I can sew a rainbow

img_2684It’s the eighth week since lockdown began and, true to the “slow sewing” bit of my blog’s strapline, I’ve finally finished four sets of scrubs which I’ll deliver this morning to the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in Wandsworth. The hospital sent a message to my place of work just as we were all shutting down, asking if anyone would be able to make some scrubs for them – and while it’s taken a lot longer than it should have, I’m very pleased to have now got a batch ready to deliver.

img_2782The hospital’s email had suggested a pattern – one produced by PDF patterns boutique and imaginatively entitled ‘Classic doctor’s scrubs for men’. The important bit was that they are/were being printed by Blue Sky Printing at cost – so for only a few pounds and in only a few days the printed pattern and instructions were at my door. Similarly Fabricland were prioritising orders for people supporting the NHS through sewing, and so about a week later I had 15m of blue cotton which I was washing and ironing – on a beautifully warm and sunny day over Easter (obviously). And it turns out that ironing 15m of anything takes a pretty long time.

I was so proud that the whole family pitched in with this one – husband on cutting out, eldest daughter as my co-sewist, youngest daughter on ironing the interfacing – and middle daughter on embroidery. Embroidery is her new lockdown hobby, and it’s pretty gorgeous if I do say so in a proud-mum way.

We were aiming for six sets of scrubs, but while we have six tops assembled, we’re out of fabric for the trousers for the last two sets. I’ve recently had a duvet cover donated that might work, but if not I’ll order a little more fabric and get the last two pairs of trousers done as soon as I can.

So, other than a sense of being able to do something that’s useful at this time of national stasis, there are a few sewing things that I learned from all of this.

Firstly, sewing anything four (or six) times really does build your skills up in a way that sewing lots of different things doesn’t. You can feel yourself adapting as you go and using the knowledge of only a few minutes before to improve the next seam/line/pressing etc. It’s pretty dull work though and tiring – you don’t get the same sense of progress when you sew the same things six times over and that takes a bit of adjusting to.

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Secondly, while I knew that my eldest daughter would sew along with me (she’s off to study costume design this September if the world gets itself a little more settled, and has amazing design and construction skills), I hadn’t anticipated how much more you can get done when you have a whole family of willing helpers. I wouldn’t have dreamed of adding embroidery – and if it were a requirement, frankly the hospital would have been waiting a lot longer for a far poorer result. My husband was happy chopping cotton, and even my ten year old was keen to help – not just with appropriate signage, but with specific tasks like applying interfacing. It’s been a really lovely team effort.

img_2783Thirdly, instructions for this pattern were sparse to say the least – but that’s OK. I’ve not used this type of pattern before, and  it was effectively diagrams with the odd note. Not what I’m used to (spoiled by the step-by-step hand-holding of most indie patterns these days) but actually sufficient. The garments being made were not fitted, and were basic and simple. I wouldn’t opt for this kind of instruction for anything more complicated – but it gave me taste of how sewing was in the past (vintage patterns have very little guidance) and how some of those more experienced dressmakers can ignore a pattern’s text and just read the pieces based on their own experience.

I suppose finally, it’s been good to have something that I have felt in some way obliged to sew during these bizarre and difficult times. My sew-jo up and left at the beginning of all this, and the hoodie dress I cut out in March is still unconstructed. Having this (slow) project going on has kept me sewing even when the impetus has left and I’m in awe of people who have done so much more. My friend at work ordered 30m of fabric in the first wave of this, organised her street to do construction and then between them they’ve crowd-funded for more fabric and collaborated to do loads more. Respect.

Right now, I just find it hard to be creative in the same way as usual – I’m learning to crochet and am working on a blanket that will probably take the rest of my days. It’s simple, repetitive and quite contained – and that’s working for me right now. I’m looking forward to when my excitement about sewing gets back to its usual levels – and I don’t doubt it’s out there – like everything to do with lockdown, it’s just a matter of waiting.

Tea finished and the sun is up (sleep has also been elusive of late), so I’ll finish this post now and get ready to deliver to the hospital on my way to work. Stay safe everyone.

 

Kimono – in praise of the V and A

With a casualness that belongs to another time (was it only a matter of weeks ago?), I went to the V&A. In general I don’t feel like I take enough advantage of the range of available culture that living just outside London offers me. The V&A is different though: it’s my favourite museum by a long mile, its exhibitions are fascinating and beautiful, and being a member means that I can saunter in and skip the long queues that build up. I just love it.

The current (is it current when the whole place is closed?) exhibition celebrates the art, construction and beauty of the kimono. The pieces we saw during our visit demonstrated the simple structure of the garments, set against the breathtaking artistry of the embroidery, intricate resist-dye techniques and weaving. The exhibition moved from the history into recent designer pieces that have been inspired by kimono – from Alexander McQueen to Star Wars.

Soon after our visit, the museum closed and then London closed – and while I’m very lucky in my home and my lovely cohabitants, it’s a very odd feeling. Part of me longs to sew and be creative, but at the same time I don’t. I don’t feel I need that quiet solace that I get from sewing when everything is so … contained.

img_2574It made me think back to that exhibition and draw some probably-stretching-a-point parallels with the life we’re living right now. The simple structure of one place to be in, with no variation and no urgency (or option) to be anywhere else – well maybe that’s the simple structure of the kimono. We can make it beautiful with decoration – but the simple shape is already everything that’s needed. Maybe the need for embroidery comes later.

On that basis my isolation sewing is not going to be very adventurous. I’m planning a Stella hoodie dress from the TATB Stretch book – because I need comfy clothes to lounge around in.

I guess I really ought to say that I’m going to learn to resist dye with rice paste (seriously mind-blowing skills), focus on intricate and detailed embroidery or learn new weaving techniques – but actually I’m going to keep things simple and be calm.

I’m very pleased that I had the chance to see this beautiful exhibition when I did – and when normal 2.0 is installed, I hope I never again take for granted how lucky I am to be able to experience such amazing art.

Cielo – a heavenly project

img_2525The Italian translation of cielo is the sky or heavens. The meaning in Spanish is the same (due to the shared Latin root – caelum) but that doesn’t seem as relevant because this is a review of a pattern from the Closet Case Patterns Rome collection. Anyway the obvious pun works just fine here, because this really is a pretty heavenly pattern.img_2455

The only Closet Case pattern that I’ve made before is the Bombshell swimsuit. That was one of those projects that I made about four years ago – when I knew I didn’t have the skills to accomplish it but figured “to hell with it” and just gave it a go. My swimsuit is far from perfect, but I wear it still and I love it. It’s a brilliant pattern.

I don’t know why I’ve not made some of the rest of the CCP catalogue. It’s not that I don’t constantly drool over them. The Clare coat, the Morgan jeans, the Charlie kaftan and the rest of the Rome collection have been on my mental ‘to make’ list forever a long time. When the Rome collection was published last year I was keen – but as ever, there are just so many things to make <ooh shiny thing>.

img_2513So what finally got me there? It was the pouffy sleeves of the Cielo that took me across the line with this one. They looked fabulous in the line drawing, kept popping up in different blogs that I follow, and seemed even better in the Instagram selection that I researched. And now that I have those sleeves to waft around in for myself, it’s hard to imagine wanting to wear anything else!

img_2447The fabric and the pattern were both purchased at the Stitch Festival last weekend. I bought the pattern from Sew Me Something – and I really have no memory of where the fabric came from. There were so many stalls – so much wonderful fabric – and I was like a child in a sweet shop. What a dangerously lovely day! I ended up buying far too much fabric, all prints despite a firm commitment going in to only buy solids, and for the most part, no clear idea of what they would become.

This piece was different though – I had my pattern already purchased, and the moment I handled it, I knew she would be my first Cielo. The fabric is a light, very drapey viscose (at a guess – I’m rubbish at identifying fabric types). It doesn’t hate or particularly welcome an iron, and feels like it will be dry a few minutes after it’s been washed (fingers crossed, with little ironing required – in which case it will definitely be my favourite thing ever).

The steps of construction were straightforward, with nothing particularly tricky. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t blunder my way through it though. I traced the pattern pieces on Friday evening, while waiting until the right time of the morning to be my eldest daughter’s taxi service back from a club. I was quite happy spending that quiet time tracing – and only realised that when pretty tired I should probably have triple checked my work when I realised that half the lower sleeve had been traced on to the worktop, not the paper.

img_2454Next I managed to cut out one of my huge sleeve heads with fabric that had a hidden cut out – you know when you fold it and you’re sure that you know where the lower fabric edge runs, but there’s one bit that’s cut out? That was me. And it was right in the middle of the sleeve head. It’s such an enormous pattern piece that I didn’t want to just recut the piece (it would have been so wasteful), so instead I recut the top of the piece about 3cm down, to lose the chunk that was missing – I knew that it would make the sleeve a bit shorter, and possibly slightly less pouffy, but as the cost was only about 2cm across the gathered section, I decided it was the best way forwards.

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Let’s reflect that this is a bleached photo with the flash …

The final mistake was in using black thread for my gathering stitches – seriously, am I a complete amateur? My eyesight (or lack of it) is hilarious to my children, but still I thought it best to put in gathering stitches that were black thread on a black background – and which I really could barely see.

And yet, despite these errors – you know I just really loved making this top. It’s not just because I could see she was a lovely thing as I was making her – but also because the pattern was really well put together, easy to follow and fun. I had to walk down to our local sewing shop (Sweet Seams) to get some more black thread mid afternoon on Saturday, and I realised I was walking along with a big grin on my face – because I was in the middle of a really lovely sewing day. And let’s just celebrate the fact that I went into the shop, bought the thread and nothing else, and left again. I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

Learning points – well the obvious ones would be to avoid all the errors above in my next Cielo with careful cutting/measuring, using a contrast colour for the running stitches and so on.

One thing I adapted in the pattern was the length – when I’d finished but not hemmed the top I tried it on, and it was really as short as I wanted it to be – perhaps too short already. I therefore cut a 2 inch band and added it to the bottom. I really like this – both the finish and the length on me – and perhaps just the fact that I had to lengthen something! At 5’2″, that doesn’t happen very often.

So one of my Stitch Festival fabrics sewn, and I’m really happy with it. What will be next??

Time trial: Tabitha Drawstring Dress

I’ve wittered on before about being a slow sewist – but in fairness that’s been an assumption on my part until now. I generally sew alone (sewing weekends notwithstanding), so my points of reference tend to be contestants on the Sewing Bee, Next in Fashion, Project Runway etc. So in reality, I had no proof that I was slower than your average dressmaker. Until now.

I was always going to buy Tilly’s new book ‘Make It Simple‘ – I’ve got her other two books, lots of her standalone patterns and I really like her style. Not everything works for me, but her size 4 measurements rarely need much adjustment for my frame, and I end up with garments that I feel fit really well. The premise of the new book being “easy, speedy sewing projects to stitch up in an afternoon” sounded too good to be true.

Back from a lovely holiday in Bruges, I curled up last weekend with the book and picked the Drawstring Dress (based on the Tabitha t-shirt pattern) as my first project. I had some lovely bluey/lilacy t-shirt fabric (no idea of its provenance) that needed a purpose, and everything else was in my stash. I had a lovely Sunday project ahead of me.

So, I decided to do a time trial. Tilly’s optimistic predictions were:

  • Cutting time (including drafting the skirt): 45 minutes
  • Sewing time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Let’s see how we got on …

9:50   Assemble tools, make coffee (an essential part of all sewing) and clear down breakfasty remains adhering to all kitchen surfaces.

img_235010:01 Start tracing pattern pieces in size 4.

10:55 Tracing complete and paper pattern pieces cut out. Skirt piece drafted (some head scratching as ‘place on fold’ instruction in diagram appears to be on wrong side).

10:55 Break to sort laundry and dishwasher. Make second pot of coffee.

11:10 Iron fabric and try to get the piece folded on grain.

11:20 Start cutting out pattern pieces in the fabric.

11:57 All cut out; break for more coffee and crumpet.

img_235112:04 Find eyelet kit and a scrap piece of fabric to test it on – not inserted an eyelet before.

12:08 Finally manage to open the pack (staring at you Hemline packaging).

12:26 Eyelets fitted. Kitchen island slightly dented. Feel I have a (slightly wonky) new superpower involving a crazed woman with a hammer. Another laundry break.

12:32 Cut drawstring from a dark navy piece of ponte di roma jersey that will contrast well with the lilac jersey.

12:40 Break for family stuff – homework, snacks and conversations.

1:05 Stabilize shoulders and stitch together. Take a gamble on neckband – I haven’t got any ribbing in a suitable colour, and I have no patience to wait until I can source some. I cut the piece in the main fabric, on the basis that it’s pretty stretchy.

1:35 Neckband attached – ok, not perfect but quite near – certainly not redoing it. Now for the sleeves.

img_23581:56 Sleeves in: time for lunch.

2:33 Lunch done – onto sewing the side seams.

2:48 Side seams sewn and quick try on confirms it’s all ok and the neckband gamble paid off. Now for the skirt side seams.

3:02 Break for words of encouragement, frustration and weeping (aka helping my youngest with her homework).

3:09 Fractions sorted. Back to attaching the bodice to the skirt.

img_23593:27 Bodice attached but with too wide a seam allowance – so the eyelets are now in the wrong place. Seam rip (bonus of using beautiful new seam ripper, gift from a lovely sewing friend from work) …

3:42 Easily distracted and bored while seam ripping – bit of time out to book tickets for next weekend’s Stitch Festival.

3:56 Back to seam ripping.

4:05 All ripped. Joining bodice to skirt #2 …

4:30 Bodice and skirt joined. Casing for drawstring sewn.

img_23604:35 Drawstring fail. Fabric not thin enough to roll into a tube so now sewing it together and turning it through – dullsville.

5:46 This long to turn through one drawstring! Albeit while helping youngest daughter to focus on her English homework but that didn’t slow me down – it’s just a slow and tedious job.

5:59 Drawstring inserted and eyelets promptly fell out. Think this fabric is just too stretchy? Either way the drawstring seems to be working still. But now I’ve tried it on, and sadly I’m not feeling it. Looks a bit sackish. Maybe I need a bit of distance from it. Now I’m in a bad mood with the whole enterprise.

6:43 Finally hemmed (obviously with the bobbin running out 20 cm before the end, because it’s turning into that kind of project) and on the dress form. Definitely a sack.

So start to finish for me was just under 8 hours. Slow sewing indeed. However let’s do the sums properly – excluding all moments of error, distraction, refreshments, laundry and tracing the initial pattern pieces (as I wouldn’t need to do that again). My back-of-an-envelope calculations put my final tally at about 4.5 hours – assuming that next time around I wouldn’t re-trace my fabric, I’d join the bodice accurately, and I’d manage to use fabric for the drawstring that would actually form a tube.

img_2431Sooo – rather higher than the 3 hours and 5 minutes estimate from Tilly – but as we can see, when bearing in mind the reality of my life, expertise and general approach to sewing I should sensibly double all future estimates! And you know, that’s really fine – sewing isn’t something I do in batch (as a rule – the six pairs of PJ trousers I recently made for a girls’ trip away with my old university friends was a definite exception) or to a schedule. I sew because I love sewing. My output may not be great, but I enjoy every (OK, almost all of the) minute(s).

In terms of this pattern – well I’m still not sure. When I put it on later for these photos, I didn’t feel half as negative about it as I did at the end of its construction. I think mostly I needed to reposition it in my mind – not a dress for work, it turns out, but one that I could wear to kick about in at home, at the weekend or in the holidays. It’s a nice relaxed outfit – and in a different fabric might feel a bit dressier.

Will I make it again? I’m not sure right now – at a guess, no, because there are So Many Other Patterns (new patented acronym #SMOP: you’re welcome). But when we have slightly sunnier weather and I’m likely to leave the house without wearing all of my warmest clothes, let’s see how wearable this one is.

I do know, at any rate, that if I do it’ll take me about four and a half hours….

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Sewing the precious

img_2385I’m a slow sewist but that doesn’t mean that I have a perfectionist attitude to my sewing: basically I’m just slow. I’ve been sewing for six years now and while I’ve learned a hell of a lot about making garments in that time, this is very much a hobby for me. I’m definitely better than I was, but this is a journey without a destination in mind – so there’s no route map either.

Maybe for those reasons, the Sewcialists’ challenge to ‘sew the precious’ earlier this year really resonated with me. When you know you’re not really ready to sew the good fabrics, you put them aside nervously until you feel ready. And then you don’t ever feel ready.

The fabric was one I bought a year ago – just after my fantastic class at Sewoverit, learning to sew the Francine jacket. I said firmly to my husband then that I would need to sew another jacket immediately, to cement the skills I’d learned. I went off to Fabrics Galore one lunchtime and bought the very last of some lovely black wool – with enough structure to make a jacket work, but still with enough drape to hang nicely.

Clearly, without the discipline (reassurance/confidence etc) of Julie and the rest of the class, my beautiful wool (and the dark red lining I’d also picked up) sat for the rest of the year in my stash. I thought it was time to give it a purpose. Obviously not its original purpose. Because: me.

img_2345After a small item that I wrote was published in the Maker’s Atelier magazine last year, Frances said thank you by letting me choose any of her patterns – and after much indecision (they are all lovely) I was drawn to the Swing Jacket. I loved the simple lines and felt that the styling with a classic pencil skirt would be something I’d definitely wear to work.

The next thing I did was an absolute first for me: I made a toile! Every single book, blog, expert, course or TV show that I’ve watched/read etc has extolled the virtue of making a toile. Testing out a pattern on muslin fabric, practising construction, checking fit, making adjustments – these are all excellent reasons for taking the time and trouble to make a toile. At the same time, in a sustainable sewing world, it feels awfully frivolous to waste enough fabric to make a trial garment. It also feels to me like a waste of time – when I feel like I have never-enough-sewing-time as it is, to spend some of it on a tester garment feels wrong somehow. These are my reasons – laziness and impatience with a side order of planet saving/stinginess. That’s set alongside a body that conforms to most patterns – only really requiring the use of the shortening lines for most pattern adjustments to get a decent fit – so the impetus to toile is reduced again.

img_2055So this time was a first for me. I cut the main pieces in some old heavy black cotton from my stash. I stitched them together by hand – and actually really enjoyed that part of the process. You know when you read instructions, but it isn’t until you’ve made the thing that it makes sense? Well somehow that’s a lot clearer if you’re sewing by hand and not just feeding fabric into a machine.

So having made the toile what were my earth-shattering revelations? Yup, I liked it and would go ahead with my wool. No adjustments required that were obvious. (Let’s come back to this point later.)

So, on with the show. I cut the pieces, and followed the instructions that Frances had helpfully posted on her blog about constructing a lining for the jacket. Having already made it once, it was quite straightforward to make both the woollen and lining versions of the ‘real’ thing. The wool was beautiful to work with – taking an iron in precisely the way that the lining fabric refused to.

In Frances’ post, the suggestion was to leave the unhemmed jacket and lining hanging for a few days – which in my world means until the next weekend at the earliest. It meant the fabric had time to drop – and also gave me time to scowl at it every time I went past my dress form.

And this is the bit where I refer back to what I learned and didn’t learn from my nice toile. A sample piece isn’t a finished garment. It hangs differently and the fabric is (by necessity) a lot – well, cheaper. It wasn’t lined, which again changes the way it fits. Basically it just wasn’t the same.

Now it was nearly done and I’d lived with the nearly-finished coat in my kitchen for a week, I decided that it actually needed to be quite a bit shorter to look right on me. (I know, back to the lengthen(never!)/shorten lines again.) Clearly I was still able to do this because I’d not hemmed the thing yet, but I also ended up cutting off and wasting a quite wide strip of expensive wool fabric, when I was desperately trying to squeeze a pencil skirt out of the remainder.

As well as being a slow sewist, I’m turning into a slow blogger too. I finished the jacket two weeks ago and have worn it to work several times since then. I’ve had complements which is nice – and it does feel like something that is very me. I’m a little irritated that I didn’t trim the excess fabric enough at the front edge hem – it feels bulky there to me, but I’m guessing that not many people would notice though it’s glaring to me. It’s more irritating because I wanted this one to be special, and it’s a note that jars – you know. But I’m not irritated enough to unpick the hem and redo it, so it’ll have to be something I learn to love.

So for the swing jacket – it’s a great, simple and stylish pattern that sews up quickly. If you’re drawn to that kind of shape I’d definitely recommend it. And personally I think the lining really adds something too and is straightforward to make.

For toiles – yep, I’m not yet convinced. In a world short on resources and a life short on time, I think I’ll carry on trying things out carefully, fitting as I go, measuring carefully (me and the garment pieces!) and just going for it. But in future I’ll try and stop saving the precious – it didn’t do Gollum any good after all.

Sewing gifts

Much of my sewing time in November and December was spent creating presents for the people I love. If I didn’t love them, I sure as hell wouldn’t be sewing for them, because as I’ve said before, I’m a selfish sewist at heart.

Through December there was not much I could write about here, in the vain hope that some of my loved ones read this blog. However, it’s now January and the Christmas period is behind us so I can do a quick summary.

Having seen some lovely examples created by others, I had decided that a Skye Wrap from Coolcrafting would be just right for my mother in law. However, I made an early version of it as an emergency gift for my own mum when she fell and broke her wrist early in December. Figuring that coats would be trickier to manage one-handed, I decided to make it for mum as the perfect way to let her know that we love her.img_1810

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Youngest daughter (and sous-sewist) and I headed off to the Fabrics Galore store in Kingston. We had some lovely tweeds and cotton lawns to choose from, and eventually picked a warm lilac tweed. The lawn we chose (and which I can’t now find on the FG website) feels reminiscent of the Tolkien pictures of the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit – so, if you like, we can say that was the reason for the choice, as my mum introduced me to Middle Earth in my formative years, and I’m now doing the same with Tilly. In fairness though, I only made that connection after I’d chosen it, and really just liked the print and the way it worked with the tweed.

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The longest part of the preparation was hand washing the two fabrics and letting them dry. The rest is very straightforward and so a perfect pattern for a Christmas present. You’ll get much more credit for the effort made than is fair at all.

On that basis, I was confident to make a second wrap for my mother in law as planned – but this time decided to use a green velvet for the lining fabric (again from Fabrics Galore, from their larger Battersea store near my work). I wanted it to be a little warmer for her, and to feel luxurious on the inside. She was very pleased, but as she’s not the type to want a picture on the internet anywhere, you’ll have to take my word for it and that of Rosa (my tailor’s dummy).

I made two lots of pyjamas to send to my lovely nieces in Spain. I followed the same formula as the version I made Tilly (Simplicity 8022 trousers with TATB Stella hoodie -sans sleeves because it’s hot hot hot in Spain). I had to guess at the relative sizes and leg lengths, but they did apparently fit well. At least, they’re pyjamas, so unless they’re proper ankle-flappers, most people don’t worry too much and my niece Lara is more than capable of adjusting them quietly without fuss!

My other sewing activity has perhaps been more unusual – I find it surprising, particularly within a community that loves fabric and is so focused on sustainability, that more people don’t seem to use fabric as wrapping. I’ve worked on a range of different shapes, patterns if you like, over the years for this – but mostly I simply hem or even just overlock large rectangles of my favourite fabric offcuts, and then use them to wrap presents. You can secure the fabric with ribbon quite successfully if the present itself is rigid, but otherwise you can usually use Sellotape if you really need to. I prefer to get creative with the ribbon.

The best part is clearly the fact that there’s no paper (or plasticated paper or glitter or other less sustainable options) to be wasted. A shake out and you can fold your wrap to go back in the drawer and you’re all set for the next birthday etc.

So, do you fabric-wrap? What have you made this Christmas?

The bigger on the inside skirt

img_1988.jpgBecause at this time of year, we all need one of those, right?

I felt very noble this Christmas, sacrificing taking my sewing machine away with us over the break. Aside from a lack of space in the car, I knew I’d spend more time actually interacting with the people I was there to see if I wasn’t able to hear my Janome’s siren call. As I said, noble right?

When I got back however, all bets were off. I wanted a quick and satisfying project – nothing fiddly, something entirely from my stash and which I could make and then wear that day. I may not have dressed until the evening (about 7pm), but it was in my new stripy skirt and I’m very pleased with it. [I also dressed in order to head out with my family to watch the new Little Women film, which was an absolute treat – double win.]

The pattern was New Look K6035, one of those useful, practical sets that give you a lot of value (jacket, skirt, sleeveless top and trousers) if you ever actually use them. I was clearly making the skirt (D) and based on my measurements I cut the largest size (16). I could probably have come down one or two sizes but l wanted to have the excess material to fit with.img_1979.jpg

 

The material is a black wool with irregular brown – I don’t know, would you call them stripes? – that has been in my stash for years. I bought it at the first Handmade Fair, which Google tells me was five years ago. Crikey. I certainly have no idea what company I bought from now. It was pretty early in my sewing days certainly and while I loved it, I was always rather scared of cutting it so it remained in the stash.

I knew enough by that point in my sewing experience to throw all new fabric in the washing machine as soon as I got home. I didn’t know enough to think carefully about washing and drying wool – and at this distance I can’t tell if the felted quality of the fabric now was from my poor washing/drying practices or whether it was always like that. No matter as I actually really like it like this – but I will stick to hand washing from this point in.

Having read the pattern instructions through I largely disregarded them during the actual construction. The pattern starts with sewing up both sides of the skirt, but I wanted to be able to fit it to me so I left the zip side open until the final stages. I didn’t want the belt loops so also missed out that stage intentionally.img_1985.jpg

And I added a pocket because … pockets.

The skirt has a waistband, and with the thickness of the wool and with the desire to have something slightly softer next to skin, I went through my box of scraps for some cotton that I could use for the inner band. The tardis fabric that I used for PJs for my husband a few years ago was just silly enough to be perfect. It’ll make me think of him when I wear it, and if it could send some of my midriff off into another dimension, that’d be just fine too.

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This was my first make since Christmas, when I was given these lovely labels from Nominette. Such a perfect present from my mum and stepdad and I look forward to using lots of them in the year ahead.

I know this is a skirt that will get a lot of use – something I can wear for work or at home and feels right for the cold winter months we’re in right now. I’m definitely about trying to make more ‘regular’ items in the next few months – things which will get daily wear and fit with my existing wardrobe without changes. So I’m pretty happy with this first step, even if I can’t help staring at the white stripe on the bottom of the front and wondering if I should take the hem up further to lose it. I think I’ll live with it for a while and see if it bothers me.

In other news, my sewing buddy joined me in my sewing room for some of my day. She decided to make two egg cosies, inspired by the Cath Kidston ‘Sew!’ book. We did point out that neither she or her two sisters actually liked boiled eggs, and she suggested that perhaps a friend sleeping over might one day say “good morning, might I have an egg for breakfast?” Because clearly all her friends are from the 1950s.

Note to self – we need to wean her off Malory Towers, and soon.

The egg cosies are very sweet and all her own work – even down to drawing her own pattern. I’m now off to order an egg for my breakfast …

Happy New Year!

 

Psst – sewing – pass it on

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I’ve been sewing for the last six years now and I’ve been reflecting recently on how my interests have influenced my children.

If you asked them, the two hobbies that my children would identify as mine would be sewing and running. In fairness, I love one of those and do the other in a failing attempt to keep healthy – but still they are the things I choose to do regularly in my spare time.

I’ve tried to get my girls running, but with minimal success. The least that’s said about Ellie’s nine consecutive Park Run fundraiser the better. They’ve all had a go, but any time I try to encourage them now to come for a jog around Bushy Park, they say “mum lies” and head straight for the bacon sarnies. (“Mum lies”, in case you’re wondering, relates to the only way I could get Ellie round the Bushy Park Run route, by telling her that the finish was right round the next corner. Repeatedly.)

Sewing however has been welcomed in a much more positive way.

IMG_7340 copyEllie might not be a runner, but after achieving an A in her GCSE Textiles exam (and making a fabulous 1950s red satin prom dress), she’s taking her Fashion A level next summer and is applying to university to study Costume Design. I’m so jealous – she’s been very clear that I can’t just sneak in at the back of her classes and join in – but I can’t wait to see what she creates.

Last summer Alice, my middle daughter, stitched a patchwork blanket because she was bored during the long holidays. The delicate hand-stitching is fragile but very neat, and she amazed me with her commitment and creativity. She has bursts of sewing (when she’s not immersed in GCSE exam revision, which is her world right now) and other creative projects, and is passionate about photography.

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My youngest daughter, Tilly has also been interested in sewing, but in a slightly less self-sufficient way than her older sisters. To date that interest has mostly been expressed by asking for my help to make her doll some clothes (usually when I’m at a key point in a complicated project of my own) or creating cushions for favoured members of the family. That has just all moved up a gear.

Tilly is ten, so my sewing life started when she was four. I’ve made quite a few items of clothing for her over the years – and thinking about it, a lot of them have been pyjamas. She has relentlessly outgrown all the ‘jams I’ve made her so far though – even the ones with ridiculously big turn ups have now been turned down to the scant minimum hem and yet are flapping mid-calf. She’s going to be tall, this one.

So new pyjamas have been promised for some time, but this time we sewed them together. No, that’s not right either – for the pyjama trousers, she sewed and I helped.

img_1791The pattern for the trousers is the Simplicity 1722; one I’ve used for Tilly and others on countless occasions before. It is made with one pattern piece, and really couldn’t be simpler. One overlocked seam on each leg; the front-to-back crotch seam; elastic in a channel at the waist and hems on each leg. It was the perfect first project for someone who wanted to make something real that she could properly wear.

img_1759The fabric is a Spoonflower jersey that came to me at the Sewing Weekender, when I took the New Craft House knicker workshop. Spoonflower sponsored the workshop (thank you!) and gave participants a 1.5m piece of their jersey that we could choose from a range of prints. I knew Tilly would love this one (Whale’s Song by Katherine Quinn) and it was just wide enough to fit the age ten leg size on the cross grain. (You really couldn’t have gone on grain and had the whales swimming up and down the leg – that would have been very odd). The colours in the print are lovely and I don’t think it’s really faded in the wash – but even if it did, I think this print wouldn’t be hurt by a little fading. My previous orders from Spoonflower faded quite a lot and it put me off a bit – but whether it’s a better colour process they’re using now, or the jersey fabric, or the print itself – this time it’s all good.

img_1761.jpgWe only had one seamripper moment with the trousers. When sewing the channel for the waist elastic, the machine ate some of the surrounding leg fabric on the first pass, but that was quickly sorted. By bedtime she had a new pair of PJ bottoms to leap around in and was feeling very proud.

I was feeling pretty proud too. It was such a nice experience to be teaching my daughter, who was at the right point to want to learn. I wasn’t distracted by another project that this was interrupting and it was a pleasure to be able to help her achieve something she really wanted to do and to make something she’ll get lots of use from. She was more than confident using both my sewing machine and the overlocker – and if the seams of one of the legs are a bit wigglier than is traditional – well who on earth is going to notice that? In sewing, in my experience, it’s all about having a go and learning by doing. She’s starting about 30 years earlier than I did, and I hope she ends up enjoying this hobby as much as I do.

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The following weekend I managed to scale down the hoodie pattern from the Tilly and the Buttons Stretch book to fit a 10 year old frame. Using the smallest pattern size, it was a reasonably easy job to take out a couple of inches of length in the body and the arms. The pale green ponte fabric was one I had in my stash, and works perfectly to co-ordinate with the main pattern.

I managed to piece together enough of the whale fabric to line the hood, which she loves – and fortunately no one looks too closely at the inside of a hood, so the fact that some of them are upside down by necessity is not very obvious. The hoodie was a bit more complicated, so I was allowed to lead on the sewing this time. She did sew some of the seams, but was happy to let me back to my overlocker.

I’m proud of all my girls. If they had to choose one of my hobbies to join me in, I’m sure I should wish it was running for their cardiovascular health – but for the enjoyment of a creative shared experience, I’m really glad that they’ve all spent some time listening to the siren song of the fabric, and joined me in my happy place.

Sewing Weekender 2019

What a fantastic close to the summer: a weekend of making, while chatting to fellow sewing obsessives about fabric, patterns, sustainability, design, the sewing bee, wedding dresses and everything in between.

After The Fear of last year’s weekend, realising late in the day that actually sewing in a room full of other people might be quite intimidating for an introvert, this year was a dream. I knew for certain this year what I knew only in theory last year – that sewing people are the very nicest bunch you could hope to meet, that no one else is looking at your wonky seams and that the warm enthusiasm of being around people that understand us is incredibly liberating!

I was lucky enough to be part of the knicker workshop on Saturday morning, to make some Very Big Pants. Led by the lovely Hannah and Rosie from New Craft House, the workshop used the Madalynne Sinplicity 8228 pattern combining jersey and stretch lace. They look enormous, but in truth they’re really comfy.

Anyone interested in this pattern, please ignore the fabric requirements listed on the pack. Half a metre of jersey? One and a quarter metres of 8 inch stretch lace? I gathered the list together on Friday evening wondering how on earth we might need that quantity. In truth, you could probably make at least four pairs with the resources we brought, so I’ve plenty over for extras.

Hannah and Rosie were great – leading the workshop by sharing their skills and their enthusiasm. As the workshop was sponsored by Spoonflower, we were also each given a metre of their lovely jersey for taking part. The only downside really was that the workshop was in the fabric swap room – so my good intentions to donate and not to snaffle were undermined by my lack of willpower. With the lovely gift from Spoonflower, I certainly didn’t much reduce my stash this weekend.

As I wanted to finish them, unfortunately I missed the first talk of the afternoon in our room. Talking to others afterwards, it sounds like a fascinating and thoughtful presentation on sustainability in sewing from Selkie Patterns, and I’ll be reading their post on how I can be better at this. It certainly provoked discussion, which is key to change. I did arrive in time for Tara from Paper Theory talking about her experience of the fashion industry and its horrors (did you know there were sweatshops currently operating in London? Me neither, and it’s hard to get my head round.), her escape from it to home sewing pattern design and her very inclusive approach to designing garments that fit everyone well. Particularly after a weekend of staring enviously at jumpsuits, I’m very tempted by her Zadie pattern.

I spent the rest of the afternoon constructing the Named Sointu tee that I’d brought. After last year I was well aware that I’d be highly distracted, sewing in a much smaller space than usual and probably a bit nervous, so I’d decided on a relatively simple project. The Sointu has four main pieces – front, back, sleeve bands and belt. I prepped last weekend, cutting out the pieces and interfacing the belt and sleeve bands. I decided to put in a facing (also interfaced) rather than a bias bound neckline, and I chose to use a woven rather than a jersey fabric.

Thanks to Joy of Pink Coat Club for taking these pictures and making me laugh – a lot – to stop me feeling so self conscious

My fabric was a satin-backed crepe from Fabrics Galore. It has a lovely drape to it, and feels quite luxurious. I used the crepe side of the fabric throughout except for the sleeve bands where I used the satin side for a bit of gloss. The satin-backed crepe makes it feel like the tee is lined, without any effort whatsoever. #winning

The Sointu really is a very quick sew. Despite mucking up the facing first time around and needing my unpicker almost immediately, the tee was finished (apart from the belt) by the time that we finished for the day. I took it back to my room for a try on and liked it so much even unbelted that I wore it out to dinner – a dinner that involved gin and tonic, wine, fish and chips, and so much laughter and sewing gossip. A lovely evening with brilliant people.

A good night’s sleep and we were back for the second day, kicking off with a sewing celebrity – Juliet Uzor, last year’s Great British Sewing Bee winner. She brought her fabulous makes from the show and talked about pattern hacking as a creative and personal process, as well as providing an overview of sewing with wax fabrics. She was followed by Nina Lee – another maker well known in the community for her sewing patterns, but in her talk she led us through the delights (and the trials) of sewing her own wedding dress – along with clothes for most of the rest of the wedding party by the sounds of things. Really incredible achievements.

The talks, gossip and coffee meant I got less done on day two than I’d anticipated. I finished the Sointu belt – which is a couple of metres long and needed to be turned through, ironed and topstitched – as well as hand sewing in a highly appropriate tag to the tee and stitching down the facings to stop them flapping about.

[Top tip for future sewing weekender attendees – identify and save up some hand sewing items so you can continue with them during the talks – you obviously can’t use a sewing machine during them, but some calm and relaxing hand sewing is ideal.]

All too soon it was time for the group photo, farewells, and packing bags, machines and haberdashery to return home.

So, back to reality tomorrow. Right now I’m sat reflecting on how fortunate I am to have met so many great people, and to be confident that all the future sewing people I meet are likely to be similarly great. It’s such a warm community and this time round I was so much more confident about being accepted and welcome. Enormous thanks to everyone who organised the event (Kate and Rachel from the Foldline, with Charlotte and Barbara) – it’s an enormous achievement and you do it all so serenely! And a particular thanks to Liz (thebakerwhosews) who was kind enough to take me with her and bring me back home. As I say, sewing friends are the best!

Holiday sewing

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Ten days on holiday in the UK meant one thing for my hobby: the chance for some serious sewing time. It would clearly rain solidly for the whole time we were in Wales, so I would have lots of lovely time to sew.

And then what happened? Gorgeous weather throughout, with lots of wonderful time on the beach, glorious days spent outside and very little sewing time. I know, a disaster!

My rain-dancing, negotiations and bargains with the weather gods finally gave me one solid day with my sewing machine and overlocker, while my family drifted off to do other grey-day activities. I spent the time getting to grips with my first Burda pattern.rbqnjnrrqjs8vwb1vncvxa.jpg

Taken from the 4/2019 edition of Burda Style ‘shirt 108A’ was described as super easy, and in fairness that was a reasonable description. It’s a boxy cut, very loose fitting top with off-shoulder set-in sleeves. I thought it would be a simple but effective style in a drapey fabric – and that making the same top in a range of different fabrics would be a really interesting holiday project.

I took about 10 fabric choices with me but only managed to make up two of them, for the reasons explored above. Curse those weather gods with their glorious sunny days. As designed, the pattern has 3 main pieces – one front, one back and one sleeve piece cut twice. I traced them all as whole pieces rather than on the fold. The finish uses bias binding at the neck, so there’s a separate piece for that which you can also cut out.

As someone more used to sewing indie patterns than even the big four, the brevity of the instructions was quite a jolt. No step by step guidance with photos – not even a line drawing to help you along your way. I read them through, made as much sense of them as I could, and then largely ignored them. There wasn’t much to ignore after all, and if I couldn’t construct such a basic top by now, there wasn’t really much hope for me.

For top #1, I used a drapey hot pink fabric that has been in my stash for approximately forever. I bought it just after I realised that sewing was the Best Thing Ever, and it was cheap and drapey in a great shade from somewhere online. It then sat at the bottom of my sewing stash as I remembered that I don’t usually wear hot pink. Time then for a change.

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Obligatory arms spread wide to show the dimensions of the top pose – why do I always do this?

I started by making a few thousand metres of bias binding. I’m one of those odd people who quite likes making binding, so when I need a little, I tend to make quite a lot and use it for other purposes. I had brought my binding maker with me, but not my cutting board or rotary cutter so my strips weren’t the most accurate, but it all worked OK.

Construction was, as you might imagine, pretty straightforward – shoulders, neckline, sleeves, sides, hem. The sleeves were double-thickness, giving them a nice weight that gave a little shaping that contrasted with the hang of the main body.

IMG_1203Putting it on, I liked it a lot. A simple but effective top, just as I’d hoped. The pink wasn’t too much for me – at least not with jeans. In fact the only thing I decided to change for top #2 was the neckline binding – swapping it out for facings instead. Whilst I dislike flappy facings, I prefer the clean neckline that they give as long as they’re well-stitched down. I traced off the top of the front and back sections with some greaseproof paper (hadn’t brought my dots-and-crosses paper with me) and went ahead with the second top.

This time the fabric I chose was some blue dupion-style silk that I bought in India last year. It was more structured and less drapey than the first top, but after an initial wash had felt like a good option. It all went together very easily, and the facings (my first self-drafted ones) worked perfectly.

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Another arms-spread-wide post, this time so you can see it from the back. You’re welcome.

So, reflections on this make?

Firstly, it’s a very simple pattern, but an easy and effective top. It’s very wearable, and I’ve demonstrated as a very slow sewist that it’s perfectly possible to make in a half-day. As long as you don’t depend on detailed instructions and you’re happy to wing-it, it’s a great staple to have in your pattern box if you like this kind of shape. And I do (fortunately).

Secondly, I really like making things a couple of times, in quick succession. The learning from the first time around you immediately get to build into the second version – so small things that you might not write down or even think about much are picked up and improved on.  As my piano teacher constantly tried to make me understand as a child, practice really does make things better.

Thirdly, it’s really interesting the way that a fabric changes the whole nature of a garment. Obviously we know this instinctively as we choose the right fabric for the pattern we’re obsessing about – but actually making the same top in different fabrics is a really good way to really think about what you’re looking for in future purchases.

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Last reflection – I really do need to get better at taking photos. It’s always been the bit about writing a blog that makes me a bit mortified because even my nearest-and-dearest would agree that I rarely take a good photo – but these are really not great! Evidence above suggests that the only things I do are stand with my hands in my pockets or flailed outstretched. All (kind, gentle) advice on this score would be welcome.