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Sewing palate cleansers

I love a good super-involved, super-massive, super-elaborate sewing project (who, me?), but sometimes I need a break from all that super.  For that, I have what I call sewing palate cleansers – simple little projects that I don’t have to think about too much, and that give me a break and a refresher between brain-breaking sewing marathons.

My five favourite sewing palate cleansers:

#1: Wonder Unders

Scroop Wonder Unders

I can never have too many singlet camisoles and knickers!  And, at under 1/2 an hour a project, they are a great break when I still have to jump back into full-on-sewing.

Get the pattern here

#2: Drawstring bags:

I use these for sorting all sorts of things, for travelling, and as gift packaging.  Another one always comes in handy.  And they give me a good opportunity to use really cute craft cottons I otherwise don’t have a lot of reason to play with.  Bonus!

Find the tutorial for making your own here.

#3: Leggings

Making leggings using the Cake Espresso Pattern

Thanks to the Cake Espresso leggings pattern, I’ve gone from being anti-leggings, to loving them. I wear them under dresses all winter long, and have used them as the basis of some pretty fun costumes, from my WWI Dazzle camouflage inspired swimsuit, to my ersatz ‘Jedi’ costume.

#4: Wearing History’s 1910s combinations

1917 combinations and petti-slips

If I don’t feel like sewing knits, Wearing History’s 1917 combinations are just the right combination (haha) of fast and fun.  Between my Fortnight in 1916 project, and love of 1910s fashion, there seemed a time when I couldn’t sew enough of them.

However, I now have 16 pairs of combinations, which might be a little overkill, so I’m going to switch my attention to simple chemises like this one, to see if I can get those to take as a refresher!

Get the pattern here

#5: Rosalie Stockings:

WWI era corset, 1910s corset, Rilla corset, corset pattern

I wear them as everyday wear in the winter, I wear them with vintage (seamed stockings in every colour you could ever want – what’s not to love!) and I wear them constantly when costuming.  They take about 20 minutes.  Plus, I can do them from start to finish on a overlocker – which is a nice break if I’ve been primarily on a sewing machine for days on end.

The pattern and tutorial is here. 

#6: Henrietta Maria tucks

Scroop Patterns Henrietta Maria

This one is a bit of a cheat, because the whole garment is a bit much for a palate cleanser.  I just love doing the tucks on the Henrietta Maria.  It’s very relaxing and zen.  You just start doing it, and into a rhythm: fold, measure, sew, fold, measure, sew.  Very quickly I don’t have to think at all while doing it.

Quite a few students and pattern buyers have also told me they find they love sewing the tucks!  They expected to hate it, but just enjoy the repetition.

I need to find someone locally who enjoys the Henrietta Maria as much as I do, but wants to do all the other stuff while I do the tucks.  We can trade off sewing one for each of us.  Then I’ll always have a Henrietta Maria ready to tuck when I need a tuck-break!

Get the pattern here.

What about you?  What are your little projects you turn to to relax between (or in the middle of) big projects?

Or are you more of a big project after big project sewer?

Or do you need to do something other than sewing as a palate cleanser?




Robe a la francaise, brocaded silk & metal, ca. 1755, Museo de Roma

Rate the Dress: a Robe a la Francaise in rococo brown, ca 1755

I can usually anticipate some of the reactions to a Rate the Dress, but I was completely blindsided by the initial reactions to last week’s royal fancy dress.  Sure, it wasn’t a court jacket, but badly made seems a harsh accusation for a 200+ year old costume that still looks nearly pristine!  The frat boy comparisons did crack me up.  Isn’t it odd how our modern perceptions of a ‘look’ completely change how we see it in a historical garment?

However, after the initial wails of ‘tacky’ and ‘cheap’, a whole bunch of you swooped in with 10/10 ratings.  There were 14x 10/10 ratings, compared to only 11x of any other #!  The enthusiasts pointing out that the costume was awfully fun, did exactly what it said on the tin, and was quite practical for a theatrical performance.  After all, a real bear skin would have been extremely hot and heavy and hard to move gracefully in!

Thanks to all those 10s, Karl got a 8.4 out of 10.  Rrrrowr!

(sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

This week Rate the Dress goes from late 18th century theatrical fancy dress, to mid-18th century formal attire.

This robe a la francaise in brocaded silk in muted puce-brown features the very fashionable, extremely square hoops of formal mid-18th century garments.

They may be odd to our eyes, but in the context of their time they served three important functions.  First, they lent the wearer literal stature: by making the wearer take up more space, they become more physically imposing.  Second, they served as a showcase of wealth: fabric was extremely expensive, and the large, stiff hoops required more fabric.  Finally, they became a frame for the beauty of the fabric itself, holding it in smooth panels, so the elaborate weaving patterns could be admired to their fullest.

The fabric of this dress shows patterns that are a transition between the large shapes and wilder colours of the ‘bizarre’ silks of the early 18th century, and the more delicate, lace-like patterns of the mid-18th century, with the classic rococo serpentine line.  The wide, pale, curved lines show a clear dept to lace patterning, while the mix of colours, and overall scale, looks back to ‘bizarre’ prints.  The addition of shimmering metallic threads adds an extra element of depth and interest to the fabric. Their gold sheen is echoed in the metallic stomacher the Museo de Roma has paired the gown with.

The maker cut the spiralling stripes to symmetrically frame the front of the dress, emphasising the interplay between curves and straight lines.  They would have drawn the eye to the petticoat (now missing) visible under the overskirts of the robe a la francaise.

The stripes also flow symmetrically down the back of the gown, disappearing in and out of the so-called ‘watteau’ pleats that characterise a robe a la francaise.  The dress becomes a coy balance between stiff formal lines, and playful curves: the perfect embodiment of the Rococo.

I’m not too thrilled with the hairstyle the gown has been staged with.  The volume is more Edwardian pompadour than 18th century poof, and the height is more 1770s Marie Antoinette than 1750s Madame de Pompadour – who did not wear pompadours!  Sigh.  Ah well, let’s not focus too much on a less than ideal museum hairdo, and focus instead on the garments.

What do you think?  Would this robe a la francaise make the wearer suitably elegant and imposing, while still retaining a sense of fun and flirtatiousness?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Recipe: Vegetarian (and easily Vegan) Kate Sheppard’s Pie

Lots of you (and absolutely everyone who attended the dinner) asked for the vegetarian shepherd’s pie recipe I used to make Kate Sheppard’s Pie for A Feminist Thanksgiving.

Here it is!

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

To be honest, the first time I tried this I was a bit surprised it worked.  First, I looked at a bunch of vegetarian shepherd’s pie recipes, and then didn’t follow any of them and just winged it with what I had in the fridge.  Second, my track record making anything casserole-y, or traditionally British comfort-food based is pretty poor.  I just didn’t grow up eating or making those kind of foods!  So I expected a repeat of my fish pie/cheesy potatoes/macaroni & cheese experiments (basically inedible).   Instead, I got amazing!  And it’s not a fluke.  Every time I make it its delicious.

This recipe makes a rich, filling, pie.  Most vegetarian shepherd’s pie recipes use celery, but I use parsnips instead.  Their warm, sweet, earthy flavour adds an unexpected element to the pie, and keep it from getting watery and bland, as can happen with celery.  The sweetness of the parsnips and carrots balances the umami of the mushrooms beautifully.  The purple onion and fresh herbs lift the flavour, and keep it from being too heavy and earthy.

I make this recipe as a vegetarian option, with cheese and butter, but it can very easily be adapted to be a fully vegan recipe by switching out the butter and making vegan mashed potatoes.

I’m a ‘whatever looks right’ cook, so every time I make vegetarian shepherd’s pie my recipe is a little bit different, but this is a good average of my ingredients list, and the amount of each I use.

Vegetarian ‘Kate Sheppard’s’ Pie:

Serves 6

25 minutes prep, 1 hour & 40 minutes cooking time


vegetarian shepherds pie recipe, vegan shepherds pie recipe

For the pie filling:
  • 50g / 1/4 cup butter (use olive oil for a vegan pie)
  • 1 purple onion, diced
  • 1 large or 2 small parsnips, chopped in small cubes
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped in small cubes
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 large portobello mushrooms, chopped in large cubes
  • 300g / 1 1/2 cups green puy lentils
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a sprig of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried – my thyme plant happily defies my amazing ability to kill all potted herbs, and waxes luxuriant season in & season out, so I always use fresh!).
  • 4 cups vege stock + 1/2 cup more, just in case (when I’m out of homemade stock I use 2 Massel Vegetable stock cubes, and 4 cups hot water)
  • 4 TBS tomato paste

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

For the mashed potato topping:
  • 3 large or 4 small floury potatoes, peeled and diced in large chunks
  • 3 TBS butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup white cheese (I used tasty cheddar (which is white in NZ))

Or, substitute your favourite vegan mashed potato recipe.  I actually prefer coconut milk to standard milk in my mashed potatoes!

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

To make the pie filling:

Melt butter in a large saucepan.  Add onions, carrots, parsnips & garlic, and sautee for 10 minutes until soft.

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Add the mushrooms, cook for another 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Finally, add the lentils and herbs, stir through, and then pour over the stock:

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Cover, bring to a boil, turn down, and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more stock if needed, until lentils are done (about 40-50 minutes)

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Remove the bay leaves and thyme stems.  Add the tomato paste, and stir through.

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

To make the mashed potatoes:

While the lentils are cooking, boil potatoes in just enough salted water to cover them.

When soft/tender, drain off water.

Add butter and milk, and mash till smooth and fluffy.


Preheat oven to 180/350

Spoon lentil filling into large circular pie pan.  Smooth top.

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Spoon over mashed potatoes.  Smooth top.

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Using a spoon, and working from the outside in, press the spoon into the mashed potato topping  to form ‘camellia’ petals (because white camellias were the symbol of the NZ Suffragist movement):

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Sprinkle cheese over the top, and pop in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden:

vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe


vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe, vegan shepherd's pie recipe

Confession: I was planning to take a beautiful picture of a slice of the pie, with some artistic salad and the whole pie in the background.  Alas, Mr D got home from work earlier than expected and enthusiastically dived into the pie before I could photograph it!  At least that’s a good sign that it’s delicious!

If you do make this, please come back and tell me how it went!