Category Archives: PDF sewing pattern

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?

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!

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.

Anyone for Margaritas? New free pattern!

We’re taking our summer break soon, so there will be a break from pattern-making until the end of the summer… but we’re not leaving you at a loss for your next sewing project! While we’re away, we hope you will enjoy our latest free pattern, Margarita!

Margarita is a skirt for women, designed as always for knit/ jersey fabrics. As a summer skirt, a cotton jersey Margarita is the easiest thing to wear with a t-shirt, and for the cooler seasons you can sew it up in ponte or scuba to wear with tights.

Margarita came about because earlier this summer I mentioned to Rich that I’d love a quarter-circle skirt with a wide waistband, and later that day I found him sticking together PDF pages because he’d just drafted me one! It was a perfect fit and such a quick and simple sew, that we decided to grade it into a proper Valentine & Stitch pattern so you could all enjoy it!

Action shot! (If “walking” counts as an action)

I’ve made a few of these skirts now: the summer version is in cotton jersey, and as you can see it pairs very well with a tucked-in Dune top! It’s comfy but still looks put together, and will keep you nice and cool on warmer days! The cooler weather version is made up here in scuba. You may remember an earlier outing for this fabric, in my much-admired but rarely worn McCalls dress. I loved the fabric but wasn’t sure I was comfortable in it as one solid block on the dress… but I had just enough left over to try a Margarita! And I’m so unbelievably happy with this skirt – I feel much more comfortable with this bold fabric being used for a separate, and it works really well with a plain black t-shirt. It will be perfect for a smart winter wardrobe.

I’ve also tried adding elastic into the waistband of the lighter jersey version, to give a bit more support over the tummy. This is a super-simple method detailed in the instruction booklet, and it ends up looking like this on the inside:

You can see it in action here in my beloved Paparounes fabric!

(Weird body-pop angle in the first pose. Clearly solved by bending forwards for the next one.)

Plus this one matches the Daisy skirt I made for my daughter, so it gets the thumbs up from her too.

I’ll be checking in on Instagram over the next few weeks to keep up with Sleevefest, and we have some more sleeve hack tutorials prepared to post while we’re off – in the meantime, hope you all have a wonderful summer, doing lots of whatever makes you happy!

New Valentine & Stitch patterns: Lotus and Loulou

It is already well over a month since we released our first pattern, the Lotus top, and I am finally getting around to writing a post to accompany the launch… and didn’t even manage to do it before we released our second pattern, Loulou! I definitely need to get speedier at blog-writing…  so here’s a “twofer”, a closer look at the two free patterns that have launched Valentine & Stitch…

Releasing Lotus was so exciting, and it has been even more exciting to see completed versions popping up on Instagram – look for the hashtag #vslotus, or some people have also used #lotustop. The lovely Kelly of Sewing Unaffiliated also wrote a blog post about it here – check it out and read her blog often, you won’t be disappointed!

My first Lotus is the one I call my ‘workout Lotus’. I used to practise yoga a lot, and although I don’t get the chance any more and most of my exercise comes from cycling, I still dream of a day when I’ll get back to it… and when I do my wardrobe will be ready! This Lotus is sewn in a pink viscose jersey from Backstitch – they don’t have it any more but they do have it in a blue colour way, or they have a pink one with narrower stripes. This fabric was such a dream to work with – delicate but still stable enough to hold its shape. I don’t mind visible bra straps as long as they’re co-ordinated so I happily wear this with a bright pink bra, or layered over a sports bra or vest. It does also look nice with a strapless bra – or no bra, which is an option if, like me, you’re not well endowed…

As soon as I made my first Lotus, I could see it in a slinky soft black fabric to pair with skinny jeans or leggings. The off-the-shoulder neckline is sexy without being too revealing, and the swingy fit means I could eat and drink to my heart’s content and still feel comfy. So I call this my ‘date night’ Lotus, even though our ‘date nights’ involve sitting in front of a computer calculating formulae to draft patterns! This version, like all the Lotuses I’ve made for myself, is graded from an XS at the bust to a S at the waist and hips. I made it with a slinky jersey from Fabworks that was a total bargain at £6 a metre, which makes me officially a very cheap date! I used 70cm, so Lotus is definitely a good stashbuster! The fabric wasn’t the easiest to work with as it wanted to slip around everywhere, so I had to take it slowly. The thread tension on my machine went haywire part-way through one of the sleeve hems, so that got unpicked and re-sewn three times (the third was my own fault for not catching the raw edge in the inside stitching. NEVER try to hem a slippy fabric without pins. Even if you’re ready to stick said pins in your own fingers). Apart from that, it was a fun sew and I love the result!

Version B of Lotus is a shorter t-shirt length, and can be casual or dressy depending on your fabric choice. This one is made with a crepe jersey and I call it my ‘office Lotus’ as I wear this one to work with a pencil skirt. The fabric has good drape but more of a structure to it than the slinky date night fabric, so it makes a lovely smart but comfortable top to wear to the office. The fabric was really easy to sew – I thought its thickness might make the hems a bit tricky, but it was very stable and easy to work with.

The fourth and final Lotus I’ve sewn for myself so far is this casual t-shirt version. It’s made from a light cotton jersey with a nice drape, and it looks perfect with jeans at the weekend. I don’t always want a top that’s tight across the tummy if I’m indulging at the weekend, but I do like a top to be fitted at the bust so it doesn’t look like a sack. This version of Lotus ticks all my t-shirt boxes! (and you get a view of our crazy wallpaper as a bonus for this one. You’re welcome ;-))

The last Lotus I made was a Mother’s Day gift for my mum. She helped me with the fitting of the pattern as we buy the same size clothes in RTW but have very different body shapes so it was really helpful to make sure the cut was going to be flattering on all body shapes. As a thank you, I sewed her a tailor-made Lotus: she likes the front and back necklines to be higher on her t-shirts, so this neckline was just for her. It follows the neckline shape of the Lotus version B, but with everything raised by a couple of centimetres. If you want to do this modification it’s simple with a French curve, but just beware that the neck hemming is a little harder because there’s less room for manoeuvre. It might be worth adding a neckband if you do want to raise the neckline Mum wears this with bright coloured slim fit jeans, and it looks so summery!

HELLO LOULOU!!!

Our next pattern is the Loulou “modesty shorties” for girls (I only discovered this term recently!) I love that we live in an age where girls can play the same games as boys, but sometimes dresses aren’t too practical… enter Loulou! If, like me, you sew for a little girl who loves dresses but also loves to run, climb, and throw herself around, then this pattern will become a staple! Loulou is simple and quick to make, and although it does come with fabric requirements, really it can be made out of scraps or offcuts. I have also made some out of last year’s dresses, so that the fabric is recycled!

 

When I did a preview of Loulou on Instagram, a number of people said they wished the sizes went higher, and so we have extended the range to go up to age 14.

A few IG friends have asked for this pattern in women’s sizes so we will be doing that at some point, but in the meantime look what fun I had with the older girls pattern!

 

I used the girls age 14 size and made pyjama shorts for summer. I used ¼” seam allowances in case I couldn’t squeeze into the age 14, but in the end I could have kept them at 3/8”. Since they’re for sleeping in, it’s quite nice to have them looser though.

 

My latest sew was for my daughter’s birthday, she wanted a twirly skirt and so we made a pattern for her that we’ll work into a proper pattern in the next few months – the Loulou shorties fit underneath! So she got a beautiful AND practical birthday skirt.

We’d love to hear how you get on sewing Loulou!