Friday 21 February 2020

Patchwork Scrap-buster Scout Tee

Right, I hope you're sitting comfortably because I've got a lot to say about this project. First up, I feel I need to get this out of the way: I'm not sure that I like this top, or if I'll get much wear from it. But, that atypically doesn't bother me about this project. I'm trying to be as sustainable in my sewing as possible, so usually making a well-made, well-fitting garment that will have a long life and sees lots of use is the ultimate goal. However, this top is the product of two different trains of thought, and going on those little 'journeys' were more important and useful to me than if I'll wear this particular garment very much. 

On to these two trains of thought. The first one was to scratch an itch that I've had to try piecing together scraps and leftovers of fabric and use them to make a wearable garment, without (fingers crossed) it looking like a quilt. I've been collecting inspiration on this Pinterest board, and paying particular attention to Lauren from Elbe Textile's amazing pieced-together creations on her IG account (@elbe_textiles). When I found that Lauren had written an excellent blog post about how she approaches patchwork clothing projects, I got the push I needed to finally give it a go. 

I feel really strongly that everyone who is lucky enough to be living comfortably in a developed nation should try to reduce the amount of textile waste we are each responsible for. And that includes us sewers/sewists who make some, or all, of our own clothes. According to Patrick Grant on the GBSB, up to a third of the fabric we buy for each sewing project gets wasted. This is, of course, a higher percentage per garment than a mass produced item, which, in terms of textile waste, kind of takes the sheen off my smugness about shunning fast fashion! Like a lot of sewers who are interested in slow-sewing, my goal is to buy fewer pieces of fabric, but of a higher quality. And finding ways to utilise more than two-thirds of those lengths of fabric is of growing importance. 

But I don't want to be wasting my sewing time, or those pieces of leftover fabric, making random accessories or homeware items: sewing for the sake of it just to feel that I used up as much of my fabric as I could. My main passion is garment sewing, and I've used scraps and leftovers a lot for making kids' clothes previously. However, not all my scraps lend themselves to children's wear, nor do my kids need lots of scrap-busting new clothes all the time. So the time has come for me to explore combining scraps and leftovers within adult garment projects. 

The second train of thought that this project helped me work through, was a sense of low-level frustration caused by the feeling that that my sewing is not actually very creative. Most of my sewing projects follow this formula: match a piece of fabric with a sewing pattern that someone else has designed, then make a couple of tweaks to improve the fit, and rely on the instructions, plus my sewing-muscle memory, to achieve a nice finish. Then I parade the finished garment about IRL, and share it on my blog and Instagram feed, and usually enjoy receiving a few nice comments about it (because, like most people, I'm an approval junky). Yet I've been feeling that my involvement in the success of the garment is somewhat limited, and seeing as sewing is my main form of expression, that's pretty depressing. So this project was also about being more deeply involved in the look of my finished garment; by semi-creating the fabric that I cut the pattern pieces from, I was ensuring that I got a garment that was entirely unique.  

So for those who may be interested, here's how I approached this project on a practical level. First, I took out all my scraps and leftovers, and put them in groups according to fabric type. The result of that produced two decent piles: one of leftover viscose fabrics, and another of cotton lawn type leftovers. I was more keen to use the viscose pieces, as generally they are less useful for pocket bags, facings, hankies and such. I found that four  of the pieces combined made a nice teal/rust, shades-of-autumn-y colour story. Next, I took Lauren's advise and cut them into random squares and rectangles using a set square and rotary cutter, being as mindful as possible of the grainlines. 

I picked the Scout tee pattern by Grainline Studio to use because, having made several before, I know that the fit is lovely and pairs well with other pieces in my wardrobe (I wear this one all the time in the summer). Plus, it'd provide a good, plain canvas for some (potentially-bonkers) patchwork fabric. I played around with positioning the rectangles together to make a big enough shapes to fit the front and back pattern pieces on. It look a long time, mainly because I was working with a very limited amount of fabric, and it involved quite a bit of recutting and rejigging. I stitched the shapes together using a 1cm seam allowance. but decided to use my pinking sheers rather than overlocker to finish the raw edges to A) save time, and B) reduce the bulk created by the seams. Squeezing the sleeve shapes out of the last of the fabric scraps was a real challenge. 

I wish I'd taken a photograph, but at the end of this project, I was virtually left with dust! That was intensely pleasing, seeing as one of the motivators for this project was to use up dormant, seemingly-unusable pieces of fabric. In the same vein, I kind of view this garment as a 'free project', because I associate the cost of these fabrics with the original garment projects. In a sense, I've created value from a pile of weird-shaped scraps that otherwise no longer held value. This project was also the epitome of slow-sewing, because a 'regular' Scout tee project from virgin fabric would usually take me an evening to make, whereas this took the best part of a week's worth of pockets of sewing time. 

As I say, I don't know if I'll wear this top very much, although I definitely plan to give a good run when the weather warms up in the hope that I fall in love with it. One of the reasons that I do want to wear it a lot, is that I hope it sparks thoughts, and even conversations, about waste and repurposing within sewing, and perhaps more broadly. I want it, in some small way, to contribute to a sea-change in how we view and behave towards the materials we consume. At the very least, I hope that a few of the people who come to my sewing classes, and anyone else who sews and happens to see me IRL, get inspired to hold on to their leftovers (if they have the space), and get creative with how they use them in the future. 

Have you tried to make patchwork clothing? Have you seen anyone IRL or on the internet who has done so particularly successfully, in your opinion? Please tell all! 

Friday 14 February 2020

Leopard Print Cardi: So Very Neutral

Here is the result of a recent experiment. I've been testing the limits of the popular theory that leopard print in a neutral. What could blend in to a wardrobe more easily than a simple, leopard print cardigan? See? I bet you hardly even noticed it in these photos!


So I've been regularly working part-time at Fabric Godmother for about a year and a half now (before that I would occasionally help out at their open days, plus I taught some classes there when they were running those). During the first year of the regular gig, being in close proximity to all the lovely fabric (plus access to a generous staff discount) meant that I bought more pieces of fabric that I'm entirely comfortable admitting to. Not a wild amount, but neither did I wait until I used each piece before I bought another. But then I got ahold of myself and put the breaks on. At the end of that first year, I vowed only to buy something if it is truly special, and when this leopard print ponte di Roma came along, I knew at a glance that it definitely fell into that category. 

This fabric is produced by German fabric company Albstoffe, who have a GOTS certification, meaning that their cotton fibres are grown organically and the fabric production passes a series of sustainable, ethical and fair trade requirements. It is also A-MAZING quality and (for some, including me) eye-wateringly expensive without the aforementioned staff discount.

So having bagged myself 1.5m of this special fabric, I really wanted to do it justice. How to turn it into a garment that would show off its attributes well, and also see a lot of use? One part of me envisioned some sort of awesome sweatshirt style top, with or without a ruffle thrown in to the plans. But ultimately, knowing how I like to dress, I decided a cardigan would get way more use. 


So having landed on a cardigan as my chosen garment style, I mulled over the question of what attributes the cardigan should have. I wanted something fairly loose that would fit over a variety of blouses, tops and dresses. There's a lot I love about Wendy Ward's Kinder cardigan pattern, likewise with the Ready to Sew Jamie cardigan pattern. But there are also a couple of things that I don't love about both. So I set about drafting my own cardigan pattern, that took inspiration from both, but ultimately had its own proportions and volume. Kind of like the Kinder and Jamie had a baby, if you will. 

Having finished the drafting process, I made a (hopefully) wearable toile in some ponte from my stash, so I could test out my design before cutting into the precious. I was so happy with the outcome that I decided zero tweaks to the pattern needed to be made. I'm going to send the wearable toile to a friend who loves a good cardi almost as much as I do!


I'm soooo glad that I took the time to allow plans for this fabric to fully formulate. I love the final shape and style of this cardigan; it's exactly the type of garment I want to wear right now. I think it shows the crazy leopard print design off well; I deliberately chose to avoid patch pockets so as not to disrupt it too much. And the fabric feels sooooo nice to wear. My only hurdle now is to work out how to incorporate it into some outfits that don't always involve pairing it with a black top....

Friday 7 February 2020

Free Pattern Friday: Women's Carine Tee

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' 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 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.

Right, at the top of this post I should say that I've sort of messed it up this month. When I was deciding which pattern to write about, I figured it was high time I shared an adult's garment, as I suspect they are the ones that more of my readers are interested in. So I planned to review a free pattern that I used last year to make to my lovely friend Harriet a garment. Because she lives in Spain and I'm not sure of her current measurements, I tried the Carine tee pattern by Elbe Textiles, my thinking being that the loose-ish style made from knit fabric was likely to create a garment with fewer potential fit issues.

EXCEPT, now that I'm trying to write about this pattern, I discover that it is no longer available (*face palm!*). I messaged the designer to check that this was the case, and she confirmed that yes it was no longer downloadable as that pattern didn't reflect the unisex/menswear style she wanted to take her brand in. Fair enough. I discovered all this very recently, so didn't have time to make and photograph a different free pattern for this month. So I'm going to share pics of it anyway, but not go into all the usual details I put into a review. Therefore, I'm sorry if you like this T-shirt but didn't download the pattern when it was available! However, you could get a similar look by taking a basic T-shirt pattern with close fitting shoulders and sleeves then straightening and slightly flaring the side seams, and then drawing in a curved hem (the below flatlay pic gives you a clearer idea of the pattern's attributes). 

I was given this fun zigzag print jersey from my lovely friend Claire (@clairesews) a year or two ago. I'm assuming it is 100% cotton, and has reasonable stretch and recovery, but not enough for a more fitted garment style, so I thought it would work well for a garment such as this that it quite a boxy shape. I had enough leftover to squeeze out a pair of sleep shorts for Dolores (see below), which have been worn a lot. 

See you next month for another free pattern review that actually is available, and hopefully before then with more tales of my sewing shenanigans. 

Monday 3 February 2020

Buffalo Check Coat: The Last Coat I'll Ever Make?

Well, let's be honest, it's probably not the last coat I will ever make, but right now that's how I feel. As I was starting this project, Pat (Mr SoZo) questioned, 'Didn't you say you were never going to make another coat again?', and he was right because I said exactly that during the construction of each of the five-ish fully lined coats and jackets I'd made before this one. Dreaming and planning them is fun, but I find the actually making process such a slog. However, I am relieved to be able to say that I LOVE this finished garment! Let me tell you about this coat and shower your screen with many photos of it....


This project was one of my #makenine2019 sewing plans, having had this lovely, soft, buffalo check coat fabric hanging out in my stash for far too long. I started this coat project towards the end of last year, but I knew it was going to be a beast of a project, so I allowed myself to take my time. It probably took close to six weeks in total. 

The fabric was originally from Fabric Godmother, bought about three years ago. It's long since out of stock, so I can't check, but I'm pretty sure it's polyester or some such synthetic fibre. I try to avoid synthetic fibres where possible these days, but because I already had it, plus a coat is less likely to get washed and therefore less likely to release micro plastics into the water system, I went ahead. This fabric is super soft, slightly fuzzy, and the perfect, bold, buffalo check. 

As you can imagine, cutting out the pieces for this project took an age. Not least because I only had about 2m of it, originally intending it for a jacket. But I was determined to make something that covered my bum because I just want to feel warm at this point. I googled 'Buffalo check coat' for advise on check placement, and found the awesome Comme des Garcons coat that is pictured below. Pattern matching at the side seams and top seams on the sleeves was pretty tricky because the fabric's fuzziness made the edges of the checks unclear, however I think the final look is pretty much spot on. I managed to get the hem and sleeve hems to finish on a check too. Oh, and there was one really hairy moment when I realised that I was missing one of my back sleeve pieces! I still don't know if I lost it, or failed to cut it out in the first place (I was cutting this out on the flat, not the fold because of the check and tight lay plan), but I managed to *just* squeeze another from the remainder of my fabric. Phew!

(image source: Comme des Garcons)

My intention for this coat was to make it warm enough to withstand the worst an English winter can throw at you at best, and warmer than my grey cocoon coat at the least. My first step to achieving this was to get the same fusible coat interfacing from the English Couture Company that I used for the cocoon coat. I've been so impressed by this stuff: the extra thickness and smoothness that it gives a coat fabric, and I recommend it to all my sewing students who are thinking of working on a coat project. I feel I should definitely mention that fusing this interfacing to this particular coat fabric did make my pieces shrink a bit. It didn't cause me any problems because the pattern was a little large for me anyway, but to avoid the risk of that happening, I'd advise block fusing the interfacing on BEFORE you cut your coat pieces out if you choose to use this stuff yourself. 

Having started construction, I swiftly found that this fabric didn't press very well. So I ended up slip-stitching every damn seam allowance down inside so that all my seams would lie nice and flat. Having used the fusible interfacing really helped with this, because I was able to slip stitch the seam allowances to the fusing rather than to the outer fabric so I didn't disturb the smoothness of the fabric from the right side. 

My second step on the path to snuggliness was to quilt the lining. I considered buying pre-quilted fabric to line it, but I already had this gorgeous, deep rust, viscose twill lining in my stash (also from Fabric Godmother, also out of stock, soz) so I decided to have a go at quilting it myself. I bought some fairly lightweight cotton batting from Little Miss Sew N Sew in Eastbourne, borrowed some spray adhesive stuff that quilters apparently use, and drew on some diagonal lines the width of a metre ruler. I was only quilting two layers, the lining and the batting, so I used a walking foot in my machine, with the batting side up. I quilted the full 1.5m before cutting out my pieces this time, and quilting that big section took what felt like most of my life. Also, note to self: do NOT use a sharpie pen to draw lines on fabric, because it's liable to bleed and will not wash off. Glad I learned that lesson on the lining! 


This amazing vintage pattern has been in my stash for at least seven years (most likely from eBay) and it was published in 1959! It was for a 37" bust, although I never know if vintage dress patterns refer to your full or high bust. Either way, 37" is a bit bigger than I am, but I thought I could bring it in at the side seams if necessary. As I mentioned above, the fusing shrunk the pieces slightly and the result was just the kind of fit I would look for in a coat of this type. 

As with many mid-century sewing patterns, this assumed a greater base level of sewing knowledge than patterns created today tend to. Which seems so unfair considering this was published way before YouTube. I don't know if it was me, the scant instructions or the combination of bulky outer fabric with lightweight pocket linings, but the welt pockets construction in particular was a real headache. It annoys me that there are some raw edges inside at the bottom of the welt, but from the outside they look fine. 

With a flash of maverick flair, I ended up ignoring the instructions on how to insert the lining. The pattern had you basically finish the whole outer coat (buttons, button holes, hemming and all) and then attach the lining. This seemed pretty bonkers to me, so I used the same method as my cocoon coat and the finish looks fine. 

I ummed and ahhed about using this project as an opportunity to finally get to grips with bound buttonholes. But ultimately, I felt that, with the pattern matching considerations and my bulky, fused outer fabric, I'd wimp out about go for the chunky press-stud option instead. The chunky press studs have worked so well with my cocoon coat. They make the coat so easy to put on and take off, plus after a year of heavy use, I have yet to have to restitch them (unlike the buttons of every other coat or jacket I've made), so I went on eBay and found the exact same type that I used before. 


I really do love this coat. I think the fabric makes such a fantastic impact. The colours mean it goes with everything I'm likely to wear it with, however it's a bit more lively and fun than a solid black, white or grey coat would be IMO. I'm also really happy with how the buffalo check and the giant press studs give the vintage pattern a modern twist, so that it doesn't really look like a vintage garment at all. The interfacing and quilted lining have done the trick, and it is definitely warmer than my cocoon coat. I have clear 'winter' and 'spring/autumn' options now, which I'm grateful for. 

What I don't like, is that the under collar peeks out a bit, especially at the back. Oh, and that raw edge inside the pocket, but I'm trying to redefine those in my mind as the 'quirks' of a handmade garment over something made in a factory. So, on balance, I am thrilled with this garment, not least because it's finished!  

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