Tuesday 24 February 2015

Sewing + Podcasts = Heaven!

I've currently got a bit of a backlog of finished projects to share with you, but I want to break up the 'I made this!' and 'I made this as well!' to write about something else. Don't worry, it's still sewing related. I want to talk about something that, for me, goes hand-in-hand with sewing: podcasts!

On a week day, when the stars aline and Dolores has a two-hour nap at home (rather than in the pushchair or sling when we are out and about), I can often sneak in an hour or so's sewing time during the day. This is a blissful little oasis of time which gives me a little break from trying to figure out how to entertain her, and it is very good for my mental health. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when she drops this nap, but I'll worry about that when the time comes closer, and in the meantime I'll enjoy the spell of productivity I'm currently experiencing.

Something I love to do that connects me to the 'outside' world, rather than the one I usually inhabit which consists largely of fish fingers and story books with flaps, is listen to podcasts. I listen to them on the train going to and from the classes I teach, but I also love to listen to them during these precious windows of sewing opportunity.

Here's a list of my favourite podcasts at the moment in alphabetical order:


What is it? Fascinating little true tales around the theme of illegal activity, usually only about 15-20 minutes long apiece. Warning: some of the episodes are a little on the dark side, so probs best not listen to this podcast when there are kids around or you're feeling a bit sensitive.

Recommended Episode: J.R.R Ziemba. There's only one episode of Criminal that I haven't found fascinating so I could have recommended almost any of the fifteen currently available.

This American Life

What is it? The Big Daddy of podcasts! TAL has been going since the 1990's and has a massive following. Most of the hour-long episodes revolve around a theme and feature several stories that are loosely connected to the theme, but some episodes are based on a single factual tale. I got into TAL when my boss at Traid went on maternity leave and I worked alone for several months. I got thoroughly obsessed and used to rack up maybe five episodes a day. TAL reminds me just how multifaceted and absorbing real life is.

Recommended Episode: My goodness, so many but I'd say two episodes that really drew me in to this podcast are Switched at Birth and Act V. The wonderful thing about TAL is that, if you get into it, there is a backlog of over 500 episodes to dive in to!

What is it? The tag line is something like 'stories about the invisible forces that shape our lives'. But I'd describe it as spending an hour with two awesome, intelligent ladies who are having the most interesting conversation you're going to hear all week. 

Recommended Episode: I'd recommend you listen to all of them, but if I have to recommend one I'll say How to Become Batman, as this is one that I had to tell Pat (Mr So Zo) about immediately after he returned home. Frustratingly, they've only just finished airing the first/pilot series so there are only six episodes out there in the world, and we're looking at a long wait until we get some more.

What is it? How the hell to describe Love + Radio?! It's mental and captivating. The creators must have scoured the world to find the most interesting people alive to be the subjects of their shows, and then won their trust and honesty to make it the most absorbing chunk of time you could devote to listening to something. In short: I'm in love with L+R. 

Recommended Episode: Oh my! Literally each one is a work of art in itself, but the episodes I wish I could erase from my memory to be able to devour them again as if for the first time are: Superchat, The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt, Strip, Pt 2 and The Silver Dollar

What is it? 'Mortified' takes many forms, but the podcasts basically consist of a recording from one of their lives shows where someone reads an unedited chunk of their teenage diary, out loud, to an audience. As you can imagine, the content is usually pretty embarrassing for the reader and therefore amusing for everyone else. The podcast then includes a mini-interview with the reader. Episodes are about fifteen minutes long.

Recommended Episode: To be honest, I'm not obsessed with Mortified as a podcast, but it is often amusing. I really enjoyed the Mortified Nation documentary, which allowed the viewer to learn far more about some of the featured readers from the live shows, and was a much more thought provoking and explorative experience. But I've added it to this list because it can be good if you've only got 15 minutes left of your train journey or a hem to sew.


What is it? I've only just started listening to Radiolab so I'm not sure what it is yet exactly. Other than excellent. 

Recommended Episode: The Trust Engineers is the only one I've listened to so far (I've got more lined up...). A disturbing yet fascinating subject reported on sublimely. It's about an hour long and you should listen to it. I cannot add anything else at this stage. 

What is it? What is Serial? What is it? ESSENTIAL LISTENING is what it is! The whole series/season follows one reporter's explorations into one single story about an arguably-innocent man wrongly imprisoned for murdering his ex-girlfriend. Each hour-long episode builds on the story and introduces more information with new twists and turns. It's easy to forget that it is a real story about a real crime. 

Recommended Episode: You have to listen to all of them in the correct order or you are a fool.


What is it? A lovely, friendly podcast produced by Lea Thau who created The Moth (see below). The episodes hoover around 30-45 minutes and usually feature stories that explore emotions, motivations and relationships. I may be making it sound less awesome than it is. 

Recommended Episode: One I absolutely adored is Gay Talese: Committed Voyeur. The Love Hurts mini-series is also so good in an absolutely open, confessional kind of way (the first episode can be heard here).

The Bugle

What is it? The Bugle is a super funny satire podcast that acts as a kind of correspondence between British comedians Jon Oliver and Andy Zaltzman. I've found it to be so funny that it can be awkward to listen to it whilst on public transport. Recommended to me by Emily of The Botterman Empire a couple of days ago, I've already hoovered up several episodes and I think I'm addicted now. 

Recommended Episode: Whatever is the most recent episode. This is a news-based podcast so it'll be funnier if you can actually remember the events and people they are satirising.

The Moth

What is it? Like Mortified, The Moth is recorded as part of live shows where members of the public tell their story. I wish these live shows went on in the UK because I would love to attend. Each podcast episode is just one short-ish story and could be about anything that is/was important to that person's life.

Recommended Episode: It's difficult to suggest just one that you should listen to. Whether or not such a personal tale will resonate with you depends so much on the individual listening and the mood they're in. Some have made me laugh, some have literally made me cry, just dive in and listen to a few (of the nearly 500 currently available)!

What about you? What do you listen to, if anything, whilst sewing? Any good podcasts you can recommend to me/us?

Friday 20 February 2015

Refashion Friday: Men's Shirt to Toddler's Ruffle Neck Dress

I'm really pleased to be sharing this make with you today because I'm super happy with it. It's the second project that I completed as part of the recent KCW upcycling sewing challenge. Warning: this is quite an image-dense post. I got some real cuties of my little girl modelling this make whilst going about her business. Consider yourself warned!


After the success of my men's shirt to baby blouse refashion, I knew I had to crack out that pattern again at some point. It was such a great little basic pattern with lovely proportions, and by reusing a shirt and incorporating the button stand, most of the hard work was already done for you!

I used the baby blouse pattern from the Sept 2013 edition of Burdastyle magazine (pictured above). I traced the next size up from the last time I used this pattern, so this is the Size 80. I then lengthened and flared out the hem to make an A-line dress shape and omitted the sleeves. 

To finish the armholes I simply used my overlocker to neaten the raw edge, folded it over then top stitched it down. I did that after the shoulder seams had been sewn but before the side seams as I worried about the overlocker going round such a tight circle and accidentally hacking off a chunk of fabric! Inspired by this picture I found via Pinterest, I decided to extend the ruffle to make it more of a feature. 


I have a few lovely thrifted men's shirts in my stash that I was saving to make into blouses for myself. This one was probably going to be some kind of diner waitress-esque type affair. But it hasn't happened and the longer I leave it, the less likely I am to actually wear a candy-striped diner waitress blouse in my day-to-day life! So I decided to give up on that dream (for now...) and use it for a different project that will hopefully get used lots and lots. 

The shirt itself was in pretty good nick. There's a bit of fading from going through the wash a lot, but not much else up with it. Despite the wide white stripes between the coral ones, the fabric is pretty much opaque so I felt it's appropriate for summer wear when she might not wear anything other than a nappy underneath when it's really hot. 

It wasn't all plain sailing (sorry, more nautical puns) when using this shirt though. No part of the shirt was wide enough to cut the ruffle in one piece. I cut the ruffle length in three parts and joined them up by carefully matching up the stripes. Hopefully the joins are fairly unnoticeable. 


Aside from the fabric of the garment, I also reused the button stand to form the fastening on the back of the dress. The original shirt's pocket had a cute little embroidered boat, which obviously I was going to incorporate into the end result come hell or high water! 

Usually when I'm refashioning a shirt into a new garment, I try to reuse the existing hem. However this shirt's wasn't great as it kept rolling up, so I decided to avoid it and cut and hem the dress as usual. I think this has helped give the whole garment a nice, clean finish and makes more sense with the A-line silhouette. 


Ahh! I love this dress! There is a distinct possibility that some may think she's dressed as a clown, but I think that's a look that Dolores could rock: Nautical Clown! I'm really pleased with how the stripes have lined up at the side seams, and I am pleased to prove to refashioning-phobes that sewing something from an existing garment can still result in a neat and crisp looking garment!

Currently it is a bit big for her (she still fits into the original blouse which was Size 74) but that's fine. It is intended to be worn in the height of summer, which may still be five or so months away! In the meantime, I will probably try and get more use from it by layering it over other clothes, more or less like she is wearing it in these pics. 

Friday 13 February 2015

Refashion Friday: Men's T-shirt to Toddler Retro Running Shorts

Refashion Friday is back and it feels good! Recently I'm feeling really excited again about reusing existing garments for my sewing projects so I'm sure Refashion Friday'll become a more regular feature round here again. Today I'm going to go into detail about one of the two projects I undertook last week as part of the upcycling edition of the Kid's Clothes Week challenge. So let's talk about these retro running shorts! 


I started the beginning of 2015 by whipping up about 10 pairs of baby/toddler leggings (that I didn't bother to blog about specifically because I used a pattern I've written about on here before). It gave me quite a high to be so productive so I was looking for another quick-fix jersey project for part of the KCW challenge to make use of some of my stash of unwanted t-shirts. I decided to use the Prefontaine shorts pattern designed by Made with Moxie, which I was lucky enough to receive from my involvement in a previous Perfect Pattern Parcel blog

Aside from the awesome retro vibe, I also like how the pattern encourages the maker to repurpose old t-shirts for the binding. The pattern states you can make these shorts in pretty much any type of fabric, but personally I felt it'd work best in some kind of knit. 

Now don't get me wrong, I really do love this pattern and will definitely use it again at some point, but it wasn't the quick-fix project I was hoping for. I was probably being naive in thinking it would be. To get all that binding looking nice and neat made the project take a lot longer than I'd anticipated, even given the fact that I was making two pairs at the same time in a mini-production line. 

I think one of the reasons I expected this to be a quicker project because there's something slightly less polished about this pattern than some of the other downloadable sewing patterns out there. I mean no offence to anyone here, lord knows I'm aware how tricky drafting, grading and publishing a sewing pattern can be, but I need this review to be honest so I'm telling it how I found it. 

For example, I found sticking the pattern together to be a little inaccurate because there are no inner boxes to line up the edges against. Also, the pattern pieces have no grainlines on them which I think most sewers would expect to see. And one more thing is that the length of the inside leg seam is the same for all the sizes. So size 1 (approx. 18-24 months) and size 5 (approx. 7-8 years) have the same inside leg seam measurement which feels a little odd to me, and something I'd probably alter if I were to make the larger sizes. Don't let those things should put you off from purchasing the pattern if it appeals to you though. It really is a great little pattern and the instructions for construction are excellent.  

I made the size 1 (approx. 18-24 months) hoping that they would fit Dolores this summer (she's 16 months right now). The judo pair is intended for her and the Oxford university pair for her friend Arthur. However they have come out much bigger than I anticipated. She is on the slightly skinnier end of the baby-spectrum, but slightly above average height and as you can see from the pics in this post they look like a bit like this one her:

As I was nearing the end of the make I realised they were coming up big so I made the elastic on the larger size so they can be worn in summer 2016 instead. 

Fabric and Notions:

The main fabric started out as a ma-hoo-sive second-hand men's t-shirt that I snaffled a few years back. It had obviously been worn, but barely, and the colour was still incredibly vibrant. When I initially saw it I thought it would be fun to incorporate the university logo into whatever I made from it, and it nearly became a pair of pants (undies). I'm glad I didn't use it for that purpose because the thick, sturdy jersey would have worked much better for this project. And what a win being able to just about squeeze not one but two pairs of shorts from one unwanted garment! 

The judo patch on Dolores's pair also came from my stash. Back when I was 18 or 19 I used to drag my-then-boyfriend to the jumble sale that took place at the school next to his house. I would buy ridiculously things for 10p each on a whim, filling up whole bin bags that it was his job to lug about the hall and hold open for me. One of those purchases was a child's judo outfit (!). I have no idea why I bought it, but I unpicked this little logo before donating it back to charity. 

The strips of white jersey that formed all that binding was harvested from an old t-shirt that I also already possessed. Literally nothing new was purchased for this project. I even printed out the pattern on paper that had previously been used on the other side!


I am totally in love with these shorts! I must admit to being disappointed that I have to wait over a year to see them in action, unless Dolores or Arthur perform some kind of insane growth spurt in the meantime. But the great thing about making kid's clothes is that, when they come out too big, they will fit them eventually at some point. Especially now she's out of the stage where a particular garment only fits her for what seems like a matter of weeks. 

Monday 9 February 2015

Upcycling KCW: Results Are In...

Phew! What a fun week that was. As I mentioned previously, last week was the latest instalment of the Kid's Clothes Week sewing challenge: Upcycing edition. All participants had to do was sew clothes for kids from existing clothing for one hour per day for a week. Basically what I would do every week of my life, if all contributing factors permitted it. 

So here's what I made, two pairs of retro running shorts from a dude's T-shirt and a ruffle neck dress from a dude's shirt (probably not the same dude):

I had hoped to have made more things by the end of Sunday but two things prevented that: 1) we had the opportunity to have a little mini-break at the weekend, and putting sewing above a much-needed break would make me clinically mental, and 2) my sewing machine is playing up and I've finally accepted that it needs professional help. There's something up with the ratio of tension between the top and bobbin threads and there's nothing I can do to make it any better. The stitching looks fine from the right side, but inside the garments I've been making recently it looks loose and not very pretty. It's annoying me because I love to get a really clean finish on my projects, inside and out. So I dusted my hands off and called Friday my last sewing day. I don't feel like I cheated though because on some of the other days I sewed for more than an hour, and I did some prep the previous week, so I'm sure I completed the seven hours in total!

Even though I didn't finish as many projects as I'd planned to, this week has massively reignited my love of sewing kid's clothes from reclaimed adult's clothing and I plan to make it a more frequent part of my sewing activities. I love breathing new life in a discarded garment and giving it 'another chance'. Plus I would argue that it is a much more challenging (and therefore potentially rewarding) process than sewing something that started out life a flat piece of pure fabric, as much as I love that too. For example, cutting out the pieces is much more fun. Unlike many sewers, I actually really enjoy the cutting out part of making a garment, and figuring out how to cut the pieces from an existing garment is extra fun, IMO. Do you try to incorporate the original features/seams/etc. or avoid them? If you choose to include some of them, then which ones and how? What changes need to be made to the pattern or the original plan?

I'll be writing two separate blog posts about the projects pictured above that will publish over the next two (Refashion) Friday's. In fact, this whole challenge has made me want to bring Refashion Friday's back into my regular, if not weekly, blogging schedule. 

Did you either participate or in some way follow the recent KCW challenge? 

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Nautical Cressida Skirt

I promise I didn't start my Cressida skirt plans with the intention of making a nautical version. But now I see it finished, I kind of wonder how it could have gone otherwise. Paired with my stripy Dolores batwing top (see below), it looks pretty meant to be. 

That said, I did have real reservations about this project before I began. And in fact I'm not entirely won over just yet as I have't worn it out of the house yet (too frikkin' cold). Basically, I'm just not that into full skirts, either circle skirts or the gathered variety. I think they can look great on other women, but I can't help but feel they make me look wide round the hips. Plus, wearing them can make me feel like I'm all dressed up to go to a kid's birthday party, if you know what I mean. 

But when Jennifer from Jennifer Lauren Vintage sent round an email asking for testers for this pattern, I knew I had to give the Cressida a try. I think it was something about all those damn glorious buttons and the less exaggerated fullness of this style that made me feel it just might be for me. I didn't have time to help out as a tester at that point, but Jennifer generously sent me a review copy when the final version was released. So here I am a' reviewing....


The Cressida skirt pattern includes two different views (pictured above). Initially I was drawn to View 1. Like a moth to a flame, I can't resist a garment that is basically a canvas on which to display awesome contrast buttons. I'm not sure what changed my mind, but my allegiance slowly shifted to the slightly more understated View 2. Maybe it was the fabulous belt loops (which would be overkill if I added them to View 1), I cannot say.

Previously having had such an excellent experience of Jennifer's patterns in the form of the Bronte knit top, I was excited to give this one a go too. She really is such a good pattern producer, IMO. Not only are the styles and proportions always firmly on the wearable side of retro, but both the pattern and instructions are so clear and user friendly. Weirdly enough, although I will deliberately steer clear of certain sewing pattern brands' products if I have had bad experiences of them before, it's only just occurring to me that I could replicate a joyful sewing pattern experience with certain other brands!

I genuinely can't think of anything Jennifer should have done differently or better with this pattern. I pretty much followed the instructions to the T, only deviating from the order of construction a couple of times to avoid changing back and forth between my seam thread and topstitching thread too often.  

Fabric and Notions:

I'm going to shock you right now by telling you that this fabric was bought new from a fabric shop with this project in mind. I knew that I didn't have anything in Le Stash that would be suitable, and although I always prefer to sew with stash and/or reclaimed textiles for environmental reasons, I felt I could waver my usual practices on this occasion. My mum bought this and some awesome African wax fabric for me as part of my birthday present, thanks Mum! I addition to those two new lengths of fabric, I also bought one more amazing piece of new fabric at the end of last year (which I will share with you soon), which is the first time I've done so for a really long time. Normal stash/reclaimed-textile sewing will resume shortly and with vigour!

So this navy cotton was purchased on Goldhawk Road in London and is thoroughly lovely. I'm hopeless with fabric names, but it has a twill weave and a brushed, peach-skin kind of feel to it. Having made the skirt I now feel that it may be the teensiest bit stiff for the pattern, but seriously only a fraction and I'm hoping it'll soften slightly after a few washes.

I love a project that requires knuckling down to some neat topstitching. It's the closest I ever feel to anything remotely linked to zen. My first impulse was to use gold topstitching thread that would give it a jeans kind of vibe. I have a cone of the stuff that I literally found in a box on the street when I lived in Barcelona, I shit you not. But I changed my mind and thought this beige stuff would work better. I already had a couple of reels that I bought when working on my final collection at university thirteen years ago. Thirteen? Ouch!

The buttons were also from my stash (shock). I promise I wasn't planning to use anchor buttons, but I didn't have enough of any of the others contenders; as you can tell this is a pretty button-hungry sewing pattern. When I laid these bronze-y/gold coin-like ones on, they just looked so nice. Plus it seems silly to buy new buttons when I have so damn many sitting on my sewing shelves. These beauties came from when I worked at Traid. We had literally hundreds of this particular design of button, so I took about 20 and made a small donation to the 'karma tin'.  


Hmm. Well as I say, I haven't really worn this skirt yet, so I can't give it a full review I suppose. And I knew it was going to be a challenge to bring a garment like this into regular, or even occasional, wardrobe rotation. But I have a plan for that (hint: MMM'15!). So at the moment I can only comment on this project as a sewing experience (which you will probably have gathered by now was a pleasure) and visually from trying this garment on. 

These photos have helped me acknowledge something I had been feeling subconsciously: it's a bit big. It would look better if it were sitting more firmly on my actual waistline. My measurements corresponded to a bit smaller than the size 12, but I went ahead and made the 12 because I didn't want to feel restricted when sitting down or having eaten something. I don't think that that was necessarily a mistake, but something I may take into consideration if I make another at some point. 

I also feel that my version looks quite a bit fuller at the hem than in the shots of Jennifer modelling her versions, although it does look quite like the spec drawings. I think I may reduce the fullness slightly in the fabled 'next version'! But those two things aside, I bloody love it. Despite some seriously annoying tension issue that my sewing machine is currently having, I think I've achieved a clean finish, just don't look too closely at the inside of this garment. The general feel of the garment fits well with my sense of style and it definitely won't be an orphan longing for a top it can be worn with. 

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