Why Do I Sew? Here are 10 good reasons…

Frequent readers (if I have any?) will have noticed that things have been a little quiet on the dressmaking front here lately. Sorry. It’s been a kinda crazy couple of weeks, but I promise to get back on it soon.

But while I haven’t had a lot of time to sew, I’ve been playing along with #sewphotohop. It’s a sewing challenge (organised by the lovely Rachel at House of Pinheiro) that runs throughout September, asking you to post a sewing-related photo every day inspired by a particular theme. There’s a chance to win prizes from the sponsors, so of course, I wanted in!

Here are the themes and sponsors:

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It was all quite easy until the 11th, when the theme was Why I Sew. And suddenly I thought “Oh my god, why do I sew?” and for at least 10 minutes couldn’t think of a single reason at all. Then suddenly I thought of all the reasons at once and they were competing for space in my brain, and I felt the need to write them down before I lost them all again. Maybe it’ll be useful one day.

So, in no particular order, I sew because…

  1. I got it from my Mama, and she got it from hers! This is the reason I gave on Insta, along with the image below. The lady in the photo is my maternal grandmother Elsie (known to me as Nanny Vogel) circa 1960, and the little girl is my mum. Nanny Vogel was a prolific seamstress – she made basically all the clothes she owned, and sold handmade leather gloves to order. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was six so never taught me directly, but she did teach my mum who is herself a very accomplished maker of small items and has a shop on Folksy. They probably aren’t the reason I sew now, but it was definitely their influence that started me off. I get the sewing gene from them.wp-image--712271993
  2. Most RTW clothes don’t fit me. I’m tall, with broad shoulders, big boobs, small waist, wide hips, short legs. I mean, we all know that clothes now are generally designed to fit and flatter a slimmer, more boyish figure. Nothing new there. In fact, I read somewhere that 75% of the clothes sold in the UK are Size 12 and under, so the fashion industry is undoubtedly biased. But to think that a clothing retailer might mass produce something that comes even close to fitting my unusual shape is kinda mad. Of course they wouldn’t, because I’m the only person they could sell it to. And I’ve no doubt there are thousands of people out there who feel exactly the same.
  3. Because it helps me break the cycle of fast fashion, whilst still indulging my love of clothes. This is a big one. Because fast fashion is rapidly eating up our planet, and destroying lives. I won’t write too much about it here, but I will recommend watching The True Cost if you haven’t seen it already. It’s a feature-length documentary by Andrew Morgan which looks at the problems created by throw-away culture. I know it sounds really depressing but it’s actually quite optimistic as it shows how we can all make a difference. Please watch it. It’s on Netflix now. Image result for the true cost
  4. Sewing gives me complete autonomy over my own image, which is the coolest thing ever. So if I ever think “Man, I really want a black sleeveless culotte jumpsuit“, I can design and make the perfect one. My choices aren’t dictated by trends, or sizing, or budget – only my imagination, and the time I’m willing to commit. It’s liberating.
  5. Sitting at a sewing machine is much more enjoyable than traipsing endlessly around Topshop, getting angry at the loud music, then crying in the fitting rooms. I’m sorry, but it just is.
  6. Sewing is cheaper than therapy. Sewists say this a lot and the phrase has become a bit worn, but there’s definitely truth in it. There’s something very meditative about making – there are elements of creativity, precision and process, which exercise parts of the brain that most of us just don’t use in our day-to-day lives. Sewing provides opportunities for quiet solitude when it’s needed, and lively interaction when you’re ready. And when you’ve made something, the sense of achievement and the thrill of having something new give you a welcome rush of endorphins. I’ve sewed my way through some of my most difficult experiences. It doesn’t solve problems, but it helps.
  7. Sewing means I’ll always be able to give a gift, offer a service and have something to wear. It’s an infinitely practical life skill which ultimately saves me some money and means I’ll never be broke. As Nanny Vogel would have said: it’s making something from nothing.
  8. It’s provided me with opportunities. Because of sewing I was able to quit my job and retrain as a Design and Technology teacher. It’s still very early days, but right now I really love it and can’t believe I never did it before. The more I study education the more certain I feel that I’ll be good at it, and the happier I am about dedicating all my working hours to something really worthwhile. And, of course, I’m writing a blog. A couple of years ago I would have been too embarrassed to publish anything, but sewing has compelled me to start writing, and find my own voice.
  9. Instead of impulse buys, my wardrobe is now made up of high-quality, enduring items that I love to wear again and again. Because there’s just no point putting so much time and effort into something I’ll never wear.
  10. Because it’s so great when somebody compliments your outfit, and you can reply “Thanks, I made it“. Seriously, it never gets old. Most people just look at you in amazement, like you’re some sort of wizard.Image result for wow harry potter gif

 

There are probably more, but I haven’t thought of them yet. I’d love to hear your reasons – lets keep adding to the list, yeah, and keep championing craft? And if you’re reading this and you don’t sew already, but are considering it, then try it. I promise you it’s great.

Tutorial: Stash-Busting Book Cover

I know this is meant to be a fashion sewing blog. You don’t need to tell me twice. But oh my word, it’s September already and start of a new academic year is within touching distance.

And as of 8th September I’ll officially be a trainee teacher, of Design and Technology in Secondary Schools, specialising in Textiles.

And with that in mind, I’m going to make sure that my stationary, at least, is too cool for school. I’ve made applique book covers before, mostly as Christmas presents, and love them for their stash-busting credentials! They’re great for making use of all the pretty little bits left over from dress making that you just can’t bare to bin.

So that’s how it’s relevent.

Plus, great stationary is always in fashion, right? Remember Cher from Clueless with that fluffy pink pen?! Killing. It. 

It’s a dead simple make – possibly too simple for most avid sewists? – but it’s also a great introduction to applique. I’d fancied writing a tutorial for a while, and this simple make seemed like a good place to start. 

Also, I got my nails done this week, so you might see a higher-than-strictly-necessary number of photos featuring my hands…

 

What You’ll Need:

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  1. Small fabric scraps for the applique design.
  2. Small off-cuts of light/medium weight fusible interfacing (the bits left over from making neck facings are ideal)
  3. Whatever hardback book you want to cover (this plain black academic diary is from The Works and cost £1.50)
  4. Lining fabric (3 pieces – I’ll explain this in a second…)*
  5. Coordinating threads
  6. Cover fabric*

*I haven’t included any sizes or measurements here, because that’s entirely dependant on the book you choose. Have a look at Step 1 below…

 

Method:

 

Step 1: Cut out your cover and lining fabrics.

Your cover fabric needs to be cut into a rectangle 1.5cm bigger on all sides than the cover your chosen book. The easiest way to do this is by laying the fabric on the work surface the placing the book on top, opening it up so that the cover and spine lay flat. You can then measure and cut around it.

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Using this as a template, you can then cut one piece of lining fabric the same size, and two smaller pieces for the sleeves which will hold the cover in place. These must be the same height, and roughly a third of the width.

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Step 2: Create Your Front Cover Design

This is the fun bit! Use the fabric you have available as inspiration for your design. It’s best to go for simple shapes, without a huge amount of detail – initials, anchors, and simple animal shapes work really well. Excuse the cliche, but you’re only limited by your imagination.*

*Oh, ok, and your skill level. If you’re a real beginner, it’s better to stick with a really simple shape and nail it, rather than to be over-ambitious and make a mess. But if you’re feeling confident, go for it! You’re using scraps anyway, so there’s no reason not to challenge yourself…

I knew I wanted to use a sampler of indigo tie-dye I made in a workshop at Walthamstow Garden Party back in July, and teamed it with scraps of orange sari silk (from the most disastrous dress I ever made – the less said about that the better) to come up with a watery koi carp design. I sketched it on paper first, then used tracing paper to make templates for the individual shapes so that I could cut them out but leave my original sketch intact to use as a point of reference. If your design is also made up of multiple shapes, I’d suggest you do the same.

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Next, iron your fusible interfacing onto the reverse of your fabric scraps, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Then use your paper templates to draw the shapes onto the interfacing.

IMPORTANT: If, like me, your design is asymmetrical, you must flip the paper templates over when drawing the shapes onto the interfacing, as if you’re creating a mirror image. That’s because you’re now working on the reverse of the applique – when you turn it right-side up, it’ll look the same as your original design.

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Cut out the shapes then reassemble your design, right-side up. If you want to add any flat details (say with fabric markers or these lovely Pentel Fabric Pastel Dye Sticks), do it now. Don’t add any raised embellishments (embroidery/sequins/beading etc) yet!

NB: It’s wise to test the markers/pastels on a scrap the the same fabric first, just to check you’re happy with the colour and finish.

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Position the shapes on the cover fabric, towards the right-hand side. If your shapes overlap, make sure you layer them in the correct order to give perspective (so in my example, the tail and back fin are the “bottom layer”, then the body, then the nearer fin is the “top layer”). Pin and hand-baste in place. (Or, if you can’t be bothered with hand-basting, you can use Pritt Stick. I would normally use Pritt Stick but I don’t have any indoors. Plus, this is my first ever tutorial so I’m trying not to look too lazy.)

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Remove the pins (if you’ve used them) because we’re finally sewing! Using matching or coordinating thread in your sewing machine, use a small narrow zigzag stitch to cover all the exposed raw edges of your shapes to neaten and fix them in place.

IMPORTANT! This is the trickiest and most visible part of the make, so it’s important to get it right. It’s a classic tortoise/hare scenario, so take your time on it. Have a little practice with some remnants first, to make sure you’re happy with the stitch length. Then sew very slowly, using the hand wheel as you approach corners for extra precision. And when you finally reach that corner, leaving your needle down, lift the presser foot and pivot your work, to make those corners extra sharp.

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NOW is is the time to add any raised details! I’ve embroidered the eyes and, er, whiskers (do you call them whiskers? Feely bits?) of the fish.

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Step 3: Make your inside sleeve bits

Yes, inside sleeve bit is the technical term.

These hold the cover in place on your book, but can also be used as pockets for loose papers. When you’re done they’ll look like this:

Take one of your two small rectangles and fold and press one of the long edges to the wrong side, about 7mm, then fold over again another 10mm to enclose the raw edge. Press well and pin in place.

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Neaten the edge by using a matching thread in your sewing machine, and sewing a straight stitch close to the fold. Press well and set aside. Repeat for the other rectangle.

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Step 4: Construct the cover

Lay your cover fabric right side up on a flat surface, then lay the small rectangles on top, right side down. Line up the corners, ensuring the neatened edges are in the middle.

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Then lay your lining rectangle on top, right side down. Pin through all layers. I find it helpful to double-pin twice on the lower edge, as in the photo. This reminds you not to sew between those two points, as you’ll need an opening to turn the whole thing through.

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Using a straight stitch, sew around all four sides of your work, roughly 1cm from the raw edge,  leaving the gap between the double pins.

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Your cover should now be taking shape! Check that it fits your book by removing pins and turning the whole thing through. It sounds weird, but the fit can very depending on the weight of fabric you’ve chosen and how thick your book is. Make any adjustments as necessary.

IMPORTANT: You’ll probably need to bend the book right back at the spine to get it into the cover (have a look at the photo below. It’s kinda hard to explain…). Don’t try to force it though, or you might risk damaging your lovely stitching.

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Once you’re happy with the fit, turn it inside out again, snip the corners and trim the seam allowances using pinking shears if you have them. Turn through and use something pointy (but not sharp! A knitting needle or blunt pencil is ideal…) to make nice crisp corners. Press well and slip stitch the opening at the bottom closed.

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And that’s it! Now you can smugly show off your beautiful new book cover!


So if you fancy, give it a go, and send me your feedback. I’d like to know how user-friendly my instructions and photos are, as well as how you feel about your finished items. If you ave questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to help. And if you’re quick, there’s just time to squeeze one out before the start of term…

Sleevefest 2017: Ruffle-Sleeve Coco Hack

Q: What’s the collective noun for a group of ruffled garments?

A: A gathering.

(I thought of that all by myself and I was pretty pleased about it!)

 

Unless you’ve been walking about with your eyes shut since January you’ll have noticed that sleeves, particularly big ruffled ones, are big news in 2017. This has already been dubbed “Year of the Sleeve”, and Sleevefest is now officially a thing. Honestly, non-instagrammers, it is. Sleevefest is a competition being hosted by dream.cut.sew and valentineandstitch, with prizes being awarded for the best and most creative handmade sleeves. Entries are still being accepted until 31st August, so if you fancy giving it a go, there’s still time! Have a look at this post by dream.cut.sew for all the details.

I’ll admit that at first I was sceptical. It was all a bit Laurence Llewellyn Bowen for me. (Don’t know Laurence? He’s an interior designer/minor Brit celebrity who shot to fame on hit TV show Changing Rooms in the 1990’s, and is mostly remembered for wearing outfits like this:)

 

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That said, I’m not stubborn or afraid to admit when I’m wrong! Pleats, gathers and frills of all sizes have stealthily crept into the mainstream over the last 12 months, so it’s now socially acceptable to add a camp little flounce to just about anything, and for any occasion.

And it’s easy to see why. Well placed gathers can draw the eye to the slimmest parts of you body and enhance fuller areas, whilst also helpfully skimming over any bits you’re less keen on. A gathered skirt, for instance, cinches in the waist whilst also drawing attention to (or giving the illusion of) a peachy bum. Have a look at my Recycled Plastic Skirt again, as evidence. And gathers on sleeves or trouser legs can play with proportion, making ankles and wrists look slimmer. And that’s before you even get to how the fabric in gathered garments moves with you, swishing and swaying with your every move and bringing new life to your outfit.

Plus, gathers are ridiculously easy to sew. Aesthetics aside, it also reduces the need for lengthy fitting sessions and fiddly darts. You just need one measurement – the length of whatever you’re joining you gathers into – and bam! You’re away.

Which brings us nicely back to the garment I’m here to discuss…

Following the success of my Secret Patchwork Coco a couple of months ago, I knew I wanted to make Coco by Tilly and the Buttons again. It’s really easy to sew up, the shape is super flattering and its simplicity makes it a great wardrobe-builder. It’s made from super-soft pale blue cotton jersey (Saeed’s in Walthamstow, £8 p/m), and, yes, this time I did have enough fabric. In fact, I even managed to cut out the sleeve ruffles from the off-cuts, which made this a really economical make.

The sleeve ruffles are just rectangles cut 2.5x longer than than the sleeve hem on the original pattern (I used the 3/4 length version, but I suppose you could use the full-length sleeves if you wanted to make something really flamboyant). The rectangles are then gathered and applied to the sleeve while it’s still flat – the sleeves of Coco are assembled flat anyway, which is great because I normally hate setting sleeves and have been known to cry actual tears over it. I neatened the seam by over-locking the seam allowances together and pressing upwards towards the shoulder, then top-stitching with a zig-zag all the way around for a really neat finish. I only made one turn in the new hem, so that the ruffle stays light and can move easily. I then assembled my Coco as usual.

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From the original instruction booklet for Coco, showing how the sleeves are constructed.

If you have time, make sure you search for #sleevefest2017 on Insta. It’s  really cool to see all the gorgeous hacks and details people have come up with.

 

 

IN OTHER NEWS:

I’m very conscious that I haven’t blogged yet about the New Craft House Summer Party, as promised in my last post. This is absolutely no reflection on the event itself – it was a really really lovely evening, and everyone there was so very welcoming. It was lovely to finally meet so many of the sewing bloggers who’s inspired me – in fact it’s fair to say that in a lot of cases I was quite star-struck and scared to approach people. The outfits on show were absolutely incredible – so good, in fact, that they added two Honourable Mention awards to the Best Handmade Outfit competition, because the standard was so high (I mean, just look at the winners in the bottom photo! Don’t they look divine?!). Plus, it was nice to be in the company of other people who request to touch other people’s clothes, just to see how the fabric feels. I’ve always thought I’m the only person who does this and my friends laugh at me for it, but it turns out I’m not alone! Loads of sewists do it! We can’t resist!

Among other things we chatted about our favourite indie patterns, places to shop for fabric, fashion ethics, and how sewing makes great therapy. But the truth is that I probably didn’t get as much out of it as I would have liked – this has been a sad couple of weeks for me for reasons that I’m not ready to discuss, and I was distracted. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take any photos (gutted, actually) and small talk sometimes felt a little bit laboured. So if you took the time to speak to me, then thank you, and sorry if I seemed weird. But please don’t be in any doubt at all that it was a really lovely event and it lifted my spirits hugely. It’s just that I don’t have a great deal to show for it. But the New Craft House girls have written a lovely post about it, and there’s already talk of another party at Christmas, which is really exciting. So thank you, lovely sewists, for lifting me up. Sewing people are the best people.

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Thank goodness someone remembered to take photos! This one’s pinched from Instagram.

New Look 6446 Culotte Jumpsuit

I’m in love with this jumpsuit. Seriously. I’ve found my sartorial soulmate.

Why do I love it so much? Well, basically, because it makes me feel like the lovechild of a kick-ass ninja and Coco Chanel. And because no item of clothing has made me feel this fierce since I got a Spice Girls branded mini skirt in 1997. (That was also amazing. I was the coolest damn 6-year-old you ever met.)

I MEAN, LOOK AT IT.

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This awkward pose totally doesn’t do the outfit justice

It’s a New Look 6448. You may well have seen this pattern before (maybe you’ve even made it?) as it’s been quite a hit with sewing bloggers. A bit of research turned up these beautiful versions by Emily, Janicke and Lizzie B. So when I saw it reduced in the Minerva Crafts Summer Sale, I totally couldn’t resist. I made Version C, but the pattern also includes dress and mini versions. Perhaps I’ll try making the others in future. Perhaps I won’t. It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Anyway, the pattern itself is pretty clear and user-friendly. There’s a lot of pattern markings to transfer, which feel like a drag at the time, but then a jumpsuit has to fit in so many places that the markings are absolutely essential. Trust me, you’ll be glad you make the extra effort when the time comes for construction.

I made it to wear to The New Craft House Sewing Summer Party, which I’ll be attending tomorrow with my lovely friend Sam. I’m really really excited about that too. I bought my ticket months ago when it was first announced – I love The New Craft House girls and have read their blog almost from the beginning in 2013. Anyway, there’s going to be a competition for the best handmade outfit, so I had to made something new, right?

Admittedly I don’t think this one’s going to win any prizes for creativity. I’m sure there will be plenty of stiff competition, and lots of the phenomenally talented sewists in attendance will have used flamboyant fabrics, embellishments, pattern hacks etc. Searches on Insta have shown me fabulous things covered in pineapples, ice creams and lace. Whereas I’ve just made a commercial pattern, in black fabric. But I adore it, and this jumpsuit is the best prize I could ask for anyway!

To my credit though, I did make some sizing adjustments. I started with a size 18, then took the trouser leg side seams out by 2.5cm each, to accommodate my wide hips. I also raised the waistline by 2cm, allowing a bit more bum space (remember how I’ve said previously that I’ve got a long body and short legs? Well, it makes jumpsuits very difficult to wear!). It took a bit of time to redraw the pattern but it was definitely worth it as the bottom half was perfect on the first fitting. For the bodice, I cut out a straightforward size 18 because the measurements on the envelope matched mine exactly. But after sewing it together, it was a bit baggy under the arms, so I took in the side seams a bit which worked a treat. This meant that I didn’t manage to line up the back darts, but the fit is so good that I’m really not bothered, and it’s on plain black fabric anyway so it’s barely noticeable.

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Here are some reasons why I love the shape and fit so much:

  • The straight neckline and wide straps are really flattering on a big bust. It shows a little bit of skin without being too booby, and the straps are wide enough to cover bra straps, so I can have adequate support in the right places.
  • The massive front bodice darts are also a god-send for bigger boobs. There’s never been so much room in the front! Plus this means that the bodice narrows considerably on it’s way to my waist, instead of just hanging off my boobs like most RTW clothes do. Ok, the points of the the darts are a little bit, er, spiky (shall we say reminiscent of Jean-Paul Gaultier for Madonna?) but I think that makes it all the more sassy!
  • The super-wide legs cut a really striking silhouette – somewhere between 70’s Disco and Nautical Chic – and transforms my bum from wide-and-wobbly to biggest asset! And they’re bang on trend. Plus being wide and cropped makes them perfect for cycling. (Not that I cycle much, but that’s beside the point.)
  • It’ll look just as good in winter, worn over tights and a shirt or jumper, as it does in August on it’s own. 
  • It’s work appropriate, right? I think you could classify it as relaxed tailoring, which in my book is as good for the office as for throwing some shapes on a dance floor.
  • It has pockets. Big ones! Just right for my phone and debit card. Hallelujah, praise be.
  • The bodice is lined, so it’s just as beautiful inside as out. This also makes it super-comfy to wear. (NB: You have to hand-sew the lining around the waist which is pretty time-consuming but looks sublime.)

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The fabric is 100% Cotton Drill which I picked up from Walthamstow Market. It’s seriously gorgeous – drill is similar to denim but is softer to the touch and has a distinctive diagonal weave. It’s got no stretch at all and was easy to work with. It’s really strong but also so buttery-soft that it’s almost velvety. Plus it was only £3 p/m. No, that’s not a typo. It was only THREE POUNDS PER METER. The poor man at the stall, I virtually bit his hand off when he told me the price. I bought 3 meters, since that’s what the pattern envelope suggested, but actually I only needed two. For the bodice lining I picked up some navy organic linen from Fabrications Hackney, and that was a total bargain too – it was the last meter, so it only cost £2! And I only used half of it. So all in all, this make has cost me £7 (or £7.80 if you include the invisible zipper, which was also from Walthamstow Market). That’s unbelievable value, isn’t it?

My absolute favourite thing about this is it’s versatility. I spent a lot of last night laying awake thinking of more ways to wear it, and what fabrics I’ll use to make it in future (because now I’ve got one, I want a whole wardrobe full.) It’d look great in so many styles, right? Super-size florals – dreamy. African wax – sensational. Maroon velvet, for Christmas parties – I’m frothing at the mouth. Man, you’re gonna see soooo many of these on the blog from now on.

I’ll post about the Summer Party after it’s happened – probably Sunday? – but in the meantime I’m interested in your answers to these questions:

  1. What’s you’re favourite pattern, and why?
  2. If you’ve made this (or any jumpsuit) already, how did you get on? Any further tips? Can you show us photos?
  3. If you’re going to the Summer Party tomorrow, what will you be wearing?! Can’t wait to meet you!

Please feel free to comment below! Cheers!

Pattern Hack: A Shorts Story

This is David, my boyfriend of 8 years, looking pretty fly in the shorts I’ve finally made for him. No, that’s not a couple of white threads I forgot to trim at the bottom. Those are his legs!

 

He was desperate for some new shorts as he’s lost a few pounds this year after taking up marathon-running and triathlon (don’t ask – apparently he “enjoys it…“), and the only shorts he had were really baggy. The pattern is a hack of the Cargo Shorts I made for my dad on Fathers Day, but with a few changes:

  • No cargo pockets on the side, at Dave’s request. I was very quick to agree to this as when I made them for my dad they were very time consuming. “No, you definitely don’t want those, they’re too bulky”, I said, without a moment of hesitation.
  • Shorter length. I made them to the normal length at first, then shortened them at the very end, so that he could try them on before making up his mind. I ended up taking them up by a massive 13cm! He really does wear short shorts…
  • I replaced the fake pocket flaps with jeans style patch pockets, using the original pattern markings to place the top corners. More useful, and fewer button holes! Win win!
  • The waistband is twice as deep, allowing for wider belt loops that can actually accomodate a belt. If you read about the shorts I made for my Dad you’ll know that on the original pattern they’re very small – more for decoration than to serve a practical purpose. But with the depth doubled, they’re infinitely more usable. Which is handy, because the shorts are actually still a little bit big, so he’ll be needing those belts…
  • I added another button to the waist fastening. It needed it really, with the bigger waistband, otherwise it would have gaped open. Awkward…

Here are some photos of both, so you can compare and contrast. The ones with the red background are Dave’s, and the blue leafy background are Dad’s.

 

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The patch pockets at the back look pretty cool

They’re made from the same fabric, although weirdly the colour looks quite different in the photos. I had loads left over after making my Dad’s – I’d deliberately over-bought for fear of messing it up! The pocket linings are made from remnants of green cotton left over from a quilt I made last year. In fact, everything I needed for this project came from my stash. I’m not sure if that’s good because I’m being resourceful, or bad because it shows I’ve been hoarding stuff?!

 
These were pretty successful. If you remember, I had some trouble with the zip-fly last time but this time around it worked a treat. I also realise that I top stitched it in the wrong place last time. Oops. I don’t think Dad noticed…


They look great though don’t they?! Dave’s are quite smart whereas Dad’s were way more casual. I find it amazing how a few small hacks can completely change the look of a garment.

 
I also have to point out that he’s teamed the shorts with a Choose Love tee by Katharine Hamnett, in aid of Help for Refugees. All the profits from the sale of these go directly to the charity. But they’re also made from super soft organic cotton, in factories where the workers are paid a fair wage. It’s a great choice for an ethical wardrobe.

 

 

I don’t like to praise David too much in case his ego explodes, but I think he looks pretty bloody handsome in this photos. He was reluctant to pose at first, squirming and telling me it was too awkward, but boy oh boy did he get into it! In his own words, “David Gandy better watch his back, there’s a new David on the modelling block”. Pft. Typical.

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My Recycled Plastic Skirt (yes, really!)

THIS SKIRT IS MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC.

My understanding is that the manufacturers melt down loads of old plastic before stretching it out into super-fine threads, before weaving them together to make fabric. I mean, I am completely FLABBERGHASTED by this, and yet really, I wish I wasn’t. Because that’s the way it should be, right? Plastics which aren’t bio-degradable should be reincarnated as beautiful, durable items that we’ll wear time again, instead of filling up landfill and the oceans. How great would it be if recycled fabrics weren’t surprising, but the norm?

Those of you who follow me on Insta might remember that I first posted about this fabric when I bought it back in June. It came from Fabrications in Hackney, which is a great little place offering classes in sewing and knitting, repurposed fashion and home accessories (who knew there were so many things you could make from old shirt sleeves?!), craft supplies and ethical fabrics supplied by Offset Warehouse. It was also a total bargain as it only cost £5 a meter, meaning I could also treat myself to some red organic cotton denim which is still in my stash. I was even given a free cotton tote instead of a carrier bag for my purchases, so they scored bonus points for their green credentials there too.

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It’s a recycled polyester which gives it the most beautiful shine and really makes the colours pop. I’m not normally into pink, but combined with orange, red and black in this design I think it’s completely irresistible. I love the print too – it’s irregular and requires no pattern matching (win!) but doesn’t have the saccharine sweetness of pink florals. Moreover, it hangs beautifully. It’s got a really lovely drape that looks like silk, and it’s got a nice lot of movement.

I spent quite a while deciding what to use it for. I toyed with shift dresses, vintage-style pussy-bow blouses and culottes, but couldn’t get the idea of a gathered skirt out of my mind, so eventually decided just to embrace it. A gathered skirt really is one of the simplest garments you can make, but I’ve been trying to challenge myself with more difficult makes lately and didn’t want to succumb to the quick-fix instant gratification of a skirt you can whip up in an afternoon. But in this case, the temptation was too much.

As with other gathered skirts I’ve made previously, I used this tutorial from By Hand London as a starting point, except that instead of an invisible zipper I made a lapped zip and two button fastening to make use of what was already in my stash. Construction went very smoothly, and the only difficulty I encountered was that the fabric moved an awful lot (which is great for wearing it, but a nightmare when you’re making it!), so I had to use plenty of pins and add more basting than I normally would. I also used bias binding to create a faced hem, firstly because I love the high-quality finish it gives but also to help weigh the skirt down a bit. It’s very lightweight and catches easily on the wind, resulting in a few Marilyn moments (and the potential that some of the people of Walthamstow have now seen my knickers…!).

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I’m really pleased with this one! It’s really flattering, drawing attention to my small waist and away from my ginormous hips, and even creates the illusion of me being quite leggy (I stress that this is very much an illusion – despite being tall, I actually have an unusually long torso and relatively short legs. Weird, I know). And I really love telling people that it’s basically made from old plastic bottles! It’s a great talking point, and makes me feel much better about having to wash up old plastic packaging before it goes in the recycling bin!

Has anyone else worked with different kind of recycled textiles? If so, please do get in touch, because I think it’s a great idea and would like to incorporate them into my wardrobe a lot more. And if you’ve had successes (or disasters…hopefully no disasters…) with gathered skirts, I’d love to hear about that too!

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Rachel’s Bangin’ 1950’s Dress

This is my good friend Rachel. No, she’s not a time traveller. You might recognise her from Instagram, diligently commenting on all my sewing posts, because in addition to being extremely beautiful, she’s also an absolute babe. Ain’t she gorgeous?! And isn’t that dress completely sublime?!

And here’s the fun thing about this dress: she made it. Yes, she had a bit of supervision from yours truly, but without having sewn in over a decade she made this with her own fair hands and I think it looks banging.

At this point I think it’s fair for me to take a little bit of credit because, back in May, Rachel became a bit obsessed with seeing my me-mades every day. She’d studied Textiles at school (receiving an A* at GCSE for a Lord-of-the-Rings-inspired gown, no less… she might have mentioned it once or twice…) but hadn’t sewn since, but MeMadeMay gave her a push to rekindle her love of craft. At around the same time she was invited to a 1950’s themed wedding. “Perfect opportunity to make something“, she thought, and dived straight in by ordering this gorgeous Vogue V8789 Pattern.

Now, the thing about this pattern is that it’s a reproduction of a 1957 original. On the one hand that’s great as it’s true to the era (very much Dior’s New Look!), but on the other hand the instructions were near-on indecipherable and the sizes differed wildly to what we’re used to in the 21st Century. It was certainly a far cry from the modern patterns I’m used to, with their colour photographs and online sew-alongs. Suddenly we realised just how much more adept women in the Fifties must have been at making their own clothes (it was considered an essential skill then, and passed down through generations. I read a great article that touched on this in the Guardian a while back). Not to mention how years of post-war rationing had made them so much slimmer than we are now. It’s therefore super-important when working with vintage patterns to carefully take your measurements in advance, rather than just plumping for your “normal” ready-to-wear size. Rachel (who is very slim anyway) made the dress a full two sizes bigger than she normally would, so it’s definitely worth the bit of extra effort to avoid potential disappointment.

So anyway, the pattern arrives and panic quickly ensues as Rachel realises this might be a bit ambitious for a starter project. No bother, though – we turned what was originally just meant to be a fabric shopping date (that’s a thing, right?) into a full-blown-oreo-biscuit-fuelled sewing bonanza!

We started by buying fabric from Saeed’s in Walthamstow, where we were totally spoilt for choice. We were actually looking for fabric with a border print but abandoned that idea after realising that meant Rachel’s choice would basically be limited to scubas, which aren’t at all true to the era. After a lot of careful deliberation she opted for this romantic light-weight cotton lawn for £8 a meter, and some mustard-yellow chiffon for the cumberbund (which is basically a fancy belt for anyone who, like us, had never heard of it!). Blue and yellow are Rachel’s favourite colours, and the small floral print had the added benefit of no pattern-matching required. Happy days!

fabric and pattern

Next problem: the pattern told us we needed five meters of fabric. “FIVE METERS?! Are you having a laugh?!” (Rachel’s actual words). Even the lady helping us in the shop thought that sounded excessive. So there we were, in Saeeds, pulling out the pattern and agonising again over the instructions all over again, until we concluded that it could only need that much if you were using a border print, and needed to pattern match. Sure, that’ll be it. So optimistically, we purchased the 1.87 meters that Saeed had left in Rachel’s fabric of choice and decided it would be fine. Of course it would.

At this point, anyone who’s read about my Secret Patchwork Coco will notice a theme emerging: I never seem to have enough fabric.

We knew we’d need to use it economically, so we tried lots of different pattern layouts before cutting it out. We made the bodice first, so that we could use whatever we had left for the skirt. We also omitted the inner belt because it seemed like an unnecessary waste of material and we couldn’t work out what it was for anyway. I started Rachel off by showing her how to resize the pattern and make tailors tacks, but other than that she did all the prep herself. Then I showed her how to use my sewing machine and make darts, and off she went! Like a duck to water. The fit was all important for this style of dress so we made a few tweaks to the fit by taking it in a little at the sides and making the darts longer, so it fit her like a glove. We even exceeded our own expectations by making rouleau loops for the button holes (neither of us had done this before, but it turned out to be quite easy!).

Only at this point as we embarked on the skirt did we realise that we probably should have bought closer to five meters of fabric after all. It transpired that we were supposed to cut through four thicknesses of fabric rather than two, although we only worked this out from the tiny diagrams – it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the instructions! So we only had half the fabric required to make the iconic full Fifties skirt we were aiming for.

We both acted pretty cool about it, but secretly we were gutted. We toyed with the idea of having a contrast skirt, or combining the fabric we had with something else to create vertical stripes, but neither of those would create the look Rachel was after. So instead we decided just to use the fabric we had and accept that it wouldn’t look quiet like the picture. I showed her how to make gathers (I was actually GOBSMACKED at how she got them so nice and even first time) and attach the skirt to the bodice, and after that she finished it off at home, on her housemate’s sewing machine. It took a total of two days for the pair of us working together, and a day and a half of Rachel sewing on her own at home.

I know I’m an eternal optimist, but I genuinely think that the smaller skirt was something of a happy accident. Here are the reasons:

  • If there’d been loads more fabric it would have been much more difficult to gather neatly. As it is, it sits perfectly – look how tiny her waist is!
  • Hemming would have taken FOREVER.
  • We probably would have had to make the inner belt, to support the weight.
  • The smaller skirt makes it infinitely more wearable day-to-day. It’s a very classic shape that looks vintage-inspired without being too fancy dress.
  • Times were hard in the Fifties, right?! I mean, could anyone really afford to buy five meters of fabric for one dress then?!

Sure, a fuller skirt would have looked great, but there’s no doubting that the finished garment is absolutely stunning. The straight neckline and wasp-waist make it very true to the era, and she accessorised it beautifully with white gloves, a string of pearls and a pill-box hat from eBay. It took a total of two days spent working together, and a day and a half of Rachel sewing on her own at home.

She went to the wedding this weekend (which also happened to be her birthday!) and everyone was suitably amazed that she’d made it herself. Now she’s officially got the sewing bug, and there’s talk of her buying her own sewing machine and making a Tilly and the Buttons Cleo (which is much easier, thank goodness) as well as a secret project I can’t mention here. I’m so pleased that it turned out well in the end, and can’t wait to see what she makes next!

NB: July, of course, is the month of vintage patterns on Instagram (for non-intragrammers, #vpjuly is actually a thing!). I’d love to hear what you’ve been making, and what you’ve learned. Please let us know! Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with more pics of this bombshell:

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PS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY RACH! X

“Secret Patchwork” Coco

I realise I am MASSIVELY late to the party here, but I finally made my first Tilly and the Buttons Coco!

I’d been a bit hesitant to get started as stretch fabrics scared me a bit, but I realised during Me-Made-May that I needed to make some casual tops, and Coco seemed like the perfect fit.

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t start well. When visiting my parents last week, my mum and I called in to The Fabric Place in Beeston, near Nottingham, and I found this big piece of medium-weight polyester jersey in the remnant bin for £2. “Great”, I said, “I’ll easily be able to get a Coco out of this!”. Famous last words.

As it happens, it wasn’t easy to get a Coco out of this at all. Sure, the remnant was 2 meters long but it was a funny shape with big lumps cut out of it, and after laying out all my pattern pieces it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to cut it all out in the normal way.

At this point, anyone with more patience/common sense that me would have put it all away and saved it for a smaller project, but – oh no- not me! I had my heart set on a stripy Coco and I was damn well going to make one. Instead I cut out the bodice front and back, then patched together three offcuts (being super careful to match the stripes, of course!) then cut the sleeves out of the resulting larger piece of fabric. Obviously there was no fabric left for such luxuries as pockets or cuffs (which are optional on this pattern) so I had to make the very simplest top version, with 3/4 length sleeves. I was careful to make sure that the seams were on the back of the sleeves when cutting out, so they were less obvious. I think I just about got away with it, right?!

Can you see the joins here?

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From the back

They’re easier to spot from the inside (modelled here but my glamorous mannequin assistant, Patsy).

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From the inside

Still struggling top spot them? Does this help?

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Joins run parallel to the orange lines – from the back
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Joins run parallel to the orange lines – from the inside

The black and white stripes definitely help – on a plain fabric it would have been way more obvious.

Aside from that though, I think this is a pretty successful make! I spent a long time tracing and resizing the pattern; I’m very precious about my patterns, and couldn’t even contemplate cutting into the original, and I’m really curvy and often have to make a lot of adjustments, and leaving the original intact provides a bit of a safety net. In this instance there was a full three sizes between my waist and hips, creating the kind of shape that looks like it should never work, but it did. I fact, it’s genuinely the best-fitting top I’ve ever owned.

Just like the Cleo I made a couple of months ago, the pattern was perfectly clear and easy to sew up. The instruction booklet included with the pattern is free from jargon and packed with helpful tips, and the colour photos make a helpful visual reference. Once I sat down at my sewing machine I’d made it in just a few hours – there were only three pattern pieces, no fiddly darts, facings or fastenings, and no need to finish the raw edges as (joy of joys!) knit fabric doesn’t fray. It’s a great introduction to sewing with stretch fabrics, and it’s definitely given me a boost of confidence.

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It’s easy to see how Coco can quickly become a wardrobe staple. I’m absolutely delighted with the result – the boat neck is flattering on my broad shoulders and big boobs, the fit is nice and relaxed and I even managed to (mostly) pattern match all the stripes! I know it’ll help make up loads of outfits, and I’m already planning more variations. Plus, now I’ve done the hard work, I’d be able to whip up more in no time.

Let me know if you’ve made Coco, and how you got on. Plus, has anyone else been so – ahem – resourceful with fabric as I have here?! If so I’d love to see/hear about it!

I’ll leave you with this perfectly captured, if not altogether flattering shot by Dave, with added speech bubble:

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Daddy Cool

Happy Fathers Day!

(Okay, so I realise that number of people reading this who also happen to be fathers will be small – and of those one of those will probably be my own father – but it seems polite to say!)

My dad’s pretty fab, and to celebrate I decided to make him the Men’s Cargo Shorts from the book The Great British Sewing Bee; Fashion with Fabric. This is partly because I knew they were his style and would suit him, but also because after participating in Me-Made-May I realised I should try some more challenging makes.

 

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Here’s the picture in the book

This was categorised in the book as “Advanced” and it’s easy to see why. There’s a zip-fly, five button-holes, darts, three types of pocket and what feels like miles and miles of topstitching. But in spite of that, they were surprisingly easy to make!

Admittedly I had a minor mishap with the zip-fly. I’d never sewed one before and the thought of it was giving me the heebey-jeebies, but the instructions in the book were super clear and I basically nailed it first-time. At least, I thought I’d nailed it, before realising that I’d sewed it in the wrong way round, so the zip was back-to-front. A lot of swearing happened at that point, and I had to unpick it all and start again. But it went well then too, thank goodness! My only grumble was that the zip sticks out from under the fly shield at the bottom, presumably because it was too long, but I promised I followed the instructions to the letter…

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The zip sticks out the bottom of the fly shield on the reverse. Whoops…
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But it looks pretty good from the front…
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And it opens!

Other than that though they’re astonishingly easy provided you don’t rush. There are a lot of pattern pieces but they’re really clearly labelled and the instructions are well written. Of course, traditionally cargo shorts are made from strong canvas and that’s such a blessing! I bought my 100% cotton green/grey fabric from Saeed’s in Walthamstow for £8 p/m it was an absolute joy to work with. No slipperiness, no stretch – what a dream! The only slight problem came very near the end as I sewed on the belt loops, and the multiple layers of heavy fabric were a bit much for my sewing machine to cope with, bending two needles in the space of 10 minutes…

On the subject of belt loops, they’re a bit piddly aren’t they?! I definitely get the impression they’re more for show than for anything so practical as, say, supporting a belt. I mean, have you ever seen a men’s belt that skinny? I think the waistband generally is too thin. Next time (and there will be a next time, because the BF has already requested a shorter pair, with fewer pockets) I’ll make the waistband wider, and alter the belt loops to fit.

But in spite of that, don’t they look great?! I’m so pleased with how they turned out. They’re definitely the most complicated garment I’ve ever made, and I’m really pleased with myself for finishing them. Using my over-locker to finish all the seam allowances has made them look really professional, and I think the main fabric and blue printed pocketing work really well together. I’d definitely recommend this pattern – just make sure you don’t rush it. And make sure you measure that zip, and let me know if yours sticks out the bottom too…

Most importantly, Dad looks pretty chuffed with them, doesn’t he?! Has anyone else made something for their dad this year? I’d love to see them and get ideas for next year!

Me-Made-May: An Evaluation

Hey look, I’m writing a blog! And it’s no coincidence that it comes straight after my first ever Me-Made-May.

For the uninitiated, MMMay was started by sewing blogger Zoe on So Zo, What do you know? a few years back. The idea is that designer/makers can make a pledge – any pledge – with the basic aims of wearing and sharing their own work. For some that might mean wearing a customised item each week, whilst others might dress head to toe in a new handmade outfit every day of the month. But most of us are somewhere in between. My own personal pledge was to wear at least one me-made item every day in May, and to post a photo of it on Instagram. Here I’ve included my favourite shots of each garment, but you can look at the whole month’s worth on Insta.

 

Truth is, I went into it just wanting to start a record of my sewing and build some confidence in my own dress-making abilities. Yep – I achieved both those things. Good for me! But the whole experience (yes, I called it an “experience”!) totally exceeded all my expectations. Here are some of the unexpected benefits:

  • The love and enthusiasm of the craft community is overwhelming. I was moved (yes, moved – that’s not even an exaggeration) but the way strangers reach out to one another with questions, answers, advise and musings. Every day more than a handful of skilled sewists diligently hit their “like” buttons for everything I wore, and offered a few words of encouragement or clap-hands and love-heart emojis. I’m so often plagued by feelings of “everyone else is so much more skillful/knowledgable/stylish than me” that I can be shy (embarrassed, even!) to share my work. It gets even more exciting when that praise came from someone you really admire (like when Tilly and the Buttons featured my Cleo dress on their Insta story alongside Charlotte Newlands from Sewing Bee… I was SO excited!). It has been an absolute joy connecting with people. The sewing community really are a helpful and friendly bunch.
  • By following other people’s MMMay posts I’ve discovered a load of indie pattern companies I’d never heard of. I mean, HOW had I never come across Closetcase patterns until now?! I’m completely obsessed by their Ginger Jeans (I mean, SEWING JEANS?! That blows my mind!) and am absolutely chomping at the bit to start their Sew Your Dream Jeans Course.
  • I feel WAY less awkward about being photographed. I started the month all like “ohh, I hate it/get my good angle/my hair looks weird/I look pregnant/I look like my mum”. I used to avoid cameras in the same way that other people might avoid, say, the plague, or fang-toothed tarantulas. But now I’m fine with it, and can tolerate my own image. In fact, some might say I’m now too comfortable in front of the camera…
  • I’ve made better use of all the clothes I own. Day to day, I normally fall back on a lot of shop-bought jersey dresses and a whole heap of flamboyant jewellery, but having to wear me-made every day has forced me to rifle through the lesser-known areas of my wardrobe to create a variety of outfits. I also realised how many of my clothes I just don’t wear, sparking a long-overdue declutter (much to the benefit of a few of my friends, the local charity shops and my eBay account!). I can now actually see the things hanging in my wardrobe, which is a novelty.
  • In fact, it’s made me want to stop buying clothes all together (and there’s something I never thought I’d say!). I’ve come to the realisation clothes bought on impulse and never worn are a waste of money, no matter how thriftily I came by them. By contrast, a “slow-fashion” (handmade) wardrobe has to be more considered. And that has to be better.
  • I’ve identified the gaps in my me-made wardrobe! Let’s face it – as much as I love them, pencil skirts, peplum tops and dungaree dresses will only get me so far. I realised I tend to fall back on the quick-fix instant gratification of easy makes, but I could do with new challenges. Next on my list are super-flared cullottes, a Coco tee, a long coat for winter and of course those seductive Ginger Jeans…
  • I gained a beautiful vintage mannequin, now called Patsy. Until now I’ve been quite shy about my sewing, but when my friend Fiona saw my posts on Instagram she asked if I wanted to take the mannequin off her hands and make use of her. She – a 1950’s adjustable Chil-Daw – was given to Fiona by her aunt, but she and her fiance are planning a move to Scotland can’t take Patsy with them, so they wanted to find her a new home. I’m the lucky recipient. How lovely is that?!
  • I’m absolutely super stoked for May next year all ready! I’m going to make every effort to have a larger me-made wardrobe by then, so day-to-day next May should be easier too. And if you haven’t done it before, I strongly encourage it – it’s easier than you think!

Ultimately, it’s been so enjoyable that I’ve just HAD to start this blog, to prevent any post-May withdrawal symptoms. I should also thank my lovely patient photographers – David, Fereuse, Sam, Babs, Agi, Corrinne and Rachel – and warn them that they might not be off the hook just yet! Sorry guys. I plan on sharing my makes, any new skills, pattern and craft shop reviews among other things. At some point I’ll create a mailing list, so you can follow along if you like! Why not say hello?