In love with the Queen of Dahlias: Cafe au lait in pink and beige

Cafe au Lait featured with Coorabell Moonglow, Boundary Snowflake and Bracken Glenda (in a favourite Omaggio vase by Kahler)

Often referred to as the Queen of Dahlias and wildly popular since it was bred in the 1960s, I wondered if Cafe au Lait would stand up to its reputation once the blooms began to appear. Noting that the bloom was often photographed in an array of hues, I decided to actually purchase tubers from several different suppliers and as lover of variety, I am glad that I did. So far I have hues of cream, beige and pink, some with the often coverted swirly centres and others without. Frankly, I love them all and intend to keep growing them over the next few years…. wild global weather permitting!

The realm of the super pretty: two different shade of Cafe au Lait in the hands of Miss 7.

Ice-cream hued perfection: what is not to love?

I love dahlias – midsummer flower patch photos including Cafe au Lait

As a first time grower, I have been floored by the loveliness of each dahlia as it has emerged. Usually I pop out of bed in the mornings, sometimes armed with a coffee to see how the patch has evolved. Now we are in midsummer, the plants are taking strides and new varieties are appearing every other day. Still many dahlias with buds yet to bloom. It has been strange weather incidentally and we were lucky to avoid damage following (another) recent hailstorm that left thousands without power for days…

Enjoy the photos. I have tried to include a few that include comparison of bloom sizes for anyone who is planning a dahlia bed… I know when I was planning our flower cutting patch, I was scouring the internet so possibly this may help others…

This morning, my first Cafe au Lait had almost completely unfurled. Yesterday’s ramble revealed Bracken Glenda with its delicate peachy and yellow hues which definitely has to be one of my favourites so far. I am enjoying arranging dahlias in different heights together, but especially love mixing them with zinnias which are also blooming now in the garden.

Florelie Strawberry Shortcake arranged with sweetpea

Our little Canberra garden: growing a flower cutting patch with dahlias, zinnia, cosmos and sweet pea

The Diamond Bed fringed with Cosmos and mostly full of dahlia

Happy New Year! Same same but different….

There is a slight breeze, the wind chimes jangle and the petals of a vase of cosmos and sweet peas at my elbow, quiver. Again it is still, the sound of birds twittering, an impatient cicada fiddling a Summer song that I have heard since my youth. From an open door to our house, I hear gasps of excitement as my husband plays UNO flip with our kids in the velvet cool of the indoors.
So this is New Years Day 2022, the world seems so different and yet the same. When I lived in London years ago, I had a friend who would often say “same same but different”, a saying that he picked up travelling India. Happy News Years! Same same but different!

Fluffy white cosmos, so cute, happy and cheerful
Sweet pea arranged with various cosmos including Purity (white) and Doubleclick (burgundy)

What I would like to remember most from 2021 was our adventures in gardening. As a Lockdown gripped Canberra, we turned to a little pandemic gardening. Our garden, which had been largely neglected in the 8-9 years since we have moved in, had overgrown corners that yielded secrets as I ripped out vines and cleared tiny forgotten spaces that had literally only known shadows for years. I discovered two varieties of violets, a sickened climbing rose, bearded irises, a cherry tree, another orange tree… It almost sounds unbelievable I know, but nature has a way of swallowing its own. Hacking back overgrown trees (or sawing – hard work), yielded all that was left of the hands of long gone gardeners before me. Each discovery felt so magical. And the joy in searching for flower fairies was immense for my girl who quickly took to Cecily May Barker’s books in her enthusiasm to catch them out. I hear they like to hide amidst the violets…!

The more prominent centred cosmos in this picture is known as Seashell. Lovely, with unusual tubular petals.
Cosmos Purity… prolific and pretty

In August we cleared a way an overgrown stone raised bed that for years had basically been an oasis of weeds stretching metres high. It was in the far corner, received good morning sun but out of sight, out of mind. My son took great pride in helping my husband and mother’s gardening friend clear it until the soil was bare. It would be months of continual weeding before we would at last lay our golden gems (ok, so perhaps they looked more like grubby potatoes)… highly coveted dahlia tubers that I had scouted about for online, which appears to be a very competitive business indeed with many online nurseries selling out within an hour or launching their sales. Seriously, if you want to start growing dahlias, it appears everyone else has had the same idea at the same moment!

Immense amounts of rain, I think we must have lost 15-20 of about 80 dahlia tubers purchased to rot. Heartbreaking but I pulled about three out due to suspected dahlia virus. My first dahlia to sprout was a Café Au Lait, which at about 30cm high really seemed to be suffering, the healthy leaves drooping. I ended up cutting the main stem from the tuber, removing the top of the stem and all leaves in a plastic cup on our patio. To my delight, over 6 weeks it had grown roots and new leaves and could be popped back into soil. (The moral for me here was don’t give up especially when there is nothing to be lost)!

Cafe au Lait being given another chance after the tuber failed…

Being my first year growing dahlias it is really also an opportunity to learn. The garden has not just taught my son through the pandemic, as he has identified all manner of bugs, researched swarms and tried to save the most humble cuttings, it has been a great lesson in patience and tempo of the natural world which continues to move to an unseen rhythm.. In the years that we have lived here, we have enjoyed the blossom tree that only blooms the week of my daughter’s birthday, the emergence of figs and apricots for jam and the endless supply of lemons and rosemary that is used almost every Sunday in a roast dinner… but I suppose 2021 was the first year that we actually really tended the garden and addressed a degree of neglect. Like the garden of my youth, it will doubtless evolve, especially now that we have become keenly aware of some of its needs and we may now reshape it.

Coorabell Moonglow… so close to blooming! (Pictured on New Year’s day)

The fun part of a cutting garden, it has to be said, is actually filling vases. To the western end of the old diamond shaped bed, we planted cosmos which have impressed me with their vigour and height and have worked well for providing some light afternoon shade to our growing dahlias. The dahlias mostly now have buds, though some planted a month later are much smaller. Dahlias, seem to grow inches when you aren’t looking. So I am hopeful that the younger plants will catch up quickly. We have second circular bed which gets far more sun, it will be interesting to see how the blooms hold up through the Summer. Planting in two beds has had an additional advantage- in the event that a hidden virus does spread, it is unlikely to ruin all of our stock, which I am looking forward to multiplying when I lift and divide in April or May. I did also try my hand at propagating some tuber cuttings and was very pleased that I was successful in creating a few more plants.

The cosmos are prolific.I have found the ones that were moved when thinned out have not bloomed as quickly. I was very glad I planted lots of different varieties.

Cosmos Versailles- a really brilliant, striking cosmos with petals that appear a bit like velvet in real life. Really stunning en masse.

Lesson learnt with sweet pea- these babies climb! If you provide them with no structure, they will
latch on to other plants and climb them with corkscrew tendrils. At the last minute I propped a piece of lattice salvaged from the old garden at my childhood home when it was gutted to make way for a new house. The lattice is a nice reminder and the sweet pea is starting to latch on. It just seemed so hard to believe that those tiny hard seeds planted last in a dreary patch of dirt would actually grow into any kind of magnificence, but that is where the magic is. Have faith and plan ahead! Once sweet pea begin to bloom, their fragrance hangs in the cool evening air, laced with the lavender that my son planted, it is nothing short of glorious.

Donna Karan dress Vogue 1027 in Liberty Darfour for Spring 2021: third time’s a charm

It is glorious to be in Canberra in the Fall with the trees blazing with colour. It is the time of year one starts to consider hibernating indoors with a good book and pot of tea.

So, Winter has yet to arrive and I have almost finished a dress for Spring. Liberty Darfour is quite a thin stretchy jersey, the print is so pretty that I can see this being a wardrobe favourite. It’s my third whirl of this design. The first was worn until it literally began to disintegrate.

For anyone contemplating this favourite Vogue pattern I do suggest including the waist elastic and stabilising the neck edges. I also added an inch to the ties as I like them a bit longer.

Presently the skirt is hanging prior to any hemming (to account for bias stretch).

How do you create? Project planning nirvana

My “Coats Inspiration” design file

With a few days of leave, opportunity yawns before me. I have for sometime been plotting a Donna Karan coat sewing project, Vogue 1263. Saving magazine clippings of designs that appeal is key for my creative process. It helps me to understand what I like, colour, lines, shape. How a piece was styled. Sewing is not the only step, the planning sometimes takes me ages. What would work for me? And what are my fabric stash options? There is of course pinterest but it is also really enjoyable to turn the pages of my hard copy assembly of clippings. I also look through magazine back issues, vintage catalogues etc. Sometimes I keep clippings inside pattern envelopes also.

How do you plan your projects?

Eight in ten sewing challenge: an ongoing love for Donna Karan Vogue sewing patterns.

Sometimes it is hard to believe how quickly time passes. I first made Vogue pattern 1027, a DKNY dress, sometime between the birth of my two children using a navy and grey patterned knit that quickly went into high circulation in my wardrobe. It was perfect for home, cafe, market and weekends away. Somewhere I have a photo of me in this dress, holding my baby daughter one Christmas at the coast, alas that photo has gone into the abyss of photos that is simply “somewhere”… I vividly remember that the forgiving lines, the flattering neckline and swishy skirt was one of the few dresses I had post baby that made me feel feminine and not like a sleep-deprived version of my pre baby self. Eventually, over the years I made another in tan coloured solid knit that I did not love as much the colour did not suit (but my husband says he likes it)!

This is one of the reasons I love pattern collecting. There are beloved designs that become apart of our personal history, our memories. The best patterns are often scrawled upon, well used and show signs of love and possession. This Vogue pattern has found a place in my memories, in a way that I didn’t know it would when my shears first cut the cloth. Long after my kids are grown I am sure the feeling of wearing that first version of this dress will linger, part of a collection of memories.

The catalogue image from Spring 2011 is below however the pattern was available for a few years before that.

DKNY Vogue pattern 1027

Over the next 10 weeks I have set myself a goal of making 8 garments. Vogue 1027 will feature in a pretty, floral Liberty Dufour jersey I ordered a couple of months ago for the upcoming Spring. And lots of Donna Karan designs which I have been saving for years. I am also considering making a version in black with a rayon knit I bought at Tessuti a couple of years ago.

My cutting table is actually an old table on our verandah, given Canberra’s weather is growing more chilly I will have to plan my pattern cutting times!

The Cresting Wave: sewing with knits

It has been quite a while since I have posted. We are at the coast like so many other Aussies at this time of year (school holidays), the birds are raucous, the sound of the sea is crashing beyond the treeline. It is wonderful to enjoy a cup of tea and listen to the natural world, the air is a little crisp, but not cold. We are all recovering from the exhileration of the beach this morning, the waves plunging close to shore, the water rushing around the ankles of frolicing feet and busy hands digging “sandmen” (think snowman but out of sand and shells).

I benefit greatly from the many great pattern reviews I find online so feel it is worthwhile sharing some of my successes with different patterns on makes since Christmas. I have almost exclusively been sewing with knits on my elna supermatic. I have definitely shifted to making more leisurewear since the pandemic began, I have some tried and true favourites.

Makes in 2021 include:

KNITWIT 9100 for my husband. This is a fairly basic 70s men’s raglan tee, I used a beautiful cotton jersey from Paapii (of Finland) which I was drawn to because of its scandi designs. The fit was fine, the key thing to remember that the deeper the curve on a tee, the more you need to stretch the ribbing as you sew so it sits nicely when worn. There are a few Paapii suppliers in Australia.

SIMPLICITY 7020 is a classic boys tracksuit pattern from the 80s, I made the tracksuit top, again a fairly basic design but I was very, very pleased with the fit (I made a size 10), the neckline was not too snug which he really liked. I used blue marle “french tag” from Tessuti which is essentially a french terry that is all organic cotton and luxuriously soft, the topstitching really did look very nice as a an added detail.

I love the fabric so much I made myself a boat neck slouchy sweater from an 80s Style pattern (drop shoulder style) and a pair of trackpants for my husband from KWIK SEW 3028 (2001), which had a great drape.

KWIK SEW 1669 is tried and true, I have probably made this about ten times since my daughter was a toddler, its a good fit and comes together quickly and easily. More recently I probably made her about 3-4 pair out of Lillestoffe organic cotton from Germany which has a range of mega darling designs which we both love. The fabric is not exactly cheap but they are on high rotation in her wardrobe, comfortable and she adores them so I think the designs and quality are worthwhile and superior to what we would buy in the shops, regardless, (C’mon they are mummy-made to measure people)!

This was a pair made using Riley Blake Jersey

I have a few other projects still to be finished in the sewing room including 80s McCalls 9529 which reminds me so much of another era, but I think in a more natural colour palette are coming back on the fashion wheel due to the relaxed fit, (just maybe not with stone washed jeans)!

Nothing gives me so much pleasure as seeing my loved ones so comfortable and happy in the clothes that I make for them in the very best fabrics. Except maybe a glorious morning at the beach followed by a hot cup of tea with the birds.

Winter at the Beach

A trip to the beach at the outset of Winter was the perfect start to the school holidays for my young family. There is no heat, there are no crowds and evening beach stroll can be followed by a hot chocolate before a crackling fireplace or combustion stove. Winter at the beach is a wonderful tonic for the soul.

beach shadows

Having recently read “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness: The Astonishing Science behind How Everyday Hobbies Help You Relax” (Rodski), we arrived at the Coast with a car full of wonderful activities… puzzles to complete as a family, books, board games and yes…colouring in.

Skeptical of the idea of colouring in, Rodski’s book had otherwise affirmed so many of my own ideas about crafting. My discovery of Rodski’s book came at a time when I rediscovered Personal Stamp Exchange (PSX) stamps which my mother had used to use. These are wonderful for cardmaking and the quality and detail of the stamps, decades after they were originally produced is really good. PSX ceased in the early 2000’s and as such have been highly collectible on account of thier quality and beautiful designs…So we stamped and coloured and did walks on the beach to study shells and seaweed and small creatures… We kept the fire going when it got cold, played hide and seek and enjoyed homecooked meals. My daughter lined up shells in order of size, my son watched the fire and “supervised” its lighting each evening. It was a wonderful few days. My heart warmed when I saw my by sit for longer periods than usual, engrossed in his coluring art work.

copic marker test

I use copic markers to colour my PSX images. For anyone else who enjoys cardmaking or who are equally in love with PSX, these are some of my recent “makes”. I love the elegance and simplicity of the wreaths and mixing the colours on the page is, in fact, very relaxing.

Vintage Pattern Love- the 1930s wide legged cuffed trousers

So a few weeks ago, whilst losing myself in the absolute joy of a sale at The Fabric Store in Surrey Hills, I came across this absolutely divine mustard linen which they carried in two weights, lightweight and medium-heavy weight. It was the happy marriage of fabric and pattern- and the pattern was one I had already made a couple of years ago, Simplicity 2395 from the 1930s. My pattern is an original, its perfectly my size and the first time I wore my trousers I had the great pleasure of explaining to a polite enquiry that no, they couldn’t be bought from a store because I made them myself- every dressmaker knows how good that feels. There’s a lot of ease through the hip, they drape well and they feel great to wear.

Buttons chosen for the concealed button closure – one of my favourite elements of the pattern, that escalate it from run of the mill to uber cool

So anyway, this linen lurched at me, it begged to be bought and made and despite weeks of Winter sickness in our household (young kiddos)! I managed to find a few spare hours to get my project started- how could the promise and allure of Summer days on the beach with a big floppy hat and a paperback be ignored?

The trousers are probably less than 7 hours of sewing time from completion (with a thorough press to boot), but I don’t skimp of the hand stitching where its needed, though there are probably some faster ready to wear techniques that could be used, I prefer a true reproduction garment. And yes, I otherwise made it on my beloved vintage Singer 222k (affectionately referred to as “Gidget”)!

On cue, the universe rewarded me with an iTunes viewing of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society viewing with lots of vintage fashion (and wide legged pants inspiration)! Highly recommend the film for fashion lovers (sensational 40s dress inspiration too)!

\ The corresponding cam that I use in my Singer buttonholer- once upon a  time one of the most expensive Singer attachments you could buy. The buttonholes are always  so neat!

The thing about a  pattern you love, is that you know it s going to be a life long affair- there’s no stopping at one or two. And seriously, why just two colours? In linen these are so cool and airy… It appears there is now some red linen finding its way to me.

So what does everyone do with their pretty linen scraps? Mine appaear to be destined for lavendar sachets and dolls clothes for my daughter!

The North Sydney Library stocks an array of overseas fashion magazines and I loved this images of loose, casually fitting clothes-  wide legged pants are definitely classic!

McCalls 3429 Teen doll wardrobe pattern – 70s glam for little girls’ Barbies…

For anyone wanting to whip up a quick dolls dress, the baby doll nightie or shift pattern in McCalls 3429 has one pattern piece can be whipped up in about 10- 15 minutes…. Its a great, straightforward vintage pattern from the early 1970s. I made these two in Liberty lawn for my little girl- I got sick of seeing naked Barbies lying around (I suspect the vacuum is responsible for the loss of original garments)!