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Bletchley Park - A visit and a sketch

Bletchley Park 

Home of the World's first digital computer.

Sketch inspired by Bletchley Park. A3 sketchbook mixed media. To see the process scroll to the bottom of the page.


"On 18 September 1938, a small group of people moved into the Mansion under the cover story that they were a shooting party. They had an air of friends enjoying a relaxed weekend together at a country house. They even brought with them one of the best chefs from the Savoy Hotel to cook their food. Behind the cover were members of MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC & CS), a secret team including a number of scholars and academics turned Codebreakers. As tensions in Europe peaked, Admiral Sinclair, Director of GC & CS and SIS, had activated their War Station: Bletchley Park. The group’s job was to set up and run intelligence activity from Bletchley Park. They responded quickly, transmitting their first message at 6 pm on the day they arrived."

Enigma Machine - Thousands of these machines were used by German forces. When a letter was pressed on the keyboard, a system of rotating wheels and wires changed it to a different letter.

"Work began in the Mansion and its outbuildings, with a staff of around 150 people. As more and more people arrived to join the codebreaking operations, the various sections began to move into large pre-fabricated wooden huts set up on the lawns of the Park. For security reasons, the various sections were known only by their hut numbers. The first operational break into Enigma came around the 23 January 1940, when the team working under Dilly Knox, with the mathematicians John Jeffreys, Peter Twinn and Alan Turing, unravelled the German Army administrative key that became known at Bletchley Park as ‘The Green’. Encouraged by this success, the Codebreakers managed to crack the ‘Red’ key used by the Luftwaffe (German air force). In addition to German codes, Italian and later Japanese systems were also broken."

Alan Turing's Office. Hut 8. Turing took the lead on breaking naval Enigma cyphers - a huge task that was thought impossible. His mathematical skills enabled him to break many cyphers including th ecomplex Lorenz cipher where he used a method that became known at Turingery. Together with fellow codebreaker Gordon Weldman he developed the Bombe machine to help speed up the code breaking process.

"The world's first programmable digital computer was built in secret by the British in the Second World War at Bletchley Park. Bletchley is famous as the place where the Enigma cipher machine was broken: a task which they performed efficiently using a machine called a Bombe."

Alan Turing's teddy.

Creating a paper pattern from a piece of your clothing

If you have a piece of clothing that you know fits you and you like, why not create a pattern from it so that you can make another?

I had an old top which was falling to pieces and rather than throw it away, I decided to unpick it to use for pattern pieces. You don't need to unpick anything of course as if the top is simple, you can still take a pattern from it. I'd start simply though with something like a tee shirt rather than a complex dress!

Now, any how-to no matter how carefully written down can appear like gobbledygook when glancing through, which if it does, I apologise!! It is in fact quite a simple process, and you might find it easier to google and follow some the the excellent videos on youtube.

Here's my cotton top carefully unpicked to give me a sleeve, back and front bodice pieces and some bias binding that finished the neckline. 

Iron the pieces so they are nice and flat, and for the front and back pieces which in this case will be cut on the fold, iron in half matching the shoulders and sides carefully.

Lay the pieces under a piece of pattern paper and carefully trace around the shapes, noting where folds are and labelling each piece of pattern so you can identify it easily. (It's also useful to mark a straight line so that you can place the pattern pieces on the grain of your new fabric when cutting out)


Now scroll down a bit to follow the making up.

If you haven't unpicked here's a couple of extra steps. 

 1) If you are not unpicking, then look at your piece of clothing and decide how many pieces went into making it. Usually there is a front, back, sleeve and facings. You'll need one pattern piece for each.

2) Turn the garment inside out and lay it on top of the paper. Start with the sleeve. Smooth it out so it's lying flat - you might find it helpful to pin into place. Draw round the outside of the sleeve, noting where there is a fold (if you've unpicked you will be able to just draw around the piece) Look at the seams and draw carefully around these noting how much seam allowance there is - you'll need to add that later.  Look at the hem - measure it if you need to - and mark the edge of the fabric and then add a dotted line to show where the fabric would end if the hem was folded out.

3) Pin the sleeve to the paper if you haven't already done so.  You''ll need a pin at each end of the shoulder/sleeve seam. Carefully fold back the sleeve, and draw in the armhole seam.

4) Note how deep the neckline fold is (on a tee shirt). Fold the front in half along the centre - pin if it helps, and draw round the shape. Unpin and mark a seam allowance (not the centre fold) on the edges and include the extra at the bottom for your turn up.

5) Do the same for the back.

6) Remove garment from paper, and draw straight edges with ruler, and even out any uneven lines, adding a seam allowance where necessary. This can be what you want depending on whether you're using a sewing machine or an overlocker.

7) Cut out the pattern from the paper.

Making up

You now have your pattern pieces and need to cut them out. Make sure you mark any seam allowances. If your garment was overlocked, then these might be very narrow and now is the time to make adjustments to suit you and your machine.

Lay the pattern pieces on your new fabric in the same way as any other pattern. You won't have detailed making instructions of course, but will know what bits need to go on folds and what pieces have to be cut out as a whole.

I found that marking hems etc with tailors chalk helped.

I made up the sleeves first, by sewing the hem line. I used 3 lines of stitch for decorative purposes. I then sewed the seam line. I don't have an overlocker so used a straight stitch and then oversewed the edges with a zig zag. My seam allowances were very small!

The back and front were sewn together at the sides and the sleeves fitted in the normal way. The neck line was finished with bias binding on the original, and I had to buy some as I don't have a bias binding maker.

I pressed the bias in half, and sandwiched the edge between, before stitching. I then turn the whole to the inside and stitched again through the binding and edge to make it lie flat. I used 3 lines of stitch to match the sleeves and hem.

The finished piece. I didn't want to use expensive fabric until I was sure this would work, but now have a pattern I know fits and I quite like, so can run up another at any time!

Simplicity pattern 8742 - jacket/cardigan

I still class myself as a beginner dressmaker but I am getting more experienced, and I've decided that I really like making clothes. I think I may have got over the horror instilled as a child by a rather fierce and unforgiving needlework teacher at school.  I used to hide in the fabric cupboard at the back of the classroom, but it appears that after 50 years, I've broken free!!

I have one or two patterns I've bought recently for various coats and jackets, but really liked the look of the model wearing her longer length coat on Simplicity 8742.

I prefer the more modern pattern makers that are around now, who use heavier weight paper rather than tissue for printing the pieces on. Liesl, Vogue, and The Avid Seamstress are definitely my favourites so far, not only for their quality but also the clarity of instructions.

I chose a warm wool in a plum colour from a local shop. I went for greens and blues but the assistant said this colour warmed me up a bit, and G agreed so I decided to try something different.

The pattern pieces and layouts were easy enough to follow, and as usual there was 1/4 to a 1/3 metre of fabric left over after cutting - enough for a bag I guess! The printed instructions were not that easy to follow. In one or two places I had difficulty understanding them (come on SlightlyArtisticWoman, they are supposed to be Simplicity itself!) Also I didn't think the pattern fitted that well when made up. I don't have a dressmakers dummy and wasn't going to bother with a toile, so maybe that's a bit my fault? 

I had to alter the shoulders and could have done with increasing the darts, but because these darts were sewn in as part of the collar fitting (they run from the collar down the front behind the lapel) that would be difficult. 

If you read this earlier posting you'll know that I am currently planning to make a pattern for G's new dressing gown - this jacket/cardigan reminds me a bit of his current one which is maybe why - and I'm being honest here -  I'm not entirely sold on it. The fit had to be adjusted by resetting the sleeve so the neck to top of arm was shorter,  and despite being cut out and made as instructed, it doesn't drape as well as I'd like at the front. I will wear it - it cost too much to not give it a go - but I won't make this one again.

This is one of the drawbacks to home sewing I think. If you go into a shop you have a choice to try on and usually in many colours and sizes, and probably a bit cheaper too. 

Still, I have fabric leftover from the rag market in Birmingham (really cheap!) so maybe I'll make other patterns in these fabrics until I find one I really like. I think I'm going to splurge out on a tailor's dummy too - looking in a mirror and trying to stick pins in your garment is not adding to my love!!


Barcelona - from an old photo I took some years ago. I loved the tall buildings and narrow passegways. As I recall, just around the corner from this delightful place, was a small shop selling hand made sketchbooks with leather covers. I did buy one, but a small one as they were very expensive.

I put some base notes onto mum's portrait too and have left it to dry.

Concertina sketchbook work in the style of Karen Stamper

You know I like to watch YouTube video how-tos! Here's a link to one by Karen Stamper who also runs courses/workshops (no affiliations)

I decided to have a go, and here's some photos of the processes I went through! If they seem too vague, I apologise but don't want to give away others creative secrets - click on the link to find out more!

The idea is to produce interesting backgrounds which you can sketch on. I have an old concertina sketchbook which was mostly unused as I found it wasn't good for wet media - the paper buckled and broke down when it got wet with paints etc - and it only had a couple of pen and ink sketches in of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Here are two images of the two styles of work. Which do you prefer?? 😊 The pen and ink drawing informed the more abstract one.


Here are a few photos of the process

A collection of collage bits and bobs. Some papers with marks on made some time ago following a workshop by Laura Kemshall (link in sidebar under "inspiring places")

Some sticky labels, gesso, various widths of masking tape, quink, Inktense paints, and magazine images.


Building layers of background texture with the tapes and gesso. Nothing in the least considered here, just sploshing on. If you wet the page in bits, then the quink flows delightfully and splits into component colours.

Magazine papers, sandpapered over a plastic rubbing block that the grandchildren use.

And fixed into place. When I'd finished with the sticking, inking and gessoing, (and it's very easy to do too much here), I turned to my image of the museum and put in a similar skyline. As you can see its a rough approximation only. I used a water soluble pen and diluted it to soften.

A new discovery for me, which Karen mentions on YouTube, is Posca pens. They are great fun and I love them. Kind of poster paint in a pen. They are permanent when dry but you can use water and a paintbrush to move them around whilst they are wet. I used a blue one above my building line to add definition to what was quite a busy image. I also knocked back some of the collage with white.

I'm definitely going to try this on a bigger scale - I've been given a landscape A3 sketchbook and would love to find somewhere quiet to draw some urban scenes and skylines. Anyone I know out there want to join me in Birmingham one day??

Dressing gowns, duct tape, and 3 course breakfasts.

He, who should be considered, has had a dressing gown which he's clung to like a comfort blanket for many years. Bless him, but the poor old thing is falling to bits (dressing gown not husband)  He's worn it to hospitals, hotels, on planes, in front gardens, and during Christmas mornings full of fun and frivolity for the last 40 years, and it is beginning to wear out and has holes popping up here and there. He has conkers in the pockets to guard against moths.

Over his 3 course breakfast this morning - he always has 3 courses: toast with marmite, toast with an egg, and another piece of toast with jam, I offered to make him a new one. Just for a brief moment he hestitated and I saw my chance. "It's ancient and needs replacing; it smells; it's in holes; it's as rough as a badgers bum" were the salient points of my argument. I don't need a new one he whined. "You do" I said, "it's in holes". He looked at me squarely and without humour and said "I can use duct tape".

You can't argue with that.

We did go to John Lewis to look at patterns for him, but he was unimpressed. I have however said I could probably draw a pattern from the existing dressing gown and bless his heart, his face lit up. So there's a job. Next problem is where to find some really horrible, dowdy, itchy, plaid wool fabric for a replacement for him.

Mmmmm, maybe the duct tape isn't such a bad idea.

And, just because you can't have a blog without a picture of some sort, I'm sharing this lovely teapot which is on display at Compton Verney at the moment. I'd love one like this; I thought it was ancient but it isn't. It's made by an Australian ceramicist, who has it on his website for a tad over £3,000.

I'm thinking of doing a bit about the Subversity of Tea next, and have been collecting images, but that's a way off - just behind the dressing gown.

Descending - The Quilt as a Canvas #3, progress

Well, there is much to do but I am exorcising my demons and getting on with it!! Just a progress shot for those interested in these things 😜