Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Hello everyone - just to let you know that I am in the process of setting up a new website and blog which will be launched shortly - that's really the reason I haven't been posting much lately. I'll let you know as soon as it's done - it would be great if you'd continue to follow me after I've switched over. The new name will be Mary Jane Makes - and the blog will be an integral part of a website which will include information about what's coming up and what I've been doing.

By the way - if you're free on Sunday 11th September and live in London - come along to my Peter Pan collar workshop at High Tea of Highgate. I'm going to show you how to make a vintage-style Peter Pan collar out of old table linen! There's going to be a fabulous High Tea included in the price too. At £28 it's  a good deal.

Contact me on if you fancy coming along. It would be great to meet you!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Monday, 1 August 2011

Mollie Makes features Chic

The lovely ladies at Mollie Makes magazine have featured Chic on a Shoestring in the September issue. It's a privilege to be included in this fab new mag which showcases crafts, vintage, makers, interiors and lots of inspiring ideas in a beautifully photographed format.

Vintage Festival at The Southbank

I was in my element over the weekend at the Vintage Fest on The Southbank in London. Forties-style fashionistas rubbed shoulders with day trippers, and festivites filled the air. There was a fab vintage village with stalls selling all manner of fantastic clothes and accessories, and an old-fashioned style fairground. Up on top of the Queen Elizabeth concert hall they'd even planted a pop-up garden where you could sip cocktails.

Everything seemed to sparkle slightly with magic and imagination. Even without paying to go into the actual festival there was tonnes of interesting stuff to do. I especially enjoyed boarding the pink bus - filled with everything charity shops can't sell. Although it was cluttered beyond compare (even for me!) I   got some real style tips. I just love these colours and the confusion of vintage shades.

If you did fork out for the paying part of the festival - you were in for lots of treats too: free champagne courtesy of British Airways which put on a great catwalk show of its cabin staff uniforms over the last 70 years, and lots of creative workshops - one run by the Seaside Sisters. I was very proud of my souvenir pennant rustled up with their help in under an hour.

My only regret is that I lacked my dancing diva friends - as the Royal Festival Hall boasted a different band and era on every floor. It really was a great day. Let's hope they put another festival on here again soon SOON SOON!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Shoelace necklaces from Chic

My fabulous God daughter and her super-cool Mum Helen have been busy collecting shoelaces to make flowers as advised by a rather good book called Chic on a Shoestring by MJ Baxter. Here are Ellie and her friend modeling their stunning accessories. I love the way they've used the multi-coloured shoelaces to make their designs, and they look equally good brightening up a pair of tap-shoes. 10/10 girls!

Monday, 4 July 2011

How cute are these!

I love these dolls by Jane Foster. So cute and beautifully simple.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Festival fashion

Yesterday I went to my first ever music festival. Given that I'm 40+ this is pretty astonishing, and I felt very much the festival virgin as the plastic wristband was snapped into place. I went with a couple of friends on a day pass to the Hop Farm Festival in Kent - nothing too seriously long-term for this festival commitment - phobe! Morrisey was the headline act, but great performances too from the Noisettes (fab headpiece) and Lou Reed (no headpiece). Have to say one of the best bits of the festival for me was checking out all the  fashion. For the men: bare chests and too-tight fur coats that actually worked a look; natty combos of check trousers and floral shirts that astonishingly made complete sense; and top marks to the guy who caught the eye in off-the-shoulder denim dungarees and squashed top hat!  For the girls: everything goes; short skirts, long skirts, vintage dresses, skimpy shorts with knee-length socks. I particularly liked a crochet square waist-coat and a great lilac poncho/shawl made of a very loose-weave crochet which incorporated 3d flowers slung over an orange mini dress. Long tanned legs and cowboy boots completed the ensemble. I could have people-watched for hours. Amazing array of hats on show - this is where secret hat-lovers can hang out in safety! A bit like a ski-resort in a way. People wear things here they wouldn't be seen dead in outside the perimeter fence! First prize though must go to the stilt walking candy seller whom I've since discovered is part of a quirky Dutch based group called Kim Brulee and the Flying Pans . An aeriel artist by training, she puts on food-theatre events at festivals all over Europe. Her costume deserves a home-made Chic on a Shoestring rosette!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Salvo Fair Knebworth House

The other day my mate Alex mentioned that he was going to the Salvo Fair at Knebworth House. As I had a day off, and have never been to one before, I thought I'd tag along. It was a whacking £15 to get in, which I thought rather steep, especially as the prices inside aren't rock bottom. We chose to go on the trade day - although how that differs from regular days I'm not sure (except on a trade day you have to pay alot more to get in - hmm.) Alex came home with an old chair that he's vowing to re-cover and a beautiful lamp from a ship. The company he bought it from,  which specialises in nautical ephemera, also sold Doctor Who the bulb that perches on top of the tardis! It's these sorts of discoveries that make a day out like this so enticing. Imagine a similar discovery taking place at Ikea?!

For my part, I bought a plant pot holder for the wall in which to display some jolly geraniums, and then I went slightly off-message! Attracted as usual to anything in the textile department, a fragment of patchwork caught my eye, as did a collection of beautiful hankies. It was the colours really that excited me and I'm sure will provide me with lots of inspiration. I also picked up a giant wooden darning mushroom for £10 - a little more than I wanted to pay - but I still managed to bargain him down from £20 - so who's grumbling? Not me! These mushrooms are fascinating in themselves, but they also make a great little hat block for cocktail hats. I've blocked felt on a similar one very successfully in the past and am looking forward to having another go.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Creative day out in Deptford?


Ok - I've had this idea! How about coming on a vintage/creative day out to Deptford one Saturday?

We'd start early with a quick coffee and a trip to the flea market to hunt for rags to turn into riches. We'd then drop in on Deptford's fab retro clothes shop to get the low-down on high-end vintage and check out my favourite local haberdashery. After brunch at the train-carriage cafe, we'd head to the charity shop and I'd give a heads up on customising. Then it's back to mine via Gimcrack where the owners curate an interesting selection of hand-picked second-hand goodies...

Chez moi - an afternoon of crafting lies ahead - with everyone having the chance to make a purse/wallet or mini-bag out of a vintage tie as well as a textile necklace.

We'd finish with tea and cakes.....

What do you reckon? Tourism with a twist? Book now!

Friday, 17 June 2011

My Hebridean working holiday - part 2

My two weeks on Tanera were marked by unremitting rain. The weather was so bad that the tourist boats (on which the cafe relies) were cancelled on all but two days due to stormy seas or unwelcome downpours. As I was meant to be working in the cafe in exchange for my holiday house - this left me with something of a dilemma. How was I to repay my hosts for my accommodation? I baked the cafe's faourites in anticipation of visitors, but there are only so many batches of brownie or flapjack that a girl can fit in the freezer. Fortunately I'd brought my sewing machine with me thinking that any loneliness would be chased away by my Brother. I was therefore able to exchange baking for sewing and willingly stitched for my supper instead. I made a little curtain for the butler sink in the loo block out of an old duvet cover (check it out if you ever visit!) and lots of cushion covers for the holiday cottages that are scattered around the island.

I started to feel like I was on some sort of sewing retreat and in my spare time I got to work on the two dresses I'd planned to make during my stay. They were both run up using the same pattern. I'd really intended to make one from an original 50's pattern that I'd bought at a fab second-hand bookshop in Stroud -  but the fit and style just didn't work, so I quickly abandoned that idea. Here are the completed dresses captured in a rare moment of sunshine!

And here I am wearing one of them back home in London - at one of my regular haunts! I think I look much more at home in this outfit than in the anorak and wellies at the start of this blog entry!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Today's fleamarket find

Oops! There goes the wheel!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

My Hebridean working holiday - in bite-sized chunks!

Bloggers who don't blog are a very annoying breed. Many apologies for having become one of those. Hands up - I've been pretty useless of late. So what happened on my shoestring holiday? 

I know I should have updated you sooner. 

Well,  I've discovered, much to my surprise, that I've become a city girl. I really had no idea that I was one. I'd always thought of myself as very much at home in the back of beyond. But you know what? Nine years in London have spoiled me. After only five days I found myself begging for the latest edition of Vogue to be ferried back to the island! I realised that I've come to love the constant variety, the distraction, the plethora of people, the ever-changing fashions, the pleasure of birdsong in the middle of town, and the comparative warmth of the climate down South!

For two weeks this rather soggy windswept path was my daily commute. I was immediately surprised by how unfit I was. A 20 minute walk left me breathless. I'd always thought my forays into Deptford and back kept me in reasonable shape. How wrong I was! Here, the handful of hardy residents happily slung luggage for a family of four onto their backs and hiked merrily up the hill or shouldered with a shrug a sack of logs for the fire! I immediately realised I was out of my comfort zone!

More to follow...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Sunday Times Style Mag

Fresh back from the Hebrides and what do I see? Sunday Times Style Mag - featuring - me?! Chic on a Shoestring - out on May 26th. Bienvenue!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Shoestring holidays

I'll not be posting for a while as I'm going beyond the reach of technology to run a post-office/coffee shop on the Island of Tanera off the West Coast of Scotland. My holiday cottage is offered in exchange for mornings making tea and cakes and selling stamps. Really hoping it's fun and relaxing. I'm thinking of it as a bit of a sewing retreat. I've got my trusty Brother packed in the boot, as well as enough fabric for two dresses - one of them a vintage '50s pattern. I'm slightly concerned I'll run out of thread and be unable to finish them as there's hardly likely to be a haberdasher on the island! Also packed are my wellies, lots of food, (no shop on the island either) a large box of wine, a new cookery book called The Skinny French Kitchen - which looks fantastic and is bursting with some great ideas (as well as envy-inducing pics of Paris) -  and some La Duree macaroons for friends who are also on the island after doing a foraging course. Well - come on - if you've been eating foraged greens for the weekend - you are in DESPERATE need of a little luxury! I hope these delicate treats haven't melted during the 12 hour drive!  I'll tell you all about my adventures on my return. Be good! xx

First book signing

I did my first book signing in Stroud at the weekend for Chic on a Shoestring. It's not actually launched till May 26th - so this was a preview. Had lots of fun chatting to everyone passing by the Stroud Bookshop where I was poised with my pen at a little table.  The signing was taking place as part of the Stroud Textile Festival which attracts some 15,000 people to the town every year. Great atmosphere. Note to self: must invest in something other than an old biro!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Amelie style tips

It's not often I blog about other peoples' blogs - but this really caught my eye. It's all about how to create your own Amelie style in clothes and interiors. I found it really inspiring, and it reminded me just how much I love the film.  Just click here to find out more about the style ideas and the blog. I'd love to know what films have inspired your style!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Five Live Fascinator

Here's the fascinator I made for Shelagh Fogarty - sadly it was her last show for Five Live Breakfast. She'll wear the fascinator at the Royal Wedding - and hopefully turn a few heads! To see more then please click here.

Monday, 18 April 2011

How Katy did!

Baby Dotty in her Dad's shirt!

A couple of weeks ago I told you about the book I'd found in a Nottingham second-hand shop which showed you how to make new clothes out of old. I challenged my Sister-in-law Katy to take on one of the projects from the book and make my little niece the "tiny tot's play dress" out of "father's old shirt". Well she did it that same week and I'm sure you'll agree that baby Dotty looks really sweet and tres chic too in her Dad's chemise!

Firstly Katy traced the pattern from the book and upsized the pattern-pieces - always a bit of a faff unfortunately - but hey, no pain no gain. She then cut out the pieces and realised she needed a lining, so used an old pillowcase to make that. She also used the button band from the original shirt on the back of the dress so she didn't have to make new buttonholes. This saved a lot of time and effort and worked really well. Katy abandoned the idea of making sleeves (which took up a surprising amount of fabric) and instead made the little dress sleeveless so it could be used as a sundress or pinafore (well, it IS summer after all!).

Katy in action!

Katy sewed the various parts together on her faithful old machine and then turned up the hem. As the fabric's been washed many times before, the dress is lovely and soft. I owe Katy a bottle of champagne for completing her challenge! Well done Katy. What next?

Monday, 11 April 2011

More than I bargained for!

I bought this massive vase from an African charity shop in Nottingham last week for £5. When I got home, I filled it with spring flowers - and then had to raid the bush in the garden for some greenery to fill out the display. The vase is  huge - measuring some 50 cm across! I thought it would fit very nicely into the alcove of the stately home that I will one day buy. In the interim, it takes up half the shelf space of my small London flat. When I purchased the vase I had to nip to the cash point to get the money as I didn't have enough on me. On my return, the guy behind the counter said he'd included an added extra. Tony (I soon discovered his name) had slipped a piece of paper into the bag. On it was his name and number! What a bargain!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

How's Katy going to do?

Whilst in Nottingham at the weekend I picked up a great vintage book called NEW CLOTHES FROM OLD - all about war-time rationing and making-do. It's full of useful tips about how to make clothing work extra hard. Some of the ideas are probably far too time-consuming for us today, but there are lots of ingenious suggestions too. I was chatting with my Sister-in-law Katy about the book and she had a flick through it. She's really good at sewing and all sorts of crafts - she recently made a fantastic zebra hand-puppet for my Nephew and Niece at her KNIT NIGHT in Stroud. One project that particularly caught her eye was the 'tiny tot's play dress' which you can make from 'father's old shirt.' Now my brother sports very natty shirts, many of them floral - the perfect fabric for a little girl's dress. Katy rather like the idea of giving this project a go and as my Niece is just a few months old - she's the perfect model. So - Katy has volunteered to try out the challenge and keep us all up to date via my blog on the success (or otherwise!) of her endeavours. I've promised her a bottle of champagne to keep her engaged when the going gets tough. Let's see what Katy's going to do next!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Crystal Palace gem

If you're looking for something a bit different this weekend and live in London - then why not head out to Crystal palace for Sunday lunch at The White Hart. This is a very pleasing pub with cosy sofas and a good range of draught beers. I felt I could curl up there and read the papers for the afternoon quite happily. They do homemade roasts on a Sunday too. Hurrah! Apart from the good atmosphere, weekend papers, board-games and knitting nights, this pub wins brownie points with me by boasting a vintage shop! can browse through a hand-picked selection of cool clothes pint in hand and chat to the delightful owners. They do a great window display - check it out above. That in istself was enough to bring a smile to my face! You can get to Crystal Palace on the new "ginger line".

Sunday, 27 March 2011


Odd Swan pic

You know those kitsch fake oil paintings you get in elderly peoples' houses? Well much to my surprise I've suddenly acquired a taste for them. Not all of them obviously - but this one in particular. I spotted it yesterday doing the rounds of my local flea market (which incidentally you should all have heard of by now). There was something about the colours that really appealed - and it reminded me of some languorous swans I saw last Spring on the River Wye in Monmouthshire. I find this picture very tranquil -  so I've hung it in the kitschen (spelling mistake intended) to bring calm to my cooking. At £1.50 it was a very good bargain indeed.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Doing it Yourself? Priceless

I don't know what hit me yesterday, but walking through Greenwich Park in the Spring sunshine, I suddenly felt like a change. And what do women do when they fancy a change? They cut their hair of course! When it comes to hair, there's no time like the present, so I walked up to Blackheath village and popped into a few hairdressers to see if I could get a last-minute appointment or cancellation. Being a Saturday of course, everything was pretty booked up, and the only slot I could find was a cut and blow dry for £50. Now call me tight, but that's just too much for a girl on a shoestring, so in spite of being tempted to splash out, I decided to revisit the MJ of my youth and do it myself - thus saving myself £50. Bargain! Now of course, the main rule for cutting your own hair is that you shouldn't do anything too complicated, and you shouldn't do it drunk. Suffice it to say, I stuck to principle number one, but blew principle number two out of the water by setting-to with the scissors at 11pm after a large glass of vino. I thought (in the tradition of the finest craft manuals) that I'd take you through my haircutting technique STEP BY STEP so you can try this money-saving idea at home too.

So - here follows instructions in how to cut your own fringe nudging towards midnight fuelled by Sauvignon Blanc.

1. Firstly separate off the area to be be fringed with a cross-the-head parting.

2. Cut one side (leaving plenty of room for adjustment).

3. Even up the other other side (trying to mirror the one opposite). Realise you really should have wet your hair to do this, so stick your head under the shower.

4. Get a bit more daring and cut closer to the length of fringe you require "feathering" the sides by sliding the scissors down the edges:

5. Dry off hair and even up if necessary.

6. The morning after the night before: