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…

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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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?