My latest blog post for Minerva is now live – hop over to their blogger network for musings on yoga, shit town and sewing.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to my love of words. Of an evening, my mother’s drug of choice was the dictionary and a favourite pursuit opening a page at random and letting her finger fall upon a new discovery. Sharing her enthusiasm, I carried an old shoe polish tin around, waiting for the opportunity to use one of the words nestled within. A daily allowance of 5 words quickly escalated to 10 and whilst I’m sure this pastime did nothing to endear me to my peers, I’m grateful. For these words and an ever-expanding vocabulary, provided an infrastructure on which to hang my wildly oscillating emotions.
On visiting a friend earlier in the year, I was introduced to a descriptor which my childhood self may have struggled to shoehorn into everyday discourse. The ‘divorced garden’ is quite simply a garden which is separated from its house and a concept which set my imagination alight. Whilst walking up a lane to his little plot of wonder, I reflected on an inner conflict which I have only recently been willing to address – a strong streak of hedonistic wilfulness and an increasing desire to feel the ground beneath my feet. I extrapolated that the house was my chaotic mind and the path to its delineated garden, my seemingly never-ending search for solutions to tame it.
I’ve spent decades devouring self-help at a gargantuan pace, whilst reserving the right to press pause whenever the going got tough. Or to be more precise every Friday night, most Saturday nights and the occasional Thursday evening. And my panacea of choice, not my mother’s beloved words but wine ubiquitous wine. And why the hell not – life is bat shit crazy hard and respite with a large glass of Malbec was as good as it got … until it wasn’t. A habitual pattern of self-medication with ‘detoxifying’ forays into yoga and running was keeping me stuck in a perpetual loop of mental boom and bust. I finally worked out that part-time healthy living wasn’t going to cut it for me and I needed to approach wellbeing from a holistic perspective.
Dry January turned into sober 2017 and here’s the moment when I emerge triumphant like a phoenix from the ashes of my former self and tell you how wonderful it’s been. Except I won’t because it hasn’t and it would only make you want to stick pins in my eyes. What I am happy to report, is that not drinking has been surprisingly easy and the health benefits innumerable. Where it gets sticky is sitting with the feelings that lead you to drink in the first place and integrating into a society, in which every milestone and celebration seems intrinsically intertwined with social lubrication.
As the year progressed and my growing pains intensified, I found myself drawing inwards and yearning for warmth and comfort. The craft cottons I embraced at the beginning of my sewing journey were leaving me cold and a gaping hole of slouchwear alternatives revealed itself. I needed saving from the pyjama wearing, middle aged woman I was becoming and I knew just the person for the job – Wendy Ward with her portfolio of everyday clothes and no-nonsense approach to sewing with knits.
The Longely Cardigan is the first pattern I’ve sewn from Wendy’s MIY Collection. I was fortunate to win a pdf and initially my heart sank at the prospect of printing and assembling all those pages. However, the download comes with a full size copy shop pattern which I e-mailed over to Plancopy Online and they swiftly posted back for a song. For the fabric, I wanted something soft and luxurious and I splashed out on a couple of metres of Atelier Brunette Dazzle Night French Terry. There’s been quite some hype about this material, which in my opinion is completely justified. If you are a working woman looking for the comfort of sleepwear deceptively disguised as clothing, look no further.
I cut on a size 88-92cm based on my bust size and utilised a small arsenal of knit know-how to good effect. I used a size 14 ballpoint stretch needle, employed my walking foot at all times and notched the differential feed on my overlocker up to 1.5. Machine basting every seam before overlocking worked a treat, unlike using white Knit N Stable on the neckline which was a notable faux pas. In retrospect, I wish I’d trimmed it down to sit within the seam allowance and I ironed on some black knit interfacing to counteract the unsightliness. In an almost perfectly executed make, this was not my finest sewing hour but it did the job.
The instructions are fantastic for anyone harbouring a fear of knits, with lovely hand drawn diagrams and tips on sewing without an overlocker or any fancy equipment. The only tricksy part I encountered was attaching the hem band and this is purely down to my learning style. Sometimes I can find it hard to understand written instructions independent of the action itself. But all became clear as I walked myself through each step of the hem band sandwich. The italicised instruction ‘Make sure there is no gap between the folded edge + edge of the band’ is key, so it’s well worth taking your time here. The only alteration I made was to shorten the arms which were uber long on me. I took 3.5cm off the doubled over cuff and chopped another 6cm off the sleeve – a whopping 9.5 cm reduction in all.
When it came to attaching the cuffs I found some nifty instructions which resulted in a finish most pleasing to my eye. I was so enamoured with the technique that I’ve attempted to encapsulate it in a diagram.
Sewing up this Longley was an unadulterated joy and marked a gear change in my sewing trajectory. I faced my fears head on and made a garment befitting of my slouchwear fantasies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say my knit wear game is strong and I am itching to get my hands on Wendy’s long awaited third book – A Beginners Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics. I’ve also treated myself to a cardigan creation workshop at Sew in the City next year. The February date is fully booked but there are still tickets available for the March date if you’ve a yen to stitch under the mindful tutelage of the woman herself.
On discovery, the concept of a divorced garden had me reeling with delight – an escape to transport you from the vicissitudes of the everyday. The harsh reality is that for me, approaching life in this way creates a tension between two compartmentalised ways of living. I realised I would never fully reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, if I continued to cling onto my weekly re-tox cycle. Nearing the end of 2017, I’m thinking where the new year might take me and how to approach wellbeing from an integrated perspective. Having a creative outlet has been vital but sometimes the lure of quick hit can lead me on an acquisitive dance as dizzying as a high street splurge. In sewing as in health, I aspire to keep focused on the long game, making the clothes that I want to wear and creating a capsule wardrobe which reflects the tastes and values of who I’m becoming.
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.
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 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.