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

Rounding off Me Made May

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!

Anyway, here goes…

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May 1st was a mash-up pattern, bodice of one, skirt of another, in Queue for the Zoo Liberty Tana lawn worn with a Jigsaw sparkly cardigan.

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Day 2 was a Burdastyle magazine top made in a floral scuba fabric and the back in crepe-back satin. I made it at least 2 years ago but haven’t worn it much as the cuffs were a bit flappy.  By the time I wore it to the first London Stitchers meet up that evening I’d taken them in considerably and I was a lot happier with the fit of the sleeves. The jeans are the Ash pattern from Megan Nielsen which I’d had the pleasure of testing and I’m a huge fan of them.

Day 3 is the first newly made garment and it’s the Farrow dress from Grainline which I wrote a review for in Sew Now magazine 18 months ago. I made this version in navy and burgundy linen with short sleeves.

 

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!

 

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Dragon dirndl, no pattern just pleated into a narrow waistband.

Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.

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Colette patterns Moneta in striped jersey with a dodgy waist (should have put a belt over that!)

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One of my favourite tops, Imogen by Sew Me Something and the trousers are Butterick 6461 which I reviewed in Love Sewing magazine last autumn.

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Striped Camber Set from Merchant & Mills worn with a refashioned skirt that used to be jeans.

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More refashioning with a silk top made from a vintage dressing gown and a hoodie using a vintage 60’s pattern in jersey and cotton fabric harvested from a charity shop dress.

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A blouse made using a vintage 70’s dress pattern in ‘Gallymoggers’, an Alice in Wonderland Liberty Tana lawn. This is a couple of years old too.

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Surprised this one still fitted me! Cotton poplin from Ditto fabrics, Butterick 6026 Katharine Tilton pattern and vintage buttons. Refashioned denim skirt again.

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One of my favourites, African waxed cotton with crazy diagonal stripes Simplicity Project Runway pattern 2444, all fully lined.

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Love the button on the back of the neck too, it was a single one of this design in a Sewing Weekender goody bag.

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Packing for our trip to Assisi, all self-made except the cardigan.

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With my new car! Trusty Holiday shirt from The Maker’s Atelier in Swiss Dot and newly made checked linen trousers New Look 6351-I’m so pleased with these, they’re perfect in warm weather if your legs are still pasty like mine. (Awesome pattern-matching too but you can’t see that)

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The new Farrow got to go to Italy.

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Linen trousers again and the Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile, outside Santa Chiara, Assisi. Loving my holiday chapeau too, from Monsoon

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Camber Set hack in beautiful Roberto Cavalli cotton lawn and new for the Assisi trip(RTW trousers this time)

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.

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One of my finished prints…I’m rather proud of it…

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Linen Imogen again with a jacket refashioned from 2 pairs of Mr Y’s trousers!

 

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…

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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…

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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

 

Cleo from Tilly and the Buttons

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Have you ever found that just once in a while your off-spring are listening when you drop clanging great hints about what you’d like for Xmas?

I get the regular Tilly and the Buttons email updates and in early December received the one about Cleo kits, a complete fabric/pattern/thread/trims bundle at a reasonable price. My daughter happened to be lurking nearby so I casually mentioned this….

Anyway, I was quite startled when by chance the first gift I opened on Christmas morning was exactly that! whoop whoop! Of course I then thought there was no time until the New Year to start it but I remembered I’d bought a small quantity of peacock corduroy at the Rag Market in Birmingham when I went up for Sew Brum in October, I’d already pre-washed it so it was ready to go and a window of opportunity opened up so off I went.

In my opinion I’ve always found Tilly’s instruction booklets very clear and helpful, there’s lots of useful info if you’re a novice and the plan of making in the form of colour photos are excellent too. I decided that rather than use the bib-and-brace fixings for this one I’d use buttons and buttonholes instead.

This would also give me the chance to try out some of the features on my new toy…just before Christmas I finally invested (with my own hard-earned cash) in a Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 from Sew Essential. They had it as a Black Friday (not a real thing) offer and, after driving for 2 hours to visit them and try it out, I bought one! [thank you to Irena for being patient with me while I got to grips with it, I’d really recommend you try out any machine you’re thinking of buying and Sew Essential are happy for you to visit for a demonstration of the various models and makes that they sell] IMG_4268

Cleo takes not a lot of fabric (if you’re using corduroy do bear in mind that it has a ‘nap’ or pile so cut all your pieces going in one direction or it will shade) I decided that rather than make the patch pockets by turning the edges under I’d bag them out with some scraps of Liberty Tana lawn I had. This has the additional benefit of giving them lovely neat edges, and once I’d stitched them on I tried out the bar tack feature on my machine. It’s a good way of reinforcing pockets and other potential weak points, or attaching belt loops.

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a rather natty bar tack on the pocket

There was just enough Liberty fabric to make a hem facing too using 2 straight strips too so this was a good way of neatening the hem without it being bulky.

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I cut the strips twice as deep as I wanted it to be when it was folded in half.

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the strips folded over

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The cut edges are then matched to the raw edges on the cord and stitched in position. I stitched each on separately because then I sewed all the way down the side seams and the facings too.

After I sewed up the side seams I under-stitched and pressed up the facing. Next I used the top-stitch to secure it.

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I used the additional edge guide for the topstitching as I wanted the hem deeper than the usual seam allowance markings.

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The triple stitch gives a nice chunky top-stitch and the facing is under-stitched to help it roll upwards.

It was lovely to be able to make the buttonholes using the one-step buttonhole feature too, my previous machine didn’t have this method. I tried out a couple of test ones but then the first buttonhole on the dress wasn’t so great because I touched the ‘stop’ lever accidentally as it was sewing so it reversed before it finished sewing the complete side-oops.

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oh dear-user error

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These are the most erratic colour photos, sorry about that, it’s a really tricky colour to photograph accurately.

Many of you reading this will probably already be familiar with the Cleo so I’ve concentrated on what I’ve done to make mine unique to me and not so much on the step-by-step aspect of making it. I’m happy with the fit of this first one so as soon as I’ve washed the burgundy I’ll get the ‘Christmas’ one made up too. I’ve made the shorter length version, I’m not sure if I like the longer version as much in truth but who knows, I might give it a go sometime.

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My top is the Amy from Zierstoff patterns in a slightly sparkly jersey from Escape & Create in St Ives, Cambs. I love the long wrinkly cuffs although it might be that my arms are too short… (that’s another blog waiting to be written too as I’ve made 3 variations of it now)

Tilly often create these pattern/fabric bundles so check out their website to see what is currently available. The Cleo has been super-comfortable in this post-Christmas podgy period-or is that just me?-and I can see why it’s been so popular as a pattern, it’s quick, it’s simple and it’s fun and comfy to wear-what more could you want?

Happy Sewing

Sue

Sewing a no-pattern kimono in Liberty Tana lawn.

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

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

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

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Bit of a dobby finger in the way-oops!

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

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

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

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Making the collar strip by joining the 3 sections first

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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the finished French seam should look like this.

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

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

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

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

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Collar pinned to the CB neck

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

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Press the seam towards the collar.

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

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Fold the collar band RS together and pin.

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

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

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

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Stitch in the ditch on the right side .

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

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

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

So that’s pretty much it!

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

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Modelled by Katie, assisted by Tinker!

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

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

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

When do you use those other fancy stitches your sewing machine has?

I’d already made a The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt recently which you can read about here and I’d got a second cut out ready. This second one was a soft cotton voile (or muslin, not entirely sure) which my elderly neighbour had gifted me a while back and I cut it out as part of my batch-cutting binge. I didn’t realise it at the time but she’s since told me that it’s Liberty which makes it even more special. I asked her why she’d never used it but she said it was “just one of those things”, it just never happened.IMG_1291IMG_1293

I started making up the blouse as before but this time I fancied changing it up a bit by using one of the range of stitches my ancient Elna 7000 machine offers.

Does your machine have loads of these embroidery stitches that you’ve never used? I’m curious to know whether having all these extra stitches was a reason for you to choose a particular model? trying out machine embroidery or quilting perhaps? [and I’m not talking about utility stitches that help with construction and finishing here, purely decorative ones] were you persuaded by an enthusiastic sales assistant, or a bargain price, to go with a more complex machine than your needs or skills warranted? I think it’s so important to be able to test machines and compare them before buying, and the internet makes it much easier to compare reviews than ever before. When I bought my Elna well over 25 years ago I was working in the dress fabrics department of our local John Lewis where we had two wonderful ladies who were employed by Elna and Brother to demonstrate the machines and give individual lessons. This gave me the luxury of taking my time and seeing the different machines in action before I eventually bought an ex-demonstration model which cost me nearly £500 then!! It was money well-spent though I’d say. If you’re new to dressmaking but aren’t sure that it will become a life-long hobby then there are some terrific machines available in the £120-£160 bracket, if you want it to be lifelong then you may choose to buy one machine now for the long-term and up to £500 would easily be enough to spend and get a good quality machine for it. If you have bags of money then you could spend waaay more than that-it’s up to you entirely.

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This is my machine when it came with me to the Sewing Weekender last August.

When my two girls were little I did use some of the stitches, little ducks, flowers etc and when my eldest started school her summer dress featured patch pockets with ‘LEFT’ and ‘RIGHT’ written across the top of them! But that’s 22 years ago so not very much use since then…

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These two rows of illustrations rotate to show all the stitches available.

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I tested a few that I thought would look nice around the collar, in a couple of different shades of blue, to see which I fancied best.

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Initially I liked the little triangles but I wasn’t sure I could get it to fit accurately to turn the corners which wouldn’t have pleased me at all.

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I tried out the blanket stitch on a corner and it was much more satisfactory so I decided to go with that.

Once I’d settled on the blanket stitch I made up the collar and embroidered it, I decided to add it to the sleeve hems too. I made the blouse up exactly as before after that.

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Blanket stitch on the collar

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…and on the sleeves.

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Finished Holiday shirt.

It might not be the most exciting use of embroidery stitches but it’s a start and I think it looks rather pretty. Do you use any of the stitches like this that your machine offers or were they a big lure to buy the machine to start with but then are actually redundant? I’m curious to know.

I’ve got plans to make at least one more Holiday shirt with some chiffon I bought at Birmingham Rag Market last year too, that will have to wait until my next batch of cutting though!

Happy sewing,

Sue