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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 #Lakeside 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.
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.
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.
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!
Having had limited time for recent sewing – and time I have had spent making a dress for my sister (so “secrets”), I thought I’d write a different kind of post with some ramblings about dressing for work. I’d be really interested in other people’s views on this.
I listened to a Women’s Hour podcast this week about the uniforms we wear for work – whether prescribed by the business, professional expectation, a wish to conform or our own self-expression. It’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot during the course of my career, and more so since taking up sewing as a hobby (obsession) about six years ago.
My first job out of school was for a plumbing firm in my gap year between A levels and university – providing secretarial services with one other woman to a team of male surveyors/sales reps. It was a fun place to work, but these were not enlightened times. The expectation was for ‘office wear’ – not specifically a suit, but skirts and blouses were mandatory. Wearing trousers was not allowed for female members of staff, and when I campaigned for a change on this point (as the only person whose desk was based in a draughty reception area), the managing director did agree to accept women in tailored trousers – but only when the big boss wasn’t visiting. When the big boss arrived unexpectedly one day, I was snuck out of a side door and taken home to change.
I spent the next three years doing a creative arts degree, where the uniform was set by a developing (sometimes, in retrospect, cringeworthy) self-expression but also a wish to conform. Finding ways to be different (which was desirable) but still within a safe parameter of choices (which was essential) was the tension. Think lots of prints, dungarees, and Doc Marten boots with ribbons for laces.
I joined the treadmill of working life after graduating, working in a school, in a housing association, freelancing from home when my children were small, then working in higher education and now back in a secondary school environment. Each of those businesses has had their own written and unwritten rules about work uniform, and everyone working in them has also had their own personal rules about what they want to wear and how they want to express themselves. My profession is human resources, so given my interest in this area it’s hard not to draw some conclusions from what I see.
1. Everyone is judging you on your appearance, all the time
We don’t always like this, but it’s true. Whether they do it consciously or not (and few people directly judge someone on the length of their skirt or the colour of their tie), your personal presentation is the first thing that most people notice about you and it makes a lasting impression that the other person will then confirm or deny as they get to know you.
2. Confidence and comfort have a definite correlation
Everyone who sews (and many people who don’t) knows the value of clothes that fit you really well. I can’t count how many outfits I’ve worn over the years where the trousers were too long, the waistband too tight, the shoes painful or the skirt inclined to ride up or twist. It’s not just that these sartorial choices aren’t comfortable – it’s also that someone who feels constricted or concerned about their clothes is distracted by that fact before they contribute in any other way – and it shows.
Some of this is personal choice – I’m sure I’ve worn plenty of trousers for longer than my waistband would have preferred, because I liked the style and was determined that I wouldn’t buy the next size up. For too long, I had a seriously misaligned idea of what suited me. Again, some of it is expectation – if your natural inclination isn’t to wear a pencil skirt or heels, then a professional or social ‘rule’ that you should is going to put you on the back foot from the start.
This is something I really try to bear in mind in my sewing. I choose jersey fabrics whenever I can, because I immediately feel more comfortable in them – the secret pyjamas phenomenon. I’ve certainly discovered that you can trade ponte di roma fabric for many patterns designed for wovens, without having to make much of an adjustment. The Sew Over It Heather dress and the Tilly and the Buttons Etta dresses are in regular rotation in my work wardrobe, and both are really easy to wear – to dress up with a suit jacket and heels, or to dress down with a long cardigan and flats, depending on the people I’m going to see during that work day. It’s a personal preference for sure, but dresses make me feel put together at work in a way that doesn’t demand too much of my brain early in the morning (I leave the house before 7am, so simple is good).
3. Standing out from the crowd is good (within an acceptable boundary)
One of the points in the podcast was that in a sea of grey suits, you have the ability to stand out in your colour choices. Being memorable can be a very positive thing – but there’s always that degree of risk involved in being different – one that we acknowledge in our teenage years (resisting school uniform with all our might, but socially choosing to wear exactly the same thing as our peers at all other times) and sustains to some extent through our later lives. Choosing to stand out from the crowd needs confidence – so comfort again is key (see last point).
In sewing, I’ve definitely explored the colours I feel happiest wearing. I like bold block colours more than patterns (however much I love the patterned fabric when I shop for it, it’s never the one I reach for when I’m making), and jewel shades rather than pastels. When shopping for RTW over the years, I’ve almost always opted for something that’s black or navy – and while I still probably have more in those shades than any others, I rarely choose black or navy to sew with. Sewing is definitely pushing those boundaries for me – and my pink Etta dress is still something that I wear with a bit of trepidation, but it increasingly feels like me.
4. It’s personal
As a woman in my forties, I feel far more confident now about make clothing choices that are about me, not about what the ‘average’ woman might suit or want. I’m not average – and that’s not a humble brag. I’m 5ft 2ins, so shorter than most women, and clothes from the high street (particularly trousers) seem designed for giants when I put them on. My waist is a bigger measurement than it used to be and I don’t really curve in any of the ways I’d choose to – think rectangle rather than hourglass. I never have to do an FBA.
The amazing thing about sewing is that I can reflect all of that in the choices I make in my unachievable quest to be Agent Carter.
The more patterns I follow, the more I understand about adjustments – but also about styles that work for my shape. Somehow in sewing a thing, you get a much more personal response to whether it actually suits you than if you’d bought it. I’m definitely someone who wears what I sew – so if I choose to leave it in the wardrobe, it tells me a lot about the make and I try to understand what my reservations are.
In the workplace, those choices are always personal. The external expectations are commonly quite broad brush, and there’s enormous power in being able to express yourself within it. I’m an HR professional, so setting the written guidelines for this kind of thing often falls to me – and I would usually write (beyond the health and safety requirements of a role) that you should dress to meet the expectations of the people you’ll meet in your working day. On a rare working-from-home day, that might literally mean pyjamas for me. During term time at school I usually wear smart dresses with jackets or tailored cardigans. Often I wear flat shoes – but I always have a pair of heeled shoes under my desk: not because anyone else might require it, but sometimes I appreciate the additional confidence that a few more centimetres of height gives me. Interestingly in school holiday times (I work all year round), most people dress down. I do too, but have quite clear personal boundaries for this. The people I deal with in my role are the same as during term time – I’m not dressing to meet the expectations of pupils really, but of staff. I therefore wouldn’t ever wear shorts or jeans (though colleagues sometimes do), because to my mind it wouldn’t suit my role. As I said, it’s personal choice.
In ‘The Rules of Work‘, a book which is a little cheesy but invaluable for anyone starting their working life, the author Richard Templar argues that you should model your business dress on your manager or their boss. Dress for the job you want next and you’ll subconsciously project yourself as ready for the next level etc. There’s definitely something in this, though I resist the idea that the formula is quite that simple. Certainly over the years I’ve seen promotions awarded to people who have projected confidence and a more business-like manner through their dress – and others who have been judged as overconfident and too focused on the ‘gloss’, so it certainly is never the only factor in these matters.
5. Interview suits
A final thought from me is about dressing for interviews – thinking back across hundreds of interviews that I’ve conducted over the years. This is definitely a time when you should focus on wearing an outfit that is smart and well fitted – as you want everything to be working for you to build your confidence, allow you to relax and to project professionalism.
What you should wear to an interview is absolutely dependent on the organisation that you’re interviewing for, and a bit of research about their corporate style will give you pointers about this, and pitch your outfit as slightly more formal than you think their day to day corporate dress might be. Don’t follow the blind guidance of recruitment agencies who tell you that you must wear a black or blue suit to interviews, and to keep everything else neutral. Think carefully about the person you want to project and what makes you feel good, and build an outfit that reflects that.
One of the organisations that I’ve been proud to have volunteered for over the years (though sadly I rarely get the opportunity now) is Smart Works. This fantastic charity provides women who have a job interview lined up but have been out of work for a while, with a package of new clothes and some interview coaching. The fabulous dressing volunteers work with an Aladdin’s cave of donated suits and business wear, shoes, bags etc to put together an outfit that suits the individual and the kind of organisation they’re interviewing at. The client comes out of their dressing session (and it’s always that way round) to the interview coaching. It’s amazing to witness – they are literally buzzing with it. Having someone who is kind and thoughtful, who understands what will make them look good and feel right, can be transformational. As the interview coach, I’ve had the privilege of being able to build on that and help them take that confidence forwards to good, rounded answers to the questions they’re likely to be asked.
And more than 60% of women who Smart Works help go on to get the job they’re interviewing for.
So, those are my thoughts on dressing for work – do you agree or disagree? What do you wear for work, and how much flexibility do you have in what you choose? Any thoughts on the podcast?
Arriving for week two of the Francine workshop, feeling guilty for not having finished the homework, tired from a late night of sewing and early start, and frazzled from an intensive day at work, wasn’t the most auspicious start to our second session. However, the mental re-set that I get from sewing quickly worked its magic, and as I got busy catching up with the more organised members of the group, I felt myself really relax.
Week two was mainly focused on attaching the collar pieces front jacket facing, using techniques that were certainly new to me to ensure that everything sits ‘right’.Just thinking about the way that the collar and jacket facing needed to be rolled differently and tacked in place was fascinating – there are so many stages to garments that we wear everyday, without thinking about their construction. Which is even more amazing when you’re a person who tends to think about garment construction in most of her idle moments.
Julie took the time to demonstrate the new techniques, again really explaining clearly why different stages were necessary and how the elements built up towards the finished jacket. I know from reading the words in the written pattern that I’d have really struggled to understand the different stages of the instructions without a handhold, so I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to learn in person.
I began to realise through this second class that I was going to have to make a second Francine soon. Despite my #makenine plans for 2019, it was becoming clear that to really embed the learning from these workshops, I will have to work through all the steps again by myself – without an oracle to consult this time. And the sooner I do it, the more likely I’ll actually remember the things she has told us.
Another element of this week’s class focused on pressing, and using steam to manipulate and set the wool fabrics we were working with. I used a tailor’s ham and clappers for the first time (more kit, dear family members, that will always be appreciated re future birthday/Christmas/’just because’ gifts) and gained a much better understanding of the way that this kind of fabric responds to the heat and steam.
Once again the evening flew by, with lovely chat with the other sewists, GBSB gossip, carrot cake and tea, and all too soon Julie was gathering us to explain our homework – mainly the lining that would need to be prepped for next time.
This time around, I had much more time to do my homework – and realising that I’m much happier sewing when there isn’t a clock counting down next to my head, I took my time over the weekend to cut and stitch the lining.After working with the lovely wool coating, it was a bit of a transition to be using slippery lining fabric (with a broken and ridiculously blunt rotary cutter to boor), but it all worked reasonably well. We also had to set in the sleeves, tacking them in position so that Julie could check them before we stitched them in properly.
Arriving on Wednesday for our final class, it was clear that there was still a lot to do. After our sleeves were approved and carefully stitched in place, the majority of the class was spent learning and applying skills in putting in sleeve head wadding and shoulder pads. It was amazing to directly see the difference that shoulder pads made – the lovely ones that Sew Over It had sourced for us were a far cry from the 1980s beasts that spring to mind when I think about shoulder pads, and the gentle way that they raised the jacket and improved the way it hung on me was immediately obvious. Time consuming for sure, but definitely worth while.
Putting in the lining was next, and again it transformed the jacket – you could really ‘see’ the garment it would (hopefully) become. Again, the construction was fascinating – the additional fabric in the lining to ensure it can move easily when you’re taking it on and off, and the way it all comes together when you finally join it to the main fabric.
Each class in the workshop series is three hours long, from 6:30 to 9:30pm – which after a full day at work is pretty tiring. Our last class didn’t finish until 10pm (thank you so much for giving up your time for us) because Julie wanted to make sure that we were all clear on the instructions for the final elements of construction. There are lots of hand sewing elements that are small but important – joining the lining at key points to the main fabric, and finishing the hems cleanly and accurately. There simply wasn’t time for us to finish everything in the class.
Though it seemed like there was a huge amount to do when I got home, each stage was quickly finished. Well, I say each stage – it’s now nearly a month since the class finished, and my jacket is still sans button holes and buttons. One of the suggestions in class was to take our jackets to a specialist shop in Berwick Street for the button holes – on the basis that it would be truly heartbreaking to get this far with a jacket and then to make a mess of the button holes which would be so very obvious. I decided this was excellent advice, but being me – I’ve just not found the time to actually make it there yet. You can tell I’ve given up to a certain extent now, as this blog post has been waiting for all the intervening time for me to get this done, and it’s clear it won’t be soon, so here you are. In fairness I’ve been wearing the jacket anyway – realising that I almost never do up buttons on a jacket like this.
One adjustment that became necessary quickly was where I’d managed to sew the lining badly in one sleeve, which was pulling the arm shape so it couldn’t hang straight.That one was quickly unpicked, and sadly now doesn’t look as beautiful on the inside as it had done, but no matter. Otherwise I’m so very pleased with it.
Reflecting on the workshop series now – it is an experience I would definitely recommend. The sense of achievement in doing something so completely out of my comfort zone is immense, and I’ve become fascinated with tailoring methods – very keen to learn more (maybe a waistcoat for my husband next, inspired by the GBSB). As you’ll have gleaned, the teaching was supportive, clear and pragmatic – Julie knows her stuff, and she knows how to communicate it. She’s incredibly patient and though I’m sure we tested that to the limit, you really felt how much she wanted us all to achieve.
The small group of sewists in the class (there were six of us, which is the maximum class size) were also brilliant company, and I’m looking forward to seeing their jackets on social media. I already miss our Wednesday evenings (though it is nice not to be quite so tired on Thursdays).
The only suggestion I’d make about the classes would be for more! Four weeks, rather than three, would be perfect. There was so much we didn’t get the chance to do with supervision. We spent a lot of week one cutting out our patterns and fabrics, and it was brilliant to have toiles available so that you could ensure you were cutting out the right size, and adjusting it in the way that would fit your body – before you cut any fabric. Assuming that’s not financially viable to do four weeks, perhaps class participants could be asked to come in at another time before the class started to try on the toiles in store and then at least come with the pattern pieces cut out – and if the sizing looked good, to cut the fabric pieces too. It was all valuable, but if I could choose between having Julie on hand for cutting out fabric or doing the final elements of construction, I’d prefer the latter.
Other than wanting more of it, I’ve no negatives at all to share about the class. I heartily recommend it, and will certainly be back for more classes at Sew Over It in the future. Thank you!
My lovely husband came up trumps with my Christmas present this year, with a three-evening workshop at #Sewoverit to complete the #Francine tailored jacket.
I’d done one of their courses in the past – the #ultimatetrousers pattern, which was the first group sewing course I did, and aside from a workshop at the Sewing Bee live exhibition last year, still the only one. There’s so much you can learn by yourself when sewing – and I must admit that one of the things I like best about this hobby is working by myself to be creative – problem solving when things go wrong and finding my own way through things (obviously with the expertise of the sewing community via the internet to support me).
Undeniably however, there are plenty of times when having an expert to guide you makes a real difference. I’d certainly found that with trousers – having someone to help you fit trousers on yourself is a wonderful help. One of the excellent things about the #sewoverit classes is that they have toiles of their patterns made up in all of the size range – so you can try on the size that best matches your measurements, and then see how you might need to adjust your pattern pieces to fit the quirks of your body shape. Being 5’2”, RTW trousers have NEVER fitted right, so the expertise of the workshop leader (Julie Johnston – more on her in a moment) in helping to identify the ways to make the pattern fit me correctly was a huge help.
The first week of the #Francine workshop similarly involved us trying on the toiles of the jacket and seeing where we might want to adjust things. Being short of leg but kind of average on top (a bit on the short side, but not excessively, not a lot of bust but still in range), I matched the size 12 reasonably well. Julie noted that I might need a slight sway back adjustment, but that would be best done at the end as she wasn’t convinced it would be necessary.
The rest of week one was spent cutting out our pattern pieces and main fabric.
We had all had to source and bring the main fabric and lining, and this was a decision I’d agonised over from Christmas through to the end of February. I have a few pairs of navy/dark blue trousers with no jacket that particularly went with them – so I wanted a fabric that would contrast well with navy, but not necessarily ‘match’. I’d ordered samples from Abakhan, Truro Fabrics, Croft Mill, Minerva Crafts and Dragonfly fabrics and they were all lovely. Even with the sample pieces in my hands however, I found it hard to assess the drape and weight and to really understand how the fabric would work for this pattern – mainly I think because I’ve never attempted anything like a tailored jacket in the past.
In the end, I took a walk up to the main branch of Fabrics Galore in Battersea one lunch break, and found myself the fabric of my dreams. It is dark grey wool coating fabric, in a herringbone design with flecks of blue. I have tried and failed to photograph this accurately, so you’ll just have to trust me on it. [What is it about photographing fabric that is so frustrating – is it just the quality of a mobile phone camera, or settings that try to adjust the colours? It’s much darker than the image here.] I thought I’d buy 2.5 metres so that I could also make a skirt in the same fabric, but found when I got to the till that it was the end of the roll – and that in fact, while they had exactly the right amount in theory, the end had been cut on a slant – so my 1.6m on one side was actually 1.5m on the other. I crossed my fingers and bought the fabric, along with a beautiful green lining fabric.
Inevitably, that 10cm difference on one side made working out a lay plan for the pattern an intricate game of tetris, but with Julie’s help I finally managed it. The challenging bit was in laying out the collar piece so that the herringbone would be aligned on both sides – something that’s not a problem if you don’t have a fabric with a pattern, but involves a bit of head-scratching if you do. It’s fair to say that it ended up a very efficient use of the fabric, and my scraps in the herringbone were minimal.
The three-hour class went by in a flash. While we worked on cutting out our pieces, it was lovely to talk to the other sewists present – it’s not often that you get to commune with fellow sewing people in the flesh, and everyone was interesting and shared the same passion for garment making. We also got to eat cake, drink tea and stroke the wonderful array of fabrics and haberdashery in the Sew Over It store. What’s not to love?
I don’t know if Julie runs all the Sew Over It courses, but her calm and practical approach is very reassuring. She knows the patterns inside out, and her explanations don’t just tell you what to do but also help to contextualise the instructions – so you’re not just learning what to do, but also why. It makes such a difference when you’re branching outside your comfort zone, like this class. She’s exceedingly patient, and you get the feeling that she’s rarely unable to answer a question from her class participants. I’d highly recommend her classes, and I’m sure that Lisa and the team at Sew Over It value her highly.
Before we found ourselves back out in Islington to make our way home, we had clear instructions from Julie about our homework. This involved finishing cutting out all the pieces (the first time I’ve had a pattern with 20 separate paper pattern pieces resulting in (I think) 51 different pieces to be cut out in the three fabrics), including the interfacing pieces. We had to apply the 23 pieces of interfacing to the main fabric, and join up the main straight seams of the jacket.
The advice was that this was about 4 hours of work. Ha! Maybe for efficient sewists, but not for me.
It was unfortunate that I had a long booked holiday with my book club to Berlin at the weekend (for the record, I belong to the best book club in the world, which involves an annual city break with a loose book tie-in to justify the trip), so my available sewing time was limited. The class was on Wednesday, I didn’t get started on Thursday and was away Friday to Sunday. Monday night we had commitments so it was Tuesday night when I finished work that I was finally able to make a start. “It’ll be fine” I told myself – I could start around 6:30 and figured I would be finished around 10:30.
We had been advised to purchase some woven tailoring interfacing at Sew Over It, rather than the slightly crunchy cheaper products I’ve bought in the past. Damn it but now I’m spoiled for life! I found the tailoring interfacing so much more accurate to cut, and I love the way that it joined with the fabric to make it thicker without changing its drape and movement. It combined well with my fabric, and the iron-application was satisfying and quite therapeutic.
Once more that evening I was reminded that I am not a speedy sewist. As I’ve said before, I don’t consider that a bad thing – I enjoy taking my time with the process, and particularly with a jacket like this, I wanted to make sure I worked carefully and accurately. Obviously I also had to eat dinner, at least listen to the Sewing Bee and interact with my family, so it was 11:30pm by the time I made it to bed. My homework was not quite complete, but it was close and I was VERY excited to be going back for week 2.
It was November when I accepted the party invitation. I knew there was a fifties’ theme, and I knew I’d want to make a dress for it.
So why – why??? – was it only yesterday afternoon that I started sewing the dress that I was intending to wear that evening?
It’s probably best not to analyse my need for an urgent deadline to get anything done – instead I’ll talk through the process – and my joy in having picked a pattern that was both quick and straightforwards. It’s certainly true that, being a snail of a sewist, if it had been anything more complicated I’d definitely have ended up resorting to finding something RTW at the back of the wardrobe, and hoping it still fitted.
When I published my #makenine list a couple of weeks ago, the #Sewoverit #cowl dress was there at number 5 – and I cannot tell you how smug I feel that I’ve actually achieved one of my plans. [I even mentioned there that I’d thought I’d wear it to the party last night, so I really have no one but myself to blame that I didn’t do anything about actually making it till yesterday afternoon.] I thought a lovely dark red ponte would be perfect, but I knew it would want something with the right amount of substance to make the cowl drape right without being too structured. I didn’t want to order anything online, because I knew I’d want to feel the weight and the drape for this one.
For one reason or another (pressures of work, family, taxi-service to children etc), getting to a fabric shop just didn’t happen. I work within a 20 minute walk of Fabrics Galore in Battersea, so I intended to walk there all week at lunchtime – and failed every single day. Saturday morning I waved a white flag to my intentions – I had a maroon piece of jersey that would do. It was a bit thinner than I’d wanted, and it was intended for the #Kielo dress on my #makenine list, but it would do. I popped it into the washing machine as I headed out on one of my family-taxi runs yesterday morning, and made a mental note to pop into the Sweet Seams sewing shop on our high street on my way home to pick up some matching thread.
It wasn’t my fault that Sweet Seams had a beautifully drapey, velvet-ish silver-grey polyester that turned my head. I’d gone in for thread I tell you. I came out with rather more …
So while the second load of washing was doing its thing, I stuck together the PDF pages together – about 40 pages, though about four of them were blank. Unusually (in my very limited experience of PDF pattern sticking), the overlap between pages was quite wide and the pattern printed nearly to the edges of each page, which meant that I didn’t really need to trim the edges. I could just stick the pieces on top of each other. I’ve experimented with various methods of sticking PDFs together and my accuracy isn’t brilliant with any of them – but this way was less wonky overall.
2pm kick off – pattern pieces ready to go, fabric washed and dried. With a bit of encouragement from the lovely Foldline sewists on Facebook, I took a deep breath and started cutting out. One of the beautiful things about this pattern is that there are literally three pattern pieces to cut out – front dress on the fold, back dress on the fold and two sleeves. The fabric was quite slippery in the cutting out stage, but it was manageable. I’d tried to iron the fabric without success – whatever temperature I tried it just left iron marks on the fabric – so I had a scorched bit at the side I had to avoid but that wasn’t tricky.
Another thing I really liked about the pattern was that it gave instructions for overlocking the fabric. A lot of patterns, I’m sure to be inclusive to all, don’t seem to tell you when you could/should overlock the edges or in what order. Obviously you can work it out, but when you’re working to a deadline (ah hem) it’s helpful to be told what to do. On the other hand, there were several times when the steps or order didn’t make sense to me at all – for example, overlocking each side of the sleeve sides before sewing together (which made total sense) and then overlocking the hem of the sleeve afterwards. Overlocking a narrow sleeve hem edge is tricky, so I just overlocked the three sides of each sleeve before sewing up. That kind of thing.
The instructions were to use a twin needle for the neck, sleeve and dress hems, but I just used a zig-zag stitch throughout. On balance, I’m not sure that was the right decision, as the stitching looks quite obvious to me scowling at the dress form this morning. I’m not sure the twin needle would have been right either though – probably should have tried for a more invisible hem stitch.
Reflections on this make – definitely the right fabric choice, and I’m glad I took that unplanned trip into Sweet Seams when I did. While polyester/velour wouldn’t be everyone’s choice (nineties tracksuits anyone?), it felt luxurious, and a bit fifties’ glam which was perfect. The drape of the fabric worked perfectly for the cowl. It definitely needs a belt at the waist, but I’d anticipated that from the pattern images and borrowed one from one of my obliging daughters. With my new shoes from Collectif, it felt like the right outfit for the party – and I felt confident and comfortable: not a guaranteed combination on any occasion.
In terms of the pattern, I really like it. It’s one of those makes that gives you a result that looks like much more effort/time than it actually took (win). I’d definitely make it again – maybe next time in a less ‘party’ fabric, so it could be part of my work wardrobe. If I were doing it again, I’d definitely go for a fabric with a bit of heft to it (definitely nothing too thin), and I’d try and go for an invisible hem – a bit of hand stitching probably. I think it would be worth the effort, and given the simplicity of the rest of the pattern, it’d be time well spent. I’d also put some ribbon or tape along the back neckline and shoulders, to give a bit more structure to the cowl, and stop it slipping down my shoulders (which wouldn’t be a great work-look!)
What do you think? Anyone else made the cowl dress?
As will be obvious to everyone connected to me in any way, much of my life and almost all of my actual sewing is largely unplanned. The moment I commit to a project, it turns it to a task rather than a joy – so staying in the unplanned zone keeps things interesting.
On the other hand, planning is akin to procrastination – so the more I think about a project, plan for it and buy fabric/notions and tools, the better. I can spend hours reading sewing blogs (thank you to everyone who writes one, you feed my obsession in a cost-effective way) and greedily browsing on-line fabric stores. This explains the ever-expanding stash of fabric that I own and the many patterns and magazines that are gathering dust.
I think I’m ready to commit though. I have been looking at the other #Makenine posts, instagram pictures and Facebook threads for Rochelle’s 2019 challenge, and feel inspired to gather nine of the projects I’m mulling for this year – and see whether I make any or all of them by the end of December!
This one might be regarded as a bit of a cheat – or at least a bit of a cert. My lovely husband bought me the Sew Over It class to make the Francine jacket as my Christmas present, so by mid-March this one should be complete. Famous last words, perhaps …
In my last post, I mentioned the navy cardigan I’d been intending to make when I came across the black and white lace ponte. Well, somewhere in my stash that navy jersey should still be lurking, and I definitely need a warm layer in navy to complement several pairs of trousers that look odd with a black top. I like the look of the Blackwood, so this one is definitely on the cards.
Ssshhh. I ordered this pattern today, and sent it to Patternsy for printing, so again I feel I’ve committed to this project in a real way. As well as the workshop above, my husband also bought me some – well I don’t know if it’s a heavy chambray or a light denim, but it’s a fabric that I think will work really well with this skirt. I’m not sure if I can pull off the ‘suspenders’ bit (braces in the UK surely?), but I think they’re optional extras. I love the pocket detailing, and a swirly skirt definitely works in my world.
Again perhaps a cheat. I have actually cut out and started to sew this top, but I’m not in love with it so it’s just lurking there in the pile and has become a task. I’m adding it to my make nine list in the hope that it restarts my mojo for the project. The problem is not one with the pattern which is lovely, but with the fabric which has already faded after its initial wash and I suspect will be disappointing ultimately.
I believe I downloaded this dress as a freebie last year, when I joined the Sew Over It pattern insiders. It only goes to show that I shouldn’t do that kind of thing – it’s a lovely dress, but because I didn’t get it for a specific purpose, it’s been lurking as a file on my computer ever since. Here’s hoping that this year it will get its outing. Thinking about it, I’ve got a party in a fortnight that I might need to wear this dress to. Hmmm, motivation!
Idly browsing through sewing blogs last night, I clicked on this one and actually said out-loud “I need this”. As my snoring husband didn’t respond, I then copied the link and sent it to my eldest daughter who I knew was likely to be awake downstairs. She told me to make it, so if I didn’t it would be letting her down wouldn’t it? So I need to buy the Stretch book don’t I? Just so I don’t let her down …? My self-sacrifice is huge.
This has been on my mental to-make list since it was released. It’s definitely the kind of top I’d get a lot of wear from, so I just need to find the right fabric, the right weekend, and get the pattern and so on. The usual things.
This one’s a maybe. My lovely mum bought me some beautiful cotton lawn for Christmas that deserves a special make. I think the Lliria (how do you even pronounce that?) might be a good option. Once the fabric is washed, and I can get a good sense of its drape, I’ll try an decide it if this is indeed the right pattern for this special project.
Wow, I got to nine far more quickly than I’d imagined. So, the Kielo dress has been one that has intrigued me for ages – then when I was on the Sewing Weekender, my lovely neighbour snaffled some lovely dark red heavy jersey with the intention of making herself a Kielo. I was enviously stroking it and she realised she had 6 metres of the stuff (some people were very generous with their donations!) so she gave me half. We figured we would share the images of our finished dresses and I’m pretty sure hers was then complete a week later. Mine – well, let’s hope that 2019 ends my procrastination and gets the job done!
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!
This 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.