Abolish Ablogogising

tell it to the hand

Tell it to the hand…

New Year’s Day, a time for knee jerk resolutions. Lose weight, change job, move house… Achievable? Not really. But I’ve been thinking of a resolution that I don’t think should take too much work and might actually be do-able. It’s simple, straightforward and the only challenge will be wrestling with my own occasional spurt of self doubt. But here goes, deep breath…

I’m going to abolish ablogogising.

ablogogise: verb

a written expression whereby a person who blogs about sewing their own clothes is compelled to point out the imperfections in their makes.

Origin of ablogogise:

The fear that readers will spot errors before they are highlighted by the author.

We all do it. I’ve just spent two solid days sewing a dress. Two days of dedicated toil and creativity! Sewing a dress! What a totally brilliant achievement that is. And yet, as the final button was stitched into place I made a mental list of all the things that were wrong with my work. Imperfections that readers would need to know about.

Now, I’m all for sharing construction details and giving people a heads up about pattern challenges. I often read blogs for exactly that information and I don’t plan to ban constructive feedback  from Did You Make That. (Or discussion of body types and what works best – I enjoy that.) It’s the other type of self-abasing apology for creativity that makes me twitch. I spent a month sewing this coat, but can you see how the hem bubbles, yeah, I wish I could have been better, maybe next time. Why can’t we just be proud of our achievements? Hell, I sewed a coat!

If you’d like to join me in Abolishing Ablogogising, it’s really simple. For the month of January, we’re not going to write sentences such as, ‘It’s such a shame that I messed up the third buttonhole’ or ‘Sorry, I didn’t have time to press this’ or ‘The hem’s straight really, it’s just the way I was standing’.

If you’re already coming out in a sweat thinking about this, here is one simple rule that might help:

  1. Only share less than glowing details if they will help a reader with a construction, pattern or salutary lesson. There’s a great example of such a blog post here. Ooobop embraces the challenge of sewing a Burda top without ever once calling herself a loser. Because she isn’t!

Let’s start 2016 by celebrating what we LOVE about our sewing. Isn’t it time to acknowledge a simple truth? It’s our imperfections that make us and our dresses beautiful.

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The Best Dressmaking Scissors?

ernest wright scissors

Have you heard of Ernest Wright and Son? They’re a Sheffield scissor factory where craftsmen produce handmade steel scissors. But Ernest Wright is no Victorian set up. They are canny enough to have their own Instagram account and you really must watch The Putter – a video set around one of their craftsmen.

the putter

I was lucky enough to be up North for Christmas, and popped into Sheffield for the last of my Christmas shopping, where I took a quick diversion to pay homage to the closed Ernest Wright factory:

Ernest Wright CollageIf you’re a fan of Northern cities, you should definitely listen to Jarvis Cocker’s Musical Map Of Sheffield. I grew up at a similair time to Jarvis, a little further south, but with Sheffield as a big part of my childhood.

Anyway, this is all a long way of saying – guess what I received for Christmas?

scissors ernest wright

These are to add to my already sizeable scissor collection, but as I commented, ‘A dressmaker can never have too many scissors.’ It’s true! I’m a particular fan of thread snippers that I can loop a length of velvet ribbon through and hang from my neck.

thread snipper

scissors pink handles

These pink handled 8 inch dressmakers shears come with a donation to Breast Cancer Care. Mine are left handed scissors – my first! I can’t wait to see if they transform my life. Despite their heft, they’re not too heavy at all and just begging to cut out a new dress.

Did you receive any sewing-related items for Christmas?

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Christmas Day Skirt

Christmas skirt

Why are Christmas trees so bad at sewing?

They always drop their needles!

This is my festive skirt, and that was a cracker joke.

The last stitch of my Simplicity 2451 was sewn on Christmas Day morning. I’ve made this three times before: here, here and here. Oh, and there’s the wool and leather mash up, here. Let’s make that four times. Now, five times. I’m losing count!

simplicity 2451 CollageI’d been so busy in the run up to Christmas that I felt overwhelmed even thinking about sewing. I needed a fun and achievable project to ease myself back in. Gazing into my stash cupboard, I couldn’t resist the claret wool. This skirt flashed into my imagination. Inspiration had arrived!

tweed Collage

The Darcy tweed was from Fabric Godmother and I squeezed this skirt out of a metre. Sadly, I can’t see any more of this fabric on the website. The wool has a very loose weave, so plenty of interfacing was used on key seams, pockets and waistband. The skirt was lined in wine anti-static lining.

Red skirt innards Collage

waistband piece

I always trim my interfacing to avoid excess bulk in seams, and I really needed to avoid excess bulk in this self-lined yoke waistband. The below was trimmed from the seam allowances – excess fabric that would otherwise have bulked out and distorted this skirt. I mean, where else was I supposed to put that extra roast potato?

waistband excess

Merry Christmas from me and my skirt!

red skirt detail

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Festive Message With Talking Bits And Everything!

How could this ever not be? The annual festive message is up on Youtube, with lots of sincere love sent to you all.

Are you ready for Christmas yet? I’m not!

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Socking It To Christmas

red stripey socks ii

We’re in the run up to Christmas. The festive season that delivers a back-to-back calendar of parties, yet encourages us to dig deep and produce a gazillion handmade presents.

So, let’s talk about socks that I knitted for myself.

These are my third pair of hand knitted socks. I truly love them! They took about six weeks to knit and were my first attempt at magic loop knitting. Thanks to my blog readers, I took the plunge into this technique. Despite my fears, I am humbled to report that magic loop is easy. Easier than my previous attempts with double pointed needles. Lesson learnt. Don’t be scared of learning.

magic loop technique

I tried hard to improve my technique, building on my last pair of socks. Familiarity makes sock knitting easier, but these still aren’t perfect. Shall we all stop trying to be perfect? Never gonna happen. Not in my world of making.

I’m glad to report that Stray Cats sock wool goes through the washing machine with no ill effect. On a 30 degree wash, the wool softens up and becomes even more scrumptious.

ball of wool

Three pairs of socks in, I recommend this as a knitting project that brings both challenges and comfort in an achievable timeline. Crucially, sock knitting is portable – perfect for family visits over Christmas. Though, if I had to choose a Christmas Day activity, I might err on the side of sipping Baileys. Sorry, socks. I’ll wear you anyway…

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A Pulled Thread Unravels

Spotty Ultimate Dress Collage

This dress arrived with a large side dish of failure.

The fabric is a lightweight wool crepe (I’m guessing) bought from a House Of Hackney sample sale. Even in the sale, the fabric wasn’t cheap but I couldn’t resist that random splatter of polka dots. I thought it would make the perfect Ultimate Shift Dress. And it did. Until…

Dress assembled, I noticed that a thread had pulled across the upper chest. With those polka dots, a pulled thread was very, very obvious. No choice. I had to slice the dress apart and recut a front piece. It took me 24 hours to gird my loins for the task in hand, but with equilibrium restored it was much less painful than I’d imagined. Patience, patience…

heart button

A reader recently asked if I use the pattern’s instructions to close this dress’s rear neckline with a hook and eye. Never! On every iteration, I’ve sewn a roulette loop and picked out an accompanying button. On this occasion, a glass heart. I can go into more details on a future blog post if it would help.

This is my third Ultimate Shift Dress. Someone commented on the 60s vibe of my outfits and haircut, of late. To be fair, I’m just looking for comfort. I’m about ready to leave this pattern alone for now, but I do really love it. Just remind me not to pull any more threads…

Spotty Ultimate Dress ii

 

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The Sewing Spider

spider web

How long does it take a spider to become really good at webs?

I was chatting with a friend at the weekend. She’s probably a couple of years into her sewing career and we discussed some of the challenges. ‘Part of it,’ I said, ‘is that you just need to get a lot of sewing hours under your belt.’

There’s a popular conceit that it takes 10,000 hours to become really good at something. Is this true? After five years of sewing, I’m nowhere near that! But I do think that better sewing is about more sewing.

I realised it might help to touch on some of the frustrations my friend has felt as she’s patiently taught herself how to sew.

I Sew Clothes That I Don’t Wear

This is really common. You toil for hours to complete an item … and then it languishes in a drawer. Why? There are two main answers: you’re sewing something you wouldn’t normally wear and/or you haven’t yet got the hang of choosing the right fabric.

There’s a revelation right there. Successful sewing isn’t just about a needle puncturing fabric. It’s about which fabric and what you’re sewing. It’s the choices you make before you’ve even sat down at the sewing machine. And how do you make wise choices? Experience. I learnt the hard way that cotton fabric doesn’t drape. I learnt that by making several stiff blouses that I never wore. In order to learn how to sew, you’re definitely going to make some clothes you never wear.

It Doesn’t Look The Way It Did In My Head

That’s because marketing people sell you sewing patterns. Not that this is a bad thing! I want clever marketing people to alert me to great patterns. But taping together a PDF or opening folded sheets of tissue paper is not going to make you look like that cool person in the photos. Part of sewing is about seeing past the pictures to find your own image. That’s why clever Sewists always look for the line drawings on a pattern. Sewing is about knowing when to shut your eyes, but that takes confidence. And how do you find confidence? By building up your experience.

My Zip Insertion Is Awful

One of my big challenges as a beginner Sewist is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And what I didn’t know was good technique. This is where the 10,000 hours rule comes in. Practice. Educate yourself. None of us can complain that there aren’t enough resources out there. Oh, and buy an invisible zip foot. That’s the other element you lack as a beginner: the equipment that will make your sewing more polished. Obviously! You’re not going to splurge hundreds of pounds until you’ve proved to yourself that you’re sticking with this hobby. But once you’ve caught the bug, you’ll invest over time and you will see improvement. In the meantime, don’t self-flagellate. It’s not your fault. You weren’t born knowing how to read, were you?

Here’s a final message…

It’s Okay To Be Just Okay

None of the above matters. As I said in my last blog post, it’s really important that you make mistakes. That outfit you end up never wearing? You’ll be glad of that one day. Life is not an Instagram picture; it’s a spider’s web of intricacy and error. It’s not perfect but it is beautiful.

Alright. That’s enough for now. Are you currently going through the growing pains of becoming a better Sewist? Any thoughts or experiences to share?

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Failing To Succeed – An Expert Guide

Well, I don’t know about you, but this has definitely been one of my weeks to fail. The force of jetlag was strong, but I tried to ease myself back into sewing with a make-up bag, using this tutorial. I’ve used it before, but had total brain fail around the boxed corners. I now have a make-up bag with diagonal corners. Failure number one. I tried to photograph this failure, but winter days led to blurred, grey photos. Failure number two.

Ultimate Shift Dress Neon ii

Not A Failure

Then I cut out and sewed a third Ultimate Shift dress. Tried it on. Too tight! So tight that the back seam ripped as I took it off. Third fail. Tried to photograph the ripped seam, but poor light hit again. Fourth fail.

By this stage, I was actually failing to blog about my failures. Fifth fail.

WHAT A FAILURE!

Failure is a theme I’ve often discussed here, but it can’t be emphasised enough. If you choose to create, you choose to fail. It’s always going to be part of the process, and a wise person builds failure into their business model, their hobby and their life.

We’re agreed then? I must be very wise indeed. So wise that I’d never actually share a blurred photo of a disastrous make. I mean, that would make me … a failure?

failure

Please tell me you’ve had more success this week. Actually, scrap that. I want to hear about your failures!

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Toast Never Tasted Better

red stripey sock

I type this propped up in bed. There may or may not be a plate of toast beside me. I’m at the end of an exhilarating but exhausting week. I was in New York with work and – back up the truck! – never even made it to Mood Fabrics. I did manage to pop into Paron, but left empty handed. Maybe I need to hand in my Sewing Blogger badge.

paron fabrics

I did some sock knitting, and met up with a couple of sewing friends – Noble and Daughter and Oonaballoona. And yes, I count them as friends, even if we’re separated by the Atlantic.

line starts here

On the Sunday, I squeezed in a craft fair. Craft is big business in the States. I felt a pang of fondness for the church jumble sales of my youth.

It was an odd time to be travelling. The events in Paris unfolded the night before I set off for Heathrow. One very deserted airport, let me tell you. But it turns out that knitters aren’t yet enemies of the civilised world, so I was allowed to knit on the plane. Just a woman staring at her lap, letting the world slide by, stitch by gradual stitch.

It’s good to be back home. Don’t you find that the best meal after a trip away is toast made in your own toaster? Preferably eaten in bed. And if I sound maudlin, that’s because I am. I’m in a state of suspended animation.

Ella comes home tomorrow…

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Meeting Makers – The Author

download

I first met author, Catherine Johnson, when the two of us jumped into a cab together on our way to a conference. As Catherine chatted, I was secretly eyeing up her Fair Isle cardigan. ‘Did you make that?’ She had.

I learnt that Catherine creates the most incredible Fair Isle sweaters and cardigans, as well as being an award-winning author. When her novel, Sawbones, was nominated for the Carnegie earlier this year, I decided it was time to ask Catherine the ultimate burning question. Had she ever steeked?

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Hi Catherine. Thanks so much for joining us today. Can you tell us a little about your childhood in London. Was learning to knit part of that?

C: I grew up in North London. I had a lovely childhood I think, very ordinary. My mum was a teacher and dad was a tailor. He made all his own suits. I sewed my own clothes before I knitted, although it being punk these clothes mostly consisted of skirts made out of pillowcases…

I can’t really remember learning to knit. I’m sure my mum taught me, but it wasn’t until I was 18 and at art school on a foundation course that I really started knitting seriously. It was a course skewed at graphic artists and I remember knitting a lot of typography.

Then I sort of went knitting mad. One of my student jobs was knitting up pieces for the designer Patricia Roberts – she was big in the early 80s. All those bobbles did drive me nuts. Then I had a stall selling Fair Isle tammies under the Westway on Portobello Road. I used four needles and knitted as I walked to college. The needles were quite expensive – cost 15 quid a time. That was a lot in 1981. Knitting needles were also great for self defence on the tube. If anyone sat too close double enders usually put them off. I also remember being followed a couple of times and thinking how glad I was my knitting was there ready if I needed it.

Then for my thesis I chose to write about The Invention Of Tradition – which in my case leant heavily on traditional knitting – I was at St Martins’ School of Art studying film but I did actually go to Fair Isle and talk to knitters while I stayed at The Bird Observatory.

I’ve knitted everything I think except very complicated lace. Just not a fan. I’ve done Vogue tube dresses in 2 ply black mohair, cables galore, a 1920s monochrome swimsuit (I know), hats, scarves, gloves, socks innumerable jumpers and cardigans for babies and otherwise.

My most recent big successes have been two ganseys, knitted without seams and with double thickness welts. They’re both Staithes rather than anything more complicated but they look lovely and have lasted really well.

catherine johnson author

How do you think the craft of knitting compliments your creative writing process?

C: I think writing is a lot like knitting – screenplays more than books for me. I’m rewriting a screenplay now and it’s a lot like seeing you’ve dropped some stitches just above the rib and having to go back, trying to leave everything that’s good intact, but completely re knitting up whole sections.

Also what I like about knitting is that you get a finished thing quite quickly, and you don’t have to think to hard. You start you knit, you finish, you wear it. None of this faffing about with covers and titles.

Although there is a lot of counting!

What advice would you give to anyone who is about to attempt Fair Isle knitting for the first time?

C: It is SO much easier than it looks! I think is you have a visual memory for pattern you can get into it so you don’t have to look at the guide, you just knit the shapes you need. Also proper traditional Fair Isle hardly ever has more than two colours at once. It always looks much more impressive than it actually is!

Also if you make a mistake you are being traditional. Knitters used to say that if a jumper was perfect, the devil would come up from hell and claim it, and the wearer for his own.

A lot of my readers are book lovers as well as creators. Can you tell us a bit about the novels you’ve written?

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C: I don’t think I have written a book with knitting in it. My last two books have both been historical though. The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo came out in the summer, and is based on a true story, that of Mary Wilcox, a cobblers daughter who passed herself off as a South Sea princess in England in 1817. I’ve played with a truth a little no doubt like Mary herself. I’ve had some lovely reviews and the book is sort of about the nature of love and truth and identity. Race and Class and … haven’t you ever wanted to completely disappear?

Sawbones, which came out in 2013, won me a prize! The Young Quills Award for best historical novel. It’s completely different to Caraboo, more of a romp, a gory romp with occasional 18th century surgery and bodysnatching but a romp nonetheless. It’s set in 1792, the story of Ezra McAdam, apprentice to London’s premier anatomist surgeon who can read a corpse just as well as any newspaper. When Magician’s assistant Loveday Finch asks him to find out if her father was murdered, Ezra uncovers a plot to overthrow an Empire….

That’s all fascinating, Catherine, but my burning question is … have you ever steeked?!

C: You know what – no! Never. Done sleeves down from shoulders and up from rib. Done all sorts of things, even wore a knitting belt with holes for your double ended pointy needles but never ever steeked!

Thanks so much, Catherine. I love the image of your student self strolling down the street, knitting with four double pointed needles. 

If you’re looking for Fair Isle inspiration I suggest you visit here, and for a picture of the full terror of steeking visit here. Have you done Fair Isle knitting? Is Catherine right to say it’s easier than it looks?

For more from the Meeting Makers series:

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