2020-Sewing in a Time of Pandemic

Well what a year 2020 turned out to be!

It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??

To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.

But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.

Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.

About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…

I wore the new Homer & Howells Cissy dress (and failed to remove my coat from shot which I chucked on the floor!)

So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.

In all honesty I hated how I looked in this dress because I had piled on weight and felt very self-conscious in a fitted dress. It was a lovely pattern made in beautiful fabric but I felt I was doing both a disservice. Eventually I did wear it in September by which time I had lost weight and it was a delight to wear! I’m sure I’m not the only one whose state of mind has fluctuated wildly this year and my self-confidence was rockbottom when this picture was taken.

I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.

I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.

Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choices for specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!

One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew

One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities. 

As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.

I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.

Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.

I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.

One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.

As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.

I’m making an effort to look cheerful in this most recent Lamazi blog make, but the wine was slightly off watered down Rosé from my daughter’s fridge and it was 10.30 in the morning! I’m genuinely pleased with the dress though and in spite of everything I’ll wear it on Christmas Day because there’s plenty of room for expansion!!

This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Until next time, stay safe!

Sue

Refashioning a Simple Sew Kaftan into PJs

Two years ago one of my early makes as a Simple Sew blogger was the Kaftan pattern made in a tropical print cotton lawn kindly given by Doughty’s online fabric store. It was very much a ‘holiday’ garment but, even so, I didn’t wear it as much as I’d hoped because whilst the fabric was quite lightweight there was too much of it around my legs, it was probably a size too large and the whole thing just looked quite bulky. It would have been better in something like a very lightweight cotton voile or Batiste, or a printed chiffon or georgette as a swimsuit cover-up. 

Anyway, rather than make another new garment for my next Simple Sew post I’ve decided to refashion the Kaftan into pyjamas instead, retaining the top section and cutting shorts from the remainder using the Lapwing trouser pattern. 

I studied myself in the mirror wearing the Kaftan and decided to reduce it to approximately 25cms long from the original waist seam at the side-I would make it level all the way around although the waist seam rises up at the centre front. With the remaining fabric of the skirt I would make the shorts

I took the cord out of the waist and initially decided I would replace it with elastic instead although eventually I changed that plan. I felt the sleeves were a bit long and restrictive to sleep in so I shortened those too by about 5-6cms. I removed the pompom trim first although I didn’t reuse that in the end because I opted to create a curved opening on the shoulder seam instead, to soften the lines.

calculating how much to remove from the sleeve and underarm seam.
I took a good chunk off the sleeve and the underarm seams.
after I cut excess off one sleeve and side seam I placed the pieces onto the other side so that they mirrored each other.

I partly unpicked the shoulder seam and overlocking sufficiently far that I could re-overlock the edges singly and then roll hem finish them so that the overlock stitches were enclosed.

curving the shoulder seams

I also took quite a bit of fullness out of the bust section at the underarm so that it would fit closer to my ribcage, I didn’t remove any corresponding fullness from the newly-shortened skirt though, I simply pleated it up to fit the top part and rejoined them together at the waist seam.

I pleated the ‘skirt’ fullness into the waist seam.

I neatened the new hem using the overlocked rolled hem method again and finally trimmed the waist seam with co-ordinating pink rick-rack from Backstitch. I decided against putting elastic in the original casing because I felt it would ride up while I slept and become annoying around my ribcage. This has proven to be the right choice because the top is comfortably loose without being huge.

Moving on to the shorts, I used a RTW pair I’ve had for years to compare measurements and also to compare against the size chart for the Lapwing trousers. I traced off the pattern in a size 14 because I wanted to create a hem similarly-shaped to my RTW ones for the shorts, they have a slight upward curve at the side seams (I dithered about adding side pockets as per the pattern but in the end I left them out, I thought about adding a patch pocket on the back instead but I didn’t do that either!) 

I was able to fold the original front skirt section down the centre front line and cut a pair of front shorts pieces from that. I placed the piece as near to the top as possible so that I had the maximum amount of fabric left to cut the bias strips from. 

As is very often the case the back section of trousers was bigger than the front so this meant I couldn’t cut it out of folded fabric. I laid the fabric out flat instead and cut them singly using the centre fold as my guide for the grain and making sure to flip one so that I had a pair, not two the same! 

In order to hem the curve I made a wide bias band pattern piece which, ideally, I would have cut one for each leg but the remaining pieces of fabric from the front skirt didn’t allow me to do that so I cut several shorter pieces which I joined to make a long enough strip. 

cutting the bias strips from the remainder of the front skirt panel
joining 3 shorter bias strips to create enough length for two leg openings
attaching the bias to the hem, RIGHT SIDE to WRONG SIDE!

I joined each side seam first, neatened it and pressed towards the back. Having joined the bias strips I pressed over one long edge by 1cm. In order the self-neaten the hem I placed each strip RIGHT side to the WRONG side of the shorts (see photo) and stitched it in position.

bias sewn in position, this then flips to the outside and encloses the raw edge neatly inside it

Then the strip flips up to the right side, thus also being right side out and enclosing the raw edges. You could simply top stitch this in place along the folded pressed edge or add a trim, I put more rick rack on here to match the top. Now sew up and neaten the inseams. 

the almost-finished inseams

The rest of the shorts were very straightforward, I placed one leg inside the other so that the crotch seam was right sides together then stitched it twice a couple of millimetres apart before neatening.

I pressed over the top edge by 3.5cms then made two round-ended buttonholes for the ribbon to come through at the centre front. Next I top stitched close to the top fold, then sewed another row of stitching 3cms from the fold to create the elastic channel. I measured my elastic for a comfortable fit and added a short piece of dusky pink ribbon (which probably came off a gift bag or something) to each end of the elastic. I slotted this through the buttonholes and then secured it so that the elastic was just out of sight with only the ribbon showing through the button holes. Job done!

I’m pretty pleased with how my new pyjamas have turned out, I reckon I’ve already worn them more times than as a kaftan so that’s got to be a good thing, right? At least this pretty fabric isn’t languishing in the wardrobe waiting for a warm sunny holiday which is nowhere on the horizon any time soon! 

I’m a bit uncomfortable about sharing photos in my PJ’s but it’s in a good cause I guess.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Sewing makes of 2018

I think this is a fairly comprehensive album of my makes in 2018, most of them have been worn a good number of times although not all were for me.

When I look back like this I realise what a busy sewing year 2018 was ( and a bit of knitting too!). Also, there seem to be a LOT of dresses and tops but very few skirts and trousers! I think this is definitely as a result of me gaining weight in the last two years and feeling self-conscious so, with the exception of my Megan Nielsen Ash jeans from autumn 2017, I really haven’t wanted to make close-fitting clothes.

I’m addressing this now, with some success so far, but the other truth is that I like wearing looser-fitting clothes anyway, although hopefully I can go down a size or two when I make them in future…time will tell.

Some of the garments you see here have been worn loads since I made them whilst others were less successful. Sometimes this was bad fabric choices, sometimes they didn’t suit me after all, also the weather became so hot that I didn’t wear the heavier items as much as I expected at the time.

I tend not to set myself up for ‘sewnine’ or other year-long initiatives because I’d rather see what takes my fancy as time passes, or whatever gap I feel needs filling. I’ve really enjoyed making a few jackets and coats this year and they have all had a good amount of wear, they aren’t something I’d done much previously. I’ll be making a couple of posh frocks soon because we’re going on a cruise in March which will need a few fancy threads in the evenings, I’ll be taking old favourites like the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt and New Look 6351 trousers, and Papercut Moana to keep cool in during the day though.

Have you got sewing plans already for 2019 or are you more like me and just see what takes your fancy? We’ve got the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee to look forward to very soon and I’m sure that will inspire even more people to take up this brilliant activity with us! Dressmaking is an activity anyone can try fairly easily these days and there is so much inspiration, help and encouragement out there too, in a way it never was when I was first sewing.

I can’t wait to see the two blockbuster exhibitions at the V&A next year, Dior: Designer of Dreams opens in February and Mary Quant in April so there’s lots to look forward to there. It’s well worth considering membership this year I’d say, I’ve had excellent value-for-money from mine these past four years. [alternatively, Art Fund is also worth considering if you don’t live near London because that gives you reductions to lots of galleries and museums all over the UK, including the V&A)

I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot more SewOver50 activity from all over the world too, have you joined yet?

Maybe our paths will cross in 2019 and we can talk sewing together in real life?

Until then, happy sewing

Sue