Slow (very slow), unselfish sewing

Maya wrap dress

The last couple of things I’ve made have not been for me. This is pretty unusual. I’m quite a selfish sewist, and realise that I’m mostly motivated by making something that I will be able to wear. Unfortunately for my patient family, this doesn’t stop me offering to make them things, and then procrastinating my way to completion.

My sister’s birthday was at the end of May. We discussed what she wanted whilst on holiday over Easter, then I ordered the fabric and pattern early in May. She was after a wrap dress, so we looked at lots of different pattern options together, deciding eventually on the new #SewOverIt #Meredith design. She sent me through her measurements on 18th May and I got started.

It was over two months later that I finally finished it. This is not because it is a complicated or multi-multi-step pattern. It was simply because I failed to get a move on.

Anyway, the pattern. It’s a really nicely designed dress with flattering shaping and a straightforward construction.GrD3p7gRTQmp7SZ3YRXuuA

It’s almost unfair to review the early stages of the process as I did them so long ago that I can barely remember them. However there aren’t too many pieces, and cutting out was quite straightforwards. I’d chosen a quite stretchy jersey for this make, and I think this may have contributed to a feeling that I wasn’t being very accurate in putting it together. It was the Lady McElroy black cobra corsage jersey, with 100% crossways stretch and 50% lengthways stretch – which personally I think was too much. The pattern recommendations are just for ‘light to medium weight knit fabrics with lots of drape’, but I think something with slightly more heft would have been a little better.

My other comment on the fabric would be that it faded quite a lot in its first wash and tumble dry – so the clear instructions on the Fabric Godmother website to line dry rather than tumble dry should not have been ignored. I’m afraid I almost always tumble dry my fabrics (whatever the instructions) because they’re very likely to be accidentally thrown in with the rest of the family wash when the garment is made – so if they’re going to shrink, I prefer that to have happened up front. Hopefully my sister has the same kind of pragmatic attitude – and doesn’t mind a slightly greyer ‘black’ than the one it started out as. ynR4xWBORHGRceCIibY0kQ

The main construction of the dress came together quickly, so the dress shell lived on my dress-form for most of the two month making period. Another short sewing session focused on the construction of the neckband and waist-ties. Finally I stitched the neckband onto the dress and attached the sleeves.

What I haven’t done (still) is to hem the thing. And this is what I agonised about at the end of the process. On my dress-form, the hemline was reasonably straight. When I put it on, it was wonky as all hell. I know we’re all different measurements but my sister and I are quite similar so I wouldn’t have expected that amount of difference. The length of the top half of the dress (above the waist ties) seemed too long on me, but obviously this would be different on her. What I couldn’t tell, is how the dress would hang – and as she frustratingly lives in another country, it wasn’t a simple matter to just get her to try it on and pin it! Fortunately (and as shown above) the non-hem was just right on her – so the next time we’re in the same country at the same time, I’ll do the final piece of the puzzle. She looks lovely in it, although in Spain at present it’s far too hot for her to wear anything with sleeves!

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The other project I worked on in the summer was a gift for a teenage girl (my middle-daughter’s best friend) going into hospital for an operation. My daughter and I wanted to make her something she could wear there, so adapted the #Grainline #Lakeside17001_Lakeside08-1000x1426 pyjama top. I’ve made this pattern a few times and liked the way that the tulip style of the top at the back might allow for access from the doctors and nurses while she was there, but in a relatively stylish way. Picture1

For anyone ever in the same situation – trying to adapt this top to fasten around the body rather than slide over the head – I’ve tried to draw out the solution we came up with. Forgive the abysmal drawing techniques – what I hope makes sense is that the spaghetti strap is made by a loop that slips over each shoulder, being held in place with a bow tied from the front.

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As you’ll see from the photos (modelled by my eldest daughter), it doesn’t sit quite right – and if I were making this again I’d extend the length of the tulip sections so there was more of an overlap – stopping the spaghetti straps from pulling from the middle.

We combined the top with some soft jersey pyjama bottoms (the TATB Margot pattern from Love at First Stitch – possibly my most-used pattern to date) in plain black, with a cuff of the same flamingo fabric. kqSGp6abTCa45v2W%Lw

With a specific deadline, it wasn’t hard to get this one completed – and it didn’t hurt that my lovely family gave me a dedicated sewing day as a birthday present that I could devote to it. We managed to deliver the pyjamas with all our best wishes in time.

It felt good to do some unselfish sewing, and it was interesting reflecting on and analysing my own procrastination. I love the process of sewing, and really enjoyed making all the items above – but the motivation to get everything out and start was the thing I felt was missing. In theory I have a sewing table with everything set up – but in reality, my sewing table becomes a dumping ground for all the detritus of our kitchen, so sewing-in-practice means setting up at the kitchen table. Maybe it’s that (5-10 minute) step that is the barrier? Or maybe I’m just selfish!

Either way, I’m looking forward to a straightforward selfish planning session as I decide on what to sew at the forthcoming #sewingweekender – so looking forward to my second experience of creativity with a crowd of likeminded sewing buddies!

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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.

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!