A joyous start to the making year as I edge towards my daily uniform of choice – new blog post over on the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network.
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.
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.
I’m not going to lie – I almost failed at the starting blocks when it came to realising my first Wendy Ward pattern. Before cracking on with any of the projects in her Beginners Guide to Making Skirts, there’s the not so small hurdle of tracing off the pattern. And after half an hour of staring at a jumble of lines, I was almost ready to quit. But I’m a tenacious bugger, so I did the sensible thing and took a bit of time out to re-read Wendy’s instructions on Using Paper Patterns. And as if by magic, what seemed indecipherable began to take on coherent form and the markings for each pattern piece began to emerge before me.
After wavering between the Granville Wrap Skirt and the Roehampton Culottes, I settled on the latter and embraced the opportunity to attempt a pattern with two key measurements rather than one. Whilst my propensity for A-line is driven by an aesthetic preference, it’s also the best silhouette for my bottom heavy frame. But I’m conscious that I’ve been limiting myself by sticking to patterns that don’t call for much in the way of adjustments and decided that the time had come to step up.
I used the Sizing and Taking Measurements guidelines, to work out which line to highlight with my trusty Frixion. With a hip measurement of 107cm, I traced on 109cm from hem to hips and then blended between this and the next size down at the waist. However, I knew there would be further adjustments at the toile stage, as there’s at least two sizes between my waist and the hips I prefer to keep under wraps.
To bridge this gap, I increased the width of each dart by 1 cm and shaved up to 1cm off the front and back pattern pieces from hip to waist, making a total reduction of 6cm. I traced off the waistband piece which corresponded with my actual waist measurement and hey presto – it all came together like a dream.
Wendy’s book is split in two – the individual projects, followed by a techniques section at the end. This format empowers you to get into the driving seat and customise each pattern according to your whim. It also forces you to slow down as there are decisions to be made and skills to refer to at various key stages. It took me a while to adjust to the toing and froing but it wasn’t long before I was completely on board.
Thanks to the mode of presentation and clarity of instruction, these Roehampton culottes are by far my most well made make to date.
‘What is it to be human … what is it to ache?’ Charlie Kaufman’s latest cinematic offering – Anomolisa – encapsulates existential angst and human fallibility in excruciating close-up. An anti-love story with its lens focused on an empty shell protagonist, seeking to fill his inner void by imputing value on mere infatuation.
The conceit – where Lisa’s voice is the only one not narrated by Tom Noonan – is artfully executed; its significance only fully appreciated when Michael’s ego boundaries snap firmly back into place. As quickly as it manifested, an expansive world view implodes and the prison bars of conventionality entrap him, at least until the next one-night-stand of opportunity presents itself.
It was painful to watch – causing me to reflect on the human propensity to approach people and things from the dissatisfied vantage point of unfulfilled need. For me, one of the few advantages of ageing has been getting to know and like myself because and not despite of my idiosyncrasies. Instead of berating myself for past misdemeanours, I try to celebrate how far I have come in understanding my modus operandi.
To be honest, it isn’t that complex. If you have the luxury of time to fully examine yourself … what is revealed is frightening in its simplicity. We are creatures of habit and it’s only so long before we climb back into the hamster wheel of our very own passion play. One of my habitual tenancies is the compulsion to organise – combating the vicissitudes of an uncertain existence by surrounding myself with clean lines and order.
Not the usual segway into your latest make but it is my propensity to wax lyrical. The Deer and Doe Chardon Skirt hooked me in with the promise of a structured form – the perfect vehicle to give shape to some striped denim I’d foraged from the kilo bins at Abakhan. It’s my second foray with this pattern – the first having been fashioned from some 1950s barkcloth. Construction was somewhat hampered by the fabric’s pattern and the imperfect marriage of gently contoured box pleats with the inflexibility of a stripe.
In the interests of mental health preservation and sustaining a life long relationship with sewing, I’ve downgraded my baseline of acceptability from perfect to good enough. Initial attempts at pleating did not make the grade and were hastily disassembled. I redrew the pleats in an attempt to meld them with the unforgiving line of the fabric and the results just about pass muster. At first I wasn’t sure if the striped denim suited my style but I took it out on a photo spree and I’m most pleased with the results. I’m even toying with the idea of a third in a much stiffer fabric, taking the box pleats to their absolute limits.
Whilst I’ve grown to accept my predilection for order as a coping mechanism for uncertainty, I’m mindful of the inherent flaw in this strategy – life cannot be controlled. I’ve partnered myself with a human whose spirit pervades space like vapour – his fluidity a welcome counterbalance to my rigidity. With ego boundaries in place, I’m surrounded by straight lines in a fortress of my own making. In relationship with a complementary other, I have the freedom to explore beyond self-imposed limits and adventure beyond the linear.
I’m a sucker for a high-waisted skirt and when it comes to scoring the goods Megan Neilson is my go-to indie designer. Possessing a figure spaning three sizes, I’ve a predilection for patterns with one key measurement and the Brumby has long been top of my wish list. It begs to be fashioned from denim and features contrasting top-stitching options a plenty.
The instructions were clear and simple and I was hampered only by inexperience and my propensity for protracted sewing stints. 10 hours into last Sunday’s sewalong, I realised I had attached the beautifully contoured waistband the wrong way round.
Whilst there was no pacifying my black mood at midnight, by Tuesday evening I had re framed my mistake as an opportunity to learn how to do something in a different way. I also came to appreciate the benefits of a staged approach, which I will endeavour to adopt in future:
sew, eat, sew, drink, sew, engage in a non sewing related activity …
as opposed to
sew, sew, sew, sew, sew, sew … MELTDOWN.
When it comes to patterns, I’ve been told I’ve got a good eye for what suits me. But in terms of social and I don’t mean the face to face IRL kind – it’s been a tad more tricky to find my feet. When you grew up in a world devoid of computers and mobiles, the proliferation of platforms on which you can share your wares is both over and underwhelming.
I have a Twitter account for work but the idea of composing a steady stream of pithy and concise sewing-related content leaves me cold. Similarly, I have a personal Facebook page but have resisted setting up another – the idea of posting on multiple pages enough to instigate a bout of option paralysis.
Finally I stumbled across Instagram – a medium which suits my temperament and craft. It’s a quick injection of aspirational visuals and the easiest way to be sought and seek out like minded creatives. Whilst I crave the isolation of a sewing lock-in, I’m also drawn to community and connection – albeit at a remove. So, a big thank you to @mabel2704, @mariangravemaker, @lindaabing, @magdalensmuse, @lollystitches, @lydiamaria1945, @thegephartgirl, @yellingpig, @iheartzombieunicorns and @leemac36 – my 10 most engaged followers courtesy of Iconosquare.
And a huge thank you to The Up Sew who (with the notable exception of my mother) has been my staunchest follower and kind enough to nominate me for a Liebster. The Liesbster Award is a lovely way bloggers acknowledge and spread the word about like-minded individuals. As a recipient, I’m tasked with: posting the award on my blog, thanking my nominator and answering their 10 questions, asking 10 questions of my nominees and notifying them of the award. So here goes …
what persuaded you to start a blog
favourite piece of advice you have been given
content not followers
what is a favourite make (any medium)
best or worst sewing habit
most useless sewing gadget in your collection
ornamental vintage sewing machine
what would be your ‘dream’ make
an everyday tutu
who taught you or inspired you, to sew/make:
my mum and Tracey Holland
favourite cartoon character:
favourite piece of music:
scored music from the Hal Hartley film Amateur
I’ve nominated the bloggers below by way of a thank you for your support and encouragement. I’m sure you are already award replete and probably have more followers than is required to be named but I figured when it comes to the Liebster, it’s a spirit of the thing kind of thing.
Angela from Looks Like I Made It
Shauni from The Magnificent Thread
Sophie from hettie brown
Hannah from Mousie Makes
and now for my perfect 10:
- what/who inspired you to create
- motivations to write a blog
- introvert or extrovert
- creative conundrums keeping you up at night
- favourite make
- least favourite make
- fabric of choice
- favoured patterns/designers
- pivotal moment on your creative journey
- if money were no object …
As a child, the list of substances that triggered an allergic response seemed never-ending. So much so, that the control I now exert over my home environment is akin to a latter day Howard Hughes. In adulthood, by far the most pernicious offender is less tangible in form – organised fun. For me, the pressure of enforced enjoyment is sure to elicit the opposite response.
I rail against what I perceive to be the slavish adherence to pedestrian norms – Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s … you name it day. Whilst I appreciate for some, these are celebrations imbued with meaning – to me it feels to me like we are all being played and someone else is cashing in the cheque. However, if what’s being pedalled floats my boat, I’ll happily get on board and the opportunity a New Year affords to cast off and start anew, is something I embrace.
My aspirations for the coming year are from original – I’m determined to get fit, eat well and for Maude to achieve the acclaim she deserves. However, I don’t want to fall into the trap of labelling consumables and activities as either good or bad. My desire is to do things consciously rather than mindlessly and if that means eating a plate of fried food washed down with a bottle of red, so be it.
When I finally bit the bullet and purchased this 1950’s Barkcloth from mrsrocksbackroom, I was keen to find a pattern befitting of it’s beauty. I fully examined the design – it’s weight and drape – before rushing for the scissors. After much prevarication, I settled on Deer and Doe’s Chardon Skirt as the vehicle to bring new life into these old threads.
Whilst I’m conscious that I’m starting to fall into the trap of heralding the latest make as my favourite – this pattern is in a class of it’s own. The high waist and inverted box pleats are the ideal compliment for my bottom heavy figure and its features give the mid weight barkcloth the structure I hoped for.
Construction should have been smooth as the instructions are clear albeit brief. However, I was hampered by sewing inexpertise and made a few basic errors. The centre back seam – of which I am rightfully most proud – was almost my undoing. Whilst insufficient fabric negated pattern matching, I spent an age on pattern placement to ensure a balanced design. However I neglected to observe that the back pieces are symmetrical and stitched the outside seams together. The result neither offended the eye or affected the shape but I painstakingly unstitched, cogniscent of the intention to approach my craft with care and attention.
I am prone to focus on the faults of my creations and this is the first time I’ve stepped back and viewed the finished product with unabashed pride. The pockets, pleats, centre back seam and zip all surpassed my exacting standards and I believe the fabric and pattern to be a perfect marriage. A rousing start to another year in stitch but I’m mindful that the method of execution is as valuable as the outcome and hope I can remain as jubilant in the face of less aesthetically pleasing results.