What’s on my sewing table?

Although I’ve been quiet on the blog this month, there’s plenty of sewing going on. Some successful, some less so. Here’s what I’m up to this week:

Bridesmaid Betty

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I’ve just, just finished handstitching the enormous hem on this, and it’s all ready to photograph. I just have to decide whether to take my own pictures for the blog, or see if I might be allowed to use the professional ones from the wedding.

A short-sleeved Fairfield shirt

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This was originally intended as secret squirrel surprise sewing for Mr Wardrobe’s birthday last week. It’s almost finished: there’s just a bit of finishing on the collar to do, plus the hem, buttons and buttonholes. But there’s one small problem. When he tried it on, we both remembered why he doesn’t own any short-sleeved shirts – they actually don’t suit him. His arms look weirdly stick-like and this shirt really brings out the geek in him. So now I need to either abandon it, or find another Mr-Wardrobe-shaped owner for it. I might see if my Dad would like to try it on…

Returning to the scene of a previous blunder

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Now that 1990s patterns are pretty much vintage in the sewisphere, I dragged out the first pattern I ever attempted (with disastrous consequences, all the way back in 1992) and it’s starting to look quite appealing again now. Since I currently own exactly zero pairs of shorts, I thought this might be fun to try again. Only this time I’ll be making view C in a lightweight tawny linen, rather than View B in a rose-print rayon challis type. (SO not a good fabric choice for a first project – if only my teenage self had listenened to her Mum.)

Stepping up my skirt game

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Having worn out my favourite RTW denim skirt this year, my wardrobe definitely needs skirts. So I’m planning a few as we move into autumn. First up, this gorgeous red heavy wool crepe is going to become view D from New Look 6346 – a straightforward flared skirt pattern with a contoured waistband and invisible zip. I was eyeing the Sewaholic Hollyburn pattern orignally, but I already had this one, plus it’s more economical on fabric so that swung it for me.

Knitting plans

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It’s time for a new knitting project, so I’ve spent some time on Ravelry this week, trying to work out how best to use some yarn oddments I have stashed away. I have four different balls of double knit (one cotton, one alpaca, two merino/cashmere blend) lurking in my stash and absolutely no idea what to do with any of them.

So that’s the next few weeks taken care of, then. Do you keep several projects on the go at once, or do you limit yourself to just one UFO at a time?

 

 

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Hand-knitted hot water bottle cover

I’ve got something different for you today – the first non-garment ever to appear on this blog!

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For about two or three weeks now, my brain has been anticipating autumn and winter – I’ve found myself thinking about wool fabrics for my my autumn wardrobe, browsing A/W fashion collections in the September issues, and yesterday I even bought myself a pair of winter mittens I spotted in the sale.

When you move out of a city (I grew up in Leeds, and in my twenties I lived in London), the first thing you notice is how much more influence the weather has on your day-to-day life. Suddenly you’re not moving from one air-conditioned building to another, so the temperature and the climate make the seasons feel much more distinct. If you also have a dog to walk, the effect is magnified because you’re outside in all weathers.

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Last year, Mr Wardrobe and I made an effort to get into the hygge trend as a way to combat any winter blues. I’ve always loved winter, but even so, it’s still not easy to occupy an active pre-schooler in a small town on a wet day; there are weeks when the view from the office window is continually gloomy; and the endless mud that the dog brings home can start to get you down.

What seems to help is having the right kit – good-quality waterproofs for dog-walking, a bright light if you’re prone to seasonal affective disorder, and some really cosy gear for those evenings when nothing but a roaring woodburner and a mug of hot chocolate will do the trick.

On really cold nights, I love using a hot water bottle to make the bed all toasty before I sink into it, and this snuggly merino/cashmere blend cover should make it even better. (Plus it stops you scalding yourself if you’ve put too much boiling water in…) I knitted this using yet another pattern from my beginner’s book, Knitty Gritty by Aneeta Patel. It’s pretty simple – if you can knit and purl, you can easily knit this.

The yarn I used is actually an aran, rather than the double knit recommended by the pattern. That was mainly deliberate – and I like the densely packed effect it gives. Beige might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it goes really well with the bedroom curtains I sewed last year. I wouldn’t say I’m all set for autumn yet, but this takes me one step closer.

Do you love the changing of the seasons, or would you rather it was forever summer?

The murky depths of my fabric stash…

After last year’s stash diet, I’m pleased to say that my fabric collection is back under control. I’ve set myself a rule, which is that I must not buy more fabric than I can manage to sew! I make an average of just over one garment a month, so I’ve restricted myself to buying just one new length of fabric a month. That leaves me some slack to work through my stash, and to do a bit of scrapbusting on the side.

Yesterday, I got the whole pile out and and tried to work out what’s been in there the longest. I pulled out three pieces that I’m calling the lurkers – fabric from the murky depths I’ve had for more than two years, and that I haven’t yet decided what to do with. I’m hoping you can help me with some suggestions!

Lurker number one

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This is my oldest piece – it’s from my Grannie’s stash, which I acquired in 2012, but she probably picked it up decades ago in a remnant sale at a woollen mill. It’s a heavy navy blue wool tweed, and astoundingly, it was even made in England. There’s not enough for a coat, so I’m wondering about a jacket of some kind?

Width: 140cm

Length: 1.46m

Lurker number two

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I bought this embroidered border denim in a pile-it-high fabric shop in Cheltenham two years ago, and it’s been there ever since. It’s not the best quality denim, but the main worry is that I’ve never worked with a border print/embroidered border before – how do I deal with the grainline? And how do I stop a garment made from this looking too, ummm… cowgirl?

With 150cm

Length: 1.5m

Lurker number three

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This one has definite possibilities. It’s a heavy-ish wool crepe (yup, I did the burn test) of some kind that I bought at the Worcester Resource Exchange. I’d originally planned to make a Hollyburn skirt, but I don’t think there’s quite enough for my favourite knee-length version. Can you recommend a less fabric-hungry skirt pattern?

Width 146cm

Length: 1.4m

So there they are. How would you use any of these? And what’s lurking in the Mariana Trench of your stash?

Reversible children’s sunhat

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Photo snapped at our local farm park, while he was playing on the toy tractors

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Summer’s in full swing here so I thought I’d try out the scrapbusting Oliver + S Reversible Bucket Hat pattern to make my son a new sunhat.

It’s a free pattern, and great for using up any too-big-to-throw-away-but-not-all-that-useful-really scraps of cotton fabric you have left over – it’s ideal for all those fabulous printed quilting cottons, too. I chose leftovers from the lining of a Schooldays Jacket and my husband’s Fairfield shirt. This gives the hat a sensible side and a silly side – something that seems to run in our family… and anything reversible is automatically exciting to a preschooler.

The instructions are good for a free pattern, and anyone except an absolute beginner could zip through this fairly easily. The only disappointing thing is the sizing – my son is four, and I sewed the largest size, but it’s only just big enough for him. Admittedly, his RTW sunhat is labelled age 7-10, but I’d love it if this pattern would cover him for a bit longer. There are only three pattern pieces, so I might possibly venture into grading if I can find a good tutorial online.

You could have all sorts of fun with this pattern, playing around with trims, colour blocking, piping and so on – there are some great examples on the Oliver and S blog (follow the links at the bottom of the tutorial page). Go, on make a whole stack of them for your favourite small person.

 

 

Bridesmaid Betty – fitting the bodice

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Since my sister asked me to be one of the bridesmaids at her wedding next month, I’ve been pondering what to wear sew. I’ve finally settled on the Sew Over It Betty dress – a full-skirted knee-length dress with a straightforward sleeveless bodice, designed to be sewn in lightweight woven fabric like cotton lawn.

I like the neckline (front and back) on this dress, and once I get it to fit, I’m hoping I can hack this pattern around to make a few variations later. Lisa Comfort has dozens, apparently!

So task number one was to toile the bodice to make sure I could get it to fit. My measurements are currently 39-32-43, so I started by sewing the size 14 with no alterations. Here’s how that looked…

From the front, you can see there’s some puffiness in the front bra strap area, between bust and shoulder. The neckline is sitting quite wide on the shoulders, and it’s obviously too short – take off 1.5cm from the bottom edge and I’m suddenly wearing a crop top rather than something that lands at my waist. On the up side, the bust darts are almost exactly in the right place, so I won’t need to move those.

From the back, again it’s too short; the back looks slightly too broad overall at bust level – a sign that my ‘girls’ are dragging the back piece fowrards; and there’s more sagging at the sides of the upper chest area.

From the side, you can see the side seam is bowing forwards at bust level, but the armscye looks more or less OK, other than the puffiness at the upper chest.

(I’m sorry these photos are a bit grainy – the lighting wasn’t ideal yesterday and I’m still learning how to deal with that.)

Looking at these pictures, I decided to make three changes:

  1. Go down to a size 12, grading out to a 14 at the waist
  2. Add 1″ to the length
  3. Do a full bust adjustment to increase the circumference at the bust back up to the same as the size 14

There’s no lengthen/shorten line marked on the pattern, so I drew my own – about 1″ above the natural waistline (also not marked – grrrr…), perpendicular to the grainline. At this point I also made a note on the envelope to buy a longer zip than it says in the instructions.

For the FBA, I used this excellent tutorial from Mary at Idle Fancy. There are lots of FBA tutorials around, but this one has a kind of all-in-one method so you don’t have to trace off the pattern multiple times. And Mary also reminds you that for a larger bust, you may want to position the dart points further away than the standard 1″ that works well for a B cup.

This time around I also trimmed off the seam allowance on the front and back neckline, and around the armhole to get a better idea of where these would sit on me. Toile number 2 looked like this:

I’m almost happy with this. The length and bust fit well, with fewer draglines pointing to the bust. The only area that’s not working is the upper back at the sides. This could be a couple of things – I usually need a swayback adjustment, but I don’t think that’s the only thing.

In the past, I’ve made narrow back adjustments, but looking at this, I’m wondering if I need a sloping shoulder adjustment.

Or do you think it could be something else?

A second Astoria sweatshirt

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Oddly, this sweatshirt looks a lot better lying down than standing up

I love the idea of this pattern, but I can’t quite get it working for me.

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That fold just above the bustline shows there’s too much fabric there – I should go back down a size and add the extra room just where it’s needed.

 

My first one was a bit tight across the chest and the arms, and this one (a large rather than a medium) is just a bit, well, meh. It’s not sweatshirty enough for slobbing around or smart enough for going out.

I used the leftover fabric from the first to try this second version and I had just enough to squeeze out the 3/4 length sleeved version.

Fit-wise, this one is much looser overall, but I’m now getting that tell-tale extra fabric just above the armpits (front and back) that reveals it’s too large at the upper bust.

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It’s a bit big in the back and it doesn’t really nip in at the waist.

Plus the 3/4 length sleeves have come out more like 5/8, even though I added the same amount of length to these as I added to the full-length ones before – and those were way too long. (Why? Do I have oddly long upper arms and weirdly short forearms?!)

I’ve learnt some useful things: I do need an FBA, even in a C-cup pattern line like Colette/Seamwork. I should go back to the size M and add the extra room at the bust and on the arms. And I think it would be less meh –and more me – in a sweater knit or a ponte knit – I’m thinking a marled grey or a berry colour?

What do you think?

Can you recommend a great tutorial for an FBA on knits, and what’s the best EU-based online shop for sweater knits?

 

Improving my twin needle hems

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The twin needle threaded up and ready to go.

I don’t have a coverstitch machine (yet…), so my favourite way to hem knitted garments is with a twin needle on my regular sewing machine. I’ve been sewing lots of knits over the last year (children’s clothes 1, 2 and 3 as well as things for me 1, 2 and 3). And I’m not very happy with my twin needle hems so I thought I’d scout around the blogosphere for some tips, test them, and share the results with you all.

So here’s my control example: some sweatshirting fabric scraps sewn with a twin needle, using Gutermann sew-all thread on top and bottom, medium presser foot pressure and the ordinary tension settings.

As you can see, the two lines of stitching on the top are fine, but there’s not much zig and zag in the black bobbin thread meaning them hem won’t stretch much. Fine in a loose fitting sweatshirt, maybe, but not great for a tight-fitting T-shirt. And when you look at the hem in profile, it’s got that tunnelling effect where the fabric between the two lines of stitching almost looks as though it has piping inside it.

The first tip I found was to adjust the tension on the top thread. Cranking up the tension on the top should make the bobbin tension lower and create more zig and zag in the bobbin thread. Except it didn’t, so I haven’t taken any pictures of that. The only thing it did do was to stop the hem from curving – almost as if I’d adjusted a non-existent differential feed.

Woolly nylon in the bobbin thread

The second tip I found was to try woolly nylon thread in the bobbin, instead of sew-all. This stuff is weird! It’s fuzzy, stretchy and feels very, very synthetic – a bit like you’ve unravelled your tights, I suppose.

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With woolly nylon in the bobbin, the hem comes out like this:

I think there’s a bit more zigzagging going on in the bobbin thread – although it’s hard to see with the pale grey colour I bought (sorry!), but there’s still a definite tunnel effect when you look at the hem in profile. So far, no better.

Lowering the bobbin tension (while using woolly nylon)

Next up, I tried lowering the bobbin tension as suggested on Oliver and S. My sewing machine manual doesn’t even tell me how to do this, as Janome firmly believes you should only ever need to alter the top tension to get the right balance. (If you try this at home, please make sure you know how to undo it, too.) To save my sanity if I couldn’t undo it, I followed Rachel’s example in the Oliver and S post and bought a second bobbin casing to play with, loosening the screw to lower the tension.

The results looked like this:

Lots more zigzagging in the bobbin thread, which means the hem is much stretchier. But I’ve still got the tunnelling. Aaargh.

Have you solved this problem? What should I try next?

 

Art class Ottobre children’s t-shirt

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My little boy LIVES in T-shirts. He doesn’t have to wear a uniform for pre-school, so he puts on a t-shirt pretty much every day. Although he’s not quite four, he wears age 5-6 clothes so he’s grown out of some of the really fun prints and appliques you find for toddlers.

And although t-shirts can be found pretty cheaply on the high street, it’s really hard to find t-shirts for boys his size that feature something other than dinosaurs, sharks, superheroes, stereotyped messages, camouflage or vehicles. And in our house, we’re sick of all of those. For a pretentiously middle-class t-shirt that doesn’t feature any of these, the going rate seems to be £15 and up.

In my head, I think I should be the sort of mother who can easily whip up a batch of neatly made t-shirts with a custom fit in a selection of fun fabrics. It doesn’t seem to be that easy, but here’s my latest attempt.

The pattern

This time I tried a dropped-shoulder, long-sleeved t-shirt pattern from Ottobre Kids issue 2015/1  on the site. My little boy has narrow shoulders and I wanted to see how a dropped-shoulder style would look on him.

Fit

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I cut the pattern with no alterations to see how it would fit straight out of the envelope, and it turned out oddly long in the arms, so I think the shoulder was too wide still. It’s a little large on him, but the weirdest thing is that the neckline turned out a lot wider than you would usually get on a boys’ t-shirt. (Are Finnish children oddly broad in the shoulders with thick necks?) So I won’t use this pattern again for George.

Fabric

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How cute is this print for a pre-schooler? It’s by Rae Hoekstra, and it’s from Cloud 9 Fabrics’ 100% organic cotton jersey range. I’d say it’s a medium-weight jersey – almost interlock weight. And I think Rae has even used the other colourway to make an Astoria sweatshirt. It was £9.50 per half a metre, but I was hoping I would get something that would last a long while.

The downside of using 100% cotton, of course, is that without some spandex content, the fabric doesn’t have great recovery. I did know this, but I got distracted by the lovely print and forgot. It’s also printed just ever so slightly off-grain – aaargh! Not a lot, but when I thread-traced down the grainline it definitely shifted across the print by around 1cm over 1m. Disappointing, at £19/m.

Sewing it up

I cut the pieces so there would be a complete line of pencils along the hem, and along the sleeve hems, and then sewed it up on the overlocker. As with the last Ottobre T-shirt I made, I ran into trouble with the binding. I’d love to know what I’m doing wrong here, but the pieces didn’t seem wide enough to do the job properly, and when I stretched both fabrics to sew it on as per the instructions, the cotton jersey didn’t recover and I ended up with a sort of lettuce edge on the neckline and both cuffs…

The sleeves were too long anyway, so I cut the binding off and just did a simple folded hem instead. (Well. I say simple, but the cuffs were too narrow to go around the 12″ circumference free arm on my machine, so I had to negotiate sewing them from the inside while stabbing myself with all the pins…)

To get the neckline back into shape, I ripped out the binding and switched it to a band instead. Then I washed and steamed the shirt furiously with the iron to get it to shrink back again. It seems to have worked, at least for now.

George loves the print and he’s got it on today, so I hope it’ll be popular.

Have you made t-shirts for your children? What fabrics and patterns would you recommend? And where can I source fun t-shirt prints that have enough stretch and enough recovery?

 

 

Pester power Christmas pudding children’s pyjamas

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Since Christmas, when I made him some quick Christmas pudding-print PJ bottoms, my not-so-little boy has been asking for a matching top. I fancied having a go at a proper, traditional pyjama top with piping and a notched collar, so I went on a pattern hunt for the children’s equivalent of the Closet Case Carolyn, or Lisette for Butterick 6296.

The only one I found was this Burda PDF pattern, which was reduced (so possibly soon to be discontinued?) It’s labelled as for boys, but obviously it would work for girls if you swapped the buttons to the opposite side. The sizing covers roughly ages 3-8. These had exactly the look I was going for, and as it was a PDF I could get started straight away. Hurrah.

I was slightly worried when I opened the PDF file and discovered there were no diagrams at all in the instructions. Never mind, I thought gaily, it’ll be fine – I’ve sewed lots of Big 4 patterns and I can probably use the Carolyn sewalong to help with the tricky bits.

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I set to printing, cutting, sticking, tracing and re-tracing the pattern and adding seam allowances (yes, it’s one of those…). I used the same quilting cotton fabric as for the bottoms. Sadly, it’s not printed straight on the grain so I had some awkward choices about whether to go with the grain or the pattern in places and not everything matches up neatly. I made a batch of bright red piping to pick out one of the colours in the fabric and I love how cheerful it makes them.

When it came to sewing them up, these are the MOST minimalist instructions I’ve ever worked with.

Sample instruction:

“Set in sleeves.”

The pattern doesn’t tell you what to interface, or what diameter of piping to use, and it doesn’t even mention notching, clipping or staystitching – each of which is critical to getting the collar sewn on.

But where I really ran into trouble was where the piped, notched collar meets the lapel. On reflection, my piping cord was too thick. Then I carelessly missed off one of the pattern markings, leading to me cutting some of the piping too short and having to piece it. That made getting the collar lined up a bit of a nightmare and I’ve had to fudge it a bit. (And the Carolyn sewalong?  It’s not a full sewalong, and it uses a slightly different facing method so I wasn’t able to crib much from it.)

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Not perfect, but luckily my three-year old is far less of a perfectionist than me.

I made one deliberate change to the design – my three-year old hasn’t mastered buttons yet, so the closing is done with Velcro instead – you can see the stitching for it on the front edge if you look closely. But he can now take the pyjamas on and off himself, so that’s all good.

I made the size 116cm (roughly age 5-6 – he’s tall), and it’s turned out a little broad in the shoulders, so next time I might make them narrower, or I could equally go down a size and add a bit of extra length in a loose-fitting garment like this.

Overall, it’s ended up as a borderline wearable toile, but given the trouble I had with this pattern, I’ll settle for that and hope to make a better fist of it next time. After all, he’s only going to grow.

Have you wrestled with any patterns that aren’t big on instructions? And where do you go for help with the awkward bits?

Ouch!

It had to happen eventually, I suppose.

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Today was the day I sewed through my finger for the first time.

I was trying to attach some piping and the adjustable zip foot wasn’t quite in the right place, so I used my finger to drag it over a bit and…

I think I should probably buy a proper piping foot.

Have you suffered any sewing injuries over the years?