Friday, 2 February 2018

Welcome to 2018

The start of the new year gave me an opportunity to do a bit of stock-taking in my little world of makery. I'm not even speaking metaphorically, I did literal stock take while trying to clear up the conservatory. You see, with the flurry of Christmas sewing and fabric acquisition, things had gotten a little chaotic and I needed to get back on top of things.

And all of December's activities finally gave me the kick I needed to bring a new crew member on board...

Hello sailor...

Anyway, while I'm still excited for the year ahead (and before anything new can truly start), I'll try to put a bit of a lid on 2017. Now is no time to be self-effacing, it's time to review 2017 with confidence.

The Year of Doing Things Properly: Sewing

If you want some background on 2017's theme, you can read the original post here. As time went on I began to realise that some people would probably call this a form of mindfulness or potentially even ACT, so maybe it wasn't all hooey.

This theme gave me just the right balance of motivation to do things well and discipline to stop myself striving for daft perfection. I again took on a few commissions (silk dresses, eek!) (merch, eek!), and offered some gifts (quilts, bags, clothing) but ended up with some stuff staying with me: a fabulous fancy coat, some salvaged wrecks, comfy staple tops and loud trousers. And for the most part, I really love the results.

I started working more on hand sewing, and have found my groove with a few stitches. I did my first hand-sewn buttonholes some real embroidery. It's a long uphill climb though, there is a lot of practice ahead. I'm still struggling to find the right needles, having spent a long time wondering why everything was so difficult with the tapestry needles(hint: they're blunt). I also did some cool applique, tried a bunch of quilting techniques (argh!), revamped how to sew a zip fly and scratch-drafted men's patterns.

I finally built a workstation, with great natural light and a radio. I can shut a door behind me and it feels separated (even though it isn't) so I'm not camping out on our dining table (which is also where the computers are).

I've been visiting Misan's Clearance Basement of Wonder less for fabric, profiting more from the opening of Misan West and Goldbrick Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. Misan West often hits the mark when I have a vague idea of what I'm looking for, whereas Goldbrick Fabrics has a swatch system which makes it very easy to look for something really specific. Though I still have a soft spot for the Basement of Wonder, it's not so convenient for some of what I've been looking for recently. I can't wait to return for some suitings. That being said, I visited an Abakhan store for the first time recently. Boy, that's a dangerous shop for sure. For notions I've relied mainly on Jaycott's, William Gee and MacCulloch & Wallis depending on urgency, known quality and quantities required.

My "Sewing Financial Year" rolls over on 1 Oct, I'm both ashamed and proud to say that I spent nearly as much money in the months Oct-Dec 2017 as I did in the months Jan-Sept 2017. The vast bulk of the latter amount was in August, which was mostly buying supplies for commissions (and so those costs were recovered anyway). I think I splurge in the months Nov-Jan and again in May and July or Aug, this seems to have happened for as long as I've been tracking my sewing costs. So, I think I can time my productivity and my spending to work well together.

What about outside of sewing?

In terms of other makery, I did some laser cutting in the form of sock blockers, reindeer and tap merch but haven't been near a hackspace in several months. (Unfortunately!)

I got some project management qualifications, bought a raclette grill, modeled for the photography club, babysat some degus, started learning to drive, went on a surprise trip to Portugal, rediscovered some friendships through chance encounters, got engaged, discovered #makershour, finally got to try liquid nitrogen ice cream, learnt to use so many new digital tools, and jumped headfirst into caring for our new garden plants. 2017 was also my first dance out with Gog Magog Molly, which I only count as significant because I haven't actually "performed" anything in years. My mental health took a beating throughout the year (my measure of a successful day at work during the summer was managing to not cry) and I got run down with some viruses during the autumn. Suddenly the notion of "doing things properly" turned into "doing nothing, but doing it properly" and trying to practice "looking after oneself properly".

Things I've learnt in 2017:
  • Don't superglue things without putting a temporary surface down first. You will pull up the veneer on your table
  • Actually, just don't use superglue. Find a new adhesive.
  • Don't sew in the car,especially when you're a navigator
  • Supermarket vegetable containers make good project trays (mushrooms, asparagus, baby corn, berries)
  • Bees love lavender
  • Strawberry runners need to start growing "knees" before they're willing to be pinned down to be propagated.
I've had a (hopefully secret) difficult relationship with this blog throughout 2017. I've only really managed one post a month but they have at least all been about sewing and generally about more than one project. I feel that the blog name no longer feels comfortable which may be the subject of a pending draft on the theme of signatures. I also had a difficult time writing a lot of the posts, the drafting process was saddening and the projects felt worthless. Which is weird, because now when I read them they look perfectly benign. But maybe everything at the time felt saddening and worthless. In any case, hopefully this corner of the internet will continue to evolve into something comfortable.

And, looking outwards (as opposed to introspection). One of the most interesting things I've noticed in 2017 has been urban change and gentrification. The contrast seems very arresting when you consider the local tower block fires. The area is going through massive regeneration, and the group White Noise has been talking about it.  Because you came here to read about sewing, I'm also going to recommend their piece on Shepherd's Bush Market.

2017 also saw the beginning of my small-scale campaign to get One Blackfriars renamed as The Bust. I don't care if the architect thinks it looks like a very specific vase. Millions of mannequins will argue otherwise. It's a giant bust.

Announcing: The Year of "just because"

Here's the thing: I consider myself to be pretty resilient. But it's good for the soul to have things to look forward to. Perhaps, as an insurance against the next time things get rough, I want to nurture my own sense of enthusiasm. Or at least, feel free to be passionate, or excited or indulgent.

So am I committing in January to continue overcommitting to for the whole year? It's not like that. I will continue to (occasionally) overcommit, and I will continue to (occasionally) get burnt out. Go big or stay at home. So they say. But I want to make it easy to treat myself, especially when it's needed. After all, it's supposed to be fun.

Much like last year, what does this mean in practice?

  • Making fancy things! Just because. I didn't make a pretty dress at all for myself in 2017 and the late months were filled with utilitarian garments or refashions.
  • Fun and/or dumb things. Just because. I have an idea to time-trial the overlocker against my sewing machine workflow and tell you all about the results. 
  • Excitement and joy. Just because. Yes, chores will always be there. But to me sewing is about imagining and producing the extraordinary. 
  • Achievement and confidence. Just because. To paraphrase something I was told recently, it's difficult to project external confidence without appearing arrogant. I have been sewing enough that I should know that good results are not a fluke anymore. And as for my makes "out in the wild", I'm not good at controlling how I dress, but I can control what comes out from under the presser foot.

Snoop My Stash

Since you made it this far...I've got a treat for you.

New year, freshly organised stash:


Friday, 26 January 2018

Simplicity 2358 Messenger Bag

Hopefully my last post about 2017 projects. Coming soon: a roundup and setting the scene for 2018.

The D9P quilt for Christmas had some deep meanings rooted in musical cross-phrasing and cubist fantasies...but I really can't bear to talk about quilting anymore. Instead, we move on to something a lot more superficial: a messenger bag. The one I forgot to photograph before my Christmas post.


You remember the bag I made for B back in 2013? That one has been so well used and abused that it has gone through a few rounds of repairs and finally needed replacing. So, that was my mission for Christmas gift sewing.

A handmade cross-body bag hanging from a mannequin

The Pattern

This is my 4th variation on Simplicity 2358. It's a good pattern and produces a good-size bag but I always spend a lot of mental energy trying to re-familiarise myself with the pattern pieces. As a garment sewer, being presented with a bunch of rectangles with similar names is not my idea of an easy time.

I generally add pockets to suit.

My one major gripe with the pattern is that the final construction steps lead to very bulky joints where the flap and the body of the bag meet, and there doesn't seem to be enough fabric to cover the gap at the inside of the flap. The next time I make this bag, I'll try to make the flap facing longer for a better finish. Otherwise, I think it's a great base pattern for a bag which you can customise.

The same handmade bag, with strap, leather patches and metal rings

The Fabric

The outer is some sort of herringbone, picked up from A-One Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. B picked it out himself, and while I do like it, I do have a couple of reservations. Firstly, I can't gauge its longevity. I've improved the quality of the interfacing (my go-to from M&W) and have also made improvements to the heavily stressed areas. So we'll see how it holds up. My second reservation about the fabric is that it makes my eyes jump. So cutting out was literally a headache.

I tried to salvage parts of the original bag to give it a sense of continuity. The lining is salvaged from the original, and I've used some of the original straps on each of the sides. The leather came from my stash. I trialed all my leathers and this one came out nicest with the available threads.

The strap and buckle are from MacCulloch & Wallis, I just fell in love with them so will admit that I paid a shamefully high price for them. The D-rings and sliders were from B's stash (souvenirs he brought back from South America a few years ago). I really struggle to find fixings for bags, especially ones that fit the slightly chunkier webbing styles. If you know a good supplier, let me know!


Oh, I don't know anymore. The machine struggled in a few areas and it becomes a pain to maneuver. I ended up hand-finishing a couple of spots. That's about it really.


Friday, 19 January 2018

Chores #3 (The queue never gets any shorter)

I'm still clearing out blog drafts and projects from 2017, so here's a new one for you.

You may have gathered that I've been attacking my stash and "to do" pile with some gusto. My attention has been really focused on what I could do now because all of the bits and bobs are in stock. I'm making an effort to avoid the projects that need me to buy things in.

So 3x makes for you today which have taken a small load off my mind.

Wiksten Tova

I think this is a dark green cheesecloth. I dug it out of a discount bin in Stockholm in 2014. I had just made my first version of the Wiksten Tova and was keen to find a suitable fabric for another. I'ts a really easy top to wear and I can understand why it has been so popular. Again, I added a back yoke for a bit of interest.

Front of a blouse on a mannequin

Back of a blouse on a mannequin

Slim Blue Cardigan

I had a bunch of fabric left over after my nike hoodie and had been pining for a cardi for a while. This is drafted from scratch based on Winnie Aldrich's blocks. Yes, it is very slim, but it's easy to wear.

Cardigan on a mannequin

Sweater Vest

An attempt to finish off this fabric. Using a different block from Mertic Pattern Cutting. Honestly, I'm not sure why I made this, I didn't want it, I just wanted to be rid of the fabric. But I use it a bit, so it works.

Front of a sleeveless jumper

Back of a sleeveless jumper

So there you go. Three more werable things. I don't know yet how this fits in with The Year of Doing Things Properly. Maybe it's something to do with doing one's chores.


Monday, 8 January 2018

The Last of the moomins (How much value can you get from a €4 pair of jeans?)

You know I said that more trousers were overdue? Here you go!

Front of corduroy trousers

Back of Corduroy Trousers


I try to live in jeans or trousers and have been slowly wearing down my supply of casual trousers. With my purple jeans out of action I'm at a bit of a loose end, especially for cosy trousers and ones which don't require a belt. So bulking up this supply is the order of the day.

The Pattern

The pattern is traced from my €4 Helsinki jeans. You can read the whole saga of pattern development in my 2015 posts. I was pretty confident this would work, especially having tested the first 3 pairs extensively.

A couple of things for me to remember for future:

  • These are very low rise in the front and I may try out a double-height waistband
  • A longer/taller fly gvuard would be useful as the pattern piece is very short
  • I marked a foldline on my pocket piece - which was a very nice surprise from past-Katrina. It made current-Katrina's life a lot easier!

A side point is that I've noticed that a lot of RTW jeans have waistbands which are cut as one piece. The formal trousers I've sewn all have multiple pieces to the waistband (generally 3, sometimes 4). Is the fact that lots of jeans have the front on some sort of bias the main reason why they're so comfy? Or is it the main reason they fall down after a while?

The Fabric

One of my oldest fabrics paired with one my newest fabrics. The needlecord came from Edinburgh Fabrics (Aug 2017) and the pocket linings are the very last of my beloved Moomin fabric (Dec 2010). They go together so well!


Fairly standard construction, I tried to pay attention to fabric nap and had a few struggles trying to turn corners. Otherwise I didn't give it any special treatment. There are a couple of interesting things of note:

  • I've tried to adopt the *new method* to insert a zip fly, where the fly guard is added after the topstitching, it saves a few headaches and I really like the order.
  • I was a bit lazy with waistband finishing because I wanted these to be ready to take on holiday, so it's "good enough" rather than "perfect"
  • I added buttonhole elastic to the waistband just in case things didn't work out.

So there you go, my new super-comfy, super-soft, super-strokeable cords!


Monday, 25 December 2017

The 12 Days of Christmas

A carol about over-committing on handmade gifts. Again.

12 Gift Stashbusted

I had a plan for some lovely gifts using what I had to hand. Naturally, what I have to hand is pretty good quality (never offer something to someone that you wouldn't have yourself). I was frugal, using scraps of precious fabric from many endeavours.

11 Warm Things Warming

Five traditional hot water bottles and six Hotties Microwaveable Pads with covers. I used a bunch of techniques here including regular quilting, quilt as you go, applique, fabric slashing and a variation on scrap lace. I really like how each of these came out - especially the slashed ones. You never know how they'll turn out but hopefully I'm getting better with this technique.

10 Legs A-Lounging

Four pairs of jogging bottoms (using Burda 04/2016 #138 or #139 and Burda 11/2012 #135) and one pair of sparkly pyjamas (using a draft from Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear). All have pockets, naturally.

All the edges on the joggers are overcast with my machine, though it was painfully slow. I am beginning to consider getting myself an overlocker to speed up these kinds of projects.

9 Patches Disappearing

A long-ago promised quilt for my grandparents. The block is a Disappearing Nine Patch and it becomes wonderfully wonky the further you stray from the top left corner. This was entirely scrap/stashbusted and holds many dear bits of fabric from my entire sewing career (can you call it a career?). Without my grandparents, I wouldn't own a sewing machine so this seemed a nice way to give back in-kind.

8 Weeks of Fretting

I started the quilt really early, and finished it in good time. The warm things made steady progress and I utilised my stash or my scraps pile for all of the necessary stuff. A friend's specialist baby gift wasn't going to happen before Xmas, as the fabric was a pre-order from Z&Q, so it seemed like it wouldn't bother me for a while (and that I had freed up some sewing time). But then I began to worry that since I had a manageable workload, and was keeping up with it, that it wasn't actually enough or good enough. So my brain got me to brainstorm and plan 11 new projects to complete.

Thanks brain!

But what happened next?

7 Rounds of Laundry

I fell off the wagon. And bought a lot of new fabric for the 11 new projects. Blame Misan West and Goldbrick Fabrics  on Goldhawk Road.

And all of this needed pre-washing in secret:

(which is difficult when you're trying to hide this massive pile of fabric from B so he doesn't know how much you actually bought)

6 Things Queue Cutting

The loungewear was also the first set of items on this list of extra gift sewing. You may be able to see some of the fabrics used in the pile of the photo above. So, ahead of all my other projects, these jumped to the top of the queue to be ready in time for the Big Day.

5 Stalled Plans

I made a list of  11 extra Christmas gift projects, right? Five of them never event got started. Oh well.

4 Corners Mitred

 I really love mitreing corners.

3 Stolen Fixings

This one I forgot to get a photo of before wrapping. But I made a Messenger Bag again!

I have horrible difficulty finding nice bag fixings for my projects. I ended up stealing a slider and 2 D-rings from B for this he picked up some nice ones on holiday a few years ago.

In progress shot since I forgot to get a picture of the finished thing.

2 Miles of Thread

I've finished up a lot of spools doing all of this...

And a Workout for the Sewing Machine

Excuse me while we both rest...

K x

Friday, 17 November 2017

Chores #2 (Clothes for sweating in)

I really needed to free up some cupboard space, so I made these things:

Crop top/Sports bra

Picture the scene: 7.30pm on a Thursday night before a training weekend with Gog Magog Molly. You've just finished a dance class and have another tomorrow before a sweaty train journey straight to training. You don't own enough sports bras for all of it*. You feel like you have spare time (you don't) and that itch creeps up on you.

You throw together an eccentric mix and somehow at the end of the night, there is a functional item for keeping your boobs in place.

Stripey top

Yes, I know I'll look like a deckchair.

This fabric was hanging about in the cupboard. It's probably a lycra/spandex mixed with a crazy synthetic but I thought it'd make good sweaty material. And I wasn't that invested in it if things went wrong. I had about 50cm available from a wide bolt so my original concept didn't quite fit and some sacrifices needed to be made. Again, nothing special but it works!


*A couple of weeks beforehand you didn't own any sports bras, but then your prof makes you sweat through a regular bra so badly that you have to go and buy a new one after class...maybe it's time to just invest in a couple.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Chores #1

Or: Reasons I'll never be on GBSB

Every time I used to watch GBSB, I'd swear that my approach to the alterations challenge would be to take the item and immediately turn it upside-down. I had a theory that this would free one's mind from the constraints of the existing garment and that it would help to "transform" it more effectively.

Naturally, sometime I brag and sneer but don't actually follow through. Example: I refashioned the Drape Drape dress and an unloved RTW dress and they are both still the same way up as before.

Self-deprication aside, I had set myself a very low bar to make these dresses wearable. They didn't have to be good or exact. They just had to have the right qualities so that I'd open the wardrobe, look around and say "you know what, I'll wear that".

For the Drape Drape Dress

I cut off the top and removed the bra panel, as well as the elastic casing. The lining and the drapey panel both stayed. I was quite pleased with my hemming of the georgette on the initial make so I kept that in tact too.

The bodice went through a few iterations as I kept realising that more complicated did not mean better. I had enough spare fabric to keep some continuity in the print placement (bet you can't see the CB seam!). Again I was applying alterations to V8766. The waist casing came last and pulled everything together. (Pun partially intended as I was aiming for a drop-waist style initially.

Now, let's talk about the sleeves. These sleeves are SO BAD. I still haven't fixed the pattern and I still haven't developed a block from scratch. Here's the thing. They are bad quality and dowdy. They will always be hidden under a cardigan or jacket, but I was never going to wear this dress without sleeves (because it won't suit a t-shirt underneath) so they're staying. And I'll just have to live with this strange brand of hypocrisy.

For the RTW dress

I got the original from Ultra Orange in Strasbourg in 2010, right after I'd first started sewing. I was going through the "reversible everything!" phase that is common to many new sewists, and finding a reversible RTW dress was just amazing.

The original is somewhere between trapeze and a-line style, the hem dips at the centre back and there are two sets of shoulder straps.

I've tried to refashion this dress at least twice before. In 2011 I merrily cut 2 holes in the back (with the intention of adding a drawstring) saying "this would be a terrible if someone didn't know what they were doing!" (turns out, I didn't). At some point I hid that smart idea with some darts.

It's been sat in my refashion pile for a few years as the neckline/shoulders gaped and the darts were straining whenever I put on/took off the dress (because it had no openings/closures).

This time I modified the shoulders and inserted a zip. Now the zip is an invisible zip, inserted as normal on one side and treated like a lapped zip on the other. The zip pull isn't reversible though so one side is a bit awkard. I think that my next work on this dress will involve making some sort of pull.

I'm pleased to have these two off my mind. They deserve to be worn, so hopefully this is the start of better things for them.

I've sewn so many dreses over the past few months that I feel a return to trousers is long overdue...