Sewing in snippets

p1150800

Before my son was born there was a lot more time to sew. Mr Wardrobe would go out to play club cricket on summer Saturdays, and I’d have a lovely long sew-in all afternoon and half the evening, immersing myself in fabric and fitting for the day, half-listening to TMS. And one evening a week I used to go to a sewing class at my local FE college for a full three hours of sewing with like-minded ladies. Bliss.

These days, as I scurry between work, childcare and chores (to a soundtrack of ‘Mumh-maaaaay’ rather than cricket commentary) I now have what’s described as ‘time confetti‘: unpredictable snippets of five minutes here and ten minutes there in between conference calls and pre-school pickups.

And my dedicated sewing space that used to be in what’s now my son’s room has upped sticks to the home office, so I have to pack my machine and fabric away after each session.

If your sewing time is similarly fragmented, here are some things I find I can still do even when time is short.

If I’ve only got five minutes

  • Start a project bag or box to collect all the things to make my next project
  • Go through my notions and choose the buttons and thread
  • Neatly cut out one pattern piece*
  • Load a bobbin
  • Stitch or finish a seam, or two or three if they’re short
  • Sew on a button
  • Descale the iron

*Once I’ve laid out and pinned my pattern pieces to my fabric, I cut around each one roughly with my shears so I can stack them on top of each other and pack it all away quickly if I need to. I then come back to the stack and cut each one out neatly, adding the markings for that piece before I move on to the next one.

If I’ve only got ten minutes

  • Go through a sewing book or magazine to look for a pattern
  • Cut out interfacing or lining pieces
  • Fire up the iron and press as many seams as I can
  • Try out different stitches on some scrap fabric and perfect the tension – then write the settings down in case I forget later
  • Try on a toile and snap some quick mirror selfies so I can assess the fit later
  • Clean the lint out of my machine and cuddle oil it

I can’t say I’m managing a garment a week (I can still dream!) but I am spending more time sewing and less time just wishing I was sewing.

Interested in speeding up the sewing itself? There are some great posts out there by other sewists with tips for sewing faster.

Advice from Colette on what we can all learn from industrial sewing

Tips from Craftsy, Melly Sews, Tilly and the Buttons and Lladybird on sewing more quickly.

What sorts of sewing tasks do you tackle if you only have five or ten minutes? And am I the only person left in the entire sewing community who still uses pins?

 

 

Wedding planner

One of my sisters is getting married this year – hurrah! And she’s asked me to be a bridesmaid. Eeek. After getting over the initial wobbles (I definitely feel too old to be a bridesmaid), I said yes.

I get to pick my own dress, and the wedding won’t be all that formal or traditional, so I can probably choose something that I’ll be able to wear again as a guest at future weddings. My other sister is going to be a bridesmaid too, along with a friend of my sister’s partner – and we don’t all have to wear the same dress, just fit with the colour scheme.

Basically I think that means I can wear whatever I want as long as it’s bridesmaid-appropriate, weather-appropriate for August in England, and blue. So I’m  very tempted to sew my outfit – although a bit worried that I might leave it too late and end up stitching the hem while walking down the aisle.

I’ve started a Pinterest board with some initial ideas for patterns and fabrics:

Is swallow print ‘appropriate’? Would silk crepe de chine be too much of a challenge? Would cotton look too casual?

Pattern-wise, it’s almost certain to be a fit-and-flare dress on the grain, in a woven fabric. I’m open to a maxi length, but realistically I’ll probably get more wear from a knee-length dress.

All ideas and suggestions welcome… have you sewn a great bridesmaid’s dress pattern for yourself or someone else? Which fabrics would look smart, stylish but also stand up to wearing and resist creases – I’m likely to spend a fair amount of the wedding with a four-year old sitting on my lap.

Knitted Flax jumper

Finally! After what seems like an age, I’ve cast this little jumper off my WIP list and into being – just in time to get some wear in this final month of winter.

p1150685
Mr Mini Wardrobe doing a spot of modelling. He’s styled it with his favourite ‘dogs on the bus T-shirt’ and pull-on denim joggers. I sometimes wish I could have his wardrobe.

[Note: I’ve made the decision not to share identifiable pictures of my son online, so although his face would definitely enhance these pictures, I’ve deliberately cropped it out here.]

It’s a petrol blue colour, which I love, and which my littlest man seems to like too. I wanted to steer clear of the colours you see all over the shops like navy, scarlet and charcoal grey and knit something I couldn’t have bought. The yarn is Rico essentials soft merino aran superwash in colour 025, which is soft, not itchy, just about machine washable and suitably snuggly.

p1150690
I like the garter stitch panel detailing that runs across the shoulders and down the sleeves, although he says he prefers the stocking stitch pattern on the body!

The pattern is the (free) Flax sweater from Tin Can Knits in age 4-6, since Mr Mini Wardrobe is a very tall 3 1/2. This is a pattern that gets a LOT of love on Ravelry. Ah Ravelry, how I love perusing the endless possibilities you offer. But how easily I forget that virtually every other member is a more experienced knitter than me… Which is probably why it took me so long to finish this jumper. I chose the pattern because it’s graded ‘easy’, and suggested as an ideal first sweater project, and also because I wanted to have a go at knitting on circular needles. I just neglected to practise anything other than a swatch on circular needles or double-pointed needles (DPNs) first…

p1150674
It’s knitted top-down, in the round, and those increases that form a raglan sleeve shape at the shoulders were the fun bit.

Circulars I found OK once I got going, but it took two surgeries with my Mum (who lives 160 miles away!) before I worked out how to use DPNs successfully. And after I’d frogged the first sleeve eight times I couldn’t face doing it for a ninth, so it’s a bit wonky in places. I’m calling it characterful. By the time I got to the second sleeve, something had clicked, so that’s come out much neater and more even. If you’re a fellow beginner, this pattern also includes ssk decreases, kfb increases, 1×1 rib, pick up and knit, a backwards loop cast on, and some fiddling around with stitch markers to keep track of the garter panel.

I blocked it before I took these pictures and the fit is not bad, as you can see. Like his Dad, he has narrow shoulders, so the almost-boat-neck design means it’s a little too wide in that area. I added an inch to the body length to make sure it wouldn’t be too short, and (given how long it took me to knit), I think this was a good idea.

p1150668

Now I’ve got the hang of it, I’m tempted to cast on another one straight away for my son in the next size up, and also the version in 4-ply yarn (Flax Light) for me. But realistically, I should probably try a different sweater pattern where the width of the neckline/shoulders wouldn’t be so critical to the fit.

I’ll have a rummage around on Ravelry, of course, but can you recommend any simple sweater knitting patterns I could try next – for children or for adults? And should I ditch DPNs and learn the magic loop method instead?

 

 

Project Ginger Jeans – the fitting

Update: Since I first published this post on 21 January, I’ve made two sets of adjustments to the original fit. I’ve added pictures and info from the second and third fittings to this post, to keep all the fitting info together.

Earlier this week, I finally got around to cutting out my first ever pair of handmade jeans. I ended up crawling around on the floor underneath our dining table because I had to cut in a single layer, and that’s the only place I could lay the whole thing out. My knees haven’t forgiven me yet.

Then I almost ran out of fabric because I’ve already made a few flat alterations to the pattern. I used the tutorial in the Closet Case Files E-book on sewing jeans to convert the original skinny/stovepipe leg pattern into a flared version. (You can now buy the flared version as a pattern expansion, but I opted to save  $7+printing+sticking hassle and do it myself – it wasn’t tricky.)

I graded from a 16 at the hip to a 14 at the waist, and added 1″ to the crotch depth. Lastly, I enlarged the inseam and side seam allowances by a further 3/8″ to give me a full 1″ of wiggle room for adjusting everything.

p1150519
You can see here I’ve blended two sizes to use the larger one at the hip and the smaller one at the waist.

The fabric is a stretch denim I bought in Guthrie & Ghani last May. It’s a medium weight with roughly 2% spandex, as recommended for this pattern.

I cut everything out and basted the basic pieces together using a really long stitch length (5.0 on my Janome). Special thanks to Alex, who reminded me to staystitch first. This is mentioned in the pattern, but not in the part about basting/fitting, so I would definitely have forgotten otherwise.

First fitting

So, onto fitting. Jeez, this might turn out to be a long haul. (Front, side and back views in the picture right at the top – please excuse the poor lighting, it’s been so gloomy in Worcestershire recently!) I figured I might as well share the fitting process in all its gory detail.

Problem number one is that they’re too narrow through the thigh, so the crotch of the jeans can’t currently sit in the right place. In the back view you can see the horizontal wrinkles across the back of my thigh and knee area, showing it’s too tight here, so I’m going to let the inseams out from just below the knee up to the crotch seam. And from the side, you can see the side seam is pulling towards the front at mid-thigh level, which I *think* means I should let out the front thigh a little more than the back.

After this first fitting, I let out the front and back inseams by 1/8″ each. That wasn’t quite enough so I also let out the side seams by the same amount – just from crotch level down to the hem.

That gave me a better fit on the legs. However, the crotch seam still wasn’t sitting quite high enough and after some wriggling around I determined that the thing dragging it down was my bottom!

To fix that without liposuction, I lowered the back crotch only by 1/4″. This also increases the overall length of the back crotch seam so it’s sitting better all the way up to top hip level now. At the front there were some weird horizontal lines appearing, and there seemed to be too much room in the lower front crotch area, so I also straightened the front crotch seam – making it shorter in the process. (In one fitting guide, this is labelled a ‘receded pubis adjustment’ – which sounds like a really painful operation but it’s actually pretty easy to do if you left enough seam allowance.)

Second fitting

Here they are after those adjustments. Looking better, I hope you’ll agree.

I’m fairly happy with the fit through the crotch and the thighs now, although I’m debating whether to take the adjustments from the first fitting a teensy bit further to try to improve the fit even more.

What needs looking at now is the top hip and waistband area. The front crotch depth is still a smidgen too long, so I’m going to lop a little off the centre front at the top. To fix the gaping at the back, I need to take a wedge out of the yoke piece, maybe a little out of the side seams above the crotch, and then re-draft the waistband so it fits my contours better. Phew!

Third fitting

So since the second fitting I’ve lowered the back crotch by a further 1/4″, let out the back inseam by another 1/8″ and added darts in the back yoke and the waistband to fix the gaping at the back. I’ve taken 1/2″ off the centre of the front crotch depth and a smile-shaped horizontal wedge out across the back – effectively a flat seat adjustment. I also remembered to put shoes on for this fitting to see how they’ll really look.

The fit across the back waist is much better, it’s not gaping or standing away from my top hip area now. The bubble in the front crotch has gone, but it’s been replaced by some diagonal lines that I thought I’d got rid of after the first fitting indicating that the front crotch is too short. The back thigh actually looks tighter than it did at the last fitting, even though I’ve let it out so that needs to come out a bit more again (which might also fix the front diagonal wrinkes, too). And the back view now also reveals a problem I haven’t talked about until now, which is that my right hip is around 1″ lower than my left due to some differences in my leg length and pelvis size. I think I can correct this with a small adjustment to the outseam and the waistband height at the final fitting.

So, armed with the knowledge on what I need to do, and running out of seam allowance to make many more adjustments, I think it’s on to the actual sewing. The pockets, pocket stay and fly will take some of the room out of the front crotch, and I can tweak the leg seams a little along the way. So my plan is to sew them up very gradually, checking the fit several more times as I go. Wish me luck!

What’s on my sewing table?

Pattern grading square, tape measure, french curve and pencil

I’ve finally decided to knuckle down to the Ginger jeans that have been on my list for 18 months, so I’m knee-deep in tracing paper, fitting guides, masking tape and pins.

New trouser patterns always bring out a few nerves because it can be a pretty tedious process running up two or three toiles/muslins to try to get the fit right. But here I’m working with stretch denim (2% elastane, decent quality, pre-washed twice – I’m being good). So how the heck do you successfully toile a pair of jeans without purchasing double, triple or quadruple the amount of fabric you actually need?

As far as I can tell, there are three options:

  1. Give tissue fitting a go. (This pattern has negative ease at the hips, so I’m not sure how this works in tissue…)
  2. Cut the seam allowances extra wide and try to pin fit the real thing
  3. Make up the real thing and just cross my fingers it comes out as a wearable muslin rather than a complete nightmare.

Which would you do?

The end of my stash diet

P1100308

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?

Children’s pyjama bottoms – with added Christmas puddings

p1150512

This is the only Christmas make I attempted this year, because I couldn’t face that awful situation when you’re rushing out to buy things on 23 December in lieu of the planned handmade presents that you haven’t finished in time. Even so, it still wasn’t finished quite in time for Christmas!

Back in the autumn, just before I began my stash diet, I spotted some reduced Christmas pudding fabric in Doughty’s in Hereford. At only £5/m I couldn’t resist enough to make a quick pair of pyjama bottoms for my 3-year old son. It’s quilting cotton, rather cotton flannel, but I thought it would be fun anyway.

The pattern is my trusty pyjama pants pattern Simplicity 2290 (other versions here and here), which includes children’s sizes from age 4-5 upwards. My 3-and-a-half-year old is a giant among his classmates at 110cm, so I traced the smallest size for him. Because they’re loose fitting trousers with an elasticated waist, there’s not a lot of fitting to do – just shortening the elastic to size and turning up the hem.

They’re a little on the large side at the moment, but I think they’ll be perfect for next Christmas. Although obviously, the proof will be in the pudding (groan…)

 

Sewing Christmas presents haul!

p1150503I was lucky enough to receive one or two sewing-related presents, so I thought I’d share a few pictures. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?

p1150499

My in-laws gave me a whole selection of sewing tools and goodies. The double tracing wheel is going to make tracing Burda and Ottobre patterns a whole lot easier – I can use it to add the seam allowances straightaway. The London-themed pattern weights have already been pressed into service.

p1150501

My sister got me these scary-looking applique scissors, which I’m hoping will be just the thing for grading seam allowances. (Although presumably they’re also useful for applique? I just need to ponder that for a bit.

My parents got my the knitting roll (shown in the first picture) to store my rapidly expanding and very unwieldy collection of  knitting needles.

Did Father Christmas bring you anything for your stash?

The final Fairfield button-up shirt

p1150322

Seeing as it’s Christmas, my last post before the holidays is a spot of unselfish sewing. Many, many months ago I snapped up the Fairfield button-up shirt pattern from Thread Theory, thinking it would make a good birthday gift for Mr Wardrobe. His birthday was in August, but I didn’t actually finish the shirt until Christmas Eve…

There were several reasons for this. Number one was that I didn’t notice when I measured him up that his chest is wider around the shoulder area than under the arms. So my first toile (muslin) turned out too small and I had to start again. Then I got sidetracked by blackout curtains,  my jumpsuit and all kinds of pyjamas. But we got there in the end.

(Mr Wardrobe prefers to keep a low profile on this blog, so you won’t be seeing his rather attractive face in these pictures.)

He chose the slimmer fit version of the pattern and the option with back darts to give more shape. There were a few alterations to get a better-than-RTW fit. Working from size L, I added 1″ extra width at the hip so it could be worn untucked; subtracted 1″ from the shoulder length on each side; and I used the XL sized collar pieces to create more room at the neck. You can see there are still a few diagonal drag lines from the shoulder to the neck at the front – I’m not quite sure what’s causing these but if I ever make another version I’ll try to fix this. And I’d also take a teensy bit off the length as it’s rarely going to be tucked in.

It’s not a quick or straightforward sew, especially when you know the recipient is a perfectionist. The 3/8″ flat-felled seams require lots of finnicky pressing and there’s an awkwardly large amount to ease in at the sleeve cap. The sleeve placket and the point where the corners of the collar stand join the collar both need a steady hand and some very precise stitching to get a neat finish. But if detail and finishing is your thing, then you’ll enjoy getting stuck into this pattern. Thread Theory also offer lots of (free) variations with different collar shapes, cuffs and pocket styles to suit even the pickiest man in your family, and there’s a detailed sewalong which comes in handy if (like me) you’re attempting a shirt for the first time.

I love the ever-so-slight sheen on this fabric – a deep grey/blue chambray I bought from Eme in Ilkley. It pressed beautifully and was exactly the right weight for this project. Just one word of warning though – it did show everything I unpicked! Mr Wardrobe wanted a fairly casual shirt, so I followed the pattern instructions for interfacing all the cuff, collar and placket pieces, but opted for a very lightweight fusible to stop the shirt being too stiff and starchy.

Overall, I’m really happy with the way this has turned out. But, the proof is in the Christmas pudding, so we’ll see how many times it gets worn!

 

Top 3 misses of 2016

Not everything I made this year was such a roaring success as the top 3. These three projects were top of the flops this year.

The beige scoop-neck T-shirt that I thought might become a handy wardrobe staple turned out to be best worn under a crew neck jumper.

The multi-coloured cardigan I painstakingly knitted for my son wasn’t finished until winter was almost over and the loose weave meant it didn’t look great over his brightly coloured T-shirts. Plus there was something very odd about the sleeves.

The one I’m most disappointed about is this white scoop-neck T-shirt. I spent ages getting the fit spot on, but in the end I haven’t worn it much because of the poor-quality fabric. I chose a relatively thick T-shirt jersey made from 100% cotton, thinking it wouldn’t show my underwear and would hold its shape nicely. But I didn’t check the stretch recovery… actually it doesn’t spring back into shape well and each time I wash it it curls up at the edges and has to be ironed. Not what I’m looking for from a T-shirt!

Those are the misses – all knits, in one form or another, and all doomed by poor fabric and yarn choices. That should give me some pointers for next year.

You can find the hits in last week’s post.