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Cycling 120 miles with bacon and ikat

The Dunwich Dynamo isn’t a race – it’s not even an organised event. It’s much more a rite-of passage – an annual 120 mile bike ride from London Fields in east London to Dunwich, on the Suffolk coast. It’s been going for over 20 years and the route is just “known”, and the date is the Saturday closest to the full moon in July. Riders set off sometime between 7 and 9pm, and generally don’t make it to the beach at Dunwich until sunrise, or some hours thereafter.

I’ve written a full report on my ride over at my RiverRunner site if you’d like to hear more about what it’s like to cycle for 9.5 hours on a heavy mountain bike having previously only ridden 30 miles. It was tough, and some parts were more enjoyable than others!

This post is more about what I sewed in the leadup to the race, both for James and myself. My copy of the latest Sewing Bee book arrived two weeks ago, and I knew I wanted to sew up the men’s cycling jersey, just to see how it compares to my Surf to Summit men’s top, if nothing else! I did a bit of work behind the scenes on the show and book this year, and I helped out a bit with the instructions for this one but never had the pattern to sew it up myself until my finished book arrived.

An American flag shirt for 4th of July

I can’t explain why, but my husband James really likes to dress over the top for the 4th of July each year. I mean, I’m the one who’s American, yet he’s the one wearing stars & stripes sneakers, jeans, and now a shirt, too.

We visited a Mennonite fabric store when we were visiting friends in Pennsylvania in April, and they had a staggering array of quilting cottons (as you’d expect, really). James had lots of patriotic designs to choose from, but settled on this one with repeated American flags with an off-white, almost textured look to it.

A fuss-free red shirt for James

While my own wardrobe may be 99% own-sewn, I’m only one woman and I like to concentrate my sewing for James into items he can’t regularly find in shops. Often this means loud and garish shirts in unusual prints (just wait til 4th of July…), but occasionally it’s for practical reasons. In this case, he has two Dakine shirts that are made from some sort of thin, technical woven that dries really quickly and resists wrinkling. So he got just a wee bit excited when he saw Fabric.com was stocking something that looked really similar. They called it “workwear fabric” (it’s no longer available) – a thin, 100% polyester woven that resists wrinkling and dries quickly – perfect for him to wear to cycle into work without looking like a sweaty mess all day.

A Trio of Paxson Tops

James has lost a lot of weight in the last six months, from a combination of cycle commuting, cutting back his drinking to three nights a week, and both of us eating low carb. He’s managed to shift his beer belly (“food baby!”) in a matter of months, but it also means that most of his clothes are too big for him. So with a December birthday and Christmas, I managed to sew him three different versions of the Seamwork Paxson top pattern to try and fill in his wardrobe a bit.

The grey wool/viscose Paxson

This first Paxson was made for his birthday using a charcoal grey wool/viscose jersey from Fabric Godmother. It’s not the cheapest jersey out there but it feels so warm and you can just tell from the feel alone that it’s a high quality fabric. It washes nicely and has great stretch and recovery, and I totally recommend it.

This first version fit him fairly well straight off the pattern – it’s nice and slim fitting through the waist and hips, and the sleeves were plenty long enough, too. The only issues were really around the neck area, so I made a mental note to adjust the pattern…

The claret wool/viscose Paxson

This next version is almost identical to the first – the fabric is the exact same wool/viscose jersey from Fabric Godmonther, only in the claret colourway. Why change when he was so happy with the first version, right?

A Jean Paul Gaultier flannel shirt

You may recall that back in September, I traveled down to Brighton to meet James at a conference, and we both hit up the fabulous Ditto Fabrics store over his lunch break. I’ve been surprisingly good at sewing up most of the fabrics from that trip in the past four months (only the coating & lining remain, and that’s earmarked & muslined already), having made a cowl neck top from the digitally printed lycra and of course, a shirt for James from the lime linen.

During that same visit, James spotted a wonderful 50/50 poly/cotton flannel which was black on one side, and a soft, brushed charcoal grey on the reverse. It also still bore the tags from its original, designer previous life!


Jean Paul Gaultier Paris!

After the success of the lime linen shirt, James requested that I make the same pattern again using this two-sided flannel – most of the shirt should be in black, but with the cuffs, collar, and placket using the grey side.

I wanted to sew this as a Christmas gift for him, so once the Surf to Summit Top pattern release was out of the way, I got to work, finishing most of it before my evil holiday cold hit, but finishing the sleeve cuffs on the 24th when I could barely sit up!

Surf to Summit Top – Three Cycling versions

I’ve got quite a few different versions of my latest Surf to Summit Top pattern to show to you! It’s such a versatile pattern with so many different options, which meant that I had to sew samples of all the different features over the past few months. Today I want to focus on the cycling features of this pattern, for both the men and ladies.

Let’s look at the ladies’ version first, which is again modeled by my friend and multi-talented athlete, Emily, whom you met earlier this week. I made this version using some navy wicking nylon from UK Fabrics in the body, and some “triathlon” printed lycra from FunkiFabrics in the sleeves. The 1.25m I bought of the latter was enough to make leggings for myself and have enough over for the short sleeves here, and probably a sports bra, too! I finished off this top with some turquoise FOE bought on eBay around the hem and back pocket.

This top was one of the very last samples I made of the pattern, a few days before its release, and it uses the exact same version that you buy – it was sewn up to test that the final changes to the pattern were good. I’m pleased to say that the improvements I made to the half zip, facing, and zip underlay in particular are ones I’m particularly proud of – this came together really smoothly!

On sale now – Surf to Summit Top pattern for men and women

It’s finally here! After months of hard work, dozens of pattern revisions, ten sewn samples, three athlete-models, and meters upon meters of spandex, the Surf to Summit Top is on sale now!

Both the men’s and ladies’ versions feature princess seams, side panels (so no side seams!), your choice of long or short raglan sleeves, optional sleeve mitts for keeping your hands warm without fiddling for gloves, a tall integral collar to keep your neck covered, and your choice of two hem lengths. An optional half zip and back cycling-style pocket are also included.


Click any image to make it bigger!

This pattern truly does cover all seasons and a multitude of sports – everything from a rashguard for surfing, to a winter base layer for skiing! Plus you can make a traditional cycling jersey with it, and I absolutely love it for winter running.

A Tour de France inspired box bag

Today is James’s birthday!!

I recently noticed his dop kit (toiletries bag) was getting a bit ratty, and I thought it might be nice to make him a replacement, and I stored the idea away in the back of my brain for a while. Then I saw that Spoonflower were having a BOGOF sale on all fat quarters, so I jumped at the chance to buy him some nicely coordinated Tour de France fabrics, since he loves Le Tour!

Since you could mix and match the base fabrics, I bought one fat quarter of “Vive Le Tour de France!” printed onto recycled eco-canvas for the exterior, and a fat quarter of “Les Montagnes” on quilting cotton for the lining. The colours are nice and manly, the prints coordinate perfectly, and it was a pairing I really hoped he’d like.

I then went in search of a good, free boxbag tutorial that wouldn’t use more than a fat quarter, was lined, and looked good, and I settled on my friend Stacy Sews’ free box bag tutorial, which also comes as a pdf if you’d rather view it on your tablet as you work (like me!)

A Lime Linen Men's Shirt

James has a black linen shirt from Muji that he utterly loves. He’s worn it very nearly to death over almost ten years, though, with it rather faded and with a hole worn in in one place. So he asked me if I could copy it, as it’s a design that he’s never been able to find it shops again.


I’m so proud that my Illustrator skills are such that I can whip up a tech drawing like this in a few minutes now!

It’s an over-the-head design with a front button placket, stand collar, back yoke, and short sleeves with little button tabs on the sleeve hems. The only change I made from the original was to introduce a small pleat at the back yoke, as I just think men’s yoked shirts look weird when they don’t have them, plus it gives a bit of wearing ease back there.

I traced out his existing shirt with craft paper and my serrated tracing wheel, and made a quick muslin, which miraculously needed no fitting changes! Then it was onto the first real version, made up in a lime-green linen-blend mix from Ditto which he chose when we were in their Brighton shop earlier this year.

Plackets always tend to intimidate me as they seem like a bit of witchcraft – how can this weird shape turn into that in just a few steps?? So I put off sewing it, until I remembered that I’d scanned and digitised the placket template from David Page Coffin’s excellent “Shirtmaking” book. This is one of my clever-er ideas, as it means I just just adjust the width and length of the placket in Illustrator and print myself off a fresh template. Because obviously the dimensions for sleeve plackets for men’s shirts are of a different scale than the neck placket here!

Book Review: Pattern Cutting for Menswear

Unfortunately, menswear really is the ugly stepchild of the fashion industry – there seem to be about two menswear books for every ten for women, plus there are hardly any commercial patterns out there for men (and if there are, 90% of the time it’ll be that same button-down shirt I’ve seen a million times, argh).

The Aldrich book seems to be the de-facto standard for menswear drafting as far as I can tell, but I tried her teeshirt draft for men and hated it so I’m loathe to buy it to test the rest, really. Perhaps it’s the standard just because there are so few to choose from and not because it’s particularly very good? So I asked for (and received!) this book instead for my birthday, as I’d love to draft more menswear for James and possibly for future patterns, too.

Now I haven’t actually tested the drafts in here yet (though I fully intend to), but I really like a lot of things about this book. Most obvious is that it’s a modern menswear book – instead of just covering the basic tailoring styles, it shows you how to draft things like hoodies, jeans, and parkas on top of the more standard jacket and button-down shirts. There are 20 different styles in all, with instructions on how to adapt the basic blocks to match the given style. So this is more like how the Japanese pattern books do things, only a bit easier to follow than the standard Pattern Magic “instructions”!