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.