I wasn’t familiar with textile artist Anni Albers but when I saw that Charlotte (English Girl at Home) had made a visit from Birmingham I thought it must be worth a look.
I wasn’t disappointed either. You don’t need to have any previous idea of this artist’s work to enjoy and appreciate the quality of what you see before you in this exhibition at Tate Modern in London until January 27th, 2019.
To give you a little bit of background, Anneliese Fleichmann was born in Berlin, Germany in 1899, she was encouraged to study drawing and painting, becoming a student at the Bauhaus in 1922 where she met artist Josef Albers, marrying him in 1925. Not every class was available to women and she had been unable to get into glassmaking whilst at the Bauhaus [a renowned combined crafts and Fine Arts school from 1919 to 1933 before being closed by the Nazis] so she reluctantly attended textile weaving instead. She soon became fascinated by the whole process of weaving and gradually developed her distinctive geometric style.
She and her husband, who were both Jewish by birth although she herself was baptised a Protestant, eventually moved to the USA in 1933 where they taught at the experimental Black Mountain Academy in North Carolina, an art school with a kind of ’summer camp’ ethos of studies and farm and domestic work.
She continued to experiment and create throughout her long life although eventually she gave up weaving because of the physical strain it placed on her preferring, instead to create prints and monographs.
She was commissioned a number of times to create textiles for specific situations including domestic, hotels and student accommodation. These items included rugs and diaphanous hanging room dividers.
Here are just a few of my photographs, many don’t do full justice to the intricacies of the weave or the subtleties of the colours but hopefully they will give you a taste.
Sketches of design ideas.
Wall hangings and room-dividers.
Albers moved on to drawing and printmaking as she got older, often her subject was knots! Top right is a rug. She continued to explore textile-related areas though such as pattern, line, texture and knotting.
In the same room there are 3 huge screens showing the process of weaving in close up which was enthralling.
As I said earlier, you don’t need to know anything about Albers to enjoy this exhibition. My good friend Jenny (my culture buddy!) is a busy Vicar with no art or textiles experience but we always find much to enjoy on our visits to galleries even if they are outside our usual preferences or knowledge. The work on display here is beautiful and tactile (but don’t touch!) and could look very much at home in a domestic setting, not something I can always say about some art work we’ve seen!
I’m very excited to have been offered a copy of one of the new Tilly and the Buttons and I jumped at the chance to try Nora, a drop shoulder jersey top with several variations of sleeve, neckline and length. It’s just the sort of top I like to wear, often layered up in colder weather so I thought you might like to know what I think about the pattern.
For once I decided I would trace off the pattern first because I’ll probably want to use several of the variations but this time I wanted to start with the long sleeve, uneven hem version.
Initially I checked my measurements against the sizing chart, and then the very useful finished garment measurements chart too. It’s always helpful if patterns have this (‘big 4’ patterns usually have them printed directly on one of the major pattern pieces) because you can make a much better judgement of the size you want. Take a tape measure and hold it around your body using the finished garment measurements to see how you feel about the fit-too loose? too tight? I opted to go down a size from the one indicated by my body measurements because I felt the finished top would be plenty big enough.
I had some lovely loopback sweatshirting in my stash that I’d bought from GuthrieGhani at last year’s one and only Great British Sewing Bee Live in London. It had been destined for a top based on one I’d seen at the Burberry ‘Capes’ show at the beginning of 2017 but never quite got made. When I clapped eyes on the Nora I knew the Burberry top would rise again.
In order to match the stripes, take your time laying up the fabric ready to cut. Ensure the stripes on the underneath layer are in line with the top layer by popping a few pins through both layers every so often. Next, I placed the front and back pieces onto matching stripes at the lower edges, double checking that the bottom of the armhole was also the same. I didn’t cut the sleeves out at this time, I waited until I had the front and back sewn together at the shoulders and the neck band attached before doing this. This way you can have your actual garment laying on the fabric next to where you’re intending to place the sleeve pattern, I cut each sleeve separately to make absolutely sure.
Tilly’s instructions and photos are generally very clear and helpful in my experience. I’m not sure if I did the neck band in quite the same way as the instructions but it worked and looks good. Different knits and jerseys have differing amounts of stretch so you may need to adjust the length of the band you use. I made mine shorter in the end as it wasn’t sitting flat at first, the band needed to be more stretched onto the neck edge to sit nice and flat.
The beauty of the sleeve on the Nora is that it’s a ‘shirt sleeve head’ so it’s almost flat across the top. This means it’s very simple to sew on because there’s no tricky setting into an armhole to do, you sew it on flat and then join the underarm and side seams afterwards. Incidentally, I sewed most seams using the tricot stretch stitch (looks like lightening in the symbols if you’re looking for it on your machine) You could also use a zigzag that’s very flattened out by reducing the stitch width. Alternatively, you could sew most of Nora together using an overlocker but don’t forget the seam allowances are 1.5cms and an overlocker will be much narrower which could result in a bigger garment than planned if you don’t trim them down first.
Before I hemmed the sleeves I tried the top on and opted to bring the sleeve width at the cuffs in by a total of 6cms [only as far as the elbow though from where I graded back into the original seam] Although the cuffs were a bit too wide for my liking I loved the extended length which comes some way over your hands.
That just leaves the stepped hem. I used a twin needle to sew straight across the hems and a regular ballpoint needle to turn the side seams.
Before I started Nora I’d already decided that I’d wear a shirt under the stripy version because the front is actually a bit higher than I like so, when I make my next one, I’ll lengthen the front somewhat but still keep a ’step’. I’ve been wearing it with my favourite The Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt underneath and I love how it looks together. I bought some beautiful Liberty fleece-back sweatshirt fabric from Fabrics Galore at the recent Knitting & Stitching show which I’ll use to make the Nora with the high roll collar instead and the long cuffs will roll back to show the contrast colour, it’s going to be so cosy. I reckon you could make it in a drapey woven fabric too BUT you’d have to make the neckline larger because you wouldn’t get your head through otherwise!!
Thank you Tilly for the chance to try out Nora, I’m definitely a fan and I think there will certainly be a few versions of her finding their way into my wardrobe over the autumn and winter…and then there will be short-sleeve versions when the spring arrives!
Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!
The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!
Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.
The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.
The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!
Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.
This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.
The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.
This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.
Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…
And so to the last outfit of the month…
The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.
So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)
Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?
I first made the original of this top two years ago copying a Jigsaw top which I wrote about here (the words are still there if you want to read it but something has corrupted the photos unfortunately) but this is what it looked like, the grey one is the original.
When I made the first version I started by making a plan of all the measurements and dimensions of the original top.
I wanted to experiment with a couple of changes to this pattern so I used some plain jersey from the stash which wasn’t earmarked for a specific project. It wasn’t as fluid as the striped version so I decided to make it a slightly more structured shape with a curved and faced hem, I brought the neckline in a bit and changed the collar, and finally made the cuffs more ruched.
In order to make the cuffs ruch and stay like that, rather than collapse into random folds, I stitched a piece of narrow elastic onto the seam allowance using a 3-step zigzag stitch and which I stretched as I sewed. Once I’d done that I turned the hem up with a twin-needle.
I wanted a different collar to the stripes so I brought the neckline in much closer and cut a deep straight band to fit it exactly. This is sewn on folded over and can be worn standing straight up or folded down as a roll collar, a bit like a fisherman’s smock.
I think this version has turned out a bit more tunic-like than I’d intended but that’s fine, it’s still wearable.
I might make it again in something softer and drapier, and possibly not even jersey because there are details like the faced hem and gathered cuff that I like, although I might use them on a different garment altogether. I’m not wld about the colour in the end even though I chose it myself!! This one is more like a slightly upscale sweatshirt I think with it’s slouchy shape.
What do you think? Have you ever tried copying a favourite pattern?
I made two versions of the short-sleeved shirt by The Maker’s Atelier last summer, I love ‘em and wore them constantly. One was plain white and the other was a Liberty print voile which I embellished with fancy stitches.
I wanted to make the hooded version sometime and originally I planned to make it in linen like the photo but on a recent visit to Backstitch near Cambridge I spotted a nice Ponte with an interesting diamond weave that was a little bit brushed on one side which I thought would work well so I bought that instead.
Making it up was pretty straightforward except I wanted to utilise the rows of diamonds and they proved a bit tricky to match up in the cutting out. Eventually I managed to cut it fairly satisfactorily but there’s one or two wonky spots although I think only I will notice them (I hope)
The inside seam of the hood and the back neck are neatened with tape so I used 2 pieces of striped grosgrain ribbon which had come off a gift bag! You never know when these things might come in handy 🙂
There’s a casing that runs around the waist with elastic cord through it but after scoring the striped ribbon for the part that shows I hadn’t got anything else suitable for the casing! I knew I wouldn’t be able to get what I wanted locally so I ordered some navy cotton twill tape and some navy and some grey cord elastic off t’internet. The tape was a tad wide but that’s fine and the elastic was just right. Before sewing the tape on you need to make two eyelets for the elastic to come out through so I reinforced the fabric behind with iron-on interfacing and then made two small round-ended buttonholes, you could use metal eyelets if you have the gadget for this. The buttonholes were actually bigger than I needed them to be so I didn’t cut the whole thing open, only enough for the elastic to go through.
Before you can thread the elastic though it needs something to thread through! I carefully sewed on the tape on the reverse of the fabric following as best I could a row of diamonds as I went. I’d actually pressed a crease along the line before I started in order to have some idea of where I was heading.
So that’s pretty much it, the hem still has the deep notches of the shirt version but the hooded one has long sleeves. I used the twin needle to stitch up the hem and sleeves.
I think this will be a really useful cover-up, the fabric isn’t particularly thick but I’ll either layer things under it or it will be ideal for a warm summer evening (although they feel a very long way off yet!)
The Maker’s Atelier patterns are not cheap, in fact they are rather expensive, but they are the sort of chic, timeless styles that you can remake countless times.
I’ve used a few Zierstoff patterns now including the Gina skirt which I blogged about here, a reversible Sophie bolero and the Sue T-shirt (I think this one is due a revisit soon actually)
The latest ones on my cutting table have been the Juliene top and the Amy top and I love them both!
The Juliene is a very loose fitting casual top with a scoop neckline and asymmetric hem which I made in a very inexpensive loose knit with a hint of glitter which I bought in Fabricland, Salisbury at the end of last summer. [As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts Zierstoff are a PDF pattern company based in Germany and you simply choose your pattern, pay for it, download and print] Juliene uses just 3 pattern pieces [front/back, long sleeve or short sleeve plus a neck band] It’s the sort of top you can whizz up in no time.
My Juliene looks a bit shabby at the edges now as I’ve worn it so much but I think that’s the sign of a successful make.
The Amy is a similar silhouette in that it’s very loose fitting with a dropped ‘armhole’ seam but it has extra long sleeves which pool in folds around your wrists, there’s a horizontal seam across the back, a high/low hemline and casual roll neck collar. The sizing is suitable for teens age 13 up to UK ladies size 18 although the generous nature of the shape would mean it will probably fit more than that. Mine is a UK 12 with plenty of room. I made my first version in a strange-shaped scrap of a black and white spotted knit fabric that I’ve had lurking in the pile for a while. Because of it’s wonkiness, which wasn’t helped by a printing flaw, it took me a little while and some head-scratching to cut out but I managed it!
I made this first one exactly as the pattern with no changes and overall I was very happy with it. The slouchy sizing is about right but, for me, the bicep is a bit too tight.
I bought some lovely aubergine jersey with a hint of sparkle from Escape & Create in St Ives, Cambs when I visited them as part of Alex Sewrendipity’s fabric store guide back in November, I had the Amy specifically in mind for it. This time I increased the depth of the collar by about 8cms, lengthened the body and added to the width of the sleeves to loosen them a little on my chunky arms!
I’m really happy with this one too and get loads of wear out of it, the fabric washes and tumble dries really well too.
My final version (so far) is made in very fluid black sparkly jersey which I picked up at the autumn Knitting & Stitching show. I had another pattern in mind for it originally but changed my mind. This time I decided to lengthen the pattern a lot to dress length so I think I added about 35-40cms, plus some extra to the collar again.
I don’t think it was a total success because in my head it was fabulous and stylish but seeing myself in it was a whole other matter! I don’t think I got the length right for me, it needs to be worn with high heels to carry it off properly and I just don’t wear them much these days. I tried a belt but that wasn’t flattering. I’ve only worn it once on New Year’s Eve so I think I’ll have to take a bit off the bottom so that it’s nearer knee length. Oh well, some you win, some you lose.
My Amys have certainly been one of my favourite tops this winter because I can layer them up with a long-sleeved T underneath. I think I’ll make a short-sleeved version of Juliene for the summer too. I’ll probably carry on for evermore making adaptations to these styles because they are so wearable and comfortable. There’s an element of me which thinks that Zierstoff doesn’t have the degree of finesse that other PDF patterns have. I might be wrong but I think they are all drafted on a computer rather than by actual pattern cutting so there are the occasional clunky joins or edges but then they are a lot cheaper than most so it’s swings and roundabouts. For the price I think they are perfectly serviceable, and the video tutorials seem pretty thorough.
As before, I was provided with the patterns but all opinions expressed are entirely my own. If you want to try a Zierstoff pattern for yourself use my 20% off voucher code Susan Young Sewing at the checkout, it’s valid once so you could buy a couple to make it worthwhile.
This could very well be the perfect dress for the imperfect figure. It sits nicely on the shoulders with smooth set-in sleeves that blouse slightly at the cuff (if you’re going full-length) the French darts give it shape and the slight A-line flare of the skirt skims the body, it has pockets and finally there’s a funnel-neck collar to draw attention up towards the face if that’s your best feature! Oh, and there’s no zip, just pop it over your head!
I bought my pattern from the lovely Mike (son in law of Mrs Maven) who was manning the stand at the autumn Knitting & Stitching show for Mrs Maven who’d had to dash off for a family emergency. He must have done a grand job because I bought a pattern, as did many others while I was there, the samples on display were very enticing.
The French Dart Shift appealed to me because I liked it’s relaxed but stylish aesthetic, there are lots of possibilities. It has 3 sleeve options (plus sleeveless) and you could make it in a whole variety of fabrics from winter-weights like worsted wool or denim, through cotton poplins to softer fabrics like crepe or lace with suitable linings.
The patterns aren’t cheap at £18.50 but they are beautifully produced in a folding wallet, printed on quality paper with a comprehensive instruction booklet. I decided to trace off the pattern onto Swedish tracing paper rather than cut it out-I don’t always do this as I’m not an habitual tracer! I checked my body measurements and then using the measurements chart provided so I went for a UK 14.
I had a rummage in my stash and found some navy fabric with tiny dots which I bought ages ago in Hitchin market and there was just enough. I didn’t follow the cutting plan as I hadn’t got the suggested quantity but by careful refolding and some single-layer cutting I got everything out.
One detail you need to watch out for is that the seam allowance is just 1cmrather than the more usual 1.5cms. The instructions are comprehensive and thorough although if you struggle with following written instructions this might be a challenge for you. There are illustrations too which are very detailed but they could do with being just a bit larger for those of us who are a bit sight-challenged, I managed but that’s partly because I had an inkling of how it was likely to go together.
The instructions encourage quality details such as taping the neck and pocket edges to prevent stretching (I actually used iron-on tape which fulfils the same job) and reinforcing the joins between the pocket bags and the side seams.
I failed to take any photos during the making, sorry about that, but it all went together as intended. The band on the cuffs is quite narrow and a bit fiddly but it’s worth persevering because the end result looks nice. You could leave the cuff off i suppose and make a channel with elastic through it if you wanted, or you could shorten the sleeve to between wrist and elbow length too.
I finished the navy dress before Christmas-I wore it on Christmas Day in fact, but I’ve only just made a second version recently [a 2 week bout of flu put paid to any creative sewing for a while]
I’ve made this second version in a lovely Ponte Roma I bought from Fabrics Galore at the Knitting & Stitching Show 18 months ago (I don’t like to rush these things) Although Ponte isn’t one of the suggested fabrics it’s worked well but you need to make sure that the wide neck edge is taped to prevent it being stretched before you put the collar on.
I think I can safely say this dress is my ‘secret pyjamas’, it’s sooo comfy!
All in all I’m delighted with this dress and I can see me making several more for the summer. Take a look at the Maven website for more inspiration with fabrics, you could even leave the collar off, and I know Portia Lawrie has produced a colour-block version too which looks fab. I think I’ll investigate some of Maven’s other patterns now too as they look really appealing!
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.
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.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
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.
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. Also 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. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
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.
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!
I spent Septembermaking 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.I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
I could hardly believe it when I got an email out of the blue from Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas a couple of months back. She was inviting me to make and review the two patterns which were going to be the free gifts with upcoming issue 46. They were two separate patterns, Butterick 6461 trousers in two lengths with top-stitched seam details and a stretch waist, and McCalls 7322 a simple top with several variations for neck and sleeves.
Once I’d agreed to the challenge (I didn’t need any persuading!) Amy suggested which companies I could select fabric from so I browsed their websites for quite some time until I found what I was looking for. The trousers called for a fabric with some stretch and eventually I chose from Danish company Stoff and Stil their stretch 10 1/2oz denim in dark blue [Amy had advised me that black doesn’t photograph well and, although I would have liked a printed stretch cotton, I couldn’t find anything suitable or to my taste] The top could be made with either a jersey or drapey woven fabrics and I chose a really pretty crepe with watercolour flowers in gorgeous inky shades of plum and blue. Stoff and Stil are breaking into the UK market and have an extensive range of fabrics and patterns, wool and haberdashery available on their website. Their delivery charge however is quite high and I wouldn’t suggest them if you’re impatient or in a tearing hurry as delivery is usually 5-7 days.
While I waited for these to arrive (a slightly nerve-wracking wait because I was up against time to get the patterns made up by a tight deadline) I decided to make a wearable toile of them both to check the fit and any other idiosyncrasies they might throw up.
I had a colourful cotton sateen in my stash which I hadn’t found a use for yet so I made the trousers up in that. I cut a size 16 according to my measurements although I suspected (hoped) that would be a bit big. [You should always go by your own measurements before anything else if you’re making a fitted style because the sizing bears no relationship to shop-bought clothing and will almost certainly be too small if you ignore it. Just because you’re a 10 or a 16 or whatever in the shops doesn’t mean you’ll be the same in paper patterns-that’s the voice of bitter experience talking!!]
In spite of all I’ve just said I soon discovered they were miles too big though the legs and were an unflattering baggy shape that looked nothing like the shape in the photo. The inseams are sewn up first so, to remove some width, I skimmed at least 2cms off each outer or side seam.
This was an improvement but still quite generous in the legs-as a result though I knew I would need to cut at least one, if not 2, sizes smaller when I made the actual trousers. The waistband wasn’t very successful either-I didn’t like the way they told you to put the elastic in, I did it as instructed although I changed the toile later and did the denim version my own way (more of that later)
I’d opted to make Style B which are cropped length with turn-ups.
Once I’d toile-d the trousers I turned my attention to the top. I decided on the longer sleeve version with a bateau neckline, Style F. I fancied style C or D with a neckband initially but I got cold feet!! I’ve been sewing on and off for over 40 years and I just thought “If I mess this up it will be there in the magazine for everyone to see!!” Nightmare!
I made a very quick toile in a rather boring viscose, again from my stash, and the result was a rather boring top!! Ok, what to do?
Fortunately the fabric order arrived and the printed crepe was really lovely, much nicer colours than it’s photo online suggested so I decided I’d use it’s drapiness and work the current sleeve-detail trend by making a floaty gathered cuff instead. Crepe is a fabric which often has a slightly rough, matt feel and has a nice inherent drape which is caused by the way the yarn is twisted and then woven into fabric. It works well for bias cut skirts, dresses or blouses and anything slightly ‘flippy’.
One thing that the toile had thrown up was that the neck was slightly too wide and my bra straps showed so I increased the width of the pattern pieces.
Because the crepe is 150cms wide it meant that I could fold the selvedges into the centre line and then the front and back pattern pieces are side by side. This matters because any pattern of the print which runs across the fabric will run in a pleasing line around the body.
Another alteration I chose to make to the top was to add a little more fullness at the hem level. The toile was a tiny bit snug at hip level so to increase at that point I pinned the neck edge against the fold but pivoted the hem level away from the fold by about 1.5cms.
For the sleeve-hack I used the short sleeve and then cut 2 rectangles that were 50cms x 30cms (50cms is approximately 1.5x the bottom width of the short sleeve) You can make them as full as you want but if they’re too wide they can get a bit annoying catching on things or dripping in the washing up!!
One of the things I liked about the pattern was it’s explanations of various techniques used during the making up. If you’re a complete beginner it isn’t always obvious what a ‘back-tack’ is or how wide the seam allowances are for example and the instructions with many patterns expect you to know things like that already.
So I made up the top again (you could use French seams if you haven’t got an overlocker or your fabric frays badly) I joined the shoulder seams and then attached the neck facings because you can have the whole thing open fairly flat which makes it a bit easier. Self- or contrast bias binding would look nice as an alternative but take care not to stretch the neck edge as you do it because it would be all droopy-dangle…
Now sew up the side seams, try it on to check for fit and make any necessary adjustments then it’s ready for sleeves.
This time I made up the short sleeves then made 2 tubes of the rectangles for the floaty bits. Around the top edge of each tube I ran two parallel rows of gathering stitches within the 1.5cms seam allowance. I always back-tack at one end and leave the other loose to pull up.
I neatened the bottom edges of the tubes at this point too by making a ‘pin hem’.
Repeat for the second sleeve then neaten the edges of the joins by your chosen method.
When I’m setting in sleeves I always start by matching the underarm seams, then the shoulder seam balance mark followed by the front and back armhole notches. Next I pull up the ease stitching gently until the sleeve fits into the armhole, this may take a little while to get a pleasing fit so don’t rush it. Once you’re happy with the fit stitch the sleeves in (there’s nothing wrong with tacking them in first if it helps) Try the top on to make sure the sleeves look OK and then neaten the armhole seam by your chosen method.
Finally I made another pin hem on the hem itself. Although the top looked lovely as it was I like to add little details to make a garment really original so I rummaged through my vast collection of buttons and found a selection in various sizes and colours which I grouped on both the gathered sleeve seams.
So that’s the top, now for the trousers.
I washed and tumble-dried the denim as soon as it arrived because there will always be excess dye in denim and some shrinkage will occur too. I used a denim needle to sew with and I had specific top-stitch thread ready for the seaming details although you could use regular thread, I used regular thread to sew them together. A denim needle is also not essential but it deals with the extra thicknesses involved much better, a sturdy-sized universal needle would be ok if not.
Because I’d made the toile I cut the denim version out making them two sizes smaller. One little change I made was to raise the centre back waist a bit higher because I felt they drooped down at the back.
Sewing them together was straightforward after that, I used a slightly contrasting blue top-stitch thread for the seam details.
Then I got to joining the legs up and, even though I’d cut two sizes smaller, they were still too baggy! I skimmed yet more off the side seams to slim them down some more. It might have been more sensible to measure my thighs and compare that figure to the paper pattern!
I put the elastic in according to the instructions again but it was a disaster! By sewing through the elastic as directed all that did was sew in a stretched position and it couldn’t retract back so it was all baggy and horrid around my waist! I unpicked all of that and sewed it instead into a channel using my zipper foot to sew close to the edge of the elastic under the fabric without catching it (hopefully)
If you’re not confident sewing it this way then you can also sew a channel and then pull the elastic through separately using a bodkin or a strong safety pin.
All that remained was to sew the turn ups as before and they’re complete!
They’re still a bit baggier than I wanted and I might even bring them in some more although better that than make them too tight in the first place, they have hint of maternity trouser to them at the moment although useful if I’ve eaten a big dinner!!
On September 28th I travelled to Stockport with my makes for a photoshoot that many of you will by now have seen in issue 46 of Love Sewing magazine. It was so much fun and it was a real treat to have my make up done by professional Nina Rochford and and be photographed by Renata Stonyte. Along with Editor Amy they really put me at my ease and, whilst I’m not a natural model, they managed to get some nice pictures. It’s been a real thrill to feature in the magazine and to have the opportunity to share my hints and tips with readers. I do hope they have been of some use or help to you, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to ask a specific question, or advice.
I’ve loved writing for Love Sewing and I’m more than happy to do it again! I’m not saying I’m an expert on everything sewingwise-far from it-but I’ve made a ton of different garments over the years, and made a ton of mistakes over the years too!
Whilst I was invited to write the pattern review, and provided with the fabric by Love Sewing, all opinions expressed and advice offered are my own and I hope you might find them helpful if you’re making up the patterns in the future.
This is the third Zierstoff pattern I’ve made now, a Gina skirt this time, and I’m really pleased with it. The pattern is just two pieces-the skirt and the waistband, and it doesn’t take much fabric either. I chose to make it in a nice plain Ponte from Backstitch near Cambridge for a first version, there’s no stripe or pattern matching that way., sneaky eh?!
Because the fabric was plain I placed the pattern on the normal grain although if you have a stripe you could also position it on the the bias to get an interesting effect.
I’ve explained Zierstoff’s PDF method previously here and this one is no different. The one thing I’ve changed here is that the skirt is a half piece so you’re meant to ‘flip’ the pattern to get the other half. This is OK if you’re cutting the two pieces [front and back] on the fold but if not-and especially if you want it on the bias-I’d suggest you mirror it into a whole pattern either using spot-and-cross paper, tissue, Swedish Tracing paper or even newspaper.
There are only two pattern pieces for this skirt (skirt and yoke) so that’s very little printing, you’ll need to cut 2 skirts and 4 of the yoke pieces. At this point I refer to the online instructions which Zierstoff provide with written and photographic plans, I don’t bother printing them off too. I’ll be honest here because I think in a couple of places the instructions suffer a little from being translated from German to English because I found them a bit muddled but seeing as I can’t speak German anyway it isn’t the end of the world-the style is so simple you can probably work it out and the photos really help anyway.
This is a skirt you can put together in no time at all if you’re working in a plain fabric (or a non-taxing pattern) it took me a little longer in these jazzy stripes but not much. Don’t forget to use a jersey, ballpoint or stretch needle if you’re sewing a knit fabric.
Join the skirts together at the side seams and overlock the edges (or do it all on the overlocker if you prefer) You could hem at this point too if you wish using a twin needle if you have one. Mine isn’t great and I have to swap to a different machine to do it which is a bit disruptive but it does the job and a good press generally sorts it out.
The yoke pieces are first sewn together at the side seams 2 and 2 and then joined to each other at the waist seam forming a tube.
After I’d finished sewing in the elastic the basque is folded WS together and I machine basted it together along the bottom to hold the two layers together. Simply join the basque to the skirt then and finish the hem if you didn’t do it previously.
So there it is, a super-quick and REALLY comfortable jersey skirt. Although I like this length you could easily lengthen (or shorten) it and because the basque is flat over the tummy it’s very smooth and flattering and other close fitting tops would go over it too.
You could easily buy, print, stick together, cut out and sew this skirt in an evening if you put your mind to it so what are you waiting for? I was kindly provided with the pattern by Zierstoff but the fabric is my own. The opinions expressed are purely my own too. You might be interested to know the pattern comes in children’s sizes too.