Saturday, 28 February 2015

Quart Coat Part Two: Completion

Have you ever worked on a project that seems to take forever to prepare that you swear it will take you weeks to finish and then all of a sudden you have a finished item? My Quart Coat is one of those projects. 

Quart Coat

As with any big project, it takes a long time to prepare the fabric, cut out the pieces, transfer your markings before you even get to your machine. Add in a large PDF pattern to assemble and I think I spent about five-six hours just preparing to sew. I chose the immediacy of the PDF pattern just in case winter planned to leave early and therefore not giving me much time to enjoy the finished item. I shouldn't have worried - winter is still definitely here! The pattern lines up beautifully when you're taping it together. It is actually perfect and that's really important when a pattern checks in at a whopping 50 pages! 

Quart Coat

Size wise, this coat fits very well. Other than my standard grading out for the waist and back in at the hips, I didn't make any alterations. There is enough ease in the sleeves to have a 40 minute phone call without your blood circulation being cut off. The collar is perhaps a little high and would sit better if I shaved off about a centimetre but that's a very minor detail. I wasn't sure about the length as my other winter coats are longer. It fine though - my legs don't get that cold and my skirts are no longer getting caught on the lining. 

Quart coat inside front
Quart coat inside back

This pattern calls for a lot detailed and precise sewing. I chose to make bound button holes which are my preferred button hole on jackets and coats. I needed some guiding through this part as I was a little rusty on the technique. I followed Karen's ebook and it is absolutely fantastic. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to make these for the first time - I ended up with four perfect button holes. I would recommend creating the facing side of the button holes before you stitch the facing to the coat as indicated in the directions. This will save you pushing a large amount of fabric through the machine and the constant fear that the weight of the fabric might stretch it. Other areas that need precision include the zipped sleeves and the epaulettes. Marking my seam lines really helped with creating a neat finish. 

Quart coat details

Perhaps the most pleasing detail of the Quart is the side pleats. They are very easy to create and I left my hand basting in place until the coat was finished to ensure a clean finish. Creating in them in silk was harder though, for all of the reasons you would expect. A note on the amount of fabric you need for the lining - I got everything out of 3m with 80cm width. I didn't use the silk for the zipped sleeves or under the epaulettes but I would have had enough to. The colour contrast was just too strong and I used some black poly lining scraps.  

Quart Coat

Hand stitching makes several appearances. You need to stitch the lining to the zips on the sleeves and, of course, to add the buttons. Pauline provides two options for attaching the lining to the exterior. You can either bag it or hand stitch in place. I chose to hand stitch using the fell stitch as it gives you much more control. I found this part very satisfying as my stitches are almost invisible.  

Quart Coat

So the verdict after wearing it for a week? Without doubt, I love it! It is super toasty on frosty mornings and this alone justifies the price of the boiled wool. While I would rather have sunshine and bright days, I'm now okay if winter decides to stick around for longer! 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Quart Coat Part One: Fabric

I'll open today's post with a question. Do you like seeing a project split over posts? I certainly hope so, as that's what I'm doing for this project. I recently decided that I desperately needed a new winter coat and was planning to buy one. However the retail world has conspired against me this year and I couldn't find a coat that had any shaping and didn't cost an absolute fortune. I prefer a bit of definition around my waist but it is a straight style that seems to be in vogue at the moment. Not even charity shops could help - the beautiful £8 black coat was a size too small (goes to cry in the corner).

Buoyed on by a few Twitter friends, I hatched a plan to create my own. It was the only option open to me, right? I chose the beautiful Quart Coat by Pauline Alice. Now, I'm going to make you wait to the next post to see the finished item. Detailing the fabrics, construction, and final thoughts about the coat would have made one epic post and as I'm sure you would get bored, today I'm focussing on the fabrics and my tips for working with them. I'll break it up by adding photos of the construction.


Shell: Boiled Wool

I knew immediately that this coat would be made from boiled wool, as long as the pleats would hold. I wanted to lose some of the fabric regret I've been carrying for a year since I passed up a gorgeous purple boiled wool at John Lewis, but the main reasons were practical. 

First, I was making a coat at the wrong end of winter. I wanted it to be a reasonably quick make (well, as quick as a coat can be) and therefore chose boiled wool because it doesn't need finishing nor does it require any interlining - it is that warm. I ordered samples from Stone Fabrics and Dragonfly Fabrics and they taught me that not all boiled wool is made even. There was an evident difference in the quality and thickness of the wool, made all the more noticeable by similar price tags. After extensive consulting, including the boyfriend test (watching Adam's face as he flips through the option), I chose the plum wool from Dragonfly Fabrics. It's absolutely gorgeous and well worth the £30 per meter price tag.



This was my first time working with boiled wool so I did some research. Here's what I found out and what I discovered while working with it:

  • Boiled wool is both stable and dense. While it is at its best in an item with few pattern pieces and simple lines, it can work with slightly more involved designs 
  • It has residual shrinkage and it is wise to pre treat it. Like Jane, I stood for a long time at the ironing board steaming the piece ensuring that the iron didn't touch the fabric. Allow the area to cool before moving to the next piece as this avoids stretching the wool. Claire Shaffeur recommends buying an extra 1/4 yard to allow for the shrinkage
  • Be careful of the heat. Boiled wool doesn't like the iron, especially at high temperatures. I pressed with a low heat and then finger pressed the seams. I also found that it can take a mediumish temperature when protected by a silk organza press cloth (a lifesaver for attaching the interfacing)
  • Boiled wool is a double faced fabric meaning it looks very similar on both sides. Make sure you mark the wrong side (I chalked a "W" onto each piece)
  • Use a slightly longer stitch (2.5-3mm). After a few tests, I settled on 2.8mm. I also used a ballpoint needle following the advice over at Handmade Jane.
  • I managed to get three layers of the wool through my machine without a walking foot. Any more than this and I would have wanted extra help

Lining: silk

I've learnt the hard way that a lining can make or break a project. After splashing out on the wool, I knew that the lining needed to be of good quality. I came across this light green silk in Darn It and Stitch, priced at £8 per meter in their sale. I love silk and am becoming more and more confident working with it. Given that I will be dry cleaning this coat in future, pre washing wasn't strictly necessary but instinct told me to hand wash it. I'm glad I did as the water turned a bright blue in a matter of minutes and it did shrink slightly. 

Silk has a well earned reputation for being difficult, it slips a lot, requires a lot of pins and requires tonnes of patience. Turns out this piece of silk wanted to surprise me - it was fairly easy to work with. It only slipped when cutting out and making the pleats, otherwise it was behaved itself. 



My tips for working with silk:
  • Test the heat of your iron on a swatch. Pure silk can take a higher heat than your iron would indicate. This took a medium-high setting, without a press cloth, very well
  • Remember to pin in the seam allowance to avoid seeing holes. This is especially important if, like me, you're too lazy to switch to silk pins
  • Don't be afraid to hand baste seams together. I appreciate this takes a little more time but it ensures the curves of princess seams or arm holes go through the machine smoothly first time. It also prevents your hands suffering the long, slow torture that lots of pins are famed for. Silk or embroidery thread are good options
  • While French Seams are beautiful and work perfectly for silk, they aren't your only option. Try putting a scrap through your overlocker - it worked well for this project and didn't damage the fabric (told you I was aiming for a quick make)
  • If you're cutting on a table, put weights on the pattern piece and gently lift the excess fabric as you cut it. This prevents the fabric moving too much and while you might get the odd wobbly line, it generally works. I like this method as it saves back ache from cutting on the floor
  • Be careful when transferring your markings and always test on a scrap first. My chalk pen (pink) stained the silk so I used tailor tacks and small snips in the seam allowance


I'm certain the above is not comprehensive. Have I missed any tips that you swear by for either of these fabrics?

PS. You'll have gathered that I'm now on Instagram - you can find me at iwanttobeaturtle. I'm still new to this platform and figuring out how to use it effectively, so please bear with me. For some reason my iPad photos wouldn't work for this post so I had to embed them from Instagram - not my favourite way to share photos but better than none at all!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

A polo shirt for my dad

Do you remember my crazy but self-imposed 11 projects on the go at the back of last year? I still have a two selfless makes to share with you and today's post is the first of them.
The story of this creation started when I offered to make Dad a shirt for his birthday. As the discussion went on about what pattern to choose, it became clear that Dad was searching for a long sleeved polo shirt that fitted him well and thus the journey began. After hours of searching, no pattern, modern or vintage, fitted the bill. The only option left to me was to trace off one of his ready to wear shirts. 
Dad's polo shirt

Tracing RTW is a relatively simple process as long as you have enough space to work in and are able to lay the item fully flat. The trickiest part was getting a clean line through the thick seams around the neckline due to the collar. The sleeves also took some time as they are a single piece and I needed to flip them carefully once I had traced one side. 
Sourcing the fabric can only be described as an epic hunt. I had no idea it was so difficult to find decent pique knit in the UK. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places but I spent hours trying to find it before eventually stumbling upon Jorsey Fabrics based in Nottingham. Ordering from them wasn't the best experience I've had with online fabric suppliers. When I opened the package I discovered that they had cut the fabric very oddly - I had been sent an extra 50cm in the middle of the fabric with a 15cm gap at the selvedges but thankfully this was over the amount I had ordered. The collar and cuffs came from them too and they are of good quality, although the cuffs are a little narrower than I would have liked. Overall the knit was easy to work with but unpicking was difficult. The stitches disappeared into the weave and it was easy to nick the fabric with the seam ripper. 
Dad's polo shirt

To create the button placket I followed this tutorial which annoyingly I now can't find so I'm unable to share it. I remember the process being reasonably straightforward although creating a clean finish on the outside was tricky as the fabric being sandwiched between layers refused to stay in place.
Dad's polo shirt

The cuffs have been added twice, and to be honest, I expected this to happen. You see, Dad is a little particular about the length of his sleeves. He's generally relaxed about the rest of an item but not the sleeves. I remember shopping with him when I was younger and becoming increasingly bored as he worked out whether the cuffs landed in the right place. To be fair, it probably took just a few minutes for him to decide but when you're a teenager that feels like forever! Anyway, the good news is the cuffs are now exactly where he wants them and that is how it should be. I wouldn't have been happy giving him an item that wasn't right for him.
I'm pleased that he likes the shirt and I hope that it gets a reasonable amount of wear. He also sweetly agree to model the shirt for the photos citing this was his "15 minutes of fame." Little did he realise that I would force him out on a cold day so we could get photos in natural daylight...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Capturing ideas and inspiration

Sketching my sewing plans and visually capturing my ideas is a fairly recent activity for me. I've never considered myself to be good at drawing and shied away from picking up a pencil. This has changed recently and I thought it might be fun to share the insides of my sketchbooks.  


Modified Robson sketch

I've recently started to fill the books for a number of reasons. Primarily, it is not easy to draft a pattern without having some sort of visual reference to refer back to. Sketching out your design will not only help you think about where the seam lines go but also how to get an item on and show how it will hang on the body. I find it useful for planning the finer details such as what techniques I want to use and any changes I plan to make to a bought pattern. It helps to ensure I don't miss anything which is a big task because you can guarantee that I will forget at least one thing per project. 


Self drafted pencil skirt sketch

The first book I have is for capturing ideas, inspiration or anything that springs to mind. It is purely experimental - a place where my ideas can crystallise or lay in wait until the right project comes along. The images are for my own designs, tweaking bought patterns or projects that I am collaborating on. The sketches are not perfect, are often off scale and the colouring is wobbly in places but the point is to capture the spirit of the design rather than create a masterpiece on every page. 


Sketch book

Once I have decided to make a particular piece, I transfer the sketches to my Fashionary. I love this book - the preprinted figure on each page is such a useful tool. It is here where the finished item is captured with concise notes about the design, construction and fabric. I like to keep the page as clear as possible and only colour the item to be made - this helps me to see the design clearly. 


Juniper sketch

I'm enjoying using my sketch books. It feels great to be building up a bank of ideas for future projects or to flick through when I need a little inspiration. I would love to improve my skills and will be on the look on for tutorials or tips. Do sketch your ideas? If so, I'd love to hear your tips. 

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Star gazing Bruyere

Did this project start with the pattern or the fabric? I'm not really sure but I knew that they were a perfect match. Perhaps it is because most of the Bruyere shirts I love seem to be or feature blue? Some of my favourites: the original by Deer and Doe, Tilly, Anna, and Lauren. I adore the feminine feel of this pattern - the box pleats and the gentle gathering at the cuffs. 


Bruyere shirt

My feelings toward this project have been mixed. It started out with excitement as my toile revealed I needed only one minor change - removing 1.5cm from the bottom skirt. This shirt is seriously long! As construction progressed I feel out of love - symptomatic of the way I was feeling in December and going on several dates with my seam ripper didn't help. However, that is all forgotten and after a couple of wears, I'm rather pleased with the way it came out. 

Bruyere shirt

The fabric is a quality cotton and I was drawn to the little stars and dots. I think it was Victoria who brought it to the Sew Brum swap and I snapped it up as soon as I saw it. As you would expect, it was very easy to work with. It's reasonably soft but still has some crispness to it which makes it delightful to wear. Sadly I didn't have enough to cut the facings which are a pale pink cotton from my stash. I quite like the subtle pop of colour around the front neckline. 

Bruyere shirt

This pattern is marked as advanced and I think that is because there are a couple of tricky techniques but with some patience and careful stitching most people will be able to complete this. Creating the sleeve plackets was a new experience for me. They have come out ok but I would suggest a practice run if you've not done them before so you can get a feel for the precision needed. I was convinced that my stitching was dramatically off, but it turns out its not so bad. I love the way the button plackets and facings are finished - it looks so neat and clean. I found the pictures a little confusing but got there with the help of the sewalong. Essentially, the placket is pressed in half, opened and then the raw edges taken into the centre so they are encased. The facings are placed under the placket before being stitched down.

Bruyere shirt inside

A nice design detail of this pattern is the top stitching. I struggled to find a thread that worked well as white was too stark for the amount needed. In the end I went without and hand stitched the button plackets in place. The buttons are those I saved from Adam's old work shirts and I added two smaller ones to each cuff.


Bruyere shirt

I'm rather pleased with how this shirt fits. Generally I have a hate relationship with rtw shirts as I always get the dreaded gaps between buttons. Not on this shirt and hopefully never again! I don't think this shirt is quite right though. You'll notice that I have the bottom button undone and this is because the shirt feels too tight across my legs if it is done it. This suggests the shirt is still too long and I'm very tempted to take it up and lose the bottom button hole. What do you think? Should I add this to my small list of items to take up? 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Self drafted pencil skirt

I recently stated that I hoped pattern drafting would feature more this year. Well, there's nothing like starting as you mean to go on! Here's my first completely self drafted item. I drafted my cocktail dress on a course but this was completed without any guidance from a teacher. 

Self drafted pencil skirt

I decided to start simply and tackle the pencil skirt that I wanted to create from the leftover fabric from my jewel jacket. Buoyed by the strong support for it, I pulled out Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich to create my skirt block. I was given the book about six months ago but it's the first time I've really looked at it. I've seen this book referenced quite a lot recently and it seems a good one to start your pattern drafting journey. 

The block was quite quick to create. I think it took me about 90 minutes with a quick toile to check the fit. Thankfully it fitted very well and I didn't need to make any alterations. 

Self drafted pencil skirt

This pattern is a very simple one. It is essentially the block with a waistband and a vent. Keeping it simple was a good idea as it not only led to a quick win, therefore boosting my drafting confidence, but also gave me the classic style pencil skirt for the office that I had been wanting. I adore the shape of pencil skirts but struggled with RTW ones as fabric pools around my narrow hips. It feels great to have a one that fits very well. 

Self drafted pencil skirt

The waistband was easy to draft. I traced off the top 5cm from the front and back blocks with the darts closed, creating three pieces that join together. Tracing from the top of the block ensured that the skirt sat at my natural waistline. Adding the vent to the shell was also fairly simple. I extended the hem line of the back block out by about 3cm and then drew a line up to where I wanted the vent to stop, allowing for a 45 degree line to join them. 

Self drafted pencil skirt back

I wanted to try a new technique and decided to create a lined vent. I used this tutorial by Sunni to draft the lining. I didn't get this quite right as there is some bulk at the top of the vent. It doesn't add strain to the seam line and I can sit comfortably so I'm not too bothered. I worried about using an invisible zip as I thought the fabric might be too thick but it has worked ok.


Self drafted pencil skirt inside

While it isn't perfect, I love this skirt. This is mainly because it fits so well. It is also extremely comfortable when I'm sitting which is a major bonus. The one thing I would change is my choice of lining fabric which I picked up at the Fancy Silk Store in Birmingham. While it is soft, has a good drape and is quite easy to handle, it is also incredibly static and sticks to my tights a little thus moving the vent into an odd shape at times. Annoying as static is, it won't stop me wearing this skirt and I suspect it will be in rotation fairly frequently but I will need to find some more tops to wear with it - it's a wardrobe orphan at the moment. I'll have to make sure I prioritise the tops over the other skirt ideas that are circulating in my mind now.  

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Stash Star Fabric app: a review

Could you tell me what's in your stash? How about how much of each piece? Nope, me neither. Organisation of all sewing related items has been a persistent problem for me and only gets worse as my fabric (and pattern) stash grows. Is this a familiar problem?

I needed to find a solution to recording my fabric stash and as I was browsing the Apple App Store, I came across a free app called Stash Star Fabric. I've included a number of photos so you can get a feel for the app. 

Fabric app

The app is rather basic and consists of two pages. The home page details your stash in photos. The other pages are for each individual piece of fabric. The fabric specific page allows you to record the name, colour, pattern size, fabric measurements in metric and imperial, fiber content, the details of where you purchased it, designer and manufacturer details, where it is stored and any notes you want to include. 

Fabric app

Fabric app

You can add a photo at the top which is displayed in the home page. If you find that the fiber, type of fabric, or measurement, is missing from the list provided, you can add it. You can choose your favourite or most regularly used fabric widths and fiber on the menus. 

Fabric app

Fabric app

Adding the details in the fabric pages allows you to group your fabrics. This is useful if you want to know only the cottons in your collection, or those that are 140cm wide. The location box is especially useful as my stash is split across a couple of wooden storage boxes and I can never remember which one to look in. The layout is pretty clean and uncluttered with the information in two columns. 

Fabric app

There's a small number of issues with this app though. It has constant adverts at the bottom - this is annoying but to be expected with a free app. I can generally ignore them and haven't yet accidentally clicked on them. It also doesn't remember what measurement type you use to record the length of the fabric. I've listed my fabric in metric and have to choose this option every time I add a fabric but still, it isn't too bad and doesn't take much time to hit 'm' instead of 'yds'! It is also only available on Apple. 

My entire stash has been added and it is so much easier to plan projects now. I will no longer be found pulling out fabric only to find that I can't fit all the pattern pieces on it! While it is a very basic app, it has everything I need. I now add new fabrics as they arrive and before they go into washing basket with a note that it hasn't yet been pre washed. I can see myself continuing to use this for some time. 

I'm always interested in new options for staying organised so please do share your preferred way of keeping track of your stash. 

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