At last! A tale of two Etta’s

A year ago, when the Tilly and the Buttons Etta dress was first launched, I decided it wasn’t for me. I liked the classic, elegant look, but when I thought about wearing that kind of woven dress in the office, it seemed too structured (uncomfortable?), fitted and just a little claustrophobic for me. I’ve made many of Tilly’s patterns in the short time I’ve been sewing, but decided this one was a pass for me.

It was a visit to the Great British Sewing Bee event towards the end of 2017 that got me looking at the pattern in person – and saw that on the fabric suggestions Tilly had included ponte di roma and jacquard knits as suitable options.

EttaThis was a whole different thing. An elegant, fifties-ish dress, but in a comfy, forgiving fabric? Hold my drink …

I whizzed through my first Etta some months ago, in a blue-green ponte that I think came from my stash – it certainly wouldn’t be the only piece in that colour-way, as I seem to buy all fabrics that I see in that particular shade. I say ‘whizzed’, but am guessing that  compared to most other people blogging that would equate to a slow crawl. Nonetheless, the systematic process that Tilly’s patterns are so brilliant for, got me relatively quickly to a lovely dress. It wasn’t without mishap however.

I have a tendency to insomnia – it appears to be my body’s unhelpful reaction to most situations, and often feels a bit like I’m harbouring a traitor within. I can’t think of many situations that are improved by a lack of sleep, and it’s cumulative for me. After a run of these bad nights and in the spirit of trying to make my evenings soothing and calm, I decided that I would leave my iPad and sewing blogs downstairs, and instead take up some hand sewing to do in bed while listening to an audio book – I forget which book, but presumably something without high drama or tension. I decided to spend this time putting in the long zip at the back of my Etta dress by hand.

img_4896.jpgWhen I first learned to sew, I put in all my zips by hand. I was frankly frightened of doing them on a sewing machine, and my lime green and blue starter-model had no option to change feet – so hand sewing was the pragmatic way forwards. I found it rather soothing, and in this tired, heading to sleep state I put in the zip over a couple of nights.

On none of those nights did my sleep-deprived brain recognise that the zip was upside down. Don’t get me wrong, it opens at the neck as it should do – but the zipper is on the inside. I can only wear it when my nearest and dearest are available to help me dress and/or change for bed! Clearly I could now remove the zip and put in a new one – but actually this error makes me smile to myself every time I wear it, so I haven’t yet …

Despite being a zip-muppet, I LOVE my blue-green Etta dress. Every time I wear it, I feel a little bit taller, a little bit curvier (in a good way – not so straight up and down) and I feel smart but comfortable. A total win. It’s one of those dresses that makes you feel just a bit more confident, and that in itself usually makes the day a better one.

With such power imbued in a single item, clearly a second dress would be hot off the press. I chose a dark pink ponte this time, and got to work.

Slowly.IMG_4872

It got really warm – heatwave warm.

I didn’t feel like wearing a long sleeve knit dress so it sat, half made, on my dress form for several weeks.

I was distracted by holiday makes – or, in reality, failing to create any holiday makes because I felt guilty about my unfinished Etta.

Then there was the sewing weekender and planning for that.

Bit by bit, it came into being – until finally it was finished.

Some aspects of this dress I like more than the original; some less. It has a zip that I can open and close without assistance, which is a definite advantage. Some elements of the make were smoother for a second go around – the collar sits better, and the kick pleat is neater (aka less mangled by a runaway overlocker). I’m not 100% certain about the colour though – really hoping it’ll grow on me, or I’ll grow into it or something – but it’s quite a bold choice for me.

Conclusions then – if you were put off the Etta – or indeed any structured, fitted, woven dress – because of a need to be comfortable in your clothes, then give a stable knit option a go. I will continue my quest to make classic/vintage-inspired clothes that work with my life, my height and my wish to breathe out and eat puddings. I probably won’t make any more Etta’s, at least not for the time being – because it’s a distinctive dress and a wardrobe only needs so many of one design.

If I did make another though, I hope I wouldn’t make one with lemons on. It’s not that I don’t like Tilly’s styling for this dress – quite the reverse. I basically, unintentionally, seem to have recreated both the dresses on the cover of the pattern pack with my outfits. Minus points for originality and being influenced by what I see! Oh well …

IMG_4875
Seriously, what is going on with my hands here?
Advertisements

A #sewingweekender

I was quite nervous, packing my sewing machine into a suitcase that wasn’t really big enough, and getting an early train to the #sewingweekender in Cambridge on Saturday. I’d been so determined to get a ticket, and had been gutted not to have been able to attend in previous years …. but, I normally sew by myself at home with only my family around, and the thought of meeting so many new people (there were about 100 of us there) and sewing in front of them, was pretty daunting. 

When I arrived (ridiculously early) at the venue, I was momentarily confused by the Buddhist meet up that was also going on in the building, but almost immediately reassured by a bright smiling woman saying “oh you must be here for the sewing weekender”. I think we must give off a secret siren to other sewists. That or she had suspicions about the reason for the taxi driver putting his back out while getting my case from the boot of his car.

I took my seat in one of the workshop rooms with about 50 other women and got set up, checked the goodie bag (so exciting) and started sewing. I realized quickly that my hands were shaking, and before 10:30am I had melted the top part of the kimono I was sewing with a too-hot iron.

The point of sharing all this was the multiple conversations I subsequently had during the course of the day with other sewists, who said the same thing. How nervous they’d been; how they nearly didn’t come even though they’d booked their ticket months ago and been counting down the days; how they hadn’t slept the night before; and how hard it was to walk into a group of new people and chat. 

I suppose it’s not a surprise that there might be other introverts here – sewing is something we do quietly; in my case a kind of meditation and way of relaxing and working things through. But everyone I met was, without fail, lovely! I hope that my experience was a shared one – that by being present and getting on with the sewing, I eventually relaxed and stopped melting things. And I began to really enjoy it, particularly meeting all the other attendees. There were no big egos – even those icons within the community who everyone recognized, the ones who’d written books, have blogs with enormous followings or who were producing amazing work, were just as friendly and happy to be there as the rest of us. There were no cliques – people that knew others were interested and welcoming to those of us who knew no one. 

In terms of the sewing, I’d decided to make a kimono – the pattern from the #sewoverit Vintage book. I really like this book because the patterns aren’t provided for you – instead you get a layout plan and clear instructions about how to map your measurements to draw and create the different pieces you need. For a pattern like a kimono, which is basically just a few rectangles, it’s brilliant. 

I chose to use fabric that my lovely daughter Alice had given me for my birthday – a shiny, drapey navy material with a white flower print. I carefully tested a scrap on one of the irons and then forgot that different irons might be on different settings ten minutes later: hence the melted top portion of one of the fronts. It wasn’t my best moment, and I spent the next half an hour cleaning the iron, but I managed to shorten the whole gown and lose that section without too much of a long-term problem. 

Full disclosure: it’s not my best sewing. It’s a slippery fabric, made into a garment that I constructed while chatting and getting to know new people and working in a much smaller space than I have at home for spreading out. But at the same time, it’s a dressing gown, it feels lovely to wear, it’s made with a gift from one of my favourite people in the world, and no one is going to come and check my seams. Please.

The odd pose was an attempt to show the sleeves of the kimono; I’m aware that I look a bit of a muppet

For anyone who is nervous about coming to this kind of event or meet up, I’d just say that my fears are now well and truly put to rest. You start with such a good shared connection; and the imposter syndrome quickly takes a back seat because we all seem to feel this way. Thank you to @englishgirlathome and @thefoldline for such a fantastic weekend. The venue, the food, the speakers and the support have all been excellent. 

Roll on next year!

Sewing city PJs

IMG_2926

Today’s lesson for the class: you may love the fabric – it may be calling you like a siren – but sometimes you should walk on by.

In life, I do not wear a lot of bright or patterned clothes. When I do, my rule is always: there can only be one. So, à la Highlander, I might wear a silvery print skirt, but with a black top and black shoes. A floral print t-shirt, with plain navy trousers. You get the picture; basically a neutral, quite simple style.

So when I had a moment in Fabrics Galore a couple of years ago, and impulse-bought a mint green cotton fabric with a pink cityscape border print, the fabric was destined to sit in my stash without a purpose. I regularly got it out, lovingly laid it across the floor and sought inspiration. I was thinking a shift dress perhaps? or a skirt?

Then earlier this week, I realised that what it really needed to be was pyjamas. I needed some light summery PJs for a hot holiday ahead of us – and as a woman who prefers neutral colours to wear out-of-the-house, maybe I could make some silly, happy jams?img_2916.jpg

Spoiler alert: they are indeed, pretty silly.

The pyjama trousers are from the Tilly & the Buttons ‘Love at First Stitch‘ book – the Margot pattern. Not my first rodeo with this pattern (I have three others for me, and at least four pairs made for my children and nieces). I made up a size 5 with no adjustments other than switching out the ribbon tie at the waist for some elastic – because my tumble dryer unthreads ribbon waist ties (that are securely knotted together six times) instantly but conversely creates complex and impossible-to-unknot macrame out of my tights.

Just as a side note, and because my husband claims that he reads my blog, Tilly has a new book out, called Stretch, which would make an excellent birthday present for a sewist who has made such good use out of the first Tilly book. Just sayin’.
IMG_2918

The pyjama top is the Grainline Lakeside pyjamas. I made the pattern up last summer (the top and the cute shorts) in a grey floral, and love the tulip shaped back.

It is a pattern that requires someone who enjoys (or can tolerate) making bias binding, which fortunately I don’t mind when I’m in the mood. I was also using a lovely Liberty cotton leftover piece, which took to being bias binding beautifully. 
IMG_2915

What else to say about this make? At the end of the day, nothing can really avoid the fact that I look like a bit of a clown. I could try mix–and-matching using the Highlander rule: trousers with plain t-shirt or top with some plain shorts? But hey, we’re talking pyjamas here, and if you can’t be a bit of a clown while lazing around on a weekend morning at home with your children, when can you?

The learning for me though must be that I am not a person for novelty fabrics. In future I will do my best to admire, send it my love in the store and then walk past without purchasing to the solid colour, jersey section where I will try to feel the same passion about some teal-green ponte. No really, I will. I can do this ….

In other news, one of my besties gifted me yesterday some cotton fabric printed with Japanese ladies in a line along the border. What do you think – a panelled circle skirt?

I know, I’m a lost cause!

img_2913.jpg

 

 

Team Flamingo

I am so grateful to the Foldline facebook community this weekend, who generously offered such well-informed advice about patterns I could use as part of a forthcoming fundraising campaign.

The background to ‘team flamingo’ is a sad anniversary coming up in 2019; honouring twenty years since we lost my step-dad to pancreatic cancer. At the same time, my lovely niece had a tumour removed from her pancreas earlier this year, aged just 12. Her story is a positive one, but we are determined to do something practical to help with research into this horrible illness. Raising money (for Pancreatic Cancer UK) seems like the best way to offer support.

As my niece is one of the few members of my family who loves sewing like I do, friends had suggested that one part of our campaign could involve sewing things to sell (to generous friends who wouldn’t be expecting perfection). I had a load of great suggestions via the Foldline facebook community – and thought it might help others in a similar situation if I collected them in one place, with suggested links where I have them. [Just to reassure everyone – I would make contact with any designer before using their patterns for this kind of project, and have already done so with one of the patterns below to ensure I have the right permissions.]

  1. Simple lined make up style bags that could also be pencil cases
  2. Pencil rolls
  3. Bunting
  4. Fabric bowls
  5. Circle skirts
  6. Simple tote bags
  7. Pattern weights
  8. Lavender sachets
  9. Squishy project bag
  10. Grain pillows
  11. Fabric keyrings
  12. Chinese knot bags
  13. Travel set (eye mask, make up bag, slippers) that could be a gift for someone going into hospital (from Simply Sewing 43, May 2018)
  14. Fabric cable tidies
  15. Toddler bucket hat
  16. Totes that turn into rucksacks
  17. Tablet/kindle/ipad stands
  18. Hair accessories
  19. Little covers for handbag-sized tissues [see below]
  20. Brooches
  21. Headbands
  22. Reusable cotton pads for make up/face cleaning [I tried some of these for myself as a test yesterday and they are remarkably simple and work just fine. Can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.]
  23. Glasses cases
  24. Boxer shorts
  25. Aprons
  26. Pouches
  27. Flamingo shaped pillows
  28. Potholders
  29. Needle cases
  30. Shower caps

I can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who took the time to comment – so warmest wishes and thanks to Charlotte, Caroline, Andrea, Jennifer, Nimue, Kirstie, Rachel, Louise, Fiona, Chrissie, Juliet, Rhian, Janet, Susan, Cathy, Liz, Muriel, Sue, Brianne and Lara. Any new suggestions, of items or patterns or anything helpful for this kind of fundraising campaign, would be gratefully received!

I leave you with a cat-themed tissue cover that was very quick and simple to whip up (literally 15 minutes start to finish and I’m VERY slow), and which may well figure in next year’s fundraising campaign as the designer has kindly sent me the details of how to use her pattern for this purpose. Though clearly, the ones we make will need rather more flamingoes … Thank you everyone.

Tissue case
http://twobrownbirds.typepad.com/two-brown-birds/free-pattern-ahhtishoo-travel-tissue-cover.html

A blue-green pencil

With three or four things identified and planned for my next sewing projects, I followed my standard disinclination to work on any of those today and decided to find something new. It’s not that they aren’t lovely projects with great fabrics that I really want to make. I just didn’t want to make them today.

green blue skirtIn my overflowing stash I found a lovely piece of turquoise-blue jersey that I’d used a small amount of for the contrast colour on a hoodie for a newborn. With most of the metre left to play with, I decided to pair it with New Look K6217, view C – a basic pencil skirt.

IMG_2843

I’m not a fast sewist, and I like it that way. For me, the meditative benefits of sewing include preparing the place I’ll be working in, making a large cup of coffee, choosing some good music and taking my time with the instructions. Unless I’m sewing for an event that I’ve (inevitably) left things right to the last minute for – such as a dress that I completed in one very long evening for a wedding the next day – I much prefer to take my time and enjoy the journey.

That said, there was a great deal of satisfaction today in a pattern with two pieces, couple of darts, cut out, sewn up and even hand-sewn at the hem within a couple of hours hours. Yes, it’s no sewing bee challenge of an achievement, but I certainly wasn’t racing.

The pattern is designed for a woven fabric, so in swapping in a nice, stable jersey I was able to skip the zip and attach the waistline to a wide elastic rather than the twill tape specified in the pattern. That didn’t work quite the way it was going to in my imagination (where the elastic would have turned completely to the inside), but I found I quite liked the finish, so left it there.IMG_2842

The whole project (not sure it can really justify the term ‘project’ but let’s work with it) was a satisfying, simple sew. The skirt is comfortable, fits me well and in a colour I’ll get a lot of wear out of. Sometimes, that’s all a Saturday demands.

 

 

Agent Carter – or Coco the Clown?

IMG_2812

After watching both series of Agent Carter again with my teenage daughters, and spending a lot of time discussing the wonderful clothes (and cars) with them, I decided to aim for as much ‘Peggy’ style as I could muster in my future sewing plans.

IMG_2822
(c) Marvel Agent Carter

With this in mind, I set out to make the Victory Patterns Esther trousers.

One look at the elegant pattern lines will show you the reasons for this choice.

Esther-Technical-Version-1_600x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The deep pleats and swooshy wide legs would clearly turn me into a fearless fifties crime fighter with an extensive and well-tailored wardrobe.

IMG_2821

Or in the alternative, would turn me into Coco the Clown.

It’s a perennial problem with being on the short side of average, that things that look amazing in theory (eg on beautiful models on patterns) don’t always work that way in practice (eg on me).  When I was nearing completion it seemed clear to me that elegance with this kind of trouser demands a rather longer silhouette than I’m capable of. Trying on the fairly final trousers (sans waistband and hemming) gave me a curious and far-from-elegant quantity of fabric around the pleating that seemed to indicate that it might be Hammer-time, but really didn’t say fearless fifties crime fighter.

Left sadly in my sewing pile for the week while the job-that-pays took precedence, I finally finished them off this weekend and now I’m happy to report that I think I love them again. Yes, there’s a LOT of fabric in the area below the waist – and though the pleats are beautiful and elegant, with the pockets and layers of drapey fabric involved, there’s a lot going on. But, at least while standing, they do still make me feel a bit Peggy, and I’m willing to take the rest for a hint of that.

IMG_2811

As a make, the Esther pattern is great. The instructions are detailed with great illustrations, and everything came together as it should. I used a hook fastening rather than a button because the waistband was a tad snug – but otherwise followed the pattern exactly.

The drapey crepe I used was from Fabrics Galore, and the pocket bags were made with a remnant of similar weight greeny-blue satin-backed crepe (as I hadn’t quite enough of the main fabric).While I love the peek of green this gives, it is a dilemma for this pattern – a thinner pocket bag fabric would give a little less weight to the waistband, but as it’s visible (and the pocket is formed from one pattern piece) it really needs to have a similar weight to the rest of the trousers. On the whole, I think you do need fabric with this kind of substance to make the trousers work, but it certainly means that I should have graded the seams caught within the waistband rather more ruthlessly. Ah well, there are worse things. img_2816-e1526249645900.jpg

 

If I were making the pattern again (and I certainly intend to), I’d probably seek out a slightly lighter weight fabric. Depending on how they wear, I might also reduce down a little of the volume caused by the beautiful pleats and very wide legs – but let’s keep an open mind at this point.

Tomorrow is the acid test, as I wear them to work in a secondary school. If the laughter of a hundred children follows me down the corridors, I’ll know I am indeed more Coco than Carter.

 

 

The Gateway

Autumn 2013, I was walking through John Lewis idly wondering what to spend some vouchers on that I’d been given for my 40th birthday. I passed the haberdashery section and spied an ugly sewing machine – one of the John Lewis own brand models in a colour-way that hadn’t worked – for only £25. “Why not?” I thought. I’d always been fascinated by the thought of sewing and of having a machine; and if navy and lime green wasn’t a soothing choice, it frankly didn’t matter when sewing straight lines.limegreenmachine

There, in that simple moment, it started. While the blue and lime green machine has long since been replaced (one with a light, an automatic needle threader and more options to change stitches/feet becoming important over time), it was my gateway to a new part of my life.

The first project that followed was a circle skirt. I found a pattern on line that promised it was ‘Easy’, some beautiful black shiny (and oh so slippery) Chinese brocade, and the different notions that I needed, and slowly puzzled out the instructions. Thank goodness for starting this journey in the days of the Internet; being able to google definitions that meant nothing to me was a lifesaver.

Eventually my circle skirt was finished. Even its mother (which I suppose would technically be me) couldn’t admire its hem, but you know it’s still one of the me-made items in my wardrobe that I wear most and get the most comments about. It taught me from the start that a beautiful fabric (in a dark colour with a print) can hide some truly dodgy sewing, and that garments that fit well in both height (I’m 5’2″) and width, make you feel good.

Sewing, its community and the peace and creativity it gives me, are really important to me. In this blog, I’m going to try and reflect on some of that.