Putting The Fun Back Into Black

black fabric ii Collage

There’s a theory that black is safe, verging on dull. If you’ve ever attended a conference or work Christmas party, you might be inclined to agree. But dang, the colour is flattering.

Then I saw the photo above left. I’d invested hours of precious sewing time into creating an outfit as boring as that?! Was it time to hang up my unpicker?

Thankfully, I have a wardrobe full of self-made items to quash any self doubt. I changed my black stretch twill Ultimate Trousers (pair number six, if you’re asking) for my favourite Simplicity 2451, sewn in a stretch cotton sateen. It works much better with my fifth Sew Over It Pussy Bow Blouse, don’t you agree? It turns out the key to black is moderation. Same key that applies to chocolate and wine, so they tell me.

Whilst I was on a campaign to put the fun back into black, I decided to twin two new loves – some bambi print viscose crepe and the Sew Over It Ultimate Shift Dress pattern, ordered after I saw it on Lisa’s Youtube channel. Yes, you read right. Bambi print.

bambi print dress

If the Gods of Sewing banished me to a desert island where the only patterns available were from Sew Over It, I wouldn’t waste any time crying. I love pretty much everything they do and this shift dress is no exception. I want to make a million copies immediately. So easy to wear! And so easy to fit. I risked going straight in without a toile, but sewing experience and knowledge of my own body helped. I automatically lowered the bust darts by an inch, pinched in the side seams under the arms and added an extra inch to the side seams from the hips down. Other than that, I cut out true to my size and powered on.

Yes, yes, Karen! But tell us about the BAMBI fabric. I bought mine from Saeeds in Walthamstow, but it’s also available here. As well as dresses, I think these could make an awesome pair of PJs. I put my viscose through a 40 degree wash and I’d suggest you do the same. You want any shrinkage to happen before you start sewing. Believe me.

bambi dress rear view

You’ll also want to be careful about print placement. I am glad I had the foresight to have a column of deer running down the centre front of my dress. The back of the dress has a centre seam and that was difficult to negotiate. My one piece of common sense was not to slice right through Bambi’s body. This fabric has drape and fluidity and matching severed torsos across a seam line would have been impossible. (Apologies if I’m making any Disney fans tear up. Further apologies that I’m laughing right now.)

I think we can definitely agree I’ve put the fun back into black. Much better than that first photo. Do you have any tips for wearing black? Is this the colour that can do no wrong, or do you find it funereal?

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Three Investments To Improve Your Sewing

How do you know what is a wise sewing investment and what will be a waste of money? Trial and error. Don’t even talk to me about marking pencils or loop turners. But there are some items I am grateful for every single time I use them, and they’ve improved my sewing. They may not have been cheap, but they’ve been worth every penny. Here are my top three!

clapper ii

Wooden Tailor’s Clapper

When I bought a piece of wood for the best part of £30, I wondered if I’d finally lost my marbles. Now, I use this on a weekly basis and quietly send a prayer of thanks to the Sewing Gods. This makes such a difference on pressing open seams, finishing and turning ties or other tube items, turning up hems… You name it. Pressing fabric isn’t just about applying an iron. It’s the science of steam, and this baby will turn you from a fresher to a graduated doctor of sewing. Nurse, pass me my clapper!

invisible zip foot Collage

Invisible Zipper Foot

I could have winced when I ordered this baby. Scratch that, I did wince. Over £30 for a sewing machine foot? Are you insane? As it turned out, no. This baby really does make the difference between Will Do to Can’t Beat when it comes to inserting an invisible zip. It also saves you a lot of swearing. It’s one of my most oft-used and oft-thanked items. Worth every penny that no longer goes into the swear box.

fusible interfacing

Quality Fusible Interfacing

Once upon a time, I used cardboard as my interfacing. Joking – just. Then I discovered that there was a whole range of interfacing that was of an altogether different standard. True, it was more expensive than some of the fabrics I bought on Walthamstow market, but it meant I no longer had collars that stuck out like saucers, or button bands that creaked when I moved. It also meant my interfacing wouldn’t disintegrate the first time it went through the washing machine.

In fact, once you discover the range of interfacings out there, it’s easy to become a bit obsessed. If you want a full run down, I suggest a visit to MacCulloch & Wallis. (Though am I the only person whose heart sinks at their new premises? So clinical, so modern, so lacking in personality. Where’s the visiting parrot and the ancient lino? I miss those things! I know, I know, progress, rent rises and new train lines. Still…)

These are the three items that immediately leapt out at me. Do you have any recommendations for sewing items that might be a bit pricey but are really great investments?

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Scrumptious Socks

Seaview CollageElla and I are enjoying one of our regular retreats to the Isle of Wight, where we come to take stock on life. As I prepared, a friend asked what knitting pattern I’d picked out for the trip. She knows me too well! In fact, I had a knitting project to complete. I’d first cast this project on seven months ago, on an earlier trip to the island. What can I say, I like to take my time.

stripey socks

This is the Espace Tricot Scrumptious Stripes Socks pattern, described as ‘a basic sock recipe for your first foray into knitting socks’. It worked for me.

Sock pattern Collage

I knitted with self striping sock yarn from New Zealand’s Stray Cats. This wool is seriously impressive. One ball of wool is enough for a pair of socks and the below photo was taken after the socks had been worn in boots for a tramp on the beach. No pilling or stretching out to speak of.

heel flap

These are only the second pair of socks I’ve knitted. They are far from perfect. I don’t recommend a six month gap between knitting a pair. Turning the heel on sock two took four attempts. One question I have is over the erroneously deep pink stripe on the front ankle (seen above). I’m guessing I should have cut the wool at the heel flap and picked up using a turquoise-dyed length of wool?

I finally learnt how to avoid ladders between columns of stitches as I shift between double pointed needles. Tug the first three stitches really tight on the new needle; not just the first stitch. (Keeping up?!)

I was concerned about how much I’d really wear a pair of bright, striped socks. In fact, they look fantastic peeping out of the top of my boots as Ella and I strike out. I may have to make another pair. Let’s hope they take less than seven months, next time!

Ella on beach

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Is Doing Better Than Done?

Sock Knitting Collage

I received some sympathetic comments on Instagram this week when I shared evidence of a sock being unravelled. But, honestly, I didn’t mind so much. The stitches were soon back on my needle and a heel flap magically emerging as I sat on top of the bus.

A long time ago, I realised that my joy of knitting is in the act, not the result. Honestly, if I want a knitted item that I can wear, wash, and wear again I’ll go to a shop. But for the pure meditative pleasure of creating, I knit.

Knitting in the sun

Can the same be said of sewing? I think the two acts are quite different. Or they are for me. Sewing is faster (I’m a notoriously slow knitter). I’m often sewing towards a quite distinct vision of an outfit. And sewing definitely satisfies a practical need in my wardrobe, more than knitting does. I don’t really need any shawls in my life, but I’ve knitted two. What’s that all about? The act of knitting.

sewing in chiffon

I’m not sure I have an act of sewing, though there is definite pleasure to be found in the process alone. Five years into sewing, there’s muscle memory there. Reassurance around returning to familiar processes. And, of course, there are always the clothes! But is doing better than done? Does your energy ever fade like a deflating balloon once the final stitch is in place?

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5 Top Tips For Sewing With Black Fabric

Black fabrics

The changing seasons and a need for more work attire have put me in the mood for sewing with black. There’s only one problem. The shorter days mean I’m often working by artificial light and squinting at my sewing. Here are my 5 Top Tips for Sewing With Black Fabric!

Top Tip 5 – Prep In The Evening

black thread

If light isn’t on your side, do all the prep work in the evening. Wash and dry your fabric. Change the needle in your machine. Prepare a couple of bobbins of thread. Heck, you could even give your sewing machine a clean.

Top Tip 4 – Cut Out In Daylight

I’d suggest saving the cutting out for daylight hours. This is when you’ll want to carefully keep an eye out for any flaws and ensure that you’re confident of the right or wrong side of your fabric. If in doubt, add a mark to the wrong side of your fabric. I recommend this White Wax Tailor’s Chalk that melts away under the heat of an iron.

marking black fabric

Top Tip 3 – Good Lighting

My home has filled with lamps of every shape and variety since I began sewing. If you’re going to sew with black fabric in the evening, make sure you have a good light source.

Desk lamp


Top Tip 2 – Have A Lint Roller To Hand

You are going to pick up every stray dog hair, speck of dust and random thread in your half of the hemisphere. Failing a lint roller, I wrap sellotape around my hand, sticky side facing out, and use that.

Top Tip 1 – Buy A Head Torch!

Strange but true. A head torch can be the Sewist’s friend, aiming a single beam of light right at the area you’re working on.

Do you have any tips for sewing with black fabric? It’s worth spending time on makes in solid colours. You’ll pull these items out of your wardrobe time and again.

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Be Like A Peacock And Dance With All Your Beauty

Drape Jersey Dress

Fabric Godmother recently sent me a surprise gift of this peacock optical dot fabric. It has a super gorgeous velvet touch on the right side, but a slippery wrong side, which means it doesn’t stick to tights. Perfection! But what to make?

I laundered the fabric and left it hanging on a radiator for a couple of weeks. Every time I walked past it, I’d think, What shall you become? Then I remembered a couple of dresses I’d seen recently that reminded me of the Drapey Knit Dress from Fashion With Fabric. They were made from a much lighter jersey than the ponte featured in The Thrifty Stitcher‘s book. I was tempted to have a go – so I did!

Jersey Sleeve Hem

Here’s my biggest top tip for working with jersey. Leave the sleeve hems longer than you think you’ll need. On three separate makes I’ve shortened jersey sleeves and regretted it. Jersey clings and incrementally rides up your arms. Even a centimetre too short and your ickle wrists start whinging. But, Karen, the draft from the window is so cold and now we are all shivery and statement jewellery doesn’t help. Listen to my wrists. Heed their words. Leave your sleeves long.

My other jersey tips? I always, always use Lite Steam-A-Seam 2 to hem jersey and always test my hemming before setting to on the final make. I loosen the tension on both needle and bobbin. I usually forget to use a jersey needle. (That’s not a tip.)

But out of all the above, I’d underline my recommendation to invest in some Lite Steam-A-Seam 2. Hemming is the last stage in a make; you don’t want it to go wrong. For less than £5, you could save your sewing from disaster – and, believe me, a stretched out or puckered hem can spell disaster, with several hours’ sewing wasted. No one wants that.

Hem CollageThe Drapey Knit Dress is a great dress, if you choose fabric carefully and if you’re happy with the deconstructed look. I’d suggest ignoring the pocket insertion. It’s unnecessary complication of this dress’s fabric origami, in my humble opinion, and I don’t see how pockets would ever lie flush to your body.

Thank you, Fabric Godmother. I have a very cosy autumnal dress and you’ve enabled me to deliver a stern lecture about jersey hems!

What do you think to this dress? My guess it’s on the Marmite side of sewing – you either love it or hate it.

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My Manifesto For Happiness – Monochrome Style

Striped Coco ii Collage

Photographing this today was ALL the fun, but you should visit my Instagram account to see the full details. I had quite the little helper…

Tate Modern Collage

This may be turning into Monochrome Month at Didyoumakethat Towers. Also, the month of fun. I loved working with this ponte from Fabric Godmother. Can’t recommend it enough. It’s stable, cosy and just the right side of structural to work well with the Coco pattern. Go buy some! Two metres will give you a dress.

I’ve been blogging for five years now. Can you believe it? I can’t! It’s amazing how evocative a blog becomes as an online diary. Marie touched on this recently, when she looked back at blog photos that – for her – spoke of aching misery. I’ve had similair experiences. I still wince to remember blog posts that saw me putting on a brave face, almost literally wiping away tears before I presented myself to the world. When my Apronalong went live, I’d just split up from my boyfriend. I was baking fairy cakes in an empty house.

Today I had the sense to recognise that my latest photos marked a small turning point in my life. Laughing, walking in the sunshine, muscles relaxing. I’m happy. Really happy. Again. Hello happiness, I remember you.

We must take our happiness where we find it. The rest of the time, we sew. And then? Then, we never take life for granted again. Blogging has taught me that. Phewee! Who ever said this shallow gig was just about the pretty dresses? Some fool who underestimated the extreme power of clothes.

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Is This The Perfect Easy Top To Sew?

Simplicity 1366

The Simplicity 1366 has no darts and no closures. It uses less than 1.5 metres of fabric and is the perfect platform for prints. It can be dressed up or dressed down. So, why has it taken me this long to discover it?

Of course, if it was all that easy, where would the fun be? Knowing Simplicity, I went down two sizes from the pattern sizing. I pinched a centimetre or so out of the back centre neckline. I lengthened by 7.6 cm and graded out for the hips. This top is mean to be a short, boxy style but my days of midriff reveal have … never existed.

Simplicity 1366 CollageThe fabric is a giant polka dot crepe, the body lined in a poly cotton. Not only does underlining give structure to your make, but it prevents any underwear reveals and allows for a very neat finish on the neckline, which otherwise would be topstitched. I love the neckline curve.

I’d recommend prints for this top. My test make was in a solid colour double gauze, which I’ll wear to death but was never born for blog photos. It was very interesting to see how two different fabrics produced very different fits. The double gauze version came out not only roomier but longer. That’s a loose weave fabric for you.

Simplicity 1366 is currently on sale. I’m trying not to wince because I bought it full price, but I’ll get my money’s worth. Just you watch me.

Simplicity 1366 iii

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A Wonk, A Curve, A Crook Or A Twist?

Fitting CollageWhat makes a body normal, anyway? I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot as I assess my own changes over the years. Did I always have wonky shoulders? When did I acquire that deep groove in the shoulder that’s spent a lifetime lugging heavy tote bags around? At which point exactly did I stop caring about a post-op scar that I once thought had ruined my life? And on which holiday did I finally bid farewell to the bikini? I can’t recall.

Sewing doesn’t supply neat answers to unanswerable questions, but it does supply solutions. Wonky shoulders? Tweak your seam line. Narrow upper chest? Pin out a dart. Too tall for the high street? Sew your own. Too small for the high street? Sew your own. Too startlingly original for the high street? You get the idea.

Sewing teaches us that there is no normal. Sewing spits in the eye of normal. Can you remember the first time you stepped out of your home in a dress you’d made and didn’t feel self-conscious? That’s when you said goodbye to normal and allowed your body to just be.

I shan’t go so far as to say I love my wonky shoulders, but at least now I understand them. (Poor, misunderstood wonky shoulders! Can you forgive me all the years when I failed to understand why one bra strap kept slipping off?)

Do you have a wonk, a curve, a crook or a twist? What is your body quirk? And has sewing helped you love it?

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Made Up Winners

Made Up Meet Up CollageThe Made Up Meet Up went brilliantly yesterday. Lots of friends, patterns, drinks, food and a certain straw hat with over 90 folded up pieces of paper. Who would win the three prizes?

We shared the moment of revelation with a wider audience via Periscope – just. I hadn’t anticipated thick Victorian warehouse walls interfering with Internet access. I scrambled to stand next to the only window in our room and a new friend allowed me to log on through the 4G on her phone. By the skin of our teeth we shared the prize-drawing moment. 54 people tuned in live and another 60+ have replayed. The clip is only up for another few hours. Despite the dodgy connection, I now have a hunger to attempt a much better event broadcast with readers. What, oh what, will it be?

With no further ado, our winners are:

The Made Up tote bag went to Nicola in Yorkshire who emailed me with her make half an hour before the deadline closed. Phewee!

The Quadrille books went to Bridget who sewed an Archer shirt – the first she’s ever sewn.

And the grand prize went to Emma who says she never wins anything. That’s changed! You can see a film montage of her winning dress here.

Thanks to everyone for taking part. I shall spend today perusing some of the makes that were emailed to me. Other than that? I’m doing nothing at all.

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