With just 24 hours left to go before New Years Eve – a quick fix to your party wardrobe really can be turned around in a day! Sequins have appeared everywhere for the party wardrobe this winter with three of the Ilkley womenswear stores this month showcasing short sequinned skirts in their window displays. This teamed up with roll neck for day wear or a sparkly top for evening wear would clearly be the ‘must have’ update for my party winter wardrobe. The secret to the beautifully fitted sequinned garment is the stretch in the fabric to give it a really good fit. Such fabrics can be hard to source or tricky to buy on the web as you can’t necessarily tell the quality of the sequins. Indeed a quick look in Boyes to look at their stretch selection confirmed that their sequin fabrics would be more fancy dress than chic party update, but do not despair…
Ilkley is awash with charity shops, which to the home sewer should be viewed as exciting fabric stores where the opportunity to buy, alter and redesign garments are limitless. Just popping into four stores I managed to find exactly what I was looking for! Al be it a dress where the off the shoulder top was the much sought after stretch black sequinned fabric with a plain black stretch skirt. A quick shimmy in the changing room trying the garment on upside down proved there was enough room in the sequin section to fit over my hips to form a skirt and enough fabric in the black section to make an integral camisole which would assist in keeping the skirt in place and not riding up. Unpicking the garments lining and armholes, taking in the seam on my overlocker and the addition of shoulder straps meant that my new party piece was complete for a fiver.
If you don’t have the courage or the luck scouring the charity shops tomorrow – why not pop in to Attic Womenswear where the lovely Sarah and her team can help you pick one out http://atticwomenswear.com/products/samsoe-samsoe-feve-sequin-skirt or just be brave enough to bring much loved existing wardrobe pieces in your next session at The Sewing Shed for a quick party update.
December 30, 2016
This week I have welcomed new students to The Sewing Shed who have been inspired by The Great British Sewing Bee to embark on dressmaking for the first time. I thought it would be helpful to list some top tips to help demystify dressmaking, and to reinforce what new sewers have been taught in their first class.
1: Dressmaking is the term used for all clothes making, not just sewing dresses.
2: Always check that the dressmaking pattern will fit you! There are body measurements and finished garment measurements on the reverse of the packet of most good patterns. Get your tape measure out and check, don’t go by your usual high street size as these will differ by as much as 3 sizes. Above the measurements in inches is your corresponding dress sizes.
3: Why are there 2 sets of measurements; body measurements and finished garment measurements? Body measurements are your vital statistics, but it is worth measuring the finished garment measurements against your body so you can see how roomy the garment will be when finished. This is to allow for ease of movement when you are wearing the garment, but you may decide to go down a dress size for a closer fitting look.
4: The measurements are shown in inches on all patterns. Some patterns have them in metric as well – often explained in French on the right hand side of the reverse of the pattern packet. Dressmaking is traditionally in inches and it has stayed this way.
5: How much fabric will I need? Fabric is sold in 2 widths; 115cms and 150cms. Below your corresponding size, on the packet, it will tell you how much fabric you need. I suggest you take the pattern to the fabric shop and let them help you with this bit, as sometimes more is required for a bold pattern to match the pattern repeat.
6: A dressmaking pattern has many sizes inside the pattern. You need to cut out the dress size that you require. For speed though, I always roughly cut out the pattern pieces first with paper scissors, then pin the pattern really well onto the fabric placing pins parallel to the edge just inside the size you are going to cut out. Any tricky bits mark the line with a highlighter pen. Then cut accurately on the size line that you require using bent handled fabric scissors.
7. Always aline the directional arrows on your pattern pieces parallel with the selvedge of your fabric. The selvedge is the manufactured edge as it comes off the loom, often there are small pin like holes along these edges. Doing this ensures a straight grain to give the garment the correct drape. Fabric should be cut double, with the right side of the fabric folded together – the wrong side of the fabric facing out. It is helpful to mark the wrong side of the fabric with chalk crosses.
8. Always embrace pattern markings; notches and tailors tacks. Notches are the small little triangles on the edge of the pattern. Cut inwards exactly on the lines for neat accurate notches. Dots on your pattern pieces, should be marked with a tailors tack; thread a hand needle with a brightly coloured double thread, with no knot. Start on the top of the paper pattern and take the thread through the pattern and fabric layers twice as if you were doing a loop the loop on a roller coaster. Carefully pull the tack through the paper and separate the 2 fabric layers, which will take up the slack in the loops, snip the thread with a small scissors between the two layers of fabric.
9. Take all your pins out of the pattern paper, except one – so that the pattern is still attached to the fabric and the piece can be easily identified. If your garment is more than 8 pieces you should name each piece individually to limit mistakes. Low tac masking tape labelled with biro pen is useful for this.
10. Test your stitch on a scrap piece of like fabric, use a Gutterman ‘sew all’ polyester thread as this glides through the fabric and gives a strong seam. Don’t just use the stitch length that is available when you turn your sewing machine on – a mid range stitch is good for dressmaking.
December 7, 2016
Its that time of year again when students ask if I can recommend a sewing machine for them to add to their Christmas lists! I have also been known to work in cahoots with nearest and dearest, answering covert emails and the odd panic phone call. “I am in the sewing machine shop now! which one did she want?” Having established The Sewing Shed over 6 years ago, I have seen many makes and models of sewing machines. I however have the enjoyment of using Janome machines in class. The Sewing Shed is endorsed by Janome and I have the pleasure in using their lovely DXL 360 machines. This arrangement was agreed upon after careful consideration having researched the market to get the right machines for my students to use, with a brand that had an accessible range of machines.
Janome machines are robust and their motor size for the domestic sewer and build quality is excellent. All Janome machines are built with a metal body or metal internal frame and are powerful and efficient. Their price structure for a computerised machine giving you a ‘one-step’ button hole and speed control starts at just over £300.00. These really are a machine for life. They often bundled some accessories into a quilting kit for an annual promotion. And a good range of additional presser feet are available from around £17.00.
Lock stitch is a must and some mid-range machines now even have automatic under bed cutters. Please see Janomes machine buyer’s guide for further information http://janome.co.uk/brochures/sewing-machine-buyers-guide/files/assets/basic-html/index.html#1 They also have a search facility to find your local retailer on their website http://janome.co.uk/retailer-search/ . Although I highly recommend White Rose Sewing, Commercial Street in Harrogate who have an excellent range of machines lined up in price order so you can try before you buy, and they also do a selection of Overlockers too!
November 16, 2016
Much excitement in The Sewing Shed over the last few weeks with the opening of the new John Lewis store in Leeds. The destination store at the head of the new retail development Victoria Gate next to the market in Leeds has been long awaited. On my ‘birthday treat’ visit on Monday I happened across a few of my students and Mums of students who just couldn’t keep away either; admiring the beautiful new store, the carefully chosen range of quality products that John Lewis are known for, and all the JLP card holders queuing up to get their free cake and coffee. But my destination was of course the haberdashery department on the top floor.
Just the day before The Sunday Times reported in an interview with John Lewis’ new managing director, Paula Nickolds that “it is undergoing its most radical makeover in decades. Some traditional products, including hats and haberdashery, are being downgraded in favour of new services, including holidays, in-store prosecco bars and bikini waxes”. Ms Nickolds, who takes up her position in January as the store’s first female boss interestingly began her career in the store’s haberdashery section.
This prompted an immediate online backlash from customers and crafters with 5,000 signing an on line petition to protect what many see as a British Institution. The retail giant has since backed down and the department store confirms the beloved buttons will, in fact, be safe. Although the range of fabrics in the Leeds store is limited, due to floor space, I suspect – their range of equipment and gadgets is excellent with many a few items finding their way onto my Christmas list. If you want to stock up on sewing gadgets from quilting clips and tuning tools I recommend a trip, but surely what MS. Nickolds hasn’t realised is that a Prosecco bar and haberdashery department might site quite nicely together!
November 9, 2016
In the last ten days two students have asked if I can recommend a beginners project for their first encounter into patchwork. Clever beginners patchwork should start with shapes that are easy to sew together and with the use of clever cutting and re-piecing (or sewing together) they can give a dramatic and complicated finished result. A strip quilt as it is known in the UK or a Jelly roll quilt, is what our friends on the other side of the big pond call the technique is a quick and satisfying patchwork project for the novice sewer. The patchwork grows really quickly and can be used for a baby play mat (as shown below) cushion covers, table runners, lap quilt and much more!
Strip quilting is created by sewing strips of fabric together. The strips of fabric are made from the full width of the fabric, cut from selvedge to selvedge. All strips measure the same width. The strips can be cut by the patchworker or can be bought pre-cut in coordinating packs or bundles often referred to as ‘jelly-rolls’, which is where the other name for this technique comes from.
The strips are sewn together edge to edge using the same seam allowance. Three strips each measuring 8cms in width should be sewn together using a 1cm seam allowance. The three attached strips are then cut at 20cm intervals to form a 20 x 20cms square. This is repeated until you have enough squares for your completed quilt project. Two 20 x 20cm squares are sewn together rotating each square 90 degrees so that the long edge of one piece patchwork is sewn to the short ends of three other strips. One way to speed up the sewing process is to use a quarter inch foot, but I have specified above the metric equivalent as many new patchwork quilters do not possess this foot. If you are lucky to have a quarter inch foot your dimensions would be as follows;Three strips each measuring 3″ in width should be sewn together using a 1/4″ seam allowance. The three attached strips are then cut at 8″ intervals to form an 8 x 8″ square.
November 2, 2016
Could embroidery be the secret to stress relief and bonding with your colleagues? was an attention grabbing headline I found in my monthly ladies fashion magazine! The November edition of RED magazine highlights the creative threads (please excuse the pun) that companies are going to in order to find an on trend but different approach to team building days and staff bonding experiences.
The editorial team at Red Magazine embraced the talents of an accomplished sewing tutor who has set up workshops designed to revive and reconnect with their staff. They were guided through the process of creating an embroidered wall hanging to grace the communal space in the office. The question was, could an afternoon of sewing away from the pressure of their desks make them more productive and happier?
The talented tutor carefully guided the team through the process of designing their own motifs and coaxes the more tentative sewers to have a go. Many sewers are haunted by the mistakes made in school sewing lessons and this was true for some of the publications team. The author commented ‘that as adults we rarely step out of our comfort zones to learn new hobbies; in creating the embroidery each hour was new and challenging and it felt good’. They were invited to make a motif that symbolises what the magazine means to them. There was a mixture of images from awards, to cups of tea, To Do Lists and fashion icons. Their tutor commented that ‘they all had such individual responses’ which I believe resulted in an insightful afternoon but also a stunning decorative collective piece to hang in the office that was created with free motion machine embroidery and hand embroidery. One of their team commented it is a real piece if unity, strength and cohesion and gave them an opportunity to be mindful and live in the moment.
Having recently been asked to pitch for a Yorkshire based communications giant more creative ‘away days’ are clearly filtering North!
October 16, 2016
Crazy patchwork is a very easy and satisfying patchwork technique, which can use up oddments and scraps left over from previous projects. It has readily become known as a traditional technique used in quilts particularly in North American. On mentioning Crazy Patchwork it conjures up some quite hideous images of ‘home spun’ eclectic mixture of awful clashing colours and is not a technique that I would readily embrace.
However on my recent holiday to the South of France we dined at a restaurant that had these very stylish crazy patchwork embellished chairs – which I felt I just had to share with you! The final patchwork piece has been upholstered onto the chair the initial patchwork had been patched together with a sewing machine. It just goes to show that any sewing technique done well can be used as a stylish addition to grace any home.
Crazy patchwork is created by sewing fabrics together in what appears to be a haphazard crazy pattern, but this is not necessarily the case, like with all patchwork careful planning and selection of the right fabrics will ensure you are rewarded with a truly attractive piece at the end of your endeavours. Crazy patchwork panels can then be incorporated into many items of home furnishings not just quilts! To create a crazy patchwork piece first make a paper template to the dimensions of your desired panel, for example to use as a cushion cover or on a bag. Then using a pencil and ruler divide this template in to a geometric pattern to create straight edged pieces – remember to add seam allowance on to these then can be used as your pattern. Care should be taken to ensure the pieces are not to small. you also need to consider your order of work carefully to plan which pieces need to be sewn together in which order (numbering your pattern as you go) to ensure you are always sewing in straight lines.
October 13, 2016
Many students ask me to recommend a good reference sewing book for them and this is one I consider to be my sewing bible: Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. Produced for the home sewer it is still as relevant today as when it was first published in 1978. It’s still in print and you can pick one up in a national chain of newsagents/book stores that grace most UK high streets. However, I urge you to scour the bookshelves of your Mother, Granny,Great Aunt or friendly neighbour or local charity shop to save your pennies to buy beautiful fabrics instead – indeed on one online marketplace the postage was more than the cost of the book itself, so there a plenty of copies out there.
The early editions might well be a little outdated with their list of sewing essentials and fashion photographs, and of course computerised machines or overlockers don’t get a mention, but the easy to read chapters for advice and construction techniques in an intuitive order are a fail safe for a dressmaking guide. Interestingly in Pattern Size Guidelines it states ‘your patterns might not be the same as your ready to wear size. It does not matter; ready to wear and pattern sizes have no necessary relation to one another’!
There is even a chapter at the back of the book with Sewing Projects for the home including alterations and renovations. I would say however that my 1970s edition has out dated pages about Curtain making as curtain notions have somewhat moved on in the last forty years – but this is of little consequence as the quality step by step diagrammatical instructions for dressmaking techniques are superb.
If you are an enthusiastic home dressmaker I suggest you add this to your Christmas list if you don’t already own a copy!
September 23, 2016
Trending this week on Pinterest a pin that caught my eye ‘9 Websites to find affordable yet chic décor’ shows two sofas adorned with complimentary scatter cushions. This fits in beautifully with the start of a new term at The Sewing Shed, with many new students completing cushions within their first class, who have been delighted with their results.
Scatter cushions are a quick and effective item to sew to transform or update a room effectively. Just because it is home made doesn’t mean it wont look as spectacular as the ones in the Interiors magazines, indeed making your own home accessories can be an effective way of stretching your budget to updating your home. Its just a case of knowing a few good basic sewing techniques to give your soft furnishings that professional finish. Careful fabric choice and understanding the use of pattern are key, its also worth investing in new feather cushion pads – which can make for stunning accessories. Rooms can easily be updated for the seasons with the change of cushions and it can be a way of introducing pops of colour or an element of fun to any room. Think zebra fun fur cushion for a child’s jungle themed bedroom or textured fabric cushions in the bedroom for a cosy Autumn look. Try contrast fabrics to the front and back of the cushions for a designer look.
I recently employed Sturman&Co Interior designers to help bring together my bold ideas for my new living room and by making cushions in pop colours and complimentary Roman Blinds the scheme was completed with those professional finishing touches! I had scoured fabric remnant shops buying fabrics that caught my eye and venturing to well known ‘factory outlets’ to buy designer seconds at knock down prices. I am delighted with the results and my living room has even featured in regional and national press with the homemade scatter cushions in full view! www.sturmanco.com
September 14, 2016
Please accept my apology of posting this blog again (although updated) as at each cycle of six week classes I meet new students who have been home dressmakers who are confused by the range of patterns available to them – so I have updated the post for recent students and new sewers who have yet to discover the fun at The Sewing Shed.
Many students ask me, why are dressmaking patterns so varied in size? There is ONE main reason.
The high street was re-sized in the 1970s in the UK, as a better diet was developing larger female silhouettes and with different proportions of our mothers and grandmothers generations. Dressmaking patterns were not necessarily re-sized to take into account the more modern figures. This is why on the reverse of many patterns bought today we are one, two or even three sizes larger than our ‘usual’ high street dress size. This can be said for Simplicity, New Look, Burda, Vogue and Buterick.
For beginners learning dressmaking I recommend patterns that have been developed within the last five years, particularly Colette as these are more true to the dressmaking size that we are used to. There are also more artisan makers that sell at sewing shows and on line for example, Amy Butler, Sew Over It, Simple Sew and Tilly and the Buttons. I can personally vouch for Amy Butler, Colette and Simple Sew having used many of their patterns in my classes and I am in the process of stocking a carefully selected range of new artisan patterns; Colette, Sew Liberated, Made by Rae as well as bag patterns by Noodlehead and childrens patterns by Oliver + S and Made by Rae.
For all sewing patterns you should reach for the tape measure and use these measurements when deciding which size garment to make.
When sewing a garment you should be able to measure accurately, sew to this size, then the garment will fit and look like the picture on the pattern packet. Home dressmaking should not require a toile first or to need many fittings, i.e. putting the garment on and off, altering it to get the desired fit. For this reason I really would not recommend Merchant & Mills for the novice home sewer.
August 21, 2016