Sewing resources for breast cancer patients during treatment and recovery compiled by Tina and shared with Sew Over 50

In 2019, when I was writing a round-up of the first year of activity on the @SewOver50 account Tina @bricolagedk gave me her very honest, and touching, response as to why she was so happy to be a part of our community. She had a very different reason for joining in to many. Living in Denmark, she was struggling to adjust to a new and altered body-shape after a mastectomy, RTW clothing just wasn’t right any more so she wanted to start sewing her own again after many years but found a lack of patterns and information available. She contacted Judith directly and, when Judith shared the question with everyone, the response was extraordinary. I’ll let Tina explain in her own words, 

This was Tina’s original request to Judith and the Sew Over 50 community.

“You posted my request and I got an amazing response. People gave me drafting tips, and told me of helpful sewing tools for hurting hands and weak arms. A couple of post mastectomy sewers also contacted me. Others from the SO50 community gifted me patterns, and translated patterns for me from languages I didn’t understand. They told me of patternmaking books with drafting tips for asymmetric sewing. But most of all, everyone was extremely supportive, and in less than a year I have gone from feeling so alone and insecure about how to sew for my changed body, to being part of a very supportive, helpful and inclusive community.”

Over the following two years Tina has amassed a huge number of resources which could be of use to the many women affected by a breast cancer diagnosis, or know someone else who is and whom they would like to help and support by sewing articles for them. After all her hard work Tina is very happy to share them with our community, we are indebted to her wonderful act of generosity and ‘giving back’ to the SO50 community which responded with open arms to her. I am very happy to be able to publish them all here on my blog as a means to make them available to you.

Tina has already given her own headings or categories to each topic, and provided the links which you see here. They include not just everyday clothing and ideas how to adapt them but things like comfort cushions, post-op gowns, turbans, as well as ideas for self-drafting too. She also suggests various hashtags which might link you to other women in the same situation.

Sew let’s begin…

To meet other post mastectomy sewists
Check out the tag #sewoverbreastcancer on Instagram, there are currently well over one thousand posts using this hashtag, and if Facebook is your thing then join Facebook group Sewing Flat and Asymmetrical https://www.facebook.com/groups/275875773308157

Pattern adaptation, Breast dart removal-here are two methods
1. ease moved into the waist seam
https://www.seamwork.com/magazine/2019/10/bodice-adjustments-for-a-bilateral-mastectomy 

[You can find the Seamwork Instagram account here @seamwork as a starting point to finding and using its resources.]

2. for leaving the waist seam width unchanged try
@Inhousepatterns  https://www.inhousepatternsstudio.com/blog/how-to-eliminate-a-bust-dart   https://www.instagram.com/p/CSMTMB-IRki/

The book ‘Fast Fit – Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure by SANDRA BETZINA‘ has a chapter on sewing and pattern alterations for a post mastectomy chest

Twig and Tale are a New Zealand based pattern company which now offers instructions of their popular Fable dress to enable a flat-fronted version.

If you enjoy sketching as part of planning your projects then @mybodymodel has a customised fashion croquis template made to your own measurements with a no chest option. It helped Tina to test what designs might look and feel good on her post-mastectomy body.  https://www.instagram.com/p/B4QSbiknDpi/ https://www.mybodymodel.com/ 
https://www.mybodymodel.com/news-updates/introducing-the-new-omit-bust-croquis-option/

@Sewcialists #AllChestsWelcome was a theme month with lots of resources for sewing post mastectomy
https://thesewcialists.com/category/theme-months/all-chests-welcome/

Venus mensch has a created tutorial on how to adapt a bra pattern to one cup after single mastectomy
@venusmensch_mk :🦋 Here’s the link to her video tutorial demonstrating how to hack a bra pattern into a post mastectomy bra that is flat on one side. The same technique works for a flat chest.
https://www.instagram.com/p/CEYeyEQATAG/ 
https://thesewcialists.com/2020/08/26/allchestswelcome-post-mastectomy-bra-pattern-hack-tutorial/

Prosthesis and prosthesis pockets
The Sewcialists has ceased to publish new articles and posts but their resources are still available. Here is a blog-post on sewing a prosthesis https://thesewcialists.com/2020/08/14/allchestswelcome-do-it-yourself-breast-prosthesis/


Another option is Knitted knockers which offers a pattern for a soft crochet prosthesis https://www.headcovers.com/blog/how-to-knit-or-crochet-a-breast-prosthesis-with-free-patterns/

Sew soft breast forms, if you do not want to go flat while the scars are healing http://mastectomysolutions.com/sew-your-own-breast-forms.php

There are lots of options for a variety of bras and bra-making including
@bramakerssupply https://www.instagram.com/bramakerssupply/ a tutorial on how to make a soft prosthesis. I found it by searching Mastectomy on their website https://www.braandcorsetsupplies.com/2014/05/09/do-it-yourself-breast-form/ 
You can use this pattern https://www.instagram.com/p/BzwhkDEAbLY/ from @patternunion https://www.instagram.com/patternunion/
https://www.patternunion.com.au/product-page/vintage-liner-bra it can be used for creating a prosthesis  
and a tutorial for how to add a prosthesis pocket to an ordinary bra pattern https://www.braandcorsetsupplies.com/2018/10/14/draft-mastectomy-pocket/?fbclid=IwAR2f53F71r446ucbkTlC0JS0y5viHXAA41sJMW6xApcnxaaHa8kb1JehmZM

@threadsmagazine details adding a prosthesis pocket to an RTW bra https://www.instagram.com/p/B1WfsmZD4AL/ they have a better how-to on their website https://www.threadsmagazine.com/2009/01/25/adapt-a-bra-to-accommodate-a-prosthesis

Mastectomy Bra patterns

There are two free patterns for single mastectomy bras available from @tetayteta  https://sujetadorlola.es/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Patrones-LOLA.pdf Both patterns are free to use for noncommercial purposes. There are no sewing instructions to the patterns though https://sujetadorlola.es/ scroll to the bottom of the page for downloads https://www.instagram.com/p/CHc8GCkBCBa/

@Anna.bonny mastectomy patch https://www.instagram.com/p/BfNs2Url0VH/ free pattern
https://www.annabonny.com/product/monokini-do-it-yourself/

@michelles__armoire https://www.instagram.com/p/CVG0v_SBrH6/ free pdf sewing pattern for a mastectomy bra with prosthesis pocket https://michellesarmoire.com.au/collections/patterns/products/lourdes-mastectomy-bra

 www.porcelynne.com  has released flat cup options for both their Christina and Jackie sports bras, for a bilateral mastectomy as well as a combination cup for a unilateral mastectomy. The flat cup option can be utilized for individuals without breast tissue. The combination cup utilizes the flat cup on one side and a shaped cup on the other.https://porcelynne.com/index.php?main_page=advanced_search_result&search_in_description=1&keyword=mastectomy  both patterns come in digital and printed versions

Jackie sports bra https://porcelynne.com/patterns/sports-bra-patterns/jackie-sports-bra-pattern 
Christina sports bra https://porcelynne.com/patterns/sports-bra-patterns/christina-sports-bra-pattern

Pain relief pillows for post-surgery can be very helpful.
Heart pillow pattern to ease post-surgery pain

There are sewing instructions for the Sewcialists pillow https://www.instagram.com/p/B4plHVWgg0B/ pattern in photo no. 2
Other website resources for comfort pillows include:
http://createdthroughinspiration.blogspot.com/2013/08/heart-pillow-instructions.html
http://files.ctctcdn.com/646018cd001/8558ecb4-c934-4236-a756-cce344b08fca.pdf
Immediately after surgery a pain relief pillow will help when in bed, and could make the car journey home after surgery a little more comfortable.

After a single mastectomy: http://www.stitchedtogetherstudios.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Love-Pillow-Pattern.pdf

Pain relief pillow for double mastectomy: http://previvingandthriving.com/mastectomy-must-haves/ 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqmUxHmrYA8

Port pillow
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wx7B5NUmso

Post op clothes
A front closing camisole

https://www.instagram.com/mellysews/ has a free pattern and tutorial for a front closing camisole so you won’t have to lift your arms after surgery. Try typing in the search word mastectomy on her website https://mellysews.com/post-surgery-camisole-mastectomy-surgery/ is the pattern and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uCw73CPTjA is a tutorial for the front-opening camisole.

A front closing bralette, in a soft fabric without wiring or tight elastic can also be very comfortable without rubbing or chafing. Tina adapted the Delvine bralette by Primrose Dawn Designs for example.

A gown or robe will be very useful. Made It patterns created a free pattern but sadly they have now ceased trading.

The Tranquility robe was available free from Made It patterns and had been carefully and thoughtfully designed and tested for women, and by women, in recovery from surgery. Whilst it is now no longer available I wonder if others in the Sew Over 50 community who previously downloaded the pattern would be willing to share it?

If you need post mastectomy op drain bags, there is a tutorial below or use the vest from madeit patterns. Drain bags can also be sewn into a dress, top, hoodie, cardigan, shirt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOLqkRvG5A0

Chemo turban pattern
Chemo turban pattern for wovens https://brimmingwithlove.com/ free pattern 

https://www.instagram.com/molliejohanson/ Blog on 10 different free chemo hat sewing patterns https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/chemo-hat-and-turban-sewing-patterns-2977862

Also, Sewcialists has a free beanie pattern which would be suitable for chemo patients too.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5NRrtzH2ag/ @sygal.dk The text is Danish but the pattern is free
Pattern https://cdn.bloggersdelight.dk/wp-content/blogs.dir/242282/files/2019/11/huexmedxslojfe.pdf 
Sewing instructions (use google translate) http://sygal.dk/2018/02/20/moenster-til-hue-i-jersey/

Tina has also been interviewed and written about her illness a couple of times so the links below specifically refer to those occasions.

Some Links to where Tina has been interviewed or written about sewing for a post mastectomy body
Tina talks to Maria on the Sew Organised Style podcast specifically about sewing for her post-mastectomy body. https://seworganisedstylepodcast.com/2021/09/29/bricolagdk-tina/

A loooong story of illness: https://thesewcialists.com/2019/11/08/who-we-are-sewing-after-a-unilateral-mastectomy/

Designing for a post mastectomy body; https://www.mybodymodel.com/sketch-sew/designing-for-my-post-mastectomy-body-with-my-body-model-croquis-by-tina/

I do hope you will be able to access the many and varied resources which Tina has accumulated (a few are not in English but hopefully Google Translate can help here whichever language you need to access them in) and I want to thank her on all our behalves for the sheer effort she has put into researching and collating them, and for now being only too willing to pass them on for us to use. Many of the resources are free for anyone to access and not for commercial use so please be mindful of that and to credit the source where it’s due if you use any of them yourself, now or in the future.

Until next time,

Sue

Summing up the Sew Over 50 sustainable sewing challenge.

I’ve been an absolute fraud when it’s come to writing any Sew Over 50 blogs for ages and ages which I feel very guilty about. I’ll hold my hands up and say that the community has been an absolute lifeline during the last awful 18 months that we’ve all been going through-the support, friendship, inspiration, encouragement and camaraderie that I’ve found through the account has been personally so important but my writing and blogging has really tailed off along with my mood in general. Judith and Sandy do an absolutely awe-inspiring job of running the account for us, along with fantastic guest editors to keep us all coming back time after time-thank you thank you THANK YOU!!! The sheer variety of topics covered has been incredible but I thought I’d dip my toe back into the @SewOver50 blogging waters by writing a round-up of the August 2021 challenge #So50SustainableSewing

If you follow Judith’s personal account @judithrosalind you’ll already know she has been increasingly sewing in a more mindful and sustainable way for some time now and has wanted to launch a challenge on the account so that we can all join in with this in some way.

We all know that ’the most sustainable garment is the one already in our wardrobe’ and that is true but it doesn’t allow for the important creative outlets that our sewing and garment making gives us. So, if we are to continue sewing for ourselves or others, how can we approach it?

Judith’s idea for the challenge is a simple one-we use only fabric which is already ‘in the system’, especially if it’s already sitting on our shelves. In other words, we source it in a variety of inventive ways and these fabrics could include… 

  • remnants or scraps
  • charity or thrift shop finds-fabrics or garments
  • vintage textiles
  • textile manufacturing waste
  • fabric swaps in person or online
  • de-stashes
  • discarded garments, table cloths, bed linen, curtains etc 

This isn’t a definitive list of course and over the whole month of August several guest editors shared their brilliant insights to inspire us. 

The month kicked off with Judith making a guest appearance on the Sew Organised Style podcast chatting with Maria Theoharous about her idea and lots of ways for us to get involved. Maria always has Sew Over 50 Thursdays too which feature guests from our community who share their sewing stories, techniques and inspiration so it is definitely worth having a listen while you’re sewing, or walking the dog!.

Throughout August there was a great line-up of guest editors including Jen Hogg @jenerates who is so overflowing with ideas that she had 4 separate posts! Her first post encouraged us to ‘shop our stash’ if you have one…I know I do! Like her, some of my fabrics are relatively recent purchases, occasionally on impulse although not always by any means, whilst others are fabrics I’ve acquired over a long period of time and from various different sources. Jen sees it as part of her creative process, to have the choice amongst her stash, to inspire her ideas for making. Jen is a multi-talented woman who not only sews but knits, embroiders, makes jewellery, works leather….in the UK you are probably familiar with her from being a contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee, plus you can also listen to her chatting on Sew Organised Style too! 

Some of the guest editors including Jen Hogg, Sue Stoney, Irene Lundell and Tricia Morris

Next was Sue Stoney @suestoney in Australia who shared her love of collecting all sorts of vintage items for later use including beautiful table linen and haberdashery. Many of us probably have buttons, zips, hooks and eyes, threads, elastic (doesn’t last indefinitely though so check it hasn’t perished before you sew it into something you don’t want to fall down around your ankles!) which came to us via our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, neighbours etc etc. I know I love to rummage amongst the hundreds of buttons I have to something special and individual, and I can’t recall the last time I actually bought hooks and eyes or press studs!

just a few of Sue Stoney’s treasured vintage haberdashery finds

Whilst the challenge is intended to encourage us to get creative and inventive for the pleasure of it alone there were also prizes to be awarded so the post on August 8th shared the generous sponsors for these. They included @criswoodsews whose zero-waste Parasol dress pattern has proved extremely popular especially during this challenge. @lizhaywood3754 is also an advocate for zero-waste sewing and has published two books on the topic. @thatwendyward has a recently published book on sewing more sustainably (she chats with Maria about it on the podcast too!) Wendy has long been mindful on the topic after years of working in the RTW industry, as well as producing her own patterns, teaching and writing several other sewing books all of which feature older models! There were also prizes from small businesses @greyfriarsandgrace who create paper patterns which guide the user to sew clothes using recycled textiles, and @craftandthrift who sell thrifted fabrics and kits. 

Jen returned with her second post sharing her use of ‘found’ fabrics, including a beautiful blouse made from a sheer vintage embroidered table cloth. Found fabrics can make you a lot more creative because you feel less constrained by what to make with them, do you find the cost of brand new fabric can stifle your creative instincts because of the fear of making costly errors? 

this blouse using a sheer vintage embroidered table cloth is so pretty

One garment that offered massive chances to use up multiple fabrics was the ubiquitous tiered and ruffled dress-a buffet dress in current parlance! Followers have certainly embraced this style and the account shared just a small selection of them on August 11th.

Robyn @robbynu42 was one of many to create some fabulous tiered and ruffled dresses using repurposed fabrics.

Next up was Marcia @MarciaLoisRiddington who adores #GrannyChic and is a wonderful exponent of using vintage fabrics to great advantage and her combinations of colours and patterns is absolutely masterful (mistressful?) 

Marcia is always so colourful, her combinations of vintage textiles are so original and fun.

Then @irenelundell from Sweden urged us to think about ‘circular’ sewing, buy from charity or thrift shops when you see it because not only does it support a good cause but it gives the textile or garment the chance of a new or extended life. 

Irene wearing her thrifted and dyed with iron and tea denim jacket! It has rusty nail marks to add to it’s charm

Tricia @morrissews who followed is a fine exponent of refashion, remake, remodel, recycle and repair…and try as much as possible to not replace. She shared her @Elbe_textiles (another prize sponsor) Sorrento bucket hat which couldn’t be more suitable for using up lots of small fabric scraps to make something really useful and wearable. 

Tricia wearing her denim scraps Sorrento bucket hat by Elbe

Jen’s third post demonstrated the times she’s used multiple garments to make a single new one, such as the three shirt shirt! Casual jackets which are made up of small pattern pieces are also ideal for a patchwork approach, there are even small businesses now making these commercially and every garment is different, some even manage to use 100% recycled components. 

Jen’s 3 shirt shirt!

She talks too about the 90 minute transformation challenge on GBSB was actually a very liberating experience because there was no time to be overly precious with what they were given to use, it forced her to think outside the box very quickly and not have time for self-doubt.

There was another Jen up next, @jenlegg_teescreatives who told us how she has used textiles belonging to dear and much-missed friend and how, when she wears the jacket she’s sewn, it feels like a hug from her friend Emma. There are many other ways you can honour or remember a friend or loved one in this way too by sewing articles like soft toys, cushions, patchwork quilts or rugs for example using garments that once belonged to them. 

Jen Legg wearing an absolutely beautiful jacket with a really touching story behind it.

Jen Hogg made her final return to tell us about using factory surplus in her making. She’s fortunate to live near a number of textile mills in Scotland and has been working closely with them to find inventive ways of using their ‘waste’ products. By using cashmere off-cuts, including something called ‘slitter’ which is a by-product of making cashmere scarves, so far Jen has knitted or crocheted rugs and blankets, and woven and stitched the strips together to make whole pieces of textile big enough to make into jackets, dresses or coats. Are there any textiles manufacturers or processors near you? Do they sell off any of their excess or by-products? It might be worth investigating. Another way of using up scraps which has been around for many many years is rag rugging (also known as proggy rugging) and @raggedlife has loads of ideas for this technique.

Jen’s beautiful jacket made with cashmere ‘slitter’ tape, all carefully pieced to make usable sized pieces big enough to sew into a garment.

As the month was drawing to a close Raquel in Taipei @raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia (who is an absolute Queen of refashioning!) showed us how she takes inspiration from high-end fashion and clothing all around her but then recreated the looks using multiple end-of-line garments and thrifted clothes. Not only that, she would wear them a few times but if they aren’t quite right she isn’t afraid to take them apart again and reconfigure them into a new garment more to her liking! Sometimes more than once! I’m always too precious with things I’ve made to do that even if I don’t much like the end result, instead they tend to sit on the naughty step while I sulk about what went wrong with them, I should just tackle it head on and take up that unpicker! 

Raquel in one of her remade remakes!

The final guest editor for the sewing sustainably month was Judy @judywillimentross whose speciality is refashioning mens suits into another wearable garment. She buys them in charity shops but one of her own rules is not a purchase a suit which might still be of use to someone less fortunate and not in a position to buy new. [This could also be something to be mindful of when purchasing any very inexpensive garment, should we consider whether it would be of use to another person as it is before we buy it to cut up. Or do we take the view that the money we pay for it is a donation to a charity in need of the cash, especially if it’s going to end up in landfill otherwise?] Judy carefully uses ever-smaller fabric scraps to piece together into patchwork. 

Judy in one of her carefully pieced garments using men’s suit fabrics

So there you have it, loads of creativity to inspire us with our sewing projects in the future. By the time you read this the randomly-chosen winners of prizes will have been announced but the hashtag #so50SustainableSewing will continue to be used so the ideas bank will be constantly refreshed. 

I’ve added links throughout so you should be able to see and read for yourselves what the guest editors had to say. 

Judith and Sandy constantly add to the saved Highlights on the account too, particularly any one of the many worldwide challenges you might like to participate in, plus using some the dozens of hashtags unique to us will give you unlimited ideas for your own future projects.

I created this collage of a few of my projects made using thrifted, salvaged, reused, donated or repurposed fabrics at the start of August but I never posted it.

For this post I’ve concentrated entirely on the sustainable sewing challenge and so I’ve not added many thoughts of my own. In truth, I wasn’t in the headspace to participate while it was going on but it did cause me to think about some of the projects I’ve completed in recent years which went some way to being ‘sustainable’.There are so many ways we can all do a little, or a lot, to contribute to reducing the problem of waste and over-consumption. We should be mindful that whatever is right and possible for one person though is not necessarily going to be achievable for another. For example, many of us can practice visible mending because we like that it gives longevity to a garment and can look attractive, but others will see it as a reminder of hard times or embarrassment. Our community is nothing if not supportive so we need to be mindful of others at times.

Until next time, 

Happy sewing 

Sue

Sewing advice for newbies from the Sew Over 50 hive mind.

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 Sew while 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.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Replicating a favourite shirred sundress for a client

I had a client recently who I did a few alterations for initially but then she asked me if it was possible to replicate a favourite dress she had. It was a tiered sundress in plain cotton with a shirred back panel.

Of course, said I.

It was very straightforward to measure the skirt panels, there were three tiers of almost identical length, each layer was more full than the last, plus a small ruffle on the hem. Next I took accurate measurements of the bodice front and drew a ‘plan’ plus the shirred back. I haven’t made anything using shirring in years and it was going to be guesswork a bit but I found a really helpful tutorial by Seamwork magazine on You Tube which gave a few good tips.

Once I’d got all my notes and diagrams I could calculate how much fabric my client would need, I also gave her advice on what sort of fabric to choose. She was going on holiday in less than six weeks so a speedy decision was needed. I saw three fabrics in our local John Lewis branch which I felt met our requirements so she hot-footed it into there and bought all that was left of a 100% cotton poplin in navy.

As the skirt is a series of rectangles I made that up first. I used the longest straight stitch for the gathering which I divided into manageable length sections-don’t be tempted to sew the whole of a very long strip of fabric in one go, break it down into manageable sections because if one of your threads snaps you’re back to square one.

I decided to toile the bodice front so that I could be certain it was correct as I knew there was no option to buy more fabric if I got it wrong…and I’d got it a bit wrong! The cups were much too shallow and didn’t come far enough up my client’s bust and a lot of her bra [which she wanted to be able to wear underneath] was showing. Back to the drawing board. The shirring element however was fine. I didn’t know exactly how much I might need so I used the full width of the fabric and sewed lots of rows of shirring until my reel of elastic ran out! [If you’re using an actual pattern then it will hopefully give you more guidance than this!]

Wind the shirring elastic carefully BY HAND onto a bobbin, use regular thread on the top. You could draw on your parallel lines first if you wish or you could trust your own skills and use the edge of the presser foot to guide each new row. The shirring doesn’t look like it’s gathered up enough but a good going over it with plenty of steam causes it to shrink up beautifully.

Because the first bodice didn’t give enough coverage I redrafted it but that was worse (I didn’t even try it on my client as I could see it was all wrong) On to Plan C…I decided I would try modelling the pattern on my mannequin so I pinned some very narrow black ribbon to the mannequin using the style lines I required. You only need to do this on one half if it’s going to be symmetrical, make sure you start at the centre front working round to wherever the pieces finish, in my case this was just to the side seams.

These were the important lines for the fitted section of the bodice.
Make sure your piece of calico is perfectly on grain and quite a bit bigger than the section you’re working on. Start by pinning the grainline of the fabric to the CF line and then gradually smooth the fabric over the mannequin. push any creases and wrinkles away to the edges. Push pins through in various places to keep it like this, when you’re happy with it then you can draw the style lines (which should be visible through the fabric) onto the calico. Cut away some but not all of the excess fabric, you need this to be able to draw on seam allowances. I left this piece in position and started on the gathered under-bust piece. I smoothed the fabric across from the CF in a similar way but this time I added quite a bit of fullness under the bust before smoothing the rest of the fabric to the side seam. Again I drew on the lines and cut away some of the excess fabric. Draw on balance marks and notches as required before you remove the pieces from the mannequin-make certain you have the CF marked-from these pieces of fabric you will create paper patterns.
After I had made paper templates from the ‘modelled’ fabric I was able to sew this bodice together in fresh calico. The under-bust strip was the original which was OK.

I joined this new bodice to the skirt and the shirred back and carried out another fitting on my client. Fortunately this time it was fine and I set to to finish the dress just in time for her to take it on holiday!

The finished dress modelled by Indoor Doris, she’s not quite as voluptuous as Outdoor Doris!
The original dress featured beaded embellishment over the bust which there wasn’t time for me to replicate but my client might add this herself in the future.

I made the straps wider than the originals and they are stitched to the correct length on each shoulder for my client-we all have one shoulder higher or lower than the other so don’t automatically make them identical lengths, pin and check before sewing them in position. If one strap always falls off your shoulder this will be the reason why!

This was a rather convoluted way to make a shirred sundress because my client wanted a replica of a favourite but if you like the idea of it the why not take a look at Cocowawa’s Raspberry dress pattern which has a fully-elasticated bodice instead?

My client wanted fabric as similar as possible to her original but you could easily use cotton lawn, seersucker, chambray, soft linen, lightweight jersey, voile, muslin….the list goes on, just keep it soft and not too thick or it could get very bulky. You could also make it just as a skirt and leave the bodice section off if you wanted, that’s definitely a 70s hippie vibe going on right there, add ribbons, ric-rac, bobble trim, sequins etc etc…

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

Sewing a no-pattern kimono in Liberty Tana lawn.

Creative Sanctuary asked me if I could teach a class for some kind of kimono jacket that used one of the gorgeous Liberty Tana lawns that they stock. I agreed but first I had to come up with a design!

We decided I’d limit it to just 1.5m of fabric partly because of the cost, but also because it’s quite wide anyway. Laura at the shop gave me a few of her own criteria if she were to make a kimono and I used them while I planned the design.

First of all I made a wearable toile version in some fabric I already had because I didn’t want to risk cutting up the lovely lawn and then it didn’t work very well. This worked to an extent but the sleeves were a bit too long and also a bit too wide, all flappy and annoying!

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Bit of a dobby finger in the way-oops!

Other than that I was happy with it so I went ahead and cut it out in the Tana lawn, and altered the sizing of the sleeve when I did so.

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Laying up the fabric (I must tidy the floor before taking photos in future!)

The size of rectangles needed for the back and two fronts was length 80cms x width 35cms each, one being on the fold [because the fabric is 140cms wide, anything less than this means you might not get fronts and back out side by side depending on your dress size] as well as two sleeves and the pieces needed for the collar. Because this fabric has a distinctive one way design the collar became a complex arrangement of sewing the 3 strips together in to one long piece and then cutting the strip exactly in half, rotating one piece, sewing it back together so that the 2 halves both had the design facing the correct way, rather than one side being upside down. From the 1m 50 of fabric I allowed 80cms for the jacket parts and 70cms for the sleeves and collar parts. The sleeves were cut singly and measure 70cms x 25cms each (the 25cms will vary depending on how long you want the sleeves) The 3 collar sections are 70cms x 12cms each on this sample, you could use the remaining fabric for patch pockets if you wish.

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Making the collar strip by joining the 3 sections first

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There’s interfacing ironed on to half the collar, Press the seams open.

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Press under one long edge by 1cm along it’s whole length.

The two front pieces of the jacket need to have a small triangle cut out at the neck edge so that it is shaped better when the collar gets applied to it.

 

I made a triangle that’s 40cms down from the top edge, and 10cms in. If you’re using a one-way design for goodness sake make sure you cut the triangle from the top edge and not the hem!

Firstly I joined the shoulders using French seams. [place the fabric WRONG SIDES together and stitch close the edge, approx 5 mm away. Trim if necessary. Turn so that the fabric is now RIGHT SIDES together, press the seam flat and stitch again 1cm from the folded edge.]

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first row of stitching for the French seam, wrong sides together then trimmed slightly. Press flat.

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the finished French seam should look like this.

You don’t have to use a French seam though, if you have an overlocker use that, or zig zag the edges, you can even use pinking sheers if you have any.

The neck looked a slightly awkward shape at this point so I trimmed a small semi-circle away from the back neck.IMG_0039

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shaping the neckline, make sure it comes from a right angle at the centre back fold, I’ve used an air-erasable pen to mark it.

The collar goes on now so start by pinning it first at the centre back neck then all the way to the bottom on both sides. Sew carefully in place.

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Collar pinned to the CB neck

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stitching collar in place, stop short by approximately 3cms  at each end. You’ll need this to make a nice flush finish with the hem and the band later.

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Press the seam towards the collar.

I turned and stitched the hem first and then the remaining gaps I’d left earlier at the bottom.

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Fold the collar band RS together and pin.

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Stitch in place, make sure it’s a right angle otherwise it won’t be in alignment with the hem.

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Turn the band so that it’s RS out and pin on the outside.

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Pinning the band down on the right side ready to stitch in the ditch.

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Stitch in the ditch on the right side .

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Ooops, missed a bit! This should have been caught down on the wrong side.

If this process is too tricky for you then you can always slip stitch it down by hand.

Next I attached the sleeves. If you’re using a fabric that has a distinctive one way design with this method you must make sure that the front part of the sleeves are the same as the kimono front. It therefore follows that the back of the sleeve will be up side down but that’s unavoidable  unless you have a shoulder seam on the sleeve. Fold each sleeve in half and match this point to the shoulder seams, pin and stitch in place. It should look like this. IMG_0058At this point, if not before, you can fold and press up the hem for the bottom of the sleeve, it’s a bit easier whilst it’s flat before stitching it up later, you can see the pressing lines in this photo.IMG_0059Sew up the underarm seams like the photo above, and neaten by your chosen method. You can turn and stitch the cuffs now too, I turned them once by 2.5cm and then again by 2.5cms.

So that’s pretty much it!

I’m not sure if my instructions have been as clear as I’d like them to be, hopefully the photos offer some assistance. It’s a simple garment and not perfect by any means-the underarm seam isn’t particularly smooth but it’s just that, under the arm, so it’s hardly seen! You can simplify it further by not using a collar band if you wish and just hemming the neck edge.

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Modelled by Katie, assisted by Tinker!

Sadly you may have heard that Creative Sanctuary will be closing at the end of September but before then all their Liberty Tana Lawn is reduced to £15.50 per metre which is a considerable saving on the full price. If you’re in the Hertford area before September 30th you could do worse than pop over and bag yourself a bargain.

On the subject of Liberty, I wrote a previous blog about their history and an exhibition at the Fashion & Textiles museum that I visited, you can read it here

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

Here be dragons!

At last year’s Sewing Weekender I picked up an interesting piece of fabric from the swap table. It was about 1m80 of printed cotton by Alexander Henry, a design called Tatsu and featuring Chinese-style dragons and printed in shades of grey and black with red. It’s not my usual colours or style but something about it appealed to me so I kept it. Thank you whoever donated it!IMG_3517

Initially I thought I’d make a kimono top with it but I realised that the placement of the dragons was such that I’d struggle to cut one out of the small quantity I had, not because there wasn’t enough but simply because I wouldn’t be able to get the dragons to match and look balanced-I didn’t want wonky dragons! So even though I’d washed it ready it languished in my stash for a year, although I did get it out several times to consider a dirndl skirt. Again it was the issue of having the dragons running around the skirt properly and not wonky. Incidentally, a dirndl is the name for a simple gathered or pleated skirt which is purely widths of fabric stitched together along the selvedges and sewn at the top to a waistband and hemmed at the bottom, it doesn’t have any shaping at all.

In the end I took the bull by the horns and worked out where the dragons would be on the front and, having bravely cut that piece, I was able to cut the back so that the two pieces matched at the side seams. In order for there to be a good pattern-match down each side seam there was a wider than usual seam allowance..

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I didn’t trim off the excess simply because it was the selvedge and therefore neat anyway.

I needed to insert an invisible zip into the other side seam  which taxed my brain and my sewing skills a bit but I was extremely pleased with the result-I didn’t even have to unpick anything, it was right first time!! Get in!

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This is the zip after I’d attached the waistband, there’s a large hook and bar under the overlap which I like better than a button and buttonhole.

I made a fairly narrow waistband which I stiffened with iron-on interfacing and then pleated the skirt onto it. I wanted the fabric to lay fairly flat as I’ve got a bit of a tummy these days (sad face) and bulky gathers would be very unflattering. I didn’t use any particular mathematical calculations to achieve this, I just folded and fiddled until I was happy with the look.

Because some of the dragon’s faces are quite close to the bottom edge I decided to hem it with  bias binding for a neat finish without losing any of the design.

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The added benefit of slip-hemming meant there is no visible stitching showing on the right side.

So there it is, a simple dirndl skirt using just 2 widths of fabric. It’s one of the simplest sorts of skirt you can make and works well for any length. Depending on the type of fabric you may need more widths to make the skirt look good though. For example, if you want to use chiffon or georgette, which are quite fine, you’d almost certainly need 3, 4 or even more widths of fabric to make it look effective and not to ‘skimped’, Conversely, thicker fabrics will need less if they aren’t going to be unflatteringly bulky. I didn’t bother lining this skirt although I often do. If you don’t need to consider extreme pattern-matching this is a super-quick skirt to make and you can gussy it up with pockets, trims, exposed zips, whatever, to make it individual. Take a look at my previous blog with the tie waist here if you want another variation.

Just a short blog this time, lots to get on with…

Happy Sewing,

Sue

 

Making a dirndl skirt with a sash belt…and no zip!

I’ve started working recently with The Creative Sanctuary sewing and knitting shop in Hertford and they asked me if I could run a class for a gathered skirt using the lovely border-print cotton they stock from Michael Miller fabrics. First I had to make a sample and this is how I did it.

Because the fabric has the border printed along one edge you should buy the quantity of fabric you want according to the fullness you’d like, for this particular version I used 2 metres which is quite full, but anything over 1m would be ok unless you have a large waist measurement (you don’t want it to look skimped so don’t be too stingy with the quantity)

First of all you need to decide how long you want the skirt to be when it’s finished and then add seam allowances top and bottom [for example 65cms plus 1.5cms plus 1.5cms =68cms] Because the print ran right to the selvedge I didn’t want to turn this up for the hem and lose some of it so I chose to add a facing instead. This facing is 6cms in length but you could make it longer or shorter as you wish.

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working out the length from the selvedge so the hem is to the left and the waist is to the right in this photo.

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draw a line parallel to the selvedge.

Next, if you’re having a hem facing decide how deep it will be, plus seam allowances, and draw that immediately next to and parallel to the first line. Finally draw a third parallel line which will be the waist sash, this should be at least 12-14cms deep including the SA.

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This shows the cut skirt, the sash and the hem facing.

To begin with take the hem facing piece and press under 1cm all the way along one long edge then pin the unpressed edge to the bottom hem edge of the skirt, right sides together.

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The hem facing pinned and ready to stitch in place.

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Facing being sewn into position.

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next I under-stitched the facing using a contrast colour. The fabric is still flat at this stage, the seam will come later.

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I overlocked the raw edges that would become the seam, and then ran two rows of gathering stitches all along the top edge of the skirt. These should be the longest straight stitch your machine will do, they should be 5mm and 1cm approx from the cut edge and parallel to it, within the seam allowance. I always do a backstitch at one end but not the other so that I have something to pull up against.

Now make the only side seam. Leave an opening at the top for the waist of between 15-20cms, topstitch around the edge of it to stop it unfurling.

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After this I applied some iron-on interfacing to the waistband sash but only on the middle section for the waist, not the tie ends.

Now, when I made the sample I made the tie ends on the sash first then attached it too the gathered up skirt section, and that’s the process the photos are of. However when I ran the class I did it differently and it was a bit simpler so I’ll use the photos because they are the only ones I have but describe both methods as best I can.

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To make the tie ends first place a piece of tape or ribbon or even piping cord along the centre line of the fabric and pin it at the narrow end. Make sure it’s well away from the edge you’ll be sewing because you don’t want to accidentally sew though it.

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Fold the tie in half wrong sides together as normal, enclosing the tape.

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Stitch up in the usual way checking occasionally that you’re not sewing through the tape.

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trim the corner neatly at an angle to reduce bulk. If the tie is quite narrow you might want to trim the seam allowance down a little.

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Now’s the good bit! gently pull the tape and the end of the tie will start to come through. You’ll need to wiggle the end a little bit to get the corners out but persevere

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keep pulling…!

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Eventually the end will pop out. Cut off the tape neatly, you may need to make good the ends by hand if there’s any gaps in the stitching.

So that’s the tie ends if you make them first. When I ran the class I attached the waist band to the gathered up waist first and THEN made the ties in situ.

The gathers should now be pulled up to your own waist measurement plus a few centimetres for ease, you don’t want it too tight or the gap won’t close up nicely-there’s no zip after all and you don’t want your pants showing!

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Pull up the gathering threads. You can see the neatened waist opening in this photo too.

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When you’ve pulled up enough wind the threads in a figure of 8 around a pin which is at a right angle to the stitching.

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Adjust the gathers so that they are evenly distributed.

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When you’re happy with the distribution stitch in position (remember to put your stitch length back to normal!) you might need to tweak the gathers a bit as you go so don’t rush.

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Fold the waistband in half, press. Then press under the open edge of the waistband by 1.5cms

If you’re doing the waistband first, now you can make the ties using the method I’ve described above and then finish with the section below to enclose the waistband.

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From the front, pin the waistband in position through the join.

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This is what the pinning should look like from the reverse-the idea is to sew it as closely as the this!! The reality might not be quite so accurate!

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I always knew this as ‘sink’ stitching because the stitches ‘sink’ into the seam but at some point it’s become known as ‘stitch in the ditch’…same thing though! Take your time and you’ll get good results.

Nearly there…just the hem to do.

Turn up the hem facing along the seam which should turn quite crisply because you’ve already under stitched it [do that at this point if you didn’t do it earlier] Finally top stitch the hem facing in position. I chose a matching grey for the outside and a coral colour for the underside. Of course you could slip hem it by hand if you wish. To close up the side seam opening I used a few small press studs, I think they stay closed better than hooks and eyes.

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One finished skirt! You can see that by using a facing the whole of the print runs right to the hem, those leaves would have been lost if I’d rolled the hem up instead. You don’t have to make the facing this deep though, the choice is yours.

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The ties are nice and long and make a lovely bow.

I made this version using a border print fabric but you could just as easily make it in any suitable fabric, although you may need to cut it across the width of the fabric rather than along it depending on the print. You could add patch pockets as well if you like.

I’m leading the class again on Monday 17th July 1.30-4.30pm so what are you waiting for?! Full details of other classes I’ll be teaching are on Creative Sanctuary’s website now.

Very sadly, since I made the sample, the owners of the shop have made the incredibly hard decisison to close in September. This means yet another bricks-and-mortar fabric and knitting store will cease to exist. I’ve so enjoyed my brief time with them, and getting to know the lovely and talented ladies that work there, it’s a very sad thing that that’s happening.

I was provided with fabric to make the sample but the method is my own devising (faults  and all!)

Happy Sewing!

Sue