straight story

Simplicity 8298

Maybe it’s a tad hyperbolic to compare this project with Alvin’s epic 240 mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawn mower. But that’s what came into my mind as I sat down to write about my journey with Simplicity 8298.

When I bought the pattern, I naively thought it would be easy to source some quilted fabric on-line. But after several weeks of trawling the internet, I resigned myself to the fact that it wouldn’t and the jacket of my dreams would remain a distant fantasy. That is unless I decided to embrace a whole new skill set and quilt my own fabric – how hard could that be? At this point, it would have been prudent to undertake a bit of preparation and acquaint myself with the actual process of quilting. But instead, fast forward to a flurry of excitable consumerism when I jumped both feet first, into the remnant bins of my beloved Abakhan.

I returned home from my shopping haul triumphant and lay out the bounty – 2.3 metres each of some beautiful green and brown patterned craft cottons along with some batting for £60 all in. What barginous luck – I’d dropped on material that aligned perfectly with my vision and it wasn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg. How wrong could I be. I’d based my fabric requirements on the recommendation for my bust measurement and neglected to note that this referred to material that was ALREADY quilted. And not having done the prerequisite research, I was ignorant of the fact that quilting is a THEIF – of your time, your money, your fabric and your thread.

Whilst reading this very informative post I realised I would need more material to mitigate the fabric swallowing effects of quilting. I spent hours positioning the fabric pieces in different formulations and considered using a number of remnant pieces from my stash, to create a coat of many colours. I found a piece of gold which might work for the inside sleeves and toyed with a number of hues for the pocket and hood. It seemed almost doable until I accepted that this hideous technicolored mash up, could not be further removed from my initial concept.

I contacted Abakhan and they very kindly tracked down a couple of metres of the brown but sadly not the green I was fixated on for the shell. Whilst picking up the lining fabric with my sister, she convinced me a blue fabric I’d spotted would be the perfect pairing. I was hesitant but I acquiesced – perhaps someone who had been designing menswear fabric for most of her adult life might just have the edge on me. By now the budget for this baby was out of the window – more fabric, more batting and don’t even get me started on the thread requirements. Take it from me – quilting your own fabric is not for the feint hearted, time poor or cash strapped.

Finally, I was in a position to start quilting and by now I’d garnered a few wisdoms. I positioned each pattern piece onto the blue fabric and chalked roughly 3cm away from the edge. I then used each piece as a template to cut the batting and backing fabric and affixed all three together with temporary spray mount adhesive. I located a central point on each pattern piece and from here chalked an intersection for two diagonal lines. The angle of the diagonals was determined by the fabric motif which made quilting super easy. All I needed to do was decide how many lines I wanted within each diamond and then stitch roughly in the solid gap between.

I was aided greatly by my walking foot for which – having located its shoe – I have a newfound love. I dispensed with the quilting bar as I found it much easier to judge the distance between each patterned line by eye. Another boon was the more loft, less weight Hobbs heirloom premium cotton batting I’d purchased. At £11.99 per metre, it’s not the cheapest but it’s double width and a dream to work with.

The quilting itself was a breeze – hour upon hour, stitching line after line, radiating from a central point for even shift and spread. After completing each section, I lay the corresponding pattern piece on top, chalked around the perimeter, sewed on top of this line to preserve the quilted area and finally cut just outside this line of stitching.

Assembling the jacket was similarly straightforward – just a few seams and it quickly took shape. I had previously made both a small and medium toile in heavyweight thrifted curtain material and opted for medium to accommodate my preference for layers. I thought I would be able to counterbalance any roominess by adjusting the button placement and ignored an inner voice, cautioning me against distorting the shape.

Again, my zest to make progress was my downfall and I Hong Kong-ed every internal seam like my life depended on it. The binding I struggled most with were the curved hood seams. Whilst the pattern does contain generic tips on binding techniques, I would have benefited from a lot more hand holding and guidance on dealing with bulk. I contacted Simplicity to ask how the sample seams had been finished in the hood and was disappointed to find they hadn’t and be referred back to the instructions and a few web page links. I spent hours searching Google for tips and cobbled together something which almost passes my critical eye.

I machine stitched some narrow binding to one side of the seam allowance as near as I could to the seam line. I then trimmed this side of the seam allowance to the binding edge and the opposite seam allowance as close as I could to the seam. Finally, I folded the binding over the seam line and hand stitched the binding using a ham to get a smooth finish. It kinda worked but in retrospect, having spotted this glorious iteration, I wish I’d gone the full Hong Kong immersion route.

The hood and jacket are attached together by the external binding, for which I used some dark green herringbone twill tape I picked up from the market. It’s clearly marked and if you fold it over, one half is wider than the other, so I ironed over this demarkation line and got to work. The tricky part is pushing the quilted fabric into the crease of the tape and getting a tight purchase before pinning, basting and finally machine stitching. I’m probably least satisfied with this part of the make. The twill tape seems to be pilling and there are sections of bagginess I need to draw a line under.

Aside from the inevitable critique that accompanies every make, I finally had the endgame in my sight. I was just about to go on holiday and all that remained was to quilt, bind and set in the sleeves – a doddle. But wait a minute – I’ll just try it on a hundred times or so to check the fit and then finally heed the voice in head which had becoming deafening – IT’S TOO FUCKING BIG. The front favours a Japanese aesthetic and didn’t take to kindly to me dragging one side over the other to reduce voluminosity. So out came the unpicker, as I dismantled every single one of those elaborately stitched seams. OH MY DAYS – the anxiety, the hours, the painstaking laboriousness of it all. What if I trimmed down each piece, re-assembled the jacket and the bloody thing was too small?

Thankfully it wasn’t – that internal wisdom gently nudging for your attention, is usually your friend. My hunch paid off and my patience rewarded in a fit with which I’m most pleased. I introduced the sleeves without any drama. On one sleeve head, I used a gathering stitch to accommodate bulk but I much prefer the finish I achieved on the other by pinning and bubble easing the excess. I inspected the insides of a few coats at work to determine how to finish the sleeve head and used some wide binding to enclose trimmed down edges in a closed bound seam.

During this project, I’ve had time a plenty to contemplate the journey towards my own straightedge. I used to think cigarettes and alcohol were inseparable from tolerating life. I was an outsider and these were my weapons. But what I’ve come to realise is how smoking and drinking functioned in my life – allowing me to separate myself from whatever uncomfortable position I found myself in. Socialising in large groups is the opposite of relaxing for me and those moments outside with a fag and maybe a like minded comrade, were as good as it got. Now, I’ve embraced my introverted nature and live in harmony with its traits, I no longer feel the need to escape. Seven months alcohol free and I’ve found that far from losing my edge, I’ve been exploring what it feels like to teeter on its brink and swim against the tide. This radical decision to experience life with emotions unblunted has brought me to a place of internal quiet that feels like home.


sew your style

I’ve kept my spin on the Merchant and Mills Dress Shirt under wraps for a while now, waiting for it to hit the newsstand.  And stop the press, it just has!

Merchant & Mills - The Dress Shirt

Thanks to Minerva Crafts for the pattern and this glorious cotton poplin. For the full write up, have a squint below or invest in a copy of next month’s Sewing World magazine 🙂


is that all there is?

I had a lot of fun with this month’s Minerva make (yes ‘fun’ is a word that sometimes enters my vocabulary, just not the ‘organised’ kind).

Full deets over on the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network. And here are the visuals of some gems from Butterick 5368:

Travel Sewing Kit

Remnants used – indigo blue denim and cotton poplin dress fabric

Wall organiser

Remnants used – black stretch denim

Pressing Ham

Remnants used – indigo blue denim and cotton poplin dress fabric

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.

well made

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.

#miymarch17    #miymarch17

pocket love

What is it about pockets?

And I know I’m not alone in this – every time some kick ass receptacles appear on Instagram, my people emerge. As I was finishing off my second Marcy Tilton Vogue 8813, it occurred to me, that my pocket love might stem from a subconscious desire to climb into their gargantuan folds and hide from the world.

My first attempt at this pattern was documented in a guest blog for Minerva Crafts and I’ve not much to add, except to say that I still hate gathering and will be avoiding any garment that involves this technique for the foreseeable. I’m particularly happy with the finish around the v-neck, as I used a strip of lightweight fusible interfacing to prevent any stretch from mishandling. If I were to make a third, I’d interface the areas which call for reinforcement too, as the notches weakened the fabric and got me reaching for some fray check.

It’s been a week where I haven’t been able to shy away from the fragility of existence and the reality that bad things happen to good people. I’ve been on the receiving end of glowing praise and harsh criticism, observing their opposing effects on my mental state. And I’ve sought comfort in wisdoms gleaned from Buddhist teachings – that everything is dependant related and lacks its own permanent, fixed identify. I’ve sat with uncomfortable feelings and when they’ve got too big to countenance, I’ve grabbed my trainers, took to the streets and worn them down.

At 43 I’m ripe for a mid life crises but thankfully I’m ahead of my time and got that emotional unravelling out of the way in my 20’s and 30’s. There’s been a radical shift in how I relate to myself and others but it’s one I embrace. However, change does not happen in a vacuum and comes with internal and external resistance. I’m concerned some of my relationships won’t weather the metamorphosis and I falter, triggered by old wounds and the fear of rejection fuelled self-annihilation.

Looking back, I was forever lost and sought solid ground through my interactions with others. In adulthood I’m appreciating a seismic shift in my functioning. Through anchoring myself inwards, I’ve learnt I can do hard things. And on the days where I can’t, I’ll retreat awhile and seek solace in the comfort afforded by these cocoon-like pockets.