Friday, 5 February 2016

Bear Necessities

Let's get the music thing out there as soon as possible:

It's not everyday that you become an auntie for the first time. I really think that such an important arrival requires a very special make. After all, you only get 1 first nephew!

Little nephew (LN) is on the other side of the world and so I didn't want to give him something he would grow out of very quickly. Oh sure, he will have some clothes sent his way at some point but I wanted to give him (and the family) something special and very important in the first off: a teddy bear.

Red homemade teddy bear (version 2)

It breaks my heart to see adult-only collector bears designed to sit in glass cases forevermore. Teddy bears should be loved and and carried on adventures for a long time. The lucky ones become friends, sages, minions, mascots, informants...for many years. I really wanted to make sure he will have a gorgeous bear to keep him company.

I used the Lekala #3050 free teddy bear pattern, size 1 and a couple of minky/cuddlesoft fabrics* from Plush Addict. Though I placed a huge fabric order with them in the Black Friday sale, absolutely nothing I needed was discounted. It's always the way, isn't it? The stuffing is from Hobbycraft, the eyes were from TP Textiles (which is brilliant if you want random notions at exceptionally low prices). Everything is loose and stored in jars. I picked up a few sets of eyes as I wasn't sure which ones would work best.

I made a practice bear as well. The pattern had so little information about the finished product, its requirements for fabric/notions and how to put the thing together that I was completely running blind. I bought extra eyes because I didn't know the size of the head, and had to keep sending people to Hobbycraft for extra stuffing. For anyone else planning to make this pattern, I hope the notes below are useful.

Homemade teddy bear version1

  • The finished photo on Lekala's site (blonde bear) is completely inaccurate. Head, arm, and feet all have totally different seam detail. The belly is also very long and slim in the pattern. The two sets of user photos are more illustrative, but don't give an indication of scale or size. The two below are size/scale 1.
2 handmade teddybears

Sewing the bear's snout
Finished teddy bear muzzle

  • For v2 (red bear) I made the belly fatter by redrawing the CF seam line between the top of the leg and the top of the armhole. 
pattern pieces for teddy bear belly

  • For v2 (red bear) I also made the arms longer and fatter as they looked a bit scrawny on v1 (green bear). The outer and inner pieces also didn't seem to match in the original pattern, so v1 has some gathering around its paws. By correcting and modifying the arms, I also managed to make the belly a bit shorter.
green teddy bear and its paws

  • For size 1 the bear was approx 50cm tall. I used approx 750g stuffing for each bear. One is firmer than the other.
me holding some polyester toy stuffing
Look! It's a little cloud!

  • The seam allowance guidance seems very confusing. I treated the pattern as having no seam allowance and added 1cm to all edges. 
This is very confusing advice - should I add seam allowance, or is it included?

  • The eyes are VERY close together in the pattern, I found that having them wide-set at the edge of the snout was a good look, like on v2 (red bear). 
  • I cut a layer of wadding for the ears
Pattern pieces for teddy bear ears

  • The notches on the pattern are very good and meet up perfectly with corresponding darts/seams. I needed to rely on them for v1 (green bear) and was beginning to completely mistrust the pattern. I was wary of the notches, but was glad they were such effective reference points. 
  • I made up an order of construction that seemed sensible, if you're an intermediate sewer, you should be able to figure it out, but Sew Joyful will probably have some good generic advice as well. For v1 (green bear) I just started with the most obvious bits and hoped the rest would slot into place. For v2, I made the head and body separately, then joined everything together and pulled everything through a hole in the centre back.
Pattern layout and sewing instructions for Lekala 3050 teddy bear

There's not much that scares me in the sewing world - fluffy fabrics, shifty georgettes, monster sizes, complex patterns, fly fronts and zipper - none of them will draw sweat from my brow. But eyes on a soft toy are scary! They are so important to the project's personality (and overall success), but you have to wait until the very end before cutting a hole squarely in the face of the bear to install them! Oh I was very worried. But they both turned out so beautifully.

Red teddy bear next to Christmas tree

green teddy bear next to Christmas tree

Me and two handmade teddy bears

The two bears are yet nameless and their personalities not yet fully formed; they seem ready to go out into the world. The grandparents have adopted v1 and they seem to quite like it. I hope LN loves v2 and they keep each other company over the years to come.

2 teddy bears having afternoon tea

K x

*Doesn't that fabric name just make you feel ill?? Bleurgh.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Powers That B

B's birthday has rolled around again, and if there's one good thing about making things it's that you don't actually have to think very much about buying stuff for people - y'know, except at Christmas, which is a a bit of a frenzied exception. I've been fretting a bit as I've vaguely been promising many beautiful things for B, none of which had an actual timeframe.

Anyway, I finally decided on a waistcoat. B has recently begun dancing with Gog Magog Molly and is building up all the components of his costume. You know what, this might actually count as my first real costume as well!

Front of patchwork waistcoast for molly and morris dancing
Back of patchwork waistcoast for molly and morris dancing

If you think this looks a little bright, you'd be correct. We have some very particular specifications to meet. Broadly, it should be: bright/saturated colours, coordinating but deliberately haphazard/mismatched with the rest of the outfit and the rest of the group, interesting to look at from a distance and also up-close. Look at them all together - doesn't seem so outlandish now, does it?

Gog Magog Molly dancers in a line

Gog Magog Molly dancers performing

Gog Magog Molly dancing in Oxford

A pair of dancers from Gog Magog Molly

Gog Magog Molly band of musicians

So, the waistcoat - the fit is fine but not great. I wouldn't repeat it at all, so will need to trace a new one from somewhere if B ever needs a formal waistcoat. And maybe actually measure B at some point instead of guestimating. The pattern is Burda April 2014 #136. I'm not used to the men's sizing in Burda so assumed 94-110 was normal, when actually it's a tall pattern. I traced approx 102 and resized to a normal/petit size.

B is modelling his new waistcoat as part of his molly dancing costume

The outer is a patchwork of scraps - chosen for their brightness. In there you can see last year's birthday gift, EDF Zingy, our lounge curtains, my first (and only) button down shirt, yellow jeans and a bunch of others. I pieced together a big bit of cloth and laid the pattern on top. Things are deliberately mismatched a bit across the seams (mostly to annoy any perfectionists in the neighbourhood). It's underlined in a teal muslin I had lying around around.

Patchwork cloth made from fabric scraps

patchwork waistcoat pattern pieces

The lining is Amy Butler Love Paradise Garden in periwinkle which I had used many moons ago for a Blue Sky sunhat. There was just enough left for the lining of the waistcoat. In the original plan there was an idea for facings and labels like a proper garment. This is still an actual lining, it's got pleats instead of darts. Those plans changed when the potential to make it reversible came about, so the waistcoat is now fully reversible. This really helped mitigate some worries that the other members of the troupe wouldn't approve of the actual outer.

Front of waistcoat lining made from Amy Butler fabric

Back of waistcoat lining made from Amy Butler fabric

I added 3 poppers/press studs as a fastening.

I also did 3 rows of topstitching in bright colours around the edge (2 rows around the armhole). This was some really nice hand sewing - uncomplicated. However, an injured index finger made it a little more difficult. Think papercut but with dressmakers' pins, right at the tip of your finger. It did affect dexterity a bit!

To complement (though actually it came first), I also hand sewed this brooch to give some 3D depth and movement to the costume. Honestly, it was a compromise after being told that I wasn't allowed to copy someone else's spangly sequin trim. Good luck meant that it also perfectly suits the B-side-formerly-known-as-lining!

Fluffy brooch on waistcoat outer

Fluffy brooch on waistcoat lining

It's basically a feather boa spiraled up on to a felt oval. I used the whole length of a boa and was glad that by not cutting it, it didn't generate too much fluffy mess. This was a plus as I was sewing it on the train and other passengers (or crew) might not appreciate the yellow feathers everywhere. The result is lovely and dense and fluffy. The fluffy supplies are from New Trimmings and other supplies are from my stash.

sewing a fluffy brooch

You should all be proud of me for having this finished in good time before the big day! You should also be completely unsurprised that at 22:30 the night before, I decided it wasn't enough.

You know what safety pants are, right?
You can guess what they are, right?*

B's had the Comox pattern from Thread Theory sat in his stash for a while. I traced it off and buzzed up a pair of pants. This was a first for me and I rejigged things to omit of the opening at the front. I mean, it's more appropriate because they're safety pants for dancing in public. You really don't want easy access! I was also thankful because this helped to speed up the process. In my idiot sleepy state the one-way print ended up upside down, though I really doubt it's important.

boxer shorts wih pictures of sharks on them

Shark pants! Safety pants! Safety Shark Pants!

(And there was enough left to make up a pair of shark pants for me too)

That's it! If you see these guys out and about, please stop, watch a dance and say hi


a colourful man playing the accordion

Photos courtesy of Andrew Swaine

*Unfortunately I have no illustrative photos of safety pants in action. The idea is that when you are dancing in a skirt or dress, sometimes the skirt will fly up and show off some areas that are best kept private. Members of the Gog Magog Molly are encouraged to wear safety pants under their skirts, but over their tights, as part of the costume.

Monday, 18 January 2016

That was the year that was (the year of the trouser)

I've finally emerged scratched an battered from December's festivities. It's by far my favourite time of the year, though after a month of non-stop parties (and great company), I'll be grateful for any darkened or quiet rooms that might cross my path. People (even the ones you love dearly) are exhausting.

Somehow I managed to make a few Christmas gifts for the most discerning of loved ones:

Tap Shoe Bags
Tap shoe bags for 2 lovely teachers

Thread Theory Newcastle Cardigan Navy and Tan
A Thread Theory Newcastle Cardigan for B

2 Teddy Bears
2 teddy bears

2 Bird Ornaments
2 bird ornaments

Keep your eyes peeled in January (or maybe Feb at this rate) for a proper write up of the teddy bears and the Newcastle Cardigan, both of which were really engaging and rewarding projects.

tap shoe bag detail: lining and RSD tap shoes
More detail on the shoe bags

I also finished my last 2 pairs of trousers for the year at the tail end of November

Brown bootleg jeans

Rainbow trousers in a Liberty lawn fabric

The brown ones were a remake of Burda 10/2013 #126 Bootcut Trousers using my stamps fabric and a brown denim from Ditto Fabrics. I sized up to a 36 for this pair after my previous versions (34) were too tight. Again, still not bootcut!

The rainbow ones were a bit more special and deserve their own post in due course. I still have 2 pairs of "in progress" trousers waiting in the wings. I tried to dedicate a lot of time to trousers over 2015 and have learned a lot in doing so.

Firstly, I learned a lot of new things about fitting and patterns. Assuming that all clothes are some weird geometric 3D experiment, it's still mind boggling to imagine how a 2D alteration will affect the 3D garment once it's on a body. To that end, I'm still not sure why you'd ever need or want to make an adjustment to the crotch seam on a pair of trousers. A bit like my approach to armholes I guess: check the shoulder, the chest, the torso, but do not mess with the armhole unless you absolutely have to, and you know all of the follow-on corrections you'll have to do afterwards. With trousers it's best to check the wait, the hips, the height, the grain etc. I'd only want to directly mess with the crotch seam as a measure of last resort.

I've also learned a lot about finishing and detail, the factors that really make you feel like your project is a cut above everything else. A lot of this is RTW industry standards (it's one way to spend the tube commute) and expectations for trouser styles. This is the really nerdy stuff about reinforcements/bar tacks, where the top-stitching goes, appropriate pocket styles etc. I'm all about making it look as good as it can be. Part of the general trepidation about sewing trousers is probably based around the finishing and making them look "real" (and not like a pair of clownish pyjamas), moreso than just fitting.

Anyway, that was the year of the trouser.

I'm clearing out my textiles at the moment ready for 2016's theme. It's been really useful to look at RTW, me-mades and fabric stash all as the same thing for once. The holistic approach is going to be my guide for the year ahead. 2016 will be the year of the outfit.

My making usually takes on a bit of a delay between inspiration and finished item. The stuff I found really exciting and inspiritng in November should (hopefully) be ready before the end of March. And you know, some of that is pretty flashy and challenging. If I only make that stuff then pretty quickly I'd have no underpants or pyjamas. You know?

I liked making nothing but trousers for 3 months. I liked production-lining wrap skirts (it was efficient!) but it's time for a different approach because my old RTWs are slowly wearing out and the projects that were "just about good enough" aren't getting chucked out when they should really go.

Thinking in terms of whole outfits will (hopefully) mean I can balance the fun with the sensible and really make sure that professional/officewear is fit for purpose too. You see, I want to dress in a very specific way at work. I want my bosses to think I'm valuable so I want to dress like I'm valuable. It's cheeky- but why not.

2016 is shaping up to have some interesting sewing challenges ahead: more little'uns, more softies, more gifts, more garments, more pants.


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Janet revisited

You remember two years ago when I lauded my Janet Dress?

You remember it was perfect?

I should have added one thing to that post on "things I wish someone had told me when I started sewing". DO NOT MESS WITH ARMHOLES. Whatever the pattern, DO NOT MESS WITH THE ARMHOLES

Busts and backs and bumps and bums are weird enough but DO NOT MESS WITH THE ARMHOLE or you will be in a world of pain.

Convinced the fit of my Janet dress was perfect, I've made a further three off the same pattern: Mod, Jerome and Lizzie. That's what you do when you're convinced that a pattern works. Big mistake. One shows sweat patches, one has bust darts as high as my collar bones and one is so tight in the chest that it's tough to climb the stairs to my flat.

I'm considering putting them on eBay. Imagine the notice. "Handmade red dress. Would fit child, weedy geek, house plant or amputee. In latter case, will require assistance with back zip. £8 ono."

So I started again.

The modified pattern pieces from 2013 were a hot, alien mess so I retraced the original V8766 and spent a few fitting sessions trying to improve the muslin. I must be one of the only people in the world to bloody hate this pattern. I hate the shoulders, the armholes, the darts, the darted sleeve caps, the waist, the side seams, the tiny tiny upper chest... I hate it. I got it as part of Lynda Maynard's Craftsy class - which is a great teaching tool and has a lot of good principles.

I'll cover fitting adjustments in another post, but I'm quite happy with the results. The sleeve pitch is still off as I hadn't altered the original at all. Otherwise it looks good.

This is the Unsquare Dress - named after everyone's favourite 7-count Brubeck number.


The outer is a Milly (who dat?) silk charmeuse from Emma One Sock, and the design is still recent enough to show up on eBay in the original garments (450USD NWT?!) and in Google image searches. It's got a bit of a sheen and I love the mix of colours. I didn't make any major attempts at pattern matching but have at least kept the black horizontal lines matched across the seams.


The bottom band is a black sateen from my stash, originally a remnant from Misan Textiles. It doesn't rip at all, which would make it great for pockets or high-stress areas. I also used a strip as a trim on the neckline - with hindsight it may have been better to measure this instead of winging it. It would have made the neckline look a little more refined.

Optical illusion alert: there isn't actually a waist seam on this dress

There's a lapped zip in one of the side seams and the lining is a cotton duvet cover I got from Hema when I lived in Brussels. It's so comfy, is well worn and laundered so it won't shrink or run. It's also slightly warmer than I'd have expected, which means I don't have to bundle up so much.

This was originally planned for a friend's wedding but also helped land me a new job (Kaisla also helped), so I'm quite fond of it already. Hopefully there will be more like this to come!


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Purple Seagull Trousers

This is version 3 of my first RTW rip-off. You can see more detail on the fitting in this post where I've grouped all 3 versions together to show the progression.

The jeans are fully-fledged jeans and I'm proud to say that I can just about complete a pair in a day (6-8 hours). This includes all of the cutting, fusing and stitching with a good level of detail. If only jackets took that long!

While my dream of bright pink trousers still hasn't been realised, these are the best possible alternative. The fabric is a beautiful burgundy/mulberry/plummy colour and it was very easy to work with. It comes from Ditto Fabrics and did have a designer label attached to it, though I'll be damned if I remember which one. Thankfully it has lost a little of its sheen in the wash, at first it looked a little shiny under artificial light.

Inside of purple seagull jeans

I've been wearing them practically non-stop since they were first made. The fabric is being broken in and I think these will become perfect once they've been laundered a few more times. The fabric is also quite dense and is fairly wind resistant and warm - which is a relief as we're heading in to winter.

waistband and pocket detail on purple seagull jeans

The pocket lining and waistband facing are both seagulls again. I think this'll be the last of it. There are two lines of top-stitching, one in a a similar colour, which ends up nearly invisible, and one contrasting dark blue which pops a little up close. It's quite subtle but draws the garment together quite nicely.

side seam and bar tacks on purple seagull jeans
I finally remembered to take a photo of my bar tacks! Yay!
inseam detail on purple seagull jeans
Inseam topstitching
Up until now I've been freestyling a bit with belt loops, for future versions I'll actually measure and cut pieces that look a bit more normal.

fly detail on purple seagull jeans
Look at how this toptitching lined up across the waistband and the fly facing, yeah!
You know the problem though? By the time I get around to belt loops I'm so close to finishing and so excited to be nearly done that they get forgotten a bit. They definitely don't get the care they need. There's always next time.

I'm still getting my head around waistbands. My most recent pairs have been good, but I may do a whole post on the little nuances that make a difference.

It's probably about time for some normal-looking trousers, don't you think?


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Blue Octopus Trousers

I'm not sure what to make of these jeans. The topstitching is absolutely adorable - it adds a great pop to the trousers, but they've got a few problems and are already sat on my repair pile.

First of all, I messed up the pattern (no biggie, it's a learning process) and took out too much space. You can read more the nitty-gritty of fitting here.

The plan for these trousers was a summery lime green or bright pink. B talked me out of it and in favour of this sky blue. Now, for all my grumping and moaning about the colour choice, it's actually quite nice. It's bright and goes well with the threads/notions I had in my stash. These trousers got worn a lot during the Edinburgh Fringe as they went well with the staff uniform. They also proved useful when colour-matching my lunch over the summer. The quality of the fabric isn't good, which is quite annoying, and you could tell from a distance that it wasn't great stuff. It has pilled and gone fluffy after very few washes - I should've said something before the guy cut it off the bolt. Too bad. It draped and stretched and bunched during sewing. My bad - it made sewing quite tough and it shows when they're laid out flat.

Colour-matching my lunch
Colour-matching with RIBA's Brutalist Playground
The detail shows these trousers have triple topstitching, bar tacks, octopus pockets, contrast waistband facing and zip fly. You know, I completely forgot to take any detail shots of these trousers, so hopefully you can see some of it in these pictures.

We'll see if they get worn a lot - they're useful as there's no way they'll fall down. I can't correct them without remaking the whole thing, so it's not really worth the effort.

I do need to develop better waistband habits though. This time the edges didn't meet nicely at centre front. For this pair and the yellow pair I also understitched the top edge of the waistband before anything else. So the corners ended up messy. I think it would be a better option to stitch this near the end.

Next up - purple jeans