Sewing the M&M Ellsworth shirt for Backstitch

The Backstitch store at Burwash Manor near Cambridge.

As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.

I loved the elliptical pearly buttons but there were only two of the pink shade left so I made do with two pink and four ivory. Backstitch have quite a wide selection of buttons, trims, and ribbons plus lots of other haberdashery and sewing equipment including Brother sewing machines.

The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch. 

Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance. 

Away we go…

Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)

If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.

The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)

Mark the bottom of where the placket will be sewn on with tailor’s tacks or a soluble marker pen then stay stitch just within the seam allowance, at 1.4cm (14mm) to reinforce the area. For visual reference, the large squares are my right side, the small squares are the wrong side of the fabric.
Cut down the centre front line and carefully snip diagonally into the corners.
Fold and press each of the two placket pieces down the centre and then press in the seam allowance on one edge only. Trim this by half
Next, pin each unpressed edge onto either side of the slit, right sides together.
Stitch each side in position down as far as the tailor’s tacks, you should stop a little bit short of the bottom edge.
Trim down the seams by half.
Now flip the work over so that you have the wrong side uppermost. Press the seams in towards the placket piece on the left as you look at it then fold over like this, pin and tack in place. Now turn the work back over again.
Working with the right side uppermost, edgestitch the placket you have prepared.
Keeping the right unfinished placket out of the way, you need to position the left placket (the one you have just sewn) layered like so with the triangle at the base of the slit. Carefully stitch just below the original staystitching. This is with the inside of the work uppermost, neaten the edge and press downwards.
Now work on the right placket (it is on the left as you look at it though) Fold up the lower edge as demonstrated here, pin and tack in place. Edgestitch on the right side of the placket only as far as the bottom, do not sew across the bottom yet. Now work your buttonholes while the placket is still separate.
After working the buttonholes, lap the placket over the underneath one and stitch it in position like this.
You should now have a placket which looks something like this.

Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.

I found the bias strip included to be incredibly narrow, especially for a fabric which is loose weave and a bit prone to fraying so you may want to cut your strips a little bit wider. I made the strips work but they were very fiddly. Instead of edgestitching as per the instructions I sewed them with a tiny zigzag which I hope will hold them firmly in place. Or you could slipstitch them by hand if you prefer. Next, fold the bias evenly in half and stitch across the top at a 45 degree angle, I’m not sure if the diagram intends you to sew through the sleeve too, I didn’t.
The way I’ve sewn it, once it’s finished, the sleeve opening and cuff looks like this.

The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.

I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.

Inside the finished collar

The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.

I opted to sew two rows of edgestitching along the top of the hem facings, just to add a bit of interest.
Finally, the cuffs are sewn on and the buttons added.

all finished

I’m all in Merchant and Mills today, these are their Eve trousers in cream drill which I bought at their Rye store back in September 2021.

I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.

I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.

I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Tips for sewing with linen jersey, a new Lamazi post

Did you know that linen jersey was even a thing? It’s an unusual fabric which you don’t see often, we all know knits are available in most other fibre types-cotton, wool, silk or man-mades for example- but I’ve never worked with it before so when Liana invited me to sew my next Lamazi project using it, and to pass on any hints and tips for sewing it, I was up for the challenge. 

This 100% linen jersey comes from Mind the Maker in a range of colours and I picked the Dry Mustard shade which is a lovely vibrant ochre. The fabric has a beautiful lustrous sheen on the right side, the reverse is duller so it makes it much easier to tell the difference between the two. It has lovely light drapey quality too and is slightly sheer.

Linen fabric is not a textile known for its inherent stretch qualities and this jersey does feel slightly different from other knits because it has only a small amount of stretch along its length and quite a lot of stretch across the width but it has very little recovery so once it’s been stretched out it will stay like that at least until it’s washed again. During construction the application of plenty of steam will encourage some of this accidental stretching to be eased back into position so, coupled with its sheerness, this means that you need to think carefully about what garment to sew with it. 

Plenty of steam will help remove most unwanted bagginess like this

The properties of linen fabric itself [cool in warm weather, warm in cold weather] mean that it would be ideal for loose-fitting leisure or exercise wear, for yoga or Pilates for example. I would definitely say it’s better to avoid anything that is particularly close fitting because areas like the elbows or wrists would become stretched or baggy with little recovery. However the fabric has a lovely drape and its fine gauge allows it to be gathered up successfully so these properties could be exploited instead.

Bearing all these factors in mind I decided to make (another) Sewing Revival Heron dress which I would hack into a blouse. The pattern has a neckline which is gathered using elastic along with raglan sleeves with deep elasticated cuffs. To mix it up further I decided to pull the hemline in onto elastic rather than have a wide smock silhouette.

First things first, I washed the fabric by hand to remove any risk of excessive shrinkage or twisting in the machine. If you want to wash it in the machine then it might be an idea to overlock the cut ends together first to form a long loop and place it into a large washing bag to protect it further. Alternatively you could press it on your ironing board with plenty of steam instead. If at all possible it is better to dry the fabric flat, and certainly don’t wring or twist it. All of this might sound off-putting, and it is clearly not as straightforward as chucking a nice stable cotton into the machine but this is a luxurious fabric and deserves to be treated and handled carefully in the preparation. When it comes to cutting out your pattern pieces lay the fabric as flat as possible, handle it gently and don’t pull it about too much, especially if you decide to fold it. I made a whole back pattern piece for my top so that I could cut it flat, another appeal of the Heron pattern for me is that it has just three pieces so it’s a relatively quick sew usually. 

After cutting all the pieces the first thing I did was stabilise all the raglan shoulder seams using some iron-on seam tape, I did this to prevent any unwanted stretching before I sewed the sleeves in later on. I added small squares of iron-on interfacing to reinforce the bottom of the opening on the centre front seam too. I also decided to press all the folded parts of the casings/ruffles for the neckline, sleeves and hem before sewing anything together, just so that I was handling the cut-out pieces as little as possible, again to prevent unwanted stretching before they got joined together. I also tacked these folded parts into position temporarily. All this might sound excessive but I wasn’t in a rush, and I found the slow and considered processes very soothing at quite a difficult time. 

iron-on stay tape to prevent unwanted stretching of the raglan seams
I pressed and tacked casing/ruffles before joining the sections together later on
reinforcing the bottom of the neck opening with small squares of iron-on interfacing.

Something else I did before commencing was check on fabric scraps which needle and stitch-type would give me the best results. A ballpoint needle suitable for stretch/knits/jersey is essential to prevent snagging which could lead to laddering of this delicate fabric, and I found a short straight stitch was better than a narrow zigzag but you must do what works best on your own machine. You could sew a garment together entirely on an overlocker but be aware of the lack of rebound this fabric has so if it gets stretched or misshapen while it’s being sewn then it’s probably like that permanently. I also tested the overlocker finish before diving in for the same reasons. If you don’t have an overlocker this fabric is fine enough that where possible you could probably sew self-neatening French seams, or a wide zigzag might work but just be careful it doesn’t chew up the edges. If you have an overlock stitch option on your sewing machine and/or a special foot to sew an overlock-style stitch then definitely use them. Test all options before making your choice, the time taken could save you upsets later on. I slipped some folded strips of paper underneath the seam allowances when I pressed them to minimise any chance of the seam showing through on the front

testing stitches and overlocking
I popped two strips of folded paper under the centre front seam while I pressed it so that there was no show-through or unwanted shininess on the right side.

If you have a walking foot for your machine this is definitely a fabric worth using it for, even if you don’t it’s a good idea to use plenty of pins. I’m not a fan of mini-clips because I think they are too heavy and get in the way, this fabric is lightweight and I think mini-clips could distort it while you’re sewing but it’s up to you. Tacking seams is always an option too of course, any technique that prevents the fabric shifting while you sew basically.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know I’ve made a few Herons before so the construction was straightforward, the only area I did differently was to create the ruffled hem with a wide elastic casing. I couldn’t decide between my planned 2cms or 1cm wide elastic initially so I tested with the two widths to see which I preferred-I chose to stay with the 2cms width as planned. 

testing which elastic width I preferred for the hem, this was the narrow one (the fabric scrap is wrong side out!)
and this is wider width, it’s the one I used at the hem in the end.
using a bodkin to insert the narrow elastic in the neck casing.
checking the gathered neckline on the stand
I used this quilting attachment on my machine so that I sewed an accurate parallel width for the elastic casing
close up of the elasticated hem casing

To sum up, I’m really pleased with how my first experience of sewing with linen jersey has gone, I’ll admit I was a little nervous because Liana was putting her trust in me with an expensive fabric but taking the time to plan and test, and use my existing knowledge of working with knits definitely helped. Because of the sheerness of the fabric Lamazi also provided me with a metre of Atelier Brunette crepe viscose in Ochre to make a camisole to wear underneath, I used the Simone camisole and trousers pattern by Maven which is a very quick make and a very useful garment to wear on its own or underneath other garments. The crepe viscose is a beautiful quality fabric with lovely handle and drape but be aware that there’s a disappointing amount of creasing, you might want to take that into account when planning, for example if you’re making something you’ll spend a lot of time sitting in.

all finished

As always, I hope you find my hints and tips helpful if you choose this lovely fabric, I wouldn’t recommend it to a novice sewer because some experience of sewing with other similar fabrics is definitely an advantage, plus it would be shame to end up with a costly mistake, but if you’re looking for a new challenge to add to your repertoire this could be a good start. I’ll launder the finished garment either by hand or in a wash bag on a gentle cycle in the machine. I’ll dry it flat too and store it that way, I don’t want a coat hanger to make it misshapen. If you’re a person who prefers not to worry too much about their clothes or their maintenance then this might strike you as overkill, and that’s fair enough, but I don’t think it hurts to have a few special things in our wardrobes which were worth the effort to make for ourselves. 

I’m looking forward to wearing this top as autumn is fast approaching (did summer ever arrive!?) thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric to review.

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

The Sewing Revival Heron dress hack

Two years ago I wrote a review of the Sewing Revival Heron dress which you can still read here. I liked the pattern so much that since then I’ve made another knee-length version in a viscose/linen mix fabric from Ditto in Brighton and a blouse variation too in a beautiful soft Italian cotton voile, also from Ditto. I wore it often although not so much lately…

wearing the blouse on my trip to Paris for the Sewcial in May 2019
my very first version of the Heron dress…it has pockets!

While I was at Sew Brum in October 2019 I bought some lovely soft brushed printed viscose twill from Barry’s Fabrics with the express intention of making another Heron but this time making it longer and more cold weather-friendly. There had been a lot of Wilder Gowns by the Friday Pattern Company popping up everywhere at the time, I liked the tiered style a lot but I knew I could create my own take on it by using a pattern I already had. A multiple-layered skirt like this isn’t difficult, it’s really a case of working out the number and sizes of rectangles you want to use. If you take a look at this post I wrote about recreating a sun dress for a client in 2019 you’ll get the gist. Because I like the top section of the Heron so much I decided this was a good pattern to use and it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt it to what I wanted.

All the quantities and proportions I have used for this dress were completely arbitrary and had to be based primarily on the quantity of fabric I’d purchased [which I can’t actually remember as it’s well over a year ago, probably 3m of 150cm wide fabric I’d guess] and my own height of 5’5” so bear this in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. I wanted the dress to be nice and long so eventually I settled on approximately hip length for the bodice, the finished length of the side seam is now 40cms. I folded the front and back dress pattern sections up out of the way when I pinned them to the fabric (obviously you could trace or print off a new copy of the PDF if you wish) Once both bodices, sleeve and pocket pieces are on the fabric [pockets could be cut from something else if you’re a bit short of fabric] I could see exactly how much I had left to create the skirt from. I kept it very simple and divided the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles across the full width, each one measured approximately 56cms long but that had to include the seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.

Initially the construction of the dress followed the normal method up as far as putting the pockets into the side seams of the bodice as per the pattern.

Making the skirt was very straightforward, I joined the short selvedges to one another [if it’s a one-way design make sure the print is running the same way on both pieces] to form a large cylinder of fabric with two side seams. Press the side seams open, if you’ve been able to use the original selvedges they might not need finishing. I made the hem at this point too, it seemed easier than wrestling with a complete dress at the end, although this could have backfired on me if I hadn’t been happy with the length but I was pretty certain it would be OK.

I ran two rows of gathering stitches within the seam allowance of the top edge, I pinned them in position matching the side seams, centre front and centre back, plus the quarter seam positions too. Gather up carefully so as not to break the threads, small pleats would also work here especially if the fabric would be bulky otherwise, it depends a bit on the weight of the fabric to some extent. Once I was happy with the gathering distribution I sewed the skirt on and overlocked the seam.

And that was it. Now, I have to say that because I was taking a risk with proportions and limited by the quantity of fabric I’d bought that if I were to repeat this I would definitely make the bodice quite a lot shorter and make the skirt from more than one gathered tier instead. I’m happy with the overall finished length but I think the seam at the hip isn’t quite right. But, by wearing it with a narrow leather belt (there wasn’t any fabric left for a self-belt anyway) and bringing it in at the waist I’ve saved it, the belt gives it a lot more definition.

I added a tie at the neck this time using a bit of grosgrain ribbon which I had knocking about.

I grabbed a cheeky selfie in John Lewis with my sewing friend Ruth in the autumn, we can only dream of when we can meet up again at the moment though sadly. that’s my upcycled jeans jacket I’m wearing

The dress was finished around a year ago and these photos were shot in the autumn but it’s taken until now to write up. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it can be to make your own version of popular patterns using one you already have-there’s a certain risk involved because it might not be completely successful but that’s always the risk anyway when making our own clothes-a style might turn out not to suit us after all, or we make a wrong fabric choice, or it could be a triumph so why not revisit what you already own before buying another pattern?

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Have you listened to the Sew Organised Style podcast yet?

Well, have you? If you’re a follower of the @SewOver50 account then it could be right up your street because it’s creator, Maria @velosews is a part of our community too!

When Maria was in London last year we had such a great visit to Dior:Designer of Dreams at the V&A

Maria has worked hard to gather lots of interesting content and adds new items daily and every Thursday there is something new from SewOver50 to listen to. So far she has chatted with account founder Judith Staley and second-in-command Sandy Bach and several of our stalwarts including, to date, Sue Stoney, Marcia Riddington, Cathy Grant and Carrie Cunningham.

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…

until next time

Sue

Do you batch cut/sew? a SewOver50 discussion

These have been very strange times of late and many of our regular activities have been curtailed or stopped completely. I’ve carried on sewing because it’s my creative outlet but a few weeks ago I started to feel like I had no clue what particular projects to settle on. Lots of vague ideas would float into my mind but then just as easily float back out again before I got underway with any of them. I had a couple of things which I had to sew for blog posts but beyond those I didn’t have a plan, or a clue! 

My friend Melissa @fehrtrade happened to comment in our WhatsApp chat that she had sketched out her summer sewing plans, complete with their fabric needs. Most fabrics were from her stash and a couple of other items needed to be purchased.

Melissa’s sketches, she’s been busy because if you check out her feed she’s already made a few items from the list!
Melissa draws the all the details and makes fabric notes

This got me thinking, if I actually wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to make then it might give me the impetus to move forwards in a positive direction. So that’s exactly what I did. Some items on the list are patterns I’ve made previously, and love, whilst others were new ones I’ve been wanting to try. Once I’d created a reasonable list I ‘shopped’ from my stash which was good fun, I have some lovely fabrics just waiting for the right project. Whilst I can be something of an impulse purchaser of fabric I’m pretty good at sticking to my own fabric purchasing rules which I listed in the recent @SewOver50 post about fabric-buying which are as follows: 

  • Do I really love this fabric?
  • Is it suitable for my intended purpose?
  • Do I really need it? 

Price is obviously an important factor too but, for me, it’s loosely covered by these criteria anyway. 

I knew with some canny cutting I could get more than one garment out of some of the fabric so eventually I settled on about 8 things from the list. In some cases I had two patterns for one piece of fabric because I couldn’t decide between them. 

my list of projects

Once I was ready to cut, initially I picked the patterns I had made before, several times in a couple of cases. Primarily this meant the pattern was already cut out but also I would have things which were reliable because I knew they would fit, I enjoy wearing the style and there’s always room for another version in my wardrobe. Once I’d started cutting I couldn’t stop! I ploughed on for about a day and half until I had a pile of half a dozen items cut out, four of the six were remakes and two were new patterns. I felt very satisfied with this.

to batch or not to batch…

So why exactly am I telling you how accomplished I felt!? Because @SewOver50 right-hand woman Sandy messaged me to draw my attention to Lis @ThreadTaylors who had recently posted something similar on her feed whereby she had cut two shirts at the same time for her son and then made them both up too. Now, even though I’ve just told you that I’ve cut lots of things this isn’t my usual practice, I’m normally a ‘one thing at a time’ sewer. When I’m sewing for myself I like to complete the process from cutting to wearing before I move on to the next project, unless something goes disastrously wrong! (it might go on the naughty step for a bit while I sulk!) If I’m making for someone else there are the inevitable delays if there are fittings to schedule but otherwise the same would apply to that as well. Sandy had spotted a topic for discussion here so she invited me to manage a post on @SewOver50 asking if others cut/made in batches, made one thing at a time, or were somewhere in between? 

Well the followers of @SewOver50 did not disappoint! Like the recent discussion about ‘cheap’ fabric, this was a topic where lots of you shared your thoughts so I was kept very busy reading, and responding, over the course of the next couple of days. 

This is a distillation of your comments and we all seem to have a similar practices at one time or another. Many said they were like me in that they prefer to have one project on the go at a time and this was most often because they want to really enjoy the process. We take time to select the pattern, choose the fabric, match the thread and source the trims or haberdashery. Then very often it’s time to make a toile, finesse the fitting of that toile, maybe even make another toile or two before they are completely happy and ready to cut the fashion fabric, interfacings and linings! It’s all part of what makes dressmaking and sewing an enjoyable pastime for many and it’s not something to be rushed. Personally I wouldn’t say I rush but I don’t always take as much time as possibly I should. Many felt this made them more focussed, or if plenty of time wasn’t an option then they could break it down into 10-20 minute chunks which felt manageable and was still making progress. 

To list or not to list? Or sketch for that matter? Melissa likes to create a page of sketches which is great because you can see a style to remind yourself what it looks like, especially if you’re likely to forget which style the pattern number or name refers to, or from a magazine like Burdastyle or Knipmode for example. I’ve made a long written list, selected a few items from it and ticked them off as I cut them. I also have a large whiteboard on the wall of my workroom on which I write different lists for the various things I’m up to and in normal times that keeps me on the straight and narrow.

it’s not one of those beautifully tidy boards you see in some Insta-perfect feeds but it works for me!

Some people suggested this kept them more focussed and I think I agree with them, I can still slot other items in as required. Personally I’d never want any list to be completely regimented with no flexibility because that would suck all the joy out of sewing for me. There are times when I do have to sew things which I don’t really want to but it’s a necessity and so the pleasurable makes are the ones which I ‘reward’ myself with.

A few people said they didn’t like the idea of lists or batches because they felt it took too much organisation, I probably feel less like that because I have lots of haberdashery, trims, interfacing etc so I don’t need to think too much about “have I got so-and-so” in order to make a start. 

If you’re a serial non-finisher then there’s every chance you’ll end up with quite a large UFO pile. I think lockdown and Me Made May (which has just finished) has forced/encouraged quite a lot of people to revisit these projects on the naughty step and to reassess them. There is a distinct feeling of achievement when working through them to either finish a garment, repurpose it, recycle it or take it apart and start again! 

The space we need for cutting out was one of the biggest factors for concentrating the cutting to a certain amount of time. If you use the dining table or the floor then there’s every chance you’ll need to move your things for practical reasons, family life/mealtimes for example, the floor is very hard on the knees, pets interrupting are a recurring theme too! All of these may mean you can only use the space in small bursts which limits how much can be cut. For many dressmakers cutting out is a necessary evil which they don’t enjoy so want it over with as quickly as possible. As a former sample cutter I always make sure I cut as accurately and efficiently as possible to ensure the best results. You can read a few of my top tips in this blog. If you really hate cutting out then batching could be a good thing because it gets it out of the way for a while!

Tinker the cat ‘helping’

In order to be efficient many told me that they will cut several of the same pattern at the same time if they have a favourite. Tops and T-shirts were probably the most popular of these but dresses and trousers/jeans also cropped up too. This can work well when you know a garment fits and you aren’t tweaking and fitting as you go along. Whilst making several versions of a single pattern one follower told me she writes notes onto the pattern each time in a different colour so that she knows what she’s done, and to see its development during the process. If you’re making a number of the same thing it’s efficient to keep the threads the same but personally I like to use a reasonably-matching thread to overlock as often as possible. Others are less precious and will use the same colour for everything because repeatedly changing threads takes time and keeping a range of colours can be costly.

Many of us have spent at least some of lockdown cutting and sewing scrubs, bags and face coverings, some sewed lots of them, others just one or two sets. I’ve no doubt at all though that they were well received but there’s no getting away from the fact that they became very tedious after a while. The repetition was pretty boring, although it could also have the positive byproduct of making us become more efficient sewers, and we all agreed it gave us a new-found respect and admiration for those who had no choice but to sew in factories, often with very little pleasure or decent wages involved. Some of us developed ‘production’ techniques whereby we would complete each operation the same on every garment before moving on, for example, join all the shoulder seams, attach all the neck facings, insert all the sleeves etc etc. This undoubtedly saved a lot of time but it does make you a bit boggle-eyed after a few days! @alexjudgesews did admit though that making scrubs nearly put her off sewing for life! I’ve no intention of getting into the discussion of whether or not any of us should have been sewing scrubs but I do know that I’m really really proud of how the home sewing community rose to the challenge and did it any way. 

Many of us gather each prepared project together in some way, ready to begin. I like to use large ziplock-type bags which I can reuse over and over, I’ll put the pattern and cut fabric in although I don’t tend to include inter, threads or trims (many do) I’ll grab those as I go along usually from what I have. One suggested idea I liked was to use baskets to contain everything, that’s certainly more attractive than plastic bags!

A few comments made me chuckle, someone said she batch cuts but then forgets about them, where they are or even what they are! My friend Corrie @ceramic67 told me “I often cut 2 or 3 at the same time, I’m still slow but it makes me feel faster!” 

A recurring comment was to spend separate days doing each part of their own creative routine so, a day printing and sticking PDFs then a day tracing them off, a day or more cutting the fabric and then the enjoyment of the sewing uninterrupted. We all have our own version of what works for us and it will vary depending on the types of pattern we like to use.

For lots of us it’s more pleasurable to be free to decide what to make and when to make it, pre-planning is no fun! 

Amongst the ‘planners’ some use mood boards with sketches, photos and swatches, others will often create mini-capsules to accompany clothes they already have, or make a new, related, group of clothing. I keep swatches of the fabrics I have in a little book, it’s very low-tech but it’s good to leaf through and reminds me what I have without getting everything out.

So as you’ll see there’s no firm consensus and ultimately we do what works for us and our situation. Maybe you just batch cut small projects like Xmas gifts of pencil cases or wash bags for example, or maybe you only ever one thing at a time and nothing will persuade you to do otherwise! Having more than one item on the go could give you the option to move sideways onto something else if you realise you’ve got to wait for a delivery, or head out for some buttons or something, has anything you read here made you think you’ll try a different method next time?

Whatever works for you, until next time, happy sewing!

Sue 

a SewOver50 discussion about fabric choices.

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! ] 

Hasan, the famous (if you live near London) Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow

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. 

I made this beautiful Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile given to me by Pamela and when she saw me wearing it recently she commented that the fabric might not have belonged to her in the first place but to her mother!! Goodness knows how old that could make it but it’s still going strong for me and it’s one of my absolute favourites in warm weather.

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. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

The first official Sew Over 50 meet-up

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!

unpacking the cake!
starting to arrive
the chatter gets going
The Village Haberdashery before we filled it up!
Marcia and Ana in the queue to get in
Val and Gilly came a very long way and had never been to a meet-up before but they had a great time
one question which never got asked was “did you make that?” because, obviously, we DID! More likely was “which pattern is that?” or “where’s that fabric from?”
pattern designers Marilla Walker and Ana Cocowawa Crafts who both donated prizes
what’s in the bag?
It’s a handmade plaque made especially for me by Jayne Wright, who also donated two handmade ceramic hedgehog pin-cushions (Threadquarters is the name of my workroom in the garden) Thank you so much Jayne
Judith and Lisa Bobo Bun who had come all the way from Norwich
Sara telling Jo all about sway back adjustments
I love this one, setting up for a selfie!
when Insta-friends finally meet in real life
this made me smile, Judith and I mirroring each other…
Ex-Brownie leader waiting for quiet
Ceramicist extraordinaire Corrie with our Great Leader, naturally she’s wearing one of her own handmade brooches
Susan and Amanda Patterns and Plains who generously offered a prize without me even asking
sorry Marilla but this was the best photo without one of you having closed eyes!
the much-admired cake made by Mr Y, it was universally agreed that it was a delicious fruit cake! ( and now he won’t let me forget it!)
busy in the shop now too
I love how during the course of the afternoon people are in different shots talking to different people all the time.
None of these ladies knew each other before they arrived but they got on like a house on fire
having a really good natter
my raffle ticket-selling friends Sara and Di
Me and lovely Ruth, whose son kindly donated a fabulous designer Anglepoise lamp which was much-coveted in the raffle.
Sharon (with the shoulder bag) is the talent and the brains behind Maven Patterns and generously donated 3 patterns to the raffle
group shot-it was a bit like herding cats but I think we got virtually everyone in
gathering to draw the raffle
by the wonders of WhatsApp I’m telling Kate (who was in Stockholm) that she had won a prize
She had won some lovely Lamazi fabric
with my fellow Love Sewing magazine photo-shoot friends, minus Kate and Sarah who couldn’t be with us. Love Sewing donated a one year subscription
this is us with former editor Amy and we featured in the February 2019 of Love Sewing magazine
designer Lucy of Trend Patterns donated two, here’s Charlotte with her prize
Corrie was thrilled with her Anglepoise, she’d been coveting it right from the beginning!
Sue was over the moon to win a Pfaff Passport 3.0
Judith trying out my teleportation device fashioned from an old hairdryer and sticky-back plastic. It didn’t work so it’s back to the drawing board for me!

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.

Now, back to some sewing for a while!

until next time,

happy sewing

Sue

Paris Sewcial 2019

Phew, well that went too quickly!

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…

The Louvre
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
across the Seine
Notre Dame de Paris
Musee D’Orsay
Place de la Concorde
looking towards the Champs Elysee from Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde
LV flagship store
l’Arc de Triomphe d’Etoile
not sure what this is….
Les Invalides
the Petit Palais
Opera Garnier

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.

Sewcialists socialising!

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.

The team photo! [can you spot me?]

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.

Emily and Megan checking out the fabrics with Alison and Camilla, so much to choose from.

Eventually we were pretty much shopped out and in need of sustenance so the groups dispersed to various restaurants for lunch.

hurry up, we’re hungry…

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.

Neon Mondrian
the real deal
I don’t think the knitted sarcophagus was my favourite, however beautifully knitted it is!
one for the summer of the jumpsuit.
YSL was the creator of ‘Le Smoking’ after all.

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.

group selfie

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.

so many beautiful backdrops for a photo and we chose Pret a Manger with terrible lighting!

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.

Until next time,

Sue

Tilly and the Buttons Nora top

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

IMG_8487
keeping the design under wraps before the launch.

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

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

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

fullsizeoutput_29d4
I love the varied layers and stripes of this look.

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

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

IMG_8602
I’ll take that!

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

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

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

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

fullsizeoutput_29acIMG_8591fullsizeoutput_29bb

IMG_8563
No make up selfie in Threadquarters! I really like all the hem interest going on.

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

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

 

A year in sewing 2017

2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.

This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.

January saw a couple of self-drafted sweat shirts, I was particularly pleased with the blue one because I made it from a £3 fleece blanket from Ikea!

There are also 2 Sew Over It Heather dresses, and finally the Grainline Farrow dress, the teal one was the one which featured in the review I wrote for Sew Now magazine.

In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.

Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?

March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.

One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.

Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.

IMG_0001
our very own Sewing Bee!

Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. IMG_1725Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt.IMG_1803 I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.

fullsizeoutput_1f1f
Imogen blouse and Gina by Zierstoff skirt

In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.

In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.

By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.

IMG_2965

Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.

I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!

We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!

The-Sewing-Weekender-2017
Sewing Weekender 2017 Alumni, photo by The Foldline.

I spent September making the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.Love Sewing page 328_09_17_LS_Reader42916I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.

Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.

IMG_3192
neat bias binding on the Camber Set top-my scissors necklace came from the V&A

I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.

I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.

Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)

After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it. IMG_4038IMG_4039IMG_4040

Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message  from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.

November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.fullsizeoutput_202f

I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.

I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.IMG_4272IMG_4273

IMG_4274
French dart shift dress by Maven patterns.

The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use. IMG_4092

Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…

IMG_4268
she’s a beauty!

So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!

Happy Sewing

Sue