Inserting A Zip Into Lace

back zipWhen I think of zip insertions, I recall the lyrics to a Beatles song: The long and winding road … I probably inserted, ripped out and re-inserted this zip about five times. Thank goodness that these days I at least have the sense to baste first.

This was a particular challenge because of the single layer of lace in the upper back bodice. I first inserted the zip with no reinforcing of the seams. Big mistake. Every time I did up the zip, I could feel the lace pulling and stretching. This was a ruined dress waiting to happen and I wasn’t having that.

I did a bit of thinking. I know! I’ll reinforce those raw seams with selvedges from some silk organza. A great theory, but in practice the cream silk organza was very visible through the lace. Not good enough. Not good enough at all.

Organza selvedge Collage

I ripped out the zip (again) and racked my brains. What could I do instead? Selvedges, selvedges… I knew my instincts were moving in the right direction. After all, selvedges provide great stability. The lace! I could rescue a selvedge from the lace. So, that’s what I did.


I hope you can see in the photo below, where a strip of lace selvedge has been basted to the raw seam on one side. On the other side, you can see the inserted zip.

lace selvedgeThis worked! My zip insertion felt much more stable and I no longer had to worry about the back bodice stretching out of shape or my zip tearing free of the seam. A bit of lateral thinking did just the trick.

So what is it for you? Selvage or selvedge?

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The Most Dangerous Experiment In Knitting

Circular Needles

Ooh, Karen. It must be really annoying knitting when your circular needles are so curly.

You’re right, readers, you’re right! So annoying, I decided to embark on The Most Dangerous Experiment In Knitting.

I took a warm iron and a clean tea towel…

tea towel

I stretched the plastic tube out beneath the tea towel and pressed…

Circular Needle Collage

Et viola! A much easier circular needle to work with. I’m living life on the edge, peeps! What’s the most dangerous experiment you’ve performed in the name of making?

plastic tube

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Sewing A Lace Dress

Sew Over It Lace Dress

How do you sew a lace dress? With patience! I made this cocktail dress as part of a sewing class with Sew Over It. Guys, I can’t recommend this class enough. It is aimed at intermediates and comprises of four three-hour classes, plus homework, plus… Well, if you’re anything like me there will be a lot of extra hours spent indulging your perfectionist streak. I feel as though I have just emerged from a long, narrow, windowless corridor of sewing obsession. That’s a hobby for you!

Lace Dress CollageI ordered my lace online from … darn, I can’t remember! I think it was Stone Fabrics, but if that’s right, there’s none left. It’s a matt cotton lace. I wanted to be able to wear my dress at afternoon events, without any garish shine beneath sunlight. The lining came from John Lewis. The dress is underlined and then lined in the same fabric. For my underlining, I chose to use the reverse side of the lining fabric facing out to keep things looking matt.

The big surprise about lace is that it can be incredibly forgiving to work with. Sleeves eased in pretty easily and stitches just disappear. The challenge of lace is that it can stretch. I never hung this dress between classes; I kept it carefully folded. It’s important to insert hanging loops.

hanging loops

The stretch elements of lace inspired me to test myself with a new-to-me technique of stay taping necklines with a narrow red ribbon.

reinforcing neckline

In fact, there were lots of new-to-me techniques involved in the construction of this dress. I flew by the seat of my pants when it came to reinforcing the zip placement at the upper back, where I was dealing with a single layer of lace.

zip in lace

There are a gazillion details I shall share in other posts. A lot of the construction was shared in real time on Instagram and I’d like to thank all the people who left comments, encouraging me. It was an interesting exercise, showing the reality of making a dress at this level – the blood, sweat and tears. I hope it provided a window on what realistically goes into a sewing project. No magic sewing wand here!

This is one of the loveliest dresses I’ve ever made. A big shout out to Sew Over It and my teacher, Julie. She platformed kindness, patience, humour and expertise. What more could I have asked for? I’ll tell you what more – behind-the-scenes gossip from sewing wedding dresses for a living, that’s what!

Lace is in all the shops right now. Are you inspired to sew with it?

Lace Dress Details Collage

Lace Dress

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Did My Blog Schedule Work?

blogging diary

Back in January, I set myself a challenge. Could I establish a blogging schedule and maintain it? Four months – or a third of the year – have flown by. Time to report back.

My aim was to write three blog posts a week – two midweek and one at the weekend. This is a demanding level of writing, photographing and sewing but I felt that if I was going to investigate the logistics of a blogging schedule I needed to push myself.

I had a monthly planner and a Sharpie pen near to hand. This initially made a big difference. Whenever an idea for a blog post occurred to me, I’d scribble it down. Forward planning gave me a creative shot in the arm. Three blog posts to write a week? You’d better get thinking! I enjoyed the thinking and planning. It gave shape to my blogging.

This also helped focus me during a crucial time of year. Those winter days that are a blogger’s nightmare? Planning helps a lot. Each weekend, I’d grab what I could and photograph it. There wasn’t much thinking going on. But I knew that a photo on my hard drive could be enough to inspire 150 words written on the sofa midweek after work – and that helped keep the blog running.

Regular posting saw an undoubted increase in my blog traffic – a 20 per cent monthly leap in visitors during the month I began my blogging schedule.

All good stuff. So, it feels telling that I’ve just gone an entire week without writing a blog post. Do I have any insights as to why?

  • I’ve been very busy sewing. Lots to share soon!
  • Other media presents easier options. I adore Instagram for an immediate connection with my fellow Sewists. The online world is changing and I’m not one to fight that.
  • I’d proved my point, which in turn extinguished the fire in my belly.
  • I wasn’t in the mood to write something. I think mood is a really important part of blogging.
  • I fell out of love with my planning board.
  • In conclusion, I stand by my original statement. I’m a splurger, not a planner!

And what of other people’s blogging schedules? Honestly, I barely notice if someone misses a self-imposed deadline. I bite my lip when a blogger apologises for a long silence. It’s fine! But there’s one day of the week when I get a bit twitchy if I haven’t had my blog reading fix, and that’s on a Sunday evening. Two bloggers I enjoy, Dolly Clackett and Closet Case Files, blog regularly at the end of the week. I love the moment this represents – to look backward and look forwards.

Regular blogging helps with this ritual of taking stock. It’s like the weekly phone call home. You make it when you remember and when you have time and when you have something to say. Mainly you make it to connect with the people who care and because you care. Does there need to be more to it than that?


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Zip Tips!

zip insertion

Did you know that the ideal place to end a zip insertion is 9 inches (23 cm) beneath the highest part of your waist? According to the law of body averages, this is where the widest part of your hip will be. No wriggling into outfits again!

bottom zip

And to prevent the base of your zip flapping around or out, anchor it to your seam allowance. Such a small tip that has made a big difference when I’m clambering into my Ultimate Trousers.

What are you up to this weekend? I plan to put the finishing touches to my red lace dress, as documented on Instagram. I’m going cross-eyed. Will my sight or sanity survive?

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The Best Way To Start A Knitting Project

Sleeve Knitting

Always begin a knitting project with the sleeves. That’s what a wise woman told me last summer and almost a year on, I’m really glad I listened. I’ve enjoyed launching into the above cardigan from the Debbie Bliss Mia pattern book in a fabulous denim wool. There’s only one problem. The knit is coming up too dense.

I always have to go down a size or two in knitting needle to achieve the proper tension. This time I’ve gone down too much. Yeah, my tension square is the right size but all that lovely cabling and pattern is getting the life squeezed out of it. There’s no spring to my wool.

It’s time to rip it out and start again. On bigger needles. Maybe knit a smaller size. Much better to learn this hard lesson by casting on a sleeve than a back piece. I’ve saved myself a lot of wasted energy. That’s my knitting tip for the day! What’s yours?

bamboo needles

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The Ultimate Accolade

Chambray Ultimate TrousersHere’s a little quiz for you. Who do you think recently said, in a surprised tone of voice: You know, those trousers are really quite flattering on you!

a) My bestest friend, who thinks everything I do, say and wear is brilliant because I am brilliant.

b) A male friend, who thinks clothes are functional and exist simply to stop us all from walking around naked.

c) My mother.*

What can I say? When my mother speaks, I listen. Yes, I made a fourth pair of Sew Over It Ultimate Trousers.

* Love you, Mum!

Close Up TrousersThis outfit is ALL the colours. I used some royal blue Robert Kaufman dot chambray. It’s a really gorgeous fabric with a subtle sheen.

ultimate trousers detailsI assumed my fourth make would be straightforward, but I’d forgotten that the Ultimate Trouser fit needs to be tweaked with every variance in fabric. There’s zero stretch in this chambray (unlike my previous versions – one in stretch denim, one in triple crepe wool) and adjustments were made accordingly. A person skips basting and trying on at their peril! Fortunately I didn’t, and I now own a comfortable and flattering pair of trousers for the warmer weather.

I can’t resist a close up on my new satchel. I’m getting to that stage in life, where I sometimes need reminding what my name is. Accessories help.


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The Magical Art Of Fabric Manipulation

Easing in

I love this photograph. It sums up one my most favourite aspects of sewing – the magical art of fabric manipulation. Sometimes it really does feel like magic!

Ever heard the saying about a large object meeting an immovable force? In sewing, the confrontation between two apparently inflexible surfaces does not need to be the end of the story. It can be the beginning. Or the middle. Part of the journey. I’m over reaching again, aren’t I?!

shoulder seams

Look at these two pieces of fabric. That’s a back sleeve piece about to be attached to the back bodice at the armhole seam. The seam on the sleeve is 3cm – 3cm! – longer than the seam on the back bodice. It needs to be eased in. This is to accommodate the roundness of your shoulder. Breaking news – the human body is made up of curves and orbs, not straight lines! Artists know this.

The ease also gives your arm the room to comfortably move when you want to reach for another piece of chocolate. So, really, the moral of the lesson is: all sewing patterns are drafted around the human being’s need for chocolate. (Ah, that it was so.)

How does one ease a wider piece of fabric into a smaller piece of fabric? Pins. Lots of pins. Lots and lots and lots of pins and tiny little hillocks of fabric, as in the first photo. Looks like it shouldn’t work, doesn’t it? But if you’re careful enough and slow enough, it does. You don’t need a magic wand at all!

Eaten any good chocolate, lately?

shoulder seam Collage

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Vogue 5098 – First Bodice Toile

Vogue ToileWork has commenced on the Vogue 5098. Step one, a bodice toile. The good news is that the pattern largely fits according to my body measurements – hoozah! The more challenging news is that there are more than a few tweaks to be made. That’s okay. That’s why I’m making a toile.

Toile AdjustmentsThe above pinned out section takes account of my hollow upper chest. I trace the adjustment (with one of my new Frixion pens!) and then pinch out the adjustment on the pattern piece.Toile Collage

pinching pattern pieceI also have quite significant tweaks to my back bodice. I’ll be cutting out and sewing a second bodice toile. Even then, I suspect more tweaks may be in order. Might I persuade my lace dress sewing teacher to let me try on my toile for her after a class? She’d be able to guide me on final adjustments.

It’s hard to adjust fit on your own – very hard. Why don’t fitting meet ups happen? I’ve been asking this question for a while. Maybe I should organise one.

vogue bodice toile

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The Best Fabric Marking Tool You’ll Ever Use

Frixion pens

Tailor’s chalk. It’s just not that great. There – I’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room! As an alternative my Clover Chalk Pen is pretty awesome, but this week I learned about a new-to-me marking tool – the Frixion pen. This baby may just change my sewing life.

These pens aren’t aimed at Sewists, but they are readily available. You can find them in pretty much any supermarket. I was confidently told this and chose to test the claim by wandering into the supermarket nearest my office. There they were, hidden away on the bottom shelf of the stationery section – three for £6. I don’t think I’ve ever yelped in a supermarket before.

The pens have a fine tip (great for detail) and use thermo sensitive ink which can disappear beneath the heat and steam of an iron. (There may be a faint chalky residue left behind, so bear that in mind.)

I’d also been told that if you put your fabric in the kitchen freezer, your marks would become visible again. Could this be true? Might a person magic back dart markings or fit adjustments? I decided to conduct an experiment.

marking fabric

pressing fabric

After removing the marks with a hot iron, I placed my fabric in the freezer.

fabric in freezer

In the time it took me to eat a packet of crisps whilst browsing Instagram, the below reappeared…

final fabric

Neat, huh? Have I just changed your sewing life, too?

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