new year, worn cliche

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.

the good, the bad and the ugly

There’s an art to a hand worked buttonhole and it’s something I’ve far from mastered. Like every discipline, it has it’s own language and tools – all of which I neglected at my peril. Gimp, wax and a bit of twist – who needs them?

I first saw Kelly a few months back on a Sunday afternoon indie pattern trawl. Whilst I loved the shape, with it’s high waist and glorious pleats, I was unconvinced with the centre front buttonholing and treated myself to a Brumby instead. The lastest issue of Love Sewing – with the opportunity to try out a Megan Nielson pattern for free – gave me cause to re-consider. And not for the first time, I’ve eaten my words and done a complete 360. Without a hint of hyperbole, I ADORE THIS PATTERN. It’s an absolute dream to construct and I followed the clear instructions to the letter without a hitch. That is until I came to the pattern’s swansong – buttonholes – where I swiftly began to unravel.

I’d engaged in some scant sampling before launching into the seven buttonholes smack bang down the centre front but I have to concede I was ill-prepared. Whilst my placement is not too shabby, the zig zags produced from each poorly executed four step must have been too close. Every slash was accompanied by stitch casualties and my buttonholes fell apart in less time than they took to construct. Unpicking my unhandiwork revealed fraying edges galore and whilst Google provided me with a remedy, the damage was already done. I hastily set to work with some heavy duty thread but was unable to salvage the carnage of my butchery – the results are nothing short of Frankensteinian.

The Bad and the Ugly refer to my buttonhole debacle but what about the Good? Whilst my mind is quick to discount the positives – with it’s predilection to meditate upon fault – there’s is much to laud. I picked up the denim at Sheffield’s Direct Fabric Warehouse for a tenner and it’s a joy to work with – beautifully soft and virtually crease free. The vintage buttons were another e-bay steal and a perfect accompaniment in both hue and form. But most importantly, this pattern’s arrival coincided with an event in my calendar worthy of note – Maude’s debut.

I discovered Maude over a year ago, just before I embarked on an evening course in Fashion and Dressmaking. As soon as I clapped eyes on her, I knew she was destined for a wider platform. Whilst the appeal of a dismembered vintage doll may be niche, in my head the fringes are full of wrong doll afficianados. I knew immediately I wanted to transfer her image onto fabric but hadn’t a clue how. A few months later I happened upon Spoonflower and mentally edged a step closer to realising my dream. Fast forward another six months and some underwhelming experiments with applique before I discovered a world of double sided fusibles, courtesy of The Cotton Patch.

So, quite by chance I’ve discovered my dream pattern, accompanied by my sewing nemesis. After the inevitable meltdown which followed desecrating my finest craftwomanship to date, I’ve formulated a plan. I’m scheduling a lock in until I’ve fathomed a foolproof way of producing a four step buttonhole from my steed. But for my second Kelly, I’m taking no chances – I’m determined to master the skill so beautifully depicted in this excellent post.

Hey everyone, did you see the free Kelly skirt pattern available in Love Sewing Mag recently? Aimee made this gorgeously…

Posted by Megan Nielsen Patterns on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

bound to you


Obsessions … they’ve always been the currency in which I deal – an escape from the banality of the day-to-day. Art, music, film … my approach to love or loathe … sink or swim – the middle ground and I were separated at birth. Thankfully aging has been accompanied by a distinct mellowing and an acceptance that for some things a ‘Whiplash-esque’ ‘good job’ will suffice. But I still embrace my passions – lindy hop, cycling, vintage threads and most recently sewing – as if engaged in a full throttle assault.

My third denim A-line skirt and it’s clear that I’ve been caught up in a Groundhog Day loop for the last month. Whilst I’ve changed things up each time by incorporating various finishing touches, an intervention is due and my next project will signify a step change for Summer. But first to tie up a few loose ends – time to consolidate learning and reflect on my adventures in stitch thus far.

I had intended to embellish my second Hollyburn using some green topstitching thread I greedily purchased on-line. However, I forsook the opportunity a real life purchase affords of a close up look and feel and was sorely disappointed with its lack of substance and visibility. Inspired by The Up Sew’s thrifty and inventive approach to dressmaking, I decided to mine my embroynic stash and put some scraps of glorious Hemminway Designs ‘Green Tulips’ to good use. Whilst far from a quick win, homemade bias binding was a most satisfying endeavour and a finish I will boomerang to again and again.

So … an A-line skirt, A-line dress and three denim skirts into my sewing journey and what have I learnt:

Preparation is KEY and directly correlates with enjoyment levels. Get fabric and notioned up and in true Renton style, prime your environment for the long haul. Research first before diving in –  the internet is awash with you tube instructional clips and there’s ample opportunity to hone your craft before butchering your fancy new threads.

Pre-wash. I was aware of this fabric fundamental but spiralling out with enthusiasm during my denim phase, I forgot to pre-wash my Hollyburns. After witnessing the results of chancing the first on a hot wash, I’ll be handwashing Hollyburn the second from here on in.

Know when to quit. I’m still working on this one to the detriment of my once regulated sleep pattern. I can start a project at the crack of dawn and still be at my steed gone midnight – nocturanal machinations are de rigueur these days. I am slowly beginning to accept this is counter productive and need to follow  the example of my fellow blogger and stitcher Twinks, who is up with the lark to embrace the day rather than eeking out every second of every minute of every day.

Investing in an overlocker and adjustable mannequin, marked taking my relationship with sewing to the next level. Having proved to myself this was no holiday romance, I treated myself to some tools of the trade. As my passion for stitch has well and truly taken it’s hold, I’ve had cause to reflect on what makes sewing my drug of choice.

Meditative. I’ve lived in both Christian and Buddhist communities. In the former, my hosts prayed for guidance before taking me in and all I can say is God must have been having an off day. I’m not religious and have grown increasingly wary of the cult-like tendencies that can accompany organised religion.However, I would describe myself as a spiritual person and Buddhist teachings have transformed my mental landscape. I’m a bit of a shit Buddhist – if quality is determined by ‘practise’. Formal meditation has always been a struggle but I have grown to appreciate that it’s different strokes for different folks and certain activities take me into a meditative flow. I can spend many an hour fully present and focused on the now, when engaged on a sewing project.

Creative. I had artistic promise in my youth. Scholarship entry into a world of privilege afforded by private school was a mixed blessing and made bearable by hours spent in the cloistered art rooms. I have meandered for years with only sporadic periods of creativity. Discovering the joys of sewing has taken me back full circle to where I was happiest – single-pointedly engaged and absorbed on a creative project for hours on end.

Solitary and social. I have been described as an extrovert – as if my predilection for bright colours and acute inability to adjust my volume control, is indicative of deeper personality traits. However, I am a resolute introvert and often find social interaction draining, craving an abundance of time alone to counterbalance the time spent with others. However, too much time alone and I can find myself burrowing down a rabbit hole of my own imaginings. The beauty of sewing in the social media age, is how an activity can be both solitary and social. WordPress, Bloglovin, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram … validation and an instant feedback loop whilst safely cocooned from real life interaction.

Sense of achievement. Looking around the office at work, I’ve come to the conclusion that my aspirations are non-standard. Societal success is often judged by your acquisitions and the reaching of certain milestones – a house, a car, a marital partner, a family, a high profile career – none of which I seem to have racked up. For me, success in life is measured in how liberated and free I feel and I count myself as extremely fortunate these days, in being able to steer my own happiness ship without heavily relying on others. However, I am not without ambition or the desire to feel accomplished. Sewing clearly satisfies a yen in me to see a project through to its conclusion and bask in the satisfaction afterglow that comes from perfecting a skill.

So, that’s a window into my sewing world so far and what propels me to continue. But what about you, fellow sisters (and brothers) – I’d love to know what binds you to our joint appreciation for sartorial adventures in stitch?

school’s out for summer

Nine months ago, I enrolled on a Fashion and Dressmaking evening class at Hillsborough College with a modest goal in mind – to make an A-line skirt before the year was out. Come January, I was still drowning in calico  samples and the prospect of a tangible outcome – other than in minature  – was slim. Due to my initial hastiness for results, I unwittingly embarked on a unsatisfying relationship with my unpicker and slowly began to appreciate the importance of accuracy and precision. Painstaking though it was at the time, I’m now reaping the rewards of those first six months, concentrating on acquiring and documenting skills.

I work for the national charity Breast Cancer Care and according to spontaneous awareness research, we are not at the forefront or even the back of people’s minds when it comes to naming a charity connected with breast cancer. To raise awareness of the work we do proving information and support for people affected by breast cancer, we have decided to wear our branded orange t-shirts at events. Orange has never featured anywhere near my colour palette of choice, so styling this one out was not going to be easy.

Which brings me to what’s been on the table – Hollyburn. This Sewaholic pattern is all over the internet like a rash and with good reason. It’s an absolute JOY and like Madeline has only one key measurement at the waist. I cut on a 10 and toiled it up as is my prediliction but no adjustments were needed whatsover. So I set to work, with the dual goal of making an A-line skirt both reflective of my own style and suitable to wear for work events. Hollyburn provided me with ample opportunity to consolidate learning from my course – open seams, closed seams, understitching, topstitching, interfaced waistband, pockets and a semi-concealed zip.

School’s out for summer and I’m pretty jubilant that I reached the end of the course with three finished items in the bag and one on the table. For my end of term report, I’m going to award myself with an A for effort and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all that counts – beauty is after all subjective and in the eye of the beholder. With so much scope and potential for improvement, I feel no desire to burst my balloon of enthusiasm by picking things apart further. Sometimes the perfectly imperfect is good enough and the flaws serve to chart the trajectory of my journey in stitch thus far.

So what now?  Well the future’s bright, the future’s … actually it may not feature much orange –  apart from denim topstitching. However the end of term by no means signifies the end of sewing. From my initial aspiration to make one wearable item by the end of the year, a gargantuan desire has spawned to produce and sport my very own handmade wardrobe. And as far as fast fashion goes – if I can make it, I ain’t buying it. Me-Made-May ’16, my sights are focused firmly upon you.

What’s on your sewing table this summer?

Class of 2015
Class of 2015
Sisters in stitch
Sisters in stitch


Madeleine caught my eye in Issue Three of Simply Sewing magazine and it was love at first sight – a denim A-line pinafore with topstitching detail to die for. A second viewing in Mollie Makes Sewing and the gauntlet was cast.

The Moor Market’s very own material girl, furnished me with 2 metres plus of denim – a steal at £14. Next stop Sew-Rite for a notion or two and with denim topstitching thread and an enviable button stash already in my arsenal, I was fit for battle. The pattern and instructions are a dream to follow and perfectly pitched for the novice stitcher. However, the path towards victory was anything but smooth, testing the limits of my burgeoning relationship with the Jones.

Topstitching – it’s all about tension and unfortunately my machine has very little variance in this regard. However, I should have thoroughly taken it through it’s paces before marching in. But I was too eager to earn my stripes and boy were there casualties – jam city alert. The scars were only evident from within but worrying they would compromise the strength and usability of those glorious pockets, I unpicked section after section, followed by the tricky manoeuvre of matching up the topstitching between. Act in haste, repent at leisure indeed.

When it came to buttonholing I had to concede defeat. That recent moment of glory I had with the four-step button hole function was short-lived and it looks as though it’s died a death. Fortunately my mate Nik came to the rescue with his all singing, all dancing model – there’s pretty much nothing his machine can’t do short of making you breakfast. So, like a traitor, I abandoned antique charm for something that could deliver the goods.

My eagerness in clipping seams to remove bulk in the waistband, ended up adding bulk where the topstitching should have gone. After breaking a needle, this time I responded to the gutteral cries of a battle-weary soldier and bid a hasty retreat, leaving the waistband topstitch free. On the subject of bulk, I’d probably use a regular zip next time as the shiny, robust jeans zip I used, countered the effect of a hidden lap.

So many lessons learned but I emerged from the crusade triumphant. Pattern tweaks were minimal with the key measurement being at the waist. For my toile I cut on a 10, despite being closer to an 8, with my preference for a roomy fit. The only adjustment I made was to cut on a 8 at the sides, tapering up between an 8 and 10 at the waist. For the braces I used medium to large, positioning the buttonholes at the outside limits. It’s a skirt worthy of my beloved vintage steed and having just returned from a 250 mile pedal from London to Paris, I’m in victorious spirits.

For my first attempt at this Victory pattern, I opted for the signature blue denim with gold topstitching and Madeleine wears it well. However, it’s begging for further interpretation and with so many options to play with, I’ll definitely be venturing once more unto the breach. I bid you adieu to embark on my next project with the burning question:

anything but the pencil

A-Line Skirt

For my first foray into following a pattern, my requirements were simple – a basic skirt which resembled anything other than a pencil. Because anyone who knows me well, knows my aversion for the pencil skirt. So, where better to start than the A-line skirt featured on the Great British Sewing Bee.

The first challenge was to work out how my measurements translated to the pattern measurement chart. As I span three sizes, this was never going to be simple and cutting to a pattern size 16 proved far too generous. After a number of toiles, I realised I was either going to have to become adept at adjusting patterns to fit my non-standard frame or skill up in pattern drafting.

This skirt was an ideal first project, with the opportunity to try out the basic skills I had acquired at college: darts, a faced waistband and a semi-concealed zip. Whilst I’m pleased with a wearable first make, its shape is nowhere near flared enough for me. My idea of A-line veers more towards an inverted W and sent me burrowing down a rabbit hole of patterns designed for the pear-shaped frame. I reckon Sewaholic’s Hollyburn Skirt has my name written all over it.

Incidentally, I have been re-visiting the seminal TV series Twin Peaks, in light of a proposed sequel. And I have to concede that Sherilyn Fenn rocks a pencil skirt like no other. So, maybe the issue isn’t with the design … just its incompatibility with my body shape. I take it back pencil – it’s not you, it’s me.