the bottom line

The month of May is significant for the social sewer- our feeds bursting with inspiration thanks to #memademay – the community building brainchild of @sozoblog. And for me this year, it marked a pivotal point in my approach to sewing, as I ground to a complete halt in both productivity and passion.

I’d planned to make a start on Simplicity 8298 with some craft cottons I’d sourced on a hurried scout around Manchester’s Abakhan. I left triumphant with 2.3 metres each of some beautiful bolt ends from the remnant bins and wadding for a mere £35 all in. Unfortunately I had all the gear and no bloody idea. When I actually got around to doing some research, I discovered I needed shed more threads – quilting is a fabric thief.

I raced on to the next project – making the requisite pattern adjustments to accommodate my gargantuan hips in this accidental tunic. Three toiles later, I felt I had something to work with and took scissors to cloth – a particularly winsome piece of vintage barkcloth I’d been saving for the occasion. I spent a long time considering how to work with the pattern repeat and it was all going swimmingly until I broke off for a mid-cut tidy. I mistook the left dress front for scraps and tore it into strips. I could say more but it’s just too painful.

I spent the rest of the month, licking my wounds and contemplating what and how I wanted to sew in the future. And I can honestly say that in the process, I realised that these two undoings may serve to be my greatest teachers. I was so disheartened all I could do was ruminate – I felt I had nothing to say and no motivation to create. But it’s often during the least productive times when you undergo the greatest growth – as you recoil from the external, you enrich the internal and lay down the seeds for change.

I considered the trajectory of my love affair to date and thought about its long term survival. I looked towards those I admired and observed how they meaningfully incorporated creativity into their lives. And I asked myself why I started to sew in the first place and how this activity could best serve me. I could continue picking the prettiest threads and teaming them with the fruits of my beloved independent designers, churning out additions to my handmade wardrobe ad infinitum. But sewing for the sake of it was leaving me hollow.

I sew for many reasons – most notably the preservation of my sanity. I have what feels to be an inherent need to create – to express myself through words and form. And I feel at my most integrated when I’m able to bridge the gap between how I feel inside and how I present to the outside world. I have no desire to follow fashion and homogeneity on the high street leaves me cold. The idea that someone else should decide what I’m going to wear this season confounds me. And as I feel increasingly at odds with mainstream currents, I’ve come to appreciate the difference I can make with how I choose to invest my time and money.

I first came across Wendy Ward in Love Sewing magazine and through following her on Instagram became aware of her eco credentials. I had already been thinking about the uneasy mismatch of prolific productivity and my leanings towards minimalism. I was ripe for a mentor and who better than a woman whose love for Sheffield courses through her like a seam of rock. When I heard she was guest teaching a workshop in my home town – hosted by Running with Scissors at Hagglers Corner – I jumped in both feet first, without any thought for what we’d actually be sewing.

It was only afterwards, when it fully dawned on me that we would be making the Roewood skirt from A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts, did I stop to questions the wisdom of this decision. What was I thinking – it’s a pencil skirt?!! My aversion to this silhouette has been well documented and voiced, inextricably linked to issues with my behind that border on the dysmorphic. In my eagerness to skill up with knits and hang out with a hero, I’d temporarily forgotten all about my body hang ups. In a moment of madness I’d allowed the stylings of that beguiling burgundy rouched number on Pages 6 & 12, to seduce me into believing I could become someone I wasn’t.

The deed was done, so I bit the bullet and bought a metre of this Marl Tweed Ponte Roma Stretch Jersey Knit from Minerva and determined to get over myself. Wendy kicked off the day by getting us to measure ourselves. The key measurement for the Roewood is at the hip for which I hit 108 cm. We used the chart on Page 130 to find our fit and cast our eyes up to the waist measurement to check the disparity. My waist corresponds to a hip measurement two sizes down and having recently made the Roehampton Culottes, I knew I’d be grading down.

We then hopped over to Page 16 to see how our actual hip measurement corresponded with the finished hip measurement. I was surprised to discover this was 101 cm – a full 7 cm below – but all became clear when Wendy reminded us we were working with stretch and for wovens the finished measurement would be higher. Then we selected the relevant cutting plan based on the length and stylings of our skirt of choice and proceeded to chalk around the cardboard templates Wendy had brought along, to save valuable tracing time.

I chalked a 109 cm and then nestled in the 100 cm template to grade down from hip to waist. Pressing down hard with the chalk paid dividends but I’d pack my Prym chalk wheel stick next time to make easy work of this step. I never think to meddle with the tension on my machine, so I welcomed Wendy’s tips of using 4 as a starting point – moving up to 5 in the wake of a visible stitch and down to 3 if you’re getting in a bit of a pucker. And I got to play around with the stretch stitches on my new Janome Sewist 525S, which made for an afternoon of indulgence.

For the side seams which were to be pressed to one side, we used a SS H with a stitch width of 5, which nicely mimicked an overlocked edge. As the waistband would be pressed open, we used a straight SS A and for the hem we switched to a non-stretch Zig Zag D which produced a lovely decorative effect. This was stitched wrong side up with the raw edge just inside the left hand side opening in the presser foot, enclosing the raw edge in the stitch. I basted the waist seam before permanently attaching with SS H, trimming, pressing downwards and top stitching with SS A. I learnt of the redundancy in reversing with stretch stitches due to their inherent motion and to dispense with overlapping stitches on the hem for a clean finish.

Spending the day with Wendy got me firmly back on track with a determination of why and how I want to sew. Of the many lessons reinforced, was the joy I derive from learning new skills and achieving a finish I’m really happy with – not faultless but perfectly considered. I was expertly guided through how to attach elastic in the inside bottom seam of my Roewood for a result which truly exceeded all my expectations. Wendy has done the impossible and designed a pattern to help me integrate my top and bottom halves. This rouched curve hugging number has helped me edge forward into loving the shape I’m in.

If like me, you get the chance to be taught by Wendy, seize it. I’d decamp to Brighton for the privilege if it weren’t for the fact that alarm bells start ringing in my head whenever I leave Sheffield. And if you can’t get to a class, buy one of her books – it’s common knowledge that number three is in the pipeline and it’s all about the knits. I cant wait to get my hands on it … except I can and I will because I’ve taken myself out of the rat race. I’m on sew slow from here on in and I’m in it for the long game.

15 thoughts on “the bottom line

  1. The skirt is lovely, and looks great on you – and I honestly can’t see what’s wrong with your hips? You’re slim with feminine curves, what’s not to love? I mean, really! So keep up the good work and sew slow.
    And, oh – I so totally hear you and agree with regards to the need to create and the total aversion to being dictated what to wear. You’re not the only one. I find my health deteriorates if I don’t create. It’s a need that’s so deeply embedded in me I can live without it. So just keep going like you do! (And stop being so hard on your body. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with it!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know – it’s totally first world problems but we all have our issues don’t we! Thank you for the lovely feedback and encouragement. This make has helped me see my fear of exposing my rear for what it is. I’ve not vanquished it but it’s certainly diminished 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So, this might not register in that part of your brain that dislikes your shape, but I’ll say it anyway: We have a ridiculous body ideal. I’ve heard som suggest it is because a lot of the designers are gay men, because the ideal for women today is to look like a teenaged boy. Straight and lanky, with no hint of hips. Others have suggested it’s because those twiggy types are good hangers, they’re easy to sew for, no demanding bits poking out.
        In the 50’s they had a very different ideal, there was some mild corsetry in Dior’s dresses (or under them), but he was very much in favour your shape. Why not take that to heart? One of history’s greatest designers would have loved fitting your body. Just let that sink in – in Dior’s mind your body has the perfect feminine shape (I’m totally putting the words in his mouth here, but just look at his designs and you’ll see I’m totally right 😆).
        And patterns…why not think of those lines as line A, B, C… that are there to give you some lines to construct your own pattern from? Instead of learning pattern drafting you just have this aid that makes it possible to draw a pattern for your body. I don’t think there’s more than 1% of all sewers who can fit into a pattern without adjustments – at max.
        So, lovely, pretty rear – and I’m sure your photographer agrees!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh it totally registers! And just to clarify I’m very happy with my top half. I’ve just always kept the bottom half hidden. Partly because I think the A-line shape suits me best and is the one I’m most comfortable in. But also because I’m not super happy with the shape of my bottom half which this make has helped to address. I must admit I have hankered after the teenage boy look in the past and I think in my 40’s it’s time to let that go! Very interesting points you have made which I was aware of but I have waived to the side in favour of nursing my preoccupation! I’ll make a concerted effort to do otherwise in future and embrace the shape I’m in. Thank you for your encouragement and thought provoking words 🙂 x

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  2. Aw Aimee, it was a joy to have you in my class and I’m honestly touched and humbled by what you’ve written.
    I hear what you’re saying about body hang-ups – most of us have them and although they may be invisible to others they can be like a maddening itch that you just can’t help but scratch. I love that skirt on you and it makes me really happy that you’re learning to love it to!
    Here’s to renewed sewing joy at a slower pace and plenty more sewing of knits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Wendy. Coming to your class was just the boost I needed. I was feeling a bit lost and discouraged beforehand. It was such a simple and yet profound pleasure to spend the day with others learning skills and playing with a new shape. I’ll always be A line at heart but this pencil has definitely found a place and function in my handmade wardrobe.Sewing with knits – fingers crossed you’ll be ‘touring’!

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  3. You’ve inherited my inability to feel the joy if I’m not altering or creating something. I hope your latest creation stands as testament to how what we wear showcases the people we all have in our wardrobe. You have just
    invited a beautiful stranger into your art collection and you wear her so well. It’s not so much the skirt though, it’s the accessories. You have an eye for beautiful lines and perfect combinations and a celebration of what curves can do for clothes. No more knocking your rear and more about “rocking it”. X

    Liked by 1 person

  4. HA! No more knocking your rear and more about ‘rocking it’ – BRILLIANT. I’m wearing the skirt right now for a lazy Sunday and it’s sooo comfortable. I think there is room for this beautiful stranger in my wardrobe. Especially on slouch wear days. Although I’m going to a talk with David later as part of the Sheffield documentary festival and I might just take my curves with me! xx


  5. What a great post. Its so important to know why we sew, and how we benefit from taking our time. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing my me-made survive so well through the relentless laundry cycle. Odd I know; but it means I made it to last!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment Louise. It was an interesting month! But I’ve come out of the other end and I feel happier and calmer as a result. Sometimes it takes a while to integrate a new passion into my life as a whole 🙂 X


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