Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Giveaway: The Three Bears Sleeping Bag PDF Pattern

I thought that with Christmas rapidly approaching, I might do a giveaway of my Three Bears Sleeping Bag pattern, just because these beds make such a lovely gift for small (and even not so small) children. Just say hello in the comments to enter (or make a suggestion on the conundrum below if you happen to have any ideas). I'll choose three entries to receive a copy of the PDF pattern, so do make sure you leave a way of my contacting you, if it isn't easily discoverable online. As you'll see further down in this post, these sleeping bags are good for any kind of creature and I've also written a post to help you solve any fitting problems for irregularly shaped animals, entitled Unwieldy Antlers and Other Sizing Issues.

So, to the conundrum I mentioned above: I wondered if you have any memorable gift ideas for marking a big-round-number-birthday? When my husband celebrated his thirtieth birthday, I gave him a box filled with thirty pebbles, each with one of his best qualities, or one my favourite memories of him, written on in silver ink. To celebrate Nell's first birthday, I created a book for him that told the story of her first year with us, which he loved (there is nothing quite so good as giving someone a gift that leaves them watery eyed!). I'd like to do something similarly personal to mark his fortieth birthday which falls just after Christmas, but I don't feel like I've settled on the perfect idea yet. I've been thinking of making a photo book with a few photos taken from each year; making another handmade shirt (just one though, not forty, with a birthday message stitched somewhere inconspicuous inside); asking my children to reshoot spelling out a message throwing body shapes; or doing some other variation around the stitched lined paper theme, but I'd really love to hear any of your own creative ideas that you might have stored up for marking someone's birthday in a special way as I'd love some inspiration.

Anyway, back to the sleeping bags! I thought you might like to see some of the amazing sleeping bags others have made from this pattern. It's so much fun seeing them all lined up together; the same, but also completely unique, each with their own creature nestled inside that's special to someone somewhere in the world. The bag above is made by Nicola Berry (whose child has exactly the same bear as my own daughter, which features in the photo at the top of this post!). Here are some more lovelies from my Flickr pool and sent to me via email:

From left to right, sleeping bags have been made by Julie Bridgeman; Bridgid Todd; Nicola Berry; Chris Best; Elizabeth; Wendy Rabung.

Although it's called the Three Bears sleeping bag pattern, it seems that it's less often bears that reside in the beds; when I was looking through my Flickr pool I noticed that monkeys feature very heavily.

From left to right, sleeping bags have been made by Julie Bridgeman, Katie B, Stacey Pinique, Julie Bridgeman

And here are some other creatures in their bags:

Jamie Seifert, Libby Dillard, Katie Allcorn, Mysedan1, Katie B, Chris Best, Lila James, Sally, Heather, Julie Bridgeman, Stacey Pinique, Jamie Seifert. 

Aren't they all glorious! And below are some close ups of the incredible detail people have added to their sleeping bags - the hedgehog is paper pieced (even though it looks so perfect that it actually seems like it's printed). The embroidered flower on the pillow blows me away - I would love to put my head on that if it was bear-sized.

As per previous roundups, Heather Ross fabric features heavily and rather magnificently (the fabric used on the second photo down in this post, as well as the trio below are all made from Heather Ross designs). I still rue the fact that I've never had any of her designs in my stash - an anomaly that I can't make sense of.

I think that's it for now. Thank you to everyone who has made things from this pattern and shared photos with me (irrespective of whether it's appeared here!) - I absolutely love seeing them all and hope that you don't mind that I've shared your sewing here.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment saying hello or make a suggestion on the conundrum I mentioned earlier in the post and I'll announce a winner soon.

Florence x

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Two Seasonally-Inappropriate Dresses

It's now November, so this post feels more than a little seasonally inappropriate; like eating pumpkin soup in June. But it feels better to record the taste of the pumpkin soup at the wrong time of year, than to never record it at all. Or something like that. 

At the start of the summer, I fell in love with an electric blue dress in Oliver Bonas, above, but it was oddly bulgy under my arms where the curve of the inset panel had been joined, so I decided to try and make something similar myself. I haven't made many fit and flare dresses and for some reason (which now eludes me), I didn't feel like drafting the pattern myself, so I did quite a lot of research trying to find something that exactly resembled the shop's dress, which has darts perpendicular to the princess seam lines as a really lovely design feature (you can only just see it above). I couldn't find anything quite right, so eventually I compromised with princess-seamed Dress No. 9 from the Japanese sewing pattern book by Machiko Kayaki, called Pindot, Coindot, Polkadot. It's quite a few years since I've used a Japanese pattern book and I didn't especially enjoy the experience of returning to trace out a pattern from a spaghetti junction of overlayed pieces, but once it was cut, I was really happy as my bodice toile seemed like it was a perfect fit with no changes (you'll find that by the end of the post I've decided this wasn't entirely the case).

I used the No. 9 skirt pattern, but altered the pleats to replicate those on the Oliver Bonas dress, but I didn't think to go the whole hog, so my skirt is far fuller and my neckline lower. I took these photos in a rush when I was about to go out in the dress for the evening in the middle of a heat-wave that now seems a very distant memory. Unfortunately, because these photos were taken in a rush, there's not really a great photo of how this looks at a distance, apart from this curious, slightly blurred, photo where I look like I'm...well goodness knows what I'm actually doing, but I think I look like a footballer who's about to spit on the floor. I do frequently try on different personalities in my head - Sarah Lund from The Killing while doing the supermarket shopping wearing something similar to her trademark Faroese jumper; Bobbie from the The Railway Children welcoming her father home on a misty station platform while wearing a winter beret (although my friend, Ben, broke it to me that it has more of a Bob Marley vibe than a Bobbie Waterbury one to it. Damn him.), however, I'm absolutely sure that spitty footballer isn't a persona that I recall experimenting with. Apologies.

Anyway, moving on, let's talk construction. This pattern being written in Japanese and the pictures not overly helpful on this occasion (which is rare for a Japanese pattern - they're normally incredibly transparent), I went my own way. I hadn't sewn princess seams since a few summers ago and it seemed that I had left any knowledge I'd gathered firmly in the past. I made four bodices before I was completely happy with my curved seams (although only three are shown here). 

I think it's going to need some bullet points to define the mistakes I made with each bodice! 
  • On the first bodice, I used french seams (this version isn't pictured, but it looked completely normal). Unless the fabric is incredibly fine, this probably isn't the most sensible move. The seams were actually perfectly smooth on the outside, but just felt 'wrong' when I tried the bodice on and I knew it would bother me. 
  • For bodice number 2, I sewed the curves with the regular 5/8" seam allowance and clipped the curves...but I think asking the two curves to fit together with that big a seam allowance was too much and the tiny creases that formed with the strain of doing this were irksome (photo above, bottom left) and having set the initial creases into place with an iron, they couldn't be ironed out later once I'd trimmed back the seam allowance sufficiently. 
  • Weary, but not defeated, for bodice number 3, I trimmed the seams down to 3/8" before joining them. This worked perfectly. But the well-behaved iron was downstairs where my husband was asleep (I think I was past midnight by then), so I took the dysfunctional iron prone to overheating tantrums out of the bin in my sewing room (why? why? why? Why did I keep refusing to believe the iron was actually faulty?) and thought to myself: if I put this on the silk setting, it will surely be fine. But the thermostat was definitely broken. In just a few short presses it had made the fabric shiny and unwearable and puckered it horribly too (above, bottom right). At which point I went to bed. 
  • Finally, success. The next day, I remade the bodice with 3/8" seams, clipped well at the curve, and pressed with a functional iron and all was well with the world (above, top photo). 

I'm really pleased I spent so long over that stage though as I found it was a good brain-refreshing experience both in sewing techniques and my own stupidity. I'd focused on quilting more than dressmaking in the year before and some things seemed to have fallen out of my head, especially in combination with using a 5/8" seam, instead of a quilter's 1/4" seam allowance. The photo below makes the bodice look a little odd and sadly I didn't look at the photos before I left the house so that I could take another one while standing nicely. Additionally, it's amazing what you can sometimes see in a photo that you can't see when standing in front of a mirror, but on seeing it later, I decided I could have done with shortening the bodice a little as well as standing properly. 

The fabric is the organic cotton sateen that I mentioned in my Summer 2015: Fabrics for Dressmaking post, but instead of the navy blue, this is the, now discontinued, airforce blue colour. There are two sides, almost identical, but one with slightly more sheen. As I wanted to wear this dress as a sundress, I chose to use the completely matt side. I wish they still had the fabric in this colour - it's lovely.

Moving on, I made the dress again and did the skirt COMPLETELY differently! Less flare, different styling on the pleats, a shorter bodice and a few other nit-picky things. This time in a Nani Iro double gauze that I've had sitting in my fabric drawers for about two years and which is possibly one of my favourite prints ever. Here it is mid-construction, above. I hadn't yet cut the skirt out and I took at least an hour deciding whether to continue the profusion of flowers down the centre of the dress or whether to just cut the skirt with a more random pattern placement on the lower half. Even months later I am still kicking myself over my decision to continue with intense flower placement, because it was the wrong decision. A horribly wrong decision. And it completely ruins the dress for me, because from a distance, it looks slightly like someone has thrown a can of paint at the dress.

You can see how much nicer it looks from the back (below), where I had cut the pattern completely randomly.

In a slightly gloomy attempt to see 'what could have been', I tried the dress on back-to-front. It was a vast improvement, not only with the print placement, but also with the realisation that the princess seams on the back panel (which are far gentler having been drafted to accommodate shoulder blades), were a much better fit across my chest. If only I hadn't been left with strange ghost breasts on my back, wearing it back-to-front would have been a perfect solution!

At that point, I was two dresses down: one that I wished had a less full skirt and a shorter bodice; the other that looked slightly more paint-splattered than I'd like. Both with a bodice which I could finally see could have been fitted far better (isn't it odd how you often don't see something at all at first and then the moment you notice it you find it intolerably obvious?). As the summer was drawing to a close, I made a third and final version from Robert Kaufman's denim chambray, with a much-adjusted pattern piece for the bodice. That dress had no problems with either paint attacks or gaping bodices, but sadly, I didn't get a photo of it and the idea of wearing anything less than a thermal bodysuit until next June isn't an appealing one. It's one thing to write seasonally inappropriate blog posts in November, quite another to actually take photos for one. So that post will probably have to wait for another year.

In other matters dressmaking related, over on Instagram I'm taking part in @BimbleandPimple's 'Sewing Photo a Day' challenge, which carries the hashtag of #BPsewvember. Amanda has given a theme for each day and anyone taking part just posts a photo based on that theme and hashtags it so that other Sewvemberists can see it. It's a really wonderful way of discovering other dressmakers and seeing some inspirational finishes, but mostly getting to know others in little bite-sized snippets each day. Often stopping to think about the way you do a particular thing can be thought-provoking, so I'm enjoying taking part, even though I'm not always remembering to take a photo for each day while it's still light, so have missed a few. Also, some of the topics make me think more of quilt-making than dressmaking when it comes to my own sewing, so it won't be entirely dressmaking-related for me. Although it's now the 8th, I don't think it's too late to start taking part!

Finally, two questions: is it possible that in one year I could have fallen victim of not one, but two appliances with faulty thermostats? If a new washing machine felts a jumper where the label said it could be washed at 30 degrees and which was definitely set to wash at 30 degrees (I know that because I actually double-checked it at the time), is it more likely that the fibres reacted oddly or that there's a fault with the washing machine's thermostat? I've never felted a jumper that I washed at the right temperature before, so I'm interested to know if impromptu felting can be a freak thing? The composition is 33% viscose, 23% nylon, 20% lambswool, 20% cotton, 4% cashmere (so there's really a bit of everything in there!). It's now small enough to fit a teddy bear.

My second question : does anyone petite/knowledgeable in these matters, have a recommendation for really good 40 or 60 denier tights? Marks & Spencer's 'extra small' seem longer than ever before and result in horribly wrinkly ankles. Although they're hidden by winter boots, it would feel far nicer to have less ankle-wrinkle accompanying me around the house indoors. While last year, I wore nothing but skinny jeans for the entire winter, this year I'm favouring skirts and dresses even for dog walks and the lack of well-fitting tights to go with them is a low-level frustration that it would feel nice to have a solution to.

Florence x

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A post of good things

I don't have any sewing to show today, so I thought I might share some other things. I should clarify that the scene above is completely unrelated - it was taken while I was doing my tax return yesterday. The chocolates were provided by my husband as the perfect fuel for an activity that I've put off doing for the last six months. So good to finally have it done and to have eaten so many delicious chocolates while doing it. So...this post will tell you about (this sentence is written retrospectively, as I had no idea what I was going to tell you about when I sat down to write, but I really love thinking about all the things I've enjoyed recently or are new to me, and assembling them in one place - one of my favourite types of posts to write, so I hope you enjoy reading them just as much): new-to-me fiction and sewing books; a companion book to shopping in London; a fantastic TV series; a site that will help you decide whether something is suitable to watch/read with children; the best salted caramel sauce recipe; a few useful sewing tutorials I've had bookmarked; our latest Squeebles app; sewing your own knitwear; and finally, dressmaking fabric from Paris.

  • Let's start with the books that would be on my bedside table if I had one (I actually have a wardrobe next to my side of the bed so, instead of a table, I have a drawer in that and it pulls out at perfect arm-height when I'm sitting in bed. As I keep all my to-read books and magazines in there, it always feels like quite an exciting treasure trove of a drawer, full of possibilities). You might remember earlier in the year, I fell in love with Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs. Beneath the Bonfire is his follow-up, a collection of short stories that I'm looking forward to diving into. The other fiction picks are both ones that I bought at Waterstones having researched them on Amazon and I don't know much about either, aside from that Room was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and tells the story of a five year old who lives his life in a single room. I initially dismissed it as the premise for the book sounded as though it may be gratuitous and mawkish, but then I read a review by someone who'd had similar fears, which had proved unfounded, so I'm going to risk it. Finally, Jack. I haven't read any A.M. Homes and I think this was her first book, written back in 1989. I picked it purely because it was in the 'Other Readers Bought' recommendations section when I typed in the title of one of my favourite novels - I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've already read any of these. In non-fiction, I finally invested in Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear (I did buy this one on Amazon as it costs substantially less there), it's such a staple that I've always felt slightly guilty about not owning a copy, having put off buying it because it's expensive and I knew it would be very dry. It's still expensive and very dry, but an excellent reference bible if you do any of your own pattern drafting and I've referred to it several times already in the last few weeks.
  • I've just added this book to my wishlist! This looks like a must if you sew or knit and live anywhere near London or intend to visit and have money burning a hole in your pocket (I'm currently missing the latter, having spent it all on the things in this post, but I tick all the other boxes).  
  • A few months ago, my sister emailed me and told me that I had to watch a series called New Girl, as I'd love it. I said I'd watch an episode, but never quite got around to it. Two weeks later, she wrote again saying that she didn't want to pressure me, but each episode was only twenty minutes long and I really should try and fit one in. I think one more request followed and when I finally watched the first episode it was partly to stop her from prodding me further. I'm now so grateful that my sister did apply viewing pressure as an episode of New Girl is one of the most joyful things imaginable and an average month's quota of laughter will be spent in just twenty minutes. It's that good. If I had to describe it, I'd say that it's a little like Friends, but probably a lot ruder, several times funnier and with better developed characters. The show has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and as many Primetime Emmys. For your own viewing reference if you haven't already seen it, I've now watched every episode from the first two series with my fourteen year old daughter, who loves it as much as my sister and I do, but I'm not sure I'd let children any younger than that watch it. Have you heard of a site called Common Sense Media? It's a brilliant resource if you're thinking of watching/reading something with a child and aren't sure it's going to be suitable. Reviews and suggested age ratings are submitted by both parents and children and it will also tell you exactly which aspect of the programme may be inappropriate for certain age groups (for example, while some parents may object to any swearing, others may be more keen to avoid violence than swear words and it's really informative in this way). Here are the reviews for New Girl (the site also suggests 14+ for that). 
  • It was my daughter's birthday a few weeks ago. She'd requested a salted caramel chocolate birthday cake. I used this recipe for a salted caramel sauce to go in the middle of the cake. Tanya had told me it was amazing and she was right - my husband and son both ate spoonfuls of just-cooled sauce and said they'd never tasted anything quite like it. For the cake I used the chocolate mint cupcake recipe from Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache (a book that I talk about in this post back in 2009!), but minus the mint flavouring and in layer cake form, rather than cupcake form. I put a regular chocolate buttercream on top and then sprinkled crushed Dime bars over it! The cake was gluten free and my daughter loved it and my husband has already requested an identical cake for his birthday. My son bakes (and actually cooks whole meals too - lucky us - I love seeing how confidently he moves around a kitchen and how intuitive his cooking is. He rarely follows recipes for savoury food, but still manages to teach me new tricks, such as no homemade tomato sauce being complete without a large glug of balsamic added in while simmering) so frequently now, that it's actually a really long time since I've baked anything myself - it was a lovely treat to be filling the air with icing sugar again.
  • I've had some useful tutorials bookmarked for a while and thought I might share them with you now, in case you'd find them useful too. Here's one from True Bias about sewing a side-seam slit and another from Jen of Grainline about how to match plaids/checks
  • Our latest app has just arrived in the app stores after nearly eight months in our office-cum-clockmaking workshop! I know some of you use our Squeebles educational apps with your children already, so I thought I might share the latest addition to the series, Squeebles Tell the Time. I ended up discussing the way that we tell the time with some fellow instagrammers several months ago and it quickly became apparent that everyone has very specific ideas about how children should be taught to read the time and that this varies not only from country to country, but region to region in some parts of the world! So on the basis of that feedback, we've made the app totally customisable - parents or teachers can choose the format - whether that's 2.45/quarter to three/quarter 'til three - that their children will see appearing in the app (thanks so much if you joined in on this discussion!). The app also has interactive audio lessons that teach everything from which way is clockwise, to how to read the minute and hour hands; it has four different game modes for practising; and it's customisable in so many different ways to suit each individual child. Children's work is rewarded with stars that can be traded in for different rockets, for use in a mini-game within the app, called Sky Dash, as well as the usual pull of collecting Squeebles. The app features several Squeebles designed especially for us by children at a fantastic primary school in London as well as three rockets (which feature in the Sky Dash game) that children designed as entries to one of our competitions earlier in the year! It always feels really lovely to launch an app that has so much creative input from children in it. 
  • For those who sew, but can't successfully knit no matter how hard they try (like me), but who would still love to create knitwear, Sonja from Ginger Makes interviewed Olgalyn several months ago about the earthy-coloured non-GMO knitted fabrics she designs, that you can then sew with (fascinating and well-worth reading, even if you don't want to sew with knits yourself)! You can go and drool over the fabrics here, which suddenly seem perfect for this time of year. 
  • I bought some wonderfully drapey rayon/cotton fabric (and non-drapey stationery) from Anna Ka Bazaar in Paris. The whole site can be viewed in French or English, postage to the UK doesn't incur any charges and my package arrived relatively quickly. Irritatingly, I didn't look at the fabric width when I bought this black and white rayon, and it's just 100cm wide, so I'm hoping that I can actually squeeze another one of these skirts (below) out of it without forgoing the pockets (what would I do with my hands? There may be a real risk of them flapping about aimlessly and hitting passersby!). I have worn the skirt below almost constantly since I made it, so am quite desperate to make another. 

Have you read of anything good around the internet? Or discovered something wonderful and new to you? Or do you have a series that you'd recommend? I'm on the look-out for something new. While I'm still watching season 3 of New Girl with my daughter, my husband and I have just finished watching Doctor Foster (the first episode in the five-part series had already gone from iPlayer when we discovered it, so we had to buy that one from iTunes for £2.99) - it was really gripping, if slightly disturbing, although not disturbing in the same vein as the danish drama, The Killing, which was similarly gripping, but I ended up choosing not to watch the third series as it felt too gruesome (Doctor Foster was about the aftermath of adultery), so I'd love to hear recommendations of the non-murderous variety, preferably on Netflix/Amazon Instant Video/iPlayer/4od.

Florence x

Ps. The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you buy something, Amazon share a tiny percentage of their profit with me. Obviously, they don't pass on any of your details to me though. If you'd rather I didn't share in Amazon's profits, you can type the book title directly into Amazon instead. Or buy it at your local bookshop :)

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

An Atelier Brunette Facet Skirt

I'm trying to remember the last time that I sewed something that wasn't a rope bowl and I think it may have been early August. A friend asked me recently what would happen if I didn't sew soon. The very fact that she asked probably suggested I looked close to the edge. But a mixture of work; not feeling quite like being pulled away from time with my family or friends in favour of sewing; and horrendous insomnia, colluded to mean that I just haven't had the time or the energy to sew in the evenings. What eventually propelled me into action was a gap in my winter wardrobe that needed filling. And sewing is a virtuous circle - the moment I started I felt more energised than I had done for months.

I took the photo above just before I began sewing - I think the excitement in the room is almost palpable!

It was a super cosy sewing session as it was pouring down outside, my daughter was doing her homework in the next room and we played our three current-favourite songs on repeat for a few hours. Because the loft is so small, listening to music up there always feels more companionable than it would elsewhere in the house. When she'd finished homeworking, my daughter wondered what we might have for dinner. And I realised how deliciously lovely it is to have a fourteen-year-old, because when I half-jokingly told her that her mother was too busy making skirts to make dinner tonight, she offered to cook something for us both and insisted on delivering it to my sewing room, so that I could have the fun of not stopping to come and eat at the table. I'd thought, with my youngest starting at secondary school, I'd find not having any children left at primary school this year a difficult mental transition, but actually it hasn't been that at all and I'm really enjoying their independence and just how much fun they are to be around.

So, the skirt. I knew that I wanted a light, gathered skirt to wear with winter tights like this one, but with a slightly longer hem line. I considered a simple skirt with an elasticated waist, but they can sometimes make me feel like a strange woman-baby when I wear them (even though the elastic is invariably hidden beneath a jumper), so in the end, I opted to draft a skirt with a curved yoke, side zip and gentle gathers front and back beneath the yoke. I studied the measurements of the waist bands and sweeps (the circumference of the hem) on various skirts that I already own for reference. As it was a fairly inaccurate science that I used for the drafting, I felt really pleased that the fit is pretty much perfect after pinching half an inch out of the waistband. The skirt is an a-line shape, although because of the lovely floppy material, it doesn't announce it's 'A' shape overtly, which I'm pleased about. It also has pockets. Does anyone else suffer from an unwillingness to support the weight of their own hands? I'd quite like a pot to put them in when they're not needed for anything. I think if I don't have pockets, I'm an ideal candidate for a hand muff.

The fabric is an Atelier Brunette Viscose and it feels like the perfect weight and drape for this skirt. It's not completely opaque, but that feels fine with black tights. If you order any, brace yourself for it not to feel very lovely straight off the bolt, however, as soon as it's been washed and dried, it feels like a completely different fabric. This is especially true of the fabric samples to the far left and far right in the photo below, however, the fabric sample in the middle retained its stiffness, I think because there's so much black printing ink used to colour the bluish base-cloth (which is just as soft to touch as the other fabrics on its wrong side). I'm wondering if this may soften with another washing and if it does, I'll report back. If not, I'd possibly still buy some (just because I love the print so much) but brace myself for it being a skirt that stands slightly prouder from the body.

Weirdly, after not wearing a single skirt or dress for the whole of last year, I can think of only three occasions that jeans have made their way out of my cupboard since the start of Autumn and I've even worn dresses for walking the dog (although maybe that will change as the weather becomes wetter). It's funny how differently we feel about clothes from year to year. Consequently, that means that there's room in my life for many more of these skirts. I used just under a metre of fabric, so the total making cost ended up being around £15 (£18 if you include postage costs, which for self-delusion purposes, I don't). It really thrills me how inexpensive dressmaking is when compared to quilting - a handmade quilt will often cost two or three times that of a shop-bought quilt, but clothing invariably costs far less.

While on the topic of quilts, several years ago I made a quilt for my husband, but he's barely used it [waaaahhhh] as the flannel that I backed it with feels stiff and not conducive to wanting to snuggle under. I'd always thought flannel would have perfect snugglability qualities, but for whatever reason, in practice the quilt is surprisingly unyielding, in spite of repeated washing in an attempt to soften it. I'd quite like to attempt Husband Quilt II (aka the usable version) at some point, but I'm stumped by what to back it with. I don't want to use Minky as that doesn't feel quite right for a man-quilt. Any ideas of what fabric might be suitable? Have you made a flannel quilt that does feel snuggly? Maybe with a different brand of flannel?

And back to dressmaking: are you planning to make any clothes for the new season?

Florence x

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Integrating the Handmade

This make is now a few months old and very well worn and it now seems slightly seasonally inappropriate to be sharing old summery photos of it on a day when it's pouring with rain in England - I haven't been terribly good at keeping up with myself recently when it's come to blogging about my dressmaking. It's made from a slub jersey in pale dusky rose that I bought from Lauren's shop - I'm suddenly feeling slightly obsessed by pinks and greys in combination, so it felt like the perfect fabric to pair with grey jeans. I used my own pattern - the same that I'd used to make this top - but I decided to cut the main fabric pieces on the bias this time, not because it needed any help with drape, but more for the visual effect of the slubs going across the body at 45 degrees. Because it's cut on the bias, I sewed with a slightly smaller seam allowance to (lazily!) compensate for the closer-fitting finish that a bias-cut would inevitably give, rather than going to the effort of redrafting my pattern pieces.

I cut the sleeves in the usual way and I like the contrast of bias and straight grains this gives. The vertical line running down the sleeve is just where I've ironed it as I don't tend to iron regular clothes in the way that I'd carefully press them during construction to avoid that kind of thing (the photos were taken a few weeks ago, a few weeks after making the top)! Just in case you're interested, the fabric has worn really well apart from a very slight bit of bobbling where I wore an across-the-body bag to go on a long country dog walk, but I'm not convinced that's unique to this fabric though - I don't know what it is about wearing bags in that way, but a leather strap worn on the diagonal seems to rub at fabric far more than one worn on the shoulder, so I usually avoid it. I'm slightly cross with myself for putting bag carrying practicality above fabric preservation on that day when I love this top so much!

Sometimes a static picture doesn't really show the drape, so below is a photo that's still static, but where I'm less static within it, which gives you an idea of how deliciously waterfally this fabric is - do hurry to buy some - it's really, really lovely! And ridiculously inexpensive - this top cost less than £7.50 to make. The fabric shrank a fair bit when I pre-washed it and felt curiously like cardboard when I took it out from the washing machine, but it returned to soft loveliness as soon as it had dried. I made this top out of a very shrunken metre and had left-overs to spare. I'd worried that cutting such a fine fabric on the bias could cause all sorts of craziness with the hem, but I was surprised to find that it behaved perfectly. It's also available in navy.

Although I've spent quite a few years making clothes, I don't think it's been until this summer that I've chosen to wear the things I've made more frequently than the off-the-peg garments in my wardrobe and it's come as a lovely surprise to finally feel my own handmade clothes are just as appealing to me as shop-bought alternatives. I've been trying to think about what's brought about this change and why things have suddenly clicked for me and I think it's down to several things - some of them practical, some of them attitude.

Previously, often I'd make something and be pleased with the way it was finished, happy with the style of the garment, but somehow it just didn't feel as come-and-wear-me as my shop bought clothes - they felt home-made, rather than hand-made and I couldn't put my finger on why. But I think it's possibly down to gaining more experience in matching a fabric to a pattern and also there being so many more amazing dressmaking fabrics easily available now, so no longer having to make compromises on this.

I think the other reason why I feel happier wearing my handmade wardrobe this summer is that there's an element to dressmaking that used to feel like wrapping oneself up as a present with a bow on and announcing over a loud tannoy: this is me - not just me as a body, but also me wearing parts of my soul on the outside of myself! If you're not actually that confident about the way your body looks (which I wasn't), that extra layer of vulnerability can leave wearing a wardrobe of handmade garments feeling a bit much. Many sewists site dressmaking as being a liberation, as they cast off the sense of oppression they'd felt trying to fit into a particular shop's dress size and make things perfectly tailored for their shape. Despite the fact that standard shop sizes are rarely a good fit for me either, I didn't really experience a sense of liberation when I initially came to dressmaking and always wondered why - maybe the difference is whether the self-consciousness comes predominantly from within or from external pressures (i.e. clothing sizes, unrealistic magazine images, cultural perceptions of different body shapes), I'm not sure.

But either way, something this year has clicked into place for me: maybe it's age (I think the way that many women begin to feel more happy in their own skin as they get older is proof that the way we feel about ourselves has very little to do with the way we actually look); or my finally realising that weighing oneself each morning is a habit that doesn't add any real value to the day; or my finally pinpointing exactly which foods I have horrible reactions to and so now rarely having to contend with unpredictably swollen eyes/face/stomach, but I just don't feel self conscious in the same way that I have for most of my life, even though I am heavier than I've ever been. And with that comes a new-found happiness in wearing my own handmade clothes.

It may seem surprising that I've felt any self-consciousness at all when I've kept a blog where I've always shared photos of clothes that I've made. And me wearing those clothes. It's never been something that I've felt entirely comfortable with, but I suppose my wish to do it was greater than my reservations that would have made me choose not do it. From the moment I read Heather Bailey's blog, nearly nine years ago (the first blog I'd ever seen!), I found that a format that allowed the combination of writing, photos and sewing appealed to me in a way that was almost impossible to resist. And as my readership is mainly sewists (although sometimes I find that people who don't sew at all read it, and that's always really lovely), when I first began sewing clothes, it made sense that I would document them. In the company of other sewists, whether it's quilts or dresses, I think we tend to want to see everything from different angles, to see how the fabric has been cut or a zipper installed, and to see photos that inspire us to actually want to spend an evening sewing, rather than watching television, which is always a tempting alternative if sufficient propulsion to get up off the sofa and sew isn't there. So in this context, to me, sharing photos of yourself wearing clothing that you've made seems perfectly normal (at least it does to me when others do this), rather than narcissistic or indicative of being totally body-confident.

So all those things were already falling into place when I was going into a changing room in a lingerie shop while wearing this top and the shop assistant, twenty years younger than me, beautiful and very stylishly dressed commented that she loved my top. I just said 'thank you' but didn't offer any more as my mindset up until that point had always been to avoid telling someone that I'd made something myself, other than within the confines of my blog. However, she then asked if I'd mind telling her where I'd bought it as she'd love to get one herself, which forced me into confessing that I'd actually made it myself. Her reaction was so incredibly lovely and she seemed so genuinely astonished that it was handmade, that as I closed the curtain of my changing room I felt as though I could audibly hear my brain realigning with the affirmation that something I'd made didn't look any different to something shop-bought, other than in a positive way. I think this completed my transition to wearing handmade without self-consciousness and not worrying to think what other people may think of my clothes. I now seem to put them on in the same way that I do my shop-bought garment: because I like them and that's what I'm choosing to wear that day. The shop-bought and the handmade are finally integrated for me and it feels a very happy thing.

I'd love to know how you feel about wearing your own handmade clothes - whether it feels like an entirely positive thing or whether it's mixed up with a slight self-consciousness for whatever reason.

Florence x

Ps. Coincidentally, I listened to not one, but two, fantastic podcasts with Jenny, from Cashmerette, about body image and dressmaking last week! The first on Crafty Planner, from the July archives, the second on Seamwork, the brand new podcast from Colette Patterns - both were really interesting and well worth listening to.

Monday, 14 September 2015

A List: My Favourite Online UK Fabric Shops

Back in 2009, I made a list of all the lovely UK fabric shops that I knew of and shared it on my blog - that worked really well because at that point there were relatively few fabric shops stocking more modern prints over here. To give some context, just a few years earlier, in 2007, I actually had to import most of my fabric from America! However, with a now mind-boggling array of fabric shops in the UK, updating my list to include every single one that exists would feel more like composing a telephone directory than sharing a handful of well-loved gems, so I thought I might start my list afresh, picking out my favourites and sharing the things that they specialise in.

For ease of shopping, I'll separate things out into dressmaking, quilting, interiors. When I say that these shops are my favourites, please bear in mind that I haven't shopped at every single one of them - some are just window-shopping favourites!

My Favourite Dressmaking Fabric Shops

Girl Charlee - specialises in their own-brand knit fabrics. I've been delighted with the quality of everything I've bought.
The Village Haberdashery - A lovely range of dressmaking fabrics, think stripy knits; Robert Kaufman's chambrays; designer rayons; Liberty print cord; and a large selection of double gauze.
Backstitch - Alice stocks everything from Atelier Brunette, to denims, jerseys and coatings. Fabric is always nicely cut and posted speedily!
Stone Fabrics - Stone stock an incredible array of mainly unbranded dressmaking fabrics. View each fabric with full description and price online, then ring to order - it feels deliciously old-fashioned to speak to a real person and their service is friendly and their delivery quick. 
Truro Fabrics - A huge selection of dressmaking fabrics with everything from unnamed knits to Liberty corduroys. I've bought several unusual knit fabrics here and have always been delighted with the quality.
Guthrie and Ghani - They stock a fantastic mix of designer dressmaking fabrics and unbranded one-offs. The owner, Lauren, frequently makes her own clothes from the fabrics, so her a blog is a good place to go to get an idea of how the fabrics drape once made up into a garment too.
Sew Over It - a really well edited selection of dressmaking fabrics, including crepe, rayon, jersey, silk and wool. I usually want a bit of everything whenever I visit.
M is for Make - Kate offers dressmaking fabrics from established designers such as Nani Iro, Liberty, Cotton + Steel, Atelier Brunette, Robert Kaufman's chambray range...the list goes on. It's all good.
Dragonfly Fabrics - From boiled wool to stretch crepe, Dragonfly tend to stock high quality fabrics that have a price tag that reflects this - my go-to when I want to make something special. Service is excellent and the owner, Dorte, is an experienced dressmaker, so will be happy to offer advice as to fabric suitability.
Merchant & Mills - purveyors of hard-wearing, high-quality fabrics, offered in a muted, earthy palette.
Fabric Godmother - offer a beautiful selection that feels as though it's been very carefully chosen. I always love popping by to see what Josie has in stock. She seems talented at winkling out very wearable, grown-up animal prints (I'm still wishing I'd bought these no-longer-available pelicans)
Offset Warehouse - for ethically produced dressmaking fabrics, this is the place to head. Offset Warehouse offer a wide range of substrates from India, Cambodia, Europe and China.
MacCulloch and Wallis - It's not the best website and it doesn't offer the best fabric descriptions, but it does stock high-quality, unpatterned fabrics that can be hard to find elsewhere.
Ray-Stitch - a modern, often organically-produced, range of dressmaking fabrics.

My Favourite Quilting Fabric Shops

Fabric HQ - Rae stocks a large, bright and colourful selection of modern fabrics.
Sew and Quilt - this shop reminds me of a bowl of iced-gems with its sweet range of 1930s prints. It also stocks all the English paper piecing paraphernalia you could wish for from glue pens to templates to pre-cut paper pieces.
The Village Haberdashery - Annie stocks a beautiful range of fabric and has a knack for getting new collections in before anywhere else!
Eclectic Maker - a beautiful collection. Order a fat quarter and it comes folded in their trademark origami style, which makes it feel even more special!
Backstitch - an easy to navigate website with a beautiful selection of fabrics.
Shaukat - probably the largest selection of Liberty Tana lawns online in the UK and sold at more reasonable prices than you'd find in Liberty itself. If you happen to visit the store in person, service is uniquely unfriendly, but I now rather fondly regard that as a part of the Shaukat experience!
Plush Addict - an absolutely vast range of modern designer prints (alongside a selection of plush fabrics for cloth-nappy making, which is how this business began!).
Hulu - a modern site with a focus on more traditional-looking fabric prints, such as French General (which they always carry a huge selection of!).
M is for Make - with a very defined style, it always appears as though Kate only sells exactly what she likes herself. Which luckily is what I often like too. Go and have a look and hopefully you might like it as well. The emphasis is on crisp, edgy, modern prints in shades of grey, mustard and teal...with a few other colours occasionally mixed in.
Tikki Patchwork - a large selection of 1930s prints, as well as a good source of Kaffe Fassett and Philip Jacobs. (Updated to add: Discount Code 'Flossie10' for 10% off until the end of September 2015!).
Poppies and Polka Dots - an ever-increasing range of lovely fabrics, having opened up more recently in 2014. Use the code FLOSSIE10 for 10% off.
Elephant in My Handbag - a wide range of designer fabrics (and if you like to buy in bundles, there are always plenty!).
The Running Chicken - stockists of Quilt Mania books and Jen Kingwell patterns. Both very good things that are harder to find in the UK.
Cotton Patch - this is rarely my first port of call as the website isn't terribly easy to navigate, but I often visit their site when I can't find what I'm looking for elsewhere and find that they do invariably stock it! An absolutely huge range of fabrics, batting and quilting paraphernalia - they often stock obscure templates and tools that you can't find anywhere else over here. If I'm in a hurry, I usually pay extra to have things delivered more speedily as their regular service is very slow.
Eternal Maker - designer quilting fabrics along with some more quirky imports and good basics.

My Favourite Interiors Fabric Shops

Abigail Borg - Abigail's fabric designs are my absolute favourites. They're suitable for cushions (see some I've made earlier, in the photo above), curtains and light upholstery.
Liberty Furnishing Fabrics - Alice Caroline stock an amazing range of Liberty prints on interior weight linen, velvet and voile. Their Secret Garden inspired fabrics make my heart feel heavy with want!

And if I Could Shop Anywhere In the World...

Purl Soho - This New York shop seems to have the most amazingly well-curated selection of fabrics and their blog always has simple and unfussy projects that always look incredibly stylish.
The Workroom - maybe it's the mix of dreamy fabrics, against a backdrop of gorgeous dogs lounging around, while stitchers come together to baste their quilts over cake that I see on Instagram, but this is high on my list of quilt shops that I wish I lived nearer to. It's quite a long way away though, in Toronto, Canada. The owner, Karyn, always make the most amazing clothes too. 

Finally, some specialist shops that are worth mentioning: 

U-Handbag - if you're interested in bag making, head over to Lisa's shop for all the supplies you'll need.
Sew Curvy - offers everything you'll need to make corsets, from complete kits to fabric, patterns and supplies.
Curtains Made Simple - As well as creating custom-made curtains and blinds, this online shop also stocks Ikea fabrics by the metre! A brilliant resource if you don't want to have to visit Ikea in person.

Happy shopping,
Florence x

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Tutorial: Sewing a Rope Bowl

Recently, all I could think about was making a rope bowl and, now that I have, I believe that there is nothing more therapeutic than sewing in circles for two hours. Rope bowls offer almost instant gratification with no pattern to cut out or fabrics to decide upon. They also feel more akin to making pottery than sewing and there's something about the mixture of each bowl being unique and unexpected in shape, combined with the order that comes from sewing in a very methodical and predictable way that really feels like a perfect union of order and unpredictability. It's free-spiritedness in a way that feels completely manageable for a control freak. [Although I have a fundamental problem with spirals - as opposed to one circle sitting on top of another - in that when you change thread colour it can never be at a logical point, such as a corner or at the end of a circle, but is always halfway through the ongoing coil, but I'm trying not to let that bother me as the joy of the bowl making is huge!] My head feels slightly like it has some freshly poured lemonade in it, such is the brain-fizzing at the possibilities for different bowls.

I've now sewn several of these bowls and they're so simple to make that I thought I might share a tutorial. But first, don't these pink peppercorns that my sister brought back from Spain look even more dreamy for being in a pink rope bowl?

The only supplies you'll need for this are some rope, some thread and a sturdy needle (90/12 or 100/14). Finding suitable rope is really the most challenging part of the whole thing.

For my yellow bowl, I used quite sturdy rope from John Lewis, where twenty metres of their own-brand clothes line (cotton outer with a polypropylene core) was more than enough. For my pink and black bowls I used a slightly narrower rope from B&Q (available in store). It's called 'cotton cord', branded as 'Eliza Tinsley' and comes in packets of 13.7metres, which is more than enough for a nice little bowl. If you don't have access to either of those sources, look for sash window cord, clothesline or cotton braided rope. Personally, I'd have a preference for a fairly white rope, so that any coloured thread you might like to use would have a better chance of showing up. Rope doesn't join easily or neatly, so it's also best to get a length that's going to be long enough to create the size of bowl you're after! Personally, I have a preference for the narrower 1/8" B&Q rope as I prefer the more delicate look of the finished bowls. The clothesline that I bought from John Lewis was wound up in a way that left kinks in it and additionally, it wasn't completely round, but had more of a rectangular shape to it - between this and the kinks, it just made it slightly harder work to sew with than the perfectly formed finer rope from B&Q. Both types of rope produce an incredibly sturdy bowl - these things feel incredible and like they could take quite a lot of weight and bashing about, should you wish to challenge your bowl in either of those ways!

Some tips before we begin: it's important that you wind a bobbin of thread for each of the different thread colours you're using on the bowl, as bobbin thread and spool thread will be equally visible. I like to change colours over the course of the bowl - my yellow bowl had cream, taupe and mustard threads, while my other bowls had pink, black and cream threads.

Finally, I'm unsure if this is a quirk of my machine, but when I first insert a new bobbin, the initial securing stitches will result in a little bit of a knot on the underside of my fabric while the bobbin beds into place - not normally a problem when the underside of your work won't be visible, however, on these bowls it WILL be very visible, so your securing stitches need to be perfect. If your machine does this too, keep a scrap close by and take your first stitches with a new bobbin in place on this, rather than on your rope, to avoid ending up with a knotty bowl that will distress your eyes every time you catch sight of it. Once my machine has got over this initial hurdle, it's fine doing perfectly neat beginning and end securing stitches every time.

Begin by cutting your rope so that it has a crisp end and then tightly coil it around a few turns, pinning it in place. My pins are so fine that I feel I'm able to run over them with my sewing machine without any danger of breaking a needle, however, you'll need to take care with whatever pins you choose to use and may prefer a light glue if that feels a safer option.

Set your machine to a zigzag stitch that will happily capture a nice amount of rope to either side of where they're butted up together. For a thicker rope, I used a stitch width of about 4 or 4.3, and for the narrower rope I used a stitch width of about 3.5. My stitch length for both ropes was set to about 2.5. 

The initial stitches really are the trickiest bit, so don't give up, as it all becomes much easier as your snail shell of rope becomes larger. It may all feel a bit foot up, foot down, foot up, foot down to start with. Setting your needle to 'needle down' if you have this feature on your machine will reduce some of the work. Starting in the centre of your coil make a few securing stitches. Keep the centre of your foot in line with the line where two edges of rope meet, and stitch around and around using a zigzag stitch that catches the rope to either side.

Whenever you want to change thread colour, be sure to change both the bobbin and the spool thread; make securing end and beginning stitches; and try and line up where you change thread colour, so that it falls roughly in a line on the finished bowl. This means that if the lack of visual continuity where thread colour changes on the bowl bothers you like it does me, then at least this slightly irksome feature is confined to one area of the bowl (that can be covered with pink peppercorns!), rather than all over it. You can see this demonstrated best on my pink and black bowl below - see the thread colour changes at about 4 o'clock? Maddeningly, but so much better to have it confined to 4 o'clock than at random times throughout the day!

For my large, wide-based yellow bowl, I made a flat disc measuring 6" before I began to shape the bowl. For my smaller pink bowls this was nearer 4.5".

When you think your base is about the right size, simply support the bowl against the head of the machine and continuing sewing as you have before, taking care to keep the coils of rope tightly butted up against one another while guiding the bowl with the other hand (that hand isn't shown here as I was holding the camera with it!)

I love this bit! It's so exciting - like magic! You are a sewing-potter! It's hard to believe that just holding the side of the bowl up could affect what's going on beneath the foot of the sewing machine so drastically, but it does!

Continue in this way. You'll notice that I have more hands in this photo as I'd finally thought to ask someone else to hold the camera for me! In reality, I favour having my guiding hand much closer to the sewing foot than you see in this photo, gently guiding the rope while it lightly passes beneath my fingers like a conveyor belt. I found that I could sew at quite a speed at this point. Keep your eye on the centre point where the two pieces of rope are butted up together and aim to keep the centre of the foot in line with this.

When you feel that you've got a nicely sized bowl, or that you've nearly reached the end of your rope (writing that phrase makes me think of being near the 'end of your tether' but it's quite different, because bowl making is a very happy thing), take a few securing stitches. Tie a knot in your rope an inch or two away from this end point.

Snip the tail off and then pull back the braiding to reveal any ugly core that the rope might have.

Cut this core off and then rearrange the loose strands to give a pleasing knot tail! You may feel a little like you're preparing a pony for a dressage event: enjoy it. 

At this point, you could admire your bowl or use it even. However, I suspect there won't be any laurel-resting, because these bowls are so addictive to make and you will almost certainly want to start on the next immediately. Buy your rope in industrial quantities, pencil out several hours for some therapeutic rope basket making and you could have a whole set of baskets or bowls by the end of the day. My son suggested nesting bowls, Russian-doll style! They would make fabulous gifts too. Let me know if you make a bowl - I'd love to see!

I'm really enjoying pink and black as a colour combination - my bowl was inspired by the basket in the background, which I bought at The Shop Next Door in Rye.

On my list of rope-related things I'd still like to try: dying the rope, dying the finished bowls, painting the rope, painting the finished bowls, creating bowls where the rope has been pre-wrapped with fabric, using varigated sewing thread, making baskets, making bags, making hanging plant holders, making bowls or baskets with handles...the list is endless.

Florence x
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