Sewing and other bits in 2021

Well that was another weird year wasn’t it!? I’m not gonna lie but I’ll be glad to see the back of 2021. For every good event there seemed to be two or three stinkers which I found made it really hard to see positives anywhere. I know that there were some good things though and I’m incredibly grateful to have the life that I do so I don’t want to dwell on the downside, let’s move into 2022 with an air of cautious optimism!

I entitled my round up for 2020 as ‘sewing in a time of pandemic’ and I’m so glad I didn’t know then that 2021 was going to be ‘part two!’ Anyway, I’ve collected a few photos to round up my sewing and other events I was able to get up to during 2021 although I’m not sure if they are particularly chronological…the length and colour of my hair at any given time will give you a bit of a clue!

I’ve decided that the Trend Utility pants are definitely my favourite trouser pattern of the year-I had made two pairs by the end of 2020 and finished a third, in orange linen, in spring 2021 and I’ve worn them all fairly constantly. I find them interesting to make, they aren’t a completely straightforward sew and need a bit of concentration but they are all the better for that. The leg flaps are their USP and they are a design feature that make me very happy!
I was wearing them in the late summer when we finally escaped with one of our daughters on a week’s holiday, along with another favourite, the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt.
The orange linen pair were perfectly autumnal at Kew Gardens in November, and the colours were absolutely stunning.
This hacked Sewing Revival Heron dress was one I finished in 2020 but wore a lot in 2021, and will do in 2022 as well.
I’m still not convinced about the ribbon bow but I haven’t actually done anything about changing it.

I was looking for new sewing challenges early in the year during the next long lockdown and Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few items including this Carmanah sweatshirt by Thread Theory. The fabric was kindly provided for me as I’m part of the Lamazi blogger team.

This is the Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirt I made for Mr Y at the start of the year and he’s worn it on heavy rotation. These items of menswear led to me writing an article for Love Sewing magazine about sewing for men, and by men, in the spring and I joined Maria at Sew Organised Style podcast to chat about it too.
Mr Y celebrated his 60th birthday quietly at home in March, we both wore hand-mades!
…and we celebrated a second wedding anniversary in lockdown too. Cabin fever had taken hold a bit as I dug out my wedding dress and flounced around the garden in it! I really hope our 33rd anniversary this year can be outside of the house!!
Let joy be unconfined because mid-March saw us going for our first vaccination and I wore entirely hand sewn garments to mark the occasion, including a Holiday Shirt, a Nora sweatshirt and my self-drafted rain coat.

I was selected to contribute some articles offering sewing tips and advice for an online sewing project in the early spring but after just two such items they just stopped contacting with me or replying to my emails. Bit rude I’d say, I’ve no idea what was wrong because they never had the courtesy to tell me, and I’ve no intention of wasting more time on them frankly.

Moving on…

Lucy at Trend generously gifted me the kit for the Box Pleat shirt from her capsule shirt collection. Like all her patterns it is so well drafted, I should have gone down at least one size though (my fault for being overly-cautious) There are currently three patterns in the shirt collection but I know there are more in the pipeline.
I only made two Minerva projects in 2021 and this Tabitha dress from Tilly and the Buttons book ‘Make it Simple’ was one of them. I really like the Art Gallery fabric and I’ve had plenty of wear from it.
I was so happy to see my dear sewing chum Claire after far too long at the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the V&A in the summer. It was an interesting show although I suspect we nattered all the way around it! [it seems there was a ‘wear checks’ memo sent out too!]

As you know if you read my posts I like to reuse patterns if they have lots of options so I’ve sewn several variations of a number of Sewing Revival patterns during the year, including the Fantail top below which I made in an ancient remnant in my stash which I believe somebody once paid 90p for!

The wide elastic casing in the front hem is such an interesting detail.
This is another version of the Fantail featuring jersey cuffs and back hem.
This Sewing Revival Kingfisher top was made using the fabric from a summer dress which I never wore. It’s been a satisfying project because I worn it often (I‘d had a haircut by this point too!)
I enjoyed the challenge that this Heron adaptation presented because I used linen jersey provided for me by Lamazi fabrics. It was a learning experience and I shared lots of hints and tips in the accompanying post. It’s been such a lovely fabric to wear, it’s very comfortable and it has a beautiful sheen which is not particularly obvious in this photo.
I made another pair of Simple Sew Palazzo pants in a linen remnant I bought from Lamazi, they are comfortable and very nice to swoosh about in! That’s a M&M Camber Set top with them.
I sewed a third version of the Trend Bias T-shirt dress which I made specifically for an occasion at Capel Manor College in north London when the Japanese ambassador to the UK came to plant cherry trees. I’ve only had a chance to wear it once so far because the weather was getting colder but I have every intention of wearing it a lot in 2022-you know I love a floaty dress and this pattern is perfect for that!
I managed to get an outing to the Fashion and Textiles in the autumn to see ‘Beautiful People’ and it was well worth it because the colours and fashions were so uplifting.
One of my personal favourite posts of the year was this one where I had rediscovered lots of my college work and sketches from the 1980s. It was so much fun to find them unexpectedly and it seems it was a trip down memory lane for many of you too.

I wrote just three specific Sew Over 50 blog posts in 2021, the first was a summing up of lots of ideas and inspiration for how to sew more sustainably which the followers of the Sew Over 50 account contributed. There was a lot of it and it definitely worth a read.

Judith Staley joined Maria on the podcast to chat about it too.

I was a guest editor on the Sew Over 50 account in the autumn when we chatted about mannequins in our sewing practice. Many of you contributed some brilliant and insightful comments, I wonder how many people have gone on to buy a dress form, or use the one they have differently, or more often, as a result?

Sew Over 50 stalwart Tina generously shared with us the many resources she has gathered together over the last couple of years for sewing and adapting patterns and clothing after a breast cancer diagnosis. It has been one of my most read articles on the blog since it was published in the autumn and I know Tina is happy for followers to contact her via Instagram for any advice or support she can offer them. For me, she very much represents the positive aspects of being a part of this worldwide community.

One of my favourite ‘in person’ events in the sewing calendar, Sew Brum, quietly took place in the autumn and my lovely mate Elizabeth kindly put me up overnight and we had some quality shopping and sewing time together. Our friend Melissa even joined us for a couple of hours for a Zoom sew! Plus I ran in my first (and so far, only) Park Run too! phew, it was a busy and almost-normal 48 hours.

We got VERY wet at the Park Run but we earned extra smug points in our me-made Fehrtrade running kit! [I wrote a post about the Tesselate Tee that we’re both wearing here]
I didn’t even buy any of this green fabric at Barry’s in the end…

I finally made a jumpsuit (or two) at the end of the year, it’s the Cressida by Sew Me Something Patterns.

I made this second one to wear at the first Lamazi open day in November. It was so much fun to be a part of and I really hope there will be the opportunity to hold more events during 2022 because it so good to meet up with people in person and to just chat about sewing all day.
This was fun outing to the V&A that actually happened rather than being cancelled like so many others, it was an in-person talk by Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell and it was absolutely fascinating. I’ve really missed these talks in the lecture theatre and it was great to be back.
Being an actual grown-up at a fun event!
I splashed out on this unusual quilted fabric from Merchant and Mills and sewed it up into their Fielder top plus I wrote up a blog post on how I made the too-wide elastic fit around the neckline.
These Eve pants are also a Merchant and Mills pattern and they became my second-favourite trousers of the year, made in their Elinore checked linen and worn with a long-sleeved Holiday shirt in Swiss Dot.
This second Hug hoodie of the year by Made It Patterns is definitely one of my favourite makes of the year. It looks tricky but is very straightforward to sew and the style lines look very effective.

For quite a while I had wanted to organise an informal sewing event and they were finally able to happen in October and November with #HertsSewcial It was such a joy to be reunited with my Sew Over 50 stalwart friends Ruth and Kate, along with meeting several other online friends like Bev and Elke in real life for the first time. We had so much fun sewing and chatting together, the time flew past far too quickly and I very much hope I can organise some more in the New Year, current situations permitting.

Can you tell that Ruth, Kate and me are happy to see each other again after far too long!?

And my final sewing treat of the year was being able to meet up with Judith Staley in her hometown of Edinburgh!! It was much too brief but absolutely better than nothing, we had so much we could have talked about but that will have to wait until our oft-rescheduled and much looked forward to sewing get together next spring…fingers tightly crossed!

My final personal make of the year was another Maven Somerset top in this celestial jersey I bought at the Lamazi open day. It’s festive without screaming CHRISTMAS!

And so ends another year of sewing and other stuff, as well as the new garments I’ve sewn for myself there were many other occasions when I wore, and re-wore, favourites which didn’t need to be photographed! I fervently hope 2022 brings better times for everyone and that we can adapt to our new or changed ways of living. Sewing will continue be a big part of my life and I hope there will be some new and exciting projects and opportunities during the year. There are so many wonderful people in this community and the support and encouragement that swirls around has been so important during another trying year-I hope I will get a chance to meet up with more of you in person during the next twelve months.

Until then, thank you for reading my wafflings, happy sewing and a very happy New Year,

Sue

Mannequins, and is it worth owning one?

An object synonymous with sewing our own clothes, or a typical sight in a fashion atelier, is the mannequin. A dress form, dress stand, tailor’s dummy, call it what you will, it is a representation of a human form frequently in an idealised way and often without any of our bodily idiosyncrasies.

They are used for fitting and draping, for working out tricky styling or seam lines, for planning, frequently for sticking pins into, or they can stand silent in the corner of the room under-used and gathering dust.

Mannequins aren’t a new idea, they have been used for a long time to assist in the display or manufacture of clothing, as these antique examples will testify. In a domestic setting women had to make their own, or their families, clothes so the dress stand was a familiar sight in the home.
The British-based company Kennett and Lindsell was established in 1877 and are based in Romford, England. They still supply the fashion industry and colleges with high quality dress stands, and will recondition old models too. The body is glass-fibre polyester with a layer of padding and finally encased in linen fabric. A useful attribute this level of product can have are collapsible shoulders, they push in to allow very form-fitting garments to slip on over the shoulders, and then they spring back out into position again.

The Parisian company Stockman was established in 1867 and still supply the French couture and fashion industries with their own version of the mannequin, this time being a papier mache base with padding and cotton fabric over the top.

I’m fortunate to own two dress stands, although I didn’t set out to have two! My Mum bought my first stand for me when I was studying for my A levels at school and I kept this mannequin for decades! I padded her out and encased the padding with an old T-shirt which I sewed onto her tightly to try and achieve a smooth outline. I carried on with her like that until the poor thing was falling apart from the inside-it was only the T-shirt holding her together in the end! (She had one last outing before heading to the dump when I used her as the base for a ‘Christmas tree’ at a Christmas tree festival at our local church) )
Doris as a Christmas Tree!

Once you start looking you will see there are lots of options for the home sewer when it comes to mannequins and it really boils down to how much you have to spend.

For this article I’ve researched some of the options for you, believe me when I say it’s a bit of a rabbit hole! I’ll give you some idea about each of them beginning with my own purchase of an adjustable stand.

I opted to buy another adjustable mannequin from Adjustoform here in the UK, there are probably similar products worldwide too. Rather than me repeating particulars here I suggest you take a look at the company website because they had loads of useful and helpful information there including what size to pick, how to adjust it successfully and how to pad it to meet your own particular measurements.
There is no benefit in vanity when it comes to padding the mannequin, if it is to be any use to you then it must have all of your figure traits whether you’re happy about them or not. First take your measurements accurately (or get someone to take them for you) and adjust the mannequin using the dials. You could also get someone to take a few photos of you wearing something close-fitting so that it’s clear if you have one shoulder higher than the other, asymmetrical breasts, or a magnificent booty!

I used a bra I didn’t wear much and, as you can see, I also used pieces of wadding. you could use those chicken fillet ‘bust enhancers’ that might be lurking in the back of a drawer too although you can’t easily stick pins into them if you need to. While researching for this post I also saw suggestions to use dried beans, this could be useful if gravity has taken a hold of your attributes. I added extra wadding where my fatter areas around my midriff are, on the tummy and also on the butt to give shaping (I guess you could put a pair of briefs on her too and pad them if you have a particularly luscious booty!)

Finally I invested in a smooth, tight-fitting cover to go over the whole lot. This has proved to be a worthwhile investment because fabrics and half made garments slip easily over it, the original T-shirt was cotton jersey and put up a bit of a fight trying to slide things over it. (yes of course you could make your own cover but the cost was the same as buying fabric and sewing it up, without the hassle of getting the thing to fit properly) I saw a suggestion to wrap the padded-out mannequin with clingfilm so that might be another idea, although it might be a palaver if you need to make adjustments at a later date.

I should tell you that very shortly after buying my lovely new dress stand 3 years ago I won the second one in a raffle!! I had thought that I wouldn’t keep it but it’s actually been very useful when I do bridal and other alterations. She is Indoor Doris because she’s in the house whilst my body double is Outdoor Doris because she lives in Threadquarters-simples!

This is the display in my local department store which gives you a small idea of some of the options available of this type of mannequin, including the base. It all starts with your budget, most of these will probably retail for around £220 or less
I chose casters on my mannequin which has been handy to roll her about but one major issue is that the base isn’t heavy enough so she tips if I don’t keep a foot on the base if I’m pushing against her. One fine day I’ll address this with weights of some kind…

If you don’t have loads of cash to spare I discovered that there are quite a number of tutorials out there to make you own using various different methods. They all involve wrapping the body in some way, starting with wearing a close-fitting T-shirt or dress to protect the skin of the model and then encasing the torso in duct tape or plaster-soaked bandages. Try searching Pinterest or YouTube, or Threads magazine had a number of articles on how to make your own. These probably won’t last a long time as they aren’t very robust but if you are a cash-strapped student for example then it might do the job for a while. I also found patterns to sew your own which looked pretty good but you do need patience and tenacity to get a good result.

Since publishing this, and as a result of lots of comments on the SewOver50 account, Beatrice Forms got several positive mentions, as did Bootstrap fashion so I’ve created links to their websites.

If doing things on a budget isn’t an issue then you can go to the other end of the spectrum and have a custom-made mannequin to your exact needs and requirements.

This company, Alvanon, creates their products by taking body scans to produce tailor-made dummies to exact requirements.
If you’re spending big bucks on a dress form you might consider adding both arms and a head. I also found that this brand would customise the mannequin to your exact requirements for an additional fee.
Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade activewear patterns has this specialist mannequin to help her design and assess the fit of her products. She’s called Eileen…(think about it)
If you want to create elaborate designs and shapes but want to keep fabric usage to a minimum then a half-scale dress stand could be very useful-Vivienne Westwood has always used one as part of her design process.

Once you have your mannequin what will you use it for. My friend Theresa Hewlett is a pattern cutter and tutor extraordinaire and one of her favourite methods of making a pattern is to drape, or model, on the stand. This often involves pinning flat pieces of cloth onto the stand and manipulating them to create pleasing and original shapes which might not be possible by flat pattern cutting alone. Try it sometime, it’s great fun and very liberating and creative.

Theresa created this style by using the draping method
And of course you can use your mannequin to assess and adapt in response to your own personal fitting needs, like Elke is doing here. This does go back to having an accurate stand to reflect your own body type though.
Even if you only ever use the hem marker then that’s better than nothing, it can be so difficult to get a level hem without assistance from a someone else especially on flared or bias-cut skirts. This marker is attached to the support pole
Des Whitehorn of @sew.professional has a little video of exactly how to use the hem marker, thank you Des, I had no idea before this and I’m sure many others didn’t either! This is a fee-standing version of a hem marker, I’ve seen homemade ones too using a long ruler and a large cable clamp.

So before you buy a mannequin it is wise to have a budget in mind to start with, and to understand what your needs might be from it. There shouldn’t be any need to spend loads of cash because there are plenty of cheaper options, secondhand or reconditioned could be a good bet too. Shop around, there are lots of models to choose between so pick the one that is best for you and not just the one that looks pretty. This is one of the more expensive pieces of equipment that a home sewer can buy so choose wisely. My first mannequin lasted many years, although the base had been replaced before she gave out altogether.

For me personally my mannequin is a very useful piece of kit which I use often, and I’m happy with the adjustable kind because I’m a person whose weight and body size has always tended to fluctuate. Even if I had the money to buy a beautiful professional mannequin I don’t think I would because there would often be periods of time when it wasn’t actually ‘me’ which would be both irritating and depressing!

If you have the room and the budget for one though it’s well worth considering.

What have been your experiences with using a dress stand or tailor’s dummy? Have you found it an invaluable piece of equipment, or is it a home for spiders in the corner?

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Merchant & Mills Fielder Top

The Fielder top and dress by Merchant and Mills has been around for at least six years I think but I only bought my copy from Anne NewVintageSewing just last year when she was having a destash sale.

Essentially it’s a raglan cropped-sleeve sweatshirt or dress with ribbing cuffs, hem and neckline. The sleeves have darts at the shoulder to give them some shaping and the neckline is quite scooped out. Most of the sweatshirts I’ve made in recent years have been quite baggy and over-sized so I thought I would try the closer fit of the Fielder for a change. Based on my own body measurements and the finished measurements given on the packet I opted for a UK size 12, and I lengthened the sleeve to be wrist length.

I bought the unusual ‘quilted’ fabric from the M&M stand at the recently-revived Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. It was so good to be able to browse a whole selection of stands once again, it had been over 18 months since any of us were last able to do that. The colour reminds me of old-fashioned sticking plasters, the triple-layer fabric is a clever weave but the loose threads through the middle layer do come adrift quite easily. Because of this I overlocked every piece around its edges to prevent further disintegration. I also stay-stitched the neck edge before it had a chance to stretch.

I couldn’t get any ribbing in a colour I was happy with but I found this brilliant wide elastic in MacCullogh and Wallis with it’s pink/beige stripe blending into black.( Can’t find this exact product on their website, I bought it in-store, they do have similar items online though) The next challenge was how to attach it without losing any of the colours.
I tried out laying the elastic over the top of the overlocked edges like this and that seemed satisfactory. I lined up the pink stripe with the O/L stitching underneath which created a suitable overlap.
I tried out a few stitch options and settled on this closed overlock on my Pfaff
It calls for the blindhem foot to be used which meant I could follow the red guide along the stripe.
The finished stitch is nice and stable and looks good too.
The next challenge was neatening the neck but, as you can see from the photo above, the width of the elastic meant it stood away from the neck and was all wavy.
I pinned it on though and had a ponder on how to solve the issue while I went out for a run….
I came up with the idea that if I could get rid of the fullness on the outer edge (like I’ve pinned it out here) then that might work. I sewed the elastic on in the same way I had on the cuffs and hem and pinned evenly and in alignment with each line on the check design.
Next I folded and pinned each pleat evenly, the chalk line and pencil marks where I would start and finish the line.
I used the width of the presser foot as a starting point to sew down to the bottom of the triangle.
a completed triangle.
This is how it looked after I’d sewn all the triangles and I was pleased with the result. The idea worked but now the triangles weren’t flat inside against my neck.
I tried topstitching each one from the outside to see if it would flatten the triangle sufficiently.
It worked! I pushed them all the same way instead of having some going in one direction and some the other.
The end of the elastic was folded over and stitched with two lines at the CB, it ain’t perfect but I’m pretty pleased with end result! I thought I was going to have to settle for an alternative ribbing/binding of some kind on the neck which wouldn’t have linked so well with the hem and cuffs so I’m delighted with how well this has worked out.
I added this gorgeous little label given to me by my friend Alana (and available from Rosy Little Cheeks) on the back, I think it’s perfect, and true!

I haven’t mentioned the rest of the garment construction because it’s a very straightforward sew, I just made it a bit harder for myself…but in a good way.

As I said in an Instagram post, whilst I’m really pleased with he finished result as a garment, I’m not 100% convinced about the fit yet. The fabric is an unusual alternative to traditional sweatshirt fabric, although it creases more and there’s no stretch either but I think it will come to like it. I’ve got plans to make a plain white button-up shirt to go under things this winter (most of mine are over-sized like the sweatshirts!) so I’ll probably layer it up under this, or a roll-neck perhaps?

Anyhoo, that’s one way to elevate a plain top into a slightly more interesting one (IMO!)

Until next time, Happy sewing

Sue

Tips for sewing with linen jersey, a new Lamazi post

Did you know that linen jersey was even a thing? It’s an unusual fabric which you don’t see often, we all know knits are available in most other fibre types-cotton, wool, silk or man-mades for example- but I’ve never worked with it before so when Liana invited me to sew my next Lamazi project using it, and to pass on any hints and tips for sewing it, I was up for the challenge. 

This 100% linen jersey comes from Mind the Maker in a range of colours and I picked the Dry Mustard shade which is a lovely vibrant ochre. The fabric has a beautiful lustrous sheen on the right side, the reverse is duller so it makes it much easier to tell the difference between the two. It has lovely light drapey quality too and is slightly sheer.

Linen fabric is not a textile known for its inherent stretch qualities and this jersey does feel slightly different from other knits because it has only a small amount of stretch along its length and quite a lot of stretch across the width but it has very little recovery so once it’s been stretched out it will stay like that at least until it’s washed again. During construction the application of plenty of steam will encourage some of this accidental stretching to be eased back into position so, coupled with its sheerness, this means that you need to think carefully about what garment to sew with it. 

Plenty of steam will help remove most unwanted bagginess like this

The properties of linen fabric itself [cool in warm weather, warm in cold weather] mean that it would be ideal for loose-fitting leisure or exercise wear, for yoga or Pilates for example. I would definitely say it’s better to avoid anything that is particularly close fitting because areas like the elbows or wrists would become stretched or baggy with little recovery. However the fabric has a lovely drape and its fine gauge allows it to be gathered up successfully so these properties could be exploited instead.

Bearing all these factors in mind I decided to make (another) Sewing Revival Heron dress which I would hack into a blouse. The pattern has a neckline which is gathered using elastic along with raglan sleeves with deep elasticated cuffs. To mix it up further I decided to pull the hemline in onto elastic rather than have a wide smock silhouette.

First things first, I washed the fabric by hand to remove any risk of excessive shrinkage or twisting in the machine. If you want to wash it in the machine then it might be an idea to overlock the cut ends together first to form a long loop and place it into a large washing bag to protect it further. Alternatively you could press it on your ironing board with plenty of steam instead. If at all possible it is better to dry the fabric flat, and certainly don’t wring or twist it. All of this might sound off-putting, and it is clearly not as straightforward as chucking a nice stable cotton into the machine but this is a luxurious fabric and deserves to be treated and handled carefully in the preparation. When it comes to cutting out your pattern pieces lay the fabric as flat as possible, handle it gently and don’t pull it about too much, especially if you decide to fold it. I made a whole back pattern piece for my top so that I could cut it flat, another appeal of the Heron pattern for me is that it has just three pieces so it’s a relatively quick sew usually. 

After cutting all the pieces the first thing I did was stabilise all the raglan shoulder seams using some iron-on seam tape, I did this to prevent any unwanted stretching before I sewed the sleeves in later on. I added small squares of iron-on interfacing to reinforce the bottom of the opening on the centre front seam too. I also decided to press all the folded parts of the casings/ruffles for the neckline, sleeves and hem before sewing anything together, just so that I was handling the cut-out pieces as little as possible, again to prevent unwanted stretching before they got joined together. I also tacked these folded parts into position temporarily. All this might sound excessive but I wasn’t in a rush, and I found the slow and considered processes very soothing at quite a difficult time. 

iron-on stay tape to prevent unwanted stretching of the raglan seams
I pressed and tacked casing/ruffles before joining the sections together later on
reinforcing the bottom of the neck opening with small squares of iron-on interfacing.

Something else I did before commencing was check on fabric scraps which needle and stitch-type would give me the best results. A ballpoint needle suitable for stretch/knits/jersey is essential to prevent snagging which could lead to laddering of this delicate fabric, and I found a short straight stitch was better than a narrow zigzag but you must do what works best on your own machine. You could sew a garment together entirely on an overlocker but be aware of the lack of rebound this fabric has so if it gets stretched or misshapen while it’s being sewn then it’s probably like that permanently. I also tested the overlocker finish before diving in for the same reasons. If you don’t have an overlocker this fabric is fine enough that where possible you could probably sew self-neatening French seams, or a wide zigzag might work but just be careful it doesn’t chew up the edges. If you have an overlock stitch option on your sewing machine and/or a special foot to sew an overlock-style stitch then definitely use them. Test all options before making your choice, the time taken could save you upsets later on. I slipped some folded strips of paper underneath the seam allowances when I pressed them to minimise any chance of the seam showing through on the front

testing stitches and overlocking
I popped two strips of folded paper under the centre front seam while I pressed it so that there was no show-through or unwanted shininess on the right side.

If you have a walking foot for your machine this is definitely a fabric worth using it for, even if you don’t it’s a good idea to use plenty of pins. I’m not a fan of mini-clips because I think they are too heavy and get in the way, this fabric is lightweight and I think mini-clips could distort it while you’re sewing but it’s up to you. Tacking seams is always an option too of course, any technique that prevents the fabric shifting while you sew basically.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know I’ve made a few Herons before so the construction was straightforward, the only area I did differently was to create the ruffled hem with a wide elastic casing. I couldn’t decide between my planned 2cms or 1cm wide elastic initially so I tested with the two widths to see which I preferred-I chose to stay with the 2cms width as planned. 

testing which elastic width I preferred for the hem, this was the narrow one (the fabric scrap is wrong side out!)
and this is wider width, it’s the one I used at the hem in the end.
using a bodkin to insert the narrow elastic in the neck casing.
checking the gathered neckline on the stand
I used this quilting attachment on my machine so that I sewed an accurate parallel width for the elastic casing
close up of the elasticated hem casing

To sum up, I’m really pleased with how my first experience of sewing with linen jersey has gone, I’ll admit I was a little nervous because Liana was putting her trust in me with an expensive fabric but taking the time to plan and test, and use my existing knowledge of working with knits definitely helped. Because of the sheerness of the fabric Lamazi also provided me with a metre of Atelier Brunette crepe viscose in Ochre to make a camisole to wear underneath, I used the Simone camisole and trousers pattern by Maven which is a very quick make and a very useful garment to wear on its own or underneath other garments. The crepe viscose is a beautiful quality fabric with lovely handle and drape but be aware that there’s a disappointing amount of creasing, you might want to take that into account when planning, for example if you’re making something you’ll spend a lot of time sitting in.

all finished

As always, I hope you find my hints and tips helpful if you choose this lovely fabric, I wouldn’t recommend it to a novice sewer because some experience of sewing with other similar fabrics is definitely an advantage, plus it would be shame to end up with a costly mistake, but if you’re looking for a new challenge to add to your repertoire this could be a good start. I’ll launder the finished garment either by hand or in a wash bag on a gentle cycle in the machine. I’ll dry it flat too and store it that way, I don’t want a coat hanger to make it misshapen. If you’re a person who prefers not to worry too much about their clothes or their maintenance then this might strike you as overkill, and that’s fair enough, but I don’t think it hurts to have a few special things in our wardrobes which were worth the effort to make for ourselves. 

I’m looking forward to wearing this top as autumn is fast approaching (did summer ever arrive!?) thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric to review.

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

a new Lamazi blog, sewing menswear!

It’s a new year (apparently?) so it’s time for my next Lamazi blog and I’m sewing something for Mr Y! I don’t know about you but I’ve felt I needed to work on something a little different to most of my other recent makes, I’ve made myself some lovely garments that I’m now frustrated not to be able to wear much as I want but Tony has been in need of some new clothes for a while now so it’s his turn to be on the receiving end! 

I don’t know what you think but I’ve found that men’s wear patterns and suitable fabrics are definitely a bit harder to come by than women’s or children’s, they are out there if you’re prepared to look but it’s not easy. I’ve made him some nice shirts in the past which you can read about here, and I had made him a couple of Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts recently and then my good friend Claire told me about their Carmanah top which was quite a new pattern. It has several options so you can individualise it, for example with full length or quarter zip, hood or collar, and with or without kangaroo pockets. 

Lamazi offers a range of co-ordinating See You at Six fabrics with plain and patterned French terry, and ribbing, all dyed to be a perfect match so we chose the ‘Clouds’ design in Bistro Green. 

I’ve never purchased ribbing fabric before so I was unsure how much to buy, initially I requested far too much because the pattern instructions made no sense to me. Liana at Lamazi and fellow-blogger Sharlene advised me so I had 1metre in the end to be on the safe side and that was sufficient for an adult garment. If you find yourself in a similar situation I suggest you measure the appropriate pattern pieces to get an idea, or try contacting the fabric seller and I’m sure they would be happy to advise. For an adult garment it almost certainly needs joins whilst something for a child probably wouldn’t.

Based on T’s measurements (he’s 6’3” and, although he’s lost about 28lbs during lockdown, he’s not skinny) I cut him a size large but I added about 2cms at the CF and CB folds at the bottom because the previous version was just a little snug at that point. He likes the body length which comes down to about hip level, and the sleeves are nice and long too so I didn’t need to add any length to them. 

The making up instructions and diagrams are quite clear, I got into a bit of a pickle using the twill tape neatening method though, partly because I printed off the booklet a bit small so I couldn’t easily read the instructions(!) and partly because the green twill tape I had managed to buy was wider than required! Anyway, I persevered and it looks OK in the end. This tape method wasn’t essential and overlocking is perfectly satisfactory, I just thought I would try it for a nice finish on the inside, it definitely adds more complexity if you want to up-skill though. The collar version has a nice detail of the chin guard over the zip which is worth adding for a quality finish.

I put the twill tape on the wrong piece of collar initially! This is the outer collar and the tape should have been sewn to the inner collar. Incidentally, I added iron-on interfacing to the top collar to give it a little more body. It doesn’t call for it in the instructions but I felt the first version could have done with a bit more structure. Have a look at the photo below to see what I mean.
This first version was made with cable knit bought from 1st for Fabrics I think the collar is collapsing a bit although it’s not really a problem
I added twill tape to neaten the front edges before inserting the zip
I tacked the zip into the opening before topstitching in place.
second attempt at the tape trim! the tacking you can see is holding the fold at the top of the collar in the correct place until I’m ready to top stitch it later on.
The tape I bought was too wide so I sewed it on higher than the instructions and then trimmed away the excess in order to turn it up and sink stitch from the right side.
The finished collar from the inside. The green is a very difficult colour to photograph and the zip and tape are a slightly better match than they appear here. I bought both of those from Frumble Fabrics, they have a wide selection of all sorts of haberdashery that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
I finish overlocking by putting the threads on a large-eyed tapestry needle and slot it back through the stitching for a couple of centimetres like this which keeps it secure and tidy.

This fabric is quite pricey but, in my opinion, it’s really lovely quality and it sewed together beautifully. There’s just enough stretch and it would be a good weight for sweatpants or a sweater dress too if you’re tempted. This is the first time I’ve used a range of co-ordinating fabrics and the finished result is really pleasing. Equally you could mix and match colours or prints using remnants for this pattern too, because of the way it’s cut in segments, especially if you go for the full zip version. 

T has gallantly modelled the finished result-he’s delighted with it-he’s usually my slightly impatient photographer so the boot was on the other foot today!

Have you sewn anything for the men or boys in your life? How do they feel about it? Luckily T isn’t very demanding where his threads are concerned and he’s always been very happy with the items I’ve made him so far…..I haven’t attempted trousers in years though so perhaps that will be next? I’d interested in which patterns or fabrics for men you have been able to source, I think it’s an area for improvement in sewing terms.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

2020-Sewing in a Time of Pandemic

Well what a year 2020 turned out to be!

It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??

To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.

But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.

Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.

About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…

I wore the new Homer & Howells Cissy dress (and failed to remove my coat from shot which I chucked on the floor!)

So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.

In all honesty I hated how I looked in this dress because I had piled on weight and felt very self-conscious in a fitted dress. It was a lovely pattern made in beautiful fabric but I felt I was doing both a disservice. Eventually I did wear it in September by which time I had lost weight and it was a delight to wear! I’m sure I’m not the only one whose state of mind has fluctuated wildly this year and my self-confidence was rockbottom when this picture was taken.

I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.

I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.

Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choices for specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!

One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew

One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities. 

As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.

I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.

Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.

I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.

One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.

As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.

I’m making an effort to look cheerful in this most recent Lamazi blog make, but the wine was slightly off watered down Rosé from my daughter’s fridge and it was 10.30 in the morning! I’m genuinely pleased with the dress though and in spite of everything I’ll wear it on Christmas Day because there’s plenty of room for expansion!!

This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Until next time, stay safe!

Sue

I made myself a rain coat!

Considering it’s a raincoat this is a project that came out of a clear blue sky! In other words, I had no plan to make a raincoat until, that is, I spied this gorgeous showerproof Missoni fabric on Dibs’s Selvedges and Bolts website. I’m not normally a sucker for impulse purchases of online fabric but this one with it’s eye-catching colours just had my name on it! 

Once I had it in my hot little hands I had to come up with a design for a jacket. My starting point was a vintage pattern for a kagoule-type top which is probably from the late 50s-early 60s but there’s no date on it sadly. As was typical of patterns from that period it’s a single size, medium, which I already knew was OK because I’d used it once before about 4-5 years back. I also have a cheap-as-chips packamac which is a nice style but turned out to leak like a sieve! I would use this as my sample to follow how components like the zip and a storm flap on the front go together for example. There were a few other patterns which gave me some ideas including The Maker’s Atelier Utility Coat and from these various sources I sketched a few drawings to come up with a design I liked. 

As the fabric was expensive I only bought two metres so I had to progress carefully for each step. I made a new pattern for most pieces because the new version would be mid-thigh length and have a full length front zip opening to be covered by a storm flap, plus I repositioned the shoulder seam forwards to minimise possible leakage through the seams. I altered the side seam shaping a little by curving them out slightly, to give a bit more room for bulky jumpers/sweatshirts. I reused the original hood and sleeve patterns, plus I settled on two pleated patch pockets with separate flaps on top. To reinforce the shoulder area I made an inner lining pattern which acts as an internal yoke. 

I read up a few general tips for sewing shower proof fabric before I started-I didn’t need it to be waterproof so I didn’t tape each seam but I did lengthen the stitch slightly, to reduce the number of puncture holes through the fabric which could potentially let water in. I also used a fine Microtex needle to reduce any friction there might be whilst sewing too. This fabric is different to other woven fabrics because of it’s special coating so any mistakes which have to be unpicked would leave holes. It’s possible to press it carefully but not too hot or you could melt it. Use a pressing cloth over the top and warm the iron up incrementally on a scrap piece until you’re happy with the temperature.

It took me a little while to source the hardwear I needed, many suppliers of zips had the length but not the colour, or the colour and not the length! Eventually I bought two open-ended zips of different colours from Jaycott’s.  I couldn’t seem to find any suitable coloured round elastic online so eventually I settled on narrow grosgrain ribbon from VV Rouleaux for the hood and back waist detail instead, plus I sourced some small spring cord-lock toggles to secure the ends where needed. I found the lining for the hood and the shoulder yoke amongst fabrics I already had.

I sewed the jacket up in ‘bite-size’ chunks of time rather than pushing on through-mostly because I was often waiting for something to arrive in the post before I could do the next part. As I wasn’t following a particular set of making instructions I was winging it to a large extent, the order of making was often influenced by another section of the garment having to take a priority at certain points.

the front storm flap somehow came up a bit long which wasn’t a problem, it just meant some unpicking and resewing-at least it wasn’t too short, which would have been worse.

It would have been better if the sleeves could have been just 4-5cms longer-I’m not sure why they seem short because I’m sure they weren’t on the original sweatshirt-perhaps the big difference in fabric types was a factor? Anyway, no matter, I added a small section of elastication to the top of the cuff to bring it in slightly to help prevent drips seeping back up my arms if possible! I should add that normally I would pattern-match the print but I didn’t see any need to do that for this jacket.

elasticated cuffs and pleated pockets

Because this is very much a ‘make it up as I go along’ garment I used some of the ribbon to neaten the neck/hood seam and jolly nice it looks actually!

the finished neck area, I chose to use the purple zip in the end.
Inside, the shoulder area is stabilised with two layers of lining
I gave a bit of shape to the back by adding a channel with ribbon slotted through and secured with the toggles.
I found these pliers amongst my stuff, as you can see from the price they were bought a goodly number of years back! It turns out they work fine and I managed to apply four successful snaps to the front.
Finished!
You won’t miss me in this!

For an unplanned garment I’m very pleased with the outcome, I love the colours and I hope it will be useful, it folds up pretty small so I can shove it in a bag if I’m going out and don’t want, or need, to take a heavier coat. It’s very much one of a kind! In normal times I wouldn’t have been sourcing everything online, I enjoy browsing in real shops for haberdashery and trims, but not just at the moment.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Pfaff air threading and a Tesselate Tee!

There’s a lot going on in this post because I’m offering you my thoughts on not one product but three! 

So, a bit of background first…I used to be a keen runner but various injuries forced me to stop and then I never quite got started again. Fast forward at least 3 years and I’d gained weight which I wasn’t happy about, I felt sluggish and lacking in energy, I wanted to lose the weight for the good of my health and mental wellbeing. So, coming up to date, the return to running is going well (if cautiously…) and I’m losing some weight which in turn has inspired me to try making some of my own activewear. Fortunately for me Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade has become a sewing friend of mine since first meeting her at the Sewing Weekender a few years ago and she generously offered me a copy of her Tesselate Tee pattern to try. I’d helped test her Rouleur leggings last year so I already had that pattern. Part of the beauty of Melissa’s patterns is that she gives you really comprehensive instructions to be able to sew activewear using just a regular sewing machine if you don’t own an overlocker. I’m in the fortunate position at the moment to be a Pfaff Brand Ambassador and I have their air-threading Admire Air 5000 on loan, along with a Coverlock 3.0 as well so this all seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some new running kit. 

Suitable activewear fabric is not something I have in my stash other than the scraps left from testing the Rouleur leggings so I had a little online search and came across Frumble fabrics. They have a good range of activewear fabrics at competitive prices as well as an impressive selection of suitable elastics and other trims or haberdashery you might need for this sort of project. I bought a metre of plain navy fabric and a metre of navy camouflage print, along with navy soft waistband elastic, some navy fold-over elastic and, finally, silicone grip elastic. [One point I should add here is that I decided not to pre-wash the fabric, this was based on my own knowledge and belief that synthetic fabrics are usually more colour-fast than natural fibres. I was wrong. The navy came off on my hands as I was making it up so as soon as I finished both garments they have been through the wash after all. I have alerted Frumble so I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t already fed back to them. Overall I’m pleased with the fabric quality and I learned my lesson-prewash even if you think it doesn’t need it!]

I opted to go for a medium size Tesselate top, Melissa has recently layered the pattern so now you only need to print off the size or sizes that you want, I wavered between small and medium according to my measurements. The small probably would have been fine but the medium gives me a little more room without the constant thought that I should be sucking in my wobbly bits! One of Melissa’s USP’s with her patterns is interesting seam lines which means, as well as striking designs, you can often use up small pieces or remnants of suitable fabrics. The Tesselate has a variety of options including short or long sleeves, thumb cuffs, a hood (with ponytail hole!) and back zipped pocket. 

I cut the leggings a mixture between small and medium and I’m happy with the fit of the end result. I had enough fabric for long sleeves on my Tesselate and, although there’s a pattern for the back pocket, rather than print it off I made my own. 

I opted to put the pocket in the back left diagonal seam because I decided I could reach it comfortably behind me and use the zip easily whilst moving if necessary. I drew onto the pattern how big it needed to be to accommodate the essentials.
I placed spot and cross paper over the top and traced off the shape, adding 1cm seam allowance to it.
a new pocket bag labelled and ready

I played around with the fabrics until I was happy with their placement, I had enough of the blue spotty fabric for the back and front side panels, everything else I divided between the two navy fabrics.

Because I was going to be sewing a fair bit of the garments together directly with the overlocker I join the pieces with the pins at least 2-3cms away from, and parallel to, the cut edge. Then it’s safe to sew without the pins being anywhere near the blade.

I’ve made another little video to demonstrate how the air threading works on the Pfaff, you’ll need to bear in mind that it might seem like it takes a while to thread and so where is the advantage in air threading but that’s because I’m trying to explain as I go and I was sitting at a funny angle behind the camera whilst I did it.

After two years of owning the Quilt Ambition 2.0 (now discontinued) I’m used to the quality of Pfaff machines so it doesn’t surprise me that the Air Admire is sturdy (no shifting about on the table while you sew) and very speedy, with a superb quality of stitch. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the air threading and, as I mention in the video, there’s an automatic threader for both needles too! I couldn’t get the hang of that at all to start with but it’s amazing what a difference it makes if you read the instructions and follow them! Of course, this is an expensive machine and I understand that not everyone will have that kind of budget but if you are considering an air threading overlocker (there are now a lot more models on the market than just market-leader Babylock with prices gradually coming down) then this one is most definitely worth thinking about.

I inserted the invisible zip on the sewing machine, then attached the pocket bag that way too. The T-shirt goes together pretty quickly considering the number of pieces-most pieces are cut singly because they are asymmetric-if you’re using the same fabric throughout it would be an idea to label your pieces in some way so you don’t get them mixed up.

I find it very useful having a variety of stitches to choose from especially when sewing with stretch fabrics, the 3-step zig zag was ideal when I was sewing the elastic into the waistband, I also have an ‘elastic’ stitch which is useful. A lot of machines, even quite simple ones, will probably have a stitch option which will enable you to sew activewear so why not try out a few of them to see exactly what they are, the instruction book should be helpful, or there’s so much information on the internet too.

The finished waistband on the leggings, elastic is completely enclosed in a seam at the top and then I’ve secured it further with a 3-step zig zag stitch
I’ve joined the elastic for the legs into loops which are then sewn to the right side of the fabric, matching the edge of the elastic to the cut edge of the fabric.
I used a small zig zag to stitch it in place. This then flips to the inside and I coverstitched it along the top edge.

To neaten the hems and around the neck I swapped over to the Coverlock 3.0 which I had on the coverstitch setting. Again, this is a very sturdy piece of kit with excellent stitch quality, I am finding there is a certain knack to using it and I’m by no means an expert yet but it certainly gives a very professional finish to knit, jersey or stretch garments.

The Rouleur leggings also have large side pockets which are perfect for holding your phone and/or keys etc (Betsy getting in on the act again too)

As always, I hope you’ve found this helpful, I always try to be honest about how I get on with a product whether or not I’ve been gifted, loaned or purchased it-all three in this case. If you’re tempted to have a go at activewear then Melissa is a good place to start-she’s even written a book on the subject so you’re in good hands!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

a SewOver50 discussion about fabric choices.

At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?

So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.

Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…

So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds. 

[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ] 

Hasan, the famous (if you live near London) Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow

Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.

In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!

For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print. 

Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters. 

But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.

So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes. 

I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?

@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics. 

I made this beautiful Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile given to me by Pamela and when she saw me wearing it recently she commented that the fabric might not have belonged to her in the first place but to her mother!! Goodness knows how old that could make it but it’s still going strong for me and it’s one of my absolute favourites in warm weather.

Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.

At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.

Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes. 

As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Two Minerva makes in one go!

I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.

I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs. 

I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.

When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.

I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears. 

the cut edges fray like this a little bit.
the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0, it’s been a fantastic machine and the quality and versatility of its stitching has been superb.

The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.

Maxine sweater in linen/wool mix from Merchant and Mills
this is a slightly truer version of the colour

The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well. 

Simplicity 8529 with cuffs and hem band finish, I like this top so I think I’ll make another next winter but do the longer straight version.
You’ll notice that neither top is long but I’m happier to be able to make two shorter but perfectly wearable tops rather than one longer one with fabric left over which wasn’t enough to use for anything else.

I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.

My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.

Until next time,

Happy Sewing,

Sue