Friday 22 December 2017

Pattern Prep + Podcasts = Heaven! (An Update)

(image source: Julienne Alexander for Criminal Podcast)

I published a post nearly three years ago about listening to podcasts whilst sewing, and it is still one of my favourite a
ctivity combinations ever! A number of readers commented on that post saying that they enjoyed my recommendations, and left great recommendations themselves that I had fun checking out. These days, podcasts may be even more important to me, than three years ago: they can be wonderful entertainment, of course, but they also provide me with as a link to the wider world when I'm feeling that my life at the moment can be frustratingly repetitive at times. 

What has changed is that, nowadays, I tend to listen to podcasts during pattern prep (tracing or sticking PDFs together), cutting out fabric, or the quiet bits of sewing that require less attention (like hand-sewing or pinning). I find it annoying to be listening to something interesting then have chunks of it obscured by the whirr of my sewing machine. 

I still regularly listen many of the podcasts I listed previously, but during the three years that have passed I've heaps of new (to me) ones. Some of them I became obsessed with, rinsed the entire back catalogue, waited with baited breath for new episode, and moved on from, and some of which that have firmly stuck in my subscription feed. So here's what I'm listening to these days. Please leave your current podcast obsessions in the comment section!

Answer Me This

What is it? A comedy podcast where the hosts, Helen and Olly, answer all manner of questions submitted by listeners. Occasionally LOL inducing, always amusing, IMO. Fact: this is the first podcast I listened to where the presenters don't have an American accent (they're British, like me) and I genuinely had a hard time getting used to it.

Recommended Episode: Whatever is the latest? Doesn't really matter.

Circle Round

What is it? This podcast aimed at children shares folk stories from around the world, and my four-year-old daughter loves it. She still struggles with the concept of not being to 'see' it, but I love putting this on for her in the car, I feel like it's a little bridge between our worlds and interests.

Recommended Episode: Dolores would probably say episode #10 'Thunder and Lightning', whereas so far I liked episode #11 'Princess in the Mirror' best.


What is it? Fascinating and sometimes beautiful 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. I find that the presenter, Phoebe Judge, has such lovely way of speaking. 

Recommended Episode: episode #7 J.R.R Ziemba, and episode #70: A Bump in the NightI can't recommend this podcast enough, so if you listen to an episode and it doesn't quite float your boat, then please try another! 

What is it? Sometimes I think I like DSAM too much, although it's hard to describe what it's about as such. Often the episodes are interesting interviews where the host, Anna Sale, creates a gentle connection with the interviewee that draws out of them maximum truth. Other times the episodes revolve around a specific topic, like student debt, that features many contributors with fascinating insights and angles. Whatever's going on here, it's almost invariably very good. 

Recommended Episode: I think you're just going to have to take a stab at whichever peaks your interest. If you want to find out exactly what the amazing host herself is all about, then I heartily recommend listening to this episode where the tables are turned and she becomes the interviewee. Did I mention that I love this podcast?

What is it? Speaking of podcast-love that's hard to define, let's talk about Heavyweight. I'm assuming the title is being ironic, because this is an incredibly amusing and fairly light hearted (but regularly very touching) podcast where the host, Jonathan Goldstein, investigates other people's mysteries, whether they want him to or not. 

Recommended Episode: Milt, Jesse, Rose and Isabel were all awesome. 

What is it? Love + Radio is 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: It's. So. Good. 

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: SuperchatThe Wisdom of Jay ThunderboltStrip, Pt 2 and The Silver Dollar

What is it? Radionlab is all the amazing stuff that you somehow haven't heard about before: topics relating to science, history, politics, ethics and much more, presented so wondrously. Radiolab has made me cry on a train before, I mean that as a compliment. Radiolab episodes are the ones that I'll most likely have to tell Pat (Mr So Zo) about at the earliest opportunity.  

Recommended EpisodeThe Trust Engineers was a fantastic one that I recommended in my previous podcast post, but there have been so many that have literally changed my life a bit. 

What is it? Each story Reply All features is connected, in someway, to the internet. I must admit that I accidentally became unsubscribed to Reply All somehow and it took me a couple of months to notice. So, therefore, I'd have to say that it's not my favourite favourite, however it is often funny and interesting and well worth trying out. 

Recommended Episode: Agh! I'm really struggling to pick one to recommend, however #76 Lost in a Cab is pretty typical of their output, therefore perhaps a good one to help figure out if this podcast is for you. 


What is it? If you got into the legend that was Serial: season one, then you've probably already devoured S-Town. If you haven't, then you really should give it a whirl. This series, unlike most podcasts, dropped all seven episodes at once so you (me) could binge them like a rabid dog. It's a fascinating tale of a real guy living in a real place and looks into real events, and I can't figure out how to make this podcast sound good without mentioning any spoilers.

Recommended Episode: As with Serial, you have to listen to all of the S-Town eposides in the correct order or you are a fool.

Savage Lovecast

What is it? If, like me, you'd enjoy a window into the personal lives of people you'll never meet, then this sex and relationships podcast is for you. I've also learnt A LOT about the issues and difficulties faced by the LGBTQ community from this podcast, which means that I'm probably a better person than I was before I started listening to it. Plus, it's enjoyable to listen to a podcast that makes no apologies for being transparently left-leaning, and sweary.

Recommended Episode: Any and all. 

The Adam Buxton Podcast

What is it? It could be loosely described as a (usually no very well known-)celeb interview podcast hosted by British comedian/actor/presenter/man, Adam Buxton. If you find him amusing, then each episode is an hour-long treat. If you don't, then I can't help you.

Recommended Episode: It really depends on which of the interviewees appeal to you, but I really enjoyed the chats with Zadie Smith (episode #40), Claudia O'Doherty (episode #36), Miranda Sawyer (episode #53), Simon Amstell ((episode #55) and all of the ones with Adam's bessies, Louis Theroux, Garth Jennings and Joe Cornish. Basically pretty much all of them. 

What is it? I'd say that this is the podcast that I'm most excited to see pop up in my 'new episodes' feed at the moment. Every episode is basically this: funny women talking about very important stuff. 

Recommended Episode: I'm still at the stage with this podcast where I'm hoovering up each new weekly episode when they drop, and going back through the archive and listening to older ones in between, so I haven't heard them all yet. However, I felt privileged to have heard Minefields (episode #64) and the Handmade's Tale one (episode #74) and Intrepid Women (episode #57), and found many others LOL-inducing.

The Longest Shortest Time

What is it? A podcast that covers all manner of parenting related topics and other people's parenting stories. I've only found a few of the episodes to contain anything that I can directly relate to, but it's so interesting to hear about all the other versions and experiences of family life out there. 

Recommended Episode: The recent four-part series on working mothers (#141, #142, #143 and #145) was 50,000 times more interesting it sounds like it's going to be. And I loved the Casey Wilson episode (#98), among many others. 

The Sporkful

What is it? If you enjoy eating food and finding out about other people, then The Sporkful will probably float your boat. Presenter/producer Dan Pashman has the best laugh in podcasting. 

Recommended Episode: The two Aleppo Sandwich episodes were incredibly moving, and the mini-series about food and race was really interesting and thought provoking too. 

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.  

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!

Other podcasts I often dib into or used to be obsessed with: Strangers, Serial, Invisibilia, Mystery Show, Revisionist History, Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, The Doug Stanhope Podcast, Girl on Guy, The Butterfly Effect and WTF. Enjoy, my friends! 

Friday 15 December 2017

Jeggings Attempts #3 and #4

It's been a journey, guys. This post represents the large amount of time and mental energy that has been taken up by this quest for successful jeggings. Remember when I was talking about ways we can pursue making great, long-lasting garments, thus making sewing a more sustainable activity? Well this whole journey has definitely ticked a whole load of those boxes, although I certainly couldn't muster up the energy to attempt to perfect every project/pattern to this degree!

But let's back up. If you're interested in the details of where I'd got to with The Saga of the Jeggings, then please head to this post to read about my first and second attempts. The black pair (#2), despite their issues, have been worn HEAPS. Like, almost daily. The quality of the denim I used is amazing. The colour has faded quite a lot, as you'd expect with repeated wear and laundering, but they keep their shape so well, and by the end of the day they haven't sagged at all. But, if you already read that post then you know I was pretty stumped about where to go next with improving the fit.

A while ago I'd bought, but not fully watched, the Craftsy class called The Perfect Jeans with Jennifer Stern-Hasemann (my new favourite person). I returned to that class after a tipoff from TATB employee and general amazing lady Vanessa (who had read my Jeggings Attempts #3 and #4 post so knew of my troubles) that it may hold the key to my fit issues. I watched the relevant sections of the Craftsy class but still felt unsure of how to proceed. I then spent a number of evenings reading pretty much all the fit issue questions posted by viewers in the class notes and Jennifer's responses to them, partly because I was finding it fascinating, but mainly in the hope that someone would be having the same issues as me. Then it finally dawned on me: I could just bloody ask Jennifer myself! I was a little concerned that she'd tell me that her class was about fitting 'proper' jeans, not jeggings, but as a paying customer I was hoping that she'd throw me a bone and offer some advice anyway. She did.

Jennifer suggested I scoop out the crotch a bit (see the red line in the picture above that she helpfully drew on). The aim of this was to create more space for my bum so they didn't ride down so much at the back when I sat down, whilst also to picking up some of the excess length I had on my black (#2) pair. I also lowered the waistline by 2cm for comfort, shortened the leg length, tapered the leg at the ankle a bit and repositioned the pockets. The navy pair you see below are the result of making these changes.


Better, no? I used some cheap stretch twill from Fabric Land in Brighton that has four-way stretch. I'm not sure I've knowingly encountered a woven with four-way stretch before, but it's made for very comfortable jeggings. They are basically the only pair of trousers/jeans/jeggings that I don't change out of as soon as I get home (I'm wearing them now, in fact). As for construction, I didn't bother with any real or faux felled leg seams this time, just closed ones on all seams. I also selected a very narrow lightning stretch stitch on my machine as a few stitches have popped around the waist seam on my black (#2) pair. I spent quite a bit of time creating some gently shaping around the calf so that they fit really nicely round there which I'm super pleased with. 

However, there's the following:
  • some excess fabric around the back thigh
  • they ride down at the back a fair bit when I sit down 
  • the pockets are still too low and too close to the side seam  
  • and now I've got some kind of knock-knee issue going on
Back to Jennifer...

She suggested I corrected the knock-knee by slashing both the front and back pattern pieces at the knee and shifting the bottom half towards the inseam about 1/2", then reshaping the leg seams (the adjustment in red labelled 1 in the picture above). (We decided against making the adjustment labelled 2 in the end.) I also extended the back crotch point, but only about 1/4", to help a bit more with the riding down at the back when I sit. Oh, and added some length back to the hem. The results (#4):


Pretty good, I hope you'll agree. Well, that's what I thought when I first put them on. Then I wore them for a morning and they kept riding down at the back every time I bent down (which with a tiny toddling little guy around is OFTEN) and it was driving me crazy. I was so desperate to take them off as soon as I got home, that I must confess, I changed out of them before I even unclipped Frankie from his pushchair! 'AGH', I thought, 'They're a bust'!. I put it down to this cheap stretch twill (once again from Fabric Land, I'm not proud) that has only two-way stretch. 'Maybe I can only make this pattern in four-way stretch', I thought and prepared myself to chuck them in my textile recycling bag. Then I checked and found that the black denim that my #2 pair is made from only has two-way stretch (albeit much better quality), so I had a re-think. I went and bought some wider, sturdier and better quality elastic, then unpicked and remade the waistband with the new elastic inserted. It made the world of difference and these now stay in place as I move about, bend down etc. Phew! I think the lesson I need to take away from this pair, that I already mentioned in my sustainability post but clearly hadn't taken fully on board, it that quality fabric and notions can make a massive difference. 

Next step:

I don't think there's anything further I can do to this pattern. I've accepted the slight excess of fabric around the back thigh as necessary for being able to walk and sit down properly. This pattern is as close to perfection as I think I can get. Jennifer agrees. This week I went back to my black (#2) pair and re-hemmed them to make them a bit shorter, then unpicked and restitched the waistband having lowered the waistline by 2cm. Now I have three wearable pairs of jeggings: black (faded to grey), navy and red. I'm particularly thrilled to have red ones, despite it probably being the worst quality fabric of the three, but I've had my eye on owning some red trousers or jeans for years. That's probably a sufficient quantity of pairs of jeggings to own. It's great to know that I've got the pattern ready as and when any of these become unwearable. However, I've got a gorgeous piece of turquoise/blue stretch denim in my stash (this I think), and I fancy pushing myself a bit further. I'm talking 'proper' jeans. Like, with a yoke, belt loops, fly front, the whole nine yards. Jennifer thinks I can adapt this pattern a bit to become a proper jeans pattern, so watch this space for that.  

Friday 8 December 2017

More Mittens

November just gone was a really tricky time for me. My overlocker broke. It was being temperamental, as it can sometimes be, which I forgive due to being over 30 years old and only costing me about £60 a decade ago. But this time it just wouldn't respond to my usual solutions to its difficult behaviours. And then it got jammed, and when I forced it by turning the hand wheel a tiny bit of metal pinged off, and then it REALLY didn't work anymore. I was able to take it to the legend that is Richard Mouland (Brighton-based sewing machine repair and servicing dude), and I waited with baited breath for the verdict. Long story short, he was able to re-weld the teensy bit of metal back on and now it works better than ever. PHEW. 

But those were a tense few weeks, and I was left twiddling my thumbs a bit, sewing-wise. Of course, I know that no one needs an overlocker to sew great clothes, but as most overlocker owners would probably agree, once you're used to having one to sew the seams on knit projects and finish the raw edges on woven ones, it's hard to go without. I did a lot of cutting out, and sewing as much as I could on a few projects before having to set them aside until an overlocker came back into orbit. And I FINALLY got round to making these mittens. 

This must be the 200th pair of mittens I've made (I'm exaggerating, but only a bit), but the first in about four years. I started making them in my former job sewing for the textile recycling charity TRAID, and making the first pair of my own from a felted leopard print cardigan with cashmere lining. Two years later, that pair got recut and reworked, receiving a new lease of life with the introduction of a red wool jumper. Around that time I got back into making these on a larger scale, and made a TON which I sold at craft fairs one Christmas under the name 'Smittens'. 

My plan was to continue reusing whatever section of my own mittens was salvageable each time holes appeared, creating a perpetually renewing pair of mittens, kind of like a wooly Doctor Who. However, I'd let four-winter's-worth of wear pass by without remaking them and they has got so hole-y that they weren't really worth recutting. So I treated myself to making a new pair from scratch. My stash of felted and moth-eaten knitwear is dwindling and this is the best combo I could cobble together: lime-y yellow for the outsides and lower insides, geo-grey for the palms, grey/teal for the cuffs and some grey for the lining. Sadly, the lining isn't cashmere so they don't feel quite as soft as my former pairs, but they are snuggly enough. 

Because of the two layers of wool, these really are the warmest of mittens, and I'd whole-heartedly recommend anyone who lives somewhere that gets chilly to harvest some felted or ropey old knitwear and have a go. This is the pattern that I used, it includes seven sizes including men's and children's, and they are really speedy and satisfying to make. So if you're stumped on what to buy someone (or you've run out of funds) this Christmas, this might be the answer. You're welcome. 

Friday 1 December 2017

Free Pattern Friday: Women's Durango Tank

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

Last summer taught me that my hot-weather game is weak. And with winter approaching fast, I realise that my cold-weather game is much the same. (I've nailed spring and autumn though.) So in the interests of making comfy clothing that will see masses of wear (as per the discussions in my recent post about trying to make sewing more sustainable), I'm in the market for a decent knit tank (vest) pattern. Something easy and comfy to wear in the summer, that can be scrunched up in a suitcase when travelling to warm places, but that can also be worn as a foundation layer in winter, and maybe even used to sleep in. Thanks heaps to Gillian from Crafting a Rainbow for bringing this pattern to my attention at just the right time, and to Hey June for releasing this free Durango tank pattern

(image source: Hey June Patterns)

Pattern type:

According to the Hey June site, the Durango Tank is a casual sleeveless shirt with a centre back seam (to make sway-back alterations easier) and a longer flared hem. The higher neckline and high-cut shoulders give it a vintage summer concert tee vibe. The Durango is fitted at the shoulder and bust and loose through the waist and hip for an easy fit. It is not meant to cover bra straps, unless you're wearing a racer-back bra.

Sizing info:

This multi-sized pattern has been graded from size 2 to 22, which looks equivalent to US dress sizes. Taking my measurements and following their size info, I cut a size 8 around the shoulders and bust, grading out to a size 10 for the waist and hips. I also folded out 2cm of length just under the bust to account for my short-waisted-ness. Size-wise, I think it's pretty spot on. 

Fabric info:

I couldn't find any fabric suggestions on the website or the pattern PDF, so I went with a light-to-medium weight cotton/elastane single jersey, this one from Girl Charlee in fact. The quality of this fabric is really lovely, with a great stretch and recovery. It was perfect for this project, however I was a little disappointed that the 'gold' sparkles advertised on the GC website are actually a lot more yellow in the flesh. I reckon you could also use a baby rib for this pattern, and perhaps a interlock for a thicker tank.  


First, I must say that I found this pattern a real pleasure to use. Both the digitised pattern and the instructions are really well produced and very easy to follow. The instructions include clear diagrams to illustrate the construction steps, and the Durango tank would be a great project for a less experienced sewer, or someone new to working with knit. Based on my experience of this pattern, I would definitely go ahead and buy a Hey June pattern if one caught my eye. 

However, through no fault of the pattern's, I don't think the Durango tank is the tank pattern for me. Personally, I would prefer a lower neckline, less carved away armholes so my bra straps were covered, a little more shaping in the side seams, and neck and armhole bindings that are the same width as each other. If you search the #durangotank hashtag, you'll see heaps of other people's versions, many of which look really fantastic on the wearer. I think this style suits some people's figures (like Gillan herself) more than others, and that I'm not one of the lucky ones. I do, however, like a number of elements of this tank, including the fit around the bust, the curved hem, and the method of construction. 

Customisation ideas:

The Durango tank is a great basic pattern, but some ways that you could get even more use from it might include:
  • contrast neck and/or armhole bindings (perhaps in rib)
  • add seam lines for colour blocking
  • solid coloured front and a print or stretch lace back
  • redraw the armholes for a more defined racer back look
  • lengthen into a dress
  • as the website suggests, you could apply iron-on transfers or decals
  • add applique

Would I make it again?

No disrespect to this pattern, but I don't think I'll make it again for myself as it is. It's just not the shape of garment I'm looking for. I plan to lower and rebind the neckline on this garment to use as a sleeping top for hot weather, and I may use this pattern as a basis for drafting a different shaped tank because I'm happy with the sizing. 

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