The Piccadilly Pyjamas – inspiration, testers’ makes and fabric suggestions!

Following on from the release of the Piccadilly Pyjamas pdf two weeks’ ago and the printed pattern on Friday, I’ve finally gotten around to talking about the inspiration behind the pattern! I’ll share my inspiration below, as well as some testers’ beautiful versions and a few fabric suggestions.

I’ve had the idea of designing an oriental pyjama set in my head from the beginning of Nina Lee. Being half-Chinese, traditional Chinese dress has always had an influence on my wardrobe, but I didn’t want to make something that felt costume-y or might to some be culturally appropriative. I looked back to pyjamas I’d worn when I was little, and the cotton pyjamas my Marmee (my step-grandmother) would often wear around the house in Singapore, and the design evolved from there. In Singapore as a child, I remember it wasn’t unusual to see ladies doing their morning shopping in their pyjamas; sometimes one of my aunts would take me early to the market without getting me dressed – leaving the house in my PJs felt endlessly novel and adventurous! So I also wanted to design a top that I felt might work for the current pyjamas-as-daywear trend; I think the cap-sleeved shirt of version 1 is particularly suited to this. I even think the pyjama trousers could work in linen as casual summer loungewear.

Even as I completed the design I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to be anything other than rather niche, but the amazing response I had from my testers and their gorgeous versions had me feeling reassured!

Laurène has got sophisticated lounging down to a tee. I love her use of contrast fabrics!

Emily made her version for Chinese New Year – it’s good luck to go to bed the night before in new pyjamas so you’re ready for a new start when you wake!

Marie mixed and matched the three-quarter sleeve shirt and the shorts to make an adorable set!

Likewise Ella paired the cap-sleeved top with the longer trouser; I actually nearly chose this fabric myself for the samples!

Another dreamy fabric choice from Rebecca; I absolutely love the punch of the red binding and buttons!

The wonderful thing about sewing pyjamas is you can go to town with those prints, fabric combos and colours that don’t go with anything else in your wardrobe, or that you might not wear out and about. I’ve picked out just a few fabrics here that have caught my eye – and maybe inspire you too! They’re all from my lovely stockists.

 1. Sewalicious. 2 and 3: Sew Me Sunshine. 4, 5 and 6: Cotton Reel Studio.

  1. Fabricate Roberttown. 2. Sewalicious. 3. Sew Loco. 4, 5 and 6. Sewisfaction.

I can’t wait to make more versions of the pyjamas for myself – I’m keen to mix and match all the variations, try a pair in silk and make a version of the shirt for day-wear… If you’re inspired to make a pair of Piccadillies, don’t forget to use the hashtag #piccadillypyjamas so I can be inspired by you in turn! x

Pattern testers needed for the Piccadilly Pyjamas!

Applications to test the Piccadilly Pyjamas are now closed! But you can still sign up to be notified of future pattern testing opportunities on the form below. Thank you 🙂

I’m very excited to be in the final stages of preparing my first pattern release of 2018! Introducing the Piccadilly Pyjamas…

The Piccadilly Pyjamas are an oriental-inspired pyjama set. They are partly inspired by my childhood in Singapore but named after Piccadilly in London, a major road in the heart of the city that starts at Chinatown and is also home to the iconic Ritz Hotel.

The dartless top has a mandarin collar, sits open to the bust and then has a button-down front; it also features sweet little pockets. The top has two sleeve length variations – a slightly puffed cap sleeve and a three-quarter length sleeve. Both the hem of the blouse and the cuffs of the sleeves are finished with bias binding. The hem curves upwards at the side seams and the centre-front.

The bottoms come in two variations: a pair of shorts or a pair of loose-fitting cropped trousers. Each variation features a flat-front waistband with an elasticated back; the front waistband includes ribbon ties. The hem of the shorts and trousers curves upwards at the side seams, and is finished with bias binding.

This pattern will work best in soft, lightweight fabrics – e.g. cotton lawn, rayon/viscose, silk satin. It comes with thoroughly illustrated instructions. Testers will be sent a pdf with print-at-home and copyshop files.

The pattern will be sent out to testers on Tuesday 6th February and I need to receive all feedback by Tuesday 13th February. All testers who successfully complete the pattern testing will receive both pdf and print (when available) versions of the finished pattern, an additional print version for a giveaway should they wish, plus a 50% discount code to use on any other products from my shop – not to mention my everlasting gratitude!

If you’re interested in testing, please complete the form below. Previous pattern testing experience is by no means essential. I will select a range of testers and get back to you either way on Monday 5th Feb. If you are unable to test this pattern but would nevertheless like to be informed of future pattern testing opportunities please tick the box ‘Add me to your pattern tester mailing list’.

Thank you! x

Sewing Makes You Love Yourself – or SMYLY!

Hello, and belated Happy New Year! I’m writing today to talk about #SMYLY, a challenge specifically celebrating the ways in which sewing helps us move towards body positivity and mental wellbeing. The challenge is organised by the lovely Athina Kakou (InstagramYou Tube), as well as Hattie van der Krohn (InstagramYouTube) and Lisa Kisch (InstagramYouTube).  You can learn more about the thinking behind the challenge and the way the it works over on their feeds, but in short: sew, feel good, win prizes 🙂

When Athina asked if I’d like to sponsor this contest, I was enthusiastic – of course – because I see online every single day women discussing the incredible ways in which this ‘simple’ hobby has boosted their self-esteem, their body positivity, their sense of empowerment, their ability to stay sane. But it also got me considering, because, unlike many others, I haven’t seen sewing as connected in any concrete way to my wellbeing. Making clothes is something I love to do because I love making, and I love clothes. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this ‘hobby’ (and now job) has maybe more to do with the way I view my body and my self than I’d originally thought.

I have mild scoliosis, aka lateral curvature of the spine. It’s genetic, and nope, there’s not a thing I can do about it, except use it as an excuse never to do crunches. (I can’t do crunches. I physically can’t. For real. At least I think not.) The manifestation of this is that I’m rather pronouncedly asymmetric – one side of my rib cage protrudes in front of the other, and my back curves inwards on one side of my spine and outwards on the other. I really do have a best side for photos. On the whole though, my scoliosis doesn’t cause me too many issues. Being wonky means various other niggles crop up from time to time, knees and feet being particular zones of bother, although right now it’s a pesky shoulder. An osteopath recently informed me that I *probably* have the body of someone ten to twelve years older than my actual age. On the upside he also told me to entirely avoid jumping exercises. I left the appointment 90% tearful, 10% really looking forward to a life without any more star jumps.

I know in spite of this minor health hiccup I’m fortunate; I don’t generally find it difficult to find clothes that fairly fit me in ordinary high street shops. The worst thing I take away from most shops is that I’m short (although not the shortest) and that I have possibly above average-sized bosoms, facts which leave me feeling somewhere along neutral-to-chuffed. But when your body sometimes lets you down in ways you don’t fully understand, and when there’s pain, and limitation, being able to create outfits that make you stand out from the crowd, that make you feel fabulous no matter what’s going on inside or underneath, that shout ‘look at me – I can do something BRILLIANT!’ – hey, that’s really worth something.

I have defined myself as someone who dresses up, who embraces the extravagant and the flamboyant, who will try to be a bright spot in a crowd of black and navy and grey. I can only do this, in the way I really want to, because I sew. Sewing gives you immunity from the vagaries of fashion (no, we are not all going to be wearing ath-leisure this season) and simultaneously the tools to make the trends work for you, should you so wish. It wrests back from society some control over the image you’re projecting out to the world. That is power.

Oh hey, did you see that? Sewing. Is. Power.

And that’s why, although I didn’t realise it at first, this challenge really resonates with me. Because, after all, sewing does help me love myself – it helps me make peace with my occasionally troublesome but mostly downright incredible body, and it helps me feel, and look, like me. I’m so pleased to be part of a challenge that acknowledges the big impact this seemingly small thing can have on our lives. I hope you’ll embrace it too and look forward to seeing all the beautiful things sewn and all the beautiful people wearing them!

Nina x

P.S. This is further proof, if any were needed, that we are endlessly justified in adding to our fabric stash. It’s all part of self-care.


New stockists!

You might not be aware but Nina Lee patterns are now being stocked in a number of shops around the UK! And just these past few days a couple more have been added to that list. All of these shops are fabric and haberdashery stockists as well so you might be able to pick up everything you need for your make in one place. Our newest additions are:

Cotton Reel Studio



Sewing Belle

Sew Me Sunshine are also now offering Portobello Trouser kits!

For the full list of our current stockists, see here.

Christmas outfit pattern inspiration!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… I am, every year, beyond excited by Christmas. And after a year of insane amounts of work that have kept me almost housebound I’m thrilled to have a few festive parties coming up for which I can dust off my glad rags. Wait, did I just say dust off? What I mean, of course, is sew new ones! If you, like me, still haven’t quite got those party outfits sorted then this blog post is for you: I’ve put together a few ideas involving my patterns and how you can make/style them into glamorous going-out looks.

First on my to-make list is a pair of velvet Portobello trousers. Velvet can be stretchy, stiff or drapey – for my Portobello trousers I’ve gone for a drapey velvet. If there’s enough fabric left I may even turn them into a jumpsuit, or make a matching cami. The True Bias Ogden cami would be a good match, or for more coverage a drapey silk shirt – maybe a silk Grainline Archer?

I love the gothic look of the bottom left image – I might try a lace Bloomsbury blouse with Portobello culottes at some point… Speaking of Bloomsbury, I’ve long wanted to do a velvet/lace combo: velvet for the body and ruffles, lace for the yoke. Or just lace all over…

The Carnaby dress is possibly the most versatile of my patterns and can very easily be adapted for party season. I long to make a version in sequins… But I’ve also got my gathered skirt hack version in a royal purple crepe (blog post coming soon I promise!) that I think will look perfectly festive with the right accessories. And of course Carnaby would work perfectly in velvet, stiff or drapey – or how about a luscious brocade with metallic threads woven through for a really sophisticated look?

Kew was a pattern designed with summer in mind, which isn’t to say it can’t work in the winter. Again, it’s all about fabric choice – the tea dress version could look absolutely divine in velvet, or even a wintry-hued silk with a cami underneath for a truly glamorous look. You might think that Southbank, being a sweater pattern, wouldn’t really feature in this post – but I’ve got big plans for wearing Southbank on the most important occasion of the season: Christmas Day! Of course it will be red – but beyond that it’s still tbc; I’m quite tempted with simple and bright (letting my antler hairband and bauble earrings do the talking) but also by the possibility of a velvet body with ponte sleeves and collar… Watch this space! x

P.S. I’m getting really excited for the New Craft House Winter Party this Saturday – where I’ll once again have a stand selling my patterns and also some rather special festive goodies. If you haven’t yet got your ticket, you can use code NINALEE to get 20% off the ticket price. It’s going to be sew much fun seeing everyone’s party outfits!

Southbank tester round-up!

Phew – it’s been nearly a month since the launch of the Southbank sweater, and I’ve been so thrilled with the response! The launch coincided with a few new stockists coming on board and I ended up having to reprint the physical pattern almost immediately. Doing my first major reprint of patterns, and also receiving my first stockist re-order, felt like a real shift; the business is starting to outgrow its current workflow (which is very labour intensive), a development that’s both daunting and satisfying! So I’ve been planning this post for basically a month now, but manically assembling and shipping patterns, celebrating two family birthdays and having a painful and limiting shoulder injury have all slowed me down somewhat. Excuses, excuses…!

I had another really great group of testers for the Southbank, and I wanted to do a proper round-up here on the blog to show you the lovely versions they’ve made.

Sarah (@sewingbeautifully) and Athina’s (@athinakakou) versions both look so snuggly and yet so stylish! You can read Athina’s blog post about her version here.

Great minds think alike! I just love the blue/turquoise shades and stunning prints that Thao (@littlecumquat) and Eleanor (@nelnanandnora) chose for their versions.

I just love this photo of Renata (@runningnstyle) in her Southbank dress – it’s such a perfect choice of autumnal setting (in Wisconsin, US!) and of course of fabric! Renata is co-hosting The Little Red Dress Project over on Instagram at the moment and I’m one of the sponsors.

Version 2 is so simple and yet fabric choice makes it so varied and versatile. Amy (@amymore10) went for chic block black, Simona (@draculashbv) for a bold floral, and Kate (@katerelton) for classic stripes. Check out Simona’s blog post here.

I just knew that everything was going to be ok with this pattern when three of my testers came back having made multiple versions! Naomi made two versions of version two!

Mirjam (@miushkamiushka) surprised me by making version 1 AND version 2! I absolutely adore her choice of contrast cuffs and collar for V2.

Last but definitely not least were the fantastic version 3 testers. Version 3 underwent the most significant post-testing changes so I’m especially grateful to these ladies (and also @catsews) for their detailed feedback.

Rhiannon (@rhiannonbrum) told me she loved the pattern, and I feel like this photo adequately reflects that! That green is also such a perfect shade for her. As is the yellow chosen by Vicki (@sewvee); she’s such a bright person (with a great eye for colour) so it suits her to a T. And whilst I still haven’t quite worked out what the print Annie (@scavengerannie) chose represents (is it owls? binoculars? some other kind of cute triangular animal?!) I think it and she look great, as does her excellent wallpaper!

Well, looking at all these again has made me feel all warm and fuzzy. The testing process is so daunting and yet so rewarding (at least when it goes right!), and that’s particularly down to the generosity and kindness of pattern testers. I’m already working on new designs for the new year, so will have this whole process to go through again before too long, fingers crossed! x

Autumn lookbook

‘Autumn days when the grass is jewelled, and the silk inside a chestnut shell…’

There’s a lot to love about autumn, even whilst we mourn the departure of another all-too-brief summer and groan at the all-too-early arrival of Christmas in the shops. I always feel it’s a rather squeezed season, lacking its own traditional focal point (Hallowe’en doesn’t really count), but I also think it’s a grown-up time of year. It certainly puts on a fabulously sophisticated colour show!

Those colours have to be my favourite aspect of autumn. Scarlet, mustard, ochre, gold, pumpkin. Partly inspired by my love of these shades, I came up with the concept of doing an autumnal lookbook. The idea is to inspire you to reconsider the patterns as you pull together your autumn/winter wardrobes – perhaps you have a Carnaby Dress that will now work layered with opaque tights and a turtleneck, or a couple of hours to run up a quick pair of Portobello Trousers in a winter-beating wool.  You can see the full lookbook here but I’ve detailed below the fabrics used for each look.

This Carnaby Dress was made in fabric from Sew Over It; I think they’ve sold out of this particular one but they still have a good selection of richly coloured wools.

These Portobello Trousers, shortened to culotte length, use this wool blend from Dragonfly Fabrics. It’s significantly more vibrant than the shop photos suggest and perhaps even more than you can tell from these photos – I love it!


This wintry Kew dress is made in a Sew Over It rayon, Mini Meadow. The buttons came from the Craft and Sewing Superstore in Tooting.

I’m so thrilled with the seventies’ vibe of this faux suede Kew skirt. The camel-coloured faux suede is from Fabric Godmother and the quality is really excellent.

And I made a Bloomsbury dress! This, my absolute favourite hack right now, is made in lightweight denim from Fabrics Galore. I’m planning (always planning) a blog post on how to hack the Bloomsbury Blouse into a dress, but really it’s incredibly simple: I extended the blouse down the centre front and back to the length I wanted, then did the same with the side seams maintaining their angles. The hem is just slightly curved up at the sides. You could use an existing shift pattern to help with this.

I hope you like the Autumn Lookbook and it provides you with a little inspiration for some seasonal makes. Personally I’m just loving blending in with the trees right now!

Sleeveless Bloomsbury Blouse


You know when you come up with a brilliant idea, rush out and buy the fabric, and then take so long to actually make the thing that the moment, or season, has almost passed before you first wear it? That’s the story with me and this sleeveless Bloomsbury, an idea of which had been percolating in my brain since I first conceived of the blouse at all. I picked up with pretty broderie anglaise from Sew Over It back in the early summer and then kaboom, was hit (well, not unexpectedly) by a series of demanding commissions that put all selfish sewing firmly on the backburner, if not off the stove altogether.

I finally got my act together and stitched the blouse up in a flurry of activity before I went to Wilderness festival at the start of August (and yes, it’s taken another full month to get this blog post done!). With belated speediness I omitted the buttonholes and stitched the buttons directly through the two button bands to fasten the back, with the exception of course of the button on the collar band.

How crumpled I look in these photos!

As the pattern is drafted for sleeves I removed some excess from the armscye by shaving half an inch off each of the side seams at the top, blending it down towards the waist. I then finished the armholes with bias binding; I couldn’t get a great colour-match but with the big ruffle it’s not really visible…

Sadly I think this hack will get little wear now until next year; these photos were taken on a walk in Richmond Park, on the last warm day before autumn seemed to set in. You’d hardly believe it was even warm enough for my Seamwork Weston shorts given the moody skies!

Anyway, I’m not the only person who had this idea this summer – one of my lovely Kew pattern testers, Laurene of Les Pleurnicheuses, has also made a fabulous sleeveless Bloomsbury. I’ll never look quite as elegant in mine, but I love it anyway! x

Introducing our printed patterns

It’s been just over 24 hours since the launch of our first printed patterns and I am hugely excited to say that I posted the first batch of orders out this morning! I hadn’t originally planned to produce printed patterns; I’m a big fan of pdfs and find the cutting and sticking process therapeutic as opposed to tiresome, but of course I appreciate that this process is neither easy (nor fun) for many people and hey, I sure love a good printed pattern with pretty packaging as much as the next sewist.

So this new evolution in the business was a bit unexpected. It was thanks to the New Craft House summer party – after enthusiastically booking a stand there to promote my patterns, I started thinking outside of the safe pdf-only box I’d been sitting in and over the course of one excited afternoon did some research, some costings, some forecasts and some mock-ups and suddenly the game had changed! Since then I’ve been through seemingly endless iterations of designs and colours, familiarised myself with paper weights (I feel like I could practically tell you grams per square metre with a stroke of a sheet now…) and experimented with a million ways to fold a sheet of A0 paper… I exaggerate, but it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve dreamt about envelopes on more than one recent occasion.

The illustrations on the back of each envelope are based on the streets or areas which have inspired (and named) the patterns. Carnaby Street was a pretty straightforward one – I’ve chosen to feature the shops and buildings from my preferred end of the street, the one that begins with that sewist’s dream, Liberty’s.

Carnaby Street illustration Nina Lee

For Bloomsbury I took inspiration from Gower Street, whose rows of tall brick terraces are archetypal of the area and must surely be filled top-to-toe with books (or so I dream…).

Bloomsbury street illustration Nina Lee

Portobello is the only street illustration with colours, because the wonderful painted houses that form the backdrop to (possibly) London’s most famous market are pretty much my favourite shades.

Portobello Road illustration Nina LeeThe illustrations that form the pattern border on the front are similarly inspired by the individual areas’ reputations – Carnaby for sixties’ fashion and shopping; Bloomsbury for writers and their works; Portobello for its amazingly varied market stalls – everything from exotic fruit and foods to antiques and knick-knacks. I rather love the bizarre pineapple and teapot pairing on Portobello!

Background pattern clips

Excuse my limited grasp of colour modes but these are a touch more muted than they appear when printed!

The patterns are printed on durable paper up in Edinburgh; the envelopes locally here in London; the instruction booklets very locally here in my flat 🙂 But we can send these out worldwide – check out the FAQs section for full details on postage costs.

Instruction booklets

The top instruction booklet is one of the ones I made before realising quite how much ink full-colour borders were going to drink up! I think of them as limited edition…

We’ve also set-up arrangements with a couple of other shops – physical and online – so very soon you’ll be able to purchase Nina Lee Patterns in person at Crafty Sew and So in Leicester, or along with some fabulous fabric from new store Sew Me Sunshine.* And of course you can come along and see the patterns and me in person at the Great British Sewing Bee Live on 21-24 September! This new phase is incredibly exciting and I can’t wait to send more printed patterns off to lovely sewists around the world; I’ve now got to crack on with getting those Kew illustrations done…

Nina x

*If you’re a shop interested in stocking our patterns, do get in touch with me via!



Kew inspiration and fabric suggestions

Kew inspiration blog post header

It’s been just over a week since the Kew pattern was released and I’ve been blown away by the response – so, thank you! I released Kew on the Friday, held a stand selling printed patterns(!) at the New Craft House Summer Party on the Saturday and then delivered a wedding dress a few days’ later, so I feel like I’m just starting to catch my breath…  But not for long, as super excitingly I’m on the verge of launching my first set of printed patterns (for Bloomsbury, Carnaby and Portobello, with Kew to follow next week) and then I’m going to be exhibiting at the Great British Sewing Bee Live event in September! No rest for the wicked, as they say… 🙂

So anyway, I wanted to share today a bit of the inspiration behind the Kew dress and skirt pattern. As with my other patterns, there’s a mix of vintage and on-trend elements behind the design. Kew Version 1 very clearly harks back to 1940s tea dresses with its ruched sleeves and shoulder yokes, whilst there’s a bit of ’90s in the button-down fronts and the high-low hem and the midi skirt are very ‘now’. But also behind the feel of Kew was my love of the British summer.

The pattern is of course named after Kew in London, most famous for being the home of the exquisite royal botanic gardens. The gardens are one of my favourite places to go for a wander (all year round) and a summer picnic (pestered by the peacocks!). (Picnic blankets and deck chairs inspired the striped version of the Kew skirt I made for the photographs.) A beautiful sunny summer day here in the UK is simply heaven, with its inevitable associations of Pimms, strawberries, lawns flanked with colourful borders, or ice creams and beach huts, but of course these are notoriously rare thanks to our fickle weather! Hence Kew version 1 has sleeves, and Kew version 3 could easily be paired with a jumper.

Here’s some very summery Kew inspiration, should you have a garden party or wedding to attend…

Kew dress inspiration - dressy

From left to right: 1. What Olivia Did 2. Memorandum 3. Poor Little It Girl

Of course it doesn’t have to be a dressy affair; a comfortable dress is always an easy-wear…

Kew dress inspiration-casualFrom left to right: 1. Reformation 2. Polienne 3. Harper’s Bazaar 

The Kew skirt has the option of being made in a heavier-weight fabric such as a denim which gives it a completely different type of versatility:

Kew dress inspiration-skirtsFrom left to right: ASOS 2. Pinterest 3. Cupcakes and Cashmere 4. Steal the Look

Sure, I’ve gone on about summer rather a lot here and Kew is most obviously a ‘summer dress’ – BUT there are plenty of ways all three versions could be styled for winter. Layer version 1 with a cami, chunky tights, ankle boots and a big throw-over cardigan for a vintage-inspired autumn look. Pop on version 2 over a turtleneck for a ’70s vibe. And I for one am definitely make a version 3 skirt in faux suede this autumn!

Speaking of suede, here are just a few fabrics currently on the market that I think would make fabulous Kews.

Kew Dress fabric ideas

  1. I am in love with this new Cotton & Steel rayon from Sew Me Sunshine. What a colour!
  2. Embrace version 1’s vintage feel with this polka dots rayon from Sew Over It.
  3. Les Fleurs Rayon by Rifle Paper Co, from the Village Haberdashery.
  4. Wear your own portable picnic blanket with this gingham beauty from Sew Over It!
  5. Go tropical for a seriously summery version 2, with this bananas cotton from Pigeon Wishes Shops on Etsy
  6. Cotton lawn from Sew Me Sunshine: perfect for a beach-ready Kew version 2 or 3.
  7. Linen or linen blends such as this from Fabric Godmother will be perfect for block-colour versions 2 or 3.
  8. Dress up Kew for a romantic night out with a sophisticated print like this gorgeous swan viscose from Guthrie and Ghani.
  9. My love affair with Liberty prints means I couldn’t help but include one here – and this from Fabrics Galore is simply so sweet.

Well, phew, that’s a lot of inspiration for one blog post! I’ve already found Kew such an easy dress to wear that I really can’t wait to make it up in more versions. Let me know if you’ve got a Kew in the works too! x