Quick Quick Slow

KnittingAnd, relax… This is my perfect picture of knitting. Laid out on the sofa, sleeping dog to one side. There’s only one thing that could improve this picture – bar staff! Below is my knitting at the weekend, in a Yorkshire pub. Oh look, another dog. There’s a theme emerging here.

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When my energy levels are high (as they feel now), I imagine myself rushing home to crouch over the sewing machine. But sometimes I find myself rushing home to lie on the sofa and knit. Go figure.

Creativity may not always be about fast. Sometimes it’s about slow. And sometimes it’s about slow, with a cocktail. Do you find that your creative urges ebb and flow in this way?

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Take Part In The Sew Sessment!

close-up

Will I ever make a dress like this again? And should I?

Do you ever wish you could step back and analyse your sewing? Struggle to see a clear path forwards? Wonder why you keep making outfits you don’t actually wear? Yeah, me too!

So I decided to take action and drew up a self assessment form – a Sew Sessment, if you will. I didn’t overthink the process, just typed up a list of questions. I used the Power of Three to frame my questions. (Three is a good number, don’t you find?) Then I made myself answer. Quickly. No thinking time. Just writing down what sprang into my head.

The outcomes were interesting. My top three sewing talents had nothing to do with technique and everything to do with mindset. Colleagues came in as some of the people who enable me – odd, when only a few colleagues sew. (But many of them congratulate me on my makes!) I found the reasons I CAN sew a bit uncomfortable to read back. Seriously, I don’t have kids and I do have disposable income? They’re the only reasons I can sew? But, hey, maybe let’s not over analyse. At the very least, this exercise allowed me to recognise what I want to achieve moving forwards – to test myself again with makes like this and this!

If you like, you can download the same template here. Have a go at filling it out – spontaneously and without too much thinking. I’d love to hear your results! What will YOUR Number One Challenge be? And do you think there are any key questions missing from this Sew Sessment?

SEW SESSMENT! Seeing How My Sewing Lines up

Top Three Items That I Wear For Home:

Leggings, comfort wear, jeans

Top Three Items That I Wear For Work:

Dresses, skirts, power dressing

Top Three Sewing Talents (go on, show off!):

Patience, aspiration, determination

Top Three Sewing Weak Spots (ouch!):

Bodice fitting, skipping toiles, lack of style judgement

Top Three Sewing Goals:

Return to learning, new challenges, rediscovered energy

Top Three People Who Enable Me:

Blogging friends, colleagues, family

Top Three People I Enable:

Other Sewists, beginners, friends around me

Top Three Reasons I Can’t Sew:

Lack of time, lack of energy, other demands on my life

Top Three Reasons I Can Sew:

Lack of dependents, financial independence, because I want to!

NUMBER ONE CHALLENGE I SET MYSELF!

A project that challenges me & takes me beyond the easy makes I currently rely on

 

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In Praise Of The Tailor’s Ham

Tailor's Ham

The unassuming tailor’s ham is one piece of sewing equipment that I never have beyond arm’s reach. The more you sew, the more you realise that anything with a curve is your friend – the French curve, the dressmaker’s dummy, the tailor’s ham. After all, the human body is a big mass of curves, orbs, concave and convex surfaces. Flat, we are not!

I’ve found the tailor’s ham particularly useful when it comes to tacking down neckline facings or basting shut pockets. Why work on the flat? My hips aren’t flat and neither are my shoulders. If I do try to work on the flat, I find these details pulling, not sitting straight, or need redoing. So, out comes the tailor’s ham. Below is a picture of a pocket piece that needed basting closed. I draped the section over a tailor’s ham, then pinned and basted.

Pocket Piece

And below are details of a neckline facing I recently tacked down. Same technique: drape it over a tailor’s ham. You’ll note I don’t even attempt to line up facing seam with shoulder seam. Facing Collage.jpgThere are lots of tutorials out there for making your own tailor’s ham. I’m gonna say, if you go down this route you want your ham to be really firm. The best ones are stuffed with sawdust. (For a comprehensive guide to UK sawdust suppliers, look here!) You don’t want a spongey ham, you want something that’s going to stand up to a lot of wear and tear, can deal with pressure, steam and heat. You want an alpha female tailor’s ham!

Any thoughts on this piece of equipment? Suppliers or tutorials you can recommend?

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Comfortable Coco

Comfortable Coco

When I’m travelling, I like to be comfortable – enter my fourth Coco! This is made from some organic cotton raspberry interlock  from The Village Haberdashery. It comes in several colourways and is ever so soft to the touch. In fact, The Village Haberdashery has a load of really gorgeous knit fabrics. Drool.

Comfortable Coco iii

The first thing I did was whack the jersey through the washing machine and the dryer. I believe in giving fabric a baptism of fire. Because one day soon, I can be absolutely sure I’m going to shove a make into the laundry with little care or attention to temperatures. Let’s get any rude shocks out of the way!

This fabric did not come without its challenges, as it does have a tendency to stretch as you sew seams. See what happened to my cuffs!

Cuff Collage.jpg

Fortunately, I had enough leftover fabric from my two metres. So I snipped off those stretched hems and attached the turned cuffs that come with the pattern. This worked much better.

Because of the fabric’s tendency to stretch I made several executive decisions. I added interfacing to the collar section. I abandoned attempts to add pockets – they quickly become distorted during the sewing process. I chopped three inches off the length, making this more of a tunic – I wasn’t convinced this stretchy knit would live up to a dress silhouette. My best decision was to use Steam-A-Seam on the skirt hem, before stitching. It really helped stabilise it.

Steam A Seam Collage.jpg

 

Comfortable Coco Walthamstow Village

This fabric was definitely worth the careful attention. Teamed with thick tights or jeggings it has made a colourful and comfortable Coco, really soft against the skin. Perfect for four-day weekends! Are you doing anything nice?

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Jennifer Lauren, The Afternoon Blouse

The Afternoon Blouse

What do you think, peeps? Is Spring here?

As soon as I saw The Afternoon Blouse on other blogs (here and here) I knew I had to make this pretty, vintage style, kimono sleeved blouse. It’s named after the amount of time it takes to put together – a pretty accurate name!

This could also be called The Perfect Stash Buster Blouse. I used fabric bought over Christmas at Birmingham’s rag market. It has a lovely drape and warmth to the touch. I wish I’d bought more! 

Fabric Purchases

The Afternoon Blouse is a downloadable PDF pattern that needs taping together. This one really didn’t take too long. I like to trace my taped pattern pieces onto Swedish tracing paper – so much easier to store and work with. I traced according to my size and didn’t bother to toile. After all, this is a fairly forgiving style. Doesn’t it go well with my red triple crepe Hollyburn En Rouge? I can’t stress enough how well this skirt sews up in crepe.

The Afternoon Blouse Close Up

Because of my fabric print, it’s difficult to see the sweet neckline detail.

Afternoon Blouse Version 1

I added a mother of pearl button. My fabric has lots of drape and flip flap, so I hand sewed down the decorative neckline.

Afternoon Blouse Detail

Would I share any other tips?

  • Remember to obey the instruction to finish the outer edge of your facing. I finished mine on the overlocker, but this could be as simple as trimming with pinking scissors.
  • I’d add a second instruction to understitch your facing as far as possible. You won’t be able to get all the way around the decorative neckline, but do as much as you can. It will definitely help the blouse sit properly.

Below is a photograph of both the above details:

Understitching

I think this is such a sweet pattern! Perfect for pretty prints and pretty buttons! I really want to make another version in a voile or maybe even a Liberty lawn. Have I finally found the perfect excuse to buy some Isle of Wight print? What would be your perfect fabric for this blouse?

Flower For The Lady

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Coco The Fourth, Minerva Meet Up The First

Coco Number Four

Yup, this is my fourth Coco, photographed as an homage to Tilly’s original launch photos. (And also because I didn’t have time to snap myself in this top.) Do you recognise the fabric? It’s leftover jersey from the Tofino Sewalong I hosted last summer. I told you that the Coco is a good stash buster! In fact, as I finished making this Coco top I was wearing my PJ bottoms in the very same fabric, albeit faded after regularly going through the wash for the past ten months. I still wear these PJs pretty much every week! Do you still wear yours?

Sewing Coco

If you’re making the top version of the Coco, as opposed to the dress, you’ll come across a slight issue with the angled hem that would otherwise extend into the skirt section. It’s not difficult to conquer. Below is my technique for dealing with this:

Hem Collage.jpg

Trimming

I hope this helps anyone else making a Coco top.

In other news, have you heard about the Minerva Meet Up on 14 June? I’m going to be a guest speaker, so it’s a good job I attended an Eloquent Woman workshop earlier this week at Trinity College, Oxford – photos from Oxford and my other myriad adventures to be found on my Instagram account.

Any topics you’d like to see covered in my talk? I’m really excited to attend the Minerva Meet Up and am particularly thrilled to return to Lancashire, the county that gave me my university education, which set me on the route to publishing, which basically changed my life. I’ll be hot-footing it North this summer for a big old sewing love in. Will you?

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Spelling Out Sewing

Recently someone asked me, in a friendly and curious way, what benefits sewing had brought to my life. The question was so unexpected that I could only answer in an entirely spontaneous way – yet four points rattled straight out of my mouth.

Self Esteem

Whatever else is happening in my life, I know I can hold two pieces of fabric together and shove them through a sewing machine with my foot down on a pedal. Or, to put it more eloquently, I am able to utilise creativity, craft, vision and energy in making something unique, be it a dress, a cushion cover, or coasters. I can hold something in my hands and know that without my hands, it wouldn’t exist. This makes me feel good about myself.

Cushions

Being In The Moment

When I’m sewing, everything else peels away. I don’t think about my To Do list, the grocery shopping, that dry cleaning that needs picking up, the phone call I haven’t made, my career, future or overdue haircut. I just sew. It’s my version of yoga or meditation – with pretty fabric thrown in. Yay!

Pink Fabric

Recharging The Batteries

If you’re anything like me, life is a constant multi-tasking challenge. How to stay energised? Some of the answers are obvious – a good night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise. Sitting behind a sewing machine for hours at a time? It doesn’t sound obvious, yet it works – more activity gives me energy for other activity. When I recently returned home from a trip, I sat down at my sewing machine and sewed like my life depended on it. Did this leave me even more exhausted? No. I returned to the office feeling like a new woman.

Creative Fulfilment

The number one reason for me: I get to engage with a part of myself that is as essential as eating, breathing or drinking (water!) – my need to create. And it’s accessible creativity. I’m not looking at writing a 100,000 word novel. I’m not trying to put on a play. I’m just gonna take three metres of fabric and see what happens. Crucially, I don’t even mind the mistakes!

Of course, I should have added another important reason to sew – the friends. I really should have mentioned the friends. But what about you? Do these reasons resonate? Are there others you’d add? If you had to justify sewing to a stranger, what would you say?

Sewing Bloggers

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Sew Dolly Clackett Contest – My Pink Cambie Dress

Cambie Dress.jpg

This is my entry for the Sew Dolly Clackett contest. The lovely Roisin and Nic are getting married this year and in order to help them celebrate, albeit remotely, Rhinestones and Telephones suggested we make a dress that celebrates the spirit of Dolly Clackett. She set up a competition with cool prizes and it is open until 23 April. Here’s my contribution!

How best to sum up the spirit of one of my favourite sewing bloggers? Irreverent. Colourful. With a bulging wardrobe, a fondness for quilting cottons, an impressive knowledge of popular culture from Kate Bush classics to every episode of Morse. You know what, though? I’m not entirely convinced she’s a fan of pink. And this dress is PINK. But heck, this screamingly outrageous fabric was in my stash and I decided Roisin would forgive me if this most divisive of colours really did make her want to spit.

Do you recognise the pattern? It’s Sewaholic’s Cambie dress, with a small adjustment of the sweetheart neckline, which I find gapes.  I’m still not 100 per cent happy with the adjusted neckline. It could do with half an inch pinching out. In fact, now I come to think about it, I am fairly sure I once passed on a tip from Mrs C to Roisin about the fix for gaping necklines. Something to do with twill tape? Someone, help me!

But heck. What ya gonna do? Between that and the bust darts that could end half an inch lower, this dress isn’t quite perfect. The fabric doesn’t help. Pretty though it is, it’s that sticky type of cotton that wants to hold on to a crease and is just a bit unhelpful. I lined it in white acetate as I really didn’t think a lawn lining was going to help the stickiness factor.

Cambie Collage.jpgDespite the trickiness of the cotton, I really enjoyed this sewing process. It was so much fun! I was fairly determined to rise to the challenge of pattern matching and am particularly proud of my waistband.

Cambie Waistband.jpg

Though one inhabitant of Didyoumakethat Towers seemed less than impressed.

Ella and Cambie.jpg

It’s my hope that this dress can be worn in the summer, with my face turned to the sun, sitting in a rowing boat (with someone else rowing, like, obviously), and maybe I’ll be eating one of these…

Cambie Dress Eating Lolly.jpg

But my greatest hope is that Roisin and Nic enjoy a very special day together this year, that they continue to fill the world with laughter and warmth. Well, I know Roisin will. I’ve never actually met Nic. Maybe he’s a total loser! Though I doubt it.

Happy, happy wedding to come, my friends! Gonna be serving ice lollies?

 

 

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Talking Toiles

Toile Close Up

Do you make pristine toiles (muslins in the US)? I don’t! I used to buy calico for my practice makes but I now figure, Why bother? I have lots of scrap fabric that needs to be used up. As long as my practice make uses fabric with similair qualities to the fashion fabric I’ll eventually use, I’ll cut up mens’ shirts, tablecloths, anything. The above is a charity shop cotton that, sadly, won’t quite lose that futzy smell. Shame, because I think that print is pretty adorable, don’t you?

I’ll use whatever thread is in the machine. As you can see, I don’t worry about a right and wrong side of fabric! Some of the construction techniques will be pretty basic. I will, however, always baste in a zip. To me, this feels like such a crucial part of the fitting process. And when you’re fitting yourself alone, you kinda need something to do up – can’t rely on pinning your dress between your own shoulder blades.

Zip

I’ll often only toile the bodice of a dress – the skirt sections usually require less fitting, for my figure at least. When I climb into my toile, I always have pins to hand for tweaks and adjustments…

Pins

So, why bother to make a toile? Well, as one Facebook friend (hello, Rehannon!) commented recently, our bodies are so uniquely 3D. If you can make a pattern straight out of the packet, with no fitting issues, you’re lucky. Though – ssshhhh – don’t tell anyone: sometimes I wing a loose-fitting make without practising first.

Do you have any toile tips? Anything you always do – or don’t! – do?

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Coco En Noir

Coco En Noir

Hello, sunshine! What bliss. Fresh off the plane from Bologna, I scrambled to start sewing with the velvet flocked black jersey I recently bought for £2 a metre from Classic Textiles on Walthamstow market. This shop has several stable jerseys (including some in solid colours) that would make great Coco dresses or tops. Go, buy some!

Close Up Black Flocked Jersey

Coco En Noir Against Wall

On this version of the Coco Dress I added fusible interfacing to the funnel collar as I really wanted it to have strong definition. I have no idea if you’re allowed to add fusible interfacing to knit fabrics but, hey, no one died.

Interfacing

I think this makes for a really classy Coco that I would happily wear into the office. What about you? Do you see Coco as a weekend outfit or do you think it translates to more formal occasions? I suspect it’s all in the execution. It’s definitely an outfit for the sunshine…

Coco In Sunshine

Finally, I dedicate this blog post to Ros – my new publishing/sewing friend. In the midst of Bologna Book Fair a screech was heard echoing out from the agents’ centre. It was Ros, running towards me. ‘You’re Didyoumakethat! Why aren’t you wearing your Coco?’ In about 30 seconds flat, she and I had become firm friends, bonding over our sewing antics. Ros was able to recommend a Bologna fabric shop to me, though I didn’t have any time for shopping on this trip. Next time? I am SO buying some of what Ros bought…

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Have you ever made a new sewing friend in the most unexpected circumstances? And are you as happy to see the sun as I am?

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