Two challenges to see Spring through

It may not feel like Spring what with all this BLOODY SNOW but there’s nothing like a sewing challenge or two to pep you up for some warmer months.

Sew For Victory



The first comes courtesy of the lovely Rochelle of Lucky Lucille, who has challenged the blogosphere to a trip back to the ’40s – when fabric was scarce, fashion took a back seat to the war effort and everyone was encouraged to make do and mend.

She’s already provided a plethora of inspiration to get us going over on her blog since the challenge was announced, which means I should really get my skates on! I have a pattern picked out but have yet to actually get cracking on a muslin or even choosing fabric, erk!

I was in two minds about this challenge – with dreams of making a pair of high-waisted trousers and pairing it up with the Mathilde blouse from Tilly and the Buttons, which would have been more 40s-inspired than an accurate reproduction.

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But then I found this great Butterick repro pattern (Butterick B5281) from 1946 which has remained in my sewing box unmade for a number of years now. The pattern looks absolutely beautiful on the envelope, but then I saw Butterick’s version, which just looks AWFUL.

I’m starting to worry a little bit, even more so because i haven’t started work on it at all! 

Being a post-war pattern, I feel I can plump for a brighter colour like purple, but I may still keep it to a darker shade. At this stage, anything could happen!

Mad Men challenge

Secondly, we’ve got Julia’s Mad Men challenge. How did I miss this last year?!

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As it happens, this challenge is far simpler for me! I’ll let you all know a bit later which particular dress I’m hoping to emulate, but it’s definitely a Joan make, for sure. I may not be as bombastically curvy, but I’m sure I can rock a good wiggle dress…

Those of you who have signed up for the super-fun-cool project for Seamless – THANK YOU! I’ll be sending out the top-secret instructions ASAP. There’s still time to register your interest – head to the post here to find out a bit more.

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!

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

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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.

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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?

Mission: Create my perfect pencil skirt

I flipping love a good pencil skirt, me.

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By far the most worn item in my wardrobe is a jersey double-knit black pencil skirt – bought from H&M for my 19th birthday.  If I were to lose anything in my wardrobe, I’d probably be most upset about this – things you can just throw on in the morning for an early start at work really are priceless.

Pencil skirts are one of those great wardrobe staples. But I can’t say I’ve yet made the “perfect” pencil skirt. Oh, but I have tried – even made one of those wearable muslin things.

Gertie's New Book For Better Sewing

Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing

As a little treat to myself, I bought Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, which has reams of glorious patterns plus plenty of room for alterations. I traced out the pencil skirt pattern last night with every intention of cutting the cheap-ish floral poplin I’d bought for a wearable muslin.

But, to date, I haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to pencil skirts. They may be my favourite item to wear, but not to make – odd, really, as you would have thought two straight seams and a few darts make for some easy-peasy sewing. But get some measurements slightly off and you can end up with the dreaded wrinkles, which just ruin the whole effect if you ask me.

So, before trying what will be my third pencil skirt pattern in recent years, I’ve decided to put the breaks on and maybe, actually, do a PROPER muslin this time. As in, one I will take apart and keep for future pencil skirtness.

For one thing, in Gertie’s book, the patterns are adjusted to take into account that most women are bigger size in the hips than they are in the waist. Not me!

But if I nail this with a decent muslin, then there’s nothing stopping me from creating pencil skirts in every colour of the rainbow… not to mention the other garments which build upon the foundation of this skirt block in the book.

So that was a very roundabout way of saying that I had planned to sew loads tonight, but actually, I’ve decided to put the brakes on.

Or I may have just sat and watched the Comic Relief Great British Bake Off and left the sewing too late…

Style crush – The Hour

There’s a lot to love about the BBC’s The Hour.

Set in the 1950s, The Hour gets behind the scenes of a groundbreaking current affairs programme at the BBC in (fictional) times gone by. While it’s very much a generalisaton to call it such, ithas been dubbed the UK’s answer to Mad Men. Except you have nosy journalists chasing stories rather than high-profile advertising executives chasing clients.

What’s not to love?

Of course, the characters and story have got me hooked, but can we please, please talk about the clothes. Please?

Part of what made most of the sewing world fall head over heels in love with Mad Men was the impeccable costumes. I think we’ve all wanted one of Joan’s wiggle dresses in our lives. Admittedly, it plays a lesser part here in The Hour, as tricky stories and conspiracies rule the roost.

But the costumes really are a treat, from roving reporter Freddie’s shabby suits to the more polished flounce of housewife Marnie Madden. But my absolute favourite wardobe is that of ambitious producer Bel, filled with jewel toned skirts and dresses. Sleek and professional.

As you all know, I’m not a fan of quick-fire fashion and Bel’s work wardrobe, full of practical yet professional favourites, harks back to a time when clothes were meant to last. She basically owns my ideal working wardrobe.

I’m not quite pulling off this level of classy just yet, but I’m only a few months into the working world, give me time! Streamlined and sophisticated, her wardrobe screams efficiency. Just the thing you need if you’re in charge of a hard-hitting news programme, wouldn’t you say?

In terms of sewing, it would actually be fairly simple to stitch up. Only yesterday, I ordered a copy of Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, which includes a suit jacket pattern as well as a pencil skirt. Just add a vintage brooch and you’re sorted.

Have any of you watched The Hour? What do you make of the new series? If you’re in the UK, you can catch up with it on BBC iPlayer.

 

Me Made May 12 – Catching Up!

So much for blogging every day for May! Needless to say, the exams got to me a little bit more than I’d anticipated.

Luckily, we’ve got a bit of a break after Friday’s exam, so I can get back on track again. Also, while I may not have been documenting my outfits as rigorously as I hoped, I have kept to the challenge thus far and without an outfit repetiton just yet!

Mind you, I have found certain items are getting more wear than others – like my red Cynthia Rowley skirt and my graduation circle skirt. It’s made me realise certain shaped items are staples I should probably make more of.

Here are a couple of the outfits I did get a chance to document:

Day 13, it was just me, my books and my favourite flamingo t-shirt of all time. My Me-Made floral skirt doesn’t go with it that well, but who cares when you’re revising?

Red lipstick for an exam? You betcha. My public administration exam didn’t go too badly (I hope). Perhaps it was the addition of my favourite leopard print cardigan and me-made dress? Also, the whole headscarf thing has become a wicked way to hide how my haircut is slowly developing into a mullet… (business in the front… PARTY IN THE BACK)

A speccy day normally means I’m chilling out and/or hungover. Not so on day 16 I’m afraid, it was all about Media Law, for which I cracked out the wannabe hack skirt. You’ve yet to see it, but I have quite the collection of oversized hoodies, acquired from various people over the years. This gem actually belongs to my brother, who made the mistake of leaving it at home. Yep, my undergraduate university has a beer pong society, who have some damned cosy hoodies…

How’s Me Made May going elsewhere?

Me Made May 12 – Make do and mend

Apologies for the lack of Me Made documentation yesterday! I travelled back to Cardiff more or less straight after the end of my placement, meaning I didn’t get back until about midnight.

Needless to say, I’m glad I won’t have to do anymore long train journeys for a while now!

Day 10 was all about the graduation skirt, paired with a lace t-shirt – a birthday gift from the lovely Ki! You should see the pink jeans she got me as well, they’re a treat.

Me Made Day 12 was all about comfort – sitting on a train for five hours is no joke! My Me-made item is actually one you’ve seen briefly before, but, as yet, has gone unblogged.

Too often, I make something which just ends up lost at the bottom of my wardrobe. I really loved my Cynthia Rowley jumper dress to start with, but, as happens all too often with clothes, I fell out of love with it and left it to gather dust in my wardrobe.

Now, as I recall, the double-knit fabric was actually pretty expensive, so I decided it was high time I did something with it. Knowing how much I wear my black double-knit pencil skirt from H&M, I nabbed some elastic from my sewing box, traced the skirt shape and made myself a green and navy houndstooth skirt out of my abandoned dress.

Needless to say, I’m pretty happy with the results, and now I know how well it withstands the train journey! I was really wary about cutting up the dress, because the sleeves took me bloody ages, but I’m glad I did. After all, what was the point of all that effort if I wasn’t going to wear it?

There are a couple more me-made items in my wardrobe needing to be upcycled, so this won’t be the last you’ll see of projects like these.

Me Made May ’12 – The leopard print Sorbetto

I hope this won’t be the only time this month I’ll be blogging about a new me-made garment – although, technically, this modified Sorbetto was made quite a while ago.

Paired with my all-time favourite double-knit jersey skirt and a vest top for modesty, this little blouse made a great addition to my first-day-on-placement outfit. I modified the free Colette Patterns Sorbetto to make this out of a sheer, lightweight leopard print fabric on sale at John Lewis.

I drafted a Peter Pan collar using Gertie’s tutorial and used the Sorbetto sleeve pattern from Sew Weekly (you can download a PDF version from Sew, Incidentally). No need for bias tape on this one! I also took out the centre pleat.

You can’t really tell, but this top is a bit too tight around the bust because I didn’t add enough ease after removing the pleat. D’oh! I also forgot to put interfacing on the collar. Double d’oh!

I’m remaining in denial about any problems though, because we all know leopard print and I have a special relationship. It became pretty clear why the fabric was on sale as soon as I began cutting – it frays SO easily! I cracked out the French seams, but even that hasn’t stopped some of it. I’m honestly not sure how much wear I’ll get out of this before it falls apart.

Nevermind, you win some and you lose some, and it looks fine for now! Sorbetto’s a great little pattern by the way and one you haven’t seen for the last time on Seamless!

This top came about when I decided I just had to have a me-made outfit for a friend’s Mad Men-themed party. Paired with my purple pencil skirt and a spot of red lippie, I was loving life.

If I were any Mad Men character, I think I’d probably be Peggy. I’d love to pretend I’m as utterly fabulous as Joan, but I think Peggy and I certainly have ambition in common! That programme is SUCH great sewing inspiration, don’t you think? I can’t wait to get my hands on Gertie’s sewing book so I can crack out my own version of her Joan-inspired dress.

Any other Mad Men sewing fans out there?

Me Made May ’12 – Sharpen your sewing skills!

This month, I feel like I’ve been here, there and everywhere. Not content with a placement in York, I’ve nabbed myself one down by the seaside in Brighton.

I’m currently sat on the hostel bunkbed tip-tapping away and possibly annoying the girl who sleeps in the bunk below me. Well, hey, we all know – when it comes to hostels, you get exactly what you pay for. This one happens to be right next to Brighton Pier as well as being above a bar and a nightclub.

I definitely thought this through.

Since I lost track of the daily blogging yesterday, I thought it might be better to write about each Me Made Day (see what I did there?) the day after, especially as all my blog posts were going out so blooming late at night. Alas, photography remains an issue, but luckily I have a backup:

The eagle-eyed blog followers among you will know I haven’t blogged about this skirt, but it has been duly documented! In fact, if you like the Facebook page, then you may have spotted the wee t-shirt to skirt tutorial I wrote for The Cardiffian’s Arts supplement a while ago.

This was, quite possibly, the quickest bit of sewing I have ever, ever done. I kid you not, I think I did it in about twenty minutes. Honestly, I’m amazed it’s still in one piece.

But, despite the SUPER QUICK turnaround on the skirt, I really don’t wear this skirt often at all. Except for on Me Made Day Five, I think the last time I wore it was when we papped the photo for the article.

You see, the thing is about t-shirt material, is it doesn’t really work that well as a skirt. In fact, I complain about not being able to get the lovely double-knit fabric I crave on a regular basis. The unfortunate thing about this skirt is it shows every little lump and bump, whether it’s my comfy pants (thongs are the devil, more on this another time) or the outline of my tights.

I guess sometimes you make something kinda nyeeeh and you just have to roll with it. In my case, I whacked a longer t-shirt over it and didn’t bother tucking it in a la the photo above, because the fabric really does show all.

Sometimes. Me Made May is all about showing your runt creations a little bit more TLC.

On the plus side, when it came to laying out the page for the physical copy of the article, my lovely friend Phil came up with a genius headline:

SHARPEN YOUR SEWING SKILLS WITH A PENCIL SKIRT

Oh, journalism. I love you.

Now, blogosphere, tell me about your sewing runts! You know the ones, the ones you’re hiding in the back of your cupboard out of SHAAAAAAME. Or maybe they’re out for Me Made May too? Sharing is caring!

Me Made May ’12 – A Tale of Many T-Shirts

Day two of Me Made May coincides with one of the most anticipated events of a Swansea student’s year – Welsh Varsity.

Billed as the clash of the Welsh titans, essentially it’s a case of Swansea students making their way to the capital city to face old nemesis Cardiff in a variety of sporting events, culminating in a rugby match in the Millennium Stadium.

My student card may class me as a Cardiff postgraduate student, but there was no doubt who I was supporting today…

Welsh Varsity 2012

Alas, we didn’t win. Boo!

Every Swansea ticket comes with a free t-shirt everyone wears on the day to support the ‘green and white army’. As you may be able to tell, ladies normally hack a pair of scissors at them – I’d like to say some sort of design acumen was involved here, but quite frankly, I hacked at the neckline with a small pair of scissors as soon as I met my friends in a Cardiff bar… because I’m well classy like that. I paired it with the wannabe hack pencil skirt, thanking my lucky stars I had something which went with that colour green!

Like many Swansea students, my wardrobe is bloody full of the free t-shirts the Swansea Union events team dish out as part of their busy events schedule. No cash-strapped student is going to sniff at a free t-shirt after all. In fact, I’d bet you  any Swansea student taking the Seamless pledge could probably keep their wardrobe replenished on a stock of Swansea union t-shirts alone.

One of my good friends ran for election two years running – he’s set to be President of Swansea Union next year in fact! Anyway, the t-shirts he made for both elections now hang up in his office, one hand painted and stained with oodles of blue paint and the other decorated with fuzzy felt sewn on by his lovely girlfriend. As I said before, clothes hold memories, and you can bet you gain a lot of them as an undergraduate at Swansea.

But, as a thrifty Seamless pledger, I’m dying to get something done with these t-shirts. It would be a little easier if they were plain, but normally they’ve got some schnazzy design thought up by the hardworking team in Uni. Despite this, I hate the idea of them just languishing in my cupboard, only coming out when I need to dye my hair!

If any of you have any cracking tutorials which could help solve my problem, then feel free to send them my way!

Also – REALLY fun story with this photo. My lovely friend Rosie said almost straight away when I saw her: “OOH! What are you wearing today that you made? HAVE YOU TAKEN THE PICTURE YET? Can I take the picture?”

I heart Rosie. See, I have people outside of the blogosphere checking up on me too…