Merchant & Mills Fielder Top

The Fielder top and dress by Merchant and Mills has been around for at least six years I think but I only bought my copy from Anne NewVintageSewing just last year when she was having a destash sale.

Essentially it’s a raglan cropped-sleeve sweatshirt or dress with ribbing cuffs, hem and neckline. The sleeves have darts at the shoulder to give them some shaping and the neckline is quite scooped out. Most of the sweatshirts I’ve made in recent years have been quite baggy and over-sized so I thought I would try the closer fit of the Fielder for a change. Based on my own body measurements and the finished measurements given on the packet I opted for a UK size 12, and I lengthened the sleeve to be wrist length.

I bought the unusual ‘quilted’ fabric from the M&M stand at the recently-revived Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. It was so good to be able to browse a whole selection of stands once again, it had been over 18 months since any of us were last able to do that. The colour reminds me of old-fashioned sticking plasters, the triple-layer fabric is a clever weave but the loose threads through the middle layer do come adrift quite easily. Because of this I overlocked every piece around its edges to prevent further disintegration. I also stay-stitched the neck edge before it had a chance to stretch.

I couldn’t get any ribbing in a colour I was happy with but I found this brilliant wide elastic in MacCullogh and Wallis with it’s pink/beige stripe blending into black.( Can’t find this exact product on their website, I bought it in-store, they do have similar items online though) The next challenge was how to attach it without losing any of the colours.
I tried out laying the elastic over the top of the overlocked edges like this and that seemed satisfactory. I lined up the pink stripe with the O/L stitching underneath which created a suitable overlap.
I tried out a few stitch options and settled on this closed overlock on my Pfaff
It calls for the blindhem foot to be used which meant I could follow the red guide along the stripe.
The finished stitch is nice and stable and looks good too.
The next challenge was neatening the neck but, as you can see from the photo above, the width of the elastic meant it stood away from the neck and was all wavy.
I pinned it on though and had a ponder on how to solve the issue while I went out for a run….
I came up with the idea that if I could get rid of the fullness on the outer edge (like I’ve pinned it out here) then that might work. I sewed the elastic on in the same way I had on the cuffs and hem and pinned evenly and in alignment with each line on the check design.
Next I folded and pinned each pleat evenly, the chalk line and pencil marks where I would start and finish the line.
I used the width of the presser foot as a starting point to sew down to the bottom of the triangle.
a completed triangle.
This is how it looked after I’d sewn all the triangles and I was pleased with the result. The idea worked but now the triangles weren’t flat inside against my neck.
I tried topstitching each one from the outside to see if it would flatten the triangle sufficiently.
It worked! I pushed them all the same way instead of having some going in one direction and some the other.
The end of the elastic was folded over and stitched with two lines at the CB, it ain’t perfect but I’m pretty pleased with end result! I thought I was going to have to settle for an alternative ribbing/binding of some kind on the neck which wouldn’t have linked so well with the hem and cuffs so I’m delighted with how well this has worked out.
I added this gorgeous little label given to me by my friend Alana (and available from Rosy Little Cheeks) on the back, I think it’s perfect, and true!

I haven’t mentioned the rest of the garment construction because it’s a very straightforward sew, I just made it a bit harder for myself…but in a good way.

As I said in an Instagram post, whilst I’m really pleased with he finished result as a garment, I’m not 100% convinced about the fit yet. The fabric is an unusual alternative to traditional sweatshirt fabric, although it creases more and there’s no stretch either but I think it will come to like it. I’ve got plans to make a plain white button-up shirt to go under things this winter (most of mine are over-sized like the sweatshirts!) so I’ll probably layer it up under this, or a roll-neck perhaps?

Anyhoo, that’s one way to elevate a plain top into a slightly more interesting one (IMO!)

Until next time, Happy sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Palazzo Pants updated

In 2019 I decided to try something different to dresses from the Simple Sew pattern collection for my blog post so I chose the wide-legged Palazzo pants. 

I always have a look at any posts or reviews about a particular Simple Sew pattern first to check if there are any pitfalls I should look out for which might influence my decision, or how I tackle making it, and the overall opinion of trousers was positive. I sorted out some fabric from deep in the stash, it’s a viscose from the now-defunct Adam Ross fabrics which has a good drapey quality, although I know it will crease so I’ll wear these permanently standing up! 

There are only 4 pattern pieces to the trousers-front/back/waistband/pocket- which makes them very simple to lay up and cut out, you could even leave out the pockets if you’re short on fabric but why would you leave out pockets?! 

I checked my measurements against the chart to decide my size, I also measured the pattern pieces to get some idea of the ease involved but I was optimistic they would be generally OK. If you’re very unsure, or between sizes, I’d suggest you make a toile that’s about mid-thigh in length to check the fit and comfort around your waist, hips and body length. Leave out the pockets at this stage, there are darts in the back and the front is flat, you could insert a zip in the back if it makes things easier to fit yourself but I didn’t bother. Always sew a toile as accurately as you would the garment itself because if you don’t bother cutting properly or following the seam allowances how will you know where the problems lie? That’s the whole point of a toile! Make any adjustments on the toile and transfer the changes to the pattern pieces. There are no lengthening/shortening lines marked on the midriff area of the pattern so I suggest, if you need to make either of these changes, drawing a line at a right angle to the grainline at a point midway between the waist and crotch level. Fold out or add in length through this line. There is a lengthening/shortening line for the leg length however.

It wouldn’t be a Simple Sew pattern if there weren’t some errors or anomalies to keep you on your toes and this is no different. On the back piece the pocket placement notches are only printed on size 8 and none of the others. Either transfer the markings to your size or remember to snip them when you’re cutting out the back.  

The notches don’t feature on all the size lines so transfer them across as required.

The lay plan for cutting out shows the main pieces interlocking, which is fine if you have plain or multi-directional fabric but don’t forget to keep the pieces running the same way if you have a distinct one-way print. Also, I didn’t cut out the waistband until I was happy with the fit of my trousers as it’s very shaped piece and if it’s too big or too small you’ll probably need to cut another. Don’t forget to make a snip for the centre point on the waistband, it could have done with a notch for the side seam position though as there isn’t one so it’s a bit of guesswork.

I’m not normally an advocate of overlocking the edges until they’re sewn up [because if you aren’t careful you can easily lose too much seam allowance in the trimming and when you join pieces together you could start to make the garment too small, plus your notches disappear] but, as many of the pieces here require the seams pressed open and flat, I overlocked most pieces first this time. 

You will find that for instructions 4 and 6 the words don’t match the diagrams but the drawings are correct 

Next the pockets go in (unless you wish to check the waist/hip fit first in which case tack or machine baste the side seams and leave the back open where the zip will be inserted in order to try the trousers on) The description for the pocket insertion is a bit vague, I’ve made a second pair since writing this piece originally and found it quite unsatisfactory which is why I have updated my advice.

Neaten the lower edge of the pocket bags first then pin to the trouser fronts matching the ‘opening’ notches. Next stitch in place from the waist to the bottom edge of the pocket bag using a 12mm seam allowance (see my notes on the photo above) Repeat with the trouser backs, then neaten the seam edges all the way down enclosing the pocket edges too. On the front only, understitch the pocket opening. Now you can pin the fronts to the backs and sew the side seams shut using a 1.5cms seam allowance, not forgetting to leave the pocket opening unstitched! Finally, carefully sew the bottom edge of each pocket bag closed otherwise your sweets will fall out inside your trouser leg!

After I’d assessed the waist size (comfortable to loose) and crotch length (comfortable) at this point I cut and interfaced the corresponding waistband [for some reason there were two waistbands printed out but I could find no discernible difference between them so just ignore one and cut a pair in fabric plus one interfacing] 

The reason the waistband goes on before the zip insertion is because the zip runs right up into the waistband to finish at the top, there’s no overlap allowed with button or hooks and eyes. You could use the overlap method if you prefer but you’ll need to add some extra length to the waistband on one end to allow for the overlap. 

The lack of indication of the side seams on the waistband means you’ll need to pin carefully to evenly absorb any fullness of the trousers to ensure a good smooth fit to the waistband. [the side seam is probably at the halfway point but not necessarily, especially if you’ve made any fit adjustments to the waist] 

With the benefit of hindsight I would make the waistband in two pieces, a front and two backs with the join at the side seam. This is for two reasons, first, it will allow you to make adjustments for fit more easily and, secondly, I’ve found the centre back has become slightly pointy and misshapen both times I’ve made these now. I believe this could be because the length and curve of the waistband means that it the centre back is very off grain, usually the centre back seam would be cut on the straight grain which gives it stability.

The instructions and illustrations for inserting the zip are reasonably clear however there seems to be a contradiction with an earlier instruction which tells you to sew up the back crotch seam. Illustrations 13-15 appear to have the CB seam unsewn and 16 tells you to sew it up after inserting the zip but previous diagram 6 tells you to sew it up! No wonder I got in a muddle!! My suggestion would be, if you’re using an invisible zip as suggested, leave the CB seam unsewn AND ignore instruction 11 to sew up the inseam until after you’ve inserted the zip. Alternatively, use your preferred method of inserting an invisible zip. Before sewing the waistband down I added two hanging tapes to each side seam so that I had an additional means to hang the trousers up if needs be.

On my second pair I’ve added a small button and loop inside the waistband because I found the zip a bit of a faff to do up without anything at the top of it.

you can also see here how the waistband rises to a slight point on each side in spite of it being fully interfaced. It isn’t the end of the world but I’m a bit cross it’s happened a second time, CBA to fiddle with it too much though…

Hopefully you’ve now arrived at a finished pair of trousers which simply need hemming. After checking the length wearing shoes (they come up pretty long) you could use the simple rolled hem finish as per the instructions or, as I did, leave a sizeable hem of about 5cms to give weight to the very flared leg width. I overlocked the edges to neaten and then used my blindhem stitch with the appropriate foot on the machine to finish [incidentally the photo is of a different project] I don’t use this technique often but it’s a good, and quick, finish on hems that don’t have too much, if any, curve. You could also slip hem by hand of course. 

Different project but still blind-hemming set up

The Palazzo pants are worth persevering with as they have a pleasing smooth fit over the waist and hips which is very comfortable and the leg is wide without being crazy-big. You could shorten them to culotte length very easily, they would work well in a variety of fabrics including linen, chambray or crepe, fabrics with a bit of drape and fluidity will look nicest as you don’t want to look like Coco the Clown!

I’ve made my second pair from a remnant of printed linen/viscose mix I bought from Lamazi recently.

I’m wearing them here with a top made from broderie anglaise that I found in a whole collection of fabric I was given by a friend. Her mother had been a wonderful dressmaker and I found the fabric pre-cut as this simple top which so I just sewed it up.
I’m wearing them here with one of my trusty Camber Set tops from Merchant & Mills
Same Camber, different trousers!
I cut this pair slightly shorter overall so that they aren’t so long if I wear them with flat shoes.

Overall I’m pleased with these trousers, they are a good fit and make a nice alternative to a skirt or close fitting trousers especially in warm weather.

I noticed that this particular post gets a huge amount of traffic so I hope this update clarifies any issues you might have had with the pattern. In fairness, it might have been updated and corrected since my copy was produced in which case you may be able to disregard some/all of what I’ve written!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

a multitasking Festive outfit

The Festive season is often a reason to make, or buy, a special new outfit to wear for office parties or Christmas Day but this year’s Festive season things will be very different for most of us. I don’t want to be entirely negative though so, as part of the Lamazi blogger team, I thought I’d make something which is a little bit Christmassy but will double up as a ‘regular’ winter dress too. 

I’ve chosen the cord velvet from Danish Design in a gorgeous shade of aubergine-I’m always a sucker for purple-but it comes in several other beautiful rich shades including a sumptuous gold and a stunning teal too. I picked this fabric because it’s a medium weight stretch jersey and has soft pile which makes it lovely to the touch. I’ve made a dress but you could easily make tops or wide-legged pants in it, or babies and children’s clothes too because it’s washable and crease resistant. 

Whilst I love a complex make to really get my teeth into I felt this wasn’t a garment which warranted lots of time. Making a special Christmas once-worn garment wasn’t appropriate any longer so I wanted something quite simple but adaptable and for that reason I’ve picked the Somerset T-shirt by Maven Patterns. I’ve made a few of these now, the bones of it are beautifully simple, it has a self-neatened bateau neckline, a slightly fitted silhouette and four sleeve options. I’ve chosen the Bishop sleeve with a long cuff but I’ve hacked the sleeve to make it even fuller, and I’ll lengthen the body to create a dress finishing below the knee.

Another idea was to add a flared skirt which looks nice but didn’t think I would use it as much as the straight version.

The Somerset has excellent very full instructions with lots of tips and advice to get a good finish. There’s a useful sheet to write all your information including body measurements and fit alterations, and a fabric stretch gauge to check you have enough stretch for the pattern to fit properly. You can also list the needle type and size you’ve used, stitch type and length and anything else you might want to remember for another time. 

To increase the size of the sleeves I took the bishop sleeve pattern and drew 5 vertical lines from each of the notches from shoulder to hem. Each segment will become slightly wider as it gets nearer the bottom edge so make sure they are even in size.

Cut a piece of spot and cross or tracing paper bigger than the pattern as it is, mark a grainline running right down the paper and then lay the pattern piece on top of it, matching the grain on the pattern to the grain line you’ve just drawn. Next, I carefully cut up to the top of the marked lines taking care not to snip right through at the top, keep it attached by a tiny amount to act as a pivot point. [If you don’t want to cut your original pattern piece I suggest you trace off a new one to use instead] Then you splay the hem edge apart by a few centimetres each, I added 2.5cms between the each of the ‘side’ segments and 5cms to the central one. By doing this you’re adding fullness at the hem but not altering the sleeve head. You could put additional fullness to the sleeve head by opening the top edge too if you wanted. I lengthened the sleeve by 5cms too so that it would have plenty of blousy fullness into the cuff. 

Trace around the new shape using a tracing wheel or pencil and cut out the new piece transferring all markings. One final change I made was to add a bias grainline because I knew I wanted to play with the stripe direction of the rib on the fabric.

I had pre-washed my fabric and partly tumble dried it on ‘low’ before letting it dry completely on the clothes airer, it seemed to survive the experience just fine. 

I made an arbitrary choice of how long to make the dress by simply holding the tape measure at my shoulder and seeing where it came to at about mid-shin! I attached another piece of spot and cross to the bottom of the front and back pattern pieces and drew on the skirt length I wanted, plus a generous hem. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to the hip and thigh during the fitting stage, just make sure that the hip and thigh measurements are plenty big enough because you can always remove some, it’s much harder to add later! 

The ‘cord’ runs across the width of the fabric and I wanted the rib to run down the length of my dress which meant I had to fold the fabric across the width. Try not to twist the fabric if you have to fold this way, I marked a single rib by following it across the width with pins so that I can see it clearly. Fabrics like corduroy, velvet or velour have a pile or ‘nap’ which will shade so if you cut some pieces facing one way on the grain and some pieces running the other way then you will end up with a garment that looks like it’s been made with two different colour fabrics, even though you know that isn’t the case. If you’re unsure what quantity of this type of fabric to buy go with the ‘with nap’ amount on the pattern information and follow the one-way layplan to cut out.

I marked the rib across the fabric with pins so that I could be sure it was folded correctly and would not be twisted.

Once I’d cut all my pieces I followed the making instructions which are very comprehensive. If you have a walking foot for your machine I strongly recommend you use it because velour like this has a ‘pile’ and has a tendency to ‘creep’ as you sew so you might find that it starts off with all the edges matching but by the time you get to the other end the two fabrics are no longer matching. I also strongly recommend you tack any seams you are unsure about. You could use a million pins but by the time you’ve done all that you could have basted it in place which does the same job and usually more effectively. I was able to coverstitch the neck and the skirt hem on the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 I have on loan as a brand ambassador but it works just as well by overlocking the raw edges and twin-needle stitching them down, or zigzag and twin-needle, or two rows sewn singly if you don’t have a twin needle. When it comes to pressing a fabric like this, if you don’t have a special needle board (and few of us do) then you should press on the reverse at all times. You could place a towel on your pressing surface and lay the fabric on top so that the pile of the cloth is against the pile of the towel which will help protect it. Use a pressing cloth as well. These tips will also apply to regular corduroy or any non-stretch fabrics with a pile too.

The bell of the sleeve is gathered using shirring elastic which helps to retain some of the stretch required for the cuff. 

Once the sleeves were in I sewed up one side seam directly on the overlocker and then pinned the other side seam to fit myself. This was because I didn’t know if I’d need a split at the hem to be able to walk in the dress and I didn’t want to end up with loads of unpicking!

First I tried it right side out to get an idea of how it was fitting initially, then I turned it inside out to pin.

I looked at the fit in the mirror first of all and the sewn side seam was quite wavy, this could be cured by either adjusting the differential feed on the overlocker so that it doesn’t happen, or you could stitch the seam on the sewing machine and then overlock the edges [This is what I opted to do because I could see I had to take a fair bit off the side seams anyway to achieve a fit I was happy with] Then I put the dress on inside out in front of the mirror and pinned out the excess. I turned it right side out and tried it on again to check the fit, then finally sewed both side seams on the sewing machine, I used a ‘stretch’ needle, a ballpoint or jersey needle performs the same task. Either use a short straight stitch or a straightened out zigzag, make some samples to see which works best for your particular fabric. 

Now I tried it on the dress inside out to adjust the seams
I pinned out a fair bit of the side seams to give more shape through the waist and hips.
still Inside out
Finally I put the pinned dress back on the right way around to check I was happy with the fit before making the adjustments.

Lastly, the cuffs go on and the skirt is hemmed. 

And that’s pretty much it, it pops straight over the head so no tricky closures, because of the stretch it didn’t need a split, and that means there’s room for Christmas lunch and it won’t look like a dish rag after spending the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching Christmas telly!

cheers!
I’ve dressed it down with an ancient knitted gilet plus a wide belt, long boots and my much loved Alexander McQueen scarf
I love a scarf to keep my neck warm!
It could be the strangest of Christmases but let’s raise a glass to a much better 2021

I have to say that I’m really happy with this dress because it ticks all the boxes I wanted it to. It’s comfortable but it looks Christmassy, it looks great with opaque tights, heels and jewellery, but also with boots, a chunky belt, a roll neck top underneath for extra warmth or a cosy scarf…and did I mention it’s comfortable! #secretpyjamas It also has the advantage of rolling up and going in the corner of a bag or suitcase and coming back out again not needing a press. Bonus!!

If you have a favourite T-shirt pattern you could try lengthening it into a dress, Tilly and the Buttons Tabitha from Make it Simple does that. You could browse the SewOver50 post I wrote listing loads of go-to T-shirt patterns for inspiration, or maybe copy a RTW one you already have?

At 160cms the fabric is very wide so a little will go a long way, and because it’s so soft it would be lovely for children’s wear too. It needs a little bit of careful handling but a lot of that is in the ground work. Make sure you lay it up and cut it accurately to minimise unnecessary stretching or distortion (try to keep it flat on the table or lay it up on the floor) pin or tack the seams so they don’t move about and press carefully as you go and you should be fine. 

It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many and I wouldn’t blame you for not feeling like making anything new to wear. However, if crafting and creating bring you joy and respite then you could view it as a gift to yourself, and when you choose to buy from small companies like Lamazi and Maven then you are helping them too.

Thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric for me to write my review, and I hope you find it helpful. 

Until next time, Happy sewing

Sue

a SewOver50 discussion about fabric choices.

At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?

So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.

Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…

So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds. 

[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ] 

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

Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.

In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!

For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print. 

Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters. 

But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.

So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes. 

I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?

@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics. 

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

Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.

At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.

Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes. 

As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue