The Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion with Fabric review

Ever watch the Great British Sewing Bee and think: I could TOTALLY do this. I definitely could speed sew as though my life depended on it on national television.

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Well, you know what, I never have. Even my mum agreed I’d be pretty bad at sewing quickly. Yet what did I do in the course of preparing my review of the Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion with Fabric? I challenged myself to the GBSB experience at home. And it was messy.

Long story short, my room now looks like a thread-filled hurricane hit it. It’s made me wonder just how many helpers the GBSB crew have to help keep the sewing room clean and if I can possibly borrow some to clean this mess up.

Before I get to the project which unleashed such chaos on my room, let’s have a little nose at the book, shall we?

OBLIG NOTE THAT YOU SHOULD NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY GBSB SPOILERS

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Making my first coat

Oh crikey – I’m not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for with this one.

I’ve wanted to make a coat for forever, but have never quite had the guts to actually go ahead and do it. Sometimes I feel like my sewing techniques are a little too slapdash for the more complicated projects. But how do you get better if you don’t try and stretch yourself every now and then.

Luckily for me, the “in” shape (basically the coat everyone in London seems to be wearing) is a slouchy, boxy boyfriend coat, usually in varying shades of pastel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to follow trends usually, but it makes it a lot easier to find inspiration when you see it on the Tube every morning.

I had a look at a few boxy-type patterns and ended up going for Republique du Chiffon’s Gerard coat and I think I’ve found a great black and white tweed fabric in a shop near me . I had thought about going for some ridiculous colour, but I think I’d rather something a bit more neutral for my first coat.

That said, I’m not overly encouraged by this pattern so far. It’s been quite a bumpy ride, and I’m not even halfway through the toile. Being a French company, all of RDC’s patterns are, of course, in French. But some of them are also available in English PDF versions. I thought: great!

Unfortunately, all the pattern pieces are still labelled in handwritten French, so you’ve got the job of deciphering the handwriting as well as matching the pieces to the English in the instructions. They do have a key, but a couple of the pieces aren’t numbered, which makes it a bit confusing. Also, I really wasn’t keen on having to tape the pattern pieces together and also trace them afterward. I’m told this is common with French patterns, but I’m a firm believer in not having to trace if you spend an indordinate time taping the pieces together.

On top of this, because I’m a bit thick when it comes to instructions anyway and keep getting confused, the toile keeps going wrong. I’ve sewn wrong bits together, got confused by which pieces they mean (I really wish they’d referred to the numbers in the instructions) and just made a bit of a mess of the whole thing so far.

I wish this was a more positive update of the coat-making! But I’ve had a super-frustrating evening and I haven’t even begun fitting the damn thing yet. I’m kind of worried the shape is going to look awful on me and I’ll have to scrap the entire thing.

*sigh*

If anyone’s made this pattern and has any tips, they’d be much appreciated…

The three year blouse

I think I can safely say this is the longest it’s taken me to finish a sewing project – ever.

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In the midst of my big “I’m moving out” clearout, I came across a project I started way back in 2010 – while I was still living in Germany. I discovered it scrunched into a plastic envelope tucked amongst my sewing patterns.

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The Refashion Checklist – ’80s peplum blouse

80s blouse 1I love it when a refashion comes together.

What once was a monstrosity of an ’80s blouse, complete with shoulder pads which made me look eligible for the Lions, is now a cute peplum blouse with a touch of the ’50s about it. Much better.

blouse backTo begin with, the blouse was fairly shapeless. Rather than darts, it had some tucks gathering it at the waist, where it was attached to the peplum. On Instagram, Clare suggested sleeves off and sides taken in to take the blouse back 30 years to the ’50s.

In the end, I decided to rip the whole thing apart, taking off the peplum and ironing out the tucks. Using a bodice block pattern, I turned the top back to front, adding waist and bust darts, as well as a pair of darts at the back. I kept the buttons at the back as well as part of the collar, enclosing the raw edges around the sleeves and the neckline with black bias binding.

I ended up sewing most of the seams with my overlocker, as the fabric was pretty bad for fraying. It’s not a tool I use as often as I’d like – I forgot how satisfying it can be to have a seam stitched, trimmed and finished in one fell swoop!

80s peplum blouse refashion

One reattached peplum later, et voila! A blouse I will actually wear. Please excuse the unflattering jeans/jeggings I’m sporting in the pics – they’re the only “jeans” I actually own, but fit horribly because they’ve got an elasticated waist. Fit.

DSC00076I hope the nice pictures make up for the lack of Me Made May posts this year. Truth be told, for the latter part of May at least, I absolutely did not want to take pictures of myself at all.

On the plus side, things are on the up – not least due to a fancy pants new camera! I had lots of fun having a play with it this weekend.

That’s one item off the refashion checklist. Huzzah!

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Sew For Victory – Rosie the Riveter shirt dress

Happy days – I managed to finish my Sew For Victory wartime-inspired dress!

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A little more than a week ago, I told you about my last-minute change for this project, opting to take inspiration from women working in WW2 rather than the post-war pattern I had originally planned on making. I couldn’t resist getting my friend Martha, who designed this blog’s header and logo, to make me a Rosie the Riveter-style poster as well as taking some snaps of the dress for me. She’s a talented cookie, that one!

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As you may have already guessed, I used yet another pattern from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing. Man, oh man am I in love with this book. The patterns are beautiful and the instructions even more so. Due to lack of time, I just winged it with this one and went muslin-free. Daunting! But it’s turned out quite well.

The only major alteration I made was the length – I lopped off a whopping eight inches from the skirt. EIGHT INCHES. In case you hadn’t guessed, I am pretty much a hobbit. Gertie must be ridiculously tall. I crave her power.

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The only other adjustment made was to the sleeves. Originally, the puffiness looked absolutely ridiculous on me, so I fudged it a bit and managed to make them a bit more conservative. I think I needed to take a bit off at the top of the armhole because the shoulders were a little wide for me. Everything else worked like a dream. The elastic shirring at the back makes the dress fit beautifully without making you feel constricted. Thumbs up on the design.

I would tell you what kind of fabric I used, but I’ve completely forgotten…

Those of you who have followed the blog for a while may notice one little milestone here…

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Bound buttonholes! ALL SEVEN OF THEM! One’s a little bit wonky but I don’t actually care because I finally managed to do more than one vaguely presentable buttonhole. There is something rather therapeutic yet distinctly horrifying about making bound buttonholes, but it’s the best feeling ever when it all comes together.

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In all, not half bad considering I only started a little more than a week ago. Now I can look forward to perusing all of the other lovely creations on the Sew for Victory Flickr group. Exciting!

Hopefully, I can pull it out of the bag for the Mad Men challenge and all…

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Sew For Victory – Women at work

I’ve had a change of heart since I last wrote about Sew for Victory. Instead of a post-war Butterick 5281, I think I’d rather channel Rosie the Riveter on this one.

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Before war broke out, society had clear expectations of where a woman should be – at home. If she were to work, she shouldn’t earn more than her husband and marriage was meant to put a stop to any semblance of a career. But when World War II began, society had to buck up its ideas.

Suddenly, women weren’t just working in industries previously considered ill-suited for females, they were also actively encouraged to get stuck in as part of the war effort.

In the UK, unprecedented amounts of women joined the industrial workforce out of sheer necessity. Between 1940 and 1945, in engineering alone, the amount of skilled and semi-skilled female workers jumped from 75% to 85%. The picture was very similar over the pond, as thousands of American women helped make machines and airplanes in their hundreds.

It’s fascinating – while there are still problems with sexism in the modern workplace, we’ve come a long way from the idea of a female engineer being “radical” or just a plain necessity because of a shortage of men. For probably the first time since World War I, no one batted an eyelid at women carrying out so-called unfeminine work because they had more important things to worry about.

When the war ended, it was automatically assumed these women would leave their jobs as the men returned. In London, the monument to the Women of World War II depicts 17 sets of uniform and clothing which represents the hundreds of jobs women undertook and then left at the end of the war.

I think it’s safe to say, that while things didn’t change immediately, the work women did during the war began a shift in the perception of women’s role in society. The more I thought about this challenge, the more I wanted to pay tribute to that.

Practicality is key. The plan is to make something which isn’t restrictive and which could easily fit in to the wardrobe of a 40s working woman. And hey – while I usually sit in an office most of the day, every now and then I have to do something silly like tramp around mud looking for evidence of fly tipping (this resulted in some embarrassing photos), so it wouldn’t hurt to have a smart yet practical item for any journalistic eventuality.

Given my last-minute decision, I won’t be making trousers, because I’ve never made them before and I wouldn’t want to rush it! Instead, I’m going to take inspiration from Rosie and go for a classic shirt-dress. Comfy and non-restrictive, that’s the aim of the game!

How are your challenges going? It’s just as well Rochelle extended the deadline on this one, phew!

An ensemble from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing

I swear, you wait weeks for a project and then two come at once – my first two projects of the year are the blouse and pencil skirt from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing.

gertie skirt and top

Suffering from some wonky tripod syndrome…

In all, these two were a breeze to sew up – which is just as well considering how low my sewing productivity has been of late. As many reviewers have pointed out before me, Gertie’s book is a dream and full of classic and easily customisable patterns.

I put far more effort into the skirt than I did the blouse, which is refashioned out of a floor-length lace skirt I bought second-hand months ago. In the end, I decided to bother with neither a lining nor facings, instead finishing the raw edges with bias tape. The whole thing was stitched together using my overlocker, getting trustier by the minute now I’ve got the hang of it. A few adjustments were made to account for the scant fabric I actually had, as the original skirt was constructed out of four rectangles rather than the two.

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I had to fudge the sleeves a bit in the end because, lacking a muslin, the bust darts somehow ended up closer to my waist. Oops! To remedy the sagginess, I just did two tucks which I sewed on the outside of the fabric – you can barely notice really. I also widened the darts on the back of the neck, again due to some unnecessary sagging. The top’s too short to wear with anything other than a pencil skirt, but I love it.

Speaking of pencil skirts – this bad boy took a lot more effort. It was all about the muslin-making, meaning the whole thing took twice as long as it would have normally. Definitely worth it with such a form-fitting garment.

The only adjustments I really needed to make were to take in the skirt at the sides and to shorten it. I’m a petite one at 5″3, so this is a standard procedure for me by now. While I was reticent about the double darts at the front of the skirt, I actually really like them now.

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As suggested by Gertie in the book, the high waistband is boned. But instead of using Rigilene or steel boning, I opted for plastic cable ties. I know, I know, I promised I wouldn’t cut corners – but they really have worked a treat. I’ll let you know how they hold up after multiple washes, but I’ve heard good things. To give it extra strength, I ended up using the muslin’s waistband instead of iron-on interfacing.

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Then there’s the buttonhole. Er, the less said about this, the better. We all know I hate buttonholes. For some bizarre reason I thought things would turn out better if I did it by hand. It looks like it’s been sewn by a child. Perhaps these things get better with time…

I opted for a more expensive lining than usual – I forget what kind of fabric it is, but it’s so smooth and keeps static away a treat. The main body of the fabric is a floral cotton poplin, the kind which sticks to your tights if you don’t line it!

Excuse the crinkles!

Excuse the crinkles!

While it’s by no means the tidiest, for the first time, I’m not ashamed to show you how this garment looks on the inside. My new favourite toy has to be my pinking shears – you wouldn’t think it to look at them, but these bad boys are unbelievable at keeping unravelling fabric at bay. All that was left to do by the end was to cover the raw edge on the hemline with a matching pink ribbon.

As I said before, my aim was to make a perfectly fitting pencil skirt and I think I’ve achieved that. The only change I would make would be to taper the lower half of the skirt in just a touch.

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Next up on the sewing block are two sewing challenges – the first being Sew For Victory (which began yesterday, but I shall post my plans later this week!) and the second the Mad Men challenge. Woo!

The Twitter Dress – finally!

Well, wasn’t this just a project that went on and on and on and on?

Pattern: Colette Patterns‘ Pastille (adapted)
Time taken: TOO BLOODY LONG
Fabric: Turquoise cotton fabric plus quilting cotton for bodice
Details: Wonky embroidered bird, lapped zipper, princess seams.

As I mentioned in my last post, setting myself a deadline really helped me get this project done eventually. It was a dress which started out with the best of intentions, inspired by a pair of earrings resembling the Twitter logo. The original dress used a vintage pattern I gave away earlier this year and I thought it would all be so easy because there were so few pattern pieces.

Except that didn’t quite work out and I was left wondering what on earth I should do with a dress which wouldn’t look out of place on the operating table. Enter Pastille, a pattern I’d originally pictured in this colour.

Because of the way the original bodice was cut, I had to make some adjustments to the front bodice, namely changing darts on the front to princess seams so I’d have separate pieces to work with. I also did a swayback adjustment because I knew my muslin of this pattern gaped a lot at the zipper.

Then it was a seemingly endless process of basting and unpicking as I tried to get the fit just right on the bodice. At first, the front stuck out at the armpits because I hadn’t taken enough out to accommodate the extra seams. I remedied this by taking half an inch off the shoulders and a little extra off the princess seams. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s the best fit I’ve managed in a garment yet.

Well, you all know how I feel about the embroidery, but I don’t think it was too shabby for a first attempt.

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough fabric to create the cool pleated effect on the skirt. I initially thought of adding a black band, but I thought it would a bit naff.

To finish, I added a lapped centre zipper because, while they’re certainly extra effort, I’m a big fan of how it keeps everything nicely hidden. Especially useful when you don’t actually have the right colour zipper to hand…

All that was left to add was a snippet of a ribbon I got free with Mollie Makes magazine a couple of months ago. I think it adds a nice touch, no?

This pattern, by the way, save for the back piece, is absolutely fantastic. I’ve honestly never made anything where all the darts lined up so perfectly and everything (save for the bits I had to change because of fabric limitations) went very smoothly. It’s a testament to how well-designed the Colette Patterns’ range is.

But, more than anything… I’M SO GLAD IT’S OVER. Finally, I can move on to something else! I’m planning to do a bit of experimentation with dye this weekend, but my next proper project will be part of the Peony sewalong.

In fact, I have another deadline for this one. Oh, and it’s a biggie.

In November, I’ll actually be in the Guardian’s offices for the Guardian Student Media Awards, because I only went and got nominated!!! (I’ve been keeping this under my hat for what feels like an eternity…) I can’t think of anything better than to show up in something I’ve made myself as part of a digital sewalong.

Who else is taking part? I’m properly excited!