True blue

I had a busy weekend of sewing, but it was mostly alterations and some beginning work on James’s linen shirt, and not terribly exciting. I’m finding recently that sewing is a useful bartering tool – in the span of two days last week I managed to trade some alteration work for several technical CAD drawings of our bedroom and lounge renovations, and also for the installation of new tongue & groove wall boards in our captain’s cabin bedroom! But amongst all the DIY work over the long, Bank Holiday weekend, I managed to sneak in a quick knit top I’ve been coveting from the April KnipMode magazine.

I had my eye on this ever since I saw it on the cover of the magazine, but I was recently asked questions about its construction over email, and thinking about it and dissecting the pieces got me REALLY excited to make it and I felt I needed a break (and a boost) from all the technical work on the linen shirt, so I just had to sew it up right away! So thank you, Linda, for inspiring me to make this even sooner!

A pale blue Seamwork Eugene henley

The final Christmas present I made this year was a long-sleeved top for James, using the Seamwork Eugene Henley top pattern and some pale blue cotton lycra jersey he’d picked out last time we were at Ditto Fabrics in Brighton. I’d inadvertently picked up a remnant of their cotton lycra jersey previously and James raved about the fabric so much that I finally just brought a scrap of it in to their Brighton store for Gill to fondle and ID for me! Luckily for him, it’s something they always have in stock in a bunch of different colours

A lime and powder blue bra set

Ugh, what a crappy holiday. I caught a cold on the 23rd, which then took a merry journey through all my insides throughout the festive season. I was ill with a cough, snotty sinuses, headache, chest infection, etc for the entire two week holidays. By Day 12 I dragged myself to the GP who gave me antibiotics lest it turn into pneumonia, and it was only on the final weekend that I started to feel a little bit better. But I feel like I deserve a holiday do-over in a few weeks – I got cheated out of so much time – there were so many things I wanted to go done…

I’m not sure why, but when I’m ill, I turn to sewing lingerie. Maybe the lace and pretty things bring me comfort, or maybe it’s that the small pieces don’t require standing up to go to the iron. Who knows! In any case, when I was able to sit up without feeling dizzy, I pulled out the Orange Lingerie Marlborough bra pattern again, this time to match a pair of Lacey Thongs I made last winter that have been waiting for a mate this long.


The colours are weird here – the photos below are more indicative of the true colours

I tried to sew a bra from this fabric and lace a while back, but it was an utter FAIL – not even good enough to document, just one for immediately cutting off the hardware and binning. So it took me a while to want to cut into the lace again – not until I had the success of my first Marlborough bra in fact!

I used some interesting fringed elastic from MacCulloch & Wallis as a feature on the Lacey Thongs, splitting it in half and using it as piping in addition to the waistband treatment. I also (clearly) used the stretch lace throughout instead of just on the wings, too.

A doubly-recycled denim coffee sack jacket

This blog post title is quite a mouthful but the “fabric” I used has such a great origin story that I didn’t want it to get lost in view of the final jacket. It all started last summer, when I found out that a local coffee roasters here in London had partnered up with a Guatemalan company to reuse waste cotton fibres leftover from the denim industry. They mix the waste denim in with a small amount of virgin, undyed cotton, and produce fabric on giant looms which they turn into coffee sacks. These are then filled with local beans and shipped all over the world, and after the coffee beans are off-loaded, you can buy the recycled denim sacks to reuse however you’d like.

There’s a lot more about the super-interesting process over on Square Mile Coffee’s blog, but as soon as I heard about it, I instantly bought two sacks with the idea that I’d make myself a pair of jeans with it. But when they arrived, I realised that, while the original fibres were denim, the recycled sacks were more like a cotton boucl√©, and far too loosely woven to be used in place of denim.

So I pre-washed the sacks, dutifully unpicked all the seams, and thought about making a jacket while the seasons rolled around to something more befitting an unlined jacket (since I knew I didn’t want to cover up the cool coffee sack printing!). A couple of candidate jacket patterns caught my attention, but then I saw New Look 6532 as a free covermount pattern on Sew Magazine and thought it was pretty much exactly what I had been imagining for my coffee sacks.

The “Sew Your Own Activewear” Warm Up Bottoms

We’ve had sub-zero temperatures and constant snow all week here in London (either one of which would’ve been a rarity – we usually only get a dusting once a winter and people still get excited to see snow falling) – so what better week to talk about the Warm Up Bottoms from my book!

I originally wanted to include some sort of tracksuit trousers with ankle zips that could be thrown on for warmups when I compete in my track races, but then I had trouble finding the right fabric to meet my exacting standards, and the more I looked at my tech drawing, the more it said ski-wear to me, so these morphed into cold weather gear instead. The great thing about sewing is that sometimes you can totally change a garment’s use just by changing the fabric, so of course you can still make these for the track if you find the right fabric!

I had more trouble naming this design than possibly any others in the book though – I had to keep all the names so that they’d work in both UK and US English, so that took out “pants” (as these mean underwear in the UK) and “trousers” (as these mean dressy pants in the US). And since these use the Loose Fitting block, I couldn’t really call them “leggings”, either! So I settled on Warm Up Bottoms since the name works both for warming up before a track race, and keeping warm on the slopes. And “bottoms” might make you giggle, but it’s unambiguous in all the English language variants as far as I know!

Label evolution

I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about adding your own label into a garment you’ve sewn that just makes it feel 100% more professional. Sometimes it’s practical, too – it’s a lot easier to see a label on a teeshirt or pair of leggings and instantly know that side is the back, but this could also be accomplished by some extra stitching or a bit of folded ribbon, which doesn’t give anywhere near the same finishing touch.

Way back in 2006 I made my own first labels – I’d bought some pale green ribbon and used iron-on inkjet transfer paper to put my logo onto each one. Even back then, I knew it was a pain to print, cut, and iron each one (especially since we were early adopters to laser printing and had to borrow an inkjet printer!), and after repeated wears, the transferred area would wear and look a bit grubby.

I still wear a few items from this era, but couldn’t find any in my summer wardrobe when I went on a hunt to photgraph the changing evolution in my labels, so you’ll have to make do from the above image from 2006. The baby I sewed those trousers for is now nearly 10 years old!

After those ran out (I stupidly printed “2006” on half of them so I couldn’t really use them in 2007! Lesson learnt.) I placed my first order with Cash’s for woven labels. Since they didn’t have mint green, I chose black and silver instead, purely as I thought it’d be the least likely to clash with my fabrics. These were quite narrow and had about four fonts to choose from, and a handful of symbols too (which were all incredibly “happy hands at home” so I opted to have no symbol at all). But their best feature was they were super cheap, so I’d just re-order them when they ran out. At some point they changed their fonts, as you can see in this photo.

I’ve been largely satisfied with these labels, but I’ve been jealous of all the ones I’ve seen from other sewists online with their logo woven inside that look even more professional. I’d even gone and shopped around on a few occasions, but there seemed to be an overwhelming array of label places on Etsy, nearly all shipping from the US or Asia with long turnaround times.

So when the Belgian-based Nominette approached me and asked if I’d like to try out their labels and English-language site, I think I took all of 30 seconds to reply!

They’ve got an online form where you can upload your logo, pick your font, colours and washing care symbols (a bit tricky unless you predominantly sew with the same fabrics – I chose care instructions for lycra, for instance!), and also the orientation of where you want the fold. You also get some space for a custom message so I went with “Designed and sewn on a barge in London”, which I think adds a nice little personal touch for any custom client sewing I may do (not like I’ve had the time to do any since I took my office job in January, though!).

A Wednesday weekend day in Brighton

When you run your own business, sometimes you’ve got to work weekends. This past weekend I worked all day on Sunday, so I tried to make a “weekend day” sometime during the week. It all came together yesterday, with the weather forecast set to be 24C and sunny, James at a conference down in Brighton, and me not completely swamped with work for once. So I declared this Wednesday to be a weekend day and grabbed the train down to Brighton for the afternoon!

My first taste of life in the UK was in Brighton, when I spent my study abroad year at Sussex University, and the city still feels like home whenever I visit, which these days is once a year or so. Instead of doing the usual tourist things (I realised after I got home that I didn’t even see the sea, ha!), I headed directly to the North Laines area. I love that there’s a whole area in Brighton where pedestrians rule and all the little shops and cafes are independent, quirky, and great for browsing! There’s really no need to spend any money in a chain store in Brighton.

Of course my first stop was at Ditto Fabrics, which is quite possibly my favourite fabric shop anywhere in the UK, where I had a great chat with the owner Gil and learned all sorts of stories about her buying trips to Italy to get the good designer stuff for us. I went with the aim to buy some coating and lining for the StyleArc Audrey coat, and indeed I did!

I bought some wool/viscose coating in Navy, though they had a bunch of really tempting other colours, like pale purple, pumpkin, camel, off-white, and black, off the top of my head. Ditto only have a fraction of their in-store fabrics listed on their website, but these wool/viscose coats are pretty well represented online, and the colours look pretty true to real life.

And then I discovered the vintage Italian silks upstairs. oh. em. gee.

The Donna Karan red vixen dress (Vogue 1280)

I don’t often sew Vogue patterns, but I am a massive fan of the Donna Karan patterns’ design and execution, so it’s no surprise that I added Vogue 1280 to my Wish List the second it was announced recently!

Happily, my mom saw there was a pattern sale where she lives in the USA and offered to buy a few patterns for me at US sale prices – she paid less than half the price for the pattern + shipping to the UK than I’m charged just in postage to the UK for the same pattern! I wasn’t planning on sewing a dress right now, but I got so excited when I saw Vogue’s numbered pattern marks for the first time (possibly in response to my complaints regarding Vogue 1259’s instructions), that this dress moved quickly up my Must Sew list.

Like all DKNY & Donna Karan Vogue patterns, this one’s a great mind puzzle to put together! It also has the joy and wonder of looking like a total mess until the very end, when it all comes together into a dress shape. I found it to be true to size, so go with your measurements, not some vague idea that all Big Four patterns have tons of ease. Most of the pieces are cut on the bias (not that it means much in a jersey!), and it hugs the body very closely. If you’ve got any lumps and bumps, though, this is not the pattern to hide them, and so you’ll probably be wearing Spanx underneath in addition to the strapless bra the bodice requires (Full disclosure: I’m not wearing Spanx in these photos!).

Revisiting my John Lewis JL Mini sewing machine – a review for beginners

I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of talk online about sewing machines for beginners (especially with Christmas coming up!), and I’ve been asked several times online and in person about my opinion on the John Lewis JL Mini sewing machine and I realised I’ve never done a proper review of it.

I’ve had my JL Mini machine (in red – they change the colours a few times a year, but right now it’s offered in white, red, yellow, pink, blue, and purple) for nearly three years now and I’ve recommended it a lot for beginning sewers. On our moorings so far we’ve got my red one, a purple one, and a mint green one! I use mine as my travel machine (I originally got it when I was going into hospital so I could sew through my transplant!), but it’s a good, sturdy machine made by a good brand (Janome), and it has enough features that you should know in a year or two whether you’re into sewing or not and you can upgrade to a machine with more features. Or if you decide sewing’s not for you, you’re not out much money.

KnipMode June 2011

I’m a bit slow on reviewing this latest issue of the Dutch pattern magazine, KnipMode, but it’s not a reflection on the content this month! Usually I tend to not find as much to like in summer issues in general, but there’s a lot to love in this one that will work with our English summers. I think it was FehrTrade reader Marie-Christine who once said “You can tell it’s summer in England when the girls switch to wearing white cardigans”! So true!

Mix & match dresses! Like the cocktail ones in November’s issue, you get to choose which bodice, waist, skirt, and sleeves you want and put it together yourself. I really like this idea, but for me, the choices on offer don’t really do much for me, whereas I was really excited about the cocktail dress options…

This plus knit surplice dress really reminds me of the lilac dress I made for my mom. I think these sorts of patterns can be so flattering, too, especially when the skirts are fixed in place to prevent wardrobe malfunctions!

There’s a few great Plus patterns in this issue, actually – I especially like the trousers and cowl top in this wardrobe.