Sew Hayley Jane boxes – 6 months of loveliness

I thought it was about time I reviewed Sew Hayley Jane‘s subscription boxes! I signed up for the Medium/Classic box back in February and just received my sixth box of loveliness.

My main reason for signing up was that I wanted to explore using different fabrics and notions. I have a decent fabric stash, but I find myself attracted to the same kinds of things when I shop. I liked the idea that I’d be presented each month with a curated box of sewing goodies and fabric and then have to think more creatively about what to make – helped of course by Hayley’s monthly blog posts with pattern ideas. Also, who doesn’t love a subscription box? It’s like a present to yourself every month.

What I didn’t count on was the wonderful community and feeling part of a club, especially over on Instagram and especially at the time when everyone’s boxes start arriving! It’s so much fun to see people posting their excitement and ideas for what they’ll make – and of course their finished garments.

I chose to subscribe to the Classic box because the length of main fabric you get – 2.5 metres – is enough for me to make most types of garment; dress, skirts, tops, trousers… At first I thought I would probably have boxes for 2 or 3 months and take a break, but they have been so lovely I haven’t wanted to stop! The £35 price point is probably at the upper limit of what I would pay for a subscription box, but that said I do think it is great value considering the fabrics, notions and other goodies have all been of really great quality and beautifully chosen. If your budget is a little tighter, the Mini box is £20 and the main difference is you get 1 metre of the same main fabric as the Classic and 3 rather than 4 fat quarters. The Luxury box would be a blowout treat for me, at £65/month, but you do get 3 metres of a different main fabric and a printed pattern from a known pattern house (Sew Over It, Closet Case and Pauline Alice have all recently featured).

The themes have all been great fun and carefully curated – you can see full contents of all past boxes here to give you a flavour of Hayley’s style. Unlike some other subscription boxes I’ve had in the past (Glossybox and My Little Box), I don’t think there has been a single thing in any of the boxes that I haven’t loved! My all time favourite box overall so far was June’s Sail Away nautical themed one, so much so that when Hayley advertised she had some extra boxes I bought a Mini one that month as well…

Below are some of the things I have made so far. I still had quite a bit of the purple floral georgette from April’s box left, so I’ve almost finished making a cami top from that as well. I think I had some of the black viscose from February left but not so much. Yet to be cut into are the royal blue swallow print cotton poplin from May (still undecided on pattern for that) and anchor-print chambray from June (definitely becoming a SOI Penny shirtdress) and various of the fat quarters (planning cushions, pattern weights, a pattern-weight storage bag and not sure what else).

Clockwise from bottom left:
Needle case (fat quarter from Feb box)
Earbud pouch (fat quarters from March box)
Wired headbands and origami bag (fat quarters from March and April boxes)
Black shift dress (main fabric from Feb box)
Carolyn pyjamas (main fabric from March box)
SOI Kimono top (main fabric from April box)

So, what was in July’s box? Time to find out…

Classic box of loveliness tied up with string…
Handwritten note…

I love that the boxes are always hand-tied with raffia (yes I keep this too!) and have a handwritten, personally addressed note introducing the box theme. Hayley’s business is getting so popular now, I can’t imagine how long it takes her to write all of these! But I just think it goes to show how much love and care goes into these boxes.

Ooh exciting…nearly revealed!
Everything neatly in its place

Everything is always packaged so neatly in the box, despite the travails of the postal service it still looks lovely when opened. Small notions are often individually wrapped in tissue paper. I admit to a slight frisson of alarm on seeing the jam and the white fabric, but happy to report no leaks! There is always a sweet treat among the sewing goodies, because who doesn’t need a bit of a sugar rush for sewing energy?

All unpacked
All unpacked

So there we have it! July’s Summer Garden Party box all unpacked. 2.5 metres of white broderie anglaise (which will definitely challenge me to think creatively to use), 4 heavier-weight fat quarters which are very Cath Kidston-esque, 2 metres of zingy purple gingham bias tape, super cute Time for Tea notebook, beeswax thread runner (lifesaver when I get back to my embroidery/cross stitch project), matching Gutermann thread as always for the main fabric, and not forgetting the jam! There is always also a little card with links to fabric care info (which I totally always pay attention to…)

I’m looking forward to Hayley’s post next week about the pattern recommendations. White broderie anglaise definitely falls into the category of a fabric I wouldn’t be likely to choose myself, so I’m looking forward to the inspiration and pushing my creative dressmaking boundaries.

TLDR: SHJ boxes are awesome, gorgeously-packaged and chock full of high quality sewing goodies. Pick based on your budget and what you want to achieve with the main fabric, and you won’t regret it!

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Looking ahead to 2017

I’m not really sure where the end of the year has gone. There’s been a whirlwind of some social events, lots of musical stuff and work has been pretty heavy. I haven’t managed to get much sewing done at all. I did make a couple of things as presents but mostly this year I’ve only had time to buy, so I’ve tried as much as possible to buy at local markets, independent shops and on Etsy and Not on the High Street.

I finished the back piece of the cardigan I’ve been slowly knitting since about March, but put that aside to try the first of two Christmas stockings from a kit I bought at the Knitting and Stitching show. Now that I’ve got the hang of it, that’s fun, but I don’t think I’ll finish one let alone both for Christmas – even if there were going to be any stocking presents to fill them with! They can be ready for next year, it’s just nice to be crafting something festive at Christmas 🙂

Instead I’ve been contenting myself with planning next year’s sewing adventure. I bought the Colette Sewing planner (from UK stockist SewBox) and sat down last weekend to fill out the front pages (favourite styles of neckline, sleeves, favourite garments, preferred fabrics, inspirations, measurements) and some of the spring to-do list. One of the things I really loved was that there is a space for a fabric swatch, so for the fabrics in my stash I’m not quite sure what to do with yet, I could stick a swatch down as a reminder and I can fill in the project it ends up destined for later.

I have also decided to sign up for the Project #sewmystyle sew-along/challenge to sew one garment a month next year. They’ve teamed up with a selection of pattern companies offering 20% or more discount on the patterns selected for the challenge. I’ve gone ahead and bought January’s; Sew House 7 “Toaster Sweater”, but to be honest most of the patterns picked are not really in my style, so I’ll probably substitute for patterns I already have or prefer. Part of the idea is to end up with a capsule wardrobe though, so I’ll probably aim to at least sew the same type of garment even if it isn’t the same pattern.

So that’s probably it for 2016, have a good Christmas and see you with the next project in the New Year!

Birmingham Rag Market – Fabric Haul

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I love a fabric bargain! Sure, I’ll invest when it merits it but I also believe there’s a lot of great fabric out there that doesn’t cost the earth.

However, despite the fact my family hails from Birmingham and I find myself there several times a year, I’d never before made it to the Rag Market. Although the site has a history of markets dating back to the 1800s, the rag or retail market itself is of fairly recent pedigree, and the current market site opened in 2000 as part of the redevelopment of the Bullring shopping sites.

The market today has indoor and outdoor stalls, which span the range from fabric and haberdashery, to clothing, beauty products, household as well as fresh veg and flowers. My focus was clearly on the fabrics and notions. There are several stalls with richly decorative fabrics suitable for saris and the like, along with highly detailed border notions. A few stalls focused mostly on heavier household fabrics for curtains and upholstery. I also found one knitting stall, but I passed over this as the autumn Knitting & Stitching Show is coming up soon.

Most of my browsing was over about three or four large stalls with a wide range of cottons, viscose, jersey and lace. I didn’t have a specific shopping list but I was interested in finding some cotton jersey and stretch lace to make some wardrobe basics such as knickers and vest tops.

Although the range on offer was great, several of the stalls had the same or similar fabrics. The most notable difference between the stalls was in the stall holders. On a number of them I spent more than a few minutes browsing and handling fabric with no interest from the stall holder, if indeed I could even tell if they were around. For this reason, the stall I ended up buying from was definitely a stand out. The two men running it were engaging and busily serving customers, at the same time chatting with those waiting and keeping track of who wanted what.

This was my haul:

Large blue rose printed cotton – £2/m – 3 metres

As soon as I saw this print it reminded me of the sort of print Collectif or Dolly & Dotty use. I have in mind a 50s style fit-and-flare dress for this.

Blue rose print cotton

Grey/Pink busy rose printed cotton – £2/m – 2 metres

Another vintage repro style print, this one says skirt to me more than dress, because the print is quite busy. Or maybe a structured bodice top…not sure yet!

grey rose print cotton

Black & White musical note printed cotton – £2/m – 2 metres

This one is destined to become a tote bag for my flute/music stand/music pack when I go back to orchestra in September.

musical note cottonBlack cotton jersey 60″ wide – £2.50/m – 2 metres

At 60″ wide I’ve got loads of this fabric, I’ll be using it to make a load of French knickers and maybe one or two vest tops.

black cotton jersey

Black stretch lace 60″ wide – £2.50/m – 1 metre

Just 1 metre of this 60″ wide stretch lace as I’ll be using it as decorative trim or panels with the above.

black stretch lace

All in all I’d thoroughly recommend the Rag Market, I’ll certainly make it a regular pilgrimage. Now that I have an idea what there is I might go with more of a shopping list next time – for example I didn’t get any trims or notions, although I did see big reels of cotton for only a few pounds. And if you’re after very decorative trims or fabrics for Asian-style clothing, there’s definitely some bargains there.

The easiest way to get to the market is from the main Bullring plaza, follow the street behind the bull statue (which divides the two halves of the shopping centre, lots of restaurants on it) towards St Martin’s church spire which you’ll see sticking up. Then head down the steps to the right hand side and you’ll see the market straight ahead.

Olfa 45m Deluxe Rotary Cutter Review

Since I started sewing, I’ve always used a pair of fabric scissors for cutting out my fabric. I got them for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I can’t remember the brand but I know they aren’t that fancy. The grip is nice, but they are fairly chunky with a shortish blade compared to many dressmaking shears I’ve seen, and I’m not always that neat at cutting with them. Especially with finer or slippery fabrics, things can get a bit unstable.

I do have a rotary cutter, which is by Olfa, but I think it’s the smallest and cheapest model. I never had much success using it for anything significant. The blades never seemed sharp enough and I had to go over spots multiple times, chewing up the fabric and unable to get a clean line.

Nevertheless, I’ve heard so many people raving about and swearing by their rotary cutters that I thought I should give it a bit more thought. A bit of research online seemed to indicate that Olfa is popular with people cutting fabric for dressmaking and further that the 45m deluxe model came out on top.

I turned to my usual go-to online retail hub, eBay, and sure enough picked up the exact model, plus spare blade for around £20.

olfa rotary cutter

I got the chance to try it out on my latest project, the GBSB circle skirt, so cutting a medium weight soft cotton. The grip is certainly very comfortable and nicely curved into the palm, so it feels secure. The blade release is a very good feature too. There’s a button on the side which locks the blade in the retracted position, or if released the blade only comes down when you squeeze the grip. So immediately you release your grip, the blade retracts. This is primarily a safety feature but I think it’s also resulted in a better designed blade mechanism.

olfa rotary cutter
Blade is recessed, loose grip on the handle
olfa rotary cutter
Blade is cutting, handle squeezed in grip

I still didn’t quite get a clean cut first time everywhere, but I think that is probably just technique and/or my cutting surface wasn’t 100% flat (it has hinges where it folds into a concertina). Certainly cutting the long curve of the circle skirt was much easier than it would have been with scissors and it felt quicker and smoother.

I’ll certainly be testing it on more fabrics but it does seem like this was a good buying decision!

GBSB Swing / Circle Skirt

You know the advice that you should never buy fabric without a project in mind? I totally ignore that most of the time. There have been a few exceptions such as the navy twill for the jacket I had to make, but mostly I buy fabric because I like it. Sure, I consider the material type, the weight, the drape and what styles the print would suit, but I don’t always have a project in mind and sometimes end up using that fabric for something totally other than what I originally thought.

This fabric however, I have known exactly what do with since I bought it at March’s Spring Knitting & Stitching Show. The soft drape of the cotton, the brightly colored crazy travel novelty print….it screamed circle/swing skirt!

travel fabric

I used a pattern from my original Great British Sewing Bee book, which meant I had to download, print and piece together the pattern. Considering the way GBSB has inspired so many to take up or resume sewing, I find it disappointing that their books are so opaque on sizing. Each pattern is multi size, usually UK 8-16, but there are no guidelines on waist/bust/hip measurements for each as you would get on a paper pattern. Instead you get a diagram of the pattern pieces printed on one page of the book on a squared background, and the information that each square is 1cm. But again, no clear guidance on how to measure and judge sizing or adjustments from this.

GBSB circle skirt book

The pattern for this skirt is very simple (waistband and 2x skirt panels) and the only important measurement is really the waist. Based on the number of 1cm squares I judged that the largest size 16 was, including seam allowance and the buttonhole overlap feature, approximately 2.5 cm short of my waist measurement. This was easily added to the end of the waistband piece (/2 since it’s cut on the fold), and for the skirt it was added to the straight edge, /4 since there are two skirt pieces (front and back) cut on the fold.

GBSB circle skirt pattern adjustmentI actually cut the bottom of the skirt panel along the size 8 (shortest) line, even though I was also cutting along the size 16 (deepest) waistline. Given my short proportions though this put the finished skirt length just on the knee which is quite flattering.

Cutting was very quick, thanks in part to my new rotary cutter…more about that in another post! It definitely made cutting the long curve of the skirt less of a headache.

Sewing was also quick; sew the front and back skirts at the side seams, insert concealed side zip (I had one the right length and color!), sew waistband in half at the ends, turn and press, sew waistband to skirt, make buttonholes, hem and done!

Finishing the waistband seam was a pain. I think either the instructions are not clear enough or you need a bigger seam allowance. I sewed both raw edges of the waistband to the skirt, then I was trying to turn the raw edges under and top stitch – I had to do this on the inside rather than the outside so I had half a chance of keeping the raw edge under, there wasn’t enough spare.

What I think is supposed to happen is that you sew the front edge of the waistband to the skirt, then turn the back edge under and top stitch to enclose all seams. But the instructions didn’t describe this explicitly and I would have expected them to. Also because you have already stitched both waistband ends together, this makes lining up and accessing the front raw edge a bit tricky at the ends. The alternative is to do what I did but on a 2cm rather than 1.5 seam allowance, so that you have enough to turn under. This would make the waistband narrower but it’s quite generous as is.

Anyway, on to the most exciting bit of sewing this skirt – the buttonholes! The waistband design has an overlap of fabric across the top of the zip which fastens with two buttons. My sewing machine has an automatic buttonhole setting (in fact three styles) and came with the necessary foot. Essentially it works by you setting the button you will use into a gauge in the back of the foot. The needle is threaded in the front of the foot as normal, and you pull a stopper down from a fixed point on the machine to the left of the foot. Then you start the machine sewing (using the start/stop button rather than the foot pedal) and it sews a straight line until the stopper hits the stopper at the front of the button gauge. Then the machine sews a zig zag end, a quick line back to front until it hits the front stopper, then another line backwards to the gauge stopper, locking stitch and stops. Magic! You then use a seam ripper or snips to carefully open the buttonhole between the two lines of stitching.

buttonhole foot I did a lot of practice ones on some scrap fabric (probably more than I needed but it was fascinating me!) and then bit the bullet on the real thing. I think there must be a trick to lining up the holes perfectly parallel, I marked the start of mine but it was hard to see precisely past the machine foot so they are slightly off.

GBSB skirt buttons

Start to finish this is probably the quickest sew, considering I had to print and make up the pattern first too, everything done in less than a day.

GBSB skirt

 

Community Clothing Slim cut Selvedge jeans

By the time this post goes live I will have had my Community Clothing jeans for around a month. That’s not that long considering they were almost six months in the making between when I backed the project and when I got the jeans!

Community Clothing launched on Kickstarter on February 15th and I’m proud to have been among the first backers, making my pledge on the 18th – although I didn’t realise it at the time! A month later it successfully kicked off having raised over the £75,000 target – notably with the support of just over 1,000 backers. That’s really not that many people when you consider the media coverage and clout of the project.

community clarion

The project is the brainchild of Patrick Grant, of Savile Row & GBSB fame. This is what the project is all about, taken from their website:

Community Clothing is a manufacturers cooperative with a simple mission; to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and by doing this help to restore real pride in Britain’s textile communities.

We are in the business of ‘making clothes, creating jobs and restoring pride’.

The idea is that the Community Clothing range will be manufactured during the “off-season” periods when the factories are not fulfilling orders from the big fashion labels. Plus, by selling direct to the consumer and cutting out the wholesale and retailer markups, the range can be sold at a much lower price than you’d expect for the quality of manufacture and materials used.

For my pledge of £49, I received the women’s slim cut selvedge five-pocket jean. Based on their measurement chart I went for the size 14. There was only one leg length – fair enough for the Kickstarter capsule collection – so I knew they’d be too long. Fortunately the models in the pictures were shown with a turned-up cuff so I thought I would probably do the same.  Sure enough, it’s a double turnup, and I actually think these jeans have come up a little on the larger size. In hindsight I maybe could have gone for the 12 but I absolutely didn’t want them to be too small. They’re definitely less “slim-cut” on me but hey, mom jeans are in fashion now right??

modelling CC jeans

I do love the details of these jeans though. The denim is a really good dark, rich blue and they’re a good weight – you know they’ll last. The outside seam finish is even bound – nice that it’s revealed by the turnup, and all the stitching stands out but also sits well with the dark denim.

CC turnups

CC jeans stitching

The insides count too though, and one of the things I loved about the project was the revival of the “CC” utility clothing wartime logo:

CC41 logo

community clothing logo

 

 

 

 

 

The labelling inside the jeans is simple but effective, and I love that they also put the place of manufacture in such a prominent position.

CC jeans label

Obviously the project has been busy fulfilling all the Kickstarter orders but now they are turning their attention to the next steps, which look to involve an online store, possibly via eBay, launching in early September, and a bricks-and-mortar (literally, restored Victorian) shop-cum-HQ in Blackburn. Due to absurd demand they are taking pre-orders on the current line of products and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Sew Over It 1940s tea dress 

I’m going to come right out and say it – this is by far and away the homesewn garment I am most pleased with so far in my sewing adventures!

I fell in love with the Sew Over It 1940s tea dress pattern well before I felt capable of making it. I bought the pattern while at the Islington store for the Ultimate Trousers workshop back in November 2015 and even though I still loved the design I was more than a little daunted by the 11 pattern pieces actually resulting in 20 elements once cut!Sew Over It 1940s tea dress

Anyway, I already had a fabric in mind that I’d got at the Knitting & Stitching Show March 2015, and a goal – Twinwood Festival, August bank holiday. In the event, I’ve used a different fabric (bought at this year’s K&S Show) and hit an event a month ahead of my deadline! What on earth is going on…?

I actually started on this pattern back in May, and got as far as pattern tracing, cutting out and marking. I cut a size 16 (again) with no adjustments (again) based on a quick toile of the bust section (again!). But then everything got packed away for moving house, then June shot past what with sorting out the new place and a holiday and various upheavals at work, before I could get the sewing stuff out again.

But finally one weekend early in July I decided to tackle it. The fabric is a lovely bright floral print, perfect for summer, in a light and floaty viscose. Lots of drape and lovely to sew! Once I’d sorted out my 20 (!!) pieces again, I got down to sewing. I really liked that the pattern puts the trickiest part first – the bust panels! This looks really complicated but actually it’s not and results in a really professional-looking design which is also very flattering provided it’s fitted correctly. The trick is really taking your time over adjusting the gathers where the bust joins the waist panel.

1940s tea dress bust

The rest of the construction is effectively joining panels; five in total for the skirt (front, side fronts, backs), side backs and backs in addition to the bust and waist panels, then join the top to the bottom. The sleeves are a nice 3/4 length and faced, with a turnup which is a nice detail.

1940s tea dress side view

I managed pretty well matching my seams. Pattern matching is fortunately not really an issue for this print, but the effect of the vertical seams running down the bodice, back and skirt panels is important. I still didn’t manage to get the waist seams to line up across the zip at the back, and I’ve no idea how because that zip was dead straight I swear!1940s tea dress back

There was a fair amount of hand-finishing on this dress too; the three decorative self-cover buttons on the bust, catch-stitching the sleeve turnups and the facing inside, the zip seam allowance at top and bottom, plus I also put in some small stitches to hold the neck facing in place at the shoulders as despite understitching, the lightness of the fabric meant it just wasn’t going to stay turned under.

1940s tea dress buttons

This dress was undoubtedly a lot of work, I estimate 8-10 hours of sewing and hand finishing, including all the pressing and seam finishing, but I think it was well worth it.modelling 1940s tea dress

I think it’s testament to how chuffed I was that I wore it to a very posh city wedding at The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, along with a fetching hat from Bellapacella of Spitalfields Market.

I also reviewed this pattern on The Fold Line: CertainStyle reviews 1940s tea dress on the Fold Line