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!

Posted in sewing, sewing and knitting | 78 Comments

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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Sewing Pyjamas

Pyjama CollageIs Liberty Tana lawn too good for sewing pyjamas? Too late, now! I’ve made Sewaholic’s Tofino pants and Grainline’s Tiny Pocket Tank as my ultimate bed wear.

I’d ordered this beautiful fabric on line, but when it arrived I feared it was a bit too cute for a dress. I couldn’t stop staring at it, though. And when I noticed that my Tofino pants from two years ago were faded and coming apart at the seams, I knew what to do with this fabric.

lace piping

I really like the piping details on the Tofino pants. The theory is that these horizontal lines lengthen your legs – clever, huh? But piping felt a bit bulky against my tana lawn. Instead, I bought some cream cotton lace from a shop I’m soon to review.

I also love that the rise of the back waist is cut slightly higher to keep your kidneys warm and your modesty intact! These are pretty simple to make but with a few interesting details to keep you on your toes. I have written a whole series of sewalong posts for these pants, if you’re looking for a guiding hand.

tiny pocket tank ii

I’ve made several iterations of the Tiny Pocket Tank. I love it for walking, cycling and sleeping! It’s a Can Do top that rolls up really small in a weekend bag. It’s worth tweaking the fit to suit your body – I added an FBA, widened the shoulders and raised the height of the neckline. But once you’ve a fit you’re happy with, you’re good to make multitudinous versions.

I’ve already worn my new PJs to bed and love them. The crisp tana lawn means that I don’t emerge looking as though I’ve been doing complex origami in the night. They’re comfie and pretty and I get to gaze at that lovely print every evening when I climb out of my work clothes and into something more comfie. Worth every penny, I reckon! Would you use Liberty tana lawn on something as basic as pyjamas?

Liberty PJs

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Blog Writing Tips 1 – The Power Of Story

Once Upon A Time

Lots of people set up a blog out of a hunger to engage. I know I did. I’d been reading sewing and knitting blogs for a while and I couldn’t ignore my desire to contribute in a more meaningful way. I didn’t want to listen to the conversation; I wanted to be part of it. So, I set up a blog.

I’m sure this is a familiar story to lots of you and that you went through a similair journey. You set up your blog page, chose a name, wrote an excited first post … and then what? Fear.

  • I’m not very good at spelling and grammar – will people judge me?
  • I don’t know what to write about, or how, or when…
  • I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything that wasn’t a shopping list.

This last one is a biggie. When was the last time you sat down and engaged in a creative writing task? (Because that’s what you’re doing when you compose a blog post.) For some people, creative writing has been long left behind in the toy box of childhood. Grown ups don’t write stories. They pay the bills, hold down jobs, do the laundry, talk about how exhausting life is as they watch their children play make believe. Don’t they?

Not in my world and not in yours, either.

Grown ups do tell stories. We tell stories all the time. We can’t help it; it’s in our DNA. From the moment we were born, people were singing lullabies to us, reading us picture books, parents exchanged gossip over the top of our heads and as soon as we understood words, we started to learn the mythology of our own existence: You came out of the womb with a full head of curly hair and screaming your lungs off! We knew you were going to be a character from the start.

See? They’re all around us. And it’s my opinion that stories make the best blog posts. They’re life affirming, they’re satisfying, they can make us laugh or cry over our breakfast cup of tea. Here are some examples:

Raggy Gets A New Coat

Classic storytelling. Jane’s son, Charlie, was very attached to his comfort toy, but it needed repairing. Jane shares a touching story about what happened next. As one reader comments, Charlie is very lucky to have such a lovely mum…

Kimono Silk Wedding Dress

Sunny Gal Studio wrote a series of posts about the commission to make a wedding dress from some vintage kimono fabric. It’s a beautiful story and the ultimate example of how sewing stories have a very satisfying beginning, middle and end. I dreamt of a dress, I made the dress, I wore the dress. See? Our passion for sewing supplies us with stories on a plate. All we have to do is tell them.

Changing Guards At Buckingham Palace

This is a very old blog post from me, back when I engaged in the challenge of Me Made June – and getting photographed with a different stranger for every day of the month. (What a hoot that was! What a dork I look!) One day I wandered past Buckingham Palace and the most incredible story emerged. I had to share it.

5858412850_84e20e4a82_z

5884957031_5f3ca5a294_z

Being photographed with random strangers is fun! Anyone remember this?

On a bigger scale, I think entire blogs or elements of those blogs become stories in their own right. I have a running joke about The Man Outside Sainsburys – the man who takes a lot of my hard earned cash in exchange for lovely fabric. (Who, by the way, has still not set a date for our wedding. Or even mentioned our wedding. I’m wondering if I should put the wedding dress patterns back in their drawer.)

Or take a look at Tilly and the Buttons, for example. Sets up a sewing blog, gets the pattern drafting bug, appears in the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee, has a book published in over eight countries, moves into her first studio… Guys, aren’t you breathlessly turning the page to read the next chapter? I know I am!

So, what I’m trying to say is this: don’t over think your blog writing. Have faith in yourself. You DO know how to do this. Find a story and tell it. It can be the story of what happened when you set the sleeve in wrong three times or the story of the dress you made for your wedding or the story of the dress that ended up in the bin. Yeah, there are going to be those stories too.

Why does the power of story work for building a blog readership? Because you’re engaging people’s emotions. They start to care about you, they want to read more of your stories which means they’re going to come back to your blog.

Here’s my PRACTICAL EXERCISE if anyone wants to play along. Go away and have a think about a story for a blog post. Give it the loosest possible framework: a beginning, a middle and an end. Write it up and then link back in the comments below so that we can all go and read! I can’t wait to see what emerges. We’re all telling stories all the time, and some stories can become truly wonderful blog posts.

Starring me as third donkey

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