I would just like to add a short post by way of an apology for my long absence ,I am really sorry if anyone who contacted me got a reply too late to be of use to them ,due to a long period of family illness and a rather complicated house move I have not been able to spend enough time online ,I will be keeping up to date on comments and messages now ,though bad weather may disrupt my internet connection for the odd day or two I will try to answer any queries within a few days

To help with some queries

I no longer  give costumed talks

I nolonger make costumes

and unfortunately

I can no longer add more photos to the cheats guides as I no longer sew ,but I will try to help with extra instructions if needed.

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Skerray ,Sutherland ,where every one is always welcome

I have recently moved North (or even further North )to the beautiful Northern coast of Scotland ,to Skerray in Sutherland  .


I am a long way now from Yorkshire ,my friends and my family ,it took 24 hours and 5 trains including the amazing Caledonian sleeper to arrive here ,so I think its safe to say I am “a long way from home” Yet I have never felt more at home and more among friends .

I took the house because on a property listing I saw the view from its windows ,which is now my view


I had been very happy with incredible neighbours in Leeds and was sad to leave those friends behind and my friends from Station road ,but I have always felt a tug back to the countryside ,I missed the landmarks of the year,Lambs appearing first in the lowland fields then sometimes weeks later up on the moor farms echoing the arrival of spring and the banishment of the snows, l missed seeing  spring creep across the land as the daffodils which would flower first in the sheltered road edges then lastly in the high villages.I missed heather its rusty rich browns that for a few brief weeks would be replaced by swathes of purple that  swept slowly upland .Even better than the purple heather  flowers were their predecessors , the hidden gems of the moors ,the whinberry or bilberry tiny little black fruits hidden in the heath .Always on walks there where the sweeping views and wide skies.


,I missed even  the decline inot autumn and winter ,chilly nights and ultimatly the snow

road end black moor

and  sheep that had been  my almost constant (if distant) companions on walks over the moor come snow or rain or the hottest sunny day.


I took my new home without a prior visit I felt somehow it was a place I could be happy and make home and that has proven to be the case.From quite literally the moment I arrived I have been made to feel incredibly welcome and met with unerring kindness.

Skerray is a beautiful place.From its rocky coastline


to sheltered harbour.


to inland and its rugged hills where heather and grass struggle to cloth the bare rocks and where croft houses sit perched in hollows or on hilltops


Rich in wildlife Skerray has Otters ,Pine Martens ,porpoises  and over three hundred seals come each year to  breed in the safety of  Island  Roan (seal Island)


Island Roan itself is a magical place, only a mile or so offshore ,but impossible to reach ,its deserted houses seem from a distance as though their owners have just closed the door and left for a walk yet they have been empty decades ,the last of the Islanders leaving in late 1930s ,now only wild sheep walk the roads or sleep in the rooms.

The full history of Island Roan can be found here on the Skerray webpage


The weather can be windy


and theres the odd grey day  and patch or rain ,but so far on every rainy day theres been a rainbow even during the rain itself on one occasion


I have only been here three weeks and so much of Skerray is still waiting to be discovered ,I am sure to add more posts ,,Skerray is part of what is often called Europe last great wilderness ,the very utmost North of Scotland ,somewhere I now feel very privileged to call my home.

For anyone wishing to visit Skerray ,you will always find a warm welcome .



Skerray was recently featured in a post about its amazing fundraising and its kind gesture .


But then, thank God, there is the north-coast village of Skerray.

Local organiser Elizabeth Mackay tells me that they made £830 at last Saturday’s charity lunch in the village hall in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support.

This was a splendid achievement for such a small and remote community. But what really struck me about the lunch was something that I read in the online edition of the Northern Times – that it had been decided that the MacMillan event should also be held in memory of the murdered Yorkshire MP Jo Cox.

Birstall is a very long way from Skerray.

I should imagine that few on the north coast would have been familiar with the west Yorkshire village – and it might well be the case that Jo Cox was relatively unacquainted with Skerray. And yet last Saturday’s gesture was important.

It symbolised simple decency. It symbolised that, even far away, good people abhorred what had happened and grieved for Jo Cox’s family. It was a small gesture but a noble one.

(I found this incredibly moving as Jo Cox had been from the next ward to ours ,we had all been shocked and horrified by her murder)

For its tardis Library


and it has a small part in Titanic websites as it lost one of its sons in that tragedy ,his grave stands overlooking the sands and waters of Torrisdale


If you would like to visit Skerray ,there is a caravan club campsite and if you prefer more comfort there is an excellent  B and B in Skerray called between the rocks and the sea.


and higher on the hill another excellent home with a room


and a croft house


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When is a lawn not a lawn? wildlife friendly alternatives to grass and mowing

A very short post on lawns ,grass lawns are usually high maintenance and very environmentally and for the most part wildlife unfriendly Blackbirds and occasionally thrushes  can often be seen pecking on them.

brown blackbrid

In some rural areas the very lucky gardener might see a green woodpecker clearing his lawn of one of its favourite foods ants.


photo credit

But they are no use to most birds ,bees or butterflies .

Lawns provide a valuable space for children to play on ,dogs to run on to walk on in summer,but for much of the year in most of the UK they are either muddy or in summer baked and very sorry looking indeed .Lawns are very high maintenance and can be expensive ,in houses with water metres they eat into the household budget and not the best surface for chairs  and tables  or benches which often sink into them and leave bare patches were your feet rest .

It makes much more sense to put tables on a paved patio area with planters that can be replanted to provide flowers and maybe even scents all year around .It doesnt need  to be expensive paving can be bought very cheaply and if plants such as thyme or sempervivium


photo credit

are planted in the cracks then you can get by without filling in gaps with concrete .A much more visually interesting “lawn” composed of low growing wild and cultivated creeping plants with winter and spring flowering bulbs is much more interesting ,wildlife friendly and less hard work to maintain with less mowing and watering required .There are  also a number of scented lawn alternatives the most famous being camomile.But thyme and creeping mints also work ,though best if inter planted with stepping stones as none of these will take consistent walking on .Chamomile can also look a little bit unkempt close up but they are very pleasant to walk on and look much better than grass for most of the year.

If you want to have a more wildlife friendly lawn you could take the easier step on encouraging low ground ground covering “weeds” I encourage daisys and low growing clover a lawn full of daisys looks quite pretty and provides insects with food ,while they grown more slowly and are less likely to harbour slugs than lawns.I usually  mow the lawn at least every week and often more in spring to chop off broad leafed “weeds” such as dandelion and docks ,which seems to allow the daisys and clover to take over.I also planted some chamomile along the edges and I let the dandelions have some space bordering the top flower beds away from the house to provide insects some variety.

At least one  sixth of the lawn is now creeping clover which is extremely wildlife friendly and doesn’t need mowing I use this in the planned tropical garden ,which is a fairly small space but the only very sheltered spot in the garden.

.In the top part which has a sometimes boggy corner  I also encouraged moss to grow ,I plan on trying to get some carnivorous plants to grow there though at present its quite tatty looking as an old shed was there until recently.

I left one piece to grow long as a small little meadow area ,next year I will sow some barley and oats  and flax in it and its already got chamomile growing,some daisys I dug up from the main lawn and some wild geraniums ready to plant in it.We are lucky to have a back garden that backs onto a small patch of woodland so this top part is a woodland garden.

back woodland garden view toards arbour

and when sat in it facing towards the mature trees you are surrounded  by bird song and we get speckled wood butterflies among others .I know that its most common to sown poppys and other annuals which look wonderful but which in our garden are just really expensive slug food.

Even should you want to keep your lawn then consider planting it will crocus ,snowdrops and anemones.

anemone blanda

These will cheer up winter and spring without making the lawn look unkempt and die down by the time the lawn can be walked on. Daffodils are a popular choice  but the traditional large daffodils long leaves look quite sorry for themselves for several weeks after the flowers go and daffodils blow over in the wind or get trampled by dogs .I have started to plant  the tiny assorted mini daffodils  or smaller medium sized ones instead,their leaves are much less intrusive.


For areas that are not walked on in corners I plant winter flowering primulas or small winter flowering pansys  and soon plan to plant the much more wildlife friendly primrose .

garden back tree part spring



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A cheats costume guide ,how to make a Marie Antionette ,Georgian ,18thc ,colonial gown ,jacket or outfit

A quick guide to making  an 18thc outfit.All you will need  to make any of the 18thc outfits shown is a needle ,thread, cellotape scissors,something to make small holes with for the lacing cord .


This is quite a long post because theres a huge choice of dresses which need different amounts of fabric ,trim and time ,some also need more under layers than others ,so I have included a lot of information about styles and needs before the actual dress instructions because the choice of style and fabric will from the start influence what you need.


For all the dresses you will cord or narrow ribbon ,,narrow curtain tie back ,upholstery piping cord works best it needs to be shoelace thickness or slightly thicker but you can use ribbon.Its quite cheap so its best to buy more than you need,4 to 6 metres because you want enough so that when the cords in thew holes you dont need to take it out to get into the dress just pull it wider apart  ,though for most dresses  if you really cant find that much cord you can get away with three if you absolutely need to .

back bustle dr4sss

For all dresses you will need  clubbing or evening bodice thats boned at the front and ideally at the sides ,the boning needs to be good not too floppy , wit and wisdom ,top shop ,next and principles all sell them or charity shops will have evening dresses,bridesmaid dresses,prom dresses etc .I doesnt matter what the fabric is as it will be hidden under your chosen dress fabric .if you have a choice try to choose  one with a neckline the shape you want  to save cutting it to get the shape you want and try to find a fabric thats close to the colour of your fabric as its hard to cover dark fabric with pale  and when you wash them the bodice fabric may run and discolour the dress .If your not able to find a similar colour  use a lighter colour as its easier to cover pale fabrics with dark .The bodice can even be denim .Thick fabric works best .The bodice doe not need a special shaped front anything thats waist length will work fine .

wit and wisdom denim bodice

You will need something to make the dress stick out ,this will vary depending on the weight of the fabric you use and also the style of dress  for wide styles a cheap bridal hoop will do which you can squash to shape.i needs at least three hoops  and the more the better a cheap one is around £7 on ebay from china ,they take around 30 days to arrive.Uk bought ones are around £15 they can get mishaped easily , more expensive cotton ones are better they cost £3o to £40  from the USA  but keep their shape and take 14 days to arrive,charity shops may have one.Hoops are awkward to store unless you have a spare room or big cupboard


For many dresses you can use a  stiff net underskirt,some you can use a bridal store bought one,these are also cheap and easy to find on ebay ,but you need one with lots of net layers


Theres also petticoats which have both hoops and net ,you can chop off bits of net from one place on the petticoat and sew it on others  or theres petticoats with lots of ruffles which you can again chop off one place and sew on another to get the right shape for an idea of the shapes available


If you want a very very wide one its easy to make but takes time ,the one below  took around 10 metres  at £1 a metre sewn onto a cheap underskirt  and is just gathered using a running stitch which is where you just push the needle through fabric is a straight line  but it took several days and takes up a lot of space to store (.I will give full instructions later ).For everything except heavy fabrics and very wide skirted gowns this works well.

side tulle pet

for some styles you will just need a padded roll of fabric for which you will need a pillow or cushion cut to  the shape below or two rectangular narrow cushions to tie on either side  .These are easy to store but dont work for heavy fabrics you can use these and a net petticoat and that often works well.



When you look through the images below and choose the style, try to buy the structural support first because it will help you work out how much fabric you need  ,if you cant afford the time or cant find a bridal hooped petticoat ,then pick a style you can wear using a cushion.Also consider how your getting to your event ,its pretty easy to sit down and even walk around in very wide skirts like the court mantua as you just need to go through doors sideways  but if your too wide for your car seats then thats going to be a more or less insolvable problem ,likewise the dresses that stick out at the back can be very uncomfortable on long journeys as you cant lean back ,its probably also not safe if you were to crash .

Lastly  to make the dresses you need fabric which can be old curtains or duvets , your after something that will look like embroidered silk ,satin ,damask or at a pinch flowered cotton,You can usually buy striped curtain or duvet fabric and Chinese brocade from fabric stalls or curtain shops.For most outfits you need quite big curtains ,try to find some that are at least as long as the length from above your navel to the floor with a few cms /inches spare  if your making a polonaise ,robe a la anglais or caraco jacket and skirt .For the sacque back dresses you need much longer ones ,they need to be long enough to go from your shoulders to the floor .

Choosing your style

I have added some original dress photos to give you an idea of the kind of fabric and the kind of suport layer you will need,just because something needs a bridal hoop wont mean that its hard to make ,they can be just as easy as some other style .I have also put names of the style of gown so you will know which style you like best.Dont worry about remembering the different names I have provided them because it makes it easier to choose the style but also it means you will know what to use for google image search for further ideas

18thc pink gown

Polonaise gown  ,or its possibly a Pet en lair jacket and skirt /petticoat ,,skirts at this time are usually called petticoats even when they are on the outside.This is easy to make but needs hoops or purpose bought panniers

Below is a pet en l air jacket its like a cut off sacque back dress, if you make a  mess of your sacque back skirt length you can make one of these any length at all very short or almost as long as the skirt of a dress and they can be the same colour as the skirt or different  ,they are also good practice for a sacque back ,equally is you mess up the lacing cord holes or the back of your dress this will hide any mistakes .These were very popular everyday wear

pet en lier2

You can use a net petticoat or cushion to support this style


This style will need a hoop or panniers

Another pet en l air below  you may be able to get away with cushions or net for this depending on how heavy the fabric is .This outfit actually appears in Beatrix potters tailor of Gloucester ,Beatrix potter visited the V and A museum to get ideas for her characters costumes

pet en lair.jpg



Chintz polonaise style gown and a quilted petticoat .this will need a big cushion and net petticoat made in this shape

back tulle bustle

you can use lightweight throws or quilts for quilted  petticoats ,many poorer people did this to make themselves a petticoat from a worn out quilt .Theres a lot of different styles of polonaise gown but they are all basically gowns with draped up sides,some made the drapes by pulling up the fabric though gaps in the waistline of a dress like the robe a la anglais ,so were always meant to be draped .If you dont have enough fabric for long enough or very full skirts you can make a polonaise as its doesnt necessarily need to have skirts that touch the floor as they will be ruched up anyway


The gowns above are sacque backs ,sometimes also called Robe a la francais,you will need fairly sturdy hoop skirts or purpose bought panniers


A court Mantua ,this is a royal wedding gown , Court mantuas  are very richly decorated very wide gowns ,the very wide dresses in museums are all like to be court mantuas ,people in everyday life didnt wear skirts this wide .You can make a fairly wide one of these using a bridal hoop will two side pillows as well to get the height


Caraco jacket and a petticoat /skirt ,these we a very popular everyday wear outfit ,like the pet en lair they can be the same colour as the skirt or different.You could use a net petticoat or ordinary shaped bridal hoop for this because you can alter the shape of bridal hoops by moving the metal hoops ,theres a hole in each layer to let you do this and you just slide the metal hoop  to and fro


Caraco jacket and skirt (above) ,this is cotton and Ikea do duvets that are an almost perfect match for the fabric above/You could use either a net petticoat or a bridal hoop for this a very cheap hoop would do

caracop jacket pettiocat

This is a slightly different jacket and skirt,this needs a big cushion ,which looks much better with a piece of stiff net sewn to it.

caracop jacket

short jacket brilliant if you can only afford or find a small amount of expensive fabric

robe a la angalis vam

Robe a la anglais  you can use a bridal hoop squashed to shape or possibly cushions and net


A court gown or possibly a wedding gown,this needs either a bridal hoop with or without  cushions  or specially bought panniers ,court dresses are always heavily embroidered ,sometimes jewelled and often very wide indeed,the fact this is fairly narrow means its possibly a wedding or ball gown.

court matnai kensignton

Court mantua backs  above and below


Mantua are very early dresses and are easy to make  in the cheats style ,though hard to make an accurate one , they were  a kind of gown that had a long train which was then folded origami like at the back to create the impression of a jacket at the front ,its possible  to make a fake version using just a caraco jacket style top over a open fronted dress .My outfit below used fake silk damask from ebay and a piece of quilted style curtain /cushion fabric from a curtain shops bargain basket ,it cost around £50 to make including the trim .If you want to give the impression of absolute accuracy you could then make another long strip of fabric for the skirt back and fold it like a mantua but sew it on as a separate piece.

The dress below has pocket panniers and cushions to give the skirt its shape

court mantuwe.jpg

You can also sometimes find very lavish looking Asian fabrics or old wedding or party lenghas  or wedding saris ,though you need to find two large saris or use the lengha for just the bodice and frill around the bottom of the bodice

red court mantua

silk sacque back met

The dress above is a sacque back as is the one below they need hoops or panniers


18th red back

Robe a la anglais ,this can use either a hoop or a net petticoat and in this style you could probably use a bought bridal net petticoat,if you make one of these its possible to alter it later into a polonaise gown just by gathering up the skirts  ,its also an option if you make a mistake in the skirts

18thc red gown

This a robe a la anglais style gown ,,these open front styles can have a very full gathered skirt almost all the way around or a much narrower one sewn much further back almost at the side of your hips so they are a very flexible style if your now sure of your fabric amounts

18thc blue white

sacque back gown

18thc blue gown

Robe a la Anglais quite a hard shape to make the underlayers for ,it needs either very narrow side panniers and a back cushion or a big curved cushion  or two curved side cushions and a stiff petticoat


Green round gown this needs either narrow panniers or possibly cushions and net if you use a light fabric  ,a round gown is just a robe a la anglais dress thats not open at the front but the skirt /petticoat is the same all the way round ,this is quite a good one if you only have time to find one kind of fabric.

Zone gown below is the robe a la anglais style but with a crossing over front that is or gives the impression of being a jacket .sometimes worn with a belt as below but usually alone,this skirt shape could use a bridal net petticoat

zone gown.jpg

Below is a different kind of jacket.


This is a Perriot jacket ,these are a great choice if you only have a small amount of one fabric ,a short sleeves one can be made for most dresses sizes under uk sz 12 with a metre or so of fabric,The one above can be made using the instructions for making a dress bodice .The one below can also be made that way but you need to cut two almost triangular strips of fabric and sew them onto the side of the bodice to create the impression that its a jacket ,if you add wide neckline frill or collar no one can tell that its not a jacket ,its slightly hard but not as hard as it sounds and nowhere near as hard as making an actual jacket .

All these could be worn with just a bridal net petticoat.


Notes on fabrics and trims

If you look at the images above you can see that while theres often a lot of trimming you can avoid  need to find lacy and ribbon trims if you buy more fabric and make little frills and pleats from the same fabric as your dress or a different fabric that goes well ,if you buy some pinking shears which are scissors that cut decorative zig zag edges this will cut down your sewing and the time taken by a lot of hours or days even.For the other trims you can see, try using old lace from table cloth edging ,good quality lace or net curtains for the sleeves,old pillow cases to make the white wide neck min shawls or as for the trims more of the same or contrasting fabric used in your dress.


You dont need a sewing machine ,in fact it wont be much use for most of the work,theres no pattern to work with or worry about and no specialist skills if you can hold an needle and thread you can make the gowns.The only technical terms are tacking ,,which is just sewing loosely , pleating  and gathering gathering you can do by running your needle and thread though the fabric making loose stitches then gathering them up by pulling the thread .The you stitch these in place.

gathered top

skirt and wiastcoat

you can tweek the way the gathers hang by rearranging them along the length of the thread pleating is basically putting one piece  of fabric over another is assorted ways,these are pleats

queen victorians wedding gown on

I will cover how to make every style  even the complicated looking but easy Robe a la francaise or sacque back gown.The one below was made using the cheats guide method ,a commercial bought bodice ,a vintage hat and some panniers made from a bridal hoop


.This type gown takes time to do and needs trimmings and detailing but isnt at at all hard and in fact is more forgiving of mistakes than many other dresses because the back is hidden under the train.

sacq back back

For this and all the styles you can add frills to hide any mistakes ,the detailing below is just bought ready pleated satin ribbon with bought pre made roses.You can buy both from ebay or trimmings stores ,Bough from chine a dozen bows or roses can cost £1 if your willing to keep bidding until you get one cheap ,rolls of pleated ribbon can be between £5 and £20 depending on how much you buy .

pink det

These bought roses and pleated ribbon can make a dress look amazing ,I made a copy of the gown below quite quickly using bought pink trims

blue dress

A sacque back dress does use a lot of fabric and theres not really anyway around it ,a very wide long pair of curtains or ten metres is probably the minimum you can get away with and 12 or more is ideal if your going to use strips of the fabric to make frills and flounces . The back pleating needs at a bare minimum one metre  in width though this doesn’t look very good and is very arkward to work with


It needs at least two metres for the back pleats to look good and ideally two and a half.In addition the back piece is a very long piece of fabric because it goes from almost shoulder level .

saque back narrow panniers

The under petticoat which has the front piece showing will use maybe three metres but not all needs to be the front fabric you can use anything even old sheeting for most of it and just use good fabric for the front.

This dress also  uses a lot of frilled trim at least ten metres if you want a frilled bodice ,neckline and sleeves and for a simple skirt frill along just the front centre It needs 15 or more  if your going to add it to the skirts  or make designs.


If you use a rich deep coloured fabric with a pattern you can cut down a little on trims


The Robe a la Anglais and round gown

This needs much less fabric than a sacque back  a fairly wide pair of curtains long enough to reach just below your feet from your navel or 6 metres will make a decent gown but 7 would be ideal.The gown below is a round gown ,ie closed front robe a la anglais ,this is an easy  and quick style as you dont need to make a separate skirt to go under it but you do need to get the hem right .

marieant 014

It also Takes the least trimming .

The  polonaise gown,this is probably the easiest of any historical costumes to make because you dont even have to have the hem perfectly straight or the right length as  its going to be  gathered up and if you make a mess of the neck line you can add a wide shawl or length of cotton ,mistakes on the bodice you can cover with frills .

This is also more flexible on fabric you can just about get away with shorter curtains or  5 metres  of fabric  or two single duvet covers,one for the skirt for for the dress if you are clever doing the ruched up sides

polonaise gown,

The other outfits covered are the Caraco Jacket

This uses less still ,with a short skirt part you can use a single curtain or ex  display length  of fabric from a store ,single duvet cover or odd shaped off cut of fabric ,it uses only one or two metres or three  depending on the skirt length ,long skirts will use more


carco jacket

blue caraco

The pet en lair

This is like a chopped off Sacque back this uses 3 metres or 4 if your having a long skirt part

rose silk pet en lair

pet en lair back

The  fake court mantua, this looks like it uses a lot of fabric but is actually quite economical you can use just 6 though 7 is better .The front part of the skirt can be a different fabric to the rest so you can use something more expensive or elaborate

evil queen  panto weekend

Though I have given a rough idea about layers I will go into more detail on how to make or where to buy them below.

I will also cover hats,the one below uses silk flowers and a pound shop childrens hat



These  possibly the hardest bit of these dresses and outfits  because they have to hang straight over the side hoops,panniers or cushions ,but if you not using wide hoops this isnt a major problem and they are incredibly easy in other respects as they just tie closed and are a long tube of fabric sewn onto ribbon or similar.

pink c d skitt

If you really dont want to sew

You can also make an 18thc outfit without doing any sewing at all ,just buy a frilly blouse ,the one below came from a charity shop ,,an embroidered waistcoat the one below is pastimes off ebay and a very wide skirt,or make a skirt using my cheats guide on Victorian under layers or any cheats dress guide  .You can buy a cheap tricorn pirate or fancy dress hat very cheaply on ebay.use a cheap bridal hooped petticoat and squash it slightly so it sticks out sideways more than all around


You could also try to find a jacket with an 18thc style to go over this to create a 8thc style riding outfit


Though the waistcoat and jackets below are on Victorian style outfits they work as well if you use an 18thc style skirt ,a frilly collar and a tricorn hat ,,the three cornered pirate style hats ,the red outfit above has one of these hats shown with it ,you want fairly straight waistcoats and jackets that have a narrower waist and flared bottom


victorian mourning outfit

.I have used as much details as possible for the following instructions but unfortunately I   had to  use photos from other cheats guides on how to make  the outfits . I am sorry none have more images or  a photographic dress diary as I can no longer sew.

The main requirements are all here though .The only things   you need which is not covered is how to make the panniers that make some of the  dress skirts stand out each side ,but  you can make a reasonably satisfactory shape using a bought bridal hoop then squashing it flat sideways this will gave a lower waistline but otherwise the right shape ,you could also roll up the waist until the hoop looks more like panniers then stitch it in place your after this shape.This is the shape your aiming for .


https://thequintessentialclothespen.com/category/project-journal-1770-court-gown/ gives the more historicaly accurate method for making panniers

Bough hoops work  pretty well these can be bought quite easily online the only problem is stopping the hoop being uneven at one side or the other but if you add ties inside the hoop at either side to tie it close to your hips and pull it in a bit that usually works fine.

inside panniers

This image is from the following blog page which also gives excellent advice on underlayers


You can also  use a petticoat with fewer hoops if you make short panniers again using ties inside but in this case you will have to cut the top off the petticoat and sew the remaining bottom part with its hoops onto a piece of fabric ,ribbon or trim  make a waistband

short panniers

Most of my dresses I wore for work  used what are called pocket panniers,which are lighter but much harder to make if you dont have access to boning and some sewing practice.They are also harder to keep in place I used to have to safety pin the waist ties of mine to my corset.These can be bought from online though its only overseas sellers who have most of the styles.There are instructions on all the panniers in the link below

pannier style 1 (4 of 7)



Step one

Underlayers .

Women would have worn something very much like this,a heavily boned corset/stays,a chemise under skirt then,hoops tacked on frilled sleeves and over the hoops another underskirt


glen close


But for the cheats costume underwear you can get away with almost no sewing and a lot simpler layers

For any of these outfits you will need at least two under layers a chemise and a corset and something to make the skirts stick out ,a hoop etc  .its not essential but you also ideally  need a long petticoat or underskirt  for under your hoop and even better another one for over it if your making a skirt or dress from very lightweight fabric because otherwise you dress might snag on the hoop or the hoop boning show through  .


The chemise sounds a specialist item but really isnt you could use a strappy nightdress like the one below

chemise BHS

To make your own is also cheap and easy ,it just needs a piece of fabric long enough to go to knew length or just above  and wide enough to go around you then two pieces of ribbon,trim or lace for straps The cheats guide link for making a chemise is below the photo ,for an 18thc outfit you just need the most basic straight sleeveless one with straps.

chemise lace straps


The reason  for wearing this layer is because otherwise your corset will rub on your skin and get hot and sweaty ,also the lacing will almost certainly nip your back and the hoop will rub your legs.Its also much more comfortable to sit on that most of the gown fabrics .

The next layer is a corset/stays.

You need this to give you a good shape but also to pin your other layers onto and to protect you from the skirt etc digging in



Replica stays are very expensive and for most purposes outside of the re enactment community you dont really need them,you do need a sturdy corset though ideally with a steel busk front ,the one below has steel bones and is available online from ebay etc for between £15 and £30 depending on if you buy direct from china or from a UK seller,,Chinese garment sizes are much smaller than most other countries ,I am a uk sz 14 and need an XXL OR XXXL  corset usually .You need the corset to be at least 2 inches /5cms and its better if its 4 inches narrower than your waist.It needs to be tight enough to fit very snuggly so it wont slide around   .If you buy one thats too big you can just pinch a bit of fabric with your finger and thumb and sew along the edge and keep doing this until its the right size


Your corset needs to give you a roughly  18th shape so try to find something thats less curvy  if at all possible .You can use a cheap chain store corset from for example Primark but I dont advise this if your making a heavy dress because the weight of the skirt will dig in at the waist and the bonings not stiff enough to give the right shape.

turquise corset

The outfit below has a primark chain store style corset under it.

polonaise gown

The Mantua outfit has a steel boned corset

court mantuwe


The  corset and the chemise are the only essential layers but its much better to have two more an under petticoat like the one above ,this  skirt  can be used under a 18thc gown and ,instructions for making it are in the cheats guide to Victorian under layers here


If you are a uk sz 12 or under its often possible to buy antique ones cheaply or you could use a modern peasant skirt if it made from light weight cotton.

The over layer is a skirt to put over your panniers and can be made using the same Victorian layers guide or again you could buy a modern very wide long skirt made of nay fabric.

Unless you cut and tailor the underskirt its likely to be a bit uneven at the hemline once its  over the hoop but as long as its lying flat this doesnt matter as no ones going to see it.If you find you made the skirt too narrow just cut a split up the back .

Stage two the skirt /over petticoat

For most outfits you will need a skirt ,this can be all the same fabric as below ,which is essential if its all going to be visible or a mix of a cheap and expensive fabric.For the skirt you will need around three metres of fabric


Or you can use one piece of embroidered or jewelled or quilted  or contrasting fabric and two metres of cheaper fabric which will be hidden under your dress

purple pett


This cheaper fabric for the back can be anything light weight ,satin silk ,taffeta ,cotton even old sheets You can also make the front panel  or whole skirt the same fabric as your gown

gold and purple 044

I also used to economise on the number of under skirts/petticoat skirts I had by sewing two panels of different fabric together to make a skirt  I could wear this with either side showing to create the impression I had two different skirts,you can do with is Tudor and Elizabethan gowns too and I have an example of an Elizabethan one below

flora pet red ruff st

white sleeve golden pet

This skirt is very easy to cut out ,its just a long tube of fabric  ,you then sew this together along its long edge with a two gaps one either side at your hip so you can fasten it.

You can either make it from a length of fabric and cut and hem it your self which would make it easier to get the hem level right because you can just get someone to  cut around the bottom when you have it on .But the easier  and quicker way if your making a domed skirt or not very wide hoops or if you dont need all the skirt to show just the front is to  use a pair of curtains because you will already have a hem at the bottom ,the skirt below was made from  curtains

pink c d skitt

If you have spare money you can avoid making a hem if you buy fabric which has a usable edge,Tartan kilt fabric usually has a straight finished edge.

carco jacket

Making the rest of the Skirt is quick and easy but its best to know how the original skirts were made and what you need to watch out for first

The skirts on 18thc gowns were cut and pleated to give a straight hem line once over the hoops which is slightly harder than making a normal domed shaped skirt .I have not always managed to get it right.

blue easter gowb

you dont need to worry about  this if you only need the front showing because you can get around this by having a very  wide skirt with a back split at hemline level so that its only the hidden back and sides which will be less even , I often used different gowns skirts under my 18thc gowns and just hide the uneven sides under the dress.

18thc pl cap

To make the Skirt waist band and pleats or gathers 

Before you gather or pleat the skirt check the very top of the post to see how your chosen outfits skirt looks if its fuller at the back or sides or if the front is flat then gather it in that shape using a tacking stitch.

As the skirt is  going to fasten 18thc style ,theres no need to worry about measuring the waist exactly as you tie it closed  and the waist lines level is adjustable making it easier to have a straight bottom at the front .because it  fastens by having two side fastenings  with long ties at the waist .Like two sewn together aprons


18th Century Petticoats

It sounds  hard but dont be put off  is actually easy when you see it done  ,you  pull one part up of the skirt up and tie it right around your waist then pull the other part up and tie that ,the guide below shows this and gives  excellent dressing instructions ,though dont worry about the details it gives on layers etc .





The main thing is that the waist ties/ribbon  have to be long enough on both pieces of the skirt to go right around you and tie .You can  either turn the ribbon over at the top so it covers the cut edges of the fabric and sew it down  which make a neat edge or just leave it .If you are unsure about anything ,check the link below and  scroll down the cheats guide to Victorian layers it gives the waistline instructions for skirts with photos



The actual dress or caraco jacket .

For this you need

A commercial bodice ,clubbing top ,bridal top etc with a neckline roughly the shape you want and with proper straps unless you happy to make the shoulder straps .It needs to be boned and be either an 18thc shape or able to be cut into one

wit and wisdom bodice


To make this into an 18thc shape you need to make the front longer ,you can easily do this by cutting  out bits from the sides and sewing  them to the front in the required shape,

bodice three


.The front can be very long or fairly short depending on the length and  shape you want.Rounded or pointed or square .

18thc blue gown

robe a la angalis vam

bodice top layer

If you cant make the front long enough using just the cut off bits of the bodice then it doesnt matter as you can make it seem longer adding frills once its finished ,though the bodice front below is actually long you cant see the front for all the frills so its perfectly possible to fake the length is you use frills and flounces

mantiua kens

sb front

or jewels

bodice front

You can leave the back any shape though being longer works best to help keep your skirt in the right place and looks better if the backs going to be showing

mantua gold back

The only essential part of shaping the bodice is that you  need the side to be high enough for the hoop to fit under it and the skirts to billow out.

After you have cut the shape

saque back narrow panniers


Next cut off any fastenings at the back ,eg a zip or buttons ,if its a zip you can use the metal pieces for boning to make the back lacing tougher so keep them to one side

bodice stage 2

Now you need to cover the bodice ,start at the front and put a piece of fabric flat  across the entire front and stitch it down flat finsh by turning it over at the top and bottom

bodice inside

The front should now look like this

If you have a piece of pretty fabric ,cushion etc with embroidery like the one above it makes a really good front piece for the gown.

cavailer gown

Next lay another piece of fabric on top of this one with its outer ,good side resting on the outer good side of the bit you have already sewn on tack it down fold it back to make sure its ok then sew it down properly ,use double thread as its quicker and makes stronger seams more easily ,do this at the other side as well ,try to make this side the same width and sewn at the same angle  as first. Leave a generous overlap .

spencer 12

The angle you sew the front two pieces on will give the style to your dress and for 18thc styles this usually means they have to be at sharp angles or almost totally straight depending on your bodices style.


18thc pink gown

red jewled caraco jacket


they should ideally be both the same angle and length but its not a disaster if they are slightly off you can cover them with frills to hide any mistakes .

detailing bodice

Now continue adding panels covering the bodice  until you reach the back at both sides.When you have sewn the last piece on at the back fold it over and stitch down to the bodice fabric making sure you dont go right through and sew into the fabric you have used to recover your bodice


bodice boning back

If you find that your bodice is too small and doesnt meet at the back you can make it bigger by adding another strip of fabric in just the same way but double folding it then stitching it to the bodice.In both cases dont stitch the top and or the bottom closed as  if possible you need to add something to make the edge stronger,it only takes a few minutes and is very easy.  .If  you did have a bit of zipper  that you cut from the back earlier thread this down the back of the bodices last piece ,if you dont have a zipper ,a cable tie works equally well or if  you dont have either and the dress back will be hidden you can use a piece of cord .

Later you need to add a short strip of fabric inside the bodice along one edge at the back which will flop over underneath the lacing so theres no gap to show your chemise when you lace up the dress.You can either sew it in place which is best or just use a piece of fabric which will be kept in place by the cord.

back bst

Also  later you will need make lacing holes along the length of the back using a bradel or skewer.Make them at intervals your happy with  ,when you come to put the pacing cord in cellotape the end of each piece  of cord and use a pencil  to push it through the holes ,you can use any style of lacing though the fish bone style lacing I used on the green dress looks better than the criss cross one .To do this lacing  you start at the top with to level holes then go over and under .To start push the cord from inside the dress out then from outside in ,sound weird but its easy once you have done it once.If your really good at technical things you could give spiral lacing a try .http://www.festiveattyre.com/p/the-zen-of-spiral-lacing.html

To return to the bodice you should now have a covered but sleeveless bodice front ,to make sleeves just cut two rectangles of fabric wide enough to go around your arm and fit into the bodices arm hole and long enough to be elbow length  or wrist length.

then sew them up one edge to make a tube with a small gap unsewn at the top edge because this will prevent you from struggling to make it fit the bodice arm hole .Now put the tube on your arm and work out if its the right length  and if you are confident enough you can cut it to fit your arm slightly by pulling in the tube tight against you skin ,,though dont make it so tight that when its sewn together again its uncomfortable .When your happy with it turn under the bottom edge and sew/hem it ,it doesnt need to be neat it will be hidden by either trimming or frills,you can add frills or flounces now or later.The sleeves below are Tudor but show what your aiming for with longer sleeves.





Now fix the tube to the dress bodice, start at the top and tack it on when you reach the underarm if the sleeve fits the gap properly your fine and can sew up the part of the sleeve top you left unsewn but if not you can move the un sewn remaining  edges  of the sleeve to make it fit better .This will work fine without the sleeve looking uneven as long its its not more than 4 inches or so because your going to be adding frills and flounces to the sleeve .

For a caraco jacket  or a mantua you now need to cut a long strip of fabric or two shorter strips and sew them onto the bottom of the bodice gathered or pleated where you want them to be fullest  If you using an already  hemmed part of the curtain this is a really quick step,you can make them any length ,very short as the the outfit below .(the oufits made with pre quilted silk and theres a cheaper taffeta version of the fabric ,this is great fabric to use for effect as it looks as though you did all the decoration your self )

quilted mantua

You can also make it very long ,this works well for winter outfits if you use a wool skirt and velvet

carco jacket

gold skirt eb

blue caraco

To add the skirt part ,for polonaise gowns,round gowns and any gown thats not got wide panniers .



Cut a long strip of fabric  or two shorter strips ,again if possible utilising the hem of any curtains etc.You wont be sewing these into a tube because the front will be open to show your underskirt  .Gather these around you  in the shape to suit your style of gown ,check the images at the top  of the post and do a google image search for  back ,side ,front and waist images of your chosen style .Though its easy and quick to do this part how you gather the skirt will influence how the dress looks .Some dresses have almost no pleats or gathers


While some have lots of very deep gathers or pleats

18th red back

Some have more fabric at the back or sides

pet en lier2

Some dress have skirts sewn at the center of the waistband some are set further back again do a google image search for your chosen gown

robe a la angalis vam

18thc blue gown

When your happy with the style tack the pleats together and then sew this directly onto your dress.If your making a sacque back which uses a lot of fabric you can economiseon the skirt width  by leaving the back with very few pleats or if you have almost run out of fabric flat and add a split at the hem level this is going to be covered by your train so it will be very unlikely to show .

Slightly harder Skirts 

To make a very wide skirted Mantua or sacque back you will need to pleat the sides more accurately and sew part of  the skirt together at each side .To do this you need to first pleat it then sew the two pleated parts together so the pleats overlap and match at each side,its quite hard to explain and  awkward to do and a bit complicated ,I always found it a difficult to get both sides matching and had to keep redoing them  so I would advise against it if  its your first costume or even if its your second or third  but if you can master it then you can make very wide spectacular looking skirts

mantua blue

The photos of original skirts may help .

sacque back waist

and my version

me harry panto


I will add the second part of the post shortly.

This will cover how to make your gown  into a sacque back,,though if your in a rush you basisicaly just pleat a long strip of fabric and sew it to the back neckline of your dress from shoulder to shoulder making sure the neckline is wide enough for you to get into the dress,,a more complicated way is a pull across panel but this is awkward to put on and keep on   ,how to make the ruched up skirts for the polonaise gown again if your in a rush simply pinch a piece of skirt at the side around knee level and pin this to your waistband ,,not perfect but works   ,how to make your gown look like a zone gown ,again in a rush you sew two curved triangles of fabric to either side of your bodice and add ties

ferndean ian

,how to make the bodice look like a perriott jacket which is essentially the same as making the zone gown ,hats again for those in rush you can buy a berger hat online and just add ribbons  ,caps ,shoes again if your in a hurry you can buy shoes like the gold ones from most Asian clothing stores, these came from Bombay stores in Bradford  and neckline kerchiefs,capes  and gloves if your in a hurry for these you can use my Victorian  and Tudor accessories guides but use more 18thc style fabric and trims

shoes c.jpg

green colonial gown

18thc pl cap

pink gloves

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Plants that kill ,what not to plant in your garden

I recently bought some seeds of an amazing looking plant VERATRUM CALIFORNICUM,it had interesting leaves and seemed a great cottage garden plant however when I looked up its cultivation I was absolutely horrified ,its not only extremely toxic to humans and animals ,so much so that even breathing the pollen can cause serious problems ,its also deadly to Bees and other insects .




(this is quite a useful database but some entries are a little bit over cautious ,in this case it is pretty accurate).

I therefore thought a short list of plants toxic to wildlife  ,pets and humans  or plants likely to cause problems in other ways such as skin blistering ,would be handy .It would be more or less impossible to grow nothing toxic in your garden and most “poisonous ” plants are pretty hard to hurt yourself with so I haven’t included  the traditional ones such as foxgloves which would require a fair bit of carelessness to cause harm to humans and are excellent bee plants .I also havent included plants so rare as to be unlikely to cause problems ,only  commonly grown plants that are a major problem for bees ,butterflies and other animals or an easily caused health  risk that has frequent cases eg plants that cause similar problems to stinging nettles.


Rhododendrons and Azaleas  ,almost all  the common species are toxic to many bee species and all rhododendrons can cause Honey to be mildly toxic to humans.Native Irish  honey bees die within hours of visiting bushes  it also kills miner bees.Most bumble bee species seem to be safe from death but may be having other problems that are not as easily observed .Where bee species are not poisoned the honey produced from too much foraging on Rhodendrons can cause problems to the hive or humans .Their leaves can also cause poisoning to pets and livestock who might ingest them ,but mostly they are included in the list because they are widely grown ,popular in garden centres and because of their catastrophic effect on Bees.

Lupins ,cause problems for bees that are still being researched ,they seem to cause a reduction in the birth rate and also cause few malkes to be produced ,a few garden lupins are probably not going to cause problems but growing  them as green manures and allowing them to flower may be a problem .


Daphne ,all Daphne plants are extremely poisonous to humans and animals  and many also contain skin irritants ,they are all brilliant bee plants and most have beautiful scents,I use them to the back of flower beds where their berries or contact with leaves or sap  wont be a hazard  

Oleander toxic to animals  and humans but also to  butterflies and bees ,usually causing complete hive death.

All  true lilies and almost anything with lily in its name are potential poison hazards , day lilies ,turks cap lilies are a major hazard  to pets just tiny amounts of Lily can harm animals and  it takes very little to cause death especially  for small dogs and cats,Lily of the Valley is poisonous to humans and pets, Its probably good to avoid low growing lilies if you have pets or have cats or other similar sized animals coming into your garden.Some lilies are also useless bee plants as they have been bred to be pollen free to avoid the problems associated with staining fro, lily pollen.Plants with Lily in their name,these are almost always poisonous,Lily of the valley ,Nile lilies etc ,but you tend to have to eat quite a bit to cause human poisoning but if you have small children or pets growing them somewhere hard to reach is probably safest ,I grow lily of the valley in a high  narrow flower bed set into a wall

Anything with Hellebore in its name is likely to be toxic and several are skin irritants but likewise many make excellent bee plants ,I grow Hellebores in wall set beds and leave them alone ,Monkshood a really beautiful tall plant is an excellent bee plant but also extremely poisonous ,one of the few garden plants to have fairly regular reports of death attached to it ,though few are from accidental eating of parts of the plant,,all parts are toxic ,many  cases are deliberate poisoning .

Aconites ,,again anything with aconite in its name is likely to be toxic and a skin irritant ,another group of plants with regular reported cases of poisoning .

Angles trumpets can cause brood death in bees .

Amaryllis ,toxic to bees and pets, also a skin irritant.

Plants that cause skin problems

Almost every plant can cause a problem for some one or other but there are a few which are a likely to cause problems to most people and these are the only ones included below


Rue,I love Rue ,its got pretty leaves and is a good bee plant ,but it has an unfortunate downside,it produces a fairly nasty  skin irritant ,contact with the plant will cause a reaction with sunlight causing at the very least itchiness but also blisters.

Giant Hogweed

deep painful and long lasting blisters and sensitivity to sunlight ,this is a very common reaction to even tiny amounts of sap



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Devon butterflies ,a little shop of horrors

As my regular blog readers  know I have been making my city garden more wildlife friendly ,I had toyed with releasing butterfly larvae of the comma butterfly ,once common here but now absent .It was at this point my paths crossed with that of Devon butterflies.



They seemed reputable and I assumed wrongly they must have links to two more reputable and respected Devon butterfly organisations .I  first started to be concerned when I heard of how unpleasant they were to clients,answering even simple enquiries with sarcastic and abusive emails  ,that would have been enough to deter me  from buying from them but  after doing a little research worse was to come . I had not realised that there were such unethical ,cruel and ignorant people still running businesses.

The owner has clearly and enthusiastically   advocated killing song birds and protected species,by laying mouse traps or catching them and wringing their necks .He explained on his business site how best to do this using mousetraps.

dead blue tit

(photo is not related to the incident but is part of an excellent post advising against using the same traps were they can be a danger to birds http://earthfriendlygardener.net/2012/02/24/garden-bird-winter-peanut-caught-trapped-feeder-friendly-making-mousetrap-wildlife-killed/).

heres a few quotes from the companies site.

” if you have trouble with birds pecking holes into the sleeves usually blue tits or great tits,these birds must be killed or they will keep returning and teach their young the same practice ,just catch them and wring their necks ”


Robins ,wrens  and blackbirds which despite being some of our most beautiful songbirds  he called “pest species “They are in fact legally protected species but also far from being in any way pests they are  hugely beneficial to gardeners by eating pests  and their beautiful song brightens up even the most urban areas .He suggests laying mousetraps to kill Wrens


Blackbirds and robins



They company’s response when told that this was illegal was not an apology or even a retraction of the advice”


“A company spokesman said the information “should have been labelled a tip” rather than as advice.

Devon butterflies also tell  customers not to listen to conservation groups or local butterfly recording groups and to ignore the law

This site states

All species listed on this site are suitable for release into the wild to increase numbers and to introduce new genes into existing populations, except those not on the British List marked*. Take no notice of Butterfly Conservation and Moth recording groups who say this is wrong or against the law, which it is not.

Yet again and rather shockingly for someone who is in business breeding animals Devon butterflies are wrong

It is illegal to release into the wild any non uk native species or any species that is not a UK visitant ,the fine is  £1000 (or more) and possible prison sentence

( http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1377)

Its also incredibly cruel as the site sells several rare species who would ordinarily live specialised niche environments such as the rainforest and which will clearly die if released .

He calls the UK butterfly conservation organisations idiots and liars

Butterfly Conservation have just released a publication, The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 and the verdict again is more lies and propaganda from a bunch of idiots who don’t know what they are talking about.

Despite the evidence of every other organisation ,group or government body Devon butterflies claims that butterfly species are not declining.

“don’t know what they are talking about claiming most species are in decline when they are clearly not.

The truth is most species are increasing but they do not want to admit it.”

I was at a loss to understand why someone who makes a great deal of money from selling butterflies at least a third of which is to people who want to release them into the wild ,would want to claim that theres no need to help boost butterflies numbers,,but then it occurred to me that unless you have a huge breeding stock of all the British butterflies and can control when they are laying eggs ,turning into pupae ,emerging then you will need to “import” stock from the wild or at the very least provide outside areas which you can persuade wild butterflies to lay eggs in so you can then harvest those eggs

Again from the devon butterflies sites guidelines to buyers .

“The following species are protected from sale, this means you cannot capture a wild specimen to sell alive or dead but you can legally capture it for yourself as a set specimen or to breed from. Any resulting specimens or livestock from breeding is then classed as Captive Bred

Adonis Blue, Black Hairstreak, Brown Hairstreak, Chalkhill Blue, Duke of Burgundy, Glanville Fritillary, Large Heath,  Lulworth Skipper, Mountain Ringlet, Northern Brown Argus, Purple Emperor, Silver Studded Blue, Small Blue, White Letter Hairstreak, Wood White, Chequered Skipper, Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Silver Spotted Skipper. The Large Tortoiseshell is extinct and cannot be added to this list.

By coincidence Devon butterflies sells several of these species and judging by his diatribe against butterfly conservationists  it seems at least possible that there has been to have a disagreement about collecting eggs or capturing wild butterflies,,

Again from the Devon butterflies site

“Have you ever read such a load of rubbish and bullshit as stated by Dr.Martin Warren of Butterfly Conservation.

His Statement is below and is the words of a total prat who knows nothing at all.

Collection and release weakens wild populations. Collecting eggs, larvae and adults from the wild may reduce natural populations. Captive-bred stock lacks genetic diversity and is weakened through adaptation to an indoor environment. Release of captive-bred stock can introduce disease and may reduce the vigour of natural populations.

The above statement is just a load of bullshit issued by a parasitic charity consisting of a bunch of know nothing scumbags.

 Lets all release more and more butterflies and moths and to hell with the Butterfly Conservation idiots.”


I now deeply regret considering releasing butterflies as despite providing the correct food stuffs and despite the area having previously had colonies and other colonies existing close by  ,it clear that this supplier has no regard for wildlife or for any animals so I cant imagine that he is kind to his own stock and I cant escape the impression that buying butterflies from Devon butterflies will be “robbing Peter to pay Paul ”  and Yorkshires gain would be Devons loss . I do not want to fund directly or indirectly  the capture of wild butterflies or the depletion of local numbers because butterflies are trapped or eggs are collected to sell to me .

Likewise neither could I bare the thought  that I had given money to someone who can cheerfully advocate trapping wrens in mousetraps or wringing blackbirds ,robins and blue tits necks  .

The Devon butterflies site claims that  they supply  schools, universities and re introduction programs ,assuming that this is indeed true perhaps blog readers who are involved in any of these organisations would  spread the word and  find other more reputable suppliers .


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The cheats guide to making a high waisted Medieval gown .

This is the simplest complete gown to make.It also uses less fabric than the lower waisted dresses and even less if you make a narrow sleeved version.

henins front tippet

You will need

some fabric ,old curtains or bought fabric

(I will mention the fabric choices futher down the post)

A bodice /top

Something boned ,one that might have been used  for clubbing ,evening ,prom,it doesnt matter if its long as  the bodice will be cut off to the correct size,the fabric is not  important ,though its less messy and easier to sew  if you avoid pvc /fake leather ones.If your going to wash the dress then using pale colours is probably safest so the bodice colours dont run into the dress

wit and wisdom denim bodice

Some lacing cord ,cord or ribbon

this is to fasten the dress with ,as the bodice is not very long you wont need very much maybe two metres ,you can use ribbon but its not very effective and can be impossible to untie.Gold braid or cord looks excellent if your using a front lacing style if not then try to get as close a match to the dress fabric as possible

Something to make holes in fabric with

,,a bradel,kebab skewer  etc

cellotape or masking tape ,,only a tiny piece

a needle and cotton


a fake or real fur collar,,a modern fur scarf works well

white queen gown

a belt  any sturdy leather belt works  as below or a piece of trim fastened with a safety pin

blue dress

Fabric notes

Old curtains will work well and mean you dont need to bother hemming your gown or you can buy fabric in which case you will need between 4 and 6 metres depending on the fabric width and your height.To decide on how much fabric or the curtain length you need hold fabric below your bust and then work out how long it will need to be to touch the floor in the shoes you will have one.If your going to make a wide sleeved gown you will need up to two metres extra fabric depending on how wide you want the sleeves.

bluebells woods

Fabrics to choose

This is the most important part of the costume making ,many entirely accurately made  gowns look bad because the wrong fabrics been chosen.

The fabric needs to be non shiny and though synthetic fabrics are great as they dont crease and are usually washable ,the fabric shouldnt look too modern.modern. Crushed velvet,crinkle taffeta ,satin,anything printed and any design thats floral  or striped even damask or brocade.Brocade is a nice fabric if your buying fabric as it looks luxurious but inst as expensive as velvet ,it can be bought for around £6 or even less a  per metre if you buy off ebay from china .

brocade gown alone

Best choices are velvet ,Taffetta(which gives a good alternative to modern rather lightweight silks  )I dont have a taffeta medieval gown but I didn make a taffeta  tudor gown and a high waisted regency gown and the fabric looked quite good

golden gown cross


regency golden gown

You can also use damask ,brocade or wool,you might find other fabrics fake linen or jacquard fabrics .The  main thing is for the fabric needs to hang nicely ,floaty fabric wont hang properly.For a handy guide I have added some photos of medieval women ,if the fabric you find drapes like their gowns it will be fine.




cleves amberger portrait

medieval women head dresses


There is only one colour which its best to avoid at all costs which is yellow ,during both the middle ages and Renaissance yellow was the colour outcasts were made to wear,those that society marginalised such as lepers ,those who were socially outsiders   Jews and Muslims and those it condemned such as prostitutes, Brown is best avoided as is grey  as these tended to the the colours worn by peasants and the lower classes They are also hard colours to match to head dresses or to trim with fur as the fur wont contrast properly .Purple was a colour which was reserved for royalty and gold or silver for the upper aristocracy but this might not be an issue at most events .A  gold  medieval gown from the middle ages actually exists  at Uppsalla cathedral so we know of at least one gold fabric which is authentic.


The dress if from the 1400 and gold fabric does look amazing.

queen margreat golden gown 1400


As can be seen in the paintings theres quite a range of colours ,By far the most popular for almost all classes seems to be blues,reds and greens and these all work well with most shades of fur .Quite bright colours were worn but as bright blue isnt a colour most people associate with the middle ages its probably best to avoid it and use deeper shades.I personally like to use red and gold damasks as these wash ,dont need ironing and dont show marks .If your buying new fabric faux silk damask is a really good choice as thought its quite light ,its looks a much heavier luxurious fabric once its been worn.


Velvet is also excellent if you can find vintage curtains .Both the gowns below used old velvet curtains

leah blue gown

blue dress

Unfortunately  buying new velvet is very expensive ,the fabric is usually narrower than other fabrics such as damask or taffeta so you need much more , using fake velvet/velour  isnt very effective for these styles of gown  as its too shiny and hangs more loosely ,it does make a good fabric for low waisted medieval gowns)

med black gown

.Taffeta is a  much cheaper choice if you have to buy fabric  but it needs to be a crisp dress taffeta not  lining fabric.Taffeta wont work if you want to me a wide sleeves gown as the sleeves wont be stiff enough

brown borgia gown

I am sorry I am no longer able to sew so I dont have photos of  one dress being made from start to finish but the photos used are from past garments


One chop off the bodice to the right length ,it should rest at about the same height as your bra bottom ,or slightly  lower if you are quite a large cup size.Luckily this is a v shaped bodice which is an ideal shape for medieval gowns .

spencer 1

Decide if your dress is going to be front or back lacing ,front lacing is much easier to get in and out of but does mean you have to sew the back opening of your bought bodice together and cut a line down the front instead.If you do this, try the bodice on before covering it to make sure the back isnt too narrow,if it is un tack it add a narrow strip of fabric and sew it back together

Cover the bodice by taking fabric onto it ,decide if your dress will be front or back lacing then add the first panel to the centre of the bodice front and tack each extra panel onto these.

spencer guide 2

Stitch the edges down over the top and bodice bottoms,dont worry if it looks untidy ,only you will see this part of the dress.

spencer neck13

add the next panels by placing them good side to good side on top of your first panel  with a decent amount of overlap so that  if part of this seam comes undone you will only see the same fabric so it wont be as noticeable. sew the wrong sides together to the bodice ,flip it

spencer 12

and do the next piece carry on until you reach the edges of either the  front or back of your bodice

spncer body done

.Make the sleeves.

For narrow sleeves

Cut two long rectangles of fabric wide enough to go around your arm at the top with a little spare and long enough to entirely cover your hands.

Stitch one into a tube and put it on your arm pull it up until it meets the bodice arm hole  and check the length of the sleeve ,if its ok then you can work on narrowing the arm to fit snugly ,if not chop off more of the sleeves length,,if you decide to have pointed cuffs bare this in mind when cutting the sleeve to length.

Shape your sleeve by pulling the fabric tube snug against your arm ,,starting at the top pinch the fabric together ,keep hold of it pull the tube off and tack the sleeve to the pinched in width ,put the sleeve back on and do this with your elbow and then your lower arm.

Dont cut the fabric ,turn the sleeve inside put if it fits ok then turn it back the right side and cut it where the tack lines are ,turn it inside out and sew it together.use this sleeve to cut your second sleeve to shape ,,leave a little spare fabric  width  even when cutting this sleeve just in case you make a mistake.

Sew both sleeves onto the bodice.

Wide sleeves

drape the fabric around your wrist and arm  tuck it into either the dress bodice ir your bra strap to work out how long it needs to be and then decide how wide you want the cuff snip a small nick in the fabric to mark the width you need to cut.

If you have enough fabric its safest if you cut two rectangles  of the right length and width utilising  the curtain hem for your cuff hem if your using curtains.To work out the sleeves shape drape one cut rectangle on your arm and pinch it together under your arms ,cut the under arm piece  and tack it to make the right size for attaching the sleeve to the bodice.

The remaining step depends on what shape you want the sleeve ,you can leave it very wide down its entire length  ,these would look like a houpland


You might find it more comfortable though to make the top part of the arm slightly more fitted than is strictly accurate as it makes the sleeves less awkward and also much less draughty if your outside.

These wide sleeves need lining to look their best but you can get around this by sewing fur around their ends or a trim around the ends .

bluebells woods



Make the skirt.

This is the easiest part especially if you bought curtains as they wont need to be hemmed .

hold the fabric or curtains against you and leaving a few inches spare cut them to the length you need for the skirt to meet the floor,wear the shoes you will be wearing for your event so you can get this as close as possible,if in doubt err towards the too long ,medieval gowns tended to be slightly longer than floor length ,but they were never short enough to show ankles.Though in the late middle ages narrow skirted gowns were briefly popular most medieval gowns ,most of the time had generous skirts,even the pale blue velvet one I made while it seems narrower skirted had quite full ones.

bleu velvet gown seated

To make the skirt ,sew  the fabric into a tube leavings a small gap about as big as that a modern zip would need ,,you wont need a zip but this hole is to allow the dress over your head.

pleat the fabric until its the right size to stitch onto the bottom of the bodice,make the front pleats slightly less full than the sides and if its back lacing add  deep ones at either side of  the back where the bodice laces to cover the  gap in the skirt.If the dress is front lacing then pleat the front so the gaps covered  ,its not as big a problem at the front as more if it will be covered by the fur collar and belt.

Stitch the skirt to the bodice ,you can make a waistband for the skirt first by sewing it onto a ribbon but as the waistline of this dress is quite high its better to use as little as possible at the bodice bottom to avoid bulk that might dig in when the gowns laced up.

Now make holes for the lacing cord ,use the pointy object ,bradel etc ,to thread the cord in cellotape the ends flush so they dont fray as you try to thread them into the holes.Thread the cord in so it makes a herringbone design not the x shape normally seen on modern dresses as not only is the x shape inaccurate it also doesnt close as neatly or lace up as easily.

Keep a panel of the fabric to put under the lacing cord make it long enough to go under the gap left in the skirt ,if its going at the back tack this on at the front you could just place it under the dress and lace the dress over it.For front lacing gowns you could also use a contrasting colour ,this is seen in a lot of medieval paintings and is probably another dress thats under the top gown.You could try getting the same effect by adding a contrasting panel to the centre of a front lacing gown but its much harder to get right.

red gown

This will give you a dress like this

medieval gown 3


Make or buy a fur collar

you can use a modern bought fur scarf which gives a good shape  but might not be long enough to go all the way around in which case cut it in half and sew each half to the gown at shoulder level.

You could use a collar cut from a vintage or modern fake fur coat or jacket if you use a coat you could also cut off the cuffs from the coat to put on your gown.

white queen gown

and use yet more of the fur to make a muff using a spare piece of the dress fabric

tudor muff

If you have neither you can buy a new or second hand fur hat cut the brim off cut the top into strips of a matching length and sew them together to make a collar ,this was how I made the original pale blue gowns collar,though it doesnt look as effective its much nice than having no collar.

blue med gown

If you have not stitched the collar to the gown then add loops or a piece of ribbon or cord to each end of the collar so you can pin it on using these or thread them under a belt.


to put the finishing touch to the outfit its good to have a belt ,a modern leather one is authentic and pulls the gown in nicely while giving something to attach the collar to  ,but you could use a length of jewelled trim ,a length of thick peals,braid or very wide cord.


A head dress usually the head dress worn is a Henin


I will give instructions on making these in another post and add a link shortly.


gloves front

You can make an impressive pair of fake medieval gloves by using a pair of modern leather ,suede or fake leather gloves ,sew a piece of rich looking fabric or trim or fur to the top and add some pearl or gold trim to the edges .

If you dont have trims you could add more or the fur taken from a scrafe or fake fur coat.

ermine gloves

Prayer book ,book of hours

purple book full

Find a small book ,it doesnt matter what the book is about as long as its hard backed ,though its often easy to find  old prayer books cheaply online or in charity or second hand book shops .

Use a piece of velvet ,silk or similar and cover it ,turning in the fabric inside the covers as though you were making a new dust jacket  but  with fabric and securing it using cotton and stitching it instead of using tape.

Then decorate it will something that looks lavish ,the book above I used braid on .The one below used dress trim around the edges and a modern cheap costume brooch in the centre

red prayer book

The one below used just a brooch bought from china for a few pence

prayer bok i


As mentioned above you could use any spare fake fur to make a muff ,I am not sure what medieval muffs looked like but a richly decorated one looks good and is almost essential if your going to be outside in winter

The one below used around a metre of gold braid stitched together for its centre

gold muff detailing

This used a small panel of embroidered silk.A piece of fabric this small could be taken from a cushion or bought as a sample

ivory and gold muff small det

To make any muff is very easy.

If your cutting off a fur coat sleeve its very easy ,just cut a long enough length so you can fold the ends in .tuck each end in until it meets the opposite end ,no sewing needed ,you now have a fur lined fur muff.

If your making one from scratch  then cut a long rectangle of the outer fabric sew it to make a tube ,cut a rectangle of the fake fur thats double the length of the outer fabric ,sew this into a tube push it inside the tube of our outer fabric and fold the fur back over the edges ,now sew the fur down .

or use two lengths of embroidered trim sewn together for your centre

blackwored white muff

Optional extras

You could make a cloak,I have instructions on how to make a cloak in my Victorian accessories cheats guide and its essential the same to make a medieval one .


or mantle style cloak

This is very easy its just a length of fabric or a curtain pleated to fit loosely across your shoulders then a wide band of fake fur added,if you use a curtain you can use the hem and curtain edges for the front edges of your cloak so theres very little sewing .If you have a fake fur coat cut a wide band of fur from its hem and sew this onto the top of the cloak.


l hope this has been useful ,if you prefer a different style of medieval gown I have instructions on making other styles.

An Italian style gown ,this is made in more or less the same way as this gown but with a longer bodice and tie on sleeves.

borgia med gown

It needs a chemise under it

ever after gown chemise

Or at least fake chemise sleeves sewn into the dress

under gown borgia

These gowns need more decoration to look authentic

white borgia gown

A very similar style is the over gown with and under gown

This is two dresses  made as for the high waisted gown and a chemise ,

leah and peter

Or a low waisted dress

leah river med gown

arwyn gown train


cloak and green eowyn gown

medieval gown snow



I will add a link to instructions on how to make these shortly but the instructions on making a Tudor gown can be used if the waistline is shaped differently and sleeves added.

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Crocus a £1.00 wildlife gem

Another short post on how to help wildlife cheaply ,quickly and easily.

The most underrated plant for wildlife is probably the crocus ,It can be bought as bulbs or as plants and is seen for sale everywhere ,supermarkets, bargin stores,pound stores ,markets ,garden centres and online.Most plants  or bags of bulbs cost around £1.00.They come in a variety of colours so theres is usualy something that will go with your planting scheme.



https://www.growveg.com/guides/four-fantastic-early-blooming-bulbs-for-permaculture-gardens/ photo credit

They can be planted in lawns and die away long before your going to be using the lawn regularly and spread quickly while not becoming a problem.

The first emerging butterflies and bees will find a pathc of crocus literarly  a lifesaver ,providing easy access food when there are very few other flowers open.

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Buckthron and Brimestones help save a species for £5 and in 5 mins

A very quick post for UK readers,I thought it would be nice to do a series of  occasional very short posts that focus on quick cheap fixes for biodiversity,its often easy to get the impression from organisations and the media that biodiversity needs large areas or big gardens but this is often not the case.Almost anyone can make a huge difference in at least one or two areas.The easiest is to help provide food or host plants for buterflies.


Todays post is about Buckthorn  the only larvael foodplant of Brimestone butterflies (seen above and below),which is a posh way of saying Buckthorns are  the only things their fussy caterpillars eat and so the only things were the yellow butterflies lay their eggs .


The good news is that Buckthorns are very cheap to buy  and easy to care for ,not overly fussy about soil or location and are easy to trim and keep under control ,the Alder Buckthron is quite spiny so a good burglar or animal deterant,the bad news is they are pretty boring shrubs and berries from the Common Buckthorn are mildly poisonous ,the effect of eating them can be best judged by the plants common name of purging Buckthorn .Berries and bark from Buckthorns can cause skin irritation.However if you dont randomly eat strange berries or garden without washing your hands then your probably safe.


photo by Paul Sterry


Information on Buckthorns can be found here



Buckthorns used to be quite common in hedgerows but have fallen out of popularity for mixed hedge plantings.They are not interesting enough to be good ornamental garden plants and as they need to be left un trimmed  to be of maxium benefit they are not really much use for neat hedges.They also must not be sprayed with pesticides ,fertilisers  etc or the caterpillars will be poisoned

.You will need to plant either an Alder Buckthorn or a common Buckthorn ,I made the mistake in my first year of wildlife gadening of buying the slightly more decorative Sea Buckthorn which is no use for Brimestones.

The really good news is that Brimestone butterfly females will fly upto 5 miles to lay eggs on a buckthorn so if you plant one and theres Brimestones anywhere in a 5 mile radius theres a good chance that they will find the bush and lay their eggs and that these butterflies in turn will lay eggs on it.They may not arrive the first year if you have a small bush or theres bushes closer by but its almost certain they will arrive at some point  ,its a very easy cheap fast way to re introduce this butterfly to your area .In addition by planting buckthorn you create a stopping off point ,,your doing the enviromental equivilent of paying it forward  as the butterflies hatching in your area would also travel 5 miles to find a Buckthorn so that anywhere 5 miles away from you with a Buckthorn shrub will also find Brimestones apppearing ,your create a wildlife corridor perhaps the only link between areas were there is a signifcant area of green space or woodland.



Butterflies hatching will need food so some simple flowers such as  primroses ,primulas ,daisys or pansys planted around its base would be useful  and also act as ground cover so you dont need to weed.,avoid modern polyanthus primulas as these may have little or  no bee or butterfly food .

primulas farden

If you were to plant winter flowering and summer flowering pansys you would have year round colour and valuable food for early butterflies and bees ,you can see butterflies in your garden from spring to late autumn. I saw my first butterfliee  a painted lady in very early March  and a bee a few days later .Double flowers or complicated ones such as the bedding gerniums or fruscias are no good as butterflies and bees cant find any food in their complicated petals.Best of all a buddliea planted in another pot or in your garden would provide the perfect food plant as it has a long flowering time and will attract other butterflies and bees too.

butterly one

,Budleias are also pretty cheap and very easy to grow from cuttings ,just chop of a couple of buddliea branches from a friends bush and stick them in the ground its a pretty safe bet at least one will grow.


Buckhorns can be bought online from the following places




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A short Easter Parable,

One night shortly after Jesus birth an angel appeared to Joseph and said” take Mary  and the child from this country for  there are people seeking your life.”Joseph at once arose and wo…

Source: A short Easter Parable,

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