Thursday 30 May 2013

Knicker making - my first and last attempt

Sometimes in life, we just have to hold our hands up and admit we're rubbish at something. And sadly for me, that something is knicker making. I gave it my best shot but I'm clearly not destined to be one of life's knicker makers. Which is a shame really as I was getting well and truly carried away thinking up endless ways of incorporating gingham and polka dots into my frillies!   

First, I made a test pair from the Grace pattern by Ohhh Lulu, and although I really like the style, they were, as I suspected, way too low cut for my liking. Plus I wasn't too keen on the woven fabric sections - I've come to realise that I like my pants to have a good bit of stretch to them. 

Next I tried the Granny Pannie free downloadable pattern from Sew Vera Venus, which a kind reader alerted me to after this post. I was happier with the style and cut and the pattern is easy peasy to sew, but I just couldn't get to grips with the fold over elastic. Instead of sexy and retro glamorous, I ended up with baggy school knickers, fit only to be worn under a netball skirt. When I started this blog, I vowed to share with you all my sewing efforts: the good, the bad and the ugly. Well, what's about to be revealed is both bad AND ugly. Avert your eyes if you don't think you can bear it.

Ginormo pants from hell

By this point, my passion was waning and I just wasn't feeling it. To be honest, I think I was more in love with the idea of making myself some gorgeous, vintage style knickers than the actual reality of making them. It all boils down to my intrinsic laziness - at the end of the day I just can't be bothered. Especially when I can buy some instead …

Yes, my cunning plan involved downing my knicker making tools and purchasing my own handmade frillies from Ohhh Lulu. I had some craft fair money squirrelled away so I decided to treat myself for my birthday. 
These gorgeous, high waisted pants are handmade to your measurements and work out at about £15 a pair (excluding postage) which is what I would pay normally for a special pair. I chose the Pin-Up trio and they're so lovely and glamorous, exactly the sort of knickers I was envisaging when I embarked on this particular path.

In summary, you win some, you lose some. I think I'll draw a line under my knicker making escapade and move on! x

Tuesday 21 May 2013

A sewing room of my own

My sewing room: January 2011

First things first - I'm a featured blogger on Ragbags and Gladrags this week as part of the Share a Creative Life series. Hoorah!  If you have a burning desire to know what inspires me, how I like to work and what my favourite colour is (that's an easy one!) then you can read the post here. When Claire from Ragbags and Gladrags was putting the post together, she asked for a photo of my work space. Now the last time I went into any detail about my workspace was in this post two years ago, when it was brand spanking new. 

My sewing room: January 2011

None of the shots from that post are particularly up to date any longer, so I thought I'd use the opportunity to take a few more pictures and see if anything much has changed in my sewing den.

My sewing room: May 2013

The main difference between then and now is that my sewing room is now far more 'lived in' and well used. I hadn't been sewing for long when I did the original post, so I had fewer patterns and even fewer bits of sewing paraphernalia. Amazingly, my fabric stash has remained pretty much the same size since then. Here's my current grand total:

One box of quilting cottons which I use for making things to sell at craft fairs. 
One box of lining fabrics
One box of ginghams and polka dots.
One box of dressmaking fabrics.
One box of heavier weight fabrics such as denim and thicker jerseys and decor weight fabrics for making bags. 

That's it, not too terrible really and it's good to be able to stash it all under the bed and out of sight. It's a different story however, when it comes to patterns and haberdashery supplies. I find it almost unbelievable that the few patterns on the shelf in this shot totalled my entire collection two years ago. 

The tailor's ham and seam roll set stopped acting as bookends a LONG time ago!

Things have changed since then… 

Obviously the shelves above the desk were never going to be large enough to comfortably hold all my sewing crap for long, so my superstar husband made me another long shelving unit which is fab. It's a bit boring to photograph, but you can just see it to the left of the main desk in the following shot. 

It has four cubbyholes which house my overlocker, a lovely old Singer machine which my father-in-law gave me, files of sewing magazines and PDF patterns, plus boxes and boxes of patterns, ribbons, zips, trimmings and (more recently) knicker elastic!  

As it doubles up as a guest room, my sewing room has to stay reasonably tidy, which is a good discipline. But I'm also a great believer in having the stuff I work with on display in a room where I'm trying to be creative. You don't have to work in a rubbish tip, but it definitely inspires me to be surrounded by vintage patterns, lovely fabrics and buttons on a daily basis. Looking back on these photos, I much prefer how it looks now. Yes, it looks neater and less stuffed full in the original shots, but it now looks much more interesting and well loved. Which is exactly what it is!  It's made me realise just how lucky I am having a room of my own to be creative in. How about you? Do you like working in pristine surroundings? Or are you more of an 'organised chaos' kind of worker? Do tell! x

Saturday 18 May 2013

Second chance skirts

After my recent ruthless wardrobe spring clean, I've decided to give a couple of summer skirts a second chance to redeem themselves. Poor skirts, they're lovely, but I never wore them once last summer. The reason? They're hemmed at exactly the wrong length, so I always feel a bit mumsy in them. So this afternoon I gritted my teeth (you know how much I hate doing alterations) and sorted them out. They're both made from the same vintage A-line skirt pattern - McCall's 7978 from the 1960's. 

For the green one, I took a straight two inches off the hem. Not too painful. 

Before: nice but a bit sensible looking

After: shorter and sassier 

For the floral skirt, I made the same two inch hem adjustment but then decided I didn't like the waistband so off it came.

Before: I don't look convinced do I?!

After: neater, more fitted and hopefully more wearable 

I really couldn't be bothered making a facing to finish the top edge, which is how I finished the green one originally. Instead I used a trick I used on one of the first skirts I ever made, I simply attached a length of bias binding to finish the waist edge. Nice and neat and super quick too.

I think these skirts will get a lot more wear now that they're a better length on me. They're both underlined with cotton muslin, so in the unlikely event it warms up over the summer, they should be nice and cool. I'll probably wear the grey floral one more than the green one, just because it has a bit more pizazz. It's a bit trickier to style though - I think I need a plain red top. Maybe a fitted shirt? Or a T shirt? Or this little number that found its way into my shopping basket recently. I think it would be welcomed into my wardrobe with open arms...! 

Right, that's my good will towards handmade garments well and truly exhausted. Happy weekend! x 

Excuse my bouffant hairdo in the 'after' photos, I've just had it cut and it hasn't settled down yet! 

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Kicking off summer with blue roses

With my usual uncanny sense of timing, I've decided to make a start on summer dresses just as temperatures plummet and the heating's switched back on! After last year's wash out summer, I've learnt to ignore the weather and just sew what makes me happy. The dresses I made last year were worn non stop during the few sunny days we had, so they're right at the top of my summer sewing list this year. 

First on the list is a second version of the Jubilee dress I made last year.

Jubilee Dress

It's McCall's 4769 and if you avert your eyes from the hideous cover artwork, it's actually a great pattern. And because I've tested the fit already, I can just steam straight in with some much loved and much pawed over Liberty fabric. 

Liberty Carline fabric

My inspiration was the shirt dress from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing - ssoo beautiful. 

Gertie's shirt dress - gorgeous isn't it?

I chose blue roses rather than red as I've got a bit of a thing for blue roses - they're so unusual and old fashioned! And as we all know, Liberty lawn costs a fortune so I'm determined to take my time with this dress rather than risk any hideous and costly mistakes.

With this is mind, I've underlined the bodice and skirt sections with white silk cotton. 

I made sure I bought the real stuff from the Goldhawk Road and not the rubbish silk cotton imposter I ended up using on my Sew for Victory dress

It's difficult to photograph, but you can just see the sheen of the silk cotton in this photo

I did contemplate underlining by hand with silk thread for a more accurate finish but my dislike of hand sewing won through and I underlined by machine instead. I'm really pleased with the result - the white underlining really makes the fabric glow. I also used a decent interfacing from English Couture (sorry, I can't remember which one I bought) on my collar and facing pieces - something I think is definitely worth investing in.

I'm all set now, I just need to decide on buttons. I'm thinking plain cream - anything else might be a bit too much amongst all those roses. Any thoughts? x

Tuesday 7 May 2013

1950's sleeveless top revisited

I have a soft spot for sleeveless 1950's tops. Or to be specific, I have a soft spot for button fronted, notched collared, darted sleeveless tops made from vintage 1950's patterns. Tops like this one

I made this first version almost exactly two years ago and I love it, even though it's far, far from perfect. I completely lost my way constructing the collar and ended up doing my own thing. It's made from cheap, shoddy gingham which I didn't even attempt to match up. Nothing is interfaced etc etc. I'm getting very critical here (sorry top) but the thing is, none of that matters because I love it to death, it's one of my most worn handmade items and is just so perfectly me it's ridiculous. So when I was going through the remains of my stash (which is reducing at an alarming rate I'm happy to report) and found just under a metre of navy stretch polka dot fabric, I knew exactly how it could be put to good use. I would make another sleeveless top from the same pattern (vintage Simplicity 4238). 

The fabric, which is left over from my Ruby dress, is awesome. It's got a slight stretch to it which is perfect for fitted garments as it yanks you in. And because it's medium weight and holds its shape pretty well, I didn't have to bother with interfacing. 

I was pretty inexperienced in sewing with vintage patterns when I made my first version so it was good to be able to come back to the pattern with a bit more experience under my belt.  Instructions that made no sense whatsoever two years ago, suddenly became crystal clear. I still really like the pattern details too, lots of strategically placed darts (12 in total) which give a great 1950's shape. 

I used pale blue vintage fish eye buttons. Normally I'd go for white or red buttons with navy but fancied a change. Plus, they're a perfect match with this cardigan….

On Brighton beach with my boy

Talking of buttons, buttonhole placements on patterns never quite manage to be in the right place for my shape. More often than not there's a bit of gaping, which is really frustrating when the rest of the make is perfect.  This time, I followed the brilliant advice Sunni from A Fashionable Stitch gave on buttonhole placement here and it worked a treat, no gaping whatsoever.

Verdict? Love it!

I've already cut out another gingham version and I'm now thinking I might need to make yet another version in white. A white sleeveless top is supremely handy to have in the wardrobe and would be a good match for my yellow Miette skirt (inspired by Marie's lovely styling here). Actually the navy polka dot version would go well with the Miette skirt too… it seems to go with everything else! Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. x

Thursday 2 May 2013

Knicker making part one: inspiration

These lovely (but predictably patterned) pants were made by my good self at an organised knicker-making workshop last year. It was brilliant fun, everything is cut out and ready for you, all you have to do is choose your trimmings and sew them up. Being naturally lazy, I was perfectly happy with the thought that this was the only way I was ever going to make my own knickers.

But the more online 'research' I did and the more beautiful hand sewn undies I saw, the more convinced I became that I should give knicker making a proper go. Where to start though?  There's certainly no shortage of inspiration out there, so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites before actually going for it. 

There are endless options for making your own frillies. You can make them from a pre-bought kit like Tilly did,

You can use a pair of existing pants as a template, or try one of the awesome patterns out there, many of which are free. Free patterns include a simple pair of everyday pants by 'So, Zo'

the Amerson free undies pattern by Madalynne, beautifully made here by Karen

or the Rosy ladyshorts by Amy at cloth habit

Or you can use a regular pattern which is how my two favourite pairs of on-line undies came to be in existence. My favourite self-made knickers by a long shot, are ooobop's High Waisted 50's silk pants.

Made from a Burda pattern, they're just perfect, and the lovely vintage-style cut gives them an oh-so-glamorous edge, exactly what I would want to wear myself. I can't in all honesty say the same thing about my other favourite pair, but I can sit back and admire the workmanship. If French yoked boxer shorts made from a 1940's pattern are your thing, then you're in for a treat.

You can read all about Peter at Male Pattern Boldness's pants here and marvel at the amount of detail that's gone into these undies: an adjustable buttoned waistband (no elastic in those days) 

and a gathered back section to accommodate the backside (no stretch fabrics in those days either). Truly a work of art - and he's even done what no other sewing blogger has done before - model them himself…. 

I don't usually post pictures of men in their underwear on my blog (there are secret Pinterest boards for that kind of thing...) but in this case how could I resist?! And before you ask, I did obtain permission from Mr MPB before posting a pic of him in his under crackers.

Other knicker patterns I've been mightily swayed by are some of the Ohhh Lulu designs. I thought long and hard about attempting the Betty High Waist Pants.

Gorgeous as they are, I think they might be just too ambitious for my first attempt - I do have a cunning plan concerning the Betty pants though, which I'll reveal in the next post... I like the look of the new Grace pattern too - it seems a bit more achievable for a novice like me. 

The shape is very similar to what I usually wear, although if I'm honest, I prefer my pants a bit higher, hence my swooning over ooobop's pair. What also drew me in is that they're designed to be made with a combination of woven and stretch fabrics - good if you're a bit unsure about diving head first into stretch fabric territory. And, you can use up some of your favourite woven remnants too. The possibilities are endless - matching knickers for every outfit if you're not careful…

There's too much choice - I'll have to go away and mull it all over I think. In the meantime, any advice on knicker patterns (preferably not too low slung please) and/or knicker making tips will be very gratefully received.  x

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Handmade spring clean winners and a new sewing recruit

Thank you so much for your enthusiastic response to my last post, I was thrilled to see how many readers were interested in my handmade clothes. It's also really satisfying to know that all of my beloved items will be going to good homes, and won't have to end their days in a charity shop just yet.

So, without further ado, here are the winners….
The Sencha blouse goes to Stacey from a state of flux 

The Pendrell blouse goes to Rachel Holt

The Banksia top goes to Amy from Second Fiddle

The Socialite dress goes to Fiona Law 

The Sorbetto top goes to Rosie at Old Magnolia Tree 

Hoorah, please email me your addresses ladies and I'll get them out to you in the next few days.

In other news, I had the pleasure of helping my friend Diane on her road to sewing greatness this morning. She bought a sewing machine a year ago in a fit of enthusiasm, but has been too scared to use it. Spurred on by The Great British Sewing Bee and the desperate need to hem a pair of trousers, she brought her lovely, sparkly new machine round to my pad.  

Look - a straight line of sewing!

Together, we managed to thread the machine and she then practised sewing in straight lines. After a few minutes, she was sewing like the wind, an absolute natural, all she'd needed was somebody to explain the basics. 

I love this pic - sheer joy at the sight of her own stitches!

I know it's only baby steps at the moment, but I was over the moon to be able to help and I really hope this is the start of a whole new sewing chapter for her. She only lives a few doors away so she has a ready-made helper on tap (me) if she gets stuck.  Yay for sewing! x


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