Flora in Mitsi Valeria Red

By Hand London Flora dress

How often do you revisit a messed up project to rectify the issues? I can hand on heart say I never have! But in the case of this dress it was wholly necessary and entirely worthwhile.

This is my new By Hand Flora dress and my love for her is as strong as for the other one I posted in March. But this one is the original – the one I pattern tested, and the one I screwed up so much I was embarrassed to send photos of to the girls. I must emphasise that I only had myself to blame. Making wholly unnecessary changes when the pattern clearly needed none!

BHL Flora dress

But I had to put things right because I can’t tell you how gorgeous this fabric is. I couldn’t bear for it to go to waste. It is a beautiful lawn from Ray Stitch, called Mitsi Valeria Red. Thankfully I had just enough left to recreate the bodice. I don’t know what took me so long because it comes together so easily.

Flora dress back view

When the fabric arrived, I had to admit that I had doubts about it being weighty enough to give the skirt section the structure it deserves – The polka dot one is quite a heavy synthetic fabric that juts out in all the right places – but I love how this one elegantly drapes, creating a very different look. Plus it feels so silky and special.

Flora dress bodice

Lucky it wasn’t too windy today. It’s so lightweight that the tiniest gust turns this beauty from demure to downright rude in seconds. I gave an elderly chap near heart failure the last time I went out in it. He didn’t know where to look!

Because of it’s delicate nature it didn’t feel right to create bulky serged seams so I pinked them and boy were those open seams satisfying to press. So crisp and neat and because of the ditsy pattern you cannot see the seam joins at all. A bit like the back section of the blue vintage dress I pieced.

Flora dress back view

This was also a particularly useful discovery as I had to cut the front skirt in two pieces owing to the narrow width of the fabric. It’s quite usual for special quality fabrics to come in narrower widths but ideally the front skirt of this Flora skirt should be cut in one piece from a 60″ wide fabric to avoid a centre seam.

And it kind of goes without saying that the By Hand Flora dress is indeed one of the most twirliest dresses around! It’s gotta be done!

twirling in Flora Dress

Photography by Daniel James Photographic 

 

Sewing Bloggers and Gaultier – The Perfect Rescue Remedy!

Anyone else bumbling through the school holidays? I’m quite exhausted to be honest. Don’t get me wrong. It’s lovely to see more of the children but trying to work full time and juggle child-share has had me a bit frayed around the edges this year. No holiday plans has meant no proper stretch of time off and though I’m quite used to that, I’m really not used to being so knacked that I don’t have head space to sew or even think about what I want to sew. Robbed of inspiration, I was. Until this weekend that is!

I’d almost clean forgotten that Roisin had planted a seed to go to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican on Saturday. So following a Tweeted nudge, I booked that there ticket along with a voucher for a cocktail. Well, it would have been rude not to!

The day began with an assembly and fashion parade of beautiful sewists at Goldhawk Road, of course. Emmie, Roisin, Amy, Marie, Katie, Jen and a lovely chance, fancy-seeing-you-here type meeting with Alana too! I usually arrive with a handbag and a relative amount of restraint when it comes to shopping in the Goldhawk Road. I live so near and my stash is so ridiculous that I can only justify purchases for immediate plans. And I actually have some of those, now, funnily enough.

Last week, Anne from Mercury Handmade so very sweetly sent me the August issue of Burda Style magazine which I tried so hard to get hold of and failed miserably. WHSmiths could offer no reason why they just weren’t delivered and then just when I’d given up Anne Tweeted that she had a spare and would I like one? What an absolute Angel! of course I would! And If that wasn’t enough she’d enclosed two gorgeous vintage patterns for me as a surprise. She is such a kind and generous lady and spookily knows exactly what I love.

vintage patterns tops

So I bought some fabric. I’m thinking the red leopard print and or the lighthouses for the wrap blouse. I’ll need something more drapey for the tie blouse. Oh, and I bought some shoe fabric, just because!!

fabric for blouse

The next three hours sped by and then we were en route to the Barbican for some divine inspiration!

We were greeted at the entrance by some iconic breton stripes and some freaky blinking mannequins! The live expressions were projected onto the faces of the otherwise static dummies. Quite distracting at first as we were more focussed on the faces than the garments. You get the idea from the pic below:

blinking mannequins

 

Gaulier crop top

But not for long. The outrageousness of the designs increased and the freaky faces paled into insignificance!

gaultier dogtooth allover

I shamefully realised how little I knew about this incredible man.

He was self-taught and got his foot in the fashion door by sending some of his sketches to Pierre Cardin. (Best I invest in a new Fashionary book!!) This exhibition starred 165 of his amazing garments spanning 40 years of his work

His very own first collection was released in 1976 and soon earned him the title ‘enfant terrible’ of French fashion. Street fashion was dominant throughout but the couture pieces were nonetheless exquisite and edgy at the same time.

I still have no idea why the man-skirt never took off. Teamed with some serious boots and those iconic stripes of course. Such a great look and one I’d be happy to wear today too!

Gaultier kilt

Of course there was a fine selection of construction corsetry and some incredible leather cage designs that I would so love to replicate if I even knew where to start!

Gaultier leather cage

I just love the shape of this coat and I marvelled at the gazillion green feathers that incidentally look as though they were hot-glued to the lining. Kind of puts the couture classification into question, don’t ya think? Or is that allowed?

Gaultier feathered coat

And check out this ‘pinstripe’ dress, which on closer inspection transpires to have thousands of mother of pearl buttons sandwiched in between pleats and encrusting the cuffs!

Gaultier mother pearl button dress

Gaultier button cuffs

I love a bit of contradiction. A spot of rule breaking. Rebellion even! A bit Like here where recycled camo is patchworked to a ball gown, complete with fishtail and adorned with dripping glass beads. Perfect.

Gaultier camo ballgown

And a clash of the tartans. Proper rule breaking. Love it!

gaultier tartan clash

But my favourite piece which has stuck in my head and clearly wont leave until I blatantly copy it, is the yellow tartan jacket with its wonderful sculpted lampshade silhouette. I was so desperate to touch but just knew I’d set of an alarm so I gently encouraged Roisin to stick her head up and see what was going on. She kindly obliged but alas the lining hid all!

gaultier yellow tartan jacketWe loved the pan-scourer/tin-can jewellery. And a further use for all your perfume packaging! There was even a shiny tea-strainer on the belt!

Gaultier jewelery

Of course there was the famous cone corset for Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour of 1990 and also the amazing nude sequinned suit modelled so beautifully by Naomi Campbell but I still haven’t learned to turn off my data roaming and so my stupid i-phone ran out of juice at the crucial exhibits!!

The exhibition reflected his genius talent and humour at the same time without dropping an ounce of style. Though humour was evident by his starring role in 90’s Eurotrash. I loved that!

Two floors and 165 garments examined and discussed, we made way to the Gin Joint. Yes that’s right. A bar purely dedicated to gin. In the same building, with a great view and a menu of gins longer than both my arms! We had time to kill, you see. At least half an hour before the Gaultier Bar opened and where our cocktail voucher was valid. But there were no complaints. Just lots of ooos and arrs and a table full of pretty coloured gins! So enamoured by this place, that we came straight back for more after our cocktail, for truffle mac cheese… and another gin, bien sûr!

And it can’t go unmentioned that I now have taken ownership of the best loyalty card evs!!

Gin Joint Loyalty card

Alas the last day for John Paul Gaultier at the London Barbican is today, 25th August so if you are London-based and not shaking your tail feathers at Notting Hill Carnival, I advise it as the best place to keep out of the rain today . I’m just so grateful for Roisin for giving us the heads up in time and organising such a wonderful day which has totally inspired me to get back on that sewing horse and do what I love most. Thank you lovely lady. Thank you Anne and thanks to all you gorgeous sewing bloggers who make me tick!!

1939 Vintage Simplicity Dress

vintage 1939 dress

It’s been a while since I sewed a proper vintage dress and when I spied 5 gorgeous yards of pretty blue and white print fabric in a charity shop for a fiver, it was a sure sign to unwrap one of my favourite patterns. I bought the fabric thinking that if I screwed up, a fiver was worth the risk. But actually I loved the fabric so much I used some other polycotton, from stash mountain, to rehearse a toile for the bodice first.

Very few alterations were needed. I did a slight FBA to add a bit of shape and added an extra inch to the waistline. I think it fair to say that I manage to pack away a few more calories than those svelte 30s women!

simplicity 3302 pattern pieces

The pattern is a vintage original from 1939: Simplicity 3302. And the condition of the pieces was impeccable. Factory folded and clean. Such an honour to be working with such precious pieces that are 75 years old!

The most surprising thing about this dress is that it takes 5 yards of fabric. At 35 inches wide that is. But it really doesn’t look that extravagant. I’m used to 50s style dresses taking up miles of fabric but the skirt section of this one isn’t even a full circle!

vintage dress simplicity 3302

I kept to the instructions, like the good GTS I am, and I created a neck facing instead of lining. I also decided against overlocking the seams. It somehow seemed wrong! The fabric behaved beautifully and frayed very little so I opted for a spot of pinking! Feels far more authentic and it pressed beautifully flat.

I’m not totally sure what the fabric content is. But on doing a burn test, I was left with a very silky white dust. So the consensus is that it is 100% natural fibre and top notch quality I reckon! It has quite a good drape going on and doesn’t crease too much either which makes me wonder if it is cotton or not. I made a decision not to line it. Mostly because of the gorgeously warm weather we’ve been experiencing but also because it always seems a bit mad to line a natural fabric with a synthetic lining. And I wasn’t about to splash out on silk!

sitting pretty in vintage dress

Having said that. I did use a silk organza for the sleeve stiffeners. You didn’t think those puffs stick out like that, unaided did you?! Quite a clever little trick that involves a circular piece of fabric like tafetta or flannel or organza, folded in half and sewn to the sleeve head before the gathering is done.

silk organza sleeve stiffener

vintage_1939_dress_sleeve_headIt looks a bit comical until you press the seam onto the sleeve and not onto the bodice which I did at first. Didn’t get a shot of that but the look on Dan’s face was priceless!

There is also an inverted pleat that is topstitched at the hem of the sleeve. So neat.

pleat on sleeve

I’d like to say it all went swimmingly but I made quite a big boo boo when I inadvertently cut the back as two pieces and not on the fold. Very easily done when patterns of that era are unprinted, but, regardless, I needed a quick solution as it would have come up too small once I’d seamed it and also, I didn’t have a large enough leftover piece to cut another back piece. Quite a big issue when you get your hands on a unique piece of fabric from a charity shop. It’s not like you can go back and bag another metre!

So… This is a bit bodgie… I made an inch wide length of bias tape from a 2 inch strip that I’d rescued from the selvedge, using my trusty Simplicity Bias Tape Maker Machine. And with half inch seam allowance I sewed it on each centre seam of the back. That effectively joined the back pieces together where they would have sat had there had been a fold!

Luckily the seams are disguised by the busy print so I think I got away with it!

back of vintage 1939 dress

I know my hair do isn’t strictly 1930s and the shoes are far from authentic but it needed a little bit of vintage styling to pull it off. Especially as youngest dort decided it was ‘lovely but very 80s!!’

vintage simplicity 3302 dress

I love the sweetheart neckline. So discreet and so pretty. It doesn’t have any added interfacing so I’m surprised it holds so well. I did clip into those curves good and proper though!

vintage sweetheart necklineI wrestled a bit with the zip. I knew I didn’t want an invisible zip. That seemed a bit wrong too so I opted for a lapped style zip insert. But could I get my head around it… No I bloomin’ couldn’t! I can do it with my eyes closed in the back of a pencil skirt but for some reason I just couldn’t pull it off. So I went for a straightforward zip insertion whereby I basted the seam shut, centred the zip and sewed to seam allowance. I did however prick stitch close to the teeth on the right side.

side zipper

I reluctantly wore my new dress a to a party on Sunday. I didn’t know any of the guests and was a bit worried I’d stick out like a sore thumb (in my 80s dress…. thanks dort!). But my assumptions were way off. Such wonderful food and great music and the most amazing people. My ‘wallflower status’ was upheld!

candy from Black Dwarf Designs

With Candy from Black Dwarf Designs

Oh and hats off to my wonderful fella, Daniel Selway who took the photos and who now finally has a site to host his pictures. Right here, in fact!

 

Nikita’s Prom Dress

Nikita prom dress title pic

I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat and welling up with pride as I sit poised to write this post. Meet Nikita, the sister of Jessica who was the lovely recipient of my first ever hand-made prom dress.

I knew there was another one on order, a year ago. After all you can’t make for one without the other can you?!

But what joy. What an absolutely pleasure to have another opportunity to make such a special dress. I’ve learned one hellofalot in this last year. Fitting mostly. This little beauty only took two fittings. I quite forget how many Jessica’s one took! I’ve learned not to be scared of cutting into the fabric. Learned how to be honest with measurements, how to be brave with fabric choices and mostly that I CAN make a dress befitting of a princess!

Nik modelling dress by the wooden door

Up until a few weeks ago, all Nikita’s dreams of her school leavers prom were wiped out when her school declared no funds for such frivolities, after all, this year. Everyone was gutted for her. Especially knowing how hard Nik has worked throughout her last school years… despite being asleep for most of them! Normal teenage behaviour you might assume but no, unfortunately for Nikita she suffers with narcolepsy. An awful condition which means she has to take very strong medication to keep awake. Lots of things trigger a collapse. Not least of all a fit of the giggles.

I reprimanded her dad recently, for his insistence on telling jokes one after the other but Nikita assured me it was fine because his jokes were so rubbish! She has the best S.O.H. ever!

It was such a relief when her school confirmed the prom would actually go ahead. But then a little panic set in when I realised I had a couple of weeks to pull off the dress.

Nikita wearing prom dress at Fulham PalaceI think by now you have the right to safely assume that Mr Ooobop, AKA the lovely Daniel Selway has been behind the creation of these blinding photos!

Helped by a scorching summer’s day and the beautiful setting of Fulham Palace, he has blown me away once again with his amazing self-taught skills.

Nikita wears ooobop prom dress at Fulham PalaceThe dress itself is fashioned from the same materials as Jessica’s, only in stronger colours. Red Duchesse Satin and Black polka dot tulle.

The halterneck bodice section is Simplicity 3825. Inspired by Nikita’s leaning towards a Marilyn-esque dress.

simplicity 3823 sewing pattern

I’ve had this pattern in my collection for some time and I’m so glad it came into good use.

I basted a layer of the dotted tulle over the bodice pieces and treated them as one for the outer pieces. Inside the bodice is self lined with the red satin. Its a good medium weight and gave the dress some necessary structure whilst not losing out to optimum swishy drape for the skirt.

Oh just look how divine her smile is!

By the fountain at Fulham Palace

The skirt is a full circle, of course. One can’t pose over street vents if the skirt doesn’t rise above one’s head! But actually a more demure pose was to be found next to a water fountain in the grounds of Fulham Palace!

Nikita sitting by the fountain in her prom dress

And lest I forget! There are the now signatory and obligatory 10 metres of soft-as-you-like dotted tulle that adorn said circle skirt. And no tears this time. I knew what to expect. I knew to pin section by section and I knew to baste… and to breathe!

walking barefoot in Fulham Palace gardens

walking away, barefoot

The back of the dress is genius in design. It has a wonderful elasticated panel which keeps the bodice fitted nice and snug with no gapes. I just love the effect that is created with the gathered netting over the liquid shiny satin.

back of prom dress bodice

 

ooobop prom dress in the parkI can honestly say that this dress is testament to everything I love about sewing. Not only about what I get out of the whole deal but what everyone else gets too. Nikita loved her dress and I feel so honoured to have made an original number for her. Mummy Tina was delighted to see her daughter have the best time in her new dress, Daddy Tim was very happy that I’d fulfilled the brief of a ‘modest’ dress and we are all so happy with Daniel’s outstanding photos.

Nikita will do well with whatever she choses to do. Of that I am sure. Nothing is going to hold this little lady back!

prom dress front

In the apple orchardAnd the talents didn’t stop there, oh no. Nikita’s lovely sister Jessica did such an amazing job of her make up for the prom and also today before the shoot. I’m so miffed I missed out on todays events. Slogging away in an icy office when I could have been out on location with the dream team in Fulham Palace!

Jessica doing Niks make up

So thank you girlies, for making a crazy sewing lady so happy and thank you Daniel for making my blog so pretty and thank you lovely readers for making it all worth it.

Portrait of Nikita

A skirt most fitting for my friend

Fitted pencil skirt

Meet Ms Moneypenny. AKA my lovely friend, Katy. Modelling the skirt she won in the school auction, made by yours truly.

And prepare for a whole host of lovely shots taken by Mr Ooobop, AKA Daniel who I am nagging like mad to get his portfolio up and live so I can share more of his lovely photography with you.

fitted pencil skirt modelled in the garden

Getting the fit right on ones own self is one thing but the pressure to get it right for someone else is far more terrifying! I suppose it’s a good kind of terrifying because it does make you learn very fast and not settle for anything less than a good fit.

I got a bit lucky with Katy. One measuring session, one draft of the pieces, one test skirt for a fitting, and one final fitting for the actual skirt. Probably by the power of flook but selling it in as skill!

Katy happy in her new skirt

This lovely little impromptu shoot revealed Katy’s hidden modelling talents. Took to it like a duck to water, she did. And check out those pins… we don’t get to see them very often!

sitting pretty with flowers

Such a pretty garden too. Could easily be confused for one in the Med! I wish I’d have taken a shot of Mr O as he was clicking away. He was revelling in the whole session. Lying on the floor, up in a tree, peeping round Grecian columns…! I was blissed out with G&T in one hand and hot dog in the other!

Katy modelling pencil skirt

And of course there were props…

back view with Frankie the puppy

Meet Frankie Knuckles, Katy’s 11-week old border terrier puppy. She has stolen everyone’s heart, obvs!

Holding Frankie the puppy

And there was photobombing, of course!

photobombed by children

Oh how I love this shot…

Katy modelling with her daughter

It’s such a great feeling to make something for someone who means so much to you. Especially when it fits them so well. It’s also the only time you can really get away with unashamedly staring at your mate’s bum.

You can just about see where I hand-picked the lapped zipper, and of course where I – ahem – matched the checks across the back seam (*polishes nails*)

See now, you’re all looking at her bum!

back view of skirt

The waistband pattern runs through centre front but waist darts rather mess up the plan. When I next make a skirt with this kind of fabric (it’s 100% gorgeous wool by the way) I might be inclined to create side seams on the waistband, as on properly tailored skirts, so that I can match the checks on the back too. This would also allow for expansion if ever needed.

front detail of skirt

I leave you all with a parting shot of the adorable Frankie. A fine model herself and because I just know she stole your heart too!

puppy border terrier

Here’s to more sunshiny days, fabulous photos, cute puppy dogs, fantastic friends and great opportunities for wonderful sewing projects. Cheers all x

ooobop’s top 40 tips on how to be an awesome sewist

top 40 tips

I had a little trip down memory lane yesterday, looking back at old projects and it was a real eye opener as to how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned. There’s plenty more I need to learn and – hoping I’m not teaching too many grandmas to suck eggs, here – I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned so far.

 

1. Never sew when you are tired

It’s a tough rule for those of us who can only sew late at night but really it’s a no-brainer and don’t say I never warned you: Seam allowances will be forgotten, sleeves will be sewn to neck-holes (Ring any bells, Rosie?!) and insides will become outsides quicker than you can shout ‘dunnit!’

2. Measure twice and cut once

I had it said to me all my life by my mum so now I can share this irritating but seriously useful tip with you, my sewing friends. BTW she used to say it in a really squeaky irritating voice too so I’m hoping that will chew into your head as much as it did mine, soz!

3. Invest in a good machine

If you are lucky to inherit a good one then great. But advice from the mother was not to spend anything less than £200 for a newbie. It needs to be heavy enough not to dance all over your table with a reliability factor from a good brand. No fancy stitches needed. Just the usual forward, backwards and zigzags will do. Most have a buttonhole stitch and and a few fancy stitches for that price range too.

4. Learn from the mistakes of others

Stands to reason that you will learn from your own. You will only ever sew a sleeve on back to front once (twice perhaps). You will only ever forget to add seam allowance on a Burda pattern once (well maybe three times). But seriously, before you start sewing from a commercial or indie pattern, or if you are trying a new technique for the first time, have a scout round and see what everyone else came up against. You can always post a comment on a sewing blog and ask how they resolved their issues. Sewing bloggers are always your best friends.

5. Make notes

Either on the pattern piece itself, on a notecard in the envelope or digitally documented if you are that super organised, you will thank yourself later for keeping notes about what you changed from the original. You might think you have the memory of an elephant, but believe me, fellow sewists, I speak the truth when I declare that we have the memory of a goldfish when it comes round to sewing a repeat project. Or is that just me?!

6. Practice, practice, practice. . .

It’s how anyone gets good at anything they are good at. In fact it is the only way. Nobody is born great at anything. But everyone has the opportunity to be brilliant at something if only they practice enough. All you need is the passion for it. It’s not a tough call. Just keep sewing!

7. Change the needle

The word out there is to change your needle after every project. I admit to being a one-needle-two-project rebel but I do change it all the same. It needs to be an appropriate needle for the fabric too. Generally speaking:

70/10 universal  for light/ sheer fabrics
80/12 universal for light to medium cotton/linen/wool/polyester
90/14 universal for medium to heaver cotton/linen/wool/polyester
100/16 jeans for heavy denims or for hemming jeans

And a good idea to take note of the size of the needle that you last left in the machine, or put it back in a box (marked used) so you can remember what size it was. Impossible to tell otherwise.

8. Don’t skip the stay-stitching

It’s tempting I know, but just think how much you will be saved from the embarrassment of a saggy neckline, or a droopy waistline. Don’t even wait for an instruction. Any area cut on a curve or on the bias will need some stabilising or else it’s going to stretch all over the place when you come to sew it. Sew, using a regular stitch, about 1cm or 3/8 inch from the edge of your fabric, within the seamline. Stay-stitching is most effective when sewn from outsides to insides. Ie from shoulder to centre neckline or from side waist to centre waist. Repeat for the other side.

9. Read those instructions

Obvs! I’m going to put my hand up right here and confess to skip reading instructions. I always think I’ve got it. Mostly I have but I’ve also come unstuck by not paying attention. What I tend to do nowadays is take instructions to work, read them on the train, read them again in my lunch hour. Make the garment in my head on the journey home or in the shower the following morning. That way I know ‘exactly’ what I’m doing when I come to make the actual one for real!

10. Be precise in all that you do

I’ve mentioned the ‘measure twice cut once rule’ Ooops there’s that squeaky voice again. But precision is the key to perfection. Cut out your pieces accurately. Make sure your seam allowances are 15mm or 5/8 inch all round. Transfer your pattern markings accurately. It pays off, I promise you!

11. Mark the wrong side

The light in my house is not that great. Even during the day. And the times I’ve sewn right sides to wrong sides is too many for sure. In fairness, sometimes it’s really tricky to tell right from wrong even in broad daylight. It could be argued that in that case it doesn’t matter, but all the same, if you want the consistency, mark the wrong sides with a chalked cross as soon as you have cut the pieces.

12.  Don’t watch the needle

In order to keep that seam allowance at a consistent 1.5cm 5/8inch, align the edge of the fabric to the marker on the foot-plate. There will be various markings on there and if you keep the edge of your fabric lined up against it you will guarantee a consistent allowance. If the markings on your machine are not clear enough, stick down a strip of masking tape to define the guide.

13. Tie off your darts

Never back-stitch at the point of a dart. You will get nipples where you never thought possible! Instead, run the stitch past the end of the point and leave the ends of the thread long so you can tie them together with 2 or 3 knots. Trim the remaining threads to no shorter than an inch.

14. Use a press cloth

Unless you like the scorched and shiny look, always use a press cloth. I generally use a piece of white muslin but a velvet press cloth can be used for velvet so you don’t upset the pile (thank you Scruffy Badger!). A wool cloth will hold moisture and is therefore great for pressing wool that needs a good steam. Silk organza is great because you can see through it. Especially useful when pressing pleats (thanks Karen!)

15. Ditch the blunt pins

Get rid. They only exist to ruin your work. The minute you feel one resisting when you push it through your fabric, throw it away immediately. Don’t just put it at the end of your pincushion, earmarked ‘the end for bad pins’. Yes I’m looking at you, ooobop! OR if it’s not too late, invest in an emery pincushion. What’s one of those? I hear you say. Ever seen the tomato/strawberry pincushion combo and wonder why? The small strawberry counterpart is filled with emery, an abrasive mineral that will sharpen those bad ass pins as you push them in. You can buy a Large Tomato Pin Cushion-With Emery Strawberry from Amazon. And if you crafty sewers fancy making one yourself you can buy the White Emery For Pincushions-4 Ounces especially to fill said pincushion. That way, I guess it doesn’t have to be a tomato or a strawberry if you don’t want it to be.

16. Back tack, back tack!

If only I could incorporate all the silly voices my mum used to do! It’s very duck like, that’s all I can tell you! But yes, Back tack, back tack, beginning and end to secure your stitching… But NEVER at the pointy end of darts!

17. Trim and clip

In the past, I’ve worried that if I clipped the curves, the stitching line would come undone. (yeah right, more like worried about having to do something extra!) So I’ve left that bit out and suffered the ugly, bulky mess as a consequence. It doesn’t come undone. I can assure you. If you trim the seam allowance to about half, snip the curves close-to not in-to the stitching line and give it a good pressing you will have a perfectly neat and professionally finished curved seam. If the curve is on a neckline for instance you have further reassurance if you stay stitch the seam allowance to the lining or facing.

18. It’s not a race

More haste less speed! Another of the very annoying mum comments, sorry, but nonetheless important. You can say it anyway you like but it’s true. It is impossible (unless you are hugely experienced) to get a straight line of stitches when your foot is down to the floor. And there are no prizes for finishing first because you are the only contender! Think each stage through before racing on to the next bit. It’s all to easy to miss a crucial part of the process if you are steaming ahead.

19. Needle position

Don’t forget to move the position of your needle when you change feet. particularly when using a zipper foot. It frightens the life out of me when the needle inadvertently hits the foot!

20. Needle security

Which brings me onto another scary point. Every time before you sew, make sure that needle is securely fastened in the shaft. Turn that screw nice and tight. I’m sure certain stitches make it work loose and I know for a fact that my side cutter foot wobbles it around enough for it to come loose. I’ve taken to checking the needle is secure when I’m using this foot even during a project. An airborne needle tip is a very hazzardous thing!

21. Press and cool

I was very lucky to spend some time with a lovely tailor friend last year. I learned so much in such a short space of time and one thing of the many things I took away with me was this fabulous pressing tip: After steam pressing, use a wooden block to press down on your crease to take the heat away quickly. Don’t move the creased section until it has cooled. Akin to setting ones hair in rollers I guess!

22. Baste away

Hands up who bastes? No takers? Well actually not me very much either. But we all know we should, don’t we?! So let’s do it. Especially if it’s a shiny fabric that’s going to move. Especially if you’ve invested your hard earned dosh in this lavish piece of cloth that is going to be your signature gown. Escpecially if you’re going for Chanel over Primani! It makes sense.

23. Bobbins at the ready

Have a selection of bobbins pre-wound in your most used colours. Particularly black, white and a neutral colour. There’s nothing more irritating than having to stop, mid-flow to wind a bobbin. There is however, great joy in delegating the task to a small child if you have one of those floating around. In fact one of my smalls bought me a fabulous Side Winder – Portable Bobbin Winder for my birthday and still lays claim that it is her job to wind my bobbins. I’m not arguing!

24. Pins pointing in

It’s still not second nature and I still have to make an effort to think about how I am pinning things together. It’s important NOT to sew over pins (broken needles, wonky seams, need I say more?) and so it’s just as important to pin those pins in a way that they are easily removed as you sew up to them. Remember that the bulk of your work is on your left and the seam allowance will be on the right as you sew. Pin along the edge of the seam allowance at right angles to your fabric with the points of the pins facing into your work and the heads of the pins on the outside edge so they can be easily removed as you go. Pinning parallel to the edge means you cannot otherwise sew as close to the pin and if it happens to be in the wrong direction you are at risk of a pin point down the end of your fingernail… and you don’t want that!

25. Trace your pattern pieces

Particularly if they are vintage. They’ve lived this long and don’t deserve the abuse of pins and rips! I learned the lazy way and lived to regret trashing one of my favourite patterns. Half an hour would have been enough to duplicate and would have also been a perfect record for any adjustments. I have no qualms about scribbling on or slashing and spreading a duplicate tissue. Even modern patterns need to be preserved. If they are multi-sized, you’ll kick yourself if ever you needed to return to a smaller or larger grade. More so if you cut the wrong size to start with!

26. Keep distractions to a minimum

Easily said. Especially if children, small animals and musician boyfriends are at large, so choose your sewing time carefully. Interruptions so easily disrupt a chain of thought. Keep the radio to an acceptable level and don’t try to watch Madmen when you are figuring out something tricky!

27. The rotary cutter

Not just for quilting, the rotary cutter and a large self-healing cutting mat are the perfect buddies for cutting fine or slippery material. Add to the equation some decent pattern weights and you can avoid any amount of movement as you cut your delicate fabric.

28. No gathering unravelling

Have you ever suffered the nightmare of gathering up some fabric only to inadvertently pull the whole thread through? Or have you ever struggled to gather a length of fabric to a set length? One way to solve this is to pin a pin at one end of your gathering stitches and wind the ends of the thread around the pin before you pull up the gathers. I sew two parallel lines of long stitches to get even gathers and then when I pull them up to the desired width, I pin another pin at the end and wind the excess threads around that one too. It helps to keep everything in place when for instance, I sew a gathered skirt to a bodice.

29. Handy tip for hand-stitches

I’ve learned to enjoy hand-stitching. It’s taken a while. But I get it now! It’s no longer a chore, more of a treat. But there’s something that makes it just that bit more pleasurable and that’s the nack of having a thread that doesn’t tie itself in knots halfway round your hem. Beeswax is the answer to a gliding knot-free thread. Just run the thread across the block so it becomes coated before you sew.  The lovely Claire over at The Thrifty Stitcher also advises to make sure your thread is no longer than arms length plus half your chest, to avoid the same.

30. Snip loose threads

If you are going to take the time to make something of quality, snip those loose threads. It’s actually quite satisfying if you have a quality pair of Snippers. And your garments will thank you for looking all the more professional.

31. Find your style

Ask yourself why you started sewing. Was it because you wanted to save money? Well you might have got a bum steer there! Was it just because you had hours to fill. I doubt that! Or was it simply because you wanted something original and well-fitting in your wardrobe that nobody else would have? Think about what you like and what you want before you dive headfirst into any old sewing project. Will it suit you? Will you wear it? Where will you wear it and how often? There’s no room in a wardrobe for wasted hours and unworn clothes. Ask yourself ‘is it you’. And if it is . . . go to it!

32. Help 24/7

You are never alone. Never! In those small wee hours in the morning when you are stuck on your final stage or you really cannot for the life of you remember how to use your buttonholer, Google it, go to YouTube, Tweet your problems, ask a blogger on the other side of the globe. You have every learning resource at your fingertips, 24/7. How exciting is that?!

33. Lock up your scissors

Make everyone in your household aware that your fabric scissors are to be used for cutting paper on pain of death! Never use fabric scissors on paper, NOT EVEN PATTERN PAPER. It blunts them and quality tailors scissors are not cheap to sharpen. Have a separate pair of scissors for paper cutting. You will see just how quick they are to blunt. But a quick tip to sharpen paper scissors is to ‘cut’ round the neck of a glass milk bottle or similar. Strange but true!

34. Leave your comfort zone

It’s very easy to stick to what you know. And you might be very happy in your comfort zone but if you want to learn more you need to leave that cosy space and give yourself a little push. Don’t be afraid to tackle things you’ve been too scared to try. You can line a vent, you can bind a buttonhole and there’s no need to be afraid of the big bad welt! Think of all the new possibilities that could grace your wardrobe. Its also a good idea to make for someone else. You learn to gain new fitting skills real quick when you’re aiming to please someone other than yourself! Just remember that nobody knew how to do anything before they learned. And then they practiced and then they got good at it!

35. More than one way to skin a cat

It took me a long time to realise that there are no set rules in sewing. For sure you need some guidance in the beginning but you will quickly learn to trust your own instincts with the more experience you gain. Some methods of instruction can be ridiculously complicated with unnecessary added stages. It’s up to you and your common sense to make life easier for yourself and work in a way that suits you. You only have to Google the methods of inserting a zip to realise how many different ways of simply doing that!

36. Invest in a few choice books

Whilst the internet will deliver everything you will need to know about everything, there’s nothing quite like a collection of inspirational books to hand. Some of my favourites include a New Complete Guide to Sewing: Step-By-Step Techniques for Making Clothes and Home Accessories (Reader’s Digest), a 50s pattern cutting book, Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking and a Fit for Real People: Sew Great Clothes Using ANY Pattern (Sewing for Real People). There’s nothing quite like a sit down with a cuppa and a good read! It’s a good idea to check out your local library (if you still have one :-/) or if you are feeling like splashing out, Amazon have some good deals:

37. Prewash your fabric

I know. I’ve been there. Heat of the moment and all that. You just want to get cracking and you really can’t wait another day for the fabric to wash and dry. But I can assure you. If you don’t pre wash your fabric before you sew it, you stand a good chance of not getting more than one wear out of your lovely new dress. Cotton will shrink. It’s a fact. So will wool. Undoubtedly. Even viscose. In fact most fabric will change in some way after a launder at any temperature. So don’t skip the prewash!

38. Don’t trash your scraps

I can’t bear to throw even the tiniest of frayed cut-offs in the bin. Breaks my heart, it does. I cling onto every last piece struggling to find a use. So only the tinyest of pieces meet their demise. I keep hold of decent sized pieces for tops or knickers or scrapbusting gift ideas (that mostly never get realised) but smaller patchwork sized pieces or remnants that I honestly wouldn’t use to make anything else with, get donated to my local after school club. The children love it when I bring in a sack. And it’s so lovely to see all their collages and creations around the classroom when I go to collect my daughter. So check out your local school and ask if they could use your scraps. It’s lovely to know that it doesn’t go to waste.

39. Sewing in the dark

If you have black or dark fabric to sew, save it for a daytime project. Unless you have some seriously good lighting, it truly is a nightmare. You really don’t want to be unpicking black thread from black cloth under substandard lighting. It is not fun. I have got round this of a fashion by sporting Mr O’s camping head torch. It works to a degree but I’ve ended up with a bloomin’ stiff neck before now, where I’ve tried to focus the light on one spot!

40. Love what you do

Not really a tip. More of a reminder to relish every moment of each and every one of your projects. Sewing is therapy. It will keep you sane when everything else is driving you mad. It will bring forth a beautiful wardrobe hand made by you. It will fill you with pride and teach you about ethics and if it hasn’t done already, it will soon lead you to meet some of the most amazing like-minded people that you might never have met otherwise. So savour every stitch and love what you do because you have something really special and that really is all that you need to be an awesome sewist!

Feel free to Tweet, pin, reblog and share. Thank you always, my awesome readers. x

Camping it up in a Burda Maxi

Burdastyle Maxi DressThis is the Burdastyle Maxi dress from May 2014 issue and it literally took an evening to trace and make, plus a morning to finish seams and hem.

I love the gathered front loop detail created by some clever drafting and a drawstring. The straps are a lovely and incredibly practical feature too. Each strap is folded in half and the fold is attached in position to the front bodice. This creates a double strap which separates over the shoulder where the visual is 4 spaghetti straps at the back. No irritating slips off the shoulder. No embarassing wardrobe malfunctions!

And I have to mention the fabric. I went in asking for linen lawn. I knew it was a bit of an ask and I’d anticipated the screwed-up-face response that I got in each and every shop. I even predicted the suggestion of cotton lawn instead. No, no, no. Burdastyle definitely stated linen lawn. Kind of a contradiction of terms really, so I’m wondering if its a translation thing. Anyone know?

So with no linen lawn and an urgency to make this dress before I went away, I asked if they had anything soft and drapey. No not polyester. Eewww sweaty! Though to be fair it was very soft and drapey. No not cotton. It’s not nearly drapey enough. Too crispy and neat. Apart from the lawn, possibly. But oh the creasing. I was tempted by tangerine muslin. Really tempted. But I’d have to have lined it for modesty purposes and I really couldn’t be arsed. I was about to give up when the viscose was presented as an option. Only in black or white but also only £4.99, with all the softness and drapeyness I could ask for. Bargain! Done!

And what a joy to work with. I took my time to cut it out because it did move around a bit on the table. especially when I was cutting on the bias. It has got a little natural stretch to it. But to be fair. It is drapey, black and relatively casual so no glaring errors are going to cause a stir here.

I made it a couple of weeks ago when I last went camping so this was it’s second trip out into the wilds of West Sussex!

So there I was, minding my own business, floating around the campfire in my new maxi dress, relishing the soft swishes of viscose around my ankles with stars in the sky and Mr O at my feet. Doesn’t really get much better than this . . .

. . . then this happened . . .

Burda Maxi Dress photobombed

Right on cue!

It’s a small miracle I got the first picture sans bombing to be honest!

I was going to leave out the in-seam pockets to hurry the process. I never really got the excitement when other people go on about pockets. But I’m glad I did and boy do I understand now! Torch and lighter in one, cash and phone in the other. Look, no bag!

And who wants serious posy photos any hoos?!

Burdastyle Maxi dress photobombed

You get to see how the straps separate at the back in the picture above. Clever, no?

You can also get an idea of how the elastic at the waist cinches the bodice in to create a much more flattering silhouette than it would have done otherwise!

You must also be feeling my delight at the depth of my in-seam pockets!

The bombing barrage came from nowhere. Actually it came from all angles. Sabotaged good and proper by a gang of onesie-clad cheeky girls!

Photobombed by onesie girls

The absolute cheek of it!

photobombed by the girls

Hang on a minute. Remind me whose shoot this was?

There was only one thing for it . . .

Maxi dress bombs the children

Seriously ladies, this dress is great for camping. It’s great for slinking down the shops too. And methinks in a drapey sandwashed silk it would be super sexy and glamourous, no?!

If you don’t have May’s Burdastyle mag then here’s a link to where you can download a pdf pattern.

And for anyone who is keen to know more about the delights of viscose, here is a fine clarification of the making process and its properties.

Hope you all had fun sewing times this weekend. Or maybe you were out camping it up too?

 

 

 

 

Drawstring party bags

ethical drawstring party bag

This weekend my youngest daughter celebrated her 10th birthday with a stand-up paddle boarding session down at Brentford Lock. And oh my did they have fun! The weather was perfect… 25 degrees C for all ye of little faith!

For those of you who haven’t heard of this newish craze, one stands on a board, much like a surf board, and paddles down the river!

paddle boarders on pontoon

They started on their knees and were up on their feet in seconds. Took to it like ducks to water, they did!

So what has this got to do with sewing, or the price of fish, I hear you ask. Well. Let me tell you. This week has been so stupidly busy. More stupidly busy than ever with Mr O working away in Monte Carlo; my work as manic as ever and children with stuff going on! So busy that I forgot to get the party bags. And I’d scare you silly if I described the look I got when I picked up LMO from netball last Friday and admitted that I hadn’t managed to get hold of any.

Don’t panic I said. I have a plan I said.
Which is? she growled.
We’ll make them I said… with a furrow of an eyebrow.
What? All 15 of them?
Why the devil not I said with amazing confidence given my state of pure exhaustion!

So after dinner was done and the plates cleared. Out came the machine and the pinking shears. And a little cottage industry was born. I measured, cut and sewed. LMO pinked and pressed and took charge of threading the cord.

2 hours later, 15 cute little drawstring party bags, fashioned from a second hand John Lewis duvet cover, with cool aeroplane print to boot, stood at ease for a photoshoot!

 

Instant gratification.

ethical party bags

Now it could be argued that this task was well over the call of duty. That costed out they would have commanded a stupid price. And that a cheap bunch of paper party bags would have totally saved me the bother (Had I remembered to get them). But what I got in exchange for this tiny sewing project was 2 hours of precious one-on-one time with my daughter. Not to mention a cool stash-bust. That cover has been in my fabric box for eons. Oh, and not forgetting the Brownie points for the ethical factor!

I loved teaching her and she loved learning how. We laughed and we sewed and we made ‘the best eco-friendly party bags ever’. That in itself is priceless!

Full party bags

 

 

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

The Pink Suit book

Every single day, without fail, I’m reminded how wonderful it is to be a part of such a wonderful sewing community. So much more than just sewing. Who knew? Only those of us that are part of it will truly understand. And then, and only then, is when one knows exactly what I’m on about!

Opportunities. Chance meetings. True friendship. Support. Experience. Education. Skills. Not to mention a fabulous wardrobe. And so much more. Tantamount to proper therapy!

And did I mention free gifts? No? Probably because I’d sound like I was only in it for the win! Which I’m not, of course, but one never looks a gifthorse in the mouth, right?!

Now back in April, a certain Little Brown horse contacted me to see if I would like an uncorrected bound proof copy of The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby. Talk about targetting an audience! Er…. like, yes please!!

For those that don’t know, I have freelanced as a designer in the publishing world for more fingers than I can count on which might give the impression that I am well-read. Haha… I wish! I proof read and I skip read and get to read the beginnings of manuscripts but I can not honestly tell you the last time I sat and read a whole real book, all by myself, just for pleasure.

I can’t read as I walk to work. Fear of treading on pigeons or in other unsavoury stuff. My tube journey barely allows enough time to bagsy a seat and get the book out of my bag. After-work hours are filled with schoolwork, catering, chores and some shoe-horned sewing time, obvs. And if I ever attempt to read before bedtime I’ll be asleep before the first para!

But. Given a book with a title like ‘The Pink Suit’. I would make allowances. I would sit in the park in my lunch-half-hour. I would risk taking out a couple of pigeons en route to and from work and I would whip it out at any opportune tube delay or in any waiting room.

I had given up the ghost for a sewing-related book. I’d even considered writing one myself because I couldn’t find any. It could be argued that I didn’t try very hard but that aside and in any case, I am so glad this was my first. And I loved it. Properly loved it. The characters; the setting; the facts and the fiction. For this story is based on the reality surrounding the Pink Suit that was created for the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy by – shock, horror, gasp – an Irish immigrant working from the back room of an American couture house… and not Chanel! That self-same suit that got spattered with the blood of her husband on that fateful day.

You can feel the bouclé, smell it even. You’ll find your self checking your tights for bits of pink fluff and if you’re anything like me, you’ll completely get how obsession and passion runs through every page. And you’ll come to realise that your own passions are far stronger than you think they are.

I’d so love to tell you more but I know how precious and rare this book is for us sewists and I don’t want to ruin your experience.

But what I can tell you is that it wasn’t just a good story. It was a great one in fact. But more than that it was a shed load of inspiration. I drew strength from the main character and worked late into the night on my own projects spurred on by Kate’s enthusiasm. I relished each of the next stitches I made, I refolded and neatened my fabric pile and I planned for future dresses and blouses… and suits!

The only downside to a good book is that it comes to an end. I so didn’t want it to end. I got so sucked in that I felt quite sad as I approached the last pages. First time I’ve ever read a set of acknowledgements too. I was that desperate to hang on to every last word!

I do hope you get as much from this book as I did. And if you do happen to hear of any similar reads, I’d be so grateful to hear from you.

Incidentally, the roses in the photo are care of my lovely milliner friend, Jayne. I popped in to her gallery to ask how she was feeling (she’s been ill for weeks) and yet SHE was the one to give ME the flowers. That’s how lovely she is.

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