Category Archives: Sewing pattern design

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?

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!

Drafting diary: the Dune top and dress

We’re currently drafting our next pattern for women, a sleeveless summer top and dress, and I thought it would be fun to let you see how a pattern develops at each stage of the testing process!

It starts with an idea, usually accompanied by a sketch. Then we sit down together at the computer and I tell Rich what my vision of the garment is, and he works out the formulae to make it a reality. This isn’t just formulae to make it fit me, but rather ones that will adapt through the sizes (and I’m between sizes, so we don’t use my measurements as base ones!)

The latest (but not final) version of Dune

We also struggled with a name for this one. There is a story behind the names of all our patterns (if ever you’re interested, ask me and I’ll share!) but this one we were stumped. Everything we came up with sounded wrong – I thought I had found the perfect name and Rich vetoed it because it had been used for a not-so-great model of car back in the 90s or something! A few Instagram friends made suggestions, but they had either been used by other pattern companies, or were names I’d already earmarked for future patterns, so nothing felt right. I wanted something summery, that made you think of sun and breeze and cool drinks and holidays. So after much wrenching out of hair and grinding of teeth we came up with… Dune. And it’s perfect, because on our first holiday together we climbed the Dune du Pyla in south-west France, sixteen years after I’d failed to climb it with my dad as a stroppy teenager because the wind was blowing my hair in my face. As you can see from this photo, I got over the hair issue later in life!

The first draft is always sewn up in cheap or recycled fabric, as this is basically just a toile to see where the fit is good and where it needs work. Our first version of Dune looked promising, just a little gaping at the back of the neck, which we altered and then re-printed. The next version looked like this:

(check out my Instagram feed for a funny story about the pink capris…)

The armscye was too high, and the curve into the armscye not wide enough (you can see the creases by my right arm). So back we go to the computer, and the next version looked like this:

Armscye was still too high to be totally comfortable, and once the neckband was attached the back was still gaping a little. Wearable but not perfect, so back to the computer to make those alterations and… next version!

This one was an almost perfect fit, but I always do the ‘wear for a day’ test for each version, and after a day running around the park, I felt it was a little too short as I kept flashing my lower back. We thought the next one with a slightly longer cut would be the final one, but we also took a little more off the centre back, and this was the result:

 

 

The length works well, but the excess removed from the centre back means that the top pulls a little over the back, as you can see from this side view.

Next lot of alterations done, and now I’m about to sew up this sixth version… hopefully it’ll be the one!

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!