I thought I would write about something a little different this week. I have had the privilege of having a close look at a handmade garment which has been passed down several generations babies in my husband’s family. I believe it was originally made for my father in law by his mother- it’s his christening gown.
As far as I can tell, the whole of the gown has been sewn by hand. It must have been a real labour of love, because the stitches involved are tiny and beautiful!
There are actually two parts to the gown, an outer of white broderie anglaise, and a pale blue lining. I guess the blue lining must have been a little prone to fraying because all the raw edges have been enclosed. The side seams are felled seams and there is a double turned hem.
The neckline and armhole edges have been enclosed in a narrow self fabric binding, which it is hard to tell, but I think is cut on the bias.
There are little metal snaps sewn into the shoulders for ease of getting it on over a babies head too.
On the outer dress, the side seams have been left raw, but most of the other seams have been enclosed in a white cotton bias binding. The two back bodice pieces have been carefully cut to use the selvedge edge to help stabilise the opening in the neckline.
The seams attaching the bodice to the gathered skirt have been carefully topstitched, I think to help the gathers and seam allowance to sit flat.
At the back there is a pair of tiny thread loops to close the back neckline. They are just so neat and dainty!
Having a close look at such a special garment has been a lot of fun. I can see the hours of careful sewing that must have gone into creating it and it is a real family heirloom as a result. It makes me consider my own sewing, and while I am improving my finishing and hand sewing all the time, I don’t think I have ever sewn something with quite the same level of care and attention as there is in this little gown. Definitely something to think about for the future. Which of my makes would I want to become family heirlooms to be handed down through the generations.
It’s almost the start of May, and I’ve decided to think through my pledge with you. I’ve taken part a few times in the past, and found it really helpful for clarifying my future plans.
I already wear handmade clothing most days, except the three days which I wear a uniform to work. For the challenge to be useful I think I need so do something a little new. In terms of sustainability and making good use of all of my wardrobe, I would like to think about the combinations in which I wear both my handmade and ready to wear clothes. I want to see where the gaps are- which things I wear all the time and are wearing out, which are great, but don’t fit as well as I would like and need adjusting, which just don’t suit my style now and never make it into regular rotation.
So my pledge for this year: To wear a unique combination of my current wardrobe each day, except where I am required to wear my uniform. I’m also going to keep track of where the gaps are, and what I might need to do to fill them, whether it is looking out for something in the charity shop, or sewing it up later in the year. If there are things that don’t get worn at all, I want to think about why, and consider modifying, remaking, or clearing out those things that don’t work for me any more.
I’m not going to worry about photographing or documenting each day, but I might share any new combinations that I discover and really love! Good luck to any of you that are also taking part, and if you want to know more about the challenge, I recommend that you visit Zoe’s blog here.
So I have been a little more absent from this blog than I had hoped the last couple of weeks. I’ve just been very tired, and it has really hit my motivation to sew. Fortunately, it looks like change is in the air, and my sewjo is returning this week. I’ve been busy cutting out and preparing a few projects, tracing off a pattern, and yesterday I actually sat down at the machine to sew for the first time in about a month!
I’ve even been out to the park to take some pictures of something which I finished a month or so ago. Hopefully I will get to sorting and editing this week so that I can share it next weekend.
I haven’t been completely away from crafting though. I have cast on a new knitting project, this time with a few new stitches to learn, and some lace patterning. It has been quite a therapeutic way to spend some of the evening, and I do really like to have my hands busy if we are sat watching TV, so it is a good solution for that.
So hopefully, dispute my absence things are ticking along. I still have some work to do on my Trench Coat, but that might wait a few weeks until I settle back into the routine of sewing. I think I might need a couple of easy wins to ease back in first!
I was hoping that by now my coat would be finished and ready to share, but I think it is good to be realistic and honest about how life and sewing don’t always neatly combine! If you looked at the blogs and Instagram accounts, you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone manages to make something new each week and for every special occasion, birthday present and new baby that they encounter. I know however, that that is not the reality, certainly not in my experience, so I think it is good to share the slower sewing, lack of progress, process orientated thinking too.
So what have I been up to in the last couple of weeks? My sewing time has taken a bit of a back seat for the last two weeks as I have been juggling going back to work with my life as a mum. It takes a lot more planning and organisation to get myself out ready for work, and Toby to nursery or to his Grans, so my evenings have consisted of a lot more packing lunches, bags of spare clothes and less sewing! By the time it is all done I don’t always have the energy for sewing.
I have managed to make some progress though, and it is still so satisfying seeing this coat come together. Each stage feels like a milestone and sitting down to sew even for a short time is so relaxing, especially when time to myself and for my hobbies has been in much shorter supply.
The outer shell of the coat is pretty much complete. It still needs buttons and buttonholes once the lining is in, but I can get a good feel for how it is going to look now. The hood also needs constructing separately, but that might be the last job I do because the hood is detachable so I can wear my coat without it until it is finished!
The lining is well underway now too. It does take quite a while sewing and preparing the quilted sections because they can’t really be pressed very well (the insulation melts), and I have been carefully clipping the insulation away from the seam allowances too to reduce bulk. I still need to sew and set in the sleeves, but once that is done, I will be ready to join the outer and the lining.
Hopefully this gives a better insight into the realities of sewing progress. It’s not always plain sailing and finished projects, but I will be all the more proud of my coat when it is complete for the time, energy and perseverance that it took.
It feels so good to have made progress with a more complex project! I have made a lot of pretty easy knit garments in the last year or so and very few woven ones. I even found the cutting out each piece on a single layer strangely satisfying, when usually cutting out is something to be avoided.
I’ve made some good progress on the construction now. My first welt pockets since making Matt a waistcoat about two years ago are looking pretty good.
Some of the standalone pieces are complete too like the belt. This still needs some extra eyelets installing to give me the holes to tighten through, but I want to check where they need to go before I commit.
I have been taking my time with this. It’s actually quite easy to press and very well behaved to sew. I’m using a new needle, but otherwise no other special preparations. I’ve ended up with a double row of top stitching on my shoulder and sleeve tabs which I’m calling a ‘design choice’ because I got the seam allowance muddled and didn’t want to unpick as this fabric does leave holes where is was stitched. I decided instead to just stitch a second row instead.
I decided to baste the darts into the lining before stitching them. My lining is pretty bulky with the thinsulate. They still haven’t stitched perfectly, but I’m hoping that it is good enough.
I’ve reached about the halfway point I think now. The outer of my coat is pretty much complete and looking good. Now its all about the lining and finishing touches. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out!
Do you have clothes that you keep, not because you intend to wear them but because they have memories attached? Last Christmas I turned some of my brother’s military t-shirts into a cushion for him so that he could enjoy them without having a stack of unworn things to drag around. This year, my sister asked for something similar for her birthday, and presented me with a while stack of her event t-shirts to create something from!
I have to admit, the scariest part of this whole project was starting the cutting out! Unlike most dressmaking projects, if I made a mistake, the fabric could not be recut or replaced with something else because each t-shirt had it’s own sentimental reason for being included. For that reason, I did spend a while procrastinating and sketching out a couple of options for laying out the blanket top. It was quite dependant on the dimensions of the various logos and I definitely measured and re-measured them several times before I made any final decisions.
Once the cutting was committed to, this actually went together fairly quickly. I enjoyed arranging the pieces to make a pleasing arrangement of colours across the spread, then set about attaching them together in rows on the overlocker.
Once all the rows were constricted and attached together, I backed them all with a fleece blanket to make it all snuggly. It definitely helps with the weight and drape of the whole thing too as the t-shirts were all different weights and some were quite light. I decided that it was easiest to attach the two wrong sides together, then turn the whole thing through a hole. I then hand stitched the hole closed and topstitched all around the edge to help it sit properly.
I didn’t want to worry about actually quilting the two layers together and I’m fairly sure that the blanket will wash and soften naturally over time anyway. It is definitely more fun to look at than the stack of t-shirts!
I think one of the reasons that I didn’t get any further than choosing and preparing my fabric for my Taylor Trench last year, is that I was a bit scared about cutting into my fabric. Some of that fear came from worries about the actual sewing, but I think more of it came from choosing the ‘wrong’ size and not ending up happy with the finished fit.
This time though I was determined not to have any reasons for putting this coat off, so I decided that the solution was to sew a quick toile of the outer coat from some cheaper fabric. In my stash I do keep things like old bedsheets and duvet covers just for this purpose, so I had no excuse not to give it a try.
When sewing my toile I went for a size L because I want to be able to fit jumpers underneath, and my quilted lining will also take up a bit of extra room. It did mean that even with my toile I needed to use a bit of judgement about how the actual coat will fit because it is going to feel a bit snugger. I’m happy with my decision though and now there is no more procrastinating allowed!
In fact, to make sure that I didn’t let the fear get to me again, I have cut out the fabric for my actual coat now. There is a sew-along starting tomorrow and I’m hoping to use it to give me some extra confidence and purpose, even if I don’t manage to stick completely to the schedule.
These are a bit of a style departure for me, but were a great confidence building exercise. I think I needed to make a pair to help me realise that trousers are just a series of seams and instructions like any other pattern, and nothing to be afraid of. It did definitely help though having the course to hold my hand through the process of sewing and fitting them though. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to get started on my own!
The fabric is a khaki stretch twill from myfabrics.co.uk which I think is quite similar to this one which they have in lots of colours. With the spandex content it does recover very well, but it was still very easy to work with.
Unfortunately, while these were only really intended to be a wearable toile, they don’t actually get much wear. Not only is the colour not really one that I have in my wardrobe, the style feels a bit odd on me too. I’m not used to wearing trousers with a side zip, and tend to prefer a front fly. They are also a slightly cropped ankle length, which is also not usually my style.
Looking at them more objectively, I do actually like the way that they look so perhaps I should be giving them a second chance. They do have a fairly deep double fold hem, so I am wondering if I can let them down enough to be full length and a bit more wearable. If nothing else, they served the purpose of giving me the confidence to tackle other trouser projects afterwards such as the Ginger Jeans, so I’m not too sad that these weren’t perfect for me.
Some time ago I wrote about how I organise and store my patterns and I thought it was time for an update. My physical storage of patterns hasn’t changed much. They still tend to be kept in plastic wallets, but I sometimes find that I am tempted by buying new patterns before really looking thought what I already have to see if there is something similar. I’m hoping that my new organisation will help put that tendency behind me!
Over the last few weeks I have been cataloguing my patterns digitally using Trello. Trello is a free app, and one of it’s big advantages is that is syncs between phone and computer. It has been a pretty mammoth effort to get most of my patterns on there, but it is nearly done, and I already love it!
That means I can input my patterns onto the computer using the bigger screen, but have all the information with me when I’m out and about. It also lets you add attachments, details and links to each entry so I even have all the correct information with me if I happen so stumble across fabric or notions for a project.
I am also aiming to sew from my stash fabrics as much as possible again this year, so I also decided to catalogue my fabrics in Trello. Now I can search through my fabric for things of a suitable weight, length or colour family without having to pull each piece of fabric out or unfold it to check I have enough. I’m hoping that it will make it easier to check if I have something suitable, before I resort to buying something new. I still have quite a bit further to go with this part, but I’ve resolved to catalogue one of my fabric boxes each week until it is done, and I recently had a clear out too of fabrics that I no longer love so my stash is definitely getting more focussed.
If you would like some more practical advice on actually setting something like this up, I used a tutorial by Helen of Helen’s Closet to get me started. It was really useful for deciding how to group fabric and patterns, and practically to start to see the scope of what is possible. I love that I can attach the cards for fabric to the pattern that I intend to use it for. No more buying fabric then having no idea why!
It was quite a commitment of data entry to get all my fabric and patterns listed, but it should be much easier now to look through and find what I want. I can check the fabric requirements for a pattern while I am out and about, or check to see if there is already a similar pattern or fabric before I buy something new.
Now it is started, it will be much easier to maintain as I go along too. I can archive fabrics as they are used, or change the dimensions that remain in my stash. There is something so satisfying about organisation for a new year!
Last year I found it really helpful to think about which of my makes hit the mark, and which were less successful with my hits and misses, so I thought I would have another go this year too. I think most of my sewing has been fairly successful this year, though I have just done a wardrobe clear out, and a few handmade clothes did get the axe, so its certainly not perfect yet.
So here we go:
Top 5 Hits
Amber tops and Dress
I practically lived in my Amber tops during the last part of my pregnancy when it was hot and my bump was huge. Even since then, I must wear one at least 2-3 times a week because they are one of my most practical options for feeding in too. I particularly love my Amber dress because I think it looks fairly stylish and is so easy to just throw on, and my Amber hack layering tee also gets a lot of wear under shirts at the moment. I think the reason they have been so successful is because they suit my lifestyle as it is right now, not how I might wish it was. They are also made in good quality cotton jersey, so they have survived lots of washing and grabbing straight back out of the laundry pile!
This is another item of clothing that regularly gets taken straight from the clean washing pile to be put back on. When I first made it I wasn’t sure about the style on me and this was really intended as a wearable toile. However, the oversized nature of it has definitely been growing on me, and I love how easy it is to throw on. I would love to make another (possibly multiples) as again it fits my lifestyle right now really well.
Modified Toaster Sweater
I made this Toaster sweater right at the start of the year with some very special Atelier Brunette fabric. I’m pleased that I used this very special fabric in something which is comfortable and practical. I love that it fits over my Archer shirts, and the crew neck is more practical with a collar. I’m even really pleased with my decision to go for contrasting gold topstitching.
Ultimate Wrap Dress
This dress is another make that I love because I tweaked the pattern to create what I actually wanted. I hacked the sleeve into a little flutter sleeve, modified the cross-over to be a little higher and added an empire line seam to make it fit over the bump. I have worn it a bit since the arrival of baby too, though I think it might now need re-hemming to take out some of the extra length that I added to the front. I’m looking forward to being able to wear it again next summer.
I have made a mountain of these tops for Toby and as gifts, and I’m sure there will be more. I particularly like hacking them to have poppers at the neckline while he is small, but the pattern goes up to ages 5-6, so I’m sure I will make more as he grows. It’s a free pattern too, so what’s not to love!
There were a couple of other patterns that I would have included, but I thought it might be cheating to include patterns that made it onto last year’s successes like the Mens Metro Tee and Grainline Archer because I knew before I got started that I would love them! I also thought that perhaps I couldn’t include the skirt that I am currently sewing, even though I’m pretty sure it will be a hit because I haven’t actually worn it yet! Another that came close was the Dandelion Dungarees because they have seen a lot of wear in the last few months and the popper hack definitely worked there too. I think the things that I have included demonstrate that I’m getting more confident at hacking patterns to get what I actually want from them, not just putting up with the parts that don’t work for me.
Top 5 Misses
Considering how much I love my Oslo cardigan, it seems a little strange that I’m not such a big fan of the Kinder Cardigan which is pretty similar. I think it is down to a couple of issues, one being that the pattern is possibly even a little more oversized than Oslo. The other being that the Ponte I made it in is definitely more structured so it ‘feels’ bigger. I did like some of the construction methods, and the pockets though, so I’m tempted to adopt some of these for my next Oslo cardigan attempt.
Technically this was made in 2017, but I was never really going to wear it until this year. I’m not sure if it is just because it is such a large expanse of single colour, but I didn’t really hit it off with this Blossom dress. I love the fabric, and the Anna Top that I squeezed out of the offcuts, but the dress hardly got worn. It probably doesn’t help that it looked a bit strange before I had a big enough bump, and by the time my bump was bigger the weather was warming up. This hasn’t survived a recent wardrobe clear out because it looks ridiculous again without a baby bump. Perhaps it would have been better as a top.
A more recent make was this Lucia Top. It was a great way to kickstart sewing again being really simple, but I’m not a massive fan of the fabric. It’s a bit too shiny and ‘polyester’y. It has survive the wardrobe clear out, but only to see if I will wear it during the festive season when red and shiny seems more acceptable. If it doesn’t get worn it might have to go too.
There is nothing actually ‘wrong’ with this Lily Top, it just doesn’t get worn as often as I thought it might. I did wear it while I was pregnant, and I do sometimes wear it now to feed, but I wasn’t 100% pleased with the finishing techniques and there are some areas that I don’t think are going to be all that robust. It’s not a total fail, though I don’t think I would make the pattern again.
Again, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with this skirt, but I think it suffers from not suiting my changing body and style. I have been wearing a lot less that sits actually at my waist because I don’t find it that flattering at the moment. Perhaps that will change in the future and I will feel better wearing this skirt though. With hindsight, though the pockets are really useful, they just draw more attention to an area that I feel less confident in at the moment!
I think several of these projects have suffered from the difficulties of guessing what sorts of things I was going to want to wear as my lifestyle and body have changed. Hopefully now that thigs are starting to settle down I can make more informed choices for next year and get more of them right!