Saturday, 28 March 2015

Wanna see where I sew?

"My course starts soon, I need to find somewhere for me to study" Adam told me one day towards the end of last summer. "Sure, no problem. You have two choices - the lounge or we can rearrange the spare room" I responded. "The spare room sounds great, I can get a desk and it will be quieter than being in the lounge." When the desk was delivered and we had rearranged the spare room, a tiny part of me died as it dawned on me that I had given up a sewing room without realising it...

Now, I've learnt not to resent it (ok, I do a little) as I've managed to perfect my dedicated sewing space in the lounge and I thought it might be fun to share it with you. I love seeing where others sew - you can guarantee I leave those posts green with envy from the prettiness. While I have my own space, pretty it ain't!


My set up works around the fact that I don't want to waste a lot of time moving between my machine, overlocker and the ironing board. At the top of our lounge is a dining table which is situated just in front of the French doors leading onto our balcony (it sounds grander than it is!) This table is where I trace patterns and cut fabric before positioning my machines. It is reasonably sturdy but it is too low - I get back ache very quickly if I work there for too long. The overlocker sits in front of the doors and my sewing machine sits at the head of the table. Behind the chair and in the kitchen is the ironing board. Yes, they really are as close as they look in the photos. It works brilliantly because there is a maximum of five steps from the ironing board to the overlocker.


Our ironing board is massive. Not only is it very wide, it is also high and therefore doubles up as a standing desk. I love this feature as it saves hunching and therefore reduces the amount of strain on my back. My only grumble with the positioning of the board is that it lives in front of the fridge making it difficult to get to the milk for a tea break. 


While this set up works perfectly, there is a dangerous element which I haven't yet worked out. The nearest socket is in the lounge on the wall closest to the ironing board. This means I need to use an extension cable to plug in the machines as well as the ironing and that cable has to sit underneath or behind the chair I use to sew. You can just see them in the photo above/below. I'm convinced I will break my leg one day as I can't count the times I have tripped over them... 


So that's the quick tour of my tiny sewing area. Do you have your own room or do you sew in a shared space? Any tips for staying tidy or am I doomed to stay this way? 

Saturday, 21 March 2015


Thanks to everyone who voted on my last post. The Granville shirt won by a small margin when all votes from the comments, Twitter and text messages were added up. I'll be honest, a small part of me wanted the dress to win but I've been enjoying working on the shirt so far and it really will be a useful addition to my wardrobe. 

I thought I would provide a quick update for those who have not been following along on Twitter or Instagram. Each morning this week I have been posting a photo to show progress.

Granville wk 1

Day 1: sticking the PDF pattern together. The pattern came together very easily. 
Day 2: Cutting the pattern to size. As tracing is my least favourite part of making an item, I don't trace my PDF patterns. I would rather cut and stick another version if needed. 
Day 3: Cutting the pieces for the toile. I chose to cut nearly all the pieces so I could check the techniques and find any potential pitfalls - very important when you might still be a little sleepy when sewing.
Day 4: Toile taking shape. The back seams, back yoke, shoulder seams and button plackets were completed. The collar was also prepared. 

I've enjoyed getting my creative spirit flowing for 30-40 minutes each morning. I feel like I am winning before I've even left the house. It is taking some willpower not to power on when I get back from work so I'm working on another project: Simplicity 2442

Simplicity 2442

I spotted the potential in this pattern after looking at the drawings - the pale blue satin on the front of the pattern does nothing for me! I wish I could say it is coming along nicely but I've realised I need to unpick the top seam on both of the bodices and my overlocker stopped being my friend last night, as shown in the middle picture. Hopefully it will behave itself today and it won't be long before I can share the finished item.

What's on your sewing table please?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Two patterns, one time slot - you decide!

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about time. There seems to be an ever growing demand on our time and I've been wondering if I use mine wisely. The part of the day that has caught most of my attention is before I go to work the morning. Please stick with me, I'll get to sewing shortly and then I need your help. 


My weekday morning routine involves getting up early and I generally have at least 90 minutes before I'm forced to face the world. This time normally involves a small amount of housework, reading blogs and generally messing around on the internet. I'm convinced I could use this time more wisely, especially the latter part when I'm fully awake. 

So, I could go for a run. Ha! Who am I kidding? A 6am run is the last thing I want to do. Naturally, my mind flitted to sewing as the next option. How long would it take me to create an item from scratch using only the time I have before I leave for work? I have no idea but I intend to find out. 

The rules:
  • This exercise starts with tracing a pattern or piecing together an already printed PDF (I'm not getting the printer out at that early in the day) through toile(s) to the finished item in fashion fabric. 
  • Using my overlocker is not allowed. This is purely out of courtesy to Adam and my neighbours - no one wants to be jolted awake by the noise of this machine. 
  • I'll only work on this project Monday-Friday (annual leave and bank holidays are not included as I won't be up!) and only before I leave for work.  
  • Fabric will be prewashed - it's not possible to get through a full wash in the time restraints.  
Now, here's where I need your help. I can't decide which pattern to use. I have two options and you get to decide! I think both of these can be easily broken down into stages. 

The first is Sew Over It's Betty Dress in Sweet Female Attitude from By Hand London


The second is Sewaholic's Granville shirt. I would love to make this from the floral purple Thai silk in my stash but I'm not sure there is enough... Whatever I decide, it will be office appropriate. 


Let me know in the comments which pattern you think I should choose. 

Update: voting on the blog and Twitter has now closed. It was a close run with Granville winning by two votes. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Burda Editorial Trousers

Can you get excited about office wear, specifically basics? I generally can’t and as a result this post is long overdue. I was forced into this make by going down to one pair of trousers suitable for the office and this was problematic in terms of laundry logistics but also in maintaining interest in my outfits. 

Editorial trousers side view

I’ve delayed making trousers because I knew getting the fit right would be a hard task due to my narrow hips and larger waist. Thankfully I was saved from a long headache by attending a trouser fitting session with Kelly, Hannah and 
. We spent a few hours around the house of the lady who taught me how to pattern draft and all came out with a pattern that fitted or a block that to use in the future. It really did feel like something magical happened that day - I suddenly understood a lot more about my lower body as well as which parts of a trouser pattern I need to pay attention to. I’m now on the hunt for a couple of tried and tested patterns to fall back on. 

Editorial trousers back

This pattern is the Editorial Pants from Burda 08/2013. I chose them as they are similar in style to my remaining work pair and it is a shape that I love. The main difference is this pattern has front pockets. To get the right fit, I cut the largest size to match my waist measurements and then pinched out the excess at side seams on the front around my hips. The other alteration needed was along the crotch line. I added a small amount to the centre back seam and remove a small amount towards the end of the curve. This worked well as I can comfortably sit and stand. The result is a pair of trousers that fit perfectly in the waist but I'm not sure about the rest of the fit. 

Editorial trousers pocket

I should have made another toile to check the changes before committing to finishing this pair. The £2pm poly suiting in my stash persuaded me that a wearable toile would be acceptable - if something went wrong I would be unlikely to cry over lost fabric. The pockets and inside waistband are made from the leftover peacock cotton that Minerva sent me to create my peacock dress. Building in colour and interest somewhere was a necessity to balance all of that black! Anyway, back to the fit. The fit issues I have noticed is a ripple across the front just below the fly, some wrinkling around the back and I wonder if the legs are a little to wide. All things to work on for my next pair. I hope you can see what I'm referring to - photographing black indoors is always tricky! 

Editorial trousers back

To my surprise, I enjoyed making these. I was convinced that sewing basics, particularly in dark colours, would be dull and uninspiring. Add Burda’s reputation for unclear instructions and welt pockets and that feeling grew stronger. As expected, the instructions were not as clear as you would like them to be. I could, though, follow their instructions for the welt pockets but the text on inserting the fly and adding the waistband was confusing. To make life easier, I followed the instructions from the Thurlow pattern to insert the fly which went in perfectly first time. I added the waistband in the most logical way I could think of. After the welts behaved following an initial hiccough, the rest of the construction was relatively simple. Being a wearable toile, I took a few short cuts. The waistband closes with a large popper as I was too lazy to add a button. All pieces were overlocked or have zigzag stitches within the seam allowance as the fabrics are prone to substantial fraying. As a result the inside isn’t as nice I would normally like but no one but me will know - except of course for everyone reading this post! 

Editorial trousers side view

Even though the fit isn’t right, I’m convinced these will get a lot of wear through necessity if nothing else. I’m now on the hunt for some fabric for another version (after a couple of additional toiles no doubt!) and ideally these won’t be black or another dark colour. Strangely, I seem to be only comfortable wearing dark trousers in the office. I’d love to know if this make sense to you or do you wear brighter colours?

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...


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