Fostering good sewing habits

Hands up who tends to be a slapdash sewist? I certainly am. Cutting corners is my thing, don’t you know.

But for 2013, I’ve decided my sewing needs to mature a little. Here’s some bad sewing habits I need to grow out of:

1) Skimming instructions

instructions.jpg

There’s just something about instructions that makes them so… skimmable. It’s as though as soon as you introduce some sort of numbered list, I switch off. Equally,  sometimes I just can’t or won’t make the effort to get my head around what exactly a pattern is asking me to do.

If text turns you off, then there are a wealth of visual and video tutorials available online. Or, better yet, many independent pattern companies are providing in-detail drawings with simple instructions – perfect for more visual learners like me. (I used a pic of Gertie’s instructions above – but what it doesn’t show is the great little illustrative instructions featured over the page) If you really don’t understand something, Google is just a click away.

2) Leaving threads unsnipped and seams unironed…

It can seem such a pain to get up from your sewing machine to head for the ironing board or reach for the scissors – particularly if you have a lack of space. In my case, the ironing board and iron are in another room completely. Ironing seams helps everything look much more professional in the long run. As for snipping threads – it’s such a relief not to have to deal with a load of strays all over your garment right at the very end if you’ve done it the whole way through.

Gertie took a look into the whys and hows of ironing – specifically, whether it’s really necessary to iron your seams flat and then open. Over at the Coletterie, August’s good habit of the month was clipping those threads!

3) Never making a muslin

I’ve mused about my love-hate relationship with muslins before. To the slapdash and money-conscious sewist in me, muslins are time-consuming and a waste of otherwise perfectly good fabric. But after a number of fitting disasters, I’ve changed my tune a little – I even made a muslin of my most recent pencil skirt project.

pencilskirtmuslin.jpg

The fact is, if you’re making significant alterations, then a muslin is probably sensible. In my brief foray into the world of muslin-making, I’ve found a stable cotton to work well in a light colour you can easily draw on. Sunni at A Fashionable Stitch did a great pencil skirt sewalong a couple of years back which included how to tackle fitting the perfect muslin. Not sure if you need to make a muslin? Check out Sewaholic’s post here for musings on when a practice garment is necessary.

4) Claiming there’s just no time to sew

Sometimes, sewing can seem like just too much effort, particularly when I’ve had a long day at the office. More often than not, it’s not the actual sewing which makes me reluctant – it’s trying to muster up the enthusiasm to get started.

One great way to tackle this is to adopt Tilly’s 15-minute rule. Setting 15 minutes aside every day really helps me to get my sewing mojo back. Sometimes it turns into a little longer, other times I stick to the 15 minutes and just trace out a pattern or something. Bitesize chunks take the pressure off immensely – and it definitely stops me feeling guilty for being a bit lazy with the sewing machine!

Those are just some of the bad sewing habits I’m tackling right now. How about you? Are you a sewist who sticks to the straight and narrow, or do you often find yourself developing bad habits?

Coveting a dressmaker’s dummy

There’s something human-shaped missing from my sewing life. I’ve been coveting my very own adjustable dressmaker’s dummy for some time now.

Once upon a time, I found a ratty mannequin at a flea market in Germany. I snapped it up for 25 euro and got some funny looks on the way home, clutching this tea-stained dress form as the metro whizzed underneath Dortmund.

I ended up naming it Sally, as you do. Sally was a bit broader in the back than I was, so I couldn’t really drape accurately using the form, but it was so handy to have a general idea of what a garment would look like without having to put it on and inspect it in front of the only full-length mirror in the house.

At the moment, fitting a garment is an odious case of trial and error as I guesstimate how much needs to be taken from a waist of a dress for it not to look like a potato sack. I often feel like a human pincushion as I wiggle my way in and out of half-finished items in an effort to get the fit just right.

So I guess it’s safe to say I’m in the market for a new Sally. There are a few options I could go for:

Buy new

Probably the most expensive and un-Seamless option, there are plenty of places I could get a brand-new dress form. John Lewis have a whole host of dress forms on sale starting at £139 for the Easyfit model. Not my first port of call as you’d imagine, but John Lewis do sell some good quality sewing wares so might be worth checking out.

Second-hand or vintage

Much more Seamless-like, don’t you think? Ebay always has a few vintage or second-hand dress forms on sale, but the price will fluctuate depending on how much competition there is for your chosen dummy. You never know, you might just get lucky. Also, I spotted a few ads for second-hand dummies on auction site alternative Preloved.

Do it yourself!

Yup, it’s possible to make your very own dress form. There are several tutorials available on the internet, the most popular being the duct-tape method. A more time-consuming but potentially rewarding method involves making a plaster mould of your upper half. You’ll need a good friend to help you out with either one – needless to say, it’s far cheaper than either of the first two options.

Personally, I’ll probably go on the hunt for a second-hand dress form if I can get a good price. Sad to say, I once passed up an amazing vintage wooden dress form I found in a charity shop in Swansea. It was the worst timing really, I’d just packed everything to move out of my flat and there was definitely no room for it, but I still wonder if it would have been worth the hassle anyway.

Do you own a dressmaker’s dummy? I’m dying to know if anyone’s had any success with the duct tape method!

GUEST POST: Thread Carefully’s 10 Sewing Commandments

Part 2

Earlier this week, Tabatha and Julia of Thread Carefully shared Sewing Commandment one to five. Now, as promised, here are commandments six to ten. Enjoy!

Tabatha's rendition of New Look 6000

6. Thou shalt always mark your fabric

Sure, it’s tempting to skip over those markings – they can be a right pain in the backside. We all know, deep down if nothing else, that they are there to help us make something beautiful, and correctly lined up in all the right places. Even the smallest deviation may mean a misplaced buttonhole, a wonky seam or pockets that don’t match it. It’s always worth taking your time to do it properly: you’ll appreciate it in the end, trust us!

7. Thou shalt not sew whilst drinking

Over to Julia for this one…Thankfully, I learned this lesson for both of us, and possibly all of us.  Yes, I confess I once had a few glasses of vino tinto whilst sewing (I should point out that I don’t drink very often.  It’s for the best) and I may have tried to see what happens if I just removed the blades from my overlocker and I may then have then been unable to get it to work.  Our friend Carys’s husband even had a look at it for me to see if he could fix it.  I couldn’t have done something THAT bad, right?  Wrong.  Unfixable.  Hello new overlocker!  (At this point, I will refer you back to our very first commandment).

8. Thou shalt finish your garments nicely every time.

We both know that we haven’t always done this.  We both know that we should.  The reason?  Every time we don’t, we regret not doing it.  There’s something really nice about knowing that the inside of your outfit is finished properly and that you won’t be embarrassed if someone sees the inside seams.  It also means that the item you have slaved and probably sworn over isn’t going to let you down in a spectacular way if, say, you’re out and about and the seam bursts.  The beauty of it is that you don’t have to have an overlocker to do it – the zig-zag stitch on your machine or pinking shears are perfectly adequate.  In addition, there are loads of other ways to finish seams or edges.  Pick the one that matches you and you’re off!

Julia's tattoo print Vogue 2958 Dress

9. Thou shalt continue to learn new techniques.

Sarai over at Colette Patterns puts this very well in her book and it is something that we both not only agree with but try and do regularly. She said:

There’s only one trait I think every sewer should possess: curiosity. Learning to sew is an ongoing process; in fact, the learning never really stops. Each project has the potential to teach you something new. Even seamstresses who have been sewing for thirty years or more will tell you that they learn new things all the time.

10. Thou shalt enjoy creating your own garments.

If something is irritating you or making you angry – put it down and have a brew.  Remember, you are (probably) sewing because you enjoy it and you love to have something nice at the end of it that you are proud of.  Yes, you may get it done tomorrow instead of next week if you plough on through, but if you rush and cut corners you will regret it later on.  I, certainly, can attest to this.  Sure, I got wearable garments even whilst being majorly annoyed throughout the process but there are things that I know about the construction of that garment that I can’t forget when wearing it.

Take, for example, my Peony dress.  I was in such a hurry to finish I didn’t obey commandment 7 for the shoulder seams and attempted to do them at the end, chopping out a chunk of the shoulder.  Now, the dress is amazing to wear (I love that it has rows and rows of Elvi all over – yes, Elvi is the plural) but I am always aware of the patch job I had to do on the shoulder which isn’t noticeable to everyone else.  The thing is, I know it’s there and I’m conscious of it and every time I see it I think “If only I’d taken my time… “. Remember, sewing is a hobby, not a race.

Thanks again to Tabatha and Julia for the guest posts! If you want to check out their blog then head over to Thread Carefully pronto! You can also follow Tabatha and Julia on Twitter. Interested in guest blogging on Seamless? Get in touch. 

GUEST POST: Thread Carefully’s 10 Sewing Commandments

Part 1

With almost 100 people taking the pledge now, I thought it was about time I got some guest posts here on Seamless! Today, the lovely Tabatha and Julia of Thread Carefully have thoughtfully put together their 10 Sewing Commandments with plenty of helpful hints and tips for beginners and experts alike. Without further ado, here are Commandments one to five…

Tabatha's Chantilly dress

1. Thou shalt only buy sewing equipment from reputable retailers.

This doesn’t include second hand or thrifted machines necessarily – those usually can’t be bought from retailers – here we mean new equipment.  It really is worth your while doing a bit of research before buying – not only into the brand and model number of the machine you’re interested in, but also into the retailer themselves.  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! A good retailer will be there even after you buy your machine to service it, fix it and even show you how to use it if you need them to! If you are in the UK The Sewing Directory can help you to find your nearest retailer. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, do a quick search online, but make sure you actually go to the shop.

2. Thou shalt not buy fabric simply because it is cheap.

How many times have I fallen for this (Tabatha’s good on this: she is way more restrained than I am) only to kick myself afterwards.  “Wow, that fabric that looks like it’s been stepped on is a bargain! I MUST HAVE IT. ”  No, just leave it.  It’s not worth it.  It’ll remain in your stash unused for you to feel guilty about forevermore.  By all means, if the fabric is cheap and you know you will definitely use it then there’s no reason not to buy it.  However, think carefully before snapping up a bargain piece of fabric, especially if you have no specific pattern in mind.

Julia's Tetris Macaron

3. Thou shalt not attempt to exactly replicate others’ creations.

This is one that’s close to both our hearts.  Like many people, the reason we started sewing was to have pieces that were unique to us.  We were both sick of constantly seeing other people in the same outfits or having people buy clothes because they liked how they looked on someone else.  Sometimes – dare we say it – we were even guilty of it ourselves.  When you start sewing you suddenly become appreciative of exactly what goes into making that piece.  You can deliberate over a pattern for hours, choosing the perfect style of fabric for it and the ideal trim.  At the end, you have something to be proud of.  It’s wonderful to admire other people’s creations and to garner inspiration from them, but if you love it so much you try to replicate it exactly, you are taking away the unique quality the other person has striven for. You should embrace the individuality that sewing permits, and create your own wonderful, inspired pieces, rather than copy  other people’s ideas.

4. Thou shalt always pre-wash or pre-shrink fabric.

I bet you, like us, have learned this the hard way.  Does much else need said on this, apart from that you will be devastated if your brand new, barely worn, [insert garment type here] shrinks the first time you wash it.  It has happened to us, and, although there may be a few commandments here we break from time to time, this is one we never, ever , EVER break.

Photo by Steven Depolo

5. Thou shalt always cut the correct size according to your measurements

Never guess what size you are based on your usual dress size (UK, US or otherwise).  Each pattern comes with measurements to help you identify your size , and that size will vary from company to company. Measure yourself each time and use that number.  It is only a number.  A number which no one need ever know, if you so wish.  The pattern may as well state sizes A, B, C, D, E for all the difference it makes.  An ill-fitting garment not only looks bad, but must surely feel bad.

Watch out later this week for the next five commandments, courtesy of Tabatha and Julia! In the meantime, check out their blog. If you’d like to write a guest blog for Seamless, get in touch!

Sew Colette: Muslin or no muslin?

sew colette meringue sewalong

In the Sew Colette sewalong organised by Sarah and Erin, this week was designated Meringue muslin week.

As you know, my week has most certainly not been a sewing week! With an exam on public administration on Monday and an essay on phone hacking due on Thursday, it was all journo hands on deck, which, as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t tend to leave a lot of time for sewing!

The Flickr group is already filling up with bloggers’ renditions of the a-line skirt, but I’ve decided to skip the muslin part of the project. Not exactly in-keeping with my less quantity more quality sewing ideal for 2012!

After all, winging it and skipping the muslin stage is probably one of my worst sewing habits! There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Laziness: One of those fast fashion habits I’m afraid! When I have made muslins, I’ve rushed through the process without really taking the time to check fit and wearability.
  • Cost: While muslins tend to be made from easily-afforded cheap fabrics, my fabric budget isn’t exactly significant while I’m still training as a journalist.
  • Waste: If I buy fabric, I want to use it and wear it. Where’s the sense in my taking a pledge against buying unnecessary garments from the high-street when I’m sewing garments which gather dust after I’m done adjusting the fit?

A popular tactic in the sewing blogosphere is to make a wearable muslin. The fabric may be cheaper than what you’ve bought for the garment proper, but it’s still a garment you would wear. Take Melizza for example, who has made a wearable muslin to see how the scallops would look in a lightweight cotton.

Photo by Martha Moreno

Before Christmas, I drafted up my own pencil skirt pattern. In this case, a muslin was a must because it’s such a closely fitted garment which had been drafted up based on my measurements in the summer – even a minute change in measurements is going to affect the fit on a garment as form fitting as this one.

The result is a pencil skirt I’m still going to wear (because I’m stubborn!) but with clear indications of fit issues. Take the wrinkles across the front and on the zipper – this means I need to add a bit more width to this garment.

Photo by Martha Moreno

I made this in a cheap-as-chips polycotton I had lying around in my stash – imagine if I’d made it with something a bit more expensive? Mind you, the fabric wrinkles very, very easily – does anyone know if the wrinkling would be less obvious in another fabric?

I’ve popped more photos of the skirt up on my Flickr page if you want to take a further look! 

The Meringue skirt is less formfitting than my pencil skirt, so I should be OK if I make sure to use a generous seam allowance in case any adjustment is required! I was gong to draft a waistband according to the Coletterie’s helpful tutorial, but I’m not sure if this would be sensible when I’m not making a muslin.

Any readers taking part in the sewalong? I can’t wait to see everyone’s finished garments! I have no internet at my new house which has made catching up with blog reading a bit more difficult!

Project Planning: Meringue Skirt

Sometimes, I’m a bit crap at sewing. No, this isn’t false modesty – this is actually true.

My sewing performance oscillates. Sometimes it’ll reach the dizzying heights of a perfectly executed invisible zipper, but the next week it could drop to the deepest depths of a poorly executed blouse courtesy of the old enemy… buttonholes.

A dress I managed to screw up, sad times.

Memories of failed projects still haunt me to this day – like the above dress I tried to make when I was still living in Germany. The fabric was amazing, but sadly, the dress wasn’t meant to be.

Hardly the sustainable sort of sewing we’re after, is it?

As you all know, 2012’s sewing mantra is quality, not quanitity. Bad habits from my fast fashion days run rampant when I sew.

It happens to the best of us – we start cutting corners because we’re so impatient for the final product. I’ve even distracted myself by thinking about whatever project I’ve got lined up next and before I know it, the one I’ve barely begun working on is old news.

If the pledge is about steering away from this mentality towards a more sustainable one, then this speedy, sloppy sewing just doesn’t contribute anything constructive at all. At the end of the day, you’ll end up with a poorly made garment you may as well have spent a fiver on, because it’ll fall apart in no time.

So let’s slow it down right from the beginning – take a step back and start planning. As a rule, I’ve never done this.

Mood-boards just haven’t been my thing – I tend to keep a lot of ideas in my head,  only to have them change when I spot some pretty quilting cotton. The Colette Sewing Handbook suggests you draw yourself a croquis.

I know what you’re thinking – sounds like something French and to do with potatoes, but it’s actually a sketch of clothing on a figure. It’s a good way to visualise what your garment will end up looking like.

Colette Patterns, Meringue

Alternatively, you can go for the moodboard-style idea as I’ve done above – I actually used Polyvore for this one, linking images of fabric I’d seen online. This is a pretty simple project, so I didn’t need to add much, but for something like the Macaron, which features two different fabrics, it could be useful to have all your planned fabric and notions in one place.

As for the project? I’m thinking a royal green colour – I’ve been a bit of a fan of jewel tones for a while. The handbook recommends a medium weight fabric like poplin and Raystitch has some great jewel tones on offer in plain cotton of a medium weight.

Need inspiration for your Meringue skirt? The Coletterie has plenty, but here are a couple of others I found (curiously, all black and white versions!):

  • I’ve already got a houndstooth skirt, but I was so tempted to make another after seeing this beauty from Lauren, who blogs at Lladybird. She’s used the Coletterie’s tutorial to add a waistband – I might just do the same.
  • Sharon’s added some piping to the hem of her Meringue, going for a monochrome look with some pinstripe fabric. Lovely. She’s even included a nice little walk-through of how she did it.
  • The newspaper fan in me could hardly ignore A View Into my World‘s print-style Meringue! It was actually a gift for a friend using the same fabric as she made for her equally excellent rendition of Sewaholic‘s Minoru jacket.

Any planning tips for this lazy seamstress? I’d love to hear them!

A quick peek at the Colette Sewing Handbook

The Colette Sewing Handbook has been on my wish-list for some time now.

This independent pattern retailer is a clear favourite among the blogging community. Colette Patterns offers vintage-style patterns with clear and concise instructions – perfect for anyone just starting out with sewing.

On top of this, founder Sarai Mitnick has created a little community based around her patterns. The regularly updated blog, Coletterie, is full to the brim with all sorts of hints and tips for beginner and more advanced sewers alike.

Colette Patterns cover

This community has been abuzz since Sarai announced there would be a Colette Patterns book and its release was timed with a tour around the sewing blogosphere.

Finally, I have my own copy! I’ve been a fan of Sarai’s work for some time now, having owned the Macaron dress pattern for about a year (I’m still on the hunt for the perfect fabric).

Colette Patterns has always stood out among independent pattern retailers not just for their unique take on the vintage styles sweeping the sewing blogosphere by storm but also because of the individual way in which the patterns are packaged. For someone used to the more traditional packaging of sewing patterns (folded into an envelope and near impossible to get back in!) the little instruction booklets complete with intricate, illustrated instructions are just lovely.

inside colette patterns bookThe book itself is no different. Sarai has based it around what she calls the Five Fundamentals: A thoughtful plan, a precise pattern, a fantastic fit, a beautiful fabric and a fine finish.

What really sets the Colette Sewing Handbook apart from other sewing books are the patterns. Oh the patterns!

Five patterns – one accompanying each fundamental – are included in the book, so you’re really getting your money’s worth. The patterns themselves are also easily adapted, as Sarai has demonstrated in several tutorials on the Colette Patterns blog.

Reading the book, it’s a clear winner for anyone just starting out in sewing. What I’m hoping to do is to hone my sewing abilities in 2012 using the book – sometimes I can be a pretty lazy seamstress and forget about these fundamentals, leading to some horror garments!

This won’t be the last you’ll hear from the sewing handbook – I can’t wait to get cracking on the patterns!

Any other Colette Patterns fans in the house? Also, don’t forget – I’m still looking for 2011’s inspirational makes, as explained in this blog post here!

I hope you all had a great Christmas!

Sewing around the blogosphere

I’m currently working on some interview material which will be posted in due course, so I thought I’d pop up a quick post of my blog reading from the past few weeks! As you know, I love me some sewing blogs, and there’s been some lovely stuff going on around the blogosphere!

Coletterie, the blog for Colette Patterns blew my mind this week with some handy tips on gathering stitches. Small things eh… In all seriousness,  it’s a blog worth following for little tips like this.

Tilly and the Buttons has been busy, making a beautiful leaf patterned pencil skirt and also featuring the lovely Gertie of Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing, who has written a Day in the Life guest blog! Both these ladies are amazing, so do check both blogs out.

Ali over at The Wardrobe Reimagined successfully reverse-engineered a ready-to-wear garment, re-creating a blazer. You can read about her methods here, and about the finished garment here! Ali’s also touched upon the Occupy movement in her area in the second post, and how current events can link in with our wardrobe and the memories clothes bring to us. Worth a read and a comment, even if you don’t sew!

Last but not least is a lady you’ll be spotting on the blog pretty soon – Zoe made an amazing Nautical Diner Dress and posted about it this week. Lovely stuff, especially if you’re a fan of vintage patterns!

Three useful sewing links for beginners

It’s easier than you think to teach yourself to sew, especially with a few handy resources at your fingertips.

Like I said in my previous post, I taught myself how to sew through various tools available online. While there are so many sewing courses you can take or sewing books you can buy, if you’re a student like me, then cost can sometimes be a barrier. Getting to grips with a needle and thread needn’t be as stressful as your textiles class in school!

So if perhaps you’re thinking of taking up a Seamless style challenge, here are some sites to get you started:

BurdaStyle

burdastyle screenshot

BurdaStyle is like Facebook for sewing boffins. An endless source of inspiration and talent, the members of BurdaStyle have plenty of projects and tips to share. There are also patterns, both free and at affordable prices, available to download. You print them off and then stick the pages together, et voila! That bit might be a pain, but who’s complaining when the pattern is free?

Pattern Review

pattern review front page

This is a handy resource for those who enjoy sewing from commercial patterns. One of the best parts of sewing your own garments is having complete control over the fabric and fit of your clothes, but what use is this if your pattern looks nothing like the image on the envelope? Before you cut into that beautiful metre of fabric you’ve been hoarding, search for your pattern on Pattern Review. Users post comprehensive reviews of sewing patterns used for their projects detailing everything from how easy the instructions were to follow

Craftster

Craftster screenshot

Craftster is the kind of forum for those of you who aren’t quite satisfied by sewing alone. I’ve yet to venture into the world of knitting or jewellery making, but you name the craft and there’ll be someone talking about it of Craftster. It’s a great resource for those times you’ve hit a bit of a brick wall. Not sure why your thread keeps tangling up? Someone on the forum has probably had the same problem. Head to the Sewing in General board to get discussing your projects, but do take a look around the rest of the site as well.

So what are you waiting for? Get stitching and maybe you’ll end up saying bye bye to the high street too!

Got any sewing resources of your own? Comment away!