Knitting woes

In Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ Esther goes to see her doctor, who asks what seems to be the matter. She replies “I can’t sleep. I can’t read.” Well I know I’m in a bad episode of depression because I can’t knit.

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The lovely bright turquoise yarn that I was yearning for all summer was finally bought to make a scarf. I started with a lacey leaf pattern and on the third attempt at casting the correct number of stitches I knitted an inch or so before getting totally distracted and lost. I ripped it all out and tried a simpler chevron pattern. I misread the ridiculously simple instructions and redid the first three rows twice before knitting away. I hadn’t even got to the first 10 rows before I realised I had miscounted and had some wobbly bits instead of pointy zigzags. It is currently unravelled (for the sixth or seventh time) and is awaiting a day when I have more brain power.

Hop hop hop. My writing process.

There is a blog hop doing the rounds and a couple of people (I can’t remember who at the moment) left their nominations open to anyone, so I thought I’d share my thoughts. I’ve been blogging very sporadically this year, but the past few days (some lovely comments on old blog posts and a meet up in Birmingham) have reminded me how lovely the sewing-blogging community is, so I hope reflecting on my blogging will kick-start my creativity.

1. What are you working on at the moment?
I have a couple of slow projects on the go at the moment, as well as some “sewing kits” ready to sew up. I was talking to some people yesterday about how I don’t view UFOs (UnFinished Objects) as a bad thing; I have some projects I have cut out as part of a marathon cutting session and haven’t touched since, but they are each in a bag and when I am ready/inspired to sew them I will have a satisfyingly quick project. “Sewing kits” on my shelf include a Hawthorn dress that I stopped sewing in February/March as the weather was getting too warm for a wool dress (just needs sleeves, hems and buttons), a Hawthorn blouse, and a purple jersey Tiramisu dress (cut out at the same time as this). My slow project is a woolen winter coat! I have cut the pieces and am slowly hand-basting the under-layers together.IMG_20140921_204350I also have a patchwork project in progress, to make a quilt for a friend’s baby. In knitting I have finished the body of a Hetty cardigan and chose the buttons yesterday so I’m ready to do the button bands (I’m saving the sleeves until last so I can be sure how much yarn I have and how long they can be), and I’ve just cast on a scarf (to go with my unmade coat) as a portable project now my cardi is too bulky to carry around.

2. How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
I mostly read sewing bloggers (some of whom knit) and I guess I dabble in more different crafts so I’m not just garment sewing. Before I started sewing I was never really into clothes, so I’m not coming into sewing from a trendy high-fashion angle; I make what I like and what is comfortable and I mostly enjoy the process of making and learning.

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3. Why do you write what you write?
I started writing because I wanted to join in with Me Made June and I wanted a place to share my creations. I used to read The Sewing Forum, where I got lots of tips and advice and was sign-posted towards lots of great blogs, but it didn’t feel like the place to show off what I was making. Initially I wrote just for me, as a way to record my ideas and creations, but as people started reading and commenting I started writing tutorials and reviews to give back to the community that has given me so much help and inspiration; I don’t claim to be the best ever at certain techniques but I have learned so much from reading other blogs that I hope I can help others too.

4. What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
If I’m writing a tutorial I will take photos of everything as I go along, and when I’m writing I’ll choose the best images to match the instructions. If I am showing a finished garment I will take many many photos of a project, edit and upload the best ones and fit writing around it. I try to include a bit of the making process and details of any special features, but I really just type whatever comes into my head. When I write anything on the computer (including work) I just type, stop mid sentence and write something else that pops into my head, go back and add details/finish ideas, and read through to make sure it makes sense; Hopefully my haphazard process means that I get to share all the information I want but without sounding too formal.

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Stripy Chevron Dresses

Every cloud has a silver lining, and being ill* in bed means I have caught up with the 200+ posts in my blog reader and even though I feel better today I am staying in my pjs at my computer just in case. Luckily I have more dresses from the “Garments I’ve made ages ago but have been wearing too frequently to take pictures/blog about them” series.

I wanted an easy-to-wear summer dress so I used my trusted t-shirt block (with self-drafted/made-up cap sleeve adaption) and combined it with the Cake Tiramisu skirt. The neckline and sleeves are finished with bands. That simple, other than the meticulous pinning on every white stripe to get perfect seams. (The good thing about knit fabrics is that you can stretch the fabric slightly if your pattern matching while cutting wasn’t perfect.

turquoise chevron

As soon as I tried on this dress, pre-hemming, I knew it was going to be a favourite.  It is a fairly sturdy interlock knit made from 100% organic cotton and it is a really nice weight to wear; cotton is nice for the summer, it is heavy enough to cover lumps and bumps, and it was good with tights this week. It was £16 a metre which is more than I’d normally pay for fabric, but it is extra wide and holds shape well. When buying the fabric I had resisted the chosen aqua as a more subtle colour, but once I tried it on I knew I needed more, so that same day I ran down the road to get some more in the hot pink.

pink chevron

Two identical dresses would be a bit odd, so I went crazy and mixed things up a bit by adding a v-neck! I’ve never sewn a v-neck before, and annoyingly I can’t find the tutorial I used to help me get a nice centre-front; I did something similar to this and sewed a v-seam where the centre front would be, being careful to match the stripes on both sides. I sewed the centre front first on either side, then figured out how much I needed to stretch the neckband to work out where to place the centre-back seam; this gave me a v-neck with absolutely NO gaping which is pretty brilliant!pink detail

I also decided to cut 8 skirt panels instead of 4 to get a more zig-zaggy look (slightly inspired by the cover of Threads 161). I divided the skirt pattern pieces in half and drew a couple of new stripe lines on the new pattern piece, and I made sure these always matched up with the fabric during cutting. When marking stripes I draw a line (eg for the bottom of the white stripe) and then shade/mark below (for the pink) to be sure my line is in the right place of the stripe. The cutting was quite a tricky business on a single layer of fabric, but luckily this fabric could be used upside-down and on the reverse (does an interlock have a reverse?). Despite the hassle of arranging pattern pieces so particularly, I really prefer the effect of the zig-zags and love that I have created a new fabric by adding more seams.

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I have worn both of these dresses a lot, and on consecutive days, and NOBODY has noticed that they are even similar! Is it just a keen-eyed sewist who would notice the similarities, or have I done too good a job of customising them?! I wore both of these as my cheat attempt to join in with One Week One Pattern.

*There was a nasty 24 hour bug going around (when I say nasty I mean I lost 2 kgs in 2 days) so if any parents of small kids are reading I beg you to make sure your kids don’t come back to school the day after they’ve been ill; I didn’t need to feel guilty about being away from my class as by the end of the day there were only 15 children in! (FYI children will tell teachers that they were sick in the morning but mummy made them come to school.) Annoyingly for me the 48 hours I must stay off work are the weekend.

Chic Cocktail Party

I hope lots of you will have heard of the lovely Sally of Charity Shop Chic‘s new and exciting pattern line Capital Chic Patterns. Sally has designed lots of modern garments for work and post-work cocktails. She has become a good friend this past year but had been working in secret on her pattern lines, with me unsuspecting that every time we met up she was wearing/testing a new design!

Sally offered me a free pattern to try (I’ll try my best to be objective in my review here) but sadly I’m just outside of her sizes. But that month’s Threads magazine had an article on grading so I thought I’d give it a go on some of her simpler patterns; I didn’t use the techniques in Threads but instead came up with my own easier method, which you can read about in my tutorial on Capital Chic Bellini Sew-along on Friday!
open collar

I made the Bellini blouse in a cotton lawn with a subtle contrast lace collar. It was the heat of summer and I knew I wanted a cool cotton blouse. I had the lace in my stash and went on a mission to find plain black fabric for the top, and then ran out as the pattern alterations meant my patterns were too wide to fit the fabric!

After enlarging the pattern to my high bust size I did my usual FBA, creating a horizontal bust dart, but looking at the pictures I probably need to ass a smidge more. When trying on the blouse the loose fit style was much too loose for me, so I took in very generous amounts at the side seams. The sleeves were also a bit snug, so I enlarged these a tiny bit and just sewed a rolled hem instead of binding. I’ve never sewn a rolled hem before but the instructions in the pattern were very clear and easy to follow. This made a really comfy shirt, with the perfect mix of smart and casual, but on future versions I’d have more buttons closer together (and not wear I tuck it in).blouse

I also made the Champagne skirt, in a textured digital floral print I picked up from the infamous Man Outside Sainsburys in Walthamstow market earlier in the year. It was my intention to enter it for Oonapalooza but I never got around to blogging it. I spent ages laying out the fabric before cutting it to get the best pattern matching, and I’m pretty pleased with the final result.champagne

I enlarged the pattern using the same tracing methods, including the flounce hem, and all pieces matched up after sewing; I didn’t mark the darts as I graded up, and instead just added them when I tried on the skirt. I fully lined the skirt, including the flounce, and attached them inside out at the hem, and used an exposed lace zipper on the back. I don’t normally wear fitted skirts so I had to think about how I was sitting and walking; this skirt is definitely not work-wear for me, but might be better in a stretch fabric.zipper

Tribute August: Handmade by Alison Skirt

This month I have been co-hosting Tribute Month on the Sewcialists blog (with Inge) so last week I knew I had to get my tribute posted in time. And then technology didn’t like me editing photos and then didn’t like me uploading them. So this post has been a very long time coming, especially because the inspiration is from January this year!

My inspiration for this make was Handmade By Carolyn. If you read her blog (go and have a look now…) you might be a bit surprised by the connection; we don’t wear the same silhouettes and we definitely don’t wear the same colours, but I still find Carolyn super inspiring. She makes everything she wears (including shoes!!), she spent a year drawing sketches of every handmade outfit she wore, and she sews investment pieces that are well made and well thought out.

The pieces that really caught my eye were her Alabama Chanin skirt and top. 

The overall look is really far away from something I would wear, but I loved the process of creating the fabric; One layer of fabric is stencilled in a pretty design and appliquéd to another under-layer, before the paint is cut-away to reveal the final intricate fabric. SO clever and so, so time-consuming.

I really liked the idea of creating my own fabric, and I especially loved the thought of playing with tone-on-tone designs, but I thought it would be best to stick with what I knew – regular embroidery- to begin with. When I saw the Sewaholic Gabriola skirt I knew that the panels would be great for playing with some subtle designs.

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Well maybe not so subtle! I was tempted by this amazing pink linen on Goldhawk Road and convinced to buy it by Fiona. If Carolyn has her trusted colour palette she revisits, bright pink is definitely part of my regular summer wardrobe! I measured the panels on my finished blue skirt and then played around with lots of swirls, coils, butterflies, birds and paisley patterns (all from Doodle Stitching CD) to come up with a pattern, which I then traced onto the pre-cut fabric with carbon paper. The embroidery was done with chain stitch, back stitch and some French knots; the first panel was really fun to do, but it was trickier making sure the second panel was symmetrical enough.

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Once the embroidery was all done, sewing up the skirt was really quick (despite the long seams) since I had previously cut and interfaced all the pieces. I was worried how the linen would survive washing so I pinked and top-stitched down the seams and used my new-to-me overlocker around the hem before turning it up. In hindsight I could have taken the hem up a teeny bit more, as there have been some slight mishaps caused by tripping over my feet while wearing this.

a I couldn’t find a zipper to match the fabric at all so got a clear invisible zipper but it broke just after I inserted it (I’ve had another invisible zipper break recently, where the teeth ripped away from the tape, so maybe it is time I learned to do regular ones nicely). I was desperate to finish the skirt, following an emergency trip to get extra thread while hemming it, so decided to go for a deliberately contrasting lace zipper.

bThis definitely was a quicker option than the Alabama Chanin process Carolyn has used, but it was probably the best way to ease myself into the idea of creating my own bespoke embellished fabric. I should confess that I had originally planned to embroider the back panels but abandoned that idea while midway through the first front piece, so maybe it was best I didn’t start with embellishing an entire garment!

I timed this make for the end of the heatwave and sadly the weather in the UK is VERY autumnal at the moment so this skirt probably needs to go away* until the spring, but it was so much fun and so swishy to wear for a couple of weeks over summer.

*I only wear maxi dresses and skirts in the summer, but I have seen them advertised for autumn/winter. I would love it if someone could explain how one wears a maxi skirt in drizzly, cold weather without it getting super messy, and without the need for wearing heels!

 

Oonapalooza Birthday Maxi Dress

Technical difficulties meant I couldn’t blog my Ooonapalooza dress in time to be counted on Oona’s round up but I’m still excited to show you all this year’s birthday dress.

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There is a lot of love in the sewing world for African wax print fabrics, but usually the colours or designs aren’t me. Until I saw this fabric in one of the shops off Walthamstow market; purple, pink and turquoise! The poor woman in the shop had to search high and low for a piece of the fabric, until she decided to just give me the piece hanging on display. butterflies and oonapalooza 207

Sticking with the Sewcialist theme I knew I had to make an Anna maxi dress. At the By Hand London Kickstarter party there were so many wax print Annas I had to copy the cool kids.

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With so many panels on the skirt I knew pattern matching was going to be tricky. I shortened the skirt pieces and they just fit on the fabric along the cross-grain. I folded the fabric so that the top cut edge matched the bottom layer as much as possible, then laid out the skirt pieces in the order they would be sewn together.

fabric layoutBecause the print is so zig-zaggy and jagged I think it worked! The back skirt pieces don’t match perfectly but they are close enough and the dress is busy enough it isn’t too noticeable.

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Having made Anna before (and done extensive fitting previously) this was pretty straightforward to make. I added a waist band as I think it looks better on me, and made the front slit start a good few inches lower down. It took time because the pieces and seams were so long and I did lovely French seams everywhere, which I then top-stitched down (and top-stitched on the other side of the seam too!) so each seam took double triple the time. I bound the neckline, armholes, hem and waist seams with purple bias binding so the insides are as nice as the outside.butterflies and oonapalooza 208

This is my first Anna maxi and I loved how elegant it looks, but super practical – the front slit allowed for sitting cross-legged on a picnic blanket and running around playing frisbee.birthday b

And of course, the skirt has awesome swishy, twirly-ness!butterflies and oonapalooza 305

The Portrait of a Stranger Blouse

In the first installment of “garments I’ve made ages ago but have been wearing too frequently to take pictures” is this voile blouse, which is really cool and comfy in this hot weather. It is Gertie’s Portrait Blouse (as made here and here) so other than moving the tucks so that the print matches up, there is nothing new to say about the pattern. Except that the fabric was a present from Gillian all the way in Canada!!!portrait back

Gillian and I are almost the same person on different sides of the ocean; we are both teachers of little kids, we both love polka dots and we both have similar colour palettes. When I posted pictures of my Aubergine Hummingbird skirt, Gillian loved the colour and since I had plenty I offered to send her some. In return Gillian showed me pictures of her stash, but it was all pretty and I couldn’t decide so I asked her to send me a surprise. She sent me this lovely, soft, buttery voile that is so easy and cool to wear. I made this blouse and I’ve worn it at least once a week since making it.

portrait front

 

This is definitely my most worn top of the summer and the colour fits in so well with my wardrobe. Thanks Gillian!

#100happydays (part 4)

I finished my #100happydays challenge a couple of weeks ago and here are the final 25 pictures.

#100 happy days 76-100 I definitely got in the habit of thinking about the day’s photo and it was a little bit weird when I didn’t have to do it (I know I never HAD to to do it, but I was determined to do all 100 days). So here in full glory is one hundred things that have made me happy (or grateful, pleased, content, or not-so-sad)

100 happy days

Picture 100 was taken the day I got discharged from the physio and she said I could try to knit again (as long as I take regular breaks every half-an-hour and keep up with strengthening exercises) so I’m hoping for a summer of knitting.

 

#100happydays (part 3)

The sun is out and my camera is charged, but I am stuck writing end of year reports so still haven’t got pictures of my newest creations! I am on day 90 of the #100happydays challenge and this round-up has two dresses I LOVE wearing so much and my first over-locked project (thanks to the super kind Miss Dibs for passing on her old machine to me)#100 happy days 51-75I can see the end of school work (for the academic year) is in sight, so hoping there will be some more frequent blogging around here soon.

 

#100happydays (part 2)

 

I have definitely got some of my sewing mojo back this half-term, but sadly the weather has been rather gloomy so I have lots of projects waiting to be photographed. If the weather doesn’t improve soon I’ll just have to take less-than-perfect pictures so I can show you pretty dresses.

I’m over half-way through my #100happydays project (this post is rather late coming as I am now on day 66) but it was really nice to look back through the month/term as it was a rather busy time.100 happy days 26-50I am quite surprised there were only 4 days of chicks, but you can see a couple of crafty projects I have been working on/was buying supplies for!