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Bits & pieces

I haven’t got any finished projects or magazines to show you this week, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to catch you up on all the smaller things I’ve been up to that maybe wouldn’t be enough for their own post…

The New Sewing Room

I know it feels like it’s taking forever (and believe me, it does to me, too!) but my new sewing room in the front of the boat is nearly done, so I’ve been spending a lot of time getting that ready to move into.

Most recently, I’ve been cutting, piecing, gluing and now sanding the beeeeeeeeautiful smoked oak mosaic panel flooring into place, which, while both expensive and time consuming, is something that makes me happy every time I see it.

The final remaining step is to put a few coats of oil on the flooring and tack the edge trim down and I’m ready to move in! And yes, at roughly 2m x 2m, it’s still smaller than most American closets! Our boat is heowge, but this particular room will be small, and hidden away, but it will be mine.

Seamwork articles

I’ve been a big fan of Seamwork magazine and a subscriber since Day One, and loads of you have written to tell me how much you enjoyed my first article, A Guide to Activewear Fabrics.

This month’s current issue is all about sewing knits (I know, right) and I’ve actually got TWO articles in it!

A week in New York City

James and I have been talking about returning to New York City at some point for a while now. We last visited on our honeymoon back in 2010 and had a fantastic time. We’ve also since acquired a rather expensive immersive theatre habit and really wanted to see Sleep No More before it closes (I’m guessing later this year). We’d seen Punchdrunk’s London show, The Drowned Man 4 and 5 times over the course of a year, and knew that a similar show, based on Macbeth, would be well worth the trip. So James booked the flights for my birthday and tickets to see it twice in that week.

And then we heard about the immersive show Then She Fell (set in a disused hospital in Brooklyn, based on the works of Lewis Carroll, and limited to 15 audience members per showing), so booked that, too. And then ended up seeing Sleep No More for a third time directly after the second showing. Because it’s that good. Frankly, it’s two weeks later and I’m still kinda living in a dream world in the fictional McKittrick Hotel. Snippets of songs get stuck in my head, people say things that trigger a memory from the show, I look down and see a drip of fake blood on my shoe from one of the scenes… that sort of thing. I honestly cannot recommend either show enough. So, so worth the money.

But this isn’t a site about immersive theatre, nor is it about the excessive amount of cocktails and brunch we consumed, nor the sleep we didn’t get, or the great quality time we got to spend with my cousin in Brooklyn or the many friends who’d moved back there. So I’ll stick to the sewing-related highlights or we’ll be here all day!

Of course I couldn’t go to New York and not visit the Garment District, but my fabric stash is looking pretty healthy these days and I didn’t really have an entire day to kill wandering around. So I enlisted the help of some professionals! Oona and Ginger were my fantastic tour guides through Mood, Spandex House, and the myriad little haberdashery shops in the Garment District, but also in choosing a man creche (err, bar) with great cocktails!


Here we are each holding up our most obnoxious Spandex House purchases. Yes, mine has bacon all over it.

Goodbye Granny

Sorry for the silence this past week, but I had to take an extremely-last minute, emergency flight back to the States last week to attend my grandmother’s funeral (as in “book me a flight for tomorrow“). Her last gift to us all was to prompt a family reunion, and I really felt strongly that I had to be there, so it was good to have some family time despite the circumstances.


Granny and I at our wedding reception in 2010

Granny has been in the background of my sewing for pretty much my entire life, but there were a few times when she featured heavily on this site, in particular when I refashioned her wedding gown into mine in 2010, but also earlier the same year when I made her a blouse from some vintage fabric in her stash (and which my mom said she was still wearing regularly right up until the end).

If you’re a new reader to this site and haven’t yet seen my wedding dress project, then really, I urge you to just stop for a minute, click through and take a look. Granny was so immensely proud that I looked so beautiful in “her dress” and she continued to show our wedding album to everyone she could. I had so many relatives come up to me at the funeral saying how much they loved that I turned her gown into mine.

Overall, this weekend really reinforced to me how much “making” is in my DNA – I knew Granny had been quite crafty, but I hadn’t realised that she was actually a seamstress in her early life before going back to school as a young mother and becoming an insurance underwriter. She continued to quilt and sew clothing throughout her life, but also knit and crochet, too. Happily, I was gifted a very modern-looking yoked cardigan that she’d knitted years ago (I actually wore it to work yesterday!) since I was the only one in the family it really fitted (ditto to a gorgeous pair of sage green leather gloves and an astonishingly beautiful vintage coat).


The funeral stationary was quilt-themed!

Over the course of the weekend, the family went through some of Granny’s most cherished items, and my granddad asked if I’d like to see her sewing machine. Of course I did, and before I knew it, I had it humming away fixing a tear on my sister-in-law’s trousers!

Happy 2015! (My year in review)

As I do every year, I like to spend the first of a new year to take the opportunity to look back on what I’ve sewn in the previous year. So without further ado, here’s a visual reminder of 2014!


Click the image to see it better, or right-click here to see it in a new tab to get a better look!

Tip: If you’d like to skim back through the posts for the above projects, you can click Gallery in the upper left menu, which will only show you finished projects, without all the magazine reviews and in-progress reports getting in the way!

The Year in Stats

In terms of pattern companies used this year, I made:

  • 29 FehrTrade patterns (no surprise, really!),
  • 7 Burda magazine (aka Burda Style),
  • 5 Self-drafted (including traced from RTW),
  • 4 KwikSew (well, the same one pattern four times!),
  • 3 Manequim magazine,
  • 3 Cake Patterns,
  • 2 Style Arc,
  • 2 Vogue,
  • 2 Orange Lingerie,
  • and 1 each from Simplicity, McCalls, ThriftyStitcher, Christine Jonson, Seamster, Named, Sinbad & Sailor, Drape Drape, House of Pinhiero, and Jalie.

By my count, I made: 31 tops, 19 trousers (including leggings & shorts),
5 dresses, 4 pieces of lingerie (bras, panties, slips, etc), 3 skirts, 3 jackets/coats/cardigans, and 4 bags. James also did well this year, being made a winter coat, 2 shirts, 2 cycling tops, and a dop-kit bag.

And I realise I’ve been sewing a lot of running gear but the total number even surprised me – 34 of the above were for running (though not all for me)!

The above may sound like a lot of sewing, but even this is only a fraction of what I’ve actually sewn – I couldn’t really include all the garments sewn for the Great British Sewing Bee, for example, or those made for custom clients (of which there’s been a LOT!), or for the book I’ve been working on, either. In all honesty, I think you could probably double the amount shown above and it’d be closer to the total output!

Return to the set

Remember last April when I told you all about my day on set of the Great British Sewing Bee? Well, that was at the very end of Season Two, and I must’ve made a good impression on the production company because by the time that post went live, I had already begun work behind the scenes on Season Three!

Over a span of about four months, I spent a lot of time working on the Bee with a team of fantastic people, including the Thriftystitcher herself, who heads up the entire behind-the-scenes sewing team. Most of it was involved with the pattern challenges (the first portion of each episode, where the contestants are given a mystery pattern to make). I can’t discuss details of how we produce the patterns, but just trust me that a lot of work goes into each one before the contestants ever see them! A lot of this work was done in the production company’s offices – which are a pretty normal looking workplace, except at my desk there was a sewing machine and ironing board instead of a computer, which was quite funny!

My work involved a lot of sewing, fitting, digitising, but also illustration, too. I did the latter together with Rosie from DIY Couture (whom I’m not afraid to admit is way better at these than I am!). This proved to be great practice for my own pattern line, as the more I did these for the Bee, the better I got – it was especially helpful for someone to say “ugh, that one looks weird, do it again!” Seriously, this helped up my Illustrator skills immensely!


The Haberdashery, empty and quiet

I was super chuffed to see some of my drawings made it into the final tv shows, too! Here I thought they’d only have an audience of ten, at most!

Why pdf patterns?

There’s been some discussion around the internet lately about pdf patterns and their ability to stand the test of time, and it’s one that I’ve felt very strongly about. I’ve worked in technology for over 12 years, and have created and run my own websites for 20 years now (seriously!). I’ve seen the world move from owning cds and taking photos to be developed, to ripping cds into mp3s and printing our own digital photos, right through to streaming music subscriptions and purely-digital photos in the cloud. The idea that digital patterns might somehow die out seems absurd when you think of it in this context.

Think of photos – which is more accessible when you want to look at them, the photos in your album on the shelf at home, or the ones backed up in your cloud account you can view from anywhere, share, and search by date and keyword? Frankly, I’m terrified that my 10 year old collection of Burda magazine patterns might be ruined in a fire or flood, because they’d be gone forever. But my digital patterns are backed up in several places, ready for me to re-print at any time.

But all this is from a user perspective. As a business owner, why would I not want to offer my patterns in every format possible? Why only pdf patterns?

In short, time and money. It’s grossly inefficient (not to mention extremely eco-unfriendly) for me to print a pattern and ship it halfway around the globe to customers when printing places exist closer to you. Adding on the cost to print the patterns, to package them, and then my time in posting them, I’d quickly end up with a price point that not very many people would be willing to spend.

Sewing Indie Month

I’m back now from a ridiculously gluttonous week in Brittany, and having devoured every spec of seafood and salted caramel in the land, I’ve returned right into the throws of Sewing Indie Month!

button_300_sewingindie

Mari (of Disparate Disciples, now Seamster Patterns) approached me months ago asking if I’d like to join in, and now it’s finally here! What’s here, you may ask? Well, it’s a month-long celebration and collaboration between myself and 20 other indie pattern designers, with interviews, tutorials, sewalongs, and a mahoosive bucket of prizes to be won (in all, over $1,000 worth!).

There’s something new going up on one of the participating designer sites every single day in May – mine aren’t scheduled until the end of the month, but you can see a calendar listing everything that’s going up (be sure to click “Read More” on each date to see everything!). There’s already 6 days full of free tutorials and interviews to pour through over your lunch hour today…

For me the best part is being able to collaborate with other designers whose work I really admire, but whom I haven’t really had a chance to talk much with. I love being part of a community of creative women who are all passionate about what we do, and see others in our field as friends and comrades instead of competitors! In the spirit of collaboration, this month would be nothing if it wasn’t for each of us doing our own little part – I mean, I’m only involved directly in four posts, but together we’ve crammed May full of great stuff!

My day on set

I wrote this post back in October, but couldn’t talk about it until now!

I got a call on my mobile and in less than two hours I found myself on the set for The Great British Sewing Bee, rifling through the on-screen sewing supplies and marveling at the endless array of haberdashery available to the contestants! The next day I was whisked off for an emergency manicure, and before I knew it, I was demonstrating sewing techniques in front of two cameras under the bright lights on set!

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, no, I was not a contestant! (I did apply again this year, but my Mexican holiday fell right over their filming dates). I stepped in at short notice to help the production team with some extra “how-to” videos they film for BBC Learning, to teach people how to sew projects that relate to the challenges made in the show. Kinda like saying “You know that cool thing that you just saw a contestant make? Well, look how simple it is to make something similar!”

For this, they needed someone who could sew (obviously!), write sewing instructions which could then be translated into cues for the cameramen, editors, and voice over artists, and also perform well in front of the cameras. And those three things are pretty much what I excel at and enjoy doing, so it was a massively enjoyable day for me!

Post Marathon Thank You

Thank you all so, so much for your well wishes, support, and donations for Sunday’s London Marathon!

If you’re interested in my full race report, please head over to my RiverRunner site, but the short version is that it was super tough in the hot sun, but I managed to finish in 3:30:37, which is a new PB for me, an automatic Good For Age place in next year’s race, and a Boston Qualifier as well!

My rainbow Duathlon Shorts were the perfect choice, too – super comfortable with no tugging or chafing whatsoever, and the pockets were big enough for me to cram in four gels and a pack of Shot Bloks and not have them bouncing around everywhere.

Diary of an indie patternmaker, part two

Read Part One here!

While I was in the States visiting family, I also took the brave step of contacting a few other activewear-sewing ladies and asking them if they’d be interested in pattern testing for me. I knew that I wanted to keep the testing pool small, but also use sewists who I knew had sewn their own exercise gear before, both so that they were comfortable with the basic techniques, knew what they liked, and also could potentially go out an exercise in my patterns for some useful on-the-road feedback. I was utterly delighted when every single one of them said yes, and this really started the timeline towards Launch Day, which I knew I wanted to be before the usual New Years resolutions exercise explosion. Since I started the XYT Workout Top first and it was further ahead in the patternmaking process, I’d give the testers two weeks to test that, a short break, then hopefully I’d be finished with the PB Jam Leggings by that point so they could have two weeks to test that before I’d get their feedback and finish up everything for Launch Day.

The XYT Workout Top pattern pieces were pretty much ready for testing, but I knew I’d have to create the tech drawings as well as all the illustrated instructions at some point, and, while I used to be a semi-decent drawer, I am totally crap at drawing anything digitally. Like, comically crap. So my first attempts at the tech drawing were done by my sketching them out on paper, scanning it in, then tracing over top with (yes, you guessed it) The Pen Tool in Illustrator before cleaning it all up, mirroring to make things symmetrical, etc.

The instruction illustrations were all done by myself, too, but I did all of those without the hand-sketching step, sometimes using the pattern pieces themselves as a starting point (since I already had those digitally, I just had to shrink down the scale!), and sometimes just referring to photos I’d taken during construction. I never quite appreciated exactly how long illustrated instructions take to create, but my god, they took a LONG TIME. The step-by-step illustrations were easily the most time consuming piece of the entire patternmaking process, EASILY. I totally understand now why some indie designers skip the illustrations entirely, because it would be SO tempting to, and it’d make the process to Launch Day so much quicker. But in the end, I’m glad I did do them, as I think they make the instructions a lot clearer, especially for non-native English speakers.

Another thing I wasn’t really expecting was how the pattern testing process would really work. I guess I kinda thought that I’d send them out, some testers would have some fit issues, others might not think the mesh bra worked for them, I’d get some feedback, and maybe catch a typo or two. Ha! I’m so, so glad I have the amazing pattern testers I did, because both of my patterns needed major revisions thanks to my testers. Yes, it hurts at the time, but I’d much, much rather resolve these issues before release than have paying customers go through them later!