Saturday, 27 September 2014

Notionally Speaking: Stash

It's time again for Notionally Speaking where a blogger selects a sewing related word and writes about that word. This month's post come from Lynne of Ozzy Blackbeard. Lynne randomly selected "stash" and has some wise words on how to handle the fabric that enters your home. I wish I was this organised with my fabric! How about you - are you as organised as Lynne? 

Notionally Speaking

I was delighted when Claire asked me to take part in Notionally Speaking. I picked number 14, and my word is “stash”.

Fig 1

If we craft, we have stash, it’s that simple. Where it gets complicated is the amount. I like to think that I have a relatively small fabric stash, for the simple reason that there aren’t many fabric shops where I live, so temptation doesn’t fall in my way too often; although the internet sales are hard to resist! I can appreciate how overwhelming it must be to have bags and bags of fabric. The pressure to use it must be awful.

But is stash just fabric? I don’t think so. What about all the other stuff that sewing requires – buttons, thread, zips, interfacing, bias tape, ribbons, patterns, books etc? All stash my friends!

The secret to stash control is organisation. I know that’s really boring, and takes up valuable crafting time, but it’s worth it. Then there’s no more time wasted searching for that elusive zip that you know you have, and is just the perfect colour for the garment that you’re making.

Here’s how I do it. As soon as a piece of fabric comes into my house, it gets washed, and then put in the fabric bag. By that time I will probably have an idea of what I want to make with it (if I haven’t bought it for a specific pattern), so I pin a piece of paper to it with the fabric length and width and what I want to make.

Fig 2

I got this bag on Amazon, and try to operate a strict “one piece of fabric in, one piece of fabric out” policy. It doesn’t work, and I consider it a win if I can get the zip closed. This bag lives under a bed. There are also two bags in the roof space, but in fairness what’s in them mostly came from my Granny.

Fig 3

I also have a notebook which is my stash organising saviour. I cut a little bit of fabric from the corner, staple it into the book, and note where I bought it, the price, length and width, and ideas about what I want to make.

Fig 4

This has proved to be invaluable. I can make notes about what else I need, thread, zip etc – I sometimes even include really bad drawings! It’s so handy just to lift the book to take to the shops for colour matching thread. Also it serves as a fabric guide, as I have different types of fabric in there, so now I know what they are like if I want to buy more.

Fig 5

I keep all my other stash items in various tins and boxes. For example, my zips and bias tape are in these Marks and Spencer biscuit tins, which were far too nice to throw out once I had eaten the delicious shortbread that was in them.

Fig 6

The boxes that washing liquid capsules come in are very handy too, but sadly are not so glamorous. I have found that they are the perfect size for four overlocker cones – no more hunting around for the last cone in the colour I want!

Fig 7

I am lucky enough to have a dedicated sewing table with drawers and shelves, so most of these things can be stored there.

All my patterns are stored in a big box under a bed. The coloured plastic folders came from the pound shop. Unfortunately I haven't been able to get any of the A3 size for a while.

Fig 8

But what if you’re not just a sewist? I also knit and crochet so then there’s the yarn, needles and hooks stash. There was a time, before I started sewing, when there was so much yarn in my house. Again, in fairness, most of it came from my Granny. I used some of it, and sold the rest to fund my overlocker, but I thought I’d leave you with a photo of my Granny's yarn on the day I sorted it all out.

Fig 9

Feel free to show this to members of your household if they say your stash is out of control.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Fitting the Nicola dress

I've been steadily making progress with my Nicola dress from Victory Patterns. I say steadily as I have to make three toiles of the bodice to make sure it fit. Wrap dresses are notorious for not fitting well due to the cross over of fabric and I anticipated making some changes but not three test runs!

After reading up on the pattern I definitely knew that I would have to make some changes. The cross over of the wrap and the height of the armhols seem to be common issues. I also anticipated making changes to the front of the pattern where I generally need a little extra fabric. I started by cutting a 10 at the bust, graded up to a 12 at the waist and then back down to a 10 at the hips, which gave me this:

Nicola fitting v1 front

Nicola fitting v1 back

The good parts: 

  • The bodice and skirt length are perfect and the sleeves didn't need any alterations.
  • The armholes are a tad higher than normal but it isn't annoying and therefore I didn't bother to make any alterations here. 
Changes needed: 

  • The dress didn't fit around my waist properly. It closed about 2-2.5cm away from where it should. The dress should close where the final pleat is and it clearly isn't in the top photo - only just reaching the second.
  • The cross over is indecently low - totally revealing low! I also had drag lines on the back of the bodice meaning a full bust adjustment (FBA) was needed. I later found out that Victory draft for a B cup and I'm quite a few cups bigger. 

Second fitting

Nicola v2 front 

Nicola v2 side

Changes made:

  • A 2.5cm FBA. It took a while to figure out how to do this on a bodice that contains three pleats at the bottom and no side dart. In the end I followed the normal process for a FBA, creating the side dart. I then rotated the side dart to the bottom ensuring that it was evenly divided between the three pleats. Does that make sense? I'm happy to share how I did it if that would be helpful. 


  • Perfect fit around the waist -  the dress closed at the third pleat. 
  • The neckline isn't so revealing although still a little low.
  • Large amount of gaping in the neckline as the unintended but not expected consequence of the FBA. 

Third fitting

Apologies for the state of my hair in this photo - this is how it looks when I let it fall naturally!

Nicola bodice v3

Changes made:

  • Neckline raised by 1cm in the middle, tapering to nothing at the shoulders and waist, as I only needed the extra cover across my bust. 
  • Pinched out about 2.5-3cm from the neckline, tapering to nothing inside the bodice, to solve the gaping. It isn't perfect but adding some twill tape to stabilise the neckline should help it lay flat in my finished version. 
Now I just hope it all translates properly to my fabric which has been waiting patiently to be transformed...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

As thoughts turn to Autumn

What is your favourite season? It is a difficult decision for me but there is something about Autumn. Mainly because lower temperatures, tights, boots, and stews are early indicators for the excitement that the last few month of the year bring - our anniversary, birthdays (me and my best friend are five days apart) and, of course, Christmas. However this year, I wasn't looking as forward to as normal. 

There's only one reason - my autumnal wardrobe is dull. And I mean dull - duller than dish water. For work I have the choice of black, brown or dark blue skirts and trousers and a small number of colourful tops. Not inspiring - not at all. In fact, it needs a complete overhaul but my thoughts have been complete chaos. Enter the Fall Essentials Sew-Along hosted by Sarah and Lisette to provide a little structure. I love it when, as if by magic, other sewists come to the rescue. 

The sew-along has seven categories and you can pick and choose which ones to participate in. My first thought was I'll make everything! And then reality set in. September to December is my busiest time of year and I doubt it will be possible for me to cover all the categories. I don't want to put pressure on myself with self-imposed deadlines and over ambitious plans - that just sucks the fun out of sewing. So below is my wish-list for a few of the categories and we'll see how I get on. If I make one, then great! If it is more, bonus! 

Fashionable Foundations for Frosty Weather: "Anything that keeps your lower portion fashionably cozy fits perfectly here!" 

Just the one pattern here: the Juniper trousers. I need to replace my black work trousers and I desperately need trousers for home. Time to stop thinking about these and get on with them. 

Juniper Trousers
Chic Chemises for Cool Climates: "Blouses, tops, vests, cardigans, and sweaters! These wardrobe essentials can carry you from day to night, not to mention provide necessary layering to keep out the chill." 

Two patterns are screaming for my attention at the moment. The White Russian sweater by Capital Chic. Apart from university hoodies I don't have a sweater that I like to wear. I picked up some beautiful green fabric from the swap at the Leeds meet recently that will work perfectly. The second pattern is the Bruyere shirt from Deer and Doe. Words fail me - I honestly cannot tell you how much I love this pattern and how much it needs to be in my wardrobe now. Trouble is, I can't buy either yet. I've just signed up for a 5k and both patterns are rewards for sticking to my training schedule. Mean but effective! 

White Russian                                                                                         Bruyere
Oh, and I need some white blouses at some point. Perhaps one will be my first self drafted pattern. 

Fabulous Frocks: I don't need to explain this one, do I? I'm currently working on perfecting the fit for the Nicola dress by Victory Patterns. The bodice needs a little more tweaking and then I'm away. I'm also seriously tempted by By Hand London's Georgia but again, she's part of my fitness regime so who knows what will happen! 

Nicola                                                                                            Georgia
Those Cozy Nights: you got it, sleep wear of any type.

I don't have any particular patterns in mind here. Ideally I would complete a pair of pyjamas and a silky dressing robe to get my through until it is time for my fleecy one. Any suggestions for patterns? 

So tell me, what are you planning for autumn?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

My first adventure making bed linen

On Monday I made reference to a duvet cover I was making my mum for her birthday. Well, here it is, complete with pillow cases and a peak of my bedroom. Well, I had to check it fitted!

Bed linen

My brief was pastel colours and little flowers. I started looking for extra wide fabric as this is a king size cover. Somehow, none of the fabrics seemed quite right so I moved back to normal width cottons. I came across this beautiful floral print at Croft Mill and decided to match it with a cream cotton. You may notice from the photos that this cover isn't cream but a pale green. I had a slight accident when pre-washing them - a small, cheap blue scarf was hiding in the machine and I didn't spot it until I pulled the fabric out. It was quite a surprise but I rolled with it as luckily mum loves green! 

Bed linen

To create the panels, I cut the newly green fabric in half and keep the floral as it came. Unfortunately the green shrank by a couple of centimetres meaning I needed to make full use of the selvages and reduce the seam allowances to 5mm. All the seams are overlocked for a nice finish. A pale purple ribbon, attached with a narrow zig zag stitch, finishes the cover nicely as well as hiding the seam lines. 

Bed linen

I had planned a cream back to the cover. However, this looked odd with the green. I opted for a dark purple sheet from Dunelm Mill instead. It felt a bit weird buying a new sheet just to chop it up but I'm pleased I did. The pillow cases follow the same pattern but the under side is green. 

Bed linen

As you would expect, this was a simple project although it did take longer than I expected. I figured that long straight lines would be quick but the volume of fabric slows you down a bit. I can't say I'm a convert to sewing my own bed linen but it is nice to have options and know that I can create something if I can't find it in the shops. 

Bed linen

Have you ever sewed bed linen? 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Blog Hop

I’m guessing many of you will have seen that recent Blog Hop that is, um, hopping around our part of the internet. I’ve really enjoyed reading those that I have come across (especially Louise’s and Amy’s – so much truth in both of them), and was thrilled when Lynne from Ozzy Blackbeard nominated me to take part. Before I let you know who I have nominated, my answers to the four questions are below.

Why do I write?

If my educational choices are anything to go by (history at university), the fact that I like to write would be the quick answer. The real answer is a little more complex. Like many, I originally started my blog as a way for me to track my progress. I thought if I poured my thoughts into a post it would save Adam from no end of sewing related chatter.

Late to the Party Anna Dress

However, as time has gone on I’ve realised that writing fulfils a number of my core values. Now this might sound cheesy, and some of you might be rolling your eyes here, but that’s how it is. I started my blog at a time when I was struggling. I had lost connection with many things – work, friends, hobbies, etc. I also didn’t feel I was learning and achieving much. Creating my little blog was part of getting me back on track. As a post needs content, I was more mindful about what I learnt while creating an item and took pride in what I achieved. And then strangers started to read and comment. I suddenly had a connection to a community that was likeminded, passionate and open to talking all things fabric. All of these reasons still stand. I genuinely love talking to fellow sewists – comments, tweets, emails and meet ups make me feel warm and fuzzy. I hope that feeling never goes.

And Adam? Sadly for him the talk continues, and has probably increased, but at least now it is structured and I have the chance to give him a break by going for a drink with Oxford sewists. He still hasn’t escaped taking my photos though…

What am I working on?

I normally have a couple of projects on the go. At the moment the projects are selfless ones: a duvet cover for my mum’s birthday this week (don’t worry, she knows what is coming!), planning a long sleeved polo shirt for dad’d birthday this month (his request). For me, I’m making a scrap bag out of my scraps. I’ll make sure I share all of them with you.


In addition, I’m starting to plan my autumnal work wardrobe but I haven’t yet made any firm decisions. Sorry for the lack of details – I’m working out what is missing but I can tell you it is in desperate need of a colour injection and I hope it includes my first self-drafted pattern that I complete on my own. 

Oh, and I’m about to crack open the Juniper trousers to try and break my jeans habit while at home.

How does your blog differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm, tricky as most sewing blogs have the same theme running through them!

While this is an almost exclusively sewing blog, you will find variety in the content. You’ll see finished skirts, tops, dresses, jackets, coats and even trousers. I’ve dabbled with tutorials – items that would be useful around the house, ways to use up scraps and sewing techniques.

Dolly Clackett Emery

I’m pretty proud of the Notionally Speaking series as I've yet to see anything that is similar. I also want to give a shout out for Oxford – it is a wonderful place to take photos and adds an interesting edge to my photos.

How does your writing process work?

I’m a drafter. During, or immediately after completing, a project I make bullet point notes in Evernote to ensure I keep track of the points I want to make, alterations etc. When it comes to actually writing the posts (which can be at any point), I will just write – even if it is complete rubbish. Following a break, I’ll come back and tweak or completely redraft. The latter is not uncommon as I normally don’t like the flow or I’ve missed an essential point that changes the direction of the post. Every now and then I will write a commentary piece. These take a lot longer as it takes me time to work out how to say what I want. The process for writing them is still the same though.

Floral Gabriola

If I’m not happy with a post, it doesn’t go live. Simple as that. I have no idea who will come across my work and I want to make sure they leave with a good impression! I have changed the go live dates of posts to give me extra time to ensure I'm happy the end result. I like to post once a week (discipline and routine are good for me), and mostly on a Saturday although that isn’t set in stone - that type of rule would take away some of the fun for me.

So who is going to write the next chapters of this Hop?

Jodie from Jodie’s Adventures in Sewingland. I first came across Jodie on Twitter and then had the pleasure of meeting her in person. I’ve been swooning over Jodie’s recent makes – particularly her teal Ceylon and mint Truffle.  

Sam from Stitched Up by Samantha. I’ve been following Sam for quite a while and have always been amazed at her skill with free motion embroidery. Check out her stripy bag as part of the Minerva Blogger Network – amazing! I’m also lucky enough to have this piece by her in my lounge.

Make sure you look out for their posts next Monday.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Notionally Speaking: Muslins

Are you ready for the next Notionally Speaking post, where a blogger picks a sewing related word at random from a predefined list and writes a post inspired by that word? I hope so as Daniela from Ela Sews and Doesn't Sleep talks muslins. I had to smile when Daniela chose this word as she is well know for her exceptional fitting and patience during this process, including creating five (yes five!) in the past. So grab yourself a cup of tea and let us know your feelings about muslins. 

Notionally Speaking

Do you hate or love making muslins (aka toile)? When I started sewing I hated them, because they took so much time and then when you are done they land in the bin. Now, one and a half years later, I still don’t love them but I have recognized that they are essential to sew a garment that fits me and that I am happy to wear loads of times. For this post, I thought it is a good idea to answer some of the questions I had when I started to make muslins. If you have any more suggestions please share and comment!  Thanks a lot Claire for allowing me to babble about muslins.

Muslin can be either a test garment (=toile) or a woven cotton fabric. I’m going to talk about the muslin as a toile.


Why bother with a muslin when you can directly start with your fashion fabric?
There are different reasons. Maybe you make a pattern for the first time and are not sure if the style of the garment suits you. Maybe you are one of those people who need to adjust the pattern to get a great fit. Maybe you want to try a new sewing technique. Making a muslin will give you more confidence when sewing the real thing.


What fabric should you use for your muslin and where can you get it?
The rule of thumb is to use a fabric that will have similar qualities as you fashion fabric. I usually use different-weight cottons and polyesters. I tend to go to Charity shops and buy old bed sheets, duvet covers and curtains. You can get king size duvet covers for £4 already and that means you will have a massive piece of fabric that will last a long time (except if you are muslining a men’s shirt). Sometimes you are lucky and can even find fabrics in these Charity Shops. You can also buy cheap fabrics from fabric stores (look out for sales), ask family and friends, use any leftover fabrics you have from your projects or order online. But beware, I ordered muslin (aka cotton fabric) once from ebay and got very stiff fabric. It felt almost like canvas. Also stay away from butter muslin. You don’t want to make a test garment with it (ask me how I know---but it works great as a press cloth), because it is used to drain cheese! 


Pre-washing and cutting your muslin
Good news, you don’t have to prewash your muslin fabric! But give it a good iron to get out any wrinkles (if you skip this step, your fabric pieces might grow on you when the wrinkles start to smooth out). Then lay out the pattern pieces on grain--which might be difficult on an old bedsheet. Advice: tear the sheet to get a straight edge. It is important to cut the pieces on the grain so that you can be sure the fitting problems you are spotting are from wrong fit and not wrong grain. You can add some horizontal and vertical lines to your cut pieces by either using a sharpie or a straight stitch. These lines will give you an idea where your fitting problems are. For example a horizontal line that goes up over your belly means you need more belly space. I’m not going to cover any fitting techniques, but can recommend reading “Fit for real people” by Palmer and Pletsch and a free fitting guide from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. There are many techniques out there and you just have to find out what is the best for you.


Sewing your muslin
Just use a long basting stitch on your sewing machine. This way you can easily rip out the stitches. Also there is no need to make the whole garment from muslin. For example, if you make a dress with a circle or gathered skirt you can only make the bodice. But: I would always add the sleeves as they can change the fit of the bodice quite a lot.


Working with your muslin
When working with a muslin have your shears, stripes of fabric, sharpie and pins ready---because you are going to cut into this fabric and try out some alterations. On the photo below, you can see one of my muslins for a blouse. I needed a square shoulder adjustment. Thus I cut the muslin at the position where I needed the additional fabric and pinned a strip of fabric there. I then stitched fabric and muslin together with a zigzag stitch to see better if my adjustment was working.  I added even more fabric by pinning it in.


Fitting buddies
It is difficult, but possible, to fit the muslin by yourself. Do it in front of a big mirror. When fitting a bodice, sew a zipper in and with some wiggling you might be able to close it. You can also tie a string to the zipper to pull it up and down a bit easier. Look out for a fitting buddy, which can also be family and friends. My boyfriend helps me with the pinning and sometimes even with the adjustments when I’m explaining to him how to do it.  


How many muslins should I make?
That depends on how well fitted you want your garments to be and also how many adjustments you have to make. I made as many as five and as few as one! It can become very frustrating at some point, because you have the feeling your adjustments are just not working. Don’t give up, it will be worth it.


Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Phoenix Gabriola

This is a story about a skirt that rose from the ashes of disappointment to the joy of completion. A while ago I was fortunate to come third in the Winifred dress competition and I was sent some beautiful rayon crepe from Sunni. Following wise words from a colleague this fabric was destined to become a maxi skirt, specifically a Gabriola

Floral Gabriola

I have always like the maxi style but it is a style train I never jumped onto, mainly because a fear that I was too short for it (I'm 5' 6"). But yet again, Tasia at Sewaholic has lured me out of my comfort zone. I knew I would need to make a couple of alterations to the pattern to get the fit right so I made a toile. My standard grading down a couple of sizes for my hips worked but my slight sway back caused a problem. Just how do you make a sway back adjustment with those yokes pieces? Luckily Maddie had posted her solution which saved my brain a difficult puzzle. I made one other change - I decided to move the zip up and remove the button closure at the back. 

Floral Gabriola

Construction isn't too difficult, essentially you are sewing a lot of straight lines. It can be a little tedious to sew these lines when you throw in overlocking as well, however the results are totally worth it! The trickiest part is sewing the tip of the yokes at the front. Thankfully the skirt visibly comes together quickly. Until I noticed my MASSIVE mistake. 

Floral Gabriola

After adding the waistband, I wrapped the skirt around me to test the fit. It did not cover my hips. Eh? The toile fitted fine. That's because it had all four side panels and my skirt only had two... To make matters worse I didn't have enough fabric to cut the additional panels. Following many expletives the skirt was thrown into the corner. 

Sadly Sunni was out of fabric. Unsurprisingly it was very popular and sold quickly. The skirt remained in the corner until a possible solution hit me on my walk home from work quite a few weeks later. "What if I divide up the panel into several pieces and stitch them together? The print is quite busy - I might just get away with it. I have nothing to lose - I can't wear the skirt as it is and I can't create another item from it. And the fabric is too pretty to gather dust in the corner." Turns out I didn't have enough for two side panels but I could get two more back panels created from three pieces each. Suddenly I had a full skirt! As I hoped, the print covers it pretty well and if I look down the panel I have trouble finding the seam lines although it is pretty obvious when your pressing the skirt! 

Floral Gabriola

Gravity then gave me another problem. It pulled the bias panels further than I anticipated and hemming became a bigger job. I put the skirt on and sweet talked Adam into pinning it from the floor up. I whizzed it through the machine to finish. 

Floral Gabriola

Let's talk about the fabric. It is quite possibly my favourite fabric I have used to date. The navy blue background is the perfect shade to show off the flowers. It has a lovely drape, feels smooth to the touch but is actually quite weighty! I had trouble working out how to wash it and decided to throw caution to the wind and washed it at 40 degrees. It didn't shrink and has held up very well which was a massive relief. Anyone know how you should properly care for this fabric? 

Floral Gabriola

I've worn this skirt a few times since completion, including on holiday (these photos are taken in the beautiful city of Girona, Spain) and have loved it every time. I don't feel short, in fact I feel a little taller - a great illusion! I love the swish of the fabric as I walk and when it is caught in a breeze. I honestly don't know why I waited so long to make a maxi.


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