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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Too Cool for School Satchel

If there was a Sewing Top Trumps, this bad boy wins the tedious cutting out points hands down. I thought that last week's Granville shirt was annoying for the preparation, but it turns out a satchel is worse.


Moaning about preparation stages out of the way, I flipping loved the actual sewing. Like the shirt I made, this is another seemingly complex thing to make, that rewards you with a nice big fuzzy glow of `I made that!' satisfaction at the end. There was a distinct moment, as I was sewing the pocket, with its newly attached tabs and buckles, to the front of the satchel, when I thought, `Yes, I like this a lot.' I had intended to give it to someone as a gift, and now, well, you know. Maybe. Maybe not.


Cutting out and interfacing sorted, I did the bulk of the sewing in an evening (admittedly a long one). At the end of the evening, I hung the satchel up on the hall way hooks, and went to bed. Each daughter made very nice comments about it when they came down the stairs for breakfast the next day. The biggest girl said she would really like one, and, the middle girl wasted no time in telling her that it was her birthday first so she would just have to wait. Oh. The love between them. I shall either have to refuse to make any more, or, prepare myself to make four more.


The design comes from Lisa Lam's A Bag for all Seasons. I hadn't made a bag in ages - clothes have become more my sewing of choice. Lisa Lam's patterns first inspired me to get back into sewing as a grown up - I'm always recommending her books to newbies on my courses, because of how clearly she takes readers through each process, and so it was enjoyable to return to one of her designs.


I have chosen this as my next new course round my kitchen table - and so this particular version can act as my sample, until I decide whether to own it myself or give it away.

My fabric choice was really influenced by a desire to show off the satchel's design details - I went for small polka dots because the scale suited those little tabs. The finished satchel is on the small side, and so big prints would be lost here. Another thing to avoid is directional prints - the satchel has one big piece that forms the back and front flap, and so you would be forced to either have your design upside down on the back, or, to cut the piece in two and live with an extra join towards the top on the back of the bag. This is not something I want to compromise over, so I will continue to avoid directional prints in any future versions I decide to make.

I sometimes look at the list of additional materials needed for bags like this, and think it can seem a bit off-putting - the different technical bits and pieces involved can be expensive and sometimes hard to source. I switched Lisa's recommended double sided interfacing for single sided, which was easier to find and did the trick well enough when it came to giving an extra bit of stiffness to the satchel. I also rebelled and left out the optional rivets on the side tabs. I don't know about you, but anything involving rivets or metal poppers causes far too much swearing for my liking, and if I can avoid the need for them I will.

no rivets here
The tabs and flaps were pretty fiddly to turn out and required a certain amount of patience - a blunt large knitting needle was really handy for easing a nice pointy point without skewering through the fabric (and causing more swearing). Also essential, were super sharp little scissors, and pinking shears for clipping those seams nice and close, prior to turning. But, as already mentioned, the sight of those finished top stitched tabs pleased me such a lot, that all the fiddling about was worth it.


So, my take on satchel making is that it is a tricky customer, but worth the effort. It isn't the fast food of sewing, in terms of time or cost of making, but definitely lives up to the investment and love you put in as far as sense of achievement and the potential for gratifying `Yes, I really did make it' moments go. I have gone from irritation at the cutting and ironing on of interfacing, to joyful sewing, and toying with making one in every colour, just because I can.


Thanks to my friend, Rachael, for happily letting me use her lovely bookshop (Rogan's Books, Castle Road, Bedford) as the back drop for these photos. Isn't it lovely? 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A very flowery shirt and the benefits of making something twice

Here is my first make of the year - a Granville shirt. It is very flowery, isn't it?!


I made it using Liberty tana lawn (I most definitely have a thing for these prints) and finished it off with some fun looking buttons I found in Fabric World by the bus station. For fun, read childlike. But I like them and think they work well with the flowers to give this shirt a very happy vibe.


I am wearing it today with skinny black jeans, brown Fly boots and, a vest underneath (how very sensible, no?), and it is working well to combat the winter drudge. Wearing this shirt, and glancing down at the beautiful colours in the flowers is making me feel super cheerful on a grey day.


Once you get past the silly amount of pieces there are to cut out (some of them upside down in my case, but who is looking closely at my back, eh?), there is a lot to love in making a shirt. I found myself thoroughly enjoying all the different stages of constructing this. I cannot decide whether I liked making the collar or the plackets on the sleeve best. I am pretty pleased about how the inside looks, all thanks to the over locker my mum gave me for my birthday a few years ago (the photo above is totally for her benefit!).


Learning how a seemingly complex garment like this is constructed is not only fascinating, but also deeply satisfying, too, when you realise you can make it from scratch with your own hands and find yourself feeling joyful as it comes together.


I can heartily recommend making a shirt like this in Liberty tana lawn - it behaves so beautifully when you come to iron the different corners in place and end up with nice crisp results. I half wish I hadn't waited for the second version to use the expensive material, as I think this is what helped make it look so much nicer than my first.


For me, this shirt is a great example of why it is worth making something more than once. My sewing has improved because I understood the instructions and processes better second time round. My last version has hardly been worn because of the sleeves being too long, and I have lacked the motivation to change them. This time round, I shortened the body by a couple of inches, as well as the sleeves. The joy of sewing something for yourself is getting the perfect fit, and I feel this version has achieved just that.


I'm pretty proud of the overall result and want to make another - partly to see if I can improve a bit more next time, and, also because there are many many more lovely prints to enjoy finding buttons for and turning into shirts that make me smile.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Fabric shopping to Goldhawk Road

Hello friends.



January needs something to perk it up a bit, doesn't it?

I have just finished a project, and am pondering what to make next.

I have checked and double checked that Mark can be on Daddy Duty for the day, written this in Sharpie pen on my new kitchen calendar,  and, even made sure there are no annoying engineering works on the trains, so it must be happening...


Fabric shopping to Goldhawk Road
Saturday 30th January 

Meet at 9.30 am  at Bedford Station, or, 11.30 am outside Classic Textiles (1 minute walk from Goldhawk Road tube)

If you haven't been to Goldhawk Road before, this place is every bit as exciting for me as the sweet shop in town is for my girls. Prepare to be a bit excited and overwhelmed by the amount of fabric shops and the vast amount of goodies to be had. If you want my advice, set yourself a budget, get cash out and try and stick to that - this place is so tempting!

I am going to have a think about what I'd like to make over the next few months, ponder a few patterns, and then look forward to a fun day out, stocking up on plenty of supplies.

I know a few of the girls from my recent courses, and, other Bedford sewing buddies are already keen to come shopping for the day - if anyone else reading fancies it and is in a position to get to London for the day, then it'd be lovely to see you there and make some new sewing friends. I'll try and get the low down on a nice place to go and eat and drink - there was a nice bar a bunch of us went to last time, but I can't remember the name of it, so if you have any recommendations, I'm all ears.

Who is coming?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The basic phone experiment

About a month ago, my smartphone randomly stopped working. A day later, I wandered into the phone shop - I had excellently timed it for lunchtime, meaning, I ended up waiting for over half an hour to be seen, with my toddler side kick at my heels. During the wait, I made a decision.

I'm not going to bother with smartphones for the time being.

For a while, I had known the smartphone wasn't necessarily a good thing. Or, more to the point, my overuse of it wasn't good. So, I browsed the shelves of the phone shop (I had plenty of time whilst waiting my turn in the queue) and picked up a basic phone for £10, and, when my turn finally came, asked the girl behind the counter if I could switch to that whilst the smartphone was being fixed.

I'm okay with the fact I am still waiting for a call to say my smartphone is ready to be collected. I don't want it back. Now, the claim I am about to make is not exactly scientific - lots of things may have interfered with the results of the basic phone experiment - Christmas (and the awesome ham that came with it) being one big factor, but here goes anyway.

No longer having a smartphone has had a profound impact on my personal happiness.

It dawned on me this morning that I would feel fine flinging my smartphone into the river (if the shop ever gets back to me). I don't want it back.

The basic phone does what I need it to, which is, to be contactable in an emergency. And, by that, I mean the sort of phone call all parents dread getting to say that something bad has happened to their child. Oh, and to be able to text friends when one of us is running late. It is strange to think that my children are growing up with no concept of needing to stick to the time and place you said you'd meet your school friend at the weekend when you made the original plan at school to go to Woolworths to buy singles and pick and mix together at the weekend. And, that they will probably never use a red phone box to call home.

So that's it. I'm not going to go on and on about the evils of smartphones. Just wanted to say that for me, I am so much happier not owning one.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The year mum made us a bunny rucksack and that pink elephant costume


Each year I ask my daughters what they'd like me to make them for Christmas. I try my best to make whatever they ask me for - I know they won't always want handmade presents, and, I really, really enjoy the process. It makes me feel good to be able to sew something special - in my head, I hope that they will remember these things about their childhood more than (or as well as) how much I shouted.

This year, the Middle Girl had put some effort into coming up with a challenge for her mum. I'd like a three dimensional elephant costume, she said. Oh, and I want the elephant to be pink, and wearing a pink tutu. Really? Yes, really. I waited a couple of weeks before doing anything about this, and yes, she really did still want me to make it, please.
Paul's Series 3 Sewing Bee creation
I took the easier path and bought the latest Sewing Bee book, Fashion With Fabric, as I knew it had a pattern for the elephant costume Paul made during Series 3. It was probably seeing the programme earlier in the year that had planted the idea in my daughter's head.  She wanted her elephant trunk to be positioned in the middle of the face (the Sewing Bee version has the trunk under the chin of the child, an arguably more sensible design for children who value being able to breathe easily). I made this adjustment by sewing elastic either side of the trunk and attaching it to the hood. I am pretty glad we did, as the hood seemed prone to slipping off the back of the head before I changed the design a bit. I used boning to give structure to the ears, but they don't stand out as nicely as the one in the book appears to. The client has already helpfully suggested I could make some adjustments to remedy this - ha! 


The five year old asked me to her this bunny rucksack. And a hat to match. Both were based on patterns in the Oliver and S Little Things to Sew book. I recycled the wrap from my wedding to make these things. Cutting something associated with such a special occasion may seem ruthless to some, but I am not that sentimental over stuff that sits in cupboards for years on end. I wasn't feeling all that motivated for a lot of the making process on this, largely because of the mess the cut pieces of fur made throughout the house. Once the zip was sewn, and I started making facial features for the bunny, I started to love the thing I was making. I was making this during a sociable sewing night with friends round - I've got my pal Emily to thank for the inspiration behind crochet features and giving the bunny eyelashes. One of the things I love so much about making stuff is the way that is sort of evolves into something unique, that, you didn't even necessarily have a picture of in your mind at the beginning. 

I was really excited about giving these gifts to my little girls, and happily, their gleefulness upon opening them didn't disappoint. Both girls wore them to the park on Christmas day. Happy times. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

New dress joy and brightening up winter coats

If I had to sum up my week so far in a word, it would be tantrums. Terrible twos, anyone?

Sewing lessons and workshops have been a welcome change, once the evening comes. It is a weird but true fact, that, whilst natural instinct might be to flop on the sofa and drink wine or eat chocolate, spending time sewing really helps me unwind. A lot of the ladies who come to my classes say the same thing - they reach the end of our couple of hours together, and comment on what a relaxing form of escapism sewing has given them.

Collette's new dress joy
Last night, I had the dress making gang round for a final session, to insert invisible zips and finish off their dresses. I just had to share a couple of pictures here - there were some lovely moments of new dress joy, phone numbers being swapped and talk of sociable sewing nights amongst the group by the end of the evening.

Charlotte's self-drafted Peter Pan collar
It would be fair to say I'd happily steal any of last night's finished dresses for my own wardrobe. I particularly adored the addition of the Peter Pan collar on Charlotte's dress - a stroke of genius on her part, that totally lifted the dress from the ordinary into the designer, I think! I like her method for cutting out and showing where the seam allowance is and the cutting line tabs. She has plans to make a matching black belt, with her grandmother's sparkly buckle in the middle.

brightening up winter coats
Tonight is the Sewing Bee workshop I'm holding at the cake shop round the corner. I would be lying if I said I wasn't thinking gleefully about an evening catching up and sewing with people, and eating scrumptious cake, whilst my husband Mark puts our four girls to bed.

We are going to be making these festive looking brooches. I've got lots of colour and fabric combinations ready for people to choose - including a range of Liberty prints for those who really want a splash of colour on their coats. 

They are simple enough to make in an hour (make that a couple of hours, if you are gossiping and eating cake). Here is how:

1. Sketch a leaf shape. Mine measures 5 cm at the straight base, and is 7.5 cm high. Cut ten in your main fabric and another 2 or 4 in your leaf fabric.

2. Right sides together, hand sew or machine round the two curved edges of two leaf shapes. Keep your stitches small, and chop the tip of the leaf/petal off once finished. I use double thread that I have run through beeswax for hand sewing - it works wonders with preventing knots and tangles, and makes the thread stronger.

3. Turn the leaf/petal out the right way, poking it gently at the tip, and then gently easing it out from the right side with a pin.

4. Fold the leaf/petal in half, and sew a small dart, about 0.5 cm from the fold and about 2.5 cm long.

5. Once you made all the petals, fan them into a circle, and stitch them together. As for what to put in the middle, the brooch on the left, has a covered large marble at the centre. I did this using a square of fabric bunched round the marble and sewn securely in place. I then arrange the petals around it, and just kept sewing pin stab stitches until everything was securely in place. The alternative to this, is to sew large or lots of little buttons in the middle - whatever you like. 

6. Add a leaf or two to the back of the flower.

7. Take two felt circles - sew a brooch pin through both layers, and then stitch this to the back of the flower, going all round the edge with small over sewing stitches. This stage is a good time to add a few extra tiny little pin stab stitches through the petals to check everything is nicely held in place.

Ta-dah! Make a few more in front of the TV, and enjoy having happy little flowers to brighten up your coat on a grey wintry day.



Sunday, 29 November 2015

Red Riding Hood Cape


I haven't been writing many blog posts lately. There's no big reason for it - it just feels like life has moved on, and the urge to write just isn't there so much any more. Ironically, just as I am ignoring my blog, my eldest is starting one of her own, albeit for a temporary amount of time, to write about a project she's doing with her sisters in the run up to Christmas.

I've still been sewing for myself, and teaching my classes - most recently, I've made my first Granville shirt, and I have just finished a couple of courses, both of which have been a lot of fun. I had another Complete Beginners' Course, which I always enjoy, as you get to see the pure gleefulness and pride people have when they sew something for the first time. And, a dressmaking course, I was helping four ladies make Megan dresses. I'd been slightly nervous in the run up to this one  - knowing one reason the ladies had signed up was to get help on fitting, doubts started to pop into my head about whether I'd be helpful enough in getting four people with different shaped and sized bodies to my own to the point of having something they loved to wear. This week, they all reached a point where their dresses fit and they look really lovely in them. With just the zips left to do, I've invited them all back for an extra session, so there is no danger of anyone's dress being left in an unfinished heap and forgotten about as Christmas approaches. 

I feel tremendously lucky to spend a couple of evenings a week teaching sewing. It never feels like work - nice people, fun stuff to do, and cake. This week, I'm having a sewing night at the cake shop round the corner from where I live - a sort of celebration and thank you to all the people who have been on my courses this year, and an excuse to catch up and chat over some hand sewing. Also, there's going to be another one of my knicker making nights on Friday - something that always provides a lot of fun as we sew ourselves some undies out of pretty Liberty lawn. If you have never tried making your own knickers, I can recommend it - I happen to think there is nothing like opening your drawer to the sight of pretty pants that you have made yourself to bring a smile to your face as you get dressed in the morning.

None of this has anything to do with a Red Riding Hood Cape. Sorry about that.

This is the first of my Christmas sewing.

Each year, as Christmas approaches, I get tempted into a super woman like list of amazing things I will make for everyone I know. And then, I remind myself that I am not super woman. My attempts in Christmas past to make all the things imaginable have, unsurprisingly, ended in me feeling pretty stressed out and not at all festive by the time the big day comes. So, I have a rule. One hand made gift per child I own, and that is it. They can ask for what they like, although I can obviously impose a veto on the completely ridiculous or impossible.

Charlotte is too young to have a sense of asking me for things, and so I have chosen for her. She's just getting into dressing up (today she greeted me by charging towards me, arms in the air, wearing a cape and shouting "Super Charlotte!") and so this little number seemed ideal. I'll confess that my choice was massively influenced by the fact I'd been given the fabrics you see in the picture. By very happy coincidence, two separate people had generously given me the red corduroy and the awesomely appropriate Red Riding Hood printed cotton. It's as though the sewing gods wanted this make to happen.

The pattern, if you're interested, is from the ever useful Oliver and S Little Things to Sew book. I've had this for a few years now, and, having made quite a few things out of it, I'd say it is worth buying if you have children you want to sew for. Other favourite patterns in the book are the bucket hats and the toy town. Although, the latter is more often used for throwing at siblings, to be brutally honest.

That's all I have time for now. Charlotte has woken up. She must have guessed we were talking about her.