Category Archives: Musings

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?

A year of sewing in review

sewxmas

Happy Christmas kids, hope you all had a good one. I was very spoiled like usual, and especially got treated to lots of lovely sewing goodies: a few books and a big box full of Merchant and Mills goodies from my sister. My handmade gifts for my mum and Josh also went down very well, so I’ll try to get some photos and share them soon.

As the year draws to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back on my first year of sewing and review what I actually wear the most from all my makes – and what didn’t get worn at all – and see how it can help me shape what garments I make going forward. I’ve enjoyed seeing ‘top 5’ lists on other sewing blogs, but thought I’d discuss all my varying degrees of success in a bit more depth.

Most worn

coats

Coats: I wear both of my coats regularly, especially my biker coat. Hurrah for my most expensive and time-consuming garments being my biggest win!

tops

Tops: The reversible raglan is definitely my most-worn garment: I wear it as soon as it comes out of the laundry and send it back there again! The fabric and construction have both held up really well and I love the shoulder detailing. I also wear my silk tulip Scout often, even in the cold layered with a cardigan.

dresses

Dresses: The feather tunic is my most-worn dress, I just love the colours and it’s so comfy. I wore it on Christmas Day, as you can spy in the photo up top. Likewise I’ve worn my Lola twice already and I’ve only had it a week, ha ha.

dresses2

I wore my Simplicity 1800 a lot in the summer, and it’s transitioned well into cold weather. Unfortunately the poor quality fabric and construction mean it’s looking a bit ropey these days. I also wore the black and tan dress and Salme grey pussybow dress a lot, but again I’m not happy with my workmanship. It shows how far my skills have come since I made these, and I’d like to make them all again in nicer fabrics.

Worn a bit

pants

Trousers: I wear my Papercut pants occasionally: I still struggle to put an outfit together around them, but because they’re wool they’re so warm and cosy so I want to persevere with them. I wore my Burda deco pants a bit a few months ago, but they don’t really work for winter. I’ll dig them out again in the spring.

smocks

Dresses: I’ve worn my storm smock once or twice, but the slightly off fit makes me not reach for it more often. Likewise my other smock is a bit off fit-wise too, I need to take them back to the machine to fix up.

tops2

Tops: I wear my two woven Scouts occasionally, but have found I tend to prefer either stretch knits or drapier/lighter woven fabrics for tops.

Not worn

dresses3

A riot of prints, ha ha. I really love my midcentury mashup dress but haven’t found the right occasion yet: it’s a bit formal for a day dress and a bit cleavage-y for family gatherings. I have the same issue with my pansy dress too. I haven’t worn my staggy Belladone yet either; I think I got too entranced by the cute fabric but it’s a bit too much of a statement piece for everyday and also not cold weather appropriate. Ditto my Simplicity 1651 space dress: I wore it to a ‘Heaven and Hell’ costume party but I don’t think that counts!

notworn

Conversely, I haven’t worn my first Dixie ballet dress either, which is surprising as it has the hallmarks of something I should live in (grey, knit, empire line). I think it’s just a bit too plain and dull. I don’t wear my Kelly skirt as it’s just not really my style and it’s too big. I’d like to take it back to the machine and change it up a bit (shorter, different buttons), and perhaps dye it black.

Dead and/or gone

I truly loved my black and white Salme pussy bow dress and wore it a few times in the summer, but the poor quality fabric and construction meant it literally fell apart at the seams and became unsalvageable. I need to find a similar print in a nicer fabric as I always found myself reaching for it in my wardrobe. I gave my vintage playsuit to the charity shop. I had lots of fun making it but I was never realistically going to ever wear it. I wore my Victoria blazer once or twice but I’m not happy with the quality of my construction, so it’s gone to the charity shop too.

Deductions

What can I learn from this exercise? Plenty, I think:

Invest in quality fabrics and construction:
The items I wear the most are the ones where I feel confident in the fit, my workmanship, and in the fabric’s durability. Easy care in terms of laundry is a big bonus, too.

Know what silhouettes work:
Sewing has made me know my body so much better, and I have a pretty good grip now on what shapes and fabrics I feel comfortable wearing. I won’t wear anything too stiff or structured; I don’t like excess volume in pleats or ruffles; I don’t like showing much cleavage but do like a snug fit around the waist. I wear knits way more than wovens, especially on the top half, so I definitely want to make more interesting knit tops next year.

Not novelty but not boring:
I haven’t worn any of my more outlandish printed pieces much at all, but don’t wear very plain pieces either. I should stick to graphical prints in muted colours or monochrome, and make more colourblocked pieces with solid fabrics.

Think about occasion:
Don’t make garments that only work in a specific season or don’t really have an event that they’re suitable for. Consider how separates will coordinate with other items and how ‘dressy’ dresses are. Given my work at home lifestyle I don’t need many smart dresses or trousers, so making more practical, comfortable garments is what I should aim for.

It’s been amazing learning more about sewing garments this year, and it really excites me that I’ve stuck with it so long (I tend to be a bit of an ADD hobby magpie, ahem). I feel like I’m in a good place now where my skills are improved and I have a better idea about the kind of garments I like to make and that suit me. There is always so much more to learn – I’d especially love to dig into drafting my own patterns – and I already have a long to-sew list for 2014 (including jeans, oh yes). Bring it on.

Fashion Sketchpad

Fashion Sketchpad

I bought the Fashion Sketchpad to keep track of my seemingly endless to-sew list, along with jotting down the random garment ideas that pop into my head from time to time. I’d just been doodling in an old plain sketchbook, but thought it’d be useful to have the figures pre-drawn for me to dress up.

Fashion Sketchpad

Fashion Sketchpad

I’m really pleased with my purchase. The book has a gorgeous thick card cover with silver detailing, and I’m happy it has a spiral-top binding so you can sketch without your hand bumping into the binding (as a lefty I get this a lot). The first few pages have a wealth of information on technical terms, how to measure up, and how to use the book.

Fashion Sketchpad

The book has pages and pages of croquis printed front and back in various poses. (Did you know that these exaggerated model-esque figure drawings are called croquis, by the way? Me neither until now.) Some show the back and front next to each other so you can sketch out both sides together. Mostly there are two to a page, but some 4 to a page as well.

Fashion Sketchpad

This is how I’ll mostly use it – stick in a little selvedge swatch from my stashed fabrics and sketch out what I plan to make with it, along with some notes on the pattern, construction and details. I need to dig out my colouring pencils so I can properly shade them in and get a better idea of how the finished garment will look.

Fashion Sketchpad

I’ll also jot down ideas for projects I don’t have fabrics for yet, such as this reversible colour-blocked dress vision I have in my head. It means I can try to be focused when fabric shopping and think about what I can buy to complete a planned project.

Does anyone else have a system for organising their sewing projects?

Midcentury Mashup dress

Midcentury mashup dress

I think my favourite part of sewing is matching fabrics to patterns. When I clapped eyes on this beautiful print I knew exactly what it was destined to be, and even better, no new pattern purchase was needed as it’s a Frankenpattern of two already in my library.

Midcentury mashup dress

It’s a mash-up of Simplicity 1651 and 1800, used previously here and here. The twist front bodice is a variant of 1651 and I reckoned its Fifites style would be a good match for the print. Gratuitous close-up:

Midcentury mashup dress

It was really fun to put together, with an ingenious method for attaching the shell, lining (yes, it’s lined! Sewing bucket list tick) and centre piece with no visible seams. As I was sewing it I thought that it would make a really cool back bodice piece too, even without the centre piece for a cut-out look.

Midcentury mashup dress

Having sewed both patterns before I knew to make a couple of fit modifications. I shortened the bodice by an inch to hit my natural waist, and took about 3 inches off the top of the skirt so that the pockets sit higher up.

Midcentury mashup dress

It was super easy to merge the two patterns since the construction is the same: I just made sure that the width of the skirt and bodice matched up when I put in the darts and pleats. It’s just maybe an inch too large on the waist, but I’d rather play it safe with woven fabrics.

Midcentury mashup dress

I’m generally pleased with my workmanship here for once. Look at that tidy invisible zip!

Midcentury mashup dress

The fabric, ah the fabric. I’m in LOVE. It was another £2.99/m Minerva bargain but this time the cheap fabric wheel of fortune landed in my favour: it feels so lovely, sewed up well, and oh my the print and colours. Midcentury heaven with a hint of Cubism? In my head, if I was ever on Project Runway (all sewists imagine this at one point or another don’t they?) this would be my final collection’s signature print. It feels so very me.

Midcentury mashup dress

This dress also got me thinking about something that Tilly touched on in a recent post regarding curating a personal style via the items you sew. It’s something I find difficult because I’m so drawn to lots of different fabrics and patterns right now – I’m just a kid in the proverbial and I want to sew all the things. But once my technique is better and I learn what I actually wear regularly I hope I can start curate a sense of cohesion in the items I sew, and create a pulled-together ‘look’ for myself as a result. I’m in admiration of bloggers who seem to have this nailed, such as Tilly herself, Ami, Anna and Andrea amongst lots more.

sewstudio

To help me stay on track, I made a Sewing Studio page of all my makes. I love seeing these on other sewists’ blogs to get an idea of their personal style and I think it will be helpful for me to shape my consistency. I feel like this dress is a good step in the right direction: its sludgy tones, graphic pattern and interesting details are a good basis for a checklist of ‘What Katie Sews And Will Probably Wear A Lot’. Does anyone else try to curate a personal style via their makes?