Quick February Roundup – Three more garments in the bag!

I may have been lacking in blogging since the first Toaster Sweater this year but the sewing has been keeping momentum.

Firstly I managed a second garment in January, a Sew Over It Betty dress in a blue floral cotton. I’d bought that fabric with a 50s style swing dress in mind, and I did have a couple of patterns in stock but they would all have required quite a bit of fitting work, and I know that Sew Over It patterns suit my sizing…so on a whim I bought the PDF Betty pattern. Mostly it went together smoothly, although I did not have enough fabric for the skirt pieces so did some re-drafting based on a GBSB circle skirt I made a while back – it worked just fine and the skirt is plenty big – I took a huge amount out of the Betty pattern pieces so goodness knows how big THAT skirt would have been! I do have some minor fit issues to fix for the next make of this pattern – the back gapes a bit on me, partly due to the straps being too loose and sit too wide on my shoulders. Given I finished this the night before the wedding I planned to wear it to, I hacked a fix by pleating the neckline and stitching a fold in the straps at the seams – I wore a cardi over it so it didn’t matter, but I’ll have to fix it better in the long run. Otherwise the fit was good (worn here with a petticoat!).

Betty dress

Secondly, I finished my Spring shrug that was my first proper knitting project and has been WIP since March last year. Currently wrapping up a few other WIPs and then will start the next knit, which will be a Victory Sweater from the V&A archives.

spring shrug

Thirdly, I knocked out another Toaster Sweater in a few hours this Sunday, from the second fabric I had bought from Minerva for the purpose. I realised this would be my first actual attempt at pattern matching, as somehow everything else I’ve made so far has been plain or in a pattern so busy or large that you don’t need to match. Mostly it’s turned out well! I tweaked the neckline for this and it sits much better than the first one – although that may be in part due to the fabric taking a press somewhat better. I also added to the length because I find the first one rides up a little.

Toaster sweater 2

Finally, in other exciting sewing news, I got my first Sew Hayley Jane box this month (medium) and loved it, so excited already for the next one. The black viscose fabric I think I have earmarked for a pair of Sew Over It Ultimate trousers, a pattern I’ve been meaning to revisit since first sewing it at the workshop. The fat quarters I think are destined for new needle case/ pincushion and maybe a headscarf too.

Aaand I’ve fired off a few entries for the Make It Today Dressmaker of the Year competition, in the vintage and ready-to-wear categories. I’m really pleased with the things I submitted so fingers crossed!

It’s also Knitting and Stitching Show time again next weekend, I’ve already got a shopping list forming so stand by for the haul post next week…

 

Toaster Sweater 2 – the best thing since sliced bread!

So here goes my first #projectsewmystyle make – the Sew House 7 Toaster Sweater, version 2. I got the PDF patterns for both Toaster sweaters with the #projectsewmystyle discount code, but I preferred the interesting half-high neckline of version 2 to the full on turtleneck of version 1. I got a Minerva Crafts voucher as a Christmas present, so I used that towards an order of overlocker thread and fabric. I’ve used this grey textured-look ponte roma for the first iteration, but I’m planning to make a second in this stripy black and teal ponte as well.

I really liked this pattern – the sizing and fit are pretty spot on first time (I cut a medium and shortened the sleeves by about 2″, no other alterations) and the instructions are easy and clear, whilst giving multiple options depending on your equipment. I think this may be one of the quickest makes I’ve done, although that may be in some part down to my new toy…

Shortly after my last post I found out Lidl were selling Singer overlockers for £129, and after a small amount of research online indicating this was a good deal and the machines were reliable, I went ahead and bought one. It sat in the box until this month, but I wanted to jump right in and use it for this project. I have used one once before, at a Sew Over It workshop, but that was already threaded and I really had no idea about all the different kinds of overlock stitch. I bought the Beginner Serging Craftsy class and watched most of those videos before sitting in front of the machine. That was really helpful in understanding the different stitches and the mechanics of the machine.

I really didn’t find threading my machine any trouble! I don’t know why people seem to get so worked up about it… The only issue I spent (wasted) hours on was tension – my looper threads were sometimes spot on and sometimes pulling to one side or other, and my needle threads were too loose and forming loops. No matter how I changed the tension, it was barely making a difference. I was about to post a question to the Craftsy class but looked for other questions on tension issues first – and there was an answer from Amy pointing out that Singer machines are known for very tight tension discs, and you have to really “floss” the thread down into them. Sure enough, I re-threaded and “flossed” and felt the thread pop down into the discs. I re-set the tensions to the manual recommendations, put through a scrap of my ponte fabric and it was perfect…. I’m sure you can imagine how the air was blue at the wasted sewing time!!

So I went right ahead and overlocked all my raw edges and the main sleeve/side seams on this project. I was so happy with how quickly it went from unconstructed to completely finished, well apart from hemming… and for this I decided I didn’t want to counteract my high-street like overlocking with a decidedly home-sewn zig zag stitch hem. So challenge no.2 of this project was testing whether my machine is good for twin needle stitching, and working out how on earth that actually works… turns out it’s actually pretty straightforward, as long as your machine will sew with a twin needle, and mine does. It has a second spool pin, so I just popped a bobbin of thread on that for the second needle. I ran through a test piece but didn’t have to mess about with tension too much – I suspect I got lucky with a super-forgiving fabric and tension might need a bit more work on both overlocker and twin needle for future projects.

The only niggle I have with this sweater is the neckline, the fabric doesn’t really press and the facing wouldn’t stay put, so I had to pin it along the foldline per the pattern and then run a row of tiny prick stitches, invisible on the outside, to keep the facing in place (remembering to stretch out the fabric so the stitches are loose enough to allow the neckline to stretch!) The neckline still feels pretty high at the front, so I might try and alter the pattern for the next one to give it a little more scoop.

Here’s some pictures of the finished garment:

twin needle hem.jpg

twin needle topstitching

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!

Vintage books & bags

Between Twinwood and my holiday to Cornwall I managed to pick up a few lovely vintage items recently.

The first was a wicker frame handbag from one of the stalls at Twinwood. There were several wicker bags on offer across a range of stalls, and they were all advertised as 1950s/1960s. I deliberated over several but settled on this one as being one of the best condition and also a good size & nice colour. The wicker has a good tone and the brown leather looks quite smart even though it’s a casual bag. It’ll go with a lot of different outfits.

1950s wicker bag

The bag stands on four stud feet and is constructed of a wicker box hinged at the base, with a fabric bag lining the interior. The bag closes with a leather flap & twist clasp. The flap needed some minor repair to glue the layers back together but otherwise the bag is in pretty good shape.

made in hong kong label

There is a label stitched inside which is partially cut off reads “Made in Hong Kong”. Now “made in China” doesn’t have a great reputation generally so this made me skeptical, but a similar label appeared in nearly all the bags on sale so I decided not to dwell on it. I’ve tried to do a bit of research since and it seems there was certainly a strong export trade of clothing and accessories including wicker bags from Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s, but that most of the cited labels have “British Colony” or similar on them, not just Hong Kong, which makes me thing this bag could actually be later eg. 1970s. Never mind, it’s still a good buy and I’m pleased with it! I finally have a vintage bag for my vintage outfits!

The second purchase and the first of two books was also from Twinwood; “The Big Book of Needlecraft” published in 1935.

big book of needlecraft

It’s a compendium for home sewing, with sections on all types of handcraft (embroidery, appliqué, cross-stitch, crochet, weaving, knitting), making clothes from lingerie to children & adult’s clothing to glove-making, household sewing such as upholstery, curtains and rugs, to toys and decorations. It had some great chapter headings such as “New Collars for Old Dresses”, “Needlework in the Kitchen” and “The Laundering of Artificial Silk”.

It has a section on “How to Use Your Sewing Machine” which might have been just an historical interest but for another recent purchase…more about that in another post (and there’s a clue in the picture above)! It has some great passages in it such as:

It is taken for granted today that every household possesses a Sewing Machine of some sort, and whatever may be urged in criticism of modern woman and her lack of domesticity (which is probably exaggerated), her interest in Needlecraft and love of making and wearing pretty things remains constant.

And when talking of choice of machine, the book devotes a good two pages to hand vs. treadle, electric models and wariness of second-hand or cheap knockoffs, but of brands it mentions only this:

We have said nothing yet as to the make of Sewing Machine to choose, but assuming that our readers have a preference for the “home-grown” article, the choice is so limited that it is difficult to go far wrong.

And of course in defence of the machine:

UNCONSIDERED TRIFLES. The domestic Sewing Machine is a very long-suffering friend and will often continue to give passably good results under most trying circumstances and even abuse at the hands of those who should know better.

This chapter also goes into just as much detail as a modern-day manual over needle weights, machine maintenance, bobbin winding, threading, tension, stitch lengths and problem solving, all accompanied by detailed and annotated diagrams.

Although it’s a reference book I can see myself reading this cover to cover!

The third and final treasure is another book, this time from Bookmark, a long-established second-hand shop in Falmouth. It’s “Modern Homes and Homemaking Illustrated” published in 1958. The illustrations are really what makes this book, it’s a fantastic and in some cases full-colour window of 1950s home decor.

1950s homes and homemaking

Chapters include “Furnishings – Present Day Trends”, “The Family Wash”, “Living Together”, “To be a Hostess” and “Getting to Know your Oven”.

Aside from the illustrations, this also has some fantastic (or horrific, depending on your sense of humour) passages that very much speak to the era. The chapter on washing machines mentions:

It is advisable to see several different models demonstrated. This can be done at large stores, and at times it is possible to arrange for a demonstration of the smaller models at home.

A home washing machine demonstration?? Whatever next. Or there is the question of domestic pets, possibly a little less amusing from a modern viewpoint:

Monkeys are extremely amusing but mischievous, tearing curtains and linen. Marmoset monkeys look like little old men and are very responsive to atmosphere. They are inclined to pine and die unless completely happy.

Or of course, relationship matters and keeping up appearances…

Quite apart from the husband being immersed in business once he is well on his way to the top, or having arrived there, there is the question of whether his wife has “kept up” with his progress. Somehow, especially if a man is wealthy, people accept a “rough diamond”, but they are apt to notice if his wife does not live up to his position in the world.

Or, in the decade when “teenagers” first became a thing, a very philosophical statement:

Teenagers these days sometimes talk of the kind of world their parents have made for them. Actually, all children should be brought up to the realization that they have to take their part in  making the world a better place to live in – it doesn’t just happen. It is a very empty life that has the pursuit – or expectation – of happiness as its only aim, and it is in his childhood that a malleable mind can be turned towards expecting something of himself, rather than of other people.

And on introductions:

Here are a few rules to memorize – Introduce the man to the woman. Introduce a younger person to an older one of the same sex or a woman to a man, if he is someone very distinguished. If you are not sure whether they are important, and both people (of the same sex) are about the same social level, it doesn’t matter who you introduce to whom.

Of course, it doesn’t matter….! Clearly social class mattered a great deal.

I could go on and on but I’m sure I will share a few more of these snippets on here and Instagram as I read through the books!

My Sewing Roots

I like to think I have a scientific mind but I also know I believe there is a little bit of magic in the world. Likewise, I do believe that certain traits, passions or tendencies can run in families even though these have nothing to do with genetics. My nan got me into crafting from an early age; I remember having a piece of french knitting going on forever (although we called it corking), and I quickly got into counted cross stitch patterns and tapestry, not least because nan always had and still has a tapestry project on the go.

But in fact it’s my grandad’s mum; my great grandmother Florence Wilkins (née Norton) who was the great dressmaker of the family. This is her, with my great grandfather William Henry – judging from the clothes they are at a wedding, it may well have been my grandparents’. They married on leap day in February so that would fit with the fur collared coat!

great grandparents

I love this photo, for a few reasons. I like that the couple are not both looking at the camera; Florence’s attention is slightly to the right of the person taking the photo. William’s expression is fascinating, managing to look serious and yet with a quirk of a smile. But mostly I love how smartly dressed Florence is, with the perfectly fitted fur-collar coat, gloves and handbag just-so on her arm.

Sadly I never knew her, but both nan and mum have painted a picture with their anecdotes. She was a prolific seamstress, making every kind of garment for every member of the family, from pyjamas to wedding dresses. If you showed her a picture in a magazine she could make up an almost identical garment in a few days. Often she would just make things for people as well, and had a great eye for their preferred styles and what would suit them. The room she used for sewing was always draped all around the walls with fabric, work-in-progress and finished pieces. And she frequented the rag market and the other fabric institutions of Birmingham. Nan says she never said “fabric” though, she’d always say “I found a lovely bit of stuff for you today at the market” and before you knew it that had become a skirt or a blouse. Mum remembers her making a bright purple velvet party dress when she was a little girl, and knowing that no one else would be wearing a dress quite like hers!

It was also her profession, but I have no idea how she had time for paying customers amongst all the family sewing she seems to have been doing!

I think my grandparents are secretly a bit moved that I have got into dressmaking, pretty much independently of finding out all of the above. I guess a little bit of Florence lives on in me, although I am 100% sure I will never achieve the level of skill that she had. Truth be told, I am a little bit moved by it too, and I regret that I never had chance to know her and learn from her.

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