Monday 28 December 2015

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!!!

(pants self-sufficiency: my greatest sewing achievement?)

So, 2015, how was yours? Mine seemed to fly by, and in many ways I'm pleased to see the back of it. However, I feel is was a real success, sewing-wise. Here were my highlights:

  • Me-Made-May was bigger and more awesome than ever before! More people signed up to challenge themselves than any previous year, so that means awesome things for collectively developing better relationships with our handmade garments. As we all know, taking and sharing photographs of your outfits throughout May is NOT the what the challenge is all about, just the optional documentation of it, but as the most visible manifestation of the challenge, I found it interesting to note that participation via the Flickr board was down slightly this year, but Instagram was on FIRE with the #mmmay15 hashtag (and all the other hashtags that ended up being used!). In fact, the #mmmay15 hashtag clocked up over 13,000 on Instagram. That’s totally understandable of course, Instagram is sooo much easier to use than most sharing platforms, eh? MMMay also got some great non-handmade clothing community exposure too, most notably on the Huffington Post UK site, and hopefully we can build on that with even more next year. Which reminds me, I need to get a MMMay FAQ’s section up by next Spring.
  • Sewing for me: Aside from failing at my aim to nail trouser fitting, sewing for myself went very well this year. For the first time ever, I experimented with making a plan of forth-coming projects, and actually stuck to it (I still have two projects to go). From that, my sailboat raincoat has been the garment that has seen the most use so far. Oh, and I also became pants self-sufficient this year.
  • Sewing for Dolores: In 2014 I enjoyed sewing for Dolores more than sewing for myself. This year, it's been neck and neck. She has only just started to notice that she even wears clothes, let alone has an opinion on them, so it's been really fun to make whatever I like for her. I can use up small pieces of fabric, and use fabric that I love that I wouldn't wear myself. I can play with appliqu├ęs and embellishment, not worry too much about a perfect finish, and let's face it, small clothes look so cute! Taking part in the Kids Clothes Week challenges this year has been fabulous, and not surprisingly, the Upcycling edition was my favourite (explanation here and results here). 
  • Releasing my Anya shoulder Bag pattern: I found working on and releasing my latest sewing pattern, the Anya shoulder bag pattern, soooo fulfilling, despite the massive amount of hard work that was required! Seeing the testers' versions trickle in was one of the most exciting events in 2015 for me. It's been so fun that I've already begun work on my next two patterns...
  • The Refashioners: My goodness, the Refashioners challenge turned EPIC this year, didn't it?! So many sewing-blogger participants AND a community challenge that spawned some truly phenomenal shirt refashions. Fingers crossed, more sewers will consider making stuff from existing and unwanted garments rather than new fabric all the time, once they've seen all the amazing creativity that was on display. 

And 2016? I’m not going to make an extensive list of things to make and learn. I’m going to crack on with making whatever I want, using up my stash of fabric as much as possible, and making sure that each of my plans is likely to see years of wear. Of course I have many hopes and dreams for 2016 that are less directly related to sewing, but the only thing I will be making a commitment to myself to address is my sleep issues. As a long-time but intermittent insomniac, I have found that periods of bad sleep not only screw with your nighttime, but also effect pretty much every aspect of your daytime as well, which is really unfair! Your mood, your appetite, your energy levels, your patience,  your motivation, everything is so much harder, and it can feel so lonely when you're the only person in your household laying there awake. Again. Even though I know that there are probably hundreds of others experiencing sleep problems in the same town as me, let alone around the world.

Anyways, I wish you all a wonderful festive period, or at least a bloody good relax, whether or not you celebrate anything specific around this time of year. Thanks so much for reading my blog throughout 2015, and I promise more of the same for 2016! Love and best wishes to all xxx

Monday 21 December 2015

Brightside Shrug

Kapow! There goes another project on my nippy weather sewing plans list. I've just made the MIY Collection Brightside shrug, and I've got these pics to prove it!


I'm always on the look out for a cardigan-type pattern that can be made in knit fabric so that I'm not wholly reliant on charity shops for my knitwear selection. I've recently started teaching classes at the MIY Workshop, so I've had the chance to get up close and personal with her product range (she has lots of lovely samples hanging up around the studio) and fell pretty hard for this simple shrug pattern. It's basically what I wish I'd been making when I made these reversible bolero shrugs (here and here) a few years back. Those ones felt a bit formal somehow, and they saw very little wear before I finally sent them to the charity shop. The Brightside shrug, however, feels way more comfortable and relaxed. 

The pattern itself is a very manageable three pieces: main body, neckband and cuffs. Even though I took care with the construction rather than rushing it together, and topstitched the seam allowances down, it still barely took an evening to put together. If you're in the market for a beginner-friendly/speedy cardi type pattern, this could be the one! It's available as a paper pattern as well as a PDF. Plus, if you're not sure about what type of fabric it'd work best in, or you struggle with sourcing  knits, Wendy has put together some awesome kits that include the pattern, a sufficient quantity of fabulous fabric to make it in and matching thread. Those kits would make a wonderful gift for a friend or relly that is getting into sewing clothes.

BTW, I made the size M for this shrug. The fit is fine, but next time I think I'll make a size L for a slightly looser, cosier feel. 


Maybe I was channelling Wendy's style when I went for a grey double knit for this project! Grey is a major element of her colour palette. Actually, the options in my stash were pretty limited, but luckily this gorgeously soft fabric would have been what I'd hoped to source if I went shopping for something suitable. It's been lurking in my stash for about four years, and I have no idea what the fibre content is because I got it second hand. In fact, I think it must have been a sample piece from a fabric or garment manufacturer because it has a perfect circle cut out of it, probably to add to a sample card somewhere. 

It would have been nice to have made this shrug in a super jazzy contrast fabric, and I'll certainly keep my eyes open for a suitable piece in red, jade, mustard or maybe even coral (or leopard or stripes) but I'm sure this grey version will fit right into my wardrobe and go with lots of outfits.  


Although I work for MIY Workshop and MIY Collection are currently sponsors of this blog, I genuinely would have considered buying this shrug pattern anyway if I had discovered it in through different circumstances. Its speed of construction was a bonus, but what I really love about it is that it is really wearable. I'm just not interested in spending any sewing time on making stuff that won't see many, many wears, preferable for a number of years. 


Pattern: £0 (I was given a copy to review, however it can be purchased as a paper pattern for £15, PDF pattern for £9 and as a kit with fabric and thread for £45)
Fabric: £0 (a stash lurker that I remember very little about the origin of counts as £0 round here!)
Total: £0

My favourite total cost for a project!  

Monday 14 December 2015

Trouser Fitting Quest FAIL

At some point during the first half of 2015, I set myself the task of getting to grips with trouser fitting by the end of the year. No mean feat. In June I put a shout out for any suggestions of resources to help me with this and many of you left helpful comments. So, we now firmly into  December 2015, have I nailed trouser fitting? NO!!! Here's what's been going on....

I checked out most of the recommendations of books, websites and blog posts that were included in the comments of that post. I decided to buy Pants For Real People (pictured at the top of the post) and Sewing Pants That Fit (pictured above). When it arrived, the pleated front, super-loose 80s styles in the Sewing Pants That Fit seemed so far from the types of closer fitting trousers and jeans that I would like to make, that I questioned how much use the advice in that book would be to me so haven't given it much of a look yet. However, I did set about reading Pants For Real People pretty much cover to cover. 

Despite the Oprah-and-Ricki-Lake-era garment styles and photos, Pants For Real People seems to me like is contains most of what you'd need to be aware of when trying to fit trousers. Like it's equally fugly-but-useful sister, Fit For Real People, the authors are talking about tissue fitting a commercial sewing pattern to your body. I still believe that that is an insane waste of time, and cannot see why you wouldn't make a toile/muslin IN REAL FABRIC instead of trying to wear paper to find out what alterations you may need, but wharves. The advise about what fit issues to look for and how to adjust the pattern to avoid them is still put across really well.

So reading Pants For Real People may have led me to a false sense of security. I felt I was then left with two options of how to proceed. Do I, A) choose an existing sewing pattern that appears to be the kind of thing I'd like to wear, and then undergo a series of toile/muslin making and fittings? Or, B) do I draft my own pattern from scratch with my own specific measurements and then do the toile-making-and-fitting dance? I chose A).

Having recently delved into my copy of Gertie Sews Vintage Casual (pictured above) for the knit pencil skirt pattern and been very impressed, I went back and traced out the cigarette trousers pattern (pictured below), omitting the front slant pockets. They are effectively the type of trousers I'd like to make over and over again in fabric with a slight stretch, with different leg lengths and pocket details, so it seemed like a reasonable place to start.

I toiled up this pattern in the kind of fabric I'd be likely to make them in in the future (some gorgeous light/medium weight grainy stretch denim kindly given to me by the Fabric Godmother a while back). I hoped this pair would end up as vaguely wearable and they would show me what tweaks I'd need for perfected future versions. Armed with the toile, some pins, the Pants For Real People book and my mum for technical and moral support, we went in. Oh my, what a cluster fuck! They looked horrendous, and we just couldn't figure out why exactly or what to do about it. My mum and I spent a whole Dolores-nap-time (about 2 hours) inspecting, evaluating, pinching, pinning, shifting and referring back to the book and at the end of it, neither of us had the slightest clue what could be done to make the pattern wearable. I declared defeat and aborted the mission. I'll attempt to squeeze a pair of Hosh pants out of the ashes to salvage some of the beautiful denim, but emotionally I'm still pretty scarred from the debacle!

After all that, I wasn't sure how to proceed, and option B) was looking increasingly likely. Then Minerva Crafts emailed offering me a choice of sewing pattern and fabric to make it up in in exchange for a review. Seeing as what my wardrobe is still lacking in is a pair of decent trousers, I managed to tear myself away from looking at beautiful vintage-repro dress patterns, and focussed on find a trouser-pattern-and fabric-combo to have one more whirl at option A). After a lot of hunting through their overwhelmingly well-stocked website, I picked and received Burda 6811 (pictured above) and a sufficient quantity of black stretch wool twill suiting (which isn't shiny in real life like the pictures suggest). I've only got two projects left in from my nippy weather sewing plans, so I'll crack on with these trousers once those are in the bag and report back in due course...

Wednesday 9 December 2015

How to Shorten a Zip

Here's a blog post that I originally wrote for The Daily Stitch, the Village Haberdashery's blog. Once again, they have been very kind and allowed me to re-post it here for those that didn't see it first time round. BTW, you can find the VH's range of zips/zippers here.  

The ability to shorten a zip is a very useful skill to have in your sewing-bag of tricks. Often a student will arrive at a class I’m teaching all stressed out because they couldn’t find the exact length zip that a sewing pattern called for, in the right colour for their project. My advice is always this: focus on finding a zip that is a great colour match for your chosen fabric. If the zip is a couple of inches too small, it’ll still probably be fine for your project, and if it’s too big then it can easily be shortened. If you type in ‘How to shorten a zip/zipper’ into YouTube, you’ll find heaps of videos on the subject. However, here is the method that I prefer…

Please note: this tutorial is for shortening regular or invisible/concealed zips with nylon teeth, not metal ones.

 Step 1: Find out how much shorter you want your zip to be.

Step 2: Place a pin where you want the new stopper to be. Alternatively, you could mark the zip tape with chalk or a marker pen.

Step 3: Put a strong needle in your sewing machine (I like to use a 90/14 needle for this process). Position the zip underneath your presser foot so that the needle is directly above the pin that you placed in the zip tape. Lower the presser foot so that the zip tape is clamped down and remove the pin.

Step 4: Slowly sew across the zip tape from one side to the other. It may feel a bit weird to do this, so use the hand wheel rather than the foot pedal if sewing over the zip teeth is freaking you out. But don’t worry, your needle is extremely unlikely to break!

Step 5: When you reach the other side of the zip tape, make sure the needle is piercing the zip tape (use the hand wheel if necessary). Then lift the presser foot, spin the zip round 180 degrees , lower the presser foot again and stitch back over the row of stitching. Do this three or four times to create a strong new zip stopper. 

Step 6: Remove the zip from your sewing machine and snip away any loose threads.

Step 7: Measure ½” below your new zip stopper and cut the excess away.

Step 8: Most zip shortening tutorials stop at this point, but I like to seal the bottom of the zip tape to prevent it from fraying. Quickly pass the cut edge through the flame of a lighter. I’m sure this goes without saying, but please take care using a lighter!

Done! A freshly shortened zip to your exact specifications, that won’t fray in the wash! 

Friday 4 December 2015

Woodland Stroll Cape

Remember how I said that, having finished my sailboat raincoat, I was surprised to find that I didn't hate the thought of ever making another coat or jacket again? Well, I tested that revalation by jumping into my next planned outerwear project, the Woodland stroll cape pattern (as outlined in my nippy weather sewing plans). 


I've had a hankering to make myself a cape for years, but struggled to find quite the right pattern for the task. As much as I like the look of most cape sewing patterns, they often seem pretty restrictive and therefore unwearable, IMO. However, the Woodland Stroll Cape sewing pattern by Liesl + Co (pictured below) seemed like it might actually allow you to do things other than stand still and gaze at stuff. Around the time I found this pattern (probably via Pinterest), I also discovered the equally awesome Tessuti New York Cape pattern which pretty similar but it has a hood. After an extensive internal debate, I went with the Woodland Stroll one because it included a lining. If I'm going to make outerwear, it had better bloody keep me at least vaguely warm! PLUS, having used a few Oliver + S patterns (the children's patterns counterpart to the Liesl + Co range) and been super impressed by their instructions, I knew that I'd be getting a little sewing lesson thrown in if I bought that one. This one lived up to my expectations, and I definitely felt cleverer after I completed this project!

I'm really pleased that I read the post by Sarah from Fabric Tragic about her fabulous (also checked) version of this pattern before I cut mine out. She drafted a front facing for hers (the pattern includes a back neck facing but has the front lining attached at the very edge of the front edges) which seemed like a wonderful idea, so I followed suit. Thanks Sarah for the tip! I'm so glad I did as it gives the whole thing more body and feels more snuggly around the neck/throat area.

Aside from the front facing, the only place I deviated from the pattern and instructions was with the buttons. The pattern calls for three buttons (or buckles) down the front but I went with four because I thought that looked nicer. I also stitched the underarm buttons on through both layers, rather than creating buttonholes as the pattern suggests. I knew I was never going to undo those underarm buttons, so making functioning buttonholes seemed a bit of a waste of time.


This piece of checked wool (actually, it may not be wool) has been in my stash for about four years and I am unnecessarily excited to have finally used it. It was the very end of a roll that had been donated for us to use when I worked for TRAID. It was a small piece (maybe about 1.2m), too small for making anything to sell from it, but I loved it too much to stick it in the bag with the other off-cuts to be shredded and recycled. As it was too small for any other jacket-y type pattern I encountered and too thick to be appropriate for a different type of garment to be made from it, it has hung around all this time as I lamented it dormancy (is that a word? I could easily find out I guess if I could be bothered, I'm clearly sitting in front of a computer).

Anyways, you can imagine my excitement when I realised that, with care, I would have enough of it for this cape pattern! I was able to pattern-match at the centre front and at the side seams, but it's all over the place at the shoulder seams and I couldn't give a monkeys. The fabric is soooo snuggly that wearing it feels like I'm receiving a constant, low-level hug.  

The lining, sadly, I had to buy. I didn't have anything even vaguely matching in my stash. Because the lining goes right up to the edges around the whole hem, I knew it would probably be visible from time to time, so I didn't want anything contrasting. I found this grey (acetate?) lining in Ditto fabrics in Brighton after my classes at MIY Workshop one Saturday. I was thrilled to find this lining because their selection isn't huge and it was just the right tone and it had a tiny checked print which references the outer fabric nicely.


This cape has turned out better than I could have hoped for and I'm beyond happy that I finally got to deploy my beloved checked fabric piece. Before the temperature really dropped last month, I wore this pretty much every day with my fabulous mustard wrist warmers that my friend Michelle knitted for me years ago. I've already turned two of my regular students at the MIY Workshop on to this pattern as it is a fantastic outerwear sewing pattern to cut your teeth on. There are no darts, no sleeves and no collars to worry about; just buttonholes and a lining remain to freak you out/conquer! 


Pattern: $12.95 (about £8.60) from here as a PDF
Outer fabric: £0
Lining: £4.50 from Ditto Fabrics
Buttons: £2.60-ish from my local haberdashery, Thimbelinas (how good it that name?!)
Total: £15.70

A fairly pricey make for me, and it involved buying way more 'new' stuff than I tend to feel comfortable with, but I think it was worth it because I know the final result will get a lot of use. After four years of hard service and approx. 350,000 wears, my Captain jacket is starting to get very ratty, so this may well fill the void that otherwise my wardrobe would be about to experience. 

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