Category Archives: Fabric

Olivia

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Another recent-ish addition to my summer wardrobe, this is a Style Arc Olivia dress I made a month or so ago. It’s about the simplest project you could imagine with its kimono sleeves, elastic waist and gently flared skirt. I always feel a bit lazy buying patterns like this, but the unfussiness means they actually get used more often than more unique or complex designs, so it’s definitely an economical purchase. It’s also a great canvas for pretty fabrics and ripe for a few design hacks.

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The proportions overall are really nice: I like how the slightly longer bodice blouses over the elastic waist, and the skirt’s the perfect fullness and flare – it’s another cycle-friendly gal. As Meg noted when she made her Olivia, the neckline as drafted is really quite wide and scoopy. I’ve actually got the facings safety-pinned to my bra straps to anchor it in place! Next time I’ll alter the flat pattern to make it a little snugger.

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A little design alteration I made was to do a deep baseball-style scoop at the hemline. I still haven’t actually hemmed the skirt – it’s just overlocked – because I’m a bit stuck on how to do it neatly with a fabric that likes to ripple and won’t take a nice press. I have a rolled hem foot which would be ideal but I’ve never got the hang of it; ditto a serged rolled hem. I’ll deal with it sometime. Or just wear it unhemmed forever…

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It was the perfect pattern to use my treasured self-designed French crepe fabric, printed by Contrado. Like all springy poly crepes it didn’t like to take a press very well, but it was mercifully non-shifty for cutting and sewing and feels great to wear. I wouldn’t hesitate to get more of their crepes printed with other designs.

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Considering how fast and simple this was to make, it got INSANE praise when I wore it to work today. I think every girl in the office commented on it, along with gaining boyfriend seal of approval. I’d better get designing more fabric and making it into more Olivias!

Printing with Contrado

A bunch of us sewing bloggers took a trip to Harlesden last weekend, to check out Contrado‘s amazing mini printing empire.

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Contrado started as a tiny family business called Bags of Love (which still runs, through a separate website), printing photos onto bags in the early days of the internet, and has grown year on year, expanding their range and bringing as much of the processes and production under one roof as possible. Now they have Contrado as a specialist arm focusing on fabric printing: they print onto over 75 substrates and have a loyal customer base in students, creatives and home sewers.

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After this company background from founder Chris Childs and a rundown of how the online design software works, we were let loose to upload our designs and send them to print.

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It was pretty exciting to see the orders come in live on the big screen. There’s some impressive software powering the company’s printing process (they employ seven engineers) which means that the layplans can be as efficient as possible, resulting in a minimum of wastage. They can also turn around orders in two days due to everything being automated as much as possible under the one roof. As a startup and tech nerd I found all this fascinating and inspiring.

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Then it was down to the printing room to see our designs come to life. Depending on the substrate, some fabrics are printed directly and some are printed onto huge transfers before being heat-bonded to the fabric.

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The we took a walk around the rest of the factory floor. They have in-house pattern cutters and sewists to make up a lot of the readymade garments they sell through sister company Bags of Love. Cue lots of cooing from the assembled sewing bloggers over the lovely industrial machines.

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Back to the printing room because our final fabrics were starting to be revealed!

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Here are the two fabrics I was lucky to get printed on the day, back at home and prewashed ready to sew. I gave myself no time at all to design anything fancy, so knocked these up in the morning before I left. The ditsy emoji-type print is on 190gsm cotton jersey and the blobby abstract one is on French crepe. I’m so thrilled with the fabrics, they’re without a doubt the nicest fabrics I’ve seen custom-printed and the substrates both have a fabulous handle and softness. I can’t wait to sew with them!

I’m also excited to see the next phase of Contrado because they have exciting plans to build a marketplace of user-submitted designs that you can order direct – if I knuckle down and design some prints with a bit more time I’d definitely put them up. For now though, Contrado‘s fabrics start at only around £14.50 a metre so if you’re in the market for printing unique fabrics in the UK I couldn’t recommend them more.

Thank you so much to Contrado for the tour and chance to sample the printing process, to Rachel and Kate at The Fold Line for organising the trip, and my fellow bloggers Marie, Janene, Jane, Elena and Charlotte for being excellent company.

Memphis Moneta

Sprout Moneta

I’m back at work full-time these days for the first time in years, and despite having grand plans, it is taking its toll on my sewing productivity. I’ve been less willing to take on more ‘serious’, involved projects and drawn more to fun and fast sewing that I can work on in an hour or two in the evenings. Enter Sprout Patterns! As you may have heard, they’re an offshoot of Spoonflower who print pattern pieces directly onto fabric yardage, meaning no prep required – just cut and sew. Caroline at Sprout contacted me to review the offering, so after spending way, way too long going through a million options of fabric and pattern, I settled on the Colette Moneta dress in this incredible Memphis inspired print.

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With several indie pattern brands signed up, coupled with the entire Spoonflower library of prints, there’s an awful lot of scope for playing designer on Sprout. You can see a shortlist of my favourited prints here, and I’ve already dipped back in for more orders. I especially like that as you’re designing your project you can see a 3D preview and move around the print placement to your liking. My order took a little over a month to arrive from the US but that’s atypically long; I think it got holed up in customs somewhere. Shrinkage value is factored in so I threw the fabric into a delicates prewash and let it air dry before getting sewing.

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Here’s what the pieces look like – a thick white border makes it foolproof to see where to cut and each piece is labelled here too.

In the interest of sewing science, I timed exactly how long it took me to do each stage of the construction.
– Cutting the pieces with my rotary cutter: Seven minutes
– Main overlocker construction (incl a couple of baste-and-try-on sessions): 32 minutes
– Finishing (hemming sleeves and skirt): 12 minutes
So that’s a dress fresh from prewash to finished in well under an hour!

Sprout Moneta
Sprout Moneta

One clear issue with Sprout for some is that obviously that you can’t do flat pattern alterations, as the pieces are already printed onto the fabric. Hence why I picked a knit project as they’re much more forgiving in the fit department. Fortunately the Moneta dress in straight size M fitted great, which was honestly quite a surprise – I was prepared to hack around with seam allowances if needed. I’ll probably make more Monetas sometime as I really like the shape – a Sprout bonus is that you get the full PDF pattern included with your order.

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Even given the prescriptiveness of a cut and sew pattern I did make a couple of tiny style alterations. One was to add a band to the neckline rather than turn and hem it – I don’t think turn and hem is a good solution for knit necklines, no matter what Colette thinks. There was plenty of spare printed fabric around the pattern pieces to cut a neckband from. I also left off the pockets because they seem useless and bulky in a knit, making things even faster. Finally I turned back the sleeve hems to the reverse white side for a touch of contrast.

Sprout Moneta
Sprout Moneta

Overall I’m pleased with the quality and handle of the fabric – my first experience of a Spoonflower knit. This is the Modern Jersey substrate, a poly/spandex knit, which is medium weight, drapey, nice and soft, and easy to sew both on machine and overlocker. The print is sharp and vibrant, though not quite as saturated as I was expecting from the screen swatch. If i was being picky it does seem to show a bit of the white backing colour through where it’s under stress at the seamlines (see above), and I’m interested to see how it holds up with repeated washings, but so far so good.

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Overall, it’s certainly a thumbs up from me on Sprout. I love my crazy cosmic 80s finished dress and it was such a lovely fast and stress-free project – exactly what’s needed sometimes. I’ve placed a second order for some Grainline Lark tees for me and my sister already in some equally excellent prints – watch this space.

Here are some final pros and cons of the service to consider before making your own Sprout order:
Why’s it great?
– Serious corner-cutter for the time-poor and/or lazy (of which I’m both)
– Endless possibilities of amazing prints and patterns
– If you pick a TNT pattern or if the pattern is easy to adjust as you sew there’s few worries about fitting. Also for kids’ clothing or accessories, where fit isn’t much of an issue, it makes total sense.
– Good value, considering you get all the fabric you need plus the reusable pattern included.
The drawbacks:
– You can’t make significant pattern alterations or grade between sizes. I wouldn’t be able to buy most woven dress designs as I’d need to make considerable flat alterations before cutting my fabric.
– On complex patterns you’ll still need to transfer dart and other markings.
– Shipping to the UK is around $30 and you may get stung with a customs charge too (though I didn’t) so it could work out expensive for non-Americans. I used a free shipping deal for my Lark order and there’s a discount code below!

Sprout Moneta

If you fancy a go with Sprout yourself, there’s 20% off all Moneta dress orders in March with code MONETAMADNESS! Thanks very much to Sprout for providing the order to me for review.

Swatching for spring

With the spring equinox this weekend marking the official end of winter, I feel like the slight fug that’s surrounded my sewing motivation (and perhaps brain generally) might be lifting. What’s more fun than finally feeling able to plan for lighter fabrics, camisoles, dresses sans tights, midi skirt and moar jumpsuits? To that end I ordered a bunch of fabric samples to kickstart some ideas forming.

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First, I revisited this little colour palette graphic that I made myself a while ago so I didn’t go crazy and order a bunch of things that wouldn’t fit cohesively together. This winter I definitely tended towards black as a default more often than not, and I’d like to reintroduce a bit more colour back into my clothes. I want to hunt out some pinks and greens, and I’m tending towards solids over prints these days. Plus I just always throw in some good neutral denims and trouserings as good ones are so far and far between! Assuming others are as interested in fawning over fabrics as me, here’s the swatches I ordered and what I thought of them.

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From Ditto fabrics: Indigo stretch denim, Washed Mid Blue Stretch Denim, Ivory linen jersey, Tropical Leaves Silk Noile.

Both of these denims are lovely and appear to have great recovery (they’d be perfect for skinny Ginger jeans), but the colour of both is not quite right for what I’m after. The silk noile is absolutely luscious and I don’t think I can resist it for a simple pullover tee. The linen jersey (my sample was actually Stone not ivory, but it seems to be sold out) is a delicate, loose knitted and slubby with a slight sheen – lovely, but not for me. I’d definitely spill stuff down it or snag it within five minutes.

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Croft Mill: Life’s a Peach, Premium Viscose Jersey – Forest, Premium Viscose Jersey – Silver Marl, Peach Fleck

I’ll be getting the peach and forest green jerseys for t-shirts, they feel very nice quality. The peach fleck is a little too thin and shiny, and while I love the grey I do have a LOT of grey t-shirts already…

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Croft Mill: Give a Little – Navy, For The One and Only Kate Moss, Beste – Tan, Beste – Khaki

I find it really hard to test trouserings from a little swatch. The tan and khaki gabardines are beautiful colours, light-med weight, no stretch, but get pretty creased when I crumpled them. The navy gabardine has elastane in for stretch and seems to drape better. The ex-Topshop ‘Kate Moss’ crepe feels gorgeous and doesn’t crease at all – could be a winner for some culottes or a jumpsuit.

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Finally, Merchant and Mills sent along these swatch cards because I’m going to review a forthcoming pattern for them. But clearly I’m going to be ordering more for myself too. Some tottorri seersucker and tomari twill will be top of the list.

Anyone else (in the northern hemisphere) starting to look forward to spring sewing?

LA’s garment district

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I’m back from my US trip. It was a great break but I really missed my sewing machine and am itching to get stuck into a new project. I made a quick warm-up knit dress yesterday but I think up next is something nice and meaty like a winter jumpsuit or another coat…

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I just wanted to share some pics from the Los Angeles stop on my trip, because I was lucky enough to meet up with Katie of Handmade Threads (plus her friend Katie – three sewing Katies!) for a guided shopping day in LA’s garment district. It was super fun and the shopping was great! A lot of garment manufacturing is done in LA so it stands to reason that they have good stores to support it.

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We started in an amazing trimmings and notions store, the aisles packed floor to ceiling with lovely laces, tapes, ribbons, bindings, straps etc. Following Katie’s lead I bought some cute bra strapping to encourage me to have another go at lingerie-making (I made a Watson toile a while ago, but it wasn’t quite right), plus some pretty woven decorative tape.

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Next we hit a few nearby fabric stores. My favourite was run by a chap who imports a bunch of (apparently organic) Korean rayons in beautiful prints. I bought some navy ikat print for a Roberts jumpsuit plus a distressed grey for a simple tee.

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Final stop (because Josh was patiently waiting for me) was Michael Levine, which I loved! Every type of fabric you’d need under one roof, from shibori bamboo knits (SWOON) to silks and coatings to an excellent range of quilting cottons including lots of Cotton & Steel. The prices are higher than the other stores but the quality seemed high, and I scored some black sandwashed silk and burgundy sweater knit each around $10/yd.

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Afterwards we got some pupusas (El Salvadorean street food) and coffee in the Grand Central Market. As well as showing me around, Katie very kindly gave me some of the Cone Mills denim that she sells in her store Threadbare Fabrics, so more jeans will be on my horizon too no doubt. Sewists are just the best <3 LAshops11

A few days later I found myself near Mood, which is in a different area of town called La Brea. It’s much smaller than the NYC branch, all on one floor and about half taken up by home decor fabrics. However there’s still a good range of knits, Liberty prints and ex-designer runoffs from brands like Cavalli and Anna Sui. I bought a bolt end of some lovely bouncy silk crepe; I was hoping to find something to make a dress for a wedding in December but there was only 1.5yds left. Sadly I didn’t get the chance to visit a few other stops like The Fabric Store and Michael Levine Loft, but I was right on my baggage weight allowance anyway so it was probably for the best.

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My stash was getting pretty low, so it was good to top it up again for some nice trans-seasonal garment making. It’s all in the prewash so I look forward to getting sewing!

Planning an eco autumn capsule wardrobe

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Finally, I’m feeling a bit of sewspiration again. It only took a bit of buying new patterns and splurging on lovely fabrics, ha ha. The end of summer is not a good time of year for me, to be honest – watching the darkness draw in ever-earlier and seeing the temperature plummet does not fill me with the joys of autumn. Buuut, I suppose it’s a good excuse to recalibrate the wardrobe and do some nice project planning.

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It was a trip to Fabrications to check out their brand new range of organic and ethical fabrics, care of Offset Warehouse, that really sparked some ideas. Fabrications is a sweet little craft store fairly local to me in Hackney which has always focused on textiles and fibre arts, but never stocked fabric before. They’ve now teamed up with online eco textile company Offset Warehouse to offer a hefty range of their gorgeous cloths in store for the first time.

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I popped along to the collection’s launch party last week and couldn’t resist a bit of investment. The good thing is that selecting these beautiful fabrics gave me quite a clear purpose of what garments they should become, and I realised they could form the basis of a really nice capsule wardrobe for the coming months and beyond. I’m increasingly interested in trying to make sure my output is more cross-seasonal, because I find it sad to have to tuck away hand-mades for half the year when they no longer fit the weather. My theory is that by going for natural fibres and a neutral colour palette it’ll be easy to make garments that can mix and layer up for the cold and be worn on their own in the summer. So here’s a look at what I bought and some ideas for what form my capsule wardrobe might take.

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I wear my loose woven tops loads so I know this shape will be a wardrobe winner, and this cream striped ikat I bought could be paired with black, blue or grey on the lower half. I may try the Style Arc Ethel I just bought so I can play with the stripe direction across the panels.

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I do love my dresses – I’ve made quite a few super basic knee and midi length semi-fitted smock type ones (generally unblogged as boring!) and they’re in constant rotation. Throw one on and you’re dressed, and they’re great for cycling. I picked out a sage-y green striped cotton to make another; I can’t find it on the site but this is the same in a different colourway. Reading the product description of this fabric makes me feel so darn good about my choice: “The fabric is entirely handmade and hand dyed, using techniques that are thousands of years old…It also has virtually no carbon footprint, as the entire process is done by hand and uses no electricity – including the spinning and dyeing”. Considering that, isn’t it quite the bargain?

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One thing I am lacking at the moment in an in-between-y sort of coat; one that keeps out autumn chill but isn’t heavy or restrictive (I don’t really feel the cold til it gets really cold). I chose this black and white slubby cross-weave cotton which should stay nice and breathable. Actually I got chatting to pattern cutter and occasional Offset blogger Franki Campbell at the party after I complimented the gorgeous self-drafted coat she was wearing, and realised I totally just wanted to copy it: it was a minimal semifitted hip length style with no side seams and a dreamy centre front bust dart detail. Failing that, I love some of Burda’s cocoon type shapes.

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One final piece of the wardrobe that I managed to resist buying fabric for on the night is trousers. I’m thinking high-ish waist so they can be worn with tops tucked or loose, pegged legs and lil’ cuffs – perhaps Burda 7017 again or the Papercut Guise, which i’m toiling now. Fabric-wise I was thinking of going for a slightly textured navy blue ikat such as this or this.

Well, that will keep me busy for a bit! I’ve enjoyed seeing other autumn planning posts up on other people’s blog (and jealously glowering at southern hemisphere folk planning their spring wardrobes) – what are your A/W sew plans?