Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Goodbye 2014. Hello 2015!!!

I ain't going lie, 2014 has been a hell of a year for me personally. It was my first full year of being a mum, a status that I'm still getting my head around and still trying to successfully combine with the other facets of my life. I moved to a new town, a change which hasn't proved as positive as I hoped. And arranging both of our working lives around child care is still far from sorted. But let's talk about sewing...

Longer term readers of my blog will no doubt have noticed that it's obviously been a less productive year than previous ones. But sewing still played a major role in my life in 2014, and I feel that in some ways it's become more important to me than ever before. I've always felt that sewing connects me to the  women in my family: my mum, grandmothers and great aunts. Now I have a little daughter and I've found that providing for her by making her clothes has deepened and enriched that connection further.

My Sewing-Related Highlights of 2014:

  • Releasing my Dolores Batwing sewing pattern. After A LOT of work over A LONG period time, my self-drafted pattern was finally born! I couldn't have done it without the massive important contribution made by Claire, and I'd also like to thank again the wonderful pattern testers and pattern reviewers who gave up precious time and fabric to help get this 'out there'. 
  • Hosting Me-Made-May'14. MMM is always a high point in my year, and this year's was as awesome as ever. The Flickr group and Pinterest board were/are a hot bed of sewing inspiration and seeing so many wonderfully creative and talented people proudly wearing their creations makes me feel really emotional. Thanks so much to everyone who took part this year.
  • Taking part in Kid's Clothing Week. This simple sew-along, to sew kid's clothing for at least one hour a day for a week, brought me a lot of joy. Before signing up to take part in KCW, I don't think I'd realised how far sewing was getting pushed down my list of priorities. This week honestly opened my eyes to how much I need it to be a regular part of my life, and how much fun making clothing for Dolores is in particular. 
  • Taking part in OWOP. Thanks to lovely Handmade Jane, OWOP was back in 2014. Like MMM, I find OWOP so useful because it highlights the possibility of a genuinely wearable handmade wardrobe. Seeing multiple versions of other peoples' favourite patterns is also super fun and great for getting ideas for future projects. 
  • Taking part in the Perfect Pattern Parcel blog tours. I was lucky enough to be involved in four PPP's promotional blog tours during 2014, making the September dressStaple dress, Bronte top and Daphne bag. The Staple dress in particular has become one of my favourite garments to wear EVER and I never would have thought to make it if it had not been receiving those sewing patterns to try. The Donors Choice charity they support really is a great cause as well, and I'm more than a little excited to find out what parcels they come up with next year...

Favourite Makes of 2014:

Sewing for myself took a bit of a back seat in 2014 as my body shape and it's 'uses' changed somewhat. With a lot more of my time spent in playgroups and crawling around the floor, I didn't have much use for lovely new clothes anyway. Plus when I did make something for myself, the results were often flawed or impractical and have seen little to no subsequent wear (e.g. the denim sweet shorts, Holly playsuit and Hudson pants). The major exception is my navy Bronte Top (pictured above) that I made whilst testing the pattern. It has been in constant rotation since the weather cooled off enough to wear it after the summer.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that my faves were all things I've made for Dolores. The refashioned men's shirt to baby blouse (pictured below) was a real success for stylistic and ethical reasons IMO, and the results from taking part in Kid's Clothing Week also came out really well.

Plans for 2015:

I love the end of a year and start of a new one as an opportunity for reflection and refocusing.

  • Sewing-wise, my most important aim for 2015 is to simply make time to do it. I've realised that sadly no-one is going to hand me great swathes of delicious sewing time on a platter! Sewing is good for my mental and emotional wellbeing, but I'm the one that has figure out how to fit it into my days, even if it's just for 15-30 mins a few evenings a week. 
  • Host Me-Made-May'15. As long as there are members of the sewing community who enjoy and get a lot from taking part, then I'll keep hosting them! Sign ups will start on 1st April 2015. Personally, I've already been thinking about what pledge will be a useful one for me this time round, and I've got a few ideas...
  • A recommitment to stash-busting. I unveiled the extent of my stash almost two years ago, and I must confess that it doesn't look much different today! A lot of it has been used, particularly the jersey and knit selection, but there's been quite a few additions in the form of gifts and garments that could be re-made. My stash is now spread over two locations: the shelves and two big bags reside in my daughter's bedroom, and boxes of small pieces and scraps live under my sewing table in the corner of our kitchen. My feelings on the importance of refashioning existing garments and sewing from stash rather than buying new fabric remain the same. So I wish to continue to make lovely garments for Dolores, her friends and for myself from a lot of what I already own.
  • Make wearable, useful clothes. With limited sewing time and storage space, anything I make has to be something that will get worn regularly by whoever it's for. I love that challenge and think I'm getting fairly good at figuring out what styles will fit with my lifestyle and existing clothing selection, however I need to spend more time on getting a good fit, and that may include making more of the dreaded toiles! I've got some great patterns and fabulous fabric pieces lined up, I can't wait to get cracking. 
Thank you all so much for taking time to read this blog. It means so much to me to have this space to share my thoughts and creations, and although I regret that I don't get as much time as I'd like for reading and commenting on others' blogs, I really appreciate every single comment that you leave here so much. I wish you all a thoroughly wonderful New Year!  

Saturday, 20 December 2014

My Sewing Library: Part 2

Thanks so much to those who commented for the positive response to Part 1 of this little book review feature. It's great to hear that it's helped and inspired those who were looking to expand their sewing resources. So, onward...

Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich

What is it and who is it aimed at?

This hard-back book is all about pattern cutting, and literally nothing else. Whether you're a fashion student or a home-seamster wanting a deeper knowledge on the anatomy of a garment pattern, this is widely accepted to be the very best place to start. Aldrich takes you through drafting basic pattern blocks from scratch based on specific measurements, as well as how to adapt those blocks and how to draft pretty much every type of design feature (like sleeves, collars, cuffs etc) known to man. If you're willing to put the time in, this book gives you the building blocks to make your clothing designs a reality. However, as cute as the little illustrations are, a pretty coffee-table book this is NOT! 

Why have I got it?

This book was on the reading list to buy when I started my Fashion Design degree back in 1999! Yup, I was at uni in the 90's, *feels seriously old*! This wasn't the only pattern cutting title I bought that was on that list, but it's the only one I still own, which I feel says a lot. 

Does it include patterns?

No, but it does contain the very DNA of patterns! This book will make you the mother of patterns. Which is kind of better than including patterns, don't you think?

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

So freaking much: that's how much I've used it. I've used it to draft blocks, I've used it to figure out how to make a puff sleeve, I've used it to grade patterns into different sizes, I've used it to balance my plate on whilst I eat dinner... If pattern cutting interests you at all, then it simply must be owned. 

Built By Wendy Dresses by Wendy Mullin and Eviana Hartman

What is it and who is it aimed at?

This book is very much in the vein of Wendy Mullin's two SEW U books, however it manages to avoid repeating the content of those others. Focusing on dresses made from woven fabric, this book assumes you know the basics of how to sew and instead helps you explore your hidden designer. It covers topics like picking a garment style to flatter your body shape, how to apply print and colour to good effect and different neckline options, as well as sections you'd expect from a sewing book like picking suitable fabric types. 

Why have I got it?

After buying and loving her first two books, I flipped out with excitement when I found Mullin had written another. Then I bought it. 

Does it include patterns?

YES!!! Like the other two, this includes three multi-sized garment patterns. The three dress patterns have interesting features that makes them ripe for customisation. Inside the book are detailed instructions on how to adapt those three basics to make twenty five different styles, plus it would only take the application of a little bit of imagination to come up with quite a few more by applying her lessons in design that feature towards the beginning of the book. 

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

To be honest, no I haven't used it save for reading bits of it here and there. By the time I bought this book, I had become pretty obsessed with sewing from vintage patterns to create a rockabilly-esque style. The aesthetic of the garment styles in this book are really cute, but didn't gel with me at that time particularly, and are possibly a bit young for someone in their thirties I felt. 

However, having gone back to it recently to refresh my memory for this post, I do feel it has a lot to offer. I'm actually interested in giving a least one of the patterns a whirl, and I may make that a priority early 2015. 

What is it and who is it aimed at?

For a slightly longer review of this book, check out this previous blog post. In short, this book is aimed at beginners with a creative bent who appreciate a feminine, retro-y style. With lots of ideas for customising and up-cycling projects as well as very basic dressmaking projects, this little hard-back written by my former boss shows how to make a great impact in just an afternoon. 

Why have I got it?

I was given a free copy at the launch party. 

Does it include patterns?

Nup. The closest this book gets to patterns is showing you how to draft very basic elasticated or gathered waist skirts using your measurements. 

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

I haven't used it but then I didn't expect to because I'm not really its target readership. No doubt there are some things in here I could learn, but there are other books that appeal to me more aesthetically, both in terms of the projects and overall design of the publication. So I'm more likely to choose those when perusing my collection looking for some bedtime reading. That said, if you have a girly friend who wants to get into sewing, this would make a lovely gift. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

My Sewing Library: Part 1

I don't have the biggest collection of sewing related books, compared to some people, but I was surprised to find that they do fit in a whole shelf of our book cases after a recent tidy-up. I thought it'd be fun to do a series of mini-reviews in three parts in case anyone was thinking of expanding their own collection and wanted some ideas. So, in absolutely no order at all...

SEW U: Home Stretch by Wendy Mullen and Eviana Hartman

What is it and who is it aimed at?

This book is an introduction to sewing with knit fabrics. It assumes you have a bit of sewing knowledge under your belt already (perhaps hoping you've used the first Sew U book, which I used to have and is excellent, but I've lost and therefore won't be reviewing here). 

It is a hard-back spiral bound book with wonderfully clear advice and illustrations. It holds your hand and guides you through everything you'll need to know to start sewing with all manner of different knits, whether you own a fancy overstitch machine, an overlocker/serger or just a regular good old sewing machine. 

Why have I got it?

I used to be a huge fan of the Built by Wendy clothing brand. Around the time I moved to Spain, Wendy Mullen's aesthetic really resonated with me and I found the BBW website very inspirational. I never owned any BBW garments, because by then I was more interested in making my own (and too skint) but I adored the pattern range she made with Simplicity. As I say, I used to own the first SEW U book and really liked the format. I can't remember exactly but I must have seen the knits version on a blog somewhere and bought it for myself. 

Does it include patterns?

Damn straight it does. I includes three multi-sized patterns and the book shows you how to make many more style variations by using them as a starting point and making tweaks. 

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

Yes, I used it soooo much when I got into sewing with knits. I think I bought it at exactly the right time for me: I'd already had a year or two of intense woven garment sewing under my belt, and really wanted to crack using knits as I longed to make a truly wearable day-to-day wardrobe. This book is about 7 years old now but the patterns included are such classic shapes that I can't imagine it feeling dated for many years yet. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone who is about to embark on sewing with knits, or has recently started using them but still has some questions. 

What is it and who is it aimed at?

This paper-back is a gentle introduction to pattern drafting from scratch for those who find most of the usual pattern drafting/cutting tomes a bit dry. The benefit of this book over those others is that the patterns you'll create are meant to look more like garments you'd like to wear than many of the more traditional styles the regular pattern books show. 

Why have I got it?

I bought it about five years ago but I can't remember why. I've never been massively into drafting patterns from scratch so I don't know why I chose this one. I think the clean lines of the cute garment styles appealed, as did they lovely photography. 

Does it include patterns?

No but it does include step by step instructions on how to make your own using your own specific body measurements. Theoretically, because they will be based on your own vital stats, the outcome should be better fitting straight off than a pre-made pattern based on 'standard' sizing. Once the basic patterns have been drafted, the book then goes into how you can make changes to them for a pretty wide variety of garment styles. 

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

No I haven't used it, although I did take inspiration from that cream blouse/jacket pictured below to form the basis of my Saint cardigan (RIP). I wouldn't say that there's anything wrong with this book at all, I just figured out pretty quickly that I prefer using ready made patterns, perhaps making tweaks or adapting them, but that I didn't have the patience to draft my own from scratch. 

As I haven't really used it I'm not sure I'd be able to recommend it or not. I guess it would be a good buy if the style of the garments in the book are similar to what you usually make/wear already. 

The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook by Nora Abousteit and Alison Kelly

What is it and who is it aimed at?

Designed very much in the image of the SEW U books, IMO, this hard-back spiral bound book is the first developed by the crew that brought us the BurdaStyle sewing community. It attempts to span all levels of sewing experience, at one end explaining how to thread a sewing machine, and at the other showing possible ideas on how to alter a coat pattern and then make it. I guess it's aimed at the vast number of members of the BurdaStyle sewing community, of which I used to be one. 

Why have I got it?

The best bit about this book, I feel, is that it taps into a vast array of home-sewer creative talent. When they were producing this book, they asked lots of members of BurdaStyle to design variations of the patterns, and then got them to make those variations which were pictured inside. I was asked to design a variation of the blouse, which is the pale pink one pictured in the centre right in the picture below (BTW, I did NOT choose the fabric or colour!). Everyone who took part got a copy of the book sent to them for free.  

Does it include patterns?

Indeed. There's a skirt, blouse, dress, coat and bag. The garment patterns are multi-sized. For each of the patterns there are instructions on how to make it straight-up, plus two other variations explained in detail, plus lots of little images of pattern-hack ideas (like mine). 

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

To be honest, no, I haven't used it aside from to flick through, I therefore can't comment on how the patterns come together or on the construction or pattern hacking directions. I will say that the reason I didn't use it is that none of the patterns appealed to me. I quite liked some of the variations of the original patterns as designed by the community members, but as you may have guessed by my previous comments, I'd rather be sewing than pattern cutting. Sewing patterns aren't a scarcity round my house, so I'm just not going to tackle a pattern that I don't really like if I've got to do anything to it. 

What is it and who is it aimed at?

This chunky hard-back spiral bound sewing book is definitely one for the vintage/retro lovers, and probably Gertie lovers, out there. It doesn't go into super-beginner stuff like how to thread a sewing machine, but it does give lots of info on stuff like fabric choice, pressing tools, buttonholes etc. Normally I'd ignore stuff like that and get straight to the pattern-joy, but this book goes into impressive detail so I think it'd still be very useful for more experienced sewers looking to expand their knowledge. 

Why have I got it?

I got a free copy to review, but I must admit that I never got round to it (naughty Zo). My intention was to make one of the garment patterns from the book and review it at the same time as commenting on my experience of sewing the pattern. Then within weeks of receiving my copy, I discovered I was preggers so with a body about to change in all sorts of ways, I held off and it just never happened. 

Does it include patterns?

I think I already spoilt the answer to this in my previous response. Yes! It has a pencil skirt, portrait blouse, sheath dress, scallop waist full skirt, bow-tie blouse, sweetheart sundress (my favourite), wiggle dress, shirtwaist dress, suit jacket and coat dress PLUS a few variation ideas you can make with each of the original patterns. PHEW! That lady must have been busy. 

Have I used it and would I recommend it?

I have used it in that I've enjoyed reading chunks of it. Gertie really has put soooo much effort into this book. There are heaps of sections on interesting topics that I haven't seen covered in other sewing books like what to look out for when using vintage sewing patterns, what under-garments help give a good retro silhouette and lots lots more. In fact it makes me wonder what she found to write about in her second book! I still haven't used any of the patterns yet so I can't comment on that part, but as a very interesting reference book, then yes I would definitely recommend it.

Ok so that was part one, watch out for parts two and three.... Or don't! I'm going to write them either way hahaha.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Maroon Hudson Pants

As a matter of principle I do very little apologising on this blog, however today I have to say a big sorry for the terrible quality of photos in this post. There is only one room in our house that allows for half-way decent photography, but the recent miserable weather has still produced murky pics, even after tweaking the brightness. PLUS, there's nowhere to get shots that include below the knee with a white background so you get a boring door in the frame instead. Ok, apologies and explanations over. Don't get used to them though... Not that my photography is ever that great anyway so you'd probably not have noticed anything if I'd just shut up!

Back to the project in hand. I made a thing! This pattern is totally not something I'd naturally gravitate towards. It's way too trendy for me. In fact the Hudson pants pattern by True Bias is so trendy that my sister-in-law-who's-an-actor-and-has-been-on-the-telly has a shop-bought pair almost exactly the same as this pattern. 'So why the hell are you making them, Zoe?', I hear you ask. Well I signed up to a free mindfulness-yoga course (don't judge) and after the first session I realised I had bugger-all appropriate to wear since my awesome charity-shopped leopard print leggings got a bleach stain on them. I already had the pattern from participating in the blog tour for the Perfect Pattern Parcel #6, I had some vaguely suitable fabric in the stash, so it was ON.


So, as we've already established, this is a trendy sewing pattern. You could also hurl 'contemporary' and 'urban' at it and I'm pretty sure they'd stick. The waist sits low and the ankles are fitted and the legs kind of carrot-shape their way between the two. I didn't even monkey around with altering this pattern in anyway like I usually do, I wanted to see what it was made of. 

According to my measurements, I should have gone for the size 10. I know all sewing pattern companies have their own unique sizing scales, and that one of the awesome reasons many of us sew is to escape the tyranny of clothing sizes, but I just couldn't accept I could be a 10, so I cut the size 12. This was also in part because I wasn't sure how my weird fabric would behave. Guess what happened? They came out a size too big. 

To be fair, the ankles are the right size, if I'd gone for the size 10 they would have felt too tight. Also, I wanted to have room to get in to the sphinx position at a moments notice. Pluses? I really like the pockets and the logical way the whole garment is constructed. The instructions are clear and generally excellent. 

However, sizing mishap aside, I'm just not sold on the fit. They feel as comfy as you could wish for around the waist (obvs linked to the fact I made a size too big!). Although they look fine when I'm standing up straight, the minute I sit down with my legs tucked under me (my preferred position, FYI) or bend my knees generally, they feel too short and kind of pull annoyingly. I've checked the pattern and they are designed for someone who is my height or an inch taller (can't remember exactly), so it shouldn't be that. Unless the fact that I'm quite short-waisted (my natural waist is a bit higher than 'standard') meaning I have slightly longer legs than the average 5ft 5" lady... But I still feel I'd like to add perhaps 6 cm to this pattern if I were to have another bash. Although that might look a bit baggy and generally terrible and frumpy. I dunno. I'm tempted to cut these down, create a new pair of cuffs and make them into the cropped length option to have as loungewear in the summer. Maybe I'm just not hip enough. 


I can't remember the exact turn of events, but I have a whole load of maroon synthetic double knit/interlock (not sure which) in my stash. Like, A LOT. It's not what I would class as 'my colour' but it's nice enough for sports/loungewear and it feels pretty soft and nice quality. It has adequate stretch with a good recovery so it seemed a good choice for this project. I like the contrast waistband, cuffs and pocket binding on the True Bias version pictured above, but I wasn't sure I could be arsed to go down that route with mine. I bought matching cord (meant for soft furnishings, nice) from my local haberdasher, but I didn't like the way it formed a lump through the waist band so I ended up cutting off a smaller length and threading it  through the buttonholes at the front only, rather than round the whole waist. I used my overlocker for most of this project. The seam allowance was already 1 cm, so I didn't need to trim much away as I constructed them. 


Well, it's hard to have many thoughts when you're getting photo-bombed as hard as I was that day! But if pushed I would have to say they are kind of a fail. I like the general look of them, I'm happy with the construction, and not even that bothered about the looseness. But the fact that they feel too short (without looking like it) and pulling when I bend my knees means they don't really work for yoga, which is what I made them for. Others have made wonderful, successful versions of these. Winnie of Scruffy Badger Time, for example, has made multiple pairs so she must be into them (here's one of them). So maybe it's just me. Initially I thought that I'd have another try at this pattern but I don't think I can be bothered seeing as my yoga course is almost over. If I sign up to more yoga in the future, I'll probably have a go at some leggings, or a more conventional type of trackie/yoga bottoms. 

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