Thursday 29 November 2018

Finally, A Range Backpack

A backpack has been on my list of things to make for an embarrassingly long time. There have been  many trips to the woods, beaches, parks, playgrounds and so on with my kids where my shoulder bag/s kept getting in the way, and having my hands completely free would have made the experience easier and more fun (for me). The last straw came about six weeks ago when a friend and I took our little boys for a walk in the woods. I was carrying my usual shoulder bag and a cumbersome changing bag on my shoulder, and Frankie refused to walk, demanding to be carried round the whole trail. I decided that enough was enough, and later that evening I purchased the Range backpack pattern by Noodlehead that I'd been eyeing up, and set about collecting all the materials to create my ultimate backpack. 

(image source: Noodlehead)


Let it be known that working on a Range backpack project is no act of whimsy. There are A LOT of pattern pieces (even the front pocket has its own lining) and it requires at least three different fabrics plus fancy, profesh-looking hardware. Following the #rangebackpack hashtag on Instagram showed me that wildly differing looks could be achieved by the choice of fabric, and that it wasn't necessary to cut the pattern pieces from the fabrics that are suggested by the pattern (for example, the pattern suggests to use the same fabric for the lining and the strap pieces). 

However, I don't want to give the impression that it is not a great pattern nor an unnecessarily challenging project. The pattern is very well designed and thought out, with excellent and very detailed instructions. The pattern itself is given as dimensions rather than actual pattern pieces because it's comprised entirely of rectangles, and the designer has thoughtfully included a sheet of little square labels that you can cut out and pin to all your pattern pieces so you don't get confused by all the rectangles of fabric that you've amassed after cutting. I found these little labels particularly useful for planning which pattern pieces I was going to cut from what fabric as I was decided to not to follow every fabric/pattern piece suggestion, partly for aesthetics and partly because of fabric limitations. 

The cutting out part took about the same time, if not longer, than the actual bag construction part. Putting all the pieces together was straight forward and methodical, even with the painstaking pattern matching I'd signed myself up for. I made this bag in small instalments of time over a period of about a week, and it was thoroughly exciting to see the pile of rectangles slowly take shape into a 'real' bag!

Fabric and hardware: 

Because this project was going to be a bit more time-consuming, brain-taxing and financially costly than most of my sewing projects tend to be, I wanted to get this as close as possible to my Ultimate Backpack. The main way I was going to achieve a finished bag that was totally 'me' was through the fabric/colour choice. I scratched my head and poured over the hashtag seeking inspiration. Eventually, I found two remnants (some striped pique and some mustard denim) at Fabric Godmother, and I knew the hunt was over. What says 'Zoe's Style' more than navy/white stripes and mustard?! 

As I mentioned previously, I didn't tie myself to the fabric suggestions of the pattern. I wanted to use the heftier denim rather than a lining fabric for my straps, for example. However, the mustard denim remnant wasn't quite big enough to cut all the pieces I had hoped it would stretch to, and I didn't want to over-use the stripes, so it became clear that I'd need to introduce a third fabric. Luckily, my stash contained some scraps of lovely solid navy peachskin cotton twill that I ended up incorporating quite a bit, plus some spots-and-anchor print cotton for the lining. 

I was able to keep costs down further by turning to my stash for interfacing as well. The pattern suggests that you interface EVERYTHING, so I used up all sorts of weird scraps and leftovers of fusible interfacing for the various pieces. I decided against interfacing the lining pieces as I didn't want to bag to end up too stiff or heavy, and in the end I peeled the interfacing off some of the other pieces that I decided wouldn't need it.  

I searched the internet for a zip with an anchor or nautical shaped zip pull, but failed on that one, so ended up using a silver coloured metal teeth zip from my stash. The pattern calls for D-rings to fasten the closure, but I'd seen on Instagram that some people had swapped this for a hook/catch type fastening instead, which looked like it would lead to quicker and easier access. I found all the hardware I needed from U-handbag (owned by my lovely friend Lisa Lam) and ordered my swivel snap hook, D-ring, rectangle rings and rectangle sliders. 


As you can see above, this bag performs its task of containing my stuff whilst allowing my hands to child-wrangle perfectly! It's surprisingly spacious as well; I can now carry water bottles/sippy cups, snacks, emergency-nappy-and-wipes along with my usual purse, phone, sun glasses case, fabric shopping bags, hand cream and so on without feeling loaded down. The front pocket allows for easier access to a hanky, keys and lip balm. 

However, as useful as I have found this bag so far, I still prefer to use my regular shoulder bag (made with my Anya shoulder bag pattern, of course!) when I'm walking around on my own or going shopping with the pushchair. My Anya bags allows for much quicker access to my belongings, and hangs on the handles of Frankie's pushchair better than this backpack does: the latter ending up a bit too low. 

But back to this backpack. For walks and adventures I feel I'm now set. And although this project cost quite a bit more than most things I make, by using sturdy materials and picking fabrics that fit my style to a T, I'm hoping this backpack has years and years of service in it. I'm sure that in terms of £s-per-use, it'll eventually work out to be a bargain! Now, I just have to get over the fear that it's going to get dirty...

Thursday 22 November 2018

French Fanciness: The Elisabeth Blouse

Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to be a blogger/ambassador for Fabric Godmother, and was given free choice of pattern and fabric from their inventory. In exchange, I had to make up the garment (tough times!) and share my thoughts on the project in the form of a blog post. Lemme tell you, being given free reign on such a decision is pretty overwhelming! Anyways, eventually I realised that this gave me the perfect opportunity to channel my current main style inspiration: French sewers

I chose a combination of the Elisabeth blouse pattern by Republique du Chiffon and the Stardust double gauze in Forest by Atelier Brunette, and used gold ball buttons from my stash. You can find the post I wrote for Fabric Godmother here, however (spoiler alert), in short, I LOVE it!!! I never usually gravitate towards glitz or sparkle, but with Christmas and Mr SoZo's 40th birthday just round the corner, I think I've made myself the perfect semi-sparkly party garment. 

Thursday 15 November 2018

A Year of Stash Busting, PLUS: Dutch Label Shop Discount Code

It’s been over a year now since I begun to really definitely actually start busting my fabric stash. I wrote about my plans back in March of this year to sew up one piece of fabric or reusable garment each week, but I'd actually started the previous October. Are you interested in finding out how I’ve got on?! Well, I'm pleased to announce that, yes, I HAVE managed to keep up with this challenge! Some pieces became time-consuming projects, others became swift and satisfying makes, like these four pairs of leggings for my daughter that illustrate this post. All of these leggings/jeggings were made using the free leggings sewing pattern by Petit Boo that I reviewed here by the way, and have all these pairs been worn many times since they were completed.

Truth be told, not all of those 52 pieces of fabric or garments came straight from my stash. My stash is big, but not so big that it contains a piece of every type of fabric I might like to sew with! So I have been purchasing new pieces of fabric here and there, but only with a specific project in mind, and very often for a specific pattern that's in my possession. This accommodation has worked well, because I have been turning lots of my languishing pieces of stash into useful garments, but I haven't felt frustrated because I wasn't confined to only using stash pieces this past year.

Using one piece of fabric or reusable garment per week may sound a lot to some, and you may be concerned that I have been sewing for the sake of it, or that a lot of this output ended up not getting worn. Thankfully, I've kept a list over the last year of everything I've used and what it became so I can address these concerns. Out of the 52 pieces used, only seven were a FAIL (and subsequently were given to a friend, sent to the textile recycling bin, or put back in the stash to reuse the fabric), the rest of the garments I've made have seen a good amount of use. Obviously I have reached for the pieces of stash that I've felt most inspired to use when the right project came to mind, so things may get trickier the deeper into my stash I rummage. But not allowing myself to buy fabric on spec means that I have given each purchase or acquisition of new fabric a great deal of thought, which has reduced FAILS considerably.

Truth be told, there's still a lot of fabric and reusable garments in my stash, but visibly less than this time last year. My sewing time may dwindle a bit in the future as a number of different activities and projects I'm involved in are going to start taking up more of my free time. However, for the foreseeable future, I'm going to continue with my one-piece-per-week challenge, and see how much more I whittle down my stash by creating fabulous and useful garments.

Stash busting update over: on to the discount code! Recently, the Dutch Label Shop generously offered me some store credit for their website to order myself some woven garment labels in exchange for a mention on my social media. Coincidentally, getting some new labels for my family's clothing was on my mind at the time, having just stitched tons of onto my daughter's uniform as she started school this September. The labels I had been using for my daughter's clothes were ordered through Etsy and are very cute. However, I've found that the printed design fades extensively when laundered, so I was musing on acquiring some woven labels to use instead. 

I spent an AGE playing about on the Dutch Label Shop website, designing and redesigning with their pleasingly user-friendly label designing function. Even sticking to the 'Basic' woven label option like I did, you can choose different sizes of labels, different colours for the background and text, different fonts and from hundreds of little logos. I particularly like how clearly you can see how much the different combos of elements will cost you for different quantities before you continue with the ordering process. I managed to make my store credit extend to four different sets of labels. Ta dah!!!!

Cute, non?! I LOVE them, and they make the garments I stitch them into look extra professional (see the My Little Pony leggings above). If you would like to design and order your own garment labels, you can get 15% using the code sozoblog15 (all lowercase) when prompted during the ordering process. This code will be valid for 60 days so you've got a couple of months to go and design yourself some adorable labels, starting from........NOW! Happy label designing!

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Heyday Dungarees of my Dreams

This exact outfit is all I'm interested in wearing at the moment. It's my mumiform, and the rest of my wardrobe may as well go on holiday. You've seen my stripy Gable top many times before, so let me introduce you to the new element.

(image source: Beaton Linen)

So it went down like this... Frankie and I are regulars at a playgroup that is also attended by this cool mama called Seonid (pronounced Shona). She made me aware of the overalls by Beaton Linen (pictured above and below) via Instagram after seeing me rock my Burnside bibs, thinking I'd appreciate them. She wasn't wrong, and I couldn't stop thinking about them. 

(image source: Beaton Linen)


Shortly after discovering the Beaton Linen overalls, I received an email from the Made by Jack's Mum pattern company announcing the release of their new women's 'Heyday' dungarees pattern. They were even offering a 20% discount for the first week or so after it dropped. Despite the discount and their obvs similarity to my inspiration source, I hesitated for a couple of days. I feared that they'd make me look a bit too ceramics-evening-class-tutor. As I have discussed before, my style seems to be travelling towards Art Teacher chic, and I was concerned that this garment would seal that fate. But, ultimately, the pull of linen dungers was too strong and the purchase was made. 

The sizing range of this pattern is very generous, running from XXS to 5XL. The size chart put me as a Small which I wasn't entirely convinced about, so I added an additional 1cm to the side seams in case I wanted to adjust the fit (I wasn't making a toile). The seam allowance of this pattern is 1cm, which I enjoy sewing with, but wouldn't have left me enough wiggle room to take them out. I did end up giving myself slightly more room by letting them out at the side seams around the hip/bum area. 

Aside from adjusting the fit slightly for my booty, the only deviation I made from the pattern was to draft new front hip pockets. The pattern includes two pocket pattern pieces; one larger pocket for the bib, and four smaller pockets (two for the bum, two for the front hip). I wanted a slightly different look at the front, so I used the hip pocket piece I drafted for my black denim Cleo pinafore, but folded the bottom corner in to reflect the shape of the other pockets on the dungarees. Unlike with my Cleo, this time I remembered to apply some twill tape to the pocket opening so I can shove my hands in these ones as often as I like without fear that they'll stretch out. 


I fell in love with this linen twill from Fabric Godmother after sewing with and wearing it as my York pinafore. The weight, feel, movement and even how it fades slightly made it my number one choice this dungarees project, and I don't regret a thing.


As I already said at the top of this post, I adore these dungarees. After the minor tweaking, I think the fit is bang on, and they are so comfortable that I don't even want to change out of them into some 'lounge wear' for relaxing in the evening, which I normally always do. I even think that I prefer them to the Beaton Linen ones, which look a bit too short and wide towards the bottom of the legs for my liking. Which is handy, because those Beaton ones are $270 a pop. I definitely plan to make another pair in a cotton/linen mix next spring.

Friday 2 November 2018

Free Pattern Friday: Handkerchiefs and on Sewing to Reduce Plastic

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I normally 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 their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

However, I'm going on a bit of a tangent with this month's instalment, so apologies if you swung by for a regular review of a free pattern (I flatter myself!). Today I want to write about sewing from a slightly different angle. With all the awesome new sewing patterns, beautiful fabric, labour-saving equipment and eye-wateringly expensive machinery available for sewers/sewists to buy, it's easy to buy into (sorry for the pun) the idea that sewing is like many other activities: a pass-time that will cost you a fair amount of money to participate in. But as skilled sewers, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We have forgotten, or perhaps more accurately, have allowed ourselves to be coaxed away from the belief that sewing is a superpower that can save money and resources, perhaps over time if not immediately. 

The point I'm trying to make is that the 'drop £15 on a lovely new sewing pattern, drop £20 on gorgeous fabric to make it in, sew it up then put it on Instagram' formula isn't the only way to engage in and utilise sewing. Don't get me wrong, as you can tell from this blog and from my own Instagram feed, I LOVE making a fabulous, well-fitting, wearable garment that helps me visually communicate to the world who I am and how I feel. But, increasingly, I am trying to make a conscious effort to do more of the type of sewing that the women from previous generations used to do: the mending, the reworking, the fulfilling needs in the home without necessarily spending money on new materials. 

What I'm interested in thinking about at the moment is ways we can use our sewing skills to provide for ourselves and our families, as well as to have 
a positive environmental impact. And as anyone who has been sewing for more than five minutes will have realised, it's impossible not to accumulate a lot of stuff (fabric, patterns, zips, buttons, threads, blah blah). We already have a lot to work with. I think we need to encourage ourselves to flex our creativity more often to do more than just follow the steps of a sewing pattern, and work out how to turn some of what we have accumulated into some of the things we need in our daily lives (other than clothing). 

So how can we use our sewing skills to save money and resources? SO MANY WAYS. We have serious powers. We can mend ripped seams, replace missing buttons, knock up a fancy dress costume from an old net curtain, make the fabric totes and produce bags that we now take to the supermarket instead of accepting plastic bags, and infinitely more. 

Speaking of plastic. We (hopefully) all know now that not all plastic is recyclable. And recently we've been reading reports that the majority of plastic we think we're sending to be recycled isn't actually recycled anyway. I read a horrendous statistic recently (sorry can't remember the source) that said that people have produced more plastic in the last decade than we did in the WHOLE OF THE 20TH CENTURY, AND that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. So like many people, I've been looking at my own waste: the amount and types of things my family sends to landfill or to be 'recycled', plastic very much included. I'm focusing on a few products that my family consume and then send to landfill at a time, and am trying to find and/or make alternatives that are more sustainable.

All of which is a long-winded explanation and preamble to say that I've been making hankies. Yonks ago my husband and I got ourselves hooked on buying those multipacks of pocket tissues, with their layers upon layers of non-recyclable plastic. More recently I started buying boxes of tissues to have round the home to reduce the amount of plastic we were throwing away, but I felt that I could go one step better by making old-school, washable handkerchiefs. Now I'm hooked;, it's one of the quickest, cheapest and most satisfying sewing projects I've ever undertaken. It will not surprise you to learn that the process entails simply cutting and hemming a square of fabric, but whilst researching how big to cut my squares, I found this decent Wikihow tutorial if you feel you would like some guidance. 

The first batch I made was from some stripy cotton that lives in my stash and usually gets used for toiling/muslin-making. It has a similar weight and softness to bedsheets, and it's proven perfect for hankie making. The squares I cut were 30cm X 30cm, but I have found them to be slightly too small for an adult woman, so the next couple destined for my own use were 35cm-ish X 35cm-ish pre-hemming. I must admit, having been used to using tissues myself for so long, it took me a while to get used to blowing my nose on fabric, but I've started to find it somewhat luxurious (particularly when I've bothered to iron and fold them into nice squares!).

With my second batch (pictured above), I cast my net a little wider for candidates as I went through my fabric scraps tub. The anchor, spotty and strawberry fabrics are all slightly thicker than the stripy stuff. They aren't quite as nice to use, but are perfectly adequate and will probably soften through repeated laundering. I'd say the thickest weight fabric that is suitable for making handkerchiefs is a light quilting cotton type deal, and a soft bed sheet type affair is ideal. The strawberry fabric hankie is for my daughter, the smaller anchor and the spotty ones are for me, and I also made a couple of anchor hankies for my husband (40cm X 40cm). He has the worst sinuses of anyone I have ever met and gets through a shocking number of tissues per week. I'm hoping that I can convert him. 

Next I plan to try some scraps of cotton lawn. How lovely would a set of Liberty or Cobra corsage cotton lawn hankies be as a Christmas present? I think that would be super fancy. 

What about you? Are you a seasoned hankie-user? Or, like my best friend, can you just not get behind blowing your nose on fabric?! What have you made to replace a disposable/wasteful item you use in you're daily life?
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