One of the reasons I wanted to learn to sew, was the opportunity to celebrate my individuality each morning through my sartorial choices. High street options have always left me cold in both design and quality. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve scoured charity shops for magpie finds, modelling myself on the stylings of Andie and Duckie from my beloved Pretty in Pink. And now, when contemplating new sewing projects, I embrace the challenge of sourcing fabrics to put my own spin on a designer’s vision.
But adulteration for its own sake is not my intent and I’ve recently been seduced by stylistics … just the way they are. Three years into my adventures with stitch is a bit late to get my mits on The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking and if you’re about to embark on your own sewing journey all I can say is BUY THIS BOOK NOW. Whilst I’m very happy I cut my own teeth in the stable of Yoshiko Tsukiori, I do think I would have garnered basic sewing skills so much quicker, if I’d let Wendy take me by the metaphorical hand.
I’ve been trying to remember when it is I first came across Wendy Ward and I think it’s from her column in Love Sewing magazine. What struck me was how her ethics and values ran through her writing like a piece of rock and of course the fact that she hailed from Sheffield – my hometown of choice. Later we bumped into each other on Instagram through a mutual appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of a dungaree dress. And then finally I got to meet the queen of knits herself, whilst being guided through the makings of a rouched Roewood from A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts.
What with a bordering on dysmorphic relationship with my bottom half, it’s surprising that I’ve whipped up not one but two of these pencils. And yet, I’m still hankering after that burgundy number on page 15. So when it came to her recent t-shirt workshop at Sew in the City, I took heed and unashamedly recreated her black and white striped boat necked beauty with contrasting solid sleeve bands. It was at that workshop that I came across Wendy’s fishtail skirt and dive-bombed into a love-in with the denim iteration, replete with singular pale blue patch pocket.
I was faced with a dilemma. One direct copy could be passed of as a sincere form of flattery but surely two was artless and lacking in imagination. However, my emotional attachment to the stylings of those hues of blue was so strong that I gave in to Billy Joel’s plaintive serenade and ignored Wendy’s invitation to make the skirt my own. I could have stepped out of the box when it came to the denim but I didn’t and stayed true with 2 metres of this sumptuous indigo bark weave denim from Fabric Godmother. A quick forage through my minimal stash and I came across a remnant of this indigo denim from Minerva for the patch and I was totally good to go.
The fishtail skirt is my fourth pattern from Wendy’s soon to be trilogy, so by now I was well acquainted with the format of her books. I used the chart on page 80 to find the closest measurements to my waist and hips and decided to trace off a size 4, grading into a 3 from hips to waist. My resulting toile was too roomy at the waist, so as per instructions I increased the right hand seam allowance by another 1.5 cm. Fearful of accommodating the bulk of my thighs, I only transferred the 0.75 reduction to my traced pattern pieces at the waist and curved out to the hip.
When I sewed up the skirt proper, the side seams lacked the subtle curve I hoped for and I realised my adjustments had distorted the smooth a-line of the original. I unpicked both the zip and right hand seams and returned to the drawing board. I extended the original 0.75 reduction on each side seam from hip to hem. The denim, with it’s slight stretch, had a more generous fit around the waist than the stiff tablecloth toile, so I took an additional 0.5cm of each side of the waist – this time being more mindful of creating a smooth curve to the hip. I then transferred the changes to the front and back panels of the skirt pieces for a final stitch up.
Despite having to tinker a little with the fit to bridge the disparity between my waist and hips, this skirt came together like a dream. Construction of the fishtail is ingenious and Wendy walks you clearly through each step, resulting in the most beautiful finish. Digging out my walking foot make easy work of stitching the upper centre back seam onto the outside of the skirt. And when it comes to the bias finished hem, my suggestion is to get the kettle on, cue up a podcast and settle in for meditative stretch of sewing. Earlier on in my stitch story, I would have baulked at such a lengthy finishing technique but these days I honestly relish the chance to hone my skills and produce a hem worthy of it’s bearer.
I’d like to say I will be flexing my creative muscle a bit further when it comes to my next iteration of a Wendy Ward pattern. But stop the press – have you seen those trousers on page 40 and 41 – could there be a finer interpretation?! I might just have to accept that this looks set to be an enduring imitation game.
Those of you who have been following my adventures in stitch, will be aware of my deep seated desire to make loungewear I would happily answer the door in. And whilst I have no desire to be anything other than a 6 ‘o’ clock pyjama wearing semi-hermit, I’m keen to expand my choice of evening attire.
There have been some tentative forays with varying degrees of success:
- my first wearable toile of the Grainline Studio Linden Sweatshirt
- a his and hers single jersey pairing of the Ottobre Design New Boheme Jersey Tunic (Woman Autumn/Winter 5/2014) with another Linden
- and an attempt at sports luxe with a free sweatshirt pattern from Simply Sewing magazine.
It’s only when I booked on a couple of workshops with the queen of knits herself, that I felt the door to this secret club swing open for me. The Roewood from A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts and T-shirt from The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking are not my usual style of skin tight top and a-line shape silhouette. But I signed up regardless, as I was keen to glean any wisdoms I could from someone who held the key to my slouchwear aspirations. And I’m happy to say, with my knit game strengthened and both items in regular circulation, the investment more than paid off.
On reflection, one of my main stumbling blocks was treating knits in the same way as I do a wovens and by that I mean shoddily and with a distinct lack of respect. I live in a tiny one bedroomed flat and my living room is my every room. I’ve got by cutting denim and craft cottons on my carpeted floor but I’ve finally woken up to the fact I’m going to have to find an alternative surface for knits.
I’ve also grappled with curling edges in an attempt to find those elusive selvedges – spray starching and ironing them out of shape. I recently learnt that most knits are constructed in the round and that when cut and glued, the selvedges might not even be true. Finding the grain line is as easy as following a couple of ribs in the fabric and pinning them straight. And my enduring struggle to find the right side of the fabric has disappeared in the knowledge that the selvedge rolls to the wrong side and a cut edge rolls to the right.
With my new found confidence, I finally felt equipped to cut into this medium weight french terry I picked up from Dots n Stripes a few months ago. I was fortunate enough to meet the shop owner at a stitch show in Manchester and she kindly helped me choose a navy single jersey for the contrast sleeves and bands. Both materials are cotton in composition with an elastane content of 5 and 8% respectively.
For my first Linden I cut on a on 10 based on my waist and hip measurement and this was way too big, so I sized down to a 4 grading out to a 6 at the hip. This time I cut on a straight 4 and the only alteration to the pattern was to take 5cm off the length at the shorten/lengthen lines. And you know what, I can’t quite believe I’m writing this but it came together LIKE A DREAM. So much so that I’m now in an obsessive loop, contemplating which knit project I’m going to dive into next.
I cut the material out on a table, not the floor and I can’t emphasise enough how key this was to my success. I also used my now beloved walking foot and machine basted every seam before overlocking. I couldn’t bear to bring a knife anywhere near the neckline, so to finish this seam I used the mock overlock stretch stitch H on my Janome Sewist and – after seeking Wendy’s advice – top stitched around with a regular straight stitch. The result has surpassed all expectations and I now own half of the slouchwear outfit of my dreams. Coming up with the goods for the bottom half will be no easy challenge but I’m in this comfort seeking game for the long haul.
I remember asking my mother for a scrap book in which to put pictures of the royal family when I was a small thing. To which she replied ‘Why would you want to do that?’ I wonder if that’s when the seed of knowledge germinated – that being in the public eye does not in itself demand respect and adulation. We live in an age where a modicum of celebrity is now attainable for the many rather than the few – get yourself savvy with social media, your head around hashtags and algorithms and you can amass a hefty virtual entourage.
‘To affect the quality of the day, is the highest of arts’ (Henry David Thoreau) is one of my favourite quotes. It encapsulates a desire that in some small way we might make a difference. Having won a scholarship to a school of excellence and chasing grades in a PAC-MAN hell of my own creation, my future was pregnant with promise. But a linear trajectory, peppered with conventional markers of success was not to be my path. And whilst it’s taken years to marry what I could have been with what I’ve become, I’m grateful for the journey and the wisdoms afforded by fucking up on a royal scale.
Instagram is my social portal of choice and through it I’ve had the good fortune to connect with people across the globe. I’m definitely not impervious to a subtly filtered square of aspirational living, however my antenna has become finely tuned to the substance beneath a veneer. I’m drawn to regular people, quietly sewing their values and sharing with a community of like-minded people. Through this web of interconnectedness I came across Wendy Ward – a craftswoman and champion of everyday wear – and I found my muse.
Luckily, Wendy hails from my hometown of choice which means I don’t have to go to exorbitant lengths to catch a class with her. I’ve already knocked up a Roewood from A Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts at Running with Scissors and jumped at a recent opportunity to road test her T-Shirt in The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking at Sew In the City. One of the great things about going along to a workshop, is a lot of the prep work has already been done for you. The t-shirt comes in three sizes and Wendy brought along various samples for us to try. We then chalked around pre-cut cardboard templates of the requisite size and in no time at all were ready to hone our sewing with knits skills.
A variety of fabric choices were laid out for our perusal – a black single jersey, grey marled sweatshirt, spotty double knit and a black and white striped ponte. I opted for the latter, as I’d steered away for too long – it was time to face my stripe matching fear head on. And I wasn’t entirely unprepared, I’d come armed with some Clover Fork Pins which I’d seen other bloggers utilise to line up their stripes. I also made things a tad easier by using black jersey for the sleeve bands and set to work lining the t-shirt template up with stripe markers at key points. For ease of execution, I unfolded the template to chalk around a full bodice and cut on a single layer rather than on the fold.
I pinned at every other stripe and then under Wendy’s guidance, basted a side seam on the longest straight stitch with the tension lowered to 2. A bit of shifting took place so out came the unpicker and in came the walking foot. After a tempestuous start to my relationship with this attachment – remedied by attaching a little shoe on its base – we have become firm friends. My striped side seams and chevroned shoulders more than passed muster, so I notched the tension up to 3 and proceeded to use stretch stitch H for a permanent seam. Strangely, the walking foot had the effect of stretching this stitch out and after a bit of tinkering, we switched to a suitable alternative.
Wendy’s approach is to dispense with unnecessary fripperies, empowering you with accessible and straightforward instructions. Whilst I’m very partial to whipping out my overlocker, it’s reassuring to know that knit garments can be constructed from start to finish with the minimum of equipment and fuss. And it was relatively stress free to finish the seams without a knife and the potential for butchery therein. For the neckline we turned under 1.5cm, pinned and tacked in a contrasting thread, pressed and finally stitched with a three-step zigzag stitch D. The hem was similarly treated with a 2cm allowance.
And there you have it – a stripe matched t-shirt of my very own in just over four hours, with plenty of time to fangirl it up in between. We all left with a copy of Wendy’s first book, replete with full-sized patterns to trace off and modify at leisure. I’ve already seen two garments which I’m eager to fashion – that stop the press fish tail skirt and those embodiment of slouchwear trousers. They’ll keep me busy until Wendy’s third book hits the shelves in the new year, which I hear will be accompanied by further workshops. So get yourself signed up for Sew in the City updates and maybe I’ll have the good fortune of meeting more of my IG pals IRL.
The Farrow might just be my favourite tent dress to date but it took me a while to come to this conclusion. The final hooks were finding this sumptuous needlecord and stumbling across Ivy Arch’s glorious interpretation. More thoughts loosely connected with sewing are now up on the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network. And here are some visuals – happy snaps from a Cornish idyll.
Maybe it’s a tad hyperbolic to compare this project with Alvin’s epic 240 mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawn mower. But that’s what came into my mind as I sat down to write about my journey with Simplicity 8298.
When I bought the pattern, I naively thought it would be easy to source some quilted fabric on-line. But after several weeks of trawling the internet, I resigned myself to the fact that it wouldn’t and the jacket of my dreams would remain a distant fantasy. That is unless I decided to embrace a whole new skill set and quilt my own fabric – how hard could that be? At this point, it would have been prudent to undertake a bit of preparation and acquaint myself with the actual process of quilting. But instead, fast forward to a flurry of excitable consumerism when I jumped both feet first, into the remnant bins of my beloved Abakhan.
I returned home from my shopping haul triumphant and lay out the bounty – 2.3 metres each of some beautiful green and brown patterned craft cottons along with some batting for £60 all in. What barginous luck – I’d dropped on material that aligned perfectly with my vision and it wasn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg. How wrong could I be. I’d based my fabric requirements on the recommendation for my bust measurement and neglected to note that this referred to material that was ALREADY quilted. And not having done the prerequisite research, I was ignorant of the fact that quilting is a THEIF – of your time, your money, your fabric and your thread.
Whilst reading this very informative post I realised I would need more material to mitigate the fabric swallowing effects of quilting. I spent hours positioning the fabric pieces in different formulations and considered using a number of remnant pieces from my stash, to create a coat of many colours. I found a piece of gold which might work for the inside sleeves and toyed with a number of hues for the pocket and hood. It seemed almost doable until I accepted that this hideous technicolored mash up, could not be further removed from my initial concept.
I contacted Abakhan and they very kindly tracked down a couple of metres of the brown but sadly not the green I was fixated on for the shell. Whilst picking up the lining fabric with my sister, she convinced me a blue fabric I’d spotted would be the perfect pairing. I was hesitant but I acquiesced – perhaps someone who had been designing menswear fabric for most of her adult life might just have the edge on me. By now the budget for this baby was out of the window – more fabric, more batting and don’t even get me started on the thread requirements. Take it from me – quilting your own fabric is not for the feint hearted, time poor or cash strapped.
Finally, I was in a position to start quilting and by now I’d garnered a few wisdoms. I positioned each pattern piece onto the blue fabric and chalked roughly 3cm away from the edge. I then used each piece as a template to cut the batting and backing fabric and affixed all three together with temporary spray mount adhesive. I located a central point on each pattern piece and from here chalked an intersection for two diagonal lines. The angle of the diagonals was determined by the fabric motif which made quilting super easy. All I needed to do was decide how many lines I wanted within each diamond and then stitch roughly in the solid gap between.
I was aided greatly by my walking foot for which – having located its shoe – I have a newfound love. I dispensed with the quilting bar as I found it much easier to judge the distance between each patterned line by eye. Another boon was the more loft, less weight Hobbs heirloom premium cotton batting I’d purchased. At £11.99 per metre, it’s not the cheapest but it’s double width and a dream to work with.
The quilting itself was a breeze – hour upon hour, stitching line after line, radiating from a central point for even shift and spread. After completing each section, I lay the corresponding pattern piece on top, chalked around the perimeter, sewed on top of this line to preserve the quilted area and finally cut just outside this line of stitching.
Assembling the jacket was similarly straightforward – just a few seams and it quickly took shape. I had previously made both a small and medium toile in heavyweight thrifted curtain material and opted for medium to accommodate my preference for layers. I thought I would be able to counterbalance any roominess by adjusting the button placement and ignored an inner voice, cautioning me against distorting the shape.
Again, my zest to make progress was my downfall and I Hong Kong-ed every internal seam like my life depended on it. The binding I struggled most with were the curved hood seams. Whilst the pattern does contain generic tips on binding techniques, I would have benefited from a lot more hand holding and guidance on dealing with bulk. I contacted Simplicity to ask how the sample seams had been finished in the hood and was disappointed to find they hadn’t and be referred back to the instructions and a few web page links. I spent hours searching Google for tips and cobbled together something which almost passes my critical eye.
I machine stitched some narrow binding to one side of the seam allowance as near as I could to the seam line. I then trimmed this side of the seam allowance to the binding edge and the opposite seam allowance as close as I could to the seam. Finally, I folded the binding over the seam line and hand stitched the binding using a ham to get a smooth finish. It kinda worked but in retrospect, having spotted this glorious iteration, I wish I’d gone the full Hong Kong immersion route.
The hood and jacket are attached together by the external binding, for which I used some dark green herringbone twill tape I picked up from the market. It’s clearly marked and if you fold it over, one half is wider than the other, so I ironed over this demarkation line and got to work. The tricky part is pushing the quilted fabric into the crease of the tape and getting a tight purchase before pinning, basting and finally machine stitching. I’m probably least satisfied with this part of the make. The twill tape seems to be pilling and there are sections of bagginess I need to draw a line under.
Aside from the inevitable critique that accompanies every make, I finally had the endgame in my sight. I was just about to go on holiday and all that remained was to quilt, bind and set in the sleeves – a doddle. But wait a minute – I’ll just try it on a hundred times or so to check the fit and then finally heed the voice in head which had becoming deafening – IT’S TOO FUCKING BIG. The front favours a Japanese aesthetic and didn’t take to kindly to me dragging one side over the other to reduce voluminosity. So out came the unpicker, as I dismantled every single one of those elaborately stitched seams. OH MY DAYS – the anxiety, the hours, the painstaking laboriousness of it all. What if I trimmed down each piece, re-assembled the jacket and the bloody thing was too small?
Thankfully it wasn’t – that internal wisdom gently nudging for your attention, is usually your friend. My hunch paid off and my patience rewarded in a fit with which I’m most pleased. I introduced the sleeves without any drama. On one sleeve head, I used a gathering stitch to accommodate bulk but I much prefer the finish I achieved on the other by pinning and bubble easing the excess. I inspected the insides of a few coats at work to determine how to finish the sleeve head and used some wide binding to enclose trimmed down edges in a closed bound seam.
During this project, I’ve had time a plenty to contemplate the journey towards my own straightedge. I used to think cigarettes and alcohol were inseparable from tolerating life. I was an outsider and these were my weapons. But what I’ve come to realise is how smoking and drinking functioned in my life – allowing me to separate myself from whatever uncomfortable position I found myself in. Socialising in large groups is the opposite of relaxing for me and those moments outside with a fag and maybe a like minded comrade, were as good as it got. Now, I’ve embraced my introverted nature and live in harmony with its traits, I no longer feel the need to escape. Seven months alcohol free and I’ve found that far from losing my edge, I’ve been exploring what it feels like to teeter on its brink and swim against the tide. This radical decision to experience life with emotions unblunted has brought me to a place of internal quiet that feels like home.