Press Gang


Do you enjoy ironing? How about pressing? (What’s the difference, I hear you ask?!)

In sewing, pressing means applying heat and/or steam to your fabric during construction.

If you’re working with a natural fibre, especially a fabric like wool that responds really well to pressing, you can use your iron to shape and mould the garment to your satisfaction.

I’m not a natural with an iron, so I’ve gathered up some of my favourite pressing tips and tutorials to help anyone else who struggles to get to grips with this part of the process.

Before you cut out

So you’ve pre-washed your fabric  and line dried it and now it’s all creased, possibly stretched off grain, and you’re starting to wish you hadn’t bothered.

Try: Pressing the unfolded fabric on your cutting surface (using an old towel underneath it). Start near the selvedges and get them straight and crease-free first, then carefully iron the middle part without dragging the fabric if you can. Next, fold it in half where you think the centre is and press all the way up to the fold but not on top of it.

Try: Pressing paper patterns using a cool, dry iron (empty the reservoir and turn the steam function off) so they’re exactly the shape they were intended to be when you come to cut out.

If you really love pressing enormous pieces of yardage, you might also enjoy this in-depth piece by David Page Coffin for Seamwork.

Applying fusible interfacing

Straight after cutting out, you’ll want to interface any pieces that are going to be under strain, or that need stiffening: typically facings, plackets, waistbands, collars and cuffs.

Try: Trim the interfacing so it’s slightly smaller than the corresponding pattern piece (usually you effectively trim off the seam allowances). Place the sticky side on top of the wrong side of your pattern piece and press it without your iron (without moving the iron around) for 8 seconds. And did you know you can add more than one layer of interfacing if you want to?

If you’re slovenly like me, and can’t always be bothered to cut out interfacing pieces exactly or trim off the seam allowances, you may want to invest in a sheet of oven liner or Teflon of some kind to prevent you glueing everything to your ironing board cover.

If you find this part of the process boring (hello coat-making!), you could always brighten up your ironing board with a new, homemade cover using this tutorial from Tilly and the Buttons.

After sewing a seam

Try: This is a three-step process, believe it or not. First, press the seam as sewn – lay it on your ironing board just as it was under the machine and press down on the stitches with your iron. Apparently this helps the stitches meld into your fabric.

(If you’re pressing a curved seam, grab your tailor’s ham now.) If the pattern says to press the seams open/to one side, do that from the wrong side. Then turn your fabric over and repeat from the right side.

This helpful piece from So Sew Easy includes advice on tailor’s hams, seam rolls and a press cloths.

Other ways to improve your pressing:

Buy a properly hot and steamy iron. My upgrade to a more powerful £50 model with a Teflon soleplate and much more steam has made pressing almost pleasurable. Almost, I said.

Turn the temperature and the steam up as high as you can without singeing. Test on a scrap first, obvs, and you may be able to go even hotter if you use a press cloth.

Upgrade your ironing board cover to something cotton, linen or canvas with a bit of grip to it to stop everything sliding around (rather than the shiny metallic ones they often come with).

Buy or make a tailor’s ham. If you don’t want to spend on a seam roll as well, you can always use a tightly rolled up towel.

If you want to do lots of tailoring, you could consider investing in a seam clapper. I don’t have one, but lots of people swear by them. Karen from Did You Make That? has created a short video so you can see her seam clapper in action.

If you’re making something that needs pressing into shape (lots of curved pieces and darts), don’t choose polyester fabric. It doesn’t respond well to pressing.

Can anyone tell me:

How do you press open tiny seam allowances without burning your fingers? I’m currently make a Fifi set by Tilly and the Buttons, which uses french seams. The instructions say: sew a 1/4″ seam with WST, trim the seam allowances by half (to 1/8″) and then press them open. How is this possible with real human fingers? Do I need a mini iron?

What’s your top pressing tip? And have you ever burnt a hole in a home-made garment?

Is knitting really booming?

knitting_parlour_closingI was dismayed to learn this week that my local yarn shop is closing down.

There are other places you can buy yarn in Malvern – there’s The Wool Shack, and several other local shops do sell bits and pieces of wool. But The Knitting Parlour‘s my favourite.

I only started knitting a year ago, and I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent there browsing through pattern books and investigating all the different yarns. There’s something special about squidging yarn in your hands, isn’t there?

Sadly, the shop isn’t closing because the owner is retiring, but because she isn’t making enough money to sustain her business. I’m not exactly a prolific knitter so I don’t buy a lot, but I prefer to knit with real wool and I’ll willingly spend £5 on 50g of soft merino wool. So when you account for rent, rates, staff costs, taxes at a rough guess, the shop probably needs something like 1,000 customers like me to sustain a livelihood for its owner, Jackie.

For beginners, local brick-and-mortar shops are vital: you can see and touch the wool; you can buy just a little to get started; you can get advice from experienced staff; and there are often classes and social sessions to help you improve. If you keep visiting, they can become a place to meet other people who share your interests and, especially if they’re independent, they can help to revitalise a whole high street.

So while I love the way that online knit kit retailers like Wool and the Gang, and Stitch and Story have shaken up knitting to appeal to a younger, hipper set, I would hate for them to squeeze out local yarn shops altogether. Is knitting really booming, or is it just that the same people are knitting different things?

It’s Sew Saturday this weekend (15 October), so let’s pledge to visit our local fabric shops, yarn shops and haberdasheries this week and ensure that they’ll still be there when we need them.

If you’ve got a fantastic fabric shop or wonderful wool shop near you, I’d love to know what you like best about it, and how you go about supporting them.



Big Alps Beanie hat


Winter’s on the way, so I’ve tucked into some knitting over the past few weeks. My first jumper is still two sleeves short of a full set, so I switched to something easier just to get something off the needles and sewn up.


This is the Big Alps Beanie hat, made using a kit from Stitch and Story. (It was a limited edition tie-in with Icelandic film Rams, so it may not still be on sale if you’re reading this down the line a bit.)


The 12mm needles and superchunky merino wool meant it was really quick to knit up, once I’d sussed out how to cable… (Experienced knitters look away now.) This was my first attempt at cables. I love the way cable knitting looks – simultaneously intricate, outdoorsy, mysterious and intimidating.

It turns out it’s not really that hard. This pattern’s a good choice for a beginner cabler, because you only have to do the cabling part six times. The rest is all knit, purl and rib stitches in different sized chunks.

So this is definitely the simpler end of cable knitting. Browsing Ravelry, and the blogs of experienced knitters, can make me feel a bit queasy sometimes when I realise just how much there is to learn. (If you want to see some intricate and beautiful knitting online, may I recommend Kate Davies’ blog? Her colourwork patterns are incredible, and I would love to work up to a Braid Hills cardigan. Perhaps in my dotage.)

This hat came together pretty quickly, and I only struggled with my usual problem areas – garter mattress stitch for sewing up and attaching the pom pom securely.

My gauge was spot on, and my head is definitely not small, so be warned that this pattern comes out pretty large. Were I making it again, I think I’d make the rib section two rows shorter. But it feels lovely next to the skin and it’s very warm so I think this’ll be getting plenty of wear this winter.


Are you knitting up a storm this autumn? Or can you point me to a great tutorial on sewing up?





Rainbow bicycle pyjama top


Since I finished the bottoms for these pyjamas in August, my son’s been asking for a matching top. Pester power can be applied to sewing, it seems.

The fabric is the same organic printed cotton jersey I used for the bottoms, and an earlier T-shirt. It’s a fun design, but it’s printed slightly off-grain and it pilled disappointingly after one wash.


The pattern is from Ottobre Winter 2015, and I made size 110cm, with no alterations for this first attempt. The sizing seems fairly generous to me; these aren’t skinny fit pyjamas.

Now Ottobre instructions are pretty brief, with no diagrams. And although I’ve now made a few knit tops with neckline binding, this was the first one I’ve tried with a placket opening. (Am I right in thinking this style is often called a Henley?)

That part didn’t go so well. I just couldn’t work out how to get a neat edge on the ribbing I used for the binding without it becoming incredibly bulky. After two attempts at folding it under and ending up with a huge knobbly bit on the end I got grumpy and just cut the ends off.


When it came to topstitching the neckline, I wanted to make up for the fudging on the corners, so I used yellow and green thread in my twin needle to blend in with the different lines in the rainbow ribbing. (NB This is a really quick way to lose your sewing sanity.)

The twin needle stitching is almost invisible – I’ve lightened this picture so you can make it out more easily.
I love the cuffs. I used a decorative stitch on my sewing machine across the seamline to hold the raw edges of the overlocked cuff in place. (Coverstitch machine owners would, of course, use that instead.)

As with the top, my overlocker didn’t like dealing with four layers of the ribbing at once and chewed up the fabric. Would adjusting the presser foot pressure would help with this, or is four layers just too many?

Either way, my son’s pretty happy with the results and they’re getting some wear already.


The stash diet: use it or lose it


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.

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.

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

coloured threads in a box

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.


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


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


P1130338 (1).jpg

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.


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:


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.)


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.

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.


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


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?


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.


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


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


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

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 16.35.42

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
Close-up of a back dart in a blue shirt
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

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 16.35.42

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

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


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?