Operation shorten winter coat

My year of buying no new clothes is over but I’ve had no urge to rush out and buy new things, in fact I’m still slimming down my wardrobe. It’s made me think really hard about what I have and what I need and it’s been a bit of a revelation. I’ve lost interest in having items that don’t work for me, if they’re uncomfortable they’re out, if they don’t fit or aren’t quite right they’re either out or in the ‘to fix’ pile! The sorting and fixing takes time but I’m claiming the time back by not trying things on then taking them straight back off or trying them with everything else in the wardrobe. I’ve wasted hours doing this! I’m not taking an age to walk to the bus because my shoes are uncomfy, my beautiful but stupidly impractical black patent stilettos have been ebay’ed. I missed them for a nano second but life is much simpler when your shoes don’t fall off 😉

imageMy scariest project to date has been “operation shorten coat”. I had a couple of years’ lapse in my normally frugal ways and ended up with two calf length winter coats. The original one had a very torn lining but was warmer and harder wearing so I had the lining repaired last year and have worn it all winter. The second coat was unloved in the wardrobe so it had to go or have a radical overhaul. It was expensive though so I couldn’t bear to part with it so I opted to chop it instead. Eeeek!

So, how do you shorten a coat?

It was quite tricky! If you are going to do it, look really closely at the original construction first so you know what you’re trying to recreate on the new shortened hem. It might be helpful to take  some pictures first, of course I didn’t think to do that!

The lining of my coat was sewn to the outer layer to create the finish so there was no visible hem, these steps should work for a similar construction.


Use a seam ripper to carefully unpick the join between the lining and outer layer. I wasn’t too careful and nicked the fine wool in a couple of places. Cue lots of swear words (optional!)

Measure how much you want to take off and mark it all the way round on the inside of the wool. Measure from the finished hem to where you want the bottom of the new coat to be, measure upwards from the original hem all the way round as the edge might be curved. Be extra careful with your front pieces where the fabric crosses as it will be very noticeable if the length doesn’t match! If there is a split at the back do the same with that piece so it sits well.

Mark the length with a solid line, joining up all your measured points rather than drawning a striaght line incase there is a curve. You will fold the wool on the line so won’t see the mark once it’s fininshed.

Looking at the original construction measure the depth of the old hem (or the turn up!). Measure this out on the wool working down from your new hem line and again mark with a solid line. You’ll cut along this one.

Make sure you’re happy with the length, make really, really sure. Take a deep breath and cut. Start to breathe again 🙂

Fold the wool along the new hem line mark, pin it then press it firmly to hold it in place. My coat didn’t have an actual hem, the wool wasn’t stitched to itself (hope that makes sense) just the lining so it needed to stay in place while I sorted the lining.

Do the same process with the lining. Take the time to measure as your lining will be slightly longer than the coat as it is turned under so it doesn’t tear when you sit on it. Press the lining at the point it will fold.

photo 1

Attaching the two layers is where it started to get tricky 😦

Catch the two sides together and pin. The raw edge will be inside and not visible so you are pinning from underneath to hold it in place and then stitching. Unless you have unpicked the whole lining in think you need to do this by hand. The split at the back was really fiddly, swearing is optional!

photo 2

The front panels of my coat were put together differently from the back, instead of being joined with the lining the front was a double layer of wool. Pinch the sides together and stitch in tiny stitches along the hem line.

photo 3

Try your coat on and keep everything crossed that it looks ok. Admire and relax!

I really hope someone finds this useful! My newly shorten coat has been worn more in the last two weeks than in the last year so I’m pretty pleased:)

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What I’ve learned from buying no new clothes

It’s been six whole months since I challenged myself not to buy new clothes so it’s time for some accountability! How have I done and what have I learned?

Surprisingly well! It hasn’t been as hard as I thought partly due to some incredible charity shop karma.  A big thank you yo the god if charity shop luck 🙂

I haven’t managed to buy nothing but I’m pleased with what I’ve done.

Purchase one was a sun hat. Not something you always need in Scotland but it was an unusually  hot summer and I really did try not to buy! Charity shops turned up wedding hats but nothing suitable so I tried to make a reversible sunhat, it worked really well and would have been perfect, if I was five!! I’m sure I went for the large template but it didn’t work out. I tried again with a freehand template but I was in a bad mood by then and it was a disaster. Feeling a bit miffed I bought a cheap straw hat with my shopping. A week later I spotted a vintage Panama hat that I wore all summer.


The evolution of hats!

Lesson one, be patient. Charity shops will normally come good if you have a clear idea of what you need but you need to be prepared to make multiple visits, which means you need to leave enough time.

Purchase two was a flesh coloured vest top. I was working on our new house and needed to go straight out to a work event. I packed a change of clothes – cue transformation from boiler suit to madmen style skirt and blouse. The only problem was that I forgot to wear the right bra, and was rocking a patterned silk number under my work gear. You could see everything through the rather sheer blouse! The vest was to protect my modesty. Lesson two, be organised. I realised that I have made quite a few emergency purchases in the past. I flew to London for work once and forgot my suit trousers (I flew in jeans) and had to buy a dress before my meeting the next day. I’ve bought shoes because my feet were aching after wearing footwear that wouldn’t stand up to a decent walk. And I regularly forget hair brushes, make up and razors.

Purchases three and four were both shoes. Three was a pair of steel toed safety boots which I needed girl the renovation work. These probably fall into the essential category, they are already so worn that I’m sure they have saved my toes many times.  Four was a pair if summer sandals. I looked and looked in chastity shops for these but each pair I found had been so well worn that they looked pretty nasty! I don’t have a phobia for used shoes but dirty sandals and bare feet don’t go for me. Lesson three, be flexible. Buying nothing new is a choice intended to make a difference to my life and the environment but it’s not a penance and there are times when flexibility is needed.

The fourth lesson has been about myself and why I shop and it’s been a revelation. The two key reasons are boredom and envy. Brutal. Boredom is an easy one, quick wander around the shops to fill time or browse the internet. Stopping shopping has freed up lots of time for more rewarding activities, but sometimes planning those things takes a bit more thought than mindlessly wandering the shops! Envy is a more difficult one and I realised that while we were on holiday. We travelled around Spain for two weeks in a tiny camper van and my clothes and shoes were restricted to carry on luggage (friends took to van to Spain and we flew out out to meet them on a budget flight) . Walking around beautiful cities I couldn’t help noticing how chic other women looked and I started looking at clothes in shop windows! That brings me to the final lesson, find your style and be cool with it. That way you can look at other people, admire them but feel good enough about yourself not to feel driven to shop.

So far my wardrobe in holding up well. My jeans have had multiple repairs and before I would have relegated them to painting clothes at the first sign of a hole. The pleasant surprise is that I have tried to be more adventurous with my casual wardrobe and not always wear jeans. I’ve found some great key pieces in charity shops which I’ll post about shortly and I swapped a lot of clothes with my sister which has kept my wardrobe fresh.

Happy not shopping 🙂

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Adjusting to change


Where was it we were supposed to be going?

This year I’ve made huge and much needed changes in my life. At the start of the year I felt wrecked, too long working without a break, unrealistic expectation mostly of me by me, a poor diet and a manic lifestyle had all started to take their toll. So I did the unthinkable and left my well paid secure job with nothing to go to but the hope of something better. Some of my senior colleagues were so confused by the choice that they asked if I had cancer……….clearly the choice to walk away from money for life wasn’t one they were familiar with!

Six months on and I’m taking stock of what has changed and what I have acheived. I was prompted to write this by a post from Lindsay at Treading my Own Path – I wanted to say in my own way that change is good but that doesn’t stop it being hard to adjust and it doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong choice.

In the last six months I’ve cut my working hours from constant, to a few paid hours a month. My daily exercise has gone from sedantry, to lifting, climbing and constantly moving as I work on our house renovation. Although I’m not earning much, I am saving us £1000’s in builders fees. I’ve done things that I never thought I could do and I still get a huge sense of satisfaction in completing tasks. I eat breakfast everyday as opposed to never. I don’t drink coffee as there is no coffee run to tempt me away from my resolve. I have time to read and make things and be sociable. The sum of all these changes is that I feel healthier and stronger than I have in years. Even my hairdresser has noticed the difference and i no longer need to visit my Osteopath.

This all sounds idylic but there is a but. Redefining yourself is hard. I never thought I was attached to the status that my job gave me but without it I struggle to define myself. I still fall into saying what I used to do when I’m asked what I do. I’ve had to accept that while I don’t believe that you should be defined by a job, I have done that tomyself for years and changing the pattern doesn’t come overnight. Securing freelance work is much harder than I anticipated and requires confidence and perseverance that I don’t have in spades.

I think the key to making a big change like this is understanding your goals and dare I say, purpose. As a professional, my day to day purpose was to protect my company from legal threats, I was a legal ninja without the mutant turtle suit :0


Me in my old job – but I don’t think I smiled as much………..and most days I didn’t have an arm up my back :0

The second most important thing it to be comfortable with your goals and purpose, even if they run against every bit of social conditioning you have had to date. And this is where I have found the change hard. I’m learning that being comfortable with your goals and purpose doesn’t mean feeling comfortable – because change is by it’s very nature uncomfortable.

My goal in leaving my job was to get well and create a life rather than a rushed existence, although I planned  to go freelance, building a business wasn’t the primary goal. It’s a credible goal but it feels a bit frivolous and I’ve been embarrassed to call it a purpose. Having been driven to achieve for so long I feel a bit aimless at the moment although I know the move was the right decision.

Six months in and it’s time for me to get a bit more specific with myself but also to stop being apologetic for the choices I’ve made.

My purpose for the moment is to create the best possible life for my husband and I. That doesn’t mean making tons more money, it means making sure we are both strong and healthy, making healthy food, reducing chemicals, working enough to ensure I feel challenged and tomake sure my husband doens’t feel he’s on his own in supporting our family, building our home, fostering our relationships with friends and family and helping them when they need it without intruding.

None of this fits the pattern I was brought up to expect – go to school, go to university, get a job, get a better job but if the purpose behind getting a better job and a pay rise is to build a better life then I don’t need it. I have everything I could want right now. My old job means that our home is secure. My old job has given me choices I need to be brave enough to stick with.

I wish all the luck and support in the world to people going through changes right now whether by choice or by circumstance. Be kind to yourself and trust that you’ll know what to do when the time comes. I would love to hear how you have adapted to change, does it get easier?!

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A thank you to nursing staff everywhere

Just a short post today. NHS nursing staff frequently get a raw deal with patient complaints of poor care and bad attitudes. I unexpectedly put that care to the test over the last couple of days and I can honestly say that everyone who I spoke to was wonderful, with a couple of people going above and beyond. I won’t go into details, they don’t matter but I will say thank you to medical staff who try their hardest every day to treat not only the condition but the person, showing kindness when it is most needed. And especially to Avril who held my hand during a difficult procedure, she didn’t know me but age did know what I needed and I will always be grateful.

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What you learn in childhood sets you up for life

This week I’ve been hugely grateful for my dad. He is miles away in a different city and he doesn’t like talking on the phone. In fact he’s not a big talker at all. Despite the distance he’s helped me more than I can say this week.

My dad had a simple philosophy when it came to his children, all five of us. He didn’t believe in doing things for you, he believed in teaching you so you could do it yourself. This is how I came to be a dab hand with a paint brush and roller and countless other DIY tasks which have helped me no end this week.

Thinking about it, the power of my dad’s (and my mum’s) approach goes much further. There was absolutely no gender divide in our house. With three girls and two boys it would have been easy to assign us gender based tasks and teach gender based skills but there was none of that.

We all learned mixed skills. My brother taught me how to rye a tie and my shoelaces but he also taught me how to see my Brownie and Guide badges on my uniform. He’s also does a great line in power tools :0 My sister on the other hand,  can’t sew but if you need any DIY done she’s the best person to have around.

All of this meant that I had no mental restriction on what women could or couldn’t do until I went to university and was exposed to other people’s prejudices. Until then I knew I couldn’t be the King, the Pope or a Priest but everything else was up for grabs. Fortunately I was stubborn enough to hold on to me own view of life and keep rocking that “why not” attitude! It’s served me pretty well.

So today I’m grateful for my mum and dad and the subtle lessons they taught me. Fathers shape not only their boys but theirs girls by I stilling in them a sense of how women should be treated.

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Start at the start and keep working

Home renovation is an odd place to find life lessons but the work we are doing now seems to keep throwing them up!

The hubby and I have a flat that we rent out for extra income. When we checked it out after the tenants left last week it was in a really awful state and I was feeling a bit despondent at how we were going to get it renovated in any reasonable time. The carpets were beyond filthy, so were the walls which had the added bonus of holes, the beds were broken and the kitchen was disgusting. Our letting agent has some questions to answer.

Like anything the answer was simple, start at the start and keep working!

I had some work lined up which fell through at the last minute and strangely it has been a blessing as I’ve been able to spend all time cleaning, painting and filling holes! I was really disappointed not to get the work but doing all the decorating has probably saved as much as I would have earned. Nice little bit of synchronicity!

A week on and the work has finally paid off and it is starting to look like a home. New carpets go in tomorrow and it will be transformed 🙂

So where’s the lesson? When you’re overwhelmed it’s easy to look to the negative. I’m terrible for it. But in reality, negativity doesn’t get things done and certainly doesn’t make you feel better. The renovation projects are teaching me that even if you can’t see the end and you’re not completely sure how to get there, it is worth beginning. Do what you can, challenge yourself to do more, accept help and keep laughing. Negativity only holds you back, it never moves you forwards.  That’s a pretty good analogy for living isn’t it?!

Today I’m grateful for making progress and having the strength and health to have done this much.




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100 Days of Grateful – 1






Getting back to normal after a holiday is always a bit of a struggle for me. This year seems particularly hard because we had such a wonderful time, filled with amazing sites and experiences, and, now that I’m freelance, I didn’t get pestered by work. Bliss.

On holiday I seem to appreciate things more because they are different and new. It’s somehow easier to experience life with awe because I’ve stepped away from the everyday. Coming home I’ve stepped back into chaos! Our church renovation is in full swing, we are doing work on our house before we sell it and family life has gone a bit mad.

To keep that holiday feeling going I’m taking a leaf out of Oprah Winfry’s book and trying to be actively grateful for what I have every day and write these down each day.  I’m hoping it keeps the warm fuzzy holiday feeling going a bit longer!

My weekend was filled with things to be grateful for.

1/ my sister in law and her husband came to visit and rather than going site seeing, they helped us pull down lath and plaster from the roof area. Probably not much fun for them on their weekend but having four people working and cleaning up made such a huge difference I nearly cried!

2/ my husband. I don’t normally gush but he really is the nicest, kindest and most supportive man you could hope to meet 🙂

3/ my health. It’s been nearly six months since I left my crazy job and only now am I starting to feel strong and healthy. It was a hard decision to leave but I really believe it was the right one and I know I am incredibly lucky to have been able to take time out.

Happy Monday!






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Does homemade laundry powder do the job?

I switched to making my own homemade laundry powder in a May in a real effort to cut costs and chemicals from our lives. Four months on and my recipe has been well and truly tested so how did it do?

First the recipe.

I used two parts of each of washing soda and borax to one part of soap flakes and whizzed it together in the food mixer to blend it all together.  I used just one tablespoon in the machine so although weight for weight the powder didn’t cost much less, it worked out considerably cheaper per wash.

So how did it do?

The honest answer is ok but just ok. I played around with the measures and the amounts per wash but it didn’t cope too well with things that needed a wash rather than just a freshen up. I’m disappointed because I’ve read rave reviews including people who have successfully washed cloth nappies! We did really test it though. With the renovation in full swing our work clothes get covered in a fine layer of dust which the powder didn’t cope too well with. It also struggled with our holiday clothes which were a bit sweaty and smeared with suntan lotion – to explain we were away for two weeks in a very small campervan so our small wardrobes got well worn!

After having to rewash a few loads I decided enough was enough and have switched back to Ecover. To keep packaging down I bought a massive 5 litre refill pack and decanted it into an old squash bottle. So far it is working much better and the nice smell is a bonus.

At the same time I also tried making my own fabric softener. This was more about saving money and using up a glut of toiletries than cutting out chemicals. I did a clear out of my bathroom and discovered that my kleptomaniac tendencies towards toiletries for hotels had got out of control….


I’m ashamed to say that this isn’t all of it! So when I saw a recipe for homemade fabric softener using vinegar and hair conditioner I jumped at the chance to use up some excess.

This seemed to work well although it uses a lot of conditioner so to make it cost effective you would have to buy some really cheap stuff.

I wouldn’t deter anyone from trying to make their own washing powder but sadly it didn’t work for me 😦


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Can you do an Eco renovation?

My long break from blogging can largely be explained by the picture! That’s me looking very unglamorous. 


 The hubby and I have taken on a massive renovation and build project to build what we hope will be our long term family home.  It’s a beast of a project and we’re trying to imagedo as much as we can ourselves to keep costs down. I think most of our friends think we have gone a bit crazy but we’re determined to keep plugging away slowly but surely and to do it responsibly. 

I read somewhere that for every five new houses one house worth of waste is generated! Trying to keep it to a minimum is a struggle but here’s what we’re doing.

The place is an old church an has suffered badly from neglect so the whole thing needs stripped of lath and plaster.  It’s a shame to pull it all down but do much is rotten and safe that there is no real alternative. We’ve done all the stripping manually, I’m an expert with a crow bar 😉 As far as possible we have separated all the waste and taken it for recycling or gifted it. It’s the right thing to do but it is painstaking work. Apparently the lath makes great kindling so we’re making friends with the neighbours by sharing it out! 

All the tongue and groove panelling has been saved so it can be reused or sold on and we’re really hoping we can lift and reuse the old floor. The building was last used as a community hall so we have a full badminton court marked out on the floor! 

The building has thrown up some interesting finds. When it closed for use it was juimagest abandoned so it was full of discarded items from various groups. This guy really made me smile. We found a whole puppet theatre with puppets and a homemade set that we’re trying to find a home for. In the meantime the puppets are providing some light entertainment. 

A more useful find was an old apple cart and it has been a godsend for ferrying stuff too and from the building to the car to take for recycling. It’s a bit rickety but takes about 5 times as much as a wheel barrow. 

We have also managed to save all the old doors to reuse and were lucky enough to find more on Gumtree. They all need stripped back but they should look beautiful once they’re done. 

The whole process has been a huge learning curve in many ways. When you read about Eco builds the focus is largely on materials and heating, not waste reduction and recycling so we’re just doing what we can. I would be hugely grateful for any tips. 

It has also been a lesson in what is possible. Six months ago I had a desk job, now I spend most days at the top of a scaffold tower! I’m pretty proud of that because I cried the first time I had to climb down ……… I’m going to bed properly tired and a huge plus is,  I have arm muscles for the first time in a very long time. There will be a point soon where we have to hand over to a skilled builder but for now I’m challenging myself to learn new skills and it’s a good feeling. 

I’d love to hear your tips on Eco renovations, is it really possible?! 








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Shopping plastic free, or trying to!

After my plastic audit I decided to make more of a conscious effort to avoid plastics in my shopping today. I didn’t get to plastic free but I did make some changes for the better.

Here’s how I did

Vegetables – these were all bought loose.  IMG_0197[1]The mushrooms were in a paper bag which I will keep to reuse. I used plastic bags for the carrots and potatoes but the bags were reused from my last trip, washed and dried in-between. I thought this would raise fewer questions in the supermarket but next time I’ll try some cloth bags.  By reusing them at least I’m prolonging their useful life rather than disposing of them. Annoyingly the peppers and aubergines had plastic price stickers on.

Meat – not so good here. Both the chicken and bacon came in plastic with no obvious alternative.

Milk – plastic again.

Cheese -not a wax wrapped cheese in sight so plastic crept in here again.

Honey – I dodged all the plastic squeezy bottles and bought the glass one.

Painkillers – paper packing but plastic inserts, is there a viable alternative here?

Chilli powder – this left me scratching my head a little. Refill with paper packet and plastic insert or reusable glass jar with plastic lid? I went for the glass but I’m not sure how these compare in energy terms.

Shopping bags – no plastic used here!

All in a better effort but very far for plastic free!! How do you shop for plastic free meat?




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