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Monday, 24 August 2015

Reversible Lilou Dress

Today is the start of the last fortnight of the summer holidays. It is chucking it down outside, and the sunny beachy days we spent in Devon seem like ages ago now. Luckily, we headed out into town before the rain, returning home with a massive bag full of (more) library books, and so the oldest three girls can get on with something on their own for a bit now that Charlotte is down for a sleep. There are some days when I make a point of filling the toddler free slot with something special - we've had our own attempts at Great British Bake Off, and, getting the paints out is another thing they love doing. But then, there are times when I fancy clawing back a bit of quiet time for myself during the day, and why not. 

I made this second Lilou dress a couple of weeks ago, and have been wearing it quite a lot. In fact, I have been wearing this or my Birthday Lilou Dress  rather a lot all summer. It turns out I love a dress with a bit of twirl!

After all the tweaking I did on the first version, I opted for a smaller size this time, and that has worked out nicely in terms of fit. I still shortened the straps slightly, and adjusted the position of the bust darts a little, but in general, a straight size 2 seems about right.

A Lilou made from navy blue linen has been in the  pipe line for me for a year now. I had cut it out last August, and then lost motivation to make a summer dress when the weather turned cooler. This bundle of cut pieces stayed in a cupboard as my guilty sewing secret. Enter the beautiful Anna Maria Horner voile that caught my eye when it was half price in town. I loved it, and bought a couple of metres for a dress. Once I'd made my first Lilou, I knew I wanted to make another one with the Anna Maria Horner fabric. Feeling a bit guilty about the navy linen, I had the idea to use it as lining. Hmm, but it seems a bit extravagant to use quite expensive linen for a lining. More guilt. And then. Bingo. A reversible dress. 

Here's how I tweaked things to make this dress reversible:

I cut skirt pieces for both fabrics (obvious, I know). I didn't trim the neckline of the lining (2mm trim to prevent it rolling). I did still do understitching, and opted to do this on the plain side, where I thought the stitches would be least obvious. This seems to have worked fine. When making the skirts, I was careful to treat them as two separate skirts for the pleating, as had I pleated the two fabrics as one, I would have been left with the pleats going the wrong way on one side. Once I was happy wth the pleats, I joined the skirts together, and sewed them to the navy bodice on my machine. I did it this way, because the linen was so much heavier, and I wanted the strongest set of stitching used to take the weight of the heavy fabrics. When it came to the edges, I left a seam allowance sized amount unstitched, and hand sewed the last bit, so that I could keep the two layers separate for the purpose of attaching the zip. I attached an invisible zip to the printed layer first, the reason being I wanted to match the patterns. 

The pattern matching didn't work out perfectly on the bodice, but I was pleased about the skirt! The it was time to hand sew the patterned bodice layer that was still loose to the skirts, and to hand sew the remaining linen back seam to complete the zip. After thinking about how best to make the reversible navy side zip look neat, I opted to accept I couldn't make it invisible as well, and just press and hand sew it as neatly as possible. Maybe if this had been planned to be reversible from the start, I would cut a little extra fabric on each side of the centre seam, to allow some sort of zip flap..? 

How is it possible that this still looks so crumpled after ironing?!
The other thing I'd watch out for more carefully next time round is accuracy over the hem. Both the skirts need to be exactly the same length, unless you want to make a point of say having the plain side showing slightly beneath the patterned one, which might look nice? I kicked myself for rushing this final part of the make - since the photos in the garden were taken, I have unpicked, ironed and carefully remeasured and hand sewn both hems. You can still see a little bit of the patterned fabric in the photo above, so I think a bit more adjustment is needed. You might also notice the length is shorted - that's entirely down to me carelessly ripping through some fabric during the process of correcting the hem - argh!!! As I prefer the patterned side, I might be lazy and leave the final tweaking job until the autumn, when the option of the navy with a tshirt underneath becomes an option I lean towards more often. 

I wore the dress patterned side out to the seaside last week, and I was happy to discover that the flimsy voile didn't result in any flashing whatsoever, thanks to being anchored by the heavy linen. I was able to walk along a breezy cliff top and not worry about flashing my knickers to the world. 

If you've got any tips on making things reversible, I'd love to hear them. 

All that's left for me to say is a thank you to my young photographers. Bye!

Friday, 14 August 2015

The pattern that changed my life

This month, I'm having a little dabble in Rachel's #sewphotohop on Instagram.

My favourite Coco.
I will weap (and hopefully find fabric to make another) when this top eventually dies a death...
It's working out to be a fun way of connecting with some of the other sewists out there, get a bit inspired, marvel at how different we are and yet how much we have in common, and, to be reminded once again how utterly lovely the online sewing community is.

Another favourite, usually worn with my red skinny jeans.
The fabric for both tops came from Kitschycoo.
One theme last week got me thinking - the pattern that changed my life. Hum... What would it be, I wondered? There have been so many things I have loved making, for different reasons. Could it be the coat I made earlier in the year - this was a big challenge and marked a big leap up in new sewing skills learned as a result. Or, how about my most recent make, the Lilou dress - which, made me realise how sewing could not only open up the possibility of gorgeous dresses at an affordable price, but, that upon wearing it, how flattering and good it made me feel, and how surprisingly comfortable it was for everyday wear.

Damn. That was another Kitschycoo fabric I couldn't resist in a late night fabric shopping spree (and no, this post is not sponsored!)
Then, I remembered. There was an obvious choice to be had - the Coco, of course.  Tilly's ever popular pattern marked a turning point for my own wardrobe, in that, for the first time, I realised I could sew the kind of clothes I wanted to wear every day. There was a real buzz amongst the online sewing community when this pattern was released - I totally got sucked into it, and before I knew it, I'd made several Cocos, both the tunic and the breton top style. At the last count, I have enough for a different Coco for each day of the week. The tops are perfect for wearing with jeans, and we all know that the dress just feels like you are wearing a nightie, right?

Sunshine Coco - made with Roma Pont from Guthrie Ghani, and, has my all time favourite sewing thing, Jumbo Ric Rac.
This version below is the only one where I stuck to classic breton stripes, and er, as some will spot, I quite blatantly took inspiration from Tilly's own mustard coloured pockets to add a bit of colour. Not one bit sorry.

As far as the sewing goes, this pattern was the one that made me realise that DIY clothing from jersey was achieveable. Using my normal sewing machine fitted with a ball point needle (and a twin needle if I felt like going all out on the professional looking stakes with some double stitched hems), it became possible to make an entire garment from start to finish in just a matter of hours. Hurrah to that!

When it comes to my the sewing courses I teach from my home in Bedford, I only ever choose things that I like to make myself. It won't come as a surprise, then, that when I sat down to plan out courses for the coming term, the Coco was high on my list. How could it not be? And, well... I may just need to make a new one as a sample...

There will be five places up for grabs on this course. Although the pattern is beginner friendly as a first adventure into garment making, I'd strongly recommend you have some sewing experience under your belt beforehand. This course is ideal for those who have been on my Complete Beginners' Course, and want to branch out into DIY wardrobe fun.

Alongside the Coco, I'll be bringing back the ever popular Complete Beginners' Course, and, running a second Megan dress-making course, after the success of the first one back in the spring.

Whether you're brand new to sewing, or, want to brush up and challenge yourself to start making clothing, there's hopefully something that might tempt you to join me this autumn. There'll be plenty of tea and yummy homemade cake, as usual.

Oh. And did I mention Liberty Knicker Making Workshops that will be popping up on a couple of Friday nights? How could I forget.

All the course and workshop date are here should you fancy booking yourself onto something nice to do when the nights are drawing in a bit.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Birthday Lilou Dress

There are only a couple of days until the summer holidays begin for us here in Bedford - I am so looking forward to them! The last few weeks of term have been chocablock with activity - a lot of them revolving around watching my children doing stuff, and, a lot of sewing based things, including
workshops and classes, and, a knicker making birthday party for me.

Birthday knickers, using Liberty tana lawn Alice in Wonderland collection
I made myself a dress in time for my birthday. Not thinking I'd ever find time to make a Lilou, as somehow the amount of effort I perceived to be involved seemed too much for me to want to begin the make, I tried a different approach.

I decided I would break the sewing up into little chunks of time. Half an hour here, an hour there... even a couple of early morning sessions in the days when the bright sunshine woke me long before the rest of the family needed me. Actually, I found this slot really satisfying - a calm and quiet house, I'd woken up naturally, and it felt great to opt to use the time to do something for myself.

So. The dress, I used the Tilly and the Buttons Lilou pattern, from Love At First Stitch. I've been meaning to make one for over a year now, but, as already mentioned, never quite found the motivation.

The pattern is for a lined bodice, although I opted to fully line the skirt, too. I really like the extra fullness this gives the finished dress.

I cut a size 3, and took a risk not to make a toile first. This worked out alright in the end... but a lot of unpicking and adjusting happened along the way. I moved the bust darts up about a centimetre or so, and the waist darts in a little bit. I also took 1.5cm off the shoulders. All this improved the final fit a lot - it still isn't perfect, but I am happy enough with it. I think I really should have remeasured myself at the start of the process, rather than rely on the measurements I had taken a year ago when I first thought about making this dress!

On a measuring and ever changing body shape note, I have recently been fitted for new bras - the first time since having my fourth baby (who has just turned 2) - and let's just say that was a pretty sobering experience, huh? Still, focus on the positive and all that, and, remind self that I am not defined by my ability to look anything like I did ten years ago.

I roped in my middle two girls to be my photographers on this occasion. This was not without the predictable attempts to photo bomb and squabble about who should be taking the pictures.

The making was coming together so nicely. I had inserted the invisible zip with it looking pretty darn invisible, and was thinking about hemming, when I spotted the back of the bodice had a strange twisting on one side. You would wonder why on earth I had not spotted my glaringly obvious mistake sooner, but I had somehow managed to sew the right hand back bodice lining round the wrong way - that is, the side seam was where the zip was. Argh.

Three hours of careful unpicking and remaking later, and the dress was back on track. As I often say to my beginners who come to my sewing lessons, your mistakes are often your best lessons - I won't be making that one again!

I have worn this a few times now - and really love swishing about in it! For someone who has a waist two sizes bigger than her bust and hips, this makes me feel very feminine shape wise, all thanks to that lovely full pleated skirt.

I have got plans to make another two of these - one in a navy linen, and another in some lush Anna Maria Horner voile I got half price in Beales in town. Now that I have put in all the effort with fitting, and know how much I like wearing this style of dress, the prospect of making more is really appealing.

Before I can return to dressmaking, I have some sewing requests to come good on. Three more hats, like the one Charlotte is sporting.

Can't say I blame them - I was half thinking about making myself a rainbow sunhat, so can totally see the appeal it has for little people. So much colour and fun. Sunshine, I dare you not to come out with these hats about. Actually I take that back. Please shine. We have plans of things to do, involving picnics in the parks, bikes rides, plenty of ice cream eating and sandcastles. Oh, and squeal inducing swimming in the sea. Yes. Bring on the sunshine and the summer holidays.

Happy summer, lovely readers!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Yes, I used my dress making scissors to cut my own fringe (again)

Hello. How is it Friday evening already? Half term almost over. The house is a bomb site, but, it has been a pretty relaxing week for us all, featuring a couple of looooong games of Monopoly and a couple of viewings of the film Oliver (followed by all the songs being sung all the time).

This week, I also gave in and admitted to myself that the professional looking photos I have been picturing in my head, of me modelling this latest dress (in a non awkward looking manner) in the beautiful lush surrounds of the natural meadows at Bedford Park were never going to happen. 

What you are about to see instead are pictures taken by my older two girls, in my vegetable patch (still called Gertie, in case regular readers are wondering). They balanced the camera on a stool and argued about who should take the photos. I look awkward, of course.

Before I talk about the dress, let's have a word about how Gertie is, shall we? This has been an exciting month. After what has seemed like a long waiting period, peering at the soil and wondering will the seeds work or won't they, more or less everything has burst into life. I am most excited about the strawberry plants. We might actually get some fruit from them this year!

The eldest girl can be smug for two reasons. Not only has the lupin she planted last year made an appearance back again, but, her sweet pea is the first out of all the flower seeds planted this year to produce a flower. This makes her happy. 

So, here is the dress. I know - after putting some lippy on to make an effort for these pics, I am still a rubbish model, but, I really like my new dress, so what the heck, eh?

When Funkifabrics contacted me to ask if I'd like to have some fabric to review, this was the one that leapt out at me - it is called Poppy Meadow, and looks exactly like a real life meadow. I adored the combination of colours so much that I decided to take a brave leap and make an entire dress out of it.

The fabric is 80% Polyester and 20% Elastane, and as a result hangs really nicely. The Sew Over It Cowl Dress came to mind, and I set about slinging it into the washing machine to get it ready for sewing.

TS189 Poppy Meadow
Poppy Meadow
Funkifabrics digitally print fabric designs to order, and I'll be honest and say that the chemical whiff that came off the fabric when it arrived made me a bit dubious. I needn't have worried, as this disappeared after one wash. Since making the dress, I have worn and washed it several times, and am really impressed with the quality of the fabric and how vibrant the colours have remained. It feels good on, and, earns extra brownie points for being impossible to crease - hurrah! (I bet I am not the only one this will apply to, but this massively increases how often I wear something, as it won't get lost inside the airing cupboard, awaiting ironing...)

As for the pattern, I like that, too. Just like the Tilly and the Buttons Coco, Sew Over It need congratulating for designing a dress that feels like you are wearing a nightie. People may look at you and see a dress and think you are making an effort above and beyond the mum uniform of jeans and a top, when actually, the guilty secret is that when pushed for time getting four children out of the house to school, this thing takes seconds to throw on with a pair of sandals.

Now, talking of my four lovely children, how many of them do you think shared my excitement at noticing the lettuces are ready to be munched inside a cheese and ham sandwich? Yep. You guessed about right. I am so excited by the sight of these lettuces, though. Aren't they beautiful? Just amazing to think they grow all by themselves, with one teeny tiny little seed. I felt the need to remark several times over how they reminded me of the taste of the lettuces my grandparents used to grow when I was little. They are a pain to clean though, and that also reminded me of seeing my grandmother rinsing leaves in the sink.

Here's my rocket, which is the only other thing ready to eat now. And it grows so blooming fast! I was wondering what to do about the fact it is getting a bit too tall and stemy, but I think I have figured out the answer for myself now, which is, to be a bit more brutal wen picking it. I'd been picking leaves only, up until yesterday, but now have taken to picking half way down the stem, and also pinching out the beginnings of flowers. If you have any tips on rocket, I'd love to hear them!

Sophie's first sweet pea flower
There's enough of this fabric left for a second pair of Fehr Trade Duathlon Shorts. As I've been happily wearing my toucan ones for a few weeks now, I think it is about time to treat the other park users to a different feast of colour, don't you? I am excited to be told that Funkifabrics have plans to produce technical sports fabrics and are working with Melissa (from Fehr Trade patterns) on this. Watch this space...

Monday, 25 May 2015

Sorry tired old black multi-pack pants. You have just been replaced by something prettier.

Psst! I'm having a couple of pant making workshops - Friday 19th and 26th June. There are a couple of places left - click here to grab yourself one of them... 

Hello, everyone.

A fortnight of homemade pants
The Bank Holiday is drawing to an uneventful close here - girls happily in bed, following an extended `use Daddy as a hair dressing guinea pig' session after their bath, and now for some rubbish TV, as I try and cope with the horror of realising there is currently no cake or chocolate in the house (how did I let that happen?).

Have you been participating in Me Made May this year? I have, and the first of the personal challenges I set myself was to replace my tired old pants with some pretty new handmade ones.

Allow me to bore you with the background to how I ended up sat on my sofa on a Bank Holiday Monday night, telling you about the drawer full of pants I have recently made.

Having teetered between thinking that making your own undies was a sure sign you have way too much time on your hands, and only for people who have not heard of M&S, and secretly feeling jealous of those that produce their own, and wanting to have a go at making some myself. I am not sure when the thought first came to me - I had my conscience pricked about the notion of factory mass produced pants a couple of years back, at the time of Mary Portas launching her British produced brand, Kinky Knickers. Then, as I read about another ethical brand - Who Made Your Pants - and the idea of subscribing to a year of beautiful undies made by women who were properly paid for their work, I came close to signing up... but, well, the joy/curse of being able to sew reared its head. I could just make my own. That was about a year ago, and I have remained in a knicker stale mate (not wanting to give in and buy any because I will one day make my own) until Me Made May came along. As I tend to wear stuff I've made most days anyway, I thought commiting myself to come good on this intention would be a good challenge.

So, how have I got on, I hear you ask?

It was exactly two weeks ago that I made my first pair. Unable to sleep for hours on end, I decided a sensible thing to do would be to get out of bed at 5.45am and start making a pair of pants. I had the things - pattern, fabric and elastic - lined up ready to go beforehand, so it was just a case of giving in to my lack of sleep, opting to plod downstairs, fill the kettle for a cup of tea and use the time to do something I'd been wanting to do. Thinking my first pair might not be brilliant, I used a scrap of leftover fabric and told myself it would become a practise pair. 

I am going to say it now. Making knickers - especially ones with elephants on them - is a joyful activity! And, even though it was a rainy morning, and I was feeling knackered after a night of insomnia, I could not help but grin with delight as we left for the school run. And, much to the embarrassment of my eldest girl, I could not help myself, and told a couple of school mum friends what I was wearing under my jeans. Not one bit sorry about this. If you are wondering what the rest of the fabric had been used for, it was a romper for Charlotte, ages ago.

Well, I think I may have found a new sewing obsession/love.

My undies drawer post clear out. It will never be this tidy again.
Knickers are relatively quick to make, once you have a pattern you like and have got the hang of how to apply the elastic evenly. After my first few, self drafted pairs based on existing knickers I own, I used Zoe's free pattern and instructions for all the rest. Super. If like me, you've been hesitating over this area of sewing, I can heartily recommend going for it. I tried out various types of knicker elastic, and liked some more than others, in terms of ease of use and overall finished effect. Practist, practise, practise was my mantra, and boy has this latest sewing adventure given me more respect for factory workers who turn out dozens of perfect pairs a day. Pleasingly, I have found that even the pairs that I made and thought were a bit uneven and ropey looking, are actualy a lot better and perfectly functional once on me. Who would have known?!

Zoe's pattern is for jersey use - and the favourite I found was Robert Kaufman in anchors and spots, both from Fabric Rehab. Who can not feel happy when wearing those prints all over their bum?! I had more mixed luck with my shopping at English Couture Company, where I gleefully ordered lots of different elastics, and also popped a metre each of stretchy satin in mint green and some cotton black jersey. That mint green choice will be a reminder of the need to feel fabric before you buy, as it is never going to be worn against my skin. Hey ho, eh?

My pant making spree did not stop with pants for myself. With my husband out on Friday night, I got a couple of sewing friends, Emily and Imogen, round for some chocolate and wine fuelled pant making. We know how to party! You can check out our happy faces at the end of our making session on my Instagram if you want more evidence of why making pants is good for you, he, he.

I have tried making other types of pants, too, now. Like these ones above, using Liberty lawn. Because the fabric doesn't stretch in the same way, these are easier for beginners to make - and, require an initially alarmingly large looking pattern for your size pre sewing the elastic in. I think I have room for a few more pairs of pretty pants in my life (I am secretly hoping to venture to Liberty for an hour or so during a family day out in half term, if that happens...). There is no denying the pyscological benefits of opening my undies drawer to be greeted by the colourful sight of my selection of homemade pants, versus the depressing sorry looking pile of faded black ones that have now been chucked in the bin.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Middle Girl's birthday present

It was the Middle Girl's birthday last weekend. She'd asked for a stunt scooter. Oh. Dear. God. Whilst the thought of the damage she could potentially inflict on herself on such a thing fills me with the kind of dread all parents will no doubt relate to, this gift request sums her up. Her bright blue and shiny aluminium speed machine has already given her a fair amount of fun on the school run, and I know she is plotting some fun on ramps at the park when the weekend comes round again. 

I love giving my girls something Mummy Made when it's their birthday. They know this, and, they know that (along with Christmas) is it an occasion when I am open to requests and willing to indulge them in (almost) whatever I can attempt to produce on my sewing machine.

The Middle Girl has been having gymnastics lessons since the start of the year. We signed her up, thinking it would suit our sofa leaping, handstand/headstand/cartwheeling child. Being absolutely honest, I'd hoped that this would give her a space to practise all her energetic antics, and reduce the amount of crazy stunts attempted in our living room. It hasn't. But, she absolutely loves going to gym. It is her thing that she does, and (perhaps not insignificantly) that her sisters don't.

I had held off buying her the proper gear - the class she goes to has plenty of kids wearing leggings and tshirts, alongside those kitted out in shiny leotards, so I thought it wouldn't do her any harm to wait a while.

As her birthday approached, I started to make noises that this might be something we could buy her as a present.

Toucan fabric from Funkifabrics
I have recently discovered Funkifabrics - they specialise in brightly coloured designs on stretchy fabric - and this is partly what inspired my latest birthday present sewing adventures. 

The first thing that hit me when I looked at the designs was how vibrant they all were. Because Funkifabrics prints to order, there are squillions of eye poppingly exciting designs to choose from. (Think child in a sweetie shop.) Almost too much choice if such a thing is possiible - I refined my search criteria to just a few categories that I thought would appeal as potential dress making material. 

I have a few favourites that have made it to my mental short list (ready to go back and buy once my existing fabric stash has shrunk a bit).

I might start with a copy cat pair of running tights, like Scruffy Badger.*

 RUB544 Peacock Green

I would like a dress out of this fish fabric.

RUB725 Underwater Green

I can definitely picture either Skater Dresses or some leggings for my girls in the cow print. 

FLO201 Cow Print Black White

I lingered over this zebra print for a long time, picturing a Skater Dress for myself made out of it.

TS217 Zebra Dazzle

And then this tropical toucan kitsch gloriousness caught my eye. Although I had originally planned to make a dress for myself out of it, once it arrived, the colours were so vibrant and the overall design so much fun that I knew it would make the perfect leotard for my budding gymnast. 

I couldn't keep this gift idea as a complete surprise, as, once I'd bought a pattern, it was obvious I needed to take quite a few careful body measurements. The leotard was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the pattern - it was under a fiver, and it came with good instructions, and saved me a load of guess work compared to a vague plan I had of tracing a pattern from an old ballet outfit. Hurrah for the internet.

As for the finished leotard - it has been judged a Big Success by my most particularly tricky customer. She loved the toucan on her tummy, and was chuffed to head off to gymnastics in her new leotard, knowing no one else would have one like it. It has held up to a lot of stretching and leaping about, and the colours have stayed nice and vibrant after a second run through the washing machine.

High on the success of making a garment I would have previously thought too tricky to try, I fleetingly considered offering to make some for the rest of the gymnastics class members. And then... well, I got a grip. There are a lot of other things left to sew. For me.

In the meantime, a big thank you to Funkifabrics for generously giving me my choice of fabric to review. As already stated, I'll definitely be back for more.

*I did copy Scruffy Badger. Only with toucans. Well, I couldn't let my Middle Girl have them all to herself. Did they make me run faster? Oooo, yes! Ahem. I mean no. But I love them all the same, and, more importantly, they did not fall down once during my four mile run. Check out my Instagram feed to see what they look like.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

#NotJustAnotherNotebook update

As I sat down to sew my latest notebook order, it occurred to me it has been quite a while since I've posted an update on how things are going on the charity sewing front. Oops!

I am still feeling the notebook love. I like it when people give me specific things to go on, as this allows me to challenge myself to design them a notebook that will really suit the taste of the person it is for, and, I hope, be something that is treasured.

This notebook is a birthday gift, from one best friend to another. The lady in question has a black cocker spaniel (called George) and loves vintage style. The words were chosen for her by her friend when she contacted me.

I'm bored of blogging monthly updates about every single notebook. So, I'll stop by every once in a while and give you a peek of what's happening, and a gentle nudge to say I'd love you to bear my little project in mind when thinking of what to give loved ones for birthdays. 

This is notebook number 61. Wow. Thank you to every single person who has trusted me to make them something they will like. And, for helping raise a whopping £818.75 for WaterAid and The Salvation Army. 

Funnily enough, I got a phone call from a lady at The Salvation Army just a while ago - she wanted to tell me about the effort the charity is putting into supporting victims of human trafficking. Crikey. That is a million miles from my world of pretty vintage fabrics. 

If you'd like to see all the notebooks as they are made, you can follow the making here - come and say `hello' on Instagram. Bye bye for now.