The end of my stash diet

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Back in September, I decided my fabric stash was beginning to get out of control, and that it was time to take action. I was accumulating fabric faster than I was sewing it up and it was making a very definite hole in my wallet.

So I began a stash diet, and I made myself a promise:

  • I wouldn’t buy any more fashion fabric in 2016
  • I would sew the garments for which I already had both the fabric and the pattern.

The first thing that happened after that was that I went to #sewbrum – a sewing meet up of over 100 fabric-hungry sewists, complete with a tour of Birmimgham’s best fabric shops. Nightmare. But I stood firm and (possibly for the first time ever) didn’t succumb to the delights of Guthrie & Ghani’s shelves.

What’s surprised me is that I’ve actually enjoyed it.

Working through my stash and completing some of the projects I’d had planned for a long time (Fifi pyjamas, Fairfield shirt, Christmas pudding pyjama bottoms) has been really satisfying. And because it’s so long since I bought some of these fabrics it feels a bit like getting free clothes.

It’s forced me to confront the stuff at the bottom of my stash and assess whether or not I’m ever going to use it. One or two pieces have made their way to charity shops, and I’ve spent time thinking about how I’m going to use the rest.

There’s been a psychological change too. It felt liberating to just delete all those emails that tried to tempt me with 20% off Liberty prints or 15% off wool coating. Once I’d said I wasn’t buying any more fabric , I no longer had an excuse to browse for it online. My fear of missing out began to lessen, and I stopped trying to examine and assess all the possibilities.

And this week I came across (courtesy of the Oliver + S blog) something else that struck a chord. Deep in an article about ways to save money painlessly, was the following advice:

When you’re passionate about a particular hobby, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff related to that hobby rather than actually doing things within that hobby.

That hit home. I often say I’d like more time to sew. So why am I spending all this time buying fabric and browsing fabric rather than actually sewing?

So my 2017 stash resolutions are:

  1. Not to buy fabric faster than I can use it – for me, that’s one piece a month.
  2. To start thinking about my pattern purchases in the same way. Half price patterns, or the latest indie sensation is definitely not a bargain if I never get around to sewing it. Unless it’s a rare vintage pattern, it WILL be there in six months when I actually have time to sew it.
  3. To spend less time browsing fabrics online and use that time to actually sew things!

Have you resolved to sew your stash this year? What’s the best approach for you?

The stash diet: progress update

p1130982After it dawned on me that my stash was gradually expanding I decided in late September to sew up some of the £200 or so of fabric that’s languishing in my sewing space. Critically, I also pledged not to buy any more fabric until at least January 2017.

So how’s it working out at the halfway point?

So far, so good. I think. I’ve completed the Fifi pyjama set for which I’ve had both fabric and pattern since July. Next, I’m going to tackle a Fairfield shirt for Mr Wardrobe using the gorgeous dark grey/blue chambray pictured above that I bought from Eme in Ilkley back in August.

The hardest part has been not snapping up new fabric. To grow my sewing shop map, I try to visit a fabric shop each time I go to anther town. So since September I’ve visited Guthrie & Ghani, Barry’s and Birmingham Rag Market at #sewbrum; and the luxe-denim fest that is Cloth House in Soho, London. My inbox is also regularly deluged with new stock from online stores and, most tempting of all, info on sales and discount codes.

The news this week that the cost of imported goods, including fabric, is likely to rise in the UK next year almost tipped me over the edge into some impulse purchases. But for now at least, I’m staying strong, and well away from the remnants bin.

How about you? Are you trying to reduce your stash, or does it keep on growing?

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.

 

 

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.

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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

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.

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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!

 

 

Updated sewing shop map

Even though I usually shop online these days, fabric is my exception. I prefer to buy it in person, where I can touch and manipulate potential purchases to see how they drape, how they feel and how they handle.

Because unlike a pair of shoes you buy online, once your fabric’s been cut you can’t return it.

To help sewists find the materials they need, I’d like to build up a sewing shop map, listing as many tried and tested UK brick and mortar fabric shops as possible, complete with info on the kinds of things they stock. So I’ve made a start.

So you know what it’s like to actually visit each shop, I’ve decided only to list shops I’ve visited. To be listed, the shop must sell items or services that dressmakers would use such as fabric, patterns, notions, tools, workshops or sewing machine repair.

I always enjoy visiting new fabric shops, but I’m unlikely to be able to cover the whole country. (I do have a job, after all.) So if you’d like to contribute a shop or two that you love to visit, let me know in the comments and I can elevate you to contributor status!

Ultimately, I’d like this map to connect people to a great sewing shop near where they live, or in an unfamiliar town they’re going to visit.

Wardrobe ethics: is handmade better?

Denim border stitch and white jersey drying on the washing line

Clothing can seem like an ethical minefield sometimes. This week’s Fashion Revolution campaign is doing great work highlighting what most people forget – that clothes are made by actual people sitting at sewing machines. And that many of those people work in far-flung places, in very poor conditions.

Sewing gives you control over the manufacture of the garment – you know exactly who made your clothes. But sewing, or refashioning, teaches you something else too. You learn exactly what it takes to make a garment – that even a simple T-shirt requires cutting, stitching, pressing and finishing to get a wearable result. And when you do that, you start to realise that cheap clothing just doesn’t add up.

If I browse H&M’s website, I can see jersey tops priced at £3.99. How can £3.99 possibly cover the fabric (cotton) and thread, a fair rate for the labour, shipping to the UK from the factory and a profit for the retailer? Even accounting for economies of scale and the lower cost of living in the country of production (Bangladesh? China? Cambodia? – the item details don’t say), I think I can still smell a rat. Someone somewhere isn’t making a fair wage for their work.

I’m not convinced that expensive designer clothing is any better –  a high price doesn’t tell you what the producer receives, or whether something is good quality – although you’re more justified in being disappointed if it’s shoddily made. Good value clothing is about quality, not just price.

Sewists value clothing differently. We began to sew because ready-to-wear clothing didn’t fit, or because we couldn’t find what we wanted in the shops, so we’re picky by nature. But the slow pace of sewing teaches you to value quality over quantity. Sewists obsess over fabric, fit and finishes. It’s that thought process, and the fixation with quality that produces a more sustainable wardrobe. Handmade garments have been chosen and altered to suit and fit the wearer, they’re made carefully, and they last longer and get more wear than a knock-off of the latest fad. And that’s why you won’t usually find us in fast-fashion stores loading up with armfuls of the latest trends.

It’s not a perfect world. I’d like to see a better selection of sustainable fabrics available for sewers. And I’ll confess that until this week I hadn’t even considered who makes the thread, zips and trims I use. So perhaps instead of smugly proclaiming #imademyclothes, we should be asking ‘Who made my fabric?’

I’m not suggesting that everyone should make every garment they wear, or that we can travel back in time to an age when there were talented local seamstresses in every town. But the next time you find yourself in a clothes shop, look carefully at what you’re holding as you make for the till. Does it really fit you? How well is it constructed? Will you wear it out?

Don’t settle for mediocre. If it doesn’t fit properly, could you get it altered? If the buttons are falling off, could you replace them? Over time, would you swap a large, poor-quality wardrobe for a smaller, better-quality one? The only way to step off the fast-fashion treadmill is to buy less, but buy better – better for you, and better for the garment workers.

If you want to get involved, you can:

Visit fashionrevolution.org to tackle your favourite clothing retailer on their supply chain

Read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline, the subject of last month’s Colette book club

Check out fashion blogger Man Repeller’s thoughts on slow fashion

Follow US Style and sewing blogger Birds of a Thread, who writes about ethical and socially responsible fashion

Gen up with English Girl at Home who’s been researching where different companies make and print their fabric.

NEC Sewing for Pleasure event

I spent last Friday at the Sewing for Pleasure event at the NEC. The lovely Mr Wardrobe had bought me two tickets for Christmas, and (because his interest in sewing is limited to whether or not I can repair his jeans) I took my Mum as my guest.

The NEC is huuu-mongous, so I was looking forward to see what had been crammed into three of the halls for this event. And there was a lot. Because there are dozens of fabric retailers in one place you can really compare and shop around in a way that isn’t possible on most high streets in Britain. I came away with 2.5 metres of a beautiful deep teal cotton-spandex jersey from Fabrics Galore at £10/m.

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This picture doesn’t really do the colour justice – it’s a deep greeny teal colour.

Any suggestions on what I should do with it? I’m thinking a Closet Case Files Sallie jumpsuit

The Big 4 pattern companies were all there, offering discounts (new season patterns from £3). My Mum picked a Burda dress pattern with princess seams that will make a great summer staple in chambray, cotton lawn or a drapey viscose. The Simplicity stand was heaving with shoppers, so it was a shame that there weren’t more pattern companies there – of the indies, I only spotted Sew me Something.

We also took a look at some of the amazing quilts that were there. Neither my Mum nor I quilt, but we were still really impressed by some of the displays. My favourite was this quilted vegetable patch:IMG_2057

I’d have liked more workshops, but I think the show is bigger than it was when I first went four years ago so maybe there’ll be more up-and-coming exhibitors and activities next year.

Did you go on Friday, or over the weekend? What did you think? And which other sewing events are worth the entry fee?

Sourcing children’s duffel coat supplies in the UK

It’s happened. He’s grown. Again. So I’m starting my third Oliver + S School Days Jacket ahead of some of the other things in my queue that I’m itching to get stuck into.

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Most of the versions of this pattern (including the official sew-along) I’ve seen have been from US-based stitchers like Cashmerette, so I thought it might help to compile some links and tips to help UK sewists find everything they’ll need.

The pattern

I’ve used the Oliver + S School Days Jacket. I love this pattern – it’s cute, it’s adaptable, it’s unisex. The instructions are spot on and you don’t need any special tailoring skills or tools.

Loads of lovely sewing shops in the UK now stock Oliver + S but they rarely have this particular pattern, preferring to stick to simpler stuff like T-shirts and summer dresses. So you’ll probably need to get it from Backstitch. I’d recommend the PDF version because kids are a different size each time and I find it easier to re-print than trace it off each time.

One minor grumble – the pattern comes in sizes 6m-18m up to 3T and then for 4T and up you have to re-buy it in the larger size bundle. I read Todd’s post explaining why this is the case, and I do appreciate the reasons. But it still grates a bit, especially as there’s no overlap for grading between 3T and 4T.

Fabrics

Main fabric

Tons of options here. For a proper duffel coat, you’ll want to use a fairly heavy coating fabric. Obviously you can get wool, tweed, or even cashmere (!) but for a coat that’s only going to fit for one year and that you’re likely to want to wash or at least scrub regularly, that’s probably not a great idea. So I’ve used a polyester melton from Croft Mill. It washes well, doesn’t fray much and sews up well. The downsides are that it’s tough on your hands to cut out and you can’t press it into shape as easily as wool. Small price to pay, I think. (And actually it really is a small price at £10.50/m rather than upwards of £20/m). I also think it would look amazing in needlecord but my boy is determined to stick with what he knows.

Lining fabric

I made the first two versions with quilting cotton – it was on the list of fabric suggestions and there are so many brilliant patterns and colours to choose from.

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For the third version, I’m going to try something I see in lots of my son’s RTW clothes – a cotton jersey knit fabric for the body lining and an acetate (slippery nylon type) fabric for the sleeves. The theory is that this should make it easier to take on and off over winter jumpers but I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve bought this slightly extravagant bicycle-print organic cotton jersey from Fabric Godmother and I’ll use some plain acetate lining from my stash for the sleeves.

For the pockets, although a contrast lining is really tempting, I’d strongly recommend something that closely matches the outer fabric. They’re patch pockets, and try/understitch as I might, I can’t get them on without a tiny peek of the lining showing through at the sides. So this time I’ll use a black acetate lining fabric.

Interlining

I embraced Liesl’s suggestion to interline the coat for a really cosy look and feel (toddlers don’t do layering, after all). It’s a lot simpler than making the optional quilted vest that comes with the pattern. I am definitely not a quilter so this is much quicker.

Pennine Outdoor sell a Thinsulate lining which works well here. It’s a bit like sewing with snow at roughly 1cm thick, but it squashes while it’s under the presser foot, it’s held up well and I’m pleased with the way it looks. You don’t need as much of this as the lining fabric because there’s no straight grain so you can arrange the pieces any old how for your cutting layout.

Notions

Don’t go with the Velcro option if you’re using a wool-type fabric – it sticks to everything and damages your outer fabric. Choose the snaps/press studs option instead. Nice chunky ones will help the coat sit better.

I’ve seen a few versions of this pattern with the button tabs, but for a proper duffel coat you can’t beat toggles. Myfabrics and Weaver Dee both sell ready-made leather-look toggle fastenings in a range of colours. I’d really love to make my own (using Jen’s instructions for the Grainline Cascade duffel coat) with real leather pieces but I haven’t found anywhere near me or online in the UK that sells leather cord or leather laces. Can you recommend anywhere?

For my third version, I’ve also decided to add some reflective piping to the hood and yoke seams. Pennine Outdoor sell this ready made and you’ll need between 1 and 2m to do the same seams as me, depending on the size you’re making.

Tools

Leather needles for the toggle fastenings – I sew mine by hand

Sticky tape or fabric glue to hold the toggles in place while you sew them

Size 90 or 100 regular machine needles for stitching the coating fabric

Nice long pins to hold all those layers together

Piping or regular zip foot for adding any piping

A walking foot for joining the lining to the coat and stitching together the interlining

Possibly a hump jumper, depending on your machine and your fabric.

 

That’s it. Not so hard when you list it all out – plus you get all the fun of ticking off the list, right?