Friday, 30 May 2014

Me Made May: What I learnt

While last year’s Me Made May was great fun, this year I came to appreciate just how useful it can be. I started off the month pledging to wear every item that I had made - that’s one, maybe two, per day. I hoped that the month would provide me with an understanding of why I return time and again to some of my makes and why others have hardly been worn since completion. Perhaps it would offer a suggestion on my style, colours and what is missing from my wardrobe. I’m sorry that I have used old photos to break up the text, I just couldn’t keep up with daily photos when I needed to record how I felt about each item every evening.

Style and colours

I have a couple of preferred silhouettes. I feel at my best when my clothes nip in at my waist and flare out a little below it. My tummy is my weak spot, it is about the only part of my body that I have a bad relationship with. It is not unusual for me to bloat, sometimes by a couple of inches in a couple of hours, and as a result I don’t like bringing attention to my waistline. Having a more fitted look with some flare above or below distracts from my waist. This is why my Ceylon, Winifred, Mae, Miette, Camis and Robson are in constant rotation. I also like the fitted pencil skirt shape and my Emery is getting a reasonable amount of wear because of this. I've also rediscovered my pencil skirt. I generally prefer my dress and skirts to finish at my knees but there are some noticeable exceptions. 

Cadbury Ceylon
Calamity Cami
Hot patterns skirt

However, I can also pull off the loose look when I feel that nipped in is too much hassle or just damn uncomfortable (which it can be at times) and turn to my Lace Laurel, Tova, Alma blouses and Victoria Blazer. This latter look is one that I find very difficult to work with though - more often than not I feel like I am wearing a rectangle rather than an item of clothing!

Beehive blazer

Colour has always been interesting for me and was one of the key points in my challenge last year. I seem to be honing in on my preferred colours: practically every shade of blue and pink, deep and bright purples, and different shades of green, especially teal. Green continues to be the biggest surprise. For some reason I used to really dislike it and wouldn’t go anywhere near the colour - now it seems to be one of my most bought! 

Green Mae
Lace Laurel
Evergreen Robson

I’m not sure what has changed but I feel much more confident and happy wearing all the shades of green (except lime - I can’t pull off lime!) and this is reflected in my recent finished items - the Green Mae, Lace Laurel, Emery and Robson Coat. However, I do find it hard to style green at times. I have a light green skirt that needs some friends - trouble is I don’t really know what to put with it! I have an interesting relationship with neutrals. Black and white feature but mainly because they have to while grey and brown are practically none existent.

Sewing for my lifestyle

How many of you stand in front of your wardrobe every morning and say “I’ve got nothing to wear!”? I do quite often and I’ve realised that this simply isn’t true for autumn, winter and a cool spring. By focusing on the me-made part of my wardrobe I coped very well this month and even tried new to me combinations. It turns out that I do have items perfectly suited to the office and playtime. If I add in my RTW items then I shouldn’t ever find myself uttering those words again during these months. However, I wouldn’t say that I was happy with all of them and this makes all the difference. There is a noticeable difference between my earlier makes and the more recent ones. I made a few mistakes with my fabric choice and the finish on some items isn’t as good as it should be. 

Chiffon blouse

I really dislike my Laurel dress (strong words there but it was the only item I couldn’t take off the hanger!), I don’t really like my white and pink Sorbetto due to the poor neckline finishing and the piling fabric, my Jasmine blouse pulls in an odd direction (I think I may have cut it wrong) and the neckline of my chiffon blouse makes me self-conscious as its poorly finished. I’ve yet to decide the fate of these items.

The few days of warm weather were very welcome earlier this month but they revealed a massive hole in my wardrobe. I have practically nothing that is suitable for summer to wear to the office - everything is too thick, the fabrics too warm or the colours remind me of winter. I have a few plans to correct this, mainly focussing on creating some staple tops and summer skirts, but as ever, it is finding enough time to complete them.

I’ve learnt a lot this month. I feel that I now have a very good sense of what I like to wear and this should make the decision on whether to buy a pattern or a fabric easier. It is so easy to get caught up in the moment without really thinking about whether you will *actually* wear the item and I have been guilty of this in the past. If the pattern or the fabric doesn’t fit the above then I will need to think twice about buying.

Your turn, have any of you found Me Made May to be as useful as I have? 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Magpie Collection reveal

Do you remember the outfits I made for the Magpie hair collection last year? Well, I can finally share the photos!

I'm really pleased with how they have come out. While you can't see the whole outfit in any of the photos, the key details are captured. I won't go into the details of the construction as you find that in the posts from last year (first and second). 


The simplicity of this outfit has been captured beautifully. It is completely black in order to keep the emphasis on the model's blonde hair. When I first heard that we had a blonde model I was unsure how it would work but work it did with the differing tones in the hair and the curves of the make up. 


This was my favourite outfit to make and I'm thrilled at how well the blue has come out in this photo. You can see a lot of the detail in the lace too. While you can't see the full circle skirt you can still sense that this is a Victorian Gothic inspired dress. 


I'm really happy that this top looks straight in the photo. I spent so long trying to get the lines even between shots that I was convinced they would look off in the photos! I think this is the hair-outfit combination that works best. I love how the sharp lines of the hair match the lines of the top and the way the green and blue hues compete for attention with the white stripe reminds me of the folded wings of a Magpie. 

Making the outfits and attending the shoot was great fun. I learnt a lot on the set - there is so much more to think about than I originally thought. Although it took a while to put the outfits together, I could potentially be persuaded to do it again! How about you - would you create, or have you created, an outfit for a photo shoot? 

Hair: Andreea Dumitru hair design
Make up: Lilian Komor Makeup
Photography: Nicola Belson

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Not Normally Me Afternoon Blouse

Do you ever need a quick sewing win? Life has been busy for me recently and following the completion of my Robson coat, a quick win was exactly what I needed. I've seen many Afternoon blouses popping up and decided to jump on the train. 

If you don't know the Afternoon Blouse, it is the first pattern by Jennifer Lauren. It was designed with beginners in mind to complete in an afternoon (hence the name) and is very appealing due to its cute design and the fact that it has no closures. The button on the front is decorative, removing any potential beginners fear around button holes. That's definitely a win in my view! Oh, and it has Kimono sleeves. You can choose from two decorative necklines. I went for the square/triangular one as I feel it has a much cleaner finish. 

Afternoon blouse

Let's quickly talk about the PDF pattern. This is the best PDF pattern I have used. Jen has really thought about the best layout for the pattern. The front and back pieces are put together in separate blocks meaning you just print what you need and you have little waste. It is also exceptionally easy to put together and everything matches up perfectly. 

Afternoon blouse

I whipped up a quick toile to test the fit. I fell between sizes and went for the smaller one as I like a more fitted look. I also wanted to try out attaching the facings before I cut out my fabric. This is the trickiest part of construction as you have stitch the facing starting and stopping at the same place on the centre front seam. Finding the place to stop stitching is the hardest part but stitching slightly slower at this stage should give you a good result. Alternatively, you could mark the spot on both sides. 

Afternoon blouse

I'm on a self-imposed fabric buying ban at the moment and turned to my stash for this make. I chose this beautiful floral cotton that Kelly kindly gave my for my birthday last year. It has pin tucks and stitched in ruffles throughout. While it is very pretty, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to pull it off and feel comfortable in it. I have a mixed relationship with florals - it is so hard to find flowers in the right size, get the correct colours and find the right balance between the flowers and the background. I'm also not a huge fan of ruffles but these are small and sweet. 

Afternoon blouse

This blouse really does come together very quickly, mainly because there are few pieces and the stitching lines are mostly straight. My seams are turned under and stitched and I hand stitched the hem. I choose to finish the blouse with a wooden button from Hobbycraft which adds more flowers! 

Afternoon blouse

I like that I can match this blouse with many of my trousers and skirts. I've worn it a couple of times now, despite my initial hesitation with the fabric, and I think it will become a much worn item. However, I am surprised by just how casual the top feels. I had hoped that it would become a top specifically for the office (which I'm desperate need of, especially with the arrival of warmer weather) but it feels much more like a weekend top. Or perhaps that's only because I've worn it with denim so far...

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Your sewing experiences and preferences

We're almost half way through Me Made May and I hope you're all getting on fabulously if you are taking part. I have already found it an incredibly useful exercise and can see some patterns arising - some expected, others a little surprising. I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of the month brings.

Looking at my wardrobe in depth, viewing the Flickr group and chatting to other participants and sewists has raised a number questions. Why do we sew? What is the hardest part? Why are we happy with some items and not others? What is it about sewing blogs that grip us?

I have my answers and wonder if your experiences and feelings are the same and thought it would be fun to ask! I know not everyone likes to leave a comment so I have created a short survey. I hope you will consider contributing. I promise to share the results and my answers on the blog. If you're interested (I hope you will be!) and have a spare 10 minutes, the form is here. I'm looking forward to reading your responses. 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Completed: The Evergreen coat

I made another coat! May I present my Evergreen Robson trench coat, the first piece of sensible, needed sewing I’ve done in quite a while. I love trench coats and have been without one for about a year as the front balance on my RTW one was off and it kept riding up. Annoying doesn't cover it so it sat in my wardrobe unused until I finally threw it into the charity bag. Needless to say throughout that time the Robson coat was at the top of my sewing list. 

Evergreen Robson coat

I finally got my hands on the pattern at Christmas but just couldn’t decide on the style I wanted. Classic? Statement? The recreation of a black and white gingham one from my university days? (Yes, it was as good as it sounds.) I landed somewhere nearer classic than statement or classic with a subtle twist. I stumbled across this gorgeous sage green twill with cream embroidered hearts at the Fabrics Galore stand in Birmingham. It is about the right weight for a trench coat, is quite warm and dries reasonably quickly but it has a habit of developing wrinkles - not that it takes anything away from the finished look imho. I've called it Evergreen as I think I can wear it through spring, summer and autumn. I'm not going to lie, I love this coat and therefore included more photos than normal.

Evergreen Robson coat

The fit of this coat was important to me. I don’t like a lot of fabric around my waist so I cut a smaller size than my measurements. I then made my standard Sewaholic alteration of grading down another size at the hip. No other alterations were made until the coat was together when I took up the hem by an inch to hit my knees and took up the sleeves the same amount. Looking back, I should probably have raised the pockets a bit and made them slightly bigger - my hands only just fit in them!

I made this slowly over a number of weeks as the road to completion is a long one with a great many steps. Cutting out takes time, especially when you have to take a break after accidentally standing on the fabric  and a pin decides to take a long walk straight into your foot! However, don’t let that put you off. The instructions for creating this coat are everything you would expect from Tasia - they are clear and easy to follow. You can even streamline the process a little bit by sewing a number of seams before rethreading your machine for the binding. 

I did wonder about how bulky it would be around the neckline as some of my other makes have struggled with this. I didn’t have to worry, it all fitted nicely together under the needle even with the addition of sew in interfacing (which I like. So much easier to use than the fusible stuff). 

Evergreen Robson coat

I decided to leave my coat unlined as the bound seams are one of my favourite features for this pattern. I also knew it would be a great way to perfect my edge stitching. I love the way Tasia suggests you bind the seams (fold the binding in half, place along the seam and stitch) as it takes half the time as the normal way of attaching binding. Or it would if you didn’t decide to hand baste it in place first… I used a slightly wider cream binding to make the tape easier to catch on the other side and pressed it in half before slipping it over the seam allowance. You also need to love top stitching! I’m delighted with how even and straight my stitching is - even when there is the added bulk of the hearts. I got away from the slowest speed on my machine and that feels like substantial progress! The button holes were relatively easy to make although I had to move a couple by a few millimetres to avoid the hearts. I chose some pewter buttons with stars on from Darn It and Stitch for the finishing touch. 

Evergreen Robson coat

Be aware, the cost of this coat can add up very quickly. With five metres of fabric, over 10 metres of bias tape, buttons, thread and sew in interfacing the total quickly added up to somewhere between £60-70. While this sounds a lot, I chose to invest in the fabric so I could make a coat that would last me years. 

Evergreen Robson coat

Confession time: the coat in the pictures is not the completed one. I needed the coat to be in a wearable condition for my Easter break in Prague but I knew I wouldn't complete it properly. I have since finished the arm hole seam allowances, added the belt loops and hand tacked the facings and hem in place. You can catch a glimpse of the bias tape and the amount of wrinkling in the photo above. I may, or may not, have stitched one of the sleeve tabs to the wrong side of the sleeve and had to correct that when I returned. 

Evergreen Robson coat

This is one of my best makes, potentially the best to date, and I have worn it nearly everyday since it became wearable. Im still in love with the fabric - the hearts make it more interesting without being overwhelming. The fit is spot on and I’m delighted with my stitching. The pockets are the best in seam ones I have produced and they have almost perfect welts! All it needs now is a label. I really should get some woven ones... 

Tell me, what is your best make to date? 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Notionally Speaking: Knits

Do you sew with knits or tend to avoid them? I fall in the latter camp but can't quite pin point why. This month's Notionally Speaking comes from Kelly at Make, Sew, Do who discusses this particular type of fabric and explains why they are like spiders. Read on to find out more...

Notionally Speaking

I am delighted to be taking part in notionally speaking today - I've really enjoyed reading all the previous posts. I picked the number 14 from Claire's list and was given 'Knits' as my topic, so here we go..

Knit fabrics seem to be a bit like spiders - many people seem to have a fear of them, but it's a fear that often seems to have little rational basis, and seems to be learned from other people. 

Who knows where knits got their bad rap from, but they're really not that scary. 

However I, like many sewists, seem to have fallen into this fear of knits trap, and I am determined to get out of it. It is most definitely a learned fear - the second item of clothing I ever sewed was a swimsuit! A Swimsuit! And it turned out brilliantly, I absolutely love it. I used an overlocker for the first time, I had no major issues with any of it and I wondered what all the fuss about knits was all about.

Closet Case Files Bombshell Swimsuit

But since then, I seem to have developed a bit more of a fear - I've only made one knit garment since (a wearable toile of the Lady Skater dress). It's daft, especially as such a high proportion of the RTW clothes I wear on a regular basis are from knit fabric - especially dresses - probably 90% of the time I wear a dress to work it is a knit dress. I have the fabric for two more lady skaters lined up, but even though I know the fit is right, I still have this bit of underlying fear which is preventing me from just getting on with them.


Yes, there are some things that can make sewing with knits more tricky than sewing with wovens - the fact that they stretch and can be a bit slinky means that it can be harder to line pattern pieces up correctly, and, if you're not careful, the fabric might stretch when you sew. You're not going to have those issues with a nice crisp cotton.


You also need a little (and only a little) specialist equipment - while an overlocker is great for sewing knits, and makes things a bit easier, your can also sew them perfectly well on a normal sewing machine. The only special thing you really need is a ballpoint needle for your machine and, if you want to hem your items, a twin needle also helps. Most knits don't even fray, so hemming is optional anyway, or using hem bands is another way of finishing the edges like the sleeve and neckbands on the lady skater. That's it, nothing else is needed. You'll probably need to use a different stitch on your machine, to make sure the seam will stretch - a normal zigzag stitch usually works great.

sleeve band

And then you look on the flip side - there are so many benefits to sewing with knits. For starters, knits are SO much more forgiving to fit - the need for an FBA is, in most cases, completely eliminated. Given the negative ease often written into knit patterns, you can get a nice, tight-fitting garment with no pattern alterations at all. Slightly looser fitting patterns will also be so much more forgiving to fit, due to the stretch in the fabric.

Fastenings can be pretty much done away with as well. I don't think I know a single sewist who hasn't at one point been cursing a zip that just won't go in, or buttonholes that are not behaving themselves. With a knit, you don't have to worry about fastenings - most of the time you can just pull them on. Given my recent run in with an invisible zip, and repeated issues with buttonholes, this is something that I love about knits.

Another benefit of knits comes when you're trying to line up your pattern pieces on the grain - and figure out exactly where the grain is. With a knit fabric, you just follow the stretch! Much easier than trying to work out exactly where the grainline is on a woven fabric.

And when it comes to wearing knits - no need to iron! That is always a bonus! Much as a lovely cotton dress is lovely for the summer - the chances of me ironing something when I pull it out my wardrobe as I'm getting ready for work…not so much. Until I started sewing, I don't think I'd ironed anything in a good few years...

If you are a sewist who is yet to tackle knits, but wants to try them out, I challenge you to give it a go! I for one am going to make it a goal this year to sew up more knit pieces, so why don't you join me? There are loads of great beginner knit patterns out there, which can all easily become wardrobe staples. I can highly recommend the Lady Skater:


And then there is the ever-popular Sewaholic Renfrew:


And Tilly's newly released, and already taking the sewing world by storm, Coco:


If I've convinced you to give knits a go, but you need a little handholding to get started, there are lots of brilliant resources out there on sewing with knits. 

Lauren has written a great post on conquering knits, with lots of useful tips. Tilly has a list of resources on sewing with knits and a whole load of posts on sewing Coco, covering lots of techniques you need for sewing knits. Tasia at Sewaholic also has a big list of tips for sewing with knits and Colette have been doing some great posts recently as well, to tie in with the release of their first knit patterns and their book on sewing with knits

So let's all give knits the love they deserve - they make excellent comfortable, everyday clothes, and I look forward to having more homemade knits garments in my wardrobe.


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