a stitch in time

Last May, I launched into my love affair with stitch in a frenzy of productivity. No sooner than I’d finished one piece of clothing for my handmade wardrobe, I was hurtling onto the next. The allure of being able to knock up a wearable item, in the design and colour of my choosing, proving irresistible. So many enticing offerings from independent pattern designers, bargainous threads from my haberdashery of choice … so very little time. It’s been a thrill seeking ride of highs and inevitable lows and it’s fair to say I’ve been consumed by the object of my affections.

Fast forward a year and I still eat, breath and sleep my sartorial adventures in stitch. To a niche few, I’ve become synonymous with my blog and Instagram moniker – @wrong_doll – severed vintage dolls’ heads and sewing machines. My relationship has stood the test of time and I’ve rewarded myself with tools of the trade along the way – most notably my beloved overlocker and recently my new steed ‘May’.

The headiness of an all consuming interest can temporarily expand to fill a vacuum of existential angst and boredom. But everything new becomes old and when ego boundaries snap firmly back into place, you have cause to look upon your lover with eyes anew. Enduring relationships evolve and transmute over time and whilst I remain inextricably bound to my chosen pastime, there’s been a gear shift of late. The seeds of change were planted in Fashion Revolution Week, followed closely at the heels by this year’s Me Made May. I started to think more about how I consume in a society where the drive to acquire is all pervasive.

I’ve appropriated May as a kind of a sewing retreat – a time to slow down , take stock  and reflect on both achievements to date and goals for the coming year. I haven’t shocked my system by total abstinence – I dipped my toe in the water with a wearable Jean Muir Jumper Dress toile and a non-wearable attempt at my first Marcy Tilton Vogue pattern. Whilst documenting makes in daily photo updates is not an essential requirement of Me Made May, I embraced the challenge as a pictorial tool to help me examine the journey thus far.

And it’s been a revelation – I had no idea how many things I had made! Namely because some have hardly seen the light of day since creation – a malady I’m happy to say the sewing challenge has addressed. It’s forced me to wear items I’d rejected – falling short of impossibly high standards of perfection – and appreciate their inherent qualities. It’s highlighted stumbling blocks I need to revisit – Day 17’s gaping back neckline and the buttonhole debacle of Day 23, to name a few. I’ve also identified a noticeable absence of lounge wear, which is a significant oversight in someone who spends the majority of time in their pyjamas.

Tomorrow, I’m tentatively emerging into my second year in stitch. Whilst my pace may have slowed and my focus narrowed, my enthusiasm for this wonderful craft is undeterred.

 

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a day in may

It’s a year since I started sewing and set myself the task of fashioning a handmade wardrobe from scratch. I was armed with some basic skills I’d picked up from a community course in Fashion and Dressmaking. It was there one evening, that I met @twiinkalink – already prolific in the blogosphere and no stranger to the Readers’ Makes page of Love Sewing magazine. After this fortuitous encounter, I cycled home with my head in a social media spin, determined to start a blog of my own and make an item worthy of a sewing magazine’s pages.

Fast forward a few stitches in time and here I am – the blogger behind ‘wrong doll’ with a star make credit to boot. Through joining Instagram, I’m now in contact with an extremely supportive community of makers – two of whom I arranged to meet in real life last Saturday. The initial plan was to go scavenging for threads at Manchester’s Abakhan, until Shauni found out about The Big Simplicity Blog Meet and the die was cast. Could there be a better place for three sewing bloggers to meet up.

The jewel in the event’s cake encrusted crown, was a masterclass from none other than May Martin. For two hours, she shared the tips of her trade in such an approachable fashion, it felt like catching up with an old friend – albeit one who is extremely adept in the art of sewing. May is incredibly knowledgeable and clearly derives so much pleasure from passing on her skills to others. Every craft has it’s own language and terminology and as a relative newbie, I was heartened to feel at home amongst references to facings, differential feeds and bias bound finishes. However, I’m certain this has more to do with May’s skill as a presenter, than my fledgling experience as a sewer.

Recently I made the determination to step out of my comfort zone and embark on a new challenge – sewing with knitted fabrics. So I was overjoyed when May launched into the morning with her top tips for knits. I’m not going to attempt to document the day in detail, as I know it will fall dismally short of the real thing. However, I did manage to scribble down a few words of wisdom and here are some cherry picked gems.

On overlocking knits

Thread your overlocker with large cones of shades of grey. It’s the colour that goes with everything – fact. 

Threading – order of service: upper looper, lower looper, right needle and left needle. 

If a thread breaks, always unthread both needles and rethread them after threading the loopers.

Differential feed – notch up that dial and say goodbye to stretched out seams. 

Minimise stretch from overuse by stabilising shoulder seams and necklines before stitching. 

On machining knits

No overlocker, no cry – a narrow zig zag finished with the overcast stitch does the job. In fact, around tricky areas such as armholes, this could be your option of choice.

Invest in a walking foot and you won’t be sorry. This piece of kit grips the fabric from above and below, enabling an even feed.

Give your hems a professional finish with a twin needle – two rows of straight stitching on the front encased in a zig zag on the back. 

General tips & tricks

For a perfect curve – use a shortened stitch length on contours and don’t clip! Grade or use pinking sheers for an even reduction of bulk.

Achieve symmetry on a shaped collar by attaching interfacing without a seam allowance and using its edge as a stitching line.

Notch out rather than in, to preserve seam allowances for garment adjustments.

Self made over shop bought binding? A bias tape maker, with a plastic insert is your new best friend.

Like for like – if you’re stitching two pieces of material together, practise on two pieces of material together. It sounds elementary but I’ll warrant I’m not alone in testing on single scraps.

New project, new needle and NEVER mix old with new. Store used needles on a piece of cloth, labelled by size and type.

Nothing was an ask too far and May finished the Q&A session with a demonstration of setting in shoulders using her bubble technique and the quickest invisible zip insertion I reckon I’ll ever witness. I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to ask her for a sewing machine recommendation. Whilst emotionally tied to the vintage steeds gifted to me, I’ve been hampered by the limits of my equipment of late.

May pointed me in the direction of the lovely Russell at Sewing Machines Direct and as of this afternoon I’m the excited owner of a Janome SMD3000. It’s my propensity to name the inanimate objects which bring joy into my life, so without further ado, let me introduce you to my brand new sewing machine – meet ‘May’.

May

So, that’s my day in may in a nutshell and what a momentous day it was too. All that remains is to thank Simplicity New Look for organising such a fantastic event. We were showered with free sewing-related bounty and the gauntlet was thrown in the shape of The Simplicity Sewing Challenge 2016. I left with renewed enthusiasm for my chosen craft, itching to get back to my sewing table and launch into another year’s adventures in stitch.

who made my clothes?

Whilst i’m no stranger to thrift shopping and have been fashioning my own wardrobe for almost a year now, it’s fair to say that I have often been quite ignorant to the origins of my purchases. To be honest, I’m quite ignorant of a lot of things that are happening in the world.

I haven’t had a TV for more than a decade and I am woefully politically unaware. It’s not that I don’t care – it’s just that there’s only so much my little head can deal with and when I do engage it’s usually on such an all encompassing scale, that I have to be selective about what I can usefully take on board.

This last week, I’ve been involved in a photo challenge over on Instagram, hosted by @inthefolds, to raise awareness of Fashion Revolution Week. Each day we’ve been given a theme to prompt thoughts, discussion and inspiration. Here’s a snapshot of my week – for the stories behind the pictures, head over to Instagram. You can discover what other people have been up to by searching on #whomademyclothes #imademyclothes #makersforfashrev #FashRev

Having recently adopted a plant based diet, I’ve become increasingly aware of the food I eat and its environmental impact. This campaign has coincided with an aspiration to live more mindfully and question the all pervasive status quo.  I’m not about to go off and live in cave – contemplating my navel and disassociating myself from society. I’m a city girl and when it comes to my home town of Sheffield, I embrace all there is to offer on its eclectic fringes.

I don’t intend to stop buying things either. Life is challenging and short and having wrestled with existential angst for far too long, I now try and find pleasure in the everyday. When it comes to my environment, I’m an advocate of William Morris – ‘have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. However, now that I’ve opened up my eyes to the journey things have made before reaching my hands, my mind has shifted in terms of what I value.

The swansong of my week is a fourth attempt at Yoshiko Tsukiori’s Stylish Dress Book 2, Jumper Dress G, in glorious barkcloth. Last year I bought a stunning statement piece necklace from @bellesbejewelled and set myself the goal of making a dress, fitting of its pairing. The material was sourced from a late night ebay barkcloth trawl and I opted for this simple and yet elegant pattern to showcase the fabric design.

And so, I’ve come to the end of my first year of adventures in stitch – making my own handmade wardrobe and blogging about what I think about in the process. Whilst I’m certain that the answer to the question ‘who made my clothes?’ will be increasingly wrong doll-centric, I’m not entirely sure where the next year is going to take me. What I do know, is that my intention is to become a much more conscious consumer and approach future acquisitions with an enquiring mind.

reframing calamity

It seems like I’ve been looking forward to this holiday since the beginning of time – then again, I do have a tendency to veer towards the hyperbolic. Actually, it’s since we booked the flights in January and decided – in the interests of saving money and increasing flexibility – to travel carry on only. After initial reservations of travelling so light, I had the idea to fashion a handmade capsule wardrobe –  from self-imposed restriction a creative project was born.

I booked two weeks off work with a mind to sew in the first week and travel in the second – it’s hard to say which part of the holiday I was most excited about. But then sheer enthusiasm escalated the pace and I pretty much had the wardrobe in the metaphorical bag before the Easter break. Japanese smocks were always going to feature prominently and the championer of the high waisted skirt – Megan Nielsen – resolved the alternative to shorts issue.

Capsule Wardrobe

A holiday capsule wardrobe consisting of three smocks and a skirt , coupled with cropped leggings and my beloved M&S Heatgens for inclement evenings. Compartmentalisation has always been my vice of choice and after much research I settled on the Karrimor SF Predator 30 lightweight day pack as the vehicle for my belongings – if it’s good enough for the special forces, it’s good enough for me.

For travel bottles, Muji Online came up with the goods – it might have taken me half an hour to decant my toothpaste but in my book that’s time well spent. After treating myself to a new pair of Birkenstocks and a M&S rainproof jacket I was good to go. So here it is, laid out in all its glory – my half handmade – half lovingly purchased holiday wardrobe.

Capsule Wardrobe

So, what am I doing writing this when I should be flying to sunnier climbs? Well, life has a way of not breaking to your bend. Of late, a nasty virus has been taking out my work colleagues one by one. I remained infection free -heralding my newfound vegan diet as an elixir of health. Fast forward to my last morning at work before the long-awaited holiday … you can guess the rest.

Seven days in and out of my sick bed, I’ve had a lot of time to cogitate on the folly of my ways. Whilst making plans is good, focusing all your attentions on them places your happiness in fragile hands. I’d meditated upon my holiday single pointedly and almost come to the conclusion that happiness = a week at my sewing machine and a week in the sun.

To add injury to insult, all the physical activities I rely on to boost a paucity of naturally occurring endorphins, have been curtailed for an undetermined length of time. As injuries go, a broken toe which refuses to heal is admittedly pretty laughable. So I’m very grateful to yesterday’s surgeon who – whilst ruling out a questionable initial assessment of bone infection – acknowledged the significant effect a minor injury can have on your everyday life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that life is about coming to terms with loss – possessions, ideals, dignity, people, our health and if we’re really unlucky our minds. In my job, I have the privilege of coming into contact with people facing their own mortality and the responses are as variable as the people. Whilst every reaction is valid, I’ve begun to fully appreciate that it’s not just the things that happen to you but the way you react to those things that shapes your reality.

We can construct a drama from our past, project a fantasy onto our future and allow a commentary of thoughts to accompany our every waking moment. But if – as Eckhart Tolle advises – we can extricate ourselves enough to observe the arising thoughts and live in the now, a window of malleability arises in which we can reframe our calamities.

all about my mother

Memories of my formative years are sketchy to say the least … in fact memory recall across the board is not one of my strong points. It’s a trait I share with both my sister and mother – mine us for historical detail and see how we recoil. Invite us to join you in a quiz and it’s game well and truly over. But recollections bearing an emotional weight, remain embedded within like words etched in rock.

I remember my mother sat on the couch dictionary in hand, revelling at the discovery of a new word. Hands clasped around the word tin I took to school everyday –  my mission, to seamlessly incorporate them into everyday discourse. Racing home to get to the piano before my sister and evenings spent devouring extra English and Maths because she’d achieved the impossible – she tricked us into thinking learning was fun.

But most of all, I remember her at the kitchen table with the sewing machine, surrounded by endless strips of fabric, sewing patchwork cushions, rag dolls and the odd item of clothing gracelessly received by my sister and I. For who wants bespoke handmade attire, when everyone is parading their high street bounty down the school corridors.

Nevertheless, my mother was undeterred and channelled her sartorial creations towards a much more appreciative audience incapable of back chat. Sindy – ‘the doll you love to dress’ – proved a most willing recipient of my mother’s talent for precision stitch in miniature. I recently gained possession of my childhood playthings and the handmade wardrobe she fashioned for them.

It’s taken years for me to come full circle and join my mother at the machine – a mere 40 of them. And in doing so, I’ve come to reflect on how all my passions … all the things I hold dear, can be traced back to her. To coin the title of the Almodovar classic, it’s ‘All About My Mother’.

So enough about me, or rather my mother, I’d love to know – from where did your inspiration to sew originate?

getting to know you

For my new project, I quickly realised I was going to have to go on some serious dates with my machine. Sure we’ve been hanging out for a while but the conversations have been pretty superficial. I haven’t dared to broach the subject of tension or buttonholes – knowledge of which Victory’s Madeleine necessitates. So tempting though it is to slip into well worn grooves for an easy ride, I’ve been factoring in some quality time with the Jones, aided by a manual specific to my 881 model which I managed to source on-line.

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My first challenge was how to work with the large cone of denim topstitching thread, gifted by my work colleague Carol. With all the gear and frankly no idea – my first play date with denim was an uneasy dalliance. I tried to balance the cone in various places on and around the machine which resulted in an unhappy marriage of unpredictable stitch tension and jamming. I was almost ready to call time on the affair when I stumbled across this clever hack.

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Finally, I was able to produce a stitch tension approaching feature-quality and coupled with wisdoms gleaned from Twenty Top Tips for Topstitching, a reconciliation seemed possible. Hello jeans needle, increased stitch length, regular thread on the bobbin and goodbye backstitching. Now we’re talking and it’s a conversation worth having.

On sharing the breaking news of my overlocker acquisition, a fellow Lindy Hopper asked if I was going to overlock all my jumpers together …..  just because I could. And tempting though it was @KRMyles, I didn’t. However, despite it being slightly tricky to work with, I now have a yen to denim topstitch anything I can lay my hands on.

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Our quality time together has been in no way seamless and I’m still trying to fathom whether the problems I am encountering are user orientated, or due to the limitations of my vintage steed. I can only topstitch for so long without a bobbin jam and tension control is all or nothing – for anything  approaching fine tuning an intervention is called for.

However, every time I think of upgrading to a newer model something unexpected reigns me back in. The buttonhole function was declared defunct on a service years ago. So finally managing to produce a four-step buttonhole was a joyous moment and I decided to quit whilst ahead. This courtship dance is coming to an end and I’m starting to feel like we’ve turned a corner. It’s time to update my relationship status – me and the Jones – we’re going steady.

whatever your notion

Since I took up sewing, time has been neatly carved into two: time spent sewing and time spent doing everything else I have to do before I can sew.

You know that scene in Trainspotting, when Renton gets all his stock in before embarking on a bender … well that’s how it is with me these days. And what do you need before hunkering down for a sewing lock-in ….. notions. What a word – a sure fire contender for the word tin I used to carry around as a child. I knew how to make friends and influence.

The Moor Market is my new playground and excellent for a fabric and notion trawl. I discovered Sheffield’s own material girl Grace down there, on a hunt for denim. She graciously answered my ‘Are you new?’ by informing me she has been trading on the market for a mere 25 years. Despite my faux pas, I’m confident this is going to be the start of a beautiful relationship. I also popped into Sew-Rite for some zips, cotton, overlocking thread and a couple of metres of interfacing. Whatever your notion – they’ve got it.

My work colleague, Carol, with previous in the fashion industry, has very kindly furnished me with some denim top stitching thread. So I’m notion filled and good to go for my new project: the Victory Madeleine skirt. Wish me luck!