Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Extreme Stashbusting and Scrapbusting

How is it I haven't shown you a finished sewing project since March? It's definitely not from lack of sewing...

I'm feeling a bit caught up and weighed down at the moment. In central London I'm surrounded by so many beautiful fabrics. Goldhawk Road and Berwick Street are both completely feasible "pop in on the way home" trips.

There are two things that stop me from buying every single pretty fabric I see:
  1. Finances
  2. Space in the fabric cupboard
While I'm glad that the former isn't going to change anytime soon, the latter is a bit of a downer.

See that blob on the left? Scraps
See the stack on the right? Half is scraps or leftovers.

I'm in one of those phases of not being precious about the cupboard anymore. I'm antsy to get rid of the stuff I have used - to give me an opportunity to use stuff. At the same time, I'm reluctant to recycle it or give it away without actually using it.

I want to go to Japan (in just over a week, eeep!) and bring back meters of beautiful fabrics without worrying where they'll go.

I also want to stop feeling guilty about some gift fabric that will probably never be made up into something wearable.

So it's a bit of a race. How much stuff can I use up or get rid of? How far can I push myself to make things without buying anything new?

Some of these deserve their own blog post. I'll post a roundup once I've won the stashbusting/scrapbusting battle.

Tap Shoe Bags

Yet more tap shoe bags for the London tappers

Drawstring Bags

They look like tap shoe bags but either bigger or smaller and don't have so many funky pockets. They're heading to some little'uns.
*no photo*

Pin Badge Hanger

Somewhere down the line I realised I had an addiction to pin badges. Now I can see then I realise I need to make more jackets with lapels so that I can display them.

Dress Covers

These have actually been on my to-sew list for a very long time and I only just got around to making them. I have a few things that I'd like to keep nice and undamaged.

Scrap Lace Dress

The mother of scrapbusting projects. Six years of silk scraps! This is definitely for the finer rags in your life.


It wasn't intended to be a swimming dress. I promise it wasn't supposed to be a dress. It just sort of happened like that...


My absolute favourite thing

Ain't no way I'm showing you my pants though!

Baby Clothes

This is part of a whole bundle so don't have any good photos right now...

Item 1 of many...

Soft Toys

Like this little dino

And these ...

And many more! This is exhausting...

K x

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Great British Sewing Bee Drinking Game!

Yes, GBSB is back on our screens and that means that I have a regular opportunity to sit down and shout at the telly. This year I want to make the experience more interesting by introducing a drinking game.

I'll be following this series with a delightful new cider every week. No guarantees of live tweets or social media activity. Largely because I don't watch it live, I'm not that keen on getting slaughtered on a Monday night and I'll be in Japan for part of the series.

Here are the rules,

Take a swig every time any of the following happen:

  • Needlessly saucy comments about Patrick Grant
  • Someone cries
  • Someone mentions GBBO
  • Something is sewn on inside out/backwards/upside down/burnt by the iron
  • A walking foot appears on screen
  • Contestant mentions their handmade wedding dress
  • Contestant is using an indie pattern (name it)
  • Contestant is using a recognisable fabric print (name the brand/supplier)
  • Contestant has grossly misunderstood the brief
  • Judges offer heroically diplomatic criticism
  • Unsuccessful/dodgy application of electronics/"wearable tech"

Happy viewing!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Swedish Visions of Chaos

I find myself a bit tongue tied. Knotted threads, crossed wires, tangled yarns, prints that have become unstuck.
That sort of thing.

It feels a bit like the calm after the storm and I'm a little battered. I like a challenge - during March that meant things like producing homemade hummus for two hundred; but at the moment it's more like not falling asleep in my dinner on a Wednesday evening. I'm too stubborn to admit to still being exhausted though. I love these storms because they bring a flurry of excitement and inspiration. They bring new discoveries and new resolutions. It'll be a while before they'll filter into everyday life and to bear their fruits in unexpected ways.

Grains of rice
Straws and camels
Butterfly wings
That sort of thing.

The making has carried on, though I have nothing to show you yet. No words to describe them and no pictures to show you what I actually mean. I wrote a piece in Jan, which should have gone live before Easter. The project is worth sharing but I poured some soul into the first post and it's obsolete now. Feel a bit bruised about that one. So it's going to sit there for a while. Projects may stay undocumented for a while. New ideas may be put on hold for a while.
That sort of thing.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

New Tap Shoes!

Hey guys,

Look at my beautiful snazzy new shoes! Ain't nobody else got these shoes!

Shows pair of tap shoes with design detail, posing on a table

They are Ruben Sanchez dark green suede (#37) and terracotta nobuk (#7).

I wanted to share them because of the laser engraving. I got to customise the flat pattern pieces before they were sewn up. Talk about bespoke!

Shows generic flat pattern pieces for tap shoe

It took a long time to get my skills up to scratch for this etching - narrowing down from about 7 designs and paring back the eccentricities. Obviously the final product looked different to what I had been imagining early in the design. That's pretty standard though for makers, isn't it?

The possibilities were endless - far too easy to go overboard. In the end I tried to keep it simple and worked some crazy Inkscape magic.

Completed engraved accent pieces, ready for assembly

Image shows flat pattern pieces ready for assembly

My left foot has some "speed shading" too, so that my foot can move really fast - because the design will never look like it's in focus. Speed shading (allow Youtube to explain). Yes. Deliberate.

Pair of tap shoes lying on the floor

one tap shoe and my protective shoe bag
And my shoe bag of course


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Learning About Laser Cutting

Somehow someone allowed me access to a hackspace laser cutter - generally I'm surprised when anyone leaves me in charge of something that "vaporises" other materials, and that has a realistic risk of being on fire. But, rarely one to reject a challenge/opportunity when it comes along, I thought it would be fun to incorporate something totally new into some projects.

Hole burnt in the middle of a metal honeycomb grid
Not my fire damage, not my problem!

A quick pre-script note: there's not really any sewing in this post. I've not yet put any textiles under the laser, though it is on my list. I may also use the technology to cut/etch buttons or prepare designs for screen printing in the future. Not right now.

Principles of Using a Laser Cutter

The setup I have access to is like an elaborate printer. I have an image/design on a computer and send it to print, a print preview-style programme launches and I use it to set power, speed, depth and check focus/alignment. Fire up the cutter, do the important safety things and press go.

If you're lucky, it'll be quick and will look awesome. Normally it'll be slow any may look a bit burnt around the edges. Enter the importance of tweaking.

The first step was learning to draw something that the cutter would understand. Inkscape and Youtube are your best tools, closely followed by Google for specific queries. Anything talking about drawing for CNCs will also be relevant.

Now, our machines cut from CorelDraw, not from Inkscape. I learned Inkscape because it was free and open soruce. No really urgent need to get Corel because the computer linked to the laser cutter had it.

After drawing I needed to spend some time in Corel making something properly print approrpriate. I was flummoxed by a few unexpected results when going from Inkscape to CorelDraw for laser cutting. The notes below are mostly for my own benefit, but hopefully they'll prove useful to someone else.

  • CorelDraw won't import my InkScape SVG correctly. Try saving and importing as a plain SVG. Otherwise try the usual on/off approach to fixing technology. Still stuck? Not sure, try something else!
  • My imported file looks a bit crazy compared to the original. Man up, unlock, ungroup and fix it. 
  • My image is rastering when I thought I'd done all of the vector stuff properly. Aha, there are 4 solutions to this:
  1. Check all your curves are no fill, with stroke as hairline thickness
  2. Check CorelDraw's primary colour mode for this document. The cutter is RGB, Corel's default is usually CMYK. You can fix this in the Options menus (ctrl+j or Tools>Options)
  3. Something screwy happened, maybe during the import process. Create a new CorelDraw document (in RGB) and just copy+paste objects to the new document
  4. Check all the vector paths are ungrouped and combined. For some reason this makes the curves less confusing for the cutter.
  • I drew everything in black, what colours am I supposed to use? Reds = vector cut; Blues = vector etch; Greens = raster etch. 
Anyway, I thought it'd be nice to show off my first few projects (which probably makes them suitable for complete beginners)

Project 1: Laser Ply Puzzle Cubes

Cuboid. I've had some generic puzzle cubes in 8mm foam for a very long time. I drew some new pieces in Inkscape (admittedly with a lot of help from this puzzle solving software

cutting puzzle pieces

Completed and assembled puzzle cube

Project 2: Laser Cut Festive Paper Snowflakes

The first one I drew freehand, and actually was one of the best to cut in a range of sizes. For all other designs, I took a segment of a shape, then mirrored/rotated it 6 or 12 times. It was when I was first learning about adding and moving nodes. 

Laser cutter in motion, showing completed snowflakes

Laser cutter in motion, showing incomplete snowflakes

When I was making these, another hackspace member approached and said "you know you can fold paper and cut these out by hand, right?". Cheeky bugger.

A variety of snowflake shapes

Project 3: Custom Tap Leathers

I traced the pattern pieces by hand to get a digital copy into the computer. I trialed various designs and print placements - using the trace bitmap feature to get a basic line drawing. Most of my time on this was spent refining the prints/designs - there were about 7 I was keen on so wanted to try them all on the pattern piece for practice.

image shows pattern pieces with vine/floral design on accents

Image shows a herringbone design on shoe pattern pieces

About 3 designs made it on to the test material.

This was the first project where I had to align the cutter with a target. I etched the pattern pieces on to paper taped to the bed, then taped down the pieces in the correct positions. I varied the power, speed and amount of masking tape over several passes to get things looking clean.

Textile is held in the correct position using masking tape

Shows the leather immediately after etching - leather displays a floral/vine pattern

Oh, and this smells like popcorn straight out of the machine!

Image shows finished pieces ready for assembly as a tap shoe

Shows all shoe pieces flat, ready for assembly

So that's that. What's next?


Monday, 7 March 2016

Newcastle Revisited

Many moons ago I made myself a Newcastle Cardigan which B has since pilfered for himself. Over time I've noticed some flaws I'd like to correct and B has mentioned that he'd like a more conservative version he can wear around town. Instead of developing a new pattern, I thought it'd be good to revisit the Newcastle and fix it up.

Thread Theory Newcastle Cardigan

My two major changes were to add a full lining and to switch the hem out for a band. I sized up to an M, lengthened slightly, used the small collar and shoulder yoke from the pattern. Overall, I think it looks great but it's a bit difficult to photograph accurately.

navy shawl collar jacket with tan contrasts

fluffy lining of a men's jacket
It's so fluffy!

Navy and tan lycra/spandex jersey: Plush Addict
Shaggy lining: Plush Addict
Sleeve Lining: Goldhawk Road
Interfacing and buttons: MacCulloch & Wallis

All the jersey innards are finished cleanly, behind the properly bagged lining. I switched up the construction order of the cuffs to make it easier to sew, and to look neater. The shaggy lining was a horror to work with - under the presser foot there was absolutely no problem, I overcast the raw edges as well for neatness. The cutting/handling was dreadful, it was like a fluffy infestation. I was cleaning grey fluff off myself and the flat for days after it was packed away. Even B was covered in the stuff, and this was a secret project!

shaggy plush fabric

Must keep a vacuum cleaner handy next time. A note about this shaggy stuff compared to regular minky/cuddlesoft fabric: you can't sweep it, it gets stuck in your eyes and is more prone to flyaway. I used regular minky/cuddlesoft for the red teddy bear in my earlier post and really enjoyed it. It still made a mess but it was pretty easy to handle.

Thread Theory Newcastle Cardigan

The buttons are beautiful and I have a few going spare, the fusible interfacing is exquisite. I got a MacCulloch & Wallis staff recommendation and am SO glad they know their stuff. I spent a long time fawning over their buttons as well - the plan is to go on a bit of a button spree in the near future. You might also be able to see the buttonholes in this picture - they were stitched in a very slightly lighter thread to give a bit of interest to the front.

If I make the Newcastle again, I may consider adding shoulder pads, as it can get quite heavy, and it may hang better off a man's shoulders. I'm not sure what to make of the fit. It seems fine enough, but the bodice may be too long. B has complained it's a bit too tight at the hips - so lengthening it was maybe a bad idea.

Incidentally, B is modelling this with some of his other Christmas presents - namely handmade gloves, hat and cowl from his sister, who is an absolute yarn virtuoso. These pieces are beautiful and expertly made

man sat by pond

Yes, the bag you see is my version of Simplicity 2358 from Christmas 2013.

That's about it, I hope B likes it and it sees a lot of good use.

man walking beside pond


Photos courtesy of Rachel Sheridan

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Sewing from Japanese Pattern Books

Shape Shape

I revisited one of my favourite patterns from Shape Shape recently - these skirts are all made using the Apron Skirt pattern, and I've replaced the ties with some hidden buttons in the waistband facing. If I were a stickler for styling, this would be a brilliant spot for kilt pins. At the moment I'm switching out various badges/brooches/pins.  The skirts are all made from scraps, and if there hadn't been hard limits on the fabric available, I'd have made these a bit longer (because they're quite breezy!).

Shape Shape Apron Skirt

The facing and the skirt pieces are different sizes - I think this is a detail resulting from the waist ties - but I completely forgot to correct it in advance. Oh well.

Drape Drape

Like most of the sewosphere, I fell hard for the Drape Drape series of books (mostly thanks to Carolyn's beautiful versions, and very accessible introductions to the ideas in Japanese sewing books), but was proud to have abstained from buying copies in the hope that at some point they would appear in my Christmas stocking. Once the hype of the English launch had died down a little in sewing circles, I tried to look for some inspiring finished versions from other people on the internet. Some patterns have been wildly popular, though I'm not sure if this is due to their simplicity or the fact they are the closest available alternative to "normal" clothes. How can it be, that some patterns have absolutely no versions out there at all? I can only hope that some people have been making things from the book and just not sharing with the wider world - it would be a shame for a pattern to go to waste, and a bigger shame to be obliged to share everything you make with the general public.

The point of this post is to offer a quick review of my experience THUS FAR with the Drape Drape books. This is because I haven't actually finished a garment yet.

Now, the book is littered with funny artsy photos that have been well documented (and recreated) elsewhere. From a "fashion photography" point of view, perhaps "Japanese pattern styling" is trying to become an artform in its own right. Perhaps it's a marketing thing - the books are instantly recognisable for their crazy poses. It's pretty much what they're famous for. That, and correcting the misconception that it's actually a set of books about draping on a stand.

I like the full page images, they're fun. But from a user's point of view, they seem inconvenient and unhelpful. Unhelpful if you're actually planning to make something. A lot of the styling is indecent. Fabric is often solidly black - which makes seeing the draped effects really tough, and the seamlines/style lines are nearly invisible as a result. Plus, the technical dress form photos are tiny greyscale thumbnails, once again with black fabric. Why?

And the tracing! Oh the tracing. At the time of writing I haven't event got to the sewing and following instructions bit.

You know I'm a pattern tracer. I cut my teeth on Burda. But I was completely unprepared for these sheets. Tracing these patterns is like someone replacing all of the clues on an OS map with the same line. Going hiking in the country? Walking 5 miles down the M4 would be a fine idea! Not sure whether that blob is a pub, a church or a military firing range? Don't worry, they've got you covered by writing what it is, roughly nearby with another indecipherable tiny line to point it out! One advantage is that they will give you some consistent information on seam allowances. They handily give you both cutting and stitching lines on the pattern, again basically in the same colour and shade.

Surely it's commonplace that (at the very least) the sizes have different shape/weight lines? No! It's all the same bloody colour and weight for all sizes! I want to cut someone some slack on this point, perhaps printing all in the same colour is to lower print costs - maybe even B&W. Why then, are the individual pattern sheets printed in different colours?

I think I found an error in the dress I was tracing as well (a notch was missing). Notches are quite important with any design, moreso with strange pattern shapes where they're important signposts in construction! Then I paused. With a pattern sheet like this HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TELL? How can I spot and correct errors when I can't even tell what their correct stuff is!

Perhaps these were always supposed to be coffee table books. One of those fancy avant garde designs you're never supposed to make unless you're a topologist or a madman. If so, bravo. It took me 8 months to have a go at this, it might be another 8 before I get round to finishing the project...

Naturally this falls into the realms of translation theory. It's one of the most fascinating topics I've ever dipped my toes into. Whoever is responsible for all of these translated sewing books has made their choices, and I trust they've made them well. If you are interested in knowing a bit more about the subject (in 45 mins or fewer) then a recent episode of The Forum on the BBC World Service covers a lot of interesting ground on machine translation and other aspects of translation theory.

In Other News...

  • I think I'm going to Japan in the spring. Does anyone have any recommendations on things to do/see? (I've already pinned Carolyn's fabric shopping guide)
  • This may also mean I need to learn some Japanese
  • The Threads November issue has an article on Japanese pattern books - although interesting, there seem to be quite a few points presented as universal fact, which is a bit of a sweeping generalisation for a whole industry. And some of them are very easy to dispute! If you're a Threads Insider, you can access the article online.
  • I also stumbled across this BBC Documentary called Misunderstanding Japan, which explores western media representations of the country and its citizens. It covers 1800s to today and digs up a lot of old reports, like when people here were first learning about karate (the deadliest thing imaginable, where you can kill a man with one strike after years of sadistic training - now it's a fun after school activity for almost every primary school child in Britian).
That's it for now, let's speak soon!