I’ve been so terrible at blogging this year. I had good intentions, but I just seem to have been so busy, but with very little to write about!
Back in May I was in the midst of getting a summerhouse built in my garden so I could set it up as a little sewing studio. No more sewing in the corner of the kitchen, and having sewing supplies in piles all over the house.
Well, there are still piles of sewing supplies all over the house, but I do have a sewing studio!
I recently went on a workshop at my sewing hero Tilly Walnes’ studio in London, and was way more excited than I should have been about her choice of IKEA furniture. The turquoise Råskog trolley, a white Alex desk, white and turquoise Kallax shelving – WE HAVE ALL THE SAME FURNITURE! It must mean something, does it mean that me and Tilly are destined to be sewing buddies forever? Please say that it does.
I moved my sewing machine and supplies in, and I have spent many happy hours sitting at my desk, listening to gory true crime podcasts while I sew and watch out for a bloodthirsty serial killer vaulting over my fence to murder me in my sewing studio. That’s what a daily dose of true crime podcasts does to the imagination.
On the subject of gore, while I was putting the desk together for the summerhouse I managed to push a screwdriver through my thumbnail. I would not recommend this. Once the blood started coming up through the hole in my nail, I thought I was going to pass out and had to sit quietly on the kitchen floor for a while. Thankfully, that has been the only accident so far, and despite having an iron, a fan heater, various sharp implements and a very clumsy sewist in a very confined space, it has been fairly incident free.
When I first started planning the summerhouse, I felt guilty for spending so much money on myself, and I wondered if I would actually use it enough to warrant the cost, but I am so glad I did it. It means sewing without distraction, which feels like such a luxury, even for someone who lives alone. If I’m heading outside to my little Fortress of Solitude, I’m going there to spend time indulging in one of my favourite pastimes, and no annoying chores or other household distractions are going to tear me away from my project. It means time away from screens and computers, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to my podcast ‘friends’ while I work. My favourites to sew along to include My Favorite Murder, All Killa No Filla, Sword and Scale, Thinking Sideways and Casefile.
I’ve now been sewing for about two years, and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. When I think about some of my first projects, I was so pleased to finish a simple cotton shift dress, or a gathered skirt, and now I’m challenging myself more to try new techniques and work with different fabrics. One of my first projects was the Margot pyjama bottoms from Tilly Walnes’ book, Love at First Stitch. I was so proud of these, they seemed like such an achievement at the time.
I’ve worked my way from these to this dress that I made for two weddings I attended this summer, with a lined bodice with contrast, fold-back panels and a hem that was approximately four miles long.
I feel like this dress is a long way from those pyjamas, and there have been a lot of fun projects in between, including helping Tilly test out some of her patterns before they went on sale, which has made me pay more attention to patterns and construction. I don’t look at clothes in the same way any more, and I’m forever picking garments up in shops, looking at them, saying, “I could make that,” and then returning them to the rack. Just being able to say that feels like an enormous achievement for someone who has taught themselves to sew, and who didn’t even know where to start with sewing in a zip two years ago. Incidentally, I still have not managed to master the elusive invisible zip. You know there are some things that you just can’t do, no matter how hard you try? Well, mine is invisible zips. Invisible zips and whistling. Perhaps I should try to master both of those in 2017.
I can’t wait for next year, and all the projects I’m going to sew in my summerhouse while I fill my mind with more true crime stories…
Dressmaking seems to have taken over my entire brain, house and bank balance since I took it up seriously last year, so I thought I would post about a few of the things which have inspired me the most.
- Tilly Walnes
Since I took up dressmaking, I’ve been completely obsessed with Tilly Walnes and her gorgeous patterns. It’s thanks to her book, Love at First Stitch, that I’ve even mastered sewing clothes in the first place.
I love her clear instructions and her stylish retro patterns, and so it was a huge honour for me to be able to test out one of the new patterns for her last year. It was the Martha pattern, which is now on sale in her shop. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to get a handwritten note from my sewing idol along with the test pattern. It made this learner dressmaker very, very happy!
I’m very excited to have been asked to test another pattern for her too, although it is top secret, so I can’t reveal any details. I will hopefully be getting started on it this weekend. I hope I make a good job of it, I can’t let Tilly down!
This is an obvious one, but I was very late to the party with Pinterest. I already had Facebook, Twitter, this blog and two Tumblr blogs, so I resisted the urge to get on Pinterest and waste even more of my time with social media. But it’s an awesome source of tips and techniques, plus it’s a great way to find inspiration for dressmaking styles, colour schemes and fabric choices. One of my favourite boards is my vintage fashion board, where I pin gorgeous things like this, which one day I will attempt to recreate, once my skill level has caught up with my ambition.
I have a confession to make though, my absolute favourite board is my hot men in knitwear board, where I pin these glorious man creatures, amongst others.
I would not like to say how many hours I’ve spent searching for pictures of hot men in knitwear. Bless you Pinterest, you filthy enabler.
3. Gretchen Hirsch
Gretchen Hirsch, AKA Gertie, is my latest dressmaking obsession, after I spent my birthday money on two of her books.
I absolutely love her retro, kitschy style, and the fun fabrics and colours she uses to make her clothes. I am itching to make one of the dresses she designed for Butterick, to wear to two weddings I’m going to later in the year. I’m already on the lookout for some suitable fabric for it. Apparently Gertie has designed some fabrics for the Jo-Ann’s craft store chain in the USA, which means next time I go to Florida (hopefully next year), I might end up spending even more on fabric in Jo-Ann’s than I did when I was there last year.
4. The Great British Sewing Bee
This is where it all started! It was watching this show that first inspired me to take up dressmaking, having only dabbled with it slightly in textile class at secondary school. It took me a while to build up the confidence to enrol on a sewing course and give it a go, but I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress since then. Watching the contestants making such beautiful and original garments gave me the sewing bug, and I can’t wait for the new series to start.
Patrick and May would probably have a few things to say about my less than perfect hems and my complete and utter inability to insert an invisible zip, but I’m sure they’d be pleased that they’d inspired someone to get behind a sewing machine and start creating their own clothes. To think I’ve gone from starting and abandoning a McCall’s sun dress, to making a party dress with a lined bodice and full pleated skirt in such a short space of time is something I’m really, really proud of, and I won’t be giving up this hobby any time soon – I have too much fabric stashed in my house to stop now!
It dawned on me the other day that I’ve now been dressmaking for about a year, which is mind-boggling. It’s gone so quickly, and I feel like I’ve learned so much. I have had some notable disasters (like the princess seamed dress where I stitched all the panels the wrong way round!), but I’ve also had some successes. This week I’ve proudly come to work in three different garments that I’ve sewn myself, which is a nice feeling.
This week’s sewing adventures began by me finally rectifying a mistake I made a few weeks ago. I was making a version of Tilly Walnes’ Lilou pattern, but with a gathered skirt rather than the pleated version in this picture, and minus the bow belt.
I’d bought some gorgeous cotton fabric from a shop in York with teacups all over it, and was excited to make this dress with it. I’d done the lined bodice, gathered the skirt and sewn it to the bodice, and then disaster struck. The instructions told you to trim the seam allowances, and I actually wondered to myself whether it was worth bothering to do it, but then I decided to be a good girl and do as I was told. On about the fifth snip, I realised something was wrong. Look what I had done to the bodice…
Somehow, the bodice had got folded in with the seam allowances, and I cut right through it. Luckily, it didn’t go through any darts or seams.
I was so upset I wanted to throw the whole thing in the bin, but I phoned my mum and she talked me down! I put the dress into the wardrobe in my spare room, where I couldn’t see it, then let myself calm down before I decided to try to do anything with it. It took WEEKS for me to feel like I was able to face it again.
Eventually I felt calm enough to have a go at fixing the dress. I sewed some fabric behind the hole to hold the whole thing together, then I added a nifty waistband, in fabric which matched the polka dot lining. It’s a little bit thicker on the side where the hole had to be repaired, but I don’t think most people would notice. I was really pleased with the finished dress, and I actually think the waistband adds a little something to it.
Most of all, I think this episode has taught me that I am still learning when it comes to dressmaking, and I really should be less critical of my efforts. Nobody is going to care that my zip is slightly wonky, or my hem stitching might go for a slight walk halfway around, so I shouldn’t. And at the end of it all, I’ve got clothes that nobody else has, which is not something everyone can say.
Feeling more confident after rectifying my mistake, I decided I was on a sewing roll, so I was going to carry on with some more projects. I whipped up another of Tilly’s gorgeous patterns, a Delphine skirt, in a cute heart-print needlecord. I didn’t take a picture, unfortunately. I managed the whole thing from start to finish in one day, which was impressive for me, as I usually sew at the pace of an exhausted tortoise.
With some of my birthday money I’d recently bought these two Gretchen Hirsch books.
I decided to try out one of the patterns from the books, so I embarked on what I thought looked like the simplest, the Portrait Blouse.
I have a feeling that Gertie might become my new sewing icon, alongside Tilly. I love her style, and I’m itching to make so many of her designs.
I chose some cheapo polycotton to make my portrait blouse, and it actually turned out to be a pretty good choice. The top was easy to sew, and the fabric held its shape well without creasing too badly when I wore it.
My only slight concern with Gertie’s patterns is her sizing. I’m pear-shaped, so usually I end up making a combination of two to three different sizes, gradually grading from the smallest to the largest. With Gertie’s patterns, I seem to jump up one measurement for my waist, then back down again for my hips. It’s going to make some of the more fitted dress patterns slightly tricky, I think.
Here is my finished portrait blouse, with my face cropped out of the second picture because it was right before bedtime and I was not exactly looking my best.
I think my blouse ended up slightly more fitted than Gertie’s, but I like it that way. And yes, I am wearing Star Wars PJ bottoms in this picture.
So, I think I can say I’m back on the horse after my accident, which is bad news for my bank balance, because it means I’m going to be buying A LOT more fabric…
I’m still working through my Love at First Stitch book, and the next project I was going to tackle was the Delphine skirt. I found myself some really cute red cotton denim on eBay and set about creating my skirt. As usual, I had to cut two different sizes in order to fit my strange proportions, but in hindsight, I think I would have scaled both sizes up one, as the skirt came out a bit tight in the end. I have to wear it much higher on my waist than I would have liked, and it is still a bit on the snug side. It creases like hell too.
I have yet to attempt an invisible zip, because I have yet to master putting in a regular zip. I have trouble every single time, zips are my nemesis. But aside from the usual zip troubles and a little bit of twisting on the waistband, I am quite happy with my Delphine skirt. I just wish it was either a bit bigger, or I was a bit smaller, preferably. I even made the bow belt from Tilly’s book too, which I thought looked super cute with my skirt.
It isn’t the most flattering garment, but I will definitely wear it. Look how high I have to wear it though! Chubster.
Next up was the Megan dress.
I was excited to make this one because I love the shape of it. It has a cute vintage feel to it, and I love the idea of doing colour blocking for the bodice and the skirt as well, which I might try in the future. I happened upon some awesome fabric in the Frumble sale, called Rocket Scientist Spaceship Flight. It is possibly the cutest fabric I have ever seen, and I’m actually tempted to buy another couple of metres of it to make something else.
It actually really reminds me of Tomorrowland in Disney World, Florida, with its colour palette, and with its vintage ‘vision of the future’ kind of look. So, it has become known as my Tomorrowland dress, and I really wanted to get it finished before I go to Orlando in May. Yeah, baby. It’s Floriday time again!
I am SO PLEASED with how this dress turned out. As soon as I woke up this morning I felt excited that I could wear my new dress to work, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that about any piece of clothing before. The fit is nice (not too loose, but not too clingy), and I feel like the shape really suits me. The sleeves were much easier than I expected too, I think Tilly’s instructions are so clear and easy to follow. She gives some great tips in this book.
I am short and chubby, with big hips, so this dress goes in at all the right places for me, and out at all the right places. I will definitely make another version of this dress, in fact, I have been scouting out some more fabric today. I have my eye on the new Spellbound range at the Village Haberdashery, which isn’t on sale until later this month or early May. They have a print of tiny mummies in bandages, one with magic potions on it and one of a haunted forest. What’s not to love about all those? I can see an expensive online shopping trip in my future…
The only thing that went a bit wrong with this dress is the zip. Quelle surprise. I always thought I had bulky shoulders, but since I started making my own clothes I’ve realised I have a really narrow measurement across my shoulders. Like, really narrow. With this dress I tried tapering it where the zip goes in, so it was narrower at the top, but this has caused the zip to lie a bit strangely, like I have a bit of a hunchback! I think next time I make this I will draft the bodice patterns again and add some darts across the back shoulders instead. It means adjusting my facing too, but I think that’s the way to go. I still haven’t had the courage to attempt an invisible zip, opting for a regular one again. Maybe one day…
To top off my sense of triumph at managing to make a cute dress that fits, with gathered sleeves and everything, I put a photo of my dress on Instagram and Tilly – Goddess of Sewing, liked it. Excuse me while I flail in a corner for a few hours.
So, for my next project, do I remake the Delphine or Megan (I already have fabric and a zip for another Megan), or do I attempt the Clemence skirt which is gorgeous, but looks like it’ll be made mainly of gathering and tears?
Being a crafty type who knits, makes sock animals, cross stitches, etc., dressmaking is something that I always felt I should be able to do. I made a dress in GCSE textiles, with a lot of help, but since then I hadn’t really attempted to sew any other clothes.
About two years ago, I very confidently bought two dress patterns – a McCall’s sleeveless dress and the infamous Walk Away Dress, and immediately set about on the McCall’s pattern. One wasted weekend later I was left with a dress that could have clothed three of me, and with it being a lined bodice, I just couldn’t figure out how to make it fit me. It is still hanging in the wardrobe unfinished. I will probably hack it to pieces at some point and use the fabric to make something else. It really knocked my confidence and it was a long time before I had another go at sewing.
After being inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I bought the book which accompanied the series and had another bash. I made a top from the book which I’ve never worn. It looked alright, I’ve just always been a bit self-conscious about wearing it. I also made a skirt with an elasticated waistband. It looks OK, but an elasticated waistband really does nothing for me. I’ve worn it a couple of times, but it does make me look lumpy.
Eventually, I signed up to do a dressmaking course at my local college. I didn’t actually learn that many skills on the course, because there were a lot of us all doing different projects, so the teacher had very limited time, but more than anything it gave me the confidence to have another go. I made a grey pencil skirt. In hindsight it’s a little long for me, but I have worn it, and I was going to wear it again tomorrow, actually.
This is not the best photo, but then it isn’t a very exciting skirt!
With newfound confidence, I decided that my challenge for 2015, as well as learning to cable knit (which I haven’t done yet), was to make a wearable dress. My mum gave me a sun dress pattern from her Prima magazine which looked quite simple, so I had a go. I made it out of a cotton fabric, and despite a few faults, I was really pleased with it. The zip is a shambles, and I also managed to pull a hole in the fabric in the process of unpicking some tacks, but it is wearable. And I have worn it!
Please forgive the crappy phone pictures. I live alone (forever alone) so I don’t have a designated photographer. Maybe I’ll do an update with better photos at some point. Anyway, here is my wearable dress. TA-DAH! It’s a dress! With sleeves!
Actually the sleeves were the trickiest part, aside from the shambolic zip insertion, because it turns out I just don’t think in 3D. I pinned the sleeves in three times before I got them right, I kept pinning the wrong edge, or pinning them inside out. Such swears. Many angry.
Once I’d cranked the dress out, there was no stopping me, and I decided in a fit of excitement to turn a Marvel duvet cover I bought off eBay into a summer top. It’s basically two rectangles sewn together, and some straps. No pattern required! Hopefully it will come in handy for my upcoming Floriday (Florida holiday).
It does make me look a touch pregnant, but then that’s not exactly a challenge.
Fired up with even more sewing enthusiasm, I went into Waterstone’s and had a look at their sewing books. I absolutely fell in love with the aptly titled Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes. I couldn’t quite believe it as I flicked through the pages – I would wear every single thing in the book, so I trotted to the counter and bought it, then spent the next few evenings poring over the patterns. The projects are featured in order of expertise, so I decided to skip the beginners’ headscarf project, and go straight in with the Margot pyjama bottoms. I’m not really a wearer of headscarves, and I figured my sewing machine-wrangling was at least already up to the standard required for the Margot pyjamas.
I’m so impressed with this book. The pattern was true to size, the instructions were very clear, and there were some great tips. It would never have occurred to me to slide one PJ leg into the other in order to sew the crotch, but it worked like a dream. And so, I have ended up with some very cute cotton PJ trousers. Please forgive the scary rolls of back fat in this picture. Also, my boobs are NOT that big, I was just breathing in for all I was worth.
So, my next project will be Tilly’s gorgeous Delphine skirt, which is a little A-line number. I’ve bought some super cute red denim, which I am absolutely terrified to cut into. But cut into it I will! I will not, however, be doing an invisible zip, as the pattern asks for. I can barely do a normal zip, there is no way on this fair earth that I am capable of getting an invisible zip in yet. I know my limits. I’ve seen some other people online who did the Delphine with a regular zip, so that’s what I’m going to do, and show my zip with pride! I will post some pictures once I’ve made it….