Autumnal appliqué ukulele tote bags by Ivy Arch

Ukulele appliqué by Ivy Arch

I've listed four new ukulele appliqué bags in my Etsy shop today. I made them from heavy vintage cottons which were originally produced as furnishing fabrics for William Morris, Laura Ashley, Peter Hall and Bernard Wardle.

Ivy Arch applique bags

The colours are just right for autumn – but don't let that stop you using them all year round! To buy, or take a closer look visit the Ivy Arch Etsy shop.

On Highdown Hill

Highdown Hill, South Downs

The day after Saint Jude's storm saw calm blue skies with bright puffy clouds over Worthing. I headed up to Highdown with friends to breathe some South Downs air and hike across the breezy hilltop. Our children scrambled through long grass, explored ditches and climbed trees while we marvelled at the splendid views across Worthing and out to sea – blighted only by the sight of a sprawling Asda superstore.

Highdown Hill, West Sussex

As the air began to chill we gambolled back down the hill to Highdown Tearooms and refuelled with huge glasses of hot chocolate with whipped cream and generous portions of cake before investigating Highdown's chalk gardens

Highdown Gardens in autumn time

The children disappeared in a game of hide and seek and we could've stayed another hour enjoying the rich autumn colours but were driven out by the sound of a ringing bell warning us that the gardens were about to close.

Sunset at Highdown

The Two Hour Dress: Gather One-Piece

Gather one-piece: Easy Cute Straight Stitch Sewing

This dress took me two hours to make from start to finish, including fathoming out the Japanese instructions in Yoshiko Tsukiori's Easy Cute Straight Stitch Sewing book and drafting the sewing pattern from scratch.

Yoshiko Tsukiori's Easy Cute Straight Stitch Sewing

I'd made a similar Gather One-Piece dress before so knew what to do. The pattern is essentially two rectangle shapes and the trickiest part was drawing a pleasing curve for the neckline – and that's as hard as it got. The sewing diagram is so easy to follow (even in Japanese) with just five simple steps.

Gather one-piece

I used 2.5 meters of red poly-jersey bought from Worthing's Wednesday market – synthetic stuff but feels soft and silky and it's printed with thousands of tiny stars. I lined the bodice in the same fabric as I thought it would give a smoother neckline and sleeve edge than binding such a stretchy material, this probably took less time than making bias binding too.

Easy Cute Straight Stitch Sewing: Gather one-piece

This must be the quickest garment I've made since running up skirts out of tie-dye bed sheets as a teenager! It's the perfect dress-make to appease a fast fashion habit but without sweatshop production values.

Easy Gather One-piece

A plaid habit: Stylish Dress Book 1 - Dress E

Stylish Dress Book: dress E

The most frequently made garment from the first Stylish Dress Book has to be the one on the front cover – Dress E. A web image search shows dozens of home sewn versions of this lovely simple smock frock. My favourite is this one by Mariane de Bougre d'Ane. She has lengthened the sleeves, lined the body with an old quilt and sewed a lace trim around the bottom to stunning folkish effect.

Stylish Dress Book: Wear with Freedom
Inspired to have a go at Dress E myself I thought I'd make a winter version using a piece of plaid suit fabric bought for £4 a metre at Worthing's Wednesday market. I made the sleeves longer to 3/4 length and embellished it with a few different pieces of mix and match brocade trim left over from other sewing projects.

Stylish Dress Book: E - plaid tunic dress

I didn't realise until I tried on the finished dress that the fabric has exactly the same colours as my greying brown hair. Sadly it was the end of the roll, otherwise I'd go and get some more and make an entire hair-coloured outfit!

Plaid smock: Stylish Dress Book 1, E

From The Trees

South Downs Foraging Walk

On a crisp, sunny autumn Saturday afternoon we cycled to Broadwater Green to take part in Transition Town Worthing's Sustainable Foraging Walk. Organised by Dr Barbara Pilley-Shaw, the walk was advertised in our school newsletter and invited us to rediscover useful downland and woodland plants in an amble up to the South Downs led by RSPB plant guide, folklore expert and clover muncher Brian Day. Other experts were on hand too, generously giving us a host of botanical and local historical information while we walked in the leafy Sussex countryside.

Midsummer Oak, Worthing
The Midsummer Oak – beware dancing skeletons at Midsummer's eve!

Some 37 like minded people assembled at the Green and more arrived later, joining us along the way. We were all ages (the youngest a 5-week-old baby snuggled up in a sling) and it was a family (and dog) friendly occasion. Worthing historian Chris Hare took us from the Green across busy A roads to a small patch of grass where the Midsummer Oak stands. The tree is said to be over 300 years old and local legend has it that on Midsummer's Eve skeletons rise from the ground and dance around it until dawn. Hare explained that the story was first recorded by folklorist Charlotte Latham in her book Some West Sussex Superstitions Lingering in 1868.

Woods at Hill Barn, Sussex

From there we crossed more main roads in busy Saturday afternoon traffic and walked to Hill Barn Recreation Ground – a lovely wide open green space. 

Hill Barn Recreation Ground
Hill Barn Recreation Ground

Brian Day led us around the edges exploring trees and hedgerows, with intelligence of which plants were edible or could be used for medicinal purposes illustrated with some eye-watering descriptions of ancient customs. We continued on past the golf course at Hill Barn and up into the Millennium Woods. Walking around the woods Dr Pilley-Shaw helped the children identify and take cuttings of trees (which we'll plant at school). The woods also provided plenty of opportunity for our children to play and they formed a merry group.

Sustainable Foraging in Sussex Millenium Woods
Foraging in the Millennium Woods

We walked for a couple of hours and it was a really enjoyable day. I have to admit that we did cheat a little and stuffed a few pieces of chocolate and flapjacks into our pockets to take with us, not quite sure whether foraged leaves and fruits would sustain us. However, I am inspired to boil some nettle leaves at home – one of these days...

Tree samples from Sussex South Downs
Top row of cuttings: Spindle, Yew, Ash
Middle row: Field Maple, Hazel, Guelder Rose
Bottom row: Guelder Rose (again), Hawthorne, Hornbeam

Guelder Rose

A new ambassador for Gudrun Sjödén

Meet ambassador Ivy Arch!
I first saw Gudrun Sjödén's clothing in an advertisement in The Guardian some 10 or 11 years ago. The picture showed a handsome woman cutting an elegant silhouette wearing a printed button-front tunic over long layered skirts. The colours were autumnal; greens, ochre and grey-blues, and the print looked like scattered autumn leaves. It was love at first sight. I sent off a postcard requesting a catalogue (these were the days before home broadband internet connections) and my relationship with the Gudrun Sjödén brand began.

    The clothes looked beautiful with their rich fabrics and bold prints – exactly what I ideally wanted to wear but thought out of reach for me at the time. However, I loved studying the styling in the catalogue's sublime photographs which showed me Gudrun's colourful world. I didn't buy anything for a year or so, continuing to be locked into fast fashion purchasing and not quite adjusted to the idea of sustainable, lasting fashion. When I could resist no longer my first purchase was in one of their winter sales – a soft quilted printed cotton grey jacket (it remains a favourite today and still gets compliments every time I wear it). I was hooked on the quality and craftsmanship and from then on have afforded myself one judicious new Gudrun Sjödén garment a year, supplemented by some great Gudrun Ebay finds. Her clothes are well made and designed to be washed and worn – good quality lasts.

Celebrating 10 years of wearing Gudrun Sjodén's designs!
Celebrating 10 years of wearing Gudrun Sjodén's designs!

My appreciation for all things Gudrun Sjödén continues to grow. I visited her store in Malmö, Sweden (a heavenly experience) and eagerly welcomed the arrival of her first UK boutique, joining fans from all over the country in travelling to London for the store opening last year. I was over the moon to win the “Most Colourful Woman in London” competition.

And now I'm giddy with excitement to have been invited to join Gudrun's band of brand ambassadors – women all over the globe who in their own way represent the brand at a grassroots level. It's a huge compliment to be asked and I'm only too happy to continue talking, writing about, wearing her clothes, using her fabrics and generally cheerleading for the company. Pretty much business as usual then at Ivy Arch, but with an added colourful spring in my step! 

The Ambassador's reception

To explore Gudrun Sjödén's green world visit

Scissor Sister: Sweet Dress Book - Coat dress W

Sweet Dress Book: Bell sleeve coat dress W

Tucked away at the back of the designs in Yoshiko Tsukiori's Sweet Dress Book is the bell sleeve coat dress (pattern W). It's easily the loveliest garment in the book - a front buttoning A-line coat with fairytale sleeves. 

I found the perfect fabled frock coat fabric in this grey linen-look cotton printed with French dressmaking notions (including slightly sinister scissors) at C&H Fabrics in Chichester. They couldn't tell me who produced it and there is no name printed on the selvage but it's similar in design and texture to the Berlin Macaroon fabric I made a dress from last month.

Scissor fabric

I thought the coat dress would be more like outerwear if I lined it, so used a floral print Japanese cotton which reminds me of the wallpaper in BBC TV's Peaky Blinders and gives the finished coat a charmingly retro feel. 

Peaky lining

The flower-print wooden buttons are from Etsy shop BerryNiceCrafts - well worth a look for button bargains (I've also got my eye on these and these).

Floral wooden buttons from Berrynicecrafts

The coat has one front patch pocket and by fluke I managed to line up the pattern exactly.

Bell sleeve: Sweet Dress Book

I'm not sure the photos really do the garment justice, it's such a beautiful thing in real life. I wore it to meet friends last week and they all gasped in excitement at the fabric and ever so feminine flounce of the sleeves! 

Sweet Dress Book: coat dress W

Sweet Dress Book is worth buying for this pattern alone but for added cuteness the book includes an almond cupcake recipe and several pictures of this lilac colourpoint cat.

Sweet cat book

Dressmaking by Numbers: Happy Homemade Sew Chic - Dress C

Yoshiko Tsukiori's Happy Homemade Sew Chic was top of my list of Japanese dressmaking books to buy next, so I was tickled pink when Tuttle Publishing sent me a review copy of it in English translation. Wow!

Yoshiko Tsukiori's Happy Homemade Sew Chic

The book contains 20 typical Tsukiori designs to sew. It has the same format as her other dressmaking books (with trace-out paper patterns enclosed in an envelope at the back) but also includes a Basic Sewing Techniques section with clear photographs and instructions, as well as detailed diagrams showing you how to make a paper pattern. I'd say it's ideal for beginners and those new to Japanese sewing books.

I immediately fell in love with pattern C 'Dress with Front Tuck' – a simple A-line tunic with a single front pleat and patch pockets – and thought it would be the perfect pattern to showcase this Painting by Numbers deer print fabric (designed by Erin Michael) bought from Worthing's Eclectic Maker.

Erin Michael Painting by Numbers Deer in Playground

Happy Homemade suggests finishing the dress with a bias facing at the neckline and armholes but as my chosen fabric is quite thin (and creases easily) I decided to fully line it with a soft cotton material to give the garment extra body. The finished dress hangs beautifully and the cotton lining gives extra warmth making it substantial enough to see me through autumn, into winter and beyond! For step-by-step instructions on lining a sleeveless dress, you can't beat Blithe Stitches ace tutorial.

Happy Homemade Sew Chic, dress C with lining
Happy Homemade dress C made and worn by Ivy Arch

Once I'd drafted the pattern the dress was quick and simple to sew in an afternoon. There will definitely be more Happy Homemade dresses appearing in my wardrobe in coming months...

Happy homemade me