Thursday 29 November 2012

'Tis the season: stress, and booze-related sewing mishaps

Readers, I'm stressed. Do you feel it too? December is sneaking towards us and I haven't done any planning! I'm just revealing my own neuroses here, aren't I?  The thought of going into festivities without a plan terrifies me. And on top of it I have blog guilt that I promised you a skirt.

Instead, dear friends, you are going to get a confession of skirt mojo failure and a cautionary tale about sewing under the influence. Don't be tempted by the merriness! At least not till the last stitch on your gifts is sewn...

That doesn't look that bad, does it? That's another tidy zip there sandwiched into the lining.  All very harmoniously sewn while my son explored the engineering possibilities of a quilting ruler, some pencils and a box of zips.

 He even proudly took pictures of his mummy at work.

What I wear when I'm not posing in outfits. Glam!

But to present all this followed by pictures of a finished skirt would be to deceive. I got the waistband half-on and realised that the fit of this flared skirt was way off - it was much too big. And I couldn't get away with just wearing it a bit lower; it's meant to sit on the waist, and looked appalling.

So, I did what I had to do. I ripped the entire thing. I thought to myself: I'll take it round to friend S's house for our girls' night in, and I'll do it watching the X-factor and that's altogether an evening well-spent. Yeah. You know what happened? I consumed a glass of bubbly too many along with my maltesers, and left the newly-detached waistband behind.

Mmmm bubbly.

I'm not a Catholic, but cutting a size smaller out of the original pieces, making a replacement waistband and re-sewing the whole thing (much less neatly) felt like appropriately painstaking penance for such slatternly behaviour. I'm now purged :-)

So in the end it got done, and I might strong-arm my sister into photoshooting me at the weekend. She'll be here with my mum for the Christmas market, and this is about my favourite weekend every year. The girls get together and shop and go on the big wheel and consume hot beverages and it's lovely (though my other sister has dumped us to travel around South America, of all the unreasonable and unseasonable things to do).

2008 (how is that four years ago??) when I had a small bump and a babe in a pushchair.

So I'll chill out with the folks, and shop a bit, a remind myself that it's ok if I don't hand sew everything including the turkey, and by Saturday night I'll be raising my glass to December.

Are you all girding yourselves for maker's and planner's stress?? Or can you tell me precisely how you're keeping your cool?

My top tip: hit the mulled wine. Just don't rip seams at the same time...


Monday 26 November 2012

Skirts galore!

Have you had enough of me and my skirts yet :-)?

I got skirt number three of four finished this weekend, and am sitting here happily wearing it (guess what? It's rather lovely!).  The plan was to show it to you today too, but the photo-taking part has yet to happen, so I thought instead I would fill you in on the patterns I'm using.

This was the pre-cut skirt sewing pile, and on top there is the pattern book: Allemaal Rokjes by Mme Zsazsa.

OK, so, it's in Dutch - this is why I figured it would be fun to share it :-). Because there's a rather vibrant sewing and blogging community in the Netherlands and Flanders too, and this book has taken it by storm. In fact, on its launch a few months ago it rocketed immediately to the top of the bestseller lists, toppling Jeroen Meus' latest cookbook, and he's basically the Jamie Oliver of Flanders, so in fact it's probably fair to say that it's taken the entire Dutch-speaking publishing world by storm too. There's a sudden rash of sewing books coming out this autumn, in what was previously a pretty much non-existent market segment. Allemaal Rokjes is already in its sixth or seventh print run.

And basically this is because, regardless of the language, it's an absolutely fantastic pattern book.

These (above) are all the patterns included. Each of these skirts comes in sizes from girls' age two up to women's size 46 (I think). They're all very well drafted: the fit is true to size, and the shapes are great.

The book contains detailed picture tutorials for each one, as well as variations and customisations, and more tutorials for techniques like installing zips and sewing with stretch fabric.

Mme Zsazsa has a wonderful way of writing which is also deployed to great effect on her blog (although she's often hilariously colloquial enough to confuse the hell out of google translate). She's down to earth and witty and completely demystifies the sewing and construction process.

The title Allemaal Rokjes manages in two little words to convey both "All About Skirts" and "Everything About Skirts" - which very neatly encapsulates the whole book. Not being a proper translator, I can't think of a phrase that does this job so well in English. In my head I think of it as "Skirts Galore!" - which kind of echoes the exuberant circus photography throughout.

Well I'm guessing any Dutch-speaking readers out there have got this book already, right? If not, why have you resisted?? :-)

Do you ever use patterns/sewing books in languages other than your native one?  I wonder if it takes having a certain confidence in your sewing skills to do so? For example, I've learnt a lot of sewing vocabulary by using this book, because I was able to match up my pre-existing knowledge of the techniques with the descriptions in the tutorials. Needing to attack it with a dictionary as well would have stopped me at the outset!

And what about reading blogs in other languages? There's so much out there, and sometimes it seems like we're all inhabiting the same worlds but in parallell. One of the reasons I wanted to share this here was to overlap mine a little bit.

So, what other non-English blogs should I know about?

And last but not least: what's your favourite pattern book? You'll have guessed that so far, this one is mine :-)


Thursday 22 November 2012

The skinny jeans skirt

Oh, denim pencil skirt, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Yes yes, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this skirt, and for so many reasons. Let's be a little egotistical about the details first, shall we? I love the exposed zip:

I love the seam finishings:

I love the fit:

But most of all...

I absolutely adore how versatile it is:

This skirt is incredibly comfortable, looks stylish with very little effort, goes with everything and makes a lot of different looks depending on what you wear it with.

Basically, it's skinny jeans in non-trouser format.

I was, I think, inspired by 'So, Zo...' and her generally wonderful way of wearing classic shapes in a modern way.  Having recently been on a lengthy and unsuccessful search for a pair of black skinny jeans, a denim pencil skirt struck me as being a pretty good substitute. And I have to say, this is so true that I may never actually wear trousers again. I didn't get any pictures, but this skirt also goes pretty well with Converse on the weekends - super casual, but acceptable out-of-the house comfort.

My only conclusion, really, can be that everyone should make themselves one. Really. Do it! Go on, do it now!

:: :: ::

The notes

  • Pattern: pencil skirt patten by Mme Zsazsa, free with GDL magazine - except that, even better, I didn't have to buy the magazine to get it, I just filled in the form on the website and they sent it to me for nothing. Excellent way to round out your skirt pattern collection! As with her book (which I used for my previous skirt), this is a nicely drafted pattern with excellent, clear instruction.
  • Fabric: a metre of (non-stretch) black denim from the Maison Dorée.
  • Conclusion: brilliant!


Sunday 18 November 2012

Woodland skirt

Fellow sewists, I'm on something of a skirt marathon. Do you get those too? Seized with an urge to make four of something at once - so you just cut 'em all out and sew, production line-style? That's what's happened to me.


I'm two skirts in, but this is the first to be photographed. Because: look - so pretty!

It's a straightforward A-line, to which I added pleats at the centre front, just like here. And I lined it. With an invisible zip. And woohoo, it's tidy! All thanks to the wonderful two-step zip sandwich method explained here

You want to get google translate going on those links, these ladies know what they're doing.

The inside hem looks like this.  No matter how carefully I line up the blind hemming foot/stitch on my machine, I always have to sew around my hems at least twice before I catch everything properly. Does anyone else have that too?

The back of the main fabric being so light was the original reason I thought to add a lining, but I have been astonished to discover how much this improves the wearing of it too. Is it possible I'd never actually worn a lined skirt before? I admit: I was a low-end high street shopper, so that may well be the case.

I do like wearing all my autumn colours together.

This bird is my favourite:

:: :: ::

The notes:

  • Main fabric: Kokka Trefle forest animals in sage, from Fancy Moon last year (they don't seem to have it any more). I think it's a cotton/linen blend: lovely and soft but with plenty of structure, and it holds the pleats well.
  • Lining fabric: some sludgy green from the coupons corner at Le Chien Vert. I got 1.8m for 3 euros. I guess it's acrylic; it's beautifully swishy, and was a slippery nightmare to cut.
  • Pattern: A-line skirt from Mme Zsasza's Allemaal Rokjes. Although I've used this pattern before, this one came out slightly too big. And I definitely haven't lost weight (on the contrary, I'm fattening myself up for winter :-). I hesitated between sizes 38 and 40, as I don't have much of a waist in relation to my hips, and went for the 40 assuming this was the safer option. However, the skirt is designed to sit on the hips, not the waist (which I knew!), so I didn't actually need the extra ease. I would say lesson learned, but I've already cut out the next two (see 'production line', above). So, I may experiment with slightly wider seam allowances.
  • Verdict: happy! I knew it was a good pattern, and I'm very pleased with my first zip/lining process.
:: :: ::

I'll be over on twitter later today for the Sewing Social chat organised by Tilly: 8-9pm UK time or 9-10pm where I am (there's a separate chat organised on Australia time too).

I'm a very recent twitter user and still  getting to grips with how it works - showing my age that these things aren't as obvious to me as they no doubt should be :-)  But this kind of thing is exactly why I signed up - the chance to connect with fellow sewing enthusiasts in real time. The theme for discussions this time is "fitting sewing into a busy life", which I'm pretty sure we all have something to say about!

Join us? #sewingsocial, and I'm @jo_sews. See you later!


Thursday 15 November 2012

Hot pink hot pads

Things I never thought I'd say: these are my go-to oven gloves. I mean, the idea of sewing something enough times for it to be a "go-to" anything is already a bit much, and also - how many times does one need to sew a pair of oven gloves anyway?

Thing is, I have quite strict criteria for a good oven glove. Full coverage + not joined in the middle is surprisingly hard to find (what is the word for those? A conjoined oven glove? I know there is one, but with age and distance I seem to be losing the vocab of my mother tongue). Anyway, now I've found my perfect pattern, I tend to make it for everyone.

These are for my lovely and stylish friend F's birthday (um, about a month late...)

She has exceptionally good taste, and also a very beautiful house, and I went specially to Atchoum to find Petit Pan fabric for these because I knew she would love it. This one jumped right out at me, and then the neon bias tape I knew to be available here jumped out of my head to go with it, and it was a match made in heaven.

But oh, what a b*tch it is to sew with satin ribbon, especially when you're trying to sandwich together three layers of insulated batting. I am truly ashamed of this mess...

To the extent that I wondered for a while about not giving them to F after all - but then what else would I do with them, and what would I give her? In the end I decided that the overall result was alright, given the use that an oven glove gets. Those colours are too perfect not to do it. She's a crafter too (she makes incredible jewellery) and understands about the made stuff of friends. The only thing bothering me is that F is the very model of politesse. She might find these horribly crap and homemade, but feel obliged to use them anyway.

F, if you're reading: please, feel free to just put them in a drawer! If you like you could always just get them out when we're coming round and leave them lying about in your kitchen. I won't know the difference and I won't mind anyway! I'm sorry they came out so wobbly!

Explanation of this picture is to be found below.
Keep reading, it's fascinating!

Anyway, having sewn it about 5 times now, here are my conclusions on the pattern/tutorial - for my own future reference and in the unlikely event that anyone else is as obsessive about home-sewn oven gloves as me.

  • On this occasion, as shown in the picture above, I sewed together the bias tape around the outside of the glove. In the original tutorial, the ends are overlapped underneath the loop at the top, which is really bulky and difficult to do cleanly. I'd do this again.
  • Next time though, I'll be positioning the join at the side rather than the centre bottom (less conspicuous).
  • The loop: this is a real pain to sew through all those layers of bias. Next time I will experiment with leaving it off and attaching a (slightly longer) loop in the top centre of the back piece instead.
  • The shape of the smaller glove piece. That little V in the centre is no fun to sew, and almost always looks messy. I would just mirror the curve of the top piece. Slightly less cute, but still nice and much easier to execute.
  • Finally, the batting. I have made these with one layer of insulated batting on each piece, and with two layers each, and now for these ones with two layers on the back and one on the front. This is perfect. It feels safe for holding hot pots but is not too bulky to sew.

OK people, that's enough about oven gloves for one day.

:: :: ::

What's your go-to homemade gift, if you have one? Are you planning - or even making already - your Christmas (etc) gifts? What'll they be? (I won't tell anyone!)


Sunday 11 November 2012

Sewing tip: desktop waste bin

Little sewing tips: small things to make your sewing life just a tiny bit easier.  Time for another one!

Not reinventing any wheels here, but this idea made me very happy so I guess it's worth sharing the love. What's this? :

Yes, it's a desktop sewing waste bin! No more stopping and starting and looking up from your finished garment to find odds and ends stuck to it and strewn all over your table/clothes/floor.

Keep it within easy arm's reach of the machine for all those thread ends, trimmed stringy bits of fabric and bent pins one produces while in full sewing flow (though looking at the picture below, I wonder if I've been distractedly throwing straight pins in there instead of in the tin where they're supposed to live...).

When I used to sew on the dining table, I had a small cup or a saucer for the same purpose, and just tidied it away along with everything else. Now I have a dedicated sewing space, this old tin sits on the desk and gets emptied every once in a while.

Recycling the golden syrup can like this also totally vindicates me having pointlessly kept it for years just because it's pretty (something which greatly irritates G, of course).


Wednesday 7 November 2012

Oh the glamour: pocket repair

I'm sure I'm not the only one ever to have been inspired by Scruffy Badger, but I bet she wasn't expecting it to be this post that did it. But, is mending ever fun?

Why yes!

Take one ordinary pair of trousers:

Turn them inside out:

Ooh look at those lovely new pockets!  A hidden flash of the loudest fabric you like, and no-one in the office ever need know! Plus, a perfectly good pair of trousers rescued, shooting down nicely any spousely wish to go out and spend hundreds of euros on an entire new suit (what's that dear? You were hoping I would never get round to it? Think again, I have plans for that cash).

I did it following this tutorial.  Should you or your other half's trousers ever be similarly afflicted, now you know where to look.

G has also been keeping his keys in the pockets of his suit jackets, so in time expect me to be back here with a useful link or tutorial on repairing those too.

(It's a shame there's no actual reward in real life that correlates to the wifely/housekeepery smugness this kind of thing brings on, isn't it?)


Saturday 3 November 2012

Book review: The Perfect Fit

Well garment sewing might not be my bread and butter, but when I do get on to it, oh what a joy it is to finally be able to make things that fit!

For me as a self-taught clothesmaker, with absolutely no background in fashion or design, learning about adjusting for fit/shape has been crucial to sewing success - not to mention totally enlightening. I honestly had no real idea what the problems were with badly fitting clothes - but no more! It's utterly ruined shopping, of course: ohmigod I would never buy anything with that kind of armhole gape, etc etc.

Anyway, in the interests of sharing the sewing goodness, I thought I'd do a review of this book from which I have leared everything I know about fitting clothes using patterns (because I ain't even thinking about blocks and draping yet, people). You never know, someone might find it useful, and that's what the sew-o-sphere is about, no?

:: :: ::

The starting point is obvious, really: commercial clothing patterns, just like ready to wear clothes, are drafted to fit as many people as possible using 'standard' shapes and sizes.

However, going from that piece of obviousness to actually making something that does fit, isn't obvious at all.

Of course, you can always google full bust adjustment or small bust adjustment or whatever. But how do you know which adjustments you need in the first place? Well, like this:

Illustrated diagnosis of poor fit, both in detailed sections (shoulders! neck! thighs! bum!), and with an overview:

The pictures are dated (and these colours weirdly resemble my daughter's dress), but it's extremely clear and helpful. I'll out myself as an instructions-reader before saying this, but it's really worth going through the whole book pretty thoroughly before you even start on your actual patterns. I could identify almost immediately from the pictures which my most common fit problems are and what I needed to do about them. The full bust I was aware of. The narrow back, not at all (I had been blaming my innocent shoulders). And to realise that armhole gape is typical between sizes and easily solved was a total revelation.

Becoming aware of all this has also been a factor in making better pattern choices for clothes that will actually suit me, or be easily adjustable to fit well. Though I must say that I read the introductory sections on body shapes and styles with scepticism.

As it's been put very well by others, don't tell me how to dress!

I also completely ignore the part about paper fitting the pattern first. I don't have five pairs of hands and I'd rather just get on with it. (I do make very quick muslims out of old sheets, though).

An exciting picture of the contents page:

You've got an introduction to fitting and then sections on "Understanding your figure", "Body measurements", "Pattern adjustments", and "Fine tuning". The pattern adjustments themselves are organised by area, i.e. fitting the back, shoulders, bust, waist, etc.

Each section is illustrated with yet more dated photos showing the potential fit problems, and illustrating in 2-4 steps how to adjust your pattern to solve them.

And then there are technique overviews, like this lowdown on fitting with darts:

Other things I particularly like about it:
  • Standard ease allowances are given for loose/medium/tight styles in each body area.
  • For each fitting problem, there's a minor adjustment and a major adjustment, with tips on which one you should use when.
  • For each adjustment, it gives figures for the maximum/minimum amount to take out or add to the pattern piece.
  • The adjustment steps are very easy to follow.
  • It's not hard to find or work out what changes might be needed to other pattern pieces as a result of fit changes to the rest of the pattern (e.g. making the sleeve piece smaller if you first made the armhole smaller to remove gaping).

My main query about this book and its approach is whether it's possible one could be so shaped as to be beyond its help.  Have I found it useful because my shape doesn't seem to vary that hugely from the standard catered for in commercial patterns, or would it really be useful for everyone, regardless?

That question aside, in the end my verdict on it can only be that in my experience as an intermediate-level home sewer of clothes for (mostly) myself - it's invaluable.  None of the clothes you see me wearing on this blog would have been possible without it!

:: :: ::

Do you have trouble making clothes that fit well? How do you handle it? Any other tips, ideas of good resources? Or do you find that standard patterns fit you well enough without adjusting? 

Also, if anyone's reading who actually knows how to draft their own 'real' pattern blocks, I would love to hear your opinions on a book like this. I bet it gives you a very different perspective!