Category Archives: Tutorial

Wear-in your handmade jeans in five minutes

I’ve got a bit of a confession. I’ve got quite the stock of handmade jeans now – Gingers, Safrans, more Gingers – but they don’t tend to get worn as often as my trusty RTW pairs. The reason was always they they felt too crispy-new, too uniformly-coloured, with none of that lovely age (or slightly less lovely artificial ageing/distressing) of my favourite vintage or store-bought pairs.

So why did nobody tell me how fast and easy it was to get a lovely soft, faded, subtly-patina’ed finish on brand new handmade jeans, with nothing but a bit of sandpaper and five minutes of elbow grease? I’ve just turned three pairs of handmade jeans from meh to dreamy in a weekend.

Here’s how I did it. I got some fairly heavy-grade sandpaper out of our DIY cupboard and wrapped it around my hand. A sanding block would probably do the trick, too. I put the jeans on and simply started buffing away at the areas I wanted to fade and distress. I started around the front pockets, fly and waistband, then took long strokes down the inseam and outer seams. Then I crouched down (this is where you start to feel pretty silly) and rubbed the paper down my front thigh, down to the knees and calf. Finally I took it over the back waistband, back pockets and centre back seam.

The trick is to start with a little pressure and build it up. Hold the fabric fairly taut where you want a smooth fade and let it wrinkle and bunch a bit where you want whiskers to form. You also may want to put some paper or plastic sheeting down before you start as you’ll get indigo ‘rubbings’ falling off.

Finally, you can take the jeans off, check over for any bits that don’t feel uniform and scrub away a little more. I hung the jeans over the edge of my ironing board or over a tailor’s ham for this bit.

Here’s the same thing on my Cone Mills denim Gingers. This effect might not be for everyone, but I know I’m going to get a lot more wear out of these jeans now they feel soft and worn-in.

Tutorial: non-flipping facings

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I’ve developed my own little way of doing facings that works really well for me, so I thought I’d share it. I haven’t seen it instructed anywhere else or included in a pattern, but for me it removes all the pain points of facings – the flapping out, re-wrangling into place after laundering, awkwardness of sewing them in the round to a neckline – and leaves a nice clean, smooth finish that doesn’t budge.

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It works well for any sort of simple shallow-ish crew/jewel neckline with a CB zip or without; I don’t think it’d work so well for a deep scoop or V neck. It also works better on lighter weight fabrics because it adds a little bulk to the armsyce seam. I’m demoing on a new Sudley dress I’m making this weekend – here we go…

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1. Draft the facing pieces. Basically you’re tracing off the neckline and shoulder area of the front and back bodices. To get the depth, measure down about 2″ from the centre of each neckline. The back piece is cut straight across to the armsyce, and I’ve curved the front one gently up a bit as it reaches the armsyce.

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2. Cut out from the fashion fabric and from lightweight interfacing; fuse on the interfacing. Finish the lower raw edges of each piece, by pinking or overlocking.

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3. The facings are sewn on individually before the shoulder seams are sewn. Pin and sew the front facing to the front neckline and the back to the back, right sides together, using the pattern’s given seam allowance.

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4. Grade, clip/notch and understitch both the front and back as usual.

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5. Now we sew the outer shoulder seam and facing shoulder seam as one. Right sides facing, pin front bodice to back bodice shoulder seam, and continue along the facing shoulder seam, taking care to line up the seam intersection in the centre. Sew at the pattern’s given seam allowance.

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6. Trim (no need to finish the raw edge, I just like trimming with my pinks) and clip a triangle out at the seam intersection to reduce bulk.

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7. Press the seam allowances in opposing directions to help it lie flat. Repeat for other shoulder.

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8. Fold facings to the inside and give a good press. Looking good!

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9. Finally, smooth out and pin the facings to the bodice and baste in place along the armsyce, inside the seam allowance. Now you simply treat the facing and main bodice as one when you sew in the sleeves.

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All done, a nice flat facing that will never flip out of place! I think it looks really smart and pretty inside and out.

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For invisible zips again sew the facings to necklines first (the back being in two pieces in this instance rather than on the fold), then insert the zip, then follow the other steps. What’s your favourite neckline finish? Any questions on this technique, just shout.

Better Pictures Project + a quick editing tutorial

Hallo! If you read Gillian’s blog, Crafting a Rainbow, you’ll have seen she asked me to contribute to her Better Pictures Project this month on the subject of taking better indoor photos, especially in winter. I was flattered when Gillian asked me to share some tips because I don’t see my photos as particularly great; in fact I often feel bad that I don’t get outside to shoot more often. I usually feel too self-conscious to shoot in public, plus it’s so much faster and easier to control conditions and get a variety of detail/angle shots indoors, which is what I like to see when I’m reading blogs myself. So it’s likely you’ll be stuck with my fireplace and sewing room wall some more this year, ha ha.

Edit blog photos

You can read the post over on Crafting a Rainbow for details of my photography setup, and I’m sharing a bit more detail here on my typical editing process, which I believe makes up a large proportion of getting a decent indoors shot. I’m using Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 on my iMac – I’m afraid I can’t advise on other software solutions as I only use Photoshop!

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Here’s a typical photo straight out of my camera. It’s not too bad, but my typical adjustments to make a shot like this a bit better are to correct the light levels and cropping.

Edit blog photos

Because I use a wide-angle lens and my light source – the window – is coming in from the side, I often get vignetting: darker corners compared to the centre of the image. To brighten them out I use the Dodge tool. Select a large, soft brush on the top toolbar, set the Exposure to 20-30%, and gently brush on the dark areas until they brighten up. I might also brush on other areas that have got a bit shadowy like my face or darker areas of the garment.

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The bottom half of my images are usually dark and shadowy so you can’t see the details of the garment properly, so I even this up too. Enter Quick Mask mode by hitting the little ‘dotted circle inside a rectangle’ icon near the bottom of the left toolbar, or shortcut: hit the Q key. Now select the Brush tool and paint over the dark patch with a large, soft brush. The mask is painted in red – that’s just temporary so you can see it!

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Then I press Q again which exits Quick Mask and turns the mask into a selection, outlined by a dotted line. The mask actually selects the inverse of what you painted, so hit cmd+shift+i to invert the selection.

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Then I use the Curves tool (Image > Adjustments > Curves or cmd+M) to bump up the brightness of the selected area – it will just affect the bit that was masked, and because we used a soft-edged brush it will tone in with no obvious edges. I don’t really understand how Curves works, but by pulling up the middle of the line I find it creates a nice even brightness-punch without blowing out the colour or detail.

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As I say in the post I wrote for Gillian, I try to reduce things poking into shot as it’s visually distracting. I haven’t shoved my coffee table out of the way enough so I’m going to clone it out. Again use the Quick Mask to brush over the thing you want to remove.

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Invert it, right click on the selection, and hit ‘Fill’. Make sure ‘Content Aware’ is the contents type and hit OK. The selected area will be filled with a sampling of its surroundings so it disappears. PHOTOSHOP MAGIC. I may also use the Clone Stamp tool to brush out smaller distracting details.

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Finally, I’ll straighten and crop the image using the Crop tool. Make sure ‘original ratio’ is selected so you have uniform image sizes and drag and rotate the handles to a nice composition. You’ll see gridlines come up dividing the image into thirds and it’s nice to try and have the image’s focal points sit on one of the gridlines for a pleasing composition (the rule of thirds).

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Finally, I may apply a couple of filters – I find these help my images have a cohesive ‘look’ to them. I save these as Actions so they can be run instantly across every photo in the set. You can find lots of free filter actions online: try DeviantArt. You’ll probably want to tone down the result by setting a lower opacity on the Layer palette. When you’re happy, merge down all the layers and save.

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Done! This process takes me under five minutes per image, and I think it’s worth the small amount of effort. I hope it was helpful, and let me know if you have any other questions or tips about indoor photography or photo editing. Are you participating in the Better Pictures Project? Are you a fan of indoor or outdoor shots on sewing blogs? Should I suck it up and get outdoors sometimes?

Kaleido-Datura, and tips on machine-sewing buttons

Datura

In anticipation of springlike weather, I scooped up the Deer & Doe Datura pattern from Ray Stitch recently. It had been on my to-buy list for a while but seemed an extravagant price for a tank – but I was swayed by how well D&D patterns fit me and the snazzy triangle cutout neckline.

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I used 1m of this lovely Liberty lawn from Shaukat, a digital collage print called Matt Maddison: the kaleidoscope triangle pattern seemed just too perfect a pairing with the Datura’s neckline. I toyed with the idea of blocking the yoke in black but decided to just insert a bit of flat piping into the seam instead.

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The Datura is labelled as advanced and there are indeed a few techniques in there to make things satisfyingly challenging. The language and diagrams in the instruction book weren’t always super clear either – I got a bit confused when attaching the shoulders, but luckily found this sewalong tutorial which cleared things up. Attaching the bias along the neckline with the correct gaps between the triangles took a bit of trial and error too. Size-wise I cut a 38 at the top blended to 42 at the hip, and cut the hem length of the largest size.

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I’m really happy with the fit and wouldn’t change anything, but something is still making me feel a bit unsure about the finished garment. I think it’s perhaps a bit too fussy in design for my day to day wear, and I also don’t find the shape very flattering on me – it seems to enhance pear proportions. We’ll see if it grows on me or languishes unworn once spring comes along.

Sew on buttons by machine

But how about a buttony bonus? I thought I would share how I sew on buttons by machine, in case anyone is doing this tedious chore by hand and wondering how I can sew so many without going crazy. You’ll need a button foot (I have this cheap generic one for my Janome) and some clear sticky tape. If you don’t have a button foot, you can remove the presser foot entirely and just use the ‘stump’ to hold the button in place, though it’s trickier.

Attaching buttons

1. Mark your button positions per the buttonholes.

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2. Place the buttons and tape them down. You can tape each separately or use one long bit of tape.

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3. Measure the distance between the holes of your button. Mine’s about 3mm here. (For four hole buttons you can either measure and sew the holes in pairs parallel to each other, or diagonally across from each other. Or a jaunty arrow!)

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4. Set up your machine: go for a zig-zag stitch with the width set to the distance you measured between the holes and the length at the shortest your machine will go (mine’s 0.2mm). And best to set your machine’s speed to the slowest it will go, to negate needle-slamming-into-button situations (heed the voice of experience).

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5. Fit the button foot to your machine. As you can see, it’s like a little clamp with a gap in the middle, which holds the button nicely in place for you.

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6. Slide the button under, aligning centrally under the foot and making sure the holes are horizontally parallel. At this point I usually lower the needle manually to check it’s going to hit the left-hand hole in the right place, then go ahead and run the machine on slow speed. I go for about 5 or 6 passes of the zigzag between the holes. For 4-hole buttons you’ll then need to re-align to the second pair of holes. My machine has an auto locking stitch which anchors my stitches at the start and end, but if yours doesn’t you will probably want to leave a tail and secure by hand.

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8. Pull off the tape and cut your thread tails (if you need to secure your ends, thread the tails onto a needle, bring to the wrong side and knot to secure.). Voila, fast and secure buttons – I’ve never had one fall off yet. Hope it was helpful!

Quick tutorial: Weave-in serger tails as you sew

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This is a special weekend, because I have my overlocker back! The lovely man at Maury Sewing Machines in Hackney patched it up real good for me, and also gave it some general TLC – sharpening the blade, changing the bulb and giving it all a nice clean and oil. It’s like a new machine and I’m so glad to have it back in working order for only £50. I’ve spent all weekend sewing up the pretty knits in my stash into some much-needed basics to replenish my Kondo-ed wardrobe – tees, sweaters and casual dresses. I’ll share them soon, but for now I have a quick tip on how to speed up your overlocking process a bit by weaving in thread tails as you sew.

Weave in serger tails as you sew

I first saw this technique mentioned as an aside during Heather’s Ginger sewalong, and it’s also outlined in the Simplicity sewing book, which of all my reference books is the one with some really handy tips, especially in the overlocker chapter. It’s a really useful time-saver to neatly finish an overlocked/serged seam wherever you’ll be leaving the start of the seam open (ie not crossed over by another seam) in the finished garment. For example at the shoulder seam if you sew on a neckband in the flat, a sleeve seam with a flat-set cuff, or some types of pocket bag. I hope the photos and descriptions make sense, shout in the comments if not!

Weave in serger tails as you sew

1. Make sure you have a decent length of thread chain (a couple of inches) coming off the machine before you start sewing. Now feed in the seam and sew the first 1 or 2mm, so the needle is only just engaged with the fabric. Stop and hand-crank the needles to the down position if they aren’t already.

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2. Raise the presser foot. Grab the thread tail and pull it round the left-hand side to the front. You want to pull pretty tight so that any stitches on the little prongs behind the needles fall off and become taut.

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3. Pull that tail right around to the front so it’s in front of the presser foot in line with your stitching line. Lower the presser foot again.

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4. Now keep sewing, and your thread tail will get caught in the seam as you sew it. After a couple of inches you can pull it off the right-hand side so the excess is cut off by the blade.

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The result! Tidy seam edge, zero effort. Will you be giving this a go?

Holly dress, and a how-to

Holly dress

Ahoy-hoy! I’m in beautiful Mexico right now, but I have a little project from earlier this month to show and tell – it’s another By Hand London Holly Jumpsuit dress hack, and I’ve also guest posted the tutorial on BHL’s blog. Scroll to the bottom for a link…

Holly dress
Holly dress

I love how this version turned out! My paper pattern tweaks from first time worked out well, though looking at this pic I could probably go down a size as it’s a bit loose above the waist, which shows up more in this crisper fabric. BHl have done an amazingly comprehensive sewalong for Holly by the way, with all sorts of useful fitting tips from swaybacks to the dreaded neck gape.

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I think the fabric really makes this dress. It’s a Ghanaian wax cotton that I bought from a lovely lady at Spitalfields Market; only 5 or 6 quid for 4 yards. Wax is so nice to work with, especially when you have to do any kind of folding/pressing since it holds a crease so well. A wash with fabric softener before and after sewing really helps it to relax into a soft and comfy cotton, and it stays surprisingly un-creasy all day. I used to feel a bit uncomfortable in garments made from stiffer woven fabrics, but I think getting the fit/ease right means they feel a lot better to wear. I don’t get changed into sweats when I get home after wearing this, a sure sign that a garment is comfy!

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The fabric also let me do one of my favourite things: get nerdy with print placement! I ran the directional print horizontally on the bodice and vertically on the skirt, doing my best to centre and mirror the design across the fronts. The darts get pleasingly camouflaged into the geometric print rather than breaking it up too much. The blue stripes across the waistline and down the button band weren’t intentional but have become my favourite feature. I totally zoned out when it came to matching the side seams and sleeves though, ha.

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Such nice tidy guts, mmm. I finished the neckline with bias again instead of facings. This is a bit of a slovenly confession but I only very recently started threading my overlocker with 4 threads instead of 3, literally because I couldn’t be bothered to re-thread that one extra spool when changing colours. Turns out the 4-thread looks way neater and has a much stronger finish, so consider me convinced.

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Soooo, if you want to see my walkthrough on exactly how to draft and attach the gathered skirt to the Holly bodice, I’ve done a tutorial as a guest post on the official Holly sewalong, so pop over to the BHL blog and have a read.

Holly dress

This is the LAST button-down dress I have to show for a while, you’ll be pleased to hear. It’s so hard to pick a favourite from all the ones I’ve made recently, but this one has racked up the most wears (and compliments) so far. I wore it to the SewBrum meetup and it’s come out to Mexico with me – I’ve been doing very well on wearing handmades here, as well as a bit of fabric shopping… update soon!