The stash diet: use it or lose it

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At #sewbrum this weekend, I didn’t buy a single piece of fabric. I know. It was painful.

We visited the Rag Market, Fancy Silk Store, Barry’s and Guthrie & Ghani, plus there was a fabric swap, so it wasn’t because I wasn’t tempted.

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I very nearly came home with some of this gorgeous textured wool – perfect for a new coat, don’t you think?

It’s that over the past year I’ve slowly amassed more fabric than I’ve sewn. Some of it was on sale; some was perfect for a pattern I already had; some was too beautiful to leave on the shelf. But whatever the reason for the purchase, most of it is still on the shelf. So I’ve set myself a challenge.

I won’t buy any more fashion fabric this year. (Interfacings, linings, trims and calico are all permitted if I need them for a current project.)

I will sew up all the fabric I bought to go with a specific pattern before buying any more. That means tackling the following projects: Fifi by Tilly and the Buttons, The Ginger jeans by Closet Case Files (eek), some Christmas PJ bottoms for my son, and the final version of the Fairfield shirt from Thread Theory.

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This one is all ready to cut out.

If that doesn’t take me up to Christmas, then I’ll sew some of the rest of my stash too. I have cuts of border-print denim, flecked sweatshirting, striped single jersey and red wool crepe that are all crying out to make it into my wardrobe.

Denim border stitch and white jersey drying on the washing line
The border print denim has been languishing unused for over a year now.

Let’s see how it goes.

Is your stash growing or shrinking? And how do you make sure your house doesn’t gradually fill up with enough fabric to bury your partner, children and pets underneath it all?

How to survive a sewing meet-up

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I’m spending this coming Saturday at #sewbrum, organised by supersewist Charlotte from English Girl at Home.

I’m looking forward to it, but as someone who’s never found it easy to walk into a room full of strangers, here’s what I’m worrying about right now…

What to wear

You think your clothes get scrutinised at work/on the school run/down the pub? Well, now I’m meeting a group of closet perfectionists who’ll potentially be trying to guess which pattern I used and where I bought the fabric. What if their sharp eyes spot a scruffy hem or an ill-fitting sleeve?

I think I’ve deduced that dresses are de rigeur, and turning up in RTW is frowned on. I suspect extra points are awarded for quirky sewing-themed accessories like scarves, brooches and earrings. I own none of these.

Whatever I do, I musn’t admit to…

Having no interest in bra-making

Being content without a dedicated, Insta-perfect sewing studio

Preferring dogs to cats.

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Are you going? I’ll see you there – please come and say hi!

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Update – 26 September, two days after the event

So I went, and everyone I met was very friendly. Yes, it was a bit intimidating walking into a whole room full of virtual strangers but there were lots of other people who’d come on their own too.

It was great to meet some of the people whose creations, blogs and skills I’ve been admiring online, and it never hurts to check out some new fabric shops either!

 

 

Fairfield shirt – the fitting

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After my first version turned out to be too small, I’ve made a second toile of Mr Wardrobe’s Thread Theory Fairfield shirt. He’s asked to go incognito in these pictures, so you won’t get to see his lovely mug. Sorry.

The top picture shows the shirt in a size large, straight out of the envelope. I didn’t bother to finish the second cuff, or the hem, so it looks fairly rough and ready, but it’s good enough to assess the fit.

In this post, I’m going to show you the alterations I plan to make to the final version to get a better fit. If you’re fitting a man’s shirt anytime soon, I highly recommend the Fairfield sewalong. Morgan has created two posts showing all kinds of fitting issues and how to resolve them.

The design has relatively little ease, so I’m happy enough with the width across the chest, and also with the overall length of the shirt.

The first thing that needs addressing is the length of the shoulder seam. In this next picture you can see where I’ve marked Mr Wardrobe’s actual shoulder point in pencil on the toile.

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The shoulder seam falls 1-1.25″ lower than his shoulder point so I’m going to shorten this seam for the final version. Here it is pinned up to the correct length:

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With the shoulder seam pinned up, the cuff falls at exactly the right point on the wrist, so I don’t need to alter the sleeve length. (As an aside, Mr Wardrobe has thought for many years that he had freakishly short arms, but it turns out they’re actually a normal length – he just has narrow shoulders.)

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The size L collar was too small, so I’d already swapped the collar and collar stand pattern pieces for the size XL, and this fits fine.

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I didn’t interface the collar pieces for the toile, so it looks a bit crumpled in this picture.

Turning to the back of the shirt, you can see there’s a problem with the lower back area. I think it needs more width at the hip area if it’s going to be worn untucked. This should reduce the bunching at the waist, and I can do a try-on fitting for the darts to make sure they’re just right.

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With the shoulders pinned up, you can see how it might look in the final version.

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We ummm-ed and ahhh-ed over a few more alterations, like a potential rounded back adjustment. I think we’ve decided against them, at least for the first one.

But can you help me with the diagonal wrinkles in the final picture? Is that just a result of the way I’ve pinned the shoulders or is there something else going on there?

What’s on my sewing table?

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This hasn’t been a productive month so far. I’d been putting off a blog post until I’d finished something, but that hasn’t happened, so here’s a peek into what’s happening in my sewing space at the moment.

Nearly finished: a second toile for the Thread Theory Fairfield shirt.

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This is turning into a bit of a labour of love. In fact, I’m not sure if shirtmaking and I are going to become the fast friends I thought we might. The tiny seam allowances and fiddly pressing needed to achieve neat flat-felled seams are driving me up the wall, and I’ve just discovered that the collar is too small. Again. (I’m still scratching my head to try to work out how this has happened. I could swear I took all the measurements and followed the size chart correctly.) And of course, this is only a toile – there’s then the actual shirt to do.

Cut out and ready to sew: Ottobre bicycle print pyjama top

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I made the bottoms last month, and they’ve turned out well, so my son has requested the matching top too. This looks like a fairly quick make, so I’m looking forward to starting this one. Because it’s a knit fabric, hopefully there won’t be much fitting to do.

Next in the queue: Tilly and the Buttons Fifi set

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This looks like a lot of fun. Finally something that will fit on my cutting table in one go, and made from Liberty print cotton, too. Although I’ll need to learn french seams and work out how to fit the top, so it probably won’t be an express make.

Knitting: Big Alps Beanie and Flax jumper

I’ve also got two knitting projects on the go at the moment. The Flax jumper I started back in May (!) only has the sleeves to go. I’ve got the sleeve stitches onto double pointed needles (my first go at this), now I just need to pluck up the courage to dive in and knit them.

And because I wanted something I could knit up quickly – OK, and also because the kit was in the sale – I’m making the Big Alps Beanie hat from Stitch & Story. 12mm needles make this very quick, and I’m also learning how to do a basic cable knit.

What have you got on the go at the moment? Do you usually work on more than one project at a time, or do you always finish one before you start the next?

Stupid sewing mistakes and how to avoid them

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I’m going to front up. I make a LOT of silly mistakes when I’m sewing. Here are just a selection I’ve made in the last six months, and some tips on how to avoid making the same ones yourself.

(If you’re creative enough to invent your own stupid mistakes, you’re on your own. But please do share them to help the rest of us!)

  1. The time when I sewed the darts on the outside of the shirt
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They’re nice darts, granted. But most people prefer them on the inside.

This happened just this week. I’m attempting to make a shirt (my first one, so that’s the first red flag) and sewing a hopefully wearable toile from some blue polycotton. The right and wrong sides look exactly the same, and I was too lazy to mark them up with chalk (cutting corners – second warning sign). Somehow the darts have ended up on the outside of the shirt rather than the inside, and I have to painstakingly unpick all those tiny stitches.

2. The time when I sliced through the actual garment with my overlocker, rather than just trimming the seam

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This is actually the second time I’ve done this. Again, I was trying to do something I’ve never done before – sewing up a seam containing a ribbed cuff, and I was too lazy to baste it first, because that would have meant unpacking my sewing machine as well as my overlocker… you can see where this is going, can’t you? The overlocker chewed up the ribbing and sliced through the leg of the pyjamas. Fixable, but they are on the small side.

3. The time I sewed all the seams with the wrong seam allowance

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This T-shirt is languishing in my alterations pile

Or, why you should stick to one project at a time. Flitting between two similarly coloured jersey projects on my overlocker, I foolishly applied the Ottobre seam allowance of 7mm to my self-drafted T-shirt pattern (seam allowance 10mm). Sounds trivial, but the shoulders look downright weird, and because I stitched all the seams before I noticed, I can’t face unpicking all the overlocking to fix it.

You can never eliminate all the mistakes from your sewing. But from my howlers I’d say:

  • Don’t multi-task; no one’s as good at two things as they are at one
  • Don’t buy fabric that looks the same on both sides unless you’re prepared to mark it up
  • If it says tack/baste, just do it
  • If all else fails, read the instructions!

Have you had any sewing mishaps lately, or is there one that’s haunted you down the years?

Supersized knitting

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You know how sometimes you just want to finish a project quickly? It almost doesn’t matter what it is, you just need something that’ll be finished soon, rather than in three months’ time?

If you knit, or if you want to knit, have you tried knitting on enormous needles? I had my hair highlighted this week, and even I managed to knit up a good four inches of this hat in the time it took for my highlights to take.

This is the Big Alps Beanie kit from Stitch and Story. It comes with 12mm bamboo needles, which feel ginormous after knitting on 5mm circulars for the last few months. The wool is so soft because it’s merino, so it all feels lovely.

The kit was created as a tie-in with the film Rams. It tells the story of two brothers who have neighbouring sheep farms in rural Iceland. They haven’t spoken for years, but when a virulent disease strikes local flocks, they have to find a way to resolve their differences. It’s a slow burner, granted, but there’s something fabulous about knitting in front of a film about sheep’s wool.

I’d recommend it – and you might even have the whole hat done before the finale.

If 12mm needles aren’t extreme enough for you, have you seen these 40mm needles and kits from Wool Couture?

 

Ottobre bicycle PJ bottoms

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After my Sallie jumpsuit earlier this month, I had the overlocker all set up, so I thought I’d whip up a speedy stashbusting make for my son. He’s growing so quickly at the moment that he seems to need something new almost every month. (No, I do not make it all!)

As I’d hoped, there was plenty of the bicycle print jersey left over from his coat lining and T-shirt, so I chopped into this again to make some pyjama bottoms. I used the same rainbow-striped ribbing from the T-shirt to make the cuffs.

The pattern is from Ottobre magazine, issue 6/2015, and it’s graded easy, so it’s a nice straightforward make for a beginner. Plus there are only two pattern pieces so there’s not too much tedious tracing either.

I used my overlocker to sew it up, switching to my sewing machine just for the waistband casing, and to topstitch the cuff/leg joins.

The trickiest part is stretching the ribbing as you join it to the leg pieces. This ribbing didn’t stretch very much, and my overlocker didn’t enjoy starting at the edge of the seam and chewed it. Next time, I would definitely follow May Martin’s advice and start stitching on a scrap, feeding the garment through once the machine has got going.

Overall, it’s a lovely simple make that doesn’t use much material. I’ve still got plenty of both fabrics left, so hopefully there’ll be a matching top in the offing soon…

 

 

 

The long and the short of it

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No, there hasn’t been a terrible CSI incident in my sewing room.

The book that went along with series 2 of Great British Sewing Bee has a curious suggestion to help with fitting. The idea is to look at the different proportions of your body to find out where you’ll need to lengthen or shorten a pattern to fit you. I thought I’d give it a go so you don’t have to.

You will need:

  • An empty piece of wall
  • A large sheet of paper that’s as big as you (several pieces taped together would also do the job)
  • Masking tape or Blu-tack
  • A plumb line, or something else you can use to get a vertical line
  • A felt-tip pen
  • A spirit level
  • A friend to help you

Start by taping or sticking the paper to the wall just above head height. Use a plumb-line or a weight on a string (I used my fabric scissors tied onto a length of yarn) to draw a vertical line down the paper.

Wearing close-fitting clothing (or ideally just your underwear if you’re not planning on taking pictures to share with the world!), and in bare feet, stand with your back against the paper, positioning the vertical line directly behind the centre of your body.

Get your helper to draw around you, creating that essential murder-scene style outline.

Mark the following points with dots or crosses: the top of your head, either side of the base of your neck, the end point of each shoulder, both armpits, either side of your waist, each side of your hip, and your knee line.

Then use the spirit level to draw  horizontal line in each of those places.

Finally, take the paper down from the wall and cut along the line you marked across the top of your head. Fold the paper in half lengthways and make a crease at the fold. Then fold it in half lengthways again and crease the fold.

Unfold the paper, and you should have an outline of your body that’s been folded into quarters lengthways. You’re going to compare the fold lines with the lines you drew earlier.

 

In a standard figure, the book says, the first quarter would be head-armpit, the second armpit-hips, the third hips-knees and the fourth knees-toes.

I marked the crease lines on mine in blue, and comparing them with the red lines you can see they’re pretty close, meaning that I’m not especially long in one area or another. But I am at least 4″ taller than Ms Average, so I know I’ll need to lengthen each area of a pattern an inch or so to get it to fit.

(The comparison also shows up my lop-sidedness. My left leg and pelvis are larger than the right-hand side, and this causes a corresponding slope in my shoulders.)

Overall, this isn’t a massively accurate way to take your measurements for fitting, because it only compares proportions rather than absolute numbers. That said, it’s quite fun, and you do get a life-sized drawing of yourself to cut out and keep.

Would you try this at home? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Five cosy coat patterns for a/w 2016

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The horse chestnut trees are just beginning to go golden here in leafy Malvern, and my thoughts are meandering in the direction of coats.

If you’re thinking of making a coat for the first time, I’d encourage you to go for it. Yes, you’ll spend a fortune on fabric. Yes it’ll take a lot longer than a skirt. But you’ll end up with something you could potentially wear every day of the winter for years and years. Plus people are always amazed that you made something as difficult as a coat. I’ve made four so far – one for me (unblogged), and three versions of the same Oliver + S Schooldays Jacket pattern for my son.

Here’s my edit of the five coat patterns I’d love to try this year. (OK, realistically I’ll probably only manage one…)

Top to bottom, left to right, they are:

  1. V8875, a vintage Vogue dress coat pattern. This fit and flare design has a detachable shawl collar and a tie belt. If I had a wedding to go to over the winter, this would be my go-to pattern. It also formed part of this year’s Great British Vintage Sewalong. I know some sewists have made the dress, but I’ve yet to see anyone make the matching coat. If you’ve seen one in the wild, let me know – I’d love to see how it turned out.
  2. Lisette for Butterick B6169. I need a moto jacket in my life, definitely. It goes with jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses, and gives you that nonchalant I-haven’t-tried-too-hard vibe that’s the perfect urban antidote to a dress. The recommended fabrics for this are linen and twill, so this pattern would be a good introduction to this style before working up to a full-on leather version.
  3. Another Liesl Gibson/Butterick collaboration, B6385 is the kind of wool coat I used to wear every day when I had an office job. Wouldn’t this look fabulous in claret or burgundy? Or pretty much any colour that’s named after a wine…? With three different collar options, and four cup sizes included in the pattern, there’s a coat for you here.
  4. Burda 6772 would take you from early autumn into winter. A slimmed-down version of the classic trenchcoat, this would sew up well in gabardine if you’re going for a Burberry copycat. Or you could use a heavyweight poplin or a jacquard to create a coat-dress. Critically, this pattern is single-breasted, so those of us above a C-cup can avoid the ‘matronly’ effect that a double-breasted trench can create.
  5. Lastly, I’m still in love with the gorgeous vintage yellow coat that Tamara made in series two of the Great British Sewing Bee. I’ve never managed to find out which vintage pattern she used, but it’s been reproduced in the book that accompanied the second series. There are some fantastic 1960s details in this pattern, like the shoulder and elbow darts – features that just aren’t found in most modern patterns. It’s not a simple project, but it would be a terrific addition to any winter wardrobe. Whether you choose to make it in yellow or not is up to you.

Are you planning to stitch a coat or a cape this autumn? And which patterns are you eyeing up?

A sea-green Sallie jumpsuit

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P1120963I’ve been feeling the need for both more glamour and more comfort in my wardrobe lately, so my latest make should provide a bit of both.

I’ve succumbed to the jumpsuit trend (despite swearing I wouldn’t two summers ago) and I’ll admit that all the things other people have said about them are true. Secret pyjamas? Check. Potential for dressing up? Check. Lazy afternoon in the park? Check.

P1120960The pattern

After deciding I needed a jumpsuit in my life, there was only one indie pattern in the running: Sallie by Closet Case Patterns. (For a Big 4 version, V9116 also looks promising.) I love the wide-legged trousers, and the way this style combines slouchy Sunday afternoon insouciance with the potential for 1970s-style Saturday night glamour. Can it be worn during the week, do you think?

There was some initial headscratching during the cutting out process. The front and back pattern pieces for the kimono tee top are identical, and I couldn’t work out if this would leave enough room up front so I made a top-half toile. It turns out there was enough room for me, but it’ll depend on your FBA size and the stretch percentage of your fabric.

I love the look, and the shape. And there are some tempting hack opportunities. If I were being picky, I’d request a few more notches, and some more detail in parts of the instructions would have made construction easier for me.

P1120952The fabric

It’s a beautiful deep sea green midweight cotton jersey with some spandex content from Fabrics Galore, bought back in the spring at an NEC sewing event. With just enough stretch, it has the structure I wanted through the bottom half, and it wasn’t too much of a pain to cut out.

P1120965The fit

I started with a size 14 on top and graded out to a 16 below the waist. The identical front and back pieces mean it does have to stretch at the front so there’s some spare fabric at the back and if I were making another one, I’d probably do a small sway back adjustment.

I lengthened the bodice by 1″ and the crotch length by 2″ to ensure that the waist seam ended up on the waist.

If you have a waist, I think you have to get this spot on, or at least very close for it to be wearable. If you’re not sure whether you’ve got enough length, add plenty of length in both these places, and tack/baste both the stitching for the casing and the waist seam to begin with so you can remove any extra length after a try-on. Remember that the weight of the trousers will pull on the top,  stretching it downwards.

P1120955The process

Although this is a fairly straightforward project, and could be attempted by anyone who’s made one knit garment before, there are one or two places where things get tricky, and I made a few mistakes along the way.

I’d really recommend labelling your front, back, front lining and back lining pieces clearly, especially if it’s hard to tell the right and wrong sides of your fabric apart.

If you’re making the kimono tee version, use your regular machine rather than your overlocker to stitch the side seams on the top. You have to stop/start exactly at the circle mark to get the underarm seams neat.

And if you’re a pear-shape grading up a size on the bottom, remember that you’ll have to get the neck opening over your hips to get in and out, so it’s best not to narrow the shoulders too much – the neck tie will stop it falling off your shoulders.

P1120959In the end

This is a project that’s divided the Wardrobe household. I love it. But Mr Wardrobe hates it. He looked distinctly worried when I said I might wear it for our next night out together.

So where do you stand on jumpsuits? Throwback, fad, or comfy chic?

And apart from wedges, what shoes would you pair with this for a more casual look?

Update: I’ve joined Allie J’s social sew for August, and included this as my ‘hot, hot heat’ make. The social sew is open until the end of the month, so if you’re sewing some warm weather gear, join us.

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