, but I’m so excited that Advent is upon us and holidays are comin’, holidays are comin’… I said in my last post that I wouldn’t bore you all with my tales of recent work, stress and occasionally snatched play, so let it suffice to say that at the end of last week, following a minor health scare (all sorted now), I rather snapped and have taken the past few days off for almost solid sewing. As well as a super-cute pattern test, I finally got around to making up this Billie top, from The Foldline Tribe Patterns’ first collection. Rachel and Kate very kindly sent me a copy of the pattern upon its release and I’d been wanting to tackle the top ever since, knowing I had finally found exactly the right use for the leftovers from my election-day skirt.

I’m going to say upfront that the Billie pattern isn’t my normal style, but one of the (less obvious) reasons I love being sent patterns to test or review is because sometimes they take one out of one’s style comfort zone. The square neckline, shoulders and armhole darts were all intriguing to me. The peplum however was love at first sight – I adore peplums, cute waist-enhancing, upper-bottom-concealers that they are.

The gorgeous fabric (I think it would be worth going back to Vietnam just to get more of the stuff) found its match in some scraps of blue silk leftover from a client’s skirt – I have such a hard time getting rid of scraps and now my hoarding tendencies have been validated!


The top is a cinch to sew; a little trickier in my case to fit. I ended up with excess fabric pooling around my upper chest; I partially resolved this by slightly deepening and lengthening the waist darts but their points are now closer to the side dart tips than ideal.  I also deepened and lengthened the back darts because there was some excess in the upper back too.

The pattern provides instructions for a fully exposed zipper; I felt this would look too heavy on my floral fabric so opted for a semi-exposed (no idea of the proper term!) insertion. Unfortunately, the zip is really too heavy for my fabric and, not helped by my short and overly curved back, waves up and down and wrinkles the back bodice. I’m even tempted to remove it and replace it with a concealed zip,  but let’s be frank here – I’m more likely to just wear the top and grow indulgently fond of it, imperfections and all. Plus, if I let my hair down it will cover most of the back!



I’ve realised now I have my hands on my hips in almost all of these photos – but it was so cold outside I barely knew what to do with myself! Winter has done with coming, and is well and truly here now. It feels so good to have finally made a few items for myself after an autumn of sewing for others. Back in September I made an Anna dress for my beautiful friend on her Italian honeymoon…

Then I made a capsule holiday wardrobe for my mother’s trip to Borneo and Singapore…

One copied skirt, one self-drafted pair of trousers, one pair of Sew Over It Carrie Trousers and four self-drafted box tops…

Then it was an evening skirt and top commission, made with divine Indian silk that I had to completely underline…

How I love zip guards!

All sewing is pleasurable, but sometimes you just need to carve out a bit of space for a few selfish sews. And so I hope you’re all managing to squeeze in a little selfishness this week… x

* This pattern was provided to me free of charge, but all opinions are my own. Believe me, I wouldn’t have stood out bare-armed in the freezing cold just to pretend to like it 😉 *