Reflections on reflections – or starting a sewing blog in 2018

Nine months ago I started writing this sewing blog. I thought I’d write a post today as a reflection on how things have gone so far – just in case anyone out there might be thinking about starting one of their own.

May 2018: I’d been sewing for nearly five years, and reading blogs obsessively for most of that time. Though I enjoyed reading what other people had written, I had no intention of actually writing my own. I would have been more than happy to write about any and every aspect of sewing, but with such a visual medium I couldn’t bear the thought of taking pictures of myself and publishing them for the world to see. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that I don’t take a good photo. My ability to gurn in the most serious and romantic photos is well-renowned.

So it was with much trepidation and misgiving that I changed my mind.

Having read blogs for many many years and enjoyed reading them I was always fascinated about what it would add to my experience of sewing to actually start writing about the process. In parallel to my love of sewing, my husband has an interest in films that borders on obsession. He’s written a (brilliant and insightful) film blog for the last six years (read it: I know I’m biased but it’s excellent). Early on in that time I bought him a workshop at the Guardian with their film critic, Peter Bradshaw. One thing that really stuck with him from that day was a discussion around the way that your experience of something changes when you start to write about it. You stop being a passive observer and analyse your own position, thoughts, feelings and so on. I could see definite comparisons with sewing and was curious about how it would change my creative enjoyment of dressmaking.

So this is a reflection on how things have gone, and what I’ve learned so far.

Lady WordPress tells me that I have written 12 posts in the last nine months. She notes that 885 different people have visited my site so far (thank you all) and that my average word count per post has gone up in 2019 with a corresponding reduction in likes. Hmmm, something to think about. Apparently 48% of traffic happens on a Monday, with 4pm the busiest time – I’m not 100% convinced about this, because Lady W has told me that Monday is the best day to publish something from the beginning – so is its busy-ness cause or effect? Most visitors have been from the UK, but with a healthy proportion from the USA, Australia and mainland Europe.

In those months, some lovely people have followed my blog and commented, but most people who read anything I have written come from the Foldline community and their Facebook page. It’s this wonderful fact that has helped me come to terms with photos of me being displayed on the internet for everyone to see – because actually, the only people visiting are the lovely sewing community and they are the last people in the world who would call me out on my photos, figure or finishing. My family supportively read each post too (or they tell me they do), but I trust that they aren’t easily shocked after all these years by bad photos of me.

Writing about my sewing has definitely changed the way I approach projects. I’ve never been speedy (see my tag line), but I’ve always been fairly instinctive about my sewing choices. I find that in thinking about the blog, I’m more thoughtful about my decisions about what project to undertake next.

Although I thought I would, I’ve not written a blog about everything I’ve made in this time. One example was some waxed wraps that I made in the autumn – I took pictures as I went along with every intention of writing it up for the blog – but in the event there was nothing new that I had to say about the process or the result. I’d looked up the ‘how to’ online, and followed the guidance of Heather Lou – so with nothing new to add to the party, it seemed a bit ridiculous to say “and this is how I did it too”. It’s a great method, and I strongly recommend having a go, for what it’s worth!

I’m definitely more reflective now about what went well in a project, and what I’d change for the next time around. Again it’s probably in parallel with the fact that I’m getting a little more experience under my belt, but I enjoy thinking about what worked and what didn’t – and why: was it the fabric, the pattern, the sewing, the notions, did I rush it, did I learn a new skill? What does the garment do for my (vertically challenged) proportions, and what does this tell me for my next choice?

As a final point, one of the most popular posts I’ve written so far was about the Sewing Weekender in August. As something of an introvert, I found it interesting to write about my experiences in that context – sharing sewing with others in a way that I don’t, as a rule. Lots of lovely people who were there that weekend reached out and said warm and encouraging things, and it was great to share The Fear and be reassured. Another thing that came out of it was an out-of-the-blue contact from Frances Tobin – The Maker’s Atelier, who had been at the weekend as a speaker. She’d read my blog and wanted to include some of this perspective in her lovely magazine.

It was an absolute rush to the head to finally see it in print this month – so thank you to Frances and to everyone else who has given me the confidence to write these Tales – in particular the Foldline community. I look forward to writing more of them in 2019 and beyond.

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An attempt at ‘elegant’

At the 2018 sewing weekender, I was lucky enough to hear from the inspirational Francesimg_5174 Tobin about her company, The Maker’s Atelier. With a range of beautiful, classic sewing patterns, Frances’ products are all graceful and elegant – pretty much works of art in themselves, with beautiful photography, designs and packaging that you want to keep. She also produces a lovely magazine with fascinating and relevant articles about the whole process of making garments, again with high production values. A coffee table sewing magazine, if you like.

So it wasn’t a massive leap that I would buy one of her patterns and try on ‘elegant’ as a new concept. The pattern of choice had just been released – the Madeline Robertson jumpsuit and dress. I drooled over the style at the sewing weekender, and decided that my daughters would love the jumpsuit and I would love the dress. img_5175

An aside here – the pattern isn’t just named for Madeline Robertson – she’s the fashion student who designed it. Frances has commissioned a series of designs from students and graduates starting out in their careers, “to encourage the craft of dressmaking”. It’s great that she’s lending her expertise and network to help new designers get started.

I bought the fabric for this make from Fabrics Galore – a lovely blue cupro – a material I’d not even heard of before let alone sewn. The Laundress tells me that it is “a fabric of regenerated cellulose fibers from recycled cotton linter, [it] breathes and regulates temperature like cotton, drapes elegantly, and feels like silk.” What I can say for myself is that it’s a lovely fabric to work with – it has the drape of silk without its wilful slipperiness, can take a reasonably hot iron and feels lovely to wear. I’d definitely opt for it for future makes when I can source it. I don’t know if this is true of all cupro, but mine had a sheen on one side, and the other was a kind of matte finish – do you call it that when it’s fabric, not paint? Anyway, you know what I mean, and I chose to use the matte side as the right side, with the shine on the reverse.

Some sites I looked at claimed cupro as an eco-friendly fabric option, because it uses parts of the cotton plant that might otherwise be discarded and requires a closed-loop production system and non-toxic dyes – but I’m afraid I don’t have the knowledge to assess the truth of those claims. But if it is both lovely and kind, I’d say it’s a definite win.

Making the dress was reasonably straightforwards, though the instructions are less detailed than you get with many independent pattern designers. With only a little head scratching it all came together pretty well however, until I got to the waist tie. img_5173

Not going to lie, I think the issue I have with the waist tie is nothing to do with the design, and everything to do with me being a grumpy old woman. It just didn’t make much sense to me – like Snapchat and using the word ‘sick’ as a compliment. The back waist is defined with a short piece of elastic in a channel, but the front waist is defined by a similar channel with a rope tie, knotted on either side and kind of gathered in the middle. Perhaps the problem was also that I’d already decided to swap in a bias binding ‘ribbon’ for the rope, so what would have been a feature that properly anchored the gathering, just looked a bit droopy and odd (see above, on the stand).

img_5338I spent a good while staring at it, trying it on, and trying to make it work on me but it just looked frumpy. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t going to work for me in the way the pattern intended, but that there are many ways to skin cats, belt dresses etc – so I began to play around with the options.

For new year’s eve, I wore it with the long ‘ribbon’ belt wrapped around several times to create a tie. I experimented on the stand with a kimono-style of belt, like a cummerbund, and then struggled to turn the way that worked as a knotted piece of fabric into something that might work as a belt. img_5171Finally I used a Mimi G article to turn the belt-in-my-mind into an obi belt. I then bought an obi belt in Collectif in Brighton in the January sales (showing in the main photo above), because frankly theirs is a lot neater than mine, and it was in the sale (I also bought some amazing shoes there that are my new favourite things – seriously if you love 1940s/1950s style, they’re having a quite stunning sale until the end of Monday 14th January, so you might want to check it outimg_5339

Debates about my waist definition aside, it’s a lovely dress. The sleeves are particularly nice – the drape of the fabric and the fact that they aren’t ‘closed’ at the bottom makes me feel just a little bit of the elegance I was aiming for. img_5334Obviously I’ll probably just dangle them into my soup, but I liked using the same bias binding (in a beautiful green silk from our trip to Kolkata last summer) to edge the sleeves.

img_5337The back is also quite interesting – it’s open from just above the waist to the hook and eye at the neck. It does call for a bit of thought around underwear – I went for a black slip on new year’s eve, but a backless bra, a camisole or a pretty bra top would also work. Actually, the hook and eye came undone a few times when I wore it at new years’, so I’ve squished the hook a bit – but if that doesn’t work, I might just sew it closed at the neck point as the dress can pull on over my head without undoing it.

Reflections on this make? Well, looking at these photos, most of my reflections are on how much I need a haircut to be honest – and it’s fair to say that an elegant fabric/dress style doesn’t immediately make me elegant, but I’ll take anything that might help. More pertinently, as well as being a new fan of cupro, I’d definitely seek out more patterns from the Maker’s Atelier – they’re unusual but stylish; classic styling with a twist. I feel they are particularly good for people like me – a slightly (ahem) older sewist, who is after a challenge but is nervous about stepping up to full-on tailoring.

Because that’s next month