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.
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.
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…
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.
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 choicesfor 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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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! ]
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.
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.
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 ‘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.
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.
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.
My latest Minerva blog post is up for you to read now and it’s a jacket that nearly didn’t make it. I chose the fabric based on the image on screen but when it arrived both the background colour wasn’t what I expected and the design was larger than I thought it would be too. The lesson to learn from this is to order a swatch whenever possible to make sure the fabric is exactly as you expect or want.
That said, the quality of the loop-back jersey I used was absolutely lovely and it made up-eventually-into a really nice Jalie Charlie bomber jacket. I haven’t used Jalie before but I must say I was very impressed with the HUGE size range each pattern comes in, the quality of the instructions and illustrations (in both English and French) and the sizing is spot on.
The next problem I had was matching ribbing to the multi-coloured fabric and also finding a suitable open-ended zip. Eventually I found a gorgeous raspberry pink plain jersey from Sewisfaction instead of ribbing, and I got a zip from MacCulloch & Wallis in London.
Anyway, once I got everything together it all sewed up really well and I was pleased with how all the colours eventually came to form a unified whole. Subtle it isn’t so it definitely needs to be worn with plain garments but it’s a bit of fun and I know I’ll use the pattern again too.
As always, you can find the full rundown of my making experience over on the Minerva blog now, I hope you find it useful.
It’s funny how sometimes, when life dishes up lemons, it can take quite a while to get that lemonade made.
What on earth am I talking about…? well, when I left my job in a secondary school five years ago in a manner not of my choosing I had no idea what could happen next. If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while now you’ll know that I’ve carved out a life that involves sewing for my own pleasure, sewing for others, visiting interesting galleries, museums and exhibitions and, best of all, forming new friendships through those sewing activities. This post is really a result of the last one…
Two years ago Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic at a time no longer during school holidays, which turned out to be a Strictly Come Dancing-themed cruise. It was during this that I met Theresa Hewlett and without whom no costumes for the TV show would get made. She is the pattern cutter and alterations manager for the show, and designer Vicky Gill’s right hand woman. I didn’t know any of this when we first met on the ship, many of the costumes from the most recent series were on display around the ship and T was there giving us all very insightful guided tours of the dresses with tales of how each garment was constructed. As you can imagine I absolutely lapped it up [you can read my two blog posts from that trip here and here] and I was even more pleased to discover we’d both attended London College of Fashion within a year of each other.
That was that until several months later when I decided to give Twitter a try and somehow came across Theresa, on there, During the duration of the show she regularly tweets updates on progress of the costumes and little behind-the-scenes nuggets (she certainly never gives away big secrets though!)
DSI-London are based in Croydon, south of London so I travelled there by train and tram and found them based in a very unassuming building in a quiet residential road. I’d be lying if I told you that inside all was super-glamorous sparkles, feathers and sequins because that wouldn’t be true. Up the stairs you enter the showroom where customers can shop from the RTW items of essential ballroom and Latin dance-wear such as practice clothes, shoes of all styles, spray tan and eyelashes. It is also in this area that fittings on bespoke outfits take place. Later on in my visit I was privileged to sit in on fittings for two custom-made dresses for a young dancer who had flown over especially from Ireland and was flying back again that evening. It was fascinating to watch T tweak and measure and pin (always safety pins, regular pins would fall out straight away-I’m going to remember that one when I’m pinning wedding dress skirts in future!) T’s colleague Nina sits in as well to make notes of the customers requirements and record measurements, photos are often taken too, especially as the client is unlikely to be able to come for many fittings.
T gave me a tour through all the different departments within the company, they don’t only produce the Strictly costumes but also Dancing On Ice, as well as costumes for cruise ships and many other shows around the world. The ready to wear garments for these orders are cut and made in a separate workroom on the same floor. The cutting room for men’s wear is downstairs, as are the bulk of the fabric, haberdashery and trim supplies, and the laundry room.
The designs are created by Vicky Gill (who sadly I didn’t get to meet during my visit) and then T makes the made-to-measure patterns which are in turn are passed to a highly-skilled cutter who cuts all the fabrics and they go on to the machinists who sew the garments together, each person generally makes the whole garment and any alterations go back to that machinist too.
Once the dress is put together a fitting like the one I witnessed takes place to check fit and skirt length. The dress goes back to the machinist for any changes to be carried out and then it goes on to the stoning department for embellishment, which might include feather trim too.
Scattered all around the studio are mannequins in various states of undress and with different quantities of padding. The machinists use these all the time to be able to assess the dress as they progress, for the placement fringing or embellishment for example. [Incidentally, every dress is built on a leotard base so whenever there’s a ‘no knickers under her dress!’ scandal after the TV show it’s nonsense]
DSI often has dresses come back to them for alterations, fashions change, children grow, bodies alter. New skirts can be added, sleeves removed or added, stoning added to. It’s worth mentioning that the dresses (apart from ones with feathers on) can go in the washing machine, a fact I found amazing! In another part of the building there is a laundry with dresses drip-drying on a rail. Everything is sewn together on industrial zigzag machines along with rolled hem machines and overlockers. Theresa told me it’s very challenging at times to keep the machines working happily because they have to sew through so many layers of difficult fabrics at once, frequently including feathers and crin, and sometimes stoning if an alteration has to be carried out after completion. (they use heavy duty domestic machines to carry out repairs or alterations at the TV studios whilst the program is going out)
Many of the dresses from the TV show are hired by other productions of SCD around the world, they are all for sale on the company website so you could buy yourself a little piece of Strictly. DSI-London sell a wide range of specialist fabrics and trims too so if you ever need/want to have a go at making costumes or dancewear then have a look at their website.
I so enjoyed my visit to DSI-London and thank you so much to Theresa and all the staff who were so friendly and made me very welcome. I absolutely loved being back in a workroom environment again, it’s been a very long time since I was part of a creative team like this and it made me realise how much I miss it-everyone has a part to play in the making of these garments whether it’s wedding dresses in my case, or dance dresses. Obviously it isn’t glamorous in the slightest, it’s hard work in a hot room, and the pressure is immense when there’s a live TV programme at the end of every week for three months…and then Dancing on Ice after that.
It’s possible to for you to visit DSI-London too as they offer tours around the premises at different times of the year, have a look at their website to see when they are next taking place. I know they have proved popular though so there may be a bit of a wait.
It won’t too long now until the new series of Strictly starts again and the relatively peaceful atmosphere of the workrooms will be replaced with frenetic activity, I’ll be thinking of the people I met during my visit as they produce dozens of beautiful garments every week to dazzle us on our TVs on Saturday evenings during the autumn. And if you want regular updates on costume progress during the week, follow Theresa on Twitter.
Melissa Fehr has been well-known in home sewing terms for a few years now because she specialises in clever and well thought out activewear. She worked as a technical advisor on the fourth series of the Great British Sewing Bee too. You can hear her talking about this and other parts of her life on an episode of the Stitchers Brew podcast. Early last year she published her first book “Sew Your Own Activewear” which features a whole range of sports garments which can be adapted and mixed up to suit your own taste and requirements. As if that it isn’t enough, in the autumn she released this pattern, the Kinetic Tee, in November. It’s a roomy top with interesting asymmetric seam and shoulder details and it’s a PDF so available any time you choose.
Whilst the Kinetic is intended as a workout top and sport fabrics are suggested, I’d got some lovely stable wool jersey in my stash which I knew would look great too.
Because it’s a simple (ish) top the PDF doesn’t have a horrendous number of pages so it’s fairly quick to stick together. I cut a size Medium which has just the right amount amount of roominess (I’m a UK 12-14 usually) I decided on the twisted sleeve version too because it looked interesting.
Part of the beauty of this pattern is, because of all the seams, it could be a great scrap-busting top, or you could create unique effects with patterned fabrics.
My fabric was plain so it didn’t take long to cut out, be very aware that you need to cut the two upper neck sections on single layers from spaces left between other pieces because the front and back are different. The instructions and illustrations do show this and draw your attention to it but double check before you cut anything-“measure twice, cut once!”
Melissa gives full instructions for sewing the Kinetic with either an overlocker or a regular sewing machine so don’t be put off if you don’t have an overlocker, or a cover-stitch machine either. A ballpoint needle and possibly a twin needle to finish the hem and sleeves would be sufficient.
I sewed the Kinetic with a mixture of overlocker and regular machine and it went together very well, notches and seams match and the illustrations are very clear.
The only area I had any difficulty with was adding the binding to the edges of the slit openings on the shoulders. The method is good (because Melissa has been doing these patterns longer than me so she knows what works well for her!) but I think maybe the jersey I used was a bit too firm so hadn’t got as much stretch which meant I had trouble getting the strips to fit and sit nicely on the inside, it’s quite fiddly so give yourself time. They actually look perfectly acceptable from the right side which is what matters more, I just like things to be nice on the inside too.
This aside the rest of the pattern went together pretty quickly given the number of seams and I’m really happy with the result. I’m going to rummage to see what I can do in the way of scraps-busting, if fact I’ve made one of Melissa’s VNA workout tops using 3 corporate T-shirts in technical fabric that my daughter had no further use for. It had additional seams which weren’t part of the already seam-y design but it was a good test garment before I use my ‘good’ fabric to make a ‘proper’ one (which I still haven’t as Christmas overtook everything)
The length on the Kinetic is probably at about your high hip which is fine for workout wear although you might feel it’s a little short for regular clothing, it’s a personal thing probably. It would be easy enough to add some length to the hem, that might alter the proportions a little but that isn’t much of an issue. You could sew up the shoulder openings if you don’t want them, or wear a top underneath-I’ve discovered that one bra strap shows which isn’t an issue if you’re exercising and might be considered coquettish if you’ve got a nice bra on, not so much if it’s a tatty old thing!
Melissa writes a comprehensive blog about each of her patterns, plus her running exploits so head on over to find out more about the woman herself.
Ok, I’m off for a run around the block now so until next time,