Category Archives: Musings

2016 (and 2015) Top Five

I might not have time to squeeze in any more sewing this year – I’m all done with work and off on a little holiday before Christmas – so it’s a good time to reflect back on another year of sewing by doing my Gillian’s top five. Here they are!

1. My Named Yona coat was one of this year’s first projects back in January. It’s on its second winter now and holding up quite well, although I wish I had used a better quality interfacing as it has sagged and stretched a little bit through the raglan shoulder seams. I also think I need a slightly warmer or fasten-able coat if it gets any colder. But style-wise I still adore this coat!
2. This rib-knit Celine dress feels like me in dress form. I love it and feel great whenever I wear it, and it always gets comments! I gotta make another one, it’s just such a pain to cut out that I’ve been resisting it, ha ha.
3. While this black midi V1501 is not a wardrobe regular, it still makes my favourites list because I am so pleased with the fabric, construction and minor pattern hacks I put in to make quite a unique dress.
4. It’s been a Named-heavy year! Mt first Inari dress set the scene for making a few others. This fabric’s held up really well and I think it’s still my favourite of them all.
5. This starry silk Named Helmi dress is another one that I always feel awesome in and really represents the sort of style I try to shoot for. (I just wore it on Friday to celebrate my last working day of the year, hurrah!) Again I was really pleased with the construction I achieved and must make another one soon.

Looking at my list, I think there’s definitely a correlation between sewing enjoyment factor, quality of the result, and frequency of wear/wardrobe success. I don’t always get it right and there have certainly been garments this year that haven’t made the grade. But I do think it’s been a good year of solidifying my skills and making better choices about fabrics and silhouettes to make garments I’ll love to wear.

I also thought it would be good to look back a further year, and see which garments from 2015 are still going strong. As sewists it’s often our goal to make long-lasting and non-disposable garments, and I could definitely do better at this. But here are some older makes that are still in regular rotation.

My black cotton Roberts dungarees are still my go-to on ‘nothing to wear’ days. I love them! Likewise this Shibori swing dress is trans-seasonal and so easy to wear. Of all the jeans I’ve made, not that many have stayed the course; these Blue Gingers have done because the fabric has such great recovery and hasn’t bagged out (and I still love that shirt too!). My black Waver jacket got a second season of wear in the autumn before it got too cold, and my lovely Alder dress gets rocked out every summer – and is safely packed for my upcoming holiday to Mexico!

Simple does it

Plantain + Anima

This me-made outfit sort of represents where both my clothing preferences and sewing style is at the moment. Plain, basic, classic, capsule style stuff. Might seem boring on the surface, but I’m getting a kick out of sewing simple stuff well and adding really useful staple pieces into my wardrobe.

Plantain + Anima

The tee is a Deer & Doe Plantain, with some small modifications. I raised the neckline to crew/jewel style, cuffed the sleeve, and made a baseball-style curved hem. The fabric’s a lovely heathery knit from Abakhan which is sort of brushed on the underside so it’s really soft and cosy. TBH I find myself wearing this until it starts to smell bad then pulling it out of the wash to wear again immediately.

Plantain + Anima

The pants are hacked Papercut Animas. This pattern for me is one of those super-adaptable TNTs – I’ve made four pairs in different fabrics and they all look totally different. This one’s in a dreamy viscose-mix suiting I got from Brighton’s Fabricland and the simple alteration was to straighten out the leg at the knee rather than the tapered fit as patterned.

Plantain + Anima
Plantain + Anima

I was actually hoping for an even more exaggerated flare/culotte style leg, so I might take this hack a step further and slash-and-spread the pattern from the hip for a future pair. Here’s some of the inspo I found while dreaming these up. (Click through to the post if you’re in a reader, to see the Pinterest pins below.)



Plantain + Anima

I love this outfit: I feel really cool and comfortable in it, had fun sewing it, and I know both garments will get worn to death. I’ve been buying up lots of plain fabrics in nice luxe natural fibres lately to take this principle further.

Winter sew-plans

Ahoy there! Man, I’ve got that typical January blues feeling and haven’t really been sewing at all since the new year. That’s not to say I haven’t been thinking a lot about it, though. Actually it’s been quite nice to sit back and plan some things I want to make that my wardrobe really needs. It was my birthday this week and I took myself to Brighton for the day, where I topped up my stash nicely in Ditto Fabrics. Nothing like buying beautiful fabrics to feel inspired again! I thought by committing some of my plans to the mockups below I might feel even more motivated to get going.

plans1

Top left: I really need more trousers that aren’t skinny jeans! I bought some lovely black viscose suiting from Fabricland in Brighton which I’m going to use to make some peg pants with an elastic waist, probably using the Papercut Anima.
Top right: I treated myself to this AMAZING silk poplin from Ditto – the only print I bought on the day in fact which is a new thing. I can’t resist a print that looks sort of abstract at first, then you realise it’s a bit weird. I’ll show it off in a simple day dress – The Avid Seamstress sent me their Day Dress pattern to test which sounds like a good match.
Bottom left: I want a wee button-down denim skirt as another alternative to skinny jeans. This is the Pauline Alice Rosari, but I’ll probably self-draft from my skirt block.
Botton right: I went into Topshop the other day to ‘shop’ for sewing ideas (another fun way to kick up some inspiration), and they had this amazing drapey T-shirt made out of Cupro with a tuck/knot in the front. I think I’ll be able to make a good copy with the Style Arc Molly and some waffley-textured black silk I also got in Ditto.

plans2

Top left: I’ve been hoarding this gorgeous darkest green diamond patterned coating from Miss Matatabi for a while, and I just bought the Named Yona coat pattern on sale. I want to lengthen it to knee length and probably add some snaps to fasten.
Top right: another Style Arc Ethel in a nice Indian printed rayon
Bottom left: I’ve been hoarding this Cloth House Fujiyama print for ages too – for such a bold pattern it’ll have to be a simple silhouette, so I’m thinking either another BHL Zeena or perhaps a boxy T-shirt.
Bottom right: more non-jean pants – I bought some lovely brushed cotton twill from Ditto in a dark sage grey-green. This pattern is the Madeleine cigarette trouser from Ralph Pink – I’m keen to try some of his patterns (did you see his new-look website with lots of new made-up samples? Very nice.)

I think it worked – definitely keen to get going on all of this soon now!

How did you start sewing?

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I had an email recently from a blog reader (hi Tracy!) asking how I got into sewing, how I learnt and how long I’ve been at it. It’s sort of a long story so I thought I’d share it here as well, and ask how everyone else found their way into this funny world too.

threadless surgery

I got interested in sewing when I was 16 or 17, around about finishing high school. I didn’t make anything from scratch or follow patterns; I was more of a refashioner, finding tees in vintage shops and cutting and pasting them into something new. I moderated the T-Shirt Surgery community on Livejournal (which still exists!, though it’s totally dead) and sold a few of my creations online. I bought my overlocker around this time – the same one I still use now – and also used my mum’s metal Bernina workhorse. (My mum is extremely good at making soft furnishings but doesn’t make any garments. These days we swap curtains for dresses!) I learned by just doing really – I’ve never been afraid to make mistakes in order to learn, which is quite a valuable trait for budding sewists, ha.

Quilted cushion

Well, then I moved off to the other end of the country for university, the machines stayed at home and I didn’t do any sewing at all (though I was a prolific knitter). That continued after I moved into a series of tiny flats in London, during which time I did a couple of sporadic sewing classes amongst other crafts and acquired my current sewing machine, a Janome DC3050, for cheap secondhand.

Miz Mozelle dress

About two years ago now I got an email from my local sewing shop Ray Stitch, asking if I’d like to try one of their sewing classes to review on my other blog. I took them up on it – it was a two-part class to make the Miz Mozelle dress – and that’s where I followed my first pattern and picked up foundation dressmaking skills. A few months later I was still sticking with it (which is unusual to be honest, I tend to be something of a hobby magpie) and decided to start this blog to separate out my sewing from my other blog.

Minerva meetup

Since then I’ve obviously discovered the amazing world of sewing online, from all the fantastic bloggers both local and worldwide, to tutorials for nearly everything and all the patterns and fabrics you could want. Like before, I’ve basically taught myself everything I know at this point from internet resources and making a lot more mistakes, along with a couple more physical classes.

Tracy asked specifically how long it took to get to the point where I can make everyday-wearable clothes. I’d say it’s only been the last six months that I’ve started to feel my skills are solidifying and match my ambitions – basically that I can make stuff that’s better fitting and constructed than I could afford to buy in a store. For me personally the biggest shift was to stop racing and to focus on detail, accuracy and care over fit and finish. Alongside that, there’s the interesting journey of learning what your taste really is, and finding that sweet spot of things you both love to sew and love to wear. Two years ago I had no idea I’d be able to make my own jeans and would get such pleasure from doing so!

I should add that not everyone learns in the same way. Because of how I started – jumping into what’s often considered the scary end of knits and overlockers, with a dollop of teenage DIY ethic – I was happy to muddle along, trying what I didn’t yet know and learning from every fail along the way. My sister on the other hand has been slow and careful from the start and is terrified to go wrong, mostly for the knock it gives her self-confidence. She makes the same thing 3 or 4 times in a row to build her confidence before trying something new. Some people will prefer in-person tutelage to online, or videos, or reading a book. Overall, I think that the most important traits to become ‘good at sewing’ are tenacity, fearlessness and reflection. Basically: sew a lot and don’t give up; push your skills and push past mistakes; and learn something from every project.

So anyway, my short answer is two years, the long answer is over twelve :) How did everyone else learn to sew? Anything as circuitous as my story, or more straightforward? Any advice you’d give to new sewists looking to learn?

Konmari-ing my me-made wardrobe

Konmari wardrobeThis post is only tangentially related to sewing, but I think it definitely touches on things that every sewist must think about from time to time: how we choose what to make, how often we wear the things we make, and how we deal with things we don’t end up wearing. Thanks to Marie Kondo’s cult book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I’ve been on a de-cluttering spree and have spent most of the weekend clearing out my wardrobe, books, and sewing room (well, got to keep myself busy while the overlocker’s in hospital…). I thought I’d share some musings on the process of streamlining my wardrobe and how I feel now it’s done.

If the Kondo craze has passed you by, check out this article for a bit of a primer. The ‘Konmari’ method outlined in the book has you obliterate your unwanted belongings in strict category order, which Marie states should begin with clothing. Now she suggests this category is tackled first because it’s likely to be the least emotionally-driven class of belongings, but I’m not sure how well that applies to a sewist who will naturally be more attached to garments she’s made by hand.

P2170332Nonetheless, I did go through my wardrobe as Marie suggests, holding every garment in my hands and asking myself ‘does this spark joy?’. The joy-spark test is Marie’s basic measure for determining if you should keep a possession or if it must be thrown out. I found it a bit more helpful to expand that question into two further questions: ‘am I happy to own this item or is it a burden?’ and ‘if this item was ruined/destroyed, would I be upset?’. Those two additional questions really helped me to focus on what I wanted to keep, whether handmade or not.

The keep-or-throw process was still a little bit heart-rending at times – not just for my handmade garments, but for vintage one-offs, holiday purchases that remind me of the trip and those super-soft favourite old t-shirts too. To ease the feeling of guilt or sadness, Marie suggests thanking your garment for the time you’ve had with it and remembering that the joy it brought you in the past was what made it worth owning, which is super cheesy but actually did kind of help. Also for every handmade garment I threw out, I made sure to take a lesson from why it wasn’t working for me – be it fit, fabric choice, style or construction – so that its little garmenty life wasn’t in vain. Luckily quite a lot of me-mades did make the cut to stay though!

Konmari wardrobeThe result after a few hours of hardcore sorting? Five bags of cast-offs! I was pretty shocked as I do a wardrobe edit fairly regularly and send a large bag to charity every few months, but I was much, much stricter this time due to following Marie’s joy test. I’m going to book a collection from my local Traid to pick up the cast-offs – it seems fitting to donate to a charity that values the craft of sewing and works to improve textile waste and worker conditions.

P2170334
Once the cull has happened, reorganising can begin. I put my clothes back in a nice logical order: tops on the upper rail roughly in frequency-of-wear order from left to right: cardigans, everyday tops, then seasonal items  – Marie doesn’t approve of packing away off-season items. As an aside, look at how embarrassingly clear my colour preferences are: hello grey, black, wine and khaki, you can stay.

P2170333

Skirts and dresses on the bottom rail again leading from everyday to formal/off-season. (Luckily I’m not a shoe person; that grey pair is my only pair of non-everyday shoes.) Having this much stuff hanging up is a bit against Marie’s methods as she doesn’t like garments on hangers unless strictly necessary, but personally I much prefer to see everything at once. My trousers do live in a separate drawer though, as do loungewear and underwear. Those latter categories were much quicker and easier to sort for some reason.

There’s no doubt the Konmari method works. For the first time my wardrobe really does feel lighter and fresher. I can actually see all my clothes and riffle amongst them on the hangers – I hadn’t really realised how cramped and unpleasant my wardrobe was to navigate before. I’m interested to see if it makes it easier to choose what to wear in the morning; my instinct says it certainly will.

P2170327The upshot of all this is that I am kind of going to be forced to approach my sewing choices in a much more careful way – to really think about what I want to make and if it belongs in my wardrobe, and ensure that trickles down into fabric choices, too. The good news is that after the big cull there are definitely areas of my wardrobe which need to be replenished a bit – mostly trousers, t-shirts and day dresses, which are what I wear 90% of the time. Luckily those are the garments I like to sew as well, so I’m feeling fairly confident that I can make stuff that will fit into the gaps.

If this whole process sounds a bit military and joy-sucking by the way, I don’t feel that way at all – it’s quite freeing to have less stuff and a clear idea of what kind of things will make me happy to make and wear in the future. And it wasn’t even that hard to throw out me-mades once I began to remember that the point of owning them may have been to learn something rather than to keep them forever.

Has anyone else got on board the Konmari train? I know from Instragram that Kelly and Morgan have been through it and both said it affected their sewing choices as well. Is sewing a wearable and ‘joy-sparking’ wardrobe important to you? How do you feel about throwing away handmades?

Lazy sewist tips: what’s worth the effort – and what isn’t

lazy sewing tips

Reading Janene’s brilliant 40 top tips for sewists today reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while, albeit with a slightly different angle. You see, I’m a lazy sewist – or more accurately, a time-short sewist. While getting great results is definitely important to me and I love the actual sewing process a lot, I do like to cut corners and miss out as many of the boring steps as possible. Sewing time is precious and I don’t want to waste it completing steps that aren’t necessary.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve been realising which steps and techniques really are worth spending time on to get a good finish, and which you can quietly skip and not really notice the difference. Plus some of the ‘worth it’ things actually save you time in the long run! Here’s what I came up with – see if you agree…

Worth it

Deer & Doe Centaurée

Lining

I used to think, why on earth would anyone spend their time making a whole other garment just to sit inside the real one? But I’ve definitely seen the error of my ways on this one. Lining a garment means you can enclose all your raw seams so you don’t need to worry about finishing seam allowances too neatly. You can also cleanly finish necklines and sleeves with a simple understitch or topstitch, saving the need to hem or bind edges. I try to burrito dresses and tops wherever possible – it’s incredibly fast and makes a lovely clean finish inside. I also love to line wovens in stretch mesh as you can usually skip darts and pleats and get a nice snug lining in fewer pieces.

Understitching

I always used to skip this, thinking it was a waste of time. But nope, understitching your lining or facings is completely worth it as it really does help them stay tucked inside the garment and often saves the need for extra topstitching.

Changing needles

DO change you needle regularly, and match the right one for your project (jeans, ballpoint, fine etc). I can now immediately tell if my needle is old or not right for the fabric. For the record, I like Schmetz needles the best as they have colour-coded bands so I know what I have in the machine at any time.

Hand-sewing

I love a bit of hand-sewing, not least because it’s secretly lazy: one of the few tasks you can do in an armchair in front of the TV. I’ve started hand-picking all my zips and do a fair bit of invisible slip-stitching for facings and inner waistbands.

Pressing

Yeah, it’s really tedious but massively helps make garments look more polished. I sew the most amount of seams I can without intersecting them and press all at once. Also, tiresome as it is, pressing fabric before cutting and the pieces again after cutting helps with accuracy.

Not worth it

Pinning

I hardly ever pin anything. I guess that’s just down to preference and practice, but I find I get on fine working by hand and eye to match pieces together. At the most I’ll pin at the quarter and centre points when setting something in in the round. For knits I use Wonder Clips and for hems and bindings I secure with Aqua Glue. For cutting out I use weights (I like these grippy ones) and a rotary cutter and mat for maximum speed/accuracy.

Polka dot skinny jeans

Interfacing

Over the course of making lot of pairs of trousers and shorts, I’ve found that the correlation between interfaced waistbands and well-fitting, non-bagging waistbands is close to zero. It also makes it much harder to sew the inner and outer bands together accurately with one of them stiffly interfaced. My preferred method now is to cut the inner band (or interline) with a rigid fabric like twill and skip the interfacing completely – my favourite handmade jeans use this and they are performing best in terms of keeping their shape and not creasing. I still begrudgingly use interfacing where it really is needed like for facings, but don’t really like facings anyway so try to avoid them.

Backtacking

I rarely backtack at the start of a line of stitching, here’s why: nearly every raw edge will be covered by another seam or hem later on, so it really isn’t worth it for secure-ing reasons. Plus on delicate or loose-weave fabrics (and knits) it can leave an ugly bump or chew up the edge of the fabric: a plain stitch is much easier to press open and stitch over. I find that on the stitch length I use (about 2.5mm) unravelling while I work is never a problem. I also don’t backtack at the start of sewing a hem or seam in the round as then you’d have six layers of stitching over the stop-and-start point.

Following instructions

It’s incredibly rare that I follow a pattern’s instructions these days, unless it’s particularly complex or new to me. Instead I have a stock list now of ways I prefer to make things which can usually be adapted to most patterns – pants construction order, zip insertion, attaching linings and so on. Find ones that work for you and see if you can re-use them on new projects.

Do you agree with me on any points? Or have I massively revealed myself as a corner-cutting sewing fraud?! Any other time-saving tips to add?