Fabric shopping my way round Britain

 

I don’t like to think of myself as shallow, but I do love a bit of shopping. Not the buying – that’s always painful – so much as the looking, and contemplating the possibilities.

As the parent of a four-year old, I haven’t spent much of the last four years pondering, browsing, or pottering about. Much like the dog, my son has a three-shop limit. So a trip to a fabric store without anyone whining “Muhhh-meee, can we go now?”, is a rare treat to be savoured, relished and positively luxuriated in.

Thanks to DH, one time that I get to do this is on holiday. He has no interest in shopping either, but he does willingly look after both boy and dog while I browse. I’ve really enjoyed visiting different sewing shops in some off-the-beaten-track locations (like Bentham in North Yorkshire), and getting a little snapshot of the sewing habits of each town.

And because I also really, really love maps, I decided to keep a record – a sewing shop map, plotting the sewing shops I’ve visited in Britain.

Sewing shops don’t always have flashy websites, or even social media accounts, so it can be a bit of a mission tracking them down online and working out what they do and don’t sell. In case it’s useful for anyone else, I’ve made my map available to access on Google maps, and included a short description of each one with a date, so you know whether it’s up-to-date or not.

I’m heading to the Isle of Wight in October, so let me know if there’s anywhere you’d recommend I visit there!

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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.

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?

Top five pyjama patterns for Christmas

Pyjamas. Pretty much my favourite item of clothing throughout the winter months. So whether you’d like to make a pair to see you through to spring, or some for a (very lucky) friend or family member, here’s my shortlist of pyjama patterns to try.

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In order of difficulty:

  1. Simplicity 2290 (pictured above). Possibly the easiest pattern in the sewisphere, Simplicity 2290 doesn’t technically bill itself as pyjamas, more as ‘lounge pants’. But in a soft cotton flannel they’re cosy, comfy and pretty much perfect for lounging or sleeping. The pattern is suitable for wovens or knits, although it doesn’t include a top so you’ll need to supply your own T-shirt. Sizes include children’s (roughly age 5+) up to adults with 49″ hips.
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I’ve made Simplicity 2290 three times so far and they’re all still in rotation.

2. Oliver + S children’s knit pyjamas.

This is more of a hack than an off-the-shelf pattern but I actually prefer the look of these to Oliver + S’s official pyjama patterns. The link takes you to a post on the Oliver + S blog, which shows you how to addd cuffs to children’s knit patterns. So if you start off with the Oliver + S School Bus T-shirt and Playtime leggings, you can then add cuffs to create perfect pyjamas for the small people in your life. Oliver + S Patterns are beautifully drafted with clear instructions, so as long as you’ve sewn with knits before then you shouldn’t have any problems running these up in time for 25 December. Sizes 6m-4 years and 5-12 years. Alternatively, you could use the tutorial to hack any long-sleeved T-shirt and leggings patterns you have (for children or adults), adding cuffs to create super-dooper pyjamas.

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Ottobre magazine is a good source of children’s knit pyjama patterns – like these

3. Tilly and the Buttons Fifi pyjamas.

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I tried this pattern earlier this year, and although it’s not a straightforward sew, I think it definitely falls into the intermediate category because the instructions are so clear and well explained. Designed with summer lounging in mind, this camisole and shorts set works well in cotton lawn or voile, but you could also try silk for added ooh-la-la. Sized for up to 47″ hips.

4. and 5. Lisette for Butterick B6296 and Closet Case Files Carolyn Pyjamas

Try as I might, I really couldn’t separate these two. They’re so similar in my mind – traditional button-up pyjamas with collar, pockets, elasticated waistband and piping with options for shorts and short-sleeves.

You can copy Liesl Gibson’s own version of B6296 in Liberty lawn, and I love Allie J’s double gauze version of Carolyn in which she replaces the piping with ric rac.

Neither of these patterns is a quick make, what with all that piping to do. And they’re both pretty fabric hungry at around 4m of fabric for the long-sleeved, long-legged option so you’ll be investing some serious time and money in your perfect pyjamas. But they will probably remain your perfect pyjamas for years to come.

Have you sewn any or all of these patterns? And are you making pyjamas for anyone for Christmas?

Wardrobe singletons: pleated lace skirt

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Can you help me find a partner for this skirt?

What are wardrobe singletons? It’s the name I give to the clothes lurking at the back of my wardrobe that don’t pair with anything else. I love them, but I never wear them. I have a handful of RTW and me-made garments like this and I’d like to sew something to wear them with. The question is, what?

This RTW green pleated lace skirt from REISS is the one I most want to sew a partner for. It’s been in my wardrobe for nearly four years and I think it’s only been worn twice. I paid more than I’d wanted to for a skirt at the time so it really bugs me every time I see it hanging there, all alone. It’s a pale ferny green colour (honestly) and has a great knee-length swish about it.

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So, what would you recommend I sew to go with it? I’ve been browsing Pinterest and generated a few styling ideas:

As you can see, I’ve collected a lot of knitwear ideas, but would it also work with a simple T-shirt, a cap-sleeved blouse or just the right jacket?

So far, I’m considering:

  • The Seamwork Elmira cardigan for a dressier look
  • Or Seamwork’s Astoria sweatshirt for a more relaxed feel
  • A Sewaholic scoop-neck Renfrew t-shirt in grey marl

All pattern, fabric and styling suggestions welcome – let’s get this skirt a date in 2017!

Does your wardrobe have any singletons lurking at the back? I’d love to know what things you struggle to match with anything else or how you’ve successfully paired off trickier pieces.

 

Five cosy coat patterns for a/w 2016

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

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

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

Top to bottom, left to right, they are:

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

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

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.

PDF sewing patterns – copyshop or print at home?

PDF sewing patterns – people either love them or hate them, but whichever camp you’re in then if you sew indie patterns it’s hard to escape them.

Why not just use a printed pattern?

Many indie designers only offer pdfs, with some patterns starting life as pdfs and then going into print later if they’re financially successful. (Morgan from Thread Theory explained her decision-making process for this on the Thread Theory blog.) Likewise, some indie patterns that were available in print can now only be bought as pdfs – as set out in this poignant blog post from By Hand London.

I love the instant fix of a pdf pattern – you can start sewing the same day without waiting for the post. That counts for more if you’re ordering from overseas. They’re great for patterns you might want to sew in multiple sizes: you don’t have to trace, you can just print them again and cut out another size. Great if you sew for ever-growing children.

Go large, or cut and paste?

But do you print and stick at home, or do you prefer to use the copyshop files?

Until recently I’d always printed out the pattern on A4 paper, and then laboriously stuck it together myself. It is a pain but you can finish it in an hour and get started straight away. And for childrenswear , the pieces aren’t that large so I didn’t use up all our ink or printer paper.

But last month I ordered 3 pdfs at once – the Sallie jumpsuit, the Ginger jeans and the Fairfield button-up shirt – so I started to look into the copyshop option because I couldn’t face so much cutting and sticking. After a few phone emails and calls, I found a local business that would print my patterns onto A0 paper for £3 per sheet (Each of these patterns has three A0 sheets.)

Admittedly, this made the total cost comparable with the printed version, even given the favourable CAD/GBP exchange rate. But it has saved time overall, and made the whole experience more like buying a printed pattern. Plus I get to keep the files and I can always re-print them at any time if I need to. So on balance, I’ll probably do it again for larger garments.

Which option do you prefer, and have you found a great UK copyshop you’d recommend to others?

And does anyone know why the Big 4 pattern companies (except Burda) don’t offer pdfs?

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?

Summer sewing plans

Are the lighter evenings making you twitchy? No, not hayfever, (or something worse) – I mean, are you dying to get a quiet, rainy evening to sew up a new sundress, a pair of shorts, or even a swimsuit? I’m a sucker for a beautiful summer dress, but this year I’m trying to remember to sew non-dresses, too. To try to keep a lid on UFOs and pattern shopping I’ve been making a shortlist of possible projects.

First up, I scouted out some patterns that might fit this summer’s 1970s vibe. People often say it’s the decade that style forgot, but I love the way that the less extreme fashions of the era have a laid-back glamour about them. And they’re much easier to wear than a lot of the 1950s-inspired dresses you see around. So I’m thinking wrap dresses, wide-leg trousers, A-line skirts – you get the idea.

I especially want to try re-making this Vogue wrap dress pattern, something I first tried five years ago, with middling results.

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I think I now know what fitting adjustments I need to make to get it to work. (Cut it out one size smaller on the top but then do a FBA, incorporate a sway-back adjustment, and interface the belt to stop it stretching. Oh, and use my overlocker – back then I did the whole thing on my straight stitch machine!)

Then I need to find a way to use some of my existing fabric stash. I’ve got a piece of light-ish-weight denim that’s crying out to be made into Collette’s Beignet skirt, I think. I might try it without the belt, and broaden out the A-line a little.

After that, if it’s not October already by then, I’d like to try a wild card. Something truly summery and a little bit off my beaten track. Maybe the Bombshell swimsuit? Or this beautiful dressing gown? And those are just the ones for me…

What are you going to be sewing to wear this summer? Have you started already?

You can see my longlist (which is still growing) on Pinterest.