Simple Sew Notch Collar jacket

Usually when I write a Simple Sew blog post it’s a garment for me but this time the finished article is for my friend Janet. We had a shopping trip to London’s Goldhawk Road a little while ago to choose fabric for a dress for Janet’s daughter to wear to a family wedding and while we were in Classic Textiles we got distracted and spotted this lovely pastel tweed. There wasn’t a lot left so she snapped it all up as well as some pretty matching lining, we didn’t have a pattern in mind but I knew I’d have something suitable at home.

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I didn’t realise I even had the Notch Collar jacket, it turned up when I had a recent tidy in my work room.

The jacket got put on the back-burner for a few months because I had the dress for the wedding to make first, and then a last minute dress for Janet herself to wear too so it dropped down the priorities.

With the wedding out of the way in August I could revisit the project. Because there wasn’t a lot of fabric and there could be tricky pattern matching to do I didn’t want a pattern that was too complex with a lot of pieces so when I found the Notch Collar jacket I thought it would be perfect.

If you’re going to make this jacket yourself I would say it’s VITAL to make a toile first. In my opinion it’s quite narrow across the front and shoulders so if you’re fuller-busted you will probably need to do an FBA.  With this in mind I was really pleased, and a bit surprised, when the toile fitted Janet perfectly with no alterations but then she is quite petite build.

 

If you read my pattern reviews regularly you’ll know that I’m not usually a ‘tracer’ but because Janet is so much smaller than me, and I may want to use the pattern again sometime, I opted to trace this one. If you’re short of fabric or if it’s going to be tricky pattern matching it can be really helpful to make pairs of any pieces that require 2 eg. Left front and right front, a pair of sleeves or the whole back rather than just place on a fold. In this case though I folded the fabric carefully in half and pinned in numerous places through the fabric so that I knew the checks were matching on the under layer.

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Pin through the same spot on both layers.

 

Because of the wide width of the fabric I could easily place the front and back side by side so I knew that the check would match down the side seam as far as possible. Because of the dart it wouldn’t match near the underarm seam though, this is inevitable.

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Front and back side by side on the fabric matching from hem level upwards, it will go off slightly because of the dart.

I didn’t cut out the sleeves in tweed at this stage. I cut everything out in lining too with the addition of a pleat of extra fabric in the back to allow for movement. I also cut facings which incidentally I’d made a lot wider than the originals-I think they are too narrow. [later on I discovered that there’s no lower back facing piece and very little hem allowed to turn it up either. I made my own by tracing the lower edge of the back pattern up to the same depth as my front facings-8cms-so that they match when joined at the side seams.]

To stabilise the tweed and give it some extra body I interlined the fronts and back with some calico and basted it to the tweed within the seam allowances around the edges. This is known as ‘mounting’ the fabric and is a very useful technique if you have a fabric that needs stabilising or a little more body for some reason.

I immediately disagreed with the instructions here because, after making the darts, the first thing I would do is make the pockets and sew them on. Because the fabric frays quite a bit I opted to use some lining as well as the facing to ‘bag out’ the pockets. This makes them more stable as well as neater. After matching the checks I top-stitched them on but that pushed everything out of alignment so I ripped that stitching out and hand-sewed them on instead. These aren’t pockets that will need to take a lot of weight so they should be plenty strong enough.

 

 

After joining the shoulders and side seams I pressed the seams open with plenty of steam over my tailor’s ham and gave them a good bashing with my wooden clapper to knock the steam out and flatten the the seams effectively. I used it on the darts too. If you don’t have a clapper you could use a wooden rolling pin if you have one.

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Tailor’s ham and wooden clapper

Things got trickier after this because I had to match the sleeves to the checks of the jacket. Initially I did this by lining up the pattern piece again the jacket on the stand and drew some guide lines onto the pattern. I was reasonably sure this would work so I cut out a pair of sleeves…I was wrong. I’d placed the pattern piece onto the fabric but it was matched to the wrong set of stripes. Damn and blast! Fortunately, I still had enough fabric left for another pair of sleeves and I could cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves instead.

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I cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves
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My pencil markings indicate approximately where the pink stripes are in order to match the facing to the front as much as possible.

I tried a different approach to matching the sleeves. I took the whole piece of remaining fabric and offered it up to the jacket armhole on the stand where I pinned it in position. This seemed to work so I carefully thread traced the crown of the sleeve, removed the fabric again and then laid the pattern piece on top.

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I pinned the whole piece of fabric to the armhole matching the stripes as best I could.

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Thread tracing the sleeve crown
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Then I traced around the whole sleeve slightly outside the pattern ( to allow a margin for error) I could then place the pattern in a corresponding area of check for the second sleeve  so that it, hopefully, matched the jacket too!

Obviously I needed a second sleeve so I had to cut the first one, remove the pattern, place it in the correct position for that sleeve to match and cut it out. If I got this one wrong there was no Plan C…. I’m extremely relieved to say that all was well-phew. One of the benefits of the tweed is that you can make the slightly loose weave work in your favour so I ran the usual two rows of ease stiches around the crown and tacked the sleeves into position.

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I gently pulled up the ease-stitches in the sleeve head before putting each sleeve into the armhole. the red stitches are the markings from where I placed the paper pattern on the fabric.
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Sleeves inset

One fitted perfectly first time and the other I had to reduce the amount of fullness over the crown to make it fit, and still have the checks matching. At this point Janet popped round for a fitting and we were both very relieved that it fitted really well-high fives all round.

One tip I’d give as a result of doing quite a few alterations on coats and jackets is to use a wide strip of iron-on interfacing at the cuff to give it a crisp edge.

 

This is the sort of soft-tailored jacket which will benefit from a small shoulder pad. We aren’t talking ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ 80’s shoulders here, just enough to give a little more definition to the shoulder-line. I didn’t have anything suitable so I made a pair with some medium thickness wadding and covered them in fine calico.

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Wadding ‘pad-stitched’ onto calico
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The wadding is attached to one layer of wadding which is in turn stitched to another piece of calico along the shortest edge first of all.
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Snip the curve and flip the calico over to cover the wadding
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Fold the shoulder pad evenly in half and slip stitch it loosely in place along the shoulder seam on it’s underside..
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The shoulder pad extends very slightly over edge of the shoulder in order to support the sleeve head.

To line the jacket next, I interfaced the facings with iron-on Vilene and neatened the edges, then I stitched them wrong sides to right sides on the lining pieces.

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Back neck facing placed on top of the lining and stitched in place, I did the same with the front facings.

I made up the lining as a complete unit-fronts/back/sleeves-which in hindsight wasn’t the right order because after I sewed the jacket and the lining together all the way around the outer edge it meant I couldn’t under-stitch any of it. I should have sewn the lining in without the sleeves attached, under-stitched the neck edge first then attached the sleeve linings afterwards. Instead, I pulled everything through right side out and gave the neck edges a jolly good steam and wallop with the clapper again. Then I ‘stab stitched’ the edges of the front and neck edge by hand, and also a few stitches directly through the lower section of each side seam to keep the two layers fixed together. Finally, I slip-hemmed the sleeve linings in place.

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I stab-stitched through the side seams to hold the lower edge nicely together.
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sleeve lining slip-stitched into position

As I said before this is a ‘soft-tailored’ jacket rather than a very structured one, although I’ve used one or two techniques which I picked up on the tailoring course I did two and a half years ago.

The sparse making up instructions do have a few errors or anomalies which could trip you up. I set the sleeves in rather than on the flat which might not make any difference to the overall finish but the lack of lower back facing or sufficient turn up instead isn’t good, and it says there’s a turn up of 5mm on the cuffs when it’s actually 1.5cms, and in fact 4cms is what I used to give a better finish. I know some of the earlier Simple Sew patterns have a few technical errors and this is one of them but, with this in mind, don’t dismiss it because it’s an attractive little edge-to-edge jacket but make a toile first!

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I relieved to say that Janet is very pleased with her jacket and hopefully will get a lot of wear from it.

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Until next time

Happy sewing,

Sue

Tilly and the Buttons Nora top

I’m very excited to have been offered a copy of one of the new Tilly and the Buttons and I jumped at the chance to try Nora, a drop shoulder jersey top with several variations of sleeve, neckline and length. It’s just the sort of top I like to wear, often layered up in colder weather so I thought you might like to know what I think about the pattern.

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keeping the design under wraps before the launch.

For once I decided I would trace off the pattern first because I’ll probably want to use several of the variations but this time I wanted to start with the long sleeve, uneven hem version.

Initially I checked my measurements against the sizing chart, and then the very useful finished garment measurements chart too. It’s always helpful if patterns have this (‘big 4’ patterns usually have them printed directly on one of the major pattern pieces) because you can make a much better judgement of the size you want. Take a tape measure and hold it around your body using the finished garment measurements to see how you feel about the fit-too loose? too tight? I opted to go down a size from the one indicated by my body measurements because I felt the finished top would be plenty big enough.

I had some lovely loopback sweatshirting in my stash that I’d bought from GuthrieGhani at last year’s one and only Great British Sewing Bee Live in London. It had been destined for a top based on one I’d seen at the Burberry ‘Capes’ show at the beginning of 2017 but never quite got made. When I clapped eyes on the Nora I knew the Burberry top would rise again.

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I love the varied layers and stripes of this look.

In order to match the stripes, take your time laying up the fabric ready to cut. Ensure the stripes on the underneath layer are in line with the top layer by popping a few pins through both layers every so often. Next, I placed the front and back pieces onto matching stripes at the lower edges, double checking that the bottom of the armhole was also the same. I didn’t cut the sleeves out at this time, I waited until I had the front and back sewn together at the shoulders and the neck band attached before doing this. This way you can have your actual garment laying on the fabric next to where you’re intending to place the sleeve pattern, I cut each sleeve separately to make absolutely sure.

Tilly’s instructions and photos are generally very clear and helpful in my experience. I’m not sure if I did the neck band in quite the same way as the instructions but it worked and looks good. Different knits and jerseys have differing amounts of stretch so you may need to adjust the length of the band you use. I made mine shorter in the end as it wasn’t sitting flat at first, the band needed to be more stretched onto the neck edge to sit nice and flat.

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I’ll take that!

The beauty of the sleeve on the Nora is that it’s a ‘shirt sleeve head’ so it’s almost flat across the top. This means it’s very simple to sew on because there’s no tricky setting into an armhole to do, you sew it on flat and then join the underarm and side seams afterwards. Incidentally, I sewed most seams using the tricot stretch stitch (looks like lightening in the symbols if you’re looking for it on your machine) You could also use a zigzag that’s very flattened out by reducing the stitch width. Alternatively, you could sew most of Nora together using an overlocker but don’t forget the seam allowances are 1.5cms and an overlocker will be much narrower which could result in a bigger garment than planned if you don’t trim them down first.

Before I hemmed the sleeves I tried the top on and opted to bring the sleeve width at the cuffs in by a total of 6cms [only as far as the elbow though from where I graded back into the original seam] Although the cuffs were a bit too wide for my liking I loved the extended length which comes some way over your hands.

That just leaves the stepped hem. I used a twin needle to sew straight across the hems and a regular ballpoint needle to turn the side seams.

Before I started Nora I’d already decided that I’d wear a shirt under the stripy version because the front is actually a bit higher than I like so, when I make my next one, I’ll lengthen the front somewhat but still keep a ’step’. I’ve been wearing it with my favourite The Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt underneath and I love how it looks together. I bought some beautiful Liberty fleece-back sweatshirt fabric from Fabrics Galore at the recent Knitting & Stitching show which I’ll use to make the Nora with the high roll collar instead and the long cuffs will roll back to show the contrast colour, it’s going to be so cosy. I reckon you could make it in a drapey woven fabric too BUT  you’d have to make the neckline larger because you wouldn’t get your head through otherwise!!

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No make up selfie in Threadquarters! I really like all the hem interest going on.

Thank you Tilly for the chance to try out Nora, I’m definitely a fan and I think there will certainly be a few versions of her finding their way into my wardrobe over the autumn and winter…and then there will be short-sleeve versions when the spring arrives!

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

 

Does ageism exist in modern dressmaking and why do we need the SewOver50 hashtag?

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So, does ageism exist in modern dressmaking both as a pastime and an industry as it’s developing at the moment? Obviously I hope the answer to my question is “no” but I have my doubts that’s the case.

Why am I even asking? I’m asking because, after I published my last blog about ‘big 4 patterns’ and indie patterns, one point I raised for discussion was that I’d noticed certain pattern designers were ignoring my photos when I’d tagged their product in them. It seems this resonated with others too, and all of us appear to be in the over 45-50 in age group. I’m also well aware by saying this that there will be those who think I’m being paranoid, have an over-inflated sense of my own importance or just suffering from FOMO! (fear of missing out, if you haven’t heard that before) simply for writing this.

Firstly, a very quick lesson in Instagram if you don’t use the platform-those of us who use Instagram regularly know that if we share photos of garments we’ve made it’s completely normal to say which pattern it is and also where we bought the fabric from for example, by ‘tagging’ those companies in the picture. Doing this means that others who see your post know what the products are if they’re are interested in buying them. Within the Instagram sewing community it’s a normal part of what we all enjoy. Tagging also alerts those companies or individuals to a post containing one of their products which they wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s nice to get a ‘like’ from these companies or individuals, more as an acknowledgement than anything else, a comment is even better and a repost on their own feed is the ultimate in flattering acknowledgment of your make.

Eventually it’s possible to strike up ‘conversations’ with some of these companies, much in the same way we do between ourselves in response to photos we like or find interesting or intriguing for example. [Weird guys with guns looking for lurve and usually involving God are a whole other matter and to be avoided and blocked at all costs]  We use their product and mention it so it’s free advertising for them, we get the satisfaction of knowing they’ve seen what we’ve made.

So far, so good, but in the last two years or so there seems to be a proliferation of new independent pattern companies and they are all clamouring for our attention and support, it’s becoming a very crowded market.

I won’t lie, it is very satisfying to have your work acknowledged and I’m always happy when it happens for one of my makes because we all like that approval don’t we? I’ve learned, however, that there are some companies who never acknowledge a tag, it isn’t what they do, it can be a bit like that on Twitter too. There’s no point in jumping up and down in front of them like a needy child.

Initially I didn’t really notice with a particular pattern company I’d used because when I shared the first post of my make being modelled by Doris my dress stand it got a ‘like’. In other words, no clues there to what I look like or anything, and I made it in almost identical fabric to the photo to the pattern cover itself, nothing too ‘inappropriate’. I decided I’d share some better photos in nicer surroundings when I was on holiday a couple of weeks later. This time I ‘modelled’ the dress myself and tagged all the usual information, pattern, fabric etc. Eventually I noticed that it hadn’t provoked a response this time…interesting I thought.

Earlier in the summer I made a garment for a student’s Final exhibition and by chance was asked to use a particular pattern by this same company for it. The photo I was eventually able to share was again of a headless dress stand wearing the garment and this got an acknowledgment.

Funny, I thought, so I had a look at their feed for myself. It’s fair to say that it’s all a beautifully curated series of images, there are reposts of other people’s makes too but all very much in line with their chosen ‘company’ image and saying more about the carefully staged photo than the garment itself. Of course any company is perfectly entitled to use only the images it chooses to to promote itself, I understand that.

I’d decided to make a second version of the dress with some lovely printed viscose linen fabric I bought in Sewisfaction, it was ideal for the dress and would be comfortable in the very hot weather we’d been experiencing in the UK. I would test my suspicions by tagging the pattern company in a photo of me wearing it to see what happened! As I expected, nothing happened. I got a lovely comment and a repost from Sewisfaction about the fabric but as far as the pattern went my face clearly doesn’t fit and I’ll draw my own conclusions why.

Ok, so now I definitely sound paranoid right?

This isn’t the only indie company that I’ve had it happen with and I now know, because other sewers have told me, that they feel ignored by some brands too. It’s like there’s an inner sanctum of pattern brands, bloggers with large followings and newly-hatched fabric businesses and it all goes around and around in this special perfect storm of ‘dreamy’ fabric and ‘swoon-worthy’ ruffles (and when did we get so much hyperbole in sewing too!?)

So what next? Well there isn’t much I can actually ‘do’ other than not bother tagging in photos, I guess if a person looking at my feed is interested enough in the garment they can ask me directly what it is and I’ll tell them. Also, I like to write pattern reviews here on the blog and each one can take me hours to put together. Simple Sew provide me with patterns but almost every other review has been of my own volition because I think I’ve got something useful or helpful to say about a pattern, I don’t write “it’s pretty and here are some lovely pictures of me modelling it” because that’s fairly pointless. I would have written a blog about the offending dress but now I shan’t because why would I waste my time when I could be sewing other things instead. [I should have been concerned from the outset because the model on the packet is about 6’ 7” and 6” wide so I’m guessing I’m not their target audience! hasn’t stopped me yet though LOL] At nearly £20 a pop these patterns are at the distinctly pricey end too.

Which brings me to the newly created hashtag ’SewOver50’. Fellow sewer and Instagrammer Judith Staley felt strongly enough to set up a new account @sewover50 in order that anyone can feel more connected with the online sewing community. In the first 3 days the response has been astonishing, and I think Judith has found it a little overwhelming. The sheer volume of women [no men with guns etc etc] has been extraordinary and I think is an indication of the number of people who want their own ’tribe’, where they don’t feel pushed aside by ambitious younger women. We all have a lot to offer this sewing community of ours and it’s worldwide. In the UK we’re pretty good at holding meet ups and I think the same is true in Australia, I’m not so sure about the US though.

Personally, I love being part of a completely mixed group-all ages, all sizes, all ethnicities, and I don’t want that to change. I don’t only want to be part of the ‘over-50’s’, not at all! But I won’t sit back and let us be ignored either and if this blog upsets or provokes a few people then good! Of course it’s vital to be ambitious for your business and have big plans and ideas but I would remind the ones who think it doesn’t matter if they engage, or not, with an older demographic that by choosing not to acknowledge or engage then they are potentially closing off a lucrative income stream. That isn’t a very sound business idea is it?

On a recent Stitcher’s Brew podcast Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine here in the UK, said specifically that she wanted to include a really diverse range of readers in the magazine (this must be true because even I’ve been in it!) which is great and the evidence is there in the pages. I hope other magazines are of a similar opinion but as I don’t buy loads of them I can’t comment. Several pattern brands which I’ve mentioned before including Maven and The Maker’s Atelier take a very broad and inclusive look at who buys their products and then feature those makers in their own advertising and so on. Their styles are classic and wearable but fashion forward and designed to be remade many times, not here today, gone tomorrow. Incidentally, I’m not sponsored by either of them, I just admire their aesthetic.

I could go on but I’d prefer that others join in the discussion and open it up. Does ageism exist in dressmaking and if so, do we just accept it, like in so many other areas of life? Will our new Instagram identity bring it to the attention of those perpetuating it and cause them to reflect on the business sense of it? I hope so.

To the women who think that over 50 is a foreign country, god willing it’s where you will be one day, like it or not. We haven’t all sunk into senility yet, we don’t (always) wear elasticated waists, we do wear fashionable clothing and high heels and dye our hair, we listen to modern music and drink too much wine on occasion, we sometimes but not always enjoyed our youth but we wouldn’t necessarily want to go through it all again. Yes we might be old enough to be your mother (or even grandmother) but as I saw someone say the other day “we aren’t dead and we aren’t invisible!” deal with it!! IMG_7969

If you’ve read this far, thank you, and please leave a comment as I’m genuinely interested in what others have to say about this topic and regardless of the age group you’re currently in.

Happy sewing 

Sue

Rounding off Me Made May

Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!

The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!

Anyway, here goes…

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May 1st was a mash-up pattern, bodice of one, skirt of another, in Queue for the Zoo Liberty Tana lawn worn with a Jigsaw sparkly cardigan.
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Day 2 was a Burdastyle magazine top made in a floral scuba fabric and the back in crepe-back satin. I made it at least 2 years ago but haven’t worn it much as the cuffs were a bit flappy.  By the time I wore it to the first London Stitchers meet up that evening I’d taken them in considerably and I was a lot happier with the fit of the sleeves. The jeans are the Ash pattern from Megan Nielsen which I’d had the pleasure of testing and I’m a huge fan of them.

Day 3 is the first newly made garment and it’s the Farrow dress from Grainline which I wrote a review for in Sew Now magazine 18 months ago. I made this version in navy and burgundy linen with short sleeves.

 

Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.

 

The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.

The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!

 

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Dragon dirndl, no pattern just pleated into a narrow waistband.

Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.

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Colette patterns Moneta in striped jersey with a dodgy waist (should have put a belt over that!)
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One of my favourite tops, Imogen by Sew Me Something and the trousers are Butterick 6461 which I reviewed in Love Sewing magazine last autumn.
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Striped Camber Set from Merchant & Mills worn with a refashioned skirt that used to be jeans.
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More refashioning with a silk top made from a vintage dressing gown and a hoodie using a vintage 60’s pattern in jersey and cotton fabric harvested from a charity shop dress.
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A blouse made using a vintage 70’s dress pattern in ‘Gallymoggers’, an Alice in Wonderland Liberty Tana lawn. This is a couple of years old too.
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Surprised this one still fitted me! Cotton poplin from Ditto fabrics, Butterick 6026 Katharine Tilton pattern and vintage buttons. Refashioned denim skirt again.
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One of my favourites, African waxed cotton with crazy diagonal stripes Simplicity Project Runway pattern 2444, all fully lined.
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Love the button on the back of the neck too, it was a single one of this design in a Sewing Weekender goody bag.
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Packing for our trip to Assisi, all self-made except the cardigan.
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With my new car! Trusty Holiday shirt from The Maker’s Atelier in Swiss Dot and newly made checked linen trousers New Look 6351-I’m so pleased with these, they’re perfect in warm weather if your legs are still pasty like mine. (Awesome pattern-matching too but you can’t see that)
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The new Farrow got to go to Italy.
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Linen trousers again and the Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile, outside Santa Chiara, Assisi. Loving my holiday chapeau too, from Monsoon
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Camber Set hack in beautiful Roberto Cavalli cotton lawn and new for the Assisi trip(RTW trousers this time)

This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.

The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.

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One of my finished prints…I’m rather proud of it…
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Linen Imogen again with a jacket refashioned from 2 pairs of Mr Y’s trousers!

 

This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.

Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…

And so to the last outfit of the month…

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The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.

So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)

Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?

Happy Sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Kaftan top & dress

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Summer is (allegedly) on it’s way at last and so my sewing thoughts turn to summery frocks. On that optimistic basis I decided on the Kaftan top and dress as my next Simple Sew blogger review and this time we have Doughty’s Online as one of our generous fabric sponsors too. I have to confess I wasn’t familiar with them but when I checked out their website I was very impressed with their wide selection of fabrics available. I chose this beautiful digitally-printed cotton lawn by Lady McElroy fabrics in a design called ‘Scottish Emblem’ and it’s lovely quality, similar to Liberty Tana lawn I’d say.

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Before I cut into the lawn I decided to make the top version in some georgette that was languishing in my stash. I’d bought it ages ago in the Birmingham Rag Market without a project in mind, I wrote post about that visit which you can read here.

I’ve made my last few Simple Sew makes in size 14 based on my measurements and this one was no different. Georgette is quite wiggly so my advice is to take your time laying it up, tear the cut ends to get a really straight edge and use the edges of the table to give you a visual ‘marker’ to lay the fabric up as straight as possible. You can even layer it between spot-and-cross paper but that’s longwinded and uses up your paper. Georgette is also sheer and frays quite badly so I used French seams throughout. The pattern calls for bias binding on the neckline and sleeves but that would be too heavy on georgette so I simply pin-hemmed them instead.

This revealed a bit of an issue with the depth of the V!

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Crumbs! I’ll need a vest under this!

It all went a bit pair-shaped at this point because I got in a right two-and-eight with the buttonholes and the casing for the waist. I wasn’t happy with the position I sewed the buttonholes (according to the pattern) although in the end after a lot of messing about I left them where they were and made the casing wider around them but narrower for the rest. I found the instructions a bit confusing so I urge you to take each stage carefully and take into consideration how wide your ribbon/cord/elastic is when making the buttonhole openings and make the channel only as wide or narrow as you need it to be, not necessarily the width marked on the pattern.

Once I was happy with this first version I went ahead and cut out the full-length one in my lovely cotton lawn. It has a large repeat which is a one way design although not with an obvious up or down-in other words, everything must be cut going the same way but it didn’t matter which way that is. Just before I cut it I noticed when I placed the CB bodice on the fold that the neck edge isn’t quite ’true’ which would result in a slight point in the centre of the neck. It isn’t difficult to correct this.

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If you don’t have a Patternmaster use something with a right-angle corner like this envelope to straighten up the line.
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the new line is where you need to cut.

One other change I made before I cut was to raise up the V so it wouldn’t be as revealing as the georgette one!

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Stick an extra piece of paper behind matching the CF line with a new line on the paper behind. Stick it down with tape.
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Decide how much you want to raise the V and draw in a new line so that it blends smoothly with the original.
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There’s a seam in the centre front so mark the seam allowance with a notch
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The back goes on the fold and the front can go against the selvedge, the same way up in this case.
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Because the fabric is a one-way design I needed to cut each skirt piece one above the other instead of interlocking them. Instead of simply folding the fabric in half and wasting two strips down each edge I folded it like this and then there’s useable piece left for something else!

It was just a case of putting everything together like before, the difference this time is that I added self-fabric bias binding to the neck, I also stay-stitched the neck edges to prevent them stretching before I sewed the bias on. First join the shoulder seams then…

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I cut a strip of bias binding which I folded and pressed in half lengthways first. For this method place the it with cut edges matching on the WRONG SIDE of the fabric, sew on with a 5mm seam allowance.
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Trim the seam down to 2-3mm
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Press the seam towards the bias, the second row of stitching you can see is the stay-stitching.
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Turn the bias to the RIGHT SIDE and stitch carefully and neatly close to the edge like this. Now you can join the CF seam together. I learned that this technique is called French binding which I never knew before-every day is a day in school!

Before I joined the under arm seams I added some lovely pom-poms which I’d bought in Liberty especially.IMG_5381

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I sewed it on using a zigzag stitch because it’s difficult to get close as the pom-poms get in the way. You could probably use a straight stitch and a zip foot here too.
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I cut the pom-poms carefully so that there wouldn’t be one caught in the seam.
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The reverse of the pom-poms
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I added a fancy leaf design stitch on my Pfaff to edge it with.

I tried the bodice on and decided that the neck needed the pom-pom trim too, I wasn’t originally going to put it here but the neckline looked a bit plain against my pasty white skin!

 

I pinned it on in two different ways and eventually settled on just around the V

Because I’d bought a very narrow cord to put around the waist I made very small horizontal round-ended buttonholes instead of the larger vertical ones indicated on the pattern. Attach the skirt and make the casing for the cord according to the instructions and you’re almost there.

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I pulled the cord through using a useful old-fashioned tool called a bodkin. Clamp the cord (or elastic) between the ‘teeth’ at the end and slide the small metal loop up towards the teeth until it’s tight and the cord can’t come loose. Then you just push the cord through the channel.

I opted to leave a knee-high split in one of the side seams. The sun came out so Doris posed outside!

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The jazzy orange cord came from McCullough & Wallis in London.

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I eventually finished the georgette version too, I used a shoelace from an old pair of my husband’s shoes in the casing because it was a perfect colour-match! I cut off the ends and embellished them with a few colourful buttons.

 

 

 

I hemmed this one by using the rolled hem setting on my overlocker. It definitely needs a vest under it though!IMG_5569

The kaftan will be a lovely cover-up on holiday in the summer and as I chose the cotton lawn it will be decent enough to go out in public and not just by the pool on hot days too! It would work well in a drapey viscose or look glamorous in a slinky crepe de chine, or a lightweight jersey like interlock. The short version would look nice in a Broderie Anglaise or Swiss Dot too. Instead of the pom-poms you could embellish it using Indian or Chinese-type braid, ribbon or even beading, you could put elastic through the casing too instead of cord or ribbon.

Thank you especially to our new fabric partners Doughty’s Online for supplying my choice of cotton lawn, it’s been lovely to work with and I’m looking forward to being able to wear it…soon, I hope!

Happy Sewing,

Sue

 

Ash jeans, a brand new pattern from Megan Nielsen

Last year I pattern-tested the Karri dress by Megan Nielsen (or at least I did but a bit after the event) I enjoyed the process because I just love and am fascinated by garment construction so the chance to be in at the beginning of a pattern coming to market is great. When I got an email last autumn requesting testers for a new jeans pattern from Megan Nielsen I was really keen to give them a go because I haven’t made jeans before and, this time round, the timing worked for me because I’d finished all my major bridal alterations for the summer and could concentrate on my own projects.

Initially there was a slight delay due to some technical issues before the pattern was released to testers so in the interim I’d bought a quantity of black stretch denim from Backstitch near Cambridge which I hoped would be enough-I guesstimated at 2m based on other jeans patterns I’d seen.

When the pattern arrived it had even more options than we were told it would have originally-there were skinny, slim, flared and wide-leg options. The instructions are nice and clear about exactly which pages you need to print off for the options you want so that you don’t print more pages than needed. Also these days I don’t print off the making instructions, I just keep them on the laptop and read them directly off the screen, I actually find that a little easier to ‘comprehend’ them that way too, maybe it’s because the instructions and illustrations are that much larger than in print? If you have difficulty with making sense of instructions why not try this method with PDFs to see if it works for you.

After initially thinking I‘d go for the slim leg I eventually printed off the wide legged ones-I was concerned that they might be too tight on my legs (vanity) more on this later. 

Ok, so I printed off the wide-leg version but they looked way too wide-I’m only average height and dumpier than I’d like to be so I didn’t want to look like Pop Eye in  his matelot trousers! Rather than reprint the slim leg (stingy) I eventually folded out some of the width at hem level, fading it into nothing by the mid-thigh. One of my observations in the feedback was that the lines became quite indistinct between sizes on the waistband-I feel that they would be better ‘nested’ into groups so that there could be bigger gaps between them, it will be interesting to see if this happens. There’s a wide range of waist sizes included in the Ash so most people are quite likely to be able to use it.

The pattern was very straightforward to piece together, either I’m getting better at this process because I’ve done it a few times now or maybe the first PDFs I did were more complex anyway, this one was simple. Cue cutting, sticking and more cutting. Fortunately for me the quantity of fabric I’d bought was just enough, obviously there’s no nap to worry about on denim so the pieces can interlock well although the curved waistband is all in one piece so it just squeaked in {if it hadn’t fitted in one piece I would have cut it into two at the CB like mens trousers have, this enables a better fit and can be useful on women’s trousers too if you’re having difficulty getting a good fit into the small of your back}

Construction starts with the zip fly. Part of the reason I wanted to try jeans is because it’s been absolutely years since I made trousers with a zip fly and I don’t remember them being a huge success!

I found the instructions very clear and meticulous with helpful diagrams, as I said earlier I followed them on the laptop so I could scroll up and down as much as I needed to so that I knew exactly what to do at each step. Ok, so this is going to sound like bragging but it really isn’t….I didn’t make a single error whilst doing this stage and I give full credit to the quality of the instructions. You could argue that’s because I know roughly what I should be doing but I don’t think that’s all it is, credit where it’s due to the writer.

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although it looks like the top of the zip is going up too high because it’s a bit long this isn’t a problem. There are very thorough instructions for the zip insertion, including how to sew over a metal zip-something I would normally never recommend.
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It doesn’t look level but that’s just the camera angle. I’m pretty happy with the two rows of stitching-I deliberately chose matching thread in case my parallel lines wobbled!!

After the zip is in you make the front pockets-I lined mine with a contrast fabric-and that was very straightforward. Much as I love my trusty Elna 7000 it’s getting on a bit now and really doesn’t much like topstitching thread so doing the topstitching proved frustrating and problematic. (I’ve bought a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 since making these and I’m delighted with it) I fiddled with the tension a bit and eventually I got a decent quality stitch but it isn’t perfect on the underside. Incidentally I used a denim/jeans needle throughout (it’s just occurred to me that there are top stitch needles too so maybe I should try that next time)

Next the patch pockets go on the back. I chose not to do any fancy stitching designs or topstitching (partly because my machine was struggling so much with the thread) and just kept it simple.

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certainly not faultless (the top edges peeping out annoy me slightly but they’re at the back so I can’t see them anyway!)

I’ve made a second pair of Ash more recently and I slightly altered the way I did the top of the pocket.

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Instead of rolling the top of over twice as per the instructions I folded it like this so that the first fold is WS together and then the second fold is RS together meaning the raw edge is still showing at this point. I stitched it down just inside the seam allowance to hold the fold in position.
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Next I turned the folded corner out like this so that it’s nice and neat. I then sewed the patch pockets on in the same way as the denim pair but now there’s no annoying sticky-up bits showing.
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the waistband sewn in position, along with the belt loops

After trying the jeans on again I was still not happy with the width of the leg that I’d cut so, because the inner leg seams are double top-stitched, I skimmed in some more from the outer leg seams (this is becoming a habit, see my Love Sewing trouser pattern review here

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Very indecisive!

Eventually I got to a leg-width that I was happy with and after that it was just a case of hemming them. You might look at the finished photos and think “well they don’t fit that well” but frankly I don’t care because I’ve struggled at times in my life to feel comfortable and confident wearing jeans at all because there are so many idealised images out there of what a woman ‘ought’ to look like in them, they should be tighter here, they shouldn’t wrinkle there etc etc blah blah blah….I’m comfortable and happy in these as they are, it’s my body shape that would have to change drastically and it isn’t going to any time soon. Rant over…

Finally the waistband needs a jeans button and a buttonhole. The instructions helpfully pointed out that the buttonhole should be round-ended (not something I’d ever paid much attention to on RTW jeans) and making such a buttonhole on a domestic machine is usually very tricky because of the thickness of fabric involved. Megan suggests doing it ‘freehand’ with a zigzag stitch so I had a few practices at this. Eventually I felt brave enough to do it on the actual waistband and it turned out passably well. My new machine seems much better at buttonholes-it should do, it cost me enough!

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A little bit scruffy but it’s behind a button anyway…

The jeans button is the sort with a rivet or stud behind it so it’s a case of banging them together through the fabric with a hammer! Don’t do it on your best table, put it on the bread board or a towel folded several times.

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Ta dah!

I’d been trying on the jeans periodically as I went along and they felt great. Personally I’m delighted with how well Ash fit me! They are snug and comfortable around my waist and hips and I’m really really happy with them.fullsizeoutput_1f79IMG_0037

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Sorry about the butt-shots but I’m so pleased with how well Ash jeans fit, particularly in the back waist.
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impatient with the photographer face!
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still a bit cheesed off but it’s all about the jeans folks…
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Teamed with my Refashioners 2017 McQueen-inspired jacket

By the time you’re reading this the Ash jeans will have been released into the wild so you’ll be seeing lots of different versions of them all over the place. I’ve since bought some stretch cord and made another pair, I left the legs a bit longer and a bit wider this time. I’ve worn the denim pair constantly because they’re so comfy, the denim has just the right amount of stretch.

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Compare these photos with the previous newly-minted jeans and you’ll see just how much I’ve lived in them!!

I liked the fit of the legs (eventually!) and because the pattern provides 4 leg shapes there’s bound to be one that you’ll like, I like the on-the-waist fit too.

If you’re looking for a new sewing challenge then jeans might be just the ticket, there was a lot of jeans-sewing going on during February and March so there is plenty of inspiration out there. They are definitely a slow-sew which you might need to break down into bite-size chunks, they need concentration at times, and a certain degree of sewing ‘comprehension’ because they aren’t for complete beginners. I felt the quality of the written instructions and diagrams was excellent and there will be online tutorials available eventually too. It’s also worth mentioning that I found 1 reel of topstitching thread isn’t quite sufficient because there’s only 30m on a regular-sized reel of Gutermann, which is what I used.

I was provided with the pattern at no cost but I bought my own fabric and received no payment for testing the Ash jeans, and as such all the opinions expressed are unbiased and entirely my own. I’ve just bought some more blue denim to make a cropped length next!

Happy sewing,

Sue

 

 

French dart shift by Maven Patterns

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This could very well be the perfect dress for the imperfect figure. It sits nicely on the shoulders with smooth set-in sleeves that blouse slightly at the cuff (if you’re going full-length) the French darts give it shape and the slight A-line flare of the skirt skims the body, it has pockets and finally there’s a funnel-neck collar to draw attention up towards the face if that’s your best feature! Oh, and there’s no zip, just pop it over your head!

I bought my pattern from the lovely Mike (son in law of Mrs Maven) who was manning the stand at the autumn Knitting & Stitching show for Mrs Maven who’d had to dash off for a family emergency. He must have done a grand job because I bought a pattern, as did many others while I was there, the samples on display were very enticing.

The French Dart Shift appealed to me because I liked it’s relaxed but stylish aesthetic, there are lots of possibilities. It has 3 sleeve options (plus sleeveless) and you could make it in a whole variety of fabrics from winter-weights like worsted wool or denim, through cotton poplins to softer fabrics like crepe or lace with suitable linings.

The patterns aren’t cheap at £18.50 but they are beautifully produced in a folding wallet, printed on quality paper with a comprehensive instruction booklet. I decided to trace off the pattern onto Swedish tracing paper rather than cut it out-I don’t always do this as I’m not an habitual tracer! I checked my body measurements and then using the measurements chart provided so I went for a UK 14. fullsizeoutput_2154

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This time I transferred the pattern to Swedish tracing paper.

I had a rummage in my stash and found some navy fabric with tiny dots which I bought ages ago in Hitchin market and there was just enough. I didn’t follow the cutting plan as I hadn’t got the suggested quantity but by careful refolding and some single-layer cutting I got everything out.

One detail you need to watch out for is that the seam allowance is just 1cm rather than the more usual 1.5cms. The instructions are comprehensive and thorough although if you struggle with following written instructions this might be a challenge for you. There are illustrations too which are very detailed but they could do with being just a bit larger for those of us who are a bit sight-challenged, I managed but that’s partly because I had an inkling of how it was likely to go together.

The instructions encourage quality details such as taping the neck and pocket edges to prevent stretching (I actually used iron-on tape which fulfils the same job) and reinforcing the joins between the pocket bags and the side seams.

I failed to take any photos during the making, sorry about that, but it all went together as intended. The band on the cuffs is quite narrow and a bit fiddly but it’s worth persevering because the end result looks nice. You could leave the cuff off i suppose and make a channel with elastic through it if you wanted, or you could shorten the sleeve to between wrist and elbow length too.

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the narrow gathered cuff is very feminine
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The collar is cut on the bias which gives it a lovely roll and it stands well on it’s own, there’s no interfacing inside it. If you were making the dress in something more flimsy (like cotton lawn for example) you could mount the collar onto a fine fabric like organza, or a second piece of lawn or voile to give it more body.
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Finished, I actually hand-stitched the hem so that it was nice and invisible.

I finished the navy dress before Christmas-I wore it on Christmas Day in fact, but I’ve only just made a second version recently [a 2 week bout of flu put paid to any creative sewing for a while]

I’ve made this second version in a lovely Ponte Roma I bought from Fabrics Galore at the Knitting & Stitching Show 18 months ago (I don’t like to rush these things) Although Ponte isn’t one of the suggested fabrics it’s worked well but you need to make sure that the wide neck edge is taped to prevent it being stretched before you put the collar on.

I think I can safely say this dress is my ‘secret pyjamas’, it’s sooo comfy!

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Whoop, the sun came out so here’s some pictures in the garden. I used the twin needle to turn up the hem on this one.
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I chose not to cut the collar on the bias because it’s a slightly stretchy fabric and this has back-fired a bit because it’s collapsing. Never mind, we live and learn, I should have followed my own advice and mounted it onto something else for a bit of structure.

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All in all I’m delighted with this dress and I can see me making several more for the summer. Take a look at the Maven website for more inspiration with fabrics, you could even leave the collar off, and I know Portia Lawrie has produced a colour-block version too which looks fab. I think I’ll investigate some of Maven’s other patterns now too as they look really appealing!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of them,

Happy sewing

Sue

Visiting fabric shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire

In late 2017 I responded to an invitation/request on Instagram by Sewrendipity for bloggers to contribute to a project she wants to put together to collate information about fabric shops in as many areas or cities of as many countries as people care to add. If you don’t know Alex she was a contestant in Series 3 of the Great British Sewing Bee, and she’s passionate about sewing and dressmaking.

Alex sewrendipity

 

It can be really difficult to know where fabric shops are around your area and even if you do know they’re there, are they worth visiting? I live just north of London so it’s not that difficult to go in to places like Liberty, The Cloth House, MacCullough & Wallis, Walthamstow market, Goldhawk Road and any number of other retailers. Googling doesn’t always shed much light on what you’re looking for so Alex’s idea of creating, over time, a go-to place for this information could be a big leap forward! It’s now live and you can now check it out here.

I don’t always want to go into London so I like to use shops and retailers that are in my own area. This isn’t an exhaustive list for my part of Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire by any means but it’s a few to give you an idea. I’ve been to some of them but not all so I’ll give more details for some than others but I hope overall it’s helpful. If you’ve got any other suggestions do let me know, you could add them in the comments at the end if you like. The list is in no particular order so don’t assume I’m putting them in order of my preference because I’m not. Please bear in mind I wrote this original post in late 2017 so not all the information will still be up to date. Please check the website for each shop for current information.

Escape and Create, St Ives, Cambs

This shop for dressmakers and crafters which had opened just one week before my visit in 2017.

Owner Julie Miles made me very welcome and was more than happy to share her vision for the shop, she has great plans and it will be lovely to see them unfolding over the coming months.IMG_4193

So far she has a small-ish but rapidly growing selection of printed and plain cottons, the Christmas fabrics were just being put out while I was there! There are some nice jerseys, fleece and plush fabrics too, and a selection of fat quarters as well. They don’t currently sell specific soft furnishing fabrics although they probably will eventually, they do offer furnishing-related courses though including lampshade-making, and roman blind and curtain making. The fabrics are beautifully displayed on ‘industrial-style’ metal and wood racking against an exposed brick wall, the effect is very striking and classy (when I saw a photo of it posted on Instagram before my visit I thought it was the newly refurbished Liberty fabric department!) fabrics are priced per metre. They don’t sell yarn or wool though.

The shop stocks a range of Indie patterns including Tilly and the Buttons, Cashmerette, Closet Case, Fancy Tiger Crafts, Sewaholic and Avid Seamstress at present, and the range will probably expand in the future. They carry a few of the major pattern books too including Burda.

You might be interested to know that Escape and Create offers a 10% discount if you have a valid membership card for the W.I. or Quilter’s Guild.

Escape and Create has a small but useful range of equipment and haberdashery, mostly essentials like needles, pins, unpickers, tailor’s chalk and markers etc. the Gutermann thread hadn’t arrived when I visited but I know it has now.

Upstairs there is a large bright room where all the classes will take place. It’s so spacious that it’s possible for 2 classes to go on at once if needs be. I was there on a sunny day but it would be a bright workspace even on a dull day. There is also more fabric up here but if you go in the next few weeks please be understanding because this is area is a ‘work in progress’.IMG_4185

Escape and Create has a good website https://www.escapeandcreate.co.uk (you can’t buy fabric through it yet but that will be coming) although Julie told me it will be having an update and refresh soon. The website carries a full list of all the classes they offer both in St Ives and several other locations in the area. Sewing machines are provided at St Ives if required or you can bring your own if you prefer. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

St Ives is a small attractive Cambridgeshire town and it took me an hour to drive from my home. I came a bit unstuck once I got there because parking was a bit tricky (I missed a sign to the public car park so I ended up in the main shopping area which has quaint and narrow streets and not meant for lost drivers like me!) Anyway, there is a public car park behind the shops so make sure you look out for the P sign shortly before you get to main shops. There’s also on-road parking but don’t rely on that on busy days, I had driven past the shop as I came in so at least I knew where I was heading once I’d parked!

Escape and Create is open Monday to Saturday but not Sunday or Thursday afternoon, which is the local half-day closing. Their address is

40a, The Broadway, St Ives, Cambs, PE27 5BN,

phone: 01480 300092,

email: escapeandcreateuk@gmail.com

In my opinion Escape and Create is a lovely, promising sewing shop in a nice location. It’s ‘bedding in’ at the moment so I would say if you want something specific then give them a ring first to check, it’s better to go at this stage with an open mind and just enjoy looking around. They have some lovely things already with more to come and the new shop has loads of potential to develop and I really hope sewers and crafters in the local, and wider, area support them so that they can flourish.

Backstitch at Burwash Manor.

Backstitch is an independent fabric and wool shop based in the village of Barton just outside Cambridge and as such you’ll need a car to get there. There’s plenty of free parking though and, because it’s based in several converted farm buildings, there are a number of other deli, plants and clothes outlets as well as a nice little tea room serving tea, coffee, cakes and light meals.IMG_4205

The shop itself is modestly sized (although it is now double to the size it was a year ago) and it’s light and bright with the fabrics well displayed. They carry a good range of quality modern printed and plain cottons, linens, jerseys, denims, some boiled wool and coat fabrics as well as interfacings and haberdashery. There’s also a small selection of furnishing fabrics.IMG_4203

They sell a large range of various indie pattern brands which are catalogued in a flip file so it makes it simpler to look through them rather than wade through masses of patterns. They sell an extensive range of haberdashery, sewing and crafting equipment too although not sewing machines. They also sell an expanding range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns and equipment too.

Backstitch offers a variety of classes in dressmaking and crafting which are listed and bookable online via their excellent website http://www.backstitch.co.uk and they also sell their fabric online too.

I like the range of fabric they have on offer because it’s extensive enough without being too sprawling and unfocussed, the designs are well-considered and modern, or traditional with a twist but they have good basics too. One thing I noticed on my recent visit is that they have an impressive range of plain fabrics (not as crazy as that might sound, it can be really hard to find nice quality plain fabric to match a dizzying array of patterned ones!) These come in woven cottons, ponte roma jersey, lovely linens, sweat-shirting and ribbing, and craft felt by the metre.IMG_4204

The downside is that without a car it would be hard to visit….unless you can persuade a friend to drive you! It takes me around 45 minutes to drive there from my home but I generally come away with something nice…

I’ve written a review of them previously when I took a group of my sewing students for a visit last year and you can read about it here

Backstitch // Burwash Manor Barns  // New Road // Barton // Cambridge // CB23 7EY // 01223 778118

Normal Opening Hours: 

Mon – Sat: 10am – 5pm, Sun: 11am – 5pm

You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest too.

Crafty Angel, Buntingford

Craft Angel is primarily an online shop at present but the physical shop is open on Saturdays and Sundays 10am-4pm. This is because the owner, Angela, is still a full-time graphic designer who happens to have an absolute passion for fabrics and crafting!

I went for a visit and was given a lovely warm welcome by Angela, she really appreciates the fact that customers make a choice to visit because it isn’t on a high street. Crafty Angel is based on a working farm outside the village of Buntingford in Hertfordshire. I won’t lie, I went a bit adrift when I tried to find it because instead of trusting the map on their website I put the postcode into my Sat Nav and it took me all over the countryside but nowhere near where I wanted to be!! My advice is to stay on the A10 between Buntingford and Royston as instructed and then follow the turn off for Therfield and Sandon from this direction. There are then pink signs up to direct you towards the shop, it’s probably a mile or so and is a bit further than the map on their website makes it look but keep straight until a sharp right-hand bend in the lane and then you should see another pink sign to go straight on up a farm drive. Go to the right past the farm buildings and park in front of the shop.

Unit 2b
Hyde Hall Farm
Sandon
Buntingford
Hertfordshire
SG9 0RU

Mobile: 07973 877 028

Shop: 01763 271 991

Email: info@craftyangel.co.uk

The premises contains the shop and workroom combined with the tables in the centre, and shelves containing the stock are around the edges. Whilst not a huge space it is very pleasant and welcoming, the windows look out onto the yard. There is a kitchen onsite too so hot and cold food and drinks are possible if you’re there for a whole day course, subject to prior arrangement.

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aftermath of a busy day’s free-machine embroidery!

Crafty Angel has a modest but well-chosen and attractive range of good quality cottons, jerseys, denim and linens all priced by the half-metre. Have a look at their (not surprisingly) well designed website for full details of the brands they sell. They also stock a variety of Indie dress patterns too and a small range of haberdashery and equipment. Although cushion-cover making has been a class previously they only stock a very limited range of specific furnishing fabrics.IMG_4150

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fabrics and Gutermann threads on offer

Crafty Angel also has a modest range of qood quality yarn for knitting and crochet, with patterns available for inspiration, and classes too.

Amongst the workshops on offer are dressmaking, free-machine embroidery, applique and even umbrella-making! [I really like the sound of that!] Ange plans to offer more courses over time, you can always contact her to see if it’s possible to tailor-make (sorry) a class to your needs.IMG_4152

I would say it’s best to ring first if you’re making a visit if you want something specific but otherwise it’s a nice place to drop in at a weekend, and Pixel the dog is bound to be delighted to see you too!

The website is https://www.craftyangel.co.uk and you can follow them on Instgram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest too.

Fashion N Fabrics, St Albans

This shop was first opened 45 years ago but at the moment it’s future is in the balance because the lady who started it recently passed away and so it is up to her family if it will continue as a fabric shop. Efforts are being made to find a buyer so we’ll have to see. Since the summer of 2018 it is under new ownership, still as a fabric shop, although I haven’t had a chance to visit yet.

In truth, the shop had a lot of stock but much of it wouldn’t appeal to a modern dressmaker. It was geared more towards quilting, patchwork and crafting and so there is an abundance of printed cottons better suited for these. They also have jerseys (mixed quality, some reasonable, some less so) and fleece (some quite nice ones for children) There are currently some tweeds and brushed cottons which would be good for autumn/winter projects, they sell lining too. There are plain and printed poly/cottons and a few satin and moire-type fabrics used for bridalwear. There are some printed viscoses in jazzy designs too, along with interfacings and quilting supplies.

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This was me at the shop meeting fellow sewer and Instagrammer Ruth who lives nearby.

There is a varied selection of haberdashery and equipment in the shop including zips, Gutermann thread, ribbons, trims, buttons etc, and they sell big-brand patterns but not Indie ones. They don’t sell sewing machines.

They have quite a large selection of wool and knitting patterns but these tend towards the more ‘traditional’ shall we say.

The thing with Fashion N Fabrics is that it’s got stuck and not moved with the times or the newer generation of sewers so it feels very muddled, cluttered and quite dated which is a real shame because it could be trading on its 45 year history and attracting younger sewers and riding the crest of the ‘Sewing Bee’ wave. All the staff are knowledgable and obviously keen for the shop to continue, and I know they’ve been having a sort-out recently and unearthed long-forgotten gems!

There is a website but it isn’t much use because it’s really only a collection of pictures and some background on the shop, with the address and phone number etc. They’ve only been accepting credit cards in the last year or so too!

I hope this doesn’t sound like a hatchet job because it really isn’t meant to be but in order for me to include it here I need to be truthful about what to expect from it at the moment. Definitely go for a visit if you’re in the area, it’s in a part of St Albans called Marshallswick on Beech Rd, there is free parking on the road and in front of the shop. There’ll be a bus route nearby too although I don’t know what number it would be, sorry.

You can find the shop at 24, Beech Rd, St Albans, AL3 5AS

Telephone: 01727 865038

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm, except Thursday 9am-1pm (although this may not be correct because I don’t think the website has been updated for quite a while, best to ring first)

Email: shop@fashion-n-fabrics.com

website: www.fashion-n-fabrics.com

Finally, my local shop is a branch of John Lewis, Welwyn. It’s a pretty good-sized department with a wide selection of fabrics including the usual printed cottons, viscose, jerseys and linings as well as woollens (suiting, coating etc) evening and bridal fabrics including sequins and lace. They offer a wide range of trims, haberdashery, threads, zips etc and equipment although this does feel reduced from what it used to be, annoyingly you can’t buy ribbon by the metre, just on rolls. Most lace and trims are still by the metre though. They have a range of sewing machines mainly Janome, Brother and their own brand [I think each branch might have different models in stock though so definitely check with the store if you’re making a special visit to view or buy] The regular department staff are very helpful and knowledgeable but because it’s a department store you can’t always guarantee that the sales assistant is a regular who knows what they’re talking about, or being asked about! the range of patterns is very limited now to just Vogue and New Look, they also have a few Tilly and the Buttons but not the full range. They sell Adjust-o-form mannequins too.

There’s some free parking on the street outside or a number of town centre car parks, and there is also a mainline railway station [Welwyn Garden City not Welwyn North] and a number of bus routes come into the town centre too.

Address: Bridge Road, Welwyn G.C. Herts, AL8 6TP

Telephone: 01707 323456

Their opening hours are currently Monday to Saturday 9am-7pm except Thursday 9am-8pm and Sunday 11am-5pm (10.30am for browsing)

The website is www.johnlewisplc.com you can find a map with directions on there. There is also a branch in Cambridge which stocks fabrics.

So that’s my list of fabric retailers that I’ve actually visited in my area. In addition to this there is a stall in Hitchin market who have a range of fabrics including the usual printed cottons and poly/cottons plus furnishing fabrics and oilcloth. He often has a number of bolt-ends or sample lengths which he’s bought from clothing manufacturers and I’ve found a few gems amongst them in the past. He’s definitely there on Saturdays and possibly Tuesday and Thursday but because it’s an outdoor market this might vary. By the way, he can be a bit grumpy but he’s ok if you smile! There are various car parks in the area as well as some street parking. The town has a railway station (10-15 minute walk into town) and is well-served by buses. There is also a good haberdashery stall run by Kim Keeping and from September 7th 2018 she will have a shop premises nearby in 34, Bucklesbury.

There is also a stall in Stevenage Indoor Market but I haven’t visited it personally. It isn’t open every day though [Wed-Sat only] I’m told it stocks a good range of specialist dance, stretch and lycra-type fabrics.

Among other shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire that I haven’t visited but have been told about are Needlecraft in Hemel Hempstead. It has a comprehensive website which seems up to date and interactive so I might try and get over there sometime.

In Hertford is the Hertford Craft Centre which has a website but it doesn’t look like the information is very up to date. I know the opening hours are a bit hit-and-miss, supposedly you ring a bell and someone comes to let you in. However a friend tried to visit recently but waited in vain to be let in, disappointing as she’d made a special trip based on website info.

There is a shop in Ely to called Sew Much to Do (great name!) which again I haven’t had a chance to visit. It doesn’t have it’s own website though, the website address directs you to a Facebook page. They are on Instagram though https://www.intagram.com/sewmuchtodoely

In Cambridge there are two other stores, The Cambridge Fabric Company at 7, Peas Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3PP and Sew Creative at King St, Cambridge although they are both quite small.

[Right off territory is Anglian Fashion Fabrics in Norwich which I visited recently-great shop, definitely worth seeking out if you’re in the area!]

You might be aware of other shops or retailers in this area of the country, we aren’t hugely well served for fabric shops without going into London I don’t think. The retailers I’ve talked about are ones I’ve shopped in or know about already, let me know if there’s a good one near you so we can all share the information, or if you think I’ve misrepresented a shop I’ve mentioned above. I’ve tried to be fair and honest but as I’ve not been paid to do these reviews so I want to speak as I find. I know trading is incredibly hard though so I don’t want to be overly harsh, the shop I was working at in Hertford ‘The Creative Sanctuary’ sadly closed at the end of September 2017 so we all need to try and support bricks-and-mortar stores as much as we can. That said, they have to sell what customers want and give excellent customer service otherwise we won’t go back or spread positive vibes about them.

Since September 2019 a new fabric and knitting shop ‘Stitch and Knit’ has opened in Brookmans Park in Hertfordshire. It stocks a range of fabrics suitable for quilting, patchwork, dressmaking and crafting along with haberdashery and Simplicity and Burda patterns. There are also yarns and patterns suitable for knitting and crochet, plus trims and embellishments. There will be classes suitable for children and adults in sewing, crafting, knitting and crochet. There is now a website or their contact details are 91, Station Close, Brookmans Park, Herts, AL9 7QT, telephone 01707 518966   

Plenty there to keep you busy! New places to visit, or ones to revisit maybe. Let me, or Alex, know if there are others you think could be added, I bet there are. You might fancy compiling a list for where you live for others to use too.

Happy Sewing

Sue

a vintage-inspired posh party frock

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So party frocks are a thing I like to make but, like most people, I’m not a red-carpet celebrity and I don’t often get a chance to wear them.

This time though I had a reason because back in the spring we set the date of November 5th for a dinner-dance to celebrate Mr Y’s year in the Chair at his Lodge (don’t ask, I’m not going to try to explain) It’s an excuse to get gussied up and put on your best bib and tucker and as I am the President’s Lady (like Michelle but not as cooool) I have to look pretty darn good.

I didn’t have any clear idea at that time of what I might want to make but on a trip to Brighton in May which inevitably included a visit to Ditto I spotted the most gorgeous striped and printed organza. It was love at first sight! I like to think I know my fabrics and I honestly expected it would cost in the region of £20-£25 per metre. When Gill told me it was just £8 per metre I was astonished!! The thing is, the first roll of fabric I saw was pale orange flowers on a black background. I would happily have bought this if Gill hadn’t then said she’d got it with pink flowers! so now a dilemma…which to choose? It looked for a while as if there wasn’t going to be a choice to be made because the pink version couldn’t be found. This didn’t put Gill off (despite it being a busy Saturday in the shop) so while we tootled off to spend time in town she searched for, and eventually located, the pink. What a star she is!!

I’d formulated an idea in my head by now which was basically the skirt shape of Dior’s 1947 New Look. The stiffness of the fabric lent itself to it so I fancied a straightforward dirndl pleated into the waistline ought to look good. DiorDior New LookIMG_0003
I bought 2.5 metres which was roughly 2 skirt ‘drops’ and a bit extra. Happy days!!

The next part of the jigsaw was to decide what form the bodice should take, and what colour, because the background for the pink colour-way was an olive green not black. I didn’t mind this because I don’t wear much black anyway. As I’ve said on more than one occasion I rarely throw a decent bit of fabric away and amongst my pile of ‘things that might be useful one day’ was a panne velvet skirt which I’d never worn much but loved the fabric. Guess what? it was a perfect match!! would it be enough though? IMG_0026fullsizeoutput_119

The answer, thankfully, was yes, although I couldn’t be sure about sleeves at that stage…cross that bridge when I get to it!

So I motored on now with constructing the bodice using one from Simplicity Project Runway K2444 [originally free with Sew magazine] which I’d snapped up from the swaps table at The Sewing Weekender in August and had used once already for my waxed cotton dress.

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Wearing the waxed-cotton dress with my first refashions jacket (outside Buckingham Palace in 2016)

Another reason for using it was because it had darts and not separate panels thereby saving valuable fabric.

Panne velvet is very slippery and unstable so I mounted the pieces first onto a more stable fabric, in this case some ordinary black poly/cotton that I had. If you’re going really ‘high-end’ you’d use something like silk organza. You do this by laying everything carefully together matching the cut edges but taking care not to have the velvet misshapen and then, keeping it all flat on the table, tack around the edges by hand. On a fabric like this it just isn’t enough to pin and hope for the best. I did this for the darts too before machining them. By tacking carefully it helps to stop the velvet creeping in different directions under the machine foot. I don’t possess a walking foot but I found I’d got a roller foot so I used that satisfactorily instead. To help prevent the side seams wrinkling too much in wear I put in some boning, directly onto the seam allowances.

Alongside this I had to decide what to line the skirt with as it’s a sheer fabric. I mocked up a couple of colours on Doris to see the different effects.

I settled for dark but with pale pink net under that to echo the roses. While I was at the Knitting and Stitching show in early October I found a lovely quality Italian lining at just £2 per metre in a ‘shot’ red/green colour. I wasn’t totally sure if it would be right and, as I said to the guy on the stall “it will either be a triumph or a total disaster!” At £4 for 2 metres it wouldn’t be the end of the world anyway.

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I mocked up the whole thing from time to time on Doris just to make sure it would become a unified whole and not lots of segments that didn’t really work.

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trying out the pleats

Getting the pleats to fit the waist was a bit of a trial but with some patience and lots of tacking I got it to the right length to fit. I’ve made many dresses like these over the years (although rarely for me) and it’s best to keep all the parts separate for as long as practical so you can work on each of them more easily and then join them together at the last possible moment-that way you’re not wrestling with a huge amount of fabric/net etc for any longer than necessary.

Amazingly I managed to getting a pair of short sleeves out of the remaining fabric which I was delighted by.

I cut the bias-cut collar in organza twice as wide as the original so that it would roll over prettily.

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On the hem of the skirt I decide to use crin (just like in Strictly Come Dancing!) to finish the edge neatly and invisibly and to give it some ‘bounce’. After machining it on along one edge I turned it and stitched by hand.

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The under-lining was a straightforward flared skirt although I cut it on the bias to allow the waist to have some ‘give’ if it needed it. I’d decided on rose-pink net underneath that so that the overall effect of the dress wasn’t too dark, I used two different shades together in the end. Again, I’ve made masses of these in the past and they aren’t difficult (when you know how)

For example, you can get a pretty decent amount of zjoosh (is that even a word?!) from just 3 metres of dress net (140cms wide)

  • keeping the net folded in half lengthways, cut one piece your desired finished length e.g.. 70cms [If you want a fuller petticoat you can cut two of these and join them at the narrow ends to form a longer strip, you’ll more net for the next part though]
  • now cut 2 or 3 widths of net that are the same or slightly shorter than the first one, e.g. 60-70cms. These need to be joined at their narrow edges to form a long strip. Fold this in half LENGTHWAYS. It will now be a strip that is half as wide as the first piece, and very long. Now stitch close to the cut edges with the longest gathering stitches your machine will sew [if you have a gathering foot or your overlocker gathers effectively you can use those to do the gathering for you] Pull up the threads until the long strip fits onto the original single cut length. Matching the folded edge of the ruffle against the bottom edge of the single piece, pin and stitch in position. This part can be a bit tricky because of all the fabric involved but be patient.
  • Now cut another 2 or 3 widths of net approximately 50cms each (or evenly divide into 2-3 whatever you’ve got left) Repeat the step above, you’ll have another even narrower strip which you’ll sew in position UNDER the first one but again with all the hems level at the bottom. It should be looking like a net petticoat by this stage.
  • The fuller you want it to be the more layers you can add although there comes a point where it will just collapse in too much again your legs without something like a hoop or a very firm lining under it.
  • You’ll need to join the two narrow ends together so that it now forms a tube-shape. This is your basic petticoat which you can put a lining inside to stop it being itchy, you can either insert it straight into the dress or, a better method, attach it to a narrow strip of lining or ‘basque’ and join that to the garment, it’s less bulky.

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I didn’t want there to be a seam in the back of the organza to spoil the stripes so I made a small slit-opening and then carefully bound the edge with a bias-strip of lining. Once I’d joined the bodice and skirt together I sewed the zip through to the lining. Putting the zip in was a bit tricky and even though I tacked it, didn’t go right first time. I had to take one side back out and try again-the zip moved because of the pile of the velvet causing it to shift as I sewed.

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Once the dress was all together (I hadn’t needed to refit anything as I went which was very good news-all I’d done was narrow the shoulders slightly when I cut it out because I knew they were too wide for me from the waxed cotton version) I wanted something to finish off the waist seam. I had a slightly sparkly belt which looked nice except the buckle wasn’t right. I hit upon the idea of making a temporary bow in organza, on elastic, that would sit over the top of it.IMG_0242

I’d decided a while ago that rose-gold shoes were what I wanted to finish the ensemble off but of course I couldn’t find any that were right! In the end dear Mr Y found a perfect unworn pair of L.K.Bennett courts on Ebay! Result!!

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So there it is, that’s how simple it is to make a New Look-inspired fancy party frock!

Actually I really enjoyed making it because I only had myself to please and I didn’t have to make fitting appointments or worry about weight loss or gain (much) changes of mind etc etc. Because I started in plenty of time I was never in too much of a rush and I have the advantage of knowing what I’m doing. I LOVED wearing it on the night and I had so many lovely comments about it. I’ve been both touched and staggered by the response on Instagram and Facebook too.

I’d love to think I might have inspired some of you to have a go at something like this if you get the opportunity, or the right occasion.

When Amy Thomas invited me to write my pattern review for Love Sewing last year she suggested I brought along my dress so that we could get some nice photos, this is one of the results.

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With Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas in September

For some strange reason, since I originally wrote this blog, lots of the photos disappeared from it. I had a problem with my laptop a couple of times so it may have happened then. I’ve recently replaced most of them although I’m not sure they are all the same as the originals. Never mind, you’ll get the gist of it.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue xx