Blog Writing Tips 3 – Discipline

proofreading mark

So, is everyone feeling creatively inspired in their blog writing? We’ve embraced the power of story – and seen some lovely blog posts. I shared the joy of conversation – yay, for a good chat! But today I’m going to introduce the dreaded D word. Discipline.

The above is a proofreading mark. If a writer sees this in the margin of their text, it means ‘delete and close up’. Less is more, and this is particularly true for blog writing. Here are a few reasons why:

  • People are reading on screens and their eyes get tired.
  • People are reading on small screens – increasingly on their phones or other portable devices.
  • People are reading on small screens in weird places – on packed trains, in airports, during an ad break, sat on the loo (yes, they do, why do you think the waterproof phone has been invented?). Their attention span is being challenged all the time.
  • People have approximately one gazillion other blog posts they could be reading. If you don’t capture their attention quickly and make it easy for them to continue giving you attention, they’ll move on.

phone

So, that all sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? But there are other good reasons to learn the art of discipline in your writing. It will make it easier and quicker to write blog posts. You’ll be flexing a muscle that makes you a stronger writer. Readers’ faith in you will grow, as will your faith in yourself. Hey, you might discover a real love of writing and enter a short story writing competition or something crazy! It’s all good, people.

Here are some tips for discipline:

Keep paragraphs short. A long, rambling paragraph is heavy on the eye.

Keep sentences short for the same reasons.

Really keep an eye on adverbs and adjectives. These can become clutter.

Here is one of my favourite self-editing techniques: before hitting ‘publish’ re-read your blog post and ask, What can I lose without losing the essence of my story? This is a brilliant way of cutting. I always do this. I’ll give you an example. As I wrote my opening paragraph to this blog post I said, ‘But today I’m going to turn all school ma’am and introduce the dreaded D word.’ I decided to lose the school ma’am analogy. Yeah, it was cute but it wasn’t really adding anything. Delete!

Here’s another tip I really like: imagine you are writing for an audience of 8-year-old children. If a child can understand, we can all understand. If not, you need to cut back and clarify. People often make the mistake of thinking that clarity can come if you just explain a bit more, add another sentence, really lay it on thick, underline what you’re saying… Hey, what was I saying?

Here is today’s PRACTICAL EXERCISE. Write a blog post that is between 300-1000 words long. No more. There shan’t be a paragraph that is longer than six lines and there shouldn’t be a sentence that carries over more than three lines. My recent blog post on thread came in at a paltry 264 words, yet it received nearly 40 comments. Learn that skill and you get great engagement without having to slave blood, sweat and tears composing a dissertation every time you write a blog post.

Less is more, people, less is…

tartt

You’re a Steinbeck, not a Tartt!

 

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The Great British Sewing Bee Fashion With Fabric – Buy It!

GBSB stripey knit dress collage

The Great British Sewing Bee Fashion With Fabric is a stonking book. STONKING. Here’s the skinnie:

  • It’s written by a real expert, The Thrifty Stitcher.
  • Patterns have been tested by some of the best Sewists out there, including Fehr Trade.
  • The book is arranged according to fabric challenge – cottons, animal fibres, stretch and luxury fabrics –  which means it covers a whole swathe of projects from chiffon pussy bow blouses (eek!) to leather skirts and jackets to tartan kilts. This ain’t no beginner-friendly yawn fest.
  • There are over 30 projects and a whole separate slipcase of four sheets of full-size patterns to be traced. That’s a lot of bang for your buck.
  • I found some great tips, especially for equipment – recommendations increase as the book delves further into project complexity.

Fashion With Fabric

No doubt about it, this is definitely the best book to have come out of The Great British Sewing Bee. It has loads of patterns that I actually want to make. As soon as I eyeballed the drapey knit dress, I launched straight in.

GBSB stripey knit dress

Fehr Trade reckons the book is worth buying for this pattern alone. I’m not arguing! It is the most delicious piece of fabric origami. Cutting out the pattern pieces, I was scratching my head. How would these go together? Such fun!

origami piece

If you recognise the fabric, that’s because I’ve used it before on my latest Coco top. The ponte knit is nice and stable and of such a great quality. You can buy it for £3.50 a metre from Saeed Fabrics in Walthamstow, still in stock last time I visited. I love the grey/black combo – it’s much warmer than white and black.

If you’re making this dress, please pay attention to the finished measurements guide on page 145. I didn’t, cut out a large, and ended up taking the dress in a lot at the side seams.

I love that this knit pattern has a neck facing. No annoying turning under of a raw hem and hoping for the best. Facing, interfacing and top stitching – that’s what I like! I wouldn’t bother trying to do any stripe matching on dress seams. (I didn’t.) The construction is so unusual that you’ll just drive yourself mad with very little good effect.

This was my first make from Fashion With Fabric. I doubt it will be my last. This isn’t a good book. It’s a STONKING book. Did I say that already?

With thanks to Quadrille, who sent me a copy to review.

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Define Too Much Thread…

thread

I may have over reacted to a recent sewing crisis, when I ran out of black thread mid-project on a weekday evening. Sewing ground to a halt until the weekend and I hit up the Internet, stock piling. I use all-purpose polyester thread, unless there’s a good reason not to.

Over purchasing? I’d argue that I’m not as mad as I look…

My ten-reel purchase of black and white Gutermann cost me £12.14, or just over £1.20 per spool of thread. Compare that to a typical online price of anywhere between £1.70 and £3.50 for a single spool of Gutermann. Not bad.

The gift box was a demand (no, request!) for my birthday. Isn’t it gorgeous? And again, breaks down to a pretty sound investment at about £1.10 per spool.

thread ii

I still think my investments in Belding Corticelli silk thread are some of the best pennies I’ve ever spent. This thread is perfect for hand basting and I love its sheen.

I’m sure you could argue that there are only, say, ten basic colours of thread that a Sewist needs to make any outfit of any hue. Is this true, do you think? And what would those base shades be?

Of course, none of this stockpiling helps my recent wails about a dedicated sewing space and storage. Turns out I’m in the minority. Over 1000 people took that poll and 60% of you have a dedicated sewing space. There was one reader suggestion that has me eyeing my disgusting under stairs cupboard. The one where the spiders live. Maybe it’s time to serve notice…

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Polly And The Puffin Takes Flight

polly and the puffin

It’s rare for me to highjack my sewing blog to talk about my day job but today I am going to do that quite shamelessly. Mainly because I think you’ll love this book – Polly and the Puffin!

To give you a quick background: when I’m not sewing, I work on a new children’s imprint. My job for the past 18 months or so has been to grow our list (along with my two dedicated editors), to commission books I feel passionate about and to help great ideas come to fruition. Lucky me, heh?

polly inside pages

But this story starts with someone else. A wonderful author called Jenny Colgan. Jenny writes bestselling adult novels (because she’s clever like that) and her latest novels feature a tiny puffin called Neil.

Jenny’s readers love Neil. So does Jenny’s daughter. And so did I and my two editors when the idea for a children’s book was mooted. There were audible sighs of delight at our desks, Jenny joined us for a brainstorm and an exciting new book was commissioned. My wonderful commissioning editor found us the perfect illustrator – Thomas Docherty. Cue lots more ‘ooh’s and ‘ah’s.

But we needed a page designer. Who could it be? Who did we know who could do justice to the little character coming to life before our eyes? Ooobop, of course! We commissioned a certain sewing blogger come book designer to work on the pages with us and she remained patient, inspired and inspiring throughout.

sophia_collar_detailPage Designer Of Brilliantosity!

Our book was coming together. Slowly, slowly the story of a little girl and a puffin with an injured wing prepared to take flight. Page proofs were supplied, a cover was designed, marketing and publicity professionals gathered their arsenal. All heading towards the most important day in a book’s journey – publication day.

And now that day has arrived. In Jenny’s story, Polly learns to accept that it’s time for Neil to return to the wild. Today I feel a bit like Polly, sending our book out into the ether, blowing a kiss after it, wishing it well on its way. I’m so grateful to all the people who brought their creativity to bear on a story about a very special bird, who will stay in my heart for ever.

puffin brooch

Well, that’s the schmaltz over! Now, onto the much more important deal of a giveaway. I am offering a copy of the book and a super cute puffin brooch, as above.

But heck, this is a sewing blog – so let’s throw some sewing love in there, too!

Chez Napier has pulled together a sewing kit based around the new Sewaholic Oakridge pussy bow blouse. The kit includes 2.5 yards of silk challis, thread, eight shell buttons, interfacing … and the pattern itself. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Chez Napier

The giveaway for all three items is open worldwide to one lucky winner. All I ask in return is for you to leave a comment below saying what adventures you think Neil should embark on next. What story would you write for a little puffin?

The deadline for this competition is midnight GMT Thursday 5 March. Good luck!

If you want to hear more about the children’s books we publish at LBYR, you can sign up to our newsletter here.

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Ten Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Sewing

Beautiful Sentence Collage

Beautiful sentences xI recently ran a ten day campaign on Twitter and Instagram posting ten of the most beautiful sentences in sewing, along with accompanying images. Some of the ‘sentences’ could have been genuine quotes; others most definitely came from the land of fantasy. I had huge fun making them up. It was even more fun to see which of the sentences resonated the most.  Can you guess which sentence received the most likes on Instagram? It was this one…

Beautiful sentences viii

 What would your beautiful sewing sentence be?

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Sulking, Not Sewing

chiffon swatches

Oh, how I wish I had a new make to share with you! Unfortunately, the past week has been spent sulking. And when The Great British Sewing Bee forced contestants through the squeezy tube of sewing known as a silk chiffon blouse, I could hardly bring myself to watch.

I’d just failed at making a silk chiffon blouse.

Pussy Bow CollageHaving made three Pussy Bow Blouses I really wanted to make one in black silk chiffon as a go to item in my wardrobe. I ordered the requisite fabric on line. When it arrived it was sheer. Really sheer. Gossamer thin. Spun by baby spiders. Cut from fairies’ wings. AM I MAKING MY POINT?! This stuff was going to be a devil to work with. Still, I plunged on.

Like a good girl, I did all my prep work:

  • I changed the needle in my sewing machine.
  • I cleaned and oiled my sewing machine. This is unheard of.
  • I made three swatches (see top of post) to establish best stitch length and best method of finishing seams.
  • I even put a post it note on my machine to remind me to adjust to the slightly longer stitch length every time I turned to this make.
  • I cut out the fabric, pinning with silk pins and using my silk shears.
  • I was good to go!

stitch length post itSewing the main body of the blouse wasn’t too bad. If you enjoy sewing black silk chiffon with black thread on another endless winter night. On one occasion I leant back, blinked hard, and announced to my dog, ‘I literally cannot see a single thing I’m doing.’ I was clutching a seam ripper at the time…

I spent hours stitching, trimming, turning the bow and then delicately hand sewing it to the neckline of the blouse. Hours! I gave it a final press and held it up to the light. This happened.

chiffon bow

You could see all the internal guts. I should have used some lightweight interfacing. I hadn’t.

I tried on my WIP. Even with a black camisole layered underneath, it was close to revealing my internal organs. Then, on Twitter, Fehr Trade warned me that the worst was yet to come – hemming the darn thing.

It was time to admit defeat. My blouse went into the bin. I’d wasted some lovely fabric, but I’d learnt an important lesson. I’m never working with silk chiffon again!

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Sewing Station – Organisation

Sewing Station - Organisation

I don’t have a dedicated sewing space, and I suspect I’m not alone. My ironing board stands next to my kitchen drawers. The living room door knocks into my dressmaker’s dummy every time I walk into the room. The sewing table sits in a corner of the main living area and several sewing tools sit out in the open, gathering dust and grease. What can I say? This is modern living.

I would like things to be a bit better organised and I’m not sure I want everything on show. (See above comments on dust. Housework is not a top priority for me.) Does anyone have suggestions for organising a sewing space that is also a living space?

I’m curious. Do you have a dedicated sewing area? Complete my poll!

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Blog Writing Tips 2 – The Art Of Conversation

Conversation Collage

When you compose a blog post, it’s immediately personal. Readers can react within moments. You’re not preaching from a pulpit or talking to yourself in the mirror and you certainly don’t need permission to write.

You’re engaging in the fine art of conversation. So what makes for a great conversationalist and how might you use that in your writing?

art of conversation

The High Five

When you meet your friends, you want to give them a hug and say hello! Blogging is no different. Just look at the strong, friendly (slightly irreverent?!) way this blogger opened a recent post:

Yo, yo, yo! What’s the haps, people? The craic here is limited.

Can you remember the last time you directly spoke to your audience? In the opening line of your blog post? Try it. But if you’re feeling timorous, then you need to…

Relax

One of the joys of blogging is the huge variety of voices. You don’t have to try to mimic the above. Actually, I wouldn’t suggest you mimic anyone. Be yourself. Some voices are formal and organised, some colloquial, some downright foul-mouthed. Bring it on, I love it all. Relax into your own voice. Imagine you’re talking to your best friend over a shared bottle of wine. Maybe with less slurring.

Have An Opinion

The best conversations end up being debates – and the easiest way to spark a debate is to have an opinion of your own. Instead of blogging about, ‘I made a dress,’ why don’t you share your take on what you’ve done? This dress stinks! Oh man, I love this. I’m torn on this one… Opinion invites opinion. I’d only add two caveats – make it genuine and keep it polite.

Actually, make that three caveats…

Be A Good Listener

We’ve all encountered the party bore who only wants to talk about themselves. It’s a bit too easy to slip into this danger area with blogging. So I chose a pattern and then I bought some fabric and then I cut it out and then... We don’t mean to be self-obsessed, but take a minute to review some of your past blog posts. Did you acknowledge your readers at all? Wince. I know. Same here – guilty as charged too many times for comfort.

So open up the conversation. Reach out. What do you think? Have you ever had the same experience? I’m sure I’m not the only one. A touch of humility goes a long way. Take a look at some of your favourite blogs and see how often they use the words ‘we’, and ‘you’. I like to invite expert opinion from the silent majority of readers who have much more experience than me. Ask and listen. It’s almost as important as writing.

Be interested in the response

Take the time to respond to what people are saying, with more than a hasty ‘Thanks!’. The comment section of a blog post can be the most interesting part. See my recent request for sewing tips, which generated 180 replies full of really useful content. Or my ruminations on the topic of Customer Versus Community. Written at 5am, my thinking was a bit muddy – but readers left some really insightful and intelligent comments that took the debate to a much higher level.

To be a good blog writer, you need to be a good listener. To be a great blog writer, you need to have the generosity and wisdom to share the platform. Yeah, you might be the one stringing the words together, but a lot of other people are contributing. Never forget the two most powerful words in a blogger’s vocabulary: thank you.

So, here’s another PRACTICAL EXERCISE if you still want to play along. In your next blog post, set yourself the following tasks:

  • Directly greet your readers in the opening paragraph.
  • Share a clear opinion on what you’re blogging about.
  • Find a question that invites the reader to empathise. Has this happened to you, too?
  • End your blog post with a direct call to debate.
  • Then reply to readers in your comments and see if you can keep the conversation going.

I’d love to know if this invigorates your blog. Do let me know!

Conversation

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New Trimmings, Great Titchfield Street

New Trimmings CollageOoh, it’s ages since I did a shop review! But there I was, wandering down Great Titchfield Street, London when I noticed this Aladdin’s Cave. I poked my nose through the front door of New Trimmings, tucked away behind Oxford Street, and it didn’t disappoint.

New Trimmings Great Titchfield Street

If you require neon zips, plastic chain, metallic leather bias tape, feather trim or pom poms this is definitely the place for you. It’s not all novelty, though. There’s also a good selection of lace, elastic, thread, boning, a small amount of fabric in the basement…

If I was looking for something specialist, this would be on my list of shops to visit. If I needed some basic thread, I’d also pop in here. And to be honest, I’d visit just for the experience! The staff are super-lovely and you’re a short walk from the fabric shops of Soho. Make an afternoon of it.

New Trimmings InteriorHave you discovered a hidden gem recently? Open your little black book and tell us!

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Sewing Against The Clock – Do You?

Sewing Against The Clock

The Great British Sewing Bee is known for its challenges against the clock. I come out in a cold sweat just watching from my sofa. If I was a contestant, I know I’d immediately forget how to use a seam ripper and what a zip is for. I don’t blame anyone for making what look like basic mistakes.

In my own sewing, I take all the time I need. Right? Wrong. In the past, I’ve found myself setting unrealistic deadlines.

  • Oh, I’ll just finish this seam before taking the dog a walk. 
  • I should be able to finish this and blog about it before lunch.
  • Make a dress in a weekend? Sure thing!

Yeah, not so much. Entire days could be eaten up as I disappeared down the Alice In Wonderland rabbit hole of sewing. Ella patiently waited as her morning walk became a lunchtime stroll. I learnt the hard way that no dress worth making gets sewn in a weekend.

So, I’ve tried to cultivate the fine art of sewing time management. Want a dress to wear for a special occasion? Now I give myself at least a month. My new blog rota has definitely helped me manage the time I think I can cram sewing and blogging into. The thing is, I don’t really relish deadlines. They are for the day job.

What about you? Do you enjoy the adrenalin rush of sewing against the clock, or does it just leave you with ruined fabric?

PS Can someone please force me to cut into that beautiful scarab silk in the photo? It’s been sitting in my stash ever since I bought it on a shopping trip with Oonaballoona, two years ago!

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