Friday, 15 January 2021

The Soleil Knitted Headband (Yep, knitted!)

I hope you're sitting down, because you're in for a shock: today I'm dropping some knitting content!!! Honestly, I'm as shocked as you! This is the first item I have knitted (and finished) in about twenty years, and I'm thrilled with it. 

Just over a year ago, a casual IG scrolling session brought me to this fabulous Instagram post by @fortheloveofted_x. That in turn led me down a rabbit hole which landed at the Soleil earwarmer pattern (pictured below) by Debrosse. As I say, I hadn't knitted anything in an age, but my mum is an excellent knitter and she assured me it wouldn't be too tricky. Around the same time, my IRL sewing mate Paula was also giving knitting a whirl (winter will do that to a sewist, it would seem!). Paula was having a go at knitting a beanie hat, which encouraged me further still.

(image source: Debrosse)

Having bought the Soleil pattern, I then needed to acquire some circular needles (which I purchased very cheaply via eBay because my mum didn't have any), yarn and stitch holders. I know less than nothing about different types of yarn, except that you're meant to call it 'yarn' rather than 'wool' (unless it's actual wool, I guess) so I needed to get face to face with some experts. Remember being face to face with anyone that isn't in your immediate family? No, me neither, but anyway...


Paula and I went on a day trip to Brighton which included a visit to Yak. The incredibly helpful staff members showed me which yarns would be most suitable and told me how much I'd need. I picked this lovely teal colour yarn, and I'm still in love with it a year later. Annoyingly, I didn't save the label. However, having scoured their website, I think it was this one (pictured below). 

(image source: Yak)


My goodness, I learnt A LOT working on this project. It was really fun getting out of my comfort zone, and I was very grateful to have my mum at the end of the phone at a couple of points! Using the circular needles (which are like two short needles attached by a plastic cable) took some getting used to, and introducing the stitch holder felt risky! Seeing it coming together was very exciting, and I was even able to do a bit on a couple of train journeys (remember train journeys?!) which made me feel very industrious. 

However, I got stuck at the point of having to cast off. I got confused and decided to wait until my mum visited. Then the first lockdown happened and she was not able to visit. I got super extra busy and overwhelmed with the realities of the pandemic and having every one at home. Then the weather got warmer, and the headband got packed away and forgotten about. Until last week.

Just after Christmas, the weather got really chilly and I remembered how much I hate wearing my shop-bought beanie hat. I thought how awesome it would be if I could wear my knitted headband, so I got it out and finished it off. I added a few extra rows were required because my head is apparently bigger than the pattern is designed for. Then a call to my mum about casting off and a shout out on IG about weaving in the loose ends, and it was a wrap!

I bloody love this headband! Is it perfect? Hell no! But it's pretty good and very snuggly. My hair has got quite long and I prefer to wear it tied back in some way. This headband works far better than a hat with long, tied-back hair. At some point, when lockdown eases and we're allowed in shops again, I want to go back to Yak to find some more yarn to make another (let's face it, probably mustard yellow). One day I'd like to make a whole cardigan, but that seems too overwhelming to consider right now. Right now, I'm going to enjoy this headband, which I have worn every day since I finished it!

Friday, 1 January 2021

Free Pattern Friday: T-shirt and Leggings PJs for Kids

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes an adult's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

Happy New Year to you!! I hope that 2021 has many wonderful things in store for us all. Let's start the new year by reviewing some free sewing patterns shall we? A good a plan as any I feel.

Right, so I've made a decision. Going forwards, some of my Free Pattern road tests will feature patterns that I've posted about before. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, some free patterns are so good and so useful that I end up using them again and again. Obviously it's not always clear during the initial road test if a pattern will become a TNT, and I think it's beneficial for readers to hear which ones over time I've found to be real winners. Secondly, I don't expect that everyone that reads a post on my blog or IG will have viewed my whole back catalogue and seen all the patterns I have tested previously! Crazy, I know. And finally, it's pointless and unsustainable for me to sew up a new free sewing pattern each month just so I'll have something to post about. If there is a free pattern that interests me, I'll try it, but I'm not going to sew something for the sake of content creation if it's not what I really want to be making right now. All that to say: I've posted about the patterns in this post on this blog before. However, I hope you appreciate that I'm reusing not one but TWO free patterns, and showing a different way of using them! 

My first review of the Brindille and Twig Ringer Tee pattern from three years ago can be found here. It is easily accessed by adding it to your cart and going through the checkout on the B&T website (no payment required). The Made by Jacks Mum Lightning leggings pattern review was from earlier this year. To access this pattern, you can join the MBJM Sewing Group on Facebook, or you can get it through their site. If you do the latter and are in UK or EU, the transaction goes through Etsy so you will pay a small fee. 

Both patterns are fantastic for making everyday garments, and today I want to highlight that they can also be combined to make knit pyjama sets. As you can see, I've made one summer set with short sleeves and short legs, and one for the rest of the year with the long options. There are other free knit pyjama patterns for kids out there, but to reduce paper and printer ink use, I love that these are multi functional and include various options. Check out the individual posts for more info on each pattern, however I'm including all the most relevant details again here. Massive thanks for both designers for sharing their hard work for free. 

Pattern type:

The Ringer tee is a banded T-shirt pattern that includes both long and short sleeved options. The Lightning leggings pattern includes relaxed and slim fit options, both of which can be made in three lengths, with elasticated or band-finished waists AND hemmed or band-finished hems. Another version of the smaller sizes of both leg fits has also been drafted to accommodate reusable nappies. With all these style elements to choose from, take care to read what pages you'll need before you start so you're not printing out a bunch of unnecessary pages. 

Sizing info:

Whilst the Ringer tee pattern has been graded to include 0m-3m to 5-6T, I've found that B&T sizing runs at least one size bigger, so go by the height rather than the age when selecting which size to make. I wanted these sets to come up big as Frankie (currently aged 4 and about 103 cm tall) doesn't really need them right now, so I made the 4-5T (that I would expect to fit a 5 year old). As expected, they have come out at least one size too big, and I'm guessing he'll get two year's worth of use from the tees. 

The Lightning leggings are graded to a larger size range: from premie/small newborn, up to 12 years. I've made a stack of these leggings as this point, as well as few other MBJM patterns, and I always find the sizing to be very accurate. If your child tends towards a stockier or skinnier frame than the 'average', you can easily combine sizes as you need to to get a better fit than most shop-bought leggings. I made the size 5 relaxed fit option (one full length and one shorts length) for both these pairs for Frankie. I expect he'll only get one or one-and-a-half-year's worth of use from these, compared to a good two years from the Ringer tees.

Fabric info:

The Ringer tee pattern requires knit fabric for the body and sleeves and it suggests to use ribbing for the bands. I feel that cotton/Lycra single jersey or cotton interlock would work best for the main fabric, although I have also had success using a very stretchy, lighter-weight French terry. I must admit that I've always used the self-fabric for the bands rather than ribbing, but haven't had any problems. 

The Lightning leggings pattern recommends that knit fabrics with good stretch and recovery are used, for example cotton/Lycra jersey. If you're making the slim fit, I'd recommend that you check your jersey isn't too thin. My daughter has bust through a couple of her pairs because the fabric I chose was too thin and was probably better suited to T-shirts. The relaxed leg style option might also work with a lighter-weight French terry that has an elastane/Lycra/spandex content for more of a joggers style garment.

For both the pyjamas sets pictured here, I've used cotton/Lycra jersey. The grey arrow print jersey came from a friend's destash, but originally from Little Miss Sew n Sew I believe. The farm print jersey was sent to me for free from By Graziela. Both fabrics are excellent quality: soft and with excellent recovery. 


The Ringer tee pattern is really nice to use. The layers function has been included so you can print out just the size you require, and it's easy to see which pieces you need to cut out depending on your choice of sleeve options. I do find that, as well as coming up at least one size larger than the age it's marked as, the pattern also comes up pretty long in the body. I shortened the pattern by a few centimetres for both the tees pictured here. You could easily make this tee by omitting the hem band entirely, and turning up the bottom edge and hemming instead.

For the Lightning leggings pattern, I'm literally going to copy and paste my original post's findings:

I really like how MBJM's patterns are produced. The information conveyed is very clear and user friendly, without heaps of unnecessary blurb or frou frou. This is particularly important when a designer is trying to guide you through a pattern that contains heaps of options, such as this. Literally the only thing I can think of that is missing but would have been helpful, is a clear, technical spec drawing of the garments. In fact, now I come to think of it, I don't recall seeing a spec drawing for any of MBJM's patterns. I find those can help you get to the bones of a pattern style, without fabric choice, model's pose etc. distracting you.

You might think that, what with all the style options and choices included, that the actual PDF pattern pages would be a Burda-magazine-style web of confusion. However, I am able to report that I found them very well laid out and easy to figure out, despite all the various pieces and cutting lines. In the instructions there is a handy guide to help work out which pages to print for the combo of options you're going for. Plus, both the A4 and A0 copy shop files offer the layers function; yet another way to prevent wasting precious printer paper and ink. If you think you're likely to reach for this pattern again and again as the child you sew for grows, it might be worth getting the A0 file printed at the copy shop with all the sizes (excluding the sizes that they are already too big for). Then you can trace off the size you need onto pattern paper (or wrapping paper/wall paper/whatever you've got to hand that) as and when you need it, to save on ink (and getting your printer out and finding all the relevant wires, amirite?!) further down the line. 

As for the finished garments, I'm really pleased with them. The overall fit of the slim leg option is exactly what you'd hope for in a regular leggings pattern. And the relaxed leg option is a nice, modern alternative that is suitable for any kid who may not wish to wear tight leggings (yeah, I'm trying to find a woke way of referring to 'most boys'!).

Would I make these again?

Clearly, yes!!! I imagine I'll be using both of these patterns until both my kids grow out of the size ranges for both patterns.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Ankara Tamarack Jacket

My love for the Grainline Studio Tamarack jacket pattern developed slowly. As in, it took a couple of years. If this pattern was a potential partner, they would have written me off long ago! My interest grew over time, but it took the vision of an Ankara (AKA African Wax fabric) version that finally made me commit to the plan and I begun to gather supplies. Then a couple of weeks ago the time came to give back the overlocker I'd been borrowing. I looked through my list of potential sewing projects to work out what I could make next that could be made entirely on a regular sewing machine. Although the pattern suggests rather than specifically dictate to do so, I felt that binding all the bulky seam allowances would be the best way of finishing the innards. Therefore, it seemed like a good time for the Tamarack project to rise to the top of my 'to make' list. 


Last Spring, I saw a woman in a supermarket car park with a really bold puffer jacket. I can't remember exactly what it looked like, but the print reminded me of an Ankara design and my mind went straight to the potential options that were dwelling in my stash. This particularly length of Ankara fabric was brought back for me from her honeymoon in Ghana by my good friend Anna over ten years ago. She told me about the overwhelming awesomeness of the vast fabric market where she bought it, but she knows me well as she picked out the perfect print and colour way for me.  

Shortly after receiving it, I made some of the fabric into this 1950s style retro dress (pictured above). And a year or so later, whilst pregnant with my daughter, I made a dress using the Made by Rae Trillium dress pattern, then called the Washi dress pattern (pictured below). 

Historically, I have kept very few of my me-mades once I have stopped wearing them. However, I kept both of these because of how amazing this fabric it. So I harvested what I could from both, and located the final piece leftover from the original length. Even so, I had to piece the fabric together in a couple of places: around the shoulder/yoke area on both the fronts and the back pieces. I was able to pattern match pretty well, AND I was able to stitch along the joining seams during the quilting step, so I think they are effectively hidden. Finally, I pieced the scraps together to make the self-binding. There really is very little of this fabric left now!

The Tamarack pattern directs you to use the same fabric for both the inner and outer layers. Obviously that wasn't going to happen with mine due to the limited fabric, plus I wanted the ease of taking it on and off that you get with a traditional, slinky lining fabric. I got this navy viscose lining remnant from Fabric Godmother, and made bias binding from the leftovers to bind the pocket edges and all the internal seam allowances. 

The other element that I had to purchase for this project was the quilt batting/wadding. After reading the advice on the Grainline blog, I decided I wanted to source some wool batting rather than cotton for a warmer jacket, but i just couldn't find the size required (twin) in stock anywhere in the UK. As a second choice, I went with a batting made 100% from recycled plastic bottles. I flatter myself by thinking that my green-washing radar is pretty well tuned, but you wouldn't believe how thick they were laying on the 'this product basically saves the world' message in the packaging! It completely ignores how much energy is required to extract usuable polymers from that 13 discarded plastic bottles, and to turn them into quilt batting (which is then wrapped in plastic and shipped to Europe from the US). And looking at the reviews in the comments section of the website, some other customers seemed to have taken the 'I bought this and have just saved the world' perspective on board! Lols. Anyways.


As I say, I wasn't always sold on the style of the Tamarack jacket pattern. Chatting with Mr SoZo about this, I finally figured out that it reminds me of two things: A) the kind of jacket that an elderly Chinese farm worker woman might wear, and B) detachable lining that might be part of a Very Practical Coat. Once I'd made these stylistic links and the question was no longer bugging me, I was honestly much happier to go ahead with the project! 

As with almost all patterns I use, I made a couple of initial adjustments to this one. I blended between sizes at the side seams (my waist and hips usually fall into a size category that is one size larger than my bust), and pinched out about 2cm from the length of the torso on the front and back pieces to account for my short-waistedness. Being able to make these simple (and now automatic) adjustments is such a blessing, and would be worth learning how to sew for even if I didn't actually enjoy it!  

The trickiest part of the project was the welt pockets. When my batting arrived, it was thinner that I expected, but that was partly to my benefit as the construction of the pockets would no doubt have been more difficult if it was been thicker. I declared life too short to pattern match the welts, and once the binding was added to the edges, I think the mis-match of the welts looks fine. Due to the limited amount of fabric I was working with, I was able to match the pattern at the centre front, but couldn't align the colours of the design. 


I wasn't able to collect all the relevant materials for this project until recently, and because Autumnal jacket weather had passed, I'd kind of shelved the project in my mind until the Spring. However, we've had an (alarmingly) unseasonably warm couple of days lately so I got to wear this out in the world yesterday for the first time. I still feel the elderly farm worker vibes are present, but I also believe that the bold fabric print off sets those vibes enough that it looks pretty stylish. The fit is comfortable, plus the sleeves are narrow enough that it might prove a useful layer underneath my grey Cocoon coat when the temperature really drops and I want to give my Buffalo Check coat a break. 

There have been some amazing quilted coats and jackets popping up on IG recently. If a suitable quilt appeared in a charity shop, I'd be tempted to make it into another Tamarack jacket, with the quilting stage having been done for me. And even if I don't use this particular pattern again, my eyes are definitely opened to the stylistic and thermal qualities of quilted clothing! 

Friday, 4 December 2020

Free Pattern Friday: Socks for Everyone

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes an adult's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

I've been making my own clothing for a long time now. I've even had a bash at making shoes. But there are a few things that I continue to rely on shops for, namely bras, socks and tights. I can't imagine ever getting good enough at knitting to successfully knit my own socks, and I'm not sure that I'd really want to spend all the time and effort to do so anyway when I prefer thinner, less wooly socks anyhow. However, I've seen a few people in the sewing community who seem to have successful sewn socks, including Carolyn who made these great looking sockettes. I've kept this possibility in my mind for a while. So when I recently chanced upon the free the Ellie & Mac Sew It Forward Sock pattern, I was all in! Thanks heaps to Ellie & Mac for sharing their hard work for free. 

Pattern type:

This pattern is for making basic ankle socks with a cuff band at the top. The pattern is made up of four pattern pieces, and are constructed with just four seams. 

(image source: Ellie & Mac)

Sizing info:

The pattern has been graded to include almost anyone who wears socks, from small children (
UK kid's 7-8) to men (UK adult's 12-13). A sizing table is included for US, EU and UK shoe sizes to help you select the right size to cut, but it is worth noting that the stretchiness of your chosen fabric may affect which size will be more successful. 

One of the reasons why I was excited to try this pattern is that my shoe size (UK 7, FYI) is usually the biggest included in most women's sock size ranges (usually sizes 4-7). So I'm convinced that my socks wear out quicker than other women's who have smaller feet! Therefore, I was excited to see that I could select a size UK 6-7.5 that put my size in the centre of a size range rather than at the outer edge. 

Fabric info: 

Knit fabric with 50% four-way stretch is recommended. I'm guessing that the type of fabric that most people would have in their stash that fits this description would be a cotton/Lycra single jersey. They require very little fabric, so a dig through your scraps and leftovers might provide you with some 'free' fabric to make some really fun, crazy socks!

The grey pair in these photos is made using a scrap of weird knitted stuff that I have no clue about. It looks like tights fabric so I thought it'd be suitable, but in hindsight I feel it is too drapey and slippy. The rust coloured pair uses some very lightweight jersey (once again, can't be sure of fibre content). This pair clings to my feet a bit better but still feels too slippy and thin. I expect both will wear through at the toe or heel pretty quickly. 

(image source: Ellie & Mac)


Accessing the pattern is easy, you just need to add it to your cart and go through the check out on the Ellie & Mac site. The pattern pieces and instructions are part of the same PDF document, which makes it easier not to lose either! One issue I did have with the pattern was that the band paper pattern piece looks very different from the fabric band pieces that are photographed at the beginning of the step-by-step instructions on page 9. So much so that I emailed them thinking I'd missed cutting the piece on the fold or something. 

Aside from that confusion, putting these together was ridiculously quick. However, I've found that the second seam that joins the back pieces to the top piece can result in a little pleat where the seam intersects the first seam at the ankle, so that step should be taken slowly. The pair pictured above has no weird pleat, however you can see in the picture of my pair at the top of the post does. It doesn't really effect the fit, and I reckon if you were making a stack of these, you'd get really good at avoiding making a pleat.

As for the fit, I really like the shape of them, and although I was concerned that the band might be too tight, actually it's fine. I felt that they come up a bit high, so I made my rust pair a couple of centimetres less so, although you can't really tell in these pics. The grey pair is made using an overlocker, with three threads rather than four to avoid bulk. I made the rust pair using a narrow lightning flash stitch on my regular sewing machine and the seams of this pair are definitely less noticeable when worn. 

The fabric choice will really make or break this project I think. I'm tempted to try again using a more standard cotton/Lycra jersey that is thicker and more stable than the knits I've used here. 

Customisation ideas:

I like the idea of being able to combine sizes to make narrower or wider socks, if that's something you require. You could also alter the height in either direction: shorter to make sports socks or higher to make knee-highs, or beyond! 

Would I make them again?

Umm, I really don't know. I doubt I'm going to reach for these pairs of socks unless all my other pairs are in the wash. Less slinky fabric may help, but I'm just not really sure I want to wear jersey socks. Maybe I'd get used to it. I do love the idea of being able to make everything that my kids and I wear, although I feel that jersey socks would be an even harder sell for my kids than they are for me! 

Recently, most of my shop-bought socks decided to all developed holes at the exact same time, and I enjoy the idea that I am able to tide myself over with me-mades until I get round to getting myself some more. This really was a very fun and super speedy project, so if you are at all interested in giving them a try and have some suitable leftover fabric to hand, I really do recommend giving them a go.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

40 Free Patterns for Gifts for Kids

There are, of course, downsides to making gifts, particularly for kids. You do run the risk of witnessing your efforts go ignored and unappreciated by the recipient, at least on the day of the actual celebration. However, if you have the time, energy and brain space to spare, there are many reasons why making gifts can be better than buying them: 

  • Most makers would probably prefer to spend an hour or two at their sewing machine than trawling the shops or websites seeking out something to buy.
  • If you already have a stash of fabric and supplies, these projects will most likely work out much cheaper than a bought equivalent.
  • My personal favourite: you can avoid the demand for more plastic to be produced, that takes the form of packaging or perhaps the item itself.
  • At risk of ruining the 'evergreen' nature of this blog post, the current global Covid situation is making going to bricks-and-mortar shops or receiving countless deliveries of online orders less appealing-slash-risky business at the moment. 

The run up to celebrations is usually pretty stressful, so please don't go heaping loads of sewing projects on top of everything else. But if you do fancy making a gift or stocking-filler for a child in your life, I've got a big ol' list below of patterns (plus a couple of tutorials) that will cost you nowt. There are countless free sewing patterns and projects out there on the interwebs. The selection below are ones that appeal to me, keeping my own kids and other kids I know, in mind. I've separated them into four sections:
  1. Toys
  2. Accessories
  3. Simple clothing
  4. Dressing up
Please note: some of these patterns are easily downloadable from the webpages I've included the links to, whereas some require a Facebook account or signing up to a newsletter to access the pattern. I have personally downloaded, and even made a few of the patterns listed below, but cannot vouch for all of them. I want to thank all the talented and generous designers who have shared their hard work for free. Enjoy!



Heart Pouch by Patterns for Pirates

Simple Clothing:

(image source: @horsesloveapples on Instagram)

(image source: lilypadmontana)

Dressing Up:

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