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.

what a feeling …

Ever since I saw the film and heard the anthem, I’ve lusted after the slouchwear aesthetic so artfully channelled by Flashdance’s Alex. The type of clothing that allows you to break into a run or slide into a yoga pose at a moment’s notice. So many life goals encapsulated – her style, her single pointed ambition, her flat, her welding skills.

I saw the pattern for this sports luxe sweatshirt in a recent issue of Simply Sewing magazine and I knew this was as close as I was going to get to living out a childhood fantasy. Not only that, it also looked like a super quick win – with only one pattern piece what could go wrong? Surprisingly, quite a lot if you decide to dispense with reading the instructions and let your intuition guide you.

The back is one piece cut on the fold, whereas the front is two pieces sewed together to enable some top stitchery. You’ll notice my front and back both have seams which wasn’t intentional – it’s because I cut them out before realising I should have folded the straight edge of the back pattern piece over 1cm before pinning it to the fabric. At this point, I’d like to point out the lack of top stitching was a considered choice. I figured the colours and contours made enough of an impact without bringing anything else to the party.

I cut the pattern on a size 14-16 based on my bust size which produced a voluminosity which did my frame no favours. Paring the underarm and waist seam to the lowest size and taking the sleeve length down one size, brought the shaping I was looking for. I overlocked the shoulder seams together and serged the front and back central panels individually before seaming with a narrow zig zag (0.5 width, 2.5 length).

My desire to clean finish my insides tripped me up on the side seams. Read the instructions here and you’ll get the result I achieved second time around when I slimmed down to a size 6-8. Here are some of the details of which I’m quite rightfully proud. Lining up the the central seam with the waistband join was a moment to savour … until I realised that shifting the joins to the side seams would have been the calling card of a seasoned sewer. Ah well – I pulled it off, so I’ll let my central lines sing.

I’m learning not to pay too much attention to the recommended band sizing as it’s all about your threads and how they work together. For the body, I sourced this French Terry Brushed Teal from Dragonfly Fabrics and teamed it with some green ribbing. The 75% differential suggested resulted in visual pollution of the highest order so I experimented a little, until I achieved the look I was after with a waistband 8cm smaller than the circumference. The neckband is reduced by 5cm and next time I’d probably shave off another cm or two for a bit more traction.

I could tell you how my second dry month of the year is going but that would eat into some valuable sewing time. What I will say is that not drinking has bought me shed loads of time which I’m itching to fill. So I’ll leave you with some pictures taken at my fella’s house this morning, living the dream in my sunday slouchwear.






slouchwear – his and hers

A while back I made a bold announcement – slouchwear the name and comfort my game. I soon realised that the swift progress I hoped for was hampered by a severe skill deficit and until I faced my fear of knits, I would remain firmly in the structured stable.

I’m happy to say there has been some movement and I’m making tentative steps towards vanquishing my fear. A full range of slouchwear has yet to be realised but I’ve fashioned a his and hers which I’m happy to be seen in daylight at a distance:

‘His’ is my second attempt at the Grainline Studio Linden Sweatshirt.  I cut on a straight 12 and the only modification was to add thumbhole cuffs – again shamelessly copied from The Last Stitch. My first attempt came together relatively easily but boy did I struggle with the neckline on this one. Following the pattern’s neckband measurements produced gathers befitting of a clown. So I developed a close relationship with my seam ripper and detached and reattached it numerous times before I got a length which achieved a traction I could live with. I’m guessing different fabric compositions affect the length of your neckband? I’d love to hear from any of you who’ve learnt this the hard way?

‘Hers’ is my first foray into the world of Ottobre Design and I don’t mind saying I think I picked the cream of the crop with this New Boheme Jersey Tunic (Woman Autumn/Winter 5/2014). Tracing these patterns off is not a task for the faint hearted and I was eased out of my inertia by entering into a #patternpledge with Grace over at @beyond_measure_uk. We resolved to bring an Ottobre pattern to life by the end of March and encourage each other along the way.

It’s such a good idea to get involved with little projects like this and without the knowledge that we were in it together, I would have given up at the first hurdle. I’m not going to lie – tracing of this magnitude is meltdown inducing. But, it was sooo worth the effort – this is a pattern I know I’ll be making again and again.

I cut on a straight size 40 but added an extra 1cm seam allowance at the sides to accommodate my hips. Turns out this pattern has ample design ease for my pear shaped figure but I’m glad I erred on the side of caution as I did utilise the extra allowance from underarm to cuff. If you stay true to the pattern you may find the sleeves a little snug and as I have a propensity for layers, I’m glad I had that room to play with.

After tracing and cutting, construction is pretty straightforward and the only sticking point for me was the neck pleats. The pattern had me in a quandary and eventually I decided that the central markings were for an inverted box pleat. I used a long straight stitch on either side to secure it in place but when I googled other versions, I couldn’t see any top stitching. It’s like they’d all discovered the formula for creating this pleat which eluded me. If you know the secret, please please have pity on me – I need entry into the Magic Circle before my next iteration.

For the seams I dug out my walking foot and used a long straight stitch before finishing them on my serger – I’d need to undergo a serious course of counselling before overlocking from the get go.  Attaching some Steam to Seam Lite to the hemline and sleeves before stitching with a narrow zig zag (0.5 width, 3 length) worked a treat for me but I’d welcome other suggestions on fusible hemming tape for knits?

Like the Linden, I came unstuck again at the neckline. When adding the facing I stretched it disproportionately and the back lacks the tension I achieved at the front. As for the top stitching … I almost don’t want to draw your attention to it. I reduced the length of the narrow zig zag to a 2. 5 and now I’m wondering if a 3 would have made for a more subtle finish or whether to opt for a neckband next time.

Regardless of the flaws, I’ve faced my fears and for that I’m rightfully proud. This is a very wearable toile in an unremarkable fabric and hue which I’m itching to revisit in different textures, colours and patterns.

Slouchwear – it’s ON.

caretaker of decay

There’s so much I embrace about getting older – where I once longed for a homogeneity with my peers, I now celebrate my difference and the freedom of a life unfettered by the pressure of conforming to conventional norms. If a vast amount of money were to come my way, there’s not much I would change. I’d probably switch to home ownership, to remove my biggest financial outlay, but have no desire to upscale in any way – I’m an advocate of tiny living and drawn to the minimalist aesthetic. Oh and I’d go part-time to afford myself a four day sewing week – now that’s what I call work/life balance.

But that’s about it … otherwise I’d pretty much keep things as they are. I don’t hanker after days gone by – behind my youthful facade hid a multitude of existential angst I have no wish to revisit. Approaching middle age, I’m the best version of me I could be and if that comes with visible signs of age, so be it. But what I’ve been finding increasingly challenging since I turned 40 is the multitude of minor illnesses that keep coming my way. Nothing life threatening or sympathy worthy – just bloody inconvenient and impeding my resolve to become fitter and stronger.

Having lived in a Buddhist community for many years and working with people with life-limiting illness, my thoughts are often framed by the inherent suffering of existence. I’ve always been a glass half full person, with a propensity towards depressive thinking – overthinking, overfeeling, overanalysing. What saves me from being the most draining person you’ve ever met is a dark sense of humour and lack of self-importance. I’m painfully aware of how short life can be, which has propelled me to make the most use of this form – despite feeling like I am the mere caretaker of its decay.

I’ve explored many approaches in my quest to live a more meaningful life and since discovering sewing, cannot wax lyrical enough about its benefits. I’m sure it’s old news to the initiated but the therapeutic effects are bountiful. And what I’ve found most interesting is how my approach to the craft is becoming inextricably linked with my desire to live in harmony with the environment and my ideals. I stumbled across Fashion Revolution thanks to In The Folds and Emily’s thought provoking Instagram feed. It was a timely discovery as I was on the brink of being swallowed into a vortex of compulsive making.

Since then, I’ve adopted a more considered approach, thinking about what I need along with what brings me joy. Which brought me to the conclusion that there was a gaping hole in my burgeoning handmade wardrobe – slouchwear. But addressing this meant conquering my fear of knits which was no mean feat. The vehicle for my tentative first foray is the Grainline Studio Linden Sweatshirt – a pattern I’ve resisted for some time, as I wasn’t sure how it would marry with my wardrobe staples.

And then I came across these lovely interpretations which convinced me to take the plunge. Inspired by Cut Cut Sew, I opted for a hybrid with a cropped body, slightly shortened hem band, long sleeves and cuffs with thumb holes. I’d first seen the cuffs on Punktyodniesienia’s Instagram feed and managed to fashion them thanks to an excellent tutorial from Johanna Lu over at The Last Stitch. Here’s me failing in an attempt to strike a pose in them Madonna style but having a laugh nevertheless.

I originally cut on a 10 based on my waist measurement but was underwhelmed with the result. After an hour or two with Google, I discovered other bloggers had cut on their bust size – particularly when opting for the shortened version. So I cut on a 4 and graded out slightly to a 6 at the hem but I’m not entirely sure this was necessary. Apart from that, the only adjustments I made were to shorten the arms by an inch to accommodate those glorious cuffs. The material was sourced from my beloved Abakhan fabric bins for less than a tenner. I couldn’t find any suitable ribbing so I went for a contrasting colour of stretchy knit.

Linden is described as a beginner’s pattern and I would concur, even though a lack of confidence and expertise made my journey a tad fraught. I serged the body peices together and then switched to a stretch stitch on my machine to attach the cuffs and bands before finishing with the overlocker. On several occasions the material got swallowed down my machine’s throat plate and I struggled to keep control whilst serging. I’ve since discovered a mine of informative sewing with knits tips, including this cracking post by Serger Pepper and have resolved to put some time aside to get to know my machinery better.

However, for my first attempt with knits I’m more than happy with this very wearable Linden toile. I predict numerous iterations with very little departure in form. Grey is my new colour of choice and I see it teamed with teal and green in the non too distant. Viva la slouchwear.


pivotal points

Pivotal points – there were two in the pattern and a multitude IRL as I grappled with my first Vogue Patterns Marcy Tilton. Some have referred to this as an easy sew – I’m not one of those people. And that’s purely because of a feature which elevates this pattern head and shoulders above the rest – those expertly placed pivots. Thankfully, I’d bumped into Ann at The Big Simplicity Blog Meet who diplomatically pointed out to a fledgling sewer, that the pattern had proved challenging to her despite years of stitchery to her name.  If I hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I would have thrown in the towel during the construction of my bedsheet toile.

Labelling up each jigsaw puzzle pattern piece as I cut them, proved invaluable when joining them together – the difference in the front and back of the fabric being barely discernible. Opting for this grey Ponte de Roma from Abakhan was an unwitting masterly move for my first foray into sewing with knits. I’ve since discovered it’s a stable double knit and handles much like a woven. Crucially for me the fabric cost £15 all in and I was conscious that a low cost fail would be a lot easier to swallow.

Unfortunately, it did mean that I wasn’t able to put my newfound sewing with knits knowledge – courtesy of my day in may – into full usage. I did tinker with the differential feed on my overlocker and switch to a stretch needle but as many other bloggers have observed, sewing with Ponte is easy and well worth a punt. It’s not a fabric I would have considered before encountering this pattern but I was drawn to it’s weight and shape. The only misgivings I have is that it’s polyester and the propensity to pill. My sister and I have waged a lifelong crusade against bobbling and the jury is out as to whether this will stand the test of time.

Anyway, back to those pesky pivots. Ann advised me to attach a small square of stretch interfacing over the central point on the wrong side of the upper front, before reinforcing the inner corner and slashing along the centre front to the small circle. A tip, which along with know how garnered from this blog post, saved me from defeat. For me, stitching away from the central point each time and splitting the seam in two was key.

I’m feeling less triumphant when it comes to the neck and armhole binding. Interfacing the edging ensured minimal stretch during construction but my top stitching was woefully off point. As is often the case with a bias bound finish, I failed to catch the material underneath and whilst I could say that the ribbed effect on both neck and armholes was intentional, that would be a lie. Any tips on achieving the smooth finish detailed in the instructions would be welcomed.

If you are practised in the art of pivoting and adopt an organised approach to identifying and storing your pattern pieces, then you will probably find V8975 well within your sewing scope. My temporary undoing was launching in without the requisite skills and naively assuming I was a contender for a Vogue pattern marked ‘Average’. Needless to say, the descriptor would not deter me in the future but it would present a note of caution and prompt a tad more investigation from the outset.

In summation – as is the dressmaker’s wont – I’m declaring this pattern my new favourite and well worth the efforts required to perfect that pivot. Choosing a patterned fabric would make the task much less arduous but I’m glad I opted for a plain palette, which rightfully focuses all the attention on its bold lines and deep folds.

And by way of a postscript, here’s a pictorial celebration of a pivotal point of my own, crafted by the very talented @saltandchilli_emma who is well worth checking out over on Instagram.

Love in stitches