Category Archives: Handmade wardrobe

A Seamwork upcycle: Mesa dress to Alice top

Hello, sewing friends! I’m sharing quite a simple project today, as I’m working away behind the scenes sewing my Day and Night dress challenge dresses and developing our 2018 patterns! This little top is part of my sewing resolution to make more of what I already have: in this case, a garment that was past its best, and a long-standing Seamwork subscription. So here is the story of my first upcycle of 2018, but be warned: it’s more “gritty realism” than love story!

Seamwork upcycle

I expect most of the sewing world is familiar with Seamwork by now: it’s the monthly sewing magazine from Colette Patterns, and has now been going for a little over three years. Each month subscribers get two credits (though now for new subscribers it’s one credit for a standard subscription and two for a premium subscription), which can be exchanged for PDF patterns. A couple of years ago a new feature was introduced whereby instead of just getting the two patterns with that month’s issue, subscribers could choose to “spend” their credits on patterns from the back catalogue, or from the Colette catalogue. But because I’ve had a subscription since the beginning, this didn’t really offer me much more variety. I bought a few Colette patterns, but I have still ended up with a load of unused credits, and a whole library of patterns I haven’t downloaded. So, in the interests of making use of what I have, I thought I’d give a few of the patterns a try, and printed off the Alice t-shirt, the Sadie sweatshirt, the Jill coatigan and the Shelly leggings.

I have mixed feelings about the Seamwork patterns. I’ve tried quite a few now, and the fit/ block isn’t quite right for me. My favourite is the Winona dress, which I’ve made without the bottom panel and which only needed my standard modifications (grade from XS-S, remove 5/8” from bodice) to be just right, but most of the others, while they look great on other people, are at best a bit “meh” on me (I’m looking at you, Astoria, Aurora, Neenah and Oslo!)

I did, however, like the look of the Alice t-shirt from the September 2017 issue. It looked comfy, and a nice short-ish length – and let’s face it, I can’t only wear Ballerina tops forever, can I? Plus the neckline on Alice is higher than on the Ballerina, so I thought it would be a good cool weather layer.

Seamwork Alice (image taken from www.seamwork.com)

A few years ago when the Mesa dress (a knit shift dress) was released, I made quite a number of them (grading from XS at the bust to S at the waist and M at the hips – it’s quite close-fitting otherwise – and using the length of L), and one of them in particular has started pilling quite a bit. But the fabric it’s made from has quite a deep colour saturation, so you can see it on the reverse side too.

The right side is the wrong side and the wrong side is the right side…

I have made loads of things with this fabric over the years (most recently I used it for my Be Bashful Bikini), and often when I get undressed and turn my garments inside out to wash, I think that the inside looks really pretty. AND, the inside doesn’t pill! So you can guess what’s coming: transformation of the Mesa dress into an Alice t-shirt, using the wrong side of the fabric.

A thread dilemma

I had my burgundy thread in my coverstitch machine for the hemming, but because the inside of the fabric was the darker side, I wanted a burgundy in the overlocker too. I didn’t really want to switch my threads every time I switched machines, so I used a slightly lighter thread in the overlocker, BUT I only had three matching ones, so for the right needle I used a brighter red.

Burgundy/ maroon/ wine/ bordeaux…

Was this too lazy? I do like the insides of my clothes to look beautiful, so I feel maybe I should have kept unthreading and re-threading… because my inside seams aren’t quite a perfect colour match. All the more annoying as when I tidied up my thread box only a day after making this, I found another of the slightly lighter threads, so I could have had all four in the overlocker… [grinds teeth in frustration]

You can also see the pilling on this pic

What’s your thinking here? Acceptable, or just plain lazy?

So, onto the pattern tetris. You’d think that making a top from a dress wouldn’t be too challenging, but my bodice pattern pieces only just fit on! (Mesa is VERY short, which is why I’d always extended the length to a size L).

Alice just squeezed onto Mesa!

But that makes for less waste, so we’ll call it a win. I had lengthened the sleeves of this Mesa dress (it’s supposed to be short sleeved), so I was almost able to squeeze the Alice sleeves onto them. The Alice sleeves are narrower (alarm bell! You know I’m coming back to this!), but were a little longer. I could have done a ¾ sleeve, but by now you know my love of cuffs well enough to know what’s coming next: I used the remaining fabric from the top of the bodice to draft little cuffs to finish the sleeve.

Cuff love is my theme for 2018!

The only piece that I couldn’t squeeze out of my original Mesa was the neckband, so I delved into my scrap bag and found some offcuts of the fabric to make the neckband.

This is all that was left of the original dress after I’d cut out the pieces!

I did measure the neckband first, as in the past I have found Seamwork neckbands to be a little on the baggy side: it was 90% of the neck circumference. My ideal is 85%, but I thought I’d just go for the 90% to get a proper idea of how the pattern is meant to be. Argh, I should have just gone with my instincts. It’s OK, but I know it would sit a little flatter if it was just a smidge tighter, so I’m annoyed with myself for not shortening it.

The construction was straightforward and held no surprises. The only challenge was to keep remembering that I was using the wrong side of the fabric: when I had to pin right sides together, my brain just melted and I kept pinning the ACTUAL right sides rather than the “wrong-side-turned-right-side”.

OK, so, back to those sleeves… I had found when I made Astoria a few years ago that the sleeves were very tight on me, and the same is true of Alice. I don’t understand it as I don’t have proportionally wide arms, and yet no-one else whose Astorias I’ve seen seems to have this problem… Anyway, it does mean I feel a little like I’m wearing bandages on my forearms. When I went back to the original picture to put it in this blog post, I noticed the sleeves look tight on the model too – if I’d noticed that sooner, maybe I’d have let them out a bit… oh hindsight, how clear and cruel you are!

You can see here that there’s little or no ease in my sleeves.

Overall, this t-shirt turned out fine, but compared to my beloved Ballerina top it’s not as comfy or as flattering. I definitely couldn’t wear it after a big meal, as it’s quite clingy round the tummy. It seems a little longer on me than on the promotional photos, which is probably just down to me being short-waisted, but it also pulls quite a bit over the bust, as it’s a very snug fit under the arm. If you look closely you can see these issues in the photo above, but here are some close-up pictures that leave no doubt:

I can’t quite believe I’m inviting you to scrutinise wrinkles on my belly and bust, but I did say it was going to be gritty realism!

On the plus side, the slim fit means I can easily throw a cardigan on over it. And I do love the cuffs! But to really give this fabric a new lease of life, perhaps I should have made a Ballerina top? What’s your thinking here, would you favour making a TNT on repeat or trying new things?

In all these photos I’m wearing it with my denim-look Eléonore jeggings, which seem to go with everything:

Eléonore forever!

Since I’ve printed out another three Seamwork patterns I may try them, but I think after three years I’m finally realising they’re not quite right for me.

Is there a pattern from Seamwork that you recommend before my subscription expires? Or do you have a favourite t-shirt pattern that could rival my love for the Ballerina top?!

The Ballerina top by Jenny Hellström (aka my favourite t-shirt)

I’m just going to come right out and say it: this pattern is pretty close to t-shirt perfection. With practically every t-shirt pattern I’ve tried before, there’s always been something that I end up wanting to alter. The perfect t-shirt is something of a holy grail, and since I like different kinds of t-shirts for different outfits and occasions, I need more than one perfect pattern. Today I want to talk about the close-fitting kind with negative ease. You may recall that I’m not entirely comfortable with close-fitting clothes – I talked about it with my Simplicity summer challenge make and in my post on “The Power of Sewing” – so to feel good, really REALLY good, in a close-fitting top is no mean feat.

Enter the Ballerina top by Jenny Hellström. If you don’t already know of this Swedish designer, I highly recommend you visit her site: I love her designs, and although they are on the pricey side, they are a thing of beauty and also make perfect gifts (I was gifted this pattern and the Doctor’s Orders cardigan last Christmas). I love the cardigan too and perhaps I’ll get to talk about that another day, but today I want to focus on this top.

Photo from http://www.jennyhellstrom.se/

If you like multiple options in your patterns, then perhaps this isn’t the one for you – there is one design for the top, though there is a bodycon dress option too (I did try a toile of that but I refer you to my earlier statement about not feeling comfortable in very form-fitting clothes!) However, if you are a confident sewist, you could easily use this as a basis to alter sleeve length, neckline etc (though I think that neckline is pretty perfect as it is!)

I mean… let’s face it, the chances of me ever feeling like a ballerina are fairly slim. But this neckline is about as close as I get.

Neckline perfection

The construction of the top is exactly as you would expect: sew the shoulder seams, sew the neckband, attach the neckband, sew the sleeves, sew the side seams, hem. The instructions are written only, no illustrations, so absolute beginners may be put off but if you’ve ever made a t-shirt then you wouldn’t really need illustrations as there are no surprises. The only thing I added was to topstitch the neckband in place with my coverstitch machine, so that the seam didn’t flip upwards after washing.

As you might expect since I design patterns myself, I have a critical eye when it comes to the drafting of others. I prefer not to say when I find something to be badly drafted, but I will shout it from the rooftops if something is beautifully drafted. Get me a ladder and a megaphone, because THIS IS. I know how hard it is to get a simple design exactly right, and it irritates me when simple isn’t done well. You can’t say that of Jenny Hellström – this pattern is perfect. It clings without ruching up anywhere, the neckline is sublime, and the contours and shaping are spot-on. Plus the hem has a gentle curve – am I alone in disliking a straight line for a hem? – so the shaping is very flattering.

OK OK, it ruches up a tiny bit if you do twisty poses.

I love this top with jeans (in all these photos I’m wearing my denim jersey Eleonore jeans); I think it would also look lovely with a navy skirt or even a grey one, and am thinking of making a navy ponte Margarita to dress it up a little.

The only thing that might put you off Jenny’s patterns is the Burda magazine-style pattern sheet. Pattern pieces overlap and so you have to be careful when tracing, and seam allowances aren’t included so you have to add those. I won’t pretend that either of these things are desirable activities for me, but this top is SO worth it.

Running out of ways to photograph this. So let’s find a different spot to stand in while attempting to look natural.

Shall we talk about the fabric? This is one of the “Club Knits” from Utah-based retailer Raspberry Creek Fabrics, and is 95% cotton and 5% spandex. It’s from a collection they released a year ago so they don’t have this design any more, but it seems to be kind of a signature style of the company so there are variations on it still available. I haven’t been able to purchase frequently from this store as it’s in the US and so I can only order small amounts because of customs and taxes, but I’ve been really happy with the ones I have received. The jersey is lovely and stable – it may not have the buttery softness of, say, the Art Gallery Fabrics cotton jersey, but it has a weightier feel to it and it is a dream to sew as its slightly heavier composition means that it doesn’t curl at all at the edges. It’s a perfect fabric to use if you’re new to knits, or if you need to cleanse your palate after working with tricky fabrics for a few projects! There is a French terry option too, and I have also used that, but I prefer the cotton jersey (this is just personal taste).

To conclude: well, when you’ve exhausted words, say it in Emoji. This garment is 100% “heart eyes heart eyes love hearts smiley face” 😉

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Winter wardrobe staples: Papercut Patterns Rise turtleneck and Jalie Patterns Eléonore jeggings

I love sewing pretty things, show-stopping things, “wow” things… but I hardly ever wear them. I’ll let you into a secret… I still haven’t worn my Deneuve coat. It might be beautiful, but it’s not my style, and this was an expensive and labour-intensive realisation. Most days I wear a t-shirt and jeans: they’re the things I reach for and wear to tatters, so they’re the things I need to spend time on. These thoughts were prompted by the theme for the November MAGAM (Make a Garment a Month), sewalong, which was “November Needs”: look in your closet and see what you need, then pledge to make it. I don’t know how Sarah Liz thinks of these brilliant themes each month, but I’m so glad she does, because I took a long hard look at my clothes and it was pretty obvious what my wardrobe is missing… SOLIDS. So here’s the outfit I made, and the story behind it:

I feel I have a split personality with clothes: the few RTW things I still have left over from the days before I was on a mission to have a 100% handmade wardrobe are pretty much all solids, whereas the fabrics I choose to sew with are predominantly patterns. And not mix’n’match patterns, not stripes or polka dots or geometrics… no… flowers. Colours. The deepest expression of some wild and free side of myself I must have been repressing in my RTW years. I don’t know why it is that I’m always drawn to fabric that’s the opposite of what I’d buy as a garment, but there we are. Let’s not start analysing it, or I’ll never get to tell you about these two makes…

Of all the handmade things in my winter wardrobe, the only things in solid colours were my Edie cardigans, my jeans, two dresses and two barely-worn pencil skirts. So I wanted to make a top and a bottom that could be mixed and matched with lots of different things.

For the top, I chose a pattern I know and love: the Papercut Patterns Rise turtleneck. I’ve made this a couple of times and I really like it. It’s a closely fitted top or sweater (there is also an option called Fall in the same pattern, which is a more relaxed fit with dropped shoulders; I haven’t tried that one yet).

For the bottom, I took a gamble. I had made the Jalie Patterns Eléonore jeans back in the summer. They call for woven stretch denim, but the denim has to have at least 20% stretch (i.e. more than most woven denims available to me actually have). Back when I blogged about that pair, Sue commented that she had never thought to make them in a woven, and had always used ponte for her versions. I thought this sounded like a super plan, as I found them to be more jegging-y than jeans-y, and I liked the idea of a ponte-esque jegging, but wanted something with natural fibres. So I ordered this denim-look heavyweight cotton blend jersey from Lillestoff, and set to work.

The top went together really easily: I did my standard grading of an XS at the bust to a S at the waist, and it’s a lovely fit. I chose a plain black cotton jersey from Girl Charlee for this, it’s 95% cotton and 5% spandex, and I love sewing with it. The whole top went together really easily (one of those where you don’t really have to look at the instructions: shoulders, neck, sleeves, sides, hem). I really like it in plain black, it feels timeless and elegant.

Hard to go wrong with a black turtleneck!

But it wasn’t much of a risk, was it? TNT pattern in a solid colour, and a fabric I’ve already used in several colourways. So let’s talk about the jeans…

I cut out the same size I had used in the woven stretch denim: size R. I didn’t want to try sizing down to compensate for using a knit fabric as I’d found the woven ones a bit too skintight and so I liked the idea of these having a bit more give in them. I did consider omitting the more “jeans-like” details such as the pockets and the faux fly front, but I’m an “in for a penny, in for a pound” kind of girl and I thought why not go the whole hog, then if I don’t like them I won’t torment myself wondering if the pockets would have made all the difference! So I followed the instructions to the letter, including the topstitching. I did my topstitching in standard navy thread though, as I wasn’t convinced that a contrast topstitching thread would work on the jersey.

The jeggings came together much faster than I anticipated – I can’t decide whether this is because of using a knit fabric, or because I’d already sewn the pattern once before. Let’s call it a happy combination of the two! But did it work?

Oh yes. Oh yes. OH YES!!!!!! I *LOVE* this pattern made up in a jersey fabric. So comfortable, but still stylish. And because of the denim-look jersey, they look like jeans but took a fraction of the time to make and have a stretchy waistband! I seriously cannot wait to make a few more of these.

There were no problems with either of these makes, and I’d highly recommend both. As for what they have brought to my wardrobe, well firstly I love how they look together. But they also both go with loads of other handmade garments, so my choices are multiple! The turtleneck looks great paired with my floral Margarita skirt and my ponte skater dress:

And the jeggings go with EVERYTHING! Seriously, everything (though I’ll spare you photos of me parading my entire wardrobe to prove the point)! Plus the whole look can be made more wintry with boots and a maxi cardigan:

So this month’s MAGAM theme was a massive success for me. I’m not stopping there: I have a few more solid fabrics now, and plans for them all! Watch this space…

Me “watching this space” 😉

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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 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?!

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??

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?

Me-Made May 2017

This was the first year that I participated in Me-Made May. I’ve been aware of it for a few years and sort of ‘played along at home’, but since I wasn’t using social media it was really just me at home picking out handmade stuff to wear! This year I signed up officially, and pledged to do the following: 1. Wear at least one item of handmade clothing every day in May. 2. Make at least one pair of knickers. 3. Use the process to reflect on which clothes I reach for most often, and which I could consider refashioning or recycling for me or my children. So here’s how I got on…

Goal 1 was pretty straightforward, as I already wear me-made every day. I didn’t want to repeat outfits, so it did make me reach to the depths of my wardrobe to find things that I don’t wear as often (and was helped by the indecisive weather, as I wore sweatshirts and sundresses on different days!) Here are two dresses I don’t wear often, that each got an outing:

Goal 1 also helped me to realise what I want to wear, as there were days when I just automatically reached for something I’d already worn in the month, and then had to look for something similar instead. So I shall be sewing more of my favourite patterns, and trying to sew things that I know will be worn often.

Goal 2 has been fun! I made only 2 pairs of knickers in the end, one in a woven fabric and one in jersey. I liked both, and will be making more with offcuts from other projects!

Goal 3 has had mixed results. The few things I was considering refashioning went down pretty well on Instagram, leading me to wonder whether I should just try to ‘own’ the look a little more! I did make a few decisions though: my McCalls scuba dress that I blogged about here is going to get chopped down to tunic length; one of my Mesa dresses that is thoroughly pilled but has a pretty design on the reverse is going to become a dress for my daughter, and another one where I’m not sure about the fabric may become a couple of pairs of knickers.

So which patterns do I wear most? Check out my pie chart!

 

This tells me a lot: 1. I prefer indie pattern companies; 2. I often wear the same style in different fabrics; 3. I like making and wearing my own designs.

As for what I reach for most often, and where the gaps in my handmade wardrobe are… well, this was the most useful part of the Me-Made May process for me. Time for another pie chart!

 

I have realised I have two very separate wardrobes: a work one and a home one. For work I like dresses with simple shapes, usually in fairly muted tones:

 

For home I like jeans and t-shirts, with sweatshirts or hoodies if it’s cold, and I go for brighter colours:

I have 3 pairs of me-made jeans (including one cropped pair), but clearly I need a couple more pairs if I want to dress handmade every day. I also only recently discovered a love of tunic-length tops (I’ve grouped it in with ‘t-shirts’ here), so that’s another thing to make more of – I’m thinking of using our Lotus pattern, but combining the length of version A with the neckline of version B. Also don’t let the low entry for sweatpants fool you – there was only one day when I wore them all day long, but plenty of days when I wore them before or after whatever I was wearing for the middle of the day!! Another thing not shown on the pie chart is how much of what I wore was in knit fabrics. There were only 3 woven dresses (all Deer & Doe patterns), and jeans. Apart from that, everything was knits. And as you can see, I like wearing pink and blue, and occasionally I even branch out towards purple.

The new garments I’ve made this month are: 6 versions of our new Angelina pattern (the 3 different tops and the 3 different dresses), 2 pairs of knickers, 1 pair of sweatpants, 3 pairs of our Loulou modesty shorts (two for my daughter, and one for myself using the age 14 size! I’ll get a pic up on Instagram soon 🙂 and 2 prototypes of a new summer tank top). I’ve also cut out my next pair of jeans, to be made in June I hope! So now I just need to decide whether I accept that I am not a wearer of skirts, shirts and cardigans, or whether I need to branch out and maybe try some more styles… till next time, thanks for reading!

McCall’s 7574 scuba dress

A couple of weeks ago I saw some photos on Melissa Watson’s Instagram feed of a gorgeous dress/ top pattern she had just released with Mccalls. I drooled over it for about half an hour, and then gave in and ordered a copy! It jumped straight to the top of my to-do list, and now becomes the first make I’m devoting a blog post to 🙂 It’s meant for stretch fabrics, and I decided to start with the dress. I sewed all the seams on an overlocker, did the topstitching on a regular machine, and the hems on a coverstitch machine.

I made a toile – I always try to do this, especially if it’s a pattern company I’m not familiar with (yup, confession: this is the first time I’ve sewed a Mccalls pattern!), and I graded from a UK size 8 (US size 4) at the top to a 12 (US 8) at the hips. I’d normally grade to a 10 (US 6) at the hips, but this looked pretty close fitting and I didn’t want it to be too tight across the tummy (which is definitely not my best feature). My toile came up a little large across the shoulders, bust and upper arms, but seemed perfect across the hips and tummy, so I made my adjustments on the pattern pieces (included with the pattern are helpful guides for all sorts of adjustments, and recommendations for ‘tissue fitting’ but, I must confess, I didn’t do this – the toile is my alternative!)

No, that fabric wasn’t meant for me. Pink camo jersey… it’s supposed to be for my daughter, but I had 3 metres and she’s only small, so I figured I could borrow some 🙂

Once I was happy with the fit, I cut out my ‘proper’ version in this floral scuba.

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I’ve never sewn with scuba before, so it was my first Mccalls pattern and my first time using scuba… and I should have made my toile from the scuba. It’s much less clingy than the cotton jersey I used for the toile, and it just hung off my hips like a tent. I wish I’d photographed it but I didn’t think to take a pic (still not used to thinking ahead to blogging!) I felt quite demoralised at that point, because in my head this dress looked so stunning, and in reality it looked more like a hospital gown (even if it would have been a hospital gown adorned with huge digitally printed flowers). I did wonder whether to just cut it to the cropped top length since the fit across the shoulders and bust was great, but I really did want the dress, so it got unstitched and re-measured… I took in the sides by about an inch each from the waist down, so my initial generous grading was totally pointless Proportionally speaking it worked out though, as after my toile fit the top of the finished version ended up as a UK size 4/ US 0, so I’ll know in future that using scuba might mean I need to go down a size or two.

(I’ve cropped most of the photos, because believe it or not, that ‘oh, is the camera going off?’ face is actually pretty much the best facial expression I managed to capture on film…)

As for the dress itself, the design is beautiful. My favourite part is the shape of the raglan sleeve: it’s so flattering, following the shoulder line, and is an interesting detail that sets this dress out of the ordinary. I also like the two-piece sleeves and the two-piece back – it helps the dress to fit beautifully which, since it’s quite form-fitting, really makes the difference.

 

The shirt-tail hem isn’t a look I’ve tried before – I almost altered it to a regular shift dress hem before I even began, and then decided to just trust the pattern – and it’s great! Lesson: I must not be afraid to try something new. The overall length of the dress means I want to wear this with heels rather than flats, but that’s fine as the fabric isn’t exactly casual!

I don’t know if I made the right choice with the fabric – I’m not sure I can pull off such a statement print, so I’m going to have to develop some attitude to wear this out of the house. I don’t think it’s a ‘blend into the background’ kind of a garment, so one to wear when I feel like strutting.

Finally, a moderately successful selfie!

The pattern itself is faultless: the instructions were clear and the fit advice was useful. Overall, I’m really pleased with this pattern, and predict that I’ll be making the tunic version before long (maybe not in a scuba… and maybe in a smaller print!)

My sewing story

And so I find myself writing my first ever blog post. It’s not something I ever thought I’d do, but here I am, and I hope you’ll stay with me! Rather than launch straight into my makes, I thought I’d talk a bit about how I came to be here, so you can get to know me a little. I’d love it if you’d leave me comments so I can get to know you too! Bear with me for a couple of paragraphs, and then I’ll stick some photos in 🙂

I started sewing as a child: my mum taught me to hand sew, and I did a lot of embroidery and made stuffed toys and accessories. As a teenager, my sewing adventures were along the lines of ‘cut the calf seams of my jeans to insert corduroy godets and make flares’ or ‘chop off my jeans at the hip to make mini shorts’… accessorised with carefully pre-scuffed Doc Marten boots of course. It was the 1990s, after all…

In my twenties I mostly exercised my sewing skills by sewing on the odd button and raising or lengthening hems. The sewing highlight of those years was a fancy dress outfit: I was living in Paris at the time, and my friend had a themed party where we all had to come dressed as characters from Beatles songs (to this day I think it was the best theme ever). So off I went to a little fabric shop in Montmartre, and bought 3 metres of cheap black fabric with silver stars all over it. Equipped with one small needle and a reel of thread, I made a floor-length strapless gown with a corseted back and a train, added some cheap sparkly jewellery, and ta-da: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. I caught the metro there with Lady Madonna and Penny Lane, obviously…

Through my twenties and early thirties I bought a lot of ‘disposable’ fashion, buying for the sake of buying, and not really thinking much about process or waste. Then when I was pregnant with my first child and found out we were expecting a baby girl, suddenly I wanted to sew for her the way my mum had done for me. So we grabbed a bunch of old pillowcases, sat in front of my mum’s machine, and she kept me at it until I could sew. I couldn’t be more grateful.

So there I was, sewing baby clothes (on a new machine – a birthday gift from my parents), and loving seeing my daughter in things I had made for her (mostly by Simplicity and Butterick, if you’re interested!)

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And then I thought, why not sew for myself?

Enter the Sorbetto top from Colette Patterns. Around this time I was doing LOOOONG breastfeeds for my daughter, and I had plenty of time to read ‘sewing theory’ and sewing blogs with one hand while nursing her with the other. So I got my head round darts, bias binding, and all the rest of it, and took the plunge. 6 Sorbetto tops later, I was ready to call myself a sewist. I started with fairly simple designs: Colette’s Laurel and Sencha, a few Simplicity tops and skirts, and some projects from the Great British Sewing Bee books (this was when GBSB was starting out, perfect timing for me!)

And then I was pregnant again. So my handmade clothes didn’t fit my burgeoning belly and boobs any more, and I went back to sewing for my daughter, as well as whipping up a few maternity dresses and tops.

(I don’t know why pregnancy made me go all-out for pink…)

When our baby boy was born, my first projects for him were self-drafted trousers when he was at that awkward stage of being too big for his 0-3 month clothes but swamped by his 3-6 month ones. Then I discovered Oliver and S, and made his baptism outfit from their Lullaby Layette pattern (mine was a sleeveless Deer and Doe Aubépine :)).

Around this time, I discovered jersey… and I’ve never looked back. 90% of my makes are now in knit fabrics, with my favourites being the Marianne by Christine Haynes, Mesa and Winona by Seamwork, the Camas blouse from Thread Theory, and the wonderful Skater dress from Tanya Whelan’s superb book Sew many dresses sew little time.

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As for my favourite makes for children, there are plenty to show you soon, but for now I’ll give a shout-out to the Snapdragon dress from Sew like my mom and the Kensington t-shirt from Hey June Handmade…

OK, so there are a few exceptions to my “jersey rules” mantra: the top one is JEANS. I am so grateful to Heather of Closet Case Patterns for her Ginger and Morgan designs. And I also like jackets, especially the (for me much-missed) Pavot by Deer and Doe and the Secret Agent Trench by Oliver and S. I’ll blog about all of those another day.

(Less-than-perfect pics of my oh-so-beautiful Ginger jeans… I took them before I decided to start a blog! Better ones to come soon, I promise!)

It’s my love of jersey that kick-started my search for the perfect t-shirt. I tried so many, but there wasn’t one that made me stop my search. So I studied pattern drafting while my husband, a professional computer whizz, studied CAD (computer assisted design). We brought the two together, and Valentine and Stitch patterns was born. Watch this space for more on that, but for now here’s a little peek at one of my designs for children…

And so here I am, the newest sewing blogger on the block. At first I just started reading blogs to get a sense of how particular patterns would fit, and whether they would suit me. I didn’t think blogging was something I’d do myself (so many excuses: how will I set it up? When will I find the time? Who will want to read it anyway?) But I started to feel like I knew these people, and so here I am, hoping to connect with you, and to give something back to the sewing community that has given me so much.

Thank you for reading my first blog post, and I hope you’ll keep coming back!