Comfort sewing

Comfort is everything. I sew things I want to wear, and for me that means clothes that fit without constriction, that flatter a body that is likely to eat a hearty lunch, and that move easily between an office job and a home with assorted children, cats and commitments.

That might explain why I chose to spend new year’s day sewing my fourth Sew Over It Heather dress. Fourth. Yes, I can’t believe it either.

This was an impulse sew, and all the better for it. I’d not found the time (really, let’s face it, the motivation) over the Christmas break to get started with a project, but enjoying a quiet soothing day before returning to work on 2nd January, it was a perfect quick sew.

I’ve not been sewing long enough to have many patterns that I’ve made repeatedly – unless we count the TATB Margot pyjama trousers from her first book and actually her Coco top which is a perfect fit for me. Otherwise, though I tend to think I’ll get great value from a pattern by making 12 of them, I usually then get distracted by the next shiny thing. There are so many lovely patterns!

img_6993This impulse sew derived from me searching through my disorganised and overflowing stash for a couple of metres of navy ponte that I knew was in there. I was mulling a cardigan or a dress with it and wanted to see how much I had and what it would tell me it wanted to be (or something like that). I didn’t find the navy, but I found a 2 metre piece of a black and white lace patterned ponte that I’d entirely forgotten I even owned.

My disorganisation is a high price to pay for these moments of serendipity, but as I’m stuck with the former, it’s only right that the latter should bring me such joy.

From initial cutting out to snipping threads from the finished dress was about half a day I guess. A longish half-day because I’m not speedy. I’d adjusted the pattern slightly over the last three makes, mainly adding about 4cm in length (I’m 5’2, so this is an adjustment I almost never have to do – guess my mid-forties self enjoys a slightly longer dress length than the SOI standard).

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I didn’t have quite enough fabric to cut the neckband on the grain, so used the cross grain – and it’s really the only part of the make that annoys me. It doesn’t quite sit right, and if I had more patience I’d unpick it and do it over. Maybe I will.

<everybody laughs>

Or maybe not. Let’s see if it annoys me still after its first outing – and whether anyone else on the planet would even notice. Except sewists. They would notice of course, but they’d be far too charming to mention it, and insist that it was lying completely flat.

The Heather pattern is a gentle cocoon shape with deep diagonal pockets on the front. Somehow I find it flattering, though logic tells me it shouldn’t be. Something about the intentional apple shape both gives the illusion of the waist bulk being a dress feature (rather than a post-Christmas feature) while at the same time allowing easy movement, capacity for lunch and pockets full of my daily essentials (phone, tissues, glasses etc). If it’s not as flattering as I think it is, please don’t burst that bubble. Sometimes I think that nature designs the failure of our eyesight at just the right rate, and I just hope that my husband is as poorly sighted as I am now.

The verdict for me is a happy one. There’s nothing as soothing in having to return to work on 2nd January as having a new, comfy frock to wear. I spent the last day of my holidays, in my PJs, doing the hobby I love. An excellent start to 2019 – plenty more days like this one please.

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Seamwork Almada – sending a fabric hug

Almada gifts
Modelled by Alice and Ellie, my kind, tolerant, slightly silly daughters!

One of the best things about sewing is being about to make totally unique and personal presents for people that you love. A gift that represents your (sometimes literal) blood, sweat and tears, shows that you’ve really thought about the person you’re sewing for, and that you want to give them your time, your care and your creativity.

One of the worst things about sewing is knowing that the gift you’re giving is less polished, more expensive and possibly never to be used/worn, despite the above-mentioned blood, sweat and tears.

As you may have guessed, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks making presents for two of my dearest friends – both of whom have had sad times recently, losing people that they loved. I decided to make them each a kimono, using the Seamwork Almada pattern. It looked like a really interesting pattern, that would hopefully be forgiving given that I wouldn’t be able to measure or fit either garment.

Preparation is key – and as with all PDF patterns, I’d anticipated spending a couple of hours piecing together the print-at-home A4 sheets. However Seamwork has partnered with Patternsy to allow you to easily get the pattern printed and sent to you. I was tempted, but thought it was a bit indulgent – after all, sticking together A4 sheets is not too hard. Then our printer stopped working, and the £6.21 to get it all beautifully printed and sent seemed like a wonderful idea.

I was very impressed with the service from Patternsy and would definitely use it again – I ordered the pattern on a Sunday afternoon, paid by Paypal, and the printed envelope arrived on Tuesday. The tissue it was printed on was flexible but strong, and it was all full colour. Now I just needed the fabric.

I searched in my usual fabric shops and online for some cotton lawn that felt right – I wanted the structure from the lawn rather than an overly slippery and drapey fabric, but also wanted that fluid softness that you get with a nice lawn. I couldn’t find anything that I liked – or maybe just indecision was keeping me from moving forwards. Anyway, the Handmade Fair arrived at Hampton Court while I was trying to make my choice, so being local I felt morally obliged to go and spend some time wandering around investigating the options.IMG_4987

The good news: I did find some beautiful cotton lawn at the Sew Over It stand – buying the Lisa Comfort Elderflower Press in navy and the Busy Blossom (now out of stock), also in navy. The bad news: I then wandered around the fair, looking at beautiful handmade products – and noted hundreds of lovely kimonos, for similar or cheaper prices than I’d just spent on fabric, all expertly finished.

Here’s hoping that my friends decide that it’s the thought that counts …

So, the Almada is a nice pattern to make. After reading some reviews, I made the size medium, but extended the length to the longest size setting, for decency. I made a few miles of bias binding from some beautiful green silk that I bought in India this summer, that co-ordinated well with the colours in the lawn. I’d already decided that I wanted to try Hong Kong binding on the back seam, because it would be seen when it was hanging up – and the pattern also calls for quite a lot of bias binding to finish the edges of the fronts and neckline.

Almada on the stand
You can just about see that there are two kimonos layered here; they lived on my stand like this

It was interesting to be making two kimonos at the same time – not something I’d normally do. It certainly took longer than making one item, but much less than making two separate things, if that makes sense. I’m sure that I learned from sewing different stages on the first one, and that the second time of sewing was sometimes a little more exact – but as I switched which one I was working on first regularly, hopefully the final garments are equally good/not-good.

I was pleased with the Hong-Kong binding – I’m increasingly enjoying the inside of garments looking pretty, and the way it met with the neckline binding was something that gave me a lot of satisfaction. I totally failed to get a picture of it though – sorry. I was also pleased with the way I applied the binding around the front edges – I left a thin edge of the binding showing on the outside, because the green is such a lovely shade.

I suppose my final reflection is that this is a nice pattern, and the fabrics were lovely to work with and I hope they’ll suit my friends. I’m nervous that they’ll be on the big side, but hope that a kimono is a flexible enough piece that they’ll still wear them.

More importantly, now they’re packaged and sent off – I hope that the ‘fabric hug’ that they represent as far as I’m concerned, is the thing they actually receive.

Almada trust pose

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 …

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Seriously, what is going on with my hands here?

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

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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’.
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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. 
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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!

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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.

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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.