Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Spash proof or water resistant? Shop speak for "you will still get wet."

Please PLEASE take my umbrella. Its yours! Look, it has yellow in it the same colour as your hair (reaching...) The woman in question is stood in a downpour huddled inside her tiny jacket, cradling a newborn baby in her arms. The rain is hammering down, bouncing off my (grateful for) Espirit umbrella, that has a sort of spiral pattern with a yellow centre that regrettably now reminds me of a big spot. The baby is getting soaked.

Far be it for me to criticize any Mum on her choice of head gear for nipper (yes, sorry - I'm going to), but when the heavens open and you're stood with your child sporting a mere pink diamante feather head adornment, you might want to take a moment to reconsider your options. A hat perhaps, or even a coat. Having taken spot-brolly out less than three times before its limbs started flopping about, I can also say - coats, god bless em.

Coats are fantastic!! They really are - but why aren't they waterproof? Who likes that cold wetness feeling in their bones. Surely waterproof should be universally heralded as the MUST WEAR of every season? (even Summer, this is Britain after all) Walking in the rain is ace, that raining smell, the muddy pubbles! The fact is, it always rains. So why aren't our coats made to tackle our seasonal downpours?

I start online.

ASOS my guilty pleasure (usual searches: Space, Skeleton and Dinosaur, of course - no teeny bikini for me) types: WATERPROOF. 34 styles found. 1. waterproof mascara, 2. Men's waterproof coats. Observe (shay colourful mind)

Next John Lewis where at least women's coats make it into your search top ten, but 1 and 2 are again men's coats or mascara. Can you see where I'm going with this? I'm not against wearing coats designated "Men's coats" - no way, because the marketing is just daft. What these shops are telling me is - this is not for you, this mascara, that's for you ... dear. That my options, as a woman, are limited because apparently I don't have any desire to be dry, warm, comfortable, well... but hey, I can have streak proof make-up.

I reluctantly go back to those mountain climbing, hill walking shops but find my energies waning due to the amount of standard black jackets, which come in the most obscene assortment of prices... No, I don't need it for a trip to Mount Everest, yes I would prefer something a little less... black. They are also mere jackets, assuming your legs will be taking part in a sporty contortion event. It would however be nice to sit on a wet bench without worrying about my pants. I also don't get most of it, do I need all those fancy worded extras?

Try your standard women's fashion shop and you'll find coats galore, in mac, duffle and all weather shapes, but it won't be waterproof. It will be "spray proof" or "water resistant" - meaning, yes, it will get soaked through but at least it will dry quickly! (you won't, however) some are even sheer or made of silk. You heard it, Macs - made of silk. That's like shoes made of tissue paper. 

Check out Boden "Great British Style" love em, and their claim of "weather beating properties" - but their Rainy Day Mac which will set you back a staggering £119 is still only water resistant (a point made at the end of a long list of plus points, when really ability to enjoy a rainy day without getting wet is completely lacking) Check our my CHAT conversation... 

You are now chatting with Michael.
Fran: Hi, Is your rainy day mac waterproof?
Michael: Hi Fran. I am sorry to say that our Rainy Day Mac is not waterproof, only shower resistant.
Michael: I hope this does not put you off ordering. Please let me know if there is anything else that I can help with

Boden, Rainy Day Mac - August 2014

How about we start giving women a few more choices? Because I for one feel short changed. I would like to stay dry, I would like to be comfortable and lastly, forgo any fancy style embellishments or "slim fit" for my pleasure. I look at my daughter's yellow wellies, rainbow waterproof coat and I think - what went wrong? When did waterproof mascara take over as women's number one rain proof aid. How did the umbrella industry take off without perfecting that wild ability ALL brollies have to turn inside out, launch you about like a drunk Mary Poppins or just plain break after a couple of uses. A friend of mine had a shoe fly off into the Mersey, I dread to think what would have happened to her if she'd been attached to a splindley sail.

My call to manufacturers goes like this. I would like a waterproof coat please, that isn't black, short or that annoying "women's fit", that doesn't have fancy ruffles (Jigsaw, looking at you) or comes in pink (because you know, if its pink it MUST be for us women), that isn't Everest prepped or gets my underwear wet in the boring way. I would like a coat that IS for rainy days and will keep me dry. 

I would like all these things to be standard - a rainy day mac should be waterproof, it should be what it set out to be otherwise its clearly a "rainy day and yes I am soaked" Mac which is as off putting as it sounds. Come on retailers, ditch the splash proof and go for the actual water falling from the sky waterproof. As we're moving into Autumn you'll thank me for it. No one will give a damn about their mascara then. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

No More Page 3. Please.

Sewing Circus supports No More Page 3 and here is why, posted in response to Mumsnet asking it's members if they should support the campaign.

Mumsnet should absolutely support No More Page 3.

This IS an important campaign, and if your argument is - well, there's more important issues like FGM - why not let Mumsnet campaign for both?

Boobs, nipples, nudity aren't the problem. The context however is. Page 3 objectifies women and leads to the normalisation of attitudes to women's breasts as sexual objects - rather than YOUR body, or for breastfeeding. As a child, stumbling across these images, I felt almost ashamed of my developing bod, like it wasn't mine - boobs were almost something sinister, for creepy men to enjoy only.

The Sun is a very prominent newspaper, it is everywhere and enters everyday life through every shop you visit, the rubbish on the streets, on the tables in cafes. Simply "don't buy it!" doesn't work, no more than "don't vote for them" is a reason not to argue against the absurdity of UKIP.

Do I want to breastfeed in a cafe while men casually ogle page 3? No. Do I want my 5 year old daughter to see page 3? No. And she will, not because she will buy a newspaper (!) but because, how can she avoid it? as a child I couldn't.

Did I want the walls of our tech services dept staff room AND TOILET (the mind boggles) at a national museum plastered with page 3 models? No. The perception being that Page 3 was somehow permissable because it was in a national newspaper. I felt awkward, uncomfortable - and most importantly unwelcome in my work environment.

This isn't about banning breasts, or nudity (another element also being its always a specific kind of nudity too, often a false ideal of sexuality based on enhancements and youth) this is saying no to something entirely negative to women and girls, and negative to the perception of women and girls. Page 3 is outdated and has no place in the 21st century.

Mumsnet, please back the No More Page 3 campaign.

Monday, 9 December 2013

In other words – why girls don't need to be told that they are beautiful.


Fran: When my daughter goes to school, I don't say “you look gorgeous, you look pretty!” I say – you look smart, because thats all that matters when you're getting ready for school.

Tony: So you never say to your daughter “you look beautiful, you look nice?”

Fran: Um, not as regularly... I mean, maybe once or twice”

Tony: But you just said you never do it? You just contradicted yourself.

Fran: Okay. But I contradicted to extent where (school, I said school – I know I said school!!!)... once or twice in her life I've said “you're beautiful!” but I say on a daily basis “you look really smart, you look really good.”

Interview ends. I listen back – I did ok! That last bit – transcribed above – lingers in my mind.

That was me getting a bit flustered at the end of a radio interview with Tony Snell on BBC Radio Merseyside. I was the only other person, other than the MP herself, to come on air and be rugby tackled over supporting the Common's early day motion (led by Katie Clarke MP) on challenging the heavy presence of gender marketing in advertising children's toys in the run up to Christmas.

I've been on radio a few times before, the last time I was asked one question and wasn't allowed to speak again. On that occasion it was about austerity and job cuts faced predominantly by women (when asked by the presenter “don't we need austerity?” - to women who had lost their jobs as a result – I jumped in, controlled but a shay annoyed) and I was too pro-Labour. Apparently.

So, this last bit bamboozled me. First off – I'm not appearing on behalf of an organisation, I'm not an MP, I'm not being paid to do this – I have a business which is related to this issue, but its not mentioned and I don't go for a plug, this is bigger than that.

I sway awkwardly thinking (quickly - this is *live*) am I a bad parent for not telling Scarlett she's beautiful?! After all it “turns my stomach” is a fairly strong statement to make. I have said it! I just don't make a big deal of it. I don't scrape her hair back into a bun, adding bows and clips, bells and whistles, and then congratulate her on her appearance. I don't make comments about anything she chooses to wear other than to add if I think she may be too cold without a top on. I was also asked “hasn't Scarlett every walked around in your shoes?” (re: children wanting dressing up heels/be like Mum) and the answer is no, her shoes are far nicer than my smelly Converse.

That doesn't mean I don't compliment her, tell her everyday how much I love her for who she is – what a wonderful young girl she is. I just don't place any value on appearance, because lets face it, there is too much in our society and wider culture placing pressure on young girls, teenagers – heck, women of all ages – to look a certain way, to all hail a certain standard of beauty.

Lets also look at this another way. How often are boys told they are beautiful or pretty? Does that turn Tony Snell's stomach too? Seriously. One of my male friends told the mother of a boy “your son is really beautiful!” and she balked, “what? What a thing to say to a boy!” My daughter Evie – often mistaken for a boy, was called a “cheeky little scamp!” by a man at Scarlett's school. When I pointed out “yes, she can be” with a a smile, he got upset, backpedaling furiously “I'm sorry! She's gorgeous!”

So “beautiful” or “pretty” - its NOT important for a child to hear. It should turn your stomach that girls are made to feel they should look beautiful, or that looking pretty is something to value. Girls and boys don't need to hear it. No more than they need high heels, nail varnish, dressing up tables (for toddlers...), lipstick, handbags (obviously for the mountain of pink cosmetics) – that all, regrettably, comes later (for most) so lets value fun and childhood instead. Getting messy, caked in mud, ripped clothes from climbing trees.

Most importantly perhaps, if its not heard a great deal in our house, if Scarlett and Evie aren't told they look beautiful once a day, once a week, once every 6 months – its because they hear this instead.

You are so clever

Brilliant! Smart for school

I love how creative you are...


Too loud!






You look like you'll get cold without a top on...





Make that “very very intelligent”

You are mighty Scarlett!

A great big sister :)

I am so very proud of you.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Patchwork Quilt - Simple Square Design

The sewing skills laid out in this tutorial could be applied to any patchwork project, a blanket, cushion, skirt, dress (a la Holly Hobbie perhaps.) You're not restricted by size and can start small to get a feel for how everything goes together.


This method of quilting requires a Sewing Machine, and any basic model will do! I started out with my John Lewis "Sell me a machine an idiot could wield" £99 one and it was brilliant for all sorts of projects including quilting. 

A quilting ruler, rotary cutter and healing mat are pretty useful (approx £30 for the lot), but if you don't want to invest in these you can simply cut a square template out of card and use scissors - its a bit more time consuming but as long as you get equal sized squares then you're fine!

Lots of safety pins and ball-headed pins are also going to come in use, as well as plenty of thread and an steam Iron. Not to seem like I'm predicting doom but I always have a seam ripper on hand when working on any sewing project.


There are a whole host of designs you can use in quilting - but I use a simple square one (5.5"x5.5") and really go to town on colourful cotton fabrics. 

There are some fantastic prints to choose from, but don't go too print heavy - mix in solid colours and simple patterns, so think about 3 lead colours as well as prints.

This is a great project for fabric scraps, but you're also going to need (unless making a double patchwork sided quilt) a good length of solid colour fabric for the backing and wadding for the core of the quilt. 

Wadding comes in a variety of lengths, cotton or polyester, and is available to buy online or in any craft shop. Alternatively, for the quilts we use at home I've used simple polyester fleece blankets for the wadding. These are more widely available and are considerably cheaper. 

Making your Quilt

Step 1. Cut your squares

Make sure your fabric is ironed before you start, and that you have a good clean flat surface.

The squares I've cut for the blanket shown are 5.5" square x 108. This is where you'll appreciate how much time the rotary cutter will save you...

You also need to make sure those squares are accurate and straight - this will save a lot of heartache and unpicking later on.

Step 2. Lay out your design

Once you've cut your squares its time to decide the order they will appear in your quilt. If working on a large project you'll need a lot of space to spread out so you can see what the completed quilt will look like.

Lay your squares out on the floor as you want them to appear - think about contrasting colours and not having anything too the same together otherwise individual prints will get lost.

Once you're happy, start at the bottom row and pile them together from left to right (first one always on top), then pin the pile together. Then place this - the bottom row - at the bottom of the pile of all the subsequent groups of squares.

When you're finished you should have the first group of squares that will form the top edge of the quilt, at the top of the pile - and can work from left to right.

Step 3. Stitch your squares into rows

Starting with the first two squares, place them right side to right side (making sure the prints the right way) - place a stitch running the length of the squares on the right side - leaving enough seam allowance to allow you to press the seam flat. This will allow you to create a flat surface underneath your patchwork. 

Make sure you sew as straight as possible, otherwise you will create a lopsided square and will make the next stage that little bit more tricky.

Keep going until you have sewn all the squares into the row. This will then give you a better idea of the completed width of your project. 

Now stitch the next pile of squares in exactly the same way until you have a pile of rows. Again, make sure you keep these in order.

Step 4. Stitch your rows together

You're going to stitch the rows together in the same way as the individual squares - right sides together, only this time running the width of the row. Again make sure you're stitching the rows the correct way together. You can check this by placing them together, and then turning the row out as though stitched to check how it will look. 

Pin the rows in place, pushing the pins outwards towards the edge you are sewing. The needle in your sewing machine should - in theory - pass over the needle edges, allowing you to continue stitching without removing the pins as you go. The needle can catch the pins causing them to bend, but I've not had a machine needle break yet using this method.

As you're pinning, make sure the seams match up on the top and bottom rows - this is really important otherwise your squares won't be straightTry not to stretch the fabric to do this, but if you find they don't match up - don't panic! Simply unpick the top (unattached) row and sew it again, making sure it is the correct size.

 Iron the seam allowance flat on the reverse side - again creating a flat finish.

 This is how the front side should now look.

Step 5 - Pin to the wadding

Now you have all the squares sewn in place, the top part of your patchwork quilt is done! That's the time consuming part over with. 

Next lay out flat the wadding you intend to use as the filling for your sandwich layers (the patchwork being the top -  this bit is the middle) 

Lay the patchwork right side up on top of the wadding - making sure the wadding is big enough to cover the entire underside of the patchwork.

Now using safety pins, carefully pin the two together, interspersing pins at the edges, corners and throughout - just enough to keep the two in place as you work on the next step. Make sure the fabrics lay flat together, and don't place any pins in the "ditch" lines between the squares as that is where we're sewing next.

Step 6. Stitching in the Ditch

Choose the right colour thread for this carefully as you want this element to be as invisible as possible. Take your patchwork, now safety pinned to the wadding, and stitch between every row and square. This part is called stitching in the ditch and creates a neat top finish and that wadded pocket feel to each square.

Step 7. Attach the backing

Remove all the safety pins used to hold the patchwork and wadding together.

Lay your quilt right side down on your backing - right side to right side. The wadding should now be on the outside facing upwards.

Pin the edges together, again leaving a good seam allowance. Now stitch round the edges, leaving a good enough gap on one side (preferably the bottom) for you to pull the right side of the quilt to the outside again. 

You need to sew the edges as straight as possible. When working on a large scale like this I use a long ruler and some tailors chalk to mark out the sew lines.

Once sewn, trim the edges to reduce any bulk. Now, pull the patchwork side from inside to the outside through the gap. Carefully hand-stitch the closure. 

Finally use embroidery thread to blanket stitch the edge of the blanket. This will add better definition to the edges of the blanket.

Take a few minutes to check for any loose threads, and then sit back and marvel at what you have created! 

Now sit back and enjoy that you've made something 
decorative, warming and completely unique! 

For Evie's room I've made her a patchwork Space cushion topper for her toy box, and for our lounge we have a Folk inspired patchwork quilt that drapes over the back of the sofa. Scarlett loves to bury herself under this, or we lay it out of the floor for Evie to play on. Its something useful that I've made and I'm really proud that the girls can see our house is filled with creative and loved things. 

Please leave any questions in the comments box below, or if you've found this blog useful I'd love to see the results!

For further inspiration on sewing projects, and for more information on basic quilting, please see one of my favourite Craft Books - Martha Stewart's Encyclopeadia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts. 

Please check out the Sewing Circus website, or like our page on Facebook

Fran x

With thanks to Kate Reay whose Patchwork Quilt order is featured throughout this blog x

Sunday, 4 August 2013

An open letter to Scarlett's Dad - Lets bin this Princess rubbish

To Scarlett's Dad,

When I told you about my new business, making clothes for girls in Dino and Space prints (because I was sick of confronting Princesses and smug Unicorns), you told me “Good luck!” - thanks, I thought at the time, but noted the sarcasm. So here is why you should mean that good luck, why we need to remove the retailer induced haze from our eyes, because we should be surrounding our child with all the fun, adventure and learning the high street affords to boys the same age.

Our daughter is not a passive, Fairytale Princess. She does not require make-up, tiaras that dig into her head, or poorly fitting glass (or plastic) shoes. Nor is she a miniaturised version of our adult selves. She is an awesome 5 year old who we are raising to be a confident, healthy young woman one day. The word girl is often used in a derogatory way to mean passive, pathetic or weak (note, awful Dad in school yard to son “you're running like a girl!”) and that's something we need to change - not perpetuate.

Scarlett is bombarded on a daily basis with images of women that are not healthy. Women as sex objects or women bound to shopping, cooking and cleaning (see the multitude of TV adverts that enforce this.) Shops arrange their toys in For Girls and For Boys denying the right to feel comfortable (or actively directed to) what she wants to play with, including anything Dinosaurs, Space or Cars (note ANYTHING Science, Engineering or History related...) The message for our girls from the media, magazines, TV, toy shops and clothing retailers is You are passive, preparing for marriage and should look pretty.

Talking smug unicorn "Today is my wedding day!"

Does that sound extreme? Once upon a time (no pun intended) I might have thought so too, but at a time when few women are entering careers in Science and Engineering, is it any wonder when the message from year dot is “this isn't for you.” I can provide ample examples of this, from “Future WAG!” T-Shirts to the “Its my wedding day!” bizarrely angular talking pink horse you bought her. I've told her its ok to take her Dinosaur lunch-box to school when her peers tell her “That's a boys lunch-box!?” (almost incredulous she should own one) or why she can aspire to be an Astronaut when she grows up, no Scarlett –  that's not just for boys.

Scarlett in Evie's room, wearing her favourite Space Play-trousers

Scarlett can still CHOOSE these things, but she is up against incredibly clever, big budget marketing. The pink girl or blue boy is so ingrained into our consumer choices we all seem to have fallen for it – but its artificial, as artificial as the idea that girls should want to be Princesses, and boys should want to be Astronauts. Gender specific toys will also employ boy or girl characters, or picture girls or boys enjoying their purchase – making it harder for the opposite gender to relate to. I should also note that in contrast to our Pink Girl we have the Blue Boy – energetic, loud, messy, fun? Can't our daughter be these things too?

Example of birthday card range in Sainsbury, July 2013

I hate heels on girls shoes, but rigid plastic Princess Shoes! with heels aren't appropriate outside of the house. I felt compelled to finally write this letter to you after you dropped her off in town wearing said footwear, awkwardly tottering alongside me for the rest of our trip, instead of yelling, arms raised above her head while running full pelt into things... 

Let Scarlett be comfortable, let her get muddy and play wheelbarrows in the garden (impossible in a long dress.) Let her choose what she wants but make sure her choice is as wide as possible. Lets not fill every Christmas and birthday with endless pink or Princess merchandise thinking “that's girls for you!” We don't have to swallow those gender stereotypes that turn girls into caring more about being decorative than having fun, learning and exploring. Those retailers don't care a bit about our daughter – lets not let them influence how we perceive her childhood.

Our awesome daughter, Scarlett


Sewing Circus is inspired by my daughters Scarlett 5 and Evie 6 months. I couldn't find the choice of clothes Scarlett wanted - so I made them. Based from our home in South Liverpool I launched my own business in June 2013 making Dinosaur Skirts and Aeroplane Pinafores. For more information please see Sewing Circus on Facebook