Great British Sewing Bee Sleeveless Shell Top, Shirred Top pattern hack, and Camisole Top – A Review

Three patterns sewn so far from the Great British Sewing Bee Fashion with Fabric book  and it’s been a great sewing journey! I’ve been doing the “easier” stuff first as I’m now full-time at home looking after Boop so it’s a little difficult finding blocks of time to trace and cut patterns. To date I’ve sewn the Sleeveless Shell Top, a pattern hack off the Shirred little girl’s dress, as well as the Camisole Top which is a hack off the Jumpsuit.

First off, the sleeveless shell top. I chose a flower mosaic cotton fabric to make this top but added bias tape for the hem of the top as I wanted some contrast. I will be honest and say that I had to refer to Angela Kane’s tutorial mid-way through sewing this as I got a little confused over the bit about turning the fabric inside out. Also, my darts were too high on the bust as my measurements there were off the chart but otherwise, this proved to be a really effective pattern at rustling up a great, everyday summer top that’s still decent enough to go to church in.


I am planning to do this again as I think it’s a timeless Audrey Hepburn-esque classic top. Espeicially when you can choose a lovely fabric covered button to pair it with!

The shirred top was a hack off the shirred little girl’s dress. I decided to do another top instead of a dress for myself as the fabric I chose was rather transparent and there’s nothing worse than a see-through maxi dress unless you’re on a beach. I’ve always loved The Hungry Caterpillar children’s book and hope that Boop will as well when he begins to speak and read, but for now I have YARDS of Eric Carle’s Hungry Caterpillar fabric with long-term ambitions of making a quilt for Boop…the fabric is so fun! And it can be sewn to great effect for an adult as well with the right pattern such as this shirred top.



This was very fun to sew although I cussed a couple of times when I dropped the bobbin while hand winding it for the shirring (fat fingers!).


It’s a fun, cute, top to sew. Definitely one for wearing when bring baby out for some playgroup fun.

And finally, the camisole top that’s a hack off the jumpsuit. This was much easier to do than the sleevless shell top. I’m not entirely convinced the interfacing was necessary for the neckline but then again I guess it depends on what end of the scale your fabric sits on. The pattern called for a drapey fabric so I chose a polyester rayon fabric with a blue roses print. This is drapey but relatively ‘thick’ and  so, I’m willing to wager a bet, might still sit well on the neckline without interfacing.


This pattern is very versatile and depending on the fabric you choose, can go from sweet/innocent to fun/flirty to elegant/evening. I can easily see myself sewing this pattern in all three themes. But most of all, as pointed out in the GBSB book, the camisole top is like a your own dirty little secret when worn under an office jacket. Naughty but nice. Deliciously decadent.


So in review, I think all three tops from the GBSB book are great and I have already worn them to go out (sleeveless shell top has already made its foray into the solemnities of Sunday mass!). I would definitely make the sleeveless shell top and camisole top again in different fabrics. For the shirred top I’m going to try making a maxi dress with it next time round. Any fabrics to recommend for this then? 🙂


Jung Chang’s Dowager Empress Cixi and other books

Despite my resolution *not* to buy more books in anticipation of shipping my considerable collection over to London, I ended up with these two books after half an hour’s browsing at Popular


Reading was and still is a great passion of mine. I like books, both as objects and subjects. The bookshelves in my room easily hold about 100 books and many are more than a decade old and falling apart at the bindings. I have an expressed preference for English literature, social history and historical biographies. An odd nod to Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, and those GBP10 books at Tesco and Waitrose that make for light bedtime reading with a packet of crisps. Otherwise my shelves are filled with 18th to early 20th C books. I have been given many funny stares by friends, who can’t understand how I can plow through the ostensibly boring minutiae of life depicted in Pride and Prejudice, the sheer cynicism and human cruelty portrayed in Brighton Rocks, the hyperbole of Great Expectations, or the depressing lilt of The Remains of the Day. The greatest novel in my opinion? Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. Best autobiography? Out of Place, Edward Said. Historical biography? Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert K Massie.

Even worse, or so it seems, is my love for social history. What value is there in reading about what people wore in the 18th century? Who cares how they cussed in those days…The irony is that I was never a history student. I studied geography right through to my A levels and even contemplated majoring in it at university. But then I ended up in government and this annoying little concept of path dependency arose during policy formulation.

Why do we undertake historical analysis? No doubt for its own sake, but also to understand the roots of today’s policy, as well as to serve as a comparator. I have the greatest respect for authors of history/social history/biographies because they have a tough job of triangulating views and voices, as well as distinguishing between primary and secondary sources. On hearing that I had bought Jung Chang’s Dowager Empress Cixi, a friend dryly remarked that “the author has written works of fiction”. My knowledge of Chinese history is sufficient, but not robust enough to have studied the original records of the Qing court to decrypt the scholarship. But it’s quite clear from the outset, that the portrait painted of Cixi by Jung Chang is revisionist. I have no quibble about Jung Chang’s attempt to rehabilitate Cixi’s image as a power-mad tyrant who ran a corrupt court filled with evil eunuchs thriving with poisonings and executions. But there is considerable airbrushing in this book. My own personal view is that Cixi was no more ruthless than other rulers. She introduced some reforms in the last years of her life; getting rid of foot binding, understanding the need for industrialisation and military reforms. But then again resentment against the Qing dynasty was so strong it collapsed 3 years after her death. She had political instinct, but within the confines of the Forbidden City. She was no stateswoman, and put a stop to sending children abroad for study after the British Warships fiasco.

So this brings me to the big question. What happens to all my books, in addition to the Other Half’s equally considerable book collection !? Well of course we hope that Boop will pick up reading as a habit. And by reading, we mean good old hard-copy books. Not e-books, as the tendency for young children to quickly skip the page to ipad game apps and what not is just too tempting. For now, Boop’s book collection consists of the usual nursery rhymes, fairy tales, sensory books, and the Children’s bible. He has a bed time reading routine, and is beginning to learn how to turn the pages.


It will be interesting to see where Boop’s reading will veer towards as a teenager. The Other Half’s reading is similar to mine only where the Booker Prize shortlist is concerned, as well as the odd text from the secondary school English Literature curriculum. [ Duchess of Malfi, anyone!? 🙂 ]The Other Half likes to read and used to write poetry. Apart from a brief schoolgirl crush on Emily Bronte and her poetry, I do not. We both, however, buy copious amounts of recipe books and intend to buy more from this list, especially the Roald Dahl one for Boop to join us in the kitchen! For now, however, he is our little supermarket mascot 🙂


Environmentalism and a Baby in a Garden City

“Sustainable development means more than environmental concern. What are the links between social policy and sustainable development?”
Ah, exam questions. Don’t you just love the anticipation, the adrenaline, the rush, the fear…and then the sheer physical and mental pain of scrawling and scratching away with a pen for the next 2 or 3 hours trying to argue your way as concisely as your head and handwriting will allow? I found an old exam paper from my MSc days chucked away at the corner of my cupboard as I was yet again, battling to find more space for Boop’s books and toys. Back when I was attending lectures for this module, I tried going vegetarian at least 3 times a week and downloaded several apps in an attempt to reduce my carbon footprint in other ways. Sustainable development and environmentalist philosophy is fascinating in the UK and US with dedicated activists expanding Transition Town networks across countries, as well as other localised trading systems or alternatives like time banks that use the exchange of time to forge stronger social capital in neighbourhood communities. And of course there is the Green Party and their key policy demands of a “Citizen’s Income” for all.
In Singapore, we are green, green garden city. We are, in fact, beautifully green with Gardens by the Bay. Who can forget the 50-meter-high solar-powered “supertrees” and climate-controlled biomes after a visit? They were the superb vision and sheer energy of Lee Kuan Yew, who sowed the first seedlings in Singapore – “I sent them on missions all along the Equator and the tropical, subtropical zones, looking for new types of trees, plants, creepers and so on. From Africa, the Caribbean, Latin, Middle, Central America, we’ve come back with new plants. It’s a very small sum. But if you get the place greened up, if you get all those creepers up, you take away the heat, you’ll have a different city”.
And of course, dotted around the island, there are troves of recycling bins, or just bins lest you get the infamous fine for littering. National policy aside, there are NGOs like the Edible Garden City that champions the “Grow Your Own Food” movement in land-scarce and import-dependent Singapore. This infectious group of Singapore farmpreneurs not only help corporates with foodscaping, but also seed the knowledge of food growing in schools. The Growell Pop Up, as its name suggests, is a pop up that hosts community based workshops on food sustainability. So there is stuff going on, just not perhaps on the scale where a discernible, ground-up narrative can be articulated. Back in LSE, the ideal was touted as a narrative that led to the emergence of a newly empowered ‘welfare citizen’ with ecological citizenship (Fitzpatrick), and this required a certain degree of self-actualisation and change in lifestyle expectations and values.
So anyway, since coming across that exam paper, I have been thinking again about my carbon footprint,over-consumption, and really, how to live simply. It’s trickier now, with a baby as much of what I do revolves around his schedule. Well, we did our weekly sensory play activity and did it on a shoestring budget of $5. I used sago and brown rice, as well as some pasta. The most expensive item at $.250 was shaving foam. wpid-20150401_134513.jpgBoop was a little puzzled when I first handed the bag to him but once he realised how fun it was to squish foam with green sago seeds and rice he played with it on his own for the next 10 minutes, and then on and off for the rest of the day.
Food-wise, well, ha. My efforts to be healthy just went out the window…. partially because it’s just easier to grab ingredients you have in your fridge rather than run across to Giant when you have a baby. So I ended up roasting pork belly, which came out with unexpectedly fantastic crackling. Im not too sure if this was because I bought the unfrozen slices on the racks rather than the whole belly from the butcher, but I roasted it at 180dc for 45 minutes, and then turned it up to 200dc for about 5-10 minutes. No fancy ingredients other than olive oil, salt and thyme.
I figured that with one sinful eat, why not make it two? 😉
This blueberry cheesecake was an amalgamation of no-bake cheesecakes found online, consisting of cream cheese, sugar, double cream and blueberries. Digestive biscuits and butter for the base. It wasn’t the best cheesecake, but it did satisfy my cake craving which sort of sprang up suddenly at night after Boop fell asleep.
As for Boop, he loves his vegetables! So at least one person in the house was both healthy and environmentally friendly! So I’m not too sure I reduced my carbon footprint at all. But I guess it’s about recognising our limitations, both circumstantially as well as personally,while still making a daily effort at it in our own small way.