Sunday, 29 December 2013

20:20 Challenge complete and year in review

2013 is drawing to a close and it seems only right to reflect on a year's worth of sewing. 

Let's start with the crazy 20:20 challenge I set myself back in March. Create 20 individual items from 20 different patterns between March and December. Well, I did it! It was tight, I have only just finished the final button hole on my Ceylon dress and I'll get photos up as soon as I can. There were times when I didn't think I would complete the challenge. I was very behind in September and it took some creative thinking and a few simpler patterns to get me back on track. I won't show pictures of all of them here - you can find the posts in the list at the bottom if you would like to browse, but I will share the six I have worn the most. 

Six most worn

While all of the above are worn frequently, the Cami dress has to be my favourite make this year. I love the bright colours, it makes me smile and it is worn nearly every week. My Newsboy cap isn't far behind but only because it is winter here! The Alma is a favourite for work as well as the Beehive Victoria Blazer, which seems to go with so much. The Tova is a wonderful top for staying at home and I wore the Reglisse a lot during the summer months. 

As with most people, there are some misses. I haven't worn the Laurel once and the Simplicity 2541 skirt just hangs in my wardrobe as it is too tight across my hips despite fitting well in the toile. I haven't worn the Anise much and think it is because it feels a little short - I should have added an inch to two to the length. 

Top misses

I originally said that only 10 of the 20 items could be pink, blue or black and I made 11. However, I did introduce more purple and green. Green is the real surprise, I've never considered it as an option for me but I actually feel very comfortable wearing it. 

This challenge has made me realise that I am rather competitive with myself and that I don't like to be beaten when I have announced an objective publicly. I have learnt new techniques from pattern cutting to fabric covered buttons, French seams to creating my own bias binding, how to do a FBA and sew with a variety of fabrics. I have got over my fear of wearing hats, top stitching, working with silk and chiffon (especially together), and fitting shorts. I've learnt to tackle large projects a step at a time, to enjoy the process of creating and that my hands are not immune to pin scratches. 

In addition to what I have made for me, I have sewn a Cooper bag, a dressing gown, a garment bag, seven other Newsboy caps, a quilt, a quilted mat for my sewing machine, some heat pads, four cushions, needle cases, a baby's dress, made an ironing board cover, replaced the lining of my coat and created three outfits from scratch for the magpie photo shoot. I make that just over 50 items since March - phew! I'm pretty pleased with that level of output. 

Other makes

I haven't made any firm plans for the next year but I can guarantee that I won't be setting myself a challenge now, or midway through. I'll probably focus on learning new techniques and improving others. What are your sewing plans for 2014?

20:20 Challenge:

Anise jacket
Ceylon dress (yet to be blogged)
Miette skirt (yet to be blogged)
Peony skirt (yet to be blogged)

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Completed: Cooper bag

I hope you all had a good Christmas Day with some sewing related surprises. My last week as been a blur of seeing friends, getting ready for Christmas and some frantic sewing to ensure I actually made handmade presents this year. I really wanted to make something for my immediate family and wondered what on earth I could make my brother? I dwelled on this question for a long time and then Colette released the Cooper pattern. Hooray! 

Colette Cooper

I loved this pattern as soon as I saw it. In addition to the three styles that are included, there seems to be endless opportunities to tweak the pattern and you are limited only by your imagination on the fabric choices and colours. For this bag, I decided to follow the advice of Colette and chose cotton canvas for the outer fabric. I bought dark olive and khaki from Croft Mill. This fabric is absolutely delightful, so much so I actually considered keeping it for me but realised that might be a bit mean! It is very soft (one side feels a little like brushed cotton) but strong and survives ripping out seams well (more on that later) as well as pressing on a high heat. 

Colette Cooper

Given the weather we've been experiencing, I wanted the bag to be waterproof. I struggled to find a waterproof fabric that would match and ended up getting a light green and white check oilcloth. I'll admit it looks a little like a tablecloth but at least it matches! I had trouble stitching the lining as it stuck to my machine but sewing between tracing paper soon got me back on track. I wasn't sure about pressing oilcloth (I didn't research how to work with this stuff) so pressed it lightly under a clean tea towel, which doubles as a pressing cloth. It certainly softened under a little heat and made it easier to work with. 

Colette Cooper

The construction is quite easy, as long as you take notice of the markings on each piece and read which sides need to go together. I must have ripped out the bottom gusset and side seams three or four times as I kept making the same silly mistake. The canvas stood up to this unpicking very well. It was my first time working with magnetic snaps (they go in quite easily) and using jiffy rivets. I was excited about using a hammer in sewing but it turns out our tent mallet is a little too big for the job. I had to use the side of my shears instead. 

Colette Cooper

There is a lot of edge stitching and top stitching involved and I've finally gotten over my fear of both, although my edge stitching still isn't as close to the edge as it should be... The strap was made from the leftover khaki canvas. It is very easy to assemble and stitch in place but I did use the tutorial to double check that I was working with the correct side. The slide and square loop were recycled from another bag. 

Colette Cooper

I am really pleased with how this turned out and even better, my brother loved it!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Ever shared your sewing at work?

I did yesterday. It was a first for me. We had our School wide Christmas party and before the festivities began in full force, we held our first creative fair. It turns out that there a lot of creatives among the staff, both administrators and faculty, and we got together to exhibit what we create and/or sell items if we wanted to. 

Creative fair tables

I originally signed up a few months ago to show the outfits I made for the photo shoot. I wasn't sure about selling and decided that making connections and sharing my creations would be enough. Who am I kidding? Of course, I made items to sell as well. I thought I would give it a go to see what happens. You can see my stall in the above photo - the one with the clothes hanging above it! 

I made a few needle cases. I have needed one for a while and was playing around with how to sew cardboard into it. I wanted a hard backed case as it is sturdy and will survive my clumsiness. I finally worked out how and thought they might make some nice stocking fillers. I also made hats. I got a lot of nice comments and interest about my hat that it seemed worthwhile. 

Needle case outside

Needle case inner

The making was the easy part. I could select the colours, fabric and techniques with relative ease. What wasn't easy was the branding, pricing (just how much should you charge?!), and the confidence to stand behind the table while people browsed. What if people didn't like what I had made? It would be time wasted when I could have been sewing my Christmas gifts. What if they weren't interested in my hobby? 

Handmade Hats

Life was made a little easier though. I also solde the products of another member of our community. Monica, from Made by Moni, makes crochet bags and bowls as well as some interesting earrings. I love her products! 

I did manage to sell a few items - I couldn't believe people would pay for what I made! I was pleased with my work and never think twice about giving items I have made as gifts but for some reason I was shocked, and excited, that people would part with their hard earned cash. I would definitely try this again and hope that we will have another fair at work. Oh, and the party afterwards was great! 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Completed: Tova blouse

Ooh, I'm getting close to the completion of my 20:20 challenge. Item 18 is Wiksten's Tova. I have seen a few versions around the blogsphere and thought it would make a great casual top for pottering around the house (I potter a lot!) These photos are taken in front of my lounge window. I had planned to take them outside to show off the real colour of the fabric but Christmas shopping got in the way! 

Wiksten Tova

I downloaded the pdf version as, sadly, I didn't have time to wait for a paper copy to arrive on the door mat. I did have some problems putting the pages together, with many of them not matching up by about five millimetres. I did use a different printer for this pattern so I may have had the settings slightly off but the test square was the correct size. After a bit of tinkering once the pieces had been roughly cut away from each other, they sat much better. 

Wiksten Tova

The fabric is cotton and the print is Crosshatch. I got it from the Village Haberdashery about six months ago. Like most cottons, it was a dream to work with and pressed very easily. I kept thinking that it was a little stiff until I realised, after I had cut every piece out, that I hadn't actually prewashed the fabric. Oops! I'm not normally that disorganised and the tell tale sign of no folded over edges should have set alarm bells ringing. Hopefully it won't shrink too much during its first wash. 

Wiksten Tova

The pattern goes together very easily. You need to remember throughout that it only allows for 3/4" seam allowance. You have plenty of opportunities to practice top stitching while constructing the front inset. Both plackets need top stitching as does the inset. I did find positioning the inset the trickiest part of the construction. I just couldn't get the bottom corners to work but after a lot of pinning and repinning, I finally stitched it in place. This is one area that I would recommend basting the pieces together before stitching. The collar and cuffs were very simple to put in. I did add an extra line of top stitching to the collar as it looked a little odd with just the top line. All of seam allowances are overlocked and I'm really pleased with how neat it looks on the inside.

Wiksten Tova

Over the last couple of years I have leaned towards more fitted clothing and was a little worried about the loose style of this pattern. When I first put it on, I wasn't sure but I have worn it a couple of time since completing it and I've completely changed my mind. I love the length of the top. The sleeves also hit at the right spot as I'm always guilty of rolling up my sleeves. I've grown quite fond of it and can see it being a go-to piece for weekends or evenings that call out for comfy clothing. There is the potential for a smarter version for work and I have this planned to sew in the new year. 

Wiksten Tova

How about you, are you planning next year's sewing yet?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Newsboy cap

Two things happened this week. First, I want to be a turtle became a .com! I bought the domain name a few months ago and it seemed silly not to use it.

Second, I decided to make a hat. I've mentioned elsewhere how this is a big thing for me as I don't normally like wearing hats. However the cold weather is kicking in meaning my ears are getting very cold on the walk to work and the wind and moisture levels in the air give me frizzy hair. A hat seemed the obvious solution. 

Newsboy cap

I knew I wanted a cap of some sort and looked around for a decent newsboy pattern. I came across this one on Craftsy. It is fully reversible although you can't really use two thick fabrics because of the bulk at the seams. My hat is completely made from scraps. The wool is leftover from my Lady Grey coat and the lining from my Beehive Victoria Blazer. You need lightweight interfacing for the cap and heavyweight for the brim. I didn't have any heavyweight so settled for a thick cotton.

Newsboy cap

The pieces are all sewn using a 1/4" seam. The cap is made from six pieces and each seam is topstitched. The band attaches easily, in the same way you would finish bias binding. The trickiest part is placing the brim properly but that can easily be taken care of with a tiny notch in the band once it is attached. The bottom rim is topstitched in place stopping just alongside of the brim. 

Newsboy cap

It is such a simple project, taking about 90 minutes from cutting out to completion at a leisurely pace. I love the fit. I have worn it a few times now and I'm feeling much less self-conscious in it, plus my ears are staying warm! I've already got plans to make a few more.

Newsboy cap

This project takes me within touching distance of my 20:20 challenge - just three more to go before the new year. That's doable right?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Sewing presents

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post. I took me a while (3 months!) to decide whether to publish it but it felt like the right thing to do. I feel that the more people speak out about their experiences, the easier it will be for others to do the same and the stigma around mental health illnesses will decrease. Good mental wellbeing is important for us all.

Thanks also for the birthday wishes. We had an amazing time in New York and I spent my birthday up the Empire State Building, wandering along the Highline and in Mood (more on that later).

On to the sewing related stuff! I received a number of sewing related birthday presents. My family, friends and work colleagues have been so generous over the last week and I have been completely spoilt! 

My friend Amy got me some Sheffield steel thread clippers. I've used them a couple of times and they are great. A little heavier than my small scissors but they are sharper!

Birthday goodies

Kelly gave me this beautiful fabric and I can see something summery in it. I haven't quite got to which pattern yet. She also got me the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework. There are so many techniques in there I want to try and it might even help me in my quest to perfect quilting!

Birthday goodies

Identifying and understanding fabrics is a weak spot for me. Hopefully I will learn quite a lot from The Swatch Book which Adam gave me. He also surprised me with my very own iPad! I've been complaining that I couldn't access many apps and he came to the rescue. So, for those of you have an iPad - can you recommend any great apps that are great for sewing, made your life a little easier or are just great fun?

Birthday goodies

When we arrived at the hotel in New York I was surprised to find a present there for me. A colleague had arranged for a gift card from Mood. I was so taken aback and then doubly excited about visiting. That place is amazing! I felt slightly overwhelmed when I walked in but after a couple of moments found it quite easy to navigate. I came away with three pieces of fabric and stocked up on small zips. 

Birthday goodies

The denim is dark indigo and I'm planning a Miette skirt. The other two are cottons. I'm not sure if they will become tops or dresses yet so I bought enough for a dress just in case! 

Birthday goodies

I couldn't resist these buttons! 

And finally my family have clubbed together to get me an overlocker! I haven't had chance to look at which one I would like yet but that is something to look forward to over the next few weeks. 

I do feel very lucky to have received these and can't wait to get going with them. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Reflections at 30

Today is my 30th birthday and while you are reading this I am exploring New York for the first time. I’ll be visiting the Garment District this morning - what else would I be doing?! For many turning 30 is a big deal. It is for me but not because one decade has finished. It is big for me because it is a milestone that provided motivation to tackle a big personal challenge. 

I was a shy child. As I went through school my shyness increased mainly because of experiences that I was burnt by, whether in class or socially. People’s thoughts and comments played on my mind and I worried every time I had to go to a gathering or was called on in class. This carried on at university in seminars and today, at work meetings. My sixth form tutor summed it up perfectly in the opening line of her supporting statement for my university application: “Claire is a very quiet girl…” She went onto say good things about my abilities and interests but this has always stuck with me. 

So what? None of this is too big a deal right? In general, right. But for me, it is. I never understood why that comment haunted me. Let’s go to Christmas 2011. Adam had gone north to his family, a lot of my friends had also travelled to theirs. I had a few days to myself after I had seen my family and I was so looking forward to it! I had it all planned out. I would sew, tidy up the flat, see my friends who were still in the area, peruse the sales. None of this happened. Instead I spent the days unable to leave the flat, not knowing when I would burst into tears and how long it would last for. Adam and Emily, my best friend, were fantastic. In the end it got so bad my mum, who was also very supportive, took me to the doctors. “You’re almost depressed” was the verdict and I left the room with the names of a book and some websites to help me. I knew this was coming and that it was ok. I have seen what depression has done to people, especially some of those close to me, and I decided there and then to work my way out of it. Thankfully I didn’t need medication but I did need to take a long, good look at my thoughts and my activities. 

I realised that I had been pushing myself to try and fit in with what I thought I should be, not who I was. I was trying to be louder, outgoing, very talkative. This made me anxious and unhappy. I could tell when I was feeling this way as my bad habits (biting my nails, chewing my lip) increased. Essentially I was lying to myself about who I am. The resources the doctor gave me helped but I needed a thought partner. Someone who didn’t know me, my background, family or friends. I looked at several options and bit the bullet by paying for a coach. It was eye wateringly expensive but it is the best money I have ever spent! I used to scoff at this kind of personal development, and I’m sure many still do, but I had to try something. The sessions really made me think and it was painful at times. The process I started there continues, but I don’t see my coach anymore although I know I can if I ever need to. 

I had no idea what my core values were. This might not sound surprising but it was a revelation to me. I found my values and quickly realised that my behaviour and activities didn’t match them. I discovered what and who sapped my energy as well as those that gave it. In short, I realised that I was a quiet person. I enjoy time on my own, and savour it when I get it. Many of the activities I enjoy are solitary ones - reading, sewing, anything creative. At the same time, I love seeing my friends and meeting new people. I have found ways to turn my solitary activities into sociable activities. I joined a book club, I attend classes and I started blogging. I have pulled away from energy saps and situations that make me feel bad about myself. I give myself the time and space I need, without feeling guilty. Unless I have something important to say, I won’t try to be heard by people who are unlikely to listen. I try not to worry about what people are thinking about me and focus instead on activities and relationships where I feel I can be myself. 

And the turning 30 part? I made a promise to myself that 2013 would be the best year yet. I knew I would have to make it that way. It may not be the best in terms of events but it has been for my peace of mind. I know myself better than I did before, I am much more comfortable with who I am and how I live my life. I have worked harder than ever this year and it feels great. The comment from my sixth form tutor no longer haunts me. There is more to do but for now, this is enough. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Magpie outfits part 2

This is the final post about the magpie photo shoot I did recently. 

Outfit two

This outfit was inspired by a sitting magpie. If you look at their folded wings they make a rather neat chevron and I wanted to capture that in this outfit.  The front of the bodice is made from three pieces. The top black section, made from the same poly satin as the other outfits, has shoulder darts. The top seam of the white chevron, also poly satin, is topstitched in place. The green layer, made from a scarf I found in a local charity shop, is also topstitched in place. The back is black with two darts. The bodice closes at the side with a zip. 

Magpie 2

Magpie 2

The model would have short hair and I needed a high neckline. The original plan was to add a green trim around the neck but I couldn't find anything that matched well enough and I also worried about how the bodice would go over the models head! I raised the neckline substantially and put a zip into one of the shoulder seams. The sleeves are cute capped ones. 

Magpie 2

I wanted a skirt to match the bodice. I found a good quality pair of size 18 trousers in the charity shop and refashioned it into a skirt. I unpicked the inside seams and stitched them at the back after taking in about 3 inches. I decided to make a curved hem at the front to break up the solid colours and also to illustrate the magpie's tail. After a lot of pressing the curve did eventually lie flat. 

Magpie 2

This outfit was finished with a couple of necklaces and a pair of black heels. 

Outfit three

In many ways this outfit was the simplest. The model for this outfit was blonde and it was important that the colours amplified the hair style rather than took away from it. She also had short hair which meant I need to create a higher neckline. 

Magpie 3

The top is essentially a shirt pattern without the button holes. This wasn't the original idea which was a top with a turtle neck but that quickly became unachievable as I was using a woven fabric rather than a knit. I decided I needed a stand up collar instead and settled on a variation of the Mandarin collar. This changed the design of the top from a fitted bodice to a slightly looser shirt with a wide placket at the front. The collar, interfaced with a thick cotton to add stability, joins midway through the placket and overlaps slightly. The shirt closes with poppers. I'll admit that I completely improvised this pattern but somehow it worked out. 

Magpie 3

The sleeves are from the same pattern as the blue dress and again represent the wings of a magpie. They are more successful in this top as they are set into a full armscye. The flash of purple comes a tassel made from medium thickness cord with white electrical tape wrapped around the ends. It was held into place with a large brooch. 

Magpie 3

I'm really pleased with how they all turned out. Would I do it again? Quite possibly. It was a lot of work but it was a chance to nudge my pattern drafting skills along. This is something I definitely need to find more time for. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Magpie outfits part 1

I won't be giving away too many details of the overall collection but I promised details of the outfits I made for the shoot last week. The theme for the collection was Magpies, which I was quite excited about as it offers many options for shapes, colours and textures. The era of inspiration was Victorian Gothic which gave additional possibilities. 

I quickly sketched out six designs before meeting Andreea for a drink to decide on the styles and colours for each outfit. This was a very useful meeting as Andreea already had the hair styles in mind and knew which colour would suit which model. Each model would be predominantly in black with highlights of one particular colour - blue, purple or green. By the end of the evening I had three styles that were a mix of the six I started off with. 

Magpies shoot

I knew from the start that I wanted to draft the patterns myself and used my block throughout. This would give me the push I needed to put into practice what I had learnt in the spring on my pattern drafting course and to learn more techniques. The other, probably more important, reason was to avoid any potential IP or copyright issues as the photos will be professional ones. 

So onto the individual outfits. I'll share one today (as the original post was loooong) and the other two later to save you going crossed eyed or just getting bored!  

Outfit one

The first outfit I started was the blue one, as it was the one I was most excited by. The model would have long hair which meant the neckline needed to be low, ideally to show of the collar bone to make sure the outfit did not compete with the hair. This outfit is the one where Victorian gothic is shown in full force. 

Magpies shoot

The bodice has princess seams at the front and the back. Drafting them was a new experience for me and I used this wonderful tutorial by Sunni. The pattern extends by a few inches around the shoulders and the seam line is on the outside of the arm. It has an invisible zip on the side which I put in by hand. The bodice is made from poly satin and the seam allowance has been overlocked as this stuff frays like you will not believe. 

Magpie princess seams

The sleeves are wide and represent the wings of the magpie. They are made from a poly chiffon. If you look carefully enough you can see how they join the bodice rather awkwardly in places. This is because I had trouble drafting a sleeve - it is much harder than I imagined it to be and I have a lot to learn. The cuffs are two standard rectangles, one from white poly satin and one from cobalt silk, folded in half and then stitched together. The sleeves are gathered at the cuffs. 

Magpie chiffon sleeves

The finishing touch to the bodice was this beautiful cobalt lace that I found on Etsy and had shipped all the way from California. I can recommend Suzi from MaryNotMartha, she answered my question about the colour and then processed my order quickly so it arrived in time. I tacked the lace by hand as stitching by machine would have hit several sequins and ruined the flowers. 

Weekend sewing

A bodice like this one could only have a particular partner. It was screaming out for a full circle skirt that hit the floor. Drafting the pattern for this was the quickest part in creating the skirt even though I was fighting with tracing paper as my table isn't big enough to fit the pattern piece on. Ideally I would have cut the skirt on the fold but that just wasn't going to happen. If I couldn't fit the piece on my table, there was no way the fabric would be wide enough to be on the fold. I had to cut out the four pieces in the hall. 

Magpie full circle skirt

It is finished with a rectangular waist band and closed with an invisible zip. The seams are overlocked and this is the main reason why all three outfits ate over 500m of black thread! The bottom hem was overlocked twice to give a false rolled hem. I knew that this hem would be problematic on set and it was. There was an inch and half difference in some places which led to a re-hem before the shoot started. I tried on the skirt prior to the shoot and realised at once that it needed some support. A friend came to the rescue with a knee length petticoat. It worked very well.

Magpie circle skirt

The outfit was finished off with a black beaded necklace and a large glossy blue ring but unfortunately I didn't get photos of the accessories. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Secret project revealed

You'll never guess what I did today. I attended a photo shoot for the latest hair collection designed by my hairdresser. I wasn't there to observe but to provide the outfits! The story started two months ago when Andreea came to cut my hair. Within 10 minutes of entering our flat she had asked me to create the outfits for her next photo shoot. I couldn't turn down this opportunity and agreed as soon as I saw the brief - Magpies.

I'll save the actual details of the outfits and their inspiration for another post but I wanted to share with you some of the behind the scenes photos I took. 

Magpies shoot

The whole process, from beginning to end, was new to me. I haven't designed any item of clothing to a brief before, made items for people I haven't met until the day they wear them, nor been on set for a shoot. There were times when I thought I had taken on too much (especially as work has exploded over the last three weeks) but overall it was a very rewarding experience. 

Magpies shoot

Magpies shoot

All three outfits are very simple in style which was great as I drafted most of them using my block and making changes were necessary. I even managed a refashion. The hardest part was trying to figure out how much bigger I should make the outfits - what if they were too small? I would have been mortified but luckily they all fitted quite well. One bodice was too big at the back but a safety pin took care of that. The only other change I had to make was to the hem of a very full circle skirt, you can see me pinning the hem in place here.

During the actual shoot I had to make sure that the outfits looked the way I wanted. I spent a lot of time slightly altering how the bodices sat to smooth out ripples or make sure a key detail was proudly on display. It felt strange nipping onto the set between photos to do this. After nearly six hours we had enough photos to call it a day! While it was tiring, I'm really glad I did it as it was great fun. 

Magpies shoot

Magpies shoot

It will be sometime before we have the finished photos but I'll make sure I share them with you when they are available. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

On my sewing table

This weekend is a rare weekend. The only thing I have to do is sew. Actually scrap that, the only thing I must do is sew. I'm hoping to be able to share the full details with you very soon but here are a few photos of the chaos creativity going on:


Weekend sewing

Weekend sewing

Weekend sewing

Weekend sewing

Weekend sewing
What's on your sewing table?


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