The Little Book of Sewing by Karen Ball

I’ve been reading Karen’s blog Did You Make That for a while now and I always enjoy seeing what she makes and her exploits with Ella her characterful dog. What you will know, if you’re familiar with Karen yourself, is that she’s a book editor but now she’s made the leap to being a published author herself with her book ’The Little Book of Sewing’.

Karen was a speaker at the Sewing Weekender last August and she told us then that she was in the finishing stages for her first book and it would be all about sewing!

Well it’s finally here and I was lucky enough to have an advance PDF version to read and tell you about.

As you might expect, it’s a lovely read with beautiful illustrations, simple and understated, and each chapter is an area for thoughtful reflection and insight with headings such as self-love, body image and kindness. That tells you this isn’t your usual ‘How to Sew’ book, it’s a mindful exploration of what sewing is, why we do it for recreation and why it can actually be good for us [although as I sew a lot for other people there are times when I have a tight deadline that I struggle to remember that!] Karen touches on areas like mental health and body image, topics which have become so important in modern life, and how sewing our own clothes can actually help us address this because we get the pleasure (and occasional torment) of making what we want in our own time, how we want it and have the enormous confidence boost when someone comments “I love your dress/blouse/skirt, where did you get it?” and you can say, “thank you, I made it myself”

Even though the Little Book of Sewing isn’t a ‘how to’ guide in the usual sense of teaching us sewing techniques, Karen does give a few hints and tips along the way, she’s assuming that the reader already has at least a budding interest in sewing and dressmaking and she seeks to encourage that interest to flourish and blossom into a full-blown obsession!

I won’t say any more, I hope you’re intrigued enough to want to read it for yourself. I read a lot of non-fiction and this is beautifully, and accessibly, written. It’s the kind of book which you can dip in and out of, or devour at a single sitting-you could do that and then revisit the various chapters as they strike you or as you have need, keep it nearby in your sewing space so that you can recharge your sew-jo when the need arises… Easter is coming, why not treat yourself or a loved one instead of an Easter egg-fewer calories and longer lasting! Wherever you buy your copy from I know Karen would love us to leave a review (it matters in the world of book sales) I should also add that the gorgeous cover was created by Sam @stitchedupsam whose free-machine embroidery work you may have seen on Instagram, and if you haven’t then go and have a look, her David Bowie is amazing!

I received no payment for this review and all views expressed are entirely my own but I hope you’ll enjoy reading the Little Book of Sewing as much as I have.

Until next time,

Sue

Adapting a vintage shirt pattern into a dress.

Sometimes makes jump to the top of the queue just because the fabric grabs you, this is one of those makes. At the recent Sewing weekender Stoff and Stil generously gave each attendee 1 metre of fabric in their goodie bags and mine was this pretty vintage-toned georgette. It doesn’t take a sewing genius to notice that my dress took a lot more than 1 metre! My lovely friend and neighbour Elizabeth @eliza_sew_little and Melissa @fehrtrade had the same fabric and it wasn’t to their taste so they gave me theirs too.

What to make? Because of it’s drapey sheer qualities I wanted a style that exploited these features without being over-clingy, but also the fabric was in three separate pieces so I had to work within those constraints. It needed to be something where the top came out of 1 metre and the skirt came out of the other two metres. In the back of my mind I remembered an 80’s shirt pattern that was in my collection, I think donated to me by my neighbour although I have plenty from that era myself, it’s when my sewing life properly started so I still have virtually every pattern I ever bought!

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Monster shoulders!

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I like the horizontal seams and the simple T shape.

I had enough fabric to use style B with collar C and the pockets from D.

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1986!

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My original drawing had buttons all the way down but I got cold feet about putting that many buttonholes into georgette so I settled on a plain gathered skirt instead.

My neighbour had obviously made it at some point in the past as the 14 was already cut out so I just went with that, the 12 would have done though.

Georgette is a bit wriggly so take your time cutting it out, try and keep it as flat as possible on the table and don’t shift it about if you can avoid it. Pin carefully (I’m not a weights person) and sharp scissors are vital so as not to snag or catch on the fabric as you cut. Because it’s sheer and lightweight I didn’t want to spoil this with clunky interfacing in the collar and front facing so I used some sheer organza that was left over from a wedding dress alteration.  This has to be basted in position temporarily while everything is put together, the stitches are removed at the end.

Take your time sewing with a fiddly fabric like this, it’s hopeless if you’re in a rush because it shifts about and is quite ‘bouncy’ when you gather it up, hence the simplicity of my design. If you want a real quality finish I’d suggest using French seams wherever possible, especially if the fabric is plain because the seams will show through however because my fabric was patterned and I was being lazy I overlocked! Fine or sheer fabrics can pucker a little so use a fine needle and smallish stitch, not all machines handle sheer fabrics well though so you could try sewing with a layer of tissue paper underneath, tear the tissue away after you’ve sewn. If the needle pushes the fabric down into the needle plate you could try a foot with a small hole in it rather than wide hole (like a zigzag foot) that might help, or you can put a bit of masking tape over the needle plate to reduce the size of the hole and so reduce the risk of the fabric being pushed down it.

Once the top part was all put together I simply joined the other two remaining pieces of fabric at the selvedges to form side seams and gathered the top edge to attach to the lower edge of the ‘blouse’. This made a monsterously long skirt even when I made a deep double-turned hem so I turned it once more, for my own safety!

 

The seam and the pocket aren’t actually very visible but that’s fine, I know they’re there.

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oops, eyes shut haha

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I definitely need to wear a slip under it, I just have an M&S nude-colour one bought after a recommendation by Karen ‘Did You make That’ about a year ago.  I love my new Superga pumps too, the metallic burgundy goes perfectly by complete chance.

It’s all a bit floaty with a gypsy vibe going on but do you know what, it’s sooo lovely to wear, very liberating!! It’s a bit ‘out there’ for me but I feel really feminine in it, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, even with tricky fabric it didn’t take that long to make. I’ll definitely be making another in something else, or even just the shirt part because it’s a really simple collar and the horizontal seams make it more interesting, best of all it just pops over my head. It isn’t a million miles from the Deer and Doe Myosotis that everyone is making either, that’s probably where I got the idea from without realising. Gifted fabric and a gifted pattern, buttons from the stash, organza from the offcuts make this, basically, a free dress and you’ve gotta love that! I wore it to the handmade fair at Hampton Court over the weekend and bumped into Karen Ball, she’d been one of the speakers at the sewing Weekender and she recognised the fabric!

Why not have a look at your patterns for tops, blouses and shirts, can you add a skirt? It doesn’t need to be anything tricky, just gather or pleat straight widths of fabric onto the bottom-that’s all a ‘dirndl’ skirt is anyway. Be aware of the gathering properties of the fabric you’ve got though. I know georgette (or chiffon, or even cotton voile) are very fine so they can take a lot of gathering, a firmer fabric can end up too chunky and less flattering so experiment first.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue