All sweatshirts are not created equal: I AM Apollon by I AM Patterns

Firstly, thank you so much for your touching reactions to my last blog post, both here and over on Instagram. I have felt overwhelmed (in a good way!) by every message.

I’m back today with a very different kind of post: I’m here to sing the praises of the humble sweatshirt! A wardrobe staple, and I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect pattern. The favourite of those I’ve tried so far is the Apollon from I AM Patterns (yes I know, my skills at building suspense are not getting any better!)

Apollon in all its glory (though please ignore the less than glorious creases from having been stuffed in a drawer since last winter).

But this is a tale of a quest, so back to the beginning we go…

At first glance, sweatshirts seem pretty simple: front, back, sleeves, cuffs, a neck band and a hem band. How do you go wrong? Well, pretty easily, as it turns out. Don’t we all have our own idea of what makes a perfect sweatshirt? For me it is: neckline reasonably high, but not too high. Probably crew neck. Length hitting at low hip so it doesn’t expose my tummy when I stretch or move. Slouchy fit but not shapeless. Definitely not too tight, especially on the sleeves and under the arms.

Quite a tall order, I know.

But I AM Patterns did it.

I almost didn’t buy this pattern, as I already had several sweatshirt patterns. But I wasn’t entirely blown away by any of them, and so I thought it was worth investing in another!

So why do I like it so much? Well, maybe I should start by telling you a bit about the ones I liked less. First up, and I know this will be controversial because it seems to be the undisputed favourite of the sewing community: the Linden by Grainline Studio. I did hesitate for the longest time over whether to buy this, and I must have talked about it so much that in the end Rich bought it for me a couple of years ago, along with the Scout tee pattern! The Linden is certainly a great pattern and well designed, but the reason for my tergiversating (I think I just won blog bingo FOREVER with that word) was the reason I was underwhelmed: the boxy style that Grainline is known for just doesn’t suit me. Aesthetically, I love it. But I don’t feel it does anything for me:

Linden sweatshirt… I wish I loved it more

I just look kind of shapeless underneath it! In fact the Scout tee I got at the same time is the ONLY pattern I have never even bothered finishing – it looked so awful on me that I never hemmed it, just recycled the fabric. It’s such a shame as I love the look of Grainline patterns, especially the Driftless cardigan and the Morris blazer, but my body shape is just all wrong for them. The one way I do think the Linden has worked better for me is to combine the long cuffed sleeves with the shorter bodice: the length and the very subtle high-low hem is more flattering to my body shape, so I can make it out of regular jersey, like this lovely lilac floral, as a twist on a raglan t-shirt:

Feeling the Linden love more styled this way!

And speaking of raglan t-shirts, next up is the Lane raglan by Hey June Handmade. This is advertised as a t-shirt, but the designer suggests that if you size up it can be made as a sweatshirt. As a t-shirt it wasn’t quite the shape I was looking for, though it looked better when I removed 2 inches from the bodice (my standard adjustment is to remove 5/8”). So I sized up for the sweatshirt version, took out my 2 inches, and it was all pretty straightforward.

Lane raglan made as a sweatshirt

I LOVE the neckline of this top and find it very flattering, but it doesn’t work quite as well on a sweatshirt because it’s lower than I would like and so leaves me a little chilly on a cold day. I do wear this top a lot though, and I think that the addition of the sweatshirt hem creates a lovely shape.

But back to the Apollon, because in addition to the standard sweatshirt length shown at the top of this post, you can also make it as a dress! Well, they call it a dress, I am obviously either taller than the women they design for or way more prudish, because I’d call it a tunic. Though when I was 20 I’d have called it practically knee-length, so I am prepared to accept that I’m the one with the issue, not the pattern nomenclature! (Look at that, I got “tergiversate” and “nomenclature” in the same blog post. I am on a ROLL).

Dress? Tunic? Either way, I love it! (Excuse the year-old creases again!!)

Anyway, I do love the Apollon at this length, it’s perfect to wear with leggings (though in my pics I’m wearing it with skinny jeans, as I took all these photos on the same day and it was enough to run indoors and change my sweatshirt five times without adding leggings into the mix too!!) I also used the same blue sweatshirting I’d used for the shorter length, as I bought loads of it. But at least it’s plain and easy to wear, don’t even ask me how much of the purple roses fabric I have left even after making countless garments in it…

With both lengths of Apollon I graded between size 36 at the bust and 38 at the waist. The sizing is European, so I chose based on the table of measurements. The sizing was generous, but generous is good in a sweatshirt, I’d say. The grading also gave it a bit of shaping so it wasn’t straight up and straight down, and I like the result.

I also think the neckline is perfect – not too high, not too low, but just right, and the hem band is just the right proportion too so that it’s not cinching in too much and pulling in the bodice but it’s not hanging loosely either. Not too loose, not too tight. Just right. Let’s just call this my “Goldilocks” sweatshirt! I AM Patterns describe it as a “feminine version of the classic sweatshirt”, and it’s as good as it sounds.

I’m going to leave you with a montage so you can see all four together and judge for yourself whether or not you agree with me about the one that suits me best! I’ve tried to do the same pose for all four shots so that you can get an accurate comparison. And also because that is basically my “camera pose”.

Which is best? Are you with me on Apollon, or do you see something I don’t with the others?

Tell me what you think! Have you tried Apollon? Do you have particular requirements in a sweatshirt too?

The Power of Sewing: On my favourite pattern, body confidence, and design philosophy

I think we’re probably all agreed that sewing is more than just a hobby; it’s a way to express ourselves, to empower ourselves, and to take care of ourselves. There are plenty of hashtags floating around that tell us so: #sewingismysuperpower, #sewingkeepsmesane, #sewingismytherapy and so on, and the sentiment I truly love is in Sarah’s strapline for her blog, that sewing soothes the soul. Ever since Rich and I set up Valentine & Stitch these sentiments have become even more relevant to me, as we embark on a journey that not only soothes my soul, but allows us to connect with many other people on a journey of their own.

If I had to pick one pattern we’ve designed that most reflects both me as a person and the company we’re building, I wouldn’t hesitate: it’s Dune. What started out as an idea for a simple sleeveless summer top just grew (literally) into a dress that makes me feel like a bombshell every time I wear one. What’s that got to do with body confidence and design philosophy more generally, I hear you cry? EVERYTHING. Because despite regularly being told by acquaintances that it’s “alright for me” because I’m slim (don’t even get me started on this…), I have a difficult relationship with my body and sewing is one of the ways in which I give myself confidence. Can you feel a backstory coming on?!

Any excuse to trot this photo out. I still can’t quite believe that’s me!

Let me start with the opening lines of a poem I have long loved: “The Ideal” by James Fenton.

This is where I came from.

I passed this way.

This should not be shameful

Or hard to say.

When I was 12, something pretty awful happened in my life. Despite the beautiful sentiment in Fenton’s poem, I do find it hard to say, so we’ll leave the details out of it, but I dealt with it by “secret eating”. Within a year I had gone from wearing children’s clothes to wearing a women’s size 16. I spent my teenage years feeling alienated in my own body. And that’s not to say that being heavier or curvier is somehow fundamentally less “right”, not at all, it’s just not my natural body shape and on me it was an outward sign of things not being right inside. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I started to take back control of my body – that’s 18 years of feeling like a stranger to myself. Inside me there is still a girl who looks in the mirror and can’t truly see herself.  I dress for that girl, as she was then, young and lonely and insecure, as well as for me, as I am now, age 40 and happy and confident. My clothes need to flatter my figure, show off my good points, and help me forget – or not care? – about the less good points. I found that I was routinely making an array of alterations to even seemingly simple patterns to feel good in them, and so a plan began to form to design my own patterns: simple, thoughtful designs that would be easy to sew and easy to wear. So with a lot of determination, unwavering support from Rich, old-fashioned hard graft from both of us, and more than a few melodramatic declarations that we are Just. Giving. Up. Right. Now. Really (from Rich. OK, OK, from me)… Valentine & Stitch was born…

If in doubt, stick your leg to one side and drop your hip.

That girl I just told you about always dreamed of wearing swishy dresses. But they would just hang off her hips and make her look as wide as her hips all the way to the floor. So when we were designing Dune, and the original plan was to make a knee-length version, on a whim I said to Rich “let’s try it as a maxi dress instead!” The directive (am I the only one who hears that word and thinks of WALL-E?!): keep the design philosophy of the Dune top (fitted at the bust, skimming over the tummy, kicking out at the hem) to create a dress that skims gently over all the areas I (and many women) feel self-conscious about, and then swooshes and swirls around at the ankles. For the first time in my life, I am wearing maxi dresses, and it makes me feel like I’m walking on air.

Swish! Swoosh!

Every time I wear a Dune dress, I feel amazing. If you follow me on Instagram you may remember I had a bit of a saga planning my outfit for the GBSB live event (in a nutshell: made a dress a week in advance. Felt serene and mildly smug. Tried dress on again three days beforehand. Realised dress looked sack-like. Panicked. Needed seasonally-appropriate feel-good dress. Made new Dune at the eleventh hour). By the skin of my teeth I was ready to go, and from the moment I met Sarah on the train until the moment I said a reluctant goodbye, I felt fabulous. The power of a TNT pattern, right?

Having fun at the GBSB live.

What a great day that was… you can’t see much of my dress in the end as I was wearing my blue maxi Edie over it in all the pics, but the highlight wasn’t the dress, it was meeting all these lovely ladies in real life. You might recognise some familiar faces! But I’m including the next photo to show you a glimpse of my younger self. Mark from Girl Charlee took this photo for his Instagram stories as my dress is made from Girl Charlee fabric: look how much less comfortable I am when I don’t know where to put my arms or how to tilt my head…

Unfamiliar camera pointing at me! No-one telling me where to put my hands or where to look! PANIC STATIONS!!

I don’t think we ever really shed our past selves, and maybe that’s a good thing. My younger self reminds me every day how lucky I am to have the life I have now.

And because you can never have too many “instant boost” dresses, I made a second autumnal Dune from a plain navy fabric… with both of these two I extended the hem length to the next size up, so that they can be worn with a small heel if I want to. And here are both of my new Dune dresses, with me safely back in my “hand on hip” comfort zone in my favourite corner of our garden:

I thought the navy one would look quite casual as it’s a plain cotton jersey (also from Girl Charlee), but actually with a pair of pumps (as opposed to the barefoot prancing around for the photos of the floral version!) it looks smart enough to wear to a more formal occasion! And with flat sandals next summer it’ll be great for everyday wear too. And did I mention I feel amazing in it?!

So that’s the story of my love affair with Dune, the importance of sewing in my positive self image, the awkward girl I still carry around inside me, and our priorities when we design our patterns. I have long felt that teaching me to sew was one of the greatest gifts my mum gave me, as in doing so she gave me the ability to empower myself, to make my own rules about what to wear, and to feel fabulous.

The final stanza of Fenton’s poem opens with this line: “This is my past, which I shall not discard”. We are all made up of our past as well as our present selves, and every day that I achieve a positive self image I feel I am not only making the best of who I am but also honouring who I have been.

What about you, what does sewing bring to your life? Do you have a pattern that makes you feel like a superstar every time you wear it?

The pattern that kept on morphing and other stories: Make A Garment A Month (MAGAM) sewalong

This is the story of a dress that became a bolero that became a sweater that became a cardigan. I’m no good at building suspense, so I’m going to jump right in with the finished result, and then give you its “origin story”!!

I don’t know which I love more: the cardigan, or the autumn colours in the garden!

Not long after I opened my Instagram account back in the Springtime, I noticed a challenge called MAGAM (Make A Garment A Month), hosted by Sarah Liz. The idea behind MAGAM is to provide a monthly theme that participants take as inspiration: it seemed a lovely supportive way to foster slow sewing by focusing on one garment every month, so I finally took the plunge and joined in for September.

Happily for me, the September theme was Shirty Skirty” (make a shirt or a skirt). This is non-UK use of “shirt”, i.e. any kind of top (I don’t often wear what I would call a shirt, which elsewhere would be called a button-down, so the language slippage suited me well). So I eased myself into MAGAM with the McCalls M7542 pattern from Sew Now magazine, using a rayon jersey and following my own tutorial for adapting it to a knit fabric. Well, I say “following my own tutorial”, but I didn’t really – I thought I could remember it so I went ahead and kept only the original instructions in front of me, which meant I attached the sleeves as if it were a woven! A bout of unpicking later, I returned to my tutorial with my head hanging in shame, and the rest went swimmingly.

My first MAGAM entry

The theme for October was more challenging: “Original October”. I mulled this one over for a good while. It did coincide with the development of our next pattern, which is obviously an original design, but it seemed too simple just to say “well I’ll make up one of our new dresses”.

First sneak peek of the forthcoming dress pattern!

However, the #cosycardichallenge was in full swing and for a while now I’ve wanted a lightweight fitted cardigan to wear over sleeveless dresses and extend their wearable life into autumn, and so I decided to adapt the dress pattern to become a cropped/ bolero cardigan. I did this without too much difficulty, just cutting off the pattern pieces of the scoop-neck version under the bust and drawing in a curve, but when I came to try it on I realised it would only really go with empire line dresses (it’s pictured here with my refashioned silk skirt) – with anything else it just sort of looked like I’d run out of fabric.

One of only two dresses I can wear this with!

Back to the drafting software (with my trusty sidekick aka technical department aka Rich beside me) and we went for a hip-length slightly flared look, with a high-low hem and a higher neckline. I started off by trying out the design as a sweater to test the shape before drafting the front placket, and I loved it (fully aided by the fact that I sewed it up in the softest jacquard ever, given to me as a birthday gift).

That’s more like it!

So I was ready to try it out as a cardigan, but not *quite* ready to cut into the beautiful jacquard from Lillestoff that I had earmarked for the project. My interim make was from a lovely floral French terry from Raspberry Creek Fabrics that I’ve been hoarding for a year now, and I liked the shape of the result BUT… ugh, well, it was just the wrong combination of fabric and style. I went for a scoop neck and standard hem, and the finished result reminds me of a housecoat or something.

You’ve got to love taking photos on a windy day!

I love the fabric, but this wasn’t the right project for it. I’ll see if I wear it, and if not I’ll scale it down into something for my daughter. And another reason to be glad I made this first version before cutting into my jacquard: I had ordered some interfacing online and the quality was just terrible. It didn’t move with the fabric at all, and if you look closely it has caused a couple of ripples in the front placket. Not the end of the world, but I would have been sad if that had been my precious jacquard.

So for the final version I decided to combine the higher neckline and the high-low hem, bought some more interfacing (never again will I stray from the goodness that is Vilene) and off I went…

The finished cardigan, origin story complete

I love this cardigan so much. Re-drafting was a good idea, as instead of just “chopping off” the dress pattern, we created an new line for this length, and it works much better. In particular, I really enjoyed thinking about the construction process, and how to make all the finishings look professional. I do love a garment that looks as pretty on the inside as it does on the outside!

Close-ups of the details: front placket, high-low hem, hem meeting facing, and inside the placket.

I used KAM snaps for the closures – I had always previously used the kind of snaps that you have to hammer on, but I was convinced by Sarah’s evangelising about the joy of attaching snaps with pliers and now I want to put KAM snaps on EVERYTHING!!!

In the end I think this particular version works better with jeans as the small pattern on the fabric means it doesn’t really go with a lot of my patterned dresses. But that could just be me falling back into my comfort zone, as jeans are basically my uniform! But it still goes well with these two sleeveless dresses:

Action shots (by which I mean “walking slowly towards the camera”). I like to photograph the movement of a garment so I can see how it looks when I’m not just standing facing a mirror!

The left one is a Deer and Doe sleeveless aubépine, and the right one is a maxi Dune from our own collection. The cardigan definitely helps both of these summer dresses transition into autumn. So either I need more solid dresses, or I need to make more cardigans in solid colours. Or both!!! And you know me by now, I don’t need much of an excuse to make a new garment…

So I’m really happy to be part of MAGAM, and I’m looking forward to the November challenge. As long as it’s not “sew a coat inspired by a classic French film”, because, you know, why do that to myself twice in one year?!!

In other news, encouraged by my lovely friend Diane, I’m trying to get my head round Pinterest at the moment, though it hasn’t synced to our site yet and I have yet to create any boards beyond this one image! But here is (I think?!) a link to my Pinterest page, which hopefully I shall work on soon! So if you have a Pinterest account do come and befriend me as I am LOST over there!

What about you? Have you joined MAGAM or the cosy cardi challenge? Any favourite makes/ stories to share? What about Pinterest? How do you use it efficiently and am I truly the last to join the party?!

A4 tiled or A0 copyshop? Working with PDF patterns, and a review of Netprinter

OK, first of all, in manner of a modern-day Miss Marple I have solved the mystery of the missing upper collar piece from my Deneuve coat. This weekend I discovered it nestling between two books on a sewing room shelf lower down than where I keep my in-progress makes. And when I say “lower down”, that is a super-sleuth knowing euphemism for “toddler height”…

The mystery of the lost collar piece is solved. And gives me an excuse to show you one last photo of THAT COAT (and my flower umbrella, which henceforth I want on all my photoshoots).

Right, onto the order of the day: PDF patterns! As many of you will know, we create our patterns in two formats: the A4 tiled format that you assemble yourself, and single-page files (typically A0) that can be printed in large format at a copy shop. So today I’m going to talk about the benefits of each, and about my experience of ordering A0 printouts from Netprinter, a printing company based in Plymouth, UK.

When we started up as a PDF pattern company, there were a few “must-haves” that I discussed with Rich. Firstly, as little paper wastage as possible. Secondly, a user-friendly design. Thirdly, the option of A0/ copyshop format, for those customers who might prefer traditional “paper” patterns. Rich exceeded what I had asked for: he puts his long-abandoned Tetris skills to good use playing around with the pattern pieces to make sure they fit together as neatly as possible on the page, and uses a distinct colour and outline for each size. Then he adds in the little triangles on each inner edge to help line up the pattern pages, and puts a pale grey number in the centre of each sheet. A sample sticking layout looks like this:

Dune tank top tiled PDF layout

And here are my top recommendations for sticking together A4 tiled PDFs:

  1. Stick your pattern pages together on a table, so that you’re not crouching over on the floor.
  2. Use a guillotine/ paper cutter to trim edges. You can purchase them from most office supplies or stationery stores, and they are way quicker than scissors. I use a small one from good old WHSmith, and I typically cut 4 pages at a time.
  3. Cut only 2 edges of each piece. I always cut the right hand long side and the bottom short side. This makes the pages all the same size, and easy to line up.
  4. Use a tape dispenser! You wouldn’t believe how long I used to spend cutting small pieces of tape with my special tape scissors (not that the scissors themselves are anything special, I just mean they were blunted from cutting tape so they became designated tape scissors!) My tape dispenser has revolutionised my PDF-sticking. I know some people use glue sticks: I’ve never tried this (I can’t help but think of all the craftwork my daughter brings home from school and how the glued-on bits invariably come unstuck!), but feel free to argue the case in the comments below!!

But what about the people who don’t like sticking together a tiled PDF? Well, this is where the online copyshops come in! My impression from some Instagram comments is that in other countries there are more bricks-and-mortar copyshops than we are used to here in the UK – my sole local copyshop charges something exorbitant for an A0 sheet.  Enter Netprinter, who are becoming more and more known in the sewing community. Before recommending them I wanted to try out their service, and the things I was particularly interested in were the following:

  1. Cost per A0 sheet
  2. Cost of P&P
  3. Whether files larger than A0 could be printed (since we have 2 maxi length patterns whose pattern pieces are larger than a standard A0 sheet)
  4. Quality of service.

I had a chat with the manager, Simon, over on Instagram, and he gave me an email address to write and discuss my order (the email contact details are also available on their website). I sent over all the details: most of our files are standard A0, though the Dune maxi dress is A0 portrait width but longer, and the Edie cardigan is A0 landscape but longer. I’ll come back to these two in a moment.

Simple upload page to place your order

I was offered a choice of standard 80gsm paper at 75p per A0 sheet, or the 60gsm weight that Netprinter have sourced especially for the sewing community, at £1.50 per sheet. I thought it would be good to have a comparison, so I ordered each file in both weights of paper.

The 60gsm paper is the one automatically offered under the new “Sewing pattern printing” section of the website; the 80gsm paper is available via the “Plan printing” section. I can see why the 60gsm paper has been sourced for sewists, as it is more lightweight and so it is easier to pin to fabric if you’re cutting straight into your pattern sheet rather than tracing off your size. However, my personal preference was for the 80gsm paper, as I like to have the full sheet to keep intact, and I find the standard letter paper weight to be more durable in this respect. But  I think it’s great to have the option, so big thumbs up there.

I didn’t try the colour printing service as I’m happy with black and white. However, you can have your A0 file printed in colour on 60gsm weight paper for £4 per sheet. The quality of the black and white printing was great (don’t be fooled by my pics – the lines don’t show up very well in all of them, but that was down to the lighting and taking photos of large sheets of paper from afar!), and I was really impressed by how accurately and meticulously all my printouts had been folded – they will be simple to store, and to re-fold after use.

My completed order, neatly folded and packed in an A4-sized box#

My order was dealt with on the day I placed it (even though I placed the order in the afternoon) and I received it the following day via DPD (signed-for delivery with a one-hour timeslot). Netprinter’s delivery charges are £3.00 for up to 14 patterns (if you want guaranteed next day delivery there is a higher charge of £8.50 for up to 15 patterns, and the charges for shipping to Europe are set at £15, though this is for up to 100 patterns so if you had a mega order or were putting in an order with a group of sewing friends, it would work out very reasonably).

If you are having files larger than A0 printed, be sure to check that they are A0 PORTRAIT width, whatever the length. This is the case for the Dune maxi file, and it means it can just be printed on a longer roll of paper. I was charged £2.50 on 60gsm paper and £1.60 on 80gsm paper for these printouts. For Edie, the single file is A0 landscape, which is not a size of printout that’s offered by Netprinter, so we used our alternative Edie copy shop files (where the pattern is split into two A0 sheets). This was very simple and just means that you stick two A0 sheets together to create your master sheet.

I may not have gone for colour printing, but I compensate with explosions of colour on the finished garment!

So would I recommend Netprinter? Yes, definitely. They offer a professional service, and they clearly work hard to ensure that they deal with orders quickly. In particular, if you are just dealing with standard sized files that you can upload to the system, it’s about as speedy as you can get. And so in this age of instant gratification, Netprinter makes a valuable contribution to the sewing community by delivering printouts of PDF patterns to your door the very next day – possibly before you’d have had time to cut and stick together your A4 tiled PDF. Given the flat-rate postage fee, though, it’s worth waiting until you have several patterns to print off in one go – that would certainly be how to make the most of your order. I highly recommend Netprinter to all our A0-loving customers and sewing friends in the UK, and recommend that those further afield seek out a similar service, as if you want one single large pattern sheet then the A0 option is definitely worth considering!

What about you, sewing friends? Any thoughts on PDF vs paper patterns, or on A4 tiled vs A0 pattern sheets? Or perhaps you have sticking tips for A4 tiled patterns that you’d like to share?

Till next time, happy sewing/ sticking/ cutting!

Sewing the Scene: making (and unmaking) my Coat of Dreams

The challenge: sew a garment or outfit inspired by a film or TV show.

The inspiration: Catherine Deneuve’s dreamy vanilla-coloured scallop-placketed coat in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.

The result: here’s a teaser, but oh there’s a story behind it…

Back in July I was dipping into the Vintage Pledge sewing challenge on Instagram: I don’t really sew vintage, but I do like looking at vintage details and thinking about how they might be incorporated into more modern shapes and fabrics. So when Marie encouraged me to join in, I thought why not just post something on the days when I have something to say. One of the daily prompts was “Filmspiration”, and I immediately thought of this coat that Catherine Deneuve wore in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg:

…so I posted a photo and thought no more of it. One of my Instagram friends suggested I could probably make a similar coat based on Vogue 9040, but I didn’t really think I ever would… until I started following Jo, who was just launching a challenge called Sewing the Scene, where participants sew a garment or an outfit inspired by a film or TV show. It felt like the stars were aligning, and with 2 and a half months until the deadline, I thought WHY NOT. Plenty of time, right? So I pledged to make it, bought the pattern, bought the fabric and lining (100% wool in vanilla, and acetate lining in rose, both from Fabworks), and sat back. Because we all know that by ignoring a project, it sews itself while you get on with other things, don’t we?

September came, and I posted on Instagram a photo of my sewing plans:

The blue sweater knit became a maxi Edie cardigan, the purple floral became the first wearable toile of our next pattern, and the grey floral became the first wearable toile of a dress we’re designing for girls. I also made Rich’s Simplicity shirt and two more Edies, panic-sewed a new maxi Dune to wear to the Great British Sewing Bee live, turned a silk skirt into a dress, made two M7542 knit hack tops and two pairs of knickers. The wool and the lining just sat there.

And then it was October. OK, in fairness, I’d done a lot of preparation in September: I’d adapted and cut all the pattern pieces, and cut out all of my pieces from the fabric (or so I thought. Just dropping that in there now; consider yourself forewarned). Knowing that this coat is probably just going to be made this once, and in any case only ever for me, I cut straight into the pattern sheets. I made my standard adaptations: I reduced the torso length by 5/8”, and I graded between sizes from bust to waist.

Like I needed an excuse to grab my cheeriest umbrella and do a photoshoot!

So it was several hours of adapting pattern pieces and cutting them out before I even made it close to my fabric. I cut out all the main fabric pieces first, and I only just had enough fabric, which quite surprised me as I’d over-ordered. Well, the reason for this lack of excess fabric is because I am a MORON and I cut out all the lining pieces in my main fabric too! I was looking only at the instructions and not at the names of the pattern pieces, and since the pattern pieces just said “cut 2” rather than “cut 2: lining”, even if the pattern piece was named “front bodice lining”, I had gone ahead and cut it out of the main fabric. Sigh. So then I cut out all the lining pieces (making sure it was lining pieces and ONLY lining pieces I was cutting), and ended up with a chunk of leftover lining that went into my scraps box.

I was going to use sew-in interfacing, but while I was at #GBSBlive I went to the Vilesiline stand to buy some, and the lovely lady there told me I could get away with fusible. But it’s for a wool coat, I protested politely, I don’t want to scorch the wool with the iron . Fear not, said she, waving an unblemished strip of silk with interfacing fused to it, just use a pressing cloth. And I did. I must say that it didn’t fuse brilliantly on every square millimetre of fabric, but given that sew-in interfacing would only be attached at the edges anyway and it saved me a lot of time, I remain eternally grateful to the Vilesiline lady…

And now let the sewing begin! The coat actually went together really easily. It was so straightforward, though I think the “average” rating is fair as the instructions are a little sparse and there’s a lot of easing to do with the princess seams and the set-in sleeves.

Back view, and some shots of the pockets under construction. I love the rose-coloured lining!

So it was all going great until it came to the collar. I was vaguely aware of only having cut one set of collar pieces, which didn’t seem right. It wasn’t right. I had cut the under collar, but not the upper collar. So I went back to my pattern enveloped to retrieve the pattern piece, and scrupulously went through its contents roughly a million times.

I had lost the pattern piece.

How??!! I mean, how do you just LOSE a pattern piece? It must be my obsessive need to tidy things away – I had put all the offcuts of my pattern sheets straight in the recycling bin, so I must have inadvertently chucked the collar piece in with them. So I got the under collar piece, which is joined with a centre seam, and was all set to just draft a new pattern piece taking off the seam allowance to be cut on the fold, when I realised I didn’t have enough fabric left (because I’d used all my spare fabric cutting unnecessary lining pieces, argh!!)

So the only thing for it was to use the under collar piece, and have a centre seam down the back of my collar. It’s not the end of the world as my hair will normally cover it and most people would probably just assume it’s a design feature if they noticed it at all, but… ugh, I’m annoyed at myself. Also, OF COURSE the upper collar piece would have been slightly larger than the under collar, so that the collar sits nicely with the underneath not poking out, but did this occur to me until I had sewn it? It’s funny (well, not that funny…) but if I had had the upper collar piece and was making an under collar from it, I’d have trimmed 1/8″ off the under collar without even thinking about it, but for some reason when the process was reversed, did it even enter my mind to add that 1/8″ on? It did not. So when I’d sewed on the collar, there was a bit too much fabric hanging around underneath. By this point I’d already trimmed the seams so it was too late to unpick, trim the under collar and re-sew… So, prepare to gasp in horror: I cut the under collar open.

My disembowelled collar. At this point it was make or break…

I cut an incision the whole way around, 5/8” from the seam, and then sewed it back together with a narrow seam allowance, just to take a little of the volume out of it. I felt like a surgeon (and not a very skilled one), though the resulting collar was much better.

Phew!

I lost another pattern piece too: the upper sleeve lining. I almost gave up at that point, but what can I say… I’m stubborn… so I compared the lower sleeve piece with the lower sleeve lining piece, and found that they were identical except that the lining piece was 11.5cm shorter. By this stage I was pretty convinced I was NEVER making this pattern again, so I just shortened the upper sleeve piece by 11.5 cm, following the curve of the hem line, and chucked my offcut piece in the recycling bin. Take note of this part; it will come back to haunt me later.

OK, onto the cuffs. Deneuve’s coat had beautiful cuffs, and I had thought that I could use the cuffs for view D to attach to my view A sleeves. Well I read those instructions at least 5 times and I could not see the stage where you attach the view D cuffs. I’m sure it’s there somewhere, and it’s just my poor tired brain that couldn’t see the wood for the trees, but I gave up and decided to figure it out for myself. So I measured how long I wanted them to be, added 5/8” seam allowance to this measurement, and pressed a gentle fold in the cuff. I sewed the (shorter) inner side to the cuff, and then when it came to the finishing touches, that 5/8” on the longer outer side would turn up into the inside of the sleeve, and attach to the lining. Except it wouldn’t, since the sleeve lining is 11.5cm shorter than the actual sleeve, because what I’m using as cuffs are supposed to be some kind of inner sleeve facing. OK, deep breath, it’s fine, all I need is my main sleeve pieces to cut new sleeve linings.

Do you see the problem coming? I HAD CHOPPED 11.5CM OFF MY SLEEVE PIECE TO MAKE THE LOST LINING PIECE, AND CHUCKED THE REST IN THE RECYCLING. There was no pattern piece to use. So I redrafted the piece, adding back in the section I had consigned to the recycling bin. And thankfully there was that piece of lining left over in my scraps box, and it was JUST big enough (I’m talking to within a few millimetres!) to get my sleeve pieces. At this point, choirs of angels were singing hallelujah in the skies.

The rest of the process was pretty simple and straightforward. If I’d just done the coat straight out of the packet (and not lost half my pattern pieces), I think I’d have even gone so far as to call it a relatively quick sew. The big detail, of course, was that scalloped front! I’d gone all mathematical to draft that part onto my pattern piece (it’s never a good idea when I go mathematical. It’s an area of my brain that should have a sign on it saying “ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL”). I can’t even remember how I worked it all out, so let’s just say that I did (with the help of a tiny bowl from our kitchen cupboard whose use has never been entirely clear to me until now), but right up until I sewed it I had no idea if it was actually going to work. Talk about a wing and a prayer…

Ta-daaaaaa!

I’m not entirely happy with my scallops. I wanted them to be plumper. Looking at the finished result, I shouldn’t have taken the points so far in – my scallops should have been more half-moon shaped than ¾ moon (but, you know, enter the maths zone at your peril). Because this is the stand-out feature of the coat, I’m disappointed with it. I wish I’d had time to make a toile first – maybe a lesson learned about not sewing to a deadline?

Given the number of cute little dresses and cardigans Deneuve wore in this film, in some ways I’m kicking myself for choosing to sew the coat for this challenge. Maybe I should have just let it stay in my head in the Gallery of Beautiful Things. I’m happy, though, to have made it, and I shall try to learn from this (note to self: DO NOT recycle until the END of the project, and DO NOT sew a big project to a deadline unless there has been time for a toile!) But for now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be twirling around with an umbrella in my hand, channelling Deneuve.

Till next time, sewing friends, have a great week!

Finding my inner re-fashionista

Before and after (I may need to work on my suspense-building skills)

I’m pretty excited about this latest make, because it has breathed new life into an unloved garment! Recently I was sorting through my clothes and was going to give a whole bunch of silk dresses and tops to a charity shop (they’re RTW and a little bit loose, plus they don’t feel like “me” any more), and it just seemed so wasteful. I mean, here I was, a sewist, with armfuls of gorgeous barely-worn silk, about to send these garments away. This coincided with two things: starting to read a book my husband bought me about tailoring and alterations, and noticing more and more “refashions” popping up on Instagram. So I decided to see if at least some of these garments could become something else. My big criteria are: 1. it has to look like something that’s been made from scratch and 2. it has to be something I would actually want to make and wear. So here goes…

First up is the navy blue silk skirt in the photos below, purchased in a panic from Phase Eight in 2013. My daughter was 3 months old, I was breastfeeding (read: my normally nothing-to-write-home-about boobs were ENORMOUS), the rest of my body was not the shape it had been pre-pregnancy, and my husband’s oldest friend was getting married. I splashed out £200 on a dress from a luxury maternity brand online, and when it came it looked like a very expensive sack, so I returned it. Days before the wedding I had nothing to wear, but I had a navy eyelet jacket and a navy breastfeeding camisole, so in a panic I bought this skirt. I spent the whole wedding day feeling uncomfortable and frumpy, because it’s so NOT my style – midi length, voluminous, loose around the midriff… everything I don’t want in a skirt. It’s never been worn since. I mean, even my beloved M7542 top couldn’t save it…

So I looked closely at the construction. There was a wide jersey band at the top, and if I pulled that up over my chest it looked like quite a nice strapless dress (though in danger of falling down because I now have my pre-babies bust back!), so it was an easy step to think that if I just added a jersey bodice, it could work as a knee-length formal dress. I imagine that my process for transforming it could work on many skirts, so I hope it might be useful to see how I did it:

For the bodice I chose the high-necked version of Dune. I’d practically lived in this style all summer, so I knew the shape was good for me. It was easy to measure as Dune flares out from the high waist, so I just drew a straight line across the front and back pieces at that point, to get a piece that when seam allowances were sewn in would be a fitted empire-length bodice. My mistake was to cut a size S rather than XS. I’d really liked the look of the one I made my mum that was slightly looser, and Bridget’s sized-up Dune, and so I thought I’d give that a go (should have tried it with a toile first). So it’s a little looser than it would ideally be, but I’ll come back to that later.

I had small pieces left of some plain navy cotton jersey from Girl Charlee that I’d used to make (you guessed it) a Dune top early in the drafting process, and there was just enough to make a front and back bodice with a bit left over. I wanted to line this bodice for a more formal look rather than do the neck and armband finishes, and there was enough fabric left for a front lining piece, but for the back I had to use remnants of the plum floral fabric I used for my maxi Dune and my Simplicity vintage top. While I was cutting it I thought about trimming the edges of my lining pieces so that they would roll inwards, but for some reason best known to my subconscious, I ignored that thought (second mistake).

Anyway, on to the construction: I did the bodice using the burrito lining method. I totally blanked while I was doing it and was staring at my bodice and lining pieces wondering how on earth I have done it before. I refused to look it up (because I am stubborn and because I was cross with myself for blanking!) and eventually after one brief date with the seamripper I had my lined bodice.

Originally I had just been going to slip the finished bodice over the jersey band of the skirt and sew it on and then cover the seam with some lace (which would be a simple method if you wanted to try something like this on a skirt that didn’t have a convenient waistband!), but the band was just attached to the skirt with a simple overlocked seam, so I thought I’d take a risk and replace it. I pinned the right side of the bodice bottom to the right side of the skirt top, just below the seam so that the original seam would be cut off (otherwise it would have been too bulky with the original seam plus my own new seam all overlocked together) and then took a deep breath and snipped off the waistband.

No going back now…

Then I took the whole thing to my overlocker. I kept the original seam to the right of the blade so it would get cut off as I sewed my new seam – there was no mathematical measurement here, I just kept my forefinger under the original seam underneath and made sure it was always flush to the edge of my overlocker plate so the blade would cut it cleanly at the join.

(Stage right you can just spy my trusty pastry-brush-turned-overlocker-cleaner. I swear by this for getting all the fluff out of my machine. Just don’t ever use it to do an egg wash again!)

Once the seam was done, it was the moment of truth… I turned it all right side out, and aside from looking a little wavy (to be expected when you’re joining two such different fabrics I guess) it seemed to have worked – all the original seam was cut off, and all the raw edges of the bodice had been properly caught in the new seam.

One gentle press later and…

Look at this! I have a new dress, people! It’s floaty and swooshy and so so pretty. It has great movement (which I was more than happy to test with a little twirling session) and both the volume and the length are all at the right place now to be flattering. Below are 3 pics of how it looks from the front, plus one slightly sheepish shot:

The bottom right photo may not be a great shot of the dress but I’m including it for its amusement factor: I had just been taking the twirling shots in the previous montage, and stumbled into the flowerbed… that’s my “that didn’t get caught on camera did it?” face…

There are two things I would do differently if I was starting over again:

  1. Go with my tried and trusted size and do XS across the bust. It currently gapes slightly at the armscyes and at the centre front and back, so it’s just that little bit off perfect and will probably annoy me forever (because I’m obsessive like that).
  2. Trim the neckline and armscyes of the bodice lining, to make sure none of the lining peeks out while I’m wearing it.

The thing I’m cross about is that I considered doing both of these things to start with, and I just ignored that little voice of reason! But other than that, I’m really happy with this refashion. I now have a pretty dress to wear to formal occasions, it took very little time to do, and all of it was made from resources I already had lying around the house. I’m calling this one a win!

Have you ever re-styled something from your closet? Do you have any tips to share??

New pattern: Edie, the cardigan for all seasons

We’re very excited to be launching our new pattern, Edie! Read on for everything you need to know about Edie, as well as a special launch week discount code!

We had always planned to design a cardigan for release after summer, and Edie is making us feel just a little bit less sad about the cooler weather! There are two lengths to choose from, and depending on your fabric choice Edie can be smart, casual, cosy, or downright shop-stopping! Edie is a longline open-front cardigan, fitted through the back and floaty at the front. The unique shaping of the front pieces give Edie a beautiful drape, but also make the front wide enough to wrap around you if you want to cosy up in your new cardigan.

Time for the photo gallery! So far I’ve made four versions of Edie, shall we start with the standard length?

In the last days of summer I made this from a lightweight lace-effect polyester jersey from Minerva Crafts. I had spent half the summer wishing I had a cardigan with me, one that would go with everything and could be rolled up in a bag and pulled out as needed. Of course I finished this Edie on the hottest day of summer, but I still threw it on to take some photos anyway!

My other standard-length Edie is in this gorgeous “cotton cashmere” sweater knit from Emma OneSock. Who doesn’t need a black cardigan in the cooler seasons?! I think this is the one I’ll wear the most, as it goes with pretty much everything. I’ve worn it with the sleeveless Angelina dress pictured above, with jeans, with a Margarita skirt, belted over a dress (pictured below), and on our wedding anniversary earlier this month I wore it with my one of my maxi Dunes (also pictured below, battling against the wind in our local park!):

 

Speaking of maxi length, let’s look at the second version of Edie! I’ve truly jumped on the maxi trend this year, and after the Dune dress we wanted a maxi cardigan too. About 15 years ago I had a knee-length cardigan that I wore to death because it made any outfit look instantly elegant, and that’s exactly our hope for maxi Edie. My first one is in this gorgeous blue marl sweater knit, again from Emma OneSock, and I am in love:

After making this one, I wondered whether Edie could function as a ‘coatigan’ until the really cold weather kicks in, so I pulled this quilted sweatshirting out of my stash and went for it. I was a little bit afraid that the quilting might make it look more like a dressing gown than a cardigan, but I was pleased with the result:

This one looks particularly good belted, and is so cosy in this sweatshirt fabric. In the instruction booklet we do recommend that if you’re using a thicker fabric like this, you might like to widen the sleeves so that you can still wear something long-sleeved underneath without the sleeves feeling tight: we’ve prepared a tutorial on this here. For reference, the sleeves are NOT widened in these pics, and I find them fine over a long-sleeved t-shirt, but over anything thicker I’d want them to have a little more ease. And note the awkward arm placement in the right-hand photo. to try and show you what the sleeve looks like in a thicker fabric!).

The instruction booklet has a guide regarding the maxi length, so that you can make sure you get it right for you (and if you want a reminder of our sizing guide, you can find it here). You can follow the suggestions in the instruction booklet, or make a quick sleeveless toile out of old or unloved fabric, like I did:

Pink camo for the win again!

One more tutorial for Edie: we recommend that if you don’t want the back neckline to stretch, you stabilise it. This is not essential, and I haven’t done it for all of mine. In particular, though, if you do a rolled hem as I have, the neckline will stretch a little with wear – it gives a casual look which I quite like in a cardigan, but if that’s not the look you want then do follow the tutorial. Here are a couple of pics to show you what the rolled hem neckline looks like unstabilised after a few wears, and then you can make your own decision about whether or not you want to include this step!

I like the way that the “lettuce” effect mirrors the finishes in the rest of the cardigan, but if you prefer a more structured neckline at the back then do follow the tutorial to stabilise it! Next, here are some back views of the different versions:

 

And finally, if you follow us on Instagram you might have spotted some “twirling” shots, as what would a photo shoot be with no twirling?! So here is a little compilation of me and my Edies spinning around:

So Edie is taking me from casual coverup to layering staple to style statement to cool weather elegance. What do you think? Which Edie is your favourite?

To get your copy of Edie, visit the pattern page here, and use the code EDIE25 at checkout for 25% off during launch week! Code valid until midnight BST on Tuesday 26 September 2017.

Simplicity turns 90: floral fever for Valentine & Stitch

When I saw that Simplicity were holding a sewing contest to celebrate their 90th birthday, I couldn’t resist. I grew up wearing Simplicity clothes my mum made for me, and they were the first patterns I used when I returned to sewing after my daughter was born. So I rolled up my sleeves, stepped out of my comfort zone, and chose the “vintage” category (why do the words “step out of my comfort zone” always send a chill through my bones?!) I also signed up to sew the men’s shirt as I have been meaning to make Rich a new shirt for a while – I had a lovely cotton voile that he had thought I’d bought for him (because it was similar to the fabric of his favourite summer shirt) and he seemed quite downcast when I said I’d bought it for me, so I’d secretly been plotting to use it for him! (And this was 2 and a half years ago, so you can see how speedy I am at getting on with such things…)

Challenge #1: Vintage make

First off, let me say that the design and detail of this pattern (Simplicity 8342) is really interesting and well thought through. In particular I love the cap sleeves of the version I chose. Let me also say that it is NOT my style at all, and I knew that before starting. So any “negatives” I might express aren’t about the pattern itself, but about how I feel wearing the top.

The finished top. I know I’m smiling, but inside I’m wondering if I have muffin top!!

The construction of this top is quite complex. I can see why it was chosen for a challenge, as for a small summer top it takes a lot of time and attention. I followed the instructions to the letter except for a couple of additions:

At the centre front, rather than sewing from each side to the centre and then handstitching the centre, I sewed as one seam, carefully feeding it through my overlocker so that I didn’t pull it out of shape. This worked well, and gives a nice neat finish at centre front. You can also see in the montage below some of the nice finishings you get on the right side of the top (definitely worth a bit of complex construction!):

At the centre back, after I had basted the back straps and checked the fit I coverstitched them in place, stitching exactly over the lines of stitching I used to secure my elastic channel in place. This made a neater finish:

It does mean that the straps are not attached until about 1” below the top of the centre back, but the top is so fitted that they can’t possibly gape! I would have preferred the inside finish of the straps at the back to be neater (top right pic), but I’m not sure how you would manage this (I did scratch my head over it, and came up with a big fat nothing!)

Here are my general thoughts on this pattern:

The cap sleeves really are very pretty and flattering, and the way the straps and ties are lined makes these features very neat:

The adjustable straps also allow you to make sure you can fit it perfectly to your torso.

The numerous pattern pieces are quite small, so I made the whole top from offcuts of the Dune maxi dress I blogged about here.

If I were to sew this again, the one thing I’d do differently would be to secure the back elastic right at the inner edge of the seam allowance, rather than including it in the seam allowance (as the seam here is very bulky).

To finish this section, here’s a little gallery of the finished top:

I can see objectively that this is a very pretty top, and you already know from my earlier post how much I love this fabric! The style is something I need to get used to though, as I’m more used to trying to hide my curves than to celebrating them! Nonetheless, it’s a nice summery piece to wear with jeans. Plus I had a glorious day to photograph it on – that rainbow line isn’t a filter, it’s just the light bouncing off the camera lens!

Challenge #2: Menswear

Next up is Rich’s shirt. This is Simplicity 8180. It’s advertised as a “3-hour shirt”, and it is pretty simple in terms of construction. I think this was my big problem with it – because some of the detail was quite simplified, it wasn’t what I was expecting and so I found it quite counter-intuitive at times. I have to say though that it would be great as a first introduction to sewing a men’s shirt. After reading the pattern instructions I did note down some things I would do differently, and here is a retrospective look at them:

The first thing I did differently was to use felled seams. I find them so much neater and more professional looking than the recommended “press open and finish as desired” method. Top left is the seam from the outside, top right from the inside. This also gives a lovely neat cross at seam joins, as you can see in the bottom right photo (the bottom left shows some topstitching detail I also added):

I also used a trick for the interfacing that is by no means new or original to me, but I’ll note it here:

 

  1. On the edge that will be visible on the inside of the garment, sew the right side of the fabric to the non-fusible side of the facing with a 1/8” seam (top right pic).
  2. Turn out so that the wrong side of the fabric faces the fusible side of the facing.
  3. Very carefully, press this seam on the right side of the fabric.
  4. Fuse the rest of the interfacing to the fabric.

Then you end up with a neat enclosed seam (left pic, and closeup on bottom right), rather than having to finish the seam allowances with an overlocker or a zigzag stitch.

I mentioned before in my post about sewing jeans that I don’t trim the seams for the waistband corners, but use them to strengthen the corner. I decided to do the same for the collar, even though it’s not a 90 degree angle (I got out my protractor and can confirm it’s 75 degrees!) and was pleased that it worked. Here is my process:

  1. Fold corner down inwards (top left pic).
  2. Fold each seam on top of the corner to make a diagonal join (top right and bottom left pics).
  3. Hold in place with one hand, then with the other reach through on the right side of the fabric, and pull gently to the right side.
  4. Use a point turner to neaten.

As you can see from the bottom right pic, it worked really well. I also topstitched the collar, which the instructions don’t call for, but I like it for a cleaner and more professional finish. I used the method I mentioned in my last Morgan jeans post for the corner topstitching, and that gave a lovely crisp corner:

  1. Knot one end of a piece of thread, and pass through the corner (top left pic).
  2. As you are sewing, when you approach the corner, pull gently on the loose end of the thread to lift the fabric away from the feed dogs (bottom left pic).
  3. Leave the needle down in the fabric at the corner as you turn the fabric round (top right pic).
  4. Keep pulling gently on the thread as you sew down the other side.

Another success! Beautiful topstitched corners. Though please forgive the shadows on these past two picture montages: I did the sewing in the evenings and so the photos are taken in artificial light!

I also topstitched all the way along the centre front and centre back, to keep my edges neat and crisp. You can see that in the photo higher up the page.

I did everything else according to the instructions, until…

When everything was sewn in place, I got Rich to try it on. It was ENORMOUS. I had chosen a size M based on his measurements, which was no surprise as he is a size M in every sewing pattern I’ve made for him (as well as in RTW). But when he put it on he looked like one of those adverts for weight loss where the person puts on the shirt that used to be tight to show how slim they now are. Seriously, I wanted to weep. It was too late to start playing around with darts without unpicking the whole thing, and I was only a week away from the deadline at this point! So I brought out the original and beloved shirt, and laid it on top of mine. You can see here how much bigger mine was:

So I pinned carefully around the outline of the RTW shirt, then got out my French curve and some tailor’s chalk and measured a new outline that was mirrored on both sides. I then added seam allowances, and cut along my new line. I also cut 2 inches off the length and the sleeve length by using my overlocker, as a quick way of ensuring I kept the original shaping of the shirt. The pic at top right shows you just how much fabric came off each side seam, and the bottom shows a mistake of mine: I hadn’t realised that there was a chunk cut out of my shirt bottom at centre back! So talk about a blessing in disguise, since that’s exactly the amount I needed to chop off to make the shirt the right length!! You can see from the offcut piece that I also shaped the shirt mimicking the much-loved RTW one. So finally I get to take my turn behind the camera! This is the finished result:

Overall the resulting silhouette is much better, but the real shame is that the shoulder seam sits too low down on the arm because it came up so large. It’s not unwearable, but it’s not perfect and that bothers me, especially when you look at this back view:

So would I make this shirt again? Probably not, though I would certainly recommend it to beginners. I loved taking part in the challenge, but overall I prefer a men’s shirt with a collar stand and button placket, and also with a back yoke and darts or pleats. I would also sooner go with a tried and true pattern that I know fits Rich, than mess around trying to adapt the pattern pieces for a better fit. But there is also a pattern for a tie included in this packet, and that I may just try! And all things considered, this is still a nice shirt that Rich can wear in the summer, and I know that in terms of finish it looks good. More importantly, Rich likes it – so if he’s happy, then so am I!

So to finish, here are some “floral fever” shots of our duo of Simplicity challenge makes:

I’m wearing my top here with a Colette Mabel pencil skirt. I thought I’d try to go for the full-on curvalicious silhouette, but I’ll give you three guesses as to how comfortable I felt in it!!

And finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIMPLICITY! Thank you for this fun competition!

Sleevefest 2017: we have a winner!

It hardly seems any time at all since I sat down to write a blog post for the launch of the Sleevefest summer sewing challenge… and now here we are at the start of Autumn, after more than 200 entries to the challenge, 6 prizewinners drawn at random, 10 sleeves shortlisted for the final prize, nearly 500 votes cast, and many new sewing friendships made!

The ten finalists

I’m going to talk about all ten finalists in just a moment, but first let me give you the big announcement: the champion of sleeves is… Ersan! He made this sublime bustier with deconstructed sleeves for his beautiful niece:

Diane and I were particularly impressed with the fit (Ersan self-drafted this pattern based on his niece’s measurements) and the creativity of the make, and you all were too! So Ersan wins a £25 voucher to spend at Sew Essential, and a bespoke Angelina pattern from us here at Valentine & Stitch, tailored to the measurements of a person of his choice.

Ersan’s sewing in progress

So now onto the selection process and the other nine finalists. We didn’t know how on earth we were going to choose only ten sleeves with all the amazing creations that Sleevefest had generated (check out the #sleevefest2017 hashtag for some wonderful inspiration!), but Diane’s original idea for the challenge had been to do something creative with sleeve design, so we decided to focus on sleeves that had some kind of hack, self-drafting, or original design. Then we each whittled it down to ten favourites, and had some discussion back and forth about the final shortlist. And without further ado, here are those lovely sleeves!

Melissa wowed us with her take on the Sew Over It Ultimate shift dress: she did a three-quarter sleeve, but added a pleated picot-edged trim to both the sleeves and the hem. The result is both classic and original: the perfect little black dress!

 

Sarah made this gorgeous shirt with a ruffled cuff detail that goes all around the sleeve placket and sleeve hem. She said in her Instagram post that she had been inspired by a picture posted by someone she follows on Instagram, and she had recreated the look on New Look 6599. As always, Sarah’s sewing and attention to detail is meticulous, and the finished result is just beautiful.

 

Michelle made this stunning red coat: it’s based on the Named Patterns Isla trench coat, but she added these fabulous ruffle sleeves to create a unique piece that we all want to borrow! You can find out more about Michelle’s sewing adventures here, but in the meantime swoon over her coat:

 

Next up is Kelly, who designed this dreamy sleeve. A friend of hers had a RTW top with a similar cuff detail and so she self-drafted the sleeve based on the RTW garment, and attached it to the Simplicity-New Look 6378 kimono pattern – you can read more about her process here, and see more photos of her beautiful floaty kimono!

 

Pauline loves to recreate designer styles in her sewing, and this entry was no exception. She had seen an Anthropologie dress with grommets and a ribbon tie on the sleeves, and she made her own version using the Tilly and the Buttons Coco pattern. Also, look at her perfect stripe matching, and check out her blog post on how she made this dress!

 

Barbara’s top is not only beautiful to look at, but has a lovely story behind it too. She was given a beautiful nightgown as family heirloom, and she refashioned it to make something new. She wanted to honour the original garment with its delicate crochet detail and micropleats, but make something she could wear in everyday life, and she came up with this fabulous bell-sleeved top. Wearing this must be like wearing a little piece of family history.

 

Arianwen stunned all of us with her original take on the “sleeve”: when she hears “sleeves” she always thinks of tattoos, and so she hand-embroidered the bodice of her Butterick 6412 dress with tattoos – anchors, mermaids, “Hello Sailor”, you name it, she embroidered it! Inspired and one of a kind.

 

Suzy made some beautiful garments for Sleevefest, including an amazing sheer sleeve for herself and a bridal kimono for a friend of hers, but the one we chose was this fabulous lace insert. Suzy took a tried and true pattern (Simplicity-New Look 6179) and deconstructed the sleeve to add these inserts with bell cuffs, which make the whole top look so pretty and stand-out.

 

And finally, Carolyn is wonderful at refashioning garments to make something unique to her. She created some wonderful sleeves for Sleevefest by using oversized men’s shirts and tailoring them with different details such as peplum, puff sleeves, and mixing and matching designs. The one that really stood out for us was this gorgeous blue checked one, which manages to be both casual and smart at the same time!

 

We loved all the finalists’ entries so much, so Rich and I have decided to offer each of the nine runners-up a Valentine & Stitch pattern of their choice. Congratulations to all of our finalists, and thank you to everyone who supported Sleevefest: our sponsors, our entrants, and all of our fellow sewists who made this so much fun.

Diane and I are hoping to bring you another fest next summer, so stay tuned!

Thank you so much to everyone who was involved in Sleevefest, and keep up the sleeve love 😉

A summery summary: my handmade holiday 2017

Hello, sewing friends! Just popping in today to share some of my holiday wardrobe hits and misses! Summer seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye – I always feel a bit sad at the start of autumn, as I love long days and warm evenings and sunshine (even though that has been in short supply in the UK these last months!) My most-worn items were cropped jeans (a couple of RTW ones, but mostly Morgans but also my Eleonore jeans BEFORE the me-made tragedy I posted on IG recently, shown below in the bottom left photo) and comfy sleeveless tops – one Hey June Handmade Santa Fe top (bottom right), and otherwise various choices from my spiralling-out-of-control range of Dune tops.

The lovely Bridget recently reviewed Dune and set out her criteria for the perfect summer tank top – check out her blog post here and marvel that she managed to get the phrase “moisture-ick” into a sentence without sounding weird (if we’re playing blog bingo, she totally wins!) I agree with her criteria 100%, so it’s no wonder that Dune was my most-worn piece. I mostly wore the tops with cropped jeans as shown above (including a few outings for my sewing fail jeans blogged in my last post!), but I also paired my navy blue one with one of my Margarita skirts, and that was a really comfy outfit.

This Margarita also paired really well with an old white RTW shirt that I found gathering dust in a drawer, and which has made me wonder about making something similar.

I need more solid items in my me-made wardrobe, as although when I used to buy RTW I bought almost exclusively solids in neutral colours, something about sewing my own clothes released a different version of me I hadn’t met before, one who loves COLOUR and FLORALS! But the problem with making everything in colourful florals is that I often don’t have separates that work together! However, what about this little number?

I have waxed lyrical before about this Paparounes fabric by Katarina Roccella for Art Gallery Fabrics, but having squeezed a top and a skirt for me plus a skort and a pair of shorties for my daughter out of only 1.5m of fabric, I wasn’t going to buy more to sew another dress in it as my summer wardrobe might start to look a little “same-y”. But when I saw my two separates sitting together in my drawer, I had a “Eureka” moment! What if they could go together to look like a dress? I’m so pleased with this discovery, because now I can have my Paparounes summer “dress” without even having to sew anything new!

Surprisingly, I didn’t wear many “real” dresses this holiday. Well, perhaps not that surprising in that we didn’t exactly have glorious weather, but given that I usually find dresses the easiest thing to wear (a whole outfit without thinking about what goes with what is always a winner, right?) it was unusual for me. I did get one outing for this sundress, which is from the Sew Many Dresses, Sew Little Time book that I’ve mentioned before.

This book is great for getting your perfect-fitting bodice block, and from there you can modify it any way you choose to give you endless possibilities in your wardrobe. I don’t often sew with wovens but when I do I want it to fit properly, so it’s worth getting your fit perfect (I lost count of the number of toiles I made before I got mine, so now I’m never allowed to gain or lose weight because I don’t want to do it again!!) I did feel a little less comfortable in this dress, as it’s so very fitted (and despite my protestation above, I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds since I made it last year) and it made me realise why I reach for comfy knits rather than fitted wovens. But it’s good to learn lessons about my own wardrobe habits, and try to remember them when I make my sewing wish list!

The other dresses I wore were my Dune maxis. My lovely IG friend Maxine posted a picture of her Dune maxi, saying she was going to wear it to travel in on holiday, and I thought that was a great idea! It would never have occurred to me – I always wear my most comfortable jeans to travel in, but it was like a whole new travel wardrobe opened up with Maxine’s comment! Who wouldn’t want to travel swathed in lovely soft jersey? Genius. So my black and white maxi Dune was my travel outfit (pictured at the top of this post with my new M7542 top, as I don’t have any photos from the journeys!) I also made a floral Dune maxi while on holiday – I wasn’t going to sew at all while we were off work, but I made an exception when I got this beautiful plum floral fabric from Maud’s Fabric Finds:

It’s another Art Gallery Fabrics jersey, this time by Maureen Cracknell. I made an alteration to my pattern and kept the size XS all the way through to the waist (normally I grade it between bust and waist) and this was a mistake –it’s just a bit clingier than I would like while on holiday (a time for eating and drinking aplenty, when I need clothes to be forgiving!) but it did have the wow factor with this gorgeous print, so it’ll still get plenty of wear. I also had enough left from offcuts to make my first entry for the Simplicity turns 90 contest last week:

I’ll be doing a full pattern review of this just as soon as I’ve sewn my other entry to the contest, which will be a shirt for Rich!

So, what can we conclude? I still love jeans, but am happy to be wearing mostly me-made ones these days. Knits rule in my wardrobe, and basically the older I get the more I prioritise comfort. And I wear more of our own designs than of anything else, which makes sense as the idea behind Valentine & Stitch has always been to design things I want to wear and hope that others will like them too!

And finally, we just finished the design of our next pattern, Edie. It was always our plan to do a cardigan next, but I literally couldn’t wait to make this as I spent quite a few days on holiday shivering and wishing I had another layer on!

My first version has been a summer one, but I’m eagerly waiting to cut into some sweater knits to make autumn versions… I’ll be back soon to talk about those, I’m sure!

What about you? What are your summer essentials?