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My day on set

23 April 2014, 13:09

I wrote this post back in October, but couldn’t talk about it until now!

I got a call on my mobile and in less than two hours I found myself on the set for The Great British Sewing Bee, rifling through the on-screen sewing supplies and marveling at the endless array of haberdashery available to the contestants! The next day I was whisked off for an emergency manicure, and before I knew it, I was demonstrating sewing techniques in front of two cameras under the bright lights on set!

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, no, I was not a contestant! (I did apply again this year, but my Mexican holiday fell right over their filming dates, and since starting my pattern business, I’m ineligible now anyway). I stepped in at short notice to help the production team with some extra “how-to” videos they film for BBC Learning, to teach people how to sew projects that relate to the challenges made in the show. Kinda like saying “You know that cool thing that you just saw a contestant make? Well, look how simple it is to make something similar!”

For this, they needed someone who could sew (obviously!), write sewing instructions which could then be translated into cues for the cameramen, editors, and voice over artists, and also perform well in front of the cameras. And those three things are pretty much what I excel at and enjoy doing, so it was a massively enjoyable day for me!

One thing that surprised me though, is that I never quite realised how fast I talk, nor how fast I sew! The first 20 minutes were an exercise in s-l-o-w-i-n-g everything down to half-speed so that the poor cameramen could re-focus onto the next object I was reaching for, or to tell them in advance “ok, I’m going to pin these together starting from my right” so they’d know where to point their lenses. I did the demonstrations on set in the Sewing Room (there’s also a Haberdashery on set, which is where the lovely Ellie was filming her demonstrations at the same time), using the same sewing station, cutting table, and pressing station that the contestants use. We were filming right before the final episode was due to take place, so I even got to see some of the winning garments up close, and they were every bit as good as I’d expect from the finalists!

It was also really fun to see the wonderland of fabrics and supplies provided on set – the tools were all of really high quality, and even I got to use some gadgets I’d been introduced to before, like the Flexicurve ruler, and a magnetic pin tray (the latter is totally going on my WishList!). We got to sew on nice (but basic – on purpose!) Janome machines, and I was tickled to see they used the same Bernina 800DL overlockers that I have at home, too. The set had the full range of Gutermann threads, more ribbons, bias tape, and trims than you could imagine, and a full stock of zippers at their disposal, too. And that’s not even talking about the rolls of high quality fabric piled everywhere!!

After a full day filming my three demonstrations (the boys shorts, peplum remake, and bow tie), I even got to witness a bit of classic GBSB tv magic – what the crew called the “beauty shots”, where the garment slowly spins around for the cameras! I’m not used to seeing something I sewed slowly spinning on a posh dressform with lots of lights and cameras focused on it!

In case you doubt that the nicely manicured hands in the videos are mine (I was asked to remove my rings and Fuel Band, after all!), I made sure to wear entirely FehrTrade clothing – my blue neopreney travel skirt, a black silk jersey top (which I never quite got around to blogging), and underneath it all, my turquoise lingerie set. So go and have a look at the videos and think to yourself, “I know those hands!”.

Go watch my BBC How To videos – You don’t need to be in the UK!

Has anyone applied for Series 3, or for the American pilot yet?


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Manequim magazine March 2014

22 April 2014, 12:55

I’m often inspired by styles in Manequim magazine, even if I don’t actually sew that many, and I particularly love the Fall and Spring issues which tend to overlap a bit more with the seasons we have in the UK. Brazil is entering Fall now but the same styles are super wearable for English Spring, too.

The celebrity style section (which is usually occupied by Brazilian soap stars I’ve never heard of) is this month all featuring stylish women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. I really like the flowy faux-wrap dress Meryl Streep is wearing on the left, and it just happens to be in my size, too.

The Plus patterns this month are all blouses, and I think the pale yellow one is a particularly interesting design since it uses a twist in an outer layer, almost creating a twinset effect with the inner layer.

The designer style section is based on Alberta Ferretti’s designs, and these slim trousers and silk blouse are both provided in several sizes and would both make really great wardrobe basics. They also look especially good for testing out the fit if you’re new to Manequim, too.

I’m not entirely certain the peplum trend has got much life left in it, but I really like the colour blocking and minimalist style of this dress. For me, the peplum could easily be left off, and a block of colour added at the waist instead in the form of a waistband and you’d still get the same overall effect.

This is one of those instances where I keep looking back and forth between the photo and the tech drawing, trying to add up the two in my head! The photo looks like basic, cropped, crepe trousers, but the tech drawing looks like sweatpants (trekkie bottoms) to me! Surely these would be super comfortable, right?

Heart be still! One of the features this month shows a different pattern for each of a bunch of famous designers! The Diane von Furstenberg pattern is (of course!) a wrap dress, and a really nice looking one, at that – the tabbed sleeves and crossover are great details.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully be on Team Jumpsuit, but if there was going to be one to tempt me over the edge, it’d be this Valentino-inspired one with shoulder flounce. Gorgeous! Classy! Timeless!

And finally, in a section all about jackets (and what to wear with them), I think this shawl-collar blazer in a monochrome print is super stylish and very modern, too. The monochrome dress is also pretty interesting, and I like that the bib/apron effect carries through to the back, too.

I found a lot to like in this issue, but is it bad that I’m already counting down the issues to the Oscar gown special already (usually in May)??

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Dozens of Duathlons!

21 April 2014, 15:29

I’m not entirely sure where the time went since my birthday and the release of my latest Duathlon shorts pattern (oh yeah, I ran that marathon thing…), but the internet has simply exploded with amazing finished versions of the Duathlon Shorts and capris in only a few short weeks.

If you’re looking for inspiration to sew up your own activewear or join in the Spring Race Challenge (open through 4th July weekend now!), then settle on in…

Kathy’s capris

Kathy’s one of my pattern testers so she had a bit of a head start on the rest of you, but she liked the pattern so much she went on to make two versions of the capris, both with really nice contrasting fabric choices:

Kathy also shows how to alter the pattern to increase the back crotch length, which can be really useful if you’re a visual learner like me! One thing to note though is that Kathy’s showing the test version of the pattern – in the final version the little bump is smoothed out and I’ve added 2cm to the upper back to account for the seated posture of cyclists. Otherwise the fit should be exactly the same as my PB Jam Leggings, so if you made fit alterations to those, you can confidently do the same to these!

Kathy also turned a mistake into a great design feature – if you flip the upper side panel to the inside, you can have a pocket that opens against your body for extra security! She has one opening out for easy access, and one opening in for stuff like keys and ID.

Katherine’s bikers & gathered-side swimmers

Katherine’s another one of my pattern testers, so her first biker shorts pair are pretty much straight off the pattern to test for me (though I really like having the top side panel be the only contrast!), but then for her second pair, she’s gone and done one of the most exciting adaptations ever!!

She’s taken the booty short length, but shortened the side panel and gathered the front and back to match – making the panel stand out just by the texture change! She’s also completely lined these and made them in chlorine-resistant lycra so she can swim in them. Omg, do I now have to change the name to Triathlon Shorts??

Sandra’s sunny capris

I love that by total coincidence, Sandra has made the inverse of Katherine’s colourblocking on her capris! You can really see how the whole look changes when you change the colours of the three main sections.

Sandra makes some great points about the pocket in her post, too – when I was designing these I tried to adopt a “cycle first” mentality, and the pocket illustrates this perfectly. Instead of placing the pocket anywhere along the side seam, I sat down, saw where the crease of my leg was, and made sure the pocket didn’t cover this area – if it had, the contents would dig into your legs every time you pedaled! So it may feel a little low if you’re not cycling, but it’ll make sense when you sit down.

I also designed the pocket to be a few centimeters narrower than the iPhone 5 (my standard “phone” I draft around), so that the stretch of the fabric keeps it securely in the pocket. Since there’s no closure on the pocket and your legs are constantly moving, it needs to be super secure.

Make sure to read the rest of Sandra’s post because she took the concept of the integrated pocket and applied it to a long sleeved merino workout top, putting a pocket into the upper sleeve! How genius is that

Karen’s cycling booty shorts

I hope Karen doesn’t mind me saying this, but I am utterly in her debt for the amazing feedback she gave me during the development of the Duathlon Shorts pattern. As part of an entire family of avid cyclists, she was able to tell me exactly where my pattern was lacking in comparison to RTW cycling shorts, and how the differences were manifest in terms of patternmaking. She’s the one responsible for convincing me there needed to be extra Centre Back length to accomodate the seated position, for starters!

The booty short version above is modeled by her daughter (nice touch with the sportive number still attached!), but she went on to make a biker short pair for herself despite needing a fair few fit adjustments. But as she admits that one’s still a work-in-progress, I’ll let you to click through to see that version!

Suzy’s galaxy biker shorts

I was so excited when I saw Suzy’s version come through my email! I’ve always felt strongly about releasing my patterns in as many sizes as possible, and I know how hard it can be to find nice RTW sportswear in Plus sizes.

Suzy’s pair are so freaking stylish (How much do I love that galaxy lycra?!), and show that you can look great working out no matter what your size! She also very wisely basted the seams on her first version – if you don’t have the time or fabric to muslin a pair, this is a great idea as I’m hearing over and and over that most people need a few tweaks in the first pair, but the second are perfect. Basting means you can can try on, adjust, and get perfect in your first pair. Clever, eh?

Maria’s mid-thigh shorts

Maria liked the pattern so much she only went and made four pairs of it in varying colours!

She chose to make hers “mid thigh” length, so somewhere between the biker and booty short lengths. This raises a great point, because when I was developing the pattern, I thought about what lengths people might go for, and then just drew the lines there. But there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from drawing the hem lines where you prefer them to be! You can even use the marked hem lengths as a guide, and add or subtract from there.

She’s also made her orange print version coordinate with her XYT top by using some of the leftover patterned fabric as the lower side piece! I never like throwing away any scraps of fabric, let alone expensive wicking lycra, so I try to incorporate smaller contrast portions into my patterns so you can do exactly this.

Winnie’s junglesome capris and booty shorts

Winnie is no shrinking violet and has found an opportunity to incorporate more leopard-print lycra into her capri-length Duathlons! Like Maria, this means she’s now got a coordinating set with her leopard XYT top (also seen here).

But she decided to go one further and step out of her comfort zone to try the booty short length, too. She makes an important distinction that “booty” is not the same as “boy shorts” – these have a little bit of inseam (unlike those running briefs the elites wear!), but they are quite short. I’ve got some tips on keeping the short hems in place later this week, too… Frankly, I think Winnie’s got the legs to pull them off – we just need another hot summer here in the UK and she’ll be tearing up the Bath hills in them!


There are also a few other Duathlon versions posted on Pattern Review that don’t have blogs to link to, including one which cleverly flips the side panel upside down so the pocket can be used for tennis ball storage!!

Since there were a few versions of my XYT Workout Tops and PB Jam Leggings patterns posted since I shared my last roundup, I thought it’d be fun to show these off, too, since we’re getting all inspired!

Louise’s PB Jam Capris

Louise loved the design of the PB Jams, but wanted to alter them to compliment her petite frame, so to make her pair, she taped all the pieces together to maintain the swirls, made her adjustments, smoothed out the curves, and separated the pieces out again.

What she’s left with is a great pair of workout capris that look utterly fantastic on her – nothing’s too big, nothing’s too small – she got the proportions exactly right! And I think I agree with her when she says that the capri length suits her height much better than the full length. She also gives some great hints about basting and marking changes, so if you want a primer on alterations, be sure to read her post.

Gwen’s Cupid PB Jams & turquoise X-Back top

I love that when Gwen first saw my PB Jam pattern, all she could see was hot pink and red – and instantly wanted to make a totally bright “Cupid” pair! And when the first pink lycra was err, a bit on the Lululemon-see-through side of things, she didn’t let that stop her, and she replaced the fabric with another.

She also caught the workout sewing bug and made a turquoise X-back version of my XYT Workout Top to match with a pair of Kwik Sew leggings (that oddly could be the sister to Kathy’s Duathlon shorts seen at the top of this post!).

Her posts are really well worth a read as she has had some fitting issues with both, and talking through what problems she had, the advice she got, and ways to fix them is really helpful to understand the why of fit issues. Working with stretch fabrics can sometimes be easier to fit, but being able to read the pulling lines in jerseys is a different aspect of the art of “reading wrinkles” when it comes to fitting wovens!

Mel’s Quartet of XYTs

And finally, I feel awful because I totally missed out on Melinda’s four different versions of my XYT Tops when I did my previous roundup. Four of them!!

She’s incorporated so many high-end finishes into her tops – on one she’s used Swarovski hot-fix crystals for a total bling look, on another she’s used reflective tape as an accent on the sides as well as the upper T-back, and two fantastic prints that wouldn’t be out of place in a little boutique. She’s also detailed her alterations, too, and shows photos of her trail running in them, also, so you know they’ve been put through their paces!

Fancy making your own? Go to my Shop section or head straight to Etsy below…




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Post Marathon Thank You

17 April 2014, 14:29

Thank you all so, so much for your well wishes, support, and donations for Sunday’s London Marathon!

If you’re interested in my full race report, please head over to my RiverRunner site, but the short version is that it was super tough in the hot sun, but I managed to finish in 3:30:37, which is a new PB for me, an automatic Good For Age place in next year’s race, and a Boston Qualifier as well!

My rainbow Duathlon Shorts were the perfect choice, too – super comfortable with no tugging or chafing whatsoever, and the pockets were big enough for me to cram in four gels and a pack of Shot Bloks and not have them bouncing around everywhere.

I’ve got a crazy backlogue of posts, but I’ve been super busy working full days on an outside project for the past few weeks, plus the marathon, plus now I’ve got the typical post-marathon cold, so I’m going to try to rest and recover over the long Easter weekend and hopefully get caught up!

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12 April 2014, 14:13

Tomorrow I run the London Marathon.

(Actually, I’m way more excited than that sounds. Add in a “Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!”)

I will be running in my newest Duathlon shorts, so I’ll be sure to share some photos of myself in them for the Spring Race Challenge! Remember that if you’re entering the prize draw, you need to link to your photo in the comments of that post – I’ve seen some great photos already but they need to be added there so I don’t lose any.

If you’d like to track me during the race tomorrow (it starts at 10am BST), I’ve detailed three different ways you can do so over on my Riverrunner site. I’ll especially need comments after 2.5 hours in, so that’s about 12:30ish local time (or 7:30 EDT).

Remember that tomorrow is also the last day to take advantage of the “VMLM14” code to get 10% off my exercise sewing patterns, so if you’re dawdling, go grab them now!

I also owe you a massive roundup of all the amazing Duathlon Shorts I’ve seen over the past few weeks, but I’ve got to focus on tomorrow first! My past 6 months have been focused on tomorrow…

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Duathlon Shorts tip - short on fabric?

4 April 2014, 13:06

The Upper Side piece of my Duathlon Shorts pattern is pretty long – 64cm (25in) long for size XL, to be exact. If you’re using scraps as accents on the sides, you may find a great piece of fabric that’s too short for the piece.

Here’s a tip – because of the way the piece folds to create the pocket, if you position a joining seam anywhere between the top “Top of Pocket” lines, the seam will be hidden inside the pocket construction!

(Just don’t forget to add on seam allowances when you join – or join your fabric first and then cut out the pattern piece!)

Remember there’s still 10% off my sewing patterns if you use code “VMLM14” up through marathon day!

Fancy making your own?


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Digitally printed fabric comparison

3 April 2014, 12:57

I recently placed a small order at Spoonflower for the first time in three years since they now do “performance knit” as a base fabric option! I mostly wanted to see how it compares against other wicking lycras and also FunkiFabrics’ digitally printed (non-wicking) lycra, as it could potentially be a great source of wild running prints for me.

I had stopped ordering from Spoonflower because their international shipping was taking an excessively long amount of time (over a month!!) and getting lost fairly frequently. I also stopped because, at the time, the only knit fabric they had was the organic cotton interlock, which both faded in the first wash and had zero recovery, and was pretty much useless for my purposes. But in the past three years, they’ve added a bunch more knits to their range and sorted out their international shipping, so I tentatively made a small order to try them out again.

I ended up getting three samples and a fat quarter, all in the performance knit (plus a swatch book), and I’m really impressed. Spoonflower’s performance knit is a smooth lycra base with about 40% widthwise stretch and no lengthwise stretch. They print onto white base lycra, and although the weight is thinner than FunkiFabrics’ base lycra (which has four-way stretch), I’d still feel fine using it for actvewear, though you’d want a busy print to distract from any lumps and bumps.

I’m also relieved to report that they’ve sorted out their international shipping – I ordered on 13 March, they shipped it on 17 March, and it arrived on 31 March. Much improved!

Now, the price. I always expect that I’m going to get shafted on shipping fabric from the States (and I’m usually right!), but the shipping on my above order was only $7, which I found wholly reasonable. In fact, I started getting curious so I actually worked out a price comparison for having digitally printed lycra shipped to me in the UK:

Spoonflower: 1 yard “performance knit” ($24) + UK shipping ($7) = $31 (~£18.62)

FunkiFabrics: 1 metre “printed lycra” (£18) + VAT (£4.59) + UK shipping (£4.95) = £27.54 (~$45.77)

So, as depressing as it is, it actually makes economic sense to have my fabric printed halfway around the world and air shipped to me than it does to get it printed locally (well, at least in the same country). This isn’t to say I’ll stop using FunkiFabrics entirely – I think their lycra is of fantastic, hefty quality, great stretch, and a great range of prints, and they tend to print and ship a bit quicker (plus they print onto different coloured base fabrics). But for sheer price comparison, Spoonflower comes out almost a third cheaper, even if you have to gamble with customs fees.

Oh, and I since I had these samples on hand, I realised that you can fit both Lower Side pieces of the Duathlon Shorts (biker short length) nicely into a Spoonflower sample! Bargain!

(I’ve just folded away the top & bottom seam allowances to show it does fit into the printed area!)

At $5 a sample for the performance knit, this could be a really great way of injecting some fancy prints into your shorts that coordinate with your base fabrics!

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"Leggings that actually fit!"

28 March 2014, 15:23

First of all thank you so much for all your birthday wishes, compliments on my galaxy print birthday dress, and also for all your enthusiasm on my new Duathlon Shorts pattern, too! What a week!

I’m running a bit behind on posts here, but I wanted to share a few words from the Lovely Leggings class I taught on Sunday. I’ve of course made loads of leggings before, but it was my first time teaching this class, and I’m pleased to say that it went smoothly and all four ladies went away very happy!

It was the first time any of them had used an overlocker (serger) before, but they all took to it so quickly, and now (of course!) all want one at home, too!

On this class each student was asked to bring their own fabric, since there’s a big personal preference there and some people wanted wicking fabric to exercise in, and the fun part was seeing what people bought!

You know that point when you finish a sewing project and you finally put it on and you do a little dance and punch the air? It was awesome seeing these ladies try on their leggings at the end! I heard things like “omg, this is the first pair I’ve ever worn that actually fit!”, “I’m not fighting with these like I do my others!”, “Finally, my waistband’s where I want without folding it down a bunch of times!”, etc.

Awesome. One lady even wore hers home! So I count this as a total success, and a great reason why we share our skills with others – as of Sunday evening, there are four more women in the world who won’t put up with ill-fitting, shop-bought leggings!

Oh, and in case you’d like to be one yourself, there is still room for the next leggings class on Thursday 3 April. It’s also not too late to nab the last spot for my Breton top class this Sunday (30 March) if you’d like to learn about stretch fabrics and overlockers but don’t fancy making leggings…

Coming up next week: a roundup of birthday pressies, updates on a new Marfy dress, the grand finale of the Sherlock coat (I know! It’s finally done!!), and quite probably a rundown of the Breton top class, too…


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Duathlon Shorts sewing pattern - on sale now!

26 March 2014, 11:26

It’s been several months in the making, but I’m pleased to report that my third sewing pattern is on sale now! Please welcome the Duathlon shorts!


This is a pattern for close-fitting capris or shorts in three lengths with contrast side panels. There’s an integrated pocket at each hip, perfect for gels, keys, or your phone plus an optional padding piece for cyclists wanting some extra comfort on their ride. An elasticated, high-rise waistband means they won’t shift around as you move, either!

Read more details in the Shop section…

If you’re not familiar with the term, a Duathlon is a competition where you run, bike, and then run again, and I designed this pattern to be both runner and cyclist friendly (and dance, and yoga, and hiking, and skating!). The draft is very similar to my PB Jam Leggings but with a slightly higher back rise to accommodate the seated, cycling position, and with the pockets placed lower on the hips so your leg crease doesn’t get in the way when you’re sitting down. Lots of people asked for a leggings pattern that could be easier to make fit alterations on, and this is it!

Like my other patterns, these are designed to use up fun scraps leftover from other projects, and I’ve even got a thrifty tip coming up if you haven’t got enough length for the long Upper Side piece, too!

The Booty Short length is great in particular for ladies who cycle commute but like to wear skirts – you can pop these on underneath, stash your phone securely in the side pocket (so you can feel it vibrate if you need to), and have a bit of cushioning while you ride. I highly recommend seeking out laminated foam padding (usually used in bramaking) for great crotch padding, which fared best in testing.

If you’re not a cyclist, you can leave off the crotch padding and still have a great, stylish, and functional pair of workout shorts. You might also wish to use these in our Spring Race Challenge – just a thought!

To celebrate the launch (and the weather-based possibility I will be running London Marathon in a pair of these!), you can use code “VMLM14” to get 10% off! The offer is good through marathon day – it expires at the end of 13 April.

$10.99USD (£6.84)

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Burda magazine April 2014

24 March 2014, 14:59

I wasn’t overly keen on last month’s issue, but there’s a lot to love in this one! Even the designs I didn’t like definitely had their own merit – lots of details and designs with thought behind them, and nary a shapeless sack in sight! But let’s take a peek inside for my picks…

I didn’t like much from the Southern style feature (nothing wrong with it, just not for me!), but I love that Burda have snuck in another cycling pattern, hot on the heels of last month’s seat cover! I really love the look of panniers, and I think these are a great design, with or without the frills.

The only Southern style garment that really jumped out at me was this shirt with the front, “bib” yoke. I don’t tend to sew many woven shirts for myself, but I really like this pattern, and it’d definitely be good in the summer heat!

I’m convinced that someone at Burda HQ has either studied at Bunka, or else is just really into Japanese-style pattern cutting, because we’ve had at least one design a month that just has Bunka written all over it, and this dress is certainly it. I had a bit of a “Burda WTF” reaction at first, but the more I looked at it, the more I think it might actually be kinda cool. Or uncomfortable – I’m not so sure about that left sleeve with the flat sleevehead. But I’m kinda into the uneven tube concept, even though I’m unsure whether it’d work in real life.

Here we see the cover dress in more detail, and it’s utterly gorgeous. This is the best about Burda – a flattering, edgy, and well designed dress that’s made accessible to everyone. Those skirt petals are just inspired and the topstitching and seaming is just icing on the cake.

Here’s the top version of that Bunka-esque dress from earlier, teamed with a high waisted skirt. But the interesting this for me are the men’s patterns, even if they are the same ol’ blazer we’ve seen a thousand times before, and trousers that are only slight variations…

At this point I’m just hands-down loving this “Summer White” feature so freaking much! Seriously, I’d make and/or wear pretty much everything in it – I’m totally a minimalist girl deep down, and I just adore this surplice-hem top, too, even if midriff-baring isn’t my thing (hint: it’d be ridiculously easy to lengthen this by a few inches!). It’d be easy to overlook the trousers here, too, but they’ve got some great detailing at the waist, and look like they’re almost sailor-style.

Aaaaaah, stop it, Burda, you’re killing me with amazing designs here! Seriously, this crossover dress (or its top version) are just so freaking cool! I was pretty much guaranteed to make this anyway, but you’ve gone and given this one the illustrated instructions, too?!? Twist my arm already!

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m not usually a fan of jumpsuits, but I wanted to show you a little comparison I put together. There’s a jumpsuit pattern in this issue (hilariously, incorrectly called both “overalls” and “catsuit” in different places), and this really highlights the importance of fabric choice. The version on the left looks totally classy. The version on the right – awful and trashy, the worst kind of Versace over the top crap. So pick your fabric carefully, ladies.

Ok – what was the point of the ten page spread showing various people I don’t care about wearing the same two blazers over and over again (literally the same – no fabric differences or anything)? Because I seriously couldn’t give a crap about whether some German lady’s daughter steals her clothes. This had better not be a new recurring feature. Ugh.

I thought the Plus offerings were a little lackluster this month, but I’m a total sucker for knit tops, and this one looks very nice indeed, especially with the square neckline.

So what did everyone else think? Any favourites I missed? And who’s going to be the first to try out that Japanese dress in person?

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