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.
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.
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.
Putting 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.
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.
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.
The last couple of things I’ve made have not been for me. This is pretty unusual. I’m quite a selfish sewist, and realise that I’m mostly motivated by making something that I will be able to wear. Unfortunately for my patient family, this doesn’t stop me offering to make them things, and then procrastinating my way to completion.
My sister’s birthday was at the end of May. We discussed what she wanted whilst on holiday over Easter, then I ordered the fabric and pattern early in May. She was after a wrap dress, so we looked at lots of different pattern options together, deciding eventually on the new #SewOverIt #Meredith design. She sent me through her measurements on 18th May and I got started.
It was over two months later that I finally finished it. This is not because it is a complicated or multi-multi-step pattern. It was simply because I failed to get a move on.
Anyway, the pattern. It’s a really nicely designed dress with flattering shaping and a straightforward construction.
It’s almost unfair to review the early stages of the process as I did them so long ago that I can barely remember them. However there aren’t too many pieces, and cutting out was quite straightforwards. I’d chosen a quite stretchy jersey for this make, and I think this may have contributed to a feeling that I wasn’t being very accurate in putting it together. It was the Lady McElroy black cobra corsage jersey, with 100% crossways stretch and 50% lengthways stretch – which personally I think was too much. The pattern recommendations are just for ‘light to medium weight knit fabrics with lots of drape’, but I think something with slightly more heft would have been a little better.
My other comment on the fabric would be that it faded quite a lot in its first wash and tumble dry – so the clear instructions on the Fabric Godmother website to line dry rather than tumble dry should not have been ignored. I’m afraid I almost always tumble dry my fabrics (whatever the instructions) because they’re very likely to be accidentally thrown in with the rest of the family wash when the garment is made – so if they’re going to shrink, I prefer that to have happened up front. Hopefully my sister has the same kind of pragmatic attitude – and doesn’t mind a slightly greyer ‘black’ than the one it started out as.
The main construction of the dress came together quickly, so the dress shell lived on my dress-form for most of the two month making period. Another short sewing session focused on the construction of the neckband and waist-ties. Finally I stitched the neckband onto the dress and attached the sleeves.
What I haven’t done (still) is to hem the thing. And this is what I agonised about at the end of the process. On my dress-form, the hemline was reasonably straight. When I put it on, it was wonky as all hell. I know we’re all different measurements but my sister and I are quite similar so I wouldn’t have expected that amount of difference. The length of the top half of the dress (above the waist ties) seemed too long on me, but obviously this would be different on her. What I couldn’t tell, is how the dress would hang – and as she frustratingly lives in another country, it wasn’t a simple matter to just get her to try it on and pin it! Fortunately (and as shown above) the non-hem was just right on her – so the next time we’re in the same country at the same time, I’ll do the final piece of the puzzle. She looks lovely in it, although in Spain at present it’s far too hot for her to wear anything with sleeves!
The other project I worked on in the summer was a gift for a teenage girl (my middle-daughter’s best friend) going into hospital for an operation. My daughter and I wanted to make her something she could wear there, so adapted the #Grainline #Lakeside pyjama top. I’ve made this pattern a few times and liked the way that the tulip style of the top at the back might allow for access from the doctors and nurses while she was there, but in a relatively stylish way.
For anyone ever in the same situation – trying to adapt this top to fasten around the body rather than slide over the head – I’ve tried to draw out the solution we came up with. Forgive the abysmal drawing techniques – what I hope makes sense is that the spaghetti strap is made by a loop that slips over each shoulder, being held in place with a bow tied from the front.
As you’ll see from the photos (modelled by my eldest daughter), it doesn’t sit quite right – and if I were making this again I’d extend the length of the tulip sections so there was more of an overlap – stopping the spaghetti straps from pulling from the middle.
We combined the top with some soft jersey pyjama bottoms (the TATB Margot pattern from Love at First Stitch – possibly my most-used pattern to date) in plain black, with a cuff of the same flamingo fabric.
With a specific deadline, it wasn’t hard to get this one completed – and it didn’t hurt that my lovely family gave me a dedicated sewing day as a birthday present that I could devote to it. We managed to deliver the pyjamas with all our best wishes in time.
It felt good to do some unselfish sewing, and it was interesting reflecting on and analysing my own procrastination. I love the process of sewing, and really enjoyed making all the items above – but the motivation to get everything out and start was the thing I felt was missing. In theory I have a sewing table with everything set up – but in reality, my sewing table becomes a dumping ground for all the detritus of our kitchen, so sewing-in-practice means setting up at the kitchen table. Maybe it’s that (5-10 minute) step that is the barrier? Or maybe I’m just selfish!
Either way, I’m looking forward to a straightforward selfish planning session as I decide on what to sew at the forthcoming #sewingweekender – so looking forward to my second experience of creativity with a crowd of likeminded sewing buddies!
Having had limited time for recent sewing – and time I have had spent making a dress for my sister (so “secrets”), I thought I’d write a different kind of post with some ramblings about dressing for work. I’d be really interested in other people’s views on this.
I listened to a Women’s Hour podcast this week about the uniforms we wear for work – whether prescribed by the business, professional expectation, a wish to conform or our own self-expression. It’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot during the course of my career, and more so since taking up sewing as a hobby (obsession) about six years ago.
My first job out of school was for a plumbing firm in my gap year between A levels and university – providing secretarial services with one other woman to a team of male surveyors/sales reps. It was a fun place to work, but these were not enlightened times. The expectation was for ‘office wear’ – not specifically a suit, but skirts and blouses were mandatory. Wearing trousers was not allowed for female members of staff, and when I campaigned for a change on this point (as the only person whose desk was based in a draughty reception area), the managing director did agree to accept women in tailored trousers – but only when the big boss wasn’t visiting. When the big boss arrived unexpectedly one day, I was snuck out of a side door and taken home to change.
I spent the next three years doing a creative arts degree, where the uniform was set by a developing (sometimes, in retrospect, cringeworthy) self-expression but also a wish to conform. Finding ways to be different (which was desirable) but still within a safe parameter of choices (which was essential) was the tension. Think lots of prints, dungarees, and Doc Marten boots with ribbons for laces.
I joined the treadmill of working life after graduating, working in a school, in a housing association, freelancing from home when my children were small, then working in higher education and now back in a secondary school environment. Each of those businesses has had their own written and unwritten rules about work uniform, and everyone working in them has also had their own personal rules about what they want to wear and how they want to express themselves. My profession is human resources, so given my interest in this area it’s hard not to draw some conclusions from what I see.
1. Everyone is judging you on your appearance, all the time
We don’t always like this, but it’s true. Whether they do it consciously or not (and few people directly judge someone on the length of their skirt or the colour of their tie), your personal presentation is the first thing that most people notice about you and it makes a lasting impression that the other person will then confirm or deny as they get to know you.
2. Confidence and comfort have a definite correlation
Everyone who sews (and many people who don’t) knows the value of clothes that fit you really well. I can’t count how many outfits I’ve worn over the years where the trousers were too long, the waistband too tight, the shoes painful or the skirt inclined to ride up or twist. It’s not just that these sartorial choices aren’t comfortable – it’s also that someone who feels constricted or concerned about their clothes is distracted by that fact before they contribute in any other way – and it shows.
Some of this is personal choice – I’m sure I’ve worn plenty of trousers for longer than my waistband would have preferred, because I liked the style and was determined that I wouldn’t buy the next size up. For too long, I had a seriously misaligned idea of what suited me. Again, some of it is expectation – if your natural inclination isn’t to wear a pencil skirt or heels, then a professional or social ‘rule’ that you should is going to put you on the back foot from the start.
This is something I really try to bear in mind in my sewing. I choose jersey fabrics whenever I can, because I immediately feel more comfortable in them – the secret pyjamas phenomenon. I’ve certainly discovered that you can trade ponte di roma fabric for many patterns designed for wovens, without having to make much of an adjustment. The Sew Over It Heather dress and the Tilly and the Buttons Etta dresses are in regular rotation in my work wardrobe, and both are really easy to wear – to dress up with a suit jacket and heels, or to dress down with a long cardigan and flats, depending on the people I’m going to see during that work day. It’s a personal preference for sure, but dresses make me feel put together at work in a way that doesn’t demand too much of my brain early in the morning (I leave the house before 7am, so simple is good).
3. Standing out from the crowd is good (within an acceptable boundary)
One of the points in the podcast was that in a sea of grey suits, you have the ability to stand out in your colour choices. Being memorable can be a very positive thing – but there’s always that degree of risk involved in being different – one that we acknowledge in our teenage years (resisting school uniform with all our might, but socially choosing to wear exactly the same thing as our peers at all other times) and sustains to some extent through our later lives. Choosing to stand out from the crowd needs confidence – so comfort again is key (see last point).
In sewing, I’ve definitely explored the colours I feel happiest wearing. I like bold block colours more than patterns (however much I love the patterned fabric when I shop for it, it’s never the one I reach for when I’m making), and jewel shades rather than pastels. When shopping for RTW over the years, I’ve almost always opted for something that’s black or navy – and while I still probably have more in those shades than any others, I rarely choose black or navy to sew with. Sewing is definitely pushing those boundaries for me – and my pink Etta dress is still something that I wear with a bit of trepidation, but it increasingly feels like me.
4. It’s personal
As a woman in my forties, I feel far more confident now about make clothing choices that are about me, not about what the ‘average’ woman might suit or want. I’m not average – and that’s not a humble brag. I’m 5ft 2ins, so shorter than most women, and clothes from the high street (particularly trousers) seem designed for giants when I put them on. My waist is a bigger measurement than it used to be and I don’t really curve in any of the ways I’d choose to – think rectangle rather than hourglass. I never have to do an FBA.
The amazing thing about sewing is that I can reflect all of that in the choices I make in my unachievable quest to be Agent Carter.
The more patterns I follow, the more I understand about adjustments – but also about styles that work for my shape. Somehow in sewing a thing, you get a much more personal response to whether it actually suits you than if you’d bought it. I’m definitely someone who wears what I sew – so if I choose to leave it in the wardrobe, it tells me a lot about the make and I try to understand what my reservations are.
In the workplace, those choices are always personal. The external expectations are commonly quite broad brush, and there’s enormous power in being able to express yourself within it. I’m an HR professional, so setting the written guidelines for this kind of thing often falls to me – and I would usually write (beyond the health and safety requirements of a role) that you should dress to meet the expectations of the people you’ll meet in your working day. On a rare working-from-home day, that might literally mean pyjamas for me. During term time at school I usually wear smart dresses with jackets or tailored cardigans. Often I wear flat shoes – but I always have a pair of heeled shoes under my desk: not because anyone else might require it, but sometimes I appreciate the additional confidence that a few more centimetres of height gives me. Interestingly in school holiday times (I work all year round), most people dress down. I do too, but have quite clear personal boundaries for this. The people I deal with in my role are the same as during term time – I’m not dressing to meet the expectations of pupils really, but of staff. I therefore wouldn’t ever wear shorts or jeans (though colleagues sometimes do), because to my mind it wouldn’t suit my role. As I said, it’s personal choice.
In ‘The Rules of Work‘, a book which is a little cheesy but invaluable for anyone starting their working life, the author Richard Templar argues that you should model your business dress on your manager or their boss. Dress for the job you want next and you’ll subconsciously project yourself as ready for the next level etc. There’s definitely something in this, though I resist the idea that the formula is quite that simple. Certainly over the years I’ve seen promotions awarded to people who have projected confidence and a more business-like manner through their dress – and others who have been judged as overconfident and too focused on the ‘gloss’, so it certainly is never the only factor in these matters.
5. Interview suits
A final thought from me is about dressing for interviews – thinking back across hundreds of interviews that I’ve conducted over the years. This is definitely a time when you should focus on wearing an outfit that is smart and well fitted – as you want everything to be working for you to build your confidence, allow you to relax and to project professionalism.
What you should wear to an interview is absolutely dependent on the organisation that you’re interviewing for, and a bit of research about their corporate style will give you pointers about this, and pitch your outfit as slightly more formal than you think their day to day corporate dress might be. Don’t follow the blind guidance of recruitment agencies who tell you that you must wear a black or blue suit to interviews, and to keep everything else neutral. Think carefully about the person you want to project and what makes you feel good, and build an outfit that reflects that.
One of the organisations that I’ve been proud to have volunteered for over the years (though sadly I rarely get the opportunity now) is Smart Works. This fantastic charity provides women who have a job interview lined up but have been out of work for a while, with a package of new clothes and some interview coaching. The fabulous dressing volunteers work with an Aladdin’s cave of donated suits and business wear, shoes, bags etc to put together an outfit that suits the individual and the kind of organisation they’re interviewing at. The client comes out of their dressing session (and it’s always that way round) to the interview coaching. It’s amazing to witness – they are literally buzzing with it. Having someone who is kind and thoughtful, who understands what will make them look good and feel right, can be transformational. As the interview coach, I’ve had the privilege of being able to build on that and help them take that confidence forwards to good, rounded answers to the questions they’re likely to be asked.
And more than 60% of women who Smart Works help go on to get the job they’re interviewing for.
So, those are my thoughts on dressing for work – do you agree or disagree? What do you wear for work, and how much flexibility do you have in what you choose? Any thoughts on the podcast?
So, a new thing for me this time: pattern testing. I was lucky enough to be chosen by Leimomi of Scroop Patterns to be one of the testers for her new Mahina cardigan pattern which has launched today. It was a really interesting concept, and I am really pleased with the finished piece. I made view B – a very simple make, with only three pattern pieces (and that includes two sleeves).
The interesting thing about this pattern is the way that you tailor it to your measurements. The base pieces for each of the cardigan shapes doesn’t alter, but the positioning of darts and the size and positioning of the arm holes is the thing that tailors the pattern to your specific measurements.
I printed the pattern at home, and spent an hour or so one evening piecing it all together with a glass of wine on hand. There weren’t too many sheets involved, so it was reasonably therapeutic. You do need to be awake/concentrating enough to make sure the darts and armhole piece is lined up correctly. I *may* have needed to unstick and restick that piece on my pattern, and that *may* have been related to the wine.
Cutting out was a quick and simple process, given the small number of pieces involved. I had a nice 2m quantity of blue ponte di roma jersey that I’d been saving for a cardigan, with about 40% stretch on the crossgrain. It had a good drape and enough weight to work with without being too think – a chunkier jersey may not have had the lovely draping that this pattern gives you. The instructions indicated that I’d need 2m for my size, but in fact, I only needed 1.55m – even including cutting out plenty of binding strips though I didn’t ultimately use them. One thing I noticed (and appreciated) was that I was able to cut the pattern and binding strips very economically – so there was little wastage in the scraps leftover. I’m trying to be mindful of reducing waste in relation to sewing, so was really pleased about this.
My measurements indicated a 34cm shoulder and 28cm bicep measurement. I’d printed the pattern instructions out, and there was a space given to write these measurements in. I did so obediently (I was pattern testing after all) but may have skipped it normally – but in practice kept having to refer back to this page. You would think with only two measurements to deal with, I’d be able to retain them in my brain: but you would be wrong.
The Mahina pattern gives a whole range of options for finishing the edge of the cardigan, including a raw edge and different kinds of bound edges – in self fabric, bias binding or lace. I’d decided to bind the edges in the same fabric, but once I’d assembled the garment actually thought that the bound edge would result in a finish that was too thick and heavy – and that the lovely drape I had achieved would be lost. I decided to leave it as a raw edge, but to keep those binding strips so I could change my mind later potentially.
There’s not much to say about construction – it really couldn’t be a lot simpler, and though the approach is a bit different, so you need to get your head around it first (without wine …), once you have it’s a really quick garment to assemble. All the notches matched perfectly, and I didn’t make any alternations to the test pattern (though I think Leimomi made a few minor alterations based on feedback from others).
If I was (let’s be real: ‘when I am’) making the pattern in the future, the only major change I would make would be in the shoulder measurement, which I think I got a bit wrong. The open drape of the cardigan hangs from that shoulder measurement point, so if you measure to the very end point of your shoulders, then the cardigan will hang from there down the side of your body (if that makes sense). In future makes I’ll shorten that measurement, as I prefer a cardigan that is narrower – sharing a far-from-flattering photo here to demonstrate what I mean. In fairness, I think the narrower measurement is actually what’s intended (the instructions say to measure from the highest point on the rounded shoulder rise, which is actually a bit further in than the point I’d used).
For this garment, I may pinch a little more into the darts to bring the shoulder line in but it’s still definitely wearable as is. I experimented with pinning it across, which I liked a lot (though I may need to trade up to a real brooch rather than my youngest daughter’s Brownie pin). I love the ‘waterfall’ drape and the way it hangs at the back, and the raw edge doesn’t feel ‘raw’ at all in wearing it.
My overall view is that I really like this pattern – a quick, simple and practical item, and a great basic to have in my collection. Start to finish time for sewing was about 2.5 hours – and that’s as one of the world’s slowest sewists, and involved fielding requests from three children, taking phone calls, eating snacks (obviously), making and drinking coffee (also obviously) and sorting lunch for the family. Actual sewing time, particularly for a second/subsequent makes, would be a lot less. The instructions were carefully thought through, and flowed really nicely. They also refer to where you might find other bits of information if you’re looking for them, which helps to navigate your way around, given the range of options included in the one pattern.
Thank you for the chance to test this pattern, and for my new Mahina cardigan!
It started with some inspirational fabric and a plan for some holiday sewing.
The fabric was an awesome cotton print, gifted by a wonderful friend who bought it some time ago in Japan. Said friend has been sewing for as long as I’ve known her (30+ years) and has forgotten more than I will ever know about this craft. She’s also kind and generous – she made my wedding dress 20 years ago because I asked her to …. (I know, I know … in my defence I had no idea what I was asking at the time and now I do I’ve sincerely apologised but am also still delighted with the beautiful dress she made me), so gifting sweet fabric is definitely in keeping with her personality.
The material was a cotton print, but with none of the stiffness you usually get when you buy printed cotton. And what a print! My favourite shade of teal – a really warm, deep shade – with a procession of beautiful ladies dressed in kimonos, carrying parasols and wearing geta (Japanese footwear, somewhere between a clog and a flipflop).
I was given the fabric last summer, but it took a while to decide on the right pattern for it. The ladies process along one edge of the fabric as a border print, so it needed to be a design without darts or pleats, so their walk could be unimpeded. I’d kind of dismissed Stevie when the dress was launched last year by Tilly and the Buttons, but when I went to the Sewing Weekender it seemed that so many of the people I met were wearing/making/both a Stevie dress or top – and they looked lovely, not all hospital-gown-ish as I’d feared. Final encouragement from a sewing-friend-at-work (thank you Vanessa) and I decided that Stevie would be right for this fabric.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who spends more time planning the sewing projects/kit to take on holiday than actually packing real clothes. I planned, resourced and packed for three projects during our 10 days away, but Stevie was the only one that experienced the country air. It was probably something to do with needing a simple, well-structured make (after my wonderful but intense tailoring experience), sewing in the presence of a puppy (who was brilliantly behaved but I was reasonably paranoid about her eating haberdashery that she shouldn’t), and actually spending lovely relaxing time with my extended family, that made this one The One.
The make came together very easily and it would be a great pattern for a sewist at any stage/experience. The instructions are very detailed, with clear photos and hints to guide you through it. Because of the pattern placement I had to be a little creative with piecing – using the crossgrain so that the print went around the hem and not up my side. I cut a straight size 4, which fitted well – as I had expected having made several TATB patterns. Their block is a good match for my measurements and TATB patterns tend to fit me well. I liked the way that the facing was sewn down (similar to the Bettine pattern) as part of the design, as I don’t like facings that move around when I’m wearing the garment.
The cotton cut easily and was a dream to sew up being stable but still with some drape to it. It took the iron and the interfacing well. I don’t know where in Japan Lisa bought it from, but the same fabric seems to be sold here and I’d highly recommend it. With the print ladies walking around the hem, I had some lovely fabric bits that I couldn’t use elsewhere as they’d have looked odd. One lady became the pocket and one looks out from the facing on the inside when you undo the bow at the back – one of those secret details you can put into your own makes, and which make me smile.
Notes for me for future occasions when I make this pattern (and I think there will be a few – it’s a very simple, practical and quick make) – I did a tiny hem but still probably will choose to wear this with capri leggings or jeans rather than with bare legs. On that basis, the pattern might work better for me if extended by an inch or two – not exactly a common pattern adjustment I make and is definitely about what I feel comfortable wearing and not an issue with the pattern. Let’s see, maybe I’ll be brave enough to wear it as is? Also the bow at the back is fine with the ties made from the main fabric but a complementary-coloured ribbon might be nicer and feel more elegant.
Thank you to the lovely friends who made this possible but also to my long-suffering and understanding family – who seem to get that sewing is an important way for me to relax and recharge, and don’t mind giving me the time and space to do so. You’re all diamonds. X
Arriving for week two of the Francine workshop, feeling guilty for not having finished the homework, tired from a late night of sewing and early start, and frazzled from an intensive day at work, wasn’t the most auspicious start to our second session. However, the mental re-set that I get from sewing quickly worked its magic, and as I got busy catching up with the more organised members of the group, I felt myself really relax.
Week two was mainly focused on attaching the collar pieces front jacket facing, using techniques that were certainly new to me to ensure that everything sits ‘right’.Just thinking about the way that the collar and jacket facing needed to be rolled differently and tacked in place was fascinating – there are so many stages to garments that we wear everyday, without thinking about their construction. Which is even more amazing when you’re a person who tends to think about garment construction in most of her idle moments.
Julie took the time to demonstrate the new techniques, again really explaining clearly why different stages were necessary and how the elements built up towards the finished jacket. I know from reading the words in the written pattern that I’d have really struggled to understand the different stages of the instructions without a handhold, so I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to learn in person.
I began to realise through this second class that I was going to have to make a second Francine soon. Despite my #makenine plans for 2019, it was becoming clear that to really embed the learning from these workshops, I will have to work through all the steps again by myself – without an oracle to consult this time. And the sooner I do it, the more likely I’ll actually remember the things she has told us.
Another element of this week’s class focused on pressing, and using steam to manipulate and set the wool fabrics we were working with. I used a tailor’s ham and clappers for the first time (more kit, dear family members, that will always be appreciated re future birthday/Christmas/’just because’ gifts) and gained a much better understanding of the way that this kind of fabric responds to the heat and steam.
Once again the evening flew by, with lovely chat with the other sewists, GBSB gossip, carrot cake and tea, and all too soon Julie was gathering us to explain our homework – mainly the lining that would need to be prepped for next time.
This time around, I had much more time to do my homework – and realising that I’m much happier sewing when there isn’t a clock counting down next to my head, I took my time over the weekend to cut and stitch the lining.After working with the lovely wool coating, it was a bit of a transition to be using slippery lining fabric (with a broken and ridiculously blunt rotary cutter to boor), but it all worked reasonably well. We also had to set in the sleeves, tacking them in position so that Julie could check them before we stitched them in properly.
Arriving on Wednesday for our final class, it was clear that there was still a lot to do. After our sleeves were approved and carefully stitched in place, the majority of the class was spent learning and applying skills in putting in sleeve head wadding and shoulder pads. It was amazing to directly see the difference that shoulder pads made – the lovely ones that Sew Over It had sourced for us were a far cry from the 1980s beasts that spring to mind when I think about shoulder pads, and the gentle way that they raised the jacket and improved the way it hung on me was immediately obvious. Time consuming for sure, but definitely worth while.
Putting in the lining was next, and again it transformed the jacket – you could really ‘see’ the garment it would (hopefully) become. Again, the construction was fascinating – the additional fabric in the lining to ensure it can move easily when you’re taking it on and off, and the way it all comes together when you finally join it to the main fabric.
Each class in the workshop series is three hours long, from 6:30 to 9:30pm – which after a full day at work is pretty tiring. Our last class didn’t finish until 10pm (thank you so much for giving up your time for us) because Julie wanted to make sure that we were all clear on the instructions for the final elements of construction. There are lots of hand sewing elements that are small but important – joining the lining at key points to the main fabric, and finishing the hems cleanly and accurately. There simply wasn’t time for us to finish everything in the class.
Though it seemed like there was a huge amount to do when I got home, each stage was quickly finished. Well, I say each stage – it’s now nearly a month since the class finished, and my jacket is still sans button holes and buttons. One of the suggestions in class was to take our jackets to a specialist shop in Berwick Street for the button holes – on the basis that it would be truly heartbreaking to get this far with a jacket and then to make a mess of the button holes which would be so very obvious. I decided this was excellent advice, but being me – I’ve just not found the time to actually make it there yet. You can tell I’ve given up to a certain extent now, as this blog post has been waiting for all the intervening time for me to get this done, and it’s clear it won’t be soon, so here you are. In fairness I’ve been wearing the jacket anyway – realising that I almost never do up buttons on a jacket like this.
One adjustment that became necessary quickly was where I’d managed to sew the lining badly in one sleeve, which was pulling the arm shape so it couldn’t hang straight.That one was quickly unpicked, and sadly now doesn’t look as beautiful on the inside as it had done, but no matter. Otherwise I’m so very pleased with it.
Reflecting on the workshop series now – it is an experience I would definitely recommend. The sense of achievement in doing something so completely out of my comfort zone is immense, and I’ve become fascinated with tailoring methods – very keen to learn more (maybe a waistcoat for my husband next, inspired by the GBSB). As you’ll have gleaned, the teaching was supportive, clear and pragmatic – Julie knows her stuff, and she knows how to communicate it. She’s incredibly patient and though I’m sure we tested that to the limit, you really felt how much she wanted us all to achieve.
The small group of sewists in the class (there were six of us, which is the maximum class size) were also brilliant company, and I’m looking forward to seeing their jackets on social media. I already miss our Wednesday evenings (though it is nice not to be quite so tired on Thursdays).
The only suggestion I’d make about the classes would be for more! Four weeks, rather than three, would be perfect. There was so much we didn’t get the chance to do with supervision. We spent a lot of week one cutting out our patterns and fabrics, and it was brilliant to have toiles available so that you could ensure you were cutting out the right size, and adjusting it in the way that would fit your body – before you cut any fabric. Assuming that’s not financially viable to do four weeks, perhaps class participants could be asked to come in at another time before the class started to try on the toiles in store and then at least come with the pattern pieces cut out – and if the sizing looked good, to cut the fabric pieces too. It was all valuable, but if I could choose between having Julie on hand for cutting out fabric or doing the final elements of construction, I’d prefer the latter.
Other than wanting more of it, I’ve no negatives at all to share about the class. I heartily recommend it, and will certainly be back for more classes at Sew Over It in the future. Thank you!
My lovely husband came up trumps with my Christmas present this year, with a three-evening workshop at #Sewoverit to complete the #Francine tailored jacket.
I’d done one of their courses in the past – the #ultimatetrousers pattern, which was the first group sewing course I did, and aside from a workshop at the Sewing Bee live exhibition last year, still the only one. There’s so much you can learn by yourself when sewing – and I must admit that one of the things I like best about this hobby is working by myself to be creative – problem solving when things go wrong and finding my own way through things (obviously with the expertise of the sewing community via the internet to support me).
Undeniably however, there are plenty of times when having an expert to guide you makes a real difference. I’d certainly found that with trousers – having someone to help you fit trousers on yourself is a wonderful help. One of the excellent things about the #sewoverit classes is that they have toiles of their patterns made up in all of the size range – so you can try on the size that best matches your measurements, and then see how you might need to adjust your pattern pieces to fit the quirks of your body shape. Being 5’2”, RTW trousers have NEVER fitted right, so the expertise of the workshop leader (Julie Johnston – more on her in a moment) in helping to identify the ways to make the pattern fit me correctly was a huge help.
The first week of the #Francine workshop similarly involved us trying on the toiles of the jacket and seeing where we might want to adjust things. Being short of leg but kind of average on top (a bit on the short side, but not excessively, not a lot of bust but still in range), I matched the size 12 reasonably well. Julie noted that I might need a slight sway back adjustment, but that would be best done at the end as she wasn’t convinced it would be necessary.
The rest of week one was spent cutting out our pattern pieces and main fabric.
We had all had to source and bring the main fabric and lining, and this was a decision I’d agonised over from Christmas through to the end of February. I have a few pairs of navy/dark blue trousers with no jacket that particularly went with them – so I wanted a fabric that would contrast well with navy, but not necessarily ‘match’. I’d ordered samples from Abakhan, Truro Fabrics, Croft Mill, Minerva Crafts and Dragonfly fabrics and they were all lovely. Even with the sample pieces in my hands however, I found it hard to assess the drape and weight and to really understand how the fabric would work for this pattern – mainly I think because I’ve never attempted anything like a tailored jacket in the past.
In the end, I took a walk up to the main branch of Fabrics Galore in Battersea one lunch break, and found myself the fabric of my dreams. It is dark grey wool coating fabric, in a herringbone design with flecks of blue. I have tried and failed to photograph this accurately, so you’ll just have to trust me on it. [What is it about photographing fabric that is so frustrating – is it just the quality of a mobile phone camera, or settings that try to adjust the colours? It’s much darker than the image here.] I thought I’d buy 2.5 metres so that I could also make a skirt in the same fabric, but found when I got to the till that it was the end of the roll – and that in fact, while they had exactly the right amount in theory, the end had been cut on a slant – so my 1.6m on one side was actually 1.5m on the other. I crossed my fingers and bought the fabric, along with a beautiful green lining fabric.
Inevitably, that 10cm difference on one side made working out a lay plan for the pattern an intricate game of tetris, but with Julie’s help I finally managed it. The challenging bit was in laying out the collar piece so that the herringbone would be aligned on both sides – something that’s not a problem if you don’t have a fabric with a pattern, but involves a bit of head-scratching if you do. It’s fair to say that it ended up a very efficient use of the fabric, and my scraps in the herringbone were minimal.
The three-hour class went by in a flash. While we worked on cutting out our pieces, it was lovely to talk to the other sewists present – it’s not often that you get to commune with fellow sewing people in the flesh, and everyone was interesting and shared the same passion for garment making. We also got to eat cake, drink tea and stroke the wonderful array of fabrics and haberdashery in the Sew Over It store. What’s not to love?
I don’t know if Julie runs all the Sew Over It courses, but her calm and practical approach is very reassuring. She knows the patterns inside out, and her explanations don’t just tell you what to do but also help to contextualise the instructions – so you’re not just learning what to do, but also why. It makes such a difference when you’re branching outside your comfort zone, like this class. She’s exceedingly patient, and you get the feeling that she’s rarely unable to answer a question from her class participants. I’d highly recommend her classes, and I’m sure that Lisa and the team at Sew Over It value her highly.
Before we found ourselves back out in Islington to make our way home, we had clear instructions from Julie about our homework. This involved finishing cutting out all the pieces (the first time I’ve had a pattern with 20 separate paper pattern pieces resulting in (I think) 51 different pieces to be cut out in the three fabrics), including the interfacing pieces. We had to apply the 23 pieces of interfacing to the main fabric, and join up the main straight seams of the jacket.
The advice was that this was about 4 hours of work. Ha! Maybe for efficient sewists, but not for me.
It was unfortunate that I had a long booked holiday with my book club to Berlin at the weekend (for the record, I belong to the best book club in the world, which involves an annual city break with a loose book tie-in to justify the trip), so my available sewing time was limited. The class was on Wednesday, I didn’t get started on Thursday and was away Friday to Sunday. Monday night we had commitments so it was Tuesday night when I finished work that I was finally able to make a start. “It’ll be fine” I told myself – I could start around 6:30 and figured I would be finished around 10:30.
We had been advised to purchase some woven tailoring interfacing at Sew Over It, rather than the slightly crunchy cheaper products I’ve bought in the past. Damn it but now I’m spoiled for life! I found the tailoring interfacing so much more accurate to cut, and I love the way that it joined with the fabric to make it thicker without changing its drape and movement. It combined well with my fabric, and the iron-application was satisfying and quite therapeutic.
Once more that evening I was reminded that I am not a speedy sewist. As I’ve said before, I don’t consider that a bad thing – I enjoy taking my time with the process, and particularly with a jacket like this, I wanted to make sure I worked carefully and accurately. Obviously I also had to eat dinner, at least listen to the Sewing Bee and interact with my family, so it was 11:30pm by the time I made it to bed. My homework was not quite complete, but it was close and I was VERY excited to be going back for week 2.