Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Pattern Cutting Weekend at Ray Stitch


I've been sewing for five years now and would like to think that my dressmaking skills have improved a teeny bit during that time. One thing I still don't have much of a clue about though is fitting. I've never been properly taught how to fit patterns - everything I've learnt has been cobbled together from reading sewing blogs and books or by following sewalongs. Yes, I can more or less tweak a pattern to fit me, but I don't really know how and why I'm manipulating it. I've always wanted to be able to make a sloper or block to fit my proportions exactly, which I can then use to adapt other patterns. I don't want to become a designer, I just want somebody knowledgeable to explain the basic mechanics to me. 

So when Katie posted this excellent review about the three day pattern cutting course she'd taken at Ray Stitch, I was on red alert.  I knew that this was exactly the course I'd been looking for and booked in for the October Pattern Cutting Weekend. During the weekend I would create a skirt and upper body block and learn how to use the blocks to adapt commercial patterns and even create my own!  I. Could. Not. Wait!


The course was taught by Alice Prier, a super-stylish pattern cutter and designer with a ton of knowledge and experience to share. Alice was also very engaging and funny, which really set the class off on the right foot. This was a world away from the soul destroying needlework lessons at school! We started by taking 'accurate' measurements of each other. It was reassuring that Alice could take one look at our pattern paper and know immediately if we had an incorrect, or, in some cases, physically impossible measurement (ahem!) We each created an upper body and skirt block joined together at the waist to form a dress, which we then sewed up in calico. After trying them on, we all needed only minimal adjustments to ensure a perfect fit. Honestly they all looked great, and that's saying something as calico is notoriously unflattering (see photo below…) I achieved a good fit across the bust (hallelujah!) but needed to add an inch across the stomach and bum area i.e. the widest part of me, as the toile turned out a bit tight. I also had to pin a small chunk out of the front neckline as it was slightly gaping. Apart from that it fitted. Perfectly!

Any pulling you see is just the way I'm standing - it actually fits like a glove

This all happened on the first day - the second day was devoted to learning all about darts. Now I've done the odd FBA (full bust adjustment) and gaping back adjustment in my time, so I had a rough idea about what happens if you pivot or spread a dart.  Having it explained properly really did cement it into place for me - this was definitely my lightbulb moment of the whole weekend! Alice slashed a bodice into sections and then showed how a different fit/look could be achieved by pivoting the darts around the bodice.

This is the block we started out with. It has darts at the top and bottom
Once a bodice block is created, there is a set amount of shaping within the darts - so as long as this total amount of dart area remains the same, the darts can go anywhere. It can all go into one dart.


It can be redistributed between two different darts.


It can be joined together to form a princess seam (forgot to take a picture of that one.). It can be an underarm tuck.



Or, if you want more ease, you can simply choose not to sew the dart up at all.  This may be obvious to a lot of people, but it wasn't to me, so to finally understand it was well worth every penny of the course fee. These basic principles can then be used to create patterns for whatever you like. The possibilities are endless and I came away bursting with ideas. I've now transferred all my scribblings to my 'fitting' notebook', just in case I forget anything, which is highly likely. I've also decided to take Alice's advice and trace my block onto card to preserve it.

Obviously you're not going to learn everything there is to know about pattern cutting in just one weekend, but I felt that I learnt more than enough for my purposes.  I also met some lovely new sewing pals and a very inspiring teacher. Plus we were constantly plied with chocolate cake, which didn't hurt. Thank you to Ray Stitch and to Alice Prier for an excellent weekend course. x





Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dotted Chambray Bow Blouse

You should all know by now that I have a bit of thing for a nice bow blouse. Whenever I fancy channelling my inner Mrs Slocombe, my go-to pattern is Simplicity 2154. I love this pattern, LOVE IT! I made my first bow blouse about a year ago and vowed I'd like to wear it for the rest of my life. Since then I've made a modified version for the beach and have just completed a third version complete with giant bow. I'll have to eat my words because THIS is the bow blouse I want to wear for the rest of my life! 


The fabric I used is Robert Kaufman Dotted Chambray in Indigo, which was kindly gifted to me by Annie at The Village Haberdashery. I knew I'd like this fabric after seeing it on various websites, but it wasn't until I actually made something with it that I realised how awesome it was. It's oh so soft to the touch, and feels even softer once its been pre-washed. It also has a great drape but is easy to cut out and press, two things that don't always come hand in hand. Lots of other sewing bloggers have used it for projects and I can totally see why. Check out Mary's beautiful shirt dress, Tilly's Bruyere blouse, and, as of today, Lauren's button down shirt.

Here it is tucked in...

…and with a cardigan
I sewed the same size as my other versions (size 14), with no adjustments and no side zip (hoorah). As per my first version, I didn't interface the bow, which I think results in a perfect level of floppiness! The pattern instructs you to turn and hem the top section of the centre seams around the keyhole openings. I decided to turn and hem both seams all the way down and really like the neat effect it gives. 


Inside back view: lovely neat seams!
I've said it before but I'll say it again, just for good measure, I love this top. I've worn it to within an inch of its life since I made it and received lots of compliments. For some reason, people are very impressed by the bow and can't believe I actually made it! It's really not that difficult, but I'll bask in the glory anyway! Happy Tuesday. x


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Back to basics

One thing I noticed when I did my recent wardrobe changeover (from summer to autumn) was a lack of basic, functional items. By this, I mean everyday pieces in solid, neutral colours that match up with the rest of my wardrobe. To most people, a neutral colour is white, cream or black, but to me it's navy blue....or red. I addressed this a few weeks ago when I made my first Mabel skirt in red and Ultimate Trousers in navy, both of which have been on almost constant rotation from the moment they were born. Yesterday, after a particularly successful flurry of sewing, I ticked off two more items. They're both neutral (well, navy) basics so should really be classified under BORING. However, I'm pretty delighted at how well they've turned out, so I'm subjecting you to them today I'm afraid.


First up is another Bronte top (my first one's here). This one is made with a lovely cotton and lycra jersey from Ditto Fabrics. I bought the fabric intending to make the long sleeved version, but failed to take into consideration how much fabric is needed for long sleeves. I only bought a metre (duh), which isn't nearly enough for long sleeves, however adventurous a cutter you are. I do like the short sleeved version though and the fabric's light enough to wear under a cardigan. As per last time, I cut a size 12 at the bust, grading to a 10 at the waist and hips, which gives a nice tight fit.


Next up is a navy Mabel Skirt, this time cut to the same length as the pencil skirt version which is a much better length for me (just on the knee). I used a scrap of the Bronte fabric for the inside waistband and even managed to sew it on the right way round this time. The double knit fabric for both of my Mabel skirts came from Calico Laine and it's a perfect weight for the pattern. This version seems a bit roomier than the first one (in a good way), but I'm not quite sure why. I did sew the whole skirt on the overlocker and wasn't particularly vigilant about my seam allowances, so maybe that's it? 

Anyway, the total time to make both garments - from cutting out to sewing the last hem - was about four hours. It would have been even quicker, but I was distracted by a shoe delivery and had to take time off to play with them. The Mabel skirt only took about 30 minutes sewing time, I kid you not! The Bronte top takes a little while longer as there's all the shoulder binding to negotiate, but it's still easily sewn up in a morning or afternoon.

I've lightened this photo quite a bit to show the shoulder detail
They work well as separates as evidenced above, and even look cute worn together.

Look - a navy knit dress!  (sort of)
These quick and easy basics patterns have rather taken my fancy at the moment. Don't worry, I'll get back to the dresses and shiny stuff soon enough. But whilst my attention is wandering, I might as well ask, what are your favourite basics patterns to sew? Happy Thursday. x





Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Musings on exercise gear

I used to have a terrible habit of jumping straight onto the sewing band wagon. Whatever people happened to post on their blogs I immediately wanted one the same, even if I'd had no intention of making it previously. Shiny new patterns piled up in my shopping basket at an alarming rate. Over time I've learnt to temper this mad "gimme, gimme, gimme" attitude, but there are definite traces still lurking. A recent sewing category I was almost lured in by was sewing my own exercise gear.

Mr Bolt, even faster than the Bionic Man

As you probably know, Winnie from Scruffy Badger Time is a fine, accomplished runner. Running is a passion for her and a huge part of her life, so, quite rightly, she makes her own running kit. In true Badger style, her creations are brightly coloured and stylish, mostly using patterns from Fehr Trade (I think). After seeing her VNA Top in the summer I had the pattern in my shopping basket faster than the speed of light, finger hovering over the "Purchase" button. But for once, I hesitated, did I really want to devote my precious sewing time to making exercise gear? To answer that, I need to explain the role exercise plays in my life.

Until recently, it played no role whatsoever. Apart from a bit of sporadic hoola hooping, and going on walks with the family, I did no formal exercise at all. Why? Because I'm lazy of course, there's no point beating about the bush, I simply Couldn't. Be. Arsed. I'm also in the lucky position of being happy with the size I am - a slim(ish), medium-sized UK 12. The problem is, I'm also a middle aged woman (45 years of age and counting) and the sorry fact is that the older you get, the harder it is to stuff your face with pies and still remain the same size. Plus a close family member recently had a fatal heart attack, and the shock and heartbreak that followed his death was like nothing I've ever known. I needed to do some exercise, if nothing else, just to stay fit and healthy.

So for the past few months, I've been running twice, sometimes thrice, a week. Now there are two things you should know about me and running:

1. I'm rubbish at it, and although it is getting a bit easier, I'll never be able to run further than 5K.

2. I hate running. HATE. IT. I do it because it's fast, easy(ish) and free. I have the time and I have a park at the end of my road - that's all. 

In case you're wondering, that smile is forced.

But I started to think that because I run (ha!), I should also make my own gear. Currently I wear basic, black exercise gear from Marks and Spencer that fulfils its purpose masterfully. It's sort of flattering (as much as skin tight lycra can ever be), it's relatively cheap, it's black and it's anonymous. I know lots of people are driven to making their own running gear purely because they're fed up of only having boring black to choose from, but for me that's exactly what I want. I want to be anonymous and I certainly DON'T want to draw attention to myself. Plus, there's quite a skill involved in sewing your own stretch gear. There's a lot of negative ease to contend with and I just don't have those skills, I can't even make a decent pair of knickers for goodness sake. If I was making exercise gear I'd want it to look like this…


But I'm reasonably certain that any exercise gear I ever made would turn out like Mrs Overall's:



Sometimes you just have to accept when an area of sewing is not for you. And sewing exercise gear, swimsuits, knickers or anything of that ilk is just not for me.  The very rambling moral of my story is, just sew what makes you happy. Running doesn't really make me happy, it's a necessary evil, so I don't want to invest time and effort into sewing running gear. Sewing dresses makes me happy, sewing multiple versions of favourite patterns makes me happy and sewing quick, easy, flattering knits makes me happy. I'll carry on wearing my boring, black kit and leave the sewing of beautiful, stylish exercise gear to the true experts! 

So tell me, which sewing categories do you like or dislike sewing? I'm all ears! x






Thursday, 2 October 2014

Ultimate Trousers

Trousers are one of those garments that seem to put the fear of god into many sewists. They're really not that scary - in fact I can think of countless sewing tasks that beat trousers hands down: sewing on the bias, sewing with silk, bound buttonholes, invisible side zips and, my personal nemesis, hooks and eyes (uuurrrggh). In reality, once you've made a few pairs of pyjama bottoms, you have the basic skills for trouser making, the hard part is perfecting the fit.

I was surprised to discover that I've made quite a few pairs of trousers in my sewing life. The wide legged vintage-style trousers I've sewn (here, here and here) are actually very easy to fit and sew, and given the width of the legs, not that different from PJs. My Juniper trousers fitted well, but that was more fluke than skilled fitting, as my body shape happens to be a good fit for a lot of Colette patterns. My Gertie Capri pants and sailor shorts required a few adjustments, but in both instances it was just a case of taking in seams on the hop. I've never actually sat down with a trouser pattern and tried to work out how to get it to fit to my shape. Well, not until I encountered the Ultimate Trousers pattern from Sew Over It that is.


I was sent the pattern as a thank you for pattern testing the Betty dress in the summer, but because I'm fickle and the sun was out, all I could think about was sewing dresses. I liked the shape of the pattern though: easy, darted front, ankle length and a classy slim fit and I kept seeing great versions pop up on sewing blogs. My attention was finally caught when Winnie decided to use the pattern for OWOP. Her advice? Once you perfect the fit, it's a great pattern. So I set out to perfect the fit.


To do this, I made not one, but two muslins. Gasp! I made a full sized muslin to check the (ahem) crotch area and legs. Then, once I'd sorted out the legs, I made a second muslin from waist to thigh, incorporating my adjustments. Sew Over It patterns don't have a great deal of ease and are very true to the pattern measurements, so be honest when choosing which size to cut out! For reference, I made a size 10, which is a 28" waist and 38" hip. The first muslin wasn't too bad, but I noticed the back waistline pulled down at the centre quite noticeably. After consulting the fitting post for the Ultimate Trousers sewalong, I knew that this was because my derriere was taking up a bit too much room and forcing the waistband down. A fat arse adjustment was therefore needed! To do this, I added ½" to the centre back seam and ½" to the top waistline. This created more room in the bum area and, very pleasingly, ensured that the waistband was parallel again. I did a smaller adjustment at the front, for my less-than-flat stomach.

The only other adjustment I made was to taper the legs in the calf area by a total of 1" each leg, using the tips from the same sewalong post. I hemmed the trousers by just ½" rather than the recommended 1" and the length is perfect on me. Beware though - I'm only 5'2", so if you want an ankle skimming trouser and you're tall (or even normal height) you may need to lengthen them. If you prefer a cropped length, you're laughing.



The fabric I used is a navy stretch cotton from Sew Over It.  I only needed 1.5m for the size I made, but I bought 2m for contingency. When it arrived, there was a bit extra included as it was the end of the roll - perfect for two muslins!  The fabric is quite lightweight, so maybe not suited to winter wear if you feel the cold. It's also VERY stretchy and, perhaps predictably, now that I've worn them a few times, they're a bit big around the waistband - grrr. I'm certain this is all down to the fabric though - if I was making them again in a non-stretch drill for instance, I'd do exactly the same adjustments. Once the trousers are washed, they shrink back to their normal tight fit, which is what you see in these photos. Be warned, though, they are a very tight fit - as Karen remarked when I was discussing them with her, "there's nowhere to hide!", which is definitely something to consider if you're thinking of making them!


The actual construction is a cinch, the only pieces are trouser legs and facings. There's a side invisible zip, which I managed to insert without any tears. Sadly, I still can't tell my left from my right, so it ended up on the wrong side! This is a great pattern to practice your trouser fitting skills on because of its simplicity. There are no waist bands or fly fronts to worry about, so you can focus purely on fit. I like the fit I managed to achieve and will almost certainly make them again, perhaps in a plain, black drill. I was even contemplating a gingham pair at one point, but I think that might have been the Prosecco talking! Happy Thursday. x


Friday, 26 September 2014

Hemingway Design fabrics…and a chance encounter

Somebody recently tweeted a link to the new Hemingway Design fabrics and I was immediately smitten. If you're not familiar with the Hemingways, they're a UK husband and wife design team (Wayne and Gerardine) who started out with a stall on Camden market in the 1980's, before creating fashion label Red or Dead (from which I bought a wonderful pair of brogues, long, long ago). Since then they've designed more or less everything - wallpaper, furniture, haberdashery - organised many a Vintage Festival, and managed to pick up a couple of MBE's along the way too. They've now added a mid-century inspired textiles collection to the mix and I just LOVE it - here's a small selection of the designs:


Yellow Tulip

Emerald Texture

Brick Knotted Up

Duck Egg Grid

The first one is my favourite as it manages to combine tulips, crosshatch and yellow all in one go. The last one is probably the one I'll buy though…. I've already got visions of a shirtdress.  

Now to the chance encounter in the title of this post…. another event that Wayne Hemingway organises is the Classic Car Boot Sale which took place last weekend at the Olympic Park. My boys were keen to try out the Olympic pool and I like nothing better than mooching around a car boot sale, so off we set for virtually the entire length of the Central Line. Just as we approached central London, a man got on the tube with a dog. Charlie is a bit nervous around dogs, so whilst I was reassuring him of its friendliness, the man started chatting to us. "Is that Wayne Hemingway?" Jon murmured out of the side of his mouth. "YES!" I replied, just slightly over excited! The man (let's call him Wayne) asked where we were off to. We mentioned the Classic Car Boot Sale and then got chatting about lots of things: his new fabrics (naturally), 'Oh, You Pretty Things' on BBC4,  dressmaking in general, the importance of UK production (his fabrics are manufactured by British textiles company Makower), dogs, Northern Soul, and because we're all British - the weather. His dog - a Springer Spaniel/Labrador cross - was the loveliest, most gentle dog I've ever come across and Mr Hemingway himself as friendly and charming as I'd always imagined him.  He's also from Lancashire so I may be a bit biased!

You can see more of the Hemingway Design Fabrics here and here. And no, I'm nothing to do with his company, I just happen to like the fabrics.

You never know who you might meet on the tube eh?! x




Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Little red Mabel skirt

Earlier this month, after a long summer of reduced stitching time, I was in need of a quick make to ease me back into autumn sewing. Alice from Backstitch contacted me at about the same time to see if I'd like to review a pattern from her shop. It seemed the perfect time to try out the Colette Patterns Mabel Skirt - a simple pull on skirt designed specifically for knit fabrics. Plus, Rachel from House of Pinheiro had described wearing the Mabel skirt as being like wearing pyjamas - how could I possibly resist?!



The Mabel pattern offers three design options: a mini skirt, a variation of the mini with a button placket and a pencil skirt with vent. I went for version one, the mini skirt, but lengthened it by 1.5 inches. As it turns out, it's still less of a skirt and more of a pelmet - it's very short on me and I'm titchy. So I'll be lengthening it considerably for my next attempt - probably to the same length as the pencil skirt version. There's a broad range of sizes from XS to 3XL - for reference I made a size M (US 8-10) and apart from adding a tiny bit of length, I made no changes to the pattern.


I used leftover red double knit from my Victoria Blazer for the main skirt fabric and a few scraps of thinner red jersey from my easy elastic waist skirt for the waistband lining. And before you ask, yes I did try the skirt and blazer on together - sadly I looked like some kind of Butlins red coat nightmare…. not a good look! Medium to heavy weight stable knits are recommended for this pattern and I think double knit is a great choice. I've had trouble with hems on knit dresses going a bit wavy in the past, but there's none of that nonsense with double knit as it's so sturdy. 


The pattern envelope claims that the Mabel skirt can be made in just an hour. This would have been an accurate description if I hadn't sewn the waistband on upside down. Grrr! Easily sorted though. The instructions are well written and easy to follow and the pattern was a very good choice for me to cut my teeth onto after my sewing-deprived summer. There are no fastenings, it's quite a forgiving fit (it's designed with negative ease so stretches into position if you've eaten too many pies) and even with the waistband debacle, I managed to whip it up in no time. Apart from a tiny bit of top stitching to secure the waistband and a hem sewn with a double needle, I sewed the whole skirt on my overlocker. As it's a knit pattern, a smaller ⅜" seam allowance is used throughout, which is helpful if you're using an overlocker and worth making a note of if you're not! I also liked one particular tip in the instructions telling you to trim ⅛" from the top edge of the waistband pieces to allow for "turn of cloth". This helps the shell fabric roll to the inside - it worked splendidly on my Mabel which is always satisfying!  



This first attempt was always meant to be a practice version but it's turned out so well I'm going to wear it until it falls apart. I have some navy blue double knit waiting in the wings for my next version. I'm well aware that almost everything I make is navy and red, but I want these Mabel skirts to be everyday basics to wear with tights in the colder months (I just got away with no tights today on this fine September day but I think that was a fluke). The way I see it, a red version and a navy version will match up with about 99% of my wardrobe. Hoorah! 

And Rachel was so right, wearing a Mabel skirt is exactly like wearing your PJ's! x




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