Friday, 27 April 2012

How we buy books


As I was drying my hair this morning I was thinking about the way in which you might buy books as it's something that's increasingly becoming a moral conundrum for me. I think the greatest potential loss to our high street, were they to cease to exist, would be bookshops. Several years ago when Amazon first became a feature in our lives, I bought the majority of my books from them unthinkingly, delighted by the fantastic prices. However, in more recent years I've started to increasingly feel uncomfortable about this: I want to support local bookshops now, rather than wishing I had once they've all been forced into closure. The moral dilemma comes over how best to do this.


I've gradually worked out a sort of system in my head that feels like an acceptable compromise for the most part. My children buy the vast majority of their books from Waterstones as I think the experience of picking books by hand; reading the blurb on the back; seeing the print within the books; feeling the texture of the pages, is all an essential part of childhood and building a life-long love of reading and books that can't be replicated by any of the wonders that technology has to offer or by having the books arrive anonymously on your doorstep. Additionally, it's only since having children that I've appreciated that book sellers are just as amazing at pointing me to a perfect book or providing an on-the-spot review as Amazon can be. Both in our local branch and all the others we've visited around the country, when I've said to a book seller: we're looking for this type of book, for this type of reading ability and it must include insert-random-current-obsession, they amaze me every time by leading us to a perfect offering and describing the intricacies of the characters or writing style with a knowledge and passion which makes me believe they must read every book.


Because children's books require more internal browsing than adults', if I'm shopping alone for them I'll also tend to make a bee-line for Waterstones and once I've used them as a research resource it doesn't feel right not to buy from them, so I'll buy paperbacks and picture books from the shop, but if I've spotted a particularly amazing looking hardback that's over £20 that I'd love to buy for them then I'll guiltily make a note of the title, as those are the times when it feels too much to shoulder the price discrepancy between the high-street and Amazon, which can be as much as £15 difference.


Many of my own books I buy from Amazon - simply because it feels quick and easy and my local branch of Waterstones didn't used to stock a great variety of specialist sewing books (although that's increasingly not the case as sewing has surged in popularity). I frequently buy cookbooks in the shop because I like to browse through them before I buy, which brings me to why I was thinking on this as I dried my hair this morning.


I'd mentioned the Primrose Cupcakes cookbook in my last post and after reading some of your feedback I decided that I'd love to buy a copy. I went to the Waterstones website where it was reduced from £14.99 to £9.49 with free postage and rang to reserve a copy at my local branch. However, when I double-checked the price I realised that Waterstones online undercut their own shops, meaning that to buy the book in the shop would mean paying full price. Having spoken to a real, live, very helpful book seller by that point, who'd already gone to check the shelf for me, I decided on this occasion the moral obligation was to buy the book from the shop and lose the £5.49...but it made me wonder at what point your own cut-off may be? I wondered if you'd agree with this or whether I'm being over-empathetic to the bookseller's plight. What lengths do you go to to support your own high-street and where do draw the line? Does it bear any relation to income? For me, despite our change in circumstances with my husband setting up his own business over the last year, I don't feel I can abandon the high street booksellers; I feel I should simply buy less books so that I can continue to support them in the ways that I've described above.

Equally, even though I want them to continue, I'm also aware that a big chain like Waterstones isn't symbolic of all that is good and right with booksellers and that their sales practises often put publishers and authors under pressure, however, they are still the only option on my own high street, which is devoid of independent sellers. I wish that we had a local version of South-east London's Tales on Moon Lane or London's Daunt Books.

What do you think? I'd love to hear how you shop? Whether you think we do have a moral obligation to subsidise the high street in order to retain it or if you have a favourite book shop and what makes it special. Or whether Amazon has its own magical appeal for you, as it does to me to a certain extent, in the sheer vastness of its stock.

Florence x

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A rosebud cake


Last Friday afternoon me and my daughter raced home with baking in mind having planned it that morning in a spare half hour before school began. The Primrose Bakery Book has become our 'go to' book for those times when you just want a cake that's going to be utterly delicious. We've now baked enough things from it to trust it to be provide exquisite edibles every time.


We adapted the Nutella Cupcakes recipe into 'large cake' quantities and made a sandwich, iced with our own Nutella butter cream icing as we didn't have all the necessary ingredients to make the suggested icing. You can see from the picture above that the cake is marbled with Nutella - somehow so much better than it being fully assimilated into the plain sponge mixture as it allows for the delight of coming across a small, slightly crunchy chunk of Nutella on your fork every now and then.


My mother bought my children some packs of icing for Christmas (to go with a fantastic book that I'll share with you at some point) and my daughter chose to make little rosebuds to decorate the top of the cake. Initially frustrating, trying to create the perfect rose would be far easier if Fimo had been a part of your childhood (it's somehow been omitted in our house though). There was a lot of trial and error and when my little boy came home he too joined in with this impromptu edible play-doh session.


Finally, the perfect bud was created.


I love that my daughter's focus was initially on making a very sophisticated rosebud cake, but that she was spirited away as she played with the icing and ended up seeing fit to add a strutting bird to her creation. Irreverent, lovely and bonkers.


Perhaps because we all do an equal amount of baking and share a strong desire to chase cakerly perfection, as a family, we enthusiastically discuss the merits or pitfalls of any cake without too much need to flatter the baker's ego. In view of this it seems worth saying that this cake was declared the best we'd ever tasted by 3 out of 4 tasters (Hugh's Wholemeal Honey Cake is still up there alongside it, but as an entirely different sort of cake due to it possessing a little more virtue and health). I've failed to do a full review of this book yet, and must put that right at some point, but I can say wholeheartedly that it is my (and my daughter's) favourite baking book and that if I were forced onto a desert island and permitted to take only one book from my cookery book shelves it would be this one. Has anyone got both of the Primrose Bakery books? If so, is their Cupcakes From the Primrose Bakery worth buying also, or does it cover the same ground as this later book?

I'd love to know what your own favourite cookbook or baking book is?

Florence x

Monday, 23 April 2012

Negroni: best not frozen


If it feels like I've been mentioning the second Negroni shirt I've been working on for my husband for a very long time that would be because I have. It's not a pattern to rush through - partly because precision is fairly critical to this pattern and partly because it's a sewing pattern worth savouring because the construction process is so enjoyable. Unusually for me (because I tend to work very frenetically), I made this shirt in bite-sized pieces: an hour here, an hour there; stopping at 9.30pm, rather than 1am. Will you finish it soon? he would ask, whenever he saw his shirt fabric out on the machine. Not today, I would say. It was a surprise to both of us that I am capable of working a maƱana attitude: this is a new thing.


The fabric is a Liberty Tawn lawn of dusty blue flowers that give the print a naturally faded, relaxed look.


When I'd first started planning this shirt in my head, I'd thought of doing clever contrasty things with the facings, the pocket and cuffs, but in the end I reined myself in as I knew I'd just be doing them for my own sewing delight, rather than because it would add anything to the shirt - I think this print actually looks better as it is, unadulterated.


The only blip with making the shirt came with my choice of fabric marker. On the evening I cut the pattern out I found that my beloved Frixion pens had all dried up and so I reverted to a chalk pen which by contrast felt chunky and impresise. There are so many pattern markings on this shirt that I became increasingly worried about how it would come together with these inaccurate chalky splodges...and so I rushed out first thing the following morning and bought more Frixion pens and fell in love with them all over again.

I know that Frixion pens divide seamstresses. Some of you love them, others have written to me (quite angrily) telling me that when you put your quilt in the freezer to test whether the lines have really disappeared after ironing them away, the lines have in fact reappeared and were only pretending they'd gone away. It delighted me to think as I made this shirt that if my husband was ever particularly wicked and I felt compelled to try and force him into the freezer as punishment, folding his long arms up to fit into the drawers, I would have to sit grumpily on the other side of the door knowing that the markings on his shirt would be gradually reappearing as he froze. It's a double-edge sword sort of punishment: it would hurt me as much as it would hurt him. Happily, my husband's wickedness levels never rise too far above making me feel a bit foot-stampy, so I still feel fairly confident that the Frixion pens are a very good thing (note: as the lines disappear with heat, you have to be careful to keep the iron well away from your markings as you press a seam, until you're actually ready to say goodbye to them, but if all else fails, we now know that you can revive them by putting the fabric in the freezer!).


And here's the man himself, appreciating a moment of warmth in the sun. Ahem. (In the background you can see a tiny snippet of part of the new garden that he's been working on since December 27th of last year - I can't wait to show you the transformation once he's done the final task of laying a lawn.


As ever, with the negroni, the inside finish is just lovely - the pattern instructs upon flat-felled seams throughout which means that you're left without the conundrum of how best to finish your seams neatly. As I think I've conveyed before on numerous occassions, the Negroni is my idea of sewing pattern Manna.  I am already considering the next one. If you're thinking of buying the pattern yourself, you can find it in the Colette Patterns shop overseas, or English seamstresses can find it at Backstitch, as well as a great many other lovely places.

Florence x

Ps. If you want to see the first Negroni that I made in a plainer fabric, then you can find it here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Introducing The Village Haberdashery


I'm so excited to introduce my newest sponsor, The Village Haberdashery, run by the lovely American-on-English-shores, Annie. Annie only opened her online shop this month, but, like me, you may already have been a reader of Annie's lovely blog, The Daily Stitch. I mention her blog, firstly, because if you haven't read it, then I think you'll love it, and secondly, because when you scroll through it you'll know just how perfect it is that Annie has started a fabric shop because she is so very passionate about fabric and sewing (and I've just discovered that she's even a founding member of the recently established London branch of the Modern Quilt Guild). Annie has recently been sharing some peeks of what she saw when she went overseas to the Kansas Spring Quilt Market and my eyes felt like they had extended out on crisp green celery stalks when I saw these Heather Ross prints. And I then proceeded to fall in love with every fabric line in this whole post - I'm keeping my fingers crossed for dressmaking weight fabrics in some of them).

Anyway, my custom with new sponsors is that I enjoy picking out a few of my favourite things to share with you, however, Annie's shop is a haberdashery in the true sense of the word - she sells everything from knitting wool, to wadding; bodkins to button hole scissors; needlework supplies to fabric; patterns to pins and even seamstress-orientated gifts - so this post could be long. I've fallen quite loopily in love with so many of the unusual things in her shop that I'm not sure I can edit my selection to make this brief, so please join me in nibbling on a biscuit as we take a long, hard swoon around her shop together.


Firstly, I adore this mug. For one who will read a thesaurus for pleasure, rather than hunting through it with a specific purpose, dictionary definitions offer a similar pull of loveliness for me that I can imagine many of you may share with me - especially when the definition pertains to sewing. My photograph is a little small, so I shall save you the squinting and tell you that it reads:  Seamstress ('semstris): a creative and intelligent women engaged in the noble art of clothes making: both at home and in the workplace. I think this may be stretching the official dictionary definition, but I love it.


I was both surprised and delighted to find that Annie has chosen to stock Anna Maria Horner's tapestry kits as I'm yet to spot these anywhere else in England. These kits are an odd thing as, like many sewers, I don't think I've ever previously considered branching out into tapestry, but the familiarity of the images within the tapestry kits which are magnifications of some of the florals which appear in Anna Maria's much loved fabric ranges, make them feel only a small leap away from sewing. They come complete with all the necessary yarn and a pre-printed canvas which makes them feel an unintimidating possibility for feeling cornerishly 'new girl' about giving it a try. Annie has four varieties of tapestry kit and you can find them here.


Staying on the kit theme, when Annie sent me a link to her new site a month or so ago, I fell in love with this dress that Annie is offering in kit form - it's the Oliver + S family reunion dress teamed with this delicious blue Rock Garden print and even comes ready to buy with buttons and thread - I think this ready-to-go way of presenting things is so lovely, especially for a new seamstress who may feel overwhelmed by the gathering of supplies that must take place before embarking on a project.

While rather utilitarian, I feel compelled to tell you that, as well as standard quilt waddings, Annie also stocks insulating wadding - this is something that quite a few people have written to me asking for a stockist of after I mentioned it in my tutorial to make drinks coasters. Because it's heat-resistant, insulating wadding is also perfect for using inside oven-gloves, coasters, heat pads or hot water bottle covers and it's very easy to sew through. Hurrah!


Annie stocks an extensive range of knitting and crochet yarns and notions, which you can find here and is currently offering 15% off all DMC embroidery floss (simply enter FLOSS15 at the checkout), but as you may have guessed, my main excitement lies with what fabrics she's chosen to stock.


As you know, from both my last post, and many others, I have a fox fascination so I adore the Walk in the Woods range the Annie stocks (convention says that it was a wolf who accompanied Little Red Riding Hood into the forest, but I'm absolutely positive this is a fox, possibly a protector from the wolf who appeared at a later point). Isn't it glorious!


Annie kindly sent me some of her favourite print from the Maman collection as she didn't feel photographs were conveying quite how it felt in your hands. Although this wasn't a range that I'd previously felt overly excited by (as I am by many of Cloud 9's ranges - Alegria is arriving at the Village Haberdashery at the end of this week - hurrah!). However, Annie is right - this fabric needs to be felt to be truly fallen in love with. The Maman range is printed on Cloud 9's premium base cloth, but I don't think I'd ever really appreciated what this was - it's actually a 200 thread count sheeting, so it has the feel of expensive crisp bed linen and actually gives a crisp rustle as you drape it. It is divine. I think it would hold its shape wonderfully and so as well as nursery makes, instinct tells me that it would be an amazing choice full a full-skirted dress and I was hit with a little moment of longing when I felt it and admired the lovely print as I could just imagine how delicious my own little girl's chubby toddler self would have looked as she went about the industry of playing wearing the Maman dress that momentarily appeared in my head. You can find the rest of the Maman range here (I feel certain that even an adult could get away with the Chinoiserie print if she wanted a sundress with a little 1950s twirl to it - what do you think?).


I fear I may lose you if I discuss every range in the shop, so do go and discover what else there is there. But finally, I want to also point you in the direction of Annie's ribbons - she stocks a really unusual twill in fantastic colours (although guiltily, my favourite is actually the cream, which I think looks so elegant).

Florence x

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A quilt full of foxes


A few posts ago, I wrote about Siblings Together, the charity that Lynne of Lily's Quilts is currently collecting quilts for. After checking with Lynne that a younger, more pictorial quilt would be suitable for donation (as I think the age range varies from young to teenager), I've decided to send a quilt full of friendly foxes along.


As you may have realised from previous posts, I have rather a penchant for foxes.While I'm not overly keen on some of their antics such as turning bins upside down or yowling late at night, I love the sanitised version of them that lives in my head: wily, playful, sweetly independent and curious-faced.




It's this latter type of inquisitive, gentle foxcub that I studied photographs of when I was drawing these foxes late last year.



I'd intended to write a quilt pattern to go with them, but that's somehow been sidelined, even though this quilt at least has come to fruition.


I'm hoping that the sibling who takes this quilt home with them will see the kindness that I hoped to capture in the faces of these foxes.


It is not technically perfect, but I so enjoyed making this. I tried free-motion quilting for the second time and loved it just as much as the first. It's a seaweedy pattern in white cotton swirling around the picture squares that recedes into the background to allow the bushy-tailed foxes to be the main attraction.


I will hopefully post this off later this week.


The applique was done using a simple straight stitch and by colour-matching the threads to the fabrics which was oddly satisfying - all those pre-wound bobbins of thread sitting next to freshly-bought reels of cotton (because orange was really not a colour I had in my stash) made me feel very happy indeed.

Florence x

Monday, 16 April 2012

Colette Patterns giveaway winner


Thank you so much for all your entries on the Colette Patterns giveaway in the last post - I'm delighted to tell you that the random finger stopped at Melizza of Pincushion Treats who said 'I love how vintage-y Lily looks. I would love to make one using plaids and solids'.

Having looked at Melizza's gorgeous blog (which is full of Colette Pattern makes already) and surveyed with awe the very long list of patterns that she's intending to sew this year, I actually feel slightly guilty to be adding one more to the list, however, I'm so looking forward to seeing what she comes up with (and I've emailed your contact details over to Sarai, Melizza!).

It's the first day back at school after the Easter holidays for my children today and I'd promised myself that I'd do my tax return to get all the gloom over with on one day. However, I woke this morning feeling certain that I should ignore that rather dull bit of self-inflicted number-crunchery and leave it for next Monday instead. So today I will hopefully finish my Liberty print Negroni shirt.

What are you doing on this cold and sunny Monday?

Florence x

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

New Colette Patterns give-away

Last week Sarai emailed me with a sneak preview of this season's lovely new additions to the Colette Patterns range. You can find full details about all the patterns over on the Coletterie and via the online shop, however, I'd love to share my thoughts on the new patterns and if you'd like to leave a comment at the end of this post, you have the chance to win a copy of one of them.

Let's start with Iris. I was delighted to find included in the new range a pattern for a pair of shorts with just the kind of sailor-front detailing that I'd been searching for last summer, but was unable to find. It's a style that, for me, has a timeless appeal but with roots firmly set in 1950s starlet territory.


The clever thing about the Iris pattern, is that when the pocket placement is teamed with buttons it gives the illusion of a true sailor front, but simply omitting the buttons leaves you with an altogether more contemporary look.
Iris
I have to admit to being wary of shorts. I don't think I've worn a pair since I was a teenager, due to self-consciousness over my very English pale legs (although that could change a little as we're heading off to the Italian Lakes this summer, which will be our first no-snow holiday abroad for over 15 years - hurrah!). However, lengthening the leg on these would transform them into a garment within my comfort zone and really wouldn't be hard to do, so they're high on my wish list of summer sewing.
Hazel
The other patterns are both sundresses. Above is Hazel. I love the style lines of this dress: the fitted bodice and the not-too-full skirt, as well as the tiny horizontal bust darts which interrupt the central panel. Colette have produced two versions of this dress to illustrate the pattern: one striped, which shows off the many details to full effect with cleverly placed stripes intersecting one another from different angles; while another uses a floral Nani Iro gauze which loses many of these details in the print of the fabric, transforming it into a different dress altogether. The bodice side panels are bias cut, which means it's likely to be very flattering - hurrah! I'm really looking forward to seeing how others make this dress up - the first thing that springs to my mind is a navy broderie anglaise, possibly with some narrow piping inserted in the diagonal style lines to make them stand out, but I think I may stalk the Colette Flickr pools for inspiration before committing to anything.

And finally, the gorgeous, Sophia Loren-inspired, Lily sundress. Where Hazel looks softly feminine with its gathered waist and floral motif suggestion, Lily is much more Mad Men style, with its clean fitted lines it looks to be wonderfully curve hugging - I'm hoping this will prove to be a dress version of the Beignet skirt. The pocket detail and band that runs across the bodice top give fantastic potential for playing with accent colours too. I'm excited about this dress even though, oddly, it was the one that initially I was least taken with, it's somehow become the one that I think I'd like to try first. It just looks so elegant and chic.

Lily
You may be excited to hear that this is the first range of patterns that Colette are producing as PDF downloads (although the traditional paper copies are still very much available). If you'd like to win a PDF printable copy of one of these patterns, just leave a comment letting me know which pattern you'd like to win (Iris, Hazel or Lily) and I'll pick a random winner and pass your details over to Sarai and Caitlin for electronic dispatch. I'd love to hear what you think of the patterns, which fabrics you can imagine using or what you're working on at the moment.


Fittingly, I am now returning to work on the Colette Patterns' Negroni shirt for my husband that I mentioned in my last post. I am but two sleeves and several buttons away from being finished.  I'm wondering how easy it would be for Negroni number III* (because there definitely will be one: I think this is the pattern I most enjoying sewing in the entire world) to convert the front into a Grandad style opening, as per the shirt above. This is a photo I took of my husband at the beach several years ago (those are my daughter's legs dangling around his ears). The shirt has long-since left his wardrobe as it was a deliciously light-weight summer cotton that became quickly tattered. However, I love the style of the mandarin collar, button placket which ends mid-chest and slightly looser sleeves....it somehow feels wonderfully weekendy. However, they actually amount to a fairly substantial number of changes, no? I think it may be a whole separate pattern. I may put in an official pattern request plea to Colette Patterns.

Florence x

*Although I'm not sure that my husband deserves to be the recipient of any more shirts or for me to be making pattern requests on his behalf - he has just told me that when he has his end of year review (he's self-employed) he's going to ask if can sit at a desk near someone who's more fun than me due to my being an unenthusiastic player in his impromptu game of 'guess what this song from the 80's is' this morning. He says that I need to learn how to behave in an office and that I must engage in banter as well as thinking about sewing. I think I may need to go on a course to learn how to do that: it sounds hard.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Sewing, chocolate and siblings


We've had a very lovely four-day Easter break. It has involved reading stories, playing board games and watching films. And yes, eating chocolate. Even while sewing. In the evenings I began work on another Negroni shirt (a Colette Pattern) for my husband. He has worn the last one that I made for him with such frequency that I feel more than a little guilty that it's taken me over a year to find the time to make another one for him when he has proved so gratifying a recipient to sew for.


I chose the blue floral Liberty print especially for making this shirt last month on a pilgrimage to South London's Fabrics Galore - I adore that shop - it will be an altogether more summery and lighter-weight version than the last, which, when I made it last January was created with cooler weather in mind.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will note from the pictures that the particular variety of chocolate on display is the highly-mottled, glossy-bodied Guylian seashell. Despite leaving it dangerously late and risking all sorts of dreadful repercussions, my husband did indeed manage to secure me my much-coveted Guylian Easter egg as per my last post. However, not wanting to leave anything to chance, my sister posted me two boxes of seashells as a precaution. It has been wonderful to be armed with such copious amounts of chocolate and if I were to see a long lost auntie at this current moment she may exclaim at how much I'd grown! I would kiss her powdery cheek and offer her my own hamstery one to kiss in return. However, I've happily been able to file away my chocolate consumption under the heading of charity work - did you know that with every box of Guylian seashells you buy you are saving seahorses as a percentage of the profits goes to the Seahorse Trust?

If you're interested in a less calorific way to give to charity, then do take a trip over to Lynne's blog, Lily's Quilts. Lynne is inspiring anyone who's capable of sewing together a quilt to become involved in a wonderful scheme to help give some lasting warmth (literal and metaphorical) to the siblings of families that have been separated. To crudely precis (so do go and read Lynne's more in depth post where she does a much better job of explaining), a charity named Siblings Together do a wonderful job in temporarily reuniting siblings who have been separated by being placed in care, for a short summer break. Siblings Together and Lynne had the idea that it may be a great source of comfort to give these children something tangible to take away with them at the end of their temporary reunion. And what better thing than a quilt, which gives physical warmth and comfort at a time when the child may feel that life is lacking these things in every other sense.


I'm very lucky that, like most siblings, my own sister was by my side for the entirety of our childhoods and regular readers will know from how frequently and fondly I talk of her here on my blog, quite what a big part in my life she is. When I read Lynne's words, I tried to imagine a little of the effect that being separated from one's siblings in traumatic circumstances may have and I was reminded how, as small children, my sister and I were moved to the other side of the world to begin a new life in Australia when my father's company asked him to move there. We went as a family, my sister and I wearing newly purchased matching outfits for the aeroplane journey with our parents doing everything they could to make the transition an easy one. Below is my half of the matching outfit - it consisted of a jumper and miniskirt - mine was red with yellow stitching, my sister's green with blue stitching. Seeing photos of the outfit still gives me the feeling of the nervous butterflies which were there the first time I wore it - I think this photo was taken a few years later - the one that shows us standing together at the airport isn't in my collection.


However, when, after a few days at our new school, the headmistress realised that my sister and I were playing with one another at break times, rather than with the other children, we were forced to use separate areas of the playground, which was a source of distress to both of us and we returned home to our mother in a snivelling heap of disintegrating tissue on the day that we were told we were no longer allowed to play or speak to one another during school hours - it felt as though my life jacket were being torn away and as though I were being left to drown. So it is both easy and also impossible for me to truly imagine quite how these children may feel to be separated from their sibling on a more permanent and geographically-wider level and without the backdrop of caring parents to soften the edges and provide stability and warmth. It actually hurts my head trying to comprehend that level of instability. For this reason I feel compelled to broaden my charitable activities beyond the confines of eating Guylian chocolates and to donate a quilt to Siblings Together. Thanks so much to Lynne for masterminding this. More details can be found here if you'd like to join her in some quilt-making.

Florence x

Ps. And if you haven't made a quilt before, but would like to give it a try, you can find a free tutorial as to how to make one here.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Sew, darlings, sew!


Spring time marks the beginning of lighter evenings, a hungry anticipation of the Easter bunny scurrying through the garden (although I've asked, and he still hasn't secured me my Guylian egg, so it's a sort of uncertain, edgy hunger*) and the annual Made by Rae Spring Top Sewalong. It's now three years since Adrianna pipped me at the finishing post with her wonderful prize-winning top and each year Rae kindly attempts to lessen the pain of this memory by inviting me to judge the wonderful entries of the annual competition.

You can find out more about the sew along competition here, but to summarise, if you'd like to enter you have until 22nd April to drop your handmade Spring top entry into the photo Flickr pool. There are prizes galore and they centre around vouchers to spend in online fabric shops...what more incentive could a girl need? Well, actually there are lots of other, altogether more wholesome, reasons to sew up a new blouse or smock. The year that I sewed along it kick-started my garment sewing early, so that by the time summer arrived I had several new additions to my wardrobe and I excitedly kept my beady eye on the ever-expanding Flickr pool and garnered inspiration for more tops that I'd like to sew and finally, I made some lovely friends who I had more in common with than just Spring tops (while I went to Russia for a holiday solely because I'd fallen in love with a fictitious man in a book set in St Petersburg, Adrianna used this as the basis for relocating her entire degree course to the city. Kindred spirits).

So do sew along - I'd love to see what you make.

Florence x

* I will be accepting bribes in the form of Guylian Easter eggs. I think Rae will understand and any air of scandal this may cause will only add an extra frisson to proceedings. I'm worried that my husband is delaying his egg purchase as part of a long-running campaign to try and wean me off this particular brand of chocolate which he deems to be 'a bit garage forecourt'. But I'm afraid my palate will not be made more sophisticated or discerning by the use of such a tactic...it will just become more perverse until I stoop to new lows and begin eating Vienetta and Sainsbury's Value range of toffees, which even I have previously conceded to be inedible.