And so to bed

I’m sure I’m not the only person to think that pyjamas are the right kind of things to be sewing during a lockdown. It’s hard to get very excited about beautiful dresses, trousers or shirts for work, when no one else is there. If a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it fall – did it happen? If I wear heels to work, and no one sees any part of me below the shoulder – did I wear them?

So the first element is that pyjamas are an obvious choice right now.

Lisa wearing some snazzy PJ's for the cover of the Luna Pyjamas Sewing Pattern

Second element – the release of the Sew Over It Luna Pyjama pattern. OK, the pattern was released at the end of November, so it’s taken me a little while to get to it – but it equally seemed hard to justify another pattern for PJ trousers – my go to would usually be the TATB Love at First Stitch – Margot trousers which are a good fit for me, and should I really buy a whole new pattern for the lines of the top?

I resisted.

Then Liz (@thebakerwhosews) put up an instagram photo of her Luna pyjamas, just before I had a day off work for sewing – so it really wasn’t my fault at all.

Third element was that I already had the perfect fabric for this – just as well, as I had no opportunity to shop clearly – we’re in lockdown. I got the pattern, I printed the PDF version, I guillotined the edges and I got busy with the pritt stick. I was all set for a good sewing day.

When I said just now that I had the ‘perfect fabric’ for this project – what I meant of course was that about three years ago I had bought several metres of this flowery navy printed jersey, with the intention of it becoming pyjamas. The alarm bells might have gone off in my head had I thought that, despite having the fabric all that time – and despite pyjamas being an easy and lovely thing to make – I’d left it at the back of the stash pile. Why was that?

Another alarm bell might have sounded – really should have sounded – had I actually read the pattern properly. The Luna pyjamas are designed for a woven fabric, not a jersey. What was I going to do when I realised? Not make the pyjamas? Order some suitable woven fabric and make something else this time? Have we even met?

Clearly not. I had a project in my mind, determination in my soul and sense never had much to do with it anyway.

The alarm bell that did sound, loud and clear, was the one that screamed “this fabric is an absolute bastard to sew”. Unfortunately, that bell rang out when I had everything cut out and I’d started sewing – and pretty much everyone would agree that by that time, it was a bit late.

So the pattern – the Luna pyjama pattern is a straightforward and relatively easy sew. I can see that it would be anyway. It takes quite a lot of fabric all told (about 3.5-4m depending on size), but the instructions are clear, the sizing true, and the pieces fitted together beautifully. It calls for bias seam tape interfacing, a thing I neither owned nor had heard of – but seemed to be designed to stop the bias edge of the wrap top from stretching out. I got creative with some standard seam tape – not the most elegant solution, but it pretty much does the job and it’s all hidden from view.

Working with a stretch fabric, I clearly put a fresh stretch needle in my machine, and worked through the very last of my navy thread. However, my sewing machine just didn’t like sewing this fabric. It seemed to be both slippery and sticky at the same time – the kind of quality of a slip/petticoat, that sticks to your tights whilst allowing your dress to slide unimpeded. My machine kept missing stitches, and breaking the needle thread. Whether it was the fabric or the desperate remnants of thread I was working with by the end (those multi packs of thin threads that you get in the Aldi special offer), it was not a winning combination.

I always think that I have tons of navy and black thread, and then I’m always surprised when that’s not true. Either that or I make a mental note that I need more navy thread, and then on separate outings buy three different reels. All at 500m+. You’re right – the problem is me.

By the end of sewing day one, I’d pretty much finished the top. I put it on Rosie, and then I scowled at it and gave it a time out. I liked the look of it, but the process meant that we were not friends.

It took me nearly a fortnight to take a few hours to sew up the trousers to match. Such was the cooling off period required, and it’s fair to say that I am still cross with the fabric.

I’ve been wearing them all evening though, and I do really like the pattern. I can see that in the right (woven with a lovely drape) fabric, they would work beautifully. I ‘may’ have ordered some more appropriate fabric for a second set today. And some of that bias tape interfacing stuff. I’ll keep you posted.

So the pyjamas are complete, and it’s time for bed. In this time of real challenge in the world, it’s good to have some simple things that add a little to your day – and I think this pattern might be one of those things.

Support for sewing from Mary, Bert and Tilly x

Statement sleeves

My sewing output in 2020 really reflects my mood. I think this year has taken so much of me (of all of us), that there hasn’t been much left over for sewing. I’ve started things but not finished many of them.

This Christmas has been no different – such a strange end to the year, going against all instincts and keeping loved ones at (many) arm’s length. However, I’ve had a little time to sew, and after a stern chat with myself, I decided to finish a top that was in my WIP pile.

The fabric was from an order back at the start of the first lockdown – a loopback jersey fabric (shade = berry) from Guthrie and Ghani. It’s simply the softest jersey I’ve worked with – about the weight of a ponte, but somehow softer, and with a lovely drape. The colour is a brighter red shade than I’d thought looking at it online, but actually I like it a lot. I’m excited to think that I have some of the same fabric in a navy shade that’s still waiting for me.

The pattern is the Maven Patterns Somerset top. I’d seen several makers posting their Somersets on Facebook and Instagram, and fell in love with the bishop sleeves and the slash neckline. I finally gave in and ordered it in October. It was just before the second national lockdown – but in our family we were locked down for the last two weeks of October as my eldest daughter got Covid. Stuck at home with no printer, I ordered the pattern via the Foldline service – where they will send you the PDF version as well as printing it out on lovely big A0 sheets. It’s not the cheapest way to buy a pattern for sure, but the luxury of having the pattern printed without having to glue together dozens of sheets is wonderful. It’s also great to have the PDF version – in case I want to print again in future, but also because the instructions are only virtual – not wasting paper, or indeed space in my overflowing sewing area. The printed pattern arrived really quickly, along with one of their lovely envelopes to keep the cut pieces in (query – any one know if I can order more of those? My PDF patterns are hard to organise in a way that doesn’t look messy, and that could be the answer…).

So I cut out the pieces. Only four of them.

And then I somehow got stuck. Really? Why? It’s a really simple, straightforward pattern. A lovely sew – what on earth was I waiting for?

Christmas, as it turned out.

So on the Monday after Christmas, I spent the afternoon pottering around, gradually assembling this top. It really is an easy sew, so again what on earth was taking me so long? Well I needed to put red thread in my overlocker – and I only had two cones. Obviously threading my overlocker is always a stress as it hates me, so we had some fun with that. Then the neckline, the first step, is simply to turn it down, press in place and topstitch. I was pleased with my topstitching, but realised too late that I had managed to not catch the hem in a couple of places. No problem I thought, I’ll add a second line of stitches and make it look like I’d used a twin needle (which I hadn’t chosen to do in the first place). That second line really couldn’t have been more cack-handed. The nice topstitching now looked like a hot mess. So I spent quite a lot of time with my stitch-ripper, trying to carefully remove the second line without damaging the fabric or stretching it out.

By the time I’d unpicked the lot, I decided to carefully/invisibly hand-stitch the hem gaps closed and stick with the first line. That took no time at all, and I reflected that the second line of stitching plus all the stitch ripping had probably added a good hour to the make.

I then had a bit of an issue with the shirring elastic needed to gather the bishop sleeves – I think it was just too thick for my machine, or maybe I’d not got the tension right and it kept creating additional loops rather than gathering right. I tried several times on a scrap, and then gave up and simply used a double line of thread to gather the sleeve ends. It worked fine, but probably didn’t make them quite as full as they would have been with the shirring.

Other than those moments, the top was an easy make and lovely to sew. The instructions by Maven Patterns really couldn’t be clearer, and they take you through every step of the process in a lot of detail. The fit (I made a size 12) is spot on – and it makes a really wearable top.

I love the sleeves – they feel elegant but the long cuff keeps them well out of your soup (or whatever else you’re trying to consume/work on). I think I’ll make more Somersets – I really hope I do anyway. I always say this and then get distracted by the next shiny thing – but this is the kind of basic pattern that is quick and easy to whip together. And I could definitely use one in navy…

I can sew a rainbow

img_2684It’s the eighth week since lockdown began and, true to the “slow sewing” bit of my blog’s strapline, I’ve finally finished four sets of scrubs which I’ll deliver this morning to the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in Wandsworth. The hospital sent a message to my place of work just as we were all shutting down, asking if anyone would be able to make some scrubs for them – and while it’s taken a lot longer than it should have, I’m very pleased to have now got a batch ready to deliver.

img_2782The hospital’s email had suggested a pattern – one produced by PDF patterns boutique and imaginatively entitled ‘Classic doctor’s scrubs for men’. The important bit was that they are/were being printed by Blue Sky Printing at cost – so for only a few pounds and in only a few days the printed pattern and instructions were at my door. Similarly Fabricland were prioritising orders for people supporting the NHS through sewing, and so about a week later I had 15m of blue cotton which I was washing and ironing – on a beautifully warm and sunny day over Easter (obviously). And it turns out that ironing 15m of anything takes a pretty long time.

I was so proud that the whole family pitched in with this one – husband on cutting out, eldest daughter as my co-sewist, youngest daughter on ironing the interfacing – and middle daughter on embroidery. Embroidery is her new lockdown hobby, and it’s pretty gorgeous if I do say so in a proud-mum way.

We were aiming for six sets of scrubs, but while we have six tops assembled, we’re out of fabric for the trousers for the last two sets. I’ve recently had a duvet cover donated that might work, but if not I’ll order a little more fabric and get the last two pairs of trousers done as soon as I can.

So, other than a sense of being able to do something that’s useful at this time of national stasis, there are a few sewing things that I learned from all of this.

Firstly, sewing anything four (or six) times really does build your skills up in a way that sewing lots of different things doesn’t. You can feel yourself adapting as you go and using the knowledge of only a few minutes before to improve the next seam/line/pressing etc. It’s pretty dull work though and tiring – you don’t get the same sense of progress when you sew the same things six times over and that takes a bit of adjusting to.

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Secondly, while I knew that my eldest daughter would sew along with me (she’s off to study costume design this September if the world gets itself a little more settled, and has amazing design and construction skills), I hadn’t anticipated how much more you can get done when you have a whole family of willing helpers. I wouldn’t have dreamed of adding embroidery – and if it were a requirement, frankly the hospital would have been waiting a lot longer for a far poorer result. My husband was happy chopping cotton, and even my ten year old was keen to help – not just with appropriate signage, but with specific tasks like applying interfacing. It’s been a really lovely team effort.

img_2783Thirdly, instructions for this pattern were sparse to say the least – but that’s OK. I’ve not used this type of pattern before, and  it was effectively diagrams with the odd note. Not what I’m used to (spoiled by the step-by-step hand-holding of most indie patterns these days) but actually sufficient. The garments being made were not fitted, and were basic and simple. I wouldn’t opt for this kind of instruction for anything more complicated – but it gave me taste of how sewing was in the past (vintage patterns have very little guidance) and how some of those more experienced dressmakers can ignore a pattern’s text and just read the pieces based on their own experience.

I suppose finally, it’s been good to have something that I have felt in some way obliged to sew during these bizarre and difficult times. My sew-jo up and left at the beginning of all this, and the hoodie dress I cut out in March is still unconstructed. Having this (slow) project going on has kept me sewing even when the impetus has left and I’m in awe of people who have done so much more. My friend at work ordered 30m of fabric in the first wave of this, organised her street to do construction and then between them they’ve crowd-funded for more fabric and collaborated to do loads more. Respect.

Right now, I just find it hard to be creative in the same way as usual – I’m learning to crochet and am working on a blanket that will probably take the rest of my days. It’s simple, repetitive and quite contained – and that’s working for me right now. I’m looking forward to when my excitement about sewing gets back to its usual levels – and I don’t doubt it’s out there – like everything to do with lockdown, it’s just a matter of waiting.

Tea finished and the sun is up (sleep has also been elusive of late), so I’ll finish this post now and get ready to deliver to the hospital on my way to work. Stay safe everyone.

 

Cielo – a heavenly project

img_2525The Italian translation of cielo is the sky or heavens. The meaning in Spanish is the same (due to the shared Latin root – caelum) but that doesn’t seem as relevant because this is a review of a pattern from the Closet Case Patterns Rome collection. Anyway the obvious pun works just fine here, because this really is a pretty heavenly pattern.img_2455

The only Closet Case pattern that I’ve made before is the Bombshell swimsuit. That was one of those projects that I made about four years ago – when I knew I didn’t have the skills to accomplish it but figured “to hell with it” and just gave it a go. My swimsuit is far from perfect, but I wear it still and I love it. It’s a brilliant pattern.

I don’t know why I’ve not made some of the rest of the CCP catalogue. It’s not that I don’t constantly drool over them. The Clare coat, the Morgan jeans, the Charlie kaftan and the rest of the Rome collection have been on my mental ‘to make’ list forever a long time. When the Rome collection was published last year I was keen – but as ever, there are just so many things to make <ooh shiny thing>.

img_2513So what finally got me there? It was the pouffy sleeves of the Cielo that took me across the line with this one. They looked fabulous in the line drawing, kept popping up in different blogs that I follow, and seemed even better in the Instagram selection that I researched. And now that I have those sleeves to waft around in for myself, it’s hard to imagine wanting to wear anything else!

img_2447The fabric and the pattern were both purchased at the Stitch Festival last weekend. I bought the pattern from Sew Me Something – and I really have no memory of where the fabric came from. There were so many stalls – so much wonderful fabric – and I was like a child in a sweet shop. What a dangerously lovely day! I ended up buying far too much fabric, all prints despite a firm commitment going in to only buy solids, and for the most part, no clear idea of what they would become.

This piece was different though – I had my pattern already purchased, and the moment I handled it, I knew she would be my first Cielo. The fabric is a light, very drapey viscose (at a guess – I’m rubbish at identifying fabric types). It doesn’t hate or particularly welcome an iron, and feels like it will be dry a few minutes after it’s been washed (fingers crossed, with little ironing required – in which case it will definitely be my favourite thing ever).

The steps of construction were straightforward, with nothing particularly tricky. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t blunder my way through it though. I traced the pattern pieces on Friday evening, while waiting until the right time of the morning to be my eldest daughter’s taxi service back from a club. I was quite happy spending that quiet time tracing – and only realised that when pretty tired I should probably have triple checked my work when I realised that half the lower sleeve had been traced on to the worktop, not the paper.

img_2454Next I managed to cut out one of my huge sleeve heads with fabric that had a hidden cut out – you know when you fold it and you’re sure that you know where the lower fabric edge runs, but there’s one bit that’s cut out? That was me. And it was right in the middle of the sleeve head. It’s such an enormous pattern piece that I didn’t want to just recut the piece (it would have been so wasteful), so instead I recut the top of the piece about 3cm down, to lose the chunk that was missing – I knew that it would make the sleeve a bit shorter, and possibly slightly less pouffy, but as the cost was only about 2cm across the gathered section, I decided it was the best way forwards.

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Let’s reflect that this is a bleached photo with the flash …

The final mistake was in using black thread for my gathering stitches – seriously, am I a complete amateur? My eyesight (or lack of it) is hilarious to my children, but still I thought it best to put in gathering stitches that were black thread on a black background – and which I really could barely see.

And yet, despite these errors – you know I just really loved making this top. It’s not just because I could see she was a lovely thing as I was making her – but also because the pattern was really well put together, easy to follow and fun. I had to walk down to our local sewing shop (Sweet Seams) to get some more black thread mid afternoon on Saturday, and I realised I was walking along with a big grin on my face – because I was in the middle of a really lovely sewing day. And let’s just celebrate the fact that I went into the shop, bought the thread and nothing else, and left again. I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

Learning points – well the obvious ones would be to avoid all the errors above in my next Cielo with careful cutting/measuring, using a contrast colour for the running stitches and so on.

One thing I adapted in the pattern was the length – when I’d finished but not hemmed the top I tried it on, and it was really as short as I wanted it to be – perhaps too short already. I therefore cut a 2 inch band and added it to the bottom. I really like this – both the finish and the length on me – and perhaps just the fact that I had to lengthen something! At 5’2″, that doesn’t happen very often.

So one of my Stitch Festival fabrics sewn, and I’m really happy with it. What will be next??

Sewing the precious

img_2385I’m a slow sewist but that doesn’t mean that I have a perfectionist attitude to my sewing: basically I’m just slow. I’ve been sewing for six years now and while I’ve learned a hell of a lot about making garments in that time, this is very much a hobby for me. I’m definitely better than I was, but this is a journey without a destination in mind – so there’s no route map either.

Maybe for those reasons, the Sewcialists’ challenge to ‘sew the precious’ earlier this year really resonated with me. When you know you’re not really ready to sew the good fabrics, you put them aside nervously until you feel ready. And then you don’t ever feel ready.

The fabric was one I bought a year ago – just after my fantastic class at Sewoverit, learning to sew the Francine jacket. I said firmly to my husband then that I would need to sew another jacket immediately, to cement the skills I’d learned. I went off to Fabrics Galore one lunchtime and bought the very last of some lovely black wool – with enough structure to make a jacket work, but still with enough drape to hang nicely.

Clearly, without the discipline (reassurance/confidence etc) of Julie and the rest of the class, my beautiful wool (and the dark red lining I’d also picked up) sat for the rest of the year in my stash. I thought it was time to give it a purpose. Obviously not its original purpose. Because: me.

img_2345After a small item that I wrote was published in the Maker’s Atelier magazine last year, Frances said thank you by letting me choose any of her patterns – and after much indecision (they are all lovely) I was drawn to the Swing Jacket. I loved the simple lines and felt that the styling with a classic pencil skirt would be something I’d definitely wear to work.

The next thing I did was an absolute first for me: I made a toile! Every single book, blog, expert, course or TV show that I’ve watched/read etc has extolled the virtue of making a toile. Testing out a pattern on muslin fabric, practising construction, checking fit, making adjustments – these are all excellent reasons for taking the time and trouble to make a toile. At the same time, in a sustainable sewing world, it feels awfully frivolous to waste enough fabric to make a trial garment. It also feels to me like a waste of time – when I feel like I have never-enough-sewing-time as it is, to spend some of it on a tester garment feels wrong somehow. These are my reasons – laziness and impatience with a side order of planet saving/stinginess. That’s set alongside a body that conforms to most patterns – only really requiring the use of the shortening lines for most pattern adjustments to get a decent fit – so the impetus to toile is reduced again.

img_2055So this time was a first for me. I cut the main pieces in some old heavy black cotton from my stash. I stitched them together by hand – and actually really enjoyed that part of the process. You know when you read instructions, but it isn’t until you’ve made the thing that it makes sense? Well somehow that’s a lot clearer if you’re sewing by hand and not just feeding fabric into a machine.

So having made the toile what were my earth-shattering revelations? Yup, I liked it and would go ahead with my wool. No adjustments required that were obvious. (Let’s come back to this point later.)

So, on with the show. I cut the pieces, and followed the instructions that Frances had helpfully posted on her blog about constructing a lining for the jacket. Having already made it once, it was quite straightforward to make both the woollen and lining versions of the ‘real’ thing. The wool was beautiful to work with – taking an iron in precisely the way that the lining fabric refused to.

In Frances’ post, the suggestion was to leave the unhemmed jacket and lining hanging for a few days – which in my world means until the next weekend at the earliest. It meant the fabric had time to drop – and also gave me time to scowl at it every time I went past my dress form.

And this is the bit where I refer back to what I learned and didn’t learn from my nice toile. A sample piece isn’t a finished garment. It hangs differently and the fabric is (by necessity) a lot – well, cheaper. It wasn’t lined, which again changes the way it fits. Basically it just wasn’t the same.

Now it was nearly done and I’d lived with the nearly-finished coat in my kitchen for a week, I decided that it actually needed to be quite a bit shorter to look right on me. (I know, back to the lengthen(never!)/shorten lines again.) Clearly I was still able to do this because I’d not hemmed the thing yet, but I also ended up cutting off and wasting a quite wide strip of expensive wool fabric, when I was desperately trying to squeeze a pencil skirt out of the remainder.

As well as being a slow sewist, I’m turning into a slow blogger too. I finished the jacket two weeks ago and have worn it to work several times since then. I’ve had complements which is nice – and it does feel like something that is very me. I’m a little irritated that I didn’t trim the excess fabric enough at the front edge hem – it feels bulky there to me, but I’m guessing that not many people would notice though it’s glaring to me. It’s more irritating because I wanted this one to be special, and it’s a note that jars – you know. But I’m not irritated enough to unpick the hem and redo it, so it’ll have to be something I learn to love.

So for the swing jacket – it’s a great, simple and stylish pattern that sews up quickly. If you’re drawn to that kind of shape I’d definitely recommend it. And personally I think the lining really adds something too and is straightforward to make.

For toiles – yep, I’m not yet convinced. In a world short on resources and a life short on time, I think I’ll carry on trying things out carefully, fitting as I go, measuring carefully (me and the garment pieces!) and just going for it. But in future I’ll try and stop saving the precious – it didn’t do Gollum any good after all.

Sewing gifts

Much of my sewing time in November and December was spent creating presents for the people I love. If I didn’t love them, I sure as hell wouldn’t be sewing for them, because as I’ve said before, I’m a selfish sewist at heart.

Through December there was not much I could write about here, in the vain hope that some of my loved ones read this blog. However, it’s now January and the Christmas period is behind us so I can do a quick summary.

Having seen some lovely examples created by others, I had decided that a Skye Wrap from Coolcrafting would be just right for my mother in law. However, I made an early version of it as an emergency gift for my own mum when she fell and broke her wrist early in December. Figuring that coats would be trickier to manage one-handed, I decided to make it for mum as the perfect way to let her know that we love her.img_1810

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Youngest daughter (and sous-sewist) and I headed off to the Fabrics Galore store in Kingston. We had some lovely tweeds and cotton lawns to choose from, and eventually picked a warm lilac tweed. The lawn we chose (and which I can’t now find on the FG website) feels reminiscent of the Tolkien pictures of the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit – so, if you like, we can say that was the reason for the choice, as my mum introduced me to Middle Earth in my formative years, and I’m now doing the same with Tilly. In fairness though, I only made that connection after I’d chosen it, and really just liked the print and the way it worked with the tweed.

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The longest part of the preparation was hand washing the two fabrics and letting them dry. The rest is very straightforward and so a perfect pattern for a Christmas present. You’ll get much more credit for the effort made than is fair at all.

On that basis, I was confident to make a second wrap for my mother in law as planned – but this time decided to use a green velvet for the lining fabric (again from Fabrics Galore, from their larger Battersea store near my work). I wanted it to be a little warmer for her, and to feel luxurious on the inside. She was very pleased, but as she’s not the type to want a picture on the internet anywhere, you’ll have to take my word for it and that of Rosa (my tailor’s dummy).

I made two lots of pyjamas to send to my lovely nieces in Spain. I followed the same formula as the version I made Tilly (Simplicity 8022 trousers with TATB Stella hoodie -sans sleeves because it’s hot hot hot in Spain). I had to guess at the relative sizes and leg lengths, but they did apparently fit well. At least, they’re pyjamas, so unless they’re proper ankle-flappers, most people don’t worry too much and my niece Lara is more than capable of adjusting them quietly without fuss!

My other sewing activity has perhaps been more unusual – I find it surprising, particularly within a community that loves fabric and is so focused on sustainability, that more people don’t seem to use fabric as wrapping. I’ve worked on a range of different shapes, patterns if you like, over the years for this – but mostly I simply hem or even just overlock large rectangles of my favourite fabric offcuts, and then use them to wrap presents. You can secure the fabric with ribbon quite successfully if the present itself is rigid, but otherwise you can usually use Sellotape if you really need to. I prefer to get creative with the ribbon.

The best part is clearly the fact that there’s no paper (or plasticated paper or glitter or other less sustainable options) to be wasted. A shake out and you can fold your wrap to go back in the drawer and you’re all set for the next birthday etc.

So, do you fabric-wrap? What have you made this Christmas?

The bigger on the inside skirt

img_1988.jpgBecause at this time of year, we all need one of those, right?

I felt very noble this Christmas, sacrificing taking my sewing machine away with us over the break. Aside from a lack of space in the car, I knew I’d spend more time actually interacting with the people I was there to see if I wasn’t able to hear my Janome’s siren call. As I said, noble right?

When I got back however, all bets were off. I wanted a quick and satisfying project – nothing fiddly, something entirely from my stash and which I could make and then wear that day. I may not have dressed until the evening (about 7pm), but it was in my new stripy skirt and I’m very pleased with it. [I also dressed in order to head out with my family to watch the new Little Women film, which was an absolute treat – double win.]

The pattern was New Look K6035, one of those useful, practical sets that give you a lot of value (jacket, skirt, sleeveless top and trousers) if you ever actually use them. I was clearly making the skirt (D) and based on my measurements I cut the largest size (16). I could probably have come down one or two sizes but l wanted to have the excess material to fit with.img_1979.jpg

 

The material is a black wool with irregular brown – I don’t know, would you call them stripes? – that has been in my stash for years. I bought it at the first Handmade Fair, which Google tells me was five years ago. Crikey. I certainly have no idea what company I bought from now. It was pretty early in my sewing days certainly and while I loved it, I was always rather scared of cutting it so it remained in the stash.

I knew enough by that point in my sewing experience to throw all new fabric in the washing machine as soon as I got home. I didn’t know enough to think carefully about washing and drying wool – and at this distance I can’t tell if the felted quality of the fabric now was from my poor washing/drying practices or whether it was always like that. No matter as I actually really like it like this – but I will stick to hand washing from this point in.

Having read the pattern instructions through I largely disregarded them during the actual construction. The pattern starts with sewing up both sides of the skirt, but I wanted to be able to fit it to me so I left the zip side open until the final stages. I didn’t want the belt loops so also missed out that stage intentionally.img_1985.jpg

And I added a pocket because … pockets.

The skirt has a waistband, and with the thickness of the wool and with the desire to have something slightly softer next to skin, I went through my box of scraps for some cotton that I could use for the inner band. The tardis fabric that I used for PJs for my husband a few years ago was just silly enough to be perfect. It’ll make me think of him when I wear it, and if it could send some of my midriff off into another dimension, that’d be just fine too.

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This was my first make since Christmas, when I was given these lovely labels from Nominette. Such a perfect present from my mum and stepdad and I look forward to using lots of them in the year ahead.

I know this is a skirt that will get a lot of use – something I can wear for work or at home and feels right for the cold winter months we’re in right now. I’m definitely about trying to make more ‘regular’ items in the next few months – things which will get daily wear and fit with my existing wardrobe without changes. So I’m pretty happy with this first step, even if I can’t help staring at the white stripe on the bottom of the front and wondering if I should take the hem up further to lose it. I think I’ll live with it for a while and see if it bothers me.

In other news, my sewing buddy joined me in my sewing room for some of my day. She decided to make two egg cosies, inspired by the Cath Kidston ‘Sew!’ book. We did point out that neither she or her two sisters actually liked boiled eggs, and she suggested that perhaps a friend sleeping over might one day say “good morning, might I have an egg for breakfast?” Because clearly all her friends are from the 1950s.

Note to self – we need to wean her off Malory Towers, and soon.

The egg cosies are very sweet and all her own work – even down to drawing her own pattern. I’m now off to order an egg for my breakfast …

Happy New Year!

 

Psst – sewing – pass it on

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I’ve been sewing for the last six years now and I’ve been reflecting recently on how my interests have influenced my children.

If you asked them, the two hobbies that my children would identify as mine would be sewing and running. In fairness, I love one of those and do the other in a failing attempt to keep healthy – but still they are the things I choose to do regularly in my spare time.

I’ve tried to get my girls running, but with minimal success. The least that’s said about Ellie’s nine consecutive Park Run fundraiser the better. They’ve all had a go, but any time I try to encourage them now to come for a jog around Bushy Park, they say “mum lies” and head straight for the bacon sarnies. (“Mum lies”, in case you’re wondering, relates to the only way I could get Ellie round the Bushy Park Run route, by telling her that the finish was right round the next corner. Repeatedly.)

Sewing however has been welcomed in a much more positive way.

IMG_7340 copyEllie might not be a runner, but after achieving an A in her GCSE Textiles exam (and making a fabulous 1950s red satin prom dress), she’s taking her Fashion A level next summer and is applying to university to study Costume Design. I’m so jealous – she’s been very clear that I can’t just sneak in at the back of her classes and join in – but I can’t wait to see what she creates.

Last summer Alice, my middle daughter, stitched a patchwork blanket because she was bored during the long holidays. The delicate hand-stitching is fragile but very neat, and she amazed me with her commitment and creativity. She has bursts of sewing (when she’s not immersed in GCSE exam revision, which is her world right now) and other creative projects, and is passionate about photography.

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My youngest daughter, Tilly has also been interested in sewing, but in a slightly less self-sufficient way than her older sisters. To date that interest has mostly been expressed by asking for my help to make her doll some clothes (usually when I’m at a key point in a complicated project of my own) or creating cushions for favoured members of the family. That has just all moved up a gear.

Tilly is ten, so my sewing life started when she was four. I’ve made quite a few items of clothing for her over the years – and thinking about it, a lot of them have been pyjamas. She has relentlessly outgrown all the ‘jams I’ve made her so far though – even the ones with ridiculously big turn ups have now been turned down to the scant minimum hem and yet are flapping mid-calf. She’s going to be tall, this one.

So new pyjamas have been promised for some time, but this time we sewed them together. No, that’s not right either – for the pyjama trousers, she sewed and I helped.

img_1791The pattern for the trousers is the Simplicity 1722; one I’ve used for Tilly and others on countless occasions before. It is made with one pattern piece, and really couldn’t be simpler. One overlocked seam on each leg; the front-to-back crotch seam; elastic in a channel at the waist and hems on each leg. It was the perfect first project for someone who wanted to make something real that she could properly wear.

img_1759The fabric is a Spoonflower jersey that came to me at the Sewing Weekender, when I took the New Craft House knicker workshop. Spoonflower sponsored the workshop (thank you!) and gave participants a 1.5m piece of their jersey that we could choose from a range of prints. I knew Tilly would love this one (Whale’s Song by Katherine Quinn) and it was just wide enough to fit the age ten leg size on the cross grain. (You really couldn’t have gone on grain and had the whales swimming up and down the leg – that would have been very odd). The colours in the print are lovely and I don’t think it’s really faded in the wash – but even if it did, I think this print wouldn’t be hurt by a little fading. My previous orders from Spoonflower faded quite a lot and it put me off a bit – but whether it’s a better colour process they’re using now, or the jersey fabric, or the print itself – this time it’s all good.

img_1761.jpgWe only had one seamripper moment with the trousers. When sewing the channel for the waist elastic, the machine ate some of the surrounding leg fabric on the first pass, but that was quickly sorted. By bedtime she had a new pair of PJ bottoms to leap around in and was feeling very proud.

I was feeling pretty proud too. It was such a nice experience to be teaching my daughter, who was at the right point to want to learn. I wasn’t distracted by another project that this was interrupting and it was a pleasure to be able to help her achieve something she really wanted to do and to make something she’ll get lots of use from. She was more than confident using both my sewing machine and the overlocker – and if the seams of one of the legs are a bit wigglier than is traditional – well who on earth is going to notice that? In sewing, in my experience, it’s all about having a go and learning by doing. She’s starting about 30 years earlier than I did, and I hope she ends up enjoying this hobby as much as I do.

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The following weekend I managed to scale down the hoodie pattern from the Tilly and the Buttons Stretch book to fit a 10 year old frame. Using the smallest pattern size, it was a reasonably easy job to take out a couple of inches of length in the body and the arms. The pale green ponte fabric was one I had in my stash, and works perfectly to co-ordinate with the main pattern.

I managed to piece together enough of the whale fabric to line the hood, which she loves – and fortunately no one looks too closely at the inside of a hood, so the fact that some of them are upside down by necessity is not very obvious. The hoodie was a bit more complicated, so I was allowed to lead on the sewing this time. She did sew some of the seams, but was happy to let me back to my overlocker.

I’m proud of all my girls. If they had to choose one of my hobbies to join me in, I’m sure I should wish it was running for their cardiovascular health – but for the enjoyment of a creative shared experience, I’m really glad that they’ve all spent some time listening to the siren song of the fabric, and joined me in my happy place.

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.

Pattern testing – the Mahina cardigan from Scroop Patterns

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). Mahina_Front_Page

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.

EDT3aARWQUS28VgWoQLbJwCutting 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.

eORjJmeFQcSaTW2BAbmD1QThe 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).

msvlosq5s9uinug3x3gr3a-1.jpgIf 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).

fullsizeoutput_3366For 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!