If you’ve read my blog in the past you’ll know I’m a fan of Trend patterns. Lucy is a pattern-cutter and designer based in London and I always make a bee-line for her stand when I go to the Knitting & Stitching shows. At the show last autumn I fell for the Square dress which, as the name suggests, has a square hem and diagonal seams. There are no bust darts because it uses bias cutting to create the fit and because there are no fastenings it’s actually a fairly quick make and would suit a dressmaker with a little bit of experience. If the lack of darts might cause you a problem I definitely suggest you toile the top half of the dress so that you can assess whether you personally need to carry out a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) Lucy has been working hard to extend the size range across her patterns and as one of the newer styles the Square (TPC23) comes in the more extensive range sizes 8-22.
I bought a copy of the Square (and a skirt pattern too) and shortly afterwards my friend Dibs who owns Selvedge & Bolts online fabric shop asked if I’d like to choose some fabric as a gift in order to write a review of it. So with this pattern in mind, and my upcoming holiday, I picked out a fine linen in a tiny red/white ‘checked’ print. I was so happy with it when it arrived and it’s perfect for this loose type of style.
Before I cut into the beautiful linen I decided to make an initial version in some checked flannel which, at a guess, I’ve had over 25 years in my stash! You can’t rush these things…
Normally I’d try very hard to pattern-match the checks but there wasn’t enough to do that. The seams on the dress run diagonal but in fact only the back and front bodice are cut on the cross, the other rectangles of the skirt are cut on the straight grain so it’s much simpler than you might think to cut and sew together. The pieces are all quite large so there’s not much opportunity to cut many corners, and I didn’t quite have as much of the flannel as was recommended so I reduced the lower skirt panels (front and back are the same for this and the upper skirt panels, the front and back bodices are different though) To reduce the panel I simply folded out a parallel section through it’s longest side. This turned out to be advisable because at 5’5” the points would have touched the ground unless I was wearing high-ish heels.
I cut a straight size 14 and made no other adjustments, the front and back are cut on single fabric and as they are asymmetric you’ll need to keep any directional-print in mind, especially if you reverse any pattern piece to fit it onto your fabric . It’s a straightforward make though so after the cutting out it’s a breeze. I would only suggest that you take care when pinning and sewing the diagonal sections together to avoid stretching the edges out of shape before you sew them. Keep everything flat on a table as much as possible while you do this part. The hem is a deep ‘grown-on’ one which you mitre at the points and this helps give the skirt it’s weight and fluidity. I was happy with the flannel version so I immediately cut the linen one ready to sew up.
The linen sewed together beautifully, it’s quite lightweight and with a lovely drape. As the seams are such a feature of the dress I decided to use one of the decorative stitches my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has to offer. After trying a few I picked out a sort-of diagonal grid design which echoes the print on the fabric.
I’m really pleased with how the linen dress has come out, the decorative stitches are perfect for accentuating the seams and it’s such a comfortable style to wear. I’ve worn the flannel version mostly with a roll-neck jumper over the winter, it’s very striking and has garnered many compliments. the linen had to wait until we had our recent holiday to be worn but it was perfect for warm weather and, best of all, it has pockets! I can’t wait to be able to wear it again in the UK…
This such a simple-looking pattern but has so much scope to add drama, it’s distinctive without being outlandish and still be completely wearable…at least I think so!
I first met pattern maker Dhurata Davies at my friend Sal’s ‘Sew2gether’ event last spring and then our path’s crossed again unexpectedly a couple of months later when I made a last minute decision to go to the Threads textiles fair in Farnham. Dhurata was exhibiting there and she offered me a copy of her Maxine Sweater pattern in return for a review. The pattern is intended as a sweatshirt, and I’ve made one in a jersey fabric already, but it also works well in a woven too. It was the diagonal seam lines with pockets concealed in them that appealed to me. The sweatshirt version was for a Minerva fabric blog review which hasn’t appeared yet at the time of writing but now that I’ve made a second top I can tell you all about the pattern here.
I had picked up a modest remnant of ‘Woolsey’, a linen/wool fabric in the Merchant & Mills shop in Rye last August, it’s a lovely deep teal colour which is one of my favourites (although it’s a devil to photograph accurately). When I made the jersey version I made a size 16 based on my body measurements and there’s plenty of room in it so I knew I could risk making the same size in a non-stretch fabric. [If you are making anything more usually intended for a fabric with some stretch you will almost certainly need to go up a size or two, especially if it’s in any way close fitting. Measure the pattern itself if you’re not sure and don’t forget you need to be able to get it on, will it need additional openings like a zip or buttons if there’s no stretch to get it over your head, or your hips?]
Before I cut anything out I made myself a ‘whole’ sleeve pattern piece, it comes as a ‘half’ sleeve vertically so this needs to be placed on a fold in the fabric (twice as you need two sleeves!) but I always prefer to have a complete sleeve. Just stick the pattern to a large enough piece of paper so that you can fold it down the central ‘place on fold’ line, fold it in half and pin in a few places then cut out a new symmetrical pattern piece.
I knew I would not have enough fabric for the separate collar, cuffs and hem-band pieces but I could lengthen the body so that it wasn’t ridiculously short. I added about 10-12cms to the bottom of the front and back pieces. I had to decide how to finish the neckline instead of the collar and I came up with a combination of piping directly on the edge first and then a band of jersey ribbing. I didn’t know how, or if, this would work but the piping would look fine on it’s own if the jersey wasn’t any good.
The instructions and illustrations are nice and clear and straightforward and it’s not as difficult as you might imagine to get the diagonal cross in the centre. The seam allowance is just 1cm so I always highlight the pattern when this is the case so that, when I make the pattern again, I don’t sew it up as 1.5 by mistake and it’s all too small!
Once the front was complete I joined it to the back at the shoulders and then made some bias binding for the neck. I had just enough scraps to cut 3 strips which were approximately 50cms long and 4cms wide which I joined to form one long strip. I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 which is really useful but you can usually use your zip foot if it allows you to stitch close enough to the piping cord. Not all zip feet are good at this especially if it’s the generic one which comes with the machine but there are usually adjustable ones you can buy which, in my experience, are better. The piping foot actually sits over the top of the fabric and piping cord rather than just beside it so it’s held more securely and stitches much closer to the piping for a better finish. If you want to see another use of the piping foot pop over to my review of the Simple Sew Lizzie dress.
Once I’d made the piping I sewed it around the neck, raw edges together and making a neat join at the back. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a matching jersey so I opted for a complete contrast. I bought 50cms each of deep red and dark grey tubular jersey from Backstitch and when I put them together I decided that the red made a more interesting garment. Generally when you’re adding a stretch band you work on the basis of it being approximately 85% of the neckline/cuff/waistband measurement that you’re attaching it to, depending on the stretch of the jersey. I’d made things tricky by adding the piping first so the machine had to go through a LOT of layers of fabric. I must say that the Pfaff sailed through it all pretty easily. The only time it was hard work was over the seam allowances on the cuffs. Because I was making this bit up as I went along I sewed the piping onto the cuff first then sewed the under arm seams, if I were using this finish again I would sew the under arm seam first and then put the binding on ‘in the round’ because it would be less bulky where it crosses the seam. I used my little seam-hopper gadget to help lift the foot to help ease it over the bulky seams, this one came with the machine but you can buy something called a Jean-a-ma-jig or even use a piece of thick folded cardboard.
Having told you 85% is the usual amount for a stretch bands I should have made the neck one slightly shorter than that as it doesn’t sit completely flat even after a good amount of steaming. I left it though because it doesn’t look that bad and it would be a lot of work to re-do it. First join the band into a loop along it’s narrow edge then fold it lengthwise in the same manner as the cuffs and then divide it into 4 equal parts marked with pins. Next equally divide the neck (or cuffs) equally into 4 too. Pin the band onto the neck (or cuff) at the marks and stretch the band to fit and stitch in place. You can see from the photos that this was quite tricky because of the number of layers involved, I graded the layers so that it reduced the bulk as far as possible. All these layers plus the piping cord made it too difficult to get the cuffs under the overlocker so I finished the edges using a simple zigzag stitch. Around the neck I used the Coverlock 3.0 to coverstitch which had dual benefit of neatening on the inside and giving an attractive double row of top stitching on the outside.
To finish the hem I just overlocked the edge, turned it up and stitched twice. So that’s it really, I’m very happy with the finished top, I layered it up with a thin RTW T-shirt when I wore it to go to Brighton recently. The fabric doesn’t seem to crease so much as bend, it’s of a double-weave construction the same as cotton double gauze.
I’m really happy with the outcome of this top, the fabric has lent itself well to the more smocky kind of shape and although it was bit involved I really like the finished effect of the addition of the stretch cuffs and piping onto an otherwise simple garment. The ‘Woolsey’ fabric does fray a bit because of the loose weave but it’s manageable. Incidentally, this pattern looks great lengthened into a dress or with the pockets left out of the seams if you’re short of fabric.
Thank you Dhurata for the gift of the pattern, in my opinion it’s a goody and if you aren’t adding extras like me it’s a nice quick half-day make. Dhurata has also designed some lovely children’s patterns too which you might be interested in.
The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.
So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…
First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.
Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.
Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.
Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.
This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.
So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]
Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.
Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.
If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sewwhile you sew can be both entertaining and informative.
Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.
As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?
What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.
Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.
Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)
I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.
It’s been almost a month since I was loaned a Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 to try out so thought I would give you a ‘half-term report’ on how I’m getting on with it.
First thing to say is that it’s quite a beast! It’s a very substantial piece of machinery and so is fairly heavy as a result. That being said, this is normally the case with coverstitch machines because they are generally bigger than overlockers so the weight isn’t unusual. It does have a good-sized and comfortable carrying handle though.
Ok, so, the Coverlock 3.0 is a combination machine in that it is both an overlocker and a coverstitch machine. I’m sure you already know that an overlocker will trim and neaten raw edges and often sew the seam as well if you have 4 or 5 thread version. What you may not know is that a coverstitch machine doesn’t trim any edges, it will sew two or sometimes three rows of top-stitching on the outside of a garment whilst covering the edge of the fabric on the inside with loops of thread to ‘cover’ it. It has the advantage of being stretchy too. If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about have a look inside the hem or cuffs of a RTW jersey garment and you should see.
The first thing I had to do was not only rethread the machine as it didn’t arrive pre-threaded but I also needed to change it’s function from coverstitch to overlock. A major part of what I want to assess for you is how quick and straightforward it is to go between the functions. This is partly why I didn’t plunge in with a review as soon as I got it because I didn’t think it would be balanced or fair. Indeed, I will certainly write another review in due course after a decent amount of time and usage has occurred.
Because the machine was merely delivered to me without any demonstrations I’ve needed to use the instruction book a fair bit. If you have difficulty following written instructions and/or diagrams this may not be ideal for you but there is a (silent) DVD included with very clear animations of exactly what you need to do for each of the stitch variations possible. [I didn’t find this straightaway though so I muddled through with the booklet! I’ve also since found a few very helpful You Tube videos which were useful]
I’m not going to lie, it does take a bit of time to make the changes because you’ll need to remove and reinsert the needles to different positions as well as thread the machine in different ways depending on the function. This will eventually take me less time and I’ve added Post-it notes to the relevant pages in the book so that I don’t have to keep searching for the two I’ve favoured most. The machine is capable of up to 23 stitches using 2, 3, 4 or 5 threads and up to 3 needles. So far I’ve only used the 4-thread overlock and the coverstitch but I will endeavour to use more, including the flatlock, and report back.
I decided on making a hacked version of the Tilly and the Buttons Nora top which I’ve made a couple of times before as I didn’t want any nasty complications by attempting an unfamiliar pattern with a new piece of machinery!
The beautiful jersey with an amazing ‘tie-dye’ print is from Lamazi fabrics and was my choice as a July/August maker of the month [it could be you if you tag them on Instagram] I cut the sleeve to approximately 3/4 length and also cut two cuff pieces which were again approximate, initially about 20cms in length and then my wrist measurement at one end and my mid-forearm measurement at the other. I added a couple of centimetres for seam allowance to all sides.
I’d definitely say you need to do a bit of forward planning if you intend to use both the overlock and coverstitch functions on a project because of the swapping between the two. For example, on my Nora I needed to coverstitch just the cuffs and the hem, everything else could be sewn either directly using the 4-thread overlock or on my Quilt Ambition 2.0. I opted to sew the top together first and complete the hems at the end, in the usual way although there may be times when it’s better to hem first, we’ll see.
If you’re merely changing the thread colours it can be done in the same way as regular overlockers by snipping the threads near their spools, tying on the new colour and pulling each of them gently through, plus rethreading the eye of the needles. On one occasion when I altered the function I completely rethreaded but the stitch was much too loose-what had I done? It was all done correctly and yet it was way too loopy. I checked the manual for hints on troubleshooting but it didn’t make much difference. I was starting to pull my hair out when I realised I had threaded the machine without lifting the handle out of the way-the threads MUST go under it or they don’t sit in the tension discs! (Had I watched the helpful YouTube video first I would have known this…) Another thing I learnt the hard way was when the spool holder kept falling off the back of the machine and I was ready to chuck it out of the window I noticed it has to be slid sideways to click securely in position-doh!
The next two projects I made I didn’t use the coverstitch function as both the sweatshirts had cuffs and waistbands but I constructed much of them using the 4-thread overlock stitch. I used fabric provided to me by Minerva and they will appear on their blog in the new year. One of the patterns I used was the gorgeous Maxine sweatshirt given to me by it’s designer, Dhurata Davies. I’m going to make another one soon so I’ll write an individual blog on it then. [I got both tops out of 2.5m of fabric!]
For the final project I want to talk about here I took a different approach. It’s an Amy top by Brilliant Patterns and which I’ve made a couple of times before. I had a 1m remnant of loop-back cotton sweatshirting which I bought from Sew Me Something at a show for £8 and by shortening the sleeves very slightly, cutting the neckband in two parts and joining it I got a WHOLE sweatshirt out of the one metre!!
This time I set the machine up with a wide 2-needle coverstitch and I used my regular sewing machine to sew most of the seams. What I did at each stage of construction was to press the seams flat and top stitch them using the Coverlock. This meant that there would be two rows of top stitching on the outside and the raw edges were covered on the inside. This was generally OK although as I’ve yet to ‘get my eye in’ with lining up the foot against a seam or other visual marker a couple of them do waver more than I would usually like. It turns out there is a large removable flat bed included to increase the working area (it was tucked down inside the box and I’ve only just found it!!) this will support your work while you sew but it does take up a bit more room.
So to sum up (for now) I’ve been impressed with the quality of the stitches I’ve used so far on the Coverlock 3.0 and I will definitely look for opportunities to try others whilst I have it. I’ve yet to be convinced about swapping between the stitch-types but obviously, as I get more familiar with it, I should get faster at changing between them. There are few processes which have to be gone through to make the changes but I’ll probably work out an order or procedure to follow to speed it up. If you are short of space a combination machine might be useful, they aren’t cheap though. You’ll almost certainly use the overlocker stitches more of the time so possibly changing occasionally to coverstitch will be sufficient. I would definitely say you should have a thorough demonstration of the machine so that you know what is involved and what it is capable of. Unlike washer/driers which don’t do either job very well this machine does both functions to a very high standard.
Thank you to Pfaff for giving me the opportunity to try out their machine and if you have any questions about my experience so far then do ask.
I think this used to be a much more popular thing to do years ago, probably because wedding dresses were home-made more often and the fabric would have been quite a costly part of the finished article. I’ve made a couple of Christening gowns in the past (although sadly for complicated reasons not for my own girls) but this is the first time I can recall cutting up an existing dress for a refashion.
I got a message early one Sunday morning just two days after we got back from holiday recently asking if such a thing were possible and also I’d have less than three weeks to do it in! Fortunately the client was able to come the next day so we got cracking very quickly. She had an idea of what she had in mind so she showed me a photo and we went from there.
Although the dress was from five years earlier it hadn’t been cleaned so the skirt, and the hem in particular, was very soiled. I took the whole skirt off the bodice, and also the skirt lining, plus the embroidered lace appliqué panels which came off the bodice and skirt. I was able to wash the lining but I couldn’t risk washing the Duchesse satin of the dress so I had to separate the front skirt panel (which was asymmetric) from the backs and then work out where the straight grain was so that I could cut a new front skirt piece from the cleanest area. To work out where the grain is you can tell to some extent by pulling gently in each direction on the fabric. If there’s some degree of stretch (in a non-stretch fabric) then it probably means you’re not on the straight grain yet but if there’s little or no stretch then you’re probably pretty much on it. To double-check after doing this I cut along the edge of the piece on what I’d calculated to be the grain and then pulled a few loose threads away until eventually I could see exactly where the grain was. I could then place the pattern piece onto the fabric with a good degree of certainty.
As I never throw a pattern away I have a number of children’s patterns which I used when my own girls were small so I simply used bodice pieces from one of these. The client wanted an over-long skirt so I merely created a flared A-line shape to the length needed. She wanted small ruffles at the shoulders instead of sleeves and these are very simple to draft. I drew a line on the bias (a 45 degree angle) and then a curved line which measured approximately twice as long as the sleeve opening it was going into. The curved edge is the one which you then run your gathering stitches along to pull it up, the straight edge is the one which gets neatened, or in this case had new narrow lace added to it.
After our initial discussions and sketches it wasn’t practical for the client to keep coming backwards and forwards constantly so we conducted the rest of our consultations via WhatsApp because it was a good way for me to send her photos of ideas for her approval.
The appliqué was too much for the tiny bodice, the baby is only ten months old, so I tried it on the skirt instead.
I suggested that the appliqué should be towards the hem because then it would show better in photos if the baby was being cradled or sitting on a lap. Once we’d settled on the position the lace had to be sewn on by hand.
I wanted a deep hem on the skirt rather than a narrow rolled hem because a rolled hem would have had a tendency to curl up on this fabric and not look nice. Because of the curve of the hem I couldn’t just turn up a hem of 4cms because there would be too much bulk that would look very clunky and no possibility on this fabric of steaming it away. Because of these factors I opted to make some 8cms wide bias binding from the Duchesse which, after I’d joined it into suitable length strips, I folded in half lengthways and pressed. I placed the cut edges against the hem of the skirt and sewed it in position. Next I pushed the seam allowances towards the binding and understitched it about 1mm away from the seam.
It was a then a case of putting all the pieces together, along with fully lining the gown. We went with two rouleau strips across the front, which I secured into the side seams, along with the loops for the back which would tie into a simple bow. The skirt was gathered into the waist seam and an invisible zip inserted into the back. I finished the neck edge with a simple bias binding, to keep it very soft and simple around the baby’s neck.
One final detail the client had asked for was her baby’s name and the baptism date embroidered inside. Fortunately my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has a range of script options so I did a couple of test runs. I stabilised a piece of the satin and then embroidered the words onto it. I added some more of the narrow lace around the edge and finally satin-stitched it inside the skirt lining. Maybe one day there will be other names alongside it, that would be nice to think.
I really enjoyed this project as it was so creative and was real contrast to most projects I undertake. The client was absolutely delighted, and not a little emotional, when she came to collect the gown. You have to put a lot of trust into a dressmaker, especially when you’re handing over a garment which is itself has precious memories. I’m looking forward to seeing photos of little Poppy in her gown eventually, I hope she doesn’t disgrace herself!
Designing by WhatsApp might be unorthodox and have its limitations but it worked a treat this time. Have you ever had to refashion a wedding dress into a Christening gown? Maybe you’ve done it yourself?
When I chucked in my last job 4 years ago I had no idea what the future held…4 years on, the Stitch Room Sewcial is the sort of wonderful opportunity that has come my way and I couldn’t be happier.
Back in March Anne ( New Vintage Sewing) emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in an event she and Lucy (Sew Essential) were organising at Anne’s place of work-the Textiles department at Loughborough University. The bare bones of it sounded great and fortunately the timing was perfect, exactly between other things in the diary-the stars were in alignment! I found out that several of my sewing friends were also going, as well a number of ladies I hadn’t met before but was really looking forward to having that opportunity. However, sadly, I noticed there were a few snippy comments on Instagram from one or two people who hadn’t been able to get one of the tickets that were put on open sale. Due to the size of the room and the activities planned it was limited to just 16 people and the accusations of ‘elitism’ were uncalled for-frankly if Anne and Lucy were putting all this effort into organising a 2 day event then they can invite whoever they jolly well like!! The sewing community is generally so supportive and inclusive and I was shocked, and sad, to see these types of comments published.
There was lots planned over the 2 days of the Sewcial including some actual sewing! I decided to cut out a soft linen version of the Moana dress by Papercut patterns because I wanted a easy-to-wear dress for my upcoming holiday. I put in a couple of other pieces of fabric and suitable patterns in case I finished it and had time to spare (hah!)
I set off early on Friday morning with my sewing kit and a suitcase of me-mades to wear. We’d already been told that one of the things laid on for us was a photo shoot in the professional studio in the Faculty when we could have photos taken wearing our own makes.
I thought, just for once, I was going to be a bit early arriving but the Sat Nav had other ideas! I found the venue eventually and spotted my friends Clare (Sew Incidentally) and Kara arriving at the same moment-phew.
After coffee and hellos we were taken upstairs to the fantastically equipped room that is Anne’s domain. There was a domestic sewing machine for each of us to use and I didn’t get off to the best start with mine…I’ve used many different machines over the years but this computerised one flummoxed us completely, we couldn’t work out how to fill a bobbin!! After 15 minutes of trying, which included Lucy phoning the Sew Essential office for advice, consulting the instruction book (!) and randomly hitting buttons, I was eventually able to start sewing [it turned out to be the touch screen that was showing a pretty but unhelpful video] Then it was time for lunch!!!
Before any of this palarver though we split into 2 groups and some of us were shown around the printed textiles workshops and then the weaving workshops while the others were with Anne getting demos on all the machinery.
We were shown where the screens are produced in giant darkrooms, the huge quantities of different types of dye in every colour imaginable and the ‘kitchen’ the students learn to mix it all up in.
Salva and Rebecca ( Red W Sews) had a go at screen printing.
On next to the weaving workshops where there were an impressive number of looms of all types available for students to weave their own designs. It’s all quiet now as their work is finished and on display (more on that later) it must be really noisy when it’s full of students working.
We had a demonstration of how the looms work and were told you need to swap legs every now and again otherwise you’ll get one super-muscly leg!! Each push down opens the warp threads for the shuttle with the weft yarn to pass through thus eventually forming the design.
This is the digital jacquard loom weaving a complex pineapple design, it’s noisy but amazingly fast. The hand loom in the previous picture uses a series of pegs through a small board to raise and lower the correct warp threads in order for the weft thread to go between them, this loom does all that for the weaver.
After our studio visit we swapped to return to Anne’s room where she showed us all the various, and impressive, industrial machines she has and which we can use as appropriate over the next two days.
Many years ago I went to college and then worked in industry for a few years so I was aware of some of these types of machines but most of my lovely friends have only been home sewers and they were bowled over by the speed and efficiency of them. Each machine performs a specific task, unlike domestic machines, there were machines for putting on bias binding in moments, rolled hem edging, and so quiet compared to industrial machines that I remember. There were also 3 and 4 thread domestic overlockers for us to use, and a cover stitch machine…sewing heaven really.
Time for a break after all that activity and information so we trotted off to the breakout room for lunch where we were greeted by this most wonderful surprise. It’s the sewing cake of dreams! Made by a former student of Anne’s, Becca @calicoandcake (who now makes ballet tutus and sculpted body suits as well as amazing cakes)
It has Anne and Lucy on the top! There were tape measures and scissors, patterns, buttons, pins, you name it. We were astonished and swooning over it [it tasted great too]
Before we returned upstairs Lucy and Anne handed out our personally labelled goodie bags….OMG they were terrific. There were several lovely, and useful, patterns as well as 2 metres of fabric and loads of kit like marker pens, machine needles, a box of thread, a fat quarter, an unpicker! loads of things. So generous of the various sponsors of the Sewcial-thank you so much.
Eventually we returned back upstairs to get down to some sewing and going to have our photos taken. Salva and I went together-she’s much more of a natural than me I have to say, the practice I’d had for Love Sewing magazine last Autumn wasn’t a lot of help! I wore my linen Farrow dress I’d made recently and also the coat I made earlier in the year. [I didn’t get any photos of this activity so you’ll have to take my word for it happening] We spent the remainder of the afternoon sewing.
Those of us that didn’t live in the area were staying up the road at a hotel so we headed back there to freshen up before going out to a local restaurant for a lovely meal. Because our number wasn’t huge, and we were spread over just 3 tables, it meant we could actually have conversations with some of our fellow-sewers. It was a lovely way to finish the day.
Saturday morning was set aside to visit the student shows which were taking place as part of the College Open Days for outside visitors.
I was absolutely blown away by all the wonderful work on display. There was so much originality, beautiful colour, innovative designing and covetable products, here a just a few of the many photos I took to give you some idea.
I WANT that rucksack!…and those cushions too…oh, and the handbags….
A few months ago Anne had contacted me to ask if I was willing and able to make up a garment for one of her students. Heather was a textiles student and she would print, embroider and embellish fabric and then send it to me to sew up into a kimono for her. I was happy to do this and the parcel duly arrived. She’d marked out the placement of the main pieces so it wasn’t guesswork, I pinned the pattern on in the usual way and cut it out. She’d chosen the Kochi Kimono pattern by Papercut patterns and wanted it lined with silk noil. It all went together beautifully and looked stunning. I posted it back and thought no more about it.
I finally got to see it along with Heather’s other work, and by complete chance she was there with some friends so I actually got to meet to her and chat about it.
The original concept involved essential oils and using them and their effects on and in fabrics-hence the kimono embedded in a planter with mint plants!
I ‘nearly’ made this cape for another student but the loom broke down and then the timing didn’t work out so someone else made it-it looks lovely and the buttons were fabulous.
Look at this fabulous neckpiece! The bead work must have taken hours and hours.
After seeing all this inspiring work it was back to sewing our own work. In spite of my ‘issues’ with the sewing machine I was making good progress with my dress. Having the use of amazing industrial steam irons (Anne had given us a H&S talk about it the day before-basically, it’s nothing like our steam irons at home!!) really helped the process and I even used the industrial rolled hem machine on the edge of the ruffle. It was speedy, quiet and gave a beautiful finish, the version my domestic overlocker does will never compare now, sadly.
After lunch Salva and I had our session on the A-MAZE-ING embroidery machines. The lovely Bea, who was endlessly patient and enthusiastic with us all weekend helped us to choose and create an embroidery to take home. Some girls had made things specifically like jeans pockets but I’m going to put mine in an embroidery hoop in Threadquarters when I get home.
These machines are serious pieces of kit-there are 3 of them-and there’s a vast number of threads to choose from too. As I have magpie tendencies of course I chose metallic threads!
I settled on the mantra of every home-sewer…
There wasn’t much time left after this but I managed to finish my dress and have a quick try on-I didn’t actually expect to have a finished garment to take on bearing in mind how many activities we’d packed into 2 days.
And finally it was time for goodbyes…we all agreed how much we had enjoyed our 2 days and Lucy and Anne had created an wonderful event for us. I hope they’ve had a well-earned rest now! If they decide to do it all again next year I really hope I’ll be invited, the small number meant we all chatted at some point with every other person there, something which doesn’t, or can’t, always happen at bigger events.
I can’t thank Anne and Lucy enough for creating such a lovely event and for inviting me to attend it. Thank you too to all the generous sponsors for their gifts and support. Roll on next year….
I need to give you a bit of preamble to explain how I heard about this museum first of all. I’ve been a member of the V&A (Victoria and Albert museum of decorative arts in London)…bear with me…since the early part of last year [so I could keep going to the McQueen exhibition but that’s a whole other story!] One of the benefits that goes with membership, along with unlimited visits to temporary exhibitions, is the chance to attend talks by speakers in the Lecture Theatre and external visits to places of interest. These are many and varied and some are of more interest to me than others-the best I’ve been to was an ‘in conversation’ with milliner, Philip Treacy, totally fascinating and engrossing. Anyway, the new list of upcoming events was sent out and it featured a visit to the London sewing machine museum-who knew such a place existed? I didn’t! I managed to get myself a ticket (easier said than done because the website went down-demand for tickets was high LOL) so I was all set.
The museum is in Tooting Bec, south London and very easy to find, Tooting Bec tube station (Northern Line) is only a couple of hundred yards away.
We were greeted by Joe and Lauren who I can’t fault for their knowledge and enthusiasm. The cramped entrance area is filled with extraordinary machines, including the biggest sewing machine I’ve ever seen, it was about 6′ long and HUGE, they used it for making ships sails apparently.
Once everyone had arrived Lauren and Joe took us upstairs where an absolute Aladdin’s cave awaited! [I should point out there’s no lift so anyone unable to manage stairs would find it difficult, or impossible]
I’ve never seen so many different machines for different purposes! Basically, if it needs sewing together then there’s a sewing machine to do it. As well as clothing they sewed gloves, shoes, corsets, handbags, boot-patchers, buttonholes, leather and fur. There were 4-needle machines for sewing corsets, blind stitch machines for curtains and hemming, waistbanders, early zigzag machines and cornelly embroidery machines (fiendishly difficult to operate by all accounts…like the others looked really simple, not!)
One of the things that struck me was just how beautiful many of the machines were. They were so ornate in their decoration, lovely objects as well as functional, not like today’s homogenised offerings. Many featured Mother of Pearl or even 24ct gold.
The first room contains the industrial machines, along with an old workshop left much as it would have been since it was last used.
Space is cramped in this area and we were a reasonably large group but we were free to look, and touch, for as long as we wanted. Many of the machines still work to one degree or another and Joe was able to demonstrate several of them for us.
There were also two small side rooms which contained all sorts of fascinating bits and bobs, like old pattern books and patterns, a display of needles, masses of instruction manuals for soooo many different machines
Once we’d finished in this room Lauren took us through to a second, larger, room which contained lots of domestic machines as well as the gems of the collection and a recreation of the original shop front.
Lauren’s enthusiasm for the telling us all about the machinery in this room was infectious and her interest in her subject was clear, she told us how Ray Rushton was a hoarder, an ‘accumulator’ of ‘stuff’ so the room also contains the last licensed barrel organ in London (we had a go, no monkey though) Another interesting fact is that Ray supplied over 3500 sewing machines to go in the shop windows of the All Saints clothing brand, as well as the machine used in episodes of Downton Abbey. Queen Victoria’s sewing machine from 1865 is here (she never actually used it, a Nanny did for many many years) it still has all it accessories and, intriguingly works left to right, not front to back.
The museum also contains the rarest sewing machine in the world, one of only two known to still be in existence. It’s wooden and dates from somewhere between 1829 and 1839, long before Isaac Singer patented his machine design.
There’s a fascinating story attached to it as well, having been discovered in a store room in Argentina! incredible that it survived at all because it doesn’t look much like sewing machines as we know them and could have been dismissed as something else less important.
The foot pedals on the treadle machines were lovely too.
So that’s a very brief idea of what this enthralling little museum contains. Clearly it’s rather specialist but if you love sewing, have been doing it for as long as I have and if you don’t live a ridiculous distance away then it’s well worth a visit. This was the first time the V&A had organised a visit and I’d urge them to repeat it before too long, We were made very welcome by Lauren and Joe (who I feel I must point out were very young -compared to most of the group-and not doddery 90 year-olds as you might expect!)
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the museum has limited openings but it’s regularly open on the first Saturday of the month. It’s free to enter but they welcome donations to their favourite charities. The Sewing superstore [another fabulous selection of fabric/haberdashery/machines etc] is just along the road and we were treated to refreshments in here afterwards before we all wended our way home. Judging by the reactions of a number of people I chatted to we’d all thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
As ever, I’ve not received any payment or inducements to write this-I bought my own ticket! I just think that with the resurgence of interest in sewing and dressmaking there are probably many of you out there who, like me, didn’t know the museum existed and would be interested in visiting. If you do, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if I’ve publicised it a little more then that’s good.