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

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

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

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

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

Dune tank top tiled PDF layout

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

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

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

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

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

Simple upload page to place your order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time, happy sewing/ sticking/ cutting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had lost the pattern piece.

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

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

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

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

Phew!

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

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

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

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

Ta-daaaaaa!

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

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

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

Finding my inner re-fashionista

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No going back now…

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

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

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

One gentle press later and…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Sewing fail: my third pair of Morgan jeans

I think it’s a well-known fact by now that I like sewing my own jeans. I might have mentioned it once or twice. So this pair of cropped Morgan jeans was supposed to be THE ONE, after making enough pairs to know exactly what I wanted to tweak to make them perfect. THE ONE, I tell you!

They look quite good, right?

But they were a big fat SEWING FAIL.

The first mistake was the fabric. I got so excited when I saw this lovely 100% cotton denim on the Fabrics Galore website, that I ordered it without checking the weight. It’s a 4oz denim, more of a chambray really, and I was so disappointed when it turned up. It went in the stash, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, but some crazy little voice told me to give the jeans a go with it anyway, since I didn’t really have anything else I wanted to use it for and I did want another pair of jeans. I really shouldn’t trust the crazy little voice…

So, spoiler: the main reason for the fail is that the fabric is not really heavy enough for jeans. But it doesn’t stop there…

In my last two pairs of Morgan jeans and both my Gingers, one thing I’ve noticed is that the pocket facing is a little small, and peeks out of the pocket when I sit down. I made a mental note to make the inside curve a bit larger next time. Should’ve made a written note… that was my next fail! As you can see from these photos, the pocket facing pulls quite a bit because the fabric isn’t heavy enough to keep it down.

I also used regular buttons on the button placket, as I was worried the fabric wouldn’t be quite strong enough to withstand jeans hardware, so the only proper jeans button is the one on the waistband.

That’s about the best thing I can say about the waistband, because…

The waistband was my biggest error. I didn’t have enough denim to use for the waistband lining, so I chose a quilting cotton that matched my pocket linings. Because it’s pretty lightweight for a waistband, and because there’s no stretch in the denim, I interfaced it to make it a bit sturdier. Good idea, I hear you cry, she’s got this jeans thing down to a fine art… but if you read my last post about Closet Case Patterns jeans, you’ll know I interfaced the waistband on my first pair of Gingers and had to unpick and re-do the whole thing because it made the waistband so uncomfortable. So why why why oh why did I do it again? Well, the Gingers use stretch denim, so the interfacing restricted the stretch. Morgan specifies no stretch, so I thought it would be a good idea. Too much thinking going on with these jeans – the waistband is so unforgiving, I might as well have interfaced it with steel rods.

To make matters worse, this wasn’t even the first time I’d stitched this waistband. Oh no, the first time I stitched it on with the wrong side facing out!

So I’d already spent an entire evening unpicking my extremely tiny stitches to re-attach the waistband. Pour me a gin…

The one thing I like about my waistband (there has to be something!) is that I attached the waistband to the waistband lining with a 3/8” seam rather than 5/8”. In my last two pairs I found the waistband a little too narrow, so this was a good way of adding extra depth without re-drawing the whole pattern piece. Every cloud…

OK, if we’re moving on to silver linings, here are some more:

Topstitching. Oh I love topstitching. As you can see from the close-ups, I use a short stitch for greater accuracy (I set my stitch length at 2.2). I also love the little flower stitch on my machine, so I measured out the length of a full flower motif, and marked on my back pockets where I’d have to start and finish the flower stitch to have four parallel flowers on each side. I think one of the reasons I’m so disappointed with the failure of these jeans is all the work that went into those pockets! But you can see from the second pic that even they are too flimsy once I’m wearing the jeans:

Next silver lining: while I was making these jeans, a perfectly timed little sewing tip landed in my inbox from the Colette Patterns “Snippets” email list. The suggestion is that you pass a length of thread through the corners of the area you’re topstitching (in this case, the waistband), and when you get to the corner you pull on the thread to stop the fabric getting chewed up by the feed dogs. I used topstitching thread to pull on, as it’s stronger and so wouldn’t break, and it worked perfectly! Then afterwards you just pull that thread out, and you’re left with a gorgeous topstitched corner.

(Yes, I marked my button placement with a biro. It was removed by shoving an awl through it to create the hole for the jeans button, so don’t hold it against me!)

I’d add another little tip here, too: the pattern instructions for both Morgan and Ginger have you start the topstitching at one of the corners. You couldn’t really pick a trickier place to start and end your topstitching (especially if you’re doing a backstitch or a lockstitch), so I prefer to start just above one of the side seams. I either start with a lockstitch, and then when I get back round to where I started, I lockstitch again, or I just start stitching with a normal stitch and then when I get back round to the start I carry on stitching over my original stitch line and then secure the threads on the inside. Both methods work well – the second one is easier, so it’s good if you’re new to topstitching or sewing jeans for the first time.

I also used the technique for turning out the waistband corners that I mentioned in an earlier blog post about sewing jeans – this time I folded the seam allowances down over the corner before turning it out, and it worked really well.

So there are many features of these jeans that I’m really pleased with, and yet they are one of the least wearable items in my wardrobe. I’ve tried wearing them out twice, and they just make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. But who wants to end on a negative note? Here’s a picture of them in action at the seaside, shortly before they got soaked when I recklessly ran too far into the sea.

Till next time, sewing friends, and thanks for reading!

Sewing McCalls 7542 in a knit fabric for Sleevefest

A while before Diane and I started thinking about the Sleevefest sewing challenge, I had noticed this McCall’s pattern cropping up on Instagram – M7542 is a fitted top with five statement sleeve options. About half-way through Sleevefest, Sew Now magazine included it as a free pattern in their August issue, and so I got the pattern to make up in honour of Sleevefest!

The pattern is for woven fabrics: it has bust darts at the front and neck darts at the back, and these give the top a semi-fitted shape. The back is finished with a small placket and a hook and eye closure at the neckline. Four of the five sleeve options come from a short fitted sleeve that is embellished with a pleated, gathered, bubble or trumpet cuff. The first three come to the elbow, the trumpet cuff is asymmetrical and drapes to the wrist on the inner arm. Then the fifth option is a tulip-style crossover sleeve that also ends at the elbow.

I love love love the dramatic trumpet sleeve (view B), and that’s the one I thought I’d make, BUT I did want a top I could wear in my everyday life, and so I decided to start with my second favourite, the tulip sleeve (view A).

Look at that sleeve-y goodness!

You know what’s coming next. This pattern is for wovens, and I love sewing with knits. Although I had mentally earmarked a gorgeous eyelet fabric I have in my stash, I was looking at the pattern and I thought that actually the shape of the bodice wasn’t going to do me any favours. This top really is all about the sleeve, but if I was going to get wear out of it, I had to feel good in it. Sooooo… I decided to adapt the pattern for use with a knit fabric.

This will work for pretty much any woven top, so here’s what I did:

First, I decided on my size. The size charts put me as a UK 10 for the bust and a 10-12 for the waist and hips. Although making the pattern in a knit would usually mean that I’d go down a size, in my head I had already envisaged this being loose and floaty, so I kept to those sizes and graded from a size 10 to a 12 at the waist. I have already learned that McCalls patterns tend to come up big on me – remember my M7574 dress? – but I thought I’d just go for it as I was aiming for an oversized look. I’d already ordered this dreamy slub viscose jersey from Minerva Crafts, and it was begging to be made into a floaty top. Also, when it arrived I found that it’s a little see-through, so I couldn’t risk the top being too tight as I didn’t want my bra to show through!

Gratuitous sleeve poses

So, onto the modifications. The first thing to do is to remove the darts – you just don’t need them in a knit unless you have a much more impressive chest than I do. This is a simple alteration to make, illustrated below: you find the point of the bust dart in your size, and then draw a straight vertical line from here to the hem. Then cut this line from the hem upwards. Then cut along ONE of the lines of the bust dart, towards the point of the dart. You’ll end up with a piece cut out of your pattern: tilt this upwards until the line of the bust dart you have cut meets exactly with the uncut line. Tape this in place. You have now created a lovely slash and spread which will give you a nice floaty garment! Tape some pattern tracing paper to the back of your pattern to fill in the gap, and use a French curve to join up the hem in the space you have created.

Remove the back darts in the same way. For this top, it makes the back slightly more flared than the front, but I liked the idea of a swingy back so I didn’t do any further modifications to the shape in that respect. However, since the pattern piece for the back has a shaped centre seam to enhance the fit, I needed to take that out for my floaty top and create a back bodice piece that could be cut on the fold. This is super-simple: I just measured in the 5/8” seam allowance at the neckline, and drew a straight line down to the hem, parallel to the grainline arrow. I then cut along this line and marked the new pattern piece to be cut on the fold.

There are no modifications to be made to the sleeve pieces, only to the way you sew up the sleeves. Basically, the top can now be sewn like any other t-shirt, with a bit of special attention to the tulip sleeves. I used an overlocker for all my seams, but keep in mind that you need to use a 5/8” seam rather than the 3/8” you would normally use for knits, as the pattern is designed for wovens. I also decided to do rolled hems for my finishings, to enhance the floaty look.

Floatiness in action with some “walking towards camera” shots

So, here’s how I did it:

  1. Attach the front to the back at the shoulders, and press the seam to the back.
  2. Finish the neckline (I used a rolled hem, but you could press under and hem with a twin needle or coverstitch machine, or draft a neckband).
  3. Hem the sleeve front and back pieces. I used a narrow rolled hem on my overlocker, giving a lettuce effect to the hems.
  4. Baste the back sleeve pieces onto the front sleeve pieces as indicated in the instructions (step 14), aligning the large circle marking on each piece. DO NOT sew the sleeve seams as directed in the instructions (step 12): this instruction is for set-in sleeves, and with this knit fabric modification we can sew the sleeve seam at the same time as the side seam.

    Omit step 12; you’ve already done step 13; do step 14!

  5. Pin the sleeves to the armscyes, right sides together. Align the large circle with the shoulder seam and the underarm edges of the bodice and sleeve. Ease the sleeve into the armscye, pinning every inch or so.
  6. Sew the sleeve to the bodice, and press the seam towards the sleeve.
  7. Pin the side seams, right sides together: pin at the underarm seam, the bodice hem and the sleeve hem, and then line up the seams, pinning every inch or so.
  8. At this point, I recommend basting the sleeve hem. Since you’ve done a rolled hem, you won’t be turning up the sleeve hem again, and so you want the edges of your sleeve to align nicely at the seam. Using a regular sewing machine and a long straight stitch, baste together from the hem edge downwards – just an inch or two will suffice.
  9. Sew the side seams from the bottom of the bodice hem all the way up to the sleeve hem. Remove your basting stitches.

Ta-daaa!! Beautifully aligned seams, thanks to the basting.

At this point I tried on my top, and I wasn’t too keen on the neckline. It’s quite a high neckline, and because I’d done the rolled hem, it stood a bit proud from my shoulders, a bit like a mini ruff!

Awkward tilted head pose, trying to show how the neckline looks!

I played around with a few ideas and ALMOST went with boat neck, but I thought a soft v neck would look perfect with the lines of those tulip sleeves, and with the rolled hem would create an almost scalloped effect. So I went back to my pattern pieces and traced the neckline I wanted onto them, then carefully folded my top in half, creating centre fold lines at the front and back, and pinned the pattern pieces back onto the bodice before cutting along my new necklines and doing a new rolled hem.

New neckline, same awkward head tilt. Ignore my frown lines – I promise I do love this top!

I recommend doing this stage MUCH earlier – i.e. when you’re prepping your pattern pieces! Anyway, only one more stage to go:

  1. Hem the bottom of the garment – I used a rolled hem again, to be in keeping with the rest of my top.

That’s it! A whole new way to sew this already versatile pattern. Plus, once you’ve done all the modifications to your pattern pieces, this is a super-quick sew! How long do you think it’ll be before I do it with that AMAZING trumpet sleeve?! This is a fabulous top to wear with jeans (in these photos I’m wearing one of my pairs of Ginger jeans), and it feels so comfortable but yet is a bit more special than a regular t-shirt. When I put it on for this photo shoot, I couldn’t help remembering a time when I lived in Paris and would treat myself to coffee and cake at a smart salon de thé, and the ladies there always looked so expensive. I remember thinking I could never look like that, whatever clothes or makeup I wore… and when I put this outfit on, I felt like those ladies! The irony is that the denim for my jeans was a remnant at around £7, and the fabric for my top cost £3.99! Who knew “expensive” could be so cheap 😉

Have I mentioned how much I love this look?

For more gorgeous sleeves, including some wonderful variations on this pattern, check out the #sleevefest2017 hashtag on Instagram! And to find out more about how Sew Now magazine styled this pattern for their August issue, click here.

OK OK, last photo I promise!

Till next time, happy sewing!

We’re now on Bloglovin’!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

This is Rich, on one of my rare outings onto the blog! Following up on comments from some of you, this is just a quick post to let you all know that you can now follow our blog through Bloglovin’- just click on the link above if you have an account with them (and if not, signing up is as simple as can be, and it’s a great place to find and follow blogs about sewing and much more!).

Right now though, I’m going to get back to finishing the pattern sheet for Dune – I’m very excited! I’m also working on a sleeve-related tutorial for all of you taking part in Sleevefest – more about that later in the summer…

 

One week on

A week ago I hit ‘publish’ on my first blog post, and then a few minutes later hit ‘share’ on my first Instagram post. Posting pictures of myself online takes me about as far out of my comfort zone as it’s possible to go, so I thought I’d write a short post today reflecting on my first week of hashtags and selfies!

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(This is me NOT mastering the art of the selfie…)

Apart from a few years Facebooking when it first launched, I’ve never been much of a social media user, and half the time I don’t even have my phone in the same room as me. This stems from a time when I lived in a flat that only had mobile reception by the bedroom window, so I had to leave my phone on the bedroom windowsill and pop back in to check it for messages every now and then… so even though that was before smartphones, and even though mobile reception is pretty good in every room of our house, I still find myself in the habit of leaving my phone in the bedroom and just popping up from time to time. But I realise I have to move with the times and face facts: social media is just how the world works today!

I haven’t shared this new venture with anyone but my closest family: most people in my life don’t even know that I sew, let alone that almost everything they see me or my daughter wear is handmade! So for me this is about connecting with a community, not staying in the safety net of people I know will follow me and ‘like’ my posts, but rather putting it out there and seeing if other sewists/ crafters/ designers like it or not. It’s scary, and humbling, but also brilliant: I have connected with some amazing sewists, I’ve loved waking up and catching up on sewing-related banter, and I’ve discovered some great new (or new-to-me) blogs (right now I’m enjoying Dream.Cut.Sew, Sew and Such, Sewing Unaffiliated, Sew Ready, A Sewful Life, and I’ll add more links another time!)

So apart from taking more selfies in one week than in the last five years, what’s been going on this week? Well, here at Valentine and Stitch HQ we’ve designed a leggings pattern for girls (my daughter tried on version 2 this morning and loved them so much she wanted to wear them all day – that was the moment I realised she didn’t have any tops to match the fabric I’d chosen! But she doesn’t care, and I’m just happy to see her running and jumping around in her pink camo leggings.

We need to reduce the ease in the waistband before we start playing with design features, but that’s going on a back burner for now as I have to write up the instructions for the first Valentine and Stitch pattern, which just got a sneak peak on Instagram today!

Very excited about that, and I still have to sew up one more sample version so I’m currently in full-on fabric dilemma… the best kind of problem to have!

And what’s next? Well, I’m loving joining in with the #sewapril2017 challenge and following the hashtag – so the daily themes will keep me busy on Instagram. I haven’t written any ‘my makes’ type blog posts yet, which I thought would be the majority of my posts, so I have to learn to figure out how to balance that with Instagram. Lots of blog reading, to see what my new sewing friends are creating. And possibly definitely a few glasses of wine in the sunshine! Till next time, thanks for reading and wishing you all a happy and sunny week!

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!