Thursday, 23 December 2010

Panto season

Happy Christmas to everyone
Have a wonderful holiday!
Love from
Mary Jane xx

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Liberty plaudits

I was thrilled to get a great write-up on the Liberty blog after my hat-making workshop there on Saturday. It's always a real boost to feel that people have enjoyed themselves and learnt something new. And with the  Christmassy atmosphere in the store, it was a great start to the festive season. Read all about it on the Liberty website. Just click here.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Men of substance

Now you may have noticed that I don't often mention men on my blog - apart from the rather suave looking chaps in the Toast catalogue of course. It's not because I'm immune to a well turned out man, it's simply that I honestly don't see much to inspire. However this weekend, I spotted a chap who cheered my spirits. How's about this for some natty dressing? It's country chic meets urban  street. I love this drama student's frayed tweed jacket teamed with a striped formal waistcoat. Then there's the kerchief, the casually knotted scarf, the sew-on patches, and the combination of battered leather straps and worn canvas bag slung across his chest. The bike is a good accessory too (not that he thought of his bike as an accessory of course - that's just me being a shallow fashion-type). I so loved his look, I just  had to stop him and ask if I could take his picture. The jacket isn't home-made, but there's no reason why you blokes couldn't adapt something you already own. Get out the scissors, do some fraying and find yourself some sew-on patches. Go know you want to really!

Deptford comes up trumps again

There's a new haberdashery kid on the Deptford block. An excellent stall which will be at Deptford market every Saturday. A great selection of trims, beads, lace, and other exciting finds, plus lots of essentials. Not cheap cheap cheap, but not bad either. Some good finds to be had.

My new winter shoes

For the first time in years I recently decided to splash out and buy some decent winter footwear. It's the sort of thing my Mother was always telling me to do. It's only taken 43 years for me to realise that she was talking sense! I've become sick and tired of walking around in fabric shoes from Primark that look cute and wear well-enough in the summer, but for winter they're no good at all. No ankle support, wet, and if it snows...well, they'll be useless. So here are my two choices both purchased from Author, a relatively new shoe shop on Charing Cross Road in London set amongst all the splendid second-hand bookshops. It makes for some fine winter evening shopping.

First up are these excellent leather boots. They're a bit like a dark brown Doctor Martin and the tops are lined with shearling, so they're really cosy. You can turn the shearling bit up or down. Even better, they're flat - so I can actually walk! I know that sounds like an obvious thing to be able to do in shoes, but believe me, it's not always something I take into consideration.

My next recommendation is these fabulous traditional ghillie shoes made by Loake in Northamptonshire. The company has been going since 1880, and I can't tell you how happy it made me to purchase this pair of traditionally made (traditionally male) good quality shoes made in the UK. At £95 they cost more than I would usually spend, but compared to lots of designer shoes they're a bargain. I love the design, and they'll look good with trousers too. The only trouble is that the leather is quite stiff so I'll need to wear them in a bit before they're truly comfortable. Can't wait to team with a pair of fair-isle socks! Winter holds no fear for me now!

Monday, 8 November 2010

The dress that's much in need of love

So this is the dress I found at Greenwich market the other day for £60. It doesn't fit me - but I just had to buy it because it's so beautiful and was looking utterly neglected stuffed in a plastic bag under the stall.  It's an original Frank Usher from the '50's/60's I imagine. But it's in a bit of a bad way. At some point two pieces of boning have been removed from the bodice - thus its lopsided appearance, and it's had red wine chucked over it too by some CAD (I am taking liberties here of course - the owner herself might have done it, or indeed, perhaps a friend borrowed the dress and ruined it, thereby destroying a friendship which had lasted since girlhood). The question is...what can I do to bring it back to its former fabulousness? I can replace the boning I'm sure, but can a dress like this be dry-cleaned? Will the red wine come out? Help please!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hat inspiration

 Have a look and be transported!

Brown Owl

My friend Melissa  was recently raking through a trunk-load of childhood belongings that she hasn't  been able to house since she moved abroad many years ago. She was delighted to find her old Girl Guide uniform complete with its many badges (she was a Queen's Guide and so rather keen at proving her skills!) still lying intact at the bottom of all her stuff. It's about 20 years old now and filled her with such delight that she e-mailed me straight away, knowing how much I love the old badges too for their vintage charm and customising credentials. I'm waiting for a photo of the uniform to add to the Blog. Melissa now has three daughters of her own and  the memories kick-started by the discovery will no doubt inspire many stories for them. It just shows that hoarding can be a VERY GOOD thing! Staying on the subject of Girl Guide badges, I was interested to see  that Top Shop has just realised  their contemporary style potential too.....I know...they are WAY behind me...tut tut Top Shop!  On a recent trip to the Oxford Street branch, I spotted a pair of khaki green shorts and a retro-style jacket which has been embellished with reproduction Brownie badges. Both the items look great - but with the jacket coming in at £125 it's OH SO MUCH CHEAPER to do it yourself with the real thing - and it's great fun tracking the badges down on E-bay. My current favourite is the one with a ball of wool and a pair of knitting needles on it. Can anyone remember what it was awarded for?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Exhibition must see

Claire Richardson is doing the photography for my book - which will be out next year. She's brilliant - with a lovely eye for off-beat colour and emotive places. I think her exhibition will be well-worth seeing. Apparently the charity shops in St Leonards are fantastic too - and you can get a breath of fresh air on the sea-front!

Clothes-peg dress

Here's the clothes-peg dress I mentioned in my Tweet a while back. It's in the window of Harvey Nic's in London - and I think it's just beautiful.

Tea, clothes and vintage 'do's in York

I've just read in The Guardian about The House of Avalon in York. Vintage clothes, tea shop and retro hair-do's too. I'll definitely be heading there next time I'm up North.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Monday, 20 September 2010

Isle of Man

Many thanks to the Women's Institute for hosting me last week in the Isle of Man. I was thrilled to hear that my talk and workshop were well-received. For my part, I really enjoyed seeing the island, meeting everyone and learning all about the local crafts. I've become a fan of Manx patchwork, an ultra speedy way of making a blanket with a "needs must" attitude. Watch this space for a few step-by-step instructions! Honestly, you might even be able to get one made by Christmas.

At last...!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

40 hats in 3 hours

So whilst normal people were having a fun night out with friends a week last Friday, or indeed relaxing at home with a glass of wine, I was carting two suitcases of hat-making stuff across Paris after already having done a very early shift at the BBC in London. But it was all for a very good cause! I was booked to make hats the following day at the wedding of Jean Francois Piege, who's chef at Paris's hottest new restaurant Thoumieu. Until recently he was chef at The Crillon Hotel's Les Ambassadeurs, where he earned himself two michelin stars. He's the Gordon Ramsey of France apparently, so the wedding was rather an incredible event. It was held at a chateau 40km or so outside the city, and there were lots of famous Gallic types milling around - although being English, I was blissfully unaware of who was who. I had to make 40 hats in around 3 hours for some of the female guests - who were then able to party the night away in a little bespoke creation by moi! I was really looking forward to having a taste of the food - but sadly I was assigned to the servant's quarters - boo hoo!!! It was a real experience - and I absolutely LOVED the couples' car - especially the hat-boxes which were used instead of mundane tin cans. Tres chic - non?!

My friends' Scottish caravan plan

The friends who have caused my caravan envy have started a detailed blog so you can keep up to date with their make-do-and-mend journey. Follow their progress as they make a cosy and stylish bolt-hole out of the rather ramshackle shell.....bagsy stay there before you do!!

Monday, 30 August 2010


I have to admit to being the teensiest bit jealous when my friend up in Scotland told me she'd recently acquired a rather ramshackle yet gorgeous little caravan for £100. She and her husband are planning to put it on their farm and convert it into a cosy retreat with wood-burning stove and warm blankets, which will be most necessary when the North wind blows! I would love to find a caravan myself - and have long had my eye on acquiring a vintage Citroen H van - but sadly they're way beyond my budget at the moment. I did once see the most fabulous H van in London's Spittlefields market. It's owned by Emily Chalmers whose shop Caravan is a real treat. She's got such a great eye, and funnily enough has a little caravan on her front page at the moment!


Well I have just signed on again after a bit of a summer break. I finished writing my book and headed to Edinburgh for a few days R+R at the Festival. What a great atmosphere. A real buzz in the air. I enjoyed a couple of interesting book talks - in particular one by Norman Drummond about his new book The Power of Three.  He offered many thought-provoking questions about purpose and service. It's some time since someone made me stop in my tracks like that. We're surrounded by so much noise it's difficult to hear. We can get so disconnected from things that matter and from what our true purpose is.

My small purpose last night was to make dinner for a couple of friends. I felt very inspired after seeing an excellent BBC1 programme earlier this week about how much food we waste in the UK. Perfectly good food chucked in the bins by us, the supermarkets and the farmers, either because it's passed its corporate-imposed sell-by date, or because it's deemed not perfect enough for our tastes. The programme featured top chefs rummaging in bins and rescuing doomed food for tasty creative purposes. It made me think about how I should appreciate the food I eat more and stop wasting it. My first impulse was to hold a little dinner party consisting of food we'd grown ourselves, but since my friend's allotment had succumbed to drought, I wasn't able to do that. So instead I made my own bread and used market-bought tomatoes to make bruschetta for the starter. That was followed by mushroom risotto, with the mushrooms from the local farmers' market and a salad made from lettuces I'd grown in the pots on my balcony.  The thing I'm most proud of though was my homemade plum ice-cream using plums from my neighbour's garden. I don't have an ice-cream maker so I did it the old-fashioned way beating the mixture two or three times during the freezing process. Boy were the results good! Having being scared off making my own ice-cream for years due to lack of gizmos, it was actually suprisingly easy. I have to admit rather shamefacedly however to being rescued by Tesco. I bought the first batch of cream from the farmers' market - organic rich gorgeousness, that was so solid, it completely separated on whisking. My virgin ice-cream attempt hanging in the balance, I ran up the road to Tesco for a pot of standard double cream so that I could continue. It worked a treat. That'll teach me to be holier-than-thou I thought! I'd love to attach a picture of my ice-cream, but we ate it all. So instead I'm attaching a picture of some beautiful rose-hips that my friend gave me when she arrived for dinner. I think they look lovely in this little empty yeast can.

Sunday, 1 August 2010


I had a brilliant time last week running my first Fabulous Fabrications workshop at the Kensington and Chelsea College in London. It was a great creative group, one came all the way from Milan! They all really "got it" and made some lovely things. I tried to inspire them with my ideas and designs for decorative collars, floral brooches, T-shirt hats, and my new Brogue shoe makeover. They are all stunning accessories, which I've designed to be super-straightforward to make, but really pack a punch with the results. I'm pleased to say they thoroughly enjoyed the workshop too - and I'm hoping it will be the springboard to other similar sessions. I just need a permanent venue! Any suggestions? Moreover it was a great chance for me to try out some of the projects from my new book CHIC ON A SHOESTRING which will be published in Spring by Kyle Cathie. I've kept it quiet till now - but yes - if all goes to plan, you'll be able to join in too. I'll keep you updated!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Yum Yum

My friend Iris who lives in Antwerp started a blog a few months ago about her and her sister's passion for, and adventures in, food. She recently went for the weekend to a fantastic place in Paris - a glass box of an aerie in which you can learn to cook the most amazing food. I so enjoyed reading about the two sisters' trip that I wanted you to read it too. You can find her blog on this link YUMMYBLOGSISTERS  and I think I can guarantee that you'll soon become followers. Iris's photos are drool-making too. Have a peek now for tips on Paris eateries and delicious French treats.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Glittering defeat!

OK - I admit defeat! I have been trying to make glitter shoes - but nothing I try will work properly. They look good - but the glitter won't last. I tried Copydex on the red shoe and then coated it with polyurethene varnish. The varnish did the job and coated the glitter well, but the Copydex peels off especially around the edges. The silver shoes I decided to ditch the Copydex and tried good old PVA glue - but it cracks and chips off, even before the varnish goes on top. I give up! Any ideas anyone? I need flexible durable glue - I think the varnish is good - but the glue useless. Agggh!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Apron Dresses

I did a hat party this weekend for a group of hens at the beautiful High Tea of Highgate in London. It's such an elegant teashop, and such fun to put on an event there. The teashop is run by Miss Worthington, who has impeccable taste in both cakes and clothes. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to do the workshop wearing almost exactly the same dress as she! We had both managed to get our hands on these fabulous 1950's cotton aprons which make perfect dresses. They seemed to be exactly the same design - floral fabric edged in bias binding with one single pocket. Mine was given to me by my lovely brother who spotted me trying it on at an apron exhibition in Edinburgh last year (yes indeed, an apron exhibition!) during the Festival. He bought it without me knowing and posted it to London for my Birthday. What a treasure. Miss Worthington acquired hers after finding it looking ever so lonely in the corner of a rather pricey antiques establishment. She managed to barter it down - et voila! Don't they make darling dresses?

Monday, 28 June 2010

The best of British

This weekend I was reminded of just how beautiful Britain can be when everything comes together at the right time. Obviously, the wonderful weather is a major component - it transforms even the most reticent amongst us and helps us to behave as though we were living in the South of France. I took part in the Open Gardens weekend in Wymeswold in Leicestershire at the invitation of a friend. It was a little slice of the English idyll. Thatched cottages, gardens bursting with beautiful blooms, children running around in mini-Boden, cream-teas, homemade james, blackbirds singing their hearts out, and that most traditional of traditions - Morris dancers. The sun shone, and meals were enjoyed outside along with a glass of wine as the day turned into balmy evening. I didn't want to be anywhere else, and I'm sure that those car-loads of Brits who head to the Mediterranean every summer would have been hard-pressed to match the simple pleasures of the stay-cation when the sun is smiling. My plastic-bottle flowers were a step too far for some of the less adventurous,  but the presence of the wonderful beekeeper next to my stall, showing off her hive and selling organic fruit and veg insured a steady flow of curious customers.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


A big thankyou to all the friends who brought in their plastic bottles for me to turn into flowers. I'll be at the Wymeswold Open Gardens in Leicestershire this weekend (26th & 27th June) selling my flowers and talking hats! Do come along and say hello - it would be great to meet you. And if the weather stays fine - it should be a glorious couple of days.

Saturday, 19 June 2010


What do you think of my latest bag? A Mary Jane Millinery designed hold-all.

Blanket love

This is turning into one of those blogs where the annoying blogger (me) keeps bragging about her bargains! Sorry guys....but there is ANOTHER brilliant debt-friendly purchase I have to share with you. £3.50 for a double-bed sized crochet blanket. Found by chance in the normally pretty unremarkable charity shop in Greenwich. I was in there with a friend the other day bemoaning the increase in prices and decrease in quality, when I saw this crocheted mass squeezed onto a hanger. Further investigation revealed it was a handmade blanket...for the previously mentioned price. Now if I had the sort of camera that would do it justice, and the time to style it properly I would show you said blanket beautifully laid out on the bed, with the neighbour's cat cutely curled up on top. But I haven't got either the camera or the time, nor is the cat willing to pose,  so here is just a pretty picture of the blanket close-up. Apologies for bargain bragging - but I have to share my excitement with someone! OK - I'm off to the market now. I will try not to find anything worth bragging about (she lies!).

Sunday, 13 June 2010

It's the little things

You don't have to be rolling in it to give yourself a fashion fix you know. I've had my first weekend at home for ages, and so of course I was able to give free rein to my foraging instinct and get back down to my favourite local market. I wasn't disappointed. I found a load of sparkly fabric off cuts for £2, a funky 50's hat for £1 - and then this dress for £3! The fabric is a really heavy type of cotton mix, so I think it must be fairly vintage, and it's almost a perfect fit - it just needs a bit of an adjustment round the waist. I was so excited when I saw it! I took it to the launderette straight away and wore it out last night with a red belt around the middle. This dress just kept putting a smile on my face, and I found myself wondering about its history. It has something of a feel-good factor about it!

Monday, 31 May 2010

Berlin sewing cafe

I wrote recently about a new sewing cafe in Paris, for stitchers across the Channel. Well there's one in Berlin too. A decidedly different vibe I think - more hippie-chic than chi-chi.  Sadly it was shut on the Monday I was there, but next time I'm in the German capital I'm definitely going to pop in. And I couldn't resist photographing the Master or Mistress in the window!

Just another ordinary day

1. In honour of the New Sex and the City film - here's me in New York last year.
2. I don't care what the critics say - it's escapist joy! Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. So there.
3. Clean sheets on the bed - bliss.
4. A glass of wine and M&S Belgian chocolate. Sometimes it's the small things.
5. You know when you're little and you think "one day I'll have my own house and I'll be able to do EXACTLY as I please." That day is mine. It happened. It's good!
6. Ladies - make sure you experience the joy of your own can stay in bed AS LONG AS YOU LIKE! It's true! It really happens!
7. Breakfast.
8. A Bank Holiday day off. You wake. It's quiet. It feels like a Sunday. It's bliss.
9. Neighbour's cat curled up contentedly on bed.
10. The longest bath.

My two fleamarket coffee tables

I thought you might like to see the two teeny tiny coffee tables I bought in the Berlin fleamarket. So compact and bijoux they fitted into my rucksack - they are adorable...and only 10 euros the pair! What is SO weird is that the evening before I spotted them at the market, I walked past an incredibly trendy opening party at a cafe full of gorgeous people. There inside, were two nearly identical tables with glasses of bubbly perched on top. Immediately I thought, WOW...where on earth are those cuties from? And the very next day...I found my own. VISUALISATION or what!