Friday, 4 August 2017

The Quilt Police

I have a firm belief that somewhere there exists a group of anonymous people known as The Quilt Police who mandate and enforce The Laws of Quilting via YouTube, blog and Pinterest propaganda. And the occasional trade show.

So whenever I stroll into this guarded log cabin city - with a backpack full of scraps and a heart yearning for an answer - I'm often on my guard. I'm anxious not to soil the society that quilters have established, but the idea is often to study a world outside of my own shell before returning to my own lands, hopefully a little wiser, to create something meaningful (on my terms).

In the eyes of a quilter, I probably offend and subvert what is considered to be sacred. But I'm not trying to please quilters, I'm trying to please the quilt recipients!

My first attempt at a quilt was back in 2012 with the Scrabble quilt (was it ever documented here?)

And I have been collecting scraps for a very long time to make another one. I had over 400 squares, which makes quite a tall pile when they're stacked:

Compared with a standard prosecco bottle:

The same pile compared with a 4pt bottle of milk:

Bur I was never going to use the squares as originally planned. So they have been raided to make 2 new quilts!

Summer 2017: #1 Kaleidoscope Quilt

We went to a wedding in April and the lady who owned Darn It & Stitch had made this quilt for the couple:

I became obsessed with it, and knew it would be a perfect baby gift for some friends and their bump.

Many thanks to Mammafairy who was able to identify the block from the photo and who found a good template on Quilter's Cache.

Quilt top with only straight line triangles, which look like curves

Can you tell that the couple dance for Gog Magog Molly?

I raided my scraps for the quilt top, but bought a fleece back from Spoonflower with appropriately geeky maths print (Count On It! by sammyk). Oh, and there's some double bias binding around the edge, mirroring the blue and green pieces in the middle. Oh, and I mitred all the corners in the blue border.

I made this using paper piecing method, but made test squares using the freezer paper method too. I didn't like the latter at the test stage, and the paper piecing method meant I could build each square at the same time. I think that really helped the design come together well. But paper piecing does generate a lot of waste!

Trying to understand paper piecing works

Results from freezer paper

Blocks in progress!

Torn paper after finishing all the blocks

There was also enough fabric spare to make a nifty drawstring bag.

I stocked up on variegated quilt thread from Jaycotts but didn't seem to need anywhere near as much as I'd expected. Hopefully this means I'll have plenty for quilt #2.

Summer 2017: #2 Blue & White Disappearing Nine Patch

Currently in many small bits in my work area. I'm aiming for a blue/white colourway. The project got relegated down my list, but hopefully it'll get sewn up soon.

Layout for my Disappearing Nine Patch quilt

K x

Friday, 30 June 2017

Summer is here!

Or as other nations call it "a short heatwave".

Yes, we are a nation of people who are desperately short of beautiful, hot, sunny days. I shouldn't moan about living in a temperate climate - especially since our buildings, transport system, retail outlets and citizens seem to all go a bit funny if anything is out of the norm. But one thing the summer (by which I mean months of May-October) does give us is longer daylight hours and slightly warmer temperatures.

And you know what that means?

I get my sewing space back!

It's a shared workspace, not just a sewing space

But you know how things work round here...

Anyway. We have this little conservatory. It's essentially a roof, a carpet and a patio door between two exterior walls. It gets amazing natural light and was earmarked for makery as soon as we saw it. But we moved in late last summer and we never quite got round to sorting out a permanent set up before the winter kicked in. Yes, we managed to revamp my sewing cabinet and then I got distracted by the bookcase armchair, and that was about it.

Refinished sewing cabinet, bonus points if you can identify the pattern on top

The winter made this room dark and cold, so we shut the door and mainly used it for storage and ironing.

I've done a few projects in here as it has gotten brighter but it has been a bit inconvenient. So last week I finally repurposed the loft bed into some sort of workstation.


Attempting to have both a sewing station and a pressing station in use at the same time...


The idea is to provide hanging storage, small amount of shelf space, to use up most of our scrap wood, and to have somewhere to nest my table.

Loading it up will be an ongoing process - I've been too busy to put much up (only my scissors have a dedicated space!) but I love it already. I loved having my workstation under the loft bed in my old place - it may have been a bit dark but it was cosy and easy to work in! I really like how we've been able to bring a flavour of that into this place as well.

Expect to see this thing in some pictures in the near future!

K x

P.S. Apologies for the silence on my sewng project at the moment. They have been happening, but I don't have the right photos yet. Bear with me.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

DIY Bookcase Armchair

Late last year B said he had a particular request for a birthday gift. Being optimistic and foolish, I enthusiastically agreed without hearing what the request was. And hence, the bookcase armchair was conceived.

You must bear in mind that at this point I had never made a wood project. We had recently become addicted to Matthias Wandel videos and he made everything look so damn easy. So we got ambitious. And then B decided he wanted an armchair with bookcases in it.

And I went "I'm going to end up making this, aren't I?"

The Design

We looked at several Instructables and Pinterest designs to get an idea of proportions and construction. Ultimately some of them were far too complicated for me, and some would be far too big for the room.

A chair with book storage in the arms and big cushions
Add caption


  • Bookcase armchair
  • Doesn't fall apart (i.e. functional)
  • De-constructable into smaller parts (we live in rented housing so need to plan to move again)
  • Fits the room (very little room)
  • Fits standard fiction paperback books
  • Rests a cup of tea on the arm
  • Provides extra storage space
  • Tidiness of joins/seams/edges/finish

The sides are made up of 2x standard bookcases with 4 shelves each. I had a sample book (Ian M. Banks, The Player of Games, 197mm*126mm*19mm) to help with measurements. The sides are approx 98cm H x 84cm W x 15 D. The seat is slightly raked, which sits on runners. The shelves are held with dowels and screws.

Most of the design was invented on my commute and it went through several iterations before we decided on the simplest form. For a long time I was trying to create a design that would also house a Black & Decker workmate (which was a surprise extra gift), which means the design went through ideas to change the dimensions and also add moving parts. Eventually B put his foot down and demanded asked for the simplest (and therefore safest) design, without understanding why I was so keen to change it. Thus, it became B's problem to house the Workmate he didn't know he was getting.

When it came to upholstery, I knew we needed cushions and some soft covering for comfort, B asked that the arms be suitable for resting a cup of tea on (do you see why I like him?), but still comfy. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to work out a design that would allow the sides to be a) tidy with no visible staples and b) removable or temporary. One of the things we learn as sewists is how to make things inside out. We invert something through a tiny hole in a seam and suddenly it is transformed. I spent a lot of brain space trying to figure out how to do this for the armchair, but wood and upholstery is a bit different from fabric. In the end, we stuck with simplicity.

Testing the Cup of Tea requirement

The tops of the arms are now glued down, so we'll have to work out how to remove the padding if we need to do so in the future.

The Materials

The foam came from the foam guy at  Shepherd's Bush Market, the fabric also came from an upholstery stall in the market. I never realised until trying to make this chair that Goldhawk Road is great for garment and craft fabrics, but very lmited when it comes to upholstery fabrics. Shepherd's Bush Market next door is much better served for those types of materials.

The wood and other components came from out local Wickes. All in all, I spent about £200 on the chair. Yes, it's more expensive than some real armchairs, but it's way cheaper than this Etsy one!

The Construction

Building this was super hard. Largely because I didn't know what I was doing. I marked my dowel holes diligently but the wood was a bit twisty, so they didn't align or fit together very easily. Although I learned to drill pretty good holes and screw stuff in straight by the end of the project, I still struggled to set/limit the depth of a drilled hole and kept going all the way through the wood on several occasions.

I enjoyed using the circular saw to cut out, which is very similar to using a sewing just follow the foot and keep things moving steadily.

"Repurposing" other tools

Cutting the upholstery foam to size worked well with a sharp kitchen knife. A serrated blade caused a lot of mess, but we had good results from a straight blade.

It took about 6 weeks to make, so why am I struggling to find anything to say about the construction? One of the big challenges was racing home after work to do any "outside" work before the daylight faded - this was the autumn don't forget - which put a bit of a manic time pressure on everything.

Cutting giant plywood in the dark
Sure, there are improvements we'd like to make. They'll come with time. For now, any visitors who see the chair are pretty impressed with it. In fact, it apparently "shamed" some friends into getting started on a DIY project they'd been putting off. Yikes!

I don't know when another wood project will happen. Or what it might be. It's easy to ignore everything until a "glory project" shows up again. But there's only one way to get better, and for things to become less difficult, and that's to just get on with it and create something.

Plus I'm busy reasoning with myself to stop myself buying a laser cutter...

We've also jumped in at the deep end of gardening with SO MANY PLANTS to look after now...

Maybe I should stick with one hobby...

K x

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The least transformative refashion ever

I made this shirt in the summer of 2016, around the same time as the tiny radish as a quick "saving from the recycling pile" project.

B was about to throw it out as it didn't fit, but I wasn't prepared to let this particular fabric go out the door. And I wanted a new shirt. And the placket was nicely interfaced. So y'know.

Ideally this would have become an investigation into what fundamentally makes a man's shirt different from a woman's one. But I didn't have the brain space to give it enough attention. At the time I needed a project I could do at a table in the London Hackspace.

As the title suggestes, I didn't want to transform the shirt into something new - only change it to something I could wear where the immediate impression wasn't that I'd thrown on a man's shirt. It's not a man's shirt. It's my shirt.

The undignified before

It's not simply a question of adding some darts at the waist because it was too big all over. Menswear and womenswear are different shapes all over, not just at the waist.

The placket stayed unchanged, there were no darts added. I kept the hem length unchanged as I wear some low-rise trousers on a regular basis in the office. Womens tailored shirts always come untucked. In the end my only disappointment was being unable to cut a sufficiently curved mandarin/grandpa collar from scraps. I had to go for a straight-ish one and I often wear it flat for a square-ish vibe. Otherwise I think it looks a bit odd, because it stands so far away from my neck. Oh well.

Comparing the collar to an existing shirt

Comparing shirt collars with an existing one
So most of my attention went on shoulders. It turns out men's sirts have a lot more space in that area! I pleated out some length across the shoulder blades, brought the underarm in a bit, trimmed the shoulder seams for a better slope to my shoulders and also trimmed the sleeve head to match. There wasn't much easing in the sleeve head as it's relatively wide and mobility was quite good (in contrast to a tall and narrow armscye which requires a tall sleeve head and a lot of easing to ensure mobility). The sleeve length was also spot on.

Reworking the armscye
 As always with my slim frame, I have to toe a sharp line between proportionately loose fit and downright baggy (think skeleton in a sack). I'm still npot sre if I fell on the right side of that line in this case - but hey, it's done now!

It has been worn a lot in the last 9 months, and I've accidentally dyed it a bit yellow in the laundry. Hopefully it's not too noticeable. 

What do you think...does the shirt look unassuming or does it stick out like a sore DIY thumb?



Yoke modification


P.S. You may have noticed some changes to the photos on this blog. I'm trying to get nicer pictures of these projects, but am often frustrated because I am not a competent photographer. And because daylight is a rare commodity. Any tips or reassurances would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Troupe of Tees

Does anyone know what the collective noun for a group of t-shirts is? My vote is with "troupe"... unless the tees need laundering, in which case they definitely form a "pile".

Anyway, you don't come here purely to see me abuse the English language. You come here to see sewing projects. Today: I've made a troupe of t-shirts.


I love t-shirts. I go through a lot of them. I can go through 4 on any given particularly busy day...

(it's a mystery why I generate so much laundry, ey?)

This was my first project in 2017 and I was quite keen to make something that would be a good workhorse, and would take the pressure off me before I started to make something super frivolous and super-fancy. After the hack jobs known as The Outfit and Dress #11 I really, really needed a project I would do well. I know how to do good t-shirts...I just hadn't made any in a very long while.

The Pattern

Part of my "doing it properly" idea is to end up with a set of consistent patterns, that I can use repeatedly and use as the basis for variations. Those in the biz might call them blocks, others might call them TNT (Tried 'n' True). I  guess the idea is the same. I'm not aiming specifically for a bodice, a skirt, a dress etc but that's what I might end up with. I'm just looking for a set of patterns I can treat consistently - because I know how they translate into the real world.

I used Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear to draft patterns for a slim fit t-shirt and an easy fitting one. I rummaged around and found some oversized promotional t-shirts muslin-appropriate jersey to make samples of both styles. I also made both long and short sleeves for both styles. Hopefully these will be good references that I can use as a basis for design changes.

Easy fit -front

Easy fit - back

Slim fit - front

Slim fit - back

Overall I like the 2 patters, and have made minimal fit adjustments. On future designs, I  need to remember to alter the shoulders and back neckline more to sit wider/lower as appropriate.

Standard slim fit tee, one with a scoop neckline variation



Front (with scoop neck)

Easy fitting tee with scoop neckline variation


The Fabric

The fabric is a wonder. I love this fabric. It was a Christmas gift from B - which was an absolute stroke of genius on his part. Take me to a fabric shop at the beginning of December (knowing that I have a birthday and Christmas coming up), use "we need to buy a gift for my sister" as an excuse, let me get distracted by pretty fabric, get samples of said fabric, return on a sneaky mission...and then reap the benefits later. Clever man.

Anyway, the fabric is a cotton, viscose and elastane mix. It's from Goldbrick Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. It's not the cheapest jersey you'll ever find but it is damn good. The shop also does student discount. I had a few metres in black, petrol blue and plum.

I always balk at other bloggers who use food descriptors to explain their fabric's characteristics. Buttery. That one really gets me. I mean, how can a fabric be "buttery"? I mean, I'm sure I also have used some of the fabrics others are describing as "buttery" and I definitely wouldn't call it that. Luxurious, textured, easy to handle, yes...but not buttery. Returning to the current project however...I can only say that this fabric is TASTY. Tasty tasty fabric. Every time I pick it up I make strange noises, remind myself of how slinky it is, and how good the stretch recovery is, and generally attempt to rub it all over my face. I have been known to mock-chew it as well. Don't judge me.

Easy fitting variation with cowl neckline, hem band and puffed sleeves

(My mannequin has no arms, and no buttocks of which to speak - this one was just hanging off it and it looked quite limp - so you've got me instead)

The Construction

I've made enough knit fabric projects to know my sewing preferences now. Everything is cut with a 1.5cm seam allowance, sewn with a basic zig zag (pressure foot pressure down to 0 or 1, regular foot), then trimmed slightly and the edges are overcast using my regular sewing machine. The seams are robust, pretty and really easy to handle. My hems are folded once, zig zagged and trimmed.

The only problem with the construction is that this is very thread-consuming and I had to get a bit creative when the gutterman spools kept running out. I switched to moon thread for one t-shirt, which also worked well.

Now might be a good time to talk about my favourite way of constructing a t-shirt. Not being one to follow instructions, I don't know if other people do it like this at home. It is one of several methods I've seen on RTW so it can't be that bad. The main principle is to sew as much flat stuff as possible.
  1. Sew sleeve hems
  2. Sew one shoulder
  3. Sew neckband to neckline (or finish to one's own taste)
  4. Sew the other shoulder
  5. Sew in sleeves
  6. Sew side seams and sleeve seams
  7. Hem t-shirt
The neckline...well the neckline is the difficult bit. I like to sew it in like this (i.e. flat) because I get more control.  But it takes practice to apply the same level of appropriate tension along the whole neckline. Sometimes it feels like you need 3 hands to make it work. Though you can get away with using very few pins (if any).

Some methods say to  have your neckline ready as an enclosed circle (both shoulder seams already sewn), and your neckband as a closed loop - and stitch one loop to the other. I don't like this for various reasons. Today's main reason is that it's particularly difficult to judge how to ease the neckband evenly into the neckline. Your neckband is probably divided into quarters, but your neckline isn't a perfect circle. Your shoulder seams aren't opposite each other in a perfect circle, so the length between them via the front and via the back are different. It means that your front edge would be too tight, and your back neckline would be saggy.

I try to avoid the latter method (in the round?) but it does prove useful at times. For instance, I made a mistake on the neckline of one t-shirt: cut a neckband too short and stretched it too much when sewing it in flat. It made the neck hole too small, choked me slightly and the t-shirt kept creeping up my neck - pulling the shoulders and the rest of the shirt out of line. After finishing the t-shirt, I cut out the neckband and reinserted a bigger one (in the round) - which has made everything much better. Sometimes fit issues in knit projects (in particular) are due to the construction/fabric and not the pattern.

Neckline - Before (creeping up my neck because it's too tight - see drag lines and shoulder seams)

Neckline - After

Anyway, I made about 6 t-shirts in total. Three were basic slim tees that I can wear as vests, and the others were slight variations in style. Hopefully these will be seeing a lot of use for a while to come.

Stay safe
K x

Monday, 6 March 2017

Skin back in the game

**Project from October 2016...returning to sewing after a 3-month hiatus**

What better way to get back in the game than with a pile of silk georgette, a Japanese pattern book and a deadline?

Given the hard time I gave Drape Drape and the cardinal sins I committed while making this dress, I don't deserve a beautiful dress or a successful project. I did make a muslin though!

Ways in which I've been tempting fate with this project:
  • Not checking the grainline in favour of some basic pattern placement
  • Cutting one piece on the cross grain and its mate on the straight (which oddly had an noticeable effect when sewing the lining hem)
  • Assume you know better than the pattern when it comes to knowing where the CF (centre front line) should be
  • Arbitrarily cut new pieces to fit what you think they should look like
  • Opt not to test the pattern adjustments (which again I just jumped into) before cutting in to the real deal
  • Hang it for the bias to drop from the wrong body parts on the mannequin
BUT! For once I had enough fabric to make the project with the pattern placement I wanted!

This is Dress #11 from Drape Drape by Hisako Sato. The outer fabric is from Emma One Sock (probably long gone from their stock) and the lining is from my recent Japan trip. I think it's a habotai.

I wasn't expecting to wear a bra with this so I put in a couple of layers of jersey as some sort of bra panel/modesty panel. Hopefully it'll be enough.

Halter neck chiffon dress
Waiting for some finishing
The I ripped out my first attempt at hemming the long floaty panel, as it was a bit of a mess - I initially tried sewing around a basting line, but that stopped the hem rolling over into a neat/natural position. It looked pretty rubbish. In the end a press and a bit of hand rolling was the best option.

Originally I was expecting this to sit higher on my back shoulder blades but I think the design is actually supposed to be a lot lower and will hang naturally below the bottom of my shoulder blades. It's hard to tell on the photo of the model but it looks correct.

Halter neck dress with floating panel on one side

Back of halter neck dress, with elastic
My main worry with this project is that there is a lot of weight hanging off a single layer of georgette and from a very small point. I also think that seam is under a lot of stress, because it is being pulled to one side (which you can see in the photo above). Maybe stitching some twill tape into that edge would have been a good idea. I wasn't keen to do it while working on the dress because it just seemed overwhelmingly complicated.

Anyway, here's to my first drape drape project. Here's to getting back into the game.

K x

P.S. This dress is going immediately in the remaking pile. I loved the idea of it, but I don't love the finished product. Am I the wrong size/shape? Is it impractical in Britain's climate? How can I hide the dodgy neckline finishing. It needs to change. If you thought it was sitting strangely on the mannequin, have a look at how it fits me...

I think I need a dress with shoulders. Any refashion suggestions greatly appreciated!

P.P.S. As another reminder that no idea is ever original, I was wandering around the Tate Modern recently and came across this work by Lygia Pape (Weaving 1957). It prompted the same curiosity in me as the fabric above when I first saw it. It's one of those ones you could stare at for hours learning the intricacies of the pattern.

A pattern of intricate woodcut prints