Forward, into the future

So: nearly a year since I last updated this blog. I think I have to accept that when it comes to blogging, I am never going to become one of these prolific sewers who posts a completed garment every week with classy photos and detailed construction notes.

For one thing, my own sewing output over the last year hasn’t been very impressive: things unfinished, things unstarted, things I hate. For another, I don’t particularly want a million photos of myself on the internet, especially right now, while I’m dealing with some issues with my own body. For a third, I’m still struggling to find a routine in my life that allows me to sew and to write and to read and to exercise and to try and have something resembling a social life and still fit in the all-essential staring into space while drinking wine time that I need to recover from my job every weekend.

And, to be honest, that sort of blogger is not what I want to be. I am not an expert sewer: no one wants to hear my tips and tricks for making anything, many of which were themselves taken from other blogs. I’m not fanatical about fit, and I learn slowly, by trial and error, rather than by perfecting one single garment: no one wants to read every week about my two-inch-FBA-plus-wide-back-and-straight-shoulders adjustment that I do for literally *every* Big 4 pattern.

But I still feel a need to write about sewing: I don’t know anyone in real life who is interested in sewing, and it’s something I think about all the time. I love the sewing blogosphere, and want to contribute to it, not just consume. And my favourite sewing blogs are often the ones where the actual sewing is not the only thing on offer: blogs like My Vintage Inspiration, Dolly Clackett, and Seam Ripped.

So: no more guilt. But also: no more frustration at not writing. I spend a lot of time mulling things over and ideas for blogposts are constantly bubbling up but failing to be written. I want to be a part of the online sewing community; more selfishly, I want to talk about ME and my MANY SEWING THOUGHTS. So I need to find a balance between guiltily feeling that I can’t post until I have immaculate, glowing photos, and not posting at all.

I’m going to kick this off with a list of what I have made in the last year  and how it all turned out (next post) and my plans for sewing during what remains of the winter (the post-after-that). And I’m also going to try to comment more on other people’s blogs and be a more active part of the community. BUT! This is my guarantee that my next post won’t be in a year’s time, but within a month. I bet you just can’t wait.


Another quilt

Quilt 1

Quick finished item post – this is a patchwork quilt I made which I am so delighted with. It’s straightforwardish square patches, but I love the bright blue/green/purple tones and the white, and I’m really happy with the wavy line quilting. Some of the squares are half-square triangles, randomly in the pattern which gives it a nice movement I think. I don’t have a great photo for the colours (the binding, above, is a very bright, pure purple) but it has a very cheerful, modern feel.

Quilt 2 Quilt 3

Feel the fear and… dither for a while before maybe doing something else?

Shirt 1

So I was reading Seam Ripped’s posts about fear and perfectionism, and of course my first reaction was to scoff internally. I have no fear, I thought. I AM FEARLESS! Then I thought, hang on, that’s not even remotely true. I’m not, it must be admitted, a perfectionist; I would rather press on and finish something reasonably-ish than rip the same seam more than, well, once. But what struck a chord with me was this:

In any event, I keep patiently waiting to be ready.  Ready for hand-sewing, ready for Alabama Chainin’, ready for a couture jacket, ready to make a coat, ready ready ready ready ready.

Do you know how much nice coating I have? A LOT. Just last week I picked up four metres of a gorgeous navy blue boiled wool. Do you know how many coats I have made? A quarter of one (at a very generous estimate: I muslined one and then lost confidence when the fit was so out.)

I didn’t used to be so cautious, but most of my output in the last two or three years has been extremely safe: dresses made with Big 4 patterns (because my fit adjustments for the big 4 are almost always the same) and skirts made to the same three or four skirt patterns. (To be fair, I like either a pencil skirt or a full skirt, and the two patterns I use for these fulfil all my requirements.) .

Yes, process, enjoyment of making, blah blah blah… but it’s really frustrating to spend a weekend or a couple of weekends making something which then isn’t even a little bit useable. So I haven’t made trousers, for example, because the trousers I’ve made in the past have not just been sub-par – they’ve gone completely unworn either because they fit so badly as to be uncomfortable, or because they were so unflattering that I simply couldn’t bring myself to wear them.

Partly, that is because I seem to have less time to sew than I did, so when I sew I want the certainty of having a decent, useful, wearable garment. But the idea that if I put time into something I won’t get a wearable garment – where does that come from? I have been sewing long enough now that I ought to get something decent, even if it’s not perfect, if I try… but I’m reluctant to stretch myself, in case I stretch myself too far

Shirt 3

Anyway, here is a small example of me vanquishing one of my fears. When I started sewing regularly, over ten years ago, I thought I would make a button-down shirt. I didn’t have much money for ready-to-wear clothes at the time and I really wanted a nice, decently fitting button-down shirt in 100% cotton – something you really couldn’t get in charity shops. I used Butterick 3456, the view with princess seams and three quarter sleeves.

God, that was a terrible shirt. It was practically the first pattern I had ever followed on my own, I didn’t know what facings were, I had no idea what I was doing with the collar, and as for the cuff plackets, I remember staring at the pattern instructions completely unable to make out what I was supposed to be doing or why. Nothing was pressed, none of the seams were finished, and worse, I had no idea of fitting or of the vagaries of design and wearing ease in dressmaking patterns. I think, based on my measurements, I made a size 16 out of the packet – now my standard practice is to make a size 14 + FBA in Big 4 patterns – so my shirt fit me around the bust circumference and practically nowhere else. Eep! I wore it for  a while, because despite major flaws it probably wasn’t that much worse than the crappy ready-to-wear that made up the rest of my wardrobe, but it didn’t last long before being passed along to the charity shop. And somewhere along the way I got the idea that button down shirts are really hard.

Anyway, last week I finally got round to making another white cotton button down. (I read somewhere that Margaret Howell got into clothes design when she wanted a white cotton button down shirt and couldn’t find the right, absolutely plain one anywhere – so she had to make her own. If I could have a wardrobe made by only one person, I would choose Margaret Howell’s amazingly simple, impeccable clothes.)

Shirt 2

And it turns out that while I’ve been waiting to be ready, I’ve become more ready. I’m not saying this is a perfect shirt – by no means. One cuff is put on the wrong way so that they both face in the same direction, the cuff plackets were really fudged, some of the flat-felled seams are felled on the wrong side, and some of the topstitching is really wonky. But in the last ten years I’ve put on a shirt collar and cuffs (on shirt dresses); I know how to fit my figure; I’ve made buttonholes, I’ve learned how to flat-fell a seam; and when it came to cuff plackets, although honestly they are still pretty horrible, at least I understood what I was trying to achieve when I was putting them on.

The pattern is Burda 6849 which was a lovely pattern. I made my usual adjustments: 1 1/2″ FBA, a small wide back adjustment, and some width at the hem (not quite enough). I added 3″ to the sleeves – could have got away with 2″ but I don’t mind a long sleeve. Due to not adding enough width through the waist and hip I eliminated the front and back darts, but honestly I prefer it like that. The fabric is just plain cotton poplin with a little stretch from Rolls and Rems on the Seven Sisters Road. All in all, a SUCCESS – which I have been needing, and which justified the fact that this took quite a bit of time what with topstitching everywhere and collars and so on.

Next – a coat! Or maybe trousers…

Shirt 5


A tiny dress for Hester

Here’s something I made recently: a little dress for a friend’s new baby. The pattern is New Look 6038, a really simple little baby dress, and the fabric is, I think, a 1940s reproduction print from the splendid Stitch Fabrics in Wanstead (highly recommended – they have a superb selection of cotton prints in 54″ width and some amazing designer fabrics for much less than you would pay on Berwick Street).P1000211


You can see where I handstitched down the little pleats (or are they tucks? I think tucks are stitched down at both ends and pleats only at one end).

I love ric-rac but I would never use it on a garment for an adult.

I’m simultaneously making two more versions of this dress for my boyfriend’s sister’s twins, but I’ve been sewing them completely by hand – partly as an exercise, but also to have something to do with my hands when I’m forcibly removed from my sewing machine (I just don’t like knitting). I’ve been working on them (admittedly very sporadically) for about two months now. The above dress was made in about an hour, from cutting to final pressing.

Finally a brief acknowledgement that ‘neat but not gaudy’ refers to my style, not my sewing room:



P1000048This is the first quilt I ever made. It took me three years to finish piecing the top – I kept doing tiny bits then putting it away. Having finally, last year, quilted it and bound it, it makes me really happy. I love the colours – even though the piecing is pretty slapdash. It’s layered with a cheapy fleece blanket and the quilting is minimal – just straight lines across.

Here’s the next one I finished, as a combination birthday/Christmas present for my sister. I don’t have a photo of the whole thing, but this one was done as a sort of log cabin pattern. She requested black: wpid-20131026_151649.jpg

Here’s her cat, Pippa, with the finished item:

wpid-IMG-20131116-00214.jpg Here’s the most recent completely finished one: a baby quilt for a friend who just had a little boy. Random patches, backed with a white and green floral print: P1000035 P1000032 P1000031 P1000038 And here are two more works in progress. The green and yellow tumblers quilt is a gift for my other sister – who is currently putting up with quilts all over the sitting room floor with great patience. P1000057 P1000060 P1000061 P1000062   The photos are all out of focus because I just got a new camera which I haven’t got to grips with yet.

Sewing resolutions for 2014

I haven’t done much sewing in 2013, but I have managed to get back into the habit of sewing regularly, and I think I made some progress.

  • I discovered patchwork, which is a marvellous way of wasting a lot of time moving different bits of scrap around and staring at them thoughtfully, not to mention doodling patterns of squares and triangles. But I hate wasting scraps, so, on the whole, a win. And the three patchwork quilts I have finished to date are all beautiful (post to follow). The danger is that it becomes very very easy to start buying half-metres of quilting cotton at £2-3 a throw until you have more pretty prints than you can ever use.
  • I made a man’s shirt, which was an interesting thing to do. I couldn’t fit it to the wearer because it was a surprise, so it was straight outta the pattern packet; I’d forgotten how much easier that is than spending weeks fiddling with fit. Men’s shirts are easier than women’s dresses in some ways – no darts (yay), hardly any curved seams, but heavens, the finishing – everything topstitched or flat-felled. It does produce a lovely neat finish though – although the only shirt I have made is a tiny bit slipshod in some details. The next one I make will be better fitted and finished.
  • In general, I’ve been trying to slow down and concentrate on fit and finish rather than knocking something up in an afternoon. One good thing about this is that it makes me feel I can justify nicer fabrics for things which are definitely going to be quality items of clothing. I’ve also started to enjoy making wearable muslins of things, knowing that having made something in £4/metre cotton or polyester, once I cut into my precious wool or silk, I’m going to have a really beautiful item of clothing. I’ve been trying to enjoy the process rather than get too focused on the outcome.
  • To that end, I’ve started looking up the proper techniques for things rather than just hammering away blindly. I don’t know why I have a tendency to assume that ‘proper’ techniques are going to be harder that whatever I improvise; nine times out of ten, the opposite is true. And I have used more of my presser feet this year than ever before.

So, my resolutions for 2014!

  • The first is to record what I make (and perhaps record some of the things I’ve previously made) on this blog.
  • Secondly, I want to make, or rather finish, a coat. I have started making Burda 6986 (view B with the cape, in black boiled wool), but have stalled slightly at the fitting stage. Once I get over that hurdle, I only have to make a coat and a cape, line them both, tailor the collar, possibly make bound buttonholes… easy.
  • I want to make some retro clothing. The three things I have in mind currently are these gorgeous WWII-era dungarees, this 1920s kimono, and hopefully a corset of some era (twentieth century, but not sure beyond that).
  • I want to make another man’s shirt…
  • …and more patchwork quilts; they make lovely baby presents, for one thing (and a baby quilt  can be finished in two evenings) but I also want to make more interesting patterns than straightforward squares or strips. I’d also like to try doing quilting beyond straight seams – I hope to maybe do this course in the spring.
  • As always, I’d like to sew more from the fabrics and patterns I already own, rather than buying more fabric than I will ever use. When I moved out of my old house this year I got rid of a lot of things that I knew I would never use – some to the charity shop, some to a friend’s kid with an interest in stage design – so I now have a fabric stash which is almost completely nice material that I want to use. It still contains a lot of fabric, though.
  • I’d like to try doing some draping.
  • And I want to keep trying to improve my sewing skills, rather than coasting – I can sew, but I can’t make things as beautifully as I would like, and I have a tendency to choose patterns which I on’t think are going to be difficult. Making something which stretches me is sometimes a bit stressful, but I feel such a sense of achievement afterwards.