vintage green and black houndstooth wool trousers that need an alteration

Altering Vintage

Part of our business is to alter clothes for our customers. Some of these are straight forward, and others do take a little bit more time, like this vintage pair of wool trousers. It was dropped off at our studio with instructions attached. 


 green and black vintage houndstooth trousers with instruction note

vintage trousers measured up for alteration








After some investigation we worked out how the alteration could be achieved. In this case we needed to gain 4 inches around the waist area. Usually this is quite a difficult alteration because there is rarely any excess fabric anywhere in a commercially made garment.



vintage trousers with waistband opened ready for an insert



This vintage piece was rather different as it had a lot of fabric hidden in a pleat and also some on the back seam which we could glean from.



vintage trouser waistband showing some of the fabric gained by unpicking the pleatvintage trousers showing fabric being gained at the waist by undoing two pleats



We did need to add something on the facing but that is a place not seen from the outside. Usually we are not that lucky.



pinning back the waistband on a pair of vintage trousersbeltloop pinned on vintage trouser waistband ready to be re-attached



We found that most of our time was spent carefully unpicking all relevant seams. That’s a job and half when you have a black thread used on green and black patterned wool cloth. All in all we think the alteration was a success! What do you think?



green and black vintage wool trousers after the alteration with tapemeasure showing the gained inches on the waist



November 20, 2020 — Manuela Joynes
samples of machine embroidery

Machine Embroidery course

We did this today and had great fun.

Machine embroidery is for sewing  like the proverbial "letting your hair down" in life.

Literally all you've ever learned about straight sewing and sticking to the rules go out the window. It's a real eye opener.

There were 3 people on the course today and me. I can honestly say that there was a lot of astonishment and liking of the processes.

Here are some pictures of the girls doing their practising

image of person using sewing machine to do freehand machine embroidery
image of person using sewing machine to do freehand machine embroidery


November 30, 2019 — Manuela Joynes
shelves of cotton fabrics in many colours and designs

Life and shop

A lot has happened since my last blog post. Let's just say I'm not one to write a diary about my life. There is just too much happening in it. She says two weddings and a grandchild later....

So, in 2017 I moved the business into a shop close to the industrial estate where I used to work. It's been a busy time. The shop is going well, we sell fabrics and some haberdashery but also things we make there, especially our own plus size clothing label Big Girl's Blouse. We also still do alterations and make new things for home and people. And we sell our own hats, caps and lots of cushions here too.

"SEW!" Storefront with proprietor and seamstress Manuela Joynes
The sewing school is doing well at the moment as more people are wanting to learn how to sew. It's a real pleasure to teach what I love doing.
Currently we have two evening classes running all the time and on occassion there are some Saturday workshops going on as well.
The courses list for next year is also available now. If you need to find out if there is anything for you click on the link below to take you to the booking page.


November 30, 2019 — Manuela Joynes

The Birth of Big Girl’s Blouse UK

Big Girl s Blouse final logo-01(1)

 The reason I’ve put fingers to keyboard is that I’ve had a kind of awakening last week. I’ll explain: One of the things in my life that has kept me positive was my sewing. I call it my sewing but it’s really more than that, it’s the creativity which sewing, crocheting and perhaps sugar craft bring out in me and that makes me content. So, after many years of home sewing, 4 years of college courses which I put myself and my family (I am married and have 5 children)through, I started my sewing business. Not being fussy about what I sew, work soon started rolling in. A short time later I needed to rent a studio away from home and then a bigger one and a bigger one. Studio number three now and I host sewing classes there and customers come in for fittings. There are shelves with cotton fabrics, trimmings and books that I sell too. However, the best thing in the room is my huge cutting  table, that was custom built for me. I mean just look at it, isn’t it impressive with its 3.40m length and 1.5m width. We can do some serious work on there.

This is our cutting table after one of our Christmas decorations workshops

Last year we had a commission of children’s clothes to do for a new company and I had to employ staff because I was getting very busy. Whilst doing this work I came up with the idea of having my own collection of clothes. Now, the market is pretty congested with all sorts from Far East, so in the past I’ve always just done bespoke clothing like bridal and Mother of the Bride etc outfits. But, I soon realised that there isn’t really enough choice out there for people like me. People like me, are people who are a size 20 or above. The ones that are called plus size in other words.

So coming back to my first sentence where I spoke of the awakening…..Well, there you go, I found out that rather than people wanting more choice, fatosphere bloggers (not my word there, I saw it on a plus size blogger’s page and stole it) were telling me that they were campaigning for clothes to be made available in all sizes from the smallest to the largest. Ok. Fair enough, I have no problem with that. But……Coming back to choice though. We don’t all,  thin or not so thin , want to wear the same outfits, or do we?  I’ll gladly make someone who’s a small size  a dress they can help designing (changes to necklines, length, sleeves and or their own fabric choices), if they decide they want something a bit different. What I found a little bit limiting though is being stuck with the stuff that is already there. Where is your  individuality girls? Or is it because of  the extra fat we’re carrying around we can’t be dressing differently as well and must be blending in? Because lets face it, that’s something that’s unlikely to happen anyway. So why not go the whole hog and be proud to stand out.

you can see some more of the Big Girl's Blouse images by going to the tab Big Girl's Blouse on the main menu.


June 02, 2016 — Manuela Joynes

Self-employment - or my life investment

My son told me: The hardest thing, Mum, is not writing your first blog, but finishing the second one. And come to think about it, I kind of agree. In my first blog I got just about everything off my chest: How I came to sewing, how it's affected my life and family and even my thinking. And yes, it's all quite nice to reminisce about it. But here I am now, desperately thinking of a theme or topic for this second blog and I'm having what can only be discribed as writer's block. I simply can't think of anything to write.

In fact, not being able to think of anything to write, could just have something to do with “what they call”: the onset of middle age and/ or tiredness from working all hours in self employment and the constant worry of where and when the money for the next bill is coming from.

Quite frankly, anyone who's ever been self-employed will agree with me on this: Being self employed is not easy! I tell you for why, and if at the end you have any questions or you think you don't agree, I don't mind if you argue your point. Politely, you understand?

Years ago I worked for a few different companies. I had paid holidays, paid sick days, Christmas and New Year bonus. If I was clever I could start work at 7 until 5 everyday and have Friday afternoon off. Or I could work from 9 until 5 and do that every day of the week. At the end of the month there was my salary and as long as I did my job well, I didn't have to worry. I got paid.

Since my children have all grown up I started my own business and have gone self-employed. This was a decision that I didn't come by lightly; as my husband will tell you, he didn't like it at all that I suddenly had my own business. (Old school, you see and he is more advanced in years than me as well).

My first workroom was the dining room which was followed by a little room in our converted outhouse. This was followed by a room my husband built for me (it was a little cold and damp in the winter though). In 2010 I was given the option to have my own workshop/shop facility in a neighbouring town. It was a little bit of struggle at first with the rent but I was quite positive until I was told I would have to move down a storey in the building. Having just spent money and time on a new floor in there, I didn't really want to do the same thing again after such a short time. So I went searching nearer to home, as I had seen many advantages of not working from home. There was a place available on an industrial estate round the corner from me. I took it because it was even cheaper than the one I had in the craft cooperative. It was a nice little unit with 2 rooms, with enough table space to work on larger projects and also running sewing classes. My hard earned cash was mostly spent on buying fabrics and haberdashery so that I could offer my students some products in-house. More for their convenience than any profit.

The unit filled up and got a little bit crammed. So early in 2014 I decided to leap again to a larger place. This time I had had all the inventory custom made. It cleared me out financially. In the time I've been self-employed I've hardly taken any pay as everything has gone back into growing my business. I've basically worked for free many hours for weeks, months, years just to grow my investment. And that is what it is: Self-employment is a life-investment. You invest your life to be employed. There are no paid holidays, paid sick-time, paid anything unless you work! The result, however, is the sweet fragrance of success (if it comes) and a great increase on your self-esteem.

It's just the sweetest thing when a client tells you, that the dress you've made, is just how they imagined it; the alterations you've made to their suit brings out the best of their figure; the interlined pair of curtains you've just put up in their lounge makes their house a warm and welcoming home and when an intermediate student tells you that after 20 years of sewing they've  learned 3 more things in the first lesson you've taught them.

Don't get me wrong there will be some instances where you wished you could have a second go at a job you aren't so sure about, but those are far and few between.

I stress, that self-employment is not for the faint hearted though. Apart from all the problems with HMRC (there never is anyone you can talk to, it takes hours on the phone for someone to answer) yo

You've always got to drive that little engine and lots of times I was (still am at times) just about to give up or go back home in my little work room. But my dream was and is slightly larger than that: One day I would like to earn a living and  employ lots of people and help them make a living too. And one day, I believe, God willing, it will happen.

If you are looking for some inspiration about selfemployment this link may help you


April 13, 2016 — Manuela Joynes

Confessions of a Fabric addict

How it all began.

Hi, I'm M. and I'm a fabric addict. I confess I can't help myself when it comes to fabric, I simply have to buy it when I see it and like it. Usually I buy enough of any one fabric so I can make anything I want to and that can mean I need 5 metres of it. As you might be able to imagine the storage of such yardage has become a problem. Hoarding fabrics does take up a lot of room!

The first time I remember to be somewhat enthralled by a piece of fabric, was when my granny made a little dress for one of my dolls. I must have been about 5 then. She had this piece left over from making a dress for herself and it was sooo very beautiful. Well, I thought so any way. It was a kind of mottled turquoise and green and even some darker shades of blue in it. Thinking back I'm kind of cringing because nowadays I wouldn't even touch the stuff. Literally couldn't! It was like a fluffed up nylon on the right side. Maybe even the forerunner to today's fleece, less fluffy though. I was the proudest owner of said dolly dress and many more followed.

Granny made a trip to Australia (much to my annoyance)(how dare she leave anyway) for about 9mts to visit her other two children (my auntie and uncle) and their families there. As she couldn't speak the language there wasn't really that much for her to do except sew. That's why on my first birthday after her return (must have been about 10 then) I was delighted to open a box like those archive boxes with a lid. Yes, Granny was very organized. In it were, nicely folded and colour co-ordinated, lots of fashion garments to fit my Barbie doll. I kid you not. Trouser suits made from Ponte, skirts, dresses even a long winter coat and wedding dress and a party frock. The wedding dress was made from a piece of lace my Gran had left over from an evening dress she made for herself. (She had to have one for dinner with the captain on her way back from Australia).Gran had a treadle machine but I think the one she was using in Oz was an old electric one.

Although I was in awe of her sewing I didn't really get going with it until much later. I think Mum and Gran were just worried I'd do myself an injury especially with the old treadle machine. Really I can see what they mean now. There was an ebay auction recently that caught my eye and I bought a singer treadle a couple of months ago. Nice machine, but boyo, the energy they must have had in them days...... I did about 5 minutes on that machine and was frantically gasping for air. I do visit the gym quite frequently but that thing had me exhausted. Anyway I think those seamstresses from yesteryear are my heroes. Can you even imagine how fit they must have been if they were doing this day-in and day-out. To be honest, if they asked me how they could improve my local gym, I would suggest to install 4 or 5 treadle machines, so members could use them for exercising legs and core. I'm sure it would help fight thrombosis. (Note to self: Must contact Minister of Health and suggest treadle sewing rooms to improve physical and psychological well being).


The start of the stash and my first invention

My first craft was crochet from the age of 5 and I loved that. I made lots of clothes for my dolls and teddies and at age 7 my Barbie received crochet clothes as well. At that age my knowledge of sleeves and such things was non existent , so I didn't do them because I couldn't. Instead of that I made sleeveless clothes that could be worn as tops, dresses or skirts. In short, you're talking to the inventor of the boob-tube. Well, I'd like to think so anyway. Someone stole that idea of me. Sigh! Alas I was just a bit too young to understand the greatness of my invention.

When I was ten I crocheted an orange dress with huge flowers in the middle. Real flower power that one. I adored it and wore it lots and lots. My mum was jealous because instead of having one row of flowers she had two and she never finished her dress either. But still no sewing in sight.

At 13 we all did a bit of sewing at school and my class were making these wide tunics that could be worn as tops over trousers or as a mini dress. My goodness, they really were short though.

1977 and where it all started (darn it! This shows my age now). My first job. In Germany everyone who does not go off to do A-levels strives to do some kind of apprenticeship. It is a good way into life as it guarantees a good education and qualifications as you have to sit exams too. My apprenticeship was in the office of a shirt factory. The title of it at the end was according to bing Industrial clerk (Industrie Kauffrau). In my apprenticeship I needed to spend time in every office of the firm. Which meant I'd have 2 mts of reception duty, then one month at school, 2 mts in office sales or buying section, booking keeping, etc. All in all we did 4mts of school a year and the rest at work. In my first year I had to work the few days between Christmas and New Year which I did rather grudgingly as until then I only ever had holidays in that time. I thought stock taking was going to be a really boring time, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. As soon as I got into the store room or should I say the store hall, my day was made. There were literally thousands of rolls of fabric to be counted. Now, you might think it's a shirt factory, so what can be exciting about a few plains, stripes and checks? But you'd be wrong. The firm I was working for was called Einhorn (Unicorn) and also sold lady's blouses. This is where the excitement came in as the fabrics were really colourful. I just loved checking all the rolls,  to the detriment of the other apprentice, who I was supposed to be helping to do the stock take. The look on his face when he heard me say:”Could you just reach up there and get me.....?” See that 's the thing about being vertically challenged (I'm only 5'3 1/2” which is short, I think) you just can't reach up high enough. There were also a few shelves with discontinued lines. They were just not used anymore and valued at a really low price. In the New Year I asked Herr Hornung (section manager for buying fabric)what was happening with all the discontinued fabric in the store. He said eventually they'd be thrown out or sent to the second's shop. I managed to persuade him to sell me a few metres and got myself some real bagains.

The first fabric I remember buying was a green and white print which I made into a skirt and long waist coat. I really didn't know much about sewing then and the idea was to make it in the afternoon and then wear it out in the evening. In theory..... ! It took quite a while to be able to wear it with the help of Granny. Many skirts and dresses made from the store room fabric stash by Granny followed. My frustration was grand as I didn't really make any of the things I wanted to because if I got stuck I would take it to Gran and she'd just finish it which was lovely of her but also didn't give me chance to learn it myself. I knew something had to change

1978 saw the dawn of my sewing career as I enrolled on my first sewing course in September. The first thing I made was a pair of white jeans with pleats at the top. Also made a little cotton dress which I wore for a very long time. Then I had the brilliant idea of making a winter coat (my teacher must have thought I was nuts, same as I would think now of any of my students who'd come to me with that idea as a 3rd project). At the time I was 17 and still and an apprentice. Needless to say my wages weren't that great but I had 2 fabrics from Einhorn's storeroom costing me about 6 DM. About £2 at the time. My tutor thought that one of them was ok for a lining but I needed to get a proper coat fabric,(meaning wool) for the outside. Dilemma, that one. I had hardly any money but I new she was right. I borrowed some money of my Mother and paid about DM 80 (short of £25), in those days a great amount of money but still cheaper than a coat of same quality. The pattern was just very simple with a pleat in the back and a tie up belt. It was sort of a rust colour and the lining was checked with sand, yellow and rust. It actually looked really good and I wore it during quite a few winters and it was wide enough to wear during 2 of my pregnancies.


My family, my guinea pigs (There will be a guinea pig story later on, I promise)

The course went well and my future husband went halves with me on a Singer sewing machine, after I trashed (well, knocked the timing out) of my gran's very new and sophisticated Singer. Granny's new machine had a drop-in bobbin, and I seem to remember it wound in the down position, but don't quote me on that, it might have been just wishful thinking. My new machine survived many years and I did lots of projects on it. After we moved to the Isle of Man, got married and started a family I used it a lot to make curtains (wouldn't really call it that now, but you know first projects and all that...). This is also when I started making some more clothes using several fabrics up that I still had from Einhorn's.

A light bulb moment

I had tried to do tie dye and make scarves from my dyed fabrics. A venture that ultimately failed as tie dye had gone out of fashion by time I finished them. I think there might still be one or two knocking around somewhere. I thought then what a great effort it was to make things and make a profit.

A lot of moving about

Back in Germany a couple of years later. (We're talking 1985 now) some friends persuaded a designer/maker to give us some lessons. This lady had a young family, not much income and lots of time on her hand. There were probably about 7 or 8 of us to begin with and we had a great time learning. I was pregnant at the time and all my maternity clothes were made on that course. My husband also had two new pairs of trousers from it and my daughter benefited as she had clothes from all the leftover fabrics. Nearly all of her things were hand-made at the time. Fabric remnants were easy to come by as the area where I lived in Germany (Tuebingen/Reutlingen) was known for the many textile factories in the area. In those days there were around 50 of them, weavers, spinners, dyers and sewers. Nowadays there are 3 surviving.
My sewing experience lasted until my twins were born in 1989. There were just not enough hours in the day to do my ordinary housework and look after the children, so I temporarily gave up. Two toddlers and needles and pins everywhere
just don't go together! To keep my sanity I embarked on a little cake icing and actually made some cakes on commission. Very enjoyable, but the appearance of ready made iced birthday cakes on supermarket shelves stopped it from being worthwhile. Things do go in roundabouts though. Look how many novelty cake makers there are now!

Some colourful crochet interlude

After the birth of my last child in 1994 I decided to revisit my crochet experience and made one of those patchwork blankets. An undertaking that filled near enough 2 years but was definitely worth it. It measured 2m by 1.5m and I got a bit protective over it when my husband declared he wanted to be buried in it.

Apart from the usual mending, altering and making home furnishings there wasn't really much I attempted in the way of sewing until the year 2000. That was the year when 5 members of my women's group fell in love with Patchwork and so decided to hire a Patchwork teacher and have Patchwork and quilting lessons. The group grew steadily but unfortunately all the founder members have left now due to private commitments. 2001 saw me signing up for a soft-furnishing course in Cheltenham. This 2 year course was most enjoyable and we were all ready to sign up for year 3 and 4 when our tutor, Joan Hodgsen retired. 5 of us ended up going to Hereford to finish the course with Marina, who was like Joan an excellent teacher.

Due to the courses I was always in need of new fabrics and in my early years carboot sales and charity shops did suffice for my bargains. Occassionally I would be able to pick up some goodies from a sale but due to a decline in Fabric shops there really wasn't that much choice in Cheltenham.

Present day

Nowadays I have progressed picking up my fabrics from the wholesale market. And even there I can hear the gentle whisper as I walk by the bolts of fabric:“Please take me with you”. So I do, when they are pleasing to my eyes as well. That would usually mean I stick to the bright colours. It makes me feel alive.

Seems I'm not alone with the addiction so I've linked someone else's blog post

May 29, 2014 — Manuela Joynes

First Post

Well, this is our first post and really guys, I'm not that familiar with writing blogs. So you will have to bare with me and be very very patient. There would be a lot I can put on here but its having the time to get on and do it all. One person, one pair of hands,..... get the drift?


May 18, 2014 — Manuela Joynes