Sunday 31 January 2010


People, may I please have your attention for a moment. I am launching a new campaign: Stash Bustin'! Like pretty much ever sewer on the planet, I have too much (fantastic, potential-filled, perfectly usable) fabric sitting about crying out to be turned from it's raw form into a myriad of awesome projects. It really is quite a crime. Therefore, I am pledging to bust my stash, using as much of my fabric collection as I can, over the next few months. I will only be stepping into a fabric store when absolutely necessary to pick up items like linings and interlinings to complete projects when I don't already possess an alternative.

I'm not alone in acknowledging and responding to this fabric hoarding inclination. Erin of A Dress A Day, queen of sewing blogging, recently stated that it was one of her New Year's resolutions to 'sew three things from my fabric/pattern stash for every item that requires new fabric or a new pattern'. Whereas Sarai from Colette Patterns has been having a sort out of her own, unearthing all her fabricy treasures from the depths of boxes and cabinets. The first step of Stash Bustin' is acceptance of what you actually already have!

But releasing hidden potential is only part of the Stash Bustin' motivational picture for me. I feel we could all do well (me massively included) to take a look at what we already have from time to time: using, reusing, reappropriating or passing on as we see fit, instead of simply heading to the shops/internet to acquire more stuff. And what about the financial aspect? Most of the fabric I own didn't wind up mine without an exchange involving some of my hard-earned cash. Time to release some of that investment into beautiful and useful wardrobe additions, with little to no further expenditure required.

So, my stitching friends (fiends?), are you with me?! Are you up for the challenge of reducing your fabric stash over the coming months? I do hope some of you are. You may have noticed that the rather fetching 'Stash Bustin'' icon at the top of this post has also manifested itself (actually it had help!) as a button in the column on the right. If you fancy one of these yourself, follow these steps:

1# Copy the following HTML code:

<a href="" target="_blank"> <img border="0" alt="Photobucket" src="" /> </a>

2# (This is for blogger, not sure about other blog hosts). Click on 'Customise' on your own blog; click on 'Layout'; click on 'Add Gadget'; choose HTML/Javascript; paste the code in; click on 'save changes'; ta da!!!!

If you do feel like participating/doing something similar/sharing your views on this subject, please leave a comment. Ok then, onwards to the stash!!!!!!

Friday 29 January 2010

At Colette Patterns: 'Decorative elements: Lace appliqués'

Whilst attempting to research my post for the Colette Patterns blog this week, I started off on a completely different subject which was proving difficult to nail. My mind started to wander, and before I knew it, it had wandered in the direction of (maybe this has happened to you?!). Inspired by an amazing lace appliqué I had found on etsy the other day (whilst looking for something completely different), I began to unearth more, equally stunning, appliqués. They reminded me of the sad situation that befell a skirt I made last year when I attempted to decorate it with some DIY lace appliqués. I was suddenly overcome with the twins desires to both ward people away from a similar sewing-related fate and to share the newly-unearthed loveliness: I felt I had been shown the 'true path' my post was ordained to follow. Phew!

Monday 25 January 2010

I would like to thank...

Many thanks to the very sweet ShannonAshley for awarding me with this Kreativ Blogger award. The rules state that I must now share seven things about myself that you might not know:
    1. I have three tattoos so far and my mum accompanied me when I got each of them done. My most recent is a simple line drawing of a swallow on my wrist which references my mum's swallow tattoo on her hand. If I have a daughter and she doesn't want to get a swallow tattoo, I think I would be secretly very sad.

    2. I used to be a croupier and have worked in three casinos. I used to deal Roulette, Blackjack, 5-card Poker, 3-card Poker and Punto Banco (aka, Baccarat). Before you ask, No, it's not well paid (the UK is the only country in the world where a dealer cannot accept tips), and No it's not very glamourous (although at times it was very exhilarating). Also before you ask, the most I saw someone lose was £30,000, and I can't remember the biggest pay out I made, although it was ALOT (I've paid out two big accumulative jackpots). I always wanted to deal Dice (aka, Craps) and Texas Hold'em but found them difficult to get into due to being of the female persuasion.

    3. I like to carry a sugar sachet round in my handbag to adjust my Caipirinhas to taste, should they require it.

    4. My favourite type of music is Hip Hop.

    5. If I could change one thing about my body, it would be my sensitivity (which verges on intolerance) to caffeine. That or my usual difficultly in sleeping, whether I'm abstaining from caffeine or not.

    6. If I was Catholic, I'd get a bad-ass Sacred Heart tattoo. I have a Catholic best friend and boyfriend, is that close enough?

    7. I almost always think tasks are going to be harder than they turn out to be. This usually means I am pleasantly surprised.

According to the rules, I must now disclose seven blogs that I feel deserve this award. I am using the criteria of the seven blogs I check the most regularly at the moment (in no particular order):

  1. The Makeshift project is fascinating and relevant in it's aim to document a year wearing only handmade things (undies, shoes EVERYTHING). It has really encouraged me to take my own philosophies and practices up a notch (check my post here on the subject of Makeshift).

  2. Veronica Darling's is a blog I came to via Sew Retro. This pizazzy little Australian chica does NOT hold back when it comes to sewing, setting herself fantastic challenges that would make the average sewer weep (her 100 Outfits and Frocktober chellenges being two she conducted last year). Her current vintage pattern challenge is one to watch. I also love her almost complete reliance on op-shopped and end of line fabric and notions, something most sewers would do well to work on (myself included).

  3. Who doesn't love Gertie and her Blog for Better Sewing? The time and effort she must go to to regularly update this informative, thought provoking and fun blog is exhausting to think about. She's the sewers' sewer! I also love the posts when she discusses broader issues like body image, disposible fashion and the sartorial implications of dressing in a vintage style.

  4. I must also direct your attention to the super-talented and creative lady Michelle at Naughty Little Epoch who is my homegirl, as in we are friends in the flesh and meet up when in the same country. I could give a million reasons why she is a special lady, but one of them would include that creatively speaking she isn't afraid to attempt any creative disapline, invariably with amazing results.

  5. I may be accused of bias, but I have to say that the blog on Colette Patterns is really quite awesome. It always was a beautiful and fascinating blog, but now that Sarai has got more people on board to contribute, it has become an even more diverse and prolific blog to enjoy.

  6. A more recent addition to my list of blogs to check is the sweet and refreshing Ancien-Nouveau. Her technical approach to garment creation shows she isn't afraid of the nitty-gritty that many of us shy away from!

  7. The final blog I would present this award to is The Last Stitch which I actually only discovered last night, it is so new to me in fact that I haven't yet got round to adding it to my blogs bar. Her posts appear so clear and consise, I guess the polar opposite of my own approach, and I would happily wear every single garment she produces.

There are of course many more blogs I would like to present this award to, like Cheap Opulence who sadly hasn't updated in some time, and EmilyKate who I know also received this award from ShannonAshley, but I'll leave it at that. Enjoy, blog-fans!

Tuesday 19 January 2010

At Colette Patterns: 'The Beat Generation'

I spent a large section of the last weekend with a substantial hangover, the result of celebrating my boy's birthday (perhaps a little too) thoroughly. Subsequently, I spent a great deal of time on the sofa indulging in a hedonistic quantity of Mad Men episodes. Something finally dawned on me, the seed of which had been planted years earlier: I want to channel Midge Daniels and nail an early Beat Generation vibe (with a pinch of pulp fiction cover art hell-raising temptress for good measure). Why keep such revelations to myself? Why not share this flash of proposed sartorial brilliance with the wider sewing community? Exactly, that's what I thought! That's why I covered this slightly off-piste topic for my most recent weekly post at the Colette Patterns blog!

Monday 18 January 2010

World's Most Comfortable Dress!

Last November, as I have mentioned before, was an interesting month for me as my boy and I chose to abstain from booze and evaluate the resultant effects on our lives. There were some negative observations (like realising we have some friendships that seem based on booze), but on the positive side, we both experienced massive upsurges in our creative output. Personally, I was cranking out the garments like a one-woman sweatshop. The quantity of output was largely due to working with a lot of knit and jersey fabrics which are undeniably quicker to whip into completed garments. This dress was another product from that wave of sewing, but I previously haven't unveiled it as the neck went a bit wrong and it lay dormant until January, when I finally got round to fixing it.

The pattern is based on the stretch dress form the Sew U: Home Stretch book, with an adapted standup collar that took a few attempts. I had never previously considered a tight stretch dress for my wardrobe until I saw Veronica Darling cranking them out for her inspired Frocktober challenge. A little investigation lead me to the knowledge that hers were based on the Sew U pattern which was already in my possession. Seeing as she was happily whipping up a dress each day throughout October, I knew they must be pretty quick to produce. Her stretch dresses looked so cute I thought I'd give it a try, having picked up a massive piece of this awesome navy and gold striped stretch fabric for a song.

Aside from the problems I had with getting the collar right (the details of which I won't bore you with because they were stupid mistakes that any seamstress paying attention could have avoided), I ended up having to take it in a little along the side seams and through the sleeves. Next time I'll use a half-size or full-size smaller. But now that it is finished it has become one of my favourite garments to wear. It's jazzy but ok for day wear, it looks great with my jeggings underneath (too cold to try it paired with tights yet) and it's as comfy as you like! Expect more variations on this theme.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Matching Vest!

Rarely one to sit on my laurels after a sewing success, the triumph that took the form of yesterday's pants was swiftly followed by attempting a matching vest.

As with the pants, I took my favourite existing vest and traced it to make the pattern. The vest style I copied is quite a traditional one, with two 'points' at the front. Next I overlocked the side seams together. Then using the same underwear elastic with the satin edge that I used for the pants, I applied it from the tip of one of the points, along the back and up to the tip of the second point. I wanted the elastic to sit on the outside of the garment's edge, so I placed the elastic face down with the satin edge towards the right, and placed the fabric face down on top of the elastic and used a three-stage zigzag stitch on my normal flatlock sewing machine, using the same method as I used for the waistband of the pants I made yesterday. As I sewed them together, I gently pulled on the elastic so that the vest would have a snug fit.

Next I measured the straps of my existing vest, which came out at 32cms. So I added 2cms as seam allowance (and to possibly let out if my calculation proved too tight), marked that from the end of the elastic. That mark showed where I needed to position the tip of the point of the fabric and begin to sew the remaining section of vest edge between the points, using the same technique as I had just used when attaching the elastic around the back. When I reached the tip of the second point, I back stitched to secure the thread, then measured another 34cms of elastic before cutting it.

I then measured on my existing vest how far from the side seam the straps were positioned on the back, and stitched the loose ends of elastic accordingly. All that was left to do then was to hem the bottom of the vest, which I did with more contrast three-stage zigzag stitching. I've really found the three-stage zigzag to be more secure and have more stretch than the normal zigzag that I've previously been using with stretch fabric.

I really hope that yesterday's and today's explanations haven't confused or even put off anyone who was thinking about making their own undies. I really recommend you give it a go, once you get the technique down, they are so gratifyingly quick to churn out. They are quite a few tutorials and posts on the internet to offer advice or alternative methods, check some of them out and find a method that will suit you. This is by no means the end of my undies making quest, stay tuned for more including different methods than the ones I have posted about so far....

Wednesday 13 January 2010

My First Pants! (that I made)

With my March challenge less than two months away and alot of garments to create, I decided to get cracking starting at the foundations: pants! If you are not interested in making pants yourself and are just stopping by to see what I've been up to lately, I thoroughly recommend you skip to the bottom (ha! nice pun) of this post to see the goods, I won't hate your for it.

Since my initial post on handmade undies, I have continued to absorb what I can of the ol' tinternet on the subject. I have seen some ladies produce some very nice pants using normal elastic, but I decided to investigate the elastic produced specifically for pants. An eBay session later, I was in the possession of several types of undies elastic, two of which I decided to try out first:

Both these elastics appear to have a 'right' and 'wrong' side with a decorative edge along one side, one is scalloped and the other is satin-y.

For the pattern, I traced one of my oldest and comfiest pairs of pants using a method similar to this method, but I made a paper pattern rather than cutting straight into the fabric. I ended up with three pattern pieces: Front (which extends right down under the crotch), Back and Gusset to line the crotch area (check your pants).

Let the sewing commence! Using my overlocker, I neatened the front end (which may or may not be curved) of the gusset. The next bit of construction took some time to get my head around, althought the link above (Cal Patch's pants making method) also explains this very well. You have to attached the Back, Front AND Gusset pieces at the crotch seam, but you want the stitching and seam allowance hidden inside. Check Cal's explanation and have a look at your own pants, and if you still need help, let me know and I'll do a how-to. Once the pieces are all attached, I folded the gusset over to where it needs to lie, and pinned the edges inline with the edges of the front panel. Now I had to attach the elastic around the leg holes (at this stage, the pants are ONLY attached at the crotch seam, the side seams are still unstitched).

I did some practicing with scraps of fabric and decided the elastic with the satin edge was easier to use (I found the other too stretchy). After staring at many of my manufactured pairs of pants, I realised this type of elastic can be used in two ways: 1) so just the decorative edge is peeking out or 2) so the whole elastic lies on the right side of the fabric. I decided, what with this being my test pair, to try both methods. For the leg holes I tried the first method, only after LOTS of attempts on scraps of fabric first, obviously.

One thing I found trying to stitch these elastics to my fabric, it is easier if you place the elastic at the bottom in contact with the feeddog of the overlocker and flatstitch machine, and position your fabric on top of the elastic. So placing the RIGHT side of the elastic up, with the decorative edging facing away (to the left) I then placed the edge of the leg holes WRONG side up, so the edges of the fabric and elastic were flush together. I then overlocked them together. I must also say at this point that I didn't stretch the elastic at all when sewing, I just allowed both the fabric and elastic to sit flat. I HATE pants that feel like tornaquet's at the points where my legs join my body.

When I had done both leg holes, I switched to my normal flatlock machine for the next bit. Still with the elastic underneath but with the decorative edge facing inward (to the right), I folded the fabric back so the RIGHT side was showing and you could only the decorative edge of the elastic was showing. Using a three-stage zigzag (didn't know I even had one of these until this morning) I carefully topstitched along the fabric like this:

I'm not sure my mum would approve of my showing my crotch on the internet, but this is what the inside looked like at this point:

Then I attached only ONE of the pants side seams together with my overlocker. Time to approach the waistband elastic. This time I decided to try the second elastic attaching method where it sits of the outside of the fabric. I did this on my normal flatlock machine with my new best friend, the three-stage zigzag stitch. I simply laid the elastic face down with the decorative edge towards the inside (towards the right) and positioned the edge of the fabric also face down (or WRONG side up, same thing) on top of the elastic, but not quite flush, about the width of the shiny part away from the elastic's edge. Now for the tricky part. I stitched them together trying to maintain this position whilst also stretching the elastic by pulling gently on it as I went. This is to make them slightly snug when there are on the body.

Now I stitched together the reamining side seam with my overlocker, threaded the loose ends through the seam with a wool needle, and ta daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa:

I finished these about an hour ago, and I'm wearing them now, so I'm not quite ready to give a full evaluation, but first impressions are good. The overall fit looks and feels nice and comfy, but I had a little concern that maybe the elastic at the leg holes may rub against my skin a little. This may be because the overlocking I did to initially attach the elastic and fabric is a little rough, OR because the elastic itself is a little course (some elastics sold for pants making has a plush 'furry' side to sit nicely against the skin). I will evaluate this, make the necessary adaptions for my next pair and duly report back. Over.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

At Colette Patterns: 'Make Do and Mend'

These days in the West, those of us who like to get our sew on choose to do so as a creative outlet. However, but two brief generations ago, women in the UK had to practice their sewing skills in order to make the most of their limited resources as a response to the increasingly strict clothing, fabric and wool rationing during and after the Second World War. The Government assisted by distributing leaflets including tips and tutorials to make your garments last longer as part of the Make Do and Mend campaign. I have long been fascinated by the skills and techniques everyday women deployed as a response to their situations during that time, and feel a huge responsibility to learn and share as much as I can, not only to preserve the skills and techniques and honor these women, but also perhaps so they can form part of the response that people today will hopefully choose to help combat the threat of climate change. Read my post over at Colette patterns, your planet needs you!

Sunday 10 January 2010

Featured and Challenged!

What an exciting week! I am currently the Featured Member on Burdastyle! Obviously I knew about it in advance, the questions didn’t answer themselves, but actually seeing my name on the homepage gave me a real thrill. I guess it’s because Burdastyle has been such a major influence in the role sewing has taken in altering my life over the last few years. When I was sitting at my desk in the last clothing company I worked in, ordering buttons from god-knows-where with a minimum of 10% excess to be delivered to some dodgy factory in Romania where they would produce the most disposable tatty garments to be sold in the UK for next to nothing, sneaking peeks at creations on Burdastyle gave me hope of a more positive alternative.

So, seeing as this week this blog is getting a little more exposure than usual (according to Google Analytics) now seems a good time to announce my new project. Largely inspired by the Makeshift project which I discussed here, and a desire to challenge myself by pushing my sewing skills up a notch AND to put my money where my mouth is about striving to be more self-sufficient, I have decided to wear only clothes that I have made myself throughout March. I’m not going as all-out hardcore as Natalie (Makeshift), I am making some exceptions: I will not be attempting to make my own bras, hosiery (love that word), socks or footwear. But a challenge it remains.

Obviously, my wardrobe has a fair few handmade garms in it already, but there are some garment requirements I will need to get made:
  • Pants. I think I'll need to get a minimum of three pairs made before March 1st.

  • Vest. I spend most of the year freezing, so I like to get my layer on!

  • Sleepwear. I already made one pair of Jane pyjamas, but I want to make something/s else so I can alternate.

  • Trousers. I have my jeggings, but to be honest my treggings are a little too tight. I'm going to need another pair of trousers for day wear.

  • Jacket and/or coat.

  • Cardigan. As I mentioned, I loves me some layers. This one is going to be a real challenge to make something halfway wearable.

  • Dress. My cousin is getting married in March so I've got to make something fancy. I'm really looking forward to this creation!

If there's time and fabric, I'll also attempt a skirt for day wear and a dressing gown. If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions regarding this project, I would love to hear them! Has anyone tried anything similar?

Friday 8 January 2010

At Colette Patterns: 'Barkcloth'

In my recent post about my New Years' resolutions and aims for 2010, I mentioned how happy I was about continuing to write weekly posts for the Colette Patterns blog. One of the main reasons being that these contributions give me a reason to research specific areas that interest me beyond what I would normally get round to in my day to day. My blog post for Colette Patterns this week is the very incarnate of that reason. My love for mid twentieth century printed Barkcloth runs so deep that I wouldn't be surprised if it actually forms part of my DNA! I loved it before I even knew what it was, and now that I have spent a few evenings researching it's history, I love it even more!

Thursday 7 January 2010

Thoughts on a Handmade Christmas

This Christmas, as with the previous ones in recent history, I handmade the majority of the gifts I gave. I really think that if you are a crafty peop, giving handmade things is much better than trawling the shops trying to find something, anything, to buy for a certain someone. Of course, my friends and family (i.e., The Recipients) may feel differently, but if they do, they have always been polite enough not to let on.

Some sections of society may view such gifts as handmade tat given by cheapskates; I won't disagree that the materials used in a handmade item are often cheaper monetarily than a shop bought gift. But the time and effort taken to make it more often than not is far greater than the mass-manufactured, shop bought alternative. Plus it's a different type of time that is spent. When I do head into town to go Christmas shopping, the sense of shoppers' desperation and frayed nerves, combined with commercial greed often makes me feel nauseous. I will concede that last-minute panic sewing (or other method of creating) of gifts is not the most relaxing experience, but most of the gift creation process is enjoyable. When I am making something for someone, I spend a lot of that time thinking about that person, which I believe does two important things, A) imbeds that gift with lots of good juju, and B) brings the whole point of gift-giving and Christmas back into focus: it's about appreciating the people you care about.

So, in that spirit I undertook my own Christmas gift makery. For obvious reasons I waited until after Christmas to display them in the public domain. Pictured above is a bag that I made using my favourite tried-and-tested shoulder dolly bag pattern, using some of the fabric remnants from this dress.

More remnants from recent creations went into making a range of hand-lined purses/make-up bags. They are a similar shape to versions I have made before, but these have darts at the corners to give them more capacity and a cute ruffle detail. I love how using a different fabric gives each one kind of different feel. I'll definitely be making these again, maybe in printed fabric.

Back in November, Sarai helpfully posted some gift crafting ideas on the Colette Patterns blog here. I was very inspired by this recycled scarf idea and remembered that I had stashed away the remnants from my first handmade jumper. It took about a million years to cut out all the circles in a variety of sizes, but stitching them together by randomly overlapping the pieces and using a red contrast zigzag stitch took all of a minute. If anyone has any advice on how to avoid the last-minute handmaking presents panic (aside from starting them in July), I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

At Colette Patterns: 'Metric Pattern Cutting'

If the vibe I'm picking up from blogland is accurate, there are alot of creative people out there who would like to get more into making their own clothes, but are put off by the strange and intimidating alchemy known as Pattern Cutting (or pattern making, potayto potarto!). Although light-years away from being an expert in this field myself, I had classes in pattern cutting at university and later picked up a few more tricks working in clothing companies. I wanted to throw my tupp'ny worth in by reviewing and recommending one particular resource that could prove a useful 'in' for sewers wanting to get to grips with this multi-facetted science. Winifred Aldrich's 'Metric Pattern Cutting' is a book I have found invalueable for more than a decade, so if you are interested in making your own dress patterns, or modifying existing ones, check out my review at Colette Patterns.

Tuesday 5 January 2010


First up, I would like to congratulate Kitty for winning my vintage pattern giveaway. They winged (wang? wanged? what's the past-tense of wing?!) themselves to Italy. It felt good to share the love and accrue some good sewing karma, so as part of that you can expect more giveaways here in the future. I would also like to thank everyone who has commented on my blog throughout 2009. It's so nice knowing that there are so many lovely people out there interested in similar things. Bring on the interaction!

So, 2010. As I probably mentioned around this time last year, I'm a big fan of making New Year's resolutions. It doesn't matter if you don't complete all your intentions, your goals are likely to shift as the months pass anyhow. It's the process of making them that counts as it encourages you to take stock, review the successes and failures of the past year and consider what matters for the year which lies ahead of you. It's all positive stuff.

I have some exciting plans for 2010, but on of my main focuses this year will be to continue to discuss sewing: the activity itself, it's historical and social significance and topics linked to a handmade future. I am also vibe about my continuing contributions to the Colette Patterns blog which gives me a reason to research areas and convey thoughts that interest me beyond what I would normally focus on for this blog.

It's time for me to step up and push many of my thoughts and ideas forward. The next time I do some festive celebrating with my nearest and dearest, and eat one of the above (a Christmas dinner) I hope to be able to reflect upon a 2010 well spent. Do you have any sewing/creating resolutions?

Saturday 2 January 2010

At Colette Patterns last week: 'Prints and Patterns: Vintage Wrapping Paper'

Happy New Year to you! Perhaps not at the forefront of your mind at this exact point in time, but should you be thinking about placing an order with one of the new digital fabric printing companies and are looking for some inspiration of the festive kind then you could worse than check out my last week's post over at Colette Patterns. As a fan of most types of design from the mid 50's to the mid 70's, vintage wrapping paper has also found a place in heart and I think it would translate really well onto fabric. So quick, you only have about eleven and a half months to get some festive fabric to land on your door step! Although to work out the technicalities of file/pixel size and colouration, it may be a good idea to start now!
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