New machine: my Pfaff Ambition 630

I was lucky enough to get a new sewing machine for my birthday back in January and having used it for three months I thought I’d write up some thoughts in case others are in the market for a new machine. I decided to upgrade from my prior machine – the Janome DC3050, which I’d had since about 2009 – because it had a few annoying issues that couldn’t be fixed by my servicer and I wanted a few more advanced features. (My mum has taken it on extended loan for now!)

I didn’t do a huge amount of research but I think was instead gradually influenced by hearing bits and bobs about Pfaffs such as Manju’s review of the same machine and the fact that the New Craft House uses it for all their workshops. (I also bought my machine from NCH as they deal in Pfaff machines too.) The model’s called the Quilt Ambition 630, and not gonna lie, I was partially influenced to pick this over the 610 or 620 because of the lovely dark grey colourscheme alone.

Overall, my impressions of the machine now it’s been in use for a couple of months are really positive. I find that thanks to some of the enhanced features I can get an accurate and polished result without much effort and the overall operation of the machine is smooth and delightful.

Some of the features I particularly like are:

The feet it came with are useful and they and the throat plate has really clear markings on. I can edgestitch very accurately now! The working surface is large and the illumination is great; I can sew easily after dark now. Makes my old machine feel very cramped and dim by comparison.

The built-in ‘walking foot’ aka IDT system is fantastic. It’s a little arm that pulls down and clips onto the back of the presser foot to help the foot ‘walk’ over the fabric rather than drag it. Like a regular walking foot, but no need to bust a screwdriver out to attach it and much quieter to operate.

Winding a bobbin and threading up is really fast and has useful features like a thread cutter by the bobbin winder, a drop-in bobbin case, and a needle threader (which is actually easy to use!). And there are loads of stitches to explore which are handily set out on the lid and picked via the easy to navigate LED screen. I’ve used the built-in alphabet and buttonholes already and the mock-overlock is excellent and useful for finishing seams when I don’t feel like changing overlocker threads.

A few things that are less good or will take a bit more getting used to:
– I find the physical function buttons quite fiddly to use. The dark-grey-on-dark-grey is hard to see in my periphery while sewing; in particular the frequently-used reverse button is tucked away on a slant near the sewing area and as I sew standing up it’s hard to see/reach it while sewing in-flight. The start-stop button is nearby too and I’m scared I’ll hit that by accident one day and sew through my finger or something.
– The automatic tie-off feature is great but there’s no automated way to start a new line of stitching with a lock stitch or backstitch. My old machine had this feature and I really miss it!
– Weird one but all they grey areas are a rubberised finish and it smelled really bad when I first got the machine! It left a real plastic-y smell on my fingers too after handling it. It seems to be wearing off thankfully.

Finally, here’s a few stitch samples from recent projects:

Buttonhole and edgestitched pocket/hem on a chunky corduroy jacket I’ve just finished. I left the IDT system engaged for most of this project as it helps the foot glide over the bumpy, bulky surface.

Topstitched binding and hem using a zigzag stitch on a fine merino knit. Again, the IDT prevents the foot from dragging the fabric and causing it to stretch out.

So overall I love my new machine: I think it’s levelled-up my sewing a bit and made it much more enticing to get out of a sewing slump and start some new projects. I’d definitely recommend a Pfaff if you’re in the market!

Isolation-fit: Strathcona & Philippa

I’ve made this entire outfit over the last week: I guess self-isolation was the kick needed to get back into sewing and even my extremely-long-neglected knitting habit. Desperate times…!

The trousers are a second pair of Anna Allen Philippa Pants – first pair here, which I wear an awful lot, so decided to recreate in a different colour of similar fabric – in this case, beautiful Coffee Bean Jumbo Cord from Merchant & Mills.

This fabric has a lot less stretch than my first pair, but I have lost some weight over the last few months, so I cut the same size as before with all my prior adjustments. I had to take in the side seams a little more once constructed to get the close fit I was after. I’m getting similar wrinkles all over the back leg to last time which may mean that a low butt or full back thigh adjustment is needed next time.

Like last time I added a stay into the front and swapped the button fly for a simple zip. I followed Charlie’s recent tutorial for getting a sharp corner on the waistband: I’ve done this so many times now but it’s always good to sense-check your approach with how someone else gets good results, and I like the simple steps she recommends a lot.

The sweater is the famous and much-loved Strathcona by Good Night Day. Fun fact, I used to be an extremely prolific knitter in my early 20s but it really fell by the wayside once I got into sewing – I just don’t have the patience to see a long project through and I’ve eagerly started many sweaters in the interim years only to abandon them partway. However the Strathcona is both super-chunky and very small (thanks to the shrunken fit and 3/4 sleeves) and literally worked up so fast that I didn’t have time to run out of steam once. I had it finished over a week of very casual knitting sessions and it really just worked up in front of my eyes.

I feel like while I still have the basic muscle memory for knitting and can follow instructions with ease, I have lost a lot of finesse with getting good tension and techniques, so the sweater isn’t that amazingly well made. In particular I’m annoyed that the M1 technique I used (the pattern doesn’t give a specific technique) has left uneven lacy holes down the raglan armsyces which I’d prefer would look solid – I’m wearing a black tee underneath here as it looks pretty weird otherwise. I did a pick-up-and-knit-tbl but I think kfb would have been better.

I made the smaller size of the pattern and I like the fit being a bit snugger than how it looks in the pattern photos and on other people. I tried it on regularly (the joys of top-down knitting) to check the body and sleeve length and ended both with a deeper layer of ribbing than in the pattern (12 rows instead of 4). The yarn is Debbie Bliss Roma, a chunky wool/alpaca blend which I bought from LoveCrafts – I only used 4 balls!

The pants are the first project I’ve completely sewn on my new machine by the way – I was lucky enough to get a Pfaff Ambition 630 for my birthday back in January. It coped more than admirably and I will be writing up some more detailed thoughts on the machine soon if you’re interested. Here’s to more isolation-sewing, and maybe even knitting…

Oh, Vienna

I made this dress as a bit of an impulsive palate-cleanser, for my birthday drinks last week and using some fabric I’d only bought the night previous!

The pattern is the Fibre Mood Vienna dress which was kindly sent to me by them as part of their pattern-preview blogger network. (It was back in September so it’s hardly a preview any more though, ha ha.) I was drawn to the chuck-on easiness of the style and am feeling like after a long period of very trouser-centric dressing I might want to try bringing some more dresses back into wardrobe rotation.

I picked my size according to the measurements chart and the fit turned out well. The shoulder draft of the bodice is particularly nice and the skirt is slim but with ample hip space. The only tweaks I made were to take about 3 inches of length off the skirt and to swap the overlaps so both the bodice and skirt have the left side as the overlap rather than right/left offset, I don’t know why but it just looked better to me this way (although it works really well as designed in the striped sample).

The digital pattern overall is a nice package – you download the PDF and the instructions separately from the Fibremood site and they are clear and comprehensive in measurements, fabric requirements etc. I struggled a bit assembling the PDF pattern as the pieces aren’t super well-marked, and bear in mind you do need to add your own seam allowances – this is a bonus for me but I know some don’t like it. I did not really follow the instructions and deviated slightly in both the sequence of sewing and some techniques – I did the bias facing differently and also made a channel for the waistline elastic instead of sewing it directly onto the seam allowance.

This fabric though, right?! I got it from the New Craft House who have just expanded their workshop space due to getting a massive new shipment of amazing fabrics, all of which are deadstock (unused leftovers from the fashion industry). This is an ex-designer viscose with this incredible Roman busts print and I’m afraid to say I got the very last of the roll, however keep your eye on NCH’s site and Instagram as they have a ton more amazing prints from the same designer that they will either be putting online or selling IRL. This slightly beefy but still drapey viscose was a great match for this pattern, however I could have been a bit more careful to avoid the slightly rippled hems along the fronts – I was rushing a bit.

I made a tie belt last minute to hide the elastic waist but I think it looks okay either with or without it. This dress definitely has spring/summer vibes to me: although I did persevere and wear it with tights and boots I can’t wait to wear it bare-legged when the weather warms up.

Thanks to Fibremood for the Vienna pattern and New Craft House for a discount on the fabric!

Nenuphar 3, winter coat edition

So to start with some tragic news for this first new year post: I lost my latest Lysimaque Nenuphar jacket at my work’s Christmas party. After less than a month of enjoying it, it got swallowed by a karaoke room and I had no luck with the establishment’s lost property the next day. I’m really quite sad, I loved that jacket. Although at least on the plus side, the fabric was not expensive and it didn’t take too long to make so I’m pretty sure I will whip up a duplicate come spring.

And on another plus side, it gave me a kick to make a coat that’s a bit more appropriate to the current weather… using the very same pattern yet again.

To make the Nenuphar pattern cosy-coat-appropriate, I simply added even more length at the hem (the side seams are completely straight so it really doesn’t matter where the length is added). The total from armsyce to hem is 27″ for this one which is a nice knee length on me.

I adore the huge pockets on this pattern, and like my previous version I placed the baby pockets asymmetrically for some visual interest. The little one perfectly holds my iPhone and the big one holds my iPad – not that I walk around laden with Apple swag, but I’ve definitely loaded them up with assorted groceries when I’ve forgotten a reusable shopper bag.

I used a gorgeous charcoal wool from Woolcrest Textiles, a bargain as ever at £10/m. It’s kinda like a smooth, thick felted texture; the edges don’t unravel at all so I left the seam allowances raw and didn’t turn back the edges on the facings, which saved on bulkiness.

Neckline/placket facing, topstitched down

I decided to rework the collar area by drafting a neckline and button placket facing rather than the tricky way the pattern has you finish the collar by tucking the seam allowances under and aligning the edges perfectly with the top of the button placket – I felt I had no chance getting that neat and tidy in a bulkier fabric. My facing idea worked beautifully and was much easier to sew – it’s topstiched in place all around the neckline and down the fronts to the hem.

The nice marbled buttons are from Liberty: I confess I started wearing the coat before I’d added them (and took the picture above) but that meant I could wear the coat to go and pick the buttons out so I knew they’d match, hah.

Here’s a nice relevant picture of it in front of a tailor’s shop window in Marylebone at the weekend to finish. And I might just add a ‘return to’ address label to the inside so there’s more chance of getting it back if there’s karaoke shenanigans in its future.

Nenuphar, édition d’automne

I hate the period of the year from September to March. Hate, hate, hate everything about the darker, colder, sadder seasons. My weird form of resistance to this is dressing seasonally-inappropriately for as long as I can bear. However two rotten colds later I decided I did need a layering piece for over my jumpers when I cycle into work. (I’ll be reluctantly trading the bare ankles for knee socks and boots soon, too.)

I dug out the Lysimaque Nenuphar jacket again, which I made in lilac back in the spring. I love that little jacket and wore it loads in the warmer months, but the combination of the colour and cropped/shrunken shape means it isn’t great for colder weather knitwear layering. I had in mind that if lengthened and slightly oversized in an appropriately moodier fabric it’d make a similarly chuck-on-able autumn jacket. To that end, before cutting I lengthened the body pieces eight inches at the hem, graded up a size from waist to hip, and enlarged the width of the sleeves by an inch or so.

I had fun with pocket placement too! I placed the two large ones asymmetrically, added a little chest one, and added a matching one to the elbow of the opposite sleeve for lols, which you can’t see but it’s there and cute (I think I was inspired by CCP’s Sienna jacket). I adore how big these pockets are. They’ve already saved me on a supermarket trip when I forgot a reusable bag – I fitted a pot of houmous, a mini ciabatta, a block of Cheddar and a bottle of Lucozade in (see: I have a cold) and only felt slightly like a pack-horse.

I used this delightful and well-priced black sanded twill from Merchant & Mills. It’s got a slightly navy undertone and the slightly brushed/peached finish make it feel a little cosy, though it picks up lint like no-one’s business. Buttons are my usual favourites from Textile Garden. All the pocket topstitching turned out lovely and crisp and the collar was much easier to manoeuvre into place second time sewing.

I’m planning a real coat-coat for when it gets even colder (I’m envisioning a lengthened version of the Sienna in boiled wool), but I think this chap will see me through nicely for a couple of months and out the other side into early Spring… roll on, please…

Trend TPC12 with zip fly mod

I have earned a bit of a reputation amongst the folk in my workplace for owning the same garments (and shoes) in multiple colours and wearing essentially the same uniform in different hues every day. Guilty as charged – this is my third pair of this pattern.

I’ve had this pair of ASOS trousers pinned for ages knowing that I wanted to recreate them – I’m physically incapable of buying RTW anymore due to that trifecta of horrible fit, crap fabrics and of course ethical and sustainability reasons. Luckily I found a duplicate of the fabric – this gorgeous creamy seeded denim from Merchant and Mills – and figured I could get a similar silhouette using Trend’s TPC12 utility trouser pattern yet again (previous pairs: 1,2).

I couldn’t however bring myself to sew the pattern’s crazy button fly situation again, and had it in mind that I could quite easily swap in a standard zip fly in its place. This took a bit of redrafting and relying on prior art but I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

If you want to have a go, here’s roughly what I did:
– Cut the centre front pieces with the cut-on fly extension on both sides. Interfaced the extension areas and sewed a zip in per my favourite instructions.
– Drafted a simple fly shield piece: this simply needs to be a rectangle the depth of the fly area and twice the width. It’s sewn right sides together around two edges, turned right sides out and the remaining long edge is overlocked. This is then sewn onto the fly underlap side – you could refer to any jeans pattern for similar construction order.
– For the waistband I used the Outer Left piece from the original pattern, cut as two pairs for the new outer and facing (the original pattern has a load of wackily-sized waistband pieces as the finishing around the fly is handled… unusually.). It just needed trimming down a bit at the front to fit. I decided to give the edge a point to reflect the thigh pocket design.

I made another modification too which was a bit of a hotfix for a fitting issue. For some reason, despite cutting the pattern down a size after my last pair because I wanted a neater fit, these turned out ginormous on first baste. I have no idea what happened but I was drowning in them – maybe this more rigid fabric meant they didn’t drape like my previous pairs but still. I took them in through every single seam I could, and also subsumed the back dart into a new seam which runs the entire length of the back leg.

This was a great move because the back thigh/knee area has been annoyingly baggy on both of my previous pairs so this kinda leg-princess-seam meant I could suck some of the excess out under the butt (although these are supposed to be loose/carrot-shaped so I didn’t want to over-fit either).

I think I’ll modify the paper pattern to reflect this change for next time – I’m pretty sure that true to form there’ll still be a next time (in indigo denim?!), especially now I can corner-cut on the fly situation.