Holiday sewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, reflections on this make?

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

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

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

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

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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.