Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sewing with knits: books, patterns & fabrics

Last month, Colette Patterns sent me a copy of their new book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, to have a look at. I have a few books about sewing with knits, but nothing quite like this: it not only covers how to sew with knits, but also features incredibly in-depth instruction on how to use your overlocker, cover-stitch machine or even a regular sewing machine when sewing knits.

When I bought my overlocker, I was given an entire day's lesson on how to use it by an elderly lady at my local sewing shop. She was one of life's absolute treasures and her calm guidance was just what was needed when first learning to thread up a machine that uses four reels of thread, two needles, has an inbuilt butcher's knife and seems to overlock faster than the speed of light. She spent the day getting me to sew up and label samples where the looper tension was set wrongly, or the needle tensions were off, so that once I was at home without her by my side, I'd be able to look at my sample and work out what was wrong. She also showed me how to overlock with regular fabrics or with knits and what the best settings on my machine to cope with these different fabrics might be; how to negotiate an armhole so that the blade doesn't cut through the fabric; how to change the thread without re-threading the entire machine; and how to clean the whole machine when the inside looks like small furry animals have taken up residence. When I read through the Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, which is written by knitty expert, Alyson Clair, my first thought was that it was the next best thing to having my lovely teacher sitting next to me. It's also a blessing to have all the essential notes written down and laid out clearly on fully-formed, bound pages…rather than the scribblings on dog-eared bits of paper that I made myself during that lesson.

When I first heard about the book I must admit that I did think: how is this the 'Colette Guide', if it's written by Alison Clair? Well, the photography is all done by Colette and is very much in keeping with their style - for title pages and garment photos, it fits in with their usual dreamy, slightly sensual pastel palette, while the technique steps follow the clear, uncluttered style of photography and illustration that you find on the Colette Patterns blog. The book is actually edited by Sarai Mitnik (founder of Colette), so again, it feels just like one of their garment patterns, in that it covers all the small details, doesn't assume any knowledge, but also stretches a more experienced seamstress by going into the kind of detail that gives you the tools to aspire for perfection in your sewing. It's actually a brilliant combination of the expertise of someone who has worked with knits for years and understands everything about them, and the trustworthy, clear style of instruction that you'd expect from Colette Patterns.

The book doesn't include any garment patterns, it's very much an instruction manual for the practice of sewing with knits. It will tell you everything from how to shop for knits, from what thread and needles to use; how to cut knit fabrics to how to stabilise a waistband. Really nothing is left to chance - it's the only book you'd ever need on sewing with knits, no matter what type of machine you're sewing with. And those trouble-shooting samples my sewing teacher got me to make up so that I could find out what was wrong when my overlocker was having a tantrum? They're all in there!

If you're interested in buying a copy you can find it on Amazon or direct from Colette Patterns. I highly recommend it.

I thought that while I was reviewing the Sewing Knits book it might be a good time to share some suitable knit fabrics and patterns with you. The Monetta pattern, above, is still on my long list of things I'd like to sew. The way my weeks are panning out at the moment, I'm thinking it may be a winter version though, in which case I'd possibly raise the neckline at the back a little.

I love boatneck tops. V-necks have a habit of making me look and feel inexplicably hideous the moment I put them on (not from a body perspective, more because I think my face somehow doesn't suit that neckline). I find boat necks seem to be much more flattering, so this new pattern, the Brigitte top, from Tessutti, which is available as a paper pattern or a PDF has also been added to my mental list of 'must makes'.

There's also Tilly's Coco pattern, which also has a delicious boatneck, but offers a slightly less figure-hugging fit than the Brigitte. Again, it's available in paper or PDF form. Tilly's pattern has the added bonus of a dress pattern and a funnel neck top too - both specifically designed for knit fabrics.

So, on to some knit fabric choices. My sponsor, Dragonfly Fabrics has a fairly extensive range of knits in stock at the moment, with lots of different weights and drapes to choose from. These stripes would be perfect for any of the patterns above. The top four are Campan, while the bottom two are organic cotton interlock. The Campan feels like a better choice for summer - it feels slightly lighter and as though it has better stretch recovery, although either option would work well for autumn/winter (but even then, my preference would be for the campan). Dragonfly fabrics has these stripes in a huge range of colours in addition to the ones shown here. You can see the Campan in action in combination with Tilly's Coco pattern over on Jane's blog.

The next two photos are a mixture of viscose jersey and bamboo jersey (see labels). They all have a really similar feel: fluid, drapey, incredibly soft to touch. The viscose feels very slightly thicker and more stable to sew with than the bamboo, but it's only a slight difference. I've sewn with bamboo jersey before when I made this dress. It's an amazing fabric - it feels incredibly luxurious and always reminds me of the feel of those really lovely pyjamas made with cotton modal. However, while it flows over your curves and doesn't cling to them, because it's quite a thin fabric, it does tend to show every lump and bump, so if that's something that bothers you, consider your pattern choice carefully or plan strategic use of underwear without visible seams to give a smooth silhouette.  

I think that's probably enough knitted fun for one day.

Florence x

Ps. I'm really sorry to write another post before responding to all your really lovely comments to my last post. I'm struggling to juggle things at the moment and not quite managing to get to everything - it feels like it might be a bit like that over the next few months as we have quite a lot on. Please forgive me. x 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sewing in a bedroom...

A few months ago, when I mentioned on Instagram that our bedroom doubled as my sewing room, a few people said they'd love to read a blog post about how that works. I've kept meaning to gather together some photos for such a post, and have finally been pushed into action by not wanting to leave it too late, as I enter my last month or two of using our bedroom in this way. For nearly seven years, we've sacrificed clothing space; I've vacuumed and cleared up from the fabric explosion before going to bed at night; and my husband has accepted he may sleep at risk of being jabbed by a forgotten pin. Finally though, due to a re-jig to move our educational apps business away from our dining room table (another multi-purpose room - in October it will be three years ago since I wrote this post!) and into a more self-contained home office, I'm also going to be getting my very own sewing room up in the loft once it's been converted.

However, while I'm completely excited by the idea (to the point of not being able to sleep entirely well some nights!), I have occasionally come across people saying that they'd love to sew more, but they don't have anywhere to do it, so I feel enthusiastic to share how entirely possible it is to sew without the luxury of a dedicated sewing room. (Although I'm aware that if you live with someone, then you may need a ridiculously indulgent partner to sanction all that you're about to read…).

I should preface this by saying that my husband really dislikes mess and clutter and that I'm a surface neat freak (surface, because I'm far less fussy when it comes to the inside of cupboards!). Although small piles of clutter occasionally form on my desk, it would be illegal in both of our minds for us to go to bed in a room strewn with fabric, so I've tried to store things in a way that's relatively easy to pack up from - I think this is the only way a multi-purpose room could have worked for us long-term.

First, the fabric. My storage for this has changed frequently, but it currently lives in two plastic boxes on wheels beneath our bed. I have one box for quilting fabrics and another for dressmaking fabrics.

Quilting needs a large amount of floor space, so the bed is placed against a wall, beneath a window to maximise floor space. I quite like sleeping next to a wall (it's cosy and perhaps because at some level, I feel further away from any potential burglars!) and the window sill is fine for a glass of water and a book.

This is my version of a design wall. It causes problems when my husband needs to walk across it to get to his sports clothes (that seems to be the main thing he'd come in here for, other than actually going to bed!), but otherwise it's fairly effective. If I need to pack it away to get back out again another day, I just gather the pieces back up and label the different rows with pieces of paper.

My cutting mats and perspex grid rulers all live standing inside the wardrobe next to my husband's shirts and my Hasbeens. 

I tend to put the ironing board up in the corner of the room when I'm about to start work, as I usually leave it out for the whole of the time I'm sewing. I used to have a miniature ironing board, but it's not ideal when you start to work on anything bigger than a 6" block.

When it's not in use it lives in the very messy airing cupboard. This has possibly been the most frustrating part of the bedroom-sewing arrangement. Nearly every day it falls out at us when we open the door to turn the heating on or off, hitting pipes, causing my husband to rant, and me to pointlessly defend the obstreperous ironing board. But if you look to the left of the ironing board, you can also see one of the saviours of the bedroom-sewing arrangement standing next to it.

Until I bought a floor sweeper, I used to have to bring the vacuum cleaner upstairs from the other end of the house every time I'd been on a fabric-cutting spree. This floor sweeper isn't quite the dust guzzling monster that a Miele is, but it's wonderful for making the floor look superficially clean at midnight when you're desperate to just get into bed.

I've had a few different sewing desks, but never any bigger than this and it's absolutely tiny. However, it's fine for using both the sewing machine and the overlocker at the same time, which is what really matters.

The only frustration is if I'm using my laptop up here - there's not really a space on the desk where the mouse can sit. The cotton reel storage is kindly overlooked as some sort of sewing-related art-form by my husband, which is very lucky as it's the most convenient way to store thread. Very occasionally, he actually tells me that I've ordered them incorrectly and takes it upon himself to better the colour arrangement.

Some of these drawers really do have normal clothing occupancy, but the whole of the top drawer is dedicated to sewing paraphernalia…and the my clothing drawers may have tailor's hams nestled amongst the jumpers.

Because my only real work space is the floor in this room, when I take my rotary cutters out, they come out with the plastic box, so that they're never left unprotected on the floor where they could cut my husband or children's feet.

In my desk drawers, I keep tiny boxes filled with sewing machine needles and feet.  These are both old Liberty gift coin boxes.

Very occasionally, mid-project, I'll need to store something assembled in groups. In this case, under my desk seems like a good place…or in the throat of my sewing machine.

My English paper piecing is usually stored in these series of open boxes which get carted around the house with me most days. If there's ever a point in our work when we're discussing something, the EPP will invariably come out, and at the weekend, it appears the moment anyone starts watching a film.

I'd say that the biggest problem of working in this way has been not having a cutting space. I find cutting out - whether it's dressmaking or quilting - takes hours and is often more time consuming than the actual sewing. For years I felt entirely happy spending hours sitting cross-legged on the floor, but since December, the moment I sit down in this way, my back is in pain and starts to complain. Due to the extent of my obsession, this doesn't actually stop me from doing it, it just isn't quite as enjoyable and involves the use of painkillers to facilitate it. My parents were actually going to have a bespoke cutting table made for my birthday which would flip down from the wall and fold back up again when not in use, which seems like a really good option for a multi-purpose room (they didn't do this in the end, as we decided to convert our loft shortly after they'd suggested it). I'd also considered one of those fold out  wall-papering tables that people use at craft fairs, but you'd need somewhere more cavernous than our airing cupboard to store it.

I'm always really fascinated to see how other sewers set up their work spaces, so I hope you've enjoyed this post, despite the fact that it includes the inside of my wardrobe and airing cupboard! Our builders and carpenters arrive on Monday, so for the next few months, my sewing storage may be more about dust protection, but hopefully it will be worth it.

Florence x

Thursday, 5 June 2014

EPP with Love Patchwork & Quilting Magazine

I may be wildly adding on a few zeros in saying this, but it feels as though I have at least 10,000 things all queueing up waiting to be written about from the past few months and having a temperamental Internet connection really isn't helping me work my way through them. It's not beginning at the beginning, but let's begin with this cushion that makes an appearance in this month's Love Patchwork & quilting magazine (issue 9), along with a four page article on English paper piecing techniques, just because it's available now and tends to sell out fairly quickly and it's the thing that I'm most excited to tell you about because it's my favourite sewing magazine.

I also have a hand-pieced quilt in there too, but I'll come to that in another post. Although it's not written specifically for beginners, the techniques article covers all the supplies and techniques you'd need if you're new to English paper piecing. If you're interested in trying it, this issue also comes with a free pack of pre-cut hexagons in three different sizes, so it's well worth investing in. And, as usual, it's also packed full of crazily good patterns and editorial from some of my favourite quilters.

When I quilted this cushion in March, it was the first time I'd turned on my sewing machine for weeks, possibly months, and I spent a thoroughly happy hour mowing up and down it with my walking foot. I mostly favour hand-sewing, but sometimes it's just so delicious to do something quickly.

I designed the cushion to give a project-based introduction to fussy-cutting for English paper piecing. 'Fussy Cutting' is basically cutting the fabrics in such a way that a certain part of the fabric's print is featured - in this case, if you cut the same part of the print repeatedly, it's possible to create a kaleidoscope effect when you sew them together.

The article breaks down how to go about creating a similar kaleidoscope cushion in your own choice of fabrics.

Generally, I plan out my projects on an as-I-go basis, but I was worried about running out of time when I was designing this, so I planned it on the computer before making it. For me, a project can often grind to a halt for days while it sits in limbo in a what-fabric-should-come-next dilemma. If there was one character trait I'd most like to rid myself of it would be indecision. For some reason, this doesn't happen when I plan things on the computer as it's so quick to swap things in and out and come to an instant decision about what looks right overall. Without any as-I-go indecision, when I got to the actual sewing part, the piecing was really quick and a print-out offers the added benefit of having a 'map' to work from. Additionally, it's freakily good fun seeing an exact replica of your print-out gradually appearing as you sew (or maybe it's just me that would find that fun). Below is my pre-planned print-out 'map' on the right, and the real hand-sewn fabric version of the cushion cover on the left - I love how similar they look. I should really be pre-planning my Passacaglia cogwheels in this way as I've wasted a huge amount of time pondering fabric choices over the last eight weeks, but I haven't, because often I just want to dive into the fabrics after a day of working on the computer, rather than doing more computering.

If you're tempted by some EPP, but a cushion looks like too big a first project, I also have a free downloadable tutorial for some really simple hanging lavender sachets over on the Love Patchwork & Quilting Magazine blog. I've fussy cut the fabrics for these too (um, because I'm a fussy-cutting addict), but that's not actually necessary - I think they'd look gorgeous made up with some Liberty Tana lawn prints.

In other thoughts, isn't fussy-cutting an absolutely awful term? I can't believe I've just written a blog post where it appears quite so many times and where I even confess my addiction to it. Maybe 'precision cutting' would be better...

Florence x

A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.