Friday, 24 July 2015

Men's Shirt Cushion Tutorial

This is a very easy tutorial for turning a shirt into a cushion. I decided to try this out after making a memory quilt from my uncle's shirts. There were a few shirts left over and it seemed a shame not to use them up… so I made them into cushions instead. Any shirt would do for this project but men's shirts work particularly well as they're larger, so you have more fabric to play with.

And when I say this project is easy, I'm not kidding - it's quite literally sewing two squares of fabric together!

The width of the shirt will determine the size of the cushion insert, so choose one that's roughly the same width. The key is to sew the cushion cover slightly smaller than the cushion insert. This way you get a lovely plump looking cushion instead of a baggy one. To work out the size of your cushion squares, deduct 5cm from the width of the cushion insert, then add 2cm for seam allowances. This cushion has a 50cm insert, minus 5cm = 45cm, plus 2cm seam allowance = 47cm square.

1. Lay your buttoned up shirt flat and smooth out any creases.

2. On the front shirt section measure out your desired width from underarm to underarm (in my case 47cms), making sure the button band is centred.

Measure the same distance down the length of the shirt. If the hem is curved, then the bottom of the square should finish before the curve starts.

The square should finish before the hem starts dipping down.
3. Cut this square out. Then cut a square exactly the same size from the back shirt piece.

4. Place the two squares right sides together and pin. The front piece should still be buttoned up at this point - don't panic, you'll still be able to open the buttons once it's sewn!

5. Sew around all four sides using a 1cm seam allowance. Snip the corners diagonally.

6. Undo a few buttons from the button band and turn the cushion right side out. Poke the corners out so they're nice and pointy and give the cushion cover a press.

7. Open all the buttons on the button band and insert your cushion pad. It will probably be a tight fit, but that's what you're after!  This is the view from the front - the buttons are on the other side.

And here it is with another one I prepared earlier!

This is a quick, fun project and a good way to refashion an old shirt. As always, if there's anything that doesn't make sense or is unclear about this tutorial, please let me know in the comments section.

Have a great weekend. x

Monday, 20 July 2015


When I helped my friend Berni make a quilt from her late brother's shirts last year, I had no idea I'd be making a similar quilt myself a year later. It's been a long, sad process but I'm pleased that it's finally finished and I can hand the quilt over to the recipient. 

This quilt was made from my beloved Uncle Herrick's shirts and is for his partner - Chris. Herrick died suddenly 18 months ago, which was a terrible shock for the whole family. I offered to make Chris a memory quilt of her own as I knew she'd get a lot of comfort from it, but even so, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be. Chris gave me the shirts at New Year (exactly a year after Herrick's death), but it took me about four months to pluck up the courage to even open the bags. I did open them eventually, and after lots of blubbing I finally started cutting out the squares for his quilt. This was the longest part of the whole process, partly because it was so emotional and I had to keep putting it away, but also because cutting up enough shirts for a sizeable quilt just takes ages. There were a few shirts left over so I made two of them into cushions as a little extra gift for Chris. They were super easy to make - look out for a tutorial on how to make them soon.

The finished quilt is large enough for a double bed and measures around 64" x 74". It's made up of 5" squares from as many different colours as I could find amongst his shirts. I decided to lay out the quilt top as a random design, which was actually quite a departure for me (in case you haven't noticed, I like things to be symmetrical, colour co-ordinated and lined up!) My only rule when laying out the patchwork squares was that no two squares of the same colour should lie next to each other. Sewing up the patchwork top was very straight forward, helped by my favourite new haberdashery purchase - Aurifil quilting thread from M is for Make. This high quality thread is fab - there were fewer instances of snarled up knots when sewing the squares together and it gave a lovely, precise finish to the top stitching.

The backing is just a plain, red cotton sheet (Chris wanted a red quilt back as Herrick was a lifelong Liverpool supporter) and the binding is the same blue and white striped binding I used for my son Charlie's quilt.

The brown square is from Herrick's work satchel - Chris had it personalised with his initials some years ago.

And this little Liverpool badge is from one of his football tops. The top wasn't suitable for using in the quilt but the badge was, so I unpicked it and sewed it onto the quilt back.

For the actual quilting, I sewed ¼" either side of each square, which gives a nice, neat effect on both sides.

I won't say too much about Herrick, as thinking about him still sets me off in floods of tears. He was only 15 years older than me, so was more like an older brother than an uncle and the funniest man I knew. There are so many little things that make me remember him…. I'll remember him whenever I see a terrible zombie film (watching Plan Nine from Outer Space with him was the time I laughed most in my entire life), I'll remember him when I hear the theme tune to Inspector Morse. I'll remember him when I see a copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. And I'll especially remember him whenever I hear Fagin's throwaway line in Oliver!, "Shut up and drink your gin." I miss him terribly.

I don't know anything about the individual shirts used in this quilt, they're Chris's memories. All I know is that it was a privilege to piece them together and make such a personal gift. I think its time to hand it over to its rightful owner now.  x

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A Summertime Granville

My springtime Granville shirt has become a real wardrobe staple these past few weeks - it's such a classic style and I really like the fitted, yet comfortable shape. Key word here - comfortable! Everybody knows I'm a giant fan of a super-fitted, collared shirt (if you need proof, see my five versions of Simplicity 4238), but I have to admit, the trillions of darts around the waist do feel a bit restrictive as the day moves on and more and more cakes are consumed. The advantage of the Granville pattern is that there are no waist darts (as opposed to eight in Simplicity 4238!) but you can still achieve a lovely fitted silhouette thanks to the shaped side seams and princess seams on the back bodice. So I decided to make a lightweight, sleeveless version of the Granville shirt to wear during hot, summer days.

The fabric I used was a white Swiss Dot Cotton from Fabric Godmother, which Josie kindly sent me to review. I deliberately chose a very lightweight fabric as I wanted this version to be suitable for hot weather. The fabric is beautifully light, but the flip side is that it's also totally transparent. I'm not a camisole wearer and don't like having a visible bra on display so I knew I'd have to underline the whole shirt. Initially I planned to underline it with silk cotton, but the white silk cotton in my stash is just slightly off white. The Swiss Dot fabric is a bright, brilliant white, so I underlined it with a layer of light cotton muslin which was exactly the same shade. 

The bottom yoke piece is underlined, the top one isn't
You can see from the photo above what a difference there is between a regular pattern piece and one that's been underlined. This solves the transparency issue and because both fabrics are so light, the garment still feels very drapey and breathable.

My scissors struggled a tiny bit cutting through some of the raised 'dots', so make sure yours are nice and sharp if you're working with this fabric. I could also feel the needle going over the dots as I was sewing, but the stitches didn't distort which I was pleased about. I used Entomology Pins throughout, which are great when working with fine fabrics. They are quite long and sharp though, so be careful you don't prick your finger and drip blood! I'm only saying this because as I was completing the final few stitches on this shirt and congratulating myself on avoiding a pricked finger mishap, I realised to my horror that I was having a nosebleed. A nosebleed!! The last time I had a nosebleed was about forty years ago for goodness sake! By an absolute miracle, I managed to avoid dripping blood all over the shirt but I'm not quite sure how. I know it's only a matter of time before I spill a whole plate of tomato sauce right down my front - just you wait!

Back to the sewing - if you're planning a sleeveless Granville yourself, you'll need to make some slight modifications to the armhole and yoke pieces to convert the original pattern to a sleeveless version. This was very simple to do and I used this excellent tutorial from Grainline Studio, which Tasia recommended when she made her own sleeveless version. Sewing this shirt was pretty straight forward and I took my time sewing it which was a good thing - sewing shirts shouldn't be rushed! The step that really flummoxed me last time was sewing the collar, so this time round I tried a different approach and followed Andrea's collar tutorial at Four Square Walls. She constructs the collar in a different order to the instructions, and for me personally, it made a lot more sense and gave a neater, more professional look to the collar. Thanks Andrea!

As the fabric is so lightweight, I spent a bit of time making sure the finish of this shirt was really neat. The side seams and princess seams are French seamed and the armholes are finished with vintage white bias binding - no raw seams on display! I even slip stitched the armhole binding to the underlining so there was no show through on the right side of the shirt. Yep, you read that correctly, hand stitching, through choice! I think the heat was getting to me by this point!

Inside view

Easy to tuck in - yay!
The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that this version of the sleeveless 1950's shirt is also white, so why did I need another? For a start, the two fabrics couldn't be more different - I used a thickish cotton pique for the Simplicity version, which is as stiff as a board. It's a nightmare to launder and get creases out off and is really bulky to tuck in - I noticed this especially during OWOP last September when I was trying to pair it with different garments. I did note then that I needed another white sleeveless shirt in a different fabric, well here it is! I love it - and it's turned out exactly as I hoped.  Happy Wednesday! x

Fabric was given to me free of charge for review. All views my own.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Vintage Pattern Pledge - a slight rethink

It seems I may have to rethink my Vintage Pattern Pledge. I thought I was so clever pledging to sew just one vintage pattern this year. My mistake was specifying the exact pattern (a 1950's tie neck halter top) as I now don't want to sew it!

The halter neck reproduction pattern I chose is an absolute beaut with some lovely vintage details:  a gathered bustline and crossover back finished with bias binding round the edges. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time, the problem is that I hardly ever wear halter necks. That doesn't mean I dislike halter neck styles, I love them, absolutely love them.

All images from my Pinterest board

They're chic and classy and look so elegant if you have a slim, golden back. In reality, the neck ties end up giving me a headache, my back is NOT slim, elegant and golden, and finding an appropriate bra is always a pain. I've made just one halter neck garment - my Cherry Fabulous dress - which was a success, but I have to feel pretty confident (and brown!) to wear it.

As there's only a small window of time for wearing halter necks in the UK, it didn't seem like a sensible use of my sewing time to make something that would hardly ever be worn. So much as it pains me to do so, I've decided to be sensible and abandon the original pledge. I've already made two garments from vintage patterns this year (here and here) and I'm sure there'll be a couple more before the year is out. I'll leave the pledge open for now and see how many more I manage to notch up.

In the meantime, I can always dream….

Happy Wednesday! x

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Magic button sewing tip - it works!

I first came across this simple tip a couple of weeks ago via Emmie on My Oh So Vintage Life and it's now my favourite sewing tip EVER! It's a trick to eliminate gaping between buttons on shirt dresses, specifically at the waist. This is at its most noticeable when you sit down and invariably end up displaying the two inches of flesh you'd rather never saw the light of day again. 

Emmie's tip is sew an inward facing button in the offending area - the trick is to sew it on the inside of the button band so it's invisible from the front. Gahhh!!! Such a simple tip, but so effective! 

Secret button sewn on the inside of the button band (LHS), with buttonhole on the opposite side
I can also confirm that it works for the dreaded boob gape - as soon as I discovered this tip I put it to the test on my Granville Shirt. I absolutely love this shirt, but thanks to my own slapdash methods of button placement (trying to eyeball them rather than measuring properly), it's always gaped at the bust point. It hasn't stopped me wearing it and it's not actually that noticeable, but it is a pain to keep fiddling and pulling the front of my shirt.

Here I am, helpfully pointing to the offending area….

Here's the BEFORE picture…

And here's the AFTER picture….

Yay, no gaping!

When the shirt is buttoned up, the internal button and buttonhole are completely invisible from the front. Just to remind you, the hidden button is between the second and third button down.

 And here's what it looks like from the inside….

This solution may be blindingly obvious to lots of you, but it certainly wasn't to me, so please indulge me! Sorting out a dreaded waist or bust gape is just so satisfying! Two further shirt dresses have also been given the same treatment at the waist with great results. Thank you Emmie, for showing me the light! 

What were the sewing tips that changed your life? Please share, I'd love to know! x

Friday, 26 June 2015

Anita Tie Top

For those of you who are interested, I thought I'd give a bit more detail about the Anita Tie Top I made recently. I drafted it myself using the bodice block from Sew Over It Vintage (review here).

You can see from the diagram below that the original block is slightly shaped at the waist, (line H/I/E). For the Anita top, all you do is square the side seams off for a looser fit (line H to M). As I wanted a slightly more fitted look, I kept the original shaped waist, then joined point E to point M (M is the hip line). This gives a little bit of shaping, but leaves enough ease to create the gathers around the waist.

My version of the top still turned out looking quite a bit shorter than the example in the book. What happened was that the original bodice block finished noticeably higher than I was expecting (probably because of my bust taking up too much room). I made a mental note to lengthen the block by a couple of inches before I drafted the Anita top, but never actually wrote this down. You can probably guess the rest, the mental note flew straight out of my head, never to return, and I forgot to lengthen it, doh! I think the finished top is fine though, and on me I actually prefer it sitting on my hips instead of lower down - it gives the illusion of longer legs!

Original Anita Tie Top in Sew Over It Vintage
My (inadvertently) shorter version
The one other tiny change I made was the height of the shoulder/kimono sleeve. The pattern calls for a lightweight, drapey fabric and although Tana Lawn has a beautiful, silky hand, it isn't as drapey as a silk or rayon. Consequently, the kimono sleeves looked a bit wing-like at the shoulders. All I had to do to remedy this was to lower the outer edge of the shoulder opening by about an inch, tapering to nothing in the middle of the shoulder.

The front and back pieces are identical so it's a very simple top to sew together. 

For fabric I used a Liberty Lawn (Capel in navy). As Liberty fabric is quite wide, I managed to cut the front, back and bottom band out of the measly half metre I had in my stash. I was thinking I wouldn't bother with the ties, but once I'd made the top, I realised it needed the ties to give it that chic 1920's vibe. There was a hitch though, Capel fabric in navy is either out of print or exceedingly scarce, as I couldn't find any anywhere. In desperation, I sent a begging email to Susan at Sewbox as I knew she stocked a good range of Liberty prints. By an absolute miracle, she happened to have a remnant of  navy Capel print squirrelled away (it wasn't listed on her site). She wouldn't accept any money for it either, she was just happy to help out - sewing folk are so lovely sometimes aren't they?! Once again, THANK YOU Susan!

It's quite difficult to see the tie belt amidst all that floral, but it's essentially sandwiched into the seams at both sides of the bottom band. The tie is then wrapped around at the back and tied at one side.

Bottom band and ties
It's worth noting that the grainline of the ties runs perpendicular to the long edges, which means you need fabric that's at least 1.4m or 55 inches wide. This is especially important if you have a directional print. Liberty fabric is a fraction under 1.4m wide so I just about got away with it.

I'm so pleased that my experiment in pattern drafting resulted in such a lovely, wearable top. There's a gap in my wardrobe for semi-posh tops that can be worn with jeans and this fits the bill perfectly. My next version will be in a solid colour as I suspect this style will look great with a statement necklace.  Have a good weekend! x

Monday, 22 June 2015

Boy genius sews a waistcoat

Disclaimer: This blog post is 100% biased.

Every parent thinks their children are uncommonly wonderful and talented, but when your child does something awesome AND sewing related, then there's no choice but to splash it all over the blog!  This year, in his Textiles class, my son Louis made a waistcoat from scratch. Now, before I start waxing lyrical about his sewing super powers, let's just marvel at the fact that a boy studying textiles is a normal part of the syllabus in an ordinary London High School. When I was at school (thousands of years ago, admittedly), Textiles was known as Needlework and was exclusively for girls, it didn't cross anybody's mind to teach the boys. How refreshing that things are different these days. Anyway, back to the child genius….

A bit loose fitting, but he's a skinny lad.

Getting accurate sewing details from a 13 year old boy is a bit like getting blood from a stone, but from what I can gather, they took measurements in class and worked from a pattern that the teacher provided. The outer fabric of the waistcoat is a navy wool mix and it's fully lined with burgundy lining fabric. 

And if that's not impressive enough, it has three buttonholes and a welt pocket! A WELT POCKET at age 13!!! 

Must remind him to use matching thread on his next attempt!

The young are so fearless, apparently they had a choice of making a welt or patch pocket and he went for the welt option because it was more difficult. To this day I still haven't made a welt pocket, so he's overtaken me already in his sewing bravery!

Yes, there are a few tiny flaws…. there's a singe mark on the inside lining where he'd been let loose with an iron, and the three buttons fell off the minute I buttoned them up! Apart from that it's perfect and he's a genius.

To say I'm proud is a slight understatement - I whip out the waistcoat for unsuspecting visitors to admire at every opportunity. And to any Savile Row tailors who might be interested in my boy's sewing skills, please form an orderly queue! x


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