My 2015 in sewing

Ok: so I didn’t blog that much last year. It happens! And 2015 has been kind of weird.

And I have to say, I’m pretty happy to be leaving 2015 behind. That said, 2015 wasn’t all bad. As those  of you who follow me on Instagram will know, I’ve definitely been sewing plenty. Given I’m so completely behind on blogging these, here’s a rundown of some of my favourite projects from this year.

Sew Over It 1940s tea dress

Sew Over It 1940s tea dress

I’m never not going to love a dress which makes me feel like Agent Peggy Carter. This was mostly an easy sew, save for the point in the centre connecting the bust and the skirt – which I don’t think I got completely perfect anyway. The fabric, also from Sew Over It, was a dream to sew. My only complaint is I sometimes feel this one’s just a touch too fancy for work… but who cares, I’m still going to wear it.

Patterns by Gertie: Butterick B5814

Patterns by Gertie B5814 dress

What do you do when you’re off to a wedding you know your ex is going to attend? You make the best goddamn wiggle dress of your life. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to give an ex any credit for this one, because it is goddamn glorious. It looks a lot more complicated than it actually is, thanks to the pleats and the draping. I think perhaps the bust is maybe a little big and I didn’t quite nail the sleeves, but who cares. The fabric is a drapey synthetic of some sort, lined with a cotton blend. This dress also requires the wearing of the funkiest bra I have ever owned. So now you know.

The red tulip Audrey dress

As I’ve said before, I love, love, love sewing books with loads of patterns for me to choose from. Famous Frocks: the Little Black Dress has a really lovely Audrey Hepburn-style pattern with a high neckline, which can either be paired with a circle or a pencil skirt. I made one with a gathered skirt in red tulip-patterned cotton. It’s so easy to put together, I think I may make another version with a slim skirt. I’ve got my eye on the Joan pattern from

The little black Georgia dress

This dress by By Hand London is sexy as hell. I sewed it in a black knit, so I didn’t need a zipper. I feel happy every time I wear this dress – so much so I made two this year, another in a glittery knit with wide straps.

Colette Patterns Macaron

I’ve had this pattern in my stash for years, ever since I lived in Germany. I don’t know why it took me so long to make it, but I’m glad I finally have. It’s deceptively easy to sew. For some reason I thought the top part would be difficult, but it was relatively simple in the end. The blue fabric is not the best quality – it even melted at one point when I was ironing it – but HEY what does it matter, no one can tell so I won’t tell if you won’t.

Colette Patterns Macaron

Comfy as hell Simplicity 2591

This one’s a re-do of a pattern I last used about four years ago. You can read more about it here because it’s one of the few I actually blogged about last year.

And what for 2016? Well I’ve got some plans, of course. Stay tuned for more. Happy New Year!

Me Made May ’15 – over for another year

Me Made May photos

Well, May pretty much raced past, didn’t it?

I think this is the first year I’ve managed to take photos almost every day of me made May, save for gaps due to illness and a Devon holiday. At the beginning of this month, I said I wanted May to be about positivity, and it mostly has been. There’s something about making an effort every day which puts a little more of a spring in your step – or at least in mine. Sometimes, making myself look good in the hope that it’ll make me feel good has a little bit of an effect.

I don’t want to pretend May went by all sweetness and light – hormones aside, there are life issues which also need taking care of. But without the pill-induced fog of sadness, what once seemed like insurmountable problems seem much more manageable.

And the fact is, the last few weeks, I’ve felt more myself than I have done in months. Which is a welcome change, and more than I could have asked for at this point.

As for the actual challenge: I succeeded! Every day, I wore at least one me-made or second hand item. Though it did make me realise there are a few more me-made items I’d like to add to my arsenal. At some point, I want to make a trench coat, a better fitting pair of trousers and more wardrobe basics. Not to mention a few more circle skirts to swoosh around in.

That said, this month’s sewing hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful: I’ve made a purple jumper, a black wiggle dress, a lemon-patterned sun dress and, a must for every wardrobe, a Powerpuff Girl costume. (Buttercup, obv. Because I’m the tough one.)

I feel more confident in my sewing than ever – it’s just the rest of it I need to sort out now! But I’ll get there. Tell you what though, looking forward to not having to take a photo every day…

I want to say a huge thank you to Zoe for hosting the challenge once more! Here’s to next year.

Me Made May ’15: the first 15 days

first 15 days of me made may

 

As if we’re more than half way through Me Made May! I think this may be the first year I’ve actually managed to photograph most of my outfits, which is a change. So far, I’ve learned:

  • I’ve got a lot more killer me-made looks than I thought
  • Wearing velveteen dresses to work is fun even if your colleagues think you dressed up especially for the election results
  • I could do a mean Peggy Carter cosplay if I wanted to
  • A fringe makes everything better
  • What I lack in me-made basics, I make up for in awesome dresses and skirts
  • When in doubt, headscarf, headscarf, headscarf

Woop! How’s Me Made May going for everyone else? If you want to follow my progress, I’m posting everything on Instagram.

Simplicity 2591 in knit: why it pays to go back to tried and tested sewing patterns


Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 22.03.43

First things first, I’ve got some thank yous to dole out. I was incredibly nervous about my last post. Unfortunately it’s still a bit intimidating to admit you’ve been teary-eyed at your desk because hormones are playing funny business with your brain. But, thanks to commenters here, on Twitter, Facebook and in real life, I’m really pleased I did it. Sounds cliche, but it really does feel like a weight off my shoulders. I can’t expect to be 100% just yet, but I feel miles better just a week after coming off the pill, so I have high hopes for the months ahead.

As well as Me Made May, there are also some sewing dares afoot. Gillian challenged me on Twitter to not only blog at least once a week but also be positive about myself in some way or another. Killing two birds with one stone here with a speedy make I’m pretty proud of.

Simplicity 2591

Simplicity 2591 the first

The first time I made Simplicity 2591, a cap-sleeved dress with the kind of in-seam pockets your hands dream of, I was still a novice sewer. As proof of how long ago it was, I present exhibit A: this picture of me on a rock wall with red hair.

Making it out of fabric with flocked velvet hearts (sourced via eBay, of course), I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever made. It’s undergone a few changes since then – I got rid of the cap sleeves (too puffy) and, er, broke the zip. When I found some sweet stone-coloured jersey fabric from I forget where now, I immediately thought I should go back to the pattern I last attempted around 3 years ago. It’s the kind of fabric which just screams to be worn as a the comfiest dress in the world.

It ended up being just that – it was also one of the quickest sews I’ve ever attempted. Granted, I was on a bit of a roll (I made another, more complicated dress, in the same fortnight) but HOLY CRAP jersey is the best stuff to sew even if my overlocker is back in Cardiff. I just used a zig-zag stitch and we were away! No seam finishing. nothing. I even attempted some top-stitching along the neckline and sleeves to attach the facings in the place – though I cheated because I couldn’t find a twin needle. Seems to be holding up alright so far.

dress

Because I was using knit fabric, I made a few changes to the sizing – I could have probably saved a bit of time and gone a size down with the amount I ended up taking in at the seams, but it was nice to have a lot of allowance to play with. I haven’t gone up a size in Simplicity patterns either. Meaning no toiles for me, hurrah!

I also used a different sleeve pattern, the curvy tulip sleeve from the Colette Patterns Macaron. I seem to have a real problem with puff sleeves – if I don’t take a wedge out of most puff pattern sleeves, I end up looking like an extra from a Wham video. The ’80s would not have been my kind of era. I much prefer this cap sleeve. The Macaron calls for you to make two and sew them together but I ended up drafting a facing instead so it was less bulky.

Also also also – knit fabric means NO ZIP. Hurrah! But because I’m dim and forgot to take a picture of the back, you can’t see that. I didn’t cut the back on the fold, just had a centre back seam.

As you can probably tell, I’m really pleased with the outcome. AND DID I MENTION HOW COMFORTABLE THIS DRESS IS? I could sleep in it. I won’t, because it’s too nice for that, but I COULD. And what more could you really ask from the comfiest dress in the world?

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Had a pin in my dress all morning #sewingproblems

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Bonus: the first day I wore it to work, I went around with a pin still attached to the neckline. Sewing accessories are the next big thing, I hear.

Nevermind the wonky pockets: 9 things I learnt making my first coat

I have wanted to make a coat for absolutely ages.

coat1

Much like trousers, they’re one of those garments which seem hella daunting. It’s taken me years to finally brave it. But just before Christmas, I got there! Hurrah! Made from a fuzzy wool tweed and a satin lining, it’s the perfect slouchy coat and has certainly got me through the Winter months. The pattern is the Gerard by Republique du Chiffon. Marketed as a ‘boyfriend’ coat, the slouchiness makes it the perfect beginner coat. (Sadly the instructions don’t, but more on that later)

coat 4

Basically even though I’ve just noticed the pockets are wonky (I MEASURED AND EVERYTHING WHYYYYY) and I had a minor social media meltdown over the pattern pieces, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram will have seen all the ups and downs already, but here’s a little more about what I learned:

Continue reading

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…

MailOnline screenshot

Feminist T-shirts: garment workers’ rights should not be a political football

SEE BELOW FOR UPDATE

Because we sew, we know exactly how much work goes into a garment.

If I’m on a roll, it can take me a couple of evenings to make a skirt. Imagine doing that over and over, day after day… for just 62p an hour.

As a feminist and a seamstress, I was pretty disappointed to see the front page of today’s Mail on Sunday, which claimed workers in a factory in Mauritius were working on ELLE’s feminist T-shirts under pretty terrible conditions for a pittance. These T-shirts cost £45. If the conditions are as bad as described, then there’s absolutely no excuse.

The Fawcett Society does some excellent work, so, while this particular campaign wasn’t for me, I am disappointed for them. Their statement makes it clear they were concerned the T-shirts weren’t being manufactured in the UK. As far as I can see, they may have been quite badly let down by Whistles. I should state here, the Fawcett Society has asked for evidence to back up the Mail’s claims. Their statement adds:

If any concrete and verifiable evidence of mistreatment of the garment producers emerges, we will require Whistles to withdraw the range with immediate effect and donate part of the profits to an ethical trading campaigning body.

Whistles has said they’re investigating the allegations “as a matter of urgency”.

Let’s be clear: while this is an important story, the only reason it’s on the Mail on Sunday’s front page is because it’s an excellent chance for them to have a pop at Labour (and maybe feminism too while they’re at it). Nick Clegg wore the T-shirt as well, but he hasn’t been mentioned on the front page. One of the things I despise about politics is how people’s lives and working conditions become political footballs pre-election season. And it’s only going to get worse.

The exact same thing happens with coverage of the Welsh NHS. Normally, the national press doesn’t care too much about what happens in Wales. But because it’s run by Welsh Labour right now, the right-wing press sees it as far too good to not have a politically-slanted pop. I wouldn’t mind, except I know full well when May 2015 comes and goes, Welsh issues will return to the back of their minds, relegated to the back pages.

I digress.

Long-term readers of this blog will know I’m not someone who buys new clothes on a regular basis. That said, since my pledge ended and I’ve had less time to sew, I have inevitably been buying the occasional basic if I can’t find something decent second hand on eBay. Thanks to a hefty overdraft, I stick to the places I can get a T-shirt for cheap, feeling like a complete sellout.

It’s become increasingly difficult to find ethical and affordable clothing. As wages are squeezed and the cost of living gets higher, cheap clothes are so much more accessible. But we know cheap clothes come at a human cost. It’s been more than a year since the Rana Plaza disaster – and I’m not sure anything has changed. My colleague did a quick video around the time of the anniversary, asking some people if it had changed their shopping habits. Not that many people said yes. You can watch the video here.

People sign up to the Seamless Pledge for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they want to sew more or perhaps they want to cull their wardrobe to the basics. But the majority of them say they’re concerned about the way the items in their wardrobes are made. They want to take ownership of the ethics in their wardrobe the only way they know how. True, there’s still an issue with sourcing ethical fabric – but at least you know the conditions in which your clothing was made.

We absolutely should be talking about the rights of the people who make our clothes, but not just because some Labour MPs wore these shirts. We need to be talking about ethical manufacturing all the time and we need to demand better for the sake of the people who put the clothes on our backs.

As for me, I think it’s high time I renewed my pledge.

Also I have to emphasise again: the Fawcett Society does some amazing work, so do go check them out and perhaps donate if you’d like to.

On a completely separate note – YEP, I’m blogging again. More on that soon…

UPDATE Weds, November 5: The Fawcett Society has said the T-shirts were in fact made ethically. Full report here.

Found this quote pretty interesting:

Laura Harvey, lecturer in the sociology of media at the University of Surrey, criticised the newspaper’s report. “It was a cynical political move against an important feminist campaigning organisation. If the Daily Mail really cares about workers’ rights why aren’t they running stories about the garment industry more widely and the campaigns to improve worker’s rights?” she told the Guardian.

My point above still stands – ethical manufacturing is still a huge issue and I agree with Laura Harvey: we should be reporting on it as much as possible. If you’re interested, the Guardian did an interactive earlier this year about the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry.