Category Archives: Musings

Upcoming plans, and thoughts on capsules

Long time no sew. I’m having a bit of a dry, introspective patch with my sewing lately. It got kicked off by getting a new wardrobe recently, which necessitated getting all my clothes out and dumping them in my sewing room for a week while the new one was installed.

I didn’t have physical space to sew for one thing, plus being surrounded by my clothes forced me to confront the amount I own and consider how I can balance my desire to keep sewing with the fact that I really only want to make garments that my wardrobe needs and I know I’ll love and wear often.

Yeah, that old chestnut again, eh?!

Admittedly I don’t actually have tons of clothes perhaps compared to others – I have one half of a smallish wardrobe which holds everything – but still feel increasingly uncomfortable with owning more than I need.

As I carefully sorted and hung things back in the new wardrobe (with colour-coded hangers, thanks for noticing) it made me realise I really like the idea of having a much smaller choice. It makes getting dressed much easier: when I was in the midst of everything-everywhere chaos I found I would automatically reach for my top ten garments almost unthinkingly. The old 80-20 rule in full effect.

There’s a million and one thinkpieces about how to create a capsule wardrobe (and I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the concept), but I found the steps and advice in this article pretty useful to think about.

It begs questions like: What are those pieces I reach for all the time? What’s common about them? Can I combine them to make easy outfits? How can I make more things like these, without making the exact same thing again for the sake of it? How do I keep up sewing while not needlessly making clothing I don’t want or need?

The above is a collage of the garments which I do love and end up grabbing day after day, and it’s not hard to see a pattern, right?

Dark colours (with the odd pop of pale or pastel), tied or high waists, sparse, sketchy prints and drapey fabrics are clearly my jam. Clothes that are comfortable and well-made in lovely fabrics always float to the top.


[All sources on Pinterest]

Of course, sewing still needs to be fun too! I’ve really missed being at my machine the last month or so, and with spring not too far away I’ve been starting to squirrel away ideas for the new season. The solution I’m going to test out is being even more considered in the garments I pick to sew, and aiming for longer projects where I perhaps try new skills or really labour over the little details I am often too lazy to invest in. That way I get to enjoy precious sewing time while still building well-made and needed items into my closet.

That’s the plan anyway, and these are some ideas on the next few garments I think would be great additions to my carefully-edited wardrobe.

1. Another Helmi dress, maybe one plain and one print.
2. Casual mini tee-dress, maybe another Inari.
3. Pull-on big pocket trousers, probably self-drafted
4. Windowpane check peg trousers – I have the fabric and pattern earmarked for this.
5. A spring-weight coat. I have the Orageuse Londres in mind, in a tencel or cupro. Not sure if I’ll go for pink or a maybe more classic navy.
6. Midi length knit sheath dress, might hack the Trend knot-front dress.
7. Button-up blouse/tee (maybe with sleeves) in a silk noil or linen; New Look 6250
8. Nice plain jumpsuit, Butterick 6312
9. More wide-leg pants, either Landers or high-waist Ginger flares.


[All sources on Pinterest]

Finally, here’s a little moodboard to help out with my idea on cohesion, colours and silhouettes. I think I already do pretty well on picking out naturally cohesive projects, but it’s always useful to have a little reference board.

Is anyone else thinking about this stuff? Am I overthinking things?! I just finished a lovely spring-facing project which really got me back in love with sewing, so I promise it won’t be a month between posts again!

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?