Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
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.
After a couple of months in the planning I can hardly believe that the first ‘official’ Sew Over 50 meet-up is over! This isn’t really a blog as such, it’s more of a photo album so that those who were there can look out for themselves and to prove that it did happen and a great time was had, new friendships were made, information and tips were shared, fabric was stroked and support and encouragement was offered.
Judith and I were simply overwhelmed by the feeling that was in the room for those 3 hours. The Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead, London proved to be the perfect venue to hold the meet-up with it’s mix of light-filled studio space and retail opportunities! Whilst quite a few of us already knew one another, and had met in the past, there were many others for whom this was the very first time they had gone to such an event. The distances some people travelled was extraordinary too, south Wales, Cumbria, Cheshire and north west England, Scotland, East Anglia, the south coast and Cologne, Germany were just some of the places people had come from. This represented a really big deal for some because it took them a long way outside their personal comfort zone to go on a long train journey to London and meet lots of strangers who they only ‘knew’ through the medium of little Instagram squares. So far as we can tell all of them thought it had been worth the effort and anxiety because within minutes of arriving they were chatting with fellow sewers and crafters as though they had known each other for years. That’s what the Sew Over 50 community seeks to encourage, to nurture and expand each others skills and talents, we try to make it a positive and supportive place to share our makes whether they are completely successful, or a dismal failure!
I would personally like to thank every single one of the companies and individuals who gave me prizes for the charity raffle in response to my requests, and several others who offered without me even asking.
Have a browse through the photos (please ask permission and credit me if you would like to use them elsewhere though, thank you) these are just a few of the hundreds that my daughter Bryony took for us but without them I don’t think there would be much record of the event having taken place…hardly anyone else took photos because they were too busy chatting!
I had opted to raise funds for The Samaritans, a UK-based charity who offer support at the end of the telephone to those at risk of suicide and the raffle made over £550 which is magnificent.
Thank you so much to everyone who came along and made it so enjoyable, thanks especially to Judith for having the courage to start the account in the first place. We’re approaching 18K followers and there have been almost 52K uses of the hashtag #sewover50 That’s a LOT of work which Judith and Sandy put in every day to ensure it’s such an enjoyable, interactive and mutually supportive community. I for one hope it continues this way. I’m sorry to those of you who couldn’t get a ticket, or are simply too far away, we want to actively encourage you to create your own meet-ups like this, there was no sewing at this one but you just need a venue where you can chat, a friendly cafe? your local sewing shop? Now we’ve started the ball rolling don’t forget to use the hashtag #so50meetup so we know what you’re up to.
I first met pattern maker Dhurata Davies at my friend Sal’s ‘Sew2gether’ event last spring and then our path’s crossed again unexpectedly a couple of months later when I made a last minute decision to go to the Threads textiles fair in Farnham. Dhurata was exhibiting there and she offered me a copy of her Maxine Sweater pattern in return for a review. The pattern is intended as a sweatshirt, and I’ve made one in a jersey fabric already, but it also works well in a woven too. It was the diagonal seam lines with pockets concealed in them that appealed to me. The sweatshirt version was for a Minerva fabric blog review which hasn’t appeared yet at the time of writing but now that I’ve made a second top I can tell you all about the pattern here.
I had picked up a modest remnant of ‘Woolsey’, a linen/wool fabric in the Merchant & Mills shop in Rye last August, it’s a lovely deep teal colour which is one of my favourites (although it’s a devil to photograph accurately). When I made the jersey version I made a size 16 based on my body measurements and there’s plenty of room in it so I knew I could risk making the same size in a non-stretch fabric. [If you are making anything more usually intended for a fabric with some stretch you will almost certainly need to go up a size or two, especially if it’s in any way close fitting. Measure the pattern itself if you’re not sure and don’t forget you need to be able to get it on, will it need additional openings like a zip or buttons if there’s no stretch to get it over your head, or your hips?]
Before I cut anything out I made myself a ‘whole’ sleeve pattern piece, it comes as a ‘half’ sleeve vertically so this needs to be placed on a fold in the fabric (twice as you need two sleeves!) but I always prefer to have a complete sleeve. Just stick the pattern to a large enough piece of paper so that you can fold it down the central ‘place on fold’ line, fold it in half and pin in a few places then cut out a new symmetrical pattern piece.
I knew I would not have enough fabric for the separate collar, cuffs and hem-band pieces but I could lengthen the body so that it wasn’t ridiculously short. I added about 10-12cms to the bottom of the front and back pieces. I had to decide how to finish the neckline instead of the collar and I came up with a combination of piping directly on the edge first and then a band of jersey ribbing. I didn’t know how, or if, this would work but the piping would look fine on it’s own if the jersey wasn’t any good.
The instructions and illustrations are nice and clear and straightforward and it’s not as difficult as you might imagine to get the diagonal cross in the centre. The seam allowance is just 1cm so I always highlight the pattern when this is the case so that, when I make the pattern again, I don’t sew it up as 1.5 by mistake and it’s all too small!
Once the front was complete I joined it to the back at the shoulders and then made some bias binding for the neck. I had just enough scraps to cut 3 strips which were approximately 50cms long and 4cms wide which I joined to form one long strip. I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 which is really useful but you can usually use your zip foot if it allows you to stitch close enough to the piping cord. Not all zip feet are good at this especially if it’s the generic one which comes with the machine but there are usually adjustable ones you can buy which, in my experience, are better. The piping foot actually sits over the top of the fabric and piping cord rather than just beside it so it’s held more securely and stitches much closer to the piping for a better finish. If you want to see another use of the piping foot pop over to my review of the Simple Sew Lizzie dress.
Once I’d made the piping I sewed it around the neck, raw edges together and making a neat join at the back. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a matching jersey so I opted for a complete contrast. I bought 50cms each of deep red and dark grey tubular jersey from Backstitch and when I put them together I decided that the red made a more interesting garment. Generally when you’re adding a stretch band you work on the basis of it being approximately 85% of the neckline/cuff/waistband measurement that you’re attaching it to, depending on the stretch of the jersey. I’d made things tricky by adding the piping first so the machine had to go through a LOT of layers of fabric. I must say that the Pfaff sailed through it all pretty easily. The only time it was hard work was over the seam allowances on the cuffs. Because I was making this bit up as I went along I sewed the piping onto the cuff first then sewed the under arm seams, if I were using this finish again I would sew the under arm seam first and then put the binding on ‘in the round’ because it would be less bulky where it crosses the seam. I used my little seam-hopper gadget to help lift the foot to help ease it over the bulky seams, this one came with the machine but you can buy something called a Jean-a-ma-jig or even use a piece of thick folded cardboard.
Having told you 85% is the usual amount for a stretch bands I should have made the neck one slightly shorter than that as it doesn’t sit completely flat even after a good amount of steaming. I left it though because it doesn’t look that bad and it would be a lot of work to re-do it. First join the band into a loop along it’s narrow edge then fold it lengthwise in the same manner as the cuffs and then divide it into 4 equal parts marked with pins. Next equally divide the neck (or cuffs) equally into 4 too. Pin the band onto the neck (or cuff) at the marks and stretch the band to fit and stitch in place. You can see from the photos that this was quite tricky because of the number of layers involved, I graded the layers so that it reduced the bulk as far as possible. All these layers plus the piping cord made it too difficult to get the cuffs under the overlocker so I finished the edges using a simple zigzag stitch. Around the neck I used the Coverlock 3.0 to coverstitch which had dual benefit of neatening on the inside and giving an attractive double row of top stitching on the outside.
To finish the hem I just overlocked the edge, turned it up and stitched twice. So that’s it really, I’m very happy with the finished top, I layered it up with a thin RTW T-shirt when I wore it to go to Brighton recently. The fabric doesn’t seem to crease so much as bend, it’s of a double-weave construction the same as cotton double gauze.
I’m really happy with the outcome of this top, the fabric has lent itself well to the more smocky kind of shape and although it was bit involved I really like the finished effect of the addition of the stretch cuffs and piping onto an otherwise simple garment. The ‘Woolsey’ fabric does fray a bit because of the loose weave but it’s manageable. Incidentally, this pattern looks great lengthened into a dress or with the pockets left out of the seams if you’re short of fabric.
Thank you Dhurata for the gift of the pattern, in my opinion it’s a goody and if you aren’t adding extras like me it’s a nice quick half-day make. Dhurata has also designed some lovely children’s patterns too which you might be interested in.
The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.
So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…
First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.
Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.
Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.
Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.
This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.
So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]
Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.
Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.
If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sewwhile you sew can be both entertaining and informative.
Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.
As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?
What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.
Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.
Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)
I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.
I haven’t written a Simple Sew blog post for a few months but now that Sam Sterken has taken over with the organisation whilst Gabby is having her maternity leave we’re up and running again.
I had a bit of an idea in my head of what I’d like to do using the Zoe pattern which I already had so I chose some medium-weight enzyme washed linen in dark turquoise generously provided for us once again by Doughty’s Fabrics. I was really pleased with it when it arrived as it wasn’t too droopy but not over-firm either. Incidentally, it’s been terrible to photograph accurately, the final outdoor photos are definitely the closest to the real thing [to see how I altered the Zoe neckline so it wasn’t so wide have a look at my previous blog post in early 2018)
I drew a few sketches of ideas which all involved using the top half of the Zoe-initially I was going to extend the sleeves with wide pleated frills and keep the dress straight but I went off that idea as I felt the fabric was too firm for how I wanted it, I thought it would definitely work well with a peg-top skirt instead however. I wanted a shape that wasn’t too voluminous at the hem and by using an inverted A-line shape I could add pleats at the top but keep the hemline slimmer.
I tried on one of my existing Zoes (I’ve made 3) so I could assess what length I wanted the top section, and took an arbitrary measurement of 34cms from the centre of the front neckline to where I wanted the waist, which is slightly higher than my natural waistline. As the Zoe has centre front and back seams I then measured from the top edge down to the point where I wanted the waist seam and drew a line at a right angle on the pattern across from that point. I took that line across to the side seam but at the point where the line met the side seam I made it a right angle, which creates a very slight curve on the line. Because the back neck sits a little higher than the front I matched the side seams to one another first and created a similar line across to meet the centre back seam. [It’s important that these lines are at a right angle where they meet at the side seams because otherwise you would have a slight V shape rather than a smooth line from front to back]
I already have a skirt pattern that I’d drafted last year for a similar peg-top shape, I’d used it gathered though and I wanted pleats on the new dress. Initially I attempted to work out how to get 3 even sized pleats by folding and refolding the paper but I couldn’t quite get it. In the end I decided to cut the pieces in fabric as they were-with a slight modification for the front skirt as that piece was quite different-and then I’d work out the pleats once I was ready to attach the bodice and skirt together.
I cut all the bodice/sleeve/neck facings and assembled the bodice first. I’ve found that it’s easier to sew up the shoulders and attach the neck facings as described in the instructions but then attach the sleeves with the bodice open flat before sewing the side seams rather than in the round. The photos should help make this method quite clear. I added rows of contrast triple straight stitch to various seams as I went including around the neck [I used the quilting guide which came with my machine to do this accurately]
Next I cut the front and back skirts from the remaining fabric, plus I also cut two pairs of pockets for the side seams using the cardboard template I’ve made. [Just choose a pocket pattern that suits the size and shape that you mostly use to go in side seams and then make a cardboard version, mark the grainline and then all you need to do in future is place it on your fabric and draw around it with a pencil or chalk, it saves a paper piece getting scrappier and scrappier with constant use.]
I made up the front and back skirt sections, adding the pockets to the side seams, then top stitched the CF seams as before, I didn’t top stitch the CB seam at this stage as I wanted to be able to sew in a continuous line with no breaks and I couldn’t achieve this until the hem was turned up too. Incidentally, as many of the seams were going to be pressed open inside the dress I overlocked the edges of most of them first then sewed the seam and pressed open.
Next I pinned on the skirt starting by matching the centre front, back and side seams. Because I had no other markings now I played around with different positions for the pleats until I happy with how they looked. This will vary according to what size you’ve cut the waist but for mine I settled on 10cms each side of the CF seam for the first pleat and then the second and third pleats were a further 4 cms away from the previous one. I checked all the measurements to ensure that they were each symmetrical and well-balanced before I sewed it all together, overlocked to neaten and added another row of top stitching to the waist.
This just left the hem length to check, I had opted for quite a long skirt length because I wanted the dress to be a fairly loose throw-on shape but not too baggy or undefined. I was happy with the length I’d plumped for so I used the triple straight stitch once again around the bottom and then down the CB seam, creating an angled line to define the facing which finished the slit opening.
I’m not always super-happy with everything I make (and in truth I’ve positioned the pockets a little bit low in this dress) but I can’t wait to wear this dress during the summer! I’ve only ever worn my previous Zoes with long-sleeved tops layered underneath in chilly weather so it’s a bit of a revelation to realise that the sleeves are the perfect length for a summer dress. I think the skirt shape is more interesting than just a gathered dirndl and the lime-green contrast topstitching is a bit of fun. The linen is a great weight for this too, it will be crumply but that’s part of the charm of linen fabric…I think I may have to make more of this frock!
At the beginning of the year Charlotte (@englishgirlathome) and Carmen (@carmencitablog) announced there was to be another Paris Sewcial in May. It was a free-to-attend event, you just needed to get yourself there and book your own accommodation. The previous one was four years ago and at the time I was just getting started on IG and barely knew anyone, although I do remember seeing pictures pop up on my feed. This time a group of us were keen to go together and the super-efficient Claire Sews got us all organised with trains and hotels so we were soon good to go!
Six of us met at London St Pancras early on Friday morning and took the Eurostar direct to Gare du Nord, it was a short 15 minute walk to our hotel near Sacre Coeur and Montmartre from there. Although our rooms were definitely compact and bijoux I was delighted to discover mine had a modest view of the Eiffel Tower! [it was better in reality than it appears in my photo incidentally] I was soundly mocked by my companions but I think they were just jealous of my room with a glimpse.
I was keen not to spend my whole time in Paris inside shops no matter how appealing the fabric was, and it was a first visit for Kara, so we took the opportunity along with Salva to get the hop-on hop-off bus which visited all the major sites in the city. Cue a few photos of Parisian landmarks…
In the evening we were joined by two more companions so the eight of us went to supper at a restaurant nearby and had a very jolly evening.
The grand meet-up commenced at approximately 11am the next day so after a delightful breakfast at a little cafe we arrived to find a huge group of our fellow sewers at the foot of the steps in front of Sacre Coeur. It was SO lovely to see so many people there, Charlotte’s patient partner Phil took a group shot of us all together before we eventually and gradually dispersed to the fabric shops which are very close by.
There are lots of fabrics shops grouped close together in the area and many of them specialise in a method of selling which I hadn’t encountered before. The fabric is grouped in fibre type so linen, silks, woollens, viscoses etc plus cottons were sub-divided into fabric type like denim or double-gauze but everything is cut into 3 metre lengths and folded on end. It sounds complex but it isn’t, you have to not be a neat-freak. It’s called ‘coupons’ and I thought it was a very good way of selling because 3 metres is plenty to make many items of clothing like a dress or a coat perhaps, although admittedly too much for some, you could always share with someone else provided you were agreed on the colour! It means you don’t have to find a member of staff to cut your fabric, they don’t need tables to cut on either. It needs to be kept tidy but I found it an enjoyable and novel way to fabric shop. I bought fabric in Les Coupons de St Pierre, Sacres Coupons and Tissus Molines but there are quite a few others close by too. There are still traditional shops too where the fabric is on the roll and staff will cut your chosen quantity, plus some stores selling haberdashery, trims and buttons etc.
Eventually we were pretty much shopped out and in need of sustenance so the groups dispersed to various restaurants for lunch.
In the afternoon many of us carried on to a pop-up shop where DP studio patterns were selling off ex-sample fabrics and dead stock at very low prices, as well as their own patterns. A few carried on still further to Make my Lemonade and a few other shops but some of us were pretty pooped by now so we headed back to the hotel with our swag.
Later in the evening many of us travelled across town to a restaurant where a meal and entertainment had been laid on for us. Unfortunately the Parisian liking for late eating didn’t suit everyone after such a long and tiring day and we were all quite keen to head to our beds in the end.
After brunch on Sunday morning a fairly large group went to visit the Yves St Laurent museum at 5, avenue Marceau. As you know I love a good fashion exhibition and this was no exception, the entrance fee is €10 which I thought was pretty reasonable. It isn’t that large but there are quite a number of gowns and outfits on show, as well the studio in which YSL used to work for around 30 years. It was also an opportunity to actually chat with fellow Sewcialists without it being too noisy or fabric purchasing being our primary occupation.
The first salon was dedicated to the famous Mondrian dress with many of its iterations including Barbie and Marge Simpson, and unwearable suggestions for eye makeup.
In the other salons were various YSL outfits from past collections.
The studio in which St Laurent created for over 30 years was a beautiful bright, light-filled space with many artefacts which made it feel as though he had merely stepped out of the room for a moment.
There is, of course, a modest and tasteful book and gift shop at the exit although I resisted the urge to buy anything else.
After leaving the museum we all headed in various directions, avenue Marceau is very near the river with its wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower. We indulged in crepes from a vendor after which we set off for the Musee D’Orsay with a very pleasant stroll along the Left Bank of the Seine-fortunately the very threatening sky never did come to anything.
There was quite a long queue at the D’Orsay but we Brits are good at that and the time passed while we chatted. Inside was crowded so we went straight to the top floor where the Impressionist artists are housed. Amongst the painting we spotted these sewing/crocheting beauties which seem particularly appropriate, plus two favourites of mine.
We finished the day with supper back in the Montmartre area, plus the most beautiful ice cream I have ever eaten. We worked them off by climbing right up the hill to Sacre Coeur!
What did I buy did you say?? I was super-restrained and chose several plains and a classic stripe, plus an unusual print lining and a remnant with a fish design. I spent less than €100 in total which I’m happy with for the quality of fabrics that I bought.
And then it was time to come home again…Carmen joined us for breakfast on our last morning which gave us a chance to thank her (again) for instigating/organising the whole event.
Even on the Eurostar home we still had lots to talk, and laugh, about and we all agreed that there had to be another Paris Sewcial in the future. Thank you again Charlotte and Carmen for having the idea in the first place-it was brilliant and such a delight to meet so many diverse yet like-minded people.
I thought in this blog I’d take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last twelve months and it’s made me realise what a wonderful varied collection they are. As well as sewing multiple garments from numerous patterns (which I’ll look at in a separate blog) there have been several meet-ups including the Stitchroom Sewcial in June and the now-famous Sewing Weekender in August, plus one I organised myself in November. I’ve visited quite a few exhibitions, some of them more than once, read lots of books and written reviews of several of them in case anyone out there was interested in knowing more if they fancy a visit or a read for themselves. I’ve been back to the Knitting & Stitching show, and The Handmade Fair for the first time too.
In January I made my first coat in decades, the Butterick 6423 and was pretty pleased with the outcome overall.
My first meet-up of the year in February was a return visit to Balenciaga at the V&A organised by Alex (Sewrendipity) where I met a number of lovely fellow dressmakers in the flesh for the first time. It was so nice to go to an exhibition with like-minded people and then we all went for lunch together afterwards-very civilised!
Also in February Gabby Young invited me to become one of the Simple Sew bloggers so I embarked on a year of wrangling their patterns into submission, they are nice designs but aren’t always faultlessly accurate in their drafting or instructions. I took on the role on the understanding that I’d be honest (although never rude) but informative and constructive. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I achieved that.
I had the opportunity to visit the Fashion Technology Academy in April which was such an inspiring place. You can study many of the technical aspects of clothing production there and we also had the chance to try out a taster session of TR pattern cutting with the supremely gifted Claudette Joseph while we were there too. If you, or someone you know, wants to go down the technical route into garment manufacture then this place in North London could be a good place to start looking.
Also in April I returned to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London to attend their fascinating ‘Inside couture’ afternoon. I’ve been once before but it’s so enjoyable, and such a treat to get the your hands on real couture clothes (with white gloves on, natch). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in London but you do need to book for these particular events, the museum itself is open most days.
The first London Stitchers meet-up was held at the beginning of May and although I’m not technically ‘London’, as has become obvious, I go up a lot. These are organised by Ana Cocowawacrafts and Georgia One Stitch Forward and they vary in their locations between north, south and central London. Anyone is welcome and it’s a great way to meet new people and know that you all have at least one shared interest! It’s like speed-dating for dressmakers!!
Me Made May was also happening on Instagram and for the first time in ages I managed to post every single day for a month-long challenge even though I was out of the country for some of it. Lots of garments I shared weren’t new and box-fresh, in fact quite a few of them were old favourites, which is as it should be. We made a trip to Assisi in Italy during this time so that made my backdrops a bit more interesting for a few days!
I tried something a bit different in May by going on a course to learn how to make and print my own etchings. I’d done this once a million years ago when I did my Foundation Course at college and have always found the medium fascinating and beautiful. [Go and check out Rembrandt’s work in particular if you aren’t sure what they are] I’d met a lovely lady called Chrissy Norman on the first Sewing Weekender two years ago and it turns out that not only does she sew and knit, she’s a super-talented printmaker too. She has a separate IG account for her prints and I admired a print she posted on it early in the year. It transpires that she teaches courses a few times a year at Sudbourne Park Printmakers workshops. Long story short, I signed up and joined her in Suffolk in mid-May. It was soooo interesting and fun, plus I made some pretty respectable prints based on a photo I had taken of the Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
The summer saw the first of several visits to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum. I also loved the retrospective of the work of Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum, I didn’t write a review though because by the time I went there wasn’t much left of the run sadly. It was spectacular though and I’m very glad I made the effort. That same day we went to see the musical Hamilton which was absolutely stupendous, Mr Y normally doesn’t go for that style of music but even he has raved about it ever since-highly recommended!
In June I was one of the lucky attendees of the first Stitchroom Sewcial event organised by Anne ‘New Vintage Sewing’ and Lucy ‘Sew Essential’ at Anne’s workplace in the University of Loughborough. They had excelled themselves with activities for us all to try including visiting the print and weaving workshops, computerised machine embroidery, an individual photoshoot AND time to sew and use the industrial machines Anne has in her classroom. I really hope I’m lucky enough to go again in 2019…
I took a road trip with my ‘local’ sewing friends Alana and Helen to visit Sewisfaction on their first Big Summer Stitch-up which was great fun, even though it was a steaming hot day.
At the end of July and beginning of August I posted two blogs which seemed to light the blue touch paper that rapidly became Sew Over 50. When I wrote them I thought no one would read them, much less agree with me, so I was stunned by the response to say the least. My now-friend Judith was amongst those who read them and was feeling the same way so she went one step further and created a new Instagram account called @SewOver50 and everything went a bit nuts from there on. As I write this post the account has gained over 5,300 followers since mid-August which is phenomenal. It’s become a place of inspiration and encouragement for thousands of women (and the occasional man) who sew but felt they, we, are being overlooked or dismissed by the burgeoning home-dressmaking market because of our age.
One thing that some people misunderstood about the whole idea wasn’t that we wanted to be separate from any other age group, like some kind of exclusive club, not at all, we just felt that some people-magazines, pattern companies-were overlooking the opportunity to tap into a market and a group who had cash to spend, had styling ideas, skills and experience to share, originality, fun, empathy, quirkiness, style. For a lot of the people who started following the account they had very little experience of using social media to broaden their horizons in sewing terms, and for connecting with like-minded people around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, as well as Europe. Suddenly there was an identifiable hashtag to follow which took you straight to the heart of this community. In fact it isn’t only sewing that members are supportive with, many face health challenges, a changing body with the menopause, dealing with elderly parents or caring for grandchildren so there have already been lots of conversations that have strayed away from sewing completely, and that’s OK too.
It’s been gratifying to see that a number of sources are making a big effort to be more diverse in who they feature in articles or as models. There is still a long way to go though because we’re conscious it might appear that it’s mostly white middle-aged women who sew, but we know this isn’t the case because there are many women of colour who sew too, maybe they don’t engage as much with Instagram or other social media though? I don’t know the answer to this one except to say that all are welcome because that’s the whole point. It makes me very happy when much younger dressmakers comment to me that they also follow us to get inspiration and advice, which is also the reason that I follow younger sewers myself!
Onwards, there was another amazing Sewing Weekender in August which was quickly followed by SewPhotoHop on Instagram in September organised by Rachel ‘House of Pinheiro‘. I didn’t keep up with this one so much and dipped in and out a bit [the same happened with Sewvember as well] but it’s a good way to find new people to follow and be inspired by if all this is new to you. I’ve just remembered there was MIYMarch (Make it Yourself) but that passed me by completely this year.
In September I became a Minerva Crafts blogger so I’m provided with fabric by them to make up into my own choice of garment and then write a comprehensive review for their own website. I’m enjoying this and it’s another string to my bow.
October saw me return to Birmingham for the SewBrum event which is magnificently organised by Charlotte ‘English Girl at Home’. It’s a chance for dressmakers from all over the place to come together in Birmingham, shop for fabric, visit Guthrie & Ghani and generally hang out together.
I was really chuffed to be invited by Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine to contribute an article about the Fashioned from Nature exhibition to the magazine in November. It was a really big deal for me to write something specifically to appear in print. I’ve been lucky enough to write pattern reviews for Love Sewing and Sew Now in the past but this was a new departure. I’d love to do more like this in the future. There’s definitely a little something coming up early in the new year but I can’t talk about that yet…..
I organised my own meet-up at Walthamstow Market in east London in mid-November which fortunately was a beautiful day as it was well attended and we nearly all went for lunch afterwards, to continue chatting! It was the first meet-up for quite a number of the attendees but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and were delighted to get the chance to chat together in real life and not just in a comments box!
There was a lovely pre-Christmas sewing day in Cambridge called SewCam organised by Jen Walker ‘The Gingerthread Girl’ which was a delightful antidote to festive fever, and a final London Stitcher’s meet up the following weekend to round everything off nicely!
When I look back at everything in this way it makes me so happy to realise the sheer quantity of wonderful opportunities that my love of dressmaking has brought me this year in particular. I continue to teach my lovely group of ladies locally-they think all this Instagram nonsense is ridiculous in a good way! I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring women in real life for the first time and I’ve deepened some of the friendships that started last year, or longer, ago. Many people think that ‘friends’ on Insta aren’t real but that just isn’t true. Of course there are those people you should give a wide berth to and we are continually plagued by nut-jobs who think women who sew will be interested in their guns, or love of God, or whatever but if we all continue to report them then so much the better.
Wherever you are in your sewing ‘journey’ I hope you find it relaxing, fulfilling, inspiring, empowering, distracting, whatever you need it to be. I’ll never stop learning and being creative is so good for us ( we knew this all along but science is finally realising it too!)
I’ve already got some ideas for next year but, to be honest, much of 2018 just unfolded one thing at a time without too much planning in advance. I’d like to expand my own skills in 2019 and not necessarily in dressmaking terms, I have always enjoyed art so perhaps I should get my pencils and paints back out again.
There’s always an element of me hoping you enjoy what I write and find the reviews helpful or informative although, in truth, I’d write them anyway as a record. Thank you for joining me on the journey and Happy New Year, and here’s to lots more sewing adventures, maybe we’ll meet ‘in real life’ in 2019?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
iron on interfacing
cuffs tacked up in position
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.
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.
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.
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!
I relieved to say that Janet is very pleased with her jacket and hopefully will get a lot of wear from it.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!