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!

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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“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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