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    Have you ever wondered what I do when I'm not making dresses for the eternal magpie shop

    Well... the gentleman pictured above is Mr Magpie, and he is part of a group of doll characters collectively known as Miss Mouse & friends. They have a Patreon-based blog, over at, where you can follow all of their little adventures. You might also have spotted them in the "books, magazines & planners" section of the shop, where some of their Patron Rewards from the past couple of years are now available for sale. 

    Next year I'm going to be concentrating less on printed Rewards and more on photographic and other digital content that everyone can see... as well as some more complicated stories for our much-appreciated Patrons.

     University of Reading Herbarium

    In October I went back to University... as a volunteer at the Herbarium. I've joined an ongoing project to catalogue a species-specific collection that recently became part of the Herbarium's collections overall. My current role is primarily as a data wrangler. There's a small team of us, doing all the things necessary to get this collection into the database - ideally in such a format that researchers can easily get the data out again and make scientific use of it! 

     Gerard's Herball

    In October I also went back to University... as a writer/researcher. Originally, the idea was to start doing some research that would help me to write a series of short introductory books on a variety of topics. The sort of thing you might like to read if you'd just watched a documentary on the telly, and wanted to find out a little bit more about the subject. Somewhere along the way, that idea has escalated into researching for a PhD proposal! I'm currently trying to narrow my thoughts down to two primary ideas (both relating to Early Modern medicine), and then I can start to do some more detailed research to enable me to choose between them. 

    (A few years ago I had a different PhD planned out, to do with the publication of anatomical imagery, and how the accuracy of observation was far in advance of medical knowledge at the time. Then Dr Adam Rutherford and BBC4 went and made a whole television series about exactly that, making my proposed thesis redundant. As is often the way, Life intervened, and this is the first opportunity I've had to think again about Academic Things.) 

    I have another Patreon-based blog, called "Mrs Magpie Writes", about what I've been up to and how it's all going. Not all of the content is paid-for, but studying is expensive, so every little bit of pocket money is very much appreciated. So far my lovely Patrons have paid this year's annual fee for joining the University library, and I'm saving up to buy some of the books I'm not able to borrow as a non-student member. 

     So, there you have it. 

    When I'm not busy with the sewing machine, I'll be busily photographing Miss Mouse & friends, volunteering at the Herbarium, or happily reading as many Early Modern/ History of Medicine books as I can! 

    claire with sidesword

    Oh, and when I'm not doing any of that, I'm looking at translations of 16th century fencing manuals and fighting my friends with swords. As you do. 

  2. blog_squareneckdress01

    Every now and then I have a little wander around the internet, searching for "square neck dress" patterns. This style has been a basic staple of wardrobes since the 1940s, and I love seeing all of the different ways it's been styled. This one is from the 1960s, and I have to admit to LOVING the hat!


    The orange dress in the middle of this late 1970s pattern ticks two of my personal favourite boxes - elbow-length sleeves (bonus points for puffiness), and a ruffle at the hem. I can imagine a sleeveless one layered over the high-neck version too, for winter warmth. 


    This one is from the early 1960s. It's not clear, but I think it's supposed to be a nightdress. The version on the left goes all the way to the floor, and again, I do love a puffy sleeve. A nightmare to squash underneath a cardigan, but so cute! And the one at the back with the ruffle and the belt? Definitely not a style to be confined to the bedroom! 


    Aaah, the 1980s. More belts, more ruffles, more puffed sleeves. This depiction could only be improved with blue mascara and a pair of pixie boots. 


    The 1970s bring a lot of fantastic versions of this dress, often in children's sizes. I love its versatility, from floor length all the way up to blouse. And the little red t-bar shoes on the right? Yes please! 


    This is a slightly more grown-up version of the 1970s look, perhaps just ticking over into the early 80s - it's really hard to tell with some of these. I love the angel sleeves, and the almost crop-top version on the right. And just look at that button detail on the cuffs of the long sleeves! 

    I'm thinking that sleeves and ruffles are going to need to make an appearance on some dresses near you very soon...

  3. eternal magpie recycled fabric maternity dress

    You might have seen this Space-themed fabric whiz past on social media last week... I did say it was already spoken for, and now it's a dress. As we haven't had a #dressupatree for quite a while, I thought it was time to take one of my traditional lilac tree photos for you! 

    What you may not be able to tell by looking at these pictures is that it's actually a maternity dress.

    It's a pick-and-mix project, with the yoke (the shoulder straps part) in one size, the body in another, and a fair bit of extra width and curve added to the front panel, just to make sure there's plenty of room.

    eternal magpie recycled fabric maternity dress

    As the dress will only be needed for a couple more months, I've made sure that it can also be easily de-maternitified (is that a word?) so that it can be worn again afterwards. 

    It will result in a seam - actually a great big dart - right up the centre front of the dress, but that will largely be hidden in the folds of the fabric, and it will give a comfy dress a much longer wearable life. 

    I can also take this pick-and-mix approach to any dress, not just for maternity purposes! If you're feeling a bit confused by the size chart, and not sure what's going to fit, you can send me your measurements and I'll make you a dress that's just right!

  4. eternal magpie: custom simple sweatshirt dress

    That's more like it! 

    I know the neckline and pockets look a tiny bit wonky on the dress form, but that's mainly because it was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING outside this morning, and I didn't take the time to line everything up properly because I just wanted to get back indoors into the warm! They're nice and neat in Real Life, I promise.

    This is New Look 6298 - the pattern says it's easy, and it means it. Admittedly I didn't feel like embracing the details of making the v-neck nice and neat at the front, so I made view C, round neck and pockets, with the long sleeves from views A and B. 

    It's made in two colours because once again I was working with two short pieces of fabric rather than one long one, but at least there was no design to get upside down this time! The fabric is a gorgeous organic cotton sweatshirt fleece from the Organic Textile Company. I think the colours are Dark Grey and Grey Melange. I'm not certain because I bought it as part of a remnant bundle, hence having two smaller pieces instead of one big one. 

    The fabric's nice and wide, so from two 1-metre pieces I still have plenty left over to make the sleeves and pockets for another one! The reverse side of the fabric is white and brushed and fluffy, and I expected to look as though I'd been rolling around in a field of dandelieons by the time I'd finished sewing. Thankfully that wasn't the case, and aside from a little bit of fluff in the overlocker the fabric didn't shed at all. Just as well, as I was rather foolishly wearing a black jumper while I was making it!  

    The only even remotely fiddly bits in this dress were the corners of the pockets and the topstitching of the neckline - both a little bit tricky to do neatly in a heavy fabric. Not difficult, just needing a little bit of attention rather than sprinting on through. Next time I'd like to give the v-neck a try, and I think I'd make a shorter version too, so I could wear it as a long sweatshirt rather than a v-neck dress. In fact, I've got my eye on this organic cotton black and white stripy fleece - how good would that look with jeans, or yoga pants, or a long black skirt? 

    In fact, while I'm thinking about sweatshirts and jumpers and warm winter clothes... can anybody recommend a cardigan pattern that would work with a sweatshirt-type fabric?

    All of my existing jumpers and cardigans are wearing out before I can knit new ones, and to be honest unless the pattern is something really special I'd far rather knit little things like socks and scarves. I'm thinking V-neck, hip length or waist length, with buttons rather than a zip or a waterfall style. Suggestions very welcome!

  5. eternal magpie custom Star Wars Hallowe'en dress

    My husband asked me recently why the things I make for myself are never as carefully-made as the things I make for other people. The answer is probably "I'm always in a hurry when I make things for myself, because I feel as though I should be spending all my time on my work instead"... but at the time I protested mightily and said that of course that wasn't true! 

    And then I made this. 

    At first glance, it looks okay. It's a 1993 fit-and-flare shirt dress, Vogue 1290, view C. I've had the pattern... not quite since 1993, but it was certainly one of the first that I bought when I started sewing from patterns in the late '90s. (It's not just me who has 20-something year old uncut patterns in their stash, surely?) 

    I checked the size chart, checked the actual garment measurements... and yet it's still come out far too small. I forgot to make my usual short waist adjustment (I usually shorten the bodice pieces by about an inch), so the narrowest part of the dress sits below my waist, making it bunch upwards. And despite the garment measurements allegedly having a fair amount of ease over and above my body measurements, it's turned out to be far too tight all over. To the point where if I overlap the front pieces to put the buttons in, I've got no hope of actually fastening them. 

    I've bought a bright orange zip from Ebay. I'm going to stitch that in, and hope for the best.

    And then there's the most enormous elephant in the room, which is that the print IS CLEARLY UPSIDE DOWN on the front panels and one of the sleeves. *sigh* 

    I didn't have enough fabric to make the dress, so I bought another piece, meaning that I was working with two 2-metre lengths. I had it all very carefully worked out so that I could fit the back panels on one piece, the front panels on the other, and a sleeve on each, shortening the dress slightly to fit. Sadly, the thing I didn't carefully work out was whether the two pieces of fabric were the same way up when I started cutting out. And OF COURSE the upside down pieces are on the front. That's just the way these things happen. 

    Anyway. If the dress fits once I've got the zip into the front, I'll wear it anyway. Hopefully people will be too busy saying "oooh, glow in the dark skeleton Darth Vader!" to notice that he and ghostly R2-D2 are actually upside down. Fingers crossed. 

    I have to admit that I did think twice about sharing such a glaringly obvious mistake with you all. Then I decided that, you know what? It doesn't matter how experienced you are, at pretty much anything, occasionally you'll still make a really silly mistake - and sometimes it'll be a really big one! 

    To make myself feel better I sewed the world's simplest sweatshirt dress afterwards, which cheered me up no end. I'll show you photos very soon.